Becky's Christmas Dream
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Source: Frances Elizabeth Chutter, ed., The Art-Literature Readers, Book Three. Boston: Atkinson, Mentzer & Grover, 1907; pp. 38-45.
All alone by the kitchen fire, sat little Becky, for every one else had gone away to keep Christmas and left her to take care of the house. Nobody had thought to give her any presents, or take her to any merrymaking, or remembered that Christmas should be made a happy time to every child, whether poor or rich.
She was only twelve years old,óthis little girl from the poorhouse, who was bound to work for the farmerís wife till she was eighteen. She had no father or mother, no friends or home but this, and as she sat alone by the fire her little heart ached for some one to love and cherish her.
Becky was a shy, quiet child, with a thin face and wistful eyes that always seemed trying to find something that she wanted very much. She worked away, day after day, so patiently and silently that no one ever guessed what curious thoughts filled the little cropped head, or what a tender childís heart was hidden under the blue checked pinafore.
To-night she was wishing that there were fairies in the world, who would whisk down the chimney and give her quantities of pretty things, as they did in the delightful fairy tales.
"Iím sure I am as poor and lonely as Cinderella, and need a kind godmother to help me as much as ever she did," said Becky to herself. She sat on her little stool staring at the fire, which didnít burn very well, for she felt too much out of sorts to care whether things looked cheerful or not.
There is an old belief that all dumb things can speak for one hour on Christmas Eve. Now, Becky knew nothing of this story and no one can say whether what happened was true or whether she fell asleep and dreamed it. But certain it is when Becky compared herself to Cinderella, she was amazed to hear a small voice: reply,ó "Well, my dear, if you want advice, I shall be very glad to give you some, for Iíve had much experience in this trying world.
Becky stared about her, but all she saw was the old gray cat, blinking at the fire.
"Did you speak, Tabby?" said the child, at last.
"Of course I did. If you wish a godmother, here l am."
Becky laughed at the idea; but Puss, with her silver-gray suit, white handkerchief crossed on her bosom, kind, motherly old face, and cosy purr, did make a very good Quakerish little godmother after all.
"Well, maíam, Iím ready to listen," said Becky respectfully.
"First, my child, what do you want most?" asked the godmother, quite in the fairy-book style.
"To be loved by everybody," answered Becky.
"Good!" said the cat. "Iím pleased with that answer, itís sensible, and Iíll tell you how to get your wish. Learn to make people love you by loving them."
"I donít know how," sighed Becky.
"No more did I in the beginning," returned Puss. "When I first came here, a shy young kitten, I thought only of keeping out of everybodyís way, for I was afraid of every one. I hid under the barn and only came out when no one was near. I wasnít happy, for I wanted to be petted, but didnít know how to begin. One day I heard Aunt Sally say to the master, ĎJames, that wild kitten isnít any use at all, you had better drown her and get a nice tame one to amuse the children and clear the house of mice.í ĎThe poor thing has been abused, I guess, so we will give her another trial and may be she will come to trust us after a while,í said the good master. I thought over these things as I lay under the barn and resolved to do my best, for I did not want to be drowned. It was hard at first, but I began by coming out when little Jane called me and letting her play with me. Then I ventured into the house, and finding a welcome at my first visit, I went again and took a mouse with me to show that I wasnít idle. No one hurt or frightened me and soon I was the household pet. For several years I have led a happy life here."
Becky listened eagerly and when Puss had ended, she said timidly, "Do you think if I try not to be afraid, but to show that I want to be affectionate, the people will let me and will like it?"
"Very sure. I heard the mistress say you were a good, handy little thing. Do as I did, my dear, and you will find that there is plenty of love in the world."
"I will. Thank y u, dear old Puss, for your advice."
Puss came to rub her soft cheek against Beckyís hand, and then settled herself in a cosy hunch in Beckyís lap. Presently another voice spoke, a queer, monotonous voice, high above her.
"Tick, tick; wish again, little Becky, and Iíll tell you how to find your wish."
It was the old moon-faced clock behind the door, which had struck twelve just before Tabby first spoke.
"Dear me," said Becky, "how queerly things do act to-night!" She thought a moment then said soberly, "I wish I liked my work better. Washing dishes, picking chips and hemming towels is such tiresome work, I donít see how I can go on doing it for six more years."
"Just what I used to feel," said the clock. "I couldnít bear to think that I had got to stand here and do nothing but tick year after year. I flatly said I wouldnít, and I stopped a dozen times a day. Bless me, what a fuss I made until I was put in this corner to stand idle for several months. At first I rejoiced, then I got tired of doing nothing and began to reflect that as I was born a clock, it would be wiser to do my duty and get some satisfaction out of it if I could."
"And so you went to going again? Please teach me to be faithful and to love my duty," cried Becky.
"I will;" and the old clock grandly struck the half hour, with a smile on its round face, as it steadily ticked on.
Here the fire blazed up and the tea-kettle hanging on the crane began to sing.
"How cheerful that is!" said Becky, as the whole kitchen brightened with the ruddy glow. "If I could have a third wish, Iíd wish to be as cheerful as the fire."
"Have your wish if you choose, but you must work for it, as I do," cried the fire, as its flames embraced the old kettle till it gurgled with pleasure.
Becky thought she heard a queer voice humming these words
"Iím an old black kettle,
With a very crooked nose.
But I canít help being gay
When the jolly fire glows."
"I shouldnít wonder a mite if that child had been up to mischief to-night, rummaged all over the house, eaten herself sick, or stolen something and run away with it," fretted Aunt Sally, as the family went jingling home in the big sleigh about one oíclock from the Christmas party.
"Tut, tut, Aunty, I wouldnít think evil of the poor little thing. If Iíd had my way she would have gone with us and had a good time. She doesnít look as if she had seen many, and I have a notion it is what she needs," said the farmer kindly.
"The thought of her alone at home has worried me all the evening, but she didnít seem to mind, and I havenít had time to get a respectable dress ready for her to wear, so I let it go," added the farmerís wife, as she cuddled little Jane under the cloaks and shawls, with a regretful memory of Becky knocking at her heart.
"Iíve got some pop corn and a bouncing big apple for her," said Billy, the red-faced lad perched up by his father playing drive.
"And Iíll give her one of my dolls. She said she never had one, wasnít that dreadful?" put in little Jane, popping out her head like a bird from its nest.
"Better see what she has been doing first, advised Aunt Sally. "If she hasnít done any mischief and has remembered to have the kettle boiling so I can have a cup of hot tea after my ride, and if she has kept the fire up and warmed my slippers, I donít know but Iíll give her the red mittens I knit."
They found poor Becky lying on the bare floor, her head pillowed on the stool, and old Tabby in her arms, with a corner of the blue pinafore spread over her. The fire was burning splendidly, the kettle simmering, and in a row upon the hearth stood, not only Aunt Sallyís old slippers, but those of master and mistress also, and over a chair hung two little nightgowns warming for the children.
ĎWell now, who could have been more thoughtful than that!" said Aunt Sally. "Becky shall have those mittens, and Iíll knit her two pairs of stockings, that I will."
So Aunt Sally laid the gay mittens close to the little rough hand that had worked so busily all day. Billy set his big red apple and bag of pop corn just where she would see them when she woke. Jane laid the doll in Beckyís arms, and Tabby smelt of it approvingly, to the childrenís delight. The farmer had no present ready, but he stroked the little cropped head with a fatherly touch that made Becky smile in her sleep, as he said within himself, "I will do by this forlorn child as I would wish any one to do by my Janey if she were left alone." But the mother gave the best gift of all, for she stooped down and kissed Becky as only mothers can kiss. The good womanís heart reproached her for neglect of the child who had no mother.
That unusual touch wakened Becky at once, and looking about her with astonished eyes, she saw such a wonderful change in all the faces, that she clapped her hands and cried with a happy laugh, "My dreamís come true! Oh, my dreamís come true !"
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