Louisa May Alcott – Marjorie’s Three Gifts
Marjorie sat on the door-step, shelling peas, quite unconscious whata pretty picture she made, with the roses peeping at her through thelattice work of the porch, the wind playing hide-and-seek in hercurly hair, while the sunshine with its silent magic changed herfaded gingham to a golden gown, and shimmered on the bright tin panas if it were a silver shield. Old Rover lay at her feet, the whitekitten purred on her shoulder, and friendly robins hopped about herin the grass, chirping “A happy birthday, Marjorie!”
But the little maid neither saw nor heard, for her eyes were fixedon the green pods, and her thoughts were far away. She was recallingthe fairy-tale granny told her last night, and wishing with all herheart that such things happened nowadays. For in this story, as apoor girl like herself sat spinning before the door, a Brownie cameby, and gave the child a good-luck penny; then a fairy passed, andleft a talisman which would keep her always happy; and last of all,the prince rolled up in his chariot, and took her away to reign withhim over a lovely kingdom, as a reward for her many kindnesses toothers.
When Marjorie imagined this part of the story, it was impossible tohelp giving one little sigh, and for a minute she forgot her work,so busy was she thinking what beautiful presents she would give toall the poor children in her realm when THEY had birthdays. Fiveimpatient young peas took this opportunity to escape from thehalf-open pod in her hand and skip down the steps, to be immediatelygobbled up by an audacious robin, who gave thanks in such a shrillchirp that Marjorie woke up, laughed, and fell to work again. Shewas just finishing, when a voice called out from the lane,–
“Hi, there! come here a minute, child!” and looking up, she saw alittle old man in a queer little carriage drawn by a fat littlepony.
Running down to the gate, Marjorie dropped a curtsy, sayingpleasantly,–
“What did you wish, sir?”
“Just undo that check-rein for me. I am lame, and Jack wants todrink at your brook,” answered the old man, nodding at her till hisspectacles danced on his nose.
Marjorie was rather afraid of the fat pony, who tossed his head,whisked his tail, and stamped his feet as if he was of a pepperytemper. But she liked to be useful, and just then felt as if therewere few things she could NOT do if she tried, because it was herbirthday. So she proudly let down the rein, and when Jack wentsplashing into the brook, she stood on the bridge, waiting to checkhim up again after he had drunk his fill of the clear, cool water.
The old gentleman sat in his place, looking up at the little girl,who was smiling to herself as she watched the blue dragon-fliesdance among the ferns, a blackbird tilt on the alderboughs, andlistened to the babble of the brook.
“How old are you, child?” asked the old man, as if he rather enviedtihs rosy creature her youth and health.
“Twelve to-day, sir;” and Marjorie stood up straight and tall, as ifmindful of her years.
“Had any presents?” asked the old man, peering up with an odd smile.
“One, sir,–here it is;” and she pulled out of her pocket a tinsavings-bank in the shape of a desirable family mansion, paintedred, with a green door and black chimney. Proudly displaying it onthe rude railing of the bridge, she added, with a happy face,–
“Granny gave it to me, and all the money in it is going to be mine.”
“How much have you got?” asked the old gentleman, who appeared tolike to sit there in the middle of the brook, while Jack bathed hisfeet and leisurely gurgled and sneezed.
“Not a penny yet, but I’m going to earn some,” answered Marjorie,patting the little bank with an air of resolution pretty to see.
“How will you do it?” continued the inquisitive old man.
“Oh, I’m going to pick berries and dig dandelions, and weed, anddrive cows, and do chores. It is vacation, and I can work all thetime, and earn ever so much.”
“But vacation is play-time,–how about that?”
“Why, that sort of work IS play, and I get bits of fun all along. Ialways have a good swing when I go for the cows, and pick flowerswith the dandelions. Weeding isn’t so nice, but berrying is verypleasant, and we have good times all together.”
“What shall you do with your money when you get it?”
“Oh, lots of things! Buy books and clothes for school, and, if I geta great deal, give some to granny. I’d love to do that, for shetakes care of me, and I’d be so proud to help her!”
