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Hoopskirts & Other Lively Matter
by [?]

Several months ago I had occasion to go through a deserted “mansion.” It was a gaunt building with long windows and it sat in a great yard. Over the windows were painted scrolls, like eyebrows lifted in astonishment. Whatever was the cause of this, it has long since departed, for it is thirty years since the building was tenanted. It would seem as if it fell asleep–for so the blinds and the drawn curtains attest–before the lines of this first astonishment were off its face. I am told that the faces of men dead in battle show in similar fashion the marks of conflict. But there is a shocked expression on the face of this house as if a scandal were on the street. It is crying, as it were, “Fie, shame!” upon its neighbors.

Inside there are old carpets and curtains which spit dust at you if you touch them. (Is there not some fabulous animal which does the same, thereby to escape in the mirk it has itself created?) Most of the furniture has been removed, but here and there bulky pieces remain, an antique sideboard, maybe too large to be taken away; like Robinson Crusoe’s boat, too heavy to be launched. In each room is a chandelier for gas, resplendent as though Louis XV had come again to life, with tinkling glass pendants and globules interlinked, like enormous Kohinoors.

Down in the kitchen–which is below stairs as in an old English comedy–you can see the place where the range stood. And there are smoky streaks upon the walls that may have come from the coals of ancient feasts. If you sniff, and put your fancy in it–it is an unsavory thought–it is likely even that you can get the stale smell from such hospitable preparation.

From the first floor to the second is a flaring staircase with a landing where opulence can get its breath. And then there is a choice of upward steps, either to the right or left as your wish shall direct. And on each side is a balustrade unbroken by posts from top to bottom. Now the first excitement of my own life was on such a rail, which seemed a funicular made for my special benefit. The seats of all my early breeches, I have been told, were worn shiny thereon, like a rubbed apple. These descents were executed slowly at the turn, but gathered wild speed on the straight-away. There was slight need for Annie to dust the “balusters.”

An old house is strong in its class distinctions. There is a front part and a back part. To know the front part is to know it in its spacious and generous moods. But somewhere you will find a door and there will be three steps behind it, and poof!–you will be prying into the darker life of the place. In this particular house of which I write, it was as if the back rooms, the back halls and the innumerable closets had been playing at hide and seek and had not been told when the game was over, and so still kept to their hiding places. It is in such obscure closets that a family skeleton, if it be kept at all, might be kept most safely. There would be slight hazard of its discovery if the skeleton restrained itself from clanking, as is the whim of skeletons.

It was in the back part of this house that I came on a closet, where, after all these years, women’s garments were still hanging. A lighted match–for I am no burglar with a bull’s-eye as you might suspect–displayed to me an array of petticoats–the flounced kind that gladdened the eye of woman in those remote days–also certain gauzy matters which the writers of the eighteenth century called by the name of smocks. Besides these, there were suspended from hooks those sartorial deceits, those lying mounds of fashion, that false incrustation on the surface of nature, known as “bustles.” Also, there was a hoopskirt curled upon the floor, and an open barrel with a stowage of books–a novel or two of E. P. Roe, the poems of John Saxe, a table copy of Whittier in padded leather, an album with a flourish on the cover–these at the top of the heap.