Deborah Remembers: First Chapter
Darkness had fallen in the museum. The visitors had all left. The door was tightly locked. Only the scratching of a mouse in the cupboard in the Colonial Kitchen broke the silence.
Deborah, the old rag doll, sat by the fire and remembered. She remembered a wild Indian war whoop on a snowy night in Deerfield. She remembered the gay song of the fife and the drum when the Minute Men marched away. She remembered the shrill blast of the Captain's horn on the canal boat. Most of all she remembered the happy voices of the little girls who had played with her long ago.
Finally, the old grandfather clock struck twelve and then all the dolls in the glass case jumped quickly down from their places and hurried across the museum to Deborah's kitchen. They did this every night at twelve. It was the magic hour when all the dolls woke up.
"Tell us a story, Deborah," cried Kitty, the hoopskirt doll.
"We want to hear about when you were new," said Jerusha, the little wooden doll.
"Tell us about your first mother. Tell us about Mercy Ann," said Harriet Jane, the doll with the china head.
"Oh, Mercy Ann was not my first mother," said Deborah. "Dear me, no. The first mother I ever had was little Mary who lived in Deerfield way back in 1704."
"Oh, how long ago that was!" cried all the dolls. "Do tell us about her." And they seated themselves cozily on stools near Deborah's chair by the fire.
"Yes, indeed," sighed Deborah, as she took up her knitting. "I am older than anybody would think. You see, my face has been painted over many times and I've often been mended. This dress I am wearing was made for me when I came to live here in the kitchen in the museum. I look very young, I know, but I am really an old, old doll."
"Tell us about Mary in old Deerfield," Jerusha prompted her.
"Mary lived in Deerfield over three hundred years ago," Deborah began.
* * *
She was not a very strong little girl and when the other children used to run out in the deep snow to play, poor Mary had to stay at home by the fire. Of course, I know that if she were a little girl today, her mother would give her plenty of milk and vitamins. Then she would turn her out in the bright sunshine, and the child would be well and strong. In those long-ago days, however, people knew very little about how to keep well and healthy. If a child were sick, some poor old woman was blamed for having bewitched her.
My little Mary was tucked up in blankets on the settle and day by day she grew weaker and weaker. The hours she spent by the fire were long and dreary and finally Mary's grandmother decided to make her a doll. That was how I began.
My first memory is of hearing Mary ask a question. "What sort of hair will she have, Granny?" asked the child.
"I've planned it all, lass, so don't fret yourself," said the old lady. "I've saved an old mitten that your sister Joanna had last winter. 'Tis frayed and torn, but the bits of brown wool will make seemly hair for your rag baby."
"Oh! So I'm going to be a rag baby, am I?" I said to myself. You see, in those days girls called their dolls either "puppets" or "rag babies."
Then I heard another voice. I learned later that it was Mary's mother, who was walking back and forth behind the big wool wheel.
"I am not at all sure that you are doing a wise thing, Gran," she said. "I fear Father will say a rag baby is a vain thing and that the child might better be reading her Bible and studying her catechism than playing with worldly toys."
"Fiddlesticks!" snorted Granny. "Every little girl loves a puppet, and the days are long for the child shut up here in this dark kitchen. There, Mary. Her hair is done. Now I'll paint in her face with a bit of charcoal and a touch of dye and no child in Deerfield will have a finer rag baby."
When I was all finished, Granny made me a little gown of a bit of homespun—not the one I wear now. Dear me, no. I have been dressed over and over again by many a child and many a grandmother since that long-ago day in old Deerfield. My first dress was hardly more than a piece of cloth wrapped around me, but how little Mary loved it! And how she loved me! She held me close in her arms and whispered to me all through the long day, and, when her father came home at night, he found me beside her on the settle. He was inclined to be cross at first and to disapprove of such a frivolous waste of time as playing with puppets.
"Give the child her hornbook and let her read her Bible and she will have no time for idle play," he said. "A child as ill as she seems had better be thinking more of her soul's salvation than of foolish baubles."
I shivered and shook in Mary's arms, for I expected to be thrown into the fire at any moment. Granny knew better, however. She set a steaming pot of beans and a big pewter plate of hot fried cakes on the table and soon I was forgotten as Mary's father ate his supper.
After supper Mary's big brother Benjamin, who was ten years old, came and sat beside her on the settle.
"What are you going to name your rag baby?" he asked.
"I haven't thought of a name for her yet," said Mary.
"Hepzibah would be a nice name."
"I don't think it's a nice name for a rag baby," said Mary.
"Oh, what do you know about it?" Benjamin said. "Girls don't know anything anyhow."
"Girls do, too, know something," said Mary. "And I know just how I'm going to find a name for my baby."
"How are you? It's a foolish way, I'll be bound."
" 'Tis not a foolish way. I'm going to listen carefully when Father reads the Bible tonight, and then I'm going to name my rag baby for whatever woman he reads about. It may be Sarah or it may be Ruth or Elizabeth or even Priscilla."
" 'Tis a foolish way," said Benjamin with a laugh. "Suppose he reads about Lot's wife. Are you going to call your baby 'Pillar of Salt'?"
"Quiet, children," said Father, as he took the big Bible down from its shelf. "You all know of the strange sounds that have been heard outside the fort of late. You remember, too, our day of fasting when our good minister, Mr. Williams, told us that this sound of marching feet outside the fort is a warning. He believes God is about to send a punishment upon us for our wickedness."
Father's voice was grave and quiet, and even Benjamin stopped his squirming and fidgeting for a moment as Father opened the big Bible on his knees.
"I shall read the Ninety-first Psalm," said Father.
Benjamin looked at Mary and made a funny face at her. Naughty boy that he was, he still knew his Bible well enough to realize that his little sister would find no woman's name in that selection.
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty," Father read.
The fire danced merrily on the hearth. The baby in Mother's arms held out his little hands toward the blaze and laughed and crowed.
"Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night." Father's voice seemed to echo from the dark corners.
"For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."
Mary cuddled me tight under her blanket. How safe and secure I felt! I have never heard the words of that beautiful psalm since that long-ago night without remembering the peace and serenity of my old Deerfield home. In spite of the danger that they knew might be lurking in the woods beyond the drifted palisade, those men and women and children put their trust in God and were not afraid.
Father closed the Bible and, after saying a long prayer, placed the heavy book safely away on its shelf.
"Come, girls," said Mother. "Let's see how much we can knit on our stockings before bedtime."
Benjamin moved his stool nearer the settle. "Well," he said to Mary, "you didn't get any name for your baby in that
story, did you? You'd better name her Hepzibah, as I said."
"I will not name her Hepzibah," said Mary. "And I did, too, get a name for her in tonight's Bible story."
"What name was there?"
"Abide. That's her name. I'm going to call her 'Abide Under the Shadow'!"
"Abide. Huh! That's a funny name for a rag baby!"
" 'Tis not a funny name," said Mary.
" 'Tis so a funny name. Whoever heard of a maid named Abide?"
Mary's eyes filled with tears.
"Abide! Ho, ho," laughed Benjamin.
"Benjamin," said Father in a terrible voice, "stop teasing Mary at once, sir, and get up to your bed."
Benjamin scuttled away up the ladder that led to the loft above the kitchen, but just as his head disappeared, he whispered, " 'Tis so a silly name."
Mary held me close in her arms. "Abide," she whispered. "My little baby Abide."
Very soon Mother pulled out the trundle bed from its place under the big bed in the corner. Father covered the fire with ashes and Grandmother helped the older girls to undress.
"Come, Mary," said Mother, and soon Mary and I were warm and snug under the blankets in the trundle bed. Mary went to sleep at once, but, although I was tired and drowsy after my first long day, I could not fall asleep.
Hour after hour I heard the watchman going slowly by outside the house. Hour after hour I heard the rattle of a shutter in the wind. Finally, however, the house became very quiet. For a long time I did not hear the watchman's footsteps. It was the darkest hour of the night—that hour which comes just before the dawn. I had closed my eyes and was drifting off to sleep at last when the air was rent with a hideous war whoop. There was a horrible pounding on the door and a hatchet came crashing through the wooden shutters over the window.
Little Mary sat up in bed, clutching me tightly in her arms. She was too frightened to scream, but the baby in his cradle added his cries to those of the Indians. In less time than it takes me to tell you about it the room was filled with yelling savages. A horrid painted face leaned over the trundle bed and a deep voice grunted, "Come."
Mary was too terrified to move, but one of the Indians dragged her roughly from her warm bed. She clasped me closely in her arms and stood shivering in the cold.
"Mary, dear," said a calm voice, and there was Granny close beside us.
"Here, child," she said. "Put on your woolen gown, and here is your warm red cloak. Don't be afraid, Mary. Remember the words your father read tonight. 'For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.' " For a moment her hand rested on little Mary's shoulder.
Then suddenly we were outside in the snow, and a fiercely painted savage was dragging us along past the meetinghouse.