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Marjorie's Three Gifts

(1899)


Marjorie sat on the door-step, shelling peas, quite unconscious what
a pretty picture she made, with the roses peeping at her through the
lattice work of the porch, the wind playing hide-and-seek in her
curly hair, while the sunshine with its silent magic changed her
faded gingham to a golden gown, and shimmered on the bright tin pan
as if it were a silver shield. Old Rover lay at her feet, the white
kitten purred on her shoulder, and friendly robins hopped about her
in the grass, chirping "A happy birthday, Marjorie!"

But the little maid neither saw nor heard, for her eyes were fixed
on the green pods, and her thoughts were far away. She was recalling
the fairy-tale granny told her last night, and wishing with all her
heart that such things happened nowadays. For in this story, as a
poor girl like herself sat spinning before the door, a Brownie came
by, and gave the child a good-luck penny; then a fairy passed, and
left 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 with
him over a lovely kingdom, as a reward for her many kindnesses to
others.

When Marjorie imagined this part of the story, it was impossible to
help giving one little sigh, and for a minute she forgot her work,
so busy was she thinking what beautiful presents she would give to
all the poor children in her realm when THEY had birthdays. Five
impatient young peas took this opportunity to escape from the
half-open pod in her hand and skip down the steps, to be immediately
gobbled up by an audacious robin, who gave thanks in such a shrill
chirp that Marjorie woke up, laughed, and fell to work again. She
was just finishing, when a voice called out from the lane,--

"Hi, there! come here a minute, child!" and looking up, she saw a
little old man in a queer little carriage drawn by a fat little
pony.

Running down to the gate, Marjorie dropped a curtsy, saying
pleasantly,--

"What did you wish, sir?"

"Just undo that check-rein for me. I am lame, and Jack wants to
drink at your brook," answered the old man, nodding at her till his
spectacles 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 peppery
temper. But she liked to be useful, and just then felt as if there
were few things she could NOT do if she tried, because it was her
birthday. So she proudly let down the rein, and when Jack went
splashing into the brook, she stood on the bridge, waiting to check
him 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-flies
dance among the ferns, a blackbird tilt on the alderboughs, and
listened to the babble of the brook.

"How old are you, child?" asked the old man, as if he rather envied
tihs rosy creature her youth and health.

"Twelve to-day, sir;" and Marjorie stood up straight and tall, as if
mindful 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 tin
savings-bank in the shape of a desirable family mansion, painted
red, with a green door and black chimney. Proudly displaying it on
the 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 to
like to sit there in the middle of the brook, while Jack bathed his
feet 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, and
drive cows, and do chores. It is vacation, and I can work all the
time, 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. I
always have a good swing when I go for the cows, and pick flowers
with the dandelions. Weeding isn't so nice, but berrying is very
pleasant, 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 get
a great deal, give some to granny. I'd love to do that, for she
takes care of me, and I'd be so proud to help her!"

"Good little lass!" said the old gentleman, as he put his hand in
his pocket. "Would you now?" he added, apparently addressing himself
to a large frog who sat upon a stone, looking so wise and
grandfatherly 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 the
brook, splashing up the water at a great rate. "Well, perhaps it
wouldn't be best on the whole. Industry is a good teacher, and money
cannot buy happiness, as I know to my sorrow."

The old gentleman still seemed to be talking to the frog, and as he
spoke he took his hand out of his pocket with less in it than he had
at first intended.

"What a very queer person!" thought Marjorie, for she had not heard
a 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 the
grass on the bank. But she did it cleverly, smoothed the ruffled
mane, and, dropping another curtsy, stood aside to let the little
carriage pass.

"Thank you, child--thank you. Here is something for your bank, and
good 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, leaving
Marjorie so astonished at the grandeur of the gift, that she stood
looking at it as if it had been a fortune. It was to her; and
visions of pink calico gowns, new grammars, and fresh hat-ribbons
danced through her head in delightful confusion, as her eyes rested
on the shining coin in her palm.

