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Goody Gracious! and the Forget-Me-Not by John Neal

Once there was a little bit of a thing,—not more than so high,—and her name was Ruth Page; but they called her Teenty-Tawnty, for she was the daintiest little creature you ever saw, with the smoothest hair and the brightest face; and then she was always playing about, and always happy; and so the people that lived in that part of the country, when they heard her laughing and singing all by herself at peep of day, like little birds alter a shower, and saw her running about in the edge of the wood after tulips and butterflies, or tumbling head-over-heels in the long rich grass by the river-side, with her little pet lamb or her two white pigeons always under her feet, or listening to the wild bees in the apple-blossoms, with her sweet mouth "all in a tremble," and her happy eyes brimful of sunshine,—they used to say that she was no child at all, or no child of earth, but a fairy-gift, and that she must have been dropped into her mother's lap, like a handful of flowers, when she was half asleep; and so they wouldn't call her Ruth Page,—no indeed, that they wouldn't!—but they called her little Teenty-Tawnty, or the Little Fairy; and they used to bring her fairy tales to read, till she couldn't bear to read anything else, and wanted to be a fairy herself.

Well, and so one day, when she was out in the sweet-smelling woods, all alone by herself, singing, "Where are you going, my pretty maid, my pretty maid?" and watching the gold-jackets, and the blue dragon-flies, and the sweet pond-lilies, and the bright-eyed glossy eels, and the little crimson-spotted fish, as they "coiled and swam," and darted hither and thither, like "flashes of golden fire," and then huddled together, all of a sudden, just underneath the green turf where she sat, as if they saw something, and were half frightened to death, and were trying to hide in the shadow; well and so—as she sat there, with her little naked feet hanging over and almost touching the water, singing to herself, "My face is my fortune, sir, she said! sir, she said!" and looking down into a deep sunshiny spot, and holding the soft smooth hair away from her face with both hands, and trying to count the dear little fish before they got over their fright, all at once she began to think of the water-fairies, and how cool and pleasant it must be to live in these deep sunshiny hollows, with green turf all about you, the blossoming trees and the blue skies overhead, the bright gravel underneath your feet, like powdered stars, and thousands of beautiful fish for playfellows! all spotted with gold and crimson, or winged with rose-leaves, and striped with faint purple and burnished silver, like the shells and flowers of the deep sea, where the moonlight buds and blossoms forever and ever; and then she thought if she could only just reach over, and dip one of her little fat rosy feet into the smooth shining water,—just once—only once,—-it would be so pleasant! and she should be so happy! and then, if she could but manage to scare the fishes a little,—a very little,—that would be such glorious fun, too,—wouldn't it, you?

Well and so—she kept stooping and stooping, and stretching and stretching, and singing to herself all the while, "Sir, she said! sir, she said! I'm going a milking, sir, she said!" till just as she was ready to tumble in, head first, something jumped out of the bushes behind her, almost touching her as it passed, and went plump into the deepest part of the pool! saying, "Once! once!" with a heavy booming sound, like the tolling of a great bell under water, and afar off.

"Goody gracious! what's that?" screamed little Ruth Page, and then, the very next moment, she began to laugh and jump and clap her hands, to see what a scampering there was among the poor silly fish, and all for nothing! said she; for out came a great good-natured bull-frog, with an eye like a bird, and a big bell-mouth, and a back all frosted over with precious stones, and dripping with sunshine; and there he sat looking at her awhile, as if he wanted to frighten her away; and then he opened his great lubberly mouth at her, and bellowed out, "Once! once!" and vanished.

"Luddy tuddy! who cares for you?" said little Ruth; and so, having got over her fright, she began to creep to the edge of the bank once more, and look down into the deep water, to see what had become of the little fish that were so plentiful there, and so happy but a few minutes before. But they were all gone, and the water was as still as death; and while she sat looking into it, and waiting for them to come back, and wondering why they should he so frightened at nothing but a bull-frog, which they must have seen a thousand times, the poor little simpletons! and thinking she should like to catch one of the smallest and carry it home to her little baby-brother, all at once a soft shadow fell upon the water, and the scented wind blew her smooth hair all into her eyes, and as she put up both hands in a hurry to pull it away, she heard something like a whisper close to her ear, saying, "Twice! twice!" and just then the trailing branch of a tree swept over the turf, and filled the whole air with a storm of blossoms, and she heard the same low whisper repeated close at her ear, saying, "Twice! twice!" and then she happened to look down into the water,—and what do you think she saw there?

"Goody gracious, mamma! is that you?" said poor little Ruth; and up she jumped, screaming louder than ever, and looking all about her, and calling, "Mamma, mamma! I see you, mamma! you needn't hide, mamma!" But no mamma was to be found.

"Well, if that isn't the strangest thing!" said little Ruth, at last, after listening a few minutes, on looking all round everywhere, and up into the trees, and away off down the river-path, and then toward the house. "If I didn't think I saw my dear good mamma's face in the water, as plain as day, and if I didn't hear something whisper in my ear and say, "Twice! twice!"—and then she stopped, and held her breath, and listened again,—"if I didn't hear it as plain as I ever heard anything in my life, then my name isn't Ruth Page, that's all, nor Teenty-Tawnty neither!" And then she stopped, and began to feel very unhappy and sorrowful; for she remembered how her mother had cautioned her never to go near the river, nor into the woods alone, and how she had promised her mother many and many a time never to do so, never, never! And then the tears came into her eyes, and she began to wish herself away from the haunted spot, where she could kneel down and say her prayers; and then she looked up to the sky, and then down into the still water, and then she thought she would just go and take one more peep,—only one,—just to see if the dear little fishes had got over their fright, and then she would run home to her mother, and tell her how forgetful she had been, and how naughty, and ask her to give her something that would make her remember her promises. Poor thing! little did she know how deep the water was, nor how wonderfully she had escaped! once, once! twice, twice! and still she ventured a third time.

Well and so—don't you think, she crept along, crept along to the very edge of the green, slippery turf, on her hands and knees, half trembling with fear, and half laughing to think of that droll-looking fat fellow, with the big bell-mouth, and the yellow breeches, and the grass-green military jacket, turned up with buff and embroidered with gems, and the bright golden eye that had so frightened her before, and wondering in her little heart if he would show himself again; and singing all the while, as she crept nearer and nearer, "Nobody asked you, sir, she said! sir, she said! nobody asked you, sir, she said!" till at last she had got near enough to look over, and see the little fishes there tumbling about by dozens, and playing bo-peep among the flowers that grew underneath the bank, and were multiplied by thousands in the clear water, when, all at once, she felt the turf giving way, and she put out her arms and screamed for her mother. Goody gracious! how she did scream! and then something answered from the flowing waters underneath, and from the flowering trees overhead, with a mournful sweet sound, like wailing afar off, "Thrice! thrice!" and the flashing waters swelled up, saying, "Thrice! thrice!" and the flowering branch of the tree swept over the turf, and the sound was the same, "Thrice! thrice!" and in she went, headlong, into the deepest part of the pool, screaming with terror, and calling on her mother to the last: poor mother!

Well and so—when she came to herself, where do you think she was? Why, she was lying out in the warm summer air, on a green bank, all tufted with cowslips and violets and clover-blossoms, with a plenty of strawberries underneath her feet, and the bluest water you ever saw all round her, murmuring like the rose-lipped sea-shells; and the air was full of singing-birds, and there was a little old woman looking at her, with the funniest cap, and a withered face not bigger than you may see when you look at the baby through the big end of a spyglass: the cap was a morning-glory, and it was tied underneath the chin with bleached cobweb, and the streamers and bows were just like the colors you see in a soap-bubble.

"Goody gracious! where am I now?" said little Ruth.

"Yes, my dear, that's my name," said the little old woman, dropping a low courtesy, and then spinning round two or three times, and squatting down suddenly, so as to make what you call a cheese.

"Why, you don't mean to say that's your real name," whispered little

"To be sure it is! just as much as— And pray, my little creature, what's your name?"

"Mine! O, my name is Ruth Page, only Ruth Page." And up she jumped, and spun round among the strawberries and flowers, and tried to make a courtesy like the little old woman, and then they both burst out a-laughing together.

"Well," said Goody Gracious, "you're a nice, good-natured, funny little thing, I'll say that for you, as ever I happened to meet with; but haven't you another and a prettier name, hey?"

"Why, sometimes they call me little Teenty-Tawnty," said Ruth.

"Fiddle-de-dee, I don't like that name any better than the other: we must give you a new name," said the little old woman; "but first tell me,"—and she grew very serious, and her little sharp eyes changed color,—"first tell me how you happened to be here, in the very heart of Fairy-land, with nobody to take care of you, and not so much as a wasp or a bumble-bee to watch over you when you are asleep."

"Indeed, and indeed, ma'am, I don't know," said little Ruth; "all I do know is, that I have been very naughty, and that I am drowned, and that I shall never see my poor dear mamma any more!" And then she up and told the whole story to the little old woman, crying bitterly all the while.

"Don't take on so, my little dear, don't, don't!" said Goody Gracious; and out she whipped what appeared to Ruth nothing but a rumpled leaf of the tiger-lily, and wiped her eyes with it. "Be a good child, and, after a trial of three days in Fairy-land, if you want to go back to your mother you shall go, and you may carry with you a token to her that you have told the truth."

"O, bless your little dear old-fashioned face," cried Ruth; "O, bless you, bless you! only give me a token that will make me always remember what I have promised my poor dear mother, and I shall be so happy! and I won't ask for anything else."

"What, neither for humming-birds, nor gold-fish, nor butterflies, nor diamonds, nor pearls, nor anything you have been wishing for so long, ever since you were able to read about Fairy-land?"

"No, ma'am; just give me a ring of wheat-straw, or a brooch from the ruby-beetle, if you like, and I shall be satisfied."

"Be it so; but, before I change you to a fairy, you must make choice of what you want to see in Fairy-land for three days running; for, at the end of that time, I shall change you back again, so that if you are of the same mind then, you may go back to your mother, and, if not, you will stay with us for ever and ever."

"For ever and ever?" said Ruth, and she trembled; "please, ma'am, I should like to go now, if it's all the same to you?"

"No! but take this flower," and, as she spoke, she stooped down, and pulled up a forget-me-not by the roots, and breathed upon it, and it blossomed all over; "take this root," said she, "and plant it somewhere, and tend it well, and at any time after three days, if you get tired of being here, all you have to do will be just to pull it up out of the earth, and wish yourself at home, and you will find yourself there in a moment, in your own little bed."

"Goody gracious! you don't say so!"

"But I do say so."

"I declare, I've a good mind to try!"

"What, pull it up before you have planted it? No, no, my dear. It must be left out threescore and twelve hours, and be watered with the dews and the starlight of the South Sea, where you are now, thousands and thousands of miles from your own dear country; but there is one thing I would have you know before you plant the flower."

"If you please, ma'am," said little Ruth.

"It is given to you, my dear, to help you correct your faults; you mean to do right, and you try pretty hard, but you are so forgetful, you say."

"Yes, ma'am,"

"Well, now, but just so long as you tend this plant with care, and water it every day at the same hour,—every day, mind you, and at the same hour,—you will be growing better."

Ruth was overjoyed.

"But," continued the fairy, "if you neglect it for a single day, it will begin to droop and wither, the leaves will change, and some of the blossoms will drop off, and your mother will begin to feel unhappy and low-spirited."

"O yes; but I never shall, ma'am,—never, never!"

"Don't be too sure; and if you neglect it for two whole days running, all the flowers will drop off but one, and your mother will take to her bed, and nobody but you will know what ails her."

Poor Ruth began to tremble, and the tears came in her eyes.

"But," continued the fairy,—"but if you should neglect it for three days running, my poor child,—but for three days running,—the last flower will drop off, and your mother will die of a broken heart."

"O mercy, mercy!" cried poor little Ruth. "O, take it! take it! I wouldn't have it for the world!" And she flung it down upon the loose earth, and shook her little fingers, just as if something had stung her.

