“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, February 1870; pp. 72-76)
Ailie was her name. The doctor had a fine practice, for so young a man, in one of the largest towns of New England, and had built himself a very pretty house there. The parlors were cheerful and roomy; the sun streamed bright and warm into the dining-room; the kitchen was as convenient as it could be, and opened into a neat wood-shed. Over the shed was a snug little chamber for Marian. Marian was a girl that the doctor’s wife had taken to bring up, and a very nice girl she was too. In her blue, checked, gingham gown, with her hair cut short, and smoothly brushed (for this was nearly forty years ago, when we used to call our servants help, and they were a help, not a hinderance), she was much more attractive than the girls I see nowadays, fluttering in dirty ribbons, and all the cast-off finery of their mistresses, with an untidy snarl of false hair on the top of their heads. In old times girls never aped their mistresses, but served them faithfully, and were loved and trusted by them in return. The room over the dining-room was called the children’s room; but as Ailie was not quite big enough yet to stow away in a room by herself, Janie occupied it. Janie was Ailie’s aunt, who had come to stay with her mother when she was born, and had made herself so useful to the family that everybody wondered how they had ever got along without her, and nobody would consent to let her go away again. But by far the cosiest room in the doctor’s house was his study, which opened out by a long window on a piazza, from which there were steps leading into the very prettiest garden you ever saw.
In this study, one November evening, the doctor’s wife sat, waiting for her husband to come home. Her friends used to laugh at her for preferring the study to her pretty parlors. They declared it smelt of rhubarb and blue pill; and I don’t doubt it did, for the doctor kept drugs on hand for the poor people. But she did not care a bit for that, for the doctor had said he never wanted to be far away from his books, and yet, somehow, he couldn’t be happy with his books unless his wife sat at the other end of his study table. When Ailie came, there had been a discussion about the doctor’s wife vacating the study, evenings. “Baby will cry,” said she, “when you want to read, and you will get out of patience;
and I had rather go before it comes to that.” “Our babies will never cry, I am never out of patience, and I had much rather you would stay,” said the doctor. The fact was, though this young fellow had not a spark of vanity, he was so happy in the home he had made, that he actually thought he had the best house, the best wife, and the best baby in the town; and though his wife did not think much of his logic, she thought a great deal of his love; so she staid.
On the night I speak of, there was a good fire in the parlor, the astral lamp was lighted, ready for Janie to turn up at a moment’s notice, the doctor’s wife was in the study as usual, the doctor’s chair, with his slippers before it, stood close by the hearth, on one side the fire, and the doctor’s little girl, then a year-old baby, lay asleep in her crib on the other.
“Well, what kind of a day has it been with you, Matt?” asked his wife, as she helped him off with his overcoat, for she was not one of those women who begin complaining the minute they see their husbands; but she always tried to find out his troubles, and help him to bear them.
“It’s been about the most trying one I ever spent,” replied the doctor; and then he told the sad story.
A merry little girl, across the river, in going home from school that day, had been bitten by a mad dog that was running through
the street. The doctor was sent for. He found the elbow dreadfully torn; there was no help for it; the arm must come off; and he had performed the operation.
His wife sat very still. She was thinking, “What if it had been our little Ailie?”
“After all,” said the doctor, bending over Ailie’s crib, “children may be a plague as well as a profit to a man.”
His wife looked half indignantly at him. What was the man thinking about? Not of that poor little sufferer over the river there, and surely not of his own baby.
“O, no; never a plague, I’m sure, Matt,” said she, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Yes, but they may,” said the doctor, who was very decided in his opinions; “when I saw that pale mite of a baby lying there, trying to forget her pain, and comfort her father by telling him how glad she was it was the left arm, because if it had been the right, she never could have written him any letters when he went away, I’m dashed if I didn’t think a man could get along better without everything else than he could spare such a precious little soul as that.” The doctor never used profane language, but sometimes, when things were too much for him, he said he was dashed. And to-night he was. “Then I drove round to D.’s; whose boy has a bad cold, and found the sick child whimpering and crying, with a little sore throat; another great fellow sulking because father didn’t give him the money to-day to buy his new skates; a girl, old enough to be a help and comfort to them all, whining and fretting because there is a prospect that the boy’s sickness may turn out scarlet fever, and postpone a promised tea-party; and the mother promising all sorts of impossible indulgences to keep the peace. D. came home in the midst of it, only to hear a chapter of grievances from his wife, and to be set upon with new demands by his children. He looked troubled.”
“I would ask you to stay, doctor,” said he; “but we don’t have any more of those pleasant evenings we used to have when there were only two of us. There’s never a fire in the parlor, and my wife’s always in the nursery; for the children are always wanting something, and after they’re abed she’s too tired to enjoy much with me.”
“Poor little things! It isn’t their fault,” said the doctor’s wife; “children are just what we make them. It is as easy to make them courageous, self-reliant, and considerate, as to make them cowardly, helpless, and selfish.”
“Our little woman shall be none of these,” said the doctor, “if I can help it. She shall be brave, and tender, and true.”
If the doctor’s little girl had realized at that moment what great things were expected of her, she would have cried outright, and perhaps have been banished from the study, and my story have come to an untimely end. But she slept on as if there were nothing in the world to make her afraid.
From this time the doctor began to think a great deal about his little girl’s education. “She shan’t be afraid of shadows,” said he. And to prevent her having any of those silly fears that children often acquire, he would send her into the dark cellar, with a little basket, to get carrots for the rabbits. It was a funny sight to see her toddling down stairs, at dusk, holding on to the balustrade with one hand, the little fat fingers of the other thrust into the eye-sockets of a great white skull, which he had told her to bring from a room, where, among other medical lumber, there stood a tall skeleton. “I’ll not have her as vain as a peacock, always thinking about what she has on.” So, when the cunning little witch, more finely dressed than usual, tiptoed into the study, evidently expecting to be noticed, he would pretend not to see the lovely white dress, and fresh ribbons (though the naughty fellow liked them as well as anybody), and taking her on his lap, he would look the little hands and face all over carefully, and say, with a very serious air, “Are you sure they are quite clean, Ailie?”
The doctor had queer notions about things, people said. He was not only going to have Ailie taught to sew, and bake, and cook, and dance, and draw, and play the piano, and talk French, but she was to learn how to ride, and drive, and row, and swim, and shoot, and read Latin. His friends remonstrated. “What does a girl want of those things?” they said; “they don’t belong to woman’s sphere: if you don’t look out, doctor, you’ll make her strong-minded.”
“That’s just what I mean to make her,” said the doctor; “strong-minded enough to take care of herself under all circumstances. Whatever brains, or hands, or feet can do, she shall have a chance to try. The more she knows and can do, the happier she will be, and the more useful and agreeable companion she will be for everybody. I don’t believe half the world was created simply to make puddings for the other half to eat. I don’t think it’s fair to teach boys to run and leave girls to creep. Equal rights shall be the rule in my house. My little girl shall be educated as well as
my little boy, and have so many resources in herself, that if I should die, she needn’t feel obliged to marry somebody she don’t like, to save herself from being a burden on her brother.”
Considering that Ailie was the only child the doctor had, and scarcely four years old at that, this was rather a long look ahead; but the advent of a baby brother soon after left Ailie very much in the society of her father, and gave him a chance to try his educational theories.
He set her before him on his horse, when he rode off to visit his patients, and always left her sitting in the saddle, and holding the bridle, when he went in, so that she might learn not to be afraid of a horse. The old women at the almshouse really depended on seeing her there. It brightened them up more than all the doctor’s powders.
“That’s a nice little girl of yours, doctor,” they would say, as they looked out the window. And so said everybody, even the crabbed old bachelor next door; and when nobody was looking, he would slyly give her pennies, when she peeped through the gate at him, and said, “How do, Mister Hooter,” as he passed to and from his law office. As for neighbor H.’s sailor boys, they declared she was a jollier plaything than their monkey, and said a great deal smarter things than the gray parrot they had brought home from sea.
The doctor took her in his chaise, and made her hold the reins, while Sorrel pony trotted off with them to the woods; and such curious plants as they carried home to the garden—climbing fern, and pitcher-plant, and orchis; but the prettiest of all, Ailie thought, were the snow-white blossoms of the blood-root, that came in early spring, and the bright purple crocus, that flowered late in autumn. She was very wise about them, too, and would tell you, with an absurdly grave air, that the “sandwinaria,” she took for the croup, was made from the blood-root, and that the crocus furnished the “tolchitum,” which cured grandpa’s rheumatism. How she did work with her little hoe and spade! for her father believed in gardening for girls, and if there had been a Horticultural School for women in those days, he certainly would have sent her there. In short, if the doctor could have carried out his plans, his little girl might have grown up a very wonderful woman indeed, and perhaps she might even have succeeded to his practice; but he could not.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, March 1870; pp. 120-125)
Chapter II. Ailie Goes to School, and Her Troubles Begin.
When Ailie was about six years old, and Ned, her brother, scarcely four, the doctor began to think about sending them to school. I presume some people will be very much shocked at the idea of sending such little things to school; but for my part I think he was right. I know a great many children as young as Ailie and Ned, who are left very much in the care of ignorant and vicious nurses, from whom they are learning daily a great deal that is bad, who would be much happier and much better off in kindergartens or primary schools, under the care of well-bred and conscientious ladies. Besides, as I have said, the doctor had his notions, one of which was, that little folks suffer as much from ennui for want of regular employment as grown people. So to school, for three hours a day, it was decided to send his little folks. Their father walked with them the first day, to show them the
way. It was a private school to which they were going, kept by a widow lady, who had two children of her own. They passed the yard of the great public school-house, which was filled with children—some playing ball, others jumping rope, and a few quarrelling over a game of marbles in the corner. Some boys had hold of the bell rope, and were ringing the first bell.
They all stopped and stared at the doctor’s children. “I wonder if they know I am going to school, too,” thought Ailie.
“I mean to ring the bell at the school we are going to,” said Ned to himself.
As they went by the jail, a man who was shut up there for stealing called out through the bars, “I want some tobacco; a man that’s got his liberty hadn’t orter grudge a little tobacco to a cove with these things on.” He looked so haggard and fierce as he peered through the grating, and shook his handcuffs at them, that Ailie shrunk close to her father.
“Don’t be afraid, little gal,” screamed the man; “I wouldn’t hurt you for the world.”
“I’m not afraid, sir,” said Ailie, trying to be very bold, for she pitied the poor man, and wondered if he had any little girls, and thought how dreadfully she would feel if her father were a thief. The court-house bell was tolling very fast, a crowd stood round the open door, and men were hurrying thither from all directions. Ailie asked her father what it all meant.
“The court is sitting now,” he replied.
“What is it going to hatch?” asked Ailie.
Her father laughed, and said, “That was more than he could tell.”
They crossed the Common, where a tall fountain bubbled over into a marble basin, as deep almost as the sea, Ailie thought. Things assumed a great deal of importance to her on this first day of her school life, that never seemed so large again. Pretty soon they came to the teacher’s house. It was an old-fashioned, two-story brick house, painted blue. Over the second story windows a green blind stretched clear across the front of the house, that looked like a great green fan, which had hung there open so long that it had faded yellow in the sun. There was a lion’s head, in brass, for a knocker on the door, polished so bright that it almost seemed to glare and show its teeth at Ailie, as she went up the steps; and she began to think that going to school was a very solemn thing indeed.
“I have brought you my little girl,” said the doctor, when the teacher came to the door; “I don’t care how little she learns—”
“I think I understand you,” she interrupted; “you bring her here to keep her out of mischief; you don’t want her to study much, and you want me to amuse her, and make her as happy as I can.”
“What I was going to say,” continued the doctor, “was, that I don’t care how little she learns; but I want her to learn that little, thoroughly. As to amusing and making her happy, don’t trouble yourself very much about that. I’ve noticed that children are always happy when they do right; and I’ve a notion that they’re amused a great deal too much, especially where there are only one or two in the family; they get to thinking the world turns on their whims, and become selfish little despots in consequence. I’ve brought Ailie to school, so that she may learn that there are other children in the world of quite as much importance as herself; and I thought the boy might as well come, too, for I don’t want to separate them. Good-bye, Ailie,” said he, kissing her; “be a brave little woman, and take good care of Ned.”
When he was gone, and the door was fairly shut, Ailie came very near sobbing right out. She felt as if she never should see him again; but she remembered just in time that she was to be brave, and, choking down her tears, she took Ned’s hand and followed the teacher to the school-room.
This was a pleasant front chamber of the house. A heavy mahogany bedstead stood in one corner, with a high footboard, and elaborately carved pine-apples surmounting each of its four posts. Between the windows was a tall bureau, mounted on pine-apple legs, and over it hung a picture of a gentleman in a blue coat with brass buttons. Ailie supposed it was a picture of the lady’s husband; but she thought he was not half as good- looking as her father.
On one side of the room some little children were sitting on low, wooden stools; and opposite were some desks for the larger scholars.
“What are all those pianos for?” asked Ailie, who had never seen any desks, and did not know she must not talk loud in school. All the scholars looked at her, and giggled. After a while the teacher heard her say her letters. Ailie repeated them all obediently, till she came to J. “O,” said she, “that’s not a jay; my father showed me a jay the other day, and it was not at all like that. Jays are blue, and they eat cherries; and I’m going to learn to shoot, and so is Ned.”
Then all the scholars laughed again, and in fact, for several days Ailie’s funny speeches kept the school in an uproar. But the multiplication-table depressed her very much indeed. She persisted in saying, “Once one is two, once two is three,” and it seemed as if she never could learn it, till one day she brightened up, with,—
“O, I see how it is now; it’s just like lacing my boots; if you begin wrong it all goes wrong.”
At the end of a fortnight she went home triumphant, with a blue ribbon round her neck, from which dangled a bright silver medal, inscribed, “For excellence in deportment and recitations.” What the long words meant Ailie did not know, nor what her father meant by saying, when he saw her strutting about with the medal,—
“Take care, Ailie; pride goes before a fall.”
She was only pleased because her teacher had said she was a good and bright little girl; and she thought wearing a medal was
almost as nice as wearing a watch. The next day, at school, she couldn’t help turning it over, and holding it up pretty often for the other scholars to see; and I am not sure but this was the cause of the trouble that befell her. While she and Ned were reading that morning, the teacher, being called out of the room for a moment, left them standing by her chair. No sooner had she gone than the other children left their seats, and danced about the room, playing all sorts of mischievous pranks. One snatched the ribbon from Ailie’s hair, and tried to pull off her medal, and the teacher’s son seized Ned’s little cricket, and threw it behind the bed, upsetting an inkstand as he did so. The teacher came back at this instant, and there stood Ned, who had rushed to rescue his seat, out of his place, with the cricket in his hand; while Ailie, flushed and anxious, was wiping the ink from it with her new brown linen apron, and all the rest sat studying as intently as if they had had nothing at all to do with the matter.
“Who upset the ink? “ asked the teacher.
Nobody answered. Ailie was astounded. Malice and deceit were strangers to her, and she did not know what to make of such conduct. She looked very hard at the bad boy, but said nothing, for she knew it was mean to tell tales. Circumstances pointing strongly to Ned as the offender, the teacher told him she thought she should have to put him in the closet, till he confessed his fault. Ailie, forgetting everything, but that her father had told her to take good care of Ned, held him fast, crying out, angrily,—
“He didn’t do it! Let my brother alone. You shan’t put him in the closet, you naughty old woman.”
Ailie’s rage and Ned’s silence only confirming the teacher’s suspicion of their misbehavior, she led them both away to the closet.
“Any way,” blurted out Ailie at the rest of the scholars, scornfully, scornfully, and sobbing, and breathing hard between every word, “if—we—do—get—put in the—closet, we—don’t tell LIES!”
Fastened in with a great wooden button, the little prisoners held a council of war.
“Let’s scream and kick as hard as we can,” said Ailie.
“No,” said Ned; “let’s sing, and then perhaps they’ll be sorry.”
“They’re too wicked to be sorry for anything,” said Ailie.
“Perhaps it’ll make ’em better,” suggested Ned, and he began to sing; but Ailie was in no humor to undertake to improve the
morals of her enemies, and she kicked away at the plastering till she made great holes in it.
The teacher, perhaps repenting of her hasty judgment, or touched by Ned’s baby voice singing so sweetly, came back shortly to let them out; but when she found that now Ailie was really very naughty, she left her there alone till school was done.
Then, telling her that only good little girls could wear medals, she untied the pretty blue ribbon from her neck, and sent her home in disgrace.
“So you’ve had your fill, eh, Ailie?” said her father, when they told him the story with many tears.
“Well, Ned, it’s better to have been put in the closet for nothing than for something; and if Ailie had only been as tender as she was brave and true, I should have been proud of my little girl.”
Ailie did not quite understand it, but she was comforted, and fell asleep in her father’s arms.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, April 1870; pp. 168-173)
Allie’s first school days were suddenly and sadly ended. As she bounded into her father’s study one noon, eager to tell him that her teacher said she was the very best reader in school, she found Dr. Lemuel sitting there alone. Dr. Lemuel was her father’s most intimate friend, and Ailie liked him very much; but to-day he looked so solemn that she was half afraid of him.
“Where is my father?” she asked, excitedly.
“He is not very well, and your mother is with him,” said the doctor; “but Marian is to give you your dinner in the kitchen.”
On her way to the kitchen, Ailie met her aunt Janie, stepping softly down stairs, and looking very anxious. “Janie,” she cried, sure now that something very dreadful had happened, “I want my father.”
“Papa is trying to go to sleep,” said Janie, with a forced smile, “and his little girl must be as still as a mouse, if she wants him to be better when he wakes up.”
“Marian,” said Ailie, very authoritatively, as she went into the kitchen, “you must tell me what it is about papa, and why we are not to have dinner with mamma; and what does everybody walk on tiptoe for?”
“You just eat your dinner, and don’t go to worryin’ folks with questions,” said Marian; and then, with a sudden compunction of conscience for her unusual crossness, she added, “Your pa’s been a bleedin’ at the lungs; but maybe ’tain’t so bad as they think for. I’ve knowed folks live forty years after it.”
This was enough for Ailie. She made no reply, but dragging Ned out into the garden, out of sight and hearing from the house, she burst out crying. “Ned,” said she, “he is going to die, and then we shall have no father.”
“God is our Father,” said Ned, softly; “my Sunday school teacher said so.”
Ailie was subdued for a moment, but an ideal presence, instead of her own dear papa, could not long satisfy her.
“But we can’t talk to Him, nor sit in His lap, and He isn’t our real father,” she sobbed.
“If we ask Him, I guess He’ll let papa stay with us,” said Ned, whose disposition was sunnier and more serene than his sister’s.
“No, no, don’t tell Him he’s sick, and perhaps He won’t know it,” said poor little faithless Ailie, terribly conscious that her father’s life was in the hand of a Power far, far above her.
But when she saw that her little brother, who had exhausted all his powers of consolation, was beginning to be troubled too, Ailie
summoned up all her courage and tried to amuse him. They walked round and round the garden, stopping to admire the great clusters of cherry currants that were coming into bearing for the first time. “They’ll be bright red when papa comes down stairs,” said Ailie. She was thinking of him all the time, and it seemed as if she was trying to do the things she knew would please him. “Let’s find the toad,” said she, and after a while they found him squatting under a cabbage leaf. They got quite merry over his breathing and blinking his eyes so fast, and Ailie got some insects and fed him.
“I thought you were afraid of him,” said Ned.
“So I was,” said Ailie; “ but papa says it’s very silly to be afraid of toads, and that I ought to like him for keeping the bugs from the vegetables.” She was trying to be tender and brave for papa’s sake all that afternoon.
When Marian was tying on her bib for supper, she discovered that Ailie had a thick woollen stocking pinned tight round her neck. “What you got that on for this hot night?” asked Marian, impatiently, trying to pull it off.
Ailie resisted. “You must let it be, Marian,” said she. “I’ve got a sore throat, and papa always puts it on me.”
“Nonsense!” said Marian, whom the doctor’s sickness seemed to have made very savage; “you needn’t go to gettin’ sick, for there’s nobody to take care of you if you do.”
Ailie’s mother, who overheard the conversation, was so troubled that she asked Dr. Lemuel that evening to look at the child’s throat.
“Keep her in bed for a day or two,” said the doctor. “I hope it’s nothing serious; but ‘an ounce of prevention,’ you know.”
Very serious it proved, however, and a sad household was the doctor’s. In one room were Ailie and Ned, both very sick with scarlet fever; and in another part of the house, where he could not hear their moaning, their father lay, too weak to see or prescribe for them. Good Dr. Lemuel came to do all he could for the family of his friend, till his own little boy was seized with the same terrible disease. Then strange physicians were called in, and consulted together, first in one sick room and then in the other, and shook their heads and went away; and came and went many times a day for weeks. Day after day the doctor’s wife watched by each bedside, but at last Janie drove her from the children’s room, insisting that she and Marian could do all that was needed
there. Ailie was so querulous and troublesome that it took them both to take care of her. She screamed and struggled so at the sight of her medicine, that finally one of them had to put it into her mouth in a great pewter spoon with a lid to it, while the other held her hands, and even then half of it was spilled. Marian lost all patience with her one day, and told her she “guessed there was no doubt about her getting well, she was so cross.”
The children’s two grandmothers were sent for at last. One of them came from the city. She was a very stylish old lady, and wore a frisette of false hair in large puffs at the side, and a lace head-dress, trimmed with a profusion of bows. She stood and looked at the children over the foot of the bed, through her gold eye-glass, and sighed; and after rustling about a few days in her black silk gown, she went away, for she said it tried her too much to see the little things suffer.
Their country grandmother was a mild-looking old lady. Her snow-white hair was combed straight under her plain muslin cap, and her calico gown was ironed as smooth as satin. She put on her silver-bowed spectacles, and looked long and tenderly at her little grandchildren.
“Grandma,” said Ned, “when you look at me through your spectacles, it seems as if you could see right through me.”
But something in the little face dimmed her spectacles, and she went out of the room. She soon came back, and pinning her knitting-sheath to her side, took her station between the two little beds, as if she meant to stay there just as long as she was wanted. All through the day and far into the night, the pleasant clickety click of her needles was heard; and when at last she was persuaded to take some rest, Ned whispered to Janie that he hoped it was not wicked, but lie couldn’t help loving this grandmother best.
Ailie grew steadily better under her good nursing, and was soon able to go down into the garden in the middle of the day. Ned would beg his grandmother to let him get up and “see the flowers grow” (he thought they were growing when they waved to and fro in the wind), and she would wrap him up and hold him by the window while Ailie stripped her little garden of mignonette to bring up stairs to him.
