|“Where did you get those eyes so blue?”|
|“Out of the sky as I came through.”|
Christmas week a good many years ago. Not an “old-fashioned” Christmas this year, for there was no snow or ice; the sky was clear and the air pure, but yet without the sharp, bracing clearness and purity that Master Jack Frost brings when he comes to see us in one of his nice, bright, sunny humours. For he has humours as well as other people—not only is he fickle in the extreme, but even black sometimes, and he is then, I can assure you, a most disagreeable visitor. But this Christmas time he had taken it into his head not to come at all, and the world looked rather reproachful and disconcerted. The poor, bare December world—it misses its snow garment, so graciously hiding all imperfections revealed by the absence of green grass and fluttering leaves; it misses, too, its winter jewels of icicles and hoar frost. Poor old world! What a great many Decembers you have jogged through; no wonder you begin to feel that you need a little dressing up and adorning, like a beauty no longer as young as she has been. Yet ever-young world, too! Who, that gazes at March’s daffodils and sweet April’s primroses, can believe that the world is growing old? Sometimes one could almost wish that it would leave off being so exquisitely, so heartlessly young. For the daffodils nod their golden heads, the primroses smile up through their leafy nests—year after year, they never fail us. But the children that loved them so; the little feet that trotted so eagerly down the lanes, the tiny hands that gathered the flower-treasures with such delight—where are they all? Men and women, some in far-off lands, perhaps; or too wearied by cares and sorrows to look for the spring flowers of long ago. And some—the sweetest of all, these seem—farther away still, and yet surely nearer? in the happier land, whose flowers our fancy tries in vain to picture.
But I am forgetting a little, I think, that I am going to tell about a child to children, and that my “tellings” begin, not in March or April, but at Christmas-time. Christmas-time, fortunately, does not depend on Jack Frost for all its pleasures. Christmas-boxes are just as welcome without as with his presence. And never was a Christmas-box more welcome than one that came to a certain house by the sea one twenty-sixth of December, now a good many years ago.
Yet it was not a very big present, nor a very uncommon present. But it was very precious, and, to my thinking, very, very pretty; for it was a wee baby boy. Such a dear wee baby, I think you would have called it; so neat and tiny, and with such nice baby-blue eyes. Its hands and feet, especially, were very delightful. “Almost as pretty as newly-hatched ducklings, aren’t they?” a little girl I know once said of some baby feet that she was admiring, and I really think she was right. No wonder was it, that the happy people in the house by the sea were very proud of their Christmas-box, that the baby’s mother, especially, thought there never was, never could be, anything so sweet as her baby Ted.
But poor baby Ted had not long to wait for his share of the troubles which we are told come to all, though it does seem as if some people, and children too, had more than others. He was a very delicate little baby. His mother did not notice it at first because, you see, he was the first baby she had ever had of her very own, and she was too pleased to think him anything but perfect. And indeed he was perfect of his kind, only there was so little of him! He was like one of those very, very tiny little white flowers that one has to hunt under the hedges for, and which surprise you by their daintiness when you look at them closely. Only such fragile daintiness needs tender handling, and these little half-opened buds sometimes shrink from the touch of even the kindest of mothers and nurses, and gently fade out of their sight to bloom in a sunnier and softer clime than ours. And knowing this, a cold chill crept round the heart of little Ted’s mother when his nurse, who was older and wiser than she, shook her head sadly as she owned that he was about the tiniest baby she had ever seen. But the cold chill did not stay there. Ted, who was scarcely a month old, gave a sudden smile of baby pleasure as she was anxiously looking at him. He had caught sight of some bright flowers on the wall, and his blue eyes had told him that the proper thing to do was to smile at them. And his smile was to his mother like the sun breaking through a cloud.
“I will not be afraid for my darling,” said she. “God knows what is best for him, but I think, I do think, he will live to grow a healthy, happy boy. How could a Christmas child be anything else?”
