A LITTLE GIRL OF LONG AGO
OR HANNAH ANN
A SEQUEL TO A LITTLE GIRL IN OLD NEW YORK
By AMANDA M. DOUGLAS
A. L. BURT COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1897, BY DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
All rights reserved
TO EDNA ESTELLE CORNER.
THE LITTLE GIRLS OF LONG AGO ARE GROWING OLD WITH THE CENTURY, BUT GIRLHOOD BLOSSOMS AFRESH WITH SPRING AND REMAINS FOREVER A JOY.
A. M. D. NEWARK, 1897.
II. AN INTERVIEW WITH A TIGER
III. CHANCES AND CHANGES
IV. A WEDDING
V. WINTER HAPPENINGS
VI. THE LAND OF OPHIR
VII. THROUGH THE EYES OF YOUTH
VIII. GOING VISITING
IX. ANNABEL LEE
X. WITH A POET
XI. THE KING OF TERRORS
XIII. OUT-OF-THE-WAY CORNERS
XIV. AMONG GREAT THINGS
XV. THE BEGINNINGS OF ROMANCE
XVI. COUNTING UP THE COST
XVII. A GLAD SURPRISE
XVIII. THE LITTLE GIRL GROWN UP
XIX. THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE
XX. MISS NAN UNDERHILL
XXI. THE OLD, OLD STORY, EVER NEW
New Year's came in with a ringing of bells and firing of pistols. Four years more, and the world would reach the half-century mark. That seemed very ancient to the little girl in Old New York. They talked about it at the breakfast-table.
"Do you suppose any one could live to see nineteen hundred?" asked the little girl, with wondering eyes.
Father Underhill laughed.
"Count up and see how old you would be, Hanny," he replied.
"Why, I should be—sixty-five."
"Not as old as either grandmother," said John.
"If the world doesn't come to an end," suggested Hanny, cautiously. She remembered the fright she had when she was afraid it would come to an end.
"It isn't half developed," interposed Benny Frank. "And we haven't half discovered it. What do we know about the heart of Africa or the interior of China—"
"The great Chinese wall will shut us out of that," interrupted the little girl. "But it can't go all around China, for the missionaries get in, and some Chinese get out, like the two little girls."
"There is some outside to China," laughed Benny Frank. "And India is a wonderful country. There is all of Siberia, too, and British America, and, beyond the Rocky Mountains, a great country belonging to us that we know very little about. I believe the world is going to stand long enough for us to learn all about it. Some day I hope to go around a good bit and see for myself."
"Some people," began Mrs. Underhill, "reason that, as it was two thousand years from the Creation to the Deluge, and two thousand years more to the birth of Christ, that the next two thousand will see the end of the world."
"They are beginning to think the world more than four or five thousand years old," said Benny Frank. He had quite a taste for science.
"It'll last my time out, I guess," and there was a shrewd twinkle in Father Underhill's eye. "And I think there'll be a big piece left for Hanny."
The little girl of eleven mused over it. She had a great many things to think about, and her mother suggested presently that there were some things to do. Margaret went upstairs to straighten the parlor and arrange a table in the end of the back room for callers. Hanny found plenty of work, but her small brain kept in a curious confusion, as if it was running back and forth from the past to the future. Events were happening so rapidly. And the whole world seemed changed since her brother Stephen's little boy had been born on Christmas morning.
It was curious, too, to grow older, and to understand books and lessons so much better, to feel interested in daily events. There was a new revolution in Mexico; there was a talk of war. But everything went on happily at home. New York was stretching out like a big boy, showing rents and patches in his attire, but up-town he was getting into a new suit, and people exclaimed about the extravagance.
As for Stephen's baby, there wasn't any word in Webster's Dictionary to do him justice. He grew fat and fair, his nose became shapely, his dimple was deeper, his chin double, and his pretty hands began to grasp at everything. Stephen said the only drawback was that his hair would be red. Hanny felt curiously teased about it. She couldn't be sure that it was quite a subject for prayer; but she took great comfort in two lines of the old hymn—
"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed,"
and she hoped God would listen to the sincere desire of her heart.
Early in February the children were all excitement about Mr. Bradbury's concert. The Dean children were among the chorus singers, and Charles Reed had a prominent part. Would his mother let him go?—the children all wondered.
"Mr. Reed can manage it," said Josie Dean, confidently. "Wives have to mind their husbands about boys, because the men know best, and the boys are to grow up into men."
Hanny's interest was divided by Margaret being made ready for the Valentine ball. Everybody was to go in a fancy dress. Dr. Hoffman chose Margaret's, which was to be a lady of 1790. Miss Cynthia came and looked over the old green-and-white brocade that had descended from Miss Lois. It had a low square neck, and a bodice with deep points back and front, laced with a silver cord. The front breadth, "petticoat," as it was called, was white satin, creamy now with age, embroidered with pink and yellow roses and mossy green leaves. The brocade fell away in a long train, and at the joining was a cascade of fine old lace called Mechlin. The elbow-sleeves were edged with it, and at the neck, the lace had a fine wire run through it at the back that made it stand up, while in front, it fell to a pretty point, and was clasped with a brooch. It had been made for Miss Lois' wedding outfit when she was a happy young girl, dreaming over a joyous future that had never come to pass.
But Margaret's hair they all thought the crowning glory. Miss Cynthia was very fond of adorning people for parties, and so deft that she was in frequent demand. She had brought a great high comb of beautiful, clear shell that had belonged to her mother. There was a loose twist made like the figure eight at the back, and in front, rows of dainty puffs and ends of curls, that dropped down on her white forehead.
The brooch, too, was curious. It was a portrait painted on ivory of the Marquis de Lafayette, and set round with beautiful pearls, one of Miss Cynthia's precious belongings also.
When Margaret looked at herself in her mother's tall glass, she was so mystified that she felt for a moment as if she was Miss Lois come back. For when the gown fitted her, she must have been tall and slim and young.
Hanny had begged to ask in all the girls, and was delighted to have Daisy Jasper and her mother.
But when Dr. Hoffman came in Continental costume, with buff small-clothes and black velvet coat, great buckles of brilliants at his knees and lace ruffles at his wrists and shirt front, and his hair powdered, they all exclaimed. He carried his three-cornered hat under his arm as he bowed to the ladies.
John Underhill declared laughingly that he felt honoured by being the footman to such a grand couple, as he helped them into the carriage.
"Why don't people dress as beautifully now?" said Daisy Jasper, with a sigh. "Everything looks so plain."
Then the elders began to talk of past fashions. Miss Cynthia said her mother's wedding gown was made with a full straight skirt six yards around, and had one little hoop at the hips to hold it out. When Miss Cynthia's elder sisters were grown, she cut it up and made them each a frock, with skirts two and a quarter yards wide, short full waists, and puffed sleeves. Big poke bonnets were worn with great bunches of flowers inside, and an immense bow at the top, where the strings were really tied. If you wanted to be very coquettish, you had the bow rather on one side. The skirts barely reached the ankles, and black satin slippers were to be worn on fine occasions; white or sometimes pale colours to parties.
"And now we have come back to wide full skirts," said Miss Cynthia. "We're putting stiffening in to hold them out. And there's talk of hoops."
Another odd custom was coming into vogue. It was considered much more genteel to say "dress." Frock had a sort of common country sound, because the farmers wore tow frocks at their work. The little girl had been laughed at for saying it, and she was trying very hard to always call the garment a "dress." Gown was considered rather reprehensible, as it savoured of old ladies' bed-gowns. Now we have gone back to frocks and gowns.
"The Continental fashions were extremely picturesque," said Mrs. Jasper. "And the men were strong and earnest, and equal to the emergencies of the day, if they did indulge in adornments considered rather feminine now. But I like the variety. The newly-arrived emigrants in their native garb interest me."
"There are some around in Houston Street," laughed Ben. "Dutch girls with flaxen hair and little caps, and those queer waists with shoulder straps, and thick woollen stockings. Some of them wear wooden shoes. And Irish women with great plaid cloaks and little shawls tied over their heads, short skirts and nailed shoes that clatter on the sidewalk."
"I should like to see them," said Daisy.
"Joe ought to take you out on St. Patrick's day," returned Ben. "But they soon reach the dead level of uniformity."
"Fancy an Indian in coat and trousers instead of blanket, war-paint, and feathers," and Jim laughed at the idea.
"I think we shall hardly be able to reduce him to modern costumes. He does not take kindly to civilisation."
"He's shamefully treated anyway."
"Oh, Jim, it won't do to take your noble red men from romance. The heroes of King Philip's time have vanished."
Jim was reading Cooper, and had large faith in the children of the forest. The next generation of school-boys called them "sneaking red dogs," and planned to go out on the plains and shoot them.
"If we absorb all these people, we shall be a curiously conglomerate nation by and by," exclaimed Mrs. Jasper.
"As we were in the beginning," returned Father Underhill. "We started from most of the nations of Europe. We have had a French state, Dutch and German, English and Scotch, but the one language seems a great leveler."
The little girls talked about the concert. Doctor Joe said he thought Daisy might venture. She was beginning to grow quite courageous, though the comments on her lameness always brought a flush to her cheek. Sometimes he stopped at school for both girls, and the wheeling-chair went home empty. His strong, tender arm was help enough.
Mr. Reed had quite a battle to win the day for his son. "The singing-school was foolishness and a waste of time; and there was not a moment to waste in this world, when you had to give a strict account of it in the next." Mrs. Reed had never considered whether so much scouring and scrubbing was not a waste of time, when everything was as clean as a pin. When a very polite note from Mr. Bradbury reached Mr. Reed, begging that Charles might be allowed to take a prominent part in the concert, there was war, a more dreadful time than going to the barber had caused.
"Charles"—she occasionally left off the John Robert—"was too big a boy for such nonsense! It spoiled children to put them forward. He ought to be thinking of his lessons and forming his character, instead of spending his time over silly songs. And to sing on a public stage!"
"Some of the best families are to let their children participate in it. I don't think it will hurt them," her husband said decisively.
