E-text prepared by Michelle LaPointe, Kincardine Ontario Canada 2007
THE SECOND CHANCE
NELLIE L. McCLUNG
Author of "Sowing Seeds in Danny"
Frontispiece by Wladyslaw T. Benda
_"Then I went down to the potter's house and behold he wrought a work on the wheels.
"And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again another vessel as seemed good to the potter to make it."_
——Jeremiah xviii, 3-4.
TORONTO WILLIAM BRIGGS PUBLISHER Copyright, Canada, 1910. by WILLIAM BRIGGS
TO MY MOTHER MRS. LETITIA McCURDY MOONEY
CHAPTER I. Martha II. The Rising Watsons III. "Knowledge Is Power" IV. Something More than Gestures V. At the Chicken Hill School VI. Pearl's Unruly Conscience VII. The Second Chance VIII. A Good Listener IX. Mrs. Perkins's Turn X. The New Pupils XI. The House of Trouble XII. Pearl Visits the Parsonage XIII. The Ladies' Aid Meeting XIV. "In Case——" XV. The Sowing XVI. Spiritual Advisors XVII. The Pioneers' Picnic XVIII. The Lacrosse Match XIX. The End of the Game XX. On the Quiet Hillside XXI. Frozen Wheat XXII. Autumn Days XXIII. Pearl's Philosophy XXIV. True Greatness XXV. The Coming of Thursa XXVI. In Honour's Ways XXVII. The Wedding XXVIII. A Sail! A Sail! XXIX. Martha's Strong Arguments XXX. Another Match-maker XXXI. Mrs. Cavers's Neighbours XXXII. Another Neighbour XXXIII. The Correction Line XXXIV. The Contrite Heart XXXV. The Lure of Love and the West
In the long run all love is paid by love, Tho' undervalued by the hosts of earth. The great eternal government above Keeps strict account, and will redeem its worth. Give thy love freely; do not count the cost; So beautiful a thing was never lost In the long run.
——Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
THOMAS PERKINS was astonished beyond words. Martha had asked for money! The steady, reliable, early-to-bed, early-to-rise Martha—the only one of his family that was really like his own people. If he could believe his senses, Martha had asked for two dollars in cash, and had distinctly said that due bills on the store would not do!
If Martha had risen from her cradle twenty-five years ago and banged her estimable parent in the eye with her small pink fist, he could not have been more surprised than he was now! He stared at her with all this in his face, and Martha felt the ground slipping away from her. Maybe she shouldn't have asked for it!
She went over the argument again. "It's for a magazine Mrs. Cavers lent me. I would like to get it every month—it's—it's got lots of nice things in it." She did not look at her father as she said this.
Thomas Perkins moistened his lips.
"By George!" he said. "You youngsters never think how the money comes. You seem to think it grows on bushes!"
Martha might have said that spring frost must have nipped the buds for the last twenty-five years, but she did not. Ready speech was not one of Martha's accomplishments, so she continued to pleat her apron into a fan and said nothing.
"Here the other day didn't I send thirty-nine dollars into Winnipeg to get things for the house, and didn't I get you an eighteen-dollar wallaby coat last year, and let you wear it week days and all, and never said a word?"
Martha might have reminded him that she was watering and feeding the stock, and saving the wages of a hired man, while she was wearing the wallaby coat, but she said not a word.
"You get a queer old lot more than I got when I was a young shaver, let me tell you. I've often told you young ones how I left home, when I was nine years old, with the wind in my back—that's all I got from home—and with about enough clothes on me to flag a train with. There wasn't any of these magazines then, and I don't know as they do any good, anyway. Poor old Ann Winters sent away her good, hard-earned dollar to some place in the States, where they said: 'Send us a dollar, and we'll show you how to make fifty; light employment; will not have to leave home; either ladies or gentlemen can do it.' She saw this in a magazine and sent her dollar, and what she got was a pretty straight insult, I think. They wrote back, 'put an advertisement like ours in some paper, and get fifty people like yourself to answer it.' There's a magazine for you!"
Martha looked at him helplessly. "I promised Mrs. Cavers I'd take it. She's making a little money that way, to get a trip home this Christmas," she said, locking and unlocking her fingers, the rough, toil-worn joints of which spoke eloquently in her favour, if the old man had had eyes to see them.
"You women are too easy," he said. "You'll promise anything. Yer poor grandmother let a man put a piano in the shed once when it was raining, and he asked her to sign a paper sayin' it was there, and he could 'come any time he liked to get it; and, by Jinks! didn't a fellow come along in a few days wantin' her to pay for it, and showing her her own name to a note. She wasn't so slow either, for she purtended she doubted her own writin', and got near enough to make a grab for it, and tore her name off; but it gave me father such a turn he advertised her in the paper that he would not be responsible for her debts, and he never put his name to paper of any kind afterward. There was a fellow in the old Farmers' Home in Brandon that asked me father to sign his name in a big book that he showed up in front of him, and I tell you it was all we could do to keep the old man from hittin' him. Of course, Martha, if ye didn't put it down in writin' she can't hold ye; but puttin' it down is the deuce altogether."
"But I want to give it," Martha said slowly. "I want the magazine, and I want to help Mrs. Cavers."
"Now, Martha, look a here," the old man said, "you're a real good girl, and very like my own folks—in the way you handle a hoe yer just like my poor sister Lizzie that married a peddler against all our wishes. I mind well, the night before she ran away, how she kissed me and says she: 'Good-bye, Tommy, don't forgit to shut the henhouse door,' and in the mornin' she was gone."
Lizzie's bereaved brother wiped his eyes with a red handkerchief, and looked dreamily into the fire.
Martha, still pleating her apron, stood awkwardly by the table, but instinctively she felt that the meeting had closed, and the two-dollar bill was still inside.
She went upstairs to her own room. It was a neat and pretty little room, and the pride of Martha's heart, but to-night Martha's heart had nothing in it but a great loneliness, vague and indefinite, a longing for something she had never known.
A rag carpet in well-harmonized stripes was on the floor; a blue and white log-cabin quilt was on the bed; over the lace-edged pillow covers there hung embroidered pillow shams. One had on it a wreath of wild roses encircling the words "I slept and dreamed that life was Beauty," while its companion, with a similar profusion of roses, made the correction: "I woke and knew that, life was Duty." Martha had not chosen the words, for she had never even dreamed that life was beauty. A peddler (not the one that had beguiled her Aunt Lizzie) had been storm-stayed with them the winter before and he had given her these in payment for his lodging.
She sat now on a little stool that she had made for herself of empty tomato cans, covered with gaily flowered cretonne, and drawing back the muslin frilled curtains, looked wearily over the fields. It was a pleasant scene that lay before Martha's window—a long reach of stubble field, stretching away to the bank of the Souris, flanked by poplar bluffs. It was just a mile long, that field, a wonderful stretch of wheat-producing soil; but to Martha it was all a weariness of the flesh, for it meant the getting of innumerable meals for the men who ploughed and sowed and reaped thereon.
To-night, looking at the tall elms that fringed the river bank, she tried to think of the things that had made her happy. They were getting along well, there had been many improvements in the house and out of it. She had better clothes than ever she had; the trees had been lovely this last summer, and the garden never better; the lilacs had bloomed last spring. Everything was improving except herself, she thought sadly; the years that had been kind to everything else were cruel to her.
With a sudden impulse, she went to the mirror on her dressing table, and looked long and earnestly at her image there. Martha was twenty-five years old, and looked older. Her shoulders were slightly bent, and would suggest to an accurate observer that they had become so by carrying heavy burdens. Her hair was hay-coloured and broken. Her forehead and her eyes were her best features, and her mouth, too, was well formed and firm, giving her the look of a person who could endure.
To-night, as she sat leaning her head on the window-sill, Martha's thoughts were as near to bitterness as they had ever been. This, then, was all it came to, all her early rising and hard work, all her small economies. She had not been able to get even two dollars when she wanted it. She sat up straight and looked sadly out into the velvet dusk, and the tears that had been long gathering in her heart came slowly to her eyes; not the quick, glittering tears of childhood that can be soon chased away by smiles—not that kind, no, no; but the slow tears that scald and wither, the tears that make one old.
It was dark when Martha lifted her head. She hastily drew down the blind, lit the lamp, and washed away, all traces of her tears. Going to a cupboard that stood behind the door, she took out a piece of fine embroidery and was soon at work upon it.
Hidden away in her heart, so well hidden that no one could have suspected its presence, Martha cherished a sweet dream. To her stern sense of right and wrong it would have seemed improper to think the thoughts she was thinking, but for the fact that they were so idle, so vain, so false, so hopeless. It had all begun the fall before, when, at a party at one of the neighbours', Arthur Wemyss, the young Englishman, had asked her to dance. He had been so different from the young men she had known, so courteous and gentle, and had spoken to her with such respect, that her heart was swept with a strange, new feeling that perhaps, after all there might be for her the homage and admiration she had seen paid to other girls. In her innocence of the worlds ways, good and bad, she did not know that young men like Arthur were taught to reverence all women, and that the deference of his manner was nothing more than that.
Martha fed her heart with no false hope-she never forgot to remind herself that she was a dull, plain girl—and even when she sat at her embroidery and let the imagination of her heart weave for her a golden dream, it was only a dream to her, nothing more!
When Arthur bought Jim Russell's quarter-section and began farming independently, the Perkinses were his nearest neighbours. Martha baked his bread for him, and seldom gave him his basket of newly made loaves that it did not contain a pie, a loaf of cake, or some other expression of her good-will, all of which Arthur received very gratefully.
He never knew what pleasure it gave her to do this for him, and although she knew he was engaged to be married to a young lady in England, it was the one bright evening of the week for her when he came over, to get his weekly allowance.
