MRS. POMEROY’S PAGE.
By Mary E. Bradley.
Did you notice him when he opened the door for us, just now—a cunning little chap, with a curly head, and a blue sailor suit? Perhaps you thought he was Mazie Pomeroy’s little brother, or something?—people do, sometimes, because Mrs. Pomeroy always keeps him dressed so nicely, and not in “buttons,” either.
He isn’t the least relation, though; only her little page; and it’s quite a story, the way we found him. I had something to do with it, you see,— quite a good deal, in fact,—for it all came about through an accident that happened to me last summer, when Lizzie Prior and I were spending the long vacation with Mazie. Mrs. Pomeroy has a cottage at Long Branch, you know, and she was kind enough to invite Lizzie and me to go down with Mazie for the holidays.
We were to stop a week in New York before we went to the Branch, just to get our little fineries together. Mazie was clever with her needle, and she had the idea of an astonishing bathing-dress that was to take the shine out of everything on the beach. Lizzie and I followed her lead, and we were all three up to our eyes in blue and gray and scarlet flannels,—making a great litter of scraps and cuttings, too,—when Catharine came up stairs, one morning, with a little object of a child behind her.
Catharine is the parlor-maid, and she wanted her mistress; but Mrs. Pomeroy had gone out to buy a lot of things we needed for our work,—Hercules braid, and smoked pearl buttons, and oiled silk for caps. Mazie asked her was it anything particular that was wanted, and where under the sun had she picked up that creature,—meaning the child, who was the most ridiculous object you can-imagine, and set us all to laughing at the first glimpse. It was dressed in such an absurd way, with a boy’s hat on its shaggy head, and a boy’s jacket, with the sleeves cut off, round its waist, and under that was a girl’s little faded cotton frock, so short that it hardly covered the child’s knees. Its slim bare arms, and its long pipe-stem legs, made you think of a young Shanghai before its feathers are grown; and altogether there was such a comical look about it that we couldn’t help screaming,—though we are not so hard-hearted as to laugh when it hurts anybody’s feelings, I want you to know.
It didn’t hurt this monkey at all. In fact, it seemed as much amused with us as we were with it; and stared and grinned in the drollest way while Catharine was explaining that it had come to beg for rags to sell; and did anybody know what they wouldn’t be coming after next? But it was Mrs. Pomeroy’s orders that no beggars were to be sent away, and she didn’t know what to do about it.
“Why, give her the rag-bag, of course,” said Mazie.
But Catharine didn’t know whether there was a rag-bag, and looked as if she thought it beneath the dignity of the house to keep such a thing. Mazie didn’t know, herself; but I happened to have seen one hanging in the hall closet once when I wanted to get rid of some scraps, and I told Catharine where to find it.
So she went to fetch it, and came back presently with a large calico bag, pretty well stuffed with the snips and pieces that Mrs. Pomeroy’s dress-maker had left. The ridiculous child was perfectly delighted when all this trash was emptied into the big basket she carried, and we were so amused with her grimaces, that we went upon our knees and picked up all the scraps of flannel that were scattered on the floor, to add to her treasure.
“Now, then, what are you going to do with the rags?” I asked her, as I stuffed the last handful into the basket .
“Take ’em home to Mum,” she said, with a beaming face.
“Who’s Mum? Your mother?” asked Lizzie.
“Mum’s the woman. Haint got any mother.”
“Is the woman good to you? Do you like her?” asked Lizzie again.
The object shook her flaxen head, “like “the lady from over the Rhine,” and civilly answered: “No, she aint!”
“What makes you so glad to get the rags for her, then?” cried Mazie.
“‘Cause we get whacked when we don’t bring ’em,” she said, coolly. “There’s Jinny, an’ Sally, an’ Mary-Ann an’ me, an’ some of us gets whacked every night for not fetchin’ enough. Mum’s a hard hitter, too, she is.”
The girls looked at each other, and Lizzie cried pitifully, “You poor little monkey! She starves you, too, I dare say,—the horrid woman!”
“Well, she don’t feed us werry high,—Mum don’t,” was the answer, with a confidential nod at Lizzie. “Cold mush for brekfus, an’ wotever you can pick up in the street for dinner, aint none too fillin’, miss. You know how it is yourself.”
This was more than we could stand, of course. We screamed with laughter at the idea of Lizzie “knowing how it was herself;” and Mazie, as soon as she could get her breath, ordered Catharine to take the child down stairs and feed her.
“Give her all she can possibly eat, and a whole lot of gingerbread and sponge-cake to take home with her,” said Mazie.
“And here, you oddity !” cried Lizzie, “there’s a quarter for you to keep. Mind you don’t give it to Mum, though.”
Such eyes as that creature made! I wish you could have seen how they flashed like fire, at first, and then softened all over, and the way she snatched Lizzie’s hand and kissed it—actually kissed it! Mazie and l found some pennies to keep the quarter company, and Catharine carried the child off at last to be fed in the kitchen. Of course, it kept our tongues going for awhile afterwards, and there wasn’t much sewing done, until Mazie remarked, sarcastically, that she thought we might take in orders for bathing dresses, we were getting on so fast. And then we all picked up our thimbles and went to work again.
Nearly all, at least, but my thimble was not to be found. I couldn’t remember exactly where I had laid it down; yet, as I had never left the room, it must be somewhere around, we all agreed. However, after scattering everything about, and upsetting the work-basket, and rummaging the tabledrawer, and turning things inside out, generally, there was still no sign of it.
I began to be worried; for the mischief of it was, l had been using Mrs. Pomeroy’s thimble; and, besides being a very handsome one, she thought everything of it for another reason. It was made of a lump of Californian gold that her only brother had dug with his own hands; and not long after he had it made for her, he had lost his life at the mines. It all happened, of course, long before any of us were born; but the thimble was one of Mrs. Pomeroy’s precious things still.
I had no business to have touched it, either. It was just a piece of laziness not to go up stairs for my own; but this lay in a work-basket conveniently near, and I slipped it on my finger without thinking, which is nothing new for me, I suppose; for mother says my thinking generally does come when it’s too late to do any good.
It was certainly so this time; for after all our rummaging,—and Lizzie has eyes that could find a needle in a haystack,—we had to give it up in despair. The thimble wasn’t in that room, and none of us had left the room since it was seen on my finger. So there was only one conclusion,—somebody had carried it off; and the same thought flashed upon all of us at once. It was that wretched little rag-beggar!
“And to think of our giving him quarters and pennies!” cried Mazie.
“And sponge-cake and gingerbread!” exclaimed Lizzie.
“What do you say him for?” l snapped out crossly. “The horrid little object was a girl, and so much the worse.”
“So it was,” said Mazie, innocently. “But, do you know, it didn’t seem to me in the least like a girl. It talked and looked like a boy.”
“As if that made a bit of difference!” I said, peevishly. ”Boy or girl—it’s all one. The little wretch has stolen Mrs. Pomeroy’s thimble, and whatever am I going to do about it? Lizzie, why did you let me touch it? You ought to have known better!”
Now, Lizzie is the most amiable creature in the world; but this attack took her by surprise.
“How could I help your touching it?” she exclaimed. And Mazie cried indignantly:
“Why, Jet! aren’t you ashamed of yourself, to blame Lizzie?”
So they were both down upon me, and I was down upon myself, for that matter; and when Mrs. Pomeroy came back with the pearl buttons and things, she found us all looking as sober as a funeral. We had asked Catharine and the cook, and we had hunted up stairs and down; but it was all no use, any more than my crying like a baby, which I could n’t help, either.
Mrs. Pomeroy was lovely about it, as she is about everything. It’s her “nature to,” and I wish it was mine. She brushed the tears off my cheeks with her lace handkerchief, and said I was not to cry. That accidents would happen, and she might have lost it, herself, in exactly the same way, and she didn’t blame me in the least. Still I knew how sorry she was, in spite of her being so sweet, and I blamed myself enough, I can tell you.
We couldn’t talk of anything else, and the whole story was told over and over, till, before we knew it, it was one o’clock, and the luncheon-bell rang. I thought I shouldn’t eat a mouthful when I went down, but there was a great dish of strawberries, and the most delicious frozen custard; and one must feel pretty bad, you know, to refuse those on a hot June day. I didn’t refuse them, neither did Mazie nor Lizzie; in fact, we had a second helping, and were getting quite cheerful over it, when suddenly a great outcry came from the kitchen regions. We heard a scream from cook, and a sort of scattering rush out into the basement hall, and then a screech, as if they had pounced upon a chicken.
Lizzie started up breathlessly. “If it should be that child!” she exclaimed. “Mazie! Jet! Don’t you know that voice?”
We sprang up without asking to be excused, and rushed out into the hall, where the first thing we saw was cook struggling up the basement stairs, and dragging, sure enough, our poor little Shanghai with her.
“I’ve got her, miss! I’ve got her!” she screamed. “I spied her goin’ past the windy, an’ I jumped at her ‘fore she had time to run.”
“I warn’t agoin’ to run—now !” cried the child, trying to shake herself out of cook’s grasp. “I was a-comin’ here a purpose to give the young lady her thimble wot I found in the rags. You lemme go, I say!”
And in a second she had twisted herself out of her old jacket, that she left in cook’s hands, and darted away to Lizzie.
“Here’s your thimble”—stuffing it into her hand—“it’s gold, aint it? Mum tried to grab it when it rolled out o’ the rags, but I hooked it an’ run, cos I thought you’d be wantin’ it. Guess you dropped it in the basket with them rags you picked up off the floor.”
So there it was, as clear as daylight. I had let the thimble slip off my finger,—it was rather large for me, anyhow,—when I was stuffing those flannel scraps into the basket, and the poor little monkey that we had been abusing for a thief, had rescued it from Mum’s clutches, and braved her wrath to restore it to us!
It seemed at first so impossible to believe, that we could only stare at each other, and say, “Did you ever?”
Mrs. Pomeroy was the first one to give the child a word of praise or thanks.
“You ‘re an honest little girl,” she began, “and a brave little girl. You shall certainly…”
But, before she could finish her sentence, that child interrupted her.
“I aint a honest little girl—I aint a brave little girl—I aint a girl at all! ” he jerked out. “I’m a boy, I am, an’ I don’t care what Mum says, I aint agoing to have no more nonsense about it.”
And he held up his head and spread out his comical little legs with such a lord-of-creation air, —well, you never saw anything like it, and it’s no use trying to describe it, or to express our amazement. Catharine declared afterwards, that it made her feel all over in spots, whatever that means; and cook said that “it bate Banagher, to see the impidence of a little spider like that.” But Mazie turned to me in her innocent way: “I told you it talked like a boy,” said she; “now you see.”
Well, we inquired, of course, why “it” wore a frock, and made a pretence of being a girl; and we were informed, with a condescending air, that it was “just a notion of Mum’s. She said girls was more noticed than boys, and ladies would ruther give ’em the rags.” His own mother was dead, he went on to explain, and Mum had kept him two years, and made him beg for her. But he was going to “cut it” now, and do something else for a living. “He’d have to keep out of Mum’s way after this, or she’d make jelly of him. An’ if the lady could give him a old pair o’ trowzes, he’d be werry much obliged, an’ he wouldn’t trouble her no more.”
Mrs. Pomeroy asked him what he meant to do for a living, and, as his answer was not perfectly satisfactory, she concluded to keep the monkey in the house till Mr. Pomeroy came home. He was made very comfortable in the kitchen, with a plate of strawberries and unlimited bread and butter; and to come to the end of my story, he has been very comfortable ever since.
The Pomeroys are the best people in the world, I do believe. They took pains to hunt up “Mum,” and find out whether she really had any right to the boy; and she hadn’t, and was an awful old creature besides, and everything the little “what-isit” said was true. So it ended in his being sent to some respectable people in the country, to be civilized a little; and when we came back from the Branch there was such a good report of him that Mrs. Pomeroy brought him home, and made him her little page. He opens the door for us whenever we go over to see Mazie, and gives us all a beaming smile. But Lizzie is his adoration. He considers her an angel, Mrs. Pomeroy says, on account of that quarter, I suppose; and was quite disappointed when he discovered that the thimble wasn’t hers after all.
One of these days, when he’s a little bigger and stronger, he’s to be Mr. Pomeroy’s office boy. And, after that, what’s to hinder his being a lawyer and a statesman, and a member of Congress, may be? Wouldn’t it be funny, though? and all to grow out of a thimble!
St Nicholas Magazine, 1873
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A recognised theme in the nineteenth-century press was the girl dressed as a boy to avoid detection either when fleeing a cruel step-parent or enlisting in the armed services to follow a lover. When we hear reports of a boy dressed as a girl, invariably it is for some nefarious purpose.
How very interesting to observe that the Americans, particularly on the Eastern coast, had adopted some of our old English customs, such as page boys, week-end cottages, and the class system. In the inevitable sequel to this story, “the monkey” would rise from office boy to Head of the Firm and marry Lizzie.
Rags were a lucrative commodity. See this post on the “rag trade.”
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.