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   Chapter 5 GIRLS AND GIRLS

A Little Girl in Old New York By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 23717

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


A week or so after Mrs. Underhill's return, one of the neighbors called one afternoon and brought her two little girls, Josie and Tudie Dean. Tudie stood for Susan. The little girl was summoned, and the three, after the fashion of little girls, sat very stiff on their chairs and looked at each other, then cast their eyes down on the carpet, fidgeted a little with the corners of their white aprons, and then gave another furtive glance.

"Hanny, you might take the little girls out in the yard and gather a nosegay for them." Flower roots and shrubs had been brought down from the "old place," and there was quite a showing of bloom.

The mothers talked meanwhile of the street, and Mrs. Dean spoke of the wonderful strides the city was making up-town. A few objectionable people had come in the old frame houses at the lower end of the street. When Mr. Dean built, some seven years ago, it was all that could be desired, but already immigrants were forcing their way up Houston Street. If something wasn't done to control immigration, we should soon be overrun. The Croton water had been such a great and wonderful blessing. And did her little girl go to school anywhere? Josie and Tudie went up First Avenue by Third Street to a Mrs. Craven, a rather youngish widow lady, who had two daughters of her own to educate, and who was very genteel and accomplished. Little girls needed some one who had gentle and pretty manners. There was a sewing-class, and all through the winter a dancing-class, and Mrs. Craven gave lessons on the piano. Public schools were well enough for boys, but they were too rude and rough for little girls.

Mrs. Underhill assented. "She wouldn't think of sending Hannah Ann to a public school."

"She looks like a very delicate child," commented Mrs. Dean.

"She's always been very well," said the mother, "but she is small for her age. And all of my children have grown up so rapidly."

"I couldn't believe those young men belonged to you. And that tall, pretty young girl."

Mrs. Underhill smiled and flushed and betrayed her pride in her eight nice healthy children.

"I envy you some of your sons," Mrs. Dean went on. "I never had but the two little girls."

They came in now, each with the promised nosegay, and full of delight. They were round and rosy, and looked more like one's idea of a country girl than little lilybud Hannah. But they were all eager now, and even her cheeks were pink. They had talked themselves into friendship. And Josie wanted to know if Hanny couldn't come and see them, and if they couldn't have their dishes out and have tea all by themselves?

Mrs. Dean looked up at Mrs. Underhill, and replied: "Why, yes, if her mother is willing. Saturday would be best, as you are not in school."

That was only two days off. Hanny's eyes entreated so wistfully. And the Deans lived only three doors away.

"Why, yes," answered her mother with a touch of becoming hesitation.

Hanny was telling this eventful interview over to Jim as they sat on the stoop that evening. Ben was reading a book, Jim was trying the toes of his shoes against the iron railing and secretly wishing he could go barefoot.

"And they have a real play-house up-stairs in one room. There's two beds in it and two bureaus, and oh, lots of things! Josie has seven dolls and Tudie four. Tudie gave two of hers away, and Josie has a lovely big wax doll that her aunt sent from Paris. And a table, and their mother lets them play tea with bread and cake and real things. And I'm to go on Saturday."

Hanny uttered this in a rapid breath.

"Sho!" ejaculated Jim rather disdainfully. "They're not much if they play with dolls. Now I know some girls--"

The boys had been at Houston Street public school not quite a week. Jim knew half the boys at least, already, and all the boys that lived on the block. He wasn't a bit afraid of girls, either, though he generally called them "gals."

"There's some living down the street, and Jiminy! if they haven't got names! You'd just die of envy! Rosabelle May, think of it! And Lilian Alice Ludlow. Lily's an awful pretty girl, too. And they wanted to know all about you and Peggy."

"Did you tell her my name?" asked the little girl timidly.

"Well-don't you know you said you wished it was Anna?" Jim answered slowly. "I just said it so it sounded like Anna. And Lily said she'd seen you riding with father. I wish you'd walk down there," coaxingly.

"I'll see if mother will let me." Hanny sprang up.

