THERE is an old legend of a proud king, named Robert of Sicily. This
legend tells of the greatest event of Robert’s life; and the poet,
Longfellow, has written a beautiful poem about it, which every one
should read. This is the story:
Robert, King of Sicily, was a very proud monarch and a very selfish
one. He spent most of his time enjoying himself, and gave little heed
to the wants of his people.
On St. John’s eve he attended vesper service with a great retinue of
knights and lords and pages. He was dressed most magnificently, and
proudly sat while the choir chanted some strange Latin words.
The king did not understand Latin, and turning to a learned clerk
nearby, he said, “What do those words mean?”
The clerk answered, “They mean,
‘He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them of low degree!’”
The king laughed scornfully, and said, “It is well that such words are
sung in Latin, for there is no power on earth that can push me from my
Then he leaned back yawning, and fell asleep.
When he awoke it was already night; the church was empty and all in
The king was angry at finding himself alone. He groped his way toward
the great doors, but found them locked.
Then he thought of the windows, but they were high above his reach.
Then he became frightened and cried aloud. He listened, but all that he
heard was the resounding echoes of his cries, as they rang, again and
again, through the high, vaulted ceiling of the church.
He knocked with his fists against the doors, and swore awful oaths
against every one in his court. He became so angry that he tore his
magnificent robes into shreds. He had long since lost his hat and cloak.
At length the sexton of the church heard the noise, and he thought that
perhaps thieves were breaking into the church, so he lit his lantern
and went to the door. When he could make himself heard, he asked, “Who
The king, half choked with rage, answered fiercely, “Open, ’tis I, the
king. Are you afraid?”
The frightened sexton muttered to himself: “It is some drunken beggar,
or some one crazy;” and, turning the great key, he flung open the doors.
A man in torn garments, without hat or cloak, rushed past him. He
neither looked at him nor spoke, but, leaping into the darkness,
vanished almost like a spectre from his sight.
Bareheaded, breathless, covered with dust and cobwebs, Robert strode on
through the darkness, and came to the palace gates. He rushed through
the courtyard, thrusting aside the guards and pages, and hurried up the
broad stairs. From hall to hall he passed in breathless speed, although
he heard voices and cries to stop him, until he came to the banquet
room, which was blazing with light.
There he stood motionless, speechless, amazed; for on the throne there
sat another king, wearing his crown, his robes, and even his signet
ring. He looked at first glance exactly like King Robert. He was of the
same height and the same form and features; but there was a gracious
beauty about him which Robert lacked.
King Robert stood there, gazing at him in anger and rage when he
looked up. With a glance of surprise and pity, he asked, “Who are you?”
Robert answered, “I am the king, and I have come to take my place; you
are an imposter who pretends to be king.”
At these words the angry guests sprang up with drawn swords, but the
man on the throne said, “No, not the king, but the king’s jester.
You shall from now on wear the bells and scalloped cape of the court
jester, and make fun for us all. Your companion shall be an ape.” Then
he turned away toward his guests.
Some of the servants came forward to take Robert away, and they were
quite deaf to his ravings and angry threats. With shouts of laughter
they pushed him on before them down the stairs, and mockingly bowed
before him, and pretended to honor him, all the while laughing and
tittering and making fun of him. They left him in a room in the stable
where at length, exhausted, he fell asleep.
The next morning, waking with the day’s first light, he thought to
himself: “I’ve had an ugly dream.” But the straw rustled when he turned
his head, and there were the jester’s cap and bells lying near. He
heard the horses champing in their stalls, and on looking around the
room saw the poor ape. So he remembered. It was no dream. His happy
life that he thought could not be changed, had vanished from him.
The days came and went. Under the rule of the new king the island
prospered as never before. Robert continued to be the jester, laughed
at and scorned. His only friend was the ape. His only food, what others
Sometimes the other king would meet him, and ask, “Are you still the
king?” and always Robert would throw back his head and fling the answer
haughtily, “I am, I am the king!”
[Illustration: TOWARD THE VERY LAST, ROBERT, THE JESTER, RODE ON A
Robert had two brothers; one was Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine, the
other was Pope Urbane. One day, almost three years after the wild
night that Robert had been locked in the church, ambassadors came from
Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine, bringing letters. The letters asked King
Robert to join his brother Valmond in a visit to their brother at Rome.
The ambassadors were received with great pleasure, and were presented
with many beautiful gifts of robes and jewels.
Then the king who was not King Robert went with them across the sea to
Italy. He was accompanied by a great retinue of knights, all dressed
in uniform, wearing gay plumes in their helmets. They rode horses with
jeweled bridles, and even wore golden spurs. They were followed by
pages and servants; and, toward the very last, Robert, the jester, rode
on a piebald pony, and behind was perched the ape. Through every town
they went they made much fun for the people, who followed along after,
laughing and poking fun at them. The company were received with great
pomp and ceremony, and the three brothers seemed delighted at being
Suddenly Robert burst through the crowd, and running up to them cried,
“I am the king! Do you not know me? Look at me. I am your brother,
Robert of Sicily. This man is but an imposter! He is not the king!”
The emperor and the pope looked at the angry worried jester for a long
moment; then the emperor laughed, and said, “What strange sport to keep
a crazy fellow for a jester!” and the poor baffled jester was hustled
back into the crowd.
Then came Easter Sunday, and the beauty and the solemnity of the Easter
services touched the hearts of all men. Robert was deeply moved. For
the first time in his life he saw what kind of man he had been. He saw
how selfish and proud and haughty he had been. He wished with all his
soul that he had been a better man, and he made up his mind that, no
matter what happened, he would never be so selfish and mean again.
Now, the visit ended; the grand visitors left Rome and journeyed
homeward. And when they were once more established, the king on the
throne sent for Robert. He motioned every one else out of the room and
beckoned Robert to draw near.
And when they were alone, he asked, “Art thou the king?”
Robert bowed his head, and folding his arms, said, “You know best. I
only know that I have sinned, and have been proud and selfish. Let me
go from here and try to make up in some way for the wrong which I have
And just as he finished saying this, there rose through the windows
loud and clear the words of the chant:
“He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them of low degree!”
Then the man who was with Robert cried joyously. “I am not the king! I
am an angel! You are the king!”
When King Robert raised his eyes–lo! he was alone, but all dressed in
his magnificent apparel as of old; and when his courtiers came, they
found him kneeling upon the floor in silent prayer.
* * * * *
“Robert was fortunate,” said the Story King, “in learning his lesson
before it was too late.”
“Yes, indeed, he was,” answered the Story Lady. “The fourth story is of
a young man who repented when it was too late.”
ONCE there was a man, a young officer in the United States Army, who
did a dreadful thing–he cursed his native country!
He pretended for a while that he did not care, when he was punished,
but in the end he was very, very sorry. Because he wore his uniform
without the official buttons, the sailors on the ships on which he was
imprisoned called him “Plain Buttons.”
His name was Philip Nolan. Lieutenant Nolan was as fine a young officer
as there was in the “Legion of the West,” as the Western division of
the United States Army was called in those early days, one hundred
At that time the Mississippi valley was the Far West to most people,
and seemed a very distant land indeed. There were a number of forts
along the river and Nolan was stationed in one of these. Nolan’s
idol was the brilliant and dashing Aaron Burr, who visited the fort
several times between 1805 and 1807. He walked and talked with Nolan
and obtained a very strong influence over him. He got Nolan to take
him out in his skiff and show him something of the great river and the
plans for the new post; and by the time Burr’s visit was over Nolan was
enlisted body and soul in Burr’s disloyal schemes. From then on, though
he did not yet know it, Nolan lived as a man without a country.
Burr soon got into trouble with the government, and some of his friends
were tried for treason, Nolan among them. It became very plain during
the trial that Nolan would do anything Burr told him; that he would
obey Burr far quicker than his country in spite of his oath as an
officer of the army.
So when Colonel Morgan, who was president of the court, asked Nolan, at
the close of the trial, whether he wished to say anything to show that
he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a
fit of frenzy: “Curse the United States! I wish I may never hear of the
United States again!”
Probably he did not realize how the words would shock old Colonel
Morgan and the other members of the court. Half the officers who sat
with him had served through the Revolutionary War, and had risked their
lives, not to say their necks, cheerfully and loyally for the country
which Nolan so lightly cursed in his madness.
It may be said for Nolan that he had grown up in the West of those
days, then an almost unknown country. He had been educated on a
plantation, where the most welcome guests were Spanish officers and
French merchants from Orleans, who, to say the least, were unfriendly
to the United States. He had spent half his youth with an older
brother, hunting horses in Texas, which was not then a part of the
United States. In a word, the “United States” meant almost nothing to
Yet there was little excuse for Nolan. He had sworn on his faith as a
Christian to be true to the United States. It was the United States
which gave him the uniform he wore and the sword by his side. Nay, Burr
cared nothing for poor Nolan, but had picked him out to aid him in his
wicked plots, only because of the uniform he wore. Of course, Nolan did
not know this, and it did not excuse him; but it does partly explain
why he cursed his country and wished that he might never hear her name
He never did hear her name but once again. From that moment, September
23, 1807, till the day he died, May 11, 1863, he never heard her name
again. For that half-century and more he was a man without a country.
Colonel Morgan, as you may suppose, was terribly shocked. If Nolan had
compared George Washington to Benedict Arnold, or had cried, “God save
King George,” Morgan would not have felt worse. He called the court
into his private room, and returned in fifteen minutes, with a face
white as a sheet, to say:
“Prisoner, hear the sentence of the Court! The Court decides, subject
to the approval of the President, that you never hear the name of the
United States again.”
Nolan laughed; but nobody else laughed–the whole room was hushed dead
as night for a minute. Then Colonel Morgan added, “Mr. Marshall, take
the prisoner to Orleans in an armed boat and deliver him to the naval
commander there. Request him to order that no one shall mention the
United States to the prisoner while he is on board ship.”
Colonel Morgan himself went to Washington and President Jefferson
approved the sentence, so a plan was formed to keep Nolan constantly
at sea, far from his own country. The ships of our navy took few long
cruises then, but one ship was directed to carry the prisoner as far
away as it was going, then transfer him to another vessel before it
sailed for home. He was to be confined only so far as necessary to
prevent his escape and to make it certain that he never saw or heard of
his country again.
As soon as a vessel on which Nolan sailed was homeward bound, Nolan was
transferred to an outward-bound vessel for another cruise. At first he
made light of it–but in time he learned something he had not thought
of, perhaps–that there was no going home for him, even to a prison.
