The Lonesome Little Shoe by Eugene Field
Story type: Literature
The clock was in ill humor; so was the vase. It was all on account of the little shoe that had been placed on the mantel-piece that day, and had done nothing but sigh dolorously all the afternoon and evening.
“Look you here, neighbor,” quoth the clock, in petulant tones, “you are sadly mistaken if you think you will be permitted to disturb our peace and harmony with your constant sighs and groans. If you are ill, pray let us know; otherwise, have done with your manifestations of distress.”
“Possibly you do not know what befell the melancholy plaque that intruded his presence upon us last week,” said the vase. “We pitched him off the mantelpiece, and he was shattered into a thousand bits.”
The little shoe gave a dreadful shudder. It could not help thinking it had fallen among inhospitable neighbors. It began to cry. The brass candlestick took pity on the sobbing thing, and declared with some show of temper that the little shoe should not be imposed on.
“Now tell us why you are so full of sadness,” said the brass candlestick.
“I do not know how to explain,” whimpered the little shoe. “You see I am quite a young thing, albeit I have a rusty appearance and there is a hole in my toes and my heel is badly run over. I feel so lonesome and friendless and sort of neglected-like, that it seems as if there were nothing for me to do but sigh and grieve and weep all day long.”
“Sighing and weeping do no good,” remarked the vase, philosophically.
“I know that very well,” replied the little shoe; “but once I was so happy that my present lonesome lot oppresses me all the more grievously.”
“You say you once were happy–pray tell us all about it,” demanded the brass candlestick.
The vase was eager to hear the little shoe’s story, and even the proud, haughty clock expressed a willingness to listen. The matchbox came from the other end of the mantel-piece, and the pen-wiper, the paper-cutter, and the cigar-case gathered around the little shoe, and urged it to proceed with its narrative.
“The first thing I can remember in my short life,” said the little shoe, “was being taken from a large box in which there were many of my kind thrown together in great confusion. I found myself tied with a slender cord to a little mate, a shoe so very like me that you could not have told us apart. We two were taken and put in a large window in the midst of many grown-up shoes, and we had nothing to do but gaze out of the window all day long into the wide, busy street. That was a very pleasant life. Sometimes the sunbeams would dance through the window-panes and play at hide-and-seek all over me and my little mate; they would kiss and caress us, and we learned to love them very much–they were so warm and gentle and merrisome. Sometimes the raindrops would patter against the window-panes, singing wild songs to us, and clamoring to break through and destroy us with their eagerness. When night came, we could see stars away up in the dark sky winking at us, and very often the old mother moon stole out from behind a cloud to give us a kindly smile. The wind used to sing us lullabies, and in one corner of our window there was a little open space where the mice gave a grand ball every night to the music of the crickets and a blind frog. Altogether we had a merry time.”
“I ‘d have liked it all but the wind,” said the brass candlestick. “I don’t know why it is, but I ‘m dreadfully put out by the horrid old wind!”
“Many people,” continued the little shoe, “used to stop and look in at the window, and I believe my little mate and I were admired more than any of our larger and more pretentious companions. I can remember there was a pair of red-top boots that was exceedingly jealous of us. But that did not last long, for one day a very sweet lady came and peered in at the window and smiled very joyously when she saw me and my little mate. Then I remember we were taken from the window, and the lady held us in her hands and examined us very closely, and measured our various dimensions with a string, and finally, I remember, she said she would carry us home. We did not know what that meant, only we realized that we would never live in the shop window again, and we were loath to be separated from the sunbeams and the mice and the other friends that had been so kind to us.”
“What a droll little shoe!” exclaimed the vase. Whereupon the clock frowned and ticked a warning to the vase not to interrupt the little shoe in the midst of its diverting narrative.
“It is not necessary for me to tell you how we were wrapped in paper and carried a weary distance,” said the little shoe; “it is sufficient to my purpose to say that, after what seemed to us an interminable journey and a cruel banging around, we were taken from the paper and found ourselves in a quiet, cozy room–yes, in this very apartment where we all are now! The sweet lady held us in her lap, and at the sweet lady’s side stood a little child, gazing at us with an expression of commingled astonishment, admiration, and glee. We knew the little child belonged to the sweet lady, and from the talk we heard we knew that henceforth the child was to be our little master.”
As if some sudden anguish came upon it, hushing its speech, the little shoe paused in its narrative. The others said never a word. Perhaps it was because they were beginning to understand. The proud, haughty clock seemed to be less imperious for the moment, and its ticking was softer and more reverential.
