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A Little Girl in Old New York By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 18241

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

On a Sunday toward the end of April, Stephen took his two sisters down to the Battery for a walk. It was very warm and springlike. The cherry-tree in their yard had come out in bloom. Buds were swelling everywhere, and the gray spots were all green and shining in the soft golden atmosphere. There was the wide, magnificent expanse of the bay, the edge of Brooklyn, the hazy outline of Staten Island, the vague Narrows that seemed to lead to some unknown world. And there was the great round Castle Garden, the Castle Clinton of earlier times, where a few years later the little girl was to hear some of the world's most famous singers. And when she looked out of that weird, narrow waterway and wondered just where Europe was, and how foreign countries must look, she could not by the most vivid stretch of imagination fancy herself sailing out to that unknown country.

The short grass was so lovely and green, and the waves came lapping up with a silvery melody. There were people lounging on the seats, ladies with sunshades in their hands, mothers with some little children, fathers with a son or two, or a little girl like herself in pantalets and white stockings and low shoes. The clothes she thought were beautiful. The hats were full of flowers. She had a new straw gypsy with a wreath of buttercups, and soft yellow strings tied under her chin. Her challi de laine had small blue flowers on a white ground, with yellow-brown centres, and there was a blue ribbon tied about her waist, with a bow at the back. She had a white cape of some soft cotton goods with a satiny finish, warranted to wash as good as new. She would have liked a sunshade, but she had so many new things.

She thought quite a good deal about her pretty clothes, and how glad she should be to learn more geography. Stephen was talking about Hudson's expedition up the river to which he gave his name, and a few months later when some hovels were built to shelter the sailors, the beginning of a settlement. And how in 1614 the Dutch erected a rude fort and gave the place the name of New Amsterdam. Then the Dutch West India Company bought Manhattoes Island from the natives for goods of various kinds, amounting to sixty guilders.

"You see the Dutch were thrifty traders even then, more than two hundred years ago," says Stephen with a pleasant laugh.

"How much are sixty guilders?" asks the little girl. It sounds an immense sum to her. And to buy a whole city!

"It was about twenty-four dollars at that time," replies Stephen.

The little girl's face is amusing in its surprise.

"Only twenty-four dollars! And father had three hundred a few days ago. Why, he could have bought"-well, the limitless area takes away her breath.

"I don't believe we should have wanted to live in such a wilderness as it was then."

"But when Walter the Testy came-he was really here?" It is rather chaotic in her mind.

"He was here. Wouter van Twiller was his real name. Then a line of Dutch governers, after which the island was ceded to the British. It became quite a Royalist town until the Revolutionary War. We had a 'scrap' about tea, too," and Stephen laughs. "Old Castle Clinton was a famous spot. And when General Lafayette, who had helped us fight our battles, came over in 1824, he had a magnificent ovation as he sailed up the bay. It's a splendid old place."

Everybody seemed to think so then. The birds were singing in the sunshine, and the rural aspect was dear to the hearts of the older people. They rose and walked about in the fragrant air. Now and then some one bowed gravely to Stephen. There was a Sunday decorum over all.

They rambled up to the Bowling Green. Some quaintly attired elderly people who had the entrée of the place were sitting about enjoying the loveliness. One old Frenchman had a ruffled shirt-front and a very high coat-collar that made him look like a picture, and knee-breeches.

Some one sprang up, and coming to the gate said: "Oh, Mr. Underhill, and Miss Margaret! Is this your little sister? Do walk in and chat with us. My sister Jane and I have come down to dine with the Morrises, and it was so lovely out here. Isn't it a charming day?"

There was Miss Jane Barclay very fashionably attired, Miss Morris, and her brother, who was very attentive to Miss Barclay, and a little farther on Mrs. Morris, fat, fair, and matronly. She was reading "The Lady of the Manor," and when the little girl found it afterward in a Sunday-school library, Mrs. Morris seemed curiously mixed up with it. Sunday papers at that period would have horrified most people.

