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A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 27000

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Doris sat in the corner studying. Betty had gone over to Mme. Sheafe's to make sure she had her lace stitch just right. They had been ironing and baking all the morning, and now Mrs. Leverett had attacked her pile of shirts, when Mrs. Morse came in. She had her work as well. Everybody took work, for neighborly calls were an hour or two long.

Doris had been presented first, a kind of attention paid to her because she was from across the ocean. Everybody's health had been inquired about.

"I came over on a real errand," began Mrs. Morse presently. "And you mustn't make excuses. My Jane is going to have a little company week from Thursday night. She will be seventeen, and we are going to have seventeen young people. The girls will come in the afternoon, and the young men at seven to tea. Then they will have a little merrymaking. And we want Warren and Betty. We are going to ask those we want the most first, and if so happen anything serious stands in the way, we'll take the next row."

"You're very kind, I'm sure. Warren does go out among young people, but I don't know about Betty. She's so young."

"Well, she will have to start sometime. My mother was married at sixteen, but that is too young to begin life, though she never regretted it, and she had a baker's dozen of children."

"I'm not in any hurry about Betty. She is the last girl home. And the others were past nineteen when they were married."

"We feel there is no hurry about Jane. But I've had a happy life, and all six of us girls were married. Not an old maid among us."

"Old maids do come in handy oftentimes," subjoined Mrs. Leverett.

Yet in those days every mother secretly, often openly, counted on her girls being married. The single woman had no such meed of respect paid her as the "bachelor maids" of to-day. She often went out as housekeeper in a widower's family, and took him and his children for the sake of having a home of her own. Still, there were some fine unmarried women.

"Yes, they're handy in sickness and times when work presses, but they do get queer and opinionated from having their own way, I suppose."

Alas! what would the single woman, snubbed on every side, have said to that!

Then they branched into a chatty discussion about some neighbors, and as neither was an ill-natured woman, it was simply gossip and not scandal. Mrs. Morse had a new recipe for making soap that rendered it clearer and lighter than the old one and made better soap, she thought. And to-morrow she was going at her best candles, so as to be sure they would be hard and nice for the company.

"But you haven't said about Betty?"

"I'll have to think it over," was the rather cautious reply.

"Elizabeth Leverett! I feel real hurt that you should hesitate, when our children have grown up together!" exclaimed Mrs. Morse rather aggrieved.

"It's only about putting Betty forward so much. Why, you know I don't mind her running in and out. She's at your house twice as often as Jane is here. And when girls begin to go to parties there's no telling just where to draw the line. It's very good of you to ask her. Yes, I do suppose she ought to go. The girls have been such friends."

"Jane would feel dreadfully disappointed. She said: 'Now, mother, you run over to the Leveretts' first of all, because I want to be sure of Betty.'"

"Well-I'll have to say yes. Next Thursday. There's nothing to prevent that I know of. I suppose it isn't to be a grand dress affair, for I hadn't counted on making Betty any real party gown this winter? I don't believe she's done growing. Who else did you have in your mind, if it isn't a secret?"

"I'd trust it to you, anyhow. The two Stephens girls and Letty Rowe, Sally Prentiss and Agnes Green. That makes six, with Betty. We haven't quite decided on the others. I dare say some of the girls will be mad as hornets at being left out, but there can be only nine. Of course we do not count Jane."

These were all very nice girls of well-to-do families. Mrs. Leverett did feel a little proud that Betty should head the list.

"They are all to bring their sewing. I had half a mind to put on a quilt, but I knew there'd be a talk right away about Jane marrying, and she has no steady company. I tell her she can't have until she is eighteen."

"That's plenty young enough. I don't suppose there will be any dancing?"

"They've decided on proverbs and forfeits. Cousin Morris is coming round to help the boys plan it out. Are you real set against dancing, Elizabeth?"

"Well-I'm afraid we are going on rather fast, and will get to be too trifling. I can't seem to make up my mind just what is right. Foster thinks we have been too strait-laced."

"I danced when I was young, and I don't see as it hurt me any. And some of the best young people here-about are going to a dancing class this winter. Joseph has promised to join it, and his father said he was old enough to decide for himself."

Mrs. Morse had finished her sewing and folded it, quilting her needle back and forth, putting her thimble and spool of cotton inside and slipping it in her work bag. Then she rose and wrapped her shawl about her and tied on her hood.

"Then we may count on Warren and Betty? Give them my love and Jane's, and say we shall be happy to see them a week from Thursday, Betty at three and Warren at seven. Come over soon, do."

When she had closed the door on her friend Mrs. Leverett glanced over to the corner where Doris sat with her book. She had half a mind to ask her not to mention the call to Betty, then she shrank from anything so small.

Doris studied and she sewed. Then Betty came in flushed and pretty.

"I didn't have the stitch quite right," she said to her mother. "And I have been telling her about Doris. She wants me to bring her over some afternoon. She is a little curious to see what kind of lace Doris makes. She has a pillow-I should call it a cushion."

"Doris ought to learn plain sewing--"

"Poor little mite! How your cares will increase. Can I take her over to Mme. Sheafe's some day?"

"If there is ever any time," with a sigh.

"Do you know your spelling?" She flew over to Doris and asked a question with her eyes, and Doris answered in the same fashion, though she had a fancy that she ought not. Betty took her book and found that Doris knew all but two words.

"If I could only do sums as easily," she said, with a plaintive sound in her voice.

"Oh, you will learn. You can't do everything in a moment, or your education would soon be finished."

"What is Mme. Sheafe like?" she asked with some curiosity, thinking of Aunt Priscilla.

"She is a very splendid, tall old lady. She ought to be a queen. And she was quite rich at one time, but she isn't now, and she lives in a little one-story cottage that is just like-well, full of curious and costly things. And now she gives lessons in embroidery and lace work, and hemstitching and fine sewing, and she wears the most beautiful gowns and laces and rings."

"Your tongue runs like a mill race, Betty."

"I think everybody in Boston is tall," said Doris with quaint consideration that made both mother and daughter laugh.

"You see, there is plenty of room in the country to grow," explained Betty.

"Can I do some sums?"

"Oh, yes."

Plainly, figures were a delusion and a snare to little Doris Adams. They went astray so easily, they would not add up in the right amounts. Mrs. Webb did not like the children to count their fingers, though some of them were very expert about it. When the child got in among the sevens, eights, and nines she was wild with helplessness.

Supper time came. This was Warren's evening for the debating society, which even then was a great entertainment for the young men. There would be plenty of time to give them the invitation. Mrs. Leverett was sorry she had consented to Betty's going, but it would have made ill friends.

The next day Mrs. Hollis Leverett, the eldest son's wife, came up to spend the day, with her two younger children. Doris was not much used to babies, but she liked the little girl. The husband came up after supper and took them home in a carryall. Doris was tired and sleepy, and couldn't stop to do any sums.

Betty was folding up her work, and Warren yawning over his book, when Mrs. Leverett began in a rather jerky manner:

"Mrs. Morse was in and invited you both to Jane's birthday party next Thursday night."

"Yes, I saw Joe in the street to-day, and he told me," replied Warren.

"I said I'd see about you, Betty. You are quite too young to begin party-going."

"Why, I suppose it's just a girl's frolic," said her father, wincing suddenly. "They can't help having birthdays. Betty will be begging for a party next."

"She won't get it this year," subjoined her mother dryly. "And, by the looks of things, we have no money to throw away."

Betty looked a little startled. She had wanted so to really question Doris, but it did not seem quite the thing to do. And perhaps she was not to go, after all. She would coax her father and Warren, she would do almost anything.

Warren settled it as they were going up to bed. His mother was in the kitchen, mixing pancakes for breakfast, and he caught Betty's hand.

"Of course you are to go," he said. "Mother doesn't believe in dealing out all her good things at once. I wish you had something pretty to wear. It's going to be quite fine."

"Oh, dear," sighed Betty. "Jane has such pretty gowns. But of course I have only been a little school-girl until this year, and somehow it is very hard for the mothers to think their girls are grown-up in any respect except that of work."

Warren sighed as well, and secretly wished he had a regular salary, and could do what he liked with a little money. His father was training him to take charge of his own business later on. He gave him his board and clothing and half a dollar a week for spending money. When he was twenty-one there would be a new basis, of course. There was not much call for money unless one was rich enough to be self-indulgent. One couldn't spend five cents for a trolley ride, even if there was a downpour of rain. And as Mr. Leverett had never smoked, he had routed the first indications of any such indulgence on the part of his son.

The amusements were still rather simple, neighborly affairs. The boys and girls "spent an evening" with each other and had hickory nuts, cider, and crullers that had found their way from Holland to Boston as well as New York. And when winter set in fairly there was sledding and skating and no end of jest and laughter. Many a decorous love affair sprang into shy existence, taking a year or two for the young man to be brave enough to "keep company," if there were no objections on either side. And this often happened to be a walk home from church and an hour's sitting by the family fireside taking part in the general conversation.

To be sure, there was the theater. Since 1798, when the Federal Street Theater had burned down and been rebuilt and opened with a rather celebrated actress of that period, Mrs. Jones, theater-going was quite the stylish amusement of the quality. Mr. Leverett and his wife had gone to the old establishment, as it was beginning to be called, to see the tragedy of "Gustavus Vasa," that had set Boston in a furore. They were never quite settled on the point of the sinfulness of the pleasure. Indeed, Mr. Leverett evinced symptoms of straying away from the old landmarks of faith. He had even gone to the preaching of that reprehensible young man, Mr. Hosea Ballou, who had opened new worlds of thought for his consideration.

"It's a beautiful belief," Mrs. Leverett admitted, "but whether you can quite square it with Bible truth--"

"I'm not so sure you can square the Westminster Catechism either."

"If you must doubt, Foster, do be careful before the children. I'm not sure but the old-fashioned religion is best. It made good men and women."

"Maybe if you had been brought up a Quaker you wouldn't have seen the real goodness of it. Isn't belief largely a matter of habit and education? Mind, I don't say religion. That is really the man's life, his daily endeavor."

"Well, we won't argue." She felt that she could not, and was ashamed that she was not more strongly fortified. "And do be careful before the children."

Her husband was a good, honest, upright man-a steady churchgoer and zealous worker in many ways. The intangible change to liberalness puzzled her. If you gave up one point, would there not be a good reason for giving up another?

Neither could she quite explain why she should feel more anxious about Betty than she had felt about the girlhood of the two elder daughters.

Of course Warren accepted the invitations for himself and his sister. If her new white frock was only done! She had outgrown her last summer's gowns. There was a pretty embroidered India muslin that her sister Electa had given her. If she might put a ruffle around the bottom of the skirt.

Aunt Priscilla came over and had her cup of tea so she could get back before dark. She was still afraid of the damp night air. Aunt Priscilla had a trunk full of pretty things she had worn in her early married life. If she, Betty, could be allowed to "rummage" through it!

Saturday was magnificent with a summer softness in the air, and the doors could be left open. There were sweeping and scrubbing and scouring and bakin

g. Doris was very anxious to help, and was allowed to seed some raisins. It wasn't hard, but "putterin'" work, and took a good deal of time.

But after dinner Uncle Winthrop came in his chaise with his pretty spirited black mare Juno. It was such a nice day, and he had to go up to the North End on some business. There wouldn't be many such days, and Doris might like a ride.

There was a flash of delight in the child's eyes. Betty went to help her get ready.

"You had better put on her coat, for it's cooler riding," said Mrs. Leverett. "And by night it may turn off cold. A fall day like this is hardly to be trusted."

"But it is good while it lasts," said Uncle Win, with his soft half-smile. "Elizabeth, don't pattern after Aunt Priscilla, who can't enjoy to-day because there may be a storm to-morrow."

"I don't know but we are too ready to cross bridges before we come to them," she admitted.

"A beautiful day goes to my inmost heart. I want to enjoy every moment of it."

Doris came in with her eager eyes aglow, and Betty followed her to the chaise, and said:

"Don't run away with her, Uncle Win; I can't spare her."

That made Doris look up and laugh, she was so happy.

They drove around into Hanover Street and then through Wing's Lane. There were some very nice lanes and alleys then that felt quite as dignified as the streets, and were oftentimes prettier. He was going to Dock Square to get a little business errand off his mind.

"You won't be afraid to sit here alone? I will fasten Juno securely."

"Oh, no," she replied, and she amused herself glancing about. People were mostly through with their business Saturday afternoon. It had a strange aspect to her, however-it was so different from the town across the seas. Some of the streets were so narrow she wondered how the horses and wagons made their way, and was amazed that they did not run over the pedestrians, who seemed to choose the middle of the street as well. Many of the houses had a second story overhanging the first, which made the streets look still narrower.

"Now we will go around and see the queer old things," exclaimed Uncle Win, as he jumped into the chaise. "For we have some interesting points of view. A hundred years seems a good while to us new people. And already streets are changing, houses are being torn down. There are some curious things you will like to remember. Did Warren tell you about Paul Revere?"

"Oh, yes. How he hung the lantern out of the church steeple."

"And this was where he started from. More than thirty years ago that was, and I was a young fellow just arrived at man's estate. Still it was a splendid time to live through. We will have some talks about it in the years to come."

"Did you fight, Uncle Win?"

"I am not much of a war hero, though we were used for the defense of Boston. You are too young to understand all the struggle."

Doris studied the old house. It was three stories, the upper windows seeming just under the roof. On the ground floor there was a store, with two large windows, where Paul Revere had carried on his trade of silver-smith and engraver on copper. There was a broken wire netting before one window, and quite an elaborate hallway for the private entrance, as many people lived over their shops.

Long afterward Doris Adams was to be interested in a poet who told the story of Paul Revere's ride in such vivid, thrilling words that he was placed in the list of heroes that the world can never forget. But it had not seemed such a great deed then.

Old North Square had many curious memories. It had been a very desirable place of residence, though it was dropping down even now. There were quaint warehouses and oddly constructed shops, taverns with queer names almost washed out of the signs by the storms of many winters. There were the "Red Lion" and the "King's Arms" and other names that smacked of London and had not been overturned in the Revolution. Here had stood the old Second Church that General Howe had caused to be pulled down for firewood during the siege of Boston, the spot rendered sacred by the sermon of many a celebrated Mather. And here had resided Governor Thomas Hutchinson, who would have been sacrificed to the fury of the mob for his Tory proclivities during the Stamp Act riot but for his brother-in-law, the Rev. Samuel Mather, who faced the mob and told them "he should protect the Governor with his life, even if their sentiments were totally dissimilar." And when he came to open court the next morning he had neither gown nor wig, very important articles in that day. For the wigs had long curling hair, and those who wore them had their hair cropped close, like malefactors.

And here was the still stately Frankland House, whose romance was to interest Doris deeply a few years hence and to be a theme for poet and novelist. But now she was a good deal amused when her uncle told her of a Captain Kemble in the days of Puritan rule who, after a long sea voyage, was hurrying up the Square, when his wife, who had heard the vessel was sighted, started to go to the landing. As they met the captain took her in his arms and kissed her, and was punished for breaking the Sabbath day by being put in the stocks.

"But did they think it so very wrong?" Her face grew suddenly grave.

"I suppose they did. They had some queer ideas in those days. They thought all exhibitions of affection out of place."

Doris looked thoughtfully out to the harbor. Perhaps that was the reason no one but Betty kissed her.

Then they drove around to the Green Dragon. This had been a famous inn, where, in the early days, the patriots came to plan and confer and lay their far-reaching schemes. It was said they went from here to the famous Tea Party. Uncle Winthrop repeated an amusing rhyme:

"'Rally, Mohocks, bring out your axes,

And tell King George we'll pay no taxes

On his foreign tea.

His threats are vain, he need not think

To force our wives and girls to drink,

His vile Bohea.'"

"I shouldn't like to be forced to drink it," said Doris, with a touch of repugnance in her small face.

"It does better when people get old and queer," said Uncle Winthrop. "Then they want some comfort. They smoke-at least, the men do-and drink tea. Now you can see the veritable Green Dragon."

The house was low, with small, old-time dormer windows. The dragon hung out over the doorway. He was made of copper painted green, his two hind feet resting on a bar that swung out of the house, his wings spread out as well as his front feet, and he looked as if he really could fly. Out of his mouth darted a red tongue.

"He is dreadful!" exclaimed Doris.

"Oh, he doesn't look as fierce now as I have seen him. A coat of paint inspires him with new courage."

"Then I am glad they have not painted him up lately. Uncle Win, is there any such thing as a real dragon? Of course I've read about St. George and the dragon," and she raised her eyes with a perplexed light in them.

"I think we shall have to relegate dragons to the mythical period, or the early ages. I have never seen one any nearer than that old fellow, or with any more life in him. There are many queer signs about, and queer corners, but I think now we will go over to Salem Street and look at some of the pretty old houses, and then along the Mill Pond. Warren took you up Copp's Hill?"

"Oh, yes."

"You see, you must know all about Boston. It will take a long while. Next summer we will have drives around here and there."

"Oh, that will be delightful!" and she smiled with such a sweet grace that he began to count on it himself.

The sun was going over westward in a soft haze that wrapped every leafless tree and seemed to caress the swaying vines into new life. The honeysuckles had not dropped all their leaves, and the evergreens were taking on their winter tint. On some of the wide lawns groups of children were playing, and their voices rang out full of mirth and merriment. Doris half wished she were with them. If Betty was only twelve instead of sixteen!

The Mill Pond seemed like a great bay. The placid water (there was no wind to ruffle it) threw up marvelous reflections and glints of colors from the sky above, and the sun beyond that was now a globe of softened flame, raying out lance-like shapes of greater distinctness and then melting away to assume some new form or color.

Doris glanced up at Uncle Winthrop. It was as if she felt it all too deeply for any words. He liked the silence and the wordless enjoyment in her face.

"We won't go home just yet," he said. They were crossing Cold Lane and could have gone down Sudbury Street. "It is early and we will go along Green Lane and then down to Cambridge Street. You are not tired?"

"Oh, no. I think I never should be tired with you, Uncle Winthrop," she returned with grave sweetness, quite unconscious of the delicate compliment implied.

What was there about this little girl that went so to his heart?

"Uncle Winthrop," she began presently, while a soft pink flush crept up to the edge of her hair, "I heard you and Uncle Leverett talking about some money the first night you were over-wasn't it my money?"

"Yes, I think so," with a little dryness in his tone. What made her think about money just now, and with that almost ethereal face!

"Is it any that I could have-just a little of it?" hesitatingly.

"Why? Haven't you all the things you want?"

"I? Oh, yes. I shouldn't know what to wish for unless it was someone to talk French with," and there was a sweet sort of wistfulness in her tone.

"I think I can supply that want. Why we might have been talking French half the afternoon. Do you want some French books? Is that it?"

"No, sir." There was a lingering inflection in her tone that missed satisfaction.

"Are you not happy at Cousin Leverett's?"

"Happy? Oh, yes." She glanced up in a little surprise. "But the money would be to make someone else happy."

"Ah!" He nodded encouragingly.

"Betty is going to a party."

"And she has been teasing her mother for some finery?"

"She hasn't any pretty gown. I thought this all up myself, Uncle Win. Miss Arabella has such quantities of pretty clothes, and they are being saved up for me. If she was here I should ask her, but I couldn't get it, you know, by Thursday."

She gave a soft laugh at the impossibility, as if it was quite ridiculous.

"And you want it for her?"

"She's so good to me, Uncle Win. For although I know some things quite well, there are others in which I am very stupid. A little girl in school said yesterday that I was 'dreadful dumb, dumber than a goose.' Aunt Elizabeth said a goose was so dumb that if it came in the garden through a hole in the fence it never could find it again to get out."

"That is about the truth," laughed Uncle Win.

"I couldn't get along in arithmetic if it wasn't for Betty. She's so kind and tells me over and over again. And I can't do anything for Aunt Elizabeth, because I don't know how, and it takes most of my time to study. But if I could give Betty a gown-Miss Arabella went to so many parties when she was young. If I was there I know she would consent to give Betty one gown."

Uncle Winthrop thought of a trunk full of pretty gowns that had been lying away many a long year. He couldn't offer any of those to Betty. And that wouldn't be a gift from Doris.

"I wonder what would be nice? An old fellow like me would not know about a party gown."

"Warren would. He and Betty talked a little about it last night. And that made me think-but it didn't come into my mind until a few moments ago that maybe there would be enough of my own money to buy one."

Doris glanced at him with such wistful entreaty that he felt he could not have denied her a much greater thing. He remembered, too, that Elizabeth Leverett had refused to take any compensation for Doris, this winter at least, and he had been thinking how to make some return.

"Yes, I will see Warren. And we will surprise Betty. But perhaps her mother would be a better judge."

"I think Aunt Elizabeth doesn't quite want Betty to go, although she told Mrs. Morse she should."

"Oh, it's at the Morses'? Well, they are very nice people. And young folks do go to parties. Yes, we will see about the gown."

"Uncle Winthrop, you are like the uncles in fairy stories. I had such a beautiful fairy book at home, but it must have been mislaid."

She put her white-mittened hand over his driving glove, but he felt the soft pressure with a curious thrill.

They went through Cambridge Street and Hilier's Lane and there they were at home.

"It has been lovely," she said with a happy sigh as he lifted her out. Then she reached up from the stepping-stone and kissed him.

"It isn't Sunday," she said na?vely, "and it is because you are so good to me. And this isn't North Square."

He laughed and gave her a squeeze. Cousin Elizabeth came out and wished him a pleasant good-night as he drove away.

What a charming little child she was, so quaintly sensible, and with a simplicity and innocence that went to one's heart. How would Recompense Gardiner regard a little girl like that? He would have her over sometime for a day and they would chatter in French. Perhaps he had better brush up his French a little. Then he smiled, remembering she had called herself stupid, and he was indignant that anyone should pronounce her dumb.

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