"It is too late now. See, my dear, it has already taken root, and now there is no help for it. Remember! your mother's health, happiness, and life depend upon that flower. Watch it well! And now, daughter of earth," and, as she spoke, she stooped, and pulled up a whole handful of violets, dripping with summer rain,—and repeating the words, "Daughter of earth, away! Rosebud, appear!" shook the moisture all over her; and instantly the dear child found herself afloat in the air, with pinions of purple gauze, bedropped with gold, with millions of little fairies all about her, swarming like butterflies and blossoms after a pleasant rain, and welcoming their sister Rosebud to Fairy-land.

"Well," thought Rosebud,—we must call her Rosebud now,—"well, if this being a little fairy isn't one of the pleasantest things." And then she recollected that she had only three days to stay there and see the sights, and she looked round her to ask if there was anybody near to help her, and take charge of her, and tell her what to do and where to go.

"Daughter," said a sweet voice that she knew, though it appeared to come out and steal up from the leaves of another morning-glory,—"Daughter!"

"Mother," said Rosebud.

"You may have your choice to-day of these three things,—a butterfly-hunt, a wedding, or a play."

"O, a wedding, a wedding," said Rosebud. "O, I have always wanted to see a wedding."

"Be it so," said the voice; and instantly a sweet wind arose, and lifted her up, and swept her, and thousands more like her, over the blue deep so swiftly that nothing could be seen but a mist of sparkles here and there, till they all found themselves on the sea-shore, at the mouth of a deep sparry cave, all hung about with the richest moss, and lighted with pearls in clusters, and with little patches of glow-worms, and carpeted with the wings of butterflies. In the midst were a multitude of little fairies, hovering and floating over a throne of spider-net ivory, on which lay the bride, with a veil of starlight, interwoven with the breath of roses, covering her from head to foot, and falling over the couch like sunshine playing on clear water.

By and by a faint, strange murmuring was heard afar off, like the ringing of lily-bells to the touch of the honey-bees, growing louder and louder, and coming nearer and nearer every moment. Rosebud turned toward the sea with all the other fairies, and held her breath; and after a few moments a fleet of little ships, with the most delicate purple and azure sails, so thin that you could see the sky through them, came tilting along over the sea as if they were alive,—and so they were,—and drew up, as if in order of battle, just before the mouth of the cave; and then a silver trumpet sounded on the shore, and a swarm of hornets appeared, whizzing and whirring all about the cave; and then there was another trumpet, and another, about as loud as you may hear from a caged blue-bottle, and compliments were interchanged, and a salute fired, which frightened the little lady-fairies into all sorts of shapes, and made the little fairy-bride jump up and ask if her time had come, though, to tell you the truth, the noise did not appear much more terrible to Rosebud than her little brother's pop-gun; and then a sort of barge, not unlike the blossom of a sweet pea in shape, was manned from the largest of the fleet, and, when it touched the bright sparkling sand, out leaped a little prince of a fellow, with a bunch of white feathers in his hat, plucked from the moth-miller, a sword like the finest cambric-needle belted about his waist, and the most unimpeachable small-clothes.

This turned out to be the bridegroom; and after a few more flourishes, and not a little pulling and hauling among the bridesmaids, the bride and the bridegroom stood up together, and looked silly and sheepish, as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths; and after listening awhile to an old droning-beetle, without hearing a word he said, they bowed and courtesied, and made some sort of a reply, nobody could guess what; and then forth stepped the master of ceremonies, a priggish-looking grasshopper, with straw-colored tights, and a fashionable coat, single-breasted, and so quakerish it set poor little Rosebud a-laughing, in spite of all she could do, every time she looked at his legs; and then! out ran the ten thousand trumpeting bumble-bees, and the katydid grew noisier than ever, and the cricket chirruped for joy, and the bridegroom touched the bride's cheek, and pointed slyly toward a little heap of newly gathered roses and violets, piled up afar off, in a shadowy part of the cave, just underneath a trailing canopy of changeable moss; the bride blushed, and the fairies tittered, and little Rosebud turned away, and wished herself at home, and instantly the bride and the bridegroom vanished! and the ships and the fairies! and the lights and the music! and Rosebud found herself standing face to face with the little withered old woman, who was looking mournfully at the drooping forget-me-not. The tears came into her eyes, and for the first time since the flower took root,—for the very first time,—she began to think of her mother, and of her promise to the fairy; and she stooped down, in an agony of terror and shame and self-reproach, to see how it fared with her forget-me-not. Alas! it had already begun to droop and wither; and the leaves were changing color, and the blossoms were dropping off, and she knew that her mother was beginning to suffer.

"O that I had never seen the hateful flower!" cried Rosebud; and then instantly recollecting herself, she dropped upon her knees, and kissed it, and wept upon it, and the flower seemed refreshed by her tears; and when she stood up and looked into the face of the good little fairy, and saw her lips tremble, and the color change in her sweet mournful eyes, she felt as if she never should be happy again.

"Daughter of earth! child of the air!" said the fairy, "two more days remain to thee. What wouldst thou have?"

"O nothing! nothing! Let me but go back to my dear, dear mother, and I shall be so happy!"

"That cannot be. These trials are to prepare thee for thy return to her. Be patient, and take thy choice of these three things,—a tournament, a coronation, or a ball!"

"Goody gracious! how I should like to see a coronation!" cried Rosebud; and then she recollected herself, and blushed and courtesied, and said, "if you please, ma'am."

"Call me mother, my dear; in Fairy-land I am your mother."

"Well, mother," said Rosebud, the tears starting into her eyes, and her heart swelling, as she determined never to call her mamma, no, never!—"well, mother, if you please, I would rather stay here and watch the flower: I don't want to see anything more in Fairy-land; I've had enough of such things to last me as long as I live. But O, if I should happen to fall asleep!"

"If you should, my dear, you will wake in season; but take your choice."

"Thank you, mother, but I choose to stay here."

At these words the fairy vanished, and Rosebud was left alone, looking at the dear little flower, which seemed to grow fresher and fresher, and more and more beautiful every minute, and wondering whether it would be so with her dear mamma; and then she fell to thinking about her home, and how much trouble she had given her mother, and how much better she would always be after she had got back to her once more; and then she fell asleep, and slept so soundly that she did not wake till the sun was up, and it was time to water the flower.

At first she was terribly frightened; but when she remembered what the fairy told her, she began to feel comfortable, and, lest something might happen, she took a little sea-shell that lay there, and running down to the water, dipped it up full, and was on her way back, thinking how happy her poor dear mamma would feel if she could only know what it was and who it was that made her so much better, when she heard the strangest and sweetest noises all about her in the air, as if the whole sky was full of the happiest and merriest creatures! and when she looked up, lo! there was a broad glitter to be seen, as if the whole population of Fairy-land were passing right over her head, making a sort of path like that you see at sunrise along the blue deep, when the waters are motionless and smooth and clear.

"Well," said she, looking up, "I do wonder where they are going so fast,"—and then she stopped,—"and I do think they might he civil enough just to let a body know; I dare say 'tis the coronation, or the butterfly-hunt, or the tournament, or the— O, how I should like to be there!"

No sooner was the wish uttered, than she found herself seated in a high gallery, as delicately carved as the ivory fans of the east; with diamonds and ostrich-feathers all about and below her, and a prodigious crowd assembled in the open air,—with the lists open,—a trumpet sounding,—and scores of knights armed cap-a-pie, and mounted on dragon-flies, waiting for the charge. All eyes were upon her, and everybody about was whispering her name, and she never felt half so happy in her life; and she was just beginning to compare the delicate embroidery of her wings with that of her next neighbor, a sweet little fairy who sat looking through her fingers at a youthful champion below, and pouting and pouting as if she wanted everybody to know that he had jilted her, when she happened to see a little forget-me-not embroidered on his beaver; and she instantly recollected her promise, and cried out, "O mamma! mamma!" and wished herself back again, where she might sit by the flower and watch over it, and never leave it, never! till her three days of trial were ended.

In a moment, before she could speak a word, or even make a bow to the nice little boy-fairy, who had just handed her up her glove on the point of a lance like a sunbeam, she found herself seated by the flower. Poor little thing! It was too late! Every blossom had fallen off but one, and that looked unhealthy, and trembled when she breathed upon it. She thought of her mamma, and fancied she could see them carrying her up to bed, and all the doctors there, and nobody able to tell what ailed her; and she threw herself all along upon the grass, and wished all the fairies at the bottom of the Red Sea, and herself with them! And when she looked up, what do you think she saw? and where do you think she was? why, she was at the bottom of the Red Sea, and all the wonders of the Red Sea were about her,—chariots and chariot-wheels and the skeletons of war-horses, and mounted warriors, with heaps of glittering armor, and jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and banner and shield and spear, with millions and millions of little sea-fairies, and Robin Goodfellows, and giants and dwarfs, and the funniest-looking monsters you ever heard of; and the waters were all bright with fairy-lamps that were alive, and with ribbons that were alive, and with changeable flowers that swam about and whispered to each other in a language of their own; and there were great heaps of pearl washed up into drifts and ridges, and a pile of the strangest-looking old-fashioned furniture, of gold and ivory, and little mermaids with their dolls not longer than your finger, with live fishes for tails, jumping about and playing hide-and-seek with the sun-spots and star-fishes, and the striped water-snakes of the Indian seas,—the most brilliant and beautiful of all the creatures that live there.

And while she was looking about her, and wondering at all she saw, she happened to think once more of the forget-me-not, and to wish herself back again! At that instant she heard a great heavy bell booming and tolling,—she knew it was tolling—and she knew she was too late—and she knew that her mother was dead of a broken heart,—and she fell upon her face, and stretched forth her hands with a shriek, and prayed God to forgive her! and allow her to see her mother once more,—only once more!

"Why, what ails the child?" whispered somebody that seemed to be stooping over her.

It was her mother's voice! and poor Ruth was afraid to look up lest it should all vanish forever.

"Upon my word, Sarah," said another voice,—it was her father's,—"upon my word, Sarah, I do not know; but the poor little creature's thoughts appear to have undergone another change. I have heard nothing to-day of the forget-me-not which troubled her so the first week, have you?"

"She has mentioned it but once to-day, and then she shuddered; but perhaps we had better keep it in the glass till we see whether it will bear to be transplanted, for she seems to have set her little heart upon having that flower live; I wish I knew why!"

"Do you, indeed, mamma?" whispered poor Ruth, still without looking up; "well, then, I will tell you. That flower was given me by a fairy to make me remember my promises to you, my poor, dear, dead mamma; and so long as I water that every day at the same hour, so long I shall be growing better and better, and my poor dear mamma,—boo-hoo! boo-hoo!" and the little thing began to cry as if she would break her heart.

"Why, this is stranger than all," said the father. "I can't help thinking the poor child would be rational enough now, if she hadn't read so many fairy-books; but what a mercy it was, my dear Sarah, and how shall we ever be thankful enough, that you happened to be down there when she fell into the water."

"Ah!" Ruth Page began to hold her breath, and listen with the strangest feeling.

"Yes, Robert; but I declare to you, I am frightened whenever I think of the risk I ran by letting her fall in, head first, as I did."

Poor Ruth began to lift her head, and to feel about, and pinch herself to see if she was really awake.

"And then, too, just think of this terrible fever, and the strange, wild poetry she has been talking, day after day, about Fairy-land."

"Poetry! Fudge, Robert, fudge!"

Ruth looked up, full of amazement and joy, and whispered, "Fudge, father, fudge!" and the very next words that fell from her trembling lips as she sat looking at her mother, and pointing at a little bunch of forget-me-nots in full flower, that her mother had kept for her in a glass by the window, were these, "O mother! dearest mother! what a terrible dream I have had!"

"Hush, my love, hush! and go to sleep, and we will talk this matter over when you are able to bear it."

"Goody gracious, mamma!"

"There she goes again!" cried the father; "now we shall have another fit!"

"Hush, hush, my love! you must go to sleep now, and not talk any more."

"Well, kiss me, mamma, and let me have your hand to go to sleep with, and I'll try."

Her mother kissed the dear little thing, and took her hand in hers, and laid her cheek upon the pillow, and in less than five minutes she was sound asleep, and breathing as she hadn't breathed before since she had been fished out of the water, nearly three weeks back, on her way to Fairy-land.