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The Flower Basket.
Whoever honours the following little Tale with a perusal, will probably antic.i.p.ate in the Preface, the so-often-framed apology, that it was not written with an intention of being published. Yet stale as the a.s.surance may be, it is in this instance strictly true.
It was composed solely at the request, and for the amus.e.m.e.nt of, the children of a friend; nor would it ever have entered my head to offer any thing in the shape of a Fairy Tale to this enlightened age, when such productions have long been banished from all juvenile libraries.
Among the innumerable works which do so much credit to the talents and invention of the writers, that have been subst.i.tuted for them, it may admit of a question, whether beings, not professedly ideal, are not sometimes pourtrayed nearly as imaginary as any that ever “wielded wand, or worked a spell.” I believe (for I have never happened to meet with the book, since it was first published) I have the sanction of one of the most celebrated female writers of the age, in her “Thoughts on the Education of a Young Princess,” for supposing that the mind of a child is less likely to be misled by what is avowedly fict.i.tious, than by those high wrought characters of perfection, which they would have little better chance of meeting with in the world, than with the fantastic agents of Oberon.
However true this may be, I certainly did not feel ent.i.tled to oppose my sentiments to popular opinion; but the few friends, to whose inspection this trifle was submitted, p.r.o.nounced it worthy of publication. I am aware, that it may be said, more partiality than judgment was evinced in this decision; but there was amongst the number, one whose knowledge of the public taste cannot be disputed, and whose name, affixed as the publisher, may be considered as a pa.s.sport in itself. Under such unquestionable recommendation, I am induced to hope, that “The Flower Basket” may find admittance into the literary collections of the youthful members of society; and, though conscious that it will add nothing to their store of information, I flatter myself it will not diminish the correctness of their principles.
THE FLOWER BASKET.
_A FAIRY TALE._
Adrian and Amaranthe were born in an old castle, that had once been the scene of splendour and festivity, but, together with the fortunes of its owners, had fallen very much into decay. Their parents, in proud resentment of the fancied neglect and ingrat.i.tude of the world, had lived retired in the only habitable part of it from the time of their birth, a.s.sociating but little with the surrounding neighbourhood. The world, however, is not ungrateful, nor neglectful of real merit, but it is wise, and when people squander their fortunes rather with a view to display their own consequence than to gratify or benefit their fellow beings, they must not expect that others will come forward to re-instate them in their grandeur, though they would readily do so to relieve unavoidable distress.
The establishment consisted of a few domestics, and an old governess who was retained in that capacity rather from known worthiness of character and attachment to the family, than from any knowledge or acquirements she possessed, that befitted her for such an office. There was besides a little orphan girl, a niece of the lady’s, who had been bred up with them from the time she was five years of age. From the disadvantages under which they laboured, it may be supposed these poor children had not many attractions to boast of. Adrian had the benefit of rather more education than his sister and cousin, as his father would sometimes devote himself to his instruction, but listless from disappointment, and out of humour with a world in which he despaired of his son ever appearing with the distinctions of rank and fortune, his lessons were never regularly given, or enforced in a manner likely to make any profitable impression on the mind of a playful thoughtless boy.
He had a good natural disposition, was spirited and generous, and felt that his wishes were not bounded by the retirement in which he lived, but from his total ignorance of all beyond it, he was unable to define what those wishes were. Amaranthe was well-grown, lively, and not ill-tempered, notwithstanding having been always injudiciously flattered and indulged by her doating governess. From the stories she had read, or heard her relate, she had formed a general idea of the advantage of personal attractions, which, in her own person robust and awkward, had no great chance of being displayed.
Claribel, who was rather younger than her cousins, was also less of her age. She was pretty and sweet-tempered, but timid and without energy of character. Her timidity and her littleness made her the jest of her companions, and in their play-hours she had often cause to feel and acknowledge their superiority in age and size; but as their teasing of her proceeded more from unchecked liveliness than real ill-nature, and as she was too gentle to retort upon them, their childish squabbles never amounted to serious disagreements, and they lived in perfect harmony together. She was too docile to be naughty, would seldom fail to learn the task that was given her, but never felt a desire to learn more.
From the continual ill health of the lady, her daughter and niece were almost wholly consigned to the care and culture of the faithful Ursula.
She had taught all the children to read, write, and spell, and as much of arithmetic as enabled them to cast up a sum that was not very difficult. She was also anxious that her “own blessed young ladies”
should be proficients in the various kinds of needlework, on which she had valued herself in her “better days.” In order to accomplish this, and prevent the work being twitched out of their hands, and themselves dragged off by Adrian to play at ball or shuttlec.o.c.k with him, she would secure the quietness and attention of the party by singing old ballads, and relating marvellous histories, to which they would listen with an eagerness and interest that banished all wish for any other kind of entertainment. Of these she had an abundant store, but what afforded the highest delight to her auditors, was the dexterous feats, or beneficent acts, that she would record of fairies, a race of beings that she professed to have personal knowledge of. She once incautiously hinted, that had not their father, by his pride, offended one of the order, they should all have been in a more prosperous state; but no sooner had the words escaped her than she repented having uttered them, nor could all the entreaties of her pupils ever prevail upon her to satisfy their curiosity upon the subject.
Adrian had nearly completed his twentieth year, Amaranthe was eighteen, and Claribel near sixteen, when a messenger arrived at the castle, bringing with him a packet addressed to its master, the contents of which announced the landing of a very old friend at a place on the coast at a considerable distance. He mentioned having intelligence of infinite consequence to impart, and his intention of proceeding directly to the castle for that purpose, but that he had been only a few hours on sh.o.r.e when he was seized with an illness which prevented his travelling. He therefore besought the gentleman and his lady to lose no time in repairing to the place where he was confined, that they might themselves receive his communications.
On examining the letter they found that some length of time had elapsed since its date, for those days boasted not of turnpike roads and mail coaches, and the bearer had had a tedious journey of it. When they questioned him concerning their friend, they could gain no farther information, than that, on finding himself too ill to attempt travelling, he had intrusted him with the packet, with strict injunctions to deliver it safely, but of the nature of his disorder they could extort no satisfactory account from him.
The case admitted of no deliberation, and Adrian and Amaranthe found themselves, for the first time in their lives, going to be separated from their parents.
The lively emotions of interest produced by the bustle and novelty of preparation for their departure, and the eager curiosity excited by the extraordinary occurrence that occasioned it, at first predominated over every other feeling; but when the carriage came to the door that was to convey their father and mother from them, a sensation of concern and dismay extinguished their vivacity at once. The former, with an agitation and warmth of manner unusual in him, embraced his children and niece, saying, as he parted from them, “It is for your sakes, my darlings, that I quit a retreat, from which I believed no consideration could ever again have drawn me, but my absence shall not be long. If I find my old friend able to undertake the journey, we will bring him back with us, and you will soon know how to value such an acquisition to our domestic party. If he should decline accompanying us at present, we will wait but to learn what he has to disclose, and return to you forthwith.
It is only the hope of that disclosure producing advantage to you in future that now tempts me from my home.” The lady, whose heart seemed too much oppressed by her feelings to give vent to them in words, clasped each of them in silence to her bosom, and with a deep-drawn sigh, and look of anguish that foreboded evil, followed her husband into the carriage. It drove off, attended only by the old and faithful Gabriel, who had for many years acted in the double capacity of butler and steward.
The young people gazed after it, till the closing of the great gates at the end of the avenue excluded it from their view. They returned into the hall, preserving for some time a mournful silence, when Adrian, who thought tears would be disgraceful to his manhood, rushed into an adjoining apartment, and resting his folded arms upon a table, hid his face in them. Amaranthe began to sob audibly, while tears flowed plentifully down the cheeks of the gentle Claribel.
Though that sweet familiar, yet judicious intercourse, which so happily unites affection with respect, had but little subsisted between these young people and their parents, (for in that light Claribel always considered her uncle and aunt) they both loved and revered them. Never had they experienced severity from them, and but seldom received even a reprimand. When the reserve of their father, and languor of their mother, occasionally gave way to the natural bias of tenderness, and they would testify pleasure and gratification in the society of the young people, the latter felt such occasions to be those of their highest enjoyments. They had sense to discern the difference of the conversation they were then entertained with from that of Ursula, old Gabriel, or other domestics, whom they were too much in the habit of a.s.sociating with. Sure of meeting only with indulgence and kindness, they eagerly sought every opportunity of admission to the authors of their being, and protectors of their infancy.
Sadly pa.s.sed the hours that succeeded their departure, and few were the occupations that could beguile the tediousness of time. Adrian had outgrown his boyish amus.e.m.e.nts, and found himself very scantily provided with subst.i.tutes for them. He had naturally some taste for literature, but though, as has before been said, it was sometimes a.s.sisted by his father, it had never been properly cultivated or usefully directed. He would frequently have recourse to books for employment, but from want of habitual application soon grew weary even of those that most engaged his attention.
Amaranthe and Claribel had long satisfied all the pride of Ursula’s heart, by the perfection they had attained in the important branches of embroidery that she had taken such pains to instruct them in, but to themselves they failed to afford any source of enjoyment. They felt that they had nothing to work for, and could take little pride in performances which they had n.o.body to commend. The poor governess had exhausted all her store of histories, as well as all her stock of knowledge, upon her pupils, and they could no longer be entertained with narratives which they could now relate in better words themselves.
The party were generally employed in sauntering about the grounds together, wishing for their parents’ return, and forming different conjectures concerning the stranger, and the important intelligence that he was the bearer of.
A fortnight elapsed, and no tidings of the travellers arrived. Another week pa.s.sed over, and nothing was heard of them; and the inhabitants of the castle began to grow uneasy, and feel some alarm for their safety.
It was so unusual a circ.u.mstance for letters to be brought thither, that it occurred to Ursula that some might be lying at the post-office neglected to be forwarded. A messenger was therefore despatched to the post town to inquire for such, but none were there.
Six dreary weeks were gone, and governess, pupils, and the remaining domestics, were obliged to endure all the misery of suspense and apprehension, without any means of obtaining relief of their anxiety.
At the end of that time, as Adrian, his sister, and cousin, were one day standing at a window with their eyes fixed on the avenue, they perceived the gates at the end open, and the carriage that had conveyed their parents from them entering into it. Transported with joy they flew to communicate the glad news through the castle, and then hastened to plant themselves at the great hall door to be in readiness to receive the welcome wanderers.
Slowly drove the vehicle up the avenue, but so eagerly did they watch its approach, that they remarked not at the time that Gabriel was not attending it. At length it stopped; but what was their surprise and dismay, when, instead of springing into the arms of their parents, as they were preparing to do, they saw only Gabriel, looking more dead than alive, and clad in deep mourning, alight from it!
Gazing on him in speechless terror, they mechanically followed his footsteps into the hall, without one of them having the power to inquire the cause of his extraordinary and alarming appearance.
The poor old man dropped into the first seat that offered itself, overcome by his emotions. There he was instantly surrounded by Ursula, and the rest of the household, who, at the same time, and in loud voices, beset him with a mult.i.tude of questions. It was some time before he could recover himself sufficiently to answer them, or look up; at last after wiping his swollen eyes, and heaving a deep sigh, he began his narrative.
“Dreadful, my beloved children, is the tale I have to relate! I attended my ever-honoured master and mistress, as you know, on their journey. Tedious and wearisome it proved, for the roads were bad, the weather unfavourable, and horses sometimes not to be had, so that it was two days later than the time we had calculated upon when we reached the fatal sea-port. Would to heaven we had never entered its gates! The place and the few inhabitants we saw looked gloomy, as we did so; and on arriving at the inn, from whence my master’s friend had dated his letter, we were informed, with little ceremony or preparation, that he expired the day but one after he had despatched the messenger to the castle. Too soon we learned the direful cause, a malignant epidemic disorder was raging in the place, and daily sweeping off scores of its inhabitants. The poor gentleman, they told us, when he found himself dying, sent for a priest to pray by him, to whose care he consigned a parcel, with a charge to deliver it in safety to the friends who would come to inquire for him. I was sent in search of this priest, as soon as we could procure his direction. Alas! the poor man had himself soon after fallen a victim to the distemper, and none of his household knew any thing of a parcel, or had ever heard of the gentleman. The people of the inn were honest; they had taken good care of what effects he had with him, and delivered them to my master. The magistrates having issued strict orders, that all bodies should without loss of time be interred in an adjacent ground allotted for the purpose, to prevent, as much as possible, the infection spreading.
“Your dear father appeared overwhelmed with this unexpected calamity; and my excellent lady declared herself so fatigued in body, and hara.s.sed in mind, that it was absolutely necessary she should have some days of rest, before she undertook travelling again. In vain did I urge them to quit instantly a place, the remaining in which might be attended with so much danger. My master busied himself in inspecting all the property that had belonged to the deceased. He found clothes, money, and many letters, but none that gave him any insight into what so nearly concerned himself. On the second evening he felt ill, and retired early to his bed, from whence he never again arose. An hour or two served to convince us, that he was seized with the fatal disorder; and so rapid was its progress, that a few more decided that no hopes of recovery could be entertained. My poor dear distracted mistress quitted not his bedside night or day, though I plainly perceived by her looks on the third morning, that she had taken the infection. I too was growing very ill, but of myself I could take no thought. On the fourth day, my ever-honoured and lamented master breathed his last. Well do I remember the look of silent agony with which your blessed mother contemplated his remains! I remember too her being conveyed into another apartment, and a physician administering a medicine to her. After that, all is a blank in my mind. I knew nothing that pa.s.sed, and the first consciousness of existence I experienced, was awaking, as it appeared, from a stupor, and finding myself in bed, with an old woman, who looked like a nurse, sitting at some distance from it. On hearing me move she came to me, gave me something to moisten my mouth, and going out of the room, returned with the physician I had seen before, who feeling my pulse, told the woman the crisis was over, and taking a favourable turn; but that I must be kept quite quiet. Some days pa.s.sed before I had strength to rise, or to hear the particulars the people had to relate. Too soon, however, was I made acquainted with the awful facts. My mistress survived her loved lord but three days, and both had long been consigned to the earth. The physician, who was remarkably humane, had himself attended to the care of their effects, and visited me constantly during my delirium.
“To what misery did I recover! and what torture to me was the sight of every object in this scene of disease and desolation! As soon as my debilitated frame would permit me, I set out on my dreary journey, to be the bearer of these dismal tidings.”
Gabriel had proceeded thus far in his melancholy detail uninterrupted by a word, or even a voice, so deeply was the attention of his audience rivetted upon him; but now sobs and groans resounded on every side.
Adrian held his hands to his head, which seemed bursting with the violence of his feelings. The castle rang with the screams of Amaranthe, and Claribel fell senseless into the arms of a maid servant who stood near her.
Miserable, indeed, was the situation of these unfortunate orphans. Left without fortune, without protection, in this joyless abode, life presented a gloomy prospect before them; yet, how were they to enter a world in which they would feel themselves total strangers, and of the ways of which they were wholly ignorant? Adrian had gathered just knowledge enough from the discontented murmurings of his father, to believe that riches would secure the best reception in it; and his thoughts were continually turned towards the attainment of them; but, uninstructed in all the employments of life, what method could he take in the pursuit? Many vague and romantic schemes presented themselves to his mind, with which he would entertain his sister and cousin, and to which they listened with interest, but without the power of a.s.sisting or advising him.
One afternoon, as the mournful trio were sitting together in a saloon, that opened with gla.s.s doors upon the lawn, bewailing the loss of their parents, and their own helpless state, there suddenly appeared before them a lady, whose countenance was fair and captivating; her figure graceful, and her dress light and flowing. They involuntarily rose at her entrance, though astonishment kept them silent. She approached them with a gracious smile, holding in her hand a basket, which appeared to be filled with a profusion of beautiful flowers. “My children,” said she, “I am of a race of beings of whom I know you have heard, though probably never expected to be acquainted with. I am the Fairy Felicia; I would have been the friend of your father, but his own conduct prevented it. My elder sister, Benigna, who is more powerful than I am, had long been the friend and protector of your mother: she is all excellence, but more strict, and imposes greater restraint upon those she takes under her care than I do. She disapproved the marriage with your father, which offended him so highly, that he forbade his lady ever holding farther intercourse with her; and Benigna, in return, forbade me ever attempting to serve or befriend him, which I was well disposed to do. The errors of the father, however, are not to be visited upon the children. Moved with compa.s.sion for your hapless situation, I am come to take you under my future patronage, if you choose to accept of it.”
Adrian and his sister, bounding with joy, threw themselves at the fairy’s feet, while the former exclaimed, “O, Madam, how can we sufficiently thank you for thus taking pity on our forlorn state. We are, indeed, miserable orphans, without a friend in the world; and how rejoiced must we be to place ourselves under so powerful a protector!”
Claribel too, though not given to raptures, endeavoured to express her satisfaction, but in a voice so low that it was scarcely audible by the side of her vociferous cousins.
“Observe then,” said the fairy, “that you secure my good offices only by deserving them. If you prove unworthy of my kindness, I shall feel it proper to forsake you; and you will be left in a more deplorable state than this from which I am now desirous to relieve you.” The brother and sister protested again and again, that they should never forgive themselves if they could be guilty of any thing that would incur the displeasure of so good and generous a friend.
“I shall judge of your wisdom,” answered Felicia, with a smile, “by your choice.” She then displayed her basket, and they discovered that though they thought it had contained a variety of flowers, there were but three sorts. These consisted of the finest damask roses, in full blow; beautiful hyacinths of the brightest azure blue; and simple lilies of the valley, but whose fragrance was delicious to the senses.
