THE "UNKNOWN" LIBRARY
THE MAKING OF MARY
BY JEAN FORSYTH
NEW YORK THE CASSELL PUBLISHING CO. 31 EAST 17TH ST. (UNION SQUARE)
COPYRIGHT, 1895, BY THE CASSELL PUBLISHING CO.
All rights reserved.
THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS, RAHWAY, N. J.
A STURDY northeast wind was rattling the doors and windows of a deserted farmhouse in Western Michigan. The building was not old, measured by years, but it had never been painted or repaired, and its wooden face, prematurely lined with weather stains, looked as if it had borne the wear and tear of centuries. The windows, like lidless eyes, stared vacantly at the flat stubble fields and the few spindling trees, a dreary apology for an orchard. There were plenty of shingles off the roof to allow the inquisitive rain-drops to follow one another through the rafters, and thence to the floor of the room below, where the darkness was creeping out of the corners to take possession.
The house had been but recently vacated, for there was still a "slab" smoldering on the hearth of the wide fireplace in the outer kitchen, and something that looked almost human, wrapped in a ragged bedquilt, was lying much too near it for safety. A friendly gust of wind came down the chimney, bringing back the smoke, and drawing a faint cough from the bundle. Another gust and another cough, and then a sneeze which burst open the quilt, to disclose an ill-clad little girl, six or seven years old.
She gazed about with drowsy blue eyes till terror of the darkness made her draw the tattered comforter over her head again, and crouching nearer to the smoldering log, she tried to warm her fingers and toes. More wind down the chimney made more smoke, and sent the child coughing back from the fireplace. She was wide awake now, and stood listening. Sounds there were, indeed, but not one that could be associated with any living thing in the house. She felt her way around the walls to where the candle used to be, but it was gone. There was no furniture to stumble over, and when she came to the side of the wall in the inner room from which the stairway crept up, she mounted it on her hands and knees, trembling, partly with cold, partly with fear at the noise made by the flapping of the sole of one of her old shoes. There was a step missing at the turn of the stairs, but the child knew where the vacancy was, and pulling herself over it, she reached the landing, felt all around the walls there, and made the circuit of the three small rooms in the same fashion. They were entirely empty.
Cautiously the girl stole down the broken stairs and back to her former place by the smoking slab, where she curled herself up into the old quilt again, as into a mother's arms, and spoke aloud, though there was none to listen but the obstreperous wind:
"Anyhow she won't be here to lick me no more!" That thought seemed to compensate for darkness and loneliness. The voices of wind and rain were apparently more kindly than the human tones to which she had been accustomed, and soothed by their stormy lullaby, the little maid fell asleep.
The sunshine poured freely into the forsaken house next morning, drying up the damp floors, and turning to gold the scrap of yellow hair that showed through a hole in the old quilt. Presently the small girl shook the covering away from her and stood up, to yawn and stretch herself out of the stiffness from a night spent on the hard floor. She was not a pretty child, unless naturally curling fair hair, that would be fairer when it was washed, could make her so. The long, thin legs that came below her torn dress made her too tall for her age, and what might have been a passable mouth was spoiled by the departure of two of the front "baby" teeth and the tardy arrival of the later contingent.
Part of the day the child seemed satisfied with her new-found liberty. Having discovered a stale crust or two in a cupboard, she wanted no more, for her diet had never been luxurious. Into every corner of the house she intruded her small freckled nose, pulling down from shelves all sorts of odds and ends that had been left behind as worthless at the flitting.
There was an old straw bonnet with a pair of dirty strings, and therewith the damsel elected to adorn the tousled head, which evidenced but slight acquaintance with comb or brush. She could not find any feminine garments to please her fancy, but there was a boy's jacket, out at elbows and ragged round the edges, which she proudly donned, and as a finishing touch she popped her long slim legs, old shoes and all, into a worn-out pair of man's top-boots that reached to her knees.
"I just wish Mawm Mason had lef' a lookin'-glass behin', so's I could see how I look. My! wouldn't she whack me if she seen me with this bonnet on!" The child smiled broadly as she continued her confidential address to the other valueless things left behind. "I allays knowed she warn't my own mother, an' I'm glad Pete nor Matty aint my own brother nor sister neither. I'd like him to see me in his jacket!"
She pulled the coat across her narrow little chest to where it met in the days when there were buttons on it, and marched up and down the room, making as much noise as possible with the big boots.
This killing of time was all very well while the daylight lasted and the sun warmed up the frosty November air, but when the darkness began to assert itself once more the small waif did not feel so contented.
"There aint no use goin' over to Mis' Morgan's. She don't want me no more'n Mis' Mason did. I guess I'll sleep upstairs to-night with some o' them things over me. I'll be warm anyhow."
In the middle of the front bedroom she heaped up all the debris and crawled beneath it. A fantastic pile it seemed to the moon when he looked in after the rain had stopped, the childish head resting on the cover of an old bandbox at one side and a pair of man's boots sticking out at the other.
The last scrap of bread was finished next day, and the two potatoes picked up in the yard proved uneatable without the softening influence of fire, so there was nothing for it but Mrs. Morgan's. After sunset, when the rapidly falling temperature and the heavy bank of clouds in the west gave warning of a snow-storm, the little girl, still wearing the old bonnet, boy's jacket, and man's boots, left the only home she could remember, and made her way slowly over the hard rough fields and snake fences to the next farmhouse.
Mrs. Morgan was running in from the barn with a shawl over her head.
"Good sakes alive! Mary Mason! I hardly knowed you. What you got on? I thought you was one o' them scarecrows out o' the fall wheat. Mis' Mason moved to Californy three days ago. Didn't she take you with her?"
"So it 'pears. Wal, she hadn't any call to, I s'pose. You aint none o' hers."
By this time they were in the kitchen of the farmhouse, Mrs. Morgan rubbing her hands above the stove, and Mary Mason also venturing near, stretching out her thin arms to the heat, for the adopted jacket was somewhat short in the sleeves.
"What's that mark on yer wrist?"
"Bruise—but it don't hurt now."
"Who done it?"
"Ma—Mis' Mason. I've lots worse'n that on me," said the small girl with some vanity.
"There, now! I jest knew that Mis' Mason was a hard case, though my man would never hear to it. What you going to do now?"
"I dunno." The accent implied that to be a matter of small moment.
"I don't s'pose we can turn you out to-night. There's room in the attic for you to sleep, but don't you go near one o' my girls' beds with that head o' yourn."
As a hostess, Mrs. Morgan was a slight improvement upon Mrs. Mason. She never took stick or strap to the foundling, and if she occasionally gave her a cuff on the ear it was never strong enough to knock the girl down. But the Morgan children bullied Mary Mason, the Morgan father grumbled at an extra mouth to feed, and when she had been about a month in the house the mistress of it told her she must move on.
"There's an old dress of Ellie's you can have, an' a pair of Sue's cast-off boots, and Tom's old cap."
"Where am I to go, mawm?"
"You jest go on from one farmhouse to another, till you find a place where they'll keep you all winter. It's comin' on to Christmas, an' people won't be hard on ye. Tell 'em you aint got no folks."
* * * * *
The forlorn little pilgrim took up her march down the snow-covered road.
THE MAKING OF MARY.
MY wife is a theosophist. This fact may account for her numerous eccentricities or be simply one of them. I incline to the latter opinion, because she preferred the unbeaten to the beaten track, both in walk and conversation, long before Modern Buddhism was ever heard of in the small Western town of whose chief newspaper (circulation largest in Michigan) I have the honor to be editor and proprietor.
How such a hot-house plant as Theosophy ever took root in the swamps and sands of the Wolverine State may seem surprising at the first glance, but let the second rest upon our environment—the absence of mountain or swift-flowing river, the presence of fever and ague and half-burnt pine woods—and it will be seen that this Eastern lore with its embarrassment of symbols supplies a long-felt want to starving imagination. We of the West are forever reaching beyond our grasp, have intelligence and perception, but lack the culture necessary for discrimination, and therefore the romantic souls among us who rise above the rampant materialism of the majority go to the other extreme, and hail with enthusiasm the new-old religion.
"It's better to believe too much than too little, but you theosophists swallow an awful lot," I say to Belle when she tries to convert me.
I am well aware that many of my fellow-citizens consider me a subject for commiseration because I have lived for twenty years with so erratic a house-mate, for I have not deemed it necessary to explain to them that without the stimulus of her enlivening spirit, without the element of surprise constantly contributed by my wife's love of variety, the daily life, and therefore the daily paper, of their favorite editor would partake of that flatness which is the predominant characteristic of this western part of the State of Michigan.
Our four sons and two daughters enjoy their mother fully as much as I do, for is she not the most fascinating romancer they ever knew? Now that they are all of an age to be attending school and looking out for themselves, after the manner of independent young Americans, they require from her nothing but sympathy, for their grandmother sews their buttons on. Grandma!—Ay, there's the rub.
I have no hesitation in owning that I am Scotch by birth. My mother left her native land to make her home with us entirely too late in life to allow Western ideas regarding Sabbath observance, the rearing of children, or the amount of respect due to the opinion of elders, to become ingrafted upon Scottish prejudice concerning these matters.
Mrs. Gemmell Senior has, however, the national peculiarity of judging "blood thicker than water," and whatever her convictions may be concerning the methods of Mrs. Gemmell Junior, she restricts the expression of them to our family circle—in fact, I may say, to myself. She generally seizes me when I lie at my ease on the well-worn lounge in our sitting room, more properly dubbed the "nursery," for it is Liberty Hall for the youngsters. Two rooms have been knocked into one to accommodate their dolls' houses, bookshelves, toys, and printing machines. Belle had the whole side torn out of the house to build an open fire-place, on purpose to burn slabs, over which the children roast pop-corn to their hearts' content.
"A body wad think," said my mother one cold night five or six years ago, when I lay on the sofa, trying to send my weariness off in smoke, "A body wad think there had been nae cherritable wark dune in the toon ava, till they theossiphies set aboot it. If yer provost and baillies lookit efter things as they ocht, there wad be a dacent puirs-house for the idignant folk, an' a wheen daft leddies like Eesabel needna gang roun' speirin' at yon infeedels for their siller tae build a hoose o' refuse."
"There is a county poorhouse, mother, but it doesn't happen to be located in this city, and they won't take in anybody there that hasn't been a resident of the county for a certain time."
"Aweel! there's plenty o' kirks, though ye never darken the door o' ane. Do they no' leuk efter their ain puir folk?"
"Yes; but after nobody else's. This House of Refuge is to be non-sectarian, non-religious, humanitarian, in the broadest sense of the term. Ah! There's Belle now," and I gave a sigh of relief as I heard my wife's latch-key in the front door.
She came in with an out-of-door breeze, her dark face glowing from the wintry wind, flakes of newly fallen snow resting like diamonds upon her prematurely white hair, and her brown eyes sparkling with the animation of twenty summers rather than of forty-two.
"Children all gone to bed? That's right! Don't go, mother! I'm sure you'll like to hear about the House of Refuge. We've got it fixed at last! Those rich old lumbermen that won't give a cent to a church, or any charity connected with one, have gone to the bottom of their pockets this time. Fancy Peter Wood, Dave—five hundred dollars! And Jeff Henderson, five hundred. I have the list in my bag. Like to see it?"
"No' the nicht, thenk ye," said my mother stiffly, but I added:
"Hand it over to me, and I'll put it in to-morrow's Echo. That's what they want."
"Nothing of the kind, you old cynic! I shan't tell you another thing about it." But still she went on: "We've taken the old Laurence house on the corner of Garfield Avenue and Pine Street, and it's to be fitted up to accommodate any sort of refugees."
"Irrespective of race, creed, sex, or color," I whispered parenthetically.
"No one is ever to be turned from the door without a good square meal, and there's to be a back, outside stair erected, up which a tramp can go at any hour of the night, and find a nice clean bed awaiting him—locked away from the rest of the house, of course."
"Oh, why?" I innocently inquired. "Surely you have enough faith in your brother man to believe that he would not commit any breach of hospitality?"
"I have," replied Belle, squeezing my recumbent form further against the back of the sofa, upon which she had seated herself. "But remember we are not all theosophists on the Board."
In the words of the historic witness against Mrs. Muldoon, "That's the way the row began!" Belle was elected Treasurer of the House of Refuge, but as she knows nothing of figures, I had to keep the books of that unique institution, and was therefore enabled to form a practical estimate of its workings.
I shall not attempt a description of the numerous "cases" in which my advice, if not my pocketbook, was freely drawn upon, but shall leave them, along with the description of the many antecedent fads of my beloved better half, to some historian of longer wind, and shall content myself with recounting the particular "case"—and attachments—which most nearly affected our family life and happiness.
* * * * *
"This is what I call solid comfort," said Belle to me one evening late in September, as we sat in the parlor in a couple of deep, springy armchairs, fronting a huge grate fire, that would be banished by the lighting of the furnace. "Children all in school again, your mother off on a long visit, and plenty of new books on the table."
I looked up from one of the aforesaid new books.
"Just wait! The season's business hasn't begun in the Refuge yet."
"Everything is in good shape for it, though. We've had enough donations of groceries and vegetables to keep us going almost all winter. We've lots of wood for the furnace, and Mack and Hardy have given us some second-hand furniture and——"
The electric door-bell sent out a long, imperative summons.
"Who can that be, Dave, at this time of night? None of the boys locked out?"
"No; they all went up to bed a while ago."
Belle rose and walked to the door. I pulled the tidy from my chair-back over my bald head to protect me from the draught, but that did not prevent me from hearing what went on.
"Are you Mrs. Gemmell?" This from a female voice, breathless with excitement.
"Then you are one of the trustees of the House of Refuge?" gasped another feminine speaker.
"Yes. Won't you come in?"
"No, thank you. We've just come to tell you about this young girl who has run to us for protection."
"We're school-teachers, mawm."
"She's in my class, and she hasn't a friend in the city and knew nowhere else to go."
Then followed some hysterical whispers, which roused my curiosity so much that I went to the door and peeped over the shoulder of my tall wife. The two plain, business-like young women were evidently much distressed, but between them was a fair-haired slip of a girl of fifteen or sixteen, the least disturbed of the group. The three older women might have been talking in a foreign tongue, or of someone else, so unconcerned did she appear, present danger being over.
"How did she happen to be with these people?" Belle was asking as I came forward.
"The wife of this brute of a man told us that she was nursemaid with the Ferguson Family Concert Company, but they dropped her here in Lake City without a friend or a cent."
"She took her in to help sell fruit and ice cream evenings, and she let her go to school through the day."
At this juncture the subject under discussion broke into a beaming smile, showing all her fine teeth. Her cheek dimpled and reddened, and her blue eyes, full of fun, looked straight into mine. I became suddenly aware that I had forgotten to remove the tidy, and retired in confusion, but heard Belle's conclusion of the interview:
"Just wait a second till I give you a line to the matron of the House of Refuge. You can leave the girl there till we see what can be done for her. She'll be perfectly safe, and had better keep on going to school as usual."
* * * * *
A week afterward I asked my wife what had become of her latest protegee.
"You mean Mary Mason? She's in the refuge yet, attending school, and we've settled that man's ice-cream saloon."
"Boycotted him. We can't reach him any other way."
"That's rather hard on his wife, who seems to be a decent sort of party."
"The innocent often appear to suffer with and for the guilty, but if you understood the law of Karma you would know that all the evil that befalls us is really the result of some wrongdoing of our own in a previous incarnation. Mary Mason herself is an instance."
"What's the matter with her?"
"Poor girl! She's been knocked from pillar to post all her days. She hasn't an idea who her parents are, and there isn't a creature in the world she has any claim upon. She must have gone very far astray last time to have been brought into the world again with such disadvantages."
"It appears to me she has a great many advantages—lovely blue eyes, good teeth, the fashionable golden shade of hair, and the prettiest complexion I've seen for many a day."
"Don't be provoking, Dave! The poor little thing has the marks of some of her beatings on her yet. The Ferguson family were the first who ever treated her decently, or paid her any wages."
"Why did they drop her?"
"One of our Committee took it upon herself to write and ask them. They replied that the girl was of perfectly good character, so far as they knew, but she fell so ridiculously in love with Frank Ferguson, their eldest son, that she was making a nuisance of herself, and so they had to let her go."
"There are generally two sides to that kind of story."
"At the meeting of the trustees to-morrow it is to be decided what's to be done with her, because she says she doesn't want to go to school any more. She's never had much of a chance before to learn anything, and she's in a class with little bits of girls, and she doesn't like it—says she'd rather go to work to earn her own living."
Belle came home from that meeting with her face ablaze with righteous wrath. Her hands trembled so much over the teacups at our evening meal that even sixteen year old Watty, our eldest son, remarked it.
"What's the matter with mamma? Her trolley's off."
I knew there was trouble in the wind, so I fortified myself with a good supper and read my paper at the same time, to leave myself free for what was to follow. The children study their lessons in the back end of the nursery, and I therefore forbore to take up my usual position upon the sofa, but withdrew to the parlor with my pipe.
Presently my wife followed me, nearly walking over the furniture in her excitement.
"Go on, Belle; out with it!"
"You will listen, will you, seriously?"
"Certainly, mawm. I never had any sort of an objection to your making a scavenger barrel of me, so go ahead."
"Oh, these benevolent women, Dave! Any one of them alone is as good-hearted as can be, but lump them together on a committee, and they're as cold and cruel and grasping as the meanest business man you could name!"
"More so!" said I, approvingly, and for once Isabel did not resent the disparagement of her sex.
"The question arose, what was to be done about Mary Mason, and every one of them, David—every one of them, with young daughters of their own growing up at home, voted to let that girl go round this town selling a book."
"Was that what she wanted to do herself?"
"Yes; but think of them letting her do it! You know as well as I do what sort of a city this is, and whether it's safe for a lovely girl like that to go to men's offices, trying with her pretty looks and ways to wheedle them into subscribing for Stanley's 'Darkest Africa.' Oh, I was wild! I said to Mrs. Robinson: 'How would you like your Lulu to do it?' 'The cases are very different,' said she; 'my daughter has no need to earn her living.' 'Mrs. Constable,' said I, 'if your grandchild were left alone in the world, what would you think of the charity of any body of women who allowed her to go from under their protection to make her living in this way?' 'I don't see the connection,' said she; 'Mary Mason's been fighting the world since she was seven years old, and just because she happens to have a pretty face, you seem to think she should be put in a glass case and never do anything for herself.'"
"She had you there, Belle," said I, pulling her down to the arm of my big easy-chair. "Let the girl alone; she'll come out all right. She's too good-looking for a nurse or a housemaid, and she doesn't know enough arithmetic to be a shop girl. I don't see what else she can do."
"That's just what the ladies calmly decided," said my wife, walking the floor again. "They seemed to think that a little business training would just be the making of Mary. Oh, these Christians!"
"You see, my dear," said I, "committees are not supposed to have any conscience. They have the income of the Refuge in trust for the contributors, and they have no right to keep on supporting a girl who is willing to work for herself. How she proposes to do it is none of their business."
"That's just what it is—their business; their business to see that she doesn't meet the very fate we've saved her from once already. Oh! there's no getting these narrow-minded, orthodox, bigoted people to see more than one side of a question."
"Take care you don't become dogmatic on your own side," said I, rising to knock the ashes out of my pipe. "If it's the law of Karma that's responsible for her having been left to shift for herself at so early an age, it's the same law that's after her now, and I wouldn't interfere with its operations, if I were you."
"You don't in the least understand what you are talking about," and Belle sailed from the room to settle a noisy dispute in the nursery.
THROUGH that winter I caught occasionally a glimpse of Mary Mason on the street, but as I had not the pleasure of her acquaintance, I did not stop to ask her how she was getting on. My wife told me, however, that she lived in a room over a store down town, and took her meals out, and that she was succeeding very well with her subscription list.
"The girl is all right, if only the gossips would let her alone. Some of them assert that she had a child in the Refuge, and though the ladies on our committee indignantly deny that, they shake their heads, and say of course they don't know anything about her now."
"It's the only excitement a lot of these women have," said I. "They wouldn't read a French novel for the world, and some of them wouldn't be seen in a theater, so they have to satisfy their morbid craving for sensationalism by hearing and repeating all sorts of unsavory tales—and they do it in the name of charity! They're very sorry that there is so much wickedness in the world, but since it is there, they enjoy the investigation of details, and it doesn't matter very much whether they're doing any good or not."
"There aren't any details to investigate, so far as Mary Mason is concerned. I took pains to make sure of that, when I heard that a big hulk of a machinist, who rooms on the same flat, was telling lies about her, just because she refused to have anything to say to him."
When I was leaving the Echo office at noon one day I saw Henderson's handsome black span, with the wreck of a sleigh behind them, come down the street at a full gallop, and I was just debating with myself whether my duty as a citizen, which called me to attempt to stop the brutes, was stronger than my duty to my wife and family, which bade me stay where I was, when a young lady jumped the snow ridge at the edge of the sidewalk and flung herself at the bit of the nearest horse. The powerful animal swung her right off her feet, but he was checked for an instant, and in that instant a young man seized the mate on the other side; the team was stopped and surrounded by a crowd directly. Then I saw it was Mary Mason who was the heroine of the drama. She withdrew from the throng, straightened her flat hat above her rosy face, and walked off with her habitual indifferent air.
"She's got good grit, that girl," said I to myself, but I thought no more about her till I came home on a certain evening in March, and found her comfortably ensconced on one side of our nursery fire, while my mother from the other side cast suspicious glances at her over her spectacles. "Miss Mason," had supper with us, and then I retired to my big leather-covered spring rocker in the parlor to await developments. That chair needs to be approached with deference, for it has a precocious trick of either tilting in the air the feet of any unwary occupant, or of tipping him out on the floor. I know its disposition, can preserve my proper balance, and have never been flung either forward or backward—except once each way.
Presently Belle followed me, "loaded up," as the boys say.
"It seems as if I was never to get free from the responsibility of that child."
"What's up now?"
"Down town to-day I met the chief of police——"
"Great chum of yours!"
"Yes, indeed. We've had considerable conversation at different times about some of my cases. To-day he said, 'You're interested in that young girl, Mary Mason, aint you, Mrs. Gemmell?' 'Yes,' said I, though my heart sank, and I didn't see why he couldn't have addressed any other one of the committee; 'anything wrong with her?' 'Not yet,' said he; 'but there will be pretty soon if somebody doesn't look after her. There's a scheme on foot to take her off to Chicago—to sell a book—so they say.' 'Good gracious! Nobody would dare!' 'Wouldn't they, though?' said he. 'There's a well-known drummer in this town at the bottom of it. He's aware the girl has no friends, and in Chicago she don't even know a soul. It's too bad, for I've had my eye on the young woman all winter, and she's kept perfectly straight.'
"You may think, Dave, that I ought to be hardened to horrors by this time, but I became fairly dazed as the chief of police went on to say, 'I can't move in the matter. We never can touch these things until the mischief is done; but if you like to make inquiries, you'll find out that I've been telling you the truth.'
"When he left me, I turned to come home, not knowing what to do, but going round the first corner, didn't I run right into Mary Mason herself! I hadn't laid eyes on her for a couple of months. 'How d'ye do, Mrs. Gemmell?' she said, for I stopped and stared at her as if she'd been a white crow. 'What about "Darkest Africa?"' I found breath to ask, though it was Darkest Chicago I had in my mind. 'I've done with that now,' she said; 'did very well, too.' 'And what are you going to do next?' 'I dunno. Whatever turns up. I've got an offer to go to Chicago to sell a book there.' I caught her by the arm as if I'd been the chief of police. 'Mary, will you please go to my house and wait there for me till I come?' 'Oh, yes, mawm, if you want me to,' and off she went, asking no questions.
"Well, Dave, I've put in four hours of amateur detective work this afternoon, and I feel as if I needed a moral bath. I found out it was all true, as the chief of police had said. There was a plot to ruin the girl, and I don't think the author of it will forget his interview with me in a hurry."
"What good will that do the young woman? There are plenty more of his kind in the world, and with her inherited tendencies I suppose it's only a question of time—how soon she goes to the bad."
It is worth while making a caustic speech occasionally to see Isabel rise to her full height. Her brown eyes positively emit sparks, and her gray hair, which she wears waved and parted, gives her an air of distinction that would not be out of place upon an avenging spirit.
"I came home all tired out," she went on, sinking into the chair beside mine, "and looking through the nursery window, there sat Mary Mason with our little Chrissie on her knee. The two faces in the firelight looked so much alike that my heart gave a great thump, and I vowed that girl should never be set adrift again. This is the second time she has been cast upon my shore, and I must see to her."
So Mary Mason dropped into our family circle without anybody having very much to say in the matter—except my mother!
"Wha's yon 'at Eesabell's ta'en up wi' the noo?"
"Her name's Mason," said I; "Mary Mason."
"I h'ard yer wife was thinkin' o' keepin' a hoosemaid, but I didna expeck tae see her pap hersel' doon at the table wi' the fem'ly."
"She's not a housemaid. She's just staying with us for a while."
"Ye'd think Eesabell micht hae eneugh adae wi' her ain, 'thoot takin' in ony strangers."
"But Mary is to help with the housework, in return for her board and clothes."
"Let her wear a kep an' apron, then, an' eat wi' Marg'et."
"Margaret might object," and I laughed at the probable dismay of our stalwart, rough-and-ready five-foot-tenner, should this ladyfied blonde permanently invade her domain.
"Hoo lang's she gaun to st'y?"
"That's more than I can tell you."
When Mary had been a week in the house, it became apparent that something must be done with her.
"She's bound she'll not go back to the public school, Dave, and yet she cannot read or write. Do you think we can afford to send her to boarding-school—to a convent, for instance, where she'd be well looked after, and allowances made for her backwardness?"
Belle and I were out driving together. It was the first springlike evening we had had, and I was trying Jim Atwood's new mare on Maple Avenue, which had been newly block-paved. So engrossed was I in watching her paces I did not reply to my wife at once, and she continued:
"You were going to get me a horse and a victoria this spring, but I'm willing to give them up to send Mary to school."
"Please yourself, my dear. You would be the one to use the turnout. I'm content to borrow from my friends. Isn't she a beauty?"
Belle came out of space to answer me.
"Yes, just now; but she'll not be when she's old. Her features are not good at all; her forehead's too narrow, and her nose too broad. Were it not for her lovely hair and complexion, she'd have nothing to brag about but a pair of very ordinary blue eyes."
"Who? The mare?"
"Don't be stupid, Dave, and do attend to what I am saying. I hardly ever have a chance to speak to you, goodness knows!"
"You get the editorial ear oftener and longer than anybody else."
"Lend it to me now, then. Don't you think a convent would be the best place for Mary?"
"Perhaps—as there are no theosophical educational institutions that we know about."
"Mary isn't far enough on for theosophist yet. She'll have to come back many times before she is. The Roman Catholic Church is on her plane this incarnation."
"It does seem to catch the masses, that's a fact, whereas your theosophy doesn't appear to be practicable for uneducated people nor for children."
"I don't agree with you there."
"Then why were you so anxious to send Watty to a church school to finish his education, and why are you on the lookout already for a boarding-school for the two girls where they will have the best of Christian influences? What is your object in being so particular that the younger boys are regular in their attendance at our surpliced choir?"
"It gives them a good idea of music—but that is not the point just now. Can we afford to send Mary Mason to a convent, or can we not?"
"Choose between her and the buggy mare 'suitable for a lady to drive,'" said I; but in reality it was my mother who settled the question.
When we came home that evening she was sitting by the fireside,
"Nursin' her wrath to keep it warm."
"Ye maun either pit yon hizzy oot the hoose, or I'll hitta gang."
"What's the matter now, mother?"
"I tell't her to brush the boys' bits tae be ready for the schule in the mornin'. They were thrang wi' their lessons an' she wasna daein' a han's turn."
"And what did she say?"
"S'y! I wush ye'd seen the leuk she gi'ed me!"
"The boys can brush their ain bits," said she; "I'm no' their servant."
"It's well seen she hasn't been brought up in Scotland, or she would know it was the bounden duty of the girls in the house to wait on the boys."
"An' a hantle better it is than to see the laddies aye rinnin' efter the lasses, tendin' them han' an' fut as they dae here. When a man comes hame efter his d'y's wark, he should be let sit on his sate, an' hae a' things dune for him."
"David," said Belle, sinking to a footstool at my feet with a dramatic gesture, "you shall never button my boots again! But seriously," she continued, as mother withdrew in high dudgeon to her sanctum upstairs, "I don't think Mary should be expected to brush the boys' boots. We didn't engage her as servant, and even if we had, there isn't a hired girl in this part of the country that wouldn't make a fuss if she had to brush the boots of the man of the house, not to mention the boys. We'll have to pack Mary off somewhere, if only to keep the peace."
So Mary was sent to a convent, and at the end of three months came back for her holidays to our summer cottage at Interlaken. Being so near the big lake does not agree with my mother, and she rarely spends more than a week with us there, but during July and August visits my married sister in town. The coast was clear for Belle and me to decide what progress had been made in the making of Mary, and we fancied we discovered a good deal.
"What have they done to you, those nuns, to tone you down so quickly, Mary?" I asked, as she sat beside me, swinging in a low rocker, and looking so pretty that I was quite proud of her as an ornament to our front veranda.
"I dunno," she said, "unless it was the exercise for sitting perfectly still on a row of chairs. A nun goes behind us and drops a big book or something, and any girl that jumps gets a bad mark."
"Capital!" I cried; "no wonder you have learned repose of manner."
Thus encouraged, the girl continued:
"Then we have little parties and receptions, and we have to converse with the nuns and with each other, and anybody that mentions one of the three D's gets a bad mark."
"The three D's?"
"Yes, sir—Dress, Disease, and Domestics."
"Hear this, Belle," I said, laughing, as my wife took the rocking chair on the other side of me; "fancy any collection of women being obliged to steer clear of the three D's!"
"You should ask Mary about her studies," was the severe reply. "We were much pleased with your letters."
"Yes, mawm; Sister Stella was always very good about that; helped me with the big words, and often wrote the whole thing out for me. Sometimes I had to copy it two or three times before I could please her."
Belle hastily changed the subject. "Let Mr. Gemmell hear that piece you recited to me this morning."
I am no judge of elocution, but the general effect of the young girl standing there in the arch of the veranda, a clematis-wreathed post on either side, and her face, with its delicate coloring, turned toward the golden twilight, was pleasing in the extreme.
"She'll maybe be famous some day," said Belle, when Mary had discreetly retired. "She is far quicker at learning verses off by heart than she is at reading them."
"Still, to be a successful elocutionist nowadays one has to be thoroughly well educated, and Mary is too late in beginning."
"You can't tell. She's got the appearance, and that's half the battle."
"With us, perhaps; but remember, we are not capable critics, even though one of us is a Theosophist."
"Laugh as you like, Dave. Theosophy satisfies me, because it explains some things in my own nature that I never could understand before."
"It may be that you are too soon satisfied. That's the way with all new movements—one story is good till another is told. Your great-granddaughter will smile at the credulity of your ideas on this very subject."
"She can smile, and so can you. We don't pretend to know everything; we only hope that we are on the right road to learn. I, for one, am thankful to think that there are wiser heads than mine puzzling over the problem of our psychic powers. I've always taken impressions from inanimate objects, and it has bothered me. Now I find my sensations analyzed and classified under the head of Psychometry, and it is a comfort to know that other people besides myself can discern an aura, and are foolishly wise enough to trust the impressions they receive in that way."
"But if I were you, I don't think I'd make a parlor entertainment out of the gift,—if it is a gift,—as I heard you did at the Wades' the other night."
"Who told you? What have you heard?"
"Newspaper men hear everything. You asked Mr. Saxon to hold his handkerchief pressed tightly in his hand for a few minutes, and then to give it to you. You shut your eyes as you held it, and received the impression of his 'aura,' or the atmosphere which surrounds him, or whatever you like to call it, and then the company asked you questions, and you gave him a great old character. He didn't like it a bit, nor did his wife, nor his mother-in-law. You'll make enemies for yourself if you don't watch out."
"It was wrong of me to exercise my powers just to gratify idle curiosity. No good Theosophist would approve of it."
"Say, rather, 'no sensible person would.' The Theosophists haven't a monopoly of common sense. To me they appear slightly deficient in that article, but I dare say they make up for it in uncommon sense."
"You speak more wisely than you know," said Belle solemnly. "If I hadn't taken in some of the Brotherhood ideas I wonder where that pretty, innocent young girl would have been by this time. Would you like me to go back and be as I was in the old days, a rank materialist, caring for nothing but dress, dancing, and having a good time? You know you wouldn't, David. You know as well as I do that Theosophy has been the making of me, and through me it shall be the making of Mary too."
TO the Scotchman or Englishman, with Loch Katrine or Windermere in his fond memory's eye, it is not surprising that the great lakes of America seem howling wildernesses of water, for the shores are mostly low and unpicturesque. There is no changing tide to give variety, no strong smell of seaweed nor salt breeze to brace the wearied nerves, but the wearied nerves are braced nevertheless. The sand is soft and clean to extend one's length upon, and the waves forever rolling up at one's feet are soothing in their monotony. There is no fear of the encroachment of the water, no fear of its leaving a bare mud-flat for nearly a mile; and the unlimited expanse of blue which meets the horizon satisfies the eye, which cares not if the land on the other side be hundreds or thousands of miles away, so long as it be out of sight.
Two young people one evening in July seemed to find Lake Michigan perfectly satisfactory in every respect. The girl sat on a log of driftwood, poking holes in the sand with the pointed toes of her shoes, much too fine for the purpose, while the young man stretched at her feet looked at her instead of the sunset they had come to admire. I could not help thinking what a pretty picture they made, as I strolled along the shore with my pipe, to get cooled off after a very hot day in town.
The family were all at Interlaken, but Margaret was left in Lake City to keep the grass watered, and to give me my midday dinner. I am unable to decide which occupation she considered the more important. It is not easy to get grass to grow with us, and anyone who can display a reasonably green patch in July and August gives evidence of considerable perseverance in the matter of lawn sprinkling. I told Margaret she would be ready to enter the Fire Brigade next winter, she was getting to be such an expert with the hose. But to return to the shore of Michigan.
The pair of lovers interested me so much that I gradually edged nearer to them. The species seldom objects to the proximity of a stout little man with a prosaic pipe in his mouth and a pair of light blue eyes, handicapped by spectacles, that seem always to be looking for a sail on the horizon. In fact, I never attract any attention anywhere, unless my wife is along, and then I am only too proud and happy to shine in her reflection.
So I sat down on a piece of stump, worn white and smooth like a skeleton before being cast up by the waves; but when the two caught sight of me, the man sprang up and came toward me, holding out his hand, while the girl sauntered off in the other direction, and I saw that she was Mary Mason.
"Hello, Link?" said I to the young fellow. "Didn't know you were down here."
"I'm at the hotel for a week or two. I've just been making the acquaintance of your adopted daughter."
"You have adopted her, haven't you?"
"Don't know that I have—hadn't considered the matter at all."
"She's a sweet girl, and a beauty too. Anyone would be proud to own her."
"You'd better let Dolly Martin hear you say that."
Abraham Lincoln Todd straightened himself up in the most independent bachelor style.
"She can look after me when we're married, but in the meantime I'm a free man."
He is considered very handsome, tall and dark, a good business man too, and Belle had quite approved of the engagement between him and Dolly Martin, who, though not a pretty girl, was strong and sensible, and the daughter of one of her oldest friends.
Lincoln must be taking advantage of his intimacy with our family to flirt with Mary Mason.
Interlaken is not a fashionable resort. Even the hotel is a homely abode, which the guests seem to run themselves, though they generally prefer to live outdoors and go inside only for meals and beds. Once in a while, on a chilly evening, the young people get up a dance, and some of us older folks are dragged into it too.
Scotchmen love to dance, and I am no exception. I am not up to waltzing or any of the newfangled round dances, but give me a Highland schottische, or a square dance, when there is an inventive genius to call off the figures and prescribe plenty of variety. There was no professional caller-off at Interlaken, but Lincoln Todd did duty for one as he danced. When he tired of it, and led off into a round of waltzes, ripples, jerseys, bon tons, rush polkas, and goodness knows what besides, I remained as a wall-flower.
The reason that I sat there was that I could not take my eyes off Mary Mason. Where she learned to dance I know not, but dance she did, with a grace and abandon that made every other girl in the room a clod-hopper. Lincoln Todd was quite infatuated with her.
Ours is one of the dozen or so of cottages that radiate from the big hotel. Most of the cottagers take dinner and supper at the hotel, being, like ourselves, in a servantless condition. Belle said she could get along perfectly well without Margaret, when she had Mary Mason to help her with the housework, and, indeed, there was not much to be done. The four bedrooms open into one central room that we call the sitting-room, but it is only in wet weather it justifies the name, for, as a rule, we sit in rockers or swing in hammocks on the broad veranda that runs round three sides of the house. The cottages lie so close together that a good jumper can easily spring from one veranda to the next, and the lady proprietors gossip across, and the men too when they come down from business every evening, or from Saturday till Monday. My lot is generally the shorter allowance, and one Sunday afternoon I lay in my favorite hammock on the north side of the veranda, sleeping the sleep of the brain-tired editor, till voices roused me.
"Mary, where did you get that new tennis racket?"
"Mr. Todd gave it to me."
"Haven't I told you distinctly that you were not even to take candy from Mr. Todd?"
"He gives things to you and Chrissie."
"That's a very different matter. Chrissie is a child, and he is an old friend of the family."
"I can't help it if he likes to give me presents."
"You can help taking them, especially from an engaged man."
"I don't care if he is engaged. He says he don't care anything at all about Miss Martin. He only went after her for her money. He likes me best, and he says he'll never marry her."
"Mary! I should think you'd know better than to make yourself so cheap. You give Mr. Todd back that racket right away, and tell him Mrs. Gemmell said you were not to keep it, and the next time he brings you down flowers or chocolates you do the same."
If I had not known the sex and the approximate age of Mary, I should have thought it was a small boy in a temper who stamped off the veranda.
The next Saturday night the full moon was assisted in her duties by a large bonfire down on our beach. The Adamless Eden, having received its "week-end" male contingent, was stimulated to a corn-roasting. The green ears, stuck on the ends of long sticks, were held by girls and men over the fire till roasted, and then passed on to a row of matrons, disguised in large aprons, who salted and buttered them ready for eating. If you know anything that tastes sweeter than a freshly roasted and buttered ear of Indian corn, your experience is broader than mine.
Using my eyes habitually in the way of business, I could not avoid noticing that Lincoln Todd was not collecting his share of driftwood for keeping up the fire, nor did I see Mary Mason's pretty face in the garland of beauties bending with eager interest over the poles bayoneted with cobs of corn. It may have been fear of spoiling her complexion that kept her at one side whispering with Link, but it served them both right that Dolly Martin should choose that very moment for her stage entrance. She and her mother joined the group of butterers, and I noticed that Mrs. Martin returned Belle's cordial greeting rather stiffly. Then Miss Dolly calmly walked over to the pair sitting apart, having evidently recognized the back of Lincoln's blazer. She pretended to stumble over one of his feet.
"Oh, excuse me!" said she; and when Link sprang up, Mary Mason had the pleasure of witnessing the warmest sort of a meeting between the engaged lovers. They sallied off in the moonlight, his arm around her waist.
No one but me noticed the young girl slipping down on the sand, and laying her head on the log on which she had been sitting, and even I pretended not to see that her handkerchief was in action.
"Hello, Mary!" said I, "I'll match you skipping stones. Look at this!"
With that I sent a beautiful flat one skimming along with nearly a dozen hops in the brilliant track of the moon on the water. She did not pay any attention to me at first, and I kept skipping away, just as if I did not see her mopping her eyes. By-and-by a stroke worthy of myself sent a pebble spinning through the ripples, and Mary's ready laugh rang out beside me. Within twenty minutes of Dolly Martin's appearance on the scene, "Mamie" was the center of the corn-roasters, and the gayest of the gay. Belle told me she kept on that line of conduct during the whole week that Miss Martin and her mother stayed at the hotel.
"It seemed to me that Dolly took a special pleasure in parading her happiness before poor Mary, but Mary never showed the white feather."
"There's the making of a fine woman in her."
"That may be," said my wife. "But this last week she has been extremely wearing on me. Having no particular man on the string, she has followed me about like a spaniel, wanted to know what I'm reading, and has begun a book the minute I'm through with it."
"I've seen her carrying 'The Coming Race' about with her lately, but I notice that the bookmark always stays in the same place."
Mary became fond of solitary rambles back in the pine woods, intersected by plank walks that made promenading possible. People liked to wander through there in the evenings, when the camp-lights in the hollows lent a mysterious charm, and on up to the big Knight Templar's Building, erected on the highest point of the sandy bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Every night that prominent structure blazed with electric lights, and sometimes a band played on the veranda; but the only visitors were cottagers and guests from the hotel, who went up there to walk about and enjoy the prospect.
Our city editor often surprises me with the depth and breadth of his local information. For example, I opened the Echo one day to be made aware that "Miss Mamie Gemmell" had outstripped all the lady bicyclists in town by making the distance between Lake City and Interlaken in forty-seven minutes. It was also remarked that she was one of the most graceful lady riders on the road.
I wonder how many generations a man must be removed from Scotland before he becomes callous to the disposition of the family name. I own that I squirmed inwardly, but with outward composure asked Belle where Mary got the "bike."
"Watty's old one. He taught Mary to ride it, and then made her a present of it, for he's set his heart on a new wheel."
"Confoundedly generous of him!"
"I'm glad you look at it that way. It is so seldom that he does give up anything for anybody, I thought he ought to be encouraged, and I said he should have a new bicycle with pneumatic tires and all the latest improvements at Christmas, if you did not see fit to give it to him sooner."
In August I took my annual day's fishing, which has come to be rather a joke in the house, because, in spite of my elaborate preparations the night before, and the unheard-of hour at which I rise in the morning, I have never been known to catch anything worth bringing home.
This time my companion was a journalist from Chicago, an ardent young fellow, who could not keep from "shop" even when off on his holidays, and who had started a small weekly paper in which were to be recorded the doings of a certain congress holding a summer session in our grove.
We rowed up the little lake on the edge of the lily-pads, fishing both sides of it, but caught nothing except a sunfish or two. Then we lit our pipes and talked.
"What an extremely clever young lady that adopted daughter of yours is. I heard only the other day that she is not your own."
"Yes, sir. No one would believe it to talk to her, but she's got a surprisingly bright mind for one so young. She can't be more than seventeen, but her descriptions are good enough for one of the best magazines, and she has evidently thought a lot on all the leading topics of the day. Why, she's up in Hypnotism, Evolution, Theosophy—everything!"
"Bless my soul! How did you find all that out?"
Thereupon he fished from his pocket a couple of his tiresome little publications.
"I asked her to write something for our paper, that's how I know. Want to see?"
I do not set up to be a literary critic, but I guess I know my own wife's style of composition when I encounter it. During the two years that we were engaged she lived in Detroit and I in Indiana, and I missed her letters so much after we were married that to this day she is in the habit of letting me read those she writes to other people. I was not going to give her away to that newspaper man, though, for the name "Mary Gemmell" stared me in the face from the end of each article; but I remonstrated with Belle when I reached home.
"How could I help it, Dave? There was the girl teasing me to write something for her because this fellow had asked her to do it. She said I could scribble down something just as easy as not, and then she could copy it for him. Copy it! She took hours to do it, and I considered she deserved all the praise she got for the articles."
"I wouldn't do it again, if I were you. It sets the girl sailing under false colors."
"Poor Mary! Her one little accomplishment has been of no use to her since that professional elocutionist came to the hotel, and I hated to see her cast altogether into the shade, especially while Dolly Martin was here."
Still there came another production from the pen of Miss Mary Gemmell.
"Really, Belle," said I, "this is carrying the joke too far."
"Don't you worry about it. Some of the old cats at the hotel began to suspect that Mary hadn't written those things, and accused me to my face of doing it myself, so I had to write an account of the picnic up the little lake, because they all know I wasn't there at all!"
"Let this be the last, then."
"It shall, I assure you, for I am much displeased with Mary. Since Mrs. Martin and Dolly left, she's been going it just as hard as ever with Lincoln Todd. If you walk up to the Knight Templar's Building I'll warrant you'll find them there promenading this very minute."
"No, I won't, because I passed them just a little while ago as I came through the woods, sitting on a secluded bench, his arm round her waist and her head on his shoulder."
"Didn't they see you?"
"I dare say, but I never let on I saw them. What's the use? I can't be expected to leave the Echo to my subs, and come down here to play special policeman to Mary Mason. I should have thought Todd was more of a gentleman."
"So should I, but I've spoken to him, quarreled with him indeed, so that he doesn't come near the house, but I know that he and Mary meet just the same. Thank Heaven! he will be married soon."
"Have you told Mary that?"
"Yes; but she laughs and shrugs her shoulders; evidently thinks she knows more about Lincoln Todd's intentions than I do."
In the last week of August Mr. Todd went off for a few days "on business," and then there came a dreadful morning when the announcement of his marriage to Dolly Martin appeared in the Echo.
