MARY CARY "FREQUENTLY MARTHA"
BY Kate Langley Bosher
FRONTISPIECE BY FRANCES ROGERS
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Published By Arrangement With Harper & Brothers
COPYRIGHT, 1910 BY HARPER & BROTHERS PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
CHAP. PAGE I. AN UNTHANKFUL ORPHAN 1 II. THE COMING OF MISS KATHERINE 14 III. MARY, FREQUENTLY MARTHA 27 IV. THE STEPPED-ON AND THE STEPPERS 39 V. "HERE COMES THE BRIDE!" 50 VI. "MY LADY OF THE LOVELY HEART" 61 VII. "STERILIZED AND FERTILIZED" 70 VIII. MARY CARY'S BUSINESS 75 IX. LOVE IS BEST 85 X. THE REAGAN BALL 97 XI. FINDING OUT 103 XII. A TRUE MIRACLE 120 XIII. HIS COMING 133 XIV. THE HURT OF HAPPINESS 141 XV. A REAL WEDDING 155
AN UNTHANKFUL ORPHAN
My name is Mary Cary. I live in the Yorkburg Female Orphan Asylum. You may think nothing happens in an Orphan Asylum. It does. The orphans are sure enough children, and real much like the kind that have Mothers and Fathers; but though they don't give parties or wear truly Paris clothes, things happen, and that's why I am going to write this story.
To-day I was kept in. Yesterday, too. I don't mind, for I would rather watch the lightning up here than be down in the basement with the others. There are days when I love thunder and lightning. I can't flash and crash, being just Mary Cary; but I'd like to, and when it is done for me it is a relief to my feelings.
The reason I was kept in was this. Yesterday Mr. Gaffney, the one with a sunk eye and cold in his head perpetual, came to talk to us for the benefit of our characters. He thinks it's his duty, and, just naturally loving to talk, he wears us out once a week anyhow. Yesterday, not agreeing with what he said, I wouldn't pretend I did, and I was punished prompt, of course.
I don't care for duty-doers, and I tried not to listen to him; but tiresome talk is hard not to hear—it makes you so mad. Hear him I did, and when, after he had ambled on until I thought he really was castor-oil and I had swallowed him, he blew his nose and said:
"You have much, my children, to be thankful for, and for everything you should be thankful. Are you? If so, stand up. Rise, and stand upon your feet."
I didn't rise. All the others did—stood on their feet, just like he asked. None tried their heads. I was the only one that sat, and when he saw me, his sunk eye almost rolled out, and his good eye stared at me in such astonishment that I laughed out loud. I couldn't help it, I truly couldn't.
I'm not thankful for everything, and that's why I didn't stand up. Can you be thankful for toothache, or stomachache, or any kind of ache? You cannot. And not meant to be, either.
The room got awful still, and then presently he said:
"Mary Cary"—his voice was worse than his eye—"Mary Cary, do you mean to say you have not a thankful heart?" And he pointed his finger at me like I was the Jezebel lady come to life.
I didn't answer, thinking it safer, and he asked again:
"Do I understand, Mary Cary"—and by this time he was real red-in-the-face mad—"do I understand you are not thankful for all that comes to you? Do I understand aright?"
"Yes, sir, you understand right," I said, getting up this time. "I am not thankful for everything in my life. I'd be much thankfuller to have a Mother and Father on earth than to have them in heaven. And there are a great many other things I would like different." And down I sat, and was kept in for telling the truth.
Miss Bray says it was for impertinence (Miss Bray is the Head Chief of this Institution), but I didn't mean to be impertinent. I truly didn't. Speaking facts is apt to make trouble, though—also writing them. To-day Miss Bray kept me in for putting something on the blackboard I forgot to rub out. I wrote it just for my own relief, not thinking about anybody else seeing it. What I wrote was this:
"Some people are crazy all the time; All people are crazy sometimes."
That's why I'm up in the punishment-room to-day, and it only proves that what I wrote is right. It's crazy to let people know you know how queer they are. Miss Bray takes personal everything I do, and when she saw that blackboard, up-stairs she ordered me at once. She loves to punish me, and it's a pleasure I give her often.
I brought my diary with me, and as I can't write when anybody is about, I don't mind being by myself every now and then. Miss Bray don't know this, or my punishment would take some other form.
I just love a diary. You see, its something you can tell things to and not get in trouble. When writing in it I can relieve my feelings by saying what I think, which Miss Katherine says is risky to do to people, and that it's safer to keep your feelings to yourself. People don't really care about them, and there's nothing they get so tired of hearing about. A diary doesn't talk, neither do animals; but a diary understands better than animals, and you can call things by their right name in a book which it isn't safe to do out loud, even to a dog.
I know I am not unthankful, and I would much rather have a Father and Mother on earth than to have them in heaven, but I guess I should have kept my preferences to myself. Somehow preferences seem to make people mad.
But a Mother and Father in heaven are too far away to be truly comforting. I like the people I love to be close to me. I guess that is why, when I was little, I used to hold out my arms at night, hoping my Mother would come and hold me tight. But she never came, and now I know it's no use.
There are a great many things that are no use. One is in telling people what they don't want to know. I found that out almost two years ago, when I wasn't but ten. The way I found out was this.
One morning, it was an awful cold morning, Miss Bray came into the dining-room just as we were taking our seats for breakfast, and she looked so funny that everybody stared, though nobody dared to even smile visible. All the children are afraid of Miss Bray; but at that time I hadn't found out her true self, and, not thinking of consequences, I jumped up and ran over to her and whispered something in her ear.
"What!" she said. "What did you say?" And she bent her head so as to hear better.
"You forgot one side of your face when fixing this morning," I said, still whispering, not wanting the others to hear. "Only one side is pink—" But I didn't get any further, for she grabbed my hand and almost ran with me out of the room.
"You piece of impertinence!" she said, and her eyes had such sparks in them I knew my judgment-day had come. "You little piece of impertinence! You shall be punished well for this." I was. I didn't mean to be impertinent. I thought she'd like to know. I thought wrong.
I loathe Miss Bray. The very sight of her shoulders in the back gets me mad all over without her saying a word, and everything in me that's wrong comes right forward and speaks out when she and I are together. She thinks she could run this earth better than it's being done, and she walks like she was the Superintendent of most of it. But I could stand that. I could stand her cheeks, and her frizzed front, and a good many other things; but what I can't stand is her passing for being truthful when she isn't. She tells stories, and she knows I know it; and from the day I found it out I have stayed out of her way; and were she the Queen of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and the United States I'd want her to stand out of mine. I truly would.
Her outrageousest story I heard her tell myself. It was over a year ago, and we were in the room where the ladies were having a Board meeting. I had come in to bring some water, and had a waiter full of glasses in my hands, and was just about to put them on the table when I heard Miss Bray tell her Lie.
That's what she did. She Lied!
Those glasses never touched that table. My hands lost their hold, and down they came with a crash. Every one smashed to smithereens, and I standing staring at Miss Bray. The way she told her story was this. The Board deals us out for adoption, and that morning they were discussing a request for Pinkie Moore, and, as usual, Miss Bray didn't want Pinkie to go. You see, Pinkie was very useful. She did a lot of disagreeable things for Miss Bray, and Miss Bray didn't want to lose her. And when Mrs. Roane, who is the only Board lady truly seeing through her, asked, real sharplike, why Pinkie shouldn't go this time, Miss Bray spoke out like she was really grieved.
"I declare, Mrs. Roane," she said—and she twirled her keys round and round her fingers, and twitched the nostril parts of her nose just like a horse—"I declare, Mrs. Roane, I hate to tell you, I really do. But Pinkie Moore wouldn't do for adoption. She has a terrible temper, and she's so slow nobody would keep her. And then, too"—her voice was the Pharisee kind that the Lord must hate worse than all others—"and then, too, I am sorry to say Pinkie is not truthful, and has been caught taking things from the girls. I hope none of you will mention this, as I trust by watching over her to correct these faults. She begs me so not to send her out for adoption, and is so devoted to me that—" And just then she saw me, which she hadn't done before, I being behind Mrs. Armstead, and she stopped like she had been hit.
For a minute I didn't breathe. I didn't. All I did was to stare—stare with mouth open and eyes out; and then it was the glasses went down and I flew into the yard, and there by the pump was Pinkie.
"Oh, Pinkie!" I said. "Oh, Pinkie!" And I caught her round the waist and raced up and down the yard like a wild man from Borneo. "Oh, Pinkie, what do you think?" Poor Pinkie, thinking a mad dog had bit me, tried to make me stop, but stop I wouldn't until there was no more breath. And then we sat down on the woodpile, and I hugged her so hard I almost broke her bones.
First I was so mad I couldn't cry, and then crying so I couldn't speak. But after a while words came, and I said:
"Pinkie Moore, are you devoted to Miss Bray? Are you? I want the truest truth. Are you devoted to her?"
"Devoted to Miss Bray? Devoted!" And poor little Pinkie, who has no more spirit than a poor relation, spoke out for once. "I hate her!" she said. "I hate her worse than prunes; and if somebody would only adopt me, I'd be so thankful I'd choke for joy, except for leaving you." Then she boohoo'd too, and the tears that fell between us looked like we were artesian wells—they certainly did.
But Pinkie didn't know what caused my tears. Mine were mad tears, and not being able to tell her why they came, I had to send her to the house to wash her face. I washed mine at the pump, and then worked off some of my mad by sweeping the yard as hard as I could, wishing all the time Miss Bray was the leaves, and trying to make believe she was. I was full of the things the Bible says went into swine, and I knew there would be trouble for me before the day was out. But there wasn't. Not even for breaking the pump-handle was I punished, and Miss Bray tried so hard to be friendly that at first I did not understand. I do now.
That was my first experience in finding out that some one who looked like a lady on the outside was mean and deceitful on the inside, and it made me tremble all over to find it could be so. Since then I have never pretended to be friends with Miss Bray. As for her, she hates me—hates me because she knows I know what sort of a person she is, a sort I loathe from my heart.
