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   Chapter 11 A LITTLE CHRISTMAS

A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 28784

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Sure enough, it snowed the next morning-one of the soft, clinging storms that loaded every branch with a furry aspect, made mounds of the shrubs, and wrapped the south sides of the houses with a mantle of dazzling whiteness. Now and then a patch fell off, and a long pendant would swing from the trees, and finally drop. It was a delight to see them.

The breakfast was laid on the same small table in use last night, but Cato brought in everything hot, and "waited" as Barby used at home. Uncle Winthrop said she looked bright as a rose, and her cheeks had a delicate pink.

Afterward he invited her in his study and told her she might look about and perhaps find a book to entertain herself with while he wrote some letters.

"Thank you. I hope I shall not disturb you."

"Oh, no." He felt somehow he could answer for her. She was so gentle in her movements, and he really wanted to see how he liked having a little girl about. There was a vague idea in his mind that he might decide to have her here some day, since Miss Recompense had taken a sort of fancy to her.

Oh, what a luxury it was to wander softly about and read titles and look at bindings and speculate on what she would like! They had very few books at Uncle Leverett's. Some volume of sermons, a few biographies that she had found rather dreary, a history of the French-Canadian War, and some of Poor Richard's Almanacs, which she thought the most amusing of all.

There was a circulating library that Warren patronized occasionally. There was also the nucleus of a free library, but so far people had been too busy to think much about reading, except the scholarly minds. Books were expensive, too, and very few persons accumulated any stock of them. Of Mr. Adams' collection some had come to him from his father, and Cousin Charles, who had been called a "queer stick," had some English, Latin, and Italian poets that he had bequeathed to the book lover.

Winthrop Adams was a collector of several things beside books. Now and then at an auction sale on someone's death he picked up odd articles that were of value. And so his study was a kind of conglomerate. He had a cabinet of coins from different parts of the world and curios from India and Egypt. Napoleon's campaign in Egypt had awakened a good deal of interest in the country of the Pharaohs.

Doris was so still he glanced around presently. She was curled up in the corner of the chimney, a book on her knees and her head bent over until the curls fell about her in a cloud. When Elizabeth had spoken of the benefit it might be to a growing child to have them cut he had protested at once. They were rarely beautiful, he decided now, gleaming gold in the firelight.

She had a feeling presently that someone was looking at her, so she raised her head, shook away the curls, and smiled.

"Did you find something?"

"'The Vicar of Wakefield,' Uncle Winthrop. Oh, it is delightful! You said I might read anything!" with a touch of hesitation.

"That was quite a wide permission," and he smiled. He couldn't see how that would hurt anyone, but he was not sure of a girl's reading.

"I opened it at a picture-'Preparing Moses for the Fair.' It made me think of Betty going to Hartford. It was so interesting to wonder what you would do, and then to have things happen just right. Aunt Priscilla was so nice. I thought I couldn't like her at first, but I do now. You can't find out all about anyone in a minute, can you?"

"I think not," rather humorously.

"So then I turned to the first of the book. And the Vicar's wife must have known a good deal to read without much spelling. There are some awful hard words in the back of Betty's spelling book. Do you suppose she learned tables and all that?"

"I don't believe she did."

"And she could keep house."

"They were a notable couple."

He took up his pen again and she turned to her book.

Suddenly a flood of golden sunshine poured across the floor, fairly dimming the fire.

"Oh, Uncle Winthrop!" With her book pressed tightly against her body, she flew over to the window like a bird, disturbing nothing, and making only a soft flutter.

"Isn't it glorious!"

The edges of the snow everywhere were illumined with the prismatic rays in proper order. The tree branches caught them, the corners of the houses, the window hoods, the straggling bushes, the fences. Everywhere the sublime beauty was repeated until everything quivered with the excess.

"It is like the New Jerusalem," she said.

The air had softened a great deal. The sun on the window panes spoke of latent warmth. A slight breeze stirred the air, and down came the clinging snow in showers, leaving the trees bare and brown, except the few evergreens.

"It is warmer," Mr. Adams said. "Though it is nearing noon, the warmest part of the day. And so far you have stood the cold weather very well, little Doris," smiling down in the eager face.

"I've snowballed too, and it is real fun. I can slide ever so far, and I've ridden on Jimmie boy's sled. Betty thinks I would soon learn to skate. I would like to very much."

"Then you must have some skates."

"But I am afraid Betty may not come home in time to teach me."

"Someone else might."

"Do you skate?" in soft inquiry.

"Not now; I used to. But I am not a young man, and not very energetic. I like warm firesides and a nice book. I am afraid I shall make an ease-loving old man."

"But isn't it right to be"-what word would express it?-"happy, comfortable? For why should you try to make anyone happy if it was wrong?"

"It is not wrong."

The sky was very blue now, and the snow began to have an ethereal look. Cato came out to shovel and clear away some paths. He struck the young hemlocks and firs with a stick and beat the snow out of them.

"The snow settles in the branches and sometimes freezes and that kills a little place," said Uncle Winthrop in answer to the questioning eyes.

They walked back to the table, with his arm over her shoulder.

"I am done my writing for to-day," he began. "I wonder if you would mind answering a few questions?"

"Oh, no-if I knew the answers," smilingly.

"Then tell me first of all how far you went in Latin. This is a grammar."

She turned some leaves. "I didn't know it very well," skimming over the pages. "It was not like this book, and"-hanging her head a little-"I did not like it-that and the sums."

"Who put you to studying it?"

"Oh, the father did. He said Latin was the key to all other languages. I wonder how many I shall have to learn? Miss Arabella said it was foolishness, except the French."

"Let me hear you read a little. This is not difficult."

He was not sure there was any call for a girl to know Latin. French seemed quite necessary.

She began in a hesitating manner and blundered somewhat at first, but as she went on gained courage, her voice growing firmer and clearer.

"Why, that is very well. You ought to be at a higher school than Mrs. Webb's. And now let us consider these dreadful sums. The paper and a pencil will do."

He put down quite a sum in addition. There were several nines and sevens in it.

She drew a long breath.

"It is a big sum. I haven't done any as large as that."

"Well, begin. Add as I call them off."

Alas! After three figures, in puzzling over an eight, the amount went out of her mind and she had to begin again. Uncle Winthrop made a mark at one figure and put down the amount beside it. After a while she reached the top of the column. Clearly heaven had not meant her for a mathematician. There was no rapport between her figures.

Her eyes were limpid, almost as if there were tears in them.

"Maybe that was pretty difficult for a little girl. I know most about big boys and young men."

"Betty just guesses, this way-eight and nine, and it comes quite as easy as if I had said two and three are five."

Uncle Win gave his gentle smile and it comforted her greatly.

"This quickness comes by practice. When you have had six years' study you may know as much as Betty in arithmetic, and you will know more in some other branches."

"If I can just know as much," she said wistfully.

Cato gave a gentle rap on the open door.

"Juno's ready," he announced. "Will master take little missy out, or shall I go for Master Cary?"

"I had not thought. Would you like to go, Doris?"

Her eyes answered him before she could speak.

"You may put in the other seat, Cato, and drive."

Cato bowed in a dignified manner.

"Now run and bundle up well," said Uncle Win.

Miss Recompense seemed to know a good deal about little girls, if she had none of her own. She tied a soft silk kerchief over Doris' ears before she put on her hood. Then she told Dinah to slip the soapstone in the foot-stove, and drew the long stockings up over her knees.

"Now you could go up to Vermont and not get cold," she said pleasantly.

But after all it was not so very cold. The sun shone in golden magnificence and almost dazzled your eyes out. Uncle Win had on his smoked glasses, and he looked very queer, but she saw other people with this protection. Some of the glasses were green.

