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Sarah Orne Jewett
MY LADY BRANDON AND THE WIDOW JIM.
When it was known that we had arrived in Deephaven, the people who had known Miss Brandon so well, and Mrs. Lancaster also, seemed to consider themselves Kate's friends by inheritance, and were exceedingly polite to us, in either calling upon us or sending pleasant messages. Before the first week had ended we had no lack of society. They were not strangers to Kate, to begin with, and as for me, I think it is easy for me to be contented, and to feel at home anywhere. I have the good fortune and the misfortune to belong to the navy, - that is, my father does, - and my life has been consequently an unsettled one, except during the years of my school life, when my friendship with Kate began.
I think I should be happy in any town if I were living there with Kate Lancaster. I will not praise my friend as I can praise her, or say half the things I might say honestly. She is so fresh and good and true, and enjoys life so heartily. She is so childlike, without being childish; and I do not tell you that she is faultless, but when she makes mistakes she is sorrier and more ready to hopefully try again than any girl I know. Perhaps you would like to know something about us, but I am not writing Kate's biography and my own, only telling you of one summer which we spent together. Sometimes in Deephaven we were between six and seven years old, but at other times we have felt irreparably grown-up, and as if we carried a crushing weight of care and duty. In reality we are both twenty-four, and it is a pleasant age, though I think next year is sure to be pleasanter, for we do not mind growing older, since we have lost nothing that we mourn about, and are gaining so much. I shall be glad if you learn to know Kate a little in my stories. It is not that I am fond of her and endow her with imagined virtues and graces; no one can fail to see how unaffected she is, or not notice her thoughtfulness and generosity and her delightful fun, which never has a trace of coarseness or silliness. It was very pleasant having her for one's companion, for she has an unusual power of winning people's confidence, and of knowing with surest instinct how to meet them on their own ground. It is the girl's being so genuinely sympathetic and interested which makes every one ready to talk to her and be friends with her; just as the sunshine makes it easy for flowers to grow which the chilly winds hinder. She is not polite for the sake of seeming polite, but polite for the sake of being kind, and there is not a particle of what Hugh Miller justly calls the insolence of condescension about her; she is not brilliantly talented, yet she does everything in a charming fashion of her own; she is not profoundly learned, yet she knows much of which many wise people are ignorant, and while she is a patient scholar in both little things and great, she is no less a teacher to all her friends, - dear Kate Lancaster!
We knew that we were considered Miss Brandon's representatives in Deephaven society, and this was no slight responsibility, as she had received much honor and respect. We heard again and again what a loss she had been to the town, and we tried that summer to do nothing to lessen the family reputation, and to give pleasure as well as take it, though we were singularly persistent in our pursuit of a good time. I grew much interested in what I heard of Miss Brandon, and it seems to me that it is a great privilege to have an elderly person in one's neighborhood, in town or country, who is proud, and conservative, and who lives in stately fashion; who is intolerant of sham and of useless novelties, and clings to the old ways of living and behaving as if it were part of her religion. There is something immensely respectable about the gentlewomen of the old school. They ignore all bustle and flashiness, and the conceit of the younger people, who act as if at last it had been time for them to appear and manage this world as it ought to have been managed before. Their position in modern society is much like that of the King's Chapel in its busy street in Boston. It perhaps might not have been easy to approach Miss Brandon, but I am sure that if I had visited in Deephaven during her lifetime I should have been very proud if I had been asked to take tea at her house, and should have liked to speak afterward of my acquaintance with her. It would have been impossible not to pay her great deference; it is a pleasure to think that she must have found this world a most polite world, and have had the highest opinion of its good manners. Noblesse oblige: that is true in more ways than one!
I cannot help wondering if those of us who will be left by and by to represent our own generation will seem to have such superior elegance of behavior; if we shall receive so much respect and be so much valued. It is hard to imagine it. We know that the world gains new refinements and a better culture; but to us there never will be such imposing ladies and gentlemen as these who belong to the old school.
The morning after we reached Deephaven we were busy up stairs, and there was a determined blow at the knocker of the front door. I went down to see who was there, and had the pleasure of receiving our first caller. She was a prim little old woman who looked pleased and expectant, who wore a neat cap and front, and whose eyes were as bright as black beads. She wore no bonnet, and had thrown a little three-cornered shawl, with palm-leaf figures, over her shoulders; and it was evident that she was a near neighbor. She was very short and straight and thin, and so quick that she darted like a pickerel when she moved about. It occurred to me at once that she was a very capable person, and had "faculty," and, dear me, how fast she talked! She hesitated a moment when she saw me, and dropped a fragment of a courtesy. "Miss Lan'k'ster?" said she, doubtfully.
"No," said I, "I'm Miss Denis: Miss Lancaster is at home, though: come in, won't you?"
"O Mrs. Patton!" said Kate, who came down just then. "How very kind of you to come over so soon! I should have gone to see you to-day. I was asking Mrs. Kew last night if you were here."
"Land o' compassion!" said Mrs. Patton, as she shook Kate's hand delightedly. "Where'd ye s'pose I'd be, dear? I ain't like to move away from Deephaven now, after I've held by the place so long, I've got as many roots as the big ellum. Well, I should know you were a Brandon, no matter where I see you. You've got a real Brandon look; tall and straight, ain't you? It's four or five years since I saw you, except once at church, and once you went by, down to the shore, I suppose. It was a windy day in the spring of the year."
"I remember it very well," said Kate. "Those were both visits of only a day or two, and I was here at Aunt Katharine's funeral, and went away that same evening. Do you remember once I was here in the summer for a longer visit, five or six years ago, and I helped you pick currants in the garden? You had a very old mug."
"Now, whoever would ha' thought o' your rec'lecting that?" said Mrs. Patton. "Yes. I had that mug because it was handy to carry about among the bushes, and then I'd empt' it into the basket as fast as I got it full. Your aunt always told me to pick all I wanted; she couldn't use 'em, but they used to make sights o' currant wine in old times. I s'pose that mug would be considerable of a curiosity to anybody that wasn't used to seeing it round. My grand'ther Joseph Toggerson - my mother was a Toggerson - picked it up on the long sands in a wad of sea-weed: strange it wasn't broke, but it's tough; I've dropped it on the floor, many's the time, and it ain't even chipped. There's some Dutch reading on it and it's marked 1732. Now I shouldn't ha' thought you'd remembered that old mug, I declare. Your aunt she had a monstrous sight of chiny. She's told me where 'most all of it come from, but I expect I've forgot. My memory fails me a good deal by spells. If you hadn't come down I suppose your mother would have had the chiny packed up this spring, - what she didn't take with her after your aunt died. S'pose she hasn't made up her mind what to do with the house?"
"No," said Kate; "she wishes she could: it is a great puzzle to us."
"I hope you will find it in middling order," said Mrs. Patton, humbly. "Me and Mis' Dockum have done the best we knew, - opened the windows and let in the air and tried to keep it from getting damp. I fixed all the woollens with fresh camphire and tobacco the last o' the winter; you have to be dreadful careful in one o' these old houses, 'less everything gets creaking with moths in no time. Miss Katharine, how she did hate the sight of a moth-miller! There's something I'll speak about before I forget it: the mice have eat the backs of a pile o' old books that's stored away in the west chamber closet next to Miss Katharine's room, and I set a trap there, but it was older'n the ten commandments, that trap was, and the spring's rusty. I guess you'd better get some new ones and set round in different places, 'less the mice'll pester you. There ain't been no chance for 'em to get much of a living 'long through the winter, but they'll be sure to come back quick as they find there's likely to be good board. I see your aunt's cat setting out on the front steps. She never was no great of a mouser, but it went to my heart to see how pleased she looks! Come right back, didn't she? How they do hold to their old haunts!"
"Was that Miss Brandon's cat?" I asked, with great interest. "She has been up stairs with us, but I supposed she belonged to some neighbor, and had strayed in. She behaved as if she felt at home, poor old pussy!"
"We must keep her here," said Kate.
"Mis' Dockum took her after your mother went off, and Miss Katharine's maids," said Mrs. Patton; "but she told me that it was a long spell before she seemed to feel contented. She used to set on the steps and cry by the hour together, and try to get in, to first one door and then another. I used to think how bad Miss Katharine would feel; she set a great deal by a cat, and she took notice of this as long as she did of anything. Her mind failed her, you know. Great loss to Deephaven, she was. Proud woman, and some folks were scared of her; but I always got along with her, and I wouldn't ask for no kinder friend nor neighbor. I've had my troubles, and I've seen the day I was suffering poor, and I couldn't have brought myself to ask town help nohow, but I wish ye'd ha' heard her scold me when she found it out; and she come marching into my kitchen one morning, like a grenadier, and says she, 'Why didn't you send and tell me how sick and poor you are?' says she. And she said she'd ha' been so glad to help me all along, but she thought I had means, - everybody did; and I see the tears in her eyes, but she was scolding me and speaking as if she was dreadful mad. She made me comfortable, and she sent over one o' her maids to see to me, and got the doctor, and a load o' stuff come up from the store, so I didn't have to buy anything for a good many weeks. I got better and so 's to work, but she never'd let me say nothing about it. I had a good deal o' trouble, and I thought I'd lost my health, but I hadn't, and that was thirty or forty years ago. There never was nothing going on at the great house that she didn't have me over, sewing or cleaning or company; and I got so that I knew how she liked to have things done. I felt as if it was my own sister, though I never had one, when I was going over to help lay her out. She used to talk as free to me as she would to Miss Lorimer or Miss Carew. I s'pose ye ain't seen nothing o' them yet? She was a good Christian woman, Miss Katharine was. 'The memory of the just is blessed'; that's what Mr. Lorimer said in his sermon the Sunday after she died, and there wasn't a blood-relation there to hear it. I declare it looked pitiful to see that pew empty that ought to ha' been the mourners' pew. Your mother, Mis' Lancaster, had to go home Saturday, your father was going away sudden to Washington, I've understood, and she come back again the first of the week. There! it didn't make no sort o' difference, p'r'aps nobody thought of it but me. There hadn't been anybody in the pew more than a couple o' times since she used to sit there herself, regular as Sunday come." And Mrs. Patton looked for a minute as if she were going to cry, but she changed her mind upon second thought.
"Your mother gave me most of Miss Katharine's clothes; this cap belonged to her, that I've got on now; it's 'most wore out, but it does for mornings."
"O," said Kate, "I have two new ones for you in one of my trunks! Mamma meant to choose them herself, but she had not time, and so she told me, and I think I found the kind she thought you would like."
"Now I'm sure!" said Mrs. Patton, "if that ain't kind; you don't tell me that Mis' Lancaster thought of me just as she was going off? I shall set everything by them caps, and I'm much obliged to you too, Miss Kate. I was just going to speak of that time you were here and saw the mug; you trimmed a cap for Miss Katharine to give me, real Boston style. I guess that box of cap-fixings is up on the top shelf of Miss Katharine's closet now, to the left hand," said Mrs. Patton, with wistful certainly. "She used to make her every-day caps herself, and she had some beautiful materials laid away that she never used. Some folks has laughed at me for being so particular 'bout wearing caps except for best, but I don't know 's it's presuming beyond my station, and somehow I feel more respect for myself when I have a good cap on. I can't get over your mother's rec'lecting about me; and she sent me a handsome present o' money this spring for looking after the house. I never should have asked for a cent; it's a pleasure to me to keep an eye on it, out o' respect to your aunt. I was so pleased when I heard you were coming long o' your friend. I like to see the old place open; it was about as bad as having no meeting. I miss seeing the lights, and your aunt was a great hand for lighting up bright; the big hall lantern was lit every night, and she put it out when she went up stairs. She liked to go round same 's if it was day. You see I forget all the time she was sick, and go back to the days when she was well and about the house. When her mind was failing her, and she was up stairs in her room, her eyesight seemed to be lost part of the time, and sometimes she'd tell us to get the lamp and a couple o' candles in the middle o' the day, and then she'd be satisfied! But she used to take a notion to set in the dark, some nights, and think, I s'pose. I should have forty fits, if I undertook it. That was a good while ago; and do you rec'lect how she used to play the piano? She used to be a great hand to play when she was young."
