WHAT fancies we weave, what dreams we dream over a piece of homely old china ! Every cup, every jar in our china ingatherings, has the charm of fantasy, visions of past life and beauty, though only imagined. I like to think that the china I love has been warmly loved before—has been made a cherished companion, been tenderly handled ere I took it to be my companion and to care for it. It is much the same friendly affection that I feel for an old well-read, half-worn book; the unknown hands through which it has passed, the unseen eyes that have gazed on it, have endeared it to me. This imagined charm exists in china if it be old, though we know not a word of its past, save that it has a past and is not fresh from the potter's wheel and the kiln. The very haze of uncertainty is favorable to the fancies of a dreamer; I summon past owners from that shadowy hiding-place ; weave romances out of that cloud ; build past dwelling-houses more quaint, more romantic than any in whose windows I have gazed, whose threshold I have trodden in my real china - hunting. Victor Cousin says : " If beauty absent and dreamed of does not affect you more than beauty present, you may have a thousand other gifts, but not that of imagination."
If you have no imagination you may have none of these china dreams-these "children of an idle brain," but you still may have china memories. Fair country sights does my old china bring to my eyes ; soft country sounds does it bring to my ears, the sound of buzzing bees, of rustling branches, " the liquid lapse of murmuring streams," of rippling brooks where we dipped the old blue crockery mugs and cups the day we found them, and drank the pure but sun-warmed water. When I look at this queen's-ware creamer, I hear the sweet, clear, ear-thrilling notes of the meadow-lark, "in notes by distance made more sweet "—who sang outside of the farm-house where I first saw the dainty shell of china. Sweet scents, too, does the old china bear. When I found that old yellow Wedgwood dish in the country tavern, it was filled with tiny fragrant wild strawberries -I smell, nay, I taste them still. That flaring-topped vase was full of sweet white honeysuckle when I espied it in a farm-house window—I carried away the scent of the honeysuckle when I bought the vase. This old mottled stone-ware jug, with the hound handle, stood in the deep shade of a stone wall by the side of a sunny hay-field when first it met my view. It was filled with honest home-brewed beer for the hay-makers. We sat fuming and sizzling in the hot sun, 'watching them spread and turn the fragrant hay until the beer had all been drunk (and we did not have to wait long), and we bore the jug off in triumph, breathing to us forever the scent of new-mown hay with, to speak truthfully, a slight tinge of stale beer.
A halo of sweet Sabean odors" fairly envelops all family china. In those blue and white Canton sugar bowls, and in that great jar with the red lacquered cover, my grandmother kept her fragrant' spiced rose-leaves--there are rose-leaves in them now. In that tall pitcher she always placed the first lilac and cherry blooms—and lo ! as I look at the poor cracked thing, " sweet is the air with budding haws and white with blossoming cherry-trees:" More prosaic and homely, but equally memory-sweet, what a penetrating aroma of strong green tea rises out of that copper-lustre teapot ! What a burnt and bit-ter, but *holly good-smelling steam arises from that old flip-mug, the steam from many a quart of flip brewed from New England rum, and home-made beer, stirred with the red-hot iron loggerhead.
Like Charles Lamb, I was born china-loving. " I am not conscious of a time, when china jars and saucers were introduced into my imagination." When I was a little child the dearest treasures of my doll's house were a small cup-plate of purest porcelain, delicately bordered with a diagonal design of tiny berries and spike-shaped bachelor's buttons and fine lines of gold, and a nicked India china tea-caddy, cork-stoppered, and filled with precious rose-water—rose-water of my grandmother's own make, distilled in the old rose-water still that stood, when unused, a cumbrous and mysterious ma chine under the dusty eaves of the garret. I suspect that still had been employed in early colonial days to manufacture a less innocuous liquid than rose-water, but now only the petals of the Queen of the Prairie, the sweet-brier, the cinnamon roses, went into its innocent limbec; and its sweet-scented product was intensified by the contents of one of the long, thin, gilt glass-bottles of ottar of roses that my great-uncle, Captain Royal, who followed the sea," brought home in such vast numbers from China. One day there poured out from the door of my doll's house a penetrating fragrance of roses; I peered within—the keen anguish of that moment fills me even now; the tea-caddy had fallen-nay, had been knocked on my precious little plate, and both were broken. There on her back, drenched with my cherished rose-water, lay the iconoclast, my miserable maltese kitten, in mischief still, pulling down with her sharp, wicked claws my proudest masterpiece, a miniature chandelier of wire and glass beads over which I had spent many a weary hour. I burst into a loud wail of hopeless despair; the bedraggled kitten rushed frightened from my side, shedding odors of Araby as she bounded away,
" An amber scent of odorous perfume Her harbinger."