"What a dear little girl!" said Mrs. Morris. "Come here and tell me your name. Why, you look like a lily astray in a bed of buttercups. Is it possible Mr. Stephen Underhill is your brother?"

"The eldest and the youngest," explained Stephen. "And this is my sister, Miss Underhill."

Mrs. Morris bowed and shook hands. Then she made room on the settee for the child.

"You haven't told me your name, my dear."

Mrs. Morris' voice was so soft, almost pleading. The little girl glanced up and colored, and if the bank could have broken and let her money down in the ocean, or some one could have stolen it and bought a new Manhattan Island in the South Seas,-so that she could have had a new name, she wouldn't have minded a bit. But she said with brave sweetness:

"Hannah Ann. I was named after both grandmothers."

"That's a long name for such a little girl. I believe I should call you Nannie or Nansie. And Mr. Morris would call you Nan at once. I never knew such a man for short names. We've always called our Elizabeth Bess, and half the time her father calls her Bet, to save one letter."

The little girl laughed. The economy of the thing seemed funny.

"What does your father call you?"

"'Little girl,' most always. Margaret was grown into quite a big girl when I was born, so I was the little girl."

"Well-that's pretty, too. And where are you living?"

"In First Street."

"Why, that's way up-town! And-let me see-you did live at Yonkers? I've never been there. Is it a town?"

"We lived on a great big farm. And oh, the Croton water pipe came right across one corner of it."

"Ah, you should have seen the celebration! Such a wonderful, indescribable thing!"

"Margaret came down and most of the boys. Mother said I would be crushed to death."

"And she couldn't spare her little girl! Well, I don't blame her. Do you go to school?"

"No, ma'am, not yet." All the children but the very rough ones said "no, ma'am," and "yes, ma'am," in those days. "But I did go at Yonkers."

"And what did you learn."

She was quite astonished at the little girl's attainments, and her simplicity she thought charming. When Stephen came for her, Mrs. Morris said:

"I have really fallen in love with your little sister. You must bring her down again. We think there's nothing to compare with our Bowling Green and the Battery."

They bade each other a pleasant adieu. It was time to go home, indeed. The little girl felt very happy and joyous, and she thought her pretty clothes had helped. Perhaps they had.

She sat on her father's knee that night telling him about Mrs. Morris. And she suddenly said:

"Father, what was the Reign of Terror?"

"The Reign of Terror? Oh, it was a horrible time of war in France. Where did you pick up that?"

"There was an old man in the Green who had on a queer sort of dress-knee-breeches and buckles on his shoes like those of grandfather's. And ruffles all down his shirt-bosom and long, curly, white hair. And Mrs. Morris said he was in prison in the Reign of Terror, and then came to America with his daughter, and that his mind had something the matter with it. Do you suppose he got awfully frightened?"

"I dare say he did, my dear. When you are a big girl you will learn all about it in history. But you needn't hurry. There are a great many pleasanter things to learn."

She leaned her head down on her father's shoulder and thought how sad it must be to lose one's mind. Was that the part of you always thinking? How curious it was to always think of something! Your feet didn't always walk, your hands didn't always work, but that strange thing inside of you never stopped. Oh, yes, it had to when you were asleep. But then you sometimes dreamed. And the little girl fell fast asleep over psychology that she didn't know a word about.

Early in the next week Mrs. Underhill took the little girl and went up to Yonkers. She said she was homesick to see the boys. And oh, how glad they were to see her! Aunt Crete was laid up with the tic douloureux. Retty was full of work and house-cleaning, and her lover had come on. He was a Vermonter by birth, and an uncle in the Mohawk valley had brought him up. Then he had gone West, but not taken especial root anywhere. He was tall and thin, with reddish hair and beard, but the kindliest blue eyes and a pleasant voice. He and George had struck up a friendship already. And Retty confided to Aunt Margaret "that she was going to be married without any fuss, and Bart was goin

' to turn in and help run the farm."

