"I received a letter from my own dear Mother Tuesday morning. It was written from Boston and they were going to New York that afternoon to buy furniture for the new home, and after November first I was top address all my letters to 171 Michigan Avenue. Mother asked me if I was brave and good, and asked my not to cry and be homesick, so I will try and smile oftener. She said people loved to see smiles. Mother dear Mother how I long to see you again, God forever bless my dear Parents and brothers. I asked Susie if she didn't think my little brother George was beautiful, and had beautiful yellow curls, and she wouldn't answer at first, but after hesitating for a short time she said "Yes" - very slowly - "I think he looks well enough but his curls aren't very long.": I don't like her for that, and besides she hasn't had any spirit playing, she just as lief be a beggar girl as anything else. She is Motherless and her Father is a Doctor of Divinity and that makes me sorry. She hasn't any beautiful brothers and she has to live with a married sister. I'll try to like her some; but not the way I do little Sarah. She is only nine and she has to wear black stockings. I never saw a pair before; but I read once of a little girl whose Mother went Missionarying, and an ugly Aunt put all her lovely white ones into a pot and dyed them black. Poor thing! she has to wear long dark woolen dresses, I mean Sarah, and her Mother is so queer. Whenever she comes to visit here she prays so long after Supper, and her voice goes up and down awfully funny, I never heard such a voice, she almost screeches as if the Lord couldn't hear, it makes Carrie and me laugh behind our hands and nudge each other when we are on our knees."
"I received a letter from my very dear Mother, it is very kind of my Mother to write me so regularly. She says that next years I shall attend a Seminary for young ladies now being erected in Chicago. I am now writing a story for which I have located in Newport, the name of it is "The Blonde and the Brunette" and I am describing my Mother for the Blonde, and my Aunt Helen for the Brunette, Oh how good God is to me to give me such Parents.
Next year if we all live and nothing happens what happiness I shall enjoy! For dinner today we had salt fish, potatoes and butter, squash and cabbage and I hate both; home bread and course brown bread and for dessert we baked apple pudding. It's better than dried apple pie, the crust is so think it gags me sometimes and I go out and almost vomit, but I am hungry so I eat it. Miss Davis gave me "Snowflake Polka" for my last music lesson, but she says she won't give me such an easy piece again.
"As I was descending the stairs yesterday morning Mary Waldron slipped into my hands a large round gum-drop. It was mighty good of her, she had on a beautiful large plaid dress, it was blue and yellow and had yellow trimming, but she got out of Church by saying she had a terrible toothache. She often has cramps in her legs and I jump out of bed and rub them, she makes me do it a long time before she stops groaning and I am tired of doing it. She never calls anyone else and I have to kneel by the bed when I am rubbing and my feet get cold as ice, and Carrie told me "She could have cramps in her legs all she wanted to for all of her," But I hate to hear her say - "Oh' how it hurts, do come Neanine, come quick, do rub them hard" - and so I do and that's the only reason.
Miss Coffin said that if we spoke without raising our hands for permission, or whispered once she would have to put a mark against our names, and at a specified time show them to Mrs. Spaulding and there would be a penalty assigned for a certain number of marks as those were her orders. But she said it was not her arrangement and she blushed when we looked up at her to the very temples, she has a dimple. Miss Coffin is pretty and I think I shall; put her in my story. I will have another girl not quite so pretty as my Aunt Helen. I'd like to make Mrs. Spaulding an Ogre. I haven't cried since I came the way I did when she took away the box of candy Mother sent me. She said my Mother couldn't have known that it was against the rules, that she never let the girls have any candy in term time, and Oh! when she took that box and put in on a high shelf in the closet I almost screamed. "It's your candy of course and you can have it when Christmas comes and you go to your Aunt in Boston." I try not to see it when I go but the corner sticks out and Mother gave it to me. I just hated Mrs. Spaulding and I'll make a face at her when her back's turned. And I hope she won't go to Heaven! So there!
We are in subtraction of Vulgar Fractions now and in Latin we are almost to the life of Joseph. Miss Mary says that next term Carrie and I may drop arithmetic for a while and take up History and draw maps. I am at the head of the spelling class all the time. Last week Carrie's and my clothes were starched. Harriet told me Mrs. Spaulding did not allow her to starch the girl's clothes. But I rather think she starched mine because I gave her two pears from the basket of fruit Mother sent me. She wrote Aunt Nancy to buy it in Boston foe me, and perhaps Carrie's clothes were starched because she has such few pieces.
