* * * * *
A month later.
Yes, I know it's been ages since I've written here in this book; but there just hasn't been a minute's time.
First, of course, school began, and I had to attend to that. And, of course, I had to tell the girls all about Andersonville—except the parts I didn't want to tell, about Stella Mayhew, and my coming out of school. I didn't tell that. And right here let me say how glad I was to get back to this school—a real school—so different from that one up in Andersonville! For that matter, everything's different here from what it is in Andersonville. I'd so much rather be Marie than Mary. I know I won't ever be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here. I'll be the good one all the time.
It's funny how much easier it is to be good in silk stockings and a fluffy white dress than it is in blue gingham and calfskin. Oh, I'll own up that Marie forgets sometimes and says things Mary used to say; like calling Olga a hired girl instead of a maid, as Aunt Hattie wants, and saying dinner instead of luncheon at noon, and some other things.
I heard Aunt Hattie tell Mother one day that it was going to take about the whole six months to break Mary Marie of those outlandish country ways of hers. (So, you see, it isn't all honey and pie even for Marie. This trying to be Mary and Marie, even six months apart, isn't the easiest thing ever was!) I don't think Mother liked it very well—what Aunt Hattie said about my outlandish ways. I didn't hear all Mother said, but I knew by the way she looked and acted, and the little I did hear, that she didn't care for that word "outlandish" applied to her little girl—not at all.
Mother's a dear. And she's so happy! And, by the way, I think it is the violinist. He's here a lot, and she's out with him to concerts and plays, and riding in his automobile. And she always puts on her prettiest dresses, and she's very particular about her shoes, and her hats, that they're becoming, and all that. Oh, I'm so excited! And I'm having such a good time watching them! Oh, I don't mean watching them in a disagreeable way, so that they see it; and, of course, I don't listen—not the sneak kind of listening. But, of course, I have to get all I can—for the book, you know; and, of course, if I just happen to be in the window-seat corner in the library and hear things accidentally, why, that's all right.
And I have heard things.
He says her eyes are lovely. He likes her best in blue. He's very lonely, and he never found a woman before who really understood him. He thinks her soul and his are tuned to the same string. (Oh, dear! That sounds funny and horrid, and not at all the way it did when he said it. It was beautiful then. But—well, that is what it meant, anyway.)
She told him she was lonely, too, and that she was very glad to have him for a friend; and he said he prized her friendship above everything else in the world. And he looks at her, and follows her around the room with his eyes; and she blushes up real pink and pretty lots of times when he comes into the room.
Now, if that isn't making love to each other, I don't know what is. I'm sure he's going to propose. Oh, I'm so excited!
Oh, yes, I know if he does propose and she says yes, he'll be my new father. I understand that. And, of course, I can't help wondering how I'll like it. Sometimes I think I won't like it at all. Sometimes I almost catch myself wishing that I didn't have to have any new father or mother. I'd never need a new mother, anyway, and I wouldn't need a new father if my father-by-order-of-the-court would be as nice as he was there two or three times in the observatory.
But, there! After all, I must remember that I'm not the one that's doing the choosing. It's Mother. And if she wants the violinist I mustn't have anything to say. Besides, I really like him very much, anyway. He's the best of the lot. I'm sure of that. And that's something. And then, of course, I'm glad to have something to make this a love story, and best of all I would be glad to have Mother stop being divorced, anyway.
Mr. Harlow doesn't come here any more, I guess. Anyway, I haven't seen him here once since I came back; and I haven't heard anybody mention his name.
Quite a lot of the others are here, and there are some new ones. But the violinist is here most, and Mother seems to go out with him most to places. That's why I say I think it's the violinist.
I haven't heard from Father.
Now just my writing that down that way shows that I expected to hear from him, though I don't really see why I should, either. Of course, he never has written to me; and, of course, I understand that I'm nothing but his daughter by order of the court. But, some way, I did think maybe he'd write me just a little bit of a note in answer to mine—my bread-and-butter letter, I mean; for of course, Mother had me write that to him as soon as I got here.
But he hasn't.
I wonder how he's getting along, and if he misses me any. But of course, he doesn't do that. If I was a star, now—!
* * * * *
Two days after Thanksgiving.
The violinist has got a rival. I'm sure he has. It's Mr. Easterbrook. He's old—much as forty—and bald-headed and fat, and has got lots of money. And he's a very estimable man. (I heard Aunt Hattie say that.) He's awfully jolly, and I like him. He brings me the loveliest boxes of candy, and calls me Puss. (I don't like that, particularly. I'd prefer him to call me Miss Anderson.) He's not nearly so good-looking as the violinist. The violinist is lots more thrilling, but I shouldn't wonder if Mr. Easterbrook was more comfortable to live with.
The violinist is the kind of a man that makes you want to sit up and take notice, and have your hair and finger nails and shoes just right; but with Mr. Easterbrook you wouldn't mind a bit sitting in a big chair before the fire with a pair of old slippers on, if your feet were tired.
Mr. Easterbrook doesn't care for music. He's a broker. He looks awfully bored when the violinist is playing, and he fidgets with his watch-chain, and clears his throat very loudly just before he speaks every time. His automobile is bigger and handsomer than the violinist's. (Aunt Hattie says the violinist's automobile is a hired one.) And Mr. Easterbrook's flowers that he sends to Mother are handsomer, too, and lots more of them, than the violinist's. Aunt Hattie has noticed that, too. In fact, I guess there isn't anything about Mr. Easterbrook that she doesn't notice.
Aunt Hattie likes Mr. Easterbrook lots better than she does the violinist. I heard her talking to Mother one day. She said that any one that would look twice at a lazy, shiftless fiddler with probably not a dollar laid by for a rainy day, when all the while there was just waiting to be picked an estimable gentleman of independent fortune and stable position like Mr. Easterbrook—well, she had her opinion of her; that's all. She meant Mother, of course. I knew that. I'm no child.
Mother knew it, too; and she didn't like it. She flushed up and bit her lip, and answered back, cold, like ice.
"I understand, of course, what you mean, Hattie; but even if I acknowledged that this very estimable, unimpeachable gentleman was waiting to be picked (which I do not), I should have to remind you that I've already had one experience with an estimable, unimpeachable gentleman of independent fortune and stable position, and I do not care for another."
"But, my dear Madge," began Aunt Hattie again, "to marry a man without any money—"
"I haven't married him yet," cut in Mother, cold again, like ice. "But let me tell you this, Hattie. I'd rather live on bread and water in a log cabin with the man I loved than in a palace with an estimable, unimpeachable gentleman who gave me the shivers every time he came into the room."
And it was just after she said this that I interrupted. I was right in plain, sight in the window-seat reading; but I guess they'd forgotten I was there, for they both jumped a lot when I spoke. And yet I'll leave it to you if what I said wasn't perfectly natural.
"Of course, you would, Mother!" I cried. "And, anyhow, if you did marry the violinist, and you found out afterward you didn't like him, that wouldn't matter a mite, for you could unmarry him at any time, just as you did Father, and—"
But they wouldn't let me finish. They wouldn't let me say anything more. Mother cried, "Marie!" in her most I'm-shocked-at-you voice; and Aunt Hattie cried, "Child—child!" And she seemed shocked, too. And both of them threw up their hands and looked at each other in the did-you-ever-hear-such-a-dreadful-thing? way that old folks do when young folks have displeased them. And them they both went right out of the room, talking about the unfortunate effect on a child's mind, and perverted morals, and Mother reproaching Aunt Hattie for talking about those things before that child (meaning me, of course). Then they got too far down the hall for me to hear any more. But I don't see why they needed to have made such a fuss. It wasn't any secret that Mother got a divorce; and if she got one once, of course she could again. (That's what I'm going to do when I'm married, if I grow tired of him—my husband, I mean.) Oh, yes, I know Mrs. Mayhew and her crowd don't seem to think divorces are very nice; but there needn't anybody try to make me think that anything my mother does isn't perfectly nice and all right. And she got a divorce. So, there!
* * * * *
One week later.
There hasn't much happened—only one or two things. But maybe I'd better tell them before I forget it, especially as they have a good deal to do with the love part of the story. And I'm always so glad to get anything of that kind. I've been so afraid this wouldn't be much of a love story, after all. But I guess it will be, all right. Anyhow, I know Mother's part will be, for it's getting more and more exciting—about Mr. Easterbrook and the violinist, I mean.
They both want Mother. Anybody can see that now, and, of course, Mother sees it. But which she'll take I don't know. Nobody knows. It's perfectly plain to be seen, though, which one Grandfather and Aunt Hattie want her to take! It's Mr. Easterbrook.
And he is awfully nice. He brought me a perfectly beautiful bracelet the other day—but Mother wouldn't let me keep it. So he had to take it back. I don't think he liked it very well, and I didn't like it, either. I wanted that bracelet. But Mother says I'm much too young to wear much jewelry. Oh, will the time ever come when I'll be old enough to take my proper place in the world? Sometimes it seems as if it never would!
Well, as I said, it's plain to be seen who it is that Grandfather and Aunt Hattie favor; but I'm not so sure about Mother. Mother acts funny. Sometimes she won't go with either of them anywhere; then she seems to want to go all the time. And she acts as if she didn't care which she went with, so long as she was just going—somewhere. I think, though, she really likes the violinist the best; and I guess Grandfather and Aunt Hattie think so, too.
Something happened last night. Grandfather began to talk at the dinner-table. He'd heard something he didn't like about the violinist, I guess, and he started in to tell Mother. But they stopped him. Mother and Aunt Hattie looked at him and then at me, and then back to him, in their most see-who's-here!—you-mustn't-talk-before-her way. So he shrugged his shoulders and stopped.
But I guess he told them in the library afterwards, for I heard them all talking very excitedly, and some loud; and I guess Mother didn't like what they said, and got quite angry, for I heard her say, when she came out through the door, that she didn't believe a word of it, and she thought it was a wicked, cruel shame to tell stories like that just because they didn't like a man.
This morning she broke an engagement with Mr. Easterbrook to go auto-riding and went with the violinist to a morning musicale instead; and after she'd gone Aunt Hattie sighed and looked at Grandfather and shrugged her shoulders, and said she was afraid they'd driven her straight into the arms of the one they wanted to avoid, and that Madge always would take the part of the under dog.
I suppose they thought I wouldn't understand. But I did, perfectly. They meant that by telling stories about the violinist they'd been hoping to get her to give him up, but instead of that, they'd made her turn to him all the more, just because she was so sorry for him.
Funny, isn't it?
* * * * *
One week later.
Well, I guess now something has happened all right! And let me say right away that I don't like that violinist now, either, any better than Grandfather and Aunt Hattie. And it's not entirely because of what happened last night, either. It's been coming on for quite a while—ever since I first saw him talking to Theresa in the hall when she let him in one night a week ago.
Theresa is awfully pretty, and I guess he thinks, so. Anyhow, I heard him telling her so in the hall, and she laughed and blushed and looked sideways at him. Then they saw me, and he stiffened up and said, very proper and dignified, "Kindly hand my card to Mrs. Anderson." And Theresa said, "Yes, sir." And she was very proper and dignified, too.
Well, that was the beginning. I can see now that it was, though, I never thought of its meaning anything then, only that he thought Theresa was a pretty girl, just as we all do.
But four days ago I saw them again. He tried to put his arm around her that time, and the very next day he tried to kiss her, and after a minute she let him. More than once, too. And last night I heard him tell her she was the dearest girl in all the world, and he'd be perfectly happy if he could only marry her.
Well, you can imagine how I felt, when I thought all the time it was Mother he was coming to see! And now to find out that it was Theresa he wanted all the time, and he was only coming to see Mother so he could see Theresa!
At first I was angry,—just plain angry; and I was frightened, too, for I couldn't help worrying about Mother—for fear she would mind, you know, when she found out that it was Theresa that he cared for, after all. I remembered what a lot Mother had been with him, and the pretty dresses and hats she'd put on for him, and all that. And I thought how she'd broken engagements with Mr. Easterbrook to go with him, and it made me angry all over again. And I thought how mean it was of him to use poor Mother as a kind of shield to hide his courting of Theresa! I was angry, too, to have my love story all spoiled, when I was getting along so beautifully with Mother and the violinist.
But I'm feeling better now. I've been thinking it over. I don't believe Mother's going to care so very much. I don't believe she'd want a man that would pretend to come courting her, when all the while he was really courting the hired girl—I mean maid. Besides, there's Mr. Easterbrook left (and one or two others that I haven't said much about, as I didn't think they had much chance). And so far as the love story for the book is concerned, that isn't spoiled, after all, for it will be ever so much more exciting to have the violinist fall in love with Theresa than with Mother, for, of course, Theresa isn't in the same station of life at all, and that makes it a—a mess-alliance. (I don't remember exactly what that word is; but I know it means an alliance that makes a mess of things because the lovers are not equal to each other.) Of course, for the folks who have to live it, it may not be so nice; but for my story here this makes it all the more romantic and thrilling. So that's all right.
Of course, so far, I'm the only one that knows, for I haven't told it, and I'm the only one that's seen anything. Of course, I shall warn Mother, if I think it's necessary, so she'll understand it isn't her, but Theresa, that the violinist is really in love with and courting. She won't mind, I'm sure, after she thinks of it a minute. And won't it be a good joke on Aunt Hattie and Grandfather when they find out they've been fooled all the time, supposing it's Mother, and worrying about it?
Oh, I don't know! This is some love story, after all!
* * * * *
Two days later.
Well, I should say it was! What do you suppose has happened now? Why, that wretched violinist is nothing but a deep-dyed villain! Listen what he did. He proposed to Mother—actually proposed to her—and after all he'd said to that Theresa girl, about his being perfectly happy if he could marry her. And Mother—Mother all the time not knowing! Oh, I'm so glad I was there to rescue her! I don't mean at the proposal—I didn't hear that. But afterward.
It was like this.
They had been out automobiling—Mother and the violinist. He came for her at three o'clock. He said it was a beautiful warm day, and maybe the last one they'd have this year; and she must go. And she went.
I was in my favorite window-seat, reading, when they came home and walked into the library. They never looked my way at all, but just walked toward the fireplace. And there he took hold of both her hands and said:
"Why must you wait, darling? Why can't you give me my answer now, and make me the happiest man in all the world?"
"Yes, yes, I know," answered Mother; and I knew by her voice that she was all shaky and trembly. "But if I could only be sure—sure of myself."
"But, dearest, you're sure of me!" cried the violinist. "You know how I love you. You know you're the only woman I have ever loved, or ever could love!"
Yes, just like that he said it—that awful lie—and to my mother. My stars! Do you suppose I waited to hear any more? I guess not!
I fairly tumbled off my seat, and my book dropped with a bang, as I ran forward. Dear, dear, but how they did jump—both of them! And I guess they were surprised. I never thought how 'twas going to affect them—my breaking in like that. But I didn't wait—not a minute. And I didn't apologize, or say "Excuse me," or any of those things that I suppose I ought to have done. I just started right in and began to talk. And I talked hard and fast, and lots of it.
I don't know now what I said, but I know I asked him what he meant by saying such an awful lie to my mother, when he'd just said the same thing, exactly 'most, to Theresa, and he'd hugged her and kissed her, and everything. I'd seen him. And—
But I didn't get a chance to say half I wanted to. I was going on to tell him what I thought of him; but Mother gasped out, "Marie! Marie! Stop!"
And then I stopped. I had to, of course. Then she said that would do, and I might go to my room. And I went. And that's all I know about it, except that she came up, after a little, and said for me not to talk any more about it, to her, or to any one else; and to please try to forget it.
I tried to tell her what I'd seen, and what I'd heard that wicked, deep-dyed villain say; but she wouldn't let me. She shook her head, and said, "Hush, hush, dear"; and that no good could come of talking of it, and she wanted me to forget it. She was very sweet and very gentle, and she smiled; but there were stern corners to her mouth, even when the smile was there. And I guess she told him what was what. Anyhow, I know they had quite a talk before she came up to me, for I was watching at the window for him to go; and when he did go he looked very red and cross, and he stalked away with a never-will-I-darken-this-door-again kind of a step, just as far as I could see him.
I don't know, of course, what will happen next, nor whether he'll ever come back for Theresa; but I shouldn't think even she would want him, after this, if she found out.
And now where's my love story coming in, I should like to know?
* * * * *
Two days after Christmas.
Another wonderful thing has happened. I've had a letter from Father—from Father—a letter—ME!
It came this morning. Mother brought it in to me. She looked queer—a little. There were two red spots in her cheeks, and her eyes were very bright.
"I think you have a letter here from—your father," she said, handing it out.
She hesitated before the "your father" just as she always does. And 'tisn't hardly ever that she mentions his name, anyway. But when she does, she always stops a funny little minute before it, just as she did to-day.
And perhaps I'd better say right here, before I forget it, that Mother has been different, some way, ever since that time when the violinist proposed. I don't think she cares really—about the violinist, I mean—but she's just sort of upset over it. I heard her talking to Aunt Hattie one day about it, and she said:
"To think such a thing could happen—to me! And when for a minute I was really hesitating and thinking that maybe I would take him. Oh, Hattie!"
And Aunt Hattie put her lips together with her most I-told-you-so air, and said:
"It was, indeed, a narrow escape, Madge; and it ought to show you the worth of a real man. There's Mr. Easterbrook, now—"
But Mother wouldn't even listen then. She pooh-poohed and tossed her head, and said, "Mr. Easterbrook, indeed!" and put her hands to her ears, laughing, but in earnest just the same, and ran out of the room.
And she doesn't go so much with Mr. Easterbrook as she did. Oh, she goes with him some, but not enough to make it a bit interesting—for this novel, I mean—nor with any of the others, either. In fact, I'm afraid there isn't much chance now of Mother's having a love story to make this book right. Only the other day I heard her tell Grandfather and Aunt Hattie that all men were a delusion and a snare. Oh, she laughed as she said it. But she was in earnest, just the same. I could see that. And she doesn't seem to care much for any of the different men that come to see her. She seems to ever so much rather stay with me. In fact, she stays with me a lot these days—almost all the time I'm out of school, indeed. And she talks with me—oh, she talks with me about lots of things. (I love to have her talk with me. You know there's a lot of difference between talking with folks and to folks. Now, Father always talks to folks.)
One day it was about getting married that Mother talked with me, and I said I was so glad that when you didn't like being married, or got tired of your husband, you could get unmarried, just as she did, and go back home and be just the same as you were before.