And she was right. Day after day, week by week, month after month, the wee man grew bigger and stronger. It was not all smooth sailing, however. He had to fight pretty hard for his little share of the world and of life sometimes. And many a sad fit of baby-crying made his mother’s heart ache as she asked herself if after all it might not be better for her poor little boy to give up the battle which seemed so trying to him. But no—that was not Master Ted’s opinion at all. He cried, and he would not go to sleep, and he cried again. But all through the crying and the restlessness he was growing stronger and bigger.
“The world strikes me as not half a bad place. I mean to look about me in it and see all that there is to be seen,” I could fancy his baby mind thinking to itself, when he was held at his nursery window, and his bright eyes gazed out unweariedly at the beautiful sights to be seen from it—the mountains in the distance lifting their grand old heads to the glorious sky, which Ted looked as if he knew a good deal about if he chose to tell; the sea near at hand with its ever-changing charm and the white sails scudding along in the sunlight. Ah yes, little Ted was in the right—the world is a very pretty place, and a baby boy whose special corner of it is where his was, is a very lucky little person, notwithstanding the pains and grievances of babyhood.
And before long Ted’s fits of crying became so completely a thing of the past that it was really difficult to believe in them. All his grumbling and complaining and tears were got over in these first few months. For “once he had got a start,” as his nurse called it, never was there a happier little fellow. Everything came right to him, and the few clouds that now and then floated over his skies but made the sunshine seem the brighter.
And day by day the world grew prettier and pleasanter to him. It had been very pleasant to be carried out in his nurse’s arms or wheeled along in his little carriage, but when it came to toddling on the nice firm sands on his own sturdy legs, and sometimes—when nurse would let him—going “kite kite close” to the playful waves, and then jumping back again when they “pertended,” as he said, to wet his little feet—ah, that was too delightful! And almost more delightful still was it to pick up nice smooth stones on the beach and try how far he could throw them into the sea. The sea was so pretty and kind, he thought. It was for a long time very difficult for him to believe that it could ever be angry and raging and wild, as he used to hear said, for of course on wet or stormy days little Ted never went down to the shore, but stayed at home in his own warm nursery.
There were pretty shells and stones and seaweed to be found on this delightful sea-shore. Ted was too little to care much for such quiet business as gathering stones and shells, but one day when he was walking with his mother she stopped so often to pick up and examine any that took her fancy, that at last Ted’s curiosity was awakened.
“What is thoo doing?” he said gravely, as if not quite sure that his mother was behaving correctly, for nurse always told him to “walk on straight, there’s a good boy, Master Ted,” and it was a little puzzling to understand that mammas might do what little boys must not. It was one of the puzzles which Ted found there were a good many of in the world, and which he had to think over a good deal in his own mind before it grew clear to him. “What is thoo doing?” he asked.
“I am looking for pretty stones to take home and keep,” replied his mother.
“Pitty ‘tones,” repeated Ted, and then he said no more, but some new ideas had wakened in his baby mind.
Nurse noticed that he was quieter than usual that afternoon, for already Ted was a good deal of a chatterbox. But his eyes looked bright, and plainly he had some pleasant thought in his head. The next day was fine, and he went off with nurse for his walk. He looked a little anxious as they got to the turn of the road, or rather to the joining of two roads, one of which led to the sea, the other into country lanes.
“Thoo is doing to the sea?” he inquired.
“Yes, dear,” nurse replied, and Ted’s face cleared. When they got to the shore he trotted on quietly, but his eyes were very busy, busier even than usual. They looked about them in all directions, till at last they spied what they wanted, and for half a minute or so nurse did not notice that her little charge had left her side and was lagging behind.
“What are you about, Master Ted?” she said hastily, as glancing round she saw him stooping down—not that he had very far to stoop, poor little man—and struggling to lift some object at his feet.
“A ‘tone,” he cried, “a beauty big ‘tone for Ted’s muzzer,” lifting in his arms a big round stone—one of the kind that as children we used to say had dropped from the moon—which by its nice round shape and speckledness had caught his eye. “Ted will cally it hisself.”
And with a very red face, he lugged it manfully along.
“Let me help you with it, dear,” said nurse.
But “No, zank thoo,” he replied firmly each time that the offer was repeated. “Ted must cally it his own self.”
