GREEN PEACE

Julia and Flossy did not content themselves with writing plays and
telling stories. They aspired to making a language,–a real language,
which should be all their own, and should have grammars and dictionaries
like any other famous tongue. It was called Patagonian,–whether with
any idea of future missionary work among the people of that remote
country, or merely because it sounded well, I cannot say. It was a
singular language. I wish more of it had survived; but I can give only a
few of its more familiar phrases.

MILLDAM–Yes.

PILLDAM–No.

MOUCHE–Mother.

BIS VON SNOUT?–Are you well?

BRUNK TU TOUCHY SNOUT–I am very well.

CHING CHU STICK STUMPS?–Will you have some doughnuts?

These fragments will, I am sure, make my readers regret deeply the loss
of this language, which has the merit of entire originality.

As to Flossy’s talent for making paper-dolls, it is a thing not to be
described. There were no such paper-dolls as those. Their figures might
not be exactly like the human figure, but how infinitely more graceful!
Their waists were so small that they sometimes broke in two when called
upon to courtesy to a partner or a queen: that was the height of
delicacy! They had ringlets invariably, and very large eyes with amazing
lashes; they smiled with unchanging sweetness, filling our hearts with
delight. Many and wonderful were their dresses. The crinoline of the day
was magnified into a sort of vast semi-circular cloud, adorned about the
skirt with strange patterns; one small doll would sometimes wear a whole
sheet of foolscap in an evening dress! That was extravagant, but our
daughters must be in the fashion. There was one yellow dress belonging
to my doll Parthenia (a lovely creature of Jewish aspect, whose waist
was smaller than her legs), which is not even now to be remembered
without emotion. We built houses for the paper-dolls with books from the
parlor table, even borrowing some from the bookcase when we wanted an
extra suite of rooms. I do not say it was good for the books, but it was
very convenient for the dolls. I have reason to think that our mother
did not know of this practice. In the matter of their taking exercise,
however, she aided us materially, giving us sundry empty trinket-boxes
lined with satin, which made the most charming carriages in the world.
The state coach was a silver-gilt portemonnaie lined with red silk. It
had seen better days, and the clasp was broken; but that did not make it
less available as a coach. I wish you could have seen Parthenia in it!

I do not think we cared so much for other dolls, yet there were some
that must be mentioned. Vashti Ann was named for a cook; she belonged
to Julia, and I have an idea that she was of a very haughty and
disagreeable temper, though I cannot remember her personal appearance.
Still more shadowy is my recollection of Eliza Viddipock,–a name to be
spoken with bated breath. What dark crime this wretched doll had
committed to merit her fearful fate, I do not know; it was a thing not
to be spoken of to the younger children, apparently. But I do know that
she was hanged, with all solemnity of judge and hangman. It seems unjust
that I should have forgotten the name of Julia’s good doll, who died,
and had the cover of the sugar-bowl buried with her, as a tribute to her
virtues.

Sally Bradford and Clara both belonged to Laura. Sally was an
india-rubber doll; Clara, a doll with a china head of the old-fashioned
kind, smooth, shining black hair, brilliant rosy cheeks, and calm (very
calm) blue eyes. I prefer this kind of doll to any other. Clara’s life
was an uneventful one, on the whole, and I remember only one remarkable
thing in it. A little girl in the neighborhood invited Laura to a
dolls’ party on a certain day: she was to bring Clara by special
request. Great was the excitement, for Laura was very small, and had
never yet gone to a party. A seamstress was in the house making the
summer dresses, and our mother said that Clara should have a new frock
for the party. It seemed a very wonderful thing to have a real new white
muslin frock, made by a real seamstress, for one’s beloved doll. Clara
had a beautiful white neck, so the frock was made low and trimmed with
lace. When the afternoon came, Laura brought some tiny yellow roses from
the greenhouse, and the seamstress sewed them on down the front of the
frock and round the neck and hem. It is not probable that any other doll
ever looked so beautiful as Clara when her toilet was complete.

Then Laura put on her own best frock, which was not one half so fine,
and tied on her gray felt bonnet, trimmed with quillings of pink and
green satin ribbon, and started off, the proudest and happiest child in
the whole world. She reached the house (it was very near) and climbed
up the long flight of stone steps, and stood on tiptoe to ring the
bell,–then waited with a beating heart. Would there be many other
dolls? Would any of them be half so lovely as Clara? Would
there–dreadful thought!–would there be big girls there?

The door opened. If any little girls read this they will now be very
sorry for Laura. There was no dolls’ party! Rosy’s mother (the little
girl’s name was Rosy) had heard nothing at all about it; Rosy had gone
to spend the afternoon with Sarah Crocker.

“Sorry, little girl! What a pretty dolly! Good-by, dear!” and then the
door was shut again.

Laura toddled down the long stone steps, and went solemnly home. She did
not cry, because it would not be nice to cry in the street; but she
could not see very clearly. She never went to visit Rosy again, and
never knew whether the dolls’ party had been forgotten, or why it was
given up.

Before leaving the subject of dolls, I must say a word about little
Maud’s first doll. Maud was a child of rare beauty, as beautiful as
Julia, though very different. Her fair hair was of such color and
quality that our mother used to call her Silk-and-silver, a name which
suited her well; her eyes were like stars under their long black lashes.
So brilliant, so vivid was the child’s coloring that she seemed to flash
with silver and rosy light as she moved about. She was so much younger
than the others that in many of their reminiscences she has no share;
yet she has her own stories, too. A friend of our father’s, being much
impressed with this starry beauty of the child, thought it would be
pleasant to give her the prettiest doll that could be found; accordingly
he appeared one day bringing a wonderful creature, with hair almost like
Maud’s own, and great blue eyes that opened and shut, and cheeks whose
steadfast roses did not flash in and out, but bloomed always. I think
the doll was dressed in blue and silver, but am not sure; she was
certainly very magnificent.

Maud was enchanted, of course, and hugged her treasure, and went off
with it. It happened that she had been taken only the day before to see
the blind children at the Institution near by, where our father spent
much of his time. It was the first time she had talked with the little
blind girls, and they made a deep impression on her baby mind, though
she said little at the time. As I said, she went off with her new doll,
and no one saw her for some time. At length she returned, flushed and
triumphant.

“My dolly is blind, now!” she cried; and she displayed the doll, over
whose eyes she had tied a ribbon, in imitation of Laura Bridgman. “She
is blind Polly! ain’t got no eyes ’t all!”

Alas! it was even so. Maud had poked the beautiful blue glass eyes till
they fell in, and only empty sockets were hidden by the green ribbon.
There was a great outcry, of course; but it did not disturb Maud in the
least. She wanted a blind doll, and she had one; and no pet could be
more carefully tended than was poor blind Polly.

More precious than any doll could be, rises in my memory the majestic
form of Pistachio. It was Flossy, ever fertile in invention, who
discovered the true worth of Pistachio, and taught us to regard with awe
and reverence this object of her affection. Pistachio was an oval
mahogany footstool, covered with green cloth of the color of the nut
whose name he bore. I have the impression that he had lost a leg, but am
not positive on this point. He was considered an invalid, and every
morning he was put in the baby-carriage and taken in solemn procession
down to the brook for his morning bath. One child held a parasol over
his sacred head (only he had no head!), two more propelled the carriage,
while the other two went before as outriders. No mirth was allowed on
this occasion, the solemnity of which was deeply impressed on us.
Arrived at the brook, Pistachio was lifted from the carriage by his
chief officer, Flossy herself, and set carefully down on the flat stone
beside the brook. His sacred legs were dipped one by one into the clear
water, and dried with a towel. Happy was the child who was allowed to
perform this function! After the bath, he was walked gently up and
down, and rubbed, to assist the circulation; then he was put back in his
carriage, and the procession started for home again, with the same
gravity and decorum as before. The younger children felt sure there was
some mystery about Pistachio. I cannot feel sure, even now, that he was
nothing more than an ordinary oval cricket; but his secret, whatever it
was, has perished with him.

I perceive that I have said little or nothing thus far about Harry; yet
he was a very important member of the family. The only boy: and such a
boy! He was by nature a Very Imp, such as has been described by Mr.
Stockton in one of his delightful stories. Not two years old was he when
he began to pull the tails of all the little dogs he met,–a habit which
he long maintained. The love of mischief was deeply rooted in him. It
was not safe to put him in the closet for misbehavior; for he cut off
the pockets of the dresses hanging there, and snipped the fringe off his
teacher’s best shawl. Yet he was a sweet and affectionate child, with a
tender heart and sensitive withal. When about four years old, he had the
habit of summoning our father to breakfast; and, not being able to say
the word, would announce, “Brescott is ready!” This excited mirth among
the other children, which he never could endure; accordingly, one
morning he appeared at the door of the dressing-room and said solemnly,
“Papa, your food is prepared!”

It is recorded of this child that he went once to pay a visit to some
dear relatives, and kept them in a fever of anxiety until he was taken
home again. One day it was his little cousin’s rocking-horse, which
disappeared from the nursery, and shortly after was seen airing itself
on the top of the chimney, kicking its heels in the sunshine, and
appearing to enjoy its outing. Another time it was down the chimney that
the stream of mischief took its way; and a dear and venerable visitor
(no other than Dr. Coggeshall, of Astor Library fame), sitting before
the fire in the twilight, was amazed by a sudden shower of boots
tumbling down, one after another, into the ashes, whence he
conscientiously rescued them with the tongs, at peril of receiving some
on his good white head.