There were some twenty such transfers which took him all over the
world, but which kept him all his life at least some hundred miles from
the country he had hoped he might never hear of again.
[Illustration: HE FLUNG THE BOOK INTO THE SEA]
Nolan wore his uniform, but with plain buttons. He always had a sentry
before his door, but the men were as good to him as his sentence
permitted. No mess wanted to have him with them too steadily because
they could never talk about home matters when he was present–more than
half the talk men liked to have at sea. They took turns inviting him to
dinner, and the captain always asked him on Mondays. He could have any
books or papers not printed in America. Newspapers having any mention
of America had to be gone over and the allusions cut out. He used to
join the men as they were reading on deck and take his turn in reading
Once when they were cruising around the Cape of Good Hope, somebody
got hold of Scott’s “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” which was then new and
famous. Nolan was reading to the others when he came to this passage:
“Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?
“If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,–
Despite those titles, power and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self”—-
Here the poor fellow choked, and could not go on, but started up and
flung the book into the sea and fled to his stateroom. It was two
months before he dared join the men again.
There was a change in Nolan after this. He never read aloud again,
unless it was the Bible or Shakespeare, or something else he was sure
of. He was always shy afterwards and very seldom spoke unless spoken
to, except to a very few friends. He generally had the nervous, tired
look of a heart-wounded man. Sometimes he tried to trap people into
mentioning his country, but he never succeeded; his sentence was too
well known among the men who had him in charge.
There was only one day on which, perhaps, he was really happy, except
when he knew his lonely life was closing. Once, during the war of 1812,
the ship on which he was staying had a fight with an English frigate.
A round shot from the enemy entered one of the ports and killed the
officer of the gun himself and many of the gun’s crew. Now you may
say what you choose about courage, but that is not a nice thing to
see. But, as the men who were not killed picked themselves up, and
as they and the surgeon’s people were carrying off the bodies, there
appeared Nolan, in his shirt sleeves, with the rammer in his hand, and,
just as if he had been the officer, told them off with authority–who
should go to the cock-pit with the wounded men, who should stay with
him–perfectly cheery, and with that way which makes men feel sure
all is right and is going to be right. And he finished loading the
gun with his own hands, aimed it, and bade the men fire. And there he
stayed, captain of that gun, keeping those fellows in spirits, till
the enemy struck–sitting on the carriage while the gun was cooling,
though he was exposed all the time,–showing them easier ways to handle
heavy shot–making the raw hands laugh at their own blunders–and
when the gun cooled again, getting it loaded and fired twice as often
as any other gun on the ship. The commodore walked forward by way of
encouraging the men, and Nolan touched his hat and said:
“I am showing them how we do this in the artillery, sir.”
“I see you are, and I thank you, sir,” the commodore said; “and I shall
never forget this day, sir, and you never shall, sir.”
And after the whole thing was over, and he had the Englishman’s sword,
in the midst of the state and ceremony of the quarter-deck, he said:
“Where is Mr. Nolan? Ask Mr. Nolan to come here.” And when Nolan came,
“Mr. Nolan, we are all very grateful to you; you are one of us to-day;
you will be named in the despatches.”
And then the commodore took off his own sword of ceremony, and gave it
to Nolan, and made him put it on. Nolan cried like a baby, and well he
might. He had not worn a sword since that infernal day at Fort Adams.
But always afterwards on occasions of ceremony, he wore that quaint old
French sword of the commodore’s.
The commodore did mention him in the despatches, and asked that he
might be pardoned. He wrote a special letter to the Secretary of War.
But nothing ever came of it.
At another time Nolan went with a young officer named Vaughan to
overhaul a dirty little schooner which had slaves on board. Nolan was
the only one who could speak Portuguese, the language used by the
slavers. There were but few of the negroes. Vaughan had their handcuffs
and ankle-cuffs knocked off and put these on the rascals of the
schooner’s crew. Then Nolan told the blacks that they were free, and
that Vaughan would take them to Cape Palmas.
Now, Cape Palmas was a long way from their native land, and they said,
“Not Palmas. Take us home, take us to our own country, take us to our
own pickaninnies and our own women.” One complained that he had not
heard from home for more than six months. It was terribly hard for
Nolan, but he translated these speeches, and told the negroes Vaughan’s
answer in some fashion.
“Tell them–yes, yes, yes!” Vaughan said. “Tell them they shall go to
the Mountains of the Moon, if they will. If I sail the schooner through
the Great White Desert, they shall go home!”
And then they all fell to kissing Nolan, and wanted to rub his nose
As they were being rowed back to the ship, he lay in the stern sheets
and said to a young midshipman of whom he was very fond:
“Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family,
without a home, and without a country. And if you are ever tempted to
say a word or do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your
family, your home, and your country, pray God in His mercy to take you
that instant home to His own heaven. Stick by your family, boy; forget
you have a self, while you do everything for them. Think of your home,
boy; write, and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to
your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to
it when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for
your country, boy,” and the words rattled in his throat, “and for that
flag,” and he pointed to the ship, “never dream a dream but of serving
her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand
hells. No matter what happens to you, no matter who flatters you or who
abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you
pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men
you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even,
there is the country herself, your country, and that you belong to her
as you belong to your own mother. Stand by her, boy, as you would stand
by your mother, if those devils there had got hold of her to-day!”
And then Nolan added, almost in a whisper, “Oh, if anybody had said so
to me when I was of your age!”
Years passed on, and Nolan’s sentence was unrevoked, though his friends
had more than once asked for a pardon.
The end came when he had been upwards of fifty years at sea, and he
asked the ship’s doctor for a visit from Captain Danforth, whom he
liked. Danforth tells us about Nolan’s last hours and calls him “dear
old Nolan,” so we know his love was returned.
The officer saw what a little shrine poor Nolan had made of his
stateroom. Up above were the stars and stripes, and around a portrait
of Washington he had painted a majestic eagle, with lightnings blazing
from his beak and his foot just clasping the whole globe, which the
wings overshadowed. Nolan said, with a sad smile, “Here, you see, I
have a country!” Over the foot of the bed was a great map of the United
States, drawn from memory, which he had there to look upon as he lay
in his berth. Quaint old names were on it, in large letters: Indiana
Territory, Mississippi Territory, and Louisiana Territory.
“Danforth,” he said, “I know I am dying. I cannot get home. Surely you
will tell me something now? Stop! Stop! Do not speak till I say what I
am sure you know, that there is not in this ship, that there is not in
America–God bless her!–a more loyal man than I. There cannot be a man
who loves the old flag or prays for it as I do. There are thirty-four
stars in it now, Danforth. I thank God for that, though I do not know
what their names are. There has never been one taken away. I thank God
for that. But tell me something–tell me everything, Danforth, before I
Captain Danforth, in writing about it afterwards says: “I felt like
a monster that I had not told him everything before. Though obeying
orders, who was I that I should have been acting the tyrant all this
time over this dear, sainted old man, who had expiated, in his whole
manhood’s life, the madness of a boy’s treason.”
“Mr. Nolan,” he said, “I will tell you everything you ask about.”
Then he told him the names of all the new states, and drew them in on
the map. He told him of the inventions–the steamboats, the railroads
and telegraphs; he tried to tell him all that had happened to the great
and growing country in fifty years. He told him about Abraham Lincoln,
who was then President–except that he could not wound his friend by
mentioning a word about the cruel Civil War which was then raging.
Nolan drank it in and enjoyed it more than we can tell. After that he
seemed to grow weary and said he would go to sleep. He bent Danforth
down and kissed him, and then said, “Look in my Bible, Captain, when I
Danforth went away with no thought that this was the end. But in an
hour, when the doctor went in gently, he found Nolan had breathed away
his life with a smile.
They looked in his Bible, and there was a slip of paper at the place
where he had marked the text:
“They desire a country, even a heavenly: wherefore God is not
ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a
On this slip of paper he had written:
“Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it. But will
not some one set up a stone for my memory at Fort Adams or at
Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear?
Say on it:
‘In Memory of
Lieutenant in the Army of the United States.
He loved his country as no other man has loved her;
but no man deserved less at her hands.’”
WHEN the story was finished the Story People did not applaud; they felt
sorry for poor Philip who had repented so bitterly.
Mary Frances felt sad, and sorry, too; as she did every time she heard
the story, for she had often heard it before.
“How Americans love their country!” said the Story King. “They must
love it as much as we love our island!”
“Indeed, they do love it,” answered Mary Frances patriotically. “I
think it’s the greatest big country in all the world!”
The Story People smiled and clapped their hands at this speech, for
they admire loyalty wherever shown.
“Yes, it is,” said the Story Queen, “and we think our island is the
greatest little country in all the world.”
“So it is! Indeed, it is! I love it next to my own!” cried Mary
Frances; and the Story People applauded again.
“There is a little poem about the Stars and Stripes that is very
popular in America,” said the Story Lady, smiling. “Now that the
stories are finished for the day, perhaps our guest will recite it for
[Illustration: YOUR FLAG AND MY FLAG]
Mary Frances blushed, and then rose in her place and recited:
Your flag and my flag,
And how it flies to-day
In your land and my land
And half a world away!
Rose-red and blood-red
The stripes forever gleam;
Snow-white and soul-white–
The good forefathers’ dream;
Sky-blue and true-blue, with stars to gleam aright–
The gloried guidon of the day; a shelter through the night.
Your flag and my flag!
And, oh, how much it holds–
Your land and my land–
Secure within its folds!
Your heart and my heart
Beat quicker at the sight;
Sun-kissed and wind-tossed–
Red and blue and white.
The one flag–the great flag–the flag for me and you–
Glorified all else beside–the red and white and blue!
Your flag and my flag!
To every star and stripe
The drums beat as hearts beat,
And fifers shrilly pipe!
Your flag and my flag–
A blessing in the sky;
Your hope and my hope–
It never hid a lie!
Home land and far land and half the world around,
Old Glory hears our glad salute and ripples to the sound.[C]
[C] From the “Trail to Boyland,” by Wilbur D. Nesbit, Copyright 1904.
Used by special permission of the publishers, The Bobbs-Merrill Company.
As Mary Frances sat down, the Story People clapped their hands
enthusiastically; and the Ready Writer handed her her copies of the
stories for the day. The copy of the poem which he had made, he kept
As Mary Frances and the Story Lady were going out, the Story Queen
stopped them and said:
“We shall expect you both to dinner to-night–just a little family
party, you know.”
