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Foundation Truth, Number 12 (Summer 2005) | Timeless Truths Publications

Abridged from Just Mary, by Effie M. Williams

Just Mary: Part 4

As we continue our story, the troubles that come into Mary’s life from living with a hostile stepmother intensify to a crisis point—will Uncle Roy’s desire to help his niece ever materialize into reality before it is too late?

Roy Harmon’s letters, his pictures, and the curios that he sent to Mary did not make things better for her in her stepmother’s home. By the age of fourteen, life was almost unbearable to her. Practically all the work of the home was left to her, and, try as she might, there was never anything done just right. Her stepmother never failed to humiliate her all she could if anyone chanced to be there.

There were two more children in the home now—Henry, aged two, and a small baby girl, Rosa, just three months of age. There was a lean-to storage room behind the house, which could only be entered by going outside. Mary had to take this room, and her bed was reduced to a straw bed on the floor. It was not an uncommon thing for her to awaken to find rain coming through the cracks, or the snow sifting through on her face. She knew she was not there because it was really necessary, for there was the front room, which was always used as a spare room for company, and the bed was always dressed in snowy whiteness. But her stepmother would never hear to her occupying that bed at all. If Mary would ever mention the rain or the snow coming in through the cracks in her room, her stepmother would say, “Well, that is better than you deserve.”

Mary could not go to her father with anything, for he had become cross and sullen, never giving a kind word to any of the children nor to his wife, and seldom spoke when about the place. But through it all, Mary could not think that her father was altogether bad when she recalled pleasant memories of the past.

Winter had passed. A program and old-fashioned spelling bee was announced to close the school term. Caroline and Nancy had been attending school and were given a part in the program. As an invitation was given to all the parents to attend, Myra made preparation to go with the children—planning on Mary’s remaining at home to care for the younger ones. Mary longed to attend that spelling bee, but she knew if she should mention the fact to her stepmother, there would be no chance for her to get there at all. So the days went by and the evening came for the program and the spelling bee.

They were all seated around the table when Myra said, “Dan, I want you to get cleaned up a little and go with me tonight to the schoolhouse.”

Upon being informed as to what was taking place, he said, “Can’t Mary go with you and help you with the children? I’m not going, but I shall keep Elmer and Ellen. I think that you and Mary can manage the rest of them.”

Myra flew into a rage, as she very often did, but Dan had become very obstinate. “Very well then, if Mary doesn’t go none of the others need go either.”

So Mary went to the spelling bee that night, with Otis holding onto one arm and carrying baby Rose in the other arm. She was dressed in a garment made from one of her stepmother’s old dresses, and her shoes were laced with a calico string, but her heart sang because she was attending the spelling bee.

The schoolhouse was packed. You could see eager expectancy written on all their faces as proud parents came to hear their children do their part in the program. Caroline and Nancy each gave a recitation. Mary’s heart beat a rat-a-tat in her bosom as they each spoke their pieces that she had taken so much pains to help them memorize, and as they did their part without any blunder, she felt that she had been rewarded for all her efforts. How cute they looked in their new dresses and hair ribbons; dresses that Mary had made for them! She felt proud of them.

After a short break came the old-fashioned spelling bee in which Miss Myers asked that all take part. Henry and Rose were both asleep, and when all were called to take part, Myra stood with the other students’ mothers. When Mary saw her leave the baby, she too left Henry sleeping on the desk where she had been sitting and took her place in line.

Only one chance was given at a word, and if it was misspelled, it was passed on to the next one and the one who missed took his seat. After several times around, so many had taken their seats that Mary was now standing beside her stepmother and therefore spelling against her.

“Audacious,” pronounced Miss Myers.

It was now Myra’s turn to spell, and all could see that she was very uncertain about the word. Finally she spelled in a questioning way, “a-u-d-a-s-h-u-s.”

Miss Myers smilingly said, “Next.”

It was not any question with Mary as to how it was spelled, for she could see it in her mind’s eye—on page eighty-three of the speller, on the left side of the book, in the third column of spelling—and so she spelled it unhesitatingly, “a-u-d-a-c-i-o-u-s.”


Myra took her place with the others who had missed their words, but her face was scarlet and her eyes flashed fire. She felt humiliated in being outspelled by her stepdaughter.

But Miss Myers kept pronouncing words and those around the wall kept spelling until there were only two left standing, and they were Mary and Frank Fletcher, who was a cousin of Myra’s. Five minutes passed, and the two were still standing.

Miss Myers had turned to the back of the old speller, to find some more difficult words, when off the desk rolled Henry, landing in the seat below and letting out a frightened scream.

Myra rose to her feet, and in a sharp tone of voice said, “Mary, I think you have stood there long enough; if you had been there with your little brother where you belong, he would not have rolled off the desk. Go on now and take care of him.”

Another mother had already lifted Henry in her arms and quieted him, so that he lay back in her arms and went to sleep again. She said, “Let her alone, and I shall see after him.”

So Mary kept her place beside Frank, spelling her words positively. Another leaf was turned; and Miss Myers then began to pronounce words taken from the French language and used in the English language. Several words were pronounced, each taking their turn in spelling, and then came the word rendezvous to Frank. He stood hesitatingly for some time before trying to spell. When Miss Myers pronounced it for him the second time he began in an uncertain manner, “r-e-n-d-a-v-o-u.”


Mary caught the word and spelled positively, “r-e-n-d-e-z-v-o-u-s,” and pronounced it also.


Then the old schoolhouse rang with cheers. But anyone could see that Myra was angry. She took the family home just as soon as they could get away at the close, and poor Mary had to bear the sharpness of her tongue all the way home. Dan was delighted when the news was broken to him the next morning at the breakfast table. When told that Mary spelled the word that his wife had missed he burst into a loud, “Ha ha!” This, of course, started another scene in the Dennison home on which we shall draw the curtain.

Two days after the close of school, the news was circulated over the community that Fred Peffers had measles the evening of the spelling bee at the schoolhouse, so that he exposed all the children in the community. True enough, in a short time those children who had not had measles came down with them, and in many homes some of the older people. Caroline and Nancy came down with them first in the Dennison home; then Ellen and Otis. Ellen was quite ill of them, but the other children were only confined to their beds a few days. Poor Mary had much to do. Three weeks had passed and the two little ones in the Dennison home took measles; then Elmer and finally Mary. It was now the last week in April and a cool rain was falling, but Mary lay on her straw bed in the old lean-to off the kitchen. There had been another scene in the home. Dan was going about in one of his sullen moods; and Mary had been sick for two days before he inquired as to why she was not about the place. About this time Otis stole up to him and said, “Papa, Mary is awful sick; she won’t talk to me at all, and her bed covers are as wet as can be.”

“Well, where is she?” inquired Dan. Otis led him to the little storeroom, and there he saw his eldest daughter on her straw bed, damp from the rain that had come through the cracks in the wall. He saw she was quite ill and that something must be done.

When he informed Myra of her condition, she said, “Well, she is your young one, not mine, and if you want anything done for her, do it.”

Dan immediately went to the spare room, and with the aid of Caroline soon had the bed ready for Mary, only to be opposed by Myra, who declared she should not be placed in the best room they had. This brought forth another scene in the Dennison home, but Dan came out the victor, for, taking Mary in his arms, he carried her to the front bedroom where he laid her on the best bed in the house.

Mary lay there for many days, hovering between life and death; pneumonia had set in, and Mary was a very sick girl. Aunt Millie came to Dan’s aid in caring for her, and the two of them nursed her back to health again.

It was there by the bedside of his eldest daughter that Dan Dennison came to himself and found what Mary really meant to him. Over and over he would chide himself for his neglect of her. Many times while she raved in delirium, he would sit by her bedside weeping and cry out, “Oh, Elsie, Elsie; I have been so neglectful of yours and mine. I have forfeited the right of being called a father, for I have not been one.” And one night as he and his sister watched by her bedside, expecting the little spark of life to flee at any time, he fell upon his knees and cried out, “O God, if You will but spare her, I promise you to be a better father than I have ever been and never neglect her again.” Her severe illness proved what she really meant to him. He knew that, had she not been neglected and left to sleep in the open, when ill of measles, the other affliction would not have come on her. But he was untiring in his attention to her and in his care of her. After several days of doubtful watching, Mary began to amend.

When she did recover, the front bedroom was now Mary’s room, and she no longer had to go to the old lean-to off the kitchen.

Another year passed, and there came a great hubbub in the Denison home, for Mary received a letter from Uncle Roy, sent from the Philippines, stating that he was soon sailing for the United States. His time had expired in the navy, and he did not mean to reenlist, so it would not be long until he would come to see his little Peachy girl. Soon another letter came from San Francisco stating he was in the States expecting to get his discharge in a few days, and he would then come to see them. But days passed, and then weeks, and the weeks stretched into months, for when entering the States he got a job which kept him busy so that he could not get away often. So Mary contented herself with his letters, although her disappointment was very great.

But Mary’s life was not so hard, for there were many bright spots in it. Dan was indeed a changed man and very kind and tender to Mary; his tenderness toward her now meant to be doubled, so that he might in some way atone for the neglect of bygone years. She no longer had to dress in cast-off clothing, for when the other children got new dresses, there was always one or more new ones for Mary. As she was neat about sewing, her clothes always looked nice, and she was developing into a beautiful young lady. After her illness, she lost all her hair, and now it hung in a mass of curls about her shoulders. Dan would often run his hands through her hair and say proudly, “My old curly-head.” Such attentions to Mary only angered her stepmother all the more, and she resented it with all the power there was in her, threatening many times to wait until she caught Mary asleep and cut the every last one of them off. But she did not get this opportunity, and, as she was so often cruel to the extreme with Mary and Otis, making them do things that were so unnecessary, Dan held a conference with Mary one day which brought desired results.

Myra had invited a number of her neighbors to her place for a quilting, and had left Mary to cook the dinner.

Mary was mixing some dough when Myra came to the kitchen. While opening the cabinet door to get a saucer to make some round markings on the quilt, she knocked the bowl containing the dough off, and it landed bottom side up on the floor. She flew into a rage and began to heap abuses on Mary for letting the bowl sit there. Mary went about cleaning up the mess that was made on the floor, and Myra returned to the room where the women were, telling what a time she had with Mary and how careless she was, stating that Mary had been so awkward and knocked a bowl of dough off on the floor.

Mary heard her through the open door, and all the resentment of her soul went out against her stepmother. Rising, she went into the room and confronted Myra, saying, “Now, Mother, you know that is not true at all, for you know that you upset that bowl yourself.”

Here Myra turned toward her and with her voice pitched high in anger said, “I’ll teach you to dispute my word like that,” and, raising her hand, tried to strike Mary on the face, but Mary was not there, as she had dodged the blow. Then she struck Myra with her open hand across the mouth. Those present stared open-mouthed as they saw these two return blow for blow. Mary was quicker than Myra, and so dodged many of her blows. Soon Myra sank into a chair and told Mary to behave herself. Mary was so angry she could not control herself, and there before those women told Myra of the past, of the threats made, of the many brutal beatings she had given her, and of putting her out in the lean-to to sleep and trying to make her stay there when she had measles. No one present interfered, and so Mary was left to have her say. She took advantage of the opportunity. She told her stepmother that her father had told her to do this very thing the next time she tried to punish her unjustly, and she did it and concluded by saying, as she pointed her finger in Myra’s face, “And I never expect to take another beating from you, for from now on the beatings will go the other way.” Myra sat dumb-founded, and then tried to silence her. After some time Mary became quiet, and then, returning to the kitchen, completed the dinner.

When Myra related the incident of the day to Dan, there was another scene in the Dennison home, as he informed her that he had instructed Mary to do the very thing she had done that day. Needless to say she was never compelled to take any more abuse from her stepmother, but a bitterness sprang up in Myra’s heart against Mary which ripened into hatred, and from that time on Mary made Myra’s life miserable. Many times Myra was tempted to drive her from home, but she was needed badly for the work which she did, and then she knew also that Dan would interfere, and she also knew that she now was being paid back and in good measure for some things she had done in the past. She was beginning to reap some things she had sown.

One evening, in the last week in August, as the Dennison family sat down to their evening meal, a livery rig stopped at their front gate. A man and woman alighted, a couple of hand grips were set out of the rig, and the driver turned about in the road and headed his horses toward town. These two opened the gate and started up the walk. The Dennison’s did not recognize either of them until they were near the house, and then Mary ran through the room calling out, “It’s Uncle Roy; it’s Uncle Roy.” Soon Roy was again holding his little Peachy girl in his arms. He then presented the lady with him as her Aunt Ethel, and as Mary felt her warm handclasp and the loving caress on her cheek, her heart went out to her aunt; and Ethel in turn loved the curly-haired niece of her husband. Dan and Myra received them cordially, and all noticed the tears that fell from her eyes as Aunt Ethel felt the blind fingers of Otis pass over her face, as he tried to “see” his new aunty. A pleasant evening was spent together, and before the Dennison family retired for the evening, Ethel had found a warm place in each of their hearts.

It was not very long until Dan learned the reason for their visit. Roy had seen how Mary’s education had been neglected, and he asked that he might take her and Otis and educate them. At the end of the third day Dan consented, and then the children were consulted as to their desire. When Mary was informed, she fell on her Aunt Ethel’s neck and wept tears of joy, for the desire of her heart was now to be realized, and she could go to school at last. Otis, too, was delighted beyond words, for he was to be sent to a school for the blind in the same city where Uncle Roy lived. The next few days were spent in making preparation, with Myra moody and sullen. But she could say nothing, and did not, until the morning of their departure, when there was another scene in the Dennison home which made Uncle Roy more determined than ever to care for his sister’s children.

Dan went with them to the train, and, as he told his children goodbye, he broke down. Gathering them both in his arms, he sobbed like a child. He knew that he would not see them again for many days and possibly never, and although he had not done as some would think that he should have done, he loved the children of his young wife. It was hard to part with them although he knew it was all for the best for both him and them.

Otis and Mary enjoyed the trip greatly. When they arrived in the city where they were to live, they stared about them open-mouthed. Neither had ever seen a street car. They rode one home, and again Otis’ fingers helped him to see what he was riding on.

Upon entering their new home, Mary stared in amazement, for there stood an upright piano, the first she had ever seen. When Aunt Ethel seated herself on the stool and began to run her fingers over the keys and bring out beautiful music, Mary looked on top of it, around the back of it, and then, getting on her hands and knees, tried to peep under it to see where the music was coming from. To others this would have been very amusing, but tears of sadness rolled over Uncle Roy’s cheeks as he thought of the neglected children who were so dear to him. He meant to do all that he could that others could see his Peachy girl as he saw her.