MoboReader > Literature > A Little Girl in Old Boston


A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 41311

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Oh, what a lovely white world it was! The low, sedgy places were frozen over and covered with snow; the edges of the bay, Charles River, and Mystic River were assuming their winter garments as well. And when, just a week after, another snowstorm came, there seemed a multitude of white peaks out in the harbor, and the hills were transformed into veritable snow-capped mountains. Winter had set in with a rigor unknown to-day. But people did not seem to mind it. Even the children had a good time sledding and snowballing and building snow forts and fighting battles. There were mighty struggles between the North Enders and the South Enders. Louisburg was retaken, 1775 was re-enacted, and Paul Revere again swung his lantern and roused his party to arms, and snowballs whitened instead of darkening the air with the smoke of firearms. Deeds of mighty prowess were done on both sides.

But the boys had the best of it surely. The girls had too much to do. They were soon too large for romping and playing. There were stockings to knit and to darn. There were long overseams in sheets; there was no end of shirt-making for the men. They put the hems in their own frocks and aprons, they stitched gussets and bands and seams. People were still spinning and weaving, though the mills that were to lead the revolution in industries had come in. The Embargo was taxing the ingenuity of brains as well as hands, and as more of everything was needed for the increase of population, new methods were invented to shorten processes that were to make New England the manufacturing center of the new world.

When the children had nothing else to do there was always a bag of carpet rags handy. There were braided rugs that were quite marvels of taste, and even the hit-or-miss ones were not bad.

Still they were allowed out after supper on moonlight nights for an hour or so, and then they had grand good times. The father or elder brothers went along to see that no harm happened. Fort Hill was one of the favorite coasting places, and parties of a larger growth thronged here. But Beacon Hill had not been shorn of all its glory.

Uncle Winthrop came over one day and took the children and Betty to see the battle at Fort Hill. The British had intrenched themselves with forts and breastworks and had their colors flying. It really had been hard work to enlist men or boys in this army. No one likes to go into a fight with the foregone conclusion that he is to be beaten. But they were to do their best, and they did it. The elders went out to see the fun. The rebels directed all their energies to the capture of one fort instead of opening fire all along the line, and by dusk they had succeeded in demolishing that, when the troops on both sides were summoned home to supper and to comfortable beds, an innovation not laid down in the rules of warfare.

Little James had been fired with military ardor. Cousin Sam was the leader of one detachment of the rebel forces. Catch him anywhere but on the winning side!

Doris had been much interested as well, and that evening Uncle Leverett told them stories about Boston thirty years before. He was a young man of three-and-twenty when Paul Revere swung his lantern to give the alarm. He could only touch lightly upon what had been such solemn earnest to the men of that time, the women as well.

"I'm going to be a soldier," declared James, with all the fervor of his youthful years. "But you can't ever be, Doris."

"No," answered Doris softly, squeezing Uncle Leverett's hand in both of hers. "But there isn't any war."

"Yes there is-over in France and England, and ever so many places. My father was reading about it. And if there wasn't any war here, couldn't we go and fight for some other country?"

"I hope there will never be war in your time, Jimmie, boy," said his grandmother. "And it is bedtime for little people."

"Why does it come bedtime so soon?" in a deeply aggrieved tone. "When I am a big man I am going to sit up clear till morning. And I'll tell my grandchildren all night long how I fought in the wars."

"That is looking a long way ahead," returned grandfather.

Besides the lessons, Doris was writing a letter to Miss Arabella. That lady would have warmly welcomed any little scrawl in Doris' own hand. Uncle Winthrop had acknowledged her safe arrival in good health, and enlarged somewhat on the pleasant home she had found with her relatives. Betty had overlooked the little girl's letter and made numerous corrections, and she had copied and thought of some new things and copied it over again. She had added a little French verse also.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Aunt Elizabeth, "when will the child ever learn anything useful! There doesn't seem any time. The idea of a girl of ten years old never having knit a stocking! And she will be full that and more!"

"But everybody doesn't knit," said Betty.

"Oh, yes, you can buy those flimsy French things that do not give you any wear. And presently we may not be able to buy either French or English. She is not going to be so rich either. It's nonsense to think of that marshy land ever being valuable. Whatever possessed anyone to buy it, I can't see! And if Doris was to be a queen I think she ought to know something useful."

"I do not suppose I shall ever need to spin," Betty said rather archly.

Mrs. Leverett had insisted that all her girls should learn to spin both wool and flax. Betty had rebelled a little two years ago, but she had learned nevertheless.

"And there was a time when a premium was paid to the most skillful spinner. Your grandmother, Betty, was among those who spun on the Common. The women used to go out there with their wheels. And there were spinning schools. The better class had to pay, but a certain number of poor women were taught on condition that they would teach their children at home. And it is not a hundred years ago either. There was no cloth to be had, and Manufactory House was established."

Betty had heard the story of spinning on the Commons, for her own grandmother had told it. But she had an idea that the world would go on rather than retrograde. For now they were turning out cotton cloth and printing calico and making canvas and duck, and it was the boast of the famous Constitution that everything besides her armament was made in Massachusetts.

Uncle Winthrop thought Doris' letter was quite a masterpiece for a little girl. At least, that was what he said. I think he was a good deal more interested in that than in the sampler she had begun. And he agreed privately with Betty that "useless" sometimes was misspelled into "useful."

Another letter created quite a consternation. This was from Hartford. Mrs. King wrote that a friend, a Mr. Eastman, was going from Springfield to Boston on some business, and on his return he would bring Betty home with him. His wife was going on to Hartford a few days later and would be very pleased to have Betty's company. She did not know when another chance would offer, for not many people were journeying about in the winter.

Betty was to bring her nicest gowns, and she needed a good thick pelisse and heavy woolen frock for outside wear. The new hats were very large, and young girls were wearing white or cream beaver. Some very handsome ones had come from New York recently. There was a big bow on the top, and two feathers if you could afford it, and ribbon of the same width tied under the chin. She was to bring her slippers and clocked stockings, her newest white frock, and if she had to buy a new one of any kind it need not be made until she came to Hartford.

"I never heard of such a thing!" declared Mrs. Leverett, aghast. "She must think your father is made of money. And when 'Lecty and Matthias were married they went to housekeeping in three rooms in old Mrs. Morton's house, and 'Lecty was happy as a queen, and had to save at every turn. She wasn't talking then about white hats and wide ribbons and feathers and gewgaws. The idea!"

"Of course I can't have the hat," returned Betty resignedly. "But my brown one will do. And, oh, isn't it lucky my silk is made and trimmed with that beautiful lace! If I only had my white skirt worked! And that India muslin might do with a little fixing up. If I had a lace ruffle to put around the bottom!"

"I don't know how I can spare you, Betty. I can't put Doris to doing anything. When any of my girls were ten years old they could do quite a bit of housekeeping. If she wasn't so behind in her studies!"

Betty had twenty plans in a moment, but she knew her mother would object to every one. She would be very discreet until she could talk the matter over with her father.

"Everything about the journey is so nicely arranged," she began; "and, you see, Electa says it will not cost anything to Springfield. There may not be a chance again this whole winter."

"The summer will be a good deal pleasanter."

"But the Capital won't be nearly so"-"gay," she was about to say, but changed it to "interesting."

"Betty, I do wish you were more serious-minded. To think you're sixteen, almost a woman, and in some things you're just a companion for Doris!"

Betty thought it was rather hard to be between everything. She was not old enough for society, she was not a young lady, but she was too old to indulge in the frolics of girlhood. She couldn't be wise and sedate-at least, she did not want to be. And were the fun and the good times really wicked?

She was on the lookout for her father that evening. Warren was going to the house of a friend to supper, as the debating society met there, and it saved him a long walk.

"Father, Electa's letter has come," in a hurried whisper. "She's planned out my visit, but mother thinks-oh, do try and persuade her, and make it possible! I want to go so much."

But Betty began to think the subject never would be mentioned. Supper was cleared away, Doris and James studied, and she sat and worked diligently on her white gown. Then she knew her mother did not mean to say a word before her and presently she went to bed.

Mrs. Leverett handed the letter over to her husband. "From 'Lecty," she said briefly.

He read it and re-read it, while she knit on her stocking.

"Yes"-slowly. "Well-Betty might as well go. She has been promised the visit so long."

"I can't spare her. Even if I sent James home, there's Doris. And I am not as spry as I was ten years ago. The work is heavy."

"Oh, you must have someone. John Grant was in from Roxbury to-day. He has two girls quite anxious to go out this winter. I think the oldest means to marry next spring or summer, and wants to earn a little money."

"We can't take in everyone who wants to earn a little money."

"No," humorously. "It would bankrupt us these hard times. The keep would be the same as for Betty, and a few dollars wages wouldn't signify."

"But Betty'll want no end of things. It does seem as if 'Lecty had turned into a fine lady. Whether it would be a good influence on Betty! She's never been serious yet."

"And Electa joined the church at fourteen. I think you can trust Betty with her. To be sure, Mat's prospered beyond everything."

Prosperity and every good gift came from the Lord, Mrs. Leverett fully believed. And yet David had seen the "ungodly in great prosperity." She had a mother's pride in Mr. and Mrs. King, but they were rather gay with dinner parties and everything.

"She will have to take Betty just as she is. Her clothes are good enough."

Mr. Leverett re-read the letter. He wasn't much judge of white hats and wide ribbons, and, since the time was short, perhaps Electa could help her to spend the money to better advantage, and there would be no worry. He would just slip a bill or two in Betty's hand toward the last.

"Betty's a nice-looking girl," said her father.

"I should be sorry to have her niceness all come out in looks," said Betty's mother.

There was no reply to this.

"I really do not think she ought to go. There will be other winters."

"Well-we will sleep on the matter. We can't tell about next winter."

Warren thought she ought to go. Aunt Priscilla came over a day or two after in Jonas Field's sleigh. He was out collecting, and would call for her at half-past five, though she still insisted she was pretty sure-footed in walking.

Mr. Perkins in a moment of annoyance had once said to his wife: "Priscilla, you have one virtue, at least. One can always tell just where to find you. You are sure to be on the opposition side."

She had a faculty of always seeing how the other side looked. She had a curious sympathy with it as well. And though she was not an irresolute woman, she did sometimes have a longing to go over to the enemy when it was very attractive.

She listened now-and nodded at Mrs. Leverett's reasoning, adding the pungency of her sniff. Betty's heart dropped like lead. True, she had not really counted on Aunt Priscilla's influence.

"I just do suppose if 'Lecty was ill and alone, and wanted Betty, there'd be no difficulty. It's the question between work and play. There wan't much time to play when I was young, and now I wish I had some of the work, since I'm too old to play. I do believe the thing ought to be evened up."

This was rather non-committal, but the girl's heart rose a little.

"Oh, if 'Lecty was ill-but you know, Aunt Priscilla, they keep a man beside the girl, and it seems to me she is always having a nurse when the children are ailing, or a woman in to sew, or some extra help. She doesn't need Betty, and it seems as if I did."

"Now, if that little young one was good for anything!"

"She's at her lessons all the time, and she must learn to sew. I should have been ashamed of my girls if they had not known how to make one single garment by the time they were ten year old."

"But Doris isn't ten," interposed Betty. "And here is Electa's letter, Aunt Priscilla."

"No, I don't see how I can spare Betty," said Mrs. Leverett decisively.

Aunt Priscilla took out her glasses and polished them and then adjusted them to her rather high nose.

"Well, 'Lecty's got to be quite quality, hasn't she? And Matthias, too. I suppose it's proper to give folks their whole name when they're getting up in the world and going to legislatures. But land! I remember Mat King when he was a patched-up, barefooted little boy. He was always hanging after 'Lecty, and your uncle thought she might have done better. 'Lecty was real good-looking. And now they're top of the heap with menservants and maidservants, and goodness knows what all."

"Yes, they have prospered remarkably."

"The Kings were a nice family. My, how Mis' King did keep them children, five of them, when their father died, and not a black sheep among them! Theron's a big sea captain, and Zenas in Washington building up the Capitol, and I dare say Mat is thinking of being sent to Congress. Joe is in the Army, and the young one keeps his mother a lady in New York, I've heard say. Mis' King deserves some reward."

Betty glanced up in surprise. It was seldom Aunt Priscilla praised in this wholesale fashion.

"And this about the hat is just queer, Betty. You should have seen old Madam Clarissa Bowdoin, who came to call yesterday, with a fine sleigh and driver and footman. She just holds on to this world's good things, I tell you, and she's past seventy. My, how she was trigged out in a black satin pelisse lined with fur! And she had a black beaver bonnet or hat, whatever you call it, with a big bow on top, and two black feathers flying. I should hate to have my feathers whip all out in such a windy day."

"Oh, yes, that is the first style," said Betty. "Hartford can't keep it all."

"Hartford can't hold a candle to Boston, even if Mat King is there. Stands to reason we can get fashions just as soon here, if theirs do come from New York. Madam was mighty fine. You see, I do have some grand friends, Betty. Your uncle was a man well thought of."

"Madam Bowdoin holds her age wonderfully," said Mrs. Leverett.

"Yes. But she's never done a day's work in her life, and I don't remember when I didn't work. Let me see-I've most forgot the thread of my discourse. Oh, you never would believe, Betty, that twenty year ago there was just such a fashion. I had a white beaver-what possessed me to get it I don't know. Everything was awful high. I had an idea that white would be rather plain, but when it had that great bow on top, and strings a full finger wide-well, I didn't even dare show it to your uncle! So I packed it away with white wax and in a linen towel, and when she'd gone yesterday I went and looked at it. 'Taint white now, but it's just the color of rich cream when it's stood twenty-four hours or so. Fursisee, they were just as much alike as two peas except as to color and the feathers. I declare I was beat! Now, if you were going to be married, Betty, it might do for a wedding hat."

"But I'm not going to be married," with a sigh.

"I should hope not," said her mother-"at sixteen."

"My sister Patty was married when she was sixteen, and Submit when she was seventeen. The oldest girls went off in a hurry, so the others had to fill their places. Well-it just amazes me reading about this bonnet. And whatever I'll do with mine except to give it away, I don't know. I did think once of having it dyed. But the bow on top was so handsome, and I've kept paper wadded up inside, and it hasn't flatted down a mite. Now, Elizabeth, she has that silk we all thought so foolish, and her brown frock and pelisse will be just the thing to travel in. And maybe I could find something else. The things will be scattered when I am dead and gone, and I might as well have the good of giving them away. Most of the girls are married off and have husbands to provide for them. I used to think I'd take some orphan body to train and sort of fill Polly's place, for she grows more unreliable every day. Yet I do suppose it's Christian charity to keep her. And young folks are so trifling."

"Go make a cup of tea, Betty," said Mrs. Leverett.

"Now, Elizabeth," when Betty had shut the door, "I don't see why you mightn't as well let Betty go as not. 'Tisn't as if it was among strangers. And there's really no telling what may happen next year. We haven't any promise of that."

Mrs. Leverett looked up in surprise.

"Tisn't every day such a chance comes to hand. She couldn't go alone on a journey like that. And 'Lecty seems quite lotting on it."

"But Betty's just started in at housekeeping, and she would forget so much."

"Betty started in full six months ago. And the world swings round so fast I dare say what she learns will be as old-fashioned as the hills in a few years. I didn't do the way my mother taught me-husband used to laugh me out of it. She'll have time enough to learn."

The tea, a biscuit, and a piece of pie came in in tempting array. Aunt Priscilla was at her second cup when Jonas Field arrived, good ten minutes before the time.

"You come over to-morrow, Betty," said Aunt Priscilla. "You and Dorothy just take a run; it'll do you good. That child will turn into a book next. She's got some of the Adams streaks in her. And girls don't need so much book learning. Solomon's wise, and he don't even know his letters."

That made Doris laugh. She was getting quite used to Aunt Priscilla. She rose and made a pretty courtesy, and said she would like to come.

Polly had forgotten to light the lamp. She had been nursing Solomon, and the fire had burned low. Aunt Priscilla scolded, to be sure. Polly was getting rather deaf as well.

"It's warm out in the kitchen," said Polly.

"I want it warm here. I aint going to begin to save on firing at my time of life! I have enough to last me out, and I don't suppose anybody will thank me for the rest. Bring in some logs."

Aunt Priscilla sat with a shawl around her until the cheerful warmth began to diffuse itself and the blaze lightened up the room. Polly out in the kitchen was rehearsing her woes to Solomon.

"It's my 'pinion if missus lives much longer she'll be queerer'n Dick's hatband. That just wouldn't lay anyhow, I've heerd tell, though I don't know who Dick was and what he'd been doing, but he was mighty queer. 'Pears to me he must a-lived before the war when General Washington licked the English. And there's no suitin' missus. First it's too hot and you're 'stravagant, then it's too cold and she wants to burn up all the wood in creation!"

Aunt Priscilla watched the flame of the dancing scarlet, blue, and leaping w

hite-capped arrows that shot up, and out of the side of one eye she saw a picture on the end of the braided rug-a little girl with a cloud of light curls sitting there with a great gray cat in her lap. The room was so much less lonely then. Perhaps she was getting old, real old, with a weakness for human kind. Was that a sign? She did enjoy the runs over to the Leveretts'. What would happen if she should not be able to go out!

She gave a little shudder over that. Of all the large family of sisters and brothers there was no one living very near or dear to her. She was next to the youngest. They had all married, some had died, one brother had gone to the Carolinas and found the climate so agreeable he had settled there. One sister had gone back to England. There were some nieces and nephews, but in the early part of her married life Mr. Perkins had objected to any of them making a home at his house. "We have no children of our own," he said, "and I take it as a sign that if the Lord had meant us to care for any, he would have sent them direct to us, and not had us taking them in at second-hand."

They had both grown selfish and only considered their own wants and comforts. But the years of solitude looked less and less inviting to the woman, who had been born with a large social side that had met with a pinch here, been lopped off there, and crowded in another person's measure. If the person had not been upright, scrupulously just in his dealings, and a good provider, that would have altered her respect for him. And wives were to obey their husbands, just as children were trained to obey their parents.

But children were having ideas of their own now. Well, when she was sixteen she went to Marblehead and spent a summer with her sister Esther, who was having hard times then with her flock of little children, and who a few years after had given up the struggle. Mr. Green had married again and gone out to the lake countries and started a sawmill, where there were forests to his hand.

But this long-ago summer had been an epoch in her life. She had baked and brewed, swept and scrubbed, cooked and put in her spare time spinning, while poor Esther sewed and took care of a very cross pair of twins and crawled about a little. There had been some merrymaking that would hardly have been allowed at home, and a young man who had sat on the doorstep and talked, who had taken her driving, and with whom she had wickedly and frivolously danced one afternoon when a party of young people had a merrymaking after the hay was in. It was the only time in her life she had ever danced, and it was a glimpse of fairy delight to her. But she was frightened half to death when she came home, and began to have two sides to her life, and she had never gotten rid of the other side.

She had a vague idea that next summer she would go again. Meanwhile Mr. Perkins began to come. There was an older sister, and no one surmised it was Priscilla, until in March, when he spoke to Priscilla's father.

"I declare I was clear beat," said the worthy parent. "Seems to me Martha would be more suitable, but his heart's set on Priscilla. He's a good, steady man, forehanded and all that, and will make her a good husband, and she'll keep growing older. There is nothing to say against it."

The idea that Priscilla would say anything was not entertained for a moment. Mr. Perkins began to walk home from church with her and come to tea on Sunday evening, and it was soon noised about that they were keeping steady company. Martha went to Marblehead that summer and one of the twins died. In the fall Priscilla was married and went to housekeeping in King Street, over her husband's place of business. She was engrossed with her life, but she dreamed sometimes of the other side and the young man who had remarked upon the gowns she wore and put roses in her hair, and she had ideas of lace and ribbons and the vanities of the world in that early married period. Her attire was rich but severely plain; she was not stinted in anything. She was even allowed to "lay by" on her own account, which meant saving up a little money. She made a good, careful wife. And some months before he died, touched by her attentive care, her husband said:

"Silla, I don't see but you might as well have all I'm worth, as to divide it round in the family. They will be disappointed, I suppose, but they haven't earned nor saved. You have been a good wife, and you just take your comfort on it when I'm gone. Then if you should feel minded to give back some of it-why, that's your affair."

The Perkins family had not liked it very well. They knew Aunt Priscilla would marry again, and all that money go to a second husband. But she had not married, though there had been opportunities. Later on she almost wished she had. She had entertained plans of taking a girl to bring up, and had considered this little orphaned Adams girl,-who she had imagined in a vague way would be glad of a good home with a prospect of some money,-if she behaved herself rightly. She had pictured a stout, red-cheeked girl who needed training, and not a fine little lady like Doris Adams.

But she was glad Doris had sat there on the rug with the cat in her lap. And she was glad there had been the summer at Marblehead, and the young man who had said more with his eyes than with his lips. He had never married, and had been among the earliest to lay down his life for his country. She always felt that in a way he belonged to her. And if in youth she had had one good time, why shouldn't Betty? Perhaps Betty might marry in some sensible way that would be for the best, and this visit at Hartford would illume all her life.

There were things about it she had never confessed. When her conscience upbraided her mightily she called them sins and prayed over them. There were other matters-the white bonnet had been one. She had purchased it of a friend who was going in mourning, who had made her try it on, and said:

"Just look at yourself in the glass, Priscilla Perkins. You never had anything half so becoming. You look five years younger!"

She did look in the glass. She could have pirouetted around the room in delight. She was in love with her pretty youthful face.

So she bought the hat-at a bargain, of course. She put it away when it came home, and visited it surreptitiously, but somehow never had the courage to confess, or to propose wearing it, though other women of her age indulged in as much and more gayety. In the spring she bought a new silk gown, a gray with a kind of lilac tint, and cut off the breadths to make sure of it.

Mr. Perkins viewed it critically.

"I'm not quite certain, Priscilla, that it is appropriate. And a brown would give you so much more good wear. It looks too-too youthful."

He never remembered there were fifteen years between himself and Priscilla.

"I-I think I would change it."

"Oh," with the best accent of regret she could assume, "I have cut off the breadths and begun to sew them up. It's the spring color. And summer is coming."

"Uu-um--" with a reluctant nod.

She wore it to a christening and a wedding, but the real delight in it had to be smothered. And when her husband proposed she should have it dyed she laid it away.

There were other foolish indulgences. Bows and artificial flowers that she had put on bonnets and worn in her own room with locked doors, then pulled them off and laid them away. She was so fond of pretty things, gay things, the pleasures of life-and she was always relegated to the prose! Other people wore finery with a serene calmness, and went about their daily duties, to church, on missions of mercy, and were well thought of. Where was the sin? Her clothes cost quite as much. Mr. Perkins was a close manager but not stingy with his wife.

She used to think she would confess to her mother about the dancing, but she never had. She ought to bring out these "sins of the eye" and lay them before her husband, but she never found the right moment and the courage. She had meant to deal them out to the Leverett girls, especially Electa-but Electa seemed to prosper so amazingly! She must do something with them, and clear up her life, sweep, and garnish before the summons came. She was getting to be old now, and if she went off suddenly someone would come in and take possession and scatter her treasures. Likely as not it would be the Perkinses, for she hadn't made any will.

Why shouldn't Betty have some of them and go off on her good time. It wouldn't be housekeeping and spinning and looking after fractious children. But those evenings out on the stoop, and the timid invitations to take a walk, the pressure of the hand, the smile out of the eyes-oh, why--

All her life she had been asking "Why?"-taking the hard and distasteful because she thought there was a virtue in it, not because she had been trained to believe goodness must have a severe side and that really pleasant things were wicked. The "Whys" had never been answered, much as she had prayed about them.

She would never take the girl to bring up now. As for Doris Adams-Cousin Winthrop would be thinking presently that the ground wasn't good enough for her to walk on. So there was only Betty, unless she took up some of the Perkins girls. Abby was rather nice. But, after all, her father was only a half-brother to Aunt Priscilla's husband. And she must make that will.

"Missus, aint you goin' to come to supper? I told you 'twas ready full five minutes ago," said an aggrieved voice.

Aunt Priscilla sprang up and gave herself a kind of mental shaking. She stepped around to avoid the little girl on the rug with the cat in her lap. Polly went on grumbling. The toast was cold, the tea had drawn too long, and for once the mistress never said a word in dispraise.

"She's goin' off," thought Polly. "That's a bad sign, though she does sit over the fire a good deal, and you can't tell by that. Land alive! I hope she'll live my time out, or I'll sure have to go to the poorhouse!"

Aunt Priscilla went back to her fire and the vision of the little girl who had made a curious impression on her by a kind of sweetness quite new in her experience. It had disturbed her greatly. Nothing about the child had been as she supposed.

Everybody went down to her, which meant that she had some subtle, indescribable charm, but Aunt Priscilla would have said she had no dictionary words to explain it, though there had been a speller and definer in her day.

The little girl had come to "seven times" in the tables. She had studied an hour, when Betty said they had better go and get back by dark. Jamie boy gave a little "snicker" as she shut her book. The disdain of her young compeer was quite hard to bear, but she meekly accepted the fact that she "wasn't smart." If she had known how he longed to go with them, she would have felt quite even, but he kept that to himself.

All Boston was still hooded in snow, for every few days there came a new fall. Oh, how beautiful it was! Everybody walked in the middle of the street,-it was so hard and smooth,-though you had to keep turning out for vehicles, but one didn't meet them very often.

Boots were not made high for girls and women then, but everybody had a pair of thick woolen stockings, some of them with a leather sole on the outside, which was more durable. The children pulled them well up over their knees and kept good and warm. Some people had leather leggings, but rubber boots had not been invented.

Boys were out snowballing-girls, too, for that matter. Someone sent a ball that flew all over Doris, but she only laughed. She snowballed with little James now and then.

So they were bright and merry when they reached the sign of "Jonas Field," and Doris gave her pretty, rather formal greeting. She was never quite sure of Aunt Priscilla.

"I suppose you came to see Solomon!" exclaimed that lady.

"Not altogether," replied Doris.

"Well, he is out in the kitchen. And, Betty, what is the prospect to-day?"

"Oh, Aunt Priscilla, I almost think I'll get off. Father is on my side, and mother did really promise 'Lecty last summer. Mother couldn't get along alone, you know, and Jimmie boy is doing so well at school that she would like to keep him all winter. Father knows of a girl who would be very glad to come in and work for three dollars a month, though he says everybody gives four or more. But Mr. Eastman will be here so soon. Father said I might get some things in Hartford."

"We'll see what Boston has first," returned Aunt Priscilla with a little snort. "I've been hunting over my things."

People in those days thought it a great favor to have clothes left to them, as you will see by old wills. And occasionally the grandmothers brought out garments beforehand, and did not wait until they were dead and gone.

"I have a silk gown that I never wore above half a dozen times. I could have it dyed, I suppose, but they're so apt to get stringy afterward. Maybe you wouldn't like it because it's a kind of gray. You're free to leave it alone. I shan't be a mite put out."

The old spirit of holding on reasserted itself. Of course, if Betty didn't like it, her duty would be done.

"Oh, Aunt Priscilla! It looks like moonlight over the harbor. It's beautiful."

The elder woman had shaken it out and made ripples with it, and Betty stood in admiring wonderment. It looked to her like a wedding gown, but she knew Aunt Priscilla's had been Canton crape, dyed brown first and then black and then worn out. There was an old adage to the effect that one never could get rich until one's wedding clothes were worn out.

"It's spotted some, I find-just a faint kind of yellow, but that may cut out. I never had any good of it," and she sighed. "It isn't what you might call gay; but, land alive! I might as well have bought bright red! There's plenty of it to make over. They weren't wearing such skimping skirts then, and I had an extra breadth put in so that it would all fade alike. Well--" And she gave a half-reluctant sigh.

"Why, I feel as if it ought to be saved for a wedding gown," declared Betty, her eyes alight with pleasure. "It's the most beautiful thing. Oh, Aunt Priscilla!"

A modern girl would have thrown her arms around Aunt Priscilla's neck and kissed her, if one could imagine a modern girl being grateful for a gown a quarter of a century old, except for masquerading purposes. People who could remember the great Jonathan Edwards awakening still classed all outward demonstrations of regard as carnal affections to be subdued. The poor old life hungered now for a little human love without understanding what its want really was, just as it had hungered for more than half a century.

"Well, child, maybe 'Lecty can plan to make something out of it. You better just take it to her. And here's a box of ribbons, things I've had no use for this many a year. You see I had a way of saving up-I didn't have much call for wearing such."

Aunt Priscilla felt that she was renouncing idols. How many times she had fingered these things with exquisite love and longing and a desire to wear them! Madam Bowdoin, almost ten years older, wore her fine ribbons and laces and her own snowy white hair in little rings about her forehead. No one accused her of aping youth. Aunt Priscilla had worn a false front under her cap for many a year that was now a rusty, faded brown. Her own white hair was cut off close.

"Oh, Aunt Priscilla, I think my ship has come in from the Indies. I never can thank you enough. I'm so glad you saved them. You see, times are hard, and if father had to pay a girl for taking my place at home, he wouldn't feel that he could afford me much finery. And the journey, too. But I have only to pay from Springfield to Boston, for Mr. Eastman has his own conveyance-a nice big covered sleigh. And now all these beautiful things! I feel as rich as a queen."

Doris had been standing there big-eyed and never once asked for Solomon.

Aunt Priscilla began to fold the gown. It still had a crackle and rustle delightful to hear. And there was a roll of new pieces.

"Why, next summer I could have a lovely drawn bonnet-only it does cost so much to have one made. I wish I knew how," said Betty.

"I suppose-you don't want to see my old thing?" rather contemptuously.

"The hat, do you mean? Oh, I just should! I've thought so much about it, and how queer it is that old-fashioned articles should come round."

"Every seven years, people say; but I don't believe it's quite as often as that."

From the careful way it was pinned up, one would never imagine it had been out that very morning. The bows were filled with paper to keep them up, and bits of paper crumpled up around, so they could not be crushed. Its days of whiteness were over, but it was the loveliest, softest cream tint, and looked as if it had just come over from France. The beaver was almost like plush, and the puffed satin lining inside was as fresh as if its reverse plaits had just been laid in place.

"Oh, do put it on!" cried Doris eagerly.

Betty held the strings together under her fair round chin.

"You look like a queen!" said the child admiringly.

"Why it is just as they are wearing them now, the tip-top style. 'Lecty couldn't have described this hat any better if she had seen it. And if I can have it, Aunt Priscilla, I shall not care a bit about feathers. It's beautiful enough without."

"Yes, yes, take them all and have a good time with them. Now you see if you can pack it up-you'll have to learn."

Aunt Priscilla dropped into her chair. She had cast out her life's temptations, and it had been a great struggle.

"Not that way-make the bow stand up. The bandbox is large enough. And give the strings a loose fold, so. Now put that white paper over. It's like making a gambrel roof. Then bring up the ends of the towel and pin them. Polly shall go along and carry it home for you."

"I'm a thousand times obliged. I wish I knew what to do in return."

"Have a good time, but don't forget that a good time is not all to life. Child-why do you look at me so?" for Doris had come close to Aunt Priscilla and seemed studying her.

"Were you ever a little girl, and what was your good time like?"

Doris' wondering eyes were soft and seemed more pitying than curious.

"No, I never was a little girl. There were no little girls in my time." She jerked the words out in a spasmodic way, and put her hand to her heart as if there was a pain or pressure. "When I was three year old I had to take care of my little brother. I stood up on a bench to wash dishes when I was four, and scoured milk-pans and the pewter plates we used then. And at six I was spinning on the little wheel and knitting stockings. I went to school part of every year, and at thirteen I was doing a woman's work. No, I never was a little girl."

Doris put her soft hand over the one that had been strained and made coarse and large in the joints, and roughened as to skin while yet it was in its tender youth. And all the pay there had been from her father's estate had been three hundred dollars to each girl, the remainder being divided evenly among the boys. She felt suddenly grateful to Hatfield Perkins for the easier times of her married life.

"Now, both of you go out in the kitchen and get a piece of Polly's fresh gingerbread. She hasn't lost her art in that yet. Then you must run off home, for it will soon be dark, and Betty will be needed about the supper."

The gingerbread was splendid. Doris broke off little crumbs and fed them to Solomon, and told him sometime she would come and spend the afternoon with him. She should be so lonesome when Betty went away.

Polly carried the bandbox and bundle for them, and Betty took the box of ribbons. Aunt Priscilla brought out the light-stand and set her candle on it and turned over the leaves of her old Bible to read about the daughters of Zion with their tinkling feet and their cauls and their round tires like the moon, the chains and the bracelets and the bonnets, the earrings, the mantles, the wimples and the crisping pins, the fine linen and the hoods and the veils-and all these were to be done away with! To be sure she did not really know what they all were, but her few had been snares and a source of secret idolatry for years and years. She had nothing to do now but to consider the end of all things and prepare for it. But there was the dreaded will yet to make. If only there was someone who really cared about her!

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