Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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her kind are wont to do at such a prospect. I gath-
ered my sketching paraphernalia together, and, calling
the maid to help me, I set out down the grassy slope
to the sea's margin, which sparkled and flashed, edged
with the flood- tide's lazy surf, hardly more than a
stone's throw from the door. Lotty, in an ecstasy,
frisked, barking wildly, before and behind me, like a
small hurricane of joy. Down the field through the
bars, into the cart-path for a few steps, — wild rose-


bushes bright with scarlet haws on either side, — across
the coarse sea grass and rough pebbles at the top of
the beach, out at last upon the beautiful level stretch
of gray sand, smooth and hard as a floor, half a mile
long, and curved like the crescent of the new moon.
We traversed one fourth of its distance, then I ar-
ranged my umbrella and my easel, and sat down ready
for a good time. Lotty came to anchor likewise, and
sitting bolt upright on the sand, eyed me curiously
from under her comical frowsy locks.

"Well, my dear," I said, "what do you think of

With a shake of the head and a wag of the tail, she
crept close to my feet and lay down, as if she meant
to make the best of it, at any rate. I proceeded to
begin my sketch. But the place was so enchanting,
on every side so beautiful, I found it hard to do any
more than to look and to love everything I saw, for
a long time. The sea was the most delicious turquoise
blue, and where it ran up over the shallows, the color
melted into transparent emerald, the long, slow billows
lifted themselves lazily and rolled in with soft rush
and whisper, almost too lazy to roll at all. Where
the foam sparkled at the edge of the sand, kelp and
weeds were scattered in broken lines of rich brown,
dull purple, crimson, and olive green. Far away a
few sails were dreaming; a group of snowy gulls rose
and fell on the long swell of the ocean close at hand.


On the left, tall marsh-grass came down to the top of
the beach in streaks of yellow, red-brown, and rip^f
green, with patches of crimson samphire beginning to
glow in the rockier places; all about me were the wild
rosebushes with their scarlet berries. I turned away
from the water and looked up to the house I had left;
its red roofs and dull yellow-green walls steeped in
the sunshine, — rich and deep in color, — the vines
and flowers about it, and the huge old elm in front
of it, the broad fields and mellowing woods, seemed so
peaceful and happy that I spoke aloud, "How heav-
enly it is ! ''

Lotty perked up her head and looked at me.
Laughing at her funny expression, I turned to my
sketch and began working in earnest. The crickets
simmered pleasantly, the sweet sad cry of myriad gold-
finches among the drying sunflower stalks and weeds
sounded incessantly; a crow cawed now and then, a
gull high aloft in the blue uttered a harsh cry which
the distance softened; a little beach-bird flew piping
along the sand. Lotty pricked up her ears.

"No, no, my dear! " I cried. "You are not to run
after any little bird whatever. Stay here and behave
yourself like a good dog;" for she had jumped up,
and was already starting away to chase the feathered
creature. With a very aggrieved and reproachful ex-
pression she returned and sat down a few feet from
me. But I only continued to laugh at her, and went


on with my painting, presently becoming so engrossed
in it that I forgot she was there.

Some time passed. Suddenly a small paw was
thrust into my paint-box, and there was poor Lotty
standing on her hind feet looking at me, as much as
to say : —

"Oh dear, I'm bored to death. Why don't we
take a walk ? Why have you planted yourself here,
where you are doing nothing at all? Why don't we
go home, if we can't go to walk? Oh dear, oh dear! "

And she actually began to cry.

"Well, go home! you little goose," I cried, greatly
amused. "I don't want you to stay! "

She left me, went a little way toward the house,
then turned back and looked at me, whining and coax-
ing. Suddenly she came running and cuddled down
again affectionately, as if she thought, "Well, I'm
sorry you 're such an idiot, but I won't desert you,
though you do behave in this extremely foolish and
unreasonable manner."

So she lay patiently watching me from under her
tangled shock of hair till I began to put up my brushes,
and made ready to depart.

The sun was nearing the western horizon in a golden
glory as I shouldered my easel and took my way
toward home, Lotty dancing with delight. I could
not call the little maid to help me back, so I arranged
the things as well as I could. I had not a regular


sketching outfit, and my long easel, though light, was
rather difficult to carry; but I put my head through
the V end, resting the two legs on my shoulders. I
had also to carry a small chair, a large umbrella, my
sketching-block, a tin pail in which I had brought
fresh water, and over my left arm I hung a leather
bag containing paint-boxes, brushes, etc. This was
quite heavy, and the whole load was as much as one
person could take; but I had not far to go, so trudged
slowly along till I turned from the beach into the
green field that sloped from the house to the sea;
Lotty all the while capering and barking, rejoicing
that I had regained my senses at last. Her noise was
presently heard by the other dogs, which joined in the
chorus afar off, and I saw appear at the upper edge
of the field the two great St. Bernards, Champer-
nowne and Nita, looming large against the sky. They
stopped, gazing at us from the distance, as if taking
in the situation; then in a moment they began to rush
down toward us with long, loping canter, and knowing
their affectionate impetuosity I said to myself : —

"Now I am lost! they will come full tilt against
me and all these traps, and I shall be a total wreck."

Amused, and more than half dreading the onset, I
stood still and waited, admiring the magnificent, tawny,
lion-colored creatures as they swept toward me, their
beautiful eyes beaming with intelligence, and all their
motions full of grace.


Suddenly the great dog Champernowne, as he
reached me, stopped perfectly still without touching
me, and before I knew what he was going to do, stood
upright on his hind feet, as tall as myself, quietly
slipped his under jaw through the handles of the bag
which swung on my arm, and with the grace and
courtesy of a grand duke, nothing less, gently and
firmly drew it off, and turning, proceeded decorously
up the path that led to the house, bearing it with the
utmost care.

Astonished and delighted, I cried, "Bravo, Champ!
Good dog ! fine fellow ! You saw I needed help, and
you gave it like a gentleman, didn't you? But who
would have thought you had so much sense 1 " Then
Nita, hearing all these praises lavished on her comrade,
wished to have her share also; and joining Champ,
she too seized hold of the bag, and both together
trotted side by side all the way to the house, where
they arrived some time before I reached it, and where
I found them faithfully keeping guard over my prop-
erty on the threshold.

"Well, you are certainly the very handsomest, best,
and dearest dogs in the whole world I " I cried, as I
opened the door and allowed them to crowd into the
pleasant room, Lotty and two or three of the smaller
dogs accompanying them with much frisking and bark-
ing. But Champ and Xita, appreciating to the utmost
the importance of the occasion and the magnitude of


the favor extended to them, took their seats on the
hearth before the open fireplace with the greatest dig-
nity. This was the summit of delight to them, to be
allowed to sit in the house before the fire and enjoy
the society of their human friends, — a favor not too
often accorded them. A handful of driftwood had
been kindled on the hearth to take off the chill of the
evening fast closing in. Presently they spread their
big bulks out on the rug before it in blissful satisfac-
tion, while I patted their heads and stroked their long
fur, and told them how I admired them, how proud I
was of them, till their eyes shone with delight, and
they fairly laughed for joy!


Mr. Bret Harte once told so charming a story
about a bear, dear children, that I hesitate about giv-
ing you mine — which, indeed, is hardly a story at
all; but perhaps you may like to hear what I have to

Our bear came from Georgia when he was a tiny
baby-bear; but he was not nice and soft and silky
like Mr. Harte 's bear, — he was rusty and brown and
shaggy and rough, and he looked askance at everybody
out of his little eyes, that were as black as beads. I
dare say he did not find it at all agreeable to come all
the way from Georgia to the Isles of Shoals; and
I am sure he did not find it pleasant after he arrived
at his destination. He was tethered to a stick in a
grassy space in front of the house, and the children
played with him, morning, noon, and eve, one whole
long summer. Alas ! I fear he was often weary of his
brief life, and would have been glad never to have
been born. For, I am sorry to say, there were many
naughty and thoughtless children among those who
played with him, — unkind boys who poked at him
with sticks and rolled him over and over in his help-


lessness, and teased and tormented him till it was
almost too much to be borne. The little girls were
kinder; one especially I remember, who used to hold
him in her arms as if he had been a big kitten, and
lay his dusky head on her shoulder, and put her cheek
down against his shaggy crown so tenderly, and sit
rocking to and fro on the grass with him hours at a
time. And often after she went to bed at night, I
would hear her sighing out of the fullness of her heart, '
" Oh, that dear, dear bear ! "

Well, the poor little creature endured his captivity
till the eighth day of September, when there came a
tremendous storm, with a wind from the south, which
was neither more nor less than a hurricane. Windows
were blown in, buildings blown down, shingles ripped
off roofs in flying flocks, — there was a fine tempest !
A great copper- colored arch spanned the black sky at
eight o'clock in the evening; the sea lifted itself up
and flung itself, white with fury, all over the island;
and in the midst of the tumult the little bear disap-
peared. Nobody thought of him, there was such a
confusion, everybody trying to save themselves from
the fearful wind that had smashed the windows and
broken into the houses and was destroying everything,
in spite of all we could do. Terror probably gave the
baby-bear strength; he tugged wildly at his chain, it
broke, and he fled away through the dark, and when
the morning came we could not find him anywhere.


Fortunately, the gale only lasted a few hours, and at
sunrise next day the sea was calm, except just about
the rocks, where it rolled in tremendous breakers and
cast clouds of diamond drops up toward the sky. A
•fishing-schooner had been wrecked at the south side
of the island; I went over to look at her. It was not
cheerful to see her crushed hull heaving helplessly up
and down, and the poor fishermen sadly picking up
here and there fragments of ropes, rigging, and fish-
ing-gear which the awful sea had spared them; so I
wandered away along the shore, and at last sat down
on the edge of a high clifi' and admired the great
gleaming, sparkling floor of the ocean and the wonder-
ful billows that shattered themselves in splendor be-
tween me and the sun. I pushed with my foot a bit
of stone over the brink of the crag, and heard it fall
below; but, at the same time, I heard another and
quite an unexpected sound, — a noise hardly to be
described, something between a hiss and a whistle,
which came up to me from the gorge below. I knew
at once it could be nothing but the bear, and leaned
over and looked down. Sure enough, there he was,
a black heap curled up on a shelf of rock just below
me, a few feet out of reach. He looked so comfort-
able, for it was the sunniest, cosiest nook, and little
vines of scarlet pimpernel trailed about him, and
plumes of goldenrod waved out of clefts in the rock,
and a tall mullein stood up still and straight beside


him, its head heavy with thick-set seed-vessels. I
was surprised to see him, and very glad, as you may
imagine; so I called out in the most engaging tones,
"Good-morning, my dear; I 'm very glad to see you! "
I am pained to say, he looked up at me with an
expression of intense cunning and unlimited defiance,
and uttered again that shrill, suspicious half hiss, half
whistle, which being interpreted might signify "Male-
diction ! " So fierce he looked and savage, with that
distrustful sidelong leer out of his black eyes, he was
far from being an agreeable object to look at; and as
I could not carry him home alone, or even capture
him, I was obliged to leave him alone in his glory.
But I made a little speech to him over the cliff edge
before going away, in which I sympathized with his
sorrowful state. "If I only could have had you for
my own, poor little bear, you should not have been
teased and plagued and had your temper spoiled.
Don't cherish resentment against me, I beg of you! If
you '11 only stay here till I come back, I '11 bring
you something to eat, and lumps of sugar, my dear."
And so I went away and left him snarling. But when
I went back he had disappeared, and, though we
sought for him everywhere, we did not see him again
for nearly seven months. I was sure he was alive all
the time, snugly stowed away in some deep crevice,
sucking his paws, perhaps, which I had been told was
a favorite pursuit of bears in the winter season. But


my belief was scorned and flouted by the rest of the
family. "What!" they cried, "you think that little
creature could live in this zero weather so many weeks,
so many months, with nothing to eat? Of course he
is frozen to death long ago! '^ But I believed him to
be alive- all the same; and I was not surprised when,
one evening in April, while the sky was warm and
crimson with sunset, there rose a cry outside the
house, " The bear ! the bear ! " and from the window
I saw him, grown twice as large as he had been in the
autumn, clumsily climbing over a stone wall near by.
All the men about the house gave chase; but he
plunged bravely over the rocks and suddenly disap-
peared, as a drop of water soaks into the ground, in a
large seam in the side of the hill. There they found
his cave, all strewn with bones and the feathers of
fowls. They could not dislodge him that night; but
in the morning they made a business of it, and at last
brought him down to the house with a rope around
his neck, a most reluctant and indignant quadruped.
As there were no children then to tease him, he led a
peaceful life for two months, and I tried by the most
persevering kindness and attention to make his days
less unhappy. I led him about from place to place,
selecting new spots in which to fasten him, and feed-
ing him with everything I knew he liked. I even
brought him into the house, though he was as large
as a Newfoundland dog, and spread a mat for him in


the corner; but his temper had really been hopelessly-
soured in his youth, and though I knew he was de-
lighted in the depths of his heart when he saw me
coming with his beloved lumps of sugar, he never
could refrain from lifting up the corners of his mouth
in that ugly snarl, and uttering his distrustful hiss,
till I became quite discouraged. At last he broke his
chain again, and disappeared a second time. All
summer he kept himself hidden by day, but crept
out after sunset, foraging; and he was the terror of
all the mothers w^ho came to Appledore, and the chil-
dren were watched and guarded with the greatest care,
lest he should find one and run away with it. But
there was n't really any reason for so much alarm.
The poor bear was quite as much afraid of human
beings as they could be of him.

Summer passed and winter came again, and he
buried himself once more in the cave on the hillside
and slept till spring. But when he emerged for the
second time, behold, he had waxed huge and terrible
to see. With difficulty he was secured, and it was
decided that now he was really dangerous and must be
disposed of in some way. About a mile and a half
from Appledore lies a little island called Londoners,
then occupied by a foreigner, who lived there with
his family. This man was found willing to take care
of the bear; a price was agreed upon for his care and
keep, and he was tied and put into a boat and rowed


over to liis new home one pleasant day in early sum-
mer, and there left and forgotten by the inhabitants of
Appledore. But in August I went over to Londoners,
one delicious afternoon, to gather the wild pink morn-
ing-glories that grew there in great abundance. I
found them running all over the rocks and bushes, up
elder and thistle stalks, and I carefully untwisted their
strong stems and hung one vine after another over my
shoulders till they fell down like a beautiful green
cloak to my heels, for by carrying them in that way
there was no danger of crushing or injuring the buds
and rosy bells that still were open, though it was
afternoon. The cool sea air prevents their withering
and closing as they do on the mainland, and they keep
open all day. I was going toward the beach with my
burden, when suddenly I came upon the bear. Oh,
but he was a monster ! He gave a savage growl when
he saw me, an indescribable sound of hatred and
wrath, and his eyes glowed red and angry. You may
be sure I started back out of his reach in a flash!
He was fastened by a heavy chain to a small stake;
he had worn the green grass dry and dead as far as
he could pace; he was huge, heavy, horrid. I came
away from him as fast as I could. As I passed near
the little shanty, there ran out from the door, and
stood directly in my path, a poor little girl six or seven
years old. She was dressed in a flaming pink calico
gown, and over her shoulders tumbled a thicket of


dull carrot-red hair, which looked as if it had never
seen a comb, — so dry, so rough, so knotted and
tangled it was. She had small pale blue eyes; and
she opened her mouth and uttered some words which
I vainly strove to understand. Still she kejDt repeat-
ing her incantation, over and over, with the same
monotonous tone, till I really began to wonder if she
were not some funny little gnome sprung up out of
the earth at my feet. I looked about; behind me
crouched the dark bulk of the angry bear, before me
in the distance I saw my friends pushing off the boat
and making ready to depart. Suddenly, my ears hav-
ing grown accustomed to the savage syllables of the
strange being, it flashed on me that she was saying,
" Five cents for looking at the bear ! — five cents for
looking at the bear ! " precisely as if she were a
machine that could do nothing else; and she never
stopped saying it till I broke into hearty laughter,
and answered her, "My dear Miss Caliban, I have
seen the bear before ! I did n't come to look at the
bear; and beside, I have n't brought any money with
me, or I would give you some," upon which she
turned and hopped back with a motion and clumsi-
ness more like a large pink toad than a human being.
Great was everybody's amusement at the idea of taxing
the public for "looking at the bear." All who landed
at Londoners Island, it seemed, were obliged to pay
five cents for that privilege !