Such boots and shoes as escaped this fiery ordeal were tacked by Master
Harry to the floor of the closets in the various rooms; and while he was
in the closet, what could be easier or pleasanter than to cut off the
pockets of the dresses hanging there? Altogether, Egypt was glad when
Harry departed; and I do not think he made many more visits away from
home, till he had outgrown the days of childhood.

At the age of six, Harry determined to marry, and offered his hand and
heart to Mary, the nurse, an excellent woman some thirty years older
than he. He sternly forbade her to sew or do other nursery work, saying
that his wife must not work for her living. About this time, too, he
told our mother that he thought he felt his beard growing.

He was just two years older than Laura, and the tie between them was
very close. Laura’s first question to a stranger was always, “Does you
know my bulla Hally? I hope you does!” and she was truly sorry for any
one who had not that privilege.

The two children slept in tiny rooms adjoining each other. It was both
easy and pleasant to “talk across” while lying in bed, when they were
supposed to be sound asleep. Neither liked to give up the last word of
greeting, and they would sometimes say “Good-night!” “Good-night!” over
and over, backward and forward, for ten minutes together. In general,
Harry was very kind to Laura, playing with her, and protecting her from
any roughness of neighbor children. (They said “bunnit” and “apurn,” and
“I wunt;” and we were fond of correcting them, which they not brooking,
quarrels were apt to ensue.) But truth compels me to tell of one
occasion on which Harry did not show a brotherly spirit. In the garden,
under a great birch-tree, stood a trough for watering the horses. It was
a large and deep trough, and always full of beautiful, clear water. It
was pleasant to lean over the edge, and see the sky and the leaves of
the tree reflected as if in a crystal mirror; to see one’s own rosy,
freckled face, too, and make other faces; to see which could open eyes
or mouth widest.

Now one day, as little Laura, being perhaps four years old, was hanging
over the edge of the trough, forgetful of all save the delight of
gazing, it chanced that Harry came up behind her; and the spirit of
mischief that was always in him triumphed over brotherly affection, and
he

“Ups with her heels,
And smothers her squeals”

in the clear, cold water.

Laura came up gasping and puffing, her hair streaming all over her round
face, her eyes staring with wonder and fright!

By the time help arrived, as it fortunately did, in the person of Thomas
the gardener, poor Laura was in a deplorable condition, half choked with
water, and frightened nearly out of her wits.

Thomas carried the dripping child to the house and put her into Mary’s
kind arms, and then reported to our mother what Harry had done.

We were almost never whipped; but for this misdeed Harry was put to bed
at once, and our mother, sitting beside him, gave him what we used to
call a “talking to,” which he did not soon forget.

Nurse Mary probably thought it would gratify Laura to know that naughty
Harry was being punished for his misdoings; but she had mistaken her
child. When the mother came back to the nursery from Harry’s room, she
found Laura (in dry raiment, but with cheeks still crimson and shining)
sitting in the middle of the floor, with clenched fists and flashing
eyes, and roaring at the top of her lungs, “I’ll tumble my mudder down
wid a ’tick!”

Not many children can boast of having two homes; some, alas! have hardly
one. But we actually had two abiding-places, both of which were so dear
to us that we loved them equally. First, there was Green Peace. When our
mother first came to the place, and saw the fair garden, and the house
with its lawn and its shadowing trees, she gave it this name, half in
sport; and the title clung to it always.

The house itself was pleasant. The original building, nearly two hundred
years old, was low and squat, with low-studded rooms, and great posts in
the corners, and small many-paned windows. As I recall it now, it
consisted largely of cupboards,–the queerest cupboards that ever were;
some square and some three-cornered, and others of no shape

[Illustration: MAUD.]

at all. They were squeezed into staircase walls, they lurked beside
chimneys, they were down near the floor, they were close beneath the
ceiling. It was as if a child had built the house for the express
purpose of playing hide-and-seek in it. Ah, how we children did play
hide-and-seek there! To lie curled up in the darkest corner of the
“twisty” cupboard, that went burrowing in under the front stairs,–to
lie curled up there, eating an apple, and hear the chase go clattering
and thumping by, that was a sensation!

Then the stairs! There was not very much of them, for a tall man
standing on the ground floor could touch the top step with his hand. But
they had a great deal of variety; no two steps went the same way: they
seemed to have fallen out with one another, and never to have “made up”
again. When you had once learned how to go up and down, it was very
well, except in the dark; and even then you had only to remember that
you must tread on the farther side of the first two steps, and on the
hither side of the next three, and in the middle of four after, and
then you were near the top or the bottom, as the case might be, and
could scramble or jump for it. But it was not well for strangers to go
up and down those stairs.

There was another flight that was even more perilous, but our father had
it boarded over, as he thought it unsafe for any one to use. One always
had a shiver in passing through a certain dark passage, when one felt
boards instead of plaster under one’s hand, and knew that behind those
boards lurked the hidden staircase. There was something uncanny about
it,–

“O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear;
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted.”

