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A Little Girl in Old Boston By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 26910

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Mrs. King brought back Elizabeth Manning, a pale, slim ghost of a girl, tall for her age-indeed, really grown up, her mother said. Of the three girls Bessy King had the most indications of the traditional country girl. A fine clear skin, pink cheeks and a plump figure, and an inexhausible flow of spirits, ready for any fun or frolic.

Doris was always well, but she had the Adams complexion, which was rather pale, with color when she was warm, or enthusiastic or indignant. The pink came and went like a swift summer cloud.

"I do declare," exclaimed Aunt Priscilla, "if 'Lecty King doesn't beat all about getting what she wants, and making other people believe they want it, too! Warren might as well have been married in the winter, and Mercy would have been company for Betty. She never liked to run out and leave me alone. Mercy seems a nice, promising body, and Warren might as well be happy and settled as not. And 'Lecty's been to Washington and dined with the President and Mrs. Madison, and I'll venture to say there was something the President's wife consulted her about. And all the big captains and generals, and what not! And here's the quality of Boston running after her and asking her out just as if we had nothing to feed her on at home. She don't do anything, fursisee, but just look smiling and talk. But my opinion is that Elizabeth Manning hasn't a very long journey to the graveyard. I don't see what Mary's been thinking about."

Mrs. King took her niece to Dr. Jackson, one of the best medical authorities of that day, and he looked the young girl over with his keen eyes.

"If you want the real truth," said the doctor, "she has had too much east wind and too much hard work. The children of this generation are not going to stand what their mothers did. A bad cold or two next winter will finish her, but with care and no undue exposure she may live several years. But she will never reach the three score and ten that every human being has a right to."

Uncle Winthrop sent the carriage around every day to the Leveretts'. They had given up theirs before Mr. Leverett's death. He and Doris took their morning horseback rides and scoured the beautiful country places for miles around, until Doris knew every magnificent tree or unusual shrub or queer old house and its history. These hours were a great delight to him.

Elizabeth had often gone down to Salem town, but her time was so brief and there was so much to do that she "couldn't bother." And she wondered how Doris knew about the shops in Essex Street and Federal Street and Miss Rust's pretty millinery show, and Mr. John Innes' delicate French rolls and braided bread, and Molly Saunders' gingerbread that the school children devoured, and the old Forrester House with its legends and fine old pictures and the lovely gardens, the wharves with their idle fleets that dared not put out to sea for fear of being swallowed up by the enemy.

Uncle Winthrop had taken her several times when some business had called him thither. But, truth to tell, she had never cared to repeat her visit to Mrs. Manning's.

The piano was like a bit of heaven, Elizabeth thought, the first time she came over to visit Doris.

"Oh," she said, with a long sigh, pressing her hand on her heart, for the deep breaths always hurt her, "if I was only prepared to go to heaven I shouldn't want to stay here a day longer. When they sing about 'eternal rest' it seems such a lovely thing, and to 'lay your burdens down.' But then there's 'the terrors of the law,' and the 'judgments to come,' and the great searching of the hearts and reins-do you know just what the reins are?"

No, Doris didn't. Heaven had always seemed a lovely place to her and God like a father, only grander and tenderer than any human father could be.

Then they talked about praying, and it came out that Doris said her mother's prayers still in French and her father's in English.

"Oh," exclaimed Elizabeth, horrified, "I shouldn't dare to pray to God in French-it would seem like a mockery. And 'Now I lay me down to sleep' is just a baby prayer, and really isn't pouring out your own soul to God."

Doris asked Uncle Winthrop about it.

"My child," he said with grave sweetness, "you can never say any better prayers of your own. The Saviour himself gave us the comprehensive Lord's Prayer. And are all the nations of the earth who cannot pray in English offering God vain petitions? You will find as you grow older that no earnest soul ever worships God in vain, and that religion is a life-long work. I am learning something new about it every day. And I think God means us to be happy here on earth. He doesn't save all the joys for heaven. He has given me one," and he stooped and kissed Doris on the forehead. "Poor Elizabeth," he added-"make her as happy as you can!"

When Mrs. King proposed to take Betty to New York for the whole of the coming winter there was consternation, but no one could find a valid objection. It was a somewhat expensive journey, and winter was a very enjoyable season in the city. Then another year something new might happen to prevent-there was no time like the present.

No one had the courage to object, though they did not know how to spare her. Aunt Priscilla sighed and brought out some beautiful long-laid-away articles that Electa declared would make over admirably.

