Toby by Mary E. Wilkins
Aunt Malvina was sitting at the window watching for a
horse-car which she wanted to take. Uncle Jack was near
the register in a comfortable easy chair, his feet on an
embroidered foot-rest, and Letitia, just as close to him
as she could get her little rocking-chair, was sewing
her square of patchwork "over and over." Letitia had to
sew a square of patchwork "over and over" every day.
Aunt Malvina, who was not uncle Jack's wife, as one
might suspect, but his elder sister, was a very small,
frisky little lady, with a thin, rosy face, and a little
bobbing bunch of gray curls on each side of it. She
talked very fast, and she talked all the time, so she
accomplished a vast deal of talking in the course of a
day, and the people she happened to be with did a vast
deal of listening.
She was talking now, and uncle Jack was listening,
with his head leaning comfortably against a pretty tidy
all over daisies in Kensington work, and so was Letitia,
taking cautious little stitches in her patchwork.
"Mrs. Welcome," aunt Malvina had just remarked, "has
got a little colored boy as black as Toby to wait on
Letitia opened her sober, light gray eyes very wide,
and stared reflectively at aunt Malvina.
"It was dark as Pokonoket when we came out of church
last night," said aunt Malvina after a time, in the
course of conversation.
Letitia stared reflectively at her again.
"There's my car coming around the corner!" cried aunt
Malvina, and ran friskily out of the room. Just outside
the door she turned and thrust her face, with the little
gray curls dancing around it, in again for a last word.
"O, Jack!" cried she, "I hear that Edward Simonds'
eldest son is as crazy as a loon!"
"Yes; isn't it dreadful? Good-by!" Aunt Malvina
frisked airily downstairs, and out on the street, barely
in time to secure her car.
When Letitia heard the front door close after her,
she quilted her needle carefully into her square, then
she folded the patchwork up neatly, rose, and laid it
together with her thimble, scissors, and cotton, in her
little rocking-chair. Then she went and stood still
before uncle Jack, with her arms folded. It was a way
she had when she wanted information. People rather
smiled to see Letitia sometimes, but uncle Jack had
always encouraged her in it; he said it was quaint.
Letitia's face was very sober, and very innocent, and
very round, and her hair was very long and light, and
hung in two smooth braids, with a neat blue bow on the
end of each, down her back.
LETITIA STOOD BEFORE UNCLE JACK.
Uncle Jack gazed inquiringly at her through his
half-closed eyes. "What is it, Letitia?"
"Aunt Malvina said 'as black as Toby,'" said Letitia
with a look half of inquiry, half of anxious
abstraction. What Letitia could find out herself she
never asked other people.
"Yes; I know she did," replied uncle Jack.
"Then she said, 'Dark as Pokonoket.'"
"Yes; she said that too."
"And then she said, 'Crazy as a loon.'"
"Yes; she did."
"Uncle Jack, what is Toby, and what is Pokonoket, and
what is a loon?"
"Toby," said uncle Jack slowly and impressively,
"lives in Pokonoket, and keeps a loon."
"Oh!" said Letitia, in a tone which implied that she
was both relieved and amazed at her own stupidity.
"Yes; perhaps you would like to hear something more
particular about Toby—how he got married, for instance?"
"I should, very much indeed," replied Letitia gravely
"Well, you had better sit down; it will take a few
minutes to tell it."
Letitia carefully took her patchwork, her thimble,
her spool of cotton, and her scissors out of her little
rocking-chair and laid them on the table; then she sat
down, and crossed her hands in her lap.
"Now, if you are ready," said uncle Jack, laughing a
little to himself as he looked down at her. Then he
related as follows: "Toby is a little black fellow, not
much taller than you are, and he lives in Pokonoket, and
keeps a loon. Toby's hair is very short and kinky, and
his mouth is wide, and always curves up a little at the
corners, as if he were laughing; his eyes are
astonishingly bright; but all the people's eyes are
bright in Pokonoket.
"Pokonoket is a very dark country. It always was
dark. The most ancient historians make no mention of its
ever being light in Pokonoket.
"The cause of the darkness has never been exactly
understood. Philosophers and men of science have worked
very hard over it, but all the conclusion they have been
able to arrive at is, it must be due to fog, or smoke,
or atmospheric phenomena. The most celebrated of them
are in favor of atmospheric phenomena, and they are
"The houses are always furnished with lamps, of
course, and everybody carries a lantern. No one dreams
of stirring out in Pokonoket without a lantern. The men
go to their work with lanterns, the ladies take theirs
when they go out shopping, and all the children have
their little lanterns to carry to school.
