A Hole in the Wall by Louisa M. Alcott
If any one had asked Johnny Morris who were
his best friends, he would have answered,--
"The sun and the wind, next to mother."
Johnny lived in a little court that led off from
one of the busiest streets in the city,--a noisy
street, where horse-car bells tinkled and
omnibuses rumbled all day long, going and coming
from several great depots near by. The court
was a dull place, with only two or three shabby
houses in it, and a high blank wall at the end.
The people who hurried by were too busy
to do more than to glance at the lame boy who
sat in the sunshine against the wall, or to guess
that there was a picture-gallery and a circulating-library
in the court. But Johnny had both, and
took such comfort in them that he never could
be grateful enough to the wind that brought him
his books and pictures, nor to the sun that made
it possible for him to enjoy them in the open
air, far more than richer folk enjoy their fine
galleries and libraries.
A bad fall, some months before the time this
story begins, did something to Johnny's back
which made his poor legs nearly useless, and
changed the lively, rosy boy into a pale cripple.
His mother took in fine washing, and worked
hard to pay doctors' bills and feed and clothe
her boy, who could no longer run errands, help
with the heavy tubs, or go to school. He
could only pick out laces for her to iron, lie on
his bed in pain for hours, and, each fair day,
hobble out to sit in a little old chair between the
water-butt and the leaky tin boiler in which he
kept his library.
But he was a happy boy, in spite of poverty
and pain; and the day a great gust came
blowing fragments of a gay placard and a dusty
newspaper down the court to his feet, was the
beginning of good fortune for patient Johnny.
There was a theatre in the street beyond, and
other pictured bits found their way to him; for
the frolicsome wind liked to whisk the papers
around the corner, and chase them here and
there till they settled under the chair or flew
wildly over the wall.
Faces, animals, people, and big letters, all
came to cheer the boy, who was never tired of
collecting these waifs and strays; cutting out
the big pictures to paste on the wall with the
leavings of mother's starch, and the smaller in
the scrap-book he made out of stout brown
wrappers or newspapers, when he had read the
latter carefully. Soon it was a very gay wall;
for mother helped, standing on a chair, to put
the large pictures up, when Johnny had covered
all the space he could reach. The books were
laid carefully away in the boiler, after being
smoothly ironed out and named to suit Johnny's
fancy by pasting letters on the back. This was
the circulating library; for not only did the
papers whisk about the court to begin with, but
the books they afterward made went the rounds
among the neighbors till they were worn out.
The old cobbler next door enjoyed reading
the anecdotes on Sunday when he could not
work; the pale seamstress upstairs liked to look
over advertisements of the fine things which she
longed for; and Patsey Flynn, the newsboy, who
went by each day to sell his papers at the
station, often paused to look at the play-bills,--for
he adored the theatre, and entertained Johnny
with descriptions of the splendors there to be
beheld, till he felt as if he had really been, and
had known all the famous actors, from Humpty
Dumpty to the great Salvini.
Now and then a flock of dirty children would
stray into the court and ask to see the "pretty
picters." Then Johnny was a proud and happy
boy; for, armed with a clothes-pole, he pointed
out and explained the beauties of his gallery,
feeling that he was a public benefactor when the
poor babies thanked him warmly, and promised
to come again and bring all the nice papers they
could pick up.
These were Johnny's pleasures: but he had
two sorrows,--one, a very real one, his aching
back; and the other, a boyish longing to climb
the wall and see what was on the other side,
for it seemed a most wonderful and delightful
place to the poor child, shut up in that dismal
court, with no playmates and few comforts.
He amused himself with imagining how it
looked over there, and nearly every night added
some new charm to this unseen country, when
his mother told him fairy tales to get him to
sleep. He peopled it with the dear old
characters all children know and love. The white
cat that sat on the wall was Puss in Boots to
him, or Whittington's good friend. Blue-beard's
wives were hidden in the house of whose upper
windows the boy could just catch glimpses.
Red Riding-hood met the wolf in the grove
of chestnuts that rustled over there; and Jack's
Beanstalk grew up just such a wall as that, he
But the story he liked best was the "Sleeping
Beauty in the Wood;" for he was sure some
lovely creature lived in that garden, and he
longed to get in to find and play with her. He
actually planted a bean in a bit of damp earth
behind the water-barrel, and watched it grow,
hoping for as strong a ladder as Jack's. But
the vine grew very slowly, and Johnny was so
impatient that he promised Patsey his best book
"for his ownty-donty," if he would climb up
and report what was to be seen in that enchanted garden.
"Faix, and I will, thin." And up went
good-natured Pat, after laying an old board over the
hogshead to stand on; for there were spikes
all along the top of the wall, and only cats and
sparrows could walk there.
Alas for Johnny's eager hopes, and alas for
Pat's Sunday best! The board broke, and
splash went the climber, with a wild Irish howl
that startled Johnny half out of his wits and
brought both Mrs. Morris and the cobbler to
After this sad event Pat kept away for a time
in high dudgeon, and Johnny was more lonely
than ever. But he was a cheery little soul; so
he was grateful for what joys he had, and worked
away at his wall,--for the March winds had
brought him many treasures, and after April
rains were over, May sunshine made the court
warm enough for him to be out nearly all day.
