Chapter VII. Neighborly Advice
 

"It's a poor business looking at the sun with a cloudy face."

The long, hot summer days that followed were full of trials for Lovey Mary. Day after day the great unwinking sun glared savagely down upon the Cabbage Patch, upon the stagnant pond, upon the gleaming rails, upon the puffing trains that pounded by hour after hour. Each morning found Lovey Mary trudging away to the factory, where she stood all day counting and sorting and packing tiles. At night she climbed wearily to her little room under the roof, and tried to sleep with a wet cloth over her face to keep her from smelling the stifling car smoke.

But it was not the heat and discomfort alone that made her cheeks thin and her eyes sad and listless: it was the burden on her conscience, which seemed to be growing heavier all the time. One morning Mrs. Wiggs took her to task for her gloomy countenance. They met at the pump, and, while the former's bucket was being filled, Lovey Mary leaned against a lamp-post and waited in a dejected attitude.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Mrs. Wiggs. "What you lookin' so wilted about?"

Lovey Mary dug her shoe into the ground and said nothing. Many a time had she been tempted to pour forth her story to this friendly mentor, but the fear of discovery and her hatred of Kate deterred her.

Mrs. Wiggs eyed her keenly. "Pesterin' about somethin'?" she asked.

"Yes, 'm," said Lovey Mary, in a low tone.

"Somethin' that's already did?"

"Yes, 'm"--still lower.

"Did you think you was actin' fer the best?"

The girl lifted a pair of honest gray eyes. "Yes, ma'am, I did."

"I bet you did!" said Mrs. Wiggs, heartily. "You ain't got a deceivin' bone in yer body. Now what you want to do is to brace up yer sperrits. The decidin'-time was the time fer worryin'. You've did what you thought was best; now you want to stop thinkin' 'bout it. You don't want to go round turnin' folks' thoughts sour jes to look at you. Most girls that had white teeth like you would be smilin' to show 'em, if fer nothin' else."

"I wisht I was like you," said Lovey Mary.

"Don't take it out in wishin'. If you want to be cheerful, jes set yer mind on it an' do it. Can't none of us help what traits we start out in life with, but we kin help what we end up with. When things first got to goin' wrong with me, I says: 'O Lord, whatever comes, keep me from gittin' sour!' It wasn't fer my own sake I ast it,--some people 'pears to enjoy bein' low-sperrited,--it was fer the childern an' Mr. Wiggs. Since then I've made it a practice to put all my worries down in the bottom of my heart, then set on the lid an' smile."

"But you think ever'body's nice and good," complained Lovey Mary. "You never see all the meanness I do."

"Don't I? I been watchin' old man Rothchild fer goin' on eleven year', tryin' to see some good in him, an' I never found it till the other day when I seen him puttin' a splint on Cusmoodle's broken leg. He's the savagest man I know, yit he keered fer that duck as tender as a woman. But it ain't jes seein' the good in folks an' sayin' nice things when you're feelin' good. The way to git cheerful is to smile when you feel bad, to think about somebody else's headache when yer own is 'most bustin', to keep on believin' the sun is a-shinin' when the clouds is thick enough to cut. Nothin' helps you to it like thinkin' more 'bout other folks than about yerself."

"I think 'bout Tommy first," said Lovey Mary.

"Yes, you certainly do yer part by him. If my childern wore stockin's an' got as many holes in 'em as he does, I'd work buttonholes in 'em at the start fer the toes to come through. But even Tommy wants somethin' besides darns. Why don't you let him go barefoot on Sundays, too, an' take the time you been mendin' fer him to play with him? I want to see them pretty smiles come back in yer face ag'in."

In a subsequent conversation with Miss Hazy, Mrs. Wiggs took a more serious view of Lovey Mary's depression.

"She jes makes me wanter cry, she's so subdued-like. I never see anybody change so in my life. It 'u'd jes be a relief to hear her sass some of us like she uster. She told me she never had nobody make over her like we all did, an' it sorter made her 'shamed. Lawsee! if kindness is goin' to kill her, I think we'd better fuss at her some."

"'Pears to me like she's got nervous sensations," said Miss Hazy; "she jumps up in her sleep, an' talks 'bout folks an' things I never heared tell of."

"That's exactly what ails her," agreed Mrs. Wiggs: "it's nerves, Miss Hazy. To my way of thinkin', nerves is worser than tumors an' cancers. Look at old Mrs. Schultz. She's got the dropsy so bad you can't tell whether she's settin' down or standin' up, yet she ain't got a nerve in her body, an' has 'most as good a time as other folks. We can't let Lovey Mary go on with these here nerves; no tellin' where they'll land her at. If it was jes springtime, I'd give her sulphur an' molasses an' jes a leetle cream of tartar; that, used along with egg-shell tea, is the outbeatenest tonic I ever seen. But I never would run ag'in' the seasons. Seems to me I've heared yallerroot spoke of fer killin' nerves."

"I don't 'spect we could git no yallerroot round here."

"What's the matter with Miss Viny? I bet it grows in her garden thick as hairs on a dog's back. Let's send Lovey Mary out there to git some, an' we'll jes repeat the dose on her till it takes some hold."

"I ain't puttin' much stock in Miss Viny," demurred Miss Hazy. "I've heared she was a novelist reader, an' she ain't even a church-member."

"An' do you set up to jedge her?" asked Mrs. Wiggs, in fine scorn. "Miss Viny's got more sense in her little finger than me an' you has got in our whole heads. She can doctor better with them yarbs of hers than any physicianner I know. As to her not bein' a member, she lives right an' helps other folks, an' that's more than lots of members does. Besides," she added conclusively, "Mr. Wiggs himself wasn't no church-member."