“Good little lass!” said the old gentleman, as he put his hand inhis pocket. “Would you now?” he added, apparently addressing himselfto a large frog who sat upon a stone, looking so wise andgrandfatherly that it really did seem quite proper to consult him.At all events, he gave his opinion in the most decided manner, for,with a loud croak, he turned an undignified somersault into thebrook, splashing up the water at a great rate. “Well, perhaps itwouldn’t be best on the whole. Industry is a good teacher, and moneycannot buy happiness, as I know to my sorrow.”
The old gentleman still seemed to be talking to the frog, and as hespoke he took his hand out of his pocket with less in it than he hadat first intended.
“What a very queer person!” thought Marjorie, for she had not hearda word, and wondered what he was thinking about down there.
Jack walked out of the brook just then, and she ran to check him up;not an easy task for little hands, as he preferred to nibble thegrass on the bank. But she did it cleverly, smoothed the ruffledmane, and, dropping another curtsy, stood aside to let the littlecarriage pass.
“Thank you, child–thank you. Here is something for your bank, andgood luck to it.”
As he spoke, the old man laid a bright gold dollar in her hand,patted the rosy cheek, and vanished in a cloud of dust, leavingMarjorie so astonished at the grandeur of the gift, that she stoodlooking at it as if it had been a fortune. It was to her; andvisions of pink calico gowns, new grammars, and fresh hat-ribbonsdanced through her head in delightful confusion, as her eyes restedon the shining coin in her palm.
Then, with a solemn air, she invested her first money by popping itdown the chimney of the scarlet mansion, and peeping in with one eyeto see if it landed safely on the ground-floor. This done, she tooka long breath, and looked over the railing, to be sure it was notall a dream. No; the wheel marks were still there, the brown waterwas not yet clear, and, if a witness was needed, there sat the bigfrog again, looking so like the old gentleman, with his bottle-greencoat, speckled trousers, and twinkling eyes, that Marjorie burst outlaughing, and clapped her hands, saying aloud,–
“I’ll play he was the Brownie, and this is the good-luck penny hegave me. Oh, what fun!” and away she skipped, rattling the dear newbank like a castanet.
When she had told granny all about it, she got knife and basket, andwent out to dig dandelions; for the desire to increase her fortunewas so strong, she could not rest a minute. Up and down she went, sobusily peering and digging, that she never lifted up her eyes tillsomething like a great white bird skimmed by so low she could nothelp seeing it. A pleasant laugh sounded behind her as she startedup, and, looking round, she nearly sat down again in sheer surprise,for there close by was a slender little lady, comfortablyestablished under a big umbrella.
“If there WERE any fairies, I’d be sure that was one,” thoughtMarjorie, staring with all her might, for her mind was still full ofthe old story; and curious things do happen on birthdays, as everyone knows.
It really did seem rather elfish to look up suddenly and see alovely lady all in white, with shining hair and a wand in her hand,sitting under what looked very like a large yellow mushroom in themiddle of a meadow, where, till now, nothing but cows andgrasshoppers had been seen. Before Marjorie could decide thequestion, the pleasant laugh came again, and the stranger said,pointing to the white thing that was still fluttering over the grasslike a little cloud,–
“Would you kindly catch my hat for me, before it blows quite away?”
Down went basket and knife, and away ran Marjorie, entirelysatisfied now that there was no magic about the new-comer; for ifshe had been an elf, couldn’t she have got her hat without any helpfrom a mortal child? Presently, however, it did begin to seem as ifthat hat was bewitched, for it led the nimble-footed Marjorie such achase that the cows stopped feeding to look on in placid wonder; thegrasshoppers vainly tried to keep up, and every ox-eye daisy did itsbest to catch the runaway, but failed entirely, for the wind liked agame of romps, and had it that day. As she ran, Marjorie heard thelady singing, like the princess in the story of the Goose-Girl,–
"Blow, breezes, blow! Let Curdkin's hat go! Blow, breezes, blow! Let him after it go! O'er hills, dales and rocks, Away be it whirled, Till the silvery locks Are all combed and curled."
