Read Chapter V of The Very Small Person , free online book, by Annie Hamilton Donnell, on

The Little Girl Who Should Have Been a Boy

There was so much time for the Little Girl who should have been a Boy to ponder over it. She was only seven, but she grew quite skilful in pondering. After lessons and lessons were over at eleven there was the whole of the rest of the day to wander, in her little, desolate way, in the gardens. She liked the fruit-garden best, and the Golden Pippin tree was her choicest pondering-place. There was never any one there with her. The Little Girl who should have been a Boy was always alone.

“You see how it is. I’ve told you times enough,” she communed with herself, in her quaint, unchildish fashion. “You are a mistake. You went and was born a Girl, when they wanted a Boy oh, my, how they wanted a Boy! But the moment they saw you they knew it was all up with them. You wasn’t wicked, really, I guess it wasn’t wicked; sometimes I can’t be certain, but you did go and make such a silly mistake! Look at me, why didn’t you know how much they wanted a Boy and didn’t want you? Why didn’t you be brave and go up to the Head Angel, and say, ’Send me to another place; for pity sake don’t send me there. They want a Little Boy.’ Why didn’t you oh, why didn’t you? It would have saved such a lot of trouble!”

The Little Girl who should have been a Boy always sighed at that point. The sigh made a period to the sad little speech, for after that she always sat in the long grass under the Golden Pippin tree and rocked herself back and forth silently. There was no use in saying anything more after that. It had all been said.

It was a great, beautiful estate, to east and west and north and south of her, and the Boy the Head Angel should have sent instead of the sad Little Girl was to have inherited it all. And there was a splendid title that went with the estate. In the sharp mind of the Little Girl nothing was hidden or undiscovered.

“It seems a pity to have it wasted,” she mused, wistfully, with her grave wide eyes on the beautiful green expanses all about her, “just for a mistake like that, I mean like me too. You’d think the Head Angel would be ashamed of himself, wouldn’t you? He prob’ly is.”

The Shining Mother it was thus the Little Girl who should have been a Boy had named her, on account of her sparkling eyes and wonderful sparkling gowns; everything about the Shining Mother sparkled the Shining Mother was almost always away. So was the Ogre. Somewhere outside clear outside of the green expanses there was a gay, frivolous world where almost always they two stayed.

The Little Girl called her father the Ogre for want of a better name. She was never quite satisfied with the name, but it had to answer till she found another. Prob’ly ogres didn’t wear an eye-glass in one of their eyes, or flip off the sweet little daisy heads with cruel canes, but they were oldish and scare-ish, and of course they wouldn’t have noticed you any, even if you were their Little Girl. Ogres would have prob’ly wanted a Boy too, and that’s the way they’d have let you see your mistake. So, till she found a better name, the Little Girl who had made the mistake called her father the Ogre. She was very proud and fond of the Shining Mother, but she was a little afraid of the Ogre. After all, one feeling mattered about as much as the other.

“It doesn’t hurt you any to be afraid, when you do it all alone by yourself,” she reasoned, “and it doesn’t do you any good to be fond. It only amuses you,” she added, with sad wisdom. As I said, she was only seven, but she was very old indeed.

So the time went along until the weeks piled up into months. The summer she was eight, the Little Girl could not stand it any longer. She decided that something must be done. The Shining Mother and the Ogre were coming back to the green expanses. She had found that out at lessons.

“And then they will have it all to go over again all the miser’bleness of my not being a Boy,” the Little Girl thought, sadly. “And I don’t know whether they can stand it or not, but I can’t.”

A wave of infinite longing had swept over the shy, sensitive soul of the Little Girl who should have been a Boy. One of two things must happen she must be loved, or die. So, being desperate, she resolved to chance everything. It was under the Golden Pippin tree, rocking herself back and forth in the long grass, that she made her plans. Straight on the heels of them she went to the gardener’s little boy.

“Lend me no, I mean give me your best clothes,” she said, with gentle imperiousness. It was not a time to waste words. At best, the time that was left to practise in was limited enough.

“Your best clothes,” she had said, realizing distinctly that fustian and corduroy would not do. She was even a little doubtful of the best clothes. The gardener’s little boy, once his mouth had shut and his legs come back to their locomotion, brought them at once. If there was a suspicion of alacrity in his obedience towards the last, it escaped the thoughtful eyes of the Little Girl. Having always been a mistake, nothing more, how could she know that a boy’s best clothes are not always his dearest possession? Now if it had been the threadbare, roomy, easy little fustians, with their precious pocket-loads, that she had demanded!

There were six days left to practise in only six. How the Little Girl practised! It was always quite alone by herself. She did it in a sensible, orderly way, the leaps and strides first, whoops next, whistle last. The gardener’s little boy’s best clothes she kept hidden in the long grass, under the Golden Pippin tree, and on the fourth day she put them on. Oh, the agony of the fourth day! She came out of that practice period a wan, white, worn little thing that should never have been a Boy.

For it was heart-breaking work. Every instinct of the Little Girl’s rebelled against it. It was terrible to leap and whoop and whistle; her very soul revolted. But it was life or death to her, and always she persevered.

In those days lessons scarcely paid. They were only a pitiful makeshift. The Little Girl lived only in her terrible practice hours. She could not eat or sleep. She grew thin and weak.

“I don’t look like me at all,” she told herself, on a chair before her mirror. “But that isn’t the worst of it. I don’t look like the Boy, either. Ugh! how I look! I wonder if the Angel would know me? It would be kind of dreadful not to have anybody know you. Well, you won’t be you when you’re the Boy, so prob’ly it won’t matter.”

On the sixth day the last thing she cut her hair off. She did it with her eyes shut to give herself courage, but the snips of the shears broke her heart. The Little Girl had always loved her soft, shining hair. It had been like a beautiful thing apart from her, that she could caress and pet. She had made an idol of it, having nothing else to love.

When it was all shorn off she crept out of the room without opening her eyes. After that the gardener’s little boy’s best clothes came easier to her, she found. And she could whoop and leap and whistle a little better. It was almost as if she had really made herself the Boy she should have been.

Then the Shining Mother came, and the Ogre. The Little Girl I mean the Boy was waiting for them, swinging her his feet from a high branch of the Golden Pippin tree. He was whistling.

“But I think I am going to die,” he thought, behind the whistle. “I’m certain I am. I feel it coming on.”

Of course, after a little, there was a hunt everywhere for the Little Girl. Even little girls cannot slip out of existence like that, undiscovered. The beautiful green expanses were hunted over and over, but only a gardener’s little boy in his best clothes, whistling faintly, was found. He fell out of the Golden Pippin tree as the field-servants went by, and they stopped to carry his limp little figure to the gardener’s lodge. Then the hunt went forward again. The Shining Mother grew faint and sick with fear, and the Ogre strode about like one demented. It was hardly what was to be expected of the Shining Mother and the Ogre.

Towards night the mystery was partly solved. It was the Shining Mother who found the connecting threads. She found the little, jagged locks of soft, sweet hair. The Ogre came upon her sitting on the floor among them, and the whiteness of her face terrified him.

“I know you need not tell me what has happened!” she said, scarcely above a whisper, as if in the presence of the dead. “A door in me has opened, and I see it all all, I tell you! We have never had her, and now, dear God in heaven, we have lost her!”

It was very nearly so. They could hardly know then how near it came to being true. Link by link they came upon the little chain of pitiful proofs. They found all the little, sweet, white girl-clothes folded neatly by themselves and laid in a pile together, as if on an altar for sacrifice. If the Little Girl had written “Good-bye” in her childish scrawl upon them, the Shining Mother would not have better understood. So many things she was seeing beyond that open door.

They found the Little Girl’s dolls laid out like little, white-draped corpses in one of her bureau-drawers. The row of stolid little faces gazed up at them with the mystery of the Sphinx in all their glittering eyes. It was the Shining Mother who shut the drawer, but first she kissed the faces.

After all, the Ogre discovered the last little link of the chain. He brought it home in his arms from the gardener’s lodge, and laid it on the Little Girl’s white bed. It was very still and pitiful and small. The took the gardener’s little boy’s best clothes off from it and put on the soft white night-gown of the Little Girl. Then, one on one side and one on the other, they kept their long hard vigil.

It was night when the Little Girl opened her eyes, and the first thing they saw was the chairful of little girl-clothes the Shining Mother had set beside the bed. Then they saw the Shining Mother. Things came back to the Little Girl by slow degrees. But the look in the Shining Mother’s face that did not come back. That had never been there before. The Little Girl, in her wise, old way, understood that look, and gasped weakly with the joy and wonder of it. Oh, the joy! Oh, the wonder!

“But I tried to be one,” she whispered after a while, a little bewildered still. “I should have done it, if I hadn’t died. I couldn’t help that; I felt it coming on. Prob’ly, though, I shouldn’t have made a very good one.”

The Shining Mother bent over and took the Little Girl in her arms.

“Dear,” she whispered, “it was the Boy that died. I am glad he died.”

So, though the Ogre and the Shining Mother had not found their Boy, the Little Girl had found a father and mother.