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A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 25307

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

When Providence overruled, in the early part of the century, people generally gave in. The stronger tide was called Providence. Perhaps there was a small degree of fatalism in it. So Mrs. Leverett acquiesced, and recalled the fact that she had promised Electa that Betty should come.

Aunt Priscilla's generosity was astonishing. The silken gown would not be made over until Betty reached Hartford. She worked industriously on her white one, but her mother found so many things for her to do. Then Martha Grant came-a stout, hearty, pink-cheeked country girl who knew how to "take hold," and was glad of an opportunity to earn something toward a wedding gown. Doris was so interested that she hardly remembered how much she should miss Betty, though Warren promised to help her with her lessons.

So the trunk was packed. Luckily the bandbox could go in it, for it was quite small. Most of the bandboxes were immense affairs in which you could stow a good many things besides the bonnet. Then they had a calico cover with a stout cord run through the hem.

Mr. Eastman looked rather askance at the trunk-he had so many budgets of his own, and for his wife. However, they strapped it on the back securely, and the good-bys were uttered for a whole month.

Doris had said hers in the morning. She could not divest herself of a vague presentiment that something would happen to keep Betty until to-morrow. But Martha was to sit in her place at the table.

Now that the reign of slavery was over, the farmers' girls from the country often came in for a while. They were generally taken in as one of the family-indeed, few of them would have come to be put down to the level of a common servant. Many had their old slaves still living with them, and numbers of the quality preferred colored servants.

Jamie boy went out to snowball after dinner. Doris worked a line across her sampler. She was going to begin the alphabet next. There were three kinds of letters. Ordinary capitals like printing, small letters, and writing capitals. These were very difficult, little girls thought.

She put up her work presently, studied her spelling, and went over "nine times." She could say the ten and eleven perfectly, but that very day she had missed on "nine times," and Mrs. Webb told her she had better study it a little more.

"I do wonder if you will ever get through with the multiplication tables!" said Aunt Elizabeth.

Doris sighed. It was hard to be so slow at learning.

"'Nine times' floored me pretty well, I remember," confessed Martha Grant. "There's great difference in children. Some have heads for figures and some don't. My sister Catharine could go all round me. But she's that dumb about sewing-I don't believe you ever saw the beat! She just hates it. She'd like to teach school!"

Doris was very glad to hear that someone else had been slow.

Betty had been out to tea occasionally, and Doris tried to make believe it was so now. They would have missed her more but Martha was a great talker. There were seven children at the Grants', and one son married. They had a big farm and a good deal of stock. Martha's lover had bought a farm also, with a small old house of two rooms. He had to build a new barn, so they would wait for their house. She had a nice cow she had raised, a flock of twelve geese, and her father had promised her the old mare and another cow. She wanted to be married by planting time. She had a nice feather bed and two pairs of pillows and five quilts, beside two wool blankets.

Mrs. Leverett was a good deal interested in all this. It took her back to her own early life. City girls did come to have different ideas. There was something refreshing in this very homeliness.

Martha knit and sewed as fast as she talked. Mrs. Leverett said "she didn't let the grass grow under her feet," and Doris wondered if she would tread it out in the summer. Of course, it couldn't grow in the winter.

"Aunt Elizabeth," she said presently, in a sad little voice, "am I to sleep all alone?"

"Oh dear, no. You would freeze to an icicle. Martha will take Betty's place."

They wrapped up a piece of brick heated pretty well when Doris went to bed. For it was desperately cold. But the soft feathers came up all around one, and in a little while she was as warm as toast. She did not even wake when Martha came to bed. Sometimes Betty cuddled the dear little human ball, and only half awake Doris would return the hug and find a place to kiss, whether it was cheek or chin.

"Aunt Elizabeth," when she came in from school one day, "do you know that Christmas will be here soon-next Tuesday?"

"Well, yes," deliberately, "it is supposed to be Christmas."

"But it really is," with child-like eagerness. "The day on which Christ was born."

"The day that is kept in commemoration of the birth of Christ. But some people try to remember every day that Christ cams to redeem the world. So that one day is not any better than another."

Doris looked puzzled. "At home we always kept it," she said slowly. "Miss Arabella made a Christmas cake and ever so many little ones. The boys came around to sing No?l, and they were given a cake and a penny, and we went to church."

"Yes; it is quite an English fashion. When you are a larger girl and more used to our ways you will understand why we do not keep it."

"Don't you really keep it?" in surprise.

"No, my dear."

The tone was kind, but not encouraging to further enlightenment. Doris experienced a great sense of disappointment. For a little while she was very homesick for Betty. To have her away a whole month! And a curious thing was that no one seemed really to miss her and wish her back. Mrs. Leverett scanned the weather and the almanac and hoped they would get safely to Springfield without a storm. Mr. Leverett counted up the time. It had not stormed yet.

No Christmas and no Betty. Not even a wise old cat like Solomon, or a playful, amusing little kitten. The school children stared when she talked about Christmas.

Two big tears fell on her book. She was frightened, for she had not meant to cry. And now a sense of desolation rushed over her. Oh, what could she do without Betty!

Then a sleigh stopped at the door. She ran to the window, and when she saw that it was Uncle Winthrop she was out of the door like a flash.

"Well, little one?" he said in pleasant inquiry, which seemed to comprehend a great deal. "How do you get along without Betty? Come in out of the cold. I've just been wondering if you would like to come over and keep Christmas with me. I believe they do not have any Christmas here."

"No, they do not. Oh, Uncle Win, I should be so glad to come, if I wouldn't trouble you!"

The eyes were full of entreating light.

"I have been thinking about it a day or two. And Recompense is quite willing. The trouble really would be hers, you know."

"I would try and not make any trouble."

"Oh, it was where we should put you to sleep this cold weather. You would be lost in the great guest chamber. But Recompense arranged it all. She has put up a little cot in the corner of her room. I insisted last winter that she should keep a fire; she is a little troubled with rheumatism. And now she enjoys the warmth very much."

"Oh, how good you are!"

She was smiling now and dancing around on one foot. He smiled too.

"Where's Aunt Elizabeth?" said Uncle Winthrop.

Doris ran to the kitchen and, not seeing her, made the same inquiry.

"She's gone up to the storeroom to find a lot of woolen patches for me, and I'm going to start another quilt. She said she'd never use them in the days of creation, and they wan't but six. She'll be down in a minute," said Martha.

"Uncle Winthrop," going back to him beside the fire, and wrinkling up her brow a little, "is not Christmas truly Christmas? Has anyone made a mistake about it?"

"My child, everybody does not keep it in the same manner. Sometime you will learn about the brave heroes who came over and settled in a strange land, fought Indians and wild beasts, and then fought again for liberty, and why they differed from their brethren. But I always keep it; and I thought now that Betty was gone you might like to come and go to church with me."

"Oh, I shall be glad to!" with a joyful smile.

Aunt Elizabeth entered. Cousin Winthrop presented his petition that he should take Doris over this afternoon and bring her back on Wednesday, unless there was to be no school all the week.

"I'm afraid she will bother Recompense. You're so little used to children. I keep my hand in with grandchildren," smilingly.

"No word from Betty yet? About Doris now-oh, you need not be afraid; I think Recompense is quite in the notion."

"Well, if you think best. Doris isn't a mite of trouble, I will say that. No, we can't hear from Betty before to-morrow. Mr. Eastman thought likely he'd find someone coming right back from Springfield, and I charged Betty to send if she could. I'm glad there has been no snow so far."

"Very fair winter weather. How is Foster and business?"

"Desperately dull, both of them," and Mrs. Leverett gave a piquant nod that would have done Betty credit.

"Go get your other clothes, Doris, and Martha will see to you. And two white aprons. Recompense keeps her house as clean as a pink, and you couldn't get soiled if you rolled round the floor. But dirt doesn't stick to Doris. There, run along, child."

Martha scrubbed her rigorously, and then helped her dress. She came back bright as a new pin, with her two high-necked aprons in her hand, and her nightgown, which Aunt Elizabeth put in her big black camlet bag.

"I wish you'd see that she studies a little, Winthrop. She is so behind in some things."

He nodded. Then Doris put on her hood and cloak and said good-by to Martha, while she kissed Aunt Elizabeth and left a message for the rest.

"It's early, so we will take a little ride around," he said, wrapping her up snug and warm.

The plan had been in his mind for several days. The evening before he had broached it to Recompense. Not but what he was master in his own house, but he hardly knew how to plan for a child.

"If Doris was a boy I could put him on the big sofa in my room. Still, Cato can look after a fire in the guest chamber. It would be too cruel to put a child alone in that great cold barn."

There was a very obstinate impression that it was healthy to sleep in cold rooms, so people shut themselves up pretty close, and sometimes drew the bedclothes over their heads. But Winthrop Adams had a rather luxurious side to his nature; he called it a premonition of old age. He kept a fire in his dressing room, where he often sat and read a while at night. His sleeping room adjoined it.

"Why, we might bring a cot in my room," she said. "I remember how the child delights in a fire. She's such a delicate-looking little thing."

"She is standing our winter very well and goes to school every day. I'm afraid she might disturb you?"

"Not if she has a bed by herself. And there is the corner jog; the cot will just fit into it."

When they put it there in the morning it looked as if it must have taken root long ago. Then Recompense arranged a nice dressing table with a white cover and a pretty bowl and ewer, and a low chair beside it covered with chintz cushions. Her own high-post bedstead had curtains all around it of English damask, and the curiously carved high-back chairs had cushions tied in of the same material. There was no carpet on the painted floor, but a rug beside the bed and one at the stand, and a great braided square before the fire. It was a well-furnished room for the times, though that of Mr. Adams was rather more luxurious.

He was very glad that Recompense had assented so readily, for he was beginning to feel that he ought to take a deeper interest in his little ward.

There were numberless sleighs out on some of the favorite thoroughfares. For even now, in spite of the complaints of hard times, there was a good deal of real wealth in Boston, fine equipages with colored coachmen and footmen. There were handsome houses with lawns and gardens, some of them having orchards besides. There were rich furnishings as well, from France and England and from the East. There were china and plate and glass proud of their age, having come through several generations.

And though there were shades and degrees of social position, there was a fine breeding among the richer people and a kind of pride among the poorer ones. There were occasions when they mingled with an agreeable courtesy, yet ea

ch side kept its proper and distinctive relations; real worth was respected and dignified living held in esteem. From a printer's boy, Benjamin Franklin had stood before kings and added luster to his country. From a farm at Braintree had come one of the famous Adamses and his not less notable wife, who had admirably filled the position of the first lady of the land.

Yet the odd, narrow, crooked streets of a hundred years before were running everywhere, occasionally broadened and straightened. There were still wide spaces and pasture fields, declivities where the barberry bush and locust and May flower grew undisturbed. There were quaint nooks with legends, made famous since by eloquent pens; there were curious old shops designated by queer sign and symbols.

But even the pleasures were taken in a leisurely, dignified way. There was no wild rush to stand at the head or to outdo a neighbor, or astonish those who might be looking on and could not participate.

Doris enjoyed it wonderfully. She had a sudden accession of subtle pride when some fine old gentleman bowed to Uncle Win, or a sleigh full of elegantly attired ladies smiled and nodded. There were large hats framing in pretty faces, and bows and nodding plumes on the top such as Mrs. King had written about. Oh, how lovely Betty would look in hers! What was Hartford like; and New Haven, with its college; then, farther on, New York; and Washington, where the Presidents lived while they held office? She was learning so many things about this new home.

Over here on the Common the boys were drawn up in two lines and snowballing as if it was all in dead earnest. And this was the rambling old house with its big porch and stepping block, and its delightful welcome.

"Are you not most frozen?" asked Miss Recompense. "Here is the fire you like so much. Take off your cloak and hood. We are very glad to have you come and make us a visit."

"Oh, are you?" Doris' face was a gleam of delight. "And I am glad to come. I was beginning to feel dreadfully lonesome without Betty. I ought not when there were so many left," and a bright color suffused her face. "Then there is little James."

"And we have no small people."

"I never had any over home, you know. And so many people here have such numbers of brothers and sisters. It must be delightful."

"But they are not all little at once."

"No," laughed Doris. "I should like to be somewhere in the middle. Babies are so cunning, when they don't cry."

Miss Recompense smiled at that.

There was a comfortable low chair for Doris, and Uncle Win found her seated there, the ruddy firelight throwing up her face like a painting. Miss Recompense went out to see about the supper. There was a good-natured black woman in the kitchen to do the cooking, and Cato, who did the outside work and waited on Dinah and Miss Recompense-a tall, sedate, rather pompous colored man.

Some indefinable charm about the house appealed to Doris. The table was arranged in such an attractive manner. Nothing could be more delightful than Aunt Elizabeth's cooking, but she stopped short at an invisible something. The china was saved for company, though there was one pretty cup they always gave to Aunt Priscilla. The everyday dishes were earthen, such as ordinary people used, and being of rather poor glaze they soon checked. Doris knew these pretty plates and the tall cream jug and sugar dish had not been brought out especially for her, though she had supposed they were when they all came over to a company tea.

She started so when Uncle Winthrop addressed her in French, and glanced at him in amaze; then turned to a pink glow and laughed as she collected her scattered wits to answer.

What a soft, exquisite accent the child had! Miss Recompense paused in her pouring tea to listen.

Uncle Win smiled and continued. They were around the pretty tea table in a sort of triangle. Uncle Win passed the thin, dainty slices of bread. Miss Recompense, when she was done with the tea, passed the cold chicken. Then there were cheese and two kinds of preserves, plain cake and fruit cake.

Children rarely drank tea, so Doris had some milk in a glass which was cut with just a sparkle here and there that the light caught and made brilliant.

"How you can understand any such talk as that beats me," said Miss Recompense in a sort of helpless fashion as she glanced from one to the other.

"And if we were abroad talking English the forsigners would say the same thing," replied Mr. Adams.

"But there is some sense in English."

He laughed a little. "And if we lived in China we would think there was a good deal of sense in Chinese, which is said to be one of the queerest languages in the world."

We did not know very much about China in those days, and our knowledge was chiefly gleaned from rather rude maps and some old histories, and the wonderful tales of sea captains.

"It would be a pity for you to fall back when you are such a good scholar," Uncle Win said, looking over to Doris. "One forgets quite easily. I find I am a little lame. But you like your school, and it is near by this cold weather. Perhaps you and I can keep up enough interest to exercise our memories. You have some French books?"

"Two or three. I tried to read 'Paul and Virginia' to Betty, but it took so long to tell the story over that she didn't get interested. There were so many lessons, too."

She did not say that Aunt Elizabeth had discountenanced it. People were horrified by French novels in those days. Rousseau and Voltaire had been held in some degree responsible for the terrible French Revolution. And people shuddered at the name of Tom Paine.

At first the Colonies, as they were still largely called, had been very much interested in the new French Republic. Lafayette had been so impressed with the idea of a government of the people when he had lent his assistance to America, that he had joined heartily in a plan for the regeneration of France. But after the king was executed, Sunday abolished, and the government passed into the hands of tyrants who shouted "liberty" and yet brought about the slavery of terror, he and many others had stood aside-indeed, left their beloved city to the mob. Then had come the first strong and promising theories of Napoleon. He had been first Consul, then Consul for life, then Emperor, and was now the scourge of Europe.

To Mrs. Leverett all French books were as actors and plays, to be shunned. That any little girl should have read a French story or be able to repeat French verses was quite horrifying. She had a feeling that it really belittled the Bible to appear in the French language.

"Yes," returned Uncle Winthrop assentingly. He could understand the situation, for he knew Mrs. Leverett's prejudices were very strong, and continuous. That she was a thoroughly good and upright woman he readily admitted.

The supper being finished they went to the cozy hall fire again. You had to sit near it to keep comfortable, for the rooms were large in those days and the outer edges chilly. Some people were putting up great stoves in their halls and the high pipes warmed the stairs and all around.

Miss Recompense brought out some knitting. She was making a spread in small squares,-red, white, and blue,-and it would be very fine when it was done. Doris was very much interested when she laid down the squares to display the pattern.

"I suppose you knit?" remarked Miss Recompense.

"No. I don't know how. Betty showed me a little. And Aunt Elizabeth is going to teach me to make a stocking. It seems very easy when you see other people do it," and Doris sighed. "But I am afraid I am not very smart about a good many things besides tables."

That honest admission rather annoyed Uncle Win. Elizabeth had said it as well. For his part he did not see that reading the Bible through by the time you were eight years old and knitting a pile of stockings was proof of extraordinary ability.

"What kind of fancy work can you do?" asked Miss Recompense.

"I've begun a sampler. That isn't hard. And Miss Arabella taught me to hem and to darn and to make lace."

"Make lace! What kind of lace?"

"Like the beautiful lace Madam Sheafe makes. Only I never did any so wide. But Miss Arabella used to. Betty took me there one afternoon. Madam Sheafe has such a lovely little house. And, oh, Uncle Win, she can talk French a little."

He smiled and nodded.

"You see," began Doris with sweet seriousness, "there was no one to make shirts for, and I suppose Miss Arabella thought it wasn't worth while. But I hemmed some on Uncle Leverett's, and Aunt Elizabeth said it was very nicely done."

"I dare say." She looked as if anything she undertook would be nicely done, Miss Recompense thought.

"Betty was learning housekeeping when she went to Hartford. I think that is very nice. To make pies and bread and cake, and roast chickens and turkeys and everything. But little girls have to go to school first. Six years is a long time, isn't it?"

A half-smile crossed the grave face of Miss Recompense.

"It seems a long time to a little girl, no doubt, but when you are older it passes very rapidly. There are years that prove all too short for the work crowded in them, and then they begin to lengthen again, though I suppose that is because we no longer hurry to get a certain amount of work done."

"I wish the afternoons could be longer."

"They will be in May. I like the long afternoons too, though the winter evenings by a cheerful fire are very enjoyable."

"The world is so beautiful," said Doris, "that you can hardly tell which you do like best. Only the summer, with its flowers and the sweet, green out-of-doors, fills one with a kind of thanksgiving. Why did they not have Thanksgiving in the summer?"

"Because we give thanks for a bountiful harvest."

"Oh," Doris responded.

Uncle Winthrop watched her as she chattered on, her voice like a soft, purling rill. Presently Dinah called Miss Recompense out in the kitchen to consult her about the breakfast, for she went to bed as soon as she had the kitchen set to rights. Then Doris glanced over to him in a shy, asking fashion, and brought her chair to his side. He inquired about Father Langhorne, and found he had been educated in Paris, and was really a Roman priest.

Perhaps it was the province of childhood to see good in everybody. Or was it due to the simple life, the absence of that introspection, which had already done so much to make the New England conscience supersensitive and strenuous.

When Miss Recompense returned she found them deep in French again. Doris laughed softly when Uncle Winthrop blundered a little, and perhaps he did it now and then purposely.

The big old clock that said "Forever, never!" long before Longfellow's time, measured off nine hours.

"It's funny," said Doris, "but I'm not a bit sleepy, and at Uncle Leverett's I almost nod, sometimes. Maybe it's the French."

"I should not wonder," and Uncle Win smiled.

"We will both go-it is about my time," remarked Miss Recompense. "Your uncle sits up all hours of the night."

"And would like to sleep all hours of the morning," he returned humorously, "but Miss Recompense won't let me. If she raises her little finger the whole house moves."

"Then she doesn't raise it very often," said that lady. "But it does seem a sin to sleep away good wholesome daylight."

There were some candlesticks on a kind of secretary with a shelf-like top, and she lighted one, stepping out in the kitchen to see that all was safe and to bid Cato lock up. When she returned the candle was sending out its cheerful beam, so she nodded to Doris, who said good-night to Uncle Winthrop and followed her.

Doris had an odd, company-like feeling. Her little bed was pretty, and the room had a fragrance of summer time, of roses and lavender. Miss Recompense stirred the fire and put on a big log. Then she sat down by the stand and read her nightly chapter, turning a little to give Doris a kind of privacy.

"I hope you will sleep well. Your uncle thought you would be lonesome in the guest chamber."

"I would ever so much rather be here. And the bed is so small and cunning, just the bed for a little girl. Thank you ever so many times."

She said her prayers and breathed a soft good-night to the fire. And though she did not feel strange nor sleepy, and wondered about Betty and a dozen other things, one of the last remembrances was the glimmer of the candle on the wall, and the soft rustling of the blaze, that said "Snow, snow, snow."

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