On the parlor mantel of a farmhouse stood little China Shepherdess. In one hand she held a gilt crook and with the other she shaded her eyes and gazed far away. Probably she was looking for her sheep. Her dress was of red and green, and it was trimmed with gilt. Her boots were also gilt.
On the other end of the mantel stood a little china Flute Player. He was dressed in red and white, and his flute was gilt and his boots were red. He held his flute to his lips in a very jaunty manner, but his eyes were on the little Shepherdess. He had been in love with her for a long time, but never a look did she give him.
China Cat stood near the Flute Player, and one day she heard him sigh.
“Why do you sigh?” she asked him. He shook his head, but did not answer. “I know,” said the Cat; “you are in love with the Shepherdess, and she will not look at you. Now, let me tell you how to manage. First, you must stop looking at her. She knows that you are always gazing in her direction.”
The Flute Player shook his head again and said, “I cannot help looking at her, she is so pretty and I love her so dearly.”
“But you must,” said China Cat. “There is the Flower Girl on the center table. Look at her and play your jolliest tune and see what happens.”
So the little Flute Player took China Cat’s advice and began to play a lively air. He smiled at the little Flower Girl, who smiled in return and made him a curtsey. Then she began to dance, keeping time to his music. The Flute Player commenced to dance as he played, and China Cat moved her head from side to side. The little Shepherdess tapped on the mantel with her gilt boot and looked toward the Flute Player. But he was gazing at the Flower Girl, and for the first time she thought him rather good to look at.
“I cannot see what there is about that Flower Girl to attract him,” said the Shepherdess; “she hasn’t a bit of color about her; she is as white as a piece of cloth; even her flowers are white.”
By and by the little Shepherdess began to dance and she moved toward the end of the mantel where the Flute Player stood. China Cat rubbed against the Flute Player’s leg.
“Look,” she said, “but be careful she does not catch you; the Shepherdess is coming this way.”
His heart beat very fast, but he kept on playing and fixed his eyes on the little Flower Girl. But the Shepherdess did not come any nearer than the middle of the mantel, and not once did she look at him. By and by it was dark and the Flute Player could not see the Flower Girl, so he stopped playing and his heart was heavy again.
China Cat, however, was bound to make a match between the Shepherdess and the Flute Player, and she walked over to the little Shepherdess and asked, “Don’t you think that he plays well?”
“Who?” asked the artful little Shepherdess.
“The handsome Flute Player,” said China Cat.
“Oh, I have not thought much about it,” answered the Shepherdess.
“Wouldn’t you like to hear him play again?” said China Cat. “It would cheer us up, the room is so dark.”
Just then the moonlight streamed in the window and lighted the room. The little Shepherdess looked into the distance again and said she thought it would be nice to hear the music. So China Cat trotted over to the Flute Player.
“She wants to hear you play,” she said, “and I think you can win her.”
The Flute Player began playing soft music and walking toward the little Shepherdess. The music was so sweet and sad that by the time he reached her side she was wiping her eyes. He stole one arm around her waist and told her not to cry, that he would play a jolly tune for her.
“No, those are the tunes you play for the Flower Girl,” she said, hanging her head. “I do not want you to play them for me.”
“I did not play any tunes for the Flower Girl,” he said, “they were all for you.”
“But you looked at her all the time,” said the now humble little Shepherdess.
“I was thinking of you,” he replied. “Let us sit on the end of the mantel and I will play to you. What would you like to hear?”
“Play something sad,” said the little Shepherdess, for, like all girls, she wanted to cry when she was happiest.
“There,” said the Cat, curling herself up for a nap, “I am glad that is settled. She never would have given in if he had not looked at the Flower Girl. These girls are queer creatures,” she said, closing her eyes.