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   Chapter 14 IN THE SPRING

A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 22152

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


The matter had settled itself so easily that Doris could not find much opportunity for sorrow, nor misgivings for her joy. She could not see the struggle there had been in Uncle Leverett's mind, and the sturdy common sense that had come to his assistance. He could recall habits of second-cousin Charles that were like a woman's for daintiness, and Winthrop Adams had the same touch of refinement and delicacy. It was in the Adams blood, doubtless. Aunt Priscilla had not a large share, but he had noted some of it in Elizabeth. It pervaded every atom of Doris' slender body and every cell of her brain. She never would take to the rougher, coarser things of life; indeed, why should she when there was no need? He had wandered so far from the orthodox faith that he began to question useless discipline.

Winthrop could understand and care for her better. She would grow up in his house to the kind of girl nature had meant her to be. Here the useful, that might never come in use, would be mingled and confused with what was necessary. He had watched her trying to achieve the stocking that all little girls could knit at her age. It was as bad as Penelope's web. Aunt Elizabeth pulled it out after she had gone to bed, and knit two or three "rounds," so as not to utterly discourage her inapt pupil. But Doris had set up some lace on a "cushion," after Madam Sheafe's direction, and it grew a web of beauty under her dainty fingers.

It was not as if Doris would be quite lost to them. They would see her every day or two. And when it was decided that Aunt Priscilla would come he was really glad. Aunt Priscilla's captious talk did not always proceed from an unkindly heart.

Betty made a violent protest at first.

"After all, it will not be quite so bad as I thought," she admitted presently. "I shall go to Uncle Win's twice as often, and I have always been so fond of him. And things are prettier there, somehow. There is a great difference in the way people live, and I mean to change some things. It isn't because one is ashamed to be old-fashioned; some of the old ways are lovely. It is only when you tack hardness and commonness on them and think ugliness has a real virtue in it. We will have both sides to talk about. But if you were going back to England, it would break my heart, Doris."

Doris winked some tears out of her eyes.

She thought her room at Uncle Win's was like a picture. The wall was whitewashed: people thought then it was much healthier for sleeping chambers. The floor was painted a rather palish yellow. There was only one window, but the door was opposite, and a door that opened into the room of Miss Recompense. The window had white curtains with ruffled edges, made of rather coarse muslin, but it was clear, and looked very tidy. Miss Recompense had found a small bedstead among the stored-away articles. It had high posts and curtains and valance of pale-blue flowered chintz. There was a big bureau, a dressing table covered with white, and a looking glass prettily draped. At the top of this, surmounted by a gilt eagle, was a marvelous picture of a man with a blue coat and yellow smallclothes handing into a boat a lady who wore a skirt of purple and an overdress of scarlet, very much betrimmed, holding a green parasol over her head with one hand and placing a slippered foot on the edge of the boat. After a long while Doris thought she should be much relieved to have them sail off somewhere.

There were two quaint rush-bottomed chairs and a yellow stool, such as we tie with ribbons and call a milking stool. A nice warm rug lay at the side of the bed, and a smaller one at the washing stand. These were woven like rag carpet, but made of woolen rags with plenty of ends standing up all over, like the surface of a Moquette carpet. They were considered quite handsome then, as they were more trouble than braided rugs, and so soft to the foot. Some strenuous housekeepers declared them terrible dust catchers.

Doris' delight in the room amply repaid Miss Recompense. She had learned her way about, and could come down alone, now that the weather had grown pleasanter, and she was full of joy over everything. Occasionally Uncle Winthrop would be out, then she and Miss Recompense would have what they called a "nice talk."

Miss Recompense Gardiner was quite sure she had never seen just such a child. Indeed at five-and-forty she was rather set in her ways, disliked noise and bustle, and could not bear to have a house "torn up," as she phrased it. Twelve years before she had come here to "housekeep," as the old phrase went. She had not lacked admirers, but she had been very particular. Her sisters said she was a born old maid. There was in her soul a great love of refinement and order.

Mr. Winthrop Adams just suited her. He was quiet, neat, made no trouble, and did not smoke. That was a wretched habit in her estimation. Cousin Charles used to come over, and different branches of the family were invited in now and then to tea. Cary was a rather proper, well-ordered boy, trained by his mother's sister, who had married and gone away just before the advent of Miss Gardiner. There had been some talk that Mr. Winthrop might espouse Miss Harriet Cary in the course of time, but as there were no signs, and Miss Cary had an excellent offer of marriage, she accepted it.

Cary went to the Latin School and then to Harvard. He was a fair average boy, a good student, and ready for his share of fun at any time. His father had marked out his course, which was to be law, and Cary was indifferent as to what he took up.

So they had gone on year after year. It promised a pleasant break to have the little girl.

The greatest trouble, Miss Recompense thought, would be making Solomon feel at home. Doris brought his cushion, and the box he slept in at night was sent. Warren brought him over in a bag and they put him in the closet for the night. He uttered some pathetic wails, and Doris talked to him until he quieted down. He was a good deal frightened the next morning, but he clung to Doris, who carried him about in her arms and introduced him to every place. He was afraid of Mr. Adams and Cato, his acquaintance with men having been rather limited. After several days he began to feel quite at home, and took cordially to his cushion in the corner.

"He doesn't offer to run away," announced Doris to Aunt Priscilla. "He likes Miss Recompense. Uncle Winthrop thinks him the handsomest cat he has ever seen."

"Poor old Polly! She set a great deal of store by Solomon. I never did care much for a cat, but I do think Solomon was most as wise as folks. I don't know what I should have done last winter when I was so miserable if it had not been for him. He seemed to take such comfort that it was almost as good as a sermon. And sometimes when he purred it was like the sound of a hymn with the up and down and the long notes. I don't believe he would have stayed with anyone else though. Child, what is there about you that just goes to the heart of even a dumb beast?"

Doris looked amazed, then thoughtful. "I suppose it is because I love them," she said simply.

There was a great stir everywhere, it seemed. The slow spring had really come at last. The streets were being cleared up, the gardens put in order, some of the houses had a fresh coat of paint; the stores put out their best array, the trees were misty-looking with tiny green shoots, and the maples Doris thought wonderful. There were four in the row on Common Street; one was full of soft dull-red blooms, one had little pale-green hoods on the end of every twig, another looked as if it held a tiny scarlet parasol over each baby bud, and the fourth dropped clusters of brownish-green fringe.

"Oh, how beautiful they are!" cried Doris, her eyes alight with enthusiasm.

And then all the great Common began to put on spring attire. The marsh grass over beyond sent up stiff green spikes and tussocks that looked like little islands, and there were water plants with large leaves that seemed continually nodding to their neighbors. The frog concerts at the pond were simply bewildering with the variety of voices, each one proclaiming that the reign of ice and snow was at an end and they were giving thanks.

"They are so glad," declared Doris. "I shouldn't like to be frozen up all winter in a little hole."

Miss Recompense smiled. Perhaps they were grateful. She had never thought of it before.

Doris did not go back to Mrs. Webb's school, though that lady said she was sorry to give her up. Uncle Win gave her some lessons, and she went to writing school for an hour every day. Miss Recompense instructed her how to keep her room tidy, but Uncle Win said there would be time enough for her to learn housekeeping.

Then there were hunts for flowers. Betty came over; she knew some nooks where the trailing arbutus grew and bloomed. The swamp pinks and the violets of every shade and almost every size-from the wee little fellow who sheltered his head under his mother's leaf-green umbrella to the tall, sentinel-like fellow who seemed to fling out defiance. Doris used to come home with her hands full of blooms.

The rides too were delightful. They went over the bridges to West Boston and South Boston and to Cambridge, going through the college buildings-small, indeed, compared with the magnificent pile of to-day. But Boston did seem almost like a collection of islands. The bays and rivers, the winding creeks that crept through the green marsh grass, the long low shores held no presentiment of the great city that was to be.

Although people groaned over hard times and talked of war, still the town kept a thriving aspect. Men were at work leveling Beacon Hill. Boylston Street was being made something better than a lane, and Common Street was improved. Uncle Winthrop said next thing he supposed they would begin to improve him and order him to take up his house and walk. For houses were moved even then, when they stood in the way of a street.

The earth from the hill, or rather hills, went to fill in the Mill Pond. Lord Lyndhurst had once owned a large part, but he had gone to England to live. Charles Street was partly laid out-as far as the flats were filled in. It was quite entertaining to watch the great patient oxen, which, when they were standing still, chewed their cud in solemn content and gazed around as though they could predict unutterable things.

From the house down to Common Street was a kind of garden where Cato raised vegetables and Miss Recompense had her beds of sweet and medicinal herbs. For then the housekeeper concocted various household remedies, and made extracts by the use of a little still for flavoring and perfumery. She gathered all the rose leaves and lavender blossoms and sewed them up in thin muslin bags and laid them in the drawers and closets.

And, oh, what roses she had then! Great sweet damask roses, pink and the loveliest deep red, twice as large as the Jack roses of to-day. And trailing pink and white roses clim

bing over everything. Aunt Elizabeth said Miss Recompense could make a dry stick grow and bloom.

Uncle Winthrop found a new and charming interest in the little girl. She was so fond of taking walks and hearing the legends about the old places. She could see where the old beacon had stood when the place was called Sentry Hill, and she knew it had been blown down in a gale, and that on the spot had been erected a beautiful Doric column surmounted by an eagle, to commemorate "the train of events that led to the American Revolution and finally secured liberty and Independence."

But the State House had made one great excavation, and the Mill Pond Corporation was making others, and they were planning to remove the monument.

"We ought to have more regard for these old places," Uncle Win used to say with a sigh.

Cary had not been a companionable child. He was a regular boy, and the great point of interest in Sentry Hill for him was batting a ball up the hill. It was a proud day for him when he carried it farther than any other boy. He was fond of games of all kinds, and was one of the fleetest runners and a fine oarsman, and could sail a boat equal to any old salt, he thought. He was a boy, of course, and Uncle Win did not want him to be a "Molly coddle," so he gave in, for he did not quite know what to do with a lad who could tumble more books around in five minutes than he could put in order in half an hour, and knew more about every corner in Old Boston than anyone else, and was much more confident of his knowledge.

But this little girl, who soon learned the peculiarity of every tree, the song of the different birds, and the season of bloom for wild flowers, and could listen for hours to the incidents of the past, that seem of more vital importance to middle-aged people than the matters of every day, was a veritable treasure to Mr. Winthrop Adams. He did not mind if she could not knit a stocking, and he sometimes excused her deficiencies in arithmetic because she was so fond of hearing him read poetry. For Doris thought, of all the things in the world, being able to write verses was the most delightful, and that was her aim when she was a grown-up young lady. She did pick up a good deal of general knowledge that she would not have acquired at school, but Uncle Win wasn't quite sure how much a girl ought to be educated.

She began to see considerable of the Chapman girls, and Madam Royall grew very fond of her. But she did not forget her dear friends in Sudbury Street. Sometimes when Uncle Win was going out to a supper or to stay away all the evening she would go up and spend the night with Betty, and sit in the old corner, for it was Uncle Leverett's favorite place whether there was fire or not. He was as fond as ever of listening to her chatter.

She always brought a message to Aunt Priscilla about Solomon. Uncle Winthrop thought him the handsomest cat he had ever seen, and now Solomon was not even afraid of Cato, but would walk about the garden with him, and Miss Recompense said he was so much company when she, Doris, was out of the house.

Indeed, he would look at her with inquiring eyes and a soft, questioning sound in his voice that was not quite a mew.

"Yes," Miss Recompense would say, "Doris has gone up to Sudbury Street. We miss her, don't we, Solomon? It's a different house without her."

Solomon would assent in a wise fashion.

"I never did think to take comfort in talking to a cat," Miss Recompense would say to herself with a touch of sarcasm.

About the middle of June, when roses and spice pinks and ten-weeks' stocks, and sweet-williams were at their best, Mr. Adams always gave a family gathering at which cousins to the third and fourth generation were invited. Everything was at its loveliest, and the Mall just across the street was resplendent in beauty. Even then it had magnificent trees and great stretches of grass, green and velvety. Already it was a favorite strolling place.

Miss Recompense had sent a special request for Betty on that particular afternoon and evening. There was to be a high tea at five o'clock.

"I shall have my new white frock all done," said Betty delightedly. "There is just a little needlework around the neck and the skirt to sew on."

"But I wouldn't wear it," rejoined her mother. "You may get a fruit stain on it, or meet with some accident. Miss Recompense will expect you to work a little."

"Have you anything new, Doris?"

"Oh, yes," replied Doris. "A white India muslin, and a cambric with a tiny rosebud in it. Madam Royall chose them and ordered them made. And Betty, I have almost outgrown the silk already. Madam Royall is going to see about getting it altered. And in the autumn Helen Chapman will have a birthday company, and I am invited already, or my frock is," and Doris laughed. "She has made me promise to wear it then."

"You go to the Royalls' a good deal," exclaimed Aunt Priscilla jealously. She was sitting in a high-backed chair, very straight and prim. She was not quite at home yet, and kept wondering if she wouldn't rather have her own house if she could get a reasonable sort of servant. Still, she did enjoy the sociable side of life, and it was pleasant here at Cousin Leverett's. They all tried to make her feel at home, and though Betty tormented her sometimes by a certain argumentativeness, she was very ready to wait on her. Aunt Priscilla did like to hear of the delightful entertainments her silk gown had gone to after being hidden away so many years. As for the hat, a young Englishman had said "She looked like a princess in it."

"You are just eaten up with vanity, Betty Leverett," Aunt Priscilla tried to rejoin in her severest tone.

