|The Birds' Christmas Carol|
|by Kate Douglas Wiggin|
|Heartwarming story of the life of Carol Bird, who, though sickly herself, brings sunshine to all those around her, including the nine Ruggles children, whom she invites to a special Christmas dinner and celebration. Classic holiday book first published in 1887 and beloved by generations of children. Attractive color illustrations enliven the text. 5.5 x 8.5 inches. Ages 9-11 |
SOME OTHER BIRDS ARE TAUGHT TO FLY
EFORE the earliest Ruggles could wake and toot his five-cent tin
horn, Mrs. Ruggles was up and stirring about the house, for it
was a gala day in the family. Gala day! I should think so!
Were not her nine "childern" invited to a dinner-party at the
great house, and were n't they going to sit down free and equal
with the mightiest in the land? She had been preparing for this
grand occasion ever since the receipt of Carol Bird's invitation, which,
by the way, had been speedily enshrined in an old photograph
frame and hung under the looking-glass in the most prominent
place in the kitchen, where it stared the occasional visitor
directly in the eye, and made him livid with envy:—
BIRDS' NEST, December 17, 188-.
DEAR MRS. RUGGLES,—I am going to have a
dinner-party on Christmas day, and would
like to have all your children come. I want them every one,
please, from Sarah Maud to
 Baby Larry. Mamma says dinner will be
at half-past five, and the Christmas tree at seven; so you
may expect them home at nine o'clock. Wishing you a Merry
Christmas and a Happy New Year, I am
Breakfast was on the table promptly at seven o'clock, and there
was very little of it, too; for it was an excellent day for short
rations, though Mrs. Ruggles heaved a sigh as she reflected that
even the boys, with their India-rubber stomachs, would be just as
hungry the day after the dinner-party as if they had never had
any at all.
As soon as the scanty meal was over, she announced the plan of
the campaign: "Now Susan, you an' Kitty wash up the dishes; an'
Peter, can't you spread up the beds, so't I can git ter cuttin'
out Larry's new suit? I ain't satisfied with his clo'es, an' I
thought in the night of a way to make him a dress out o' my old
red plaid shawl—kind o' Scotch style, yer know, with the
fringe 't the bottom.—Eily, you go find the comb and take the
snarls out the fringe, that's a lady! You little young ones
clear out from under foot! Clem, you and Con hop into bed with
Larry while I wash yer underflannins; 't wont take long to dry
'em.—Yes, I know it's bothersome, but yer can't go int'
 takin' some trouble, 'n' anyhow I could n't git round to 'em last
night.—Sarah Maud, I think 't would
be perfeckly han'som if you
ripped them brass buttons off yer uncle's policeman's coat 'n'
sewed 'em in a row up the front o' yer green skirt. Susan, you
must iron out yours 'n' Kitty's apurns; 'n' there, I come mighty
near forgettin' Peory's stockin's! I counted the whole lot last
night when I was washin' of 'em, 'n' there ain't but nineteen
anyhow yer fix 'em, 'n' no nine pairs mates nohow; 'n' I ain't
goin' ter have my childern wear odd stockin's to a
dinner-comp'ny, fetched up as I was!—Eily,
can't you run out and
ask Mis' Cullen ter lend me a pair o' stockin's for Peory,
'n' tell her if she will, Peory'll give Jim half her candy
when she gets home. Won't yer, Peory?"
Peoria was young and greedy, and thought the remedy so
out of all proportion to
the disease that she set up a deafening howl at the
projected bargain—a howl so rebellious and so out of season
that her mother started in her direction with flashing eye and
uplifted hand; but she let it fall suddenly, saying, "No, I vow I won't
lick ye Christmas Day, if yer drive me crazy; but speak up smart,
now, 'n' say whether yer'd ruther give Jim Cullen half yer candy
or go bare-legged ter the
 party?" The matter being put so
plainly, Peoria collected her faculties, dried her tears, and
chose the lesser evil, Clem having hastened the decision by an
affectionate wink, that meant he'd go halves with her on his
"That's a lady!" cried her mother. "Now, you young ones that
ain't doin' nothin', play all yer want ter before noontime, for
after ye git through eatin' at twelve o'clock me 'n' Sarah Maud 's
goin' ter give yer such a washin' 'n' combin' 'n' dressin' as yer
never had before 'n' never will agin likely, 'n' then I'm goin' to set
yer down 'n' give yer two solid hours trainin' in manners; 'n'
't won't be no foolin' neither."
"All we've got ter do 's go eat!" grumbled Peter.
"Well, that's enough," responded his mother; "there's more 'n one
way of eatin', let me tell yer, 'n' you've got a heap ter learn
about it, Peter Ruggles. Land sakes, I wish you childern could
see the way I was fetched up to eat. I never took a meal o' vittles
in the kitchen before I married Ruggles; but yer can't keep up
that style with nine young ones 'n' yer Pa always off ter sea."
The big Ruggleses worked so well, and the little Ruggleses kept
from "under foot" so
success-  fully, that by one o'clock nine
complete toilets were laid out in solemn grandeur on the beds. I
say, "complete;" but I do not know whether they would be called
so in the best society. The law of compensation had been well
applied: he that had necktie had no cuffs; she that had sash had
no handkerchief, and vice versa; but they all had
shoes and a
certain amount of clothing, such as it was, the outside layer
being in every case quite above criticism.
"Now, Sarah Maud," said Mrs. Ruggles, her face shining with
excitement, "everything's red up an' we can begin. I've got a
boiler 'n' a kettle 'n' a pot o' hot water. Peter, you go into the
back bedroom, 'n' I'll take Susan, Kitty, Peory 'n' Cornelius;
'n' Sarah Maud, you take Clem, 'n' Eily, 'n' Larry, one to a time.
Scrub 'em 'n' rinse 'em, or 't any rate git 's fur 's
you can with 'em, and then I'll finish
'em off while you do yerself."
Sarah Maud could n't have scrubbed with any more decision and
force if she had been doing floors, and the little Ruggleses bore
it bravely, not from natural heroism, but for the joy that was
set before them. Not being satisfied, however, with the "tone"
of their complexions, and feeling that the number of freckles to
the square inch was too
 many to be tolerated in the highest social circles,
she wound up operations by applying a
little Bristol brick from the knife-board, which served as the
proverbial "last straw," from under which the little Ruggleses
issued rather red and raw and out of temper. When the clock
struck four they were all clothed, and most of them in their
right minds, ready for those last touches that always take the
Kitty's red hair was curled in thirty-four ringlets,
Sarah Maud's was braided in one pig-tail, and Susan's and Eily's
in two braids apiece, while Peoria's resisted all advances in the
shape of hair oils and stuck out straight on all sides, like that
of the Circassian girl of the circus—so Clem said; and he was
sent into the bedroom for it, too, from whence he was dragged out
forgivingly, by Peoria herself, five minutes later. Then, exciting
moment, came linen collars for some and neckties and bows for
others,—a magnificent green glass breastpin
was sewed into Peter's purple necktie,—and Eureka!
the Ruggleses were dressed, and Solomon in
all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!
A row of seats
was formed directly through the middle of the kitchen. There
were not quite chairs enough for ten, since the family
 had rarely
wanted to sit down all at once, some body always being out or in
bed or otherwise engaged, but the wood-box and the
coal-hod finished out the line
nicely, and nobody thought of grumbling.
The children took their places according to age, Sarah
Maud at the head and Larry on the coal-hod, and Mrs. Ruggles
seated herself in front, surveying them proudly as she wiped the
sweat of honest toil from her brow.
"Well," she exclaimed, "if I do say so as should n't, I never see
a cleaner, more stylish mess o' childern in my life! I do wish
Ruggles could look at ye for a minute!—Larry Ruggles,
how many times have I got ter tell yer not ter keep pullin'
at yer sash? Have n't I told yer if it comes ontied, yer waist
'n' skirt 'll part comp'ny in the middle, 'n' then where 'll
yer be— Now look me in the eye, all of yer! I've of'en
told yer what kind of a family the McGrills was. I've got reason to
be proud, goodness knows! Your uncle is on the police
force o' New York city;
you can take up the newspaper most any day an' see his name
printed right out—James McGrill,—'n' I can't have
fetched up common, like some folks'; when they go out they've got
to have clo'es, and learn to act decent! Now, I want ter see how
yer goin' to
 behave when yer git there to-night.
