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   Chapter 5 A MORNING AT SCHOOL

A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 25751

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Our ancestors for some occult reason held early rising in high esteem. Why burning fire and candle light in the morning, when everything was cold and dreary, should look so much more virtuous and heroic than sitting up awhile at night when the house was warm and everything pleasant, is one of the mysteries to be solved only by the firm belief that the easy, comfortable moments were the seasons especially susceptible to temptation, and that sacrifice and austerity were the guide-posts on the narrow way to right living.

Mr. and Mrs. Leverett had been reared in that manner. They had softened in many ways, and Betty was often told, "I had no such indulgences when I was a girl." But, mother-like, Mrs. Leverett "eased up" many things for Betty. Electa King half envied them, and yet she confessed in her secret heart that she had enjoyed her girlhood and her lover very much. She and Matthias King had been neighbors and played as children, went to church and to singing school together, and on visitors' night at the debating society she was sure to be the visitor. Girls did not have just that kind of boy friends now, she thought.

The softening of religious prejudices was softening character as well. Yet the intensity of Puritanism had kindled a force of living that had done a needed work. People really discussed religious problems nowadays, while even twenty years before it was simply belief or disbelief, and the latter "was not to be suffered among you."

Mrs. Leverett kept to her habit of early rising. True, dark and stormy mornings Mr. Leverett allowed himself a little latitude, for very few people came to buy his wares early in the morning. But breakfast was a little after six, except on Sunday morning, when it dropped down to seven.

And Mrs. Webb's school began at eight from the first day of February to the first day of November. The intervening three months it was half-past eight and continued to half-past twelve.

Doris came home quite sober. "Well," began Uncle Leverett, "how did school go?"

"I didn't like it very much," she answered slowly.

"What did you do?"

"I read first. Four little girls and two boys read. We all stood in a row."

"What then?"

"We spelled. But I did not know where the lesson was, and I think Mrs. Webb gave me easy words."

"And you did not enjoy that?" Uncle Leverett gave a short laugh.

"I was glad not to miss," she replied gravely.

"Mrs. Webb uses Dilworth's speller," said Mrs. Leverett, "and so I gave her Betty's. But she has a different reader. She thought Doris read uncommon well."

"And what came next?"

"They said tables all together. Why do they call them tables?"

"Because a system of calculation would be too long a name," he answered dryly.

Doris looked perplexed. "Then there was geography. What a large place America is!" and she sighed.

"Yes, the world is a good-sized planet, when you come to consider. And America is only one side of it."

"I don't see how it keeps going round."

"That must be viewed with the eye of faith," commented Betty.

"All that does very well. I am sorry you did not like it."

"I did like all that," returned Doris slowly. "But the sums troubled me."

"She's very backward in figures," said Mrs. Leverett. "Betty, you must take her in hand."

"I must study all the afternoon," said Doris.

"Oh, you'll soon get into the traces," said Uncle Leverett consolingly.

It was Monday and wash-day in every well-ordered family. Mrs. Leverett and Betty had the washing out early, but it was not a brisk drying day, so no ironing could be done in the afternoon. Betty changed her gown and brought out her sewing, and Doris studied her lessons with great earnestness.

"I wish I was sure I knew the spelling," she said wistfully.

"Well, let me hear you." Betty laid the book on the wide window sill and gave out the words between the stitches, and Doris spelled every one rightly but "perceive."

"Those i's and e's used to bother me," said Betty. "I made a list of them once and used to go over them until I could spell them in the dark."

"Is it harder to spell in the dark?"

"Oh, you innocent!" laughed Betty. "That means you could spell them anywhere."

Spelling had been rather a mysterious art, but Mr. Dilworth, and now Mr. Noah Webster, had been regulating it according to a system.

"Now you might go over some tables. You can add and multiply so much faster when you know them. Suppose we try them together."

That was very entertaining and, Doris began to think, not as difficult as she had imagined in the morning.

"Betty," said her mother, when there was a little lull, "what do you suppose has become of Aunt Priscilla? I do hope she did not come over the day we were at Cousin Winthrop's. But she never was here once last week."

"There were two rainy days."

"And she may be ill. I think you had better go down and see."

"Yes. Don't you want to go, Doris? The walk will be quite fun."

Doris could not resist the coaxing eyes, though she felt she ought to stay and study. But Betty promised to go over lessons with her when they came back. So in a few moments they were ready for the change. Mrs. Leverett sent a piece of cake and some fresh eggs, quite a rarity now.