But Mother didn't like that, at all. She said no, no, and that I mustn't talk like that, and that you couldn't go back and be the same. And that she'd found it out. That she used to think you could. But you couldn't. She said it was like what she read once, that you couldn't really be the same any more than you could put the dress you were wearing back on the shelf in the store, and expect it to turn back into a fine long web of cloth all folded up nice and tidy, as it was in the first place. And, of course, you couldn't do that—after the cloth was all cut up into a dress!
She said more things, too; and after Father's letter came she said still more. Oh, and I haven't told yet about the letter, have I? Well, I will now.
As I said at first, Mother brought it in and handed it over to me, saying she guessed it was from Father. And I could see she was wondering what could be in it. But I guess she wasn't wondering any more than I was, only I was gladder to get it than she was, I suppose. Anyhow, when she saw how glad I was, and how I jumped for the letter, she drew back, and looked somehow as if she'd been hurt, and said:
"I did not know, Marie, that a letter from—your father would mean so much to you."
I don't know what I did say to that. I guess I didn't say anything. I'd already begun to read the letter, and I was in such a hurry to find out what he'd said.
I'll copy it here. It wasn't long. It was like this:
MY DEAR MARY:
Some way Christmas has made me think of you. I wish I had sent you some gift. Yet I have not the slightest idea what would please you. To tell the truth, I tried to find something—but had to give it up.
I am wondering if you had a good time, and what you did. After all, I'm pretty sure you did have a good time, for you are Marie now. You see I have not forgotten how tired you got of being—Mary. Well, well, I do not know as I can blame you.
And now that I have asked what you did for Christmas, I suspect it is no more than a fair turnabout to tell you what I did. I suppose I had a very good time. Your Aunt Jane says I did. I heard her telling one of the neighbors that last night. She said she left no stone unturned to give me a good time. So, of course, I must have had a good time.
She had a very fine dinner, and she invited Mrs. Darling and Miss Snow and Miss Sanborn to eat it with us. She said she didn't want me to feel lonesome. But you can feel real lonesome in a crowd sometimes. Did you know that, Mary?
But I left them to their chatter after dinner and went out to the observatory. I think I must have fallen asleep on the couch there, for it was quite dark when I awoke. But I didn't mind that, for there were some observations I wanted to take. It was a beautifully clear night, so I stayed there till nearly morning.
How about it? I suppose Marie plays the piano every day now, doesn't she? The piano here hasn't been touched since you went away. Oh, yes, it was touched once. Your aunt played hymns on it for a missionary meeting.
Well, what did you do Christmas? Suppose you write and tell
I'd been reading the letter out loud, and when I got through Mother was pacing up and down the room. For a minute she didn't say anything; then she whirled 'round suddenly and faced me, and said, just as if something inside of her was making her say it:
"I notice there is no mention of your mother in that letter, Marie. I suppose—your father has quite forgotten that there is such a person in the world as—I."
But I told her no, oh, no, and that I was sure he remembered her, for he used to ask me questions often about what she did, and the violinist and all.
"The violinist!" cried Mother, whirling around on me again. (She'd begun to walk up and down once more.) "You don't mean to say you ever told your father about him!"
"Oh, no, not everything," I explained, trying to show how patient I was, so she would be patient, too. (But it didn't work.) "I couldn't tell him everything because everything hadn't happened then. But I told about his being here, and about the others, too; but, of course, I said I didn't know which you'd take, and—"
"You told him you didn't know which I'd take!" gasped Mother.
Just like that she interrupted, and she looked so shocked. And she didn't look much better when I explained very carefully what I did say, even though I assured her over and over again that Father was interested, very much interested. When I said that, she just muttered, "Interested, indeed!" under her breath. Then she began to walk again, up and down, up and down. Then, all of a sudden, she flung herself on the couch and began to cry and sob as if her heart would break. And when I tried to comfort her, I only seemed to make it worse, for she threw her arms around me and cried:
"Oh, my darling, my darling, don't you see how dreadful it is, how dreadful it is?"
And then is when she began to talk some more about being married, and unmarried as we were. She held me close again and began to sob and cry.
"Oh, my darling, don't you see how dreadful it all is—how unnatural it is for us to live—this way? And for you—you poor child!—what could be worse for you? And here I am, jealous—jealous of your own father, for fear you'll love him better than you do me!
"Oh, I know I ought not to say all this to you—I know I ought not to. But I can't—help it. I want you! I want you every minute; but I have to give you up—six whole months of every year I have to give you up to him. And he's your father, Marie. And he's a good man. I know he's a good man. I know it all the better now since I've seen—other men. And I ought to tell you to love him. But I'm so afraid—you'll love him better than you do me, and want to leave—me. And I can't give you up! I can't give you up!"
Then I tried to tell her, of course, that she wouldn't have to give me up, and that I loved her a whole lot better than I did Father. But even that didn't comfort her, 'cause she said I ought to love him. That he was lonesome and needed me. He needed me just as much as she needed me, and maybe more. And then she went on again about how unnatural and awful it was to live the way we were living. And she called herself a wicked woman that she'd ever allowed things to get to such a pass. And she said if she could only have her life to live over again she'd do so differently—oh, so differently.
Then she began to cry again, and I couldn't do a thing with her; and of course, that worked me all up and I began to cry.
She stopped then, right off short, and wiped her eyes fiercely with her wet ball of a handkerchief. And she asked what was she thinking of, and didn't she know any better than to talk like this to me. Then she said, come, we'd go for a ride.
And we did.
And all the rest of that day Mother was so gay and lively you'd think she didn't know how to cry.
Now, wasn't that funny?
Of course, I shall answer Father's letter right away, but I haven't the faintest idea what to say.
* * * * *
One week later.
I answered it—Father's letter, I mean—yesterday, and it's gone now. But I had an awful time over it. I just didn't know what in the world to say. I'd start out all right, and I'd think I was going to get along beautifully. Then, all of a sudden, it would come over me, what I was doing—writing a letter to my father! And I could imagine just how he'd look when he got it, all stern and dignified, sitting in his chair in the library, and opening the letter just so with his paper-cutter; and I'd imagine his eyes looking down and reading what I wrote. And when I thought of that, my pen just wouldn't go. The idea of my writing anything my father would want to read!
And so I'd try to think of things that I could write—big things—big things that would interest big men: about the President, and our-country-'tis-of-thee, and the state of the weather and the crops. And so I'd begin:
"Dear Father: I take my pen in hand to inform you that—"
Then I'd stop and think and think, and chew my pen-handle. Then I'd put down something. But it was awful, and I knew it was awful. So I'd have to tear it up and begin again. Three times I did that; then I began to cry. It did seem as if I never could write that letter. Once I thought of asking Mother what to say, and getting her to help me. Then I remembered how she cried and took on and said things when the letter came, and talked about how dreadful and unnatural it all was, and how she was jealous for fear I'd love Father better than I did her. And I was afraid she'd do it again, and so I didn't like to ask her. And so I didn't do it.
Then, after a time, I got out his letter and read it again. And all of a sudden I felt all warm and happy, just as I did when I first got it; and some way I was back with him in the observatory and he was telling me all about the stars. And I forgot all about being afraid of him, and about the crops and the President and my-country-'tis-of-thee. And I just remembered that he'd asked me to tell him what I did on Christmas Day; and I knew right off that that would be easy. Why, just the easiest thing in the world! And so I got out a fresh sheet of paper and dipped my pen in the ink and began again.
And this time I didn't have a bit of trouble. I told him all about the tree I had Christmas Eve, and the presents, and the little colored lights, and the fun we had singing and playing games. And then how, on Christmas morning, there was a lovely new snow on the ground, and Mr. Easterbrook came with a perfectly lovely sleigh and two horses to take Mother and me to ride, and what a splendid time we had, and how lovely Mother looked with her red cheeks and bright eyes, and how, when we got home, Mr. Easterbrook said we looked more like sisters than mother and daughter, and wasn't that nice of him. Of course, I told a little more about Mr. Easterbrook, too, so Father'd know who he was—a new friend of Mother's that I'd never known till I came back this time, and how he was very rich and a most estimable man. That Aunt Hattie said so.
Then I told him that in the afternoon another gentleman came and took us to a perfectly beautiful concert. And I finished up by telling about the Christmas party in the evening, and how lovely the house looked, and Mother, and that they said I looked nice, too.
And that was all. And when I had got it done, I saw that I had written a long letter, a great long letter. And I was almost afraid it was too long, till I remembered that Father had asked me for it; he had asked me to tell him all about what I did on Christmas Day.
So I sent it off.
* * * * *
Yes, I know it's been quite a while, but there hasn't been a thing to say—nothing new or exciting, I mean. There's just school, and the usual things; only Mr. Easterbrook doesn't come any more. (Of course, the violinist hasn't come since that day he proposed.) I don't know whether Mr. Easterbrook proposed or not. I only know that all of a sudden he stopped coming. I don't know the reason.
I don't overhear so much as I used to, anyway. Not but that I'm in the library window-seat just the same; but 'most everybody that comes in looks there right off, now; and, of course, when they see me they don't hardly ever go on with what they are saying. So it just naturally follows that I don't overhear things as I used to.
Not that there's much to hear, though. Really, there just isn't anything going on, and things aren't half so lively as they used to be when Mr. Easterbrook was here, and all the rest. They've all stopped coming, now, 'most. I've about given up ever having a love story of Mother's to put in.
And mine, too. Here I am fifteen next month, going on sixteen. (Why, that brook and river met long ago!) But Mother is getting to be almost as bad as Aunt Jane was about my receiving proper attentions from young men. Oh, she lets me go to places, a little, with the boys at school; but I always have to be chaperoned. And whenever are they going to have a chance to say anything really thrilling with Mother or Aunt Hattie right at my elbow? Echo answers never! So I've about given up that's amounting to anything, either.
Of course, there's Father left, and of course, when I go back to Andersonville this summer, there may be something doing there. But I doubt it.
I forgot to say I haven't heard from Father again. I answered his Christmas letter, as I said, and wrote just as nice as I knew how, and told him all he asked me to. But he never answered, nor wrote again. I am disappointed, I'll own up. I thought he would write. I think Mother did, too. She's asked me ever so many times if I hadn't heard from him again. And she always looks so sort of funny when I say no—sort of glad and sorry together, all in one.
But, then, Mother's queer in lots of ways now. For instance: One week ago she gave me a perfectly lovely box of chocolates—a whole two-pound box all at once; and I've never had more than a half-pound at once before. But just as I was thinking how for once I was going to have a real feast, and all I wanted to eat—what do you think she told me? She said I could have three pieces, and only three pieces a day; and not one little tiny one more. And when I asked her why she gave me such a big box for, then, if that was all I could have, she said it was to teach me self-discipline. That self-discipline was one of the most wonderful things in the world. That if she'd only been taught it when she was a girl, her life would have been very, very different. And so she was giving me a great big box of chocolates for my very own, just so as to teach me to deny myself and take only three pieces every day.
Three pieces!—and all that whole big box of them just making my mouth water all the while; and all just to teach me that horrid old self-discipline! Why, you'd think it was Aunt Jane doing it instead of Mother!
* * * * *
One week later.
It's come—Father's letter. It came last night. Oh, it was short, and it didn't say anything about what I wrote. But I was proud of it, just the same. I just guess I was! There wasn't much in it but just that I might stay till the school closed in June, and then come. But he wrote it. He didn't get Aunt Jane to write to Mother, as he did before. And then, besides, he must have forgotten his stars long enough to think of me a little—for he remembered about the school, and that I couldn't go there in Andersonville, and so he said I had better stay here till it finished.
And I was so glad to stay! It made me very happy—that letter. It made Mother happy, too. She liked it, and she thought it was very, very kind of Father to be willing to give me up almost three whole months of his six, so I could go to school here. And she said so. She said once to Aunt Hattie that she was almost tempted to write and thank him. But Aunt Hattie said, "Pooh," and it was no more than he ought to do, and that she wouldn't be seen writing to a man who so carefully avoided writing to her. So Mother didn't do it, I guess.
But I wrote. I had to write three letters, though, before I got one that Mother said would do to send. The first one sounded so glad I was staying that Mother said she was afraid he would feel hurt, and that would be too bad—when he'd been so kind. And the second one sounded as if I was so sorry not to go to Andersonville the first of April that Mother said that would never do in the world. He'd think I didn't want to stay in Boston. But the third letter I managed to make just glad enough to stay, and just sorry enough not to go. So that Mother said it was all right. And I sent it. You see I asked Mother to help me about this letter. I knew she wouldn't cry and moan about being jealous this time. And she didn't. She was real excited and happy over it.
* * * * *
Well, the last chocolate drop went yesterday. There were just seventy-six pieces in that two-pound box. I counted them that first day. Of course, they were fine and dandy, and I just loved them; but the trouble is, for the last week I've been eating such snippy little pieces. You see, every day, without thinking, I'd just naturally pick out the biggest pieces. So you can imagine what they got down to toward the last—mostly chocolate almonds.
As for the self-discipline—I don't see as I feel any more disciplined than I did before, and I know I want chocolates just as much as ever. And I said so to Mother.
But Mother is queer. Honestly she is. And I can't help wondering—is she getting to be like Aunt Jane?
Now, listen to this:
Last week I had to have a new party dress, and we found a perfect darling of a pink silk, all gold beads, and gold slippers to match. And I knew I'd look perfectly divine in it; and once Mother would have got it for me. But not this time. She got a horrid white muslin with dots in it, and a blue silk sash, suitable for a child—for any child.
Of course, I was disappointed, and I suppose I did show it—some. In fact, I'm afraid I showed it a whole lot. Mother didn't say anything then; but on the way home in the car she put her arm around me and said:
"I'm sorry about the pink dress, dear. I knew you wanted it. But it was not suitable at all for you—not until you're older, dear."
She stopped a minute, then went on with another little hug:
"Mother will have to look out that her little daughter isn't getting to be vain, and too fond of dress."
I knew then, of course, that it was just some more of that self-discipline business.
But Mother never used to say anything about self-discipline.
Is she getting to be like Aunt Jane?
* * * * *
One week later.
I know she is now.
I'm learning to cook—to cook! And it's Mother that says I must. She told Aunt Hattie—I heard her—that she thought every girl should know how to cook and to keep house; and that if she had learned those things when she was a girl, her life would have been quite different, she was sure.
Of course, I'm not learning in Aunt Hattie's kitchen. Aunt Hattie's got a new cook, and she's worse than Olga used to be—about not wanting folks messing around, I mean. So Aunt Hattie said right off that we couldn't do it there. I am learning at a Domestic Science School, and Mother is going with me. I didn't mind so much when she said she'd go, too. And, really, it is quite a lot of fun—really it is. But it is queer—Mother and I going to school together to learn how to make bread and cake and boil potatoes! And, of course, Aunt Hattie laughs at us. But I don't mind. And Mother doesn't, either. But, oh, how Aunt Jane would love it, if she only knew!
* * * * *
Something is the matter with Mother, certainly. She's acting queerer and queerer, and she is getting to be like Aunt Jane. Why, only this morning she hushed me up from laughing so loud, and stopped my romping up and down the stairs with Lester. She said it was noisy and unladylike—and only just a little while ago she just loved to have me laugh and play and be happy! And when I said so to her this morning, she said, yes, yes, of course, and she wanted me to be happy now, only she wished to remind me that very soon I was going back to my father in Andersonville, and that I ought to begin now to learn to be more quiet, so as not to trouble him when I got there.
Now, what do you think of that?
And another thing. What do you suppose I am learning about now? You'd never guess. Stars. Yes, stars! And that is for Father, too.
Mother came into my room one day with a book of Grandfather's under her arm. She said it was a very wonderful work on astronomy, and she was sure I would find it interesting. She said she was going to read it aloud to me an hour a day. And then, when I got to Andersonville and Father talked to me, I'd know something. And he'd be pleased.
She said she thought we owed it to Father, after he'd been so good and kind as to let me stay here almost three whole months of his six, so I could keep on with my school. And that she was very sure this would please him and make him happy.
And so, for 'most a week now, Mother has read to me an hour a day out of that astronomy book. Then we talk about it. And it is interesting. Mother says it is, too. She says she wishes she'd known something about astronomy when she was a girl; that she's sure it would have made things a whole lot easier and happier all around, when she married Father; for then she would have known something about something he was interested in. She said she couldn't help that now, of course; but she could see that I knew something about such things. And that was why she was reading to me now. Then she said again that she thought we owed it to Father, when he'd been so good to let me stay.
It seems so funny to hear her talk such a lot about Father as she does, when before she never used to mention him—only to say how afraid she was that I would love him better than I did her, and to make me say over and over again that I didn't. And I said so one day to her—I mean, I said I thought it was funny, the way she talked now.
She colored up and bit her lip, and gave a queer little laugh. Then she grew very sober and grave, and said:
"I know, dear. Perhaps I am talking more than I used to. But, you see, I've been thinking quite a lot, and I—I've learned some things. And now, since your father has been so kind and generous in giving you up to me so much of his time, I—I've grown ashamed; and I'm trying to make you forget what I said—about your loving me more than him. That wasn't right, dear. Mother was wrong. She shouldn't try to influence you against your father. He is a good man; and there are none too many good men in the world—No, no, I won't say that," she broke off.
But she'd already said it, and, of course, I knew she was thinking of the violinist. I'm no child.
She went on more after that, quite a lot more. And she said again that I must love Father and try to please him in every way; and she cried a little and talked a lot about how hard it was in my position, and that she was afraid she'd only been making it harder, through her selfishness, and I must forgive her, and try to forget it. And she was very sure she'd do better now. And she said that, after all, life wasn't in just being happy yourself. It was in how much happiness you could give to others.
Oh, it was lovely! And I cried, and she cried some more, and we kissed each other, and I promised. And after she went away I felt all upraised and holy, like you do when you've been to a beautiful church service with soft music and colored windows, and everybody kneeling. And I felt as if I'd never be naughty or thoughtless again. And that I'd never mind being Mary now. Why, I'd be glad to be Mary half the time, and even more—for Father.
Listen. Would you believe it? Just that same evening Mother stopped me again laughing too loud and making too much noise playing with Lester; and I felt real cross. I just boiled inside of me, and said I hated Mary, and that Mother was getting to be just like Aunt Jane. And yet, just that morning—
Oh, if only that hushed, stained-window-soft-music feeling would last!
* * * * *
Well, once more school is done, my trunk is all packed, and I'm ready to go to Andersonville. I leave to-morrow morning. But not as I left last year. Oh, no. It is very, very different. Why, this year I'm really going as Mary. Honestly, Mother has turned me into Mary before I go. Now, what do you think of that? And if I've got to be Mary there and Mary here, too, when can I ever be Marie? Oh, I know I said I'd be willing to be Mary half, and maybe more than half, the time. But when it comes to really being Mary out of turn extra time, that is quite another thing.
And I am Mary.
I've learned to cook. That's Mary.
I've been studying astronomy. That's Mary.
I've learned to walk quietly, speak softly, laugh not too loudly, and be a lady at all times. That's Mary.
And now, to add to all this, Mother has had me dress like Mary. Yes, she began two weeks ago. She came into my room one morning and said she wanted to look over my dresses and things; and I could see, by the way she frowned and bit her lip and tapped her foot on the floor, that she wasn't suited. And I was glad; for, of course, I always like to have new things. So I was pleased when she said:
"I think, my dear, that on Saturday we'll have to go in town shopping. Quite a number of these things will not do at all."
And I was so happy! Visions of new dresses and hats and shoes rose before me, and even the pink beaded silk came into my mind—though I didn't really have much hopes of that.
Well, we went shopping on Saturday, but—did we get the pink silk? We did not. We did get—you'd never guess what. We got two new gingham dresses, very plain and homely, and a pair of horrid, thick low shoes. Why, I could have cried! I did 'most cry as I exclaimed:
"Why, Mother, those are Mary things!"
"Of course, they're Mary things," answered Mother, cheerfully—the kind of cheerfulness that says: "I'm being good and you ought to be." Then she went on. "That's what I meant to buy—Mary things, as you call them. Aren't you going to be Mary just next week? Of course, you are! And didn't you tell me last year, as soon as you got there, Miss Anderson objected to your clothing and bought new for you? Well, I am trying to see that she does not have to do that this year."
And then she bought me a brown serge suit and a hat so tiresomely sensible that even Aunt Jane will love them, I know. And to-morrow I've got to put them on to go in.
Do you wonder that I say I am Mary already?
WHEN I AM NEITHER ONE
Well, I came last night. I had on the brown suit and the sensible hat, and every turn of the wheels all day had been singing: "Mary, Mary, now you're Mary!" Why, Mother even called me Mary when she said good-bye. She came to the junction with me just as she had before, and put me on the other train.
"Now, remember, dear, you're to try very hard to be a joy and a comfort to your father—just the little Mary that he wants you to be. Remember, he has been very kind to let you stay with me so long."
She cried when she kissed me just as she did before; but she didn't tell me this time to be sure and not love Father better than I did her. I noticed that. But, of course, I didn't say anything, though I might have told her easily that I knew nothing could ever make me love him better than I did her.
But I honestly tried, as long as I was dressed like Mary, to feel like Mary; and I made up my mind that I would be Mary, too, just as well as I knew how to be, so that even Aunt Jane couldn't find any fault with me. And I'd try to please Father, and make him not mind my being there, even if I couldn't make him love me. And as I got to thinking of it, I was glad that I had on the Mary things, so I wouldn't have to make any change. Then I could show Aunt Jane that I was really going to be Mary, right along from the start, when she met me at the station. And I would show Father, too, if he was at home. And I couldn't help hoping he would be home this time, and not off to look at any old stars or eclipses.
When we got to Andersonville, and the train rolled into the station, I 'most forgot, for a minute, and ran down the aisle, so as to get out quick. I was so excited! But right away I thought of Aunt Jane and that she might see me; so I slowed down to a walk, and I let quite a lot of other folks get ahead of me, as I was sure Mary ought to. You see, I was determined to be a good little Mary from the very start, so that even Aunt Jane couldn't find a word of fault—not even with my actions. I knew she couldn't with my clothes!
Well, I stepped down from the cars and looked over to where the carriages were to find John and Aunt Jane. But they weren't there. There wasn't even the carriage there; and I can remember now just how my heart sort of felt sick inside of me when I thought that even Aunt Jane had forgotten, and that there wasn't anybody to meet me.
There was a beautiful big green automobile there, and I thought how I wished that had come to meet me; and I was just wondering what I should do, when all of a sudden somebody spoke my name. And who do you think it was? You'd never guess it in a month. It was Father. Yes, FATHER!
Why, I could have hugged him, I was so glad. But of course I didn't, right before all those people. But he was so tall and handsome and splendid, and I felt so proud to be walking along the platform with him and letting folks see that he'd come to meet me! But I couldn't say anything—not anything, the way I wanted to; and all I could do was to stammer out:
"Why, where's Aunt Jane?"
And that's just the thing I didn't want to say; and I knew it the minute I'd said it. Why, it sounded as if I missed Aunt Jane, and wanted her instead of him, when all the time I was so pleased and excited to see him that I could hardly speak.
I don't know whether Father liked it, or minded it. I couldn't tell by his face. He just kind of smiled, and looked queer, and said that Aunt Jane—er—couldn't come. Then I felt sorry; for I saw, of course, that that was why he had come; not because he wanted to, but because Aunt Jane couldn't, so he had to. And I could have cried, all the while he was fixing it up about my trunk.
He turned then and led the way straight over to where the carriages were, and the next minute there was John touching his cap to me; only it was a brand-new John looking too sweet for anything in a chauffeur's cap and uniform. And, what do you think? He was helping me into that beautiful big green car before I knew it.
"Why, Father, Father!" I cried. "You don't mean"—I just couldn't finish; but he finished for me.
"It is ours—yes. Do you like it?"
"Like it!" I guess he didn't need to have me say any more. But I did say more. I just raved and raved over that car until Father's eyes crinkled all up in little smile wrinkles, and he said:
"I'm glad. I hoped you'd like it."
"I guess I do like it!" I cried. Then I went on to tell him how I thought it was the prettiest one I ever saw, and 'way ahead of even Mr. Easterbrook's.
"And, pray, who is Mr. Easterbrook?" asked Father then. "The violinist, perhaps—eh?"
Now, wasn't it funny he should have remembered that there was a violinist? But, of course, I told him no, it wasn't the violinist. It was another one that took Mother to ride, the one I told him about in the Christmas letter; and he was very rich, and had two perfectly beautiful cars; and I was going on to tell more—how he didn't take Mother now—but I didn't get a chance, for Father interrupted, and said, "Yes, yes, to be sure." And he showed he wasn't interested, for all the little smile wrinkles were gone, and he looked stern and dignified, more like he used to. And he went on to say that, as we had almost reached home, he had better explain right away that Aunt Jane was no longer living there; that his cousin from the West, Mrs. Whitney, was keeping house for him now. She was a very nice lady, and he hoped I would like her. And I might call her "Cousin Grace."
And before I could even draw breath to ask any questions, we were home; and a real pretty lady, with a light-blue dress on, was helping me out of the car, and kissing me as she did so.
Now, do you wonder that I have been rubbing my eyes and wondering if I was really I, and if this was Andersonville? Even now I'm not sure but it's a dream, and I shall wake up and find I've gone to sleep on the cars, and that the train is just drawing into the station, and that John and the horses, and Aunt Jane in her I-don't-care-how-it-looks black dress are there to meet me.
* * * * *
One week later.
It isn't a dream. It's all really, truly true—everything: Father coming to meet me, the lovely automobile, and the pretty lady in the light-blue dress, who kissed me. And when I went downstairs the next morning I found out it was real, 'specially the pretty lady; for she kissed me again, and said she hoped I'd be happy there. And she never said one word about dusting one hour and studying one hour and weeding one hour. (Of course, she couldn't say anything about my clothes, for I was already in a Mary blue-gingham dress.) She just told me to amuse myself any way I liked, and said, if I wanted to, I might run over to see some of the girls, but not to make any plans for the afternoon, for she was going to take me to ride.
Now, what do you think of that? Go to see the girls in the morning, and take a ride—an automobile ride!—in the afternoon. In Andersonville! Why, I couldn't believe my ears. Of course, I was wild and crazy with delight—but it was all so different. Why, I began to think almost that I was Marie, and not Mary at all.
And it's been that way the whole week through. I've had a beautiful time. I've been so excited! And Mother is excited, too. Of course, I wrote her and told her all about it right away. And she wrote right back and wanted to know everything—everything I could tell her; all the little things. And she was so interested in Cousin Grace, and wanted to know all about her; said she never heard of her before, and was she Father's own cousin, and how old was she, and was she pretty, and was Father around the house more now, and did I see a lot of him? She thought from something I said that I did.
I've just been writing her again, and I could tell her more now, of course, than I could in that first letter. I've been here a whole week, and, of course, I know more about things, and have done more.
I told her that Cousin Grace wasn't really Father's cousin at all, so it wasn't any wonder she hadn't ever heard of her. She was the wife of Father's third cousin who went to South America six years ago and caught the fever and died there. So this Mrs. Whitney isn't really any relation of his at all. But he'd always known her, even before she married his cousin; and so, when her husband died, and she didn't have any home, he asked her to come here.
I don't know why Aunt Jane went away, but she's been gone 'most four months now, they say here. Nellie told me. Nellie is the maid—I mean hired girl—here now. (I will keep forgetting that I'm Mary now and must use the Mary words here.)
I told Mother that she (Cousin Grace) was quite old, but not so old as Aunt Jane. (I asked Nellie, and Nellie said she guessed she was thirty-five, but she didn't look a day over twenty-five.) And she is pretty, and everybody loves her. I think even Father likes to have her around better than he did his own sister Jane, for he sometimes stays around quite a lot now—after meals, and in the evening, I mean. And that's what I told Mother. Oh, of course, he still likes his stars the best of anything, but not quite as well as he used to, maybe—not to give all his time to them.
