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   Chapter 17 ANOTHER GIRL

A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 23094

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Saturday afternoon the work was finished up and the children washed. The supper was eaten early, and at sundown the Sabbath had begun. The parlor was opened, but the children were allowed out on the porch. Ruth sprang up a time or two rather impatiently.

"Sit still," said Elizabeth, "or you will have to go to bed at once."

"Couldn't I take her a little walk?" asked Doris.

"A walk! Why it is part of Sunday!"

"But I walk on Sunday with Uncle Winthrop."

"It's very wicked. We do walk to church, but that isn't anything for pleasure."

"But uncle thinks one ought to be happy and joyous on Sunday. It is the day the Lord rose from the dead."

"It's the Sabbath. And you are to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy."

"What is the difference between Sabbath and Sunday?"

"There aint any," said James. "There's six days to work, and I wish there was two Sundays-one in the middle of the week. The best time of all is Sunday night. You don't have to keep so very still, and you don't have to work neither."

Elizabeth sighed. Then she said severely, "Do you know your catechism, James?"

"Well-I always have to study it Sunday morning," was the rather sullen reply.

"Maybe you had better go in and look it over."

"You never do want a fellow to take any comfort. Yes, I know it."

"Ruth, if you are getting sleepy go to bed."

Ruth had leaned her head down on Doris' shoulder.

"She's wide awake," and Doris gave her a little squeeze that made her smile. She would have laughed outright but for fear.

Elizabeth leaned her head against the door jamb.

"You look so tired," said Doris pityingly.

"I am tired through and through. I am always glad to have Saturday night come and no knitting or anything. Don't you knit when you are home?"

"I haven't knit-much." Doris flushed up to the roots of her fair hair, remembering her unfortunate attempts at achieving a stocking.

"What do you do?"

"Study, and read to Uncle Winthrop, and go to school and to writing school, and walk and take little journeys and drives and do drawing. Next year I shall learn to paint flowers."

"But you do some kind of work?"

"I keep my room in order and Uncle Win trusts me to dust his books. And I sew a little and make lace. But, you see, there is Miss Recompense and Dinah and Cato."

"Oh, what a lot of help! What does Miss Recompense do?"

"She is the housekeeper."

"Is Uncle Winthrop very rich?"

"I-I don't know."

"But there are no children and boys to wear out their clothes and stockings. There's so much knitting to be done. I go to school in winter, but there is too much work in summer. Doris Adams, you are a lucky girl if your fortune doesn't spoil you."

"Fortune!" exclaimed Doris in surprise.

"Yes. I heard father talk about it. And all that from England! Then someone died in Boston and left you ever so much. I suppose you will be a grand lady!"

"I'd like to be a lovely old lady like Madam Royall."

"And who is she?"

Doris was in the full tide of narration when Mrs. Manning came to the hall door. She caught some description of a party.

"Elizabeth, put Ruth to bed at once and go yourself. Doris, talking of parties isn't a very good preparation for the Sabbath. Elizabeth, when you say your prayers think of your sins and shortcomings for the week, and repent of them earnestly."

Ruth had fallen asleep and gave a little whine. Her mother slapped her.

"Hush, not a word. You deserve the same and more, Elizabeth! James, go in and study your catechism over three times, then go to bed."

Doris sat alone on the doorstep, confused and amazed. She was quite sure now she did not like Mrs. Manning, and she felt very sorry for Elizabeth. Then Betty came out and told her some odd Salem stories.

They all went to church Sabbath morning, in the old Puritan parlance. Doris found it hard to comprehend the sermon. Many of the people from the farms brought their luncheons, and wandered about the graveyard or sat under the shady trees. At two the children were catechised, at three service began again.

Mrs. King took Doris and Betty to dine with a friend of her youth, and then went back to the service out of respect to her sister and brother-in-law. Little Ruth fell asleep and was punished for it when she reached home. The children were all fractious and their mother scolded. When the sun went down there was a general sense of relief. The younger ones began to wander around. The two mothers sauntered off together, talking of matters they preferred not to have fall on the ears of small listeners.

Betty attracted the boys. Foster could talk to her, though he was much afraid of girls in general.

Doris and Elizabeth sat on the steps. Ruth was running small races with herself.

"Would you rather go and walk?" inquired Elizabeth timidly.

"Oh, no. Not if you like to sit still," cheerfully.

"I just do. I'm always tired. You are so pretty, I was afraid of you at first. And you have such beautiful clothes. That blue ribbon on your hat is like a bit of the sky. And God made the sky."

The voice died away in admiration.

"That isn't my best hat," returned Doris simply. "Cousin Betty thought the damp of the ocean and running out in the dust would ruin it. It has some beautiful pink roses and ever so much gauzy stuff and a great bow of pink satin. Then I have a pink muslin frock with tiny green and brown sprigs all over it, and a great sash of the muslin that comes down to the hem. The Chapman girls have satin ribbon sashes, but Miss Recompense said she liked the muslin better."

"Do you have to wear just what she says?"

"Oh, no. Madam Royall chooses some things, and Betty. And Cousin King brought me an elegant sash, white, with flowers all over it. I have ever so many pretty things."

"Oh, how proud you must feel!" said the Puritan maid half enviously.

"I don't know"-hesitatingly. "I think I feel just nice, and that is all there is about it. Uncle Win likes what they get for me-men can't buy clothes, you know, and if he is pleased and thinks I look well, that is the end of it."

"Oh, how good it must feel to be happy just like that. But are you quite sure," lowering her voice to a touch of awe, "that you will not be punished in the next world?"

"What for? Doesn't God mean us to be happy?"

"Well-not in this world, perhaps," answered the young theologian. "But you don't have anything in heaven except a white robe, and if you haven't had any pretty things in this world--"

"I wish I could give you some of mine." Doris slipped her soft warm hand over the other, beginning to grow bony and strained already.

"They wouldn't do me any good," was the almost apathetical reply. "I only go to church, and mother wouldn't let me wear them."

"Do you like to go to church?"

"I hate the long sermons and the prayers. Oh, that is dreadful wicked, isn't it? But I like to see the people and hear the talk, and they do have some new clothes; and the sitting still. When you've run and run all the week and are tired all over, it's just good to sit still. And it's different. I get so tired of the same things all the time and the hurry. Do you know what I am going to do when I am a woman?"

"No," replied Doris with a look of interested inquiry.

"I'm going to have one room like grandmother Manning, and live by myself. I shan't have any husband or children. I don't want to be sewing and knitting and patching continually, and babies are an awful sight of trouble, and husbands are just thinking of work, work all the time. Then I shall go visiting when I like, and though I shall read the Bible I won't mind about remembering the sermons. I'll just have a good time by myself."

Doris felt strangely puzzled. She always wanted a good time with someone. The great pleasure to her was having another share a joy. And to live alone was almost like being imprisoned in some dreary cell. Neither could she think of Helen or Eudora living alone-indeed, any of the girls she knew.

"Now you can go on about the wedding party," said Elizabeth after a pause. "And you really danced! And you were not afraid the ground would open and swallow you?"

"Why, no," returned Doris. "There are earthquakes that swallow up whole towns, but, you see, the good and the bad go together. And I never heard of anyone being swallowed up--"

"Why, yes-in the Bible-Korah, Dathan, and Abiram."

"But they were not dancing. I think,"-hesitatingly,-"they were finding fault with Moses and Aaron, and wanting to be leaders in some manner."

"Well-I am glad it wasn't dancing. And now go on quick before they come back."

Elizabeth had never read a fairy story or any vivid description. She had no time and there were no books of that kind about the house. She fairly reveled in Doris' brilliant narrative. She had seen one middle-aged couple stand up to be married after the Sunday afternoon service, and she had heard of two or three younger people being married with a kind of wedding supper. But that Doris should have witnessed all this herself! That she should have worn a wedding gown and scattered flowers before the bride!

Ruth was tired of running. "I'm sleepy," she said. "Unfasten my dress, I want to go to bed."

Betty and the boys were coming up the path, with the shadowy forms of the grown people behind them. Mr. Manning had been taking a nap on the rude kitchen settee, his Sunday evening indulgence. Now he came through the hall.

"Boys, children, it's time to go to bed. You are all sleepy enough in the mornin', but you would sit up half the night if someone did not drive you off."

"Oh, I wish you lived here, Aunt Betty," said Foster for a good-night.

Betty and Doris were almost ready for bed when there was a little sound at the door, pushed open by Elizabeth, who stood there in her plain, scant nightgown with a distraught expression, as if she had seen a ghost.

"Oh, Aunt Betty or Doris, can you remember the text and what the sermon was about? We always say it to mother after tea Sabbath evening, and she'll be sure to ask me to-morrow morning. And I can't think! I never scarcely do forget. Oh, what shall I do!"

Her distress was so genuine that Betty folded her in her arms. Elizabeth began to cry at the tender touch.

"There, little Bessy, don't cry. Let me see-I remember I was preaching another sermon to myself. It was-'Do this and ye shall live.' And instead of all the hard things he put in, I thought of the kindly things father was always doing, and Uncle Win, and mother, and the pleasant things instead of the severe laws. And when he reached his lastly he said no one could keep all the laws, and because they could not the Saviour came and died, but he seemed to preach as if the old laws were still in force, and that the Saviour's death really had not changed anything. That was in the morning. And the afternoon was the miracle of the loaves and fishes."

"Yes-I could recall that. But I was sure mother would ask me the one I had forgotten. It always happens that way. Oh, I am so glad. Dear Aunt Betty! And if I was sometimes called Bessy, as you called me just now, or Betty, or anything besides the everlasting 'Lisbeth. Oh, Doris, how happy you must be--"

"There, dear," said Betty soothingly, "don't cry so. I will write out what I can recall on a slip of paper and you can look it over in the morning. I just wish you could come and make me a visit, and go over to Uncle Win's. Yes, Doris is a happy little girl."

"But I have everything in the world," said Doris with a long breath. "I am afraid I could not be so happy here. Oh, can't we take Elizabeth home with us? Betty, coax her mother."

"It wouldn't do a bit of good. You can't coax mother. And there is always so much work in the summer. I am afraid she wouldn't like it-even if you asked her."

"But James came, and little Ruth--"

"They were too young to work. Oh, it would be like going to heaven!"

"It may be sometime, little Bessy. You can dream over it."

"Good-night. Would you kiss me, Doris?"

The happy girl kissed her a dozen times instead of once. But her deep eyes were full of tears as she turned to Betty when the small figure had slipped away.

"Yes, it is a hard life," said Betty. "It seems as if children's lives ought to be happier. I don't know what makes Mary so hard. I'm sure she does not get it from father or mother. She appears to think all the virtue of the world lies in work. I wonder what such people will do in heaven!"

"Oh, Betty, do try to have her come to Boston. I know Uncle Win will feel sorry for her."

Those years in the early part of the century were not happy ones for childhood in general. Too much happiness was considered demoralizing in this world and a poor preparation for the next. Work was the great panacea for all sorts of evils. It was seldom work for one's neighbors, though people were ready to go in sickness and trouble. It was adding field to field and interest to interest, to strive and save and wear one's self out and die.

Elizabeth was up betimes the next morning, and there lay the paper with chapter and verse and some "remarks." Her heart swelled with gratitude as she ran downstairs. Sarah had made the "shed" fire and the big wash kettle had been put over it. She was rubbing out the first clothes, the nicest pieces.

"Now fly round, 'Lisbeth," said her mother. "You've dawdled enough these few days back, and there'll be an account to settle presently. I suppose your head was so full of that bunch of vanity you never remembered a word of the sermon yesterday. What was the text in the morning?"

Elizabeth's pale face turned scarlet and her lip quivered; her slight frame seemed to shrink a moment, then in a gasping sort of way she gave chapter and verse and repeated the words.

"I don't think that was it," said her mother sharply. "Ruth was in a fidget just as the text was given out. Wasn't that last Sunday's text?"

"Some of the others may remember," the child said in her usual apathetical voice.

"Well, you needn't act as if you were going to have a hysteric! Hand me that dish of beans. Your father likes them warmed over. Quick, there he comes now. You stir them."

A trivet stood on the glowing coals, and the pan soon warmed through. Father and the men took their places. Foster came in sleepily.

"Where's James?" inquired his mother.

"I don't want him in the field to-day. He can weed in the garden. You send him with the dinners."

"Where was yesterday morning's text, Foster?" Mrs. Manning asked sharply.

The boy looked up blankly. As there was no Sunday evening examination it had slipped out of his mind.

"It was something about-keeping the law-doing--"

James entered at that moment and had heard the question and hesitating reply.

"I can't remember chapter and verse, but it was short, and I just rammed the words down in my memory box. 'Do this and ye shall live.'"

"James, no such irreverence," exclaimed his father.

Elizabeth in the kitchen drew a long breath of relief. She wondered whether his mother would have taken Aunt Betty's word.

Monday morning was always a hard time. Sarah required looking after, for her memory lapses were frequent. Mr. Manning said a good birch switch was the best remedy he knew. But though a hundred years before people had thought nothing of whipping their servants, public opinion was against it now. Mrs. Manning did sometimes box her ears when she was over-much tired. But she was a very faithful worker.

Elizabeth gave Ruth and baby Hester their breakfast. Then Betty came down, and insisted upon getting the next breakfast while Mrs. Manning hung up her first clothes. She had been scolding to Betty about people having no thought or care as to how they put back the work with their late breakfast. But when Betty cooked and served it, and insisted upon washing up the dishes; and Doris amused the baby, who was not well, and helped Ruth shell the pease for dinner; when the washing and churning were out of the way long before noon, and Elizabeth was folding down the clothes for ironing while Sarah and her mother prepared the dinner and sent it out to the men-the child couldn't see that things were at all behindhand.

Sarah and Elizabeth ironed in the afternoon. Mrs. Manning brought out her sewing and Betty helped on some frocks for the children. Two old neighbors came in to supper, bringing two little girls who were wonderfully attracted by Doris and delighted to be amused in quite a new fashion. But Elizabeth was too busy to be spared.

After supper was cleared away and the visitors had gone Elizabeth brought her knitting and sat on the stoop step in the moonlight.

"Oh, don't knit!" cried Doris. "You look so tired."

"I'd like to go to bed this minute," said the child. "But last week I fell behind. You see, there are so many to wear stockings, and the boys do rattle them out so fast. We try to get most of the new knitting done in the summer, for autumn brings so much work. And if you will talk to me-I like so to hear about Boston and Madam Royall's beautiful house and your Uncle Win. It must be like reading some interesting book. Oh, I wish I could come and stay a whole week with you!"

"A week!" Doris laughed. "Why, you couldn't see it all in a month, or a year. Every day I am finding something new about Boston, and Miss Recompense remembers so many queer stories. I'm going to tell her all about you. I know she'll be real nice about your coming. Everything is as Uncle Win says, but he always asks her."

Doris could make her little descriptions very vivid and attractive. At first Elizabeth replied by exclamations, then there was quite a silence. Doris looked at her. She was leaning against the post of the porch and her needles no longer clicked, though she held the stocking in its place. The poor child had fallen fast asleep. The moonlight made her look so ghostly pale that at first Doris was startled.

The three ladies came out, but Elizabeth never stirred. When her mother spied her she shook her sharply by the shoulder.

"Poor child!" exclaimed Mrs. King. "Elizabeth, put up your work and go to bed."

"If you are too sleepy to knit, put up your work and go out and knead on the bread a spell. Sarah always gets it lumpy if you don't watch her," said Mrs. Manning.

Elizabeth gathered up her ball and went without a word.

"I'll knit for you," said Betty, intercepting her, and taking the work.

"Mary, you will kill that child presently, and when you have buried her I hope you will be satisfied to give Ruth a chance for her life," exclaimed Mrs. King indignantly.

"I can't afford to bring my children up in idleness, and if I could, I hope I have too great a sense of responsibility and my duty toward them. I was trained to work, and I've been thankful many a time that I didn't have to waste grown-up years in learning."

"We didn't work like that. Then father had given some years to his country and we were poor. You have no need, and it is cruel to make such a slave of a child. She does a woman's work."

"I am quite capable of governing my own family, Electa, and I think I know what is best and right for them. We can't afford to bring up fine ladies and teach them French and other trumpery. If Elizabeth is fitted for a plain farmer's wife, that is all I ask. She won't be likely to marry a President or a foreign lord, and if we have a few hundred dollars to start her in life, maybe she won't object."

"You had better give her a little comfort now instead of adding farm to farm, and saving up so much for the woman who will come in here when you are dead and gone. Think of the men who have second and third wives and whose children are often turned adrift to look out for themselves. Hundreds of poor women are living hard and joyless lives just to save up money. And it is a shame to grind their children to the lowest ebb."

Mrs. Manning was very angry. She had no argument at hand, so she turned in an arrogant manner and said austerely:

"I had better go and look after my daughter, to see that she doesn't work herself quite to death. But I don't know what we should do without bread."

"Now you have done it!" cried Betty. "I only hope she won't vent her anger on the poor child."

"It is a curious thing," said Mrs. King reflectively, "that women-well, men too-make such a point of church-going on Sunday, and hardly allow the poor children to draw a comfortable breath, and on Monday act like fiends. Women especially seem to think they have a right to indulge in dreadful tempers on washing day, and drive all before them. Think of the work that has been done in this house to-day, and the picture of Elizabeth, worn out, falling asleep over her knitting. I should have sent her to bed with the chickens. I'd like to take her home with me, but it would spoil her for the farm."

Betty knit away on the stocking. "I can't see what makes Mary so hard and grasping," she said. "It troubles mother a good deal."

When they went in the house was quiet and the kitchen dark. Mrs. Manning sat sewing. Their candles were on the table. Betty and Mrs. King said a cordial good-night.

The sisters-in-law were to come the next day, and grandmother Manning, with an addition of four children. The Salem sister, Mrs. Gates, was stout and pleasant; the farmer sister thin and with a troublesome cough, and she had a young baby besides her little girl of six. She was to make a visit in Salem, and doctor somewhat, to see if she could not get over her cough before cold weather.

The children were turned out of doors on the grassy roadside, where they couldn't hurt anything. Mrs. Gates and Betty helped in the kitchen, and after the dinner was cleared away Elizabeth was allowed to put on her second-best gingham and go out with the children. They ran and played and screamed and laughed.

"I'd a hundred times rather sit still and hear you talk," she said to Doris. "And I'm awful sorry to have you go to-morrow. Even when I am busy it is so nice just to look at you, with your beautiful hair and your dark eyes, and your skin that is like velvet and doesn't seem to tan or freckle. Foster hates freckles so."

Doris flushed at the compliment.

"I wonder how it would seem to be as pretty as you are? And you're not a bit set up about your fine clothes and all. I s'pose when you're born that way you're so used to it, and there aint anything to wish for. I'm so glad you could come. And I do hope you will come again."

They parted very good friends. Mrs. King had been quite generous to the small people, and Mrs. Manning really loved her sister, although she considered her very lax and extravagant. No one could tell what was before him, and thrift and prudence were the great virtues of those days. True, they often degenerated into penuriousness and labor that was early and late-so severe, indeed, it cost many a life; and the people who came after reaped the benefit.

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