THE ENGLISH ORPHANS
Or, A Home in the New World
MRS. MARY J. HOLMES
Author of Darkness and Daylight, Marian Grey, Meadow Brook, Homestead, Dora Deane, Cousin Maude, Tempest and Sunshine, Lena Rivers, etc.
I. The Emigrants
III. Billy Bender
IV. Ella Campbell
V. The Poor-House
VI. Sal Furbush
VII. The Lincolns
VIII. At Church
IX. The New Bonnet
X. Winter at the Poor-House
XII. A New Friend
XIII. A New Home in Rice Corner
XV. The Three Young Men
XVI. The Schoolmistress
XVIII. A New Plan
XIX. Mount Holyoke
XX. The closing of the year
XXII. Education Finished
XXIII. Life in Boston
XXIV. A Change of Opinion
XXV. The Party
XXVI. Making up his Mind
XXVII. The Shadows Deepen
XXIX. A New Discovery
XXX. The Crisis
XXXI. A Question
XXXII. Going Home
"What makes you keep that big blue sun-bonnet drawn so closely over your face? are you afraid of having it seen?"
The person addressed was a pale, sickly-looking child about nine years of age, who, on the deck of the vessel Windermere, was gazing intently towards the distant shores of old England, which were fast receding from view. Near her a fine-looking boy of fourteen was standing, and trying in vain to gain a look at the features so securely shaded from view by the gingham bonnet.
At the sound of his voice the little girl started, and without turning her head, replied, "Nobody wants to see me, I am so ugly and disagreeable."
"Ugly are you?" repeated the boy, and at the same time lifting her up and forcibly holding her hands, he succeeded in looking her fully in the face, "Well, you are not very handsome, that's a fact," said he, after satisfying his curiosity, "but I wouldn't be sullen about it. Ugly people are always smart, and perhaps you are. Any way, I like little girls, so just let me sit here and get acquainted."
Mary Howard, the child thus introduced to our readers, was certainly not very handsome. Her features, though tolerably regular, were small and thin, her complexion sallow, and her eyes, though bright and expressive, seemed too large for her face. She had naturally a fine set of teeth, but their beauty was impaired by two larger ones, which, on each side of her mouth, grew directly over the others, giving to the lower portion of her face a peculiar and rather disagreeable expression. She had frequently been told that she was homely, and often when alone had wept, and wondered why she, too, was not handsome like her sister Ella, on whose cheek the softest rose was blooming, while her rich brown hair fell in wavy masses about her white neck and shoulders. But if Ella was more beautiful than Mary, there was far less in her character to admire. She knew that she was pretty, and this made her proud and selfish, expecting attention from all, and growing sullen and angry if it was withheld.
Mrs. Howard, the mother of these children, had incurred the displeasure of her father, a wealthy Englishman, by marrying her music teacher, whose dark eyes had played the mischief with her heart, while his fingers played its accompaniment on the guitar. Humbly at her father's feet she had knelt and sued for pardon, but the old man was inexorable, and turned her from his house, cursing the fate which had now deprived him, as it were, of his only remaining daughter. Late in life he had married a youthful widow who after the lapse of a few years died, leaving three little girls, Sarah, Ella, and Jane, two of them his own, and one a step-daughter and a child of his wife's first marriage.
As a last request Mrs. Temple had asked that her baby Jane should be given to the care of her sister, Mrs. Morris who was on the eve of embarking for America, and who within four weeks after her sister's death sailed with her; young niece for Boston. Sarah, too, was adopted by her father's brother; and thus Mr. Temple was left alone with his eldest daughter, Ella. Occasionally he heard from Jane, but time and distance gradually weakened the tie of parental affection, which wound itself more closely around Ella; and now, when she, too, left him, and worse than all, married a poor music teacher, the old man's wrath knew no bounds.
"But, we'll see," said he, as with his hands behind him, and his head bent forward, he strode up and down the room—"we'll see how they'll get on. I'll use all my influence against the dog, and when Miss Ella's right cold and hungry, she'll be glad to come back and leave him."
But he was mistaken, for though right cold and hungry Ella ofttimes was, she only clung the closer to her husband, happy to share his fortune, whatever it might be. Two years after her marriage, hearing that her father was dangerously ill, she went to him, but the forgiveness she so ardently desired was never gained, for the old man's reason was gone. Faithfully she watched until the end, and then when she heard read his will (made in a fit of anger), and knew that his property was all bequeathed to her sister in America, she crushed the tears from her long eyelashes and went back to her humble home prepared to meet the worst.
In course of time three children, Frank, Mary, and Ella were added to their number, and though their presence brought sunshine and gladness, it brought also an increase of toil and care. Year after year Mr. Howard struggled on, while each day rumors reached him of the plenty to be had in the land beyond the sea; and at last, when hope seemed dying out, and even his brave-hearted Ella smiled less cheerfully than was her wont to do he resolved to try his fortune in the far-famed home of the weary emigrant. This resolution he communicated to his wife, who gladly consented to accompany him, for England now held nothing dear to her save the graves of her parents, and in the western world she knew she had two sisters, Sarah having some years before gone with her uncle to New York.
Accordingly the necessary preparations for their voyage were made as soon as possible, and when the Windermere left the harbor of Liverpool, they stood upon her deck waving a last adieu to the few kind friends, who on shore were bidding them "God speed."
Among the passengers was George Moreland, whose parents had died some months before, leaving him and a large fortune to the guardianship of his uncle, a wealthy merchant residing in Boston. This uncle, Mr. Selden, had written for his nephew to join him in America, and it was for this purpose that George had taken passage in the Windermere. He was a frank, generous-hearted boy, and though sometimes a little too much inclined to tease, he was usually a favorite with all who knew him. He was a passionate admirer of beauty, and the moment the Howards came on board and he caught a sight of Ella, he felt irresistibly attracted towards her, and ere long had completely won her heart by coaxing her into his lap and praising her glossy curls. Mary, whose sensitive nature shrank from the observation of strangers, and who felt that one as handsome as George Moreland must necessarily laugh at her, kept aloof, and successfully eluded all his efforts to look under her bonnet. This aroused his curiosity, and when he saw her move away to a distant part of the vessel, he followed her, addressing to her the remark with which we commenced this chapter. As George had said he liked little girls, though he greatly preferred talking to pretty ones. On this occasion, however, he resolved to make himself agreeable, and in ten minutes' time he had so far succeeded in gaining Mary's friendship, that she allowed him to untie the blue bonnet, which he carefully removed, and then when she did not know it, he scanned her features attentively as if trying to discover all the beauty there was in them.
At last gently smoothing back her hair, which was really bright and glossy, he said, "Who told you that you were so ugly looking?" The tears started to Mary's eyes, and her chin quivered, as she replied, "Father says so, Ella says so, and every body says so, but mother and Franky."
"Every body doesn't always tell the truth," said George, wishing to administer as much comfort as possible. "You've got pretty blue eyes, nice brown hair, and your forehead, too, is broad and high; now if you hadn't such a muddy complexion, bony cheeks, little nose, big ears and awful teeth, you wouldn't be such a fright!"
George's propensity to tease had come upon him, and in enumerating the defects in Mary's face, he purposely magnified them; but he regretted it, when he saw the effect his words produced. Hiding her face in her hands, Mary burst into a passionate fit of weeping, then snatching the bonnet from George's lap, she threw it on her head and was hurrying away, when George caught her and pulling her back, said, "Forgive me, Mary. I couldn't help plaguing you a little, but I'll try and not do it again."
For a time George kept this resolution, but he could not conceal the preference which he felt for Ella, whose doll-like face, and childish ways were far more in keeping with his taste, than Mary's old look and still older manner. Whenever he noticed her at all, he spoke kindly to her; but she knew there was a great difference between his treatment of her and Ella, and oftentimes, when saying her evening prayer she prayed that George Moreland might love her a little just a little.
Two weeks had passed since the last vestige of land had disappeared from view, and then George was taken dangerously ill with fever. Mrs. Howard herself visited him frequently, but she commanded her children to keep away, lest they, too, should take the disease. For a day or two Mary obeyed her mother, and then curiosity led her near George's berth. For several minutes she lingered, and was about turning away when a low moan fell on her ear and arrested her footsteps. Her mother's commands were forgotten, and in a moment she stood by George's bedside. Tenderly she smoothed his tumbled pillow, moistened his parched lips, and bathed his feverish brow, and when, an hour afterward, the physician entered, he found his patient calmly sleeping, with one hand clasped in that of Mary, who with the other fanned the sick boy with the same blue gingham sun-bonnet, of which he had once made fun, saying it looked like its owner, "rather skim-milky."
"Mary! Mary Howard!" said the physician, "this is no place for you," and he endeavored to lead her away.
This aroused George, who begged so hard for her to remain, that the physician went in quest of Mrs. Howard, who rather unwillingly consented, and Mary was duly installed as nurse in the sick room. Perfectly delighted with her new vocation, she would sit for hours by her charge, watching each change in his features and anticipating as far as possible his wants. She possessed a very sweet, clear voice; and frequently, when all other means had failed to quiet him, she would bend her face near his and taking his hands in hers, would sing to him some simple song of home, until lulled by the soft music he would fall away to sleep. Such unwearied kindness was not without its effect upon George, and one day when Mary as usual was sitting near him, he called her to his side, and taking her face between his hands, kissed her forehead and lips, saying, "What can I ever do to pay my little nurse for her kindness?"
Mary hesitated a moment, and then replied, "Love me as well as you do Ella!"
"As well as I do Ella!" he repeated, "I love you a great deal better. She has not been to see me once. What is the reason?"
Frank, who a moment before had stolen to Mary's side, answered for her, saying, "some one had told Ella that if she should have the fever, her curls would all drop off; and so," said he, "she won't come near you!"
Just then Mrs. Howard appeared, and this time she was accompanied by Ella, who clung closely to her mother's skirt, looking cautiously out from its thick folds. George did not as usual caress her, but he asked her mockingly, "if her hair had commenced coming out!" while Ella only answered by grasping at her long curls, as if to assure herself of their safety.
In a few days George was able to go on deck, and though he still petted and played with Ella, he never again slighted Mary, or forgot that she was present. More than once, too, a kind word, or affectionate look from him, sent such a glow to her cheek and sparkle to her eye, that Frank, who always loved her best, declared, "she was as pretty as Ella any day if she'd break herself of putting her hand to her mouth whenever she saw one looking at her," a habit which she had acquired from being so frequently told of her uneven teeth.
At last after many weary days at sea, there came the joyful news that land was in sight; and next morning, when the children awoke, the motion of the vessel had ceased, and Boston, with its numerous domes and spires, was before them. Towards noon a pleasant-looking, middle-aged man came on board, inquiring for George Moreland, and announcing himself as Mr. Selden. George immediately stepped forward, and after greeting his uncle, introduced Mr. and Mrs. Howard, speaking at the same time of their kindness to him during his illness.
All was now confusion, but in the hurry and bustle of going ashore, George did not forget Mary. Taking her aside, he threw round her neck a small golden chain, to which was attached a locket containing a miniature likeness of himself painted a year before.
"Keep it," said he, "to remember me by, or if you get tired of it, give it to Ella for a plaything."
"I wish I had one for you," said Mary; and George replied, "Never mind, I can remember your looks without a likeness. I've only to shut my eyes, and a little forlorn, sallow-faced, old-looking girl, with crooked teeth—"
He was prevented from finishing his speech by a low cry from Mary, who, pressing his hands in hers, looked beseechingly in his face, and said, "Oh, don't, George!—don't talk so."
He had not teased her about her looks for a long time, and now just as he was leaving her, 'twas more than she could bear. Instantly regretting his thoughtless words, George took her in his arms, and wiping away her tears, said, "Forgive me, Mary. I don't know what made me say so, for I do love you dearly, and always will. You have been kind to me, and I shall remember it, and some time, perhaps, repay it." Then putting her down, and bidding adieu to Mr. and Mrs. Howard, Frank, and Ella, he sprang into his uncle's carriage, and was rapidly driven away.
Mary looked after him as long as the heads of the white horses were in sight, and then taking Frank's hand, followed her parents to the hotel, where for a few days they had determined to stop while Mrs. Howard made inquiries for her sister.
Meantime, from the richly curtained windows of a large handsome building a little girl looked out, impatiently waiting her father's return, wondering why he was gone so long and if she should like her cousin George, or whether he was a bearish looking fellow, with warty hands, who would tease her pet kitten and ink the faces of her doll babies. In the centre of the room the dinner table was standing, and Ida Selden had twice changed the location of her cousin's plate, once placing it at her side, and lastly putting it directly in front, so she could have a fair view of his face.
"Why don't they come?" she had said for the twentieth time, when the sound of carriage wheels in the yard below made her start up, and running down stairs, she was soon shaking the hands of her cousin, whom she decided to be handsome, though she felt puzzled to know whether her kitten and dolls were in any immediate danger or not!
Placing her arm affectionately around him, she led him into the parlor, saying, "I am so glad that you have come to live with me and be my brother. We'll have real nice times, but perhaps you dislike little girls. Did you ever see one that you loved?"
"Yes, two," was the answer. "My cousin Ida, and one other."
"Oh, who is she?" asked Ida. "Tell me all about her How does she look? Is she pretty?"
Instantly as George had predicted, there came before his vision the image of "a forlorn-looking, sallow-faced child," whom he did not care about describing to Ida. She, however, insisted upon a description, and that evening when tea was over, the lamps lighted, and Mr. Selden reading the paper, George told her of Mary, who had watched so kindly over him during the weary days of his illness. Contrary to his expectations, she did not laugh at the picture which he drew of Mary's face, but simply said, "I know I should like her." Then after a moment's pause, she continued; "They are poor, you say, and Mr. Howard is a music teacher. Monsieur Dupres has just left me, and who knows but papa can get Mr. Howard to fill his place."
When the subject was referred to her father, he said that he had liked the appearance of Mr. Howard, and would if possible find him on the morrow and engage his services. The next morning Ida awoke with an uncomfortable impression that something was the matter with the weather. Raising herself on her elbow, and pushing back the heavy curtains, she looked out and saw that the sky was dark with angry clouds, from which the rain was steadily falling,—not in drizzly showers, but in large round drops, which beat against the casement and then bounded off upon the pavement below.
All thoughts of Mr. Howard were given up for that day and as every moment of Mr. Selden's time was employed for several successive ones, it was nearly a week after George's arrival before any inquiries were made for the family. The hotel at which they had stopped was then found, but Mr. Selden was told that the persons whom he was seeking had left the day before for one of the inland towns, though which one he could not ascertain.
"I knew 'twould be so," said Ida rather fretfully, "father might have gone that rainy day as well as not. Now we shall never see nor hear from them again, and George will be so disappointed." But George's disappointment was soon forgotten in the pleasures and excitements of school, and if occasionally thoughts of Mary Howard came over him, they were generally dispelled by the lively sallies of his sprightly little cousin, who often declared that "she should be dreadfully jealous of George's travelling companion, were it not that he was a great admirer of beauty and that Mary was terribly ugly."
It was the afternoon for the regular meeting of the Ladies Sewing Society in the little village of Chicopee, and at the usual hour groups of ladies were seen wending their way towards the stately mansion of Mrs. Campbell, the wealthiest and proudest lady in town.
Many, who for months had absented themselves from the society, came this afternoon with the expectation of gaining a look at the costly marble and rosewood furniture with which Mrs. Campbell's parlors were said to be adorned. But they were disappointed, for Mrs. Campbell had no idea of turning a sewing society into her richly furnished drawing-rooms. The spacious sitting-room, the music-room adjoining, and the wide cool hall beyond, were thrown open to all, and by three o'clock they were nearly filled.
At first there was almost perfect silence, broken only by a whisper or under tone, but gradually the restraint wore way, and the woman near the door, who had come "because she was a mind to, but didn't expect to be noticed any way," and who, every time she was addressed, gave a nervous hitch backward with her chair, had finally hitched herself into the hall, where with unbending back and pursed up lips she sat, highly indignant at the ill-concealed mirth of the young girls, who on the stairs were watching her retrograde movements. The hum of voices increased, until at last there was a great deal more talking than working. The Unitarian minister's bride, Lilly Martin's stepmother, the new clerk at Drury's, Dr. Lay's wife's new hat and its probable cost, and the city boarders at the hotel, were all duly discussed, and then for a time there was again silence while Mrs. Johnson, president of the society, told of the extreme destitution in which she had that morning found a poor English family, who had moved into the village two or three years before.
They had managed to earn a comfortable living until the husband and father suddenly died, since which time the wife's health had been very rapidly failing, until now she was no longer able to work, but was wholly dependent for subsistence upon the exertions of her oldest child Frank, and the charity of the villagers, who sometimes supplied her with far more than was necessary, and again thoughtlessly neglected her for many days. Her chief dependence, too, had now failed her, for the day before the sewing society, Frank had been taken seriously ill with what threatened to be scarlet fever.
"Dear me," said the elegant Mrs. Campbell, smoothing the folds of her rich India muslin—"dear me, I did not know that we had such poverty among us. What will they do?"
"They'll have to go to the poor-house, won't they?"
"To the poor-house!" repeated Mrs. Lincoln, who spent her winters in Boston, and whose summer residence was in the neighborhood of the pauper's home, "pray don't send any more low, vicious children to the poor-house. My Jenny has a perfect passion for them, and it is with difficulty I can keep her away."
"They are English, I believe," continued Mrs. Campbell. "I do wonder why so many of those horridly miserable creatures will come to this country."
"Forgets, mebby, that she's English," muttered the woman at the door; and Mrs. Johnson added, "It would draw tears from your eyes, to see that little pale-faced Mary trying to wait upon her mother and brother, and carrying that sickly baby in her arms so that it may not disturb them."
"What does Ella do?" asked one, and Mrs. Johnson replied, "She merely fixes her curls in the broken looking-glass, and cries because she is hungry."
"She is pretty, I believe?" said Mrs. Campbell, and Rosa Pond, who sat by the window, and had not spoken before, immediately answered, "Oh, yes, she is perfectly beautiful; and do you know, Mrs. Campbell, that when she is dressed clean and nice, I think she looks almost exactly like your little Ella!"
A haughty frown was Mrs. Campbell's only answer, and Rosa did not venture another remark, although several whispered to her that they, too, had frequently observed the strong resemblance between Ella Howard and Ella Campbell.
From what has been said, the reader will readily understand that the sick woman in whom Mrs. Johnson was so much interested, was our old acquaintance Mrs. Howard.
All inquiries for her sisters had been fruitless, and after stopping for a time in Worcester, they had removed to Chicopee, where recently Mr. Howard had died. Their only source of maintenance was thus cut off, and now they were reduced to the utmost poverty. Since we last saw them a sickly baby had been added to their number. With motherly care little Mary each day washed and dressed it, and then hour after hour carried it in her arms, trying to still its feeble moans, which fell so sadly on the ear of her invalid mother.
It was a small, low building which they inhabited, containing but one room and a bedroom, which last they had ceased to occupy, for one by one each article of furniture had been sold, until at last Mrs. Howard lay upon a rude lounge, which Frank had made from some rough boards. Until midnight the little fellow toiled, and then when his work was done crept softly to the cupboard, there lay one slice of bread, the only article of food which the house contained. Long and wistfully he looked at it, thinking how good it would taste; but a glance at the pale faces near decided him. "They need it more than I," said he, and turning resolutely away, he prayed that he "might sleep pretty soon and forget how hungry he was."
Day after day he worked on, and though his cheek occasionally flushed with anger when of his ragged clothes and naked feet the village boys made fun, he never returned them any answer, but sometimes when alone the memory of their thoughtless jeers would cause the tears to start, and then wiping them away, he would wonder if it was wicked to be poor and ragged. One morning when he attempted to rise, he felt oppressed with a languor he had never before experienced, and turning on his trundlebed, and adjusting his blue cotton jacket, his only pillow, he again slept so soundly that Mary was obliged to call him twice ere she aroused him.
That night he came home wild with delight,—he had earned a whole dollar, and knew how he could earn another half dollar to-morrow. "Oh, I wish it would come quick," said he, as he related his success to his mother.