When I first got my diary I thought I was going to write in it every day. I haven't, and that shows I'm no better on resolves than I am on keeping step. I never keep step. Sometimes I've thought I was really something, but I'm not. Nobody much is when you know them too well. It is a good thing for your pride when you keep a diary, specially when you are truthful in it. Each day that you leave out is an evidence of character—poor character—for it shows how careless and put-off-y you are; both of which I am.
But it isn't much in life to be an inmate of a Humane Association, or a Home, or an Asylum, or whatever name you call the place where job-lot charity children live. And that's what I am, an Inmate. Inmates are like malaria and dyspepsia: something nobody wants and every place has. Minerva James says they are like veterans—they die and yet forever live.
Well, anyhow, whenever I used to do wrong, which was pretty constant, I would say to myself it didn't matter, nobody cared. And if I let a chance slip to worry Miss Bray I was sorry for it; but that was before I understood her, and before Miss Katherine came. Since Miss Katherine came I know it's yourself that matters most, not where you live or where you came from, and I'm thinking a little more of Mary Cary than I used to, though in a different way. As for Miss Bray, I truly try at times to forget she's living.
But she's taught me a good deal about Human Nature, Miss Bray has. About the side I didn't know. It's a pity there are things we have to know. I think I will make a special study of Human Nature. I thought once I'd take up Botany in particular, as I love flowers; or Astronomy, so as to find out all about those million worlds in the sky, so superior to earth, and so much larger; but I think, now, I'll settle on Human Nature. Nobody ever knows what it is going to do, which makes it full of surprises, but there's a lot that's real interesting about it. I like it. As for its Bray side, I'll try not to think about it; but if there are puddles, I guess it's well to know where, so as not to step in them. I wish we didn't have to know about puddles and things! I'd so much rather know little and be happy than find out the miserable much some people do.
Anyhow, I won't have to remember all I learn, for Miss Katherine says there are many things it's wise to forget, and whenever I can I'll forget mean things. I'd forget Miss Bray's if she'd tell me she was sorry and cross her heart she'd never do them again. But I don't believe she ever will. God is going to have a hard time with Miss Bray. She's right old to change, and she's set in her ways—bad ways.
THE COMING OF MISS KATHERINE
Now, why can't I keep on at a thing like Miss Katherine? Why? Because I'm just Mary Cary, mostly Martha; made of nothing, came from nowhere, and don't know where I'm going, and have no more system in my nature than Miss Bray has charms for gentlemen.
But Miss Katherine—well, there never was and never will be but one Miss Katherine, and there's as much chance of my being like her as there is of my reaching the stars. I'll never be like her, but she's my friend. That's the wonderful part of it. She's my friend. And when you've got a friend like Miss Katherine you've got strength to do anything. To stand anything, too.
The beautiful part of it is that I live with her; that is, she lives in the Asylum, and I sleep in the room with her.
It happened this way. Last summer I didn't want to do anything but sit down. It was the funniest thing, for before that I never did like to sit down if I could stand up, or skip around, or climb, or run, or dance, or jump. I never could walk straight or slow, and I never can keep step.
Well, last summer I didn't want to move, and I couldn't eat, and I didn't even feel like reading. I'd have such queer slipping-away feelings right in my heart that I'd call myself a drop of ink on a blotter that was spreading and spreading and couldn't stop. Sometimes I would think I was sinking down and down, but I really wasn't sinking, for I didn't move. I only felt like I was, and I was afraid to go to sleep at night for fear I would die, and I stayed awake so as to know about it if I did.
And then I began to be afraid of dying, and my heart would beat so I thought it would wear out. But I didn't tell anybody how I felt. I was ashamed of being afraid, and I just told God, because I knew He could understand better than anybody else; and I asked Him please to hold on to me, I not being able to do much holding myself, and He held. I know it, for I felt it.
You see, Mrs. Blamire—she's Miss Bray's assistant—was away; Miss Bray was busy getting ready to go when Mrs. Blamire came back; and Miss Jones was pickling and preserving. I didn't want to bother her, so I dragged on, and kept my feelings to myself.
The girls were awful good to me. Real many have relations in Yorkburg, and if I'd eaten all the fruit they sent me I'd been a tutti-frutti; but I couldn't eat it. And then one day I began to talk so queer they were frightened, and told Miss Bray, and she sent for the doctor quick. That afternoon they took me to the hospital, and the last thing I saw was little Josie White crying like her heart would break with her arms around a tree.
"Please don't die, Mary Cary, please don't die!" she kept saying over and over, and when they tried to make her go in she bawled worse than ever. I tried to wave my hand.
"I'm not going to die, I'm coming back," I said, and that's all I remember.
I knew they put me in something and drove off, and then I was in a little white bed in a big room with a lot of other little beds in it; and after that I didn't know I was living for three weeks. But I talked just the same. They told me I made speeches by the hour, and read books out loud, and recited poems that had never been printed. But when I stopped and lay like the dead, just breathing, the girls say they heard there were no hopes, and a lot of them just cried and cried. It was awful nice of them, and if they hadn't cut my hair off I would have made a real pretty corpse.
The day I first saw Miss Katherine really good she was standing by my bed, holding my wrist in one hand and her watch in another, and I thought she was an angel and I was in heaven. She was in white, and I took her little white cap for a crown, and I said:
"Are you my Mother?"
She nodded and smiled, but she didn't speak, and I asked again:
"Are you my Mother?"
"Your right-now Mother," she said, and she smiled so delicious I thought of course I was in heaven, and I spoke once more.
Then she stooped down and kissed me.
"In your heart and mine," she answered. "But you mustn't talk, not yet. Shut your eyes, and I will sing you to sleep." And I shut them. And I knew I was in heaven, for heaven isn't a place; it's a feeling, and I had it.
And that's how I met Miss Katherine.
Her father and mother are dead, just like mine. Her father was Judge Trent, and his father once owned half the houses in Yorkburg, but lost them some way, and what he didn't lose Judge Trent did after the war.
When her father died Miss Katherine wouldn't live with either of her brothers, or any of her relations, but went to Baltimore to study to be a nurse. After she graduated she didn't come back for three or four years, and she hadn't been back six months when I was taken sick. And now I sing:
"Praise God from whom that sickness flew."
Sing it inside almost all the time.
Miss Katherine don't have to be a nurse. She has a little money. I don't know how much, she never mentioning money before me; but she has some, for I heard Miss Bray and Mrs. Blamire talking one night when they thought I was asleep; and for once I didn't interrupt or let them know I was awake.
I had been punished so often for speaking when I shouldn't that this time I kept quiet, and when they were through I couldn't sleep. I was so excited I stayed awake all night. And from joy—pure joy.
I had only been back from the hospital a week, and was in the room next to Mrs. Blamire's, where the children who are sick stay, when I heard Miss Bray talking to Mrs. Blamire, and at something she said I sat up in bed. Right or wrong, I tried to hear. I did.
They were sitting in front of the fire, and Miss Bray leaned over and cracked the coals.
"Have you heard that Miss Katherine Trent is coming here as a trained nurse?" she said, and she put down the poker, and, folding her arms, began to rock.
"You don't mean it!" said Mrs. Blamire, and her little voice just cackled. "Coming here? To this place? I do declare!" And she drew her chair up closer, being a little deaf.
"That's what she's going to do." Miss Bray took off her spectacles. "The Board can't afford to pay her a salary, but she's offered to come without one, and next week she'll start in."
"Katherine Trent always was queer," she went on, still rocking with all her might. "She can get big prices as a nurse, though she doesn't have to nurse at all, having money enough to live on without working. And why she wants to come to a place like this and fool with fifty-odd children and get no pay for it is beyond my understanding. It's her business, however, not mine, and I'm glad she's coming."
"I do declare!" And Mrs. Blamire clapped her hands like she was getting religion. "My, but I'm glad! Miss Katherine Trent coming here! And next week, you say? I do declare!" And her gladness sounded in her voice. It was a different kind from Miss Bray's. Even in the dark I could tell, for hers was thankfulness for the children. Miss Bray was glad for herself.
That was almost a year ago, and now my hair has come out and curls worse than ever. It's very thick, and it's brown—light brown.
I'm always intending to stand still in front of the glass long enough to see what I do look like, but I'm always in such a hurry I don't have time. I know my eyes are blue, for Miss Katherine said this morning they got bigger and bluer every day, and if I didn't eat more I'd be nothing but eyes. If you don't like a thing, can you eat it? You cannot. That is, in summer you can't. In winter it's a little easier.
I never have understood how Miss Katherine could have come to an Orphan Asylum to live and to eat Orphan Asylum meals when she could have eaten the best in Yorkburg. And Yorkburg's best is the best on earth. Everybody says that who's tried other places, even Miss Webb, who gets right impatient with Yorkburg's slowness and enjoyment of itself.
And Miss Katherine is living here from pure choice. That's what she is doing, and she's made living creatures of us, just like God did when He breathed on Adam and woke him up.
At the hospital she used to ask me all about the Asylum, and, never guessing why, I told her all I knew, except about Miss Bray. Miss Katherine had known the Asylum all her life, but had only been in it twice—just passing it by, not thinking. When I got better and could talk as much as I pleased, she wanted to know how many of us there were, what we did, and how we did it: what we ate, and what kind of underclothes we wore in winter, and how many times a week we bathed all over; when we got up, and what we studied, and how long we sewed each day, and how long we played, and when we went to bed—and all sorts of other things. I wondered why she wanted to know, and when I found out I could have laid right down and died from pure gladness. I didn't, though.
Once I asked her what made her do it, and she laughed and said because she wanted to, and that she was much obliged to me for having found her work for her. But I believe there's some other reason she won't tell.
And why I believe so is that sometimes, when she thinks I am asleep, I see her looking in the fire, and there's something in her face that's never there at any other time. It's a remembrance. I guess most hearts have them if they live long enough. But you'd never think Miss Katherine had one, she's so glad and cheerful and busy all the time. I wonder if it's a sweetheart remembrance? I know three of her beaux; one in Yorkburg and two from away, who have been to see her frequent times; but a beau is different from a sweetheart. I'm sure that look means something secret, and I bet it's a man. Who is he? I don't know. I wish he was dead. I do!
When I first came back from the hospital my little old sticks of legs wouldn't hold me up, and down I would go. But I didn't mind that. I just minded not going to sleep at night. But sleep wouldn't come, and I'd get so wide awake trying to make it that I began to have a teeny bit of fever again, and then it was Miss Katherine asked if she might take me in her room. I was nervous and still needed attention, she said, and—magnificent gloriousness!—I was sent to her room to stay until perfectly well, and I'm here yet. Perfectly well because I am here!
That first night when I got into the little white bed next to her bed, and knew she was going to be there beside me, I couldn't go to sleep right off. I kept wishing I was King David, so I could write a book of gratitudes and psalms and praises, and that was the first night I ever really prayed right. I didn't ask for a thing except for help to be worth it—the trouble she was taking for just little me, a charity child. Just me!
And oh, the difference in her room and the room I had left! She had had it painted and papered herself, for it hadn't been used since kingdom come, and the cobwebs in it would have filled a barrel. It had been a packing-room, and when Miss Katherine first saw it she just whistled soft and easy; but when she was through, it was just a dream.
It is a big room at the end of the wing, and it has three windows in it: one in the front and one in the back and one opposite the door you come in. And when the paper was put on you felt like you were in a great big garden of roses; pink roses, for they were running all over the walls, and they were so natural I could smell them. I really could.
Miss Katherine brought her own furniture and things, and she put a carpet on the floor, all over, not just strips. And the windows had muslin curtains at them with cretonne curtains just full of pink roses, looped back from the muslin ones; and the couch and the cushions and some chairs were all covered with the same kind of pink roses. And as for the bed, it was too sweet for anybody to lie on—that is, for anybody but Miss Katherine to lie on.
There was a big closet for her clothes, and a writing-desk which had been in the family a hundred years—maybe a thousand. I don't know. And one side of the room was filled with books in shelves which old Peter Sands made and painted white for her. She lets me look at them as much as I want, and says I can read as many as I choose when I am old enough to understand them. She didn't mention any time to begin trying to understand, and so I started at once, and I've read about forty already.
There aren't a great many pictures on Miss Katherine's walls. Just a few besides the portraits of her father and mother, oil paintings. And oh, dear children what are to be, I'm going to have my picture painted as soon as I marry your father, so you can know what I looked like in case I should die without warning. I want you to have it, knowing so well what it means to have nothing that belonged to your mother, I not having anything—not even a strand of hair or a message.
Sometimes I wonder if I ever really did have a Mother, or if the doctor just left me somewhere and nobody wanted me. I must have had one, for Betty Johnson says a baby's bound to. That a father isn't so specially necessary, but you've got to have a Mother. Mine died when I was born. I wonder how that happened when there wasn't anybody in all this great big earth to take care of me except my father, who didn't know how. He died, too, and then I was an Orphan.
This is a strange world, and it's better not to try to understand things.
In the winter time Miss Katherine always has a beautiful crackling fire in her room, and some growing flowers and green things. It was a revelation to the girls, her room was. Not fine, and it didn't cost much, but you felt nicer and kinder the minute you went in it. And it made Mrs. Reagan's grand parlors seem like shining brass and tinkling cymbals. I wonder why?
MARY, FREQUENTLY MARTHA
I am going to write a history of my life. The things that happen in this place are the same things, just like our breakfasts, dinners, and suppers. They wouldn't be interesting to hear about, so while waiting for something real exciting to put down, I am going to write my history.
I don't know very much about who I am. I wish my Mother had left a diary about herself, but she didn't. Nobody, not even Miss Katherine, will tell me who I was before I came here, which I did when I was three. I know my nurse brought me, but I can't remember what she looked like, and when she went away without me: I never saw nor heard of her again. I don't even know her name. I thought it was fine to play in a big yard with a lot of children, and I soon stopped crying for my nurse.
I never did see much sense in crying. Everybody was good to me, and not being old enough to know I was a Charity child, and by nature happy, they used to call me Cricket. Sometimes some of them call me that now.
A hundred dozen times I have asked Miss Katherine to tell me something about myself, but in some way she always gets out of it. I know my mother and father are dead, but that's all I do know; and I wouldn't ask Miss Bray if I had to stand alone for ever and ever.
Sometimes I believe Miss Katherine knows something she won't tell me, but since I found out she don't like me to ask her I've stopped. And not being able to ask out what I'd like, I think a lot more, and some nights when I can't go to sleep, it gives me an awful sinking feeling right down in my stomach, to think in all this great big world there isn't a human that's any kin to me.
I might have come from the heavens above or the depths below, only I didn't, and being like other girls in size and shape and feelings, I know I once did have a Mother and Father. But if they had relations they've kept quiet, and it's plain they don't want to know anything about me, never having asked.
It would make me miserable—this aloneness would, if I let it. I won't let it. I have got to look out for Mary Cary, frequently Martha, and when you're miserable you don't get much of anything that's going around. I won't be unhappy. I just won't. I haven't enough other blessings.
But not being able to speak out as much as I would like on some things personal, I got into the habit of talking to my other self, which I named Martha, and which I call my secret sister. Martha is my every-day self, like the Bible Martha who did things, and didn't worry trying to find out what couldn't be found out, specially about why God lets Mothers die.
Mary is my Sunday self who wonders and wonders at everything and asks a million questions inside, and goes along and lets people think she is truly Martha when she knows all the time she isn't. And if I do hold out and write a history of my life, it's going to be a Martha and Mary history; for some days I'm one, some another, and whichever I happen to be is plain to be seen.
When I grow up I am going to marry a million-dollar man, so I can travel around the world and have a house in Paris with twenty bath-rooms in it. And I'm going to have horses and automobiles and a private car and balloons, if they are working all right by that time. I hope they will be, for I want something in which I can soar up and sit and look down on other people.
All my life people have looked down on me, passing me by like I was a Juny bug or a caterpillar, and I don't wonder. I'm merely Mary Cary with fifty-eight more just like me. Blue calico, white dots for winter, white calico, blue dots for summer. Black sailor hats and white sailor hats with blue capes for cold weather, and no fire to dress by, and freezing fingers when it's cold, and no ice-water when it's hot.
Yes, dear Mary, you and I are going to marry a rich man. (Martha is writing to-day.) I will try to love him, but if I can't I will be polite to him and travel alone as much as possible. But I am going to be rich some day. I am. And when I come back to Yorkburg eyes will bulge, for the clothes I am going to wear will make mouths water, they're going to be so grand. Miss Katherine would be ashamed of that and make me ashamed, but this writing is for the relief of feelings.
But there's one thing I'm surer of than I am of being rich, and that is that there are to be no secrets about my children's mother. They are to know all about me I can tell, which won't be much or distinguished, but what there is they're to know. And that's the chief reason I'm going to write my history, so as to remember in case I forget.
Well, now I will begin. I am eleven years and eleven months and three days old. I don't have birthday parties. The Yorkburg Female Orphan Asylum is a large house with a wide hall in the middle, and a wing on one side that makes it look like Major Green, who lost one arm in the war.
There are large grounds around the house, and around the grounds is a high brick wall in front and a wooden fence back and sides. The children and the chickens use the grounds at the back; the front has grass and flowers, and is for company, which is seldom. Sometimes, just because I can't help it, I chase a chicken through the front so as to know how it feels to run in the grass, which it is forbidden to do.
Forbidden things are so much nicer than unforbidden. I love to do them until they're done.
The Asylum is on King Street, almost at the very end, and there isn't much passing, just the Tates and the Gordons and a few others living farther on. The dining-room is in the basement, half below the ground, and on cloudy days the lamps have to be lighted—that is, they used to. Now we have electric lights, and I just love to turn them on. It's such a grand way to get a thing done, just to press a button.
The dining-room has a picture over the mantel of a cow standing in yellow-brown grass, and, though hideous, it's a great comfort. That cow understands our feelings at mealtimes, and we understand hers.
Humane meals are very much like yellow-brown grass, and our clothes are on the same order as our meals. As for our days, if it wasn't for calendars we wouldn't know one from the other, except Sundays, for, unlike the stars mentioned by St. Paul, they differ not.
The rising-bell rings at five o'clock, and all except the very littlest get up and clean up until seven, when we march into the dining-room. At 7.25 we rise at the tap of Miss Bray's bell, and those who have more cleaning up-stairs march out; those who clear the table and wash the dishes stay behind. At 8.30 we march into the school-room, where we have prayers and calisthenics. The calisthenics are fine. At nine we begin recitations.
We have a teacher who lives in town, Miss Elvira Strother. She's a good teacher. The older girls help teach the little ones, and next year I'm to help.
This Asylum is over ninety (90) years old, but looks much older. There is just money enough to run it, and it hasn't had any paint or improvements in the memory of man, except the electric lights. The town put those in for safety, and don't charge for them.
I wish the town would put in bath-tubs for the same reason. It would make the children much nicer. They just naturally don't like to wash, and one small pitcher of water for two girls don't allow much splashing.
But Yorkburg hasn't any water-works, not being born with them. I mean, water-works not being the fashion when Yorkburg was first begun, nobody has ever thought of putting them in. Mr. Loyall, he's the mayor, says everybody has gotten on very well for over two hundred years without them, and he don't see any use in stirring up the subject. So there'll never be any change until he's dead, and in Yorkburg nobody dies till the last thing.
There wouldn't be any electric lights if the shoe factory hadn't come here. The men who brought it came from New Jersey, and they wanted light, and got it. And Yorkburg was so pleased that it moved a little and made some light for itself; and now everything in town just blazes, even the Asylum.
