Lovey Mary by Alice Hegan Rice
Chapter III. The Hazy Household
"Here sovereign Dirt erects her sable throne, The house, the host, the hostess all her own."
Miss Hazy was the submerged tenth of the Cabbage Patch. The submersion was mainly one of dirt and disorder, but Miss Hazy was such a meek, inefficient little body that the Cabbage Patch withheld its blame and patiently tried to furnish a prop for the clinging vine. Miss Hazy, it is true, had Chris; but Chris was unstable, not only because he had lost one leg, but also because he was the wildest, noisiest, most thoughtless youngster that ever shied a rock at a lamp-post. Miss Hazy had "raised" Chris, and the neighbors had raised Miss Hazy.
When Lovey Mary stumbled over the Hazy threshold with the sleeping Tommy and the duck in her arms, Miss Hazy fluttered about in dismay. She pushed the flour-sifter farther over on the bed and made a place for Tommy, then she got a chair for the exhausted girl and hovered about her with little chirps of consternation.
"Dear sakes! You're done tuckered out, ain't you? You an' the baby got losted? Ain't that too bad! Must I make you some tea? Only there ain't no fire in the stove. Dear me! what ever will I do? Jes wait a minute; I'll have to go ast Mis' Wiggs."
In a few minutes Miss Hazy returned. With her was a bright-faced little woman whose smile seemed to thaw out the frozen places in Lovey Mary's heart and make her burst into tears on the motherly bosom.
"There now, there," said Mrs. Wiggs, hugging the girl up close and patting her on the back; "there ain't no hole so deep can't somebody pull you out. An' here's me an' Miss Hazy jes waitin' to give you a h'ist."
There was something so heartsome in her manner that Lovey Mary dried her eyes and attempted to explain. "I'm tryin' to get a place," she began, "but nobody wants to take Tommy too. I can't carry him any further, and I don't know where to go, and it's 'most night--" again the sobs choked her.
"Lawsee!" said Mrs. Wiggs, "don't you let that worry you! I can't take you home, 'cause Asia an' Australia an' Europeny are sleepin' in one bed as it is; but you kin git right in here with Miss Hazy, can't she, Miss Hazy?"
The hostess, to whom Mrs. Wiggs was an oracle, acquiesced heartily.
"All right: that's fixed. Now I'll go home an' send you all over some nice, hot supper by Billy, an' to-morrow mornin' will be time enough to think things out."
Lovey Mary, too exhausted to mind the dirt, ate her supper off a broken plate, then climbed over behind Tommy and the flour-sifter, and was soon fast asleep.
The business meeting next morning "to think things out" resulted satisfactorily. At first Mrs. Wiggs was inclined to ask questions and find out where the children came from, but when she saw Lovey Mary's evident distress and embarrassment, she accepted the statement that they were orphans and that the girl was seeking work in order to take care of herself and the boy. It had come to be an unwritten law in the Cabbage Patch that as few questions as possible should be asked of strangers. People had come there before who could not give clear accounts of themselves.
"Now I'll tell you what I think'll be best," said Mrs. Wiggs, who enjoyed untangling snarls. "Asia kin take Mary up to the fact'ry with her to-morrow, an' see if she kin git her a job. I 'spect she kin, 'cause she stands right in with the lady boss. Miss Hazy, me an' you kin keep a' eye on the baby between us. If Mary gits a place she kin pay you so much a week, an' that'll help us all out, 'cause then we won't have to send in so many outside victuals. If she could make three dollars an' Chris three, you all could git along right peart."
Lovey Mary stayed in the house most of the day. She was almost afraid to look out of the little window, for fear she should see Miss Bell or Kate Rider coming. She sat in the only chair that had a bottom and diligently worked buttonholes for Miss Hazy.
"Looks like there ain't never no time to clean up," said Miss Hazy, apologetically, as she shoved Chris's Sunday clothes and a can of coal-oil behind the door.
Lovey Mary looked about her and sighed deeply. The room was brimful and spilling over: trash, tin cans, and bottles overflowed the window- sills; a crippled rocking-chair, with a faded quilt over it, stood before the stove, in the open oven of which Chris's shoe was drying; an old sewing-machine stood in the middle of the floor, with Miss Hazy's sewing on one end of it and the uncleared dinner-dishes on the other.
Mary could not see under the bed, but she knew from the day's experience that it was used as a combination store-room and wardrobe. She thought of the home with its bare, clean rooms and its spotless floors. She rose abruptly and went out to the rear of the house, where Tommy was playing with Europena Wiggs. They were absorbed in trying to hitch the duck to a spool-box, and paid little attention to her.
"Tommy," she said, clutching his arm, "don't you want to go back?"
But Tommy had tasted freedom; he had had one blissful day unwashed, uncombed, and uncorrected.
"No," he declared stoutly; "I'm doin' to stay to this house and play wiv You're-a-peanut."
"Then," said Mary, with deep resignation, "the only thing for me to do is to try to clean things up."
When she went back into the house she untied her bundle and took out the remaining dollar.
"I'll be back soon," she said to Miss Hazy as she stepped over a basket of potatoes. "I'm just going over to Mrs. Wiggs's a minute."
She found her neighbor alone, getting supper. "Please, ma'am,"--she plunged into her subject at once,--"have any of your girls a dress for sale? I've got a dollar to buy it."
Mrs. Wiggs turned the girl around and surveyed her critically. "Well, I don't know as I blame you fer wantin' to git shut of that one. There ain't more 'n room enough fer one leg in that skirt, let alone two. An' what was the sense in them big shiny buttons?"
"I don't know as it makes much difference," said Lovey Mary, disconsolately; "I'm so ugly, nothing could make me look nice."
Mrs. Wiggs shook her by the shoulders good-naturedly. "Now, here," she said, "don't you go an' git sorry fer yerself! That's one thing I can't stand in nobody. There's always lots of other folks you kin be sorry fer 'stid of yerself. Ain't you proud you ain't got a harelip? Why, that one thought is enough to keep me from ever gittin' sorry fer myself."
Mary laughed, and Mrs. Wiggs clapped her hands. "That's what yer face needs--smiles! I never see anything make such a difference. But now about the dress. Yes, indeed, Asia has got dresses to give 'way. She gits 'em from Mrs. Reddin'; her husband is Mr. Bob, Billy's boss. He's a newspaper editress an' rich as cream. Mrs. Reddin' is a fallen angel, if there ever was one on this earth. She sends all sorts of clothes to Asia, an' I warm 'em over an' boil 'em down till they're her size.
"Asia Minor!" she called to a girl who was coming in the door, "this here is Mary--Lovey Mary she calls herself, Miss Hazy's boarder. Have you got a dress you could give her?"
"I'm going to buy it," said Mary, immediately on the defensive. She did not want them to think for a moment that she was begging. She would show them that she had money, that she was just as good as they were.
"Well, maw," the other girl was saying in a drawling voice as she looked earnestly at Lovey Mary, "seems to me she'd look purtiest in my red dress. Her hair's so nice an' black an' her teeth so white, I 'low the red would look best."
Mrs. Wiggs gazed at her daughter with adoring eyes. "Ain't that the artis' stickin' out through her? Couldn't you tell she handles paints? Up at the fact'ry she's got a fine job, paints flowers an' wreaths on to bath-tubs. Yes, indeed, this here red one is what you must have. Keep your dollar, child; the dress never cost us a cent. Here's a nubia, too, you kin have; it'll look better than that little hat you had on last night. That little hat worried me; it looked like the stopper was too little fer the bottle. There now, take the things right home with you, an' tomorrow you an' Asia kin start off in style."
Lovey Mary, flushed with the intoxication of her first compliment, went back and tried on the dress. Miss Hazy got so interested that she forgot to get supper.
"You look so nice I never would 'a' knowed you in the world!" she declared. "You don't look picked, like you did in that other dress."
"That Wiggs girl said I looked nice in red," said Lovey Mary tentatively.
"You do, too," said Miss Hazy; "it keeps you from lookin' so corpsey. I wisht you'd do somethin' with yer hair, though; it puts me in mind of snakes in them long black plaits."
All Lovey Mary needed was encouragement. She puffed her hair at the top and sides and tucked it up in the latest fashion. Tommy, coming in at the door, did not recognize her. She laughed delightedly.
"Do I look so different?"
"I should say you do," said Miss Hazy, admiringly, as she spread a newspaper for a table-cloth. "I never seen no one answer to primpin' like you do."
When it was quite dark Lovey Mary rolled something in a bundle and crept out of the house. After glancing cautiously up and down the tracks she made her way to the pond on the commons and dropped her bundle into the shallow water.
Next day, when Mrs. Schultz's goat died of convulsions, nobody knew it was due to the china buttons on Lovey Mary's gingham dress.