Marm Lisa by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter XI--Rhoda Frees Her Mind
Morning dawned, and Mistress Mary and Rhoda went up the flight of broad steps rather earlier than usual,--so early that the janitress, who had been awake half the night with an ailing baby, was just going in to dust the rooms.
It was she who first caught sight of the old sofa and its occupant, and her exclamation drew Mary and Rhoda to the spot. There lay poor Marm Lisa in the dead sleep of exhaustion, her dress torn and wrinkled, her shoes travel-stained, her hair tangled and matted. Their first idea was that the dreaded foe might have descended upon her, and that she had had some terrible seizure with no one near to aid and relieve her. But the longer they looked, the less they feared this; her face, though white and tear-stained, was tranquil, her lips only slightly pale, and her breathing calm and steady. Mary finally noted the pathetic grouping of little objects in the red chair, and, touched by this, began to apprehend the significance of her own white apron close clasped in the child's loyal arms, and fell a-weeping softly on Rhoda's shoulder. 'She needed me, Rhoda,' she said. 'I do not know for what, but I am sure she needed me.'
'I see it all,' said Rhoda, administering soft strokes of consolation: 'it is something to do with those little beasts; yes, I will call them beasts, and if you don't let me, I'll call them brutes. They lost themselves yesterday, of course, and dear old Lisa searched for them all the afternoon and half the night, for aught we know, and then came here to be comforted, I suppose--the blessed thing!'
'Hush! don't touch her,' Mary whispered, as Rhoda went impetuously down on her knees by the sofa; 'and we must not talk in this room, for fear of waking her. Suppose you go at once to Mrs. Grubb's, dear, and, whatever you learn about the twins there, I shall meanwhile call a carriage and take Lisa home to my own bed. The janitress can send Edith to me as soon as she comes, and I will leave her with Lisa while I run back here to consult with you and Helen. I shall telegraph for Dr. Thorne, also, to be sure that this sleep is as natural and healing a thing as it appears to be.'
Mrs. Grubb was surprised, even amused, at Rhoda's exciting piece of news, but she was perfectly tranquil.
'Well, don't they beat all!' she exclaimed, leaning against the door- frame and taking her side hair out of waving-pins as she talked. 'No, I haven't seen them since noon yesterday. I was out to a picnic supper at the Army Headquarters at night, and didn't get home till later than usual, so I didn't go up to their room. I thought they were in bed; they always have been in bed when it was bedtime, ever since they were born.' Here she removed the last pin, and put it with the others in the bosom of her dress for safe-keeping. 'This morning, when they didn't turn up, I thought some of you girls had taken a fancy to keep them overnight; I didn't worry, supposing that Lisa was with them.'
'Nobody on earth could take a fancy to the twins or keep them an hour longer than necessary, and you know it, Mrs. Grubb,' said Rhoda, who seldom minced matters; 'and in case no one should ever have the bad manners to tell you the whole truth, I want to say here and now that you neglect everything good and sensible and practical,--all the plain, simple duties that stare you directly in the face,--and waste yourself on matters that are of no earthly use to anybody. Those children would have been missed last night if you had one drop of mother's blood in your veins! You have three helpless children under what you are pleased to call your care' (and here Rhoda's lip curled so scornfully that Mrs. Grubb was tempted to stab her with a curling- pin), 'and you went to sleep without knowing to a certainty whether they had had supper or bed! I don't believe you are a woman at all-- you are just a vague abstraction; and the only things you've ever borne or nursed or brooded in your life have been your miserable, bloodless little clubs and bands and unions!'
Rhoda's eyes flashed summer lightning, her nostrils quivered, her cheeks flamed scarlet, and Mrs. Grubb sat down suddenly and heavily on the front stairs and gasped for breath. According to her own belief, her whole life had been passed in a search for truth, but it is safe to say she had never before met it in so uncompromising and disagreeable a shape.
'Perhaps when you are quite through with your billingsgate,' she finally said, 'you will take yourself off my steps before you are ejected. You! to presume to criticise me! You, that are so low in the scale of being, you can no more understand my feelings and motives than a jellyfish can comprehend a star! Go back and tell Miss Mary,' she went on majestically, as she gained confidence and breath, 'that it is her duty and business to find the children, since they were last seen with her, and unless she proves more trustworthy they will not be allowed to return to her. Tell her, too, that when she wishes to communicate with me, she must choose some other messenger besides you, you impudent, grovelling little earthworm! Get out of my sight, or you will unfit me for my classes!'
Mrs. Grubb was fairly superb as she launched these thunderbolts of invective; the staircase her rostrum, her left hand poised impressively on the baluster, and the three snaky strands of brown hair that had writhed out of the waving-pins hissing Medusa-wise on each side of her bead.
Rhoda was considerably taken aback by the sudden and violent slamming of the door of No. 1 Eden Place, and she felt an unwelcome misgiving as to her wisdom in bringing Mrs. Grubb face to face with truth. Her rage had somewhat subsided by the time she reached Mistress Mary's side, for she had stopped on the way to ask a policeman to telephone the various stations for news of the lost children, and report at once to her. 'There is one good thing,' she thought: 'wherever they may be, their light cannot be hid any more than that of a city that is set on a hill. There will be plenty of traces of their journey, for once seen they are never forgotten. Nobody but a hero would think of kidnapping them, and nobody but an idiot would expect a ransom for them!'
'I hope you didn't upbraid Mrs. Grubb,' said Mary, divining from Rhoda's clouded brow that her interview had not been a pleasant one. 'You know our only peaceful way of rescuing Lisa from her hold is to make a friend of her, and convert her to our way of thinking. Was she much disturbed about the children?'
'Disturbed!' sniffed Rhoda disdainfully. 'Imagine Mrs. Grubb disturbed about anything so trivial as a lost child! If it had been a lost amendment, she might have been ruffled!'
'What is she doing about it, and in what direction is she searching?'
'She is doing nothing, and she will do nothing; she has gone to a Theosophy lecture, and we are to find the twins; and she says it's your fault, anyway, and unless you prove more trustworthy the seraphs will be removed from your care; and you are not to send me again as a messenger, if you please, because I am an impudent, grovelling little earthworm!'
'Did she call you that?'
'Yes'm, and a jellyfish besides; in fact, she dragged me through the entire animal kingdom; but she is a stellar being--she said so.'
'What did you say to her to provoke that, Rhoda? She is thoroughly illogical and perverse, but she is very amiable.'
'Yes, when you don't interfere with her. You should catch her with her hair in waving-pins, just after she has imbibed apple-sauce! Oh, I can't remember exactly what I said, for I confess I was a trifle heated, and at the moment I thought only of freeing my mind. Let me see: I told her she neglected all the practical duties that stared her directly in the face, and squandered herself on useless fads and vagaries--that's about all. No-o, now that I come to think of it, I did say that the children would have been missed and found last night, if she had had a drop of mother's blood in her veins.'
'That's terse and strong--and tactful,' said Mary; 'anything more?'
'No, I don't think so. Oh yes! now that I reflect, I said I didn't believe she was a woman at all. That seemed to enrage her beyond anything, somehow; and when I explained it, and tried to modify it by saying I meant that she had never borne or loved or brooded anything in her life but her nasty little clubs, she was white with anger, and told me I was too low in the scale of being to understand her. Good gracious! I wish she understood herself half as well as I understand her!'
Mary gave a hysterical laugh. 'I can't pretend you didn't speak the truth, Rhoda, but I am sadly afraid it was ill advised to wound Mrs. Grubb's vanity. Do you feel a good deal better?'
'No,' confessed Rhoda penitently. 'I did for fifteen minutes,--yes, nearly half an hour; but now I feel worse than ever.'
'That is one of the commonest symptoms of freeing one's mind,' observed Mary quietly.
It was scarcely an hour later when Atlantic and Pacific were brought in by an officer, very dirty and dishevelled, but gay and irresponsible as larks, nonchalant, amiable, and unrepentant. As Rhoda had prophesied, there had been no difficulty in finding them; and as everybody had prophesied, once found there had not been a second's delay in delivery. Moved by fiery hatred of the police matron, who had illustrated justice more than mercy, and illustrated it with the back of a hair-brush on their reversed persons; lured also by two popcorn balls, a jumping-jack, and a tin horse, they accepted the municipal escort with alacrity; and nothing was ever jauntier than the manner in which Pacific, all smiles and molasses, held up her sticky lips for an expected salute--an unusual offer which was respectfully declined as a matter of discipline.
