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   Chapter 4 No.4

Faith Gartney's Girlhood By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 13377

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"There's beauty waiting to be born,

And harmony that makes no sound;

And bear we ever, unawares,

A glory that hath not been crowned."

Shall I try to give you a glimpse of quite another young life than Faith Gartney's? One looking also vaguely, wonderingly, for "something to happen"-that indefinite "something" which lies in everybody's future, which may never arrive, and yet which any hour may bring?

Very little likelihood there has ever seemed for any great joy to get into such a life as this has been, that began, or at least has its earliest memory and association, in the old poorhouse at Stonebury.

A child she was, of five years, when she was taken in there with her old, crippled grandmother.

Peter McWhirk was picked up dead, from the graveled drive of a gentleman's place, where he had been trimming the high trees that shaded it. An unsound limb-a heedless movement-and Peter went straight down, thirty feet, and out of life. Out of life, where he had a trim, comfortable young wife-one happy little child, for whom skies were as blue, and grass as green, and buttercups as golden as for the little heiress of Elm Hill, who was riding over the lawn in her basket wagon, when Peter met his death there-the hope, also, of another that was to come.

Rosa McWhirk and her baby of a day old were buried the week after, together; and then there was nothing left for Glory and her helpless grandmother but the poorhouse as a present refuge; and to the one death, that ends all, and to the other a life of rough and unremitting work to look to for by and by.

When Glory came into this world where wants begin with the first breath, and go on thickening around us, and pressing upon us until the last one is supplied to us-a grave-she wanted, first of all, a name.

"Sure what'll I call the baby?" said the proud young mother to the ladies from the white corner house, where she had served four faithful years of her maidenhood, and who came down at once with comforts and congratulations. "They've sint for the praist, an' I've niver bethought of a name. I made so certain 'twould be a boy!"

"What a funny bit of a thing it is!" cried the younger of the two visitors, turning back the bedclothes a little from the tiny, red, puckered face, with short, sandy-colored hair standing up about the temples like a fuzz ball.

"I'd call her Glory. There's a halo round her head like the saints in the pictures."

"Sure, that's jist like yersilf, Miss Mattie!" exclaimed Rosa, with a faint, merry little laugh. "An' quare enough, I knew a lady once't of the very name, in the ould country. Miss Gloriana O'Dowd she was; an' the beauty o' County Kerry. My Lady Kinawley, she came to be. 'Deed, but I'd like to do it, for the ould times, an' for you thinkin' of it! I'll ask Peter, anyhow!"

And so Glory got her name; and Mattie Hyde, who gave her that, gave her many another thing that was no less a giving to the mother also, before she was two years old. Then Mrs. Hyde and the young lady, having first let the corner house, went away to Europe to stay for years; and when a box of tokens from the far, foreign lands came back to Stonebury a while after, there was a grand shawl for Rosa, and a pretty braided frock for the baby, and a rosary that Glory keeps to this hour, that had been blessed by the Pope. That was the last. Mattie and her mother sailed out upon the Mediterranean one day from the bright coast of France for a far eastern port, to see the Holy Land. God's Holy Land they did see, though they never touched those Syrian shores, or climbed the hills about Jerusalem.

Glory remembered-for the most part dimly, for some special points distinctly-her child life of three years in Stonebury poorhouse. How her grandmother and an old countrywoman from the same county "at home" sat knitting and crooning together in a sunny corner of the common room in winter, or out under the stoop in summer; how she rolled down the green bank behind the house; and, when she grew big enough to be trusted with a knife, was sent out to dig dandelions in the spring, and how an older girl went with her round the village, and sold them from house to house. How, at last, her old grandmother died, and was buried; and how a woman of the village, who had used to buy her dandelions, found a place for her with a relative of her own, in the ten-mile distant city, who took Glory to "bring up"-"seeing," as she said, "there was nobody belonging to her to interfere."

Was there a day, after that, that did not leave its searing impress upon heart and memory, of the life that was given, in its every young pulse and breath, to sordid toil for others, and to which it seemed nobody on earth owed aught of care or service in return?

It was a close little house-one of those houses where they have fried dinners so often that the smell never gets out in Budd Street-a street of a single side, wedged in between the back yards of more pretentious mansions that stood on fair parallel avenues sloping down from a hilltop to the waterside, that Mrs. Grubbling lived in.

Here Glory McWhirk, from eight years old to nearly fifteen, scoured knives and brasses, tended doorbell, set tables, washed dishes, and minded the baby; whom, at her peril, she must "keep pacified"-i. e., amused and content, while its mother was otherwise busy. For her, poor child-baby that she still, almost, was herself-who amused, or contented her? There are humans with whom amusement and content have nothing to do. What will you? The world must go on.

Glory curled the baby's hair, and made him "look pretty." Mrs. Grubbling cut her little handmaid's short to save trouble; so that the very determined yellow locks which, under more favoring circumstances of place and fortune, might have been trained into lovely golden curls, stood up continually in their restless reaching after the fairer destiny that had been meant for them, in the old fuzz-ball fashion; and Glory grew more and more to justify her name.

Do you think she didn't know what beauty was-this child who never had a new or pretty garment, but who wore frocks "fadged up" out of old, faded breadths of her mistress's dresses, and bonnets with brims cut off and topknots taken down, and coarse shoes, and stockings cut out of the legs of those whereof Mrs. Grubbling had worn out the extremities? Do you think she didn't feel the difference, and that it wasn't this that made her shuffle along so with her toes in, when she sped along the streets upon her manifold errands, and met gentle-people's children laughing and skipping their hoops upon the sidewalks?