But, alas, the morrow found him burning with fever and when he attempted to stand, he found it impossible to do so. A case of scarlet fever had appeared in the village and it soon became evident that the disease had fastened upon Frank. The morning following the sewing society Ella Campbell and several other children showed symptoms of the same disease, and in the season of general sickness which followed, few were left to care for the poor widow. Daily little Frank grew worse. The dollar he had earned was gone, the basket of provisions Mrs. Johnson had sent was gone, and when for milk the baby Alice cried, there was none to give her.
At last Frank, pulling the old blue jacket from under his head, and passing it to Mary, said, "Take it to Bill Bender,—he offered me a shilling for it, and a shilling will buy milk for Allie and crackers for mother,—take it."
"No, Franky," answered Mary, "you would have no pillow, besides, I've got something more valuable, which I can sell. I've kept it long, but it must go to keep us from starving;"—and she held to view the golden locket, which George Moreland had thrown around her neck.
"You shan't sell that," said Frank. "You must keep it to remember George, and then, too, you may want it more some other time."
Mary finally yielded the point, and gathering up the crumpled jacket, started in quest of Billy Bender. He was a kind-hearted boy, two years older than Frank, whom he had often befriended, and shielded from the jeers of their companions. He did not want the jacket, for it was a vast deal too small; and it was only in reply to a proposal from Frank that he should buy it that he had casually offered him a shilling. But now, when he saw the garment, and learned why it was sent he immediately drew from his old leather wallet a quarter, all the money he had in the world and giving it to Mary bade her keep it, as she would need it all.
Half an hour after a cooling orange was held to Frank's parched lips, and Mary said, "Drink it, brother, I've got two more, besides some milk and bread," but the ear she addressed was deaf and the eye dim with the fast falling shadow of death. "Mother, mother!" cried the little girl, "Franky won't drink and his forehead is all sweat. Can't I hold you up while you come to him?"
Mrs. Howard had been much worse that day, but she did not need the support of those feeble arms. She felt, rather than saw that her darling boy was dying, and agony made her strong. Springing to his side she wiped from his brow the cold moisture which had so alarmed her daughter chafed his hands and feet, and bathed his head, until he seemed better and fell asleep.
"Now, if the doctor would only come," said Mary; but the doctor was hurrying from house to house, for more than one that night lay dying in Chicopee. But on no hearthstone fell the gloom of death so darkly as upon that low, brown house, where a trembling woman and a frail young child watched and wept over the dying Frank. Fast the shades of night came on, and when all was dark in the sick room, Mary sobbed out, "We have no candle, mother, and if I go for one, and he should die—"
The sound of her voice aroused Frank, and feeling for his sister's hand, he said, "Don't go, Mary:—don't leave me,—the moon is shining bright, and I guess I can find my way to God just as well."
Nine;—ten;—eleven;—and then through the dingy windows the silvery moonlight fell, as if indeed to light the way of the early lost to heaven. Mary had drawn her mother's lounge to the side of the trundlebed, and in a state of almost perfect exhaustion, Mrs. Howard lay gasping for breath while Mary, as if conscious of the dread reality about to occur, knelt by her side, occasionally caressing her pale cheek and asking if she were better. Once Mrs. Howard laid her hands on Mary's head, and prayed that she might be preserved and kept from harm by the God of the orphan, and that the sin of disobedience resting upon her own head might not be visited upon her child.
After a time a troubled sleep came upon her, and she slept, until roused by a low sob. Raising herself up, she looked anxiously towards her children. The moonbeams fell full upon the white, placid face of Frank, who seemed calmly sleeping, while over him Mary bent, pushing back from his forehead the thick, clustering curls, and striving hard to smother her sobs, so they might not disturb her mother.
"Does he sleep?" asked Mrs. Howard, and Mary, covering with her hands the face of him who slept, answered, "Turn away, mother;—don't look at him. Franky is dead. He died with his arms around my neck, and told me not to wake you."
Mrs. Howard was in the last stages of consumption, and now after weeping over her only boy until her tears seemed dried, she lay back half fainting upon her pillow. Towards daylight a violent coughing fit ensued, during which an ulcer was broken, and she knew that she was dying. Beckoning Mary to her side, she whispered, "I am leaving you alone, in the wide world. Be kind to Ella, and our dear little Allie, and go with her where she goes. May God keep and bless my precious children,—and reward you as you deserve, my darling—"
The sentence was unfinished, and in unspeakable awe the orphan girl knelt between her mother and brother, shuddering in the presence of death, and then weeping to think she was alone.
Just on the corner of Chicopee Common, and under the shadow of the century-old elms which skirt the borders of the grass plat called by the villagers the "Mall," stands the small red cottage of widow Bender, who in her way was quite a curiosity. All the "ills which flesh is heir to," seemed by some strange fatality to fall upon her, and never did a new disease appear in any quarter of the globe, which widow Bender, if by any means she could ascertain the symptoms, was not sure to have it in its most aggravated form.
On the morning following the events narrated in the last chapter, Billy, whose dreams had been disturbed by thoughts of Frank, arose early, determined to call at Mrs. Howard's, and see if they were in want of any thing. But his mother, who had heard rumors of the scarlet fever, was up before him, and on descending to the kitchen, which with all her sickness Mrs. Bender kept in perfect order, Billy found her sitting before a blazing fire,—her feet in hot water, and her head thrown back in a manner plainly showing that something new had taken hold of her in good earnest. Billy was accustomed to her freaks, and not feeling at all frightened, stepped briskly forward, saying, "Well, mother, what's the matter now? Got a cramp in your foot, or what?"
"Oh, William," said she, "I've lived through a sight but my time has come at last. Such a pain in my head and stomach. I do believe I've got the scarlet fever, and you must run for the doctor quick."
"Scarlet fever!" repeated Billy, "why, you've had it once, and you can't have it again, can you?"
"Oh, I don't know,—I never was like anybody else, and can have any thing a dozen times. Now be spry and fetch the doctor but before you go, hand me my snuff-box and put the canister top heapin' full of tea into the tea-pot."
Billy obeyed, and then, knowing that the green tea would remove his mother's ailment quite as soon as the physician, he hurried away towards Mrs. Howard's. The sun was just rising, and its red rays looked in at the window, through which the moonlight had shone the night before. Beneath the window a single rose-tree was blooming, and on it a robin was pouring out its morning song. Within the cottage there was no sound or token of life, and thinking its inmates were asleep, Billy paused several minutes upon the threshold, fearing that he should disturb their slumbers. At last with a vague presentiment that all was not right, he raised the latch and entered, but instantly started back in astonishment at the scene before him. On the little trundlebed lay Frank, cold and dead, and near him in the same long dreamless sleep was his mother, while between them, with one arm thrown lovingly across her brother's neck, and her cheek pressed against his, lay Mary—her eyelids moist with the tears which, though sleeping she still shed. On the other side of Frank and nestled so closely to him that her warm breath lifted the brown curls from his brow, was Ella. But there were no tear stains on her face, for she did not yet know how bereaved she was.
For a moment Billy stood irresolute, and then as Mary moved uneasily in her slumbers, he advanced a step or two towards her. The noise aroused her, and instantly remembering and comprehending the whole, she threw herself with a bitter cry into Billy's extended arms, as if he alone were all the protector she now had in the wide, wide world. Ere long Ella too awoke, and the noisy outburst which followed the knowledge of her loss, made Mary still the agony of her own heart in order to soothe the more violent grief of her excitable sister.
There was a stir in the cradle, and with a faint cry the baby Alice awoke and stretched her hands towards Mary who, with all a mother's care took the child upon her lap and fed her from the milk which was still standing in the broken pitcher. With a baby's playfulness Alice dipped her small fingers into the milk, and shaking them in her sister's face, laughed aloud as the white drops fell upon her hair. This was too much for poor Mary, and folding the child closer to her bosom she sobbed passionately.
"Oh, Allie, dear little Allie, what will you do? What shall we all do? Mother's dead, mother's dead!"
Ella was not accustomed to see her sister thus moved, and her tears now flowed faster while she entreated Mary to stop. "Don't do so, Mary," she said. "Don't do so. You make me cry harder. Tell her to stop, Billy. Tell her to stop."
But Billy's tears were flowing too, and he could only answer the little girl by affectionately smoothing her tangled curls, which for once in her life she had forgotten to arrange At length rising up, he said to Mary, "Something must be done. The villagers must know of it, and I shall have to leave you alone while I tell them."
In half an hour from that time the cottage was nearly filled with people, some of whom came out of idle curiosity, and after seeing all that was to be seen, started for home, telling the first woman who put her head out the chamber window for particulars, that "'twas a dreadful thing, and such a pity, too, that Ella should have to go to the poor-house, with her pretty face and handsome curls."
But there were others who went there for the sake of comforting the orphans and attending to the dead, and by noon the bodies were decently arranged for burial. Mrs. Johnson's Irish girl Margaret was cleaning the room, and in the bedroom adjoining, Mrs. Johnson herself, with two or three other ladies, were busily at work upon some plain, neat shrouds, and as they worked they talked of the orphan children who were now left friendless.
"There will be no trouble," said one, "in finding a place for Ella, she is so bright and handsome, but as for Mary, I am afraid she'll have to go to the poor-house."
"Were I in a condition to take either," replied Mrs. Johnson, "I should prefer Mary to her sister, for in my estimation she is much the best girl; but there is the baby, who must go wherever Mary does, unless she can be persuaded to leave her."
Before any one could reply to this remark, Mary, who had overheard every word, came forward, and laying her face on Mrs. Johnson's lap, sobbed out, "Let me go with Alice, I told mother I would."
Billy Bender, who all this while had been standing by the door, now gave a peculiar whistle, which with him was ominous of some new idea, and turning on his heel started for home, never once thinking, until he reached it, that his mother more than six hours before had sent him in great haste for the physician. On entering the house, he found her, as we expected, rolled up in bed, apparently in the last stage of scarlet fever; but before she could reproach him, he said "Mother, have you heard the news?"
Mrs. Bender had a particular love for news, and now for getting "how near to death's door" she had been, she eagerly demanded, "What news? What has happened?"
When Billy told her of the sudden death of Mrs. Howard and Frank, an expression of "What? That all?" passed over her face, and she said, "Dear me, and so the poor critter's gone? Hand me my snuff, Billy. Both died last night, did they? Hain't you nothin' else to tell?"
"Yes, Mary Judson and Ella Campbell, too, are dead."
Mrs. Bender, who like many others, courted the favor of the wealthy, and tried to fancy herself on intimate terms with them, no sooner heard of Mrs. Campbell's affliction, than her own dangerous symptoms were forgotten, and springing up she exclaimed, "Ella Campbell dead! What'll her mother do? I must go to her right away. Hand me my double gown there in the closet, and give me my lace cap in the lower draw, and mind you have the tea-kettle biled agin I get back."
"But, mother," said Billy, as he prepared to obey her, "Mrs. Campbell is rich, and there are enough who will pity her. If you go any where, suppose you stop at Mrs. Howard's, and comfort poor Mary, who cries all the time because she and Alice have got to go to the poor-house."
"Of course they'll go there, and they orto be thankful they've got so good a place—Get away.—That ain't my double gown;—that's a cloak. Don't you know a cloak from a double gown?"
"Yes, yes," said Billy, whose mind was not upon his mother's toilet—"but," he continued, "I want to ask you, can't we,—couldn't you take them for a few days, and perhaps something may turn up."
"William Bender," said the highly astonished lady what can you mean? A poor sick woman like me, with one foot in the grave, take the charge of three pauper children! I shan't do it, and you needn't think of it."
"But, mother," persisted Billy, who could generally coax her to do as he liked, "it's only for a few days, and they'll not be much trouble or expense, for I'll work enough harder to make it up."
"I have said no once, William Bender, and when I say no, I mean no," was the answer.
Billy knew she would be less decided the next time the subject was broached, so for the present, he dropped it, and taking his cap he returned to Mrs. Howard's, while his mother started for Mrs. Campbell's.
Next morning between the hours of nine and ten, the tolling bell sent forth its sad summons, and ere long a few of the villagers were moving towards the brown cottage, where in the same plain coffin slept the mother and her only boy. Near them sat Ella, occasionally looking with childish curiosity at the strangers around her, or leaning forward to peep at the tips of the new morocco shoes which Mrs. Johnson had kindly given her; then, when her eye fell upon the coffin, she would burst into such an agony of weeping that many of the villagers also wept in sympathy, and as they stroked her soft hair, thought, "how much more she loved her mother than did Mary," who, without a tear upon her cheek, sat there immovable, gazing fixedly upon the marble face of her mother. Alice was not present, for Billy had not only succeeded in winning his mother's consent to take the children for a few days, but he had also coaxed her to say that Alice might come before the funeral, on condition that he would remain at home and take care of her. This he did willingly, for Alice, who had been accustomed to see him would now go to no one else except Mary.
Billy was rather awkward at baby tending, but by dint of emptying his mother's cupboard, blowing a tin horn, rattling a pewter platter with an iron spoon, and whistling Yankee Doodle, he managed to keep her tolerably quiet until he saw the humble procession approaching the house. Then, hurrying with his little charge to the open window, he looked out. Side by side walked Mary and Ella, and as Alice's eyes fell upon the former, she uttered a cry of joy, and almost sprang from Billy's arms. But Mary could not come; and for the next half hour Mrs. Bender corked her ears with cotton, while Billy, half distracted, walked the floor, singing at the top of his voice every tune he had ever heard, from "Easter Anthem" down to "the baby whose father had gone a hunting," and for whom the baby in question did not care two straws.
Meantime the bodies were about to be lowered into the newly made grave, when Mrs. Johnson felt her dress nervously grasped, and looking down she saw Mary's thin, white face uplifted towards hers with so earnest an expression, that she gently laid her hand upon her head, and said, "What is it, dear?"
"Oh, if I can,—if they only would let me look at them once more. I couldn't see them at the house, my eyes were so dark."
Mrs. Johnson immediately communicated Mary's request to the sexton, who rather unwillingly opened the coffin lid. The road over which they had come, was rough and stony and the jolt had disturbed the position of Frank, who no lay partly upon his mother's shoulder, with his cheek resting against hers. Tenderly Mary laid him back upon his own pillow, and then kneeling down and burying her face in her mother's bosom, she for a time remained perfectly silent, although the quivering of her frame plainly told the anguish of that parting. At length Mrs. Johnson gently whispered "Come, darling, you must come away now;" but Mary did not move; and when at last they lifted her up, they saw that she had fainted. In a few moments she recovered, and with her arms across her sister's neck, stood by until the wide grave was filled, and the bystanders were moving away.
As they walked homeward together, two women, who had been present at the funeral, discussed the matter as follows:—
"They took it hard, poor things, particularly the oldest."
"Yes, though I didn't think she cared as much as t'other one, until she fainted, but it's no wonder, for she's old enough to dread the poor-house. Did you say they were staying at widder Bender's?"
"Yes, and how in this world widder Bender, as poor as she pretends to be, can afford to do it, is more than I can tell."
"Are you going to the other funeral this afternoon?"
"I guess I am. I wouldn't miss it for a good deal. Why as true as you live, I have never set my foot in Mrs. Campbell's house yet, and know no more what is in it than the dead."
"Well, I do, for my girl Nancy Ray used to live there, and she's told me sights. She says they've got a big looking-glass that cost three hundred dollars."
"So I've heard, and I s'pose there'll be great doin's this afternoon. The coffin, they say, came from Worcester, and cost fifty dollars."
"Now, that's what I call wicked. Sposin' her money did come from England, she needn't spend it so foolishly; but then money didn't save Ella's life, and they say her mother's done nothing but screech and go on like a mad woman since she died. You'll go early, won't you?"
"Yes, I mean to be there in season to get into the parlor if I can."
And now, having reached the corner, where their path diverged, with a mutual "good day" they parted.
Scarcely three hours had passed since the dark, moist earth was heaped upon the humble grave of the widow and her son, when again, over the village of Chicopee floated the notes of the tolling bell, and immediately crowds of persons with seemingly eager haste, hurried towards the Campbell mansion, which was soon nearly filled. Among the first arrivals were our acquaintances of the last chapter, who were fortunate enough to secure a position near the drawing-room, which contained the "big looking-glass."
On a marble table in the same room, lay the handsome coffin, and in it slept young Ella. Gracefully her small waxen hands were folded one over the other, while white, half-opened rose buds were wreathed among the curls of her hair, which fell over her neck and shoulders, and covered the purple spots, which the disease had left upon her flesh. "She is too beautiful to die, and the only child too," thought more than one, as they looked first at the sleeping clay and then at the stricken mother, who, draped in deepest black, sobbed convulsively and leaned for support upon the arm of the sofa. What now to her were wealth and station? What did she care for the elegance which had so often excited the envy of her neighbors? That little coffin, which had cost so many dollars and caused so much remark, contained what to her was far dearer than all. And yet she was not one half so desolate as was the orphan Mary, who in Mrs. Bender's kitchen sat weeping over her sister Alice, and striving to form words of prayer which should reach the God of the fatherless.
But few of the villagers thought of her this afternoon. Their sympathies were all with Mrs. Campbell; and when at the close of the services she approached to take a last look of her darling, they closed around her with exclamations of grief and tears of pity, though even then some did not fail to note and afterwards comment upon the great length of her costly veil, and the width of its hem! It was a long procession which followed Ella Campbell to the grave, and with bowed heads and hats uplifted, the spectators stood by while the coffin was lowered to the earth; and then, as the Campbell carriage drove slowly away, they dispersed to their homes, speaking, it may be, more tenderly to their own little ones, and shuddering to think how easily it might have been themselves who were bereaved.
Dark and dreary was the house to which Mrs. Campbell returned. On the stairs there was no patter of childish feet. In the halls there was no sound of a merry voice, and on her bosom rested no little golden head, for the weeping mother was childless. Close the shutters and drop the rich damask curtains, so that no ray of sunlight, or fragrance of summer flowers may find entrance there to mock her grief. In all Chicopee was there a heart so crushed and bleeding as hers? Yes, on the grass-plat at the foot of Mrs. Bender's garden an orphan girl was pouring out her sorrow in tears which almost blistered her eyelids as they fell.
Alice at last was sleeping, and Mary had come out to weep alone where there were none to see or hear. For her the future was dark and cheerless as midnight. No friends, no money, and no home, except the poor-house, from which young as she was, she instinctively shrank.
"My mother, oh, my mother," she cried, as she stretched her hands towards the clear blue sky, now that mother's home, "Why didn't I die too?"
There was a step upon the grass, and looking up Mary saw standing near her, Mrs. Campbell's English girl, Hannah. She had always evinced a liking for Mrs. Howard's family, and now after finishing her dishes, and trying in vain to speak a word of consolation to her mistress, who refused to be comforted, she had stolen away to Mrs. Bender's, ostensibly to see all the orphans, but, in reality to see Ella, who had always been her favorite. She had entered through the garden gate, and came upon Mary just as she uttered the words, "Why didn't I die too?"
The sight of her grief touched Hannah's heart, and sitting down by the little girl, she tried to comfort her. Mary felt that her words and manner were prompted by real sympathy, and after a time she grew calm, and listened, while Hannah told her that "as soon as her mistress got so any body could go near her, she meant to ask her to take Ella Howard to fill the place of her own daughter."
"They look as much alike as two beans," said she, "and sposin' Ella Howard ain't exactly her own flesh and blood, she would grow into liking her, I know."
Mary was not selfish, and the faint possibility that her sister might not be obliged to go to the poor-house, gave her comfort, though she knew that in all probability she herself must go. After a few more words Hannah entered the cottage, but she wisely chose to keep from Ella a knowledge of her plan, which very likely might not succeed. That night after her return home Hannah lingered for a long time about the parlor door, glancing wistfully towards her mistress, who reclined upon the sofa with her face entirely hidden by her cambric handkerchief.
"It's most too soon, I guess," thought Hannah, "I'll wait till to-morrow."
Accordingly next morning, when, as she had expected, she was told to carry her mistress's toast and coffee to her room, she lingered for a while, and seemed so desirous of speaking that Mrs. Campbell asked what she wanted.
"Why, you see, ma'am, I was going to say a word about,—about that youngest Howard girl." (She dared not say Ella.) "She's got to go to the poor-house, and it's a pity, she's so handsome. Why couldn't she come here and live? I'll take care of her, and 'twouldn't be nigh so lonesome."
At this allusion to her bereavement Mrs. Campbell burst into tears, and motioned Hannah from the room.
"I'll keep at her till I fetch it about," thought Hannah, as she obeyed the lady's order. But further persuasion from her was rendered unnecessary, for Mrs. Lincoln, whom we have once before mentioned, called that afternoon, and after assuring her friend that she never before saw one who was so terribly afflicted, or who stood so much in need of sympathy, she casually mentioned the Howards, and the extreme poverty to which they were reduced. This reminded Mrs. Campbell of Hannah's suggestion, which she repeated to her visitor, who answered, "It would unquestionably be a good idea to take her, for she is large enough to be useful in the kitchen in various ways."
Mrs. Campbell, who had more of real kindness in her nature than Mrs. Lincoln, replied, "If I take her, I shall treat her as my own, for they say she looks like her, and her name, too, is the same."
Here Mrs. Campbell commenced weeping and as Mrs. Lincoln soon took her leave, she was left alone for several hours. At the end of that time, impelled by something she could not resist, she rang the bell and ordered Hannah to go to Mrs. Bender's and bring Ella to her room as she wished to see how she appeared.
With the utmost care, Ella arranged her long curls, and then tying over her black dress the only white apron which she possessed, she started for Mrs. Campbell's. The resemblance between herself and Ella Campbell was indeed so striking, that but for the dress the mother might easily have believed it to have been her own child. As it was, she started up when the little girl appeared, and drawing her to her side, involuntarily kissed her; then causing her to sit down by her side, she minutely examined her features, questioning her meantime concerning her mother and her home in England. Of the latter Ella could only tell her that they lived in a city, and that her mother had once taken her to a large, handsome house in the country, which she said was her old home.
"There were sights of trees, and flowers, and vines, and fountains, and little deer," said the child, "and when I asked ma why she did not live there now, she cried, and pa put his arm tight 'round her,—so."
From this Mrs. Campbell inferred that Ella's family must have been superior to most of the English who emigrate to this country, and after a few more questions she decided to take her for a time, at least; so with another kiss she dismissed her, telling her she would come for her soon. Meantime arrangements were making for Mary and Alice and on the same day in which Mrs. Campbell was to call for Ella, Mr. Knight, one of the "Selectmen," whose business it was to look after the town's poor,[A] also came to the cottage. After learning that Ella was provided for, he turned to Mary, asking "how old she was, and what she could do," saying, that his wife was in want of just such a girl to do "chores," and if she was willing to be separated from Alice, he would give her a home with him. But Mary only hugged her sister closer to her bosom as she replied "I'd rather go with Alice. I promised mother to take care of her."
[Footnote A: In Massachusetts each town has its own poor-house.]
"Very well," said the man, "I'm going to North Chicopee, but shall be back in two hours, so you must have your things all ready."
"Don't cry so, Mary," whispered Billy, when he saw how fast her tears were falling. "I'll come to see you every week, and when I am older, and have money, I will take you from the poor-house, and Alice too."
Just then, Mrs. Campbell's carriage drove up. She had been taking her afternoon ride, and now, on her way home, had stopped for Ella, who in her delight at going with so handsome a woman, forgot the dreary home which awaited her sister, and which, but for Mrs. Campbell's fancy, would have been hers also. While she was getting ready, Mr. Knight returned, and driving his old-fashioned yellow wagon, with its square box-seat up by the side of Mrs. Campbell's stylish carriage, he entered the house, saying, "Come, gal, you're ready, I hope. The old mare don't want to stand, and I'm in a desput hurry, too. I orto be to hum this minute, instead of driving over that stony Portupog road. I hope you don't mean to carry that are thing," he continued, pointing with his whip towards Alice's cradle, which stood near Mary's box of clothes.
The tears came into Mary's eyes, and she answered "Alice has always slept in it, and I didn't know but—"
Here she stopped, and running up to Ella, hid her face in her lap, and sobbed, "I don't want to go. Oh, I don't want to go, can't I stay with you?"
Billy's yellow handkerchief was suddenly brought into requisition, and Mrs. Bender, who, with all her imaginary aches and pains, was a kind-hearted woman, made vigorous attacks upon her snuff-box, while Mrs. Campbell patted Mary's head, saying, "Poor child. I can't take you both, but you shall see your sister often."
Ella was too much pleased with Mrs. Campbell, and the thoughts of the fine home to which she was going, to weep but her chin quivered, when Mary held up the baby for her to kiss, and said, "Perhaps you will never see little Allie again."
When all was ready, Mr. Knight walked around his wagon, and after trying to adjust the numerous articles it contained, said, "I don't see how in the world I can carry that cradle, my wagon is chuck full now. Here is a case of shoes for the gals to stitch, and a piller case of flour for Miss Smith, and forty 'leven other traps, so I guess you'll have to leave it. Mebby you can find one there, and if not, why, she'll soon get used to going without it."
Before Mary could reply, Billy whispered in her ear "Never mind, Mary; you know that little cart that I draw mother's wood in, the cradle will just fit it, and to-morrow afternoon I'll bring it to you, if it doesn't rain."
Mary knew that he meant what he said, and smiling on him through her tears, climbed into the rickety wagon, which was minus a step, and taking Alice in her arms, she was soon moving away. In striking contrast to this, Ella, about five minutes afterwards, was carefully lifted into Mrs. Campbells handsome carriage, and reclining upon soft cushions, was driven rapidly towards her new home.
Will their paths in life always continue thus different? Who can tell?
How long and tiresome that ride was with no one for a companion except Mr. Knight, who, though a kind-hearted man knew nothing about making himself agreeable to little girls, so he remained perfectly taciturn, whipping at every cow or pig which he passed, and occasionally screaming to his horse, "Git up, old Charlotte. What are you 'bout?"
Mary, who had seldom been out of the village, and who knew but little of the surrounding country, for a time enjoyed looking about her very much. First they went down the long hill which leads from the village to the depot. Then they crossed the winding Chicopee river, and Mary thought how much she should love to play in that bright green meadow and gather the flowers which grew so near to the water's edge. The causeway was next crossed, and turning to the right they came upon a road where Mary had never been before, and which grew more rough and stony as they advanced.
On the top of a steep hill Mary looked back to see if Chicopee were yet, visible, but nothing was to be seen except the spire of the Unitarian Meeting-House. About a quarter of a mile to the west, however, the graveyard was plainly discernible, and she looked until her eyes were dim with tears at the spot where she knew her parents and brother were lying. By this time Alice was asleep, and though the little arms which held her ached sadly, there was no complaint, but she wished Mr. Knight would speak to her once, if it were only to ask her how she did!
At last, concluding there would be no impropriety in making the first advances herself, she said timidly, "Is it such a very bad place at the poor-house?"
"Why, no, not so dreadful. There's places enough, sight worse, and then agin there's them, a good deal better But you needn't be afeard. They'll take good care of you."
"I wasn't thinking of myself," said Mary.
"Who was you thinkin' of, then?"
"Of Alice; she's always been sick and is not used to strangers, and among so many I am afraid she will be frightened."
"Oh, she'll soon get used to 'em. Nothin' like, habit. Weakly, is she? Wall, the poor-house ain't much of a place to get well in, that's a fact. But she'd be better off to die and go to her mother, and then you could get a good place at some farmer's."
Mary wondered how he could speak thus carelessly of what would cause her so much sorrow. Gently lifting the old faded shawl, she looked down upon Alice as she slept. There was a smile upon her face. She was dreaming, and as her lips moved, Mary caught the word, "Ma," which the child had applied indiscriminately both to herself and her mother. Instantly the tears gushed forth, and falling upon the baby's face awoke her. Her nap was not half out, and setting up a loud cry, she continued screaming until they drove up to the very door of the poor-house.
"For the land's sake," said Mr. Knight, as he helped Mary from the wagon, "what a racket; can't you contrive to stop it? you'll have Sal Furbush in your hair, for she don't like a noise."
Mary glanced nervously round in quest of the goblin Sal, but she saw nothing save an idiotic face with bushy tangled hair; and nose flattened against the window pane. In terror Mary clung to Mr. Knight, and whispered, as she pointed towards the figure, which was now laughing hideously, "What is it? Are there many such here?"
"Don't be afeard," said Mr. Knight, "that's nobody but foolish Patsy; she never hurt any body in her life. Come, now, let me show you to the overseer."
Mary looked towards the woods which skirted the borders of the meadow opposite, and for half a moment felt inclined to flee thither, and hide herself in the bushes; but Mr. Knight's hand was upon her shoulder, and he led her towards a red-whiskered man, who stood in the door.
"Here, Parker," said he, "I've brought them children I was tellin' you about. You've room for 'em, I s'pose."
"Why, ye-es, we can work it so's to make room. Guess we shall have rain to-morrow."
Mary remembered that Billy would not come if it rained, and with a sigh she noticed that the clouds were dark and threatening. They now entered the kitchen, which was a long, low, narrow room, with a fireplace on the right, and two windows opposite, looking towards the west. The floor was painted and very clean, but the walls were unfinished, and the brown rafters were festooned with cobwebs. In the middle of the room, the supper table was standing, but there was nothing homelike in the arrangement of the many colored dishes and broken knives and forks, neither was there any thing tempting to one's appetite in the coarse brown bread and white-looking butter. Mary was very tired with holding Alice so long, and sinking into a chair near the window, she would have cried; but there was a tightness in her throat, and a pressure about her head and eyes, which kept the tears from flowing. She had felt so once before. Twas when she stood at her mother's grave; and now as the room grew dark, and the objects around began to turn in circles, she pressed her hands tightly to her forehead, and said, 'Oh, I hope I shan't faint."
"To be sure you won't," said a loud, harsh voice, and instantly large drops of water were thrown in her face, while the same voice continued: "You don't have such spells often, I hope, for Lord knows I don't want any more fitty ones here."
"No, ma'am," said Mary, meekly; and looking up, she saw before her a tall, square-backed, masculine-looking woman, who wore a very short dress, and a very high-crowned cap, fastened under her chin with bows of sky-blue ribbon.
Mary knew she was indebted to this personage for the shower bath, for the water was still trickling from her fingers, which were now engaged in picking her teeth with a large pin. There was something exceedingly cross and forbidding in her looks, and Mary secretly hoped she would not prove to be Mrs. Parker, the wife of the overseer. She was soon relieved of her fears by the overseer himself, who came forward and said, "Polly, I don't see any other way but you'll have to take these children into the room next to yourn. The baby worries a good deal, and such things trouble my wife, now she's sick."
The person addressed as "Polly," gave her shoulders an angry jerk, and sticking the pin on the waist of her dress, replied, "So I s'pose it's no matter if I'm kept awake all night, and worried to death. But I guess you'd find there'd be queer doins here if I should be taken away. I wish the British would stay to hum, and not lug their young ones here for us to take care of."
This was said with a lowering frown, and movement towards Mary, who shrank back into the corner and covered her mouth with her hand, as if that were the cause of offence.
"But you can take an extra nap after dinner," said Mr. Parker, in a conciliatory manner. "And then you are so good at managing children, that I thought they would be better off near you."
This speech, while it mollified Polly, made Mary shudder, as she thought of Alice's being "managed" by such a woman. But she had no time for thought, for Polly, who was very rapid in her movements, and always in a hurry, said, "Come, child, I will show you where you are going to sleep;" at the same time she caught up Alice, who, not liking her handling, kicked so vigorously that she was soon dropped; Polly remarking, that "she was mighty strong in her legs for a sick baby."
After passing up a dark stairway they came to a door, which opened under the garret stairs, and Mary was startled by a voice which seemed to be almost over her head, and which, between a sneer and a hiss, called out, "See where the immaculate Miss Grundy comes!"
This was followed by a wild, insane chuckle, which made Mary spring in terror to Polly's side.
"Oh, who is it?" said she. "Is it Patsy?"
"Patsy!" was the tart reply. "She never is saucy like that. It's Sal Furbush."
Mary longed to ask who Sal Furbush was; but as her guide did not seem, at all inclined to be communicative, she followed on in silence until they came to a longer and lighter hall, or "spaceway," as it is frequently called in New England. On each side of this there were doors opening into small sleeping rooms, and into one of these Polly led her companion, saying, as she did so, "This is your room, and it's a great favor to you to be so near me. But mind, that child mustn't cry and keep me awake nights, for if she does, may-be you'll have to move into that other space, where we heard the laugh."
Mary thought she would rather do any thing than that. She also felt a great curiosity to know who her companion was, so she at last ventured to ask, "Do you live here, Miss Polly?"
"Why, yes, I'm staying here for a spell now:—kind of seeing to things. My name isn't Polly. It's Mrs. Mary Grundy, and somehow folks have got to nicknaming me Polly, but it'll look more mannerly in you to call me Mrs. Grundy; but what am I thinking of? The folks must have their supper. So you'd better come down now."
"If you please," said Mary, who knew she could not eat a mouthful, "If you please, I'd rather stay here and rest me if I can have some milk for Alice by and by."
"Mercy sakes, ain't that child weaned?" asked Mrs. Grundy.
"Ma'am?" said Mary, not exactly understanding her.
"Ain't Ellis weaned, or must we break into the cream a dozen times a day for her?"
"She has never eaten any thing but milk," said Mary, weeping to think how different Mrs. Grundy's manner was from her own dear mother's.
"Wall, there's no use blubberin' so. If she must have milk, why she must, and that's the end on't. But what I want to know is, how folks as poor as yourn, could afford to buy milk for so big a child."
Mary could have told of many hungry nights which she and Frank had passed in order that Ella and Alice might be fed, but she made no remark, and Mrs. Grundy soon left the room saying, "Come down when you get ready for the milk I s'pose skim will do."
Half an hour after Alice began to cry; and Mary, knowing she was hungry, laid her upon the bed and started for the milk. She trembled as she drew near the garret stairs, and trod softly that she might not be heard, but as she was passing the mysterious door, a voice entirely different in its tone from the one assumed towards Mrs. Grundy, called out, "Come here, little dear, and see your Aunty."
Mary's circle of acquaintances was quite as large as she cared to have it, and quickening her steps, she was soon in the kitchen, where she found several old ladies still lingering over cups of very weak and very red looking tea. As she entered the room they all suspended their operations, and looking hard at her, asked if she were the little English girl. On being told that she was, three of them returned to their cups, while one shook her head, saying. "Poor child, I pity you."
Mary had heard that remark many times, but she knew that the words now conveyed other meaning than what referred to her face or teeth.
"Where can I find Mrs. Grundy?" she at last ventured to ask.
"Where can you find who?" asked a spiteful looking woman. "Did she tell you to call her so?"
"She told me that was her name,—yes, ma'am," said Mary.
"Well, Mrs. Grundy is in the but'ry," indicating with her elbow the direction.
Mary had no trouble in finding "the but'ry," but on trying the door, she found it fastened inside. In answer to her gentle knock a harsh voice replied, "Who's there?"
"It's I. I've come after the milk for Alice."
With a jerk Mrs. Grundy opened the door, and putting a pint cup two thirds full of blue milk in Mary's hand, she hastily shut and fastened it again. Quick as her movements were, Mary caught a smell of strong green tea, and the sight of a sugar bowl and a slice of white bread. She knew now why the door was buttoned, but thinking it was none of her business, she started to return to the kitchen. As she passed the outer door, an old gray-haired man, with a face perfectly simple and foolish in its expression, stepped towards her, stretching out his hands as if to reach her. With a loud cry she rushed headlong into the kitchen, where one of the women was still sitting.
"What's broke loose now?" asked the woman, to which Mary replied, "Look at him!" at the same time pointing to the man, who with his hand thrust out was still advancing towards her.
"Don't be scared," said the woman. "It's uncle Peter. Let him touch you and he'll go off;" but Mary didn't choose to be touched, and retreating towards the chamber door, she fled rapidly up the stairs.
This time she was not accosted by any one, but as she passed the dark closet, she was surprised to hear a musical voice singing the national air of her own country, and she wondered, too, at the taste of the singer in finishing every verse with "God save Miss Grundy."
That night Alice, who missed her cradle, was unusually restless, and Mary, remembering Mrs. Grundy's threat, carried her in her arms until after midnight. Then without undressing she threw herself upon the bed, and, for the first time in many weeks, dreamed of George and his parting promise to see her again. The next morning when she awoke she found Mr. Parker's prediction verified, for the clouds were pouring rain. "Billy won't come to-day," was her first thought, and throwing herself upon the floor she burst into tears, wishing as she had once done before that she had died with her mother.
In the midst of her grief the door was pushed hastily open, and Mrs. Grundy's harsh voice exclaimed, "Wall, so you are up at last, hey? I didn't know but you was goin' to take it upon you to sleep over, but that don't answer here."
"Is it after breakfast time?" asked Mary.
"After breakfast time," repeated Mrs. Grundy. "No, but I guess you'll find there's something to do before breakfast, or did you think we's goin' to support you in idleness?"
Here, touched perhaps by the pale, tearful face uplifted to hers, Mrs. Grundy's voice softened, and in a milder tone she added, "We won't mind about it, seein' it's the first morning, but come, you must be hungry by this time."
Although so poor, Mrs. Howard had been extremely neat and as she said "cold water cost nothing," she had insisted upon her children's being very nice and particular in their morning toilet. Mary remembered this, and now casting a rueful glance around the room she said, "I wonder where I am going to wash me."
The loud, scornful laugh which followed this remark made her look up amazed at Mrs. Grundy, who replied, "In the back room sink, of course. May-be you expected to have a china bowl and pitcher in your room, and somebody to empty your slop. I wonder what airs paupers won't take on themselves next."
"I didn't mean to take airs," said Mary; "I don't care where I wash myself, but Alice is sick, and mother had me bathe her every morning. While we were at Mrs. Bender's, though, I didn't do it, and I don't think she seems as well."
"Pride and poverty," muttered Mrs. Grundy. "She won't get many baths here, I can tell you, nor you either, unless it is a dishwater one. Know how to wash dishes hey?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Mary meekly.
"Then I'll give you a chance to try your hand after breakfast, but come, I'm in a hurry."
Mary glanced at Alice. She was sleeping sweetly, and though there seemed to be no reason, she still lingered.
"What are you waiting for?" asked Mrs. Grundy, and Mary, with some hesitation, answered, "I haven't said my prayers yet."
A change passed suddenly over Mrs. Grundy's face, and she turned away without a word. When she was gone Mary fell on her knees, and though the words she uttered were addressed more to her mother than to God, she felt comforted, and rising up started for the kitchen. It was a motley group which she found assembled around the breakfast table, and as she entered the room, the man called Uncle Peter smiled on her, saying, "Come here, little daughter, and let me touch you with the tip of my fourth finger."
Shrinking to nearly half her usual size, she managed to pass him without coming in contact with said finger, which was merely a stump, the first joint having been amputated. On reaching the back room she readily found the place where she with all the rest was to wash. For this she did not care, as the water was as cold and pure, and seemed as refreshing as when dipped from her mother's tin wash-basin. But when she came to the wiping part, and tried in vain to find a clean corner' on the long towel, which hung upon a roller, she felt that she was indeed a pauper.
"I should think we might have a decent towel," thought she. "Mother used to say it cost nothing to be clean;" then looking round to be sure that no one saw her, she caught up the skirt of her dress and drying her face with it, went back to the kitchen.
She would greatly have preferred a seat by a pleasant looking old lady who looked kindly on her, but Mrs. Grundy bade her sit down by her and help herself. She did not exactly fancy the looks of the thick fried pork, swimming in grease, so she took a potato and a slice of bread, to get which she reached so far that the lower hook on her dress which for a day or two had been uncertain whether to come off or stay on, now decided the matter by dropping on the floor. As she was proceeding with her breakfast, Uncle Peter suddenly dropping his knife and fork, exclaimed, "Little daughter's teeth are awry, ain't they?"
Mary had hoped that at the poor-house her mouth would not be a subject of comment, but she was disappointed, and bursting into tears would have risen from the table, had not the kind looking woman said, "Shame on you, Peter, to plague a little girl."
Uncle Peter, too, who was fond of children, seemed distressed, and passing towards her the bowl of milk which was standing by him, he said, "Drink it, daughter;—milk for babes, and meat for strong men."
There was so much of real kindness in his manner that Mary's fear of him diminished, and taking the offered milk she thanked him so kindly that Uncle Peter, who was quite an orator, considered it his duty to make a speech. Pushing back his chair, he commenced with a bow which required do many changes of his legs that Mary wondered they were not entirely twisted up.
"Ladies and gentlemen, one and all," said he, "but particularly ladies, what I have to say is this, that henceforth and for ever I am the champion of this unprotected female, who from parts unknown has come among us.—God bless her. I will also announce formally that I still hold myself in readiness to teach the polite accomplishment of dancing in my room, No. 41, Pauper's Hotel."
Having finished this speech he resumed his breakfast, after which with another of his wonderful bows he quitted the room. Mary was about following his example when Mrs. Grundy said. "Come, catch hold now and see how spry you can clear the table, and you, Rind," speaking to a simple looking girl with crooked feet, "do you go to your shoes. Be quick now, for it's goin' on seven o'clock."
At this moment Mary caught sight of Mr. Parker, who was standing just without the door, and his mischievous look as Mrs. Grundy gave out her orders made Mary a little suspicious of that lady's real position among them. But she had no time for thought, for just then through all the closed doors and the long hall there came to her ears the sound of a scream. Alice was crying, and instantly dropping the plate she held in her hand, Mary was hurrying away, when Mrs. Grundy called her back, saying "Let her cry a spell. 'Twill strengthen her lungs."
Mary had more spirit than her face indicated, and in her mind she was revolving the propriety of obeying, when Mr. Parker, who was still standing by the door, said, "If that baby is crying, go to her by all means."
The look of gratitude which Mary's eyes flashed upon him, more than compensated for the frown which darkened Mrs. Grundy's brow as she slammed the doors together, muttering about "hen-hussies minding their own business."
Mary was not called down to finish the dishes, and when at last she went to the kitchen for milk, she found them all washed and put away. Mrs. Grundy was up to her elbow in cheese curd, and near her, tied into an arm chair, sat Patsy, nodding her head and smiling as usual. The pleasant looking woman was mopping the kitchen floor, and Mary, for the first time, noticed that she was very lame.
"Go out doors and come round. Don't you see you'll track the floor all up?" said Mrs. Grundy, and the lame woman replied, "Never mind, Polly, I can easy wipe up her tracks, and it's a pity to send her out in the rain."
Mary chose to obey Mrs. Grundy, who wiped the crumbs of curd and drops of whey from her arms and took the cup, saying, "More milk? Seems to me she eats a cart load! I wonder where the butter's to come from, if we dip into the cream this way."
Had Mary been a little older, she might have doubted whether the blue looking stuff Mrs. Grundy poured into her cup ever saw any cream, but she was only too thankful to get it on any terms, and hurried with it back to her room. About noon the clouds broke away, while here and there a patch of bright blue sky was to be seen. But the roads were so muddy that Mary had no hope of Billy's coming, and this it was, perhaps, which made the dinner dishes so hard to wash, and which made her cry when told that all the knives and forks must be scoured, the tea-kettle wiped, and set with its nose to the north, in what Mrs. Grundy called the "Pout Hole," and which proved to be a place under the stairs, where pots, kettles and iron ware generally were kept.
All things have an end, and so did the scouring, in spite of Mary's fears to the contrary, and then watching a time when Mrs. Grundy did not see her, she stole away up stairs. Taking Alice on her lap she sat down by the open window where the damp air cooled and moistened her flushed face. The rain was over, and across the meadow the sun was shining through the tall trees, making the drops of water which hung upon the leaves sparkle and flash in the sunlight like so many tiny rainbows. Mary watched them for a time, and then looking upward at the thin white clouds which chased each other so rapidly across the blue sky, wondered if her mother's home were there, and if she ever thought of her children, so sad and lonely without her.
A movement of Alice aroused her from her reverie, and looking into the road, she saw directly opposite the house Billy Bender, and with him, Alice's cradle. In a moment Mary's arms were thrown about his neck as tightly as if she thought he had the power and was come to take her away.
"Oh, Billy, Billy," she said, "I was afraid you would not come, and it made me so unhappy. Can't you take me home with you?"
Billy had expected as much, and had tried hard to make his mother say that if Mary and Alice were very homesick he might bring them home. But this was Mrs. Bender's sick day, and Billy's entreaties only increased the dangerous symptoms of palsy from which she was now suffering, the scarlet fever having been given up until another time.
"If the s'lect men pay me well for it," said she, "I will take them what little time I have to live, but not without."
Billy knew the town could support them much cheaper where they were, so he gave up his project, and bought Mary a pound of seed cakes and Alice a stick of candy. Then, the moment the rain had ceased he got himself in readiness to start, for he knew how long the day would seem to Mary, and how much Alice would miss her cradle. Three times before he got outside the gate his mother called him back—once to find her snuff-box;—once to see if there was not more color in her face than there ought to be, and lastly to inquire if her mouth hadn't commenced turning a little towards the right ear! After finding her box, assuring her that her color was natural and her mouth all straight, he at last got started. The road was long and the hills were steep, but patiently Billy toiled on, thinking how surprised and pleased Mary would be; and when he saw how joyfully she received him, he felt more than paid for his trouble. Some boys would have rudely shaken her off, ashamed to be caressed by a little girl, but Billy's heart was full of kindly sympathy, and he returned her caresses as a brother would have done.
As he released her, he was startled at hearing some one call out, "Bravo! That, I conclude, is a country hug. I hope she won't try it on me!"
Turning about he saw before him a white-faced boy, nearly of his own age, whose dress and appearance indicated that he belonged to a higher grade, as far as wealth was concerned. It was Henry Lincoln, notorious both for pride and insolence. Billy, who had worked for Mr. Lincoln, had been insulted by Henry many a time, and now he longed to avenge it, but native politeness taught him that in the presence of Mary 'twould not be proper, so without a word to Henry he whispered to the little girl, "That fellow lives near here, and if he ever gives you trouble, just let me know."
"Kissed her then, didn't you?" sneeringly asked Henry, retreating at the same time, for there was something in Billy's eye, which he feared.
"Come into the house," said Mary, "where he can't see us," and leading the way she conducted him up to her own room, where there was no fear of being interrupted.
Alice was first carefully fixed in her cradle, and then kneeling down at Billy's side, and laying her arms across his lap, Mary told him of every thing which had happened, and finished by asking, "how long she must stay there."
Had Billy's purse been as large as his heart, that question would have been easily answered. Now he could only shake his head in reply, while Mary next asked if he had seen Ella.
"I have not seen her," returned he, "but I've heard that rainy as it was this morning, Mrs. Campbell's maid was out selecting muslins and jaconets for her, and they say she is not to wear black, as Mrs. Campbell thinks her too young."
Mary did not speak for some time, but her head dropped on Billy's knee and she seemed to be intently thinking. At last, brushing aside the hair which had fallen over her forehead, Billy said, "What are you thinking about?"
"I was wondering if Ella wouldn't forget me and Allie now she is rich and going to be a lady."
Billy had thought the same thing, and lifting the little girl in his lap, he replied, "If she does, I never will;"—and then he told her again how, when he was older, and had money, he would take her from the poor-house and send her to school, and that she should some time be as much of a lady as Ella.
By this time Mrs. Grundy's work in the kitchen was done. Patsy had been shaken for stealing a ginger cake; the lame woman had been scolded because her floor had dried in streaks, which was nothing remarkable considering how muddy it was. Uncle Peter had been driven from the pantry for asking for milk, and now the lady herself had come up to change her morning apparel and don the high-crowned cap with the sky-blue ribbons. Greatly was she surprised at the sound of voices in the room adjoining, and while Mary was still in Billy's lap the door opened, and Mrs. Grundy appeared, with her hands thrown up and the wide border of her morning cap, which also did night service for its fair owner, flying straight back.
"Mary Howard!" said she; "a man up in this hall where no male is ever permitted to come! What does it mean? I shall be ruined!"
"No danger, madam, I assure you," said Billy. "I came to bring Alice's cradle, and did not suppose there was any thing improper in coming up here."
"It's nobody but Billy Bender," said Mary, frightened at Mrs. Grundy's wrathful looks.
"And who is Billy Bender? A beau? 'Pears to me you are beginning young, and getting on fast, too, a settin' in his lap. S'posin' I should do so—wouldn't it be a town's talk?"
Mary tried to get down, but Billy, greatly amused at the highly scandalized lady's distress, held her tightly, and Mrs. Grundy, slamming the door together, declared "she'd tell Mr. Parker, and that's the end on't."
But no Mr. Parker made his appearance, and as the sun was getting towards the west, Billy ere long started up, saying, he must go now, but would come again next week. Mary followed him down stairs, and then returning to her room cried herself into so sound a sleep that Mrs. Grundy was obliged to scream to her at least a dozen times to come down and set the supper table, adding as a finale, that "she wondered if she thought she was a lady boarder or what."
The next morning between nine and ten, as Mary sat by Alice's cradle rocking her to sleep, she was sensible of an unusual commotion in and around the house. First there was the sound as of some one dancing in the dark passage. Then there was the same noise in the kitchen below, and a merry voice was heard singing snatches of wild songs, while occasionally peals of laughter were heard mingled with Mrs. Grundy's harsher tones. Mary's curiosity was roused, and as soon as Alice was fairly asleep, she resolved to go down and ascertain the cause of the disturbance, which had now subsided.
As she opened her door, she saw advancing towards her from the farthest extremity of the hall, a little, shrivelled up woman, with wild flashing eyes, and hair hanging loosely over her shoulders. She was shaking her fist in a very threatening manner, and as she drew nearer Mary saw that her face was going through a great variety of changes, being at first perfectly hideous in its expression, and then instantly changing into something equally ridiculous, though not quite so frightful. Quickly divining that this must be Sal Furbush, Mary sprang back, but had not time to fasten her door ere the wild woman was there. In a tremor of terror Mary ran under the bed as the only hiding-place the room afforded, but her heart almost ceased beating as she saw her pursuer about to follow her. Springing out with a bound she would perhaps have made her egress through the open window, had not Sally prevented her by seizing her arm, at the same time saying, "Don't be alarmed, duckey, I shan't hurt you; I'm Sal. Don't you know Sal?"
The voice was low and musical, and there was something in its tones which in a measure quieted Mary's fears, but she took good care to keep at a respectful distance. After a while Sally asked, "Have you come here to board?"
"I have come here to live," answered Mary, "I have no other home."
"Well, for your sake I hope there'll be an improvement in the fare, for if there isn't I declare I won't stay much longer, though to be sure you don't look as if you'd been used to any thing better than skim-milk. What ails your teeth, child?"
Involuntarily Mary's hand went up to her mouth, and Sally, who if she expected an answer, forgot to wait for it, continued. "Do you know grammar, child?"
Mary replied that she had studied it a few months in Worcester, and a few weeks in Chicopee.
"Oh, I am so glad," said Sal, "for now I shall have an associate. Why, the greatest objection I have to the kind of people one meets with here, is that they are so horribly vulgar in their conversation and murder the Queen's English so dreadfully. But won't you and I have good times saying the rules in concert?"
Unfortunately Mary's knowledge of grammar was rather limited, and as she did not exactly fancy Sal's proposition, she answered that she had nearly forgotten all she ever knew of grammar.
"Oh, that's nothing, child that's nothing," said Sal. "It will return to you gradually. Why, things that happened forty years ago and were forgotten twenty years ago come back to me every day, but then I always did forget more in one night than some people, Miss Grundy, for instance, ever knew in all their life."
"Have you lived here long?" asked Mary.
"Yes, a great while," and the expression of Sally's face grew graver, as she added, "Perhaps you don't know that I lost little Willie, and then Willie's father died too, and left me all alone. Their graves are away on the great western prairies, beneath the buckeye trees, and one night when the winter wind was howling fearfully, I fancied I heard little Willie's voice calling to me from out the raging storm. So I lay down on the turf above my lost darling, and slept so long, that when I awoke my hair had all turned gray and I was in Chicopee, where Willie's father used to live. After a while they brought me here and said I was crazy, but I wasn't. My head was clear as a bell, and I knew as much as I ever did, only I couldn't tell it, because, you see, the right words wouldn't come. But I don't care now I've found some one who knows grammar. How many genders are there, child?"
"Four," answered Mary, who had been studying Smith.
Instantly Sal seized Mary's hands, and nearly wrenching them off in her joy, capered and danced about the room, leaping over the cradle, and finally exclaiming, "Capital! You think just as I do, don't you? And have the same opinion of her? What are the genders, dear? Repeat them"
"Masculine, Feminine, Neuter and Common," said Mary
"O, get out with your common gender," screamed Sal. "My grammar don't read so. It says Masculine, Feminine Neuter and Grundy gender, to which last but one thing in the world belongs, and that is the lady below with the cast iron back and India-rubber tongue."
"Do you mean Mrs. Grundy?" asked Mary, and Sal replied, "Mrs. Grundy? and who may Mrs. Grundy be? Oh, I understand, she's been stuffing you."
"Been what?" said Mary.
"Excuse me," answered Sal. "That's a slang term I've picked up since I've been here. It's so easy to get contaminated, when one is constantly associated with such low people. I mean that during my temporary seclusion Miss Grundy has probably given you erroneous impressions which I take pleasure in correcting. She has no more right to order us boarders around, and say when we shall breathe and when we shan't, than I have. She's nothing more nor less than a town pauper herself, and has to work at that."
"So do we all," interrupted Mary, and Sal continued. "On that point you are slightly mistaken, my dear. I don't have to. I didn't come here to work. They tried it once."
Here pushing her tangled hair back from her brow, she pointed to a long scar, saying, "Do you see that?" Mary nodded, and Sal continued: "When I first came here, the overseer was a bad man, not at all like Mr. Parker. One day he told me to wash the dinner dishes, and to use more than a pint of water, too, so I gathered them up and threw them into the well; but this method of washing did not suit the overseer's ideas of housekeeping, so he took a raw hide, and said he would either 'break my will,' or 'break my neck,' and because he could not break my will, and dared not break my neck, he contented himself with breaking my head. Every blow that he struck me was like melted lead poured into my brains, which puffed out like sausages, and have never recovered their wonted dimensions. The town took the matter up, but I don't remember much about it, for I went to sleep again, and when I woke the overseer was gone, and Mr. Parker was here in his place. I was chained like a wild beast under the garret stairs, and Miss Grundy's broad, stiff back was hung there for a door. Nobody asks me to work now, but occasionally, just for pastime, I go into Mrs. Parker's room and read to her, and tell her about my Willie, who went away."
"How long has Mrs. Parker been sick?" asked Mary.
"I'm no judge of time," answered Sal, "but it seems a great while, for since her illness Miss Grundy has been at the helm in the kitchen, and perhaps it is all right that she should be, for somebody must manage, and, as I had declared I would not work, 'twould hardly have been consistent to change my mind. And then, too, Miss Grundy seems admirably suited for the place. Her forte is among pots and kettles, and she will get the most work out of the boarders, keep them on the least fare, and put more money into Mr. Parker's pocket at the end of a year, than any one he could hire, and this is the secret of his bearing so much from her."
"But why does she want to fill his pockets with money?"
Sal gave a knowing wink and replied, "You are not old enough to see into every thing, so I dare say you wouldn't understand me if I should hint that Mrs. Parker has the consumption, and can't live always." Mary's looks plainly told that this remark had given her no idea whatever, and Sal continued, "I knew you wouldn't understand, for you haven't my discernment to begin with, and then you were never sent away to school, were you?"
"No, ma'am, was you?" asked Mary.
"Say 'were you,' if you please, it is more euphonious Yes, I was at school in Leicester two years, and was called the best grammarian there, but since I've sojourned with this kind of people, I've nearly lost my refinement. To be sure I aim at exclusiveness, and now you've come I shall cut them all, with the exception of Uncle Peter, who would be rather genteel if he knew more of grammar."
Just then Alice awoke, and Sally, who had not observed her before, sprang forward with a scream of joy, and seizing the child in her arms, threw her up towards the ceiling, catching her as she came down as easily as she would a feather. Strange to say Alice neither manifested any fear of the woman, nor dislike of the play, but laid her head on Sally's shoulder as naturally as if it had been her mother.
"Dear little fellow," said Sal, "he looks like Willie, only not half so handsome."
"She isn't a boy," quickly interrupted Mary. "Her name is Alice."
"No consequence," said Sally, "he's Willie to me;" and ever after, in spite of Mary's remonstrance, she persisted in speaking of Alice as "he," and "the little boy."
Mary soon found that the poor-house with Sal Furbush shut up, and the poor-house with Sal at liberty, were quite different affairs. Now it was no longer lonely, for Sal's fertile imagination was constantly suggesting something new, either by way of pastime or mischief. Towards Miss Grundy, she and the other paupers evinced a strong dislike, owing, in a great measure, to the air of superiority which that lady thought proper to assume, and which was hardly more than natural considering the position which she occupied. She was a capital housekeeper, and to one unacquainted with the circumstances it seemed strange, why a person, apparently so strong and healthy, should be in the Alms-House. Unfortunately, however, she was subject to fits, which made her presence so unpleasant to the people with whom she lived that at last, no one was willing to hire her. About that time, too, she was taken very ill, and as she had no relatives, she was removed to the poor-house, where she had remained ever since.
When Mrs. Parker became too feeble to work, Miss Grundy immediately stepped into her place, filling it so well, that as Sal had said, Mr. Parker bore a great deal from her, knowing that no one whom he could hire would do as well, or save as much as she did. Sal Furbush she could neither manage nor make work, and she vented her spite towards her by getting her shut up on the slightest pretexts. Sal knew very well to whom she was indebted for her "temporary seclusions," as she called them, and she exerted herself to repay the debt with interest. Sometimes on a sultry summer morning, when the perspiration stood thickly on Miss Grundy's face as she bent over a red-hot cook-stove in the kitchen, Sal with her, feet in the brook, which ran through the back yard, and a big palm-leaf fan in her hand, would call out from some shady spot, "Hallo, Miss Grundy, don't you wish you were a lady boarder, and could be as cool and as comfortable as I am?" Occasionally, too, when safely fastened in the pantry enjoying her green tea and Boston crackers, she would be startled with the words, "That must have an excellent relish!" and looking up, she would spy Sal, cosily seated on the top shelf, eyeing her movements complacently, and offering, perhaps, to assist her if she found the tea too strong!
Miss Grundy wore a wig, and as she seemed disturbed whenever the fact was mentioned, the walls of the house both inside and out were frequently ornamented with ludicrous pictures of herself, in which she was sometimes represented as entirely bald-headed, while with spectacles on the end of her nose, she appeared to be peering hither and thither in quest of her wig. On these occasions Miss Grundy's wrath knew no bounds, and going to Mr. Parker she would lay the case before him in so aggravated a form, that at last to get rid of her, he would promise that, for the next offence, Sal should be shut up. In this way the poor woman, to use her own words, "was secluded from the visible world nearly half the time."
With the other inmates of the house, however, she was a special favorite, and many were the kind turns which she had done for the lame woman, whom Miss Grundy took delight in reminding that "she didn't half earn the salt to her porridge."
Next to the wig, nothing more annoyed Miss Grundy than to see Sal, with grammar in hand, perched upon the window sill or table, and repeating at the top of her voice the "rules," of which every fourth one seemed to have been made with direct reference to herself. But it was of no use for Miss Grundy to complain of this, for as Sal said, "Mr. Parker merely winked at it as the vagaries of a disordered mind," and she was free to quote her grammar from morning till night. Whenever she was crazier than usual, her command of language was proportionately greater, and her references to her grammar more frequent, while no one in the house could venture a remark without being immediately corrected for some impropriety of speech.