"Where do you suppose Aunt Priscilla picked up all these elegant things?" asked Electa. "I never remember seeing her wear them, though she always dressed well, but severely plain. And Uncle Perkins was quite strict about the pomps and vanities of the world."

And so Aunt Priscilla put away the last of her idols and the life she had coveted and never had. But perhaps the best of all was her consideration for others, the certainty that it was quite as well to begin some of the virtues of the heavenly world here on earth that they might not seem strange to one.

Mrs. Manning sent in for Elizabeth.

"Well-you do seem like a different girl," her father declared, looking her over from head to foot. "You've had a good rest now, and you'll have to turn in strong and hearty, for Sarah's gone, and Ruth isn't big enough to take hold of everything. So hunt up your things while I'm doing some trading."

Elizabeth only had time for the very briefest farewells. Mrs. King sent a little note containing the doctor's verdict, but Mrs. Manning was indignant rather than alarmed.

It was lonesome when they were all gone. Eudora Chapman went to a "finishing school" this autumn, and Doris accompanied her-poor Doris, who had not mastered fractions, and whose written arithmetic could not compare with Betty's. She had achieved a pair of stockings after infinite labor and trouble. They did look rowy, being knit tighter and looser. But Aunt Priscilla gave her a pair of fine merino that she had kept from the ravages of the moths. Miss Recompense declared that she had no one else to knit for.

There were expert knitters who made beautiful silk stockings, and Uncle Winthrop said buying helped along trade, so why should Doris worry when there were so many more important matters?

The little girl and her uncle kept track of what was going on in the great world. Napoleon the invincible had been driven back from Russia by cold and famine, forced to yield by the great coalition and losing step by step until he was compelled to accept banishment. Then England redoubled her efforts, prepared to carry on the war with us vigorously. Towns on the Chesapeake were plundered and burned, and General Ross entered Washington, from which Congress and the President's family had fled for their lives. America was again horror stricken, but gathering all her energies she made such a vigorous defense as to convince her antagonist that though cast down she could never be wholly defeated.

But this attack gave us the inspiration of one of our finest deathless songs. A Mr. Francis S. Key, a resident of Georgetown, had gone down from Baltimore with a flag of truce to procure the release of a friend held as prisoner of war, when the bombardment of Fort McHenry began. All day long he watched the flag as it floated above the ramparts. Night came on and it was still there. And at midnight he could see it only by "the rockets' red glare," while he and his friends tremulously inquired if the "flag still waved o'er the Land of the Free." Oh, what joy must have been his when it "caught the gleam of the morning's first beam." He had put the night watch and the dawn in a song that is still an inspiration.

And now convinced, the enemy withdrew. There were talks of peace, though we did not abate our energies. And the indications of a settlement brought about another wedding at the Royall house.

Miss Alice had been a great favorite with the young men, and her ardent patriotism had inspired more than one, as it had Cary Adams, with a desire to rush to his country's defense. There were admirers too, but most of them had been kept at an intangible distance. At last she had yielded to the eloquence of young Oliver Sargent, who was in every way acceptable. Grandmother Royall expected to give her an elegant wedding along in the winter.

The Government was to send out another commissioner to consult with those already at Ghent, and Mr. Sargent had been offered the post of private secretary. He was to sail from New York, but he obtained leave to spend a few days in Boston to attend to some affairs. He went at once to Madam Royall and laid his plans before her. He wanted to marry Alice and take her with him, as he might be gone a long while. Alice was nothing loath, for the journey abroad was extremely tempting.

But what could one do in such a few days? And wedding clothes--

"Save the wedding gear until we come back," said the impatient young lover. "Alice can get clothes enough abroad."

It was quite a new departure in a wedding. Invitations were always sent out by hand, even for small evening parties, and often verbally given. A private marriage would not have suited old Madam Royall. So the house was crowded at eleven in the morning, and the bride came through the wide hall in a mulberry-colored satin gown and pelisse that had been made two weeks before for ordinary autumn wear. But her bonnet was white with long streamers, and her gloves were white, and she made a very attractive bride, while young Sargent was manly and looked proud enough for a king. At twelve they went away with no end of good wishes, and an old slipper was thrown after the carriage.

Mrs. Morris Winslow had two babies, and was already growing stout. But the departure of Alice made a great break.

"But it is the way of the world and the way of God that young people should marry," said Madam Royall. "I was very happy myself."

"Oh," exclaimed Doris eagerly that evening, her eyes aglow and her cheeks pink with excitement-"oh, Uncle Win, do you think there will be peace?"

"My little girl, it is my prayer day and night."

"And then Cary will come home."

It had been a long while since they had heard. Cary had been transferred from the United States, that had lain blockaded in a harbor many weary weeks. But where he was now no one could tell.

People began to take heart though the fighting had not ceased. And it was odd that a dozen years before everybody had looked askance at dancing, and now no one hesitated to give a dancing party. The contra-dance and cotillions were all the rage. Sometimes there was great amusement when it was a draw dance, for then you had to accept your partner whether or no.

Whole families went, grandmothers and grandchildren. There were cards and conversation circles for those who did not care to join the mazy whirls. And the suppers were quite elegant, with brilliant lamps and flowers, plate and glass that had come through generations. Fruits and melons were preserved as long as possible, and a Turkish band in fine Oriental costume was often a feature of the entertainment.

Doris had charming letters from Betty, a little stilted we should call them now, but very interesting. Mr. King was confident of peace. Doris used to read them to Aunt Priscilla, who said Betty was very frivolous, but that she always had a good time, and perhaps good times were not as wicked as people used to think.

Mrs. Leverett went to Salem in November. Her namesake had taken a cold and had some fever, and she asked for grandmother continually. Mercy did finely at housekeeping, and so the weeks ran along, the invalid being better, then worse, and just before Christmas the frail little life floated out to the Land of Rest.

"Oh, poor little Elizabeth!" cried Doris. "If she could have been real happy! But there never seemed any time. Uncle Win, they are not so poor that they have to work so hard, are they?"

"No, dear. Mr. Manning has money out at interest, besides his handsome farm. But a great many people think there is solid virtue in working and saving. I suppose it makes them happy."

Doris was puzzled. She said the same thing to Aunt Priscilla, who took off her glasses, rubbed them with a bit of old silk and wiped the tears out of her eyes.

"I think we haven't had quite the right end of it," she began after a pause. "I was brought up that way. But then people had to spin and weave for themselves, and help the men with the out-of-doors work. The children dropped c

orn, and potatoes, and there was always weeding. There was so much spring work and fall work, and folks couldn't be comfortable if they saw a child playing 'cat's cradle.' They did think Satan was going about continually to catch up idle hands. Well maybe if I'd had children I'd 'a' done the same way."

"Oh, you wouldn't, Aunt Priscilla, I know," said Doris with the sweetest faith shining in her eyes. "Elizabeth thought you such a comfortable old lady. She said you never worried at anyone."

"That is because I have come to believe the worrying wrong. The Lord didn't worry at people. He told them what to do and then he let them alone. And Foster Leverett was about the best man I ever knew. He didn't even worry when times were so bad. Everybody said his children would be spoiled. They were out sledding and sliding and skating, and playing tag in summer. They've made nice men and women."

"Oh, I remember how friendly he looked that day he came on the vessel. And how he said to Captain Grier, 'Is there a little girl for me that has come from Old Boston?' He might have said something else, you know. 'A little girl for me' was such a sweet welcome, I have never forgotten it."

"Yes-I was here the night you came. We had been waiting. And the red cloak and big bonnet with the great bow under your chin, and a silk frock--"

"Did I look very queer?" Doris laughed softly.

"You looked like a picture, though that wan't my idea of what children should be."

"Miss Recompense has them put away to keep. I outgrew them, you know. What would you have done with me?"

Aunt Priscilla's pale face wrinkled up and then smoothed out.

"I've come to the conclusion the Lord knows his business best and is capable of attending to it. When we meddle we make a rather poor fist of it. Betty has a lot of morning-glories out there," nodding her head, "and I said to her 'They're poor frail things: why not put out a hop vine or red beans? They can't stand a bit of sun, like Jonah's gourd.' But she only laughed-her father had that way when he didn't want to argue. When they came to bloom they were sights to behold, like the early morning when the sun is rising, and you see such beautiful colors. They used to nod to each other and swing back and forth, like people coming to call, then they said good-by and were off. The Lord meant 'em just to look pretty and they did."

"Uncle Win likes them so much. Miss Recompense had a whole lattice full of them. Oh, did you mean I was like a morning glory? Haven't I some other uses?"