'T ain't so awful easy as you think 't is. Let's start in
at the beginnin' 'n' act out the whole business. Pile into the
bedroom, there, every last one o' ye, 'n' show me how yer goin'
ter go int' the parlor. This'll be the parlor, 'n' I'll be Mis'
"I WANT TER SEE HOW YER GOIN' TO BEHAVE"
The youngsters hustled into the next room in high glee,
and Mrs. Ruggles drew herself up in the chair with an infinitely
haughty and purse-proud expression that much better suited a
descendant of the McGrills than modest Mrs. Bird.
was small, and there presently ensued such a clatter that you
would have thought a herd of wild cattle had broken loose. The
door opened, and they straggled in, all the younger ones giggling,
with Sarah Maud at the head, looking as if she had been caught in
the act of stealing sheep; while Larry, being last in line,
seemed to think the door a sort of gate of heaven which would be
shut in his face if he did n't get there in time; accordingly he
struggled ahead of his elders and disgraced himself by tumbling
in head foremost.
Mrs. Ruggles looked severe. "There, I knew yer'd do it in some
sech fool way! Now, go in there and try it again,
every last one o' ye, 'n' if Larry can't come in on two legs
he can stay ter home,—d' yer hear?"
 The matter began to assume a graver aspect; the little Ruggleses
stopped giggling and backed into the bedroom, issuing presently
with lock step, Indian file, a scared and hunted expression on
"No, no, no!" cried Mrs. Ruggles, in despair.
"That's worse yet; yer look for all
the world like a gang o' pris'ners! There ain't no style ter
that: spread out more, can't yer, 'n' act kind o'
careless-like—nobody's goin' ter kill ye!
That ain't what a dinner-party is!"
The third time brought
deserved success, and the pupils took their seats in the row.
"Now, yer know," said Mrs. Ruggles impressively, "there ain't enough decent
hats to go round, 'n' if there was I don' know 's I'd let yer
wear 'em, for the boys would never think to take 'em off when
they got inside, for they never do—but anyhow,
there ain't enough good ones. Now,
look me in the eye.
You're only goin' jest round the corner; you need n't wear
no hats, none of yer, 'n'
when yer get int' the parlor, 'n' they ask yer ter lay off yer
hats, Sarah Maud must speak up 'n' say it was sech a pleasant
evenin' 'n' sech a short walk that yer left yer hats to home.
Now, can yer remember?"
All the little Ruggleses shouted, "Yes, marm!" in chorus.
 "What have you got ter do with it?"
demanded their mother; "did I
tell you to say it! Warn't I talkin' ter Sarah Maud?"
The little Ruggleses hung their diminished heads. "Yes, marm," they
piped, more discreetly.
"Now we won't leave nothin' to chance; git up, all of ye,
an' try it.—Speak
up, Sarah Maud."
Sarah Maud's tongue clove to the roof of her mouth.
"Ma thought—it was—sech a pleasant hat
that we'd—we'd better
leave our short walk to home," recited Sarah Maud, in an agony of
This was too much for the boys.
An earthquake of suppressed giggles swept all long the line.
"Oh, whatever shall I do with yer?" moaned the unhappy
mother; "I s'pose I've got to learn it to yer!"—which
she did, word for
word, until Sarah Maud thought she could stand on her head and
say it backwards.
"Now, Cornelius, what are you goin' ter
say ter make yerself good comp'ny?"
"Do? Me? Dunno!" said Cornelius, turning pale,
with unexpected responsibility.
"Well, ye ain't goin' to set there like a bump on a log 'thout
sayin' a word ter pay for yer vittles, air
 ye? Ask Mis' Bird how
she 's feelin' this evenin', or if Mr. Bird's havin' a busy
season, or how this kind o' weather agrees with him, or
somethin' like that.—Now we'll make b'lieve we've got
ter the dinner—that won't be so hard, 'cause yer'll have
somethin' to do—it's awful bothersome to stan' round
an' act stylish.—If they have napkins, Sarah Maud
down to Peory may
put 'em in their laps, 'n' the rest of ye can tuck 'em in yer
necks. Don't eat with yer fingers—don't grab no vittles off one
'nother's plates; don't reach out for nothin', but wait till yer
asked, 'n' if yer never git asked don't git up and
spill nothin' on the tablecloth, or like's not Mis' Bird 'll
send yer away from the table—'n' I hope she will if yer do!