Everything wore a different aspect even in this brief while. Mrs. Underhill had some things to pack up, that she was going to leave, a while at least, in the garret. Her sister-in-law was very glad to take anything she wanted to dispose of, since they had sold their furniture at the West.

Oh, how wonderful the world was to the little girl! The trees were coming out in bloom, there were great bunches of yellow daffodils, and the May pinks were full of buds. And then the chickens, the ducks' nests full of eggs, the pretty little dark-eyed calf that the boys had tamed already! And the children at school! Everybody was wild over Hanny and glad to get her back.

But it was queer she should miss her father so much when it came night. She went out on the old stoop and felt strangely lonesome. Then the boys came round, having done up their share of the chores.

"Do you reely like it, Hanny?" asked Jim.

She knew he meant the city.

"Well-father and Steve and Joe and John are there"-yet her tone was a little uncertain.

"Are there any boys about?"

"I don't know any. I haven't had time to find any girls. But there is a big public school round in Houston Street, and I guess there's a thousand children. You should see them coming out of the gate."

"Hm'n! I don't believe there's a thousand children in all New York. That's ten hundred, Miss Hanny!"

Hanny was sobered by the immensity of her statement, for she was a very truthful little girl.

"What have you been doing all this time?" Jim asked impatiently.

"Well-there was the house to get to rights. And we had to have some new clothes made. A girl laughed at me one day and said I looked queer."

"If I'd been there I'd punched her head. Yes-I see you're mighty fine. Would I look queer?"

"Oh, boys always look alike," returned Hanny reflectively. "We had a beautiful walk one Sunday on the Battery, and I think," hesitatingly, "that all the boys had on roundabouts."

"Are you sure they didn't have on overcoats?"

"Don't plague her, Jim. Tell us about the Battery, Hanny."

Hanny could describe that quite vividly. Jim soon became interested. When she paused he said, "What else?" She told them of her ride up to Harlem, and a walk down the Bowery to Chatham Square.

"But there ain't any real bowers in it any more, only stores and such things."

"What a pity," commented Benny Frank.

"Well, I think I'd like to go as soon as mammy can get ready. It isn't as much fun here without you all."

"Oh, Jim, don't say mammy. They don't do it in the city," said the little girl beseechingly.

"If you think I'm going to put on French airs, you're much mistaken, Miss Hanny! I'll say pop and mammy when I like. I'm not going to dress up in Sunday best manners because you wear ruffled pantalets. It makes you look like a feather-legged chicken!"

"Don't mind him, Hanny," said Ben tenderly. "I wish I had seen that old man at the Bowling Green--"

"Do they make bowls there?" interrupted teasing Jim.

"Because I've been reading about France and the Reign of Terror," Benny Frank went on, not heeding his brother. "It was in about 1794. Robespierre was at the head of it. And there was a dreadful prison into which they threw everybody they suspected, and only brought them out for execution. It must have been terrible! And the poor old man must have been quite young then. I should think he would have lost his mind."

"Bother about such stuff! You'd rather be in New York, wouldn't you, Hanny? And mother said we might come as soon as she was settled. I'm not going to stay here and be ordered about by this Finch fellow. Retty's soft as mush over him. Say, Ben, you would like to go, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I think I would," answered Ben slowly. "There would be such a splendid chance to learn about everything."

Their mother had been walking around the familiar paths with George, who had developed some ideas of his own in this brief space. And his mother had not realized before how tall and stout he was getting.

"I'd like to see father and Steve and make some plans. I'd like to work part of father's ground on shares or some way. I'm glad Dave Andrews is staying on. I don't altogether like Uncle Faid's ideas, and oh, mother, 'tisn't any such jolly home as you had. Poor Aunt Crete is so miserable. But you see if I really had some interest of my own I'd be learning all the time."

