THAT YELLOW CUCUMBER

THE second day of the journey to the new home, Marian laughed aloud.
She had slept well the night before and had taken a lively interest in
everything she saw from the time she was awakened by the first glimpse
of daylight through the sleeper windows. Not that she was happy, far
from it, but it was something that she wasn’t utterly miserable.

Uncle George was pleasanter than his wife, and although he said little
from behind his newspaper, that little was encouraging: his tones were
kind.

Ella St. Claire, the cousin, three years younger than Marian, was
inclined to be friendly. Left to themselves the children might have
had a delightful time, but Mrs. St. Claire had no intention of leaving
the two to themselves; it was not part of her plan. Marian made
several attempts to get acquainted and Ella kept edging away from her
mother, until in the middle of the forenoon, Mrs. St. Claire remarked
that if she wished to have any peace she must separate the children.
Accordingly she took Ella by the hand and went several seats back,
leaving Marian alone. As she left, Ella begged for a cooky.

“I’m hungry, too,” added Marian.

Mrs. St. Claire gave Ella the cooky and passed a bit of dry bread to
Marian.

“If you please,” suggested Marian, “I like cookies, too.”

“You will take what I give you or go without,” said Mrs. St. Claire;
“you can’t be starving after the breakfast you ate in Buffalo.”

Marian, sorry she had spoken, dropped from sight in the high-backed
seat. There was a lump in her throat and so deep a longing for the
Home she had left it was hard to keep the tears back. Just then an old
man began snoring so loud the passengers smiled and Marian laughed in
spite of herself. Having laughed once she grew more cheerful. There
were green fields and bits of woodland to be seen from the car windows,
cows, sheep, bright flowers growing along the track, country roads and
little children playing in their yards, sitting on fences and waving
their hands to the passing train. Wonderful sights for a child straight
from the Little Pilgrims’ Home in a big city.

Uncle George, growing tired of his paper, crossed the aisle and sat
down beside his niece. Marian looked up with a happy smile. “I wish the
cars would stop where the flowers grow,” she said, “I’d like to pick
some.”

“The cars will stop where the flowers grow,” answered the man. “When we
get home you will live among the flowers; Marian, will you like that?”

“Oh, goody!” the child exclaimed. “Oh, I am so glad! May I pick some
flowers?”

“Indeed you may, and we’ll go to the woods where the wild flowers are.
Were you ever in the woods?”

Marian shook her head. “I’ve been in the Public Gardens and on the
Common, though, and I know all about woods.”

“Who told you about the woods?”

“Nanna–Mrs. Moore.”

“Was she your nurse?”

“Yes, Uncle George, she was my everybody. I love her more than anybody
else in the world. She is the prettiest, nicest one in the Home.”

“See here, little girl,” interrupted the man, “will you promise me
something?”

“Why, yes, what is it?”

“I want you to do me this one favor. Don’t tell any one you were ever
in an orphan’s home.”

The child was silent. “What will I talk about?” she finally asked.

Uncle George laughed. “Take my advice and don’t say much about
anything,” was his suggestion. “You’ll find it the easiest way to get
along. But whatever you talk about, don’t mention that Home.”

Later, Aunt Amelia added a word on the same subject, but in a manner so
harsh Marian became convinced that to have lived in an orphan asylum
was a disgrace equal perhaps to a prison record. She determined never
to mention the Home for Little Pilgrims. Janey Clark must have known
what she was talking about and even Mrs. Moore, when questioned, had
admitted that if she had a little girl it would make her feel sad to
know she lived in a Home. Before the journey was ended Marian was
thankful that relatives had claimed her. Perhaps if she tried hard, she
might be able to win Aunt Amelia’s love. She would be a good little
girl and do her best.

One thing Marian learned before she had lived ten days with Aunt
Amelia. The part of the house where she was welcome was the outside.
Fortunately it was summer and the new home was in a country town where
streets were wide and the yards were large. Back of Aunt Amelia’s
garden was an orchard, and there or in the locust grove near by, Marian
passed untroubled hours. The front lawn, bordered with shrubs and
flower beds, was pleasing enough, but it wasn’t the place for Marian
who was not allowed to pick a blossom, although the pansies begged for
more chance to bloom. She could look at the pansies though, and feel
of the roses if Aunt Amelia was out of sight. How Marian loved the
roses–especially the velvety pink ones. She told them how much she
loved them, and if the roses made no response to the endearing terms
lavished upon them, at least they never turned away, nor said unkind,
hard things to make her cry and long for Mrs. Moore.

When Marian had been with the St. Claires a week, Aunt Amelia told her
she could never hope to hear from Mrs. Moore, partly because Mrs. Moore
didn’t know where she lived, and also because Mrs. Moore would gladly
forget such a bad tempered, ungrateful little girl.

