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   Chapter 7 ABOUT A GOWN

A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 28904

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Saturday evening was already quiet at the Leveretts'. Elizabeth had been brought up to regard it as the beginning of the Sabbath instead of the end of the week. People were rather shocked then when you said Sunday, and quite forgot the beautiful significance of the Lord's Day. Aunt Priscilla still believed in the words of the Creation: that the evening and the morning were the first day. In Elizabeth's early married life she had kept it rigorously. All secular employments had been put by, and the children had studied and recited the catechism. But as they changed into men and women other things came between. Then Mr. Leverett grew "lax" and strayed off-after other gods, she thought at first.

He softened noticeably. He had a pitiful side for the poor and all those in trouble. Elizabeth declared he used no judgment or discrimination.

He opened the old Bible and put his finger on a verse: "While we have time let us do good unto all men; and especially unto them that are of the household of faith."

"You see," he said gravely, "the household of faith isn't put first, it is 'all men.'"

She was reading the Bible, not as a duty but a delight, skipping about for the sweetness of it. And she found many things that her duty reading had overlooked.

The children did not repeat the catechism any more. She had been considering whether it was best to set Doris at it; but Doris knew her own catechism, and Cousin Winthrop was a Churchman, so perhaps it wasn't wise to meddle. She took Doris to church with her.

Now, on Saturday evening work was put away. Warren was trying to read "Paradise Lost." He had parsed out of it at school. Now and then he dropped into the very heart of things, but he had not a poetical temperament. His father enjoyed it very much, and was quite a reader of Milton's prose works. Betty had strayed off into history. Doris sat beside Uncle Leverett with her arms on his knee, and looked into the fire. What were they doing back in Old Boston? Aunt Elizabeth had already condemned the fairy stories as untrue, and therefore falsehoods, so Doris never mentioned them. The child, with her many changes and gentle nature, had developed a certain tact or adaptiveness, and loved pleasantness. She was just a little afraid of Aunt Elizabeth's sharpness. It was like a biting wind. She always made comparisons in her mind, and saw things in pictured significance.

It ran over many things now. The old house that had been patched and patched, and had one corner propped up from outside. The barn that was propped up all around and had a thatched roof that suggested an immense haystack. Old Barby crooning songs by the kitchen fire, sweet old Miss Arabella with her great high cap and her snowy little curls. Why did Aunt Priscilla think curls wrong? She had a feeling Aunt Elizabeth did not quite approve of hers, but Betty said the Lord curled them in the beginning. How sweet Miss Arabella must have been in her youth-yes, she must surely have been young-when she wore the pretty frocks and went to the king's palace! She always thought of her when she came to the verses in the Psalms about the king's daughters and their beautiful attire. If Betty could have had one of those!

Her heart beat with unwonted joy as she remembered how readily Uncle Winthrop had consented to her wish. Oh, if the frock would be pretty! And if Betty would like it! She stole a glance or two at her. How queer to have a secret from Betty that concerned her so much. Of course people did not talk about clothes on Sunday, so there would be no temptation to tell, even if she had a desire, which she should not have. Monday morning everything would be in a hurry, for it was wash-day, and she would have to go over her lessons. Uncle Win said the gown would be at the house Monday noon.

"What are you thinking of, little one?"

Uncle Leverett put his hand over the small one and looked down at the face, which grew scarlet-or was it the warmth of the fire?

She laughed with a sudden embarrassment.

"I've been to Old Boston," she said, "and to new Boston. And I have seen such sights of things."

"You had better go to bed. And you have almost burned up your face sitting so close by the fire. It is bad for the eyes, too," said Aunt Elizabeth.

She rose with ready obedience.

"I think I'll go too," said Betty with a yawn. The history of the Reformation was dull and prosy.

When Doris had said her prayers, and was climbing into bed, Betty kissed her good-night.

"I'm awfully afraid Uncle Win will want you some day," she said. "And I just couldn't let you go. I wish you were my little sister."

There was a service in the morning and the afternoon on Sunday. Uncle Leverett accompanied them in the morning. He generally went out in the evening, and often some neighbor came in. It was quite a social time.

When Doris came home from school Monday noon Aunt Elizabeth handed her a package addressed to "Miss Doris Adams, from Mr. Winthrop Adams."

"It is a new frock, I know," cried Betty laughingly. "And it is very choice. I can tell by the way it is wrapped. Open it quick! I'm on pins and needles."

"It is a nice cord; don't cut it," interposed Aunt Elizabeth.

Betty picked out the knot. There was another wrapper inside, and this had on it "Miss Betty Leverett. From her little cousin, Doris Adams."

Mr. Leverett came at Betty's exclamation and looked over her shoulder.

"Are you sure it is for me? Here is a note from Uncle Win that is for you. Oh! oh! Doris, was this what you did Saturday?"

A soft shimmering China silk slipped out of its folds and trailed on the floor. It was a lovely rather dullish blue, such as you see in old china, and sprays of flowers were outlined in white. Betty stood transfixed, and just glanced from one to the other.

"Oh, do you like it?" cried Warren, impatient for the verdict. "Uncle Win asked me to go out and do an errand with him. I was clear amazed. But it's Doris' gift, and bought out of her own money. We looked over ever so many things. He said you wanted something young, not a grandmother gown. And we both settled upon this."

Betty let it fall and clasped Doris in her arms.

"Down on the dirty floor as if it was nothing worth while!" began Mrs. Leverett, while her husband picked up the slippery stuff and let it fall again until she took it out of his hands. "And do come to dinner! There's a potpie made of the cold meat, and it will all be cold together, for I took it up ever so long ago. And, Betty, you haven't put on any pickles. And get that quince sauce."

"I don't know what to say." There were tears in Betty's eyes as she glanced at Doris.

"Well, you can have all winter to say it in," rejoined her mother tartly. "And your father won't want to spend all winter waiting for his dinner."

They had finished their washing early. By a little after ten everything was on the line, and now the mornings had grown shorter, although you could piece them out with candlelight. Betty had suggested the cold meat should be made into a potpie, and now Mrs. Leverett half wished she had kept to the usual wash-day dinner-cold meat and warmed-over vegetables. She felt undeniably cross. She had not cordially acquiesced in Betty's going to the party. The best gown she had to wear was her gray cloth, new in the spring. It had been let down in the skirt and trimmed with some wine-colored bands Aunt Priscilla had brought her. It would be a good discipline for Betty to wear it. When she saw the other young girls in gayer attire, she would be mortified if she had any pride. Just where proper pride began and improper pride ended she was not quite clear. Anyhow, it would check Betty's party-going this winter. And now all the nice-laid plans had come to grief.

Doris stood still, feeling there was something not quite harmonious in the atmosphere.

"You were just royal to think of it," said Warren, clasping both arms around Doris. "Uncle Win told me about it. And I hope you like our choice. Betty had a blue and white cambric, I think they called it, last summer, and she looked so nice in it, but it didn't wash well. Silk doesn't have to be washed. Oh, you haven't read your letter."

Uncle Leverett had been folding and rolling the silk and laid it on a chair. The dinner came in just as Doris had read two or three lines of her note.

"Aunt Elizabeth,"-when there was a little lull,-"Uncle Winthrop says he will come up to supper to-night."

"He seems very devoted, suddenly."

"Well, why shouldn't he be devoted to the little stranger in his charge, if she isn't exactly within his gates? She is in ours."

A flush crept up in Elizabeth Leverett's face. She did not look at Doris, but she felt the child's eyes were upon her-wondering eyes, asking the meaning of this unusual mood. It was unreasonable as well. Elizabeth had a kindly heart, and she knew she was doing not only herself but Doris an injustice. She checked her rising displeasure.

"I should have enjoyed seeing you and Uncle Win shopping," she said rather jocosely to Warren.

Betty glanced up at that. The sky was clearing and the storm blowing over. But, oh, she had her pretty gown, come what might!

"I don't believe but what I would have been a better judge than either of them," said Uncle Leverett.