"I 'm so sorry Pat is mad, 'cause he saw this
piece and told me about it, and he 'd like to help
me put up these pictures," said Johnny to
himself, one breezy morning, as he sat examining
a big poster which the wind had sent flying into
his lap a few minutes before.
The play was "Monte Cristo," and the pictures
represented the hero getting out of prison by
making holes in the wall, among other
"This is a jolly red one! Now, where will
I put it to show best and not spoil the other
As he spoke, Johnny turned his chair around
and surveyed his gallery with as much pride
and satisfaction as if it held all the wonders
It really was quite splendid; for every sort
of picture shone in the sun,--simpering ladies,
tragic scenes, circus parades, labels from tin
cans, rosy tomatoes, yellow peaches, and purple
plums, funny advertisements, and gay bills of
all kinds. None were perfect, but they were
arranged with care; and the effect was very fine,
Presently his eyes wandered from these
treasures to the budding bushes that nodded so
tantalizingly over the wall. A grape-vine ran
along the top, trying to hide the sharp spikes;
lilacs tossed their purple plumes above it, and
several tall chestnuts rose over all, making green
tents with their broad leaves, where spires of
blossom began to show like candles on a
mammoth Christmas tree. Sparrows were chirping
gayly everywhere; the white cat, with a fresh
blue bow, basked on the coping of the wall, and
from the depths of the enchanted garden came
a sweet voice singing,--
"And she bids you to come in,
With a dimple in your chin,
Johnny smiled as he listened, and put his
finger to the little dent in his own chin, wishing
the singer would finish this pleasing song. But
she never did, though he often heard that, as
well as other childish ditties, sung in the same
gay voice, with bursts of laughter and the sound
of lively feet tripping up and down the boarded
walks. Johnny longed intensely to know who
the singer was; for her music cheered his
solitude, and the mysterious sounds he heard in the
garden increased his wonder and his longing
day by day.
Sometimes a man's voice called, "Fay, where
are you?" and Johnny was sure "Fay" was
short for Fairy. Another voice was often heard
talking in a strange, soft language, full of
exclamations and pretty sounds. A little dog barked,
and answered to the name Pippo. Canaries
carolled, and some elfish bird scolded, screamed,
and laughed so like a human being, that Johnny
felt sure that magic of some sort was at work
A delicious fragrance was now wafted over the
wall as of flowers, and the poor boy imagined
untold loveliness behind that cruel wall, as he
tended the dandelions his mother brought him
from the Common, when she had time to stop
and gather them; for he loved flowers dearly,
and tried to make them out of colored paper,
since he could have no sweeter sort.
Now and then a soft, rushing sound excited
his curiosity to such a pitch that once he
hobbled painfully up the court till he could see
into the trees; and once his eager eyes caught
glimpses of a little creature, all blue and white
and gold, who peeped out from the green fans,
and nodded, and tried to toss him a cluster of
the chestnut flowers. He stretched his hands
to her with speechless delight, forgetting his
crutches, and would have fallen if he had not
caught by the shutter of a window so quickly
that he gave the poor back a sad wrench; and
when he could look up again, the fairy had
vanished, and nothing was to be seen but the leaves
dancing in the wind.
Johnny dared not try this again for fear of a
fall, and every step cost him a pang; but he
never forgot it, and was thinking of it as he sat
staring at the wall on that memorable May day.
"How I should like to peek in and see just
how it all really looks! It sounds and smells so
summery and nice in there. I know it must be
splendid. I say, Pussy, can't you tell a feller
what you see?"
Johnny laughed as he spoke, and the white
cat purred politely; for she liked the boy who
never threw stones at her, nor disturbed her
naps. But Puss could not describe the beauties
of the happy hunting-ground below; and, to
console himself for the disappointment, Johnny
went back to his new picture.
"Now, if this man in the play dug his way out.
through a wall ten feet thick with a rusty nail
and a broken knife, I don't see why I could n't
pick away one brick and get a peek. It's all
quiet in there now; here's a good place, and
nobody will know, if I stick a picture over the
hole. And I 'll try it, I declare I will!"
Fired with the idea of acting Monte Cristo on
a small scale, Johnny caught up the old scissors
in his lap, and began to dig out the mortar
around a brick already loose, and crumbling at
the corners. His mother smiled at his energy,
then sighed and said, as she clapped her laces
with a heavy heart,--
"Ah, poor dear, if he only had his health he 'd
make his way in the world. But now he 's like
to find a blank wall before him while he lives,
and none to help him over."
Puss, in her white boots, sat aloft and looked
on, wise as the cat in the story, but offered no
advice. The toad who lived behind the water-barrel
hopped under the few leaves of the struggling
bean, like Jack waiting to climb; and just
then the noon bells began to ring as if they sang
clear and loud,--
"Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London."
