Marm Lisa by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter IV--Marm Lisa is Transplanted
It was precisely as Rhoda thought and feared. The three strange beings who had drifted within Mistress Mary's reach had proved to belong to her simply because they did not belong to anybody else. They did not know their names, the streets in which they lived, or anything else about which they were questioned, but she had followed them home to the corner house of Eden Place, although she failed, on the occasion of that first visit, to find Mrs. Grubb within. There was, however, a very voluble person next door, who supplied a little information and asked considerable more. Mrs. Sylvester told Mary that Mrs. Grubb was at that moment presiding over a meeting of the Kipling Brothers in Unity Hall, just round the corner.
'They meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at four o'clock,' she said, 'and you'd find it a real treat if you like to step over there.'
'Thank you, I am rather busy this afternoon,' replied Mary.
'Do you wish to leave any name or message? Did you want a setting?'
'A sitting?' asked Mary vaguely. 'Oh no, thank you; I merely wished to see Mrs. Grubb--is that the name?'
'That's it, and an awful grievance it is to her--Mrs. S. Cora Grubb. You have seen it in the newspapers, I suppose; she has a half column "ad." in the Sunday Observer once a month. Wouldn't you like your nails attended to? I have a perfectly splendid manicure stopping with me.'
'No, thank you. I hoped to see Mrs. Grubb, to ask if her children can come and spend the morning with me to-morrow.'
'Oh, that'll be all right; they're not her children; she doesn't care where they go; they stay in the back yard or on the sand-lot most of the time: she's got something more important to occupy her attention. Say, I hope you'll excuse me, but you look a little pale. If you were intending to get some mental healing from Mrs. Grubb, why, I can do it; she found I had the power, and she's handed all her healing over to me. It's a new method, and is going to supersede all the others, we think. My hours are from ten to twelve, and two to four, but I could take you evenings, if you're occupied during the day. My cures are almost as satisfactory as Mrs. Grubb's now, though I haven't been healing but six months last Wednesday.'
'Fortunately I am very well and strong,' smiled Mistress Mary.
'Yes, that's all right, but you don't know how soon sickness may overtake you, if you haven't learned to cast off fear and practise the denials. Those who are living in error are certain to be affected by it sooner or later, unless they accept the new belief. Why don't you have your nails done, now you're here? My manicure has the highest kind of a polish,--she uses pumice powder and the rose of Peru lustre; you ought to try her; by taking twenty tickets you get your single treatments for thirty-five cents apiece. Not this afternoon? Well, some other time, then. It will be all right about the children and very good of you to want them. Of course you can't teach them anything, if that's your idea. Belief in original sin is all against my theories, but I confess I can't explain the twins without it. I sometimes wonder I can do any healing with them in the next house throwing off evil influences. I am treating Lisa by suggestion, but she hasn't responded any yet. Call again, won't you? Mrs. Grubb is in from seven to eight in the morning, and ten-thirty to eleven-thirty in the evening. You ought to know her; we think there's nobody like Mrs. Grubb; she has a wonderful following, and it's growing all the time; I took this house to be near her. Good afternoon. By the way, if you or any of your friends should require any vocal culture, you couldn't do better than take of Madame Goldmarker in No. 17. She can make anybody sing, they say. I'm taking of her right along, and my voice has about doubled in size. I ought to be leading the Kipling Brothers now, but my patients stayed so late to-day I didn't get a good start. Good afternoon.'
The weeks wore on, and the children were old friends when Mary finally made Mrs. Grubb's acquaintance; but in the somewhat hurried interviews she had with that lady at first, she never seemed able to establish the kind of relation she desired. The very atmosphere of her house was chaotic, and its equally chaotic mistress showed no sign of seeking advice on any point.
'Marm Lisa could hardly be received in the schools,' Mary told the listening neophytes one afternoon when they were all together. 'There ought of course to be a special place for her and such as she, somewhere, and people are beginning to see and feel the importance of it here; but until the thought and hope become a reality the State will simply put the child in with the idiots and lunatics, to grow more and more wretched, more hopeless, more stupid, until the poor little light is quenched in utter darkness. There is hope for her now, I am sure of it. If Mrs. Grubb's neighbours have told me the truth, any physical malady that may be pursuing her is in its very first stages; for, so far as they know in Eden Place, where one doesn't look for exact knowledge, to be sure, she has had but two or three attacks ("dizziness" or "faintness" they called them) in as many years. She was very strange and intractable just before the last one, and much clearer in her mind afterwards. They think her worse of late, and have advised Mrs. Grubb to send her to an insane asylum if she doesn't improve. She would probably have gone there long ago if she had not been such a valuable watch-dog for the twins; but she does not belong there,--we have learned that from the doctors. They say decisively that she is curable, but that she needs very delicate treatment. My opinion is that we have a lovely bit of rescue-work sent directly into our hands in the very nick of time. All those in favour of opening the garden gates a little wider for Marm Lisa respond by saying "Ay!"'
