THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
I MUST begin by saying how much I enjoyed the Club paper on “Rag-bags.”Though ours has long dwindled to the usual modern size, I want to tell you of certain substitutes which, after long service, are just beginning now to fail me. They are the Cuddy, the “Office,” and the Closet under the Stairs.
First the Cuddy!
It runs the whole length of the house, of which it has long formed the grand general lumber-room. It is low but not dark, for there are windows at its two ends. They afforded just light enough to read by, when in my childhood I used to go there to pore over certain novels of Mrs. Southworth contained in a stack of old story-papers there slightingly thrust away. Beneath that sloping ceiling, by one of those tiny windows, how often did I weep over the sorrows of the Lost Heiress ! With what rapt attention did I follow the fortunes of Miriam the Avenger as she fulfilled her “Fatal Vow!” But this was a pleasure that soon gave place to others more lasting. The Cuddy was filled not so much with literary rubbish as with the stores of the usual lumber-room. There were the cast-off toys of my elder brothers; there pieces of furniture broken or out of use; there various household articles found all at once behind the times. It was just after the War, Our War. Gone were the old aunts and mammies who had used the big wheel, the cut-reel, the winding-blade. Here in the Cuddy were all three, amid broken andirons, disused fenders, and the like. It was said by some that open fire-places were going the way of homespun cloth. Though this did not prove, in our case at least, quite true, the above accumulation was there. It has always been there more or less — till lately. Nothing else about the home place has ever given me such a sense of reserved force as this Cuddy. Though (as I have known) it has not contained all the luxuries, I have long felt as if the necessaries of life were there, and at a pinch would not fail one. Did one want a towel-rack ? There was the cut-reel. With the help of white paint, behold it! transformed in hue and beautiful not in shape alone! Did one need a new fender ? Lo! an old one which, being cut down by the cross-roads blacksmith and polished, is also a thing of beauty! When, two years ago, we were discussing (of course, quite seriously) making a party for the Coronation, someone suggested crowns as a necessary equipment. We are all heirs to titles here. They must be crowns — and “parcel-gilt.” The question was raised, where to get them. I said, “O doubters and scoffers! do you think they could not be found either in the Cuddy, the Office, or the Closet under the Stairs?” Though we did not (as happened) go, I assure you it was not for want of faith in those crowns.
Now to describe the Office. The one of which I write was once a veritable country doctor’s office. When I was a child its shelves were filled with medicine jars and bottles. There were box-bookcases of big books, and a terrifying collection of bones — skulls and cross-bones — with which our big brother, then studying medicine under our grandfather, used to scare and yet fascinate us. Now for years this too has been a sort of lumberroom. Books, bottles, and bones have disappeared. It is used in summer for a servant’s sleeping-room. A certain degenerate member of the family has long wanted to keep a Miss-Hepzibah-Pyncheon-store there. But its shelves, its cupboards, have till lately been still capable of yielding rewards to the explorer. Was it not there we found the Civil War relics, the breastplate, the bayonets, now so prized ? Was it not there we found the bunch of old brass keys that we came near trading off for a door-knocker, and that now adorns our parlor ? When people have talked of relics of any sort, has not the possession of the Office — not to mention the Cuddy — given me a feeling as of endless resources to draw on ? How sad to think — But never mind just now!
And now, last but not least, the Closet! The Little Dark Closet under the stairs! Thank Heaven, that still holds its own to some extent! I can go there, chiefly for old magazines or other treasures of like sort (for this is a book-closet), without yet fearing that it will quite fail me. But how long will this last ? The ciy of “Pass it on!" grows daily louder and more inexorable. How long will it spare this last cherished hoard ? A Virginia conscience is capable, when under strong pressure, of being almost as bad as a New England one. Have I not lately gone to the inmost depths of the Closet and raked forth one of the most cherished possessions of my youth? They were given to me, those numbers of Scribner’s with purple covers, to keep! In those days people did such things. We did n’t know it was wrong. We even kept things for the sake of people who gave them. Well, to go back to that batch of old Scribner’s! Oh, with what delight were they first read — Old Creole Days, The Grandissimes. Louisiana! With what memories, what almost tears, I hang over them now! They are worn, they are dirty — but oh ! why — why, just because I have had a box of new ones given me, must I “ pass these on ” ? Can’t I keep them — can’t I keep the Closet as it is a while longer ? Long years of “ doing up ” things, of wearing out and giving away, have stripped the Cuddy almost bare. Only one four-poster there is left to give a sense of antiquarian resources. (N. B. I have secret doubts now about those crowns, though a pile of old irons in one corner still may hold something.)
Though the Office still holds two or three things worth doing up, that too will soon be bare. There is now talk of doing even it up, converting it into a respectable summer bedroom. Standing as it does under a giant walnut-tree, surrounded by syringa bushes, it would be indeed a pleasant place to sleep. But what soothing consciousness of dim, half-explored places, yielding a possible “find,” will be after a while left to us! I strive to harden my heart. Unless I can do so and hold on a while longer to that Closet, we shall indeed be desolate!
Will the members of the Contributors’ Club pray for me that I may be allowed, by making some sort of compromise, to keep those purple-backed Scribner’s ?