Episode 6. War or No War?
They have arrived. While Grandfather is trying rather clumsily to help his sister out of the carriage, I step forth, lift her in my arms, set her down gently and give her a big hug accompanied by a "How good to meet you, Aunt Jane!" — all of this scenario having been carefully rehearsed with Aunt Sally.
— "You mean Great-Aunt Jane," she says, a little acidly.
— "Aunt feels closer than Great-Aunt" I reply, "and I mean to love you just as much as I love Aunt Sally, which is quite a bit." There, how can she be miffed after that? I had prepared myself to add: "I've waited fifteen years to hug an aunt or two," but I figured that enough is enough.
Why had I imagined that she would be large and formidable? She is a tiny woman with shiny eyes and a half-smile on her face in response to my huge grin. I carefully lead her up the steps.
Aunt Sally has out-cooked herself: hot vegetable soup, roast chicken dressed with apples, a pie overflowing with last summer's peach preserves ... a feast.
And this much-dreaded Jane Mecom is animated, flushed, I'd almost say bubbling. She describes their passage through Connecticut and the wonderful people that her brother introduced her to along the way, she chuckles in telling us that they were having such an interesting conversation, the two of them in the carriage, that they went way beyond their stopping place for the night and had to seek another. When describing my father's mansion in Perth Amboy, where they spent a day, she grows ecstatic: so spacious! So beautifully furnished! Such an elegant wife! I glance at Grandfather who, tight-lipped, is resolutely looking at his plate. Is he thinking of all the money the Governor and Elizabeth owe him and will never pay back? Or more probably, of the widening political gap between them? He remains silent.
Washed and brushed, the boys, previously fed, make their appearance at the end of the meal. Benny, a little stiffly, delivers the greeting to Jane that he has been rehearsing. Willy, as usual, tries to steal the show and is, as usual, dispatched to bed in disgrace.
For my part, after Uncle Richard and Aunt Sally have retired, I am busy courting Aunt Jane, while Grandfather relaxes and looks at her fondly. She wants to know about my life at the College of Philadelphia, not forgetting to remind me, of course, that it was started by we-know-whom.
I tell her that we are divided into two classes, Senior and Junior. I'm a Junior supposed to graduate in two years. "At 8 in the morning," I say, "all students, whether of the English School, the Latin School, or College assemble in the Hall where the first thing is the calling of the roll."
"Whoever is absent has a cross put to his name for which he pays a fine of two coppers, but the English School and the Latin School have the privilege of choosing whether they will pay the fine or be 'ferruled.' That privilege is not allowed in the College. If it was, I don't believe it would be much embraced. This tax of either paying the fine or receiving the ferruling is settled every Thursday."
(Dear Descendants, in case this barbaric custom has disappeared from your enlightened days, the ferrule is a flat piece of leather or wood with which the unfortunate scholars are beaten.)
Prayers are then read by some of the masters, after which we proceed to business.
In the morning, that is until eleven o'clock, we are with Dr Ellison, the Latin and Greek master of the College who, after he has inspected our exercises, hears us construe a lesson in Livy's Roman History which we are supposed to have looked over the night before in our lodgings, as we have no time for learning it in the College.
Three mornings a week Dr. Ellison teaches us geography. Saturday evening we write an English theme for Monday morning.
Monday evening we turn the English theme into Latin for Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening we write an English description for Wednesday morning, such as virtue, honor, etc.
Wednesday evening, we translate a piece of Latin out of the Selecta Profanis for Thursday morning; Thursday evening we make Latin verses for Friday morning; Friday evening we write an English letter for Saturday morning.
In the afternoons, that is from 3 to 5, we are with Dr Smith, the Provost, who instructs us in mathematics, of which I'm beginning to understand something.
At 5 we again assemble in the Hall where the roll is called and prayers read, after which, having nothing more to do at the College, I go home and write one of the exercises according to the day of the week it is.
"Now, Aunt Jane and Grandfather, you may perhaps be wondering about what I'm doing from 11 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon? Be reassured. During that time I'm learning my Euclid math which is sent to me by Dr. Smith the afternoon before, and which I have to recite when I go to the College at three.
"So when do I find the time for the dancing and fencing lessons with the good old Thomas Pike that my Father had so strongly recommended? I might go to Dancing School on Saturday afternoon if Dr Ellison consents to release me from my Saturday's task, for I shall not be able to dance with much spirit when the thought of writing a Latin theme is sticking in my stomach."
Grandfather and Aunt Jane listen attentively to this long speech of mine, Grandfather nodding in appreciation and Aunt Jane, what shall I say? In awe of all that knowledge her own twelve children never acquired.
— "You must tell me more," she says. "I want to know about what you learned in your English boarding school."
Here is my chance!
— "Remember, Aunt Jane," I say: "THAT A LITTLE LEARNING IS A DANGEROUS THING."
— "You know him!" she squeals. "You have read Alexander Pope, my hero!"
— "But of course" I proclaim, resisting the impulse to tell her how we, naughty boys, whispered that a lot of learning had to be still more dangerous. "And we also memorized another great line: One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT."
She hugs me. Grandfather announces he is going to bed and asks me to join him for an early walk tomorrow morning.