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   Chapter 1 THE LITTLE GIRL

A Little Girl in Old New York By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 19325

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


"How would you like to go to New York to live, little girl?"

The little girl looked up into her father's face to see if he was "making fun." He did sometimes. He was beginning to go down the hill of middle life, a rather stout personage with a fair, florid complexion, brown hair, rough and curly, and a border of beard shaved well away from his mouth. Both beard and hair were getting threads of white in them. His jolly blue eyes were mostly in a twinkle, and his good-natured mouth looked as if he might be laughing at you.

She studied him intently. Three months before she had been taken to the city on a visit, and it was a great event. I suspect that her mother did not like being separated from her a whole fortnight. She was such a nice, quiet, well-behaved little girl. Children were trained in those days. Some of them actually took pride in being as nice as possible and obeying the first time they were spoken to, without even asking "Why?"

The little girl sat on a stool sewing patchwork. This particular pattern was called a lemon star and had eight diamond-shaped pieces of two colors, filled in with white around the edge, making a square. Her grandmother was coming to "join" it for her, and have it quilted before she was eight years old. She was doing her part with a good will.

"To New York?" she repeated very deliberately. Then she went on with her sewing for she had no time to waste.

"Yes, Pussy." Her father pinched her cheek softly. The little girl was the most precious thing in the world, he sometimes thought.

"What, all of us?" You see she had a mind to understand the case before she committed herself.

"Oh, certainly! I don't know as we could leave any one behind."

Then he lifted her up in his lap and hugged her, scrubbing her face with his beard which gave her pink cheeks. They both laughed. She held her sewing out with one hand so that the needle should not scratch either of them.

"I can't-hardly-tell;" and her face was serious.

I want to explain to you that the little girl had not begun with grammar. You may find her making mistakes occasionally. Perhaps the children of to-day do the same thing.

"Would we move everything?" raising her wondering eyes.

"Well, no-not quite;" and the humorous light crossed his face. "We couldn't take the orchard nor the meadows nor the woods nor the creek." (I think he said "medders" and "crick," and his "nor" sounded as if he put an e in it.) "There are a good many things we should have to leave behind."

He sighed and the little girl sighed too. She drew up her patchwork and began to sew.

"It is a great deal of trouble to move;" she began gravely. "I must consider."

She had caught that from Great-Aunt Van Kortlandt, who never committed herself to anything without considering.

Her father kissed her cheek. If it had been a little fatter she would have had a dimple. Or perhaps he put so many kisses in the little dent it was always filled up with love.

I don't know whether you would have thought this little girl of past seven pretty or not. She was small and fair with a rather prim face and thick light hair, parted in the middle, combed back of her ears, and cut square across the neck, but the ends had some curly twists.

Certainly children are dressed prettier nowadays. The little girl's frock was green with tiny rivulets of yellow meandering over it. They made islands and peninsulas and isthmuses of green that were odd and freaky. Mrs. Underhill had bought it to join her sashwork quilt, and there was enough left to make the little girl a frock. It had the merit of washing well, but it gave her a rather ghostly look. It had a short, full waist with shoulder straps, making a square neck, a wide belt, and a skirt that came down to the tops of her shoes, which were like Oxford ties. Though she was not rosy she had never been really ill, and only stayed at home two weeks the previous winter at the worst of the whooping-cough, which nobody seemed to mind then. But it must have made a sort of Wagner chorus if many children coughed at once.

"I had a very nice time in New York," she began, with grave approbation, when she had considered for some seconds. "The museum was splendid! And the houses seem sociable-like. Don't you suppose they nod to each other when the folks are asleep? And the stores are so-so-" she tried to think of the longest word she knew-"so magnificent? Aunt Patience and Aunt Nancy were so nice. And the cat was perfectly white and sat in Aunt Nancy's lap. There was a little girl next door who had a big doll and a cradle and a set of dishes, and we had tea together. I'd like to have some dishes. Do you think Uncle Faid is coming back?" she asked suddenly.

"I believe he is, this time. And if we get very homesick we shall have to come back and live with him."

