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The Bag of Smiles
HERE was once a queer little
town in a country which has now been almost forgotten. It
lay just at the edge of an immense forest, and
near green fields and pleasant hillsides; and if you had
walked through the town you might have thought that the
houses looked very much like those in other towns, and the
people living in them like the people in all the rest of the
world. But you would have been mistaken. In this town
there was something sadly different from any other place you
The difference was that no one in the town was happy, or
ever smiled. At a little distance the people
 looked like other people, except that they had grown very
thin from never laughing; but when you came closer you saw
that their faces were all exceedingly long, and did not have
any of the wrinkles that are made by smiling, but only those
that come from worries and frowns. And at certain times of
the day, such as the hour when school was dismissed and the
children came out on the street, there was silence, when in
other places the air was full of shouting and laughter.
The reason for all this was strange as the thing itself.
There had once been in this town a wise old woman, who,
besides knowing how to take care of her garden and knit
stockings, had known how to care for all the sick people in
the town, and make clothes for all the poor people, and
cookies for all the children, and, indeed, had known how to
do almost everything that could be asked. Greatest of all,
the wise old woman had learned how to be happy. She said so
herself, and no one had the least doubt of it. All the other
people of the town wanted to learn the wonderful secret; but
whenever they would come to her and say, "Where do you get
your happiness?" she would always answer:
"Why, out of the Bag of Smiles, to be sure."
 But as no one had ever seen the Bag of Smiles, no one knew
what it was. The people hoped that, as the wise woman grew
older, she would perhaps give it to some of her friends, or
perhaps leave it to them when she died, if not before. But
instead of dying, the old woman had simply disappeared. One
sad day she had been seen walking into the great forest, as
she often did to gather herbs, and she had never returned.
Her little cottage was found in perfect order, left as if
she might have been going away on a journey, and for a long
time it was supposed that she would soon come back. But she
Worst of all, they could find no trace of her secret, or of
the Bag of Smiles. They hunted in her little house, but
could find nothing in her drawers but what they had often
seen there,—stockings that she had knitted for the poor
children, neat little packages of lavender and dried
sweet-clover, and herbs with which she had made medicine for
the sick. After this the town grew sadder and sadder. Every
one thought, since the old woman had gone, that the secret
of being happy must now be discovered over again; and the
richest man in the town offered a large reward to whoever
would find the Bag of Smiles. No one dared
 to go far into the forest to look for it, where it might be
that the old woman had taken it or left it hiding, for the
forest was so deep and dark that it was thought to be unsafe
for travelers. But almost every one hunted for the Bag in
one way or another. The farmers stopped caring for their
fields, so that they might have more time for the search,
and there came very near being a famine. Many of the
children gave up their playing and their picnics for the
same reason, and it was hard to find any one who could do
anything for you, because everybody wanted all his time to
himself in order to find the secret.
But, instead of finding it, they all grew more and more
unhappy. It was then that their faces began to grow long,
and they began to forget how to smile even as much as they
had done before. So people no longer came to the
town, when they heard what an unhappy place it was, and
things went on in the worst possible way.
Now there was a little boy named Hilary, who lived alone
with his grandfather in one of the houses nearest the
forest. It happened that Hilary was not quite so sad as most
of the people about him, because his grandfather was old and
lame, and Hilary had to take care of him and run errands for
 much that he did not have much time to think about the
things that every one else was so anxious about. But of
course he had often heard the story of the wise old woman
and the lost Bag, and wondered if the time would ever come
when he should be able to hunt for it. It seemed to him that
it would be best to go into the forest, no matter how dark
and dangerous it was, and try to find the old woman herself;
for surely she must be in there, if she had never come out.
But Hilary never had any time to himself until his
grandfather died. Then he was left alone, and at first he
felt sad enough. He knew nothing of the world, except
the sober people in the town, and the trees at the edge of
the forest, with their whispering leaves and the little
birds that sang in the branches, and of the two he preferred
the trees. Then there came to him the thought that now he
was free to hunt for the wise old woman, and learn the
secret of the Bag of Smiles. If he could only find it, and
share it with all the people in the town, what a different
town it would be!