Ah ! never again, even at sight of housemaids' broken spoils, have I felt such heart-breaking grief. To this day, when I look back at the plate here shown and the little coffee-cans of the blue Tournay sprigged set which I now know to be Crown Derby, and to have been bought by Uncle Royal in a sudden streak of extravagance (perhaps. he, too, was china-mad); to this day I grieve for their companion, the little broken cup-plate, and again I smell the sweet, cloying fragrance of rose-water.
These old dark-blue plates also tell a tale. They are known to us as the doctor's pie-plates," not from the comical figure of Dr. Syntax with which they are decorated, but so called in derision. An old New England physician, a pie-hater, stole, one Thanksgiving eve, twenty-eight carefully made pies that his patient wife and daughters had provided for his Thanksgiving guests. He rose stealthily in the dead of night, threw lemon and apple, quince and cranberry, mince and "Marlborough " pies to the pigs, and hid the blue pie-plates in an old rat-nibbled, cobweb-filled, musty, dusty coach that had stood for half a century in his carriage house, and in which his English grandmother had journeyed in state throughout New England. Thirty years later, after his death, at the destruction of the old coach, these hidden pie-plates were found by his descendants. They are therefore not simply " ° good pieces of blue," they are ceramic monuments of the household tyranny of man.
Shall I ever forget my first view of my largest and choicest Washington pitcher ? It stood filled with dried grasses and pressed and varnished autumn leaves, and painfully covered with an ignominious shell of decalcomanie and scrap-book pictures, on a table in a lonely light-house. Only by its shape did we know it, the old watermelon shape of Liverpool ware. Not a vestige of its early decoration could be seen, but we bought it as a hazard of fortune. Oh, the delight I felt when I reached home and scraped off Pauline Hall's smirking and high-colored countenance, and saw with a thrill of friendly recognition the black-lined face of my own solemn and immaculate Washington surmounting her full-blown, rosy shoulders and scarlet and gold bodice. Never do I look at my fully restored pitcher but I see him again, as then, with his dignified head turned very much aside, as if sadly shocked at the position and dress he found himself in.
The clear blue letters on these old Delft apothecary jars speak not to me of the drugs and syrups, of the lo-hocks and electuaries that were contained within them in olden times ; they are abbreviations of various Biblical proverbs, such as " Every fool will be meddling, and " Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." The little, ill-drawn blue cherubs that decorate these jars seem always to wink and smirk maliciously at me, and to hold their fat sides as though they were thinking of the first time they gazed at me and jeered at me out of the window of the gray old farm-house in Narragansett, as I stood entrapped by the sudden crushing in of a peaked-roofed hen-house upon which I had climbed to peer within a window at the hidden Delft treasures. There I stood on broken eggs and piercing splinters for one hour, with only distracted hens and scarcely less distracted thoughts for company, until the owner of hen-house and Delft jars returned and kindly chopped me out of my absurd and well-deserved stocks. Severe and unceasing monitors are my old apothecary jars.
When I stick gilly-flowers and clove-pinks in the pierced tops of these three-legged India china "posy-holders," I am, like Marjorie Fleming, " all primmed up with Majestick Pride"—the honest pride of a successful china-finder who has snatched her prize from before the very face of a dozen other collectors. These " ° posy-holders " stood for forty years on the high-towering mantel-tree of a country parlor, a parlor that was viewed yearly by scores of inquisitive and curiosity-seeking summer visitors, visitors too dull-visioned to recognize these china treasures. Perhaps the high-shelved station of the china, a foot only from the ceiling, helped to hide them. Perhaps, the gruesome row of oval silvered disks that stood in their company, tarnished coffin-plates bearing the names of past and dead dwellers in that home, may have chilled and repelled investigation. Perhaps the scarlet, blue, and gold dragons and shrimps on the posy-holders were dulled by the greater glories of their surroundings, for this parlor shone resplendent with glowing color. The walls had been painted by a travelling artist in the early part of this century, and lavish was his fancy and his sense of color. Above the high black mantel-shelf a yellow ochre sun threw his rays over vermillion and purple clouds. These rays of light were gilded and curved in various directions, and gave Phoebus the appearance of a good-tempered, smiling octopus, withal somewhat intoxicated. At either side of the fireplace sprung a great palm-tree that bore at the base of a spreading cluster of leaves luscious bunches of great hanging pineapples. Around one tree a frightful serpent coiled, his striped folds most beautifully diversified with gilded spots. Behind the other tree lurked a crouching tiger. On the plastered wall were painted two portraits with fine simulated gold frames, apparently held in place by heavy cord and tassels ; one was of George Washing-ton, the other the past owner of all these glories. It was curious to see the marked and comic likeness a fair young daughter of the house, the village school-mistress, bore to the hard-faced, non-perspectived old daub of a grandfather on the wall ; had you dressed her in a brass-buttoned blue coat and a high stock, she would have been far more like the portrait than most portraits are like their originals. One large space was decorated with a full-passengered coach with four prancing horses ; the other bore a marine view—fierce waves, and a strangely rigged brig, with gilded cannon, and fine flags and pennants all blowing stiffly against the wind that filled the sails. A steamboat, too, sailed these waters blue—the greatest triumph of the painter's art. Robert Fulton's invention was in its infancy when this steamboat was evolved, and it was plainly constructed from the artist's imagination. The cranky hull bore two brick chimneys ; it rested on crossbars like a wagon, and had four great wheels that sat well up out of the water. The floor of this room was painted a dull drab color, and in brilliant yellow was displayed a diagram of the solar system, planets, moons, and orbits, sadly worn and defaced, how-ever, by the footsteps of three generations of New Englanders.
