Gateway to the Classics: For the Children's Hour by Carolyn S. Bailey
For the Children's Hour by  Carolyn S. Bailey

The Little Gray Grandmother

N OBODY knew whence she came, nor whither she went. All the children could have told you about her was that sometimes they looked up from their play, and there she stood in her soft, misty cloak and shadowy gray veil, which reminded them of thin smoke. Sometimes they could scarcely see her face behind this veil, but if any one of them had been brave, and unselfish, there would be the Little Gray Grandmother, her face quite clear and distinct, smiling down on them.

There was a large family of them, and they had sharp eyes, too, but none of them ever saw her coming until there she stood in the midst of them. They lived near the great sea, and the mist often covered the coast for miles and miles. Their city cousins laughed at them, and said the Little Gray Grandmother was only a bit of sea fog, left behind after a damp day; but they knew better.

She never spoke to them, but sometimes she looked sad when she came upon one of them doing a mean or greedy thing. Oh, how stern her eyes were the day she found Wilhelm telling a lie! No one could make them believe she was only a dream, or a bit of sea fog. Had she not left the thimble for Mai, which pushed the needle so fast that a long seam was finished before you could say "Jack Robinson"? Who else brought the boots for Gregory, which helped him run so quickly on an errand that even his dog, Oyster, could not keep up with him?

They were all as certain as certain could be that she had given Doodle, when he was a baby, those soft, warm mittens that somehow grew as he grew, and always just fitted his hands. Such wonderful mittens! On the coldest day all Doodle had to do was to reach out his hand in his hearty, cheery way to any one—no matter how cold—and they were sure to feel a warm glow at once. That was the way that Doodle got into the way of looking out for all the lame dogs and sick cats; and why all the old people liked him so much. They said he made them feel young again. And Tom, and Wilhelm, and the rest; the Little Gray Grandmother had left a gift for each.

Oh, they were a happy family! What if they did have to eat herring and dry bread, with a few potatoes thrown in, all the year round—and live in a hut? Didn't they have a Little Gray Grandmother?

So, you may know how eagerly they were all looking one day at something the Little Gray Grandmother had left for them in the sand. What could it be? It glittered like the surface of a pool of water when the sun touches it. They could see their faces in it—oh, so clearly! They decided to take it to the dear-mother. Ah, the dear-mother—who cooked, and sewed for them, and nursed them when they were ill, and was always ready to answer their questions—she would know. So they took the glittering thing in to her.

She thought it was pretty. She always liked anything they brought in, if it were only a bit of sea weed, or a star fish. She said it was made of precious metal, and perhaps the sea had washed it up. But the children said, "Oh, no; the Little Gray Grandmother left it."

At last they hung it up on the wall where every one might use it for a mirror; but, oh, such strange sights as the children saw in it! It had a queer way of turning itself about toward the east or the west window, so the children could see as easily in the evening as in the morning light. And one day when Mai was tired, and spoke crossly to the little brother, she looked up and saw the face of a grizzly bear reflected in the wonderful mirror.

Gregory had a way of boasting about the things he was going to do, and he often caught a glimpse of a rooster in the mirror, strutting about as if he owned the whole barnyard. Once little Beata came in ahead of the others, and, finding some rosy apples the father had brought home, she took the very biggest and began to eat it. But the mirror swung quickly around and showed her a greedy little pig, eating a whole pile of apples, and the picture made her so ashamed that she laid the apple down again.

The pictures in the mirror were not all disagreeable ones. Sometimes they were beautiful. One bright summer day, when Mai had given up her play to stay indoors and help the dear-mother, there, in the mirror, was the vision of a Saint with a golden light about her head, smiling down on Mai. Once Gregory rowed little Beata across the bay, and did without his dinner that he might use his penny and pay for letting her climb the lighthouse stairs. When they came home at night Beata looked in the mirror and she saw the good Saint Christopher wading a dark stream with the little Christ Child on his shoulders. Somehow the face looked like Gregory's, but when Beata cried, "Look!" the picture was gone at once.

Again and again, when the children did a kind, or a truthful, or a loving thing, the mirror shone with a beautiful picture which disappeared if it were spoken of. Somehow it made them think of the glad look in the face of the Little Gray Grandmother when she found them playing happily together. And, strange to say, the Little Gray Grandmother never came again after the small, silver mirror was hung on the wall. Perhaps she thought they did not need her any more.

— Adapted from Elizabeth Harrison, "In Storyland"

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