The parsonage was a wide, roomy, windy edifice that seemed to have been built by a succession of after-thoughts. It was at first a model New England house, built around a great brick chimney, which ran up like a light-house in the center of the square roof. Then came, in course of time, a side-wing which had another chimney and another suite of rooms. A kitchen grew out on another side, and out of the kitchen a sink-room; and out of the sink-room a wood-house, and out of the wood-house a carriage-house, and so on with a gradually lessening succession of out-buildings.

New England houses have been said by a shrewd observer to be constructed on the model of a telescope; compartment after compartment, lessening in size, and all under one cover.

But in the climate where the business of one half of the year is to provide fuel for the other half, such a style of domestic architecture becomes convenient. During the long winter months everything was under cover, giving grand scope for the children to play.

When the boys were graciously disposed to Dolly, she had a deal of good fun with them in the long range of the divers sheds. They made themselves houses, castles and fortresses in the wood-pile, and played at giving parties and entertainments, at which Spring and the cat also assisted in silent and subsidiary parts.

Sometimes they held town-meetings or voting-days, in which the Democrats got their dues in speeches that might have struck terror to their souls had they heard them. At other times they held religious meetings, and sung hymns and preached, on which occasions Dolly had been known to fall to exhorting with a degree of fervor and a fluency in reciting texts of Scripture which for the time produced quite an effect on her auditors, and led Nabby, who listened behind the door, to say to Mrs. Cushing that 'that air child was smarter than was good for her; that she'd either die young or else come to suthin' one of these days'—a proposition as to which there could not rationally be any difference of opinion.

The parsonage had also the advantage of three garrets—splendid ground for little people. There was first the garret over the kitchen, the floors of which in the fall were covered with stores of yellow pumpkins, fragrant heaps of quinces, and less fragrant spread of onions. There were bins of shelled corn and of oats, and, as in every other garret in the house, there were also barrels of old sermons and old family papers. But most stimulating to the imagination of all the features of this place was the smoke-house, which was a wide, deep chasm made in the kitchen chimney, where the Parson's hams and dried beef were cured. Its door, which opened into this garret, glistened with condensed creosote, a rumbling sound was heard there, and loud crackling reverberated within. Sometimes Dolly would open the door and peer in fearfully as long as her eyes could bear the smoke, and think with a shudder of a certain passage in John Bunyan, which reads:

"Then I saw in my dream that the shepherds had them to another place, in a bottom, where was a door in the side of a hill; and they opened the door and bid them look in. They looked in, therefore, and saw that within it was dark and smoky; they also thought that they heard a rumbling noise as of fire and a cry of some tormented, and that they smelt the scent of brimstone. Then said Christian, What means this? The shepherds told them, This is a by-way to Hell, a way that hypocrites go in at, namely, such as sell their birthright with Esau; such as sell their Master with Judas; such as lie and dissemble with Ananias and Sapphira his wife."

Dolly shivered when she thought of this, and was glad when Nabby would come up behind and, with her strong hands, seize and whirl her away, remarking,

"Dolly Cushing, what won't you be into next, I want ter know?" And then she would proceed to demonstrate the mundane and earthly character of the receptacle by drawing from it a very terrestrial and substantial ham.

Garret number two was over the central portion of the original house. There were vast heaps of golden corn on the cob, spread upon sheets. There were piles of bed-quilts and comforters, and chests of blankets. There were rows and ranges of old bonnets and old hats, that seemed to nod mysteriously from their nails. There were old spinning-wheels, an old clock, old armchairs, and old pictures, snuffy and grim, and more barrels of sermons. There also were the boys' cabinets of mineralogical specimens; for the Academy teacher was strong on geology, and took his boys on long tramps with stone-hammers on their shoulders, and they used to discuss with great unction to Dolly of tourmaline, and hornblende, and mica, and quartz, and feldspar, delighted to exhibit before her their scientific superiority.

This garret was a favorite resort of the children, and the laws of the Parsonage requiring everything to be always in order were conveniently mitigated and abridged in favor of this one spot, where it was so convenient to let the whole noisy brood range when their presence disturbed the order below.

There the boys whittled and made windmills and boats, and rabbit-traps, and whistles with which they whistled grievously at unexpected and startling moments, and this always led to their mother telling them that she was "astonished" at them, or to her asking, How many times she must say whistling was not allowed in the house?

Perhaps among other subjects of speculative inquiry it may have occurred to Mrs. Cushing to wonder why nature, having gifted boys in their own proper lungs with such noise-producing power, should also come to their assistance with so many noise-producing instruments. There were all the squash-vines in the garden offering trumpets ready made; there was the elder-bush, growing whistle-wood by the yard; and then the gigantic whistles that could be manufactured from willow, and poplar, and black alder were mysteries distressing to contemplate.

One corner of the garret was reserved safe from the rummaging of the children, and there hung in order the dried herbs, which formed the pharmacopœia of those early days. There were catnip, and boneset, and elder-blow, and hard-hack, and rosemary, and tansy, and pennyroyal, all gathered at the right time of the moon, dried and sorted and tied in bundles, hanging from their different nails—those canonized floral saints, which when living filled the air with odors of health and sweetness, and whose very mortal remains and dry bones were supposed to have healing virtues. Some of Dolly's happiest hours were those long sunny, joyous, Saturday afternoons in which many of these stores were gathered, when she rushed through the lush, long grass, along the borders of mossy old stone fences, and pulled down starry constellations of elder blossoms, and gathered pink spires of hard-hack, till her little arms could scarcely clasp around the bundle. Then she would rush home panting and energetic, with torn dress, her sunbonnet off on her shoulder, and curls all tangled from the wrestles with blackberry bushes which had disputed the way with her. This corner of the garret always filled Dolly's head with visions and longings for the late, slow-coming spring, which seemed far off as the dream of Heaven.

Then those barrels of sermons and old pamphlets! Dolly had turned and turned them, upsetting them on the floor, and pawing helplessly with her little pink hands and reading their titles with amazed eyes. It seemed to her that there were some thousands of the most unintelligible things. "An Appeal on the Unlawfulness of a Man's Marrying his Wife's Sister" turned up in every barrel she investigated, by twos or threes or dozens, till her soul despaired of finding an end. Then there were Thanksgiving sermons; Fast-day sermons; sermons that discoursed on the battle of Culloden; on the character of Frederick the Great; a sermon on the death of George the Second, beginning, "George! George! George is no more." This somewhat dramatic opening caused Dolly to put that one discourse into her private library. But oh, joy and triumph! one rainy day she found at the bottom of an old barrel a volume of the "Arabian Nights," and henceforth her fortune was made. Dolly had no idea of reading like that of our modern days—to read and to dismiss a book. No; to read was with her a passion, and a book once read was read daily; always becoming dearer and dearer, as an old friend. The "Arabian Nights" transported her to foreign lands, gave her a new life of her own; and when things went astray with her, when the boys went to play higher than she dared to climb in the barn, or started on fishing excursions, where they considered her an incumbrance, then she found a snug corner, where, curled up in a little, quiet lair, she could at once sail forth on her bit of enchanted carpet into fairy land.

One of these resorts was furnished by the third garret of the house, which had been finished off into an arched room and occupied by her father as a study. High above all the noise of the house, with a window commanding a view of Poganuc Lake and its girdle of steel-blue pines, this room had to her the air of a refuge and sanctuary. Its walls were set round from floor to ceiling with the friendly, quiet faces of books, and there stood her father's great writing-chair, on one arm of which lay open always his "Cruden's Concordance" and his Bible. Here Dolly loved to retreat and niche herself down in a quiet corner, with her favorite books around her. She had a kind of sheltered, satisfied feeling as she thus sat and watched her father writing, turning his books, and speaking from time to time to himself in a loud, earnest whisper. She vaguely felt that he was about some holy and mysterious work above her little comprehension, and she was careful never to disturb him by question or remark.

The books ranged around filled her, too, with a solemn awe. There on the lower shelves were great enormous folios, on whose backs she spelled in black letters, "Lightfooti Opera," a title whereat she marveled, considering the bulk of the volumes. And overhead, grouped along in friendly and sociable rows, were books of all sorts and sizes and bindings, the titles to which she had read so often that she knew them by heart. "Bell's Sermons," "Bonnett's Inquiries," "Bogue's Essays," "Toplady on Predestination," "Boston's Fourfold State," "Law's Serious Call," and other works of that kind she had looked over wistfully, day after day, without getting even a hope of something interesting out of them. The thought that her father could read and could understand things like these filled her with a vague awe, and she wondered if ever she should be old enough to know what it was all about. But there was one of her father's books which proved a mine of wealth to her. It was a happy hour when he brought home and set up in his book-case Cotton Mather's "Magnalia," in a new edition of two volumes. What wonderful stories these! and stories, too, about her own country, stories that made her feel that the very ground she trod on was consecrated by some special dealing of God's providence.

When the good Doctor related how a plague that had wasted the Indian tribes had prepared the room for the Pilgrim Fathers to settle undisturbed, she felt nowise doubtful of his application of the text, "He drave out the heathen and planted them."

But who shall describe the large-eyed, breathless wonder with which she read stories of witchcraft, with its weird marvels of mysterious voices heard in lonely places, of awful visitations that had overtaken sinners, and immediate deliverances that had come in answer to the prayers of God's saints? Then, too, the stories of Indian wars and captivities, when the war-whoop had sounded at midnight, and little children like her had awakened to find the house beset with legions of devils, who set fire to the dwellings and carried the people off through dreary snow and ice to Canada. No Jewish maiden ever grew up with a more earnest faith that she belonged to a consecrated race, a people especially called and chosen of God for some great work on earth. Her faith in every word of the marvels related in this book was full as great as the dear old credulous Dr. Cotton Mather could have desired.

But the mysterious areas of the parsonage were not exhausted with its three garrets. Under the whole house in all its divisions spread a great cavernous cellar, where were murky rooms and dark passages explored only by the light of candles. There were rows of bins, in which were stored the apples of every name and race harvested in autumn from the family orchard: Pearmains, Greenings, Seek-no-furthers, Bristers, Pippins, Golden Sweets, and other forgotten kinds, had each its separate bin, to which the children at all times had free access. There, too, was a long row of cider barrels, from whence, in the hour of their early sweetness, Dolly had delighted to suck the cider through straws for that purpose carefully selected and provided.

Not without a certain awe was her descent into this shadowy Avernus, generally under the protecting wing of Nabby or one of the older boys. Sometimes, with the perverse spirit which moves the male nature to tyrannize over the weaker members, they would agonize her by running beyond her into the darker chambers of the cellar, and sending thence Indian war-whoops and yells which struck terror to her soul, and even mingled their horrors with her dreams.

But there was one class of tenants whose influence and presence in the house must not be omitted—and that was the rats.

They had taken formal possession of the parsonage, grown, bred, and multiplied, and become ancient there, in spite of traps or cats or anything that could be devised against them.

The family cat in Dolly's day, having taken a dispassionate survey of the situation, had given up the matter in despair, and set herself quietly to attending to her own family concerns, as a sensible cat should. She selected the Doctor's pamphlet closet as her special domestic retreat. Here she made her lair in a heap of old sermons, whence, from time to time, she led forth coveys of well-educated, theological kittens, who, like their mother, gazed on the rats with respectful curiosity, and ran no imprudent risks. Consequently, the rats had a glorious time in the old parsonage. Dolly, going up the kitchen stairs into the back garret, as she did on her way bedward, would see them sitting easy and dégagés on the corners of boxes and bins, with their tails hanging gracefully down, engaged in making meals on the corn or oats. They ramped all night on the floor of the highest garret over her sleeping room, apparently busy in hopping with ears of corn across the garret and then rolling them down between the beams to their nests below. Sometimes Dolly heard them gnawing and sawing behind the very wainscot of her bed as if they had set up a carpenter's shop there, and she shrunk apprehensively for fear they were coming through into her bed. Then there were battles and skirmishes and squealings and fightings, and at times it would appear as if whole detachments of rats rolled in an avalanche down the walls with the corn they had been stealing. And when the mighty winter winds of Poganuc Mountain were out, and rumbled and thundered, roaring and tumbling down this chimney, rattling all the windows and creaking all the doors, while the beams of the house wrenched and groaned like a ship at sea, and the house seemed to shake on its very foundations,—then the uproar among the rats grew higher and jollier, and, with all put together, it is not surprising that sometimes Dolly put the bed-clothes over her head in fear, or ran and jumped into Nabby's warm arms for protection.

We have dwelt thus long on the old parsonage because it was a silent influence, every day fashioning the sensitive, imaginative little soul that was growing up in its own sphere of loneliness there.

For Mrs. Cushing had, besides Dolly, other children who engaged her thoughts and care. The eldest a son, studying for the ministry; the second a daughter, married and settled in a distant part of the state; another son working as teacher to pay his past college expenses; another son in college, whose bills, clothing, books, and necessary expenses formed constant items of thought, study, and correspondence; so that, with the two boys in the academy and our little Dolly, she had heart and hands full, and small time to watch all the fancies and dreams that drifted through that little head as clouds through summer skies. Satisfied that the child was healthy, and that there was no positive danger or harm to be fallen into, she dismissed her from her thoughts, except in the way of general supervision.

Yet every day, as the little maiden grew, some quaint, original touch was put to the forming character by these surroundings.

As to Dolly's father, he was a worthy representative of that wise and strong Connecticut clergy that had the wisdom immediately to face a change in the growth of society, to lay down gracefully a species of power they could no longer wield, and to take up and exercise, and strengthen themselves in, a kind of power that could never be taken from them. Privileged orders of society are often obstructionists, because they do not know, in the day of it, the things that belong to their peace.

The Connecticut and New England clergy did not thus err. When the theocracy had passed away, they spent no time lamenting it. They let the cocked hat, gold-headed cane, gown and bands go down stream; they let all laws protecting their order go by; and addressed themselves simply to the work of leading their people, as men with men, only by seeking to be stronger, wiser, and better men. To know more, to have more faith in the Invisible and Eternal, to be able to argue more logically to convince and to persuade—these were now their ambition. Dr. Cushing was foremost in this new crusade of earnestness. He determined to preach more and preach better than ever he had done before, and consequently in his wide parish, which covered a square of about ten miles, he was every day preaching, visiting, attending prayer-meetings. Often his wife was with him, and this gave Dolly many hours when she was free to follow her own little pursuits, and to pick up at the chimney-corner some of the traditionary lore of the period.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook