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A Little Girl in Old New York By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 19981

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

The little girl stood still a moment as if transfixed. There came the passionate desire to run and hide. She gave the door-bell a sharp pull.

Martha Stimis answered it.

"Goodness sakes, is it you, ringin' as if the world wouldn't stand another minnit? Next time you want to get in, Haneran, you jest come down the aree! And me a-mouldin' up the biscuit!"

The little girl walked through the hall with a swelling heart. She couldn't be allowed to ring the door-bell when her own father's name was on the door!

The ell part was her mother's sleeping chamber and sitting-room. No one was in it. Hannah Ann walked down to the end. There was a beautiful old dressing-case that had been brought over with the French great, great grandmother. It had a tall glass coming down to the floor. At the sides were several small drawers that went up about four feet, and the top had some handsome carved work. It was one of Mrs. Underhill's choicest possessions. In the mirror you could see yourself from "top to toe."

The little girl stood before it. She had on a brown woollen frock and a gingham high apron. Her skirt was straight and long. Her laced shoes only came to her ankles. Her stockings were black, and she remembered how she had watched these little girls coming down the street, their stockings were snowy white. Of course she wore white yarn ones on Sundays. A great piece of their pantalets was visible, ruffled, too. Yes, she did look queer! And the starch was mostly out of her sun-bonnet. It wasn't her best one, either.

She sat down on a little bench and cried as if her heart would break.

"Oh, Hanny dear, what is the matter?"

Margaret had entered the room unheard. She knelt by her little sister, took off her sun-bonnet and pressed the child in her arms. "What is it, dear?" in a soft, persuasive voice. "Have you hurt yourself?"

"No. I-I--" Then she put her little arms around Margaret's neck. "Oh, Peggy, am I very, very queer?"

"You're a little darling. Did Martha scold you?"

"No. It wasn't-some girls came along--" She tried very hard to stop her sobbing.

"There, dear, let me wash your face. Don't cry any more." She laid aside the bonnet and bathed the small face, then she began to brush the soft hair. It had not been cut all winter and was quite a curly mop. Stephen had bought her a round comb of which she was very proud.

"It was two girls. They went by and they laughed--"

Her voice was all of a quaver again, but she did not mean to cry if she could help it.

"Did they call you 'country'?"

Margaret smiled and kissed the little girl, who tried to smile also. Then she repeated the ill-bred comment.

"We are not quite citified," said Margaret cheerfully. "And it isn't pleasant to be laughed at for something you cannot well help. But all the little girls are wearing short dresses, and you are to have some new ones. Mother has gone out shopping, and next week cousin Cynthia Blackfan is coming to fix us all up. But I do hope, Hanny, you will have better manners and a kinder heart than to laugh at strangers, no matter if they are rather old-fashioned."

"I don't believe I ever will," said the little girl soberly.

"Now come up in my room. Mother said I might rip up her pretty blue plaid silk and have it made over. I came down to hunt up the waist."

She found it in one of the drawers, pinned up in a linen pillow-case.

"And you can have on a white apron," the elder said when they reached the room.

This had long sleeves and a ruffle round the neck. The little girl was ever so much improved.

And I think she would have felt comforted if she could have heard the rest of the talk between the two girls.

"I do wonder if she belongs to the new people," said the girl who laughed. "They can't be much. They came from the country somewhere."

"But they've bought all the way through to the other street. And ma said she meant to call on them. Some one told her they owned a big farm in Yonkers, and one of the young men is to be a doctor. Maybe the little girl doesn't really belong to them. I wish you hadn't spoken quite so loud. I'm sure she heard."

"Oh, I don't care!" with an airy toss of the head. "Mother said the other day she shouldn't bother about new neighbors. Calling on them is out of style."

Hanny looked out of the window a long while. Then she said gravely: "Margaret, are all those old Dutch people dead that were in the history? And where was their Bowery?"

"It is the Bowery out here, but it has changed. That was a long, long time ago."

"If I'd lived then no one would have laughed about my long frock. I almost wish I'd been a little girl then."

"Perhaps there were other things to laugh about."

"I don't mind the laughing now. But they must have had lovely gardens full of tulips and roses. There doesn't seem any room about for such things. And lanes, you know. Did the new people drive the Dutch away?"

