AUTUMN merged into winter, and the snow came whirling down in the city streets : the country must be already buried in deep drifts by this time, Katie thought.
Now came all the sparkling gayety of Christmas, about which so much has been said already, and so much more will be said; for if the present race of children must soon cross the threshold, and become grown people, others come flocking out of the cradle to fill their places; so the fun goes on, and Santa Claus may still stand. winking drolly from the doorway of every toy-shop, when a hundred years have rolled away.
Katie's heart gave a jump of delight when she found several packages lying on a chair beside her bed on Christmas morning. She felt of them, with sparkling eyes, to guess at their contents. If there was only a doll! No, there was no toy of any kind--a pretty, bright-colored dress, a black silk apron, with pockets, a neat embroidered collar, with a pink bow attached, and a pair of gloves'
Certainly, the presents were very suitable for a little nurse, and handsome of their sort; yet Katie was sadly disappointed The dress was a great deal nicer than any she had ever worn, and she was real grateful for it in her heart; but she was only a child after all, and she would have enjoyed having a doll to herself very much. The dress and apron and collar would have been just as proper gifts, had she been ninety years old, instead of twelve; but a little nurse-girl is not expected to play.
She went into the nursery, and gave Charlie a large wool lamb, with a bell round its neck, which she had bought with her own private pocket-money, while nurse distributed her gifts also among the other children: a tin whistle, a top, a whip, and a monkey, to show her affection for them.
Katie and nurse had made a mysterious journey into by-ways and side-streets to find these presents, and Charlie showed his strong attachment to the lamb by carrying the woolly pet to bed with him that night.
All day there was a cloud upon Katie's usually cheerful face. She was permitted to admire the new dolls in all their fresh finery; still they passed out of. her hands again afterward, and no one noticed her unhappiness in the noisy nursery, where the small people were absorbed in their own affairs.
No one at all ?
The large wax doll in the red velvet arm-chair winked one eye, as much as to say:
" We shall understand each other presently."
The brown chocolate pony, with mane and tail of white sugar, nodded his head three times roguishly.
Katie laughed merrily for a moment, and then forgot the matter; but the dolls did not forget nearly so soon, as they never held more than one idea at a time in their heads.
When evening came, nurse went to make her friends a Christmas visit, and Katie, having no friends in the great city, was left in charge of the nursery.
The coal fire blazed brightly on the hearth, casting rosy lights Over the warm colors of the carpet, and occasionally revealed the placid faces of the sleeping children pressed among the pillows.
Tramp, tramp, patter, patter, came a procession of toys up to the hearth-rug where Katie sat.
The large wax doll, with the trailing robe, had risen from her velvet arm-chair to lead the company, and behind trooped a dozen china dolls, all sisters of one family, and ranging in height down to the inch-high baby. There were jumping-jacks; cricket balls; an elephant made of gray flannel, with pins sticking in his sides, and a pasteboard house on his back; dark dolls and fair dolls, and little rattling carts without number.
" We are going to hold our club-meeting here on the hearth-rug to-night," said the wax doll, and the words came sweetly from her rosy lips.
" What is a doll club ? " asked the ignorant Katie, at the same time admiring the elegance of the wax doll's manners.
" Have you never heard of our club ? " cried all the dolls. " That is surprising!
We are a literary society; we have already left our mark on the world's progress, for a great many reforms would never have taken place, save for our extensive influence," and the dolls tossed their heads proudly.
"How can a doll he anything but a plaything ? " laughed Katie, much amused at the spirited little trots.
"Are we of no use besides that ? " cried the dolls again. " We will show you that we know a thing or two. Fresh members are added to our number every year, when the new presents arrive at Christmas; and here we shall hold our meeting."
" May I see you play ? " begged Katie, meekly, for she longed to see what the dollies would do.
" Yes, certainly; we should not have come out until you had gone to bed, if we had not wanted to amuse you because you had no doll. You foolish great creature! It is not play, but business. Remember that, because we are quick-tempered, and often fly into a rage."
Katie could only laugh with delight at the idea of listening to doll-conversation.
" We have a great deal of talent among us," piped a jack-in-the-box.
" Oh ! did you speak ? " inquired a little doll, with a severe frown. " Ladies come before gentlemen here, if you please. Perhaps we shall decide to put you outside the circle altogether to-night."
The poor jack slunk back into his box, (he was rather limp in his red coat at the best,) quite abashed at the reproof he had received.
The old dolls of last year wished to manage everything, as they had the most experience ; while a doll in a print frock, that had lost one arm, and had a rubber head, was especially fond of argument, and having matters her own way. Her temper had been soured by the trials of life, for she had been banged and battered by master Charlie; now falling against the door; now lying for days under the table, and usually dragged from such concealment by one foot; then flung headlong out of the window by heedless little hands, to strike plump upon the hard pavement of the court-yard.
No wonder that her countenance was wrinkled, and that she had lost all faith in human nature, she had been treated so ill.
" I should be president, because I own a velvet arm-chair," said the wax-doll, spreading out her rich gown with two pink kid hands.
"We need a president who can boast something besides fine clothes," said the rubber doll, whose name was Polly, and if it was necessary that the doll president should be old and shabby, she was certainly the best adapted to fill the position. "I will be president," hummed the whip-top, whirling into the circle. " I can waltz around, and keep you in order."
" No; I have the clearest voice, and the president must be heard by every one distinctly," cried the penny whistle.
" If that is all you want, we can make enough noise too," barked all the little dogs, mounted on wheels; and the goat, with a tin bell attached to his collar, was of the same opinion.
" Beat me! " shouted the new drum, and the drumsticks rapped a brisk military tattoo in obedience.
" Creak, squeak! " wheezed a toy melodeon, rather broken-winded, but doing its best.
" Cock-a-doodle-do! " shrieked a rooster, made of blue glass, with a splendid fine-spun tail.
Chanticleer should have remembered that he was made of glass, instead of reigning prince of the barn-yard, for he burst with the crowing effort he made, and fell in a shower of fragments from the mantel-piece.
Then the little china bird wept until the gold ran off her beak, over the poor cock, for she was engaged to be married to him, and the bronze clock had promised to perform the interesting ceremony-when it ceased ticking.
There were quarrels among the dolls themselves, because each one longed to take the chair and cover herself with glory. But it was impossible that every one should have the place of honor, and so the uproar only increased among the wrangling small people. The rubber doll was seen to box the ears of her next neighbor; the wax doll was as near flying into a pet as a well-bred lady ever should be; and the china babies stamped their little china feet to emphasize their remarks.
The jumping-jack climbed upon Katie's knee with one spring, and made a sly grimace at her, twisting his red mouth awry.
" Tell them to draw lots," he whispered. " What a jolly time they are having, to be sure."
So Katie told the disputing dollies that she would cut three strips from the margin of a newspaper, and three candidates must draw for the prize-the rubber-headed Polly, the wax lady, and the large crying baby, in nightgown and cap, who had wasted no breath in the argument, but had only sat staring in a fat, helpless way.
The toys agreed to this wise plan, and the three dolls in turn drew the slips of paper from between Katie's fingers.
Lo and behold! the innocent crying baby held the longest strip of paper- she was president of the doll club, after all.
Nothing more could be said, and the wax doll allowed the new president to occupy her velvet arm-chair in honor of her exalted dignity and high position.
" What ever am I to do?" asked the childish crying baby, and there she sat in her nightgown and cap, with hare feet-the very picture of youthful simplicity.
The rubber Polly slapped the new president spitefully, she was so vexed at her own defeat, and then the baby cried most beautifully, without any one's pinching her cloth waistband for the purpose.
"This can never be allowed!" exclaimed a pen-wiper doll, dressed, like a Quakeress, in folds of gray cloth, that formed so many leaves upon which to wipe a pen, while her head was a walnut, with a pair of tin-wire spectacles, which gave her a very wise look indeed.
" Shall any person in the doll's club be rude ? Ugh! you cross rubber dolly, I would slap you myself for your noisy ways, if I was not made of a wish-bone, and might crack."
" I will do it for you, missus," cried the jack, popping up out of his box; but nobody noticed his remark.
Polly was at once turned against by all her tiny companions. They fastened her hands together with a bit of ribbon, and forced her to sit down in a brass-bound wash-tub as a punishment. There she sat in the tub, (there was no water in it, fortunately,) a terrible example to all evil-doers.
" You must stay there until you beg the crying baby's pardon," said the old walnut Quakeress; and Polly, of the battered countenance, had a very obstinate look, as if it would be • a long while before she yielded.
The crying baby was good nature itself, if she did not know much of the world, and she would have freed the naughty doll prisoner at once; but the walnut Quakeress declared there must be some sort of punishment for slapping each other, or the rest would not behave well afterward.
The business of the evening now began in earnest.
The fat crying baby leaned back comfortably in the arm-chair, and allowed the walnut Quakeress to do the talking, as she had been appointed chairman.
"Any doll who has a paper to present can do so," said the little chairman, with an important air.
Out tripped a pretty wooden doll, dressed in pink calico, holding a tiny roll of paper in her hand, and others followed with their rolls, until they were piled so high that the tip of the chairman's nose alone was visible behind.
The subjects upon which the dolls had written were:
" Is it best to be made of kid or china ? "
" Will a doll wear longest stuffed with .sawdust or cotton?"
These were grave questions, and the dolls' views must naturally have been one-sided, according as each one was made. Could a sawdust doll be expected to say that a cotton one was better, in reason ?
It was funny to watch the walnut chairman, when she peered at the papers with a puzzled air; for she could not read, although she would rather have lost her walnut head than allow that her education had been neglected.
She rubbed her spectacles, held the papers upside down, and then she said they were so badly written that she could not make them out at all.
All the dolls laughed and tittered; they knew very well it was not the fault of her spectacles or the light which prevented the chairman from reading their papers aloud. The jumping-jack, who had been quietly seated upon Katie's knee, gave a sudden skip down before the table, making a low bow, with his pasteboard knees bent.
"Allow me to read for you," he said, politely.
" I could read if I liked, only the papers are stupid," and she gave them to the paste-board cavalier.
So the jumping-jack began to read, in a very solemn manner:
"High diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle!
The cow jumped over the moon."
" No, no," interrupted the dollies, indignantly. "We do not write nursery rhymes, thank you. Let the jumping-jack be tied to the leg of the president's chair for his pranks, by his own string, too."
Great confusion followed, for the jumping-jack would persist in kissing the dolls when they attempted to fasten him, and then they fled back, shrieking, to a safe distance.
At last he was secured, however, although he did not mind the punishment much, since he could still hop upon one leg, and make faces at everybody.
"I am very ill," sighed a faint voice from the miniature sofa, and every one paused to listen.
There lay a small doll, with pale-yellow ringlets and blue eyes, dressed in white muslin and velvet. She was an- invalid doll, for she had a darn in her back, where she had been cut cruelly with a penknife to see what she was made of; but that was not all- she was a poetess besides.
" The children lay me on the sofa, and play that I am sick," said Clorinda, for that was the literary doll's name. " It is really no play after all; my back was neatly mended enough; yet I am not long for this world, as the bran of which my body is made dribbles out between the stitches constantly."
"I am a doctor," said the monkey, climbing his stick. " Let me fan you, poor Clorinda; " so he waved a bit of newspaper until it ruffled her blonde curls.
" Will you read one of your sweet little poems, my dear, if you feel strong enough?" urged the walnut chairman. "It would be much more interesting than these papers."
" Oh, ho ! missus, I guess you came from New Jersey," cried the saucy jack.
" What if I did, sir ? "
" They don't care much for learning, I have heard. I came from New England, thank fortune."
"Tie the jumping-jack's other leg, and make him behave," said the chairman, severely, so that jack could no longer hop, and that made him rather low-spirited.
The poetess Clorinda was delighted at the prospect of giving some of her thoughts to the world; she had already quite a reputation for talent among the dolls. She rose slowly, rolled up her blue glass eyes to the ceiling, and clasped her kid hands together over her heart. Then she began :
POOR Poppy was made of the rubber-tree,
Of a dingy yellow hue;
When you squeezed her cheeks they went all agee,
Like a cat a-trying to mew.
" Poor Poppy ! she came to a dreadful end,
Although she could not break;
Of course, in that state she would not mend;
To see her made all the dolls quake.
" Tom threw her into the bright coalfire,
And she shrivelled and snapped as she fell;
She made no groans on her funeral pyre,
But a dismal, frightful smell.
" She startled the dolls from their midnight dreams
With a ghastly, awful tread;
From her old blue dress the fire still streamed
As she stopped and stared at each bed.
" ' Of Tom, that dreadful boy, beware !
Lest you follow after me.'
Each doll raised her hand to feel for her hair,
The sight was so dreadful to see.
" Then slowly marching again to her tomb,
Sank down 'mid the flames bright and clear.
Each doll, much oppressed by so dreadful a doom,
Pulled the bed-quilt up over her ear."
" How beautiful! " murmured the toys.
" How sad! " sobbed Polly, the prisoner in the tub; " it makes me think of my sister Sallie, who died long ago."
All the dolls wiped their eyes in sympathy, and the crying baby president said that Polly should he taken, out of the tub, where she had sat long enough, because it was evident that her heart was in the right place after all.
In the mean while, the poetess sank back upon the sofa gracefully, and fainted away. The exertion of standing upon her wax feet so long had been too much for her.
The dolls flocked around the sofa, and the monkey doctor hopped away to the drug-shop, where the apothecary behind the wooden counter hastily gave him the first article he could find, and as that happened to be red pepper, Clorinda was obliged to sneeze feebly, as a sign of life, although she would have liked to remain in her fainting fit some time longer.
" Such a delicate creature! " said the walnut chairman, shaking her walnut head solemnly.
" Stuff and nonsense! " cried the wax doll, who was a trifle jealous of Clorinda; " she likes to attract notice."
The lovely poetess opened one blue eye, and stared angrily at her wax cousin ; red pepper and a saucy remark brought her around surprisingly quick.
"Ahem! " coughed a tin soldier, presenting arms; "if I may come into the literary circle, I will tell a story."
" Yes, come in," said the crying baby pleasantly; and as she was president, the soldier, the jack-in-the-box, and all the other boy dolls were allowed to seat themselves near her velvet arm-chair, provided they would keep quiet; and that they did, each one sitting with feet crossed like Turks, except the soldier, who was obliged to stand erect, holding his musket.
" I can't hear anything that is said when my legs are tied in this way," whimpered the jumping-jack, dismally.
So the kind - hearted president released him also.
" What have you to say ? " asked the poetess. " One does not expect to find much delightful romance in a tin soldier."
"I am a major-general," said the soldier, proudly, strutting up and down. " The little boy who owns me makes me fight battles all day long. If you do not take my word for it, ask any of my men in the painted box yonder."
The other soldiers rattled .in their box by way of reply.
" Do you hear them presenting arms, ladies? Now I may continue, I sup- pose."
" Of course you may," said all the dolls, graciously, casting admiring glances out of their bead eyes at the handsome soldier, for even doll ladies like a uniform, and every one knows that real ladies dote on them.
" I would take off my cap, if I could," added the major-general, politely; "but unfortunately my head would come off too, as they are both joined together, so you will pardon my rudeness in keeping both on."
" Is your story original ? " inquired Clorinda.
" It can never be as fine as ' Poppy's Ghost,' " whispered the attentive monkey in her ear.
" You foolish creature! " replied Clorinda, playfully boxing the monkey's wooden ear; then she sighed, and cast down her eyes genteelly.
" I heard the story in the Mexican war, madam," said the soldier, and he looked around loftily, to see if any person doubted that he had served in real wars.
The dolls, now that they found him to he indeed a military hero, stared admiringly again.
" Life is not all play," remarked this wise major-general; then he stood stiffer than ever, with one foot advanced in an elegant attitude, while he prepared to tell his story.
" Stop one moment," cried Clorinda, pointing at the castle.
The castle was built of sand-paper, with towers and gables, and many windows. Nobody knew, except the doll that lived there, how elegant it might be inside, for none of the others had ever visited her.
Everything outside was splendid, altogether splendid, as became a princely residence. There were lawns and stately rows of trees, made of crisp curled paper; there were pewter fountains, with figures grouped in the basins, and miniature lakes of glass, with wax swans floating on the surface.
A blue peacock was strutting on the terrace ; a wooden horse was cantering up the avenue; and some stiff, painted people were enjoying themselves on the grass.
When Clorinda spoke, every object began to move, in its own way, with curious life and motion.
The little silk flag on the turret fluttered out proudly on the breeze, and a rosy light glowed from each tiny window.
The wooden horse cantered on with a smart tap of hoofs on the gravelled path, the painted people shot arrows at targets, and rolled balls over the grass in various games. It was pretty to see the crisp paper trees unfold in graceful branches, and drooping boughs clothed in tender leaves, while the pewter fountains spouted streams of water from conch-shells held by little boys on their shoulders, or the open mouths of dragons, with a soft murmur, and the wax swans spread their white wings as they glided over the surface of the glass lakes, which rippled in sparkling waves.
Now the lady of the castle appeared at the door. She was made of pasteboard, colored in gay stripes, like the jumping- jack and the paper dolls; yet she did not acknowledge them to he her relatives. She lived in a castle, and therefore she was very proud-one could see that quite plainly.
" I cannot invite you into my house, because you are not all made like me, and only slender, elegant people may enter here," she said.
" I suppose, if we were all thin as a wafer, we might live in a paper box," sneered the wax doll. "It is a castle."
" Call it so, if you please. I consider it a box which might hold my bonnet," said the wax doll.
" I should like to join your club," said the castle lady.
"High birth and wealth can make no difference here; we need talent," said Clorinda.
" Hoity-toity, miss! " cried the castle lady, angrily, " may not an aristocratic doll have all three gifts ? I have plenty of brains, you will find. There are queens in my family without number, and my uncle is the king of hearts in a pack of cards, with a gilt crown and sceptre. What more do you want ? "
" We pasteboard people have plenty of wit. I suppose it is because we are so light and springy in our movements, instead of being heavy and stuffed with bran, like - ahem ! " said the jumping-jack, briskly.
" That is speaking one word for me, and two for yourself. Besides, I am not such a grasshopper as you, sir. It would not be becoming in one of my position to skip about as you do," and the castle lady looked wonderfully dignified.
All this while the poor tin soldier stood bolt upright, patiently waiting for a chance to tell his story. He was the pink of good soldiers, and would not have interrupted a lady while she was speaking, for the world.
He sighed once very dismally under his lead jacket, and the little china dollies said it was a shame.
" Here is the dear tin soldier waiting for a chance to make himself heard, and he has something delightful to tell us," they cried.
" Ladies, you do me too much honor," said the soldier, presenting arms to them.
But all this really did no good.
The walnut chairman was afraid that the young dolls would not show themselves to be strong-minded, if he was allowed to talk, so she piped in hastily :
" This is a woman's society, and the castle lady must be heard first."
" Of course, that is what I expect. You don't often meet one of the king of hearts' nieces."
Then the castle lady stared straight ahead, as if she was trying to remember something.
" Poetry is more genteel than prose) in my opinion," she said.
"No doubt your poem will be very nice," commented the poetess Clorinda, rather faintly; but she imagined that she was very polite, and did not show any jealousy of another poetical doll.
" Nice! that is a tame word of praise," said the castle lady, in a pet, and she banged the door of her mansion before any one else had time to soothe her wrath.
" She should not have been offended in that way," said the chairman, looking severely at Clorinda.
What was to be done ?
The wax doll was really a giantess compared to the castle, so she peeped down the paper chimneys, begging the lady to come out once more; the hobby-horse neighed at the windows, in hope of arousing some response within; and finally, the tiniest doll among all the toys was chosen to walk up the gravel avenue and tap at the door.
The little doll put on her wee red cloak, as if she was going out to walk, and stepped bravely upon the castle ground.
It was no use, however, for the castle lady showed her high birth and breeding by sulking in silence, instead of joining the club again.
The little doll knocked prettily on the door; yet she had to run away, when she had done so, as fast as her china feet would carry her, for the wooden horse pranced after her, and the painted people tried to catch her; but they were rather stiff in the joints, and she easily escaped. Then the light faded from the windows; the trees curled up into stiff paper branches again; the fountains ceased to play, and the swans became mere lumps of wax upon glass ponds once more.
" We might have had a taste of polite society, if the princess had not got angry with us," sighed the rubber ball.
" That is a slap at me, I suppose," said Glorinda, sniffing at a rose-leaf to keep herself alive amidst so much excitement.
The patient tin soldier was obliged to cough twice before any notice was again taken of him or his affairs; every one had forgotten him.
"If you please, ladies," he began, meekly. "Ah! yes, to be sure, we still have you left," said the chairman, for she really liked to see justice done to every speaker. "You may begin now."
Thus encouraged, the soldier held his musket as if he was about to make a military charge upon the company, and told his tale the best he could.
THE TIN SOLDIER'S STORY.
THE LITTLE CRAB'S GREAT RELATIONS.
As soon as the little crab could speak and think, he showed his family that he had a mind of his own.
" Every one for himself," he said; snapping his claws defiantly at the world, while he was still a baby crab.
" He will make his mark in his day and generation, if we are not mistaken," remarked the old crabs.
" For that matter, I shall keep my eyes about me, certainly," replied the little crab, briskly. " You can never tell what may happen. If I was to be caught and boiled alive for the table, how I should bite somebody's fingers first! "
"Do not forget that you belong to an old and respectable family, the Crustacea," said the old crabs. " There's no better or more useful race in the seas, for we devour all kinds of food, and thus keep the waters pure."
" Exactly," returned the little crab. " I intend to present myself to my great relations, and shine in the light of their glory. What is the use of being connected with the lobster and prawn, if one may not tell of it some day ? As my cousin, the lobster, once said to me, ' Oh ! my uncle, the craw-fish, thinks thus and so.' That sounds well."
"All a mistake. You were evidently born for a toady," said the old crabs; but the young one never paused to listen, and trotted away to find the lobster's abode.
The little crab knew that he was well dressed in the crab livery. He had gay red stripes on his back, and his legs were banded with yellow and blue, in the most beautiful manner. He peeped into a tide-pool, where the periwinkles were mowing the tender sea-weeds which draped the sides of the basin, with their long tongues moving from side to side like scythes.
" Halloa! " shouted the little crab, pausing on the brink of the tide-pool, "can you tell me the way to the lobster's residence?"
The tiny scythe-tongues did not pause in their labor for an instant; the periwinkles were too busy eating their meal of sea-weed to reply. While the crab awaited their pleasure, a man's foot pushed him over- board, so that he fell headlong into the crystal clear well.
" How rude! We do not like to be disturbed at our dinner by such noisy fellows," exclaimed the periwinkles, coiling up their long tongues for the purpose of speaking.
" Just as if I could help tumbling into your dull little hole! " cried the indignant crab, scrambling out of the tide-pool as fast as his nimble legs would carry him.
Pounce! A large hand clutched him, belonging to the owner of the boot, who had watched eagerly for the reappearance of the crab at the surface of the tide-pool, and now our hero was laid on his back, in the palm of the hand, for the purpose of being admired by several ladies.
" I cannot fight these big creatures, so I may as well pretend I am dead, and play old soldier with them," and he did stretch himself quite stiff to await his fate. The . ladies poked him with their parasols, and peered at him through their eye-glasses; but he made no resistance until a delicate finger came too near: then he nipped it -- smartly between his large claw. The lady shrieked with pain, and the naughty crab was flung far out into the water. Giddy and ill, the poor little fellow at last sank to the bottom of the ocean without having broken his shell, although he had spun through the air to such a height that he felt all his joints crack.
Along came a handsome star-fish, of a vivid crimson color, so that it resembled a large flower wandering beneath the waters ; yet it crawled upon three legs, having lost the other while trying to devour the delicious oysters, and they had closed their doors so quickly that the star-fish left its legs behind.
"I am a cripple, and I have come to the scallop-doctor to be cured," sighed the star-fish, in melancholy tones.
" In that case I will see him, also," said the little crab.
The scallop-doctor soon appeared, springing lightly through the water by rapidly opening and closing the valves of his pretty crimped shells. He was a very chatty and agreeable physician; but he was obliged to look grave when he saw the star-fish.
" You must wait until your legs grow again. Time and patience. No end of medicine, too," said the scallop-doctor.
The star-fish was very low-spirited over his misfortune. " I will commit suicide, I believe," and he actually did, before their eyes, by casting off his remaining members, and seeming to crumble all to pieces at once.
" I have no patience with the star-fish! " exclaimed the scallop-doctor. " They often kill themselves, if every thing does not suit their fancy. They just seem to shake off their limbs at pleasure, and there is an end of them. But what is the matter with you? Do you suffer from headache or indigestion ? "
" I have had a fall," said the little crab. " I feel very queer."
" Rest and quiet will restore your nerves," said the scallop-doctor, who then gave the crab patient three pills, made of three grains of sand, took his fee, and hustled away again, for he had a large practice and great reputation, having studied in the herring school of medicine.
The little crab sat quietly under the shelter of the large stone, and presently a hermit-crab came jogging along, carrying his house, a comfortable whelk-shell, upon his back. "The hermit means mischief," thought our hero, watching the other's movements quietly, and certainly he was behaving very strangely. He dragged a bit of meat to a certain spot, and left it as a kind of bait, while he hid himself by closing the door of his house. A second hermit now appeared, looked around cautiously, and began to nibble the tempting morsel.
In a moment, the first hermit opened his door gently, and thrust out his claws, intending to drag his brother from his shell, and try it himself instead, for the hermit-crabs like to change their houses as often as the Americans.
" Not so fast," and the little crab strolled out to devour the meat without any invitation. As he was quite a giant for size, compared to the tiny hermits, they did not dare interfere.
" Doctor Scallop's pills must have given me an appetite," said the saucy fellow, winking one eye at the enraged hermit. " Let not your angry passions rise, friend, and learn to be contented with your own house." "It is a rickety, tumble-down affair," grumbled the hermit-crab. Then he boxed his enemy; but the latter only chuckled, and continued to eat the meat at his leisure.
" The best-laid plans of hermit-crabs Will sometimes go astray."
This the little crab considered very witty; but the hermit could see no point to the sarcasm whatever, and the flounders quite agreed with him in opinion.
" I shall not go to the hermits to learn good manners, anyway," observed the little crab, sidling onward, quite refreshed by the hearty meal, or the three sand-grain pills he had taken. "I am in search of my great relations," he said to the angler-fish, which was half buried in the sand, with only the broad, flat head and two staring eyes visible.
" The sea is a wide place," replied the sluggish angler, opening an immense mouth. "Ask the cockles any questions, as they roam more than I do."
The cockles skipped and walked by means of a beautiful scarlet foot, protruded between the shells, and they ran so fast that the little crab could with difficulty overtake them.
"The prawn lives round the corner," they said, and skipped forward again about their own business.
" Where is around the corner, pray ? Behind this rock, or that one? I shall ask no more questions, but pretend that I know everything."
The little crab trudged on bravely after forming this resolution, and, as a matter of course, he met the prawn just coming out of his dwelling, dressed for a party. Do you know what that means? Why, the prawn had been scrubbing his armor any length of time with the fine brushes or tiny hand-claws with which he was provided, until it shone like polished enamel. The prawn replied to the little crab's polite greeting in rather a patronizing way, and then he said his carriage was waiting. He was a great dandy, and must be carried to the party on a couch of sea-weeds, drawn by a dozen shrimps.
" It is the sea-urchin's reception, you know," drawled the prawn, reclining upon the sea-weeds with languid elegance.
" Why don't you come, too ? " asked the shrimps; they were only hired for the occasion, as the prawn did not keep a carriage.
" You may jump up behind for a foot-man," said the prawn, and the little crab clung to the floating weeds, thinking it great fun.
"This is eating humble-pie," he thought. " The prawn evidently considers me only a very commonplace person, compared with himself."
The sea-urchin's reception was considered a very fashionable affair. All the fish came from far and near to attend it, although they did not do much else but stare at each other, and make remarks upon their neighbors' scales, much as mortals comment about dress, when they arrived.
The little crab's eyes were dazzled by so much splendor.
Mrs. Sea-urchin, looking exactly like a small ball of sharp spines, had selected her drawing-room with great care. Upon the rocks grew the brilliant sea-flowers, which spread all the bright colors of the rainbow in honor of the occasion; the coral branches also blossomed with the feathered heads of the tiny polypes, living inside the stone dwelling they bad built, and the sea-weeds formed a soft carpet, although very few of the guests walked, but swam instead.
The jelly-fish gave light from their transparent bodies, like globes of pale green fire, and the star-fish linked their long arms together in a wide circle, while the whole sea-urchin family went rolling about to form a prickly hedge and preserve order.
The cod, the pretty flying-fish, closely followed by the graceful dolphin, and even a fleet of nautiluses, furled their sails, so that their little boats might sink to the bottom. All presented their compliments to Madame Sea-urchin.
A dark object glided through the water, and hovered directly above the reception-party, causing the fish to dart away and hide from the terrible shark, whose great cruel teeth glittered in his frightful jaws.
The shark laughed at the terror his presence created.
" Why have I not been invited to the party ? What makes you all run away in such a hurry ? If I do not devour you, another shark will, in time. It all amounts to the same thing in the end. I eat the large fish, and the large fish eat the little fish, and the little fish eat the worms or slugs, and the small lobster-people eat each other, I suppose."
The shark laughed again in a cruel way, for he gloried in his stout armor and terrible strength-then glided away swiftly.
"The little lobster-people, indeed! " cried a lobster, jerking the water about with his tail, in a state of great excitement. Here was the little crab's great relation at last. " You are much bigger than I am," he said, walking around the lobster to admire him.
" There is something in that," replied the lobster; and his anger cooled enough for him to cast a favorable eye upon a small crab which displayed so much wisdom.
It is always pleasant to be bigger than somebody else, if it is only in the large size of one's shell, and the lobster took the little crab under his protection at once. Now the little crab did not intend to become a toady; it was only his good luck to have said the right thing in the right place, and thus he found favor with the great lobster.
" If I may measure your size and the length of your feelers with this string of sea-weed, I should like to carry it home to the old crabs."
So the lobster was measured, and this put him in a very good humor indeed; but the prawns and shrimps giggled together over so funny a proceeding.
" If any of you treat the little crab unkindly, he has only to tell me of the offence," said the lobster, grandly; and the prawn dandies and the merry shrimps ceased to laugh at once, asking if they could be of any service to their dear cousin.
" Will you drive home with me ? " said the handsome prawn.
" I shall not be your footman any longer, thank you," said the saucy little crab.
" Supper! " cried the sea-urchin, and every one of the fish guests began nibbling what suited their taste best. Each brought their supper with them, as Mrs. Sea-urchin was too small to travel about and find the proper food for dolphins and sword-fish; she would have been a hundred years doing that. Some of them tasted the food so many times on the way that there was none left, just as little boys and girls take a crumb from the nice cake in their baskets, until not even a plum remains.
The starfish and crabs danced Scotch reels to their own music; the mackerel waltzed until it made one giddy to look at them; the codfish aristocracy had a quadrille by themselves in deep water, for they were very select in their feelings, and did not like to be too easy in their manners.
As for the porpoises, they chose the polka, as they could splash about and puff a great deal in that dance, like the noisy fellows they were.
" This is going into society," said the little crab, jumping gayly backward and forward. Then he made an offer of marriage to a little shrimp lady, and she told him she was already engaged to the sea-urchin's eldest son, with. her papa's consent.
" In that case I shall remain an old bachelor," said the little crab, "or drown myself; I don't really know which course to take."
" There are good fish in the sea as ever were caught," said the pretty little shrimp lady.
The sea-urchin party closed in great confusion. The wicked shark was seen again approaching, with two other sharks following, expecting to share a royal feast.
The dolphin made a snap at the flying-fish, and they darted to the surface, where they could spread little wings, and leap a few yards in the air; but the dolphin swam stealthily below, and when they fell back into the sea again, he ate them up. Away flashed the other fish, too, before the cruel enemies, the sharks; and the troubled waters seemed sparkling tracts of silver until they had disappeared.
The little crab went home with the lobster on a visit. Now he had reached a high round on the ladder of glory. An invitation to the lobster mansion was not received by a common crab every day.
The lobster lived in a hole, and he sprang into it backward in a very expert manner. The very first thing he did was to snub the little crab visitor for telling his opinion of something. What right had a crab-a poor relation - to think at all, when the lobsters could think for him ?
