Puppet by Mary B. Harris

PUPPET had two occupations. She had also a guitar and a half-bushel basket. These things were her capital—her stock in trade.

The guitar belonged to one of her occupations, the half-bushel basket to the other.

In consideration of her first employment, she might have been called a street guitarist. In consideration of her second, she might have been called a beggar—a broken-bits beggar.

Puppet would have been considered, among lawyers, “shrewd;” or, at a mothers’ meeting, “cunning;” or, among business men, “sharp.” That is to say, she knew a thing or two. She knew that being able to sing no songs was a disadvantage to her first occupation, as a large hole, half way up her basket, was an advantage to her second.

It seems odd that a hole in one’s begging basket should be an advantage.

But because of the hole, she had always behind her a crowd of dogs, that seemed to have been just dropped from the basket, the last one never having fairly got his nose out; and because of the dogs she was known as “Puppet” all over the city.

To be known by a characteristic name is of great advantage to a beggar.

If Biddy, looking from the basement door, says to cook, “Och, an’ there comes up the street our little Puppet, with her dogs all behind her, carrying her basket,” cook is much more likely to see the broken bits “botherin’ roun’ on the schalves o’ the cubbid,” than she would be if Biddy should say, “Shure, an’ thir cams to us a dirty beggar, it is.”

But it is with Puppet’s first occupation, and not her second, that we have to do. If you had not read more descriptions of faces within the last year than you can possibly remember in all the years of your life put together, I would tell you what sort of face Puppet’s was; that it was a bright face, with blue eyes, just the color of the blue ribbon that went first round the guitar’s neck, and then round Puppet’s; that Puppet’s teeth were as white as the mother-of-pearl pegs that held her guitar strings at the bottom; that her cheeks were as white as the ivory keys; that her hair was long, and yellow—just the shade of the guitar’s yellow face.

But that would be very much like a dozen other faces that you have seen; so I will only say that it was a smiling little face.

It smiled as it bent over the guitar, while the little fingers picked their ways in and out among the strings; and it smiled yet more sweetly as she looked up to catch the coppers thrown from the fourth and fifth story, and sky-parlor windows.

Puppet once lived with a man who said that he was her uncle; and she believed him so thoroughly, that she let him box her ears whenever he felt like it, till he died. Since then Puppet had lived almost friendless and alone.

One hot July day Puppet was wandering through the streets of the great city, with her little guitar under her little arm. The city did not seem so great to Puppet as it does to some of the rest of us, because she was born and brought up there.

“O, dear,” sighed Puppet, “what a mean place you are!”

No one had given her a copper since the cool of the morning. People seemed  to have a fancy for spending their coppers on soda-water and ice-cream.

“What shall I do?” moaned Puppet. Whatever should she do? Puppet must have coppers, or she could not live.

She sat in a cool, shaded court, close to the busy street; but she couldn’t get away from the heat, and the noise, and the people sighing, like herself, “O dear, O dear!”

“I’ll try once more,” said Puppet, tuning her guitar.

She played “Home, Sweet Home,” with variations. But all the people who heard her were suffering, because their homes in the city were rather hot than sweet. “Home, Sweet Home” could win no pennies from “city folks” in July.

Then Puppet whistled to her guitar accompaniment a little “Bird Waltz,” and whirled on the pavement in time, till I doubt if she herself knew whether the guitar had gone mad, and were waltzing about her, or she were waltzing about the guitar.

A boy came dancing into the court, singing,—

“O, whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad!
O, whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad!”

But he danced out again, without leaving a penny behind him; so it would have been just as well if he had never come in. Still, he amused himself for a few minutes, which not many people were able to do in that hot July midday.

Puppet went from the little court, and wandered on and on. At last she left the city far away behind her.

And out and away from the city there were green fields.

Puppet had heard of green fields, but she had never seen any face to face before. As she looked at them, she had a dim remembrance that she had heard that they were covered with long, waving grass. But all these fields were close shaven, like the beautiful mouse-colored horses in the city.

It was pleasant, but not very exciting to a city girl. The city girl presently grew tired of it.

“There seem to be houses farther along,” she said; “I’ll go and play there.”

Puppet slung the little guitar about her little neck, and started off again.

Presently she came to a cottage with a little green yard in front of it, and in the middle of the little green yard was a great green tree.

Puppet sat down on the grass, leaned against the tree, and felt very hungry.

A lady was sitting by an open window, sewing. She was sitting so that Puppet could see only a bit of her left cheek, and her dark hair, just beginning to turn gray, and her right hand as she brought the needle up from her work. From what she did see, Puppet thought that she would give her something to eat, if she could but get her attention. Surely, she must be often hungry herself, or why should she have so many gray hairs?

Puppet, leaning against the tree, ran her fingers over the guitar frets in light harmonies; but the lady did not look.

Her thoughts must be far away, in a quiet and happy place, that Puppet’s harmonies should seem a part of that place.

The guitar broke into a low, mournful minor. Still the lady gave no heed to Puppet.

Puppet was feeling very hungry. She would play the Fandango. That must rouse any one. She began at the most rattling part.

The gray-haired lady looked round quickly. “Bless me, bless me! what’s this?” Seeing a little girl out by the tree, she put her sewing on the table, and came to the door and into the yard.

“Dear me! a little girl with yellow  hair, and I just to have been dreaming of a little girl with yellow hair!”

“Is anything the matter with my hair, mum?” Puppet stopped playing, and ran her hands through the yellow mass of uncombed locks.

“Ah, no, little girl! there is nothing the matter with your hair. Only—” The lady was thinking how soft, and fine, and curly was the yellow hair of which she had been dreaming.

“What do you want?” asked the lady.

“I’m very hungry,” said Puppet, “because of the walk, and—and—and all,” concluded Puppet, remembering that the lady could not understand.

“Come in, then.”

Puppet went in. Up in one corner of the sitting-room were a little tip-cart and a doll. Puppet ate her bread and meat, looking hard at the tip-cart.

“Where is it, mum?”

“Where is what, child?”

“The child, mum.” Puppet pointed to the tip-cart.

“Gone, my dear,” said the lady, softly.

“Dead?” Puppet remembered that that was what they said about her uncle when he went away. It was the only going away that she had ever known.

“Yes, I suppose so,” said the lady, with a little shiver.

“That’s bad, mum.”

“No, not bad,” said the lady, sorrowfully. “It is just right that it should be so.”

“But it must be lonesome like, unless there were kicks and things.” Puppet was still thinking of her uncle.

The lady wondered what the child could mean, and not knowing, said,—

“What’s your name? How could I have forgotten to ask your name?”

“Puppet.”

“That’s a funny name. And where do you live?”

“Two or three miles away from here.”

“Have you walked here to-day?”

“Yes, mum.”

“What should make the child walk so far, I wonder?”

“Money, mum, and things to eat.”

“Have you eaten enough?”

“Yes. I must go home now, or I shall be late.”

“Are you sure you know the way?” asked the lady, a little anxiously. “You’re such a little thing!”

“O, yes, mum! Go as I came.”

“Well, good by.”

“Good by, mum.”

But was Puppet sure that she knew the way?

The next morning, a man walking on a road that ran by the edge of a meadow, was going to his work.

Hark! What did he hear? Was it a cry! was it a child’s cry? And what was that? It sounded like a fiddle. He stopped to look around.

“I declare, we’ve had a high tide in the night!” said he, and trudged on.

But what was that? That was certainly a child’s cry.

The man looked sharply about.

“It can’t be she,” he said. “Folks from heaven wouldn’t cry, even if they were let to come—at least, if they were little children.”

And so he still looked sharply about. And looking, what did he see?

He saw great haystacks of meadow hay out in the meadow, with the tide-water all about them. Then his eyes were fixed on one particular haystack. On its top, with her yellow hair and smiling face in sight, was—it could not be, though—but it was—a little girl, and dangling by the side of the stack was a guitar with a yellow face. The man waded through the water that lay between the dry land and the stack.

“Crawl down to my shoulders;” and he stood by the side of the stack till she  was on his shoulders, with her arms about his neck.

Puppet, with her guitar, sitting on top of a haystack

“How came you there?”

“I went everywhere to try to get home, and it was dark, all but the moon; and I saw the stack, and a board went from the ground to the top of it.”

“Sure enough, the prop.”

“And I was so tired!”

“Poor child!”

“And I never saw the water come before, and it was only wet enough to wet my feet when I got up.”

“Well, well! We’ll go home and get something to eat.”

The man walked into his kitchen with the little girl and the guitar on his shoulders.

“Why, John, are you back? Dear me, if there isn’t that same child—Puppet!”

John went off to his work again. Puppet ate her breakfast, and told her story, and then said,—

“Please, mum, may I play with the cart?”

And because of her yellow hair, she might play with the cart.

“But aren’t you sick, and oughtn’t you to take some medicine, and go to bed?” asked the lady, whose hair had grown gray over sickness and medicine.

Puppet meditated. She felt very well. She thought that she had rather play with the tip-cart than to take medicine. So she played all day, and went to bed at night.

At night John come home from his work, and, as usual, heard of all that had happened through the day.

“I wish we could keep the little thing, John, dear. She has yellow hair, just like—”

“Yes,” said John, “I saw.”

“And she’d be such a comfort!”

“If she didn’t die by and by,” said John.

 “But, John, dear, just think of a little thing like her spending the night in the middle of a meadow, with the water all about her.”

John thought. And he thought that if she could stand that without being sick, she could stand their love without dying.

So Puppet and the guitar live with John and the gray-haired lady.