MY imagination was most excited by tales of the courage and endurance of our own Salem sailors, of which I heard many at the time. The crews of our vessels were made up of Salem boys, every one of whom had his own little ‘ venture’ on board, and every one of whom also expected to rise to be captain of his own ship and perhaps to attain the dignity and wealth of the East India merchants who were the owners. These boys had been given good plain educations at the Salem schools, but my father always said that their best training came from the knowledge of men and life learned during their voyages, a training which brightened their wits and kept their minds active and receptive. And yet they were not lacking in school learning, either. I remember a story of the time, that on board a vessel where Nathaniel Bowditch was supercargo the captain boasted that; he had a crew of twelve Salem men and boys every one of whom could take and work a lunar observation (whatever that may be) as well as he could himself; and the black cook on George Crowninshield’s famous yacht, Cleopatra’s Barge, who had formerly sailed with Bowditch, was said to be as capable of keeping the ship’s reckoning as any of its officers.
And yet some of these very brightminded men could spell their own American tongue only phonetically. For I also remember another tale, that a merchant once received a letter from one of his captains which puzzled him greatly. It said, ‘Dear Sir: Owin to the blockhead the wig is spilt. Yours truly.’ Being unable to decipher its meaning, he took it to an old salt, who read it off at once. ‘Why, this is as plain as the nose on your face,’ he said. ‘Owing to the blockade the wige [voyage] is spilt [spoilt].’
When I was a girl I used often to see another of these typical men of the age, Mr. Nathaniel Silsbee. He was a very grave and reverend seignior then, and I stood much in awe of his dignified presence, silvery hair, and very, very long nose. I had heard that he was one of the great captains of his time, but there was nothing about him to suggest the bold and dashing Viking. And it was not until quite lately, after his autobiography written for his children was published by the Essex Institute, that I realized what a great opportunity I had missed in not reversing the poem, and seizing that ancient mariner by the button and holding him fast until he had related to me some of his ‘hairbreadth ’scapes and moving accidents by flood and field. There is nothing picturesque or heroic in his account of those early days, unless the doing the duty which lies nearest, uncomplainingly, almost unconsciously, as a matter of course, is heroic. His autobiography is a simple unadorned record of a man’s meeting all the chances and changes of life with true courage, resource, and persistency. If he were ever beaten, he would never have known it. ‘Always Ready’ seems to have been his watchword. I don’t like the word ‘grit,’ but nothing else so adequately expresses the quality which gave those old sea dogs such power on land as well as sea.
He was indeed a kind of Pilgrim Father. He was said to be a martinet for discipline aboard his ship, even in his youngest days, inclining more to strict justice than to mercy. But the weight of his character told, and as years went on he gained the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens, who bestowed upon him every honor in their power to give. He was sent by them to the Massachusetts Legislature and Senate, becoming afterwards President of the Senate, and then sent by the State to Congress and the Senate in Washington. His business affairs greatly prospered, his brothers were in command of good ships, and the family, whose reverses sent him to sea when he was little more than fourteen years old, were restored to affluence, all by his persistent energy, industry, and ability. In 1801 he made his last voyage, being just twenty-eight years old, and took the place he had so fully earned, of one of the merchant princes of Salem.
One or two stories of his early life and I have done. At one time in 1798 when he was in the harbor of Genoa, his ship was seized by the French and, being the newest and best fitted in port, was destined by them to carry the staff of the French Army to Egypt on Napoleon’s famous expedition there. The French general expressed great, surprise that, instead of ardently demanding the release of his ship, Captain Silsbee should not rather express his gratitude for the honor done him by the French Republic in selecting his vessel from among so many others. But Captain Silsbee did not look upon the transaction in that light, and set his wits to work to find a way out of the dilemma.
Having accidentally heard that the French were unable to find in Genoa a sufficient quantity of salt provisions for the use of their transports to Egypt, he remembered that he had a very large supply of salt pork and beef on board his vessel, and thought he might turn the surplus to good account. So, again calling upon the French general, he inquired if he wanted to buy any salt provisions. ‘Indeed I do,’ said the general, adding, ‘What is your price? Though, you know, I have the power to take what I want at my own price.’
