The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Caroline Lee Hentz/Aunt Patty's Scrap Bag
It was a rainy day, a real, old-fashioned, orthodox rainy day. It rained the first thing in the morning, it rained harder and harder at midday. The afternoon was drawing to a close, and still the rain came down in steady and persevering drops, every drop falling in a decided and obstinate way, as if conscious, though it might be ever so unwelcome, no one had a right to oppose its coming. A rainy day in midsummer is a glorious thing. The grass looks up so green and grateful under the life-giving moisture; the flowers send forth such a delicious aroma; the tall forest-trees bend down their branches so gracefully in salutation to the messengers of heaven. There are beauty, grace, and glory in a midsummer rain, and the spirit of man becomes gay and buoyant under its influence. But a March rain in New England, when the vane of the weather cock points inveterately to the north-east, when the brightness, and purity, and positiveness of winter is gone, and not one promise of spring breaks cheeringly on the eye, is a dismal concern.
Little Estelle stood looking out at the window, with her nose pressed against a pane of glass, wishing it would clear up, it was so pretty to see the sun break out just as he was setting. The prospect abroad was not very inviting. It was a patch of mud and a patch of snow, the dirtiest mixture in nature’s olio. A little boy went slumping by, sinking at every step almost to his knees; then a carriage slowly and majestically came plashing along, its wheels buried in mud, the horses labouring and straining, and every now and then shaking the slime indignantly from their fetlocks, and probably thinking none but amphibious animals should be abroad in such weather.
“Oh! it is such an ugly, ugly day!” said Estelle, “I do wish it were over.”
“You should not find fault with the weather,” replied Emma; “mother says it is wicked, for God sends us what weather seemeth good to him. For my part, I have had a very happy day reading and sewing.”
“And I too,” said Bessy, “but I begin to be tired now, and I wish I could see some of those beautiful crimson clouds, tinged with gold, that wait upon sunset.”
“Bessy has such a romantic mode of expression,” cried Edmund, laughing and laying down his book; “I think she will make a poet one of these days. Even now, I see upon her lips ‘a prophetess’s fire.’”
Bessy’s blue eyes peeped at her brother through her golden curls, and something in them seemed to say, “that is not such a ridiculous prophecy as you imagine.”
“This is a dreadful day for a traveller,” said Mrs. Worth, with a sigh, and the children all thought of their father, exposed to the inclemency of the atmosphere, and they echoed their mother’s sigh. They all looked very sad, till the entrance of another member of the family turned their thoughts into a new channel. This was no other than Estelle’s kitten, which had been perambulating in the mire and rain, till she looked the most forlorn object in the world. Her sides were hollow and dripping, and her tail clung to her back in a most abject manner. There was a simultaneous exclamation at her dishevelled appearance, but Miss Kitty walked on as demurely as if nothing particular had happened to her, and jumping on her little mistress’s shoulder, curled her wet tail round her ears, and began to mew and purr, opening and shutting her green eyes between every purr. Much as Estelle loved her favourite, she was not at all pleased at her present proximity, and called out energetically for deliverance. All laughed long and heartily at the muddy streaks on her white neck, and the muddy tracks on her white apron, and she looked as if she had not made up her mind whether to laugh or cry, when a fresh burst of laughter produced a complete reaction, and a sudden shower of tears fell precipitately on Aunt Patty’s lap.
“Take care, Estelle,” said Edmund, “Aunt Patty has got on her thunder and lightning calico. She does not like to have it rained on.”
Aunt Patty had a favourite frock, the ground-work of which was a deep brown, with zigzag streaks of scarlet darting over it. Estelle called it thunder and lightning, and certainly it was a very appropriate similitude for a child. It always was designated by that name, and Edmund declared, that whenever Aunt Patty wore that dress, it was sure to bring a storm. She was now solicited by many voices to bring out one of her scrap-bags for their amusement. And she, who never wearied of recalling the bright images of her youthful fancy, or the impressions of later years, produced a gigantic satchel, and undrawing the strings, Estelle’s little hand was plunged in, and grasping a piece by chance, smiles played like sun beams on her tears, when she found it was a relic of old Parson Broomfield’s banian. It consisted of broad shaded stripes, of an iron-gray colour, a very sober and ministerial-looking calico.