“Oh, thank you, that will be delightful,” both replied.
Mary Frances thought ruefully of her best dress hanging uselessly in
the closet at home and wished she had it. “But it’s no use wishing,”
she thought. “It’s all so unexpected.”
However, with the help of the Story Lady, she was arrayed for the
occasion, and when she saw herself in the mirror she said, “There must
be two of us; that doesn’t look like me.”
But it was she. So when they left their apartments and went downstairs
into the dining-hall, she was in very high spirits.
Mary Frances had eaten many dinners, but never one like that. Yet,
strange to say, she doesn’t remember what she ate. But she does
remember how kind and friendly the Story King and Queen were, and
how they plied her with questions about her own country. She thinks,
perhaps, she bragged a little too much in telling of its wonders, but
she excuses herself to herself, thinking, “Well, my country is worth
bragging about, I’m sure.” During a lull in the conversation, Mary
Frances asked the King, “Won’t you tell me where all the stories come
“With pleasure,” he replied. “They come from all countries. The world
is full of people who are doing brave and noble deeds, and when we hear
of such deeds, we have them written down and pass them on.”
“Of course,” he added, “there are other people who are doing cowardly
and selfish things, but we don’t bother with them, except to punish
them as we did the pirate. We see to it that no good story is ever
lost; that is why we were so concerned about the lost story.”
“You can see,” said the Queen, “that it keeps us pretty busy.”
“Indeed, it must,” returned Mary Frances. “I think it’s very kind of
you to let me visit you.”
“Dear child,” said the Queen, “we shall make a story about it–several
“Yes, delightful stories,” interrupted the Story Lady, “and I shall
tell them! Oh, yes, I shall tell them!”
WHEN the Story People were all assembled, the Story Lady began:
“To-day we have only one story, ‘The Cricket on the Hearth,’ which was
first told by one of our greatest story-tellers, Charles Dickens, who
wrote ‘The Christmas Carol’ and many other stories that children love
“Heyday! The cricket’s merrier than ever to-night, I think,” said John,
stopping, in his slow way, to listen to its musical chirp, chirp, chirp!
“And it’s sure to bring us good fortune, John! It always has done so.
To have a cricket on the hearth is the luckiest thing in the world!”
That is what John Peerybingle’s little wife Dot said one stormy night
after John had come in from delivering packages and boxes, and she had
given him his tea and had put the baby to sleep. For John Peerybingle
was a local expressman; or, as they say in England, a carrier.
“The first time I heard its cheerful little note, John,” Dot continued,
“was the night you brought me home–when you brought me to my new home
here; its little mistress. Nearly a year ago. You recollect, John?”
Oh, yes. John remembered. I should think so!
“Its chirp was such a welcome to me. It seemed so full of promise
and encouragement. It seemed to say you would be kind and gentle with
me, and would not expect to find an old head on the shoulders of your
foolish little wife. I had a fear of that, John, then.”
John thoughtfully patted one of the shoulders, and then the head of his
little wife, as though to say, “No, no; he had no such expectation; he
had been quite content to take them as they were.”
“The cricket spoke the truth, John, for you have been, I am sure, the
most considerate, the most affectionate of husbands. This has been a
happy home, John; and I love the cricket for its sake.”
“Why, so do I, then,” said the carrier, “so do I, Dot.”
“I love it for the many times I have heard it,” Dot went on musing,
“and the many thoughts its harmless music has given me. Sometimes, in
the twilight, when I have felt a little down-hearted, John–before the
precious baby came to keep me company and make the house gay–when I
have thought how lonely you would be if I should die, or I should be if
you should die, its chirp, chirp, chirp, upon the hearth has filled me
with new trust and confidence. For you see, John, I was afraid, being
so much younger than you, that you might not find me at all suitable
as a wife, and that you might find it hard to learn to love me as you
would if I were older and had had more experience. I was thinking just
before you came in to-night, dear, how the cricket has cheered me at
such times; and I love it for their sake.”
“And so do I,” repeated John. “But, Dot! How you talk! I learn to
love you? I had learned that long before I brought you here to be the
cricket’s little mistress, Dot.”
She laid her hand, an instant, on his arm, and looked up at him as if
she would have told him something. Next moment, she was down upon her
knees before the basket of packages which John had brought in from his
cart. Perhaps some of them would be called for; the others he would
deliver in the morning.
“There are not many of them to-night, John. Why, what’s this round box?
Heart alive, John, it’s a wedding-cake!”
“Leave a woman to find that out,” said John admiringly. “Now, a man
would never have thought of it! But it’s my belief that if you packed
a wedding cake in a tea-chest, or in a feather bed, or in salmon-keg,
a woman would be sure to find it out directly. Yes, I called for it at
“And it weighs, I don’t know what–whole hundred weights!” cried Dot,
making a great show of trying to lift it. “Whose is it, John? Where is
“Read the writing on the other side,” said John.
“Why, John! My goodness, John!” exclaimed Dot.
“Ah! Who’d have thought it!” John returned.
“You never mean to say,” asked Dot, sitting on the floor and shaking
her head at him, “that it’s for Gruff and Tackleton, the toy-maker!”