“From that time,” resumed the little shoe, “our little master and we were inseparable during all the happy day. We played and danced with him and wandered everywhere through the grass, over the carpets, down the yard, up the street–ay, everywhere our little master went, we went too, sharing his pretty antics and making music everywhere. Then, when evening came and little master was put to sleep, in yonder crib, we were set on the warm carpet near his bed where we could watch him while he slept, and bid him good-morrow when the morning came. Those were pleasant nights, too, for no sooner had little master fallen asleep than the fairies came trooping through the keyholes and fluttering down the chimney to dance over his eyes all night long, giving him happy dreams, and filling his baby ears with sweetest music.”
“What a curious conceit!” said the pen-wiper.
“And is it true that fairies dance on children’s eyelids at night?” asked the paper-cutter.
“Certainly,” the clock chimed in, “and they sing very pretty lullabies and very cunning operettas, too. I myself have seen and heard them.”
“I should like to hear a fairy operetta,” suggested the pen-wiper.
“I remember one the fairies sang my little master as they danced over his eyelids,” said the little shoe, “and I will repeat it if you wish.”
“Nothing would please me more,” said the pen-wiper.
“Then you must know,” said the little shoe, “that, as soon as my master fell asleep, the fairies would make their appearance, led by their queen, a most beautiful and amiable little lady no bigger than a cambric needle. Assembling on the pillow of the crib, they would order their minstrels and orchestra to seat themselves on little master’s forehead. The minstrels invariably were the cricket, the flea, the katydid, and the gnat, while the orchestra consisted of mosquitos, bumblebees, and wasps. Once in a great while, on very important occasions, the fairies would bring the old blind hop-toad down the chimney and set him on the window-sill, where he would discourse droll ditties to the infinite delight of his hearers. But on ordinary occasions, the fairy queen, whose name was Taffie, would lead the performance in these pleasing words, sung to a very dulcet air:
AN INVITATION TO SLEEP
Little eyelids, cease your winking;
Little orbs, forget to beam;
Little soul, to slumber sinking,
Let the fairies rule your dream.
Breezes, through the lattice sweeping,
Sing their lullabies the while–
And a star-ray, softly creeping
To thy bedside, woos thy smile.
But no song nor ray entrancing
Can allure thee from the spell
Of the tiny fairies dancing
O’er the eyes they love so well.
See, we come in countless number–
I, their queen, and all my court–
Haste, my precious one, to slumber
Which invites our fairy sport.
“At the conclusion of this song Prince Whimwham, a tidy little gentleman fairy in pink silk small-clothes, approaching Queen Taffie and bowing graciously, would say:
Pray, lady, may I have the pleasure
Of leading you this stately measure?
To which her majesty would reply with equal graciousness in the affirmative. Then Prince Whimwham and Queen Taffie would take their places on one of my master’s eyelids, and the other gentleman fairies and lady fairies would follow their example, till at last my master’s face would seem to be alive with these delightful little beings. The mosquitos would blow a shrill blast on their trumpets, the orchestra would strike up, and then the festivities would begin in earnest. How the bumblebees would drone, how the wasps would buzz, and how the mosquitos would blare! It was a delightful harmony of weird sounds. The strange little dancers floated hither and thither over my master’s baby face, as light as thistledowns, and as graceful as the slender plumes they wore in their hats and bonnets. Presently they would weary of dancing, and then the minstrels would be commanded to entertain them. Invariably the flea, who was a rattle-headed fellow, would discourse some such incoherent song as this:
The spider courted the frisky flea;
The flea ran off with the bugaboo!
Said the frisky flea–
For what cared she
For the miseree
The spider knew,
The flea ran off with the bugaboo!
The flubdub courted a catamaran
But timplety-topplety, timpity-tare–
The flubdub wedded the big blue bear!
The fun began
With a pimplety-pan
When the catamaran,
Tore up a man
And streaked the air
With his gore and hair
Because the flubdub wedded the bear!
“I remember with what dignity the fairy queen used to reprove the flea for his inane levity:
Nay, futile flea; these verses you are making
Disturb the child–for, see, he is awaking!
Come, little cricket, sing your quaintest numbers,
And they, perchance, shall lull him back to slumbers.
“Upon this invitation the cricket, who is justly one of the most famous songsters in the world, would get his pretty voice in tune and sing as follows:
THE CRICKET’S SONG
When all around from out the ground
The little flowers are peeping,
And from the hills the merry rills
With vernal songs are leaping,
I sing my song the whole day long
In woodland, hedge, and thicket–
And sing it, too, the whole night through,
For I ‘m a merry cricket.
The children hear my chirrup clear
As, in the woodland straying,
They gather flow’rs through summer hours–
And then I hear them saying:
“Sing, sing away the livelong day,
Glad songster of the thicket–
With your shrill mirth you gladden earth,
You merry little cricket!”
When summer goes, and Christmas snows
Are from the north returning,
I quit my lair and hasten where
The old yule-log is burning.
And where at night the ruddy light
Of that old log is flinging
A genial joy o’er girl and boy,
There I resume my singing.
And, when they hear my chirrup clear,
The children stop their playing–
With eager feet they haste to greet
My welcome music, saying:
“The little thing has come to sing
Of woodland, hedge, and thicket–
Of summer day and lambs at play–
Oh, how we love the cricket!”
“This merry little song always seemed to please everybody except the gnat. The fairies appeared to regard the gnat as a pestiferous insect, but a contemptuous pity led them to call upon him for a recitation, which invariably was in the following strain:
THE FATE OF THE FLIMFLAM
A flimflam flopped from a fillamaloo,
Where the pollywog pinkled so pale,
And the pipkin piped a petulant “pooh”
To the garrulous gawp of the gale.
“Oh, woe to the swap of the sweeping swipe
That booms on the hobbling bay!”
Snickered the snark to the snoozing snipe
That lurked where the lamprey lay.
The gluglug glinked in the glimmering gloam,
Where the buzbuz bumbled his bee–
When the flimflam flitted, all flecked with foam,
From the sozzling and succulent sea.
“Oh, swither the swipe, with its sweltering sweep!”
She swore as she swayed in a swoon,
And a doleful dank dumped over the deep,
To the lay of the limpid loon!
“This was simply horrid, as you all will allow. The queen and her fairy followers were much relieved when the honest katydid narrated a pleasant moral in the form of a ballad to this effect:
Once on a time an old red hen
Went strutting ’round with pompous clucks,
For she had little babies ten,
A part of which were tiny ducks.
“‘T is very rare that hens,” said she,
“Have baby ducks as well as chicks–
But I possess, as you can see,
Of chickens four and ducklings six!”
A season later, this old hen
Appeared, still cackling of her luck,
For, though she boasted babies ten,
Not one among them was a duck!
“‘T is well,” she murmured, brooding o’er
The little chicks of fleecy down–
“My babies now will stay ashore,
And, consequently, cannot drown!”
The following spring the old red hen
Clucked just as proudly as of yore–
But lo! her babes were ducklings ten,
Instead of chickens, as before!
“‘T is better,” said the old red hen,
As she surveyed her waddling brood;
“A little water now and then
Will surely do my darlings good!”
But oh! alas, how very sad!
When gentle spring rolled round again
The eggs eventuated bad,
And childless was the old red hen!
Yet patiently she bore her woe,
And still she wore a cheerful air,
And said: “‘T is best these things are so,
For babies are a dreadful care!”
I half suspect that many men,
And many, many women, too,
Could learn a lesson from the hen
With foliage of vermilion hue;
She ne’er presumed to take offence
At any fate that might befall,
But meekly bowed to Providence–
She was contented–that was all!
“Then the fairies would resume their dancing. Each little gentleman fairy would bow to his lady fairy and sing in the most musical of voices:
Sweet little fairy,
Tender and airy,
Come, let us dance on the good baby-eyes;
Murmur we ever our soft lullabies.
“And then, as the rest danced, the fairy queen sang the following slumber-song, accompanied by the orchestra:
A FAIRY LULLABY
There are two stars in yonder steeps
That watch the baby while he sleeps.
But while the baby is awake
And singing gayly all day long,
The little stars their slumbers take
Lulled by the music of his song.
So sleep, dear tired baby, sleep
While little stars their vigils keep.
Beside his loving mother-sheep
A little lambkin is asleep;
What does he know of midnight gloom—
He sleeps, and in his quiet dreams
He thinks he plucks the clover bloom
And drinks at cooling, purling streams.
And those same stars the baby knows
Sing softly to the lamb’s repose.
Sleep, little lamb; sleep, little child–
The stars are dim–the night is wild;
But o’er the cot and o’er the lea
A sleepless eye forever beams–
A shepherd watches over thee
In all thy little baby dreams;
The shepherd loves his tiny sheep–
Sleep, precious little lambkin, sleep!
“That is very pretty, indeed!” exclaimed the brass candlestick.
“So it is,” replied the little shoe, “but you should hear it sung by the fairy queen!”
“Did the operetta end with that lullaby?” inquired the cigar-case.
“Oh, no,” said the little shoe. “No sooner had the queen finished her lullaby than an old gran’ma fairy, wearing a quaint mob-cap and large spectacles, limped forward with her crutch and droned out a curious ballad, which seemed to be for the special benefit of the boy and girl fairies, very many of whom were of the company. This ballad was as follows:
BALLAD OF THE JELLY-CAKE
A little boy whose name was Tim
Once ate some jelly-cake for tea–
Which cake did not agree with him,
As by the sequel you shall see.
“My darling child,” his mother said,
“Pray do not eat that jelly-cake,
For, after you have gone to bed,
I fear ‘t will make your stomach ache!”
But foolish little Tim demurred
Unto his mother’s warning word.
That night, while all the household slept,
Tim felt an awful pain, and then
From out the dark a nightmare leapt
And stood upon his abdomen!
“I cannot breathe!” the infant cried–
“Oh, Mrs. Nightmare, pity take!”
“There is no mercy,” she replied,
“For boys who feast on jelly-cake!”
And so, despite the moans of Tim,
The cruel nightmare went for him.
At first, she ‘d tickle Timmy’s toes
Or roughly smite his baby cheek–
And now she ‘d rudely tweak his nose
And other petty vengeance wreak;
And then, with hobnails in her shoes
And her two horrid eyes aflame,
The mare proceeded to amuse
Herself by prancing o’er his frame—
First to his throbbing brow, and then
Back to his little feet again.
At last, fantastic, wild, and weird,
And clad in garments ghastly grim,
A scowling hoodoo band appeared
And joined in worrying little Tim.
Each member of this hoodoo horde
Surrounded Tim with fierce ado
And with long, cruel gimlets bored
His aching system through and through,
And while they labored all night long
The nightmare neighed a dismal song.
Next morning, looking pale and wild,
Poor little Tim emerged from bed–
“Good gracious! what can ail the child!”
His agitated mother said.
“We live to learn,” responded he,
“And I have lived to learn to take
Plain bread and butter for my tea,
And never, never, jelly-cake!
For when my hulk with pastry teems,
I must expect unpleasant dreams!”
“Now you can imagine this ballad impressed the child fairies very deeply,” continued the little shoe. “Whenever the gran’ma fairy sang it, the little fairies expressed great surprise that boys and girls ever should think of eating things which occasioned so much trouble. So the night was spent in singing and dancing, and our master would sleep as sweetly as you please. At last the lark–what a beautiful bird she is–would flutter against the window panes, and give the fairies warning in these words:
The eastern sky is streaked with red,
The weary night is done,
And from his distant ocean bed
Rolls up the morning sun.
The dew, like tiny silver beads
Bespread o’er velvet green,
Is scattered on the wakeful meads
By angel hands unseen.
“Good-morrow, robin in the trees!”
The star-eyed daisy cries;
“Good-morrow,” sings the morning breeze
Unto the ruddy skies;
“Good-morrow, every living thing!”
Kind Nature seems to say,
And all her works devoutly sing
A hymn to birth of day,
So, haste, without delay,
Haste, fairy friends, on silver wing,
And to your homes away!
“But the fairies could never leave little master so unceremoniously. Before betaking themselves to their pretty homes under the rocks near the brook, they would address a parting song to his eyes, and this song they called a matin invocation:
TO A SLEEPING BABY’S EYES
And thou, twin orbs of love and joy!
Unveil thy glories with the morn–
Dear eyes, another day is born–
Awake, O little sleeping boy!
Bright are the summer morning skies,
But in this quiet little room
There broods a chill, oppressive gloom–
All for the brightness of thine eyes.
Without those radiant orbs of thine
How dark this little world would be–
This sweet home-world that worships thee–
So let their wondrous glories shine
On those who love their warmth and joy–
Awake, O sleeping little boy.
“So that ended the fairy operetta, did it?” inquired the match-box.
“Yes,” said the little shoe, with a sigh of regret. “The fairies were such bewitching creatures, and they sang so sweetly, I could have wished they would never stop their antics and singing. But, alas! I fear I shall never see them again.”
“What makes you think so?” asked the brass candlestick.
“I ‘m sure I can’t tell,” replied the little shoe; “only everything is so strange-like and so changed from what it used to be that I hardly know whether indeed I am still the same little shoe I used to be.”
“Why, what can you mean?” queried the old clock, with a puzzled look on her face.
“I will try to tell you,” said the little shoe. “You see, my mate and our master and I were great friends; as I have said, we roamed and frolicked around together all day, and at night my little mate and I watched at master’s bedside while he slept. One day we three took a long ramble, away up the street and beyond where the houses were built, until we came into a beautiful green field, where the grass was very tall and green, and where there were pretty flowers of every kind. Our little master talked to the flowers and they answered him, and we all had a merry time in the meadow that afternoon, I can tell you. ‘Don’t go away, little child,’ cried the daisies, ‘but stay and be our playfellow always.’ A butterfly came and perched on our master’s hand, and looked up and smiled, and said: ‘I ‘m not afraid of you; you would n’t hurt me, would you?’ A little mouse told us there was a thrush’s nest in the bush yonder, and we hurried to see it. The lady thrush was singing her four babies to sleep. They were strange-looking babies, with their gaping mouths, bulbing eyes, and scant feathers! ‘Do not wake them up,’ protested the lady thrush. ‘Go a little further on and you will come to the brook. I will join you presently.’ So we went to the brook.”
“Oh, but I would have been afraid,” suggested the pen-wiper.
“Afraid of the brook!” cried the little shoe. “Oh, no; what could be prettier than the brook! We heard it singing in the distance. We called to it and it bade us welcome. How it smiled in the sunshine! How restless and furtive and nimble it was, yet full of merry prattling and noisy song. Our master was overjoyed. He had never seen the brook before; nor had we, for that matter. ‘Let me cool your little feet,’ said the brook, and, without replying, our master waded knee-deep into the brook. In an instant we were wet through–my mate and I; but how deliciously cool it was here in the brook, and how smooth and bright the pebbles were! One of the pebbles told me it had come many, many miles that day from its home in the hills where the brook was born.”
“Pooh, I don’t believe it,” sneered the vase.
“Presently our master toddled back from out the brook,” continued the little shoe, heedless of the vase’s interruption, “and sat among the cowslips and buttercups on the bank. The brook sang on as merrily as before. ‘Would you like to go sailing?’ asked our master of my mate. ‘Indeed I would,’ replied my mate, and so our master pulled my mate from his little foot and set it afloat upon the dancing waves of the brook. My mate was not the least alarmed. It spun around gayly several times at first and then glided rapidly away. The butterfly hastened and alighted upon the merry little craft. ‘Where are you going?’ I cried. ‘I am going down to the sea,’ replied my little mate, with laughter. ‘And I am going to marry the rose in the far-away south,’ cried the butterfly. ‘But will you not come back?’ I cried. They answered me, but they were so far away I could not hear them. It was very distressing, and I grieved exceedingly. Then, all at once, I discovered my little master was asleep, fast asleep among the cowslips and buttercups. I did not try to wake him–only I felt very miserable, for I was so cold and wet. Presently the lady thrush came, as she had said she would. The child is asleep–he will be ill–I must hasten to tell his mother,’ she cried, and away she flew.”
“And was he sick?” asked the vase.
“I do not know,” said the little shoe. “I can remember it was late that evening when the sweet lady and others came and took us up and carried us back home, to this very room. Then I was pulled off very unceremoniously and thrown under my little master’s bed, and I never saw my little master after that.
“How very strange!” exclaimed the match-safe.
“Very, very strange,” repeated the shoe. “For many days and nights I lay under the crib all alone. I could hear my little master sighing and talking as if in a dream. Sometimes he spoke of me, and of the brook, and of my little mate dancing to the sea, and one night he breathed very loud and quick and he cried out and seemed to struggle, and then, all at once, he stopped, and I could hear the sweet lady weeping. But I remember all this very faintly. I was hoping the fairies would come back, but they never came.
“I remember,” resumed the little shoe, after a solemn pause, “I remember how, after a long, long time, the sweet lady came and drew me from under the crib and held me in her lap and kissed me and wept over me. Then she put me in a dark, lonesome drawer, where there were dresses and stockings and the little hat my master used to wear. There I lived, oh! such a weary time, and we talked–the dresses, the stockings, the hat, and I did–about our little master, and we wondered that he never came. And every little while the sweet lady would take us from the drawer and caress us, and we saw that she was pale and that her eyes were red with weeping.”
“But has your little master never come back!” asked the old clock.
“Not yet,” said the little shoe, “and that is why I am so very lonesome. Sometimes I think he has gone down to the sea in search of my little mate and that the two will come back together. But I do not understand it. The sweet lady took me from the drawer to-day and kissed me and set me here on the mantelpiece.”
“You don’t mean to say she kissed you?” cried the haughty vase, “you horrid little stumped-out shoe!”
“Indeed she did,” insisted the lonesome little shoe, “and I know she loves me. But why she loves me and kisses me and weeps over me I do not know. It is all very strange. I do not understand it at all.”