Sowing Seeds in Danny by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter I. Sowing Seeds in Danny
In her comfortable sitting room Mrs. J. Burton Francis sat, at peace with herself and all mankind. The glory of the short winter afternoon streamed into the room and touched with new warmth and tenderness the face of a Madonna on the wall.
The whole room suggested peace. The quiet elegance of its furnishings, the soft leather-bound books on the table, the dreamy face of the occupant, who sat with folded hands looking out of the window, were all in strange contrast to the dreariness of the scene below, where the one long street of the little Manitoba town, piled high with snow, stretched away into the level, white, never-ending prairie. A farmer tried to force his tired horses through the drifts; a little boy with a milk-pail plodded bravely from door to door, sometimes laying down his burden to blow his breath on his stinging fingers.
The only sound that disturbed the quiet of the afternoon in Mrs. Francis's sitting room was the regular rub-rub of the wash-board in the kitchen below.
"Mrs. Watson is slow with the washing to-day," Mrs. Francis murmured with a look of concern on her usually placid face. "Possibly she is not well. I will call her and see."
"Mrs. Watson, will you come upstairs, please?" she called from the stairway.
Mrs. Watson, slow and shambling, came up the stairs, and stood in the doorway wiping her face on her apron.
"Is it me ye want ma'am?" she asked when she had recovered her breath.
"Yes, Mrs. Watson," Mrs. Francis said sweetly. "I thought perhaps you were not feeling well to-day. I have not heard you singing at your work, and the washing seems to have gone slowly. You must be very careful of your health, and not overdo your strength."
While she was speaking, Mrs. Watson's eyes were busy with the room, the pictures on the wall, the cosey window-seat with its numerous cushions; the warmth and brightness of it all brought a glow to her tired face.
"Yes, ma'am," she said, "thank ye kindly, ma'am. It is very kind of ye to be thinkin' o' the likes of me."
"Oh, we should always think of others, you know," Mrs. Francis replied quickly with her most winning smile, as she seated herself in a rocking-chair. "Are the children all well? Dear little Danny, how is he?"
"Indade, ma'am, that same Danny is the upsettinest one of the nine, and him only four come March. It was only this morn's mornin' that he sez to me, sez he, as I was comin' away, 'Ma, d'ye think she'll give ye pie for your dinner? Thry and remimber the taste of it, won't ye ma, and tell us when ye come home,' sez he."
"Oh, the sweet prattle of childhood," said Mrs. Francis, clasping her shapely white hands. "How very interesting it must be to watch their young minds unfolding as the flower! Is it nine little ones you have, Mrs. Watson?"
"Yes, nine it is, ma'am. God save us. Teddy will be fourteen on St. Patrick's Day, and all the rest are younger."
"It is a great responsibility to be a mother, and yet how few there be that think of it," added Mrs. Francis, dreamily.
"Thrue for ye ma'am," Mrs. Watson broke in. "There's my own man, John Watson. That man knows no more of what it manes than you do yerself that hasn't one at all at all, the Lord be praised; and him the father of nine."
"I have just been reading a great book by Dr. Ernestus Parker, on 'Motherhood.' It would be a great benefit to both you and your husband."
"Och, ma'am," Mrs. Watson broke in, hastily, "John is no hand for books and has always had his suspicions o' them since his own mother's great-uncle William Mulcahey got himself transported durin' life or good behaviour for havin' one found on him no bigger'n an almanac, at the time of the riots in Ireland. No, ma'am, John wouldn't rade it at all at all, and he don't know one letther from another, what's more."
"Then if you would read it and explain it to him, it would be so helpful to you both, and so inspiring. It deals so ably with the problems of child-training. You must be puzzled many times in the training of so many little minds, and Dr. Parker really does throw wonderful light on all the problems that confront mothers. And I am sure the mother of nine must have a great many perplexities."
Yes, Mrs. Watson had a great many perplexities--how to make trousers for four boys out of the one old pair the minister's wife had given her; how to make the memory of the rice-pudding they had on Sunday last all the week; how to work all day and sew at night, and still be brave and patient; how to make little Danny and Bugsey forget they were cold and hungry. Yes, Mrs. Watson had her problems; but they were not the kind that Dr. Ernestus Parker had dealt with in his book on "Motherhood."
"But I must not keep you, Mrs. Watson," Mrs. Francis said, as she remembered the washing. "When you go downstairs will you kindly bring me up a small red notebook that you will find on the desk in the library?"
"Yes ma'am," said Mrs. Watson, and went heavily down the stairs. She found the book and brought it up.
While she was making the second laborious journey down the softly padded stairs, Mrs. Francis was making an entry in the little red book.
Dec. 7, 1903. Talked with one woman to-day RE Beauty of Motherhood. Recommended Dr. Parker's book. Believe good done.
Then she closed the book with a satisfied feeling. She was going to have a very full report for her department at the next Annual Convention of the Society for Propagation of Lofty Ideals.
In another part of the same Manitoba town lived John Watson, unregenerate hater of books, his wife and their family of nine. Their first dwelling when they had come to Manitoba from the Ottawa Valley, thirteen years ago, had been C. P. R. box-car No. 722, but this had soon to be enlarged, which was done by adding to it other car-roofed shanties. One of these was painted a bright yellow and was a little larger than the others. It had been the caboose of a threshing outfit that John had worked for in '96. John was the fireman and when the boiler blew up and John was carried home insensible the "boys" felt that they should do something for the widow and orphans. They raised one hundred and sixty dollars forthwith, every man contributing his wages for the last four days. The owner of the outfit, Sam Motherwell, in a strange fit of generosity, donated the caboose.
The next fall Sam found that he needed the caboose himself, and came with his trucks to take it back. He claimed that he had given it with the understanding that John was going to die. John had not fulfilled his share of the contract, and Sam felt that his generosity had been misplaced.
John was cutting wood beside his dwelling when Sam arrived with his trucks, and accused him of obtaining goods under false pretences. John was a man of few words and listened attentively to Sam's reasoning. From the little window of the caboose came the discordant wail of a very young infant, and old Sam felt his claims growing more and more shadowy.
John took the pipe from his mouth and spat once at the woodpile. Then, jerking his thumb toward the little window, he said briefly:
"Twins. Last night."
Sam Motherwell mounted his trucks and drove away. He knew when he was beaten.
The house had received additions on every side, until it seemed to threaten to run over the edge of the lot, and looked like a section of a wrecked freight train, with its yellow refrigerator car.
The snow had drifted up to the windows, and entirely over the little lean-to that had been erected at the time that little Danny had added his feeble wail to the general family chorus.
But the smoke curled bravely up from the chimney into the frosty air, and a snug pile of wood by the "cheek of the dure" gave evidence of John's industry, notwithstanding his dislike of the world's best literature.
Inside the floor was swept and the stove was clean, and an air of comfort was over all, in spite of the evidence of poverty. A great variety of calendars hung on the wall. Every store in town it seems had sent one this year, last year and the year before. A large poster of the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition hung in the parlour, and a Massey-Harris self-binder, in full swing, propelled by three maroon horses, swept through a waving field of golden grain, driven by an adipose individual in blue shirt and grass-green overalls. An enlarged picture of John himself glared grimly from a very heavy frame, on the opposite wall, the grimness of it somewhat relieved by the row of Sunday-school "big cards" that were stuck in around the frame.
On the afternoon that Mrs. Watson had received the uplifting talk on motherhood, and Mrs. Francis had entered it in the little red book, Pearlie Watson, aged twelve, was keeping the house, as she did six days in the week. The day was too cold for even Jimmy to be out, and so all except the three eldest boys were in the kitchen variously engaged. Danny under promise of a story was in the high chair submitting to a thorough going over with soap and water. Patsey, looking up from his self-appointed task of brushing the legs of the stove with the hair-brush, loudly demanded that the story should begin at once.
"Story, is it?" cried Pearlie in her wrath, as she took the hair-brush from Patsey. "What time have I to be thinkin' of stories and you that full of badness. My heart is bruck wid ye."
"I'll be good now," Patsey said, penitently, sitting on the wood-box, and tenderly feeling his skinned nose. "I got hurt to-day, mind that, Pearlie."
"So ye did, poor bye," said Pearlie, her wrath all gone, "and what will I tell yez about, my beauties?"
"The pink lady where Jimmy brings the milk," said Patsey promptly.
"But it's me that's gettin' combed," wailed Danny. "I should say what ye'r to tell, Pearlie."
"True for ye," said Pearlie, "Howld ye'r tongue, Patsey. What will I tell about, honey?"
"What Patsey said'll do" said Danny with an injured air, "and don't forget the chockalut drops she had the day ma was there and say she sent three o' them to me, and you can have one o' them, Pearlie."
"And don't forget the big plate o' potatoes and gravy and mate she gave the dog, and the cake she threw in the fire to get red of it," said Mary, who was knitting a sock for Teddy.
"No, don't tell that," said Jimmy, "it always makes wee Bugsey cry."
"Well," began Pearlie, as she had done many times before. "Once upon a time not very long ago, there lived a lovely pink lady in a big house painted red, with windies in ivery side of it, and a bell on the front dure, and a velvet carpet on the stair and--"
"What's a stair?' asked Bugsey.
"It's a lot of boxes piled up higher and higher, and nailed down tight so that ye can walk on them, and when ye get away up high, there is another house right farninst ye--well anyway, there was a lovely pianny in the parlow, and flowers in the windies, and two yalla burds that sing as if their hearts wud break, and the windies had a border of coloured glass all around them, and long white curtings full of holes, but they like them all the better o' that, for it shows they are owld and must ha' been good to ha' stood it so long. Well, annyway, there was a little boy called Jimmie Watson"--here all eyes were turned on Jimmy, who was sitting on the floor mending his moccasin with a piece of sinew. "There was a little boy called Jimmy Watson who used to carry milk to the lady's back dure, and a girl with black eyes and white teeth all smiley used to take it from him, and put it in a lovely pitcher with birds flying all over it. But one day the lady, herself, was there all dressed in lovely pink velvet and lace, and a train as long as from me to you, and she sez to Jimmy, sez she, 'Have you any sisters or brothers at home,' and Jim speaks up real proud-like, 'Just nine,' he sez, and sez she, swate as you please, 'Oh, that's lovely! Are they all as purty as you?' she sez, and Jimmy sez, 'Purtier if anything,' and she sez, 'I'll be steppin' over to-day to see yer ma,' and Jim ran home and told them all, and they all got brushed and combed and actin' good, and in she comes, laving her carriage at the dure, and her in a long pink velvet cape draggin' behind her on the flure, and wide white fer all around it, her silk skirts creakin' like a bag of cabbage and the eyes of her just dancin' out of her head, and she says, 'These are fine purty childer ye have here, Mrs. Watson. This is a rale purty girl, this oldest one. What's her name?' and ma ups and tells her it is Rebecca Jane Pearl, named for her two grandmothers, and Pearl just for short. She says, 'I'll be for taking you home wid me, Pearlie, to play the pianny for me,' and then she asks all around what the children's names is, and then she brings out a big box, from under her cape, all tied wid store string, and she planks it on the table and tearin' off the string, she sez, 'Now, Pearlie, it's ladies first, tibby sure. What would you like to see in here?' And I says up quick--'A long coat wid fer on it, and a handkerchief smellin' strong of satchel powder,' and she whipped them out of the box and threw them on my knee, and a new pair of red mitts too. And then she says, 'Mary, acushla, it's your turn now.' And Mary says, 'A doll with a real head on it,' and there it was as big as Danny, all dressed in green satin, opening its eyes, if you plaze."
"Now, me!" roared Danny, squirming in his chair.
"'Daniel Mulcahey Watson, what wud you like?' she says, and Danny ups and says, 'Chockaluts and candy men and taffy and curren' buns and ginger bread,' and she had every wan of them."
