Marm Lisa by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter XIV--More Leaves
'It has been one of the discouraging days. Lisa was wilful; the twins had a moral relapse; the young minister came again, and, oh, the interminable length of time he held Rhoda's hand at parting! Is it not strange that, with the whole universe to choose from, his predatory eye must fall upon my blooming Rhoda? I wonder whether the fragrance she will shed upon that one small parsonage will be as widely disseminated as the sweetness she exhales here, day by day, among our "little people all in a row"? I am not sure; I hope so; at any rate, selfishness must not be suffered to eclipse my common- sense, and the young minister seems a promising, manly fellow.
'When we have had a difficult day, I go home and sit down in my cosy corner in the twilight, the time and place where I always repeat my credo, which is this:-
'It is the children of this year, of every new year, who are to bring the full dawn, that dawn that has been growing since first the world began. It is not only that children re-create the world year by year, decade by decade, by making over human nature; by transforming trivial, thoughtless men and women into serious, earnest ones; by waking in arid natures slumbering seeds of generosity, self- sacrifice, and helpfulness. It is not alone in this way that children are bringing the dawn of the perfect day. It is the children (bless them! how naughty they were to-day!) who are going to do all we have left undone, all we have failed to do, all we might have done had we been wise enough, all we have been too weak and stupid to do.
'Among the thousands of tiny things growing up all over the land, some of them under my very wing--watched and tended, unwatched and untended, loved, unloved, protected from danger, thrust into temptation, among them somewhere is the child who will write a great poem that will live for ever and ever, kindling every generation to a loftier ideal. There is the child who will write the novel that is to stir men's hearts to nobler issues and incite them to better deeds. There is the child (perhaps it is Nino) who will paint the greatest picture or carve the greatest statue of the age; another who will deliver his country in an hour of peril; another who will give his life for a great principle; and another, born more of the spirit than the flesh, who will live continually on the heights of moral being, and, dying, draw men after him. It may be I shall preserve one of these children to the race--who knows? It is a peg big enough on which to hang a hope, for every child born into the world is a new incarnate thought of God, an ever fresh and radiant possibility.'
Another day.--'Would I had the gift to capture Mrs. Grubb and put her between the covers of a book!'
'It tickles Rhoda's fancy mightily that the Vague Lady (as we call her) should take Lisa before the Commissioners of Lunacy! Rhoda says that if she has an opportunity to talk freely with them, they will inevitably jump at the conclusion that Lisa has brought her for examination, as she is so much the more irrational of the two! Rhoda facetiously imagines a scene in which a reverend member of the body takes Lisa aside and says solemnly, "My dear child, you have been wise beyond your years in bringing us your guardian, and we cannot allow her to be at large another day, lest she becomes suddenly violent."
'Of late I have noticed that she has gradually dropped one club and society after another, concentrating her attention more and more upon Theosophy. Every strange weed and sucker that can grow anywhere flourishes in the soil of her mind, and if a germ of truth or common- sense does chance to exist in any absurd theory, it is choked by the time it has lain there among the underbrush for a little space; so that when she begins her harvesting (which is always a long while before anything is ripe), one can never tell precisely what sort of crop was planted.
'It seems that the Theosophists are considering the establishment of a colony of Mahatmas at Mojave, on the summit of the Tehachapi Mountains. Their present habitat is the Himalayas, but there is no reason why we should not encourage them to settle in this country. The Tehachapis would give as complete retirement as the Himalayas, while the spiritual advantages to be derived from an infusion of Mahatmas into our population are self-evident. "Think, my sisters," Mrs. Grubb would say, "think, that our mountain ranges may some time be peopled by omniscient beings thousands of years old and still growing!" Up to this last aberration I have had some hope of Grubb o' Dreams. I thought it a good sign, her giving up so many societies and meetings. The house is not any tidier, but at least she stays in it occasionally. In the privacy of my own mind I have been ascribing this slight reformation to the most ordinary cause,--namely, a Particular Man. It would never have occurred to me in her case had not Edith received confidential advices from Mrs. Sylvester.
'"We're going to lose her, I feel it!" said Mrs. Sylvester. "I feel it, and she alludes to it herself. There ain't but two ways of her classes losing her, death and marriage; and as she looks too healthy to die, it must be the other one. She's never accepted any special attentions till about a month ago, when the Improved Order of Red Men held their Great Council here. You see she used to be Worthy Wenonah of Pocahontas Lodge years ago, when my husband was Great Keeper of the Wampum, but she hasn't attended regularly; a woman is so handicapped, when it comes to any kind of public work, by her home and her children.--I do hope I shall live long enough to see all those kind of harassing duties performed in public, co-operative institutions.--She went to the Council to keep me company, mostly, but the very first evening I could see that William Burkhardt, of Bald Eagle No. 62, was struck with her; she lights up splendidly, Mrs. Grubb does. He stayed with her every chance he got during the week: but I didn't see her give him any encouragement, and I should never have thought of it again if she hadn't come home late from one of the Council Fires at the Wigwam. I was just shutting my bedroom blinds. I tried not to listen, for I despise eavesdropping, of all things, but I couldn't help hearing her say, "No, Mr. Burkhardt, you are only a Junior Sagamore, and I am ambitious. When you are a Great Sachem, it will be time enough to consider the matter."'
'Mrs. Sylvester, Edith, and I agreed that this was most significant, but we may have been mistaken, according to her latest development. The "passing away" so feelingly alluded to by Mrs. Sylvester is to be of a different sort. She has spoken mysteriously to me before of her reasons for denying herself luxuries; of the goal she expected to reach through rigid denial of the body and training of the spirit; of her longing to come less in contact with the foul magnetism of the common herd, so detrimental to her growth; but she formally announced to me in strict confidence to-day her ambition to be a Mahatma. Of course she has been so many things that there are comparatively few left; still, say whatever we like, she has the spirit of all the Argonauts, that woman! She has been an Initiate for some time, and considers herself quite ready for the next step, which is to be a Chela. It is unnecessary to state that she climbs the ladder of evolution much faster than the ordinary Theosophist, who is somewhat slow in his movements, and often deals in centuries, or even aeons.
'I did not know that there were female Mahatmas, reasoning unconsciously from the fact that an Adept is supposed to hold his peace for many years before he can even contemplate the possibility of being a Mahatma. (The idea of Grubb o' Dreams holding her peace is too absurd for argument.) There are many grades of Adepts, it seems, ranging from the "topmost" Mahatmas down. The highest of all, the Nirmanakayas, are self-conscious without the body, travelling hither and thither with but one object, that of helping humanity. As we descend the scale, we find Adepts (and a few second-class Mahatmas) living in the body, for the wheel of Karma has not entirely revolved for them; but they have a key to their "prison" (that is what Mrs. Grubb calls her nice, pretty body!), and can emerge from it at pleasure. That is, any really capable and energetic Adept can project his soul from its prison to any place that he pleases, with the rapidity of thought. I may have my personal doubts as to the possibilities of this gymnastic feat, but Mrs. Grubb's intellectual somersaults have been of such thoroughness and frequency that I am sure, if anybody can perform the gyration, she can! Meantime, there are decades of retirement, meditation, and preparation necessary, and she can endure nothing of that sort in this present incarnation, so the parting does not seem imminent!
'She came to consult me about Soul Haven for the twins. I don't think it a wholly bad plan. The country is better for them than the city; we can manage occasional news of their welfare; it will tide to get over the brief interval of time needed by Mrs. Grubb for growing into a Chela; and in any event, they are sure to run away from the Haven as soon as they become at all conscious of their souls, a moment which I think will be considerably delayed.
'Mrs. Grubb will not yield Lisa until she is certain that the Soul Haven colonists will accept the twins without a caretaker; but unless the matter is quietly settled by the new year I shall find some heroic means of changing her mind. I have considered the matter earnestly for many months without knowing precisely how to find sufficient money for the undertaking. My own income can be stretched to cover her maintenance, but it is not sufficient to give her the proper sort of education. She is beyond my powers now, and perhaps-- nay, of a certainty, if her health continue to improve--five years of skilful teaching will make her--what it will make her no one can prophesy, but it is sure to be something worth working for. No doubt I can get the money by a public appeal, and if it were for a dozen children instead of one I would willingly do it, as indeed I have done it many times in the past.
'That was a beautiful thought of Pastor Von Bodelschwingh, of the Colony of Mercy in Germany. "Mr. Man" told me about him in one of the very few long talks we had together. He had a home for adults and children of ailing mind and body, and when he wanted a new house for the little ones, and there was no money to build or equip it, he asked every parent in Germany for a thank-offering to the Lord of one penny for each well child. Within a short fortnight four hundred thousand pennies flowed in--four hundred thousand thank-offerings for children strong and well. The good pastor's wish was realised, and his Baby Castle an accomplished fact. Not only did the four hundred thousand pennies come, but the appeal for them stimulated a new sense of gratitude among all the parents who responded, so that there came pretty, touching messages from all sides, such as: "Four pennies for four living children; for a child in heaven, two." "Six pennies for a happy home." "One penny for the child we never had." "Five pennies for a good wife."
'Ah! never, surely, was a Baby Castle framed of such lovely timber as this! It seems as if heaven's sweet air must play about the towers, and heaven's sunshine stream in at every window, of a house built from turret to foundation-stone of such royal material. The Castle might look like other castles, but every enchanted brick and stone and block of wood, every grain of mortar, every bit of glass and marble, unlike all others of its kind, would be transformed by the thought it represented and thrilled with the message it bore.
'Such an appeal I could make for my whole great family, but somehow this seems almost a private matter, and I am sensitive about giving it publicity. My love and hope for Lisa are so great, I cannot bear to describe her "case," nor paint her unhappy childhood in the hues it deserves, for the sake of gaining sympathy and aid. I may have to do it, but would I were the little Croesus of a day! Still, Christmas is coming, and who knows?
"Everywhere the Feast o' the Babe,
Merry Christmas is coming. Everybody's hand-grasp is warmer because of it, though of course it is the children whose merriment rings truest.
'There are just one or two things, grown up as I am, that I should like to find in the toe of my stocking on Christmas morning; only they are impalpable things that could neither be put in nor taken out of real stockings.
'Old as we are, we are most of us mere children in this, that we go on hoping that next Christmas all the delicious happenings we have missed in other Christmases may descend upon us by the old and reliable chimney-route! A Santa Claus that had any bowels of compassion would rush down the narrowest and sootiest chimney in the world to give me my simple wishes. It isn't as if I were petitioning nightly for a grand house, a yacht, a four-in-hand, a diamond necklace, and a particular man for a husband; but I don't see that modesty finds any special favour with St. Nick. Now and then I harbour a rascally suspicion that he is an indolent, time-serving person, who slips down the widest, cleanest chimneys to the people who clamour the loudest; but this abominable cynicism melts into thin air the moment that I look at his jolly visage on the cover of a picture-book. Dear, fat, rosy, radiant Being! Surely he is incapable of any but the highest motives! I am twenty-eight years old, but age shall never make any difference in the number or extent of my absurdities. I am going to write a letter and send it up the chimney! It never used to fail in the long-ago; but ah! then there were two dear, faithful go-betweens to interpret my childish messages of longing to Santa Claus, and jog his memory at the critical time!'