Mr. Silsbee says, ‘I told him that ho could have every barrel of it, without price, if he would release my ship. And that those were the only terms on which he could secure it. He became very angry and threatened to take the provisions into requisition. I answered nothing, but hurried away, and for the next two days I was very busy taking measures to secure their safety. Then I received a message to appear before the general and he angrily ordered me to inform him instantly where I had hidden my forty barrels of provisions, as his officers in searching my vessel had not found them. I replied that I was responsible to the owners of that ship and cargo for their safety; that I had removed from my vessel and put in a safe place, known only to myself and one other person, not only all the provisions but every article of value on board; and that the release of my ship was the only price I would take for them. He was very angry and threatened to force me to give up the barrels, saying that not only my ship but her captain, officers, and crew had been placed under requisition by the French Republic, — “a requisition, sir, not to be frustrated by any human being, sir,” — and an officer standing near added with enthusiasm, “Yes, sir, suppose God had one ship here, and the French Republic wanted it, he must give it up.” I let them bluster, and left the room repeating that if they would give me back my ship they should have the provisions.’
The truth of the old saying, ‘It is dogged that, does it,’ was entirely fulfilled in this case. The next day a wealthy merchant of Genoa called upon Captain Silsbee and, without giving any reason for the change, told him that it he would give up the provisions he should receive the actual cost of them, and his vessel should be restored to him. It was quite in character that he asked no questions, but instantly gave up his forty barrels and before the close of that day had sailed far away from the inhospitable city of Genoa.
At one time his ship was taken by a French privateer and put in the possession of a prize master and crew who carried her into the port of Malaga. Mr. Silsbee’s account of this adventure, though very entertaining, is too long to be given in full here. After a very tedious and insolent examination by the French consul there, to which he was peremptorily ordered to reply ‘in five words,’ he told the consul that he was willing to answer any questions he might choose to ask, but that the length of those answers must be measured by himself. After the examination was over he asked how soon he might expect a decision in the matter, and was told that he would have to take his turn and that it would certainly be one month, if not two or three, before his case would come up. He was then ordered back to his ship under a guard of French soldiers. Then the old fighting English blood, of which more than a few drops coursed in the veins of those old sea kings, boiled over, and he grew very angry and told the consul that he would not leave his office, unless taken thence by force, until a decision was made or his ship’s papers restored to him. This was about four o’clock in the afternoon. So he seated himself in a corner and held the fort. His anger cooled down soon, but no one spoke to him and about midnight the consul and his clerk left the office.
At about nine o’clock the next morning the consul returned and expressed surprise at finding him still there. Captain Silsbee made no answer, and time passed on. Nothing more was said to him and he sat quietly waiting, expecting to pass another night there, until about nine o’clock in the evening, when the owner and officers of the privateer who had taken his ship came in and held a private conference with the consul, after which, to his great surprise, the consul came back and handed him his papers, saying rather shortly, ‘There, sir, are your papers, with permission to go whenever and wherever you please.’ I suppose he could not stand any longer having grim fate sitting in his office watching everything that happened with his keen, shrewd Yankee eyes!
Indeed, the story ran at the time, when he was asked by a friend, ‘ Why did you discharge the Yankee so quickly?‘ the consul answered, ‘I found that I must either dismiss him or bury him, and I preferred the former.’
The East India Museum was a great delight and resource to the children of my day. But it would be hard for modern children who only know the Peabody Academy of Science, which is the present form of the old Museum, to understand its especial charm.
The Salem East India Marine Society was founded in 1799 by some of the merchants and sea captains of Salem. Its chief objects were to assist the widows and children of deceased members, to collect such facts and observations as tend to the improvement and security of navigation, and to form a museum of natural and artificial curiosities, particularly such as are found beyond the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. The membership was restricted to ‘persons who have actually navigated the seas beyond the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.’ At first the collections were few and the interest small. But gradually the society grew in public favor until at last the enthusiasm of all classes was so great that not only the officers of the merchant ships, but each member of the crew, made it an especial object of their voyages to bring home some rare curiosity or product of foreign countries for their beloved Museum.