Then she actually sobbed.
"You will ruin that child, after all the trouble I've taken. I've worked and slaved from morning till night, made him get his lessons and be careful of his clothes, and kept him out of bad company; and now I'm not allowed to say a word, but just stand by while you let him go to ruin. The next thing we'll have him in a nigger minstrel band, or playing on a fiddle!"
"I've known some very worthy men who played on a fiddle. And all the children growing up can't be minstrels, so perhaps our boy will be compelled to find some other employment. I am going to have him like other boys; and if it can't be so at home, I'll send him away to school."
That was a terrible threat. To be gone months at a time, with no one to look after his clothes!
Mrs. Reed went about the house sighing, and scrubbed harder than ever. She made Charles feel as if he brought in dirt by the bushel, and scattered it about in pure spite. She even refused his help in clearing away the dishes; and she tried to make him wear his second-best clothes that eventful evening.
Oh, what an evening it was! The hall was crowded. The stage was full of children, one tier of seats rising above another. The girls were dressed in white, and most of them had their hair curled. The boys had a white ribbon tied in the buttonhole of their jackets. How eager and pretty they looked! Hanny thought of the day at Castle Garden when the Sunday-schools had walked.
It was a simple cantata, but a great success. Charles Reed sang charmingly. His father had said, "Don't get frightened, my boy, and do your very best;" and he was just as desirous of pleasing his father as any one, even Mr. Bradbury.
Daisy Jasper could have listened all night, entranced. Tall Doctor Joe sat beside her, easing her position now and then, while Hanny smiled and made joyful comments of approval in so soft a tone they disturbed no one.
"I've never been so happy in all my life," Daisy Jasper said to Doctor Joe. "It seems as if I could never feel miserable again. There are so many splendid things in the world that I am glad to live and be among them, if I can't ever be quite straight and strong."
"My dear child!" Doctor Joe's eyes said the rest.
They waited for the crowd to get out. Charles came down the aisle with his father and Mr. Bradbury, and Mr. Dean was escorting his little girls. They had a very delightful chat, and were charmed with the leader of the children's concert.
"Charles must take good care of his voice," said Mr. Bradbury. "It may sometime prove a fortune to him. He is a fine boy, and any father might well be proud of him."
"I just wish mother had wanted to be there," Charles said, as his father was opening the door with his latch-key. The light was turned low in the hall, and Mrs. Reed had gone to bed, an unprecedented step with her.
Hanny found that she couldn't spend all the Saturdays with little Stevie. She wished they were twice as long; but they always seemed shorter than any other day. Dolly came down now and then, and was just as bright and merry as ever.
But old Mr. Beekman grew more feeble, and was confined to the house most of the time. Hanny had to go down-town and visit him and Katschina. He was delighted to have her come, and Katschina purred her tenderest welcome. She was like a bit of sunshine, with her cheerful smile and her sweet, merry wisdom. She told him about the school and Daisy, their plays and songs; and they were never tired of talking about Stephen's baby. It could laugh aloud now; the reddish fuzz was falling out, and the new soft hair shone like pale gold on his pink scalp.
There were so many other friends, the Bounett cousins, and Dele Whitney, who was just as jolly as ever, with the old aunts down in Beach Street, and who declared the little girl was the sweetest thing in the world, and that some day she should just steal her, and carry her off to fairyland.
AN INTERVIEW WITH A TIGER
There came to New York in May a menagerie. A chance like this roused the children to a pitch of the wildest enthusiasm. Wonderful posters were put up. It was not considered a circus at all, but a moral and instructive show, if it did not have delightful Artemas Ward to expatiate upon it. There were a great many children who had never seen an elephant. Hanny Underhill had not.
Jim said, "There was a live lion stuffed with straw; a zebra that had fifty stripes from the tip of his nose to his tail, nary stripe alike; a laughing hyena of the desert, who could cry like a child when he was hungry, and who devoured the people who came to his assistance, thereby showing the total depravity of human nature; an elephant that could dance; and monkeys who climbed the highest trees and swung in the gentle zephyrs by the tail." The crowning point was that he had money enough saved up to go.
The celebrated lion-tamer, a Mr. Van Amburgh, was to perform with some trained animals. Oh, what a crowd there was!—most people going early so they could walk around and view the animals in their cages. There were two beautiful striped hyenas, lithe as cats, and so restless you were almost afraid they would find some loose bar and spring out at you. The two lions roared tremendously when disturbed. A great cage full of the funniest chattering monkeys, ready for nuts or cake or bits of apples, and who could swing with their heads downward and turn astonishing somersaults. Many other curious animals that we see nowadays in Central Park; but, alas! there was no Park then, and such indulgences had to be paid for.
The big elephant was very gentle, or in a gentle mood, which answered the same purpose. The keeper had to have eyes everywhere to see that the boys did not torment him. How he could take a peanut or a bit of candy in his trunk, and carry it up to his mouth without dropping it, puzzled Hanny. For of course all the First Street children went. Mr. Underhill and Margaret and Mrs. Dean were to keep them safe and in order.
It seemed so hard to leave Daisy Jasper out. But her father could not go, and her mother was much too timid.
"I'll be her knight," said Doctor Joe. "I will take her up in the buggy, and we'll squeeze through the crowd."
That settled it. Seeing real live animals was so different from the stuffed and moth-eaten ones at Barnum's.
There was a great tent and some temporary sheds, with one or two side-shows. They went quite early, and Doctor Joe paid a man to stand guard over some seats while they walked around and inspected the cages. There was a smaller trick elephant, but even Columbus was not as big as the famous Jumbo.
One of the great pleasures or curiosities was a ride on his back in a howdah. This was ten cents extra, and only for children. Most of the boys had spent their money for refreshments at the booths, so they could only look longingly. The little girls were afraid at first.
"I am going," declared Charles Reed. "Oh, you will not be afraid!"—to the Deans.
"Don't you want to?" asked Mr. Underhill of his little girl.
Hanny drew a long breath and her eyes dilated. The howdah filled up, and the ponderous creature moved slowly down to the end of the space and up again, amid childish exclamations and laughter.
"Yes—I would like to go," said Hanny, when she realised the safety of the proceeding.
"Oh, Doctor Joe, couldn't you help me up? It would be such a wonderful thing to ride on an elephant that I should be glad all my life."
Daisy Jasper looked so eager and pleading out of her beseeching blue eyes. So many pleasures must be foregone that he had not the heart to deny this.
"Are you quite sure you will not be afraid up there?" he asked earnestly.
"Oh, no, not with Hanny, dear Doctor Joe!"
He looked at Hanny. The little girl could climb trees and walk out to the ends of the limbs and jump; she had swung her arms and said one, two, three, and gone flying over the creek without falling in; she could do "vinegar" with a skipping rope; she could walk the edge of the curb-stone without tilting over; she could swing ever so high and not wink; she wasn't afraid to go up stairs in the dark; but when the elephant took the first long, rocking step, she felt something as she had when Luella Bounett had run downstairs with her in her arms. She grasped Daisy's hand on the one side and Charlie's arm on the other.
"Oh, Hanny, you're not afraid?"
"It's like being out at sea," and Daisy laughed.
But the back of the huge creature seemed up so high and his steps so long. Then she summoned all her courage, and resolved that she would not be a "little 'fraid cat."
The keeper interspersed the rides with stories of elephants in India taking care of babies, fanning flies away from them, watching over sick masters, and moving great timbers. Even if his eyes were small, he could see any danger. You could trust him when he was once your friend; but he never forgave an injury.
The big india-rubber feet came down with scarcely a sound. He flapped his ears lazily, he turned around without spilling them out, and marched up the line as if it was just nothing at all.
Daisy was thrilling with enjoyment. Her eyes shone and her cheeks were like roses. She even put her hand on the elephant's crumply back, as they came down the steps, and smiled in Doctor Joe's face, as he held her by the arm.
"You were so good to let me go. Thank you a thousand times. It was just splendid!"
They were all in a burst of enthusiasm with "ohs and ahs." But Hanny was very glad to get back to her father's protecting hand. She felt as if she had been on a long and perilous journey.
They took their seats, and after one more caravan the performances began. The trick elephant did several odd things rather clumsily. Then he stood on his head, and the boys clapped their hands with delight. He trumpeted, and the very ground seemed to shake. Then he looked around in a queer sort of fashion, as if he was sure he had frightened everybody.
But what would they have said to the later acrobatic feats and going through the figures of a quadrille! Half-a-dozen elephants would have startled any audience.
Presently a big cage was uncovered, and Mr. Van Amburgh went into the lions' den. Everybody shuddered a little. Hanny thought of the story of Daniel—perhaps other people did. He shook hands and rubbed shoulders with them; and they put their paws on his shoulders and shook their shaggy heads.
Charles said they ought to have finer bodies for such magnificent heads.
Then the lion-tamer told them to lie down. He made a bed of one and a pillow of the other, and threw himself upon them, hugging them up. He made them open their mouths, and he thrust in his hand. They pranced up and down, sprang over the stick he held in his hand, jumped over him; and it really seemed as if they had a tender regard for him. But Doctor Joe observed that he always faced them, and kept his eyes steadily upon them. The applause was tremendous.
Then an incident occurred that was not down in the programme. A handsome tiger walked out from between two of the cages as if he had a part to play. He scanned the audience in a deliberate manner; he gave his lithe body a twist, and switched his tail in a graceful fashion, while his yellow eyes illumined the space about him. The attention of the audience was concentrated upon him, while he appeared to be considering what to do next.
Two keepers came out, while a man in the space between the cages shook something in his hand. The tiger turned and followed him, and the men watched until a bar snapped.
Then one of them faced the audience.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "I wish to announce that there is not the slightest danger. The tiger is securely caged. The animals are under perfect control."
Two or three women screamed, and one fainted. Several hurried to the entrance; but the keeper begged them to be tranquil. There had not been the slightest danger.
Doctor Joe motioned to his party to remain seated while he went to attend to the women. The performance was mostly over, and the audience began to disperse, from a sense of insecurity.