If the little crab had belonged to the lobster scale of society, the lobster would have listened to him politely, especially if he had happened to live in a larger hole than he did himself, or had a longer tail; but being only a crab - what a difference that made! Although he dearly loved to talk about his own greatness, the crab soon saw that the lobster was striving to get into the notice of large fish, just as he longed to be intimate with the lobster.
"That is the way," he thought. "I envy the lobster, and he, in turn, envies somebody else. After all, I may as well be a crab as anything larger in size."
The little crab felt very much happier when he had pondered over this idea.
" Where are you going ? "
" Home to the shore, where God placed me," said the crab.
" I feel ill," sighed the lobster, faintly. " I am growing too fat for my shell. Oh dear! I must burst."
The lobster slipped out of the covering of one claw exactly as he would have taken off a boot; then he worked at another, and still another, until all his claws were free from the hard casing, which had become too small. Next his shell armor cracked open, and by degrees he cast away the whole old suit of clothes, as he no longer had any .need of them. The lobster was now only a helpless mass of tender flesh, quite unprotected from his enemies, until his new skin should harden into another shell, and permit him to brave the perils of the outside world.
The little crab laughed aloud at his funny appearance.
" Dear cousin," begged the proud lobster, shrinking back into his hole out of sight, " do not tell my brother lobsters that I have lost my shell, for they will surely come and eat me up before I can defend myself."
" Never fear," replied the little crab; " I am going straight home to my own people. I like to be with equals, and I enjoy freedom of speech, instead of having my ears boxed if I make a remark, even upon the weather."
When he reached the shore again, in his own peculiar sideway-fashion of walking, the old crabs said :
" Have you learned as much as you expected, on your travels ? "
"A great deal more than I expected. I have learned to stay at home."
Would you believe it? -- the boastful little crab was never heard to speak again of his great relations.
The tin soldier was quite hoarse when he finished; he had talked himself black in the face.
The crying-baby president had listened very politely for awhile, and then her night-cap was seen to nod forward once or twice, until she went fast asleep.
The other dolls, however, were loud in their praises of the story, and the soldier himself. Each little lady doll took an artificial flower from her dress, or a scrap of ribbon, and these were woven together into a garland for the gallant major-general to wear.
When the wreath was placed on his head, and a bouquet stuck on the point of his bayonet, he looked funny enough to Katie, who could not help laughing, although he was a splendid hero to the dollies. "Oh!" screamed the crying-baby, awaking suddenly, for the naughty jack had slyly pinched one of her toes, and then he looked away innocently.
The simple crying-baby was very much confused, and pretended that she had not been asleep at all, although she should have been forgiven, for they were keeping' very late hours certainly, when she was usually packed away in her cradle by seven o'clock in the evening.
" That is all very well - in its way," said a voice" from a box in the corner; " but what point has the story? What influence will it have on the doll's club, and of what possible use can it be to us in the nineteenth century, who enjoy the telegraph, the printing press, and the railroads, to hear about life under the waters ? "
"A fishy subject, certainly," assented the walnut chairman, who did not know who had spoken, yet did not wish to be behind in finding fault, if there was any fault-finding to be done.
" I thought the point a sharp one, since it was all about crabs and lobsters," began the poor soldier, in self-defence.
"A nipping argument," chuckled the jumping-jack, slapping the tin man on the shoulder approvingly.
"I have tried to do my duty, ladies," said the soldier, making a stiff military salute, and marching back to the wooden box where he belonged. " I had better return to my post, or the men may become unruly. A great deal is expected of a major-general in the way of discipline, whether he is made of tin, or some other metal."
He showed himself to be a coward then, for he ran off to escape from the sharp comments which rattled about his ears like hail.
To tell the plain truth, the poetess Clorinda was glad to see the last of him; she was half afraid his story had proved more interesting than her poem.
" It is my turn now," said the genteel wax lady. " I have just thought of a very interesting story I heard when I was in the toy-shop, before I came here. Now listen:
THE WAX LADY'S STORY.
Pauline entered the golden gate, beyond which frowned two forts to defend the entrance, and saw the city spreading roofs and steeples for miles away toward the dusty, barren highway leading into the interior of the country.
To be sure, Pauline did not see the view with her own glass eyes from the deck, as the steamer glided through the tranquil waters, for she was packed away snugly in a gentleman's portmanteau, which smelt of leather, soap, perfumes, and cigars - all together; but then the Geneva watch lying beside her, and the Lyons velvet dress, knew everything, and had talked about it during the voyage.
Do you know what I am saying ? Pauline was a French doll, with the latest Parisian wardrobe, and a kind uncle was taking her to a little girl in San Francisco. Pauline was very expensive-a princess could not have played with a higher-priced doll; but the people of California are as generous-hearted as the land in which they live, richly gifted by nature with gold and silver.
After a great deal of bumping and jolting, the lid of the box in which Pauline lay was lifted, and two friendly little faces peeped in at her. What shouts of delight there were over her clothes! Mamma dressed her first as a bride, in a white, satin robe, with a wreath of orange blossoms on her head, and a lace veil. She was so splendid then, that Floy and Charlie did not dare to touch her. Then Pauline came out of mamma's skilful fingers (for she alone could manage all the little strings and hooks) ready for a walk down Montgomery street, in a black-silk street costume, with panniers and ruffles, a large waterfall pinned on beneath a stylish little bonnet, boots not an inch long, with French heels, and tiny kid gloves to match. Oh! she was altogether lovely.
When the kind uncle came in the evening, Pauline was arrayed in purple velvet, with a train, trimmed with pearl beads, feathers, and lace; but she was rather too much dressed for good taste, and that she knew herself very well, being a French doll.
"What am I to do?" said Pauline to the jumping-jack, when she was placed on the nursery table for the night.
" Cut capers, as I do!" cried the jumping-jack, for he was a merry fellow, and he sprang like a grasshopper over her head to show her the way to do things.
" Nonsense! " said Pauline, angrily. " It is my dress I think about. I should be at court, and nowhere else, my wardrobe is so rich."
" Yes, I have heard that was all French women cared for," said the jumping-jack. " It saves a world of worry now, to be made of pasteboard as I am, with your legs painted one color, and your body another, and there is an end of it until you wear out."
" I have always heard that it was better to die than to live out of Paris," said Pauline, and she snubbed the poor jumping- jack so that he laid down upon his paste-board back on the table, and said no more.
Mamma thought Pauline too much dressed for every-day wear, also. She made a neat little frock, such as Floy wore, and packed the rich clothes away in the miniature trunk with trays, and a real brass lock, in which they came, to be taken out only on great occasions when Floy gave a tea-party, or her birthday came.
" It really has no style," said Pauline, looking at the plain, clean little frock disdainfully. " Why could I not have a robe de chambre, and go at home looking like a fright? That is what we French ladies are used to, and we do everything right."
No one would have known now that Pauline was anything but a common doll, if it had not been for her fashionable wig of hair and gold ear-drops, which were hooked through holes in her head, and could not therefore be removed.
Every day Pauline was taken out to walk for her health, and she stared with round eyes at the many Chinese she met; she had never seen such queer people before, with long tails of hair braided down their backs, and odd caps upon their heads. Floy and Charlie were quite used to the Chinamen, who toiled so faithfully and patiently, always hoarding sufficient money out of their savings to have their bones taken back to China for burial, if they never saw the native land they loved so well again in life.
The Chinamen blinked at Pauline with their clever eyes, and no doubt they thought -
" We can carve little figures on ivory with rare skill; make the most delicate china, and weave the richest embroideries."
But the French doll held up her head proudly, and passed on to be admired, for she was very vain.
At length it became known that a dreadful disease had taken root among the closely crowded houses of the Chinese, which was spreading with fearful rapidity over the city. It was very sad, certainly; but Pauline took the disease, although the rest of the household escaped. A bit of orange merino, fastened to a stick, was hung outside the nursery door as a warning pestilence-flag.
Charlie put on a pair of rusty spectacles, rims without any glasses inside of them, his father's Panama hat, a large coat, with the tails dragging on the ground, and carried an umbrella - he was the doctor.
Pauline lay on the little doll -bed, with the curtains drawn, and a silk coverlet over her. All the other dolls and toys were ranged around her bed, to show their sympathy at her illness; even the jumping-jack was there, leaning with one knee bent forward against the bedpost, and that slowed he had a good temper after the snubbing she had given him.
