Abridged from Just Mary, by Effie M. Williams
Just Mary: Part 2
In this continuation of our story, Roy reaches a pivotal crisis in his young life, while trouble also comes to the family of his beloved niece.
Spring waned and summer set in with its scorching heat. Many of the creeks in the country had gone dry, and numbers of the country folk were without good water, and many were becoming ill with that dreadful disease, typhoid. The latter part of August a letter came from Elsie, informing them that Dan had not been well for some time, and was now not able to be out of bed, and she feared he had the fever. She also stated her own physical condition and what it would mean should Dan be sick any length of time. Another letter two days later informed them Dan really had the fever and was continually raging and asked if someone could not help her out. Immediately Mother Harmon made ready and went to her.
Dan lay for weeks in a delirious condition and they despaired of his life. After several weeks he began to amend, but the fever left him in such a weakened condition that he needed constant care for some time, and Mother Harmon stayed on. Although Dan began to improve another care came to Mother Harmon, for Elsie presented her husband at this time with a new son which she named Otis Harmon. This only increased the burden upon Mother Harmon’s tired body as she cared for Dan, who in his weakened condition required special attention, and then to care for Elsie and the new baby. Mary had been sent to an aunt, who tried to help out in this way. It seemed difficult to get anyone to assist as all feared the disease and thought it might be they too would come down with it. When baby Otis was ten days old, Mother Harmon became ill, and after a few days had to return to her own home. This left Elsie to care for her baby and also to do many other duties about the place which were too much of a burden for her in her present physical condition. The aunt who had kept Mary during Dan’s illness now came to render what assistance she could, but it was not like when Mother Harmon had been there and many strenuous tasks that should not have been Elsie’s were done by her. Dan gained strength rapidly, but Elsie could not recover from that tired, distressed feeling all the time.
Mother Harmon returned home and for some time seemed to be on the way to recovery. The physician told them a few weeks of complete rest would soon put her on her feet again and she would be able to be about her duties in the home. But it seemed she was slow in gaining strength, although she was not confined to her bed all the time. October passed, and November came in with its cold, windy weather. A light snow had fallen, and Father Harmon laid in a good supply of wood that Mother Harmon would have plenty to keep the house warm without having to step outside to get it. She had prepared the morning’s meal and after lying down to rest, arose and began to tidy up the house a little. As she bent over the big wood box to get some wood for the stove, she was seized with a peculiar feeling and fell on the floor, where she was found when Father Harmon entered the house some time later. She was unable to assist herself in any way and could scarcely speak, but after some effort made them to understand how it all occurred. A physician was immediately summoned, who pronounced her case an attack of paralysis and her condition serious. All was done for her that could be done, but at the end of the third day, while Father Harmon, David, and Roy stood about her bed, Mother Harmon passed into eternity.
What a blow this was to the family, and especially to Roy, for she had been the one who understood, the one in whom he could confide and feel that there was something akin in her own heart to that which he felt! Where would he go now and to whom could he turn? No tears came to him to relieve him, but his pale face and quivering body told of a grief that had struck deeply, eating into the heart’s core. When her body was laid in the casket and the family gathered about, Roy stood speechless, staring at the remains of her who had been all to him that a mother could be and his sole confidant and the one who understood. No tears came to his relief, but his body trembled as one with a chill, and his face paled so that all could see his grief was too deep for tears.
Mother Harmon had been gone two weeks, when one evening Roy saddled one of the horses and, leading it from the stable, started to mount, when his father called to him to know what he meant to do. Upon being informed that he meant to go to the cemetery Father Harmon began to remonstrate as there was a storm approaching. The lightning was flashing across the sky, the thunder was rolling, and the blackened clouds spoke of a real downpour of rain.
“Why, Son,” said Father Harmon, “don’t you know that you will be drenched, for you will not get to the cemetery before the storm will break? You must not go now.”
But no amount of persuasion was of avail, and as Roy mounted the horse he said, “I have stood it as long as I can, Papa, and I must go. I want to tell Mother just how I feel, for she was the only one who ever understood me. I am sure now that she will understand. I want to tell her that I mean to follow in her footsteps. I can’t bear it any longer, and I must go. I shall tell her I am coming after her.”
Father Harmon shook with emotion as he said, “If that be the case, go, Son, and God be with you to protect you.” Roy rode off into the gathering storm toward the place where rested the body of her that had meant so much to him. On he rode and as he neared the cemetery the storm broke upon him in all its fury. The wind blew until it seemed he could scarcely retain his seat in the saddle; still he rode on. The rain came down in sheets, but on he went.
Soon he was beside a newly-made mound. As he knelt beside it, while the rain poured down upon him and the lightning flashed about him and the thunder roared above and about him, Roy poured out his heart unto his mother’s God and in doing so found relief in an outpouring of tears. For some time he knelt there weeping as only one can in such circumstances, but as weeping subsided, he lifted his voice in supplication to God and there beside the grave of his mother while the elements roared about him Roy found the peace for which his troubled soul had been longing and the assurance that some day he would meet his mother again. The storm abated, and as Roy arose from his knees, looking down on the grave of the one who meant so much to him, he said, “Oh Mother, I had to come to you again, for you are the only one who really understood me, and I am sure that you understand me now. I have made your God my God, and mean to follow in your footsteps, and some day we shall meet again.” He then mounted his horse and rode back home. Although the emptiness of his heart which had been made by the death of his mother had not been filled, relief had come in tears and the decision which he had made had brought a deep settled peace in his soul that eased the heavy ache in his heart. The rain had ceased, and the evening had become chilly, but although Roy had been drenched he did not feel the chilly winds that followed the storm. He had found the relief for which his soul had longed and balm for his aching heart.
Upon arriving home, after unsaddling and unbridling his horse, Roy walked into the house, where he met his father who had not ceased to walk to and fro across the floor all the time that he had been gone. Going across the floor toward him, Roy laid his hand on his father’s shoulder and said, “I have settled it, Papa, and have found the relief that I desired. I have made Mama’s God my God also, and I knew that Mama would understand. I found the relief while kneeling beside her grave, and I know that I shall meet her again someday.”
Father Harmon clasped his son in his arms and heavy sobs shook his frame. Tears now came to Roy’s relief, and the two sobbed out an understanding of each other. The storm had opened up a new day for each of them.
After the storm the thermometer began to drop, and when morning dawned the ground was frozen and winter had set in in earnest. Thanksgiving found the streams all frozen and shortly after a snowfall which never entirely melted away until the spring thaw. Many times in the winter the roads were impassable because of the drifted snow. All this time Roy and his father lived secluded lives, unable to get away except the snow hardened and they could walk over the fences and over the drifts. What a lonely life it was without her who had meant so much to the household! Roy’s grief increased as the days lengthened into weeks, and the deep snow kept them penned in through the long, cold winter. How he longed at times to be able just to visit the cemetery, but in this he was disappointed for the roads were impassable! He felt that just to be near her would ease the aching in his heart. He mentioned this to his father one evening as they sat beside the fire. As the father drew his chair near that of his youngest son, his own voice trembled with emotion. He said, “Roy, do you not remember the night when you received your diploma from the hand of our county superintendent, stating that you had finished the course prescribed by the common school law?”
“Surely I remember it,” replied Roy, “but what has that to do with me now? It brings me no comfort in the loss of Mama,” and, burying his head in his arms, he sobbed aloud.
Father Harmon was so overcome that he could not speak for some time, but with all the effort that he could put forth Father Harmon spoke again, “And do you remember how proud your mother was of you that night after you delivered your oration at the commencement exercises, and then framed your diploma for you and hung it in your room?”
Roy nodded his head, and his father continued, “How would you have felt had she wept and cried when you received your diploma and sat about grieving and weeping because you had finished the graded school and had she refused to sign your report card?”
Roy looked up into his father’s face with a quizzical expression in his eyes, as he asked, “Papa, why do you ask me such questions when you know that Mama could never have done such a thing as that?”
“I know she would not have done such a thing as that,” replied Father Harmon, “but what would you have thought had she done such, and how would you have felt?”
“I should have felt very bad, I am sure,” said Roy, “and would have thought she didn’t want me to finish high school, but that is not to be thought of, for it was so unlike Mama to do any such thing as that.”
“Did you get any pleasure when you received your diploma?” inquired Father Harmon.
“I should say that I did,” replied Roy, “for I felt that I was walking in the air when I stepped down off that platform carrying that roll of paper in my hand.”
“I thought so,” said Father Harmon, “but what would it have been had your mother refused to sign your report cards?”
Roy straightened himself in his chair as be said, “Papa, why do you talk like that when you know that she never felt like she wanted to return my card unsigned, for I always made good grades; and she was pleased to sign my cards?”
“I am sure that she was,” replied Father Harmon, “and will you be pleased to sign hers now?”