The pink roses under the blue sky were a comfort then. So were the
birds. Day after day Marian gave them messages to carry to Mrs. Moore.
She talked to them in the orchard and in the locust grove, and many
a wild bird listened, with its head on one side, to the loving words
of the little girl and then flew straight away over the tree-tops
and the house-tops, away and away out of sight. Several weeks passed
before Marian knew that she might pick dandelions and clover blossoms,
Bouncing Bet and all the roadside blooms, to her heart’s content. That
was joy!

Under a wide-spreading apple-tree, Marian made a collection of
treasures she found in the yard. Curious stones were chief among them.
Bits of moss, pretty twigs, bright leaves, broken china, colored
glass–there was no end to the resources of that yard. One morning she
found a fragile cup of blue. It looked like a tiny bit of painted egg
shell, but how could an egg be so small, and who could have painted it?
She carried the wonder to Uncle George who told her it was part of a
robin’s egg.

“Who ate it?” asked Marian, whereupon Uncle George explained to her
what the merest babies knew in the world outside the city. More than
that, he went to the orchard, found a robin’s nest on the low branch of
an apple-tree, and lifted her on his shoulder so that she might see it.
There were four blue eggs in the nest. Marian wanted to break them to
see the baby birds inside, but Uncle George cautioned her to wait and
let the mother bird take care of her own round cradle.

In the meantime Madam Robin scolded Uncle George and Marian until they
left the tree to watch her from a distance. That robin’s nest filled
Marian’s every thought for days and days. When the baby birds were
hatched she was so anxious to see them oftener than Uncle George had
time to lift her on his shoulder, she learned to climb the tree. After
that Marian was oftener in the apple-trees than under them. Had there
been no rainy days and had the summer lasted all the year, Marian would
have been a fortunate child. Aunt Amelia called her a tomboy and said
no one would ever catch Ella St. Claire climbing trees and running like
a wild child across the yard and through the locust grove.

The two children admired each other. Had it been possible they would
have played together all the time. Marian, who became a sun-browned
romp, thought there never was such a dainty creature as her delicate,
white-skinned cousin Ella, whose long black curls were never tumbled
by the wind or play: and Ella never missed a chance to talk with her
laughing, joyous cousin, who could always think of something new.

Aunt Amelia said that Ella wasn’t the same child when she was left
with Marian for half an hour, and she could not allow the children to
play together for her little daughter’s sake. It was her duty as a
mother to guard that little daughter from harmful influences.

This was the talk to which Marian listened day after day. It grieved
her to the quick. Again and again, especially on rainy days, she
promised Aunt Amelia that she would be good, and each time Aunt Amelia
sent her to her room to think over the bad things she had done and what
an ungrateful child she was. Although Marian became convinced that she
was a bad child, she couldn’t sit down and think of her sins long at a
time, and her penitent spells usually ended in a concert. Uncle George
took her to one early in the summer, and ever after, playing concert
was one of Marian’s favorite games. She had committed “Bingen on the
Rhine” to memory from hearing it often read in school at the Home, and
on rainy days when sent to her room, she chanted it, wailed it and
recited it until poor Ella was unhappy and discontented because she
could have no part in the fun.

Ella had a toy piano kept as an ornament. Marian’s piano was a chair,
her stool was a box and her sheet music, an almanac: but in her soul
was joy.

“What can you do with such a child?” demanded Aunt Amelia.

“Let her alone,” counseled Uncle George.

ONE summer day the St. Claires were the guests of a farmer who lived a
few miles from town. Ella stayed in the house with her mother and the
farmer’s wife, but Marian saw the farm; the cows and the sheep and the
fields of grain. She asked more questions that day than the hired man
ever answered at one time in his life before, and when night came he
and Marian were tired.

“She knows as much about farming as I do,” the man said with a laugh
as he put the sleepy child on the back seat of the carriage when the
family were ready to go home.

“I’ve had a lovely time, Mr. Hired Man,” Marian roused herself to
remark, “and to-morrow I’m going to play farm.”

“Good haying weather,” the man suggested with a smile; “better get your
barns up quick’s you can.”

“I’m going to,” was the response; “it’s a lovely game.”

Whatever Marian saw or heard that pleased her fancy, she played.
Stories that were read to the little Ella were enacted again and again
in Marian’s room if the day was rainy, out in the orchard or the locust
grove if the day was fair. Farming promised to be the most interesting
game of all.

Early the next morning Marian visited what she called the yarrow jungle
ever since Uncle George read jungle stories to Ella. More than one
queer looking creature tried to keep out of sight when her footsteps
were heard. The old black beetle scampered away as fast as his six legs
would carry him, though it can’t be possible he remembered the time
when Marian captured him for her museum. Crickets gathered up their
fiddles, seeking safety beyond the fence. Perhaps they thought Marian
wanted them to play in the orchestra at another snail wedding. Even the
ants hastened to the hills beyond the jungle, leaving only the old toad
to wink and blink at the happy one of whom he had no fear.

“Well, Mr. Toad,” said she, “why don’t you hop along? I’ve come to
make my farm out here where the yarrow grows. Why don’t you live in
the garden land? I would if I were you. Don’t you know about the cool
tomato groves and the cabbage tents? I’ve got to clear away this jungle
so the sun may shine upon my farm the way the country man said. You
really must go, so hop along and stop winking and blinking at me.” The
old toad wouldn’t stir, so for his sake Marian spared the yarrow jungle.

“After all, I’ll make my farm here on the border-land,” said she, while
the daisies nodded and the buttercups shone brighter than before.
“Only, I’ll tell you one thing, Mr. Toad, that maybe you won’t like.
If you will stay there, you’ll have to be an elephant in the jungle.
There, now, I s’pose you are sorry. I say–be an elephant and now you
are one.” The toad didn’t mind a bit. He was so used to being changed
into all sorts of animals that he never seemed to notice whether he was
an elephant or a kangaroo.

Day after day Marian worked upon her farm, enclosing fields and
meadows with high stone walls, clearing roads and planting trees.
Whatever she touched became what she wished it to be. Pasteboard
match-boxes became houses and barns. Sticks became men working upon
the farm and spools were wagons bearing loads of hay from place to
place. At a word from her, green apples, standing upon four twigs, were
instantly changed, becoming pigs, cows, sheep and horses. Kernels of
yellow corn were chickens. It was a wonderful farm and for many a sunny
hour Marian was happy. Even the old toad, winking and blinking beneath
the shadow of the yarrow jungle, must have known it.

At last there came a morning when the child went strolling through the
garden. Suddenly, while singing her usual merry song, the joyous look
faded from her face. She no longer saw the butterflies floating about
nor cared that the bumble-bee wore his best velvet coat. There were
tiny green cucumbers in that garden, just the right size for horses on
the little girl’s farm. There were a great many cucumbers, so many that
Marian felt sure no one would ever miss a few. She picked a handful
and knew that she was stealing. The sun went under a cloud. A blue jay
mocked at her and a wren scolded. Though far from happy, Marian hurried
away to her farm. The old toad saw her sticking twigs in the cucumbers.
Then she placed them in a row.

“Now be animals!” she commanded, but the spell was broken–she was no
longer a farmer with magic power, but a pink-faced little girl who had
done what she knew was wrong. And the cucumbers refused to be anything
but cucumbers.

Again the little girl went to the garden, returning with one big yellow
cucumber that had gone to seed. “Now I guess I’ll have a cucumber
animal,” she said, in tones so cross the daisies seemed to tremble.
“You bad old cucumber, you’re no good anyway, nobody could eat you, nor
make a pickle of you, so you may just turn yourself into a giant cow
right off this minute! There you are, standing on four sticks. Now be a
cow, I say.”

The old cucumber wouldn’t be a cow. There it stood, big and yellow,
spoiling the looks of the farm.

“What’s the matter with you, old toad?” went on the little girl. “I
tell you that’s a cow, and if you don’t believe it you can just get
off my farm quick’s you can hop. You’re homely anyway, and you turned
yourself back into a toad when I said be an elephant.”

How surprised the toad was when the little girl took a stick and poked
him along ahead of her. The poor old fellow had never been treated like
that in his life. When he reached the garden he hid beneath the nearest
cabbage plant. The little girl went on but came back in a short time
with her apron full of cucumbers.

“I guess I’ll sit down here and put the sticks in them,” she said:
but instead of touching the cucumbers the child sat on the ground
beside the toad forever so long, looking cross, oh, so cross. The toad
kept perfectly still and by and by he and the little girl heard a man
whistling. In a few minutes there was a long whistle and then no sound
in the jungle save the buzzing of flies and the chirping of birds. The
little girl was afraid of her uncle who had been her one friend in that
land of strangers. Soon she heard them calling and with her apron full
of cucumbers, Marian rose to meet him.

It may be that the old toad, as he hopped back to the yarrow jungle,
thought that he should never again see the little girl: but the next
morning in the midst of brightest sunshine, Marian returned, her
head drooping. With her little feet she destroyed the farm and then,
throwing herself face downward among the ruins, wept bitterly. When she
raised her head the old toad was staring solemnly at her, causing fresh
tears to overflow upon the round cheeks.

“Don’t look at me, toad, nobody does,” she wailed. “I’m dreadfully bad
and it doesn’t do a bit of good to be sorry. Nobody loves me and nobody
ever will. Aunt Amelia says that Nanna wouldn’t love me now. Uncle
George doesn’t love me, he says he’s disappointed in me! Oh, dear, oh,
dear! Nobody in this world loves me, toad, and oh, dear, I’ve got to
eat all alone in the kitchen for two weeks, and even the housemaid
doesn’t love me and can’t talk to me! Oh, dear, what made me do it!”

What could an old toad do but hide in the yarrow jungle: yet when he
turned away Marian felt utterly deserted. It was dreadful to be so bad
that even a toad wouldn’t look at her.