Perhaps the legend of the hidden staircase was all the more awful
because it was never told.

Just to the right of the school-room, a door opened into the new part of
the house which our father had built. The first room was the great
dining-room; and very great it was. On the floor was a wonderful carpet,
all in one piece, which was made in France, and had belonged to Joseph
Bonaparte, a brother of the great Emperor. In the middle was a medallion
of Napoleon and Marie Louise, with sun-rays about them; then came a
great circle, with strange beasts on it ramping and roaring (only they
roared silently); and then a plain space, and in the corners birds and
fishes such as never were seen in air or sea. Yes, that _was_ a carpet!
It was here we danced the wonderful dances. We hopped round and round
the circle, and we stamped on the beasts and the fishes; but it was not
good manners to step on the Emperor and Empress,–one must go round
them. Here our mother sang to us; but the singing belongs to another
chapter.

The great dining-room had a roof all to itself,–a flat roof, covered
with tar and gravel, and railed in; so that one could lie on one’s face
and kick one’s heels, pick out white pebbles, and punch the bubbles of
tar all hot in the sun.

But, after all, we did not stay in the house much. Why should we, with
the garden calling us out with its thousand voices? On each side of the
house lay an oval lawn, green as emerald. One lawn had the
laburnum-tree, where at the right time of year we sat under a shower of
fragrant gold; the other had the three hawthorn-trees, one with white
blossoms, another with pink, and a third with deep red, rose-like
flowers. Other trees were there, but I do not remember them. Directly in
front of the house stood two giant Balm-of-Gilead trees, towering over
the low-roofed dwelling. These trees were favorites of ours, for at a
certain time they dropped down to us thousands and thousands of sticky
catkins, full of the most charming, silky cotton. We called them the
“cottonwool-trees,” and loved them tenderly. Then, between the trees, a
flight of steps plunged down to the green-house. A curious place this
was,–summer-house, hot-house, and bowling-alley, all in one. The
summer-house part was not very interesting, being all filled with seeds
and pots and dry bulbs, and the like. But from it a swing-door opened
into Elysium! Here the air was soft and balmy, and full of the smell of
roses. One went down two steps, and there were the roses themselves!
Great vines trained along the walls, heavy with long white or yellow or
tea-colored buds,–I remember no red ones. Mr. Arrow, the gardener,
never let us touch the roses, and he never gave us a bud; but when a
rose was fully open, showing its golden heart, he would often pick it
for us, with a sigh, but a kind look too. Mr. Arrow was an Englishman,
stout and red-faced. Julia made a rhyme about him once, beginning,–

“Poor Mr. Arrow, he once was narrow,
But that was a long time ago.”

Midway in the long glass-covered building was a tiny oval pond, lined
with green moss. I think it once had goldfish in it, but they did not
thrive. When Mr. Arrow was gone to dinner, it was pleasant to fill the
brass syringe with water from this pond, and squirt at the roses, and
feel the heavy drops plashing back in one’s upturned face. Sometimes a
child fell into the pond; but as the water was only four or five inches
deep, no harm was done, save to stockings and petticoats.

The bowling-alley was divided by a low partition from the hot-house, so
that when we went to play at planets we breathed the same soft, perfumed
air. The planets were the balls. The biggest one was Uranus; then came
Saturn, and so on down to Mercury, a little dot of a ball. They were of
some dark, hard, foreign wood, very smooth, with a dusky polish. It was
a great delight to roll them, either over the smooth floor, against the
ninepins, or along the rack at the side. When one rolled Uranus or
Jupiter, it sounded like thunder,–Olympian thunder, suggestive of angry
gods. Then the musical tinkle of the pins, as they clinked and fell
together! Sometimes they were British soldiers, and we the Continentals,
firing the “iron six-pounder” from the other end of the battle-field.
Sometimes, regardless of dates, we introduced artillery into the Trojan
war, and Hector bowled Achilles off his legs, or _vice versa_.

The bowling-alley was also used for other sports. It was here that
Flossy gave a grand party for Cotchy, her precious Maltese cat. All the
cat-owning little girls in the neighborhood were invited, and about
twelve came, each bringing her pet in a basket. Cotchy was beautifully
dressed in a cherry-colored ribbon, which set off her gray, satiny coat
to perfection. She received her guests with much dignity, but was not
inclined to do much toward entertaining them. Flossy tried to make the
twelve cats play with one another, but they were shy on first
acquaintance, and a little stiff. Perhaps Flossy did not in those days
know the proper etiquette for introducing cats, though since then she
has studied all kinds of etiquette thoroughly. But the little girls
enjoyed themselves, if the cats did not, and there was a great deal of
chattering and comparing notes. Then came the feast, which consisted of
milk and fish-bones; and next every cat had her nose buttered by way of
dessert. Altogether, the party was voted a great success.

Below, and on both sides of the green-house, the fertile ground was set
thick with fruit-trees, our father’s special pride. The pears and
peaches of Green Peace were known far and wide; I have never seen such
peaches since, nor is it only the halo of childish recollection that
shines around them, for others bear the same testimony. Crimson-glowing,
golden-hearted, smooth and perfect as a baby’s cheek, each one was a
thing of wonder and beauty; and when you ate one, you ate summer and
sunshine. Our father gave us a great deal of fruit, but we were never
allowed to take it ourselves without permission; indeed, I doubt if it
ever occurred to us to do so. One of us still remembers the thrill of
horror she felt when a little girl who had come to spend the afternoon
picked up a fallen peach and ate it, without asking leave. It seemed a
dreadful thing not to know that the garden was a field of honor. As to
the proverbial sweetness of stolen fruit, we knew nothing about it. The
fruit was sweet enough from our dear father’s hand, and, as I said, he
gave us plenty of it.

How was it, I wonder, that this sense of honor seemed sometimes to stay
in the garden and not always to come into the house?

[Illustration: LAURA WAS FOUND IN THE SUGAR-BARREL.]

For as I write, the thought comes to me of a day when Laura was found
with her feet sticking out of the sugar-barrel, into which she had
fallen head foremost while trying to get a lump of sugar. She has never
eaten a lump of sugar, save in her tea, since that day. Also, it is
recorded of Flossy and Julia, that, being one day at the Institution,
they found the store-room open, and went in, against the law. There was
a beautiful polished tank, which appeared to be full of rich brown
syrup. Julia and Flossy liked syrup; so each filled a mug, and then they
counted one, two, three, and each took a good draught,–and it was
train-oil!

But in both these cases the culprits were hardly out of babyhood; so
perhaps they had not yet learned about the “broad stone of honor,” on
which it is good to set one’s feet.

I must not leave the garden without speaking of the cherry-trees. These
must have been planted by early settlers, perhaps by the same hand that
planned the crooked stairs and quaint cupboards of the old
house,–enormous trees, gnarled and twisted like ancient apple-trees,
and as sturdy as they. They had been grafted–whether by our father’s or
some earlier hand I know not–with the finest varieties of
“white-hearts” and “black-hearts,” and they bore amazing quantities of
cherries. These attracted flocks of birds, which our father in vain
tried to frighten away with scarecrows. Once he put the cat in a
bird-cage, and hung her up in the white-heart tree; but the birds soon
found that she could not get at them, and poor pussy was so miserable
that she was quickly released.

I perceive that we shall not get to the summer home in this chapter; but
I must say a word about the Institution for the Blind, which was within
a few minutes’ walk of Green Peace.

Many of our happiest hours were spent in this pleasant place, the home
of patient cheerfulness and earnest work. We often went to play with the
blind children when our lessons and theirs were over, and they came
trooping out into the sunny playground. I do not think it occurred to us
to pity these boys and girls deprived of one of the chief sources of
pleasure in life; they were so happy, so merry, that we took their
blindness as a matter of course.

Our father often gave us baskets of fruit to take to them. That was a
great pleasure. We loved to turn the great globe in the hall, and,
shutting our eyes, pass our fingers over the raised surfaces, trying to
find different places. We often “played blind,” and tried to read the
great books with raised print, but never succeeded that I remember. The
printing-office was a wonderful place to linger in; and one could often
get pieces of marbled paper, which was valuable in the paper-doll world.
Then there was the gymnasium, with its hanging rings, and its wonderful
tilt, which went up so high that it took one’s breath away. Just beyond
the gymnasium, were some small rooms, in which were stored worn-out
pianos, disabled after years of service under practising fingers. It was
very good fun to play on a worn-out piano. There were always a good many
notes that really sounded, and they had quite individual sounds, not
like those of common pianos; then there were some notes that buzzed, and
some that growled, and some that made no noise at all; and one could
poke in under the cover, and twang the strings, and play with the
chamois-leather things that went flop (we have since learned that they
are called hammers), and sometimes pull them out, though that seemed
wicked.

Then there was the matron’s room, where we were always made welcome by
the sweet and gracious woman who still makes sunshine in that place by
her lovely presence. Dear Miss M—- was never out of patience with our
pranks, had always a picture-book or a flower or a curiosity to show us,
and often a story to tell when a spare half-hour came. For her did
Flossy and Julia act their most thrilling tragedies, no other spectators
being admitted. To her did Harry and Laura confide their infant joys and
woes. Other friends will have a chapter to themselves, but it seems most
fitting to speak of this friend here, in telling of the home she has
made bright for over fifty years.

