A New Wife
Mary was now six years of age and baby Otis two. Mary started to school at the opening of the fall term 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 area. 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.” Mary seldom was beaten in these spelling contests, although she was only six years of age. She had an idea of the sound of letters and delighted to spell. Many evenings at home Dan drilled her in spelling until, before the close of her first school term, she could handle words of five or six syllables with perfect ease. In her other studies she did not progress so rapidly, as some of them were very difficult for her; so that at the age of nine she had only completed the fourth grade, but was considered the champion speller of the region.
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.” At first Dan paid no attention to her, until one evening, as he invited her 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 the children without an outburst from her, this to be followed up by the them being severely punished in some way. So he who had once been an adorable 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.
Elsie had taught her to repeat a childish prayer, and Grandmother Dennison had in turn taught Otis, but this was at last forbidden in Dan’s home by the new wife. When Dan inquired into this as to why she should refuse to let them repeat their prayer she said, “I know you think your children smarter than any other children in the world, but they are not, for I don’t see anything so exceptionally smart about them, I know they do not know what they are saying, and it is merely a mockery. I do not care to see children try to be so goody, goody at night, and then be real little devils through the day, and that is just what they are. I have to contend with so much that I feel it is all just a mockery.” We shall say nothing of the scene which followed, but the children went to bed from that time on without repeating their prayer.
When Mary was seven years of age, she was again in school, but she did not make the progress in her studies that she had formerly, for there was no one to assist her in her studies. Dan tried to assist her one evening, only to be told if he meant to do that they would just keep Mary home from school, and she would be spared the bother of preparing her for school; she had a teacher whom he was helping to pay who could give her all the assistance with her lessons that she needed. There was another quarrel in which Myra won, and Mary was sent to bed.
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 usually came out victorious, and then would follow days of punishment for Mary and Otis. Myra 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, Mary received a sharp rebuke and was sent away. But that did not erase from her mind the thought of meeting her sister again, and when she had an opportunity she mentioned it to her aunt, who came to spend a few days with them. This aunt was the favorite sister of Dan’s, and because of this fact, much disliked on the part of Myra, who made her stay with them just as disagreeable as she could. But Mary worshiped at her feet and felt free to ask her any question. These two were much together, 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 had come 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.”
This thought was before her for a long time, but 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 it was not to be entirely erased, for 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.