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Toto's Merry Winter

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards

  Produced by Suzanne Shell, Emmy and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at (This file wasproduced from images generously made available by TheInternet Archive/American Libraries.)








  _Copyright, 1887_, BY ROBERTS BROTHERS.



  The Blind Children of the Perkins Institution,







  IT was evening,--a good, old-fashioned winter evening, cold without,warm and merry within. The snow was falling lightly, softly, with nogusts of wind to trouble it and send it whirling and drifting hither andthither. It covered the roof with a smooth white counterpane, tucking itin neatly and carefully round the edges; it put a tall conical cap ontop of the pump, and laid an ermine fold over his long and impressivenose. Myriads of curious little flakes pattered softly--oh! verysoftly--against the windows of the cottage, pressing against the glassto see what was going on inside, and saying, "Let us in! let us in!please do!" But nobody seemed inclined to let them in, so they wereforced to content themselves with looking.

  Indeed, the aspect of the kitchen was very inviting, and it is no wonderthat the little cold flakes wanted to get in. A great fire was cracklingand leaping on the hearth. The whole room seemed to glow and glitter:brass saucepans, tin platters, glass window-panes, all cast their verybrightest glances toward the fire, to show him that they appreciated hisefforts. Over this famous fire, in the very midst of the dancing,flickering tongues of yellow flame, hung a great black soup-kettle,which was almost boiling over with a sense of its own importance, and akindly consciousness of the good things cooking inside it.

  "Bubble! b-r-r-r-r! bubble! hubble!" said the black kettle, with a fatand spluttering enunciation.

  "Bubble, hubble! b-r-r-r-r-r-r! bubble! Lots of fun, and very little trouble!"

  On the hob beside the fire sat the tea-kettle, a brilliant contrast toits sooty neighbor. It was of copper, so brightly burnished that itshone like the good red gold. The tea-kettle did not bubble,--itconsidered bubbling rather vulgar; but it was singing very merrily, in aclear pleasant voice, and pouring out volumes of steam from its slendercopper nose. "I am doing all I can to make myself agreeable!" thetea-kettle said to itself. "I am boiling just right,--hard enough tomake a good cheerful noise, and not so hard as to boil all the wateraway. And _why_ that beast should sit and glower at me there as he isdoing, is more than I can understand."

  "That beast" was a raccoon. I think some of you children may have seenhim before. He was sitting in front of the fire, with his beautiful tailcurled comfortably about his toes; and he certainly _was_ staring veryhard at the tea-kettle. Presently the kettle, in pure playfulness andgood-will, lifted its cover a little and let out an extra puff of snowysteam; and at that the raccoon gave a jump, and moved farther away fromthe fire, without ever taking his eyes off the kettle.

  The fact is, that for the first time in his life the raccoon knew what_fear_ was. He was afraid--mortally afraid--of that tea-kettle.

  "Don't tell me!" he had said to Toto, only the day before, "don't tell_me_ it isn't alive! It breathes, and it talks, and it moves, and ifthat isn't being alive I don't know what is."

  "Coon, how utterly absurd you are!" cried Toto, laughing. "It _doesn't_move, except when some one takes it up, of course, or tilts it on thehob."

  "Toto," said the raccoon, speaking slowly and impressively, "as sure asyou are a living boy, I saw that kettle take off the top of its head andlook out of its own inside, only last night. And before that," he added,looking rather shamefaced, "I--I just put my paw in to see what therewas inside, and the creature caught it and took all the skin off."

  But here Toto burst into a fit of laughter, and said, "Served youright!" which was so rude that the raccoon went off and sat under thetable, in a huff.

  So this time, when the kettle took off the top of its head, Coon did notrun out into the shed, as he had done before, because he was ashamedwhen he remembered Toto's laughter. He only moved away a little, andlooked and felt thoroughly uncomfortable.

