Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink
The whole Lord’s Prayer was engraved on the head of a pin! Hetty read it all through carefully and not a syllable or a letter had been omitted.
“Well, I never!” she said, looking at Mrs. Nightingale in the greatest astonishment.
Mrs. Nightingale looked back at her and smiled.
“It’s a wonderful world we live in, isn’t it?”
“It certainly is!”
“Well, that’s the end of it,” said Mrs. Nightingale, putting everything very carefully in its place and closing the glass door.
“Oh, my!” said Hetty, with a long sigh. And then she couldn’t help looking around at the doll on the little sofa, and she couldn’t help asking, “Whose doll is that?”
“She’s mine,” said Mrs. Nightingale, laughing a little as if she knew that she was really too old now for dolls. “Her name is Adelaide. Would you like to sit and hold her for a minute?”
“Yes, I would,” said Hetty.
Hetty sat on the slippery horsehair chair, and Mrs. Nightingale put Adelaide into Hetty’s lap. She was almost as heavy as a baby and she had tiny high-heeled boots and she was dressed in a lovely silk gown of the latest fashion. Hetty touched the dress, the tucked and lace-trimmed petticoats, the boots, the earrings which had real sets in them, with reverent fingers.
“Oh, my!” was all that the chatterbox of the Woodlawn family could find to say.
“She’s almost as old as I am,” said Mrs. Nightingale. “You see, my birthday comes on Christmas day—which has its disadvantages, as you may imagine. But I was the youngest and the littlest one of the family, and Papa always
remembered to give me both a Christmas gift and a birthday present. The Christmas I was ten, when I came down to breakfast, Adelaide sat beside my chair upon her little sofa. The sofa was the Christmas gift, and Adelaide was my birthday present.”
“My goodness!” said Hetty.
“I always thought,” said Mrs. Nightingale, and suddenly there was an odd sound in her voice, almost like tears. “I always thought I’d keep her until I had a little girl of my own. But the good Lord has never blessed me …”
Mrs. Nightingale arose then and lifted Adelaide, gently setting her back upon the small sofa. Hetty stood up, too, and smoothed her dress, and followed Mrs. Nightingale out of the parlor. But, when they came to the door, they both stopped and looked back.
“Good night, Adelaide,” Hetty said.
The way Mrs. Nightingale was holding the lamp, it made her shadow loom up large against the wall—as tall as an ordinary woman.
Grandpa had left his knitting and gone away to bed.
“He thought my name was Mildred,” Hetty said, remembering with a chuckle.
“One of his girls was named Mildred.”
“My! I’d like for little Minnie to see the cabinet and the doll sometime.”
“Sometime you may bring her,” said Mrs. Nightingale. “But I can’t have more than the two of you at a time. I don’t mind more than two myself; but Papa’s so old, sometimes he gets mixed up if many people come.”
“Minnie is real quiet,” Hetty said. “Mother says that I’m the chatty one.”
Hetty had a bedroom all to herself, and the sheets smelled of lavender. Over her bed was a picture of the Good Shepherd bringing in the lost sheep. When she was all under the covers, Hetty called Mrs. Nightingale; and Mrs. Nightingale came and sat on the edge of the bed.
“You must sleep well, Henrietta,” Mrs. Nightingale said. “Sometimes one feels a little wakeful in a strange bed.”
“I don’t feel strange anymore,” Hetty said. “I felt a little scared when I first came.
“Did you?” Mrs. Nightingale said. “Why, so did I! I never know about strange children. I always like little folks, but I’m not always sure that they like me.”
like you, Mrs. Nightingale,” said Hetty.
“You may call me Aunt Molly, if you want to.”
Shyly Hetty put out her hand and touched Aunt Molly’s. Aunt Molly gave her hand a quick, hard squeeze.
“Now I’ll start the music box,” she said briskly, “and when it stops playing I expect you’ll be asleep.”
On the table near the door was a plain wooden box with a handle on the side. Aunt Molly wound the handle as far as it would go, and the box began very rapidly to play “The Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz.” Aunt Molly went out and closed the door, and the box continued to play. As soon as the tune was ended, it began again at the beginning—only the longer it played, the slower the tune went.
“Maybe sometime … she’ll let me bring Minnie, so Minnie can see Adelaide.”
said the music box, going more and more slowly.
“I think we’ll all call her Aunt Molly,” Hetty said to herself. “But I’ll be the first. She’ll really be
The music box went more and more slowly and finally it stopped. Hetty had stopped, too. She was sound asleep.
The Christmas Costume
N THE BEGINNING
Hetty had planned to take a different one of the children with her every time she went to call on Aunt Molly Nightingale. There must be only two at a time, Aunt Molly had said, because Grandpa was so old and many people in the house confused him.
Every Saturday afternoon that fall of 1865 Hetty went to see Aunt Molly, yet, in spite of her early resolution, she always took the same person with her—and it was little Minnie. This was not because the other children did not want to go. Now that they had heard about the cabinet and Adelaide and Grandpa and the music box, they were all wild to go and see for themselves. But Mother would not let them plague Hetty.
“No,” Mother said reasonably, “Hetty went when none of the rest of you would go. This is her affair.”
The reason that Hetty took Minnie with her instead of Caddie or Clara or Tom or Warren had something to do with her own feeling of importance. At Aunt Molly’s she was a tall, big girl named Henrietta. It was a new feeling for Hetty and one that she enjoyed. She could take little Minnie with her and still have that sense of being a superior person in a magical world. But if she had taken one of the older children, her instinct told her that even in Mrs.
Nightingale’s enchanted parlor she would, like Cinderella after the last stroke of midnight, have become once more plain Hetty Woodlawn.
Mother usually found something nice for her to carry to Aunt Molly’s: some fresh doughnuts under a clean fringed napkin or a warm loaf of bread.
“I don’t want you and Minnie to be the least bit of trouble to Mrs. Nightingale,” Mother would always warn. “You must clean your feet well before you go in on her immaculate floors, and remember to be polite and not too chatty. I’m not at all sure that she likes to have you.”
But Hetty was sure. It couldn’t have been pretending that made Aunt Molly’s eyes light up when she saw them standing in the doorway.
“Well, I declare! It’s Henrietta and little Minnie! Come in, my dears, come in!”
When they had gone in by the dining-room stove to take off their wraps, Grandpa would look up from his knitting, or the nets which he made out of fishline, and smile at them and say, “Well, well! What little gels are these, Molly?”
“You remember, Papa—they’re the Woodlawn girls, Henrietta and Minnie.”
After they had taken off their wraps Hetty, with little Minnie holding fast to her hand, always went to the parlor door and opened it just a crack to look in.
“Good afternoon, Adelaide,” Hetty said softly to the doll on the small sofa under the window, and little Minnie echoed, “Afternoon, Adelaide.”
Adelaide never replied, but it was not a haughty silence;
it was only the amiable silence of a princess who is under an enchantment which prevents her from using her tongue.
After they had paid their respects to Adelaide, they went back to Aunt Molly and asked her if there was anything they could do to help her. Sometimes she had errands for them to run; sometimes she let them help her cut calico squares for her patchwork, or she let them tidy her button box or hold a skein of yarn while she wound it into balls. Once they cut cookies for her with a cutter shaped like a man. When the cookies were placed in the pan, Aunt Molly gave them some currants to put on each man for eyes and buttons. Minnie laughed when the currant eyes went on crooked, and Hetty was obliged to help her put them straight. The currants sat on top of the white dough like black dots; but, after the men had been in the oven for a while, the dough puffed up all around the currants and became brown, and then they were real men with eyes and buttons.
Sometimes the two girls put on their wraps again and went with Grandpa to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. Grandpa could not climb into the loft where the hens were fond of stealing away to hide their eggs, but Hetty’s sharp eyes could always find the stolen nests. And the day when Grandpa forgot that he had just finished feeding the chickens and started to do it all over again, Hetty and Minnie were there to remind him.
Then, when all the little chores were done, Aunt Molly would open the parlor door wide and let Hetty and Minnie give Adelaide her tea.
Hetty and Minnie gave Adelaide her tea
The footstool was the right size for a table with a fringed napkin for a tablecloth; and Adelaide had her own little set of dishes, white with a moss-rose pattern. Aunt Molly let the girls set the table and fetch the teapotful of milk from the springhouse, and cookies from the crock in the kitchen. When Aunt Molly did not make men she cut her cookies with a doughnut cutter, and the small rounds from the center of the cookies were always baked and kept by themselves for Adelaide’s tea parties.
Hetty always tied one of the small fringed napkins around Adelaide’s neck, so that no crumb or drop of milk should ever soil the beautiful silk dress.
“Aunt Molly,” Hetty asked one day, “if you have had Adelaide since you were a little girl, how does it happen that her dress is in the latest fashion?”
“Why,” said Aunt Molly, “that’s because I make her a complete new outfit every year. It’s just a custom that I started long ago and have always continued. You see, a dress gets quite dusty and untidy after a year’s wear. I like a new dress myself once every year.”
“So do I,” said Hetty, and little Minnie echoed, “So do I.”
“She wore a white India muslin when I first received her,” related Aunt Molly, “but you may guess that it got rather soiled from a year’s handling. So on the next Christmas I made her a red calico out of some pieces left from a frock of mine. I think I have all her costumes in a box in the attic. Should you like to see them?”
There was never a more unnecessary question. Of course Hetty and Minnie wanted to see them! They hung over
the box of costumes as if it had contained Cinderella’s ball gown or the coronation robes of Queen Victoria.
“You see the old India muslin is yellowed and worn along the seams with handling; for I was only a little girl then, and Adelaide was really played with in those days. Still I was always proud to keep her nice. When the first year rolled around and it was almost Christmastime again, I said to my dear mother, ‘Mama, will you make Adelaide a new costume for a Christmas present?’
“‘Indeed no,’ said my mother. ‘You are a big girl now and have learned all the stitches on your sampler. Now it is time that you put your knowledge to practical use. You shall make Adelaide’s Christmas costume yourself.’
“I was a little bit frightened,” said Aunt Molly, “but I went ahead and cut it and sewed it all myself.”
Out of the box came Aunt Molly’s first attempt at dressmaking. It was a turkey red calico with tiny speckles of black, and it was made with a rather plain skirt and very full sleeves in the fashion of thirty years earlier.
“My goodness!” said Hetty. “Did you make it all yourself, Aunt Molly? And you were only about eleven then, I guess.”
“Yes, but if you look you’ll see that I didn’t make it very well. I was in a hurry toward the last, and you see what long irregular stitches I made along the hem.”
“It’s better than we could do, isn’t it, Minnie?”
“Yes, it is,” said little Minnie.
“And every Christmas since that time,” said Aunt Molly, “I’ve made Adelaide a costume.”
“Every single Christmas?”
“I don’t believe I’ve missed a one.”