GLOOMY GUS AND THE CHRISTMAS CAT

THERE was once a little girl, who had a dear little room, all her own,
which was full of treasures, and was as lovely as love could make it.

You never could imagine, no matter how you tried, a room more beautiful
than hers; for it was white and shining from the snowy floor to the
ceiling, which looked as if it might have been made of a fleecy cloud.
The curtains at the windows were like the petals of a lily, and the
little bed was like swan’s down.

There were white pansies, too, that bloomed in the windows, and a dove
whose voice was sweet as music; and among her treasures she had a
string of pearls which she was to wear about her neck when the king of
the country sent for her, as he had promised to do some day.

This string of pearls grew longer and more beautiful as the little girl
grew older, for a new pearl was given her as soon as she waked up each
morning; and every one was a gift from this king, who bade her keep
them fair.

Her mother helped her to take care of them and of all the other
beautiful things in her room. Every morning, after the new pearl was
slipped on the string, they would set the room in order; and every
evening they would look over the treasures and enjoy them together,
while they carefully wiped away any specks of dust that had gotten in
during the day and made the room less lovely.

There were several doors and windows, which the little girl could open
and shut just as she pleased, in this room; but there was one door
which was always open, and that was the one which led into her mother’s
room.

No matter what Little Daughter was doing, she was happier if her mother
was near; and, although she sometimes ran away into her own room and
played by herself, she always bounded out at her mother’s first call,
and sprang into her mother’s arms, gladder than ever to be with her
because she had been away.

Now one day when the little girl was playing alone, she had a visitor
who came in without knocking and who seemed, at first, very much out
of place in the shining white room, for he was a goblin and as black
as a lump of coal. He had not been there more than a very few minutes,
however, before nearly everything in the room began to look more like
him and less like driven snow; and although the little girl thought
that he was very strange and ugly when she first saw him, she soon grew
used to him, and found him an entertaining playfellow.

She wanted to call her mother to see him; but he said:

“Oh! no; we are having such a nice time together, and she’s busy, you
know.”

So the little girl did not call; and the mother, who was making a dress
of fine lace for her darling, did not dream that a goblin was in the
little white room.

The goblin did not make any noise, you know, for he tiptoed all the
time, as if he were afraid; and if he heard a sound he would jump. But
he was a merry goblin, and he amused the little girl so much that she
did not notice the change in her dear room.

The curtains grew dingy, the floor dusty, and the ceiling looked as if
it might have been made of a rain cloud; but the child played on, and
got out all her treasures to show to her visitor.

The pansies drooped and faded, the white dove hid its head beneath its
wing and moaned; and the last pearl on the precious string grew dark
when the goblin touched it with his smutty fingers.

“Oh, dear me,” said the little girl when she saw this, “I must call my
mother; for these are the pearls that I must wear to the king’s court
when he sends for me.”

“Never mind,” said the goblin, “we can wash it, and if it isn’t just as
white as before, what difference does it make about one pearl?”

“But mother says that they all must be as fair as the morning,”
insisted the little girl, ready to cry. “And what will she say when she
sees this one?”

“You shut the door, then,” said the goblin, pointing to the door that
had never been closed, “and I’ll wash the pearl.”

So the little girl ran to close the door, and the goblin began to rub
the pearl; but it only seemed to grow darker. Now the door had been
open so long that it was hard to move, and it creaked on its hinges
as the little girl tried to close it. When the mother heard this she
looked up to see what was the matter. She had been thinking about the
dress which she was making; but when she saw the closing door, her
heart stood still with fear; for she knew that if it once closed tight
she might never be able to open it again.

She dropped her fine laces and ran towards the door, calling, “Little
Daughter! Little Daughter! Where are you?” and she reached out her
hands to stop the door.

But as soon as the little girl heard that loving voice she answered:

“Mother! Oh, Mother! I need you so! My pearl is turning black and
everything is wrong!” and, flinging the door wide open, she ran into
her mother’s arms.

When the two went together into the little room, the goblin had gone.
The pansies now bloomed again, and the white dove cooed in peace;
but there was much work for the mother and daughter, and they rubbed
and scrubbed and washed and swept and dusted, till the room was
so beautiful that you would not have known that a goblin had been
there–except for the one pearl which was a little blue always, even
when the king was ready for Little Daughter to come to his court,
although that was not until she was a very old woman.

As for the door, it was never closed again; for Little Daughter and her
mother put two golden hearts against it and nothing in this world could
have shut it then.

* * * * *

As the story ended, the Story Lady paused while the clock ticked twice,
and then said, “Next we will have a funny story about a silver teapot.”

“I SEE it, I see it!” cried Tom eagerly, balancing himself perilously
over the well-curb. “It’s down at the bottom!”

“Did you suppose it would float?” asked Bess, with a touch of scorn in
her tones.

“Let me see,” cried Bob, pushing forward.

“You clear out,” said Archie; “you’re to blame for dropping it in;
you’d better go before you tumble in yourself, you little goose.”

Archie’s broken arm felt very stiff to-day, and his temper was slightly
damaged, too. All four children gathered around the well, at the bottom
of which lay the silver teapot, like truth, bright and shining, but
apparently not to be recovered by mortals.

Mr. Bradley had gone to the village, and the children were determined
to get the silver teapot up before his return, for as yet they had not
thought it necessary to mention its disappearance, and Mr. Bradley was
not the man to notice its absence.

“Of course, if it was lost we should have to tell,” Bess had said to
her brother; “but as long as we know where it is, and that it’s safe,
there’s no need to say anything about it.”

“Well, what’s to be done?” asked Archie. “I can’t go after it, with my
broken arm.”

“Now I suppose we will hear of nothing but your broken arm for a month,
and you’ll shirk everything for it. ‘I can’t study ’cause my arm’s
broken; I can’t go errands ’cause my arm’s broken; I can’t go to church
’cause my arm’s broken;’ that will be your whine, Archie; but don’t try
your dodges on me, for I won’t stand it. If it really hurts you, I’m
sorry, and I’ll lick any fellow that touches you till you get well
again, but none of your humbug. Of course you can’t go down the well;
you couldn’t if your arm wasn’t broken.” This was from Tom.