Martha had never heard of unrequited love. The only books she had read were the Manitoba Readers as far as Book IV, and they are noticeably silent on the affairs of the heart. In the gossip of the neighbourhood she had heard of girls making "a dead set for fellows who did not care a row of pins" for them, and she knew it was not considered a nice thing for any girl to do; but it came to her now clearly that it was not a subject for mirth, and she wondered why any person found it so.
As for Martha herself, the tricks of coquetry were foreign to her, unless flaky biscuits and snowy bread may be so called; and so, day by day, she went on baking, scrubbing, and sewing, taking what happiness she could out of dreams, sweet, vanishing dreams.
THE RISING WATSONS
There is ever a song somewhere, my dear, There is ever a something sings alway: There's a song of the lark when the skies are clear And the song of the thrush when the skies are gray.
——James Whitcomb Riley.
WHILE Martha Perkins was weaving sweet fancies to beguile the tedium of her uneventful life, a very different scene was being enacted, a few miles away, in the humble home of John Watson, C. P. R. section-man, in the little town of Millford, where he and his wife and family of nine were working out their own destiny. Mrs. Watson up to this time had spent very few of the daylight hours at home, having a regular itinerary among some of the better homes of the town, where she did half-day stands at the washtub, with, a large grain sack draped around her portly person, while the family at home brought themselves up in whatever way seemed best to them.
One day the fortunes of the Watson family suddenly changed, and in such a remarkable way it would convince the most sceptical of the existence of good working fairies. A letter came to Pearl, the eldest girl, from the Old Country, and the letter contained money!
When it became known in the community that Pearl Watson had received a magnificent gift of money from the parents of the young Englishman she had nursed while she was working for Mrs. Sam Motherwell, it created no small stir in the hearts of those who had to do with other young Englishmen. Parents across the sea, rolling in ancestral gold and Bank of England notes, acquired a reality they had never enjoyed before. The young chore boy who was working for five dollars a month at George Steadman's never knew why Mrs. Steadman suddenly let him have the second helping of butter and also sugar in his tea. Neither did he understand why she gave him an onion poultice for his aching ear, and lard to rub into his chapped hands. Therefore, when she asked him out straight about his folks in the Old Country, and "how they were fixed," he, being a dull lad, and not quick to see an advantage, foolishly explained that he "didn't 'ave nobody belongink to him"—whereupon the old rule regarding second helpings was as suddenly restored.
On the Monday morning after Pearl's return home she was the first person up in the house. She made the porridge and set the table for breakfast, and then roused all the family except Danny, who was still allowed the privilege of sleeping as long as he wished and even encouraged in this.
After the family had eaten their breakfast Pearl explained her plans to them. "Ma," she said, "you are not to wash any, more, and isn't it lucky there's a new Englishwoman across the track there in 'Little England,' that'll be glad to get it to do, and no one'll be disappointed, and we'll go to the store to-day and get Sunday suits all round for the wee lads and all, and get them fixed up to go to Sunday-school and church twice a day. Ye'll have to learn what ye can while the clothes last. Mary'll have a new fur collar, and Ma'll have the fur-lined cape; and yer old coat, Ma, can be cut down for me. Camilla'll help us to buy what we need, and now, Ma, let's get them ready for school. Money's no good to us if we haven't education, and it's education we'll have now, every last wan of us. Times has changed for the Watsons! It seems as if the Lord sent us the money Himself, for He can't bear to have people ignorant if there's any way out of it at all, at all, and there's nearly always a way if people'll only take it. So, Ma, get out a new bar of soap and let's get at them!"
But in spite of all Pearl and her mother could'do, there was only enough clothing for two little boys, and Patsey had to stay at home; but Pearlie beguiled him into good-humour by telling him that when he grew to be a man he would keep a big jewellery store, and in preparation therefor she set him at work, draped, in a nightdress of his mother's, to cut watches and brooches from an old Christmas catalogue.
"Now, Mary, alanna," Pearl continued, "you're to go to school, too, and make every day count, There's lots to learn, and it's all good. Get as much as ye can every day. I'm goin' myself, you bet, when I get things fixed up, and Teddy and all of us. We've got the money to git the clothes, and we'll go as far with it as the clothes'll last."
When Pearl, Mrs. Watson, and Camilla went that day to purchase clothes for the family, they received the best of attention from the obliging clerks. Mr. Mason, the proprietor, examined the cheque, and even went with Pearl to the bank to deposit it.
Then came the joyous work of picking out clothes for the whole family. A neat blue and white hairline stripe was selected for Jimmy, in preference to a pepper-and-salt suit, which Pearl admitted was nice enough, but would not do for Jimmy, for it seemed to be making fun of his freckles. A soft brown serge with a white belt with two gold bears on it was chosen for Danny, and gray Norfolk jacket suits for Tommy and Patsey—just alike, because Pearl said everybody knew they were twins, and there was no use denying it now. A green and black plaid was bought to make Mary a new Sunday dress, and a red and black plaid for "days." Pearl knew that when Mary was telling a story to the boys she always clothed her leading lady in plaid, and from this she inferred how Mary's tastes ran! Stockings and shoes were selected, and an assortment of underclothes, towels, toques, scarfs, and overshoes assembled.
It was like a dream to Pearl, the wildest, sweetest dream, the kind you lie down and try to coax back again after you wake from it. She could not keep from feeling Danny's brown suit and stroking lovingly his shiny brown shoes.
Then came a "stuff" dress for Ma, and Sunday suits for Pa, Teddy, and Billy. By this time the whole staff were busy helping on the good work. Mr. Mason had no fur-lined capes in stock, but he would send for one, he said, and have it still in time for Sunday, for Pearl was determined to have her whole family go to church Sunday morning.
"My, what an outburst of good clothes there'll be," Camilla said. "Now, what are you going to have for yourself?"
Pearl had always dreamed of a wine-coloured silk, but she hesitated now, for she had heard that silk did not wear well, and was a material for rich people only, but that did not prevent the dream from coming back. While Pearl was thinking about it, Mr. Mason and Camilla held a hurried conference.
"What about your favourite colour, now, Pearl?" Camilla asked. "Isn't it a wine-coloured silk you always wish for when you see the new moon?"
Pearl admitted that it had been her wish for quite a while, but she wanted to see overcoats first; so overcoats were bought and overcoats sent on approval. There were yards and yards of flannelette bought to be made into various garments. Pearl was going to have a dressmaker come to the house, who, under Camilla's direction, would make all sorts of things for the Watsons.
Pearl's purchases were so numerous that two packing boxes were sent up on the dray wagon, and it was a proud moment for her when she saw them carried in and placed in the middle of the floor of the "room."
"Now, set down," Pearl said firmly; "every wan of ye set on the floor, so none of yer stuff can fall, and I'll give ye what's for ye. But ye can't put them on till Sunday morning, that is the Sunday things, and ye can't put on any of them till, to-morrow morning, when ye'll be as clean as hot water and bar soap can make ye; for me and Ma are going at ye all to-night. There's nothin' looks more miserabler than a good suit of clothes with a dirty neck fornenst it."
Everybody did as Pearl said, and soon their arms were full of her purchases. Danny was so delighted with the gold bears that he quite neglected to look at his suit. Tommy was rubbing his chin on his new coat to see how it felt. Patsey was hunting for pockets in his, when some one discovered that Bugsey was in tears, idle, out-of-place tears! Mrs. Watson, in great surprise, inquired the cause, and, after some coaxing, Bugsey whimpered: "I wish I'd always knew I was goin' to get them!"
Mrs. Watson remonstrated with him, but Purl interposed gently. "L'ave him alone, Ma; I know how he feels! He's enjoyin' his cry as much as if he was laughin' his head off!"
An hour was spent in rapturous inspection, and then everything was placed carefully back in the boxes. That night, after supper, there came a knock at the door, and a long pasteboard box, neatly tied with wine-coloured ribbon, was handed in. On its upper surface it bore in bold characters the name of "Miss P. Watson," and below that, "With the compliments of Mason & Meikle."
Excitement ran high.
"Open it, Pearlie dear," her mother said. "Don't stand there gawkin' at it. There'll be something in it, maybe."
There was something in it for sure. There was a dress length of the softest, springiest silk, the kind that creaks when you squeeze it, and it was of the shade that Pearl had seen in her dreams. There were yards of silk braid and of cream net. There were sparkling buttons and spools of thread, and a "neck" of cream filling with silver spangles on it, and at the bottom of the box; rolled in tissue paper, were two pairs of embroidered stockings and a pair of glittering black patent leather slippers that you could see your face in!
"Look at that now!" Mrs. Watson exclaimed. "Doesn't it beat all?"
But Pearl, breathing heavily, was in a state of wordless delight. "It's just as well I wasn't for scoldin' Bugsey for cryin' over his suit," she said at length; "for if it wasn't that I'm feart o' spottin' some of these, I'd be for doin' a cry myself. I've got such a glad spot here in me Adam's apple. Reach me yer apron, Ma—it's comin' out of me eyes in spite of meself. Camilla must ha' told them what I would like, and wasn't it kind of them, Ma, to ever think o' me? And who'd ever 'a' thought of Mr. Mason being so kind, and him so stern lookin'?"
"Ye never can tell by looks, Pearlie," her mother said sententiously. "Many's the kind heart beats behind a homely face." Which is true enough in experience, though perhaps not quite in keeping with the findings of anatomical science.
That night there were prohibitory laws made regarding the taking of cherished possessions to bed by the owners thereof; but when the lights were all out, and peaceful slumber had come to the little house, one small girl in her nightgown went quietly across the bare floor to the lounge in the "room" to feel once more the smooth surface of her slippers and to smell that delicious leathery smell. She was tempted to take one of them back with her, but her conscience reminded her of the rule she had made for the others, and so she imprinted a rapturous kiss on the sole of one of them, where it would not show, and went back to her dreams.
All week the sound of the sewing machine could be heard in the Watson home, as Mary Barner, Camilla, Mrs. Watson, and one real dressmaker fashioned various garments for the young Watsons. Even Mrs. Francis became infected with the desire to help, and came over hurriedly to show Mrs. Watson how to put a French hem on her new napery. But as the only napery, visible or invisible, was a marbled oilcloth tacked on the table, Mrs. Francis was unable to demonstrate the principle of French hemming. Camilla, however, showed her mistress where to work the buttonholes on Patsey's nightshirt, and later in the afternoon she felled the seams in Mary's plaid dress.
Saturday night brought with it arduous duties, for Pearl was determined that the good clothes of her family would not be an outward show only.
On Sunday morning, an hour before church time, the children were all dressed and put on chairs as a precaution against accidents. Mrs. Watson's fur-lined cape had come the night before, and Camilla had brought over a real winter hat in good repair, which Mrs. Ducker had given her. Mrs. Ducker said it was really too good a hat to give away, but she could not wear it with any comfort now, for Mrs. Grieves had one almost the same. Mrs. Ducker and Mrs. Grieves had had a slight unpleasantness at the last annual Ladies' Aid dinner, the subject under discussion being whether chickens should be served with or without bones.
Camilla came for the boys on Sunday morning, and took them for Mrs. Francis to see, and also for the boys to see themselves in the long mirror in the hall. Danny sidled up to Mrs. Francis and said in a confidential whisper: "Ain't I the biggest dood in the bunch?"
When the others had admired their appearance sufficiently and filed back to the dining-room, Bugsey still stood before the glass, resolutely digging away at a large brown freckle on his cheek. He came out to Camilla and asked her for a sharp knife, and it was with difficulty that he was dissuaded from his purpose. When Mrs. Francis saw the drift of Bugsey's intention, she made a note in her little red book under the heading, "The leaven of good clothes."
Just as they went into church Pearlie gave them her parting instructions.
"Don't put yer collection in yer mouths, ye might swallow it; I'ave it tied up in yer handkerchiefs, and don't chew the knot. Keep yer eye on the minister and try to understand all ye can of it, and look like as if ye did, anyway!"
John Watson, coached by Pearl, went first and waited at the end of the seat to let the whole flock march past him. There was one row full and four in the row behind. Pearl sat just behind Danny, so that she could watch his behaviour from a strategic point.
The minister smiled sympathetically when he saw the Watson family file in. He had intended preaching a doctrinal sermon on baptism, but the eager faces of the Watson children inspired him to tell the story of Esther. Even Danny stayed awake to listen, and when it came to an end and Mr. Burrell told of the wicked Haman being hanged on the scaffold of his own making, Patsey whispered to Bugsey in a loud "pig whisper:" "That's when he got it in the neck!" Mrs. Watson was horrified beyond words, but Pearl pointed out that while it was beyond doubt very bad to whisper in church, still what Patsey said showed that he had "sensed what the story was about."
The next week she dramatized the story for the boys. Jimmy was always the proud and haughty Ahasuerus, his crown made of the pasteboard of the box his father's new cap came in. Bugsey was the gentle Esther who came in trembling to see if she would suit his Majesty. The handle of a dismembered parasol was used for the golden sceptre, and made a very good one after Mary had wound it around with the yellow selvage that came off her plaid dress.
"You lads have got to play educated games now," Pearl had said, when she started them at this one. "'Bull-in-the-ring,' 'squat-tag,' 'button, button, who's got the button?' are all right for kids that don't have to rise in the world, but with you lads it's different. Ye've got to make yer games count. When I get to school I'll learn lots of games for ye, but ye must all do yer best now."
"KNOWLEDGE IS POWER"
Pap wunct he scold and says to me, Don't play too much, but try To study more and nen you'll be A great man by and by. Nen Uncle Sidney says: "You let Him be a boy and play. The greatest man on earth, I bet, 'Ud trade with him to-day."
——James Whitcomb Riley.
PEARL started to school one Monday morning. She felt very brave until she got into the girls' hall, where the long row of "store" coats, fur caps and collars seemed to oppress her with their magnificence.
Maudie Ducker's 'coon coat and red scarf seemed to be particularly antagonistic, and she hung her mother's cut-down coat and her new wool toque as far from them as possible.
Outwardly calm, but with a strong tendency to bolt for home, Pearl walked into the principal's room, and up to his desk, where he sat making his register.
He looked up inquiringly and asked curtly: "What-do you want?"
"I am comin' to school, if you please," Pearl said calmly.
"What do you know?" he asked, none too gently, for it was one of his bad days.
"Not much yet," Pearl said, "but I want to know a whole lot."
He put down his pen and looked at her with interest. "We've plenty of room for people who don't know things, but want to. We're short of that kind. We've plenty of people here who think they know a lot and don't want to know any more, but you're an entirely new kind."
Pearl laughed—the easy, infectious laugh that won for her so many friends.
"You see," she said, "I've got to learn as fast as I can, now while the money lasts, for there's so many of us. I'm ignorant for me age, too. I'm thirteen now, and I haven't been to school since I was ten, but I should be able to learn a whole lot, for I'm going to come as long as this dress lasts anyway, and I've got sateen sleeves to put on over it past the elbows to save it, for that's where it'll likely go first, and I'm takin' long steps to keep my boots from wearin' out, and I'm earnin' a little money now, for I've got the job of takin' care of the school, me and Jimmy."
The schoolmaster forgot that he was discouraged, forgot that he had been having a hard time with Grade VIII's geography, forgot that he had just made up his mind to quit teaching. He saw nothing but a little girl standing eagerly before him, telling him her hopes, and depending on him to help her to realize them.
He put out his hand impulsively, and took hers.
"Pearl," he said, "you're all right!"
That night, when Pearl went home, she gave her family the story of the Magna Charta, drawing such a vivid picture of King John's general depravity that even her father's indignation was stirred.
"That lad'll have to mend his ways," he said seriously, as he opened the stove door to get a coal for his pipe, "or there will be trouble coming his way."
"And you bet there was," Pearl replied. "What did they do but all git together one day, after they got the crop cut, and they drawed up a list of things that he couldn't do, and then they goes to him, and says they: 'Sign this, yer Highness;' and he takes the paper and wipes his glasses on his hanky, and he reads them all over polite enough, and then he says, says he, handing it back: 'The divil I will!'"
"Did he really say that, Pearlie?" her Mother asked.
"Did he?" Pearl said scornfully. "He said worse than that, Ma; and then they says, says they: 'Sign it, or there'll be another man on yer job.' And says he, brave as ye please: 'I'll see ye some place before I sign it,' and with that what did they do but jist sit down where they were, lit their pipes, as unconcerned as could be, and says they: 'Take yer time, your Highness, we're not in a hurry; we bro't our dinners,' says they, 'an' we'll stay right here till ye find yer pen,' and they just sat there on their hunkers talkin' about the crops and the like o' that, until he signed it; which he did very bad-mannered, and flung it back at them and says he: 'There now, bad cess to yez, small good it'll do yez, for I'm the King,' says he, 'an' I'll do as I blame please, so I will. The King can do no wrong,' says he. 'Well, then,' says one of them, foldin' up the Magna Charta and puttin' it away careful in his breast pocket, 'the King can't break his word, I guess,' and wid that he winks at the rest of them, and they says, says they: 'That's one on you, yer Majesty!' But they couldn't put him in good humour, and they do say, Ma, that when the company was gone that that man cut up somethin' rough, cursed and swore, and chewed up sticks, and frothed at the mouth like a mad dog, and sure, the very next day, when he was driving through a place called 'The Wash,' drunk as an owl, he dropped his crown, and his little satchel wid all his good clothes in it, and him being the way he was he never heard them splash. When he missed them he felt awful, and went back to hunt for them, puddlin' round in his bare feet for hours, and some say he had et too many lampreys, whatever that is, for his breakfast, but anyway, he got a cowld in his head and he died, so he did."
"Wasn't that a bad state for the poor man to die in, childer dear," said Mrs. Watson, wishing to give Pearl's story a moral value; "and him full of wickedness and cursin'!"
"And lampwicks, too, Ma!" Bugsey added.
"Where he wuz now?" asked Danny, who had a theological bent.
"Faith, now, that's not an easy thing to say for certain," said the father gravely. "Things look pretty bad for him, I'm thinkin'."
After some discussion as to John's present address, Pearlie summed it up with a fine blending of charity and orthodoxy by saying: "Well, we just hope he's gone to the place where we're afraid he isn't."
The days passed fleet-footed with the Watson family—days full of healthy and happy endeavour, with plenty to eat, clothes to wear, Ma at home, and everybody getting a chance to be somebody. Pearl was the happiest little girl in the world. Every night she brought home faithfully what she had learned at school, at least the interesting part of it, and when the day's work had been dull and abstract, out of the wealth of her imagination she proceeded to make it interesting.
Under Pearl's sympathetic telling of it, they wept over the untimely fate of Mary, Queen of Scots, and decided that Elizabeth was a bad lot, and Mrs. Watson declared that if she "had aknowed all this before, she would never ha' called Mary, Mary Elizabeth, because that just seems like takin' sides with both parties," and she just couldn't "abear people that do that!"
Lady Jane Grey, the Princes in the Tower, Oliver Cromwell, the unhappy Charles I, were their daily guests, and were discussed with the freedom and interest with which dwellers in small towns are popularly supposed to discuss their neighbours.
All of the evening was not given up to pleasure. Pearl saw to it that each child did his stint of home work, and very often a spelling match was held, with Pearl as the teacher and no-fair-to-try-over. The result of this was that Teddy Watson, Class V; Billy Watson, Class III; Tommy and Jimmy Watson, Class IIA; Patsey and Bugsey Watson, Class I, were impregnable rocks at the head of their classes on whom the troublesome waves of "ei's" and "ie's," one "l" or two "l's," beat in vain.
Even John Watson, hard though his hands were with the handling of a shovel, was not immune from this outburst of learning, and at Pearlie's suggestion even he was beginning to learn! He filled pages of her scribbler with "John Watson," in round blocky letters, and then added "Millford, Manitoba."
"Now, Pa," Pearlie said one night, "ain't there some of yer friends ye'd like to write to, seein' as yer gettin' on so fine?"
John had not kept up a close touch with his friends down east since he came to Manitoba.
"It's fifteen year," he said, "since I left the Ottaway valley, but I'm thinkin' me sister Katie is alive. Katie was me oldest sister, but I'm thinkin' it would take a lot to kill her!"
"What was she like, Pa?" Pearl asked.
John smoked on reminiscently. "She was a smart girl, was Kate, wid her tongue. I always liked to hear her usin' it, on someone else. I mind once me poor, father and Katie went to a circus at Arnprior and father got into a bean and shell game. It looked rale easy at first sight, and me father expected to make a bunch o' money, but instead o' that, he lost all he had on him, and his watch, and so he came to Katie and told her what had happened. Well, sir, they say that Katie just gave a le'p and cracked her heels together, and, sir, she went at yon man, and he gave back the money, every cent of it, and me father's watch, too. The people said they never heerd language like Katie used yon time."
"She didn't swear, did she, John?' Mrs. Watson asked, in a shocked tone, giving him a significant look which, interpreted, meant that was not the time to tell the truth if the truth were incriminating.
"No," John said slowly, "Katie would not waste her breath swearin'. She told the man mostly what she thought of him, and how his looks struck her, and what he reminded her of. I mind she said a rang o' tang would lose friends if he changed faces with him, and a few things like that, but nobody could say that Katie used language unbecomin' a lady. She was always partick'ler that way."
"Would you like to write to her and see how she is, Pa?" Pearl asked.
"Well, now I don't care if I do," her father answered.
The letter was written with infinite pains. The composition was Pearlie's, and Pearlie was in her happiest mood, and so it really was a very pleasant and alluring picture she drew of how John Watson had prospered since coming west, and then, to give weight to it, she sent a snapshot that Camilla had taken of the whole family in their good clothes.
"It seems to me," Mrs. Watson said one night, "like as if we are gettin' on too prosperous. The childer have been gettin' on so well, and we're all so happy like, I'm feart somethin' will happen. This is too good to last."
Mrs. Watson had a strain of Highland blood in her, and there was a Banshee in the family two generations back, so it was not to be wondered at that she sometimes indulged in gloomy forebodings.
Every day she looked for something to happen. One day it did. It was Aunt Katie from "down the Ottaway!"
Aunt Kate Shenstone came unannounced, unheralded by letter, card, or telegram. Aunt Kate said you never could depend on the mails—they were like as not to open your letter and keep your stamp! So she came, carrying her two telescope valises and her handbag. She did not believe in having anything checked—that was inviting disaster!
Aunt Kate found her way to the Watson home under the direction of Wilford Ducker, who had all his previous training on the subject of courtesy to strangers seriously upset by the way Jimmy Watson talked to him when they met a few days afterward.
"You see, John," Mrs. Shenstone said to her brother, when he came home, "it seemed so lucky when I got your letter. I always did want to come to Manitoba, but Bill, that's my man, John, he was a sort of a tie, being a consumptive; but I buried Bill just the week before I got your letter."
"Wus he dead?" Bugsey asked quickly.
"Dead?" Aunt Kate gasped. "Well, I should say he was." "My, I'm glad!" Bugsey exclaimed.
Aunt Kate demanded an explanation for his gladness.
"I guess he's glad, because then you could come and see us, Auntie," Mary said. Mary was a diplomat.
"'Tain't that," Bugsey said frankly. "I am glad my Uncle Bill is dead, cos it would be an awful thing for her to bury him if he wasn't!"
Mrs. Shenstone sat down quickly and looked anxiously around her brother's family.
"John," she said, "they're all right wise, are they?"
"Oh, I guess so," he answered cheerfully, "as far as we can tell yet, anyway."
At supper she was given the cushioned chair and the cup and saucer that had no crack. She made a quick pass with her hand and slipped something under the edge of her plate, and it was only the keen eyes of Danny, sitting beside her, that saw what had happened, and even he did not believe what he had seen until, leaning out of his chair, he looked searchingly into his aunt's face.
"She's tuck out her teeth!" he cried. "I saw her."
Pearlie endeavoured to quiet Danny, but Mrs. Shenstone was by no means embarrassed. "You see, Jane," she said to Mrs. Watson, "I just wear them when I go out. They're real good-lookin' teeth, but they're no good to chew with. There must be something wrong with them. Mother never could chew with them, either—they were mother's, you know and I guess they couldn't ha' been made right in the first place."
Patsey, who was waiting for the second table, came around and had a look at them.
"Them's the kind to have, you bet," he said to Tommy, who was also one of the unemployed; "she can take them out if they ache, and let them ache as much as they've' a mind to." Tommy had had some experience with toothache, and spoke with feeling.
Mrs. Shenstone was a woman of uncertain age, and was of that variety of people who look as old when they are twenty-five as they will ever look. She was dressed in rusty mourning, which did not escape the sharp eyes of her young nephews.
"When did you say Uncle Bill died?" Jimmy asked.
"Just four weeks to-morrow," she said, and launched away into an elaborate description of Bill's last hours.
"Did you get yer black dress then?" Mary asked, before Pearl could get her nudged into silence.
"No; I didn't," Aunt Kate answered, not at all displeased with the question, as Pearl was afraid she might be. "I got this dress quite a while agone. I went into black when mother died, and I've never seen fit to lay it off. Folks would say to me: 'Oh, Mrs. Shenstone, do lay off your mournin',' but I always said: 'Mother's still dead, isn't she? and she's just as dead as she ever was, isn't she? Well, then, I'll stick to my crape,' says I; and besides, I knew all along that Bill was goin' sooner or later. He thought sometimes that he was gettin' better, but, land! you couldn't fool me, him coughin' that dreadful hollow cough and never able to get under it, and I knew I was safe in stickin' to the black. I kept the veil and the black gloves and all laid away. They say keep a thing for seven years and you'll find a use for it, if you've any luck at all. I kept mine just six years, and you see, they did come in good at last."
"I guess you were good and glad, weren't you, Auntie?" asked Tommy.
Mrs. Watson and Pearl apologized as best they could for Tommy.
"That's all right, now, Jane," Mrs. Shenstone said, chuckling toothlessly; "youngsters will out with such things, and, now since you've asked me, Tommy, I am not what you'd call real glad, though I am glad poor Bill's gone where there ain't no consumption, but I miss him every minute. You see, he's been with me sittin' in his chair for the last four years, as I sat beside him sewin', and he was great company, Bill was, for all he was so sick; for he had great sperrits, and could argue somethin' surprisin' and grand. 'You're a good girl, Katie,' was the last words he ever said. I never was no hand to make a big palaver, so just as soon as the funeral was over I went right on with my sewin' and finished up everything I had in the house, for I needed the money to pay the expenses; and, besides, I made the first payment on the stone—it's a lovely one, John, cost me $300, but I don't mind that. I just wish Bill could see it. I often wish now I had set it up before he went, it would ha' pleased him so. Bill was real fond of a nice grave, that is, fixed up nice—he took such an interest in the sweet alyssum we had growin' in the garden, and he showed me just how he wanted it put on the grave. He wanted a horseshoe of it acrost the grave with B. S. inside, made of pansies. You see B. S. stands for Bill Shenstone, Blacksmith!
"He was a real proud man, yer Uncle Bill was, and him just a labourin' man, livin' by his anvil. Mind you, when I made him overalls I always had to put a piece of stuff out on the woodpile to fade fer patches. Bill never could bear to look at a patch of new stuff put on when the rest was faded."
"Well, he couldn't see the patch, could he, auntie?" Jimmy asked, making a shrewd guess at the location of it.
"Maybe he couldn't," Bill's wife answered proudly. "But he knew it was there."
"Where he wuz now?" Danny asked, his mind still turning to the ultimate destiny.
Mrs. Shenstone did not at once reply, and the children were afraid that her silence boded ill for Bill's present happiness. She stirred her tea absent-mindedly. "If there's a quiet field up in heaven, with elm-trees around it," she said at last; "elm-trees filled with singin' birds, a field that slopes down maybe to the River of Life, a field that they want ploughed, Bill will be there with old Bess and Doll, steppin' along in the new black furrow in his bare feet, singin':
There's a city like a bride, just beyond the swellin' tide.
He always said that would be heaven for him 'thout no harp or big procession, and I am sure Bill would never hear to a crown or such as that. Bill was a terrible quiet man, but a better-natured man never lived. So I think, Tommy, that your Uncle Bill is ploughin' down on the lower eighty, where maybe the marsh marigolds and buttercups bloom all the year around—there's a hymn that says somethin' about everlasting spring abides and never witherin' flowers, so I take it from that that the ploughin' is good all the year around, and that'll just suit Bill."
When the meal was over, Aunt Katie complacently patted her teeth back into place. "I never like no one to see me without them," she said, "exceptin' my own folks. I tell you, I suffer agonies when there's a stranger in for a meal. Now, Jane, let's git the children to bed. Mary and Pearl, you do the dishes. Hustle, you young lads, git off your boots now and scoot for bed. I never could bear the clatter of children. Come here, and I'll loosen your laces"—this to Bugsey, who sat staring at her very intently. "What's wrong with you?" she exclaimed, struck by the intent look on his face.
"I'm just thinkin'," Bugsey answered, without removing his eyes from the knothole on the door.
"And what are you thinkin'?" she demanded curiously.
"I'm just thinkin' how happy my Uncle Bill must be up there...ploughin'...without any one to bother him."
Mrs. Shenstone turned to her brother and shook her head gravely: "Mind you, John," she said, "you'll have to watch yon lad—he's a deep one."
Aunt Kate had only been a few days visiting at her brother John's when the children decided that something would have to be done. Aunt Kate was not an unmixed blessing, they thought.
"She's got all cluttered up with bad habits, not havin' no family of her own to raise," Pearl said. "She wouldn't jump up and screech every time the door slams if she'd been as used to noises as Ma is, and this talk about her nerves bein' all unstrung is just plain silly—and as for her not sleepin' at nights, she sleeps as sound as any of us. She says she hears every strike of the clock all night long, and she thinks she does; but she doesn't, I know. Anyway, I'm afraid Ma will get to be like her if we don't get her stopped."
"Ma backed her up to-day when she said my face was dirty just after I had washed it, so she did," Mary said with a grieved air.
Nearly every one of them had some special grievance against Aunt Kate.
"Let's make her sign a Charta," Tommy said, "like they did with John."
The idea became immensely popular.
"She won't sign it," said Bugsey, the pessimist. "Let her dare to not," said Jimmy gravely, "and she shall know that the people are the king."
Pearl said that it would do no harm to draw up the paper anyway, so a large sheet of brown paper was found, and Pearl spread it on the floor. Mrs. Watson and Aunt Kate had gone downtown, so every person felt at liberty to speak freely. Pearl wasn't sure of the heading and so wrote:
Mrs. Kate Shenstone
Please take notice of these things, and remember them to do them, and much good will follow here and hereafter.
She read it over to the others, and everybody was well pleased with it.
After receiving suggestions from all, the following by-laws were recommended to govern the conduct of Aunt Kate in future:
1. Keep your nerves strung. 2. Don't screech at every little noise. It don't help none. 3. Don't make nobody wash when they are already done so. 4. Sleep at night, snore all you want to, we don't stay awake to listen to you. 5. Don't bust yourself to think of things for us to do. We kep the wood-box full long before we ever saw you, also waterpail and other errings. 6. Don't make remarks on freckles. We have them, and don't care, freckles is honourable. (This was Jimmy's contribution.) 7. Don't always say you won't live long, we don't mind, only Mrs. Jane Watson is picking it up now from you. We don't like it, it ain't cheerful. 8. Don't interfere about bedtime. We don't with you. 9. Don't tell about children raised in idleness that turned out bad. It ain't cheerful, and besides we're not.
Just then the cry was raised that she was coming, and the Magna Charta was hastily folded up, without receiving the signatures.
Aunt Kate, who was very observant, suspected at once that the children had been "up to something."
"What have you youngsters been up to now, while we were away?" she demanded.
There was a thick silence. Mrs. Watson asked the children to answer their Auntie.
Mary it was who braved the storm. "We've been drawing up a list of things for you," she said steadily.
Aunt Kate had seen signs of rebellion, and had got to the place where she was not surprised at anything they did.
"Give it here," she said.
"Wait till it's signed," Pearl said. "It's Charta, Aunt Kate," she went on, "like 'King John to sign."
"I didn't hear about it. Pearl explained.
"Let me see it, anyway." Pearl gave her the document, and she retired to her room with it to look it over.
"Say, Pearl," said Jimmy, "go in there and get out my catapult, will you? She may sign it and then cutup rough."
There was no more said about it for several days, but Aunt Kate was decidedly better, though she still declared she did not sleep at night, and Pearl was determined to convince her that she did. Aunt Kate was a profound snorer. Pearl, who was the only one who had ever heard her, in trying to explain it to the other children, said that it was just like some one pulling a trunk across the room on a bare floor to see how they would like it in this corner, and then, when they get it over here, they don't like it a bit, so they pull it back again; "and besides that," Pearl said, "she whistles comin' back and grinds her teeth, and after all that she gets up in the mornin' and tells Ma she heard every hour strike. She couldn't hear the clock strike anyway, and her kickin' up such a fuss as she is, but I'm going to stop her if I can; she's our aunt, and we've got to do our best for her, and, besides, there's lots of nice things about her."
The next morning Pearl was very solicitous about how her aunt had slept.
"Not a bit better," Aunt Kate said. "I heard every hour but six. I always drop off about six."
"Did you really hear the clock last night, Auntie?" Pearl asked with great politeness.
"Oh, it's very little you youngsters know about lying awake. When you get to the age of me and your mother, I tell you, it's different I get thinkin', thinkin', thinkin', and my nerves get all unstrung."
"And you really heard the clock?" Pearl said. "My, but that is queer!"
"Nothin' queer about it, Pearl. What's queer about it, I'd like to know?"
"Because I stopped the clock," Pearl said, "just to see if you could hear it when it's stopped," and for once Aunt Kate, usually so ready of speech, could not think of anything to say.
Aunt Kate went to bed early the next night, leaving the children undisturbed to enjoy the pleasant hour as they had done before she came. The next morning she handed Pearl the sheet of brown paper, and below the list of recommendations there it was in bold writing:
"Kate W. Shenstone."
"See that, now," said Pearl triumphantly, as she showed it to the children, "what it does for you to know history!"
"Say," said Jim, "where could we get some of them things, what did you call them, Pearl?"
"'Twouldn't do any good, she wouldn't eat them," Billy said.
"Lampreys or lampwicks, or somethin' like that."
"Now, boys," said Pearl, "that's not right. Don't talk like that. It ain't cheerful."
SOMETHING MORE THAN GESTURES
Wanting is—what? Summer redundant, Blueness abundant. Where is the blot?
PEARLIE WATSON, the new caretaker of the Milford school, stood broom in hand at the back of the schoolroom and listened. Pearlie's face was troubled. She had finished the sweeping of the other three rooms, and then, coming into Miss Morrison's room to sweep it, she found Maudie Ducker rehearsing her "piece" for the Medal Contest. Miss Morrison was instructing Maudie, and Mrs. Ducker would have told you that Maudie was doing "beautifully."
Every year the W. C. T. U. gave a silver medal for the best reciter, and for three consecutive years Miss Morrison had trained the winner; so Mrs. Ducker was naturally anxious to have Maudie trained by so successful an instructor. Miss Morrison had studied elocution and "gesturing." It was in gesturing that Maudie was being instructed when Pearlie came in with her broom.
It was a pathetic monologue that Miss Morrison had chosen for Maudie, supposed to be given by an old woman in a poorhouse. Her husband had died a drunkard and then her only son, "as likely a lad as you ever saw," had also taken to "crooked ways and left her all alone." One day a man came to visit the poorhouse, and poor "old Nan," glad of any one to talk to, tells all her story to the sympathetic stranger, asking him at last wouldn't he try to find and save her poor Jim, whom she had never ceased to pray for, and whom she still believed in and loved. Then she discovered the man to be in tears, and of course he turns out to be the long-lost Jim, and a happy scene follows.
It is a common theme among temperance reciters, but to Pearlie it was all new and terrible. She could not go on with her sweeping—she was bound to the spot by the story of poor old Nan and her woes.
Miss Morrison was giving Maudie instruction on the two lines:
"It is the old, sad, pitiful story, sir, Of the devil's winding stair."
Neither of them had time to think of the meaning—they were so anxious about the gestures. Maudie did a long, waving sweep with three notches in it, more like a gordon braid pattern than a stair, but it was very pretty and graceful, and Miss Morrison was pleased.
"And men go down and down and down To darkness and despair."
Maudie scalloped the air three times evenly to indicate the down grade.
"Tossing about like ships at sea With helm and anchor lost."
Maudie certainly gave the ships a rough time of it with her willowy left arm. Miss Morrison said that to use her left arm to toss the ships would add variety.
"On and on thro' the surging waves, Not caring to count the cost."
Maudie rose on the ball of her left foot and indicated "distance" with the proper Delsarte stretch.
* * *
It was dark when Pearl got home. "Maudie Ducker has a lovely piece," she began at once; "but she spoils it—she makes a fool of it."
The family were just at supper, and her mother said reprovingly, "O Pearlie! now, sure Miss Morrison is teaching her, and they do be sayin' she's won three medals herself.'"
"Well," Pearlie said, unconvinced, "them kind of carrin's-on may do fine for some pieces, but old women wid their hearts just breakin' don't cut the figger eight up in the air, and do the Dutch-roll, and kneel down and get up just for show—they're too stiff, for one thing. Ye can't listen to the story the way Maudie carries on, she's that full of twists and turnin's. Maudie and Miss Morrison don't care a cent for the poor owld woman."
"Tell us about it, Pearlie," the young Watsons cried. "Well," Pearl began, as she hung up her thin little coat behind the door, "this Nan was a fine, purty girl, about like Mary there, only she didn't have a good pa like ours; hers used to come home at night, full as ye plaze, and they were all, mother, too, scairt to death purty near. Under the bed they'd go, the whole bilin' of them, the minute they'd hear him comin' staggerin' up to the cheek of the dure, and they'd have to wait there 'ithout no supper until he'd go to sleep, and then out they'd come, the poor little things, eyes all red and hearts beatin', and chew a dry crust, steppin' aisy for fear o' wakin' him."
"Look at that now!" John Watson exclaimed, pausing with his knife half way to his mouth.
"That ain't all in the piece," Pearl explained; "but it's understood, it says something about 'cruel blows from a father's hand when rum had crazed his brain,' and that's the way poor Nan grew up, and I guess if ever any girl got a heart-scald o' liquor, she did. But she grew up to be a rale purty girl, like Mary Barrier, I think, and one day a fine strappin' fellow came to town, clerkin in a store, steady enough, too, and he sees Nan steppin' out for a pail of water one day and her singin' to herself, and sez he to himself: 'There's the girl fer me!' and he was after steppin' up to her, polite as ye plaze (Pearl showed them how he did it), and says he: 'Them pails is heavy for ye, miss, let me have them."
"And after that nothin' would do him but she must marry him, and he was as fine a lookin' upstandin' fellow as you'd see any place, and sure Nan thought there had never been the likes of him. After that she didn't mind the old man's tantrums so much, for she was thinkin' all the time about Tom, and was gittin' mats and dish-towels made. And they had a fine weddin', with a cake and a veil and rice, and the old man kept straight and made a speech, and it was fine. And now, Ma, here's the part I hate to tell yez—it seems so awful. They hadn't been married long before Tom began to drink, too."
"The dirty spalpeen!" John angrily.
"Ye may well say that, Pa, after all she had to stand from the old man. But that's what the piece said:
"But Tom, too, took to drinkin'; He said 'twas a harmless thing; So the arrow sped and my bird of hope Came down with a broken wing."
The Watson family were unanimous that Tom was a bad lot!
"Tom cut up worse than the old man, and she used to have to get some of the neighbours to come in and sit on his head while she tuk his boots off, and she'd have clean give up if it hadn't been for her little boy, like Danny there; but if I ever thought that our Danny would go back on us the way that young Jim went back on his ma, I don't know how I'd stand it."
"What did he do, Pearlie?" Mary asked.
"Soon as he got big enough nothin' would do him but he'd drink too, and smoke cigarettes and stay out late, and one day stole somethin', and had to scoot, and she says so pitiful:
'I've never seen my poor lost boy From that dark day to this.'
Then the poorwoman goes to the poorhouse, mind you!"
"God help us!" cried Mrs. Watson, "did it come to that?"
"Yes, Ma; but what d'ye think? One day a finelookin' man came in to see all the old folks, silk hat and kid gloves on him and all that, and this poor woman got talkin' to him, and didn't she up and tell him the whole story, same as I'm tellin' you, only far more pitiful, and sure didn't she end up by beggin' him to be kind to her poor Jimmy if he ever comes across him; and tellin' him how she always prays for him and knows he'll be saved yet. She never held it against the young scamp that he never writ back even the scratch of a pen, just as full of excuses for him as Ma would be if it was one of you lads," and Pearl's voice quivered a little.
"But sure, now, it is wonderful how things turn out!" Pearlie went on, after she had wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her checked apron, "for wasn't this Jim all the time forninst her, and her not knowin' it, and didn't he grab her in his arms and beg her to forgive him; and he cried and she cried, and then he took her away with him, and she had a good time at last."
The next day Pearl borrowed the book from Maudie Ducker and learned the words, and for several evenings recited them to her admiring and tearful family. Then, to make it more interesting, Pearl let the young Watsons act it. Jimmy spoke right up and says he: "I bo'r to be the old man, and come home drunk," but as this was the star part, Jimmy had to let Tommy and Billy have it sometimes.
The first scene was the father's spectacular homecoming. The next scene was the wedding, and Jimmy made the speech after Pearl had coached him, and in most feeling terms he warned his son-in-law against the flowing bowl, and told what a good girl his little Nancy was, and what a bad pa he'd been; and then he broke down and cried real tears, which Pearl said was "good actin'." The third scene was where Tom came home drunk. It was somewhat marred by Mary, who was playing the part of the broken-hearted bride, and was supposed to burst into tears when she saw the condition of her husband, and say:
"So the arrow has sped and my bird of hope Comes down with a broken wing."
Now Mary had her own ideas of how intemperate husbands should be dealt with, and she had provided herself with a small, flat stick as she sat waiting in what was supposed to be joyful anticipation for her liege lord's homecoming. When she discovered his condition she cut out the speech about the "bird of hope," and used the stick with so much vigour that it seemed he was in more danger than the bird of hope of having a broken wing. Billy, the bridegroom, was naturally indignant, but his father was disposed to approve of Mary's methods. "Faix, I'm thinkin'," he said, "there'd be less of it if they got that every time they cum home that way."
Scene IV was the young son (Patsey) fleeing from the hands of justice. Pearlie hid him behind the flour-barrel until the two sleuths of the law, Danny and Tommy, passed by, and then he was supposed to do his great disappearing act through the cellar window.
Scene V was the most important of all. It was the poorhouse, and required a good deal of stage-setting. All evidences of wealth had to be carefully eradicated. The cloth was taken from the table, and the one mat lifted off the floor. Newspapers were pinned over the windows, and the calendars were turned with their faces to the wall. The lamp with the cracked chimney was lighted instead of the "good lamp," and then Pearlie, with her mother's old black shawl around her shoulders, ceased to be Pearlie Watson and became poorhouse Nan, widowed, deserted, old as the world itself, with heartbreak and tears.
John Watson sat and listened to her with a growing wonder in his heart, but as the story went on even he forgot that it was Pearl, and shed many unashamed tears over the sorrows of poorhouse Nan.
Camilla came in one night and heard Pearl recite it all through.
The morning of the contest an emergency meeting of the W. C. T. U. was hurriedly called at the home of Mrs. Francis. What was to be done? Maudie Ducker and Mildred Bates had the measles, and could not recite, which left only four reciters. They could do with five, but they could not go on with four. The tickets were sold, the hall rented, the contest had been advertised over the country! Who could learn a recitation in a day? Miss Morrison was sent for. She said it was impossible. A very clever pupil might learn the words, but not the gestures, and "a piece" was nothing without gestures. Mrs. White again exclaimed: "What shall we do?"
Mrs. Francis said: "We'll see what Camilla says."
Camilla came and listened attentively while the woes of the W. C. T. U. were told her. It was with difficulty that she restrained an exclamation of delight when she heard that they were short of reciters. "Pearl Watson knows Maudie's selection," she said quietly, "and recites it very well, indeed!'
"Impossible!" Miss Morrison exclaimed. "She has had no lessons."
"I think she watched you training Maudie," Camilla ventured.
"Only once," Miss Morrison replied, "and she can not possibly know the gestures; but we will be glad to have any one fill in. People will not expect her to do very well when she has had no training," she added charitably.
When Camilla returned to the kitchen she was smiling gently. "There's a surprise coming to little Miss Morrison," she said.
* * *
That night the hall was full to the door, and people stood in the aisles. Everybody loves a contest. Pearl and the other four contestants sat in a front seat. The latter were beautifully dressed in white net over silk, with shoes and stockings of white, and numerous bows of ribbon.
By the draw that Miss Morrison made, Pearl came last on the programme, and Miss Morrison kindly asked the chairman to explain that Pearl had had no training whatever, and that she had only known that she was going to recite that morning Miss Morrison wished to be quite fair!
Camilla sat beside Pearl. She had dressed Pearl for the occasion, and felt rather proud of her work as she sat beside Contestant No. 5. Pearl's brown hair was parted and brushed smoothly back, and tied with two new bright red ribbons—Camilla's gift. It did not occur to Pearl that she was in the race for the medal. She was glad of a chance to fill in and help the contest along.
John Watson, Mrs. Watson, and all the little Watsons were present, and filled two side seats. Mr. Francis had heard something from Camilla that caused him to send tickets to the whole Watson family, and even come himself, which was an unprecedented event.
Lucy Bates was the first contestant, and made her parents and many admiring relatives very proud of the a flutter of lace.
Maude Healy—the star reciter of the Hullett neighbourhood—recited "How Father Signed the Pledge," in a good, clear, ringing voice, and the Hullett people thought they were just as sure of the medal as if they saw the chairman pinning it on Maude.
Two other girls recited, with numerous gestures, selections of the same class; in which wayward sons, stormy nights, and railway accidents figured prominently.
Then the chairman made the explanation in regard to Pearl's appearance, and asked her to come forward and recite. Camilla gave her hand an affectionate little squeeze as she left the seat, and, thus fortified, Pearlie Watson faced the sea of faces unflinchingly. Then came that wonderful change—the little girl was gone, and an old woman, so bowed, so broken, began to tell her story, old enough to most of us, but strong always in its gripping pathos—the story of a child cheated of her birthright of happiness because some men will grow rich on other men's losses and fatten on the tears of little children. The liquor traffic stood arraigned before the bar of God as the story went on, unfolding darker and darker chapters in the woman's life. It had been the curse that had followed her always, had beaten and bruised her, never merciful.
The people saw it in its awfulness, and the pity of it rolled over them as they listened to that sad, old, cracked voice.
When she came to the place where she begged the well-dressed stranger to try and save her boy, and, clasping her trembling hands besought the God of Heaven to bear with her Jim a little longer, and let her see the desire of her heart, her son redeemed and forgiven, there was an audible sob from some one in the back of the hall, and many a boy away from home, careless and forgetful of his own mother, remembered her now with sudden tenderness. The words of the prayer were stiff and unnatural, but when did the Spirit of God depend upon felicity of expression? It can abound wherever there is the honest heart, and when Pearl, with tears flowing down her cheeks, but with voice steady and clear, thanked the God of all grace for sending her the answer to her prayers, even the dullest listener got a glimmering of the truth that there is "One behind the shadows who keeps watch above His own."
When Pearl had finished, the audience sat perfectly motionless, and then burst into such a tornado of applause that the windows rattled in their casings.
John Watson sat still, but his heart was singing within him "Pearlie, Pearlie, God bless her!"
When the judges met for their decision it was found that they had forgotten to mark Pearl as to memory, gesture, pronunciation, etc., as their rules required them to do.
Father O'Flynn, the little Irish priest, wiping his eyes suspiciously, said: "Gentlemen, my decision is for Number 5." The other two nodded.
