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A Little Girl in Old New York By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 21700

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

It seemed curiously still after the boys went away. Margaret took two music lessons a week and gave the little girl half a one. And one day Stephen came in and said:

"Go dress yourself, Dinah, in gorgeous array,

And I'll take you a-drivin' so galliant and gay."

"Both of us?" asked the little girl.

"Yes-both of us. I have my new buggy and silver-mounted harness. You must go out and christen it for good luck. Hurry, Peggy, and put on your white dress."

Miss Blackfan had been again and made them two white frocks apiece. The little girl had "wings" over her shoulders and they made her less slim. She wore a pink sash and her hair was tied with pink. Her stockings were as white as "the driven snow," and her slippers looked like dolls' wear. They were bronze and laced across the top several times with narrow ribbon tied in a bow at her instep. She had a new hat, too, a leghorn flat with pale pink roses on it. It cost a good deal, but then it would "do up" every summer and last years and years. Fashions didn't change every three months then. Margaret had a pretty gipsy hat, with a big light-blue satin bow on the top, and the strings tied under her chin, and it made quite a picture of her. Her sleeves came a little below the elbow, and both wore black silk "openwork" mitts that came half-way up the arm.

There had been a shower the night before and the dust was laid. They went over Second Street to the East River, where one or two blocks were quite given over to colored people. There was an African M. E. church, that the little girl was very curious to see. Folks said in revival times they danced for joy. Crowds used to go to hear the singing.

"But do they dance?" asked the little girl wonderingly. She couldn't quite reconcile it with the gravity of worship.

"They simply march up and down the aisles keeping time to the tunes. Well-the Shakers dance in the same fashion." Stephen had been up to Lebanon.

Then a little farther on was another Methodist church, where several notable lights had preached. Nearer the river were some queer old houses, and at almost every corner a store. Saloons were a rarity. Over yonder was Williamsburg, up a little farther Astoria, just a place of country greenery. There were a few boats going up and down, and the ferry-boats crossing.

The houses were no longer in rows. There were some vegetable gardens, and German women were weeding in them; then tracts of rather rocky land, wild and unimproved. After a while it began to grow more diversified and beautiful-country residences and well-kept grounds full of shrubbery at the front and vegetables in the rear, with barns and stables, betraying a rural aspect. The air was so sweet and fresh.

"Oh!" exclaimed Margaret, "Annette Beekman must live somewhere about here. I promised her we would come up some day."

Stephen turned into a country road. There were many grand old elms, hemlocks, pines, and fruit-trees as well. A table stood under one, and some ladies were sitting there sewing and chatting, while several children ran about. And while they were glancing at them a girl in a pretty blue muslin sprang up and ran down to the wide-open gate.

"Oh, Margaret!" cried Annette Beekman. "Why, this is lovely of you, Stephen! Can't you turn in and stop a while with us?"

"I'm showing Margaret New York," said Steve, with his pleasant laugh. "She has begun to think straight down to Rutgers Institute comprised every bit there was of it."

"Oh, Stephen!" deprecatingly.

Some one else came out; a fair, tall girl with great braids of flaxen hair and a silver comb in the top to make her look taller still. She smiled very sweetly.

"Oh, Mr. Underhill!" she exclaimed.

"This is my big sister and this is my little one," explained Stephen. "And this," to Margaret, "is Miss Dolly Beekman."

A warm color rose in Margaret's cheeks as a half-suspicion stole over her.

"You must get out and rest a while after this long ride," said Miss Dolly with winsome cordiality. "The rain last evening was delightful, but the day is warm. We are all living out-of-doors, as you see. And this, I suppose, is your little sister? Drive up and help the girls out, and then go round to the barn. You will find some one there."

Stephen wound slowly up the driveway, nodding to the group of ladies. Dolly walked along the grassy path. She wore a white dotted suisse gown with a "baby waist," and had a blue satin sash with ends that fell nearly to the bottom of the skirt. Her sleeves came to the elbow and were composed of three rather deep ruffles edged with lace. Round her pretty white neck she had an inch-wide black velvet, fastened with a tiny diamond that Stephen had brought her a week ago. She looked like a picture, Margaret thought, and later her portrait in costume was exhibited at the Academy of Design.

Stephen lifted his sisters down. Dolly took Margaret's arm and the little girl's hand and introduced them to almost as many sisters and cousins and aunts as there were in "Pinafore." The small person was not quite comfortable. She had a feeling that the back of her nice frock was dreadfully crushed. Margaret was a little confused. Stephen seemed so at home among them all. Annette had spoken so familiarly of him, yet she had not suspected. How blind she had been!

There was young Mrs. Beekman, thirty or so, already getting stout, and with the fifth Beekman boy that she would gladly have changed for a girl; Mrs. Bond, the next sister, with a boy and a girl; Aunt Gitty Beekman, some Vandewater cousins, and some Gessler cousins from Nyack.

They had rush-bottomed and splint chairs, several rockers, some rustic benches, and two or three tables standing about, with work-baskets and piles of sewing and knitting, for people had not outgrown industry in those days, and still taught their children the verses about the busy bee.

Dolly put Margaret in a rocker, untied her bonnet, and took off her soft white mull scarf-long shawls they were called, and the elder ladies wore them of black silk and handsome black lace. They were held up on the arms and sometimes tied carelessly, and the richer you were, the more handsomely you trimmed them at the ends. Then for cooler weather there were Paisley and India long shawls.

Hanny kept close to her sister and leaned against her knee. She felt strange and timid with the eyes of so many grown people upon her. But they all took up their work and talked, asking Margaret various questions in sociable fashion.

There were three Beekman boys and one little Bond running about. The girl was very shy and would sit on her mother's lap. The Beekmans were fat and chubby, with their hair cut quite close, but not in the modern extreme. They wore long trousers and roundabouts, and low shoes with light gray stockings, though their Sunday best were white. We should say now they looked very queer, and unmistakably Dutch. You sometimes see this attire among the new immigrants. But there were no little Fauntleroy boys at that period with their velvet jackets and knickerbockers, flowing curls and collars.

The boys tried to inveigle Hanny among them. Pety offered her the small wooden bench he was carrying round. Paulus asked her "to come and see Molly who had great big horns and went this way," brandishing his head so fiercely that the little girl shuddered and grasped Margaret's hand.

"Don't tease her, boys," entreated their mother. "She'll get acquainted by and by. I suppose she isn't much used to children, being the youngest?"

"No, ma'am," answered Margaret.

The boys scampered off. Annette knelt down on the short grass, and presently won a smile from the little girl, who was revolving a perplexity as to whether big boys were not a great deal nicer than little boys. Then Stephen came back and Mr. Paulus Beekman, who was stout and dark, and favored his mother's side of the family. The ladies were very jolly, teasing one another, telling bits of fun, comparing work, and exchanging cooking recipes. Miss Gitty asked Margaret about her mother's family, the Vermilyeas. A Miss Vermilye, sixty or seventy years ago, had married a Conklin and come over to Closter. She seemed to have all her family genealogy at her tongue's end, and knew all the relations to the third and fourth generation. But she had a rather sweet face with fine wrinkles and blue veins, and wore her hair in long ringlets at the sides, fastened with shell combs that had been her mother's, and were very dear to her. She wore a light changeable silk, and it still had big sleeves, such as we are wearing to-day. But they had mostly gone out. And the elder ladies were combing their hair down over their ears. There were no crimping-pins, so they had to braid it up at night in "tails" to make it wave, unless one had curly hair. Most of the young girls brushed it straight above their ears for ordinary wear, and braided or twisted it in a great coil at the back, though it was often elaborately dressed for parties.

Aunt Gitty was netting a shawl out of white zephyr. It was tied in the same manner that one makes fish-nets, and you used a little shuttle on which your thread was wound. It was very light and fleecy. Aunt Gitty had made one of silk for a cousin who was going abroad, and it had been very much admired. The little girl was greatly interested in this, and ventured on an attempt at friendliness.

Dolly took them away presently to show them the flower-beds. Mr. Beekman had ten acres of ground. There were vegetables, corn and potato fields and a pasture lot, beside the great lawn and flower-garden. Old Mr. Beekman was out there. He was past seventy now, hale and hearty to be sure, with a round, wrinkled face, and thick white hair, and he was passionately fond of his grandchildren. He had not married until he was forty and his wife was much younger.

There were long walks of dahlias of every color and kind. They were a favorite autumn flower. A great round bed of "Robin-run-away," bergamot, that scented the air and attracted the humming-birds. All manner of old-fashioned flowers that are coming around again, and you could see where there had been magnificent beds of peonies. In the early season people drove out here to see Peter Beekman's tulip-beds.

There were borders of artemisias, as they were called, that diffused a pungent fragrance. We had not shaken hands so neighborly with Japan then, nor learned how she evolved her wonderful chrysanthemums.

The little girl grew quite talkative with Mr. Beekman. You see, in those days there was a theory about children being seen and not heard, and no one expected a little six-year-old to entertain or disturb a room full of company. The repression made them rather diffident, to be sure. But Mr. Beekman gathered her a nosegay of spice pin

ks, carnations now, and took her to see his beautiful ducks, snowy white, in a little pond, and another pair of Muscovy ducks, then some rare Mandarin ducks from China. She told him about the ducks and chickens at Yonkers and how sorry she was to leave them.

And then came the handsome white Angora cat with its long fur and curious eyes that were almost blue, and when she said "mie-e-o-u" in a rather delighted tone, it seemed as if she meant "O master, where have you been? I'm so glad to see you!"

He stood and patted her and they held quite a conversation as she arched her neck, rubbed against his leg, and turned back and forth. Then she stretched way up on him and gave him her paw, which was very cunningly done.

"This is a nice little girl who has come to see me," he said, as she seemed to look inquiringly at Hanny. "She's fond of everything, kitties especially."

Kitty looked rather uncertain. Hanny was a little afraid of such a curious creature. But presently she came and rubbed against her with a soft little mew, and Hanny ventured to touch her.

"She likes you," declared old Mr. Beekman, much pleased. "She doesn't often take fancies. She loves Dolly, and she won't have anything to do with Annette, though I think the girl teases her. Nice Katschina," said her master, patting her. "Shall we buy this little girl?"

Perhaps you won't believe it, but Katschina really said "yes," and smiled. It was very different from the grin of the "Chessy cat" that Alice saw in Wonderland.

Some one came flying down the path.

"Father," exclaimed Dolly, "come and have a cup of tea or a glass of beer. Stephen and his sister think they can't stay to supper. But may be they'll leave the little girl-you seem to have taken such a notion to her."

Hanny didn't want to be impolite and she really did like Mr. Beekman, but as for staying-her heart was up in her throat.

Dolly picked up Katschina and carried her in triumph. Two white paws lay over Dolly's shoulder.

There was a table with a shining copper tea-kettle, a pewter tankard of home-brewed ale, bread and butter, cold chicken and ham, a great dish of curd cheese, pound cake, soft and yellow, fruit cake, a heaping dish of doughnuts and various cookies and seed cakes. Scipio, a young colored lad, passed the eatables. Young Mrs. Beekman poured the tea. The mother sat near her. She was short and fat and wore her hair in a high Pompadour roll, and she laughed a good deal, showing her fine white teeth of which she was very proud.

Katschina sat in her master's lap, and the little girl was beside him. The boys were given their hands full and sent away. It was a very pretty picture and the little girl felt as if she was reading an entertaining story. One of the Gessler cousins had been knitting lace, double oak-leaf with a heading of insertion. It looked marvellous to the little girl. She said she was making it to trim a visite. This was a Frenchy sort of garment lately come into vogue, though the little girl did not know what it was, and was too well trained to ask questions. But the lace might be the desire of one's heart.

They sipped their tea or raspberry shrub, or enjoyed a glass of ale. They were all very merry. The little girl wondered how Dolly dared to be so saucy with Stephen when she only knew him such a little. Mrs. Beekman could hardly accept the fact that they would not stay to supper, and said they must come soon and spend the day, and have Stephen drive up for them, and that she hoped soon to see Mrs. Underhill. "It is quite delightful and we are all well satisfied," she added, nodding rather mysteriously.

Dolly put on the little girl's hat and kissed her, giving her a breathless squeeze. Miss Gitty kissed her as well and told her she was a "very pretty behaved child." The buggy came round and Stephen put them in amid a chorus of good-bys.

"The little one looks delicate," commented the younger Mrs. Beekman when they had driven away. "I'm afraid she doesn't run and play enough. But she's beautifully behaved. And what a fancy father took to her!"

"Miss Underhill doesn't seem like a real country girl," said another.

"The Underhills are a good family all through, English descent from some Lord Underhill. They were staunch Royalists at one time."

"And the Vermilyeas are good stock," said Aunt Gitty. "There's nothing like being particular as to family. It tells in the long run."

"Well, Dolly, we think he will do," said Mrs. Beekman laughingly, as Dolly, having said her good-bys, sauntered back to the circle. "He might be richer, of course. There's a large family and they can't have much apiece."

"Stephen Underhill's got the making of a good substantial man in him," grunted father Beekman. "If he'd been a poor shoat he wouldn't have hung around here very long, would he, Katschina? We'd 'a put a flea in his ear, wouldn't we."

Katschina arched her back. Dolly laughed and blushed. Stephen was her own true-love anyway, but she was glad to have them all like him. With the insistence of youth she felt she never could have loved any other man.

Stephen clicked to Prince, who was rested and full of spirits. They drove almost straight across the city, about at the end of our first hundred numbered streets. But the road wound around to get out of a low marshy place, a pond in the rainy season, and some rocks that seemed tumbled up on end. They struck a bit of the old Boston Post Road, and that caused the little girl to stop her prattle and think of the old ladies they had never visited. She must "jog" her father's memory. That was what her mother always said when she recalled half-forgotten things.

Stephen and Margaret had only spoken in answer to the little girl. He had a young man's awkwardness concerning a subject so dear to his heart. Margaret was awed by the mystery of love, captivated by Dolly's friendliness, and puzzled to decide what her mother would think of it. Stephen married! Any of them married for that matter. How strange it would seem! And yet she had sometimes said, "When I am married."

The place was wild enough. You would hardly think so now when hollows have been filled and hills levelled, and rocks blasted away. After they turned a little stream wound in and out through the trees and bushes. Amid a tangled mass the little girl espied some wild roses.

"Oh, Steve!" she cried, "may I get out and pick some?"

"I will." He handed the reins over to Margaret and sprang down, running across a little bridge, and soon gathered a great handful.

"Oh, thank you," and her eyes shone. "What a funny little bridge."

"That's Kissing Bridge."

"Who do you have to kiss?" asked the little girl mirthfully.

"Well, a long while ago, in Van Twiller's time, I guess," with a twinkle in his eye, "there wasn't any bridge. The lovers used to carry their sweethearts over, and the charge was a kiss."

"But there wasn't any kissing bridge then," she said shrewdly.

"When the bridge was built they stopped and kissed out of remembrance."

"Was it really so, Margaret?"

"It has been called that ever since I can remember."

"You unkind girl, not to believe me!" exclaimed Stephen, with an air of offended dignity. "And I am ever so much older than Margaret."

"You didn't carry me over, but you carried the roses, so you shall have the kiss all the same," and as she reached up to his cheek they both smiled.

Then they came down Broadway to Bleecker Street, and over home. Father Underhill was sitting on the stoop reading his paper. Jim begged to take the horse round to the stable. Margaret went up-stairs to pull off her best dress and put on her pink gingham. She had just finished and was calling for Hanny, when Stephen caught her in his arms.

"Dear Peggy-you must have guessed."

"Oh, Stephen! It seems so strange. Is it really so? I never dreamed--"

"I fell in love with Dolly months ago. There were so many caring for her that I hardly hoped myself. But there's some mysterious sense about it, and I began to see presently that she preferred me. Though I didn't really ask her until Sunday night. And they all consented. We are regularly engaged now."

"Oh, Stephen! To lose you!"

That is the first natural thought of the household.

"You are not going to lose me. We shall be engaged a long while; a year surely."

"But, father-and our coming here."

"That is all right. It can't make any difference. Only you will have a new sister. Oh, Peggy, try to love her," persuasively, yet knowing she could not resist her.

"She is very sweet."

"Sweet! She's just cream and roses and all the sweetest things of life put together! I tell you, Peggy, I'm a lucky fellow. Of course it will seem a little strange at first. But some day you'll have your romance, only I don't believe you can ever understand how glad the other fellow will be to get you. Girls can't. And you'll try to make things smooth with mother if she feels a little put out at first? Dolly wants to love you all. She's admired Joe so much, and they are all proud of him."

The supper bell rang impatiently. Stephen kissed his sister and gave her a rapturous hug.

Hanny came up-stairs and Margaret hurried through her change of attire.

"I thought you never were coming," began their mother tartly. "'Milyer, you're the worst of the lot when you get your nose buried in a newspaper. Boys, do keep still, though I suppose you're half starved," with a reproachful look at those who had delayed the meal.

The little girl had eaten so many of the delicious cookies that she wasn't a bit hungry. So she entertained her father with the miles of dahlias and the wonderful cat, so soft and furry and different from theirs, and with truly blue eyes, and who could understand everything you said to her. And Mr. Beekman was very nice, but not as nice as father. The little boys were so short and so funny. "And I don't believe I like little boys. Jim and Benny, Frank and all of you are nicer. Perhaps it is the bigness."

They all laughed at that.

She sat in her father's lap afterward and went on with her quaint story, until her mother came and routed her out and said, "I do believe, 'Milyer, you'd keep that child up all night."

Afterward Mr. Underhill went out on the front stoop, where he and Stephen had a long talk, while Margaret sat at the piano making up for her afternoon's dissipation, but in the soft, vague light she could see Dolly Beekman with her laughing eyes and crown of shining hair, and was sure she would make a delightful sister. Mrs. Underhill sat and darned stockings and sighed a little. Yet she was secretly proud of Margaret, even if she did study French and music. Whether they would ever help her to keep house was a question. Where would she have found time for such things?

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