Read CHAPTER V - MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE LITTLE GIRL of A Little Girl in Old Salem , free online book, by Amanda Minnie Douglas, on ReadCentral.com.

The northeast storm was terrific.  The wind lashed the ocean until it writhed and groaned and sent great billows up on the land.  The trees bent to the fierce blasts; many storms had toughened them and perhaps taught them the wisdom of yielding, since it must be break or bend.  Silas sat in the barn mending tools and harness and clearing up generally; Elizabeth spent most of the first day clearing up the garret again, and looking with a grudging eye on the new accession of boxes, and sniffing up the queer smell disdainfully.

“One can’t have the windows open,” she ruminated, “and the smell must go through the house.  I don’t believe it will ever get out.”

More than one family in Salem had stores from the Orient.  Many of them liked the fragrance of sandalwood and strange perfumes.  “God’s fresh air was good enough for her,” said Elizabeth.

Eunice had finished her fringe and brought out some patchwork in the afternoon a curious pattern, called basket-work.  The basket was made of green chintz, with a small yellow figure here and there.  It had a handle from side to side, neatly hemmed on a white half square.  The upper edge of the basket was cut in points and between each one was a bit of color to represent or suggest a possible bud of some kind.  One had pink, different shades of red, and a bright yellow.  She had seven blocks finished and they were in the bottom of the box.  Eunice took them out for the little girl, who spread them on the floor.

No one was thinking at that day of the mills that would dot New England, where cotton cloths, calicoes, and cambrics would be turned out by the bale.  These things had to be imported and were costly.  One could dye plain colors that were used for frocks and gowns, and some of the hand looms wove ginghams that were dyed in the thread beforehand.

“It will take forty-two blocks,” said Miss Eunice.  “Six one way, seven the other.”

“Then what are you going to do with it?” asked the child eagerly.

“Why, quilt it.  Put some cotton between this and the lining, and sew them together with fine stitches.”

“And then ”

“Why” Eunice wondered herself.  There were chests of them piled away in the garret Chilian’s mother’s, and those they had made to fill in the moments when housework was finished.  She had a quiet sense of humor, and she smiled.  What were they laying up these treasures for?  Neither of them would be married, most of their relatives were well provided for.

“Well, some one may like to have them;” after a pause.  “You must learn to sew.”

“Patchwork?”

It was absurd to pile up any more.

“You see,” said the child, “no one needed them over there;” inclining her head to the East.  “You have a little bed and a pallet, and it is warm, so you do not need quilts.  And the poor people and the servants have a mat they spread down anywhere and a blanket, but you see, they sleep with their clothes on.”

Eunice looked rather horrified.

“But they change them!  They would why, there would be soil and vermin.”

“They go to the river and bathe and wash them out.  They sling them on the stones in a queer way.  But some of them are very dirty and ragged.  They are not like the English and us, and don’t wear many clothes.  Sometimes they are wrapped up in a white sheet.”

“It is a very queer country.  They are not civilized, or Christianized.  I don’t know what will become of them in the end.”

“It’s their country and no one knows how old it is.  China is the oldest country in the world.”

“But, my dear, there was the garden of Eden when God first created the world.  Nothing could be older than that, you know.  Two thousand years to the flood, and two thousand years to the coming of Christ, and some people think the world will end in another two thousand years.”

“I don’t see any sense in burning it up, when there are so many lovely things in it;” and Cynthia’s eyes took on a deep, inquiring expression.  “That was what the chaplain used to say.  Father thought it would go on and on, getting wiser and greater, and the people learning to be better and making wonderful things.”

“My dear, what the Bible says must be true.  And it will be burned up.  You have a Bible?”

“The chaplain gave me a pretty prayer-book.  It is upstairs.”

“We do not believe in prayer-books, dear.”  The tone was soft, yet decided.  “We came over here, at least our forefathers did, that we might worship God according to the dictates of our conscience.  We tried to leave the prayer-books and the bishops behind, but we couldn’t quite.  You must have a Bible and read a chapter every day.  Why, I had read it through once before I was as old as you.”

Cynthia simply stared.  Then, after a pause, she said: 

“Did you sew patchwork, too?”

“When I was eight I had finished a quilt.  And I learned to knit.  I knit my own stockings; I always have.  And I braided rags for a mat.  Mother sewed it together.”

“And your clothes who made those?”

“Well mother made some.  But a woman used to come round fall and spring and make for the girls and boys, though father bought his best suit.  He had one when he was married; it was his freedom suit as well ”

“Why, was he a prisoner?” the child interrupted.

“Oh, no;” smiling a little.  “Boys had to be subject to their fathers until they were twenty-one.  Then they had a suit of clothes all the way through and their time, which meant they were at liberty to work for any one and ask wages.  He had been courting mother and they were married soon after, so it was his wedding suit.  He had outgrown it before he died, so he had to get a new one.  Mother sold that to a neighbor that it just fitted.”

“Tell me some more about them.”  Cynthia was fond of stories.  And this was about real folks, not the fantastic legends she had heard so often.

“Well he and mother worked, she had been living with a family.  Girls did in those days, and were like daughters of the house.  Father went to work there.  They were married in the spring and in the fall he took a place on shares; that is, he had half of everything, and they divided up the house.  A year or so afterward it was for sale, and he bought it, and we were all born there, and there was no change until he died.  That was a sad thing for us.  He’d been buying some more land, and the place wasn’t clear.  Another man stood ready to buy it, and mother thought it best to sell.  You see there was a good deal of trouble between us and England, who wanted to get all the money she could out of the Colonies, and wasn’t willing to send troops to protect us from the Indians, and we had to sell our produce and things to her, and presently the Colonies wouldn’t stand it any longer, and there was war.  Some people were bitterly opposed to it, some favored it.  Then we wouldn’t take the tea she insisted on our buying, and there was the Stamp Act.  And Salem really made the first armed resistance.  You must go out some nice day to North Bridge.  The British troops marched up from Marblehead to seize some arms they heard were stored here.  General Gage sent them.  But the people had word, for a Major Pedrick rode up to give the alarm, and they hid them in a secure place.  Colonel Leslie headed the British troops to make the search.  But the people of Salem turned out strong and met the colonel and declared that he was marching on private property, not on the King’s highway, that the lane and the bridge were private property, where he had no right.  You see, war had not been declared and the people had a right to defend their own.  So they would not allow them to cross the river and make a search.  But, finally, they agreed, if the draw over the river could be lowered and they allowed to march a few rods, they would withdraw.  Of course, they saw nothing suspicious and came back, keeping their word.  Otherwise, I suppose, that would have been the first battle of the war.  We were not living here then, but Cousin Chilian’s father lived in this very house.”

“And the arms were really there!” Cynthia drew a long breath.

“Oh, yes!  They were ships’ cannon going to be mounted for protection.  Some day Cousin Chilian may take you over to the bridge and tell you all about it.  There was a romance about a girl said to be in love with a British officer, but you are too young for such stories.”

If she had not been, the entrance of Elizabeth and Miss Winn would have checked the garrulity of Eunice.  Cynthia had been laying down the small diamond-shaped pieces, making a block.

“Why do you let the child muddle over those pieces, Eunice?  The carpet may not be clean,” said Elizabeth sharply.

“And it is getting dark, so we had better put them all up.  Mercy! how it still rains.  Why, it seems as if there would be another flood.”

“That can never happen.  We have the promise.”

“That the whole world will not be destroyed.  But parts of it may suffer.  You and Cynthia are fortunate not to be in it;” and Eunice raised her eyes to them, with a certain thankfulness.

It had not stopped yet in the morning, but the wind was veering to the south, the air was not so cold and the rain much gentler.  Cynthia wandered about like an unquiet spirit.  It was cold up in their room.  Chilian had proposed a fire, but Elizabeth had negatived it sharply.

“There ought to be room enough in the dining-room and keeping-room for two extra people,” she said decidedly.

He felt sorry for the little girl with her downcast face, as he met her on the landing.

“Don’t you want to come and visit me?” he asked, in an inviting tone.

“Oh, yes!” and the grave little face lightened.

The blaze was brighter here than downstairs, she felt quite sure.  And the room had a more cheerful look.  The table was spread with books and papers, and, oh, the books that were on the shelves!  The curious things above them suggested India.  There really was the triple-faced god she had seen so often, carved in ivory, and another carving of a temple.  She walked slowly round and inspected them.  Then she paused at a window.

