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Little Annie's Ramble

From "Twice Told Tales"

DING-DONG! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!

The town crier has rung his bell, at a distant corner, and little Annie
stands on her father's doorsteps, trying to hear what the man with the
loud voice is talking about. Let me listen too. O, he is telling the
people that an elephant, and a lion, and a royal tiger, and a horse with
horns, and other strange beasts from foreign countries, have come to
town, and will receive all visitors who choose to wait upon them!
Perhaps little Annie would like to go. Yes; and I can see that the
pretty child is weary of this wide and pleasant street, with the green
trees flinging their shade across the quiet sunshine, and the pavements
and the sidewalks all as clean as if the housemaid had just swept them
with her broom. She feels that impulse to go strolling away--that
longing after the mystery of the great world--which many children feel,
and which I felt in my childhood. Little Annie shall take a ramble with
me. See! I do but hold out my hand, and, like some bright bird in the
sunny air, with her blue silk frock fluttering upwards from her white
pantalets, she comes bounding on tiptoe across the street.

Smooth back your brown curls, Annie; and let me tie on your bonnet, and
we will set forth! What a strange couple to go on their rambles
together! One walks in black attire, with a measured step, and a heavy
brow, and his thoughtful eyes bent down, while the gay little girl trips
lightly along, as if she were forced to keep hold of my hand, lest her
feet should dance away from the earth. Yet there is sympathy between us.
If I pride myself on anything, it is because I have a smile that children
love; and, on the other hand, there are few grown ladies that could
entice me from the side of little Annie; for I delight to let my mind go
hand in hand with the mind of a sinless child. So, come, Annie; but if I
moralize as we go, do not listen to me; only look about you, and be
merry!

Now we turn the corner. Here are hacks with two horses, and stage-
coaches with four, thundering to meet each other, and trucks and carts
moving at a slower pace, being heavily laden with barrels from the
wharves, and here are rattling gigs, which perhaps will be smashed to
pieces before our eyes. Hitherward, also, comes a man trundling a
wheelbarrow along the pavement. Is not little Annie afraid of such a
tumult? No; she does not even shrink closer to my side, but passes on
with fearless confidence, a happy child amidst a great throng of grown
people, who pay the same reverence to her infancy that they would to
extreme old age. Nobody jostles her; all turn aside to make way for
little Annie; and, what is most singular, she appears conscious of her
claim to such respect. Now her eyes brighten with pleasure! A street-
musician has seated himself on the steps of yonder church, and pours
forth his strains to the busy town, a melody that has gone astray among
the tramp of footsteps, the buzz of voices, and the war of passing
wheels. Who heeds the poor organ-grinder? None but myself and little
Annie, whose feet begin to move in unison with the lively tune, as if she
were loath that music should be wasted without a dance. But where would
Annie find a partner? Some have the gout in their toes, or the
rheumatism in their joints; some are stiff with age; some feeble with
disease; some are so lean that their bones would rattle, and others of
such ponderous size that their agility would crack the flagstones; but
many, many have leaden feet, because their hearts are far heavier than
lead.

It is a sad thought that I have chanced upon. What a company of dancers
should we be! For I, too, am a gentleman of sober footsteps, and
therefore, little Annie, let us walk sedately on.

It is a question with me, whether this giddy child, or my sage self, have
most pleasure in looking at the shop-windows. We love the silks of sunny
hue, that glow within the darkened premises of the spruce drygoods' men;
we are pleasantly dazzled by the burnished silver, and the chased gold,
the rings of wedlock and the costly love-ornaments, glistening at the
window of the jeweller; but Annie, more than I, seeks for a glimpse of
her passing figure in the dusty looking-glasses at the hardware stores.
All that is bright and gay attracts us both.

Here is a shop to which the recollections of my boyhood, as well as
present partialities, give a peculiar magic. How delightful to let the
fancy revel on the dainties of a confectioner; those pies, with such
white and flaky paste, their contents being a mystery, whether rich
mince, with whole plums intermixed, or piquant apple, delicately rose-
flavored; those cakes, heart-shaped or round, piled in a lofty pyramid;
those sweet little circlets, sweetly named kisses; those dark, majestic
masses, fit to be bridal-loaves at the wedding of an heiress, mountains
in size, their summits deeply snowcovered with sugar! Then the mighty
treasures of sugar-plums, white and crimson and yellow, in large glass
vases; and candy of all varieties; and those little cockles, or whatever
they are called, much prized by children for their sweetness, and more
for the mottoes which they enclose, by love-sick maids and bachelors!
O, my mouth waters, little Annie, and so doth yours; but we will not be
tempted, except to an imaginary feast; so let us hasten onward, devouring
the vision of a plum-cake.