"And put on a nice white apron," said Jim.

"They're too old for Hanny," began Ben, looking up from his book.

"Why, Lily's only eleven. And anyhow--"

Jim didn't know just how to explain it. Lily had begged him that afternoon to bring his little sister down. To tell the truth she was very ambitious to know the Underhills. They must be somebody, for they kept horses and a carriage, and owned their house.

"Do you know," said Belle May as they watched Jim going up the street, "I half believe the little girl who stood on the stoop that day is Jim's sister."

"That little country thing! I never thought of it. But I don't suppose she really heard."

"If she did-what will you do?"

"Do?" Lily tossed her head. "Why, I shall act just as if I never said it or had seen her before or anything. You don't suppose I'm a goose in pin-feathers, do you? I want to get acquainted with them. Of course I shall ask both boys to my birthday party. I should only ask the nice people in the street."

Margaret threw her pretty pink fascinator round Hanny's shoulders. She didn't need any hat this warm summer night. Hanny was very proud to walk down the street with her brother, who knew so many girls already. Jim wasn't a bit afraid of being called a "girl boy." Quite a number of people were sitting out on their stoops. It was the fashion then. Some of the ladies were knitting lace on two little needles that had sealing wax on one end, so the stitches could not drop off. There was much pleasant chatting. The country ways of sociability had not all gone out of date.

They walked down to the lower end, where the houses were rather irregular and getting old. Two or three had a small grass door-yard in front. Two girls were walking up and down with their arms around each. Jim knew in a moment who they were, but he loitered behind them until they turned.

"Oh!" exclaimed Lily Ludlow in well-acted surprise. "Are you out taking a walk?"

"Yes," answered Jim, quite as innocently as if the matter had not been arranged a few hours ago. "And this is my sister. And this is Lily Ludlow, and this Belle May."

Alas for Hanny! Lily Ludlow was the girl who had called her "queer" and laughed. The child's face flushed and there was a lump in her throat.

"You don't go to school, do you?" asked Lily with the utmost nonchalance. She was quite ready for anything.

The little girl made an effort, but no words would come. She could never like this girl with the pretty name, she felt very sure.

"No," said Jim. "She's so small for her size that mother would be afraid of her getting lost."

They all giggled but the little girl, who wanted to run away.

"But you like New York, don't you? Jim thinks he wouldn't go back to the country for anything."

We had not come to "Bet your life," and "There's where your head's level," in those days. But Jim answered for his sister-"You just guess I wouldn't," with a deal of gusto.

They all walked up a short distance. The girls and Jim had all the talk, and they chaffed each other merrily. Hanny was silent. She really was too young for their fun.

Belle May's mother called her presently, and the little girl said in a whisper: "Oh, Jim, we must go home."

Jim wondered if he might ask Lily to walk with them, so he could come back with her. But she settled it with a gay toss of the head.

"Good-night," she said. "Come down again some evening."

"What a little stupid you are, Hanny!" Jim began, vexed enough. "Why didn't you ask them to walk up our way! And you never said a word! I could have given you an awful shake!"

"I-I don't like them."

"You don't know anything about them. Ben and I see them half a dozen times a day, and walk to school with them, and they're nice and pretty and have some manners. You're awful country, Hanny!"

The little girl began to cry.

"Oh, what a baby you are! Well, I s'pose you can't help it! You're only eight, and I'm almost thirteen. And Lily Ludlow's nearly eleven. I suppose you do feel strange among girls so much older."

"It isn't that," sobbed the little girl. How could she get courage to tell him?

"Oh, Hanny, dear, don't cry." Jim's voice softened-they were nearing home. "See here, I'll ask father to take us to Tompkins Square on Sunday, and you shall paint out of my new box. There! and don't tell any one-don't say a word to Ben."

He kissed her and wiped her eyes with the end of her starchy apron. Jim was very coaxing and sweet when he tried.

"Joe's here," said Ben. "And he thought the wolves would eat you up if you went too far. He wants to see you."