But the huge fellow was brought back to Appledore
in September, and then his enormous strength and
enormous appetite made him anything but an agreeable
addition to the family. Every night, when it was
quite dark and still, and all the inmates of the house
asleep, he prowled about, seeking what he might
devour. Bolts and bars were nothing to him; such
little impediments as windows he minded not in the
least, but calmly lumbered through them, taking sash,
glass, and all as he came. Then he made off with
everything he could find in the way of provender, and
kept himself hidden all day, safely out of sight of
men. One night the family had retired early, and all
were wrapped in dreams. It was between ten and
eleven o'clock, and dark and moonless, when he stole
softly beneath the windows of the store-room, where
were kept barrels of beef, pork, and lard, and molasses
most tempting. He climbed to one of the low win-
dows and set his mighty shoulder against it. Crash ! it
gave way, and down he plunged, making noise enough
to wake the dead. Two women were sleeping above
in that part of the house, but they were too frightened
to leave their rooms and call assistance; so they lay
and trembled while our four-footed friend made him-
self quite at home below. Oh, but he had a splendid
time of it! He extricated great wedges of pork to
carry off to his den ; he wallowed into the top of the
hogshead of lard till he must have been a melting
spectacle; he worried the faucet out of the molasses


cask and set the thick, sweet stream running all ovei
the floor, and then rolled in it till he must have been
a sugar-coated quadruped indeed. Never was a bear
in such a paradise ! He made expeditions to his den
through the broken window, carrying off nearly a bar-
rel of pork, and spent the greater part of the night in
that blissful lake of molasses. But when the morning
dawned and the state of things below was investi-
gated, great was the wrath and consternation in Apple-
dore. What was to be done ? Evidently this was too
expensive a pet to be kept on a desert island; at thib,
rate, he would soon dispose of all the provisions, and
most likely finish off with the inhabitants in default
of anything better ! A dreadful decree went forth, —
that bear must die! He was, indeed, too dangerous
in his fearful strength to be allowed to live. But to
find him, — there was a difficulty ! One of the men
was shingling on the highest roof; he looked about
him, and afar off, curled in a green, turfy hollow, he
saw the large, dark mass of Bruin's body lying, like
the Sybarite he was, steeping himself in sunshine,
after his night's orgy in the store-room. Somebody
was sent out with a rifle- pistol, and before he knew
that danger was near, the sun had ceased to shine for
that poor bear. It was so instantaneous he hardly
felt his death, and I was glad to know that, at last,
all his troubles were ovef; but I was sorry he had
ever left the wilds of Georgia to take up his abode
with us at the Isles of Shoals.



"Peggy! Peggy I " Who was calling Peggy 1
But the question seemed rather to be who was not
calling her. Prom the corner by the low window
came the grandmother's querulous voice, "Peggy, my
dear, come and pick up my stitch! I've dropped a
stitch, and my old eyes can't find it," and Peggy
turned to her; but before she had straightened the
knitting, a little voice rose in a wail from the door-
step, w^here her small brother whittled a boat from a
water- worn shingle, "Oh, Peggy, I've cut my finger!
Oh, come, Peggy, bring a rag and do it up ! " and
mother by the cradle said, "Peggy, do take the baby
a minute while I finish mixing the brown-bread."
Even outside the cottage door father was saying,
"Peggy, dear, bring me a drink of water," as he tin-
kered his dory close by. She took the baby from her
mother's arms and went to the woeful brother. "Don't
cry, Willy, dear, run to mother for a rag; wait a
minute, please, father," — and Willie having brought
a little strip of cotton, she sat down on the doorstep
and proceeded to bind the wounded finger while the


baby lay cooing on her knees. "Now run^ and take
some water to father; there 's a good boy,'^ she said,
as she wiped the tears away from two cheeks like
apples, round and rosy. And Willy scampered for
the dipper, and carried it dripping to -his father, and
then returned to nestle close to his sister's side. The
baby fretted a little, and Peggy gathered it up and
laid its pretty head tenderly against her shoulder and
crooned to it soft and low : —

" There was a ship a-^sailing, a-sailing on the sea.
And oh! it was all laden with pretty things for thee! "

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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterStories and poems for children → online text (page 4 of 12)