Friday, November 17, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 10 - The Little Lunts

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                                   

Chapter Ten
The Little Lunts

Nothing easily ruffled the surface of my good spirits, and I could never long keep quiet.  I was always doing things, and I early began to find people the most attractive things on earth.  I suppose I dwelt vaguely, when at all, upon the individuals about me, but I was disposed to enjoy everyone and everything.  I loved to hear the interminable discussions going on about personal matters, but there was never in me then or since any hostile curiosity.  Something kindlier was instinctively active, as I have since divined and realized exists in all the Lunts.  The disquieting allusions, and any sharp stories that scandalized, always seemed to confirm and fortify a sudden disbelief that made a contrary view from what I was hearing natural, and so not particularly creditable.  If I could not unravel I could not bear to be in the network of things that alarmed, and I shrank at once and became increasingly reluctant to listen.  I never seemed to understand animosity, and I think I've been willing to leave that field to others rather than to contend or even listen.

Somebody once said long ago that people who made no efforts to contest or to rule were usually superior to such efforts, as they were never necessary with those born to rule.  But it was neither mental nor moral striving that made me feel I hated to struggle or quarrel.  I wanted to rule, of course, I was a little dominant and always liked my own way, I believed in the nature of things I was right, but I discovered long after that I wanted to rule because of endowments and superior gifts, not as a result of battling or battles.

It makes no difference whether the days are bright or monotonous, whether the imagination is active or sluggish, whether enthusiasms are vivid or blunted - Nature touches and stirs, uplifts and blesses every blunted sensibility - and then come  action and thrills.

I began to feel delicious agitations listening to comments on my various relatives outside the Gray household.  I especially remember remarks of my Aunt Sarah Rhoades (Sarah Patten Bailey Gray Rhoades 1821-1893) lately arrived on the scene with her little son Sam (Samuel Gray Rhoades 1844-1912) a new playmate for my little brothers.  Aunt Sarah seemed to be comparing children and she said to Mother "Your Horace and George are so merry, so full of questions and observations that their activities never seem exhausted; they mind you too, Cornelia, but are always betaking themselves to occupations that absorb them heart and brain; never so very quiet, and confinement or restraint would be intolerable to such bounding spirits - but those boys of William Lunt's are painfully quiet; no mischief seemingly there, and I think they are too well behaved.  If it means thoughtfulness and sensibility it's begun to show itself far too early.  No doubt Susan Lunt takes the cake for obedient children  - politeness is all very well but it's plain they're afraid to say their soul's their own - Susan is a terrible disciplinarian.  I tell you those young ones have to toe the mark.  Why! I believe she'd work her fingers to the bone before she'd have a speck of dust anywhere in that house of hers.  The children are always so spic and span, and they mind at the wink of an eyelash!  Those little fellows are awfully good-looking.  Susan's severe - but she's a good Mother and a splendid housekeeper.  Everything is in tip-top order over there.     

I summoned up my resolution to learn all I could about my kindred.  They were numerous and seemed widely divided.  One happy hour alone with my grandfather I asked suddenly - "Isn't it funny about relatives, Grandfather?"  "How do you mean child - What's funny?  Don't you understand about your family?"  "There are so many of them and all with so many names - And what is a grand-uncle?  Grandmother says that Uncle Job Gray (1788-????) and Uncle John Fulton (1797-????) are my Grand Uncles, and there's such a lot of Fultons' and Pattens' and Grays' and Lunts', and I've got two Uncle Williams (William H. Lunt 1819-1904 and William Patten Gray 1827-1910) and two Aunt Sarahs'." (Sarah Patten Bailey Gray Rhoades 1821-1893 and Sarah Ann Lunt Comings 1821-1880) - "Well, now listen - You have no clear knowledge of kinship I see and I'll tell you a little" and he talked so engagingly that some way I seemed introduced to them all.

"You see Uncle William Lunt is your Grandfather Lunt's son - He's a very good man - very good, and so is your Father, and Uncle William Gray is my son and a pretty lively one.  And your Aunt Sarah who is visiting us while your Mother is here, you know she's my daughter, don't you, but that Aunt Sarah Comings is your Grandfather Lunt's daughter."  His conversation went round the circle including other Uncles and Aunts and gave me the bearings of the question.  

I even laughed at some of his descriptive adjectives and hits upon the foibles and looks of different individuals.  I recall now with similar amusement that one was "A modest gentle sort of man very humble and meek" - another - "Fiery and crazy and tried to make everyone mind him" - One was - "gracious and meant well, but you must mind your P's and Q's when with her." and another - "So solemn that you wanted to run a mile to get out of her sight," and he laughed heartily when he described someone as "Long and spare" and "She liked to smarten up and be conspicuous."

When Grandfather chose he was addicted to sharpness in description and his talk then was like clean pistol practise (sic).  He praised very few - He was keen-sighted, practical and critical and was inclined to be choleric whenever opposed.  His opinions were very definite, and his will was like well-tempered steel. Grandfather Gray had no weakness of purpose and in him there was little or no resignation, no self-abnegation or voluntary self-denial, yet generosity, consideration and kindly service were all bestowed freely and often.  He did not exemplify the religious virtues, nor associate himself with those who worshipped as did my Grandfather Lunt, who found all his comfort in the Word of God.  It is told of his forebears that in olden times some of them could not wait for prayers until they reached the Church, but if the spirit moved them they got down knelt by the road and offered petitions long and fervent.

There are records of one of our Ancestors who knocked up his family every morning with verses of Scripture, and whose piety was so tremendous that no one dared to interrupt him with a question when he held forth, usually at meals, so none of the family peeped during one of his homilies when he told them as Christians what to believe and how to behave!  If anyone asked a question he flamed into a tempest of wrath far from saintly, insisting that his ten or twelve "Olive Branches" were in the nature of all things Christian, and all Christians behaved of course according to his rules.

My own Grandfather Lunt was a Puritan in grain but one of the mildest of men.  He was too patient and too enduring, for no words of complaint ever escaped him, and nothing existed to show that he had sad privations, and sore trials to put up with.  His sons, my father and his brother William, founded their families on principles also; but while there was perfect purity, intrepidity and consecration manifest in both there was in them an elasticity of nature, as far as the kindlier emotions were concerned, for however firm in word or deed there was in neither any absence of humanity or sympathy.

It was entire faith, entire belief, with no disturbing element of doubt and every action and attitude was built upon their interpretation of the Holiest of Books - The Book of Life - the Christian's Bible.  The Divine Will was an inevitable Guide, and faith in the answer to prayer revealed to them the path they trod.  So confident were those brothers of the reality of the Overshadowing Providence, and of spiritual authority, that if they were bounded by narrow views and correct Orthodoxy they were still armoured in right thinking and a tender feeling.  They were consistent and forgiving.  They knew nothing about "A Tooth for a Tooth and an Eye for an Eye."  They could never hold a grudge.  They could forget, and ignore what  was unpleasant, and they could give - give - give everything but their free souls.  To conserve liberty of view and follow the lead of conscience was more than a right - it was a religious duty.

There is a rather startling intensity in one afternoon at my Uncle William Lunt's.  They had a pleasant little home on one of the ascending streets with vines that covered the porch and sides - the vines seem stamped upon my memory.  More than a name-plate on that door the home meant frugality, industry, and unyielding purpose - punctilious, precise, exact, even heart-beats were hidden under well-brushed clothes; and a mask of reserve sometimes worn by the elders sometimes reached and was copied by the children.

In that bygone time I saw comparatively little of those young cousins who had been held up to me by my Aunt Sarah as models of behaviour.  I insist here that I am not censuring anyone, but in the force of atmosphere there was something tangible like a weapon and it always hushed me.  There was something in addition to my Aunt Sarah's qualities that intensified her power to command.  It was a firmness that never failed, for inconstancy to her ideals was as impossible as forgetfulness of her duties.  The graces of virtue, and duty in bodily force and mental vigor united to life-long integrity and made, though never reciprocally demonstrative, a good wife and a good mother, producing for the world worthy sons and loving daughters.  But she was diametrically opposed to what was easy going, self indulgent indifference to rules, or to any training that was luxurious and in a sense not self supporting.  At an extremely early age her children were very strictly reared - some way they had no irregular pleasures and a tender conscience was developed beyond their years.   