And so it came about that Pearlie Watson was once more called to face the large and cheering audience, while Father O'Flynn, with many kind words, presented her with the W. C. T. U. oratorical prize.
Miss Morrison went home that night disturbed in spirit, wondering if, after all, there might not be something more in it than gestures, voice, memory, and articulation.
AT THE CHICKEN HILL SCHOOL
Ho! I'm going back to where We were youngsters! Meet me there, Dear old barefoot chums, and we Will be as we used to be, Lawless rangers up and down The old creek behind the town.
——James Whitcomb Riley.
IF a river is measured by the volume of water in its current, the Souris River, on whose southern bank the little town of Millford is built, is but an insignificant stream; but if bold and precipitous banks, sheer cliffs, and a broad valley are to be considered, then the Souris may lay claim to some distinction. For a few weeks in the spring of the year, too, it is a swift and mighty flood that goes sweeping through the valley, carrying on its turbulent waters whirling ice-jams, branches of trees, and even broken bridge-timbers from the far country known as the "Antlers of the Souris." When the summer is very dry, the river shrinks to a gentle, trickling thread of water, joining shallow pools, overhung with gray-green willows that whiten in the breeze.
At Millford, the Souris flows almost straight east and keeps this direction for about three miles, and then turns sharply north toward the Sand Hill country, where six miles farther on it joins the Assiniboine.
On one of its banks, just before it takes the northern turn, stands the farmhouse of Thomas Perkins, a big white frame house, set in a grove of maples; a mile south is the big stone house of Samuel Motherwell, where Pearlie Watson wiped out the stain on her family's honour by working off the old ten-dollar debt of her father's.
Two miles farther east, on the old Turtle Mountain trail, stands the weather-beaten schoolhouse where Martha Perkins got her meagre education, and where Bud, her brother, was now attending. The schoolhouse is bare and unlovely, without tree or flower. The rain and the sun, the scorching winds of spring and winter's piercing blizzards have had their way with it for many years, and now it defies them all, for its paint is all gone, and it has no beauty for them to fade.
A straggling woodpile and a long straw covered shed stand near it. Three windows, curtainless and staring, are in each side, and a small porch with two steps leading up to it is at the south end. Here the gophers frolic in the quiet summer afternoons, and steal what is left of the children's dinners from the tin pails behind the door. The porch smells of crumbs.
Away to the east, Oak Creek runs through a wooded belt of fertile lands, its tall elms and spruce giving a grateful shade to the farmers' cattle. To the north are the sand-hills of the Aissinboine, where stiff spruce trees stand like sentinels on the red sand; but no tiny seedling had ever been brought to the school-yard, no kind hand had ever sought to relieve that desolate grayness, bleak and lonely as a rainy midnight in a deserted house.
Inside, the walls are dull with age, so dark and smoked you would think they could become no darker shade, but on the ceiling above the long stovepipe that runs from the stove at the door to the chimney at the other end, there runs a darker streak still. The stove is a big, square box, set on four stubby feet, and bears the name "Sultana."
Some small effort has been made to brighten the walls. One of Louis Wain's cat pictures, cut from a London Graphic, is stuck on the wall with molasses. There is a picture of the late King Edward when he was the Prince of Wales, and one of the late Queen Victoria framed with varnished wheat. There is a calendar of '93 showing red-coated foxhunters in full chase. Here the decorations end abruptly.
The teacher's desk is of unpainted wood, and on its lid, which lifts up, revealing the mysteries of mysteries below, there run ancient rivers of ink, pointing back to a terrible day when Bud Perkins leaned against the teacher's desk in class. A black spot on the floor under the teacher's chair shows just how far-reaching was Bud's offence.
The desks are all ink-stained and cut and inscribed with letters and names. Names are there on the old desks that can be read now on business and professional signs in Western cities, and some, too, that are written in more abiding type still, on the marble slabs that dot the quiet field on the river-bank.
The dreariness of the school does not show so much in the winter-time, when the whole landscape is locked in snow, and the windows are curtained by frost-ferns. The big boys attend school in the winter-time, too, for when there is nothing for them to do at home the country fathers believe that it is quite proper to pay some attention to education.
It was a biting cold day in January. The Christmas and New Year's festivities were over, and the Manitoba winter was settling down to show just what a Manitoba winter can do in the way of weather. The sky was sapphire blue, with fleecy little strings of white clouds, an innocent-looking sky, that had not noticed how cold it was below. The ground was white and sparkling, as if with silver tinsel, a glimmer of diamonds. Frost-wreaths would have crusted the trees and turned them into a fairy forest if there had been trees; but there was not a tree at the Chicken Hill School, so the frost-wreaths lay like fairy lace on the edges of the straw-covered shed and made fairy frills around the straggling woodpile. Everything was beautiful, blue and silver, sparkle and dance, glitter and glimmer.
Out on the well-tramped school-yard the boys and girls were playing "shinny," which is an old and honourable game, father or uncle of hockey.
Big Tom Steadman was captain of one side, and his fog-horn voice, as he shouted directions and objurgations to his men and his opponents, was the only discordant note in all that busy, boisterous, roaring scene.
Libby Anne Cavers was on the other side, and Libby Anne was a force to be reckoned with, for she was little and lithe, and determined and quick, with the agility of a small, thin cat. She was ten years old, but looked about seven.
Big Tom had the ball, and was preparing to shoot on the opposing goal. He flourished his stick in the air with a yell of triumph, and in his mind the game was already won. But he had forgotten Libby Anne, who, before his stick reached the ground, had slipped in her own little crook, and his stick struck the empty snow, for Libby Anne was fast flying up the field with the ball, while the players cheered. It was neatly done.
Tom Steadman ran after her in mad pursuit, and overtook her just as she passed the ball to Bud Perkins, who was the captain of her side. Then Tom Steadman, coward that he was, struck her with his heavy stick, struck fair and straight at her poor little thin shins, a coward's blow. Libby Anne doubled up into a poor little whimpering, writhing ball.
A sudden horror fell on the field, and the game stopped. Bud Perkins looked at her poor quivering little face, white as ashes now, his own face almost as pale, and then, pulling of his coat, ran over to' where Tom Steadman stood.
"Drop yer stick, you coward, and stand up to me," he said in a voice that rang with the blood-lust.
Tom Steadman was older and bigger, and he felt very sure that he could handle Bud, so his manner was full of assurance.
The school closed in around them and watched the fight with the stolid indifference of savages or children, which is much the same thing. Big Tom Steadman dealt his cruel sledge-hammer blows on Bud, on his face, head, neck, while Bud, bleeding, but far from beaten, fought like a cornered badger. The boys did not cheer; it was too serious a business for noisy shouting, and besides, the teacher might be aroused any minute, and stop the fight, which would be a great disappointment, for every boy and girl, big and little, wanted to see Tom Steadman get what was coming to him.
Bud was slighter but quicker, and fought with more skill. Big Tom could hit a knockout blow, but there his tactics ended. He knew only the one way of dealing with an antagonist, and so, when one of his eyes suddenly closed up and his nose began to bleed, he began to realize that he had made a big mistake in hitting Libby Anne when Bud Perkins was there. With a clever underarm hold, Bud clinched with him, and he fell heavily.
Libby Anne, limping painfully, put her "shinny" stick into Bud's hand.
"Sock it to him now, Bud," she said, "now you've got him."
Bud dropped the stick and tried to laugh, but his mouth would not work right.
"Get up, Tom," Bud said. "I won't hit you when you're down. Stand up and let me at you again."
Tom swore threateningly, but showed no disposition to get up.
"I guess he's had enough," Bud said. "He's sorry he hit you now, Libby Anne. He sees now that it's a dirty shame to hit a little girl. He never thought much about it before. Come away, kids, and let him think."
When school was called, the whole story of the fight came out.
Tom Steadman was the only son of one of the trustees—the trustee, indeed, the one who lived in the biggest house, was councillor of the municipality, owned a threshing-machine, boarded the teacher, and made political speeches—and so Bud's offence was not a slight one.
A school meeting was called, to see what was to be done. Young Tom was there, swollen of lip and nose, and with sunset shades around both eyes. Libby Anne was there, too, but she had been warned by her father, a poor, shiftless fellow, living on a rented farm, that she must not say anything to offend the Steadmans, for Mr. Steadman owned the farm that they were living on.
The trial was decided before it began. The teacher, Mr. Donald, was away attending the Normal, and his place was being filled by a young fellow who had not enough courage to stand for the right.
The question to be decided was this: Did Tom Steadman strike Libby Anne with intent to hurt; or did he merely reprimand her gently to "shinny on her own side"; or did she run under his stick when he struck at the ball? Tom Steadman said she ran under his stick, and he didn't see her, whereupon some of the children who were not living on rented farms groaned. Several of the children gave their testimony that Tom had without doubt struck her "a-purpose!" Then Mr. Steadman, Tom's father, a big, well-fed man, who owned nineteen hundred acres of land and felt that some liberty should be allowed the only son of a man who paid such a heavy school-tax, took charge and said, fixing his eyes on Bill Cavers, his poverty-stricken tenant: "Let us see what Libby Anne has to say. I should say that Libby Anne's testimony should have more weight than all these others, for these young ones seem to have a spite at our Tom. Libby Anne, did Tom strike you a-purpose?"
"Be careful what you say, Libby Anne," her father said miserably, his eyes on the ground. He owed Steadman for his seed-wheat.
Libby Anne looked appealingly at Bud. Her eyes begged him to forgive her.
Mr. Steadman repeated the question.
"Speak, Libby Anne," her father said, never raising his eyes.
"Did Tom hit you a-purpose?"
Libby Anne drew a deep breath, and then in a strange voice she answered: "No."