"Was he really loose?" asked Tudie Dean, in a little fright.
"Of course he was," replied Charles. "I'm not sure but it was done purposely after all."
Doctor Joe returned, and they appealed to him.
"Well,"—with a gay air,—"the tiger was quite obedient, wasn't he? You were not frightened, Daisy?"
"But you stood right there,"—Doctor Joe had given his seat to a lady just as the performance began. "Why, he looked at you," and Daisy's nerves gave a little quiver.
"I supposed Mr. Van Amburgh would come and put him through some paces," returned Joe.
"It was immense, wasn't it?" exclaimed Jim. "But why did the woman squeal when it was all over?"
Doctor Joe laughed.
To make amends, a pretty trick pony came out, who really could dance, and he looked as if he laughed, too. He did a number of amusing things, and the audience stopped going out. Then the monkeys set up such a shrill chatter that the people began to laugh. The lion started to roar; and it seemed as if the tigers joined the chorus. For a few moments it was a forest concert.
"If only the hyena would laugh," said Jim. The girls were a little nervous. Joe had gone to get Prince. "Oh, you needn't be a mite afraid. Mr. Van Amburgh would just have thrown a cloth over his head; and in his surprise they would have had him all right in a moment. I would not have missed it for a dollar; though I wouldn't care to encounter him in his native wilds."
"He did look grand surveying the audience," said Daisy. "I am so glad I could come—for everything."
The Doctor put Hanny and Daisy in the buggy, as they were both so slim. Hanny hugged his arm, and said in a voice still a trifle shaky,—
"Weren't you the least bit frightened, Joe?"
"Why, I never imagined there was any danger until it was over. I think so many people rather dazed Mr. Tiger."
"Oh, if anything had happened to you, what should I do?" asked Daisy, with lustrous eyes.
"Nothing is going to happen to me. You have been a brave girl this afternoon, and it is not the first time either."
Her cheek flushed with pleasure.
It was a great thing to talk over, that and the ride on the elephant. Hanny found her natural history, and she and her father read about elephants most of the evening.
The days were so pleasant that the children often took Daisy out in her chair to see them at their plays. They went around to Houston Street, to the German settlement, as it was beginning to be called. Lena and Gretchen were out on their stoop with their knitting, and the baby between them. They were Lutherans, and they looked quite different from the Jews.
There were still quaint old houses in Ludlow and Orchard streets,—two stories with dormer windows in the roof, and some frame cottages with struggling grass-plots. No one dreamed of the tall tenements that were to take their places, the sewing-machines that were to hum while the workers earned their scanty pittance, and swarms of children crowded the streets.
Everybody had more leisure then. Some of the women sat and chatted while their little ones played about.
A little girl came out of an alley way with a peculiar jerky movement, like a hop and a skip, while she kept one hand on her knee. Her hip was large, her shoulder pushed up and apparently bent over.
"Hello!" she said to Hanny. "What's the matter with her?" nodding her head. "Wish't I had a cheer like that. I'd cut a great swell. My! ain't she pritty?"
"She's been ill," returned Hanny.
The child stared a moment and then hopped on.
"Her father works about the stable," explained Hanny, with rising colour. "She comes up sometimes. They're very poor. Mother gives them ever so many things. She can't stand up straight; but she doesn't seem to mind. And one leg is so much shorter. The boys call her Cricket, and Limpy Dick."
"Oh, Hanny, if I were poor and like that!" The tears came in Daisy's eyes. "I can stand up straight, and I am getting to walk quite well. I have so much that is lovely and comforting; and oughtn't one be thankful not to be real poor?"
The little lameter went hopping across the street, and called to some children "to look at the style!"
Down by the corner there was a candy and notion store, kept by an old woman with a queer wrinkled face framed in with a wide cap-ruffle. She had a funny turned-up nose, as if it had hardly known which way to grow, and such round red-apple cheeks. When it was pleasant, she sat in the doorway, regardless of the fate of the heroic young woman of Norway.
"Good day!" she ejaculated. "The Lord bless ye. Yon's got a pretty face, an' I hope it will bring her good fortune." She nodded, and her cap-ruffle flapped over her face.
"If ye see that omadhawn of a Biddy Brady in yer travels, jist send her home. The babby's screamin' himself into fits. Won't her mother give it to her whin she comes in!"
Down below the next corner, there was a throng of children. One big boy was whistling a jig tune, and clapping on his knee.
"That's old Mrs. McGiven," explained Hanny. "The school-children go there for cake and candy and slate pencils, because hers have such nice sharp points. And—Biddy Brady!"
Jim was with the boys. He gave Hanny a nod and laughed and joined the whistling.
"Oh, Jim—Biddy's baby is crying—"
"Come, start up again, Biddy. You haven't given us half a cent's worth! You don't dance as good as the little Jew girl on the next block."
"Go on wid yer dancin'."
Biddy was a thin, lanky girl with straight dark hair that hung in her eyes and over her shoulders. A faded checked pinafore, with just plain arm-holes, covered her nearly all up. To her spindle legs were attached mismatched shoes, twice too large, tied around the ankles. One had a loose sole that flapped up and down. It really wasn't any dancing, for she just kicked out one foot and then the other, with such vigor that you wondered she didn't go over backward. Her very earnestness rendered it irresistibly funny. She certainly danced by main strength.
Hanny began again. "Jim, her baby is crying—"
"He gets his living by crying. I've never heard of his doing anything else."
Biddy brought her foot down with an emphatic thump.
"There now, not another step do yees get out o' me fur that cint. I've give ye good measure and fancy steps throwed in. An' me shoe is danced off me fut, an' me mammy'll lick me. See that now!" and she held up her flapping sole.
They had to yield to necessity, for none of the crowd had another penny. When Biddy realised the fact, she ran off home and bought a stick of candy to solace herself and the baby. Mrs. Brady went out washing, and Biddy cared for the baby when she wasn't in the street. It must be admitted the babies languished under her care.
The school-children had a good deal of fun hiring her to dance. Biddy was shrewd enough about the pennies.
Jim joined the cavalcade as the boys went their way.
"Why, she likes the money," he said in answer to an upbraiding remark from Hanny. "That's what she does it for."
"It was very funny," declared Daisy. "She's such a straight, slim child in that long narrow apron. If it hadn't been for the baby, I would have given her a penny."
They went on down the street. There were several fancy-goods stores and some pretty black-eyed Jewish children with the curliest hair imaginable. There was the big school across the way, and a great lock factory, then a row of comparatively nice dwellings. They turned into Avenue A., and were in a crowd of Germans. The children and babies all had flaxen or yellow hair and roundish blue eyes. The mothers were knitting and sewing and chattering in their queer language. Even the little girls were knitting lace and stockings. The boys seemed fat and pudgy. They stared at the chair and its inmate, but Sam went quietly along. Here were German costumes sure enough.
They turned up Second Street, and so around First Avenue, home.
"Why, it's like going to foreign countries," Daisy said. "Some of the children were very pretty. But that Biddy Brady—I can see her yet."
The very next day Daisy drew two pictures, and held them before Hanny.
"Why, that's Biddy Brady!" the little girl said, with a bright wondering laugh. "And that's old Mrs. McGiven! They're splendid! How could you do it?"
"I don't know. It came to me."
Mrs. Craven said the old lady was excellent. And she laughed about Biddy Brady's dancing.
Sometimes they went up to Tompkins' Square. They would study their lessons or do a bit of crocheting. Daisy was learning a great many things. Or they went a little farther up and over to the river, which was much wider at that time. The old farms had been cut up into blocks; but while they were waiting for some one to come along and build them up, the thrifty Germans had turned them into market gardens, and they presented a very pretty appearance.
They could see the small clusters of houses on Long Island, and the end of Blackwell's Island,—a terrible place to them. The boys had seen the "Black Maria," which the little girl thought must be some formidable giant negress capable of driving the criminals along as one would a flock of sheep, and she was quite surprised when she learned it was a wagon merely. The East River was quite pretty up here, and the ferry-boats made a line of foam that sparkled in the sun.
Occasionally Doctor Joe joined the party, and took them in other directions. He had accepted the offer of an old physician on East Broadway, which was then considered very aristocratic. The basement windows had pretty lace curtains, and the dining-rooms had beaufets in the corners, on which the glass and silver were arranged. The brass doorknobs and the name-plate shone like gold, and the iron railings of the stoops were finished with quite pretentious newels, that the children called sentry boxes.
Grand Street, at the eastern end, had many private dwellings. Ridge and Pitt and Willet streets were quite steep and made splendid coasting places in winter. There was the Methodist church, in which many famous worthies had preached, and even at the end of the century the old place keeps its brave and undaunted front.
Strawberries did not come until June; and the girls took them round the streets in tiny deep baskets. There were no such mammoth berries as we have now; but, oh, how sweet and luscious they were! Little girls carried baskets of radishes from door to door, and first you heard "strawbrees," then something that sounded like "ask arishee," which I suppose was brief for "ask any radishes."
The fish and clam men were a great delight to the children. One curious, weather-beaten old fellow who went through First Street had quite a musical horn, and a regular song.
"Fine clams, fine clams, fine clams, to-day, That have just arrived from Rockaway. They're good to boil, and they're good to fry, And they're good to make a clam pot-pie. My horse is hired, and my waggon isn't mine. Look out, little boys, don't cut behind!"
Where the rhyme was lame, he made up with an extra flourish and trill to the notes. The cats used to watch out for him. They seemed to know when Friday came, and they would be sitting on the front stoops, dozing until they heard the welcome sound of the horn. There were huckster waggons with vegetables, and a buttermilk man.
An old coloured woman used to come round with brewer's yeast, and one morning she had a great piece of black cambric twisted about her bonnet.
"Who are you in mourning for, auntie?" asked Margaret.
"My ol' man, Miss Margret. Happened so lucky! He jest died Sat'day night, an' we buried him on Sunday, an' here I am goin' round on Monday,—not losin' any time. Happened so lucky!"
Jim went into spasms of merriment over the economy of the incident.
CHANCES AND CHANGES
The Whitneys had moved in May, to the great regret of everybody. Their family had changed considerably through the winter. Archibald, the younger son, was married, and Mr. Theodore had an opportunity to go abroad for a year.
The widowed cousin in Beach Street was married and went to Baltimore with her two children. That left the two old aunts who owned the house quite alone. Mrs. Whitney and Delia had taken turns staying with them.
The children were all sorry to lose Nora and Pussy Gray.
"People say it's bad luck to move a cat," said Nora, in her sententious fashion; "but we don't believe in it. We've moved him twice already. And you just put a little butter on his feet—"
"Butter!" interrupted the children, amazed.
"Why, yes. That's to make him wash his paws. If you can make him wash and purr in a new place, he will stay. And then you must take him round and show him every room and every closet. And you must come down real often, Hanny. There's the lovely little park, you know. Aunt Boudinot has a key. They're such nice queer old ladies, you'll be sure to like them."
"I don't always like queer people," said Hanny, rather affronted.
"I don't mean cross or ugly. Aunt Clem has soft down all over her cheeks, and such curly white hair. She's awful old and wrinkled and deaf; but Dele can make her hear splendid. Aunt Patty isn't so old. Her real name is Patricia. And Aunt Clem's is Clementine."
The children were not alone in regret. Ben was almost broken-hearted to lose Mr. Theodore. The boy and the man had been such good friends. And Ben was quite resolved, when he had served his apprenticeship, and was twenty-one, to be a newspaper man and travel about the world.
Delia had told them quite a wonderful secret the day she came up after some articles her mother had left. She had written some verses, and had them printed unknown to any one. The. had said they were very fair. And she had actually been paid for a story; and the editor of the paper offered to take others, if they were just as good. She had changed her check for a five-dollar goldpiece, which she carried about with her for luck. She showed it to them; and they felt as if they had seen a mysterious object.
Hanny was greatly amazed, puzzled as well. That a grown man like Mr. Theodore should write grave columns of business matters for a newspaper had not surprised her; she had a vague idea that people who wrote verses and stories must needs be lovely. She pictured them with floating curls and eyes turned heavenward for inspiration. It seemed to her that beautiful thoughts must come from the clouds. Then their voices should be soft, their hands delicate. And the divine something that no dictionary has ever yet found a word to describe must surround them. There was a fair-haired girl at school who had such an exquisite smile. And Daisy Jasper! For her to write verses would be the supreme fitness of things.
But careless, laughing, untidy Dele Whitney, neither fair nor dark and—yes, freckled, though her hair was more brown than red now. And to laugh about it, and toss up her goldpiece and catch it with her other hand!
"Handsome!" Ben ejaculated when Hanny confided some of her difficulties to him in a very timid fashion. "Great people don't need to run to beauty. Still, Mr. Audubon had a lovely face, to my thinking," he added, when he saw how disappointed the little girl looked. "And, oh! see here, Mr. Willis is handsome and Gaylord Clark, and there is that picture of Mrs. Hemans—"
The little girl smiled. Dr. Hoffman had given Margaret a beautifully bound copy of Mrs. Hemans's poems, and the steel engraving in the front was handsome. She had already learned two of the poems, and recited them at school.
"And I don't think Delia so very plain," continued Ben. "You just watch what beautiful curves there are to her lips, and her brown eyes lighten up like morning; and when they are a little sad, you can think that twilight overshadows her. I like to watch them change so. I'm awfully sorry they're gone away. If we could have another big brother, I'd like it to be Mr. Theodore."
Hanny used to hope when she was as big as Margaret she would be as pretty. She didn't think very much about it, only now and then some of the cousins said,—
"Hanny doesn't seem to grow a bit. And how very light her hair keeps! You'd hardly think she and Margaret were sisters."
The little girls drew mysteriously closer after Nora went away. They all kept on at the same school, and played together. But dolls and tea parties didn't appear to have quite the zest of a year ago.
One Saturday, Mr. Underhill took Hanny down to Beach Street. They were all delighted to see her, even to Pussy Gray, who came and rubbed against her, and stretched up until he reached her waist, and, oh, how he did purr!
"I think he's been kind of homesick for the children," remarked Nora, gravely, as if she might be quite grown up. "You see he was spoiled among you all. I was a little afraid at first that he would run away."
"Did you put butter on his paws?"
"Oh, yes. He licked them, and then washed his face; but he kept looking around and listening to strange noises. He'd sit on the window-sill and watch the children, and cry to go out. But he doesn't mind now."
He had a chair and a cushion to himself, and looked very contented.
They went upstairs to see the old ladies. Aunt Clem had a round, full, baby-face, for all she was so old. Nora said she was almost ninety. Aunt Patty was twenty years younger, quite brisk and bright, with wonderful blue eyes. They had the front room upstairs, and their bed stood in the alcove. The furnishing looked like some of the country houses. Mrs. Whitney had the back room, and Nora shared it with her. There were great pantries between with shelves and drawers, and in one a large chest, painted green, that Nora said was full of curiosities.
Delia's room was up on the top floor. She had made it oddly pretty. There was a book-case and the small desk. They had used, ever so many pictures, and a pot of flowers on a little table. It had quite an orderly aspect.
"And I have another five-dollar goldpiece," laughed the girl. "I shall be a nabob presently. I ought to invest my money; but it is so comforting to look at, that I hate to let it go."
Then Hanny had to tell them about the new neighbours. They were foreigners, by the name of Levy; and there were four grown people, five little children, and two servants. Mr. Levy was an importer, and they all seemed jolly and noisy, but did not talk English, so there could not be any friendliness, even if they cared.
"We shall soon be a foreign city," declared Mrs. Whitney. "It's astonishing how the foreigners do come in! No wonder people have to move up-town."
Nora and Hanny went over in the Park after dinner. But it wasn't much fun to be alone; so they walked up and down the street, and then Delia took them in the stage down to the Battery. People were promenading in gala attire. Saturday afternoon had quite a holiday aspect. There was a big steamer coming up the bay. The Whitneys had heard twice from Mr. Theodore, who was now going over to Ireland.
"Tell Ben that The. is going to write to him," remarked Dele. "He said so in his last letter."
When they returned to Beach Street, they found Doctor Joe waiting for Hanny. But Ben said afterward he wished he had gone instead, he was quite longing to see them all. And he was delighted with the prospect of a letter.
Whether they would have liked their new neighbours or not, if they could have talked to them, made little difference to Mrs. Underhill. Margaret was to be married in the early autumn. Dr. Hoffman had bought a house not very far from Stephen's, in a new row that was just being finished. He wouldn't like it to stand empty, and he did not want to rent it for a year, and perhaps have the pretty fresh aspect spoiled. And then it was better for a doctor to be married and settled.
Father Underhill sighed. Mrs. Underhill said sharply that she couldn't get ready; but for all that, pieces of muslin came into the house for sheets and pillow-cases, and Margaret was busy as a bee.
Another trouble loomed up before the anxious housekeeper. A sprightly widower belonging to the same church as Martha, came home with her every Sunday night, and class-meeting night, which was Thursday.
"You ought to consider well," counseled Mrs. Underhill. "A stepmother is a sort of thankless office. And two big boys!"
"Well—I'm used to boys. They're not so bad when you know how to take them, and they'll soon be grown up. Then he's quite forehanded. He owns a house in Stanton Street, and has a good business, carting leather in the Swamp."
The Swamp was the centre for tanneries and leather importers and dealers, and it still keeps its name and location.
"I don't know what I shall do!" with a heavy sigh.
"You'll have good long warning. I wouldn't be mean enough to go off and leave you with all this fuss and worry on your hands. And, land sakes! his wife hasn't been dead a year yet. I told him I couldn't think of such a thing before Christmas, anyhow. But he has such a hard time with both grandmothers. One comes and fixes things her way, and gets tired and goes off, and then the other one comes and upsets them. It's just dreadful! I do believe a man needs a second wife more than he did the first. They're poor sticks to get along alone when they've had some one to look after things. And when this affair is over, you'll kind of settle down, and the family seem smaller. Just don't fret a bit, for the whole thing may fall through."
"I shouldn't want you to give up the prospect of a good home," rather reluctantly.
"Well, that's what I've thought about. And I ain't a young girl with years of chances before me. But I'm not going to be caught too easy," and Martha tossed her head.
Ben was very much interested in the war that was going on now in good earnest. The Americans had taken Fort Brown, crossed to the Rio Grande and driven the Mexicans from Matamoras. A plan had been laid to attack Mexico on the Pacific side, and to invade both Old and New Mexico. Santa Anna had escaped from his exile in Cuba, and was longing to reconquer Texas. The whole question seemed in great confusion; but there was a great deal of enthusiasm among some of the younger men, who thought war a rather heroic thing, and they were hurrying off to the scene of action. There was a spirit of adventure and curiosity about the wonderful western coast.
George Horton used to talk all these matters over with Ben, when he came down on his occasional visits. He was a fine big fellow now, but he was getting tired of farming. It was quite lonely. Uncle Faid read the county paper, but was not specially interested in the questions of the day; and Retty and her husband never went beyond stock, and the crops, and the baby. Ben kept his brother supplied with books that opened a wider outlook for him, and made him a little discontented with the humdrum round.
"I wouldn't mind it if you were all there," he would say. "After all the city is the only real live place! I've half a mind to come down and learn a trade. Only I do like the wide out of doors. I couldn't stand being cooped up."
"And I'm going round the world some day," returned Ben.
"I'd like to go out with Fremont. The other side of our country seems so curious to me, I want to see what it is like. The other side of the Rocky Mountains! It's almost like saying the Desert of Sahara," and the young fellow laughed.
There was the usual spring and summer dress-making for the ladies. Even Miss Cynthia, looking sharply at Hanny, said:—
"I don't see what's the matter with that child! I supposed she'd have everything outgrown, and some of her last summer's skirts won't need any letting down. They're wearing them shorter now; and you know, Cousin Underhill, you would have them made rather long last summer."
The little girl sometimes felt quite sore on the point. The Deans were getting to be tall girls, and even Daisy Jasper had taken to growing. And her lovely curls were quite long again. She certainly was very pretty.
But when Hanny took this trouble to her father, he only laughed and squeezed her in his arms, and sometimes rubbed her soft cheeks with his beard, his old trick, as he said:—
"But I want to keep you my little girl. I don't want you to grow big like Margaret. For if you should, some nice fellow will come along and insist upon carrying you off, and then I should lose you. Whatever would I do?"
That view of the matter was alarming to contemplate. She clung closer to her father, and said, in a half-frightened tone, that she never would be carried off. It quite reconciled her to the fact of not growing rapidly.
The girls all went down to see Nora Whitney one Saturday in June. It looked rather threatening in the morning, but a yard or two of blue sky gave them hope. Mr. Underhill took them all in the family carriage. Oh, how lovely the little park looked with its soft grass and waving trees! And in the area windows there were pots of flowers: ten-weeks' stock, and spice pinks, and geraniums that were considered quite a rarity.
Nora was out on the front stoop with Pussy Gray, who arched his back and waved his tail with an air of grandeur, and then sat down on the top step and began to wash his face, while Father Underhill was planning to take them all for a drive late in the afternoon.
Pussy Gray watched his little mistress out of one green eye, and washed over one ear. He was just going over the other when Nora caught him, "Why do you stop him?" asked Daisy.
"Because he wants to make it rain and spoil our day. Pussy Gray—if you do!"
"But it wouldn't really?"
"Well, it's a sure sign when he goes over both ears. When I don't want it to rain, I stop him."
"But suppose he does it when he is by himself?"
"I think sometimes he runs away and does it on the sly. Aunt Patty says it is as sure as sure can be."
Pussy Gray winked at Hanny, as if he said he didn't believe in signs, and that he should wash over both ears when he found a chance.
Dele was bright and merry. She "bossed" the house, for Mrs. Whitney had subsided into novel-reading again, and now took books out of the Mercantile Library. A woman was doing the Saturday morning's work, and scrubbing the areas. After that she went over the front one with a red wash that looked like paint, and freshened it. The girls took a run in the yard. There was a long flower-bed down the side of the fence, and at one end all manner of sweet herbs, lavender, thyme, and rosemary, sweet verbena, and then tansy and camomile, and various useful things.
"Camomile tea is good for you when you lose your appetite," said Nora; "but it's awful bitter. Aunt Patty cuts off the leaves and blossoms of the sweet herbs, and sews them up in little bags of fine muslin, and lays them among the clothes and the nice towels and pillow-cases. And it makes them all smell just delicious."
The air was full of fragrance now. They played tag around the grass-plot. Daisy sat on the stoop and said she didn't mind, though she gave a little sigh, and wondered how it would feel to run about. The little lame girl in Houston Street could get over the ground pretty rapidly. She had interested Doctor Joe in her, and he had hunted up the child's mother, who wouldn't listen to anything being done for her.
"Sure," said she, "if it's the Lord's will to send this affliction to her, I'll not be flying in the face of Providence. She can manage, and she's impident enough now. There'd be no livin' with her if she had two good legs. And I'll not have any doctor cuttin' her up into mince-meat."
Pussy Gray came and sat beside Daisy with a flick of the ear and turn of the tail, as if he said: "We'll let those foolish girls fly about and squeal and laugh and get half roasted, while we sit here at leisure and enjoy ourselves."
Afterward they swung, and then went up to Nora's play-house. Aunt Patty had given her a rag doll that she had when she was a little girl, and it was over fifty years old. It was undeniably sweet, because it had been steeped in lavender, but it was not very pretty. There was a curious little wooden cradle Aunt Patty's brother had made. All the children's story-books were up here in a case Dele had made out of a packing box.
They thought after a little they would rather go over in the Park. Nora took the key. It was very pleasant; and they watched the carts and waggons going by, and the pedestrians. Presently a young woman unlocked the gate at the lower end, and came in with two little children rather queerly dressed. She had a white muslin cap on her head, very high in front. We often see them now, but then they were a rarity. The little children had very black eyes and curly black hair, and stared curiously at the group of girls.
"They're French," explained Nora. "They live a few doors down below. And they can't speak a word of English, nor the maid either, though we do sometimes talk a little. There are two quite big boys, then the mother and father, and the grandmother and grandfather. The old people come out and sit on the stoop, now that it is warm. He reads French books to her, and she makes lace. About four o'clock, the servant brings out a tea-table, and they have some tea and little bits of cake. They do it all summer long, Aunt Patty says, and the old lady is beautiful,—just like a picture."
The girls walked down a little. The maid smiled and nodded. The children made queer stiff bows, both alike, though they were girl and boy; but they looked half afraid. The maid said "Bon jour" to Nora, who replied with a longer sentence. And then she began to explain in English and her scanty French that these were her friends, and that they were studying French in school. The Deans talked a little; but Hanny was too shy, and the conversation would have been very amusing to a spectator. But just when it was getting quite exciting, and they couldn't make each other understand at all, Hanny caught sight of Delia waving her handkerchief from the front stoop, which was a signal that dinner was ready, so they all curtsied and said good-bye.
Afterward Aunt Patty showed them her "treasures," some very odd dishes and pitchers that were more than a hundred years old, and some jewels, and the gown Aunt Clem had worn to Washington's Inauguration, and told them about Mrs. Washington and going to the old theatre in John Street. She had some beautiful combs, and buckles that her father used to wear, and kid-gloves that had long arms and came most up to her shoulders. She told the children so many entertaining stories that before the afternoon seemed half gone Mr. Underhill came for them. Nora wanted to go also.
"You can take her home with you," said Dele; "and I'll come up for her this evening. I'm just wild to see Mrs. Underhill and the boys. I hope the children have had a good time. I've hardly had a glimpse of them except at dinner."
They crossed the ferry and went over to Jersey. It was still pretty wild and country-like, but the trees and shrubs and bloom everywhere lent it a glory. The children chatted merrily, and all agreed the day was too short.
"But you can come again," said Nora.
When the Deans sprang out, Charles Reed stood by the stoop talking to Mr. Dean. Nora said the place hadn't changed a bit, and she wished she was back again. There were nothing but old people in Beach Street, and she had no little girls to play with. She didn't know what she should do when vacation came.
They were just through supper when Delia arrived, and she insisted upon sitting down at the table and having a cup of Mrs. Underhill's good tea. She was her olden jolly self, and had her brother's letters almost by heart. She thought them a great deal brighter and more amusing than those published in the "Tribune."
"But I like those," exclaimed Ben; "I'm cutting them out for a scrap-book. I just wish I was with him!"
"And he would like to have you," returned Dele. "I don't believe he ever took so much of a fancy to any one as he did to you."
They talked books a little. No, Dele had not written any more stories. The old ladies took a good deal of her time. And she had been studying. She wished she were going to school again; she should appreciate it so much more. She was reading the English essayists and Wordsworth, and learning about the great men and women.
Ben walked out to the Bowery to put them in the stage; and Dele said, rather ruefully:—
"I just wish we could study and read together. I miss The. so much, I could always ask him questions; but now I have to look up everything myself, and it's slow work."
"Dele has quite a family on her hands," said John, when she had gone. "She's getting to be rather good-looking, too. Her eyes are very fine."
"But she doesn't grow much tidier," returned his mother.
"Her hair is curly and always looks tumbled," was the half-apologising rejoinder. "But she is very bright, and she'll do something with herself."
Mrs. Underhill glanced sharply at her son. There was no danger in Ben being a little soft about Delia Whitney; but she was surprised at John's commendation.
Doctor Joe walked down to see how his patient had stood the day. Her mother had been almost afraid to have her go, lest "something might happen." She was very tired, of course, and glad to take to the reclining chair with all the pillows; but her eyes were in a glow, and her cheeks a pretty pink that Mrs. Jasper was quite sure was undue excitement.
"It was just splendid," Daisy declared; "Mamma, I do want to be like other girls, and see what is going on in the world. The old ladies were so quaint; and it was wonderful to have seen President Washington and so many famous people. And what interested me, was her talking about them just like ordinary persons. And Nora is so amusing. I want to learn French so that I can really talk it. You can't imagine how funny it was in the Park, trying to make each other understand. Oh, there are so many things I want to learn."
"There will be time enough," said her mother.
When Doctor Joe took her hand and bent over her to say good-night, she whispered softly,—
"I did try to forget my own misfortune, and I was very happy. I am going to be brave. It is such a lovely world; and it is such a splendid thing to be happy. Doctor Joe, you are my Mr. Greatheart."
There was a very fine noisy Fourth of July, and shortly after that came vacation. The Jaspers were going to Lebanon Springs, and then to Saratoga. Hanny came near to envying Daisy. She and Margaret had to visit both grandmothers, and go over to Tarrytown, for the Morgans had insisted upon it.
Hanny and her father had been reading some of Washington Irving's stories, beside his famous history. He was abroad now; he had been sent as Minister to the Court of Madrid, that wonderful Spanish city with its Court so full of interest and beauty. She had been learning about it in her history. But this old house was not grand, only in its splendid elms and maples and lindens and tall arbor-vitaes. Wolfert's Roost was almost hidden by them; but you could catch glimpses of its curious roof, full of quaint corners and projections, and the old-fashioned stone mansion said to be modelled after the cocked hat of Peter the Headstrong. Its low stories were full of nooks and angles. There were roses and hollyhocks like rows of sentinels, and sweet brier clambering about. The little girl thought of it many a time afterward, when it had become much more famous, as Sunnyside. Indeed, she was to sit on the old piazza overlooking the river and listen to the pleasant voice that had charmed so many people, and study the drawings of Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, to hear about Katrina Van Tassel, and the churn full of water that Fammetie Van Blarcom brought over from Holland because she was sure there could be no water good to drink in the new country.
Already she was coming to have a great interest in people who wrote books and stories. It seemed such a wonderful gift.
Dr. Hoffman paid the cousins the compliment of a visit. Afterward there were mysterious communings between the sisters.