“I do not know what you mean by saying that,” said Roy, in a perplexed tone of voice.
Here Father Harmon laid his arm on his son’s shoulder and, while his voice trembled with emotion, he said, “I mean just this, Son: your mother has finished in the great school of life to receive her diploma from the great Master’s hand which is a crown of life, and he has presented her report card to you for you to sign, and are you ashamed to do so?”
Roy laid his head on his father’s shoulder and sobbed aloud as he said, “Oh, no, no, a thousand times no. I am not ashamed of the report of her life, for it was perfect.”
“Will you then sign the card?” inquired his father. “All that you have to do is to say, ‘Amen, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.’ In this way you can enter into the joys and pleasures which are sure to be hers in the great commencement of Eternal Life, and although it does not fill the vacancy left, it does ease the heartache. Will you do it, Son?”
“I will do my best,” replied Roy, as he gazed into his father’s face. And he did, for from that time on there was a sweetness attached to the death of his mother which he had never gotten before, and although it did not dry the tears which would often start when thinking of her who meant so much to him, he surrendered and submitted it all to him who understands all things, and in this he found great comfort. The conversation between Father and Son on that evening around the fire also brought them closer together, and some of the companionship which had been between Mother and Son was now transmitted to Father; so that many pleasant evenings were spent together during the long, cold, wintry nights.
There had been no mail delivery at the Harmon home for two weeks, and then came three letters from Elsie. These were opened according to the date of mailing and in each she informed them of her physical condition. It seemed that she had begun work too soon after the birth of baby Otis, and she could gain no strength. In the second letter opened she told them she meant to go to a specialist the next day and would write more when she knew more. So the next letter was to contain the desired news of her condition, and Roy opened it quickly and began reading. It stated that the specialist had found her tubercular and he also found that baby Otis was blind. He was not qualified to examine the baby’s eyes perfectly as that was not his specialty, but they meant to take him to an eye specialist and see if it really were true. This was done; and another letter later told of the hopelessness of the baby’s ever seeing anything, for he was born without vision and would have to remain that way so long as he lived. Elsie also stated she was getting weaker all the time and having those dreadful night sweats. Each letter contained news of Mary’s progress in learning to spell and to read and write. Occasionally there would be a short note written to Uncle Roy, in her own hand.
April came, and with it the busy time of farming. It kept Roy and his father busy on the farm to prepare meals and then do the work about the place, but as a great deal of the farm was in pasture, not much plowing needed to be done in the spring and this Roy did, leaving all the lighter work about the place for his father to do. The latter part of April brought news to them that Elsie could not get well and her time was short, as she was failing fast; so Father Harmon and Roy went to her. David could not be persuaded to go, although Elsie begged to see him. He had told his father so often that he was making his own way, that when he did not have the means to take him to her, he refused the proffered help of his father. So the two went, remaining with Elsie until the first week in May, when she passed into eternity, leaving Mary, age four, and baby Otis, eight months. This was surely a hard blow for Dan, for who would want to take care of a blind baby?
But baby Otis was a lovable child and of a pleasant disposition. Like all blind unfortunates he had a keen ear, and what he failed to possess with his eyes did not escape his ears; and he was a merry little fellow. Mary loved him to adoration and was never too busy in her play not to stop when she could do something to amuse her baby brother.
The death of Elsie brought Roy and “Peachy” together again and with the same love as before. But there must be another separation, for Roy must return with his father to their own home. As Roy clasped Dan’s hand, he said with quivering voice, “I cannot do anything now for Elsie’s children, but I mean to someday and you may count on me for it, too.”
Mother Dennison came to aid Dan in taking care of the children, and she took special interest in Mary, teaching her many little rhymes and children’s songs and also giving her some light duties about the house which were hers exclusively. She filled the wood box, carried kindling, dusted the furniture, and did many other things about the place until she was called “Grandma’s Little Helper.” Baby Otis was not neglected in any way, for Mary and Grandma took special care of him; and Dan seemed to live only for his children. He had seemed fond of them before Elsie’s death, but now he seemed to lavish all his affection on them. Each evening found him with one on each of his knees, singing to them, or romping with them on the floor. He prepared each of them for bed and dressed them in the mornings. When Grandma Dennison spoke to him about it and said she could do it very well, he replied, “All the pleasure I have now is in my children; don’t deny me this.” So no more was said about it, and thus the early part of Mary’s childhood was spent with an adoring father.