Young Lucretia by Mary E. Wilkins
"Who's that little gal goin' by?" said old Mrs.
"That—why, that's young Lucretia, mother,"
replied her daughter Ann, peering out of the
window over her mother's shoulder. There was
a fringe of flowering geraniums in the window;
the two women had to stretch their heads over
"Poor little soul!" old Mrs. Emmons remarked
further. "I pity that child."
"I don't see much to pity her for," Ann returned,
in a voice high-pitched and sharply sweet;
she was the soprano singer in the village choir.
"I don't see why she isn't taken care of as well
as most children."
"Well, I don't know but she's took care of,
but I guess she don't get much coddlin'. Lucretia
an' Maria ain't that kind—never was. I heerd
the other day they was goin' to have a Christmas-tree
down to the school-house. Now I'd be will-in'
to ventur' consider'ble that child don't have
a thing on't."
"Well, if she's kept clean an' whole, an' made
to behave, it amounts to a good deal more'n
Christmas presents, I suppose." Ann sat down
and turned a hem with vigor: she was a dress-maker.
"Well, I s'pose it does, but it kinder seems as
if that little gal ought to have somethin'. Do
you remember them little rag babies I used to
make for you, Ann? I s'pose she'd be terrible
tickled with one. Some of that blue thibet would
be jest the thing to make it a dress of."
"Now, mother, you ain't goin' to fussing. She
won't think anything of it."
"Yes, she would, too. You used to take sights
of comfort with 'em." Old Mrs. Emmons, tall
and tremulous, rose up and went out of the room.
"She's gone after the linen pieces," thought
her daughter Ann. "She is dreadfully silly."
Ann began smoothing out some remnants of blue
thibet on her lap. She selected one piece that
she thought would do for the dress.
Meanwhile young Lucretia went to school. It
was quite a cold day, but she was warmly dressed.
She wore her aunt Lucretia's red and green plaid
shawl, which Aunt Lucretia had worn to meeting
when she was herself a little girl, over her aunt
Maria's black ladies' cloth coat. The coat was
very large and roomy—indeed, it had not been
altered at all—but the cloth was thick and good.
Young Lucretia wore also her aunt Maria's black
alpaca dress, which had been somewhat decreased
in size to fit her, and her aunt Lucretia's purple
hood with a nubia tied over it. She had mittens,
a black quilted petticoat, and her aunt Maria's
old drab stockings drawn over her shoes to keep
the snow from her ankles. If young Lucretia
caught cold, it would not be her aunts' fault.
She went along rather clumsily, but quite merrily,
holding her tin dinner-pail very steady. Her
aunts had charged her not to swing it, and "get
the dinner in a mess."
Young Lucretia's face, with very pink cheeks,
and smooth lines of red hair over the temples,
looked gayly and honestly out of the hood and
nubia. Here and there along the road were
sprigs of evergreen and ground-pine and hemlock.
Lucretia glanced a trifle soberly at them.
She was nearly in sight of the school-house when
she reached Alma Ford's house, and Alma came
out and joined her. Alma was trim and pretty
in her fur-bordered winter coat and her scarlet
"Hullo, Lucretia!" said Alma.
"Hullo!" responded Lucretia. Then the two
little girls trotted on together: the evergreen
sprigs were growing thicker. "Did you go?"
asked Lucretia, looking down at them.
"Yes; we went way up to the cross-roads.
They wouldn't let you go, would they?"
"No," said Lucretia, smiling broadly.
"I think it was mean," said Alma.
"They said they didn't approve of it," said
Lucretia, in a serious voice, which seemed like an
echo of some one else's.
When they got to the school-house it took her
a long time to unroll herself from her many
wrappings. When at last she emerged there was
not another child there who was dressed quite
after her fashion. Seen from behind, she looked
like a small, tightly-built old lady. Her little
basque, cut after her aunt's own pattern, rigorously
whaleboned, with long straight seams,
opened in front; she wore a dimity ruffle, a
square blue bow to fasten it, and a brown gingham
apron. Her sandy hair was parted rigorously
in the middle, brought over her temples in
two smooth streaky scallops, and braided behind
in two tight tails, fastened by a green bow.
Young Lucretia was a homely little girl, although
her face was always radiantly good-humored.
She was a good scholar, too, and could
spell and add sums as fast as anybody in the
In the entry, where she took off her things, there
was a great litter of evergreen and hemlock; in
the farthest corner, lopped pitifully over on its
side, was a fine hemlock-tree. Lucretia looked
at it, and her smiling face grew a little serious.
"That the Christmas-tree out there?" she said
to the other girls when she went into the school-room.
The teacher had not come, and there was
such an uproar and jubilation that she could
hardly make herself heard. She had to poke
one of the girls two or three times before she
could get her question answered.
"What did you say, Lucretia Raymond?" she
"That the Christmas-tree out there?"
"Course 'tis. Say, Lucretia, can't you come
this evening and help trim? the boys are a-going
to set up the tree, and we're going to trim. Say,
can't you come?"
Then the other girls joined in: "Can't you
come, Lucretia?—say, can't you?"
Lucretia looked at them all, with her honest
smile. "I don't believe I can," said she.
"Won't they let you?—won't your aunts let
"Don't believe they will."
Alma Ford stood back on her heels and threw
back her chin. "Well, I don't care," said she.
"I think your aunts are awful mean—so there!"
Lucretia's face got pinker, and the laugh died
out of it. She opened her lips, but before she
had a chance to speak, Lois Green, who was one
of the older girls, and an authority in the school,
added her testimony. "They are two mean,
stingy old maids," she proclaimed; "that's what
"They're not neither," said Lucretia, unexpectedly.
"You sha'n't say such things about my
aunts, Lois Green."
"Oh, you can stick up for 'em if you want to,"
returned Lois, with cool aggravation. "If you
want to be such a little gump, you can, an' nobody'll
pity you. You know you won't get a
single thing on this Christmas-tree."
"I will, too," cried Lucretia, who was fiery,
with all her sweetness.
"You see if I don't, Lois Green."
All through the day it seemed to her, the more
she thought of it, that she must go with the
others to trim the school-house, and she must
have something on the Christmas-tree. A keen
sense of shame for her aunts and herself was over
her; she felt as if she must keep up the family
"I wish I could go to trim this evening," she
said to Alma, as they were going home after
"Don't you believe they'll let you?"
"I don't believe they'll 'prove of it," Lucretia
answered, with dignity.
"Say, Lucretia, do you s'pose it would make
any difference if my mother should go up to your
house an' ask your aunts?"
Lucretia gave her a startled look: a vision of
her aunt's indignation at such interference shot
before her eyes. "Oh, I don't believe it would
do a mite of good," said she, fervently. "But
I tell you what 'tis, Alma, you might come home
with me while I ask."
"I will," said Alma, eagerly. "Just wait a
minute till I ask mother if I can."
But it was all useless. Alma's pretty, pleading
little face as a supplement to Lucretia's, and her
timorous, "Please let Lucretia go," had no effect
"I don't approve of children being out nights,"
said Aunt Lucretia, and Aunt Maria supported
her. "There's no use talking," said she; "you
can't go, Lucretia. Not another word. Take
your things off, and sit down and sew your square
of patchwork before supper. Almy, you'd better
run right home; I guess your mother'll be wanting
you to help her." And Alma went.
"What made you bring that Ford girl in
here to ask me?" Aunt Lucretia, who had seen
straight through her namesake's artifice, asked
of young Lucretia.
"I don't know," stammered Lucretia, over her
"You'll never go anywhere any quicker for
taking such means as that," said Aunt Lucretia.
