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. 


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