An illustrated text: See the end of the story.
Sarah Orne Jewett
The Pepper-owl and the Fluffy-owl and little Patty - that is the whole name of the story. And first, you must hear about the Pepper-owl. He was made of silver, and thought a great deal of himself on that account. Patty's father brought him home one afternoon, and stood him on the dinner-table beside his plate, and waited to see if the children would notice him. The Pepper-owl expected attention, and began to feel cross because the children were hungry, and were so busy with their soup that they did not look beyond their own plates until they were empty, and did not stop eating for even one glance at him. "They are so impolite to strangers, these people!" said he to himself; but for all that, he kept his yellow eyes wide open, and his silver feathers glistened bravely. There was a tumbler near him, in which he could see himself, and that was a great pleasure.
In a few minutes one of the children saw him and shouted, for she thought he was a new plaything. "Oh, please let me take that dear little fat silver bird!" said she, and all the children looked around until they saw him too. Now, our friend the Pepper-owl was proud of his figure, and he did not like to be called a little fat silver bird; but being polite as well as proud, he said nothing. Each of the children begged that he might be her own; but their father said he was not to be given away - he meant to keep him for himself. Then he showed them that the owl was not a plaything at all; for he unscrewed his head, and holding it against the light, they saw that the top was full of little holes, and the rest of the owl was hollow.
"He is meant to hold pepper," said papa.
"Can we take turns in having him stand beside our plates?" asked Nelly.
"I think he is too pretty for pepper," said little Patty; and Kate asked if Bridget could not fill him with pepper at once, so that they might begin to use him that very day. "He will look so fine on the table!" said she; but Patty thought it would have been great fun to have kept him a day or two for a plaything.
It was some time before he was brought back to the table, for Bridget and Nora looked at him in the kitchen, and by this time the Pepper-owl felt quite contented, and was sure he should like the family, they all thought he was so handsome. When he was brought back at last, Nelly had the first shake, because she was the oldest, and he sent a generous shower into her plate. Papa said, "Don't shake him so hard, my dear; you know I don't like your eating too much pepper;" but it was not Nelly's fault, it was the owl's. "I might have known better," said he to himself; and when Kate had shaken him, and it came Patty's turn, she could hardly see a grain of pepper fall on her potato; but she was glad, for she did not like anything that bit her tongue, and only wished to shake the owl because her sisters had done so, and she liked to do as they did. One does not like to be left out of any pleasure.
After this, Nelly stood him just in front of her plate, and could hardly eat her dinner, he was so beautiful.
Now I will tell you about the Fluffy-owl.
Only the week before this, all three of the children had spent an afternoon at the natural history rooms, and while the other girls had walked about with their father, little Patty had lingered a long time before a case of stuffed owls. She had never seen but one before, and that was in a shop-window when she was walking out one day with Nancy. Here there were brown owls with feather horns and brown owls without, and gray owls and white owls, large and small, from the great Arctic owl down to one little fellow hardly larger than the Pepper-owl himself. He sat all by himself in the lower left-hand corner of the case, looking very lonely and dismal, and his soft little gray feathers were almost like fur. Patty looked at him a long time by herself, and then she brought her father there to see the owl, and asked him to buy it; but papa said he could not buy any of the things in the cases, though perhaps he could find her just such a Fluffy-owl in a shop some day. Patty went back four or five times to look at the little bird once more, and wished for him with all her heart; and, to tell you the truth, the Fluffy-owl knew it, and promised to make her a visit some time; but she did not hear him. And the Pepper-owl also knew when he came that Patty liked him, and said that he would call upon her that very night; but Patty did not hear that either.
Now I will tell you a little more about Patty.
Her two elder sisters, Nelly and Kate, were very apt to think that little Patty was too young to know a great deal; but, in fact, she knew much more about some things than they did, just because she was young.
That day when they were to go to the natural history rooms, they both thought she would be tired, and would not understand, and that it would be best to leave her at home with Nancy, who was taking all the care of them while their mamma was away. Kate said that Patty did not know anything about animals; but, though Patty could only read the very least little bit, she had used her ears in hearing Nancy read, and had used her eyes in seeing the pictures in books; so she had grown wiser than anybody suspected, and insisted upon going with them. Papa did not mind taking her, for she was a good little girl, and did not give him trouble; so she went, and enjoyed herself very much. She had been there some time before she saw the Fluffy-owl on his perch, and as I have told you she liked him, and pitied him so much that she could not help going back four or five times to look at him. She felt that he liked to have her come back, and he did not look cross like the great owls in the case. She was almost sure he was alive, though papa had told her all the birds were dead. But the Fluffy-owl's eyes were bright, and he seemed to look after her.
Now the story begins to be about the Pepper-owl, the Fluffy-owl, and little Patty - all together.