So, without waiting for the neighbors who were coming to
take him to live with them, Hilary went softly about his
grandfather's house, and gathered up in a handkerchief all
the things that he wanted to take
 with him. There were nuts and buns for his luncheon; a
compass to help him on his journey; a sling, in case he
should meet any giants or wild animals in the forest, and
one or two little things that had been his grandfather's,
to remember him by. With only this bundle, and his
every-day clothes and cap, Hilary started into the forest,
not telling any one of his plans. When the neighbors came to
the cottage they found it empty; and as no one had
disappeared so strangely since the time when the wise old
woman had gone away, some said that perhaps she had come out
of the forest and taken Hilary, because he had been left
In this way the boy began a long journey, never knowing to
what place he was coming, or indeed how far he had traveled
from home; but it did not matter, since he never cared to go
back. The forest, even if it was big and dark, he still
found more pleasant than the town full of dreary people. It
was not until sunset that he began to feel lonely, and to
wish for some cozy place where he might sleep. But so far
there was no sign of a clearing or of any kind of house.
Hilary was hurrying along, hoping that at least he might
find a hollow tree in which to go to sleep, when he heard
something say "Chee!" in a mournful little voice.
 He looked everywhere, and at last saw a bird at the foot of
an elm tree. It had evidently met with some accident and
broken its wing, for it could lie only on one side, rolling
its round eyes and saying, "Chee!" as though it would ask
"Dear me!" said Hilary. "I am very sorry for you,
but I don't think I can stop now, as it is almost dark and I
am looking for a place to sleep. Perhaps your wing will be
better in the morning."
"Chee-weep!" said the little bird.
"Dear me!" said Hilary again. "It is pretty bad to be alone
in the forest, with a broken wing. I believe I shall have to
stop and help you, after all."
So he sat down at the foot of the tree, picked up a twig,
and began to make a splint for the wing, such as he had seen
his grandfather make for a hurt pigeon. Then he tore a bit
from his handkerchief with which to fasten the splint, while
all the time the little bird rolled its eyes and tried to
thank him as well as it could. At last Hilary had done all
that he knew how to do, and said good-by to the bird, so
that he could hurry on his journey again; but now the bird
called after him so loudly that he could not help turning
back. Then he saw that it had started to hop along the
ground, and even to fly a few feet at a
 time. It was not following Hilary, but going off in another
direction, and seemed to be calling to Hilary to follow.
When the boy came closer, the bird moved on a little
farther, still calling; and at last it occurred to Hilary
that perhaps his new friend was trying to lead him to a
place where it had a nest.
"Who knows," he said to himself, "but it might be a good
place for me to make my nest, too, since I can find no
house?" And he began to follow the little bird willingly.
Soon after this it grew dark, but the bird kept calling, so
that Hilary could still follow it through the forest. And
at last something happened: he saw a light ahead.
Almost at the same minute he noticed that the little bird
had stopped calling; in fact, it had flown into the low
branch of a tree and put its head under its wing, ready for
a night's sleep. So Hilary had only to go on toward the
light, and see if he could find shelter.
The light was from a big house that stood in a big clearing
in the forest, and when Hilary knocked at the gate he was
met by a kind housekeeper, who was very glad to let him come
in and to find a place for him to spend the night. Then he
discovered that this was the house of a very rich man, who
had so much
 gold and silver that he did not know what to do with it. He
had been so much troubled by the people who came to ask for
his money, that he had moved here to the forest, where he
lived alone with his servants and his little girl.
He was met by a kind housekeeper
"Now," said Hilary to himself, "if he has lived here a long
time, perhaps he can tell me something about the old woman I
am looking for, or, at any rate, about the Bag of Smiles."
So in the morning, when he saw the rich man walking in the
garden that surrounded the big house, he went to him, and
asked if he could give him any help in his search. But
the rich man said that he had never heard of the old woman,
and that, although he had heard of the Bag of Smiles, he had
never seen it, and doubted whether there really was any such
thing. And as for knowing the secret of being happy, he was
far too busy taking care of his gold and silver to have any
time for that.
So Hilary, after thanking him for his night's rest and for
the good breakfast that the housekeeper had given him, was
ready to go on his journey again. But just at that moment
one of the servants came up and told the rich man that his
little daughter Phyllis was lost. She had gone into the
 her morning walk, and it seemed that she had been chasing a
butterfly until she had got a long way from her nurse, and
when the nurse had gone to look for her, she was nowhere to
Then the rich man began to be greatly frightened and gave
orders that the servants should stop all their other work
and go into the forest to look for
Phyllis. And Hilary, seeing how distressed he was, offered
to help also.