(Susan! keep your handkerchief in your lap where Peory
can borry it if she needs it, 'n' I hope she 'll know when she
does need it, though I don't expect it.)
Now we'll try a few things ter see
how they 'll go! Mr. Clement, do you eat cramb'ry sarse?"
"Bet yer life!" cried Clem, who in the excitement of the moment
had not taken in the idea
exactly and had mistaken this for an ordinary
"Clement McGrill Ruggles, do you mean to tell me
that you'd say that to a
dinner-party? I'll give
 ye one more chance. Mr. Clement, will
you take some of the cramb'ry?"
"Yes marm, thank ye kindly, if you happen ter have any handy."
"Very good, indeed! But they won't give yer two tries
to-night,—yer just remember that!—Miss Peory,
do you speak for white or dark meat?"
"I ain't perticler as ter color,—anything
that nobody else wants
will suit me," answered Peory with her best air.
"First rate! Nobody could speak more genteel than that. Miss
Kitty, will you have hard or soft sarse with your pudden?"
"Hard or soft? Oh! A little of both, if you please, an' I'm
much obliged," said
Kitty with decided ease and grace; at which all the other
Ruggleses pointed the finger of shame at her, and Peter
grunted expressively, that their meaning might
not be mistaken.
"You just stop your gruntin', Peter Ruggles;
that warn't greedy, that was all right.
I wish I could git it inter your heads that it ain't so much what
yer say, as the way yer say it.
And don't keep starin' cross-eyed at your necktie pin,
or I'll take it out 'n' sew it on to Clem or Cornelius:
Sarah Maud 'll keep her eye on it, 'n' if it turns
 broken side out she 'll tell yer. Gracious! I should n't
think you 'd ever seen nor worn no jool'ry in your
life.—Eily, you an' Larry's too little
to train, so you just look at the rest, an' do 's they do, 'n'
the Lord have mercy on ye 'n' help ye to act decent! Now, is
there anything more ye 'd like to practice?"
"If yer tell me one more thing, I can't set up an' eat," said
Peter gloomily; "I'm so cram full o' manners now I'm ready ter
bust, 'thout no dinner at all."
"Me too," chimed in Cornelius.
"Well, I'm sorry for yer both," rejoined Mrs. Ruggles,
sarcastically; "if the 'mount o' manners yer've got on hand now
troubles ye, you're dreadful easy hurt! Now, Sarah Maud, after
dinner, about once in so often, you must git up 'n' say, 'I guess we'd
better be goin';' 'n' if they say, 'Oh, no, set a while longer,'
yer can set; but if they don't say nothin' you've got ter get up
'n' go.—Now hev yer got that int' yer head?"
"About once in so often!" Could any words in the
fraught with more terrible and wearing uncertainty?
"Well," answered Sarah Maud, mournfully, "seems as if this whole
dinner-party set right
 square on top o' me! Mebbe I could manage
my own manners, but ter manage nine mannerses
is worse 'n staying to home!"
"Oh, don't fret," said her mother, good-naturedly,
now that the lesson was over. "I guess
you'll git along. I would n't mind if folks would only say, 'Oh,
childern will be childern;' but they won't. They'll say, 'Land
o' Goodness, who fetched them childern up?'—It 's quarter
past five, 'n' yer can go now:—remember 'bout
the hats,—don't all talk ter once,—Susan, lend yer
han'k'chief ter Peory,—Peter, don't keep
screwin' yer scarf-pin,—Cornelius, hold
yer head up straight,—Sarah Maud, don't take yer
eyes off o' Larry, 'n' Larry you keep holt o' Sarah Maud 'n'
do jest as she says,— 'n' whatever you do,
all of yer, never forgit for one second that yer
mother was a McGrill!"
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