Then, with a solemn air, she invested her first money by popping it
down the chimney of the scarlet mansion, and peeping in with one eye
to see if it landed safely on the ground-floor. This done, she took
a long breath, and looked over the railing, to be sure it was not
all a dream. No; the wheel marks were still there, the brown water
was not yet clear, and, if a witness was needed, there sat the big
frog again, looking so like the old gentleman, with his bottle-green
coat, speckled trousers, and twinkling eyes, that Marjorie burst out
laughing, and clapped her hands, saying aloud,--

"I'll play he was the Brownie, and this is the good-luck penny he
gave me. Oh, what fun!" and away she skipped, rattling the dear new
bank like a castanet.

When she had told granny all about it, she got knife and basket, and
went out to dig dandelions; for the desire to increase her fortune
was so strong, she could not rest a minute. Up and down she went, so
busily peering and digging, that she never lifted up her eyes till
something like a great white bird skimmed by so low she could not
help seeing it. A pleasant laugh sounded behind her as she started
up, and, looking round, she nearly sat down again in sheer surprise,
for there close by was a slender little lady, comfortably
established under a big umbrella.

"If there WERE any fairies, I'd be sure that was one," thought
Marjorie, staring with all her might, for her mind was still full of
the old story; and curious things do happen on birthdays, as every
one knows.

It really did seem rather elfish to look up suddenly and see a
lovely lady all in white, with shining hair and a wand in her hand,
sitting under what looked very like a large yellow mushroom in the
middle of a meadow, where, till now, nothing but cows and
grasshoppers had been seen. Before Marjorie could decide the
question, the pleasant laugh came again, and the stranger said,
pointing to the white thing that was still fluttering over the grass
like 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, entirely
satisfied now that there was no magic about the new-comer; for if
she had been an elf, couldn't she have got her hat without any help
from a mortal child? Presently, however, it did begin to seem as if
that hat was bewitched, for it led the nimble-footed Marjorie such a
chase that the cows stopped feeding to look on in placid wonder; the
grasshoppers vainly tried to keep up, and every ox-eye daisy did its
best to catch the runaway, but failed entirely, for the wind liked a
game of romps, and had it that day. As she ran, Marjorie heard the
lady 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 lay
there a minute to get her breath. Just then, as if the playful wind
repented of its frolic, the long veil fastened to the hat caught in
a blackberry-vine near by, and held the truant fast till Marjorie
secured it.

"Now come and see what I am doing," said the lady, when she had
thanked the child.

Marjorie drew near confidingly, and looked down at the wide-spread
book before her. She gave a start, and laughed out with surprise and
delight; for there was a lovely picture of her own little home, and
her own little self on the door-step, all so delicate, and
beautiful, 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 wondering
glance at the long paint-brush, which had wrought what seemed a
miracle to her childish eyes.

"I'll show you presently; but tell me, first, if it looks quite
right and natural to you. Children sometimes spy out faults that no
one else can see," answered the lady, evidently pleased with the
artless praise her work received.

"It looks just like our house, only more beautiful. Perhaps that is
because I know how shabby it really is. That moss looks lovely on
the shingles, but the roof leaks. The porch is broken, only the
roses hide the place; and my gown is all faded, though it once was
as bright as you have made it. I wish the house and everything would
stay pretty forever, as they will in the picture."

While Marjorie spoke, the lady had been adding more color to the
sketch, and when she looked up, something warmer and brighter than
sunshine 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 for
ourselves if we try. The moss, the roses, and soft shadows show the
little house and the little girl at their best, and that is what we
all should do; for it is amazing how lovely common things become, if
one only knows how to look at them."

"I wish _I_ did," said Marjorie, half to herself, remembering how
often she was discontented, and how hard it was to get on,
sometimes.

"So do I," said the lady, in her happy voice. "Just believe that
there is a sunny side to everything, and try to find it, and you
will be surprised to see how bright the world will seem, and how
cheerful you will be able to keep your little self."

"I guess granny has found that out, for she never frets. I do, but
I'm going to stop it, because I'm twelve to-day, and that is too old
for such things," said Marjorie, recollecting the good resolutions
she had made that morning when she woke.

"I am twice twelve, and not entirely cured yet; but I try, and don't
mean to wear blue spectacles if I can help it," answered the lady,
laughing so blithely that Marjorie was sure she would not have to
try much longer. "Birthdays were made for presents, and I should
like to give you one. Would it please you to have this little
picture?" she added, lifting it out of the book.

