Floribel by Lydia Maria Child

One long, summer afternoon, old Zachary and his wife Betsy, having finished their tea at four o'clock, and having nothing very interesting to do, thought they would visit Hoppletyhop; the dwarf, who had promised to grant three wishes to any one who would bring him the three things he most desired in the world. Old Zachary took the president's message, a pair of spectacles, and a pipe full of tobacco, which he smoked by the way. The old woman carried a bowl of hot tea, a looking glass, and her very best plaited cap. As they went out of the door, they found their little grandchild, Floribel, reading on the step, and called to her to follow them. So she ran along with Jack the Giant-killer in one hand, and dragging with the other her tin wagon, in which sat her favorite doll, Rosa, drawn by four high-stepping tin horses.

As they passed through the village, their neighbors, who were sitting in their porches, enjoying the cool breeze, and feeling much too indolent to do any thing, called out to know whither they were going; and when told they were on their way to visit the dwarf Hoppletyhop, advised them to stay quietly at home, for he would be sure to do them some mischief. Zachary was a little inclined to turn back, when he heard this; but Betsy said, "Let us go on—I should like to see what mischief he will do;" and Floribel begged them to go, because she wished to see if a fairy dwarf was as large as her doll.

As they walked along, she asked them what they should wish. "I shall wish to be young, and deacon of the church," said her grandfather. "And I, to have a whole chest of souchong tea, and to be young also," said the grandmother. "But I shall wish for a castle as high as the sky, and a golden dress that will never wear out, and a stick of barley candy six thousand miles long," said the little girl.

After a long walk they found Hoppletyhop playing jackstraws with a grasshopper, on a bank of violets. He received them very politely, and asked each of them to take a stone among the violets. The grandfather then offered his presents. The dwarf read two sentences in the president's message, and said he could not stand that; it was too stupid. He peeped through the spectacles, and said they gave every thing a twist; and as for tobacco, he could not endure it.

The grandmother set the bowl of tea before him; but it was so hot it burned his mouth, and he kicked it down hill, smashing the old lady's best china bowl into a hundred pieces. He was angry when she presented the looking glass, thinking she wished to make fun of him, because he was so small. The plaited cap, he said, was not made for a man like him to wear, and he tore it all to shreds.

Then, turning to Floribel, he said, "Well, my little girl, what pretty book is that you have in your hand? Ah, the History of Jack the Giant-killer. A splendid fellow was Jack! my great-grandfather. Just the book I have always wished to read. Family archives, you know. And what is this I behold? What, a splendid red chariot! and what a sweet little doll within! How dumb and amiable she appears! She shall certainly be my wife, and these four horses shall draw us all over the world." He sprang into the wagon, seating himself beside the erect little doll, who immediately began to move her quiet eyes; the horses shook their manes, and pranced about; and away drove Hoppletyhop, calling out to Floribel as he disappeared, "Wish your three wishes, and they shall be granted, whatever they may be."

Then her old grandmother and grandfather implored her, with tears in their eyes, to wish they might be young again. Floribel thought that would be delightful, for then they could all go blackberrying together; so she said in a commanding voice, "I wish my grandmother and grandfather to be young again;" but she did not think to say how young, and the next moment was surprised to see two little babies, lying among the violets, kicking and crying with all their might. "O, dear me!" she exclaimed. "The poor little things! How they do cry! What shall I do with them? I do wish grandmother were here, to help me take care of them!" and one little baby was immediately changed back into her grandmother.

"How could you wish me to be old again, Floribel?" she exclaimed. "Pray wish me to be just seventeen." Then the grandfather began to cry most clamorously, and Floribel knew he also wished to be seventeen, instead of a little, helpless baby. She did not know what to do, for with only one wish left, she could not both wish her grandfather to be older, and her grandmother to be younger. While she was standing in this perplexity, half stunned by the cries of her grandfather, and the entreaties of her grandmother, she chanced to spy a little dog running along, wagging its tail, and without thinking, cried, "O dear, I wish I were a little dog, and then I should not have to choose!" and in the twinkling of an eye, to her great dismay, she became a little brown dog, jumping about.

You may imagine how the poor grandmother felt, when she returned home, carrying her old Zachary, a little baby, in her arms, with a brown dog running beside her, instead of her dear little grandchild, who had always been the best child in the world. The villagers ran out of their gates to meet her, and could not keep from laughing, to see their grave neighbor Zachary a little crying baby; but they felt very sorry about Floribel, for one and all loved the merry little girl. "O, we told you how it would be," they said. "We told you the dwarf would do you some mischief." But this did not comfort poor Betsy, who went sorrowfully into her house, shut the door, and would have had a good cry herself, if the baby had not been crying so hard that she had more than she could do to take care of him. "I never saw such a cross child," she exclaimed. "When he was my old Zachary, he was very good natured; but now he is little Zach, I can hardly stay in the house with him." She laid him on the bed, hoping he would fall asleep; but he screamed as if he had never dreamt of such a thing as sleeping. The little dog barked as if it fain would do something, and at last hopped on to the bed, and softly patted the baby to sleep with one of its fore paws, and then, wearied with the adventures of the day, fell asleep itself, leaving the old lady to her lonely meditations.

The next morning the baby and dog awoke very early, as little dogs and babies always do; so that the poor grandmother had to rise, when she would gladly have slept four hours longer, to give them some breakfast. Then she looked about for something to dress the baby in. She opened the closet, and there hung old Zachary's best Sunday coat. Sad as she felt, she could not help smiling to think how funny he would look in it now. She took down a white dress of Floribel's, and began to cut the sleeves and waist smaller, that it might fit the baby. O, how troubled the little dog was, to see her cutting up the pretty new dress, which was to have been worn by Floribel, on her birthday, at a party her cousins were to give for her, at Elderbrook, their pleasant farm, two miles from the village! And when the little dog thought how, on the morrow, all the gay cousins would come for Floribel, and would find only a brown dog, it laid its head on the grandmother's feet, and whined so piteously that she began to weep, and said, "We are having hard times, Floribel! yes, very hard times!" and then the baby began to cry too, as if it understood all about it.

The dog wondered whether it would still be called Floribel; a pretty name for a little girl, it thought, but not at all the name for a dog. Then it remembered the time when it was Floribel, and had a little dog named Frolic, and wondered if any one would love it as much as Floribel did Frolic. Looking round the room it spied out the doll house, with the dolls and pretty furniture in it, and thought it could play with them just as before. But little paws are not so handy as little hands, and the dog broke off the arm of a chair, smashed in a doll's head, and made such a disturbance in the doll house, that the grandmother said, "Come away, puppy; let Floribel's things remain just as she left them."

"Am I not Floribel?" thought the dog, and barked as much as to say so, and looked up so dolefully in the grandmother's face, that she said, "Poor little creature; you had better go out and have a run," and opened the door. The dog could not resist its active little legs, and off it sped, until it came to the school house. The children saw a little brown face with sparkling eyes peeping in, and one whispered to another, "How much that looks like Floribel's Frolic; do you think he has come back again?"

"Why, no," said another; "do you not know it is Floribel herself, changed by the dwarf into a dog?"

"O, dear! what a pity!" exclaimed the children, and some of them began to cry; but others said it must be fine fun to be a little dog, and run about all day, with no lessons to learn.

When the teacher saw the children could think of nothing but the dog, she said it might come in a little while; so it jumped into the room, and ran all round, from one child to another, receiving many a gentle pat and kind word, and at length laid itself down under Floribel's empty seat, looking about with such mournful eyes, that the children said, "Poor fellow! I am sure it would rather be Floribel, and have the hardest arithmetic lesson to learn, than be only a little scampering dog. Would it not, doggy?" and the dog bobbed its head up and down, as much as to say, "Yes, I am sure I should."

After school the dog and children ran races together; but no child could run so fast as the dog, with its four legs. It went frisking home, and the grandmother called out, "Why, Frolic!" thinking, for a moment, it was the dog they had before, and that Floribel would come bounding in after it. From that time she always called it Frolic.

The next day the cousins arrived in their wagon, and stopping at the gate, they saw a little dog in the yard, and called out, "There is Frolic, returned. I wonder why Floribel does not come out. Has she forgotten it is her birthday, and that we were to come and carry her home to the party? And where is grandfather? Why is he not sitting in his arm chair, in the doorway?"

Running up the path, they saw their grandmother at the window, dancing a baby up and down. "Where did grandmother pick up that baby?" they exclaimed, and rushed into the house. There they heard the strange story, and truly astonished they were. "Can this be grandfather?" cried Sarah. "This little cooing baby, my own grandfather, who always said such wise things?"

"And can this little foolish dog be my cousin Floribel, who had such long curls, and such a sweet smile!" exclaimed Robert. "What will mother say?"

"Let us dress it up in Floribel's clothes, and mother will think it is she, when we drive up, in the wagon," said Sarah.

So they put a pink dress and white sun bonnet on the dog; the grandmother tied a straw hat, that had belonged to the doll Rosa, on the baby, who gave rather a wistful glance at old Zachary's black beaver, on the nail, and away they drove.

The mother came to the door to welcome them, and thought she should see Floribel's smiling face under the white bonnet; but O, there was only a dog's sharp nose. "What prank are you playing, children?" she said. "Where have you hidden Floribel?"

"Allow me to introduce grandfather and Floribel," said Sarah, as she and Robert took the baby and the dog from the wagon.

"What foolish children you are! Whose baby is this?"

The children assured their mother that the baby was their grandfather; but it was not until the old lady, with many sighs and tears, had told the tale, that she could believe it. The two women had rather a melancholy day together, although they did enjoy taking care of the baby, and were not quite sure that it was not as entertaining, with its sprightly little ways, as the old gentleman had been with his grand, moral remarks; and certainly its little shrill pipe was not half so bad as the old tobacco pipe. Sarah said that although she loved her grandfather, she could not help being pleased to have him a baby again; he was so cunning and droll, and she did so like to toss him about, and feed him, and make him laugh.

She carried him out in the hay, where the party of children were at play, and great fun they had burying him up in the haycocks, while Frolic frisked about as merry as any of them. At dinner time, when they went to the table, under a wide-spreading oak tree, they found two high chairs, one for Frolic and one for the baby; and there they both sat, with wreaths on their heads, and behaved with the utmost propriety, although Frolic was seen, after dinner, to slip down under the table, and gnaw a bone, as Floribel would not have done, and the baby cried for a cherry, as grandfathers never do.

Frolic had as pleasant a life as a dog could have. Every one in the village was kind to the playful creature, who had once been a favorite little girl, and the children always came flocking about the house, out of school hours, to play with the dog and the baby. Sometimes some curious child would ask them if they did not wish to be changed back again; but the baby would always shake his little bald head, as much as to say no; for he found himself growing larger and stronger, and thought it pleasanter to be a healthy baby than an old gentleman with the rheumatism. But Frolic's head would always bob up and down, as much as to say yes; for it is surely better to be a little girl than a dog. The children suggested various ways in which the change might be effected. "Why not go to the dwarf and ask him to change her back again?" said one. "Because the dwarf has gone to Chinese Tartary with Floribel's tin horses," answered another.

"They might ask the fairies to change them with their wands," said little Amy.

"Nonsense, with your fairies," replied Tom, the blacksmith's son. "I should like to know where fairies are to be found nowadays!"

But Frolic thought a fairy might possibly be found, and got into wild habits of running about in the moonlight, and barking a great deal at bats and night moths, fancying they were fairies; so that all the neighborhood complained, and begged the grandmother to shut the dog up evenings in the wood house; for though a pleasant animal by day, it was altogether too noisy by night.

One day when Frolic was lying at the school house door, where it learned a great deal listening to the recitations, the teacher read aloud the story of Orpheus, who could tame wild animals with his lyre, and then went on to say that she had heard of music by which animals might be changed into persons. Frolic's white ears were pricked up, and every word was treasured, and thought over, day after day. The children wondered why the little dog did not play with them as usual; they did not know how eagerly it was wandering about, listening to every strain of music it could catch. The young ladies who played on the piano could not imagine why that little dog was always under the windows, and why it gave such a hopeful bark every time they began a new Polka or Sehnsucht, and why it whined so sadly every time it was over. When some soldiers marched through the village, they said the dog had better enlist, he seemed so fond of the trumpet and drum. When the hand organ players came and excruciated the villagers with a wiry "Last Rose of Summer," they laughed to see the excited creature jumping about, and one of them would have carried it off for a dancing dog, if the grandmother had not run screaming after him. The old black man who played on the fiddle, for the villagers to dance in the town hall, said he could not guess why Frolic had taken such a fancy to Minerva's Quickstep. The congregation could scarcely refrain from laughing to hear the dismal howl the dog would set up in the church porch when the whole choir started off in "Old Hundred," as if it were "Catch who can;" and young Edgar, who played on the flute in summer twilights, was quite gratified to find Frolic always lying at his feet, with wistful eyes, and imagined himself a second Orpheus.

But one day, when he had played a most unheard-of melody, Frolic thought that might possibly be the magical one, and annoyed the young man so much, by jumping upon him, that he gave the poor creature a kick, forgetting who it had formerly been. That was a cruel kick; for, though to appearance but a brown dog, Frolic had the tender feelings of a little girl, and, shrinking home, passed a most unhappy night in a dark corner of the garret, thinking every one might be unkind, now that its good friend, the flute player, had been so. And in the morning, when the grandmother called, "Frolic, Frolic," it came very slowly down stairs, and did not once go out all day, but lay on the rug, looking very much grieved.

Frolic never quite forgot that kick, and sometimes was even afraid to go among the children, lest one of them might be angry, as the flute player had been, and felt sadder than ever about being a dog. The villagers said, "Why, what has come over our Frolic? It used to seem as merry as a dog could be, scratching at our doors, and stealing our bones; but now it goes moping about in solitary places, just like young Edgar, with his long hair. Poor thing! It is certainly a sad fate, for one who has once been a bright child, the best scholar in school, winning a medal every week, to be only a barking dog."

A year passed on, and the little dog was still seen about the village; sometimes merry and frolicking with the children, but more often walking alone in the fields, or watching over little Zach, who was now old enough to play in the front yard; when one day, as it was taking a walk on the shore of the river, it saw a little girl who had paddled out in an old boat, which was fast filling with water. In her fright the girl had dropped her paddle overboard, and had no means of getting ashore. Frolic scampered off to a man who was walking at some distance, but seeing it was Edgar, who had given him that sad kick, for a moment scarcely ventured to approach him; then, thinking the little girl would be drowned if it did not make haste, it ran to Edgar, and jumped on him, pulling and barking. "Poor Frolic," said Edgar, "I treated you unkindly once, and now you forgive me." But Frolic pulled harder and harder, and ran towards the river, and then back again to Edgar, so that at last he thought something was the matter, and hastened to the shore. In a few minutes he had rowed out in another boat, and reached the sinking one just in time to save his own sister Lucy from drowning. O, how they both thanked Frolic when they reached the shore! and Edgar said he would never, in all his life, hurt a living thing again; it was bad enough to be a dog, without being kicked for it.

From that time Lucy and Frolic became the greatest friends. Wherever one was seen, the other was sure to be near. Those who passed her house would see Lucy singing at her work, under the great elm tree, and little Frolic lying close at her feet, looking up in her face. She always took the dog with her when she went with Edgar to a neighboring town, where he taught a singing school. One evening the scholars were to give a concert, and Edgar said they had better not take Frolic, lest he should bark; but Lucy answered, "O, let us take the poor little thing; it loves music better than any thing. I sometimes think it will sing itself, some day, instead of barking, and be one of your best scholars;" and the dog looked so entreatingly at Edgar, that he consented to take it.

As they drove along, Frolic peeped from the bottom of the chaise, where it was curled up at Lucy's feet, and saw the crimson sunset. A sudden thought came, that it would be the last sunset it would see with a dog's eyes. When it scrambled up the stairs to the concert room, it thought, "I shall never go pattering up stairs again on dog's paws;" and when it entered the room, and saw the hundred little girls in white dresses and blue sashes, it looked about very gravely, saying to itself, "Soon I shall be a little girl in a white dress and blue sash;" and yet it knew not how all this was to happen.

The concert began; chorus and solo, the sweet, clear strains arose in the air, and at every one the dog pricked up its ears; but every strain found and left it a little brown dog, lying on the step of the platform, and it began to think that a dog it should always remain. Just as it was in despair came a new piece, a solo, tender and entreating, as if a spirit were seeking its way through the lonely night air; and then a full chorus joined in, joyous and triumphant, with the tender tone running through it. Frolic lay with its head pressed close on its fore paws, thrilled through and through by the music. When it was over, Lucy turned to look for her dog, and saw a child, with rich brown curls, sitting on the step. "Have you any where seen a little brown dog, with a coral necklace on?" she asked.

"I am the little dog," answered the child. "And here is the coral necklace you gave me, round my neck."

"You look too good to steal my dog's necklace," said Lucy.

"Do I look too good to be your little dog?"

"Nobody could be better than Frolic, who forgave my brother, and saved my life, and is so gentle to every one."

"Have you forgotten me, Lucy, in the two years I have been Frolic? Do you not know your friend Floribel?"

Lucy threw her arms around her. "O Floribel, is it you? You have come back again! How glad I am! And yet I feel sorry to lose little Frolic, too. I wish you could be both Frolic and Floribel."

Edgar was gladly surprised when a little girl came out with Lucy, to ride home with them, instead of Frolic. "I owe it all to you," she said, "that I have become a little girl. It was your beautiful music." They had a lovely drive home in the moonlight, and Floribel staid with Lucy all night. Her grandmother did not much mind whether a little dog was at home or not. In the morning, instead of an eager paw scratching at the door, she heard a little girl's happy morning voice, saying, "Let me in, grandmother, please." When she opened it, in bounded Floribel, kissed her grandmother, and caught up little Zach, dancing all about the room, in great delight.

"Pray, be still," cried her grandmother, "and let me see you. Are you really my own little Floribel, come back?"

"Yes, grandmother, yes, Zach. Frolic has gone, and Floribel has come."

"'Ittle dog done, 'ittle dirl tome; me 'ove 'ittle dog, me 'ove 'ittle dirl," was Zach's grave remark.

The old lady said, "Yes, my child, it is you; what would your grandfather say?"

Floribel laughed, and looked at Zach, but thought she would not remind her grandmother that he was her grandfather. In the two years the old lady had taken care of the baby and dog, she had almost forgotten they were ever any thing else; and although she could never have her wish, to be young again herself, she almost seemed to become so, living with these two children, who were as happy as kittens together.

A grand festival was held in the village to welcome Floribel's return, and the neighbors said, "We shall all miss little Frolic, but we are right glad to have our happy, singing Floribel among us again; and we hope she will never have any more wishes granted."

"O, dear," exclaimed Floribel, "I do not know about that. But one thing I am sure of; I shall never wish to be a little brown dog again."