Chapter I. I Am Born
 

The sun was slowly setting in the west, casting golden beams of light into the somber old room.

That's the way it ought to begin, I know, and I'd like to do it, but I can't. I'm beginning with my being born, of course, and Nurse Sarah says the sun wasn't shining at all. It was night and the stars were out. She remembers particularly about the stars, for Father was in the observatory, and couldn't be disturbed. (We never disturb Father when he's there, you know.) And so he didn't even know he had a daughter until the next morning when he came out to breakfast. And he was late to that, for he stopped to write down something he had found out about one of the consternations in the night.

He's always finding out something about those old stars just when we want him to pay attention to something else. And, oh, I forgot to say that I know it is "constellation," and not "consternation." But I used to call them that when I was a little girl, and Mother said it was a good name for them, anyway, for they were a consternation to her all right. Oh, she said right off afterward that she didn't mean that, and that I must forget she said it. Mother's always saying that about things she says.

Well, as I was saying, Father didn't know until after breakfast that he had a little daughter. (We never tell him disturbing, exciting things just before meals.) And then Nurse told him.

I asked what he said, and Nurse laughed and gave her funny little shrug to her shoulders.

"Yes, what did he say, indeed?" she retorted. "He frowned, looked kind of dazed, then muttered: 'Well, well, upon my soul! Yes, to be sure!'"

Then he came in to see me.

I don't know, of course, what he thought of me, but I guess he didn't think much of me, from what Nurse said. Of course I was very, very small, and I never yet saw a little bit of a baby that was pretty, or looked as if it was much account. So maybe you couldn't really blame him.

Nurse said he looked at me, muttered, "Well, well, upon my soul!" again, and seemed really quite interested till they started to put me in his arms. Then he threw up both hands, backed off, and cried, "Oh, no, no!" He turned to Mother and hoped she was feeling pretty well, then he got out of the room just as quick as he could. And Nurse said that was the end of it, so far as paying any more attention to me was concerned for quite a while.

He was much more interested in his new star than he was in his new daughter. We were both born the same night, you see, and that star was lots more consequence than I was. But, then, that's Father all over. And that's one of the things, I think, that bothers Mother. I heard her say once to Father that she didn't see why, when there were so many, many stars, a paltry one or two more need to be made such a fuss about. And I don't, either.

But Father just groaned, and shook his head, and threw up his hands, and looked so tired. And that's all he said. That's all he says lots of times. But it's enough. It's enough to make you feel so small and mean and insignificant as if you were just a little green worm crawling on the ground. Did you ever feel like a green worm crawling on the ground? It's not a pleasant feeling at all.

Well, now, about the name. Of course they had to begin to talk about naming me pretty soon; and Nurse said they did talk a lot. But they couldn't settle it. Nurse said that that was about the first thing that showed how teetotally utterly they were going to disagree about things.

Mother wanted to call me Viola, after her mother, and Father wanted to call me Abigail Jane after his mother; and they wouldn't either one give in to the other. Mother was sick and nervous, and cried a lot those days, and she used to sob out that if they thought they were going to name her darling little baby that awful Abigail Jane, they were very much mistaken; that she would never give her consent to it--never. Then Father would say in his cold, stern way: "Very well, then, you needn't. But neither shall I give my consent to my daughter's being named that absurd Viola. The child is a human being--not a fiddle in an orchestra!"

And that's the way it went, Nurse said, until everybody was just about crazy. Then somebody suggested "Mary." And Father said, very well, they might call me Mary; and Mother said certainly, she would consent to Mary, only she should pronounce it Marie. And so it was settled. Father called me Mary, and Mother called me Marie. And right away everybody else began to call me Mary Marie. And that's the way it's been ever since.

Of course, when you stop to think of it, it's sort of queer and funny, though naturally I didn't think of it, growing up with it as I did, and always having it, until suddenly one day it occurred to me that none of the other girls had two names, one for their father, and one for their mother to call them by. I began to notice other things then, too. Their fathers and mothers didn't live in rooms at opposite ends of the house. Their fathers and mothers seemed to like each other, and to talk together, and to have little jokes and laughs together, and twinkle with their eyes. That is, most of them did.

And if one wanted to go to walk, or to a party, or to play some game, the other didn't always look tired and bored, and say, "Oh, very well, if you like." And then both not do it, whatever it was. That is, I never saw the other girls' fathers and mothers do that way; and I've seen quite a lot of them, too, for I've been at the other girls' houses a lot for a long time. You see, I don't stay at home much, only when I have to. We don't have a round table with a red cloth and a lamp on it, and children 'round it playing games and doing things, and fathers and mothers reading and mending. And it's lots jollier where they do have them.

Nurse says my father and mother ought never to have been married. That's what I heard her tell our Bridget one day. So the first chance I got I asked her why, and what she meant.

"Oh, la! Did you hear that?" she demanded, with the quick look over her shoulder that she always gives when she's talking about Father and Mother. "Well, little pitchers do have big ears, sure enough!"

"Little pitchers," indeed! As if I didn't know what that meant! I'm no child to be kept in the dark concerning things I ought to know. And I told her so, sweetly and pleasantly, but with firmness and dignity. I made her tell me what she meant, and I made her tell me a lot of other things about them, too. You see, I'd just decided to write the book, so I wanted to know everything she could tell me. I didn't tell her about the book, of course. I know too much to tell secrets to Nurse Sarah! But I showed my excitement and interest plainly; and when she saw how glad I was to hear everything she could tell, she talked a lot, and really seemed to enjoy it, too.

You see, she was here when Mother first came as a bride, so she knows everything. She was Father's nurse when he was a little boy; then she stayed to take care of Father's mother, Grandma Anderson, who was an invalid for a great many years and who didn't die till just after I was born. Then she took care of me. So she's always been in the family, ever since she was a young girl. She's awfully old now--'most sixty.

First I found out how they happened to marry--Father and Mother, I'm talking about now--only Nurse says she can't see yet how they did happen to marry, just the same, they're so teetotally different.

But this is the story.

Father went to Boston to attend a big meeting of astronomers from all over the world, and they had banquets and receptions where beautiful ladies went in their pretty evening dresses, and my mother was one of them. (Her father was one of the astronomers, Nurse said.) The meetings lasted four days, and Nurse said she guessed my father saw a lot of my mother during that time. Anyhow, he was invited to their home, and he stayed another four days after the meetings were over. The next thing they knew here at the house, Grandma Anderson had a telegram that he was going to be married to Miss Madge Desmond, and would they please send him some things he wanted, and he was going on a wedding trip and would bring his bride home in about a month.

It was just as sudden as that. And surprising!--Nurse says a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky couldn't have astonished them more. Father was almost thirty years old at that time, and he'd never cared a thing for girls, nor paid them the least little bit of attention. So they supposed, of course, that he was a hopeless old bachelor and wouldn't ever marry. He was bound up in his stars, even then, and was already beginning to be famous, because of a comet he'd discovered. He was a professor in our college here, where his father had been president. His father had just died a few months before, and Nurse said maybe that was one reason why Father got caught in the matrimonial net like that. (Those are her words, not mine. The idea of calling my mother a net! But Nurse never did half appreciate Mother.) But Father just worshipped his father, and they were always together--Grandma being sick so much; and so when he died my father was nearly beside himself, and that's one reason they were so anxious he should go to that meeting in Boston. They thought it might take his mind off himself, Nurse said. But they never thought of its putting his mind on a wife!

So far as his doing it right up quick like that was concerned, Nurse said that wasn't so surprising. For all the way up, if Father wanted anything he insisted on having it, and having it right away then. He never wanted to wait a minute. So when he found a girl he wanted, he wanted her right then, without waiting a minute. He'd never happened to notice a girl he wanted before, you see. But he'd found one now, all right; and Nurse said there was nothing to do but to make the best of it, and get ready for her.

There wasn't anybody to go to the wedding. Grandma Anderson was sick, so of course she couldn't go, and Grandpa was dead, so of course he couldn't go, and there weren't any brothers or sisters, only Aunt Jane in St. Paul, and she was so mad she wouldn't come on. So there was no chance of seeing the bride till Father brought her home.

Nurse said they wondered and wondered what kind of a woman it could be that had captured him. (I told her I wished she wouldn't speak of my mother as if she was some kind of a hunter out after game; but she only chuckled and said that's about what it amounted to in some cases.) The very idea!

The whole town was excited over the affair, and Nurse Sarah heard a lot of their talk. Some thought she was an astronomer like him. Some thought she was very rich, and maybe famous. Everybody declared she must know a lot, anyway, and be wonderfully wise and intellectual; and they said she was probably tall and wore glasses, and would be thirty years old, at least. But nobody guessed anywhere near what she really was.

Nurse Sarah said she should never forget the night she came, and how she looked, and how utterly flabbergasted everybody was to see her--a little slim eighteen-year-old girl with yellow curly hair and the merriest laughing eyes they had ever seen. (Don't I know? Don't I just love Mother's eyes when they sparkle and twinkle when we're off together sometimes in the woods?) And Nurse said Mother was so excited the day she came, and went laughing and dancing all over the house, exclaiming over everything. (I can't imagine that so well. Mother moves so quietly now, everywhere, and is so tired, 'most all the time.) But she wasn't tired then, Nurse says--not a mite.

"But how did Father act?" I demanded. "Wasn't he displeased and scandalized and shocked, and everything?"

Nurse shrugged her shoulders and raised her eyebrows--the way she does when she feels particularly superior. Then she said:

"Do? What does any old fool--beggin' your pardon an' no offense meant, Miss Mary Marie--but what does any man do what's got bejuggled with a pretty face, an' his senses completely took away from him by a chit of a girl? Well, that's what he did. He acted as if he was bewitched. He followed her around the house like a dog--when he wasn't leadin' her to something new; an' he never took his eyes off her face except to look at us, as much as to say: 'Now ain't she the adorable creature?'"

"My father did that?" I gasped. And, really, you know, I just couldn't believe my ears. And you wouldn't, either, if you knew Father. "Why, I never saw him act like that!"

"No, I guess you didn't," laughed Nurse Sarah with a shrug. "And neither did anybody else--for long."

"But how long did it last?" I asked.

"Oh, a month, or maybe six weeks," shrugged Nurse Sarah. "Then it came September and college began, and your father had to go back to his teaching. Things began to change then."

"Right then, so you could see them?" I wanted to know.

Nurse Sarah shrugged her shoulders again.

"Oh, la! child, what a little question-box you are, an' no mistake," she sighed. But she didn't look mad--not like the way she does when I ask why she can take her teeth out and most of her hair off and I can't; and things like that. (As if I didn't know! What does she take me for--a child?) She didn't even look displeased--Nurse Sarah loves to talk. (As if I didn't know that, too!) She just threw that quick look of hers over her shoulder and settled back contentedly in her chair. I knew then I should get the whole story. And I did. And I'm going to tell it here in her own words, just as well as I can remember it--bad grammar and all. So please remember that I am not making all those mistakes. It's Nurse Sarah.

I guess, though, that I'd better put it into a new chapter. This one is yards long already. How do they tell when to begin and end chapters? I'm thinking it's going to be some job, writing this book--diary, I mean. But I shall love it, I know. And this is a real story--not like those made-up things I've always written for the girls at school.