Complete Poetical Works

Miss Edith’s Modest Request

Bret Harte

MY PAPA knows you, and he says you’re a man who makes reading for books;
But I never read nothing you wrote, nor did Papa,—I know by his looks.
So I guess you’re like me when I talk, and I talk, and I talk all the day,
And they only say, “Do stop that child!” or, “Nurse, take Miss Edith away.”

But Papa said if I was good I could ask you—alone by myself—
If you wouldn’t write me a book like that little one up on the shelf.
I don’t mean the pictures, of course, for to make them you’ve got to be smart
But the reading that runs all around them, you know,—just the easiest part.

You needn’t mind what it’s about, for no one will see it but me,
And Jane,—that’s my nurse,—and John,—he’s the coachman,—just only us three.
You’re to write of a bad little girl, that was wicked and bold and all that;
And then you’re to write, if you please, something good—very good—of a cat!

This cat, she was virtuous and meek, and kind to her parents, and mild,
And careful and neat in her ways, though her mistress was such a bad child;
And hours she would sit and would gaze when her mistress—that’s me—was so bad,
And blink, just as if she would say, “Oh, Edith! you make my heart sad.”

And yet, you would scarcely believe it, that beautiful, angelic cat
Was blamed by the servants for stealing whatever, they said, she’d get at.
And when John drank my milk,—don’t you tell me!    I know just the way it was done,—
They said ’twas the cat,—and she sitting and washing her face in the sun!

And then there was Dick, my canary.    When I left its cage open one day,
They all made believe that she ate it, though I know that the bird flew away.
And why?    Just because she was playing with a feather she found on the floor.
As if cats couldn’t play with a feather without people thinking ’twas more!

Why, once we were romping together, when I knocked down a vase from the shelf,
That cat was as grieved and distressed as if she had done it herself;
And she walked away sadly and hid herself, and never came out until tea,—
So they say, for they sent me to bed, and she never came even to me.

No matter whatever happened, it was laid at the door of that cat.
Why, once when I tore my apron,—she was wrapped in it, and I called “Rat!”—
Why, they blamed that on her.    I shall never—no, not to my dying day—
Forget the pained look that she gave me when they slapped me and took me away.

Of course, you know just what comes next, when a child is as lovely as that:
She wasted quite slowly away; it was goodness was killing that cat.
I know it was nothing she ate, for her taste was exceedingly nice;
But they said she stole Bobby’s ice cream, and caught a bad cold from the ice.

And you’ll promise to make me a book like that little one up on the shelf,
And you’ll call her “Naomi,” because it’s a name that she just gave herself;
For she’d scratch at my door in the morning, and whenever I’d call out, “Who’s there?”
She would answer, “Naomi! Naomi!” like a Christian, I vow and declare.

And you’ll put me and her in a book.    And mind, you’re to say I was bad;
And I might have been badder than that but for the example I had.
And you’ll say that she was a Maltese, and—what’s that you asked? “Is she dead?”
Why, please, sir, there ain’t any cat! You’re to make one up out of your head!

Back    |    Words Home    |    Bret Harte Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback