From The Cosmopolitan Vol. XXV No. 4 (August, 1898)
Caroline Mann was the youngest of fifteen. It was years ago, when large families were more common, but even then there were not many families of fifteen. People used to say to Caroline: “How pleasant it must be to have so many brothers and sisters” — they themselves being members of families of round dozens, but considering her family as really large.
Caroline was not so sure as to its being always invariably pleasant to be one of fifteen, although she always curtsied and replied politely, “Yes, ma'am.”
There were drawbacks, especially to a sensitive soul, connected with the position of the youngest of fifteen. For one thing, Caroline, since she had come into the world, had never had anything new. Even her name was no exception, and sometimes, it seemed to her, not even her eye or hair, or manner of speaking. Ever since she could remember people had looked sharply at her, and then remarked, “Caroline has her sister Susan's eyes,” or “Caroline has her sister Nancy's hair,” or “Caroline has her sister Abigail's lisp,” until she felt no sense of proprietorship in herself at all. Her name was one of her worst trials in that respect. That was doubly not her own, being her grandmother's and her eldest sister's. The eldest daughter of the Mann fifteen had been named Caroline after her grandmother on her father's side. This grandmother, having married for a second time, and her name being consequently Caroline Dickey instead of Caroline Mann, was very anxious to have the latter name still preserved in the family. “I always liked Mann, and I never liked Dickey, though I ain't anything agin my husband on that account,” said Grandmother Dickey, “and I'd like to know there was a Caroline Mann jest the same, if I have had to stop bein' her myself.”
So the first granddaughter was named Caroline and when she had grown to womanhood and was married, and consequently the second Caroline Mann had disappeared, Grandmother Dickey was much disturbed, until the last granddaughter arrived and was named Caroline also.
“Why, mother, I don't know,” said the baby's mother; “I never heard of such a thing as two living children in one family being named alike. It doesn't seem right to me.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Grandmother Dickey, who was a determined old lady, “I'd like to know how it can do any harm. Here's the first Car'line Mann, Car'line Dickey, and the second Car'line Mann, Car'line Webster, and this baby is the only Car'line Mann on the face of the airth, that I know of.
“Besides,” said Grandmother Dickey, whose second husband had died and left her quite a tidy sum of money, “I'm agoin' to make it worth while to her. There ain't enough to go around if it is divided among the whole fifteen, but there is enough to give all the Car'lines to make 'em above-board, and I'm goin' to see to it before the week's out.”
So the baby was named Caroline, and had, as it seemed to her in after years, a second-hand if not a third-hand name.
She was always called Caroline Mann to distinguish her from her sister Caroline Webster, and that, when she was old enough to go to school, was a cross to her. She was a very modest and retiring little girl, and being called by her full name when none of her mates were seemed to make her unpleasantly conspicuous.
In the whole family of fifteen there were only three boys, and one of them, Thomas, was nearest Caroline's age, being a year and a half older than she. Poor Thomas had to be turned out of his cradle for his baby sister. However, she might have felt aggrieved, had she been old enough, at being put for a nap into such a battered old affair, which had been joggled over all the uneven uncarpeted floors in the house, in efforts to soothe to sleep the fourteen little ones who had come before her. Not a square inch of that cradle's sides but was bruised and dinted by the toes of the elder brothers and sisters who had been delegated to the task of rocking the baby to sleep. Its rockers were worn in such wise that the cradle progressed over the floor before the rocking foot like a wagon, and it had either to be followed up, or continually to be moved back to its former position. Caroline's sister Mercy, five years old, did most of the rocking in her case, and let the cradle travel as it would, finding it a pleasing variety in the monotony of the task. Caroline during a nap journeyed all over the kitchen floor, but had too sweet a temper to complain of it, even as a baby.
“That cradle's most worn out,” said Caroline's mother. “It jerks so that if she wasn't the best baby in the world, she wouldn't sleep a wink. When Mercy begun to rock her the cradle was at the hearth and now it is at the door. Well, she will have to put up with it — we can't afford to buy another with so many children.”
“Seems as if Grandma Dickey might give her a new one for her name,” said Caroline Webster, who had come in with her sewing.
“Grandma Dickey has given her a beautiful Bible, and a china mug, and I suppose she thought those would do, and so they will,” said Mrs. Mann. “She will have to put up with a good many things if they are not quite so nice, coming as she does the last of fifteen,” she added with a sigh.
Caroline did have to put up with a good many things, as her mother prophesied; the cradle was only an unrealized commencement. One Monday in June, a few weeks after her third birthday, she set out for school with her eight-year-old sister Mercy holding her by the hand on one side, and her nine-and-a-half-year-old sister Patience on the other. The twelve-year-old twins, Hester and Abigail, were walking ahead. Nancy and Cynthia, who were big girls, had already reached the schoolhouse, and little Thomas trotted at the heels of all the rest.
Three girls of the Mann family were married and in homes of their own, and the two elder boys. Two of the elder girls were still unmarried, and at home assisting their mother and contributing by some of the feminine industries of the day toward the support of the large family. Of these two elder sisters one, Ada, was very pretty, and the object of Caroline's intense admiration. The other, Eunice, was very plain, and twenty-five years old; that seemed very old to Caroline, almost as old as her mother, but she loved Eunice better than any of her sisters. That morning she had been very kindly concerned about her school costume, and had produced a blue ribbon from her own scanty stock to improve it. Caroline had also heard her whisper, “I think it is a shame, mother, to send such a pretty little thing to school for the first time in such a dress as that.” And her mother had replied assentingly, though somewhat reprovingly, “I know it, but it can't be helped, where there are so many children, and it is just as well for a child to learn first as last, ‘pretty is that pretty does.’” Caroline had not known what her mother and Eunice meant; she had thought her dress all that could be desired, but she was at a disadvantage on account of her brother Thomas being next in age to herself. Thomas was just in trousers, having previously worn little straight boy-frocks made from Mercy's discarded dresses. Now poor Caroline had to wear Thomas's frocks, though they were clearly not made for a girl. She had not entered the schoolhouse when her troubles in consequence began. Some of the big girls came running up to pet the little blushing, smiling thing, hanging back shyly at her sisters' hands. They begged her to give them kisses, they said how pretty her curls were, and then they turned away and tittered audibly, and Caroline and her sisters heard them say: “Did you ever? That poor child is dressed in a boy's frock!”
Caroline began to understand dimly in her baby mind that something in her appearance was not as it should be, and her two sisters were quite red with mortification, though they strove to rise above it. Patience said that they would take from whence it came, that being a particularly withering form of rejoinder in great vogue in the school, and Mercy made up a face at the giggling big girls.
“Come right along, you little dear; you look 'nough sight prettier than any of their little sisters ever thought of doing, no matter what you have on, so there!” said Patience. Patience, who rather belied her name, spoke very loud, so the big girls heard her.
Poor little Caroline, in spite of her sister's comforting reassurance as to her beauty in the face of such minor drawbacks, walked along with uneasy downward glances at her queer frock. It was made of indigo-blue cloth without a patch or thin place, though it had served long. Indeed, each child in the Mann family had inherited indigo blue, until they might have been considered perennials, like a family of bluebells.
Caroline's mother when she had dressed the little girl in the blue frock, had said comfortably, how nice it was that the cloth wore so well, and that Thomas was so much more careful than other boys.
“There wouldn't have been a bit of this cloth left with some boys,” said she, “but I do believe this frock will last Caroline until she outgrows it.” As Thomas was a year and a half older than Caroline, she had a prospect of being confined to her unusual costume for that period. The frock reached to her heels, hanging straight from her neck without a fold or pucker. That with a pasteboard sunbonnet for summer, and a blanket pinned over her head in winter, was her school costume until she grew so tall that she had to have one of Mercy's gowns made over for her. Caroline was proud of that, and expected to waken admiration when she appeared in it at school for the first time.
But Caroline was very short for her age, and Mercy was very tall, and the gown having begun to show wear along the lines of previously let-down tucks, it was not thought advisable to take them up again. When poor little Caroline went up the aisle to her seat, she repeatedly stumbled over the skirt of her new old gown, and everybody tittered.
When she went out at recess, too, the boys amused themselves with treading on her train, and she heard one of the big girls say that she looked just like a little old woman. Finally Caroline settled down into a disconsolate little bunch in her seat and wept bitterly, and the master, who was a young man and supposed to be waiting upon her sister Ada, having made inquiries, punished one boy and stood another in the floor, and sent her home to her mother. Ada said that it was a shame, and she was mortified that the schoolmaster, Abraham Lennox, should think they would send a child to school looking so. However, though Ada scolded until her pretty cheeks were quite red, it was Eunice who sat up nearly all night trying to make the little gown look better. She cut off the skirt above the worn streak in the tuck, and pieced it down with a strip of cloth from one of her own old dresses. The dress being blue, and the strip of cloth purple, the result was not artistic; Caroline had a way of glancing disconsolately down at the purple strip, and her mother reproved her for it. “You must learn that dress is of very little consequence,” said she. “When you get old enough to earn a new one for yourself, you can have one, but you must remember that: Pretty is that pretty does.”
Caroline began to cherish an ambition, which was to be one of the mainsprings of her childhood: she would earn enough money to buy herself a new dress, a whole new dress without a shred or strip thereon which had belonged to anybody else. This ambition took active form when she was seven years old. On examination day she went to school with Mercy, being attired in an old red gown with a large blotch of color out on the right side. Caroline requested Mercy to walk on that side so people should not see it. “It's too bad I spilled that cider apple sauce on it when I was ten years old,” said Mercy regretfully.
“I wouldn't care so much if I didn't have to speak a piece,” said Caroline, in a sad little voice.
“Maybe you can go up on the platform sort of sideways,” suggested Mercy.
Caroline tried to follow Mercy's advice, and when it came her turn to speak, and the master said: “We will now listen to a selection entitled ‘The Child Who Walks in the Paths of Meekness and Obedience,’ by Miss Caroline Mann,” she arose and advanced upon the platform with the slow and shrinking lateral motion of a crab. The scholars and some of the visitors tittered softly; Caroline blushed so that her face was the color of her dress, and made an attempt to stand sidewise so as to bring the obnoxious spot toward the desk, but old Doctor Beal of the school committee said in a brusque voice: “Little girl, will you stand face to the audience?” So Caroline stood face to the audience, and spoke her piece as well as she could with the consciousness of that dreadful spot right in the faces and eyes of the whole school, and all the distinguished visitors.
When Caroline reached home that night, she sat down in the little chamber which she shared with Mercy and Hester and Abigail, and cried. Eunice came in and asked what the matter was, and comforted her. “It is too bad,” said Eunice, “but you must remember that dress is of very little consequence if you behave well and make people love you.” Eunice, though she pitied her, did not wholly comprehend her little sister's state of mind. She had always been rather indifferent to dress herself, provided it was clean and whole. However, she thought that the spot did not really look neat, and she was ashamed to have her sister appear at school with a soiled dress, especially before the schoolmaster, who was still supposed to be waiting upon Ada.
“I tell you what I will do,” said Eunice, “I will make you a pretty little apron that will cover the spot all up, so don't you cry any more.”
Eunice was as good as her word; she made a beautiful little apron for Caroline which covered the spot. But Caroline in spite of that was not quite contented. She made up her mind that she would begin at once to earn money to buy a new dress.
There were not so many industries open to children in those days as there were some years later. They lived in the country where berries were plenty, but there were so many children in all the families, to pick them for nothing, that there was no prospect of selling. It was just the same with dandelion greens and running of errands. Grandmother Dickey might have paid for running errands, but Thomas always went for her for nothing.
“You will have to wait till you get old enough to bind shoes or make shirts or teach school,” said Mercy. Mercy herself was already binding a few shoes out of school.
“I can bind shoes now,” said Caroline.
“Your hands ain't big enough,” said Mercy, and Caroline's mother said so too. “You have enough to do to help me,” said she. “You couldn't bind strong if you were to try. Go and clean the brasses.”
Caroline cleaned the brasses, but as soon as they were finished, asked permission to go over to her grandmother Dickey's.
“You may go if you will take your patchwork and make a square before you come home,” said her mother.
There was a good deal of work in that square of patchwork, but Caroline was so diligent that she finished it before it was time for her to go home. Grandmother Dickey watched her fingers fly, and thought with some pride what a smart little girl she was, and that she was named for herself.
Grandmother Dickey very seldom gave any of her grandchildren presents; she was regarded in the family as very prudent with her money, and she had a theory that presents were not good for children. “If they want things, they ought to airn 'em the way I used to,” she was fond of remarking. “It is a good deal better for them.”
It was this frequently expressed opinion of her grandmother's which gave Caroline courage to propose her little plan that day. When she had finished the square of patchwork, and had put it nicely folded in her bead bag, she spoke.
“Grandma,” said she, “do your eyes trouble you when you read?”
“I can't read much of any,” replied Grandmother Dickey, looking at her sharply over her spectacles, the child's manner was so timid and hesitating.
“Will you pay me something if I read to you, grandma?” said Caroline, going straight to the matter in hand.
Grandmother Dickey looked at her severely — “You air the fust little gal I ever heerd of that wanted pay for readin' to her own grandma, when her eyes troubled her so she couldn't see to read herself,” said she. “I hope your mother didn't put you up to do sech a thing.”
“No, ma'am, she didn't,” replied Caroline eagerly. Then she went on to explain.
When Grandmother Dickey understood that Caroline was trying to earn money to buy a dress, she was somewhat mollified. “Well, you air plenty old enough,” said she. “I airned all my clothes before I was your age.”
Caroline looked at her grandmother with respect. In after years, reflecting upon Grandmother Dickey's statement, she was inclined to wonder if she had not been somewhat mixed as to times and seasons. It did seem rather incredible that a little girl under seven years of age could have earned all her own clothes. “I used to spin so many skeins a day for my aunt Lucindy,” said Grandmother Dickey. “She was real well to do. I used to go over and help her in hayin' time, too. Well, I will give you a cent an hour for readin', Car'line, if you'll speak up real loud and distinct.”
Grandmother Dickey was especially fond of psalms, and Caroline read them until she had learned most of them by heart. “You'll spile your eyes readin' betwixt daylight and dark,” Caroline's grandmother often told her, not knowing that she was in reality reciting psalms instead of reading them. Grandmother Dickey limited the readings to an hour a day, and an hour was all that Caroline could well secure. Young as she was, she had many tasks to do out of school hours. There were the brasses to be scoured, there was her stent in spinning, there were dishes to be washed, besides numberless other household duties which were popularly supposed to belong to the youngest member of the family. Occasionally Caroline's sister Eunice gave her a few cents for doing some extra work for her, that she might secure more time for her shoe-binding; she drew out her sister Mary Ann's baby in his little wagon, for half a cent an hour, or three cents a week if all the days were pleasant, and she knitted a pair of stockings for her married brother Jonas, for which he paid her a shilling. Caroline was a year knitting the stockings; they were very large, and her first knitting-work.
In a little over a year's time she had earned enough money to buy not only the dress, but a hat and some fine stockings, and red morocco shoes. Then Sister Ada got married, and about a week before the wedding, Caroline's mother called her into the best parlor to have a little private conference with her.
“Now, Caroline Mann, you can do just as you have a mind to with your own money that you have earned, and I won't say a word against it, but here is that last dress that Mercy has outgrown not worn so that it looks bad at all, and Eunice will fix it over for you, and Ada has not got many presents, and she is going way out West to live where maybe none of us will ever see her again, and I suppose she would value a couple of table-spoons that her own youngest sister earned and bought with her own money before she was nine years old, more than anything else in the world. It will be something that very few can say; she will be proud to have them and you to have given them to her. But you can do just as you think best; you have worked hard for your money, and you have always set your heart on a new dress; I have not a word to say against it.”
Caroline looked sober; she had had visions of a beautiful pink muslin dress to wear at the wedding and two spoons out West did seem a far-off pride of possession. Still she did not hesitate; Mercy's dress, which was a blue calico, a little faded but not otherwise much the worse for wear, was made over for her, and Mrs. Mann drove to Ware and bought the table-spoons with her money.
Caroline did feel proud to see those spoons, very heavy and rich, though of a somewhat clumsy pattern, on the table with Ada's wedding presents, and she watched people take them up and read the slip of paper attached on which her mother had written: “Presented to Ada Mann on her wedding day by her sister Caroline aged eight, having been earned by her own labor, and bought with her own money.”
When they turned to look at her, and she heard them whisper how smart she was, she tried hard not to feel proud. It is probable that she was not as proud as she would have been over the new dress, had she been wearing it. She was painfully conscious that the blue calico was faded, and also that it was short. Eunice had cut off the skirt at a faded tuck, and it was not as long as little girls wore their dresses at that time. Poor Caroline tried to stand as short as she could, until her mother noticed it and told her to stand properly. Caroline's pride in the spoons was considerably tempered. Ada did not marry the schoolmaster after all, but a young man from out West, whom she had not known very long. People thought the schoolmaster must feel bad, but he stood up with Eunice, who really looked almost pretty, and did not appear at all cast down.
When the young couple started for their Western home, Caroline had much anxious consideration for her spoons. She hoped that nothing would happen to them on the way, and she hoped that Ada would write what the people out West said about them, but she never did. Caroline never saw nor heard anything of the spoons, until twenty years later, when she was grown up and married herself, and poor Ada died out West, and her only daughter came East to live with her Aunt Caroline, and brought among her treasures those two table-spoons, which were more than spoons to Caroline, being as it were little silver memorials of a dead childish ambition.
