MoboReader > Literature > A Little Girl in Old Boston

   Chapter 8 SINFUL OR NOT

A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 25350

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

"You should have seen me when Jane tied a white sash about my waist. Then I was just complete."

"But you looked beautiful before-like a-well, a queen couldn't have looked prettier. Or the Empress Josephine."

Betty laughed and kissed the little girl whose eyes were still full of admiration. She had not come home until ten, and found her father waiting at the fireside, but Doris was snuggled up in bed and soundly asleep. She had risen at her father's call, made the breakfast, and sent the men off in time; then heard the lesson Doris wasn't quite sure of, and sent her to school; and now the dinner was cleared away and they were sitting by the fire.

The Empress Josephine was in her glory then, one of the notables of Europe.

"And Mrs. Morse said such lace as that would be ten dollars a yard now. Think of that! Thirty dollars! But didn't you get lonesome waiting for father?"

"He came just half an hour afterward. And, oh, we had such a grand, funny time getting supper. It was as good as a party. I poured the tea. And he called me Miss Adams, like a grown lady. And, then, what do you think? We played fox and geese! And do you know I thought the geese were dumb to let the fox get them all. And then he took the geese and soon penned my fox in a corner. Then he told me about the fox and the goose and the measure of corn and the man crossing the stream. It was just delightful. I wanted to stay up until you came home, but I did get so sleepy. And was the party splendid? I don't think anyone could have been prettier than you!"

"Sally Prentiss had a pink silk frock, and the ruffles were fringed out, which made them fluffy. It was beautiful! Oh, I should have felt just awful in my gray cloth or my blue winter frock. And I owe most of the delight to you, little Doris. I've been thinking-sometime I will work you a beautiful white frock, fine India muslin."

"And what did they do?"

"We didn't sew much," Betty laughed. "We talked and talked. I knew all but one girl, and we were soon acquainted. Jane didn't have a thing to do, of course. Then the gentlemen came and we went out to supper. The table was like a picture. There was cold turkey and cold ham and cold baked pork. They were all delicious. And bread and biscuits and puffy little cakes quite new. Mrs. Morse's cousin brought the recipe, and she has promised it to mother. And there were jams and jellies and ever so many things, and then all the plates and meats were sent away, and the birthday cake with seventeen tiny candles was lighted up. And cake of every kind, and whipped cream and nuts and candies. Then we went back to the parlor and played "proverbs" and "What is my thought like?" and then black Joe came with his fiddle. First they danced the minuet. It was beautiful. And then they had what is called cotillions. I believe that is the new fashionable dance. It takes eight people, but you can have two or three at the same time. They dance in figures. And, oh, it is just delightful! I do wonder if it is wrong?"

"What would make it wrong?" asked Doris gravely.

"That's what puzzles me. A great many people think it right and send their children to dancing-school. On all great occasions there seems to be dancing. It is stepping and floating around gracefully. You think of swallows flying and flowers swinging and grass waving in the summer sun."

"But if there is so much of it in the world, and if God made the world gay and glad and rejoicing and full of butterflies and birds and ever so many things that don't do any real work but just have a lovely time--"

Doris' wide-open eyes questioned her companion.

"They haven't any souls. I don't know." Betty shook her head. "Let's ask father about it to-night. When you are little you play tag and puss-in-the-corner and other things, and run about full of fun. Dancing is more orderly and refined. And there's the delicious music! All the young men were so nice and polite,-so kind of elegant,-and it makes you feel of greater consequence. I don't mean vain, only as if it was worth while to behave prettily. It's like the parlor and the kitchen. You don't take your washing and scrubbing and scouring in the parlor, though that work is all necessary. So there are two sides to life. And my side just now is getting supper, while your side is studying tables. Oh, I do wonder if you will ever get to know them!"

Doris sighed. She would so much rather talk about the party.

"And your frock was-pretty?" she ventured timidly.

"All the girls thought it lovely. And I told them it was a gift from my little cousin, who came from old Boston-and they were so interested in you. They thought Doris a beautiful name, but Sally said the family name ought to be grander to go with it. But Adams is a fine old name, too-the first name that was ever given. There was only one man then, and when there came to be such hosts of them they tacked the 's' on to make it a noun of multitude."

"Did they really? Some of the children are learning about nouns. Oh, dear, how much there is to learn!" said the little girl with a sigh.

Betty went at her supper. People ate three good stout meals in those days. It made a deal of cooking. It made a stout race of people as well, and one heard very little about nerves and indigestion. Betty was getting to be quite a practiced cook.

Mr. Leverett took a good deal of interest hearing about the party. Warren had enjoyed it mightily. And then they besieged him for an opinion on the question of dancing. Warren presented his petition that he might be allowed to join a class of young men that was being formed. There were only a few vacancies.

"I do not think I have a very decided opinion about it," he returned slowly. "Times have changed a good deal since I was young, and amusements have changed with them. A hundred or so years ago life was very strenuous, and prejudices of people very strong. Yet the young people skated and had out-of-door games, and indoor plays that we consider very rough now. And you remember that our ancestors were opposed to nearly everything their oppressors did. Their own lives were too serious to indulge in much pleasuring. The pioneers of a nation rarely do. But we have come to an era of more leisure as to social life. Whether it will make us as strong as a nation remains to be seen."

"That doesn't answer my question," said Warren respectfully.

"I am going to ask you to wait until you are of age, mostly for your mother's sake. I think she dreads leaving the old ways. And then Betty will have no excuse," with a shrewd little smile.

Warren looked disappointed.

"But I danced last night," said Betty. "And we used to dance last winter at school. Two or three of the girls were good enough to show us the new steps. And one of the amusing things was a draw cotillion. The girls drew out a slip of paper that had a young man's name on it, and then she had to pass it over to him, and he danced with her. And who do you think I had?" triumphantly.

"I do not know the young men who were there," said her father.

"I hope it was the very nicest and best," exclaimed Doris.

"It just was! Jane's cousin, Morris Winslow. And he was quite the leader in everything, almost as if it was his party. And he is one of the real quality, you know. I was almost afraid to dance with him, but he was so nice and told me what to do every time, so I did not make any serious blunders. But it is a pleasure to feel that you know just how."

"There will be years for you to learn," said her father. "Meanwhile the ghost of old Miles Standish may come back."

"What would he do?" asked Doris, big-eyed.

Warren laughed. "What he did in the flesh was this: The Royalists-you see, they were not all Puritans that came over-were going to keep an old-time festival at a place called Merry Mount. They erected a May pole and were going to dance around it."

"That is what they do at home. And they have a merry time. Miss Arabella took me. And didn't Miles Standish like it?"

"I guess not. He sent a force of men to tear it down, and marched Morton and his party into Plymouth, where they were severely reprimanded-fined as well, some people say."

"We do not rule our neighbors quite as strictly now. But one must admire those stanch old fellows, after all."

"I am glad the world has grown wider," said Warren. But he wished its wideness had taken in his mother, who had a great fear of the evils lying in wait for unwary youth. Still he would not go against her wishes while he was yet under age. Young people were considered children in their subjection to their parents until this period. And girls who stayed at home were often in subjection all their lives. There were men who ruled their families with a sort of iron sway, but Mr. Leverett had always been considered rather easy.

Doris begged to come out and dry the dishes, but they said tables instead of talking of the seductive party. Mr. Leverett had to go out for an hour. Betty sat down and took up her knitting. She felt rather tired and sleepy, for she had gone on with the party the night before, after she was in bed. A modern girl would be just getting ready to go to her party at ten. But then she would not have to get up at half-past five the next morning, make a fire, and cook breakfast. Suddenly Betty found herself nodding.

"Put up your book, Doris. I'll mix the cakes and we will go to bed. You can dream on the lessons."

The party had demoralized Doris as well.

Among the real quality young men came to inquire after the welfare of the ladies the next morning, or evening at the latest. But people in the middle classes were occupied with their employments, which were the main things of their lives.

And though the lines were strongly drawn and the "quality" were aristocratic, there were pleasant gradations, marked by a fine breeding on the one side and a sense of fitness on the other, that met when there was occasion, and mingled and fused agreeably, then returned each to his proper sphere. The Morses were well connected and had some quite high-up relatives. For that matter, so were the Leveretts, but Foster Leverett was not ambitions for wealth or social distinction, and Mrs. Leverett clung to the safety of the good old ways.

Jane ran over in the morning with a basket of some of the choicer kinds of cake, and some nuts, raisins, and mottoes for the little girl. There were so many nice things she was dying to tell Betty,-compliments,-and some from Cousin Morris. And didn't she think everything went off nicely?

"It was splendid, all through," cried Betty enthusiastically. "I would like to go to a party-well, I suppose every week would be too often, but at least twice a month."

"The Chauncey Winslows are going to have a party Thanksgiving night. They are Morris' cousins and not mine, but I've been there; and Morris said last night I should have an invitation. It will be just splendid, I know."

"But you are seventeen. And mother thinks I am only a little girl," returned Betty.

"Oh, yes; I didn't go scarcely anywhere last winter. Being grown up is ever so much nicer. But it will come for you."

"Electa wants me to visit her this winter. The assembly is to meet, you know, and she has plenty of good times, although she has three children. I do hope I can go! And I have that lovely frock."

"That would be delightful. I wish I had a sister married and living away somewhere-New York, for instance. They have such fine times. Oh, dear! how do you get along alone?"

"It keeps me pretty busy."

Jane had come out in the kitchen, so Betty could go on with her dinner preparations.

"Mother thinks of keeping Cousin Nabby all winter. She likes Boston so, and it's lonely up in New Hampshire on the farm. That will ease me up wonderfully."

"If I go away mother will have to get someone."

"Although they do not think we young people are of much account," laughed Jane. "Give your little girl a good big chunk of party cake and run over when you can."

"But I can't now."

"Then I will have to do the visiting."

Dinner was ready on the mark, and Mr. Leverett praised it. Doris came home in high feather. She had not missed a word, and she had done all her sums.

"I think I am growing smarter," she announced with a kind of grave exultation. "Don't you think Aunt Elizabeth will teach me how to knit when she comes back?"

Not to have knit a pair of stockings was considered rather disgraceful for a little girl.

Aunt Priscilla came over early Saturday afternoon. She found the house in very good order, and she glanced sharply about, too. The

y had not heard from Mary yet, but the elder lady said no news was good news. Then she insisted on looking over the clothes for the Monday's wash and mending up the rents. Tuesday she would come in and darn the stockings. When she was nine years old it was her business to do all the family darning, looking askance at Doris.

"Now, if you had been an only child, Aunt Priscilla, and had no parents, what a small amount of darning would have fallen to your share!" said Betty.

"Well, I suppose I would have been put out somewhere and trained to make myself useful. And if I'd had any money that would have been on interest, so that I could have some security against want in my old age. Anyway, it isn't likely I should have been allowed to fritter away my time."

Betty wondered how Aunt Priscilla could content herself with doing such a very little now! Not but what she had earned a rest. And Foster Leverett, who managed some of her business, said sub rosa that she was not spending all her income.

"You can't come up to your mother making tea," she said at the supper table. "Your mother makes the best cup of tea I ever tasted."

Taking it altogether they did get on passably well without Mrs. Leverett during the ten days. She brought little James, six years of age, who couldn't go the long distance to school in cold weather with the two older children, and so was treated to a visit at grandmother's.

Mary was doing well and had a sweet little girl, as good as a kitten. Mr. Manning's Aunt Comfort had come to stay a spell through the winter. And now there was getting ready for Thanksgiving. There was no time to make mince pies, but then Mrs. Leverett didn't care so much for them early in the season. Hollis' family would come up, they would ask Aunt Priscilla, and maybe Cousin Winthrop would join them. So they were busy as possible.

Little James took a great liking to his shy cousin Doris, and helped her say tables and spell. He had been at school all summer and was very bright and quick.

"But, Uncle Foster," she declared, "the children in America are much smarter than English children. They understand everything so easily."

Then came the first big snowstorm of the season. There had been two or three little dashes and squalls. It began at noon and snowed all night. The sky was so white in the early morning you could hardly tell where the snow line ended and where it began; but by and by there came a bluish, silvery streak that parted it like a band, and presently a pale sun ventured forth, hanging on the edge of yellowish clouds and growing stronger, until about noon it flooded everything with gold, and the heavens were one broad sheet of blue magnificence.

Doris did not go to school in the morning. There were no broken paths, and boys and men were busy shoveling out or tracking down.

"It is a heavy snow for so early in the season," declared Uncle Leverett. "We are not likely to see bare ground in a long while."

Doris thought it wonderful. And when Uncle Winthrop came the next day and took them out in a big sleigh with a span of horses, her heart beat with unwonted enjoyment. But the familiarity little James evinced with it quite startled her.

Thanksgiving Day was a great festival even then, and had been for a long while. Christmas was held of little account. New Year's Day had a greater social aspect. Commencement, election, and training days were in high favor, and every good housewife baked election cake, and every voter felt entitled to a half-holiday at least. Then there was an annual fast day, with church-going and solemnity quite different from its modern successor.

The Hollis Leveretts, two grown people and four children, came up early. Sam, or little Sam as he was often called to distinguish him from his two uncles, was a nice well-grown and well-looking boy of about ten. Mrs. Hollis had lost her next child, a boy also, and Bessy was just beyond six. Charles and the baby completed the group.

Uncle Leverett made a fire in the best room early in the morning. Doris was a little curious to see it with the shutters open. It was a large room, with a "boughten" ingrain carpet, stiff chairs, two great square ottomans, a big sofa, and some curious old paintings, besides a number of framed silhouettes of different members of the family.

The most splendid thing of all was the great roaring fire in the wide chimney. The high shelf was adorned with two pitchers in curious glittering bronze, with odd designs in blue and white raised from the surface. The children brought their stools and sat around the fire.

Adjoining this was the spare room, the guest chamber par excellence. Sometimes the old house had been full, when there were young people coming and going, and relatives from distant places visiting. Electa and Mary had both married young, though in the early years of her married life Electa had made long visits home. But her husband had prospered in business and gone into public life, and she entertained a good deal, and the journey home was long and tedious. Mary was much nearer, but she had a little family and many cares.

Sam took the leadership of the children. He had seen Doris for a few minutes on several occasions and had not a very exalted opinion of a girl who could only cipher in addition, while he was over in interest and tare and tret. To be sure he could neither read nor talk French. This year he had gone to the Latin school. He hadn't a very high opinion of Latin, and he did not want to go to college. He was going to be a shipping merchant, and own vessels to go all over the world and bring cargoes back to Boston. He meant to be a rich man and own a fine big house like the Hancock House.

Doris thought it would be very wonderful for a little boy to get rich.

"And you might be lord mayor of Boston," she said, thinking of the renowned Whittington.

"We don't have lord mayors nor lord anything now, except occasionally a French or English nobleman. And we don't care much for them," said the uncompromising young republican. "I should like to be Governor or perhaps President, but I shouldn't want to waste my time on anything else."

Grandfather Leverett smiled over these boyish ambitions, but he wished Sam's heart was not quite so set on making money.

There were so few grown people that by bringing in one of the kitchen tables and placing it alongside they could make room for all. Betty was to be at the end, flanked on both sides by the children; Mrs. Hollis at the other end. There was a savory fragrance of turkey, sauces, and vegetables, and the table seemed literally piled up with good things.

Just as they were about to sit down Uncle Winthrop came in for a moment to express his regrets again at not being able to make one of the family circle. Doris thought he looked very handsome in his best clothes, his elegant brocaded waistcoat, and fine double-ruffled shirt-front. He wore his hair brushed back and tied in a queue and slightly powdered.

He was to go to a grand dinner with some of the city officials, a gathering that was not exactly to his taste, but one he could not well decline. And when Doris glanced up with such eager admiration and approval, his heart warmed tenderly toward her, as it recalled other appreciative eyes that had long ago closed for the last time.

What a dinner it was! Sam studied hard and played hard in the brief while he could devote to play, and he ate accordingly. Doris was filled with amazement. No wonder he was round and rosy.

"Doesn't that child ever eat any more?" asked Mrs. Hollis. "No wonder she is so slim and peaked. I'd give her some gentian, mother, or anything that would start her up a little."

Doris turned scarlet.

"She's always well," answered Mrs. Leverett. "She hasn't had a sick day since she came here. I think she hasn't much color naturally, and her skin is very fair."

"I do hope she will stay well. I've had such excellent luck with my children, who certainly do give their keeping credit. I think she's been housed too much. I'm afraid she won't stand the cold winter very well."

"You can't always go by looks," commented Aunt Priscilla.

After the dinner was cleared away and the dishes washed (all the grown people helped and made short work of it), the kitchen was straightened, the chairs being put over in the corner, and the children who were large enough allowed a game of blindman's buff, Uncle Leverett watching to see that no untoward accidents happened, and presently allowing himself to be caught. And, oh, what a scattering and laughing there was then! His arms were so large that it seemed as if he must sweep everybody into them, but, strange to relate, no one was caught so easily. They dodged and tiptoed about and gave little half-giggles and thrilled with success. He did catch Sam presently, and the boy did not enjoy it a bit. Not that he minded being blindfolded, but he should have liked to boast that grandfather could not catch him.

Sam could see under the blinder just the least bit. Doris had on red morocco boots, and they were barely up to her slim ankles. They were getting small, so Aunt Elizabeth thought she might take a little good out of them, as they were by far too light for school wear. Sam was sure he could tell by them, and he resolved to capture her. But every time he came near grandfather rushed before her, and he didn't want to catch back right away, neither did he want Bessy, whose half-shriek betrayed her whereabouts.

Mrs. Leverett opened the door.

"I think you have made noise enough," she said. People believed in the old adage then that children should "be seen and not heard," and that indoors was no place for a racket. "Aunt Priscilla thinks she must go, but she wants you to sing a little."

This was for Mr. Leverett, but Sam had a very nice boy's voice and felt proud enough when he lifted it up in church.

"I'll come, grandmother," he said with some elation, as if he alone had been asked. And as he tore off the blinder he put his head down close to Doris, and whispered:

"It was mean of you to hide behind grandfather every time, and he didn't play fair a bit."

But having a peep at the red shoes as they went dancing round was fair enough!

Hollis Leverett sang in the choir. They had come to this innovation, though they drew the line at instrumental music. He had a really fine tenor voice. Mr. Leverett sang in a sort of natural, untrained tone, very sweet. Mrs. Hollis couldn't sing at all, but she was very proud to have the children take after their father. There were times when Aunt Priscilla sang for herself, but her voice had grown rather quivering and uncertain. So Betty and her mother had to do their best to keep from being drowned out. But the old hymns were touching, with here and there a line of rare sweetness.

Hollis Leverett was going to take Aunt Priscilla home and then return for the others. Sam insisted upon going with them, so grandfather roasted some corn for Bessy and Doris. They had not the high art of popping it then and turning it inside out, although now and then a grain achieved such a success all by itself. Bessy thought Doris rather queer and not very smart.

The two little ones were bundled up and made ready, and the sleigh came back with a jingle for warning. Mrs. Hollis took her baby in her arms, grandfather carried out little Foster, and they were all packed in snugly and covered up almost head and ears with the great fur robes, while little Sam shouted out the last good-night.

Mrs. Leverett straightened things in the best room until all the company air had gone out of it. Doris felt the difference and was glad to come out to her own chimney corner. Then Betty spread the table and they had a light supper, for, what with dinner being a little late and very hearty, no one was hungry. But they sipped their tea and talked over the children and how finely Sam was getting along in his studies, and Mrs. Leverett brought up the Manning children, for much as she loved Hollis, her daughter Mary's children came in for a share of grandmotherly affection. And in her heart she felt that little James was quite as good as anybody.

Warren had promised to spend the evening with some young friends. Betty wished she were a year older and could have the privilege of inviting in schoolmates and their brothers, and that she might have fire in the parlor on special occasions. But, to compensate, some of the neighbors dropped in. Doris and James played fox and geese until they were sleepy. James had a little cot in the corner of grandmother's room.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top