The Patchwork School by Mary E.
Once upon a time there was a city which possessed a
very celebrated institution for the reformation of
unruly children. It was, strictly speaking, a Reform
School, but of a very peculiar kind.
It had been established years before by a benevolent
lady, who had a great deal of money, and wished to do
good with it. After thinking a long time, she had hit
upon this plan of founding a school for the improvement
of children who tried their parents and all their
friends by their ill behavior. More especially was it
designed for ungrateful and discontented children;
indeed it was mainly composed of this last class.
There was a special set of police in the city, whose
whole duty was to keep a sharp lookout for ill-natured
fretting children, who complained of their parents'
treatment, and thought other boys and girls were much
better off than they, and to march them away to the
school. These police all wore white top boots, tall
peaked hats, and carried sticks with blue ribbon bows on
them, and were very readily distinguished. Many a little
boy on his way to school has dodged round a corner to
avoid one, because he had just been telling his mother
that another little boy's mother gave him twice as much
pie for dinner as he had. He wouldn't breathe easy till
he had left the white top boots out of sight; and he
would tremble all day at every knock on the door.
There was not a child in the city but had a great
horror of this school, though it may seem rather strange
that they should; for the punishment, at first thought,
did not seem so very terrible. Ever since it was
established, the school had been in charge of a very
singular little old woman. Nobody had ever known where
she came from. The benevolent lady who founded the
institution, had brought her to the door one morning in
her coach, and the neighbors had seen the little brown,
wizened creature, with a most extraordinary gown on,
alight and enter. This was all any one had ever known
about her. In fact, the benevolent lady had come upon
her in the course of her travels in a little German
town, sitting in a garret window, behind a little
box-garden of violets, sewing patchwork. After that, she
became acquainted with her, and finally hired her to
superintend her school. You see, the benevolent lady had
a very tender heart, and though she wanted to reform the
naughty children of her native city, and have them grow
up to be good men and women, she did not want them to be
shaken, nor have their ears cuffed; so the ideas
advanced by the strange little old woman just suited
"Set 'em to sewing patchwork," said this little old
woman, sewing patchwork vigorously herself as she spoke.
She was dressed in a gown of bright-colored patchwork,
with a patchwork shawl over her shoulders. Her cap was
made of tiny squares of patchwork, too. "If they are
sewing patchwork," went on the little old woman, "they
can't be in mischief. Just make 'em sit in little chairs
and sew patchwork, boys and girls alike. Make 'em sit
and sew patchwork, when the bees are flying over the
clover, out in the bright sunlight, and the great
bluewinged butterflies stop with the roses just outside
the windows, and the robins are singing in the
cherry-trees, and they'll turn over a new leaf, you'll
see!" sewing away with a will.
So the school was founded, the strange little old
woman placed over it, and it really worked admirably. It
was the pride of the city. Strangers who visited it were
always taken to visit the Patchwork School, for that was
the name it went by. There sat the children, in their
little chairs, sewing patchwork. They were dressed in
little patchwork uniforms; the girls wore blue and white
patchwork frocks and pink and white patchwork pinafores,
and the boys blue and white patchwork trousers, with
pinafores like the girls. Their cheeks were round and
rosy, for they had plenty to eat—bread and milk three
times a day—but they looked sad, and tears were standing
in the corners of a good many eyes. How could they help
it? It did seem as if the loveliest roses in the whole
country were blossoming in the garden of the Patchwork
School, and there were swarms of humming-birds flying
over them, and great red and blue-winged butterflies.
And there were tall cherry-trees a little way from the
window, and they used to be perfectly crimson with
fruit; and the way the robins would sing in them! Later
in the season there were apple and peach-trees, too, the
apples and great rosy peaches fairly dragging the
branches to the ground, and all in sight from the window
of the schoolroom.
No wonder the poor little culprits cooped up indoors
sewing red and blue and green pieces of calico together,
looked sad. Every day bales of calico were left at the
door of the Patchwork School, and it all had to be cut
up in little bits and sewed together again. When the
children heard the heavy tread of the porters bringing
in the bales of new calico, the tears would leave the
corners of their eyes and trickle down their poor little
cheeks, at the prospect of the additional work they
would have to do. All the patchwork had to be sewed over
and over, and every crooked or too long stitch had to
be picked out; for the Patchwork Woman was very
particular. They had to make all their own clothes of
patchwork, and after those were done, patchwork bed
quilts, which were given to the city poor; so the
benevolent lady killed two birds with one stone, as you
Of course, children staid in the Patchwork School
different lengths of time, according to their different
offenses. But there were very few children in the city
who had not sat in a little chair and sewed patchwork,
at one time or another, for a greater or less period.
Sooner or later, the best children were sure to think
they were ill-treated by their parents, and had to go to
bed earlier than they ought, or did not have as much
candy as other children; and the police would hear them
grumbling, and drag them off to the Patchwork School.
The Mayor's son, especially, who might be supposed to
fare as well as any little boy in the city, had been in
the school any number of times.
There was one little boy in the city, however, whom
the white-booted police had not yet found any occasion
to arrest, though one might have thought he had more
reason than a good many others to complain of his lot in
life. In the first place, he had a girl's name, and any
one knows that would be a great cross to a boy. His name
was Julia; his parents had called him so on account of
his having a maiden aunt who had promised to leave her
money to him if he was named for her.
So there was no help for it, but it was a great trial
to him, for the other boys plagued him unmercifully, and
called him "missy," and "sissy," and said "she" instead
of "he" when they were speaking of him. Still he never
complained to his parents, and told them he wished they
had called him some other name. His parents were very
poor, hard-working people, and Julia had much coarser
clothes than the other boys, and plainer food, but he
was always cheerful about it, and never seemed to think
it at all hard that he could not have a velvet coat like
the Mayor's son, or carry cakes for lunch to school like
the lawyer's little boy.
But perhaps the greatest cross which Julia had to
bear, and the one from which he stood in the greatest
danger of getting into the Patchwork School, was his
Grandmothers. I don't mean to say that grandmothers are
to be considered usually as crosses. A dear old lady
seated with her knitting beside the fire, is a pleasant
person to have in the house. But Julia had four, and he
had to hunt for their spectacles, and pick up their
balls of yarn so much that he got very little time to
play. It was an unusual thing, but the families on both
sides were very long-lived, and there actually were four
grandmothers; two great ones, and two common ones; two
on each side of the fireplace, with their knitting work,
in Julia's home. They were nice old ladies, and Julia
loved them dearly, but they lost their spectacles all
the time, and were always dropping their balls of yarn,
and it did make a deal of work for one boy to do. He
could have hunted up spectacles for one Grandmother, but
when it came to four, and one was always losing hers
while he was finding another's, and one ball of yarn
would drop and roll off, while he was picking up
another—well, it was really bewildering at times. Then
he had to hold the skeins of yarn for them to wind, and
his arms used to ache, and he could hear the boys
shouting at a game of ball outdoors, maybe. But he never
refused to do anything his Grandmothers asked him to,
and did it pleasantly, too; and it was not on that
account he got into the Patchwork School.
JULIA WAS ARRESTED ON CHRISTMAS DAY.
It was on Christmas day that Julia was arrested and
led away to the Patchwork School. It happened in this
way: As I said before, Julia's parents were poor, and it
was all they could do to procure the bare comforts of
life for their family; there was very little to spend
for knickknacks. But I don't think Julia would have
complained at that; he would have liked useful articles
just as well for Christmas presents, and would not have
been unhappy because he did not find some useless toy in
his stocking, instead of some article of clothing, which
he needed to make him comfortable. But he had had the
same things over and over, over and over, Christmas
after Christmas. Every year each of his Grandmothers
knit him two pairs of blue woollen yarn stockings, and
hung them for him on Christmas Eve, for a Christmas
present. There they would hang—eight pairs of stockings
with nothing in them, in a row on the mantel shelf,
every Christmas morning.
Every year Julia thought about it for weeks before
Christmas, and hoped and hoped he would have something
different this time, but there they always hung, and he
had to go and kiss his Grandmothers, and pretend he
liked the stockings the best of anything he could have
had; for he would not have hurt their feelings for the
His parents might have bettered matters a little, but
they did not wish to cross the old ladies either, and
they had to buy so much yarn they could not afford to
get anything else.
The worst of it was, the stockings were knit so well,
and of such stout material, that they never wore out, so
Julia never really needed the new ones; if he had, that
might have reconciled him to the sameness of his
Christmas presents, for he was a very sensible boy. But
his bureau drawers were full of the blue stockings
rolled up in neat little hard balls—all the balls he
ever had; the tears used to spring up in his eyes every
time he looked at them. But he never said a word till
the Christmas when he was twelve years old. Somehow that
time he was unusually cast down at the sight of the
eight pairs of stockings hanging in a row under the
mantel shelf; but he kissed and thanked his Grandmothers
just as he always had.
When he was out on the street a little later,
however, he sat down in a doorway and cried. He could
not help it. Some of the other boys had such lovely
presents, and he had nothing but these same blue woollen
"What's the matter, little boy?" asked a voice.
Without looking up, Julia sobbed out his troubles;
but what was his horror when he felt himself seized by
the arm and lifted up, and found that he was in the
grasp of a policeman in white top boots. The policeman
did not mind Julia's tears and entreaties in the least,
but led him away to the Patchwork School, waving his
stick with its blue ribbon bow as majestically as a drum
So Julia had to sit down in a little chair, and sew
patchwork with the rest. He did not mind the close work
as much as some of the others, for he was used to being
kept indoors, attending to his Grandmothers' wants; but
he disliked to sew. His term of punishment was a long
one. The Patchwork Woman, who fixed it, thought it
looked very badly for a little boy to be complaining
because his kind grandparents had given him some warm
stockings instead of foolish toys.
The first thing the children had to do when they
entered the school, was to make their patchwork clothes,
as I have said. Julia had got his finished and was
busily sewing on a red and green patchwork quilt, in a
tea-chest pattern, when, one day, the Mayor came to
visit the school. Just then his son did not happen to be
serving a term there; the Mayor never visited it with
visitors of distinction when he was.
To-day he had a Chinese Ambassador with him. The
Patchwork Woman sat behind her desk on the platform and
sewed patchwork, the Mayor in his fine broadcloth sat
one side of her, and the Chinese Ambassador, in his
yellow satin gown, on the other.
The Ambassador's name was To-Chum. The children could
not help stealing glances occasionally at his high
eyebrows and braided queue, but they cast their eyes on
their sewing again directly.
The Mayor and the Ambassador staid about an hour;
then after they had both made some remarks—the
Ambassador made his in Chinese; he could speak English,
but his remarks in Chinese were wiser—they rose to go.
Now, the door of the Patchwork School was of a very
peculiar structure. It was made of iron of a great
thickness, and opened like any safe door, only it had
more magic about it than any safe door ever had. At a
certain hour in the afternoon, it shut of its own
accord, and opened at a certain hour in the morning,
when the Patchwork Woman repeated a formula before it.
The formula did no good whatever at any other time; the
door was so constructed that not even its inventor could
open it after it shut at the certain hour of the
afternoon, before the certain hour the next morning.
Now the Mayor and the Chinese Ambassador had staid
rather longer than they should have. They had been so
interested in the school that they had not noticed how
the time was going, and the Patchwork Woman had been so
taken up with a very intricate new pattern that she
failed to remind them, as was her custom.
So it happened that while the Mayor got through the
iron door safely, just as the Chinese Ambassador was
following it suddenly swung to, and shut in his braided
queue at a very high point.
JULIA ENTERTAINS THE AMBASSADOR THROUGH THE KEYHOLE.
Then there was the Ambassador on one side of the
door, and his queue on the other, and the door could not
possibly be opened before morning. Here was a terrible
dilemma! What was to be done? There stood the children,
their patchwork in their hands, staring, open-mouthed,
at the queue dangling through the door, and the
Patchwork Woman pale with dismay, in their midst, on one
side of the door, and on the other side was the
terror-stricken Mayor, and the poor Chinese Ambassador.
"Can't anything be done?" shouted the Mayor through
the keyhole—there was a very large keyhole.
"No," the Patchwork Woman said. "The door won't open
till six o'clock to-morrow morning."
"Oh, try!" groaned the Mayor. "Say the formula."
She said the formula, to satisfy them, but the door
staid firmly shut. Evidently the Chinese Ambassador
would have to stay where he was until morning, unless he
had the Mayor snip his queue off, which was not to be
So the Mayor, who was something of a philosopher, set
about accommodating himself, or rather his friend, to
"It is inevitable," said he to the Ambassador. "I am
very sorry, but everybody has to conform to the customs
of the institutions of the countries which they visit. I
will go and get you some dinner, and an extra coat. I
will keep you company through the night, and morning
will come before you know it."
"Well," sighed the Chinese Ambassador, standing on
tiptoe so his queue should not pull so hard. He was a
patient man, but after he had eaten his dinner the time
seemed terrible long.
"Why don't you talk?" said he to the Mayor, who was
dozing beside him in an easy-chair. "Can't you tell me a
"I never did such a thing in my life," replied the
Mayor, rousing himself; "but I am very sorry for you,
dear sir; perhaps the Patchwork Woman can."
So he asked the Patchwork Woman through the keyhole.
"I never told a story in my life," said she; "but
there's a boy here that I heard telling a beautiful one
the other day. Here, Julia," called she, "come and tell
a story to the Chinese Ambassador."
Julia really knew a great many stories which his
Grandmothers had taught him, and he sat on a little
stool and told them through the keyhole all night to the
He and the Mayor were so interested that morning came
and the door swung open before they knew it. The poor
Ambassador drew a long breath, and put his hand around
to his queue to see if it was safe. Then he wanted to
thank and reward the boy who had made the long night
hours pass so pleasantly.
"What is he in here for?" asked the Mayor, patting
Julia, who could hardly keep his eyes open.
THE GRANDMOTHERS ENJOY THE CHINESE TOYS.
"He grumbled about his Christmas presents," replied
the Patchwork Woman.
"What did you have?" inquired the Mayor.
"Eight pairs of blue yarn stockings," answered Julia,
rubbing his eyes.
"And the year before?"
"Eight pairs of blue yarn stockings."
"And the year before that?"
"Eight pairs of blue yarn stockings."
"Didn't you ever have anything for Christmas presents
but blue yarn stockings?" asked the astonished Mayor.
"No, sir," said Julia meekly.
Then the whole story came out. Julia, by dint of
questioning, told some, and the other children told the
rest; and finally, in the afternoon, orders came to
dress him in his own clothes, and send him home. But
when he got there, the Mayor and Chinese Ambassador had
been there before him, and there hung the eight pairs of
blue yarn stockings under the mantel-shelf, crammed full
of the most beautiful things—knives, balls,
candy—everything he had ever wanted, and the
mantel-shelf piled high also.
A great many of the presents were of Chinese
manufacture; for the Ambassador considered them, of
course, superior, and he wished to express his gratitude
to Julia as forcibly as he could. There was one stocking
entirely filled with curious Chinese tops. A little
round head, so much like the Ambassador's that it
actually startled Julia, peeped out of the stocking. But
it was only a top in the shape of a little man in a
yellow silk gown, who could spin around very
successfully on one foot, for an astonishing length of
time. There was a Chinese lady-top too, who fanned
herself coquettishly as she spun; and a mandarin who
nodded wisely. The tops were enough to turn a boy's
There were equally curious things in the other
stockings. Some of them Julia had no use for, such as
silk for dresses, China crape shawls and fans, but they
were just the things for his Grandmothers, who, after
this, sat beside the fireplace, very prim and fine, in
stiff silk gowns, with China crape shawls over their
shoulders, and Chinese fans in their hands, and queer
shoes on their feet. Julia liked their presents just as
well as he did his own, and probably the Ambassador knew
that he would.
The Mayor had filled one stocking himself with
bonbons, and Julia picked out all the peppermints
amongst them for his Grandmothers. They were very fond
of peppermints. Then he went to work to find their
spectacles, which had been lost ever since he had been