In a previous post I shared Chapters 1 and 2. Here are the next 2 chapters
III. THE BIRD’S NEST
Carol herself knew nothing of motherly tears and fatherly anxieties; she lived on peacefully in the room where she was born.
But you never would have known that room; for Mr. Bird had a great deal of money, and though he felt sometimes as if he wanted to throw it all in the ocean, since it could not buy a strong body for his little girl, yet he was glad to make the place she lived in just as beautiful as it could be made.
The room had been extended by the building of a large addition that hung out over the garden below, and was so filled with windows that it might have been a conservatory. The ones on the side were thus still nearer the little Church of our Saviour than they used to be; those in front looked out on the beautiful harbor, and those in the back commanded a view of nothing in particular but a little alley–nevertheless, they were pleasantest of all to Carol, for the Ruggles family lived in the alley, and the nine little, middle-sized and big Ruggles children were the source of inexhaustible interest.
The shutters could all be opened and Carol could take a real sun-bath in this lovely glass-house, or they could all be closed when the dear head ached or the dear eyes were tired. The carpet was of soft grey, with clusters of green bay and holly leaves. The furniture was of white wood, on which an artist had painted snow scenes and Christmas trees and groups of merry children ringing bells and singing carols.
Donald had made a pretty, polished shelf and screwed it on to the outside of the footboard, and the boys always kept this full of blooming plants, which they changed from time to time; the head-board, too, had a bracket on either side, where there were pots of maidenhair ferns.
Love-birds and canaries hung in their golden houses in the windows, and they, poor caged things, could hop as far from their wooden perches as Carol could venture from her little white bed.
On one side of the room was a bookcase filled with hundreds–yes, I mean it–with hundreds and hundreds of books; books with gay-colored pictures, books without; books with black and white outline-sketches, books with none at all; books with verses, books with stories, books that made children laugh, and some that made them cry; books with words of one syllable for tiny boys and girls, and books with words of fearful length to puzzle wise ones.
This was Carol’s “Circulating Library.” Every Saturday she chose ten books, jotting their names down in a little diary; into these she slipped cards that said:
|Please keep this book two weeks and read it.
With love, Carol Bird.
Then Mrs. Bird stepped into her carriage, and took the ten books to the Childrens’ Hospital, and brought home ten others that she had left there the fortnight before.
This was a source of great happiness; for some of the Hospital children that were old enough to print or write, and were strong enough to do it, wrote Carol cunning little letters about the books, and she answered them, and they grew to be friends. (It is very funny, but you do not always have to see people to love them. Just think about it, and see if it isn’t so.)
There was a high wainscoting of wood about the room, and on top of this, in a narrow gilt framework, ran a row of illuminated pictures, illustrating fairy tales, all in dull blue and gold and scarlet and silver and other lovely colors. From the door to the closet there was the story of “The Fair One with Golden Locks;” from closet to bookcase, ran “Puss in Boots;” from bookcase to fireplace, was “Jack the Giant-killer;” and on the other side of the room were “Hop o’ my Thumb,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” and “Cinderella.”
Then there was a great closet full of beautiful things to wear–but they were all dressing-gowns and slippers and shawls; and there were drawers full of toys and games; but they were such as you could play with on your lap. There were no ninepins, nor balls, nor bows and arrows, nor bean bags, nor tennis rackets; but, after all, other children needed these more than Carol Bird, for she was always happy and contented whatever she had or whatever she lacked; and after the room had been made so lovely for her, on her eighth Christmas, she always called herself, in fun, a “Bird of Paradise.”
On these particular December days she was happier than usual, for Uncle Jack was coming from Europe to spend the holidays. Dear, funny, jolly, loving, wise Uncle Jack, who came every two or three years, and brought so much joy with him that the world looked as black as a thunder-cloud for a week after he went away again.
The mail had brought this letter:–
|LONDON, Nov. 28th, 188-.
Wish you merry Christmas, you dearest birdlings in America! Preen your feathers, and stretch the Birds’ nest a little, if you please, and let Uncle Jack in for the holidays. I am coming with such a trunk full of treasures that you’ll have to borrow the stockings of Barnum’s Giant and Giantess; I am coming to squeeze a certain little lady-bird until she cries for mercy; I am coming to see if I can find a boy to take care of a little black pony I bought lately. It’s the strangest thing I ever knew; I’ve hunted all over Europe, and can’t find a boy to suit me! I’ll tell you why. I’ve set my heart on finding one with a dimple in his chin, because this pony particularly likes dimples! [‘Hurrah!’ cried Hugh; ‘bless my dear dimple; I’ll never be ashamed of it again.’] Please drop a note to the clerk of the weather, and have a good, rousing snow-storm–say on the twenty-second. None of your meek, gentle, nonsensical, shilly-shallying snow-storms; not the sort where the flakes float lazily down from the sky as if they didn’t care whether they ever got here or not, and then melt away as soon as they touch the earth, but a regular business-like whizzing, whirring, blurring, cutting snow-storm, warranted to freeze and stay on!I should like rather a LARGE Christmas tree, if it’s convenient– not one of those ‘sprigs,’ five or six feet high, that you used to have three or four years ago, when the birdlings were not fairly feathered out, but a tree of some size. Set it up in the garret, if necessary, and then we can cut a hole in the roof if the tree chances to be too high for the room.Tell Bridget to begin to fatten a turkey. Tell her by the twentieth of December that turkey must not be able to stand on its legs for fat, and then on the next three days she must allow it to recline easily on its side, and stuff it to bursting. (One ounce of stuffing beforehand is worth a pound afterwards.)
The pudding must be unusually huge, and darkly, deeply, lugubriously black in color. It must be stuck so full of plums that the pudding itself will ooze out into the pan and not be brought on to the table at all. I expect to be there by the twentieth, to manage these little things–remembering it is the early Bird that catches the worm–but give you the instructions in case I should be delayed.
And Carol must decide on the size of the tree–she knows best, she was a Christmas child; and she must plead for the snow-storm–the ‘clerk of the weather’ may pay some attention to her; and she must look up the boy with the dimple for me–she’s likelier to find him than I am, this minute. She must advise about the turkey, and Bridget must bring the pudding to her bedside and let her drop every separate plum into it and stir it once for luck, or I’ll not eat a single slice–for Carol is the dearest part of Christmas to Uncle Jack, and he’ll have none of it without her. She is better than all the turkeys and puddings and apples and spare-ribs and wreaths and garlands and mistletoe and stockings and chimneys and sleigh-bells in Christendom. She is the very sweetest Christmas Carol that was ever written, said, sung or chanted, and I am coming, as fast as ships and railway trains can carry me, to tell her so.
Carol’s joy knew no bounds. Mr. and Mrs. Bird laughed like children and kissed each other for sheer delight, and when the boys heard it they simply whooped like wild Indians, until the Ruggles family, whose back yard joined their garden, gathered at the door and wondered what was “up” in the big house.
Carol at her window
Uncle Jack did really come on the twentieth. He was not detained by business, nor did he get left behind nor snowed up, as frequently happens in stories, and in real life too, I am afraid. The snow-storm came also; and the turkey nearly died a natural and premature death from over-eating. Donald came, too; Donald, with a line of down upon his upper lip, and Greek and Latin on his tongue, and stores of knowledge in his handsome head, and stories–bless me, you couldn’t turn over a chip without reminding Donald of something that happened “at College.”
One or the other was always at Carol’s bedside, for they fancied her paler than she used to be, and they could not bear her out of sight. It was Uncle lack, though, who sat beside her in the winter twilights. The room was quiet, and almost dark, save for the snow-light outside, and the flickering flame of the fire, that danced over the “Sleeping Beauty’s” face, and touched the Fair One’s golden locks with ruddier glory. Carol’s hand (all too thin and white these latter days) lay close clasped in Uncle Jack’s, and they talked together quietly of many, many things. “I want to tell you all about my plans for Christmas this year, Uncle Jack,” said Carol, on the first evening of his visit, “because it will be the loveliest one I ever had. The boys laugh at me for caring so much about it; but it isn’t altogether because it is Christmas nor because it is my birthday; but long, long ago, when I first began to be ill, I used to think, the first thing when I waked on Christmas morning, ‘To-day is Christ’s birthday–AND MINE!’ I did not put the words close together, because that made it seem too bold but I first thought, ‘Christ’s birthday,’ and then, in a minute, softly to myself–AND MINE!’ ‘Christ’s birthday–AND MINE!’ And so I do not quite feel about Christmas as other girls do. Mama says she supposes that ever so many other children have been born on that day. I often wonder where they are, Uncle Jack, and whether it is a dear thought to them, too, or whether I am so much in bed, and so often alone, that it means more to me. Oh, I do hope that none of them are poor, or cold, or hungry; and I wish, I wish they were all as happy as I, because they are my little brothers and sisters. Now, Uncle Jack, dear, I am going to try and make somebody happy every single Christmas that I live, and this year it is to be the ‘Ruggleses in the rear.'”
“That large and interesting brood of children in the little house at the end of the back garden?”
“Yes; isn’t it nice to see so many together? We ought to call them the Ruggles children, of course; but Donald began talking of them as the ‘Ruggleses in the rear,’ and Papa and Mama took it up, and now we cannot seem to help it. The house was built for Mr. Carter’s coachman, but Mr. Carter lives in Europe, and the gentleman who rents his place doesn’t care what happens to it, and so this poor Irish family came to live there. When they first moved in, I used to sit in my window and watch them play in their backyard; they are so strong, and jolly, and good-natured; and then, one day, I had a terrible headache, and Donald asked them if they would please not scream quite so loud, and they explained that they were having a game of circus, but that they would change and play ‘Deaf and Dumb School’ all the afternoon.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Uncle Jack, “what an obliging family, to be sure.”
“Yes, we all thought it very funny, and I smiled at them from the window when I was well enough to be up again. Now, Sarah Maud comes to her door when the children come home from school, and if Mama nods her head, ‘Yes,’ that means ‘Carol is very well,’ and then you ought to hear the little Ruggleses yell–I believe they try to see how much noise they can make; but if Mama shakes her head, ‘No,’ they always play at quiet games. Then, one day, ‘Cary,’ my pet canary, flew out of her cage, and Peter Ruggles caught her and brought her back, and I had him up here in my room to thank him.”
“Is Peter the oldest?”
“No; Sarah Maud is the oldest–she helps do the washing; and Peter is the next. He is a dressmaker’s boy.”
“And which is the pretty little red-haired girl?”
“And the fat youngster?”
“And that freckled one?”
“Now, don’t laugh–that’s Peoria!”
“Carol, you are joking.”
“No, really, Uncle dear. She was born in Peoria; that’s all.”
“And is the next boy Oshkosh?”
“No,” laughed Carol, “the others are Susan, and Clement, and Eily, and Cornelius.”
“How did you ever learn all their names?”
“Well, I have what I call a ‘window-school.’ It is too cold now; but in warm weather I am wheeled out on my little balcony, and the Ruggleses climb up and walk along our garden fence, and sit down on the roof of our carriage-house. That brings them quite near, and I read to them and tell them stories; On Thanksgiving Day they came up for a few minutes, it was quite warm at eleven o’clock, and we told each other what we had to be thankful for; but they gave such queer answers that Papa had to run away for fear of laughing; and I couldn’t understand them very well. Susan was thankful for ‘TRUNKS,’ of all things in the world; Cornelius, for ‘horse cars;’ Kitty, for ‘pork steak;’ while Clem, who is very quiet, brightened up when I came to him, and said he was thankful for ‘HIS LAME PUPPY.’ Wasn’t that pretty?”
“It might teach some of us a lesson, mightn’t it, little girl?”
“That’s what Mama said. Now I’m going to give this whole Christmas to the Ruggleses; and, Uncle Jack, I earned part of the money myself.”
“You, my bird; how?”
“Well, you see, it could not be my own, own Christmas if Papa gave me all the money, and I thought to really keep Christ’s birthday I ought to do something of my very own; and so I talked with Mama. Of course she thought of something lovely; she always does; Mama’s head is just brimming over with lovely thoughts, and all I have to do is ask, and out pops the very one I want. This thought was, to let her write down, just as I told her, a description of how a little girl lived in her own room three years, and what she did to amuse herself; and we sent it to a magazine and got twenty-five dollars for it. Just think!”
“Well, well,” cried Uncle Jack, “my little girl a real author! And what are you going to do with this wonderful ‘own’ money of yours?”
“I shall give the nine Ruggleses a grand Christmas dinner here in this very room–that will be Papa’s contribution, and afterwards a beautiful Christmas tree, fairly blooming with presents–that will be my part; for I have another way of adding to my twenty-five dollars, so that I can buy everything I like. I should like it very much if you would sit at the head of the table, Uncle Jack, for nobody could ever be frightened of you, you dearest, dearest, dearest thing that ever was! Mama is going to help us, but Papa and the boys are going to eat together down stairs for fear of making the little Ruggleses shy; and after we’ve had a merry time with the tree we can open my window and all listen together to the music at the evening church-service, if it comes before the children go. I have written a letter to the organist, and asked him if I might have the two songs I like best. Will you see if it is all right?”
|BIRDS NEST, Dec. 21st, 188-.
DEAR MR. WILKIE,–
I am the little sick girl who lives next door to the church, and, as I seldom go out, the music on practice days and Sundays is one of my greatest pleasures.I want to know if you can let the boys sing ‘Carol, brothers, carol,’ on Christmas night, and if the one who sings ‘My ain countree’ so beautifully may please sing that too. I think it is the loveliest song in the world, but it always makes me cry; doesn’t it you?If it isn’t too much trouble, I hope they can sing them both quite early, as after ten o’clock I may be asleep.
P.S.–The reason I like ‘Carol, brothers, carol,’ is because the choir-boys sang it eleven years ago, the morning I was born, and put it into Mama’s head to call me Carol. She didn’t remember then that my other name would be Bird, because she was half asleep, and couldn’t think of but one thing at a time. Donald says if I had been born on the Fourth of July they would have named me ‘Independence,’ or if on the twenty-second of February, ‘Georgina,’ or even ‘Cherry,’ like Cherry in Martin Chuzzlewit; but I like my own name and birthday best.
Uncle Jack thought the letter quite right, and did not even smile at her telling the organist so many family items. The days flew by, as they always fly in holiday time, and it was Christmas eve before anybody knew it. The family festival was quiet and very pleasant, but quite swallowed up in the grander preparations for next day. Carol and Elfrida, her pretty German nurse, had ransacked books, and introduced so many plans, and plays, and customs and merry-makings from Germany, and Holland, and England and a dozen other places, that you would scarcely have known how or where you were keeping Christmas. The dog and the cat had enjoyed their celebration under Carol’s direction. Each had a tiny table with a lighted candle in the center, and a bit of Bologna sausage placed very near it, and everybody laughed till the tears stood in their eyes to see Villikins and Dinah struggle to nibble the sausages, and at the same time evade the candle flame. Villikins barked, and sniffed, and howled in impatience, and after many vain attempts succeeded in dragging off the prize, though he singed his nose in doing it. Dinah, meanwhile, watched him placidly, her delicate nostrils quivering with expectation, and, after all excitement had subsided, walked with dignity to the table, her beautiful gray satin tail sweeping behind her, and, calmly putting up one velvet paw, drew the sausage gently down, and walked out of the room without “turning a hair,” so to speak. Elfrida had scattered handfuls of seeds over the snow in the garden, that the wild birds might have a comfortable breakfast next morning, and had stuffed bundles of dried grasses in the fireplaces, so that the reindeer of Santa Claus could refresh themselves after their long gallops across country. This was really only done for fun, but it pleased Carol.
And when, after dinner, the whole family had gone to church to see the Christmas decorations, Carol limped wearily out on her little crutches, and, with Elfrida’s help, placed all the family boots in a row in the upper hall. That was to keep the dear ones from quarreling all through the year. There were Papa’s stout top boots; Mama’s pretty buttoned shoes next; then Uncle Jack’s, Donald’s, Paul’s and Hugh’s; and at the end of the line her own little white worsted slippers. Last, and sweetest of all, like the little children in Austria, she put a lighted candle in her window to guide the dear Christ-child, lest he should stumble in the dark night as he passed up the deserted street. This done, she dropped into bed, a rather tired, but very happy Christmas fairy.
The “Window School”