"'Robert Roblin Watson, him as they call Bugsey, what would you like?' and 'Patrick Healy Watson, as is called Patsey, what is your choice?' says she, and--"
In the confusion that ensued while these two young gentlemen thus referred to stated their modest wishes, their mother came in, tired and pale, from her hard day's work.
"How is the pink lady to-day, ma?" asked Pearlie, setting Danny down and beginning operations on Bugsey.
"Oh, she's as swate as ever, an' can talk that soft and kind about children as to melt the heart in ye."
Danny crept up on his mother's knee "Ma, did she give ye pie?" he asked, wistfully.
"Yes, me beauty, and she sent this to you wid her love," and Mrs. Watson took a small piece out of a newspaper from under her cape. It was the piece that had been set on the kitchen table for Mrs. Watson's dinner. Danny called them all to have a bite.
"Sure it's the first bite that's always the best, a body might not like it so well on the second," said Jimmy as he took his, but Bugsey refused to have any at all. "Wan bite's no good," he said, "it just lets yer see what yer missin."
"D'ye think she'll ever come to see us, ma?" asked Pearlie, as she set Danny in the chair to give him his supper. The family was fed in divisions. Danny was always in Division A.
"Her? Is it?" said Mrs. Watson and they all listened, for Pearlie's story to-day had far surpassed all her former efforts, and it seemed as if there must be some hope of its coming true. "Why och! childer dear, d'ye think a foine lady like her would be bothered with the likes of us? She is r'adin' her book, and writin' letthers, and thinkin' great thoughts, all the time. When she was speakin' to me to-day, she looked at me so wonderin' and faraway I could see that she thought I wasn't there at all at all, and me farninst her all the time--no childer, dear, don't be thinkin' of it, and Pearlie, I think ye'd better not be puttin' notions inter their heads. Yer father wouldn't like it. Well Danny, me man, how goes it?" went on Mrs. Watson, as her latest born was eating his rather scanty supper. "It's not skim milk and dhry bread ye'd be havin', if you were her child this night, but taffy candy filled wid nuts and chunks o' cake as big as yer head." Whereupon Danny wailed dismally, and had to be taken from his chair and have the "Little Boy Blue" sung to him, before he could be induced to go on with his supper.
The next morning when Jimmy brought the milk to Mrs. Francis's back door the dark-eyed girl with the "smiley" teeth let him in, and set a chair beside the kitchen stove for him to warm his little blue hands. While she was emptying the milk into the pitcher with the birds on it, Mrs. Francis, with a wonderful pink kimono on, came into the kitchen.
"Who is this boy, Camilla?" she asked, regarding Jimmy with a critical gaze.
"This is Master James Watson, Mrs. Francis," answered Camilla with her pleasant smile. "He brings the milk every morning."
"Oh yes; of course, I remember now," said Mrs. Francis, adjusting her glasses. "How old is the baby, James?"
"Danny is it?" said Jim. "He's four come March."
"Is he very sweet and cunning James, and do you love him very much?"
"Oh, he's all right," Jim answered sheepishly.
"It is a great privilege to have a little brother like Daniel. You must be careful to set before him a good example of honesty and sobriety. He will be a man some day, and if properly trained he may be a useful factor in the uplifting and refining of the world. I love little children," she went on rapturously, looking at Jimmy as if he wasn't there at all, "and I would love to train one, for service in the world to uplift and refine."
"Yes ma'am," said Jimmy. He felt that something was expected of him, but he was not sure what.
"Will you bring Daniel to see me to-morrow, James?" she said, as Camilla handed him his pail. "I would like to speak to his young mind and endeavour to plant the seeds of virtue and honesty in that fertile soil."
When Jimmy got home he told Pearlie of his interview with the pink lady, as much as he could remember. The only thing that he was sure of was that she wanted to see Danny, and that she had said something about planting seeds in him.
Jimmy and Pearlie thought it best not to mention Danny's proposed visit to their mother, for they knew that she would be fretting about his clothes, and would be sitting up mending and sewing for him when she should be sleeping. So they resolved to say "nothin' to nobody."
The next day their mother went away early to wash for the Methodist minister's wife, and that was always a long day's work.
Then the work of preparation began on Danny. A wash-basin full of snow was put on the stove to melt, and Danny was put in the high chair which was always the place of his ablutions.
Pearlie began to think aloud. "Bugsey, your stockin's are the best. Off wid them, Mary, and mend the hole in the knees of them, and, Bugsey, hop into bed for we'll be needin' your pants anyway. It's awful stylish for a little lad like Danny to be wearin' pants under his dresses, and now what about boots? Let's see yours, Patsey. They're all gone in the uppers, and Billy's are too big, even if they were here, but they're off to school on him. I'll tell you what Mary, hurry up wid that sock o' Ted's and we'll draw them on him over Bugsey's boots and purtind they're overstockin's, and I'll carry him all the way so's not to dirty them."
Mary stopped her dish-washing, and drying her hands on the thin towel that hung over the looking glass, found her knitting and began to knit at the top of her speed.
"Isn't it good we have that dress o' his, so good yet, that he got when we had all of yez christened. Put the irons on there Mary; never mind, don't stop your knittin'. I'll do it myself. We'll press it out a bit, and we can put ma's handkerchief, the one pa gev her for Christmas, around his neck, sort o' sailor collar style, to show he's a boy. And now the snow is melted, I'll go at him. Don't cry now Danny, man, yer going' up to the big house where the lovely pink lady lives that has the chocaklut drops on her stand and chunks of cake on the table wid nuts in them as big as marbles. There now," continued Pearlie, putting the towel over her finger and penetrating Danny's ear, "she'll not say she can plant seeds in you. Yer ears are as clean as hers," and Pearlie stood back and took a critical view of Danny's ears front and back.
"Chockaluts?" asked Danny to be sure that he hadn't been mistaken.
"Yes," went on Pearlie to keep him still while she fixed his shock of red hair into stubborn little curls, and she told again with ever growing enthusiasm the story of the pink lady, and the wonderful things she had in the box tied up with store string.
At last Danny was completed and stood on a chair for inspection. But here a digression from the main issue occurred, for Bugsey had grown tired of his temporary confinement and complained that Patsey had not contributed one thing to Danny's wardrobe while he had had to give up both his stockings and his pants.
Pearlie stopped in the work of combing her own hair to see what could be done.
"Patsey, where's your gum?" she asked. "Git it for me this minute," and Patsey went to the "fallen leaf" of the table and found it on the inside where he had put it for safe keeping.
"Now you give that to Bugsey," she said, "and that'll make it kind o' even though it does look as if you wuz gettin' off pretty light."
Pearlie struggled with her hair to make it lie down and "act dacint," but the image that looked back at her from the cracked glass was not encouraging, even after making allowance for the crack, but she comforted herself by saying, "Sure it's Danny she wants to see, and she won't be lookin' much at me anyway."
Then the question arose, and for a while looked serious-- What was Danny to wear on his head? Danny had no cap, nor ever had one. There was one little red toque in the house that Patsey wore, but by an unfortunate accident, it had that very morning fallen into the milk pail and was now drying on the oven door. For a while it seemed as if the visit would have to be postponed until it dried, when Mary had an inspiration.
"Wrap yer cloud around his head and say you wuz feart of the earache, the day is so cold."
This was done and a blanket off one of the beds was pressed into service as an outer wrap for Danny. He was in such very bad humour at being wrapped up so tight that Pearlie had to set him down on the bed again to get a fresh grip on him.
"It's just as well I have no mitts," she said as she lifted her heavy burden. "I couldn't howld him at all if I was bothered with mitts. Open the dure, Patsey, and mind you shut it tight again. Keep up the fire, Mary. Bugsey, lie still and chew your gum, and don't fight any of yez."
When Pearlie and her heavy burden arrived at Mrs. Francis's back door they were admitted by the dark-haired Camilla, who set a rocking-chair beside the kitchen stove for Pearlie to sit in while she unrolled Danny, and when Danny in his rather remarkable costume stood up on Pearlie's knee, Camilla laughed so good humouredly that Danny felt the necessity of showing her all his accomplishments and so made the face that Patsey had taught him by drawing down his eyes, and putting his fingers in his mouth. Danny thought she liked it very much, for she went hurriedly into the pantry and brought back a cookie for him.
