O NCE upon a time, when it was so long ago that there were no trolley cars or telephones, Grandfather was a little, little boy named John.
He lived in a wee, red farmhouse set in the middle of wide fields, and there were woods all about, and only a cow path to walk in across the meadows until you came to the stage road.
In the summer Grandfather used to have just the best time, for he knew the places where the biggest blackberries hid, and he could find the patches of checker-berries in the woods, and he knew where the brook ran swiftest to sail his boats, and he could climb the tallest apple tree that ever grew.
But in the winter it was quite different. Then Grandfather wore a little cap made of coonskin, and a bright-green tippet, and a home-spun suit, and a pair of hide boots. It was always so very cold in the country in the winter time, and Grandfather had to walk two miles to the schoolhouse, with his little tin dinner pail hung over his arm. When school was let out, he must hurry home to help with the chores, for there were kindlings to split, and the cows to fodder, and paths to dig. At night he was a tired little John, and he tumbled upstairs to bed in the attic, where the walls were all hung with strings of dried apples, and the spinning-wheel in the corner pointed its long finger at him, till he pulled the patchwork quilt high up over his cold little nose and went fast asleep.
One morning when Grandfather woke up, and jumped into his clothes, and hurried down to the kitchen, he found that a dreadful thing had happened. The fire in the fireplace had gone out over-night, and nobody could set it going again, for they had no matches in those days, and the tinder box was lost. The water in the tea-kettle was all ice. There could be no breakfast until the fire burned once more.
"You'll have to take the lantern, John," said Great Grandmother, "and go to Mr. Stone's for a light. I'm sorry, little lad. Pull your cap down tight over your ears, and hurry."
So Grandfather took the big brass lantern and hurried off in the early morning, across the snowy fields, for a light. It was so biting cold that not even the wood rabbits were out, and Grandfather's toes ached, and he had to blow on his fingers to keep them from freezing—and it was a mile to Mr. Stone's! But he got there at last, lighted his lantern at Mr. Stone's fireplace, and carried it home very carefully, lest the flame go out. Then Great Grandmother started the fire, and boiled the water in the tea-kettle, and they had breakfast.
When the kitchen was warm, and breakfast was over, Great Grandmother went to the blue china mug on the chimney-piece and took out of it a big copper penny as large as a silver dollar.
"This is for you, John," she said. "You had a long walk this morning. You may buy yourself a peppermint stick."
Oh, how Grandfather's eyes danced! Pennies were scarce in the little red farmhouse, and didn't he know just how beautifully red and twisted the peppermint sticks looked in the glass jar at the store; and hadn't he wished for one all winter?
So he started out early for school—the store was such a long way off the road—skipping along, with his penny held fast in his little red mitten, thinking how good the peppermint stick was going to taste.
The snow was deep, and Grandfather had to wade through the drifts, and climb the fences; and one snow bank was so high that it came up to his waist, but he didn't mind. There was the store at the crossroads, and Grandfather opened his little red fist to look at the penny—but where was it? The penny was not there at all; it was quite gone. Grandfather had dropped his penny in the high snow bank!
Poor little boy! All the morning, as he sat on the
hard bench in the schoolhouse, saying his
Well, the winter was very long; but, one day, the red-winged blackbirds came back to sing in the south pasture, and the song-sparrows twittered in the swamp. The blue flag blossomed, and it was spring. Grandfather laid away his coon-skin cap, and began making willow whistles, and forgot all about his penny.
One morning he took a basket of eggs to the store, to change them for sugar and tea, and he went the same way that he had gone that other morning; and he was just as happy as he skipped along down the road.
"Here's the place where the big snow bank was," he said, "right in this fence corner, but it's all melted now. Why-ee, here's my penny!"
Yes; there it was—sticking up out of the mud, not bright and shining any more, but a good copper penny just the same. All winter it had been waiting there for Grandfather to take it to the store and buy a peppermint stick.
And this is the true story of how Grandfather bought his peppermint stick, after all. And this is the reason why Grandfather gives you so many pennies, dear—because he remembers how he was a little boy once, with only just one.