Nurse knocked at the door, which was locked.
" Can't come in now," said Charlie, from under the big hat. " Pauline's got the small-pox dreadful bad. Don't you see the yellow flag outside ? She'll die pretty soon, I s'pose, and then we'll open the shutters, and you can see to sew."
Nurse went away laughing.
Charlie came back to the bedside, where Floy was fanning the sick doll with one of Pauline's own fans, a bit of feather no larger than a penny.
" Let's give her lots of medicine," said Charlie, briskly, and he proceeded to pile up two dozen sugar-plums for pills, which Pauline was to take all at once; then put some sugar and water in a bottle, and made several powders of salt and pepper beside.
"I guess she's dead now, Floy," said the doctor, looking at the clock, and thinking he should like a game of ball pretty soon with some playmates. "Now for the funeral, hurrah! "
No wonder poor Pauline was dead; the medicine would have killed her, if the small-pox had not.
She was wrapped in a tissue veil, put in a tin cracker-box, and taken out to the grave under a geranium-bush in the garden, after Floy had put on mamma's black riding-habit, and a shawl belonging to nurse.
Charlie put a sun-bonnet on the dog, and a cloak around the cat's neck, in spite of her struggles, for they were to be chief mourners, walking upon their hind legs very properly, while the little boy and girl sang a Sunday-school hymn-quite out of tune - still there must be music over Pauline's grave. Floy carried an armful of dolls, which she placed on the ground; but their tiny feet could not stand in the soft soil; so they toppled over, some lying flat on their noses in the grass, some caught on the bushes by one arm, in great disorder.
Mamma knew nothing of Pauline's illness and death. She glanced out of the window, and saw the children lift some- thing wrapped in a tissue veil out of the tin cracker-box, and place it in the earth. Suspecting mischief, she hastened down into the garden, only to find the French doll neatly buried, Charlie being the grave-digger on this occasion.
" We can undig her, you know," said the boy; and Floy looked very solemn now that the doll seemed lost in the dark ground.
Master Charlie was ordered to " undig her " as quick as possible, and fortunately the damp earth had not yet injured her delicate face. The dog and cat wriggled out of their funeral garments gladly, and scampered away, while Floy gathered up the other mourners, the dollies.
Mamma said that Pauline had been shamefully ill-treated, and Pauline herself was of the same opinion.
The French doll was dressed in her elegant robes again, and placed upon a pedestal within a glass case, where all her beauties could be admired without being touched by rude little fingers. The sunshine sparkled through the glass prison in clear rays, displaying Pauline to the best advantage, and many a group of little girls gathered around the table to gaze at her.
Now for the first time the French doll understood the cleverness of the Chinese who had walked past her on the street. Opposite to her stood a handsome cabinet of perfumed wood, which held funny little gods in shrines, delicate pictures on rice paper, and quaint musical instruments, inlaid with silver and ivory. There were fans also, and a screen of damask, with a cock wrought upon it, whose tail flashed back all the colors of the rainbow at once.
"We are very quiet and well-bred here," said the mosaic table, and the table felt very proud of itself because it was an Italian, and every little bit of mosaic had been matched into the proper place.
"We like a trifle of music, though," rustied the rice-paper pictures, and the little figure upon them beat drums, and pounded little gongs, until the porcelain vases rattled. One Chinese lady, with her hair screwed up on long pins, and her cramped feet peeping now beneath the rich robe, swept her slender fingers over the chords of a harp, and then her companion pictures beat the gongs harder than ever in their delight.
" The more noise the better," was their motto. " Bring altars of holy water, and burn wax lights before us," said the little heathen gods in the shrines.
" We can burn prayers and silver paper - that will answer. as well," said the fans.
" Why don't the cock do something ? " asked a statuette, pointing a broken finger at the screen, which was to be mended, and that wag why the statuette was there.
"My wings are heavy with gold, and my feet are stitched fast to the silk," replied the cock.
He could not even crow, as he expected to do.
" This is much better than the noisy nursery; I have a crystal palace all to myself," said Pauline, spreading out her train- as a peacock does his gorgeous feathers. " It is rather dull, to be sure; but I like to feel safe within glass walls whenever that dreadful boy Charlie comes into the room. If one must live out of Paris, it is better to have a case to oneself in this way, instead of having an attack of illness, and getting buried in the cold earth. Ugh! that is disagreeable. I will just stand stiff-so! "
On the table, with the sunlight falling through the glass dome, she stands to this day, and it is the proper place for her.
" I am quite hoarse. I should like some lemonade after talking so much," said the wax doll; but she was obliged to eat a gumdrop instead, which she did very daintily, for fear of soiling her painted lips.
Suddenly the crying-baby sat up erect in her arm-chair for the first time.
"We have had nothing to eat ourselves," she said.
"Literary dolls should not think of such matters, said Clorinda, severely.
"I am the president, if you please," returned the crying-baby, with a great deal of dignity. "I propose that we have a tea-party, instead of so much dry talking about nothing."
" What! " exclaimed Clorinda, pushing her flaxen hair on end.
" I mean what I say," retorted the crying- baby, wagging her head. " You have all had your own way, and now I will have mine. We shall all feel better for a cup of tea."
"I have heard before that you were fond of eating," said Clorinda.
"Well, suppose you have? A good appetite is no disgrace, I hope."
Hunger made the president quite savage.
" Shall I set the table, ma'am ? " piped the trim waitress in pink calico, with a white apron. "I have served in the baby-house for two weeks at least, and the dolls there were very particular, not to say fine, in their notions, because they wore kid slippers."
The crying-baby nodded her head in assent, and away whisked the trim waitress about her business, all the other toys helping her to drag out the round dining-table, spread the cloth tidily, and arrange the tiny dishes.
The waitress felt very important that she had so many under her to obey her orders, for she had done all the dining-room work by herself in the baby-house. She hustled here and there, training all her assistant dollies about, and once she boxed the billy-goat's ears soundly, because he did not carry a little basket in his mouth properly.
At last the table was ready.
In the centre stood a china vase, filled with blue muslin forget-me-nots; before the crying-baby was a pewter tea-urn and service, in which the tea hissed and bubbled merrily; while the wax doll served wooden cakes and painted cherries, china tarts and pies, and the others seated themselves for their share.
The crying-baby presided with much good humor and many chuckles, while Clorinda drank so much tea that her friends feared she would have an attack of nervous headache.
Amidst all the clatter of little spoons and teacups, Katie was not neglected or forgotten, for she was given a cup of tea also, (the size of a thimble,) and a slice of the wooden cake, which tasted better than could have been expected. It was great fun to take tea with the dolls as Katie did, not when they sat stiffly in their proper places in the daytime, but when each toy played itself, briskly and delightfully.
The paper dolls being made of only one thickness of paper, naturally had no room in their inside for supper, yet they did not like to appear entirely different from the rest, especially when the ' pasteboard people held their own at the festive board.
How do you suppose they managed ? Each doll took her share of the eatables, and when nobody was looking, threw the food over her shoulder to the elephant, who had such a good appetite that he gladly ate every morsel, and even then his flannel body was by no means plump, because it had been so often pinched by little fingers into strange shapes.
None of the other dolls noticed the mode of eating adopted by the paper dolls, but Katie saw it all quite plainly as she looked down upon her tiny companions.
The dolls talked and quarrelled, and made it up again by kissing each other penitently.
Nobody knows how much more they would have done before the club broke up, had not the clock struck the half-hour warningly.
"Remember that nurse comes home soon, and will catch you at your pranks," said the clock, for it had a care of things, although it was placed high on the mantel-piece.
" So soon ! " exclaimed the toys, sorrowfully.
"Dear, dear! I wish she would stay away longer!" echoed Katie, looking at the clock. "Are you sure you keep good time ? "
" I never lost or gained two minutes in my life," replied the clock, much offended at such a question.
Then the crying-baby skipped into the wicker cradle, and drew the bed-quilt up over her shoulders; the walnut-faced chairman. stepped up beside the inkstand and pen-rack, to receive further ink-stains upon her gray-cloth petticoats; and the china dollies skurried off to various corners where they belonged.
The flannel elephant tramped over behind the rocking-horse, where he had a stable made of two old geographies, with a slate for a roof, and the worst of it was the driver must go too, as he was fastened with glue into his seat on the elephant's back.
The paper dolls slipped into their envelope mansion noiselessly, none the fatter for their late supper; and all the whip-tops and balls bounced different ways; so that in five minutes everything was in its proper place.
"I thank you very much, you lovely dollies, for so much fun," said Katie, whose eyes sparkled with happiness over the entertainment, in which the children who owned the dolls had not been allowed to share.
" We have enjoyed ourselves, too," said Clorinda, graciously: then she leaned back on her dainty sofa, to spend more time thinking of sweet poems-provided she does not break, or burst at the darned place in her back, which, of course, she may do at any moment.
" We wanted to repeat a play," said the jew's-harp and the candy guitar.
"I knew the history of a mouse perfectly well," added the bodkin, "and my story would have had a point to it, for I do nothing which is not pointed," and the bodkin thrust itself through the embroidery, just to show what it could do.
"Don't talk about points," said the darning-needle.
"Not when I am near, certainly," retorted the fine cambric needle, looking scornfully at its coarse sister, the darning-needle.
" What is all this about ? " cried a little voice in the Chinese box, and out flew a delicate sheet of rice-paper, on which was painted a Chinese man in a richly embroidered robe. " Do I smell tea, or does my nose deceive me ? "
" You are rather late in the day; we have drank every drop," said the crying-baby, drowsily, in her cradle.
" Who are you ? We all wish to have a chance to tell our little stories, too," grumbled the bodkin.
" I am the Emperor of China," replied the gentleman on rice-paper; "but it is evident that no one appreciates my high rank and position here. The climate is cold, and the people are cold. I belong in the warm countries."
Now it happened that the wind had crept down the chimney with a sudden gust, just in time to hear these words; so it blew fiercely upon the coals, and breathed a gentle draught out into the room.
" Come to the warm countries, then," laughed the wind, and the rice-paper emperor flew up the chimney, to hover over the devouring flames, which drew every line of the figure sharply for a moment, then crumbled to ashes. And if every other emperor flew up chimney after him, it would not much matter; but the celestial kingdom still stands.
" There is an end of royalty," observed the scissors, sharply.
The baby-house dolls were very much surprised to see all their little mates run away so soon.
" We have not had time to turn round twice, much less join in any of the talk," said the mother doll, who was smoothing her hair before the looking-glass in the pretty bed-chamber with the muslin curtains and dainty furniture. " When all the babies were tucked away in their cradles, and the seamstress had more work given to her, I was coming out myself."
The young lady daughters, in flounced dresses, were in the handsome parlor, one at the piano playing little tunes that nobody could hear, one looking out of the window, as if she was waiting for a gentleman to make her a call, and two more seated on the sofa reading tiny books.
" We live in our own house: why were we not invited to the dolls' club ? " asked the pink sister of the yellow one.
"Ask mamma," said the yellow daughter.
Now the little Christmas-tree rustled softly, as the firelight flickered among its branches. It had real life, although it was made only of a branch of evergreen, and hung with gayly tinted balls and stars, like a large tree.
" The snow clothes each towering mountain-peak, and lies in white drifts in the valleys," murmured the little tree. " See how smoothly it spreads, like a great river, where poor people sink out of sight. The river drowns them, and the snow-fields wrap them in feathery masses, which chill the breath too. It is very quiet, and the air is keen. One may follow the flight of some great bird through the clear blue sky;. but the hedges and bushes have all gone to sleep-there are no fluttering, dancing leaves, no sweet blossoms-only we evergreens spread our green branches, fresh and bright; so the frost scatters crystals and icicles over us, and we are dressed in sparkling jewels."
" Yes, but what is the use of telling all that, when I am here to tell it a great deal better," said the engraving on the wall, in which one could see plainly the bare hedges, the quiet valleys, and distant mountain-peaks.
"Snow -fields and sparkling crystals," rustled the little Christmas-tree, for that was its only song.
"Are we too late ? " cried the animals in Noah's Ark, thrusting their noses out of the opening in the roof. "We should have a voice in any society, since we are such old sailors. You could not make us seasick, even if you floated us in the bathing-tub, and made great rough waves with the bellows."
" Play is better than work, any day," remarked the mallets in a game of parlor croquet, dancing about among the balls, and playing leap-frog over the wickets.
" I think," began the driver of the tin grocer's cart; but whatever the grocer thought, he was obliged to keep to himself, and rein up the horse on its hind legs under the chair, for Katie just then exclaimed:
" Hush ! I hear nurse on the stairs this minute."
"A happy New Year to you, little girl," said all the dolls, in a friendly way, and then their sweet voices were suddenly hushed at the entrance of nurse.
" Not in bed yet ? " said nurse to Katie.
Katie then said she hoped that nurse had enjoyed a pleasant evening with her friends, and went to bed in her little room next to the nursery, to dream of the toys.
The fire flashed up in a sudden shower of sparks, and out flew a cloud of tiny fairies, rosy and bright as the flames from which they sprang.
They darted into Katie's chamber, hovered over the little girl as she slept, and kissed her eyelids gently : then they faded away, and disappeared as suddenly as dreams glow and fade from the memory.
THE GREEN CAT.
KATIE dreamed that the sober housecat sat on the nursery hearth-rug, purring a story all to herself, without any listeners. This was the story :
The leaves rustled and fell in showers through the forest in an autumn wind, for the frost had turned them yellow, as a little girl ran swiftly down a lonely road, and turned into its friendly shelter. Her long, fair hair fell over her bare shoulders, and she shivered in the mist.
The birds twittered close to the child at one moment, then soared far above her head the next. A magpie flew up to a raven, who sat upon the bough of an oak-tree, and they nodded and talked together.
"See the big tears on little Flura's cheeks! " said the magpie.
"Ay, ay ! " nodded the raven.
" She is often cold and hungry, now her father is dead ! " went on the magpie.
" Who was her father ? " inquired the raven.
The magpie cocked one eye at him in contempt.
" Don't you know ? "
"No," returned the raven. " I 've been travelling for my health the past ten years."
"Ah, yes! Well, that accounts for it. There was not a dry eye among birds or men, I can tell you, when Langerun, the charcoal-burner, was killed by falling from a. tree. This was his only child. Poor tiling! she never realized that he was dead, she was so young," and the magpie sighed sympathetically.
"And where does she live now?" inquired the raven, politely, showing a proper interest in the story.
" Oh! she lives with old Aunt Ansom- the crooked witch they call her-and she runs away often to her father's old hut in the forest here, to call him. Come, and I'll show you; she has gone there now."
As the magpie knew the way, she sailed on first, and they perched on an old stump as the child approached. The woods were dense and quite dark where the old hut stood with its closed door. Little Flura beat on the door with her hands, and called loudly on her father's name, while her voice echoed through the silent forest, and her heart beat with fear. Again and again she knocked, but no answer came; and at last the poor little thing sat down on a log, crying bitterly.
" What shall we do to divert the child ?" cried the magpie, much distressed. "If you will help, friend raven, we will shake down berries from this mountain-ash."
Flura soon grew tired of weeping as she sat under the ash and watched the long shadows creeping onward, while the tall trees rustled as if they were whispering to each other.. The ash-tree was an old friend-she had sat under it ever since she was born-and as the berries rattled down through the friendly efforts of the two birds, she laughed and -kissed the tree.
"Good old tree! " she said. "Aunt Ansom told me to bring berries, for to-morrow is All Souls' Day, and I must make a crown for my dear father, since he will not come back."
She gathered the scarlet berries in her little apron, and then, before going, walked slowly around the old hut. There was a little window at the back, and the shutter had fallen off on one rusty hinge, so that Flura could look in. Dropping her berries, the child clambered in at the window. The old stove by the fire-place looked rusty and queer, and a grotesque goblin carved upon it, with a crack through its face, seemed to wink and make faces at her.
The room was chill, and the child shivered as she looked fearfully around, afraid of the silence. She touched the old spinning-wheel, covered with cobwebs, and dropped big tears over it as she thought of the mother whose nimble fingers she used to watch, and who baked such dear little cakes for her child. Now, nobody loved her.
She turned to creep out of the window again, when she heard a soft voice behind her, speaking her name. As she looked round in surprise, she saw a large, handsome cat, of a brilliant green color, with a gold locket hanging round her neck.