SCHOOL CHILDREN IN POKONOKET.
"On account of the darkness, there are some very
curious customs in Pokonoket. One is, all the
inhabitants are required by law to wear squeaky shoes.
Whenever anybody's shoes don't squeak according to the
prescribed standard he is fined, and sometimes even
imprisoned, if he persists in his offense. A great many
sad accidents are prevented by this custom. People hear
each other's shoes squeaking in the darkness at quite a
distance, and don't run into each other. Pokonoket
shoemakers make a specialty of squeaky shoes, and the
squeakier they are, the higher prices they bring; they
can even put in new squeaks when the old ones are worn
out. It is a very common thing to see a Pokonoket man
with his little boy's shoes under his arm, carrying them
to a shoemaker to get them re-squeaked.
"Another funny custom is the wearing of
phosphorescent buttons. Everybody, men, women and
children, are required to wear phosphorescent buttons on
their outside garments. They are quite large—about the
size of an old-fashioned cent—and there are, generally,
two rows of them down the front of a garment. It is
rather a frightful sight to see a person with
phosphorescent buttons on his coat advancing toward one
in the dark, till you are accustomed to it; he looks as
if he had two rows of enormous eyes.
"Then, when the weather is stormy, everybody has to
carry an umbrella with his name on it in phosphorescent
letters. In this way, nobody's eyes are put out, and no
umbrellas are lost. Otherwise, umbrellas would get so
hopelessly mixed up in a dark country like Pokonoket
that it would require a special sitting of Parliament to
sort them out again.
"It may seem rather odd that they should, but the
inhabitants of Pokonoket are, as a general thing, very
much attached to their country, and could not be hired
to leave it for any other. It is a very peaceful place.
There are no jails, and no criminals are executed in its
bounds. If occasionally a person commits a crime that
would merit such extreme punishment, he puts out his
lantern, and rips off his phosphorescent buttons, and
nobody can find him to punish.
"But commonly, folks in Pokonoket do not commit great
crimes, and are a very peaceful, industrious and happy
"They have never had any wars amongst themselves, and
their country has never been invaded by a foreign foe;
all that they ever have had to seriously threaten their
peace and safety was the Ogress.
"A terrible ogress once lived in Pokonoket, and
devoured everybody she could catch. Nobody knew when his
life was safe, and the worst of it was, they did not
know where she lived, or they would have gone in a body
and disposed of her. She had a habitation somewhere in
the darkness, but nobody knew where—it might be right in
their midst. There are a great many inconveniences about
a dark country.
POKONOKET IN STORMY WEATHER.
"Well, Toby who kept the loon, lived in a little hut
on one of the principal streets. He was a widower, and
lived with his six grandchildren who were all quite
small and went to school. They were his daughter's
children. She had died a few years before of a disease
quite common in Pokonoket, and almost always fatal. It
had a long name which the doctors had given it, which
really meant, 'wanting light.'
"Toby was rather feeble and rheumatic, and it was
about all he could do to knit stockings for his
grandchildren, and make soup for their dinner. Almost
all day, except when he was stirring the soup, which he
made in a great kettle set into a brick oven, he was
sitting on a little stool in his doorway, knitting, and
the loon sat on a perch at his right hand. The loon who
was a very large bird, was crazy, and thought he was a
bobolink. Link, link, bobolink!' he sang all day
long, instead of crying in the way a loon usually does.
His voice was not anywhere near the right pitch for a
bobolink's song, but that made no difference. Link,
link, bobolink! he kept on singing from morning till
"Toby did not mind knitting, but he did not like to
make the soup. It had never seemed to him to be a man's
work, and besides, it hurt his old, rheumatic back to
bend over the soup-kettle. That was what put it into his
head to get married again. He thought if he could find a
pleasant, tidy woman, who would stir the soup while he
sat in the door beside the loon, and knit the stockings,
he could live much more comfortably than he did.
"Now Toby thought he knew of just the one he wanted.
She was a widow who lived a few squares from him. She
was as sweet-tempered as a dove, and nobody could find a
speck of dirt in her house if he was to search all day
with a lantern.
TOBY AND THE CRAZY LOON.
"Toby thought about it for a long time. He did not
wish to take any rash step, but his back got lamer and
stiffer, and when one day the soup burned on to the
kettle, and he dropped some stitches in his stocking
running to lift it off, he made up his mind.
"The very next morning after his six grandchildren
had gone to school, he put on his coat with
phosphorescent buttons, lit his lantern, and started
out. Link, link, bobolink! cried the crazy loon
as he went out the door.
"'Yes; I am going to bring home a pleasant and neat
mistress for you, and maybe you will recover your
reason,' said Toby.
"Link, link, bobolink! cried the crazy loon.
"Toby limped away through the darkness. The wind was
blowing hard that morning, and as he turned the corner,
puff! came a gust and blew out his lantern.
"He felt in every pocket, but he had not a match in
one of them. He hesitated whether to go back for one or
not. Finally, he thought he knew the way pretty well and
would risk it. His back was worse than ever that
morning, and he did not want to take any unnecessary
steps. So he fumbled along until he came to the street
where the widow's home was; there were five more just
like hers, and they stood in a row together.
"Much to Toby's dismay, there was not a light in
"'Well,' he reflected, 'she is prudent, and is saving
her oil, I dare say, and I can inquire.'
"So he felt his way along to the first house in the
row—he could just see them looming up in the darkness.
He poked his head inside the door. 'Mrs. Clover-leaf!'
cried he, 'are you in there? My lantern has gone out,
and I cannot tell which is your house.'
"There came a little grunt in reply.
"'Mrs. Clover-leaf!' cried Toby again.
"'I am here; what do you want?' answered a voice in
"It was so sharp that Toby felt for a moment as if
his ears were being sawed off, and he clapped his hands
on them involuntarily. 'Bless me! I had forgotten that
Mrs. Clover-leaf had such a voice,' thought he.
"'What do you want?' said the voice again.
"It did not sound quite so sharp this time. He had
become a little used to it, and, after all, a sharp
voice would not prevent her being neat and pleasant and
stirring the soup carefully.
"So he said, as sweetly and coaxingly as he was able,
'I have come to see if you would like to marry me, Mrs.
"'I don't know,' said the sharp voice, 'I had not
thought of changing my condition.'
"'All you would have to do,' said Toby pleadingly,
'would be to stir the soup for my grandchildren's
dinner, while I knit the stockings.'
"There came a sound like the smacking of lips out of
the darkness within the house. 'Oh! you have
grandchildren; I forgot,' said the voice; 'how many?'
"'Six,' replied Toby.
"'I shall be pleased to marry you,' cried the voice;
and Toby heard the squeaking of shoes, as if the widow
"'When shall we be married?' said the sharp voice
right in Toby's ear.
"He jumped so that he could not answer for a minute.
'Well,' said he finally—'I don't want to hurry you, Mrs.
Clover-leaf, but the soup is to be made for dinner, and
if I don't finish the pair of stockings I am on to-day,
my eldest grandchild will have to go barefoot. A pair of
stockings only lasts one a week.' And Toby sighed so
pitifully that it ought to have touched any widow's
"The widow laughed. Toby felt rather hurt that she
should. He did not know of any joke. It was a curious
kind of a laugh, too; as bad in its way as her voice.
But what she said the next minute set matters right.
"'Let us go and get married, then,' said she, 'and I
will go right home and make the soup, and you can finish
"Toby was delighted. 'Thank you, my dear Mrs.
Clover-leaf!' he cried, and offered her his arm
gallantly, and they set off together to the minister's.
"The widow took such enormous strides that Toby had
to run to keep up with her. She was much taller than he,
and her bonnet was very large, and almost hid her face.
Toby could hardly have seen her, if he had had his
lantern; still he could not help wishing that one of
them had one, but the widow said her oil was out, so
there was no help for it.
"Once or twice when she turned her head toward him,
Toby thought her eyes looked about twice as large and
bright as phosphorescent buttons, and he felt a little
startled, but he told himself that it was only his
imagination, of course.
"When they reached the minister's, there was no light
in his house, either, and it occurred to Toby that it
was Fast Day. Once a week, Pokonoket ministers sit in
total darkness all day, and eat nothing.
"When Toby called, the minister poked his head out of
the study window, and asked what he wanted.
"Toby told him, and he and the widow stood in front
of the study window, and were married in the dark, and
Toby gave a phosphorescent button for the fee.
