Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag, Volume 5/Chapter 2
THE first of these true histories is about Annie Percival,—a very dear and lovely child, whose journey interested many other children, and is still remembered with gratitude by those whom she visited on a far-off island.
Annie was six when she sailed away to Fayal with her mother, grandmamma, and "little Aunt Ruth," as she called the young aunty who was still a school girl. Very cunning was Annie's outfit, and her little trunk was a pretty as well as a curious sight, for everything was so small and complete it looked as if a doll was setting off for Europe. Such a wee dressing-case, with bits of combs and brushes for the curly head; such a cosey scarlet wrapper for the small woman to wear in her berth, with slippers to match when she trotted from state-room to state room ; such piles of tiny garments laid nicely in, and the owner's initials on the outside of the trunk; not to mention the key on a ribbon in her pocket, as grown up as you please.
I think the sight of that earnest, sunshiny face must have been very pleasant to all on board, no matter how seasick they might be, and the sound of the cheery little voice, as sweet as the chirp of a bird, especially when she sung the funny song about the "Owl and the pussy-cat in the pea-green boat," for she had charming ways, and was always making quaint, wise, or loving remarks.
Well, "they sailed and they sailed," and came at last to Fayal, where everything was so new and strange that Annie's big brown eyes could hardly spare time to sleep, so busy were they looking about. The donkeys amused her very much, so did the queer language and ways of the Portuguese people round her, especially the very droll names given to the hens of a young friend. The biddies seemed to speak the same dialect as at home, but evidently they understood Spanish also, and knew their own names, so it was fun to go and call Rio, Pico, Cappy, Clarissa, Whorfie, and poor Simonena, whose breastbone grew out so that she could not eat and had to be killed.
But the thing which made the deepest impression on Annie was a visit to a charity-school at the old convent of San Antonio. It was kept by some kind ladies, and twenty-five girls were taught and cared for in the big, bare place, that looked rather gloomy and forlorn to people from happy Boston, where charitable institutions are on a noble scale, as everybody knows.
Annie watched all that went on with intelligent interest, and when they were shown into the play room she was much amazed and afflicted to find that the children had nothing to play with but a heap of rags, out of which they made queer dolls, with ravelled twine for hair, faces rudely drawn on the cloth, and funny boots on the shapeless legs. No other toys appeared, but the girls sat on the floor of the great stone room,—for there was no furniture,—playing contentedly with their poor dolls, and smiling and nodding at "the little Americana," who gravely regarded this sad spectacle, wondering how they could get on without china and waxen babies, tea-sets, and pretty chairs and tables to keep house with.
The girls thought that she envied them their dolls, and presently one came shyly up to offer two of their best, leaving the teacher to explain in English their wish to be polite to their distinguished guest. Like the little gentlewoman she was, Annie graciously accepted the ugly bits of rag with answering nods and smiles, and carried them away with her as carefully as if they were of great beauty and value.
But when she was at home she expressed much concern and distress at the destitute condition of the children. Nothing but rags to play with seemed a peculiarly touching state of poverty to her childish mind, and being a generous creature she yearned to give of her abundance to "all the poor orphans who didn't have any nice dollies." She had several pets of her own, but not enough to go round even if she sacrificed them, so kind grandmamma, who had been doing things of this sort all her life, relieved the child s perplexity by promising to send twenty-five fine dolls to Fayal as soon as the party returned to Boston, where these necessaries of child-life are cheap and plenty.
Thus comforted, Annie felt that she could enjoy her dear Horta and Chica Pico Fatiera, particular darlings rechristened since her arrival. A bundle of gay bits of silk, cloth, and flannel, and a present of money for books, were sent out to the convent by the ladies. A treat of little cheeses for the girls to eat with their dry bread was added, much to Annie's satisfaction, and helped to keep alive her interest in the school of San Antonio.
After many pleasant adventures during the six months spent in the city, our party came sailing home again all the better for the trip, and Annie so full of tales to tell that it was a never-failing source of amusement to hear her hold forth to her younger brother in her pretty way, "splaining and 'scribing all about it."
Grandmamma's promise was faithfully kept, and Annie brooded blissfully over the twenty-five dolls till they were dressed, packed, and sent away to Fayal. A letter of thanks soon came back from the teacher, telling how surprised and delighted the girls were, and how they talked of Annie as if she were a sort of fairy princess who in return for two poor rag-babies sent a miraculous shower of splendid china ladies with gay gowns and smiling faces.
This childish charity was made memorable to all who knew of it by the fact that three months after she came home from that happy voyage Annie took the one from which there is no return. For this journey there was needed no preparation but a little white gown, a coverlet of flowers, and the casket where the treasure of many hearts was tenderly laid away. All alone, but not afraid, little Annie crossed the unknown sea that rolls between our world and the Islands of the Blest, to be welcomed there, I am sure, by spirits as innocent as her own, leaving behind her a very precious memory of her budding virtues and the relics of a short, sweet life.
Every one mourned for her, and all her small treasures were so carefully kept that they still exist. Poor Horta, in the pincushion arm-chair, seems waiting patiently for the little mamma to come again; the two rag-dolls lie side by side in grandma's scrap-book, since there is now no happy voice to wake them into life; and far away in the convent of San Antonio the orphans carefully keep their pretty gifts in memory of the sweet giver. To them she is a saint now, not a fairy princess; for when they heard of her death they asked if they might pray for the soul of the dear little Americana, and the teacher said, "Pray rather for the poor mother who has lost so much." So the grateful orphans prayed and the mother was comforted, for now another little daughter lies in her arms and kisses away the lonely pain at her heart.
The second small traveller I want to tell about lived in the same city as the first, and her name was Maggie Woods. Her father was an Englishman who came to America to try his fortune, but did not find it; for, when Maggie was three months old, the great Chicago fire destroyed their home; soon after, the mother died; then the father was drowned, and Maggie was left all alone in a strange country. She had a good aunt in England, however, who took great pains to discover the child after the death of the parents, and sent for her to come home and be cared for. It was no easy matter to get a five-years' child across the Atlantic, for the aunt could not come to fetch her, and no one whom she knew was going over. But Maggie had found friends in Chicago; the American consul at Manchester was interested in the case, and every one was glad to help the forlorn baby, who was too young to understand the pathos of her story.
After letters had gone to and fro, it was decided to send the child to England in charge of the captain of a steamer, trusting to the kindness of all fellow-travellers to help her on her way.
The friends in Chicago bestirred themselves to get her ready, and then it was that Annie's mother found that she could do something which would have delighted her darling, had she been here to know of it. Laid tenderly away were many small garments belonging to the other little pilgrim, whose journeying was so soon ended; and from among all these precious things Mrs. Percival carefully chose a comfortable outfit for that cold March voyage.
The little gray gown went, and the red hood, the warm socks, and the cosey wraps no longer needed by the quiet sleeper under the snow. Perhaps something of her loving nature lingered about the clothes, and helped to keep the orphan warm and safe, for Annie's great delight was to pet and help all who needed comfort and protection.
When all was ready, Maggie's small effects were packed in a light basket, so that she could carry it herself if need be. A card briefly telling the story was fastened on the corner, and a similar paper recommending her to the protection of all kind people, was sewed to the bosom of her frock. Then, not in the least realizing what lay before her, the child was consigned to the conductor of the train to be forwarded to persons in New York who would see her safely on board the steamer.
I should dearly like to have seen the little maid and the big basket as they set out on that long trip as tranquilly as if for a day s visit; and it is a comfort to know that before the train started, the persons who took her there had interested a motherly lady in the young traveller, who promised to watch over her while their ways were the same.
All went well, and Maggie was safely delivered to the New York friends, who forwarded her to the steamer, well supplied with toys and comforts for the voyage, and placed in charge of captain and stewardess. She sailed on the 3d of March, and on the 12th landed at Liverpool, after a pleasant trip, during which she was the pet of all on board.
The aunt welcomed her joyfully, and the same day the child reached her new home, the Commercial Inn, Compstall, after a journey of over four thousand miles. The consul and owners of the steamer wanted to see the adventurous young lady who had come so far alone, and neighbors and strangers made quite a lion of her, for all kindly hearts were interested, and the protective charity which had guided and guarded her in two hemispheres and across the wide sea, made all men fathers, all women mothers, to the little one till she was safe.
Her picture lies before me as I write,—a pretty child standing in a chair, with a basket of toys on the table before her; curly hair pushed back from the face, pensive eyes, and a pair of stout little feet crossed one over the other as if glad to rest. I wish I could put the photograph into the story, because the small heroine is an interesting one, and still lives with the good aunt, who is very fond and proud of her, and writes pleasant accounts of her progress to the friends in America.
So ends the journey of my second small traveller, and when I think of her safe and happy in a good home, I always fancy that (if such things may be) in the land which is lovelier than even beautiful old England, Maggie's mother watches over little Annie.