The Adopted Daughter

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Pot Of Gold (D. Lothrop Company; Boston: 1892)

The Inventory of the Estate of Samuel Wales Late of Braintree, Taken by the Subscribers, March the 14th, 1761.

His Purse in Cash . . . . . . . . £11-15-01 His apparrel . . . . . . . . . .10-11-00 His watch . . . . . . . . . . 2-13-04 The Best Bed with two Coverlids, three sheets, two underbeds, two Bolsters, two pillows, Bedstead rope . . . . . . . £6 One mill Blanket, two Phlanel sheets, 12 toe Sheets . . . . . . . . . £ 3- 4- 8 Eleven Towels & table Cloth . . . . . . 0-15- 0 a pair of mittens & pr. of Gloves . . . . . 0- 2- 0 a neck Handkerchief & neckband . . . . . 0- 4- 0 an ovel Tabel — Two other Tabels . . . . . 1-12- 0 A Chist with Draws . . . . . . . . 2- 8- 0 Another Low Chist with Draws & three other Chists . . . . . . . . . . 1-10- 0 Six best Chears and a great chear . . . . . 1- 6- 0 a warming pan — Two Brass Kittles . . . . . 1- 5- 0 a Small Looking Glass, five Pewter Basons . . . 0- 7- 8 fifteen other Chears . . . . . . . . 0-15- 0 fire arms, Sword & bayonet . . . . . . 1- 4- 0 Six Porringers, four platters, Two Pewter Pots £ 1- 0- 4 auger Chisel, Gimlet, a Bible & other Books . . 0-15- 4 A chese press, great spinning-wheel, & spindle . 0- 9- 0 a smith's anvil . . . . . . . . £ 3-12- 0 the Pillion . . . . . . . . . . 0- 8- 0 a Bleu Jacket . . . . . . . . . . 0- 0- 3 Aaron Whitcomb. Silas White.

The foregoing is only a small portion of the original inventory of Samuel Wales's estate. He was an exceedingly well-to-do man for these times. He had a good many acres of rich pasture and woodland, and considerable live stock. Then his home was larger and more comfortable than was usual then; and his stock of household utensils plentiful.

He died three years after Ann Ginnins went to live with Grandma, when she was about thirteen years old. Grandma spared her to Mrs. Polly for a few weeks after the funeral; there was a great deal to be done, and she needed some extra help. And, after all, Ann was legally bound to her, and her lawful servant.

So the day after good Samuel Wales was laid away in the little Braintree burying-ground, Ann returned to her old quarters for a little while. She did not really want to go; but she did not object to the plan at all. She was sincerely sorry for poor Mrs. Polly, and wanted to help her, if she could. She mourned, herself, for Mr. Samuel. He had always been very kind to her.

Mrs. Polly had for company, besides Ann, Nabby Porter, Grandma's old hired woman whom she had made over to her, and a young man who had been serving as apprentice to Mr. Samuel. His name was Phineas Adams. He was very shy and silent, but a good workman.

Samuel Wales left a will bequeathing everything to his widow; that was solemnly read in the fore-room one afternoon; then the inventory had to be taken. That, on account of the amount of property, was quite an undertaking; but it was carried out with the greatest formality and precision.

For several days, Mr. Aaron Whitcomb and Mr. Silas White were stalking majestically about the premises, with note-books and pens. Aaron Whitcomb was a grave, portly old man, with a large head of white hair. Silas White was little and wiry and fussy. He monopolized the greater part of the business, although he was not half as well fitted for it as his companion.

They pried into everything with religious exactitude. Mrs. Polly watched them with beseeming awe and deference, but it was a great trial to her, and she grew very nervous over it. It seemed dreadful to have all her husband's little personal effects, down to his neckband and mittens, handled over, and their worth in shillings and pence calculated. She had a price fixed on them already in higher currency.

Ann found her crying one afternoon sitting on the kitchen settle, with her apron over her head. When she saw the little girl's pitying look, she poured out her trouble to her.

“They've just been valuing his mittens and gloves,” said she, sobbing, “at two-and-sixpence. I shall be thankful when they are through.”

“Are there any more of his things?” asked Ann, her black eyes flashing, with the tears in them.

“I think they've seen about all. There's his blue jacket he used to milk in, a-hanging behind the shed door — I guess they haven't valued that yet.”

“I think it's a shame!” quoth Ann. “I don't believe there's any need of so much law.”

“Hush, child! You mustn't set yourself up against the judgment of your elders. Such things have to be done.”

Ann said no more, but the indignant sparkle did not fade out of her eyes at all. She watched her opportunity, and took down Mr. Wales's old blue jacket from its peg behind the shed door, ran with it upstairs, and hid it in her own room behind the bed. “There,” said she, “Mrs. Wales sha'n't cry over that!”

That night, at tea time, the work of taking the inventory was complete. Mr. Whitcomb and Mr. White walked away with their long lists, satisfied that they had done their duty according to the law. Every article of Samuel Wales's property, from a warming pan to a chest of drawers, was set down, with the sole exception of that old blue jacket, which Ann had hidden.

She felt complacent over it at first; then she began to be uneasy.

“Nabby,” said she confidentially to the old servant woman, when they were washing the pewter plates together after supper, “what would they do if anybody shouldn't let them set down all the things — if they hid some of 'em away, I mean?”

“They'd make a dretful time on't,” said Nabby impressively. She was a large, stern-looking old woman. “They air dretful perticklar 'bout these things. They hev to be.”

Ann was scared when she heard that. When the dishes were done, she sat down on the settle and thought it over, and made up her mind what to do.

The next morning, in the frosty dawning, before the rest of the family were up, a slim, erect little figure could have been seen speeding across lots toward Mr. Silas White's. She had the old blue jacket tucked under her arm. When she reached the house, she spied Mr. White just coming out of the back door with a milking pail. He carried a lantern, too, for it was hardly light.

He stopped and stared when Ann ran up to him.

“Mr. White,” said she, all breathless, “here's — something — I guess yer didn't see yesterday.”

Mr. White set down the milk pail, took the blue jacket which she handed him, and scrutinized it sharply by the light of the lantern.

“I guess we didn't see it,” said he finally. “I will put it down — it's worth about three pence, I judge. Where” —

“Silas, Silas!” called a shrill voice from the house. Silas White dropped the jacket and trotted briskly in, his lantern bobbing agitatedly. He never delayed a moment when his wife called; important and tyrannical as the little man was abroad, he had his own tyrant at home.

Ann did not wait for him to return; she snatched up the blue jacket and fled home, leaping like a little deer over the hoary fields. She hung up the precious old jacket behind the shed door again, and no one ever knew the whole story of its entrance in the inventory. If she had been questioned, she would have told the truth boldly, though. But Samuel Wales's Inventory had for its last item that blue jacket, spelled after Silas White's own individual method, as was many another word in the long list. Silas White consulted his own taste with respect to capital letters too.

After a few weeks, Grandma said she must have Ann again; and back she went. Grandma was very feeble lately, and everybody humored her. Mrs. Polly was sorry to have the little girl leave her. She said it was wonderful how much she had improved. But she would not have admitted that the improvement was owing to the different influence she had been under; she said Ann had outgrown her mischievous ways.

Grandma did not live very long after this, however. Mrs. Polly had her bound girl at her own disposal in a year's time. Poor Ann was sorrowful enough for a long while after Grandma's death. She wore the beloved gold beads round her neck, and a sad ache in her heart. The dear old woman had taken the beads off her neck with her own hands and given them to Ann before she died, that there might be no mistake about it.

Mrs. Polly said she was glad Ann had them. “You might jist as well have 'em as Dorcas's girl,” said she; “she set enough sight more by you.”

Ann could not help growing cheerful again, after a while. Affairs in Mrs. Polly's house were much brighter for her, in some ways, than they had ever been before.

Either the hot iron of affliction had smoothed some of the puckers out of her mistress's disposition, or she was growing, naturally, less sharp and dictatorial. Any way, she was becoming as gentle and loving with Ann as it was in her nature to be, and Ann, following her impulsive temper, returned all the affection with vigor, and never bestowed a thought on past unpleasantness.

For the next two years, Ann's position in the family grew to be more and more that of a daughter. If it had not been for the indentures, lying serenely in that tall wooden desk, she would almost have forgotten, herself, that she was a bound girl.

One spring afternoon, when Ann was about sixteen years old, her mistress called her solemnly into the fore-room. “Ann,” said she, “come here, I want to speak to you.”

Nabby stared wonderingly; and Ann, as she obeyed, felt awed. There was something unusual in her mistress's tone.

Standing there in the fore-room, in the august company of the best bed, with its high posts and flowered-chintz curtains, the best chest of drawers, and the best chairs, Ann listened to what Mrs. Polly had to tell her. It was a plan which almost took her breath away; for it was this: Mrs. Polly proposed to adopt her, and change her name to Wales. She would be no longer Ann Ginnins, and a bound girl; but Ann Wales, and a daughter in her mother's home.

Ann dropped into one of the best chairs, and sat there, her little dark face very pale. “Should I have the — papers?” she gasped at length.

“Your papers? Yes, child, you can have them.”

“I don't want them,” cried Ann, “never! I want them to stay just where they are, till my time is out. If I am adopted, I don't want the papers!”

Mrs. Polly stared. She had never known how Ann had taken the indentures with her on her run-away trip years ago; but now Ann told her the whole story. In her gratitude to her mistress, and her contrition, she had to.

It was so long ago in Ann's childhood, it did not seem so very dreadful to Mrs. Polly, probably. But Ann insisted on the indentures remaining in the desk, even after the papers of adoption were made out, and she had become “Ann Wales.” It seemed to go a little way toward satisfying her conscience. This adoption meant a good deal to Ann; for besides a legal home, and a mother, it secured to her a right in a comfortable property in the future. Mrs. Polly Wales was considered very well off. She was a smart business-woman, and knew how to take care of her property too. She still hired Phineas Adams to carry on the blacksmith's business, and kept her farm-work running just as her husband had. Neither she nor Ann were afraid of work, and Ann Wales used to milk the cows, and escort them to and from pasture, as faithfully as Ann Ginnins.

It was along in springtime when Ann was adopted, and Mrs. Polly fulfilled her part of the contract in the indentures by getting the Sunday suit therein spoken of.

They often rode on horseback to meeting, but they usually walked on the fine Sundays in spring. Ann had probably never been so happy in her life as she was walking by Mrs. Polly's side to meeting that first Sunday after her adoption. Most of the way was through the woods; the tender light green boughs met over their heads; the violets and anemones were springing beside their path. There were green buds and white blossoms all around; the sky showed blue between the waving branches, and the birds were singing.

Ann in her pretty petticoat of rose-colored stuff, stepping daintily over the young grass and the flowers, looked and felt like a part of it all. Her dark cheeks had a beautiful red glow on them; her black eyes shone. She was as straight and graceful and stately as an Indian.

“She's as handsome as a picture,” thought Mrs. Polly in her secret heart. A good many people said that Ann resembled Mrs. Polly in her youth, and that may have added force to her admiration.

Her new gown was very fine for those days; but fine as she was, and adopted daughter though she was, Ann did not omit her thrifty ways for once. This identical morning Mrs. Polly and she carried their best shoes under their arms, and wore their old ones, till within a short distance from the meeting-house. Then the old shoes were tucked away under a stone wall for safety, and the best ones put on. Stone walls, very likely, sheltered a good many well-worn little shoes, of a Puritan Sabbath, that their prudent owners might appear in the House of God trimly shod. Ah! these beautiful, new, peaked-toed, high-heeled shoes of Ann's — what would she have said to walking in them all the way to meeting!

If that Sunday was an eventful one to Ann Wales, so was the week following. The next Tuesday, right after dinner, she was up in a little unfinished chamber over the kitchen, where they did such work when the weather permitted, carding wool. All at once, she heard voices down below. They had a strange inflection, which gave her warning at once. She dropped her work and listened. “What is the matter?” thought she.

Then there was a heavy tramp on the stairs, and Captain Abraham French stood in the door, his stern weather-beaten face white and set. Mrs. Polly followed him, looking very pale and excited.

“When did you see anything of our Hannah?” asked Captain French, controlling as best he could the tremor in his resolute voice.

Ann rose, gathering up her big blue apron, cards, wool and all. “Oh,” she cried, “not since last Sabbath, at meeting! What is it?”

“She's lost,” answered Captain French. “She started to go up to her Aunt Sarah's Monday forenoon; and Enos has just been down, and they haven't seen anything of her.” Poor Captain French gave a deep groan.

Then they all went down into the kitchen together, talking and lamenting. And then, Captain French was galloping away on his gray horse to call assistance, and Ann was flying away over the fields, blue apron, cards, wool and all.

“O, Ann!” Mrs. Polly cried after, “where are you going?”

“I'm going — to find — Hannah!” Ann shouted back, in a shrill, desperate voice, and kept on.

She had no definite notion as to where she was going; she had only one thought — Hannah French, her darling, tender, little Hannah French, her friend whom she loved better than a sister, was lost.

A good three miles from the Wales home was a large tract of rough land, half-swamp, known as “Bear Swamp.” There was an opinion, more or less correct, that bears might be found there. Some had been shot in that vicinity. Why Ann turned her footsteps in that direction, she could not have told herself. Possibly the vague impression of conversations she and Hannah had had, lingering in her mind, had something to do with it. Many a time the two little girls had remarked to each other with a shudder, “How awful it would be to get lost in Bear Swamp.”

Any way, Ann went straight there, through pasture and woodland, over ditches and stone walls. She knew every step of the way for a long distance. When she gradually got into the unfamiliar wilderness of the swamp, a thought struck her — suppose she got lost too! It would be easy enough — the unbroken forest stretched for miles in some directions. She would not find a living thing but Indians, and, maybe, wild beasts, the whole distance.

If she should get lost she would not find Hannah, and the people would have to hunt for her too. But Ann had quick wits for an emergency. She had actually carried those cards, with a big wad of wool between them all the time, in her gathered-up apron. Now she began picking off little bits of wool and marking her way with them, sticking them on the trees and bushes. Every few feet a fluffy scrap of wool showed the road Ann had gone.

But poor Ann went on, farther and farther — and no sign of Hannah. She kept calling her from time to time, hallooing at the top of her shrill sweet voice: “Hannah! Hannah! Hannah Fre-nch!”

But never a response got the dauntless little girl, slipping almost up to her knees sometimes, in black swamp-mud; and sometimes stumbling painfully over tree-stumps, and through tangled undergrowth.

“I'll go till my wool gives out,” said Ann Wales; then she used it more sparingly.

But it was almost gone before she thought she heard in the distance a faint little cry in response to her call: “Hannah! Hannah Fre-nch!” She called again and listened. Yes; she certainly did hear a little cry off toward the west. Calling from time to time, she went as nearly as she could in that direction. The pitiful answering cry grew louder and nearer; finally Ann could distinguish Hannah's voice.

Wild with joy, she came, at last, upon her sitting on a fallen hemlock-tree, her pretty face pale, and her sweet blue eyes strained with terror.

“O, Hannah!” “O, Ann!”

“How did you ever get here, Hannah?”

“I — started for aunt Sarah's — that morning,” explained Hannah, between sobs. “And — I got frightened in the woods, about a mile from father's. I saw something ahead I thought was a bear. A great black thing! Then I ran — and, somehow, the first thing I knew, I was lost. I walked and walked, and it seems to me I kept coming right back to the same place. Finally I sat down here, and staid; I thought it was all the way for me to be found.”

“O, Hannah! what did you do last night?”

“I staid somewhere, under some pine-trees,” replied Hannah, with a shudder; “and I kept hearing things — O, Ann!”

Ann hugged her sympathizingly. “I guess I wouldn't have slept much if I had known,” said she. “O, Hannah, you haven't had anything to eat! ain't you starved?”

Hannah laughed faintly. “I ate up two whole pumpkin pies I was carrying to aunt Sarah,” said she.

“Oh! how lucky it was you had them.”

“Yes; mother called me back to get them, after I started. They were some new ones, made with cream, and she thought aunt Sarah would like them.”

Pretty soon they started. It was hard work, for the way was very rough, and poor Hannah weak. But Ann had a good deal of strength in her lithe young frame, and she half-carried Hannah over the worst places. Still both of the girls were pretty well spent when they came to the last of the bits of wool on the border of Bear Swap. However, they kept on a little farther; then they had to stop and rest. “I know where I am now,” said Hannah, with a sigh of delight; “but I don't think I can walk another step.” She was, in fact, almost exhausted.

Ann looked at her thoughtfully. She hardly knew what to do. She could not carry Hannah herself — indeed, her own strength began to fail; and she did not want to leave her to go for assistance.

All of a sudden, she jumped up. “You stay just where you are a few minutes, Hannah,” said she. “I'm going somewhere. I'll be back soon.” Ann was laughing.

Hannah looked up at her pitifully: “O Ann, don't go!”

“I'm coming right back, and it is the only way. You must get home. Only think how your father and mother are worrying!”

Hannah said no more after that mention of her parents, and Ann started.

She was not gone long. When she came in sight she was laughing, and Hannah, weak as she was, laughed, too. Ann had torn her blue apron into strips, and tied it together for a rope, and by it she was leading a red cow.

Hannah knew the cow, and knew at once what the plan was. “O, Ann! you mean for me to ride Betty?”

“Of course I do. I just happened to think our cows were in the pasture, down below here. And we've ridden Betty, lots of times, when we were children, and she's just as gentle now. Whoa, Betty, good cow.”

It was very hard work to get Hannah on to the broad back of her novel steed, but it was finally accomplished. Betty had been a perfect pet from a calf, and was exceedingly gentle. She started off soberly across the fields, with Hannah sitting on her back, and Ann leading her by her blue rope.

It was a funny cavalcade for Captain Abraham French and a score of anxious men to meet, when they were nearly in sight of home; but they were too overjoyed to see much fun in it.

Hannah rode the rest of the way with her father, on his gray horse; and Ann walked joyfully by her side, leading the cow.

Captain French and his friends had, in fact, just started to search Bear Swamp, well armed with lanterns, for night was coming on.

It was dark when they got home. Mrs. French was not much more delighted to see her beloved daughter Hannah safe again, than Mrs. Polly was to see Ann.

She listened admiringly to the story Ann told.

“Nobody but you would have thought of the wool or of the cow,” said she.

“I do declare,” cried Ann, at the mention of the wool, “I have lost the cards!”

“Never mind the cards!” said Mrs. Polly.