The Little Brown Bowl
O NCE there was a little brown bowl that stayed always in a great closet among other bowls.
There were big bowls and little bowls, bowls with beautiful gold bands, and bowls over whose sides clambered rosebuds so beautifully painted that they looked as if they were growing. There was a bowl that wore violets all around its brim—like a little girl wearing violets on her hat. And there was one broad, shallow bowl tinted with such colors as are in the sky when the sun is going down, and on this bowl was the prettiest little shepherdess! She wore a broad hat and a blue dress, and her blue eyes always smiled.
So they were all beautiful bowls except the little brown bowl, which could never be anything but a plain, thick little brown bowl without even a daisy to wear. She was so shy among the others that she did not often speak, but one day, when the maid who took care of the china set a pretty little pitcher so close to her that it touched, she gathered courage to ask why the shepherdess always smiled, and why all the other bowls were taken out of the closet at times and then brought back again, but she was always left.
The little pitcher told the little brown bowl that the shepherdess smiled because she was happy; for every morning she was carried to the sunny breakfast-room where Clarita ate her bread and milk from the shepherdess bowl.
Then the little brown bowl grew bolder, and said, so loudly that everybody heard: "And why don't they come and get me sometimes, as they get the shepherdess bowl, and the violet bowl, and all the rest?"
And the little pitcher answered—for the little pitcher was always kind—"They have not needed you yet. Perhaps, some day, you may be needed. Then the maid will come and get you."
"And shall I see Clarita, then?" cried the little brown bowl, in great happiness. But before the little pitcher could answer, such a laugh arose from the mouths of all the other bowls that they rattled on the closet shelves and the maid cried: "How the wind blows!"
"Ah!" cried the rosebud bowl, "you will always stay on the closet shelf! You are too ugly ever to be needed. Do you see the rosebuds on my sides? Clarita loves them. Once I sat for an hour on a little table and held bonbons for her."
"And I," cried the gold-banded bowl, "have been near her at dinner and held water where she dipped her rosy fingers." And the gold-banded bowl laughed scornfully. "She loves the beautiful things; she would never look at you."
"No, indeed," said the violet bowl. "I wonder that you were ever put here. Once, long ago, for an hour I was carried up to Clarita's own room and held violets for her."
"Yes, and you were upset," said the tall vase, "which shows that you were never meant to hold flowers."
But the little brown bowl sat quite still and very sad. She knew, at last, why for so long she had been kept in the closet—never taken out, and never needed. If only she, too, could have been beautiful! And she wished she might go away and never come back, since she could never be loved and never be of any use.
She must have wished it aloud, for the shepherdess bowl, to whom all the others listened, spoke to her quite gently: "Do not grieve, little brown bowl. Clarita loves beautiful things, but she loves useful things, too, and if she ever sees you she will love you. Only be patient and wait."
So the days came and went. Each morning the shepherdess bowl went away and came back looking brighter than before, and one by one the violet bowl and the rosebud bowl and the gold-banded bowl were taken out, and brought back—I am sorry to say—haughty and vain, and saying unkind things to the little brown bowl.
One morning the maid came in and hastily set the little pitcher down. And the little pitcher, who always heard what was going on, was quite breathless with eagerness.
It was Clarita's birthday, she said, and Clarita was six years old, and six beautiful hyacinths were lying by her place at the table; and Clarita, as soon as she saw them, would surely be looking for something to put them in.
"Oh, dear!" sighed the shepherdess bowl. "Perhaps if I were not so shallow she might take me. Think of the joy of holding Clarita's birthday flowers!"
"Are the hyacinths purple?" asked the violet bowl. "Indeed, with my lovely shape and color, I stand a good chance of being chosen."
"You, indeed!" cried the tall vase. "None of you is fit to hold flowers. One would as soon expect Clarita to choose that ugly, silent little brown bowl in the corner!"
But no one answered, for just then the door swung open and the little brown bowl saw a little girl with sunny hair, lovelier than she had dreamed. Her lips wore a smile happier than that of the shepherdess and her eyes were deep—like pools of quiet water.
She held her flowers lovingly and looked eagerly among the bowls, seeking something, touched the rosebud bowl, and then—the little brown bowl fairly trembled with joy, for Clarita was looking straight at her and saying: "Oh, here is the dearest little brown bowl, mamma, just right for my flowers. It is so deep, and so strong, and too heavy to upset. Why did I never find you before, little brown bowl? You shall hold flowers for me all summer!"
Long days afterward the little brown bowl, filled as she always was now with flowers, stood on Clarita's breakfast-table, close to the shepherdess bowl.
"Dear shepherdess bowl," she whispered, "I love you, because you were kind to me when I thought no one wanted me."
And the shepherdess bowl whispered back softly: "Did I not tell you that it was better to be able to hold beautiful things than to be beautiful outside?"
And the shepherdess smiled more brightly than ever.