Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles by author Paul Lintern. It is set in 1831 and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of a young girl.
Amelia didn’t have much say in how she spent the rest of the day. As soon as she came trudging back from Brubaker Creek, still sopping wet and shivering, the women sprang into action.
Elizabeth herded her into the bedroom, stripped off her clothes, dried her off with cotton cloth and wrapped her in two downy quilts. Katherine boiled water to make a hot bath, and Peggy fed her a little glass of corn whiskey mixed with honey.
They weren’t going to let Mrs. Pendergast’s daughter get sick while she was in their charge. After a warm bath that was made hotter with each kettle of heated water, Amelia was sent to bed, under a mountain of quilts, which even Amelia thought was an overreaction, given the increasing warmth of the June afternoon.
As she lay there, she realized that Autumn and the boys had disappeared. Only later did she find out they had been “volunteered” into making at least a month’s worth of cooking firewood for Peggy, as a reminder to take better care of guests.
They all finally came together about supper time, as guests began arriving for the night. Autumn came in, hot, dirty and tired, and began cleaning up for supper, after making sure Amelia was all right. Isaac and Wolf Paw stayed outside by the cooking fire, but sent apologies to Amelia through Autumn.
“Why are they so sorry? I’m the silly goose that jumped in,” Amelia said. “And it wasn’t that the water was that cold; the Atlantic Ocean never warms up near Boston.”
“Wasn’t that cold?” Autumn repeated.
Amelia paused, then giggled.
“All right, it was freezing. I don’t know what got into me.”
“Well, we’re glad you’re all right. I’ll ask mother if you can get dressed and come out for dinner.”
Autumn brought Amelia’s clothes in from the line, all dried out now. She held up a leather corset, which Amelia wore tightly wrapped around her waist, under her dress.
“Why do you wear this,” Autumn asked.
“All the women in Boston wear them, to keep their waist small and their form up,” Amelia said, blushing a little.
“But you can’t breathe in it; especially after this one got wet and shrunk,” Autumn said.
“A woman of leisure does not need to breathe,” Amelia said.
She had heard that said back home, but it seemed rather silly to hear herself say it here.
“But a working woman does need to breathe,” Elizabeth said, overhearing the conversation as she walked in. “Around here, we fold those up and tuck them away in the trunk.“
Amelia actually felt a bit relieved. Uncle Jacob, fresh back from lumber cutting, came right to Amelia’s room when he heard what happened. She saw the concern for her, then relief when he realized she was all right.
It made her homesick for her parents, but she was not going to let the Zeiters know that. After he left, she suddenly remembered that her father had sent gifts for Jacob. Hopping out of bed and getting dressed, she searched through her trunk to find a cloth package containing three books Father thought he would like. She took them to the other room.
“I was supposed to give you these when I got here; I guess I, well, forgot,” she told him.
“Now is a great time for a gift. Let’s see what you have,” Jacob said, as he untied the package and opened up the cloth. Amelia noticed that he carefully folded the cloth and leather strip to use another time.
“Books. Your father knows my passion for reading,” Jacob said.
“One is a new book from the Reverend Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous Unitarian preacher in Boston. My mother loves to read him,” Autumn said.
“Yes, your father has mentioned him in his letters, and I’ve read a few things that were reprinted in the Western Sentinel,” he replied, then picked up another book.
“ ‘The Sketchbook’ by Washington Irving. His stories are marvelous. I’ll bet your father has read this to you.”
“Mother has. ‘Rip Van Winkle’ is my favorite,” said Amelia.
“I’ll read it for you and Autumn tonight,” Jacob said.
“And what is this book? ‘Last of the Mohicans,’ by James Fenimore Cooper. A handsome volume, never heard of it,” Jacob said.
“It is a new book; father says you will like it. He says it is about rugged individualists. I guess he thinks that is you.” Amelia said.
“I suppose he thinks that way about me, but nothing could be further from the truth. I can only do what I do because of my family and neighbors; we’ll do anything to help each other.”
Amelia nodded. She had already seen many help each other, without expecting pay, just because help was needed.
“I can’t thank him enough,” Jacob said. “Next to our Bible, these will be my most cherished books.”
That night, guests reveled in a richly spiced beef and potato dinner, plus the first of the season’s strawberries covering Peggy’s specially made shortcakes. As Amelia visited with guests, she was surprised to find out how interested these people were in her home in Boston, and how knowledgeable they seemed about events in the country.
She heard them brag about President Andrew Jackson, “the People’s President,” and how they had campaigned for him in the ‘28 election, the first time that common people played an important part in the election.
Amelia didn’t say anything, but just listened. She remembered her father being upset with President Jackson, saying this is what you get when the uneducated get to vote. But these people seem educated, bold, opinionated, thoughtful.
The frontier lacked many luxuries, but not wisdom. Uncle Jacob asked her if she wanted to play another song, but instead, she asked to teach the guests a song.
”If your ears can handle it, I will ask them to sing along,” Jacob said.
Amelia stood up on a chair so all could see, even though once she got up there she knew was unnecessary, as there were only 15 in the audience, including the Zeiters.
She taught them a song that had been written for the Boston Sabbath School Union, earlier in the spring. Her mother had taken her there. The tune was a familiar one, to which the British had been singing “God Save the King” for many years.
Amelia, though, taught them new words, line by line, that already had become special to her: ”My Country, ‘tis of Thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of Thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, Land of Thy Pilgrims’ pride, From ev’ry mountainside, Let freedom ring.”
The group sang it once, then again, then insisted that she sing it for them and with them again and again, until everyone knew it by heart. They decided they must take a copy to Hugh McFall in town to display at the post office, and to the Western Sentinel, for everyone to enjoy.
Amelia didn’t even tell them there were three more verses. She decided to save those for another night.