“How much it rains!” she began.  “I don’t see how so much rain can be made.  When is it going to stop?”

“I think it will hold up this afternoon and be clear to-morrow, clear and sunny.”

“I like sunshine best.  And little rains.  This has been so long.”

“And we haven’t much to amuse a child.  When it clears up we must find some little folks.  Does it seem very strange to you?”

“I haven’t lived with big women much, except Rachel.  And the houses are so different.  You get things about, and the servants pick them up.  There are so many servants.  Sometimes there are white children, but not many.  Their mothers take them back to England.  Or they die.”

She uttered the last sadly, and her long lashes drooped.

He wondered a little how she had stood the climate.  She looked more like a foreigner than a native of Salem town.

“What did you do there?” He hardly knew how to talk to a little girl.

“Oh, a great many things.  I went to ride in a curious sort of cart the natives pulled it.  Then the children came and played in the court.  They threw up balls and caught them, ever so many, and they played curious games on the stones, and acrobatic feats, and sung, and danced, and acted stories of funny things.  Then father read to me, and told me about Salem when he was a little boy.  You can’t really think the grown-up people were little, like you.”

“And that one day you will be big like them.”

She pushed up her sleeve.  They were large and made just big enough for her hand at the wrist, not at all like the straight, small sleeves of the Puritan children.  After surveying it a moment, she said gravely: 

“I can’t understand how you grow.  You must be pushed out all the time by something inside.”

“You have just hit it;” and he smiled approvingly.  “It is the forces inside.  There is a curious factory inside of us that keeps working, day and night, that supplies the blood, the warmth, the strength, and is always pushing out; it even enlarges the bones until one is grown and finished, as one may say.  And the food you eat, the air you breathe, are the supplies.”

“But you go on eating and breathing.  Why don’t you go on growing?”

There was a curious little knot in her forehead where the lines crossed, and she raised her eyes questioningly to him.  What wonderful eyes they were!

“I suppose it is partly this:  You employ your mind and your body and they need more nourishment.  Then well, I think it is the restraining law of nature, else we should all be giants.  In very hot countries and very cold countries they do not grow so large.”

He could not go into the intricacies of physiology, as he did with some of the students.

“You did not go to school?”

“Oh, no!” She laughed softly.  “The native schools were funny.  They sat on mats and did not have any books, but repeated after the teacher.  And, sometimes, he beat them dreadfully.  There were some English people had a school, but it was to teach the language to the natives.  And then Mr. Cathcart came to stay with father.  He had been the chaplain somewhere and wasn’t well, so they gave him a a ”

“Furlough?” suggested Chilian.

“Yes; father sent him out in one of the boats.  He began to teach me some things.  I could read, you know.  And I could talk Hindostani some with the children.  Then I learned to spell and pronounce the words better.  He had a few books of verses that were beautiful.  I learned some of them by heart.  And Latin.”

“Latin!” in surprise.

“He had some books and a Testament.  It was grand in the sound, and I liked it.  There were many things, cases and such, that I couldn’t get quite straight, but after a little I could read, and then make it over into English.”

When he was eight he was reading Latin and beginning French.  Some of the Boston women he knew were very good French scholars, though education was not looked upon as a necessity for women.  It seemed odd to him this little girl in Calcutta learning Latin.

“Let us see how far you have gone.”  Teaching never irked him when he once set about it.

He hunted up a simple Latin primer.

“Come around this side;” and he drew her nearer to him.  There had been no little girls to train and teach, and for a moment he felt embarrassed.  But she took it as a matter of course, and he could see she was all interest.

It had been, as he supposed, rather desultory teaching.  But she took the corrections and explanations with a sweetness that was quite enchanting.  And she could translate quite well, in an idiomatic fashion.  Really, with the right kind of training she would make a good scholar.

“Oh, you must be tired of standing,” he said presently.  “How thoughtless of me.  I have no little chairs, so I must hunt one up, but this will have to do now.  That will be more comfortable.  Now we can go on.”

She laughed at her own little blunders in a cheerful fashion, and made haste to correct them.  And then he found that she knew several of the old Latin hymns by heart, as they had been favorites of the English clergyman.

