Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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till it opened its large wise eyes and gazed out at the
glitter and sparkle of the bright day, and tried to find
its mouth with its thumb in an aimless but contented
1 fashion.

" Sing the rest of it, sister, " begged Willy.

There was a world of love in the little fellow's ges-
ture as he slipped both hands around Peggy's arm and
hugged it tight while she went on : —

" There were comfits in the cabin and apples in the hold,
The sails were made of silk and the masts were made of gold:
The four-and-twenty sailors that walked about the decks
Were four-and-twenty white mice with chains about their necks;
The captain was a duck with a compass on his back,
And when the ship began to sail, the captain cried, 'quack,

" Now sing it all over again ! " cried Willy, laying
his cheek against the arm he was hugging; "do please
sing it all over again ! " And laughing, patient Peggy
began it again.


There was a porch outside the door, and the shadow
of its square roof fell on the wooden step where the
children sat. There were vines of flowering-bean and
morning-glory trained up at the sides, all blossoming
in scarlet clusters and deep blue bells.

It was a hot, bright July day. Before the cottage
stretched the level beach of purplish-gray shimmering
sand; and beyond it the summer sea, light turquoise
blue and calm, lay smiling, streaked with lines of lazy
foam from long-spent breakers far away. On a prom-
onotory reaching to the east, the large mass of the
buildings of a great hotel basked in the heat, its
warmly tinted walls and red roofs dimly beautiful in
the soft haze of the distance. The pine woods were
thick behind the cottage and stretched away to the
south; near it a patch of earth was devoted to "garden
stuff, " — potatoes, beans, and the like, and beyond
this was a flower-garden, so luxuriant and splendid in
color that one wondered at seeing it in so poor a place.

Peggy's childish voice was very pleasant to hear as
she sang to the children.

Her father and mother had given her the sweet and
stately name of Margaret, but her grandmother had
adopted its old-fashioned abbreviation of Peggy, and
it had grown dear in all ears where she was known.
She was a girl of about thirteen, not tall for her age,
but slender, with rich, red-gold hair, which was a
. great cross and affliction to her; for every one who


spoke of it did so in a half-pitying way, as if it were
to be deprecated at least, if not a thing of which to
be thoroughly ashamed. Such vigorous, rebellious
hair, too, thronging back from her honest forehead in
richly waved, thick locks, which no combing would
make straight and smooth. How she envied the sleek,
satin sheen of the heads of the few girls she knew!
Her eyes were clear and gray, her mouth large, with
fine and noble curves and even, white teeth, and her
fresh cheek was touched by many salutations of the
sun. No one would ever have called her pretty, — the
word could not apply to her, — but there was an inde-
scribable air of modesty and sweet intelligence about
her which at once attracted and charmed.

The sunshine flickered through the leaves and
touched her bright head as she sat with the little ones
in the porch. Inside, the mother's swift step went
to and fro, about her work; by the open window, the
grandmother's knitting-needles clicked softly. Out-
side, there were the sounds of bees and early crickets,
a bird's note now and then, the call of a sandpiper,
the song of a sparrow, or a cry far aloft in the blue
from a wandering gull afloat on white wings, ever the
low, far murmuring of the sea, and again and again
the dull strokes of the hammer with which the father
was mending his boat. As he moved about, it was
evident he was lame; a long sickness in the winter
had left him "crippled," as his neighbors said, with


rheumatism. He had a fine, intelligent face, and had
not always lived the life which poverty now forced
upon him. His eyes were sad and anxious, he looked
weather-beaten and worn, and his expression enlisted
one's sympathies at once. He was fighting a hard
fight to keep the wolf from his door ; for . his lameness
made it extremely difficult to go fishing, like the rest
of the folk living near. And now, since the attack
of illness had exhausted every resource, very slender
at the best, he was worn with anxiety for the coming
winter's necessities. In summer it was well enough;
they could make a shift to live from day to day; but
when every force of nature should be marshaled against
them in the bitter weather to come, how would they
be able to endure it, and fight want away till another
spring ? He hardly dared to think of it.

Peggy adored her father. She was his chief and
best joy in the world. When she saw him so full of
care, and heard him with the good and patient mother
discussing ways and means of getting bread, when
they dreamed not she was listening, she would have
given worlds to help them. Her whole mind was full
of the problem. What could she do ? Leave them
and go away and try to earn something to help? But
they would not listen to it; they could not live with-
out her. She was their courage, their stay, their joy,
and cheer, embodied. One winter's day, when her
father was at his worst, and she felt as though despair


were settling down upon them, she remembered the
groups of idle pleasure-seekers she had seen wandering
across the sands in summer days, from the great hotel
on the Point. " How wonderful must be their lives,
with no anxieties like ours ! " she thought. As the
picture of these loiterers lingered in her imagination,
she remembered the flowers they wore, the buttonhole
bouquets of the men, and the nosegays of the maidens,
and like a flash it came to Peggy what she might do.
She might have a garden of her own, and sell flowers
to these people at the hotel, — why not ? She would
try, at least. She told her mother and father of her
thought; but they did not give it much weight at
first. Still she was not daunted. With a resolute
energy she bent all powers to compass it. Pirst, she
chose a piece of ground wherein some former occupant
of the place had raised vegetables; it was partly sur-
rounded by a ruinous wall to keep out stray cattle,
and was close under the southern windows of their
rickety little cottage. There was not much snow upon
the ground, and every day she went to the beach and
brought basket after basket of kelp, which she spread
upon the ground, till by patience and perseverance
she had covered it all over. It was not an easy task,
and she had driftwood to bring daily from the beach,
beside. P)ut she knew how much more hope of suc-
cess she would have if only she could spread the sea-
weed and leave it to impart its nourishment to the


sandy soil; and when it was done, she rejoiced in
every rain that helped it to decay. The next thing
was to get seeds for her garden. And when her father
was better, so that she could be spared, she took long
walks inland among their widely scattered neighbors
to beg of each a few; for every house had its little
flower-plot in summer; and the folk were kind and
gave her all they could spare, — marigolds, larkspur,
sweet peas and mignonette, sunflowers, nasturtiums,
pansies, and coreopsis, — hardy, humble flowers,
friendly and swift to grow.

"I'm sure you're welcome to 'em, child," Aunt
Sally, the blacksmith's wife, had said, as she put the
packet into Peggy's hand; "and I hope ye '11 do all
you're thinkin' to with 'em; but I calc' late ye have
no idea what a job 'tis to take care on 'em," — a fact
which Peggy did indeed discover in good time. "If
ye '11 come uj) in the spring, I '11 give ye a root o'
lad's love and lemon-balm; they smell very sweet an'
pure, but they don't have any seeds to speak on,"
the old lady added.

With what anxious joy Peggy watched for the first
signs of spring! As soon as the snow was melted, she
began to work about her garden-plot, ever^^ day a
little, as long as she could be spared. With her
strong young arms she brought stone by stone to the
broken wall till she had made it whole again; but it
was a work of days and weeks. Then little by little

Peggy's garden, and what grew therein 79

she raked away the kelp. But the most difficult part
of the work was to come, to dig up the earth thor-
oughly, — "could she do it?" she wondered. Here
came an unexpected help. One day a neighbor with
spritsail spread to the breeze, flying past at high tide,
came so near that he made out what Peggy was trying
to do in her walled inclosure.

"Wal, if that don't beat all!" he said to himself;
"if there isn't Maxwell's red-haired gal tryin' to dig
a garden! Her father 's laid up, — blest if she has n't
spunk ! " That night, after supper, he walked down
from " his place " and presented himself with a broad
spade in his hand. "Why couldn't ye have asked
some on us to help ye 1 " he cried, with rough kind-
ness; and straightway set himself to work with such
a will that before dark it was all done, nor would he
listen to her thanks as he went off. "I wish ye good
luck with your garden ! " he said, and so departed,
followed by Peggy's gratitude.

There was yet much work to be done, but she could
do it all, she knew, and she toiled away with a light
heart, till she had raked out every stone and laid the
beds all straight and even, and planted every seed;
and then she paused to rest. By this time her father
was able to creep about a little, for the days were
growing long, and he looked at Peggy's handiwork
with tears in his eyes. He was too helpless to do
much to the little patch where every year he tried tc


raise a few vegetables, so Peggy put her young shoulder
to that wheel also, and planted the beans and potatoes,
and gave them all the care she could. Meantime she
rejoiced in the fresh showers which fell to moisten the
hidden flower-seeds, and the warm sun which would
coax the green leaves from the dark earth. Every
turn of weather had a new interest for her, every hour
was bright with hope. "I declare," said the grand-
mother, "it does me good just to see the child; she 's
brighter than a summer mornin' ! "

Indeed she was, so full of cheer, so modest, dutiful,
and patient, the kindest little heart that ever beat in
human breast, always ready to help and comfort wher-
ever comfort was needed! Happy girl! Her gentle
nature was a key that — all unconsciously to herself
— opened for her rich treasures of love that should
not fail.

One morning in the last week in May, small Willy
came running in, quite breathless. "Peggy, come out
and look! The seeds have comed up all in a row, like
little green so'diers!" And Peggy, with the baby on
her arm, followed the delighted little fellow to the
garden. It was true, at last; there were rows of corn-
flowers and marigolds piercing the soil, the first and
strongest of them all. And after 'them, day after day,
came the rest in a swift procession, till it seemed as
if a soft green veil were laid over the earth. Then
began work indeed, for with the flowers had sprung


ten thousand weeds more vigorous than they. But
there is no saying truer than that "where there's a
will there 's a way,'' and Peggy, not being able to get
away from household cares during the day, would steal
the hours from sleep to accomplish her object. It was
light enough to see between three and four o'clock in
the morning, and many and many a pink dawn found
her kneeling on the dewy ground (whereon she had
spread a bit of carpet, for she had been taught never
to trifle with her health), weeding industriously, till
there was not a green thing except the flowers to be
seen in the whole place. No sooner were the weeds
conquered, however, than they rose again, a second
colony, — clover, quitch-grass, purslane, chickweed,
pigweed, ragweed, and the rest, and when these had
been exterminated, then came transplanting, separating
the crowded plants, putting sticks and strings along
the wall for the vines to climb, and a tiresome, daily
system of watering to be carried on, without which
the whole attempt would have been a failure. Fortu-
nately there was a fine well near the house, and even
little Willie could help, and father could stand and
pump for them, and sometimes bring water, too; and
so at last the reward of so much toil and care was
before them. The garden was truly a beautiful sight.
Over the wall the nasturtiums ran like flame, and the
sweet peas climbed, just breaking into white and pink
and purple and wonderful scarlet, and the flowering'


bean clusters were almost as red as pomegranate blos-
soms. There were ranks of corn-flowers in lovely,
delicate rose and azure; there were marigolds and
venidiums, whole solar systems of suns and stars;
there were golden summer chrysanthemums and Core-
ojysls coronata superb to see, and phloxes that were
like masses of rich velvet-scarlet, maroon and pink and
crimson. There were others to come, asters and zin-
nias and sunflowers later; but the mignonette had
begun, and spikes of larkspur — burning, brilliant
blue — set off the yellow and fire colors, and the Cali-
fornia poppies — cups of flaming gold — and the pied
pansies, and crimson flax, and pink mallows! Well
might the whole family wonder and rejoice over
Peggy's garden, and all the neighbors make pilgrimages
to see it!

And now at last it was time for the great attempt,
and she was trying to summon all her courage to take
on the morrow her first flowers to the hotel, for sale.
A kind of stage fright came over the poor child at this
eleventh hour. After all her brave toil, it would
seem a simple thing to take her blossoms and pace
quietly the long piazzas where wealth and beauty and
Idleness would give her the daily bread for herself and
her dear ones in exchange. But the shy girl felt as
if it were an absolute impossibility. Suddenly all her
courage ebbed and left her in deep despondency. She
sat by the little window in the grandmother's old