Do you wonder that the china posy-holders were overlooked in all this blaze of glory ? I recount the gaudy decorations with grateful praise. Through them my treasures stood, ever " eye-sweet and fair," but unnoticed, for years, humbly awaiting my china-loving and china-spying vision.
These dainty egg shell cups and saucers have also their memory, their lesson—a word softly spoken but clear ; they were once owned by two silver-haired " antient maides" of Chippendale elegance and Pilgrim blood, who lived under the moss-covered, decaying roof-tree of a pallid, gaunt, old colonial home in New England. These " last leaves on the tree " kept their dainty, shallow, apse-shaped china closets in a state of snowy purity, of precise and unvarying order, of unspotted contamination, which might be taken as an emblem of their narrow, pure, and monotonous lives. No thick, substantial modern wares, no gayly painted crockery, no vessels of common clay, stood on their well-ordered and softly shining shelves, just as no modern notions, no knowledge of the common, the evil things of life, had ever entered their simple minds, had ever shocked their fair souls. Fragile, graceful, antiquated, pale in decoration, were their weakly sprigged, lavender-bordered, delicately fluted cups ; looking like their own softly wrinkled faces, their meagre, bent figures, their slender hands. Worn was the gilt on the china, faded was the furniture of their rooms, as ill-health had worn their gentle spirits. Rather scantily filled were their china shelves, as were thin and few their garments, as was sparsely filled their larder. Deep green shadows fell on the glass doors and white shelves of their china closets from the thick branched old lilacs that close-screened each small-paned window, from the dark century-old cedars that overhung their home ; death and loneliness and scanty means had shadowed their lives. My pure, dignified, and silent old cousins, no sweetly-perfumed, softly-tinted, strong-growing blossoms of New England life were you, but rather the sad, white, scentless "life everlasting" that waved like summer snowdrifts over your own sterile, rock-filled fields. These fragile porcelain emblems of your colorless life shall not be carelessly handled and rudely gazed at in their new home, but, close-hidden away in an old apple-wood beaufet which once stood beside your virginal china closets, shall forever teach to me the lesson of contentment, simplicity, and resignation which you showed in your gentle lives, the lesson which through your old china still lives—the lesson of peace and rest.
A halo of mysterious ghost-seeing, an eternal radiance of poesy, surrounds this copper-lustre pitcher. We found this irradiated pitcher when we went a-spinet-hunting. We found the ghost also, a tall, pale, terrifying apparition, who stealthily entered our room at midnight as we slept in the old Pardon tavern, who mysteriously and quietly carried off our gowns, but who proved in the cold disillusionizing daylight to be our landlady's daughter, an amateur dressmaker of unbounded ambition and few re-sources. And our poet ! we found him also, a unique and untutored son of the gods, a rare product of New England soil. We prosaically hired this Yankee Walt Whitman to drive us to the Maybee farm-the house which we had been assured held both china and spinet.. Our dearly-remembered poet was a tall, wiry New Englander, whose only visible attire was a moth-eaten fur hat, a woollen shirt, a pair of heavy boots, and faded overalls, held in place by a single suspender. He looked too thinly clad for the raw spring weather, but seemed perfectly comfortable and contented in his light clothing. Poet-like, his hair was long. Four little wintry curls blew out from under the old hat. We had been warned that he did not call himself a farmer, but proudly avowed and named himself a poet; and it was hinted that he was a little "luny." He had begun his rhyming career with the composition of epitaphs for all. the village inhabitants, both living and dead; and from thence had advanced to the constant use of rhymes in every-day life and hence had acquired the name of "Rhyming Darius." He "lisped in numbers for the numbers came ;" and proudly did he display his God-given talent to us prosy city folks. He also combined with his vocation as poet the additional talent of employing intensely legal forms of speech; for he had at an early period of his life been a witness in some country trespass case, and had since then always spent a day in court," whenever the rare days of idleness of a New England farmer would permit. As a result, he always cross-questioned everyone with whom he had any conversation, and adopted, as far as he could remember, a lawyer's phraseology and legal terms. He had a wily manner of evading questions, and seldom gave a direct answer; so between questions and answers we held "open court " all the way to the Maybee farm.
