There were stately figures passing up and down: the old lords of the wilderness in velvet coats and huge wigs, and ladies of the wilderness too in rich brocades and laced stomachers. There were many slender and youthful figures. Charmingly odd and quaint were the merry groups of girls, catching and swaying upon the shadowy stair; dainty ruffles peeping through the balusters; laughing faces bending above the dark, old rail. And fine indeed were the gallants that did them homage; those young colonials of bright velvets and flowered waistcoats and lace ruffles and powdered periwigs.
Now, from the stairway the old-time life spread throughout the old-time home. Shirley was living over again some merry-making of colonial days. That was the Governor that just passed with the glint of gold lace and the glint of gold snuff-box; and that, a councillor’s lady that rustled by in stiff silks, her feet in gold-heeled slippers and her powdered head dressed “Dutch.” And quite as fine and quite as quaint were the ladies that followed in their gay flowered “sacques” looped back from bright petticoats and point lace aprons.
It was all as London-like as might be: rich velvets and brocades, wide-hooped skirts and stiff stomachers, laced coats and embroidered waistcoats, broad tuckers and Mechlin ruffles, high-heeled shoes and handsome buckles, powdered wigs and powdered puffs, and crescent beauty patches.
Evidently, by colonial time, twilight was coming on; for now the fragrant bayberry candles were lighted. There was the faint tinkle of a harpsichord. Dim figures moved in the stately minuet; their curtsies, punctiliously in keeping with the last word from London, were “slow and low.”
Little groups gathered about the card tables, where fresh candles and ivory counters were waiting. Lovers found their way to deep window-seats; and lovers of yet another sort to brimming glasses and colonial toasts, and perhaps to wigs awry.
It was the old-time Shirley, the strange, incongruous Shirley that was a bright bit of English manor life within; and, without, wilderness and savages and tobacco-fields and Africans. In from the life of the old messuage, came a touch of the barbaric; weird minor songs that belonged with the hot throb of the African tom-tom floated in through the deep windows, and strangely mingled with the thin tinkle of the harpsichord and the tender strains of an old English ballad.
The green bayberry candles grew dim, and in their fragrant smoke the old colonials faded away. Our visit at Shirley was over.
Out in the quadrangle, we turned for a last look at the homestead, and were almost forced to doubt that old colonial scene that we had just left within. There stood the fine buildings in perfect preservation, insisting at last as they had insisted at first that this matter of old age was but a huge mistake—that they had been built but yesterday.