"The English came afterward. You will read all about it in history. And then came the war--"

"That grandmother knows about? Margaret, I think New York is a great, strange, queer place. There are a good many queernesses, aren't there?"

Margaret assented with a smile.

"Oh, there's father in the wagon!" The little girl was all a tremor of gladness. He caught her eyes and beckoned, and she ran down. But she couldn't manage the night-latch, and so Margaret had to follow her.

"Bundle up my little girl," he said. "I've got to drive up to Harlem and I'll take her along."

Hanny almost danced for joy. Margaret found her red merino coat. The collar was trimmed with swan's down, and her red silk hood had an edge of the same. True, some ultra-fashionables had come out in spring attire, but it was rather cool so early in the season. Hanny looked very pretty in her winter hood. And as they drove down the street the same girls were standing on a stoop; one was evidently going away from her friend. The one who laughed lived there then. But neither of them would have guessed it was the "queer" girl, and they almost envied her.

"I've never been down to this corner," said Hanny. "And the streets run together."

"Yes, First Street ends and Houston goes on over to the East River."

The little girl looked about. There was a great sign on the house at the junction-"Monticello Hotel,"-and on the edge of the sidewalk a pump, which the little girl thought funny. They dipped the water out of the spring at home-they had not given up saying that about the old place. There was no need of a pump, and at grandmother's they had a well-sweep and bucket.

Then they turned up Avenue A, where he had an errand, and soon they were going over rough country ways where "squatters" had begun to come in with pigs and geese. They seemed so familiar that the little girl laughed. And if some one had told her that she would one day be driving in a beautiful park over yonder it would have sounded like a fairy tale. It was rough and wild now. Dobbin spun along, for the sun was hurrying over westward.

"We have some old cousins living beyond there on Harlem Heights," he said, "but it's too late to hunt them up. And it'll be dark by the time we get home. There was a big battle fought here. Their brother was killed in it. Why, they must be most eighty years old."

The little girl drew a long breath at the thought.

"We'll look them up some day." Then he stopped before a hotel where there was a long row of horse sheds, and sprang out to tie Dobbin.

"I had better take you out. Something might happen." He carried her in his arms clear up the steps. A lady came around the corner of the wide porch.

"I'll leave my little girl in the waiting-room a few moments. I have some business with Mr. Brockner," he said.

"I will take her through to my sitting-room," the lady replied, and holding out her hand she led Hanny thither. She insisted on taking off her hood and loosening her coat, and in a few moments she seemed well acquainted. The lady asked her father's name and she told it.

"There are some old ladies of that name living half a mile or so from here," she said. Then remembering they were very poor, and that poor relations were not always cordially accepted, she hesitated.

"Father spoke of some cousins," cried the little girl eagerly. "He said sometime we would hunt them up. We only came to New York to live two weeks ago."

"Then you have hardly had time to look up any one. They would be glad to see your father, I know. He looks so wholesome and good-natured."

The little girl was not an effusive child, but she and the lady fell into a delightful talk. Then her hostess brought in a plate of seed cookies, and she was eating them very delicately when her father entered.

"We have had such a nice time," she said, "that I'd like you to bring your little girl up again. Indeed, I have half a mind to keep her."

"We couldn't spare her," said her father, with a fond smile, which Hanny returned.

"I suppose not. But it will soon be beautiful around here, and when she longs for a breath of the country you must bring her up."

"Thank you, madam."

"And oh, father, the cousins really are here. Two old, old ladies--"

Mr. Underhill inquired about them, and learned their circumstances were quite straitened. He promised to come up soon and see them.

Mrs. Brockner kissed Hanny, quite charmed with her simplicity and pretty manner. And she had never once thought about the length of her old brown skirt.

It was supper time when they reached home. Steve and Joe and John were there. The three younger boys had been left at Yonkers. Indeed, George had declared his intention of being a farmer. Mrs. Underhill said she didn't want any more boys until she had a place to put them.

Afterward Joe coaxed the little girl to come and sit on his knee. They were talking about schools.

"Seems to me, Margaret better be studying housekeeping and learning how to make her clothes

instead of going to school," said Mrs. Underhill shortly. "She can write a nice letter and she's good at figures, and, really, I don't see--"

"She wants to be finished," returned Steve, with a laugh. "She's a city girl now. I've been looking schools over. There are several establishments where they burnish up young ladies. There's Madame Chegary's--"

"I won't have her going to any French school and reading wretched French novels!"

Steve threw back his head and laughed. He had such splendid, strong, white teeth.

"My choice would be Rutgers Institute. It's going to be the school of the day," declared Joe.

"Exactly. I was coming to that. There would be one term before vacation."

"I call it all foolishness. And she'll be eighteen on her next birthday," said her mother. "If she wasn't a good scholar already-and what more do you expect her to learn?"

They all laughed at their mother's little ebullition of temper.

"The world grows wiser every day," said Joe sententiously.

"And what are you going to do, Pussy?"

Steve reached over and gave the little girl's ear a soft pinch.

"I am going to look up a nice school for her myself. Don't begin to worry about a child not yet eight years old," said their mother sharply.

"Eight years. She'll soon be that," remarked her father with a soft sigh. And he wished he could keep her a little girl always.

They went on discussing Rutgers Institute, that was one of the most highly esteemed schools of the day for young ladies. Steve looked over at his fair sister-she was almost as pretty as Dolly Beekman. Dolly had some dainty, attractive ways, played on the piano and sang, and Peggy had a voice blithe as a bird. Steve was beginning to be quite a judge of young ladies and social life, and there was no reason why they should not all aim at something. They had good family names to back them. Family counted, but so did education and accomplishments.

Mrs. Underhill gave in. Steve would have his way. But then he was such a good, upright, affectionate son. So when he announced that he had registered his sister, Margaret's pulses gave a great thrill of delight.

There was so much to do. True, Martha was a good cook and capable, and there was no milk to look after, no churning, no poultry, and the countless things of country life. Miss Cynthia Blackfan came the next week and remodeled the feminine part of the household. She was a tall, slim, airy-looking person, with large dark eyes and dark hair that she wore in long ringlets on either side of her face. She always looped them up when she was sewing. She had all the latest quips of fashion at her tongue's end-what Margaret must have for school dresses, what for Sunday best, what lawns and ginghams and prints for summer.

But when she went at the little girl she quite metamorphosed her.

"You must begin to plait the child's hair and tie it with ribbons [people generally used the word instead of 'braid']. And her frocks must be made ever so much shorter. And, Cousin Underhill, do put white stockings on the child. Nobody wears colored ones. Unbleached do wear stronger and answer for real every day."

"They'll be forever in the wash-tub," said the mother grimly.

"Well, when you're in Rome you must do as the Romans do," with emphasis. "It looks queer to be so out of date. Everybody dresses so much more in the city. It's natural. There's so much going and coming."

Even then people had begun to discuss and condemn the extravagance of the day. The old residents of the Bowling Green were sure Bond Street and the lower part of Fifth Avenue were stupendous follies and would ruin the city. Foreign artistic upholsterers came over, carpets and furniture of the most elegant sort were imported, and even then some people ordered their gowns and cloaks in Paris. Miss Blackfan's best customer had gone over for the whole summer, otherwise she would not have the fortnight for Cousin Underhill. She uttered her dictum with a certain authority from which there was no appeal. And she charged a dollar and a half a day, while most dressmakers were satisfied with a dollar.

So the little girl had her hair braided in two tails-they were quite short, though, and her father liked the curly mop better. Little girls' dresses were cut off the shoulder, and made with a yoke or band and a belt. In warm weather they wore short sleeves, though a pair of long sleeves were made for cool days. There were some tucks in the skirt to be let down as the child grew.

The little girl was most proud, I think, of her pantalets. There were some nankin ones made for every day. And she had a real nankin frock that Margaret embroidered just above the hem. It was used a great deal for aprons, too. Aprons, let me tell you, were no longer "high-ups" with a plain armhole. They were sometimes gathered on a belt and had Bertha capes over the shoulders trimmed with edging or ruffles. And every well-conditioned little girl had one of black silk.

"She'll have to hem her own ruffles," declared Mother Underhill almost sharply. "And how they're ever to get ironed--"

"There's hemstitching and fagoting, but I don't know as it's any less work than ruffling. And all the little girls are knitting lace. I'm doing some myself, oak-leaf pattern out of seventy cotton, and it's as handsome as anything you ever see."

"I don't know how any one is going to find time for so much folderol!"

"Oh, pshaw, Cousin Underhill, we did lots of it in our day. I worked the bottom of a party dress a good quarter up, and Vandyke capes, and those great big collars. And we tucked up to the waist. There's always something. And those old Jewish women had broidery and finery of every sort, and 'pillows' in their sleeves as we wore years ago. See what a little it takes to make a pair of sleeves now! We must have looked funny, all sleeves and waists up under our arms."

When you consider that sewing-machines had not been invented, it was a wonder how the women accomplished so much. But they always had some "catch-work" handy. The little girl was provided with a pretty work-basket, six spools of cotton, a pincushion, a needle-book, a bit of white wax, and an emery, which was a strawberry-shaped cushion topped off with some soft green stuff she knew afterward was chenille. This was to keep her needles bright and smooth. Then she had three rolls of ruffling, yards and yards in each piece. One was cambric, one was fine lawn or nainsook, and one of dimity. She had done some over-seam in sheets, she had hemmed towels and some handkerchiefs, and sewed a little on the half-dozen shirts Margaret had made for father last winter. But the stitches had to be so small, and oh, so close together! Then they looked badly if they were not straight. She liked the dimity the best because the stitches seemed to sink in, and it ruffled so of itself.

But the little girl didn't sew all the time. She wiped dishes for Martha. And one day, when she saw a little girl up the street sweeping the sidewalk, she begged to do that. She could dust a room very nicely. There was much running up and down, and she was always glad to wait upon Steve. Indeed, she ran errands cheerfully for anybody. But she did miss Benny Frank and Jim.

Margaret had felt quite diffident about her new school, and at first rather shrank from the young ladies, much as she desired to be among them. But she found herself quite advanced in some of the studies, and in a week's time began to feel at home. Two girls were very friendly, Mary Barclay and Annette Beekman.

Perhaps Steve hadn't been quite as disinterested as it seemed. He had met Dolly Beekman at Miss Jane Barclay's party early in the winter. They had taken a mutual fancy. Old Peter Beekman lived at the lower end of Broadway, and had a farm "up the East River," about Ninety-sixth Street. He had five girls, and the two last had been sore disappointments. But Harriet, the eldest, had married her cousin and had four Beekman boys. Two others were married. Dolly had graduated from Rutgers the year before and was now nineteen. Annette, as the old Dutch name was spelled, was not quite seventeen. Margaret had been put in her class in most branches.

Steve did want the Beekmans to think well of his people. He and Dolly were not declared lovers, but they understood each other. Old Peter made inquiries about the young man, and if they had not been satisfactory Stephen would soon have known it. So he felt quite assured. And though his mother talked of her sons marrying, he knew that just at first it would come a little hard to find she had a rival.

"Well, Peggy," he said, Friday evening of the first week, "how does school go? Seen any girls you like?"

"I've seen two that know you," and Margaret laughed. "Mary Barclay said you had been at their house. And so did Annie Beekman."

"Yes, I was at Miss Beekman's party; quite a fine affair. And I've been there to play whist. They're a jolly crowd. Next winter we must have a few parties. And I'm going to get a piano."

"Oh, you lovely Steve!" She squeezed his arm rapturously.

"You have a very pretty voice, Peggy. Annie Beekman's sister sings beautifully. How do you like Annie?"

"Why, you never can tell whether she is in earnest or quizzing you. But she's ever so much prettier than Mary. Yes, on the whole I like her."

"You ought to see her sister Dolly. She has real flaxen hair and such a complexion!"

"Annie has a lovely complexion, too. There are a great many pretty girls in the world. I have a curious sort of pity for those who are not a bit pretty," Margaret said sympathetically.

Steve laughed and nodded, as if the idea amused him.

If Margaret and Annie became friends, and if Dolly and Annie came to call-well, he was sure they would all fall in love with Dolly. And then the matter would go on smoothly. People thought more of being friendly with their relations by marriage in those days.

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