Our poet also made a strange introduction of the let-ter "u " into words—which use he evidently regarded as something extremely eloquent and scholarly, but which produced some very astonishing variations in our vernacular speech. He was much excited at the nocturnal abstraction of our gowns and he poured forth a perfect volley of rhymed questions upon the subject to us as he drove, seated sidewise, fixing us "with his glittering eye :
" Why didn't she apply to ye pursunal
At last, to stop his flood of inquiry, we began to question him, to draw him out about the spinet and china. " Do you know the Maybees well ? "
" Wall-I may perhaps assert
Is it an old farm, and an old house ? "
" It ain't so old as some,
" How long have you known them ?"
" Oh—quite an in-ture-val,
" Do you know whether they have an old spinet ?"
" I'll tell you in a minute
" It is like a little old-fashioned piano. Have they got such a one? Is it old ? Is it small ? Describe it to us."
" They 've the funniest thing you ever see ;
We looked at each other in amazement at this strange specimen of Yankee humanity—that is, we did it when-ever his gaze was averted long enough to give us any chance to look at each other. We sank back in despair of ever receiving a definite description of the spinet, and above all of any china—that most indescribable of country possessions. We feebly tried to parry him with some of the skill which he himself displayed, but failed ignominiously under the scathing sharpness of this "lawyer" of thirty years' experience. We finally answered his rhyming questions with as much directness and truth as the chief witness in a murder trial. As we alighted from the wagon and were about to enter the Maybee door, Darius pulled me back by the sleeve and whispered ;
" Ye mustn't mind Miss Maybee
A sharp-featured young woman advanced to meet us. Her hair bore two partings, an inch apart, and the middle lock was strained painfully back. Her face was curiously mottled with yellow patches which showed plainly that dyspepsia and biliousness had marked her for their own. She looked so sour, so sharp, so devoid of "man-ures" that we quailed visibly before her keen black eye. What new specimen of humanity had we here ? Into what world was our china and spinet-hunting carrying us?"
We began the conversation very mildly by saying that we had heard that Mrs. Maybee had some china that she wished to sell.
Then you've heard a lie," the acrid voice broke in.
" But surely we have heard that you have a piano to sell ? "
"Well, I ain't. I've got a musical combination, but I ain't so awful anxious to sell it."
For minutes we stood there, facing this resentful being, who showed no desire to have us seat ourselves, while we pleaded, we praised, we cajoled, we apologized, and we questioned, until, at last, she allowed us to see her precious spinet. We entered the gloomy " best room" where it stood, gave one glance at it, and sank on the haircloth sofa. It was a melodeon—a forlorn, broken-down, old melodeon—to which some farm-tinker had added an oblong frame strung with catgut and wire strings, in the apparent hope of forming some instrument of the nature of an Aeolian-harp.
Tears of disappointment fairly sprang to our eyes; but the contrast, the revulsion of feeling, the sense of the ludicrous, was so keen, that we gave way to hysterical laughter ; we could not suppress it. Where, alas! were our manners ?" I was the first to recover my self-possession. I turned to Mrs. Maybee, who stood before us speechless with angry astonishment, and said pacifically : " You were very good to let us see it. It is not quite what we expected to find. It is so much newer than an old spinet ! I fear my sister could not afford to buy it, as she has one piano already. It is very curious and very ingenious, and no doubt you will sell it to someone." We were walking slowly toward the open door in the hope of immediate escape ; but we were not to escape so easily, not without punishment for our adventurous raid. As we drew back, Mrs. Maybee advanced; and it seemed for a while that we should be obliged to buy the old melodeon and take it off with us. But I seized upon a diversion, a godsend, in the shape of a row of window-plants in the kitchen. One fine geranium flourished in this " copper-lustre" pitcher, which had had a hole knocked in the bottom, to permit the water to drain out. I immediately began to admire that geranium, and offered Mrs. Maybee a dollar for the pitcher and plant. This diverted her mind from the unfortunate "spinet ;" and after much sharp talk and bar-gaining we paid her one dollar and seventy-five cents for the geranium and pitcher, rushed from her inhospitable door, and drove away with our poet. The True Story of the Life, Temper, and Adventures of Orvilla May-bee," related to us in legal verse by " Rhyming Darius " on our homeward drive, made us wonder that we escaped unharmed from that New England vixen.
So our broken lustre pitcher was all that we had to carry home with us from our "spinet hunt." And I will close this little tale of New England experience with a simple statement of the cost of the pitcher and the geranium (which died when transplanted).
Two fares to Pardon and return $4.00
As I have since seen a fac-simile of our pitcher (only whole and unbroken) in a bric-a-brac shop, ticketed $2, we cannot consider the trip financially successful; though, truth to tell, it was far more so than many an-other expedition we have made. But a golden lustre, the memory of our legal poet, englamours forever in our eyes our copper pitcher. When we look at it we hear again the strident voice, the bizarre pronunciation, the voluble rhymes of our poet of the soil, our Darius, as he exclaimed in amazement :
" Ye don't hang 'em on the wall,
Many ghosts has our china-hunting revealed to us ; the ghosts of the past, the visions and dreams that never become realities, the inexorable fate, the sad kismet of New England life. Such was the story of the house of Hartington, a story sadly typical of many New England homes; a story which the sight of these little lettered and escutcheoned cups always retells to us.
A description had been given to us of an old town with old houses and old people and old china, and after a gloomy night in a hideous country hotel we started out to find some townsman of whom we could hire a horse and carriage of some or any sort to carry us to Rindge and Anthony Hartington's house - the oldest house of all.
A thin, auburn-haired, freckle-faced Yankee, about twenty-one years old, answered our questions with the greatest interest, and finally offered us the use of his own horse and open wagon for the whole day for two dollars. " And I'll drive fer ye, too," he added, with enthusiasm. " Ye'd never find old Hartington's if ye took the hoss yerself, an' I do' 'now as I can neither, without some pretty tall huntin' and questionin'."
So off. we started on the back seat of an open country " express wagon "to find " old Hartington's farm." The warm October sun streamed down upon us, the great red and russet rock-broken fields stretched off into the beautiful lonely purple mountain, " heeding his sky affairs," the dying brakes and weeds sent forth their sweet nutty autumn fragrance, the soft yellow and brown leaves fluttered down on us, and the ripe chestnut-burrs fell rustling by our side as we rode through the narrow wood-roads. The hard New England landscape was softened and Orientalized by the yellow autumn tints. The half-sad stillness of dying nature and the warmth of the Indian summer inclined us to ride quietly and thoughtfully along the country roads, but that neither Mr. Simmons, nor his new wagon, nor Jenny, his steed, would for a moment permit. She had the unpleasant habit, so common among country horses, of " slacking-up " suddenly at the foot of every hill. The wagon was a " jump-seat," so the back seat was not fastened in securely. At every hill (and the New England hills are countless) we and the seat were pitched forward on Mr. Simmons's back. He seemed to expect this assault and rather enjoy it. To quite counterbalance this sudden stoppage of progression, Jenny would spring forward with much and instantaneous speed whenever she caught sight of Mr. Simmons's short whip. This whip he used as a pointer in his many and diffuse explanations, so whenever our attention was called to an old house, or a poor " run-out" farm, or " the barn old White hung himself in," Jenny emphasized the explanation with a twitch of our necks that brought into active play muscles little used before.
At last the long hill leading to the Hartington house was reached, the longest and steepest yet seen. The road was almost unused, a mere track, and spoke to our china-hunting instincts most favorably of the little intercourse held by the Hartingtons with the rest of the world. Slowly plodded Jenny over the fringed gentians, for here the road was full of them, as open and blue as the October sky over our heads. We had never seen this lovely delicate flower growing elsewhere than sparsely by a brookside or in damp ground, but here, on this rocky hill-side, in this poor soil, it opened its blue eyes in such luxuriance that the road was as full of its azure bloom as in September the fields are yellow with golden-rod, or in June white with daisies. As we turned in from the main country road we passed an elderly man with bowed head, ragged clothes, slouching gait, and a general appearance of extreme depression and sadness more marked even than is usual in the carriage of the New England farmer. As he did not lift his head to look at us, nor nod with the cordial common country form of recognition, we did not speak to him, and he slowly followed us up the hill.
The Hartington house was a mansion, a brick manor-house. We were met at the great door by a young untidy woman, whose clear pink-and-white complexion and curly hair could not, however, compensate for her lack of good teeth, several front teeth being missing and the others discolored. This poor care and poor condition of the teeth is most common among New England women in the country. Nearly every woman over thirty years of age will show when speaking two rows of blue-white porcelain disks so evidently false that they hardly seem like teeth, but look like a " card" of cheap buttons. We thought her the daughter of the house; she proved to be its mistress, the wife of Anthony Hartington. A more desolate, unhappy, hopeless home I have never seen. The elderly gloomy man, who now entered, proved to be Anthony himself. He spoke but little, and from the young wife, who seemed in a feverish state of excitement at our visit, we learned the forlorn and desolate story of the household.
Anthony had married early in life and had had nine children, all of whom, with his wife, had died of that fell curse of New England—consumption. The last child, a daughter, Luriella, had died in June. This young wife had been her school friend and had married the forlorn old man two years ago, in order to come to live there and nurse her friend through her last illness, thus giving a touching example of the life-sacrifices and self abnegations so sadly frequent in New England country homes. " We didn't think she'd live through the winter," she said, "but she did, and died in June. I was glad she lived till it was warm. It is so cold here in winter," she added apologetically..