Yesterday afternoon Carrie and I were real saucy to Miss Coffin. I will relate the circumstances. Miss Coffin called the first class in reading. We all took our places. Carrie was head and she gave her Reader to Miss Coffin and turned to look over with me. I opened my book to find the place. "No let me" said Carrie. It was my book and I held on. She insisted she would have it, and seeing I wouldn't let her but grabbed it tighter every minute, she spoke up loud to Miss Coffin. "Can't I find the place, I won't read if I can't." Miss Coffin said "You will if I tell you to." "I shan't unless you make Neanie give me that book, I am head of the class today, - it's my day." "Give it to her Neanie" I heard in a gentle voice. "She has no right to my book, I was head yesterday and I'll be head tomorrow, Carrie had better mind her own business and let me alone." Miss Coffin looked at us and never said another word. I felt queer, but I found the place myself, and then handed it to Carrie, and she read without a word and as soon as we got through I ran and got the biggest bunch of grapes Mother sent me and gave them to Miss Coffin, and she smiled and her dimple looked so pretty and I tried to say something, "I - I wish I hadn't," and Miss Coffin took my hand and I felt something choke me, and winked very hard. And Miss Coffin pressed my hand, "Never mind Neanie," she said, and told me she was very much obliged for the grapes. And that evening before she went home after school she kissed me. Just think! she never kissed any of the girls before, and I shouldn't have thought she would have don it today of all days when I had been so saucy. I will never speak so again - Never - Never.
This is my little brother George's birthday, and I expect Mahaly will make him a little cake with three candles and I know Mother will let him have a piece of candy. Sometimes I long to see Mother so it seems as if I should fly. Mother - Mother - How very much I do love you. How pleasant it is to feel that Mother loves me dearly. I know she does because she told me so in her last letter.
Wednesday Afternoon, December 19.
Mary Waldron is engaged to be married. She whispered it to me and said his name was Eddie Crawford. Oh, it is very silly - A girl of fourteen. She says she is writing to him now and keeps saying, Sh-Sh-Sh-if I say a word about her horrid boy, for he must be horrid. "If you ever breathe a word I'll never tell you one of my secrets again as long as I live." I never asked her to tell me her secrets, and I do think it is low for her to be cutting up such capers. I don't approve of them certainly. Yesterday we had such a beautiful snowfall and everything is so white and shining now. All the girls have some marks against their names for speaking improperly but Miss Coffin told me I had none. Wasn't it wonderful. Oh, the twenty-second will it never, never come? I am going to Boston to be with Aunt Nancy for the holiday vacations and I am to visit Carrie in Dorchester.
Father told me his first Ancestor was one of the founders of Newburyport - his name was Henry Lunt (1610-1662) and he came over awfully long ago and they are as thick as flies now, I mean the people named Lunt. But in Chicago there is nobody named Lunt but Father. It is so far from Newburyport I suppose, and Miss Mary said they were home loving people and didn't like to roam. Yesterday Carrie was mad about something and said it was so stupid here she felt crazy to have to spend two more days. My Uncle Horace is coming to take me to Boston and Carrie is going home at the same time.
Then I thought up a play to use up the time. And Carrie asked Mrs. Spaulding if we could stay upstairs in her room and Mrs. Spaulding graciously said yes, because we were going away in two days I guess. Littler Sarah sleeps with Carrie and we called Susie in and I gave them all strict injunctions. Susie was to be lover and little Sarah a fair maiden, Carrie was to abduct her for me, and I was Brigand in a cave. The name of the play was "The Cave of Despair" and I made it up right then, but I did not tell them. I told them I was Captain of the Band and the maiden was my "Pray" (sic), and Carrie must drag her off up in the corner by the bed which we called the Cave and say "Death or Dishonour." They wouldn't play nicely, Sarah wouldn't do it right. "When I told her she mustn't choose Dishonour, she said she wouldn't say Death, because she didn't want o die, and Carrie got cross and said "What's the difference - Let her say what she wants for mercy's sakes," and I told her they always got rescued if they said the right thing, I had read it lots of times and it was going to be a noble play. But it all got spoiled because Sarah began to cry. I just hate whimpering, nobody wanted to do it right, Susie said she was tired and ran out, and she was a fearful disappointment to me. Anyway she isn't coming back next term and I thought I was sorry, but we will have a new girl in her place."
The experiment for me of Boarding School for me was far from satisfactory; but after long periods of watching and waiting I had become relatively reconciled; nothing could wipe out wholly my confidence or sweep away the comfort of my innermost self, because the whole fabric of my life had been built on security, and no unknown or incalculable power could readily destroy it. However gloomy or prison-like the house sometimes seemed I pursued my way, finally enduring the occasionally withering sarcasms, that often in disapproval measured me from top to toe with cold critical glances, in an ever growing indifference.