Jim dropped down on the step. Hanny ran through the hall. They were using the back parlor as a sitting-room, and everybody seemed talking at once. Joe held out his arms and the little girl flew to them.

Then it came out that Joe had taken one of the prizes for a thesis, and he would shortly be a full fledged M.D. He was so jubilant and the rest were so happy that the little girl forgot all about her discomfort.

Jim came rushing in. "Where's the hundred dollars?" he inquired.

Joe laughed. "I have not received the money yet. I thought the announcement was enough for one night."

"You and Hanny'll be so stuck up there'll be no living with you," said Jim.

Hanny glanced up with a smiling face. If she had only looked that way at Lily Ludlow! But even his schoolmate was momentarily distanced by the thought of such a prize. And he remembered later on with much gratification that he could tell her to-morrow.

Miss Chrissy Ludlow had been sitting by the front window in her white gown, half expecting a caller. When Lily entered, she inquired if that little thing was the Underhill girl?

"Oh, that's the baby," and Lily giggled. "There's a young lady who goes to Rutgers-well, I suppose she isn't quite grown up, for she doesn't wear real-long dresses. And they have another brother in the country-six brothers!"

Chrissy sighed. If she only knew some way to get acquainted with the young woman. And all the brothers fairly made one green with envy.

"You keep in with them," she advised her sister. "You might as well look up in the world for your friends."

There were not many people in the street who kept a carriage. Chrissy longed ardently to know them. And she had been almost fighting for a term at Rutgers. Mr. Ludlow was a common-place man, clerk in a shoe-store round in Houston Street, and capable of doing repairs. They rented out the second floor, as they could not afford to keep the whole house. But since Chrissy had found out that they were distant connections of some Ludlows quite well off and high up in the social scale, she had felt extremely aristocratic. For a year she had been out of school, and now her mother thought she better learn dressmaking, since she was so "handy." She meant to get married at the first good opportunity.

Mr. Thackeray in England was writing about snobs during this period. He thought he found a great many in London. And even among the republican simplicity of New York he could have found some.

Hanny's second attempt at social life was a much greater success. The visit at the Deans' was utterly delightful. The play-house was enchanting. They dressed and undressed the dolls, they gave Hanny two, and called her Mrs. Hill, because Underh

ill was such a long name, and they had an aunt by the name of Hill. They "made believe" days and nights, and measles and whooping cough, and earache and sore throat. Josie put on an old linen coat of her father's and "made believe" she was the doctor. And oh, the solicitude when Victoria Arabella lay at the point of death and they had to go round on tiptoe and speak in whispers, and the poor mother said: "If Victoria Arabella dies, my heart will be broken!" But the lovely child mended and was so weak for a while that the greatest care had to be taken of her, for she couldn't sit up a bit. And Hanny proposed they should take her up to Yonkers, where she could recruit in the country air.

Mrs. Dean came up with a basket and said it was supper time. She arranged a side table to hold some of the things. There was a nice white tablecloth and Josie's pretty dishes. There was a pitcher of hot water to make cambric tea, square lumps of sugar, dainty slices of bread already spread, smoked beef, pot-cheese, raspberries, cherry-jam, and two kinds of cake. Well, it was just splendid.

Then they went out on the sidewalk and skipped up and down. There was quite an art in skipping gracefully without breaking step. When they were warm and tired they came in, and Mr. Dean played on the piano for them.

At seven o'clock Mr. Underhill walked up for his little girl, whose cheeks were pink and her eyes shining like stars. He sat on the stoop and talked a little while with Mr. Dean, and said most cordially the other girls must come and take tea with Hanny. And if they liked he would take them out driving some day. That was a most delightful proposal.

Jim let the whole school know the next week that his "big brother" had won a prize of one hundred dollars. And when Joseph passed with honor and took his degree, they were all proud enough of him.

"Mother," said the little girl after much consideration, "if any of us get sick will we have to pay Joe like a truly doctor?"

"Well-why not?" asked Mrs. Underhill. "That will be his way of earning his living."

The little girl drew a long breath. "He might come and live with us then. Where will he live, anyway?"

"He is to practise in the hospital awhile."

"Couldn't he doctor us at all?" she asked in surprise?

"Oh, yes, he might if we had faith in him," returned her mother laughingly.

That puzzled the little girl a good deal, and when she had an opportunity she asked her father if he had faith in Joe.

"Well," her father seemed to hesitate, "he might doctor Tabby, but I wouldn't let him experiment on Dobbin or Prince."

Hanny's face was a study in gravity and disappointment. "And if I was sick?" she ventured with a very long sigh.

Then her father hugged her up in his arms until she was breathless, and scrubbed her soft little face with his whiskers, and both of them laughed. But Joe promised one day when he was home to doctor her for nothing, so that point was settled.

They had a great time Fourth of July. Lamb and green peas were the regulation dinner. Steve sent a wagon up every morning with the freshest vegetables there were in market, and the meat for the day. Their milk came from the Odells in West Farms, and their butter from Yonkers. To be sure, it wasn't quite like country living, and Mrs. Underhill was positive that no one gave such a flavor to butter as herself.

The Odells and some other relatives were down on Fourth of July. They had the lamb and peas, as I said, and at that date one kind of meat was considered enough. They had green-apple pie. There was a very early pie-apple on the farm and George had brought some down for his mother. He was well and happy as he could be "without the folks," and he shook his head a little ambiguously about Uncle Faid's method, and those of Mr. Finch.

They had some ice-cream and cake afterward. The little girl had never eaten any, and she thought it very queer. It would have been delightful but for the awful coldness of it! It froze the roof of her mouth and made an ache in the middle of her forehead. Steve told her people sometimes warmed it, and she ran out to the stove with her saucer.

"The land alive! What are you going to do with that cream?" almost shrieked Martha, who was washing dishes at the sink.

"Warm it," replied the little girl. "It's so cold."

Martha almost fell into a chair with the dish-cloth in her hand, and laughed as if she would have a fit. There was a suspicious sound from the dining-room as well, and the fair little face grew very red.

Steve came out.

"Here, Nannie, is mine that the weather has warmed, and I'll trade it for your peak of Greenland." He took the chunk out of her saucer, and poured the soft in.

"It is nicer," she said. "And you needn't laugh, Martha. When I am a big woman and make ice-cream I shall just boil it," and she walked back with grave dignity.

She took the Odell girls to Mrs. Dean's, and some other children flocked around the stoop. They had torpedoes and lady-crackers, that two children pulled, when they went off with a loud explosion in the middle and made you jump. There were real fire-crackers that the boys had, and pin-wheels and various simple fireworks. But the great thing would be going down to City Hall in the evening and seeing the fireworks there.

The Odells could not stay, to their sorrow. Mr. Underhill proposed to take the business wagon and put three seats in it, and ask the Deans to go with them. Mrs. Dean was very glad to accept for herself and the children. There was a young lady next door, Miss Weir, that Margaret liked very much, and she accompanied them. John had promised to take charge of the boys. Steve had dressed himself in his new light summer suit and gone off.

The little girl thought the display beyond any words at her command. Such mysterious rockets falling to pieces in stars of every color. There was a great dome of stars, and rays that presently shot up into heaven; there was a ship on fire, which really frightened her. And, oh! the noise and the people, the shouting and hurrahing, the houses trimmed with flags, the brass band that played all the patriotic songs, and the endless confusion! The little girl clung closely to her mother, glad she was not down on the sidewalk, for the people would surely have trodden on her.

They came home very tired. But the little girl had added to her stock of historical knowledge and knew what Fourth of July stood for. It was a very great day, the beginning of the Republic.

The boys were out early the next morning finding "cissers," crackers that had failed to burn out entirely, and still had a little explosive merit when touched by a piece of lighted punk. There was no school that day, and Steve took them up to West Farms to expend the rest of their hilarity. The little girl was pale and languid. Mrs. Underhill was quite troubled at times when friends said:

"Isn't Hanny very small of her age? Is she real strong? She looks so delicate."

This was why she had thought it best not to send her to school this summer. She read aloud to her mother and said one column in a speller and definer, and Margaret taught her a little geography and arithmetic. She could hem very nicely now. She had learned to knit lace, and do some fancy work that was then called lap stitching. You pulled out some threads one way of the cloth, then took three and just lapped them over the next three, drawing your needle and thread through. Now a machine does it beautifully.

There was another fashion, "fads" we should call them nowadays. A school-bag-they didn't call them satchels then-was made of a piece of blue and white bed-ticking, folded at the bottom. Every white stripe you worked with zephyr worsted in briar stitch or herring-bone or feather stitch. You could use one color or several. And now the old work and the bed-ticking has come back again and ladies make the old-fashioned bags with tinsel thread.

Margaret had made one, and the little girl had taken it up. She was quite an expert with her needle. She had found several delightful new books to read. The Deans had some wonderful fairy stories. She was enraptured with the "Lady of the Lake," and some of Mrs. Howitt's stories and poems. She had learned her way about, and could go out to the Bowery to do an errand for her mother. She knew some more little girls, and with her sewing, helping her mother, studying and reading and play, the days seemed too short.

Vacation did not begin until the 1st of August. The boys were to go up to Yonkers and help George and Uncle Faid. They were quite ready for new ventures.

When Margaret came home the last day of school with a really fine report, her mother felt quite proud of her. The little girl, with large eyes and a mysterious expression, begged her to come into the parlor and see something. She smiled and took Hanny's small hand in hers. The furniture had been moved about a little. And oh, what was this? The little girl's eyes were stars of joy.

"It's your piano and mine," she said. "Yours till you get married and go away, and then mine forever and ever. Joe gave fifty dollars of his prize money toward it. Wasn't he lovely? And oh, Margaret, such beautiful music as it makes!"

The little girl with one small finger struck a key. The sound seemed to fascinate her. Margaret caught her in her arms and kissed the enraptured face.

"We shall be too happy, I'm afraid. I shouldn't have had the courage to ask for a piano, but it's the one thing above all others that I have wanted. Oh, it's just too delightful!"

Mrs. Underhill said: "It's a great piece of wastefulness, but the boys would have it. I'm sure I don't see where you're going to get time to learn everything. And you'll never know anything about housekeeping. I should be ashamed to have any one marry you."

People didn't hustle off to the country the day school closed. Indeed, some didn't go at all. The children played on the shady side of the street. The little girls had "Ring around a rosy," that I think Eve's grandchildren must have invented. Then there was "London Bridge is falling down," "Open the gates as high as the sky," and

"Here come two lords quite out of Spain

A-courting for your daughter faire,"

and after a great deal of disputing and beseeching they obtained "daughter faire," and averted war. And "Tag" never failed with its "Ana mana mona mike." You find children playing them all yet, but I think the wonderful zest has gone out of them.

In the evening a throng of the First Street children who had pennies to spend used to go up to the corner of Second Street and Avenue A. An old colored woman sat there, with a gay Madras turban, and a little table before her, that had a mysterious spring drawer. On one side she had an earthen jar, on the other a great pail with a white cloth over it, that emitted a steamy fragrance. And she sang in a sort of chanting tone:

"H-o-t corn, hot corn. Here's your nice hot corn, s-m-okin' h-o-t. B-a-ked pears, baked pears-Get away, chillen,' get away, 'les you've got a penny. Stop crowdin'."

They had enough to eat at home, but the corn was tempting. One night one boy would treat and break the ear of corn in two and divide. And the baked pears were simply delicious. The old woman fished them out with a fork and put them on a bit of paper. Wooden plates had not been invented. And the high art was to lift up your pear by the stem and eat it. Sometimes a mischievous companion would joggle your arm and the stem would come out-and oh, the pear would drop in a "mash" on the sidewalk. You could not divide the pear very well, though children did sometimes pass a "bite" around. But we lived in happy innocence and safety, for the deadly bacillus had not been invented and ignorance was bliss.

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