A heavy gloom settled on us as we walked from room to room, and I was additionally overwhelmed by the uncanny, unreasoning sense that I had been there before, had lived there. It was all so familiar to me, so strangely well known, that-I could scarcely speak, but walked bewildered and frightened through.. the rooms I had known a hundred years ago. 1 have never felt at any other time that sense of pre-existence, but I know that nothing about that old house was new to me.
The upper part of the windows were of small panes of greenish. " bull's-eye " glass, rarely found in the country now ; the lower panes of cheap, modern glass, some being broken and pasted over with dirty bits of calico and paper, and all as opaque with dirt as the ancient upper panes. Outside the windows lay an unkempt tangle of lilac bushes, shrubs, weeds, straggling withered flowers, box borders, and thistles, that once had been a lovely, well-kept garden, but had evidently been unentered and unheeded for years. It stretched down the hill-side to the well-tenanted family graveyard with its moss-grown and chipped slate headstones with their winged cherubs' heads and crossbones. I had often gathered flowers in that garden ; I remembered it well, and had walked and played among the gravestones.
Inside the four great parlors hung cobwebs and dust —and wasps ! the floors were sprinkled with them; thousands lay dead in the two-feet-wide window-seats, while swarms of live ones buzzed loudly at the dingy windows. " They won't touch you," she said, as we drew back. " He thinks there must be a nest some-where." A nest ! A colony of nests rather-a hundred nests, the accumulated nests of years.
The parlors had few pieces of furniture, and all were broken except a modern marble-topped table and a "what-not." I bought these," she said, " when I was married, to please Luriella ; I didn't want to spend much, for fear she would need medicine. But she didn't take much at last ; she thought it didn't do any good."
A set of painted book-shelves in a corner held a few books, two or three china dogs, some common sea-shells; a large ginger-jar, and a number of really beautiful pewter porringers with handles. My companion had already conveyed to " him " our wish " to buy any old pieces of furniture or china you may wish to part with," and though we had not heard a word nor seen a gesture of assent, the wife told us that " he " was willing to sell. Yet, when we said we would like to buy the little handled porringers, he walked out of the room without a word.
All the wood-work in these parlors—the wainscoting, the high mantels, the panels of the doors, the heavy window-frames—were ornamented with a curious design, a row of half-pillars joined at the top in a series of pointed arches, with carved sunbursts in the spandrels. It was most graceful and odd—I have never seen it elsewhere—yet it was perfectly familiar to me ; I could al-most remember, yes, I could remember, counting the number of pillars in the room.
The two kitchens were enormous rooms. One, entirely closed away and disused, disclosed a horror of dirt and rubbish, old pots and pans, and tubs, and wheels, thrown, a shapeless mass, into the fireplace, and scattered over the floor. In the smaller kitchen the chimney-nook, the great fireplace, had been boarded over, and a small rusty kitchen stove placed for daily use. I seemed to remember when I sat by this ingle side, and great logs lay on this broad hearth, and the roaring flames surged up the great chimney and threw their cheerful light into the now desolate room.
Through this kitchen there wailed a moaning noise from the empty chimney, which made even my cheerful companion look solemn and depressed. She " didn't like to hear it, either," our guide said, quietly.
Two bedrooms and a " living-room " completed the number of apartments on the ground floor. But the living-room was not lived in ; the two bedrooms were the only apartments that bore signs of occupation. There was not a carpeted floor in the house; but to these two rooms, braided rag rugs and strips of home-spun carpet gave an appearance of comparative comfort. The "rising-sun " and " twin-sister " patchwork quilts on the untidy beds added to the effect..
The most incongruous, most inadequate apartment on this floor was the pantry, a little dark box of a closet, to which one small greenish glass window dispensed a dingy light. We had intended to ask for our dinner, since it was then "high noon," but a sight of this cooking sanctum dispelled all thought or wish for dinner. It was so cobwebby, so dusty, so poor-looking, that we could not wish to eat any dinner that could is-sue from its dark shadows. We found afterward, beyond the disused kitchen, a large square room which, in the early days of the prosperity and good cheer of this house, had doubtless been a pantry, but was now filled with broken grindstones, crushed Dutch ovens, fragments of crockery, pails and pans, "peels" and "slices," yarn-winders, and part of an old rose still. Indeed, through this entire house, nothing could ever have been wholly destroyed or carried away, but was thrown, in its broken, grimy desuetude, into some neglected closet or room to gather years of dust and dirt, as if the owner, too poor to buy new furniture, still clung to the shattered remnants of past plenty.
We rescued from the dingy little pantry, from among the litter of broken cups and plates and knives, bunches of dried herbs, empty spice-boxes, cracked wooden-ware, and greasy pans, a few treasures which we spread out on the kitchen table—half a dozen " Pain's Hill " plates (a favorite pattern throughout New England), two open-work bordered Leeds platters, a dear little boat-shaped queen's-ware creamer with dainty twisted handles, two helmet pitchers, two tea-cups, and half a dozen plates of a set of old Lowestoft china bearing a pretty armorial device and initials. We hardly dared ask to buy the latter pieces until we saw the evident contempt the farm-wife had for them. Nothing so American as a Lafayette or Pilgrim plate was to be seen.
One large dresser in the kitchen was found to be literally filled with battered and broken brass and pewter candlesticks, glass whale-oil lamps, snuffers, pewter savealls, extinguishers, and trays, and brass chimney hooks for shovel and tongs. We rescued from this medley several candlesticks, two curious Dutch hanging-lamps, and a really beautiful but broken candelabra of Sheffield plate. These we placed with the china on the kitchen table. I wished to add the pewter porringers found in the parlor, but the wife softly drawled in her nasal voice: " He won't sell 'ern—they were hers —she used to make mud-pies in 'em when she was little." And pretty playthings they must have been-fifteen dear little shallow pewter posnets and porringers with flat pierced handles, varying in size from one large enough to hold a pint to a true doll's or a "'prentice porringer an inch and a half in diameter. They were full of little, common, colored pebbles and shells, dried seeds, and old purple glass beads, perhaps just as "she " had last played with them. Other and more distant memories, too, may have clung to the old porringers—of days when the old man was a boy and took his " little porringer" and ate his supper of bread and milk from it; and perhaps, in the far years when the old man was a baby, his mother had had served to her in one of these old porringers her " dish of caudle," that rich mixture of eggs, spices, bread, milk, and wine which was thought years ago to be the proper diet for a sick person.
Then we mounted the spiral staircase to the second floor, the chambers. Through this dreary expanse we walked slowly — the dusty half - furnishings growing shabbier and shabbier—still stumbling over broken furniture on the uneven floors, until we entered a south room that was such a blaze of cheerful, yellow, tropical light that we exclaimed with delight. Walls and ceilings were hung solid with long yellow ears of corn, left to dry for use in the winter. Even the old cherry four-post bedstead was draped with them. Such a color! Such a glory ! " She used to like to see them too," the low voice murmured:
A third story, a gambrel-roofed attic, was too dusty and repelling to enter, but in one of the deserted bed-rooms we found, whole, though black with dust, a dressing-table which had been the lower portion of a high chest of drawers. As is common now in New England farm-houses, the top drawers had been lifted from this table portion and set upon the floor to use as a bureau not half so tidy and cleanly a fashion of furniture as when it stood on its high legs and let a broom or brush sweep freely every portion of the floor under it. The upper portion of this high chest was seen afterward in the outer wood-shed full of strips of leather, broken harness, nails, and pieces of iron.. It had been gnawed by rats and whittled by knives till it was valueless. The lower or table portion was whole. It had three shallow " jewel drawers," three deep drawers with brass handles and carved " sunbursts." It proved, when dusted, to be of curled maple ; and after long discussion with Mr. Simmons we decided to take it with us. Its bowed legs ended in claw-and-ball feet that would just set within the carriage sides. " If one on ye don't mind settin' in front with me, the other can set in the back seat with the table in front of her," he said.
This young wife had not once shown the usual Country curiosity about us, but as she turned away to find. some newspapers to wrap around the plates, I said to her, " There is much here we should like to buy and take away with us, but it would cost so much, to move the pieces so far, and they are so out of repair." Then we told her who we were, whence we came, what we should do with the china, and that we should often think and speak of her when we looked at the plates this coming winter. "I can't bear to think of the winter without her," she answered, softly.
Jenny had been fed and watered and "hitched up," and we prepared to start. I clambered into the back seat of the wagon, then the dressing-table was lifted in and placed in front of me. Luckily its legs were long enough, so the weight did not rest on my legs, else I could never have taken it. Our laps were filled with the frail china ; the candlesticks, lamps, and two. warming-pans were placed on the floor of the wagon, and we started, leaving the two dreary figures and the dreary house behind us. All the way down the steep hills I had to hold the table to keep it off the occupants of the front seat, and all the way up the steep hills it lay heavily in my lap; but at last we reached the country station and packed our china and brass in two market-baskets which Mr. Simmons brought us from his "store." We could hear the sallies of country wit from the loafers at the station at Mr. Simmons and his strange load, and his indignant and most offensively personal and profane answers in return. Then we received a baggage-check for the dressing-table, and finally entered the train rather conscious that two warming-pans and two newspaper-covered market-baskets are hardly ordinary or desirable travelling luggage.
