In New New
England by Dorothy Canfield
This is a true story, for I have heard it ever so many times from my
grandmother. She heard it from her grandmother, who told it about her
own mother; and it began and ended right here in our village of
Hillsboro, Vermont, in 1762.
Probably you think at once of the particular New England old town
you know, and imagine Hillsboro of that date as an elm-shaded,
well-kept street, with big, white, green-shuttered houses, full of
shining mahogany furniture and quaint old silver. But my grandmother
gives an entirely different picture of old times in this corner of
Vermont. Conditions here, at that time, were more as they had been in
Connecticut and Massachusetts a hundred and forty years before. Indeed,
the Pilgrim Fathers endured no more hardships as pioneers in a wild,
new country than did the first Vermonters.
Hillsboro had been settled only about fifteen years before this
story begins, and the people had had to make for themselves whatever
they possessed, since there was no way to reach our dark, narrow valley
except by horseback over the ridge of the Green Mountains. There were
no fine houses, because there was no sawmill. There were little, low
log cabins of two rooms each, and the furniture, such as it was, was
rough-hewn out of native woods. Our great-grandfathers were too busy
clearing the forest and planting their crops to spend much time
designing or polishing table-legs.
And the number of things they did not have! No stoves, no matches,
books, no lamps, and very few candles; no doctors, no schools, no
clocks, and so nearly no money that what they had is not worth
mentioning But the fact that there were no schools did not mean that
life was one long vacation for the children.
“No, indeedy!” as grandmother always says emphatically.
In the urgent bustle of pioneer life, the children could not be
spared from work for long school-hours. They picked up what they could
from the elders of their families, and worked, as grandmother puts it,
“as tight as they could leg it” from morning to night. Everybody else
worked that same way, so the children did not know that they were being
abused. Indeed, grandmother seemed to doubt if they were.
At any rate, they all ran about as fast as ants in an ant-hill, and
the busiest of all was sixteen-year-old Hannah Sherwin. Since she was
my grandmother's grand mother's mother, at last the story is really
Hannah had been a baby of eighteen months when the Sherwins came
over the mountains from the old home in Connecticut, so she knew
nothing about any other way of living than what she saw in rough little
Hillsboro. But her elder sister, Ann Mary, who was a tall girl of
nineteen, remembered—or thought she remembered—big houses that were
made all over of sawn planks, and chairs that were so shiny you could
see your face in them or else stuffed and cushioned in brocade as
soft—“as soft as a feather tick!” she told Hannah.
Her listener, having no idea of what brocade might be, and taking
the feather-tick simile literally, must have imagined a very queer kind
Hannah was a short, fair, rosy-cheeked child, who passed for
good-looking enough; but Ann Mary was slender and dark and a real
beauty, although Hillsboro people did not realize it. She looked
fragile, as if she could not do much hard work and that is always a
serious blemish in feminine beauty to the eyes of pioneers.
So far in her life she had not been forced to do any hard work,
because Hannah had done it all for her. Their mother had died when they
were both little girls, and their father was so busy outdoors, every
minute he was awake, that, for all his affection for them, he did not
know or care which of his daughters cooked and washed, and swept and
spun, so long as these things were done. And Hannah delighted to do
them, because she adored Ann Mary, and could not bear to have her
sister troubled with any of the coarse tasks which made up her own
happy, busy day.
Now, all that grandmother ever tells me about the beginning of this
story is that when the lovely Ann Mary was nineteen years old she “fell
into a decline,” as they called it. She grew pale and thin, never
smiled, could not eat or sleep, and lay listlessly on the bed all day,
looking sadly at Hannah as she bustled about.
A great many girls in those days fell into declines and died. Of
course, nobody knows the reason for most of the cases, but it seems as
plain as the nose on my face that Ann Mary's sickness was entirely
Hannah's fault for not letting her sister do her share of the household
work. There she was—pretty and ignorant and idle—with nothing to
interest her, and nothing to look forward to, for in those days
marriage was the only thing a girl could look forward to, and in the
workaday little world of pioneer Hillsboro nobody would dare to think
of marrying a girl who looked like a tea-rose and did not know how to
make soft soap. No wonder she lost her appetite!