Mary would not believe her ears. She took the paper down to the beach, and spelled out the notice word by word. Then she lay down on the sand and bawled, kicking and squealing like a year-old infant when Belle appealed to her self-respect.
"I could have spanked her well," said my wife. The worst of it was that the whole hotel was "on to the racket," as Watty vulgarly expressed it, and rather chuckled over Belle's mortification, instead of sympathizing with her in the trying time she was having with her "adopted daughter."
Our grief, as a family, was not unbearable when the time came in September for Mary Mason to go back to the convent.
THE self-assertive sleigh-bells suddenly ceased their tinkling, and the long covered van, with its four horses, drew up in front of our "House of Many Gables," in Lake City. Watty, then a tall lad of eighteen, over-coated, fur-capped, and gloved, went quickly out, banging the front door after him, while his younger brothers and sisters made holes with their breath through the frost on the window panes, to watch his departure with the hilarious load of young folks.
"Why aint you goin', Mame?" asked Joe, our smallest son, of the girl spending her Christmas holidays with us.
"Wasn't asked," she replied defiantly. "An' what's more, I don't care to go anywheres, neither, if the girls don't act better to me than they done at that party the other night."
Belle raised her head from the Treasurer's book of the House of Refuge.
"Perhaps you weren't nice to them, Mary?"
"Yes, I was too. I smiled whenever one of them looked at me, but they all turned their heads as if they'd never seen me before."
My wife sighed as she bent over her book again. If the difficulty of befriending Mary rested only with outsiders it might have been patiently borne, but there was mother, to whom the girl's presence in the house was a constant grievance.
I had been able to buy a quiet horse and a Mikado cutter for Belle when the snow came, but she had no pleasure out of them during the vacation.
"I'm going to drive downtown, mother," I heard her say one morning. "Would you like to go?"
"Is Mary gaun?"
"I thought of taking her."
"Then I'll no' gang. I wadna like to crood Mary."
"Dear mother, there's plenty of room."
"Ay, ay, but ye ken Mary doesna like tae sit wi' her back tae the horse."
That sort of thing was always happening. One day the old lady came home from a round of visits, much perturbed in mind and body. The sandy hair I inherited, and have largely lost, does not show the gray with which it is mixed, and so light and wiry is she one finds it difficult to remember my mother's seventy years. She is a small woman, but her personality is sufficiently large for the ripples to be felt throughout the household when its surface is disturbed.
"What dae ye think I've been hearin'?" she cried, finding me alone in the nursery on the sofa, and helpless in her hands.
"I can't imagine, mother. You generally have something spicy to tell us after you've been calling on the MacTavishes."
"Dae ye ken 'at yon hizzy ye've ta'en intill yer hoose ca's hersel' Mary Gemmell?"
"Oh, well, what's in a name?"
"I wonner tae hear ye, Davvit! What wad yer faither hae thocht aboot it, or yer gran'faither? Gie'n the femly name, that's come doon unspotted frae ae generation till anither, tae a funnlin' aff the streets! Ou, ay! I micht 'a' kent what wad happen when I h'ard tell o' ye bein' merrit till an Amerrican."
"Hold up there, mother. You're just twenty years too late in raking up that story. If it suits me and Belle to have that girl called 'Mary Gemmell,' Mary Gemmell she shall be, if it turns all Scotland head over heels into the North Sea."
So seldom do I break out that an eruption of mine never fails to clear the air of an unwelcome topic.
Our boys have grown up on a sort of an "every-man-for himself" principle, and when it came to a fight for the favorite corner of the sofa, the favorite game, or picture-book, "Mamie" was in the thick of it every time.
"What else can you expect?" said I to Belle, consolingly. "She's been fighting the world on her own account ever since she can remember, and our house represents to her only a change of battle ground."
"I think her father must have been a gentleman."
"He certainly had one gentlemanly peculiarity."
"Don't be a brute, Dave. I mean that Mary's ancestors must have been wealthy people, she has such a taste for luxury."
"That doesn't follow. I'm sure you've seen plenty of poor folks go without the necessaries of life in order to get the luxuries."
"She is shiftless enough. To-day I took her into a store to buy her some stockings, and she refused to have any but the very best quality. 'The second best are what I get for myself, Mary,' said I; 'they wear much longer than the others.' 'I don't care,' she said. 'If I can't have the best, I don't want any.' 'Then do without,' said I, and we left the place. The fun of it is that she won't even darn her old ones! I can't always be so firm with her. I'm amazed at myself sometimes, the things she gets out of me. What do you suppose she wants now?"
I gave a warning cough to signify that my mother had come into the nursery, but Belle gazed straight ahead into the wood fire, and seesawed in the rattan rocker—a tuneful symphony in a mauve tea-gown.
"A cornet, if you please."
"A cornet!" said I. "Whatever put that into her head?"
"I can't tell. She says the music professor at the convent can teach her to play it, and she thinks if she learned she might be able to lead the singing in a church with one."
"Perhaps somebody played the cornet in that concert company she was with."
"Na, na. It's nearer hame than that," mother struck in. "She has a notion o' ane o' thae cratur's 'at pl'y at the Opera Hoose. I hae seen her gang by the window wi' him, an' spiered at Watty wha he was."
"I don't like Wat's telling tales of Mary."
"He dinna, Davvit, till I pit it tae him. He canna bear the tawpie, and doesna like to hae her p'inted oot as his sister. A body canna blame the laddie. It's a heap better than his fa'in' in luv wi' her."
"Perhaps it is," groaned Isabel.
When mother had gone to bed my wife said:
"Mrs. Wade has been here to-day to ask Watty and Mary to a young people's dance on Friday night."
"What did you say?"
"I told her I wasn't going to dress that girl up and send her out to parties to be snubbed and slighted by the other girls, as she was at the dancing school ball. She said that if I let Mary go she'd see that she had a good time. For her part, she admired the way I'd stuck up for the girl in spite of everything; and if she was good enough to live with us as a daughter, it would surely not contaminate anybody else to meet her out of an evening."
Saturday night I inquired of Belle how Mary got on at the party.
"First rate. Mrs. Wade met her at the door of the drawing room and kissed her. 'How you've grown, Mary!' said she, and then she took her round and introduced her to all the girls in the room, including some of those who've been cutting her right and left, as well as to every boy she didn't know already. Of course she danced every dance, and had the best time going."
"And, of course, she put it all down to her own superior attractions?"
"Just exactly. This morning she didn't want to help me make the beds!"
Mary's Christmas present had been a beautiful silver-plated cornet, and of course she must learn to play it when she went back to the convent. Word came shortly that the music master employed there could not undertake to teach her to play the instrument, but that a "professor" could be secured to go out from Detroit twice a week—if desired. We seemed to be in for it, so the lessons were desired, and we comforted ourselves with the assurance that if Mary did not turn out to be a tiptop reciter she would surely prove a tiptop cornet player. Her unusual talent would justify my wife in her unusual step, and the society of Lake City would forgive her for attempting to thrust the girl into its midst as an equal. Many of our acquaintances seemed to take mother's view of the case,—"Matter out of place becomes dirrt!"—and Belle was put on her mettle to convince the majority that she had done exactly the right thing in thus disclassing people. Disclassing people? In a free republic!
We received glowing accounts of the cornet lessons.
"Dear girl!" said Belle enthusiastically. "She must have the real artistic temperament to be so determined to excel in one or other of the arts."
"She's dramatic, anyway," said I, and I was confirmed in my opinion along in the spring, when the cornet, and aught else, appeared to have palled upon the versatile Mary. She wrote that she had serious thoughts of taking the veil.
"Bah!" said I; "what's she after now? She wants to scare us into something."
Belle wrote privately to the Lady Superior, telling her that if she considered Mary would be a desirable acquisition to their ranks she had no sort of objection to her joining them.
The good sister replied that Miss Gemmell had not a grain of the stuff of which nuns are made, that her leanings were all in a worldly direction.
"No hope in that quarter!" laughed I, but Belle chided me for making fun of Mary in her absence.
When "Miss Mamie Gemmell" joined us at Interlaken for the summer her convent manners lasted for about two weeks, and then gave place to those of a spoiled and pampered daughter of the house.
We in America are accustomed to disrespectfulness and waywardness in our own children, but to notice the same attitude in a little nobody from nowhere we have taken in out of charity, makes a man or woman stand aghast.
"I don't believe she cares a straw for me personally," Belle would say sometimes, "but I must confess I like her better than the cringing, fawning variety. She's outspoken in her impertinent demands."
* * * * *
After a very hot week in July I joyfully took the train on Saturday afternoon for the five miles' ride to Interlaken, and went to sleep that night with my ears full of the sound of waves and pine trees; my heart filled with the satisfaction of knowing that I had a whole round day ahead of me—a sunrise and a sunset at either end.
I omitted the sunrise part of the programme, but between ten and eleven I was ready for a walk down the pier to watch the bathers. American women are seldom plump enough to stand the undress uniform of a bathing costume. They run to extremes—become very stout indeed, or else very thin, but in girlhood the tendency is to over-slimness.
