The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Monkey's Riddle.

For the Nursery Folk.
By Mrs. Francis Steinthal.
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 782-784

[Emeline Petrie Steinthal, 1855-1921, was a sculptor, painter, and co-founder of the P.N.E.U. with Charlotte Mason. She was married to Francis Steinthal. They had four children: Paul Telford, Dorothea, Francis, and Paul Cuthbert, who all lived well into adulthood.]

Eleven o'clock had struck. Dorothy had been fast asleep for four hours, and the grown-up people had just gone to bed. No sooner was the last light put out than a wonderful thing happened. The lid of the workbox, which was standing on the nursery table, opened, and out came, with a dignified step, fat, heavy Mr. Pincushion, leading a sweet little silver thimble. Then followed a tall, very slim needle, who, poor lady, had only one eye. She looked back for her usual companion, Mr. Cotton, but could not find him, and then she remembered she had heard him cry out because he had tumbled on the floor, and the mistress must have forgotten to pick him up again.

This strange proceeding happened every night, and as a rule the workbox people danced until twelve o'clock struck; they worked so hard during the day that they enjoyed a little pleasure afterwards; but this night they could not get on because the best dancer was lying on the floor.

So they asked Dorothy's musical box if he would play to them instead; but he was in a very bad temper because the baby had set his teeth on edge, so he gave a rick with his handle and refused like a spoilt child. Dorothy also possessed a little white fur monkey, who was very fond of making mischief. Now when the monkey heard that there could be no dancing he said to himself,

"Oh, what fun! I'll make them all fall out with each other instead."

So clearing his throat, he said aloud,

"Good evening, dear Mr. Pincushion. Shall I ask you a riddle?"

"Oh, pray do, Mr. Monkey. I love riddles so."

"Well," said the mischievous monkey, "which of you is the most useful to your mistress?"

Then you should have heard how Miss Needle squeaked and Mr. Pincushion shouted, and Miss Thimble screamed, and poor Mr. Cotton on the floor tried to be heard.

"Oh!" said Pincushion, "I am by far the most useful to my mistress. I carry all her pins and needles and hold her work firmly while she sews. I do decidedly the hardest work, and she could not possibly do any work without me." And the button in his centre got quite excited, and nearly jumped out of its place.

"Really, I am surprised to hear you talk such nonsense," said Miss Needle, as she opened her one eye as wide as possible. "I consider myself decidedly the most important. How could my mistress sew anything together without my sharp toe? If it were not for my assistance Dorotny could have no clothes at all, and would have to lie in bed all day. How can you think yourself better than I am, you heavy mountain?" And the angry needle flew at the pincushion with such force that she sank into his very heart, and nothing could be seen of her but the top of her shiny bald head.

Miss Thimble was also very much vexed, and exclaimed,

"And what use would you two be to my mistress if I did not protect her fingers? If she had not me to take care of her, her fingers would soon get sore and painful, and then she could do no more sewing for Dorothy, so I consider I am the greatest help."

Miss Thimble spun on her head till she got quite dizzy, and suddenly fell over the table on to the floor close to Cotton, and the shock was so great that she fainted away. Mr. Cotton wound his one arm round her to raise her head, and fanned her with his paper label, which was half loose.

When she opened her eyes Cotton laughed, and said,

"Oh, you silly people! What good can Needle do, going in and out of a dress, without a tail, and what good would you be if I did not keep the clothes together? Of course I am the most important and the greatest help to my mistress."

Just then twelve o'clock struck, and the monkey, with a satisfied smile, fell asleep, and so did the quarrelsome dancers.

The next morning Dorothy and her mother came into the nursery after breakfast. Dorothy took the pincushion in her hand, but let it drop again quickly, because she had pricked her finger with the angry needle. Her mother kissed her finger, and then pressed the needle out, and threaded it with the cotton, which they found lying on the floor by the thimble. Dorothy placed this on her mother's finger, as she was always a most polite little daughter. After her mother began to work, Dorothy sat for a few minutes with her hands clasped round her knees, thinking very deeply, At last she spoke.

"Mother, which do you think is the most useful to you--the pincushion, or the thimble, or the needle, or the cotton?"

"Well, Dorothy," said her mother, "I could not sew with a needle without cotton, nor with cotton without the sharp needle to make a little road for it, and I could not work without my cushion to hold my work and my pins, nor without a thimble to keep my finger from getting sore, so I think I must say they are all equally useful."

Typed July 2013 by Ella Jacobs