"Indeed I remember it," said Kate, who told me afterward how her aunt used to sit at the piano in the twilight and play to herself. "She was formerly a skilful musician," said my friend, "though one would not have imagined she cared for music. When I was a child she used to play in company of an evening, and once when I was here one of her old friends asked for a tune, and she laughingly said that her day was over and her fingers were stiff; though I believe she might have played as well as ever then, if she cared to try. But once in a while when she had been quiet all day and rather sad - I am ashamed that I used to think she was cross - she would open the piano and sit there until late, while I used to be enchanted by her memories of dancing-tunes, and old psalms, and marches and songs. There was one tune which I am sure had a history: there was a sweet wild cadence in it. And she would come back to it again and again, always going through with it in the same measured way. I have remembered so many things about my aunt since I have been here," said Kate, "which I hardly noticed and did not understand when they happened. I was afraid of her when I was a little girl, but I think if I had grown up sooner, I should have enjoyed her heartily. It never used to occur to me that she had a spark of tenderness or of sentiment, until just before she was ill, but I have been growing more fond of her ever since. I might have given her a great deal more pleasure. It was not long after I was through school that she became so feeble, and of course she liked best having mamma come to see her; one of us had to be at home. I have thought lately how careful one ought to be, to be kind and thoughtful to one's old friends. It is so soon too late to be good to them, and then one is always so sorry."
I must tell you more of Mrs. Patton; of course it was not long before we returned her call, and we were much entertained; we always liked to see our friends in their own houses. Her house was a little way down the road, unpainted and gambrel-roofed, but so low that the old lilac-bushes which clustered round it were as tall as the eaves. The Widow Jim (as nearly every one called her in distinction to the widow Jack Patton, who was a tailoress and lived at the other end of the town) was a very useful person. I suppose there must be her counterpart in all old New England villages. She sewed, and she made elaborate rugs, and she had a decided talent for making carpets, - if there were one to be made, which must have happened seldom. But there were a great many to be turned and made over in Deephaven, and she went to the Carews' and Lorimers' at house-cleaning time or in seasons of great festivity. She had no equal in sickness, and knew how to brew every old-fashioned dose and to make every variety of herb-tea, and when her nursing was put to an end by her patient's death, she was commander-in-chief at the funeral, and stood near the doorway to direct the mourning friends to their seats; and I have no reason to doubt that she sometimes even had the immense responsibility of making out the order of the procession, since she had all genealogy and relationship at her tongue's end. It was an awful thing in Deephaven, we found, if the precedence was wrongly assigned, and once we chanced to hear some bitter remarks because the cousins of the departed wife had been placed after the husband's relatives, - "the blood-relations ridin' behind them that was only kin by marriage! I don't wonder they felt hurt!" said the person who spoke; a most unselfish and unassuming soul, ordinarily.
Mrs. Patton knew everybody's secrets, but she told them judiciously if at all. She chattered all day to you as a sparrow twitters, and you did not tire of her; and Kate and I were never more agreeably entertained than when she told us of old times and of Kate's ancestors and their contemporaries; for her memory was wonderful, and she had either seen everything that had happened in Deephaven for a long time, or had received the particulars from reliable witnesses. She had known much trouble; her husband had been but small satisfaction to her, and it was not to be wondered at if she looked upon all proposed marriages with compassion. She was always early at church, and she wore the same bonnet that she had when Kate was a child; it was such a well-preserved, proper black straw bonnet, with discreet bows of ribbon, and a useful lace veil to protect it from the weather.
She showed us into the best room the first time we went to see her. It was the plainest little room, and very dull, and there was an exact sufficiency about its furnishings. Yet there was a certain dignity about it; it was unmistakably a best room, and not a place where one might make a litter or carry one's every-day work. You felt at once that somebody valued the prim old-fashioned chairs, and the two half-moon tables, and the thin carpet, which must have needed anxious stretching every spring to make it come to the edge of the floor. There were some mourning-pieces by way of decoration, inscribed with the names of Mrs. Patton's departed friends, - two worked in crewel to the memory of her father and mother, and two paper memorials, with the woman weeping under the willow at the side of a monument. They were all brown with age; and there was a sampler beside, worked by "Judith Beckett, aged ten," and all five were framed in slender black frames and hung very high on the walls. There was a rocking-chair which looked as if it felt too grand for use, and considered itself imposing. It tilted far back on its rockers, and was bent forward at the top to make one's head uncomfortable. It need not have troubled itself; nobody would ever wish to sit there. It was such a big rocking-chair, and Mrs. Patton was proud of it; always generously urging her guests to enjoy its comfort, which was imaginary with her, as she was so short that she could hardly have climbed into it without assistance.
Mrs. Patton was a little ceremonious at first, but soon recovered herself and told us a great deal which we were glad to hear. I asked her once if she had not always lived at Deephaven. "Here and beyond East Parish," said she. "Mr. Patton, - that was my husband, - he owned a good farm there when I married him, but I come back here again after he died; place was all mortgaged. I never got a cent, and I was poorer than when I started. I worked harder 'n ever I did before or since to keep things together, but 't wasn't any kind o' use. Your mother knows all about it, Miss Kate," - as if we might not be willing to believe it on her authority. "I come back here a widow and destitute, and I tell you the world looked fair to me when I left this house first to go over there. Don't you run no risks, you're better off as you be, dears. But land sakes alive, 'he' didn't mean no hurt! and he set everything by me when he was himself. I don't make no scruples of speaking about it, everybody knows how it was, but I did go through with everything. I never knew what the day would bring forth," said the widow, as if this were the first time she had had a chance to tell her sorrows to a sympathizing audience. She did not seem to mind talking about the troubles of her married life any more than a soldier minds telling the story of his campaigns, and dwells with pride on the worst battle of all.
Her favorite subject always was Miss Brandon, and after a pause she said that she hoped we were finding everything right in the house; she had meant to take up the carpet in the best spare room, but it didn't seem to need it; it was taken up the year before, and the room had not been used since, there was not a mite of dust under it last time. And Kate assured her, with an appearance of great wisdom, that she did not think it could be necessary at all.
"I come home and had a good cry yesterday after I was over to see you," said Mrs. Patton, and I could not help wondering if she really could cry, for she looked so perfectly dried up, so dry that she might rustle in the wind. "Your aunt had been failin' so long that just after he died it was a relief, but I've got so 's to forget all about that, and I miss her as she used to be; it seemed as if you had stepped into her place, and you look some as she used to when she was young."
"You must miss her," said Kate, "and I know how much she used to depend upon you. You were very kind to her."
"I sat up with her the night she died," said the widow, with mournful satisfaction. "I have lived neighbor to her all my life except the thirteen years I was married, and there wasn't a week I wasn't over to the great house except I was off to a distance taking care of the sick. When she got to be feeble she always wanted me to 'tend to the cleaning and to see to putting the canopies and curtains on the bedsteads, and she wouldn't trust nobody but me to handle some of the best china. I used to say, 'Miss Katharine, why don't you have some young folks come and stop with you? There's Mis' Lancaster's daughter a growing up'; but she didn't seem to care for nobody but your mother. You wouldn't believe what a hand she used to be for company in her younger days. Surprisin' how folks alters. When I first rec'lect her much she was as straight as an arrow, and she used to go to Boston visiting and come home with the top of the fashion. She always did dress elegant. It used to be gay here, and she was always going down to the Lorimers' or the Carews' to tea, and they coming here. Her sister was married; she was a good deal older; but some of her brothers were at home. There was your grandfather and Mr. Henry. I don't think she ever got it over, - his disappearing so. There were lots of folks then that's dead and gone, and they used to have their card-parties, and old Cap'n Manning - he's dead and gone - used to have 'em all to play whist every fortnight, sometimes three or four tables, and they always had cake and wine handed round, or the cap'n made some punch, like 's not, with oranges in it, and lemons; he knew how! He was a bachelor to the end of his days, the old cap'n was, but he used to entertain real handsome. I rec'lect one night they was a playin' after the wine was brought in, and he upset his glass all over Miss Martha Lorimer's invisible-green watered silk, and spoilt the better part of two breadths. She sent right over for me early the next morning to see if I knew of anything to take out the spots, but I didn't, though I can take grease out o' most any material. We tried clear alcohol, and saleratus-water, and hartshorn, and pouring water through, and heating of it, and when we got throught it was worse than when we started. She felt dreadful bad about it, and at last she says, 'Judith, we won't work over it any more, but if you'll give me a day some time or 'nother, we'll rip it up and make a quilt of it.' I see that quilt last time I was in Miss Rebecca's north chamber. Miss Martha was her aunt; you never saw her; she was dead and gone before your day. It was a silk old Cap'n Peter Lorimer, her brother, who left 'em his money, brought home from sea, and she had worn it for best and second best eleven year. It looked as good as new, and she never would have ripped it up if she could have matched it. I said it seemed to be a shame, but it was a curi's figure. Cap'n Manning fetched her one to pay for it the next time he went to Boston. She didn't want to take it, but he wouldn't take no for an answer; he was free-handed, the cap'n was. I helped 'em make it 'long of Mary Ann Simms the dressmaker, - she's dead and gone too, - the time it was made. It was brown, and a beautiful-looking piece, but it were shiny, and she made a double-gown of it before she died."
Mrs. Patton brought Kate and me some delicious old-fashioned cake with much spice in it, and told us it was made by old Mrs. Chantrey Brandon's receipt which she got in England, that it would keep a year, and she always kept a loaf by her, now that she could afford it; she supposed we knew Miss Katharine had named her in her will long before she was sick. "It has put me beyond fear of want," said Mrs. Patton. "I won't deny that I used to think it would go hard with me when I got so old I couldn't earn my living. You see I never laid up but a little, and it's hard for a woman who comes of respectable folks to be a pauper in her last days; but your aunt, Miss Kate, she thought of it too, and I'm sure I'm thankful to be so comfortable, and to stay in my house, which I couldn't have done, like 's not. Miss Rebecca Lorimer said to me after I got news of the will, 'Why, Mis' Patton, you don't suppose your friends would ever have let you want!' And I says, 'My friends are kind, - the Lord bless 'em! - but I feel better to be able to do for myself than to be beholden.'"
After this long call we went down to the post-office, and coming home stopped for a while in the old burying-ground, which we had noticed the day before; and we sat for the first time on the great stone in the wall, in the shade of a maple-trees, where we so often waited afterward for the stage to come with the mail, or rested on our way home from a walk. It was a comfortable perch; we used to read our letters there, I remember.
I must tell you a little about the Deephaven burying-ground, for its interest was inexhaustible, and I do not know how much time we may have spent in reading the long epitaphs on the grave-stones and trying to puzzle out the inscriptions, which were often so old and worn that we could only trace a letter here and there. It was a neglected corner of the world, and there were straggling sumachs and acacias scattered about the enclosure, while a row of fine old elms marked the boundary of two sides. The grass was long and tangled, and most of the stones leaned one way or the other, and some had fallen flat. There were a few handsome old family monuments clustered in one corner, among which the one that marked Miss Brandon's grave looked so new and fresh that it seemed inappropriate. "It should have been dingy to begin with, like the rest," said Kate one day; "but I think it will make itself look like its neighbors as soon as possible."
There were many stones which were sacred to the memory of men who had been lost at sea, almost always giving the name of the departed ship, which was so kept in remembrance; and one felt as much interest in the ship Starlight, supposed to have foundered off the Cape of Good Hope, as in the poor fellow who had the ill luck to be one of her crew. There were dozens of such inscriptions, and there were other stones perpetuating the fame of Honourable gentlemen who had been members of His Majesty's Council, or surveyors of His Majesty's Woods, or King's Officers of Customs for the town of Deephaven. Some of the epitaphs were beautiful, showing that tenderness for the friends who had died, that longing to do them justice, to fully acknowledge their virtues and dearness, which is so touching, and so unmistakable even under the stiff, quaint expressions and formal words which were thought suitable to be chiselled on the stones, so soon to be looked at carelessly by the tearless eyes of strangers. We often used to notice names, and learn their history from the old people whom we knew, and in this way we heard many stories which we never shall forget. It is wonderful, the romance and tragedy and adventure which one may find in a quiet old-fashioned country town, though to heartily enjoy the every-day life one must care to study life and character, and must find pleasure in thought and observation of simple things, and have an instinctive, delicious interest in what to other eyes is unflavored dulness.
To go back to Mrs. Patton; on our way home, after our first call upon her, we stopped to speak to Mrs. Dockum, who mentioned that she had seen us going in to the "Widow Jim's."
"Willin' woman," said Mrs. Dockum, "always been respected; got an uncommon facility o' speech. I never saw such a hand to talk, but then she has something to say, which ain't the case with everybody. Good neighbor, does according to her means always. Dreadful tough time of it with her husband, shif'less and drunk all his time. Noticed that dent in the side of her forehead, I s'pose? That's where he liked to have killed her; slung a stone bottle at her."
