MoboReader > Literature > A Little Girl in Old Boston


A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 27302

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

"You have kept up wonderfully for being absent a whole week. You haven't fallen back a bit," said Mrs. Webb.

Doris flushed with delight. The little training Uncle Winthrop had given her had borne fruit.

But she was shocked that Jimmie boy was so bad he had to be punished with the ruler. He had been punished twice in the week before.

"Don't you darst to tell grandmother," he said as they were turning into Sudbury Street. "If you do I'll-I'll"-she was a girl, and he couldn't punch her-"I won't take you on my sled."

"No. I won't tell."

"Honest and true? Hope to die?"

"I'll say honest and true."

"A little thing like that aint much, just two or three slaps. You ought to see the teacher at Salem? My brother Foster gets licked sometimes, and he makes us promise not to tell father."

James had stood a little in awe of Doris on the point of good behavior. But Sam had been up, and James had gone down to Aunt Martha's, and he felt a great deal bigger now.

Uncle Leverett was very glad to get his little girl back. They had heard from Betty, who had spent two delightful days with Mrs. Eastman, and then they had gone to Hartford together. Electa and the children were well, and she had a beautiful house with a Brussels carpet in the parlor and velvet furniture and vases and a table with a marble top. Betty sent love to everybody, and they were to tell Aunt Priscilla that the beaver bonnet was just the thing, and she was going to have the silk frock made over right away. Electa thought the India silk lovely, and she was so glad she had brought the extra piece along, for she was going to have the little cape with long tabs to tie behind, and she should use up every scrap putting a frill on it.

Aunt Priscilla had not waited until March, but taken another cold and was confined to the house, so Aunt Elizabeth went over quite often. Martha Grant proved very efficient, and she was industry itself. She, too, was amazed that Doris wasn't "put to something useful."

Doris had brought home a Latin book, but Aunt Elizabeth could not cordially indorse such a boyish study. Women were never meant to go to colleges. But she did not feel free to thwart Cousin Adams' plans for her.

He came over on Saturday and took her out, and they had a nice laughing French talk, though he admitted he and Miss Recompense had missed her very much. She told him about Betty, and what Mrs. Webb had said, and seemed quite happy.

Just at the last of the month they were all very much interested in a grand affair to which Uncle Winthrop was an invited guest. It was at the great Exchange Coffee House, and really in honor of the gallant struggle Spain had been making against the man who bid fair then to be the dictator of all Europe. On one throne after another he had placed the different members of his family. Joseph Bonaparte, who had been King of Naples, was summarily transferred to the throne of Spain, with small regard for the desires of her people. He found himself quite unable to cope with the insurgents rising on every hand. And America sent Spain her warmest sympathy.

Uncle Leverett read the account aloud from his weekly paper. Now and then there appeared a daily paper for a brief while, and a tolerably successful semi-weekly, but the real substantial paper was the weekly. How they would have found time then to read a morning and an evening paper-two or three, perhaps-is beyond comprehension. And to have heard news from every quarter of the globe before it was more than a few hours old would have seemed witchcraft.

Napoleon was now at the zenith of his fame. But the feeling of the country at his divorcing Josephine, who loved him deeply, was a thrill of indignation, for the tie of marriage was now considered irrevocable save for the gravest cause. That he should marry an Austrian princess for the sake of allying himself to a royal house and having an heir to the throne, which was nearly half of Europe now, was causing people even then to draw a parallel between him and our own hero, Washington. Both had started with an endeavor to free their respective countries from an intolerable yoke, and when this was achieved Washington had grandly and calmly laid down the burdens of state and retired to private life, while Napoleon was still bent upon conquest. The sympathies of America went out to all struggling nations.

There had been an ode read, and toasts and songs; indeed, it had called together the notable men of the city, who had partaken of a grand feast. It was much talked of for weeks; and Doris questioned Uncle Winthrop and began to be interested in matters pertaining to her new country.

She was learning a good deal about the city. Warren took her to Aunt Priscilla's one noon, and came for her when they had "shut up shop." Aunt Priscilla did not mend rapidly. She called it being "pudgicky," as if there was no name of a real disease to give it. A little fresh cold, a good deal of weakness-and she had always been so strong; some fever that would persist in coming back even when she had succeeded in breaking it up for a few days. The time hung heavily on her hands. She did miss Betty's freshness and bright, argumentative ways. So she was glad to see Doris, for Polly sat out in the kitchen half asleep most of the time.

Solomon as well always seemed very glad to see Doris. He came and sat in her lap, and Aunt Priscilla told about the days when she was a little girl, more than fifty years ago. Doris thought life must have been very hard, and she was glad not to have lived then.

She did like Miss Recompense the best, but she felt very sorry for Aunt Priscilla's loneliness.

"She and Polly have grown old together, and they need some younger person to take care of them both," said Uncle Leverett. "She ought to take her comfort; she has money enough."

"It is so difficult to find anyone to suit," and Aunt Elizabeth sighed.

"I shall crawl out in the spring," declared Mrs. Perkins; but her tone was rather despondent.

Doris wondered when the spring would come. The snow and ice had never been entirely off the ground.

Besides going to Uncle Winthrop's,-and she went every other Saturday,-she had been asked to Madam Royall's to tea with the children. The elder lady had not forgotten her. Indeed, this was one of the houses that Mr. Adams thoroughly enjoyed, though he was not much of a hand to visit. But people felt then that they really owed their neighbors some social duty. There were not so many public amusements.

The Chapman children had real dolls, not simply rag babies; and the clothes were made so you could take them off. Doris was quite charmed with them. Helen's had blue eyes and Eudora's brown, but both were red-cheeked and had black hair, which was not really hair at all, but shaped of the composition and curled and painted over.

They had a grand long slide in their garden at the back. The servant would flood it over now and then and make it smooth as glass. Doris found it quite an art to stand up. Helen could go the whole length beautifully, and balance herself better than Eudora. But if you fell you generally tumbled over in the bank of snow and did not get hurt.

Playing graces was a great delight to her and after several trials she became quite expert. Then on one occasion Madam Royall found that she had a very sweet voice.

"You are old enough to learn some pretty songs, my child," she said. "I must speak to your uncle. When the weather gets pleasanter he must place you in a singing class."

Singing was quite a great accomplishment then. Very few people had pianos. But young ladies and young men would sometimes spend a whole evening in singing beautiful old songs.

In March there was a new President, Mr. Madison. Everybody was hoping for a new policy and better times, yet now and then there were quite sharp talks of war.

One day Mrs. Manning and the baby came in and made quite a visit. The baby was very sweet and good, with pretty dark eyes, and Mrs. Manning looked very much like Aunt Elizabeth. Mrs. Hollis Leverett came and spent the day, and young married women who had been Mary Leverett's friends came to tea. Warren went over in the old chaise and brought Aunt Priscilla. Everybody seemed personally aggrieved that Betty should stay away so long.

But Betty was having a grand time. Her letters to her mother were very staid and respectful, but there were accounts of dinners and evening parties and two or three weddings. Her brother King had given her a pretty pink silk, and that was made pompadour waist and had a full double plait at the back that hung down to the floor in a train. He had taken her and Electa to a grand affair where there were crowds of beautifully attired ladies. Betty did not call it a ball, for she knew they would all be shocked. And though her mother had written for her to come home, Mrs. King had begged for a little longer visit, as there seemed to be something special all the time.

"What extravagance for a young girl!" exclaimed Mrs. Manning. "Pink silk indeed, and a train! Betty will be so flighty when she comes back there will be no getting along with her. 'Lecty has grown very worldly, I think. I have never found any occasion for a pink silk."

Mrs. Leverett sighed. And Betty was not yet seventeen!

Mrs. Manning took James home with her, for she said grandmother was spoiling him. She kept the children with a pretty strict hand at home, and they soon jumped over the traces when you gave them a little liberty. She was very glad to have him go to school all winter and hoped he had made some improvement.

She was very brisk and energetic and was surprised to think they were letting Doris grow up into such a helpless, know-nothing sort of girl. And her daughter of nine was like a steady little woman.

"Still it isn't wise to put too much on her," said Mrs. Leverett in mild protest. "Where one cannot help it, why, you must; but I think life is getting a little easier, and children ought to have their share of it."

"I'm not asking anything of her that I did not do," returned Mrs. Manning. "And I am proud of my training and my housekeeping."

"But it was so different then. Your father and I began life with only a few hundred dollars. Then there was his three years in the war, and people were doing everything for themselves-spinning and weaving and dyeing, and making clothes of every kind. To be sure I make soap and candles," laughing a little; "but we have only one cow now and give half the milk for her care. I really felt as if I ought not have Martha, but father insisted."

"I don't see why Doris couldn't have done a good deal instead of poring over books so much."

"Well-you see she isn't really our own. Cousin Winthrop has some ideas about her education. She will have a little money, too, if everything turns out right."

"It's just the way to spoil girls. And you will find, mother, that Betty will be none the better for her visit to 'Lecty. Dear me! I don't see how 'Lecty can answer to her conscience, spending money that way. We couldn't. It's wrong and sinful. And it's wrong to bring up any child in a helpless, do-little fashion."

They were sitting by the south window sewing, and Doris was at the other side of the chimney studying. Now and then she could not help catching a sentence. She wondered what little Elizabeth Manning was like, who could cook a meal, work butter, tend babies, and sew and knit stockings. She only went to school in the winter; there was too much work to do in the summer. She was not left alone now; one of the Manning aunts had been staying some time. This aunt was a tailoress and had been fitting out Mr. Manning, and now James must go home to have some clothes made.

Jimmie boy privately admitted to Doris that he would rather stay at grandmother's. She was a good deal easier on him than his mother, and he didn't mind Mrs. Webb a bit. "But you just ought to see Mr. Green. He does lick the boys like fury! And there's such lots of errands to do home. Mother never gives you a chunk of cake either. I don't see why they couldn't all have been grandmothers instead of mothers."

James was not the first boy who had wished such a thing. But he knew he had to go home, and that was all there was about it.

Martha wanted to go also. She had bought a good stout English cambric-lively colored, as she called it-and a nice woolen or stuff frock, as goods of that kind was often called. She was going to do up her last summer's white frock to be married in. They would have a wedding supper at her father's and then go home, and begin housekeeping the next morning. Mrs. Leverett added a tablecloth to her store.

Betty must be sent for imperatively. Her mother was afraid she would be quite spoiled. And she could not help wishing that Mrs. King would be a little more careful and not branch out so, and Mary take life a little easier, for Mr. Manning was putting by money and had his large farm clear.

Then Aunt Priscilla was suddenly at sea. Jonas Field had bought a place of his own where he could live over the store. In spite of a changed name, King Street had dropped down and down, and was now largely given to taverns. The better class had kept moving out and a poorer class coming in, with colored people among them. No one had applied for the store, but a man who wanted to keep a tavern combined with a kind of sailor lodging house had made her a very good offer to buy the property.

"I'm going to live my time out in this very house," declared Aunt Priscilla with some of her olden energy. "I came

here when I was married and I'll stay to be buried. By the looks of things, it won't be a great many years. And I haven't made a sign of a will yet! Not that the Perkinses would get anything if I died in this state-that aint the word, but it means the same thing, not having your will made, and I aint quite sure after all that would be right. I worked and saved, and I had some when we were married, but husband had farsight, and knew how to turn it over. Some of his money ought to go back to his folks."

This had been one of the decisions haunting Aunt Priscilla's conscience. Down at the bottom she had a strict sense of justice.

"It is hardly nice to go there any more," said Aunt Elizabeth. "And I shall not enjoy a young girl like Betty running over there, if Aunt Priscilla shouldn't be very well, and she is breaking. Polly gets worse and really is not to be trusted."

It was Polly after all who settled the matter, or the summons that came to Polly one night. For in the morning, quite late, after a good deal of calling and scolding, Aunt Priscilla found she had taken the last journey. It was a great shock. Jonas Field's errand boy was dispatched to the Leveretts'.

The woman who came soon gave notice that she "couldn't stay in no such neighborhood for steady company."

Mr. Leverett and Cousin Adams urged her to sell. If there should be war she might not have a chance in a long while again.

"But I don't know the first thing in the world to do," she moaned. "I haven't a chick nor a child to care about me."

"Come over and stop with us a bit until you can make some plans. There's two rooms upstairs in which you could housekeep if you wanted to. Our family gets smaller all the time. But if you liked to live with us a spell--" said Mr. Leverett.

"I don't know how 'Lizabeth could stand an old woman and a young one"-hesitatingly.

"If you mean Doris, she is going over to Winthrop's," he replied.

"Ready to jump at the chance, I'll warrant. You can't count on children."

"No, Aunt Priscilla, she didn't jump. She's a wise, fond little thing. Win asked her about Christmas, and she wouldn't consent until Betty came back, for fear we would be lonesome. It quite touched me when I heard of it. Win has some ideas about her education, and I guess he's nearer right. So that needn't trouble you. It would be so much better for you to sell."

"I'll think it over," she said almost gruffly, for she was moved herself. "I never could get along with this Rachel Day. She doesn't allow that anyone in the world knows anything but herself, and I kept house before she was born. I don't like quite such smart people."

Miss Hetty Perkins came in to offer her services as housekeeper. Every now and then she had "edged round," as Aunt Priscilla expressed it. Everybody said Hetty was closer than the skin, but then she had no one except herself to depend upon. And Amos Perkins called to see if Aunt Priscilla had anyone she could trust to do her business. He heard she was going to sell.