Caroline went to work again after Ada was married, and for the second time had saved enough money for the new dress, which she was to wear this time at her sister Eunice's wedding. Eunice was to be married to Abraham Lennox, the schoolmaster — much to everybody's astonishment, she had been considered an old maid so long. But her mother said privately to one of her neighbors that Eunice would make the best wife of any of her daughters, and that Abraham Lennox knew what he was about, and “Pretty is that pretty does.”
This time Caroline of her own accord gave up her dress to buy spoons for her sister, when she found out that Grandmother Dickey had not given her any, as had been confidently expected. She overheard her father and mother talking about it. “Mother says that she has had to pay the doctor so much for that spell of rheumatism and liniment, that she can't afford it,” said Mr. Mann. Then Mrs. Mann said that not one of her daughters had married without at least four table-spoons, and that all the others had sent in their presents and there were no table-spoons among them, and she supposed poor Eunice would have to do with the one pair which she had given her.
The next day Caroline carried the money which she had kept hidden in an old stocking under the feather-bed to her mother, and as it were, offered it up as a sacrifice on the matrimonial altar of her sister. However, she offered it willingly, as she was exceedingly fond of Eunice, who had always been particularly kind to her.
“Well, I must say, you are a good girl,” said her mother, “and there is that nice dress of your sister Mercy's which will make over as good as new for you by taking out the front breadth.”
Caroline wore that dress to Eunice's wedding, and it was really very pretty, with the slight drawback of a somewhat unusual skimpiness in the skirt. She felt rather hampered in walking, and was obliged to exercise some care in sitting down, but Eunice was so delighted with the spoons, and said so many times that she valued them more than any present she had, that she felt amply repaid.
The next day after Eunice's wedding, she began to save again, and when her savings had accumulated for the third time, and she had even picked out her dress, a national obstacle came in the way of its purchase.
One night Caroline's father came home and said that war was declared with England and he was going. Caroline's mother remonstrated, there were so many children, and so few dollars, but Mr. Mann considered that the children were for the most part grown enough to assist in the support of the family, and that his duty was in the field for his country. Mr. Mann was made captain of a company, as he had a very large and warlike figure, and was considered very brave and sagacious. Even Mrs. Mann, though she was so loth to have him go, felt very proud of him when she saw him at the head of his company marching out of the village with everybody waving and cheering. Caroline, though she cried, felt very proud too, and it cost her little to give up her dress money again.
Of course she knew, little girl though she was, that there should be no question of new dresses with her father gone to war, and so much money needed for the necessaries of life. Her married brothers, and her married sisters' husbands, except Eunice's, also went to the war, and two of the sisters came home to live while their husbands were away, in order to lessen expenses, bringing their children with them.
After that Caroline had less than ever anything that belonged to herself. She had always sat at a corner of the table, now she was crowded away from the table at all, and ate her meals on the settle.
She gave up her trundle-bed, in which she had always slept, for an exceedingly uncomfortable berth in the south chamber bed with Mercy and Hester and Abigail, and one of Caroline's children. There were so many that they were obliged to sleep the wrong way of the bed. Caroline slept next the footboard, and bumped her nose every time she turned over, and was moreover rendered very uncomfortable by the shortness of the feather-bed. She often awoke to find herself lying on the ropes of the bedstead, with them cutting into her shoulders, but she never complained, and even had a certain glory in it. She wondered, with some reason, if soldiers sleeping out in the fields and woods were much more uncomfortable, and felt that she too was suffering something for her country, besides giving up her new dress. Every cent which she earned went toward filling the meal chest and buying certain necessaries for the family, and she worked as she had never worked before. Caroline Mann was not eleven years old when war was declared, but she had little time for play. She tried not to mind that she was so poorly dressed, and she was fairly shabby. She did not even have a new pasteboard sunbonnet in the spring of 1813. Every spring it was the custom in the family to make new sunbonnets of pasteboard for the children, but that spring there was need for economy even in that respect. Caroline wore one which had done duty all the previous summer and was so limp that it was constantly flapping over her eyes. Her mother told her that she guessed she would not mind such a little thing as that if she knew what her father and her brothers had to put up with, fighting for their country, and Caroline tried to make the best of that and her shabby dress. The dress was so worn and faded by its long course of succession that even Mrs. Mann, brave as she was, had some doubts as to the propriety of Caroline's wearing it. She did not reprove her when she saw her trying to stand as short as possible, and she made her some aprons out of old linen pillow-cases to cover the spotted front. But in the August of 1813, the dress was so very much worn that Mrs. Mann grew desperate. “That child cannot stir out of the house unless she has something respectable to wear, war or no war,” said she.
There was absolutely not another dress in the house to be made over for Caroline. In those days people in the little New England village lived so close to the wind that they showed scarcely a superfluous flutter in the strongest gust. Caroline's mother, who had an inventive turn of mind, made her youngest daughter a dress out of a copperplate counterpane which could be spared, inasmuch as it was badly worn out in the middle, and beyond mending for its original purpose. Luckily the pattern was a small one, and it was so faded that its original gaudiness was somewhat tempered, but wearing that counterpane dress was one of the trials of Caroline's life. If ever there was a martyr for her country, it was Caroline Mann going to meeting for the first time in that dress. Her grandmother Dickey took pity on her, when after meeting she went to read the psalms to her; the readings were always gratuitous on a Sunday. “What did you spend that last money you airned for?” she inquired.
“Mother bought some candlewicks with it,” replied Caroline meekly.
Grandmother Dickey looked at her with anxious speculation — “Seems to me that your mother might have found somethin' better than that for a dress for you to wear to meetin',” said she.
“No, ma'am, she couldn't,” replied Caroline, shaking her head with brave resignation.
Grandmother Dickey rose and went to the closet where she kept some money in a china sugarbowl. Caroline heard the silver coins rattle, and knew that her grandmother was counting money.
Caroline's heart leaped with a hope that Grandmother Dickey was going to give her some money to buy a new dress. But Grandmother Dickey was very careful of her money, of which she did not have so much after all; and she also in these war-times was possessed with a feeling of insecurity about what she did have. She had heard a good deal of political discussion and had a vivid imagination for evil. She came back to her rocking-chair and sat down. “I did think at first that mebbe I could spare you a leetle money for a new dress, and you could airn it arterwards,” said she, “but I ain't got so very much laid by, and if the Britishers should whip us, nobody knows as anything will be worth anything. I guess that you can get along, as long as you air neat and whole. Dress ain't everything, ‘Pretty is that pretty does.’”
Furthermore Grandmother Dickey, who was uneasy every time she surveyed her granddaughter in her strange attire, went later in the afternoon to her spare chamber closet and produced a dress of beautiful shot purple silk, stiff enough to stand alone. “There, when you air big enough, I am intendin' to make you a present of this,” said she. “It ain't fit for you now, but you can count on it, when you air a few years older.”
Caroline tried, as she walked home after the psalm-reading was concluded, to solace herself with the anticipation of future splendors of raiment.
She went to school the next day in her copperplate dress, and she was conscious that the other girls were laughing at her. In spite of the war, there was not another little girl in school reduced to such straits for dress as she. No other was the youngest of fifteen, and there was no other family in the village of which so many of the male members had gone to war.
Caroline wore the copperplate dress like a heroine, as long as it lasted, which was well into the winter. Then her mother, who was fertile in resources, made her a warm little gown of a copperas-colored blanket which had grown thin in service. “I guess it will last you through the winter,” said her mother, “and you will have to make it last if you can. Mercy's dress that I was going to make over for you will have to go to Caroline's little Ada, because there is not enough to get a dress out for you, you have grown so tall. You are as tall as Mercy now. You will have to make the best of it, and remember that ‘pretty is that pretty does.’”
Poor Caroline tried to remember, but it sometimes seemed to her, when she was going to school in her copperas-colored gown, that she should have to do very pretty indeed to make up for the lack of pretty in her appearance.
The blanket dress lasted far into the spring of 1814. Caroline by that time had earned enough money for a new dress, and her mother told her that she had better use the money for that purpose. “I guess you have waited long enough,” said she. “You might as well get the dress now. We can manage somehow. I have talked it over with your sister Eunice, and she thinks so too.”
In fact, Eunice had pleaded hard with her mother for Caroline's new dress. “Do let the poor child have it now, mother,” she had said. “Here she is twelve years old and has never had a new dress in her life.”
Caroline was in a fever of delight. She had the dress all selected at the store, a pink calico, the prettiest she had ever seen, and was going the next day to buy it, when a great and unforeseen emergency arose: there was a chance to send some comforts to brave Captain Mann, and to the soldier sons and brothers.
Every available cent was used for that purpose, and Caroline's money went with the rest. She did not hesitate for a minute, she would have thought it a shame not to give it, and did not wait for her mother to ask her. She choked down any feeling of regret over the loss of the dress with fierce indignation at herself. “Guess I can give up a new dress,” she told herself, “when my father and brothers need shirts and stockings to march in.”
