Chapter XII.


When Dolly found herself arrayed in her red dress and red shoes, her hair nicely curled, she was so happy that, to speak scripturally, she leaped for joy—flew round and round with her curls flying, like a little mad-cap—till her mother was obliged to apply a sedative exhortation.

"Take care, Dolly; take care. I can't take you, now, unless you are good. If you get so wild as that I shall have to leave you at home. Come here, and let me talk to you."

And Dolly came and stood, grave and serious, at her mother's knee, who, while she made over and arranged some of the tumbled curls, proceeded to fortify her mind for the coming emergency with suitable precepts.

"It's a great thing for a little girl like you, Dolly, to be allowed to sit up with grown people till nine o'clock, and to go out with your mamma, and I want you to be very careful and behave as a good little girl should. I take you, so that you may learn good manners. Now, remember, Dolly, you mustn't speak to any of them unless you are spoken to."

Dolly reflected on this precept gravely, and then said:

"Don't they speak to any one except when they are spoken to?"

"Yes, my dear, because they are grown-up people, and know when to speak and what is proper to be said. Little girls do not; so they must be silent. Little girls should be seen and not heard."

Dolly knew this maxim by heart already, and she no more questioned the propriety of it than of any of the great laws of nature.

After an interval of serious reflection, she asked:

"But, if any of them should talk to me, then I may talk to them; may I?"

"Yes, my dear; if any body talks to you, you must answer, but be careful not to talk too long."

"Do you think, Mamma, that Judge Gridley will be there?"

"Yes, my dear, I presume so."

"Because I am acquainted with him," remarked Dolly gravely; "he always talks to me. He meets me sometimes coming home from school and talks to me. I am glad he will be there."

Mrs. Cushing smiled aside to her husband as she was tying on Dolly's little hood, and then her father took her up in his arms and they started.

Tea parties in the highest circles of Poganuc began at six and ended at nine, and so when Dolly and her father and mother arrived they found a room full of people. Col. Davenport was a tall, elegant man, with an upright, soldierly carriage, his hair powdered white, and tied in a queue down his back; his eyes of a clear, piercing blue, looking out each side of a well-defined aquiline nose; his voice deep and musical, with a sort of resonance which spoke of one used to command. The Colonel was one of the most active members of the church;—the one who in the absence of the pastor officiated as lay-reader, and rendered the sermon and made the prayers, in the same sonorous, military voice that suggested the field and the commander. Mrs. Davenport, a lady of delicate and refined appearance, with a certain high-bred manner toned down to a kind of motherly sweetness, received the Doctor and Mrs. Cushing with effusion, kissed and patted Dolly on the cheek, and remarked what a nice little girl she was getting to be; and the Colonel stooped down and took her hand, like an affable eagle making court to a little humming-bird, and hoped she was quite well, to which Dolly, quite overcome with awe, answered huskily: "Very well, I thank you, sir."

Then kind Mrs. Davenport busied herself in ordering to the front a certain little chair that had a family history. This was duly brought and placed for Dolly by old Cato, an ancient negro servitor of the Colonel's, who had once served as his waiter in the army, and had never recovered from the sense of exaltation and dignity conferred by this experience. Dolly sat down, and began employing her eyes about the high and dainty graces of the apartment. The walls were hung with paper imported from France and ornamented with family portraits by Copley. In the fire place, the high brass andirons sustained a magnificent fire, snapping and sparkling and blazing in a manner gorgeous to behold. Soon Cato came in with the tea on a waiter, followed by Venus, his wife, who, with a high white turban on her head and a clear-starched white apron in front, bore after him a tray laden with delicate rolls, sandwiches, and multiplied and tempting varieties of cake. Dolly spread her handkerchief in her little lap, and comported herself as nearly as possible as she saw the grand ladies doing, who, in satin and velvet and point lace, were making themselves agreeable, and taking their tea with elegant ease.

The tea parties of Poganuc were not wanting in subjects for conversation. It was in rule to discuss the current literature of the day, which at that time came from across the water—the last articles in the Edinburgh Review, the latest Waverley novel, the poetry of Moore, Byron, Southey, and Wordsworth—all came under review and had place of consideration.

In those days, when newspapers were few and scanty, when places were isolated and travel was tedious and uncertain, the intellectual life of cultivated people was intense. A book was an event in Poganuc. It was heard of first across the ocean, and watched for, as one watches for the rising of a new planet. While the English packet was slowly laboring over, bearing it to our shores, expectation was rising, and when the book was to be found in the city book stores an early copy generally found its way to the élite circle of Poganuc.

Never in this day—generation of jaded and sated literary appetite—will any one know the fresh and eager joy, the vivid sensation of delight with which a poem like "The Lady of the Lake," a novel like "Ivanhoe," was received in lonely mountain towns by a people eager for a new mental excitement. The young folks called the rocks and glens and rivers of their romantic region by names borrowed from Scott; they clambered among the crags of Benvenue and sailed on the bosom of Loch Katrine.