Mary longed for Rhoda's young minister in the next half-hour, which she devoted to private spiritual instruction. Psychology proved wholly unequal to the task of fathoming the twins, and she fancied that theology might have been more helpful. Their idea seemed to be- -if the rudimentary thing she unearthed from their consciousness could be called an idea--that they would not mind repenting if they could see anything of which to repent. Of sin, as sin, they had no apparent knowledge, either by sight, by hearsay or by actual acquaintance. They sat stolidly in their little chairs, eyes roving to the windows, the blackboard, the pictures; they clubbed together and fished a pin from a crack in the floor during one of Mary's most thrilling appeals; finally they appeared so bored by the whole proceeding that she felt a certain sense of embarrassment in the midst of her despair. She took them home herself at noon, apologised to the injured Mrs. Grubb for Rhoda's unfortunate remarks, and told that lady, gently but firmly, that Lisa could not be moved until she was decidedly better.
'She was wandering about the streets searching for the twins from noon till long after dark, Mrs. Grubb--there can be no doubt of it; and she bears unmistakable signs of having suffered deeply. I have called in a physician, and we must all abide by his advice.'
'That's well enough for the present,' agreed Mrs. Grubb reluctantly, 'but I cannot continue to have my studies broken in upon by these excitements. I really cannot. I thought I had made an arrangement with Madame Goldmarker to relieve me, but she has just served me a most unladylike and deceitful trick, and the outcome of it will be that I shall have to send Lisa to the asylum. I can get her examined by the commissioners some time before Christmas, and if they decide she's imbecile they'll take her off my hands. I didn't want to part with her till the twins got older, but I've just found a possible home for them if I can endure their actions until New Year's. Our Army of Present Perfection isn't progressing as it ought to, and it's going to found a colony down in San Diego County, and advertise for children to bring up in the faith. A certain number of men and women have agreed to go and start the thing and I'm sure my sister, if she was alive would be glad to donate her children to such a splendid enterprise. If the commissioners won't take Lisa, she can go to Soul Haven, too--that's the name of the place;--but no, of course they wouldn't want any but bright children, that would grow up and spread the light.' (Mary smiled at the thought of the twins engaged in the occupation of spreading light.) 'I shall not join the community myself, though I believe it's a good thing; but a very different future is unveiling itself before me' (her tone was full of mystery here), 'and some time, if I can ever pursue my investigations in peace, you will knock at this door and I shall have vanished! But I shall know of your visit, and the very sound of your footfall will reach my ear, even if I am inhabiting some remote mountain fastness!'
When Lisa awoke that night, she heard the crackling of a wood fire on the hearth; she felt the touch of soft linen under her aching body, and the pressure of something cool and fragrant on her forehead. Her right hand, feebly groping the white counterpane, felt a flower in its grasp. Opening her eyes, she saw the firelight dancing on tinted walls, and an angel of deliverance sitting by her bedside--a dear familiar woman angel, whose fair crowned head rose from a cloud of white, and whose sweet downward gaze held all of benignant motherhood that God could put into woman's eyes.
Marm Lisa looked up dumbly and wonderingly at first, but the mind stirred, thought flowed in upon it, a wave of pain broke over her heart, and she remembered all; for remembrance, alas, is the price of reason.
'Lost! my twinnies, all lost and gone!' she whispered brokenly, with long, shuddering sobs between the words. 'I look--look--look; never, never find!'
'No, no, dear,' Mary answered, stroking the lines from her forehead, 'not lost any more; found, Lisa--do you understand? They are found, they are safe and well, and nobody blames you; and you are safe, too, your new self, your best self unharmed, thank God; so go to sleep, little sister, and dream happy dreams!'
Glad tears rushed from the poor child's eyes, tears of conscious happiness, and the burden rolled away from her heart now, as yesterday's whirring shuttles in her brain had been hushed into silence by her long sleep. She raised her swimming eyes to Mistress Mary's with a look of unspeakable trust. 'I love you! oh, I love, love, love you!' she whispered, and, holding the flower close to her breast, she breathed a sigh of sweet content, and sank again into quiet slumber.