The outlook for the country that spring was considered very melancholy. There was peace in Europe, and the Mother Country was consequently at liberty to concentrate her strength upon the subjugation of her rebellious and self-assertive daughter of America. A large fleet was reported to be on the way to our shores. Defeat or a long and weary war was thought inevitable. Grandmother Dickey said that in her opinion it was the beginning of the Day of Judgement, and the period before the Lion, which she considered to mean England, and the lamb, which was America, were to lie down in peace and concord together.
It seemed to Caroline that her grandmother was a little puzzling in her conclusion, inasmuch as the Lamb was fighting in a most unlamblike fashion, if he had, indeed, not actually begun the conflict. However, she felt within her childish soul a great martial excitement and excess of patriotism. She wished she was a boy and could go to the war. She thought it was very cruel of her mother not to let Thomas, who was fourteen, go. She offered to leave school and do all Thomas's work of milking cows and chopping wood, if her mother would only let him go. She and Thomas used to plan feats of arms, in case the enemy should come to their village. Thomas had an antiquated musket which had belonged to his grandfather, so long that it could not be fired without a rest. He and Caroline rigged it up on the south pasture hill, and took turns in watching there with some of their small nephews and nieces who shared their enthusiasm. It was this spirit of fervent patriotism which led Caroline, for the first time in her life, to rebel against the dress which her mother planned for her to wear. It was made from an old bed-curtain of chintz of a very peculiar pattern in faded browns and greens and yellows. The chintz was very old, and was said to have been brought over from the old country by her grandmother. Caroline looked at it and her whole soul arose in rebellion. “Oh, mother, I can't wear that,” said she.
“Why not, I'd like to know?” returned her mother.
“Oh, mother, don't you know? Why, there are crowns on it.”
“Well, what if there are? A crown is not such a bad thing if a good king wears it. Think of the good kings in the Bible. Now, don't let me hear any more such nonsense,” said Mrs. Mann, decidedly.
The dress was finished on a Wednesday, and Caroline was to wear it to meeting on the next Sunday, but she was not in the least reconciled. She was made still more loth to wear it by the news of the victory of Lundy's Lane, in which her brother Jonas had taken part. It did seem to her, when she heard that, she could not wear a dress with crowns on it to meeting. To be sure, the stuff was so faded that the crowns, always of a vague and conventional character, were still more uncertain, but they looked very plain indeed to Caroline Mann, and also to her brother Thomas, in whom she confided. He agreed with her that it was a shame, and wished he had some money, and had not given every cent he had saved to his mother to pay the taxes.
Caroline shed many tears over the hard necessity of wearing the dress with the obnoxious crowns, and she was also distressed because it came from England. Her sister Mercy, who was tender-hearted and disposed to forgive her enemies, and had wept at the news when the British admiral was slain, said that they were all British in the first place and she did not think Caroline was showing a Christian spirit. “England was just as good as America in the beginning,” said Mercy.
“That was before we left England,” maintained Caroline, with such an unbecoming pride of country, that her mother took her to task for it.
“If we are at war now, we shall be at peace by and by, and very glad to be friends with the country we all sprung from, and you are showing a very wrong spirit,” said her mother.
But Caroline was not convinced, neither was Thomas. They both of them thought it very hard that she should have to wear a dress with crowns on which came from the country that their father was fighting against, especially after the victory of Lundy's Lane.
“It makes me feel as if I were a traitor,” declared Caroline to Thomas with great fervor.
“Ain't there anything else in the house that you could make into a dress?” inquired Thomas, with anxious sympathy. The two were out in the south pasture where they had stationed the gun. “I don't know of anything,” replied Caroline mournfully. Then she gave a sudden start, and looked at him so strangely that he stared at her in surprise. “What is it?” said he.
Caroline opened her mouth, then shut it again. The idea in her mind was so daring that she scarcely dared communicate it to Thomas.
“What are you looking that way for?” inquired Thomas again.
“The — flag!” gasped Caroline.
“The old flag up in the garret!” cried Thomas, suddenly, in as great excitement as she. “The old flag that Grandfather Mann carried in the other war?”
“Make a dress out of it?”
Thomas whistled. “Mother would never let you do such a thing,” said he.
Caroline looked at her brother with an expression of utmost rebellion against maternal authority on her pretty face, which suited the temper of the time.
“You wouldn't darse to do it without mother knew,” said Thomas.
Caroline looked at him.
“You couldn't make it yourself.”
“Yes, I could; I made 'most all the other.”
“I don't believe you had better,” said Thomas doubtfully.
Finally, however, Caroline won him over to her side. Early the next morning, before the other members of the family were up, early risers though they were, Thomas and Caroline were out in the pasture with the old flag spread out on the grass, and Caroline was cutting a skirt from the thirteen red and white stripes. That day Thomas did double work: he read psalms to Grandmother Dickey, and drew out one of the babies; he picked berries too — all in order to give Caroline time to make her dress. She made it out in the pasture, and the making was of a very simple and rude nature. There was a straight skirt of the stripes, and a waist of the blue field of stars, to be worn with a tucker.
When Sunday came it required diplomacy for Caroline Mann to present herself in meeting in her patriotic attire without strenuous objection on the part of her mother. She requested permission to go over and accompany her grandmother Dickey to meeting, and her mother readily consented. Caroline, attired in the dress made from the bed-curtain, started up the road, then she was over a stone wall, doubling swiftly on her tracks, and in the pasture where the flag-dress was hidden snugly under the wall.
Caroline dressed herself hurriedly and went to her grandmother's. Grandmother Dickey was sitting at the window with her bonnet on, all ready to go to meeting. “I have come to go to meeting with you, grandmother,” said Caroline. She spoke very softly and meekly, but her cheeks were red as the stripes in the skirt of her gown, and her heart was beating hard.
“Well, I am glad you have,” replied her grandmother.
Then she stared hard at Caroline — she put on her spectacles and stared again. “Where did you get that dress you've got on?” said she.
“I — made it,” stammered Caroline. It was a critical moment for her. Grandmother Dickey was renowned for her outspoken patriotism, and she thought that possibly she might view her proceedings with a lenient eye. She felt that she had not sufficient courage to wear that dress to meeting entirely unsupported.
“It's a flag, ain't it?” inquired Grandmother Dickey.
“That old flag that your grandfather had, that was too worn out to take to this war?”
“Does your mother know about this, Car'line Mann?”
“No, ma'am.” Caroline almost broke down as she confided in her grandmother about the dress made from the chintz with the crown pattern which had come from England. She began to feel very disobedient and alarmed.
“I shouldn't have thought that your mother would have made that into a dress for you when my son is fightin' for his country,” said Grandmother Dickey. “I would have given her somethin', rather than had her done that.” Grandmother Dickey looked scrutinizingly for a minute at the flag-dress, while Caroline trembled, then she arose — “Well, I guess we might as well be goin' to meetin',” said she; “the bell is ringin' and I have to walk slow. I guess if folks don't wear nothin' worse than their country's flag, they ain't got much to be ashamed of.”
Grandmother Dickey occupied a pew in the meeting-house directly behind her daughter-in-law's. After Caroline had entered amidst a subdued murmur of excitement from the people seated along the aisle, and had taken her seat, she felt that all the members of her family were turning about and eyeing her, with the exception of Thomas, who sat stiff and still with a dogged air, his face very red.
Caroline felt that the eyes which surveyed her were full of astonishment, horror and severity, and she dared not meet them. Mrs. Mann made a quick motion, and Caroline thought that she was to be summarily sent home, but Grandmother Dickey took her hand openly and firmly, and cast a glance of defiance at her daughter-in-law. Mrs. Mann finally turned around, and looked at Caroline no more during the long sermon.
After meeting was over, Grandmother Dickey pressed close to Caroline's mother, as they went down the aisle — “Don't you say a word, Pamely, not a word,” she whispered. “I upheld her, and I am going to see that she has a dress to wear that's pretty and new, war or no war.”
In those days the observance of the Sabbath was very strict, and the utmost decorum was observed, but as Caroline Mann in her flag-dress emerged from the meeting-house, a suppressed cheer went up from some of the young men out in the yard. Grandmother Dickey turned and looked at them, and her old black eyes flashed. “It ain't the first time this flag has been cheered,” said she, and then the cheers disturbed the Sabbath quiet with a will.
The next Sunday, Caroline Mann wore the first new dress of her life to meeting. She tried not to be proud, and to think more of the day and the needs of her soul, than fine apparel, but the dress was so pretty, the very dress of her dream — pink French calico, with crossbars of white inclosing rosebuds — that it seemed to cast a radiance over her very thoughts. She could not help smiling, though she tried to look sober as befitted the day, and her grandmother kept glancing at her with a proud and satisfied expression, though she had charged her seriously to remember that — “Pretty is that pretty does.”