Chapter V.


The next morning found little Dolly's blue eyes wide open with all the wondering eagerness of a new idea. In those early times the life of childhood was much more in the imagination than now. Children were let alone, to think their own thoughts. There were no kindergartens to train the baby to play philosophically, and infuse a stealthy aroma of geometry and conic sections into the very toys of the nursery. Parents were not anxiously watching every dawning idea of the little mind to set it straight even before it was uttered; and there were then no newspapers or magazines with a special corner for the bright sayings of children.

Not that children were any less beloved, or motherhood a less holy thing. There were many women of deep hearts, who, like the "most blessed among women," kept all the sayings of their darlings and pondered them in their hearts; but it was not deemed edifying or useful to pay much apparent attention to these utterances and actions of the youthful pilgrim.

Children's inquiries were freely put off with the general answer that Mamma was busy and they must not talk—that when they were grown up they would know all about these things, etc.; and so they lived apart from older people in their own little child-world of uninvaded ideas.

Dolly, therefore, had her wise thoughts about Christmas. She had been terribly frightened at first, when she was brought home from the church; but when her papa kissed her and promised her a sugar dog she was quite sure that, whatever the unexplained mystery might be, he did not think the lovely scene of the night before a wicked one. And when Mrs. Cushing came and covered the little girl up warmly in bed, she only said to her, "Dolly, you must never get out of bed again at night after you are put there; you might have caught a dreadful cold and been sick and died, and then we should have lost our little Dolly." So Dolly promised quite readily to be good and lie still ever after, no matter what attractions might be on foot in the community.

Much was gained, however, and it was all clear gain; and forthwith the little fanciful head proceeded to make the most of it, thinking over every feature of the wonder. The child had a vibrating, musical organization, and the sway and rush of the chanting still sounded in her ears and reminded her of that wonderful story in the "Pilgrim's Progress," where the gate of the celestial city swung open, and there were voices that sung, "Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him who sitteth on the throne." And then that wonderful star, that shone just as if it were a real star—how could it be! For Miss Ida Lewis, being a young lady of native artistic genius, had cut a little hole in the center of her gilt paper star, behind which was placed a candle, so that it gave real light, in a way most astonishing to untaught eyes. In Dolly's simple view it verged on the supernatural—perhaps it was the very real star read about in the gospel story. Why not? Dolly was at the happy age when anything bright and heavenly seemed credible, and had the child-faith to which all things were possible. She had even seriously pondered at times the feasibility of walking some day to the end of the rainbow to look for the pot of gold which Nabby had credibly assured her was to be found there; and if at any time in her ramblings through the wood a wolf had met her and opened a conversation, as in the case of little Red Riding Hood, she would have been no way surprised, but kept up her part of the interview with becoming spirit.

"I wish, my dear," said Mrs. Cushing, after they were retired to their room for the night, "that to-morrow morning you would read the account of the birth of Christ in St Matthew, and give the children some good advice upon the proper way of keeping Christmas."

"Well, but you know we don't keep Christmas; nobody knows anything about Christmas," said the Doctor.

"You know what I mean, my dear," replied his wife. "You know that my mother and her family do keep Christmas. I always heard of it when I was a child; and even now, though I have been out of the way of it so long, I cannot help a sort of kindly feeling towards these ways. I am not surprised at all that the children got drawn over last night to the service. I think it's the most natural thing in the world, and I know by experience just how attractive such things are. I shouldn't wonder if this Episcopal church should draw very seriously on your congregation; but I don't want it to begin by taking away our own children. Dolly is an inquisitive child; a child that thinks a good deal, and she'll be asking all sorts of questions about the why and wherefore of what she saw last night."

"Oh, yes, Dolly is a bright one. Dolly's an uncommon child," said the Doctor, who had a pardonable pride in his children—they being, in fact, the only worldly treasure that he was at all rich in.

"And as to that little dress-up affair over there," he continued, "I don't think any real harm has been done as yet. I have my eyes open. I know all about it, and I shall straighten out this whole matter next Sunday," he said, with the comfortable certainty of a man in the habit of carrying his points.

"I don't feel so very sure of that," said his wife; "at the same time I shouldn't want anything like an open attack on the Episcopalians. There are sincere good people of that way of thinking—my mother, for instance, is a saint on earth, and so is good old Madam Lewis. So pray be careful what you say."

"My dear, I haven't the least objection to their dressing their church and having a good Christian service any day in the year if they want to, but our people may just as well understand our own ground. I know that the Democrats are behind this new move, and they are just using this church to carry their own party purposes—to break up the standing order and put down all the laws that are left to protect religion and morals. They want to upset everything that our fathers came to New England to establish. But I'm going to head this thing off in Poganuc. I shall write a sermon to-morrow, and settle matters."

Now, there is no religious organization in the world in its genius and history less likely to assimilate with a democratic movement than the Episcopal Church. It is essentially aristocratic in form, and, in New England, as we have already noticed, had always been on the side of monarchical institutions.

But, just at this point in the history of New England affairs, all the minor denominations were ready to join any party that promised to break the supremacy of the State Church and give them a foothold.

It was the "Democratic party" of that day that broke up the exclusive laws in favor of the Congregational Church and consequently gained large accessions to their own standard. To use a brief phrase, all the outs were Democrats, and all the ins Federalists. But the Democratic party had, as always, its radical train. Not satisfied with wresting the scepter from the hands of the Congregational clergyman, and giving equal rights and a fair field to other denominations, the cry was now to abolish all laws in any way protective of religious institutions, or restrictive of the fullest personal individualism; in short, the cry was for the liberty of every man to go to church or not, to keep the Sabbath or not, to support a minister or not, as seemed good and proper in his own eyes.

This was in fact the final outcome of things in New England, and experience has demonstrated that this wide and perfect freedom is the best way of preserving religion and morals. But it was not given to a clergyman in the day of Dr. Cushing, who had hitherto felt that a state ought to be like a well-governed school, under the minister for schoolmaster, to look on the movements of the Democratic party otherwise than as tending to destruction and anarchy. This new movement in the Episcopal Church he regarded as but a device by appeals to the senses—by scenic effects, illuminations and music—to draw people off to an unspiritual and superficial form of religion, which, having once been the tool of monarchy and aristocracy, had now fallen into the hands of the far more dangerous democracy; and he determined to set the trumpet to his mouth on the following Sabbath, and warn the watchmen on the walls of Zion.

He rose up early, however, and proceeded to buy a sugar dog at the store of Lucius Jenks, and when Dolly came down to breakfast he called her to him and presented it, saying as he kissed her,

"Papa gives you this, not because it is Christmas, but because he loves his little Dolly."

"But isn't it Christmas?" asked Dolly, with a puzzled air.

"No, child; nobody knows when Christ was born, and there is nothing in the Bible to tell us when to keep Christmas."

And then in family worship the doctor read the account of the birth of Christ and of the shepherds abiding in the fields who came at the call of the angels, and they sung the old hymn:

"While shepherds watched their flocks by night."

"Now, children," he said when all was over, "you must be good children and go to school. If we are going to keep any day on account of the birth of Christ, the best way to keep it is by doing all our duties on that day better than any other. Your duty is to be good children, go to school and mind your lessons."

Tom and Bill, who had been at the show the evening before and exhausted the capabilities of the scenic effects, were quite ready to fall in with their father's view of the matter. The candles were burnt out, the play over, for them, and forthwith they assumed to look down on the whole with the contempt of superior intelligence. As for Dolly, she put her little tongue advisedly to the back of her sugar dog and found that he was very sweet indeed—a most tempting little animal. She even went so far as to nibble off a bit of the green ground he stood on—yet resolved heroically not to eat him at once, but to make him last as long as possible. She wrapped him tenderly in cotton and took him to the school with her, and when her confidential friend, Bessie Lewis, displayed her Christmas gifts, Dolly had something on her side to show, though she shook her curly head wisely and informed Bessie in strict confidence that there wasn't any such thing as Christmas, her papa had told her so—a heresy which Bessie forthwith reported when she went home at noon.

"Poor little Presbyterian—and did she say so?" asked gentle old Grandmamma Lewis. "Well, dear, you mustn't blame her—she don't know any better. You bring the little thing in here to-night and I'll give her a Christmas cookey. I'm sorry for such children."

And so, after school, Dolly went in to see dear old Madam Lewis, who sat in her rocking-chair in the front parlor, where the fire was snapping behind great tall brass andirons and all the pictures were overshadowed with boughs of spruce and pine. Dolly gazed about her with awe and wonder. Over one of the pictures was suspended a cross of green with flowers of white everlasting.

"What is that for?" asked Dolly, pointing solemnly with her little forefinger, and speaking under her breath.