"You're always fresh and blossoming every day. That's a use. You come in with a little greeting that warms one's heart. You were a great delight to Uncle Leverett, and I don't know what Uncle Winthrop would have done without you, Cary being away. And how Solomon took to you, when he was awful shy of strangers! He must have liked you uncommon to be willing to stay in a strange place, for cats cannot bear to be moved about. Maybe 'twould been the same if you had not been so pretty to look at, but the Lord made you the way he wanted you, and you haven't spoiled yourself a bit."

Doris blushed. Compliments were quite a new thing with Aunt Priscilla.

"What would you have done with me?" Doris asked again, after a long pause.

"You won't like to hear it. I ought to confess it because it was a sin, a sort of meddling with the Lord's plans. You see, I'd taken it in my head that someone would have to give you a home. It didn't seem as if that old ma'shland would be good for anything, and I knew your father wasn't rich. Winthrop Adams was one of the finicky kind and quite put about to know what to do with you. So I thought if there didn't any place open, for Elizabeth Leverett was quite wrapped up in her grandchildren, that"-hesitatingly-"when things were straightened out a bit, I'd offer--"

"That would have been good of you--"

"No, it wasn't goodness," interrupted Aunt Priscilla. "I thought I should want someone, with Polly getting old. I'd have expected you to work, though I'd have done the fair thing by you, and left you some money in the end. I was a little jealous when everybody took to you so. I was sure you'd be spoiled. And, though you've got that music thing and go among the quality, and are pretty as a pink, and Winthrop Adams thinks you a nonesuch, you come in here in plain everyday fashion and talk and read and make it sunshiny for everybody. So, you see, the Lord knew, and it is just as if he said, 'Priscilla Perkins, your way doesn't suit at all. There's something in the world besides work and saving money. There's room enough in the world for a hill of potatoes and a morning-glory made of silk and dew if it doesn't bloom but just one morning. It's a smile, and there are others to follow, and it is a thousand times better than frowns.'"

"And if there had been no money, and I had wanted a home, would you have given me one?" she asked in a soft, tremulous tone.

"Yes, child. And I couldn't have worked you quite like poor little Elizabeth was worked. I didn't think there was so much money, or that that lady in England would have left you a legacy or that Winthrop Adams would come to believing that he couldn't live without you."

"Then you were kind to have a plan about it, and I am glad to know it."

She had been sitting on Aunt Priscilla's footstool, but she rose and twined her arms about the shrunken neck, and kissed the wrinkled forehead. She saw a homeless little girl going to sheltering care, with a kindly remembrance at the last. Someone else might have thought of the exactions.

"You make the thing look better than it was," Aunt Priscilla cried with true humility. "But the Lord put you in the right place."

She saw the mean and selfish desire, the wish to get rid of a faithful old woman who might prove a burden. It was a sin like the finery she had longed for and bought and laid away. She had not worn the finery, she had not sent away the poor black soul, she had not been a hard taskmistress to the child, but early training had added the weight of possible sins to the actual ones.

Christmas morning Doris was surprised by a lovely gift. In a small box by her plate, with best wishes from Uncle Winthrop, lay a watch and chain, a dainty thing with just "Doris" on the plain space in the center that overlay another name that had once been there. It had undergone some renovation at the jeweler's hands, after lying untouched more than twenty years. Winthrop Adams had kept it for a possible granddaughter, but he knew now no one could cherish it more tenderly than Doris.

January, 1815, came in. People counted the days. But it was not until the middle of February that Boston town was one morning electrified by the ringing of bells and the shouts of men and boys, who ran along the streets crying "Peace! Peace! Peace!" Windows were raised; people ran out, so eager were they. Of all glorious words ever uttered none fell with such music on the air. Could it be true?

Uncle Winthrop put on his surtout with the great fur collar. Then he looked at Doris.

"Wrap yourself up and come along," he said huskily.

Already people were hanging flags out of the windows and stringing them across the streets. Every sled and sleigh had some sort of banner, if nothing more than white or brown paper with the five welcome letters, and everybody was shouting. Some men were carrying high banners with the words in blue or red on a white ground. When they came to State Street it was impassable. Cornhill was jammed. The Evening Gazette office had the announcement, thirty-two hours from New York (there was no telegraph or railroad train then):

"Sir: I hasten to acquaint you for the information of the public of the arrival here this afternoon of H. Br. M. sloop of war Favorite, in which has come passenger Mr. Carroll, American Messenger, having in his possession A Treaty of Peace."

They passed that word from the nearest, standing by the bulletin, to the farther circles, and in five minutes the crowd knew it by heart. On the Commons the drums were beating, the cannons firing, and people shouting themselves hoarse.

Mr. Adams went around to the Royall house, and that looked like a hotel on a gala day, and was nearly as full of people. The treaty had been signed on Christmas Eve. The President had now to issue a decree suspending hostilities. But one of the most brilliant battles had been fought on the 8th of January at New Orleans, under General Jackson-a farewell shot.

For a week no one could think or talk of anything else. Then the official accounts having been received from Washington, there were plans for a grand procession. An oratorio was given at the Stone Chapel in the morning. Madam Royall had managed to obtain seats for Mr. Winthrop and Doris with her party. The church was crowded. American and British officers in full uniform were side by side,-as happy to be at peace as the rulers themselves,-chatting cordially with each other.

The State House was decorated with transparencies, and there were to be fireworks in the evening. The procession marched around the Common, with the different trades drawn on sleds. Printers struck off hand-bills with the word "Peace!" printed on them and distributed them among the crowd. The carpenters were erecting a Temple of Peace. The papermakers had long strips of red, white, and blue: every trade had hit upon some signification of the general joy.

Uncle Win sent Cato round for Mercy and Warren Leverett to come to tea, and then they went out to see the illumination and the fireworks. Old Boston had suffered a great deal from the war, and her rejoicing was as broad as her sorrow had been deep.

As if that was not enough, there was to be a grand Peace Ball. The gentry did not so often patronize public balls, but this was an exception. Uncle Winthrop procured a ticket for Warren and his wife. Mrs. Gilman was shocked, and Mercy like a modern woman declared she had nothing to wear. But Aunt Priscilla brought out her last remnant of gorgeousness, a gray satin that looked very youthful draped with sheer white.

"I feel just as if I was going to be married over again," Mercy declared laughingly; and Warren said she had never looked so beautiful.

Uncle Winthrop left Doris' adornments to Madam Royall and Mrs. Chapman. She and Eudora had the same kind of gowns-sheer, dotted muslin trimmed with rows of white satin ribbon, and the bodice with frills of lace and bows of ribbon.

The hairdresser did her hair in a multitude of puffs and curls that made her look quite like a young lady. She was still very slim, but growing tall rapidly. In fact, as Uncle Winthrop looked at her he realized that she could not always remain a little girl.

Concert Hall was brilliantly illuminated and decorated with flags and flowers. A platform surrounded the floor, and many people preferred to be spectators or just join in the march. There were some naval as well as military officers, and Doris kept a sharp watch, for it almost seemed as if she might come upon Cary. Oh, where would he hear the declaration of peace!

The dancing was quite delightful to most of the young people. Even those who just walked about, looked happy, and little knots chatted and smiled, adding a certain interest to the scene. The supper was very fine, and after that many of the quality retired, leaving the floor to those who had come to dance.

Doris looked bright the next morning as she came to breakfast in her blue flannel frock and lace tucker, and her hair tied up high with a red ribbon, which with her white skin "made the American colors," Helen Chapman said.

"I am glad to get back my little girl," Uncle Winthrop exclaimed, as he placed his hands lightly on her shoulders. "You looked strange to me last night. Doris, how tall you are growing!" in half-surprise.

"That is an Adams trait, Aunt Priscilla would say. And do you remember that I am fifteen?"

"Isn't there some way that girls can be set back?" he asked with feigned anxiety.

"I've heard of their being set back after they reached thirty or forty," said Miss Recompense.

"I don't want to wait so long," returned Uncle Winthrop with a smile.

"There were some beautiful old ladies there last night," said Doris. "The one with black velvet and diamonds-Madam Bowdoin. Is that Aunt Priscilla's friend?"

"I suppose so. Mr. Perkins was held in high esteem, and Aunt Priscilla used to go about in her carriage then."

"And Madam Scott! Uncle Win, to think she was John Hancock's wife, and he signed the Declaration of Independence!"

"And after that I wouldn't have married anybody," declared Miss Recompense with haughty stiffness.

The enthusiasm did not die out at once. When men or women met they had to talk over the good news. Warren Leverett declared that business was reviving. Mercy told Uncle Winthrop that she had never expected to see so many famous people under such grand conditions as a Peace Ball, and that it would be something to talk about when she was an old lady. Aunt Priscilla listened to the accounts with deep interest.

"And I looked like a real young lady," said Doris. "I was frightened when I came to think about it. I would like to stay a little girl for years and years. But I would not have missed the ball for anything. I do not believe there will ever be such a grand occasion again."

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