When Is “An Old Maid” Not an Old Maid? When a Lad of Discernment Calls Her “Mother”
The postmaster looked thoughtfully after her and addressed himself to the empty general delivery boxes.
“That niece of hers ought to write oftener. She doesn’t know what her letters mean to the little old lady.”
Now Miss Cornelia was not exactly old. This harvest marked her fifty-first autumn and she was still so young that her spirits were not long clamped by the lack of the looked-for letter. She smiled as a brown squirrel whisked into view, laden with a sample of his winter store. She stepped carefully to avoid the springing crickets that dotted the walk. And when she entered her own garden, she stooped to gather a few bright-faced pansies.
She put the flowers into a crystal bowl in her sitting room and seated herself to enjoy her magazine but her thoughts wandered.
Her gaze traveled over the trim garden into the watery sunlight of the empty street. The she looked around the luxurious little room and sighed involuntarily. She stepped to the diningroom door and called:
“Mary? Mary, bring your potatoes in here to peel.”
Mary came obediently, with two pans and a paring knife. She was used to these requests. She seated herself by the open fire.
Miss Cornelia watched her for a little then her gaze traveled to the empty street again.
Old Mary’s keen Irish eyes did not miss the movement and her voice was deep with tenderness when she spoke.
“What’s in your heart, honey?”
Miss Cornelia started guiltily, but answered frankly:
“I think I am lonely, Mary. I know it is weak, but, oh, Mary, if I had only had a little of life! If only a child had been left to me! Little feet to patter along the floors--muddy little feet, and burned little fingers to tie up with vaseline, and torn little clothes to mend--oh, Mary, Mary!”
Her clasped hands tightened in her lap. After a little she went on quietly.
“But I am too old for all of that. What I want now is a strong young arm to lean upon. And who knows, Mary?” Her face lit with a wildly happy thought. “Maybe even right today, we might be making wedding clothes!”
Mary laughed tenderly and Miss Cornelia raced on with imaginary details from the dressing of the bride’s hair to the color of flowers on the breakfast table.
She came back to earth as lightly as a snow-flake, laughing at her own extravagances.
“It is all very foolish but it did me good,” and she settled to her magazine with renewed zest, while old Mary’s eyes brooded upon the little gray figure, flashing out of the long ago. Miss Cornelia interrupted her thoughts.
“It tells here, Mary, about a woman who finds mothers for motherless sailor boys. She gives a boy and a mother each other’s address and they write to one another, and when the boy has leave he visits his adopted mother.”
Mary’s face lit suddenly, but she saw that the thought had not entered Miss Cornelia’s head. She hesitated a few minutes before she suggested:
“There’s a chance for you, honey--I think you could be making some sailor boy happier.”
“But, Mary, I am not a mother.”
Miss Cornelia’s face lighted but she said dubiously, “I am afraid--”
“Try it an’ see,” encouraged Mary.
It was two days before Miss Cornelia got her courage up sufficiently to write the woman in another state, telling her briefly that she was not a mother but that she wanted to be one to some orphaned sailor boy.