"The widow took longer steps than ever on the way
home, and Toby ran till he was all out of breath; she
fairly lifted him off his feet sometimes, and carried
him along on her arm.
"Link, link, bobolink! sang the crazy loon
when Toby and his bride entered the house.
"'Now let's have a light,' cried Toby's wife, and her
voice was sharper than ever. It frightened the crazy
loon so that he left the link off the end of his song,
and merely said bobo—
"'Yes,' answered Toby, bustling about cheerfully
after the matches, 'and then you will make the soup.'
TOBY RAN TILL HE WAS OUT OF BREATH.
"'I will make the soup,' laughed his wife.
"Toby felt frightened, he hardly knew why, but he
found the matches, and lit the lamp. Then he turned to
look at his new wife, and saw—the Ogress! He had married
the Ogress! Horrors!
"Toby sank down on his knees and shook with fear, his
little kinky curls bristling up all over his head.
"'Pshaw!' said the Ogress contemptuously. 'You
needn't shake! Do you suppose I would eat such a little
tough, bony fellow as you for supper? No! When do your
grandchildren come home from school?'
"'Oh,' groaned Toby, 'take me, dear Mrs. Ogress, and
spare my grandchildren!'
"'I should smile,' said the Ogress. That was all the
reply she made. She talked popular slang along with her
other bad habits.
"Toby wept, and groaned, and pleaded, but he could
not get another word out of her. She filled the great
soup-kettle with water, set it over the fire (Toby
shuddered to see her), then she sat down to wait for the
grandchildren to come home from school. She was
uncommonly homely, even for an ogress, and she wore a
brown calico dress that was very unbecoming.
"Poor Toby gazed at her in fear and disgust. He
looked out of the door, expecting every moment to see
his grandchildren coming, one behind the other, swinging
their little lanterns. School children always walked one
behind the other in Pokonoket. It was against the law to
walk two abreast.
"Finally, when the Ogress was leaning over the
soup-kettle, putting her fingers in, to see if it was
hot enough, Toby slipped out of the door, and ran
straight to the minister's.
"He stood outside the study window and groaned.
"'What is the trouble?' asked the minister, poking
his head out.
"'Oh,' cried Toby, 'you married me to the—Ogress!'
"'You don't say so!' cried the minister.
"'Yes, I do! What shall I do? She is waiting for my
grandchildren, and the soup-kettle is on!'
"'Wait a minute,' said the minister. 'In a matter of
life and death, it is permitted to light a lamp on a
Fast Day. This is a matter of life and death; so I will
light a lamp and look in my Encyclopædia of Useful
"So the minister lit his lamp, and took his
Encyclopædia of Useful Knowledge from the study shelf.
"He turned over the leaves till he came to Ogre; then
he found Ogress, and read all there was under that head.
"'H'm!' he said; 'h'm, h'm! An Ogress is an
inconceivably hideous creature, yet, like all females,
she is inordinately vain, and is extremely susceptible
to any insinuations against her personal appearance! H'm!'
said the minister; 'h'm, h'm! I know what I will do.'
"Now it was one of the laws in Pokonoket that nobody
should have a looking-glass but the minister. Once a
year the ladies of his congregation were allowed to look
at themselves in it; that was all. I do not know the
reason for this law, but it existed.
"The minister took his looking-glass under his arm,
and came out of his house. 'Now, Toby,' said he, 'take
me home with you.'
"'But I am afraid she will eat you, sir,' said Toby
doubtfully. 'You are not as thin as I am.'
"'I am not in the least afraid,' replied the minister
"So Toby took heart a little, and hastened home with
"Link, link, bobolink! cried the crazy loon as
they went in the door.
"The minister walked straight up to the Ogress, who
was standing beside the soup-kettle, and held the
looking-glass before her.
"When she saw her face in all its hideous ugliness,
the shock was so great, for she had always thought
herself very handsome, that she gave one shriek and fell
down quite dead."
Letitia gave a sigh of relief, and uncle Jack yawned.
"Well, Letitia, that's all," said he, "only Toby married
the real widow, Mrs. Clover-leaf, the next day, and she
made the soup to perfection, and he had nothing to do
all the rest of his life, but to sit in the doorway
beside the crazy loon, and knit stockings for his
"Thank you, uncle Jack," said Letitia gravely. Then
she got her square of patchwork off the table and sat
down and finished sewing it over and over.