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Touring the Bad Boy House


Upstairs at the Nutter House

In the "Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich," writing of the small hall bedroom in the Nutter House, his biographer says: "Even in those-days be was a reader, a little dreamer, and moved in a world peopled with the folk of the imagination. The books he found there and the use he made. of them is of the first biographic importance."

tour3.jpg"I had never before had a chamber all to myself, and this one, about twice the size of our stateroom on board the Typhoon, was a marvel of neatness and comfort. Pretty chintz curtains hung at the window, and a patch quilt of more colors than were in Joseph's coat covered the little bed. The pattern of the wallpaper left nothing to be desired in that time. On A gray background were small bunches of leaves, unlike any that ever grew in this world; and on every other bunch perched a yellow bird, pitted with crimson spots, as if it had just recovered from a severe attack of the smallpox. That no such bird ever existed did not detract from my admiration of each one. There were two hundred and sixty-eight of these-birds in all, not counting those split in two where the paper was badly joined. I counted them once when I was laid up with a fine black eye, and, falling asleep, I immediately dreamed that the whole flock suddenly took wing and flew out of the window. From that time I was never able to regard them as merely inanimate objects "

"A washstand in the comer, a chest of mahogany drawers, a looking-glass in a filigreed frame, and a high-backed chair studded with brass nails like a coffin, constituted the furniture. Over the head of the bed were two oak shelves, holding perhaps a dozen books -- among which were Theodore, or, The Peruvians; Robinson Crusoe; an odd volume of Tristram Shandy, Baxter's Saints' Rest, and a fine English edition of the Arabian Nights, with six hundred woodcuts by Harvey."

"Shall I ever forget the hour when I first overhauled these books? I do not allude especially to Baxter's Saints' Rest, which is far from being a lively work for the young, but to the Arabian Nights, and particularly Robinson Crusoe. The thrill that ran into my fingers' ends then has not run out yet. Manyatime did I steal up to this nest of a room, and, taking the dog's-eared volume from its shelf, glide off into an enchanted realm, where there were no lessons to forget, and no boys to smash my kite."

In a life so tranquil and circumscribed as ours in the Nutter House a visitor was a novelty of no little importance. The whole household awoke from its quietude one morning when the Captain announced that a young niece of his from New York was coming to spend a few weeks with us."

"The blue chintz room, into which a ray of sun was never allowed to penetrate, was thrown open and dusted and its moldy air made sweet with a bouquet of pot-roses placed on the old- Fashioned bureau."

tour6.jpg"At the time I came to Riverrnouth, my grandfather had retired from active pursuits and was living at ease on his money, invested principally in shipping. He had been a widower many years, a maiden sister, the aforesaid Miss Abigail, managing his household. Miss Abigail also managed her brother, and her brother's servant, and the visitor at her brother's gate."

"According to Kitty, it was not originally my grandfather's intention to have Miss Abigail at the bead of his domestic establishment. She had swooped down on him (Kitty's own words) with a band- box in one hand and a faded blue cotton umbrella, still in existence, in the other. Clad in this singular garb -- I do not remember that Kitty alluded to any additional peculiarity of dress -- Miss Abigail had made her appearance at the door of the Nutter House on the morning of my grandmother's funeral."

"Miss Abigail had effected many changes in the Nutter House before I came there to live; but there was one thing against which she had long contended without being able to overcome-- this was the Captain's pipe. On first taking command of the household, she prohibited smoking, in the sitting-room, where it had been the old gentleman's custom to take a whiff or two of the fragrant weed after meals."

"The edict went forth -- and so did the pipe. However, my grandfather humored her in this as in other matters, and smoked by stealth, like a guilty creature, in the barn or about the gardens. That was practicable in summer, but in winter the Captain was hard put to it. When he could not stand it longer, he retreated to his bedroom and barricaded the door."

"I needn't tell a New England boy what a museum of curiosities is the garret of a well-regulated New England house of fifty or sixty years' standing. Here met together, as if by some preconcerted arrangement, all the broken-down chairs of the household, all the spavined tables, all the seedy hats, all the intoxicated-looking boots, all the split warming-sticks that have retired from business, 'weary with the march of life,' the pots, the pans, the trunks, the bottles -- who may hope to make an inventory of the numberless odds and ends collected in this bewildering lumber-room? But what a place it is to sit of an afternoon with the rain pattering on the roof! What a place to read Gulliver's Travels I or the famous adventures of Rinaldo Rinaidini In a lidless trunk in the garret I subsequently unearthed another motley collection of novels and romances, embracing the adventures of Baron Trenck, Jack Sheppard, Don Quixote, Gil Bias, and Charlotte Temple -- all of which I fed upon like a bookworm. I never come across a copy of any of those works without feeling a certain tenderness for the yellow-haired little rascal who used to lean above the magic pages hour after hour, religiously believing every word he read, and no more doubting the reality of Sinbad the Sailor or the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance than he did the existence of his own grandfather."

["garret of a well-regulated New England" links to a jump page tbagarret;org - this is not a postcards, since there is none, but goes with that set.]

In the story of the "Nutter House" Mr. Aldrich does not speak of the garden, but he has often told me of the inexhaustible territory of pleasure and play it was - at times swarming with Indians in ambush, behind every bush and tree -- then, presto, change ! it was transformed into an English forest through which rode Robin Hood and his men -- again the pirates had it -- Captain Kidd burying his treasure in the moonlight -- Jeanne d'Arc proudly riding on her white steed with banners flying -- and here, many times, was solemnized the marriage of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith.

Article by Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, reprinted in its entirety from THE OUTLOOK, May 27, 1911 in the collection of the Portsmouth Public Library. The quotations throughout are from Thomas Bailey Aldrich's classic, "Story of a Bad Boy" (1869). See also: "Crowding Memories" by Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Houghton, Miflin, Boston 1920. Illustrations are from the original reprinted in 1990 by Hardscrabble Books, University of New Hampshire, University Press of New England.

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