I was quite reckless in comparison with those perfectly behaved cousins - I am quite sure I like things even at that age distasteful to young persons so rigidly reared; for festivals and ornaments, and the negation of all solemnity or of any austere spiritual methods, marked me out form the first.  I was never lonely and I was always allowed room to dance in imaginatively; so little was demanded with severity that I could create means of enjoyment, and became indifferent to any but the gayest sort of existence.  I was therefore ready for the raptures of life; its turmoils, its anxieties, its contests, its sorrows, its denials, its suffering of any sort never came into my childhood's thoughts fancies or experiences - and fears never hindered expression or dimmed manifest pleasures.

I love to conjure up the visions and traditions of my childhood, and let memory-fed imagination take its flights.  And now the mental panorama turns to the well regulated family of my Father's brother.  Their costumes, their customs, their manners differing from the cheeriness, the breeziness and the freedom of mine!  They were firm where I was yielding, staunch and definitive when I was shallow, light and buoyant.  They were shut in to constant activity where no one was allowed to dream the hours away.  Idleness was never permitted.  There was little open enthusiasm, and apparently few outside enjoyments, but the family Crest there meant what was truest and noblest in religious faith and works.

It seems to me that perhaps without knowing it both Aunt Susan Lunt and my own Mother exercised sort of a magnetic will over their husbands.  And, as far as I know, it has been so ever since with all the Lunts.  The women they love, the women to whom they give their name command not only devotion and service, but it seems as if something in the nature of men yielded readily to their will and purpose; and while both may be unquestionably strong the definite position of the wife and mother is in our family a thing as dominant as it is prevalent, and permanent.  I do not think there is any struggle in the matter for, while theirs is the ruling voice, harmony seems undisturbed; certainly there is no lack of affection, and those close ties of relationship were always honoured and sustained.  In my own home it was a high Heaven of love and trust.

My Uncle, William Lunt, was beautiful in countenance.  He had thick hair like his Father's very dark, parted at the side and combed back from an intelligent brow.  It was touched with gray and had a tendency to curl.  His olive skin made a contrast with very white teeth.  His deeply set eyes had an intense blueness, almost purple like a pansy and with a strange depth of sadness in them.  His beard was cut round and short, the whiskers grew close and high from throat to cheek.  he had a well-shaped figure a little above medium size, and although his shoulders stooped a little he carried himself easily and with distinction.  The expression of his face was sympathetic, the lips were rather thin but modelled to fineness, and his was a voice always low and restrained to gentleness.  Indeed in all our connection I have never heard a voice among Lunts or Grays, Sumners or Pattens, Evans or Cornells that fell unpleasantly to the ear.  They are usually low-pitched and agreeable and some are fortunately sonorous rich and musical.  I have always been proud of the well-bred quiet and agreeable voices I think characterizes the whole circle, but my Father's was exceptionally beautiful, more resonant, warmer, more musical and in tone and inflection challenged all others.

I can easily recall preparations for the special visit I have intended to those little Lunt cousins, because I was so disappointed in not being allowed to wear my new muslin frock with green sprigs and rose buds, of which I was inordinately proud, or to adorn myself as I ardently desired  with my Tenth birthday present, the gold locket with pictures of my Father and Mother inside - instead of such yielding to vanity I was robed in a fresh gingham of green and white,  - equally new but far less grand I thought - and I could not be quite satisfied that I was not more decoratively arrayed.

The impressions of the visit, except my dilating and telling stories to Etta and Sunie that seemed almost to frighten them, has largely vanished.  Etta however, had something startling to tell me.  She was excited in her mind and manner when she whispered that she had heard of the possibility of her going to Newburyport with Joe and me.  I myself knew no details of any such plan and had not taken any such project into consideration.  I remembered hearing my Aunts talk about the Ipswich School for Young Ladies they had attended, and that some Teacher there had a school for little girls in Newburyport - that was all I knew - but Etta declared with an air of mystery, "Anyway I heard my Mother say to your Mother, that it would be nice to have all us three together there, and that she'd like to send me with you and Joe and would try to bring it about."

Little Sunie listened eagerly to our discussions, never showed any aversion to being left out, or any envy when we became excited anticipating new adventures, or when I launched forth into descriptions of what I possessed, what I wanted, what I intended to do, or where I expected to go.  It was all a fairy tale to the modest demure darling little girl.  Sunie was pretty, like her Father in looks even then, the same dark blue eyes easily saddened, the same well-moulded features, the same abundance of dark hair growing low on a lovely brow.  I verily believe that child could not remember the time she did not love and exemplify in her own little person what she called religion.  She seemed even then to be dedicated to that Shrine, - and to serve forever as an Acolyte at that High Altar.  It was her "Vocation" to live for others, to serve her family in utter unselfishness which to the end kept her "Unspotted from the World."  In the ideas and fancies, and the faces of little children, there is something it would require the thought of a lifetime to even partially analyze or comprehend.

The little boys, Will and Robert, were also individual and about the same age as our Horace and George.  They never seemed troublesome, and the active element in them never broke into and abnormal manifestations in company.  Something had restrained all the usual turns of mischief, of boisterous expressions or of wild desires for fun.  They had learned to be still, and were never roused to noisy action when I was present.  Perhaps they were in that condition of character or development when everything is transacted inside.  The many undefined inexplicable impulses, the ways children have, which occasion their singular actions - how can those not in their confidence pretend to any measure of familiarity with, or do them perhaps any measure of justice?

Little Will, the older one, seemed to be always in a thinking mood.  He was decidedly blonde in type, bright-haired, blue-eyed and quiet like all the others.  He had a paid of eyes that were always looking wistfully out of doors and windows as if he longed even then for flight, and visioned new fields and woods and wide Prairie spaces far away from the home-nest.  What he saw no one knew.  He was a silent child and could scarcely be aware of any possibilities of change or of any different existence, but he liked to stand at the windows looking out and whenever I was there his eager little face was usually the first I saw.  Possibly windows on the street were congenial to meditations in which the small boy indulged.  He seemed to have some faculty for enduring cold or heat, or anything for the price of solitude.  I did not know those little Lunts very well, and some boys are given to subjects of serious thought very early, much earlier than older people are willing to believe.  I knew that, because my own little brothers always alone or together had occupations or interests, or some unfathomed pursuits that filled their hours and were quite beyond my comprehension.  I suppose they all had their full share of castle building, but I believe in that sex the constructive faculty gives them scope to supply satisfaction in whatever they are doing at the time, and to deepened their interest and efforts in various subjects that me be quite abstruse in themselves.

Little Robert was fascinating - the eyes he fixed on you were so surprisingly lovely that they foretold possibilities unusual and prophesied a personality rarely attractive.  His broad smooth forehead over the irresistible twinkle in those dark eyes gave to his smile a peculiar brightness.  One loved him at sight.  The entire quality of little children lies in the fact that they have personality.  They are such docile targets for all remarks, and sweet endearments lavished on certain little ones have seemingly no effect.  The appear sometimes to resent approach.  They seem to have a grip on things - on the real thing, unfledged as they are - and they like you or not for reasons often palpable but that they alone immediately recognize or understand.

As I wash it all with the vivifying waters of recollection, events or incidents  have largely vanished, except that we played happily together; but were not allowed a single step outside the yard.  And that particular day I discovered that Etta could jump twenty times nearly, up and down, steady, and without a single stop for breath; so deftly could she whirl the jumping-rope with its little wooden handles held so firmly that one could scarcely follow its swift curves, and her own perfect rhythmic motion - and Sunie, her eyes shining like stars, said that she "could jump with her and not stop for a long time."  So the two showed me what I had never seen before, jumping in unison without a single break.  The two in complete harmony of motion while only one held and swung the rope!  It was a pretty sight.  I was dared to the trial for which I was eager, believing in my own strength and skill, but after the first spring I tripped and fell ignominiously.  Down I went, bruising hands and knees, and tearing a great hole in my clean little gingham frock, as well as soiling skirts and underclothes disgracefully.  The whirling rope stopped.  It had been far too much of a test.  The stillness was appalling as I got up red and tearful, and the eyes of both stared at me frightened, while I gulped down a sob or two.  Etta broke the silence, "We'll have to go in and you'll have to show it."

Aunt Susan looked unutterably disturbed as we trooped into her presence, a discomforted trio.  "Oh no matter," I whispered, "I've got lots of dresses and I'm glad I didn't wear my best muslin."  I was given a disapproving look and heard in cold tones, "Your Mother will be displeased.  You must have been careless.  How did it happen?" looking at her own little daughters -0 but I didn't wait, I took it out of their trembling little mouths and gave the account graphically, at least putting the blame where it belonged.  "I wanted to do it as well as Etta and Sunie - and I just couldn't.  I plumped right down in the dust!  But I'll learn - I'm going to do it too, I'm going to keep on trying - it must be great fun."  Aunt Susan actually smiled and I heard the children laugh.  "You see Mother, she can't jump very well and she thought she could - She said it was so easy" and quite a little silvery burst of merriment followed.  "You needn't try it again here, once is enough." Aunt Susan remarked emphatically, while she brushed me very carefully, and proceeded with thread and needle to mend that tear so neatly that I thought to myself that no one would ever see it, and I needn't even show it to Mother.  What was the use of troubling her? But still holding me against her knee as she sewed, I heard in rather stern accents - "Be sure and say to your Mother that I have done the best I could, I am very sorry my little girls could play so roughly.  Now all of you sit down, call your little brothers and play a game, or make a circle on the floor and take the Jack-straws.  Etta can teach you, Neanie how to pick them up - jumping the rope isn't all she can do," and at my direct enquiring gaze - "She can sew nicely, and sweep and dust and help keep the house clean; she can set the table, and is going to learn to cook, and she can dress and undress her little brothers, and keeps her drawers in perfect order."

I was overcome at such a list of accomplishments, not one of them mine, and hopped Sunie was defective somewhere, but seeing her eager look of expectancy the Mother smiled on her and added  - "Sunie is going to be a fine housekeeper, she can knit and sew already and keeps her things clean, and she helps me a lot, - but Sunie hasn't much Purington in her - she looks like her Father."  "But he's very good looking, isn't he?  I timidly interrupted, which brought an answer I long remembered with joy.  "Oh yes, and so is your Father" - "And do I look like my Father? - do you think I'm good-looking?" and my voice fairly trembled.  "Why a little girl can't expect to look like a big, grown-up very handsome man - but when you're grown up I think you will look very much like your Father," which filled my cup to overflowing.  I had been struggling between the recollections of Grandfather Gray's "comforting answer" and my Grandmother's startling words - "This is the little girl who looks like you, Aria."  Mine probably was always a nature active in the generating of hope, and now I could have hugged Aunt Susan - "I was going to look like Father, and Father was handsome."  I dared not make any demonstration, as I felt instinctively Aunt Susan would put her finger on my swelling vanity, for she never had time for weaknesses of that order, nor would she be patient with them in young or old.  "Now go to your games and Etta will show you how to play" - And so I was there initiated into a very quiet one that nevertheless called for skill, steadiness of hand, and quickness of eye.

My Uncle William, as I later learned, was then considering a removal of all his interests, and taking his family to, what was then called, the far West.  However executive and faithful in a business sense he could not flourish financially in that small town.  He proposed now to migrate as had his brother Orrington more than a decade before.  He was told of the larger field out there, and that application and faithfulness which marked his course would certainly bring success.  He was held to that view and urged to action by his clear-sighted wife, even as in the case of my own Mother, who was always held responsible for Father's move, so soon after their marriage.  I have heard from various sources that my Mother felt their future welfare demanded travelling even to the distant Prairies, and their settling in the young and energetic little City of Chicago.  The outlook while good in Maine, was entirely too restricted,  Her ambitions had been stirred by what she had heard of opportunities in that part of our country.  And she roused and fed my Father's resolution, upheld him in every effort and never faltered, even in that first hard Winter of 1842 and the Spring of my birth next year March 19, 1843, with its strain of prolonged illness which so nearly cost her life.  Nothing crushed or daunted her and faith and courage kept them on the field.

Perhaps that is why my nature from the first was active in the generating of hope.  We were all in a sense so incredibly young.  I am awe-struck with gratitude as I realize what their leaving that narrow New England life meant for all the Little Lunts. 


Friday, November 10, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 9 - The Discovered Likeness

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                                   

Chapter Nine
The Discovered Likeness

Bowdoinham, Maine
Summer of 1853

The visit to Maine was nearing its close.  Grandfather gave me funny answers to my questions, for I met with frequent stumbling blocks, and many books I read that Summer did not by any means belong to the mysterious something called Literature.  But I devoured them all alike. - "Night Thoughts" shared with "Munchausen," "Addison" with "Gulliver;" "Pride and Prejudice" with "Grimm's Fairy Tales" all alike awakening vivid interest.  I was eclectic for a girl of ten, and splendid religious imagery invariably captivated fancy and had given me a grand conception of God, Heaven and Hell, which for years saved me from no end of trouble and vexation.

I had in those days a great advantage over Moses, for I knew exactly every time what that glorified Titanic Being, familiarly described and dilated upon in pulpits and Sunday-School, felt about me and everything else, since He so evidently, as the Preachers taught, let down strings for the faithful to pull!  And I was one of the puppets that found it all enthralling to belong to the Elect, and Hell and Heaven and incredible wickedness that I could not understand gave me great suspense and delight.

It was always the story, the romance, the novelty and excitement that gripped me, and made me weep and flow out in sympathy, and grow ever more tolerant and self-sufficient.  Book-hungry as I was I continued anxious to get certain baffling queries answered for I could never explain unhappy endings; To be joyous I considered essential and part of the Divine Plot.  Solemnity was not for me, nor denials or restraints, since all the major external influences made for freedom of thought and action and an ever growing mighty self-confidence.

It was in that spirit exuberant and gay that the blow fell one terrible afternoon.  Could I dream of the illustration reserved for me that day, crashing upon sensitiveness, and with one avenging blow destroying all hopes of personal attractiveness by the revelation in a bitter driving blow that left only conviction of personal defects.

On the sixth of August, the month just opening, there was to be a gathering of the Clan, relatives from Little Compton, Rhode Island, from Seaconnet-by-the-Sea, and the near towns of Brunswick and Bath.  My heart was full of eager anticipation, as my Grandparents on the eve of our departure for Chicago, were planning to hold high holiday with a hospitable feast for Aunts and Cousins to celebrate my Mother's Birthday.

That afternoon I had been sent on some errand, and returning elate I swung into the lower entrance, ran up the steps and was hurrying through the large living-room regardless of a visitor casually noticed, when I heard the voice that called me, and beheld my Grandmother sitting by one of the windows busily engaged talking to a lady facing her whom, I could not distinguish.  She turned her face as I drew near and heard the words - "This, Aria, is the little girl we think looks so much like you." - Oh! the wild horror of that moment, for I saw a face to my inflamed imagination, fairly hideous.  It would be a gross caricature of a good and clever woman to give any shadow of how she looked to me at that moment; I did not see the kindly expression, only the course gray skin; the big features, brow retreating, teeth projecting, and eyes with a cast that made them queerly repellent.  The straight hair was drawn back from a countenance which seemed of grotesque ugliness.  I could see nothing else and I snatched, with a choked cry, my hand from hers, and rushed wildly from the rooms, up and up into the garret's furthest corner!

It was a brand that set me aside from my family.  Of course I knew that Grandmother had long ago decided I was not good-looking, but she always added, "No matter how I looked, I was only half as entertaining as Aria," and I had always managed to cheer up ever since Grandfather said, "I was nice and had a twinkle in my eye."  Even after hearing again and again "That handsome is as handsome does," I plodded on easily consoled.  But that awful moment shattered all confidence or comfort.

I had never learned by inevitable limitations the finiteness of human capacity, or by bitter experience the fixity of laws relentless.  The temptation of a turbulent rebellious emotional nature had never before been aroused.  Now in manifest power and refusal revolt shook me to the foundations of fear and despair.

"I want to die - I want to die - I am so homely - I am so homely - I look like Aria Sumner!"  And until utterly exhausted over and over I cried that refrain, a sobbing heap of misery.

I did not answer to repeated calls, growingly and more anxiously insistent, until my Mother's repeated use of my name finally evoked a muffled response, as she mounted the garret steps.  The violence of my crying startled her - "Hush Neanie - Hush - Tell Mother what it is? - Now, at once," as I continued to gasp and shake.  "I look like Aria Sumner, - I am so homely, - I want to die - I want to die," between choking sobs, and it was  moment before I could listen to the quiet soothing voice.  "But that is wicked, God made your face."  "I don't care, - I don't care, - He wasn't good to me - He made me homely like Aria Sumner, and she has pig's eyes - I want to die, - Oh, I want to die!"

"Are her eyes like your Father's and yours? - Is her hair curly like Father's and yours? - Stop this minute and think - Did you never hear of people looking like each other and yet looking different?  To Mother your face is dear and when you smile everyone likes it."

Oh that drop of oil on the bleeding wound!  My swollen face was washed tenderly after the descent to Mother's room and she continued while bathing my half closed eyes, "Grandmother did not mean she thought you very homely, only you don't look like her family.  And one does not have to be handsome to be loved - Aria has lots of friends."

"Oh Mother don't let me see her again - I can't bear it - I can't bear it, - I can't," and I clung hysterically, but was soon startled into relative composure.  "She is your Father's cousin, and he will be hurt and ashamed you can show such feelings.  Now you must dry your tears and I will never let anyone know how you have behaved.  God has been very good to you and to us all.  I think my little girl can love and be loved a lot if she tries, and nobody will mind her looks; pretty people are not always nice, we won't talk any more about it.  Come with me to pick currants and berries for Grandmother's pies and puddings and jellies.  Don't you want to look into the big brick oven?  It's a fine sight.  Full of bread loaves, and cakes, and baked puddings, and we'll open it and have a peep."

Thus gently talking, quiet ensued and until maturity came, and the pictures of that episode grew absurd and laughter provoking to recount, it was never mentioned again; and never did my Grandmother the hurt frequent allusions to my looks cost, in comparisons (she illustrated) by incidents or distinct references to her own daughters, the so-called "Beautiful Gray Sisters."  Even my own lovely Mother did not dream how that wound opened and I ached afresh with convictions of the hopelessness of form and feature that distinguished our family.

That one agonizing emotion stands out in an intensity, fore the details of that unimaginable hour haunted me for years.  The keen impressions of the faces, my Grandmother's placid smile, and my sickening recoil from what represented at that moment an indescribable ugliness.

Remembrances from the interminable years of childhood are out of all proportion to their importance.  Agitated, excited, the horror of that moment was an actuality that for years made me shrink at its poignant recollection.  There was tumult and recoil in my hurt soul and a deepened consciousness of the defaced realities of the flesh.  It remained a tragic situation until I grew scornful of myself, could see the humour of the scene, and could laugh and declare that the grief was forgotten.

Foundations may be so deeply set that until some violent shock stirs us, and we are suddenly hurled into a whirl of feeling strong as the strong storms that sweep the sea, we never realize the power that lies within.

But I have progressed in ways small and great since then, and utilized in measure as the years mounted whatever inspiration or recognized instruction appealed to a nature like mine.  I have not known degeneration of energy, or lack of activity in attempts to accomplish things desired, or to induce growth by doing certain things for others well and quickly.


Friday, November 3, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 8 - The Two Grandfathers

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                                   

Chapter Eight
The Two Grandfathers

Bowdoinham, Maine
Summer of 1853

That first decade of my life there always seemed a light shining within.  As I look back, I see a somewhat solitary child, but never bored, fretful, harried or dissatisfied; I never had to ignore, evade or capitulate.  Parents and environment had no cramping influence; No methods in my rearing fantastic or severe were ever used.  I was conscious in  myself of no resistance - active or passive to existing conditions.  I could act on the assumption of freedom to a large extent; obedience when required was easily yielded, and the adult world was to me always kindly and interesting.  So I never broke with the older generation, and age-old problems were never thrust upon me.  I did not know that I had to be safe-guarded, and naturally I did not recognize the value of my happy surroundings, or the fortunate influences exerted by association, parental devotion and the process of education.

Mutual affection in my life has always been sufficient even in seasons of domestic stress to meet all emergencies.  There were never with my beloved Father and Mother any natural incompatibilities which enforced unwilling submission from their children.  What an immense help to love each other!  How easy to avoid the contradictions that affect our lives if inter-actions adjust themselves amicably to situations as they arise.  And no situation had arisen that left me unprotected or conscious of any flame of opposition within.  I was in the safe shelter of a happy home.

There were always intoxicating possibilities in the dream-world; but the real world held dignity and nobility and serenity in the poise and sweetness of its days .  We are, I suppose, all beholden to our thousands of ancestors for disposition, temperament, moral or mental attitudes; and mine were self-respecting individuals, and passed on some dominant racial ideas of primary importance in our social world.  All this is beyond the scope of definition but is absorbed by human contact.

My two grandfathers in the Maine village, in those days prosperous, and with no threat of its present stagnation and social dearth or death, lived not far apart, in homes of attractive outward aspect, but far different in appointment, comfort and peace.

Grandfather Gray erect, impressive, with finer features, keen eyes and firm mouth, had, in those days, the great advantage of College education - having been duly graduated from Brown University.  He speedily attained to unquestioned importance and relative wealth - coming from Rhode Island, to marry and settle in that small ship-building centre, he became a member of the state legislature, a lawyer of high standing, the Justice of the Peace, and the Squire of the Village.  He had large interests in ships, and was widely known, respected, admired and in a sense feared.  His manner demanded a deference quickly yielded.  He brooked neither criticisms nor advice in matters of business, and more than he would endure the least interference in domestic rule.  He directed and domineered, but was generous and kind at bottom.  Very proud of his family and ancestry, he taught "Noblesse oblige" to his children, and watched over them with unfailing care as he did of material possessions.

Across the bridge, under which the river or stream below his house rose and fell with the tides, and up the opposite hill, one turned into a pretty street all lined with pleasant homes.  And Grandfather Lunt's, (William Webb Lunt, 1788-1864) a square white green-blinded one, was set well back among the trees, with apple orchards beside and behind it that were a never failing source of delight.  The central hall and good sized rooms were always bare and forbidding.  It was not only the contrasts that struck somewhat heavy on my spirits, but the atmosphere of fault-finding and unchecked temper that characterized the household, seldom as it was openly expressed in my presence.  

Grandfather Lunt was the principal merchant of the little village, a man of perfect probity and profound piety.    

In church and business he stood as an example beyond reproach, he was true to the best as he saw it: In a sense he must have once been a strong man, but he had a wasted look; His cheeks were thin and hollowed, the yellow skin tight drawn.  His snow white hair thick and wavy was brushed back from a beautiful brow, and it looked like a thick frame each side of the sad face; sad somehow as if light had been washed out.  His was a good figure still, but he stooped somewhat, and his melancholy eyes were set deep back under overhanging brows.  He was a dignified, quiet old man, but warmth had died out of him.

My father's step-mother (Priscilla Purrington Lunt, 1795-1863) had in the children's early life made misery for them all - Orrington and William (William H. Lunt, 1814-1816) and Sarah (Sarah Ann Lunt, 1821-1880) and Dolly, (Dolly Sumner Lunt, 1817-1891) and the little Sumner whose birth had cost his Mother's life (Davis Sumner Lunt, 1825-1835).

My own grandmother Lunt (Ann Matilda Sumner Lunt, 1795-1825) was described to me by Grandmother Gray as a "Great Lady" since she brought to that small community a style and dress hitherto by the natives unseen: Such high-heeled slippers, and tall combs, and laces and fans: How did mild Grandfather Lunt ever persuade that daughter of the Sumner's and Vose's, of such marked breeding and refinement, to turn her back upon Boston and Milton and bury herself in that inland village?  True, he was good to look upon, and there must have been sparkle in those deep blue eyes, for when he smiled even now, and ever so faintly, something stirred in the heart - But, Alas! and alas! however tender and devoted, he must have lacked firmness and discernment, or after that early death of his lovely wife, how could he have come so speedily under the dominance of the managing, sharp-tongued housekeeper, who had acted as Nurse when the little Sumner was born?  The report was current that in his short unhappy life the child was harried by unkindness that developed into cruelty.  The towns-people averred that he suffered from lack of love, and severity of discipline, until driven into brain-fever to join his Mother who had given her life so vainly.

This awful tale recounted to me with gruesome additions filled my young soul  with horror, and an approach to hatred of the old lady who greeted my rare appearance with gentle words and smiles.  All sense of kinship had been killed in me, and revolt in its place made me shrink unjustly from the whole household.  The neighbor's gossipy tales, which would not seem to die out, were responsible for my attitude of aversion and distaste. My visits were enforced ones and always as brief as I dared make them.  I was under order from my beloved and forgiving Father, who was their support and dependence for many years and acted to the end as a devoted and supporting son of the house.

All the years that have passed have not dimmed my memory of the one time my Father's Father seemed familiar and came close to me.  I had been in the orchard where the fresh blown afternoon winds, that shook the trees and made the earth so dear, had almost obsessed me with something complete in joy.  My Grandfather saw and called to me as he entered the gate, and reluctantly I rose and followed him into the house and unused parlour, where he shut the door and stood silent for a second looking at me; - wide-eyed I watched every movement as I listened afterward to every word.

Behind that outward semblance lurked a shadow that could not be explored - grudges and wrongs and bitter tales had made me lose all comprehension and affection: Resting on a rock of inarticulate resentment had broken all bonds of sympathy, and there was a bolt, an impassible barrier between us.

He must have known nothing that could have forbidden personal relations between us.  He looked up on me kindly.  He seemed not excited, very calm and patient in manner, but when he began to speak it was as if he were looking and listening to something far away.     

His mind seemed full of my Father, "My son Orrington my dear son" - he repeated with an anxious inflection.  He lacked the qualities which would have made him firm in conflict, when his sovereignty at home was usurped almost to the point of tragedy, and that lost him the whip-hand in his family.  He must have called up pictures and people that set a drama going in his brain, for it was of the conditions and adventures of Orrington's childhood that he spoke: And for the first time I realized that my Father had been his little boy.

Mine had been a pitiless judgment upon his wife's pitilessness, and now I felt a love had lived in my Grandfather's heart that I could not understand.  But I was not handicapped with the mental blindness of the unimaginative, and he made me feel and see in that past, and in him, something that curiously aroused a feeling of impetuous feeling of allegiance, almost a friendship for ever after for my little understood Grandfather.

He talked on and on of the children of Orrington and William, and Sarah and Dolly, and of the Mother who died when my Father was eleven; and I looked up admiringly at his crinkly white whiskers; and the wavy snow white hair that framed so beautifully his tired face.  His eyes for the first time had lovely light and they glittered like blue steel, not like those of an old man.  There had come a sudden sparkle, and the overhanging brows had lifted, to show me an unexpected reserve and a secret of intense devotion.  His voice always low, changed to subtle sympathy and he continued to recount little incidents of the childrens lives.  Living over the past he became impressive almost to tenderness.  For a second he put his arm about me, but habitual repression was too strong and we heard a voice, and a call which was a menace to him, a devastating demoralizing factor that held all loving expression in leash.

Just then he saw the small volume of Byron that I had found behind a shelf of books upstairs - strange indeed to have found this book in his ill-assorted library, but it had been eagerly grasped because anecdotes, and adventures and emotions were a stock in trade to delight in or advertise with.  My efforts that day had not resulted in understanding exactly what the author was talking about, but beautiful descriptions enchanted me, and allusions stimulated curiosity.  "This is no book for you" I heard in stern accents - I had always chosen for myself and under that alien roof received the first criticism.

Little assistance in training or choice of reading had not harmed me because the treasure-trove of raw material for childish fingers to dig in was not of a nature to prove injurious.  Grandfather Gray had opened to me that summer "Paradise Lost," and "Pepy's Diary" and "Plutarch's Lives" and read some aloud to me from Essays and Histories; and there were those enchanting novels he had given me, which made for enrichment and enhanced imagination.

Now surprise at an unexpected reproof kept me silent, as Grandfather Lunt put on his spectacles, took up the big Bible from the round centre-table with a plainly fixed idea that I needed Scriptural teaching.  So, that one interview that I can remember, ended with his reading first from the Epistles, and then The Psalms to which I listened with pleasure.  I had heard them every day of my life at morning prayers, and loved my Father's beautiful; voice as we all knelt at the family altar.  There was something sweet and sonorous in Grandfather's tones, and it was all very familiar like fables of poems.  I had little real idea what the oracular words so solemnly brought forth meant, and in the last Psalm he chose, that oft repeated "Selah," long drawn out, began to give me a strange sensation of awe.  I was glad to get relieved finally, and with a brief farewell, for the resources of the entertainment had become insufficient, I ran gaily down the hill towards the homestead longing for Grandfather Gray's explanation.

That ever recurring "Selah, Selah" sang to me and lacked intelligibility; and I wanted also to ask about the "Ark of the Covenant," references to which in something very pious, read lately, had distinctly needed interpretation.  My own reading, hitherto neither directed nor supervised, did not certainly by any means fulfil its mission in proving steps to learning.

In that far-off, but not forgotten time before the age of important school or wise schooling, which I now gravely doubt I ever had, the pictures of the text were always brightly coloured, and active fancies made their ineffaceable impression.  It seems incredible to me now in extreme age that I can draw upon memory, and utilize so many points in experience, droll or otherwise, to hang ethical teachings on today; morals or lessons that never appealed to me then, any more than they do today to grand-nieces or adopted children!

I was sometimes serious, but I think at the very beginning my mind was bent in the way it has grown; not for any fine or valuable work in life, but for much enjoyment, and an overflowing fund of sympathy; a capacity to see the other side, and to put myself in another's place.  Yes, and for good that at times has come to me - good beyond calculation, in swift response to the challenge of nature.  Mine was apparently not the soil from which springs great enterprises or noble successful ventures, or wonderful sacrificial labours.

It was far-reaching philanthropies, splendid self-effacement, devotion to the highest standards, love of Church and State, that made my Father's life so worthy and wonderful.  To him it was always Causes that appealed - To me it was, and ever has been the individual.

Friday, October 27, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 7 - The Comforting Answer

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Seven
The Comforting Answer

Maine and Massachusetts

It seemed a long time that I was still with thoughts someway fixed, giving stealthy looks at my Grandfather's absorbed countenance as he tapped the round table by his chair, where decanters and glasses were in disarray since the visitors had passed out and I crept in.  Dignity, hospitality, efficiency and plenty marked the household of which he was the head, and there was an atmosphere always felt in his presence.  I, his oldest grandchild, only daughter of his favorite child, had always felt with delight an instant understanding springing up between us when we were alone.  We visited yearly in the old homestead as I grew to girlhood, and I was puzzled but glad that my tall handsome Grandfather Gray (Note: Samuel Gray, farmer, 1785-1859) never made me feel his age and distinctive haughtiness, or the terror his pride, dominating temper and cold bearing so often inspired.  Always I was pleased to be in that rambling well furnished, vastly interesting old home where my Mother first saw the light.

The house was set on a side hill, or rise, on a corner where the street began and climbed a near-by height.  It was large and quaint, had two entrances equally important; and the family rooms seemed to stretch into spaciousness.  There were quaint chambers unused, opening out of the long shed, and there was a big stable, and a wonderful garret of wide spaces under the sloping roof.  The fine old furnishings were everywhere striking, and good food, ample providing, and gay company marked life in the old home-stead in that New England village of soft bloom, with the whole landscape green and bronze and gold.   There were fields and forests near, and shining rivers, and horizons of dense blue where the landmarks seemed to dissolve.  The great sweep of surrounding country seemed saturated in light.  I loved its beauty, and can remember the exquisite landscapes that pictured so much to my youth.

Sometimes it comes back to me in dreams, in waking ones, as indivisible as my waking life.  To my young heart the main effect when there was of radical well-being a dynamic zest in happiness.  I lived so careless of the moment; alert and gleeful, someway always twinkling joyously from point to point of easy mirth.  A certain spirit of delight rushed on to discovery, and childhood is a mystery, as some writer has put it - "Visited by revelation."  There is often such a distance in childhood from the alien lives about it, and half comprehended impulses kept me silent over certain thronging fancies whenever I was with my young Aunts.  I had ever since the experience of hearing and retailing that sentimentally absurd and ridiculously phrased offer of marriage, had the uncomfortable sensation of the discovered Eavesdropper, ands looking back with uneasy self-scorn, without as yet any of the humour of the performance, only at my own ignorance and breaches of taste, I had ever since avoided telling things I overheard.

Sitting there, looking at my silent Grandfather, a half sentimental though insistent instinct made me long to open the door and disclose myself on certain points and feelings, lately growing stronger while listening to my Grandmother's (Susan Fulton Gray 1795-1885) reminiscences and her frequent and particular remarks to the others about me.  Now, believing in his sympathy, the barriers dropping, - "Grandfather, I burst forth, aren't the Sumner's nice?"  He turned and looked me over quizzically - I was embarrassed for the moment and suddenly shy, but not ashamed for his countenance lightened, and his deep-set eyes had genial kindness instead of amusement or tolerance, and I felt as if I saw the accumulated wisdom of generations.

"Nice" he queried, "Yes and clever too, a good stock your father came from - Who has been talking to you?"  They say they don't see any Gray in me - They say I am all Sumner - and I am always reminding Grandmother of Aria Sumner (c1842-c1870); and, you know, growing more confidential, when I hear "Handsome is that Handsome does,"  and that I am only smart like Aria, it won't matter how I look, and that I don't look like any of you at all, I feel sorry - I am afraid - Grandfather, don't you think I am some pretty?  The last words just slipped from me, and I looked away out of the near window with something misty in my eyes.  There was a tumult and a certain recoil in my hurt soul, an opening consciousness oppressed by the realities of the flesh.

Clear as if illustrated in some highly colored picture the moment stands out when my Grandfather, the so-called stern man, held out his hand and smiled while he answered dryly, "Well!  If you want to see a pretty woman, look at your Mother!  They are not as plentiful as blackberries.  Grandmother needn't mind that you don't favor the Grays.  I have heard some of the Sumners were decent looking, and they have got brains.  You are not half bad looking!  You have got your Father's eyes, and you are awfully proud of those long curls of yours;  You know your hair is pretty, and you are going to look like your Father and I should think that was enough.  Aria has her tongue hung in the middle , and looks - well - no matter - she never stops talking, and I hope you won't keep on when you are grown up till everybody is tired out!  Forget the things you hear about your looks, I like them, - and now I am going to give you a present."  Oh Grandfather! - and all woes were forgotten as I danced upstairs to the old Secretary in his room, and brought down as directed a whole shelf full of small books bound in old leather, the type so old and queer, and the paper coarse and almost brown with age.  "Ossian's Poems" in two little volumes, and all of "Moore's" in six.  "The Scottish Chief's" the "Hungarian Brothers," "The Mysteries of Udolpho" and other quaint works in that fascinating size and binding.  How I jumped for joy!  I had suspicion of the compassionate something that was in his face, and I could hardly believe in my riches.  "Begin your Library, child, since your hobby is reading; you can have all of my books to look at, and those you like best to carry away with you."

Much water has passed under the bridge since then, and memory has become vague in recalling what I pored over longest, and the many that I appropriated to the displeasure of some of the other members of the family, but with my Grandfather's full consent.  I ignored cheerfully, in the sunshine of his felt approval, criticisms that pronounced me a "spoiled child," and likely to be a very selfish one."

But I was absorbed in a world of fiction, and incredible as it is, I feel sometimes the same terror that paralyzed me then over certain farcical tragic stories; fantastic, and to me, terrible like "The Mysteries of Udolpho," and "The Vale of Cedars," "The Torture of the Heretics;" stories of "The Inquisition" and "Accounts of the Martyrdom of the Saints.

It is easy for the very young to substitute books for life as sources of information and resources of amusement; or the entertainment towards which inclination pulls; and I found Grandfather's Library enthralling, the romances; the impossible stories; the histories and the thrill of wonderful events recorded; and the world of print became more and more exciting and made for book-hunger.  To this day I remember some startling incidents as steps to learning, for much of what was pored over at that age made deep impressions; often twisted ones that still persist.  There was no guidance to reading which was rapidly becoming both occupation and recreation.  Fortunately,  I never had to read surreptitiously; but I had often believed that advise, suggestion or direction would have made me climb enough to help myself to Literature. 

I never asked for special "Works," I knew so little; and was merely influenced by environment and whatever I could lay my hands on - and I had no difficulty in accepting trash for truth, because things imagined became true; and I never suffered from Pilate's difficulty in recognizing "truth," since whatever was printed must be true!

It was often a barren field, and, a certain Puritan inheritance it may have been - for something made me, even when not interested, feel that a book if begun should be read to its end.  Mine is a heart that cherishes memory, and nourishes itself on memories and revelations which but for the impetuosity of my youth would have long since dissolved into forgetfulness.

From the Sanctuary of remembrance into which one can retreat at will, I draw out the old sense of relief at my Grandfather's words.  They comforted me - They took me out of myself.  My Grandfather had played Guardian and benefactor.  There were no two ways in his speech, all way clear.  "You are not half-bad" - All was well enough.  I had the most extraordinary sense of being taken for granted, as looking "Well enough" - "Not half-bad looking."

There was gladness in me again.  That chapter at any rate, I thought ended.  Life was as bright as ever.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 6 - The Eavesdropper

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Six
The Eavesdropper

September, 1851.

THE LITTLE GIRL was in her secret place.  The long curtain hung in concealing folds; and with feet drawn under she cuddled herself into the corner of the window seat.  She had discovered and fled to that hiding place several times of late, especially when she feared to be called upon to help look after baby George.  (Note:  George Lunt 1850-1895).  The new little brother, a rosy-cheeked blue-eyed baby with a mop of golden curls, seemed always sunny and smiling.  Since his advent nearly a year ago, Horace of four had grown fast, was big by comparison and was fond enough of baby brother to amuse him by the hour; but more and more the sister's life became peopled with fancies and new interests.  She cared less and less for romping and playing with the children.  She had no sisters to keep her company; but lately a little girl of her own age had become almost one of the family, and Mother had said she would soon be our cousin Joe.  So we two had often run away from the inflicted cares of service, and left to Nurse Mahaly and little Horace, the task of caring for baby when Mother was otherwise occupied, and the aunts busy with their many pleasures and many visitors.

Since the young lady, Miss Kate Cutting, had been visiting my Aunts there always seemed more company coming and going, and much gaiety and pleasure seeking, and I felt the liveliest interest in all the bright and attractive things about my home.  I was easily enchanted and quickened.

There, hidden behind the curtain the book in my lap remained unopened.  Eyes rested idly on its title - "The Priest and the Huguenot" - my thoughts all on an hour of the day before, when seated comfortably by the window looking out upon the Lake, the trees all yellowing and clouds drifting slowly and softly, something in the air stirred in the blood.

I had heard queer comments on myself that now came freshly back.  One of my aunts had quietly approached and beckoned to the other - I had not noticed until both leaned over me and one in a whisper exclaimed - She is reading "The Preacher and the King," and the other under breath "How can Cornelia let this young one read everything she lays her hands on."  And the first replied. "It will be "The Priest and the Huguenot" next - Why on earth can't she be satisfied with Fairy stories like other children?" - And that sent me to search far and wide, in closets and bureau drawers, for the present volume that someway did not suit the dreamy loveliness of the afternoon.  Everywhere a tremulous whisper of Autumn in the air, and breezes rippling the surface of the Lake.    

The familiar thing that a child wonders at or loves becomes a charm throughout life.  And my Lake, the Ocean, great bodies of water, are to me vivid in beauty and power beyond even the mighty mountains.  The Lake, born as I was within sound of its waves, often made me breathless and jubilant as a child, and has been to me a whole Orchestra and Picture Gallery ever since.  Imagination has its uses at every age.  It creates - It intensifies - It delights.  My world never seemed small to me because I was always happy; but a growing mind reached out from my unchanging world for other things than the simple days afforded, and I found them in romance - in my books.

When I began a new one it was with a brightness of anticipation and the entrancing tales seemed true as the life about me.  New delights unfolded understood or not; fresh joys always awaited me in reading and just that early period had much significance.  I recall absurd lines I made, queer little efforts at high expression - There was one - "An Ode to Lake Michigan" which my family greeted with amusement that I sensed and resented.  A child learns early to keep her thoughts to herself.  She cannot explain that which grips and urges her to expression or action.  She knows nothing of the sequence of things in life.  In that undisciplined stage of childhood to secure information and satisfy curiosity seems an inevitable accompaniment of strange processes of feeling that defy analysis.

I was just then feeling a curious hostility to criticism of my Mother, or of my reading - I did like fairy stories - Not silly ones like "Jack the Giant Killer" or "Little Red Riding-hood" and many like them in small books with foolish pictures; but I loved when the Fairy Prince came and kissed Sleeping Beauty, and I loved "Pilgrim's Progress," and The Arabian Night's" and "Days of Bruce."

I loved words - the music of words - and had formed an entrancing diversion very early in the printed page.  To child as to adult there flood entrancing fancies in which one lives; and often in a spell I would repeat whole sentences that had magic in them, over and over to myself.  And that evening words of the printed page were whispering in my ears: all about me the sweetness the mystic whisperings of wild life of Romance beyond all comprehension; and strange music sounded afar off, strange surging sounds inaudible to other ears.

As the twilight came on, the stir of entrance made me peep through the concealing curtain to behold my pretty Aunt Helen, and the tall, thin Father of the two little Davidson's who lived round the corner.  He had lately come very often to our house, and many others to call and make merry.  The two in the sitting-room, after my instant recognition, passed out of mind for a little; the talk going on so near me had not reached me at first.  I had no conscious interest or intention to spy and listen.  Indeed I did not know what such a course meant, although I had heard them say several times that "Little Pitchers have big ears" whenever I came suddenly into view.  Yet their gaiety, their talk of lovers, and various adventures related to my parents had stirred the nascent romance in me - and I had tried to understand when Mother told me Miss Kate was engaged to Uncle William, and that they would be married before long, and the I would have another Aunt; just as she told me that Aunt Margaret, when she came back from Grandfather's, - her home in Maine, was going to live with little Joe Evans and her Father.

So my mind worked.  I strive to gather in and remember the vision that, at a louder spoken sentence, gave me a thrill of adventure, and stirred suddenly vague impressions to distinct sight and sound.  My pulse quickened to the vibration in his voice.  Exuberant romance in me was about to be satisfied.

Children seem to me to have a queer outlook and their egotism is so unconscious.  They are often artistic as well as sentimental.  The first words I caught held me entranced.  "I implore you Miss Gray - You must listen, we could be so happy - They say love is blind - Mine isn't - I know it, - Oh believe me." - I was instantly all alert as he pronounced the words that have been quoted from that day to this  in hilarious merriment.  "Come with me - We will spend our summers in some quiet watering place, and our Winters in the Orange Groves of the Sunny South."  My presence undivined, the eagerness increasing, I parted the curtain slightly and leaned forward as he tremulously continued, - for I had thrilled as to a trumpet - "Do you object to my children?" he asked.  "No I object to you" - my Aunt replied in very clear accents, and I wish you would never again - The sentence remained unfinished for certain movements caught her eye.  The curtain swayed in my excited grasp and showed a revealing outline.  "Neanie, come here," was the sharp order, as crestfallen I slipped into view and moved slowly forward.  

I didn't comprehend the comedy, nor the absurdity of the whole picture I helped to create.  The burlesque of his insistence in words that painted what he supposed would allure and tempt, was wholly beyond me.  It sounded beautiful to me.  I had no faintest notion that in futile efforts to make marriage look attractive he had made a fool of himself.  All I saw or remember was his black, angry look at me, - My Aunt's flushed face, and the cold good-bye that imperatively dismissed the forlorn lover.

Just before the proper reprimand could be administered, Miss Kate and my Aunt Margaret appeared, the former crying - "Has that old bean-pole been proposing again, he looked furious and rushed by us without a word."  My own face of course must have suggested the eavesdropper and told its own story, as eloquently as Aunt Helen's vivid account and manifest annoyance.  But that could not save her - "Tell us Neanie, what did he say? and like a young parrot I promptly responded, - and peals of laughter followed, that made my Father just entering the house, having ridden as usual on horseback from his warehouse far down on Water Street look in.  "Oh Orrington," cried Aunt Margaret, "Listen to what old Davidson said," and at half-hysterical demand, I repeated solemnly - "We will spend our Summers in some quiet watering place, and our Winters in the Orange Groves of the Sunny South" and my Father's hearty laugh encouraged me to add - and he did say, too "Do you object to my children? and Aunt Helen said, "No, I object to you," - at which another burst of merriment quite convinced me for the moment that I was of extreme importance and very clever too.

Later, alone with my dear Mother, I was taken to task; informed that I had hurt my Aunt's feelings, that I was not funny; but that I had listened to what had not been intended for me to hear.  The moral was sharply pointed that to listen out of sight when no one knew it, was bad in every way.  "It was bad form and it made her ashamed.  It was not kind, not fair, not honourable.  It was trespassing, and she never wanted to think I could do such a thing again."  As a trespasser,I was thoroughly and properly humiliated; ashamed for years to remember the scene and my own share in it; which, as a burlesque, was repeated and reported again and again by the heroine herself, as one of the drollest of all her experiences.  It became classic as a tale of early days, and my verbal memory has kept it ever clear so that I can recall its every detail.  It was a compelling curiosity and longing that drove me that day to listen, when I knew instinctively I must keep still, and not be found out!

I dreamed a great deal at that period, and someway in early childhood one has ideas of emancipation or of freedom from certain claims; always eager to grasp and gain the centre of the stage.  I suppose we are all a law unto ourselves, and associate early the period of growing up as auspicious, because we can do as we choose, without answering to higher authority or human tribunal.

And impressions however vague that remain with distinctness make for mental and physical development.  I was myself of pioneer stock and earlier of English blood.  I was never in childhood cramped by a single unnatural condition; mine was an enlivening spirit, and independence was growing definite and resolute.  To some natures surroundings are just surroundings, - no more.  To certain ones they become inwoven and are the very fabric of thought and deed.  Always, unknowing it myself, the felicities of my simple home life were very great, even as they have ever continued, and will I pray to the very end.  There were no contending forces and contentment was my lot.    

Friday, October 13, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 5 - The Gooseberry Feast

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Five
The Gooseberry Feast

August, 1850.

THE LITTLE GIRL stood listening, puzzled but glad.  Her Mother was speaking brightly, describing three nice little girls who lived in the new brick house on the same Avenue with us.  She told their ages, their pretty names, Delia and Frank and Eva.  And how the lady who had just called wanted me to spend the afternoon with her young daughters.  We were neighbors, and it would be pleasant to get acquainted, and I must be very quiet and gentle, and behave very nicely, and make them all like to have me come again.

It is so easy to entertain children, and love can find the way to interpret a child's feelings where education and discipline may be alike powerless.  I had listened breathlessly, particularly when my Mother said that "She thought that here was to be a little feast," and all these recollections crowd now into my mind - for that one afternoon, little as I could imagine it, held for me a soul-stirring excitement.  Life before had never offered me any provocation, temptation or opportunity, for the uncontrollable primitive passion of anger, and my own training had so far developed a fearless gaiety and cheerful confidence.

And great was my pride, when on that soft summer afternoon I was taken to the large brick house as an invited guest.  It was all so beautiful to me, the enchanting day, and everywhere an articulate language to which my ears had become attuned.  The flower bedecked earth, that overarching sky and singing Lake both of ecstatic blue, and those white feathery clouds when one looked up into the glorious brightness.

I wonder a great deal about this mysterious cavern of memory that enables me now to set down in exact truth the disloyalty to hospitality, the absence of kindness, and the vision that I saw of one sister leading two others into deceit and a practice of lying; a meanness of treachery that they were too young to understand.  I record it all here, incredible as it seems that a well grown girl of a refined family could treat a guest so much younger with such deliberate deceit, and a malicious enjoyment that added cruelty to the act.  If parental training is lacking, it is a pity that in the curriculum of all schools there is no supplement for a course in courtesy and kindness.  Happily tragedies are soon forgotten when one comes of a good stock, and life is rich with all the personal relations fortunate.  

The back garden where we were ushered for play was lovely with greenery. Along its separating sides, against the dividing walls that shut it in, were heavy bushes,  "The Gooseberry's are ripe and we can have them" cried gleefully one of the little hostesses and in plunged the three little girls to pluck and eat the green and yellow berries.  "Oh' it's a Gooseberry Feast" - I said.  It was my first taste of those juicy fruit-balls, so delicious and desirable; but hardly had the feast begun when a sharp call brought it to a sudden termination.  

As if yesterday I can see the picture.  That high back porch of the yellow brick house, the big sister standing clearly outlined at the top of the steps; the imperative voice as she swiftly descended - "Stop children - Stop this minute - Mother says so."  And when she stood beside us she plunged into the near bushes herself, in search it seemed for more of a delicious fruit, and I thought she was joining us in the feast.  Emerging with a smile she called "Here Neanie - Come - Here's a big one - Come and get it."  Her closed hand was extended - "Shut your eyes and open your mouth" - But an intuitive fear, an instinctive dread made me stand back.  "But it's a nice one for you - Here Eva come - Look - Isn't it fine?" and she half opened the curved hand to show its contents.  As I still hesitated - "Look Frank, - See - Such a fine gooseberry," and she beckoned to the still wide-eyed little sister, and both had nodded at her command.  Once more coaxingly she renewed the tempting offer - "Now shut tight and open wide," and the greedy little visitor complied in faith.

Oh the feel of that strange, dreadful furry substance! its swift spitting forth; the sight of that hairy writhing wet caterpillar as it dropped at her feet - huge it seemed as some nightmare horror - and somewhere there was a burst of loud laughter.  Hot and acrid was the taste in my mouth, a strangling sensation of awful nausea.  Then a blur before my eyes, and a strange faintness of mind and body that for a second made me dumb in a paralysis of terror, while self-centered callousness again expressed itself in cries of amusement and riotous laughter.

I think I said no words aloud, but something within shrieked and cried out - "It was a lie - She lied - Liar ' Liar ' The Fate of Liars," and screaming and panting, notwithstanding sudden overtures from the startled trio, the little victim rushed round the walk; away, away out of that place, down the street sobbing, and running wildly to the home-gate to fall into her Mother's astonished arms, and to relate between gasping sobs the terrible tale of her own undoing.  Washing the child's hot cheeks wet with tears, the Mother made no reproaches, pointed no moral, made no comments on lies and deceits.  To this day, and for all days, the simple words stand forth as law - "We will go no more to the little Gurney's.  That is finished."  

Friday, September 29, 2017

THE FIRST LADY OF EVANSTON - Cornelia Gray Lunt - BOOK I, Chapter 3 - The Christmas Message

This is the next installment in the autobiography of Cornelia Gray Lunt of Evanston, Illinois: Sketches of Childhood and Girlhood, Chicago, 1847-1864.  For more about the life and times of Miss Lunt, please see the first installment:                           

Chapter Three
The Christmas Message

December 24, 1849

THE LITTLE GIRL watched her Father.  He sat before the fire in the big chair, his feet stretched out, his eyes fixed on the bright flames.  Why was he so still?  They had made much noise, she thought, at the table. It was her Father's Birthday.  She had been allowed to sit up for late supper.  She was very proud and happy and tried to understand the stories, and why they laughed so hard while the young Aunt said many things and looked so pretty.

"Father, I am glad you had a Birthday" she said and sidled close up to his knee.  "I am glad you had a Birthday Father" she repeated as he looked down and smiled his beautiful smile.  "I will tell my little girl of a more wonderful Birthday" he answered, lifting her to his knee and putting strong arms about her.  But she felt a little pain as he explained slowly that there was no real Santa Claus that came down chimneys, that the pretty piece she had learned about his Reindeer and the bells on the sleigh, and the pack of presents for good children, was all only a picture, made to show little and big ones how lovely it was to give and celebrate the Birthday of The Christ Child by helping to make everybody happy.

So was the sweet and sacred Story of Manger and Infant Jesus and Wise Men travelling far, and the beautiful Star shining and showing the way to where the Young Child lay, gently told me and the Christmas message repeated, - "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men," spoken softly.  Say it dear, "Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men." He told me of an indescribable light that shone on the Child's face, and made the wise men kneel and lay gifts before Him.  And so Christmas was the time for ever to love our friends and give gifts.

"Why it's your Birthday too," I said, "Oh Father you were born with the little Jesus" - "No, Oh no, only on His birthday to learn to love Him more," he answered.  And as his dear eyes met mine they were charged with some message he could not utter, and I was silent with the inarticulate yearning of childhood.

Almost three quarters of a century since the revelations of that Christmas Eve, and I can summon back the new feelings about Santa Claus and the Christ Child as I said my prayers that night, and was put to bed in the small Hall bedroom out of the large one, where I had been moved two years before, when the brother beloved of a life-time first opened his eyes on earth.  Often I had been lonely there, and often frightened.

So far it seemed from Father and Mother and the baby boy who slept in my place.  The Lake made a loud song at night.  Sometimes it shook the bed and called out, and I hid under the clothes, and I heard cries when great waves broke and said angry words in a language I tried to understand.  Voices that Christmas night seemed to come nearer and nearer - "Peace on Earth, Peace on Earth," softer and softer.

All suddenly I awoke from childhood's slumber and dreaming its dreams.  I started up in the darkness - "I must see what Santa Claus brought?"  No there was no Santa Claus only a cold wind blowing in my face, and around me all the mysterious darkness of midnight, its vastness, its silence, its loneliness.  I can recall only my swift action, but I can still feel the cold night air blowing on my face as I saw the white moonlight filtering over the floor.  The sound of waves breaking on snow and ice-banks called to me out of the great waste of waters.  It was my first Christmas message - "Come and see!  Come and see?"

I crept out of bed - Oh, very softly, and softly on hands and knees I crawled stealthily through the ever open door.  I have not forgotten so much as the pattern on the carpet the faint glimmer of the night lamp, but how dark looked the alcove, how long and strange the shadows, and how far to that fireplace where from the mantelpiece hung two stockings.  The low windows let in a faint glimmer, and as he eyes grew accustomed to its wavering shadow, I stood erect both hands outstretched - I must find out what was left for me.  No one woke to be aware of the little daughters search as she felt, in a tremor of delight, the larger stocking.  Yet even as she stood the chill that has no name swept over her.  A clutch at the heart - a fear that made for pause. There must have been a faint stirring, a suggestion of honour or principle that fought with curiosity and desire but could no conquer it. Once again with lingering loving touch she felt the outline of well filled stockings.  Her cold numb feet hitting something solid beneath, she dropped to the floor to feel for the first time in life the joy of handling books.  It was a gloating delight.  She lifted and hugged them.  Those small books were all hers.  All her very own.  She held them tight in her arms until the stir of the sleepers, or the icy chill, sent the little Trespasser shivering to hide under the blankets, and fall happily to sleep.

Was I the victim of an excited imagination?  My intelligence was not advanced for my years, only the power to read had come without conscious effort.  Over a year before, when I was only five, my Mother had taken me to a neighbouring Dame School, and I sat in a little Rocker she had purchased, while all the other little scholars superior in years, if not in attainment, were at desks or on benches.  They seemed many to me - and the Teacher very cross.  I trembled when she sent the noisy or naughty children to stand in corners, and sometimes even put a tall cap on them and made them sit on a high stool before everyone.  I cried sometimes, but, as the very youngest and littlest, she pointed to me often as the child who learned to read so fast and loved all stories.  Oh! that little Rocking chair, from which I saw and felt, and had those first shrinking impressions of discipline and severity!  The inexpressible dread and the vivid interest of those first school days - and the dislike of the loud voiced teacher.

But that Christmas Eve I had found what was left for me.  Yes, while Father and Mother and little Brother slept peacefully, I had found my treasures.  I had not waited - I could not wait.  The burning ardour in me to see, to discover, to enjoy without delay, had fought the icy breath of winter itself.  I have never waited willingly from that day to this,. I have seized my joys.  It was the hope and eagerness in me then, and the long years were to intervene before learning to hold them in check and to conquer impetuous action.

In the morning when I was shaken awake and heard the "Merry Christmas" calls, and saw little Horace playing with rattle and coloured worsted ball I felt no excitement.  Had I been dreaming?  No.  There before the fire hung my stocking and under the window the pile of little books.  And never, never until that moment when I held those little books in the dark night, had I known the rapture of discovery, or the enchanted silence of the night.