Abridged from Just Mary, by Effie M. Williams
Just Mary: Part 3
As we continue our story, the comfort of a new mother for little Mary evaporates while Uncle Roy goes off to seek his fortune in the navy. But first he must see his beloved niece…
Mary started to school at the opening of the fall term when she was six years of age and made rapid progress. She was very studious and far ahead of the other children of her age. At the close of her first term of school she was promoted to the third grade and considered one of the best spellers in the country. It was not an uncommon occurrence for her to carry off the honor of being the last one on the floor during what they called their “Friday afternoon spelling matches.”
Dan was indeed proud of his little daughter and was a devoted father to both his children. For some months after Elsie’s death his grief seemed too deep for any consolation, but however deep the wound it will heal in time; and that was the way with Dan.
Elsie had been gone fourteen months when Myra Rainey came to spend the summer with her aunt who lived near the Dennisons. She came as a helper to her aunt, who was not well and who needed someone to assist her that summer, as she had several hired men to care for, and Myra was surely a splendid helper. She was twenty years of age and a beautiful girl, very pleasant and congenial, and she soon made friends in the community. As the two families lived near each other, she was often found in the Dennison home and became very much attached to Mary and Otis, and they to her. She would often come to get the children that they might be with her when she would be alone in her aunt’s home. She was always so kind and lovable to them that they soon returned that love, and when asked who they liked best of all, would often say, “Myra Rainey.” Her being in the Dennison home so often and she so fond of the children, soon won Dan’s friendship, and it was not long until this friendship became mutual between them. The following spring the two were married. Grandmother Dennison was pleased with the match, expressing herself as “just delighted” and truly she was, for she saw Myra as a kind, good girl, one who loved Dan’s children almost to adoration. Dan took her to his own home to be the mother of his children, feeling he had found a woman whom he could trust and one who loved the children almost equal to his love.
She seemed to be very fond of the children, and many evenings were spent in the home with the four of them gathered together, each holding a child on his lap. But this was not for long, for she soon saw how Dan adored his children and became jealous of them, and instead of coming together with them in the evening she would often say, “Dan, put the children down, or put them to bed, and then come and sit with me for a while.” Dan paid no attention, until one evening, at his invitation to take her place with them, she retorted rather sharply, “No, I thank you; when you get through with your children, if you have any time left, you may then spend that with me, but it doesn’t seem that you care for anyone or anything else but your children. I think that is all you cared to get a wife for—just to have someone to see after them.”
Dan was very much surprised to hear such, but from that time on took notice that she had no patience with them and would often scold them sharply for the most trivial offense. A few times he tried to remonstrate only to find that the beautiful, smiling face of Myra Rainey would be changed into the appearance of an approaching tornado, and her kind words be changed into sharp ones, cutting and slashing as they went. He could not pay any particular attention to them without an outburst from her, this to be followed up by the children being severely punished in some way; so he who had once been an adoring father became one who seldom noticed his children other than to speak to them occasionally or tell them something that he wished them to do. There were no more pleasant evenings spent together and no more preparing them for bed, for Mary had this task to do.
Children now began coming into the Dennison home; first Caroline; then fifteen months later, Nancy; then in eighteen months the twins, Elmer and Ellen. Mary was now past nine years of age, but there was no more school for her. There was too much to be done in the home, and she could not be spared. Myra’s own children did not suffer from want of attention, but Mary and Otis could do nothing that would not bring down sharp censure. Mary worked from morning until night, doing work that was far too strenuous for one of her age, receiving no word of praise from her stepmother and occasionally a sharp censure from her father. The twins were very cross, and it was a very common occurrence for Mary to be called from her bed at night to help take care of them. Many were the family quarrels, and the once beautiful, smiling, kind-spoken Myra Rainey had developed into a quarrelsome, nagging, old scold.
When Mary was eleven years of age, another girl, Margaret, was born into the home, only to remain a short time. And until this time Mary had given no thought of what was beyond death. There was the funeral; and the kind minister spoke of a life beyond this one which went deep into the childish heart. As he addressed the family at the close of the discourse he quoted the words of David when he said, “I cannot bring him back, but I shall go to him,” and then told of the hope of meeting after death.
This did not escape Mary’s ears, and she pondered it in her heart. She did not have the privilege of attending Sunday school or church services that she might be enlightened on the subject, but she thought of it often. Although Margaret had only been with them a few months, Mary had loved her dearly. And as she had the constant care of the smaller children, Mary received her first smile and her first baby coo, and if there was any chance of ever meeting her little baby sister she wanted to know just how to do it.
A few weeks after the death of Margaret, Mary approached her stepmother on this subject, but as she could not enlighten her, and as the question only annoyed her because of her own lack of spiritual life, she received a sharp rebuke and was sent away. But that did not erase from her mind the thought of meeting her again, and when she had an opportunity she mentioned it to her aunt Millie, who came to spend a few days with them. This aunt was the favorite sister of Dan’s, and Mary opened her heart to her aunt regarding the question of meeting little Margaret again.
Millie Fletcher had not been a spiritual woman until God visited in her own home and called away her own little babe. The very thing which now was puzzling Mary had come forcibly to her, and she came before God as a penitent soul and received the assurance that she would meet her darling again. When Mary pressed her question upon her she explained it as best she could to the child, and although Mary could not understand it all, she grasped this thought, that we are two people living together, a body and a soul. The body must die and go back to dust, for God made it from dust, but the soul that lives in the body goes back to God. If it has been good it will be with God and with all good people, but if it has been bad it will never see any good people any more. This was about all the conception she had of this vital truth, but as her Aunt Millie ceased talking, she threw her arms about her neck and, laying her head on her aunt’s shoulder, began to cry as she said, “Oh Aunt Millie, I mean to be good and then some day I shall go to meet little Margaret.”
As the days wore away into weeks, and weeks to months, the wound healed in the childish heart, and the loss of the little sister was forgotten as the work of the home was laid more and more on her. But news came to them of Grandpa Harmon’s death, and again the thought of a life beyond this one stirred in the child heart. She had loved Grandpa Harmon dearly, but now he had been called away. As her tears fell upon receiving the news of his death, there went a cry out of her heart, “I want to meet him again.”
After the death of Father Harmon, David married and offered Roy a home with him, which was accepted, but it was only for a few months, for David was so selfish that he thought all Roy’s earnings should be given over to him, although Roy was paying his board weekly. Many times he would borrow money from Roy with a promise of refunding it in a certain length of time. When Roy really needed it and would mention the fact to his brother, he would be met with resentment. At last the day came when David again asked Roy for a loan and was refused, and a quarrel ensued in which Roy took his belongings and went elsewhere. But he could not be satisfied. One day the thought of joining the navy came to him, but he must first see his little Peachy, the only one who really claimed his love since the death of his father and mother.
He walked into the Dennison yard unannounced. It was a surprise to all to see him, although Dan, Mary, and Otis were delighted. He received a warm welcome, but as he looked about him, a look of sadness filled his eyes. He could see that his little Peachy was neglected. Caroline, Nancy, and the twins were dressed in nice play suits, but his Peachy was shabbily dressed in faded calico, which had been patched and repatched. He saw also she was the servant in the home, for she was up early in the morning and with milk pail in hand, away to do the milking, and while the others ate breakfast, Peachy busied herself with making beds, sweeping, and straightening things about the place. Myra was a very particular housekeeper and free to find fault with anything that did not come up to her close inspection. The younger children had time for play, but not so with Peachy, for there was no time left for her from her work.
Roy tried in many ways to get alone with Mary, but Myra saw to it that they were not alone, for when she found them so, she would always have something else for Mary to do which would take her away from him. But he was determined, and early one morning he met her in the barn.
Mary was busy milking, and all unconscious of any observer. She was singing, and the tears came to his eyes; he again heard the voice of his beloved sister Elsie, now reproduced in her daughter.
He approached Mary, who smiled as he said, “Here, Peachy, let me try my hand at milking. It has been some time since I milked a cow.” Sitting down on the milk stool, he convinced her in a very short time that he had not forgotten how to do it, for the milk streamed into the pail and soon the foam was running over the top. Mary laughed at the expression he had used of “pailing a cow,” and this made an opening for conversation.
“Wouldn’t you like to go to town with me today?” inquired Uncle Roy as he looked into her face from where he was sitting on the milk stool.
“Would I?” exclaimed Mary; “I should say that I should, but that is not to he thought of.”
“And why is it not to be thought of?” inquired Roy.
“Why, Mother wouldn’t let me go,” replied Mary.
“But we will ask your father,” said Roy, “and if he says it is all right she will have nothing to say then. You leave it to me, and I shall ask him as we eat breakfast.”
“But, Uncle Roy, I have nothing to wear,” quickly replied Mary as a blush spread over her face and neck and she looked away across the field.
They stood in the cow lot talking for some time—Roy asking, and Mary answering questions. At the close of that conversation a real resentment rose in his heart against Dan because of some things which he permitted to be done against his daughter—Roy’s own niece—who was as much Dan’s child as were the other children in the home.
“We shall go to town today,” said Uncle Roy as they started toward the house, Roy with one arm about Peachy and with the pail of foaming milk in his hand. How Mary’s heart went out to Roy at that time, for it was the first little act of kindness or appreciation that she had had for many, many days. She lingered about as the family sat down to breakfast to hear what the outcome would be of his inquiry to go to town.
When Roy approached the subject to Dan, before he had time to reply, Myra answered, “Oh, no, I could not possibly spare her today, for I have so much to do.” Roy ignored her as though she had not spoken and said again to Dan, “I want to take Mary and Otis to town with me for I am leaving shortly for the navy and may never return, and I want to leave something for them to remember my last visit with them before leaving. May they go with me?”
“Yes, they may go,” said Dan, as he gave his wife a look which was meant for silence; “and I shall go with you, too. Mary, get ready,” and he rose from the table.
We shall not try to picture the scene in the Dennison home when Myra found that for one time she could not have her way. Roy did not escape the bite of her sharp tongue. But Mary and Otis went to town with their Uncle Roy, returning with more clothes than they had had for some time.
Myra was too indignant to speak to any of them when they returned home and refused to notice Roy when he took his departure the next day. Poor Mary had to suffer for the trip which she had to town, for Myra made life almost unbearable for her! Until this time she had not resented Otis so much, for although she did not like him, his misfortune called forth all the good that was in her, and she had sympathy for him. Now her rage must be spent, and she gave him part of it. She refused them the privilege of eating at the table with the rest of the family, giving them tin plates from which to eat their food and tin cans from which to drink. Her own children received the best, and then if there was anything left, Otis and Mary could have it if they chose.
The material which Roy bought for Mary was left lying in the dresser drawer for weeks, because Myra refused Mary the privilege of making it, as she always had something else for her to do. But Aunt Millie asked that Mary and Otis might visit her, and when Dan was informed that Mary had not been allowed time to make dresses out of the material Uncle Roy had gotten her, there was another scene in the Dennison home, and Mary began to prepare one dress by cutting into the goods. Myra then denied her the privilege of using the sewing machine, and she stitched her dress with her fingers and a needle, but as she was very neat it looked very well. But when she went to get her dress for the trip, she found it covered with axle grease. It was completely ruined, and she could not wear it at all. There was another scene in the Dennison home, and Mary and Otis went to visit their aunt, although Myra did everything she could to keep them at home. Mary wore the dress that she had made, and when her aunt saw it she exclaimed at the neatness of it but said, “Why, Mary, dear, why did you not make it with the machine? Your mother has a machine that stitches nicely, and why did you not use it?”
Upon being informed as to the reason, she then had Mary to rip the dress apart and stitch it on her machine. But when Mary returned home, after Myra saw what had been done, she ripped the dress apart and Mary had to put it together again, stitching it with a needle.
How unbearable life was becoming, yet Dan never took his place in the home as he should until aroused beyond further endurance, and then there would always be a scene! So Mary kept many things from him for fear of such, for after a scene in the home Myra would usually avenge herself on the children.
But there were some bright spots in her life, for after Roy joined the navy, he never failed to write to his little Peachy girl. There came letters to her from Panama, Cuba, South America, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Many times he would send them some curios from different places and often money, so that Mary no longer had to clothe herself in Myra’s old dresses. She delighted also in answering Roy’s letters, but her heart was starving for the love of a tender, sympathetic, understanding parent. Aunt Millie took special interest in her, and their talks together helped Mary to develop into a girl with bright and noble ideals.