It might not have gone any further, however, if Hannah, distracted
with anxiety, had not run to all the old women in town about her sick
sister. Every one of them had had a niece, or a daughter—or at least a
granddaughter—who had died in a decline; so, of course, they knew just
what to do for Ann Mary, and they came and did it.
Then poor Ann Mary was sick, indeed, I promise you! They shut her up
in the inner room of the little log house, although it was the end of
May, and the weather was fit for the angels. They darkened the one
window, and kept the door closed, and put the sick girl to bed between
two mountains of feathers. They gave her “sut” (soot) tea and
“herb-drink” and steeped butternut bark, and goodness knows what else;
and they tiptoed in and out, and stared at her mournfully, and shook
their heads and pursed up their lips, until it is a wonder to me that
Ann Mary did not die at once.
Very likely she would have died, if one day in June there had not
come through Hillsboro a trader on his way from “over the mountain” up
to Canada, looking for furs. That morning, when Hannah got up, she
found the fire in their big fireplace completely extinguished. She
snatched up the warming-pan—not a polished brass one with a smooth,
turned handle, like those you see in Colonial museums, but a common
iron pan, fastened to a hickory sapling; and she went as fast as she
could, without running—for girls never ran “before folks” in those
days—over to the nearest neighbor, to “borrow a handful of fire.”
The neighbors were just getting up, and their fire was too low to
spare any, so Hannah had to wait until some hardwood sticks got well to
burning. While she waited, the trader, who was staying overnight in
that house, went on with a long story about an Indian herb-doctor, of
whose cures he had heard marvelous tales, three days' journey back. It
seemed that the Indian's specialty was curing girls who had gone into a
decline, and that he had never failed in a single case he had
You can imagine how Hannah's loving, anxious heart leaped up, and
how eagerly she questioned the trader about the road to the settlement
where the Indian lived. It was in a place called Heath Falls, on the
Connecticut River, the trader told her; but he could not find words
strong enough to advise her against trying the trip.
The trail lay through thick woods, filled with all the terrors of
early New Englanders—bears and wolves and catamounts. And when she got
to Heath Falls, she would find it a very different place from
Hillsboro, where people took you in gladly for the sake of the news you
brought from the outside world. No, the folks in Heath Falls were very
grand. They traveled themselves, and saw more strangers than a little.
You had to pay good money for shelter and food, and, of course, the
doctor did not cure for nothing. He was a kind man, the trader, and he
did his best to keep Hannah from a wildly foolish enterprise.
But his best was not good enough. She went home and looked at her
poor Ann Mary, as white as a snowdrift, her big dark eyes ringed with
black circles, and Hannah knew only two things in the world—that there
was a doctor who could cure her sister, and that she must get her to
him. She was only a child herself; she had no money, no horses, no
experience; but nothing made any difference to her. Ann Mary should go
to the doctor, if Hannah had to carry her every step!
A spirit like that knows no obstacles. Although Hillsboro held up
hands of horror, and implored John Sherwin to assert his parental
authority and forbid his girl such a rash, unmaidenly, bold
undertaking, the end of it was that Hannah got her father's permission.
He loved his daughters dearly, did John Sherwin, and, although he could
not see how the thing was to be managed, he told Hannah she might go if
Now it happened that the wife of one of their neighbors had long
coveted the two great feather-beds between which Ann Mary lay
sweltering. Hannah went to her, and said that she could have them if
she would loan her son, a sturdy boy of fourteen, and two horses, for
the trip to Heath Falls. The neighbor-woman hesitated; but when Hannah
threw in the two pewter candlesticks, which came from her mother's
family, she could resist no longer. In her own family they had only
spike-iron candlesticks, and it was her one chance of acquiring a pair
of fine ones. So she wheedled her husband into agreeing to the bargain;
and there was Hannah with her transportation provided.
As soon as it was definitely settled that she was to make the long
journey, people began to; take rather a proud interest in her grit. As
everybody liked her, they gave what they could toward helping her get
ready—all but the old women, who were furious that Ann Mary was to be
taken away from their care.
There was in town a saddle with a pillion back of it, and this was
loaned for Remember Williams, the neighbor's boy, to ride and carry Ann
Mary behind him. Hannah folded a blanket across her horse's back, and
sat on sideways as best she could. Behind her was a big bundle of extra
clothing, and food, and an iron pot—or, as she called it, a
“kittle”—for cooking their noonday meals. Her father brought out all
the money he had—one large four-shilling piece—and Hannah was sure
that so much wealth as that would buy anything in the world. The old
women had prophesied that Ann Mary would not be strong enough to sit
upon a horse, even clinging to Remember Williams's thick waist; but,
judging from what grandmother says, I surmise that Ann Mary, without
being really aware of it, was a little sick of being sick. At any rate,
she took a great interest in the preparations. She asked over and over
again about the girls the herb-doctor had cured; and when the day for
their departure came she was quite pleased and excited, and walked out
through the crowd of sympathetic neighbors. To be sure, she leaned
weakly on her father, but there was a little faint color in her cheeks.
“A very bad sign!” the old women whispered. “She'll never live the
journey out. If only Hannah were not so headstrong and obstinate! But
then you can't blame the child for it—all the Sherwins are that way!”
As for Ann Mary, she sat up quite straight and looked as pretty as
possible when the little company rode off. After all, she had been
“declining” only about a month, and people had vigorous constitutions
in those days.
You may think it odd that she was not afraid to make the long
journey, but there are advantages in being of a dependent nature.
Hannah had always done everything for her, and had kept her safe from
harm. Hannah was with her now, so there was nothing to fear. She left
all that to Hannah, who did it, poor child, with the greatest
Now that the excitement of overcoming Hillsboro opposition was
passed; now that they were really started, with herself as sole leader
and guide, responsibility fell like a black cloud upon her young heart.
There was nothing she did not fear—for Ann Mary, of
course—from wolves and Indians to fatigue or thunderstorms.
A dozen times that day, as they paced slowly over the rough trail,
she asked her sister anxiously if she were not too hot or too cold, or
too tired or too faint, imitating as best she could the matter and
manner of the doctoring old women. However, Ann Mary surprised herself,
as well as Hannah, by being none of the uncomfortable things that her
sister kept suggesting to her she might very well be. It was perfect
June weather, they were going over some of the loveliest country in the
world, and Ann Mary was out of doors for the first time in four weeks
She “kept up” wonderfully well, and they made good time, reaching by
dusk, as they had hoped to do, a farmer's house on the downward dip of
the mountain to the east. Here, their story being told, they were
hospitably received, and Ann Mary was clapped into the airless inner
room and fed with gruel and dipped toast. But she had had fresh air and
exercise all day, and a hearty meal of cold venison and corn bread at
their noonday rest, so she slept soundly.
The next day they went across a wide, hilly valley, up another range
of low mountains, and down on the other side. The country was quite
strange to them, and somehow, before they knew it, they were not on the
road recommended to them by their hosts of the night before. Night
overtook them when they were still, as the phrase has come down in our
family, “in a miserable, dismal place of wood.”
Hannah's teeth chattered for very terror as she saw their plight;
but she spoke cheerfully to Ann Mary and the boy, who looked to her for
courage, and told them that they were to have the fun of sleeping under
Boys were the same then as now, and Remember Williams was partly
shivering with dread of bears and Indians and things, and partly
glowing with anticipatory glory of telling the Hillsboro boys all about
the adventure. Hannah soothed the first and inflamed the second emotion
until she had Remember strutting about gathering firewood, as brave as
Very probably Ann Mary would have been frightened to death, if she
had not been so sleepy from her long day out of doors that she could
not keep her eyes open. And then, of course, everything must be all
right, because there was Hannah!
This forlorn terrified little captain wrapped the invalid in all the
extra clothing, managed to get a fire started, and cooked a supper of
hot cornmeal mush in her big iron “kittle.” Ann Mary ate a great deal
of this, sweetened as it was with maple sugar crumbled from the big
lump Hannah Had brought along and immediately afterward she fell sound
Soon the soft night air of June was too strong a soporific for
Remember's desire to keep awake and hear the catamounts scream, as he
had heard they did in those woods. Hannah was left quite alone to keep
watch and to tend the fire, her heart in her mouth, jumping and
starting at every shadow cast by the flames.
She knew that wild beasts would not come near them if a big fire
burned briskly; and all that night she piled on the wood, scraped away
the ashes, and watched Ann Mary to see that she did not grow chilly.
Hannah does not seem to have been much inclined to talk about her own
feelings, and there is no record of what she suffered that night; but I
think we may be sure that it seemed a long time to her before the sky
began to whiten in the east.
As soon as she could see plainly, she cooked a hearty breakfast of
broiled bacon and fried mush, and wakened her two charges to eat it.
They made a very early start, and there is nothing more to tell about
their journey except that at about seven o'clock that evening the two
tired horses crept into the main street of Heath Falls, and a very much
excited girl asked the first passer-by where the Indian herb-doctor
They found him in a little old house of logs—the only one that
looked natural to them in the prosperous settlement. When Hannah
knocked at the door, he opened it himself. He was a small, very old,
dark-brown, and prodigiously wrinkled individual, who held up a candle
and looked at Hannah with the most impassive eyes she had ever
seen—like little pools of black water unstirred by any wind.
Hannah's breath came fast.
“Is this the Indian herb-doctor?” she asked.
“Aye,” he answered.
When you remember that Hannah was only a little girl, and that she
thought she had come to the end of a nightmare of responsibility, it
will not surprise you to learn that she now began to cry a little, out
“I have brought Ann Mary,” she said, “my sister, to be cured. She is
in a decline. Will you cure her?”
The herb-doctor showed no surprise. He set the candle down on the
shelf, and went out in the bright starlight to where Ann Mary clung to
Remember Williams's waist. When he put up his brown old hands to her,
she slid down into them and upon the ground. He still held one wrist,
and this he continued to do for some moments, looking at the white,
drooping girl without moving a muscle of his solemn old face. Then he
turned to Hannah, who had stopped crying and was holding her breath in
“Aye,” he said.
At this Hannah caught her sister around the neck, sobbing joyfully:
“He will cure you, Ann Mary; he will cure you!” Then she asked the
doctor: “And how long will it take? We can stay but a few days, for the
boy and the horses must get back soon.”
The herb-doctor considered for a moment.
“It is now the end of June month. By the end of September month she
will be cured—not before.”
I think I know that that was a black moment for Hannah. She said
nothing at all, but the sick girl fell to weeping.
“But, Master Doctor, we cannot stay—we cannot! And now, after all,
I shall not be cured!”
Hannah could not bear to see her sweet Ann Mary in tears, and she
cried out stoutly:
“Yes, you shall, too! Remember can take the horses back without us,
and tell our father. Somehow—I can earn—oh, we must!” Then a
new fear sprang into her heart. “Oh, sir,” she cried to the doctor, “is
it dear, your cure? Must one have much silver for it?”
The stolid little old gnome did not look toward her or change his
position as he said:
“It costs time—no silver,” He moved toward the house. “Go to the
minister's to-night,” he called from his doorstep. “It is the house of
brick.” Just before he closed his door he added: “Come here to-morrow
When they reached the great brick house, the other two hung back,
afraid of so much grandeur; but three days of travel through the
dangers of a primitive forest had hardened Hannah to the lesser fear of
strange people. To the old minister and his wife she told their story
very briefly, with a desperate kind of self-possession, so concerned
about poor Ann Mary, tired and hungry, waiting out in the night air,
that she did not remember to be afraid of the minister's fine linen and
smooth, white hands, or of the laces and dark silk of his handsome,
white-haired wife, or of the gold braid and red coat of a dark young
man with a quick eye who sat in the corner.
The young man said nothing until after the old people had gone out
to bring in the wanderers. Then:
“You must be fond, indeed, of your sister, my little lass,” he said
“Sir,” said Hannah, “you should see my sister!”
And just then he did see her. Ann Mary came into the brightly
lighted room, her eyes wide and dark from the dusk outside, her long
black hair, shaken loose from its fastenings, curling up beautifully
with the dew, and making a frame for the pearl-like oval of her face. I
have seen a miniature of Ann Mary in her youth, and I can guess how she
must have looked to the young officer that evening.
The minister's wife gave them all a hot supper, and hurried them off
to bed with motherly authority. For the first time in her life, Hannah
found herself between linen sheets. She tried to call her sister's
attention to this astonishing magnificence, but fell asleep in the
middle of the sentence, and did not wake until late the next morning.
Ann Mary had been awake for some time, but did not dare get up, so
overcome was she by shyness and reverence for the grandeur of the room
and of her hosts.
“Oh, Hannah! Would it not be like heaven to live always in such a
place?” she said.
Hannah could not stop to be shy, or to think about how she would
like mahogany beds all the time. She had too much on her mind. They
must go at once to the herb-doctor's—they should have been there
before—and they must hurry through their breakfast. It is, perhaps,
worthy of note that both girls came down the stairs backward, ladders
having been, up to that time, their only means of reaching elevations.
During their breakfast, the dark young man, who turned out to be a
cousin of the minister's, sat in a corner, playing with his dog's ears,
and looking at Ann Mary until she was quite abashed, although the
younger girl, at whom he glanced smilingly from time to time, thought
he looked very good-natured. After this, Hannah sent Remember Williams
home with the horses, giving him fresh and elaborate directions about
the right road to take. Then she marched Ann Mary to the herb-doctor's.
“Here, Master Necronsett,” she said, “here is Ann Mary to be cured!”
When the doctor told them about his system, Hannah did not like the
sound of it at all. Not a drop of “sut tea” or herb-drink was
mentioned, but the invalid was to eat all the hearty food Hannah could
earn for her. Then, so far from sleeping in a decently tight room,
their bed was to stand in a little old shed, set up against Master
Necronsett's house. One side of the shed was gone entirely, so that the
wind and the sun would come right in on poor, delicate Ann Mary, and
there was only an awning of woven bark-withes to let down when it
But even that was not the worst. Hannah listened with growing
suspicion while Master Necronsett explained the rest of it. All his
magic consisted in the use of a “witch plant,” the whole virtue of
which depended on one thing. The sick person must be the only one to
handle or care for it, from the seed up to the mature plant.
He took them up to his garret, where row after row of dried plants
hung, heavy with seed-pods, and with the most careful precautions to
avoid touching them himself, or having Hannah do so, he directed Ann
Mary to fill a two-quart basin with the seed.
“That will plant a piece of ground about six paces square,” he said.
“That will raise enough seed for you.”
“But who is to dig the ground, and plant, and weed, and water, and
all?” asked Hannah. “If I am to be earning all day, when—”
“The sick person must do all,” said the herb-doctor.
Hannah could not believe her senses. Her Ann Mary, who could not
even brush her own hair without fatigue, she to take a spade in her—
“Oh, Master Doctor,” she cried, “can I not do it for her?”
The old Indian turned his opaque black eyes upon her.
“Nay,” he said dryly, “you cannot.”
And with that he showed them where the witch garden was to be, close
before their little sleeping-hut. That was why, he explained, the
patient must spend all her time there, so that by night, as well as by
day, she could absorb the magical virtues of the growing plant Hannah
thought those were the first sensible words she had heard him say.
She had promised the minister's wife to be back at a certain hour to
see about employment, so she dared not stay longer, though it was with
a sinking heart that she left her sister to that grim old savage, with
his brusque lack of sympathy. However, the minister's wife reassured
her with stories of all the other girls from far and near whom he had
cured by that same foolish, silly method; so Hannah turned all her
energies upon the spinning which a neighbor-woman had set her to do.
Hired workers have been the same from the days of the Psalmist down
to our own, and Hannah, putting her whole heart into her work,
accomplished, so her surprised employer told her, twice as much
spinning as any serving-girl she had ever hired.
“And excellent good thread, too!” she said, examining it.
If Hannah kept up to that, she added, she could have all the
work she had time for. She gave the little girl two pennies—two real
pennies, the first money Hannah had ever earned. With a head spinning
with triumph, she calculated that at that rate she could earn fourpence
She spent a farthing for some fish a little boy brought up from the
river, and a halfpenny for some fresh-baked bread, and a part of her
precious four-shilling piece for an iron fry-pan, or “spider.” Laden
with these, she hurried back to see how Ann Mary had endured the old
doctor's roughness. She found her sister very tired, but, proudly
anxious to show a little spot, perhaps six feet; square, which she had
spaded up with intervals of rest.
“The herb-doctor says that I have done well, and that I will finish
the spading in a week, or perhaps even less,” she said: “and I like
Master Necronsett! He is a good old man, and I know that he will cure
me. He makes me feel very rested when he comes near.”
Hannah felt a little pang to think that her sister should not miss
her own brooding care, but when Ann Mary cried out joyfully at the
sight of the food, “Oh, how hungry I am!” everything but pleasure was
immediately swept away from the little sister's loyal heart.
They cooked their supper—Hannah still had some of the cornmeal and
the flitch of bacon their Hillsboro friends had given them—and went to
bed directly on the queer, hard bed, with a straw tick and no feathers,
which Dr. Necronsett had prescribed, warmly wrapped up in the pair of
heavy Indian blankets he had loaned them. They were so close to the
house that they heard the old doctor moving around inside, and they
could see the light of his candle, so they were not afraid.
Indeed, the two sisters were so sleepy that even if they had been
timorous it could scarcely have kept them from the deep slumber into
which they fell at once, and which lasted until the sun shone in on
them the next morning.
That was the first day of that wonderful summer, and most of the
days which followed were like it. Every morning Hannah rose early, made
a little open fire, cooked their breakfast, and was off to her
spinning. Just as her first employer had said, there was no lack of
work for a spinner who worked as fast and yet as carefully as if it
were for herself. In Hannah's thread there were never any thin places
which broke as soon as the weaver stretched it on the loom, nor yet any
thick lumps where the wool had insisted, in grandmother's phrase, “on
going all kim-kam.”
At first, she went about to people's houses; but, seeing her so neat
and careful, the minister's wife loaned her one of her own wheels, and
the minister had an old granary cleared out for her workroom. Here, day
after day, the wheel whirred unceasingly, like a great bee, and Hannah
stepped back and forth, back and forth, on her tireless young feet,
only glancing out through the big door at the bright glories of the
summer weather, and never once regretting her imprisonment.
Indeed, she said, all her life afterward, that she was so happy,
that summer, it seemed heaven itself could hold no greater joy for her.
Of course, first always in her thoughts was Ann Mary, pulling weeds and
tending her witch garden, and growing plump and rosy, and so strong
that she laughed and ran about and sang as never in her life before.
Hannah put very little faith in the agricultural part of the cure.
She thought that very probably it was nothing more than a blind, and
that Master Necronsett came out at night and said charms and things
over Ann Mary as she slept. However that might be, she could have
kissed his funny, splay feet every time she looked at her sister's
bright eyes and red lips; and when she thought of the joy it would be
to her father, she could have kissed his ugly, wrinkled old face.
But, besides her joy over her sister's health, the summer was for
Hannah herself a continual feast of delight Captain Winthrop, the
minister's young cousin, was staying in Heath Falls to recover from an
arrow-wound got in a skirmish with the Indians in Canada. He was very
idle, and very much bored by the dullness of the little town, which
seemed such a metropolis to the two girls from Hillsboro. One day,
attracted by Hannah's shining face of content, he lounged over to the
step of her granary, and began to talk to her through the open doorway.
It happened to come out that the little spinner, while she knew her
letters from having worked them into a sampler, and could make shift to
write her name, could not read or write, and had never had the
slightest instruction in any sort of book-learning. Thereupon the young
officer good-naturedly proposed to be her teacher, if Hannah would
Would she like! She turned to him a look of such utter
ecstasy that he was quite touched, and went off at: once to get an old
“A-B, ab” book.
That was the beginning of a new world to Hannah. She took her young
instructor's breath away by the avidity with which she devoured the
lessons he set her. By the rapt air of exultation with which Hannah
recited them, stepping back and forth by her wheel, you would have
thought that “c-a-t, cat; r-a-t, rat,” was the finest poetry ever
written. And in no time at all it was no longer “c-a-t, cat,” but
“parallel,” and “phthisis,” and such orthographical atrocities, on
which the eager scholar was feeding; for, Hannah's mind was as fresh as
her round, rosy face, and as vigorous as her stout little body.
Captain Winthrop had several reasons for being interested in Hannah;
and when he found her so quick at her spelling, he said he was willing
to occupy some of his enforced leisure in giving her instruction in
other branches. Hannah fell to at this feast of knowledge like a young
bear in a bee-tree.
But there were some difficulties. Like the spelling, arithmetic was
all very well, since she could do that in her head while she spun; but
reading and writing were different. She would not stop her work for
them, and so Captain Winthrop fell into the habit of going over to
Master Necronsett's house in the afternoon with his books, and being
there, all ready for a lesson, when Hannah came hurrying back after she
had finished her day's “stint.” As long as there was light to see, she
pored over her writing and reading, while the young officer sat by,
ready to help, and talking in a low tone to Ann Mary.
After a time there grew up a regular routine for Captain Winthrop.
In the mornings he went out to the granary and read aloud to Hannah
from a book called “The Universal Preceptor; being a General Grammar of
Art, Science, and Useful Knowledge.” Out of this he taught her about
“mechanical powers” and “animated nature” and astronomy and history and
geography—almost anything that came to his hand.
Up in our garret we have the very book he used, and modern research
and science have proved that there is scarcely a true word in it. But
don't waste any pity on Hannah for having such a mistaken teacher, for
it is likely enough, don't you think, that research and science a
hundred years from now will have proved that there is scarcely a word
of truth in our school-books of to-day? It really doesn't seem to
At any rate, those were the things of which Captain Winthrop talked
to Hannah in the mornings. In the afternoon, he went over to an
apple-tree by the edge of the witch garden, and there he found Ann
Mary; and what he talked to her about nobody knew but herself, although
Master Necronsett passed back and forth so often in his herb-gathering
that it is likely he may have caught something. It seems not
improbable, from what happened afterward, that the young man was
telling the young girl things which did not come out of a book, and
which are consequently safe from science and research, for they are
certainly as true to-day as they were then.
Once, in her anxiety to have everything exactly right for her
sister, Hannah asked Master Necronsett about Captain Winthrop's being
there so much.
“Master Doctor, will not Captain Winthrop absorb, perchance, some of
the great virtue of the plant away from Ann Mary? Will he not hurt her
Grandmother never says so, but I have always imagined that even that
carven image of an old aborigine must, have smiled a little as he told
“Nay, the young man will not hurt your sister's cure.”
At the end of September, something tremendously exciting happened to
Hannah. She had been so busy learning the contents of that old
calf-bound book that she had never noticed how a light seemed to shine
right through Ann Mary's lovely face every time Captain Winthrop looked
at her. The little student was the most surprised girl in the world
when the young soldier told her, one morning in the granary, that he
wanted her sister to marry him, and that Ann Mary wanted it, too, if
Hannah would allow it.
He laughed a little as he said this last, but he looked anxiously at
her, for Ann Mary, who was as sweet as she was pretty and useless, had
felt it to be a poor return for Hannah's devotion, now after all, just
to go off and desert her. She had said that, if Hannah thought she
ought to, she would go back to Hillsboro, and they would have to wait
ever so long. So now Captain Winthrop looked very nervously at Ann
Mary's little sister.
But he did not know Hannah. She gave a little cry, as if someone had
stabbed her, turned very pale, and, leaving her wheel still whirling,
she ran like the wind toward Dr. Necronsett's. She wanted to see her
sister; she wanted to see if this——
Close to the minister's house she met Ann Mary, who could not wait
any longer, and was coming to meet her. After one glimpse of that
beautiful, radiant face, Hannah fell a weeping for very joy that her
dear Ann Mary was so happy, and was to marry the grand and learned and
goodly Captain Winthrop.
There was not a thought in Hannah's mind, then or later, that she
must lose Ann Mary herself. Grandmother explains here that the truth is
that a heart like Hannah's cannot lose anything good; and perhaps that
Thus, hand in hand, laughing and crying together, the two girls came
back to the granary, where Ann Mary's lover took her in his arms and
kissed her many times out of light-heartedness that Hannah would put no
obstacle in the way. This made little Hannah blush and feel very queer.
She looked away, and there was her wheel still languidly stirring a
little. Dear me! How many, many times have I heard the next detail in
the story told!
“And, without really, so to speak, sensing what she was doing,
didn't she put her hand to the rim and start it up again? And when the
other two looked around at her, there she was, spinning and smiling,
with the tears in her eyes. It had all happened in less time than it
takes a spin-wheel to run down.”
After that day things happened fast. Captain Winthrop rode off over
the mountains to Hillsboro, to ask John Sherwin if he might marry his
daughter; and when he came back, there was John Sherwin himself riding
along beside him, like an old friend. And when he saw his two dear
daughters—Ann Mary, who had gone away like a lily, now blooming like a
rose, and Hannah, stout little Hannah, with her honest blue eyes
shining—when he saw his two daughters, I say—well, I'm sure I have no
idea what happened, for at this point grandmother always takes off her
glasses, and sniffs hard, and wipes her eyes before she can go on.
So there was a wedding at the minister's house, and everybody in
Heath Falls was invited, because Hannah said they had been so good to
her. Everybody came, too, except old Master Necronsett, and that was
nothing, because he never went anywhere except to the woods.
I know just what the bride and Hannah wore, for we have pieces of
the material in our oldest cedar chest; but, of course, as they weren't
your own great-great-great-grandmother and aunt, perhaps you wouldn't
care to have me tell you all about their costumes. It was a grand
occasion, however—that you can take from me; and the family tradition
is that Ann Mary looked like a wonderful combination of an angel and a
And then Captain and Mrs. Winthrop rode off in one direction, and
Hannah and her father in another, and there were a great many tears
shed, for all everybody; was so happy.
Hannah went home with her head full of new ideas, and with four
books in her saddle-bags—which, for those days, was a large library.
These were the Bible, the “Universal Preceptor,” a volume of the
Shakespeare comedies, and Plutarch's “Lives.” Armed with these weapons,
how she did stir things up in Hillsboro! She got the children together
into a school, and taught them everything she had learned in Heath
Falls; and that was so much—what with the studying which she always
kept up by herself—that from our little scrap of a village three
students went down to the college at William's Town, in Massachusetts,
the first year it was started, and there has been a regular procession
of them ever since.
After a time she married Giles Wheeler, and began to teach her own
children—she had nine—and very well instructed they were. She was too
busy, then, to go into the schoolroom to teach; but never, then or
later, even when she was an old, old woman, did she take her vigilant
eyes and her managing hand off the schools of our county.
It was due to her that Hillsboro could boast for so long that its
percentage of illiterates was zero. If, by chance, anyone grew up
without knowing how to read, Aunt Hannah pounced on him and made him
learn, whether he would or not. She loaned about, to anyone who would
read them, the books she brought from Heath Falls; and in time she
started a little library. Remembering the days when Captain Winthrop
had read aloud to her in the granary, she had her children go about to
read aloud to sick people, and to busy seamstresses or spinners who had
no time for books.
And the number of girls in declines she cured by Master Necronsett's
system! You would not believe it, if I told you. And she had our river
named after that wise old heathen, and we think it the prettiest name
possible for a river.
All this time, Ann Mary's position was getting grander and grander,
for Captain Winthrop was on the American side when the Revolution came,
and grew to be a very important man. Ann Mary dressed in brocade every
day and all day, and went to Philadelphia, where she met General and
Mrs. Washington, and ever so many more famous people.
Wherever she went, she was admired and loved for her beauty and
gentleness; but she did not forget Hannah. Nearly every traveler from
the South brought a message or a present from Madam Winthrop to
Mistress Wheeler, and once she and General Winthrop came and made a
long visit in Hillsboro.
Grandmother's grandmother was old enough, by that time, to remember
the visit very clearly; and it was from talk between the two sisters
that she learned all about this story. She said she never saw a more
beautiful woman than Madam Winthrop, nor heard a sweeter voice. But how
Hannah had to hush the unmannerly surprise of her brood of quick-witted
youngsters when they found out that elegant Aunt Ann Mary did not know
her letters, and had never heard of Julius Caesar or Oliver Cromwell!
For marriage did not change Ann Mary very much; but as her husband was
perfectly satisfied with her, I dare say it was just as well.
However, when the Winthrop cousins begin to put on airs, and to talk
about autograph letters from Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson addressed
to their great-great-great-grandmother, and to show beautiful carved
fans and lace handkerchiefs which she carried at State balls in
Philadelphia and New York, I have to bite my tongue to keep from
reminding them that they have no autograph letters of hers!
Then I go up into our garret, and look at Hannah's shabby old books,
and I ride over to the place on the road where she tended the fire that
night, and I think of the number of Hillsboro boys and girls to whom
she opened the great world of books, and—somehow, I am just as well
pleased that it was not the lovely Ann Mary who came back to our town
and became my great-great-great-grandmother.