April 20, 2005: Now Showing: Ether without Eliot
from Half a Dozen Girls

The four girls, whom he found sitting in a row on the edge of the bed, were such good friends of him and of each other, that the five were commonly spoken of as "the V," or, sometimes, as "the quintette." Alan Hapgood, who was regarded as the point of the V, was a wide-awake, irrepressible youth of twelve, who had a large share in the doings of his older sister and her friends. They did their best to spoil him by their unlimited admiration; but, to be sure, the temptation to do so was a strong one, for Alan was a lovable fellow, always merry and good-natured, generous and accommodating to his friends, and quick to plan and execute the pranks which added the spice of mischief to the doings of the V. In person he was tall for his age, and slight, with thick, yellow hair, that lay in a smooth, soft line across his forehead, large gray eyes, and a generous mouth, full of strong, white teeth which were usually in sight, for Alan was nearly always laughing,--not a handsome boy, exactly, for his features were quite irregular, but a splendid one, whom one would instinctively select as a gentleman's son, and an intelligent, manly lad.

His sister Molly, two years older, was an attractive, bright girl, whose only beauty lay in her smooth, heavy braids of brown hair. She and Polly had been constant companions from their babyhood, had quarrelled and "made up," had quarrelled and made up again, three hundred and sixty-five days a year for the last thirteen years, and at the end of that time they were closer friends than ever. Two girls more unlike it would have been hard to find, for Molly was as quiet and deliberate as Polly was impetuous; but nevertheless, in spite of their continual disagreements, they were inseparable. They were in the same class in school and in Sunday- school, they had the same friends, and read the same books, and had a share in the same mischief. They even carried this trait so far as to both come down with mumps on the same day, when their unwonted absence from school was the source of much speculation among their friends, who fondly pictured them as indulging in some frolic, until the melancholy truth was known.

Next to Alan, Jean Dwight was the boy of the V, a strong, hearty, happy young woman of fourteen, who succeeded in getting a great deal of enjoyment out of this humdrum, work-a-day world. Her rosy cheeks glowed and her brown eyes shone with health; for Jean was as full of life as a young colt, and vented her superfluous energy in climbing trees, walking fences, and running races, until Aunt Jane and her followers raised their hands and eyes in well-bred horror. But Jean's unselfish devotion to her mother, her real refinement, her quick understanding, and her sound common sense did much to atone for her hoydenish ways, and gave promise of the fine womanhood which lay before her. At first it had been a matter of some surprise, in the aristocratic old town, that Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Hapgood, representatives of "our first families," as they were universally acknowledged to be, could allow their children to be so intimate with Jean Dwight, whose father was only a carpenter, and whose mother took in sewing. However, any comments were promptly silenced when Mrs. Adams had been heard to say, one day, that she was always glad to have Polly with such a womanly girl as Jean Dwight, so free from any nonsensical, grown-up airs. From that time onward Jean's position was an established fact.

Florence Lang was the acknowledged beauty of the V, a dainty maiden of thirteen, with fluffy, yellow hair, great blue eyes, and a pink and white skin which might have made a French doll sigh with envy. The only daughter of a luxurious home, she was always beautifully dressed, always quiet in her manners. No matter how excited and demoralized the rest of the V might become, Florence never failed to come out of the frolic as gentle and unspotted as she went in, greatly to the disgust and envy of Polly, whose clothes had a tendency to get mysteriously torn, whose shoes appeared to go in search of dust, and whose short, curly hair had a perfect genius for getting into a state of wild disorder. It was not that Florence seemed to take any more care of herself than the others, but she was naturally one of those favored beings to whom no particle of dust could cling, who could use none but the choicest language. Such gentle children have admirers enough; it is the luckless, quick-tempered Pollies, the warm-hearted, harum- scarum Jeans, who need a champion.

If Molly and Polly had never disagreed, the quintette would have been only a trio; for, when they were at peace, they were all in all to each other. But in times of strife Molly was devoted to Florence Lang, while Polly took refuge with Jean Dwight. In this way the V was formed; and though the closest intimacy was between Molly and Polly, the four girls were firm friends, and there were few days when they were not to be found together, usually either at the Hapgood house, or at Polly's, where their visit was never quite satisfactory unless Mrs. Adams was in the midst of the group. Alan, too, was often with them, for a tendency to rheumatism, which occasionally developed into a severe attack of the disease, kept him in rather delicate health, and prevented his entering into the athletic sports which are the usual amusement for lads of his age. But though he was thus, of necessity, thrown much with his sister and her girl friends, Alan was far from belonging to that uninteresting species of humanity, the girl-boy; instead of that, he was a genuine, rollicking boy, with never a trace of the prig about him.

Anna Chapin Ray