This made her laugh so that she tumbled into a clover-bed, and laythere a minute to get her breath. Just then, as if the playful windrepented of its frolic, the long veil fastened to the hat caught ina blackberry-vine near by, and held the truant fast till Marjoriesecured it.
“Now come and see what I am doing,” said the lady, when she hadthanked the child.
Marjorie drew near confidingly, and looked down at the wide-spreadbook before her. She gave a start, and laughed out with surprise anddelight; for there was a lovely picture of her own little home, andher own little self on the door-step, all so delicate, andbeautiful, and true, it seemed as if done by magic.
“Oh, how pretty! There is Rover, and Kitty and the robins, and me!How could you ever do it, ma’am?” said Marjorie, with a wonderingglance at the long paint-brush, which had wrought what seemed amiracle to her childish eyes.
“I’ll show you presently; but tell me, first, if it looks quiteright and natural to you. Children sometimes spy out faults that noone else can see,” answered the lady, evidently pleased with theartless praise her work received.
“It looks just like our house, only more beautiful. Perhaps that isbecause I know how shabby it really is. That moss looks lovely onthe shingles, but the roof leaks. The porch is broken, only theroses hide the place; and my gown is all faded, though it once wasas bright as you have made it. I wish the house and everything wouldstay pretty forever, as they will in the picture.”
While Marjorie spoke, the lady had been adding more color to thesketch, and when she looked up, something warmer and brighter thansunshine shone in her face, as she said, so cheerily, it was like a
bird’s song to hear her,–
“It can’t be summer always, dear, but we can make fair weather forourselves if we try. The moss, the roses, and soft shadows show thelittle house and the little girl at their best, and that is what weall should do; for it is amazing how lovely common things become, ifone only knows how to look at them.”
“I wish _I_ did,” said Marjorie, half to herself, remembering howoften she was discontented, and how hard it was to get on,sometimes.
“So do I,” said the lady, in her happy voice. “Just believe thatthere is a sunny side to everything, and try to find it, and youwill be surprised to see how bright the world will seem, and howcheerful you will be able to keep your little self.”
“I guess granny has found that out, for she never frets. I do, butI’m going to stop it, because I’m twelve to-day, and that is too oldfor such things,” said Marjorie, recollecting the good resolutionsshe had made that morning when she woke.
“I am twice twelve, and not entirely cured yet; but I try, and don’tmean to wear blue spectacles if I can help it,” answered the lady,laughing so blithely that Marjorie was sure she would not have totry much longer. “Birthdays were made for presents, and I shouldlike to give you one. Would it please you to have this littlepicture?” she added, lifting it out of the book.
“Truly my own? Oh, yes, indeed!” cried Marjorie, coloring withpleasure, for she had never owned so beautiful a thing before.
“Then you shall have it, dear. Hang it where you can see it often,and when you look, remember that it is the sunny side of home, andhelp to keep it so.”
Marjorie had nothing but a kiss to offer by way of thanks, as thelovely sketch was put into her hand; but the giver seemed quitesatisfied, for it was a very grateful little kiss. Then the childtook up her basket and went away, not dancing and singing now, butslowly and silently; for this gift made her thoughtful as well asglad. As she climbed the wall, she looked back to nod good-by to thepretty lady; but the meadow was empty, and all she saw was the grassblowing in the wind.
“Now, deary, run out and play, for birthdays come but once a year,and we must make them as merry as we can,” said granny, as shesettled herself for her afternoon nap, when the Saturday cleaningwas all done, and the little house as neat as wax.
So Marjorie put on a white apron in honor of the occasion, and,taking Kitty in her arms, went out to enjoy herself. Three swings onthe gate seemed to be a good way of beginning the festivities; butshe only got two, for when the gate creaked back the second time, itstayed shut, and Marjorie hung over the pickets, arrested by thesound of music.
“It’s soldiers,” she said, as the fife and drum drew nearer, andflags were seen waving over the barberry-bushes at the corner.
“No; it’s a picnic,” she added in a moment; for she saw hats withwreaths about them bobbing up and down, as a gayly-trimmed hay-cartfull of children came rumbling down the lane.
“What a nice time they are going to have!” thought Marjorie, sadlycontrasting that merry-making with the quiet party she was havingall by herself.
Suddenly her face shone, and Kitty was waved over her head like abanner, as she flew out of the gate, crying, rapturously,–
“It’s Billy! and I know he’s come for me!”
It certainly WAS Billy, proudly driving the old horse, and beamingat his little friend from the bower of flags and chestnut-boughs,where he sat in state, with a crown of daisies on his sailor-hat anda spray of blooming sweetbrier in his hand. Waving his rusticsceptre, he led off the shout of “Happy birthday, Marjorie!” whichwas set up as the wagon stopped at the gate, and the green boughssuddenly blossomed with familiar faces, all smiling on the littledamsel, who stood in the lane quite overpowered with delight.
“It’s a s’prise party!” cried one small lad, tumbling out behind.
“We are going up the mountain to have fun!” added a chorus ofvoices, as a dozen hands beckoned wildly.
“We got it up on purpose for you, so tie your hat and come away,”said a pretty girl, leaning down to kiss Marjorie, who had droppedKitty, and stood ready for any splendid enterprise.
A word to granny, and away went the happy child, sitting up besideBilly, under the flags that waved over a happier load than any royalchariot ever bore.
It would be vain to try and tell all the plays and pleasures ofhappy children on a Saturday afternoon, but we may briefly say thatMarjorie found a mossy stone all ready for her throne, and Billycrowned her with a garland like his own. That a fine banquet wasspread, and eaten with a relish many a Lord Mayor’s feast haslacked. Then how the whole court danced and played togetherafterward! The lords climbed trees and turned somersaults, theladies gathered flowers and told secrets under the sweetfern-bushes,the queen lost her shoe jumping over the waterfall, and the kingpaddled into the pool below and rescued it. A happy little kingdom,full of summer sunshine, innocent delights, and loyal hearts; forlove ruled, and the only war that disturbed the peaceful land waswaged by the mosquitoes as night came on.
Marjorie stood on her throne watching the sunset while her maids ofhonor packed up the remains of the banquet, and her knights preparedthe chariot. All the sky was gold and purple, all the world bathedin a soft, red light, and the little girl was very happy as shelooked down at the subjects who had served her so faithfully thatday.
“Have you had a good time, Marjy?” asked King William; who stoodbelow, with his royal nose on a level with her majesty’s two dustylittle shoes.
“Oh, Billy, it has been just splendid! But I don’t see why youshould all be so kind to me,” answered Marjorie, with such a look ofinnocent wonder, that Billy laughed to see it.
“Because you are so sweet and good, we can’t help lovingyou,–that’s why,” he said, as if this simple fact was reasonenough.
“I’m going to be the best girl that ever was, and love everybody inthe world,” cried the child, stretching out her arms as if ready, inthe fulness of her happy heart, to embrace all creation.
“Don’t turn into an angel and fly away just yet, but come home, orgranny will never lend you to us any more.”
With that, Billy jumped her down, and away they ran, to ride gaylyback through the twilight, singing like a flock of nightingales.
As she went to bed that night, Marjorie looked at the red bank, thepretty picture, and the daisy crown, saying to herself,–
“It has been a VERY nice birthday, and I am something like the girlin the story, after all, for the old man gave me a good-luck penny,the kind lady told me how to keep happy, and Billy came for me likethe prince. The girl didn’t go back to the poor house again, but I’mglad _I_ did, for MY granny isn’t a cross one, and my little home isthe dearest in the world.”
Then she tied her night-cap, said her prayers, and fell asleep; butthe moon, looking in to kiss the blooming face upon the pillow, knewthat three good spirits had come to help little Marjorie from thatday forth, and their names were Industry, Cheerfulness, and Love.