“Ah!” said Aunt Patty—the chords of memory wakened to music at the sight—“I remember the time when I first saw Parson Broomfield wear that banian. I was a little girl then, and my mother used to send me on errands here and there, in a little carriage, made purposely for me on account of my lameness. A boy used to draw me, in the same way that they do infants, and everybody stopped and said something to the poor lame girl. I was going by the parsonage, one warm summer morning, and the parson was sitting reading under a large elm tree, that grew directly in front of his door. He had a bench put all round the trunk, so that weary travellers could stop and rest under its shade. He was a blessed man, Parson Broomfield—of such great piety, that some thought if they could touch the hem of his garment they would have a passport to heaven. I always think of him when I read that beautiful verse in Job: ‘The young men saw him and trembled, the aged arose and stood up.’ Well, there he sat, that warm summer morning, in his new striped banian, turned back from his neck, and turned carelessly over one knee, to keep it from sweeping on the grass. He had on black satin lasting pantaloons, and a black velvet waistcoat, that made his shirt collar look as white as snow. He lifted his eyes, when he heard the wheels of my carriage rolling along, and made a sort of motion for me to stop. ‘Good morning, little Patty,’ said he, ‘I hope you are very well this beautiful morning.’ We always thought it an honour to get a word from his lips, and I felt as if I could walk without a crutch the whole day. He was very kind to little children, though he looked so grand and holy in the pulpit, you would think he was an angel of light, just come down there from the skies.”
“Did he preach in that calico frock?” asked Emma, anxious for the dignity of the ministerial office.
“Oh! no, child—all in solemn black, except his white linen bands. He always looked like a saint on Sunday, walking in the church so slow and stately, yet bowing on the right and left, to the old, white-headed men, that waited for him as for the consolation of Israel. Oh! he was a blessed man, and he is in glory now. Here,” added she, taking a piece of spotless linen from a white folded paper, “is a remnant of the good man’s shroud. I saw him when he was laid out, with his hands folded on his breast, and his Bible resting above them.”
“Don’t they have any Bibles in Heaven?” asked little Estelle, shrinking from contact with the funereal sample.
“No, child; they will read there without books, and see without eyes, and know everything without learning. But they put his Bible on his heart, because he loved it so in life, and it seemed to be company for him in the dark coffin and lonely grave.”
The children looked serious, and Emma’s wistful eyes, lifted towards heaven, seemed to long for that region of glorious intuition, whither the beloved pastor of Aunt Patty’s youth was gone. Then the youngest begged her to tell them something more lively, as talking about death, and the coffin, and grave, made them melancholy such a rainy day.
“Here,” said Bessy, “is a beautiful pink and white muslin. The figure is a half open rosebud, with a delicate cluster of leaves. Who had a dress like this, Aunt Patty?”
“That was the dress your mother wore the first time she saw your father,” answered the chronicler, with a significant smile. Bessy clasped her hands with delight, and they all gathered close, to gaze upon an object associated with such an interesting era.
“Didn’t she look sweet?” said Bessy, looking admiringly at her handsome and now blushing mother.
