"Love Is Best" by Kate Langley Bosher (1910)
10-25-2011 01:08 PM
Mary Cary is a 12-year-old orphan who lives at the Yorkburg Female Orphan Asylum in Virginia. Miss Bray is the head of the institution. Miss Katherine, the resident nurse, is Mary’s special friend. Miss Webb is Miss Katherine’s friend. Mary refers to the more undisciplined and practical side of her nature as “Martha.” In this chapter, Mary tells about Christmas at the orphanage—and “Martha” has a few words to say to a Board lady who feels the orphans’ Christmas has been too lavish.
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“Love Is Best”
From Mary Cary, Frequently Martha by Kate Langley Bosher (1910)
Christmas is over. I feel like the parlor grate when the fire has gone out.
But it was a grand Christmas, the grandest we've ever known. It came on Christmas Day. From the time we got up until we went to bed we were so happy we forgot we were Charity children; and no matter whatever happens, we've got one beautiful time to look back on.
Miss Katherine says a beautiful memory is a possession no one can take from you, and it's one of the best possessions you can have. I think so, too. She's made all my memories. All. I mean the precious ones.
Everybody in this Orphan Asylum had a present from somebody outside. Even me, who might as well be that man in the Bible, Melchesey something, who didn't have beginning or end, or any relations.
I had fourteen from outside. Some I hid, because I didn't want the girls to know, several not getting more than one, and hardly any more than three or four.
Those who had the heart to give them didn't have the money, and those who had the money didn't have the heart. Being so busy with their own they forgot to remember, and if it hadn't been for Miss Katherine and her friends this last Christmas would have been like all others.
Her Army brother's wife sent a box full of all sorts of pretty Indian things, she being in the wild West near the Indians who made them. And she sent ten dolls, all dressed, for the ten youngest girls.
She is awful busy, having three children and not much money; but Miss Katherine says busy people make time, and those who have most to do, do more still.
She sent me the darlingest little bedroom slippers with fur all around the top. And in them she put a little note that made me cry and cry and cry, it was so dear and mothery. I don't know what made me cry, but I couldn't help it. I couldn't.
She doesn't know me except from what Miss Katherine writes, and I wonder why she wrote that note. But everybody is good to me—that is, nearly everybody.
It certainly makes a difference in your backbone when people are kind and when they are not. I don't believe unkindness and misfortune and suffering will ever make me good. If anybody is mean to me, I'm stifferer than a lamp-post, and you couldn't make me cry. But when any one is good to me, I haven't a bit of firmness, and am no better than a caterpillar.
I got thirty-one presents this year. Thirty-one! I didn't know I had so many friends in Yorkburg, and my heart was so bursting with surprise and gratitude it just ached. Ached happy.
We are not often allowed to make regular visits, but I have lots of little talks informal on errands, or messages, or passing; and as I know almost everybody by sight, I have a right large speaking acquaintance. With some people, Miss Katherine says, that's the safest kind to have.
You see, Yorkburg is a very small place. Just three long streets and some short ones going across. Scratching up everything, it hasn't got three thousand people in it.
But it's very old and historic. Awful old; so is everything in it. As for its blue blood, Mrs. Hunt says there's more in Yorkburg than any place of its size in America.
Most of the strangers who come here, though, seem to prefer to pass on rather than stop, and Miss Webb thinks it's on account of the blood. A little red mixed in might wake Yorkburg up, she says, and that's what it needs—to know the war is over and the change has come to stay.
But I love Yorkburg, and most of the people are dear. Some queer. Old Mrs. Peet is. Her husband has been dead forty years, but she still keeps his hat on the rack for protection, and whenever any one goes to see her after dark she always calls him, as if he were upstairs.
She lives by herself and is over seventy, and she's pretended so long that he's living that they say she really believes he is. She almost makes you believe it, too.
And, don't you know, old Mrs. Peet sent me a Christmas present, too. A pair of mittens. She knit them herself. It was awful nice of her.
I don't know how big the check was that Miss Katherine's billionaire brother sent her to spend on the children's Christmas, but it must have been a corker. The things she bought with it cost money, and the change it made in the Asylum was Cinderellary. It was.
She bought a carpet for the parlor, and some curtains for the windows, and a bookcase of books.
For the dining-room she bought six new tables and sixty chairs. They were plain, but to sit at a table with only ten at it instead of forty, as I'd been sitting for many years, was to have a proud sensation in your stomach. Mine got so gay I couldn't eat at the first meal.
To have a chair all to yourself, after sitting on benches so old they were worn on both edges, was to feel like the Queen of Sheba, and I felt like her. I could have danced up and down the table, but instead I said grace over and over inside. I had something to say it for. All of us did.
Besides a present, each of us had a new dress. It was made of worsted—real worsted, not calico; and that morning after breakfast, and after everything had been cleaned up, we put on our new dresses and came down in the parlor.
And such a fire as there was in it!
It sputtered and flamed, and danced and blazed, and crackled and roared. Oh, it knew it was Christmas, that fire did, and the mistletoe and holly and running cedar knew it, too!
At first, though, the children felt so stiff and funny in their new-shaped dresses made like other children's that they weren't natural, so I pretended we were having a soirée, and I went round and shook hands with every one.
They got to laughing so at the names I gave them—names that fit some, and didn't touch others by a thousand years—that the stiffness went. And if in all Yorkburg there was a cheerfuller room or a happier lot of children that Christmas Day than we were, we didn't hear of it. I don't believe there was, either.
The reason we enjoyed this Christmas so was because it was on Christmas Day.
Our celebrations had always been after Christmas, and Christmas after Christmas is like cold buckwheat cakes and no syrup. Like an orange with the juice all gone.
As for the tree, it was a spanker. We were dazed dumb for a minute when the parlor doors leading into the sewing-room were opened. But never being able to stay dumb long, I commenced to clap. Then everybody clapped. Clapped so hard half the candles went out.
There wasn't a soul on the place that didn't get a present. This tree was Miss Katherine's, not the Board's, and the presents bought with the brother's money were things we could keep. Not things to put away and pass on to somebody else next year. I almost had a fit when I found I had roller-skates and a set of books too. Think of it! Roller-skates and books! The rich brother sent those himself, and I'm still wondering why.
This was Miss Katherine's second Christmas with us, but the first she had managed herself. Last Christmas she had been at the Asylum such a short time she kept quiet, and just saw how things were done. And not done. But this year she asked if she could provide the entertainment, and the difference in these last two Christmases was like the difference in the way things are done from love and duty.
And oh! love is so much the best!
I do believe I was the happiest child in all the world that day, and I didn't come out of that cloud of glory until night. Mrs. Christopher Pryor took me out.
She had come over with some of the Board ladies to see the tree and things, and as she was going home I heard her say:
"I don't approve of all this. Not at all. Not at all. These children have had a more elaborate Christmas than mine. They've had as good a dinner, a handsomer tree, and as many presents as some well-off people. It's all nonsense, putting notions in their heads when they're as poor as poverty itself and have their living to make. I don't approve of it. Not at all."
She bristled so stiff and shook her head so vigorous that the little jet ornaments on her bonnet just tinkled like bells, and one fell off.
Mrs. Christopher Pryor is one of the people who would like to tell the Lord how to run this earth. She could run it. That He lets the rain fall and sun shine on everybody alike is a thing she don't approve of either. As for poor people, she thinks they ought to be thankful for breath, and not expect more than enough to keep it from going out for good.
She's very decided in her views, and never keeps them to herself. It's the one thing she gives away. Everything else she holds on to with such a grip that it keeps her upper lip so pressed down on her under lip that she breathes through her nose most of the time.
She's a very curious shape. Being stout, she has to hold her head up to keep her chin off her fatness; and she goes in so at the waist, coming out top and bottom, that you would think something in her would get jammed out of place. You really would.
There are seven daughters. No sons. The boys call their place Hen-House. There is a husband, but nobody seems to notice him; and when with his wife, he always walks behind.
Miss Webb says she's sorry for a man whose wife is too active in the church. Mrs. Pryor is. She leads all the responses; and as for the chants, she takes them right out of the choir's mouth and soars off with them.
I never could bear her; and when I heard her say those words to Mrs. Marsden, I came right down to earth and was Martha Cary in a minute. I'd been Mary all day, and, like a splash in a mud-puddle, she made me Martha; and I heard myself say:
"No, Mrs. Pryor, we know you don't approve. You never yet have let a child here forget she was a Charity child, and only people who make others happy will approve."
Then I walked away as quiet as a Nun's daughter. But I was burning hot all the same, and so surprised at the way Martha spoke, so serious and unlike the way she usually speaks when mad, that I had to go on the back porch and make snowballs and throw hard at something before I was all right again.
But I wouldn't let it ruin my beautiful day. I wouldn't.
That night, when I went to bed, I was so tired out with happiness I couldn't half say my prayers. But I knew God understood. He let the Christ-child be born poor and lowly, so He could understand about Charity children, and everybody else who goes wrong because they don't know how to go right. So I just thanked Him, and thanked Him in my heart.
And when Miss Katherine kissed me good-night and tucked me in bed, she said I'd made her have a beautiful Christmas. That I'd helped everybody and kept things from dragging, because I had enjoyed it so myself, and been so enthusiastic, and she was so glad I was born that way.
I thought she was making fun, it was so ridiculous, thanking me, little Mary Cary, who hadn't done a thing but be glad and seen that nobody was forgot.
But she wasn't making fun, and I went off to sleep and dreamed I was in a place called the Love-Land, where everybody did everything just for love. Which shows it was a dreamland, for on earth there're Brays and Pryors, and people too busy to be kind. And in that Love-Land everything was done the other way, just backward from our way, and yourself came second instead of first.
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If you enjoyed this chapter, read the book Mary Cary, Frequently Martha
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