There was a shout from the neophytes that shook the very rafters-- such a shout that Lisa shuttled across the room, and, sitting down on a stool at Mistress Mary's feet, looked up at her with a dull, uncomprehending smile. Why were those beloved eyes full of tears? She could not be displeased, for she had been laughing a moment before. She hardly knew why, but Mistress Mary's wet eyes tortured her; she made an ejaculation of discomfort and resentment, and taking the corner of her apron wiped her new friend's face softly, gazing at her with a dumb sorrow until the smile came back; then she took out her string and her doll and played by herself as contentedly as usual.
It was thus that heaven began to dawn on poor Marm Lisa. At first only a physical heaven: temporary separation from Atlantic and Pacific; a chair to herself in a warm, sunshiny room; beautiful, bright, incomprehensible things hanging on the walls; a soft gingham apron that her clumsy fingers loved to touch; brilliant bits of colour and entrancing waves of sound that roused her sleeping senses to something like pleasure; a smile meeting her eyes when she looked up--oh! she knew a smile--God lets love dwell in these imprisoned spirits! By-and-by all these new sensations were followed by thoughts, or something akin to them. Her face wore a brooding, puzzled look, 'Poor little soul, she is feeling her growing-pains!' said Mistress Mary. It was a mind sitting in a dim twilight where everything seems confused. The physical eye appears to see, but the light never quite pierces the dimness nor reflects its beauty there. If the ears hear the song of birds, the cooing of babes, the heart- beat in the organ tone, then the swift little messengers that fly hither and thither in my mind and yours, carrying echoes of sweetness unspeakable, tread more slowly here, and never quite reach the spirit in prison. A spirit in prison, indeed, but with one ray of sunlight shining through the bars,--a vision of duty. Lisa's weak memory had lost almost all trace of Mr. Grubb as a person but the old instinct of fidelity was still there in solution, and unconsciously influenced her actions. The devotion that first possessed her when she beheld the twins as babies in the perambulator still held sway against all their evil actions. If they plunged into danger she plunged after them without a thought of consequences. There was, perhaps, no real heroism in this, for she saw no risks and counted no cost: this is what other people said, but Mistress Mary always thought Marm Lisa had in her the stuff out of which heroes and martyrs are made. She had never walked in life's sunny places; it had always been the valley of the shadow for her. She was surrounded by puzzles with never any answer to one of them, but if only she had comprehended the truth, it was these very puzzles that were her salvation. While her feeble mind stirred, while it wondered, brooded, suffered,--enough it did all these too seldom,--it kept itself alive, even if the life were only like the flickering of a candle. And now the candle might flicker, but it should never go out altogether, if half a dozen pairs of women's hands could keep it from extinction; and how patiently they were outstretched to shield the poor apology for a flame, and coax it into burning more brightly!
'Let the child choose her own special teacher,' said Mistress Mary; 'she is sure to have a strong preference.'
'Then it will be you,' laughed Helen.
'Don't be foolish; it may be any one of us and it will prove nothing in any case, save a fancy that we can direct to good use. She seldom looks at anybody but you,' said Edith.
'That is true,' replied Mary thoughtfully. 'I think she is attracted by this glittering steel thing in my hair. I am going to weave it into Helen's curly crop some day, and see whether she misses it or transfers her affection. I have made up my mind who is the best teacher for her, and whom she will chose.'
Rhoda gave a comical groan. 'Don't say it's I,' she pleaded. 'I dread it. Please I am not good enough, I don't know how; and besides, she gives me the creeps!'
Mistress Mary turned on Rhoda with a reproachful smile, saying, 'You naughty Rhoda, with the brightest eyes, the swiftest feet, the nimblest fingers, the lightest heart among us all, why do you want to shirk?'
Mistress Mary had noted the fact that Lisa had refused to sit in an unpainted chair, but had dragged a red one from another room and ensconced herself in it, though it was uncomfortably small.
Now Rhoda was well named, for she was a rose of a girl, with damask cheeks that glowed like two Jacqueminot beauties. She was much given to aprons of scarlet linen, to collars and belts of red velvet, and she had a general air of being fresh, thoroughly alive, and in a state of dewy and perennial bloom. Mary was right in her surmise, and whenever she herself was out of Lisa's sight or reach the child turned to Rhoda instinctively and obeyed her implicitly.