Nobody minded much about Ailie now, for Ned was growing sicker every day. He was so patient, never fretful in the least, but always making excuses for everybody. One day, after Janie had been driving the flies out of his room, he said to Ailie, remem-
bering that he had been told it was wicked to kill flies, “Janie kills flies;” and then, as if he could not bear to think she could do wrong, he added, “but I guess she only kills the little ones.” “He was just the sweetest angel,” Marian said; and so he was. He lay there, and tried to sing himself out of his pain; but the song died in a vain struggle for utterance. “Would he try not to cry,” they asked him, “while the doctor touched the poor little throat with caustic?” “Yes, if mamma would sing.” And his mother sang, though her heart was breaking. Then came dreadful days, when he could no longer hear her voice, and wept because he could not; and then, a morning when he threw his arms about her neck, exclaiming, with delight, “Mamma, mamma, I hear the music!” It was not her voice that he heard, but the voices of angels, calling little Ned home to his heavenly Father.
When grandmother went to look for Ailie, she found her sitting in Ned’s little wheelbarrow, crying as if her heart would break. She would not be comforted. “One day I wouldn’t lend him my spade,” she said; “but if he would only come back, I’d let him have all my things to keep for his own.”
They carried her to her father, and in her joy at seeing him again, her grief for her little brother was abated. After this, she was never shut out from his room again; and often, as she sat beside him on his bed, he would stroke her hair and say, “Ailie must be brave, and stay always with mamma, and take care of her.”
She knew afterwards that he was thinking of the time when he should follow his dear boy, and leave his little girl to grow up without him as best she could. That sad day was drawing near, and when her mother, weeping, took her in her arms, saying, “You are all I have left to live for now,” young as she was, Ailie realized all that it meant.
Compared with all she had lost, the doctor’s little girl, a wee child of seven, was not much to cling to, and to this day Ailie wonders how her mother ever did it.
It was a desolate summer for them both, and in the autumn, as Ailie still seemed weak and spiritless, her mother sent her to the city with a lady friend.
It was her first journey. Instead of the elegant drawing-room cars in which we travel now, the cars were painted a dull lead color outside, and the seats were narrow and hard, and placed along the sides, like those of an omnibus.
Ailie slept almost all the way. It was night before they reached
their destination. The train stopped in a low, smoky building, and as they got out, hundreds of men rushed at them, with fierce gestures, screaming, “Want a cab?” “Free bus this way!” “Take you right up in a hack, miss.”
Ailie was really afraid they would take her right up in a hack and carry her off, and she hung back and kept tight hold of her friend’s hand. Seeing her fright, a dirty-faced urchin dropped on his knee before her, saying, with a comical air, “Want a shine?” and a ragged newsboy, in a long-tailed coat, and a hat without any top, offered her the “ ’Arr’ld Extree,” with a gravity that drew a yell of delight from his admiring friends.
Ailie and the lady took refuge from their tormentors in a cab—a funny little vehicle, that looked like an overgrown bandbox on wheels, and rattled away so fast over the pavement, that Ailie was bewildered by the noise.
For a fortnight the lady devoted herself to showing the doctor’s little girl all the wonders of the city; but she was disappointed to find that Ailie did not seem to be diverted by them. She was not ungrateful, ill-natured, or troublesome, but she seemed to have forgotten how to laugh with her eyes, and every morning she would ask, “Are we going home to-day?” “What is the matter with that child ?” people would ask; and her friend would reply, “She is too old for her years.” She seemed to understand why it was that the very happiest moment of Ailie’s first visit to the city was the morning that saw her again seated in the cars, with her face turned towards home.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, May 1870; pp. 226-231)
When it was proposed to send Ailie back to school, she rebelled. She would “never, never go to school without Ned,” she said; and as nobody felt like compelling her, it was tacitly resolved to keep her at home till spring. An attack of croup followed by lung fever kept her shut up for weeks. Dr. Lemuel had died during her visit to the city, and Dr. Wright had moved into town, hoping to succeed to the practice left open by the death of the two principal physicians. The first day he was
sent for to Ailie, she jumped out of bed and hid in the closet, from which she had to be dragged disgracefully on his arrival, and put into bed again, where she turned her back upon him, and instead of answering his questions, I am ashamed to say, she told him flatly, to his face, that she did not like him at all, and should not take his medicines if he left any. The truth was, the poor little girl could not forgive him for stepping into her father’s place; and for months she did him the injustice of believing that he was not sorry a bit for her not having her dear father any more to take care of her when she was sick. She was not rude to him, because her mother had told her she must not be; but she was very reserved.
Dr. Wright, however, was a kind-hearted man, and took just as good care of her as if she had been perfectly polite to him. He even made her a present of a tea-set; quite a grand affair, too, it was—blue and white, with girls skipping rope, and little dogs chasing them, all round the cups; but he could not bribe her confidence. He entertained her with wonderful stories about his little boy, and it was comical (and pitiful too) to see her assume an air as if she could tell him a great deal smarter things of a little boy she knew about if she chose.
“I hope you’ll like my boy when you get acquainted with him,” said he one day. Ailie said nothing; but she resolved internally that she would hate the Wright boy with all her heart.
When Ailie got down stairs again, time hung very heavily upon her hands. She never liked to play with dolls; she was not well enough to go out in the snow and coast, as she would have liked to do; her mother was a good deal taken up with Janie, who was far from well; Marian sat up in her room and sewed; and Ailie hung about them all, restless and discontented.
“What had got into the child,” Marian said, “was more’n she knew; but there was no mistake about it, she was real cross.”
Perhaps there was “no mistake about it,” in Ailie’s case; but I know that more of the so-called crossness in children is real heartsoreness than those who have the care of them ever realize.
She was in the barn one day, sitting listlessly in a swing which her father had put up for her there, when she heard the cheery voices of the men at work in a cabinet-maker’s shop adjoining. She went out through the now disused barn-yard, and looked in at the window. There were two men and a boy in the shop. The gray-headed man was the foreman. Ailie knew him. He had often
spoken to her while she and her father were feeding sorrel pony in the stable-yard, and the doctor had said that Vandorn (that was the man’s name) was “a likely man.” It looked very pleasant in the shop. There were windows all around three sides of the room. Various unfinished articles of furniture were scattered about. There was a stove with a roaring fire in it in the middle of the room, and near it a ladder reached up through a hole in the floor above to a loft full of lumber. The boy sat on the foot of the ladder stirring something in a pot on the stove; but as soon as he spied Ailie, he hopped down from his perch, and climbing up the back side of the ladder, poked his head through the rounds, and made faces at her. The foreman opened the window.
“Ef you want ter come in,” said he, kindly, “I’ll put a board out, and you can walk right up here on to my bench.”
Ailie thought it would be much pleasanter than swinging alone in the barn; so she walked up the plank and through the window into the shop. Vandorn brushed away the shavings from one end of his bench, and she sat down there and watched him at his work. Pretty soon he saw her shudder. She had discovered that the other man was making a child’s coffin.
“Aloft with the box, Andrew; the juvenile’s tender on that point yet,” said the foreman, enigmatically, and without raising his eyes, for he did not wish Ailie to understand him.
“Jest about a fit, I reckon,” replied the apprentice, a rough, daring fellow, making a movement towards Ailie as he spoke.
“Touch that child and I’ll pitch you out the winder,” thundered Vandorn, enraged at Andrew’s brutality. Aud the latter, comprehending once for all that the doctor’s little girl was to be treated with respect in the shop, tucked “the box” under his arm, and ran up the ladder, muttering about “folks havin’ mighty fine feelin’s all of a sudden.”
Ailie followed him with her eyes, gazing with a half-frightened look at the hole overhead, where he disappeared. The great mystery which had lately come so near her, was, to her, just such a great black hole with no light beyond.
“You musn’t keep a feelin’ bad when you see them things,” said Vandorn to her, soothingly. “When I first come here a boy, I couldn’t bear the sight of ’em; but one night, when I had got kinder scared hammerin’ on one here alone, says I to myself, ‘Jim Vandorn, you wouldn’t have no such feelin’ if that was a jewel-case you was workin’ at—would you? And ain’t somebody’s jewel
goin’ inter this, I’d like to know?’ And ever sence that night I’ve thought of ’em as jewel-boxes, and I take a pride in finishin’ ’em up handsome.”
The idea was rather pleasant to Ailie. It took away the horror children often feel for the thing itself. Vandorn saw he had got hold of the right thought, and he went on, musingly,—
“He giv ’em to us, and when he takes ’em back, I reckon it’s because he knows he can keep ’em safer ’n we can, and we hain’t no call to blame Him—”
“But,” interrupted Ailie, “nobody ’d bury jewels up in the ground to keep ’em safe—would they?”
“I don’t know justly how it is,” answered Vandorn, “but I’m willin’ to believe they ain’t any of ’em lost, and we shall get ’em all back again some day.” The child was not so willing.
“Them dove-tails want seein’ to,” said the foreman to Andrew, as he slid down the ladder; “or you might ease off them rabbets.”
Ailie brightened up at this. She thought he was very good to let Andrew stop his work to look at the doves and rabbits. She was somewhat disappointed when Andrew brought a bureau-drawer to Vandorn to ask his advice about it; and she found out that a “dove-tail” in carpentry was only the peculiar manner in which the sides and ends of drawers, and other articles requiring great firmness, are put together.
She visited the shop daily after this, and, sitting on the foreman’s bench, learned many a useful lesson not taught in schools. She soon understood what a joiner’s rabbets are, and could tell you the difference between a level and a bevel, a gouge and a gauge, as well as Vandorn himself. She knew all the different woods at sight; their qualities and uses; and, through her questions about them, picked up a good deal of geography and botany without ever hearing of the terms.
“I wish I could do that,” said she, one day, as Vandorn was finishing the top of a card-table.
“Try,” said he, putting the smoothing-plane into her hand. Ailie could not push the plane as easily as the foreman had done. It bobbed up and down, and made ugly, rough places in the wood.
“It’s cross,” said Ailie; “it won’t do anything I want it to.”
“That’s because you went against the grain,” replied Vandorn. “I guess that’s the way Marian does with me,” said Ailie, “for she says I’m cross when I’m not.”
“I shouldn’t wonder,” said the foreman; “but ’tain’t no use
tryin’ to smooth down a child’s temper by workin’ across the grain. Ef you do, you’re pretty apt to find it a good deal like this board—the more you bear on, the worse it is, and the rougher it gits. But this is too hard wood for you to work,” he continued. “I’ll git you a softer board, and teach you how to make a table for your baby-house.”
No dainty little miss of my acquaintance, flounced, frizzled, and helpless as her own dolls, ever enjoyed her finest French toys half as much as the doctor’s little girl delighted in the pine chairs, and tables, and sofas that she made herself at Vandorn’s bench. A queer little figure she must have cut as she stood there tugging away with jack-plane and chisel, his striped ticking apron buttoned round her throat to keep the dust from her clothes. Her centre-tables were not always round; her chairs would not always stand straight; often she worked till her shoulders ached; sometimes she cut her fingers; many, many times she sawed her gown,—but she never was happier in her life; and if she is not to-day as inefficient as most women, it is due to Vandorn, the cabinet-maker,
who taught her how to use her hands. It must be owned that her mother was not altogether pleased when Ailie appeared in the parlor with her soft brown hair matted together with glue, and her fingers covered with varnish; especially as this happened more than once when visitors were calling, who professed themselves shocked that the widow should allow her little girl to do such “unladylike things;” and when she heard that some of her very best friends had said they did not see how she could permit that child to associate with those workmen, she told Dr. Wright she was almost sorry she had not insisted on Ailie’s going to school.