They were interrupted by a light tap at the door.  He said “Come”; and turned his head.

It was Miss Winn.

“Pardon me.  We couldn’t imagine where Cynthia was.  Hasn’t she been an annoyance?”

“Oh, no; we have had a very nice time.”

“But had you not better come downstairs.  Miss Eunice is sewing her pretty patchwork again.”

“Oh, let me stay,” she pleaded.  “Do I bother you?”

It crossed his mind just then that in the years to come more than one man would yield to the sweet persuasiveness of those eyes.

“Yes, let her stay.  She is no trouble.  Indeed, we are studying.”

Miss Winn was glad of his indorsement.  Miss Elizabeth had been “worrying” for the last ten minutes.  She had crept softly up to the garret, quite sure she should find the child in mischief.  Then she had glanced into the “best chamber,” but there was no sign of her there.

“Very well,” replied Miss Winn.

Cynthia drew a long breath presently.

“Oh, you are tired!” he exclaimed.  “Run over to the window and tell me how the sky looks.  I think it doesn’t rain now.”

She slipped down, stood still for a moment, then turned and clapped her hands, laughing deliciously.

“Oh, there is blue sky, and a great yellow streak.  The clouds are trying to hide the sun, but they can’t.  Oh, see, see!”

She danced up and down the room like a fairy in the long ray of sunshine that illumined the apartment.

“Oh, are you not glad!” She turned such a joyous face to him that he smiled and came over to the window that nearly faced the west.

“Better than the Latin?”

“Well I like both;” archly.

He raised the window.  A warm breath of delightful air rushed in, making the room with the fire seem chilly by contrast.  He drew in long reviving breaths.  Spring had truly come.  To-morrow the swelling buds would burst.

“We must have a little Latin every day.  And occasionally a walk in the sunshine.  Twice a week I go down to Boston, but the other days will be ours.”

“I like your room,” she said frankly.  “But what sights of books!  Do you read them all?”

“Not very often.  I do not believe I have read them all through.  But I need them for reference, and some I like very much.”

He wanted to add, “And some were a gift from your dear father,” but he could not disturb her happy mood.

“Suppose we go down on the porch.  It is too wet to walk anywhere.”

“Oh, yes;” delightedly.  “And to-morrow I will go down to the vessel again and see Captain Corwin.  I do not want it to rain any more for weeks and weeks.”

“No, for days and days.  Weeks would dry us all up, and we would have no lovely spring flowers.”

“And a famine maybe.  Do the very poor people sometimes starve?”

“I do not think we have any very poor people, as they do in India.  We are not overcrowded yet.”

The rain had beaten the paths and the street hard, and it looked as if it had been swept clean.  In spite of it all there were cheering evidences of spring.

“There are some children in that house,” she exclaimed, nodding her head.

“Yes, the Uphams.  There are two girls and two boys, the oldest and the youngest, who isn’t much more than a baby.  Bentley Upham must be about twelve.  Polly is next, but she is a head taller than you.  Then there’s Betty.  I am glad there will be some little girls for you to play with.”

She looked eager and interested.

“Will you come in to supper?  Chilian, you ought to know better than to be standing in this damp air.  And that child with nothing around her!”

“The air is reviving, after having been housed for two days.”  But he turned and went in, leading the child by the hand.

The long, bleak New England coast winter was over, though it had lingered as if loath to go.  Springs were seldom early, no one expected that.  But this one came on with a rush.  The willows donned their silver catkins and then threw them off for baby leaves, the lilac buds showed purple, the elms and maples came out in bloom, and the soft ones drew crowds of half-famished bees to their sweet tassels.  The grass was vividly green, iridescent in the morning sun, with the dew still upon it.  Snowdrop, crocus, hepatica, and coltsfoot, wild honeysuckle, were all about, the forsythia flared out her saucy yellow, the fruit buds swelled.  Parties were out in the woods hunting trailing arbutus that has been called the darling of northern skies, that lies hidden in its nest of green leaves, silent, with no wind tossing it to and fro, but betrayed by its sweetness.

