Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, Volume 5/Chapter 1





A BOY sat on a door-step in a despondent attitude, with his eyes fixed on a pair of very-shabby shoes, and his elbows resting on his knees, as if to hide the big patches there. But it was not the fact that his toes were nearly out and his clothes dilapidated which brought the wrinkles to his forehead and the tears to his eyes, for he was used to that state of things, and, bore it without complaint. The prospect was a dull one for a lively lad full of the spring longings which sunny April weather always brings. But it was not the narrow back-street where noisy children played and two or three dusty trees tried to bud without sunshine, that made him look so dismal. Nor was it the knowledge that a pile of vests was nearly ready for him to trudge away with before he could really rest after doing many errands to save mother's weary feet.

No, it was a burden that lay very heavily on his heart, and made it impossible to even whistle as he waited. Above the sounds that filled the street he heard a patient moan from the room within; and no matter what object his eyes rested on, he saw with sorrowful distinctness a small white face turned wistfully toward the window, as if weary of the pillow where it had laid so long.

Merry little Kitty, who used to sing and dance from morning till night, was now so feeble and wasted that he could carry her about like a baby. All day she lay moaning softly, and her one comfort was when "brother" could come and sing to her. That night he could not sing; his heart was so full, because the doctor had said that the poor child must have country air as soon as possible, else she never would recover from the fever which left her such a sad little ghost of her former self. But, alas, there was no money for the trip, and mother was sewing day and night to earn enough for a week at least of blessed country air and quiet. Jimmy did his best to help, but could find very little to do, and the pennies came in so slowly he was almost in despair.

There was no father to lend a strong hand, and Mrs. Nelson was one of the "silent poor," who cannot ask for charity, no matter how much they may need it. The twelve-year-old boy considered himself the man of the family, and manfully carried as many burdens as his young shoulders would bear; but this was a very heavy one, so it is no wonder that he looked sober. Holding his curly head in his hands, as if to keep it from flying asunder with the various plans working inside, he sat staring at the dusty bricks in a desperate frame of mind.

Warm days were coming, and every hour was precious, for poor Kitty pined in the close room, and all he could do was to bring her dandelions and bits of green grass from the Common when she begged to go in the fields and pick "pretties" for herself. He loved the little sister dearly, and, as he remembered her longing, his eyes filled, and he doubled up both fists with an air of determination, muttering to himself,—

"She shall go! I don't see any other way, and I'll do it!"

The plan which had been uppermost lately was this. His father had been a sailor, and Jimmy proposed to run away to sea as cabin boy. His wages were to be paid before he went, so mother and Kitty could be in the country while he was gone, and in a few months he would come sailing gayly home to find the child her rosy self again. A very boyish and impossible plan, but he meant it, and was in just the mood to carry it out,—for every other attempt to make money had failed.

"I'll do it as sure as my name is Jim Nelson. I'll take a look at the ships this very night, and go in the first one that will have me," he said, with a resolute nod of the head, though his heart sank within him at the thought. "I wonder which kind of captains pay boys best? I guess I'll try a steamer; they make short trips. I heard the cannon to-day, so one is in, and I'll try for a place before I go to bed."

Little did desperate Jimmy guess what ship he would really sail in, nor what a prosperous voyage he was about to make; for help was coming that very minute, as it generally does, sooner or later, to generous people who are very much in earnest.

First a shrill whistle was heard, at the sound of which he looked up quickly; then a rosy-faced girl of about his own age came skipping down the street, swinging her hat by one string; and, as Jimmy watched her approach, a smile began to soften the grim look he wore, for Willy Bryant was his best friend and neighbor, being full of courage, fun, and kindness. He nodded, and made room for her on the step,—the place she usually occupied at spare moments when they got lessons and recounted their scrapes to each other.

But to-night Willy seemed possessed of some unusually good piece of news which she chose to tell in her own lively fashion, for, instead of sitting down, she began to dance a sailor's hornpipe, singing gayly, "I'm little Buttercup, sweet little Buttercup," till her breath gave out.

"What makes you so jolly, Will?" asked Jimmy, as she dropped down beside him and fanned herself with the ill-used hat.

"Such fun—you'll never guess—just what we wanted—if your mother only will! You'll dance, too, when you know," panted the girl, smiling like a substantial sort of fairy come to bring good luck.

"Fire away, then. It will have to be extra nice to set me off. I don't feel a bit like jigs now," answered Jimmy, as the gloom obscured his face again, like a cloud over the sun.

"You know 'Pinafore'?" began Will, and getting a quick nod for an answer, she poured forth the following tale with great rapidity: "Well, some folks are going to get it up with children to do it, and they want any boys and girls that can sing to go and be looked at tomorrow, and the good ones will be picked out, and dressed up, and taught how to act, and have the nicest time that ever was. Some of our girls are going, and so am I, and you sing and must come, too, and have some fun. Won't it be jolly?"

"I guess it would; but I can't. Mother needs me every minute out of school," began Jimmy, with a shake of the head, having made up his mind some time ago that he must learn to do without fun.

"But we shall be paid for it," cried Will, clapping her hands with the double delight of telling the best part of her story, and seeing Jimmy's sober face clear suddenly as if the sun had burst forth with great brilliancy.

"Really? How much? Can I sing well enough?" and he clutched her arm excitedly, for this unexpected ray of hope dazzled him.

"Some of them will have ten dollars a week, and some more,—the real nice ones, like Lee, the singing boy, who is a wonder," answered Will, in the tone of one well informed on such points.

"Ten dollars!" gasped Jimmy, for the immensity of the sum took his breath away. "Could I get that? How long? Where do we go? Do they really want us fellows? Are you sure it's all true?"

"It was all in the paper, and Miss Pym, the teacher who boards at our house, told Ma about it. The folks advertised for school-children, sixty of 'em, and will really pay; and Ma said I could go and try, and all the money I get I'm going to put in a bank and have for my own. Don't you believe me now?"

Miss Pym and the newspapers settled the matter in Jimmy's mind, and made him more anxious than before about the other point.

"Do you think I would have any chance?" he asked, still holding Will, who seemed inclined for another dance.

"I know you would. Don't you do splendidly at school? And didn't they want you for a choir boy, only your mother couldn't spare you?" answered Will, decidedly; for Jimmy did love music, and had a sweet little pipe of his own, as she well knew.

"Mother will have to spare me now, if they pay like that. I can work all day and do without sleep to earn money this way. Oh, Will, I'm so glad you came, for I was just ready to run away to sea. There didn't seem anything else to do," whispered Jimmy in a choky sort of tone, as hopes and fears struggled together in his boyish mind.

"Run as fast as you like, and I'll go too. We'll sail in the 'Pinafore,' and come home with our pockets full of money.

"'Sing, hey, the merry maiden and the tar!'"

burst out Will, who was so full of spirits she could not keep still another minute.

Jimmy joined in, and the fresh voices echoed through the street so pleasantly that Mrs. Peters stopped scolding her six squabbling children, while Kitty's moaning changed to a feeble little sound of satisfaction, for "brother's" lullabies were her chief comfort and delight.

"We shall lose school, you know, for we act in the afternoon, not the evening. I don't care; but you will, you like to study so well. Miss Pym didn't like it at first, but Ma said it would help the poor folks, and a little fun wouldn't hurt the children. I thought of you right away, and if you don't get as much money as I do, you shall have some of mine, so Kitty can go away soon."

Will's merry face grew very sweet and kind as she said that, and Jimmy was glad his mother called him just then, because he did not know how to thank this friend in need. When he came out with the parcel of vests he looked like a different boy, for Mrs. Nelson had told him to go and find out all about it, and had seemed as much dazzled by the prospect as he did, sewing was such weary work.

Their interview with Miss Pym was a most encouraging one, and it was soon settled that Jimmy should go with Will to try for a place on the morrow.

"And I'll get it, too!" he said to himself, as he kissed Kitty's thin cheek, full of the sweet hope that he might be the means of bringing back life and color to the little face he loved so well.

He was so excited he could not sleep, and beguiled the long hours by humming under his breath all the airs he knew belonging to the already popular opera. Next morning he flew about his work as if for a wager, and when Will came for him there was not a happier heart in all the city than the hopeful one that thumped under Jimmy's threadbare best jacket.

Such a crowd of girls and boys as they found at the hall where they were told to apply for inspection; such a chirping and piping went on there, it sounded like a big cage full of larks and linnets; and by and by, when the trial was over, such a smiling troop of children as was left to be drilled by the energetic gentlemen who had the matter in hand. Among this happy band stood our Jimmy, chosen for his good voice, and Will, because of her bright face and lively, self-possessed manners. They could hardly wait to be dismissed, and it was a race home to see who should be first to tell the good news. Jimmy tried to be quiet on Kitty's account, but failed entirely; and it was a pleasant sight to see the boy run into his mother's arms, crying joyfully,—

"I'm in! I'm in! Ten dollars a week! Hurrah!"

"I can hardly believe it!" And weary Mrs. Nelson dropped her needle to indulge in a few moments of delightful repose.

"If it goes well they may want us for a month or six weeks," the man said. "Just think, maybe I'll get fifty or sixty dollars! and Baby will get well right off," cried Jimmy, in an arithmetical sort of rapture, as he leaned above Kitty, who tried to clap her little hands without quite knowing what the joy was all about.


After that day Jimmy led a very happy life, for he loved music and enjoyed the daily drill with his mates, though it was long before he saw the inside of the theatre. Will knew a good deal about it, for an actor's family had boarded with her mother, and the little girl had been behind the scenes. But to Jimmy, who had only seen one fairy play, all was very strange when at last he went upon the stage; for the glittering world he expected was gone, and all was dusty, dark, and queer, with trap-doors underfoot, machinery overhead, and a wilderness of scenery jumbled together in the drollest way. He was all eyes and ears, and enjoyed himself immensely as he came and went, sung and acted, with the troop of lads who made up the sailor chorus. It was a real ship to him, in spite of painted cannon, shaky masts, and cabin doors that led nowhere. He longed to run up the rigging; but as that was forbidden, for fear of danger, he contented himself by obeying orders with nautical obedience, singing with all his might, and taking great satisfaction in his blue suit with the magical letters "H.M.S. Pinafore" round his cap.

Day by day all grew more and more interesting. His mother was never tired of hearing his adventures, he sung Kitty to sleep with the new songs, and the neighbors took such a friendly interest in his success that they called him Lord Nelson, and predicted that he would be as famous as his great namesake.

When the grand day came at last, and the crew of jolly young tars stood ready to burst forth with the opening chorus,

"We sail the ocean blue,
Our saucy ship's a beauty;
We're gallant men and true,
And bound to do our duty!"

Jimmy hardly knew whether he stood on his head or his heels at first, for, in spite of many rehearsals, everything seemed changed. Instead of daylight gas shone everywhere, the empty seats were full, the orchestra playing splendidly, and when the curtain rose, a sea of friendly faces welcomed them, and the pleasant sound of applause made the hearts under the blue jackets dance gayly.

How those boys did sing! how their eyes shone, and their feet kept time to the familiar strains! with what a relish they hitched up their trousers and lurched about, or saluted and cheered as the play demanded. With what interest they watched the microscopic midshipmite, listened to Rafe as his sweet voice melodiously told the story of his hapless love, and smiled on pretty Josephine, who was a regular bluebird without the scream.

"Ain't this fun?" whispered Jimmy's next neighbor, taking advantage of a general burst of laughter, as the inimitable little bumboat woman advertised her wares with captivating drollery.

"Right down jolly!" answered Jimmy, feeling that a series of somersaults across the stage would be an immense relief to the pent-up emotions of his boyish soul. For under all the natural excitement of the hour deep down lay the sweet certainty that he was earning health for Kitty, and it made his heart sing for joy more blithely than any jovial chorus to which he lent his happy voice.

But his bliss was not complete till the stately Sir Joseph, K. C. B., had come aboard, followed by "his sisters and his cousins and his aunts;" for among that flock of devoted relatives in white muslin and gay ribbons was Will. Standing in the front row, her bright face was good to see, for her black eyes sparkled, every hair on her head curled its best, her cherry bows streamed in the breeze, and her feet pranced irresistibly at the lively parts of the music. She longed to dance the hornpipe which the little Quaker aunt did so capitally, but, being denied that honor, distinguished herself by the comic vigor with which she "polished up the handle of the big front door," and did the other "business" recorded by the gallant "ruler of the Queen's Navee."

She and Jimmy nodded to each other behind the Admiral's august back, and while Captain Corcoran was singing to the moon, and Buttercup suffering the pangs of "Wemorse," the young people had a gay time behind the scenes. Jimmy and Will sat upon a green baize bank to compare notes, while the relatives flew about like butterflies, and the sailors talked base-ball, jack-knives, and other congenial topics, when not envying Sir Joseph his cocked hat, and the Captain his epaulettes.

It was a very successful launch, and the merry little crew set sail with a fair wind and every prospect of a prosperous voyage. When the first performance was over, our two children left their fine feathers behind them, like Cinderella when the magic hour struck, and went gayly home, feeling much elated, for they knew they should go back to fresh triumphs, and were earning money by their voices like Jenny Lind and Mario. How they pitied other boys and girls who could not go in at that mysterious little door; how important they felt as parts of the spectacle about which every one was talking, and what millionnaires they considered themselves as they discussed their earnings and planned what to do with the prospective fortunes.

That was the beginning of many busy, happy weeks for both the children,—weeks which they long remembered with great pleasure, as did older and wiser people; for that merry, innocent little opera proved that theatres can be made the scenes of harmless amusement, and opened to a certain class of young people a new and profitable field for their talents. So popular did this small company become that the piece went on through the summer vacation, and was played in the morning as well as afternoon to satisfy the crowds who wished to see and hear it.

Never had the dear old Boston Museum, which so many of us have loved and haunted for years, seen such a pretty sight as one of those morning performances. It was the perfection of harmless merry-making, and the audience was as pleasant a spectacle as that upon the stage. Fathers and mothers stole an hour from their busy lives to come and be children with their children, irresistibly attracted and charmed by the innocent fun, the gay music that bewitched the ear one could hardly tell why, and the artless acting of those who are always playing parts, whether the nursery or the theatre is their stage.

The windows stood open, and sunshine and fresh air came in to join the revel. Babies crowed and prattled, mammas chatted together, old people found they had not forgotten how to laugh, and boys and girls rejoiced over the discovery of a new delight for holidays. It was good to be there, and in spite of all the discussion in papers and parlors, no harm came to the young mariners, but much careful training of various sorts, and well-earned wages that went into pockets which sorely needed a silver lining.


So the good ship "Pinafore" sailed and sailed for many prosperous weeks, and when at last she came into port and dropped anchor for the season she was received with a salute of general approbation for the successful engagement out of which she came with her flags flying and not one of her gallant crew killed or wounded. Well pleased with their share of the glory, officers and men went ashore to spend their prize money with true sailor generosity, all eager to ship again for another cruise in the autumn.

But long before that time Able Seaman James Nelson had sent his family into the country, mother begging Will to take good care of her dear boy till he could join them, and Kitty throwing kisses as she smiled good-by, with cheeks already the rosier for the comforts "brother" had earned for her. Jimmy would not desert his ship while she floated, but managed to speud his Sundays out of town, often taking Will with him as first mate; and, thanks to her lively tongue, friends were soon made for the new-comers. Mrs. Nelson found plenty of sewing, Kitty grew strong and well in the fine air, and the farmer with whom they lived, seeing what a handy lad the boy was, offered him work and wages for the autumn, so all could be independent and together. With this comfortable prospect before him, Jimmy sang away like a contented blackbird, never tiring of his duty, for he was a general favorite, and Kitty literally strewed his way with flowers gathered by her own grateful little hands.

When the last day came, he was in such spirits that he was found doing double-shuffles in corners, hugging the midshipmite, who was a little girl of about Kitty's age, and treating his messmates to peanuts with a lavish hand. Will had her hornpipe, also, when the curtain was down, kissed every one of the other "sisters, cousins, and aunts," and joined lustily in the rousing farewell cheers given by the crew.

A few hours later, a cheerful-looking boy might nave been seen trudging toward one of the railway-stations. A new hat, brave in blue streamers, was on his head; a red balloon struggled to escape from one hand; a shabby carpet-bag, stuffed full, was in the other; and a pair of shiny shoes creaked briskly, as if the feet inside were going on a very pleasant errand.

About this young traveller, who walked with a sailor-like roll and lurch, revolved a little girl chattering like a magpie, and occasionally breaking into song, as if she couldn't help it.

"Be sure you come next Saturday; it won't be half such fun if you don't go halves," said the boy, beaming at her as he hauled down the impatient balloon, which seemed inclined to break from its moorings

"'Yes, I know
That is so!'"

hummed the girl with a skip to starboard, that she might bear a hand with the bag. "Keep some cherries for me, and don t forget to give Kit the doll I dressed for her."

"I shouldn't have been going myself if it hadn't been for you, Will. I never shall forget that," said Jimmy, whom intense satisfaction rendered rather more sedate than his friend.

"Running away to sea is great fun,

'With a tar that ploughs the water!'"

sung Will in spite of herself.

"'And a gallant captain's daughter,'"

echoed Jimmy, smiling across the carpet-bag. Then both joined in an irrepressible chorus of "Dash it! Dash it!" as a big man nearly upset them and a dog barked madly at the balloon.

Being safely landed in the train, Jimmy hung out of the window till the last minute, discussing his new prospects with Will, who stood on tiptoe outside, bubbling over with fun.

"I'll teach you to make butter and cheese, and you shall be my dairy-woman, for I mean to be a farmer," he said, just as the bell rang.

"All right, I'd like that ever so much." And then the irrepressible madcap burst out, to the great amusement of the passengers,—

"'For you might have been a Roosian,
A Frenchman, Turk or Proosian,
Or an Ital-i-an.'"

And Jimmy could not resist shouting back, as the train began to move,—

"'But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
I'm an Amer-i-can.'"

Then he subsided, to think over the happy holiday before him and the rich cargo of comfort, independence, and pleasure he had brought home from his successful cruise in the "Pinafore."