Wedding presents were gifts of real preference and affection in those days. A girl had her "setting out" from home, and perhaps some one gave her an heirloom for her name, or because she was an especial favourite.
"Dr. Hoffman's well-to-do," said Joanna; "and Margaret's folks won't let her go empty-handed. But I'd like to have some of our things go where they would be appreciated. We've no one of our very own to leave them to," and Miss Morgan sighed. "Margaret doesn't consider store articles so much better than those made long ago. Let's each give her a pair of linen sheets. I've a dozen good ones now, and, land sakes! we sha'n't wear out half our bedding. And my tablecloth of the basket pattern, and two towels. And—let me see—that white wool blanket of Aunt Hetty's. It was spun and woven in 1800; and the sheep were raised here on the old farm. Some peculiar kind they were, with long, soft fleece."
"Well," said Famie, slowly, "there's my snowball tablecloth and two towels. 'Rastus's wife won't ever care for them with her fine Paris things. But we won't give away the silver, nor the old pewter flagon, nor the basin and cups. They've the crown mark on them, 1710 for a date. Deary me, they'll outlast us," and she sighed also.
Roseann agreed. Six sheets and pillow-cases, three tablecloths and half-a-dozen towels, and two blankets, one spun and woven by their own mother. The initials and date were marked on them in old-fashioned cross-stitch, which was a little more ornate than regular sampler-stitch.
Aunt Hetty's blanket had been made from the wool of an especial cosset lamb that had lost its mother and been brought up by hand. The little girl was very much interested.
"Did it follow her about?" she asked.
"Dear sakes!" and Aunt Famie laughed. "I just guess it did. It grew very troublesome, I've heard tell, and was quite quality, always wanting to come into the sitting-room. And it would curl down at Aunt Hetty's feet like a dog. She saved the wool every year, and spun it, and laid it away until she had enough. But I don't believe it went to school, although it could spell one word."
"One word!" cried the little girl, in amaze. "What was that?"
"Why b-a ba, of course. They said it could spell through the whole lesson, and I don't see why not. I've heard lambs make a dozen different sounds."
The little girl laughed. She was very fond of listening to what Aunt Famie did when she was little; and they went to call upon some curious old people who kept to the Dutch ways and wore the old costume. Some of them had wooden clogs for rainy weather. When they talked real Dutch, Hanny found it was quite different from German. They had a picture of some old ancestor's house with the windmill in the front yard.
The drives about were beautiful then, and so many places had queer old legends. Dr. Hoffman was very much interested, and it seemed to Hanny as if she had strayed over into Holland. She resolved when she went home to ask Ben to get her a history of Holland, so she and her father might read it together. Her mother never had any time.
Margaret was much surprised at her gifts, and thanked the cousins with warmest gratitude. Even Grandmother Van Kortlandt had hinted "that she wasn't going to save up everything for Haneran." But the elder people in those days were fond of holding on to their possessions until the very last.
Uncle David came up for them and took them to White Plains, where they had a nice visit; and grandmother selected some articles from her store for the prospective bride.
Hanny remembered what Cousin Archer had said about the mittens, and asked Uncle David. He found his hook, and, sure enough, it was something like a crochet-needle. He took what the little girls called single stitch. But he admitted that Hanny's pretty edgings and tidies were quite wonderful.
"I thought the Germans must have brought the knowledge to the country," she said. "How long have you known it?"
"Oh, since my boyhood," and he gave a smile. "I heard a very old man say once that Noah set his sons to work in the Ark making fishing-nets. Perhaps Mrs. Noah set her daughter-in-laws to crocheting, as you call it. Forty days was a pretty long spell of rainy weather, when they had no books or papers to read, and couldn't go out to work in the garden."
"Didn't they have any books?" Hanny's eyes opened wide.
"All their writing was done on stone tablets, and very little of that."
"I think I wouldn't have liked living then. Books are so splendid. And you get to know about so many people. But there was the Bible," and the child's voice dropped to a reverent tone.
"Still, if Moses wrote the first books, that was a long while after the Flood."
Hanny's vague idea was that the Bible had been created in the beginning, like Adam and Eve.
Cousin Ann and Aunt Eunice were as much in love with the little girl as ever, but were tremendously surprised at her stock of knowledge. It didn't seem possible that one little girl could know so much. That she could play tunes on the piano, and repeat ever so many French words, then explain what they meant in English, was a marvel. But the child never seemed spoiled by the admiration.
They had to come down to Yonkers, for Uncle Faid and Aunt Crete would have been hurt and jealous. Only it did not seem now to Hanny as if she had ever lived there. The old kitchen, the creek that went purling along, bearing fleets of ducks and geese, and the wide old porch looked natural, but the daily living was so changed! Old black Aunt Mary was dead. Some of the neighbours had gone away. Cousin Retty had a new baby, a little girl; but she said it was the crossest thing alive, and it did seem to cry a good deal. It couldn't compare with Stephen's baby, who was always laughing and jolly.
They had to stop at Fordham to see some cousins. When people live a century or so in one place and intermarry, they get related to a good many people. And there was a sweet little grandmother here, who, in her girlhood, had the same name as the little visitor—Hannah Underhill. There was no Ann in it to be sure. And now her name was Hannah Horton.
There were lots of gay, rollicking cousins. The little girl felt almost afraid of the big boys, and she was used to boys, too.
Her mother had said she might make a visit with the Odell girls. They had grown and changed; and Hanny felt quite as if she were undersized. Mr. Odell had been building a new part to the house; and oh, what a lovely garden they had! It made the little girl almost envious.
Margaret left her there for several days. At least, Dr. Hoffman drove up one afternoon and took Margaret home, as Hanny's visit wasn't near finished. They had to talk about their schools and the girls they knew. Polly and Janey wanted to hear about the First Street girls and Daisy Jasper, who was getting well, and Nora, who had moved away, and the quaint old ladies in Beach Street.
There was a splendid big cat at the Odell's who liked nothing better than being nursed, and two kittens that Hanny never tired of watching, they were so utterly funny in their antics, and seemed to do so much actual reasoning, as to cause and effect, that it amazed her. And, oh, the beautiful country ways and wild flowers on every hand!
It does not look so now. One wonders where all the people have come from to fill the rows and rows of houses, and to keep busy about the mills and factories. But then the great city had only about five hundred thousand inhabitants, and did not need to overflow into suburban districts.
It seemed strange for the little girl to come home to a city street. It looked narrow and bare, with its cobblestones and paved sidewalks. And, oh, what a racket the waggons made! and she was amazed at the crowds of people, as she thought there were then.
But inside everything was homelike and delightful. She was so glad to see her mother and father and the boys. Ben looked like a young man. Jim was to go to a preparatory school for a year, and then enter Columbia College. Mrs. Craven had sold her house, and gone up to Seventh Street, and was to have quite a young ladies' school. Josie Dean had decided to study for a teacher. That made her seem quite grown up.
Old Mr. Beekman had died while the little girl was away; and Katschina had grieved herself to death, and followed her master. Annette had a lover, but of course she could not marry in some time. The old farm was to be sold—at least, streets were to be cut through it, and the outlying lots sold off. Mrs. Beekman was to keep the down-town house for her part.
And now it was considered that Stephen Underhill had done a grand thing for himself in marrying Dolly Beekman. Mr. Beekman owned no end of real estate, was indeed much richer than people imagined. The girls would each have a big slice. But Dolly was just as sweet and plain, and as much interested in everybody as before. She was so ready to help and advise Margaret, and go out shopping with her. For was she not very wise and experienced, having been married two whole years!
Dr. Hoffman had bought his house up-town as well. Some people scouted the idea that the city could be crowded even in fifty years. But the long-headed ones reasoned that it must go up, as it could not expand in breadth, and "down-town" must be given over to business.
Hanny went up to see the new house one Saturday. The front basement was to be the office, and was being fitted up with some shelves and cabinets. The back basement was the kitchen. There were two large parlors and a third room, that was the dining-room. And one thing interested the little girl greatly,—this was the "dumb waiter."
"Of course it can't talk," said she, laughingly. "And it can't hear; but you can make it obey."
"It can creak and groan when it gets dry for a little oil. And it will be like a camel if you put too heavy a load on it," returned the Doctor.
"Does the camel groan?"
"Horribly! And he won't stir an inch toward getting up until you lighten his load."
There was a pretty pantry across the corner, with a basin to wash china and silver, so it would not need to go downstairs. Hanny thought she would like to come sometime and wash the pretty dishes.
Upstairs there were three rooms and a bath, and beautiful closets, and on the third floor three rooms again.
"But what will you do with all of them?" asked Hanny.
Margaret had said the same thing to her lover. And Mrs. Underhill said it was an awful extravagance to have such a great house for two people. But John Underhill declared Dr. Hoffman had done just the right thing, buying up-town. He would settle himself in a first-class practice presently, as the well-to-do people kept moving thither.
There had been a good deal of discussion about the wedding. Dr. Hoffman wanted to take Margaret to Baltimore, where his married sister resided, and an aunt, his mother's sister, who was too feeble to undertake a journey. They would go on to Washington as well. Wedding journeys were not imperative, but often taken. An evening party at home seemed too much for Mrs. Underhill; and Dolly, being in mourning, could not lead any gaieties.
She cut the Gordian knot, however,—a church wedding, with cards for all the friends, and a reception at home. They would take the train at six from Jersey City. Mr. Underhill was rather sorry not to have an old-fashioned festivity. But Miss Cynthia said this was just the thing.
So the marriage was at St. Thomas' church at two o'clock. A cousin of Dolly's and a school friend were bridesmaids, though Annette Beekman had been chosen. The bride wore a fine India mull that flowed around her like a fleecy cloud, Dolly's veil, and orange blossoms, for it was good luck to be married in something borrowed. The little girl headed the procession, carrying a basket of flowers, and looked daintily sweet.
The "Home Journal," the society paper of that day, spoke of the beautiful young couple in quite extravagant terms. Mrs. Underhill said rather tartly afterward, "That Margaret was well enough looking; but she had never thought of setting her up for a beauty." Yet down in the depths of her heart her mother love had a little ache because her last born would never be as beautiful. But Mr. Underhill considered they had not been praised a bit too much, and sent in a year's subscription to the paper.
Miss Cynthia was in her glory. She seemed one of the people who never grow old, and though a great talker, was seldom sharp or severe. Everybody knew she could get married if she desired to, so she rather gloried in staying single.
Margaret cut her wedding-cake, and the piece with the ring fell to Dolly's cousin, who turned scarlet, which brought out a general laugh. There was much wishing of joy, and presently Margaret went upstairs and put on her pretty grey silk with the "drawn" bonnet to match, and the grey cloth visite, looking as handsome as she had in her wedding gown.
They left so many people behind no one had a chance to feel lonesome. There were ever so many relations who were going to stay for a visit, and shop a little. People were given to hospitality in those days. The constricted living of flats had not come into existence. And your friend would have felt insulted to be taken to a restaurant for dinner, instead of at your own house.
Hanny had quite a girls' tea-party afterward. Martha spread a table for them upstairs. And the funny thing was, that her father and the boys teased to come, and her mother really had to rush to the rescue. But they did let Doctor Joe remain, and they had a delightful time.
Josie and Tudie and Nora told how they would do when they were married.
"Now, Hanny!" Daisy Jasper had not spoken. It was not likely any one would want to marry a lame girl, and the others were too kind to make it a matter of embarrassment.
"I don't believe I can get married," said Hanny, with sweet seriousness. "I shouldn't like to leave father, and mother will want somebody, for the boys will be away."
Daisy stretched out her hand. "We'll just have a good time together," she rejoined, smilingly. "And if Doctor Joe doesn't get married, we'll work slippers for him and cigar cases, and if we could learn how, we might make him a dressing-gown."
"If you will be as good as that, I don't think I will get married. And when I drop in, you can give me a cup of tea, and we'll have the best of times. I hope I won't be very queer."
He said it so seriously, they all laughed.
Afterward he declared he was going to take all the girls home. That was a bachelor's prerogative, and he would begin at once. He took the Deans first, then Nora, whom he put in the Bowery stage. Daisy and Hanny spent that leisure admiring baby Stephen, who had six cunning white teeth and curly hair, which the little girl doted on.
Daisy told the tea-party over to her aunt and her mother, and was very happy. And she felt someway as if she had settled her life, and shouldn't mind it very much. But husbands who were as tender as Dr. Hoffman, and babies like laughing, dimpled Stevie!
Were there some childish tears in her eyes? But the main thing for her was to get strong and be courageous, and take her share of the world's knowledges and beautiful things. She wondered sometimes why the Lord Jesus, who was so wise and good and pitiful, should have let this misfortune come upon her, or why, when all the doctors were so in earnest, they could not have made her straight and well. And when people said, "Oh, what a pity, with that lovely face!" she thought she could have borne it better if she had been plainer.
When the great love that thinks for its neighbour imbues us all, we shall cease to make personal comments, and endeavour to bear each others burdens with silent, tender grace.
Doctor Joe was her comfort and inspiration. No one could ever estimate what his kindly interest had done for her. He was so cheerful and full of fun and sunshine. Elderly women had begun to pet up the young doctor, in spite of his youth.
In fact there were many virtues ascribed to experience in those days; and now we have learned the truth is in the application, that living through a great deal doesn't always bring wisdom.
Grandmother Van Kortlandt and Aunt Katrina had a fine time visiting Stephen. They were quite stylish, old-fashioned style, that wore fine English thread-laces with the scent of lavender, and had their silvery hair done up in puffs with side-combs. They were a little precise and formal, and would have been horrified if the children had not said "Yes, ma'am," and "No, ma'am." No free and easy manners for them!
The little girl was quite sure she loved Grandmother Underhill the best. Both called her Haneran, as if they were a little jealous of a full share in her name. Grandmother made quite a long visit, for she said, "She might never come again, she was getting rather feeble. She didn't expect to live to see the little girl married."
Hanny's father declared, "She couldn't be married until she was twenty-five, just in time to save her from being an old maid."
"But I won't be very old at twenty-five," she replied, smiling out of her big innocent eyes. "And I thought I wouldn't get married at all."
They did miss Margaret. But the little girl had to study hard, and wait on her mother, and practise her music, and visit. There were so many places clamouring for her.
The boys at Houston Street missed Jim Underhill also, though he often came up that way when he could get off, which meant when he did not have to stay for a recitation. Though they were up to pranks, they were not cruel or malicious. If they could "make fun," and rhyme a fellow's name ridiculously, and ring door-bells now and then, or leave a nicely done-up parcel on some one's stoop, wrapped and tied and directed, containing a box of ashes, or a brick, they were satisfied. They still considered it fun to have Biddy Brady dance, and Limpy Dick, as they called the lame girl, run a race. She hopped along with her hand on her lame knee with surprising rapidity.
Margaret came home and had a party at her house, "Infair" the older people called it. Then a family tea at home, and another at Stephen's. Mrs. Verplank, the Doctor's half-sister, gave her a very elegant reception.
She was oddly changed, somehow, just as sweet, but with more dignity and composure; and Jim couldn't make her turn red by teasing her. The little girl noticed that her mother treated Margaret with a peculiar deference and never scolded her; and she said Philip to Dr. Hoffman.
He had some serious talks with the little girl, for he pretended to be afraid she would love Dolly and Stephen the best. Everybody had a desire to hold her, because she was so little and light. She was not to make the baby an excuse to go the oftenest to Dolly's.
"Oh, dear," she rejoined, with a sigh, "and if John should get married, and the rest of them, as they grow up, I wouldn't have any time left for myself. But Joe isn't going to be married."
Dr. Hoffman laughed at that.
John had a sweetheart. He always dressed up in his best on Wednesday night. Young men in those days thought of homes and families of their own. There were no clubs to take them in.
An odd little incident happened to Margaret's menage. Stephen had one of Aunt Mary's grandsons as porter in the store. Another, who had been brought up as a sort of house-servant to some elderly people that death had visited, came to the city, and Stephen sent him to Dr. Hoffman, who was inquiring about a factotum. He was a very well-looking and well-mannered young coloured lad, and knew how to drive and care for a horse. He was quite a cook also, and soon learned to do the marketing.
Margaret kept house for herself, and enjoyed her pretty new china and beautiful cut-glass. And after a month or two Dolly persuaded her to rent two rooms to two ladies, the back room on the second floor, and one on the third. She was glad to have some company when the Doctor had to be out. One of the ladies coloured plates for magazines and illustrated books. This was done by hand then, and was considered quite artistic work. We had not printed in colours yet. The ladies were very refined, and had a small income beside the work.
The Doctor took Margaret out every pleasant afternoon. His practice was not large enough to work him very severely. In the evening they read or sang, as she played very nicely now. But she missed the breezy boys and their doings, and her mother's cheery voice ordering every one about, and, oh, she missed the little girl who didn't come half often enough.
She began a choice piece of work for her, a silk quilt. No one had gone insane over crazy work then. This was shapely, decorous diamonds, with the name of the wearer, or a date, embroidered on each block. The Morgans had given her pieces from Paris and Venice and Holland, and even Hong Kong. Some were a hundred and more years old, and were gowns of quite famous people.
This fall the American Institute Fair was held at Niblo's Garden. There were many curious things. Both telegraphs had been put up,—House's with its letter printing, Morse's with its cabalistic signs. How words could travel through a bit of wire puzzled most people. Uncle Faid went with them one afternoon.
"No use to tell me," he declared. "The fellow at one end knows just what the fellow at the other end is going to say. Now if they sent it in a box, or a letter, it would look reasonable."
"I'll send you a message," said Ben; "you go down at the end, and see if this doesn't come to you."
He wrote on a slip of paper, and gave it to Uncle Faid, who went to the other end with a disbelieving shake of the head. And when the receiver wrote it out, and Uncle Faid compared it, the astonishment was indescribable.
"There's some jugglery about it," he still insisted. "Stands to reason a bit of wire can't really know what you say."
Hanny brought home her telegraph message; and when she showed it to Nora Whitney, the child declared it was like the queer things in some books her papa had, called hieroglyphics. But Doctor Joe told her a stranger thing than that. He found the verses in the Psalms that were supposed to prefigure the telegraph:—
"There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
"Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."
"But they can't go across the ocean," said the little girl, confidently.
"Why, they are discussing the feasibility of crossing the Hudson with some kind of sunken cable. What we shall be doing fifty years from now—and I shall not be such a dreadfully old man! We are learning how to live longer as well."
Fifty years! and she would be as old as the grandmothers!
The other wonderful thing was the sewing-machine. Elias Howe had learned how to thread the needle, the opposite way, by putting the eye in the point. There was a little bent piece underneath that caught the loop while a thread ran through it. They gave away samples, and everybody admitted that it was wonderful.
The little girl said she could sew a great deal better. And her mother declared such sewing was hardly good enough for a feed-bag. Her father laughed, and told her rosy fingers were good enough sewing-machine for him.
Artificial legs and feet interested Doctor Joe very much. They had curious springs and wires, and the outside was pink, like real flesh,—in fact, they looked uncanny, they were so real. Hanny had seen several old men stumping around on cork or wooden legs about which there could be no deception. But when any one met with a mishap now, they could fix him up "limber as an eel," Doctor Joe said.
There was a deal of curious machinery and implements that some people smiled over, which, like the sewing-machines, made fortunes for their inventors presently; beautiful articles and jewelry; a great vegetable and flower exhibit; a small loom; weaving; carving of all kinds; and cloths and silks. Indeed, the Fair was considered a very great thing, and the country people who came in to visit it felt almost as if they had been to a strange country. Every afternoon and evening it was crowded.
Jim liked his new school very much, and soon flung his Latin words at his little sister in perfect broadsides. Then he found that Ben had somehow picked up a good deal of Latin, and knew all the Greek alphabet; and instead of laughing at Charles Reed, as a Miss Nancy, he became quite friendly with him.
All the children came home for a Christmas dinner, and had a delightful time. Then Martha was married, and went to her own housekeeping, and a cousin of the little German girls who lived in Houston Street, who had just come from Germany, petitioned for a trial. She was so bright and clean and ambitious to learn American ways that after a fortnight, Mrs. Underhill decided to keep her.
When all the visitors had gone, Hanny found it very lonely sleeping in a big room by herself. And as they couldn't move her downstairs, Mr. and Mrs. Underhill went upstairs and changed their room to the guest-chamber. Hanny missed her sister very much when night came. But then she had so many lessons to study; and after the history of Holland, they took up that of Spain, which was as fascinating as any romance.
Everybody was a good deal excited this winter about a curious phenomenon. At a small town in Western New York two sisters had announced that they could hold communication with the spirit-world, and receive messages from the dead. Little raps announced the spirit of your friend or relative. To imaginative people, it was simply wonderful. And now the Misses Fox were giving exhibitions and making converts.
People recalled the old Salem witchcraft, and not a few considered it direct dealing with the Evil One. Ben was deeply interested. He and Joe talked over clairvoyance and mesmerism,—a curious power developed by a learned German, Dr. Mesmer, akin to that of some of the old magicians. Ben was very fond of abnormal things; but Joe set down communication with another world as an impossibility. Still, a good many people believed it.
The children joined the singing-school again, and Charles Reed sang at several concerts. He went quite often to the Deans, and occasionally came over to the Underhills. Both houses were so delightful! If he only had a sister, or a brother! Or if his mother would do something beside scrub and clean the house! Social life was so attractive to him.
One day she did do something else. It was February, and the snow and ice had melted rapidly. All the air was full of the sort of chill that goes through one. She wanted some windows washed, and the yard cleared up, and was out in the damp a long while. That night she was seized with a sudden attack of pleurisy. Mr. Reed sprang up and made a mustard draught; but the pain grew so severe that he called Charles, and sent him over for Doctor Joe. By daylight, fever set in, and it was so severe a case that Doctor Joe called a more experienced doctor in consultation, and said they must have a nurse at once.
Charles had never seen her ill before. And when the doctors looked so grave, and the nurse spoke in such low tones, he was certain she could not live. He was so nervous that he could not get his lessons, and roamed about the house in a frightened sort of way. The nurse was used to housekeeping as well, and when she was needed downstairs Charles stayed in the sick-room. His mother did not know him or any one, but wandered in her mind, and was haunted by the ghosts of work in a manner that was pitiful to listen to. The nurse said she had made work her idol. There were two days when Mr. Reed stayed at home, though he sent Charles off to school. They had a woman in the kitchen now, a relative he had written for, Cousin Jane that Charles had once met in the country. She was extremely tidy; but she put on an afternoon gown, and a white apron, and found time in the evening to read the paper.
On the second afternoon both doctors went away just as Charles came home. His father was standing on the stoop with them, and Doctor Joe looked down and smiled. The boy's heart beat with a sudden warmth, as he went down the area steps, wiped his feet, and hung up his cap and overcoat with as much care as if his mother's sharp eyes were on him. There was no one in the room; but he sat down at once to his lessons.
Presently his father entered. His eyes had a pathetic look, as if they were flooded with tears.
"The doctor gives us a little hope, Charles," he said, in a rather tremulous voice. "It's been a hard pull. The fever was broken yesterday; but she was so awful weak; indeed, it seemed two or three times in the night as if she was quite gone. Since noon there has been a decided change; and, if nothing new happens, she will come around all right. It will be a long while though. She's worked too hard and steady; but it has not been my fault. At all events, we'll keep Cousin Jane just as long as we can. And now I must run down-town for a few hours. Tell Cousin Jane not to keep tea waiting."
Charles sat in deep thought many minutes. His father's unwonted emotion had touched him keenly. Of course he would have been very sorry to have his mother die, yet how often he had wished for another mother. The thought shocked him now; and yet he could see so many places where it would be delightful to have her different. Careful as she was of him, he had no inner consciousness that she loved him, and he did so want to have some one he could love and caress, and who would make herself pretty. Hanny loved her father and mother so much. She "hung around" them. She sat in her father's lap and threaded his hair with her soft little fingers. She had such pretty ways with her mother. She didn't seem ever to feel afraid.
Neither did the Deans. Of course they were all girls; but there were Ben and Jim and, oh, Doctor Joe teased his mother, and was sweet to her, and even kissed her, grown man that he was!
Charles could hardly decide which mother he liked the most, but he thought Mrs. Dean. Mrs. Underhill sometimes scolded, though it never seemed real earnest.
He felt more at home with the Deans. Perhaps this was because Mrs. Dean had always coveted a boy, and, like a good many mothers, she wanted a real nice, smart, refined boy. Charles was obedient and truthful, neat and orderly, and always had his lessons "by heart." He was very proud of his standing in school. He could talk lessons over with more freedom to Mr. Dean than with his own father. And Josie was always so proud of him. Perhaps the reason he liked the Deans so well was because he was such a favourite with them, and appreciation seemed very sweet to the boy who had so little in his life.
Mr. Dean seemed to think there was great danger of his growing up a prig; but Mrs. Dean always took his part in any discussion. Mr. Dean was very fond of having him over to sing; and Josie gave him her piano lessons, only she kept a long way ahead.
Oh, how many, many times Charles had wished he was their son! There were so many boys in the Underhill family, he was quite sure they couldn't want any more.
But just now he felt curiously conscience-stricken, though greatly confused. He supposed his mother did want him, though she always considered him so much trouble, and talked about her "working from morning to night and getting no thanks for it." He had felt he would like to thank her specially for some things, but ought he, must he, be grateful for the things he did not want and were only a trouble and mortification to him? And was it wicked to wish for some other mother?
He would try not to do it again. He might think of Mrs. Dean as his aunt, and the girls his cousins. And he would endeavour with all his might to love his own mother.
Years afterward, he came to know how great an influence this hour had on him in moulding his character. But he did not realise how long he had dreamed until he heard Cousin Jane's brisk voice,—it was not a cross or complaining voice,—saying:—
"Why, Charles, here in the dark! Well, we have had a pretty severe time; but your mother's good constitution has pulled her through. And that young doctor's just splendid! I haven't had much opinion of young doctors heretofore. To be sure, there has been Dr. Fitch; but I think Dr. Underhill works more as if his life depended on it. And if you weren't very hungry, Charles, we might wait until your father comes home. About seven, he said. I must confess that Cousin Maria has one of the best and most faithful of husbands. He isn't sparing any expense, either."
Charles flushed with delight to hear his father praised for his devotion to his mother.
"I'd like to wait, Cousin Jane," he replied in an eager tone.
"I'll make a cup of tea and take a bit of bread and cold meat up to Mrs. Bond. Then I'll come back and set the table."
She had lighted the lamps while she was talking, and Charles hurried up with his neglected lessons, studying in earnest.
It was half-past seven when his father came in. No one fretted, however. His brisk walk had given him a good colour, and his eyes had brightened. He seemed so pleased that they had waited for him. Cousin Jane did make events go on smoothly. The tea was hot, as he liked it; and there was a plate of toast, of which he was very fond.
When he took out his paper, he said to Charles:—
"You might run over to the Deans and tell them the good news. They have been so kind about inquiring. I wouldn't stay more than ten or fifteen minutes."
He had not been over in a week, and they were glad to see him, as well as to hear the hopeful tidings. But the girls had quite a bit of casuistry in their talk that night as they were going to bed, partly as to how Charles could be so glad, and partly whether one ought to be glad under all circumstances, when events happened that did not really tend to one's comfort.
"But Mary Dawson said she wasn't sorry when her stepmother died, and she wouldn't tell a story about it. Her stepmother wasn't much crosser than Mrs. Reed. You know Mrs. Dawson wouldn't let the girls go to singing-school, and she made them wear their outgrown dresses, and she did whip them dreadfully. I couldn't have been sorry either."
"But it would be awful not to have any one sorry when you were dead."
"I think," began Josie, gravely, "we ought to act so people will be sorry. If you are good and kind, and do things pleasantly—Mrs. Reed is always doing; but I guess it is a good deal the way you do. You see mother and father do think of the things we like, when they are right and proper. They show they love us and like to have us love them in return."
"Oh, I just couldn't live without mother!" and the tears overflowed Tudie's eyes.
"And I know it would break her heart, and father's, too, if they lost us. And so we ought to try and make each other happy. I mean to think more about it. And, oh, Tudie, if Mrs. Reed could be converted! People are sometimes when they've been very ill. Suppose we pray for that."
They did heartily; and Josie resolved not to miss one night. It would make bonny Prince Charlie so happy to have his mother changed into a sweet, tender woman.
Charles didn't dare pray for that. God knew what was best for any one, and He did have the power. He wondered what things were right to put in one's prayers. Some years after he came to know it was "all things," just as one might ask of a human father, knowing that sometimes even the father after the flesh, in his larger wisdom, saw that it was best to deny.
"Don't you want to look in on your mother?" Cousin Jane said the next morning. He had not seen her in several days.
"Oh, yes," answered Charles.
Mrs. Reed had been thin before; but now she looked ghostly, with her sunken eyes and sharpened nose and chin. Charles had a great desire to kiss her; but she did not approve of such "foolishness." Her poor skeleton hand, that had done so much hard and useless work, lay on the spread in a limp fashion, as if it would never do anything again.
Charles took it up and pressed it to his cheek. Mrs. Reed opened her eyes, and a wavering light, hardly a smile, crossed her face.
"I've been very sick," and, oh, how faint the sound was, quivering, too, as if it had not the strength to steady itself! And then the thin lids fell. The death-like pallor startled him.
"But you're going to get well again."
The boy's sweet, confident tone touched her. She did not dare open her eyes, lest she should cry, she was so weak. Then he said, "Good-morning," and went softly out of the room, feeling that he was glad in every pulse of his being that God had given her back to them.