"If I could only meet with my little bird again," he said to
himself as he started off, "I should not wonder if he would
help me to find the lost Phyllis, as he helped me to find
the house in the clearing."
And he had no sooner thought this than he heard something
say "Chee!" Sure enough, there was the little bird hopping
along in front of him. It could
fly better this morning than on the night before, but never
flew so far that Hilary could not easily keep up with it,
and went on into the forest as if it knew just where it was
going. Hilary did not know whether it would really do him
any good to follow the bird, but since he had no idea of his
own as to the way to go, he was sure that at least it could
do no harm; so on he went, wherever his little friend led
him among the trees.
 At last, after a long, long walk, he saw something ahead of
him that looked like gold; and when he came nearer it proved
to be the hair of little Phyllis, as she lay on the grass
where she had gone to sleep, after she had discovered that
she was lost. So Hilary came close to her, and awakened her
by speaking her name softly. Then he took her by the hand
and led her back, the little bird still showing the way, to
her father's house.
Hilary awakened her by speaking her name softly
When the rich man saw that Hilary had found his little
daughter, he was so pleased that he invited him to stay at
his house as long as he liked. But Hilary thanked him, and
told him that he must go on his journey to hunt for the Bag
of Smiles. "And if I ever find it," he said, "I shall come
back again and let you share it."
So after he had taken luncheon with the rich man and
Phyllis, he started on his way again into the forest. It was
now afternoon, and of course he had no idea how far he must
go before nightfall, in order to find another good
resting-place; but the little bird still went with him, and
Hilary felt sure that it would lead him by a good path. The
forest was as dark and thick as it had been the day before,
but it no longer seemed so lonely, and sunset came again
he realized it. Still the little bird led him on through the
wood, until at last he saw another light ahead, and knew
that they must be near another house.
Again Hilary knocked at the gate, and a kind porter let him
in, and said he would be very glad to entertain him. This
was another big house in another big clearing, and Hilary
learned that it was the house of a very great man, who had
been so famous that all the people in the world wanted to
come and look at him; and to get away from them he had come
into the great forest, as the rich man had done, and lived
alone with his servants and his little boy. Hilary thought
it very likely indeed that the great man would know
something about the old woman and the Bag of Smiles, but the
man told him the same thing that the rich man had told him.
"And," said he, "if you wish ever to be a great man like
me, I advise you to give up looking for it, for I doubt very
much if it will ever be found."
So on the next morning Hilary was preparing to go on his
journey again, when a strange thing happened. He heard the
servants making a commotion about something, and when he
inquired if there was any trouble, they told him that the
great man's little boy was lost in the forest.
 "How very odd," said Hilary. "I wonder if somebody is
lost in the forest every day." Then he told them that he
knew a little bird which could find any lost person, and he
would go with the bird and try to bring back the little boy,
as he had brought back Phyllis on the day before. And
they were very glad to have him do so.
The little bird led the way to where the lost boy was
playing in the woods, and did so even more quickly than he
had found the lost Phyllis, for he was now able to fly
almost as well as ever, and Hilary would run after him with
his nimble legs. So they brought the little boy back to his
father, and although he, too, was so grateful that he
invited them to stop at his house, they excused themselves
and again started on their journey.
Now on the third night the little bird brought Hilary to a
third house in a third clearing, where he found the people
quite as kind as he had in the other two places. It
happened that this was the house of a very wise man, who had
been so much troubled by the people who came from all over
the world to ask for his wise advice, that he had finally
come to the forest, like the rich man and the great man, and
built him a house where he could live quietly among
 his books. He had no family, except a dwarf whom he
kept to bring him his books and brush the dust off them.
"Surely," said Hilary, "this wise man will be more likely
to know about the Bag of Smiles than any one I have found
But he was disappointed again. For the wise man was even
more certain than the rich man and the great man, that it
was foolish to expect to find such a Bag. And as for
learning how to be happy, "I shall perhaps begin to try to
find out," he said, "when I have finished reading all the
books in my library; but I doubt very much if that time will
When Hilary was ready to leave the wise man's house on the
next morning, he said to himself: "Well, this time I shall
really have a whole day in which to look for the old woman,
for the wise man has no little boy or girl to get lost in
But the strange thing was that he was mistaken. He had
already gone a long distance from the clearing when he heard
some one running after him. It was one of the wise man's
servants, who had been sent to ask Hilary if he had seen
anything of the dwarf.
 "No, indeed," said Hilary. "Is he lost?"
"No one can find him," said the servant, "and we thought he
might have gone away with you."
"Well," said Hilary, "if he is in the forest, my little
bird can find him; and of course we will try, since the wise
man has been so kind as to entertain me."
Now the dwarf had grown tired of carrying and dusting the
wise man's books, and had thought he would run away for a
day and have a vacation. But he was already growing
lonesome when Hilary and the bird found him, and was glad to
return with them; for it was not at all certain that he
could find his way back alone. And the wise man was as
thankful to have his dwarf back again as the rich man and
the great man had been to find their children.
When Hilary set out again on his journey, he had a new idea.
He and the little bird had found so much pleasure in
hunting the lost people in the forest, that he began to
think he did not care to give it up.
"This is evidently a
very bad forest to travel in," he said to the little bird,
"unless you have some one to show you the way. And people
are getting lost in it all the time, for there must be a
great many others living here that we have not yet seen.
Let us stay in the forest, and, instead of hunting any
longer for the
 Bag of Smiles, since everybody tells us that we shall never
find it, let us hunt for lost people, and mark little paths
where they can go about without losing their way."
The little bird said "Chee!" as though he thought the idea
a very good one, and Hilary felt happier over his new plan
than he had ever felt in his life.
But he must have some place to live while in the forest, and
he wondered where it would be. So he said to the bird:
"See if you can not find a nice little house for us, near
the part of the forest where it is thickest and darkest, and
where the most people are likely to be lost. It will not
matter if it is empty, we shall soon learn to take care of
Then the little bird spread its wings and flew so fast that
Hilary had all he could do to keep up with it. He followed
it until the trees grew so close together that he could
hardly find a path, and it was so dark that he could hardly
tell whether the sky was blue. On and on they went, until at
last they came to a little clearing with a little house in
the middle of it, and the bird flew to the top of the house,
and perched on the gable of the roof.
Hilary went up to the door, and tapped, so as to
 find whether any one lived there. And the door was
opened by the most delightful old woman that you could ever
think of, with a white cap on her head, and her face full of
little wrinkles such as are made by smiles. She had her
knitting-work in one hand, and with the other she held the
door open while she said "Good evening" to Hilary.
Hilary's eyes had grown wider and wider as he looked at her;
and at last he said:
"Why, I believe you must be the wise old woman with the Bag
Then he told her how he had left the town where she had once
lived, to hunt for her and her Bag, and how the little bird
had led him from one place to another through the forest,
and how at last he had made up his mind to give up hunting
for the Bag, since every one told him that it could not be
found, and instead to find a house in the forest and become
a guide for people who had lost their way.
"Well," said the old woman, "so you have been making
friends with my bird, and trotting about with him all these
days that he has been away from home?"
"Your bird!" said Hilary. "Why, if it was your bird,
why did he not show me the way to your house in the first
 "Because," said the old woman, "he never brings
any one to my house who is looking for it. Do you think that
is strange? I have nothing to give anybody, and only this
poor little house that you see."
"Then it is not true," asked Hilary, "that you have the Bag
The old woman laughed a pleasant laugh. "Perhaps I may
have it," she said, "but I never saw it. I am sure, if I
have, that you must have it, too, for you were smiling as
hard as you could when you told me about the way in which
you and my bird have been helping people out of the forest,
and how you have enjoyed it."
"And do you agree with me," said Hilary, "that that is a
better thing to do than to go on hunting the Bag?"
"Of course I do," said the old woman, "and so does the
bird, or he would never have brought you here. If you want
to stay here and live with us, we shall be very glad to have
you. My porridge is cooking now, and we can soon have
So Hilary, who thought that nothing in the world would be
nicer than to stay in such a dear little house with such a
delightful old woman and such a friendly
 bird, went in and laid down his bundle. And when the old
woman served the porridge for supper, the little bird flew
in at the window and sang to them while they ate.