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A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 25530

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

War was declared. The President, James Madison, proclaimed it June 18, 1812. Hostilities opened promptly. True, England's navy was largely engaged with France in the tremendous effort to keep Napoleon confined within the boundaries that he had at one time assented to by treaty, but at that period she had over a thousand vessels afloat, while America had only seventeen warships in her navy to brave them.

There was a call for men and money. The Indian troubles had been fomented largely by England. There had been fighting on the borders, but the battle of Tippecanoe had broken the power of Tecumseh-for the time, at least. But now the hopes of the Indian chieftain revived, and the country was beset by both land and naval warfare.

The town had been all along opposed to war. It had been said of Boston a few years before that she was like Tyre of old, and that her ships whitened every sea. Still, now that the fiat had gone forth, the latent enthusiasm came to the surface, and men were eager to enlist. A company had been studying naval tactics at Charlestown, and most of them offered their services, filled with the enthusiasm of youth and brimming with indignation at the treatment our sailors were continually receiving.

Still, the little navy had proudly distinguished itself in the Mediterranean, and the Constitution had gained for herself the sobriquet of "Old Ironsides"-a Boston-built vessel, though the live oak, the red cedar, and the pitch pine had come from South Carolina. But Paul Revere had furnished the copper bolts and spikes, and when the ship was recoppered, later on, that came from the same place. Ephraim Thayer, at the South End, had made her gun carriages, and her sails were manufactured in the Old Granary building.

"A bunch of pine boards with a bit of striped bunting" had been the enemy's disdainful description of our youthful navy. And now they were to try their prowess with the Mistress of the Seas, who had defeated the combined navies of Europe. No wonder the country stood astounded over its own daring.

Everything afloat was hurriedly equipped as a war vessel. The solid, far-sighted men of New York and New England shook their heads over the great mistake Congress and the President had made.

Warren Leverett began to talk about enlisting. Business had been running behind. True, he could appeal to his brother-in-law King. He had sounded Hollis, who declared he had all he could do to keep afloat himself.

Mrs. Leverett besought him to take no hasty step. What could they do without him? They might break up the home. Electa would be glad to have Betty-there were some things she could do, but Aunt Priscilla-whose health was really poor--

Aunt Priscilla understood the drift presently, and the perplexity. Warren admitted that if he had some money to tide him over he would fight through. The war couldn't last forever.

"And you never thought of me!" declared Aunt Priscilla, pretending to be quite indignant. "See here, Warren Leverett, when I made my will I looked out for you and Betty. Mary Manning shan't hoard up any of my money, and 'Lecty King, thank the Lord, doesn't want it. So if you're to have it in the end you may as well take some of it now, fursisee. I shall have enough to last my time out. And I'm settled and comfortable here and don't want to be routed out and set down elsewhere."

Warren and his mother were surprised and overcome by the offer. He would take it only on condition that he should pay Aunt Priscilla the interest.

But his business stirred up wonderfully. Still, they all felt it was very generous in Aunt Priscilla, whose money had really been her idol.

Doris had gone over from her music lesson one afternoon. They were always so glad to see her. Aunt Priscilla thought a piano in such times as these was almost defying Providence. But even the promise of that did not spoil Doris, and they were always glad to see her drop in and hear her dainty bits of news.

They wanted very much to keep her to supper.

"Why, they"-which meant the family at home-"will be sure you have stayed here or at the Royalls'. Mr. Winslow has given ever so much money toward the fitting out of a vessel. They are all very patriotic. And Cary's uncle, Mr. March, has gone in heart and hand. I don't know which is right," said Betty with a sigh, "but now that we are in it I hope we will win."

But Doris was afraid Miss Recompense would feel anxious, and she promised to come in a few days and stay to supper.

It was very odd that just as she reached the corner Cousin Cary should cross the street and join her.

"I have been down having a talk with Warren," he said as if in explanation. "I wish I had a good, plodding business head like that, and Warren isn't lacking in the higher qualities, either. If there was money enough to keep the house going, he would enlist. He had almost resolved to when this stir in business came."

"Oh, I don't know what his mother would have done! If Uncle Leverett was alive--"

"He would have consented in a minute. Someone's sons must go," Cary said decisively. "No, don't go straight home-come over to the Common. Doris, you are only a little girl, but I want to talk to you. There is no one else--"

Doris glanced at him in amazement. He was quite generally grave, though he sometimes teased her, and occasionally read with her and explained any difficult point. But she always felt so like a very little girl with him.

They went on in silence, however, until they crossed Common Street and passed on under the magnificent elms. Clumps of shrubbery were blooming. Vines ran riotously over supports, and roses and honeysuckle made the air sweet.

"Doris,"-his voice had a little huskiness in it,-"you are very fond of father, and he loves you quite as if you were his own child. Oh, I wish you were! I wish he had half a dozen sons and daughters. If mother had lived--"

"Yes," Doris said at length, in the long silence broken only by the song and whistle of myriad birds.

"I don't know how to tell you. I can't soften things, incidents, or explanations. I am so apt to go straight to the point, and though it may be honorable, it is not always wisest or best. But I can't help it now. I have enlisted in the navy. We start for Annapolis this evening."

"Oh, Cary! And Uncle Win--"

"That is it. That gives me a heartache, I must confess. For, you see, I can't go and tell him in a manly way, as I would like. We have had some talks over it. I asked him before I was of age, and he refused in the most decisive manner to consider it. He said if I went I would have to choose between the country and him, which meant-a separation for years, maybe. It is strange, too, for he is noble and just and patriotic on certain lines. I do think he would spend any money on me, give me everything I could possibly want, but he feels in some way that I am his and it is my duty to do with my life what he desires, not what I like. I am talking over your head, you are such a little girl, and so simple-hearted. And I have really come to love you a great deal, Doris."

She looked up with a soft smile, but there were tears in her eyes.

"You see, a big boy who has no sisters doesn't get used to little girls. And when he really begins to admire them they are generally older. Then, I have always been with boys and young men. I was glad when you came, because father was so interested in you. And I thought he had begun to love you so much that he wouldn't really mind if I went away. But, you see, his heart would be big enough for a houseful of children."

"Oh, why do you go? He will be-broken-hearted."

"Little Doris, I shall be broken-hearted if I stay. I shall begin to hate law-maybe I shall take to drink-young fellows do at times. I know I shall be just good for nothing. I should like best to talk it over dispassionately with him, but that can't be done. We should both say things that would hurt each other and that we should regret all our lives. I have written him a long letter, but I wanted to tell someone. I thought of Betty first, and Madam Royall, but no one can comfort him like you. Then I wanted you to feel, Doris, that I was not an ungrateful, disobedient son. I wish we could think alike about the war, but it seems that we cannot. And because you are here,-and, Doris, you are a very sweet little girl, and you will love him always, I know,-I give him in your charge. I hope to come back, but the chances of war are of a fearful sort, and if I should not, will you keep to him always, Doris? Will you be son and daughter to him as you grow up-oh, Doris, don't cry! People die every day, you know, staying at home. I have often thought how sad it was that my mother and both your parents should die so young--"

His voice broke then. They came to a rustic seat and sat down. He took her hand and pressed it to his lips.

"If I shouldn't ever come back"-tremulously-"I should like to feel at the last moment there was someone who would tell him that my very latest thought was of him and his tender love all my twenty-one years. I want you to make him feel that it was no disrespect to him, but love for my country, that impelled me to the step. You will understand it better when you grow older, and I can trust you to do me full justice and to be tender to him. And at first, Doris, when I can, I shall write to you. If he doesn't forbid you, I want you to answer if I can get letters. This is a sad, sad talk for a little girl--"

Doris tried very hard not to sob. She seemed to understand intuitively how it was, and that to make any appeal could only pain him without persuading. If she were as wise and bright as Betty!

"That is all-or if I said any more it would be a repetition, and it is awfully hard on you. But you will love him and comfort him."

"I shall love him and stay with him all my life," said Doris with tender solemnity.

They were both too young to understand all that such a promise implied.

"My dear little sister!" He rose and stooping over kissed her on the fair forehead. "I will walk back to the house with you," he added as she rose.

Neither of them said a word until they reached the corner. Then he took both hands and, kissing her again, turned away, feeling that he could not even utter a good-by.

Doris stood quite still, as if she was stunned. She was not crying in any positive fashion, but the tears dropped silently. She could not go indoors, so she went down to the big apple tree that had a seat all around the trunk. Was Uncle Win at home? Then she heard voices. Miss Recompense had a visitor, and she was very glad.

The lady, an old friend, stayed to supper. Uncle Win did not make his appearance. Doris took a book afterward and sat out on the stoop, but reading was only a pretense. She was frightened now at having a secret, and it seemed such a solemn thing as she recalled what she had promised. She would like to spend all her life with Uncle Win; but could she care for him and make him happy, when the one great love of his life was gone?

Miss Recompense walked out to the gate with her visitor, and they had a great many last bits to say, and then she watched her going down the street.

"Child, you can't see to read," she said to Doris. "I think it is damp. You had better come in. Mr. Adams will not be home before ten."

Doris entered the lighted hall and stood a moment uncertain.

"How pale and heavy-eyed you look!" exclaimed Miss Recompense. "Does your head ache? Have they some new trouble in Sudbury Street?"

"Oh, no. But I am tired. I think I will go to bed. Good-night, dear Miss Recompense," and she gave her a gentle hug.

She cried a little softly to her pillow. Had Cary gone? When Uncle Win came home he would find the letter. She dreaded to-morrow.

Cary had one more errand before he started. He had said good-by to them at Madam Royall's and announced his enlistment, but he had asked Alice to meet him at the foot of the garden. They were not lovers, though he was perhaps quite in love. And he knew that he had only to speak to gain his father's consent and have his way to matrimony made easy, since it was Alice Royall. But he had never been quite sure that she cared for him with her whole soul, as Isabel had cared for Morris Winslow. And if he won her-would he, could he go away?

He used to wonder later on how much was pure patriotism and how much a desire to stand well with Alice Royall. She was proudly patriotic and had stirred his blood many a time with her wishes and desires for the country. Grandmamma Royall had laughed a little at her vehemence, and said it was fortunate she was not a boy.

"I should enlist at once. Or what would be

better yet, I would beg brother Morris to fit out a war ship, and look up the men to command it, and go in any capacity. I should not wait for a high-up appointment."

When Cary confessed his step first to her, she caught his hands in hers so soft and delicate.

"I knew you were the stuff out of which heroes were made!" she cried exultantly. "Oh, Cary, I shall pray for you day and night, and you will come back crowned with honors."

"If I come back--"

"You will. Take my word for your guerdon. I can't tell you how I know it, but I am sure you will return. I can see you and the future--"

She paused, flushed with excitement, her eyes intense, her rosy lips tremulous, and looked, indeed, as if she might be inspired.

So she met him again at the garden gate for a last good-by. Young people who had been well brought up did not play at love-making in those days, though they might be warm friends. A girl seldom gave or received caresses until the elders had signified assent. An engagement was quite a solemn thing, not lightly to be entered into. And even to himself Cary seemed very young. All his instincts were those of a gentleman, and in his father he had had an example of the most punctilious honor.

They walked up and down a few moments. He pressed tender kisses on her fair hand, about which there always seemed to cling the odor of roses. And then he tore himself away with a passionate sorrow that his father, the nearest in human ties of love, could not bid him Godspeed.

The next morning Doris wondered what had happened. There was a loneliness in the very air, as there had been when Uncle Leverett died. The sky was overcast, not exactly promising a storm, but soft and penetrative, as if presaging sorrow.

Oh, yes, she remembered now. She dressed herself and went quietly downstairs.

"You may as well come and have your breakfast," exclaimed Miss Recompense. "Your uncle sent down word that he had a headache and begged not to be disturbed. He was up a long while after he came home last night; it must have been past midnight when he went to bed. I wish he did not get so deeply interested in improvements and everything. And if we are to be bombarded and destroyed I don't see any sense in laying out new streets and filling up ponds and wasting the money of the town."