There were other signs of spring at Salem.  The whole town seemed to burst out in house-cleaning.  Parlor shutters were thrown open and windows washed.  Carpets were beaten, blankets hung out to air, those that had been in real use washed.  Women were out in gardens with sunbonnets and gloves, a coat of tan not being held in much esteem, and snipped at roses and hardy plants.  Men were spading and planting the vegetable gardens, painting or white-washing fences.  All was stir and bustle, and tired folk excused themselves if they nodded in church on Sunday.

Cynthia made pilgrimages to the Flying Star that had been her home for so long.  The storm had wrought great havoc with some of the shipping, and big boys were out gathering driftwood.  The Gazette had some melancholy news of “lost at sea.”  But Captain Corwin thought he had weathered worse storms.

“She is picking up mightily,” he said to Miss Winn, nodding toward Cynthia.  “Shouldn’t be surprised if she favored her mother, after all.  Only them eyes ain’t neither Orne nor Leverett.  Don’t let her grieve too much when the bad news comes.”

Eunice and Chilian had taken her to call on the Uphams.  And though she was quite familiar at home, here she shrank into painful shyness and would not leave Eunice’s sheltering figure.

“Children get soonest acquainted by themselves,” declared Mrs. Upham.  “I suppose you will send her to school.  If she’s not very forward, Dame Wilby’s is best.  She and Betty can go together.  Why, she isn’t as tall as Betty and nine, you said?  Granny was talking the other day about the time she was born.  She’s a real little Salem girl after all, though she’s got a foreign skin, and what odd-colored hair!  We’ve started Polly to Miss Betts.  I want her to learn sewing and needlework, and she’s too big now to company with such children.  Why, I was almost a woman at twelve, and could spin and knit with the best of them.  Miss Eunice, I wish you’d teach her that pretty openwork stitch you do so handy.  Imported stockings cost so much.  They say there’s women in Boston doing the fancy ones for customers.  But I tell Polly if she wants any she must do them herself.”

Mrs. Upham had a tolerably pleasant voice.  She always talked in monologues.  Betty edged around presently and would have taken Cynthia’s hand, but the child laid it in Miss Eunice’s lap, and looked distrustful.

Chilian was as glad as she when the call ended.  He did not seek the society of women often enough to feel at home with them, though he was kindly polite when he did meet them.

“Did you ask about the school?” was the inquiry of Elizabeth that evening.

“Yes; she thinks Dame Wilby’s the best for small children.  And Cynthia knows so little that is of real importance, though she reads pretty well,” said Eunice.

“Yes, she must get started.  I shall be glad when the Flying Star is off and she isn’t running down there with the men.  I don’t see what’s got into Chilian to think of teaching her Latin.  It had enough sight better be the multiplication table.”

So she proposed the school to Chilian.  She had a queer feeling about his fancy for the child.  She would have scouted the idea of jealousy, but she would have had much the same feeling if he had “begun to pay attention” to some woman.  The other matters had reached a passable settlement.  The “best chamber” was tidily kept, the little girl well looked after to see that she troubled no one.  Miss Winn kept her clothes in order, but they had a decidedly foreign look, and of materials no one would think of buying for a child.  But the goods were here, and might as well be used.

Miss Winn had made a few alterations in the room softened the aspect of it.  She longed to take out the big carved bedstead, but she knew that would never do.  She made herself useful in many unobtrusive ways, gardened a little, was neighborly yet reserved.

“I don’t know what we would do if she were a gossip,” Elizabeth commented.

She broached the subject of the school to Chilian.

“Why, yes,” he answered reluctantly.  “I suppose she ought to go.  She’s curiously shy with other children.”

“She talks enough about that Nalla, as if they had been like sisters.”

“You can notice that she always preserves the distinction, though.”

“There’s no use bothering with that Latin, Chilian.  Next thing it will be French.  And she won’t know enough figuring to count change.  Girls don’t need that kind of education.”

“But some of them have to be Presidents’ wives.  And some of them wives to men who have to go abroad.  French seems to be quite general among cultivated people.”

“It’s hardly likely she’ll go abroad.  And she needs to be like other people.  I don’t see what you find so entertaining about her.  And you couldn’t bear children in your room!”

“She isn’t any annoyance.  Then she is so deft, so dainty.  She touches books with the lightest of fingers.  She will sit and look at pictures, and it quite surprises me how much she knows about geography.”

“And nothing much about her native country.  She can’t tell the difference between Pilgrims and Puritans.  And she didn’t know why we came over here, and why it was not the same God in England, and if all the gods in India were idols.  Chilian, you shouldn’t encourage her irreverence.  It looks pert in a child.”

“She will get over these ways as she grows older and mingles with other children.”

“That is what I am coming to.  She ought to begin at once.  Betty Upham goes to Dame Wilby.  Her mother considers it excellent for small children.  She could go with Betty and there would be no fear of her trailing off no one knows where.”

Of course, she ought to go to school.  He could manage a big boy on the verge of manhood very well.  But this woman-child puzzled him.  She seemed very tractable, obedient in a certain sense, yet in the end she seemed to get, or to take, her own way.  Suppressing one train of action opened another.  She had a sweet way of yielding, but a strong way of holding on.  A little thing made her happy, yet in her deepest happiness there was much gravity.  His theories were that certain qualities brought to pass certain results.  He forgot that there were no such things as pure temperaments, and that environments made second nature different from what the first might have been.  The child puzzled him by her contrariety, yet she was not a troublesome child.

“Well;” reluctantly.

“I’ll see the Dame.  And we will start her on Monday.”

He nodded.

Elizabeth had another point to gain.  She looked over her trunk of pieces.  Here were several yards of brown and white gingham, quite enough for a frock without any furbelows.  With the roll in her hand she tapped at the partly open door.  Rachel had laid out on the bed several white frocks, plain enough even for Salem tastes.

“Cynthia’s going to school on Monday,” she announced.  “And I thought this would make her a good school frock.  It won’t be dirtysome.  You see children here do dress differently.  You’ll get into the ways.”

Rachel looked at the gingham.  “I shouldn’t like it for her,” she said quietly.  “Her father always wanted to see her in white.  That is new every time it is washed.  These things fade and then look so wretched.  Beside she will only outgrow these frocks.”

“Children here keep their white frocks for Sundays,” was the decisive reply.

“She may as well wear these out.  They were made last summer.  She has not grown much meanwhile.  I should like to keep her in the way her father desired.”

“Then she must have a long-sleeved apron to cover her up.  This will make two.  For those white things make an endless sight of washing.”

“I have been considering that,” said Rachel Winn quietly.  “I wear white a good deal myself.  I noticed a small house on Front Street where there were nearly always clothes on the lines, and I stopped in to inquire.  I felt it was too much laundry-work for your woman through the summer.  This Mrs. Pratt is very reasonable and does her work nicely.  So I have made arrangements with her.  Captain Leverett made a generous allowance for incidental expenses.”

What Elizabeth termed Miss Winn’s “independence” grated sorely upon her ideas of what was owing to the head of the house, which was herself.  It was always done so quietly and pleasantly one could hardly take umbrage.  Cynthia was not exactly a child of the house.  She was in no wise dependent on her newly found relatives.  Chilian had made that understood in the beginning, when he had chosen the best chamber for them.

“You don’t need to take boarders,” she had replied tartly.

“I don’t know as we are to call it that.  I am the child’s guardian and answerable for her comfort and her welfare.  The perfect trust confided in me has touched me inexpressibly.  I didn’t know that Anthony Leverett held me in such high esteem.  And if I choose to put this money by until she is grown it will make such a little difference in our living ”

“Chilian Leverett, you are justly entitled to it,” she interrupted with sharp decision.  “He’s right enough in making a fair provision for them no doubt he has plenty.  But I don’t quite like the boarder business, for all that.”

“We must get some one to help you with the work.”

“I don’t want any more help than I have.  Land sakes!  Eunice and I have plenty of leisure on our hands.  I wouldn’t have a servant around wasting things, if she paid me wages.”

They had gone on very smoothly.  Eunice had found her way to the child’s heart.  But then Eunice had lived with her dream children that might have been like Charles Lamb’s “Children of Alice.”  Elizabeth might have married twice in her life, but there was no love in either case, rather a secret mortification that such incapables should dare to raise their thoughts to her.  But she had some strenuous ideas on the rearing of children, quite of the older sort.  Life was softening somewhat, even for childhood, but she did not approve of it.