Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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I don't kno^Y," she answered; "they are prettier
so," and she shyly proceeded to rearrange the nosegays
she had left.

"Why do you put grass with the poppies?" he
asked. "Did any one tell you to do it? "

"No," she said; "hut I always think they belong
together. "

"Yes, they do," he said; "hut who told you so? "

"No one ; they told me, themselves," she an-
swered, smiling a little.

"Fortunate child!" he said; "they don't tell every
one, though it 's an open secret."

He was moving away, with his hands full of sweet
peas, when he seemed to remember something, and
came back.

"Will you come with me," he said, "and bring
your basket to a lady who is not strong enough to
come so far down the piazza ? "

Peggy followed silently, and in a sheltered corner,
shaded carefully from the sun, she found one of the
loveliest sights she had ever seen. A lady, sixty
years old, perhaps, was lying back in a reclining chair,
and about her several people sat quietly chatting.
The lady's face was as fair as lilies, with eyes clear
and undimmed by her sixty years. Her smile was
sweeter than any smile Peggy had ever seen. Her
hair was like silvered snow over her calm forehead,
and she wore above this shining hair a little cap of


lace as delicate as if woven of cobwebs and hoar-frost,
with a bit of white satin ribbon like a moonbeam
folded on the top.

"She is beautiful as my sweet peas/' thought Peggy,
as Mr. Willard put the flowers into her lovely hands;
"they just suit her."

"I've brought you some posies, Mrs. Burton, as
you see," said her friend; "and here is the little girl
who knows all about them."

" Oh, how beautiful ! " cried Mrs. Burton, in a de-
lightful, sympathetic voice; "a thousand thanks!
And," turning to Peggy, "you brought them, my
dear? Come nearer and let me see what else you
have. Why, these are wonderful! Look at them,
my daughter," she said to a sweet young girl who sat
close beside her. "Why, Nelly, did you ever see
anything like them? What color, what Oriental
splendor! Where did you get them? tell me, my
child! I must have them all, every one; let me see,
here are eight bouquets, five large and three smaller;
twenty-five cents, did you say? Here it is; just two
dollars. What is it, — these small bunches only ten ?
Oh, never mind, I 'm sure they 're worth quite as
much as the large ones. There, Nelly dear, that 's
for you, and this for you, and you, and you," she
said, laughing delightfully, as she gave one to each
person about her. "There, now, we all are happy,
are n't we ? And next, I wish to know all about these


extraordinary flowers; sit down here, my dear, and
tell me."

Peggy did as she was hid, though she longed to fly
home, since her task was done for that day, hut the
lady had heen so kind she could not refuse; indeed,
no one could ever refuse that lady anything! AYhen,
by gentle questioning, she had won from Peggy all
her story, she laid her hand on the little girl's bright
hair with a beautiful gesture of affectionate protection;
but she made no comment, she asked only, "Are you
coming to-morrow, my dear, to bring some more
flowers? Don't fail, for we all want them."

With joy Peggy answered, "Yes, indeed, I will
come ! "

"Kemember, I wish a fresh bouquet every morning,
and one for IS^elly, too. Now, I know you 're longing
to get back; you shall go;" and Peggy took up her
empty basket, her eyes bright with tears of delight.

"You dear child," said the sweet young lady whom
her mother called Nelly, "did you wear no hat all
that long way across the hot sand ? "

"No," answered Peggy; "I didn't mind, I had my
grandmother's handkerchief; it did very well," and
she took it out of her pocket to tie again over her
bright hair.

The younger lady reached behind her mother's chair
and took a straw hat from where it hung by its strings,
and quietly placed it on Peggy's head. It was a


broad-brimmed hat of beautiful braided white straw;
simply trimmed with some soft, white mull, light afi
the foam of the sea. The child could scarcely believo
her ears when the lady said, "There, dear, it's for
you. Don't come out in the sun without it again ! "
and kissed her cheek. "Now, good-by. Don't say
a word. E-un home."

" Thank you, oh, thank you ! " cried Peggy.

Run home? She did not run, she flew! She did
not look behind her, she thought of nothing but the
joy she was taking to those anxious hearts who were
expecting her. As her swift steps covered the distance
between her and that cottage of her love, she seemed
to tread on air; she forgot she was hungry and hot
and tired; she could not stop a moment to rest; while
under the shade of the pretty hat her cheeks burned
and eyes glistened with a joy too great to be told.

Meantime, the watchers in the cottage counted the
moments of her absence; and when at last her slight
figure became visible, yet a long, long way off, little
Willy rushed forth to meet her.

"Stop, Willy, wait for me," his father cried, mov-
ing slowly down the steps. "Take hold of my hand,
Willy; we'll go together." But she came so fast
that the two slow walkers had gone only a short way
before she caught up to them, quite breathless, and
flung her arms round her father's neck, and cried,
" Oh, father, I sold them all ! " throwing her empty


iDasket as far as she could, till it rolled over and over
on the sand, while she hugged him and kissed him
again and again. And what a story she had to tell
when in a few minutes they were all together again
in the humble little room, and she spread out all her
precious earnings on the table before them. There
were eight dollars in silver pieces, — it was incredible !
What rejoicing, what happiness!

"Oh, mother! " cried Peggy, suddenly growing quite
white, "I 'm so hungry! Is there anything to eat?"

"My dear, my dear! Here is your bowl of por-
ridge, the last oatmeal we have in the house. I saved
it for you; " and she set it before the tired girl; for it
was quite the middle of the afternoon, many hours
since the scant breakfast. Well might she be hungry
with all she had gone through !

"But, mother dear, as soon as I rest a little, I'll
go up to the village for what we need."

"Xo, indeed, my darling, I will go; you mind the
baby and rest all you can. But where did you get
the beautiful hat? " And Peggy told, and there were
smiles and tears, and kisses and congratulations afresh.

"Here 's your kerchief all safe, grandmother dear,"
she said, taking it carefully out of her pocket.

"Oh, Peggy, you're a blessing to us!" the old
woman sighed; "I always said you were not born on
Sunday for nothing. And you are going with your
\owers again to the hotel, to-morrow 1 "


' Yes, going again to-morrow, " Peggy cried, all her
terrors blown to the winds.

" My Margaret, my little Peggy, my brave girl ! "
her father said, with tender pride.

The groiijD she had left at the hotel had watched
her depart with no common interest.

"What a really beautiful creature!" Mr. Willard
had said when she was out of hearing.

" Yes, and what a beautiful soul ! " cried the enthu-
siastic old lady. "Now, I am going to be that child's
fairy godmother. That is settled! You shall see!
She shall have everything she needs. She shall have
all her people taken care of and put in the way of
helping themselves, and she shall not be separated
from them, for that would break her heart; but she
shall have an education, and all her gifts and graces
shall be cultivated for her own joy and the joy of all
who come in contact with her ! "

"I told her she was a fortunate child," said Mr.
Willard, smiling, "but I hardly knew how fortunate;
yet I think you are more fortunate in having the
power to do these beautiful things."

"Why, what is the use of money but for such
things 1 " she answered. " Of what good is my money
to me if I cannot use it to make people better and
happier ? "

And so she did all that she promised herself she
would do for Peggy and Peggy's family. She allowed


her to go on selling the flowers while they lasted, watch-
ing her daily, growing to love her more and more, and
to admire and respect her, as did all who came near
her. Before the garden was exhausted, Peggy had
made three hundred dollars for her father, — a fortune,
it seemed to them all ! No more fears for the winter
now ! At home they fairly worshiped her, and she
was so happy that she no longer envied the song
sparrow as it sang on the garden wall, the only bird
that stays to sing the summer through. "I 'm just as
glad as you are," she said, as she watched it and
listened to its sweet warble; and it turned its pretty
head and looked at her with bright black eyes, as
much as to say, "I know it, merry comrade, and you
deserve it, too ! "

And this is what grew in Peggy's garden. She
planted more than the flowers. She sowed seeds of
patience and meekness and faithfulness, courage an(
hope and love, — and glorious was the blossomin


"Christine! May we come in and see you to-
night, Christine 1 '^ The children, peeping in at the
kitchen door, pushed it wide and danced over the
threshold, delighted at the smile which greeted them.

There were three of them, Sylvia Hastings and her
little brother Charlie, and Archie, a boy of fourteen,
at home for the winter holidays. Dearly they loved
to visit Christine in her bright kitchen, and no won-
der, for both the place and its occupant were most
cheerful, to say nothing of the charms of Minzie, the
sleek Maltese cat that lay basking on the mat in the
red glow of the fire, and the absurd old gray parrot
that sat muffled up in his feathers on a perch in the
corner of the room. It was early dusk of the winter
day, sharp and cold; a thin, crisp layer of snow cov-
ered the ground without, and made the warmth and
brightness within more delightful. And as for Chris-
tine, the Norwegian maid who kept the house, she
was as refreshing as morning sunshine, with her rosy
cheeks and milk-white skin, and rich hair piled in a
beautiful red-gold heap at the top of her head. The
children adored her, and her employers blessed the land


of Norway for having produced anything so charming
£jid so satisfactory.

"Now, what are you doing, Christine?" asked
Sylvia, as they stood by the table and peered into a
dull, red earthen dish filled with water, in which lay
potatoes peeled as smooth as ivory. "What are those
things? Potatoes? Aren't they pretty, Archie?
They look just like ivory ! "

"Take me up and show me!" cried little Charlie,
and Archie lifted him so that he could peep, too.
Christine laid a clean towel on the table, spread the
potatoes on it, rolled them about in it till they were
quite dry, then put them into a shallow tin pan which
she had buttered, and shook them till they all shone
with a thin coat of butter.

" What are they for ? " asked Sylvia.

"To bake for your supper, Miss Sylvia," answered

"But why do you butter them? "

"Oh, so they may bake a lovely light brown, and
the skin you will not have to take off at all ! " an-
swered she.

"Oh, yes, I know," said Sylvia, "they are so
good ! " and while Christie went on with her prepara-
tions for supper, all three sat themselves down on the
neat braided mat beside Minzie, the sleepy, comfortable
cat. She stretched her long length out slowly, and
really seemed to smile at the children, as she lay in


the ruddy firelight with her eyes half shut, lazily
responding to their caresses. She put out her paw,
its sharp claws softly sheathed, and with a deprecat-
ing gesture gently patted their hands, as if she were
boxing her pet kitten's ears.

" Pretty Minzie ! " Archie said; "you are so good-
natured, and you know so much ! "

"Good-evening, good-evening! Won't you take a
walk ? " cried a harsh voice from the corner.

"It's Polly!" cried Sylvia. "Oh, you ridiculous
old bird ! How you startled me ! "

" What have you got in your pocket ? " Polly con-
tinued, turning her head this way and that, and eying
the children askance.

"Poor Polly! Not a thing!'' said Sylvia. "1
wish I had thought to save some nuts for you."

"What does Polly want? What does Polly want! "
cried the bird, and then began to utter sounds no lan-
guage can describe; sounds which more nearly resem-
bled the racket of a watchman's rattle gone distracted
than anything else I can think of.

Minzie raised her head and looked toward the corner
"where Polly was perched, and then settled comfortably
back again, blinking her green eyes.

"Wise kitty ! " said Archie.

"Indeed she is wise," said Sylvia. "What do you
think she did, Archie? When we fed the birds under
the dining-room window, she hid in the hedge and



pounced on a bird every day, till mamma at last gave
up feeding them at all, for it seemed cruel to lead
them into a trap like that. Well, what does Minzie
do then but steal a piece of bread from the kitchen
and carry it out on the snow, and there bite it and
crumble it herself, and scratch and scatter the crumbs
all about. Then she hid in the hedge, the sly thing!
and watched. Down came the birds, — poor little
hungry dears, and Minzie sprang and caught one, and
off she went with him to eat him up behind a bush.
Oh, you naughty, naughty cat ! " continued Sylvia,
lifting her finger and shaking her head at the comfort-
able creature, who only blinked in supreme indiffer-
ence and content. " I wonder at you ! How can you be
so cruel V

"But she is n't naughty, Syl," said Archie. "Cats
were made to catch birds, don't you know it? "

"Well, /wouldn't pounce on poor little birds and
eat them, if I were a cat," cried Sylvia.

"And I wouldn't eat 'ittle birds," said Charlie,
making up a virtuous, wee mouth, which Sylvia stooped
to kiss at once, it was so irresistible.

"But you do eat them, Syl," Archie said. "You
are just as bad as Minzie. " Sylvia turned to him a
shocked little face. "What do you mean, Archie?"
she said.

"AMiy, Syl dear, didn't I see twelve small birds
served up on a dish yesterday at dinner, and didn't


you eat one, all but his bones? And all their claws
werei^urled. up so pitifully above them, too ! "

"Oh, but, Archie, that's something quite different!
Those birds were bought at the butcher's, you know."

"ISTever mind," interrupted Archie; "it is very
nearly the same thing. You were made to eat some
kinds of birds as well as kitty, so don't you blame her
for doing what you do yourself. Don't you remember
when papa was reading to mamma last night in a book
called 'Emerson's Essays,' how astonished mamma
was when he read this, * Only the butcher stands be-
\ tween us and the tiger,' or something like that, and
how they talked about it afterward? The cat is a
little tiger, — she belongs to the same family. "

"Yes, I heard them talking," said Sylvia, "but I
didn't understand."

"Well, never mind, dear," her brother answered;
"I don't think it is very easy to understand. We
need n't trouble ourselves about it. Only, don't you
blame poor Minzie for doing what she was made to
do." Sylvia shook her head thoughtfully; she found
it a very hard riddle to read. Most of us do.

" Ship ahoy ! " cried a harsh voice from the corner.
" Good-morning, dear ! How do you do ? What have
you got in your pocket ? Polly wants a cracker ! Good
gracious ! Wish you happy New Year ! "

They all broke into laughter, Christine's merry
voice mingling in the chorus. Minzie rose from the


mat, stretched herself, slowly crossed the room to
•where Polly sat chattering on her perch, and began to
play with the chain by which the bird was fastened,
giving the loop a push with her paw where it hung
down, striking it every time it swung within reach.
The parrot watched her meanwhile with the greatest
interest. " ]\Iiaw ! " cried Polly suddenly. Minzie
stopped and looked up. " Ha, ha, ha ! " shouted the
bird, as much as to say, "Did you think it was an-
other cat ? " and forthwith began to scream afresh,
crowing like a cock, barking like a dog, imitating the
creaking of a door, and then suddenly going into a
frenzy of sneezing and coughing and snuffling like a
person in the most desperate stages of influenza.

Minzie sat still, looking up at the bird, as if she
enjoyed the performance; and as for the children, they
laughed till they were tired.

"Truly, they are the best of friends, the two," said
Christie. "I don't know what one would do without
the other; they play with each other by the hour
together. "

"Come, Sylvia, bring Charlie upstairs; it is time,"
called mamma's voice; and away the children skipped.

Christie went to and fro about her work, — the
pleasantest picture imaginable. "I think I '11 set my
bread to rising before supper," she said to herself;
" then I shall have more time to write my letter home
this evening." So she worked fast and busily, and


when the bread was made, she put it in a large wooden
bowl and covered it up with a nice white towel, and
left it to rise on the dresser. The cat and the parrot
watched all these operations with an interest that
amused her, — it was so human.

After supper, when she had done all her work and
everything was in order for ,the night, she bade good-
evening to Minzie and Polly, and went upstairs to
write her weekly letter to her dear, far-off Norway.
Her room was very warm and comfortable, and as
fresh and tidy as herself. She set her lamp down on
the table, took out her little portfolio from the drawer,
and began to v/rite. She wrote slowly, and had been
busy about an hour when she heard a loud, distressed
"Miaw! " outside her door. She looked up. "Miaw!
Miaw ! Miaw ! " sounded quickly and anxiously from
Minzie. Evidently something unusual was the mat-
ter. She had never heard so anxious a cry from that
comfortable cat before.

" Why, what is it 1 '' she cried, as she rose and
opened the door. Minzie sprang in, apparently greatly
excited, with her tail upright and curling at the top.
She ran round and round Christie, rubbing herself
against the girl's ankles, and looking up into her face
with a most curious expression of solicitude and agita-
tion. "What is the matter? What is the trouble,
Minzie ?'' Christie kept asking, as if the poor dumb
creature could explain her distress in words. But


Minzie only "miawed" more distractedly than before;
she went toward the door, looking back at Christie,
then ran to her again, took hold of her apron with
her teeth, and tried to drag her toward the door.
"You want me to go downstairs? "

The cat frisked before her, turning to see if she
were following; then, as if satisfied, she fled lightly
and swiftly down the stair and into the kitchen,
Christie coming after, bearing the lamp in her hand.
When she reached the kitchen door she heard a cry
from the parrot.

"Come, come, come!" cried Polly. "Good gra-
cious ! Won't you take a walk ? "

The voice did not proceed from the bird's accus-
tomed corner, and looking about, the first thing
Christie saw was the linen towel she had spread over
the bread, on the floor, and Minzie standing up on her
hind paws with her two white-mittened fore-feet at
the edge of the table, craning her head forward and
crying piteously. There, in the middle of the large
pan of soft dough, sat Polly, sunk to her shoulders in
the sticky mass, only her neck and head with its huge
black beak and glassy yellow eyes, to be seen. She
had pulled the towel off" the bread, and, in process of
investigating it, had become fastened in the thick paste,
sinking deeper and deeper till she was in danger of
disappearing altogether.