"Dear child, that is the picture of my poor boy who died—ever so many years ago. That is my cross—we have all one—to carry."

Dolly did not half understand these words, but she saw tears in the gentle old lady's eyes and was afraid to ask more.

She accepted thankfully and with her nicest and best executed courtesy a Christmas cookey representing a good-sized fish, with fins all spread and pink sugar-plums for eyes, and went home marveling yet more about this mystery of Christmas.

As she was crossing the green to go home the Poganuc stage drove in, with Hiel seated on high, whipping up his horses to make them execute that grand entrée which was the glory of his daily existence.

Now that the stage was on runners, and slipped noiselessly over the smooth frozen plain, Hiel cracked his whip more energetically and shouted louder, first to one horse and then to another, to make up for the loss of the rattling wheels; and he generally had the satisfaction of seeing all the women rushing distractedly to doors and windows, and imagined them saying, "There's Hiel; the stage is in!"

"Hulloa, Dolly!" he called out, drawing up with a suddenness which threw the fore-horses back upon their haunches. "I've got a bundle for your folks. Want to ride? You may jest jump up here by me and I'll take you 'round to your father's door;" and so Dolly reached up her little red-mittened hand, and Hiel drew her up beside him.

"'Xpect ye want a bit of a ride, and I've got a bundle for Widder Badger, down on South Street, so I guess I'll go 'round that way to make it longer. I 'xpect this 'ere bundle is from some of your ma's folks in Boston—'Piscopals they be, and keeps Christmas. Good sized bundle 'tis; reckon it'll come handy in a good many ways."

So, after finishing his detour, Hiel landed his little charge at the parsonage door.

"Reckon I'll be over when I've put up my hosses," he said to Nabby when he handed down the bundle to her. "I hain't been to see ye much lately, Nabby, and I know you've been a pinin' after me, but fact is—"

"Well, now, Hiel Beers, you jest shet up with your imperence," said Nabby, with flashing eyes; "you jest look out or you'll get suthin."

"I 'xpect to get a kiss when I come round to-night," said Hiel, composedly. "Take care o' that air bundle, now; mebbe there's glass or crockery in 't."

"Hiel Beers," said Nabby, "don't give me none o' your saase, for I won't take it. Jim Sawin said last night you was the brassiest man he ever see. He said there was brass enough in your face to make a kettle of."

"You tell him there's sap enough in his head to fill it, any way," said Hiel. "Good bye, Nabby, I'll come 'round this evenin'," and he drove away at a rattling pace, while Nabby, with flushed cheeks and snapping eyes, soliloquized,

"Well, I hope he will come! I'd jest like a chance to show him how little I care for him."

Meanwhile the bundle was soon opened, and contained a store of treasures: a smart little red dress and a pair of red shoes for Dolly, a half dozen pocket-handkerchiefs for Dr. Cushing, and "Robinson Crusoe" and "Sanford and Merton," handsomely bound, for the boys, and a bonnet trimming for Mrs. Cushing. These were accompanied by a characteristic letter from Aunt Debby Kittery, opening as follows:

"Dear Sister:

"Mother worries because she thinks you Presbyterians won't get any Christmas presents. I tell her it serves you right for being out of the true church. However, this comes to give every one of you some of the crumbs which fall from the church's table, and Mother says she wishes you all a pious Christmas, which she thinks is better than a merry one. If I didn't lay violent hands on her she would use all our substance in riotous giving of Christmas presents to all the beggars and chimney sweeps in Boston. She is in good health and talks daily of wanting to see you and the children; and I hope before long you will bring some of them, and come and make us a visit.

"Your affectionate sister,

"Debby Kittery."

There was a scene of exultation and clamor in the parsonage as these presents were pulled out and discussed; and when all possible joy was procured from them in the sitting-room, the children rushed in a body into the kitchen and showed them to Nabby, calling on her to join their acclamations.

And then in the evening Hiel came in, and Nabby prosecuted her attacks upon him with great vigor and severity, actually carrying matters to such a length that she was obliged, as a matter of pure Christian charity, to "kiss and make up" with him at the end of the evening. Of course Hiel took away an accurate inventory of every article in the bundle, for the enlightenment of any of his particular female friends who had a curiosity to know "what Mis' Cushin's folks sent her in that air bundle from Boston."

On the whole, when Dolly had said her prayers that night and thought the matter over, she concluded that her Christmas Day had been quite a success.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook