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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » My Day Reminiscences of a Long Life » CHAPTER III
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The general impression I retain of the world of my childhood is of gardens—gardens everywhere; abloom with roses, lilies, violets, jonquils, flowering almond-trees which never fruited, double-flowering peach trees which also bore no fruit, but were, with the almond trees, cherished for the beauty of their blossoms. And conservatories! These began deep in the earth and were built two stories high at the back of the house. They were entered by steps going down and only thus were they entered. Windows opened into them from the parlor (always "parlor,"—not drawing-room) or from my lady's chamber. On the floor were great tubs of orange and lemon trees and the gorgeous flowering pomegranate. Along the walls were shelves reached by short ladders, and on these shelves were ranged cacti, gardenias (Cape Jessamine, or jasmine, as we knew this queen of flowers), abutilon, golden globes of lantana, and the much-prized snowy Camellia Japonica, sure to sent packed in cotton as gifts to adorn the dusky tresses of some Virginia beauty, or clasp the folds of her diaphanous kerchief. These camellias, long before they were immortalized by the younger Dumas, were reckoned the most poetic and elegant of all flowers—so pure and sensitive, resenting the profanation of the slightest touch. No cavalier of that day 11would present to his ladye faire the simple flowers we love to-day. These would come fast enough with the melting of the snows early in February.

I have never forgotten the ecstasy of one of these early February mornings. Mittened and hooded I ran down the garden walk from which the snow had been swept and piled high on either side. Delicious little rivers were running down and I launched a mighty fleet of leaves and sticks. Suddenly I beheld a miracle. The snow was lying thickly all around, but the sun had melted it from a south bank, and white violets—hundreds of them—had popped out. I spread my apron on the clean snow and filled it with the cool, crisp blossoms. Running in exultant I poured my treasure into my dear aunt's lap as she sat on a low chair which brought my head just on a level with her bosom. Ah! Like St. Gaudens, I remember the gingerbread and apples!—but I remember the violets also!

I can see myself in the early hot summer, sent forth to breathe the cool air of the morning. What a paradise of sweets met my senses! The squares, crescents, and circles edged with box, over which an enchanted glistening veil had been thrown during the night; the tall lilacs, snowballs, myrtles, and syringas, guarding like sentinels the entrance to every avenue; the glowing beds of tulips, pinks, purple iris, "bleeding hearts," flowering almond with rosy spikes, lily-of-the-valley! I scanned them all with curious eyes. Did I not know that the fairies, riding on butterflies, had visited each one and painted it during the night? Did I not know that these 12same fairies had hung their cups on the grass, and danced so long that the cups grew fast to the blades of grass and became lilies-of-the-valley? I knew all this—although my dear aunt never approved of fairy tales and gave me no fairy-tale books. Cousin Charles believed them; moreover, I had a charming picture of a fairy, riding on a butterfly. Of course they were true.

But I always hurried along, with small delay, among the flower beds. I knew where the passion-vine had dropped golden globes of fruit during the night—and I knew well where the cool figs, rimy with the early dew, were bursting with scarlet sweetness. Tell me not of your acrid grape-fruit, or far-fetched orange, wherewithal to break the morning fast! I know of something better. Alas! neither you nor I can ever again—except in fancy—cool our lips with the dew-washed fruits of an "old Virginia" garden.

It seems to me that the life we led at Cedar Grove and Shrubbery Hill was busy beyond all parallel. Everything the family and the plantation needed was manufactured at home, except the fine fabrics, the perfumes, wines, etc., which were brought from Richmond, Baltimore, or Philadelphia. Everything, from the goose-quill pen to carpets, bedspreads, coarse cotton cloth, and linsey-woolsey for servants' clothing, was made at home. Even corset-laces were braided of cotton threads, the corset itself of home manufacture.

Miss Betsey, the housekeeper, was the busiest of women. Besides her everlasting pickling, preserving, 13and cake-baking, she was engaged, with my aunt, in mysterious incantations over cordials, tonics, camomile, wild cherry, bitter bark, and "vinegar of the four thieves," to be used in sickness.

The recipe for the latter—well known in Virginia households a century ago—was probably brought by Thomas Jefferson from France in 1794. He was a painstaking collector of everything of practical value. To this day there exists in the French druggists' code a recipe known as the "Vinaigre des Quatre Voleurs"; and it is that given by condemned malefactors who, according to official records still existing in France, entered deserted houses in the city of Marseilles during a yellow fever epidemic in the seventeenth century and carried off immense quantities of plunder. They seemed to possess some method of preserving themselves from the scourge. Being finally arrested and condemned to be burned to death, an offer was made to change the method of inflicting their punishment if they would reveal their secret. The condemned men then confessed that they always wore over their faces handkerchiefs that had been saturated in strong vinegar and impregnated with certain ingredients, the principal one being bruised garlic.

The recipe, still preserved in the Randolph family of Virginia, is an odd one—with a homely flavor—hardly to be expected of a French formula. It requires simply "lavender, rosemary, sage, wormwood, rue and mint, of each a large handful; put them in a pot of earthenware, cover the pot closely, and put a board on the top; keep it in the hottest sun two 14weeks, then strain and bottle it, putting in each a clove of garlic. When it has settled in the bottle and becomes clear, pour it off gently; do this until you get it all free from sediment. The proper time to make it is when herbs are in full vigor, in June."

