FEBRUARY went by like a flash, or the children thought so. It was really a short 전주오피 month: but, besides, they were very busy; and work, you know, makes time fly. Thekla, who had just33 learned to spin, had a job on hand of which she was proud. It was no less than spinning and carding the wool for a bran-new suit of clothes which Max was to wear next year. Dyed brown, and woven by Mother Gretel the cunning weaver, they were to be something grand. As for Max, his work was wood-carving. Nearly all the German boys can carve; and he and Thekla thought the spoon over which he was so busy, and which had grape leaves and tendrils on the handle, most beautiful. It would go to the great Spring Fair, and fetch a large price, perhaps as much as a silver dollar. Altogether, they could hardly believe the calendar when it showed them a month had gone by, and that evening they must look for another visitor.
It was a dark night, and very cold. As they sat by the fire waiting, they could hear the frost cracking and snapping the tree-boughs. Now and then a crash like thunder came. It was a limb, overloaded with ice, breaking off, and falling34 to the ground. And by and by, among the other noises, a strange, wild voice began to mingle, making them all more fearful. It was March, who, as he came through the forest, was talking to himself.

“Blow, blow!” he was saying. “I’m coming on to blow. Rock, rock! There’d better be no babies in my tree-tops. To and fro, to and fro, roots and trunks alike, and the very stones must laugh and roll if I choose to tickle them.” And then he gave a loud thump at the door, and, without waiting answer, banged it open and marched in. He looked so big and fierce and stormy that Thekla shrank back, without daring to push forward a stool for him to sit upon; and even Max, who had pluck enough for ten boys, felt afraid.

“Won’t you sit down, sir?” he said at last very meekly, and went to shut the door, which March had left open. Quite a little heap of dead leaves and snow had collected on the sill; and Thekla, who was a born housewife, ran to brush them35 up. March twirled round on his stool, and watched her proceedings with great scorn.

“Sweep!” he said in a voice like a big wind. “You call that sweeping? You should see me when I get at it. I scoop up all the leaves in the world at once, and send them spinning. Whole snow-storms go into my dust-pan. Ho! ho!”

“But I am so little,” replied Thekla, in her bird’s voice; “and, beside, I have brushed up all there are.”

“All there are? Nonsense,” cried March; “but no matter. Am I, or am I not to tell a story? If not, let me know at once; for I have an engagement with a couple of hurricanes, and want to be off. A pretty business,” he went on, glaring fiercely, “to sit here by this melting fire to amuse a couple of thieving brats, when I have so much to do. Ho! ho!”

“Oh!” whispered Thekla to Max, “let’s give him his moments, and let him go: he makes me afraid.”

36 “Not I,” said Max, who was plucking up courage, “not if I know it!—Of course you are to tell a story,” he continued aloud: “you promised, and you ought to be a Month of your word. Thekla, put away that broom. Now we’re all ready, sir.”

March scowled, but made no resistance. As Max had said, he was a Month of his word; and he began in a queer voice, which was now loud and then soft, now dying away to a murmur and then bellowing out again in a way that made you jump.

“Once upon a time, as I was driving across a prairie, I saw a house.”

“I don’t know what a prairie is,” said Thekla, gently.

“I don’t suppose you do,” growled March: “that’s one of the things you don’t know, and there are a good many more of ’em. A prairie’s a big field without any fences, and several thousand miles square. People live there,—some people do: I spend a good deal of time37 there myself. First-rate place for a promenade,—no corners to turn, plenty of room. As I said, I saw a house.

“There was a snow-storm along with me. We had nine hundred billion horses, all white as wool; and we went fast. Killing pace. Horses kept dropping down dead, lay in heaps wherever we went; and we left ’em there. About four million dashed up against the house I was telling you about. They ’most covered it up, for it wasn’t a big house. There were two little windows and a door. Windows had curtains; but one was slipped aside, and the fire looked out like a red eye. I didn’t like that; so I put my eye to the other side, to see if I couldn’t look him down.

“Funniest thing I ever saw!” said March, giving a hoarse chuckle. “Such tots! Biggest only four years old; t’other not a year. There was a pussy too. They three—true, on my word—were the only creatures in the house that night.”

“Where could their father and mother be?” asked Max, excessively interested.

38 “Oh! went off that morning to the town,—like fools,—and couldn’t get back. We saw to that. Stuck in ten drifts, most frozen to death. Wife half-crazy about the babies; husband just managed to get to shelter. Ho! ho!” cried March. “Served ’em right, I say. Ho! ho!

“Don’t you think, that Tot, the biggest one, was putting a stick of wood on the fire when I looked in? Stick as big as she was, almost! How she did it was a mystery. Little apron blew into the flame, but I flew up the chimney and blew it the other way. ’Tisn’t often I do a good turn, but I couldn’t help it then.”

“That was right,” said Thekla.

“Hold your tongue!” cried March, rudely. “What do you know about it? Two sticks that little thing got on. I never did! How she managed it, and such a baby!

“Then she put a shawl over the other tot. Patted the corners down just like an old woman, and put one on herself. Hind side before, but no matter for that. Then she got into bed, and sang,39 ‘Hush by, Budda,—hus’ by, Budda,’ till the baby went to sleep. Then she went to sleep too. I thought I’d like to see what would happen when they woke up, so I sent the snow-storm on and stayed behind with my eye to the chink.

“I’m not a tender-hearted person myself,” said March, modestly, “but really I couldn’t bear to disturb those children. Several times I wanted to roar dreadfully,—roaring is one of my greatest pleasures,—but I didn’t. I never quite knew why, but so it was. The snow isn’t noisy, so it was as still all night about the little house as if it had been mid-summer.

“I watched, and the children slept. By and by when morning came, the baby woke up and began to cry. The Tot patted him and said, ‘Hush-a-by, Budda,’ a great many times; but he wouldn’t stop. Babies don’t stop,” added March, reflectively, “as a general thing. Then the Tot said, ‘Budda hundry;’ and she got up, and tugged and tugged to put a stick on the fire, and fetched a tin cup and spoon, and set them40 on a chair by the table where there was a milk-pan. She had to tip it with her little hands, and a great deal spilled on the floor and a great deal on her apron, but some went in the cup. She began to cry at first; then she said, ‘Mamie didn’t mean to,’ and brightened up again. And she warmed the milk and fed that baby like a woman,” cried March, giving his knee a great slap. “I never did! Baby ate it all, and went to sleep again. Tot drank some too, but not much. Wanted to save it for the baby, I guess.

“It was a very cold day. I kept in a long time; but at last I had to howl or I should have burst. Tot got frightened. She said her little prayers, and hid her head under the pillow; but when the other cried, she stopped, and gave him some milk, and sang, ‘Hush by, Budda,’ till he went off again. I tell you what,” said March, “I did feel sorry for that child.

“There was only one stick of wood left, and that was a big one. Tot couldn’t move it. Pussy got on the table, and lapped up all the milk in41 the pan. Then Tot cried hard, and said, ‘Mamma, come! oh do come!’ over and over. She put all the clothes there were on the bed. When the baby cried, she patted him with her little hand, and cried too. When morning came, they were both still. I could see them through the window. Away off on the prairie I heard the slow jingle of a bell.

“‘Hurry! hurry!’ I roared, ‘or you’ll be too late.’ Then I scooped up the snow, and blew open a path. The sleigh got nearer. The woman couldn’t wait. She held out her arms to the cottage. At last she jumped into the snow (it was up to her waist), and floundered to the door. She beat upon it, threw it open, and cried out, ‘Mary! baby! O my baby!’

“They lay in the bed; but no little voices answered. The mother gave a loud scream. ‘Oh, they are dead!’ she shrieked, and flung herself over them.

“The men ran in. There were four of them. They built a fire and warmed blankets, and put hot milk into the mouths of the little ones.

42 “‘This little fellow isn’t dead,’ said one of them. He wasn’t. Pretty soon he opened his eyes, and when he saw his mother he began to cry. Tot had wrapped him up so warm that the cold didn’t kill him,—only made him dull.

“It took longer to bring her round, but at last they did. And the first thing she said was, ‘Mamie didn’t mean to spill the milk.’

“I declare,” said March with a frog in his throat, “I never did see the beat of that child.”

“And is that the end?” asked Thekla, who had been quietly crying for some time past over little Tot’s troubles.

“Of course it’s the end,” replied March. “What did you expect? And a very nice story it is, though I say it as shouldn’t.

“And now I’m off,” shouted he, and made a rush for the door.

“One minute!” cried Max: “you’ve forgotten something. Here’s your moments, you know. And then there is the present you were to give us: don’t leave that out.”

43 “I’m glad you reminded me,” said March,—“very glad indeed.” His wild eyes sparkled with a fierce light which was ugly to see. With one hand he seized his “moments,” the other was fumbling in his pocket.

“Here it is!” he cried, and flung something in their faces. Another instant he had banged the door and was gone. They could hear him roaring and whooping as he went.

The poor children—all red in the face, sneezing, coughing—looked at each other.

“Ow! ow!” cried Max.

“Thzs! thzs!” responded Thekla.

March’s present was a bad cold in the head!