Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


Daffodil and the Croäxaxicans: a Romance of History . Webster, Augusta, 1837–1894.
no previous
next

CHAPTER I.

THERE was once a little girl who was born with such shining yellow hair that her father and mother said it was as bright as the yellow daffodils, and therefore they gave her the name of Daffodil. She was born in the dull grey time of the year when all the flowers have gone and the trees are left with only a few wet brown leaves upon them; and her father and mother did not quite remember in their eyes how very bright and how very yellow the daffodils are. When spring came, they saw that their little one’s beautiful golden hair did not match with the tint of the flower after which they had named her. But by that time they did not care about her name reminding them of anything but herself.

Daffodil’s father and mother were very kind to her. When she grew old enough to learn, they used to take a great deal of pains to teach her everything good for a little girl to know, and they explained all so carefully and so pleasantly that she liked some of her lessons, and especially her history, more than any stories, except stories about fairies and mermaids and such people. But they did not teach her to play; because they did not know how themselves; for page: 2 they were grave very wise people; and, as they did not like her to go with other children, there was nobody to teach her that. Their house stood by a river and behind it there was a wood: a road through the wood led to a good‐sized town, but there were no houses very near. No one lived in the house with Daffodil and her father and mother but an old woman called Keziah, who generally sat by the kitchen fire warming her wrinkled hands and saying she was worked to death. So Daffodil could not easily have found children to play with often. But sometimes she would hear people say to her father and mother “Do let your child come to the town and have a game of romps with my boys and girls:” and they said too “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” But, when she asked her father why she might never have the game of romps, he told her he wanted to see his little girl grow up thoughtful and good and that some children were not thoughtful and good, and, as he could not tell which were so, he was forced to keep her from them all. And she remembered that, once, when two little boys who lived in a farmhouse a long way on the other side of the wood were brought to see Keziah, who was their great‐aunt, instead of being thoughtful and good they had jeered at her for not knowing how to play, and had dragged her about so rudely, calling it fun, that she was quite frightened; so she thought “If that is how it is when one plays with other children, my fairies and river people are much nicer companions for me.” And, as she found that learning one thing was generally only a way of finding out that there was another thing to be learned, page: 3 so that she suspected there was more to be learned than she could manage even in ten whole years, she did not feel afraid of growing too clever even by a quarter. And as, besides, she was not a boy and she never did anything you could call work, there must, she considered, be some mistake about that reason for her going to the town for a game of romps.

Daffodil had not really any fairies or river people to play with her at this time. But, when Keziah had got herself well warmed and was in a good humour, she would talk to the little girl in a very interesting way about the elf world and its various tribes. Keziah was a well‐informed woman and knew a great deal about the laws and customs of all these, and Daffodil was never weary of listening to her accounts of them. Daffodil’s father and mother always said that Keziah had not trustworthy authority for her statements; and they themselves, after much study and research, had come to the conclusion that the elf world with all belonging to it was nothing but nonsense, or imagination, which, as you may have heard, is the same thing. But that came from their being philosophers—persons of whom all the elfin peoples stand in so much dread that they take every possible means of concealing from them all traces of their existence. This is because they believe that, if the philosophers were to catch them, they would put them through a competitive examination: just as we believe that no ogre can resist the temptation of munching and crunching any boy or girl he may be able to seize.

Daffodil was fond of telling fairy tales as well as of hearing them. But there was a difficulty about page: 4 finding any one to whom to tell them. Keziah would not listen to them at all, because they were not true fact stories, but only what came into Daffodil’s head, and she said an old woman like her could not waste her poor bit of hearing upon make‐believes. However, Daffodil had a very large grave black dog and a fat grave white cat to keep her company, and, as they were not so particular as Keziah, she sometimes told them her stories. But the cat used to go to sleep over them, and if they were very long the dog would whine and fidget, and Daffodil was afraid he must feel as she once did when she was taken to a lecture on astronomy in which all the words were too hard for her to make out and she was not allowed to go to sleep like the cat. On the whole the best way for enjoying her make‐believes, as Keziah called them, was to sit looking into the river or up at the sailing clouds and let it seem as if it were the river or the clouds that showed her the stories and she had nothing to do with making them up.

Now, though Daffodil did not know it, this is the sure way to get into the good graces of the elfin people and make them willing to admit you to their acquaintance. But it is not always a safe plan, for they may thus get power over you before you are aware, and, as they are some good and some bad, as men and women are, that is running too much risk. And, if Daffodil had been a child who thought unholy and unkind thoughts, certainly more harm would have come of it than did come. What happened was that the river people took a liking to her and that, while she was sitting near the river, letting the page: 5 stories come to her, they would be singing to her a kind of sleepy song—a song with no words to it and no tune, and yet it was a song; and she would hear it without even knowing that she heard, but it drew her heart more and more to the river people. In a little while after they began doing this she quite left off looking at the clouds, and she used to lie down on the grass with her face leaning over the bank so that she could see into the water, and keep trying to fancy what the river people’s bowers were like; and sometimes she would half close her eyes so that she saw the reflections and the green shadows of the trees, not clear and distinct as they really were, but in an uncertain way, that she might think them bowers underneath the water; and the more she did this the sweeter and the sleepier the song came to her, and the more her heart was drawn to the river people. The river people did this without any plan: it was only their way of showing approbation, and they did not design to entice her to them. Indeed the possibility of such a thing was not generally believed among them. There were traditions of mortals having been attracted down to their abodes, but there was no authoritative historic evidence of any such occurrence. Moreover many of the river people disputed the existence of human beings, saying they were only the fantastic creations of the brain. Of course those who sang to Daffodil knew better than that. But the river people do not leave home much, and some of Daffodil’s friends’ tribe who lived in the middle of the wood far from all houses had never had an opportunity of seeing a human being. And, among river peoples and other fairies, there are some page: 6 so constituted that they are not aware of the presence of human beings, even when close by them. The number of those who are destitute of the faculty by which fairies and mortals are capable of perceiving each other increases so fast that in a thousand years or so this faculty will be as rare in the elf world as it has already become in ours. And, although Daffodil’s river friends did possess the faculty, they, from the reasons I have pointed out, were without any information as to the modes of communication between fairies and human kind and the influence they themselves were exerting.

It was in the summer the river people began to sing to Daffodil, and, by the time the leaves were turning amber and red on their boughs, she had grown to think there could be no happiness out of heaven so great and delightful as there must be under the water with them. By and by the leaves grew brown and shrivelled and lay on the ground in dank heaps and blew about uncomfortably, and the sky was all one dull lead‐coloured cloud and came so low that it seemed as if the world had grown smaller since the summer. The song of the river people had quite left off, but Daffodil still used to sit looking into the water, thinking about the pleasant regions below. It seemed dreary round her, and now she began to find it dull to have no one to go about with in her play‐hours but the grave dog and the grave cat. But it was not for the company of other children she longed; it was for the river maidens to dance and sing with her and teach her to float through the waters. She asked her father and mother whether they would object to her page: 7 making friends with the river people, if she should see any, and they smiled, and gave her leave to do so. She might play with all the fairies she met, they said, only they must decidedly object to her forming any acquaintance with Will‐o’‐the‐wisp, whom she had once seen beckoning to her with his lamp. Daffodil agreed quite cheerfully to that for she knew Will‐o’‐the‐wisp was an injudicious sort of person who would be sure to lead her into scrapes.

Now that she had her parents’ leave, she looked about eagerly for some way of beginning the acquaintance. Sometimes she would call softly into the water “River people, dear river people, I want so much to know you, and my father and mother have given me leave. Won’t you come up and talk to me?” And sometimes she would throw an apple or a very pretty pebble into the water, and say “This is Daffodil’s present to the river people, with her love.” And she hunted several days for a four‐leaved shamrock, because Keziah had told her you can do a great many fairy spells, if you have one, and she thought she should be able to make a spell that would persuade one of the river people to come to her. But, when she had found a four‐leaved shamrock, Keziah could not remember what was the way to use it, and so all her pains were thrown away.

One day she chanced to find a funny little thing growing out of the stump of a felled tree—a tiny scarlet cup with a sort of saucer of crimson petals: it seemed neither quite a flower nor quite a fungus. When she picked it, it made a little noise like a mouse squeaking a long way off, and very much page: 8 surprised, she took it to Keziah. “It is so odd,” she said, “that I can’t help thinking it must have something to do with the fairies.”

Keziah peered at it with her old purblind eyes, and pinched it, and smelt it over and over again, for it had no smell at all. “Aye, aye,” she said at last, “it’s what I thought. Now, if you did but know what day of the year and month and week it was when that tree was felled, you’d be in luck, child; for you’d only have to jump into the river from off that tree‐stump the same day of the year and month and week, and water couldn’t drown you, but you’d get down among the river people you talk so much about, and have power over them so that they’d be forced to let you come back whenever you liked.”

When she had said this, she was going to throw the elf‐cup into the fire, for she thought it was of no use, as they did not know the day the tree was felled. But Daffodil cried out “Oh don’t, please,” in a great hurry, for she was sure she could find out. Her father had a book in which he wrote down every day what had happened, and she took it that such an important happening as a tree being cut down must be written in the book. She ran at once to ask.

“What can you want to know that for?” her father said, quite astonished. And her mother took off her spectacles, so that she might be able to look at her better, and gazed inquiringly.

“Because, if I knew that, there is a way I could get to know the river people at once, if you and mother will give me leave,” said Daffodil, almost breathless with eagerness.

page: 9

“Oh, very well,” said her father, “that is important, and I will look at once, so that no time may be lost.” He got his book and, after he had searched a long time, he said “My little day‐dreamer, that tree was felled on Monday, the first of December, the year you were born.”

“Why! that makes it come right to‐day!” screamed Daffodil, in an ecstasy of joy, “This is a Monday, and it is the first of December!” And she ran off in such haste that she forgot to say “thank you” to her father for the trouble he had taken for her.

Presently her father, who had gone on looking through the book, said to her mother “I have told our little woman the wrong day of the week, I see. The first of December was a Tuesday the year that tree was felled. Luckily not much harm can come of that mistake.”

“Monday will do just as well till you see her again,” said her mother. “She will be as happy over her calculations as if she had got the right day to count from.”

Of course neither of them had the least notion that there was anything about jumping into the water in the plan for knowing the river people Daffodil was going to try. And, as they did not believe that there were river people at all, they did not think the day of the week would make any difference to her chance of forming an acquaintance with them.

When it was dinner time, lo and behold, there was no Daffodil to be found! You may imagine what a calling and searching there was. But, call page: 10 and search as they would, there was no trace of the child. Only, the white cat was crying on the top of the stump where Daffodil had found the elf‐cup, and beside her on the river bank was the big black dog with his hair wet, giving a little whine every now and then, but never moving, and all the while staring hard at the water, as if he were expecting to see something that he knew was in it. And, when Keziah saw that, she knew Daffodil must have jumped into the river to find the river people, and she told the father and mother, to comfort them. Then they understood why the dog was so wet and still kept watching. It was easy to see that he had jumped in to catch Daffodil, and that he had not succeeded.

I will not tell you what weeping and lamenting there was for Daffodil. Keziah, of course, had not been much disturbed at first, as she thought Daffodil had ascertained the right date and would come back by bedtime; but she soon learned the mistake that had been made. She tried to keep up a hope that the poor child must have reached the river people safely with her elf‐cup, in spite of the day of the week being wrong, and that some time she might get leave to come back; but the father and the mother were certain she was drowned. You may imagine how unhappy they were.

And you may imagine too what care they took of the good dog who tried to get their dear daughter back from the river for them. The cat too was made much of for the good feeling she had shown. But what they found difficult was to forgive Keziah, for they looked on what she had told Daffodil about the elf‐cup as page: 11 the cause of Daffodil’s death. However, when they saw how grieved she was—so grieved that she even left off grumbling—they agreed that they must be gentle to her and never reproach her. Keziah, on her side, seeing how heavily their carelessness, as she considered it, had been punished, scarcely ever found fault with them for, first, making the mistake, and, next, not hurrying with all their might to correct it. But she was very angry, once, when a pedlar to whom she was talking about the sorrowful story took their part about that piece of carelessness and said the mistake was not of consequence. “Not of consequence!” cried Keziah. “The drowning of the best behaved little girl in the world not of consequence!!!” and she opened the kitchen door wide, with a bang, and made him walk out so fast that she had to throw his pack, and all the things he had taken from it to show her, out into the snow after him.

no previous
next