So, cheered by his friends, Johnny scraped
and dug vigorously till the old brick fell out,
showing another behind it. Only pausing to
take breath, he caught up his crutch and gave
two or three hearty pokes, which soon cleared
the way and let the sunshine stream through,
while the wind tossed the lilacs like triumphal
banners, and the jolly sparrows chirped,--
"Hail, the conquering hero comes!"
Rather scared by his unexpected success, the
boy sat silent for a moment to see what would
happen. But all was still; and presently, with a
beating heart, Johnny leaned forward to enjoy the
long-desired "peek." He could not see much;
but that little increased his curiosity and delight,
for it seemed like looking into fairy-land, after the
dust and noise and dingy houses of the court.
A bed of splendid tulips tossed their gay
garments in the middle of a grass-plot; a strange
and brilliant bird sat dressing its feathers on a
golden cage; a little white dog dozed in the
sun; and on a red carpet under the trees lay
the Princess, fast asleep.
"It's all right," said Johnny, with a long sigh
of pleasure; "that's the Sleeping Beauty, sure
enough. There 's the blue gown, the white
fur-cloak sweeping round, the pretty hair,
and--yes--there's the old nurse, spinning and
nodding, just as she did in the picture-book mother
got me when I cried because I could n't go to
see the play."
This last discovery really did bewilder Johnny,
and make him believe that fairy tales might be
true, after all; for how could he know that the
strange woman was an Italian servant, in her
native dress, with a distaff in her hand? After
pausing a moment, to rub his eyes, he took
another look, and made fresh discoveries by
twisting his head about. A basket of oranges
stood near the Princess, a striped curtain hung
from a limb of the tree to keep the wind off,
and several books fluttered their pictured leaves
temptingly before Johnny's longing eyes.
"Oh, if I could only go in and eat 'em and
read 'em and speak to 'em and see all the
splendid things!" thought the poor boy, as he looked
from one delight to another, and felt shut out
from all. "I can't go and wake her like the
Prince did, but I do wish she 'd get up and do
something, now I can see. I dare n't throw a
stone, it might hit some one, or holler, it might
scare her. Pussy won't help, and the sparrows
are too busy scolding one another. I know!
I 'll fly a kite over, and that will please her any
way. Don't believe she has kites; girls never do."
Eager to carry out his plan, Johnny tied a
long string to his gayest poster, and then
fastening it to the pole with which he sometimes fished
in the water-cask, held it up to catch the fresh
breezes blowing down the court. His good
friend, the wind, soon caught the idea, and with
a strong breath sent the red paper whisking over
the wall, to hang a moment on the trees and
then drop among the tulips, where its frantic
struggles to escape waked the dog, and set him
to racing and barking, as Johnny hurriedly let
the string go, and put his eye to his peep-hole.
The eyes of the Princess were wide open now,
and she clapped her hands when Pippo brought
the gay picture for her to see; while the old
woman, with a long yawn, went away, carrying
her distaff, like a gun, over her shoulder.
"She likes it! I'm so glad. Wish I had some
more to send over. This will come off; I 'll poke
it through, and maybe she will see it."
Very much excited, Johnny recklessly tore
from the wall his most cherished picture, a gay
flower-piece, just put up; and folding it, he
thrust it through the hole and waited to see
Nothing but a rustle, a bark, and a queer
croak from the splendid bird, which set the
canaries to trilling sweetly.
"She don't see; maybe she will hear," said
Johnny. And he began to whistle like a
mocking-bird; for this was his one
accomplishment, and he was proud of it.
Presently he heard a funny burst of laughter
from the parrot, and then the voice said,--
"No, Polly, you can't sing like that bird. I
wonder where he is? Among the bushes over
there, I think. Come, Pippo, let us go and find him."
"Now she 's coming!" And Johnny grew
red in the face trying to give his best trills and
Nearer and nearer came the steps, the lilacs
rustled as if shaken, and presently the roll of
paper vanished. A pause, and then the little
voice exclaimed, in a tone of great surprise,--
"Why, there 's a hole! I never saw it before.
Oh! I can see the street. How nice! how nice!"
"She likes the hole! I wonder if she will
like me?" And, emboldened by these various
successes, Johnny took another peep. This was
the most delicious one of all; for he looked right
into a great blue eye, with glimpses of golden
hair above, a little round nose in the middle,
and red lips below. It was like a flash of
sunshine, and Johnny winked, as if dazzled; for the
eye sparkled, the nose sniffed daintily, and the
pretty mouth broke into a laugh as the voice
cried out delightedly,--
"I see some one! Who are you? Come and tell me!"
"I 'm Johnny Morris," answered the boy, quite
trembling with pleasure.
"Did you make this nice hole?"
"I just poked a brick, and it fell out."
"Papa won't mind. Is that your bird?"
"No; it's me. I whistled."
"It's very pretty. Do it again," commanded
the voice, as if used to give orders.
