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THE HOME ON THE GREAT PLAIN
Some like to be one thing, some another. There is so much to be done,
so many different things to do, so many trades! Shepherds, soldiers,
sailors, ploughmen, carters--one could go on all day naming without
getting to the end of them. For myself, boy and man, I have been
many things, working for a living, and sometimes doing things just
for pleasure; but somehow, whatever I did, it never seemed quite the
right and proper thing to do--it never quite satisfied me. I always
wanted to do something else--I wanted to be a carpenter. It seemed
to me that to stand among wood-shavings and sawdust, making things
at a bench with bright beautiful tools out of nice-smelling wood,
was the cleanest, healthiest, prettiest work that any man can do.
Now all this has nothing, or very little, to do with my story: I
only spoke of it because I had to begin somehow, and it struck me
that I would make a start that way. And for another reason, too.
_His father was a carpenter_. I mean Martin's father--Martin, the
Little Boy Lost. His father's name was John, and he was a very good
man and a good carpenter, and he loved to do his carpentering better
than anything else; in fact as much as I should have loved it if I
had been taught that trade. He lived in a seaside town, named
Southampton, where there is a great harbour, where he saw great
ships coming and going to and from all parts of the world. Now, no
strong, brave man can live in a place like that, seeing the ships
and often talking to the people who voyaged in them about the
distant lands where they had been, without wishing to go and see
those distant countries for himself. When it is winter in England,
and it rains and rains, and the east wind blows, and it is grey and
cold and the trees are bare, who does not think how nice it would be
to fly away like the summer birds to some distant country where the
sky is always blue and the sun shines bright and warm every day? And
so it came to pass that John, at last, when he was an old man, sold
his shop, and went abroad. They went to a country many thousands of
miles away--for you must know that Mrs. John went too; and when the
sea voyage ended, they travelled many days and weeks in a wagon
until they came to the place where they wanted to live; and there,
in that lonely country, they built a house, and made a garden, and
planted an orchard. It was a desert, and they had no neighbours, but
they were happy enough because they had as much land as they wanted,
and the weather was always bright and beautiful; John, too, had his
carpenter's tools to work with when he felt inclined; and, best of
all, they had little Martin to love and think about.
But how about Martin himself? You might think that with no other
child to prattle to and play with or even to see, it was too lonely
a home for him. Not a bit of it! No child could have been happier.
He did not want for company; his playfellows were the dogs and cats
and chickens, and any creature in and about the house. But most of
all he loved the little shy creatures that lived in the sunshine
among the flowers--the small birds and butterflies, and little
beasties and creeping things he was accustomed to see outside the
gate among the tall, wild sunflowers. There were acres of these
plants, and they were taller than Martin, and covered with flowers
no bigger than marigolds, and here among the sunflowers he used to
spend most of the day, as happy as possible.
He had other amusements too. Whenever John went to his carpenter's
shop--for the old man still dearly loved his carpentering--Martin
would run in to keep him company. One thing he liked to do was to
pick up the longest wood-shavings, to wind them round his neck and
arms and legs, and then he would laugh and dance with delight, happy
as a young Indian in his ornaments.
A wood-shaving may seem a poor plaything to a child with all the
toyshops in London to pick and choose from, but it is really very
curious and pretty. Bright and smooth to the touch, pencilled with
delicate wavy lines, while in its spiral shape it reminds one of
winding plants, and tendrils by means of which vines and creepers
support themselves, and flowers with curling petals, and curled
leaves and sea-shells and many other pretty natural objects.
One day Martin ran into the house looking very flushed and joyous,
holding up his pinafore with something heavy in it.
"What have you got now?" cried his father and mother in a breath,
getting up to peep at his treasure, for Martin was always fetching
in the most curious out-of-the-way things to show them.
"My pretty shaving," said Martin proudly.
When they looked they were amazed and horrified to see a spotted
green snake coiled comfortably up in the pinafore. It didn't appear
to like being looked at by them, for it raised its curious
heart-shaped head and flicked its little red, forked tongue at them.
His mother gave a great scream, and dropped the jug she had in her
hand upon the floor, while John rushed off to get a big stick.
"Drop it, Martin--drop the wicked snake before it stings you, and
I'll soon kill it."
Martin stared, surprised at the fuss they were making; then, still
tightly holding the ends of his pinafore, he turned and ran out of
the room and away as fast as he could go. Away went his father after
him, stick in hand, and out of the gate into the thicket of tall wild
sunflowers where Martin had vanished from sight. After hunting about
for some time, he found the little run-away sitting on the ground
among the weeds.
"Where's the snake?" he cried.
"Gone!" said Martin, waving his little hand around. "I let it go and
you mustn't look for it."
John picked the child up in his arms and marched back to the room
and popped him down on the floor, then gave him a good scolding.
"It's a mercy the poisonous thing didn't sting you," he said.
"You're a naughty little boy to play with snakes, because they're
dangerous bad things, and you die if they bite you. And now you must
go straight to bed; that's the only punishment that has any effect
on such a harebrained little butterfly."
Martin, puckering up his face for a cry, crept away to his little
room. It was very hard to have to go to bed in the daytime when he
was not sleepy, and when the birds and butterflies were out in the
sunshine having such a good time.
"It's not a bit of use scolding him--I found that out long ago,"
said Mrs. John, shaking her head. "Do you know, John, I can't help
thinking sometimes that he's not our child at all."
"Whose child do you think he is, then?" said John, who had a cup of
water in his hand, for the chase after Martin had made him hot, and
he wanted cooling.
"I don't know--but I once had a very curious dream."
"People often do have curious dreams," said wise old John.
"But this was a very curious one, and I remember saying to myself,
if this doesn't mean something that is going to happen, then dreams
don't count for much."
"No more they do," said John.
"It was in England, just when we were getting ready for the voyage,
and it was autumn, when the birds were leaving us. I dreamed that I
went out alone and walked by the sea, and stood watching a great
number of swallows flying by and out over the sea--flying away to
some distant land. By-and-by I noticed one bird coming down lower
and lower as if he wanted to alight, and I watched it, and it came
down straight to me, and at last flew right into my bosom. I put my
hand on it, and looking close saw that it was a martin, all pure
white on its throat and breast, and with a white patch on its back.
Then I woke up, and it was because of that dream that I named our
child Martin instead of John as you wished to do. Now, when I watch
swallows flying about, coming and going round the house, I sometimes
think that Martin came to us like that one in the dream, and that
some day he will fly away from us. When he gets bigger, I mean."
"When he gets littler," you mean, said John with a laugh. "No, no,
he's too big for a swallow--a Michaelmas goose would be nothing to
him for size. But here I am listening to your silly dreams instead of
watering the melons and cucumbers!" And out he went to his garden,
but in a minute he put his head in at the door and said, "You may go
and tell him to get up if you like. Poor little fellow! Only make him
promise not to go chumming with spotted snakes any more, and not to
bring them into the house, because somehow they disagree with me."
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