" Ship ahoy ! " cried Polly. " Come ! Poor Polly !
What does Polly want ? "


Christine burst into laughter, and, greatly to Min-
zie's distress, lost time in going to call Sylvia and
Archie before rescuing the prisoner from h(?r perilous

" Oh dear ! '' cried Sylvia. " How dreadful ! What
shall we do, Archie 1 "

Archie, with shouts of merriment, helped Christie
disengage the poor bird, and they set her into a basin
of warm water to soak. She was perfectly quiet and
let them do as they pleased with her, only ejaculating
now and then, "Good gracious! What does Polly
want? Oh, my! Won't you take a walk?" with other
irrelevant remarks, which sent her deliverers off into
fresh peals of laughter.

"It's all very well to laugh," said Christine, "and
nobody could help it; but if it had not been for Min-
zie, poor Polly would have been smothered in the
dough, and that would have been ' Good gracious ! ' I
think ! " Then she told the children how Minzie had
called her, and insisted on her coming downstairs.
They petted the cat and gave her no end of praise, but
" Oh, you naughty bird ! " cried Syl to the parrot.
"Now you see what it is to meddle with things that
don't concern you! Just think of it! All Christie's
nice bread must go to feed the chickens, and you came
near losing your life! Don't you ever meddle again,
Polly ; do you hear ? "

Polly looked too comical. They had washed her as


well as they could, and tried to dry her, and had set
her on her perch as near as they dared to the fire.
She was so bedraggled and forlorn, with her wet,
ruffled feathers, and her lean, shivering body ! Minzie
sat and looked up at her with sympathetic eyes.

" Bless my soul ! What does Polly want 1 '-' chat-
tered the poor bird.

"I should think you wanted to be punished, if you
weren't punished enough already," laughed Christie,
as she fastened the chain more securely about the
parrot's leg.

Then she proceeded to make a fresh bowlful of
bread in place of that which had nearly made an end
of poor Polly; and presently left the two occupants of
the kitchen to take care of each other till morning.


It was such a pretty nest, and in such a pretty
place, that I must tell you about it.

One lovely afternoon in May I had been wandering
up and down, through rocky gorges, by little swampy
bits of ground, and on the tops of windy headlands,
looking for flowers, and had found many: large blue
violets, the like of which you never saw; white vio-
lets, too, creamy and fragrant; gentle little houstonias;
gay and dancing erythroniums ; and wind flowers deli-
cately tinted, blue, straw-color, pink, and purple. I
never found such in the mainland valleys. The salt
air of the sea deepens the colors of all flowers. I
stopped by a swamp which the recent rains had filled
and turned into a little lake. Light green iris-leaves
cut the water like sharp and slender swords, and, in
the low sunshine that streamed across, threw long
shadows over the shining surface. Some blackbirds
were calling sweetly in a clump of bushes, and song
sparrows sung as if they had but one hour in which
to crowd the whole rapture of the spring. As I
pressed through the budding bayberry bushes to reach

108 THE sandpiper's NEST

some milk-white sprays of shadbush which grew by
the water side, I startled three curlews. They flew
away, trailing their long legs, and whistling fine and
clear. I stood still to watch them out of sight. How
full the air was of pleasant sounds! The very waves
made a glad noise about the rocks, and the whole sea
seemed to roar afar off, as if half asleep and murmuring
in a kind of gentle dream. The flock of sheep was
scattered here and there, all washed as white as snow
by the plenteous rains, and nibbling the new grass
eagerly; and from near and far came the tender and
plaintive cries of the young lambs.

Going on again, I came to the edge of a little beach,
and presently I was startled by a sound of such terror
and distress that it went to my heart at once. In a
moment a poor little sandpiper emerged from the
bushes, dragging itself along in such a way that, had
you seen it, you would have believed that every bone
in its body had been broken. Such a dilapidated bird !
Its wings drooped, and its legs hung as if almost life-
less. It uttered continually a shrill cry of pain, and
kept just out of the reach of my hand, fluttering
hither and thither as if sore wounded and weary. At
first I was amazed, and cried out, "Why, friend and

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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterStories and poems for children → online text (page 6 of 12)