The students in the law offices and the young ladies of the first families had their reading circles and their literary partialities—some being partisans of Byron, some of Scott, etc.—and there was much innocent spouting of poetry. There were promising youths who tied their open shirt collars with a black ribbon, and professed disgust at the hollow state of human happiness in general, and there were compassionate young ladies who considered the said young men all the more interesting for this state of mysterious desolation, and often succeeded in the work of consoling them. It must be remarked, however, that the present gathering was a married people's party, and the number of young men and maidens was limited to the immediate family connections. The young people had their parties, with the same general decorum, where the conversation was led by them. In the elderly circles all these literary and social topics came under discussion. Occasionally Judge Belcher, who was an authority in literary criticism, would hold the ear of the drawing-room while he ran a parallel between the dramatic handling of Scott's characters as compared with those of Shakespeare, or gave an analysis of the principles of the Lake School of Poetry. The Judge was an admirable talker, and people in general liked to hear him quite as well as he liked to hear himself, and so his monologues proceeded nem. con.

On this particular evening, however, literature was forgotten in the eagerness of politics. The news from the state elections was not in those days spread by telegraph, it lumbered up in stages, and was recorded at most in weekly papers; but enough had come to light to make the Poganuc citizens aware that the State of Connecticut had at last been revolutionized, and gone from the Federalists to the Democrats.

Judge Belcher declaimed upon the subject in language which made the very hair rise upon Dolly's head.

"Yes, sir," he said, addressing Dr. Cushing; "I consider this as the ruin of the State of Connecticut! It's the triumph of the lower orders; the reign of 'sans culotte-ism' begun. In my opinion, sir, we are over a volcano; I should not be surprised, sir, at an explosion that will blow up all our institutions!"

Dolly's eyes grew larger and larger, although she was a little comforted to observe the Judge carefully selecting a particular variety of cake that he was fond of, and helping himself to a third cup of tea in the very midst of these shocking prognostications.

Dolly had not then learned the ease and suavity of mind with which both then and ever since people at tea drinkings and other social recreations declare their conviction that the country is going to ruin. It never appears to have any immediate effect upon the appetite. Dolly looked at her father, and thought he assented with somewhat of a saddened air; and Mrs. Davenport looked concerned; and Mrs. Judge Gridley said it was a very dark providence why such things were permitted, but a little while after was commending the delicacy of the cake, and saying she must inquire of Venus about her peculiar mode of confection.

Judge Gridley—a white-haired, lively old gentleman with bright eyes, who wore the old-fashioned small-clothes, knee-buckles, silk stockings and low shoes—had fixed his eyes upon Dolly for some time, and now crossing the room drew her with him into a corner, saying: "Come, now, Miss Dolly, you and I are old friends, you know. What do you think of all these things?"

"Oh, I'm so glad you came," said Dolly, with a long sigh of relief. "I hoped you would, because mamma said I mustn't talk unless somebody spoke to me, and I do so want to know all about those dreadful things. What is a volcano? Please tell me!"

"Why, my little Puss," he said, lifting her in his lap and twining her curls round his finger, "what do you want to know that for?"

"Because I heard Judge Belcher say that we were all over a volcano and it would blow us all up some day. Is it like powder?"

"You dear little soul! don't you trouble your head about what Judge Belcher says. He uses strong language. He only means that the Democrats will govern the state."

"And are they so dreadfully wicked?" asked Dolly. "I want to tell you something"—and Dolly whispered, "Bessie Lewis's father is a Democrat, and yet they don't seem like wicked people."

"No, my dear; when you grow up you will learn that there are good people in every party."

"Then you don't think Bessie's father is a bad man?" said Dolly. "I'm so glad!"

"No; he's a good man in a bad party; that is what I think."

"I wish you'd talk to him and tell him not to do all these dreadful things, and upset the state," said Dolly. "I thought the other night I would; but I'm only a little girl, you know; he wouldn't mind me. If I was a grown-up woman I would," she said, with her cheeks flushing and her eyes kindling.

Judge Gridley laughed softly to himself and stroked her head.

"When you are a grown-up woman I don't doubt you can make men do almost anything you please, but I don't think it would do any good for me to talk to General Lewis; and now, little Curly-wurly, don't bother your pretty head about politics. Neither party will turn the world upside down. There's a good God above us all, my little girl, that takes care of our country, and he will bring good out of evil. So now don't you worry."

"I'm afraid, Judge Gridley, that Dolly is troubling you," said Mrs. Cushing, coming up.

"Oh, dear me! madame, no; Miss Dolly and I are old acquaintances. We have the best possible understanding."

But just then, resounding clear and loud through the windy March air, came the pealing notes of the nine o'clock bell, and an immediate rustle of dresses, and rising, and shaking of hands, and cutting short of stories, and uttering last words followed.

For though not exactly backed by the arbitrary power which enforced the celebrated curfew, yet the nine o'clock bell was one of the authoritative institutions of New England; and at its sound all obediently set their faces homeward, to rake up house-fires, put out candles, and say their prayers before going to rest.

Old Captain Skeggs, a worn-out revolutionary soldier, no longer good for hard service, had this commanding post in Poganuc, and no matter how high blew the wind, how fiercely raged the storm, the captain in his white woolen great coat, with three little capes to it, stamped his way through the snow, pulled valiantly on the rope, and let all the hills and valleys of Poganuc know that the hour of rest had come. Then, if it were a young people's party, each young man chose out his maiden and asked the pleasure of seeing her home; and in the clear frosty night and under the silent stars many a word was said that could not be said by candle-light indoors:—whereof in time came life-long results.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook