Victorian Short Stories by Various


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Page 1

When I first occupied my room, about six years ago, my attention was
directed to the reflection of a little girl of thirteen or so (as nearly
as I could judge), who passed every day on a balcony just above the
upward range of my limited field of view. She had a glass of flowers and
a crucifix on a little table by her side; and as she sat there, in fine
weather, from early morning until dark, working assiduously all the
time, I concluded that she earned her living by needle-work. She was
certainly an industrious little girl, and, as far as I could judge by
her upside-down reflection, neat in her dress and pretty. She had an old
mother, an invalid, who, on warm days, would sit on the balcony with
her, and it interested me to see the little maid wrap the old lady in
shawls, and bring pillows for her chair, and a stool for her feet, and
every now and again lay down her work and kiss and fondle the old lady
for half a minute, and then take up her work again.

Time went by, and as the little maid grew up, her reflection grew down,
and at last she was quite a little woman of, I suppose, sixteen or
seventeen. I can only work for a couple of hours or so in the brightest
part of the day, so I had plenty of time on my hands in which to watch
her movements, and sufficient imagination to weave a little romance
about her, and to endow her with a beauty which, to a great extent, I
had to take for granted. I saw--or fancied that I could see--that she
began to take an interest in _my_ reflection (which, of course, she
could see as I could see hers); and one day, when it appeared to me that
she was looking right at it--that is to say when her reflection appeared
to be looking right at me--I tried the desperate experiment of nodding
to her, and to my intense delight her reflection nodded in reply. And so
our two reflections became known to one another.

It did not take me very long to fall in love with her, but a long time
passed before I could make up my mind to do more than nod to her every
morning, when the old woman moved me from my bed to the sofa at the
window, and again in the evening, when the little maid left the balcony
for that day. One day, however, when I saw her reflection looking at
mine, I nodded to her, and threw a flower into the canal. She nodded
several times in return, and I saw her direct her mother's attention to
the incident. Then every morning I threw a flower into the water for
'good morning', and another in the evening for 'goodnight', and I soon
discovered that I had not altogether thrown them in vain, for one day
she threw a flower to join mine, and she laughed and clapped her hands
when she saw the two flowers join forces and float away together. And
then every morning and every evening she threw her flower when I threw
mine, and when the two flowers met she clapped her hands, and so did I;
but when they were separated, as they sometimes were, owing to one of
them having met an obstruction which did not catch the other, she threw
up her hands in a pretty affectation of despair, which I tried to
imitate but in an English and unsuccessful fashion. And when they were
rudely run down by a passing gondola (which happened not unfrequently)
she pretended to cry, and I did the same. Then, in pretty pantomime, she
would point downwards to the sky to tell me that it was Destiny that had
caused the shipwreck of our flowers, and I, in pantomime, not nearly so
pretty, would try to convey to her that Destiny would be kinder next
time, and that perhaps tomorrow our flowers would be more fortunate--and
so the innocent courtship went on. One day she showed me her crucifix
and kissed it, and thereupon I took a little silver crucifix that always
stood by me, and kissed that, and so she knew that we were one in
religion.

One day the little maid did not appear on her balcony, and for several
days I saw nothing of her; and although I threw my flowers as usual, no
flower came to keep it company. However, after a time, she reappeared,
dressed in black, and crying often, and then I knew that the poor
child's mother was dead, and, as far as I knew, she was alone in the
world. The flowers came no more for many days, nor did she show any sign
of recognition, but kept her eyes on her work, except when she placed
her handkerchief to them. And opposite to her was the old lady's chair,
and I could see that, from time to time, she would lay down her work and
gaze at it, and then a flood of tears would come to her relief. But at
last one day she roused herself to nod to me, and then her flower came,
day by day, and my flower went forth to join it, and with varying
fortunes the two flowers sailed away as of yore.

But the darkest day of all to me was when a good-looking young
gondolier, standing right end uppermost in his gondola (for I could see
_him_ in the flesh), worked his craft alongside the house, and stood
talking to her as she sat on the balcony. They seemed to speak as old
friends--indeed, as well as I could make out, he held her by the hand
during the whole of their interview which lasted quite half an hour.
Eventually he pushed off, and left my heart heavy within me. But I soon
took heart of grace, for as soon as he was out of sight, the little maid
threw two flowers growing on the same stem--an allegory of which I could
make nothing, until it broke upon me that she meant to convey to me
that he and she were brother and sister, and that I had no cause to be
sad. And thereupon I nodded to her cheerily, and she nodded to me, and
laughed aloud, and I laughed in return, and all went on again as before.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sat 20th Oct 2018, 8:50