Johnny obeyed; and when he paused, out of
breath, a small hand came through the hole,
grasping as many lilies of the valley as it could
hold, and the Princess graciously expressed her
pleasure by saying,--
"I like it; you shall do it again, by and by.
Here are some flowers for you. Now we will
talk. Are you a nice boy?"
This was a poser; and Johnny answered
meekly, with his nose luxuriously buried in the
"Not very,--I 'm lame; I can't play like
"Porverino!" sighed the little voice, full of
pity; and, in a moment, three red-and-yellow
tulips fell at Johnny's feet, making him feel as if
he really had slipped into fairy-land through that
"Oh, thank you! Are n't they just elegant?
I never see such beauties," stammered the poor
boy, grasping his treasures as if he feared they
might vanish away.
"You shall have as many as you like. Nanna
will scold, but papa won't mind. Tell me more.
What do you do over there?" asked the child,
"Nothing but paste pictures and make books,
when I don't ache too bad. I used to help
mother; but I got hurt, and I can't do much
now," answered the boy, ashamed to mention
how many laces he patiently picked or clapped,
since it was all he could do to help.
"If you like pictures, you shall come and see
mine some day. I do a great many. Papa
shows me how. His are splendid. Do you
draw or paint yours?"
"I only cut 'em out of papers, and stick 'em
on this wall or put 'em in scrap-books. I can't
draw, and I have n't got no paints," answered
"You should say 'have n't any paints.' I will
come and see you some day; and if I like you,
I will let you have my old paint-box. Do you
"Guess I do!"
"I think I shall like you; so I 'll bring it when
I come. Do you ache much?"
"Awfully, sometimes. Have to lay down all
day, and can't do a thing."
"Do you cry?"
"No! I 'm too big for that. I whistle."
"I know I shall like you, because you are
brave!" cried the impetuous voice, with its pretty
accent; and then an orange came tumbling
through the hole, as if the new acquaintance
longed to do something to help the "ache."
"Is n't that a rouser! I do love 'em, but
mother can't afford 'em often." And Johnny
took one delicious taste on the spot.
"Then I shall give you many. We have
loads at home, much finer than these. Ah, you
should see our garden there!"
"Where do you live?" Johnny ventured to
ask; for there was a homesick sound to the
voice as it said those last words.
"In Rome. Here we only stay a year, while
papa arranges his affairs; then we go back, and
I am happy."
"I should think you 'd be happy in there. It
looks real splendid to me, and I 've been
longing to see it ever since I could come out."
"It's a dull place to me. I like better to be
where it's always warm, and people are more
beautiful than here. Are you beautiful?"
"What queer questions she does ask!" And
poor Johnny was so perplexed he could only
stammer, with a laugh,--
"I guess not. Boys don't care for looks."
"Peep, and let me see. I like pretty
persons," commanded the voice.
"Don't she order round?" thought Johnny, as
he obeyed. But he liked it, and showed such a
smiling face at the peep-hole, that Princess Fay
was pleased to say, after a long look at him,--
"No, you are not beautiful; but your eyes are
bright, and you look pleasant, so I don't mind
the freckles on your nose and the whiteness of
your face. I think you are good. I am sorry
for you, and I shall lend you a book to read
when the pain comes."
"I could n't wait for that if I had a book. I
do love so to read!" And Johnny laughed out
from sheer delight at the thought of a new book;
for he seldom got one, being too poor to buy
them, and too helpless to enjoy the free libraries
of the city.
"Then you shall have it now." And there
was another quick rush in the garden, followed by
the appearance of a fat little book, slowly pushed
through the hole in the wall.
"This is the only one that will pass. You will
like Hans Andersen's fairy tales, I know. Keep
it as long as you please. I have many more."
"You're so good! I wish I had something
for you," said the boy, quite overcome by this
"Let me see one of your books. They will
be new to me. I 'm tired of all mine."
Quick as a flash, off went the cover of the old
boiler, and out came half-a-dozen of Johnny's
best works, to be crammed through the wall,
with the earnest request,--
"Keep 'em all; they're not good for much,
but they 're the best I 've got. I 'll do some
prettier ones as soon as I can find more nice
pictures and pieces."
"They look very interesting. I thank you.
I shall go and read them now, and then come
and talk again. Addio, Giovanni."
Thus ended the first interview of little
Pyramus and Thisbe through the hole in the wall,
while puss sat up above and played moonshine
with her yellow eyes.
After that day a new life began for Johnny,
and he flourished like a poor little plant that
has struggled out of some dark corner into the
sunshine. All sorts of delightful things
happened, and good times really seemed to have
come. The mysterious papa made no objection
to the liberties taken with his wall, being busy
with his own affairs, and glad to have his little
girl happy. Old Nanna, being more careful,
came to see the new neighbors, and was
disarmed at once by the affliction of the boy and
the gentle manners of the mother. She brought
all the curtains of the house for Mrs. Morris to
do up, and in her pretty broken English praised
Johnny's gallery and library, promising to bring
Fay to see him some day.
Meantime the little people prattled daily
together, and all manner of things came and went
between them. Flowers, fruit, books, and
bon-bons kept Johnny in a state of bliss, and
inspired him with such brilliant inventions that
the Princess never knew what agreeable surprise
would come next. Astonishing kites flew over
the wall, and tissue balloons exploded in the
flower-beds. All the birds of the air seemed to
live in that court; for the boy whistled and piped
till he was hoarse, because she liked it. The
last of the long-hoarded cents came out of his
tin bank to buy paper and pictures for the gay
little books he made for her. His side of the
wall was ravaged that hers might be adorned;
and, as the last offering his grateful heart could
give, he poked the toad through the hole, to live
among the lilies and eat the flies that began to
buzz about her Highness when she came to give
her orders to her devoted subjects.
She always called the lad Giovanni, because
she thought it a prettier name than John; and
she was never tired of telling stories, asking
questions, and making plans. The favorite one
was what they would do when Johnny came to
see her, as she had been promised he should
when papa was not too busy to let them enjoy
the charms of the studio; for Fay was a true
artist's child, and thought nothing so lovely as
pictures. Johnny thought so, too, and dreamed
of the happy day when he should go and see
the wonders his little friend described so well.
"I think it will be to-morrow; for papa has a
lazy fit coming on, and then he always plays
with me and lets me rummage where I like,
while he goes out or smokes in the garden. So
be ready; and if he says you can come, I will
have the flag up early and you can hurry."
These agreeable remarks were breathed into
Johnny's willing ear about a fortnight after the
acquaintance began; and he hastened to
promise, adding soberly, a minute after,--
"Mother says she's afraid it will be too much
for me to go around and up steps, and see new
things; for I get tired so easy, and then the pain
comes on. But I don't care how I ache if I can
only see the pictures--and you."
"Won't you ever be any better? Nanna
thinks you might."
"So does mother, if we had money to go
away in the country, and eat nice things, and
have doctors. But we can't; so it's no use
worrying." And Johnny gave a great sigh.
"I wish papa was rich, then he would give
you money. He works hard to make enough
to go back to Italy, so I cannot ask him; but
perhaps I can sell my pictures also, and get a
little. Papa's friends often offer me sweets for
kisses; I will have money instead, and that will
help. Yes, I shall do it." And Fay clapped her
"Don't you mind about it. I 'm going to
learn to mend shoes. Mr. Pegget says he 'll
teach me. That does n't need legs, and he gets
enough to live on very well."
"It is n't pretty work. Nanna can teach you
to braid straw as she did at home; that is easy
and nice, and the baskets sell very well, she
says. I shall speak to her about it, and you
can try to-morrow when you come."
"I will. Do you really think I can come,
then?" And Johnny stood up to try his legs; for
he dreaded the long walk, as it seemed to him.
"I will go at once and ask papa."
Away flew Fay, and soon came back with a
glad "Yes!" that sent Johnny hobbling in to
tell his mother, and beg her to mend the elbows
of his only jacket; for, suddenly, his old clothes
looked so shabby he feared to show himself to
the neighbors he so longed to see.
"Hurrah! I 'm really going to-morrow. And
you, too, mammy dear," cried the boy, waving
his crutch so vigorously that he slipped and fell.
"Never mind; I 'm used to it. Pull me up,
and I 'll rest while we talk about it," he said
cheerily, as his mother helped him to the bed,
where he forgot his pain in thinking of the
delights in store for him.
Next day, the flag was flying from the wall,
and Fay early at the hole, but no Johnny came;
and when Nanna went to see what kept him, she
returned with the sad news that the poor boy
was suffering much, and would not be able to
stir for some days.
"Let me go and see him," begged Fay, imploringly.
"Cara mia, it is no place for you. So dark,
so damp, so poor, it is enough to break the
heart," said Nanna, decidedly.
"If papa was here, he would let me go. I
shall not play; I shall sit here and make some
plans for my poor boy."
Nanna left her indignant little mistress, and
went to cook a nice bowl of soup for Johnny;
while Fay concocted a fine plan, and, what was
more remarkable, carried it out.
For a week it rained, for a week Johnny lay
in pain, and for a week Fay worked quietly at
her little easel in the corner of the studio, while
her father put the last touches to his fine
picture, too busy to take much notice of the child.
On Saturday the sun shone, Johnny was better,
and the great picture was done. So were the
small ones; for as her father sat resting after his
work, Fay went to him, with a tired but happy
face, and, putting several drawings into his hand,
told her cherished plan.
"Papa, you said you would pay me a dollar
for every good copy I made of the cast you
gave me. I tried very hard, and here are three.
I want some money very, very much. Could
you pay for these?"
"They are excellent," said the artist, after
carefully looking at them. "You have tried,
my good child, and here are your well-earned
dollars. What do you want them for?"
"To help my boy. I want him to come in
here and see the pictures, and let Nanna teach
him to plait baskets; and he can rest, and you
will like him, and he might get well if he had
some money, and I have three quarters the
friends gave me instead of bonbons. Would
that be enough to send poor Giovanni into the
country and have doctors?"