“Yes! her cheeks were the colour of her dress, and that day she had a wreath of roses in her hair; for Emma’s father loved flowers, and made her ornament herself with them to please his eye. It was about sunset. It had been very sultry, and the roads were so dusty we could scarcely see after a horse or carriage passed by. Emma was in the front yard watering some plants, when a gentleman on horseback rode slowly along, as if he tried to make as little dust as possible. He rode by the house at first, then turning back, he came right up to the gate, and, lifting up his hat, bowed down to the saddle. He was a tall, dark-complexioned young man, who sat nobly on his horse, just as if he belonged to it. Emma, your mother that is, set down her watering-pot, and made a sort of courtesy, a little frightened at a stranger coming so close to her, before she knew anything about it. ‘May I trouble you for a glass of water?’ said he, with another bow. ‘I have travelled long, and am oppressed with thirst.’ Emma courtesied again, and blushed too, I dare say, and away she went for a glass of water, which she brought him with her own hands. Your grandfather had come to the door by this time, and he said he never saw a man so long drinking a glass of water in his life. As I told you before, it had been a terribly sultry day, and there were large thunder pillars leaning down black in the west—a sure sign there was going to be a heavy shower. Your grandfather came out, and being an hospitable man, he asked the stranger to stop and rest till the rain that was coming was over. He didn’t wait to be asked twice, but jumped from his horse and walked in, making a bow at the door, and waiting for your mother to walk in first. Well, sure enough, it did rain in a short time, and thunder, and lighten, and blow, as if the house would come down; and the strange gentleman sat down close by Emma, and tried to keep her from being frightened, for she looked as pale as death; and when the lightning flashed bright, she covered up her face with her hands. It kept on thundering and raining till bed-time, when your grandfather offered him a bed, and told him he must stay till morning. Everybody was taken with him, for he talked like a book, and looked as if he knew more than all the books in the world. He told his name, and all about himself—that he was a young lawyer just commencing business in a town near by (the very town we are now living in); that he had been on a journey, and was on his way home, which he had expected to reach that night. He seemed to hate to go away so the next morning, that your grandfather asked him to come and see him again—and he took him at his word, and came back the very next week. This time he didn’t hide from anybody what he came for, for he courted your mother in good earnest, and never left her, or gave her any peace, till she had promised to be his wife, which I believe she was very willing to be, from the first night she saw him.”
“Nay, Aunt Patty,” said Mrs. Worth, “I must correct you in some of your items; your imagination is a little too vivid.”
Edmund went behind his mother’s chair, and putting his hands playfully over her ears, begged Aunt Patty to go on, and give her imagination full scope.
“And show us the wedding-dress, and tell us all about it,” said Bessy. “It is pleasanter to hear of mother’s wedding, than Parson Broomfield’s funeral.”
“But that’s the way, darling—a funeral and a wedding, a birth and a death, all mixed up, the world over. We must take things as they come, and be thankful for all. Do you see this white sprigged satin, and this bit of white lace? The wedding-dress was made of the satin, and trimmed round the neck and sleeves with the lace, and the money it cost would have clothed a poor family for a long time. But your grandfather said he had but one daughter, and she should be well fitted out, if it cost him all he had in the world. And, moreover, he had a son-in-law, whom he would not exchange for any other man in the universe. When Emma, your mother that is, was dressed in her bridal finery, with white blossoms in her hair, which hung in ringlets down her rosy cheeks, you might search the country round for a prettier and fairer bride—and your father looked like a prince. Parson Broomfield said they were the handsomest couple he ever married—and, bless his soul, they were the last. He was taken sick a week after the wedding, and never lifted his head afterwards. It is a blessed thing Emma was married when she was, for I wouldn’t want to be married by any other minister in the world than Parson Broomfield.”
“Where’s your husband, Aunt Patty?” said Estelle, suddenly.
Edmund and Bessy laughed outright. Emma only smiled—she feared Aunt Patty’s feelings might be wounded.
“I never had any, child,” replied she, after taking a large pinch of snuff.
“What’s the reason?” persevered Estelle.
“Hush—Estelle,” said her mother, “little girls must not ask so many questions.”
“I’ll tell you the reason,” cried Aunt Patty, “for I’m never ashamed to speak the truth. No one ever thought of marrying me, for I was a lame, helpless, and homely girl, without a cent of money to make folks think one pretty, whether I was or not. I never dreamed of having sweethearts, but was thankful for friends, who were willing to bear with my infirmities, and provide for my comfort. I don’t care if they do call me an old maid. I’m satisfied with the place Providence has assigned me, knowing it’s a thousand times better than I deserve. The tree that stands alone by the wayside offers shelter and shade to the weary traveller. It was not created in vain, though no blossom nor fruit may hang upon its boughs. It gets its portion of the sunshine and dew, and the little birds come and nestle in its branches.”