"I'm sure your father will consent." His mother felt so proud, leaning on his arm. And some time they would come back. So they talked the matter over with eager interest, and she quite forgot about the little girl's bedtime. Retty had joined them and was rehearsing some of her Western experiences, and the little girl sat with wide-open eyes, looking at Retty in the moon-light, thinking what a great wonderful world it was to have so many places and all so different. Did you have two organs of thought? She was so puzzled about thought, anyhow. For with one side of her that didn't see Retty, she could see her father so plainly in this very corner, and she was in his arms, and with the faculty that wasn't listening to her cousin she could hear her father's voice. You see, she wasn't old enough to know about dual consciousness.

When Hanny went up-stairs with her mother the boys went also.

"Say, Ben," and his brother gave him a dig in the ribs with his elbow; "say, Ben, don't you want to go back to New York with mother? If we just push with all our might and main, together we can."

"Well, don't push me through the side of the house."

"You want to be pushed all the while. You're as slow as 'lasses in winter time. Ben, you take after Uncle Faid. It takes him 'most all day to make up his mind. Now I can look at a thing and tell in a minute."

"You seem ready enough to tell." Ben laughed a little provokingly.

"Well, you can go or not as you like. 'Taint half the fun here that it used to be. I didn't think I cared so much for Hanny."

"Is it Hanny?" in a tone that irritated.

"It's Hanny and mother and John and father and New York, and just a million things rolled into a bundle. And if you don't care I'll fight my way through. There, Benjamin Franklin! You'd sit on a stone in the middle of a field and fly your kite forever!"

Jim was losing his temper.

"Yes, I think I'd like to go. There would be so much to see and learn."

"Oh, hang it all! Simply go!"

Ben was thinking of the old man-he must have been quite young then-who was in prison through that awful Reign of Terror. He undressed slowly. He was not such a fly-away as Jim. But Jim was asleep before he was ready for bed.

Mrs. Underhill had not really meant to take the boys home with her. She was quite sure the city was a bad place for boys. And the country was so much healthier in the summer. But they coaxed. And somehow, the old home had changed already. The air of brisk cheerfulness was gone. Aunt Crete had her face tied up most of the time, or a little shawl over her head. Retty was undeniably careless. Barton Finch played cards with the hired man. Uncle Faid had some queer ideas about farming.

"I'd like wonderful well to have the boys stay," he said. "They're worth their keep. A boy 'round's mighty handy. I'd have to hire one."

Somehow she wasn't quite willing to have her boys put in the place of a hired one, or one bound out from the county house. And Jim had been her baby for so long. The little girl pleaded also. She told them finally they might come down and try. But if they were the least bit bad or disobedient they would be sent back at once.

Mrs. Underhill was half-cured of her homesickness. She had thought she could never be content in New York; why, she was almost content already.

She and Hanny took a walk the last day of their stay up on the knoll where the new house was to be built.

"When all the children are married and father and I get to be old people, we will come back here. I shall want you, Hanny," and she held the little girl's hand in a tight clasp.

Hanny wondered if she would be stout and have full red cheeks and look like Retty? And oh, she did hope her mother wouldn't have tic douloureux and wear shawls over her head. When all the children were married-oh, how lonesome it would be!

But she had been quite a little heroine and gone to school one day to see the girls and boys. And one girl said: "I s'pose it's city fashion to wear pantalets that way, but my! doesn't it look queer!"

She was very glad to get back to her father. The country was beautiful with all its bloom and fragrance, but First Street had such a clean, tidy look with its flagged sidewalks and the dirt all swept up to the middle of the street, leaving the round faces of the cobble-stones fairly shining. It was quite delightful to show the boys all over the house and then go through the yard to the stables and greet Dobbin and Prince. And Battle, the dog, called so because he had been such a fighter, but commonly known as Bat, wagged his whole body with delight at sight of the boys.

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