Marm Lisa by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter VIII--The Young Minister's Psychological Observations
Mrs. Grubb's interest in the education of the defective classes was as short-lived as it was ardent. One interview with the president of the society convinced her that he was not a person to be 'helped' according to her understanding of the term. She thought him a self- sufficient gentleman, inflexible in demeanour, and inhospitable to anybody's ideas or anybody's hobbies but his own. She resented his praise of Mistress Mary and Rhoda, and regarded it fulsome flattery when he alluded to their experiment with Marm Lisa as one of the most interesting and valuable in his whole experience; saying that he hardly knew which to admire and venerate the more--the genius of the teachers, or the devotion, courage, and docility of the pupil.
In the summer months Lisa had gone to the country with Mistress Mary and Edith, who were determined never to lose sight of her until the end they sought was actually attained. There, in the verdant freshness of that new world, Lisa experienced a strange exaltation of the senses. Every wooded path unfolded treasures of leafy bud, blossom, and brier, and of beautiful winged things that crept and rustled among the grasses. There was the ever new surprise of the first wild-flowers, the abounding mystery of the bird's note and the brook's song, the daily greeting of bees and butterflies, frogs and fishes, field-mice and squirrels; so that the universe, which in the dead past had been dreary and without meaning, suddenly became warm and friendly, and she, the alien, felt a sense of kinship with all created things.
Helen had crossed the continent to imbibe the wisdom of the East, and had brought back stores of knowledge to spend in Lisa's service; but Rhoda's sacrifice was perhaps the most complete, for Mrs. Grubb having at first absolutely refused to part with Lisa, Rhoda had flung herself into the breach and taken the twins to her mother's cottage in the mountains.
She came up the broad steps, on a certain appointed day in August, leading her charges into Mistress Mary's presence. They were clean, well dressed, and somewhat calm in demeanour.
'You may go into the playground,' she said, after the greetings were over; 'and remember that there are sharp spikes on the high fence by the pepper-tree.'
'Mary,' she went on impressively, closing the doors and glancing about the room to see if there were any listeners, 'Mary, those children have been with me eight weeks, and I do--not--like--them. What are you going to do with me? Wait, I haven't told you the whole truth,--I dislike them actively. As for my mother, she is not committed to any theory about the essential integrity of infancy, and she positively abhors them.'
'Then they are no more likable in the bosom of the family than they have been here?' asked Mary, in a tone of disappointment.
'More likable? They are less so! Do you see any change in me,--a sort of spiritual effulgence, a saintly radiance, such as comes after a long spell of persistent virtue? Because there ought to be, if my summer has served its purpose.'
'Poor dear rosy little martyr! Sit down and tell me all about it.'
'Well, we have kept a log, but--'
'"We?" What, Rhoda! did you drag your poor mother into the experiment?'
'Mother? No, she generally locked herself in her room when the twins were indoors, but--well, of course, I had help of one sort and another with them. I have held to your plan of discipline pretty well; at any rate, I haven't administered corporal punishment, although, if I had whipped them whenever they actually needed it, I should have worn out all the young minister's slippers.'
Mary groaned. 'Then there was another young minister? It doesn't make any difference, Rhoda, whether you spend your summers in the woods or by the sea, in the valleys or on the mountains, there is always a young minister. Have all the old ones perished off the face of the earth, pray? And what do the young ones see in you, you dear unregenerate, that they persist in following you about threatening my peace of mind and your future career? Well, go on!'
'Debarred from the use of the persuasive but obsolete slipper,' Rhoda continued evasively, 'I tried milder means of discipline,--solitary confinement for one not very much, you know,--only seventeen times in eight weeks. I hope you don't object to that? Of course, it was in a pleasant room with southern exposure, good view, and good ventilation, a thermometer, picture-books, and all that. It would have worked better if the twins hadn't always taken the furniture to pieces, and mother is so fussy about anything of that sort. She finally suggested the winter bedroom for Atlantic's incarceration, as it has nothing in it but a huge coal-stove enveloped in a somewhat awe-inspiring cotton sheet. I put in a comfortable low chair, a checkerboard, and some books, fixing the time limit at half an hour. By the way, Mary, that's such a pretty idea of yours to leave the door unlocked, and tell the children to come out of their own accord whenever they feel at peace with the community. I tried it,--oh, I always try your pretty ideas first; but I had scarcely closed the door before Pacific was out of it again, a regenerated human being according to her own account. But to return to Atlantic. I went to him when the clock struck, only to discover that he had broken in the circles of isinglass round the body of the coal-stove, removed the ashes with a book, got the dampers out of order, and taken the doors off the hinges! I am sure Mrs. Grubb is right to keep them on bread- and-milk and apple-sauce; a steady diet of beef and mutton would give them a simply unconquerable energy. Oh, laugh as you may, I could never have lived through the ordeal if it hadn't been for the young minister!'
'Do you mean that he became interested in the twins?'
'Oh, yes!--very deeply interested. You have heard me speak of him: it was Mr. Fielding.'
'Why, Rhoda, he was the last summer's minister, the one who preached at the sea-shore.'
'Certainly; but he was only supplying a pulpit there; now he has his own parish. He is taking up a course of child-study, and asked me if he was at liberty to use the twins for psychological observations. I assented most gratefully, thinking, you know, that he couldn't study them unless he kept them with him a good deal; but he counted without his host, as you can imagine. He lives at the hotel until his cottage is finished, and the first thing I knew he had hired a stout nursemaid as his contribution to the service of humanity. I think he was really sorry for me, for I was so confined I could scarcely ever ride, or drive, or play tennis; and besides, he simply had to have somebody to hold the children while he observed them. We succeeded better after the nurse came, and we all had delightful walks and conversations together, just a nice little family party! The hotel people called Atlantic the Cyclone, and Pacific the Warrior. Sometimes strangers took us for the children's parents, and that was embarrassing; not that I mind being mistaken for a parent, but I decline being credited, or discredited, with the maternity of those imps!'
'They are altogether new in my experience,' confessed Mary.
'That is just what the young minister said.'
'Will he keep up his psychological investigation during the autumn?' Mary inquired.
'He really has no material there.'
'What will he do, then?--carry it on by correspondence?'
'No, that is always unsatisfactory. I fancy he will come here occasionally: it is the most natural place, and he is especially eager to meet you.'
'Of course!' said Mistress Mary, reciting provokingly:
'"My lyre I tune, my voice I raise, But with my numbers mix my sighs, And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise I fix my soul on Chloe's eyes."'
'How delightful,' she added, 'how inspiring it is to see a young man so devoted to science, particularly to this neglected science! I shall be charmed to know more of his psychology and observe his observations.'
'He is extremely clever.'
'I have no doubt of it from what you tell me, both clever and ingenious.'
'And his cottage is lovely; it will be finished and furnished by next summer,--Queen Anne, you know.'
Now, this was so purely irrelevant that there was a wicked hint of intention about it; and though Mistress Mary was smiling (and quaking) in the very depths of her heart, she cruelly led back the conversation into safe educational channels. 'Isn't it curious,' she said, 'that we should have thought Lisa, not the twins, the impossible problem? Yet, as I have written you, her solution is something to which we can look forward with reasonable confidence. It is scarcely eighteen months, but the work accomplished is almost incredible, even to me, and I have watched and counted every step.'
'The only explanation must be this,' said Rhoda, 'that her condition was largely the fruit of neglect and utter lack of comprehension. The state of mind and body in which she came to us was out of all proportion to the moving cause, when we discovered it. Her mother thought she would be an imbecile, the Grubbs treated her as one, and nobody cared to find out what she really was or could be.'
'Her brain had been writ upon by the "moving finger,"' quoted Mary, 'though the writing was not graved so deep but that love and science could erase it. You remember the four lines in Omar Khayyam?
"'The moving finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a word of it."'
'Edith says I will hardly know her,' said Rhoda.
'It is true. The new physician is a genius, and physically and outwardly she has changed more in the last three months than in the preceding year. She dresses herself neatly now, braids her own hair, and ties her ribbons prettily. Edith has kept up her gymnastics, and even taught her to row and play nine-pins. For the first time in my life, Rhoda, I can fully understand a mother's passion for a crippled, or a blind, or a defective child. I suppose it was only Lisa's desperate need that drew us to her at first. We all loved and pitied her, even at the very height of her affliction; but now she fascinates me. I know no greater pleasure than the daily miracle of her growth. She is to me the sister I never had, the child I never shall have. When we think of our success with this experiment, we must try to keep our faith in human nature, even under the trying ordeal of the twins.'
'My faith in human nature is absolutely intact,' answered Rhoda; 'the trouble is that the Warrior and the Cyclone are not altogether human. Atlantic is the coldest creature I ever knew,--so cold that he could stand the Shadrach-Meshech-and Abednego test with impunity; Pacific is hot,--so hot-tempered that one can hardly touch her without being scorched. If I had money enough to conduct an expensive experiment, I would separate them, and educate Pacific at the North Pole, and Atlantic in the Tropics.'
'If they are not distinctly human, we must allow them a few human virtues at least,' said Mary; 'for example, their loyalty to each other. Pacific, always at war with the community, seldom hurts her brother; Atlantic, selfish and grasping with all the world, shares generously with his sister. We must remember, too, that Lisa's care has been worse than nothing for them, notwithstanding its absolute fidelity; and their dependence has been a positive injury to her. There! she has just come into the playground with Edith. Will wonders never cease? Pacific is embracing her knees, and Atlantic allows himself to be hugged!'
Marm Lisa was indeed beside herself with joy at the meeting. She clung to the infant rebels, stroked their hair, admired their aprons, their clean hands, their new boots; and, on being smartly slapped by Atlantic for putting the elastic of his hat behind his ears, kissed his hand as if it had offered a caress. 'He's so little,' she said apologetically, looking up with wet eyes to Edith, who stood near.