Over the way from the Institution stood the workshop, where blind men
and women, many of them graduates of the Institution, made mattresses
and pillows, mats and brooms. This was another favorite haunt of ours.
There was a stuffy but not unpleasant smell of feathers and hemp about
the place. I should know that smell if I met it in Siberia! There were
coils of rope, sometimes so large that one could squat down and hide in
the middle, piles of hemp, and dark mysterious bins full of curled hair,
white and black. There was a dreadful mystery about the black-hair bin;
the little ones ran past it, with their heads turned away. But they
never told what it was, and one of them never knew.

But the crowning joy of the workshop was the feather-room,–a long room,
with smooth, clean floor; along one side of it were divisions, like the
stalls in a stable, and each division was half filled with feathers. Boy
and girl readers will understand what a joy this must have been,–to sit
down in the feathers, and let them cover you up to the neck, and be a
setting hen! or to lie at full length, and be a traveller lost in the
snow,–Harry making it snow feathers till you were all covered up, and
then turning into the faithful hound and dragging you out! or to play
the game of “Winds,” and blow the feathers about the room! But old
Margaret did not allow this last game, and we could do it only when she
happened to go out for a moment, which was not very often. Old Margaret
was the presiding genius of the feather-room, a half-blind woman, who
kept the feathers in order and helped to sew up the pillows and
mattresses. She was always kind to us, and let us rake feathers with the
great wooden rake as much as we would. Later, when Laura was perhaps ten
years old, she used to go and read to old Margaret. Mrs. Browning’s
poems were making a new world for the child at that time, and she never
felt a moment’s doubt about the old woman’s enjoying them: in after
years doubts did occur to her.

It was probably a quaint picture, if any one had looked in upon it: the
long, low room, with the feather-heaps, white and dusky gray; the
half-blind, withered crone, nodding over her knitting, and the little
earnest child, throwing her whole soul into “The Romaunt of the Page,”
or the “Rhyme of the Duchess May.”

“Oh! the little birds sang east,
And the little birds sang west,
Toll slowly!”

The first sound of the words carries me back through the years to the
feather-room and old blind Margaret.

The time of our summer flitting varied. Sometimes we stayed at Green
Peace till after strawberry-time, and lingered late at the Valley;
sometimes we went early, and came back in time for the peaches. But in
one month or another there came a season of great business and bustle.
Woollen dresses were put away in the great cedar-lined camphor-chests
studded with brass nails; calico dresses were lengthened, and joyfully
assumed; trunks were packed, and boxes and barrels; carpets were taken
up and laid away; and white covers were put over pictures and mirrors.
Finally we departed, generally in more or less confusion.

I remember one occasion when our rear column reached the Old Colony
Station just as the train was starting. The advance-guard, consisting
of our mother and the older children, was already on board; and Harry
and Laura have a vivid recollection of being caught up by our father and
tumbled into the moving baggage-car, he flashing in after us, and all
sitting on trunks, panting, till we were sufficiently revived to pass
through to our seats in the passenger-car. In those days the railway ran
no farther than Fall River. There we must take a carriage and drive
twelve miles to our home in the Island of Rest. Twelve long and weary
miles they were, much dreaded by us all. The trip was made in a large
old-fashioned vehicle, half hack, half stage. The red cushions were hard
and uncomfortable; the horses were aged; their driver, good,
snuff-colored Mr. Anthony, felt keenly his duty to spare them, and
considered the passengers a minor affair. So we five children were
cramped and cooped up, I know not how long. It seemed hours that we must
sit there, while the ancient horses crawled up the sandy hills, or
jogged meditatively along the level spaces. Every joint developed a
separate ache; our legs were cramped,–the short ones from hanging over
the seat, the long ones because the floor of the coach was piled with
baskets and bandboxes. It was hot, hot! The flies buzzed, and would not
let one go to sleep; the dust rolled in thick yellow clouds from under
the wheels, and filled eyes and mouth, and set all a-sneezing.
Decidedly, it was a most tiresome jaunt. But all the more delightful was
the arrival! To drive in under the apple-trees, just as the evening was
falling cool and sweet; to tumble out of the stuffy prison-coach, and
race through the orchard, and out to the barn, and up the hill behind
the house,–ah, that was worth all the miseries of the journey!

From the hill behind the house we could see the sunset; and that was one
thing we did not have at Green Peace, shut in by its great trees. Here,
before our eyes, still aching from the dust of the road, lay the great
bay, all a sheet of silver, with white sails here and there; beyond it
Conanicut, a long island, brown in the noon-light, now softened into
wonderful shades of amethyst and violet; and the great sun going down in
a glory of gold and flame! Nowhere else are such sunsets. Sometimes the
sky was all strewn with fiery flakes and long delicate flame-feathers,
glowing with rosy light; sometimes there were purple cloud-islands,
edged with crimson, and between them and the real island a space of
delicate green, so pure, so cold, that there is nothing to compare with
it save a certain chrysoprase our mother had.

Gazing at these wonders, the children would stand, full of vague
delight, not knowing what they thought, till the tea-bell summoned them
to the house for a merry picnic supper. Then there was clattering
upstairs, washing of hands in the great basin with purple grapes on it
(it belonged in the guest-chamber, and we were not allowed to use it
save on special occasions like this), hasty smoothing of hair and
straightening of collars, and then clatter! clatter! down again.

There was nothing remarkable about the house at the Valley. It was just
a pleasant cottage, with plenty of sunny windows and square,
comfortable rooms. But we were seldom in the house, save at meal-times
or when it rained; and our real home was under the blue sky. First,
there was the orchard. It was an ideal orchard, with the queerest old
apple-trees that ever were seen. They did not bear many apples, but they
were delightful to climb in, with trunks slanting so that one could
easily run up them, and branches that curled round so as to make a
comfortable back to lean against. There are few pleasanter things than
to sit in an apple-tree and read poetry, with birds twittering
undismayed beside you, and green leaves whispering over your head. Laura
was generally doing this when she ought to have been mending her
stockings.

Then there was the joggling-board, under the two biggest trees. The
delight of a joggling-board is hardly to be explained to children who
have never known it; but I trust many children do know it. The board is
long and smooth and springy, supported at both ends on stands; and one
can play all sorts of things on it. Many a circus has been held on the
board at the Valley! We danced the tight-rope on it; we leaped through
imaginary rings, coming down on the tips of our toes; we hopped its
whole length on one foot; we wriggled along it on our stomachs, on our
backs; we bumped along it on hands and knees. Dear old joggling-board!
it is not probable that any other was ever quite so good as ours.

Near by was the pump, a never-failing wonder to us when we were little.
The well over which it stood was very deep, and it took a long time to
bring the bucket up. It was a chain-pump, and the chain went
rattlety-clank! rattlety-clank! round and round; and the handle creaked
and groaned,–“Ah-_ho_! ah-_ho_!” When you had turned a good while there
came out of the spout a stream of–water? No! of daddy-long-legses! They
lived, apparently, in the spout, and they did not like the water; so
when they heard the bucket coming up, with the water going “lip! lap!”
as it swung to and fro, they came running out, dozens and dozens of
them, probably thinking what unreasonable people we were to disturb
them. When the water did finally come, it was wonderfully cold, and
clear as crystal.

The hill behind the house was perhaps our favorite play-room. It was a
low, rocky hill, covered with “prostrate juniper” bushes, which bore
blue berries very useful in our housekeeping. At the top of the rise the
bare rock cropped out, dark gray, covered with flat, dry lichens. This
was our house. It had several rooms: the drawing-room was really
palatial,–a broad floor of rock, with flights of steps leading up to
it. The state stairway was used for kings and queens, conquerors, and
the like; the smaller was really more convenient, as the steps were more
sharply defined, and you were not so apt to fall down them. Then there
was the dining-room rock, where meals were served,–daisy pudding and
similar delicacies; and the kitchen rock, which had a real oven, and the
most charming cupboards imaginable. Here were stored hollyhock cheeses,
and sorrel leaves, and twigs of black birch, fragrant and spicy, and
many other good things.

On this hill was celebrated, on the first of August, the annual festival
of “Yeller’s Day.” This custom was begun by Flossy, and adhered to for
many years. Immediately after breakfast on the appointed day, all the
children assembled on the top of the hill and yelled. Oh, how we yelled!
It was a point of honor to make as much noise as possible. We roared and
shrieked and howled, till we were too hoarse to make a sound; then we
rested, and played something else, perhaps, till our voices were
restored, and then–yelled again! Yeller’s Day was regarded as one of
the great days of the summer. By afternoon we were generally quite
exhausted, and we were hoarse for several days afterward. I cannot
recommend this practice. In fact, I sincerely hope that no child will
attempt to introduce it; for it is very bad for the voice, and might in
some cases do real injury.

Almost every morning we went down to the bay to bathe. It was a walk of
nearly a mile through the fields,–such a pleasant walk! The fields were
not green, but of a soft russet, the grass being thin and dry, with
great quantities of a little pinkish fuzzy plant whose name we never
knew.[1] They were divided by stone walls, which we were skilful in
climbing. In some places there were bars which must be let down, or
climbed over, or crawled through, as fancy suggested. There were many
blackberries, of the lowbush variety, bearing great clusters of berries,
glossy, beautiful, delicious. We were not allowed to eat them on the way
down, but only when coming home. Some of these fields belonged to the
Cross Farmer, who had once been rude to us. We regarded him as a manner
of devil, and were always looking round to see if his round-shouldered,
blue-shirted figure were in sight. At last the shore was reached, and
soon we were all in the clear water, shrieking with delight, paddling
about, puffing and blowing like a school of young porpoises.

At high-tide the beach was pebbled; at low-tide we went far out, the
ground sloping very gradually, to a delightful place where the bottom
was of fine white sand, sparkling as if mixed with diamond dust.
Starfish crawled about on it, and other creatures,–crabs, too,
sometimes, that would nip an unwary toe if they got a chance. Sometimes
the water was full of jelly-fish, which we did not like, in spite of
their beauty. Beyond the white sand was a bed of eel-grass, very
dreadful, not to be approached. If a person went into it, he was
instantly seized and entangled, and drowned before the eyes of his
companions. This was our firm belief. It was probably partly due to
Andersen’s story of the “Little Sea-Maid,” which had made a deep
impression on us all, with its clutching polyps and other submarine
terrors.

We all learned to swim more or less, but Flossy was the best swimmer.

Sometimes we went to bathe in the afternoon instead of the morning, if
the tide suited better. I remember one such time when we came
delightfully near having an adventure. It was full moon, and the tide
was very high. We had loitered along the beach after our bath, gathering
mussels to boil for tea, picking up gold-shells or scallop-shells, and
punching seaweed bladders, which pop charmingly if you do them right.

German Mary, the good, stupid nurse who was supposed to be taking care
of us, knew nothing about tides; and when we came back to the little
creek which we must cross on leaving the beach, lo! the creek was a
deep, broad stream, the like of which we had never seen. What was to be
done? Valiant Flossy proposed to swim across and get help, but Mary
shrieked and would not hear of it, and we all protested that it was
impossible. Then we perceived that we must spend the night on the beach;
and when we were once accustomed to the idea, it was not without
attraction for us. The sand was warm and dry, and full of shells and
pleasant things; it was August, and the night would be just cool enough
for comfort after the hot day; we had a pailful of blackberries which we
had picked on the way down, meaning to eat them during our homeward
walk; Julia could tell us stories. Altogether it would be a very
pleasant occasion. And then to think of the romance of it! “The
Deserted Children!” “Alone on a Sandbank!” “The Watchers of the Tide!”
There was no end to the things that could be made out of it. So, though
poor Mary wept and wrung her hands, mindful (which I cannot remember
that we were) of our mother waiting for us at home, we were all very
happy.

The sun went down in golden state. Then, turning to the land, we watched
the moon rising, in softer radiance, but no less wonderful and glorious.
Slowly the great orb rose, turning from pale gold to purest silver. The
sea darkened, and presently a little wind came up, and began to sing
with the murmuring waves. We sang, too, some of the old German
student-songs which our mother had taught us, and which were our
favorite ditties. They rang out merrily over the water:–

_Die Binschgauer wollten wallfahrten geh’n!_
(The Binschgauer would on a pilgrimage go!)

or,–

_Was kommt dort von der Hoh’?_
(What comes there over the hill?)

Then Julia told us a story. Perhaps it was the wonderful story of
Red-cap,–a boy who met a giant in the forest, and did something to help
him, I cannot remember what. Whereupon the grateful giant gave Red-cap a
covered silver dish, with a hunter and a hare engraved upon it. When the
boy wanted anything he must put the cover on, and ask the hunter and
hare to give him what he desired; but there must be a rhyme in the
request, else it could not be granted. Red-cap thanked the giant, and as
soon as he was alone put the cover on the dish and said,–

“Silver hunter, silver hare,
Give me a ripe and juicy pear!”

Taking off the cover, he found the finest pear that ever was seen,
shining like pure gold, with a crimson patch on one side. It was so
delicious that it made Red-cap hungry; so he covered the dish again and
said:

“Silver hunter, silver rabbit,
Give me an apple, and I’ll grab it!”

Off came the cover, and, lo! there was an apple the very smell of which
was too good for any one save the truly virtuous. It was so large that
it filled the dish, and its flavor was not to be described, so wonderful
was it! A third time the happy Red-cap covered his dish, and cried,–

“Hunter and hare, of silver each,
Give me a soft and velvet peach!”

And when he saw the peach he cried out for joy, for it was like the
peaches that grew on the crooked tree just by the south door of the
greenhouse at Green Peace; and those were the best trees in the garden,
and therefore the best in the world.

The trouble about this story is that I never can remember any more of
it, and I cannot find the book that contains it. But it must have been
about this time that we were hailed from the opposite side of the creek;
and presently a boat was run out, and came over to the sand beach and
took us off. The people at the Poor Farm, which was on a hill close by,
had seen the group of Crusoes and come to our rescue. They greeted us
with words of pity (which were quite unnecessary), rowed us to the
shore, and then kindly harnessed the farm-horse and drove us home.
German Mary was loud in her thanks and expressions of relief; our mother
also was grateful to the good people; but from us they received scant
and grudging thanks. If they had only minded their own business and let
us alone, we could have spent the night on a sandbank. Now it was not
likely that we ever should! And, indeed, we never did.

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