"I shouldn't be homesick with you and mother and the boys, and Steve and Joe. It would be nice to have Dobbin and Prince, but the stores are on the corners instead of going to the village, and its nice and queer to ride in the omnibuses and hand your money up through the roof. The drivers must have an awful sight when night comes."

They even said "awful" in those far-back days, they truly did.

Father Underhill laughed and squeezed the little girl with a fondness she understood very well.

Just then a voice called rather sharply: "'Milyer! 'Milyer!" and he sat the little girl down on the stool as carefully as if she had been china. He put another kiss in the little dent, and she gave him a tender smile.

His whole name was Vermilye Fowler Underhill. Everybody called him Familiar, but Mrs. Underhill shortened it to 'Milyer.

The little girl's name was Hannah Ann. The school children called her Han and Hanny. One grandmother always said Hanneran. But being the youngest, the most natural name seemed "little girl."

There were three sons to lead off, Stephen Decatur, Joseph Bennett, and John Fowler. Then a daughter was most welcome, and she was called Margaret Hunter after her mother, and shortened to Peggy. They used nicknames and diminutives, if they were not as fanciful as ours.

After Margaret came George Horton, Benny Franklin, and James Odell. The poor mother gave a sigh of disappointment, she had so longed for another girl. When Jim had outgrown babyhood altogether and was nearly five, the desired blessing came.

There was a great discussion about her name. Grandmother Hunter had married a second time and was a Van Kortlandt now. She had named her only daughter after her mother and was a bit offended that Margaret was not named for her. Now she came with a fairy god-mother's insistence, and declared she would put a hundred dollars in the bank at once, and remember the child in her will, besides giving her the old Hunter tablespoons made in London more than a hundred years ago, with the crown mark on them.

Grandmother Underhill's name was Ann. She lived with her eldest son at White Plains, who had fallen heir to his grandfather's farm. When a widow she had gone back to her girlhood's home and taken care of her old father. David, her eldest son, had come to work the farm. She had a "wing" in the house, but she never lived by herself, for her son and the grandchildren adored her.

Now she said to the baby's mother: "You put in Ann for a middle name and I'll give her a hundred dollars as well, and my string of gold beads that came from Paris. And I'll make her a nice down bed and pillows."

So Hannah Ann it was, and the little girl began life with a bank account. She was a grave, sweet, dainty sort of baby, with wondering eyes of bluish violet, bordering on gray. I think myself that she should have had a prettier name, but people were not throwing away even two-hundred-dollar chances in those days. Neither had they come to Ediths and Ethels and Mays and Gladys. And they barbarously shortened some of their most beautiful names to Peggy and Betsey and Polly and Sukey.

Left to herself the little girl went on with her patchwork, and recalled her visit to the city. There were so many aunts and cousins and so many wonderful things to see. She must find out whether there would be any snow and sleighrides in the winter. As for fruit and vegetables and eggs and poultry the farmers were always sending them in to the city, she knew that.

The prospect of a removal from Yonkers, where they had always lived, was not so new to the elders. Stephen was in New York nearly all the week now. Joseph was studying for a doctor. John was not in love with farming and had a great taste for mechanical pursuits. Margaret, a tall, fair girl of seventeen, was begging to be sent away to school another year, and learn some of the higher branches people were talking about. Joe thought she should. Her father was quite sure she knew enough, for she could do all the puzzling sums in "Perkins' Higher Arithmetic," and you couldn't trip her up on the hardest words. She went to a very good school in the village. And the village was quite primitive in those days. The steamboat-landing was the great focus of interest. It was all rock and hills and a few factories were plodding along. The farm was two good miles away.

The young people thought it a most auspicious turn in affairs that Uncle Faid was coming back. His real name was Frederic. Since David had his grandfather's farm, this had been divided between the two remaining sons, but Frederic had been seized with the Western fever and gone out to what was called the new countries. His sons had married and settled in different places, one daughter had married and come East to live,

and Uncle Faid was homesick for the land of his youth.

Mrs. Underhill had declared at first, "She wouldn't stir a step. 'Milyer could buy out his brother's part in the house"-the two hundred acres had been already divided. But people had begun to complain even then that farming did not pay, and John wanted to learn a trade. And if three or four went out of the old home nest! Steve wanted his father in New York. If they were not satisfied they could come back and build a new house. And presently she began to think it best even if she didn't like it.

The little girl finished her block of patchwork, pinched and patted down the seams, and laid it on the pile. Her "stent" for that day was done. There were nine more blocks to make.

There was a wide half closet beside the chimney and she had the top shelf for her own. It was so neat that it looked like a doll's house. Her only doll had been a "rag baby," and Gip, the dog, had demolished that.

"Never mind," said her mother, "you are too big to play with dolls." But the little girl in New York was almost a year older, and she had a large wax doll with "truly" clothes that could be taken off and washed. If she went to the city she might have one.

She piled up her patchwork with a sense of exultation. She was extremely neat. There was a tiny, hair-covered trunk grandmother Van Kortland had given her full of pretty chintz and calico pieces. She kept her baby shoes of blue kid that were outgrown before they were half worn out, so choice had her mother been of them. There were some gift-books and mementos and a beautiful Shaker basket Stephen had given her at Christmas. It was round, so she imagined you put something in it and shook it, for she had no idea the Shakers were a community and made dainty articles for sale, even if they discarded all personal vanities.

She went through to the next room, which was the kitchen in winter and dining-room in summer. She took down her blue-and-white gingham sun-bonnet, and skipped along a narrow path through the grass to the summer kitchen. This was a short distance from the house, a big, square room with a door at each side, and smoky rafters overhead. The brick and stone chimney was built inside, very wide at the bottom and tapering up to the peak in the roof. There was a great black crane across it, with two sets of trammels suspended from it, on which you could hang two kettles at the same time. If you have never seen one, get Longfellow's beautiful illustrated poem, "The Hanging of the Crane." A great many old country houses had them, and they were considered extremely handy.

The presiding genius of the kitchen was a fat old black woman, so old that her hair was all grizzled. When she braided it up in little tails on Saturday afternoon Hannah Ann watched with a kind of fascination. She always wore a plaid Madras turban with a bow tied in front. She had been grandmother Underhill's slave woman. I suppose very few of you know there were slaves in New York State in the early part of the century. Aunt Mary had sons married, and grandchildren doing well. They begged her now and then to give up work, but she clung to her old home.

"Aunt Mary," inquired the little girl, "is the chicken feed mixed?"

"Laws, yaas, honey, lem me scoop it in de pail. You's got such little claws o' han's. Don't seem 's if dey ever grow big ernough fer nothin'."

She ladled out the scalded meal, mixed with bits of broken bread. The little girl laughed and nodded and crossed the small bridge that spanned the creek. The spring, or rather the series of them, ran around the house and down past the kitchen, then widened out into quite a pond where the ducks and geese disported themselves, and the cows always paused to drink on their way to the barn.

She went down to the barn. On the carriage-house side in the sun were some chicken-coops. Pretty little chicks whose mothers had "stolen their nests;" thirty-two of various sizes, and they belonged to the little girl. She rarely forgot them.

There were plenty of chores for Ben and Jim. They drove the cows to pasture, chopped wood, picked apples, and dug potatoes. You wondered how they found any time for play or study.

Jim "tagged" the little girl as she came back with her pail. She could run like a deer.

"Here you, Jim!" called Aunt Mary, "you jes' take dis pail an' git some of dem big blackbre'es fer supper steder gallopin' roun' like a wild palakin ob de desert!" and she held out the shining pail.

A "palakin of the desert" was Aunt Mary's favorite simile. In vain had Margaret explained that the pelican was a bird and couldn't gallop.

"Laws, honey," the old woman would reply, "I aint hankerin' arter any ob dis new book larnin'. I's a heap too old fer 'rithmertic an' 'stology. I jes' keeps to de plain Bible dat served de chillen of Isrul in de wilderness. Some day, Miss Peggy, when you's waded tru seas o' trubble an' come out on de good Lord's side an' made your callin' an' 'lection sure, you'll know more 'bout it I done reckon."