"Uncle Win wasn't really any judge at all," rejoined Warren laughingly. "He would have chosen the very best there was, fine enough for a wedding gown. But I knew Betty liked blue, and that girls wanted something soft and delicate."

"You couldn't have suited me any better," acknowledged Betty, giving the chair that held her treasure an admiring glance. "I shall have to study all the afternoon to know what to say to Uncle Win. As for Doris--"

Doris was smiling now. If they were all pleased, that was enough.

"I hope Uncle Win won't let you spend your money this way very often," said Uncle Leverett, "or you will have nothing left to buy silk gowns for yourself when you are a young woman."

"Maybe no one will ever ask me to a party," said Doris simply.

"I will give one in your honor," declared Warren. "Let me see-in seven years you will be sixteen. I will save up a little money every year after I get my freedom suit."

"Your freedom suit?" in a perplexed manner.

"Yes-when I am twenty-one. That will be next July."

"You will have to buy her a silk gown as well," said his father with a twinkle of humor in his eye.

"Then I shall strike for higher wages."

"We shall have a new President and we will see what that brings about. The present method is simply ruinous."

The dinner was uncommonly good, if it had been made of cooked-over meat. And the pie was delicious. Any woman who could make a pie like that, and have the custard a perfect cream, ought to be the happiest woman alive.

Mr. Leverett followed his wife out in the kitchen, and gave the door a push with his foot. But the three young people were so enthusiastic about the new gown, now that the restraint was removed, that they could not have listened.

"Mother," he began, "don't spoil the little girl's good time and her pleasure in the gift."

"Betty did not need a silk gown. The other girls didn't have one until they were married. If I had considered it proper, I should have bought it myself."

"But Winthrop hadn't the heart to refuse Doris."

"If he means to indulge every whim and fancy she'll spend everything she has before she is fairly grown. She's too young to understand and she has been brought up so far in an irresponsible fashion. Generosity is sometimes foolishness."

"You wouldn't catch Hollis' little boy spending his money on anyone," and Sam's grandfather laughed. Sam was bright and shrewd, smart at his books and good at a barter. He had a little money out at interest already. Mr. Leverett had put it in the business, and every six months Sam collected his interest on the mark.

"Winthrop isn't as slack as you sometimes think. He could calculate compound interest to a fraction."

"I'm glad someone has a little forethought," was the rather tart reply.

"Winthrop isn't as slack as you sometimes think. He doesn't like business, but he has a good head for it. And he will look out for Doris. He is mightily interested in her too. But if you must scold anyone, save it for him to-night, and let Doris be happy in her gift."

"Am I such a scold?"

"You are my dear helpmeet." He put his arm over her shoulder and kissed her. People were not very demonstrative in those days, and their affection spoke oftener in deeds than words. In fact, they thought the words betrayed a strand of weakness. "There, I must be off," he added. "Come, Warren," opening the door. "Meade will think we have had a turkey dinner and stayed to polish the bones."

Betty had been trying the effect of trailing silk and enjoying her brother's admiration. Now she folded it again decorously, and began to pile up the cups and plates, half afraid to venture into the kitchen lest her dream of delight should be overshadowed by a cloud.

Mrs. Leverett was doing a sober bit of thinking. How much happiness ought one to allow one's self in this vale of tears? Something she had read last night recurred to her-"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these--" Done what? Fed bodies and warmed and clothed them. And what of the hungry longing soul? All her life she had had a good tender husband. And now, when he had strayed from the faith a little, he seemed dearer and nearer than ever before. God had given her a great deal to be thankful for. Five fine children who had never strayed out of the paths of rectitude. Of course, she had always given the credit to their "bringing up." And here was a little girl reared quite differently, sweet, wholesome, generous, painstaking, and grateful for every little favor.

Astute Betty sent Doris in as an advance guard.

"You may take the dish of spoons, and I'll follow with the cups and saucers."

Aunt Elizabeth looked up and half smiled.

"You and Uncle Win have been very foolish," she began, but her tone was soft, as if she did not wholly believe what she was saying. "I shall save my scolding for him, and I think Betty will have to train you in figures all winter long to half repay for such a beautiful gift."

"Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, I thought of it, you know," she cried in sweet eagerness, "and if there

is anything wrong--"

"There isn't anything wrong, dear." Mrs. Leverett stooped and kissed her. "I don't know as Betty needed a silk gown, for many a girl doesn't have one until she is married. I shall have to keep a sharp eye on you and Uncle Win hereafter."

Betty went back and forth. The dishes were washed and the kitchen set to rights, while the bits of talk flowed pleasantly.

"I think I will iron this afternoon," announced Betty. "I see some of the clothes are dry. Didn't you mean to go and see about the carpet, mother?"

"I had thought of it. I want to have my warp dyed blue and orange, and some of the rags colored. Mrs. Jett does it so well, and she's so needy I thought I would give her all the work. Your father said I had better. And she might dip over that brown frock of yours. The piece of new can go with it so it will all be alike."

Betty wanted to lift up her heart in thanksgiving. The dyeing tub was her utter abomination-it took so long for the stain to wear out of your hands.

"Well-if you like." This referred to the ironing. "I don't know how you'll get your gown done."

"I might run over and get some patterns from Jane, if I get through in time," suggested Betty. For a horrible fear had entered her mind that her mother's acceptance of the fact foreboded some delay in the making.

"Don't go until I get back."

"Oh, no."

Betty took down the clothes and folded them. They were just right to iron. She arranged her table, and Doris brought her books and sat at one end.

"It would be so much nicer to talk about the party," she said gravely, "but the lessons are so hard. Oh, Betty, do you think I shall ever be smart like other girls? I feel ashamed sometimes. My figures are just dreadful. Robert Lane said this morning they looked like hen tracks. His are beautiful. And he is only seven years old. Oh, dear!"

"Robbie has been at school three years. Wait until you have been a year!"

"And writing. Oh, Betty, when will I be able to write a letter to Miss Arabella? Now, if you could talk across the ocean!"

"The idea! One would have to scream pretty loud, and then it wouldn't go a mile." Betty threw her head back and laughed.

But Doris was to live long enough to talk across the ocean, though no one really dreamed of it then; indeed, at first it was quite ridiculed.

"It is a nice thing to know a good deal, but it is awful hard to learn," said the little girl presently.

"Now, it seems to me I never could learn French. And when you rattle it off in the way you do, I am dumb-founded."

"What is that, Betty?"

Betty flushed and laughed. "Surprised or anything like that," she returned.

"But, you see, I learned to talk and read just as you do English. And then papa being English, why I had both languages. It was very easy."

"Patience and perseverance will make this easy."

"And I can't knit a stocking nor make a shirt. And I haven't pieced a bedspread nor worked a sampler. Mary Green has a beautiful one, with a border of strawberries around the edge and forget-me-nots in the corner. Her father is going to have it framed."

"Oh, you must not chatter so much. Begin and say some tables."

"I know 'three times' skipping all about. But when you get good and used one way you have to fly around some other way. I can say 'four times' straight, but I have to think a little."

"Now begin," said Betty.

They seemed to run races, until Doris' cheeks were like roses and she was all out of breath. At last she accomplished the baleful four, skipping about.

"Mrs. Webb said I must learn four and five this week. And five is easy enough. Now, will you hear me do some sums in addition?"

She added aloud, and did quite well, Betty thought.

"When I can make nice figures and do sums that are worth while, I am to have a book to put them in, Mrs. Webb says. What is worth while, Betty?"

"Why it's-it's-a thing that is really worth doing well. I don't know everything," with a half-laughing sigh.

Betty had all her pieces ironed before the lessons were learned. Doris thought ironing was easier. It finished up of itself, and there was nothing to come after.

"Well-there is mending," suggested Betty.

"I know how to darn. I shall not have to learn that."

"And you darn beautifully."

While Mrs. Leverett was out she thought she would run down to Aunt Priscilla's a few moments, so it was rather late when she returned. But Betty had a pan of biscuits rising in the warmth of the fire. Then she was allowed to go over to the Morses' and tell Jane the wonderful news. Uncle Winthrop walked up, so there would be no trouble about the horse; then, he had been writing all day, and needed some exercise.

"And how did the silk suit?" he asked as he took both of the child's hands in his.

"It was just beautiful. Betty was delighted, and so surprised! Uncle Winthrop, isn't it a joyful thing to make people happy!"

"Why-I suppose it is," with a curious hesitation in his voice, as he glanced down into the shining eyes. He had not thought much of making anyone happy latterly. Indeed, he believed he had laid all the real joys of life in his wife's grave. He was proud of his son, of course, and he did everything for his advancement. But a simple thing like this!

"We have been studying all the afternoon, Betty and I. She is so good to me. And to think, Uncle Win, she had read the Bible all through when she was eight years old, and made a shirt. All the little girls make one for their father. And he gave her a silver half-dollar with a hole in it, and she put a blue ribbon through it and means to keep it always. But I haven't any father. And I began to read the Bible on Sunday. It will take me two years," with a long sigh. "I used to read the Psalms to Miss Arabella, and there was a portion for every day. They are just a month long, when the month has thirty days."

Her chatter was so pleasant. Several times through the day her soft voice had haunted him.

Aunt Elizabeth came in with her big kitchen apron tied over her best afternoon gown. She didn't scold very hard, but she thought Uncle Win might better be careful of the small fortune coming to Doris, since she had neither father nor brother to augment it. And they would make Betty as vain as a peacock in all her finery.

Betty returned laden with patterns and her eyes as bright as stars. Jane Morse had promised to come over in the morning and help her cut her gown. Jane was a very "handy" girl, and prided herself on knowing enough about "mantua making" to get her living if she had need. At that period nearly every family did the sewing of all kinds except the outside wear for men. And fashions were as eagerly sought for and discussed among the younger people as in more modern times. The old Puritan attire was still in vogue. Not so many years before the Revolution the Royalists' fashions, both English and French, had been adopted. But the cocked hats and scarlet coats, the flowing wigs and embroidered waistcoats, had been swept away by the Continental style. For women, high heels and high caps had run riot, and hoops and flowing trains of brocades and velvets and glistening silks. And now the wife of the First Consul of France was the Empress Josephine, and the Empire style had swept away the pompadour and everything else. It had the advantage of being more simple, though quite as costly.

Uncle Win and Uncle Leverett talked politics after supper, one sitting one side of the chimney and one the other. Doris had gone over to Uncle Winthrop's side, and she wished she could be two little girls just for the evening. She was trying very hard to understand what they meant by the Embargo and the Non-Intercourse Act, and she learned they were going to have a new President in March. She did not think politics very interesting-she liked better to hear about the war that had begun more than thirty years ago. Uncle Leverett was quite sure there would be another war before they were done with it; that all the old questions had not been fought out, and there could be no lasting peace until they were. Did men like war so much, she wondered?

Betty stole around to Uncle Win's side before he went away and thanked him again for the interest he had taken in Doris' desire. Yes, she was a pretty girl; and how much cheer there seemed around the Leverett fireside! Warren was a fine young fellow, too, older by two years than his own son. He missed a certain cordial living that would have cheered his own life. When his boy came home he would have it different. And by that time he would have decided about Doris.

Betty and Jane had plenty of discussions the next morning. Waists were short and full, and with a square neck and a flat band, over which there was a fall of lace, and short, puffed sleeves for evening wear.

"But she isn't likely to go to another party this winter, and she will want it for a best dress all next summer," said Mrs. Leverett.

"Oh, I should have long sleeves, as well, and just baste them in. And there's so much silk I should make a fichu to tie round in the back with two long ends. You can make that any time. And a scant ruffle not more than an inch wide when it is finished. A ruffle round the skirt about two inches when that is done. Letty Rowe has three ruffles around her changeable taffeta. 'Twas made for her cousin's wedding, and it is just elegant."

"It is a shame to waste stuff that way," declared Mrs. Leverett.

"But the frills are scant, and skirts are never more than two and a half yards round. Why, last summer mother said I might have that fine sprigged muslin of hers to make over, and I'm sure I have enough for another gown. Mrs. Leverett, it doesn't take half as much to make a gown for us as it did for our mothers," said Jane with arch humor.

"She had better save the piece for a new waist and sleeves," declared the careful mother.

"Well, maybe fichus and capes will go out before another summer. I would save the piece now, at any rate," agreed Jane.

Jane was extremely clever. The girls had many amusing asides, for Mrs. Leverett was ironing in the kitchen. There was nothing harmful about them, but they were full of gay promise. Jane cut and basted and fitted. There were the bodice and the sleeves. "You can easily slip out the long ones," she whispered, "and there was the skirt with the lining all basted, and the ruffles cut and sewed together."

"You'll have a nice job hemming them. I should do it over a cord. It makes them set out so much better. And if you get in the drag I'll come over to-morrow. I'm to help mother with the nut cake this afternoon. It cuts better to be a day or two old. We made the fruit cake a fortnight ago."

"How good you are! I don't know what I should have done without you!"

"And I don't know how Betty will ever repay you," said Mrs. Leverett.

"I know," returned Jane laughingly. "I have planned to get every stitch out of her. I am going to quilt my 'Young Man's Ramble' this winter, and mother's said I might ask in two or three of the best quilters I know-Betty quilts so beautifully!"

The "Young Man's Ramble" was patchwork of a most intricate design, in which it seemed that one might ramble about fruitlessly.

"I am glad there is some way of your getting even," said the mother with a little pride.

Jane took dinner with them and then ran off home. Warren went a short distance with her, as their way lay together.

"I hope you didn't say anything about the dancing," he remarked. "Mother is rather set against it. But Sister Electa gives dancing parties, and Betty's going to Hartford this winter. She ought to know how to dance."

"Trust me for not letting the cat out of the bag!"

Betty sewed and sewed. She could hardly attend to Doris' lessons and sums. She hemmed the ruffle in the evening, and hurried with her work the next morning. Everything went smoothly, and Mrs. Leverett was more interested than she would have believed. And she was quite ready to take up the cudgel for her daughter's silken gown when Aunt Priscilla made her appearance. Of course she would find fault.

But it is the unexpected that happens. Aunt Priscilla was in an extraordinary mood. Some money had been paid to her that morning that she had considered lost beyond a peradventure. And she said, "It was a great piece of foolishness, and Winthrop Adams at his time of life ought to have had more sense, but what could you expect of a man always browsing over books! And if she had thought Betty was dying for a silk frock, she had two laid away that would come in handy some time. She hadn't ever quite decided who should fall heir to them, but so many of the girls had grown up and had husbands to buy fine things for them, she supposed it would be Betty."

"What is going round the neck and sleeves?" she asked presently.

"Mother has promised to lend me some lace," answered Betty. "The other girls had a borrowed wear out of it."

"I'll look round a bit. I never had much real finery, but husband always wanted me to dress well when we were first married. We went out a good deal for a while, before he was hurt. I'll see what I have."

And the next morning old Polly brought over a box with "Missus' best compliments." There was some beautiful English thread lace about four inches wide, just as it had lain away for years, wrapped in soft white paper, with a cake of white wax to keep it from turning unduly yellow.

"Betty, you are in wonderful luck," said her mother. "Something has stirred up Aunt Priscilla."

Just at noon that eventful Thursday Mr. Manning came in from Salem for his mother-in-law. Mrs. Manning's little daughter had been born at eight that morning, and Mary wanted her mother at once. She had promised to go, but hardly expected the call so soon.

There were so many charges to give Betty, who was to keep house for the next week. Nothing was quite ready. Mother fashion, she had counted on doing this and that before she went; and if Betty couldn't get along she must ask Aunt Priscilla to come, just as if Betty had not kept house a whole week last summer. There was advice to father and to Warren, and he was to try to bring Betty home by nine o'clock that evening. What Doris would do in the afternoon, she couldn't see.

"Go off with an easy heart, mother," said Mr. Leverett; "I will come home early this afternoon."

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