The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XXVIII. A Sail! A Sail!
The buds may blow and the fruit may grow And the autumn leaves drop crisp and sere; But whether the rain or the sun or the snow, There is ever a song somewhere, my dear.
----James Whitcomb Riley.
The first week after Thursa's marriage Arthur kept to his own house, and the neighbours, with fine' tact, stayed away. Many and varied were the ways they took of showing the sincerity of their sympathy. A roast of "spare ribs," already cooked, was left one day mysteriously on his door-step; the next day a jar of pincherry jelly and a roll of jelly-cake were there. His mail was brought to him daily by one or other of the neighbours, and when it seemed to John Green's kind heart that Arthur's mail was very small and uninteresting, he brought over several back numbers of the Orillia Packet, one of which contained obituary verses that his own cousin had composed, and which Mr. Green marked with wavy ink lines, so that Arthur would be sure to see them. Mr. Green thought that his cousin's lachrymal symposium on the uncertainty of all things human should be very comforting to Arthur in his present mental state. Little parcels, too, came mysteriously through the mail to Arthur. One day it was a pair of socks, from an anonymous contributor; another time there came a pair of woollen mittens, red and blue, done in that intricate pattern which is known to the elect as "Fox and Geese." A little slip of paper, pinned on the wrist of one, stated that they were "from a friend," and Arthur shrewdly suspected that Aunt Kate Shenstone had sent them. The evil significance of the gift was not known to the giver, and not noticed by the recipient.
These new evidences of neighbourly solicitude carried the intended message, for they brought to his mind the comfort of knowing that there were loyal-hearted friends all around him who were sincerely sorry for his disappointment.
It was a week before Arthur left his own house, and then he went for his bread to the Perkins home. If he had not been so burdened with his own trouble he would surely have noticed how carefully Martha was dressed, how light her step, how happy her face. The tiny speck on the horizon had been a sail, sure enough. It might not be coming her way--it might never see the shipwrecked sailor--but it was a sail!
Pearlie Watson, the very day after the wedding, began to do some hard thinking on Martha's behalf. One fact--stood out above all others--there was a chance for Martha now, if she could only qualify.
Pearl talked it over with her Aunt Kate, who was a woman of the world, and had seen many marriages and much giving in marriage. Aunt Kate was hopeful, even confident, of the outcome of the present case.
"Of course Martha'll get him!" she said. "Why shouldn't she? I never in all my life seen better hard soft soap than what she makes, and her bread is as light as a feather, you could make a meal of it; and now since she's took to fluffin' her hair, and dressin' up so' nice, she's a good enough lookin' girl. She ain't as educated as he is, of course, but land alive! you couldn't beat that hard soft soap of hers, no matter what education you had."
Pearl shook her head and wished that she could share her aunt's optimism, but she felt that something more than a knowledge of soap-making was needed for a happy married life. On her way to school she thought about it so hard that it seemed to her that any one coming behind her would be sure to find some of her thoughts in the snow.
Mr. Donald, who saw that something was troubling her, inquired the cause of her worried face.
"Of course, I do not want to know if it is a secret, Pearl," he said; "but it may be that I could help you if I knew all about it."
Pearl looked at him before replying.
"It isn't a secret that I was told and promised, not to tell. It is something that I found out by accident, or, at least, all by my own self, and still it's not to be talked about, only among friends."
Mr. Donald nodded.
Pearl went on: "Maybe now you're just the one that could help me. I believe I will tell you all about it."
This was at recess. The children were out playing "shinney." They could hear the shouts of the contending sides. Pearl told him her hopes and fears regarding Martha. "Martha's all right at heart, you bet," she concluded; "she's good enough for Arthur or any one, really. If she had vulgar ways or swore when she got mad, or sassed her Ma, or told lies, or was stingy or mean or anything like that, it would be far worse and harder to get rid of, because nothing but a miracle of grace will cast out the roots of sin, and then even it is a big risk to marry any one like that, because you're never sure but one tiny little root may be left, and in due season it may bust up and grow."
"It may, indeed," Mr. Donald said, smiling. Then he added, when his smile had faded: "'Bust up and grow' are the words to express it."
"But if Martha could only get smoothed up in education, and know about William the Conqueror, and what causes tides, and could talk a little more and answer back a little smarter like, it would be all right, I do believe."
"I have known men to marry uneducated women, and be very fond of them, too," said Mr. Donald thoughtfully. "Some of the Hudson's Bay factors married squaws."
"I know," Pearl agreed. "Old Louie Baker, the surveyor's guide, told Pa about his squaw, Rosie. He Eked Rosie fine, and thought she was real pretty when there wasn't a white woman in sight, but when the white women began to come into the country he got ashamed of poor Rosie, and every day she seemed to get dirtier and greasier, and her toes turned in more; and, anyway, Mr. Donald, it's hard for a woman to feel that she isn't just up to the mark. Gettin' married ain't all there is to it, you bet. It's only in books that they say people git married, and leave it like that, for that's when the real hard times begin--keepin' it up and makin' it turn out well. That's the hard part."
Mr. Donald looked at her in wonder. "You have wisdom beyond your years, Pearl," he said gravely.
"All Martha needs is more education, and there's lots of it lyin' around loose--it's stickin' out of every-thing--it's in the air and on the ground, and all over, and it seems too bad if Martha can't grab holt of some of it, and her so anxious for it."
"The well is deep, and she has nothing to draw with," the schoolmaster quoted absently.
Pearl recognized the words, and quickly answered: "Do you mind that the woman was wrong about that when she said there was nothing to draw with? Well, now, I believe Martha has something to draw with, too--she has you and me, so she has. You have the education that Martha needs. I'm gettin' it every day. Can't you and I pass it on to Martha?"
"How, Pearl?" he asked.
"I don't know just yet. I haven't got it thought out that far. But there's some way, there's always some way to help people."
It was time to call school then, and no more was said until the next day, when Mr. Donald said to Pearl: "I believe events are coming our way. Mrs. Steadman told me last night that she was going to Ontario for three months, and I am to go elsewhere to board. I wonder would Mrs. Perkins take me in?"
Pearl gave an exclamation of joy. "Would she?" she cried. "You bet she would, and you could help Martha every night. Isn't it just dandy the way things happen?"
That night Pearl went to see Martha on her way home from school. Pearl was to find out if the teacher would be taken to board.
Martha was alone in the house, her father and mother having gone to Millford. When Pearl knocked at the door, Martha opened it. A spelling-book was in her hand, which she laid down hurriedly.
Pearl made known her errand. It was too good to be delayed.
"Say, Martha, isn't it great? He'll help you every night--he can tell you the most interesting things--he gets lots of newspapers and magazines, and he knows about electricity and politics and poetry and everything, and a person can get educated just by listening to him."
Martha stood looking at Pearl a minute, then suddenly threw her arms around her. "You are my good angel, Pearl Watson!" she cried. "You are always bringing me good things. Of course we'll take him, and be glad to have him; and I'll listen to him, you may be sure; and Pearl, I just can't help telling you that I'm so happy now--I can't tell you how happy I am."
Martha's brimming eyes seemed to contradict her words, but Pearl, who understood something of the springs of the heart, understood.
"I can't help being happy," Martha went on. "I tell myself that it's wicked for me to feel so glad Thursa's gone, when he's so miserable over it. But she wouldn't ever have suited him, would she, Pearl? She'd have made him miserable before long, and herself, too; but that's not all the reason that I'm glad she's gone," she added, truthfully.
Martha's face was hidden on Pearl's shoulder as she said this.
"I know about it," Pearl said. "I found it all out that day when you were showing me the room, and I'm just as pleased as you are, or pretty near. Of course, it would never have done for him to marry Thursa, and the way it all turned out would convince any one that Providence ain't feelin' above takin' a hand in people's affairs. She was nice and pretty, and all that, but she's the kind that would always have sour bread, and you bet, sour bread cuts love; she'd be just like Dave Elder's wife, it tires her dreadful to sweep the floor; but she can go to three dances a week, and then she lies on the lounge all day and says her nerves are bad. But, Martha, you do right to be glad. It's never wrong to be happy. God made everything to have a good time. Look at the gophers and birds, and even the mosquitoes--they have a bang-up time while it lasts. We've got to be happy every chance we get. Whenever you see it passin' by take a grab at it. I mind, when I was a wee little thing, I had a piece of bright blue silk that I had found, and it was just lovely; it put me through a whole winter takin' a look at it now and then. I had to stay at home while Ma was washing, and it was pretty cold in the house sometimes, but the blue silk kept me heartened up. It's just like a piece on Arthur's phonograph--here and there in it there's a little tinklin' song, so sweet and liltin' it just cuts into yer heart; but, mind you, you don't get much o' that at a time. There's all kinds of clatterin' crash, smash, and jabber on both sides of it, cuttin' in on both ends of it, and just when yer gettin' tired of rough house, in she sails again sweeter than ever, just puttin' yer heart crossways with the sweetness of it. It keeps ringin' in my ears all the time, that dear little ripplin', tinklin' tune, and perhaps it needed all that gusty buzzin' and rip-roarin' to drive the sweetness clean into you. That's the way it is always; Martha; we've got to listen for the little song whenever we can hear it."
"I am listening to it all the time, Pearl," Martha said softly. "It may not be meant for me at all, but it is sweet while it lasts, and I can't help hearing it, can I, Pearl?"
Pearl kissed her friend warmly and whispered words of hope, and then, fearing that this might be faith without works, heard her spell a page of words from Bud's old speller.