Cyrilla's Inspiration by Lucy Maud Montgomery
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and all the boarders at Mrs. Plunkett's were feeling dull and stupid, especially the Normal School girls on the third floor, Cyrilla Blair and Carol Hart and Mary Newton, who were known as The Trio, and shared the big front room together.
They were sitting in that front room, scowling out at the weather. At least, Carol and Mary were scowling. Cyrilla never scowled; she was sitting curled up on her bed with her Greek grammar, and she smiled at the rain and her grumbling chums as cheerfully as possible.
"For pity's sake, Cyrilla, put that grammar away," moaned Mary. "There is something positively uncanny about a girl who can study Greek on Saturday afternoons--at least, this early in the term."
"I'm not really studying," said Cyrilla, tossing the book away. "I'm only pretending to. I'm really just as bored and lonesome as you are. But what else is there to do? We can't stir outside the door; we've nothing to read; we can't make candy since Mrs. Plunkett has forbidden us to use the oil stove in our room; we'll probably quarrel all round if we sit here in idleness; so I've been trying to brush up my Greek verbs by way of keeping out of mischief. Have you any better employment to offer me?"
"If it were only a mild drizzle we might go around and see the Patterson girls," sighed Carol. "But there is no venturing out in such a downpour. Cyrilla, you are supposed to be the brainiest one of us. Prove your claim to such pre-eminence by thinking of some brand-new amusement, especially suited to rainy afternoons. That will be putting your grey matter to better use than squandering it on Greek verbs out of study limits."
"If only I'd got a letter from home today," said Mary, who seemed determined to persist in gloom. "I wouldn't mind the weather. Letters are such cheery things:--especially the letters my sister writes. They're so full of fun and nice little news. The reading of one cheers me up for the day. Cyrilla Blair, what is the matter? You nearly frightened me to death!" Cyrilla had bounded from her bed to the centre of the floor, waving her Greek grammar wildly in the air.
"Girls, I have an inspiration!" she exclaimed.
"Good! Let's hear it," said Carol.
"Let's write letters--rainy-day letters--to everyone in the house," said Cyrilla. "You may depend all the rest of the folks under Mrs. Plunkett's hospitable roof are feeling more or less blue and lonely too, as well as ourselves. Let's write them the jolliest, nicest letters we can compose and get Nora Jane to take them to their rooms. There's that pale little sewing girl, I don't believe she ever gets letters from anybody, and Miss Marshall, I'm sure she doesn't, and poor old Mrs. Johnson, whose only son died last month, and the new music teacher who came yesterday, a letter of welcome to her--and old Mr. Grant, yes, and Mrs. Plunkett too, thanking her for all her kindness to us. You knew she has been awfully nice to us in spite of the oil stove ukase. That's six--two apiece. Let's do it, girls."
Cyrilla's sudden enthusiasm for her plan infected the others.
"It's a nice idea," said Mary, brightening up. "But who's to write to whom? I'm willing to take anybody but Miss Marshall. I couldn't write a line to her to save my life. She'd be horrified at anything funny or jokey and our letters will have to be mainly nonsense--nonsense of the best brand, to be sure, but still nonsense."
"Better leave Miss Marshall out," suggested Carol. "You know she disapproves of us anyhow. She'd probably resent a letter of the sort, thinking we were trying to play some kind of joke on her."
"It would never do to leave her out," said Cyrilla decisively. "Of course, she's a bit queer and unamiable, but, girls, think of thirty years of boarding-house life, even with the best of Plunketts. Wouldn't that sour anybody? You know it would. You'd be cranky and grumbly and disagreeable too, I dare say. I'm really sorry for Miss Marshall. She's had a very hard life. Mrs. Plunkett told me all about her one day. I don't think we should mind her biting little speeches and sharp looks. And anyway, even if she is really as disagreeable as she sometimes seems to be, why, it must make it all the harder for her, don't you think? So she needs a letter most of all. I'll write to her, since it's my suggestion. We'll draw lots for the others."
Besides Miss Marshall, the new music teacher fell to Cyrilla's share. Mary drew Mrs. Plunkett and the dressmaker, and Carol drew Mrs. Johnson and old Mr. Grant. For the next two hours the girls wrote busily, forgetting all about the rainy day, and enjoying their epistolary labours to the full. It was dusk when all the letters were finished.
"Why, hasn't the afternoon gone quickly after all!" exclaimed Carol. "I just let my pen run on and jotted down any good working idea that came into my head. Cyrilla Blair, that big fat letter is never for Miss Marshall! What on earth did you find to write her?"
"It wasn't so hard when I got fairly started," said Cyrilla, smiling. "Now, let's hunt up Nora Jane and send the letters around so that everybody can read his or hers before tea-time. We should have a choice assortment of smiles at the table instead of all those frowns and sighs we had at dinner." Miss Emily Marshall was at that moment sitting in her little back room, all alone in the dusk, with the rain splashing drearily against the windowpanes outside. Miss Marshall was feeling as lonely and dreary as she looked--and as she had often felt in her life of sixty years. She told herself bitterly that she hadn't a friend in the world--not even one who cared enough for her to come and see her or write her a letter now and then. She thought her boarding-house acquaintances disliked her and she resented their dislike, without admitting to herself that her ungracious ways were responsible for it. She smiled sourly when little ripples of laughter came faintly down the hall from the front room where The Trio were writing their letters and laughing over the fun they were putting into them.
"If they were old and lonesome and friendless they wouldn't see much in life to laugh at, I guess," said Miss Marshall bitterly, drawing her shawl closer about her sharp shoulders. "They never think of anything but themselves and if a day passes that they don't have 'some fun' they think it's a fearful thing to put up with. I'm sick and tired of their giggling and whispering."
In the midst of these amiable reflections Miss Marshall heard a knock at her door. When she opened it there stood Nora Jane, her broad red face beaming with smiles.
"Please, Miss, here's a letter for you," she said.
"A letter for me!" Miss Marshall shut her door and stared at the fat envelope in amazement. Who could have written it? The postman came only in the morning. Was it some joke, perhaps? Those giggling girls? Miss Marshall's face grew harder as she lighted her lamp and opened the letter suspiciously.
"Dear Miss Marshall," it ran in Cyrilla's pretty girlish writing, "we girls are so lonesome and dull that we have decided to write rainy-day letters to everybody in the house just to cheer ourselves up. So I'm going to write to you just a letter of friendly nonsense."
Pages of "nonsense" followed, and very delightful nonsense it was, for Cyrilla possessed the happy gift of bright and easy letter-writing. She commented wittily on all the amusing episodes of the boarding-house life for the past month; she described a cat-fight she had witnessed from her window that morning and illustrated it by a pen-and-ink sketch of the belligerent felines; she described a lovely new dress her mother had sent her from home and told all about the class party to which she had worn it; she gave an account of her vacation camping trip to the mountains and pasted on one page a number of small snapshots taken during the outing; she copied a joke she had read in the paper that morning and discussed the serial story in the boarding-house magazine which all the boarders were reading; she wrote out the directions for a new crocheted tidy her sister had made--Miss Marshall had a mania for crocheting; and she finally wound up with "all the good will and good wishes that Nora Jane will consent to carry from your friend, Cyrilla Blair."
Before Miss Marshall had finished reading that letter she had cried three times and laughed times past counting. More tears came at the end--happy, tender tears such as Miss Marshall had not shed for years. Something warm and sweet and gentle seemed to thrill to life within her heart. So those girls were not such selfish, heedless young creatures as she had supposed! How kind it had been in Cyrilla Blair to think of her and write so to her. She no longer felt lonely and neglected. Her whole sombre world had been brightened to sunshine by that merry friendly letter.
Mrs. Plunkett's table was surrounded by a ring of smiling faces that night. Everybody seemed in good spirits in spite of the weather. The pale little dressmaker, who had hardly uttered a word since her arrival a week before, talked and laughed quite merrily and girlishly, thanking Cyrilla unreservedly for her "jolly letter." Old Mr. Grant did not grumble once about the rain or the food or his rheumatism and he told Carol that she might be a good letter writer in time if she looked after her grammar more carefully--which, from Mr. Grant, was high praise. All the others declared that they were delighted with their letters--all except Miss Marshall. She said nothing but later on, when Cyrilla was going upstairs, she met Miss Marshall in the shadows of the second landing.
"My dear," said Miss Marshall gently, "I want to thank you for your letter, I don't think you can realize just what it has meant to me. I was so--so lonely and tired and discouraged. It heartened me right up. I--I know you have thought me a cross and disagreeable person. I'm afraid I have been, too. But--but--I shall try to be less so in future. If I can't succeed all at once don't mind me because, under it all, I shall always be your friend. And I mean to keep your letter and read it over every time I feel myself getting bitter and hard again." "Dear Miss Marshall, I'm so glad you liked it," said Cyrilla frankly. "We're all your friends and would be glad to be chummy with you. Only we thought perhaps we bothered you with our nonsense."
"Come and see me sometimes," said Miss Marshall with a smile. "I'll try to be 'chummy'--perhaps I'm not yet too old to learn the secret of friendliness. Your letter has made me think that I have missed much in shutting all young life out from mine as I have done. I want to reform in this respect if I can."
When Cyrilla reached the front room she found Mrs. Plunkett there.
"I've just dropped in, Miss Blair," said that worthy woman, "to say that I dunno as I mind your making candy once in a while if you want to. Only do be careful not to set the place on fire. Please be particularly careful not to set it on fire."
"We'll try," promised Cyrilla with dancing eyes. When the door closed behind Mrs. Plunkett the three girls looked at each other.
"Cyrilla, that idea of yours was a really truly inspiration," said Carol solemnly.
"I believe it was," said Cyrilla, thinking of Miss Marshall.