“Don’t bother the child,” said the blunt doctor; “don’t you see she’s getting back her strength and spirits. Vandorn won’t let her hear anything coarse in the shop; he’s as careful of her as if she was gold dust; and her common sense’ll bring her round all right in the end.”
Ailie overheard this conversation, and she carried some carrots over to the Wright boy’s rabbits the very next day.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, June 1870; pp. 273-278)
It was fortunate for the doctor’s little girl that somebody had faith in her “common sense;” for, to tell the truth, at this period of her existence she was one of those wild little sprites for whom proper and well-meaning people are always prophesying some dreadful doom. Wayward she was not in any wilful sense, but she was wholly unlike most girls of her age, and her mother often despaired of taming her down into their ways. The river was her great delight. It was grand in the time of the spring freshets, when the water spread over the meadows as far as the eye could reach, and the great blocks of ice came dashing under the bridge, tearing away the piers, and lay jammed up over the wharves. She did not realize the danger, or the destruction it caused. She used to play it was the ocean, and that the ice-cakes
were shipwrecks. Once, seeing a colony of field mice huddled together as if in distress on one of these fancied wrecks, she thought she would get out a life-boat and go to the rescue of the captain and crew; and she was actually afloat in an old, leaky, flat-bottomed boat, with a bit of slab for a paddle, when some men, gathering flood-wood near by, spied her, and, pulling her ashore with a boat-hook, gave her a good scolding and sent her home. Nothing, however, could drive her from her favorite haunt. She thought nothing could be pleasanter than to float all day down stream on a raft, and tie up to a tree on the bank at night. She would amuse herself for hours in loading little chip boats with the yeasty froth of the river, which collected among the alders in some sheltered cove; and many were the air castles she built with the money she got from the sale, in a foreign land, of what she called her “River Island Cotton.” But, alas! her ships all foundered at sea, and her beautiful castles never had any surer foundation than a child’s dream.
Close by the water there stood a large house, which, as it was literally swarming with Irish people, was known as The Hive. Among the busiest bees in The Hive were Norah, the doctor’s washerwoman, and her young husband, Patrick Mahoney. Norah always spoke of him as “the b’y,” and the boy did not seem to regard the title as beneath his dignity. Though The Hive in general was not very inviting, Norah’s tenement was as neat a place as one would wish to see, especially on a Saturday, for she put by her washing on that day to set her house in order for “the b’y.” Patrick was away all the week, digging on the railroad, and a happy woman was Norah when he jumped off the dirt train at his own door on Saturday afternoon.
“The b’y’ll be off airly the day,” she would shout from her window to Ailie, playing by the river below; “an’ sure an’ he’ll like nothing better than a sight of your purty young face forninst him at supper.”
Ailie seldom resisted the flattering invitation. An odd tea-party some people might have thought if they had looked in at the door; but Allie never enjoyed any tea-drinkings more, though the little cooking-stove blazed away with a fervor unnecessary on a summer’s day, and the odor of Patrick’s pipe clung to her clothes for some days after. The floor was newly sanded; the deal partition, scoured white, set off to advantage the picture of the Virgin, whose sacred heart, in flame color, against her blue drapery,
lighted up the whole room. The bed was nicely made up for Saturday, the table covered with a brown cloth freshly ironed, and there sat “the b’y,” in his clean shirt sleeves, drinking the bohea which Ailie poured for him with great dignity. Norah, in her broad-bordered cap, proud of both, had no drawback to her pleasure but the frequent intrusion at the open door of the dirty-faced children of the neighborhood, among whom the visit of the doctor’s little girl created a great sensation.
“Be dacent now, and show ye’s manners of yer own,” Norah would begin coaxingly; but, failing of any decisive results, always ended with a “Go long wid ye,” and a terrific brandishing of the bread-knife, which sent them all scampering.
At sunset Ailie always watched for the steamboats to come in, that plied between the town where she lived and the city of Roeford, about thirty miles distant. These boats were named the Phoenix and the Anawam, and funny little things they were; the great paddle-wheels at the stern making them look, for all the world, like mammoth churns, whose surplus energies had taken them out of their proper sphere on some dairy farm, and driven them to a seafaring life.
“I can’t see what there is so interesting about a steamboat, that you should want to go down every afternoon to see it,” said Ailie’s mother, half remonstrating with her.
“O,” replied Ailie, “it’s such fun to see it come hurrying up the river, puffing as if it were nearly out of breath, but never forgetting to stop politely and take off its hat to the bridge; and then, sniffing, and snorting, and shaking its sides like a great water dog that is tired of swimming, it comes to land quietly at last, and is chained up for the night.”
Her mother smiled at the little girl’s description, but she did not forbid her going, as there was really no impropriety or danger in it. It was not like a city, where there are hundreds of carts and drays; hackmen shouting, and porters screaming, as they trundle oaf the heavy baggage trucks.
Captain Hight, of the Phoenix, was a bachelor of forty—a lank, awkward man, with faded blue eyes, and a wrinkled face, which was almost leather color from exposure to the sun. He had known the doctor well, and often stopped in the garden on his way from the boat. Ailie had admired him ever since one night when he had said, after the doctor had been showing him the flowers, “Well, doctor, I don’t envy you but one thing you’ve
got here, and that is this little Blossom,” swinging Ailie up on his shoulder as he spoke.
She always waited till the passengers had dispersed, and when she saw the captain coming off the boat with his little tin trunk or tickets, she ran down the bank to meet him.
“What! you here, little Brewer,” he would say, affecting surprise at seeing her, though, in fact, he had been watching for her ever since the boat rounded the last bend in the river, and really depended, fair more than he was willing to admit, upon meeting the child at the landing.
He always called her by her last name, as he would a shipmate, prefixing little as a pet diminutive. Ailie liked it. She considered it as rather a distinguishing mark of his friendship for her, that he did not say, “Hallo, sis,” as some people did.
“Put on your best bib and tucker,” he said to her one day, “and go down to Roeford with me to-morrow.”
“Really, may I?” she asked, eagerly.
“Give this to your mother,” he said, writing something on a card. It was this:—
“Captain Hight’s compliments to Allie’s mother, with the assurance that if she will say ‘yes’ to her little girl’s request, he will take the best care of her.”
Ailie’s mother said “yes,” and the next morning she stood on deck, holding fast to the captain’s hand, as the boat backed away from the wharf. “Away she goes!” cried the captain; and, greatly to the amusement of the passengers, Ailie, to whom this was a new sensation, exclaimed, “Why, she pants and flounders about like the big elephant Ned and I rode on at the menagerie.”
As this was her first journey by water, she was very curious about everything. After they had sailed an hour or two, she began to hear a roaring in the distance, and asked the captain what it was. “O, that’s the falls,” said he, and went off to give an order.
A gentleman sitting near Ailie explained to her, that, though the beds of some rivers are comparatively level, in many of them there are steep places, and the stream flowing over these precipices forms what the captain called a fall. Ailie was a little frightened. She did not see how the steamboat was ever to get safely over a waterfall.
“I think, however,” continued the gentleman, seeing her anxiety, “that there are no regular falls at this point, but that there is a
gradual slope in the river-bed, forming what we call rapids; and shooting the rapids is very exciting.”
“I ran the rapids in the St. Lawrence last week,” he added, turning to a fellow-passenger; “but, though we had an Indian pilot who knew every rock in the river, I held my breath more than once.”
Ailie held hers, but soon, to her great relief, found that her friend was both right and wrong. Though there were rapids in the river, they were to avoid them by a circuitous route through a canal, dug from a point above them to a point below. The boat entered the canal, but was soon brought to a stand-still by some large beams that seemed to have fallen across the canal.
“What’s the matter now?” asked Ailie.
“Nothing but a lock,” answered the captain.
She looked puzzled. She was wishing people would call things by names she could understand, when the gentleman came to her help again.
“You see, my little girl,” said he, [“]that when a canal connects two points of different levels, it is necessary to divide it into several level portions, which communicate with each other by means of locks. A lock is a basin, just large enough to take in a boat, in which the water is confined on the two sides by walls of masonry, and at the two ends by gates, which open and shut, in order that the boat may pass through, and that the water of the upper level may be cut off from that of the lower. The beams you noticed are a part of the lower gate, which is now shut. As we are sailing down stream, we of course are descending from an upper level to a lower. That we might do this, the lock was first filled with water, the upper gates were opened, till our boat passed in, and then, as you will see by coming with me to the stern of the boat, they were shut behind us. The water will be drawn from the lock by valves, till our boat is lowered to the next level of the canal, when the lower gate will be opened, and we shall pass out.”
Ailie now saw that while she had been listening to the gentleman’s kind explanation, the boat had been slowly sinking between two walls of solid masonry. The stones were green and slimy, and it was very chilly and dark in the lock; but, in a minute or two, the lower gate swung open, and they passed out into the warm sunshine.
At Roeford the captain showed Ailie many interesting things;
among others, a famous oak tree, where the early settlers of the town had once hidden a paper that the king had given them, securing them certain rights and privileges, in order to keep it from a tyrannical governor. Ailie was glad to learn that at last the people rose up against the tyrant, shipped him back to England, and taking their charter, as it was called, out of the old oak, lived in freedom under its provisions for many years afterwards.
“Why did you name your boat the Phoenix?” she asked the captain, as they went on board the next day to go home.
“Very ancient nations,” said the captain, “believed in a fabulous bird called the phoenix. It was said to have magnificent plumage of crimson and gold, to live singly on the earth for centuries, and then to expire among the flames of sweet-smelling herbs, of which it had made itself a funeral pile. From its ashes another phoenix arose, and in this way the race was kept up. When the old boat that I used to run was burned, the company built this to take her place, and I suppose they called her the Phoenix because, as they put some of the machinery of the old boat in her, she seemed to rise from her own ashes.
“I don’t think much of the name myself,” he added, “and when I get rich enough to build a boat, you shall break a bottle of champagne over her bows when she’s launched; we’ll christen her the Little Brewer, and she shall have a little girl in a white gown and a gypsy hat for a figure-head.”
Ailie thought this would be very fine indeed.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, July 1870; pp. 18-22)
With the Roeford excursion Ailie’s holidays ended. On her return, her mother told her that she had made arrangements for her to go to school again.
“I thought I wasn’t going to school any more,” said Ailie.
“But every little girl has to go,” said her mother, “and I expect you will be such a good scholar that, by and by, when I get to be an old lady, you can teach, and help support me.”
“No,” replied Ailie, very firmly, “I shan’t ever be a teacher, because Dr. Wright says nobody ought to be one who doesn’t love children; and I’m sure I don’t, at all.” Ailie was apt to put on airs, as if she considered herself already quite grown up. It came of her being so much with older people, and it made her mother still more anxious to have her begin to associate more with children.
“But it’s time you were learning something,” continued her mother.
“Vandorn can teach me all I want to know,” urged the child; “he knows a great deal,—and, besides, I’m learning something every day. I learned ever so much when I went to Roeford; the captain said I was the most observing little girl he ever knew; and Dr. Wright says his boy has learned more from observation than he ever did at school; so I don’t see why I need to go.”
Ailie’s arguments not being entirely convincing, she was sent to school the next day. As she loitered along the road (she had refused to let Mari[a]n go with her, saying that anybody who could go a journey alone was old enough to go to school alone), picking buttercups, and wondering if they put girls in the closet at the new school, Vandorn, who stood in the shop door, hailed her. “Halloo! Lady Bird, where are you going?” he asked.
Too brave to let her friend know how she dreaded the ordeal, she answered, “I’m going to a real school, where they study French; and I’m going to be a teacher.”
“Humph! you look like it,” said Vandorn, gruffly.
Ailie wondered what made him so cross. The truth was, he missed his little apprentice from his work-bench, and could not bear to think she would never come back to it any more.
“I’ve begun to study French,” she said to Vandorn, a few weeks after this.
“You haven’t begun to teach yet—have you?” he asked, gravely.
Determined not to show any consciousness that he was laughing at her, she answered, “No; but I’ll begin now. You can’t guess what a pipe is, in French—now, can you ?” she asked, insinuatingly.
“A pipe’s a pipe, the world over, I reckon,” said Vandorn, who was partial to the weed.
“No, indeed, it isn’t,” shouted Ailie. “In French, a pipe is a peep.”
“Then I’ll go take a peep at mine,” said Vandorn, and went into the shop. Ailie enjoyed this joke immensely. Children (and grown people, too) are very fond of displaying any newly-acquired knowledge, especially that which it has cost them some labor to obtain.
As Ailie had said, her new school was a real one. Nobody ever left it without being a good reader, a good speller, and a good writer; and many are the deft housemothers, to-day, who owe their skill with the needle to the faithful instruction of that patient teacher. In this latter accomplishment the doctor’s little girl was the black sheep of the flock. She tried her very best, but she hated sewing. The big, round tears would fall fast and noiselessly on her patchwork, the needle would rust in the seam, and stick and break, and the teacher would say, “Run out doors, Ailie; you’ll feel more like sewing to-morrow.” But that to-morrow never came to Ailie. Memory pictures those little scholars clearer than any photograph. Which of them will ever forget Sophie, who would persist in multiplying by ciphers, and whose poor little pinched face was a perpetual smirch of tears and slate-pencil dust, in consequence of the unsatisfactoriness of the result; and Lucy, whose animal spirits even the incubus of Emerson’s Second Part could never subdue, and whose pure, good-natured fun infected all the rest, and set them into many a giggle, for which they paid dear; and Oliver, whom the girls laughed at because he was so fond of them, though they liked him none the less for it, and learned later that he was none the worse soldier for it; and Mary, who impressed them all as knowing vastly more of the world than they, whom they all consulted as their oracle, and who, without wishing to domineer, managed them all with her “I don’t care, any way; I know it’s so,” from which they never thought of appealing, though their minds were not always free from doubts; and Johnnie, who, like the sailor’s wife in the old play, always had chestnuts in his lap, and “munched, and munched, and munched”? A happy little flock they were altogether, and enjoyed those days in a simple boy-and-girl fashion, that I wish was more common now.
A day or two ago I met a little girl of nine years old on her way to one of our fashionable schools. She was swinging a dainty Russia bag on her fingers, while behind her walked a big, stout Irishman, carrying her books and looking very foolish about it. All the shapeliness of the baby head was lost in the prodigious frizzle of dead-looking yellow hair, that streamed over her neck and shoulders. The child-like form was robed in ruffles of silk, and the elastic step of childhood was crippled by the torture of boots so narrow and high, that to balance herself in them was a difficult feat; to walk, an impossibility. A lad of her own age lifted
his cap with the air of a Brummell as he passed her, and she returned his salutation with a practised bend of her little body. What a contrast to the doctor’s sturdy little girl as I have seen her many a time riding to school on the butcher’s cart, or frisking down the street, one little brown hand tugging her hoop and her calico bag of marbles, and her French Guide in the other.
Not that I should like to see the little city girls, for whom I am writing this story, riding on carts, but it makes me sad to see how mode and mannerism have almost destroyed the natural grace and innocence of children nowadays. As to Ailie and the butcher’s cart, all I can say is, that everybody had a kind word for her, and she would make friends with everybody. Her mother still remembers one terrible July day, when to breathe was as much as one wanted to do, and a carriage dashed up to the door at noon, and set the house in a flutter. Nobody was dressed for dinner, for the very good reason that there was no dinner cooking. Marian rushed to the kitchen, Mrs. Brewer to her chamber, and Janie to the door, to welcome the visitors. The driver leaped from his box, threw down the steps, and out jumped Miss Ailie, whom he had found lagging tired by the way, and insisted upon driving her home, because he said he “shouldn’t forget the doctor’s sitting up with his little Jim when he was bad with the fever.” Marian declared that Ailie ought to have a shaking for giving them all such a scare; and, between you and me, she got it.
Ailie and her schoolmates were not satiated with amusements, and they never crowded about their teacher’s desk at recess to whimper about the heat or the cold, and beg that they need not go out to play. But out they rushed with a bound, and a plenty of noise they made, they never sauntered about in a melancholy way, sucking pickled limes, and discussing the fashions.
Sometimes they played store, selling sand for sugar, and skeins of plantain threads for sewing silk, and took their pay in pins. On rainy days they took possession of the town hall, a dusty old place, with galleries, and a sort of pulpit, behind which was a gorgeous picture of Washington standing beside a white horse. They played church there, and Ailie was always the minister; and although she was apt to be rather personal in her application of the text to the different members of her congregation, they received it with becoming meekness, except the boys in the galleries, who always had to be turned out by the sexton before the close of the meeting. Once they played it was Fourth of July. Ailie was the orator.
She was not very familiar with history; so she took her text from the picture behind her. “Fellow-sisterzens,” said she, “we have met to celebrate the birthday of General George Washington. He was a very great man, and he had a very great horse; but he was a little boy once, like some of you, and his horse was once a little colt. The colt was very wild; but George was no coward: so he rode it bareback all around the field, which greatly alarmed his mother, and proved that he was going to be a very brave man, which he afterwards turned out; and this is the picture of George and his horse grown up.”
The cheers of the audience for General Washington brought the town clerk out of his dingy little den; a smooth-faced and corpulent old gentleman, with a quill pen thrust through his stiff iron-gray hair. He looked fierce, and growled a little; but the sight of Ailie sent a smile over his grim face, and he did not interfere with their sports.
It was this summer that Ailie went to
her first party. Her mother told her at noon that she must come home punctually when school was done, that she might be dressed in season (for children’s parties then began before tea, and ended by nine o clock at the very latest). The afternoon was uncomfortably warm, and as the time for dismissal drew near, Ailie, whose ideas of visiting were limited by her informal tea-drinkings at the Hive, thought it would be quite as well to go right from school to the party as to take a long walk home alone, and start again. Walking on with the girls who lived near the house where the party was to be, she opened the gate and went in. A few children were there already, and their bright dresses and gay ribbons made the lawn look like a beautiful flower garden. Some ladies who had come to see the party looked at each other strangely, and acted as if there was some mistake about it, when Ailie in her usual school dress, a calico gown, with a dimity ruffle at the throat, plain brown ribbons in her hair, thick stockings, and ankle-ties without any rosettes, walked up to Mrs. D., the lady of the house, and said, “I’ve come to the party.”
“Did your mother say you might come?” askod Mrs. D., in some doubt.
“O, yes, ma’am,” said Ailie, frankly; “and she said you were very polite to invite me.”
“Then I am very glad to see you,” replied the lady; and Ailie at once felt at home. Every one noticed her, and it seemed to her as if people had never been so kind before. It was a grand party. There were games on the lawn till sunset, and then there was dancing in the parlors; and it was rumored that at the end there was to be a fine supper, with a splendid cake in the middle of the table, and round it a wreath of flowers, which was to be given to the prettiest girl in the room.
“And I know who’ll get it,” whispered Ailie to Mr. D., who held her on his lap while the rest were dancing.
“Who do you think?” he asked.
“It ought to be Lizzie H.,” said Ailie; “she is so lovely.” And then they all went in to supper. Just then there came a furious ring at the door, and Ailie was called out into the hall, where she found Marian very much excited.
“You naughty girl,” said she, seizing the child roughly, “to run away from school, and go to a party in this rig, and worry your poor mother most into her grave! You must come home this minute; and I guess it’s the last party you’ll be let to go to.”
Ailie began to have some misgivings, for she remembered the new white dress that lay on her mother’s bed that morning, and the lovely blue ribbons, and everything pretty to go with it, which her mother had taken pride in preparing for her to wear; but not choosing to show Marian her discomfiture, she said, “Marian, you must not talk so to me, for my mother has always told me it is no matter what a little girl wears, if her clothes are clean and whole, and she behaves well.”
As she went back into the supper-room to say good night (for Marian was inexorable, and would have her go home at once, in spite of the entreaties of all that she might stay longer), Mr. D. took the wreath from the cake, and threw it over her head, saying, as he did so, “In my opinion, the prettiest girl here is the one who has not once thought of her own appearance this afternoon.”
All eyes were turned upon Ailie, who then, for the first time, became conscious of her calico gown, and the mortification her mother would suffer. She blushed painfully, and would have sobbed outright, if Mr. D. had not led her from the room. As he put her into the carriage to send her home, he whispered, “Don’t cry, Ailie; there’s no harm done. I only
wish my little girl had no more vanity than you have.”
But Ailie could not be consoled. She knew that she had made a mistake, and she learned from a mortifying experience, that while no maxim of dress can be made applicable to all occasions, it is a pretty safe rule to follow that those adornments which challenge no observation, either by their undue plainness or their over-richness, are always most befitting.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, August 1870; pp. 78-81)
With vacation came discontent to the doctor’s little girl. “I don’t know what to do with the child,” said Mrs. Brewer to Dr. Wright, as he stood watching Ailie, who, astride of her father’s saddle, which she had mounted on the top of the garden gate, was swinging back and forth in a most ungraceful and reckless manner. “You do too much,” answered the blunt doctor; “and so you fret her, and she frets you. I believe in a little wholesome letting alone for a child like Ailie. If her pranks worry you, send her up in the country, where she can run wild awhile. It’ll do her good, body and soul, and she’ll steady down all the easier after it.”
“How would you like to go and make grandmother a visit?” said her mother to Ailie not long after this.
Ailie never committed herself to a plan without due consideration. “Could I take Cinderella?” she asked, after a pause. Cinderella was her kitten, which Manan had named on account of its fondness for sitting in the ashes.
“O, no,” replied Mrs. Brewer, “because you will have to ride on the outside of the coach, and you could not take care of her there.”
“I guess I won’t go then,” said Ailie, “She would be lonesome without me.”
Nevertheless, a few days later the mail coach, or, as it was usually called, the stage, with four horses, drew up at the doctor’s door.
“Passenger here booked for Buckfield?” shouted the driver.
The appearance of a child and her cat, in answer to his summons, seemed to overcome him with the ridiculousness of the thing.
“Is that all ?” he asked, comically.
Mrs. Brewer told him she was going to send Ailie to visit her grandparents, at Buckfield, and would be much obliged to him if he would take charge of her.
“I guess this is just such a coach as the fairy made, to take Cinderella to the ball. It looks like a great yellow pumpkin,” whispered Ailie to Marian.
“Don’t you stay too long, then, and come home in rags, ’cause there’s nobody to mend ’em if you do,” replied Marian, who really disliked to have the child go, and, besides that, never lost a chance to remind her that nobody was going to assume any responsilility for her.
The coach rolled about so, while the driver was strapping her trunk to the rack behind, that it fairly made Ailie seasick to look at it. There were three seats inside, already occupied by nine people.
“Let me see,” said the driver; “I guess I shall have to stow you in between these ladies,” and he was unfastening the strap which served as a back to the middle seat, in order to put her in behind, when Ailie, pointing to the top, said,—“I’d rather ride up there with you.”
“You’d be afraid,” he answered.
“I’m never afraid,” said Ailie, with offended dignity.
“Then you’re just the woman for me,” said he, swinging her up on the box as if she were a feather.
But when the horses started off, and the coach rocked like a boat, now on the crest of a billow, and then in the trough of the sea, Ailie was far from feeling at ease. The leather cushion was very slippery; the dashboard was so low, that it
seemed as if the next lurch of the coach would send her tumbling down on the horses’ backs; her little legs dangled helplessly in the air; and Cinderella, who did not take kindly to the situation, bit, scratched, and struggled to get away, so that Ailie began to wish she had left her at home. The driver, seeing that she was troubled, and that she would not complain, said, kindly,—
“When we get over to the tavern, I’ll fix you better.”
They stopped at the post-office, to get the mail that was to be left at the different towns along the road. The clerk brought out the mail-bags on his shoulder, and tossed them up, one by one, to the driver, who stowed them away so as to make a comfortable resting-place for Ailie’s feet. Some of them were very large, but one was no bigger than a work-bag.
“How disappointed the people must be who get only that little bag of letters!” said Ailie.
“That goes to Ireland,” said the driver. “Are we going to Ireland?” asked Ailie.
“Yes,” replied the driver.
“I wish I had known it before,” said Ailie; “for I am sure Norah would have wanted to send a message to her mother.”
“Why, bless your heart,” cried the driver, “it’s not that Ireland.”
Ailie, rather abashed by her mistake, said no more; but the driver now and then addressed his horses with such remarks as, “Hi, Billy! you’re some on swimmin’, but I doubt ef you could fetch the big pond.”
They made a grand sweep up to the door of the tavern, a low, beetle-browed looking building, on the front of which was the sign Camden Coffee House. The driver jumped down, took off his leather gloves, wound his reins round a post, and went into the bar-room. Two or three loafers sat on the piazza, spitting tobacco juice. They looked at Ailie, and tickled the horses, much to her annoyance. Soon the driver came out, smacking his lips, and putting on his gloves.
“Fetch me the boot that belongs to this coach,” he said to one of the men. “Step lively—I can’t wait here all day.”
For the first time he seemed in a hurry, and the men who were before so lazy bustled about as if in the starting of the coach an immense responsibility devolved upon them. The driver buckled one side of the boot to the dashboard and Ailie’s end of the seat, and bringing the other side over her like a great leather apron, above which you could only see her head and shoulders, he sat down upon it.
“You’re all snug, now,” said he, “and can’t tumble out if you want to.”
“What you got there you’re so careful of, Jim?” said one of the men.
“Jest the nicest little pitcher—best of Chiny, shipped for Buckfield,” was the answer. “Oncommon big ears, though,” he added, as he saw Ailie’s look of intelligence.
She had heard too much from Marian concerning “little pitchers” not to know that she was meant, and she felt relieved when the agent brought out the way-bill, which the driver put in his hat, and calling to the men to “pass up the ribbons,” they began the journey. Ailie was one of those children who treasure up all the odd bits of information that come in their way.
“I wonder if Marian knows they call this a boot,” she said to herself, as they rode along, and added aloud, “I should never have thought of calling those dirty leather reins ribbons.”
“They don’t look much like the one round your cat’s neck; that’s a fact,” said the driver, laughing. “What’s her name?” he asked pretty soon.
Ailie told him.
“Let me see. Cinderella was the lady the prince danced with—wasn’t she?”
said he. “I’ve got a horse named Prince.”
“Is it one of these?” inquired Ailie.
“No,” said he; “I keep him out on my farm, with the children. I call this nigh wheeler Billy Boy, and the off horse Devil, and the leaders Baby and My Lady.”
Ailie thought she would watch them after this, and see if she could discover any sense in their names. Billy Boy was evidently the driver’s favorite. My Lady arched her neck proudly, and stepped daintily round all the mud puddles, as if she were afraid of soiling her white feet. Baby kept rubbing his head on her neck, and biting her ear. He was a lazy, fat fellow, and shirked all the work. Devil fretted under the harness, and foamed at the mouth, which he kept open all the time, and looked as if he would like to tear things to pieces if he could. What an exciting journey it was! Dashing down steep hills, the leaders at a full gallop, with the whiffletrees clattering at their heels, the wheel horses curving their sides into a bow, in their efforts to hold back, and up again, the leaders now crawling lazily, the poor wheelers tugging with all their might; rolling through fields of waving broom-corn, or under trees whose branches drooped so low that it seemed as if they would sweep Ailie from the top of the coach; stopping by the wayside for Baby and My Lady to cool their noses in the watering trough, all fringed about with jewel weed and gentians, while the driver filled a bucket for Billy Boy and boxed Devil’s ears for trying to drink at the same time; past the red school-house at the cross-roads, where the little girls in pink aprons and pasteboard sun-bonnets ceased their play, and, taking hold of hands, curtesied to the travellers; pausing to change mails at the little shop, which, surmounted by a pair of ox-horns and the sign, “Post-Ofis,” showed the twofold business of its occupant as cobbler and postmaster; trotting noisily, regardless of the warning at the entrance, “Positively no trotting,” through the long covered bridge, lighted only by the mote-laden sunbeams that slanted through the crevices between the weather-shrunken boards, and waiting at the end for a woman to raise up the toll-gate, which Ailie was terribly afraid would fall like a guillotine, and cut their heads off as they rode under it.
At noon they reached a country tavern, where the driver said “the stage would stop to dine and change horses.” Some men in their shirt-sleeves sat whittling on a low wooden bench on the piazza. The side of the house was covered with various placards, among them a flaming announcement of a circus that had visited the village the week before. The driver jumped off, and unhitched his horses, leaving them to find their own way to the barn. The inside passengers woke up, and tumbled out to dinner. Ailie did not want any dinner, as she had a nice luncheon in her basket; but she said she wished she had some milk for Cinderella. The driver brought her some in a saucer, which she set on the roof of the coach. Then she tied the kitten by a ribbon to the iron railing round it, and Cinderella lapped up the milk eagerly, and did not try to get away. Some bare-legged boys, with sun-burnt faces and tattered hats, climbed up over the baggage-rack, and stared at her. A girl who was braiding a palm-leaf hat at a chamber window watched her with great interest, and presently asked her if she was travelling alone, and where she was going. When Ailie told her, she said if she could earn money enough by braiding to pay for her schooling, she was going to the Academy in Buckfield in the fall. Ailie asked her how much she got for her hats, and how many she could braid in a day. The girl
said she could do three coarse hats for the farm hands, for which she got eight cents apiece.
“Why,” said Allie, “that’s only about a quarter of a dollar a day. I should think you would rather teach school than do that.”
“So I should, if I knew enough,” replied the girl. “My sister taught in Huckleberry District last winter, and got three dollars a week and her board.”
Ailie thought that was not very much, and began to feel rather sober at her own prospects. By this time the passengers had got their dinner, and were scrambling for seats in the coach. The driver curled his long whiplash round the Doctor’s ears (they had but three horses now, and the Doctor was the leader), and off they started.
“I wish he wouldn’t run so,” said Ailie, as the Doctor pranced about wildly from one side of the road to the other.
“Don’t you be a mite afraid of his runnin’,” said the driver. “He’d rather die than run, and I think some of sellin’ him to Uncle Sam, for the army, on that account.”
“Is your uncle a great general?” asked Ailie, seriously.
“Yes,” said the driver, laughing, “he’s commander-in-chief of the hull army.”
The last part of the journey was much the pleasantest. It was through a region of fine farms. Piles of shining milk-pans lay sunning at the doors, ready for milking-time. They stopped under the great apple trees that overhung the road, and the driver filled Ailie’s lap with the red-checked apples. She gave one to Cinderella, to play with on the top of the coach, and she and the driver ate the rest. Just at sunset they reached Buckfield. It was a long, straight street, bordered on each side with magnificent elms, whose branches, intertwining over the road, formed a Gothic arch, under which they drove. Ailie thought she had never seen anything half so beautiful before. The grandfather, a silver-haired old gentleman, was sitting in his armchair in the porch as they drove up.
“Well done,” said he, very much surprised to see his little granddaughter alone; “I’m proper glad to see you;” and Ailie, bidding the driver good-bye, went into the house.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, September 1870; pp. 131-134)
When Ailie had finished her supper, and delivered all the messages with which she had been charged by her mother, she said she thought Cinderella would like to go to bed.
“I guess somebody else is tired enough to go, too,” said her grandmother, bringing from the cellar-way a long tallow candle, which she lighted; then, pinching it out with her fingers, and lighting it again, stuck it into a tall iron candlestick which she took from the mantel-piece. Giving the light to Ailie to carry, she took up her trunk by both handles, and led the way to the spare chamber, a large, square room in the upper front part of the house. It seemed like a very stately and solemn apartment to the doctor’s little girl, as they opened the door. There was an unused, shut-up, chilling air about it; the candle threw a dim light into the corners, and the great high-post bedstead, with its heavy curtains, loomed up in the distance with a very funereal appearance. There were four windows in the room, each with twenty-four little panes of glass, set in very clumsy sashes, and broad wooden shutters, which, instead of folding up, slid into the wall. Between the windows stood a toilet table, covered with a white-ground chintz, on which there were large figures of blue peacocks, with their tails spread, sitting on branches of blue trees. The bed and window-curtains were of the same, and trimmed with a white cotton fringe of grandmother’s netting. Over the toilet table was suspended a little oval mirror, with a frame of gilt wheat-ears, supported by two large, blue glass medallions, on which were two white doves in relief.
Under the mirror were two silhouettes in black paper—one of a very dignified-looking gentleman, with his hair in a cue, and a ruffled shirt-bosom, and the other a lady with a large nose and a high-crowned cap. The gentleman was Ailie’s great-grandfather. His commission as major, signed by George III., of England, hung on the other side of the room, and under it, in its leather sheath, the silver-hilted sword with which he had led the king’s troops in the old war. In a black wooden frame over the mantel-piece there was a “mourning-piece,” wrought in floss, representing a lady weeping over an urn, above which waved a willow tree. Ailie was too much impressed by the sadness of the picture to notice then the discrepancy between the height of the tree
and the mourner. There was a rag carpet on the floor, and the chairs were wooden, painted bright yellow, with clusters of purple grapes and gilt leaves on the back.
All these things were so new and interesting to the doctor’s little girl, that she would have liked to ask a great many questions about them; but she had been taught never to loiter while dressing and undressing, and it was not long before she clambered up on the high bedstead, and plunged into the middle of grandmother’s best feather bed.
“Grandmother,” she called out, as the old lady was leaving the room, “where are you going to sleep?”
“In the sett’n’-room,” she answered.
“Why, I didn’t see any bed there,” continued Ailie, beginning to realize that she was to be left alone at night for the first time in her life, and wishing to prolong the conversation.
“It’s a turn-up bed,” said her grand-mother, and shut the door. Ailie counted her steps as she went down stairs, and then turned over and began to ponder upon what a “turn-up bed” could be. The room seemed very dark. Cinderella would not lie down, but sat bolt upright on the foot of the bed, purring very loud, her eyes glaring like coals of fire in the darkness. A little ticking in the wall, over Ailie’s head, kept her awake. She tried to think of a flock of sheep jumping over a broken fence, which Marian used to insist would “put her to sleep before she knew it:” but just as the last one was leaping gently over, the church bell rang.
“O, dear I “ said Ailie, starting up, “that’s a fire.” But it was not. It was only the nine o’clock bell, and a minute or two after, every light in the village was out. Now and then there was a scampering and squealing in the walls, and Cinderella would prick up her ears and look fiercer than ever.
“I wonder when it will be morning,” said Ailie; and just then something rolled off the table, near her head. It sounded so like a ball, that she thought her grandmother had left her knitting-work there; but Cinderella knew better. She pounced after it, and leaping up on the bed again, laid a little mouse on Ailie’s pillow. This was too much for Ailie. She jumped out of bed, and began to go down stairs, crying softly.
Her grandmother, hearing her, opened her door. “Not afraid of the dark. I hope,” said she; “a little girl that can travel alone ought to be braver than that.”
“No,” said Ailie, “ I wasn’t exactly afraid, till Cinderella brought a mouse into bed; and I didn’t like that, and I want to sit up in your room till morning.”
“Well,” said her grandmother, laughing, “I dare say mousie was more frightened than you were. But we’ll leave her to Cinderella, and you and I will go up and sleep in the great hall.”
The house in which Ailie’s grandparents lived had formerly been a tavern, and though externally not unlike the other houses in the village, was full of odd crannies. There were rambling old staircases, leading, people hardly knew where; and narrow passages, that seemed to have no end; and a dancing hall, in which many a famous ball had been given—an immense room, with large windows on three sides. A very cool place it was for an afternoon nap in summer; and, in fact, it was for this very purpose that grandmother had put up a bed there. She proposed to sleep there with Ailie, because it was directly over grandfather’s room; so that if he wanted anything in the night all he had to do was to rap on the ceiling with his crutch, and she could hear him. Although she fell asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow, and breathed very loud, and groaned so that
Ailie was half frightened, her presence was a great relief to the child.
A mouse, that seemed to have been shut up by mistake in the clock case in the corner, and to be eating his way out, did not disturb her; and she dropped off to sleep, while trying to keep time with the monotonous ticking of the clock, in the words of this little French doggerel, which she had picked up at school:—
“Higerie, digerie doge.
Le rat ascend l’horloge
Le rat s’echappe.
Higerie, digerie doge.”
A cock crowing in the yard woke her very early. He was answered by one over the way, and then by another and another, near and far away, until it seemed as if all the male descendants of Noah’s rooster had assembled, for a crowing match at Buckfield. The sun looked over the mountain, and peeping in at the east windows, brightened up the old hall, so that Ailie was ashamed of her last night’s fears.
“I wish I hadn’t called grandmother,” thought she. “Mother said I mustn’t make her any trouble. Somehow I don’t believe I ever can be brave, as papa said I must be. I guess I’ll get up and get breakfast for grandmother, and then perhaps she’ll think I’m good for something.”
One good thing about Ailie: though she was often foolishly timid, she was always thinking she could do whatever anybody else could. It is better for people to feel so, even if they fail in much that they undertake, than to be helplessly dependent upon others. While she was putting on her shoes and stockings, her grandmother awoke.
“Why, child, what are you up for?” said she.
“I’m going to make the fire for you,” said Ailie.
“O, no,” said her grandmother; “you’d smut your clothes with the pothooks and trammels, and make more work than you’d do.”
It is a great mistake to meet children’s attempts at usefulness with such remarks. It is often true, no doubt; but of what consequence is a soiled gown or two, compared with the gain to the child, in experience and self-reliance, by being allowed to be useful? Ailie had often been discouraged by such answers, when she had tried to help at home, and she looked so disappointed, that her grandmother added, “You may help me about getting breakfast, if you want to.”
Ailie had time, while dressing, to look about the great hall. Wooden seats, built out from the walls, and opening like boxes, extended round the room, with a step for the feet below them. Grandmother told Ailie the seats were made so to hold the outside wrappings of the dancers, as there were no cloak-rooms attached to the ball-rooms in old times. On the fiddler’s platform stood the old-fashioned clock that ticked so loud in the night. It was taller than a man, and had a polished mahogany case, with a great gilt eagle at the top of it. On the dial, at each side, a beautifully colored hemisphere was painted. Between the two hemispheres, at the top and bottom of the dial, were two circular openings, through which a revolving plate, behind the dial, could be seen. On the evening of every new moon, this plate would bring to view, in the upper opening on the dial, a bit of a moon, shaped exactly like the moon in the sky. As the moon in the sky waxed larger, so did the moon in the clock, and when you saw in the sky the man in the moon with a full face, all the circular opening on the clock dial was filled with a great red, jolly, round face, representing the full moon. As the moon in the heavens waned, so did the moon in the clock, a larger corner being hidden night-
ly, until it disappeared entirely. Then, in the lower opening on the dial, a ship came slowly into view, and passed from hemisphere to hemisphere. By this was supposed to be represented the astronomical fact, that the tides of the sea, though directly influenced by the moon, do not reach their height till after her disappearance.
In the segment of a circle over the moon, the numbers from one to twenty-nine, appearing successively, told her age; and through a similar opening in the middle of the dial, three numbers were always to be seen. A wheel, which was thirty-one days in completing a revolution, brought up and declined a number daily—the central number showing always the day of the month.
Ailie was so delighted with this wonderful clock, that could tell the time of day, the day of the month, the moon’s age, and show its quarterings and its effect on the tides, that she quite forgot that she had meant to help grandmother get breakfast.
“Did you ever attend a ball in the hall up stairs, grandmother?” asked Ailie, at breakfast.
“Yes, indeed,” she answered; “many a time your grandfather has brought me over, on a pillion, from Whitefield, where I lived, when the snow was so deep you couldn’t see a fence.”
“What is a pillion?” asked Ailie.
“A saddle on which the lady rode behind the gentleman, and held on by clasping her arms around him,” said grandmother.
“And very handsome she looked, in her scarlet broadcloth cloak, as she jumped off here, at the door,” added grandfather, who seemed to be dreaming of his youth.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1870; pp. 230-232)
When Ailie had been a few days at her grandmother’s, she wrote her mother the following letter:—
MY DEAR MOTHER: I got here safely,—though I don’t like the Doctor at all,—and so did Cinderella, and we are neither of us homesick. I sleep in a ball-room. There was a mouse in the clock, but he did not scare me. There are so many mice here, that they have to stand their corn-houses high up from the ground on stone posts; and on the top of the posts they put milk-pans bottom upwards. When a mouse crawls up the post, he bumps his head against the bottom of the milk-pan; and as it is so smooth that he can’t crawl out over the edge and get up into the corn-bin, he has to run down the post, and go off without his supper. Cinderella put one in my bed, but grandmother said he was more afraid than I was. Some ladies that came to see her asked who I was, and said I looked kind of peaked, and must be an awful trouble to her. What do you suppose they meant by peaked? She told them I took care of myself mostly, and was very handy; but I don’t think I am. For when I was helping her get breakfast this morning, she told me to throw some sticks on the dogs, and slip the hooks over the crane; and I could not think what she meant, for I hadn’t seen a dog or a bird anywhere about. But I found out that they call andirons fire-dogs here; and the crane is what they hang the kettles on over the fire.
Grandmother laughed when I told her I thought a crane was a bird with a long neck, and said her crane was a black bird, and had a pretty long neck, too. This is a very funny place. They call a shovel a slice, and the porch where grandpa sits a stoop; and it is just like Sunday every day. The roosters crow from morning till night; and they don’t have any clock in the kitchen, because they can tell the time by a mark on the window-sill—I forget how, exactly. Grandpa splits wood with a beetle, and we have fire-cake every morning, baked in a spider; and I wish Marian could make it, for I like it very much. I thought there must be some pretty bad children about here; for the other night I heard somebody in the street say very loud, “Katy did.” “She didn’t,” said another voice right off, and then more joined in; and they kept disputing—“Katydid,[”] “She didn’t,” “She did”—all night. Grandpa says it was the Katy-dids—great green grasshoppers that live in the elm trees—that I heard, and that the Indians out west call them grasshopper birds, and parch and grind them into flour, of which they make cakes. He says they make the noise by opening and shutting their wings; but I don’t hardly believe grasshoppers can talk with their wings—do you? When I get home I mean to make you a hit-and-miss carpet, like what grandmother has got in the spare room. I have begun some patchwork, and we are going to have a bee, and do it herring-bone; and I am your affectionate daughter,
P.S. I forgot to say that the Doctor is a horse.
P.S. No. 2. Can I go barefoot? All the boys and girls do here.
P.S. No. 3. I think I should like
stitching wallets better than school-keeping; and I have about decided to do it.
Though Ailie’s letter was not strictly rhetorical, her mother had no trouble in finding out its meaning. She had expected that Ailie would be timid and homesick when she found herself alone at night; but she concluded that the child had had no fears, but was happy, and really making herself useful to her grandmother. This was exactly the impression Ailie wished her mother to get from her letter. Though it was true, as she said, that the mouse in the clock had not seared her, it was as true that she had been terribly frightened by the mouse in her bed; but she only told her mother what her grandmother had said about mousie’s fear of her, and though perfectly conscious of the trouble she had given the old lady on this occasion, added only what the latter had said to her visitors about her grandchild’s helpfulness.
So, though she really told no falsehood, she suppressed a part of the truth, which is almost as bad. Children are very apt to do this. They like to make a fine appearance, especially when they see that it is expected of them.
For parents to insist upon superior virtue in their children is unwise, and is apt to beget in them reserve and deceit. Thus it was perfectly natural that the doctor’s little girl should be afraid of a mouse in her bed; but the knowledge that she was expected to be above such weakness made her ashamed to confess it, and strive to put a false coloring on the whole affair.
One afternoon, a few days after Aille had sent her letter, she was looking over the gate, wishing she had something to do, when a neighbor’s boy came whistling along.
“Where are you going?” asked Aille, who knew him.
“Goin’ after the keows,” drawled the boy, in answer.
“Where are they?” asked Ailie, again.
“In the parster,” said the boy.
“How far is that?” inquired Ailie.
“Way up on the meountain,” screamed the boy, who was now some distance down the road.
“May I go with you, and help drive them?” called out Ailie.
The boy said she might. Ailie ran in and got her grandfather’s whip that hung in the entry, and off she started. They went across the brook, up a steep red hill, into a pleasant lane that ran along at the foot of the mountain. From the lane half way up the mountain side, the land was cleared, and being too steep to cultivate, it made excellent pasturage. On each side of the lane was a stump fence. A little white calf put his nose over the fence, and Ailie fed him with daisies. When he had eaten them, he began to chew her apron; but George gave him a rap on the nose, and he galloped away. At last the children came to a pair of bars right across the road. Eight or ten cows stood huddled together at the bars. They had come down from the mountain, where they had been feeding; for they knew as well as any one when it was time for them to go home. Ailie asked George why the bars were pinned into the posts with wooden pins.
“Wal, you see,” said George, “that air old brindle keow of your grandpa’s so knowin’, that she lifts the bars out wiih her horns if I don’t pin ’em, and comes down to the house in the middle of the day; and I have to drive her back again.”
“She’s as smart as a horse I know about,” said Ailie. “His name is Bald Eagle; and when his master leaves him tied too long at the post while he is calling on a young lady that he likes very much, Bald Eagle slips his bridle and trots home to his stable.”
George let down the bars, and the cows leaped over, acting as if glad to get out. Ailie climbed up on the fence, and shouted, and brandished her whip at them. They ran down the road, tossing their heads and kicking up their heels.
“You mustn’t run ’em,” said George; “it’ll heat their milk, and spile it.”
Ailie got down, and walked slowly behind them with George, snapping off the heads of the lovely fringed gentians by the road-side with her whip-lash. It began to sprinkle, and pretty soon the rain poured in torrents. “O, dear,” said Ailie, “I shall get my feet wet!”
“That won’t hurt you,” said George, who was barefoot.
“But it’ll spoil my shoes,” said Ailie.
“Take ’em off, then,” said George.
This Ailie felt some reluctance to do. Ever since she had been in the country, she had been teasing to go barefoot; but her grandmother had withheld her consent until Ailie should have got permission from her mother; and as yet she had received no answer to the letter in which she had made the request. But children (and grown people, too) who want to carry a certain point, can usually find some specious reasons to urge as their motive—reasons with just enough of apparent truth and wisdom in them to overcome remonstrance and censure from others, and yet which are not the real reasons for their conduct. Ailie knew perfectly well that her mother would not consider it safe or proper for her to go without her shoes and stockings; but here was an opportunity for her to do so without actual disobedience, and with the appearance of being actuated by consideration for her mother. So, after a moment’s hesitation, she said, “I should think my mother would rather have me take off my shoes and stockings than to spoil them, and have to spend money for more—shouldn’t you, George?”
“I know mine would,” said George, promptly.
So Ailie pulled off her shoes, tucked her stockings into them, and tying them together by the strings, swung them round her neck. By this time it was raining so hard that George thought they had better get under the shelter of the fence, and wait till the shower was over. So they crept under a big stump, and staid there till the sun came out, and a beautiful rainbow overspread the mountain like a many-colored carpet. Then they started for home, splashing through all the puddles with their naked feet as they went. How Ailie did enjoy it! Not so much, though, the scolding she got from her grandmother when she made her appearance at supper time, spattered with red mud from her toes to her eyebrows. Nor was this the worst of it, by any means; for the next morning she awoke with a violent itching in her feet, hands, and face. The doctor was sent for, who came, and said she must have been handling poison ivy. Probably, when she and George crawled under the fence to get out of the rain, she had crushed some of the Rhus toxicodendron, or poison ivy,—a plant which often clings to old walls and fences,—and got some of the juice on her feet and hands. Before noon she was totally blind, her face and head being so swollen that nobody would ever have known her for the doctor’s little girl. For two weeks she lay in bed, dosed with Epsom salts and other nauseous drugs—and “served her right for being such a naughty girl,” her grandmother said, who, nevertheless, took the kindest care of her.
“Come, come, mother!” said dear old grandpa, who was more patient with children’s failings; “I guess she is hurt enough to make her more careful in future, without any hard words.”
And I guess she was.
“The Doctor’s Little Girl,” by C. Alice Baker (from Robert Merry’s Museum, December 1870; pp. 267-269)
Chapter X. (And Last).
As grandfather’s lameness prevented his walking much, he sat most of the time in the porch, where he could talk to the passers-by, and so learn what was going on in the village. Ailie spent much of her convalescence there, and often read the newspaper to him. Sometimes uncle Kit, who had married one of grandmother’s sisters, would drop in. Then the paper was quickly laid aside, and the two old cronies, finding an attentive listener in the child, would tell her wonderful stories of old times; how grandfather’s father had once killed a great bear in the woods, and the people made a bonfire on the mountain to celebrate the event; and how, when uncle Kit moved his family to Canada, they would hear, on winter nights, a terrible barking about the log cabin where they lived; and peeping through the chinks in the logs, they could count sometimes a dozen wolves howling at the door.
As Aille was sitting there one morning, a man with a saw-horse and saw on his back limped past, hailing grandfather as he passed with, “Mornin’, Uncle Dick; fine weather for the rheumatics.”
“Grandfather,” said Ailie, “is every-body up here related to everybody else?”
“Not exactly,” said grandfather, laughing; “what makes you ask?”
“Why,” said Ailie, “all the people I have seen call each other uncle and aunt.”
“O,” said grandfather, “that’s because we were all born here, and brought up together; and it seems more natural and friendly to call each other by our first names.”
“Yes,” said Ailie, who did not altogether relish the idea as connected with the wood-sawyer; “but then, I think I should rather know my real cousins from my play cousins.”
“Here comes one of your real cousins now,” said grandfather, as a young man about twenty-five drove up to the door with a white pony. It was uncle Kit’s son Jack, whom Ailie had never seen before. He was an engineer by profession, but was at home this summer, partly to help his father on the farm, and partly to gratify his mother—a lovely old lady, who was an invalid, and could not bear to have Jack always away.
“Where are you bound, Jack?” asked grandfather.
“I was going over the mountain to run a line for McClellan,” replied the young man; “but I can’t find a boy to carry my chain.”
“Take this one,” said grandfather, pointing to Ailie.
“Will she go?” asked Jack, doubtfully.
Ailie at first thought she wouldn’t. She liked neither the being called a boy, nor the informal proffer of her services; but the prospect of a ride was too tempting to lose for any such silly pride; and grandmother’s consent being obtained, she rode off with her cousin, and made herself so useful to him that day, that he declared she was the best chain-bearer he ever had. This was the beginning of a life-long friendship between the doctor’s little girl and her cousin Jack.
Grandmother was willing to trust her with him; for she knew he would take excellent care of her, and however he might indulge her, he would never allow her to run any risks. Aille was always at his heels after this. When he got in his rowen, she raked after the cart, and rode up with him on the load. She went up to
the wood-lot, and picked up the chips he made in felling the trees. They went down to the meadow with a tip-cart to bring home the pumpkins, and Ailie insisted upon driving the cattle.
“Very well,” said Jack; “if you undertake it, you must manage the team entirely. I shall have nothing to do with it.”
“That’s easy enough,” said Ailie “they go just where you tell them.”
So she stood up in the front of the cart, holding on by a stake with one hand, with Jack’s long whip in the other, while he seated himself in the end of the cart, with his back to the oxen. It was “easy enough “ for a while; but when they came to a road that led to the river, they turned into it.
“Cousin Jack,” cried Ailie, excitedly, “they’re going to the river.”
“I dare say,” said Jack, coolly; “they often go there.”
Ailie “hawed” and “gee’d” to no purpose, and at last the oxen ran down the bank into the middle of the river, splashing the water all over Jack and Ailie.
Then they stopped, and drank as if they never had any water before. Ailie was a good deal frightened. “Hadn’t you better drive now?” she asked.
“Not I,” said Jack, laughing; “you brought me into the river, and you must get me out;” and he made her turn the cattle round, and drive them home.
Jack was fond of fishing. Ailie dug his bait, and went with him, though she never could be prevailed upon to throw a hook. She could not bear to see the beautiful red dace writhing in the agonies of death; but she liked to sit in the stern of the boat as it floated slowly down, and watch the clumsy lampreys sucking up stones, and building their round houses in the bottom of the river. When Jack got tired of rowing, he would put up a pine tree for a sail; and then how they came spinning home against the tide!
Jack told Ailie she might pick up apples for him “at the halves.” Grandfather warned her that she would be sick of her bargain if she did; but she always liked to prove things for herself. When Jack saw she was tired, he told her she might drive down to the cider-mill with a load of apples. The white pony evidently thought he ought to have a voice in the matter; for no sooner was he out of Jack’s sight than he stopped short. “Well, sir,” said Ailie, after coaxing and threatening in vain, “if you won’t go without, I shall have to whip you; for I can’t have Jack think I am staying away to get rid of work.”
She jumped off the wagon to find a stick; and what did the wilful little fellow do but scamper off,—the apples bouncing out of the wagon at every jolt,—and leave Ailie to follow as she could!
“Are you the cap’n of this craft?” said the man at the mill, who stood holding the horse, as Ailie, out of breath, came running up.
“No,” said she, ashamed to have him know she had not been able to manage the pony; “I’m only the mate.”
“In command, though, I guess!” he muttered, as Ailie, leaving him to unload the apples, went round under the shed, where the cider-press was. Through a hole in the floor above the apples dropped into a hopper, and passed through that, to be craunched between the great wooden teeth of two wheels, which were set in motion by a crank, to the end of which a horse was harnessed. A boy sat astride the crank, and drove the horse round and round in a circle all day. He asked Ailie if she would like to ride. She went round once or twice, but it made her dizzy. As fast as the apples were ground, a man shovelled them up on a broad platform, putting first a layer of apples, and then
one of straw, till he had a pile three feet high, or more. Then he trimmed the edges, and his “cheese,” as he called it, was ready to be pressed. Over it he laid a heavy plank, the great screw came creaking slowly down upon it, and the juice began to flow. The boy handed Ailie a piece of squash vine, and told her to suck as much as she pleased.
A proud little woman she was, when, a few days after, Jack rolled into grandmother’s cellar two barrels of apples, and one of cider, as “Ailie’s halves” of the apple picking. These first earnings gave her more pleasure than all the money she ever got afterwards for her work.
The broom-corn was to be tabled and cut, the corn to pick; it threatened rain, and Jack was anxious. He filled the floor of the corn-house with corn, and calling in his neighbors to husk, went off to the field for more. Ailie went to work with the rest; but early in the day, stepping on an ear of corn, it rolled with her, and she fell, striking her elbow violently on the floor. Every one was too busy to notice her. She would not complain at home, for fear of being forbidden to husk any more. All that day, and the next, and the next, she tugged away, though it grew harder every moment. The corn was all safely housed and husked; and, “Now,” said Jack, “I feel like dancing.”
Off he rushed, to ask grandmother if Ailie might stay for the fun.
Lanterns were hung on the beams, uncle Billy brought his fiddle, and Jack, declaring Ailie should lead off with him, seized her by the arm. She uttered a try of pain, and fainted. Reviving, and seeing Jack’s scared look, she sobbed out, “I tumbled—down—and hurt my—arm—but I didn’t want to tell anybody till the corn was done. Don’t tell grandmother; but take me to the doctor.”
Then they all remembered her fall, and told Jack how she had worked ever since.
“Just like her,” said he; “there’s nothing babyish about her;” and taking her in his arms, he carried her to the doctor’s.
He examined her arm, said the elbow was dislocated and badly inflamed, and must be set, and told Jack to go for her grandmother. “No,” said Ailie, “let Jack hold me; I won’t scream.”
So he held her by main force in the great chair, while the doctor pulled and wrenched till the bone went back with a snap which it made Jack shudder to hear. Then the poor little arm was done up in splints, and she was carried home.
“She never whimpered a mite,” said Jack, as he told grandmother the story; “but I’d rather the corn would have been wet a dozen times than have had it happen to her.”
“I wonder it never happened before,” said the minister’s wife, when she heard of the accident; “for she’s an awful romp.”
For all that, she wasn’t; for a romp is a rude and boisterous girl, which Ailie never was. Only she had followed too literally Dr. Wright’s prescription of “running wild” in the country.