小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » My Day Reminiscences of a Long Life » CHAPTER IV
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
No house in Virginia was more noted for hospitality than my uncle's. I remember an ever coming and going procession of Taylors, Pendletons, Flemings, Fontaines, Pleasants, etc. These made small impression upon me. Men might come and men might go, but my lessons went on forever; writing, geography, and much reading. I had Mrs. Sherwood's books. I wonder if any present-day child reads "Little Henry and his Bearer," or Miss Edgeworth's "Rosamond," or "Peter Parley's Four Quarters of the Globe"! Hannah More was the great influence with my aunt and her friends. "Thee will be a second Hannah More" was the highest praise the literary family at Shrubbery Hill could possibly give me. Mr. Augustine Birrell could never have written his sarcastic review of her in my day. It would not have been tolerated. From Miss Edgeworth, Cowper, Burns, St. Pierre, my aunt read aloud to me. On every centre table, along with the astral lamp, lay a sumptuous volume in cream and gold. This was the elegant annual "Friendship's Offering," containing the much-admired poems of one Alfred Tennyson, collaborating with his brother Charles. Miss Martineau was much discussed and was distinctly unpopular. Stories were told of her peculiarities, her ignorance of the etiquette of polite society at the North. When she was in Washington 20in 1835, was invited by Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith to an informal dinner at five o'clock. Mrs. Smith had requested three friends to meet her, and had arranged for "a small, genteel dinner." She had descended to the parlor at an early hour to arrange some flowers, when her daughter informed her that Miss Martineau and her companion, Miss Jeffrey, had arrived, and were upstairs in her bedroom, having requested to be shown to a chamber. Mrs. Smith wrote to Mrs. Kirkpatrick: "I hastened upstairs and found them combing their hair! They had taken off their bonnets and large capes. 'You see,' said Miss Martineau, 'we have complied with your request and come sociably to spend the day with you. We have been walking all the morning; our lodgings were too distant to return, so we have done as those who have no carriages do in England when they go to pass a social day.' I offered her combs, brushes, etc., but showing me the enormous pockets in her French dress she said that they were provided with all that was necessary, and pulled out nice little silk shoes, silk stockings, a scarf for her neck, little lace mits, a gold chain, and some other jewellery, and soon, without changing her dress, was prettily equipped for dinner or evening company. It was a rich treat to hear her talk when the candles were lit and the curtains drawn. Her words flow in a continuous stream, her voice is pleasing, her manners quiet and ladylike." She was thought to be unfriendly to the South—which I have the best of reasons for believing was true. 21 All this I heard with unheeding ears, but a delicious, memorable hour awaited me. Some guest had brought her maid, and from her I heard a wonderful fairy-godmother story,—of one Cinderella, whose light footstep would not break a glass slipper.

Uncle Remus had not yet dawned upon a waiting world of children, but Cowper had written charmingly about hares and how to domesticate them. I had a flourishing colony of "Little Rabs." Some of my humble friends were domiciled in the small playhouse built for me in the garden. Into this sacred refuge, ascended by a flight of tiny steps, even Gabriella was forbidden to enter. I could just manage to stand under the low ceiling. There I entertained a strange company. I had no toys of any description, and only one doll, which was much too fine for every day. Flowers and forked sticks served for the dramatist person? of my plays.

I had never heard of ?sop or of Aristophanes, but it was early given to me to discern the excellent points of frogs. I caught a number of them on the sandy margin of a little brook which ran at the bottom of the garden, and Milly helped me to dress them in bits of muslin and lace. Their ungraceful figures forbade their masquerading as ladies,—a frog has "no more waist than the continent of Africa,"—but with caps and long skirts they made admirable infants, creeping in the most orthodox fashion. Of course their prominent eyes and wide mouths left something to be desired; but these were very dear children, over whose mysterious disappearance their 22adoptive mother grieved exceedingly. Could it be that snakes—but no! The suggestion is too awful!

My aunt had a warm affection for a kinswoman who lived seven or eight miles from us. This lady's gentleness and sweetness made her a welcome visitor, and I never tired of hearing her talk, albeit her manner was tinged with sadness. She grieved over the disappearance, years before, of a dear young brother. He had simply dropped out of sight—her "poor Brother Ben!" This was a great mystery which she often discussed with my aunt, and which delightfully stirred my imagination.

One night late in summer a cold storm of rain and wind howled without and beat against the window-panes. A fire was kindled on the hearth, and around it the family gathered for a cosey evening. Suddenly some one saw a face pressed against the window, and hastened to open the door to the benighted visitor. There, dripping upon the threshold, stood a wretched-looking man. It was Brother Ben!

He carried a bundle of blankets on his back which he proceeded to unwind, revealing at last two tiny Indian girls! The frightened little creatures clung to him closely, and only after being brought to the fire and fed on warm milk were sufficiently reassured to permit him to explain himself. With one on each knee, "Brother Ben" told his story. He had run away to escape the restraints of home and had found his way to the wild Western country beyond the Ohio. Friendly Indians had sheltered and succored him, and he had finally married a young daughter of their chief. When his children were 23born, he "came to himself." He could not endure the prospect of rearing them among savages, and so had stolen them from their mother's wigwam during her temporary absence, and was well on his way before his theft was discovered. For days and nights he was in the wilderness, fording rivers, climbing mountains, hiding under the bushes at night. Finally he overtook a party of homeward-bound huntsmen, and in their company succeeded in reaching his sister's door.

I never knew what became of him, but the children were adopted by their aunt as her own. They were queer little round creatures, knowing no word of English, but affectionate and docile. I was much with them, delighting to teach them. I cared no more for Gabriella nor my rabbits and frogs. I thought no more of fairies and midnight apparitions. Here was food enough for imagination, different from anything I had ever dreamed of,—romance brought to my very door.

Without doubt the Indian mother, far away towards the setting sun, wept for her babes, but nobody, excepting myself, seemed to think of her. Could I write to her? Could I, some day, find a huntsman going westward and send her a message? She might even come to them! Some dark night I might see her dusky face pressed against the window-pane, peering in!

As time wore on, the children grew to be great girls, and their Indian peculiarities of feature and coloring became so pronounced that they were constantly wounded by being mistaken for mulattoes. 24There was no school in Virginia where they could be happy. No lady would willingly allow her little girls to associate with them. Evidently there was no future for them in Virginia. Finally their aunt found through our Quaker friends an excellent school, I think in Ohio, and thither the little wanderers were sent, were kindly treated, were educated, and grew up to be good women who married well.

My aunt made many long journeys—across the state to the White Sulphur Springs of which I remember nothing but crowds and discomfort—to Amherst, where my father lived, to Charlotte to visit my grandfather, and to Albemarle to visit friends among the mountains. She joined house-parties for a few weeks every summer; and one of these I, then a very little child, can perfectly recollect.

The country house, like all Virginia houses, was built of elastic material capable of sheltering any number of guests, many of whom remained all summer. Indeed, this was expected when a visit was promised. "My dear sir," said the master of Westover to a departing guest who had sought shelter from a rain-storm, "My dear sir, do stay and pay us a visit."

The guest pleaded business that forbade his compliance. "Well, well," said Major Drewry, "if you can't pay us a visit, come for two or three weeks at least."

"Week ends" were unknown in Virginia, and equally out of the question an invitation limited by the host to prescribed days and hours. Sometimes 25a happy guest would ignore time altogether and stay along from season to season. I cannot remember a parallel case to that of Isaac Watts, who, invited by Sir Thomas Abney to spend a night at Stoke Newington, accepted with great cheerfulness and staid twenty years, but I do remember that an invitation for one night brought to a member of our family a pleasant couple who remained four years. Virginia was excelled, it seems, by the mother country.

At this my first house-party there were many young people—among them the famous beauty, Anne Carmichael, and the then famous poet and novelist, Jane Lomax. These, with a number of bright young men, made a gay party. Every moonlight night it was the custom to bring the horses to the door-steps, and all would mount and go off for a visit to some neighbor. I was told, however, that the object of these nocturnal rides was to enable Miss Lomax to write poetry on the moon, and I was sorely perplexed as to the possibility, without the longest kind of a pen, of accomplishing such a feat. I spent hours reasoning out the problem, and had finally almost brought myself to the point of consulting the young lady herself,—although I distinctly thought there was something mysterious and uncanny about her,—when something occurred which strained relations between her and myself.

An uninteresting bachelor from town had appeared on the scene, to the chagrin of the young people, whose circle was complete without him. He belonged to the class representing in that day the present-day "little brothers of the rich," often 26the most agreeable relations the rich can boast, but in this case decidedly the reverse.

It was thought that the present intruder was "looking for a wife,"—he had been known to descend upon other house-parties without an invitation,—and it was deliberately determined to give him the most frigid of cold shoulders. Our amiable hostess, however, emphatically put a stop to this. I learned the state of things and resented it. "Old True," as he was irreverently nicknamed, was a friend of mine. I resolved to devote myself to him, and to espouse his cause against his enemies.

One day when the young ladies were together in my aunt's room there was great merriment over the situation in regard to "old True," and many jests to his disadvantage related and laughed over. To my great delight Miss Lomax presently announced: "Now, girls, this is all nonsense! Mr. Trueheart is a favorite of mine. I shall certainly accept him if he asks me."

I believed her literally. I saw daylight for my injured friend, and immediately set forth to find him. He was sitting alone under the trees, on the lawn, and welcomed the little girl tripping over the grass to keep him company. On his knee I eagerly gave him my delightful news, and saw his face illumined by it. I was perfectly happy—and so, he assured me, was he!

That evening my aunt observed an unwonted excitement in my face and manner—and after feeling my pulse and hot cheeks decided I was better off in bed, and sent me to my room, which happened 27to be in a distant part of the house. To reach it I had to go through a long, narrow, dark hall. I always traversed this hall at night with bated breath. Tiny doors were let into the wall near the floor, opening into small apertures then known by the obsolescent name of "cuddies." I was afraid to pass them. So far from the family, nobody would hear me if I screamed. Suppose something were to jump out at me from those cuddies!

In the middle of this fearsome place I heard quick steps behind. Before I could run or scream, strong fingers gripped my shoulders and shook me, and a fierce whisper hissed in my ear—"You little devil!"

It was the poetess—the lady who wrote verses on the moon! "Old True" had suffered no grass to grow under his feet!

He left early next morning and so did we—my aunt perceiving that the excitement of the gay house-party was not good for me.

I learned there were other things besides hot roast apples to be avoided. Fingers might be burned by meddling with people's love affairs.

We were not the only guests who left the hospitable, gay, noisy, sleep-forbidding house. Our host had an eccentric sister whom we all addressed as "Cousin Betsey Michie," and who had left her own home expressly to spend a few weeks here with my aunt, to whom she was much attached. When "Cousin Betsey" discovered our intended departure, she ordered her maid "Liddy" to pack her trunk,—a little nail-studded box covered with goatskin,—and 28insisted upon claiming us as her guests for the rest of the season.

"Cousin Betsey" was to me a terrible old lady,—large, masculine, "hard-favored," and with a wart on her chin. I wondered what I should do, were she ever to kiss me,—which she never did,—and had made up my mind to keep away from her as far as possible. I owed her nothing, I reasoned, as she was not really my cousin. She used strong language, and was intolerant of all the singing, dancing, and midnight rides of the young people. Her room was immediately beneath mine. But the night before, lying awake after my startling interview with the poetess, I had heard the galloping horses of the party returning from a midnight visit to "Edgeworth," and the harsh voice of Cousin Betsey calling to her sister: "Maria, Maria! Don't you dare get out of bed to give those scamps supper—a passel of ramfisticated villains, cavorting all over the country like wild Indians."

A peal of musical laughter, and "Oh, Cousin Betsey!" was the answer of a merry horsewoman below.

As we heard much about Johnsonian English from Cousin Betsey, it was reasonable to suppose, my aunt thought, that the startling word was classic.

One evening while we were her guests she suddenly asked if I could write. I was about to give her an indignant affirmative, when my aunt interrupted, "Not very well." She knew I should be pressed into service as a secretary.

"She ought to learn," said Cousin Betsey. "My 29own writing is more like Greek than English since my eyes fail me. Maria Gordon has been copying for me, but such fantastic flourishes! It will be Greek copied into Sanskrit if she does it. Well, what can the child do? Come here, miss. Are your hands clean? Ah! Wash them again, honey; you must help Liddy make the Fuller's pies for my dinner-party to-morrow."

I was aghast! But I found the "Fuller's pies" were quite within my powers. "Pie" was not the American institution, but the bird supposed to hide itself in its nest. "Je m'en vais chercher un grand peut-estre. Il est au nid de la pie," says Rabelais. As to my hands—I feel persuaded that Cousin Betsey's guests would have been reassured could they have known to a certainty the old lady had not prepared them with her own! A glass bowl was placed before me forthwith,—a bowl of boiling water, some almonds and raisins. "Liddy" blanched the almonds in the hot water and instructed me to press each one neatly into a large raisin, which, puffing out around the nut, made it resemble an acorn, or, to the instructed, a nest. These were the "pies" (birds in a nest), and very attractive they were, piled in the quaint old bowl with its fine diamond cutting. As to the "Fuller" thus immortalized, I looked him up, furtively, in the great Johnson's Dictionary which lay in solitary grandeur upon a table in the old lady's bedroom. Finding him unsatisfactory, I concluded Dr. Johnson was not, after all, the great man Cousin Betsey would have me believe. She quoted him on all occasions as authority upon all 30subjects. Boswell's Life of him, "Rasselas," "The Journey to the Hebrides," and "The Rambler" held places of honor upon the shelves of her small bookcase. "Read these, child," she reiterated, "and you need read nothing else. They will teach you to speak and write English,—you need no other language,—and everything else you need know except sewing and cooking." I soon became interested in her own literary work. She was, at the moment, engaged in writing a novel, "Some Fact and Some Fiction," which was to appear serially in the Southern Literary Messenger. I listened "with all my ears" to her talk concerning it with my aunt. It was to be a satire upon the affectations of the day—especially upon certain innovations in dress and custom brought by her cousin "Judy," the accomplished wife of our late Minister to France, Mr. Rives, and transplanted upon the soil of Albemarle County; also the introduction of Italian words to music in place of good old English. The heroine was exquisitely simple, her muslin gown clasped with a modest pearl brooch and a rose-geranium leaf. Her language was fine Johnsonian English—a sort of vitalized "Lucilla," like the heroine in Miss Hannah More's "C?lebs." As to the Italian words for music, I blithely committed to memory this sarcastic travesty, sung for me in Cousin Betsey's sonorous contralto:—

The Frog he did a'courting ride,

Rigdum bulamitty kimo—

With sword and buckler by his side—

Rigdum bulamitty kimo. 31


Kimo naro, delta karo!

Kimo naro, kimo!

Strim stram promedidle larabob rig

Rigdum bulamitty kimo!

This was deemed a clever satire on the unintelligible Italian words of recent songs, and ran through several verses, describing the Frog's courtship of Mistress Mouse, who seems to have been a fair lady with domestic habits who lived in a mill and was occupied with her spinning.

I was full of anticipation on the great day of the dinner-party. Mrs. Rives, Ella Page her niece, and little Amélie Rives—named for her godmother the queen of France—were the only invited guests. The house was spick and span. I filled a bowl with damask roses from the garden, sparing the microphylla clusters that hung so prettily over the front porch. The dinner was to be at two o'clock.

A few minutes before two a sable horseman galloped up to the door, dismounted, and, scraping his foot backward as he bared a head covered with gray wool, presented a note which my aunt read aloud:—

"Castle Hill, Wednesday noon.

"Dear Cousin Betsey:—I know you will be amiable enough to pardon me when I tell you how désolée I am to find the hours have flown unheeded by, and we are too late for your dinner! The young ladies and I were reading Byron together, and you know how

"'Noiseless falls the foot of time

That only treads on flowers.'


I am sure you forgive us, and hope you will prove it by asking us again.

"Your affectionate cousin,
"Judith Rives."

There was an ominous pause—and then the old dame said, in her sternest magisterial manner:—

"Tell Judy Rives to read Byron less—and Lord Chesterfield more." Turning to my aunt after the dignified old servitor had bowed himself out, she said, with fine scorn: "There's no use in telling her to read Dr. Samuel Johnson! 'Désolée,' forsooth!—and 'the foot of time'! That sounds like that idiot, Tom Moore."

I had a very good time at Cousin Betsey's. I helped to pick the berries and gather the eggs from the nests in the privet hedge. Also for several days I had a steady diet of "Fuller's pies."

As to the novel, if it appeared at all it fell upon the public ear with a dull thud. Still, Cousin Betsey must have been, in her way, a great woman, for it was of her that Thomas Jefferson exclaimed, "God send she were a man, that I might make her Professor in my University."


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533