eCommerce



There were five of us. There had been six, but the Beautiful Boy was
taken home to heaven while he was still very little; and it was good for
the rest of us to know that there was always one to wait for and welcome
us in the Place of Light to which we should go some day. So, as I said,
there were five of us here,–Julia Romana, Florence, Harry, Laura, and
Maud. Julia was the eldest. She took her second name from the ancient
city in which she was born, and she was as beautiful as a soft Italian
evening,–with dark hair, clear gray eyes, perfect features, and a
complexion of such pure and wonderful red and white as I have never
seen in any other face. She had a look as if when she came away from
heaven she had been allowed to remember it, while others must forget;
and she walked in a dream always, of beauty and poetry, thinking of
strange things. Very shy she was, very sensitive. When Flossy (this was
Florence’s home name) called her “a great red-haired giant,” she wept
bitterly, and reproached her sister for hurting her feelings. Julia knew
everything, according to the belief of the younger children. What story
was there she could not tell? She it was who led the famous
before-breakfast walks, when we used to start off at six o’clock and
walk to the Yellow Chases’ (we never knew any other name for them; it
was the house that was yellow, not the people) at the top of the long
hill, or sometimes even to the windmill beyond it, where we could see
the miller at work, all white and dusty, and watch the white sails
moving slowly round. And on the way Julia told us stories, from Scott or
Shakspere; or gave us the plot of some opera, “Ernani” or “Trovatore,”
with snatches of song here and there. “Ai nostri monti ritornaremo,”
whenever I hear this familiar air ground out by a hand-organ, everything
fades from my eyes save a long white road fringed with buttercups and
wild marigolds, and five little figures, with rosy hungry faces,
trudging along, and listening to the story of the gypsy queen and her
stolen troubadour.

Julia wrote stories herself, too,–very wonderful stories, we all
thought, and, indeed, I think so still. She began when she was a little
girl, not more than six or seven years old. There lies beside me now on
the table a small book, about five inches square, bound in faded pink
and green, and filled from cover to cover with writing in a cramped,
childish hand. It is a book of novels and plays, written by our Julia
before she was ten years old; and I often think that the beautiful and
helpful things she wrote in her later years were hardly more remarkable
than these queer little romances. They are very sentimental; no child of
eight, save perhaps Marjorie Fleming, was ever so sentimental as
Julia,–“Leonora Mayre; A Tale,” “The Lost Suitor,” “The Offers.” I must
quote a scene from the last-named play.

I meant to give one scene, and I have given the whole play, not knowing
where to stop. There was nothing funny about it to Julia. The heroine,
with her wonderful command of silence, was her ideal of maiden reserve
and dignity; the deep-dyed villany of Bruin and Cas, the retiring
manners of the fortunate Emerson, the singular sprightliness of the
Bishop, were all perfectly natural, as her vivid mind saw them.

So she was bitterly grieved one day when a dear friend of the family, to
whom our mother had read the play, rushed up to her, and seizing her
hand, cried,–

“‘Julia, will you have me?’ ‘No!’ Exit Mr. Bruin.”

Deeply grieved the little maiden was; and it cannot have been very long
after that time that she gave the little book to her dearest aunt, who
has kept it carefully through all these years.

If Julia was like Milton’s “Penseroso,” Flossy was the “Allegro” in
person, or like Wordsworth’s maiden,–

“A dancing shape, an image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and waylay”

She was very small as a child. One day a lady, not knowing that the
little girl was within hearing, said to her mother, “What a pity Flossy
is so small!”

“I’m big inside!” cried a little angry voice at her elbow; and there was
Flossy, swelling with rage, like an offended bantam. And she _was_ big
inside! her lively, active spirit seemed to break through the little
body and carry it along in spite of itself. Sometimes it was an impish
spirit; always it was an enterprising one.

