Miss Polly was housekeeper and cook, with Miss Phoebe to run errands, do the marketing, visit the needy, and supervise generally. Some one must have done the mending and darning and laundry work, but I never saw any of that.
Miss Sophie (the sisters said Suffy) was the knitter and her needles were never still. Always a gray yarn stocking, and never any appearance of the finished pair. Go when you would,—and the dear ladies were not alone many hours,—the knitting was on and going on.
Miss Chrissy was the beauty. Ages ago there had been a tradition of a lover, but nothing came of it. Perhaps they had all five lived out their little romances—who could tell? A certain homage was paid to the beauty. Her once brilliant auburn hair had paled to grayish sandy bands that lay smooth under a cap which was always a little pretentious. Her dark eyes and smiling lips made the soft white old face passing fair. Miss Chrissy was the embroiderer and needle-work artist. Her treasures of scallops and points and eyelets and wheels, all traced in ink upon bits of letter-paper, were kept in a big square yellow box that was bristling and bursting at all points.
This box was marvellous. There could never have been but one other in the world; and that I had seen under my great-grandmother’s bed, the bed that had its dainty white frill, and its glazed calico curtains of gay paradise birds. They were all of a piece and not easily forgotten. The box had seen hard service among the “Pears.” It was cross-stitched up and down the corner’s along the bottom and the top, and all around. It never occurred to them to get a new one. Like their old Bible, its places could be found.
I went, one frosty autumn day, to get a pattern for silk embroidery. Stamping-blocks and tracing-wheels were unknown quantities to Miss Chrissy. Her stumpy little pencil—and that, too, seemed always the same—had to do the transfering. She liked a bit of harmless gossip, dear soul; and the young girls of the town made a point of supplying the lack of a newspaper with their busy tongues. So she knew at once who I was.
“Oh,” she said, with her kindly smile, “you are young Mrs. John: I remember when your husband was a babe. I think I can find it;—yes, it is down in this corner,”—rummaging in the yellow box; “here it is—the pattern your aunt,—Mrs. John, selected for your husband’s first short dress. All the Hunt family were customers of ours. Mrs. John, she they called Aunt Lou, was a great favorite. She was rich, and had no children. Well, she came one day all in a flurry to get a pattern—a nice wide one she said, for little John’s dress. He was the first baby, and they fairly idolized him. This is it. I recollect the wheel and the overcasting. It was—let me see—forty years ago, come this December. Now, this little scallop is as popular as any” and she fished up another, all full of needle-pricks. “Some ladies don’t like much embroidery, but they want a little finish. This one trimmed a set of linen for Mrs. Senator Jones. It took me a good while to draw it. She don’t like this turn in the corner, so I made up something else. You know I design my own patterns.”