She flung out the word as if it burned her.
Libby Anne was a pathetic figure in her much-washed derry dress, faded now to the colour of dead grass, and although she was clean and well-kept, her pleading eyes and pale face told of a childhood that had been full of troubles and tears.
Bud stared at her in amazement, and then, as the truth flashed on him, he packed up his books, hot with rage, and left the schoolhouse.
Bill Cavers hung his head in shame, for though he was a shiftless fellow, he loved his little girl in his better moments, and the two cruel marks on her thin little shins called loudly for vengeance; but must live, he told himself miserably.
When Bud left the school Libby Anne was in her seat, sobbing bitterly, but he did not give her a glance as he angrily slammed the door behind him.
Two days after this, Bud was drawing wood from the big bush north of the Assiniboine, and as he passed the Cavers home Libby Anne, with a thin black shawl around her, came running out to speak to him.
"Bud," she called breathlessly, "I had to say it. Dad made me do it, 'cos he's scairt of old man Steadman."
Bud stopped his horses and jumped down. They stood together on the shady side of the load of poles.
"That's all right, kid," Bud said. "Don't you worry. I liked lickin' him."
"But Bud," Libby Anne said wistfully, "you can't ever forget that I lied, can you? You can't ever like me again?"
Bud looked at the little wind-blown figure, such a little troubled, pathetic face, and something tender and manly stirred in his heart.
"Run away home now, Libby Anne," he said kindly. "Sure I like you, and I'll wallop the daylight out of anybody that ever hurts you. You're all right, Libby Anne, you bet; and I'll never go back on you."
The bitter wind of January came down the Souris valley, cold and piercing, and cut cruelly through Libby Anne's thin shawl as she ran home, but her heart was warmed with a sweet content that no winter wind could chill.
PEARL'S UNRULY CONSCIENCE
We turn unblessed from faces fresh with beauty, Unsoftened yet by fears, To those whose lines are chased by love and duty And know the touch of tears.
——Ella Wheekr Wikox.
THE Watson family attended school faithfully all winter. Pearl took no excuses from the boys. When Tommy came home bitterly denouncing Miss Morrison, his teacher, because she had applied the external motive to him to get him to take a working interest in the "Duke—Daisy—Kitty" lesson, Pearl declared that he should be glad that the teacher took such a deep interest in him. When Bugsey was taken sick one morning after breakfast and could not go to school, but revived in spirits just before dinner-time, only to be "took bad" again at one o'clock, Pearl promulgated a rule, and in this Aunt Kate rendered valuable assistance, that no one would be excused from school on account of sickness unless they could show a coated tongue, and would take a tablespoonful of castor oil and go to bed with a mustard plaster (this was Aunt Kate's suggestion), missing all meals. There was comparatively little sickness among the Watsons after that.
Aunt Kate was a great help in keeping the household clothes in order. She insisted on the children hanging up their own garments, taking care of their own garters, and also she saw to it that each one ate up every scrap of food on his or her plate, or else had it set away for the next meal. But in spite of all this Aunt Kate was becoming more popular.
Thus relieved of family cares, Pearl had plenty of time to devote to her lessons and the progress she made was remarkable. She had also more time to see after the moral well-being of her young brothers, which seemed to be in need of some attention—at least she thought so when Patsey came home one day and signified his intention of being a hotel-keeper when he grew up, because Sandy Braden had a diamond as big as a marble. Patsey had the very last Sunday quite made up his mind to be a missionary. Pearl took him into her mother's room, and talked to him very seriously, but the best she could do with him was to get him to agree to be a drayman; higher than that he would not go—the fleshpots called him!
Jimmy became enamored of the railway and began to steal rides in box-cars, and once had been taken away and had to walk back five miles. It was ten o'clock when he got home, tired happy. He said he was "hungry enough to eat raw dog," which is a vulgar expression for a little boy nine years old.
Even Danny began to show signs of the contamination of the world, and came swaggering home one night feeling deliciously wicked smoking a liquorice pipe, and in reply to his mother's shocked remonstrance had told her to "cut it out."
Those things had set Pearl thinking. The boys were growing up and there was no work for them to do. It was going to be hard to raise them in the town. Pearl talked it over with Mr. Burrell, the minister, and he said the best place to raise a family of boys was the farm, where there would be plenty of employment for them. So Pearl decided in her own mind that they would get a farm. It would mean that she would have to give up her chance of an education, and this to her was a very bitter sacrifice.
One night, when everyone else was asleep, even Aunt Kate, Pearl fought it all out. Every day was bringing fresh evidences of the evil effects of idleness on the boys. Jimmy brought home a set of "Nations" and offered to show her how to play pedro with them. Teddy was playing on the hockey team, and they were in Brandon that night, staying at a hotel, right within "smell of the liquor," Pearl thought. The McSorley boys had stolen money from the restaurant man, and Pearl had overheard Tommy telling Bugsey that Ben McSorley was a big fool to go showing it, and Pearl thought she saw from this how Tommy's thoughts were running.
All these things smote Pearl's conscience and seemed to call on her to renounce her education to save the family. "Small good your learnin' 'll be to ye, Pearl Watson, if yer brothers are behind the bars," she told herself bitterly. "It's not so fine ye'll look, all dressed up, off to a teachers' convention in Brandon, readin' a paper on 'How to teach morals,' and yer own brother Tommy, or maybe Patsey, doin' time in the Brandon jail! How would ye like, Pearlie, to have some one tap ye on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me for troublin' of ye, Miss Watson, but it's visitor's day at the jail, and yer brother Thomas would like ye to be after stepping, over. He's a bit lonesome. He's Number 23!'"
Something caught in her throat, and her eyes were too full to be comfortable. She slipped out of bed and quietly knelt on the bare floor. "Dear God," she prayed, "ye needn't say another word. I'll go, so I will. It's an awful thing to be ignorant, but it's nothin' like as bad as bein' wicked. No matter how ignorant ye are ye can still look up and ask God to bless ye, but if ye are wicked ye're re dead out of it altogether, so ye are; so I'll go ignorant, dear Lord, to the end o' my days, though ye know yerself what that is like to me, an I'll try never to be feelin' sorry or wishin' myself back. Just let me get the lads brought up right. Didn't ye promise someone the heathen for their inheritance? Well, all right, give the heathen to that one, whoever it was ye promised it to, but give me the lads—there's seven of them, ye mind. I guess that's all. Amen."
The next day Pearl went to school as usual, determined to make the best use of the short time that remained before the spring opened. All day long the path of knowledge seemed very sweet and alluring to her. She had been able to compute correctly how long eighteen cows could feed on a pasture that twenty-six horses had lived on eighteen days last year, the grass growing day and night, three cows eating as much as one horse; in Literature they were studying "The Lady of the Lake," and Alan-bane's description of the fight had intoxicated her with its stirring enthusiasm. Knowledge was a passion with Pearl; "meat and drink to her," her mother often said, and now how was she to give it up?
She sat in her seat and idly watched the children file out. She heard them racing down the stairs. Outside, children called gaily to each other, the big doors slammed so hard the windows rattled and at last all was still with the awful stillness of a deserted school.
It was a warm day in March, a glorious day of melting sunshine, when the rivers begin to think of spring, and 'away below the snow the little flowers smile in their sleep.
Pearl went to the window and looked out at the familiar scene. Her own home, straggling and stamped with poverty, was before her. "It does look shacky but it's home, and I love it, you bet," she said. "Nobody would ever know to look at it the good times that goes on inside." Then she turned and looked around the schoolroom, with its solemn-looking blackboards, and its deserted seats littered with books. The sun poured into the room from the western windows and a thousand motes danced in its beams. The room smelled of chalk and ink and mothballs, but Pearl liked it, for to her it was the school-smell.
"I'll purtend I am the teacher," Pearl said, "just for once. I'll never be one now; I'm goin' to give up that hope, at least I'm goin' to try to give it up, maybe, but I'll see how it feels anyway." She sat in the teacher's chair and saw the seats filled with shadowy forms. She saw herself, well-dressed and educated, earning a salary and helping to raise her family from ignorance and poverty.
"I am Miss Watson now," she said, as she opened the register and called the names of her own making. "Me hair is done like Miss Morrison's, all wadded out around me head, wid a row of muskrat houses up the back, the kind I can take off and comb on the palm o' me hand. I've got gold-fillin' in me teeth which just shows when I laugh wide, and I'll do it often, and I've got a watch wid a deer's head on it and me name on it, R. J. P. Watson, and I can talk like they do in books. I won't ever say 'I've often saw,' I'll say 'I have invariably observed.' I suppose I could say it now, but it doesn't seem to fit the rest of me; and I'll be sittin' here now plannin' my work for to-morrow, and all the children are wonderin' hard what I'm thinkin' of. Now I'll purtend school is out. There's three little girls out there in the hall waitin' to take me hand home, nice little things about the size I used to be meself. I may as well send them home, for I won't be goin' for a long time yet." She went into the hall and in a very precise Englishy voice dismissed her admiring pupils. "I am afraid I will be here too long for you to wait, childer dear," she said, "I have to correct the examination papers that the Entrance class wrote on to-day on elementary and vulgar fractions, and after that I am goin' for a drive with a friend"—she smiled, but forgot about the gold filling. "My friend, Dr. Clay, is coming to take me. So good-bye, Ethel, and Eunice, and Claire," bowing to each one.
Pearl heard the scamper of little feet down the stairs, and kissed her hand three times to them.
"I'll just see if he's coming," she murmured to herself, going to the window.
He was coming, in her imagination and in reality. Dr. Clay was driving up to the school, looking very handsome in his splendid turn-out, all a-jingle with sleigh-bells. Pearl was so deep in her rainbow dream she tapped gaily on the window. He looked up smiling and waved his hand to her.