"What!" said Kate and I, very much shocked.
"She don't like to have it inquired about; but she and I were sitting up with 'Manda Damer one night, and she gave me the particulars. I knew he did it, for she had a bit o' sickness afterward. Had sliced cucumbers for breakfast that morning; he was very partial to them, and he wanted some vinegar. Happened to be two bottles in the cellar-way; were just alike, and one of 'em was vinegar and the other had sperrit in it at haying-time. He takes up the wrong one and pours on quick, and out come the hayseed and flies, and he give the bottle a sling, and it hit her there where you see the scar; might put the end of your finger into the dent. He said he meant to break the bottle ag'in the door, but it went slant-wise, sort of. I don' know, I'm sure" (meditatively). "She said he was good-natured; it was early in the mornin', and he hadn't had time to get upset; but he had a high temper naturally, and so much drink hadn't made it much better. She had good prospects when she married him. Six-foot-two and red cheeks and straight as a Noroway pine; had a good property from his father, and his mother come of a good family, but he died in debt; drank like a fish. Yes, 'twas a shame, nice woman; good consistent church-member; always been respected; useful among the sick."
Hugh Miller: Hugh Miller (1802–1856) was a self-taught Scottish geologist, writer, folklorist and an evangelical Christian. The phrase "insolence of condescension" has not been located in his works, but it can be found in Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who may have originated it (The Rambler #200, of February 15, 1752) and in Robert Burns's (1759-1796) Memoir of Burns collected in volume 5 of his works.
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King's Chapel ... Boston: Established "in 1686 as the first Anglican Church in New England, during the reign of King James II, the original King's Chapel was a wooden church built in 1688 at the corner of Tremont and School Streets, where the church stands today. It was situated on the public burying ground, now King's Chapel Burying Ground."
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pickerel: The American pickerel as a freshwater fish of the pike family. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_pickerel
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moth miller: any moth having powdery wings.
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ten commandments: See Exodus 20 for the ten commandments.
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The memory of the just is blessed: "The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot." (Proverbs 10:7)
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having no meeting: To have no meeting probably means having no regular Protestant church service in the meeting house.
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gambrel-roofed: a curved or hipped roof in the United States; so named because of the resemblance of its curve to the angle of a horse's hind leg, from which the term is derived. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary).
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what the day may bring forth: "Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth." (Proverbs 27:1)
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whist: any of several small group card games.
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invisible-green ... saleratus-water, and hartshorn: Invisible-green is a green so dark that it may be mistaken for black. Watered silk is distinguished by its wavy surface pattern.
Saleratus-water would now be called a solution of baking soda and water, used as a cleaning agent.
"The spirit of hartshorn (or spirits of hartshorn) is an aqueous solution of ammonia. Originally this term was applied to a solution manufactured from the hooves and horns of the red deer, as well as those of some other animals. The aqueous solution was a colorless and pungent, consisting of about 28.5 percent ammonia. It was used chiefly as a detergent, for removing stains and extracting certain vegetable coloring agents, and in the manufacture of ammonium salts."
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double-gown: a heavy dressing gown, usually reversible.
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sumachs and acacias: Sumacs are a wide variety of flowering shrubs as small trees are native to North America. Acacias are small, thorny trees and shrubs.
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the Cape of Good Hope: Rounding the stormy Cape of Good Hope in South Africa was a typically dangerous part of a sailing voyage from New England to the East Indies.
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Noroway Pine: Dialect pronunciation of Norway Pine. "The Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) is a two needle species which grows from Nova Scotia to Pennsylvania and westwards to Manitoba and Minnesota. Widely known as the Norway Pine, after a village of that name in Maine, this tree reaches 24 meters (80 feet) or so in height, its clean, straight, red trunk being a familiar feature of eastern Canada and north eastern United States. The dark green, slender leaves snap cleanly when bent double, unlike those of any other pine. The timber is important commercially and has constructional and other uses." (Trees of the World by Scott Leathart. A & W Publishers, Inc. New York, 1977, pg. 83.)Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, assisted by Tanner Brossart, Coe College.
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