John nodded. Mrs. Peerybingle nodded also, fifty times at least–in
dumb and pitying amazement.
And Tilly Slowboy, the nurse-maid, and helper of all work, began to
talk in an undertone to the baby, who had awakened, as she walked to
and fro with him in her arms: “Was it for Gruffs and Tackletons, then,
and would it call at the pastry-cooks’ for wedding cakes, and did its
mothers know the boxes when its fathers brought them home;” and so on.
“And that marriage is really to come about!” said Dot, after seeing
that the baby was all right. “Why, she and I were girls at school
John might have been thinking of how Dot looked then, but he made no
“And he’s as old! As unlike May! Why, how many years older than you is
Gruff and Tackleton, John?”
“How many more cups of tea shall I drink at one sitting than Gruff
and Tackleton ever took in four sittings, I wonder!” replied John
But even this brought no smile to the face of his little wife. The
cricket, too, had stopped. Somehow the room was not so cheerful as it
had been. Nothing like it.
_The Strange Old Gentleman_
“So these are all the parcels, are they, John?” she asked, after a
little while; “so these are all the parcels, John?”
“That’s all,” said John. “Why–no–I–I declare–I’ve clean forgotten
the old gentleman!”
“The old gentleman?”
“In the cart,” said John. “He was asleep, down in the straw, the last
time I saw him. I’ve very nearly remembered him twice since I came in;
but he went out of my head again.”
John hastily rose and lighting a candle went out the door. “Halloa!
Yahip there! Rouse up! That’s my hearty!” he called as he made his way
to the wagon-shed.
Soon the Stranger stood, bareheaded and motionless in the middle of
the room. He had long white hair, good features, singularly bold and
well-defined for an old man. His eyes were dark and bright and smiling.
He saluted the carrier’s wife by gravely bowing.
His clothes were very quaint and old-fashioned, a long, long way behind
the time. Their color was brown, all over. In his hand he carried a
great brown club or walking-stick. He struck this upon the floor and it
fell open and became a chair on which he sat down quite composedly.
“There!” said the carrier, turning to his wife. “That’s the way I found
him, sitting by the roadside! Upright as a milestone, and almost as
deaf as one!”
“Sitting in the open air, John!”
“In the open air,” replied the carrier, “just at dusk. ‘Will you take
me along?’ he asked, and gave me eighteen pence. Then he got into the
cart. And here he is.”
“He’s going, John, I think!”
[Illustration: “IF YOU PLEASE, I WAS TO BE LEFT TILL CALLED FOR”]
Not at all. He was only going to speak.
“If you please, I was to be left till called for,” said the Stranger,
mildly. “Don’t mind me.”
With that he took a pair of spectacles from one of his large pockets,
and a book from another, and leisurely began to read. Boxer, the
carrier’s big dog, came sniffing at his legs, but he took no more
notice of Boxer than if he had been a lamb.
The carrier and his wife glanced at each other in perplexity. The
Stranger raised his head; and looking from Dot toward John, said:
“Your daughter, my good friend?”
“Wife,” said John.
“Niece?” asked the Stranger.
“Wife,” roared John.
“Indeed?” observed the Stranger. “Surely–very young!”
Dot took the baby from the couch where Tilly Slowboy had laid him. The
Stranger quietly resumed his reading; but before he had read two lines,
he interrupted his reading to say to John:
John gave a gigantic nod, equal to an answer given through a speaking
“Girl?” asked the Stranger.
“Bo-o-oy!” roared John.
“Also very young, eh?”
Mrs. Peerybingle instantly spoke. “Two months and three da-ays.
Vaccinated just six weeks ago-o! Took very fine-ly! Considered by the
doctors a remarkably beautiful chi-ild! Equal to the general run of
children at five months o-ld! Takes notice of everything. May seem
impossible to you, but true.”
Here the breathless little mother, who had been shrieking these short
sentences into the old man’s ear until her face was crimson, held the
baby up before him to prove her words, while Tilly Slowboy sprang
around in cow-like gambols to amuse the infant, uttering words which
sounded like “Ketcher! Ketcher!”
“Hark!” said John. “He’s called for, sure enough. There’s some one at
the door. Open it, Tilly.”
Before she could reach it, however, it was opened from the outside, for
it was a primitive sort of door with a latch that any one could lift if
he chose. In came a little, meager, thoughtful, dingy-faced man.
He seemed to have made himself a great-coat from the burlap covering
of some old box; for, when he turned to shut the door, and keep the
weather out, one could read upon the back of the garment the letters
“G & T” in large black capitals; also the word “GLASS” in smaller
“Good-evening, John!” said the little man. “Good-evening, mum.
Good-evening, Tilly! Good-evening, unbeknown! How’s baby, mum? Boxer’s
pretty well, I hope?”
“All well and thriving, Caleb,” replied Dot. “I am sure you need only
look at the dear child, for one, to know that.”
“And I’m sure I only need look at you for another,” said Caleb; “or at
John for another; or Tilly, as far as that goes; or certainly at Boxer.”
“Busy just now, Caleb?” asked the carrier.
“Why, pretty busy, John,” he returned. “Pretty much so. There’s a lot
of demand for Noah’s Arks at present. I’d like to be able to take more
pains in making the families, but I can’t do it at the price. It would
be a satisfaction, though, to one’s mind, to make it plain which was
Shems and Hams, and which was wives. Ah, well! Have you got anything in
the parcel line for me, John?”
The carrier put his hand into the pocket of the coat he had taken off,
and brought out a tiny flower-pot, carefully wrapped in moss and tissue
“There it is!” he said, adjusting it with great care. “Not so much as a
leaf damaged. Full of buds!”
Caleb’s dull eye brightened as he took it, and thanked him.
“It was expensive, Caleb,” said the carrier. “Very dear at this season.”
“Never mind that. It would be cheap to me, whatever it cost,” returned
the little man. “Anything else, John?”
“A small box,” replied the carrier. “Here you are!”
“‘For Caleb Plummer,’” read the old man, spelling out the directions.
“‘With Cash!’ With cash, John? I don’t think it’s for me!”
“‘With Care,’” corrected the carrier, looking over his shoulder. “Where
do you make out ‘cash’?”
“Oh! To be sure!” said Caleb. “It’s all right. ‘With Care!’ Yes, yes;
that’s mine. It might have been ‘With Cash,’ if my dear boy in South
America had lived, John. You loved him like a son; didn’t you? You
needn’t say you did. I know, of course.”
He read again, “‘Caleb Plummer. With Care.’ Yes, yes; it’s all right.
It’s a box of dolls’ eyes for my daughter’s work. I wish it was her own
sight in a box, John!”
“I wish it was, or could be,” cried the carrier.
“Thankee,” said the little man. “You speak very hearty. To think that
she should never see the dolls–and them a staring at her so bold, all
day long! That’s where it cuts. What’s the cost, John,–what’s the
“I’ll damage you,” said John, “if you ask.”
“Well, it’s like you to say that,” observed the little man. “It’s your
kind way. Let me see. I think that’s all.”
“I think not,” said the carrier. “Try again.”
“Something for our governor, eh?” asked Caleb after thinking a little
while. “To be sure. That’s what I came for; but my head’s so full of
them Noah’s Arks and things! He hasn’t been here, has he?”
“Not he,” returned the carrier. “He’s too busy, courting.”
“He’s coming, though,” said Caleb; “for he told me to keep on the near
side of the road going home, and it was ten to one he’d take me up. I’d
better go, by-the-way.”
He turned to Dot. “You couldn’t have the goodness to let me pinch
Boxer’s tail, mum, for half a moment, could you?”
“Why, Caleb! What a question!”
“Oh, never mind, mum,” said the little man. “He mightn’t like it,
perhaps. There’s a small order come in for toys–dogs that will bark;
and I wish to go as close to nature as possible for a sixpence. That’s
all. Never mind, mum.”
It happened that Boxer just at that moment began to bark with zeal.
But, as this bark meant the approach of some new visitor, Caleb,
postponing his study of dogs’ barks, shouldered the big round box
of wedding cake and said good-by. He might have spared himself the
trouble, however, for he met his employer upon the threshold.
“Oh! You are here, are you? Wait a bit. I’ll take you home!”
He turned to John. “John Peerybingle, my service to you. More of my
service to your pretty wife. Handsomer every day–and younger!”
“I should be astonished at your paying compliments, Mr. Tackleton,”
said Dot, not altogether pleasantly, “but for what I have just heard
about you–being engaged to be married.”
“You know all about it, then?”
“I have gotten myself to believe it somehow,” said Dot.
“After a hard struggle, I suppose?”
Tackleton, the toy merchant, was well known in the neighborhood. Many
people called him Gruff and Tackleton, the name of the firm when Gruff
was Tackleton’s partner. Although Tackleton had bought out Gruff’s
interest years before, the name still remained.
It was odd that such a man should have been a toy-maker, for he had no
interest in toys whatever. He despised them, and wouldn’t have bought
one for the world. The only toys in his shop which he could abide were
the ugly ones. Hideous, red-eyed Jacks-in-Boxes, vampire kites, and
fiery dragons really did give him some pleasure, for he saw that they
scared little children. A very pleasant person, Tackleton! Not the kind
of person you would think was going to be married, and to a young wife,
too–a beautiful young wife.
He didn’t look much like a bridegroom as he stood in the carrier’s
kitchen, with a twist in his dry face, and a screw in his body, and his
hat jerked over the bridge of his nose, and his hands tucked down into
the bottom of his pockets, and his whole sarcastic, ill-conditioned,
self–peering out of one little corner of one little eye, like the
concentrated essence of any number of ravens. But a bridegroom he was
designed to be.
“In three days’ time–next Thursday–the last day of the first month of
the year–is my wedding day,” said Tackleton.
Did I mention that he had always one eye wide open and one eye nearly
shut; and the eye nearly shut was always the expressive eye? I don’t
think I did.
“That’s my wedding-day!” said Tackleton, rattling his money in his
“Why, that’s the anniversary of our wedding, too!” exclaimed the
“Ha, ha!” laughed Tackleton. “Odd! You’re just such another couple as
we will be! Just!”
At this speech, Dot was most indignant. What next would the man say? As
though her John resembled Tackleton in any particular!
“I say! A word with you,” murmured Tackleton, nudging the carrier
with his elbow, and taking him off a little way. “You’ll come to the
wedding, won’t you? We’re in the same boat, you know.”
“How in the same boat?” asked John.
