- chapter: FAIRY BOOK. INTRODUCTION.
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WHILE Prudy was in Indiana visiting the Cliffords, and in the midst of her trials with mosquitoes, she said one day,--
"I wouldn't cry, Aunt 'Ria, only my heart's breaking. The very next person that ever dies, I wish they'd ask God to please stop sending these awful skeeters. I can't bear 'em any longer, now, certainly."
There was a look of utter despair on Prudy's disfigured face. Bitter tears were trickling from the two white puff-balls which had been her eyes; her forehead and cheeks were of a flaming pink, broken into little | | 10 snow-drifts full of stings: she looked as if she had just been rescued from an angry beehive. Altogether, her appearance was exceedingly droll; yet Grace would not allow herself to smile at her afflicted little cousin. "Strange," said she, "what makes our mosquitoes so impolite to strangers! It's a downright shame, isn't it, ma, to have little Prudy so imposed upon? If I could only amuse her, and make her forget it!"
"Oh, mamma," Grace broke forth again suddenly, "I have an idea, a very brilliant idea! Please listen, and pay particular attention; for I shall speak in a figure, as Robin says. There's a certain small individual who is not to understand."
"I wouldn't risk that style of talking," said Mrs. Clifford, smiling; "or, if you do, your figures of speech must be very obscure, remember."| | 11
"Well, ma," continued Grace with a significant glance at Prudy, "what I was going to say is this: We wish to treat certain young relatives of ours very kindly; don't we, now?--certain afflicted and abused young relatives, you know.
"Now, I've thought of an entertainment. Ahem! Yesterday I entered a certain Englishman's house,"--here Grace pointed through the window towards Mr. Sherwood's cottage, lest her mother should, by chance, lose her meaning,--"I entered a certain Englishman's house just as the family were sitting down to the table,--festal board. I mean.
"They were talking about mistle-toe boughs, and all sorts of old-country customs; and then they said what a funny time they had one Christmas, with the youngest, about the mizzle, as he called it: do you remember, ma? do you understand?"| | 12
"You mean little Harvey? Oh, yes."
"Pray do be careful, ma! Then Mr. Sherwood said to his--I mean, the hat said to the bonnet, that there were some wonderful--ahem--legends, about genii and sprites and--and so forth; not printed, but written, which the boy liked to hear when he was 'overgetting' the measles. A certain lady, not three inches from your chair, ma, was the one who wrote them; and now"--
Prudy had turned about, and the only remnants of her face which looked at all natural--that is, the irises and pupils of her swollen eyes--were shining with curiosity.
"There, now, what is it, Gracie? what is it you don't want me to hear?"
Grace laughed. "Oh, nothing much, dear: never mind."
"You oughtn't to say 'Never mind,' " pursued Prudy: "my mother tells me always to mind."| | 13
"I only mean it isn't any matter, Prudy."
"Oh! do you? Then don't you care for my skeeter-bites? You always say,'Never mind!' I didn't know it wasn't any matter."
"Now, ma," Grace went on, "I want to ask you where are those I-don't-know-what-to-call-'ems? And may I copy them, Cassy and I, into a book, for a certain afflicted relative?"
"Yes, yes, on gold-edged paper!" cried Prudy, springing up from the sofa; "oh, do, do; I'll love you dearly if you will! Fairy stories are just as nice! What little Harvey Sherwood likes, I like, and I've had the measles; but I shouldn't think his father and mother'd wear their hat and bonnet to the dinner-table!"
"Deary me!" laughed Grace; "how happened that little thing to mistrust what I meant?"| | 14
"It would be strange if a child of her age, of ordinary abilities, should not understand," remarked Mrs. Clifford, somewhat amused. "Next time you wish to ask me any thing confidentially, I advise you to choose a better opportunity."
"When may she, Aunt 'Ria?" cried Prudy, entirely forgetting her troubles; "when may she write it, Aunt 'Ria, she and Cassy?"
"A pretty piece of folly it would be, wouldn't it, dear, when you can't read a word of writing?"
"But Susy can a little, auntie; and mother can a great deal: and I'll never tease 'em, only nights when I go to bed, and days when I don't feel well. Please, Aunt 'Ria."
"Yes, ma, I know you can't refuse," said Grace.
Mrs. Clifford hesitated. "The stories are | | 15 yellow with age, Grace; they were written in my girlhood: and they are rather torn and disarranged, if I remember. Besides, my child, my flowing hand is difficult to read."
"Oh, mamma, I think you write beautifully! splendidly!"
"Another objection," continued Mrs. Clifford: "they are rather too old for Prudy, I should judge."
"But I keep a-growing, Aunt 'Ria! Don't you s'pose I know what fairy stories mean? They don't mean any thing! You didn't feel afraid I'd believe 'em, did you? I wouldn't believe 'em, I promise I wouldn't; just as true's I'm walking on this floor!"
"Indeed, I hope you would not, little Prudy; for I made them up as I went along. There are no fairies but those we have in our hearts. Our best thoughts are good fairies; and our worst thoughts are evil fairies."| | 16
"Oh, yes, auntie, I know! When we go bathing in the ocean, Susy says, 'Let's be all clean, so the spirit of the water can enter our hearts.' And it does; but it goes in by our noses."
Mrs. Clifford had tacitly given her consent to Grace's copying the stories. This task was performed accordingly, much to the disgust of Horace, who declared that of the whole number only the tale of "Wild Robin" was worth reading.
"And 'Wild Robin,'" said Grace, instructively, "is the only one that has a moral for you, Horace. When our soldiers are starving so, it is really dreadful to see how you dislike corned beef and despise vegetables! Such a dainty boy as you needs to be stolen a while by the fairies."
"Well, Gracie, I reckon you'd run double-quick to pull me off the milk-white steed. | | 17 7You couldn't get along without me two days. Look here! what story has a moral for you, miss? It's the 'Water-kelpie.' You are like the man that married Moneta: you're always wanting money."
"But it's for the soldiers, Horace," said Grace, with a smile of forbearance toward her brother. "I'm willing to give all my pocket-money; and I mean the other girls shall. If we're stingy to our country these days,we ought to be shot! 'Princess Hilda's' the best story in the book. I wish Isa Harrington could read it! She wouldn't make any more mischief between Cassy and me!"
"I like 'The Lost Sylphid' the best," said Prudy; "but was she a great butterfly, do you s'pose? The stories are all just as nice; just like book stories. I shouldn't think anybody made 'em up. Aunt 'Ria can write as | | 18 good as the big girls to the grammar-school. I promised not to believe a single word; and I sha'n't. I'm glad she called it my Fairy Book."
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