It was that very night after Pepper-owl had come. Patty had gone to bed, and Nancy had gone down-stairs. Soon after this, the little girl heard something scratching at the window; so she sat up in bed, and looked that way. There was certainly something trying to get through the mosquito-bar, and in another minute it had torn a little hole, and was poking its head through the netting. At last it came flying across the room, and lit on the footboard of the bed. It sat there, round and trig, and little Patty knew at once that it was the Fluffy-owl from the natural history rooms.
"You are very kind to come so far to see me, you dear owl!" said Patty.
"I have not been out before for several weeks," said the Fluffy-owl; "and I assure you this is a great pleasure, only my wings are stiff. The people who dust left the case open when they went away to-night, so I have escaped for a time; but I must be back before morning. It is a very stupid place sometimes though to be sure, one may learn a great deal in such fine society from all parts of the world."
"You poor thing," said little Patty, "I have a great mind to keep you; I can shut you up in the garret of the baby-house in the day-time, and you can go where you please at night. I truly will not forget to feed you."
"But that would be stealing me, you know," said the Fluffy-owl.
"I didn't think of that," said little Patty, who felt much ashamed.
Now there was another scratching, and this time it was at the door which led from the hall into Patty's room. It was not a minute before the door swung open a little way, and in marched the kitten, and after her something that glistened. It was the Pepper-owl. The kitten hurried across to the big chair where Nancy sat and sewed in the day-time, and after turning round and round on the cushion, she settled down and went to sleep. Patty laughed aloud, -- it was such fun to see the silver-owl walk along the floor. His legs were too short altogether, and so he moved slowly, and then he had to make three attempts to fly as high as the foot-board, where the other owl sat. Finally he succeeded, and perched himself beside the Fluffy-owl, who turned and shook claws with him, and then they kissed each other with affection.
"How nice that you know each other!" said Patty. "I am so glad to see you both!" And here both her guests made an elegant bow, though the Pepper-owl's claws slipped on the smooth, hard wood and he nearly fell head-foremost. Some pepper shook down on the bed, and Patty and the other owl both sneezed twice; and after this the Fluffy-owl held up first one foot and then the other, and winked his eyes and ruffled up his feathers, until he was more like a ball than a bird. He looked softer and fluffier than ever, and Patty asked him to fly down and let her smooth him with her hand, which he kindly did. The Pepper-owl came down with a bounce, and told Patty she might smooth him too; but he could not fluff up his feathers at all, and he was sprinkled with grains of pepper, so she didn't care to have him too near.
"Dear Patty," said the Fluffy-owl, "we both like you dearly, and we have come to play with you. Don't you think it would be nicer if you were about as tall as we are?"
"If you will make me grow tall again when you go away," said Patty; "for you know none of my clothes would fit me, though I could borrow from the dolls."
"That will be all right," said the owls; and each took hold of one of her hands and pulled, and in a few minutes Patty was only three or four inches tall. And she saw some of the dolls' clothes near by; so she dressed herself in them, and then she and the Pepper-owl and the Fluffy-owl danced around the room together. The Pepper-owl was a clumsy creature, and the others laughed until they could laugh no longer at his capers, though they were much troubled because he would persist in carelessly spilling his pepper, and they sneezed and sneezed until Patty had to hunt up one of the dolls' pocket-handkerchiefs for herself, and one for the Fluffy-owl.
"Now what shall we do?" asked the Pepper-owl. "It shall be anything Patty chooses."
"I always thought I should like to go to the place where the white clouds live," said Patty; "and if one were just starting we could have a ride, you know."
"That is too far," said the Pepper-owl. "I couldn't fly there in a year."
"And are the stars too far?" asked Patty.
"The stars are beyond the clouds," said the Fluffy-owl; "only the great owls can fly so far as that. You must choose some nearer place."
"Suppose we go to see the dolls in the baby-house," said Patty; "you know I am just the right size, and it will be such fun!" So they all went to the baby-house door and knocked. Black Dinah, the kitchen doll, came at once, and was very glad to see them. She had on her new bright turban, which Patty had given her the day before. She said the ladies were at home, and had been wishing somebody would come in. Before they went upstairs to the parlor, Patty showed the owls her baby-house kitchen and the cellar where the provisions were kept. It seemed funny to Patty to be going up the baby-house staircase herself, and to be just the right height to take hold of the railing; and the steps were just high enough, too. The owls hopped up after her with both feet at once, and followed her into the parlor, where all the dolls sat with their very best dresses on. "That is the reason their best clothes wear out so soon," thought Patty; "they wear them at night." But she didn't say anything, for they looked so pretty; and it would not have been polite to have scolded them before the owls.
The owls perched themselves on two little ottomans which Patty had made out of small blocks of wood, with blue paper pasted on; they said they preferred them to chairs. The dolls evidently thought the Pepper-owl very handsome; and, indeed, he did shine gallantly, and his eyes seemed to grow larger and larger. The Fluffy-owl puffed up his feathers several times and settled them again, and the dolls thought it was very funny, and did not hesitate to say that they were the most interesting visitors who had ever been in the baby-house.
Patty now thought that it would be best for her to go upstairs to see two of the dolls who had been taken very ill with scarlet fever the day before, and asked her favorite doll Bessie to go with her. It was so nice to walk upstairs arm-in-arm with Bessie, and they stopped and kissed each other half-way, and gave each other such a hug! Bessie said she wished Patty might never grow large again, and that they could always live together; and our friend herself thought it would be pleasant. She had never known what a nice place the baby-house was. The sick dollies seemed to be much better; in fact, when Patty pulled off the bits of red silk she had tied over their faces to show what the matter was, they looked as well as ever. She had been kept in the bed a long time when she had the scarlet fever, so she had to say no to the dolls when they wished to be dressed and to go down to see the owls. Bessie and Patty had a long talk before they went back to the parlor, sitting by themselves on the stairs; and when they went in, the other dolls had pulled a table to the middle of the floor, and all sat round; the owls, however, being still perched on the ottomans, which they thought very comfortable. The dolls had been trying to teach them to play dominoes, as they had had a present of a new box just the right size, and hardly larger than Patty's thumb before she had grown small. But the owls were dreadfully stupid, and could not be made to learn; so one of the dolls proposed that they should all sit round the fire and tell stories. There was a beautiful fire in the little grate, made of bits of real coal, and a great deal of red tinsel which had come off a card of pearl buttons; and though this was in summer, the dolls always kept the fire burning, and did not feel too warm.
The dolls passed round some candy which Patty had left in the baby-house closet the day before; but the pieces were hard, and altogether too large. Patty said to herself that she must always have something for the dolls to give their friends who came to see them at night; they must have felt badly to have nothing to offer their guests. But Patty never had known before that they were not sound asleep all night like herself.
The Pepper-owl was now requested to tell a story. So he said he only knew one, and he should like to tell it very much. It was about seven kittens; and, first, they should hear an interesting story about each little kitten separately and then there was a nice long story about all the family together.
"Don't you know a shorter story?" asked the other owl, "as we cannot stay much longer - at least I cannot."
Strange to say, the Pepper-owl was very angry, and would not tell any story at all; and all the dolls tried to persuade him to change his mind, and even asked him to tell about the seven kittens; but he looked cross, and was certainly disobliging, though one of the dolls, whose name was Adeline, made up this little poem, hoping it would please him, which it luckily did:
"Tell me about the kittens, love!
I long to hear you speak.
Oh, tell me everything you know!
Unclose that silver beak.
"Oh, do not look so sad, my dear!
And cease that dismal scowl:
Smile gently with your yellow eyes,
My useful Pepper-owl!"
After this, I have no doubt that he would have told the story; but the Fluffy-owl said it was time for him to go home. Patty and her doll Bessie were very sorry to say good-by, though they could see each other in the morning. They had been sitting on the baby-house sofa, holding each other's hand, and had grown much fonder of each other than ever they had been before.
All the dolls urged their visitors to stay longer; but as they could not do that, they promised to come again very soon.
Before the owls could go away, they had to pull Patty up again, and make her tall; but this was not much trouble. First, they stood on a book which had fallen on the floor, and pulled from that; next, they mounted a cricket, and next a chair, and afterward the bed. They made her a little taller than she had been in the first place, and several people said, during the next week, "How fast Patty grows!"
The Fluffy-owl went out through the hole in the mosquito-bar, and pulled it together afterward so that nobody would know there had been a hole. The Pepper-owl stood on the window-sill, and said, "Good-night - come again!" in the most good-natured way. That was one good thing about the Pepper-owl - his fits of anger were very short, and he was always sorry afterward. Perhaps it was the pepper which made him lose his temper, poor thing! He waked the kitten, for she had to show him the way to and from the dining-room. You know he had only to come to Patty's house that day.
In the morning it was Patty's turn to have the Pepper-owl stand beside her plate, and she told him softly that she wished he would come upstairs again and tell her that story about the seven kittens. He looked very stupid, and said nothing; but the light was shining in his eyes, and owls do not like that. Patty thought it would be nicer to have Fluffy-owl, and was just going to tell her father so; but she remembered it would be likely to hurt Pepper-owl's feelings. I dare say our friends will go calling again some night, and if they do, of course I shall tell you about it.
"The Pepper Owl" first appeared in St. Nicholas (3:492-496) in June 1876 and was collected in Play Days (1878), where it was illustrated by an unknown artist. Click here to see the illustration. If you find errors or items needing annotation in this text, please contact:
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scarlet fever: a bacterial infection related to strep throat, usually affecting young children and frequently fatal before the use of antibiotics.
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cricket: a wooden footstool.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
Patty has a dance with the pepper-owl and the fluffy-owl.
This illustration appeared with the original publication of "The Pepper-Owl." The artist is unknown. Information on this would be welcome; please contact the site manager.