I used to sleep in No. 4, but I don't sleep there now. It is a big room, and has six windows in it, and in winter we children used to play we were arctic explorers and would search for icebergs. The North Pole was the Reagan's house, half-way down the street, and it might as well have been, for it was as much beyond our reach.
But it was the one thing we were all going to get some day when we married rich. And when we got it, we were going to drive up to the Galt House—that's the Home for Poor and Proud Ladies—and ask for Mrs. Reagan, who was to be in it in the third floor back, and leave her some old clothes with the buttons off, and old magazines. None of us could bear Mrs. Reagan—not a single one.
It is a beautiful house, Mrs. Reagan's is. It has large white pillars in the front and back, and it's got three bath-rooms, and a big tank in the back yard. And it has velvet curtains over the lace ones, and gold furniture and pictures with gold frames a foot wide.
I heard Miss Katherine talking about it to Miss Webb one night. They were laughing about something Miss Katherine said was the most impossible of all, and Miss Webb said it was desecrating for such a stately old house to fall into the hands of such bulgarians. What are bulgarians? I don't know. But they're not ladies.
Mrs. Reagan is not a lady. The way I found it out was this. Miss Jones, she's our housekeeper, sent a message to her one day by Bertha Reed and me about some pickles. Bertha is awful timid, and she didn't know whether or not we ought to go to the front door; but I did, and I told her to come on.
"I don't go to back doors, if I don't know my family history," I said. "I know who I am, and something inside of me tells me where to go." And I pressed the button so hard I thought I'd broken it unintentional.
The man-servant opened the door and looked at us as if weary and surprised, and said nothing.
"Is Mrs. Reagan in?" I asked.
That's all he said. He waited. I waited. Then I stepped forward.
"We will come in," I said. "And you go and tell her Mary Cary would like to see her, having a message from Miss Jones." And he was so surprised he moved aside, and in I walked.
I had heard so much about this house that I wasn't going to miss seeing what was in it, if that fool man was rude; so while he was gone to get Mrs. Reagan I counted everything in the front parlor as quick as I could, and told Bertha to count everything in the back.
There were three sofas and two mirrors and nine chairs and six rugs and six tables and two pianos, one little old-fashioned one and a big new one; and three stools and seventeen candlesticks and four pedestals with statuary on them, some broken, all naked; and seven palms and twenty-three pictures and two lamps and five red-plush curtains, three pairs over the lace ones and two at the doors; and as for ornaments, it was a shop. And not one single book.
I am sure I got the things right, for I'd been practising remembering at observation parties, in case I ever got a chance to see inside this house; and I looked hard so I could tell the girls.
Poor Bertha was so frightened she didn't remember anything but the clock and a china cat and an easel and picture, and before I could count Mrs. Reagan came in.
She stopped in the doorway, and had we come from leper-land she couldn't have held herself farther off.
"What are you doing in here?" she asked, and she tried the haughty air—"What are you doing in here?"
"We were waiting for you," I said. "We have a message from Miss Jones."
"Well, another time don't wait in here, and don't come to the front door if you have a message from Miss Jones or Miss Any-body-else. I don't want any pickles this year. Had I wanted any I would have sent her word. You understand? Don't ever come here again in this way!" And she waved us out as if we were flies.
For a minute I looked at her as if she were a Mrs. Jorley's wax-works, and then I made a bow like I make in charades.
"We understand," I said. "And we will not come again. We've heard a good many people in Yorkburg have been once and no more." And I bowed again and walked past her like she was a stage character, which she was, being a pretence and nothing else.
Mad? I tell you, I was Martha for a week, and then I saw, real sudden, how silly I was to let a bulgarian make me mad.
But if I'm ever expected to love anything like that, it will be expecting too much of Mary Cary, mostly Martha, for she isn't an enemy. She's just a make-believe of something she wasn't born into being and don't know how to make herself. She don't agree with my nature, and if I had a parlor she couldn't come into it either. She could not.
THE STEPPED-ON AND THE STEPPERS
I don't believe I ever have written anything about my first years at this Asylum. I am naturally a wandering person. Well, I was happy. I know I've said that before, but Miss Katherine says that's one of the few things you can say often.
I had a kitten, and a chicken which I killed by mistake. I took it to the pump to wash it, and it lost its breath and died. I still put flowers on the place where its grave was.
It was my first to die. I have lost many others since: a cat, and a rabbit, and a rooster called Napoleon because he was so strutty and domineering to his wives. I didn't put up anything to his grave. I didn't think the hens would like it. They just despised him.
Then there were the remains of Rebecca Baker. She was of rags, with button eyes and no teeth, just marks for them; but I loved her very much. I kept her as long as there was anything to hold her by; but after legs and arms went, and the back of her head got so thin from lack of sawdust that she had neuralgia all the time, I found her dead one morning, and buried her at once.
I loved Rebecca Baker: not for looks, but for comfort. I could talk to her without fear of her telling. She always knew how hungry I was, and how I hated oatmeal without sugar, and she never talked back.
During the years from three to nine I lived just mechanical, except on the inside. I got up to a bell and cleaned to a bell, and sat down to eat to a bell; rose to a bell, went to school to a bell, came out to a bell, worked to a bell, sewed to a bell, played to a bell, said my prayers to a bell, got in bed to a bell, and the next day and every day did the same thing over to the same old bell.
But when I marry my children's father there are to be no bells in the house we live in. Only buttons, with no particular time to be pressed.
We go to church to a bell, too; that, is to Sunday-school. We always go to St. John's Sunday-school—Episcopal. The man who left this place put it in his will that we had to, but we go to all the other churches. Episcopal the first Sunday, Methodist the second, Presbyterian the third, and Baptist the fourth, and when we get through we begin all over again.
We go to church like we do everything else, two by two. Start at a tap of that same old bell, and march along like wooden figures wound up; and the people who see us don't think we are really truly children or like theirs, except in shape inside. They think we just love our hideous clothes, and that we ought to be thankful for molasses and bread-and-milk every night in the week but one, and if we're not, we're wicked. Rich people think queer things.
Sundays at the Humane are terribly religious.
They begin early and last until after supper, and if anybody is sorry when Sunday is over, it's never been mentioned out loud. We have prayers and Bible-reading before breakfast every day, but on Sundays longer. Then we go to Sunday-school, where some of the children stare at us like we were foreign heathen who have come to get saved. Some nudge each other and laugh. But real many are nice and sweet, and I just love that little Minnie Dawes, who sits in front of me. She wears the prettiest hats in Yorkburg, and I get lots of ideas from them. I trim hats in my mind all the time Miss Sallie is talking—Miss Sallie is our teacher.
She is a good lady, Miss Sallie Ray is. Her chief occupation is religion, and as for going to church, it's the true joy of her life. She's in love with Mr. Benson, the Superintendent, and very regular at all the services. So is he.
But for teaching children Miss Sallie wasn't meant. She really wasn't. She never surely knows the lesson herself, and it was such fun asking her all sorts of questions just to see her flounder round for answers that I used to pretend I wanted to know a lot of things I didn't. But I don't do that now. It was like punching a lame cat to see it hop, and I stopped.
She don't ask me anything, either. Never has since the day Mr. Benson came in our class and asked for a little review, and Martha Cary made trouble, of course.
Miss Sallie was so red and excited by Mr. Benson sitting there beside her that she didn't know what she was doing. She didn't, or she wouldn't have asked me questions, knowing I never say the things I ought. But after a minute she did ask me, fanning just as hard as she could. It was in January.
"Now, Mary Cary, tell us something of the people we have been studying about this winter," she said, "Mention something of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Peter and Paul. Who was Abraham?"
"Abraham was a coward," I said.
"A what?" And her voice was a little shriek. "A what?"
"A coward. He was! He passed his wife off for his sister, fearing trouble for himself, and not thinking of consequences for her."
"That will do," she said, and she fanned harder than ever, and looked real frightened at Mr. Benson, who was blowing his nose. "Susie Rice, who was Jacob?"
Susie didn't know. Nobody knew, so I spoke again.
"Jacob was a rascal. He deceived his father and stole from his brother. But he prospered and repented, and died prominent."
Mr. Benson got up and said he believed his nose was bleeding, and went out quick, and since then Miss Sallie has never asked me a single question. Not one.
Now I wonder what made Martha speak out like that? Abraham and Jacob were good men who did some bad things, but generally only their goodness is mentioned. While you're living it's apt to be the other way.
But I'm glad the bad is overlooked in time. Maybe that is what God will do with everybody. He'll wipe out all the wrongness and meanness, and see through it to the good. I hope that's the way it's going to be, for that's my only chance.
Since Miss Sallie stopped asking me anything, and I her, I have a lovely time in my mind taking things off the other children and putting them on the Orphans. There's Margaret Evans. In the winter she's always blue and frozen, and I'd give her that Mallory child's velvet coat and gray muff and tippet, and put Margaret's blue cape and calico dress on her.
Poor little Margaret! She's so humble and thankful she gets even less than the rest, it looks like, though I suppose in clothes she has the same allowance, and the difference, maybe, is in herself.
Some people are born to be stepped on, and of steppers there are always a-plenty.
After Sunday-school we walk to the church we're going to, two by two, just alike and all in blue. The minister always mentions us in his prayers, except at St. John's, the prayer-book not providing for Orphans in particular.
When church is over we march home and have dinner, and after dinner we study the lesson for next Sunday and practise hymns until time for the afternoon service. That begins at four, and some of the town ministers preach or talk, generally preach, long and wearisome.
The Episcopal minister gets through in a hurry. We love to have him. He talks so fast we don't half understand, and before we know it he's got his hand up and we hear him saying: "And now to the Father and to the Son—." And the rest is mumbled, but we know he's through and is glad of it, and so are we.
The Presbyterian Sunday is the longest and solemnest, and I always write a new story in my mind when Dr. Moffett preaches. He is very learned, and knows Hebrew and Latin and Greek, but not much about little girls.
Poor Mrs Blamire; she tries to keep awake, but she can't do it; and after the first five minutes she puffs away just as regular as if she were wound up. Once I shut my eyes and tried to puff like her, but I forgot to be careful, and did it so loud the girls came near getting in trouble. Dr. Moffett is deaf, and didn't hear. Miss Bray heard.
But the Baptist minister don't let you sleep on his Sunday. He used to try to make the girls come up and profess, but now he don't ask even that. Just sit where you are and hold up your hand, and when you join the church—any church will answer—you are saved. I don't understand it.
We all like the Methodist minister. I don't think he knows many dead languages. He don't have much time to study, being so busy helping people; but he knows how to talk to us children, and he always makes me wish I wasn't so bad. He always does, and the Mary part of me just rises right up on his Sunday, and Martha is ashamed of herself. He believes in getting better by the love way. So do I.
Miss Katherine is going away next week to stay two months. Going to her army brother's first, and then to the California brother, who's North somewhere. And from the time she told me I've felt like Robinson Crusoe's daughter would have felt, if he'd had one, and gone off and left her on that desert island.
I don't know what we're going to do when she goes away. I could shed gallons of tears, only I don't like tears, and then, too, she might see me. I want her to think I'm glad she's going, for she needs a change. But, oh, the difference her going will make!
I will be nothing but Martha. I know it. Nothing but Martha until she comes back. The Mary part of me is so sick at the thought she hasn't any backbone, and Martha is showing signs already.
And that shows I'm just nothing, for Miss Katherine has taught us, without exactly telling, how we can't do what we ought by wanting. We've got to work. In plain words, its watch and pray, and with me it's the watching that's most important. If I'm not on the lookout, and don't nab Martha right away, praying don't have any effect. I'm a natural pray-er, but on watching I'm poor.
I couldn't make any one understand what Miss Katherine has done for us since she's been here. Some words don't tell things. The nursing when we're sick is only a part, and though she's fixed up one of the rooms just like a hospital-room, with everything so white and clean and sweet in it that it's real joy to be sick, we're not sick often.
It's the keeping us well that's kept her so busy. She's explained so many things to us we didn't know before, she's almost made me like my body. I didn't use to. Not a bit.
It's such a nuisance, and needs so much attention to keep it going right. So often it was freezing cold, or blazing hot, or hungry, and had to be dressed in such ugly clothes that I was ashamed of it. And if ever I could have hung it up in the closet or put it away in a bureau-drawer, I would have done it while I went out and had a good time. But I couldn't do it. I had to take it everywhere I went, and until Miss Katherine came I had mighty little use for it.
But since she's been here the girls are much cleaner, and we don't mind so much not having the things to eat that we like. That is, not quite so much. But almost. When you're downright hungry for the taste of things, it don't satisfy to say to yourself "You don't really need it. Be quiet." And being made of flesh and blood, most of us would rather eat the things we want to than the things we ought to.
But the dining-room is much nicer. We have flowers on the table, and the cooking is better, though we still have prunes.
I loathe prunes.
"HERE COMES THE BRIDE!"
I knew when Miss Katherine left I'd be nothing but Martha. That's what I've been—Martha.
She hadn't been gone two days when Mary gave up, and as prompt as possible Martha invented trouble.
It was this way. In the summer we have much more time than in the winter, and the children kept coming to me asking me to make up something, and all of a sudden a play came in my mind. I just love acting. The play was to be the marriage of Dr. Rudd and Miss Bray.
You see, Miss Bray is dead in love with Dr. Rudd—really addled about him. And whenever he comes to see any of the children who are sick she is so solicitous and sweet and smiley that we call her, to ourselves, Ipecac Mollie. Other days, plain Mollie Cottontail. It seemed to me if we could just think him into marrying her, it would be the best work we'd ever done, and I thought it was worth trying.
They say if you just think and think and think about a thing you can make somebody else think about it, too. And not liking Dr. Rudd, we didn't mind thinking her on him, and so we began. Every day we'd meet for an hour and think together, and each one promised to think single, and in between times we got ready.
Becky Drake says love goes hard late in life, and sometimes touches the brain. Maybe that accounts for Miss Bray.
She is fifty-three years old, and all frazzled out and done up with adjuncts. But Dr. Rudd, being a man with not even usual sense, and awful conceited, don't see what we see, and swallows easy. Men are funny—funny as some women.
I don't think he's ever thought of courting Miss Bray. But she's thought of it, and for once we truly tried to help her.
Well, we got ready, beginning two days after Miss Katherine left, and the play came off Friday night, the third of July. In consequence of that play I have been in a retreat, and on the Fourth of July I made a New-Year resolution.
I resolved I would do those things I should not do, and leave undone the things I should. I would not disappoint Miss Bray. She looked for things in me to worry her. She should find them.
Well, I was in that top-story summer-resort for ten days. Put there for reflection. I reflected. And on the difference between Miss Katherine and Miss Bray.
But the play was a corker; it certainly was. We chose Friday night because Miss Jones always takes tea with her aunt that night, and Miss Bray goes to choir practising. I wish everybody could hear her sing! Gabriel ought to engage her to wake the dead, only they'd want to die again.
Dr. Rudd is in the choir, and she just lives on having Friday nights to look forward to.
The ceremony took place in the basement-room where we play in bad weather. It's across from the dining-room, the kitchen being between, and it's a right nice place to march in, being long and narrow.
I was the preacher, and Prudence Arch and Nita Polley, Emma Clark and Margaret Witherspoon were the bridesmaids.
Lizzie Wyatt was the bride, and Katie Freeman, who is the tallest girl in the house, though only fourteen, was the groom.
Katie is so thin she would do as well for one thing in this life as another, so we made her Dr. Rudd.
We didn't have but two men. Miss Webb says they're really not necessary at weddings, except the groom and the minister. Nobody notices them, and, besides, we couldn't get the pants.
I was an Episcopal minister, so I wouldn't need any. Mrs. Blamire's raincoat was the gown, and I cut up an old petticoat into strips, and made bands to go down the front and around my neck. Loulie Prentiss painted some crosses and marks on them with gilt, so as to make me look like a Bishop. I did. A little cent one.
There wasn't any trouble about my costume, because I could soap my hair and make it lie flat, and put on the robe, and there I was. But how to get a pair of pants for Katie Freeman was a puzzle.
Nothing male lives in the Humane. Not even a billy-goat. We couldn't borrow pants, knowing it wouldn't be safe; and what to do I couldn't guess.
Well, the day came, and, still wondering where those pants were to come from, I went out in the yard where a man was painting a window-shutter that had blown off a back window. Right before my eyes was the woodhouse door wide open, and something said to me:
I walked in; and there in a corner on a woodpile was a real nice pair of pants, and a collar and cravat, and a coat and a tin lunch-bucket, which had been eaten—the lunch had. And when I saw those pants I knew Katie Freeman was fixed.
They belonged to the man who was painting the shutter.
It was an awful hot day, and he had taken them off in the woodhouse and put on his overalls, and when he wasn't looking I slipped out with them, and went up to Miss Bray's room. She was down-stairs talking to Miss Jones, and I hid them under the mattress of her bed.
I knew when she found they were missing she'd turn to me to know where they were. No matter what went wrong, from the cat having kittens or the chimney smoking, she looked to me as the cause. And if there was to be any searching, No. 4—I sleep in No. 4 when Miss Katherine is away—would be the first thing searched. So I put them under her bed.
I wish Miss Katherine could have seen that man about six o'clock, when the time came for him to go home. She would have laughed, too. She couldn't have helped it.
He is young, and Bermuda Ray says he is in love with Callie Payne, who lives just down the street. He has to pass her house going home, and I guess that's the reason he wore his good clothes and took them off so carefully. But whether that was it or not, he was the rippenest, maddest man I ever saw in my life when he went to put on his pants and there were none to put.
I almost rolled off the porch up-stairs, where I was watching. I never did know before how much a man thinks of his pants.
He soon had Miss Bray and Miss Jones and a lot of the girls out in the yard, and everybody was talking at once; and then I heard him say:
"But I tell you, Miss Bray, I put 'em here, right on this woodpile. And where are they? You run this place, and you are responsible for—"
"Not for pants." And Miss Bray's voice was so shrill it sounded like a broken whistle. "I'm responsible for no man's pants. When a man can't take care of his pants, he shouldn't have them. Besides, you shouldn't have left yours in the woodhouse when working in a Female Orphan Asylum." And she glared so at him that the poor male thing withered, and blushed real beautiful.
He's a pretty young man, and I felt sorry for him when Miss Bray snapped so. I certainly did.
"My overalls are my working-pants," he said, real meek-like, and his voice was trembling so I thought he was going to cry. "It's very strange that in a place like this a man's clothes are not safe. I thought—"
"Well, you had no business thinking. Next time keep your pants on." And Miss Bray, who's good on a bluff, pretended like she had been truly injured, and the poor little painter sat down.
Presently his face changed, as if a thought had come into his mind from a long way off, and he said, in another kind of voice:
"I beg your pardon, Miss Bray. I believe I know who done it. It's a friend of mine who tries to be funny every now and then, and calls it joking. I'll choke his liver out of him!" And he settled himself on the woodpile to wait until dark before he went home.
If anybody thinks that wedding was slumpy, they think wrong. It was thrilly. When the bride and groom and the bridesmaids came in, all the girls were standing in rows on either side of the walk, making an aisle in between, and they sang a wedding-song I had invented from my heart.
It was to the Lohengrin tune, which is a little wobbly for words, but they got them in all right, keeping time with their hands. These are the words:
Here comes the Bride, God save the Groom! And please don't let any chil-i-il-dren come, For they don't know How children feel, Nor do they know how with chil-dren to deal.
She's still an old maid, Though she would not have been Could she have mar-ri-ed any kind of man. But she could not. So to the Humane She came, and caus-ed a good deal of pain.
But now she's here To be married, and go Away with her red-headed, red-bearded beau. Have mercy, Lord, And help him to bear What we've been doing this many a year!
And such singing! We'd been practising in the back part of the yard, and humming in bed, so as to get the words into the tune; but we hadn't let out until that night. That night we let go.
There's nothing like singing from your heart, and, though I was the minister and stood on a box which was shaky, I sang, too. I led.
The bride didn't think it was modest to hold up her head, and she was the only silent one. But the bridegroom and bridesmaids sang, and it sounded like the revivals at the Methodist church. It was grand.
And that bride! She was Miss Bray. A graven image of her couldn't have been more like her.
She was stuffed in the right places, and her hair was frizzed just like Miss Bray's. Frizzed in front, and slick and tight in the back; and her face was a purple pink, and powdered all over, with a piece of dough just above her mouth on the left side to correspond with Miss Bray's mole.
And she held herself so like her, shoulders back, and making that little nervous sniffle with her nose, like Miss Bray makes when she's excited, that once I had to wink at her to stop.
The groom didn't look like Dr. Rudd. But she wore men's clothes, and that's the only way you'd know some men were men, and almost anything will do for a groom. Nobody noticed him.
We were getting on just grand, and I was marrying away, telling them what they must do and what they mustn't. Particularly that they mustn't get mad and leave each other, for Yorkburg was very old-fashioned and didn't like changes, and would rather stick to its mistakes than go back on its word. And then I turned to the bride.
"Miss Bray," I said, "have you told this man you are marrying that you are two-faced and underhand, and can't be trusted to tell the truth? Have you told him that nobody loves you, and that for years you have tried to pass for a lamb, when you are an old sheep? And does he know that though you're a good manager on little and are not lazy, that your temper's been ruined by economizing, and that at times, if you were dead, there'd be no place for you? Peter wouldn't pass you, and the devil wouldn't stand you. And does he know he's buying a pig in a bag, and that the best wedding present he could give you would be a set of new teeth? And will you promise to stop pink powder and clean your finger-nails every day? And—"
But I got no further, for something made me look up, and there, standing in the door, was the real Miss Bray.
All I said was—"Let us pray!"
"MY LADY OF THE LOVELY HEART"
Beautiful gloriousness! Miss Katherine has come back!
What a different place some people can make the same place!
Yesterday there wasn't an interesting thing in Yorkburg. Nothing but dust and shabby old houses and poky people who knew nothing to talk about, and to-day—oh, to-day it's dear! I love it!
You see, after that wedding everything went wrong. The girls said it wasn't fair for me to be punished so much more than the rest, and they wanted to tell the Board about it; but for once I agreed with Miss Bray.
"I did it. I made it up and fixed everything, and you all just agreed," I said. "And if anybody has to pay, I'm the one to do it." And I paid all right. Paid to the full. But it's over now, and I'm not going to think about it any more. When a thing is over, that should be the end of it, Miss Katherine says, and with me what she says goes.
Miss Bray is away. If some of her relations liked her well enough to have her stay a few months with them, she could get leave of absence; but she's never been known to stay but four weeks. She's gone to visit her sister somewhere in Fauquier County. Her sister's husband always leaves home for his health when she arrives, and Miss Bray says she thinks it's so queer he has the same kind of spells at the same time every year.
But now Miss Katherine's back, nothing matters. Nothing!
Yesterday I was just a squirrel in a cage. All day long I was saying: "Well, Squirrel, turn your little wheel. That's all you can do; turn your little wheel." And inside I was turning as hard and fast as a sure-enough squirrel turns; but outside I was just mechanical.
I wonder sometimes I don't blaze up right before people's eyes. I'm so often on fire—that is, my mind and heart are—that I think at times my body will surely catch. Thus far it hasn't, but if I don't go somewhere, see something, do something different, it's apt to, and the doctors won't have a name for the new kind of inflammation.
I'm going to die after a while, and I'm so afraid I will do it before I travel some that if I were a boy child I'd go anyhow. But I can't go. That is, not yet.
Miss Katherine has been travelling for two months up North. She's been with her brother and his wife. The wife is sick, or she thinks she is, which Miss Katherine says is a hard disease to cure, and she's kept them moving from place to place.
They wanted Miss Katherine to go to Europe with them this fall, but she isn't going. She's been twice, and says she don't want to go. But I don't believe it's that. I believe it's something else.
But sufficient unto the day is the happiness thereof! I'm going to enjoy her staying, and already everything seems different.
You see, Miss Katherine lives here just for love, and when you do things for love you do them differently from the way you do them for money.
We are just Charity children, some not knowing who they are, I being one of that kind; but she never treats us as if she thinks of that. If we were relations she liked, she couldn't be kinder or nicer, and when a child is in trouble Miss Katherine is the one that's gone to at once.
She is never too tired or too busy to listen, but she's awful firm; and there's no nonsense or sullenness or shamming where she is. She can see through the insides of your soul, up to the top and down to the tip, and in front of her eyes you are just your plain self. Only that, and nothing more. They are gray, her eyes are, with a dark rim around the gray part; and she has the longest black lashes I ever saw. Her hair is black, too, like an Eastern Princess and in the morning when she puts her cap on and her nurse's white dress, which she wears when on duty, I call her to myself, "My Lady of the Lovely Heart," and I could kneel down and say my prayers to her.
I don't, though, for she would tell me pretty quick to get up. She doesn't like things like that, and, of course, it would look queer.
But I don't know anybody who isn't queer about something. Either stupid queer, or silly queer, or smart queer, or beautiful queer, or religious queer, or selfish queer, or some other kind.
Miss Bray is the Queen of Queers.
But Miss Katherine is queer, too. If she wasn't, she wouldn't stay at this Orphan Asylum, just to help us children, and doing it as cheerfully as if she were happier here than she would be anywhere else. If her staying isn't queerness, beautiful queerness, what is it?
I don't understand it, and I don't believe I ever will understand how any one who can get ice-cream will take prunes.
But Miss Katherine has got a way of seeing the funny side of things, and sometimes I can't tell whether she minds prunes and pruny things or not.
I'm sure she does, but she says, when you can't change a thing, don't let it change you, and that an inward disposition is hard on other people.
I don't know what that means, but I think it's the same as saying there's no use in always chewing the rag. Martha is right much inclined to be a chewer.
Miss Webb is, too. She is Miss Katherine's best friend, and I just love to hear her talk.
She always comes once a week, often twice, to spend the evening at the Asylum with Miss Katherine, and sometimes when they think I'm asleep, I'm not. I'd be a nuisance if I kept popping up and saying, "I'm not asleep, speak low." So when I can't, really can't, sleep, though I do try, I hear them talking, and the things Miss Webb says are a great relief to my feelings.
She doesn't come to supper, orphan-asylum suppers being refreshments to stay from, not come to, but nearly always they make something on a chafing-dish. Something that's good, painful good.
Miss Webb says Miss Katherine's stomach has some rights, which is true; and when they begin to cook, I just sleep away, breathing regular and easy, so they won't know I am awake, for fear they might think I am not asleep on purpose.
But I have to hold on to the bed and stuff my ears and nose so as not to hear and smell, for I am that hungry I could eat horse if it had Worcestershire sauce on it. And that is what they put in their things, which shows that in eating, even, Miss Katherine preaches sense and practises taste.
Miss Webb just laughs at theories, and brings all sorts of good things with her. She says doctors have wronged more stomachs than they've ever righted by all this dieting business, and, while there's sense in some of it, there's more nonsense; and as for her, she don't believe in it. I don't know anything about it; but I don't, either.
They always save me some of whatever they make, which I get the next day. But if I could rise out of bed and eat as much as I want out of that chafing-dish, there would be a funeral Miss Bray would like to attend. The corpse would be Mary Cary, died Martha.
There is a screen at the foot of my bed, put there so the light won't bother me and so I won't be seen. And, thinking I am asleep, Miss Katherine and Miss Webb talk on as if I were dead; and it's very interesting the things they talk about.
Of course, Miss Webb came over last night, and, after talking about two hours, she said: "Oh, I forgot to tell you. Lizzie Lane is going to marry Bob Rogers, and right away. I don't suppose you've heard."
"Yes, I have; Lizzie wrote me." And Miss Katherine took the hair-pins out of her hair and let it fall down her back. "What made her change her mind? What is she marrying him for?"
"How do I know?" And Miss Webb tasted the chocolate to see if it was sweet enough.
"How does anybody know what a man is married for? In most cases you can't risk a guess. Lizzie is a woman, therefore 'hath reason or unreason for her act.'"
"How did it happen? What made her change her mind?" and Miss Katherine threw her hair-pins on the bureau and stooped down to get her slippers. "How does Lizzie explain it?"
"She says she was so sleepy she doesn't remember whether she said yes or no. But Bob remembers, and the wedding is to be week after next. He's courted her three times a year for seven years; but since he's been living North he hasn't even written to her, and she didn't know he was in town until he came up that night to see her.
"He stayed until after one o'clock, and didn't mention marriage. But as he got up to go he told her his house was going to send him on a six months' trip to Japan. If she would marry him and go, say so. If not, say that, too, but for the last time. Lizzie said she'd go."
Miss Katherine fastened her kimono, put her feet up on the chair in front of her, and clasped her hands behind her head.
"I don't wonder at the unhappy marriages," she said. "The queer part is there aren't more of them. Why did Bob wait eight years to talk to Lizzie like this? Why is it a man has so little understanding of a woman?"
"Why? Because he's a Man. The Lord made him, and there must be some reason for him; but even the Lord must sometimes get worn out at his dumbness. However—"
She stopped, for the chocolate was boiling over; then she began to sing:
"Before marriage, men love most. After marriage, women best. Marriage many changes makes— Heart is happy or heart breaks."
And she sang it so many times that I went to sleep and dreamed the dream I love most.
I see hundreds and hundreds of little creatures (they are the Mary part of little children), and they are afraid and shivering and standing about, not knowing where to go or what to do. And then Miss Katherine is in the midst of them, smiling and beckoning, and they follow and follow, and wings come out. Just tiny ones at first, and then larger and larger, and presently they fly all around her, and she points the way, smiling and cheering.
And then they rise higher and higher, and off they go, and she is alone. Tired out but glad, because she taught them how to use their wings.
"STERILIZED AND FERTILIZED"
This is Sunday, and we have done all the usual Sunday things. There won't be another for seven days. For that we give thanks in our hearts, but not out loud.
This was Presbyterian Sunday. Miss Bray is a Presbyterian.
It is a solemn thing to be a Presbyterian, and easy for the mind, too. Everything is fixed, and there is no unfixing. You are saved or you are not saved, and you will never know which it is until after you are dead and find out. Miss Bray believes she is saved, and she takes liberties. She also thinks everything is as God ordered it, and she believes God ordered poor Mrs. Craddock to die—that is, took her away. I don't. I think it was that last baby.
She had had twelve, and the thirteenth just wore her out at the thought. There being nobody to do anything for her, she got up and cooked breakfast in her stocking feet when the baby was only a week old, and that night she had the influenza, and the next pneumonia. On the sixth day she was dead, and so was the baby. They forgot to feed it.
I don't believe God ever took any mothers away intentional. He never would have made them so necessary if He had meant to take them away when they were most needed. When they go I believe He is sorry.
I don't know how to explain it. Nobody does, though a lot try. But I know He sees it bigger than we do, and maybe He is working at something that isn't finished yet.
Minnie Peters is real sick. Miss Katherine has put her in the hospital-room, and is staying in there with her.
I am all alone by myself to-night. I don't like aloneness at night. It makes you pay too much attention to your feelings, which Miss Katherine says is the cause of more trouble in this world than all other diseases put together.
She says, too, that what we feel about a thing is very often different from the way other people feel about it. And when you don't agree with people, the only thing you can be sure about is that they don't agree with you. I believe that's true. Not being by nature much of an agree-er, and having feelings I hope others don't, I would be a walking argument if Miss Katherine hadn't stopped me and explained some things I didn't realize before.
Last night, being by myself, and not being able to go to sleep, I wrote a piece of poetry.
Miss Katherine says it's hard to forgive people who think they write poetry, so I won't show her this. But it does relieve you to write down a lot of woozy nothing that is somehow like you feel. This is the poem—I mean the verses:
Out upon life's ocean vast, With the current drifting fast, I am sailing. Oh, alas, 'Tis a lonely feeling!
Why was such a trip e'er started On a pathway all uncharted? Why from loved ones was I parted? Who will answer? Who?
None will answer. So I'll see What there is on this journey (journee) That will bring good-luck to me— I'll look out and see!
I hope Minnie isn't going to be sick long. She is the first girl to be really ill since Miss Katherine came. It makes you feel so queer in the throat to know somebody is truly sick.
A lot of the girls have been sick a little with colds and small and unserious diseases in the past year. But Miss Katherine says it's her business to keep us well, not just get us well after we're sick, and she's certainly done it. We've been weller than we ever were in our lives, and no medicine taken. Just plain common-sense regulations.
I wonder what's the matter with Minnie? The doctor hasn't said, but Miss Katherine is uneasy, and she won't let anybody come in the room. She hasn't been out herself since yesterday.
* * * * *
My, but we've had a time lately!
We've been fumigated and sterilized and fertilized so much that we are better prepared for the happy-land than we ever were before. But the danger of anybody going to it right away is over.
Minnie Peters has had scarlet fever, and the commotion made her real famous.
Miss Katherine knew it from the first, but Dr. Rudd wouldn't believe it until he had to, and Yorkburg got so excited it hasn't talked of anything else for weeks.
Minnie was awful ill. Two days and two nights they didn't think she would live, and for three weeks Miss Katherine didn't leave the room. If it hadn't been for her Minnie would be dead.
Miss Katherine's room has been closed since they first found out it was really scarlet fever Minnie had, and I have been in No. 4 again. She is going away to spend a week with Miss Webb. Going to-morrow.
I am so glad she is going. All of us are glad, for she has had to do something which shows whether you are a Christ-kind Christian or the usual kind, and she is tired out. She won't admit it, though, and laughs and kisses her hand over the banister, which is all the closer we have seen her yet.
Miss Bray was scared to death. She didn't offer to share the nursing, but she made excuses a-plenty for not doing it. Miss Bray is a church Christian. You couldn't make her miss going to church. She thinks she'd have bad luck if she did.
MARY CARY'S BUSINESS
This is a busy time of the year, and things are moving. I'm in business. The Apple and Entertainment business.
The reason I went in business was to make money, and the money was to buy Christmas presents with.
I didn't have a cent. Not one. Christmas was coming. Money wasn't. And what's the use of Christmas if you can't give something to somebody?
Religion is the only thing I know of that you can get without money and without price, and even that you can't keep without both. Not being suitable to the season, I couldn't give that away, even if I had it to spare, and wondering what to do almost made me sick.
I thought and thought until my brain curdled. I looked over everything I had to see if there was a thing I could sell. There wasn't. I couldn't tell Miss Katherine, knowing she'd fix up some way to give me some and pretend I was earning it; and then, one day, when she was out, I locked myself in her room, and Martha gave Mary such a spanking talk that Mary moved.
Everything Martha had suggested before, Mary had some excuse for not doing. Mary is lazy at times, and, as for pride, she's full of it. Martha generally gives the trouble, but Mary needs plain truth every now and then, and that day she got it. When the talk was over, there was a plan settled on, and the plan was this.
Each day in December we have an apple for dinner. Mr. Riley sends us several barrels every winter, and, as they won't keep, we have one apiece until they're gone.
We don't have to eat them at the table, and when Martha told Mary you could do anything you wanted if you wanted to hard enough—except raise the dead, of course—the idea came that I could sell my apple. And right away came the thought of the boy I could sell it to. John Maxwell is his name.
He goes to our Sunday-school and is fifteen, and croaks like a bull-frog. Ugly? Pug-dog ugly; but he's awful nice, and for a boy has real much sense.
His father owns the shoe-factory, and has plenty of money. I know, for he told me he had five cents every day to get something for lunch, and fifty cents a week to do anything he wants with. His mother gives it to him.
Well, the next Sunday he came over to talk, like he always does after Sunday-school is out, and I said, real quick, Mary giving signs of silliness:
"I'm in business. Did you know it?"
"No," he said. "What kind? Want a partner?"
"I don't. I want customers. I'm in the Apple business. I have an apple every day. It's for sale. Want to buy it?"
"What's the price?" Then he laughed. "I'm from New Jersey. What's it worth?"
"It's worth a cent. As you're from New Jersey, I charge you two. Take it?"
"I do." And he started to hand the money out.
But I told him I didn't want pay in advance. And then we talked over how the apple could be put where he could get it, and the money where I could. We decided on a certain hole in the Asylum fence John knew about, and every evening that week I put my apple there and found his two pennies. On Saturday night I had fourteen cents. Wasn't that grand? Fourteen cents!
But the next Sunday there came near being trouble. Roper Gordon—he's John Maxwell's cousin—had heard about the apple selling. He told me I wasn't charging enough, and that he'd pay three cents for it.
"I'll be dogged if you will," said John. "I'm cornering that apple, and I'll meet you. I'll give four."
"All right," I said. "I'm in business to make money. I'm not charging for worth, but for want. The one who wants it most will pay most. It can go at four."
"No, it can't!" said Roper. His father is rich, too. He's the Vice-President of the Factory, and Roper puts on lots of airs. He thinks money can do anything.
"I'll give five. Apples in small lots come high, and selected ones higher. John is a close buyer, and isn't toting square."
"That's a lie!" said John, and he lit out with his right arm and gave Roper such a blow that my heart popped right out on my tongue and sat there. Scared? I was weak as a dead cat.
But I grabbed John and pulled him behind me before Roper could hit back, and then in some way they got outside, and I heard afterward John beat Roper to a jelly.
I don't blame him. If any one were to say I wasn't square, I'd fight, too.
When you don't fight, it's because what is said is true, and you're afraid it will be found out. And a coward. Good Lord!
Anyhow, after that I got five cents a day for my apple. John put six cents in, raising Roper, he said, but I wouldn't keep but five.
"I can't," I said. "I hate my conscience, for even in business it pokes itself in. But five cents is all I can take."
"Which shows you're new in business, or you'd take the other fellow's skin if he had to have what you've got. And I'm bound to have that apple. Bound to!" And he dug the toe of his shoe so deep in the dirt he could have put his foot in. We were down at the fence, where I went to tell him he mustn't leave but five cents any more.
The Apple business was much easier than the Entertainment business; but I enjoyed both. Making money is exciting. I guess that's why men love to make it.
I made in all $2.34. One dollar and fifty cents on entertaining, and eighty-four cents on apples.
The entertaining was this way. Mrs. Dick Moon is twin to the lady who lived in a shoe. Her house isn't far from the Asylum, and I like her real much; but she isn't good on management. Everything on the place just runs over everything else, and nothing is ever ready on time.
She has money—that is, her husband has, which Miss Katherine says isn't always the same thing. And she has servants and a graphophone and a pianola, but she doesn't really seem to have anything but children, and they are everywhere.
They are the sprawly kind that lie on their stomachs and kick their heels, and get under your feet and on your back. And their mouths always have molasses or sugar in the corners, and their noses have colds, and their hands are that sticky they leave a print on everything they touch.
But they aren't mean-bad, just bad because they don't know what to do, and they beg me to stay and play with them when Miss Jones sends me over with a message. Sometimes I do, and the day Martha gave Mary such a rasping about making money, another thought came besides the apples, and I went that afternoon to see Mrs. Moon.
"Mrs. Moon," I said, "the children have colds and can't go out. If Miss Bray will let me, would you like me to come over and entertain them during our play-hour? It's from half-past four to half-past five. I'll come every day from now until Christmas, and I charge twenty-five cents a week for it."
I knew my face was rambler red. I hated to mention money, but I hated worse not to have any to buy Miss Katherine a present with. If she thought twenty-five cents a week too high she could say so. But she didn't.