"I haven't made up my mind," she answered tartly. She was not fond of Amos either.

Then the would-be purchaser found he could have a place two doors below. He did not like it as well, but it would answer.

"It seems as if I was bound to have a rum shop and a sailor's boarding-house under my nose. There'll be a crowd of men hanging round and fiddling and carousing half the night. I don't see what's getting into Boston! Places that were good enough twenty year ago are only fit for tramps, and decent people have to get out of the way, whether they will or no."

Betty came home the last of March. She looked taller-perhaps it was because she wore her dresses so long and her hair so high. She had a pretty new frock-a rich warm brown ground, with little flowers in green and yellow and a kind of dull red sprinkled all over it. It had come from New York, and was called delaine. She had discarded her homespun woolen. And, oh, how stylishly pretty she was, quite like the young ladies at Madam Royall's!

She held Doris to her heart and almost smothered her, kissing her fondly.

"You have grown lovely by the minute!" she cried. "I was so afraid someone would cut your hair. 'Lecty said at first that I had only one idea, and that was Doris Adams, I talked about you so much. And she's wild to see you. She's quite grand and full of fun, altogether different from Mary. Mary holds onto every penny until I should think she'd pinch it thin. And I've had the most magnificent time, though Hartford is nothing compared to Boston. It is like a country place where you know everybody that is at all worth knowing. I have such lots of things to tell you."

It came rather hard to take up the old routine of work, and get up early in the morning. She was dismayed by the news that Aunt Priscilla was coming and Doris going.

"Though I don't know," she declared after reflecting a day or two on the subject. "I'll have such a good excuse to go to Uncle Win's, and we can have delightful talks. But Aunt Priscilla is certainly a dispensation of Providence equal to St. Paul's thorn in the flesh."

"I've made her some visits this winter, and she has been real nice," said Doris. "I shouldn't mind her at all now. And I told Uncle Win that I would like to be two little girls, so one could stay here. I love Uncle Win very much. I love your father too."

"Is there anybody in the whole wide world you do not love?"

Doris flushed. She had not been able to feel very tenderly toward Mrs. Manning, and Mrs. Hollis Leverett talked about her being so backward, and such a "meachin" little thing.

"I dare say if the truth was known, her mother died of consumption. And that great mop of hair is enough to take the strength out of any child. I wouldn't have it on Bessy's head for an hour," declared Mrs. Hollis.

But Bessy told her in a confidential whisper that she thought her curls the sweetest thing in the world, and when she was a grown-up young lady she meant to curl her hair all over her head.

Doris was glad Uncle Winthrop did not find any fault with them.

Of course she should be sorry to go. It was curious how one could be glad and sorry in a breath.

Mrs. Leverett went over to Aunt Priscilla's to help pack. Oh, the boxes and bundles and bags! They were tied up and labeled; some of them had not been opened for years. Gowns that she had outgrown, stockings she had knit, petticoats she had quilted-quite a fashion then.

"It's lucky we have a big garret," said Mrs. Leverett. "And whatever will you do with them?"

"There's that flax wheel-it was grandmother's. She was like Benjamin Franklin, who gave his sister Jane a spinning wheel on her wedding day: she gave me that. And Jane's gone, though I did hear someone bought the wheel for a sort of keepsake. Oh, Elizabeth, I don't know what you will do with all this old trumpery!"

Elizabeth hardly knew either. It was good to have children and grandchildren to take some of these things just to keep one from hoarding up. Elizabeth, sweet soul, remembered the poor at her gates as well. But most people were fond of holding onto everything until their latest breath. There was some virtue in it, for the later generations had many priceless heirlooms.

One of the south rooms was emptied, and after a great deal of argument Aunt Priscilla was prevailed upon to use her best chamber furniture for the rest of her life. She had not cared much for the housekeeping project, and decided she would rather board a while until she could get back some of her strength.

"What are you going to do with Solomon?" asked Doris.

"Well-I don't know. Aunt Elizabeth doesn't like cats very much. He's such a nice fellow, I should hate to leave him behind and have him neglected. But it's bad luck to move cats."

"I should like to have him."

"Would you, now? He's almost like a human. I've said that many a time; and he went round asking after Polly just as plain as anyone could. I declare, it made my heart ache. Polly had been a capable woman, and Mr. Perkins bought her, so I didn't feel free to turn her away when he was gone. And I'd grown used to a servant, too. I don't know what I should have done without her the two years he was ailing. Though when she came to be forgetful and lose her judgment it did use to try me. But I'm glad now I kept her to the end. I'd borrowed a sight of trouble thinking what I'd do if she fell sick, and I might just as well have trusted the Lord right straight along. When I come to have this other creetur ordering everything, and making tea her way,-she will boil it and you might as well give me senna,-then I knew Polly had some sense and memory, after all. You can't think how I miss her! I'm sorry for every bit of fault I've found these last two years."

Aunt Priscilla stopped to take breath and wipe her eyes. Polly's death had opened her mind to many things.

Doris sat and stroked Solomon and rubbed him under the throat. Now and then he looked up with an intent, asking gaze, and a solemn flick of one ear, as if he said, "Can't you tell me where Polly is gone?"

"You'd have to ask Uncle Winthrop. And I don't know what Miss Recompense would say."

"She likes cats."

"Oh. Well, I'm afraid Uncle Winthrop doesn't."

"If he should," tentatively.

"I think I'd miss Solomon a good deal. But he'd be a bother to keep at the Leveretts'. I would like him to have a good home. And he is very fond of you."

Uncle Win was over the very next day, and Doris laid the case before him.

"I like the picture of comfort a nice cat makes before the fire. I haven't any objection to cats in themselves. But I dislike cat hairs."

"Uncle Win, I could brush you off. And Solomon has been so well trained. He has a box with a cushion, so he never jumps up in chairs. And he has a piece of blanket on the rug where he lies. He loves me so, and Aunt Elizabeth can't bear cats. Oh, I wish I might have him."

"I'll talk to Miss Recompense. She's having a little room fixed up for you just off of hers. It opens on the hall, and it has a window where you can see the sun rise. I think through the summer you need not go to school, but study at home as you did Christmas week."

"That will be delightful! And I shall be so glad when it is truly spring."

It had been a long cold winter, but now there were signs everywhere of a curious awakening among the maples. Some were already out in red bloom. The grass had begun to spring up in its soft green, though there were patches of ice in shady places and a broad skim along the edge of the Charles River marsh. But the bay and the harbor were clear and beautiful.

Betty and Doris had confidential chats after they were in bed-in very low tones, lest they should be heard.

"Everybody would be shocked to see how really gay Electa is. There are very religious people in Hartford, too, who begin on Saturday night. But the men insist upon parties and dinners, and they bring their fashions up from New York. Boston is just as gay in some places, and Jane Morse has had a splendid time this winter going to dances. The gentlemen who come to Mr. King's are so polite, some of them elegant. I envy 'Lecty. It's just the kind of world to live in."

"And I want to hear about your pink silk."

"I left it at 'Lecty's. It was too gay to bring home. It would have frightened everybody. And 'Lecty thinks of going to New York next winter, and if she does she will send for me. I should have had to rumple it all up bringing it home, and I don't believe I'd had a chance to wear it. I have the other two, and Mat thought the blue and white one very pretty. Mat laughs at what he calls Puritanism, and says the world is growing broader and more generous. He is a splendid man too, and though he is making a good deal of money he doesn't think all the time of saving, as Mary and her husband do. He is good to the poor, and generous and kind, and wants everyone to be happy. Of course they go to church, but there is a curious difference. I sometimes wonder who is right and if it is a sin to be happy."

Doris' mind had no especial theological bent, and her conscience had not been trained to keep on the alert.

"It was very nice in him to give it to you. And you must have looked lovely in it."

"Oh, the frock," Betty laughed. "Yes, I did. And when you know you look nice you stop feeling anxious about it. It was just so at Jane's party. But I should have been mortified in my gray woolen gown. Well-the mortification may be good, but it isn't pleasant. I wore the pink silk to the weddings and to some dinners. Dinners are quite grand things there, but they last so long I should call them suppers. And sometimes there is a grand march afterward, which is a kind of stately dancing. It has been just delightful. I don't know how I will settle down and wash and iron and scrub. But I would a great deal rather be in 'Lecty's place than in Mary's, and saving up money to buy farms isn't everything to life. I think the Mannings worship their farms and stock a good deal more than 'Lecty and Mat do their fine house and their money and all."

Her admirers and her conquests she confided to Janie Morse. There was one very charming young man that she liked a great deal, but her sister said she was too young to keep company, and there might be next winter in New York.

It spoke volumes for the wholesome, sensible nature of Betty Leverett that she could take her olden place in the household, assist her mother, and entertain her father with the many interesting events of her gay and happy winter.

* * *

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

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top