"Come with me, do, Hanny," pleaded Jim. "You can walk along the stone fence and pick the high ones and we'll fill the kittle in no time."

Jim thought if he had made a spelling-book, he would have spelled the word that way. Jim would have been a master hand at phonetics.

The little girl crossed two of her fingers. That was a sign of truce in the game.

"No play till we come back," said Jim.

The little girl nodded and ran for her mitts of strong muslin with the thumb and finger ends out. The briars were so apt to tear your hands.

They ran a race down to the blackberry patch. Then they sat on the fence and ate berries. It was really a broad, handsome wall. There were so many stones on the ground that they built the walls as they "cleared up." The blackberry lot was a wild tangle. There were some hickory-nut trees in it and a splendid branching black walnut. Sometimes they found a cluster of hazel-nuts.

The great blackberry canes grew six or seven feet high. They generally cut one path through in the early summer. The long branches made arches overhead.

The little girl pinned a big dock-leaf with a thorn and made a cup. When it was full she emptied it into Jim's pail. They were such great, luscious berries that they soon had it filled. Then they sat down and rested. Everybody knows that it is harder work to pick berries than to play "tag."

Jim had a piece to speak on Friday afternoon at school. They had these exercises once a month, but this was to be a rather grand affair, as then school closed for a fortnight. That was all the vacation they had.

Jim was rather proud of his elocutionary gift. He stood up on a big flat stone and declaimed so that the little girl might see if he knew every word. It was extremely patriotic, beginning:

"Columbia! Columbia! to glory arise,

The queen of the world and the child of the skies!"

"Oh, you say it just splendid!" declared the little girl enthusiastically. She never laughed and teased him as Peggy did.

She was learning some verses herself, but she wondered if she would have courage enough to face the whole school. They were in her "Child's Reader" with the "Little Busy Bee," and "Let Dogs Delight to Bark and Bite." She thought them beautiful:

"The rose had been washed, lately washed in a shower,

Which Mary to Anna conveyed."

It puzzled her small brain a good deal as to why the rose needed washing. But Peggy showed her one day how dusty the leaves and flowers grew in a dry time, and she learned that the whole world was the better for an occasional washing. She asked Mary afterward why the clothes were not put out in a hard rain to get them clean.

"Laws, honey, dey need elbow-grease," and the old woman laughed heartily.

"I do wish my name was Anna," she said, with a sigh.

"Well, you just need to put another a to the Ann," said her brother confidently.

"And I don't like being called Han and Hanny."

"I'd a heap rather be called Jim than James. When pop calls me James I think it's time to pick myself up mighty spry, I tell you!" and he laughed.

"It's different with boys," she said, with a soft sigh. "Girls ought to have pretty names, and Hanneran is dreadful."

"I'd stand a good deal for two hundred dollars. And it doubles in fourteen years. And seven again! Why you'll have more than five hundred dollars when you're grown up!"

She did not know the value of money and thought she would rather have the pretty name. Yet she wasn't quite sure she would choose Anna.

"You stay here while I run after the cows," said Jim. "It will save another journey."

Boys are often economical of their steps, I have noticed. Perhaps this is how they gain time for play. The little girl jumped down presently and looked over at the wild flowers. There were clusters of yarrow in bloom, spikes of yellow snap-dragons, and a great clump of thistles in their purple glory. She must tell her father about them, and have them rooted out. Would it hurt them to be killed? She felt suddenly sorry for them.

A squirrel ran along and winked at her as he gave his tail an extra perk. Nothing was ever afraid of the little girl. But she ran from the old gobbler, and the big gander who believed he had pre-empted the farm from the Indians. She generally climbed over the fence when she saw old Red, who had an ominous fashion of brandishing her long horns. But she didn't mind with Jim nor Benny.

Jim came now and took up the pail. The cows meandered along. She was rather glad Jim did not see the thistle. She would not tell him about it to-night.

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