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."  

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