She it was who invented the dances which seemed to us such wonderful
performances. We danced every evening in the great parlor, our mother
playing for us on the piano. There was the “Macbeth” dance, in which
Flossy figured as Lady Macbeth. With a dagger in her hand, she crept and
rushed and pounced and swooped about in a most terrifying manner, always
graceful as a fairy. A sofa-pillow played the part of Duncan, and had a
very hard time of it. The “Julius Cæsar” dance was no less tragic; we
all took part in it, and stabbed right and left with sticks of
kindling-wood. One got the curling-stick and was happy, for it was the
next thing to the dagger, which no one but Flossy could have. Then there
was the dance of the “Four Seasons,” which had four figures. In spring
we sowed, in summer we reaped; in autumn we hunted the deer, and in
winter there was much jingling of bells. The hunting figure was most
exciting. It was performed with knives (kindling-wood), as Flossy
thought them more romantic than guns; they were held close to the side,
with point projecting, and in this way we moved with a quick _chassé_
step, which, coupled with a savage frown, was supposed to be peculiarly
deadly.

Flossy invented many other amusements, too. There was the school-loan
system. We had school in the little parlor at that time, and our desks
had lids that lifted up. In her desk Flossy kept a number of precious
things, which she lent to the younger children for so many pins an hour.
The most valuable thing was a set of three colored worsted balls, red,
green, and blue. You could set them twirling, and they would keep going
for ever so long. It was a delightful sport; but they were very
expensive, costing, I think, twenty pins an hour. It took a long time to
collect twenty pins, for of course it was not fair to take them out of
the pin-cushions.

Then there was a glass eye-cup without a foot; that cost ten pins, and
was a great favorite with us. You stuck it in your eye, and tried to
hold it there while you winked with the other. Of course all this was
done behind the raised desk-lid, and I have sometimes wondered what the
teacher was doing that she did not find us out sooner. She was not very
observant, and I am quite sure she was afraid of Flossy. One sad day,
however, she caught Laura with the precious glass in her eye, and it was
taken away forever. It was a bitter thing to the child (I know all about
it, for I was Laura) to be told that she could never have it again, even
after school. She had paid her ten pins, and she could not see what
right the teacher had to take the glass away. But after that the
school-loan system was forbidden, and I have never known what became of
the three worsted balls.

Flossy also told stories; or rather she told one story which had no end,
and of which we never tired. Under the sea, she told us, lived a fairy
named Patty, who was a most intimate friend of hers, and whom she
visited every night. This fairy dwelt in a palace hollowed out of a
single immense pearl. The rooms in it were countless, and were
furnished in a singular and delightful manner. In one room the chairs
and sofas were of chocolate; in another, of fresh strawberries; in
another, of peaches,–and so on. The floors were paved with squares of
chocolate and cream candy; the windows were of transparent barley-sugar,
and when you broke off the arm of a chair and ate it, or took a square
or two out of the pavement, they were immediately replaced, so that
there was no trouble for anyone. Patty had a ball every evening, and
Flossy never failed to go. Sometimes, when we were good, she would take
us; but the singular thing about it was that we never remembered what
had happened. In the morning our infant minds were a cheerful blank,
till Flossy told us what a glorious time we had had at Patty’s the night
before, how we had danced with Willie Winkie, and how much ice-cream we
had eaten. We listened to the recital with unalloyed delight, and
believed every word of it, till a sad day of awakening came. We were
always made to understand that we could not bring away anything from
Patty’s, and were content with this arrangement; but on this occasion
there was to be a ball of peculiar magnificence, and Flossy, in a fit of
generosity, told Harry that he was to receive a pair of diamond
trousers, which he would be allowed to bring home. Harry was a child
with a taste for magnificence; and he went to bed full of joy, seeing
already in anticipation the glittering of the jewelled garment, and the
effects produced by it on the small boys of his acquaintance. Bitter was
the disappointment when, on awakening in the morning, the chair by his
bedside bore only the familiar brown knickerbockers, with a patch of a
lighter shade on one knee. Harry wept, and would not be comforted; and
after that, though we still liked to hear the Patty stories, we felt
that the magic of them was gone,–that they were only stories, like
“Blue-beard” or “Jack and the Beanstalk.”