Stories of the Pilgrims - M. B. Pumphrey

Holidays and Holy Days

It was Saturday morning. Little Elizabeth Brown sat by a window in the big kitchen, hemming a tiny pink dress for a doll she was making for her little sister Hope.

On the chair beside her lay the doll, though you might not have thought of calling it a doll. It did not have curly hair and eyes that open and shut, or even a jointed body, and no amount of pinching or squeezing could make it cry. In those days no child had dolls like ours. Hope's doll was made of a corncob, and the face was painted on a piece of white linen stretched over a little ball of wool on the end of the cob.

When the last neat little stitches were taken, Elizabeth dressed the doll in the pink gown and the tiny blue sunbonnet which Aunt Faith had made for it. Then she folded a small white kerchief about its neck, and when Hope awoke all rosy and smiling from her nap, there lay the little lady on the bed beside her.

Could any child have been happier than was Hope with her first doll! What did it matter that its body was a corncob and its face a bit of white cloth? It was a perfectly beautiful doll to Hope. She called it Mary Ellen and carried it about with her wherever she went.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"It was a perfectly beautiful doll to Hope"

In another room their mother was looking over the clothes to be worn to meeting the next day. When the last button was sewed on and the clothes were well brushed, she laid them out on chairs, ready to be put on on Sunday morning.

Nothing that could be done on Saturday was ever left over until Sunday. Even the potatoes were peeled, and the meat for Sunday's dinner was cooked on Saturday.

About noon shouts were heard outside, and down the hill came a merry group of boys with axes over their shoulders. They had been cutting wood in the forest all the morning.

As they passed the window where Elizabeth sat darning stockings, they called to her, "Come to the hill this afternoon. The ice is frozen on the pond, and we can coast down the long hill and away across the ice."

It took Hope some time to decide whether she would rather go coasting or stay at home and play with Mary Ellen. But Aunt Faith thought even doll babies ought to have naps sometimes, so Mary Ellen was rocked to sleep and warmly covered in Hope's little bed.

Then Elizabeth and Hope took their clumsy wooden sled and went to the hill. Many boys and girls of the village were already flying down the long, smooth track. The air rang with their merry voices.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"Elizabeth and Hope took their . . . sled and went to the hill!"

All too soon they heard the boom! boom! of the sunset gun. The happy holiday was at an end.

"What a pity it gets dark so early in the winter, when we want to coast," they sighed, as they started toward home.

For the Puritans the Sabbath began at sunset on Saturday, and no child might play after the sunset gun was heard. The evening was spent in reading the Bible and learning verses from it.

When the children reached home, Hope ran to her bed to get Mary Ellen. Presently her mother came in and said, "This is the Sabbath now, Hope. You must not play with your doll on the Sabbath."

So Hope kissed her baby and carried it into the bedroom to find a safe warm place for it to stay until the next evening. There lay her father's Sunday coat; what cozier nest could she find for Mary Ellen than its big pocket?

Early Sunday morning, Mistress Brown came to the children's bed and awakened them. "Get up, little girls," she said. "This is the Lord's Day and we must not waste it in bed."

After breakfast the family had prayers, after which they did such work as must be done, and then dressed for meeting.

Master Brown filled the little tin foot stove with hot coals from the hearth. Then he took down his gun from its hook and looked to see that it was ready for use. In those days no man went anywhere without his gun,—not even to church, for the Indians were likely to come at any time.

Rub-a-dub-dub! Rub-a-dub-dub!

Is that a call to arms? Are the Indians about? Oh, no, that is only the drummer calling the people to church.

There were no bells on the first meetinghouses in New England. Sometimes the firing of a gun was the call to worship. More often a big drum, beaten on the steps of the meetinghouse, told the people it was time to come together.

At the sound of the drum Master Brown and his wife, with Elizabeth, Hope, and Aunt Faith, started to church. From every house in the village came men, women, and children. They were always ready when the drum began to beat. It was not the custom to be late to meeting and as for staying away one had to be very ill indeed to do that.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"From every house in the village came men,
women, and children"

Elizabeth saw her dear friend, Mary, just ahead of her. Do you suppose she skipped along to speak to her, or walked to meeting by her side? No, indeed. "The Sabbath day is not the time for light talk," her mother told her.

When the meetinghouse was reached, Master Brown led his family to their pew. He opened a little door to let them in. The pew was much like a large box with seats around the sides.

The church was very cold, for there was no fire; but the children warmed their toes and fingers by the queer little foot stove their father had brought from home.

The boys were not allowed to sit with their parents. They all sat together at one side of the church or on the pulpit stairs. When all the people were in their seats, the minister climbed the steps to his high pulpit.

Only a very few people had hymn books. The minister read two lines of the hymn and they all sang them to some well-known tune. Then he read two more lines, and all sang them, and so on until they had sung all the verses.

The sermon was always very long, three hours at the least. The children could not understand what it was all about, and it was very hard for them to sit up and listen quietly.

Elizabeth was four years older than Hope, so she felt quite like a little woman. She sat up beside her mother and looked at the minister almost all the time. But sometimes she had to wink hard to keep awake.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

A colonial foot stove

When she thought she could not hang her feet down another minute she would slip on to the foot-stool to rest.

But she was often much ashamed of Hope. Poor little Hope could not sit still ten minutes.

Hope enjoyed singing the hymns. She stood up on the footstool at her father's side and sang with all her might. Then she sat down and tried to listen to the sermon. When she began to stir about a little, her mother shook her head at her. She tried to sit still, but was soon restless again.

Then Aunt Faith gave her a sprig of some sweet, spicy plant. This kept her quiet for a while, but at last leaves, stems, and all were eaten. Hope folded her hands and for a few minutes looked straight at the minister. She was trying hard to be good.

Presently she began to be sleepy and nestled her head upon her father's arm, for a nap. But now she felt something in his pocket she was sure she knew. A happy smile came over Hope's face. She was wide awake now.

Slipping her hand into the wide pocket, she drew out Mary Ellen, and smoothed her wrinkled gown.

Master Brown's thoughts were all on the sermon, and even Mistress Brown did not notice her for a little time. When she did, what do you suppose she saw? Hope standing up on the seat, showing her doll to the little girl in the pew behind her!

Oh, oh, how ashamed her mother was! She pulled her little daughter down quickly and whispered, "Do you want the tithingman to come with his rod? Well, then, sit down and listen." Then taking Mary Ellen, she slipped her into her big muff.

Little Hope did sit down and listen. She did not even turn around when the kind lady behind them dropped a peppermint over the high-backed pew for her.

Hope was very much afraid of the tithingman, who sat on a high seat behind the people. He had a long rod with a hard knob on one end and a squirrel's tail on the other.

When he saw a lady nodding during the sermon, he stepped around to her pew and tickled her face with the fur end of the rod. She would waken with a start and be, oh, so ashamed. She would be very glad the pew had such high sides to hide her blushing face.

Perhaps you think the boys on the other side of the church had a good time with no parents near to keep them quiet. But there was the tithingman again. When he saw a boy whispering or playing, as children sometimes do when so many are together, he rapped him on the head with the knob end of the rod.

The whispering would stop at once, for the rod often brought tears and left a headache. But the tithingman and his rod could not always keep the boys in order. We read that in one church the boys were fined for cutting the seats with their knives. In another, whips were placed here and there, and certain persons chosen to use them when they thought the boys needed to be punished.

"What shall we do with our boys?" the fathers often asked each other. At last some one thought of a plan which worked very well. What do you suppose it was? Simply this: to let each little boy sit with his own father and mother.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"They had quite forgotten the tithingman"

Besides keeping the boys from playing and the grown people from going to sleep, the tithingman must turn the hourglass. In those days very few people could afford clocks, but every one could have an hourglass. It took the fine sand just one hour to pour from the upper part of the glass through the tiny hole into the lower part.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

An hourglass

When the sand had all run through, the tithingman turned the glass over and the sand began to tell another hour. When the glass had been turned three times, the minister closed the service. Then the men picked up their muskets and foot stoves, the women wrapped their long capes more closely about them, and all went home.

Often there was another service in the afternoon. At sunset the Puritan Sabbath ended. Then the women brought out their knitting or spinning, or prepared for Monday's washing and the children were free to play until bedtime.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey