“The City Girl,” by “Gail Hamilton" (Abigail Dodge) (from Our Young Folks, March 1865; pp. 153-158)
[“]Cicely,[”] called Garnet at the foot of the stairs.
“Yes, I ’m coming,” responded Cicely from the depths of her pretty little chamber.
“It ’s time to go.”
“Yes, I ’m coming,” repeated the gentle voice.
Garnet supported himself on his elbow and right foot, attempted to scale the stairs on his heels and head, and made other interesting experiments; but finding that Cicely did not come, he climbed up outside of the balusters, over the gallery railing, and bounced into her room. She was standing before the glass, surveying her little self with great complacency.
“Now, how long will you be prinking there, and me waiting down stairs?” cried Garnet. “I never did see anything like the time it takes girls to dress.”
“O, I ’m quite ready this minute,” answered Cicely, hastily catching up her bonnet.
“But mehercule!” shouted Garnet, who was devoting himself to the study of Latin with great vigor. “What do you call this?”—and he clutched Cicely’s hair with no very gentle grasp.
“O, don’t touch it! you will have it all down!” cried she hurriedly; “that is a waterfall!”
“A waterfall! A waterfall! Let it fall quick then. It makes you look for all the world like our skew-tailed chickens. I never saw such an animal.”
“O Garnet, now I thought it looked so pretty!” said Cicely; and her bright face was so clouded that even Garnet was rather sorry he had spoken so decidedly.
But then certainly it was a case that called for decision. Poor Cicely had spent at least half an hour before the glass, and tired her little arms till they ached; and the result was a knob of hair hanging on one side of her head, and bobbing hither and thither with every motion. Garnet’s comparison was not entirely out of place. “But what could make you think of tricking up such a fright?” he asked.
“Why, Garnet, there’s a new girl going to be there from Boston. She ’s going to live with Miss Attredge. And Olive said—” Cicely hesitated.
“Well, what did Olive say?”
“Why, Olive said—she said that—Olive said the girl would have everything so nice because she came from Boston, and Olive said they wore silk dresses and waterfalls in Boston, and Olive is going to wear her blue merino and a waterfall, and I made mine,—Olive told me how,—and now you say it is not pretty.”
“Olive ’s a born simpleton,” said Sir Oracle Garnet. “You take that bobbing bag off your head. I don’t believe they wear them in Boston, and if they do, you sha’n’t. I suppose you ’d tie yourself up in a meal-bag if they did in Boston.”
“But, Garnet, what shall I do?”
“Do! curl your hair just as you always do, and brush it in a civilized manner.”
“Oh! then I shall not look fine at all. Olive said we should show Mary Ravis that we were not just country-girls. We know what the fashions are. Mary Ravis will think we are just country-girls.”
“And I should like to know what you are?”
“Well, I know, but—” Cicely hesitated, and faltered, and rather reluctantly began to pull down the comical little contrivance which she dignified with the name of waterfall, and to brush out the long ringlets as she was commanded. And to be sure, she did look like a different girl; still there was many a misgiving in her heart as to the figure she should make in the eyes of the little city lady.
Garnet had no share at all in her misgivings. He had a very favorable opinion of his sister, and especially of himself. “Hold up your head, Cicely,” was his admonition, “as you never could with that ten-pound weight hanging on to it, and don’t call the king your uncle!”—though what that had to do with holding up her head, Cicely could never quite make out.
By the time they reached Miss Attredge’s house, where the party was to be, most of the children had assembled. They all went to the same school, and were well acquainted with each other,—all except the little city girl, who sat in a corner, and seemed quite as much in awe of them as they were of her. But Cicely took note that she had no silk dress, nor even a waterfall. On the contrary, her hair was short, and her dress a very pretty plaid, but not at all beyond the standard of the dresses in Applethorpe. She was, too, very quiet,—a pale, silent girl,—that was all Cicely saw.
“What do you think of her?” whispered Olive to Cicely.
“We must n’t whisper about her,” replied Cicely, who had hardly had more than a glimpse of her. But they pulled Cicely into the dining-room, and would tell her that she was “real proud. She just sits there, and won’t do anything.”
“Yes,” said Olive, “and not so much to be proud of either. Nothing but a plaid dress, and not a speck of trimming, nor a net, nor a bow, nor anything,”—and Olive thought very pleasantly of her own French blue merino with its elaborate embroidery.
“Oh! I don’t think it ’s proud,” said Erne Mayland. “We are all strangers to her, and she does n’t feel at home.”
“Nonsense,” cried Olive, “we have been here half an hour, and asked her to play, and Miss Attredge wanted her to play, and she won’t do a thing.”
“But I don’t think it is nice at all to be here talking about her,” said Cicely.
“No, nor I neither,” declared Erne. “Come, let ’s go into the parlor.”
“I shall not go into the parlor to court Miss City-fied any more,” answered Olive. “It ’s too bad she should come here to spoil all our good time.”
But Erne and Cicely went into the parlor. Miss Attredge was just gathering them into a circle to play “Hunt the Slipper.” Cicely was about to take her place with the rest, when she noticed that the little stranger still sat apart, looking rather lonely and homesick. So she approached, her and asked, rather timidly, “Won’t you play?”
“I don’t know how,” answered Mary.
“But I will tell you all about it.”
“I would rather not.”
“Then I won’t play, either,” said Cicely, cheerfully. “I ’ll show you Miss Attredge’s photographs. No, I won’t; I ’ll show you her snakes and birds. Miss Attredge always lets me touch them”;—and Cicely took from the lowest shelf of the bookcase a book so heavy she could hardly lift it; but the kindness in her heart put strength in her arms, and she tugged it along to a chair.
It was not in the nature of any girl ever so shy to resist the temptation of looking at pictures so beautiful and so dreadful as those that Cicely pointed out. The birds were wondrously brilliant, and the snakes coiled themselves in folds so fearful that Mary quite forgot her forlorn little self, and the two children were soon kneeling before the chair and pressing their eager heads close together in breathless excitement. When the others had grown tired of “Hunt the Slipper,” they too gathered around the chair, and the two heads were quite overtopped by a crowd of heads, and the two voices lost in a dozen voices chattering and exclaiming and explaining. The girls pretended to be very much afraid of the snakes, and shook and shivered. The boys pretended to have a great regard for snakes, and stroked their necks with brown, battered hands.
“Oh!” cried Olive, who had joined them; “but this is a paper snake, Mr. Nathan. If it was crawling on the grass, you would be careful how you touched it.”
“Pooh!” cried Nathan, “I ’d just as soon touch it as touch your kitten. They ’re twice as handsome.”
“Indeed they are,” said Garnet. “Sweet little pets! dear little darlings!” and he made believe caress the snakes, but made rather awkward work of it, as boys generally do when they undertake to mimic girls. “Why, the other day, last summer, we caught a snake and tied him round the bedpost, and kept him there all night.”
“Now, Garnet Moreford, you don’t expect us to believe that!”
“Yes, he did, the dreadful creature!” cried Cicely. “Barney went into his room in the morning, and there ’t was; and she screamed and ’most fainted, and Garnet laughed, and it was dreadful.”
“Pooh! that ’s nothing,” said Nathan. “I caught a little snake once, and wove him into my button-holes, and wore him all the forenoon. It ’s girls for being afraid of harmless pretty little things.”
“Girls are no more afraid than boys,” replied Olive, stoutly, always ready to stand up for her sex. “I found a nest of field-mice last summer, and took them up and brought them into the house in my apron. But a snake is n’t harmless. Snakes poison you.”
“Ho!” cried Nathan, “calling it courage not to be afraid of a mouse! Why, there was a mouse in the closet last Sunday, and he ran and hid under a crust of bread, and stuck his tail right up straight in the air, just like a handle, and I took hold of it as dainty, and carried him out-doors.”
“And let him go?” asked Mary Ravis, eagerly, her fears of strangers quite vanished in the excitement of the horrible stories they were telling.
“Yes, I let him go. But Tabby had a word to say on that subject, and he did n’t go very far.”
“Well, I know what you are afraid of, Nat,” said Olive, decidedly,—“a setting hen. For I was at your house when your mother wanted you to take one off the nest, and you did not dare. You said she pecked you so furiously you could n’t!”
“O, pshaw!” laughed Nathan, good-humoredly, and giving himself a whirl, as if to shake off this disagreeable home-thrust, “what are you talking about? Mary Ravis will think we are a set of savages, telling her all sorts of scaring things. You never saw a snake, now did you, Miss Mary? She thinks butter grows on trees in brown burrs, and we get honey by milking bees in a ten-quart pail.”
Mary would have been very much frightened, half an hour before, at being thus addressed before them all; but she had lost her first shyness, and Nathan’s banter was so good-natured that she did not feel at all embarrassed, but laughed as heartily as the rest, while a little fresh color stole into her pale cheeks and a good deal of sunshine lighted up her brown eyes.
“No,” said Garnet, kindly, “I warrant you this sly little puss knows a great deal more than any of us. Why, what do you think? She carries the Falls of Niagara in her pocket, or something.”
“O, what a story!” laughed Mary.
“Why, Cicely, did n’t you tell me so this morning?” asked Garnet, gravely.
“Why, no,” answered Cicely, opening her astonished eyes, and pursing her rosy lips into the most decided denial. “I never said such a thing.”
“Now Cissy, Cissy, young woman, what trouble have you led me into? Did n’t you say the young lady from the city was going to bring a waterfall here, and did n’t you want me to go and get the mill-dam to fasten on the back of your neck by way of offset?”
And then, being forced in self-defence, Cicely told the story of her waterfall, and they all laughed very merrily, somewhat to Olive’s discomfiture. And then came other plays, games of forfeits, in which Mary readily joined. All manner of odd sentences they pronounced upon each other. Nathan in particular found no mercy at the hands of his girl-judges. He was condemned to wriggle across the room like a snake, to jump up in a chair like a squirrel, to bark like a dog, all of which he did so readily and so well, that he made them great entertainment.
“O, I never did see such a nice party in all my life!” whispered Mary confidentially to Cicely. “You all do such funny things!”
“O Mary!” said Cicely modestly, “you can do a great many beautiful things that we can’t, I do suppose?”
“No, I don’t do many things at all,” said Mary. “I can dance, that is all; but I can’t tell stories, and I can’t play plays, and I can’t think of forfeits, and I never did any funny things.”
“Can you dance? Oh! I do like to see dancing.”
“Do you? and I like to dance. Mr. Piccini says I dance very nicely, and O, I can dance the Shawl Dance, and the Highland Fling; would you like to see me?” she asked simply.
“O, of all things! and so would all the girls.”
“Well,” said Mary, “if Miss Attredge will play, I will. But do you think they would care to see me?”
“I know they would! O Garnet! Olive! O all of you! Mary Ravis will dance the Highland Fling and everything Miss Attredge will you play boys all come and sit down!” Cicely was too eager to be particular about her punctuation; but they understood her well enough, much better, indeed, than they understood the Highland Fling, which most of them had never heard of. But they were delighted with the sound of it.
So Mary went up stairs and put on her costume,—a marvellous little black velvet bodice adorned with gold lace, a bright plaid frock, delicately embroidered slippers, a cap and feather for her little shorn head, and a long scarlet scarf in her hands. The company gathered at the lower end of the parlor, and Mary, smiling and happy at the upper end, began the dance. Never were such doings seen in Applethorpe as went on between Mary and her scarf. In and out, back and forth, she wove it and flung it, and wreathed herself in it. She skipped up and down the room like a zephyr, she whirled about on the tips of her dainty slippers, she charged down upon the admiring crowd, and withdrew again, swift and graceful as a bird, for at least twenty minutes I should think, and then she made the sauciest little courtesy, and danced out of the room. Never were admirers more enthusiastic, and when she
reappeared in her usual dress once more, they quite overwhelmed her with their delight.
“And to think,” said Olive frankly, “that I thought you were proud because you would n’t play; and here you have done the beautifullest thing for us I ever saw.”
“O, proud!” laughed Mary, “it ’s all I can do. I would be a pity if I could n’t do something.”
“But then we were so cross, I wonder you did it at all.”
“You are not cross, I am sure,” cried Mary eagerly.
“Yes I am cross,” persisted Olive; “I am always cross if people don’t do just as I want to have them right away. Cicely Moreford is the good one, and Erne Mayland, and all those midgets. For my part, I don’t see how people can be so horribly good and patient all the time,”—and Olive put on such an air of despairing humility that they could not help laughing at her.
So it happened that the “good time” which the little city girl was going to spoil, turned out to be not only not spoiled, but made a great deal better by her presence,—and all because one or two little girls went to work the right way, instead of standing scornfully aside and letting everything go the wrong way. But the impression that seemed to linger longest on Cicely’s mind was, “And she was just like us. Why, she did n’t even have a waterfall!”