“Why, you’re not so youthful as your wife, yourself,” said Tackleton,
with another nudge. “Come and spend an evening with us beforehand.”
“Why?” demanded John, astonished at this hospitality.
“Why?” returned the other. “That’s a new way to receive an invitation.
Why–for pleasure–to be sociable, you know, and all that.”
“I thought you were never sociable,” said John, in his plain way.
“As you like; what does it matter? Your company will produce a
favorable impression on Mrs. Tackleton that-will-be. You’ll say you’ll
“We have arranged to keep our wedding day at home,” said John. “We
think, you see, that home—-”
“Bah! What’s home?” cried Tackleton. “Four walls and a ceiling! Why
don’t you kill that cricket? I would! I always do! I hate their noise!
You’ll say you’ll come, to-morrow evening?”
“You kill the crickets, eh?” said John.
“Scrunch ’em, sir,” returned the other, setting his heel heavily on
the floor. “Then you won’t give us to-morrow evening? Well! Next day
you go out visiting, I know. I’ll meet you there, and bring my wife
that-is-to-be. It’ll do her good. You’re agreeable? Thankee. What’s
_Dot is Upset_
It was a loud cry from the carrier’s wife; a loud, sharp, sudden
cry, that made the room ring like a glass bell that was struck. She
had risen from her seat and stood like one transfixed by terror and
surprise. The Stranger had gone toward the fire to warm himself, but he
was quite still.
“Dot!” cried the carrier, “Darling Dot! What’s the matter?”
They were all about her in a moment. Caleb, who had been dozing on the
cake-box, in the first start, seized Tilly Slowboy by the hair, but
“Mary!” exclaimed the carrier, for Dot’s real name was Mary, Dot being
only a pet name of her husband’s. “Mary dear, are you ill? What is it?
Tell me, dear.”
But at first she could not answer. She wept bitterly, and covered her
face with her apron; then burst into a wild fit of laughter, and then
started crying again. At length she let John lead her to the fire,
where she sat down. The old man was standing there as before.
“I’m better, John,” she said. “I’m quite well. It was only a fancy,
something coming before my eyes. It’s gone, quite gone now.”
“But why did she look at the old gentleman, as if addressing him?”
thought John. “Was her mind wandering?”
“I’m glad it’s gone,” muttered Tackleton, turning the expressive eye
around the room. “I wonder where it’s gone, and what it was. Humph,
Caleb, come here! Who’s that man with the gray hair?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Caleb answered in a whisper. “Never saw him before
in all my life. He’d make a beautiful figure for a nut-cracker; quite a
“Not ugly enough!” said Tackleton.
“Or a match-safe,” Caleb continued. “What a model! Unscrew his head to
put the matches in. Let them fall down to his neck, and take out.”
“Not half ugly enough,” said Tackleton. “Nothing in him at all. Come!
Bring that box! All right now, I hope, Mrs. Peerybingle?”
“Oh, quite right! Quite right!” said the little woman, waving him
hurriedly away. “Good-night!”
“Good-night,” said Tackleton. “Good-night, John Peerybingle! Take care
how you carry that box, Caleb. Let it fall and I’ll murder you! Dark as
pitch, and weather worse than ever, eh? Good-night!”
So, with another sharp look round the room, he went out the door,
followed by Caleb with the wedding cake on his head.
The carrier had been so much astonished by his little wife, and so
busily trying to sooth her that he had scarcely been conscious of the
Stranger’s presence until now, when he looked up and saw him standing
there, their only guest!
“He don’t belong to them, you see,” said John. “I must give him a hint
Just at that moment the old gentleman came toward him, saying, “I
beg your pardon, friend, but since my attendant has not come and the
weather is so bad, can you, in your kindness, let me rent a bed here?”
“Yes, yes!” cried Dot. “Yes! Certainly!”
“Oh!” exclaimed the carrier, surprised by the quickness of her consent.
“Well, I don’t object; still I’m not quite sure–”
“Hush!” she interrupted. “Dear John, please.”
“Why, he’s stone deaf,” urged John.
“I know, but–” She turned to the Stranger. “Yes, sir, certainly. Yes!
Certainly!” Then to John. “I’ll make him up a bed directly, John.”
As she hurried off to do it, the fluttering way she did it was so
strange that the carrier looked after her, quite dumfounded.
“Did its mothers make up a beds then?” cried Tilly Slowboy to the baby;
“and did its hair grow brown and curly when its caps was lifted off,
and frighten it, as precious pets, a-sitting by the fire?”
“What frightened Dot, I wonder?” thought the carrier, pacing to and
fro, and half listening to Tilly’s silly chatter.
The bed was soon made ready, and the Stranger, who would not take
anything but a cup of tea, retired.
After Dot put the baby to bed, she arranged the great comfortable
fireside chair for the carrier, and filled his pipe for him. Then she
brought her little stool and, placing it beside his knee, sat down for
a cozy chat.
But the carrier fell to dreaming, and Boxer, who was stretched at his
feet, I am quite ashamed to say, snored aloud. Just then the cricket
began its song, and Dot, too, fell a-dreaming.
* * * * *
But what was that young figure of a man which remained there, singly
and alone? Why did it linger still, so near her with its arm upon the
chimney-piece, ever repeating in a whisper, “Married! and not to me!”