chair; the wind that wandered through the beautiful
summer twilight brought her the delicate sweet odors
from her garden ; their sweetness made her heart
sink. She turned from the open casement. In the
corner, by a dim little lamp, her mother was mending
the worn sleeves of her father's coat. Peggy looked
at her. How pale and patient she was! The cradle
stood near, and her foot sought the rocker and stirred
it gently each time the baby nestled uneasily; in the
armchair near, her father had fallen asleep, his fine
pathetic face faintly touched by the feeble light. His
thin hand lay on the arm of the chair. How thin it
was, how sad his sleeping face! Not one of them
had quite all they needed to eat on that day; and
what for to-morrow ? Then a feeling of shame at her
own cowardice came to Peggy's rescue. What were
ten thousand indifferent eyes, what if everybody should
laugh at her red hair and mean apparel; if they only
would buy her flowers, she would not care, — no, she
would not ! She would be deaf, dumb, and blind to
everything except her purpose. She left the window
and came and stood beside her mother's chair. "Mo"
ther, dear, let me finish it for you," she said, trying
to take the work out of her hands. But her mother
said, "No, Peggy, darling, don't mind, I've nearly
finished. You 'd better go to bed soon, for you '11
have to be up very early, you know ; " and she put her
arm around her girl's slender figure and drew her close,


and laid her tired head against the brave little heart
that was beating fast with its struggles and hopes and
fears. Her father opened his eyes upon the two, —
all unconscious of his gaze. No one knew better than
he what was passing in his daughter's mind. But he
had no word with which to comfort her; he could
only cling to her as her mother was doing, and bless
her with all his soul, as she came to give him a good-
night kiss.

She climbed to her little nest under the eaves and
leaned out to look once more at the summer night.
The calm sea mirrored every twinkling star. Here
and there a light gleamed from some fishing-schooner
anchored and rocking almost imperceptibly on the
softly heaving tide. Afar on its lonely promontory
stood the dark mass of the great hotel, ablaze and
quivering with electric lights, like a living jewel of
many facets. So great a hope, so great a fear for her
trembled in its glitter and gleam. She was glad she
could not hear the band that she knew must be play-
ing for the gay, whirling dancers in the great hall.
"I wonder if they all are wearing flowers from the
city," she thought, "roses and delicate thmgs so differ-
ent from mine. I wonder if they will want mine
when they see them ! Perhaps, perhaps ! " she sighed.

Little Willy was asleep in the low cot; he half
woke as she laid her head on the pillow, and possessed
himself of her arm, hugging it again with both his.


'*Dear Peggy," lie said, half asleep, "dear, dear,
dear ! "

The morning broke calm and clear. It was not
four o'clock when she was stealing out in the freshen-
ing dawn to her garden-plot. The sky was one great
flush of pink, and at the horizon crimson and gold
where the sun approached from the other side, and all
the sea reflected the sky.

"Oh!" thought she, "the whole world looks like a
rose ! " as she pushed the gate and entered the path.
How the birds were singing! "Oh, song sparrow,"
she cried to the little brown creature that sat on the
wall and poured forth such a strain of joy that it
seemed to fill the air with cheer, "are you really so
glad as that? I 'd like to change places with you! "

She cut the flowers with swift and dexterous hands,
and filled her basket heaping full. And now the sun
had risen in still magnificence, and touched with
golden finger the sails of small fishing-craft, creeping
out to the day's work, and the snowy wings of lazy
gulls afloat overhead in the perfect blue, and made the
bright hair of our Peggy as glorious as the marigolds
she was tying into bunches as she sat on the little
step with her basket and a spool of thread. Some
dim artistic sense led her to mass each color separately.
All the scarlet sweet peas she put together. So with
the pink and the purple and the white; so with the
red poppies, to which she added a few delicate grasses,


and with the mignonette; but with the pale-yellow
summer chrysanthemums she put a few orange mari-
golds, and made of their radiant disks a splendid
conflagration of color. There were small and large
bunches to be tied, and buttonhole bouquets; and
when all were done, she put them into a wooden tub
with a few inches of water, and left it in the cool dark
of the cellar till she should be ready to take them
away. But the slender breakfast was to be helped on
and the family started for the day, before she could
leave them. The baby, usually so good and quiet,
would fret; it seemed to be out of sorts.

"Poor little girl," Peggy said to herself, "you are
hungry; that is the trouble, I know, for you are the
best little sister in the world."