It had a gruff and surly old janitor, Captain Saul, who, having an especial esteem for my father, was always good to me. As far back as I can remember, the Museum had a mysterious attraction for me. And indeed it was an experience for an imaginative child to step from the prosaic street of a New England town into that atmosphere redolent of perfumes from the East, warm and fragrant and silent, with a touch of the dear old Arabian Nights about it. From the moment I set my foot in that beautiful old hall, and greeted and was greeted by the solemn group of Orientals who, draped in Eastern stuffs and camel’s-hair shawls, stood opposite the entrance, until the hour of closing came, and Captain Saul went through his never-failing ceremony of presenting me with a slip of sandalwood cut from a huge log that stood near the door, or a sweet-smelling tonquin bean, the hours were full of enchantment, and I think I came as near fairyland as one ever can in this workaday world. And that circle of sitting and standing figures that were placed in the centre of the hall in those days became real friends of mine. Three of them were life-size likenesses of East Indian merchants, in their own dresses, presented to different sea captains by the originals, or perhaps sent to the Museum as gifts.
I never heard their exact history, but I learned to know their dark faces well, and Mr. Blue Gown and Mr. Camel’sHair Scarf and Mr. Queer Cap had each his own pleasant individuality and must be greeted whenever I went to the Museum. And indeed, in those days the Spice Islands seemed to lie very near our coasts. There was an Eastern flavor in Salem, then. If you went out to tea you were almost sure to be regaled with cumquats or some strange and rare Eastern preserve.
In the summer you might meet the merchant princes of Salem dressed in full suits of nankeen, a kind of thick cotton material which was brought, from India by every vessel. It was a soft light-brown color, very handsome and durable. I remember having a pelisse made of it when I was a child, and my father often wore waistcoats of it which, with his shirts ruffled with delicate linen cambric, always carefully plaited by my mother, and his blue coats with brass buttons, gave him a very fine appearance to my childish eyes. Indeed, in those days almost every family had rolls of nankeen and of the cool blue and white striped seersucker stored away in their garret ready to fill every emergency in the way of dress.
People sent out adventures to India and China which bore fruit in wonderful tea services and rich Eastern stuffs and beautiful carvings in ivory. I remember an old colored man who I think was steward or cook on one of the merchantmen sailing to India, who always at the end of the voyage brought to our house strange spices in daintily woven baskets, and many rare and beautiful shells, and once he brought two dresses from China, of soft and lustrous white satin, one with sprigs of a dim India blue, and the other with pink flowers, and both with graceful borders woven into every breadth. These dresses in different forms served my sister and myself for party dresses many a long year, and have often shimmered and shone in Hamilton Hall.
And in almost every house were quaint tokens of the East. On the mantelpiece of my nursery were two sitting figures under glass, brought from India by the husband of my nurse, representing a Turkish man and woman, in gorgeous red and blue spangled robes, the costumes perfect to the life, even to their little red pointed slippers — he with turban and pipe, and she with a spangled veil of real gauze over her pretty dress. And many were the childish dreams and stories of which those gay figures were hero and heroine. Indeed, I sometimes see them in dreams now. So you see that, with the wonders of India so near our front doors, when my mother wanted a new set of china or a fresh camel’s-hair shawl or scarf it was as easy a thing for her to speak to the captain of the next ship starting to India as it would be now for us to order them at Briggs‘ or Hovey’s.
These were the days when shawls were universally worn, and when every household in Salem boasted one or more veritable camel’s-hair shawls or scarfs, or beautiful squares of Canton crepe richly embroidered, with heavy silk fringes, brought home from India by members of the family, or the result of adventures sent out to the East through the kindness of friends. And these shawls were worn by the ladies of the day with an indescribable air and grace which can never be attained by modern jackets and capes. But the putting on of a shawl in a way to display properly the richness of the border, — giving a glimpse, too, of the delicate texture of the centre, — and at the same time to indicate the beauty and grace of the figure of the wearer, is a lost art now.
At twelve o’clock, which was the fashionable hour for making calls, the stately dames of the day might be seen slowly pacing along Chestnut Street, their superb shawls gracefully draped about their very sloping shoulders; in their large leghorn bonnets crowned with nodding plumes outside, and with wreaths of flowers inside the brim, and long black or white embroidered lace veils drawn over their faces, they made pictures not to be seen on the prosaic streets of to-day.
I remember hearing my father say that when he w-as a young man studying lawin Judge Story’s office, which was on Essex Street, there was always a stir and commotion among the students, and a rushing to the windows to see Miss Caroline Saunders (afterwards Mrs. Nat Saltonstall) sail down the street. In those days a lady never hurried. Everything was done slowly and with due consideration. At dancing school it was thought as important to teach carriage of the head and body, and a graceful deliberate manner of walking, as it was to give instruction in dancing.
We had at one time a rather tragic experience in our own family apropos of camel’s-hair scarfs. My mother, who was always contriving and planning to get the best of everything for her children, had set her heart upon giving each of her three daughters a handsome scarf, and for that purpose saved and hoarded her money for a year, until she thought she had attained a sum sufficient to buy three of the finest quality. And then she confided her purpose and her money to a young sea captain, a friend of the family who was just starting on an India voyage. He was much interested and promised to do his best to select choice and beautiful work.
The time of his absence seemed long to mother and daughters, but at last his ship was sighted in the outer harbor, and then reported at the wharf, and the next day our friend entered the parlor with a large package under his arm, which, after our greetings of welcome were over, he delivered to my mother, saying that he thought he had been very fortunate in finding a chance to secure beautiful work at an unusually cheap rate, Me looked on, all eager expectancy, while my mother unrolled the quaint India paper, which diffused through the parlor the fragrance of Araby the Blest, and drew forth a scarf. It was a perfect beauty, wide and long, with a rich border of the finest workmanship, far beyond our utmost hopes. We all three smiled with delight, and seemed to grow some inches taller as my mother opened the next package, and shook out before our eager eyes another scarf — yes, a very handsome one, but not to be compared to the first, either in color or in quality. We looked at each other in doubt, and came down a little from our high horses, but politeness to our seafaring friend made us utter words of praise and admiration, until the third package was opened, disclosing a much inferior article to either of the others, coarser in texture, with a narrow border and less brilliant color.
Then the daughters collapsed and sank into their shoes, though my poor mother kept her manners and uttered her thanks with due courtesy; but she could not quite conceal her disappointment, and our friend said, ‘Is anything the matter? I am afraid you are not quite satisfied,’when she faltered out, ‘Oh yes, they are beautiful, but I expected the three to have been of equal value.‘ Then the captain was full of apologies and said he would keep these himself, and do her commission for her, in her own way, on his next voyage — an offer which it was, of course, impossible for her to accept.
He explained his singular fulfillment of her order by saying that he was misled by the experience of his own family, where there were also three sisters and where it was a fixed law that the oldest always had the best of everything, the first choice of all good things; to the second sister belonged the next best, while to the youngest was always given the poorest; and he had imagined that my mother meant to graduate her gifts after the same fashion — which was an entirely mistaken opinion, as my mother believed in and practised strict equity in her division of the small share of the pomps and vanities of the world which fell to the lot of her daughters in those days.
There was a quaint and gracious shop courtesy sixty years ago, which it would be well if the indifferent and nonchalant shop ladies and gentlemen of to-day would imitate. Everything was done in a leisurely manner. If you went shopping, you had your choice of two shops kept by real gentlemen, ‘models of deportment,’whose courteous manners and deferential ways were a pleasure to behold; a friend remembers the ‘almost solemn quiet’ which reigned in Mr. Choate’s store, where on entering you involuntarily lowered your voice to harmonize with the gentle subdued tones of Mr. Choate and his assistant, tall Mr. Webster. And we were never guilty of the familiarity of speaking of these shops as ‘Choate’s’ or ‘Downing’s,’after the manner of the present day. It was always ‘Mr. Choate’s’ and ‘Mr. Downing’s.’
I must not forget to mention here General Hovey, a stately old gentleman with a queue and knee breeches and a ruffled shirt, who kept a small dry-goods shop in Essex Street, near the corner of Washington Street, and who was held in great respect by his fellow citizens. Or you could go to dear old Mrs. Batchelder’s, where you were sure to be so entertained by the talk of the mother and daughters that you did not mind the inevitable delay in being served. ‘Nancy, dear, don’t send that silk to Mrs. King; there’s a spot on it.‘ ‘Law, Ma, don’t you remember I washed it out this morning?’ ‘Well, tell your Ma, dear, that I took off four and six for the spot Nancy washed off this morning.‘ But the sweet low drawling voices of mother and daughters are inimitable.
That was true friendly shopping. There were no cheap shops in those days, no five-cent counters. You paid the worth of what you bought, and it was a matter of honor to the salesman that his goods should be what they professed to be.
And so we lived, homely simple lives, with no show, and no pretense at being better than we were. I remember as a child going to a tea party, where, as was the universal custom, the food was served on trays handed to the children who were seated round the room. One tray was filled with cups of milk, while another had three dishes, one with thin bread and butter, one with milk biscuits, and one with cake. Mr. Dowst’s milk biscuits (a delicious concoction now vanished from the earth) were the delight of my heart, so when my turn came I stretched out my hand to take one of the soft dainties, but I was checked at once by the waitress saying, ‘ Stop, little girl! That does n’t come fust. I am coming round three times. Fust you must take the bread and butter, then the milk biscuit, and last the cake!’ So, being a timid child, and ready to obey, I meekly put back my biscuit and contented myself with the homely bread and butter till the second round came.
And this simplicity of life lasted beyond the time of my childhood. When the time came for girls of my age to go to parties, and to give parties in return, I well remember the plain inexpensiveness of everything. Of course there were exceptions, but as a rule there was nothing done for show. The evening treat was almost always the same: grapes and nuts and raisins, with sometimes whips, raspberry creams, and calf’s-foot jelly made from the genuine article, while lemonade in glasses was often handed round.
How proud I was of my first real party dress, a dotted India muslin trimmed round the neck and the sleeves with small wreaths of evergreen moss, studded with waxwork berries made by my mother. She also made similar wreaths for my friend Lucy, but as Lucy was fair, with blue eyes, her wreaths were starred with the buds of everlasting flowers. And I can safely say that no two girls of the present day, decked out in all the elaborate complications of dresses just from Paris, ever had a more glorious time at their first party in Hamilton Hall than we had.
The house in which we lived in Salem after I was eight years old was built by my grandmother, early in the century. It was a brick house, built in old-fashioned rectangular style, with large, wellproportioned rooms, spacious halls with arched windows at either end, long straight easy stairways, and quaint carvings on the cornices and wainscots in almost every room.
Behind our house was a large old-time garden with cherry, apple, and plum trees planted in the box-bordered beds. Besides our garden we had a large graveled yard in which to play, with a big lilac bush, and a St. Michael’s pear tree, and many cherry trees — splendid great whitehearts, and black Tartarians, bursting with juice. All these trees were planted by my grandmother, and to tell the story properly I shall have to skip back a generation or two.
About 1785 when my grandfather, Frederick Gilman, of Exeter, was eighteen years old, he was bound apprentice to a Mr. Williams in Roxbury, for a year, in what trade or occupation tradition saith not. Now Mr. Williams had three fair daughters who all fell in love with their father’s handsome and fascinating young apprentice, thereby causing dissension and unhappiness to enter the family. Mr. Williams was in great trouble; he liked Frederick, who was active and able, but his household peace was threatened, and he decided that he must get rid of this apple of discord. So one day he called Frederick into his private room, and told him that circumstances had arisen (meaning his daughters) which made it necessary for him to make a change in his arrangements. He assured Frederick that he had no fault to find with him, that he thoroughly regretted having to dismiss him, and that to atone for breaking his bond he would give him one hundred dollars and his ‘freedom suit,’ which would have been his due at the end of the year (if the ‘circumstances’ had not interfered), and a letter of recommendation to his brother, who was in the same business as himself in the town of Gloucester.
Now Frederick was gay and young and full of high spirits; the world was all before him, so what matter whether he began life in Roxbury or Gloucester? So he donned his freedom suit, bought himself a horse and a fiddle, and with the small sum of money left over jingling in his pocket started forth, a doughty young knight-errant, fiddle in rest, to seek his fortune. In those days it was quite a journey to travel from Roxbury to Gloucester, and my grandfather used to tell in after years of the delights of that lovely ride — of the long sunny days of freedom, stopping only at village inns or pleasant farmhouses by the wayside, and in the evening, like Goldsmith on his travels, playing for the people to dance, or joining with them in songs and fun.
At last he reached Gloucester, unconsciously passing on his way the little seaside nook on the Beverly shore which was to be the home of his grandchildren many years after, and, as they like to think, perhaps drawing rein on Mingo’s Beach to take his noontide rest there.
Well, we shall never know! When at last he reached Gloucester, he went to the inn kept by Mr. Benjamin Somes, and while he was eating his supper, with the landlord in attendance, he heard the sound of music in an adjoining room.
Frederick had a great love of music and was no mean performer himself, so he eagerly asked the landlord who was playing.
‘It is my daughter, Miss Abigail Somes, playing on her spinet,’ the landlord replied, adding with pride, ‘ She has just returned from Boston, where she has been at school for a year.’ Then Frederick introduced himself and showed the credentials which Mr. Williams had given him, and after tea was taken into the parlor and introduced to Miss Abigail and passed a happy evening playing and singing with her. And thence this historian and history — for, to make a long story short, the two young people fell violently in love with each other, were married very soon, and opened a shop in Gloucester, of which the only detail that has reached their descendants from the dim past is that at the end of a year they took account of stock, and found they were worth exactly fourpence halfpenny!
But they seem to have been a lively, energetic, happy young couple, and as time went on prospered greatly, and gathered riches and friends around them. Grandfather became a successful merchant in Gloucester, and built a large fine house (which as a child I was often taken to see), with a cupola and terraces sloping to the sea, and a big banqueting hall, with a balcony for musicians.
I have often heard my mother tell that when she was a little child of three years she was brought into that hall at Grandfather’s great dinner parties, dressed in her best white embroidered muslin frock with blue ribbons, and placed with the dessert on the shining mahogany table, where she sang a little song, and danced a little dance to the accompaniment of the musicians in the balcony, Grandfather leading them with his fiddle from the head of the table. One verse of her song was this: —
In gathering flowers I passed my time,
In gathering flowers, red, white, and blue,
I little knew what love could do!
All the company rose and joined in the chorus while my mother danced a little pas seul around the table.
Another story my mother used to tell of those times was that General Stark and his Molly used to come every winter to make a visit to my grandmother and grandfather in Gloucester. They would arrive from Bennington in an open sleigh, closely packed with venison and butternuts and other country produce, and which, when they returned to Vermont, was laden with dried codfish. As a truthful reporter of the past, I feel that I ought to add the sad fact that, true to the customs and habits of the time, the brave General and his Molly often had to be assisted to their bedrooms after a carousal in this hospitable house! I am inclined to think that my handsome, gay young grandfather must have been rather a highflyer, for when he died at the age of thirty-three it was found that he was bankrupt, though, in justice to his memory, I must record that the immediate cause of his insolvency was the capture of several of his vessels by the French. After his creditors were satisfied by the sale of house and carriages and furniture, there was very little money left for my grandmother, but she was full of courage and energy, and as soon as she understood how matters stood she laid her plans for the support of herself and her four children. And first and foremost must be found means for the education of her only son Samuel, then seven years old. And as the story of her adventures is eloquent of the spirit of the time, I think I must relate it here.
She had heard much of the kindness and benevolence of a certain Reverend Mr. Peabody, who was minister of the small town of Atkinson, in New Hampshire, where there was an excellent academy of which he was also trustee. So one summer morning she started from Gloucester with her boy, driving a chaise, over an untried and intricate road of forty miles, to tell her sad story to this unknown friend. I have often heard my uncle describe that journey. How they passed through the pleasant town of Ipswich, so quiet in the sultry noontide that the whimpering of the whiffletree of their chaise and the ring of the anvil of the village blacksmith were the only sounds that broke the silence. At last, in the evening, they reach Atkinson and the parsonage, where my grandmother tells her piteous tale, sets forth eloquently her earnest desire to get an education for her son, but confesses that at present she has no money to pay for it, but must return the next day to seek some employment by which she may earn a living for her children; and then tremblingly awaits the answer of the stately pastor. Brave little Grandmother!
But the answer was not long in coming. And my uncle has recorded it in the quaint language of the time. Taking both her hands, and looking straight in her face with eyes beaming with pity and kindness, Mr. Peabody said, ‘Madam, leave your little boy with us. He shall be one of our family, and enter the academy at once. And have no fear for the future. If Providence blesses your efforts to secure for yourself a livelihood, well and good; you may remunerate us in the usual way. But if you are doomed to struggle with adversity, be not anxious about your son; here you may be sure he shall have a home and an education.’ And here, using my uncle’s words, ‘just as my poor little mother broke down, and burst into tears, the strain on her nerves having at last overcome her strength and fortitude, there appeared upon the scene a lady who had been quietly sitting in a corner during the conversation, with an elegant cap on her head which excited my boyish admiration, and who, taking my mother in her arms, cordially endorsed her husband’s invitation with a few precious words of welcome and comfort.’
Grandmother returned to Gloucester next morning cheered and comforted, and soon after moved to Salem, where she opened a dry-goods store, and in the space of ten years not only amply remunerated her benefactor for her son’s education, but also was able to send her three other children to share the privileges of parsonage and academy. And now I am coming back to the point from which I started, our old house in Salem. ,
Everybody in Salem was interested in my grandmother’s story, and, as she had both energy and ability, she was wonderfully successful, and prospered greatly, and at last was able to build this fine house, repeating in it some of the details of her beautiful stately home in Gloucester. Especially the handsome stairways, with low broad tread and carved railings, and the large halls with arched windows were reproduced here. But poor Grandmother’s faith in human nature did not always prove a light from heaven. Once it turned into a will-o’-thewisp to mislead her to her ruin. Being tired with many years of hard work, she at last decided to take a partner who would share her labors and give her the rest she needed. So she found a young man who was highly recommended and who seemed in every way desirable, signed the articles of partnership with him, and found herself thus made liable for her partner’s earlier debts to an amount that made it necessary for her to sell her beautiful house, and which absorbed all the little fortune she had accumulated by years of hard work.
Almost heartbroken, but still bravely flying her little flag of cheerful courage, she gave up her shop and moved to Cambridge, where she opened a very successful boarding house for students. And here she drifts out of our story. I have a dim remembrance of her — a small and very erect little figure, with clear-cut features and very bright eyes, a white muslin cap bound round her head with a broad black ribbon and a snowy muslin kerchief crossed over her bosom. And alas! must I say it? I also remember seeing her take a pinch of snuff from a pretty little silver snuffbox, which as a child I coveted for other uses.
Well, so the old house passed into other hands, but when I was about eight years old there was great excitement in the family because it was reported that it was again for sale. My father was then a lawyer in Salem in good business but with no nest egg sufficient for such a purchase, and so my mother repressed any expression of her eager and natural desire to get back to the home of her girlhood, filled with associations of her mother and of her youth. But the day before the sale my grandfather King sent for my father and told him that if he wanted to secure the house he, Grandfather, would advance the money if the sum asked did not exceed a certain amount. How well I remember the day of that sale! And how about eleven o’clock in the morning we saw my father hurrying up the street, and how almost before he was inside the door we heard his voice full of glee, calling for my mother: ‘Susan, Susan, I’ve bought it, I’ve bought it!’ And so it happened that for nearly forty years we lived in my grandmother’s house, and smelled her lilacs, and ate her cherries and her golden russets, and reaped the harvest of her years of hard though loving work in her old home.
While I have been writing of this ‘Kiddy’ King ‘of shreds and patches,’ I have often thought of a scene in Sylvester Judd’s story, Margaret, where two old women are vying with each other in telling reminiscences. Mistress Ravel says, ‘I remember the Great Hog, up in Dunwich, that hefted nigh twenty score,’ in answer to the Widow Brent’s ‘I remember milking a cow a whole wonter for a half a yard of ribbin.’ Now, as by no possibility could I equal these wonderful remembrances, I think I will say goodbye to the old Salem of my youth, and write Finis here.