  But now steps were heard outside. The latch clicked, the door opened,and Toto and Bruin entered, each carrying a foaming pail of milk. Theybrushed the snow from their coats, and Toto took off his, which the goodbear could not well do; then, when they had carried their milk-pailsinto the dairy, they came and sat down by the fire, with an air of beingready to enjoy themselves. The raccoon winked at them by way ofgreeting, but did not speak.

  "Well, Coon," said Bruin, in his deep bass voice, "what have you beendoing all the afternoon? Putting your tail in curl-papers, eh?"

  "Not at all," replied the raccoon with dignity, "I have been sweepingthe hearth; sweeping it," he added, with a majestic curl of his tail,"in a manner which _some_ people [here he glanced superciliously at thebear] could hardly manage."

  "I am sure," said the boy Toto, holding out his hands toward the ruddyfire-blaze, "it is a blessing that Bruin has no tail. Just fancy how hewould go knocking things about! Why, it would be two yards long, if itwere in the same proportion as yours, Coon!"

  "Hah!" said the raccoon, yawning, "very likely. And what have you twobeen doing, pray, since dinner?"

  "I have been splitting kindling-wood," said Toto, "and building a snowfort, and snowballing Bruin. And he has--"

  "I have been talking to the pig," said Bruin, very gravely. "The pig.Yes. He is a very singular animal, that pig. Is it true," he added,turning to Toto, "that he has never left that place, that sty, since hewas born?"

  "Never, except to go into the yard by the cow-shed," said Toto. "His styopens into the yard, you know. But I don't think he cares to go outoften."

  "That is what he said," rejoined the bear. "That is what struck me as sovery strange. He said he never went out, from one winter to another. Andwhen I asked why, he snorted, and said, 'For fear the wind should blowmy bristles off.' Said it in a very rude way, you know. I don't thinkhis manners are good. I shall not go to see him again, except in the wayof taking his food to him. But here we sit, talking," continued thebear, rising, "when we ought to be getting supper. Come! come! you lazyfellows, and help me set the table."

  With this, the good bear proceeded to tie a huge white apron round hisgreat black, shaggy body, and began to poke the fire, and to stir thecontents of the soup-kettle with a long wooden spoon,--all with a veryknowing air, as if he had done nothing but cook all his life. Meanwhile,the raccoon and Toto spread a clean cloth on the table, and set outcups and plates, a huge brown bowl for the bear, a smaller one for theraccoon, etc. Bread and milk, and honey and baked apples came next; thesoup-kettle yielded up a most savory stew, made of everything good, andonions besides; and finally, when all was ready, Toto ran and knocked atthe door of his grandmother's room, crying, "Granny, dear! supper isready, and we are only waiting for you."

  The door opened, and the blind grandmother came out, with the littlesquirrel perched on her shoulder.

  "Good evening to you all!" she said, with her sweet smile and her prettylittle old-fashioned courtesy. "We have been taking a nap, Cracker andI, and we feel quite refreshed and ready for the evening."

  The grandmother looked ten years younger, Toto was
constantly tellingher, than she did the year before; and, indeed, it was many years sinceshe had had such a pleasant, easy life. Helpful as Toto had always beento her, still, he was only a little boy, though a very good one; and byfar the larger share of work had fallen to the old lady herself. But nowthere were willing hands--paws, I should say--to help her at every turn.The bear washed and cooked, churned and scrubbed, with never-tiringenergy and good-will. The raccoon worked very hard indeed: he said so,and nobody took the trouble to contradict him. He swept the kitchenoccasionally, and did a good deal of graceful and genteel dusting withhis long bushy tail, and tasted all the food that Bruin cooked, to seeif it had the proper flavor. Besides these heavy duties, he caught rats,teased the cow, pulled the parrot's tail whenever he got a chance, and,as he expressed it, "tried to make things pleasant generally." Thelittle squirrel had constituted himself a special attendant on "Madam,"as the forest-friends all called the grandmother. He picked up her ballof yarn when it rolled off her lap, as it was constantly doing. Hecracked nuts for her, brought her the spices and things when she madeher famous gingerbread, and went to sleep in her ample pocket when hehad nothing else to do. As for the wood-pigeon and the parrot, they werehappy and contented, each in her own way, each on her own comfortableperch, at her own window.

  Thus had all Toto's summer playmates become winter friends, fast andtrue; and it would be difficult to find a happier party than that whichgathered round the bright fire, on this and every other evening, whenthe tea-things were put away, the hearth newly swept, and a greattin-pan full of nuts and apples placed on the clean hearth-stone. Onlyone of the animals whom you remember in Toto's summer story was missingfrom the circle; that was the woodchuck. But he was not very far off. Ifyou had looked into a certain little cupboard near the fireplace,--aquaint little cupboard, in which lived three blue ginger-jars and agreat pewter tankard,--you would have seen, lying in the warmest corner,next the fireplace, something which looked at first sight like a largeknitted ball of red yarn. On looking closer, you would have seen thatit was a ball of brown fur, enclosed in a knitted covering. If you hadtaken off the covering and unrolled the ball, you would have found thatit was a woodchuck, sound asleep.

  Poor Chucky had found it quite impossible to accept the new arrangement.He had always been in the habit of sleeping all through the winter; andwhile the other animals had succeeded, after a long time, in conqueringtheir sleepiness (though it was still a very common thing to find Bruinasleep over the churn, and Coon had a way of creeping into Toto's bed atodd times during the day), the woodchuck had succumbed entirely afterthe first week, and had now been asleep for a couple of months. Atfirst, after he had dropped into his long slumber, the bear and theraccoon had played ball with him a good deal, tossing him about withgreat agility. But one day the living ball had fallen into thesoup-kettle, where the water was so hot as to elicit a miserable sleepysqueak from the victim, and the grandmother had promptly forbidden thegame. It was then that she knit the red-worsted cover for poor Chucky,for she said she could not bear to think of his sleeping all winter withnothing over him; and she put him away in the cupboard by the fireplace,and wished him pleasant dreams as she closed the door. So there thewoodchuck lay, warm and comfortable, but too sound asleep to knowanything about it. And the three blue ginger-jars and the pewter tankardkept watch over him, though they had their own ideas about this strangerhaving been popped in among them without so much as saying, "By yourleave!"

  As I was saying, it was a happy party that sit around the blazing fire.The grandmother in her high-backed armchair, knitting in hand; Totositting Turk-fashion on the hearth-rug, his curly head resting on theshaggy coat of the bear, who sat solemnly on his haunches, blinking withsober pleasure at the fire; the raccoon on a low hassock, which was hisfavorite seat in the evening, as it showed off his tail to greatadvantage; the parrot and the wood-pigeon perched on the highchair-back, and standing on one leg or two, as they felt inclined.

  "Ah!" exclaimed the little squirrel, who had stationed himself on thetop of Bruin's head, as a convenient and suitable place, "Ah! now thisis what _I_ call comfort. Snowing fast outside, is isn't it, Bruin?"

  "Yes!" replied the bear.

  "That makes it all the more jolly inside!" said the squirrel. "What arewe to do this evening? Is it a story evening, or dancing-school andgames?"

  "We had dancing-school last night," said the bear. "I haven't got overit yet. I backed into the fire twice in 'forward and back, and crossover.' Let us have a story to-night."

  "Yes!" said the grandmother. "It is just the night for a story; and ifyou wish it, I will tell you one myself."

  "Oh! please, Madam!" "Thank you, Madam!" "Hurrah! Granny!" resounded onall sides, for the grandmother's stories were very popular; so, settlingherself back in her chair, and beginning a new row in her knitting, thegood woman said:--

  "This story was told to me by my own grandmother. A story that has beentold by two grandmothers in succession is supposed to be always true;you may therefore believe as much of this as you like."

  And without further preface, she began as follows:--