THERE were cupboards in Salem. Whether they are there still, or have been built up, or pulled down, or swept away, in the march of modern improvement, I know not, but in my childhood there were cupboards in Salem.
They were, moreover, real cupboards ; no after-thoughts, built across the end of an entry here, or the corner of a room there, — places into which to huddle umbrellas and overcoats, or to hustle mending and children’s litter out of the sight of visitors. Salem cupboards were always intentional. The builder understood his responsibility, and acted accordingly. The housewife regarded her cupboards as the inner and most sacred portion of her trust. It was no light task even to keep the keys always counted and polished. As for losing one, or forgetting which was which, that would indicate a mind so utterly frivolous that one could hardly conceive of it.
The genuine, old-time Salem housekeeper realized that there was a conscience in her work. She took her cupboards seriously. To her there was nothing trivial about them. To do her duty by her cupboards was one of the most inviolable principles of her sober and decorous life.
It took no ordinary brain to keep watch and ward over these cupboards. They were many in number. They were confusing as to size and shape. They possessed the charm of the unexpected. One never knew quite when or where one should chance upon them. They were tall and narrow beside the fireplace, or low and chubby above it; they lurked behind the wainscoting, like Polonius back of the arras. One of them was to be reached only by a stepladder ; another jolly pair occupied crannies under two deep window-seats. In one house was a cupboard which pretended to be solid wall, but was really a deep recess for the concealment of firearms; and in yet another was a narrow closet about which hung the horror of an old Ginevra-like legend of smothering to death.
There was literally no end to the number and variety of Salem cupboards. They possessed a charm quite their own, and this charm was felt to the utmost by the children, who were only occasionally allowed to view the treasures kept under strict lock and key by the high priestesses of these sacred nooks and shrines.
Foremost in the memory of delightful Salem cupboards stands the diningroom closet of a second-cousin of ours, whom I will call cousin Susan, because that is as far as possible from being her real name. She was a widow of some fifty odd years, and kept house for a bachelor brother, who was a retired seacaptain. She was a round, trim, blackeyed woman, greatly afflicted with rheumatism, for which reason she always walked with a cane. The cane was of some dark, foreign wood, highly polished, and the top was carved to resemble a falcon’s head, with shining eyes of yellow glass.
Cousin Susan was a kindly soul, who would, I think, have even been merry, had not the austerity of her youthful training warped her natural instincts and given her a certain rigidly virtuous air. She believed very sincerely in the old-time maxim that “ children should be seen, and not heard,” and she had rather an alarming way at times of saying “ Tut, tut! " But she was really fond of young people, and whenever we went to see her she would say seductively, —
“ I wonder, now, if we could find anything nice in cousin Susan’s diningroom cupboard.”
And truly that person who failed to do so must have been hard to please ; for, in our eyes at least, that cupboard held a little of everything that was rare and delightful.
A most delicious odor came forth when the door was opened: a hint of the spiciness of rich cake, a tingling sense of preserved ginger, and a certain ineffable sweetness which no other closet ever possessed, and which I know not how to describe. It might well have proceeded from the walls and shelves of the cupboard itself, for they were indeed emblems of purity. The paint was varnished to a high degree of glossiness, and was so exquisitely kept as to look like white porcelain.
The china here, as in all genuine Salem cupboards, was chiefly of the honest old blue Canton ware. There were shining piles of those plates which, while they are rather heavy to handle, always surprise one by being so thin at the edges. There were generous teacups like small bowls, squat pitchers with big noses, and a tureen whose cover had the head of a boar for a handle. And in all this the blue was dull and deep in tint, with a certain ill-defined, vaporous quality at the edges of the lines, and the white of the cool greenish tinge of a ducks egg. You can buy blue Canton to-day, but it is not old blue Canton. Such china is matchless now, but in this cupboard there were shelves of it.
Cousin Susan possessed also another set of china, which she valued far above her blue. It was always singularly attractive to us as children, though I have come to believe that it is far less beautiful than the Canton. It was a pure, thin white ware, delicately fluted at the edges and decorated with little raised lilac sprigs. It was used only upon occasions of solemn company tea-drinkings, and cousin Susan always washed it herself in her little cedar dish-tub. We children considered this china so choice and desirable that a bit of a broken saucer, which included one of the pale, tiny sprays, was cherished far above our real doll’s dishes. We lent it from one to another, each of us keeping it for one day ; but it was always one of those unsatisfactory treasures of childhood for which we could never find any adequate use. We could think of nothing to do with this bit of china which seemed at all worthy of so lovely an object.
At the left hand of cousin Susan’s shelves of china was a little cupboard with a diamond-paned glass door. This was the sanctum sanctorum, — a cupboard within a cupboard; and here, as one might have expected, were stored the choicest treasures of all. It was not the domestic preserve closet. Cousin Susan was thrifty, and had good store of home-made dainties, but they were kept in the cool seclusion of a dark cellar store-room. This little glass cupboard held the stock of foreign sweetmeats : the round-shouldered blue jars, inclosed in a network of split bamboo, which contained the fiery, amber ginger ; the flat boxes of guava jelly, hot curry powders, chilli sauce, and choleric Bengal chutney. Here were two miniature casks of tamarinds, jolly and black, cousin Susan’s favorites. She had a certain air of disapproval toward most of these strange conserves. “ They were not good for little people,” she averred; and indeed she always maintained that these ardent sweetmeats were fitter for the delectation of rude men than for the delicate palates of gentlewomen. Of tamarinds, however, cousin Susan did approve. Properly diluted with cool water, they made what she called a “ very pretty drink.” She was fond of sending a glass to any neighbor who was ill and feverish, and she was always following our cousin the sea-captain about with a blue china bowl of the mixture, begging him to partake of it.
“ Susan, I hate tamarind-water,” our cousin would protest.
“ It will cool your blood, William,” his sister would urge.
“ But I don’t want my blood cool. I want it warm,” the captain would reply.
As a general thing, however, cousin Susan came off triumphant. The captain grumblingly partook of his dose, and was always most generous in sharing it with us children. The beautiful little brown stones also fell to our lot, and we hoarded the useless things with great care, although it always seemed to us a great oversight on the part of nature that tamarind seeds did not have holes through them, that one might string them as beads.
Cousin Susan’s cupboard also contained stronger waters than tamarind, for side by side sat two corpulent cutglass decanters, of which one was half filled with madeira wine, and the other with honest rum. A variety of sweet cakes was near by, to be served with the wine to any chance visitor. There were black fruit cake in a japanned box ; “ hearts and rounds ” of rich yellow pound cake; and certain delicate but inane little sponge biscuit, of which our cousin spoke by the older-fashioned name of diet — or, as she chose to pronounce it, “ dier ” — bread. She always called the sponge cakes “ little dier breads.” Pound and fruit cakes were forbidden to our youth, but we might have our ladylike fill of “ dier breads,” and also of delightful seed-cakes, which were cut in the shape of an oak-leaf, and were marvels of sugary thinness.
These seed-cakes, by the bye, were kept in a jar which deserves at least a passing mention. It was, I suppose, some two or three feet high, though it looked to me then much higher. It was of blue-and-white china, and was fitted with a cover of dull silver. Tradition stated that some seafaring ancestor had brought it home from Calcutta, filled with rock-candy. What was done with so large a supply of this confection I never knew. In those days choice sugarplums were not as plenty as they have since become; possibly at the time “ black-jacks ” and “ gibraltars ” were unknown, and this was Salem’s only candy. At all events, it is somewhere recorded that the ship Belisarius brought from Calcutta “ ten thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven pounds ” of this same rocky and crystalline dainty. The fact of such a quantity of candy had for us children a superb and opulent significance. What an idea, to have a choice confection, not by the stick or beggarly ounce, but by the jarful ! To think of going and casually helping one’s self at will! To imagine lifting that silver lid, and gazing unreproved into the sugary depths! Perhaps nice, white-haired spinsters used it in glittering lumps to sweeten their tea, or even served it at table by the plateful, as one might serve cake. Fancy exhausted itself in all sorts of delightful speculations. The whole legend had a profuse and mythical sound. It was like a fairy tale, a scene from Arabian Nights. It threw about the jar and the cupboard a mystic charm which time fails to efface. Even now a stick of sparkling rock-candy has power to call up cousin Susan’s diningroom cupboard, its sweet, curious perfume, the quaint old silver and blue china, and the huge turkey-feather fan, with its wreath of brilliant painted flowers, which hung on the inside of the door.
Out of the shadows of the past comes another memory, the picture of that strange old Salem homestead which has been made known to fame as the House of the Seven Gables. Some alterations have done away with two of the gables, but the old house is otherwise unchanged. In the days of my childhood its mistress was a lonely woman, about whom hung the mystery of one whose solitude is peopled by the weird visions that opium brings. We regarded her with something of awe, and I have wondered, in later days, what strange and eldritch beings walked with her about those shadowy rooms, or flitted noiselessly up and down the fine old staircase.
The House of the Seven Gables was no open and joyous dwelling, where children loved to flock and run about at will. There was always an air of ceremony and dignity there, and a certain oppressive chill haunted the great low parlor, where the beams divided the ceiling into squares. We never paid a visit there except with some grown person, and then sat throughout our stay, dangling our legs from our high chairs, and studying the quaintly stiff array of ornaments upon the lofty mantel. There were three covered Delft jars, two vases of flowers, and at either end a flaskshaped china vase. Between these taller articles were set shallow cups of painted china. Except in the flowers which filled the two middle vases, I never knew the arrangement of the mantel to differ.
A large jar stood on the floor directly beneath the mantel, and ranged firmly about the room were several Dutch apple-tree chairs, with others of oldfashioned severity. On the right of the mantel was a delightful cupboard, whose tall, arched door often stood open, displaying a beautiful collection of old cut glass. We children used to describe this cupboard as “ hollow,” it being, in fact, shaped like an apse. It had six semi-circular shelves, all of rich dark wood, against which the rows of splendid old glass glittered most bravely. There were graceful pitchers, shallow dishes, odd bowls, and flagons almost without number. On the floor of the cupboard a vast china punch-bowl was flanked by jars and vases each more enchanting than the other. I believe there was no truly housewifely dame in Salem who did not adore and envy this wealth of crystal, but although we children admired it, it did not inspire us with any deeper feelings. It did not appeal to the youthful imagination. It was an array of frail and icy splendor, toward which our hearts could not warm ; not even the subtle suggestions of good cheer conveyed by delicate wine-glasses and portly old decanters could charm minds so unformed and simple as ours.
Equally far removed, and even more splendid, was the chest of family silver, which we were sometimes allowed to behold. How little did we think, as we viewed in admiring silence the fine heavy tankards, candlesticks, old twotined silver forks, and antique porringers, that the fate of this haughty collection was to be sold for mere old silver, and hustled without respect or reverence to a fiery death in the silversmith’s crucible ! Sadly changed since that day is the House of the Seven Gables. The family silver is melted; the antique furnishings are scattered ; and gone, one knows not whither, the beautiful old glass, the glory of that tall, dark, “hollow ” cupboard, and the pride of that strange mistress, who dreamed such dreams and saw such eerie visions in her great lonely chamber above-stairs.
Another Salem cupboard, which is always of pleasant memory, was in the house of one of my schoolmates, with whom I was spasmodically intimate. I am sorry to say that our visits to this closet were attended by a certain awful joy, from the fact that they always partook of a character surreptitious, not to say sneaking. I was assured by my companion that her mother approved of her investigations, but, at the same time, she casually mentioned that it was as well not to speak in the front entry, and that the fourth stair from the top creaked “ so awful ” that she usually made a point of stepping over it.
The chamber containing the closet was a back room, seldom visited, and used only for the storage of trunks and boxes. The windows were fitted with shutters, in one of which a heart-shaped hole had been cut to admit a little light. At the chimney end the room was wainscoted to the ceiling with wood which had never been painted, but which had taken a fine brown color from age and the fires which had once roared on the red-tiled hearth. The closet in this brown paneling was one of the tall and narrow sort, and the shelves ran back very deep. It was of the same agedarkened wood within as without, and the door sagged on its hinges, so that we had to lift it together when we opened it; otherwise we might have disturbed some of those people below who were so very willing we should be there. In this cupboard were stored the possessions of a great-aunt of my friend. We had seen an ivory picture of her in the parlor many times, and we thought of her always as a thin young creature, with unnaturally large gray eyes, and a neck that looked too slender to bear the weight of the small head with its wealth of piled-up auburn hair. Her name was Isabel, and she had died in her early girlhood. Nobody seemed to remember much about her. Perhaps there was nothing to remember. Her miniature and her framed sampler were preserved with honor, but I think my friend and myself were the only ones who cared for the relics which were put away in this upper cupboard.
There were a number of books of the floral-token order, containing sentimental verses and bits of elegant prose in praise of the Rose, the Lily, the Rainbow, and kindred subjects. They were embellished with the portraits of largeeyed and small-mouthed beauties with wonderful ringlets, and the covers, though now faded, had once been gorgeous with gilding and floral designs. An unpleasant feature of these books was the fact that when one opened them tiny brown spiders went “tacking” crookedly across the pages. They were a highly objectionable sort of spiders, that did not at all mind being suddenly jammed between the pages, — for they were already too flat to be any flatter, — and that would just as lief run backward as forward with their ugly curving legs.
On the same shelf with the books was the mahogany box of water-colors with which poor Isabel, who had accomplishments, forsooth, had made the prim little sketches which filled a portfolio. They were chiefly of the stencil-plate variety, done from boarding-school “ patterns,” in clear colors, upon white, giltedged drawing-paper. There was one full-blown white rose, painted with exquisite neatness and delicacy, which was an especial favorite of ours; but most of the designs were wreaths and garlands of flowers surrounding verses of poetry copied in a fine hand. There was also on this shelf an album, wherein friends had written verses from the poets, and admirers had even ventured upon original tributes “ To Isabel.”
In a bag of faded brocade was a tangle of pale sampler silks and crewels, not in that deliciously prim state of order which one would have expected of Isabel. Perhaps before our day some other child had tossed them over, even as we did, longing but not daring to appropriate them. Somehow, these silks and wools seemed so much prettier than those of any ordinary, down-stairs workbag ; and certainly nothing could in any way compare with the basket of pieces of French prints with which Isabel had been “ setting a Job’s Patience.” No modern cottons possess the faint delicacy of color and fabric of these old-time French calicoes. We used to delight in spreading the pieces out upon the floor, and choosing, in discreet whispers, what patterns we would like for gowns.
Piles of yellow old newspapers filled the closet’s upper shelves, and a box of thin gauze ribbons and a few pairs of silk gloves, long and limp, completed the list of Isabel’s relics. It would be hard to describe the singular charm which clung about these simple keepsakes, though probably, in great part, it was that the joy was a forbidden one. Be that as it may, there was a remarkable attraction exercised upon us by the silent chamber, the ray of sunlight which fell through the heart-shaped hole in the shutter, the narrow brown cupboard, and the precious possessions of poor gray-eyed Isabel, who to us could never be old.
When, as children, we had been especially good, we were sometimes rewarded by being sent upon a visit to a certain delightful maiden lady whom we called “ Miss Mary-Ellen.” It was really Miss Mary-Ellen whom we went to see, but we always hoped that her sister, Miss Eliza-Ann, would be at home, for Miss Eliza-Ann was very strange and did surprising things. She was the elder of the two sisters, and might in these days have been called strong-minded, though the word then was “ eccentric. She was a tall, long-armed woman, with a Roman nose, piercing black eyes, and a wild-looking brown wig which was always awry. This wig, by the way, possessed an awful fascination for us children, partly because it was a wig, and partly because Miss ElizaAnn had a startling habit of suddenly plucking it from her head with a vindictive clutch, and casting it upon the floor, when she was absorbed in study, annoyed by the heat, or excited by discussion. One never knew at what moment she might do this, and therefore we always watched her with hopeful interest. She held great possibilities of amusement. She became in time, for us, a sort of majestic Punch and Judy. Her head was as smooth and ivorytinted as the ostrich egg which adorned the mantel, and when she doffed her wig her whole appearance underwent the most extraordinary change. This habit was terribly annoying to Miss MaryEllen, herself the most dainty and decorous of maiden ladies. I can see yet the horrified way in which she would lift her hands, crying, —
“ Oh, Eliza-Ann, Eliza-Ann, how can you do so ? ”
“ Because, Mary-Ellen,” Miss ElizaAnn would respond, in her slightly bass voice, “ I am uncomfortable. My brain is too warm to think.”
“ Then at least put on a handkerchief,” her sister would plead. “ It really does n’t seem decent; before the children, too ! ”
To which Miss Eliza-Ann was apt to reply by her favorite exclamation, “ Fiddlesticks ! ”
However, she would eventually hang loosely over her head a red bandana handkerchief, which certainly gave her a very witch-like and unpleasant look. She was a woman of superior and, for those days, unusual scholarly attainments. Her friends sighed and shook their heads a little over “ poor ElizaAnn.” It would have been more truly feminine, they felt, had she not been quite so fine a linguist and mathematician. They could not thoroughly approve of her being able to fit youths for Harvard. Her masculine failings were, however, rather softened by the fact that Miss Eliza-Ann was a model of feminine modesty. In spite of the episodes of the wig, she was severely proper in her way, and a highly irreverent nephew has even been known to declare that his aunt always drew circles by a saucer, considering dividers indelicate on account of their limbs. She had what was, in our eyes, a highly objectionable habit of unexpectedly pouncing upon us With mathematical conundrums. She delighted to spring upon us at unguarded moments and ask triumphantly, —
“How much are twelve and nine? and thirteen? and twenty-one? and seven ?”
And this abominable practice she would sometimes pursue for an entire afternoon, waiting until we were happily forgetful and absorbed, and then suddenly attacking us once more with an explosive “ And fifteen? and nine?” She called this pastime the “ game of mental addition,” but it was a sorry game for us. We used to dodge around corners to avoid meeting her on the street, for fear of being confronted with one of these baleful questions ; and I recollect encountering Miss Eliza-Ann at a party, when I was quite a grown girl, and having to struggle to persuade myself that she would no longer raise her thin forefinger and say, “ And seven ? and eighteen ? ”
As for Miss Mary-Ellen, she was in every way a contrast to her more brilliant sister. She was tall, but, being in delicate health, she was of fragile figure, and was never seen without a demure little shawl about her shoulders. She usually wore a gown of very dark satin, changing from green to black, and a long black silk apron. Her ordinary shawl was of fine white cashmere, with a border in black and slaty-blue, and a single large palm-leaf ornamented the corner which hung exactly in the middle of the back. She had other shawls of much gorgeousness, which appeared only upon festive occasions. Miss Mary-Ellen’s face was almost as pale as her lovely silver hair, which she wore in little curls each side of her temples. Her cap was white, with tiny bows of lavender ribbon, and her wide worked collar was fastened by a pin containing hair from the heads of her father and mother. I think that she had the very sweetest and
most lovable withered old face in the world. I dare say she was no beauty, but we firmly believed her one. She was so delicately and exquisitely fragrant and immaculate that it was like caressing a bunch of garden pinks to put your cheek against hers. Above all, her countenance so beamed with a gentle and innocent kindliness, a sort of beneficent love and charity for all mankind, that we children could not choose but adore her. She was not a scholar, like her sister, but she possessed various pretty accomplishments. She directed the house, and, when her health permitted, she always made the “ diet bread.” It used to be a belief in Salem that it took a lady’s hand to make really elegant spongecake. Heavier sorts of dainties might be trusted to servants, but only a gentlewoman could fitly be expected to take the responsibility of this most delicate of sweets. So true was this that if a once famous school in Salem did not actually include sponge-cake in its curriculum, at least it is true that no young lady’s education was considered finished until she had made a loaf of irreproachable “ diet bread.” Miss Mary-Ellen’s was famous even in Salem. She could also fashion very pretty needle-books, and could paint bright-colored butterflies on Chinese rice-paper. Her delicate health confined her much to the house, and she dearly loved to have children visit her, if they were good. She could not bear boisterous conduct, and quarrels and bickerings caused her deep distress. It should be said, however, that we seldom displayed any but our best behavior to gentle Miss Mary-Ellen, and she, on her part, used to exert herself for our enjoyment. We were allowed to play with the curious ivory chessmen which her great-uncle Joseph had brought from Calcutta; she let us look over her piece-bags, and choose one bit of silk or satin for ourselves; and last, and best of all, she showed us her sitting-room cupboard.
The sitting-room was above-stairs, as Miss Mary-Ellen was often too feeble to go down for many weeks together. Here was Miss Eliza-Ann’s severe studytable, with its globe and books; and here was her sister’s little work-stand, whose deep green-baize drawer held her crewel work and fine sewing; and here, in a cupboard in the white wainscoting, were stored away many curious and delightful objects.
Miss Mary-Ellen disliked to have her belongings handled, and during the inspection we were seated opposite our hostess, and cautioned to keep our hands clasped. This air of mild ceremony only added to the delight of “ seeing Miss Mary-Ellen’s things.” It was in this cupboard, to begin with, that she kept her shawls. There was one of creamy China crêpe, heavy with silken embroidery ; another was of scarlet camel’s hair, of such fabulous fineness that it might well have been one of those fairytale fabrics which were so easily tucked away in a nutshell. In our eyes, however, the most beautiful were a pair of lovely shoulder shawls from Canton, which dwelt in scented seclusion in a sandal-wood box. They were always called “ the pina shawls,” but their softness was unlike the wiry texture of any pina cloth. One was white, with the clear and dazzling whiteness of spun glass, the groundwork as sheer as a frost web, and the pattern of silvery lilies gleaming with a silky sheen. The companion shawl was of a charming shade of rose-pink, and this was also shot through with a design of silken flowers. These shawls, our friend told us, she wore with her black satin gown when she gave a “ tea-company ; ” and she added cannily, while putting them to bed in their folds of soft Chinese paper, that she always wore them by turns, so that one should last just as long as the other.
On the second shelf of the cupboard was a small tea-chest, which was apparently full of certain strange beads. Our hostess could not remember whether her great-uncle had said that they had been brought from Canton or Calcutta, but she knew that they came from somewhere in the magical East. Each bead was of the size of a large pea, and was grooved longitudinally. They were made of a fine clay, and were dull blue in color, with an odd glistening effect, as if silver dust might have been mixed with the clay. They were perfumed, and when they became warm in the hand or on the neck gave forth a musky sweetness, faint and enchanting. Miss Mary-Ellen gave us each a string of these beads, and I never happen upon them to this day without being touched by a sense of mystery. They suggest strange Hindoo rites, Nautch dances, and women with dusky throats; they never have lost the suggestive charm of that Orient from whence they came.
Among the most pleasing of Miss Mary-Ellen’s relics were her fans, of which she possessed a variety. There was one of carved sandal-wood inlaid with pearl and silver, and one of ivory, as fragile as yellow lace ; but our delight was an old French fan of light blue silk, whereon a little marquis in silver and pink offered a rose to a dainty marquise in puffs and patches, while, just beyond, three maids, with arms entwined, forever danced a minuet measure, and about all were pale garlands of faded roses and little naked Loves. We loved the pretty marquise and the dancing trio, and much preferred this fan even to the Chinese one of white feathers, oddly decorated with little leaves and blossoms in tinsel and gay-colored embossed paper.
And, speaking of feathers, I am reminded of one other drawback, beside the game of mental addition, to the complete enjoyment of our visits to this pleasant house. This drawback was Miss Mary-Ellen’s parrot, than which a more thoroughly vicious and disreputable old bird was never seen. As far as I know, he had absolutely no claim to respect or even toleration, except the fact that his mistress loved him. He was ragged and battered in appearance, and his colors, like his morals, were low in tone. He had always about him an air of having been out all night, and, so far from repenting, of reveling in a sense of his own evil ways. He had a wicked eye, and an unpleasant habit of roosting upon the chair-rails and unexpectedly pecking at the legs of us children. His disposition was morose and vengeful. He loved nobody. He only endured his mistress for the sake of the loaf-sugar she gave him. Between him and Miss Eliza-Ann a deadly dislike existed. As a general thing, he sulked and glowered on the back of a small sofa in the corner. Here I suppose him to have spent his time in reviewing dark episodes in his past life, possibly with some degree of sullen satisfaction. Occasionally he varied this occupation by making a sortie to attack Miss ElizaAnn’s ankles, for which he entertained the greatest aversion. I never knew anything to afford the least amusement to Polly except Miss Eliza-Ann’s clutching off her wig; and even in this case I think it was not so much mirth at a ludicrous action as it was diabolic glee at the dreadful guy the poor lady looked, and fiendish enjoyment of her sister’s distress. It is certain, however, that it did cause him pleasure, for he would burst into peals of rasping, metallic laughter, swaying insanely on his perch, drawing long breaths, and apparently becoming quite exhausted with his mirth. If Miss Eliza-Ann made an attempt to touch him, he would hastily sidle away out of reach, and resume his hoarse, derisive laughter in safety. Our gentle friend was made very unhappy by these exhibitions, which usually ended by Miss Eliza-Ann’s assuming the red bandana, and seating herself at her writing with an injured air, while Polly clucked and glowered from his corner, and Miss Mary-Ellen hastily brought forth some new curiosity to attract our wandering attention.
One thing of which we never tired was a pair of Chinese picture-books, with paintings on rice paper in clear and brilliant colors. There was, of course, no attempt at perspective, and we were much entertained by the little mandarins walking calmly about in the sky, quite over the heads of the jugglers with their yellow balls, and the women under flat-topped umbrellas. A pair of carved ivory chop-sticks also appeared during the display of Chinese curiosities, and Miss Eliza-Ann, from her corner, threw in a few darkly learned remarks concerning Confucius, to which we listened with respect and vacuity. Miss Eliza-Ann was always ready enough to give us useful information, and she was generally called upon to tell us about a curious Japanese bonze in painted clay, with naked chest and stomach. It had an ugly, wrinkled face, and was squatted on its feet. Miss Eliza-Ann explained all about it in very long words, but we only gathered that the bonze was a holy man or priest, and we secretly thought it a pity that while his robes were otherwise so voluminous, so much of his person should be exposed to the inclemency of the weather.
A department more modern, but not less attractive, of Miss Mary-Ellen’s cupboard was the shelf of knick-knacks which kind friends had given her, and which she hoarded in little boxes and baskets with almost childish pleasure. Many of these things were oddly trivial as gifts to a grown woman, but the truth was that many of Miss Mary-Ellen’s friends had evidently never realized her growing up ; at least, they still took a simple delight in bringing to her tiny fancy boxes, miniature fans, baskets of pink sugar, and microscopic books, all of which were received as they were given, and preserved with great care.
On rare, memorable days our hostess would gladden us by bestowing upon us some of these desirable objects.
“ Let me see,” she would muse, regarding fondly a tiny bird-cage of gilded wire, or a barley baby tucked snugly into a sugary cradle. “ I have had this live years, and it has given me much pleasure. I think I can spare it now to give pleasure to somebody else. You may have it, my dear, and I hope you will keep it carefully.”
The only two of these presents which lasted us for any length of time were a little bonnet of yellow sugar, decorated with a wreath of miniature roses, and a small book. The bonnet was my sister’s, and was kept for some years in a box of cotton, until one hapless day we found it broken, by the cold we always supposed. Its owner shed bitter tears over the loss, while her more practical sister suggested that, since it was broken, we might as well see how it tasted. This we proceeded to do, and the result was pasty and disappointing in the extreme. My book was a small black volume, entitled Frank and Flora, being the history of a pair of children of such an aggressive and rampant state of morality that but for the fact that it told what they had to eat and drink upon every occasion it would have been utterly unendurable.
We always loved Miss Mary-Ellen’e gifts, however, for they took a grace from the gentle giver, and a charm beyond belief from the delightful cupboard which once had been their home.
Dear Miss Mary-Ellen and her sister have long since gone — a loving but incongruous pair — to a better world. I am quite certain that the same sort of after life could never satisfy them both. The quaint old house yet stands, but it is occupied by strangers. They may be, and doubtless are, the most delightful of people, and yet it seems to me all wrong that they should live in that house. The world is out of joint with all these changes. I would not peep into the old mansion, had I the chance, for I like to fancy everything still as it used to be : yet I cannot help sometimes wondering who owns the parrot’s corner now; what furniture has deposed Miss Eliza-Ann’s table, with its books and globe ; above all, what these new folk keep in Miss Mary-Ellen’s cupboard.