“This,” said the fairy, holding up one of the first, “will bestow immense, but not inexhaustible riches on its possessor. As long as they make a right use of their wealth, they will find no end to it; but if spent in licentious profusion, that gratifies only luxury and pride, or churlishly grasped solely for their own advantage, without a wish to relieve the necessitous, or benefit their fellow creatures by it, then will the rose begin to wither, and the riches, and its bloom disappear at the same time.
“This,” said she, producing a hyacinth, “has the power to endow the person of its possessor with the brightest and most captivating beauty.
Admiration will follow their footsteps, and the homage of crowds be paid to their charms. But even you, my children, uninformed as you are, must know that beauty at best is but a fading flower, and the adoration it excites equally transitory. If in those who derive it from this gift, it be accompanied with modesty and humility, it will insure to them all the happiness and gratification that a consciousness of the power to please must naturally confer. But if, on the contrary, it renders them vain, haughty, and unfeeling, demanding universal admiration, and jealous of all who have any claim to share it with them; regardless of the pain they inflict on those whose affections they have seduced, or glorying in the victims of their coquetry, they will find this coveted beauty the source of shame and mortification. Then will the bright tint of this admired flower turn to a sickly and disgusting hue, and the late beauteous person share its fate.
“But here,” continued the fairy, taking up one of the lilies, “is my best and most valuable gift. This modest flower will neither change its hue or lose its fragrance. The person who wisely chuses this, will enjoy the inestimable blessing of content in whatever situation they are placed. No envy will torment their heart at the prosperity of others; no repining at their own less exalted lot; their wishes will be bounded by the sphere in which they move, and care or disappointment be a stranger to their breast.
“And now,” she added, “it remains for you all to make your election; remember my words, and prove by your prudence what influence they have had upon you.” “Ah,” cried Adrian, “how can I hesitate? poor and dest.i.tute as we are left, it is fortune I know that is wanting to re-instate us in ease and independence, and to secure us the respect of the world. But, gracious fairy, do not, I beseech you, think me capable of making an ill use of the wealth you will bestow upon me. Believe me, the greatest pleasure I feel in the thoughts of possessing it, is the power it will give me of a.s.sisting others, and making all around me happy.” “Rash boy,” answered Felicia, “how can you pretend to judge of what your feelings and conduct will be in a situation so wholly new to you? The obscurity in which you have lived, has ill fitted you to encounter the snares and temptations of an interested world. You will be the prey of designers, and repent when too late of the inconsiderate choice you have made. But now, Amaranthe, for your decision.” Amaranthe felt a little awkward in declaring her choice, after what the fairy had said; but at length, in some confusion, replied, “I have always longed to be handsome. My governess has told me such pretty stories of beautiful ladies, and of their being so followed and admired, and every body being desirous to serve and please them, that I am sure they must be the happiest of all creatures.” “Your governess was very foolish,”
said the fairy; “she had better have told you of the heart-aches and discontent that generally fall to the lot of beauties.” “How can that be?” inquired the astonished girl, “surely being courted and caressed by others, must make one anxious to please and oblige in return. I should be too happy to be proud and ill-natured.” Poor Amaranthe spoke the truth at the time. Her innocent mind was unacquainted with the failings, that the fairy had stated as being usually attendant on beauty. Having never met with compet.i.tors, she had not experienced the grievances of rivalship or jealousy; and vanity and coquetry were hardly known to her by name.
“I perceive,” said the offended fairy, “you are as opinionated as your brother. I fear the time may come when you will both repent not having paid more regard to my admonitions. And which of these, my gentle Claribel, (turning to her,) shall I present to you?” Claribel timidly answered, “I am not ambitious of riches, they would but embarra.s.s me; neither do I covet beauty–to be an object of general notice, would to me be only distressing. A contented mind must surely be the greatest of all blessings: at least, I can neither imagine or desire a greater. I shall therefore gratefully accept one of your favourite flowers,”
looking at the lilies.
“Amiable girl,” exclaimed the fairy, “there is no fear of your ever repenting of your choice. How may your cousins wish they had partaken of your prudence; but it is not yet too late to repair their error. I give you,” addressing Adrian and Amaranthe, “the remainder of the evening to consider of what I have said. Before you retire to rest, your choice must be finally fixed, for to-morrow it will be irrevocable.” With these words, she and the flower-basket disappeared in a moment from their sight.