It seemed to Doris as if she could not swallow a mouthful. She tried heroically. Then she went out and gathered a bunch of roses for Uncle Win's study. She generally read French and Latin a while with him in the morning. Then she made her bed, dusted her room, put her books in her satchel and went to school in an unwilling sort of fashion. How long the morning seemed! Then there was a half-hour in deportment-we should call it physical culture at present. All the girls were gay and chatty. Eudora told her about a new lace stitch. Grandmamma had been out yesterday where there was such an elegant Spanish woman with coal-black eyes and hair. Her family had fled to this country to escape the horrors of war. They had been rich, but were now quite poor, and she was thinking of having a needlework class.

Did Eudora know Cary had gone away?

Uncle Win came out to dinner. She was a little late. He glanced up and gave a faint half-smile, but, oh, how deadly pale he was!

"Dear Uncle Winthrop-is your headache better?" she asked with gentle solicitude.

"A little," he said gravely.

It was a very quiet meal. Although Mr. Winthrop Adams had a delicate appearance, he was rarely ill. Now there were deep rings under his eyes, and the utter depression was sad indeed to behold.

Doris nearly always ran in the study and gossiped girlishly about the morning's employments. Now she sauntered out on the porch. There was neither music nor writing class. She wondered if she had better sew. She was learning to do that quite nicely, but the stocking still remained a puzzle.

"Doris," said a gentle voice through the open window; and the sadness pierced her heart.

She rose and went in. Solomon lay on his cushion in the corner, and even he, she thought, had a troubled look in his eyes. Uncle Win sat by the table, and there lay Cary's letter.

She put her arms about his neck and pressed her soft warm cheek against his, so cool that it startled her.

"My clear little Doris," he began. "I am childless. I have no son. Cary has gone away, against my wishes, in the face of my prohibition. I do not suppose he will ever return alive. And so I have given him up, Doris"-his voice failed him. He had meant to say, "You are all I have."

"Uncle Win-may I tell you-I saw him yesterday in the afternoon. And he told me he had enlisted--"

"Oh, then, you know!" The tone somehow grew harder.

"Dear Uncle Win, I think he could not help going. He was very brave. And he was sorry, too. His eyes were full of tears while he was talking. And he asked me--"

"To intercede for him?"

"No-to stay here with you always. He said I was like a little sister. And I promised. Uncle Win, if you will keep me I will be your little girl all my life long. I will never leave you. I love you very dearly. For since Uncle Leverett went away I have given you both loves."

She stood there in silence many minutes. Oh, how comforting was the clasp of the soft arms about his neck, how consoling the dear, assuring voice!

"Will you tell me about it?" he said at length.

She was a wise little thing, though I think her chief wisdom lay in her desire not to give anyone pain. Some few sentences she left out, others she softened.

"Oh," she said beseechingly, "you will not be angry with him, Uncle Winthrop? I think it is very brave and heroic in him. It is like some of the old soldiers in the Latin stories. I shall study hard now, so I can read about them all. And I shall pray all the time that the war will come to an end. We shall be so proud and glad when he returns. And then you will have two children again."

"Yes-we will hope for the war to end speedily. It ought never to have begun. What can we do against an enemy that has a hundred arms ready to destroy us? Little Doris, I am glad to have you."

Winthrop Adams was not a man to talk over his sorrows. He had been wounded to the quick. He had not dreamed that his son would disregard his wishes. His fatherly pride was up in arms. But he did not turn his wounded side to the world. He quietly admitted that his son had gone to Annapolis, and received the congratulations of friends who sincerely believed it was time to strike.

Salem was busy at her wharves, where peaceable merchantmen were being transformed into war vessels. Charlestown was all astir, and sailors donned the uniform proudly. New York and Baltimore joined in the general activity. The Constellation was fitting out at Norfolk. The Chesapeake, the United States, and the President were to be made famous on history's page. Privateers without number were hurried to the fore.

The Constitution had quite a reception in New York, and she started out with high endeavors. She had not gone far, however, before she found herself followed by three British frigates, and among them the Guerriere, whose captain Commodore Hull had met in New York. To be captured in this manner-for fighting against such odds would be of no avail-was not to be thought of, so there was nothing but a race before him. If he could reach Boston he would save his ship and his men, and somewhere perhaps gain a victory.

Ah, what a race it was! The men put forth all their strength, all their ingenuity. At times it seemed as if capture was imminent. By night and by day, trying every experiment, working until they dropped from sheer fatigue, and after an hour or two of rest going at it again-Captain Hull kept her well to the windward, and with various maneuverings puzzled the pursuers. Then Providence favored them with a fine, driving rain, and she flew along in the darkness of the night, hardly daring to hope, but at dawn, after a three days' race, Boston was in sight, and her enemies were left behind.

But that was not in any sense a complete victory, and she started out again to face her enemy and conquer if she could, for her captain knew the British ship Guerriere was lying somewhere in wait for her. Everybody prayed and hoped. Firing was heard, but at such a distance from the harbor nothing could be decided.

The frontier losses had been depressing in the extreme. Boston had hung her flags at half-mast for the brave dead. But suddenly a report came that the Constitution had been victorious, and that the Guerriere after having been disabled beyond any power of restoration, had been sent to a watery grave.

In a moment it seemed as if the whole town was in a transport of joy. Flags were waving everywhere, and a gayly decorated flotilla went out in the harbor to greet the brave battle-scarred veteran. And when the tale of the great victory ran from lip to lip the rejoicing was unbounded. A national salute was fired, which was returned from the ship. The streets were in festive array and crowded with people who could not restrain their wild rejoicing. The Guerriere, which was to drive the insolent striped bunting from the face of the seas, had been swept away in a brief hour and a half, and the bunting waved above her grave. That night the story was told over in many a home. The loss of the Constitution had been very small compared to that of the Guerriere, which had twenty-three dead and fifty-six wounded; and Captain Dacres headed the list of prisoners.

There was a grand banquet at the Exchange Coffee House. The freedom of the city was presented to Captain Hull, and New York sent him a handsome sword. Congress voted him a gold medal, and Philadelphia a service of plate.

At one blow the prestige of invincibility claimed for the British navy was shattered. And now the Constitution's earlier escape from the hot chase of the three British frigates was understood to be a great race for the nation's honor and welfare, as well as for their own lives, and at last the baffled pursuers, out-sailed, out-maneuvered, dropped behind with no story of success to tell, and were to gnaw their hearts in bitterness when they heard of this glorious achievement.

Uncle Winthrop took Doris and Betty out in the carriage that they might see the great rejoicing from all points. Everywhere one heard bits of the splendid action and the intrepidity of Captain Hull and his men.

"I only wish Cary had been in it," said Betty with sparkling eyes.

Warren told them that when Lieutenant Read came on deck with Captain Hull's "compliments, and wished to know if they had struck their flag," Captain Dacres replied:

"Well-I don't know. Our mizzenmast is gone, our mainmast is gone, and I think you may say on the whole that we have struck our flag."

One of the points that pleased Mr. Adams very much was the official report of Captain Dacres, who "wished to acknowledge, as a matter of courtesy, that the conduct of Captain Hull and his officers to our men had been that of a brave enemy; the greatest care being taken to prevent our losing the smallest trifle, and the kindest attention being paid to the wounded."

More than one officer was to admit the same fact before the war ended, even if we did not receive the like consideration from our enemies.

"I only wish Cary had been on the Constitution," said Betty eagerly. "I should be proud of the fact to my dying day, and tell it over to my grandchildren."

A tint of color wavered over Uncle Winthrop's pale face. No one mentioned Cary, out of a sincere regard for his father, except people outside who did not know the truth of his sudden departure; though many of his young personal friends were aware of his interest and his study on the subject.

Old Boston had a gala time surely. The flags floated for days, and everyone wore a kind of triumphant aspect. That her own ship, built with so much native work and equipments, should be the first to which a British frigate should strike her colors was indeed a triumph. Though there were not wanting voices across the sea to say the Guerriere should have gone down with flying colors, but even that would have been impossible.

Miss Recompense and Uncle Winthrop began to discuss Revolutionary times, and Doris listened with a great deal of interest. She delighted to identify herself strongly with her adopted country, and in her secret heart she was proud of Cary, though she could not be quite sure he was right in the step he had taken. They missed him so much. She tried in many ways to make up the loss, and her devotion went to her uncle's heart.

If they could only hear! Not to know where he was seemed so hard to bear.

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