I haven't anything especial to write. I'm just having a beautiful time. Of course, I miss Mother, but I know I'm going to have her again in just September—I forgot to say that Father is going to let me go back to school again this year ahead of his time, just as he did last year.
So you see, really, I'm here only a little bit of a while, as it is now, and it's no wonder I keep forgetting I am Mary.
I haven't got anything new for the love part of my story. I am sorry about that. But there just isn't anything, so I'm afraid the book never will be a love story, anyway.
Of course, I'm not with Mother now, so I don't know whether there's anything there, or not; but I don't think there will be. And as for Father—I've pretty nearly given him up. Anyhow, there never used to be any signs of hope for me there. As for myself—well, I've about given that up, too. I don't believe they're going to give me any chance to have anybody till I'm real old—probably not till I'm twenty-one or two. And I can't wait all that time to finish this book.
* * * * *
One week later.
Things are awfully funny here this time. I wonder if it's all Cousin Grace that makes it so. Anyhow, she's just as different as different can be from Aunt Jane. And things are different, everywhere.
Why, I forget half the time that I'm Mary. Honestly, I do. I try to be Mary. I try to move quietly, speak gently, and laugh softly, just as Mother told me to. But before I know it I'm acting natural again—just like Marie, you know.
And I believe it is Cousin Grace. She never looks at you in Aunt Jane's I'm-amazed-at-you way. And she laughs herself a lot, and sings and plays, too—real pretty lively things; not just hymn tunes. And the house is different. There are four geraniums in the dining-room window, and the parlor is open every day. The wax flowers are there, but the hair wreath and the coffin plate are gone. Cousin Grace doesn't dress like Aunt Jane, either. She wears pretty white and blue dresses, and her hair is curly and fluffy.
And so I think all this is why I keep forgetting to be Mary. But, of course, I understand that Father expects me to be Mary, and so I try to remember—only I can't. Why, I couldn't even show him how much I knew about the stars. I tried to the other night. I went out to the observatory where he was, and asked him questions about the stars. I tried to seem interested, and was going to tell him how I'd been studying about them, but he just laughed kind of funny, and said not to bother my pretty head about such things, but to come in and play to him on the piano.
So, of course, I did. And he sat and listened to three whole pieces. Now, wasn't that funny?
* * * * *
Two weeks later.
I understand it all now—everything: why the house is different, and Father, and everything. And it is Cousin Grace, and it is a love story.
Father is in love with her.
Now I guess I shall have something for this book!
It seems funny now that I didn't think of it at first. But I didn't—not until I heard Nellie and her beau talking about it. Nellie said she wasn't the only one in the house that was going to get married. And when he asked her what she meant, she said it was Dr. Anderson and Mrs. Whitney. That anybody could see it that wasn't as blind as a bat.
My, but wasn't I excited? I just guess I was. And, of course, I saw then that I had been blind as a bat. But I began to open my eyes after that, and watch—not disagreeably, you know, but just glad and interested, and on account of the book.
And I saw:
That father stayed in the house a lot more than he used to.
That he talked more.
That he never thundered—I mean spoke stern and uncompromising to Cousin Grace the way he used to to Aunt Jane.
That he smiled more.
That he wasn't so absent-minded at meals and other times, but seemed to know we were there—Cousin Grace and I.
That he actually asked Cousin Grace and me to play for him several times.
That he went with us to the Sunday-School picnic. (I never saw Father at a picnic before, and I don't believe he ever saw himself at one.)
That—oh, I don't know, but a whole lot of little things that I can't remember; but they were all unmistakable, very unmistakable. And I wondered, when I saw it all, that I had been as blind as a bat before.
Of course, I was glad—glad he's going to marry her, I mean. I was glad for everybody; for Father and Cousin Grace, for they would be happy, of course, and he wouldn't be lonesome any more. And I was glad for Mother because I knew she'd be glad that he'd at last found the good, kind woman to make a home for him. And, of course, I was glad for myself, for I'd much rather have Cousin Grace here than Aunt Jane, and I knew she'd make the best new mother of any of them. And last, but not least, I'm glad for the book, because now I've got a love story sure. That is, I'm pretty sure. Of course, it may not be so; but I think it is.
When I wrote Mother I told her all about it—the signs and symptoms, I mean, and how different and thawed-out Father was; and I asked if she didn't think it was so, too. But she didn't answer that part. She didn't write much, anyway. It was an awfully snippy letter; but she said she had a headache and didn't feel at all well. So that was the reason, probably, why she didn't say more—about Father's love affair, I mean. She only said she was glad, she was sure, if Father had found an estimable woman to make a home for him, and she hoped they'd be happy. Then she went on talking about something else. And she didn't write much more, anyway, about anything.
* * * * *
Well, of all the topsy-turvy worlds, this is the topsy-turviest, I am sure. What do they want me to do, and which do they want me to be? Oh, I wish I was just a plain Susie or Bessie, and not a cross-current and a contradiction, with a father that wants me to be one thing and a mother that wants me to be another! It was bad enough before, when Father wanted me to be Mary, and Mother wanted me to be Marie. But now—
Well, to begin at the beginning.
It's all over—the love story, I mean, and I know now why it's been so hard for me to remember to be Mary and why everything is different, and all.
They don't want me to be Mary.
They want me to be Marie.
And now I don't know what to think. If Mother's going to want me to be Mary, and Father's going to want me to be Marie, how am I going to know what anybody wants, ever? Besides, it was getting to be such a beautiful love story—Father and Cousin Grace. And now—
But let me tell you what happened.
It was last night. We were on the piazza, Father, Cousin Grace, and I. And I was thinking how perfectly lovely it was that Father was there, and that he was getting to be so nice and folksy, and how I did hope it would last, even after he'd married her, and not have any of that incompatibility stuff come into it. Well, just then she got up and went into the house for something—Cousin Grace, I mean—and all of a sudden I determined to tell Father how glad I was, about him and Cousin Grace; and how I hoped it would last—having him out there with us, and all that. And I told him.
I don't remember what I said exactly. But I know I hurried on and said it fast, so as to get in all I could before he interrupted; for he had interrupted right at the first with an exclamation; and I knew he was going to say more right away, just as soon as he got a chance. And I didn't want him to get a chance till I'd said what I wanted to. But I hadn't anywhere near said what I wanted to when he did stop me. Why, he almost jumped out of his chair.
"Mary!" he gasped. "What in the world are you talking about?"
"Why, Father, I was telling you," I explained. And I tried to be so cool and calm that it would make him calm and cool, too. (But it didn't calm him or cool him one bit.) "It's about when you're married, and—"
"Married!" he interrupted again. (They never let me interrupt like that!)
"To Cousin Grace—yes. But, Father, you—you are going to marry Cousin Grace, aren't you?" I cried—and I did 'most cry, for I saw by his face that he was not.
"That is not my present intention," he said. His lips came together hard, and he looked over his shoulder to see if Cousin Grace was coming back.
"But you're going to sometime," I begged him.
"I do not expect to." Again he looked over his shoulder to see if she was coming. I looked, too, and we both saw through the window that she had gone into the library and lighted up and was sitting at the table reading.
I fell back in my chair, and I know I looked grieved and hurt and disappointed, as I almost sobbed:
"Oh, Father, and when I thought you were going to!"
"There, there, child!" He spoke, stern and almost cross now. "This absurd, nonsensical idea has gone quite far enough. Let us think no more about it."
"It isn't absurd and nonsensical!" I cried. And I could hardly say the words, I was choking up so. "Everybody said you were going to, and I wrote Mother so; and—"
"You wrote that to your mother?" He did jump from his chair this time.
"Yes; and she was glad."
"Oh, she was!" He sat down sort of limp-like and queer.
"Yes. She said she was glad you'd found an estimable woman to make a home for you."
"Oh, she did." He said this, too, in that queer, funny, quiet kind of way.
"Yes." I spoke, decided and firm. I'd begun to think, all of a sudden, that maybe he didn't appreciate Mother as much as she did him; and I determined right then and there to make him, if I could. When I remembered all the lovely things she'd said about him—
"Father," I began; and I spoke this time, even more decided and firm. "I don't believe you appreciate Mother."
He made me jump this time, he turned around with such a jerk, and spoke so sharply. But in spite of the jump I still held on to my subject, firm and decided.
"I say I don't believe you appreciate my mother. You acted right now as if you didn't believe she meant it when I told you she was glad you had found an estimable woman to make a home for you. But she did mean it. I know, because she said it before, once, last year, that she hoped you would find one."
"Oh, she did." He sat back in his chair again, sort of limp-like. But I couldn't tell yet, from his face, whether I'd convinced him or not. So I went on.
"Yes, and that isn't all. There's another reason, why I know Mother always has—has your best interest at heart. She—she tried to make me over into Mary before I came, so as to please you."
"She did what?" Once more he made me jump, he turned so suddenly, and spoke with such a short, sharp snap.
But in spite of the jump I went right on, just as I had before, firm and decided. I told him everything—all about the cooking lessons, and the astronomy book we read an hour every day, and the pink silk dress I couldn't have, and even about the box of chocolates and the self-discipline. And how she said if she'd had self-discipline when she was a girl, her life would have been very different. And I told him about how she began to hush me up from laughing too loud, or making any kind of noise, because I was soon to be Mary, and she wanted me to get used to it, so I wouldn't trouble him when I got here.
I talked very fast and hurriedly. I was afraid he'd interrupt, and I wanted to get in all I could before he did. But he didn't interrupt at all. I couldn't see how he was taking it, though—what I said—for after the very first he sat back in his chair and shaded his eyes with his hand; and he sat like that all the time I was talking. He did not even stir until I said how at the last she bought me the homely shoes and the plain dark suit so I could go as Mary, and be Mary when Aunt Jane first saw me get off the train.
When I said that, he dropped his hand and turned around and stared at me. And there was such a funny look in his eyes.
"I thought you didn't look the same!" he cried; "not so white and airy and—and—I can't explain it, but you looked different. And yet, I didn't think it could be so, for I knew you looked just as you did when you came, and that no one had asked you to—to put on Mary's things this year."
He sort of smiled when he said that; then he got up and began to walk up and down the piazza, muttering: "So you came as Mary, you came as Mary." Then, after a minute, he gave a funny little laugh and sat down.
Mrs. Small came up the front walk then to see Cousin Grace, and Father told her to go right into the library where Cousin Grace was. So we were left alone again, after a minute.
It was 'most dark on the piazza, but I could see Father's face in the light from the window; and it looked—well, I'd never seen it look like that before. It was as if something that had been on it for years had dropped off and left it clear where before it had been blurred and indistinct. No, that doesn't exactly describe it either. I can't describe it. But I'll go on and say what he said.
After Mrs. Small had gone into the house, and he saw that she was sitting down with Cousin Grace in the library, he turned to me and said:
"And so you came as Mary?"
I said yes, I did.
"Well, I—I got ready for Marie."
But then I didn't quite understand, not even when I looked at him, and saw the old understanding twinkle in his eyes.
"You mean—you thought I was coming as Marie, of course," I said then.
"Yes," he nodded.
"But I came as Mary."
"I see now that you did." He drew in his breath with a queer little catch to it; then he got up and walked up and down the piazza again. (Why do old folks always walk up and down the room like that when they're thinking hard about something? Father always does; and Mother does lots of times, too.) But it wasn't but a minute this time before Father came and sat down.
"Well, Mary," he began; and his voice sounded odd, with a little shake in it. "You've told me your story, so I suppose I may as well tell you mine—now. You see, I not only got ready for Marie, but I had planned to keep her Marie, and not let her be Mary—at all."
And then he told me. He told me how he'd never forgotten that day in the parlor when I cried (and made a wet spot on the arm of the sofa—I never forgot that!), and he saw then how hard it was for me to live here, with him so absorbed in his work and Aunt Jane so stern in her black dress. And he said I put it very vividly when I talked about being Marie in Boston, and Mary here, and he saw just how it was. And so he thought and thought about it all winter, and wondered what he could do. And after a time it came to him—he'd let me be Marie here; that is, he'd try to make it so I could be Marie. And he was just wondering how he was going to get Aunt Jane to help him when she was sent for and asked to go to an old friend who was sick. And he told her to go, by all means to go. Then he got Cousin Grace to come here. He said he knew Cousin Grace, and he was very sure she would know how to help him to let me stay Marie. So he talked it over with her—how they would let me laugh, and sing and play the piano all I wanted to, and wear the clothes I brought with me, and be just as near as I could be the way I was in Boston.
"And to think, after all my preparation for Marie, you should be Mary already, when you came," he finished.
"Yes. Wasn't it funny?" I laughed. "All the time you were getting ready for Marie, Mother was getting me ready to be Mary. It was funny!" And it did seem funny to me then.
But Father was not laughing. He had sat back in his chair, and had covered his eyes with his hand again, as if he was thinking and thinking, just as hard as he could. And I suppose it did seem queer to him, that he should be trying to make me Marie, and all the while Mother was trying to make me Mary. And it seemed so to me, as I began to think it over. It wasn't funny at all, any longer.
"And so your mother—did that," Father muttered; and there was the queer little catch in his breath again.
He didn't say any more, not a single word. And after a minute he got up and went into the house. But he didn't go into the library where Mrs. Small and Cousin Grace were talking. He went straight upstairs to his own room and shut the door. I heard it. And he was still there when I went up to bed afterwards.
Well, I guess he doesn't feel any worse than I do. I thought at first it was funny, a good joke—his trying to have me Marie while Mother was making me over into Mary. But I see now that it isn't. It's awful. Why, how am I going to know at all who to be—now? Before, I used to know just when to be Mary, and when to be Marie—Mary with Father, Marie with Mother. Now I don't know at all. Why, they can't even seem to agree on that! I suppose it's just some more of that incompatibility business showing up even when they are apart. And poor me—I have to suffer for it. I'm beginning to see that the child does suffer—I mean the child of unlikes.
Now, look at me right now—about my clothes, for instance. (Of course clothes are a little thing, you may think; but I don't think anything's little that's always with you like clothes are!) Well, here all summer, and even before I came, I've been wearing stuffy gingham and clumpy shoes to please Father. And Father isn't pleased at all. He wanted me to wear the Marie things.
And there you are.
How do you suppose Mother's going to feel when I tell her that after all her pains Father didn't like it at all. He wanted me to be Marie. It's a shame, after all the pains she took. But I won't write it to her, anyway. Maybe I won't have to tell her, unless she asks me.
But I know it. And, pray, what am I to do? Of course, I can act like Marie here all right, if that is what folks want. (I guess I have been doing it a good deal of the time, anyway, for I kept forgetting that I was Mary.) But I can't wear Marie, for I haven't a single Marie thing here. They're all Mary. That's all I brought.
Oh, dear suz me! Why couldn't Father and Mother have been just the common live-happy-ever-after kind, or else found out before they married that they were unlikes?
* * * * *
Well, vacation is over, and I go back to Boston to-morrow. It's been very nice and I've had a good time, in spite of being so mixed up as to whether I was Mary or Marie. It wasn't so bad as I was afraid it would be. Very soon after Father and I had that talk on the piazza, Cousin Grace took me down to the store and bought me two new white dresses, and the dearest little pair of shoes I ever saw. She said Father wanted me to have them.
And that's all—every single word that's been said about that Mary-and-Marie business. And even that didn't really say anything—not by name. And Cousin Grace never mentioned it again. And Father never mentioned it at all. Not a word.
But he's been queer. He's been awfully queer. Some days he's been just as he was when I first came this time—real talky and folksy, and as if he liked to be with us. Then for whole days at a time he'd be more as he used to—stern, and stirring his coffee when there isn't any coffee there; and staying all the evening and half the night out in his observatory.
Some days he's talked a lot with me—asked me questions just as he used to, all about what I did in Boston, and Mother, and the people that came there to see her, and everything. And he spoke of the violinist again, and, of course, this time I told him all about him, and that he didn't come any more, nor Mr. Easterbrook, either; and Father was so interested! Why, it seemed sometimes as if he just couldn't hear enough about things. Then, all of a sudden, at times, he'd get right up in the middle of something I was saying and act as if he was just waiting for me to finish my sentence so he could go. And he did go, just as soon as I had finished my sentence. And after that, maybe, he wouldn't hardly speak to me again for a whole day.
And so that's why I say he's been so queer since that night on the piazza. But most of the time he's been lovely, perfectly lovely. And so has Cousin Grace, And I've had a beautiful time.
But I do wish they would marry—Father and Cousin Grace, I mean. And I'm not talking now entirely for the sake of the book. It's for their sakes—especially for Father's sake. I've been thinking what Mother used to say about him, when she was talking about my being Mary—how he was lonely, and needed a good, kind woman to make a home for him. And while I've been thinking of it, I've been watching him; and I think he does need a good, kind woman to make a home for him. I'd be willing to have a new mother for his sake!
Oh, yes, I know he's got Cousin Grace, but he may not have her always. Maybe she'll be sent for same as Aunt Jane was. Then what's he going to do, I should like to know?
WHICH IS THE REAL LOVE STORY
BOSTON. Four days later.
Well, here I am again in Boston. Mother and the rest met me at the station, and everybody seemed glad to see me, just as they did before. And I was glad to see them. But I didn't feel anywhere near so excited, and sort of crazy, as I did last year. I tried to, but I couldn't. I don't know why. Maybe it was because I'd been Marie all summer, anyway, so I wasn't so crazy to be Marie now, not needing any rest from being Mary. Maybe it was 'cause I sort of hated to leave Father.
And I did hate to leave him, especially when I found he hated to have me leave him. And he did. He told me so at the junction. You see, our train was late, and we had to wait for it; and there was where he told me.
He had come all the way down there with me, just as he had before. But he hadn't acted the same at all. He didn't fidget this time, nor walk over to look at maps and time-tables, nor flip out his watch every other minute with such a bored air that everybody knew he was seeing me off just as a duty. And he didn't ask if I was warmly clad, and had I left anything, either. He just sat and talked to me, and he asked me had I been a little happier there with him this year than last; and he said he hoped I had.
And I told him, of course, I had; that it had been perfectly beautiful there, even if there had been such a mix-up of him getting ready for Marie, and Mother sending Mary. And he laughed and looked queer—sort of half glad and half sorry; and said he shouldn't worry about that. Then the train came, and we got on and rode down to the junction. And there, while we were waiting for the other train, he told me how sorry he was to have me go.
He said I would never know how he missed me after I went last year. He said you never knew how you missed things—and people—till they were gone. And I wondered if, by the way he said it, he wasn't thinking of Mother more than he was of me, and of her going long ago. And he looked so sort of sad and sorry and noble and handsome, sitting there beside me, that suddenly I 'most wanted to cry. And I told him I did love him, I loved him dearly, and I had loved to be with him this summer, and that I'd stay his whole six months with him next year if he wanted me to.