And “cally” it he did, all the way. Nurse could only succeed in getting him to put it down now and then to rest a bit, as she said, for the stone was really so big a one that she was afraid of it seriously tiring his arms. More than once she pointed out prettier and smaller stones, and tried to suggest that his mother might like them quite as well, or better; but no. The bigness, the heaviness even, was its charm; to do something that cost him an effort for mother he felt vaguely was his wish; the “lamp of sacrifice,” ofself-sacrifice, had been lighted in his baby heart, never again to be extinguished.
And, oh, the happiness in that little heart when at last he reached his mother’s room, still lugging the heavy stone, and laid it at her feet!
“Ted broughtened it for thoo,” he exclaimed triumphantly. And mother was so pleased! The stone took up its place at once on the mantelpiece as an ornament, and the wearied little man climbed up on to his mother’s knee, with a look of such delight and satisfaction as is sweet to be seen on a childish face.
So Ted’s education began. He was growing beyond the birds and the flowers already, though only a tiny man of three; and every day he found new things to wonder at, and admire, and ask questions about, and, unlike some small people of his age, he always listened to the answers.
After a while he found prettier presents to bring home to his mother than big stones. With the spring days the flowers came back, and Ted, who last year had been too little to notice them much, grew to like the other turning of the road almost better than that which led to the sea. For down the lanes, hiding in among the hedges, or more boldly smiling up at him in the fields, he learnt to know the old friends that all happy children love so dearly.
One day he found some flowers that seemed to him prettier than any he had ever seen, and full of delight he trudged home with a baby bouquet of them in his little hot hands. It was getting past spring into summer now, and Ted felt a little tired by the time he and his nurse had reached the house, and he ran in as usual to find his mother and relate his adventures.
“Ted has broughtened some most beauty flowers,” he eagerly cried, and his mother stooped down to kiss and thank him, even though she was busy talking to some ladies who had come to see her, and whom Ted in his hurry had hardly noticed. He glanced round at them now with curiosity and interest. He rather liked ladies to come to see his mother, only he would have liked it still better if they would have just let him stay quietly beside her, looking at them and listening to what they said, without noticing him. But that way of behaving would not have seemed kind, and as Ted grew older he understood this, and learnt that it was right to feel pleased at being spoken to and even kissed.
“How well Ted is looking,” said one of the ladies to his mother. “He is growing quite a big, strong boy. And what pretty flowers he has brought you. Are you very fond of flowers, my little man?”
“Ses,” said Ted, looking up in the lady’s face.
“The wild flowers about here are very pretty,” said another of the ladies.
“Very pretty,” said his mother; “but it is curious, is it not, that there are no cowslips in this country? They are such favourites of mine. I have such pleasant remembrances of them as a child.”
She turned, for Ted was tugging gently at her sleeve. “What is towslips?” he asked.
“Pretty little yellow flowers, something like primroses,” said his mother.
“Oh!” said Ted. Then nurse knocked at the door, and told him his tea was ready, and so he trotted off.
“Mother loves towslips,” he said to himself two or three times over, till his nurse asked him what he was talking about.
“But there’s no cowslips here,” said nurse, when he had repeated it.
“No,” said Ted; “but p’raps Ted could find some. Ted will go and look to-morrow with nursey.”
“To-morrow’s Sunday, Master Ted,” said nurse; “I’ll be going to church.”
“What’s church?” he asked.
“Church is everybody praying to God, all together in a big house. Don’t you remember, Master Ted?”
“Oh ses, Ted ‘members,” he replied. “What’s praying to ‘Dod, nurse?”
“Why, I am sure you know that, Master Ted. You must have forgotten. Ask your mamma again.”
Ted took her advice. Later in the evening he went downstairs to say good-night. His mother was outside, walking about the garden, for it was a beautiful summer evening. Ted ran to her; but on his way something caught his eye, which sent a pang to his little heart. It was the bunch of flowers he had gathered for her, lying withered already, poor little things, on a bench just by the door, where she had laid them when saying good-bye to her visitors. Ted stopped short; his face grew very red, and big tears rose slowly to his eyes. He was carefully collecting them together in his little hand when his mother called to him.
“Come, Ted, dear,” she said; “what are you about?”
More slowly than his wont Ted trotted towards her. “Muzzer doesn’t care for zem,” he said, holding out his neglected offering. “Poor f’owers dies when they’s leaved out of water.”
“My darling,” said his mother with real sorrow in her voice, “I am so sorry, so very sorry, dear little Ted,” and she stooped to kiss him. “Give them to me now, and I will always keep them.”
Ted was quickly consoled.
“Zem’s not towslips,” he said regretfully. “Ted would like towslips for muzzer.” And then with a quick change of thought he went on, “What is praying to ‘Dod?” he said, looking up eagerly with his bright blue eyes.
“Praying to God means asking Him anything we want, and then He answers us. Just as you ask me something, and I answer you. And if what we ask is good for us, He gives it us. That is one way of answering our prayers, but there are many ways. You will understand better when you are bigger, dear little Ted.”
Ted asked no more, but a bright pleased look came into his face. He was fond of asking questions, but he did not ask silly ones, nor tease and tease as some children do, and, as I said, when he got an answer he thought it well over in his little head till he got to understand, or thought he understood. Till now his mother had thought him too little to teach him to say his prayers, but now in her own mind she began to feel he was getting old enough to say some simple prayer night and morning, and she resolved to teach him some day soon.
So now she kissed him and bade him good-night.
“God bless my little boy,” she said, as she patted his head with its soft fair hair which hung in pretty careless curls, and was cut across the forehead in front like one of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ cherubs. “God bless my little boy,” she said, and Ted trotted off again, still with the bright look on his face.
He let nurse put him to bed very “goodly,” though bed-time never came very welcomely to the active little man.
“Now go to sleep, Master Ted, dear,” said nurse as she covered him up and then left the room, as she was busy about some work that evening.
Ted’s room was next to his mother’s. Indeed, if the doors were left open, it was quite easy to talk one to the other. This evening his mother happened to go upstairs not long after he had been tucked into bed. She was arranging some things in her own room, moving about quietly not to waken him, if, as she hoped, he had fallen asleep, for falling asleep did not come so easily to Ted as to some children. He was too busy in his mind, he had too many things to think about and wonder about for his brain to settle itself quietly all in a minute. And if he had a strong wish, I think it was that going-to-bed time should never come at all!
For a minute or two no sound reached Ted’s mother.
“I do hope he is asleep,” she said to herself, but just then she stopped short to listen. Ted was speaking to himself softly, but clearly and distinctly. What could he be saying? His mother listened with a smile on her face, but the smile grew into a sort of sweet gravity as she distinguished the words. Little Ted was praying. He had not waited for her to teach him—his baby-spirit had found out the simple way for itself—he was just asking God for what he wanted.
“Please, dear ‘Dod,” he said, “tell me why thoo won’t make towslips grow in this countly. Muzzer loves zem so.”
Then came a perfect silence. Ted seemed to be holding his breath in expectation, and somehow his mother too stood as still as could be. And after a minute or two the little voice began again.
“Please, dear ‘Dod, please do tell me,” and then the silence returned as before. It did not last so long, however, this time—not more than a minute at most had passed when a sound of faint crying broke upon Ted’s mother’s hearing—the little fellow had burst into tears.
Then his mother could stay away no longer.
“What is the matter, my boy?” she said; anxious, baby though he was, not to make him feel ashamed of his innocent prayers by finding that she had overheard what he had said when he thought himself alone.
“What is my Ted crying about?”
The tears, which had stopped for an instant, came back again.
“Muzzer,” he said, “‘Dod won’t ‘peak to Ted. Ted p’ayed and p’ayed, and Ted was kite kite kiet, but ‘Dod didn’t ‘amswer.’ Is ‘Dod a’leep, muzzer?”
“No, my boy, but what was it that Ted wanted so much?”
“Ted wanted towslips for muzzer, but ‘Dod won’t amswer,” he repeated piteously.
A shower of kisses was mother’s answer, and gently and patiently she tried to make him understand the seeming silence which had caused his innocent tears. And, as was Ted’s “way,” he listened and believed. But “some day,” he said to his mother, “some day,” would she not take him to “a countly where towslips did grow?”
Categories: English Literature