No wonder Fay's papa was bewildered by this
queer jumble, because, being absorbed in his
work, he had never heard half the child had told
him, and had forgotten all about Johnny. Now
he listened with half an ear, studying the effect
of sunshine upon his picture meantime, while
Fay told him the little story, and begged to
know how much money it would take to make
Johnny's back well.
"Bless your sweet soul, my darling, it would
need more than I can spare or you earn in a
year. By and by, when I am at leisure, we will
see what can be done," answered papa, smoking
comfortably, as he lay on the sofa in the large
studio at the top of the house.
"You say that about a great many things,
papa. 'By and by' won't be long enough to do
all you promise then. I like now much better,
and poor Giovanni needs the country more than
you need cigars or I new frocks," said Fay,
stroking her father's tired forehead and looking
at him with an imploring face.
"My dear, I cannot give up my cigar, for in
this soothing smoke I find inspiration, and though
you are a little angel, you must be clothed; so
wait a bit, and we will attend to the boy--later." He
was going to say "by and by" again, but
paused just in time, with a laugh.
"Then I shall take him to the country all
myself. I cannot wait for this hateful 'by and
by.' I know how I shall do it, and at once.
Now, now!" cried Fay, losing patience; and with
an indignant glance at the lazy papa, who seemed
going to sleep, she dashed out of the room, down
many stairs, through the kitchen, startling Nanna
and scattering the salad as if a whirlwind had
gone by, and never paused for breath till she
stood before the garden wall with a little hatchet
in her hand.
"This shall be the country for him till I get
enough money to send him away. I will show
what I can do. He pulled out two bricks. I
will beat down the wall, and he shall come in at
once," panted Fay; and she gave a great blow
at the bricks, bent on having her will without
delay,--for she was an impetuous little creature,
full of love and pity for the poor boy pining for
the fresh air and sunshine, of which she had so much.
Bang, bang, went the little hatchet, and down
came one brick after another, till the hole was
large enough for Fay to thrust her head through;
and being breathless by that time, she paused
to rest and take a look at Johnny's court.
Meanwhile Nanna, having collected her
lettuce leaves and her wits, went to see what the
child was about; and finding her at work like a
little fury, the old woman hurried up to tell "the
Signor," Fay's papa, that his little daughter was
about to destroy the garden and bury herself
under the ruins of the wall. This report,
delivered with groans and wringing of the hands,
roused the artist and sent him to the rescue, as
he well knew that his angel was a very energetic
one, and capable of great destruction.
When he arrived, he beheld a cloud of dust,
a pile of bricks among the lilies, and the feet of
his child sticking out of a large hole in the wall,
while her head and shoulders were on the other
side. Much amused, yet fearful that the stone
coping might come down on her, he pulled her
back with the assurance that he would listen and
help her now immediately, if there was such
need of haste.
But he grew sober when he saw Fay's face;
for it was bathed in tears, her hands were
bleeding, and dust covered her from head to foot.
"My darling, what afflicts you? Tell papa,
and he will do anything you wish."
"No, you will forget, you will say 'Wait;'
and now that I have seen it all, I cannot stop
till I get him out of that dreadful place. Look,
look, and see if it is not sad to live there all in
pain and darkness, and so poor."
As she spoke, Fay urged her father toward
the hole; and to please her he looked, seeing
the dull court, the noisy street beyond, and
close by the low room, where Johnny's mother
worked all day, while the poor boy's pale face
was dimly seen as he lay on his bed waiting for
"Well, well, it is a pitiful case; and easily
mended, since Fay is so eager about it. Hope
the lad is all she says, and nothing catching
about his illness. Nanna can tell me."
Then he drew back his head, and leading Fay
to the seat, took her on his knee, all flushed,
dirty, and tearful as she was, soothing her by
"Now let me hear all about it, and be sure
I 'll not forget. What shall I do to please you,
dear, before you pull down the house about my ears?"
Then Fay told her tale all over again; and
being no longer busy, her father found it very
touching, with the dear, grimy little face
looking into his, and the wounded hands clasped
beseechingly as she pleaded for poor Johnny.
"God bless your tender heart, child; you
shall have him in here to-morrow, and we will
see what can be done for those pathetic legs of
his. But listen, Fay, I have an easier way to
do it than yours, and a grand surprise for the
boy. Time is short, but it can be done; and
to show you that I am in earnest, I will go this
instant and begin the work. Come and wash
your face while I get on my boots, and then we
will go together."
At these words Fay threw her arms about
papa's neck and gave him many grateful kisses,
stopping in the midst to ask,--
"See if it is not so." And putting her down,
papa went off with great strides, while she ran
laughing after him, all her doubts set at rest by
this agreeable energy on his part.
If Johnny had not been asleep in the back
room, he would have seen strange and pleasant
sights that afternoon and evening; for something
went on in the court that delighted his mother,
amused the artist, and made Fay the happiest
child in Boston. No one was to tell till the next
day, that Johnny's surprise might be quite
perfect, and Mrs. Morris sat up till eleven to get
his old clothes in order; for Fay's papa had
been to see her, and became interested in the
boy, as no one could help being when they saw
his patient little face.
So hammers rang, trowels scraped, shovels
dug, and wonderful changes were made, while
Fay danced about in the moonlight, like Puck
intent upon some pretty prank, and papa quoted
Snout,[#] the tinker's parting words, as appropriate
to the hour,--
"Thus have I, wall, my part discharged so;
And, being done, thus wall away doth go."
[#] A character in Shakspeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream."
A lovely Sunday morning dawned without
a cloud; and even in the dingy court the May
sunshine shone warmly, and the spring breezes
blew freshly from green fields far away. Johnny
begged to go out; and being much better, his
mother consented, helping him to dress with
such a bright face and eager hands that the boy
"How glad you are when I get over a bad
turn! I don't know what you 'd do if I ever
"My poor dear, I begin to think you will
pick up, now the good weather has come and
you have got a little friend to play with. God
Why his mother should suddenly hug him
tight, and then brush his hair so carefully, with
tears in her eyes, he did not understand; but was
in such a hurry to get out, he could only give
her a good kiss, and hobble away to see how
his gallery fared after the rain, and to take a
joyful "peek" at the enchanted garden.
Mrs. Morris kept close behind him, and it
was well she did; for he nearly tumbled down,
so great was his surprise when he beheld the
old familiar wall after the good fairies Love
and Pity had worked their pretty miracle in the
The ragged hole had changed to a little arched
door, painted red. On either side stood a green
tub, with a tall oleander in full bloom; from the
arch above hung a great bunch of gay flowers;
and before the threshold lay a letter directed to
"Signor Giovanni Morris," in a childish hand.
As soon as he recovered from the agreeable
shock of this splendid transformation scene,
Johnny sank into his chair, where a soft cushion
had been placed, and read his note, with little
sighs of rapture at the charming prospect opening
DEAR GIOVANNI,--Papa has made this nice gate,
so you can come in when you like and not be tired.
We are to have two keys, and no one else can open it.
A little bell is to ring when we pull the cord, and we
can run and see what we want. The paint is wet.
Papa did it, and the men put up the door last night.
I helped them, and did not go in my bed till ten. It
was very nice to do it so. I hope you will like it.
Come in as soon as you can; I am all ready.
- Your friend,
"Mother, she must be a real fairy to do all
that, mustn't she?" said Johnny, leaning back
to look at the dear door behind which lay such
happiness for him.
"Yes, my sonny, she is the right sort of good
fairy, and I just wish I could do her washing for
love the rest of her blessed little life," answered
Mrs. Morris, in a burst of grateful ardor.
"You shall! you shall! Do come in! I
cannot wait another minute!" cried an eager little
voice as the red door flew open; and there stood
Fay, looking very like a happy elf in her fresh
white frock, a wreath of spring flowers on her
pretty hair, and a tall green wand in her hand,
while the brilliant bird sat on her shoulder, and
the little white dog danced about her feet.
"So she bids you to come in,
With a dimple in your chin,
sung the child, remembering how Johnny liked
that song; and waving her wand, she went slowly
backward as the boy, with a shining face, passed
under the blooming arch into a new world, full
of sunshine, liberty, and sweet companionship.
Neither Johnny nor his mother ever forgot
that happy day, for it was the beginning of help
and hope to both just when life seemed hardest
and the future looked darkest.
Papa kept out of sight, but enjoyed peeps at
the little party as they sat under the chestnuts,
Nanna and Fay doing the honors of the garden
to their guests with Italian grace and skill, while
the poor mother folded her tired hands with
unutterable content, and the boy looked like
a happy soul in heaven.
Sabbath silence, broken only by the chime of
bells and the feet of church-goers, brooded over
the city; sunshine made golden shadows on the
grass; the sweet wind brought spring odors
from the woods; and every flower seemed to nod
and beckon, as if welcoming the new playmate
to their lovely home.
While the women talked together, Fay led
Johnny up and down her little world, showing
all her favorite nooks, making him rest often on
the seats that stood all about, and amusing him
immensely by relating the various fanciful plays
with which she beguiled her loneliness.
"Now we can have much nicer ones; for you
will tell me yours, and we can do great things,"
she said, when she had displayed her big
rocking-horse, her grotto full of ferns, her mimic sea,
where a fleet of toy boats lay at anchor in the
basin of an old fountain, her fairy-land under the
lilacs, with paper elves sitting among the leaves,
her swing, that tossed one high up among the
green boughs, and the basket of white kittens,
where Topaz, the yellow-eyed cat, now purred
with maternal pride. Books were piled on the
rustic table, and all the pictures Fay thought
worthy to be seen.
Here also appeared a nice lunch, before the
visitors could remember it was noon and tear
themselves away. Such enchanted grapes and
oranges Johnny never ate before; such delightful
little tarts and Italian messes of various sorts;
even the bread and butter seemed glorified
because served in a plate trimmed with leaves and
cut in dainty bits. Coffee that perfumed the air
put heart into poor Mrs. Morris, who half starved
herself that the boy might be fed; and he drank
milk till Nanna said, laughing, as she refilled
"He takes more than both the blessed lambs
we used to feed for Saint Agnes in the convent
at home. And he is truly welcome, the dear
child, to the best we have; for he is as innocent
and helpless as they."
"What does she mean?" whispered Johnny
to Fay, rather abashed at having forgotten his
manners in the satisfaction which three mugfuls
of good milk had given him.
So, sitting in the big rustic chair beside him,
Fay told the pretty story of the lambs who are
dedicated to Saint Agnes, with ribbons tied to
their snowy wool, and then raised with care till
their fleeces are shorn to make garments for the
Pope. A fit tale for the day, the child thought,
and went on to tell about the wonders of Rome
till Johnny's head was filled with a splendid
confusion of new ideas, in which Saint Peter's and
apple-tarts, holy lambs and red doors, ancient
images and dear little girls, were delightfully
mixed. It all seemed like a fairy tale, and
nothing was too wonderful or lovely to happen on
that memorable day.
So when Fay's papa at last appeared, finding
it impossible to keep away from the happy little
party any longer, Johnny decided at once that
the handsome man in the velvet coat was the
king of the enchanted land, and gazed at him
with reverence and awe. A most gracious
king he proved to be; for after talking
pleasantly to Mrs. Morris, and joking Fay on
storming the walls, he proposed to carry Johnny
off, and catching him up, strode away with
the astonished boy on his shoulder, while the
little girl danced before to open doors and clear
Johnny thought he could n't be surprised any
more; but when he had mounted many stairs
and found himself in a great room with a glass
roof, full of rich curtains, strange armor, pretty
things, and pictures everywhere, he just sat in
the big chair where he was placed, and stared
in silent delight.
"This is papa's studio, and that the famous
picture, and here is where I work; and is n't it
pleasant? and aren't you glad to see it?" said
Fay, skipping about to do the honors of the place.
"I don't believe heaven is beautifuller,"
answered Johnny, in a low tone, as his eyes went
from the green tree-tops peeping in at the
windows to the great sunny picture of a Roman
garden, with pretty children at play among the
crumbling statues and fountains.
"I 'm glad you like it, for we mean to have
you come here a great deal. I sit to papa very
often, and get so tired; and you can talk to me,
and then you can see me draw and model in
clay, and then we 'll go in the garden, and
Nanna will show you how to make baskets,
and then we 'll play."
Johnny nodded and beamed at this charming
prospect, and for an hour explored the
mysteries of the studio, with Fay for a guide and
papa for an amused spectator. He liked the
boy more and more, and was glad Fay had so
harmless a playmate to expend her energies
and compassion upon. He assented to every
plan proposed, and really hoped to be able to
help these poor neighbors; for he had a kind
heart, and loved his little daughter even more
than his art.
When at last Mrs. Morris found courage to
call Johnny away, he went without a word, and
lay down in the dingy room, his face still
shining with the happy thoughts that filled his mind,
hungry for just such pleasures, and never fed
After that day everything went smoothly, and
both children blossomed like the flowers in that
pleasant garden, where the magic of love and
pity, fresh air and sunshine, soon worked
miracles. Fay learned patience and gentleness from
Johnny; he grew daily stronger on the better
food Nanna gave him, and the exercise he was
tempted to take; and both spent very happy
days working and playing, sometimes under the
trees, where the pretty baskets were made, or in
the studio, where both pairs of small hands
modelled graceful things in clay, or daubed amazing
pictures with the artist's old brushes and
Mrs. Morris washed everything washable in
the house, and did up Fay's frocks so daintily
that she looked more like an elf than ever when
her head shone out from the fluted frills, like
the yellow middle of a daisy with its white
petals all spread.
As he watched the children playing together,
the artist, having no great work in hand, made
several pretty sketches of them, and then had a
fine idea of painting the garden scene where
Fay first talked to Johnny. It pleased his fancy,
and the little people sat for him nicely; so he
made a charming thing of it, putting in the cat,
dog, bird, and toad as the various characters in
Shakspeare's lovely play, while the flowers were
the elves, peeping and listening in all manner of
merry, pretty ways.
He called it "Little Pyramus and Thisbe,"
and it so pleased a certain rich lady that she
paid a large price for it; and then, discovering
that it told a true story, she generously added
enough to send Johnny and his mother to the
country, when Fay and her father were ready to go.
But it was to a lovelier land than the boy had
ever read of in his fairy books, and to a happier
life than mending shoes in the dingy court. In
the autumn they all sailed gayly away together,
to live for years in sunny Italy, where Johnny
grew tall and strong, and learned to paint with
a kind master and a faithful young friend, who
always rejoiced that she found and delivered
him, thanks to the wonderful hole in the wall.