The savoury smell of fried salmon, for it was near lunch time, increased Danny's interest in his surroundings, and his eyes were big with wonder when Mrs. Francis herself came in.
"And is this little Daniel!" she cried rapturously. "So sweet; so innocent; so pure! Did Big Sister carry him all the way? Kind Big Sister. Does oo love Big Sister?"
"Nope," Danny spoke up quickly, "just like chockaluts."
"How sweet of him, isn't it, really?" she said, "with the world all before him, the great untried future lying vast and prophetic waiting for his baby feet to enter. Well has Dr. Parker said; 'A little child is a bundle of possibilities and responsibilities.'"
"If ye please, ma'am," Pearlie said timidly, not wishing to contradict the lady, but still anxious to set her right, "it was just this blanket I had him rolled in."
At which Camilla again retired to the pantry with precipitate haste.
"Did you see the blue, blue sky, Daniel, and the white, white snow, and did you see the little snow-birds, whirling by like brown leaves?" Mrs. Francis asked with an air of great childishness.
"Nope," said Danny shortly, "didn't see nothin'."
"Please, ma'am," began Pearlie again, "it was the cloud around his head on account of the earache that done it."
"It is sweet to look into his innocent young eyes and wonder what visions they will some day see," went on Mrs. Francis, dreamily, but there she stopped with a look of horror frozen on her face, for at the mention of his eyes Danny remembered his best trick and how well it had worked on Camilla, and in a flash his eyes were drawn down and his mouth stretched to its utmost limit.
"What ails the child?" Mrs. Francis cried in alarm. "Camilla, come here."
Camilla came out of the pantry and gazed at Danny with sparkling eyes, while Pearlie, on the verge of tears, vainly tried to awaken in him some sense of the shame he was bringing on her. Camilla hurried to the pantry again, and brought another cookie. "I believe, Mrs. Francis, that Danny is hungry," she said. "Children sometimes act that way," she added, laughing.
"Really, how very interesting; I must see if Dr. Parker mentions this strange phenomenon in his book."
"Please, ma'am, I think I had better take him home now," said Pearlie. She knew what Danny was, and was afraid that greater disgrace might await her. But when she tried to get him back into the blanket he lost every joint in his body and slipped to the floor. This is what she had feared--Danny had gone limber.
"I don't want to go home" he wailed dismally. "I want to stay with her, and her; want to see the yalla burds, want a chockalut."
"Come Danny, that's a man," pleaded Pearlie, "and I'll tell you all about the lovely pink lady when we go home, and I'll get Bugsey's gum for ye and I'll--"
"No," Danny roared, "tell me how about the pink lady, tell her, and her."
"Wait till we get home, Danny man." Pearlie's grief flowed afresh. Disgrace had fallen on the Watsons, and Pearlie knew it.
"It would be interesting to know what mental food this little mind has been receiving. Please do tell him the story, Pearlie."
Thus admonished, Pearlie, with flaming cheeks began the story. She tried to make it less personal, but at every change Danny screamed his disapproval, and held her to the original version, and when it was done, he looked up with his sweet little smile, and said to Mrs. Francis nodding his head. "You're it! You're the lovely pink lady." There was a strange flush on Mrs. Francis's face, and a strange feeling stirring her heart, as she hurriedly rose from her chair and clasped Danny in her arms.
"Danny! Danny!" she cried, "you shall see the yellow birds, and the stairs, and the chocolates on the dresser, and the pink lady will come to-morrow with the big parcel."
Danny's little arms tightened around her neck.
"It's her," he shouted. "It's her."
When Mrs. Burton Francis went up to her sitting-room, a few hours later to get the "satchel" powder to put in the box that was to be tied with the store string, the sun was shining on the face of the Madonna on the wall, and it seemed to smile at her as she passed.
The little red book lay on the table forgotten. She tossed it into the waste-paper basket.