"Why do you cry, little Flura?" she said, rubbing her soft fur against the child, who stood gazing in speechless astonishment at a cat with an emerald-green coat, and eyes as dazzling as diamonds. " Come home with me to my palace."
" Do cats have palaces ? " asked Flura, wonderingly.
" I have," said the cat; " and you shall be quite happy in mine."
Then the little one smiled, and kissed the beautiful cat, quite happy and contented again. But as they went out of the window, Flura saw the red-ash berries which she had dropped. Aunt Ansom had told her that unless she made a crown, and laid it upon her parent's grave on All Souls' Day, she would never go to the happy land and see them.
" Can I go with you to-morrow night ? " she said.
And the cat smiled, and answered, " Yes, Flura, I will be here."
Then the child gathered up the berries, and went back to the village again. In the morning the old woman dressed little Flura in a clean frock, and led her by the hand to the church-yard, where all the village had assembled. All who had friends lying there in the quiet, green mounds, had come to decorate their resting-place with wreaths and crosses of evergreens and berries, while some even placed lighted tapers over the graves of the loved ones, and repeated prayers until they went out.
Although old Ansom was wicked and cruel, she dared not stay away from the church on that solemn day.
When it grew toward dusk, Flura stole away to the woods again, and she found the green cat waiting for her by the old hut, with her brilliant eyes and coat of shining fur.
The pussy seemed very glad to see the little girl again, and, bidding her follow, she led the way along a narrow path up the mountain-side, which grew steeper and steeper, until they came to a tiny gate of brass in a high wall. The cat pulled a bell-handle of emerald set with pearls; the gate flew open, and they entered a most beautiful garden, where the grass and trees were wonderful indeed, all formed of sparkling jewels.
Shining through the trees, Flura saw the palace, which was white and glistening like the sun, with a roof of burnished gold.
" This is my palace, little Flura," said the cat, " and here I am queen ; " then she drew up her back, and walked with a stately air to the grand entrance, where a guard of dark-gray cats were drawn up in line. As the queen cat entered, they presented arms, and saluted her with the deepest respect.
Sweet strains of music were heard from a gallery in the great hall, where a band of cat-musicians performed on various instruments with great skill. The green cat took Flura to her dressing-room, where her maids of honor-snowy kittens, dressed in rich brocade robes-attired her in a velvet mantle, looped with jewels; and then the court swept in to the grand dining-hall, where a band of black cats, with white aprons on, were bringing in the dinner.
The queen cat had a table to herself on a raised platform, and there she seated little Flura, while a very handsome red cat, with a haughty expression of countenance-who was the queen's sister-sat on the other side. Then, the green cat waved her paw, and the entertainment began.
Soup, fish, and game were served, with all manner of good things; and how the little girl's eyes danced when the black waiter-cats brought elegant candies and crystallized fruits! All these waiters wore white kid gloves, and the effect was very fine.
During dinner a very small pink cat, dressed in white satin, played on the violin in an exquisite manner, and afterward a tall, blue cat, with a bass voice, sang a difficult song from one of the operas.
Dancing wound up the evening, which Flura thought the most delightful she had ever seen; and then the green cat showed her to a charming little room, with a white bed, where she slept sweetly all night.
The kindness extended by all the cats to the child won her warmest affections, and a month passed by most delightfully in all sorts of amusements. Sometimes the cats played croquet with Flura, with the most lovely balls and mallets, made of red and white striped candy, which was very nice indeed, for one could eat up a mallet, if they chose, while waiting their turn to play, and then have another one.
Suddenly, one night, as the court swept into dinner, to Flura's great astonishment the cats all became changed into ladies and gentlemen, the waiters becoming negroes, with shiny black faces. After the entertainment was over, the green cat-who was now a beautiful lady--gratified the child's curiosity at so odd and funny a transformation.
"I am a fairy," she said, " and my real name is Queen Clover-leaf. The black fairy Valsa took offence at some attention showed me by the magician Gambero, and being more powerful than I am, in a fit of jealous rage she wrought the powerful spell which transformed me into a green cat, my whole court also sharing in the change. Every six months we resume our natural forms for a week. We shall have a tournament to-morrow, and you shall enjoy yourself, my little one; " and the queen kissed the child tenderly.
But Flura was sad at the strange condition of her kind friend.
" Can no one break the spell of the wicked fairy ? " she asked.
"Alas! my child," said the queen, " there is no one to try."
" I will try," said Flura, bravely.
" But I can give you no direction," said the fairy, sadly. "I do not know what will break the spell. All I can tell you is that Valsa cried, as she waved her wand over my palace, 'Remain cats, until you are freed,' with a cruel laugh."
"Never mind, I will go through the world to serve you, dear fairy," said Flura, and she prepared to start on her travels as soon as the week had expired.
When they were all changed to cats again, Flura bade them all a tender farewell, and departed.
Just as she was going, the green cat pulled three hairs from her tail, and gave them to the little girl.
" Twist them around your finger," she said; " and if you arc in trouble, they may help you."
The red cat then presented her with three eyelashes, done up in a neat package; and the pink cat, who played so finely on the violin, with three hairs from her pet moustache.
Then Flura set forth courageously. Her way lay across a dark, gloomy forest, and she heard strange rustlings among the leaves, which made her heart beat with fear; but she kept on bravely. Suddenly a huge tiger stood in the path before her, crouched ready for a spring, his fiery eyes gloaming through the darkness. Flura quickly took the three hairs from the green cat's tail, and tied them round her little finger, as the fairy had told her to do.
Then a huge snake dropped from a tree upon the tiger, and compressed the great beast in his folds, winding around him until his ribs cracked. The snake opened his huge mouth, and a toad hopped out of it, with eyes as bright as diamonds, and he fixed them on Flura until she stood fascinated, almost unable to move. But although her eyes were held by the toad, she managed to take the red eyelashes from her pocket, and place them in the palm of her hand, when a strange bird pounced upon the toad, and rose in the air. It dropped a golden egg at Flura's feet, and she picked it up; but as she did not know what to do with it, she tied the pink hairs around her thumb, to see if that would help her.
Then the egg opened, and an elf of wonderful beauty stepped out of it, clad in burnished golden armor, with a shield on his arm, and a spear in his hand. He came toward the little maiden with a low bow.
"Ask anything you will of me," said he, " for you have opened the prison where I have been shut up for a hundred years by my enemy, the black fairy Valsa."
" Tell me how to release the green cat and her court from enchantment," said Flura, eagerly.
" You must steal Valsa's talisman," answered the elf. " I can give you a golden key, which will unlock the door where it is kept, and a horse that will carry you there; but my power goes no farther."
So the elf blew a shrill blast on his trumpet, and presently a white pony, as soft as silk, came prancing up. He had a scarlet-velvet saddle and bridle, while his bit was of gold, set with rubies.
Flura got upon his back, and he sped off as fleet as a deer until he came to an open plain, where he spread a pair of snowy wings, and mounted in the air. On and on they flew, until they reached the borders of the Caspian Sea, near the black fairy's palace.
The horse stopped at the entrance of a grotto.
"I will wait for you here, little maiden," said the horse. " Go quickly, or you will meet danger."
So Flura walked into the grotto, and at the end of it she saw a steel door. This she unlocked with the elf's golden key, and entered a long, dark passage, down which she ran swiftly. At the end she came into a room, with seven doors in it, and she tried her key in all of them. The last one it fitted, and Flura entered a magnificent chamber, hung with gorgeous tapestry, and brilliantly lighted with silver lamps burning perfumed oil.
A golden altar stood on a pedestal in the centre of the room, and on it lay a small alabaster slab, engraved by Solomon with powerful characters, such as all genii and fairies were compelled to obey. On this slab depended all Valsa's power.
Flura took it in her arms, and ran swiftly back to the faithful white horse, who was waiting for her. Then they flew back to the forest again, and the elf was overjoyed at their success. Together they hastened to Queen Clover-leaf's court, and the spell was at once dissolved by the presence of the powerful talisman.
The elf was so pleased with the green cat, that he remained at court after her transformation, and divided the powers of the talisman with her. Flura was endowed with riches and honors for her services, and when she grew up she married a great king's son -- becoming the Princess Flura.
END OF VOL. I.
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