The grandmother was full of aches and pains this
morning, but she said, "I'll keep the baby, Peggy,
dear; you go and get ready before the sun grows so
hot that you '11 suffer going across the sands. Here 's
something to wear on your head, child," and she drew
out of her pocket a nicely folded blue handkerchief;
"it's better than nothing," she said, "though it's
faded and old enough." Poor Peggy! She had no
hat at all; the handkerchief was, as grandmother said,
better than nothing, — that was all.

"Go, now, and walk very slowly, dear," her mother
said. She brought a long and broad shallow basket,
into which they put the flow^ers, and over all laid


lightly some newspapers, which were tucked carefully
in around the edges, to save her treasures from wind
and sun. She had but her one gown to wear, a dull,
dark-blue cotton print, made in the simplest fashion,
with neither frill nor furbelow. She had no time
for such, nor means if she had had time. Her thick,
bright locks were plaited into one long, rich braid
with *the ends left loose, for she had not even a bit of
ribbon wherewith to tie it. She knotted the blue
kerchief under her chin, kissed them all as if she were
bidding the family farewell for a month, and set off
with her basket on her arm. Willy cried to go too,
but it was too far for his little feet to trudge, or she
would gladly have taken him. They watched her
from the door till her figure lessened to a mere speck
on the sand. How would she return to them, — with
failure or success 1 They hardly dared to think !

Meantime, the little maid kept courageously on her
way. The sun was high and hot, but a breath of
coolness came from the waves which spilled themselves
in long breakers of lazy brine along the edge of the
sand. But she hardly noticed the heat, or the cool,
whispering water; her eyes were fixed on the great
building before her, which began to grow more distinct
every moment. Windows, doors, chimneys, roofs,
gables, columns, gradually disentangled themselves;
and she saw knots of people here and there, and a
crowd scattered on the long piazza; and before the


house on the level green, youths and maidens, gayly
clad, were playing tennis, careless of the sun. Like
a soldier marching to battle, Peggy walked past these,
straight up to one of the three broad flights of steps,
— the one at the left-hand entrance. She dared not
look about her, for she felt many eyes upon her as she
set her basket down on the lower step and took off
the protecting newspapers, folding them for tuture
use. She slipped the grandmother's old kerchief off
her head, she was so warm, and began to climb the
stairs slowly and with sinking heart. She stood still
at last, with down-dropped eyes and blushing cheeks,
feeling all the dreaded eyes upon her, and wishing she
were a plover, to fly home by the breakers' edge.
Suddenly a child's voice at her side said, "Oh, look
at the pretty flowers, mamma! I want some; please
buy some for me ! " and a lovely lady in black spoke
to her gently. Peggy started like a frightened sand-
piper, though the lady only said, "How lovely your
flowers are, my dear! May I have some? What is
the price of this bunch of sweet peas ? " and she drew
a mass of fragrant scarlet flowers out of the basket,
while the little girl who had begged stretched out both
hands for them.

" Wait a minute, Minnie. How much are they ? "
she asked of Peggy.

"Twenty-five cents," Peggy ventured in answer;
and the lady drew the coin from her purse and laid it


in Peggy's happy palm. The contact seemed to give
her new life, and her eyes grew moist with joy. She
sent a swift glance out over the hot coast-line to where
she knew her poor little home lay, a mere speck in the
melting distance, but oh, how dear it seemed! And
her hope grew strong and her fears less, and she held
the precious piece of silver tight, lest it should take
wings and fly away from her.

But now the contents of Peggy's basket began to
disappear with surprising rapidity, faster and faster,
till more than half her nosegays were sold, and she
was quite breathless with joy. Nothing had ever
looked so beautiful to her as the coins of silver she
held in her hand, which soon grew too small to hold
them all! They meant bread for her hungry dear
ones; they meant joy for that little home saddened by
poverty. She cared no more what people said, what
they thought; she was sure of success for to-day; she
held already help, for to-morrow in her delighted hands.

"May I have this pansy for my buttonhole?" said
a fine deep voice at her ear. She started, and turned
and gave the speaker the last little bunch she had left.
He put the flowers in their place, and took from the
basket two bunches of white sweet peas and slipped
the money into her hand.

"Tell me," he said very gently, "who taught you
to put the colors in masses like these ? Why do you

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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterStories and poems for children → online text (page 5 of 12)