The barometer rose as soon as I was out of sight of the One who held such tight reins, and Carrie Reid had become my chosen chum. We laughed and talked much together, and allowed our fancies full flower in a game which we played often, walking up and down the big yard. We would meet and part - exchange polite greetings as Mrs. Seymour and Mrs. Gordon, our chosen married titles. We were each the proud Mother of seven children whose adventures were in turn glowingly recounted. We were always devising startling incidents to attract, and arouse in our individual consciousness the poignant certainty of the supremacy and greater charms our own little ones could show. I ranged afar in wondrous tales to prove transcendent gifts in mine, and to manifest in my progeny points of vantage unapproachable! It was very exciting to work for their pre-eminence, and sometimes affecting such wonders produced emotions that made for sharp comments of disbelief, and sudden separations! I was hardly fitted by nature, however sharp our differences, or quarrels over facts of possibility to cease strenuous efforts to prove my children superior, and finer than hers. I must concede now that my pictures of their strange performances showed surprising contradictions and they produced frequent contention.
Curiously enough in my regular letters home I never once wrote of what was hard and unpleasant, I some way did not think of complaining. I had no experience of great grievance. I was never personally abused, and outside the dreary round my spirits always rose responsive to fresh air and sunlight. To many details my mind reacted rather than noted the comparative coldness, or the lack of warmth which had hitherto always surrounded me. Brought up in that sheltered happiness where all things were tempered I had never suffered from uncertainties or fears, and I was immensely fitted to understand and meet small difficulties than those who had known struggles or friction in their home lief.
So youthful good spirits asserted themselves, and the future seemed assured as forebodings fled and self-confidence refused to weaken. And while that present did not please me it could not hold me. I supposed or concluded it was always that way at schools, that there, one was inevitably reduced to a state of subjugation, and the habit of going unchecked after what one wanted could be allowed to compromise.
But my curtailed imagination ran riot in secret when the girls grew to demand stories and would ask so frequently - "now Neanie tell us again what we all wish would happen to Mrs. Spaulding?" Since her taking away the one box of candy I had had, she embodied what caused rebellion to rage in my soul. I was brilliantly successful to the delight of all my school-mates in depicting horrors, and creating scenes of terrible drama where the Head of the House could not escape the devised defeats and torments which expressed retaliation. She was thus miraculously made to suffer; in one way or another my vivid interest in life continued, and laughter was mine at all times.
Carrie was always so bright and responsive and she had the immeasurable advantage of knowing how to smooth down the irateness of our ruler, who, very evidently had a marked preference for that brown-eyed little Bostonian. As I said before, it was indisputable that the small specimen from Chicago held no such personal charms. There was a sparkle about Carrie that was beautifully proved one night at Supper.
Over our Bible verses we had come to try to regularly outdo each other by their length or the importance of their selection. Before each evening meal we sat silent after grace: In turn each child repeated the verse command for that day with which we were always to prepare ourselves. We had been solemnly told when first initiated that no circumstances should ever arise that ought to find us lacking in suitable selections.
But Oh!, one fatal Sunday evening for me, our gloating eyes fell on piles of snow-white bakers bread of very different quality and consistency from that served daily. I have never understood why it appeared on that single occasion unless there was strife in the kitchen, and a dearth of what was usually set before us; for, to my recollection, I never saw its like again. It was Heavenly Manna to my imagination when beyond my reach. Whatever that household contingency our eyes glistened as they fell on the tempting plate, and those white slices appealed as a blessing no less appreciated than the plum preserves, which were served once in a while as the greatest treat.
Every detail rises before me. I can feel this minute the gusto with which I seated myself and whispered to my equally eager neighbour, "Mercy!, Look at the bread" - "Verses first," she retorted. The usual solemn ceremony of repetition had reached us; but when I heard Carrie beside me say earnestly - "Lord, evermore give us this Bread" I was instantly fired not to be daunted, not to be outdone; impatience for the bread was lost for a second as spurred with sudden ambition my mind leaped to the only verse it could recall. It was not so strictly relative as Carrie's; but it seemed sufficiently important. - Firmly and clearly it was enunciated - "I am the Bread of Life." They had tittered at Carrie's. They broke order and laughed aloud at mine. "Neanie, leave the table. Go to your room. You will spend the evening alone." There was no "present help" for me in that desperate "time of trouble." Carrie had scored her great victory. And I - Alas! I never tasted that Bread.