"Truly my own? Oh, yes, indeed!" cried Marjorie, coloring with
pleasure, 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, and
help to keep it so."

Marjorie had nothing but a kiss to offer by way of thanks, as the
lovely sketch was put into her hand; but the giver seemed quite
satisfied, for it was a very grateful little kiss. Then the child
took up her basket and went away, not dancing and singing now, but
slowly and silently; for this gift made her thoughtful as well as
glad. As she climbed the wall, she looked back to nod good-by to the
pretty lady; but the meadow was empty, and all she saw was the grass
blowing 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 she
settled herself for her afternoon nap, when the Saturday cleaning
was 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 on
the gate seemed to be a good way of beginning the festivities; but
she only got two, for when the gate creaked back the second time, it
stayed shut, and Marjorie hung over the pickets, arrested by the
sound of music.

"It's soldiers," she said, as the fife and drum drew nearer, and
flags were seen waving over the barberry-bushes at the corner.

"No; it's a picnic," she added in a moment; for she saw hats with
wreaths about them bobbing up and down, as a gayly-trimmed hay-cart
full of children came rumbling down the lane.

"What a nice time they are going to have!" thought Marjorie, sadly
contrasting that merry-making with the quiet party she was having
all by herself.

Suddenly her face shone, and Kitty was waved over her head like a
banner, 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 beaming
at 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 and
a spray of blooming sweetbrier in his hand. Waving his rustic
sceptre, he led off the shout of "Happy birthday, Marjorie!" which
was set up as the wagon stopped at the gate, and the green boughs
suddenly blossomed with familiar faces, all smiling on the little
damsel, 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 of
voices, 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 dropped
Kitty, and stood ready for any splendid enterprise.

A word to granny, and away went the happy child, sitting up beside
Billy, under the flags that waved over a happier load than any royal
chariot ever bore.

It would be vain to try and tell all the plays and pleasures of
happy children on a Saturday afternoon, but we may briefly say that
Marjorie found a mossy stone all ready for her throne, and Billy
crowned her with a garland like his own. That a fine banquet was
spread, and eaten with a relish many a Lord Mayor's feast has
lacked. Then how the whole court danced and played together
afterward! The lords climbed trees and turned somersaults, the
ladies gathered flowers and told secrets under the sweetfern-bushes,
the queen lost her shoe jumping over the waterfall, and the king
paddled into the pool below and rescued it. A happy little kingdom,
full of summer sunshine, innocent delights, and loyal hearts; for
love ruled, and the only war that disturbed the peaceful land was
waged by the mosquitoes as night came on.

Marjorie stood on her throne watching the sunset while her maids of
honor packed up the remains of the banquet, and her knights prepared
the chariot. All the sky was gold and purple, all the world bathed
in a soft, red light, and the little girl was very happy as she
looked down at the subjects who had served her so faithfully that
day.

"Have you had a good time, Marjy?" asked King William; who stood
below, with his royal nose on a level with her majesty's two dusty
little shoes.

"Oh, Billy, it has been just splendid! But I don't see why you
should all be so kind to me," answered Marjorie, with such a look of
innocent wonder, that Billy laughed to see it.

"Because you are so sweet and good, we can't help loving
you,--that's why," he said, as if this simple fact was reason
enough.

"I'm going to be the best girl that ever was, and love everybody in
the world," cried the child, stretching out her arms as if ready, in
the fulness of her happy heart, to embrace all creation.

"Don't turn into an angel and fly away just yet, but come home, or
granny will never lend you to us any more."

With that, Billy jumped her down, and away they ran, to ride gayly
back through the twilight, singing like a flock of nightingales.

As she went to bed that night, Marjorie looked at the red bank, the
pretty picture, and the daisy crown, saying to herself,--

"It has been a VERY nice birthday, and I am something like the girl
in 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 like
the prince. The girl didn't go back to the poor house again, but I'm
glad _I_ did, for MY granny isn't a cross one, and my little home is
the dearest in the world."

Then she tied her night-cap, said her prayers, and fell asleep; but
the moon, looking in to kiss the blooming face upon the pillow, knew
that three good spirits had come to help little Marjorie from that
day forth, and their names were Industry, Cheerfulness, and Love.

Louisa May Alcott