The houses and shops seemed so close together, Doris thought. And they met so many people. Doris had not lived directly in Old Boston town, but quite in the outskirts. And King Street was getting to be quite full of business.

Black Polly came to the door. "Yes, missus was in but she had an awful cold, and been all stopped up so that she could hardly get the breath of life."

Aunt Priscilla had a strip of red flannel pinned around her forehead, holding in place a piece of brown paper, moistened with vinegar, her unfailing remedy for headache. Another band was around her throat, and she had a well-worn old shawl about her shoulders, while her feet rested on a box on which was placed a warm brick.

"Is it possible you have come? Why, one might be dead and buried and no one the wiser. I crawled out to church on Sunday, and took more cold, though I have heard people say you wouldn't catch cold going to church. Religion ought to keep one warm, I s'pose."

"I'm sorry. Mother was afraid you were ill."

"And I have all the visiting to do. It does seem as if once in an age some of you might come over. You went to Cousin Winthrop's!" in an aggrieved tone.

"But mother had not been there since last summer, when 'Lecty was on making her visit. And we took all the family along, just as you can," in a merry tone. "But if you like to have mother come and spend the day, I'll keep house. You see, there's always meals to get for father and Warren."

"Yes, I kept house before you were born, Betty Leverett, and had a man who needed three stout meals a day. But he want a mite of trouble. I never see a man easier to suit than Hatfield Perkins. And I didn't neglect him because he could be put off and find no fault. There are men in the world that it would take the grace of a saint to cook for, only in heaven among the saints if there aint any marryin' you can quite make up your mind there isn't any cooking either. Well-can't you get a chair? There's that little low one for Dorothy."

"If you please," began Doris, with quiet dignity, "my name is not Dorothy."

"Well, you ought to hear yourself called by a Christian name once in a while."

"Still it isn't a Scriptural name," interposed Betty. "I looked over the list to see. And here are some nice fresh eggs. Mother has had several splendid layers this fall."

"I'm obliged, I'm sure. I do wish I could keep a few hens. But Jonas Field wants so much room, and there's my garden herbs. I've just been dosing on sage tea and honey, and it has about broke up my cough. I generally do take one cold in autumn, and then I go to March before I get another. Well, I s'pose Recompense Gardiner stays at your uncle's? There was some talk I heard about some old fellow hanging round. After I'd lived so long single, I'd stay as I was."

"I can't imagine Miss Recompense getting her wedding gown ready. What would it be, I wonder?"

Betty laughed heartily.

"She could buy the best in the market if she chose," said Aunt Priscilla sharply. "She must have a good bit of money laid by. Cousin Winthrop would be lost without her. Not but what there are as good housekeepers in the world as Recompense Gardiner."

Then Aunt Priscilla had to stop and cough. Polly came in with some posset.

"I'll have one of those eggs beaten up in some mulled cider, Polly," she said.

Doris glanced curiously at the old colored woman. She was tall and still very straight, and, though kept in strict subjection all her life, had an air and bearing of dignity, as if she might have come from some royal race. Her hair was snowy white, and the little braided tails hung below her turban, which was of gay Madras, and the small shoulder shawl she wore was of red and black.

"You're too old a woman to be fussed up in such gay things," Aunt Priscilla would exclaim severely every time she brought them home, for she purchased Polly's attire. "But you've always worn them, and I really don't know as you'd look natural in suitable colors."

"I like cheerful goin' things, that make you feel as if the Lord had just let out a summer day stead'er November. An', missus, you don't like a gray fire burned half to ashes, nuther."

Truth to tell, Aunt Priscilla did hanker after a bit of gayety, though she frowned on it to preserve a just balance with conscience. And no one knew the parcels done up in an old oaken chest in the storeroom, that had been indulged in at reprehensible moments.

Just then there was a curious diversion to Doris. A beautiful sleek tiger cat entered the room, and, walking up to the fire, turned and looked at the child, waving his long tail majestically back and forth. He came nearer with his sleepy, translucent eyes studying her.

"May I-touch him?" she asked hesitatingly.

"Land, yes! That's Polly's Solomon. She talks to him till she's made him most a witch, and she thinks he knows everything."

Solomon settled the question by putting two snowy white paws on Doris' knee, and stretching up indefinitely with a dainty sniffing movement of the whiskers, as if he wanted to understand whether advances would be favorably received.

There was a cat at the Leveretts', but it haunted the cellar, the shed, and the stable, and was hustled out of the kitchen with no ceremony. Aunt Elizabeth was not fond of cats, and cat hairs were her abomination. Doris had uttered an ejaculation of delight when she saw it one morning, a big black fellow with white feet and a white choker.

"Don't touch him-he'll scratch you like as not!" exclaimed Mrs. Leverett in a quick tone. "Get out, Tom! We don't allow him in the house. He's a good mouser, but it spoils cats to nurse them. And I never could abide a cat around under my feet."

Doris had made one other attempt to win Tom's favor as she was walking about the garden. But Tom eyed her askance and discreetly declined her overture. There had always been cats at Miss Arabella's, and two great dogs as well as her pony, and birds so tame they would fly down for crumbs.

"Oh, kitty!" She touched him with her dainty fingers. "Solomon. What a funny name! Oh, you beautiful great big cat!"

Solomon rubbed his head on her arm and began to purr. He was sure of a welcome.

"You can't get in her lap, for it isn't big enough," said Aunt Priscilla. "Polly's got him spoiled out of all reason, though I s'pose a cat's company when there's no one else."

"If you would let me-sit on the rug," ventured Doris timidly. She had been rather precise of late in her new home.

"Well, I declare! Sit on the floor if you want to. The floor was plenty good enough to sit on when I was a child. Me and my sisters had a corner of our own, and we'd sit there and sew."

Betty had been about to interpose, but at Aunt Priscilla's concession Doris had slidden down and taken Solomon in her arms, and rubbed her soft cheek against his head. Polly came in with the egg and cider.

"Why, little missy, you just done charm him! He's mighty afeared of the boys around, and there aint no little gals. Do just see him, Mis' Perkins. He acts as if he was rollin' in a bed of sweet catnip."

"One is about as wise as the other," declared Aunt Priscilla, nodding her head. She was rather glad there was something in her house to be a rival to Cousin Winthrop and the Leveretts, since Doris Adams was to be held up on a high plane and spoiled with indulgence. She had not yet made up her mind whether she would like the child or not.

"Yes, she had started at Mrs. Webb's school. Uncle Win was going to make some arrangement about her French and her writin

g when he came over. They'd had a letter from 'Lecty, and as the legislature was to meet in Hartford there would be quite gay times, and she did so hope she could go. Mary wasn't very well, and wanted mother to come on for a week or two presently," and Betty made big eyes at Aunt Priscilla, while that lady nodded as well as her bundled up head would admit, to signify that she understood.

"I'm sure you ought to know enough to keep house for your father and Warren," was the comment.

Then Betty said they must go, and Aunt Priscilla tartly rejoined that they might look in and see whether she was dead or alive.

"Can I come and see Solomon again?" asked Doris.

"Of course, since Solomon is head of the house."

"Thank you," returned Doris simply, not understanding the sarcasm.

"Wonderful how Solomon liked little missy," said Polly, straightening the chairs and restoring order.

"My head aches with all the talking," said Aunt Priscilla. "I want to be alone."

But she felt a little conscience-smitten as Polly stepped about in the kitchen getting supper and sang in a thick, soft, but rather quivering voice, her favorite hymn:

"'Hark, from the tombs a doleful sound,

Mine ears, attend the cry.'"

Yes, Polly was a faithful old creature, only she had grown forgetful, and she was losing her strength, and black people gave out suddenly. But there, what was the use of borrowing trouble, and the idea of having a child around to train and stew over, and no doubt she would be getting married just the time when she, Mrs. Perkins, would need her the most. The Lord hadn't seen fit to give her any children to comfort her old age; after all, would she want a delicate little thing like this child with a heathenish name!

It was quite chilly now, and Doris, holding Betty's hand tight, skipped along merrily, her heart strangely warm and gay.

"She's very queer, and her voice sounds as if she couldn't get the scold out of it, doesn't it? And I felt afraid of the black woman first. I never saw any until we were on the ship. But the beautiful cat!" with a lingering emphasis on the adjective.

"Well-cats are cats," replied Betty sagely. "I don't care much about them myself, though we should be overrun with rats and mice if it wasn't for them. I like a fine, big dog."

"Oh, Betty!" and a girl caught her by the shoulder, turning her round and laughing heartily at her surprise.

"Why, Jane! How you startled me."

"And is this your little foreign girl-French or something?"