Out of all lives, actu

al and possible, each one of us appropriates continually into his own. This is a world of hints only, out of which every soul seizes to itself what it needs.

This girl, uncherished, repressed in every natural longing to be and to have, took in all the more of what was possible; for God had given her this glorious insight, this imagination, wherewith we fill up life's scanty outline, and grasp at all that might be, or that elsewhere, is. In her, as in us all, it was often-nay, daily-a discontent; yet a noble discontent, and curbed with a grand, unconscious patience. She scoured her knives; she shuffled along the streets on hasty errands; she went up and down the house in her small menial duties; she put on and off her coarse, repulsive clothing; she uttered herself in her common, ignorant forms of speech; she showed only as a poor, low, little Irish girl with red hair and staring, wondering eyes, and awkward movements, and a frightened fashion of getting into everybody's way; and yet, behind all this, there was another life that went on in a hidden beauty that you and I cannot fathom, save only as God gives the like, inwardly, to ourselves.

When Glory's mistress cut her hair, there were always tears and rebellion. It was her one, eager, passionate longing, in these childish days, that these locks of hers should be let to grow. She thought she could almost bear anything else, if only this stiff, unseemly crop might lengthen out into waves and ringlets that should toss in the wind like the carefully kempt tresses of children she met in the streets. She imagined it would be a complete and utter happiness just once to feel it falling in its wealth about her shoulders or dropping against her cheeks; and to be able to look at it with her eyes, and twist her fingers in it at the ends. And so, when it got to be its longest, and began to make itself troublesome about her forehead, and to peep below her shabby bonnet in her neck, she had a brief season of wonderful enjoyment in it. Then she could "make believe" it had really grown out; and the comfort she took in "going through the motions"-pretending to tuck behind her ears what scarcely touched their tips, and tossing her head continually, to throw back imaginary masses of curls, was truly indescribable, and such as I could not begin to make you understand.

"Half-witted monkey!" Mrs. Grubbling would ejaculate, contemptuously, seeing, with what she conceived marvelous penetration, the half of her little servant's thought, and so pronouncing from her own half wit. Then the great shears came out, and the instinct of grace and beauty in the child was pitilessly outraged, and her soul mutilated, as it were, in every clip of the inexorable shears.

She was always glad-poor Glory-when the springtime came. She took Bubby and Baby down to the Common, of a May Day, to see the processions and the paper-crowned queens; and stood there in her stained and drabbled dress, with the big year-and-a-half-old baby in her arms, and so quite at the mercy of Master Herbert Clarence, who defiantly skipped oft down the avenues, and almost out of her sight-she looking after him in helpless dismay, lest he should get a splash or a tumble, or be altogether lost; and then what would the mistress say? Standing there so-the troops of children in their holiday trim passing close beside her-her young heart turned bitter for a moment, as it sometimes would; and her one utterance of all that swelled her martyr soul broke forth:

"Laws a me! Sech lots of good times in the world, and I ain't in 'em!"

Yet, that afternoon, when Mrs. Grubbling went out shopping, and left her to her own devices with the children, how jubilantly she trained the battered chairs in line, and put herself at the head, with Bubby's scarlet tippet wreathed about her upstart locks, and made a May Day!

I say, she had the soul and essence of the very life she seemed to miss.

There were shabby children's books about the Grubbling domicile, that had been the older child's-Cornelia's-and had descended to Master Herbert, while yet his only pastime in them was to scrawl them full of pencil marks, and tear them into tatters. These, one by one, Glory rescued, and hid away, and fed upon, piecemeal, in secret. She could read, at least-this poor, denied unfortunate. Peter McWhirk had taught his child her letters in happy, humble Sundays and holidays long ago; and Mrs. Grubbling had begun by sending her to a primary school for a while, irregularly, when she could be spared; and when she hadn't just torn her frock, or worn out her shoes, or it didn't rain, or she hadn't been sent of an errand and come back too late-which reasons, with a multitude of others, constantly recurring, reduced the school days in the year to a number whose smallness Mrs. Grubbling would have indignantly disputed, had it been calculated and set before her; she being one of those not uncommon persons who regard a duty continually evaded as one continually performed, it being necessarily just as much on their minds; till, at last, Herbert had a winter's illness, and in summer it wasn't worth while, and the winter after, baby came, so that of course she couldn't be spared at all; and it seemed little likely now that she ever again would be. But she kept her spelling book, and read over and over what she knew, and groped her way slowly into more, till she promoted herself from that to "Mother Goose"-from "Mother Goose" to "Fables for the Nursery"-and now, her ever fresh and unfailing feast was the "Child's Own Book of Fairy Tales," and an odd volume of the "Parents' Assistant." She picked out, slowly, the gist of these, with a lame and uncertain interpretation. She lived for weeks with Beauty and the Beast-with Cinderella-with the good girl who worked for the witch, and shook her feather bed every morning; till at last, given leave to go home and see her mother, the gold and silver shower came down about her, departing at the back door. Perhaps she should get her pay, some time, and go home and see her mother.

Meanwhile, she identified herself with-lost herself utterly in,-these imaginary lives. She was, for the time, Cinderella; she was Beauty; she was above all, the Fair One with Golden Locks; she was Simple Susan going to be May Queen; she dwelt in the old Castle of Rossmore, with the Irish Orphans. The little Grubbling house in Budd Street was peopled all through, in every corner, with her fancies. Don't tell me she had nothing but her niggardly outside living there.

And the wonder began to come up in her mind, as it did in Faith Gartney's, whether and when "something might happen" to her.

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