I was thinking what a contrast our summer girls would present to a group of Scotch lasses, though, to be sure, I was never privileged to see any of the latter in bathing-dress, when a well-rounded apparition in sky blue luster and no bathing cap emerged from one of the disrobing houses. This damsel betook herself boldly to the pier, instead of splashing around the edge of the sand as the others were doing, and, coming near the end, took a run and then a beautiful header into the deep blue water.
She had passed me too quickly to be recognized, but as her face appeared above the surface I saw it belonged to no other than our adopted daughter, for as such, at the moment, was I pleased to own her. She shook the water out of her ears, gave her knob of hair an extra twist, brushed back the ringlets that threatened her eyes, and looked as much at home as if there were eighteen feet of land, instead of eighteen feet of water below her.
There were several young men swimming about at the end of the wharf, and they declared with gusto that a springboard must be erected for "Miss Gemmell" at once. I declined to assist in breaking the Sabbath over any such pranks, but a couple of scantily clad, dripping youths arose from the deep and succeeded in loosening a heavy three-inch plank from the flooring of the wharf. This was projected well out over the water, and the fair Mary was induced to ascend and exhibit therefrom. I did not approve at all, but thought it my duty to remain as chaperon until Belle and another lady, whom I perceived walking leisurely out the pier, should arrive.
The young men sprang back into the water to be on the reception committee, and Mary teetered on the far end of the plank. There was heard a loud, suggestive crack, and she leaped into space in a most graceful semicircle before touching the water; but that awful board, the instant her weight was removed, rose straight up in the air, nearly knocked me off the dock, and with a groan slid through the opening whence it had been raised, into the depths below.
Belle rushed to my rescue, while the other woman stood still and shrieked.
"Nobody hurt!" called out from the water a nice-looking lad who was swimming beside Mary, and apparently daring her to further exploits.
"Who is the young man?" I asked my wife, being ready to change the subject from my own narrow escape.
"You mean the one with the Burne Jones head and the sleepy blue eyes that's round with Mary all the time? His name's Flaker, and he's a medical student from Chicago. That's all I know about him." But she was destined to hear more, as we sat on the hotel veranda that night, from two old ladies inside the open window and closed blind.
"Isn't it scandalous," said one, "the way Mrs. Gemmell tries to shove that girl forward on every occasion?"
"Yes," said the other. "The old friendship between her and Mrs. Martin is all broken up since she tried so hard to get Lincoln Todd entangled with her last summer, and now she's doing her best to catch young Flaker."
"I don't believe he has any idea who the girl is, or rather who she is not."
"No, indeed, and his people would be in a great state if they knew the sort of company he was keeping."
"Who are they?"
"Don't you know? His father is Dr. Flaker, who has that fine mansion on the Grand Boulevard, and his mother belongs to one of the best New York families. They're all as proud as Lucifer."
"I think it is time we went home, David. Listeners never hear any good of themselves," said Belle, loudly enough to arrest the attention of the two dames.
Walking over the dried-up moonlit grass to our cottage, I threatened to go back and give them a piece of my mind, but my wife said:
"Maybe I did need a slight reminder. I haven't paid much attention to Mary's goings-on this summer. I must talk to Mr. Flaker the first chance."
The opportunity came before the Evening was over, while I was in my pet hammock round the corner of the cottage, and Belle in a rocking-chair at the front.
"Good-evening, Mr. Flaker," I heard her say. "I don't think you've ever seen the inside of our cottage. Won't you step in for a moment, now that it is lighted up?"
The moment satisfied him, for he speedily returned to the veranda.
"I never saw such a beautiful swimmer as Miss Gemmell," said the mannish voice, and Belle replied impressively:
"I believe you are not aware, Mr. Flaker, that the young lady you call Miss Gemmell is not my own daughter."
"Your stepchild is she, or your husband's niece?"
"Neither. She is no relation at all—just a poor girl whom I have taken up to educate. She can barely read or write. I felt that I ought to tell you this because you have been paying her a good deal of attention."
"Indeed, Mrs. Gemmell, I admire Miss Gemmell very much; but I assure you I never regarded her as anything else than a pleasant summer acquaintance."
And Mary was dropped forthwith.
THE winter of 1892-93 Mary spent at home with us. Her first expressed wish, when the family returned from Interlaken, was to be confirmed, and the Rev. Mr. Armstrong of the church we do not attend was duly notified.
"He says I must be christened first," said Mary. "Would you mind if he called me 'Mary Gemmell'? There aint any name that I've a right to, and I don't want to be called 'Mason,' because that's the name of the woman that abused me when I was little. I'd rather have yours."
She was such a pathetic-looking young person, standing there before Belle in her fresh and innocent loveliness, that my wife had not the heart to refuse her anything.
When I came home that same evening there was a tableau vivant in front of the parlor fire. Dressed in white, Mary sat on a low stool at the feet of the Rev. Walter Armstrong, her hands clasped in her lap, gazing up into the clean-shaven clerical face, with that which passed for her soul in her eyes. In spite of his stiff round collar and long black coat the rector is a young man, and I saw that he was impressed.
"You understand, do you, Mary," he said tenderly, "that when you are received into the Church you have God for your Father and Christ for your Elder Brother?"
"Yes, I understand, Mr. Armstrong," replied the girl earnestly. "And that's just what I always wanted—was to have 'folks.'"
I retired in haste to the dining room, where Isabel was brimming over with a new scheme.
"I've always found the housekeeping a drag, and it becomes more so every year as my outlook broadens. I want to keep up to the times, but I never have any leisure for reading, and our four eldest being boys, there seemed to be no hope for years of having any one to relieve me."
"Mary's a godsend," said I.
"I wish you really thought that, as I do. She's quick and adaptable, and I'm going to hand over to her a weekly allowance and let her keep the house on it."
"What about her accomplishments—the elocution and the cornet?"
"They can stand in the meantime. Do you know, Davie," hesitatingly, "I'm beginning to be afraid she hasn't a good ear for music."
"The other night when the Mortons were in she sat and talked to Frank Wade the whole time Eva was playing."
"That's nothing. Everyone else did the same."
"But for a girl who is trying to pose as a cornet player, who thinks she might earn her living leading a church choir with one, it's bad policy, to say the least of it."
"Earn her living! I asked Joe Mitchell, when he was listening to her practicing out in the summer-house, what he thought of her playing, and he said she'd better keep to a penny whistle."
"Very rude of him!"
"No, it wasn't. I asked him point blank if I should be justified in paying for the more lessons she wants, and he said decidedly I should not."
"Well," said Belle wearily, "we'll try the housekeeping. That's a woman's true vocation, according to orthodox ideas. I shouldn't have set my heart on Mary turning out to be anything extraordinary. If she'll only be kind of half decent, and help me out with the housework, I'll be more than satisfied."
The sense of power gave new brightness to Mary's fair face, and her step through the house was of the lightest during the next week or two, but the boys rebelled in turn.
"Mamma! Mary's locked the pantry. Must we go to her for the key whenever we want anything?"
"I call it a mean shame!" from Joe.
"What were you doing?"
"We didn't do nothin', on'y eat up the pie she meant for dessert. I'm sure Margaret wouldn't mind makin' another."
"Mary's perfectly right, boys; I've indulged you too much."
Then it was Watty who complained:
"Mary says she won't have us mussing up the parlor after she's tidied it, and that we've got to change our boots when we come into the house." Or Chrissie:
"Mary says I'm big enough now to keep my own room in order, and she aint going to do it any more. She's wors'en grandma!"
To their grandma did they go with their woes when they found their mother so unaccountably obdurate, but they did not get much comfort there. Detest Mary as she might, my poor mother is always loyal to the powers that be, and she told the children:
"Yer mither kens fine what she's aboot, an' ye needna fash yer heids tae come cryin' tae me."
She even went so far as to back Mary up in her suggestion that the boys should eat what was set before them, asking no questions.
"That's the w'y yer faither was brocht up. If he didna finish his parritch in the mornin', they were warmed up for him again at nicht. Ye tak' but a spinfu' 'at ye could hardly ca' parritch, for they're jist puzhioned wi' sugar."
Mary was not naturally fond of children, and, having entered our family full-grown, she found it hard to put up with the freaks of our six, there being no foundation of sisterly love upon which to build toleration.
Belle's housekeeping had always been lavish. She ordered her groceries wholesale, and when they were done never inquired what had become of them.
"I decline to go into details—life is too short! I don't know where my patience ends and my laziness begins, but I'd rather be cheated than lock things up, or try to keep track of what Margaret wastes. She's not an ideal 'general,' but it's only one in a hundred that would stand the children pottering about in the kitchen so much."
After the time-worn custom of new brooms, Mary made a bold attempt to record each item of expenditure, and ordered what she wanted from day to day; but there was no calculating the appetites of four growing boys, especially when, as Mary affirmed, they sometimes over-ate themselves just to spite her.
"We're living from hand to mouth, papa," they would say, when an unwonted scarcity occurred.
Truth to tell, I began to sympathize with my revolting sons when I brought an old friend home with me to dinner one day, and went to announce the fact to our "housekeeper."
"I just wish that Bob Mansell would quit coming here so much when he's not expected. There's only enough pudding for ourselves."
"Mary," said I sternly, "Mr. Mansell's been coming to this house before you were here, and he'll keep on coming after you're gone, if you're not careful."
It was the first time I had ever spoken sharply to her, and I flattered myself that I had done some good, though she held her head high and left the room.
Belle came to the conclusion that the housekeeping scheme did not work smoothly, and she resumed the reins of government. Mary was still supposed to do the work of a second maid, but it was evident that her heart was not in it.
"What does Mary want now?" I asked my wife when she took her usual seat beside me, as I lay on the sofa with my pipe.
"She thinks she'd like to go to the Boston School of Oratory to prepare herself to be a public reader."
"Is it necessary that she should be before the public in one way or another?"
"She doesn't seem to be much of a success in private life."
"In that respect she's no worse than half the girls in town. None of them dote on housework."
"But, considering that this girl has no earthly claim on us, you'd think she might be different."
"Don't be angry, Belle, at my saying so, but you've only yourself to thank for that. You've been most anxious that Mary should be just like one of ourselves—should not feel that she was accepting charity, and you've succeeded only too well. The girl takes everything you do for her as her right, and asks for more."
"Well, what about Boston?"
"I think it would be arrant folly to send her there. How do we know she has any more talent for elocution than for music?"
"She has the desire to learn. I suppose that's a sign of the ability."
"She has an intense desire for admiration, that's about the size of it. To be the center of all eyes, giving a recitation in a drawing room, pleases her down to the ground, but it doesn't follow that she would be a success professionally."
"I dare say we've spent about as much on her education as you care to do just now."
"We have indeed!"
My wife and I are much in demand at all the social functions of our town, and, though I accompany her under protest, I confess that, once the affair is in full swing, I enjoy as much as anybody a hand at "Pedro" or a dance.
The houses of our city are mostly wooden and mostly new, for an annual conflagration keeps building brisk. Hardwood floors and mantels are the order of the day, and if some of our lumbermen and their wives have not a command of English grammar in keeping with their horses, their sealskins, and their diamonds, they have a heartier than an English welcome—except, of course, for guests of such questionable antecedents as our Mary.
Mrs. David Gemmell is a bright and witty woman, though I say it, who should not. But why should I not? She did not inherit her wits from me. Mrs. David Gemmell let the leading ladies of the town understand that unless Mary was invited to everything that was going on, we stayed away ourselves. Lake City society could not proceed without Isabel, so the "white elephant" was received in her train, and truly she did us credit in company, if nowhere else. She was always stylishly dressed, and her dancing was a joy forever. We did not marvel when Will Axworthy, the most eligible young man about, took it into his head to introduce the german to our benighted citizens, that he chose Mary for his partner to lead it with him. She had private lessons from himself, as well as from the dancing master, and proud and happy were Belle and I to sit at the side of the ballroom and watch her going through the figures and bestowing her favors with all the grace and dignity of one of the four hundred.
"She shall go to Boston to-morrow, if she wants to," said I, but this time Belle demurred.
"I think she seems likely to have a good time here this winter, and we may as well let her have her fling."
The prophecy was fulfilled. In spite of the supreme jealousy of the other girls, who could not say mean enough things about her, Mary became quite the rage with the young men.
One Sunday afternoon Will Axworthy called. He is short and broad, has reddish hair and a chronic blush hardly to be looked for in the Ward McAllister of Lake City. Too nervously did he plant himself in my frisky spring rocker, and therefore involuntarily did he present the soles of his boots to the assembled family, while his head bumped the wall, to the huge delight of our boys!
Undaunted by that inauspicious beginning, he came again the next Sunday, smoked my best cigars, and talked lumber, the one subject upon which he is posted, for he was the manager of a mill here.
He stayed to supper that evening and went with Mary to church afterward. Then he called for her with a cutter the first bright day, and took her sleigh riding. The embryo wrinkle left Belle's forehead.
"Do you really think he means anything?" said she.
"Don't be too sanguine about it. Nowadays, young men pay a girl a great deal of attention with nothing in their heads but a good time."
"Still, Axworthy's no boy. He's thirty if he's a day, and he has a good salary, and can afford to marry whenever the mood takes him."
"Let us hope and pray that it may take him soon!"
"Amen!" said Belle solemnly.
The daily friction with her protegee was becoming too much for the good-natured patience even of my better half. Acting upon generous impulses is all very fine, but they need to be backed up by a large amount of endurance and tolerance if the results are to be successfully dealt with.
From my vantage-ground on the nursery sofa, behind my screen of newspaper, I frequently hear more than is suspected by the family.
"Mary, you're not going to the rink to-night!" in Belle's most imploring tone.
"Yes, mawm, I am. Lend me your wrench, Watty."
"Mary, I positively forbid you to go to the rink!"
"Well, I do think that's just too mean for anything. Every girl in town goes."
"Every girl in town doesn't skate with barber, or bandsman, or anybody who comes along, as you do."
"Watty's been telling!"
"Watty hasn't been telling!" broke in our eldest son in indignant protest, which he further emphasized by going out and banging the door after him.
"And, Mary," Belle continued, "are you engaged to Mr. Axworthy?"
"Then if I were you I wouldn't let him kiss me when he says 'Good-night' at the door after bringing you home from a party."
"You're old-fashioned. All the girls do it!"
"No lady would permit a man to take such a liberty. You're spoiling your chances with Mr. Axworthy, I can tell you. I never knew a man yet that would bind himself to a girl when he could have all the privileges of an engaged man, and none of the responsibilities."
"I don't care anything at all about him. I don't want to marry him. He's just giving me a good time."
A good time he undoubtedly did give her throughout the winter. To the smartest balls and parties he was her escort, and she always wore the roses he never neglected to send. Every Sunday about dusk he would come round to our house, and, martyrs to a good cause, Isabel, mother, and I vacated the cozy parlor with its easy chairs and blazing fire for the nursery—always uproarious with children on that day.
"I wonder what those two find to talk about," speculated Belle. "Mary has no conversation at all, and Axworthy hasn't much more."
"Perhaps he takes it out in looking at her. By the way, Belle, when are you going to appear in the new dress I gave you that fifty dollars to buy? I am quite tired of the mauve tea gown."
My wife glanced over her shoulder to make sure that Grandma was out of hearing.
"The truth is, Dave, I thought I must wait to see how much of it I had left after getting Mary rigged up for the Robinsons' dance. She goes out so often that she needs a change of evening dress."
"Did she ask for it?"
"Not directly, but she remarked that she didn't see what I wanted with a new black silk, that I had plenty of clothes, and that when she was my age she didn't think she'd bother about what she had to wear."
I sprang up from the sofa, prepared to shove Mary out of the house, neck and crop, but Belle's outburst of laughter calmed me.
"Her cheek is so great that it passes from the ridiculous to the sublime!"
"Why do you stand it, Belle? You wouldn't from anybody else."
"I can't very well go back on her at this stage, and send her about her business. She's shrewd enough to know that."
"People would laugh; that's so!"
"Besides, if she marries Axworthy, she'll be our social equal here in this town, and it must never be in her power to say that we did not treat her well."
"What is the prospect with Axworthy?"
"Good, I think. He is thoroughly kind to her, and he has given me plenty of hints about the state of his affections, hopes by another winter that Mary will have somebody else to look after her, and so on. He is always most particular in seeing that she is well wrapped up, and that is highly necessary, for she is extremely careless about how she goes out. In spite of a certain amount of physical dash, she isn't a bit strong; has no staying power."
"It won't be much fun for Axworthy to be saddled with a delicate wife."
"Well, I guess he needs some discipline, just as much as I do. I've had my share out of Miss Mary for the last three years, and I am quite willing to let somebody else have a turn. He walks into this thing with his eyes open. He knows her history."
"But does he know her disposition?"
"Let him find that out—if he can. Most mothers don't think it necessary to tell their daughters' suitors how the girls get on with them in the house."
"You say she has no constitution. Supposing he does marry her, how about the possible children? What have they done that they should have Mary for a mother?"
"That's exactly the right way to put it—what have they done? We don't know, but they must have gone far astray last time, if they are given such a bad start this incarnation."
Will Axworthy left town in the spring. Lumber was done in our part of Michigan and he had to follow it further south. He and Mary corresponded, for I caught Belle in the act of correcting one of her letters.
"Do you think that's quite fair to Axworthy? If they become engaged, the first unedited letter he gets from Mary will be considerable of a surprise to him."
"Don't you bother your old head, Dave! I'm running this thing! He's arranging to meet us in Chicago, and hopes to have the pleasure of showing Mary the Columbian Exhibition. Something is sure to happen while we're there!"
ALL winter we had been talking about the Fair, reading up about the Fair, making plans for the Fair; and Belle declared that even if she never saw the Fair she would be glad it had been, on account of the amount of preparatory information she had laid up.
We did get off at last in the end of June, the whole of us, including Mary, of course—my first experience of traveling in her company. We went to Chicago by boat,—a night's crossing,—and a rare time I had securing berths for the family in the overcrowded propeller. I was thankful for an "extension," a sort of shell run out between two staterooms and partitioned off by curtains and poles. The boys had to sleep on sofas, floor, anywhere, which to them was but the beginning of the fun.
The first of my Herculean labors at an end, I was enjoying my smoke aft in the cool of the evening, when Belle came back to me, her brow drawn up into what I had begun to call the "Mary wrinkle."