Fort Klock Historic Restoration
& Indian Castle Church

The Art of Bundling

Being an Inquiry into the Nature and Origins of that Curious but Universal Folk-Custom, with an Exposition of the Rise & Fall of Bundling in the Eastern Part of North America.

By Dana Doten, 1938

Chapter IV

A Bundling Dialogue

JULIET: But trust me, gentlemen, I'll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange. SHAKESPEARE, Romeo and Juliet.

[The scene is a moonlit bedroom in a New England farmhouse. At the rear are two dormer windows, with small panes; between them a high four-poster, curtained bed. At the left is a fireplace, with severe mantel; at right a door into the hall. Several straight backed chairs and a few tables are distributed about the room. Objects are only faintly visible in the winter moonlight, but snow-laden branches may be glimpsed through the windows. The time is about 1760.]

Mrs. PUTNAM.
(Entering, with candle, the light from which throws the room into sharp, if -flickering relief) This is Betsy's room, Mr. Aldrich, and cold enough, too, I fear. At least, you'll be sure to think as much after your fine Boston rooms. But we poor country folk must count our wood this winter, with taxes what they are. (Sets the candle on a bedside table and turns towards the door) Come in, sir, come in!

FRANK ALDRICH.
(A handsomely dressed and personable young man, in the last stages of embarrassment, enters slowly, coming to a halt just over the threshold) I-er-I pray you, Mrs. Putnam, do not inconvenience your-that is to say-it was surely no part of my intent to-(At which point he receives a shove -from behind as BETSY PUTNAM brushes past him and sweeps across to her mother. The shove completes the young mew's discomposure; he quickly regains physical equilibrium, but not the power of speech)

BETSY.
Mercy on my soul, will you freeze us all to death-keeping us standing about upstairs in February while you deliver sentiments? Are there blankets enough, mother?

(BETSY is a straight-forward girl, slightly vigorous, most attractive in a clean, natural way-fair-haired, blue-eyed, simply but excellently dressed in a deep blue gown)

Mrs. PUTNAM.
Why the same as you always have, child. And it's no colder than it has been all week. Unless, of course, Mr. Aldrich is accustomed to more. How does it stand with you, sir-shall you sleep warm tonight under these blankets?

FRANK.
In all sincerity, madam, I hardly know-(He glances from mother to daughter in painful confusion)

Mrs. PUTNAM.
(With rapid cordiality) Well, I'll look in later and see, after you're both in bed. As Mr. Putnam is fond of remarking, "A guest's comfort is sacred in this house, humble though it be!" And, speaking of your father, Betsy, do try to keep your voice down-you know how loud tones disturb him at night. (She goes out)

BETSY.
(Bending over the bed, deftly arranging blankets, her face hidden by the bed-hangings) I do detest undressing in winter, don't you. One leaves the friendly fireside, all nicely roasted, only to bare one's breast, like some Roman hero, first to the nip of chill air, thence to the icy embrace of sheets. And a warming-pan never does more than tantalize.

FRANK.
Miss Betsy, would it be indelicate to inquire-?

BETSY.
(Turning and observing him) Fie, sir, are these city manners, or did you learn them abroad? You'll be an icicle if you keep standing there. In truth, I think your travels have left you less alert than our plain Yankee boys who were never yet to Boston.

FRANK.
(Beginning to pull himself together) Come, now, as for the cold-the gracious warmth of your presence so far alleviates for me the frigid atmosphere that t'would be boorish to complain, or even to be sensible of my surroundings.

BETSY.
Save your gallantries, I beg of you, till we are safely bundled. (She begins to loosen her bodice)

FRANK.
Bundled?

BETSY.
Oh, this dress! I can never get the right of it. Here, won't you help me? (He comes to her side, and attempts clumsily to unfasten her garment) I told you the cold was bitter-see how your hands shake, like old Tom's when he's been too long without rum.

FRANK.
(Finally succeeding with the clasps) I assure you, Miss Betsy, from the bottom of my heart, I was never less troubled by the cold in all my life! (He passes a handkerchief across his brow) Candor compels me to admit, indeed, that I even find my coat excessive at the moment. (The handkerchief gesture again)

BETSY.
(Slipping out of her gown, and perching on the side of the bed to remove her shoes) I should very well think so. You're not going to bundle in that fine coat, I trust?

FRANK.
(With the directness of despair) Please, before we go farther-before we go one inch farther-rescue me from this delirium of wild conjecture. What do you mean-bundle?

BETSY.
(She pauses, with shoe in hand, gazes at him a moment, then bursts into laughter) Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Heaven preserve me (With an apprehensive glance at the door, she tries to stifle her mirth, remembering her mother's warning) You really-you mean you don't know-Oh, how delightful! Tell me true, what have you been thinking all this time?

FRANK.
I won't tell you. I asked first.

BETSY.
So British beaux do not bundle? Aye, I'll warrant there are other names. (Still laughing, she slips under the blankets and pulls them up to her chin, shivering vigorously) How I shall boast to the girls in the village, that I taught lessons in courtly conduct to a gallant but recently removed from London! That is, if I am alive to boast, and have not caught my death of cold. But I'll be fair. I'll tell you about bundling if you in turn will explain the "wild conjectures" you spoke of.

FRANK.
Tis an ungenerous bargain. But I have no other choice.

BETSY.
You swear to follow my instructions-every one?

FRANK.
To obey you would be bliss, to obey blindly and faithfully.

BETSY.
'Twill not, I hope, be so hard a task that obedience must be blind.

FRANK.
Come, a truce! My own stupidity is cruel punishment enough.

BETSY.
(Looking stern) Very well, sir. To bed with you-and mind, no coat! (He removes his coat, arranges it on a chair by the bed, and turns back the blankets) What- boots? Is that the London way now, in the company of ladies?

FRANK.
Plague on it! What sort of brute have I become? You perceive how utterly I'm in your thrall-only at your command have I wit enough for the simplest act. (Sits and begins tugging at his boots)

BETSY.
Ah, if you take that tone, I am all contrition. I would not steal your wits, though the parson did suggest in his sermon last month one needed them not for bundling. (Yawning and snuggling under the blankets) Withall, I liked your wit such time as I had opportunity to observe of it, in town. At the ball-you remember-when your friend, and my cousin, presented you, I remarked most particularly your polish and assurance. Our crude country boys are so easily embarrassed. I recall thinking you could never be.

FRANK.
Please! Have you no pity for a conquered foe, a man defeated equally by your rapier and these cursed boots. (He finally succeeds in removing the boots) There. Now, may I intrude?

BETSY.
To be sure. Lie quiet, and I'll open to you the mysteries of bundling. Yet, stay-why are you so in need of enlightenment? If I heard you aright, in our talks last December while I was with Aunt Letitia in Boston, you were Massachusetts-born.

FRANK.
My defense is briefly made. Though Boston-born I was transported at an early age to London by my parents, and, through foreign education, have missed those virtues of native inheritance, I now so miserably lack-such as knowledge of your "bundling".

BETSY.
Well, you needn't lack blankets into the bargain. Here, they're plenty for both! (He has crawled under a corner of the coverings on the extreme edge of the bed. She throws him a more generous portion of the blankets) A man can't bundle cold. Especially (giggling) the first time. Are you snug?

FRANK.
(Relaxing) Divinely!

BETSY.
So now for my lesson. Here are two people under blankets together-Frank and Betsy. Both comfortable and of a mind to talk. "And why are we here?" says he. "How came we here?" Very simple indeed-we're here because our grandparents did not choose to use up costly wood and candles, nor yet to forbid courting either. We're here because bed is the only sensible place to be of a winter night and because if our beds were a dozen miles apart we'd not advance our knowledge of one another very fast. There is all my lesson. How do you find it?

FRANK.
Oh, excellent, my dear school-mistress-but I would learn more.

BETSY.
Wait! Not till mother goes. (Mrs. PUTNAM enters and crosses to the bedside) Mrs. PUTNAM.
Is everything all right?

FRANK.
Precisely all right, Mrs. Putnam. I cannot express-

BETSY.
It's true, mother, he really cannot. Goodnight, dear, and don't let father wake us too early.

Mrs. PUTNAM
Heavens, you know your father, child! He won't be up and about himself till almost seven, unless I rouse him. But don't forget what I said about that high voice of yours. Goodnight, Mr. Aldrich- sleep well. Goodnight, Betsy. (She leans over and blows out the candle. Her form is seen passing in front of one of the windows, and then the door is heard to close)

BETSY.
(Her subdued laughter breaks the moonlit silence) I've been thinking-what a libertine you must have considered me. I suppose your fine London ladies would never have ventured to begin undressing in a gentleman's presence, unless-

FRANK.
Unless what, dear teacher?

BETSY.
Why, how should a simple country girl know what fashionable ladies have in their heads? That is rather for you to say. 'Tis your turn at the game of instruction. What "wild conjectures" were you beset with, before we bundled?

FRANK.
How relentless is beauty, on every occasion! But I shall humor you only thus far-I feared your worthy parent's hot rum had stolen my senses, and that I was seeing things which could by no means really transpire.

BETSY.
Are you sorry to find yourself sober?

FRANK.
The complete contrary. But I am glad not to be cold sober.

BETSY.
You will grant, then, some fragment of virtue to country ways, if we have not sofas, like my good Aunt Letitia's?

FRANK.
Miss Betsy, had I a sofa I should sell it directly-I shall urge all of my acquaintance to do so, when I return to Boston.

BETSY.
(After a pause) Frank!

FRANK.
Yes.

BETSY.
About sofas. Are they much admired in London?

FRANK.
Oh, exceedingly-the very height of fashion.

BETSY.
And, is it thought-er-is it thought proper for young ladies to receive young gentlemen upon a sofa?

FRANK.
(It is his turn to be amused) Why, bless you! In Paris 'tis even thought proper for old ladies to receive young gentlemen upon sofas, and, you must know that the French consider such a situation, for some reason, the most exciting possible. But what should we Yankee bundlers care of sofas-the stupid Oriental contrivances?

BETSY.
(Rather slowly) It's always easier to talk in the dark, isn't it? Or perhaps it's the moonlight-or the snow outside, with us warm and protected inside. But there are so many things you must know, from your travels, that I have wished to ask you, since we met, and have never dared. So many things about the great world, the world of fashion. (From the sound of the bed she has turned on her side, facing him) But sofas, Frank. It may be just my strict upbringing, and my having to go to church so much, and my father and mother such prudent people-whatever the cause, I confess I'm old-fashioned. Still, ever since I stayed with Aunt Letitia, I've-well-wondered about sofas. They seem so intimate.

FRANK.
So intimate? (He cannot suppress his laughter now)

BETSY.
Stop it! I won't have it! I won't have you make sport of me.

FRANK.
But Betsy, my dear-turn about is fair play. You treated me to the most cold-blooded ridicule, a short while back-and when I say cold-blooded I mean quite literally that. Making me undress by the book when I was freezing. (His chuckles continue)

BETSY.
Tis very different.

FRANK.
(Controlling himself) And so is bundling-deliciously different.

BETSY.
(Cautiously) You were never on a sofa, with a young lady, were you Frank?

FRANK.
Oh, never to speak of. Not above a dozen times a season, I'll swear. My friends will assure you I never qualified as a beau.

BETSY.
What, a dozen times a season! Shameful! Why, I've never bundled but three or four times in my whole life-that is, really bundled.

FRANK.
(Rising on his elbow) You've bundled three or four times? Surely, you must be jesting.

BETSY.
Surely I'm not jesting. Would I could believe your history as truly told as mine. A dozen times a season!

FRANK.
That's different. Any man who goes occasionally into society-

BETSY.
Different is right, sir-as different as night from day! (She rolls over decidedly, to the limit of the bed away from him)

FRANK.
(Equally aroused) You shan't put me off with your feminine gambit of changing the subject. What am I to think of my countless predecessors in this bundling bed?

BETSY.
(Tartly) They weren't countless. There were only three-well, four-and every one right here under my father's own roof, in a perfectly proper way.

FRANK.
(He lies down again, and there is a long silence) Betsy!

BETSY.
(In a muffled voice) Yes.

FRANK.
If I swear to you that the sofa passages in my life were all as innocent as though I had been bundling, if I promise you, on my honor, that I could not have been less intimate with these forgotten ladies had I been in bed with them, as we are here-will you forgive me for thus straying into possible temptation through youth and ignorance of the proper thing? Could you find it in your heart to?

BETSY.
(Not immediately) Well-

FRANK.
I beg you, do not be remorseless. I was taken away as a child-1 never learned-

BETSY.
(Slowly turning over) Well-I've no wish to be harsh- I suppose it wasn't really your fault-well, yes!

FRANK.
Betsy!
(The conversation sinks into whispers, as the curtain slowly falls, and the branches sway against the moonlight beyond the windows)

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