"English, if you please, and her father was born here in Boston. And isn't it queer that she should have lived in another Boston? And her name is Doris Adams."

"I'm sure the Adams are sown thickly enough about, but Doris sounds like verses. And, oh, Betty, I've been crazy to see you for two days. I am to have a real party next week. I shall be seventeen, and there will be just that number invited. The girls are to come in the afternoon and bring their sewing. There will be nine. And eight young men," laughing-"boys that we know and have gone sledding with. They are to come to tea at seven sharp. Cousin Morris is to bring his black fiddler Joe, and we are going to dance, and play forfeits, and have just a grand time."

"But I don't know how to dance-much."

Betty's highest accomplishments were in the three R's. Her manuscript arithmetic was the pride of the family, but of grammar she candidly confessed she couldn't make beginning nor end.

"I'm going to coax hard to go to dancing school this winter. Sam is going, and he says all the girls are learning to dance. Mother's coming round to-morrow. We want to be sure about the nine girls. Good-by, it's getting late."

"Now, let's hurry home," exclaimed Betty.

The table was laid, and Mrs. Leverett said:

"Why didn't you stay all night?"

"Aunt Priscilla has her autumn cold. She was quite cross at first. She was sick last week, and went to church yesterday, and is worse to-day. But she was glad about the eggs."

"There comes your father. Be spry now."

After supper Warren went out to look after Jack. Mr. Leverett took his chair in the corner of the wide chimney and pushed out the stool for the little girl. She smiled as she sat down and laid her hands on his knee.

"So you didn't like the school," he began, after a long silence.

"Yes-I liked-most of it," rather reluctantly.

"What was it you didn't like-sitting still?"

"No-not that."

"The lessons? Were they too hard?"

"She said I needn't mind this morning."

"But the figuring bothered you."

"Of course I didn't know," she said candidly.

"You will get into it pretty soon. Betty'll train you. She's a master hand at figures, smarter than Warren."

Doris made no comment, but there was an unconfessed puzzle in her large eyes.

"Well, what is it?" The interest he took in her surprised himself.

"She whipped a boy on his hands with a ruler very hard because he couldn't remember his lesson."

"That's a good aid to memory. I've seen it tried when I was a boy."

"But if I had tried and tried and studied I should have thought it very cruel."

"I guess he didn't try or study. What did Miss Arabella do to you when you were careless and forgot things? Or were you never bad?"

Doris hung her head, while a faint color mounted to her brow.

"When I was naughty I couldn't go out on the pony nor take him a lump of sugar. And he loved sugar so. And sometimes I had to study a psalm."

"And weren't children ever whipped in your country?"

"The common people beat their children and their wives and their horses and dogs. But Miss Arabella was a lady. She couldn't have beaten a cat."

There was a switch on the top of the closet in the kitchen that beat Tom out of doors when he ventured in. Doris' tender heart rather resented this.

Foster Leverett smiled at this distinction.

"I do suppose people might get along, but boys are often very trying."

"Don't grown-up people ever do anything wrong? And when they scold dreadfully aren't they out of temper? Miss Arabella thought it very unladylike to get out of temper. And what is done to grown people?"

Uncle Leverett laughed and squeezed the soft little hands on his knee. Yes, men and women flew into a rage every day. Their strict training had not given them control of their tempers. It had not made them all honest and truthful. Yet it might have been the best training for the times, for the heroic duties laid upon them.

"She was very cross once, and her forehead all wrinkled up, and her eyes were so-so hard; and when she is pleasant she has beautiful brown eyes. I like beautiful people."

"We can't all be beautiful or good-tempered."

"But Miss Arabella said we could, and that beauty meant sweetness and grace and truth and kindliness, and that"-she lowered her voice mysteriously-"where one really tried to be good God gave them grace to help. I don't quite know about the grace, I'm so little. But I want to be good."

Was there a beautiful side to goodness? Foster Leverett had been for some time weakening in the old faith.

"Now I'm ready," exclaimed Betty briskly. "We can say tables without any book."

Uncle Leverett laughed and squeezed the soft little stranger at his hearth. But affection was not demonstrative in those days, and it looked rather weak in a man.

They had grand fun saying addition and multiplication tables. They went up to the fives, and Doris found that here was a wonderful bridge.

"You could add clear up to a hundred without any trouble," the child declared gleefully. "But you couldn't multiply."

"Why, yes," said Betty. "I had not exactly thought of it before. Five times thirteen would be sixty-five, and so on. Five times twenty would be a hundred. Why, we do it in a great many things, but I suppose they-whoever invented tables thought that was far enough to go."

"Who did invent them?"

"I really don't know. Doris, we will ask Uncle Win when he comes over. He knows about everything."

"It would take a great many years to learn everything," said the child with a sigh.

"But the knowledge goes round," said Betty with arch gayety. "One has a little and the other a little and they exchange, and then women don't have to know as much as men."

"I'd like to see the man that knew enough to keep house," declared Mrs. Leverett. "And didn't Mrs. Abigail Adams farm and bring up her children and pay off debts while her husband was at congress and war and abroad? It isn't so much book learning as good common sense. Just think what the old Revolutionary women did! And now it is high time Doris went to bed. Come, child, you're so sleepy in the morning."

Doris had her dress unbuttoned and untied her shoes to make sure there were no knots to pick out. Knots in shoe-strings were very perplexing at this period when no one had dreamed of button boots. I doubt, indeed, if anyone would have worn them. The shoes were made straight and changed every morning, so as to wear evenly and not get walked over at the side. And people had pretty feet then, with arched insteps, and walked with an air of dignity. Some of the gouty old men had to be measured for a tender place here or a protuberance there, or allowance made for bad corn.

Doris said good-night and went upstairs. Miss Arabella had always kissed her. Betty did sometimes, and said "What a sweet little thing you are!" or "What a queer little thing you are!" She said her prayers, hung her clothes over a chair, put her little shoes just right for morning, and stepping on the chair round vaulted over to her side of the bed.

What a long, long day it had been! The most beautiful thing in it was the big cat Solomon, and if she could nurse him she shouldn't be very much afraid of Aunt Priscilla. Oh, how soft his fur was, and how he purred, just as if he was glad she had come! Perhaps he sometimes tired of Aunt Priscilla and black Polly, and longed for a little girl who didn't mind sitting on the floor, and who knew how to play.

Then there was the spelling, and she tried to think over the hard words, and the tables, and her small brain kept up such a riot that she was not a bit sleepy.

Betty brought out her work after lighting another candle. Mr. Leverett sat and dozed and thought. When Warren had finished up the chores he went around to the other side of Betty's table, and was soon lost in a history of the French War. When the tall old clock struck nine it was time to prepare for bed.

Betty was putting up some wisps of hair in tea leads, when Doris sat up.

"Oh, you midget! Are you not asleep yet?" she exclaimed.

"No. I've been thinking of everything. And, Betty, can you go to the party? I went to the May party when I was home, but that was out of doors, and we danced round the May pole."

"The party--"

"Yes, did you ask Aunt Elizabeth?" eagerly.

"Oh, no. I wasn't going to be caught that way. She would have had time to think up ever so many excellent reasons why I shouldn't go. And now Mrs. Morse will take her by surprise, and she will not have any good excuse ready and so she will give in."

"But wouldn't she want you to go?" Doris was rather confused by the reasoning.

"I suppose she thinks I am young to begin with parties. But it isn't a regular grown-up affair. And I am just crazy to go. I'm so glad you did not blurt it out, Doris. I'll give you a dozen kisses for being so sensible. Now lie down and go to sleep this minute."

The child gave a soft little laugh, and a moment later Betty was "cuddling" her in her arms.

The result of Foster Leverett's cogitation over the fire led him to say the next morning to his son:

"Warren, you run on. I have a little errand to do."

He turned in another direction and went down two squares. There was Mrs. Webb sweeping off her front porch and plank path.

"Good-morning," stopping and leaning on her broom as he halted.

"I'm glad to see you, Mrs. Webb. I suppose the little girl wasn't much trouble yesterday. She's never been to school before."

"Trouble! Bless you, no. If they were all as good as that I should feel frightened, I really should, thinking they wouldn't live long. She's a bit timid--"

"She's backward in some things-figures, for instance. And a little strange, I suppose. So if you would be kind of easy-going with her until she gets settled to the work--"

"Oh, you needn't be a mite afraid, Mr. Leverett. She's smart in some things, but, you see, she's been run on different lines, and we'll get straight presently. She's a nice obedient little thing, and I do like to see children mind at the first bidding."

"Your school is so near we thought we would try it this winter. Yes, I think all will go right. Good-morning," and his heart lightened at the thought of smoothing the way for Doris.

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