"It would serve you right if we didn't let you
go to the Christmas-tree," declared Aunt Maria,
severely, and young Lucretia quaked. She had
had the promise of going to the Christmas-tree
for a long time. It would be awful if she should
lose that. She sewed very diligently on her
patchwork. A square a day was her stent, and
she had held up before her the rapture and glory
of a whole quilt made all by herself before she
was ten years old.
Half an hour after tea she had the square all
done. "I've got it done," said she, and she
carried it over to her aunt Lucretia that it might
Aunt Lucretia put on her spectacles and looked
closely at it. "You've sewed it very well," she
said, finally, in a tone of severe commendation.
"You can sew well enough if you put your mind
"That's what I've always told her," chimed in
Aunt Maria. "There's no sense in her slighting
her work so, and taking the kind of stitches she
does sometimes. Now, Lucretia, it's time for you
to go to bed."
Lucretia went lingeringly across the wide old
sitting-room, then across the old wide dining-room,
into the kitchen. It was quite a time before
she got her candle lighted and came back, and
then she stood about hesitatingly.
"What are you waiting for?" Aunt Lucretia
asked, sharply. "Take care; you're tipping your
candle over; you'll get the grease on the carpet."
"Why don't you mind what you're doing?"
said Aunt Maria.
Young Lucretia had scant encouragement to
open upon the subject in her mind, but she did.
"They're going to have lots of presents on the
Christmas-tree," she remarked, tipping her candle
"Are you going to hold that candle straight
or not?" cried Aunt Lucretia. "Who is going
to have lots of presents?"
"All the other girls."
When the aunts got very much in earnest
about anything they spoke with such vehement
unison that it had the effect of a duet; it was
difficult to tell which was uppermost. "Well,
the other girls can have lots of presents; if their
folks want to get presents for 'em they can,"
said they. "There's one thing about it, you won't
get anything, and you needn't expect anything.
I never approved of this giving presents Christmas,
anyway. It's an awful tax an' a foolish
piece of business."
Young Lucretia's lips quivered so she could
hardly speak. "They'll think it's—so—funny
if—I don't have—anything," she said.
"Let 'em think it's funny if they want to. You
take your candle an' go to bed, an' don't say
any more about it. Mind you hold that candle
Young Lucretia tried to hold the candle straight
as she went up-stairs, but it was hard work, her
eyes were so misty with tears. Her little face
was all puckered up with her silent crying as
she trudged wearily up the stairs. It was a long
time before she got to sleep that night. She
cried first, then she meditated. Young Lucretia
was too small and innocent to be artful, but she
had a keen imagination, and was fertile of resources
in emergencies. In the midst of her
grief and disappointment she devolved a plan for
keeping up the family honor, hers and her aunts',
before the eyes of the school.
The next day everything favored the plan.
School did not keep; in the afternoon both the
aunts went to the sewing society. They had
been gone about an hour when young Lucretia
trudged down the road with her arms full of
parcels. She stole so quietly and softly into the
school-house, where they were arranging the tree,
that no one thought about it. She laid the parcels
on a settee with some others, and stole out
and flew home.
The festivities at the school-house began at
seven o'clock. There were to be some exercises,
some recitations and singing, then the distribution
of the presents. Directly after tea young
Lucretia went up to her own little chamber to
get ready. She came down in a surprisingly
short time all dressed.
"Are you all ready?" said Aunt Lucretia.
"Yes, ma'am," replied young Lucretia. She
had her hand on the door-latch.
"I don't believe you are half dressed," said
Aunt Maria. "Did you get your bow on
"I think she'd better take her things off, an'
let us be sure," said Aunt Lucretia. "I'm not
goin' to have her down there with her clothes on
any which way, an' everybody making remarks.
Take your sacque off, Lucretia."
"Oh, I got the bow on straight; it's real
straight, it is, honest," pleaded young Lucretia,
piteously. She clutched the plaid shawl tightly
together, but it was of no use—off the things had
to come. And young Lucretia had put on the
prim whaleboned basque of her best dress wrong
side before; she had buttoned it in the back.
There she stood, very much askew and uncomfortable
about the shoulder seams and sleeves,
and hung her head before her aunts.
"Lucretia Raymond, what do you mean, putting
your dress on this way?"
"All—the other—girls—wear—theirs buttoned
"All the other girls! Well, you're not going
to have yours buttoned in the back, and wear
holes through that nice ladies' cloth coat every
time you lean back against a chair. I should
think you were crazy. I've a good mind not to
let you go out at all. Stand round here!"
Young Lucretia's basque was sharply unbuttoned,
she was jerked out of it, and it was turned
around and fastened as it was meant to be.
When she was finally started, with her aunts'
parting admonition echoing after her, she felt sad
and doubtful, but soon her merry disposition asserted
There was no jollier and more radiant little
soul than she all through the opening exercises.
She listened to the speaking and the singing with
the greatest appreciation and delight. She sat
up perfectly straight in her prim and stiff
basque; she folded her small red hands before
her; her two tight braids inclined stiffly towards
her ears, and her face was all aglow with smiles.
When the distribution of presents began her
name was among the first called. She arose
with alacrity, and went with a gay little prance
down the aisle. She took the parcel that the
teacher handed to her; she commenced her journey
back, when she suddenly encountered the
eyes of her aunt Lucretia and her aunt Maria.
Then her terror and remorse began. She had
never dreamed of such a thing as her aunts coming—indeed,
they had not themselves. A neighbor
had come in and persuaded them, and they
had taken a sudden start against their resolutions
and their principles.
Young Lucretia's name was called again and
again. Every time she slunk more reluctantly
and fearfully down to the tree; she knew that
her aunts' eyes were surveying her with more
and more amazement.
After the presents were all distributed she sat
perfectly still with hers around her. They lay
on her desk, and the last one was in her lap.
She had not taken off a single wrapping. They
were done up neatly in brown paper, and Lucretia's
name was written on them.
Lucretia sat there. The other girls were
in a hubbub of delight all around her, comparing
their presents, but she sat perfectly
still and watched her aunts coming. They
came slowly; they stopped to speak to the
teacher. Aunt Lucretia reached young Lucretia
"What have you got there?" she asked. She
did not look cross, but a good deal surprised.
Young Lucretia just gazed miserably up at her.
"Why don't you undo them?" asked Aunt Lucretia.
Young Lucretia shook her head helplessly.
"Why, what makes you act so, child?"
cried Aunt Lucretia, getting alarmed. Then
Aunt Maria came up, and there was quite a little
group around young Lucretia. She began to cry.
"What on earth ails the child?" said Aunt Lucretia.
She caught up one of the parcels and
opened it; it was a book bound in red and gold.
She held it close to her eyes; she turned it this
way and that; she examined the fly-leaf.
"Why," said she, "it's the old gift-book Aunt
Susan gave me when I was eighteen years old!
What in the world!"
Aunt Maria had undone another. "This is
the Floral Album," she said, tremulously;
"we always keep it in the north parlor on
the table. Here's my name in it. I don't
Aunt Lucretia speechlessly unmuffled a clove
apple and a nautilus shell that had graced the
parlor shelf; then a little daintily dressed rag
doll with cheeks stained pink with cranberry juice
appeared. When young Lucretia spied this last
she made a little grab at it.
"Oh," she sobbed, "somebody did hang this
on for me! They did—they did! It's mine!"
It never seemed to young Lucretia that she
walked going home that night; she had a feeling
that only her tiptoes occasionally brushed
the earth; she went on rapidly, with a tall aunt
on either side. Not much was said. Once in a
lonely place in the road there was a volley of
severe questions from her aunts, and young Lucretia
burst out in a desperate wail. "Oh!" she
cried, "I was going to put 'em right back again,
I was! I've not hurt 'em any. I was real careful.
I didn't s'pose you'd know it. Oh, they
said you were cross an' stingy, an' wouldn't hang
me anything on the tree, an' I didn't want 'em
to think you were. I wanted to make 'em think
I had things, I did."
"What made you think of such a thing?"
"I don't know."
"I shouldn't think you would know. I never
heard of such doings in my life!"
After they got home not much was said to
young Lucretia; the aunts were still too much bewildered
for many words. Lucretia was bidden
to light her candle and go to bed, and then came
a new grief, which was the last drop in the
bucket for her. They confiscated her rag doll,
and put it away in the parlor with the clove
apple, the nautilus shell, and the gift-book. Then
the little girl's heart failed her, remorse for she
hardly knew what, terror, and the loss of the
sole comfort that had come to her on this pitiful
Christmas Eve were too much.
"Oh," she wailed, "my rag baby! my rag
baby! I—want my—rag baby. Oh! oh! oh! I
want her, I want her."
Scolding had no effect. Young Lucretia sobbed
out her complaint all the way up-stairs, and her
aunts could distinguish the pitiful little wail of,
"my rag baby, I want my rag baby," after she
was in her chamber.
The two women looked at each other. They
had sat uneasily down by the sitting-room fire.
"I must say that I think you're rather hard
on her, Lucretia," said Maria, finally.
"I don't know as I've been any harder on her
than you have," returned Lucretia. "I shouldn't
have said to take away that rag baby if I'd said
just what I thought."
"I think you'd better take it up to her, then,
and stop that crying," said Maria.
Lucretia hastened into the north parlor without
another word. She carried the rag baby up-stairs
to young Lucretia; then she came down
to the pantry and got a seed-cake for her. "I
thought the child had better have a little bite of
something; she didn't eat scarcely a mite of supper,"
she explained to Maria. She had given
young Lucretia's head a hard pat when she bestowed
the seed-cake, and bade her eat it and go
right to sleep. The little girl hugged her rag
baby and ate her cooky in bliss.
The aunts sat a while longer by the sitting-room
fire. Just before they left it for the night
Lucretia looked hesitatingly at Maria, and said,
"I s'pose you have noticed that wax doll down
to White's store, 'ain't you?"
"That big wax one with the pink dress?"
asked Maria, faintly and consciously.
"Yes. There was a doll's bedstead there, too.
I don't know as you noticed."
"Yes, I think I did, now you speak of it. I
noticed it the day I went in for the calico. There
was a doll baby's carriage there, too."
The aunts looked at each other. "I s'pose it
would be dreadful foolish," said Lucretia.
"She'd be 'most too tickled to live," remarked
"Well, we can't buy 'em to-night anyway,"
said Lucretia. "I must light the candles an' lock
The next day was Christmas. It was about
three o'clock in the afternoon when old Mrs. Emmons
went up the road to the Raymond house.
She had a little parcel. When she came into the
sitting-room there was young Lucretia in a
corner, so that the room should not get in a mess,
with her wealth around her. She looked forth,
a radiant little mother of dolls, from the midst
of her pretty miniature house-keeping.
"My sakes!" cried old Mrs. Emmons, "isn't
that complete? She's got a big wax doll, an' a
bedstead, an' a baby-carriage, an' a table an'
bureau. I declare! Well, I don't know what I
should have thought when I was a little gal.
An' I've brought some pieces for you to make
some more dresses for the rag baby, if you want
Young Lucretia's eyes shone.
"You were real kind to think of it," said Aunt
Lucretia; "an' she'll take real comfort making
the dresses. I'm real glad you came in, Mis'
Emmons. I've been going down to see you for
a long time. I want to see Ann, too; I thought
I'd see if she hadn't got a pattern of a dress that
buttons up in the back for Lucretia."
Young Lucretia's eyes shone more than ever,
and she smiled out of her corner like a little star.