The streets were really merry. Children were out with sleds, and snowballing parties were in the field. They went over to State Street for the mail. Cato sprang out and returned with quite a budget. There was one English letter with a big black seal, but Mr. Adams covered it quickly with the papers and drew the package under the buffalo robe.

There was a quaint old bookstore in Cornhill with the sign of Heart and Crown, that was quite a meeting place for students and bookish people, and they drove thither. A young lad came running out, making a bow and greeting his father politely. To have said "Hillo!" in those days would have been horrifying. And to have called one's father the "governor" or the "old gentleman" would have been little short of a crime.

"This is the little English cousin, Doris Adams," said Uncle Win, "and this is my son Cary."

Cary made a bow to her and said he was glad to meet her, then inquired after his father's health and stepped into the sleigh, picking up the reins and motioning Cato to the other side.

Oh, how they spun along! Cary said one or two things, but the words were carried away by the wind. There were sleighs full of ladies and children, great family affairs with three seats; there were cutters with some portly man and a black driver; there were well-known people and unknown people who were to come to the fore in a few years and be famous.

For Boston was throbbing even then with the mighty changes transforming her into a great city. Although she had suffered severely at the first of the war and held many priceless memories of it, the early evacuation of the town had left her free for domestic matters, which had prospered despite poverty and hard times and the great loss of population. Many of the old Tory families had returned to England, and the remnants of the provincial aristocracy were being lessened by death and absorbed by marriage. The squires and gentry of the small towns, most of them intense patriots, had filled their places and given tone to social life, that was still formal, if some of the old stateliness had slipped away.

The French Revolution had brought about some other changes. The State possessed fine advantages for maritime commerce, and all the seaports were veritable hives of industry in the early part of the century. This laid a foundation of respect for fortunes acquired by energy rather than inheritance. The United States, being the only neutral nation in the fierce conflicts raging round the world, had been reaping a rich harvest for several years. Sea captains and merchants had been thriving splendidly until the last year or two, when seizures began to be made by the British Government that roused a ferment of warlike spirit again.

But while men talked politics the women and those who thought it wiser to take neither side, still amused themselves with card parties, tea parties and dances, with now and then an evening at the theater, and driving. There were so many fine long roads not yet cut up into blocks that were great favorites on a day like this. Doris felt the exhilaration and her eyes shone like stars.

Presently Cary turned, and here they were at Common Street.

"That has been fine!" he began as he drew up to the door. "It sets your blood all a-sparkle. Have I taken your breath away, little cousin?"

He came around and offered his hand to his father. Then he lifted Doris as if she had been a feather, and stood her on the broad porch. That recalled Warren Leverett to her mind.

"It was splendid," answered Doris.

They all walked in together, and Cary shook hands cordially with Miss Recompense.

He was almost as tall as his father, with a fair, boyish face and thick light hair that did not curl, but tumbled about and was always falling over his forehead.

Warren was stouter and had more color, and there was a kind of laughing expression to his face. Cary's had a certain resolution and that loftiness we are given to calling aristocratic.

When Doris had carried the foot-stove to Dinah, and her own wraps upstairs, she stood for a moment uncertain. Cary and his father were talking eagerly in the study, so she sat down by the hall fire and began to think about the Vicar and Mrs. Primrose, and wanted to know what Moses did at the Fair. She had been at one town fair, but she could not recall much besides the rather quaintly and gayly dressed crowd. Then there was a summons to supper.

"Oh," cried Cary, "sit still a moment. You look like a page of Mother Goose. You can't be Miss Muffet, for you have no curds and whey, and you are not Jack Horner--"

She sprang up then and caught Uncle Winthrop's hand. "Nor Mother Goose," she rejoined laughingly.

The plates were moved just a little. Cary sat between her and his father.

"I have heard quite a good deal about you," he began. "Are you French or English?"

She caught a tiny gleam in Uncle Win's eye, and gravely answered in French.

"How do you get along there in Sudbury Street? Who does the talking?" he asked in surprise.

"We all talk," she answered.

He flushed a little and then gave an amused nod.

"Upon my word, you are not slow,

if the weather is cold. And you parlez-vous like a native. Now, if you and father want to say anything bad about me, you may hope to keep it a secret, but I warn you that I can understand French to some extent."

"I shall not say anything bad," she returned na?vely. Adding, "Why, I don't know anything bad."

"Oh, Miss Recompense, isn't it nice to be perfect in someone's eyes?" he laughed.

"Wait until she has known you several years."

"But you have known me several years," appealingly.

"It is best to begin with an unbiased opinion."

"I shall get Betty to speak a good word for me. You have confidence in Betty?"

"I love Betty," Doris said simply.

"And Boston. That begins with a B too. You must love Boston, and the State of Massachusetts, and the whole United States. And if there comes another war you must be true to the flag and the country. No skipping off to England, mind."

"I couldn't skip across the whole Atlantic."

"Then you would have to stay. Which is the nicest, Sudbury Street or this?"

"Cary, you have teased enough," said his father.

"I think the out-of-doors of this will be the prettiest in the summer," replied Doris gravely, "and when I came off the ship I thought the indoors in Sudbury Street just delightful. There was such a splendid fire, and everybody was so kind."

Cary glanced up at his father, who gave his soft half-smile.

"You were a brave little girl not to be homesick."

"I did want to see Miss Arabella, and the pony. I had such a darling pony."

"Why, you can have a pony next summer," said Uncle Win. "I am very fond of riding."

Doris' face was filled with speechless delight.

After supper they sat round the fire and Cary asked her about the Old Boston. She had very good descriptive powers. Her life had been so circumscribed there that it had deepened impressions, and the young fellow listened quite surprised. Like his father he had known very little about girls in their childhood. She was so quaintly pretty, too, with the bow of dark ribbon high up on her head, amid the waving light hair.

Some time after Uncle Winthrop said:

"Doris, I have a letter from Miss Arabella. Would you not like to come in the study and read it?"

"Oh, yes," and she sprang up with the lightness of a bird.

He had cut around the great black seal. Sometime Doris might be glad to have the letter intact. There were no envelopes then besides those used for state purposes.

"Dear and Respected Sir," it began in the formal, old-fashioned manner. She had been rejoiced to hear of Doris' safe arrival and continued good health, and every day she saw the wisdom of the change, though she had missed the child sorely. Her sister had passed peacefully away soon after the departure of Doris, a loss to be accepted with resignation, since her life on earth had long ceased to have any satisfaction to herself. Her own health was very much broken, and she knew it would not be long before she should join those who had preceded her in a better land. When this occurred there would be some articles forwarded to him for Doris, and again she commended the little girl to his affectionate interest and care, and hoped she would grow into a sweet and useful womanhood and be all her parents could wish if they had lived.

"Dear Miss Arabella!" Doris wiped the tears from her eyes. How strange the little room must look without Miss Henrietta sitting at the window babbling of childish things! "And she is all alone with Barby. How sad it must be. I should not like to live alone."

Unconsciously she drew nearer Uncle Winthrop. He put his arm over her shoulder in a caressing manner, and his heart was moved with sympathy for the solitary lady across the ocean.

Doris thought of Aunt Priscilla and wondered whether she ever was lonesome.

Sunday was still bright, and somehow felt warm when contrasted with the biting weather of the last ten days. The three went to old Trinity Church, that stood then on a corner of Summer Street-a plain wooden building with a gambrel roof, quite as old-fashioned inside as out, and even now three-quarters of a century old. Up to the Revolution the king and the queen, when there was one, had been prayed for most fervently. The Church conceded this point reluctantly, since there were many who doubted the success of the struggle. But the clergy had resigned from King's Chapel and Christ Church. For a long while afterward Dr. Mather Byles had kept himself before the people by his wit and readiness for controversy, and the two old ladies, his sisters, were well known for their adherence to Royalist costumes and the unction with which they prayed for the king in their own house-with open windows, in summer.

In fact, even now Episcopalianism was considered rather foreign than of a home growth. But there had been such a divergence from the old-time faiths that people's prejudices were much softened.

It seemed quite natural again to Doris, and she had no difficulty in finding her places, though Cary offered her his prayer book every time. And it sounded so hearty to say "Amen" to the prayers, to respond to the commandments, and sing some of the old chants.

There was a short service in the afternoon, and in the evening she and Cary sang hymns. They were getting to be very good friends. Then on Christmas morning they all went again. There was a little "box and fir," and a branch of hemlock in the corner, but the people of that day would have been horrified at the greenery and the flowers met to hail the birth of Christ to-day.

They paused in the vestibule to give each other a cordial greeting, for the congregation was not very large.

A fine-looking elderly lady shook hands with Mr. Adams and his son.

"This is my little niece from abroad," announced the elder, "another of the Adams family. Her father was own nephew to Cousin Charles. Doris, this is Madam Royall."

"Poor Charles. Yes, I remember him well. Our children spied out the little girl in the sleigh with you on Saturday, and made no end of guesses. Is it the child who attends Mrs. Webb's school? Dorcas Payne goes there this winter, and she has been teasing to have her name changed to Doris, which she admires beyond measure."

"Yes," answered Doris timidly, as Madam Royall seemed addressing her. "I know Dorcas Payne."

"Oh, Mr. Adams, I have just thought-our children are going to have a little time to-night-not anything as pretentious as a party, a sort of Christmas frolic. Will you not come around and bring Cary and the little girl? You shall have some Christmas cake and wine with us, Cary can take tea with Isabel and Alice, and the little girl can have a good romp. Please do not refuse."

Cary flushed. Mr. Adams looked undecided.

"No, you shall not hunt about for an excuse. Dorcas has talked so much about the little girl that we are all curious to see her. Shouldn't you like a frolic with other little girls, my dear?"

Doris smiled with assenting eagerness.

"We shall surely look for you. I shall tell them all that you are coming, and that I have captured little Doris Adams."

"Very well," returned Mr. Adams.

"At four, exactly. The children's supper is at five."

Doris had tight hold of Uncle Winthrop's hand, and if she had not just come out of church she must have skipped for very gladness. For Dorcas Payne had talked about her cousins, the Royalls, and their charming grandmother, and the good times they had in their fine large house.

Uncle Win looked her all over as she sat at the dinner table. She was a pretty child, with her hair gathered up high and falling in a golden shower. Her frock was some gray woolen stuff, and he wondered vaguely if blue or red would have been better. He had seen little girls in red frocks; they looked so warm and comfortable in winter. Elizabeth Leverett would be shocked at the color, he knew. What made so many women afraid of it, and why did they cling to dismal grays and browns? He wished he knew a little more about girls.

They had a splendid young goose for the Christmas dinner, vegetables and pickles and jellies. Cider was used largely then; no hearty dinner would have been the thing without it. Even the Leveretts used that, while they frowned on all other beverages. And then the thick mince pie with a crust that fairly melted before you could chew it! One needed something to sustain him through the long cold winter, and the large rooms where you shivered if you went out of the chimney corner.

Doris stole a little while for her enchanting Primrose people, though Cary kept teasing by saying: "Has Moses gone to the Fair? Just wait until you see the sort of bargains he makes!"

Uncle Winthrop went out to Miss Recompense.

"She looks very plain for a little-well, I suppose it is a party, and I dare say there is another frock at the Leveretts'. I think the first time I saw her she had on something very pretty-silk, I believe it was. But there is no time to get it. Recompense, if you could find a ribbon or any suitable adornment to brighten her up. In that big bureau upstairs-I wish you would look."

Years ago the pretty things had been laid away. Recompense went over them every spring during house-cleaning time, to see that moths had not disturbed them. Thieves were never thought of. She always touched them with a delicate regard for the young wife she had never known.

She put a shawl about her now and went upstairs, unlocked the drawer of "trinkets," and peered into some of the boxes. Oh, here was a pretty bit of lace, simple enough for a child. White ribbons turned to cream, pale-blue grown paler with age, stiff brocaded ones, and down at the very bottom a rose color with just a simple silvery band crossing it at intervals. There was enough for a sash and a bow for the hair, and with the lace tucker it would be all right.

"Doris," she called over the baluster.

"Yes, ma'am," and Doris came tripping up, book in hand.

"Your uncle wants you fixed up a bit," she said, "and as you have nothing here I have looked up a few things. Let me fasten the tucker in your frock. There, that does look better. Madam Royall is quite dressy, like all fashionable people who go out and have company. I'm not much of a hand to fix up children, seeing that for years I have had none of it to do. But I guess I can manage to tie the sash. There, I think that will do."

"Oh, how lovely! How good of you, Miss Recompense."

Recompense Gardiner hated to take the credit for anything she had not done, but she had to let it go now.

"How to get this ribbon in your hair! I think it is too wide."

"Oh, can I have that too? Well, you see, you take up the curls this way and put the ribbon under. Can it be folded? Then you tie it on the top."

Miss Recompense did not make a very artistic bow, but Doris looked in the glass of the dressing table, and pulled and patted it a little, and said it was right and that she was a thousand times grateful.

The sober-minded woman admitted within herself that the child was greatly improved. Perhaps gay attire did foster vanity, yet it was pleasant for others to look upon.

"Run down and ask your uncle if you will do," exclaimed Miss Recompense, feeling that by his approval she would discharge her conscience from the sin, if sin it were.

She looked so dainty as she came and stood by him, and asked her question with such a bewitching flush, that he kissed her on the forehead for approval. But she put her soft young arms about his neck and kissed him back, and he held her there with a strange new warmth stirring his heart.

The old Royall house in Summer Street went its way three-quarters of a century ago. No one dreams now of the beautiful garden that surrounded it, and the blossoming shrubbery and beds of flowers from which nosegays were sent to friends, and the fruit distributed later on. It was an old house then, a great square, two-story building with a cupola railed around a flat place at the point of the roof, or what would have been the point if carried up. There were some rooms built out at the back, and an arbor-a covered sort of allée where the ladies sat and sewed at times and the children played. Thirty years before there had been many a meeting of friends to discuss the state of affairs. There had been disagreements, ruptures, quarrels made and healed. George Royall had gone back to England. Dwight Royall had fought on the side of the "Rebels." One daughter had married an English officer who had surrendered with Cornwallis and then returned to his native land. A younger son had married and died, and left two daughters to his mother's care, their own mother being dead. A widowed daughter had come home to live with her four children, the two youngest being girls. Dorcas Payne was a cousin to them on their father's side.

There were often guests staying with them, and the old house was still the scene of good times, as they were then: friends dropping in and finding ready hospitality. For though Madam Royall had passed the three score and ten, she was still intelligent and had been in her earlier years accomplished. She could play on her old-fashioned spinet for the children to dance, and sometimes she sang the songs of her youth, though her voice had grown a trifle unsteady in singing.

The sun was setting the west in a glow of magnificence as they walked up to the Royall house. Madam Royall and her daughter Mrs. Chapman were waiting to welcome them.

In this hall was the tall stove that was beginning to do duty for the cheerful hearthfire, and it diffused a delightful atmosphere of warmth. But you could see the blaze in the parlor and the dining room, where some friends were already assembled and having a game of cards. The sideboard, as was the custom then, was set out with a decanter of Madeira and one of sherry and the glasses, besides a great silver basin filled with nuts and dried fruit and another dish of crullers.

On the opposite side of the hall there was a hubbub of children's voices. Madam Royall ushered Mr. Adams into the dining room, left Cary to the attention of the two girls and their aunt, and took possession of Doris herself, removing her wraps and handing them to the maid. Then taking her hand she drew her into the room, kept mostly for dancing and party purposes.

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