"Mercy, Mary Cary!" she said, "do you mean it? Would I like you to come? Would I? I wish I could buy you!" And she threw her arms around me and kissed me so funny I thought she was going to cry.
"Of course I want you," she went on, after wiping her nose. She had a cold, too. "You can manage the children better than I, and if you knew what one quiet hour a day meant to the mother of seven, all under twelve, you'd charge more than you're doing. I'll see Miss Bray to-morrow."
She saw, and Miss Bray let me come.
Mrs. Moon is a member of the Board, and Mr. Moon is rich. Miss Bray never sleeps in waking time.
Well, when Mrs. Moon paid me for the first week, she gave me fifty cents instead of twenty-five, and I wouldn't take it.
"But you've earned it," she said, putting it back in my hand, and giving it a little pat—a little love pat. "You didn't say you were coming on Sundays, and you came. Sunday is the worst day of all. I nearly go crazy on Sunday. No, child, don't think you're getting too much. One doctor's visit would be two dollars, and the prescription forty cents, anyhow. The children would be on the bed, and my head splitting, and Mammy as much good in keeping them quiet as a cackling hen. I feel like I'm cheating in only paying fifty cents. Each nap was worth that. I wish I could engage you by the year!" And she gave me such a squeeze I almost lost my breath.
But they are funny, those Moon children. Sarah Sue is the oldest, and nobody ever knows what Sarah Sue is going to say.
Yesterday I made them tell me what they were going to buy for their mother's and father's Christmas presents, and the things they said were queer. As queer as the presents some grown people give each other.
"I'm going to give father a set of tools," said Bobbie. "I saw 'em in Mr. Blakey's window, and they'll cut all right. They cost eighty-five cents."
"What are you going to give your father tools for?" I asked. "He's not a boy."
"But I am." And Bobbie jumped over a chair on Billy's back. "You said yourself you ought always to give a person a thing you'd like to have, and I'd like those tools. They're the bulliest set in Yorkburg. I'm going to give mother a little yellow duck. That's at Mr. Blakey's, too."
"It don't cost but five cents," said Sarah Sue, and she looked at Bobbie as if he were not even the dust of the earth. Then she handed me her list.
"But, Sarah Sue," I said, after I'd read it, "you've got seventy-five cents down here for your mother and only fifty for your father. Do you think it's right to make a difference?"
"Yes, I do." And Sarah Sue's big brown eyes were as serious as if 'twere funeral flowers she was selecting. "You see, it's this way. I love them both seventy-five cents' worth, but I don't think I ought to give them the same. Father is just my father by marriage, but Mother's my mother by bornation. I think mothers ought always to have the most."
I think so, too.
LOVE IS BEST
Christmas is over. I feel like the parlor grate when the fire has gone out.
But it was a grand Christmas, the grandest we've ever known. It came on Christmas Day. From the time we got up until we went to bed we were so happy we forgot we were Charity children; and no matter whatever happens, we've got one beautiful time to look back on.
Miss Katherine says a beautiful memory is a possession no one can take from you, and it's one of the best possessions you can have. I think so, too. She's made all my memories. All. I mean the precious ones.
Everybody in this Orphan Asylum had a present from somebody outside. Even me, who might as well be that man in the Bible, Melchesey something, who didn't have beginning or end, or any relations.
I had fourteen from outside. Some I hid, because I didn't want the girls to know, several not getting more than one, and hardly any more than three or four.
Those who had the heart to give them didn't have the money, and those who had the money didn't have the heart. Being so busy with their own they forgot to remember, and if it hadn't been for Miss Katherine and her friends this last Christmas would have been like all others.
Her Army brother's wife sent a box full of all sorts of pretty Indian things, she being in the wild West near the Indians who made them. And she sent ten dolls, all dressed, for the ten youngest girls.
She is awful busy, having three children and not much money; but Miss Katherine says busy people make time, and those who have most to do, do more still.
She sent me the darlingest little bedroom slippers with fur all around the top. And in them she put a little note that made me cry and cry and cry, it was so dear and mothery. I don't know what made me cry, but I couldn't help it. I couldn't.
She doesn't know me except from what Miss Katherine writes, and I wonder why she wrote that note. But everybody is good to me—that is, nearly everybody.
It certainly makes a difference in your backbone when people are kind and when they are not. I don't believe unkindness and misfortune and suffering will ever make me good. If anybody is mean to me, I'm stifferer than a lamp-post, and you couldn't make me cry. But when any one is good to me, I haven't a bit of firmness, and am no better than a caterpillar.
I got thirty-one presents this year. Thirty-one! I didn't know I had so many friends in Yorkburg, and my heart was so bursting with surprise and gratitude it just ached. Ached happy.
We are not often allowed to make regular visits, but I have lots of little talks informal on errands, or messages, or passing; and as I know almost everybody by sight, I have a right large speaking acquaintance. With some people, Miss Katherine says, that's the safest kind to have.
You see, Yorkburg is a very small place. Just three long streets and some short ones going across. Scratching up everything, it hasn't got three thousand people in it. A lot of them are colored.
But it's very old and historic. Awful old; so is everything in it. As for its blue blood, Mrs. Hunt says there's more in Yorkburg than any place of its size in America.
Most of the strangers who come here, though, seem to prefer to pass on rather than stop, and Miss Webb thinks it's on account of the blood. A little red mixed in might wake Yorkburg up, she says, and that's what it needs—to know the war is over and the change has come to stay.
But I love Yorkburg, and most of the people are dear. Some queer. Old Mrs. Peet is. Her husband has been dead forty years, but she still keeps his hat on the rack for protection, and whenever any one goes to see her after dark she always calls him, as if he were upstairs.
She lives by herself and is over seventy, and she's pretended so long that he's living that they say she really believes he is. She almost makes you believe it, too.
Miss Bray sent me there one night. She wanted some cherry-bounce for Eliza Green, who had an awful pain, and after I'd knocked, I'd have run if I'd dared.
In the hall I could hear Mrs. Peet pounding on the floor with her stick. Then her little piping voice:
"Mr. Peet, Mr. Peet, you'd better come down! There's some one at the door! You'd better come down, Mr. Peet!"
"It's just Mary Cary!" I called. "Miss Bray sent me, Mrs. Peet. She wants some cherry-bounce."
"Oh, all right, Mr. Peet. You needn't bother to come down. It's just little Mary Cary." And she opened the door a tiny crack and peeped through.
"Mr. Peet isn't very well to-night," she said. "He's taken fresh cold. But you can come in."
I came; but I didn't want to. And if Mr. Peet had come down those steps and shaken hands I wouldn't have been surprised. It's certainly strange how something you know isn't true seems true; and Mr. Peet, dead forty years, seemed awful alive that night. Every minute I thought he'd walk in.
She likes you to think he's living at night. Every day she goes to his grave, which is in the churchyard right next to where she lives; but at night he comes back to life to her. She's so lonely, I think it's beautiful that he comes.
I make out like I think he comes, too, and I always send him my love, and ask how his rheumatism is. I tell you, Martha don't dare smile when I do it. She don't even want to.
And, don't you know, old Mrs. Peet sent me a Christmas present, too. A pair of mittens. She knit them herself. It was awful nice of her.
I don't know how big the check was that Miss Katherine's billionaire brother sent her to spend on the children's Christmas, but it must have been a corker. The things she bought with it cost money, and the change it made in the Asylum was Cinderellary. It was.
She bought a carpet for the parlor, and some curtains for the windows, and a bookcase of books.
For the dining-room she bought six new tables and sixty chairs. They were plain, but to sit at a table with only ten at it instead of forty, as I'd been sitting for many years, was to have a proud sensation in your stomach. Mine got so gay I couldn't eat at the first meal.
To have a chair all to yourself, after sitting on benches so old they were worn on both edges, was to feel like the Queen of Sheba, and I felt like her. I could have danced up and down the table, but instead I said grace over and over inside. I had something to say it for. All of us did.
Besides a present, each of us had a new dress. It was made of worsted—real worsted, not calico; and that morning after breakfast, and after everything had been cleaned up, we put on our new dresses and came down in the parlor.
And such a fire as there was in it!
It sputtered and flamed, and danced and blazed, and crackled and roared. Oh, it knew it was Christmas, that fire did, and the mistletoe and holly and running cedar knew it, too!
At first, though, the children felt so stiff and funny in their new-shaped dresses made like other children's that they weren't natural, so I pretended we were having a soiree, and I went round and shook hands with every one.
They got to laughing so at the names I gave them—names that fit some, and didn't touch others by a thousand years—that the stiffness went. And if in all Yorkburg there was a cheerfuller room or a happier lot of children that Christmas Day than we were, we didn't hear of it. I don't believe there was, either.
The reason we enjoyed this Christmas so was because it was on Christmas Day.
Our celebrations had always been after Christmas, and Christmas after Christmas is like cold buckwheat cakes and no syrup. Like an orange with the juice all gone.
As for the tree, it was a spanker. We were dazed dumb for a minute when the parlor doors leading into the sewing-room were opened. But never being able to stay dumb long, I commenced to clap. Then everybody clapped. Clapped so hard half the candles went out.
There wasn't a soul on the place that didn't get a present. This tree was Miss Katherine's, not the Board's, and the presents bought with the brother's money were things we could keep. Not things to put away and pass on to somebody else next year. I almost had a fit when I found I had roller-skates and a set of books too. Think of it! Roller-skates and books! The rich brother sent those himself, and I'm still wondering why.
This was Miss Katherine's second Christmas with us, but the first she had managed herself. Last Christmas she had been at the Asylum such a short time she kept quiet, and just saw how things were done. And not done. But this year she asked if she could provide the entertainment, and the difference in these last two Christmases was like the difference in the way things are done from love and duty.
And oh! love is so much the best!
I do believe I was the happiest child in all the world that day, and I didn't come out of that cloud of glory until night. Mrs. Christopher Pryor took me out.
She had come over with some of the Board ladies to see the tree and things, and as she was going home I heard her say: