WAS NOT without its tragedies; one of Wallingford's most beautiful young
ladies, beautiful in character as well as in person, met her death in the
waters of the pond. She was much older than I but she seemed particularly
near to our family because she had once lived with grandmother. In those
days in New England, it was not unusual for refined and educated young
ladies to do housework when there was no other demand upon their time.
Their social status was in no wise affected and the presence of such a
person in the home was a social as well as an economical advantage.
dark-eyed, tall and willowy and would have graced any position in which
she might have found herself. She was loved and admired by the townspeople
both old and young and a dark shadow fell upon the community when she left
us. She had suffered as only the refined and cultured can suffer until she
could bear it no longer.
she arose from her bed and went out, down the familiar road, across the
creek bridge, on up the hill, through the woods, then down the slope to
Fox Pond, the scene of many a happy picnic in former days.. Slowly and
with a determination one would hardly have thought her capable of, she
waded out into the cold water to a depth not much above her knees, then
fell forward face down and deliberately held herself in that position
until she died; the water was not deep enough to drown a child who cared
to live. In the morning a searching party easily found her.
perseverance of Nancy in her determination to take her own life, was a
subject of conversation for many years. One never heard words of
condemnation; they were words of deep sorrow. The folks of our valley had
suffered a great loss. Nancy had always been a sweet influence in our
recalled the fact that one after another those nearest to her had been
taken; first her father, then her mother and then her kindly and handsome
brother, Neil, who died of tuberculosis while still a young man. After the
shock of these bereavements, her whole affection was centered on her
younger sister, Lizzie; Nancy simply had to have someone on whom to lavish
affection, and most naturally she turned to Lizzie.
little social life in our community, most of the young men having gone
west in search of larger opportunities. The two Gleghorn girls found
employment, as many other refined and capable New England young ladies had
done, working in the shirt and collar factory of Troy, New York, sixty
of our Nancy and our Lizzie working by the side of foreigners was
disturbing but the Gleghorn girls needed the money and after all, such
employment was a break in the monotony of everyday home life in
Wallingford and they could come home occasionally.
combination was broken up soon by Lizzie being called upon to take charge
of the home of an aged neighbor and Nancy continued her life in Troy
alone. It's a long story, that of the passing of Mr. Frank Miller and his
having made Lizzie the sole beneficiary under his will. All of these
events seemed quite natural to Nancy and she was happy in Lizzie's good
fortune. The great shock caine when Lizzie married and Nancy realized that
her one remaining prop had been removed; Nancy henceforth was to be alone.
more than she could bear; there had always been someone she could serve;
now there was none. Nancy was not the kind of young lady to live without
purpose, so, as has been related, she got out of bed one night and made
her distracted way down the creek road to the pond.
the migration of ambitious young men to the western country are full of
romantic and interesting incidents. They went from farms and villages out
into the unknown world, equipped with good principles and a willingness to
work. Throughout their wanderings they were sustained by the hope of
success and their
determination to render good accounts of themselves. Few of the home folks
give even passing thought to the Nancys and Lizzies who have been left
without prospects of becoming mothers with families of their own. In rare
cases young men who have attained success do return to pick up the threads
of youthful romance, but, as a rule, new romances take the place of the
old, and those who return bring with them their families.
In a few
cases, New England young ladies of courage and determination have taken
matters into their own hands and joined the trek to the western country.
Some of the New England girls who struck out for themselves became school
teachers and few returned to New England. In one instance, a far seeing
and philanthropic migrant who had been successful in the West, chartered a
ship and took a load of marriageable young women all the way around Cape
Horn to Portland, Oregon, into the outstretched arms of waiting suitors.
instance, the founder of a great system of restaurants which extended
throughout the Southwest, advertised in New England for young women of
character who desired to make permanent homes in the West. This
progressive employer of hundreds of young ladies, seemingly against his
own interests definitely urged his help to marry whenever suitable
opportunity presented itself. To be employed as a waitress in one of the
excellent Harvey eating houses along the line of the Santa Fe railway soon
became a satisfactory assurance of respectability and many happy marriages
winsome Nancy had known of such opportunities, she probably would not have
waded to her death that night in Fox Pond. No one could have presided over
a home with greater dignity and charm nor have been a better mother than
there is any to whom the term, "hired girl" is not familiar, I may say
that in rural New England of my day, the hired girl was not the equivalent
of the city maid; she was an institution; she wore no cap or other
indication of servility. While waiting on table, she did not glide
noiselessly and speechlessly about surreptitiously purloining a
half-emptied plate and substituting another either half-full or empty.
When she entered the dining room from the kitchen, everyone knew she was
coming; she made no attempt to conceal her presence. When she planked her
ground grippers down, one had a feeling of security-no cinderella slippers
were they. She considered herself a member of the family and to all
intents and purposes she was. After having landed her cargo of corned beef
and cabbage, boiled dinner, pork and beans, or whatever else might be on
the bill of fare, she took her place at the table, and, in due course of
time passed her plate for a helping which had to be geperous.
compensation for the customary amenities, she delivered tidbits of local
gossip, stored up for the occasion. She could give the "low-down" on
almost anything. Her antennae extended in all directions and it was
marvelous how much she was able to scoop in.
She had a
superlative sense of dignity which she yielded to no one, it mattered not
what the occasion. For example, a New England housewife once asked her
"Biddy" to wear a cap and gown while serving distinguished guests from the
city. Biddy's answer was prompt and unequivocal, "It is wanting me to make
a fool of myself that ye are? Stick that bonnet on your own head and that
purty apron on your own body. Bridget Moriarity will have none of them."
house maid is no more like a New England hired girl than a horse chestnut
is like a chestnut horse.
and the Stafford's Myra had an organization of their own. They used to get
together evenings and talk things over; what was not known by one or the
other of them, was not worth knowing. Their gleanings gave spice to table
talk. There was never lack of matters to talk about at our table and Mary
or Delia as the case might be, contributed their full share.
allegiance to the Congregational church nor allegiance to the Republican
party caused my grandparents to be narrow either in their religious or
their political views. I can never recall a time when we were without an
Irish Catholic girl in our house and the garden was always worked by Mr.
Wynne. I can also in truth say that I never heard my grandparents speak in
disparaging terms of either Catholics, Jews, Democrats, or of members of
other races or devotees of other faiths.
learned the essentiality of maintaining a mutually satisfactory
understanding with the hired girl, and, although there were no formal
treaties executed, there were certain strict canons of correct practice
which were always observed. Among other things it was understood that
neither should inform on the other. This was mostly in my favor as I
seldom had anything on the hired girl but she frequently had considerable
on me. When grandmother displayed her unfamiliarity with affairs of common
knowledge in the community, it was not necessary for me to sit trembling
in my chair; a wink across the table by the hired girl was sufficient
assurance that all was well.
chance, I happened to stumble into the kitchen one night and saw Delia
sitting in the lap of Pete, her sweetheart and prospective husband, I
stumbled out again reserving my wink for a more appropriate occasion.
recollections these-my heart swells with pride as I recall the rigid
observance of the niceties of our face-saving treaties; no mere scraps of
paper they-Ah no! As long as Delia and Mary lived, it was my custom
whenever in Vermont to call upon them in commemoration of the faithful
performance of their duties in our household. Both raised children and had
grandchildren in plenty. I do not think of them as having been servants
but rather as having been members of our family.
had no hired man who sat at the table with us, I well know the species and
know that they also were independent in character. They did not work for a
wage merely; they worked to accomplish a task and the task had to be
sensible. Tell a New England hired man to transfer a pile of stone from
one corner of a field to another and he will do so willingly; tell him to
take the stones back again and he will do so grudgingly but tell him then
to transfer them somewhere else and it will be up to you to find another
hired man to carry out your wishes, if you can find one sufficiently
unprincipled. There must be common sense in everything a New England hired
man is required to do. New Englanders abhor waste whether it be of time,
money or energy. Perhaps that is why their poorhouses remain tenantless,
or nearly so, much of the time.
that there must have been an official poorhouse in our county but I do not
remember seeing it or knowing anyone who lived in a poorhouse. New
Englanders have always had an antipathy against paupers except those who
were in that state through no fault of their own. The laws of most of the
New England States at one time disfranchised paupers, probably on the
theory that if they could not manage their own affairs, they would not be
likely to make substantial contributions in the affairs of state.
early days, in New England, it was the practice to sell the services of
paupers at public auction. The pauper went to whomsoever would pay him the
highest price for his services and the employer henceforth became
responsible for his welfare. The institution served its purpose well
enough to justify its existence in the opinion of the majority of the
voters for many years. A certain percentage of citizens, unable to manage
their own affairs to the satisfaction of the public or to their own
satisfaction, were willing to work and experienced a goodly measure of
relief from worry and anxiety in the transfer of their burdens to the
shoulders of other men more capable of bearing them.
well in the cases of the employers who were true to their trusts; those
who were really interested in the welfare of their workers, but that much
doubtless could be said for slavery. Good masters in some respects were
better than none but slave owners were not always good masters, and it is
equally true that employers of pauper labor in New England were not always
true to their trusts. Moreover there was in the New England institution a
suggestion of serfdom, which of course was repugnant to men and women born
and bred in that part of the United States frequently spoken of as the
"Cradle of Liberty."
case of pauper labor that I have ever heard of in My Valley was the case
of Nathan Remington, whose services were sold to Mr. Alfred Hull; the
relationship continued throughout the life of Mr. Hull and throughout the
life of his widow; nothing short of death could have terminated it.
not many who came within the hired man class; that is, there were few who
habitually worked on farms belonging to others. Farmers and their sons
managed to do all the work of their farms except during haying time
villager needed a man for a particular job, he could usually find one
suited to the requirements. There were a few elderly men who had no
regular employment and who were glad of the opportunity to earn a little
extra money. Some, who did not care to work for anyone and everyone in
need of help, would work for some particular person whose ways they
understood and approved. Mr. Wynne was always glad to help grandfather out
and Randall Nourse helped Mr. Ed Martindale quite regularly. What, if any,
other source of revenue Randall had, was not known to the public. He
occupied rooms in the basement of Alphonso Stafford's home, and what, if
any, cash he paid for the privilege was unknown. Perhaps he paid nothing.
Alphonso Stafford may have considered him a protection against fire,
burglary, etc. At any rate, Randall belonged to a class of Wallingford
citizens who lived respectably and well on an income incredibly small.
That is where characteristic Vermont frugality came in.
Mr. Justin Bacheller
was the only villager who had a bonafide year-round man servant but Mr.
Bacheller was a lover of fast horses and John Catle knew how to exercise
and train them and there was not the slightest servility in his service;
he was one of the citizens of our village.