Doris glanced over to her now.

"Yes," she answered. "Uncle Winthrop thinks I ought to know something about little girls. Eudora is six months older than I am. They have such a magnificent swing, four girls can sit in it. Helen is studying French and the young ladies can talk a little. They do not see how I can talk so fast."

Doris laughed gleefully. Aunt Priscilla sniffed. Winthrop Adams would make a flighty, useless girl out of her. And companying so much with rich people would fill her mind with vanity. Yes, the child would be ruined!

"And we tell each other stories about our Boston. This Boston," making a pretty gesture with her hand, "has the most splendid ones about the war and all, and the ships coming over here almost two hundred years ago. It is a long while to live one hundred years, even. But I knew about Mr. Cotton and the lady Arabella Johnston. They had not heard about the saint and how his body was carried around to make it rain."

"To make it rain! Whose body was it, pray?" asked Aunt Priscilla sharply, scenting heresy. She was not quite sure but so much French would shut one out from final salvation. "Did you have saints in Old Boston?"

"Oh, it was the old Saint of the Church-St. Botolph." Doris hesitated and glanced up at Uncle Leverett, who nodded. "He was a very, very good man," she resumed seriously. "And one summer there was a very long drought. The grass all dried up, the fruit began to fall off, and they were afraid there would be nothing for the cattle to feed upon. So they took up St. Botolph in his coffin and carried him all around the town, praying as they went. And it began to rain."

"Stuff and nonsense! The idea of reasonable human beings believing that!"

"But you know the prophet prayed for rain in the Bible."

"But to take up his body! Are they doing it now in a dry time?" Aunt Priscilla asked sarcastically.

"They don't now, but it was said they did it several times, and it always rained."

"They wan't good orthodox Christians. No one ever heard of such a thing."

"But our orthodox Christians believed in witches-even the descendants of this very John Cotton who came over to escape the Lords Bishops," said Warren.

"And, unlike Mr. Blacksone, stayed and had a hard time with the Lords Brethren," said Mr. Leverett. "I hardly know which was the worst"-smiling with a glint of humor. "And you more than half believe in witches yourself, Aunt Priscilla."

"I am sure I have reason to. Grandmother Parker was a good woman if ever there was one, and she was bewitched. And would it have said in the Bible-'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,' if there had not been any?"

"They were telling stories at Madam Royall's one day. And sometime Uncle Winthrop is going to take us all to Marblehead, where Mammy Redd lived. Eudora said this:

"'Old Mammy Redd

Of Marblehead

Sweet milk could turn

To mold in churn.'

And Uncle Winthrop has a big book about them."

"He had better take you to Salem. That was the very hot-bed of it all," said Warren.

Doris came around to Aunt Priscilla. "Did your grandmother really see a witch?" she asked in a serious tone.

"Well, perhaps she didn't exactly see it. But she was living at Salem and had a queer neighbor. One day they had some words, and when grandmother went to churn her milk turned all moldy and spoiled the butter. Grandmother didn't even dare feed it to the pigs. So it went on several times. Then another neighbor said to her, 'The next time it happens you just throw a dipper-full over the back log.' And so grandmother did. It made an awful smell and smoke. Then she washed out her churn and put it away. She was barely through when someone came running in, and said, 'Have you any sweet oil, Mrs. Parker? Hetty Lane set herself afire cleaning the cinders out of her oven, and she's dreadfully burned. Come right over.' Grandmother was a little afraid, but she went, and, sure enough, it had happened just the moment she threw the milk in the fire. One side of her was burned, and one hand. And although the neighbors suspected her, they were all very kind to her while she was ill. But grandmother had no more trouble after that, and it was said Hetty Lane never bewitched anybody again."

"It's something like the kelpies and brownies Barby used to tell about that were in England long time ago," said Doris, big-eyed. "They hid tools and ate up the food and spoiled the milk and the bread, turning it to stone. They went away-perhaps someone burned them up."

Aunt Priscilla gave her sniff. To be compared with such childish stuff!

"It was very curious," said Mrs. Leverett. "I have always been glad I was not alive at that time. Sometimes unaccountable things happen."

"Did you ever see a truly witch yourself, Aunt Priscilla?" asked the child.

"No, I never did," she answered honestly.

"Then I guess they did go with the fairies and kelpies. Could I tell your story over sometime?" she inquired eagerly.

Telling ghost stories and witch stories was quite an amusement at that period.

"Why, yes-if you want to." She was rather pleased to have it go to the Royalls'.

"The last stitch," and Betty folded up her work. "Come, Doris, say good-night, and let us go to bed."

Doris put a little kiss on Aunt Priscilla's wrinkled hand.

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