Here are pleasures, as some people would say, of a more exalted kind,
in the window of a bookseller. Is Annie a literary lady? Yes; she is
deeply read in Peter Parley's tomes, and has an increasing love for
fairy-tales, though seldom met with nowadays, and she will subscribe,
next year, to the Juvenile Miscellany. But, truth to tell, she is apt to
turn away from the printed page, and keep gazing at the pretty pictures,
such as the gay-colored ones which make this shopwindow the continual
loitering-place of children. What would Annie think, if, in the book
which I mean to send her, on New Year's day, she should find her sweet
little self, bound up in silk or morocco with gilt edges, there to remain
till she become a woman grown with children of her own to read about
their mother's childhood! That would be very queer.

Little Annie is weary of pictures, and pulls me onward by the hand, till
suddenly we pause at the most wondrous shop in all the town. O, my
stars! Is this a toy-shop, or is it fairy-land? For here are gilded
chariots, in which the king and queen of the fairies might ride side by
side, while their courtiers, on these small horses, should gallop in
triumphal procession before and behind the royal pair. Here, too, are
dishes of china-ware, fit to be the dining set of those same princely
personages, when they make a regal banquet in the stateliest ball of
their palace, full five feet high, and behold their nobles feasting adown
the long perspective of the table. Betwixt the king and queen should sit
my little Annie, the prettiest fairy of them all. Here stands a turbaned
Turk, threatening us with his sabre, like an ugly heathen as he is. And
next a Chinese mandarin, who nods his head at Annie and myself. Here we
may review a whole army of horse and foot, in red and blue uniforms, with
drums, fifes, trumpets, and all kinds of noiseless music; they have
halted on the shelf of this window, after their weary march from Liliput.
But what cares Annie for soldiers? No conquering queen is she, neither a
Semiramis nor a Catharine, her whole heart is set upon that doll, who
gazes at us with such a fashionable stare. This is the little girl's
true plaything. Though made of wood, a doll is a visionary and ethereal
personage, endowed by childish fancy with a peculiar life; the mimic lady
is a heroine of romance, an actor and a sufferer in a thousand shadowy
scenes, the chief inhabitant of that wild world with which children ape
the real one. Little Annie does not understand what I am saying, but
looks wishfully at the proud lady in the window. We will invite her home
with us as we return. Meantime, good by, Dame Doll! A toy yourself, you
look forth from your window upon many ladies that are also toys, though
they walk and speak, and upon a crowd in pursuit of toys, though they
wear grave visages. O, with your never-closing eyes, had you but an
intellect to moralize on all that flits before them, what a wise doll
would you be! Come, little Annie, we shall find toys enough, go where we
may.

Now we elbow our way among the throng again. It is curious, in the most
crowded part of a town, to meet with living creatures that had their
birthplace in some far solitude, but have acquired a second nature in the
wilderness of men. Look up, Annie, at that canary-bird, hanging out of
the window in his cage. Poor little fellow! His golden feathers are all
tarnished in this smoky sunshine; he would have glistened twice as
brightly among the summer islands; but still he has become a citizen in
all his tastes and habits, and would not sing half so well without the
uproar that drowns his music. What a pity that he does not know how
miserable he is! There is a parrot, too, calling out, "Pretty Poll!
Pretty Poll!" as we pass by. Foolish bird, to be talking about her
prettiness to strangers, especially as she is not a pretty Poll, though
gaudily dressed in green and yellow. If she had said, "Pretty Annie,"
there would have been some sense in it. See that gray squirrel at the
door of the fruit-shop, whirling round and round so merrily within his
wire wheel! Being condemned to the treadmill, he makes it an amusement.
Admirable philosophy!

Here comes a big, rough dog, a countryman's dog in search of his master;
smelling at everybody's heels, and touching little Annie's hand with his
cold nose, but hurrying away, though she would fain have patted him.
Success to your search, Fidelity! And there sits a great yellow cat upon
a window-sill, a very corpulent and comfortable cat, gazing at this
transitory world, with owl's eyes, and making pithy comments, doubtless,
or what appear such, to the silly beast. O sage puss, make room for me
beside you, and we will be a pair of philosophers!

Here we see something to remind us of the town crier, and his ding-dong
bell! Look! look at that great cloth spread out in the air, pictured all
over with wild beasts, as if they had met together to choose a king,
according to their custom in the days of Esop. But they are choosing
neither a king nor a president; else we should hear a most horrible
snarling! They have come from the deep woods, and the wild mountains,
and the desert sands, and the polar snows, only to do homage to my little
Annie. As we enter among them, the great elephant makes us a bow, in the
best style of elephantine courtesy, bending lowly down his mountain bulk,
with trunk abased, and leg thrust out behind. Annie returns the salute,
much to the gratification of the elephant, who is certainly the best-bred
monster in the caravan. The lion and the lioness are busy with two beef-
bones. The royal tiger, the beautiful, the untamable, keeps pacing his
narrow cage with a haughty step, unmindful of the spectators, or
recalling the fierce deeds of his former life, when he was wont to leap
forth upon such inferior animals, from the jungles of Bengal.
Here we see the very same wolf,--do not go near him, Annie!--the self-
same wolf that devoured little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. In
the next cage, a hyena from Egypt, who has doubtless howled around the
pyramids, and a black bear from our own forests are fellow-prisoners, and
most excellent friends. Are there any two living creatures who have so
few sympathies that they cannot possibly be friends? Here sits a great
white bear, whom common observers would call a very stupid beast, though
I perceive him to be only absorbed in contemplation; he is thinking of
his voyages on an iceberg, and of his comfortable home in the vicinity of
the north pole, and of the little cubs whom he left rolling in the
eternal snows. In fact, he is a bear of sentiment. But, O, those
unsentimental monkeys the ugly, grinning, aping, chattering, ill-natured,
mischievous, and queer little brutes. Annie does not love the monkeys.
Their ugliness shocks her pure, instinctive delicacy of taste, and makes
her mind unquiet, because it bears a wild and dark resemblance to
humanity. But here is a little pony, just big enough for Annie to ride,
and round and round he gallops in a circle, keeping time with his
trampling hoofs to a band of music. And here,--with a laced coat and a
cocked hat, and a riding whip in his hand,--here comes a little
gentleman, small enough to be king of the fairies, and ugly enough to be
king of the gnomes, and takes a flying leap into the saddle. Merrily,
merrily plays the music, and merrily gallops the pony, and merrily rides
the little old gentleman. Come, Annie, into the street again; perchance
we may see monkeys on horseback there! Mercy on us, what a noisy world
we quiet people live in! Did Annie ever read the Cries of London City?
With what lusty lungs doth yonder man proclaim that his wheelbarrow is
full of lobsters! Here comes another mounted on a cart, and blowing a
hoarse and dreadful blast from a tin horn, as much as to say, "Fresh
fish!" And hark! a voice on high, like that of a muezzin from the summit
of a mosque, announcing that some chimney-sweeper has emerged from smoke
and soot, and darksome caverns, into the upper air. What cares the world
for that? But, well-a-day, we hear a shrill voice of affliction, the
scream of a little child, rising louder with every repetition of that
smart, sharp, slapping sound, produced by an open hand on tender flesh.
Annie sympathizes, though without experience of such direful woe. Lo!
the town crier again, with some new secret for the public ear. Will he
tell us of an auction, or of a lost pocketbook, or a show of beautiful
wax figures, or of some monstrous beast more horrible than any in the
caravan? I guess the latter. See how he uplifts the bell in his right
hand, and shakes it slowly at first, then with a hurried motion, till the
clapper seems to strike both sides at once, and the sounds are scattered
forth in quick succession, far and near.

Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!

Now he raises his clear, loud voice, above all the din of the town; it
drowns the buzzing talk of many tongues, and draws each man's mind from
his own business; it rolls up and down the echoing street and ascends to
the hushed chamber of the sick, and penetrates downward to the cellar
kitchen, where the hot cook turns from the fire to listen. Who, of all
that address the public ear, whether in church, or court-house, or hall
of state, has such an attentive audience as the town crier? What saith
the people's orator?

"Strayed from her home, a LITTLE GIRL, of five years old, in a blue silk
frock and white pantalets, with brown curling hair and hazel eyes.
Whoever will bring her back to her afflicted mother--"

Stop, stop, town crier! The lost is found. O, my pretty Annie, we
forgot to tell your mother of our ramble, and she is in despair, and has
sent the town crier to bellow up and down the streets, affrighting old
and young, for the loss of a little girl who has not once let go my hand!
Well, let us hasten homeward; and as we go, forget not to thank Heaven,
my Annie, that, after wandering a little way into the world, you may
return at the first summons, with an untainted and unwearied heart, and
be a happy child again. But I have gone too far astray for the town
crier to call me back.

Sweet has been the charm of childhood on my spirit, throughout my ramble
with little Annie! Say not that it has been a waste of precious moments,
an idle matter, a babble of childish talk, and a revery of childish
imaginations, about topics unworthy of a grown man's notice. Has it been
merely this? Not so; not so. They are not truly wise who would affirm
it. As the pure breath of children revives the life of aged men, so is
our moral nature revived by their free and simple thoughts, their native
feeling, their airy mirth, for little cause or none, their grief, soon
roused and soon allayed. Their influence on us is at least reciprocal
with ours on them. When our infancy is almost forgotten, and our boyhood
long departed, though it seems but as yesterday; when life settles darkly
down upon us, and we doubt whether to call ourselves young any more, then
it is good to steal away from the society of bearded men, and even of
gentler woman, and spend an hour or two with children. After drinking
from those fountains of still fresh existence, we shall return into the
crowd, as I do now, to struggle onward and do our part in life, perhaps
as fervently as ever, but, for a time, with a kinder and purer heart, and
a spirit more lightly wise. All this by thy sweet magic, dear little
Annie!


Nathaniel Hawthorne


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