Meanwhile Bess had gone to the house for a long fishing-pole, and soon
returned carrying it.

“We’ll fasten a hook to the end of it, and fish the teapot up,” said
she.

“Ho, ho! Do you suppose it will bite like a fish?” laughed Tom.

“No, I do not, Tom Bradley. But I suppose if I tie a string to the
pole, and fasten an iron hook to one end, with a stone to keep it down,
that I can wiggle it round in the water till the hook catches in the
handle, and then we can drag it up; that’s what I suppose,” answered
Bess, preparing to carry out her design.

“There’s something in that, Bess; you’re not so stupid as you look.
Give me the pole and let me try.”

“No, go and get one for yourself.”

“Where will I find the hook?”

“In the smoke-house, where I got mine.”

“Oh, get me one, too,” cried Bob.

“And me one, too,” cried Archie.

Before half an hour had passed, the four children, all armed with
fishing-poles, were intently wiggling in the water, catching their
hooks in the stones by the side of the well, entangling their lines,
digging their elbows into each other’s sides, in their frantic attempts
to pull their hooks loose; scolding, pushing, and getting generally
excited.

Every few moments Tom would pull Bess back by her sun-bonnet, and save
her from tumbling over in her eagerness; but so far from being grateful
to her deliverer, Bess resented the treatment indignantly.

“Stop jerking my head so,” she cried.

“You’ll be in, in a minute; you’d have been in then if I hadn’t jerked
you,” answered Tom.

“Well, what if I had! Let me alone. If I go in, that’s my own lookout.”

“Your own look in, you mean. My gracious, wouldn’t you astonish the
toads down there! But you’d get your face clean.”

“Now, Tom, you let me be; I ’most had it that time!”

“So you’ve said forty times. This is all humbug; I’m going down on the
rope for it.”

“Oh, no, Tom, please don’t. Indeed, you’ll be drowned; the rope will
break; you’ll kill yourself; you’ll catch cold,” cried Bess, in alarm.
She could fight Tom all day long, when in the mood for it; but to see
him deliberately rush into danger, or to contemplate the fact that a
hair of his precious head might be hurt, was more than our intrepid
Bess could bear.

“Pooh! girl! coward!” retorted thankless Tom, pointing the finger of
scorn at his sister. “Who’s afraid of what? Stand back, small boys, I’m
going in,” and Tom began to divest himself of his jacket.

“You’ll poison the water,” suggested Archie.

“It will be so cold,” moaned Bob. But nobody took any notice of Bob; he
was treated with great contempt, and much hustled, as the author of the
mischief. All felt that if Tom came to grief, Bob would be answerable.

“I’ll scream for a hundred years without stopping, Tom,” cried Bess
wildly. “You shan’t go down, you shan’t; I’ll call some one. Murray!
Peter! Maggie! O-o-o-o-o-o-o-me! O-o-o-oh, o-o-o-o-o-me!”

“Stop screaming, and help,” said Tom, who had his shirt sleeves rolled
up to the elbow, and his pantaloons to his knee–why, no one but Tom
could tell. “Now do you three hold on tight to this bucket; don’t let
go for a moment; pull away as hard as you can when I tell you to. Now
for it!”

And without more ado, Tom clung to the other rope with his hands, and
twisted his feet around the bucket handle.

“Hold on tight, and let me down easy,” said Tom, and the three
children clung desperately to their rope, and lowered him little by
little. Long experience in rescuing cats from a watery grave in the
well had taught the children how to manage the ropes and buckets; but
they had not calculated on the fact that Tom would be heavier than a
cat; and it was with red faces and straining muscles that they dragged
away on their rope. However, they were able to keep Tom steady, and
he, clinging with one hand to his rope, and pushing himself away from
the sides of the well with the other, made his dangerous descent as
successfully as though his coadjutors had been gifted with Samson’s
strength. A sudden splash and shiver told them he had reached the
water, and a shout of triumph declared that the teapot was rescued.

As Tom shouted, all three children let go the rope and rushed to the
side of the well to look at the victorious hero.

It was a most fortunate circumstance that the water in the well was
low, and that Tom, plunged suddenly to the bottom by this unexpected
movement, was able, after much scrambling, to stand upright with his
head out of water; otherwise the earthly career of Thomas Bradley would
have been brought to a sudden and untimely end.

As it was, he stood in the cold water up to his shoulders, clinging
still to the rope, holding the teapot with one hand, and wildly
vociferating to his admiring audience whose heads hung over the
well-curb, and their faces, as seen in this position by Tom, looked
like those of grinning fiends.

“What made you let go?” roared Tom, and his voice sounded hollow and
unnatural as it resounded from the depths of his cool and shady retreat.

“Oh, Tom, have you got it? Have you really? Ain’t it cold? Are you
hurt? Were you scared? Is the teapot broken?” were a few of the
questions that came faintly to him from above and sounded very unlike
angel whispers to the diver for teapots, who stood first on one leg,
then on the other, to prevent equal cramp in both.

“Draw me up! You silly children! You goose of a Bess! Why don’t you
draw me up?”

“We’re so tired?” called down Archie. “I helped to lower you with only
one arm, but I can’t drag any more. My arm’s broken.”

“Bess! draw me up, I tell you!” screamed Tom from below.

“I will, Tom; I’m going to,” answered Bess, who now reached up and
recovered the bucket, that had flown with a jerk to the top of the
well-roof when it had been so suddenly abandoned.

But all the united efforts of Bess and Bob and Archie’s left arm
could not raise Tom. After a desperate tug he was raised an inch, and
suddenly lowered again. The result was a splash, a scramble below,
and Tom’s voice sputtering incoherent invectives. Again and again
the children tugged, and again and again Tom splashed, scrambled and
sputtered.

At last a red, anxious face looked down to him, and Bessie’s voice,
choked with tears, called out:

“Oh, Tom, do hold on till I call Maggie; we can’t get you up.”

Away ran Bess to call help, followed by Archie; but Bob, whose ideas on
some points were as yet but feebly developed, seized one of the long
poles, and began to poke at his brother with it, under the impression
that some good would come of these unaided efforts.

“Bob, be done! You’ll put my eye out!” cried poor Tom, desperately, as
the swinging iron hook circled around his head.

“Catch hold! Catch hold!” cried Bob, getting excited as he saw how near
he came to grappling his brother.

“Just let me get up once, and I’ll catch hold,” muttered Tom,
wrathfully; then, raising his voice, he yelled as loud as he could for
help. “Pete! P-e-e-e-e-ter! P-e-e-e-e-e-e-ter!”

But Peter was a mile away, and consequently could not hear. Maggie had
improved the occasion of her master’s absence to visit her friend and
neighbor, Miss Flaherty, for half an hour; and Kate, summoned from her
baking, came to the rescue, but only assisted by wringing her hands and
wailing.

[Illustration: BUT ALL THE UNITED EFFORTS OF BESS AND BOB AND
ARCHIE’S LEFT ARM COULD NOT RAISE TOM]

“Och, he’s lost wid the cold! Shure an’ he’ll get his death now! Arrah,
what childer yez arre!”

“Take hold of the rope and pull,” cried Bess.

“I couldn’t rise him; shure an’ I’d only pull him up be snaps, and
dhrop him again,” said Kate, who showed a lamentable want of confidence
in her own abilities.

“Oh, do something!” cried Bess, now almost beside herself with fear;
“do something, Kate. Oh, where is Murray?”

“Garn for a load o’ wood, and won’t be home till night,” answered Kate.

“Oh, Tom, can’t you shinny up the rope?” called down Bess.

“No. I’m too stiff now with cold; besides, I couldn’t do it anyway,”
moaned the captive Tom, who looked like a Triton blowing on a
conch-shell, as he stood with uplifted teapot. He seemed to think the
teapot should be kept dry at all hazards, and wearied his arm to keep
it above water.

“I’ll run next door and call Mr. Wilson,” said Bess, more hopefully,
and started on this errand, while Kate, suddenly inspired, rushed
to the kitchen sink, where stood the iron pump, connected by a pipe
with the well, and began to pump vigorously, apparently with the
anticipation of seeing Tom ooze through the spout, for which purpose,
and to make the matter surer, she removed the filter.

As Bess ran she was suddenly stopped at the gate by the sight of a
carriage which had just driven up, and out of which now stepped Aunt
Maria and Aunt Maria’s husband, Uncle Daniel. These were the very
grimmest and grandest of all the relations. When they came to see
mamma, Bess had always to sit perfectly still on a chair, answer very
politely, have her very best dress on, her hair parted directly in
the middle and be intensely proper. As for the boys, they suffered
the torture by soap and water, and endured their new jackets, could
not whittle, nor whistle, nor wrestle, and were sustained under these
tribulations only by the expectation of a very good dinner and a
“bully” dessert!

The white-and-gold china always came out on these occasions, the best
double-damask tablecloth and napkins, the heaviest silver forks and
spoons, the silver salt-cellars, and–oh, agony of agonies!–the silver
teapot!

For one awful moment Bess stood stunned. Then her anxiety for Tom
overcame every other consideration, and before Aunt Maria could say,
“How do you do, Elizabeth?” she had caught her uncle by his august
coat-tail and in a piteous voice besought him to come and pull on the
rope.

“Pull on a rope, Elizabeth!” said Uncle Daniel in mild astonishment.
“Why should I pull on a rope, my dear?” and Aunt Maria murmured, “Very
astonishing thing for a child to say.”

“Oh, come quick! Hurry faster! Tom’s down in the well!” cried Bess,
with freely flowing tears.

“Tom down a well! And how did he get there?”

Uncle Daniel never hurried, and required a reason, always, for the hope
that was in his friends.

“He went down for the teapot,” sobbed Bess, “the silver teapot, and we
can’t pull him up again; and he’s all cramped with cold. Oh, do hurry!”

“The silver teapot down the well; my mother’s silver teapot! Daniel,
didn’t I always say that Mary Bradley should never have had that
teapot? This must be looked into.”

And with dignified strides Aunt Maria marched to the well.

Tom’s teeth by this time were chattering so that he fully expected
they would all drop out, and the three fishers were so completely
demoralized by their fears as to be speechless.

Uncle Daniel was a slow man. He leisurely looked down at Tom, then
up at the wheel, then at the rope, and calmly remarked, “All new, I
see.” Then he slowly took off his coat, and as slowly carried it into
the house, stopped to give an order to his coachman, who had driven
around to the stable, and came with measured pace to where the three
frightened children stood listening to Aunt Maria, who was doing her
duty by them strictly and fully.

Uncle Daniel then took hold of the rope, gave a long, strong, calm
pull, and in an instant, Tom, “dripping with coolness, arose from the
well.”

* * * * *

As soon as they had stopped laughing, the story teller said:

“I will now tell you a Christmas story of the Great Northwest.”

THE Canadian miner was the first of the men to finish “washing up,” on
his return from the mine.

“Where’s Barbara?” he asked, tossing his towel at a peg.

“She has a little cold and I put her to bed,” replied Mrs. St. Clair.

The anxiety in the mother’s voice kept him from asking any more
questions. He followed the other men in to supper.

“It seems lonesome without Barbara,” said McGill, the mining engineer.

The rough men had made a pet of the laughing, blue-eyed little girl,
and they missed her. She had slipped into their lives so quietly that
they did not realize how much they looked forward to seeing her at
the end of the day. And Barbara returned their love. A mining camp is
hardly the place for a child, but Barbara’s father was dead, and her
mother became the cook at the Little Bear Mine.

After supper the men sat in a grave, silent circle before the great
open fireplace. There seemed to be nothing to talk about. Other
evenings these big, rough men had had Barbara to romp with, all except
Gloomy Gus.

But then Gloomy Gus never showed any interest in anything. He was
a big, gruff Swede, whose name appeared on the company’s books as
Gustavus Schwarstun. To the men, however, he was “Gloomy Gus.”

“This will give me a chance to finish her snowshoes,” the Canadian
finally said, with an assumed air of gayety. “Christmas is almost here.”

He went to the bunk room and returned with a pair of small snowshoes he
was making.

Every one of the men was making Barbara a present–every one but Gloomy
Gus. McGill eyed him sharply.

The big Swede did something which at another time would have met with
a roar of laughter; but not a man smiled when he pulled a ball of red
yarn and a half-knitted mitten out of his pocket.

“I learned how to do it in the old country,” he said as he busied his
rough, calloused fingers with the crude pine knitting needles he had
made. He had unraveled the sleeve of a new red sweater to get the yarn
he needed.

The men found it hard to work that evening, and trooped off to their
bunks earlier than usual.

McGill remained. He went down the hall to Mrs. St. Clair’s room, where
a light was still burning, and tapped gently.

“I’m going to put a cot in the mess room and sleep in there to-night,”
he told her. “You may need me.”

It was after midnight when she called him. McGill found the little
patient’s fever high. He listened to Barbara’s labored breathing and
counted her pulse.

When he looked up, he found Mrs. St. Clair watching him anxiously. He
knew from her eyes that she shared his fear–the fear that Barbara
might have pneumonia. McGill had helped the doctor fight several cases
of the disease in those mountains. They had generally been losing
fights, but he set to work.

The big, hobnailed boots of the men fell softly on the rough floors as
their wearers slipped in for breakfast. They had prepared it themselves
and ate it silently. During the meal McGill came in. He looked worried
and did not eat. After they had finished the men waited for him to
speak.

“It’s pneumonia,” he said briefly.

That was all. Soon the men slipped off quietly to the mine, and McGill
went back to Barbara.

By night Barbara was delirious.

“It looks bad,” McGill admitted to the men. “She is fretting over that
cat.”

When Barbara came to the Little Bear Mine, she had brought with her a
small Maltese kitten, her dearest possession. The death of the little
kitten a week before had been the greatest tragedy in her young life.

After supper the men tried to work on their presents, but somehow the
work dragged. The hours passed, but the men did not leave the mess
room. Toward midnight McGill came out to them. “Mrs. St. Clair says you
had better come in now if you want to see her. She’s–she’s going!”

The whole crew, from mucker to foreman, tiptoed down the hall–all
except Gus. He didn’t seem to notice that they went.

Into the sick room they filed and stood in a little embarrassed group
by the door. Barbara tossed fretfully on the bed, her eyes glowing with
unnatural brightness.

“I want a kitty, Santa Claus! I want my kitty!” she wailed feebly.

The Canadian miner, tears rolling down his cheeks, left the room. The
others followed.

Gus was still in his place by the fire when they returned.

“I can’t stand it to see her begging for that kitten,” said the
Canadian. “I would risk my life to get one for her. I’d try to get to
Telluride, if I thought I could get back in time to do any good.”

A minute afterwards Gus got up slowly and went out to the bunk room.

But Gus did not stop there long. He drew on an extra sweater, rubber
coat and furs, snatched his skis and pole, and slipped from the house.

It was after midnight. The thermometer registered way below zero. The
wind swirled down from the mountain tops with the lash of a gale. But
Gus did not mind the storm; a master of the ski, he swung down the
trail with a speed that mocked the wind at his back.

Telluride, the nearest town, was thirteen miles away, the only route
leading there being over a zigzag pack trail. From the mine this trail
descends the crest of a ridge until it strikes the edge of the canyon,
staggers back and forth down the steep face of the canyon, then for the
rest of the way meekly follows the river.

It is only a pack trail, narrow and dangerous at best. During the
summer a line of burros or donkeys winds along it, bringing down ore
from the mine and carrying back provisions. But when winter sets in,
the trail becomes very dangerous, and the zigzags have caused the death
of many prospectors who have stayed too late in the mountains, or taken
the trail too early in the spring.

Gus had little difficulty down the first part of the trail. In an hour
he reached the zigzags. They were covered with hanging masses of snow
that threatened with every blast to go grinding down the wall of the
canyon.

By his pole Gus held himself on to the side of the canyon, moving
cautiously across hanging drifts. He made his way only by grim,
desperate effort.

At the end of thirty minutes of hard struggle he stood half-way down
the trail. Then a savage blast tore a pile of clinging snow from the
top and drove it at him. Gus saw it start, gathering speed and bulk as
it came. The whole mountain side began to move. Tons of hard-packed
snow were slipping, and he was directly in their path. There was no way
of dodging the avalanche–he must outrace it.

There was no time to zigzag back and forth down the side of the canyon;
he had to take as direct a route as the avalanche. He threw his pole
from his grasp and shot ahead of the oncoming mass of snow. Death was
behind him. Before him rocks jutted out to trip him, and jump-offs
endangered his course.

[Illustration: HE SWUNG DOWN THE TRAIL WITH A SPEED THAT MOCKED THE
WIND AT HIS BACK]

But he rode his skis with reckless abandon, leaping, twisting, dodging
down the slope. Behind him crashed the snow. He was veering to the left
to escape its path.

A leap brought him to the bottom of the canyon. But before he could
glide to safety, a mass of snow at the side of the slide caught and
hurled him before it, bruised and half buried.

A desperate struggle freed him. His skis were broken, his muscles were
bruised and twisted.

It was half-past three when he reached the outskirts of the town.
Mounting the steps of the first house, he rained heavy blows upon the
door. The owner stuck his head out of a window. “Who’s there?” he asked.

“Give me a cat!” Gus ordered in a rough voice.

“Are you crazy?” yelled the enraged man at the window.

“I’ve got to have a cat! I’m from the Little Bear! Cook’s little girl
is sick–pneumonia! She’s goin’ to die if we don’t get her a cat!”

“From the Little Bear? Over the zigzags? Impossible!”

“Give me a cat or I’ll break your door in!”

Presently a light glimmered through the night and a hastily clad man
joined Gus. A search of the neighborhood produced a cat and fresh skis.
In half an hour Gus was on the trail back.

At the mine the men had not gone to their bunks that night. They
huddled before the fireplace, awaiting the dreaded news. McGill slipped
by now and then on some errand.

The night dragged through, and Christmas dawned.

Christmas! This was the first time they had planned a real Christmas
since they left their homes years ago. But now the heart had been taken
out of the day.

They sat down to a listless breakfast. McGill came in.

“She’s still fighting. She’s got to win or lose pretty soon,” he said.

They did not go to the mine that morning. It was the first Christmas
the Little Bear Mine had not run.

At ten o’clock McGill came in to report.

“Boys, I can’t stand it any longer. She’s wearing her strength away
fretting for that cat. I’m not sure that a cat would really quiet her,
and I hardly believe any living man can make it to Telluride, but I’m
going to try.”

“No, you’re not,” said the Canadian. “She needs you here. Besides,
you’re worn out. I’ll get the cat.”

“We’ll draw for it,” said the men.

“No use. Gus and I are the only two good enough on skis to have a
fighting chance.”

“Gus! That brute hasn’t got the heart of a mine mule! He wouldn’t go at
the point of a gun! Where is he? I haven’t seen him since last night,”
stormed the foreman.

Silently the men watched the Canadian prepare for the trail. They were
rough men, who held life cheaply, but not one of them believed a man
had a chance to make the trail and return safely.

Suddenly the door opened and Gus staggered in. He tried to cross the
room, but his worn-out muscles refused to act, and he sank to the floor.

The men sprang to him, laid him on a cot, pulled off his furs, and
unbuttoned his coat. Underneath the coat was an old sack. One of
the men gave it a shake. Out on the floor rolled a half-frozen,
half-smothered kitten. It told the story; it told them that Gus was a
hero.

The next morning when consciousness returned to Gus, the men carried
his cot into Barbara’s room. On the bed he could see a little figure,
frail and worn, but sleeping the restful sleep of exhaustion. One
little arm was outside the covers, hugging up closely a fluff of a
kitten. Beside the bed, he saw the mother, smiling happily through her
tears, for she knew that Barbara would get well.

AT the end of the story the Story Lady paused a moment, and then said:
“We will now leave the cold and snowy world and come back to our warm
and pleasant Fairyland and to the story of Patty and her Pitcher.”

“This is the delightful surprise I spoke of,” said the Story Queen to
Mary Frances. “Just watch the magic circle.”

Mary Frances noticed a large circle drawn on the carpet, about which
all the Story People were grouped.

“You are going to hear the story and see it acted at the same time. The
Story Lady will control the action with her voice.”

_In the Magic Circle_

Mary Frances sat listening entranced to the voice of the Story Lady. It
flowed on and on like sweet music, now rising, now falling, filling the
ear with charming sound, and the imagination with a perfect picture of
the story she was telling.

The story began:

“The most charming little girl in her native village was Patty–”

At the words a little girl, Patty, not much bigger than Tiny of
Tinytown sprang up in the circle with her little home and the village
all about her.

“The pigeons flew down–to coo around her–”

And they flew down and cooed.

“The chickens fed from her hand–”

And the chickens came running.

“The cat rolled over her feet and purred–”

And the cat did it.

“The steady old dog, Bluff, cut his liveliest capers–”

And Bluff did it.

As the story fell from the Story Lady’s lips there was instant
obedience in the village of the magic circle. The characters obeyed the
voice instantly, just as the feet of children dancing obey the music of
the piano. So the story flowed on–the acting kept pace with the voice
and did everything the words said.

Mary Frances sat spellbound, for she had never seen anything so
beautiful as the way in which that wonderful voice brought every player
and every action to her ears and eyes at the same time.

This is the story. If you keep your eyes on the magic circle you can
see it as Mary Frances saw it–through the veil of words.

* * * * *

_The Wonderful Pitcher_

The most charming little girl in her native village, was Patty; at
least, so all the neighbors said, and what everybody says ought to have
some truth in it.

Patty deserved their kind words, for she loved everybody and
everything, and in return she was loved by all who knew her. The
pigeons flew down from their little house to coo around her; the
chickens fed from her hand; the cat rolled over her feet and purred
with pleasure; and even the steady old dog, Bluff, put himself to the
trouble of cutting his liveliest capers to attract her attention.

Patty was always busy, too, about something. When she was no higher
than your knee, she used to bustle about and do little things in the
handiest manner; and as for sewing, she was the pattern child at the
dame’s school, where her sampler was hung upon the wall, as a guide to
the other children.

She lived in a little cottage with her parents, who were now old and
very poor, and depended upon their little daughter for many things
which they were too feeble to do for themselves. One of her daily
duties was to go to the spring for water.

She would dip her pitcher into the clear, bright liquid, and sing her
sweet little songs, with a voice that made every one who passed that
way stop to listen with delight.

Upon one of her journeys to the spring, occurred the great event of her
life, of which I am now about to tell you.

Patty had filled her pitcher at the spring, and was carrying it home
with some little difficulty, for it was quite heavy when filled. When
almost in sight of her cottage, she saw a poor, old, travel-worn woman
sitting by the wayside, as if overcome by the fatigue of a long journey.

She sat upon the trunk of a fallen tree; her face was as brown as a
nut, and covered with a complete network of wrinkles, while her dim
eyes looked dull and sunken. At her back was tied a bundle which seemed
quite large enough for a strong man to carry.

She watched Patty as she came near, and cast eager eyes upon the water
in the pitcher, which seemed so cool and tempting; and after looking at
Patty’s rosy, good-natured face, she asked for some water.

“Dear little child,” said she in a feeble voice, “give me a drink from
your pitcher, for I am very old, and faint, and weary.”

“To be sure, mother, and welcome,” said Patty, sweetly, as she raised
up the pitcher so that the old woman could drink.

Long and eagerly did the poor creature drink of the delicious water; so
long, indeed, that Patty was much surprised at her extreme thirst.

“Thank you, my darling. Heaven will reward you for your kindness,” said
the old woman.

“Oh, you are quite welcome, mother,” said Patty again, shouldering her
pitcher, and going cheerfully on her way, singing in the lightness
of her heart, at the pleasure of having relieved the poor woman’s
distress.

But she had not gone far before she was overtaken by a large dog, who
seemed to be bound upon a long journey; for he was covered with dust,
his eyes were bloodshot, and his parched tongue hung from his mouth to
catch the cool air.

“Poor fellow,” said Patty, in a kind voice.

The dog turned around at the words, and stopped to look at her. She
held out her hand, and he came nearer. She then set down her pitcher
to caress him, but he strove eagerly to reach the pitcher which his
instinct told him contained water. Patty understood his wants, and held
the pitcher to the poor dog so that he could drink with comfort.

He lapped and lapped, until she began to think he would never leave
off. At last, he looked up into her face, and licked her hand in
gratitude; then, after bounding and gamboling about to show how
refreshed he was, trotted on his way.

Patty now looked into her pitcher and found that it was more than half
empty, so that she must take all her journey over again; for it was of
no use going home with a pitcher but half full.

As she rose, she saw some hare-bells by the side of the road which
appeared to be in a very drooping, dusty state, so she at once poured
over them all the water that remained in the pitcher.

Then, with her pitcher once more upon her shoulder, she turned her
steps again toward the spring, without a single regret at the double
work she had to do. She traveled blithely on over the dusty road,
cheering the way with her sweet songs, and soon arrived once more at
the margin of the spring.

Resting for a few minutes in the shade, she gazed sleepily at the
bubbling water, and all kinds of fanciful thoughts passed through her
mind. She was just dropping off into a little nap, when she thought she
heard some one call her by name. It was a sweet little voice, and Patty
could hardly distinguish it from the tinkling of the spring.

She rose quickly to her feet, and looked in every direction for the
owner of the voice, but in vain; till suddenly casting eyes upon the
spring, she saw, to her amazement, a dear little face looking up at her
from the water; and presently there stood before her one of the most
beautiful little creatures Patty had ever seen.

She balanced lightly upon the surface of the rippling water, where she
seemed to stand with the same ease as Patty did upon the land, and was
really no higher than the pitcher.

“So, Patty,” said she, “so you have come back again, my dear?”

“Yes, Madam,” replied Patty, who, to say the truth, felt somewhat
alarmed; “yes, Madam, because I—-”

“I know all about it,” said the fairy, for it was a fairy, you know;
“and it is because I do know, that you see me here, for I am now come
to make you a useful present.”

“A present!” said Patty, with a pleased surprise.

“Yes, and such a one,” replied the fairy, “as will be a lasting reward
for your goodness of heart toward others, and your little care for
yourself. You blush because you do not remember the many kind things
you have done, and I am the more pleased to see that you think I am
giving you unmerited praise.

“That you think so little of all the kind actions which are the
ornament of your life, assures me of the purity of your motives; for it
is our duty to forget the good we do to others, and to remember only
the good that others do to us. You have always done so, my dear Patty.

“To reward you, I will place a spell upon your pitcher, which will
always be full of water or milk, as you may desire. It will also be
able to move and work whenever you wish it, and will always prove your
firm friend in any trouble.

“If it should, by any mishap, be parted from you, it will easily, by
its magic powers, be able to find you; and in whatever position you
may happen to be, you will always find it by your side, as adviser and
friend; so put your pitcher on the ground, and look into it.”

[Illustration: SHE THEN TOUCHED THE PITCHER WITH HER WAND]

Patty did so, and to her surprise, saw the bright water gradually
rising until the pitcher was full to the brim. When she saw it was full
she tried to lift it, but found it too heavy for her strength.

“You need not trouble yourself to carry it,” said the fairy, smiling;
“it will save you all further trouble on that score.”

She then touched the pitcher with her wand, when to Patty’s greater
surprise, two very well-formed legs grew out of the bottom, and a pair
of neat little arms appeared at the top of the vessel, which, as soon
as it was firm on its legs, made a very polite bow to Patty as its
future mistress.

“Now, Patty,” said the fairy, “follow your pitcher, and you cannot
possibly go wrong;” and as she finished speaking, she gradually faded
away, and at last broke into a thousand sparkling drops, which mingled
with the bubbling stream, and were soon borne away on its bosom.

Patty rubbed her eyes as if to make sure that she was awake; for the
whole thing seemed to her like a wonderful dream. She coughed aloud,
and at last began to pinch herself until she found it painful, when she
finally concluded that she must be really awake. But more convincing
than all, there stood the saucy brown pitcher firmly upon its sturdy
green legs, with its toes turned out in the politest manner of the day,
and its little fists planted in its sides in a style that was very
business-like indeed.

“Quite ready to start, mistress,” said a little voice that made Patty
jump, for the fairy had not told her that the pitcher could speak; but
screwing up courage, she said: “Come on, then, Pitcher,” and set the
example by starting off into a run.

And didn’t the pitcher follow her in good earnest! Indeed, it ran so
fast that it soon overtook her, and not only that, but it ran beyond
her, long before she got half-way home.

But the most surprising thing was that, although it hopped along with
the most wonderful strides and jumps over the rough places in its path,
it did not spill one single drop of water in its progress. This puzzled
Patty, who, with her utmost care, could never avoid wetting her dress
whenever she had tried to run with the pitcher, even half full.

“What will people think when we get into the village?” thought Patty,
as she looked at her strange companion; “I’m sure they will be
frightened, and what will father and mother say when they see what I
have brought home with me?”

“Do not trouble yourself about that,” said the pitcher, who seemed to
know her thoughts; “your parents will soon get accustomed to me, and be
much pleased when they see how handy I am, for you do not yet know half
of my good qualities.”

As he was speaking, they came to a very high stile. “Shall I help you
over?” said Patty, thinking of his short legs.

“Oh, dear, no,” said the pitcher; “see how little I need it.” And,
so saying, he skipped over the stile in the most graceful manner. As
he did so, a dog who was passing put his tail between his legs, and
after two or three very weak barks, scurried off in evident fright and
surprise.

A man was at the same time coming along the road with a slow and
pompous walk–for he was the squire of the village–who, upon seeing
the strange pitcher clear the stile, was rendered almost speechless
with amazement; but as soon as he saw the little legs speeding toward
him, he uttered one loud exclamation of terror, and fled!

His hat flew one way, his cane another, and his cloak mounted into the
air like wings. Being very fat, however, he had not gone far before his
legs failed him, and he lay kicking in a furze bush, roaring for help.
Patty could not help laughing at the sight, but the pitcher, trotting
on with the greatest unconcern, soon reached the cottage door to the
astonishment of Patty’s parents.

The pitcher walked quietly into the cottage, and sat down in a corner,
tucking its legs carefully under it, so that no one could see them. The
neighbors, therefore, who had been alarmed at the squire’s account of
his fright and disaster, and came to the cottage in crowds, only saw a
pitcher, such as they all had at home, and put the old squire down as
being a little bit out of his mind.

Patty was awakened next morning by hearing a noise below, as if someone
was very busy with the furniture. She heard the chairs pushed about,
and presently the handle of a pail klink down as plain as could be. So
she put on her clothes and crept down stairs. She peeped cautiously
through the red curtains at the bottom, and there, to her wondering
surprise, she saw, what do you think?–not any thieves, but the
astonishing pitcher; and what do you think it was doing? Why, it was
mopping up the red tiles of the floor as handily as if it had never
done anything else all the days of its life; and more wonderful still,
the fire was made, and was burning brightly upon the hearth!

We can imagine a pitcher of water washing the floor, but we cannot
imagine it doing anything else with a fire except putting it out. But,
no! the fire was lighted, the kettle was on, and there it was, merrily
singing a little song about breakfast being nearly ready.

“Good morning, dear mistress,” said the pitcher, cheerfully; “you need
not trouble yourself to do anything but grow and improve your mind; for
from henceforth you will have but little labor to do, as I am here to
do it for you.”

You may suppose that Patty was well pleased to hear this, for she was
now growing to be a tall girl, and felt a great desire to improve
herself with books, which as yet she had had very little time to do,
having been so much taken up with her household cares.

When Patty was left alone in the evening with the pitcher, she told him
how much she was obliged to him for all he had done, and how much she
wished to learn; but did not know what to do for books, as she had read
the few she already possessed, many times over.

“Oh, I can soon help you there,” said the pitcher, “for you have only
to wish, and I will yield you as much milk as you desire. You can
then make butter and cheese, and go sell them at the market town; buy
as many books as you like, and have something left for other purposes
besides.”

No sooner said than done. Patty set out all the pans she had, and all
she could borrow from her kind neighbors, and as fast as they came the
pitcher ran about and filled them; so that she soon had plenty of cream
for her butter and cheese.

She had only to ask, and a good neighbor lent her a churn, while the
pitcher furnished a pair of arms to do the churning, and such butter
was produced as had not been seen in the village for many a day. You
may suppose that Patty was pleased; and as for her dear old parents,
they hardly knew what to make of it all.

The same good neighbor lent her a gentle horse and some baskets; and
early one lovely morning, she started for the market-town, to which the
pleased pitcher pointed out the way. He did not go with her, as he said
the people of the town were not accustomed to see brown pitchers with
legs, so he should stay at home and see about making the cheese.

Patty rode cheerfully on her way, looking as happy and handsome as
the best farmer’s daughter of them all–so everybody in the market
said–and she soon sold all her butter at the very best prices of the
day.

And so Patty went on thriving, and doing good to every one in need,
until in course of time, she grew into a beautiful and lovable young
woman, living in comfort with her old parents in one of the prettiest
cottages in the village.

Every one said that she deserved her good fortune; no one envied her;
she was loved by young and old; so, as you may well believe, she was
happy as the day is long.

_The Well-dressed Stranger_

And now, a wonderful thing came to pass, which changed the whole course
of Patty’s simple and contented life. One evening, she was standing
in her garden, feeding her pigeons, when a well-dressed stranger
approached the gate. After looking at her with admiration for a moment,
he bowed gracefully, at the same time removing his plumed hat, and, in
the politest manner, inquired the way to the next town.

Patty answered him pleasantly, and as she spoke, the music of her voice
and the charming modesty of her manner seemed to strike the young man
with surprise and pleasure.

He looked at her intently for a moment, which made Patty’s eyes seek
the ground in blushing confusion; then bowing again with greater
respect than before, he proceeded slowly on his way, often looking back
for another glimpse of sweet Patty.

And now, as you probably guess, the handsome young stranger came again
and again, although he knew his way very well indeed between the
village and the neighboring town. At last she found that it was the way
to her heart he was seeking. He told her parents that he was rich, and
wished to have a wife of whom every one spoke well. He did not care how
poor she might be, so that she loved him; since he had wealth enough
for both, and could choose to marry when and where he pleased.

You must not suppose, however, that Patty fell into the arms of the
young stranger at once. He coaxed her a great deal before she consented
to be his wife; as she wanted to make sure that he was as upright in
character as he was handsome in appearance.

The parents smiled as they looked upon the ardent and handsome lover,
whom, however, they did not think a bit too good for their darling
Patty; and so, in as short a time as was possible, they were happily
married.

Now the stranger who had married Patty was a prince in disguise; and
the pretty cottage-girl became a great princess, surrounded with all
the splendor of her high station!

Did Patty now forget her early home and her old friend, the pitcher?
No, she did not, for the pitcher went with her; but her parents wished
to end their days in the peaceful village where they were born. In the
splendid state in which she now lived, the pitcher was as useful to her
as before, though in a different way. When the poor came to the palace
gate, he gave them bread and nourishing soup for their families, for
which they daily blessed the kind princess who relieved their wants.
So you see the pitcher, although now not called upon to work, still
continued, in the name of his mistress, to do good to all around.

_Patty in Trouble_

But, alas! the best of us cannot escape from envious hearts and wicked
tongues, and so it befell with Patty. Her dream of happiness was short.
Many of the wicked courtiers envied her the love of the people, to whom
Patty was endeared by her gentle kindness; and they whispered slanders
into the ears of the prince, her husband, who at last, I am sorry to
say, was weak enough to listen to them; for they aroused his fears by
telling him that she was trying to bribe the people by her charities to
rebel against him.

They also said that she was served by evil spirits, and pointed to the
good and innocent pitcher as a proof of their wicked tales. Alas for
human weakness! The prince at last became convinced of her guilt; and
although his heart ached, he had her put into one of the dungeons of
the palace; and there poor Patty was left to mourn over the too easy
belief of her husband in her guilt.

She did not, however, mourn long, for as night came on, the prison door
gently opened, and there, to her great delight, she saw the faithful
pitcher, with a bunch of keys in his hand.

“Come,” said he, “let us return to your peaceful home, and show your
husband that it is his heart and not his riches that you covet. He will
come back to reason and repentance when he finds he has lost you.”

Poor Patty followed him in deep grief; but they had not gone far in
their flight, when she perceived with alarm, that they were followed by
a band of soldiers. She screamed with fright.

[Illustration: “BE NOT ALARMED, DEAR MISTRESS,” SAID THE
PITCHER]

_The Pitcher to the Rescue_

“Be not alarmed, dear mistress,” said the pitcher; “I will soon stop
their pursuit.” So saying, he bent over the side of a rock and poured
out a cataract of water through the valley in which the soldiers were
marching.

Soon the water swelled into huge waves, which swept the soldiers from
their path, and compelled them to save their lives by swimming to the
nearest land, when, wet and dispirited, they soon returned to their
master, the foolish prince.

That night Patty slept once more beneath the sheltering roof of her
parents, who, as you may suppose, received their darling with open arms.

She once more found herself in her beloved garden, and the flowers, as
you may believe, were often watered with her tears. It was but natural
that her thoughts should wander to the home of her husband, and that
she should grieve over his cruelty in return for her pure and ardent
love. Hope, however, whispered to her, in the midst of her tears, that
he would yet learn how false the stories were that had caused not only
her unhappiness, but his also. The pitcher, too, was always at her side
to give her comfort in her silent sorrow.

And thus days and weeks rolled on, but no news or messenger reached
her from her husband. Had he entirely abandoned her? Or did he believe
her to have been swept by the torrent that had so nearly drowned his
soldiers, who were too busy looking out for their own safety to notice
what had become of her?

She hoped that it was so, as that in a measure would excuse him; and
even now, he might be mourning her as lost to him forever! For surely,
she thought, long ere this the evil tongues must have appeared to him
in their true light.

One morning, she rose earlier than usual. She was restless and could
not sleep. The pure air was cool and refreshing to her fevered brow.
Looking sadly around her, she saw the dear old pitcher trimming the
flowers just like an experienced gardener.

“Good morning, dear mistress,” said he, rubbing his hands cheerfully;
“you are up betimes to-day, for the sun has hardly yet peeped into the
valley. I am glad you are so early afoot. As you see, I am taking extra
care with the garden, for I expect visitors to-day!”

“Visitors?” said Patty with an inquiring look.

“Yes, visitors,” said the pitcher, from whose mouth issued a low,
chuckling laugh; “I can distinctly hear footsteps in the distance, and
they are coming this way. Listen! they are now near enough for mortal
ears to hear!”

And so they were; nearer and nearer they came. Presently the figure
of a traveler, with a hood over his face, came in sight. He stopped a
moment, threw back his hood, and stood, struck with amazement; for it
was the prince, her husband, who believed her to be dead–drowned in
the valley, after she had escaped from prison!

“This,” said the pitcher, “is the visitor I expected. Believing you to
be dead, he has wandered in many lands to cure his grief; and at last
ventured to this quiet cottage to see once more the spot where he first
had the good fortune to meet you. He has bitterly grieved over the sin
he has committed in believing you guilty of coveting his riches, when
he alone was all your riches and your delight.

“That you are still alive, is the reward for his sincere repentance.
He finds you in your parents’ home where he saw you first, regretting
nothing of your past life, except the loss of the husband you love so
well.”

The faithful pitcher here ceased speaking. The prince rushed forward
with a cry of delight, and knelt at Patty’s feet and begged her
forgiveness.

The pitcher, like a discreet friend, placed her hand in his, and went
into the cottage.

The prince now happy in his love, which had increased a hundred fold,
wished at once to return to his palace; and desired to send forward a
messenger, so that he might bring back his recovered wife in triumph.
The pitcher, upon this, came out and joined them.

“Prince,” said he, “spare yourself this trouble. I am here to render
a last service to my mistress. Since your sincere love now leaves
nothing for her to desire, the fairy who appointed me to reward her
for the greatest of human virtues–self-denial, now recalls me to her
water-palace.”

Behold! As he ceased speaking, jets of sparkling water rose high in the
air from his mouth, until the valley was filled by a lovely lake, upon
which floated a gilded barge, manned by stout rowers in the prince’s
livery, and gay with flags of all colors.

Patty then took an affectionate leave of her parents, and she and
her husband stepped into the barge. Still the water flowed from the
pitcher’s mouth, until the lake grew into a mighty river, down which
they floated until they came in sight of their beautiful home, standing
high upon the rocks which bordered the stream.

Hundreds of flags floated from the towers, and booming cannon sent
forth a noisy welcome. Crowds of rejoicing people stood to receive
their beloved mistress, whose kindness had long ago endeared her to
their grateful hearts; and, when at length they landed, the people
rushed forward–happy if they even succeeded in kissing the hem of her
garment.

After that Patty lived many years in peace and prosperity; but the
magic pitcher was seen no more, for Patty was happy, and its loving
task was done.

* * * * *

As the Story Lady ceased speaking, the actors vanished from the magic
circle into thin air.

“Oh, I wish I could learn to tell stories like that!” exclaimed Mary
Frances.

“You can,” said the Story King, heartily; “for you have come to the
home of good story-tellers.”

“Yes, you can, my dear, because you love stories,” said the Story Queen.

“And for that reason you will always be young,” added the Story King;
“for good story-tellers never grow old.”

“It seems too good to be true; the Story Lady is so wonderful,”
returned Mary Frances.

This outspoken admiration pleased the Story People very much, for they
were very proud of their Story Lady.

Now the Ready Writer folded the copies of the five stories; stepped up
with a funny little bow and handed them to their guest as before; and
that was the end of the Second Day.

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