Chapter III. The Pink Lady

When Mrs. Francis decided to play the Lady Bountiful to the Watson family, she not only ministered to their physical necessity but she conscientiously set about to do them good, if they would be done good to. Mrs. Francis's heart was kind, when you could get to it; but it was so deeply crusted over with theories and reflections and abstract truths that not very many people knew that she had one.

When little Danny's arms were thrown around her neck, and he called her his dear sweet, pink lady, her pseudo-intellectuality broke down before a power which had lain dormant. She had always talked a great deal of the joys of motherhood, and the rapturous delights of mother-love. Not many of the mothers knew as much of the proper care of an infant during the period of dentition as she. She had read papers at mothers' meetings, and was as full of health talks as a school physiology.

But it was the touch of Danny's soft cheek and clinging arms that brought to her the rapture that is so sweet it hurts, and she realised that she had missed the sweetest thing in life. A tiny flame of real love began to glimmer in her heart and feebly shed its beams among the debris of cold theories and second-hand sensations that had filled it hitherto.

She worried Danny with her attentions, although he tried hard to put up with them. She was the lady of his dreams, for Pearl's imagination had clothed her with all the virtues and graces.

Hers was a strangely inconsistent character, spiritually minded, but selfish; loving humanity when it is spelled with a capital, but knowing nothing of the individual. The flower of holiness in her heart was like the haughty orchid that blooms in the hothouse, untouched by wind or cold, beautiful to behold but comforting no one with its beauty.

Pearl Watson was like the rugged little anemone, the wind flower that lifts its head from the cheerless prairie. No kind hand softens the heat or the cold, nor tempers the wind, and yet the very winds that blow upon it and the hot sun that beats upon it bring to it a grace, a hardiness, a fragrance of good cheer, that gladdens the hearts of all who pass that way.

Mrs. Francis found herself strongly attracted to Pearl. Pearl, the housekeeper, the homemaker, a child with a woman's responsibility, appealed to Mrs. Francis. She thought about Pearl very often.

Noticing one day that Pearl was thin and pale, she decided at once that she needed a health talk. Pearl sat like a graven image while Mrs. Francis conscientiously tried to stir up in her the seeds of right living.

"Oh, ma!" Pearl said to her mother that night, when the children had gone to bed and they were sewing by the fire. "Oh, ma! she told me more to-day about me insides than I would care to remember. Mind ye, ma, there's a sthring down yer back no bigger'n a knittin' needle, and if ye ever broke it ye'd snuff out before ye knowed what ye was doin', and there's a tin pan in yer ear that if ye got a dinge in it, it wouldn't be worth a dhirty postage stamp for hearin' wid, and ye mustn't skip ma, for it will disturb yer Latin parts, and ye mustn't eat seeds, or ye'll get the thing that pa had--what is it called ma?"

Her mother told her.

"Yes, appendicitis, that's what she said. I never knowed there were so many places inside a person to go wrong, did ye, ma? I just thought we had liver and lights and a few things like that."

"Don't worry, alannah," her mother said soothingly, as she cut out the other leg of Jimmy's pants. "The Lord made us right I guess, and he won't let anything happen to us."

But Pearl was not yet satisfied. "But, oh ma," she said, as she hastily worked a buttonhole. "You don't know about the diseases that are goin' 'round. Mind ye, there's tuberoses in the cows even, and them that sly about it, and there's diseases in the milk as big as a chew o' gum and us not seein' them. Every drop of it we use should be scalded well, and oh, ma, I wonder anyone of us is alive for we're not half clean! The poison pours out of the skin night and day, carbolic acid she said, and every last wan o' us should have a sponge bath at night--that's just to slop yerself all up and down with a rag, and an oliver in the mornin'. Ma, what's an oliver, d'ye think?"

"Ask Camilla," Mrs. Watson said, somewhat alarmed at these hygienic problems. "Camilla is grand at explaining Mrs. Francis's quare ways."

Pearl's brown eyes were full of worry.

"It's hard to git time to be healthy, ma," she said; "we should keep the kittle bilin' all the time, she says, to keep the humanity in the air--Oh, I wish she hadn't a told me, I never thought atin' hurt anyone, but she says lots of things that taste good is black pison. Isn't it quare, ma, the Lord put such poor works in us and us not there at the time to raise a hand."

They sewed in silence for a few minutes.

Then Pearl said: "Let us go to bed now, ma, me eyes are shuttin'. I'll go back to-morrow and ask Camilla about the 'oliver.'"