Saturday, September 20, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; Part 2

Both women dreaded and yet longed for the reply.

“It would be something to think about,” said Mary, wistfully.

“And yet,” said Miss Cornelia, thrusting away her embroidery frame, “do you know, Mary, sometimes I am afraid, just plain afraid! It seems almost like tempting fate. The sea took the best of my life away.”

Mary nodded understandingly.

“But it isn’t that way, honey. What comes from the sea this time will be making it up to you.”

Miss Cornelia looked at her doubtfully but said no more.

At last the expected letter arrived and Miss Cornelia carried it home with a wildly beating heart. She laid it before Mary, her throat too full for words.

Mary drew her silver rimmed spectacles down to her nose and squinted at the address. The romance touched her too.

Mrs. Cornelia Baker. I ‘spose she thinks you’re a widdy.”

Miss Cornelia flushed a little. “And am I not, Mary?”

“‘Deed, yes, honey, you are. Let’s open it and find out.”

There spilled out upon the table from the enclosed letter a slip of paper. They both looked down at it and then at each other. It bore the name of a man and the name of a ship. Mary put her arms around Miss Cornelia and a few tears of joy were shed on ample shoulder.

Presently they read the kindly letter together, and Miss Cornelia went away to write a reply of gratitude that a little astonished the earnest-eyed woman who helped motherless boys and boyless mothers to find one another.

The first letter from the good ship Michigan was a never-to-be-forgotten event in the life of the little white house set in the gay little garden. Miss Cornelia read and reread it, and then read it aloud to Mary whose eyes glowed as she listened.

November 3, 1918
Dear Mother:
When I got your letter, I wondered if here at last was someone who really belonged to me. Do you want us to really and truly belong? It isn’t just make-believe, is it? I don’t think from your letter that it is.

I will tell you about myself as you asked me to do. There isn’t really much to tell.

My parents both died in a fire in New York eighteen years ago when I was only a few months old. I was found and put into an orphan asylum where I grew up. From the time I was a little fellow, I have always had a hankering for the sea. There was a teacher in the orphans’ home that was good to me and helped me out, and after a good many ups and downs I got into the navy. It isn’t just what you would call an easy life but it is an interesting one. We learn a lot and we see a lot but it gets awfully lonesome sometimes. There’s a pretty good share of us haven’t any home at all. A fellow let me read a letter from his mother once and I cried like a baby over it.

I’m five feet, ten and a half, mother. How tall are you? I’ve just kind of got an idea that you’re little and sort of dainty and move quick, and your laugh--I can almost hear you laugh. That’s funny, isn’t it?

I'll send you my picture as soon as I can find one, and will send me yours? I want to know just how you look and not do too much guessing. And I’d like to know just a little bit about your life. I have a kind of an idea that you are a widow.

You will write again soon, won’t you?

Your loving son,
Ray Durkan

This letter also was addressed to Mrs. Cornelia Baker.

When she had finished reading it to Old Mary, she sat looking thoughtfully at the envelope.

“I must tell him the truth, Mary. There must be no deceit between me and--my son!” She dwelt lovingly on the word, with a dreamy smile in her eyes, then she tucked the letter into the bosom of her dress and went out to cut great bowls of bright cosmos and chrysanthemum to set about the house.

Her next letter included her picture and many questions about the boy’s work and plans and the happy assurance that they really and truly belonged to each other.

The part about herself she did not find so easy to write, but she launched into it fearlessly.

Monday, September 15, 2014

HER DREAM CAME TRUE; March 1919; part 1

When Is “An Old Maid” Not an Old Maid? When a Lad of Discernment Calls Her “Mother”

“Just your magazine today, Miss Cornelia.”

Not a single letter, Mr. Dempster?

A delicate flush rose in the thin face as the postmaster shook his head. Then the little figure in the gray gown resolutely set its bonnet straight and with a determinedly cheery “Good afternoon, Mr. Dempster!” sallied forth into the open sunshine.
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.”

“Oh, aren’t you, though? An’ who is it the kiddies are tagging along the street, and the big boys tipping their hats to so gentlemanly, and the big girls hurryin’ to catch up with? You’ve no born children, honey, but you’re all 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.