Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced from the 1905 Gay and Bird edition by
David Price, email email@example.com
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
CHAPTER I--EDEN PLACE
Eden Place was a short street running at right angles with Eden
Square, a most unattractive and infertile triangle of ground in a
most unattractive but respectable quarter of a large city. It was
called a square, not so much, probably, because it was triangular in
shape, as because it was hardly large enough to be designated as a
park. As to its being called 'Eden,' the origin of that qualifying
word is enveloped in mystery; but it is likely that the enthusiastic
persons who projected it saw visions and dreamed dreams of green
benches under umbrageous trees, of a green wire fence, ever green,
and of plots of blossoming flowers filling the grateful air with
As a matter of fact, the trees had always been stunted and stubby,
the plants had never been tended, and all the paint had been worn off
the benches by successive groups of working-men out of work. As for
the wire fence, it had been much used as a means of ingress and
egress by the children of the neighbourhood, who preferred it to any
of the gateways, which they considered hopelessly unimaginative and
commonplace, offering no resistance to the budding man of valour or
woman of ambition.
Eden Place was frequented mostly by the children, who found it an
admirable spot to squabble, to fight, and to dig up the hapless
earth; and after them, by persons out of suits with fortune. These
(generally men) adorned the shabby benches at all times, sleeping,
smoking, reading newspapers, or tracing uncertain patterns in the
gravel with a stick,--patterns as uncertain and aimless as
themselves. There were fewer women, because the unemployed woman of
this class has an old-fashioned habit, or instinct, of seeking work
by direct assault; the method of the male being rather to sit on a
bench and discuss the obstacles, the injustices, and the unendurable
insults heaped by a plutocratic government in the path of the honest
son of toil.
The corner house of Eden Place was a little larger than its
neighbours in the same row. Its side was flanked by a sand-lot, and
a bay window, with four central panes of blue glass, was the most
conspicuous feature of its architecture. In the small front yard was
a microscopic flower-bed; there were no flowers in it, but the stake
that held up a stout plant in the middle was surmounted by a neat
wooden sign bearing the inscription, 'No Smoking on these Premises.'
The warning seemed superfluous, as no man standing in the garden
could have put his pipe in his mouth without grazing either the fence
or the house, but the owner of the 'premises' possibly wished to warn
the visitor at the very threshold.
All the occupied houses in Eden Place were cheerful and hospitable in
their appearance, and were marked by an air of liveliness and good-
fellowship. Bed linen hung freely from all the windows, for there
was no hard and fast law about making up beds at any special hour,
though a remnant of superstition still existed that it was a good
thing to make up a bed before you slept in it. There were more women
on their respective front steps, and fewer in their respective
kitchens, in Eden Place than in almost any other locality in the
city. That they lived for the most part in close and friendly
relations could be seen from the condition of the fences between the
front yards, whose upper rails fairly sagged with the weight of
One woman, living in the middle of the row, evidently possessed
somewhat different views, for she had planted vines on each of her
division fences, rented her parlour to a lodger who only slept there,
kept all her front curtains drawn, and stayed in the hack of her
house. Such retribution as could legally be wreaked upon this
offensive and exclusive person was daily administered by her two
neighbours, who stood in their doors on either side and conversed
across her house and garden with much freedom and exuberance. They
had begged the landlord to induce her to take up her abode elsewhere;
but as she was the only tenant who paid her rent regularly, he
refused to part with her.
Any one passing the 'No Smoking' sign and entering the front door of
Mrs. Grubb's house, on the corner, would have turned off the narrow
uncarpeted hall into the principal room, and, if he were an observing
person, would have been somewhat puzzled by its appearance. There
were seven or eight long benches on one side, yet it had not the
slightest resemblance to a schoolroom. The walls were adorned with a
variety of interesting objects. There was a chart showing a mammoth
human hand, the palm marked with myriads of purple lines. There were
two others displaying respectively the interior of the human being in
the pink-and-white purity of total abstinence, and the same interior
after years of intemperance had done their fatal work; a most
valuable chart this last, and one that had quenched the thirst of
many a man.
The words 'Poverty Must Go' were wrought in evergreen letters over
the bay window, and various texts were printed in red and black and
tacked to the wall in prominent places. These were such as -
To be a Flesh-Eater is to be a Shedder of Blood and a Destroyer of
God's Innocent Creatures.'
'Now that Man has Begun to Ascend in the Scale of Being, let Woman
Reach Down a Strong, Tender Hand and Aid him in his Struggle for
Moral and Spiritual Elevation.'
'Let the Pleasure Field be as Large as Possible. Pains and Fears
'I Believe that to Burden, to Bond, to Tax, to Tribute, to
Impoverish, to Grind, to Pillage, to Oppress, to Afflict, to Plunder,
to Vampire the Life Labouring to Create Wealth is the Unpardonable
Over the mantel-shelf was a seaweed picture in a frame of shells,
bearing the inscription, 'Unity Hall, Meeting-Place of the Order of
Present Perfection.' On a table, waiting to be hung in place, was an
impressive sort of map about four feet square. This, like many of
the other ornaments in the room, was a trifle puzzling, and seemed at
first, from its plenitude of coloured spots, to be some species of
moral propaganda in a state of violent eruption. It proved, however,
on closer study, to be an ingenious pictorial representation of the
fifty largest cities of the world, with the successful establishment
of various regenerating ideas indicated by coloured discs of paper
neatly pasted on the surface. The key in the right-hand corner read
Single Tax Green.
Abolition of War Red.
Dress Reform Black.
Social Purity Blush Rose.
Religious Liberty Magenta.
Emancipation of } Crushed Strawberry.
A small gold star, added to the coloured spot, hovering over the name
of a city, was explained, in the lower left-hand corner, as denoting
the fact that the Eldorado face-powder was exclusively used there,
and that S. Cora Grubb was the sole agent for the Pacific coast.
Joseph's coat faded into insignificance in comparison with the city
of Mrs. Grubb's present residence, which appeared to be a perfect
hot-bed of world-saving ideas, and was surrounded by such a halo of
spots that it would have struck the unregenerate observer as an
undesirable place in which to live, unless one wished to be broken
daily on the rack of social progress.
This front room was Mrs. Grubb's only parlour. The seven benches
were rather in the way and seemingly unnecessary, as the lady
attended meetings morning, noon, and night in halls hired for that
purpose; but they gave her a feeling of security, as, in case one of
her less flourishing societies should be ejected from its hall, or in
case she should wake up in the middle of the night and want to hold a
meeting of any club when all the halls were closed, the benches in
the parlour would make it possible without a moment's loss of time.
The room connecting with this was the family banquet-hall and kitchen
in one, and as Mrs. Grubb's opinions on diet were extremely advanced,
it amply served the purpose.
There were three bedrooms upstairs, and the whole establishment was
rather untidy in its aspect; but, though it might have been much
cleaner, it is only fair to say that it might also have been much
The house was deserted. The only sound came from the back yard, and
it was the echo of children's voices. It was not at all a merry
prattle; it was a steady uproar interrupted by occasional shrieks and
yells, a clatter of falling blocks, beatings of a tin pan, a scramble
of feet, a tussle, with confusion of blows and thumps, and then
generally a temporary lull in the proceedings, evidently brought
about by some sort of outside interference. If you had pushed open
the wire door, you would have seen two children of four or five years
disporting themselves in a sand-heap. One was a boy and one a girl;
and though they were not at all alike in feature or complexion, there
was an astonishing resemblance between them in size, in figure, in
voice, in expression, and, apparently, in disposition.
Sitting on a bench, watching them as a dog watches its master's coat,
was a girl of some undeterminable age,--perhaps of ten or twelve
years. She wore a shapeless stout gingham garment, her shoes were
many sizes too large for her, and the laces were dangling. Her
nerveless hands and long arms sprawled in her lap as if they had no
volition in them. She sat with her head slightly drooping, her knees
apart, and her feet aimlessly turned in. Her lower lip hung a
little, but only a little, loosely. She looked neither at earth nor
at sky, but straight at the two belligerents, with whose bloodthirsty
play she was obliged to interfere at intervals. She held in her lap
a doll made of a roll of brown paper, with a waist and a neck
indicated by gingham strings. Pieces of ravelled rope were pinned on
the head part, but there was no other attempt to assist the
imagination. She raised her dull eyes; they seemed to hold in their
depths a knowledge of aloofness from the happier world, and their
dumb sorrow pierced your very heart, while it gave you an
irresistible sense of aversion. She smiled, but the smile only gave
you a new thrill; it was vacant and had no joy in it, rather an
uncommunicable grief. As she sat there with her battered doll, she
was to the superficial eye repulsive, but to the eye that pierces
externals she was almost majestic in her mysterious loneliness and
The steam-whistle of a factory near by blew a long note for twelve
o'clock, and she rose from her bench, took the children by the hand,
and dragged them, kindly but firmly, up the steps into the kitchen.
She laid her doll under a towel, but, with a furtive look at the boy,
rolled it in a cloth and tucked it under her skirt at the waist-line.
She then washed the children's faces, tied on their calico bibs, and
pushed them up to the pine table. While they battered the board and
each other with spoons and tin mugs, she went automatically to a
closet, took a dish of cold porridge and turned it into three bowls,
poured milk over it, spread three thick slices of wheat bread with
molasses from a cup, and sat down at the table. After the simple
repast was over, she led the still reluctant (constitutionally
reluctant) twins up the staircase and put them, shrieking, on a bed;
left the room, locking the door behind her in a perfunctory sort of
way as if it were an everyday occurrence, crouched down on the rug
outside, and, leaning her head back against the wall, took her doll
from under her skirt, for this was her playtime, her hour of ease.
Poor little 'Marm Lisa,' as the neighbours called her! She had all
the sorrows and cares of maternity with none of its compensating
CHAPTER II--MISTRESS MARY'S GARDEN
'"Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?"
"With silver bells and cockle shells,
And little maids all in a row."'
Mistress Mary's Garden did grow remarkably well, and it was
wonderfully attractive considering the fact that few persons besides
herself saw anything but weeds in it.
She did not look in the least a 'contrary' Miss Mary, as she stood on
a certain flight of broad wooden steps on a sunshiny morning; yet she
was undoubtedly having her own way and living her own life in spite
of remonstrances from bevies of friends, who saw no shadow of reason
or common-sense in her sort of gardening. It would have been foolish
enough for a young woman with a small living income to cultivate
roses or violets or lavender, but this would at least have been
poetic, while the arduous tilling of a soil where the only plants
were little people 'all in a row' was something beyond credence.
The truth about Mistress Mary lay somewhere in the via media between
the criticisms of her sceptical friends and the encomiums of her
enthusiastic admirers. In forsaking society temporarily she had no
rooted determination to forsake it eternally, and if the incense of
love which her neophytes for ever burned at her shrine savoured
somewhat of adoration, she disarmed jealousy by frankly avowing her
unworthiness and lack of desire to wear the martyr's crown. Her
happiness in her chosen vocation made it impossible, she argued, to
regard her as a person worthy of canonisation; though the neophytes
were always sighing to
'have that little head of hers
Painted upon a background of pale gold.'
She had been born with a capacity for helping lame dogs over stiles;
accordingly, her pathway, from a very early age, had been bestrewn
with stiles, and processions of lame dogs ever limping towards them.
Her vocation had called her so imperiously that disobedience was
impossible. It is all very well if a certain work asks one in a
quiet and courteous manner to come and do it, when one has time and
inclination; but it is quite another matter if it coaxes one so
insistently that one can do nothing else properly, and so succumbs
finally to the persuasive voice. Still, the world must be mothered
somehow, and there are plenty of women who lack the time or the
strength, the gift or the desire, the love or the patience, to do
their share. This gap seems to be filled now and then by some
inspired little creature like Mistress Mary, with enough potential
maternity to mother an orphan asylum; too busy, too absorbed, too
radiantly absent-minded to see a husband in any man, but claiming
every child in the universe as her very own. There was never
anywhere an urchin so dirty, so ragged, so naughty, that it could not
climb into Mistress Mary's lap, and from thence into her heart. The
neophytes partook of her zeal in greater or less degree, and,
forsaking all probability of lovers (though every one of them was
young and pretty), they tied on their white aprons and clave only
unto her. Daily intercourse with a couple of hundred little street
Arabs furnished a field for the practice of considerable feminine
virtue, and in reality the woman's kingdom at the top of the broad
wooden steps was a great 'culture engine' of spiritual motherhood.
It certainly was a very merry place, and if its presiding geniuses
were engaged in conscious philanthropy, the blighting hallmark was
conspicuous by its absence. Peals of laughter rang through the
rooms; smiling faces leaned from the upstairs windows, bowing
greeting to the ashman, the scissors-grinder, the Italian and Chinese
vegetable-vendors, the rag-sack-and-bottle man, and the other
familiar figures of the neighbourhood.
It was at the end of a happy, helpful day that Mistress Mary stood in
the front door and looked out over her kingdom.
There was a rosy Swedish girl sitting on the floor of a shop window
opposite and washing the glass. She had moved the fresh vegetables
aside and planted herself in the midst of them. There she sat among
the cabbages and turnips and other sweet things just out of the
earth; piles of delicate green lettuce buds, golden carrots bursting
into feathery tops, ruddy beets, and pink-checked. It was pretty to
see the honest joy of her work and the interest of her parted lips,
when, after polishing the glass, it shone as crystal clear as her own
eyes. A milkman stopping to look at her (and small wonder that he
did) poured nearly a quart of cream on the ground, and two children
ran squabbling under the cart to see if they could catch the
drippings in their mouths. They were Atlantic and Pacific Simonson
with Marm Lisa, as usual, at their heels. She had found her way to
this corner twice of late, because things happened there marvellous
enough to stir even her heavy mind. There was a certain flight of
narrow, rickety steps leading to a rickety shanty, and an adjacent
piece of fence with a broad board on top. Flower-pots had once stood
there, but they were now lying on the ground below, broken into
fragments. Marm Lisa could push the twins up to this vantage-ground,
and crawl up after them. Once ensconced, if they had chosen the
right time of day, interesting events were sure to be forthcoming.
In a large playground within range of vision, there were small
children, as many in number as the sands of the seashore. At a given
moment, a lovely angel with black hair and a scarlet apron would ring
a large bell. Simultaneously, a lovely angel with brown hair and a
white apron would fly to the spot, and the children would go through
a mysterious process like the swarming of bees around a queen.
Slowly, reluctantly, painfully, the swarm settled itself into lines
in conformance with some hidden law or principle unknown to Marm
Lisa. Then, when comparative order had been evolved from total
chaos, the most beautiful angel of all would appear in a window; and
the reason she always struck the onlookers as a being of beauty and
majesty was partly, perhaps, because her head seemed to rise from a
cloud of white (which was in reality only a fichu of white mull), and
partly because she always wore a slender fillet of steel to keep back
the waves of her fair hair. It had a little point in front, and when
the sun shone on its delicate, fine-cut prisms it glittered like a
halo. After the appearance of this heavenly apparition the endless
lines of little people wended their was into the building, and
enchanting strains of music were wafted through the open windows,
supplemented sometimes by the inspiring rattle of drums and the blare
of instruments hitherto indissolubly associated with street parades.
Who? Why? Whence? Whither? What for? These were some of the
questions that assailed Marm Lisa's mind, but in so incoherent a form
that she left them, with all other questions, unanswered. Atlantic
and Pacific were curious, too, but other passions held greater sway
with them; for when the children disappeared and the music ceased,
they called loudly for more, and usually scratched and pinched Marm
Lisa as they were lifted down from the fence; not seeing daily how
anybody else could be held answerable for the cessation of the
entertainment, and scratches and pinches being the only remedial
agencies that suggested themselves.
On this particular occasion there were no bells, no music, and no
mysterious swarming; but the heavenly apparition sat on the broad
steps. Yes, it was she! Blue-grey eyes with darker lashes sweeping
the warm ivory of her cheeks, sweet true lips for ever parting in
kind words, the white surplice and apron, and the rememberable steel
fillet. She had a little child in her lap (she generally had, by the
way), and there were other tots clinging fondly to her motherly
skirts. Marm Lisa stood at the foot of the steps, a twin glued to
each side. She stared at Mistress Mary with open-mouthed wonder not
unmixed with admiration.
'That same odd child,' thought Mary. 'I have seen her before, and
always with those two little vampires hanging to her skirts. She
looks a trifle young to have such constant family cares; perhaps we
had better "lend a hand."'
'Won't you come in?' she asked, with a smile that would have drawn a
sane person up the side of a precipice.
Atlantic turned and ran, but the other two stood their ground.
'Won't you come up and see us?' she repeated. 'There are some fishes
swimming in a glass house; come and look at them.'
Marm Lisa felt herself dragged up the steps as by invisible chains,
and even Pacific did not attempt to resist the irresistible.
Atlantic, finding himself deserted by his comrades, gave a yell of
baffled rage, and scrambled up the steps after them. But his tears
dried instantly at the sight of the room into which they were
ushered; as large as any of the halls in which Aunt Cora spent her
days, and how much more beautiful! They roved about, staring at the
aquarium, and gazing at the rocking-horse, the piano, the drum, the
hanging gardens, with speechless astonishment. Lisa shambled at
their heels, looking at nothing very long; and when Rhoda (one of the
neophytes), full of sympathy at the appearance of the wild, forlorn,
unkempt trio, sat herself down on a sofa and gathered them about a
wonderful picture-book, Mistress Mary's keen eyes saw that Lisa's
gaze wandered in a few minutes. Presently she crept over the floor
towards a table, and, taking a string from it, began to blow it to
and fro as it hung from her fingers. Rhoda's glance followed Mary's;
but it was only a fleeting one, for the four eyes of the twins were
riveted on hers with devouring eagerness, while they waited for her
explanation of the pictures. At the end of half an hour, in which
the children had said little or nothing, they had contrived to reveal
so many sorrowful and startling details of their mental, moral, and
physical endowment, that Mistress Mary put on her hat.
'I will go home with them,' she said. 'There is plenty of work here
for somebody; I could almost hope that it won't prove ours.'
'It will,' replied Rhoda, with a stifled sigh. 'There is an old
Eastern legend about the black camel that comes and lies down before
the door of him upon whom Heaven is going to lay her chastening hand.
Every time I have seen that awful trio on the fence-top, they were
fairly surrounded by black camels in my imagination. Mistress Mary,
I am not sure but that, in self-defence, we ought to become a highly
specialised SOMETHING. We are now a home, a mother, a nursery, a
labour bureau, a divorce court, a registry of appeals, a soup
kitchen, an advisory hoard, and a police force. If we take HER, what
shall we be?'
'We will see first where she belongs,' smiled Mary. (Nobody could
help smiling at Rhoda.) 'Somebody has been neglecting his or her
duty. If we can make that somebody realise his delinquencies, all
the better, for the responsibility will not be ours. If we cannot,
why, the case is clear enough and simple enough in my mind. We
certainly do not want "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" written over
this, of all doors.'
Rhoda's hand went up to an imaginary cap in a gesture of military
obedience. 'Very well, my general. I fly to prepare weapons with
which to fight Satan. You, of course, will take HER; oh, my dear,
I'm almost afraid you oughtn't! I choose the bullet-headed blonde
twin who says his name is "Lanty," and reserve for Edith the
bursting-with-fat brunette twin who calls herself "Ciffy." Edith's
disciplinary powers have been too much vaunted of late; we shall see
if Ciffy ruffles her splendid serenity.'
CHAPTER III--A FAMILY POLYGON
Mrs. Grubb's family circle was really not a circle at all; it was
rather a polygon--a curious assemblage of distinct personages.
There was no unity in it, no membership one of another. It was four
ones, not one four. If some gatherer of statistics had visited the
household, he might have described it thus:-
Mrs. S. Cora Grubb, widow, aged forty years.
'Alisa Bennett, feeble-minded, aged ten or twelve years.
'Atlantic and Pacific Simonson, twins, aged four years.'
The man of statistics might seek in vain for some principle of
attraction or cohesion between these independent elements; but no one
who knew Mrs. Grubb would have been astonished at the sort of family
that had gathered itself about her. Queer as it undoubtedly was at
this period, it had, at various times, been infinitely queerer.
There was a certain memorable month, shortly after her husband's
decease, when Mrs. Grubb allowed herself to be considered as a
compensated hostess, though the terms 'landlady' and 'boarder' were
never uttered in her hearing. She hired a Chinese cook, who slept at
home; cleared out, for the use of Lisa and the twins, a small
storeroom in which she commonly kept Eldorado face-powder; and
herself occupied a sofa in the apartment of a friend of humanity in
the next street. These arrangements enabled her to admit an
experimenter on hypnotism, a mental healer who had been much abused
by the orthodox members of her cult, and was evolving a method of her
own, an ostensible delegate to an Occidental Conference of Religions,
and a lady agent for a flexible celluloid undershirt. For a few days
Mrs. Grubb found the society of these persons very stimulating and
agreeable; but before long the hypnotist proved to be an unscrupulous
gentleman, who hypnotised the mental healer so that she could not
heal, and the Chinese cook so that he could not cook. When,
therefore, the delegate departed suddenly in company with the
celluloid-underwear lady, explaining by a hurried postal card that
they would 'remit' from Chicago, she evicted the other two boarders,
and retired again to private life.
This episode was only one of Mrs. Grubb's many divagations, for she
had been a person of advanced ideas from a comparatively early age.
It would seem that she must have inherited a certain number of
'views,' because no human being could have amassed, in a quarter of a
century, as many as she held at the age of twenty-five. She had then
stood up with Mr. Charles Grubb, before a large assembly, in the
presence of which they promised to assume and continue the relation
of husband and wife so long as it was mutually agreeable. As a
matter of fact it had not been mutually agreeable to Mr. Grubb more
than six months, but such was the nobility of his character that he
never disclosed his disappointment nor claimed any immunity from the
responsibilities of the marriage state. Mr. Grubb was a timid,
conventional soul, who would have given all the testimony of all the
witnesses of his wedding ceremony for the mere presence of a single
parson; but he imagined himself in love with Cora Wilkins, and she
could neither be wooed nor won by any of the beaten paths that led to
other women. He foolishly thought that the number of her convictions
would grow less after she became a wife, little suspecting the
fertility of her mind, which put forth a new explanation of the
universe every day, like a strawberry plant that devotes itself so
exclusively to 'runners' that it has little vigour left for producing
The town in New York where they lived proving to be too small,
narrow, and bigoted to hold a developing soul like Mrs. Grubb's, she
persuaded her husband to take passage for California, where the
climate might be supposed more favourable to the growth of saving
ideas. Mr. Grubb would, of course, be obliged to relinquish his
business, but people could buy and sell anywhere, she thought, and as
for her, she wanted nothing but unlimited space in which to expand.
There was money enough for an economical journey and a month or two
of idleness afterwards; and as Mrs. Grubb believed everything in the
universe was hers, if she only chose to claim it, the question of
finances never greatly troubled her. They sailed for the golden
West, then, this ill-assorted couple, accompanied by Mrs. Grubb's
only sister, who had been a wife, was now a widow, and would shortly
become a mother. The interesting event occurred much sooner than had
been anticipated. The ship became the birthplace of the twins, who
had been most unwelcome when they were thought about as one, and
entirely offensive when found to be two. The mother did not long
survive the shock of her surprise and displeasure, and after naming
the babies Atlantic and Pacific, and confiding them distinctly to the
care of Mr., not Mrs., Grubb, she died, and was buried at sea, not
far from Cape Horn. Mrs. Cora enjoyed at first the dramatic
possibilities of her position on the ship, where the baby orphans
found more than one kindly, sentimental woman ready to care for them;
but there was no permanent place in her philosophy for a pair of
twins who entered existence with a concerted shriek, and continued it
for ever afterwards, as if their only purpose in life was to keep the
lungs well inflated. Her supreme wish was to be freed from the
carking cares of the flesh, and thus for ever ready to wing her free
spirit in the pure ether of speculation.
You would hardly suppose that the obscure spouse of Mrs. Grubb could
wash and dress the twins, prepare their breakfast, go to his work,
come home and put them to bed, four or five days out of every seven
in the week; but that is what he did, accepting it as one phase of
the mysterious human comedy (or was it tragedy?) in which he played
his humble part.
Mrs. Grubb was no home spirit, no goddess of the hearth. She graced
her family board when no invitation to refresh herself elsewhere had
been proffered, and that she generally slept in her own bed is as
strong a phrase as can be written on the subject. If she had been
born in Paris, at the proper time, she would have been the leader of
a salon; separated from that brilliant destiny by years, by race, and
by imperious circumstance, she wielded the same sort of sceptre in
her own circumscribed but appreciative sphere. No social occasion in
Eden Place was complete without Mrs. Grubb. With her (and some light
refreshment), a party lacked nothing; without her, even if other
conditions were favourable, it seemed a flat, stale, and unprofitable
affair. Like Robin Adair,
'She made the ball so fine;
She made th' occasion shine.'
Mrs. Grubb hanging on her front gate, duster in hand (she never
conversed quite as well without it, and never did anything else with
it), might have been a humble American descendant of Madame de Stael
talking on the terrace at Coppet, with the famous sprig of olive in
her fingers. She moved among her subjects like a barouche among
express wagons, was heard after them as a song after sermons. That
she did not fulfil the whole duty of woman did not occur to her
fascinated constituents. There was always some duller spirit who
could slip in and 'do the dishes,' that Mrs. Grubb might grace a
conversazione on the steps or at the gate. She was not one of those
napkin people who hide their talents, or who immure their lights
under superincumbent bushels. Whatever was hers was everybody's, for
she dispensed her favours with a liberal hand. She would never have
permitted a child to suffer for lack of food or bed, for she was not
at heart an unkind woman. You could see that by looking at her
vague, soft brown eyes,--eyes that never saw practical duties
straight in front of them,--liquid, star-gazing, vision-seeing eyes,
that could never be focussed on any near object, such as a twin or a
cooking-stove. Individuals never interested her; she cared for
nothing but humanity, and humanity writ very large at that, so that
once the twins nearly died of scarlatina while Mrs. Grubb was
collecting money for the children of the yellow-fever sufferers in
But Providence had an eye for Mr. Grubb's perplexities. It does not
and cannot always happen, in a world like this, that vice is assisted
to shirk, and virtue aideth to do, its duty; but any man as
marvellously afflicted as Mr. Grubb is likely to receive not only
spiritual consolation, but miraculous aid of some sort. The
spectacle of the worthy creature as he gave the reluctant twins their
occasional bath, and fed them on food regularly prescribed by Mrs.
Grubb, and almost as regularly rejected by them, would have melted
the stoniest heart. And who was the angel of deliverance? A little
vacant-eyed, half-foolish, almost inarticulate child, whose feeble
and sickly mother was dragging out a death-in-life existence in a
street near by. The child saw Mr. Grubb wheeling the twins in a
double perambulator: followed them home; came again, and then again,
and then again; hung about the door, fell upon a dog that threatened
to bite them, and drove it away howling; often stood over the
perambulator with a sunshade for three hours at a time, without
moving a muscle; and adored Mr. Grubb with a consuming passion.
There was no special reason for this sentiment, but then Alisa
Bennett was not quite a reasonable being. Mr. Grubb had never been
adored before in his life; and to say the truth, his personality was
not winning. He had a pink, bald head, pale blue eyes, with blond
tufts for eyebrows, and a pointed beard dripping from his chin, which
tended to make him look rather like an invalid goat. But as animals
are said to have an eye for spirits, children have an eye for souls,
which is far rarer than an eye for beautiful surfaces.
Mr. Grubb began by loathing Alisa, then patiently suffered her, then
pitied, then respected, then loved her. Mrs. Grubb seldom saw her,
and objected to nothing by which she herself was relieved of care.
So Lisa grew to be first a familiar figure in the household, and
later an indispensable one.
Poor Mrs. Bennett finally came to the end of things temporal. 'Dying
is the first piece of good luck I ever had,' she said to Mr. Grubb.
'If it turns out that I've brought a curse upon an innocent creature,
I'd rather go and meet my punishment half-way than stay here and see
it worked out to the end.'
'"In my Father's house are many mansions,"' stammered Mr. Grubb, who
had never before administered spiritual consolation.
She shook her head. 'If I can only get rid of this world, it's all I
ask,' she said; 'if the other one isn't any better, why, it can't be
any worse! Feel under the mattress and you'll find money enough to
last three or four years. It's all she'll ever get, for she hasn't a
soul now to look to for help. That's the way we human beings arrange
things,--we, or the Lord, or the Evil One, or whoever it is; we bring
a puzzle into the world, and then leave it for other people to work
out--if they can! Who'll work out this one? Who'll work out this
one? Perhaps she'll die before the money's gone; let's hope for the
'Don't take on like that!' said Mr. Grubb despairingly,--'don't!
Pray for resignation, can't you?'
'Pray!' she exclaimed scornfully. 'Thank goodness, I've got enough
self-respect left not to pray!--Yes, I must pray, I MUST . . . Oh,
God! I do not ask forgiveness for him or for myself; I only beg
that, in some way I cannot see, we may be punished, and she spared!'
And when the stricken soul had fled from her frail body, they who
came to prepare her for the grave looked at her face and found it
shining with hope.
It was thus that poor little Alisa Bennett assumed maternal
responsibilities at the age of ten, and gained her sobriquet of 'Marm
Lisa.' She grew more human, more tractable, under Mr. Grubb's
fostering care; but that blessed martyr had now been dead two years,
and she began to wear her former vacuous look, and to slip back into
the past that was still more dreadful than the present.
It seemed to Mrs. Grubb more than strange that she, with her desire
for freedom, should be held to earth by three children not flesh of
her flesh--and such children. The father of the twins had been a
professional pugilist, but even that fact could never sufficiently
account for Pacific Simonson. She had apparently inherited instincts
from tribes of warlike ancestors who skulked behind trees with
battle-axes, and no one except her superior in size and courage was
safe from her violent hand. She had little, wicked, dark eyes and
crimson, swollen cheeks, while Atlantic had flaxen hair, a low
forehead, and a square jaw. He had not Pacific's ingenuity in
conceiving evil; but when it was once conceived, he had a dogged
persistency in carrying it out that made him worthy of his twin.
Yet with all these crosses Mrs. Grubb was moderately cheerful, for
her troubles were as nebulous as everything else to her mind. She
intended to invent some feasible plan for her deliverance sooner or
later, but she was much more intent upon development than
deliverance, and she never seemed to have the leisure to break her
shackles. Nothing really mattered much. Her body might be
occasionally in Eden Place, but her soul was always in a hired hall.
She delighted in joining the New Order of Something,--anything, so
long as it was an Order and a new one,--and then going with a
selected committee to secure a lodge-room or a hall for meetings.
She liked to walk up the dim aisle with the janitor following after
her, and imagine brilliant lights (paid for by collection), a neat
table and lamp and pitcher of iced water, and herself in the chair as
president or vice-president, secretary or humble trustee. There was
that about her that precluded the possibility of simple membership.
She always rose into office the week after she had joined any
society. If there was no office vacant, then some bold spirit
(generally male) would create one, that Mrs. Grubb might not wither
in the privacy of the ranks. Before the charter members had fully
learned the alphabet of their order and had gained a thorough
understanding of the social revolution it was destined to work, Mrs.
Grubb had mastered the whole scheme and was unfolding it before large
classes for the study of the higher theory. The instant she had a
tale to tell she presumed the 'listening earth' to be ready to hear
it. The new Order became an old one in course of time, and, like the
nautilus. Mrs. Grubb outgrew her shell and built herself a more
stately chamber. Another clue to the universe was soon forthcoming,
for all this happened in a city where it is necessary only for a man
to open his lips and say, 'I am a prophet', and followers flock unto
him as many in number as the stars. She was never disturbed that the
last clue had brought her nowhere; she followed the new one as
passionately as the old, and told her breathless pupils that their
feet must not be weary, for they were treading the path of progress;
that these apparently fruitless excursions into the domain of
knowledge all served as so many milestones in their glorious ascent
of the mountain of truth.
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
'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
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
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.
CHAPTER V--THE NEW PLANT GREW
'Now, Rhoda dear,' said Mistress Mary one day, when Lisa had become
somewhat wonted to her new surroundings, 'you are to fold your hands
respectfully in your lap and I will teach you things,--things which
you in your youth and inexperience have not thought about as yet.
The other girls may listen, too, and catch the drippings of my
wisdom. I really know little about the education of defective
children, but, thank heaven, I can put two and two together, as Susan
Nipper said. The general plan will be to train Lisa's hands and
speak to her senses in every possible way, since her organs of sense
are within your reach, and those of thought are out of it. The
hardest lesson for such a child to learn is the subordination of its
erratic will to our normal ones. Lisa's attention is the most
hopeful thing about her and encourages me more than anything else.
It is not as if there were no mental processes existing; they are
there, but in a very enfeebled state. Of course she should have been
under skilled teaching the six years, but, late as it is, we couldn't
think of giving up a child who can talk, use her right hand, dress
herself, go upon errands, recognise colours, wash dishes; who is
apparently neither vicious nor cunning, but who, on the contrary, has
lived four years under the same roof with Mrs. S. Cora Grubb without
rebellion or violence or treachery! Why, dear girls, such a task, if
it did not appeal to one on the moral, certainly would on the
intellectual, side. Marm Lisa will teach us more in a year, you may
be sure, than we shall teach her. Let us keep a record of our
experiments; drop all materials that seem neither to give her
sensations nor wake her discriminative power, and choose others that
speak to her more clearly. Let us watch her closely, both to
penetrate the secret of her condition and to protect the other
children. What a joy, what a triumph to say to her some dear day, a
few years hence, "You poor, motherless bairn, we have swept away the
cobwebs of your dreams, given you back your will, put a clue to
things in your hand: now go on and learn to live and be mistress of
your own life under God!"'
It was at such a moment, when Mary's voice trembled, and her eyes
shone through a mist of tears like two victorious stars, that a hush
fell upon the little group, and the spirit of the eternal child
descended like a dove, its pure wings stirring the silence of each
woman's heart. At such a moment, their daily work, with its round of
harsh, unlovely, beautiful, discouraging, hopeful, helpful, heavenly
duties, was transfigured, and so were they. The servant was
transformed by the service, and the service by the servant. They
were alone together, each heart knit to all the others by the close
bond of a common vocation; and though a heretofore unknown
experience, it seemed a natural one when Mistress Mary suddenly bent
her head, and said softly:
'Father in heaven, it is by the vision of Thy relation to us that we
can apprehend our relation to these little ones. As we have accepted
that high trust, so make us loyal to it. When our feet grow weary
and our faith grows dim, help us to follow close after the ever
perfect One who taught even as we are trying to teach. He it was
whom the common people heard gladly. He it was who disdained not the
use of objects and symbols, remembering it was the childhood of the
race. He it was who spake in parables and stories, laying bare soul
of man and heart of nature, and revealing each by divine analogy. He
it was who took the little ones in His arms and blessed them; who set
the child in the midst, saying, "Except ye become as one of these."
May the afterglow of that inspired teaching ever shine upon the path
we are treading. May we bathe our tired spirits in its warmth and
glory, and kindle our torches at the splendour of its light. We
remember that He told us to feed His lambs. Dear Lord, help all the
faithful shepherds who care for the ninety-and-nine that lie in the
safe cover of the fold; help us, too, for we are the wandering
shepherds whose part it is to go out over the bleak hills, up the
mountain sides and rocky places, and gather in out of the storm and
stress of things all the poor, unshepherded, wee bit lammies that
have either wandered forlornly away from shelter, or have been born
in the wilderness, and know no other home. Such an one has just
strayed into the fold from the dreary hill-country. It needs a wiser
shepherd than any one of us. Grant that by gentleness, patience, and
insight we may atone somewhat for our lack of wisdom and skill. We
read among Thy mysteries that the divine Child was born of a virgin.
May He be born again and born daily in our hearts, already touched by
that remembrance and consecrated by its meaning. And this we ask for
love's sake. Amen.'
Then there was a space of silence--one of those silences in which we
seem to be caught up into the heart of things, when hidden meanings
are revealed, when the soul stretches itself and grows a little.
It was a few minutes later when Rhoda said, 'I am fired with zeal, I
confess it. Henceforth my single aim shall be to bring Marm Lisa
into her lost kingdom and inheritance. But meanwhile, how, oh how
shall I master the hateful preliminaries? How shall I teach her to
lace her shoes and keep them laced, unless I invent a game for it?
How shall I keep her hair from dangling in her eyes, how keep her
aprons neat?--though in those respects she is no worse than Pacific
Simonson. I promised her a doll yesterday, and she was remarkably
good. Do you object, Mistress Mary?'
'I don't know how much rewards are used in these cases,' answered
Mary, 'but why do you begin with them when the problem presents no
insuperable difficulties as yet? Whenever she herself, her awkward
hands, her weak will, her inattention, her restlessness, give her
some task she likes, some pleasure or occupation for which she has
shown decided preference, and thus make happiness follow close upon
the heels of effort. We who see more clearly the meaning of life
know that this will not always happen, and we can be content to do
right for right's sake. I don't object to your putting hosts of
slumbering incentives in Lisa's mind, but a slumbering incentive is
not vulgar and debasing, like a bribe.'
A plant might be a feeble and common thing, yet it might grow in
beauty and strength in a garden like Mistress Mary's. Such soil in
the way of surroundings, such patient cultivation of roots and stems,
such strengthening of tendrils on all sorts of lovely props, such
sunshine of love, such dew of sympathy, such showers of kindness,
such favouring breezes of opportunity, such pleasure for a new leaf,
joy for a bud, gratitude for a bloom! What an atmosphere in which to
grow towards knowledge and goodness! Was it any wonder that the
little people 'all in a row' responded to the genius of Mistress
Mary's influence? They used to sing a song calleth The Light Bird,'
in which some one, all unknown to the children, would slip into the
playground with a bit of broken looking-glass, and suddenly a radiant
fluttering disk of light would appear on the wall, and dance up and
down, above and below, hither and yon, like a winged sunbeam. The
children held out longing arms, and sang to it coaxingly. Sometimes
it quivered over Mistress Mary's head, and fired every delicate point
of her steel tiara with such splendour that the Irish babies almost
felt like crossing themselves. At such times, those deux petits
coeurs secs, Atlantic and Pacific, and all the other full-fledged and
half-fledged scape-graces, forgot to be naughty, and the millennium
was foreshadowed. The neophytes declared Mistress Mary a bit of a
magician. Somehow or other, the evil imps in the children shrank
away, abashed by the soft surprise of a glance that seemed to hope
something better, and the good angels came out of their banishment,
unfolded their wings, and sunned themselves in the warmth of her
approving smile. Her spiritual antennae were so fine, so fine, that
they discerned the good in everything; they were feeling now after
the soft spot in the rocky heart of Atlantic Simonson; they had not
found it yet, but they would--oh, they would in time; for if hope is
the lover's staff, it is no less that of the idealist.
Marm Lisa looked upon the miracles that happened under Mistress
Mary's roof with a sort of dazed wonder, but her intelligence grew a
little day by day; and though she sadly taxed everybody's patience,
she infused a new spirit into all the neophytes.
Had not improvement been rapid, their untrained zeal might perhaps
have flagged. Had the mental symptoms, by their obscurity, baffled
them or defied them on every side, their lack of systematic,
scientific training for such a task might have made them discouraged:
but delicate and exacting as the work was, their love and enthusiasm,
their insight and patience, their cleverness and ingenuity, triumphed
over all obstacles; and luckily for their youth and comparative
inexperience, they were rewarded in marvellous measure.
Not that every day was bright and hopeful. The carefully kept record
was black enough on occasions, beginning with the morning when Helen,
sitting in the circle, felt a rough hand on her head, and Marm Lisa,
without the slightest warning of her intention, snatched Mary's steel
band forcibly from her hair, and, taking it across the room, put it
in its accustomed place on its owner's head. Everybody was startled,
but Mary rose from her chair quietly, and, taking the ornament in one
hand and Marm Lisa in the other, she came to Helen's side.
'I like to have my shining crown in Miss Helen's hair,' she said; 'it
is such pretty, curly hair--stroke it softly, Lisa; she must wear it
this morning to please me, and then I will take it again for my own.
Dear Miss Helen, who is so sweet and good to the children, I love
her,' and she kissed her fondly on each cheek.
Marm Lisa did not attempt to rebel but she was sullen, and refused
her work when it was offered her later.
Such occurrences were rare, however, for her obliquity always seemed
mental rather than moral.
Straws and bright papers, beads and pretty forms to thread on stout
laces, were given her to wean her from her favourite but aimless
string-play. There were days of restlessness which she wandered up
and down stairs, and could not be kept in her chair nor persuaded to
stand in her place in the circle. There were days, too, when she
tore the bright cardboards and glossy weaving-mats that ordinarily
gave her such keen pleasure; but this carelessness grew more and more
infrequent, until it ceased altogether, so that it had probably come
more from her inability to hold and move the materials and needles
properly than from a wanton instinct of destruction; for they would
often see the tears drop from her eyes upon her clumsy fingers as she
strove to make them obey her feeble behests. At such a moment there
was always some one to fling herself with passionate ardour and
sympathy into this latest difficulty. A stouter weaving-needle was
invented, and a mat of pretty coloured morocco substituted for the
fragile paper; while the poor inert hands were held and coaxed and
strengthened every day by finger gymnastics.
As Lisa grew in power Rhoda grew in ingenuity, and failure in any one
particular only stimulated her genius of invention the more. Did she
spill paste, mucilage, water on her gingham aprons, and wipe anything
and everything on them that came in her way, Rhoda dressed her in
daintier ones of white cambric, with a ruffle at the neck and
sleeves; the child's pleasure knew no bounds, and she kept the aprons
clean. With Mrs. Grubb's permission her hair was cut shorter, and
brushed back under a round comb. No regiment of soldiers could have
kept the comb in place. It was taken away and a blue ribbon
substituted. She untied the ribbon every five minutes for two days,
when Mary circumvented her by sewing a blue ribbon on each sleeve.
This seemed to divert her attention from the head-band, and after a
week or two she allowed it to remain without interference. Mary gave
her low shoes, hoping that the lessened trouble of lacing them would
make the task a possibility. There was no improvement. If she laced
them, it was only under supervision, and they were always untied
within the hour, the dangling laces tripping her awkward feet.
Slippers or old-fashioned shoes with elastic at the side would have
been an easy way out of the difficulty, but to Rhoda's mind that
would have been a humiliating confession of failure. As a last
resort she bought brown shoes and brown laces.
'If these do not succeed,' she said, 'I will have red ones made,
paint the tips blue, and give her yellow laces; but I will fix her
mind on her feet and arouse her pride in them, or die in the
This extreme, fortunately, proved unnecessary, since for some unknown
reason the brown foot-gear appealed to Marm Lisa, and she kept the
laces tied. The salient peculiarity and encouraging feature of the
child's development was that, save in rare cases, she did not slip
back into her old habits when the novelty of the remedy wore off;
with her, almost every point gained was a point kept. It was indeed
a high Hill Difficulty that she was climbing--so high that had she
realised it she would never have taken the first step of her own
unaided will; but now this impelling force behind her was so great,
and the visions for ever leading her on were so beautiful, that she
ran nor grew weary, she walked yet did not faint.
The other children, even the youngest of them, were more or less
interested in the novel enterprise, too, though they scarcely knew
the nature of it or how much was at stake. That a human mind was
tottering to its fall, and that Mistress Mary was engaged in
preventing it, was beyond their ken. They could see certain details,
however, for they were all one great family of little people, and it
was no unaccustomed thing for them to watch a moral conquest, though
they had no conception of an intellectual one.
Accordingly, there was a shout of triumph from a corner of the room
one morning,--such a shout that seventy or eighty youngsters held
their breath to see what was happening.
After weeks upon weeks of torn cards, broken threads, soiled
patterns, wrong stitches, weak hand held in place by strong hand,
Marm Lisa had sewed without help, and in one lesson, the outline of a
huge red apple; and there she stood, offering her finished work to
Mistress Mary. The angels in heaven never rejoiced more greatly over
the one repentant sinner than the tired shepherdesses over their one
poor ewe lamb, as she stood there with quivering hands and wet eyes,
the first sense of conscious victory written on her inscrutable brow,
and within the turbid, clouded brain the memory of a long struggle,
and a hint, at least, of the glory she had achieved.
Rhoda took the square of neat cardboard with the precious red circle
that meant so much, and ran into the playground with it, hugging it
to her heart, and crying and laughing over it like a child.
When she came back Mistress Mary put her arm round Lisa's waist and
said to the whole great family: 'Children, after trying hard, for
ever so long, Lisa has sewed this lovely picture all by herself.
There is not a wrong stitch, and one side is as neat as the other.
What shall we say?'
'Three cheers! The Chinese must go!' shouted Pat Higgins, a
patriotic person of five years, whose father was an organiser of
All the grown-ups laughed at this unexpected suggestion, but the
cheers were given with a good will, and Marm Lisa, her mind stirred
to its depths by the unwonted emotion, puzzled out the meaning of
them and hid it in her heart.
CHAPTER VI--FROM GRUBB TO BUTTERFLY
The children were all nearly a year older when Mrs. Grubb one day
climbed the flight of wooden steps heading to Marm Lisa's Paradise,
and met, as she did so, a procession of Mistress Mary's neophytes who
were wending their way homeward.
The spectacle of a number of persons of either sex, or of both sexes,
proceeding in hue or grouped as an audience, acted on Mrs. Grubb
precisely as the taste of fresh blood is supposed to act on a tiger
in captivity. At such a moment she had but one impulse, and that was
to address the meeting. The particular subject was not vital, since
it was never the subject, but her own desire to talk, that furnished
the necessary inspiration. While she was beginning, 'Ladies and
gentlemen,' in her clear, pheasant voice, her convictions, opinions,
views, prejudices, feelings, experiences, all flew from the different
corners of what she was pleased to call her brain, and focussed
themselves on the point in question.
If the discussion were in a field in which she had made no excursions
whatever, that trifling detail did not impose silence upon her. She
simply rose, and said:
'Ladies and gentlemen, though a stranger in your midst, I feel I must
say a word of sympathy to you, and a word of encouragement for your
cause. It is a good and worthy movement, and I honour you for
upholding it. Often and often have I said to my classes, it matters
not what face of truth is revealed to you so long as you get a vision
that will help you to bless your fellow-men. To bless your fellow-
men is the great task before each and every one of us, and I feel to
urge this specially upon occasions like this, when I see a large and
influential audience before me. Says Rudyard Kipling, "I saw a
hundred men on the road to Delhi, and they were all my brothers."
Yes, all our brothers! The brotherhood of man and the sisterhood of
woman, those are the subjects that include all others. I am glad to
have met with you, and to have heard the eloquent words of your
speakers. If any of you would like to know more of my work, I will
gladly meet you in Room A at the close of this meeting.'
She then sat down amid applause. Never did Mrs. S. Cora Grubb cease
speaking without at least a ripple of approval that sometimes grew
into a positive ovation. What wonder, then, that she mistook herself
for an inspired person? It was easy to understand her popularity
with her fellow-men. Her eyes were as soft and clear as those of a
child, her hair waved prettily off her low, serene brow, her figure
was plump and womanly, and when her voice trembled with emotion
(which in her was a shallow well very near the surface) the
charmingest pink colour came and went in her cheeks. On such
occasions more than one member of the various brotherhoods thought
what a cosy wife she would make, if removed from the public arena to
the 'sweet, safe corner of the household fire.' To be sure, she had
not much logic, but plenty of sentiment; rather too great a fondness
for humanity, perhaps, but that was because she had no husband and
family of her own to absorb her superfluous sympathy and energy.
Mrs. Grubb was not so easily classified as these 'brothers' imagined,
however, and fortunately for them she had no leanings towards any
man's fireside. Mr. Grubb had died in the endeavour to understand
her, and it is doubtful whether, had he been offered a second life
and another opportunity, he would have thought the end justified the
This criticism, however, applies only to the family circle, for Mrs.
Grubb in a hall was ever winning, delightful, and persuasive. If she
was illogical, none of her sister-women realised it, for they were
pretty much of the same chaotic order of mind, though with this
difference: that a certain proportion of them were everywhere
seeking reasons for their weariness, their unhappiness, their
poverty, their lack of faith and courage, their unsatisfactory
husbands and their disappointing children. These ladies were apt to
be a trifle bitter, and much more interested in Equal Suffrage,
Temperance, Cremation, and Edenic Diet than in subjects like
Palmistry, Telepathy, and Hypnotism, which generally attracted the
vague, speculative, feather-headed ones. These discontented persons
were always the most frenzied workers and the most eloquent speakers,
and those who were determined to get more rights were mild compared
with those who were determined to avenge their wrongs. There was, of
course, no unanimity of belief running through all these Clubs,
Classes, Circles, Societies, Orders, Leagues, Chapters, and Unions;
but there was one bond of aversion, and that was domestic service of
any kind. That no woman could develop or soar properly, and cook,
scrub, sweep, dust, wash dishes, mend, or take care of babies at the
same time--to defend this proposition they would cheerfully have gone
to the stake. They were willing to concede all these sordid tasks as
an honourable department of woman's work, but each wanted them to be
done by some other woman.
Mrs. Grubb really belonged to neither of these classes. She was not
very keen about more rights, nor very bloodthirsty about her wrongs.
She inhabited a kind of serene twilight, the sort that follows an
especially pink sunset. She was not wholly clear in her mind about
anything, but she was entirely hopeful about the world and its
disposition to grow and move in ever ascending spirals. She hated
housework as much as any of her followers, although she was seldom
allowed to do anything for herself. 'I'll step in and make your
beds, Mrs. Grubb; I know you're tired.' 'I'll sweep the front room,
Mrs. Grubb; you give yourself out so, I know you need rest.' 'Let me
cook your supper while you get up strength for your lecture; there
are plenty of people to cook, but there's only one Mrs. Grubb!'
These were the tender solicitations she was ever receiving.
As for theories, she had small choice. She had looked into almost
every device for increasing the sum of human knowledge and hastening
the millennium, and she thought them all more or less valuable. Her
memory, mercifully, was not a retentive one, therefore she remembered
little of the beliefs she had outgrown; they never left even a
deposit in the stretch of wet sand in which they had written
She had investigated, or at any rate taught, Delsarte, Physical
Culture, Dress-Reform, the Blue-glass Cure, Scientific Physiognomy,
Phrenology, Cheiromancy, Astrology, Vegetarianism, Edenic Diet,
Single Tax, Evolution, Mental Healing, Christian Science,
Spiritualism, Theosophy, and Hypnotism. All these metamorphoses of
thought had Mrs. S. Cora Grubb passed through, and was not yet a
finished butterfly. Some of the ideas she had left far behind, but
she still believed in them as fragments of truth suitable for feeble
growing souls that could not bear the full light of revelation in one
burst. She held honorary memberships in most of the outgrown
societies, attended annual meetings of others, and kept in touch with
all the rest by being present at their social reunions.
One of her present enthusiasms was her 'Kipling Brothers,' the boys'
band enlisted under the motto, 'I saw a hundred men on the road to
Delhi, and they were all my brothers.' She believed that there was
no salvation for a boy outside of a band. Banded somehow he must be,
then badged, beribboned, bannered, and bye-lawed. From the moment a
boy's mother had left off her bye-lows, Mrs. Grubb wanted him put
under bye-laws. She often visited Mistress Mary with the idea that
some time she could interest her in one of her thousand schemes; but
this special call was to see if the older children, whose neat
handiwork she had seen and admired, could embroider mottoes on
cardboard to adorn the Kipling room at an approaching festival. She
particularly wanted 'Look not upon the Wine' done in blood-red upon
black, and 'Shun the Filthy Weed' in smoke-colour on bright green.
She had in her hand a card with the points for her annual address
noted upon it, for this sort of work she ordinarily did in the horse-
cars. These ran:
1st. Value of individuality. '_I_ saw.'
2nd. Value of observation. 'I SAW.'
3rd. Value of numbers. 'I saw a HUNDRED men.'
4th. Importance of belonging to the male sex. It was MEN who were
seen on the road.
5th. What and where is Delhi?
6th. Description of the road thither.
7th. Every boy has his Delhi.
8th. Are you 'on the road'?
9th. The brotherhood of man.
10th. The Kipling Brothers' Call to Arms.
She intended to run through the heads of this impassioned oration to
Mistress Mary, whom she rather liked; and, in truth, Mary had
difficulty in disliking her, though she thoroughly disapproved of
her. She was so amiable, and apparently so susceptible to teaching,
that Mary always fancied her on the verge of something better. Her
vagaries, her neglects, and what to Mary's mind were positive
inhumanities, seemed in a way unconscious. 'If I can only get into
sufficiently friendly relations,' thought Mary, 'so that I can
convince her that her first and highest duty lies in the direction of
the three children, I believe she will have the heroism to do it!'
But in this Mistress Mary's instinct was at fault. Mrs. Grubb took
indeed no real cognisance of her immediate surroundings, but she
would not have wished to see near duties any more clearly. Neither
had she any sane and healthy interest in good works of any kind; she
simply had a sort of philanthropic hysteria, and her most successful
speeches were so many spasms.
CHAPTER VII--THE COMET AND THE FIXED STAR
'I don't feel that I can part with Lisa now, just as she's beginning
to be a help to me,' argued Mrs. Grubb, shortly after she had been
welcomed and ensconced in a rocking-chair. 'As Madame Goldmarker
says, nobody else in the world would have given her a home these four
years, and a good many wouldn't have had her round the house.'
'That is true,' replied Mary, 'and your husband must have been a very
good man from all you tell me, Mrs. Grubb.'
'Good enough, but totally uninteresting,' said that lady laconically.
'Well, putting aside the question as to whether goodness ought to be
totally uninteresting, you say that Lisa's mother left Mr. Grubb
three hundred dollars for her food and clothing, and that she has
been ever since a willing servant, absolutely devoted to your
'We never put a cent of the three hundred dollars into our own
pockets,' explained Mrs. Grubb. 'Mr. Grubb was dreadfully opposed to
my doing it, but every penny of it went to freeing our religious
society from debt. It was a case of the greatest good of the
greatest number, and I didn't flinch. I thought it was a good deal
more important that the Army of Present Perfection should have a roof
over its head than that Lisa Bennett should be fed and clothed; that
is, if both could not be done.'
'I don't know the creed of the Army, but it seems to me your
Presently Perfect soldiers would have been rather uncomfortable under
their roof if Lisa Bennett had been naked and starving outside.'
'Oh, it would never have come to that,' responded Mrs. Grubb easily.
'There is plenty of money in the world, and it belongs equally to the
whole human race. I don't recognise anybody's right to have a dollar
more than I have; but Mr. Grubb could never accept any belief that
had been held less than a thousand years, and before he died he gave
some money to a friend of his, and told him to pay me ten dollars
every month towards Lisa's board. Untold gold could never pay for
what my pride has suffered in having her, and if she hadn't been so
useful I couldn't have done it,--I don't pretend that I could. She's
an offence to the eye.'
'Not any longer,' said Mary proudly.
'Well, she was up to a few months ago; but she would always do
anything for the twins, and though they are continually getting into
mischief she never lets any harm come to them, not so much as a
scratch. If I had taken a brighter child, she would have been for
ever playing on her own account and thinking of her own pleasure; but
if you once get an idea into Lisa's head of what you expect her to
do, she will go on doing it to the end of the world, and wild horses
couldn't keep her from it.'
'It's a pity more of us hadn't that virtue of obedience to a higher
'Well, perhaps it is, and perhaps it isn't; it's a sign of a very
'Or a very strong one,' retorted Mary.
'There are natural leaders and natural followers,' remarked Mrs.
Grubb smilingly, as she swayed to and fro in Mary's rocking-chair.
Her smile, like a ballet-dancer's, had no connection with, nor
relation to, the matter of her speech or her state of feeling; it was
what a watchmaker would call a detached movement. 'I can't see,'
said she, 'that it is my duty to send Lisa away to be taught, just
when I need her most. My development is a good deal more important
'Why? Because I have a vocation and a mission; because, if I should
falter or faint by the wayside, hundreds of women who depend on me
for inspiration would fall back into error and suffer permanent loss
'Do you suppose they really would?' asked Mary rather maliciously,
anxious if possible to ruffle the surface of Mrs. Grubb's
exasperating placidity. 'Or would they, of course after a long
period of grief-stricken apathy, attach themselves to somebody else's
'They might,' allowed Mrs. Grubb, in a tone of hurt self-respect;
'though you must know, little as you've seen of the world, that no
woman has just the same revelation as any other, and that there are
some who are born to interpret truth to the multitude. I can say in
all humility that it has been so with me from a child. I've always
had a burning desire to explore the secret chambers of Thought,
always yearned to understand and explain the universe.'
'I have never tried to explain it,' sighed Mary a little wearily;
'one is so busy trying to keep one's little corner clean and sweet
and pleasant, a helpful place where sad and tired souls can sit down
'Who wants to sit down and rest? Not I!' exclaimed Mrs. Grubb. 'But
then, I'm no criterion, I have such an active mind.'
'There are just a few passive virtues,' said Mary teasingly. 'We
must remember that activity doesn't always make for good; sometimes
it is unrest, disintegration; not growth, Mrs. Grubb, but
Mrs. Grubb took out a small blank-book and made a note, for she had
an ear for any sentence that might be used in a speech.
'That is true. "DISTRUST THE ACTIVITY WHICH IS NOT GROWTH, BUT
FERMENTATION" that will just hit some ladies in my classes, and it
comes right in with something I am going to say this evening. We
have a Diet Congress here this week, and there's a good deal of
feeling and dispute between the various branches. I have two
delegates stopping with me, and they haven't spoken to each other
since yesterday morning, nor sat down to eat at the same table. I
shall do all I can, as the presiding officer, to keep things pleasant
at the meetings, but it will be difficult. You've never been in
public life and can't understand it, but you see there are women
among the delegates who've suffered the tyranny of man so long that
they will cook anything their husbands demand; women who believe in
eating any kind of food, and hold that the principal trouble lies in
bad cooking; women who will give up meat, but still indulge in all
sorts of cakes, pastries, and kickshaws; and women who are strong on
temperance in drink, but who see no need of temperance in food. The
whole question of diet reform is in an awful state, and a Congress is
the only way to settle it.'
'How do men stand on the diet question?' asked Mary, with a twinkle
in her eye.
'They don't stand at all,' answered Mrs. Grubb promptly. 'They sit
right still, and some of them lie down flat, you might say, whenever
it's mentioned. They'll do even more for temperance than they will
for reformed diet, though goodness knows they're fond enough of
drinking. The Edenites number about sixty-seven in this city, and
nine is the largest number of gentlemen that we've been able to
interest. Those nine are the husbands and sons of the lady members,
and at the next meeting two of them are going to be expelled for
backsliding. I declare, if I was a man, I'd be ashamed to confess
that I was all stomach; but that's what most of them are. Not that
it's easy work to be an Edenite: it's impossible to any but a highly
spiritual nature. I have been on the diet for six months, and
nothing but my position as vice-president of the society, and my
desire to crush the body and release the spirit, could have kept me
faithful. I don't pretend to like it, but that doesn't make me
disloyal. There's nothing I enjoy better than a good cut of
underdone beef, with plenty of dish gravy; I love nice tender porter-
house steaks with mushrooms; I love thick mutton-chops broiled over a
hot fire: but I can't believe in them, and my conscience won't allow
me to eat them. Do you believe in meat?'
'I don't see why you say "certainly." You would be a good deal
better off without it. You are filling yourself full of carnal,
brutal, murderous passions every time you eat it. The people who eat
meat are not half so elevated nor half so teachable as the Edenites.'
'The Edenites are possibly too weak and hungry to resist
instruction,' said Mary.
'They are neither weak nor hungry,' replied their vice-president,
with dignity. 'They eat milk, and stewed fruit, and all the edible
grains nicely boiled. It stands to reason that if you can subdue
your earthly, devilish, sensual instincts on anything, you can do it
on a diet like that. You can't fancy an angel or a Mahatma devouring
'No,' agreed Mistress Mary; 'but for that matter, the spectacle of an
angel eating dried-apple sauce doesn't appeal to my imagination.'
'It's no joking matter,' said Mrs. Grubb, with real tears in her
eyes. 'It was my interest in Theosophy that brought me to the Edenic
diet. I have good and sufficient motives for denying my appetite,
for I've got a certain goal to reach, and I'm in earnest.'
'Then here's my hand, and I respect you for it. Oh, how I should
like a hot mutton-chop at this moment!--Do forgive me.'
'I forgive you, because I can see you act up to all the light that
has been revealed to you. I don't know as I ought to be proud
because I see so much truth. My classes tell me I get these
marvellous revelations because I'm so open-minded. Now Mr. Grubb
wouldn't and couldn't bear discussion of any sort. His soul never
grew, for he wouldn't open a clink where a new idea might creep in.
He'd always accompany me to all my meetings (such advantages as that
man had and missed!), and sometimes he'd take the admission tickets;
but when the speaking began, he'd shut the door and stay out in the
entry by himself till it was time to wait upon me home. Do you
believe in vaccination?'
'Well, it passes my comprehension how you can be so sure of your
beliefs. You'd better come and hear some of the arguments on the
opposite side. I am the secretary of the Anti-Vaccination League.'
(Mrs. Grubb was especially happy in her anti-societies; negatives
seemed to give her more scope for argument.) 'I say to my classes,
"You must not blame those to whom higher truths do not appeal, for
refusing to believe in that which they cannot understand; but you may
reprove them for decrying or ridiculing those laws or facts of nature
which they have never investigated with an unprejudiced mind." Well,
I must be going. I've sat longer than I meant to, this room is so
peaceful and comfortable.'
'But what about Lisa's future? We haven't settled that, although
we've had a most interesting and illuminating conversation.'
'Why, I've told you how I feel about her, and you must respect my
feeling. The world can only grow when each person allows his fellow-
man complete liberty of thought and action. I've kept the child four
years, and now when my good care and feeding, together with the
regular work and early hours I've always prescribed, have begun to
show their fruits in her improved condition, you want she should be
put in some institution. Why, isn't she doing well enough as she is?
I'm sure you've had a wonderful influence over her.'
'Nothing could induce me to lose sight of her entirely,' said
Mistress Mary, 'but we feel now that she is ready to take the next
step. She needs a skilled physician who is master both of body and
mind, as well as a teacher who is capable of following out his
principles. I will see to all that, if you will only give me the
Mrs. Grubb sank down in the rocking-chair in despair. 'Don't I need
some consideration as well as that little imbecile? Am I, with my
ambitions and aspirations, to be for ever hampered by these three
nightmares of children? Oh, if I could once get an astral body, I
would stay in it, you may be sure!'
'You do not absolutely need Lisa yourself,' argued Mary. 'It is the
twins to whom she has been indispensable. Provide for them in some
way, and she is freed from a responsibility for which she is not, and
never was, fit. It is a miracle that some tragedy has not come out
of this daily companionship of three such passionate, irresponsible
'Some tragedy will come out of it yet,' said Mrs. Grubb gloomily, 'if
I am not freed from the shackles that keep me in daily slavery. The
twins are as likely to go to the gallows as anywhere; and as for
Lisa, she would be a good deal better off dead than alive, as Mrs.
'That isn't for us to decide,' said Mistress Mary soberly. 'I might
have been careless and impertinent enough to say it a year ago, but
not now. Lisa has all along been the victim of cruel circumstances.
Wherever she has been sinned against through ignorance, it is
possible, barely possible, that the fault may be atoned for; but any
neglect of duty now would be a criminal offence. It does not behove
us to be too scornful when we remember that the taint (fortunately a
slight one) transmitted to poor little Lisa existed in greater or
less degree in Handel and Moliere, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Petrarch,
and Mohammed. The world is a good deal richer for them, certainly.'
Mrs. Grubb elevated her head, the light of interest dawned in her
eye, and she whipped her notebook out of her pocket.
'Is that a fact?' she asked excitedly.
'It is a fact.'
'Is it generally known?'
'It must be known by all who have any interest in the education of
defective persons, since it touches one of the bug-bears which they
have to fight.'
'Is there any society in this city devoted to the study of such
'There is a society which is just on the point of opening an
institution for the training of defective children.'
Mrs. Grubb's face fell, and her hand relaxed its grasp upon the
pencil. (If there was anything she enjoyed, it was the sensation of
being a pioneer in any movement.) Presently she brightened again.
'If it is just starting,' she said, 'then it must need more members,
and speakers to stir up the community. Now, I am calculated, by
constant association with a child of this character, to be of signal
service to the cause. Not many persons have had my chance to observe
phenomena. Just give me a letter to the president,--have they
elected officers yet?--where do they meet?--and tell him I'll call on
him and throw all the weight of my influence on his side. It's
wonderful! Handel, Moliere, Buddha, was it--Buddha?--Caesar,
Petrarch, and Wellington,--no, not Wellington. Never mind, I'll get
a list from you to-morrow and look it all up,--it's perfectly
marvellous! And I have one of this great, unhappy, suffering class
in my own family, one who may yet be transformed into an Elizabeth
Browning or a Joan of Arc!'
Mistress Mary sighed in her heart. She learned more of Mrs. Grubb
with every interview, and she knew that her enthusiasms were as
discouraging as her apathies.
'How unlucky that I mentioned Napoleon, Caesar, and Mohammed!' she
thought. 'I shall be haunted now by the fear that she will go on a
lecturing-tour through the country, and exhibit poor Lisa as an
interesting example. Mrs. Grubb's mind is like nothing so much as a
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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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?'
'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
'He is extremely clever.'
'I have no doubt of it from what you tell me, both clever and
'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.
CHAPTER IX--MARM LISA'S QUEST
It was not long after this conversation that the twins awoke one
morning with a very frenzy of adventure upon them. It was
accompanied by a violent reaction against all the laws of God and
man, and a desire to devour the tree of knowledge, fruit, limbs, and
trunk, no matter at what cost.
We have no means of knowing whether there was an excess of
electricity in the atmosphere, whether their youthful livers were
disordered, or whether the Evil One was personally conducting the
day's exercises; judged by the light of subsequent events, all of
these suppositions might easily have been true. During the morning
they so demeaned themselves that all Mistress Mary's younger
neophytes became apostates to the true faith, and went over in a body
to the theory of the total depravity of unbaptized infants.
In the afternoon they did not appear, nor did Marm Lisa. This was
something that had never occurred before, save when Pacific had a
certain memorable attack of mumps that would have carried off any
child who was fitted for a better world, or one who was especially
'Do you suppose anything is wrong?' asked Mary nervously.
'Of course not,' said Edith. 'I remember seeing Lisa in the
playground at one o'clock, but my impression is that she was alone,
and stayed only a moment. At any rate, I was very busy and did not
speak to her. Mrs. Grubb has probably taken the twins to have their
hair cut, or something of that sort.'
'What a ridiculous suggestion!' exclaimed Rhoda. 'You know perfectly
well that Mrs. Grubb would never think of cutting their hair, if it
swept the earth! She may possibly have taken them to join a band;
they must be getting to a proper age for membership. At any rate, I
will call there and inquire, on my way home, although I can never
talk to Mrs. Grubb two minutes without wanting to shake her.'
Rhoda made her promised visit, but the house was closed and the
neighbours knew nothing of the whereabouts of the children beyond the
fact that Mrs. Grubb was seen talking to them as she went into the
yard, a little after twelve o'clock. Rhoda naturally concluded,
therefore, that Edith's supposition must be correct, and that Mrs.
Grubb had for once indulged in a family excursion.
Such was not the case, however. After luncheon, Marm Lisa had washed
the twins' hands and faces in the back-yard as usual, and left them
for an instant to get a towel from the kitchen. When she returned,
she looked blankly about, for there was no sign of the two dripping
faces and the uplifted streaming hands. They had a playful habit of
hiding from her, knowing that in no other way could they make her so
unhappy; so she stood still for some moments, calling them, at first
sharply, then piteously, but with no result. She ran to the front
gate; it was closed; the rope-fastening was out of reach, and plainly
too complicated even for their preternatural powers. She hurried
back to the house, and searched every room in a bewildered sort of
fashion, finding nothing. As she came out again, her eye caught
sight of a kitchen chair in the corner of the yard. They had climbed
the picket fence, then. Yes; Atlantic, while availing himself of its
unassuming aid, had left a clue in a fragment of his trousers. She
opened the gate, and ran breathlessly along the streets to that
Garden of Eden where joy had always hitherto awaited her. Some
instinct of fear or secrecy led her to go quietly through all the
rooms and search the playground without telling any one of her
trouble. That accomplished fruitlessly, she fled home again, in the
vain hope of finding the children in some accustomed haunt overlooked
in her first search. She began to be thoroughly alarmed now, and
thoroughly confused. With twitching hands and nervous shaking of the
head, she hurried through the vacant rooms, growing more and more
aimless in her quest. She climbed on a tall bureau and looked in a