He shook his head at that; but he did look happy and pleased, and said I'd never know how glad he was that I'd said that, and that he should prize it very highly—the love of his little daughter. He said you never knew how to prize love, either, till you'd lost it; and he said he'd learned his lesson, and learned it well. I knew then, of course, that he was thinking of Mother and the long ago. And I felt so sorry for him.
"But I'll stay—I'll stay the whole six months next year!" I cried again.
But again he shook his head.
"No, no, my dear; I thank you, and I'd love to have you; but it is much better for you that you stay in Boston through the school year, and I want you to do it. It'll just make the three months I do have you all the dearer, because of the long nine months that I do not," he went on very cheerfully and briskly; "and don't look so solemn and long-faced. You're not to blame—for this wretched situation."
The train came then, and he put me on board, and he kissed me again—but I was expecting it this time, of course. Then I whizzed off, and he was left standing all alone on the platform. And I felt so sorry for him; and all the way down to Boston I kept thinking of him—what he said, and how he looked, and how fine and splendid and any-woman-would-be-proud-of-him he was as he stood on the platform waving good-bye.
And so I guess I was still thinking of him and being sorry for him when I got to Boston. That's why I couldn't be so crazy and hilariously glad when the folks met me, I suspect. Some way, all of a sudden, I found myself wishing he could be there, too.
Of course, I knew that that was bad and wicked and unkind to Mother, and she'd feel so grieved not to have me satisfied with her. And I wouldn't have told her of it for the world. So I tried just as hard as I could to forget him—on account of Mother, so as to be loyal to her. And I did 'most forget him by the time I'd got home. But it all came back again a little later when we were unpacking my trunk.
You see, Mother found the two new white dresses, and the dear little shoes. I knew then, of course, that she'd have to know all—I mean, how she hadn't pleased Father, even after all her pains trying to have me go as Mary.
"Why, Marie, what in the world is this?" she demanded, holding up one of the new dresses.
I could have cried.
I suppose she saw by my face how awfully I felt 'cause she'd found it. And, of course, she saw something was the matter; and she thought it was—
Well, the first thing I knew she was looking at me in her very sternest, sorriest way, and saying:
"Oh, Marie, how could you? I'm ashamed of you! Couldn't you wear the Mary dresses one little three months to please your father?"
I did cry, then. After all I'd been through, to have her accuse me of getting those dresses! Well, I just couldn't stand it. And I told her so as well as I could, only I was crying so by now that I could hardly speak. I told her how it was hard enough to be Mary part of the time, and Marie part of the time, when I knew what they wanted me to be. But when she tried to have me Mary while he wanted me Marie, and he tried to have me Marie while she wanted me Mary—I did not know what they wanted; and I wished I had never been born unless I could have been born a plain Susie or Bessie, or Annabelle, and not a Mary Marie that was all mixed up till I didn't know what I was.
And then I cried some more.
Mother dropped the dress then, and took me in her arms over on the couch, and she said, "There, there," and that I was tired and nervous, and all wrought up, and to cry all I wanted to. And by and by, when I was calmer I could tell Mother all about it.
And I did.
I told her how hard I tried to be Mary all the way up to Andersonville and after I got there; and how then I found out, all of a sudden one day, that father had got ready for Marie, and he didn't want me to be Mary, and that was why he had got Cousin Grace and the automobile and the geraniums in the window, and, oh, everything that made it nice and comfy and homey. And then is when they bought me the new white dresses and the little white shoes. And I told Mother, of course, it was lovely to be Marie, and I liked it, only I knew she would feel bad to think, after all her pains to make me Mary, Father didn't want me Mary at all.
"I don't think you need to worry—about that," stammered Mother. And when I looked at her, her face was all flushed, and sort of queer, but not a bit angry. And she went on in the same odd little shaky voice: "But, tell me, why—why did—your father want you to be Marie and not Mary?"
And then I told her how he said he'd remembered what I'd said to him in the parlor that day—how tired I got being Mary, and how I'd put on Marie's things just to get a little vacation from her; and he said he'd never forgotten. And so when it came near time for me to come again, he determined to fix it so I wouldn't have to be Mary at all. And so that was why. And I told Mother it was all right, and of course I liked it; only it did mix me up awfully, not knowing which wanted me to be Mary now, and which Marie, when they were both telling me different from what they ever had before. And that it was hard, when you were trying just the best you knew how.
And I began to cry again.
And she said there, there, once more, and patted me on my shoulder, and told me I needn't worry any more. And that she understood it, if I didn't. In fact, she was beginning to understand a lot of things that she'd never understood before. And she said it was very, very dear of Father to do what he did, and that I needn't worry about her being displeased at it. That she was pleased, and that she believed he meant her to be. And she said I needn't think any more whether to be Mary or Marie; but to be just a good, loving little daughter to both of them; and that was all she asked, and she was very sure it was all Father would ask, too.
I told her then how I thought he did care a little about having me there, and that I knew he was going to miss me. And I told her why—what he'd said that morning in the junction—about appreciating love, and not missing things or people until you didn't have them; and how he'd learned his lesson, and all that.
And Mother grew all flushed and rosy again, but she was pleased. I knew she was. And she said some beautiful things about making other people happy, instead of looking to ourselves all the time, just as she had talked once, before I went away. And I felt again that hushed, stained-window, soft-music, everybody-kneeling kind of a way; and I was so happy! And it lasted all the rest of that evening till I went to sleep.
And for the first time a beautiful idea came to me, when I thought how Mother was trying to please Father, and he was trying to please her. Wouldn't it be perfectly lovely and wonderful if Father and Mother should fall in love with each other all over again, and get married? I guess then this would be a love story all right, all right!
* * * * *
Oh, how I wish that stained-window, everybody-kneeling feeling would last. But it never does. Just the next morning, when I woke up, it rained. And I didn't feel pleased a bit. Still I remembered what had happened the night before, and a real glow came over me at the beautiful idea I had gone to sleep with.
I wanted to tell Mother, and ask her if it couldn't be, and wouldn't she let it be, if Father would. So, without waiting to dress me, I hurried across the hall to her room and told her all about it—my idea, and everything.
But she said, "Nonsense," and, "Hush, hush," when I asked her if she and Father couldn't fall in love all over again and get married. And she said not to get silly notions into my head. And she wasn't a bit flushed and teary, as she had been the night before, and she didn't talk at all as she had then, either. And it's been that way ever since. Things have gone along in just the usual humdrum way, and she's never been the same as she was that night I came.
Something—a little something—did happen yesterday, though. There's going to be another big astronomy meeting here in Boston this month, just as there was when Father found Mother years ago; and Grandfather brought home word that Father was going to be one of the chief speakers. And he told Mother he supposed she'd go and hear him.
I couldn't make out whether he was joking or not. (I never can tell when Grandfather's joking.) But Aunt Hattie took it right up in earnest, and said, "Pooh, pooh," she guessed not. She could see Madge going down to that hall to hear Dr. Anderson speak!
And then a funny thing happened. I looked at Mother, and I saw her head come up with a queer little jerk.
"Well, yes, I am thinking of going," she said, just as calm and cool as could be. "When does he speak, Father?"
And when Aunt Hattie pooh-poohed some more, and asked how could she do such a thing, Mother answered:
"Because Charles Anderson is the father of my little girl, and I think she should hear him speak. Therefore, Hattie, I intend to take her."
And then she asked Grandfather again when Father was going to speak.
I'm so excited! Only think of seeing my father up on a big platform with a lot of big men, and hearing him speak! And he'll be the very smartest and handsomest one there, too. You see if he isn't!
* * * * *
Two weeks and one day later.
Oh, I've got a lot to write this time—I mean, a lot has happened. Still, I don't know as it's going to take so very long to tell it. Besides, I'm almost too excited to write, anyway. But I'm going to do the best I can to tell it, just as it happened.
Father's here—right here in Boston. I don't know when he came. But the first day of the meeting was day before yesterday, and he was here then. The paper said he was, and his picture was there, too. There were a lot of pictures, but his was away ahead of the others. It was the very best one on the page. (I told you it would be that way.)
Mother saw it first. That is, I think she did. She had the paper in her hand, looking at it, when I came into the room; but as soon as she saw me she laid it right down quick on the table. If she hadn't been quite so quick about it, and if she hadn't looked quite so queer when she did it, I wouldn't have thought anything at all. But when I went over to the table after she had gone, and saw the paper with Father's picture right on the first page—and the biggest picture there—I knew then, of course, what she'd been looking at.
I looked at it then, and I read what it said, too. It was lovely. Why, I hadn't any idea Father was so big. I was prouder than ever of him. It told all about the stars and comets he'd discovered, and the books he'd written on astronomy, and how he was president of the college at Andersonville, and that he was going to give an address the next day. And I read it all—every word. And I made up my mind right there and then that I'd cut out that piece and save it.
But that night, when I went to the library cupboard to get the paper, I couldn't do it, after all. Oh, the paper was there, but that page was gone. There wasn't a bit of it left. Somebody had taken it right out. I never thought then of Mother. But I believe now that it was Mother, for—
But I mustn't tell you that part now. Stories are just like meals. You have to eat them—I mean tell them—in regular order, and not put the ice-cream in where the soup ought to be. So I'm not going to tell yet why I suspect it was Mother that cut out that page of the paper with Father's picture in it.