A few days later, when cleaning the inside of the dressing-table, the following letter was found. It had been caught and held by a splinter of wood under the top of the table, and had evidently lain untouched for years. It was folded in the old-fashioned way, dated May 12, 1810, and addressed to Madam Janet Hartington. It read thus
D' AND RESPECTED MOTHER The letter which I wrote you some three months ago on the s'bj'ct of my proposed marriage was answered by you, and the answer duly recd by me.
The two letters I wrote you since on the same s'bj'ct have recd no answer.
And now it is too late to receive any further advice on the mat-ter, for I wish to most Respectfully inform you that I married the object of my choice a week past today in Kings Chapel in Boston. There were but few present, as was Oriana's wish.
The plans you wrote me, most Respected Mother, for the. advancement and future prospects of our family, interested me much, and I quite concur in them all.
And no one could be more fully fitted to assist me in my career than my ()liana. Her graceful and ladylike deportment fit her to adorn any circle no matter how exalted.
She is quite ready to become a most dutifull and obedient daughter to you and I trust, my Dr Mother, the fact of her being an orphan will open your heart to her ; and then the wish you have always had, viz, to have a daughter, may thus find its fullfillment.
I know not from what source you obtained the strange advice that her Father did amass his fortune in the African Slave Trade. I have never wounded her tender heart by inquiry as to the source of her Fathers wealth tho"tis a calling & trade has been followed by many citizens apparently much respected). But the thought of his " ill-gotten gold " need no further trouble you. Thro' ill ad-vice and knavery, her fortune has dwindled to a thousand dollars, and now her wealth is only in her beauty and her amiable disposition. She has however much good furniture and china which will grace well our home.
I regret much to hear that my bills and debts in College have cost you so much, and that the Farm is so run behindhand. This, with the debts my Father left behind him, make it most advisable for me to give up my intention to practice as a lawyer, and have decided me to return to manage your Farm.
It is quite opportune and most Providential that your Farmer is dead, since he managed so ill.
With your wise instructions and counsels, we can no doubt retrieve the money that has been lost, and carry out my Grand-fathers plans to make our house and name one of the most powerful in the State.
Thus shall I assume the position in town and county that you always wished me to take.
We shall leave by coach for Ringe in a week, our household goods and furnishings to follow us in waggons.
I know, Dr Mother, that you will admire and praise my Oriana, as who could do otherwise ?
I have talked much to her of your aspirations and ambitions, and she hopes most Respectfully to help to carry out any plans you may have.
With most affectionate greeting from Oriana and myself, I am Your Loving and Honour" Son
In due time the table was scraped, cleaned, and polished, and with its cheerful mottled golden color and shining brass handles, was most thoroughly attractive and satisfying. The pretty Lowestoft china cups were set on it and used for petty toilet purposes. An old canopied mirror was hung over it, and every night after I had lighted the candles in the repaired and resilvered candelabra, I sat there looking at the china, thinking of the blue-fringed gentians, the old house, of the lonely empty rooms, the poverty, the dreariness ; then of the high hopes and ideas of George Hartington, and ambitions of his mother, and, above all, the strange familiarity Ihad had with my old home..
At last I wrote to the wife at the farm, telling her of the old letter; asking of the career of George Hartington, his success, his life, his fate. I thought he must be Anthony's grandfather or granduncle. The answer came, written in a stiff, uneven hand, but showing more intelligence than her conversation : " George and Oriana Hartington were my husband's father and mother. My husband is seventy-five years old, and was their only child. George Hartington died three years after he was married. My husband remembers his mother as a feeble, sickly woman who didn't have much to say on the farm, and seemed always afraid of Madam Hartington. She died of consumption when he was twelve years old. That was her china you bought with the 0 on it. His grandmother lived to be ninety-two years old. He is not very well this winter, he has a bad cough. If you know of any good cough medicine, I could buy it with the money you gave us for the table and china," etc.
And this is the end of all Madam Hartington's ambitions—a broken-down, broken-hearted, childless old man. It is the New England kismet.
Sad often are many of the memories, sad are the pictures, brought to my mind by my old china. It speaks to me too often of deserted farms, of unthrifty farmers ; of shabby homes, the homes of drunken fathers and sickly mothers; of rasping young Philistines, haters of old things and old ways; of miserly old women and extravagant young ones ; of gloomy widowers and miser-able bachelors ; of the hopeless round of toil of New England farm-wives, those human beasts of burden, bending grievously under the heavy load of loneliness and labor ; it speaks sadly to me of the pinched ways and poor living, the res angusta domi too frequently to be seen, alas ! in my beloved New England. All these shadows, however, are softened and lessened by the lapse of time, just as in my memory the days of my china-hunts have all been sunshiny and bright ; it never rained, nor was it cold nor windy, nor was it ever sultry or dusty when I have been a china-hunting; all china days were Emerson's charmed days.
When the genius of God doth flow. The wind may alter twenty ways,
( Originally Published Early 1900's )