Only a housewife, who lived in an age of abundant leisure, could afford to interest herself for two weeks in the preparation of a bottle of the "Vinegar of the Four Thieves." The housekeeper of to-day can steep her herbs, then strain them through one of the fine sieves in her pantry, the whole operation costing little labor and time, with perhaps as good results. If she is inclined to make the experiment, she will achieve a decoction which has the merit at least of romance, the secret of its combination having been purchased by sparing the lives of four distinguished Frenchmen, with the present practical value of providing a refreshing prophylactic for the sick room,—provided the lavender, rosemary, sage, wormwood, rue, and mint completely stifle the clove of garlic!

Pepper and spices were pounded in marble mortars. Sugar was purchased in the bulk—in large cones wrapped in thick blue paper. This was broken into great slices, and then subdivided into cubes by means of a knife and hammer.

Sometimes a late winter storm would overtake the new-born lambs, and they would be found forsaken by the flock. The little shivering creatures would be brought to a shelter, and fed with warm milk from the long bottles, in which even now 15we get Farina Cologne. Soft linen was wrapped around the slender neck, and my dear aunt fed the nurslings with her own white hands. How the lambkins could wag their tiny tails! and how they grew and prospered!

All the fine muslins of the family, my aunt's great collars, and the ruffles worn by my uncle, my Cousin Charles, and myself, were carefully laundered under my aunt's supervision. Dipped in pearly starch, they were "clapped dry" in our own hands, ironed with small irons, and beautifully crimped on a board with a penknife. Fine linen was a kind of hall-mark by which a gentleman was "known in the gates when he" sat "among the elders of the land."

I was intensely interested in all this busy life—and always eager to be a part of it.

There was nothing I had not attempted before I rounded my first decade,—churning, printing the butter with wooden moulds, or shaping it into a bristling pineapple; spinning on tiptoe at the great wheel—we had no flax-wheels—and even once scrambling up to the high seat of the weaver and sending the shuttle into hopeless tangles. "Ladies don't nuvver do dem things" sternly rebuked Milly. "Lemme ketch you ergin at dat business, an' 'twont be wuf while for Marse Chawles to baig for you."

The inconsistencies as to proprieties puzzled me then and have puzzled me ever since.

"Why mustn't I spin and churn, Milly?" I insisted. 16 "Ain't I done tole you? Ladies don't nuvver do dem things."

"Then why can I help with the laces and muslins?"

"Cause—ladies does do dem things."

And so I became an expert blanchisseuse de fin, as it was the one household industry allowed my caste.

There was no railroad to bring us luxuries from the nearest town—Richmond—twenty-five miles distant, and we depended upon the little covered cart of Aunt Mary Miller. Aunt Mary and her husband, Uncle Jacob, were old family servants who had been given their freedom. They lived at the foot of a hill near our house, and down the path, slippery with fallen pine needles, I was often sent with Milly to summon Uncle Jacob, who was the coachman. He was very old, and gray, and always unwilling to "hitch up de new kerridge in dis bad weather." He would stand on the lawn and scan the horizon in every direction—and a dim, distant haze was enough to daunt him. Aunt Mary was allowed to collect eggs, poultry, and peacock's feathers from the neighbors, take them down to Richmond to her waiting customers, and return with sundry delightful things,—Peter Parley's books, a wax doll, oranges and candy for me, and wonderful stories of the splendors she had seen. She had other stories than these. One night "a hant" had walked around her cart and "skeered" her old horse "pretty nigh outen his senses"; as to herself, "Humph, I'se used to hants." 17 "Where, Aunt Mary, tell me," I begged. With a furtive glance lest my elders would hear, she answered:—

"I ain't sayin' nothin'. Don't you go an' say I tole you anythin'. Jes you run down to the back of the gyardin as fur as the weepin' willer an' you'll know."

Of course I knew already what I should find beneath the willow. I had often stood at the foot of the two long white slabs and read: "Sacred to the Memory of Charles Crenshaw" and "Sacred to the Memory of Susannah Crenshaw." I knew their story. This had been their home. The brother had died early, and for love of him the sister had broken her heart. My sweet great-aunt Susannah! Had she not left a lovely Chinese basket—which I was to inherit—full of curious and precious things; a carved ivory fan, necklace, pearls, and amethysts, and a treasure of musk-scented yellow lace? Aunt Mary shook her head when I announced scornfully that I wasn't afraid of my Aunt Susannah.

"I ain't talkin'! Miss Susannah used to war blue satin high-heeled slippers. You jes listen! Some o' dese dark nights you'll hear sump'n goin' 'click, click.'"

"I know, Aunt Mary. That's the death-head moth. Milly says it won't hurt anybody, without you meddle with it."

"Humph! Milly! I seed hants befo' her mammy was bawn! I tells you it's Miss Susannah comin' on her high heels to see if you meddlin' with her things. I knowed Miss Susannah! she 18was monsous particlar. She ain't nuvver goin' to let you war her things."

I was a wretched child for a long time after this. Whenever I retired into the inner chambers of my imagination—as was my wont when grown-up people talked politics, or religion, or slavery—I found my pretty fairies all fled, and in their places hollow-eyed goblins and ghosts. If my gentle Aunt Susannah was permitted to come back to her home, how about all the others who had lived there? My aunt coming for her final good-night kiss would uncover a hot face, to be instantly recovered upon her departure. Par parenthèse, I never did wear Aunt Susannah's jewels. All disappeared mysteriously except the chain of lovely beads. These I wore. One night I slept in them and the next morning they were gone. Whither? Ah, you must call up some one of those long-time sleepers. According to latter-day lights, they may "come when you do call." They may know. I never did know.


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