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Chatter Box and Chatter Bag by A. P. C.


Doubtless you all know what a chatter-box is, but are any of you acquainted with a chatter-bag? I do not think the word is in the dictionary, and yet the article exists. Perhaps you would like to hear how it came to be invented.

Once upon a time a young lady, whom we will call Miss Matilda, entered upon her duties as teacher in a large school. There were about fifty girls in her department, and she had to be somewhat of a disciplinarian to keep them all in order. But things, on the whole, went quietly, until one morning a pleasant-faced old lady appeared, and introduced as a new pupil her granddaughter Anna Maria Spilkins.

Anna Maria S. was eleven years of age. She was a graceful little person, with large round blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and a quantity of short, curly, golden hair. Her face was very bright; she had the appearance of being uncommonly clever. But she was eminently a chatter-box.

This fact soon made itself felt. Miss Matilda had scarcely placed her at a desk, and bowed Madam Grandma out of the school-room, when the chattering commenced. Anna Maria leaned over and whispered something to the girl on her right hand, then something to the one on the left, then a word to the one in front of her, then a word to the one behind her. Miss Matilda looked at her gently, then gently reprovingly, then reprovingly, then sternly, and all the glances were totally lost on Anna Maria. Miss Matilda benevolently thought, Perhaps this child has never been to school before.

"Anna Maria," she said, in a serious tone.

"What, ma'am?" said Anna Maria, looking up with perfect innocence in her clear blue eyes.

"Did you ever attend school before?"

"Oh dear yes! Why, I went when I was only three years old. First I went to Mrs. McToole's, and then I went to Miss Smith's, and then I went to Mr. Brown's, and then—"

"There, that will do," exclaimed Miss Matilda. "You can tell me the rest some other time. What I wish to know now is, were you allowed to talk as much as you pleased in those schools?"

"Well, I don't know as I was," replied Anna Maria, looking down, and blushing a little.

"The rule here," continued Miss Matilda, "is silence. I hope, my dear, that you will never speak except when it is absolutely necessary."

"Yes, ma'am," said Anna Maria, in a subdued tone, after which she closed her lips very tightly.

Miss Matilda called up the first class in geography, and proceeded to hear the lesson. In about five minutes her keen ear became conscious of a faint whispering sound. She glanced quickly in the direction of Anna Maria: evidently it was her little tongue that was wagging. But it was wagging very gently, and its waggery was addressed to one of the best girls in school. Miss Matilda thought, Perhaps she is asking some necessary questions: I will not be severe with her the first day. So she said nothing. But in five minutes more the whisper had risen to quite a buzz, and Miss Matilda detected distinctly the words, "White, with three flounces, and a new pink sash."

"Anna Maria!" she exclaimed.

"What, ma'am?"

"Did I not tell you that you were not to speak unless it was absolutely necessary?"

"Oh dear yes! I beg your pardon, teacher. I forgot all about it."

"Well, my dear, I trust you will be perfectly quiet now."

"Yes, ma'am," said Anna Maria, very meekly. She closed her lips tightly again, and was quiet—for about five minutes.

Miss Matilda thought, To-morrow, when she has her lessons to recite, it will be different.

But Miss Matilda was mistaken; to-morrow, when she had lessons to recite, it was exactly the same.

Chatter, chatter, chatter, Anna Maria kept it up day after day, from one end of the week to the other. The industrious girls were seriously annoyed by it. To the idle pupils it was a new excuse for idleness; to the silly ones, a new excuse for giggling. And punishment seemed to make no impression on Anna Maria. Again and again she was ordered to stand up in the corner. She went meekly and stood there, and in two minutes was chattering with the girl who sat nearest to her. She was told to stay in after school a quarter of an hour; half an hour; an hour; an hour and a half. She never put her head down on the desk and cried, as some of the girls did when they were kept in; she staid her time out quite cheerfully, and chattered with all her fellow-culprits. Miss Matilda thought, This child is simply distracting.

Then she made a rule that Anna Maria was not to speak to any person in the school excepting her teacher. And what was the result? At all hours of the day, in the midst of the most important business, Miss Matilda would be interrupted with talk similar to the following:

"Oh, teacher, may I speak to you one minute?"

"Certainly. What is it?"

"I just want to tell you about my cousin Susie's new doll. You ought to see it; it is perfectly splendid!—wax face and hands and feet, and real hair, and—"

"Anna Maria, have I not told you repeatedly that you were not to speak about anything except what was absolutely necessary? Now do you think that such conversation is necessary?"

Anna Maria hung her head a little, and then she said, in a sort of apologetic way, "Well, teacher, it may not seem so, but really it is necessary for me. You see, I get thinking about something, and I can't stop thinking about it until I have told it to somebody else."

"Well, and when you have relieved your mind in this manner, at the expense of peace and quiet to the whole school, what then?"

"Oh, then I think about something else."

"Yes, and then you wish to chatter about that."

"But really, teacher, I can't help it. I always was so. Grandma says I talk more than all the rest of the family put together. In fact, the family have to be quiet because I talk so much. I always did, you know. It is one of those things that can't be altered."

"Ah," said Miss Matilda, a little dryly, "I was not aware of that. Thank you for the information. I am sorry you did not tell me before."

One bright December afternoon, when school was about to be dismissed, Miss Matilda arose and said:

"Girls, I have decided that this class is to receive a Christmas present—something which will be useful and agreeable to you all. As this article (which I will not at present name) requires some very neat sewing, I have further decided that Miss Anna Maria Spilkins, whom I heard mentioned as an excellent needle-woman, shall have the honor of making it."

The girls applauded, and Anna Maria looked very proud.

"Anna Maria," continued Miss Matilda, "do you think your grandmother has a nice piece of calico at home, about a yard and a half long, which she could let us have?"

"Oh dear yes," replied Anna Maria. "Why, she has lots. Last winter she made a patchwork quilt, and she went down to New York and bought everything new for it. Aunt Jemima thought she could have used some things that were in the house, but she thought she couldn't—and you never saw the like! One yard of this, and two yards of that, and three yards of the other—enough to make half a dozen quilts—and every bit of it perfectly lovely. Oh, there is one piece that is just splendid! It is pink, with flowers of every color you can think of all over it. It is so bright you can hardly look at it."

"That would be the very thing. Do you think she will let us have it?"

"Oh, I guess so. I'll talk her into it; you depend on me for that."

"Very well. And to-morrow you will bring with you the calico, a yard and a half of alpaca braid to match, and your sewing materials."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Also, a large brass-headed nail and a hammer."

"Why, what is that for?"

"You will see when the time comes. And you will be excused from your lessons in the last hour on Thursday and Friday, so that you can do this piece of sewing in school."

"Thank you, ma'am."

Anna Maria was delighted. She felt herself a very important personage: besides, she had something new about which to chatter. Some of the other girls, however, were quite sulky over the affair. "I don't see why one of us couldn't do it," said one. "Miss Matilda is dreadfully partial," said another. "Yes, she lets Anna Maria Spilkins do anything she likes," said a third. But all were equally curious about it. "I do wonder what it can be," was heard on all sides.

The next morning Anna Maria arrived, bundle in hand. With great pride she spread out its contents. The girls were fairly dazzled with the beauty of the pink calico. In the afternoon, at the beginning of the last school hour, Miss Matilda said, "Anna Maria, have you brought the things we spoke of yesterday?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Anna Maria, stepping up to the desk.

Miss Matilda examined them with satisfaction. "Now, Anna Maria, take that brass-headed nail in your left hand, and the hammer in your right."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Do you notice that bar of wood along the wall, about five feet from the floor?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Now measure carefully, and find the spot exactly over the middle of your desk; then drive the nail in."

Anna Maria obeyed. The hammering resounded strangely through the quiet school-room. When this piece of work was over, Miss Matilda folded down the pink calico, and marked out two long seams to be run and felled. Anna Maria took the sewing to her seat, and stitched away complacently, while the other girls fretted and growled over "that horrid grammar lesson." When school was over, she brought the work to Miss Matilda, who put it away carefully in her desk.

"Ah, teacher, do tell us what it is!" some of the girls exclaimed.

"I think you will see to-morrow," Miss Matilda answered, quietly.

The next afternoon Anna Maria resumed her work.

"I do believe it is going to be a bag," whispered one of the girls, who was watching her.

"Why, yes, so it is," said another. "But what can it be for?"

"Do you think Miss Matilda could mean to have a Christmas grab-bag for us?" asked a third.

"I don't know why she should," said a fourth; "I don't see that we have been so awfully good as all that."

But a bag undoubtedly it was. Half an hour before school was over, Anna Maria had finished the string-case, and run the piece of pink alpaca braid through it. The work was done. She walked to the desk triumphantly, and presented it to her teacher. Miss Matilda examined it, commended the sewing, and then handed it back to her.

"And now, Anna Maria," she asked, "do you know what this bag is for?"

"No, ma'am."

"Have you no idea?"

"No, ma'am."

"It is to put your head in! In future I shall never reprove you for talking. You may talk as much and as often as you please, but all you say must go into this bag. When it is quite full of talk, draw the string tight, so that not one word escapes, and bring it to me. Then I will empty the chatter out of the window, where it will disturb no one, and return you the bag, to be refilled whenever you choose."

A wild shout of laughter rang through the school-room. Anna Maria turned crimson, and dropped the bag. She would have been glad if the floor had opened and swallowed her. She could make no answer—for once in her life she was dumb.

"Pick up the bag, Anna Maria," said Miss Matilda, "and hang it on the nail above your desk."

Very slowly and unwillingly the little girl obeyed. She took her seat, and then, for the first time since she came to school, put her head down on her desk and cried. Miss Matilda took no notice; she merely called the second class in grammar, and resumed the lessons.

When school was over, and all the other girls had gone, Anna Maria lifted her head, and exclaimed, "Oh, teacher, teacher, I can't stand it! Do let me take that hateful bag away!"

"No, my dear," said Miss Matilda, gently. "For three months you have disturbed the entire school with your perpetual chatter, and now for three months that bag is to hang over your desk. If by the end of that time you have learned to control your tongue, the bag shall be removed—not otherwise."

But it was strange to see how the three months changed her. Miss Matilda never again needed to say one word to her about talking: one glance at the bag was more efficacious than a dozen scoldings had been formerly.

Moreover, when her grandmother met her teacher, she said, "Oh, Miss Matilda, how Anna Maria has improved of late! She used to be such a terrible chatter-box; we sent her to school when she was only three years old, because we could not endure the noise of her tongue, but now she is growing so pleasant and sensible that we all enjoy her company."