“I’ll take over my garter-knitting, mother, and I’ll knit ten times across.”
It happened at length, whether through effectual prayer, or such skilful fencing against weak maternal odds, that the little Lucina, all fresh frilled and curled, with her silk knitting-bag dangling at her side, and her doll nestled to her small mother-shoulder, stepping with dainty primness in her jostling starched pantalets, lifting each foot carefully lest she hit her nice morocco toes against the stones, went up the road to her aunt Camilla’s.
Miss Camilla Merritt lived in the house which had belonged to her grandfather, called the “old Merritt house” to distinguish it from the one which her father had built, in which her brother Eben lived. Both, indeed, were old, but hers was venerable, and claimed that respect which extreme age, even in inanimate things, deserves. And in a way, indeed, this old house might have been considered raised above the mere properties of wood and brick and plaster by such an accumulation of old memories and associations, which were inseparable from its walls, to something nearly sentient and human, and to have established in itself a link ’twixt matter and mind.
Never had any paint touched its outer walls, overlapped with silver-gray shingles like scales of a fossil fish. The door and the great pillared portico over it were painted white, as they had been from the first, and that was all. A brick walk, sunken in mossy hollows, led up to the front door, which was only a few feet from the road, the front yard being merely a narrow strip with great poplars set therein. Lucina had always had a suspicion, which she confided to no one, being sensitive as to ridicule for her childish theories, that these poplars were not real trees. Even the changing of the leaves did not disarm her suspicion. Sometimes she dug surreptitiously around the roots with a pointed stick to see what she could discover for or against it, and always with a fearful excitement of daring, lest she topple the tree over, perchance, and destroy herself and Aunt Camilla and the house.
To-day Lucina went up the walk between the poplars, recognizing them as one recognizes friends oftentimes, not as their true selves, but as our conception of them, and knocked one little ladylike knock with the brass knocker. She never entered her aunt Camilla’s house without due ceremony.
Aunt Camilla’s old woman, who lived with her, and performed her household work as well as any young one, answered the knock and bade her enter. Lucina followed this portly old-woman figure, moving with a stiff wabble of black bombazined hips, like some old domestic fowl, into the east room, which was the sitting-room.
The old woman’s name was lost to memory, inasmuch as she had been known simply as ’Liza ever since her early childhood, and had then hailed from the town farm, with her parentage a doubtful matter.