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The Best Thing that Begins with "O"
THERE was once a little girl with blue eyes, golden hair, and cheeks as pink as the blow of a peach, so you can well believe she was pretty.
One day she found she was growing homely: her hair was becoming less golden, her eyes less blue, her cheeks less pink; and finally, unless her mother did her hair in curl-papers, it didn't curl at all!
Now that was a state of affairs! and though every one had something to say, nobody could tell the cause of it, and nothing came of all their talk.
Well, one day Annabel (for that was her name), wearing her best pink frock, went to the brook, though her mother forbade her going, and splashed about till her frock was ruined. One wrong thing leads to another, unless we stop short; and instead of going home, Annabel ran away to the wood, where she sat on a log, and cried till the creatures came to see what the matter was!
A little brown rabbit, bolder than the rest, came and sat beside her.
"I know what you should do," he said, "but it isn't so easy!"
"What?" cried Annabel, jumping up.
"Softly! softly! hurry-flurry brings but worry! Across the forest is a beautiful lake, clear as crystal. In the lake swims a snow-white swan, who can tell you what will bring back the pink to your frock, and your cheeks as well, so you will be as pretty as ever."
"Dear me, do tell me where to find her!" cried Annabel.
"Follow yonder path and you will find the lake; but mind! – do not speak to the swan till the sun is a golden ball upon the horizon."
Annabel started up the path as briskly as if it led to the lollipop shop, and after going a good way came to the crystal lake, where swam a beautiful white swan.
But the sun was still high in the sky.
"Oh, I cannot wait till the sun sets!" cried Annabel; and as the swan swam by, she called, "Oh, swan, tell me how to bring back the color to my frock and my cheeks."
The swan sighed mournfully but did not reply. Then there was a great rumbling and whirring, and the whole forest spun around under Annabel's feet, till she was in a place she had never seen before. She wandered here and there in the thick wood, finding never a sign of a path, and at last she sat down crying, "O, dear! what shall I do?"
"What do you wish to do?" asked a frog in a pool near by.
"I wish to find my way back to the swan," cried Annabel, "I am lost!"
"No you are not! you are sitting on a log," declared the frog. "When a thing is lost it's nowhere! and you're somewhere! I'm sure."
"I hadn’t thought of that," returned Annabel; "then it's the swan and the lake that are lost."
"Don't keep saying such foolish things!" snapped the frog. "They're somewhere too, and if you want to find them, you'll never do it by sitting there, saying things that aren’t true! You'd better be going a wrong way than no way at all," he added, handing her the end of a string. "When you find it's wrong you can turn around and go the other way. Hold tight to this string and see if you can find the other end of it."
At that the frog plumped into the water and Annabel sat holding the string, trying to decide what she had best do.
Presently, growing curious to find what was at the other end, she got up and started off, slipping the string through her fingers as she went.
"You'll find something you need at the end," called the frog; "it begins with 'O.' Wind your string in a nice round ball like an 'O' and it'll help you to remember."
"How ridiculously he talks!" thought Annabel. "What do I need beginning with 'O'? I'll not bother to wind the string." So she went on, letting it slip through her fingers; and presently she had to stop short, for she was wound about like a silkworm in a cocoon, with the tangled string.
She pulled and tugged, but she couldn't get loose, so she sat down and pouted. While she sat, some more creatures came out of the woods, and began offering advice – some of which was good, and most of which wasn’t.
"Draw in your breath and break the string!" suggested a fat little woodchuck. Annabel drew in her breath and puffed out her cheeks, but the string only cut in deeper.
The chipmunk tried to gnaw it; but he did no good. Then the squirrel gnawed, saying that he was a better gnawer than the chipmunk, though he meant no slight; but he did no good, and with all their advice and good wishes, Annabel was as tightly bound as ever.
"Turn round and unwind yourself!" said the deep voice of the frog, though Annabel couldn't tell where it came from.
"That's very well for him to say," she grumbled, "but how can I unwind myself when the string is full of hard knots and I don't know where the end is?" So, without even trying, she began to cry, – and crying, as you know, never makes pink cheeks. After a while a bear came along.
"You humans are funny!" he said, "why did you want to tangle yourself up that way?"
"I didn’t want to and I didn’t do it," contradicted Annabel. "The string tangled itself."
"Tangled itself!" cried the bear, rolling over and laughing till he shook. "How can a string tangle itself?"
"Well, I'm sure I didn't touch it," insisted Annabel crossly, "any more than to let it slip through my fingers; and I think instead of laughing you might help."
"I would if I could," said the bear politely, sitting up. "Humans are always getting themselves into scrapes and blaming something else. You shouldn't have let it slip."
Annabel tossed her head and did not answer, so the bear got up and walked away.
Presently he came back to say: "If you didn’t tie those knots and the string couldn’t, I don't see how there can be any knots there." And he went away again.
"That sounds reasonable," thought Annabel, "but how can anybody look at me and say there aren't any knots?"
"They wouldn't say so," called back the bear sharply.
"That's right!" piped up the woodchuck, "there are knots and knots! – knots in strings and knots in people! – so if you can't untie 'em one way you'd best try another."
"I wonder if there are knots in me," thought Annabel, trying to rub herself and find out.
"Not knots that you can feel," said the rabbit. "Listen: can you do sums?"
"Of course I can," she replied. "I am in the first reader."
"Then you ought to know that n-o-t is the same as k-n-o-t."
"I don't see any connection," returned Annabel. "that's spelling and we're talking about arithmetic – besides, they 're not the same."
"Yes, they are – sometimes," said the rabbit. "They are with you, because you're always saying, 'I will not,' and that's a knot that has to be untied, – I'm telling you for your own good!" he added, scuttling away before Annabel had time to answer. Annabel sat thinking for a while and then she began searching among the tangle for the end of the string. After looking industriously, she found it. Then she began slipping it in and out of the tangle, winding it in a ball as she went along. Presently she came to a hard knot, and although she worked at it for a long time, she couldn’t untie it.
"Now you see," said the rabbit, who had come back and sat watching her, "that's the way you humans do – you always go at things hind part before! You must untie it the same way you tied it."
"But I didn’t tie it," said Annabel.
"That's just it!" cried the rabbit, scratching his head so hard that he scratched out a little piece of fur, "you didn’t tie a k-n-o-t! "
"I tied an n-o-t," admitted Annabel meekly. "I guess I tied it when I wouldn't try to unwind the string, after the frog told me to."
The rabbit looked pleased but did not say anything, and Annabel tried again to untie the knot, – which she did without the least trouble, then went on winding the string. She had a good-sized ball before she came to the next snarl, – a big one. Annabel blushed over it, for she knew it came from not heeding the frog, when he first told her to wind the string.
"Never mind! You're coming on fine!" declared the rabbit. "Lots of people have knots to untie and it takes them a long time to find out how to do it. Just see how quickly you've learned. Now you've come to playing in the brook and spoiling your frock – that's a terrible snarl, isn’t it?"
If Annabel had had to work over every knot in that string, she'd have been at it yet, I guess. But the more she worked, the more easily they came untangled, till before long, she found herself at the end of the string, with a neatly wound ball in her hand.
"What will I find beginning with 'O'?" was her first thought.
"You have already found it," called a voice. And turning about, Annabel saw, to her surprise, that she was beside the crystal lake, and at her very feet swam the snow-white swan.
She looked at the sun and saw that it was a golden ball on the horizon, and then she cried, "Oh, beautiful swan, tell me how to bring back the pink to my cheeks and to my frock!"
"Pretty is as pretty does!" was the swan's reply, "look into the crystal lake, little one."
As she bent over and gazed into the clear water, Annabel saw a little girl with yellow ringlets! eyes as blue as the sky! and cheeks and frock as pink as the blow of a peach!
"Oh, thank you, beautiful swan! How can I repay you?" she cried, throwing her arms around the creature's graceful neck.
"By never losing what you have found," answered the swan. "Put your ball in your pocket and run home, for your mother is waiting for you."
You may be sure Annabel wanted to get home, so she started off as fast as she could go.
The little brown rabbit and all the rest of the creatures came hopping and scampering after her and stood at the edge of the wood waving good-bye.
"Good-bye! dear creatures," cried the happy little girl. "I shall never forget you."
Then on she ran and soon reached her own front door, where her mother met her and caught her in her arms crying:
"Here is my dear little girl who has learned O –" but she whispered the rest of the word in Annabel's ear, and I didn't catch it! Did you?