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   Chapter 6 AUNT HENDERSON'S GIRL HUNT.

Faith Gartney's Girlhood By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 11679

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Black spirits and white,

Red spirits and gray;

Mingle, mingle, mingle,

You that mingle may."

Macbeth.

It was a small, close, dark room-Mrs. Griggs's Intelligence Office-a little counter and show case dividing off its farther end, making a sanctum for Mrs. Griggs, who sat here in rheumatic ponderosity, dependent for whatever involved locomotion on the rather alarming alacrity of an impish-looking granddaughter who is elbowing her way through the throng of applicants for places and servants. She paid no heed to the astonishment of a severe-looking, elderly lady, who, by her impetuous onset, has been rudely thrust back into the very arms of a fat, unsavory cook with whom she had a minute before been quite unwillingly set to confer by the high priestess of the place.

Aunt Henderson grasped Faith's hand as if she felt she had brought her into a danger, and held her close to her side while she paused a moment to observe, with the strange fascination of repulsion, the manifestation of a phase of human life and the working of a vocation so utterly and astoundingly novel to herself.

"Well, Melindy," said Mrs. Griggs, salutatorily.

"Well, grandma," answered the girl, with a pert air of show off and consequence, "I found the place, and I found the lady. Ain't I been quick?"

"Yes. What did she say?"

"Said the girl left last Saturday. Ain't had anybody sence. Wants you to send her a first-rate one, right off. Has Care'line been here after me?"

"No. Did you get the money?"

"She never said a word about it. Guess she forgot the month was out."

"Didn't you ask her?"

"Me? No. I did the arrant, and stood and looked at her-jest as pious-! And when she didn't say nothin', I come away."

"Winny M'Goverin," said Mrs. Griggs, "that place'll suit you. Leastways, it must, for another month. You'd better go right round there."

"Where is it?" asked the fat cook, indifferently.

"Up in Mount Pleasant Street, Number 53. First-class place, and plenty of privileges. Margaret McKay," she continued, to another, "you're too hard to please. Here's one more place"-handing her a card with address-"and if you don't take that, I won't do nothing more for you, if you air Scotch and a Protestant! Mary McGinnis, it's no use your talking to that lady from the country. She can't spare you to come down but twice or so a year."

"Lord!" ejaculated Mary McGinnis, "I wouldn't live a whole year with no lady that ever was, let alone the country!"

"Come out, Faith!" said Miss Henderson, in a deep, ineffable tone of disgust.

"If that's a genteel West End Intelligence Office," cried Aunt Faith, as she touched the sidewalk, "let's go downtown and try some of the common ones."

A large hall-where the candidates were ranged on settees under order and restraint, and the superintendent, or directress, occupied a desk placed upon a platform near the entrance-was the next scene whereon Miss Henderson and Faith Gartney entered. Things looked clean and respectable. System obtained here. Aunt Faith felt encouraged. But she made no haste to utter her business. Tall, self-possessed, and dignified, she stood a few paces inside the door, and looked down the apartment, surveying coolly the faces there, and analyzing, by a shrewd mental process, their indications.

Her niece had stopped a moment on the landing outside to fasten her boot lace.

Miss Henderson did not wear hoops. Also, the streets being sloppy, she had tucked up her plain, gray merino dress over a quilted black alpaca petticoat. Her boots were splashed, and her black silk bonnet was covered with a large gray barége veil, tied down over it to protect it from the dripping roofs. Judging merely by exterior, one would hardly take her at a glance, indeed, for a "fust-class" lady.

The directress-a busy woman, with only half a glance to spare for anyone-moved toward her.

"Take a seat, if you please. What kind of a place do you want?"

Aunt Faith turned full face upon her, with a look that was prepared to be overwhelming.

"I'm looking for a place, ma'am, where I can find a respectable girl."

Her firm, emphatic utterance was heard to the farthest end of the hall.

The girls tittered.

Faith Gartney came in at this moment, and walked up quietly to Miss Henderson's side. There was visibly a new impression made, and the tittering ceased.

"I beg pardon, ma'am. I see. But we have so many in, and I didn't fairly look. General housework?"

"Yes; general and particular-both. Whatever I set her to do."

The directress turned toward the throng of faces whose fire of eyes was now all concentrated on the unflinching countenance of Miss Henderson.

"Ellen Mahoney!"

A stout, well-looking damsel, with an expression that seemed to say she answered to her name, but was nevertheless persuaded of the utter uselessness of the movement, half rose from her seat.

"You needn't call up that girl," said Aunt Faith, decidedly; "I don't want her."

Ellen Mahoney had giggled among the loudest.

"She knows what she does want!" whispered a decent-appearing young woman to a girl at her side with an eager face looking out from a friz of short curly hair, "and that's more than half of 'em do."

"Country, did you say, ma'am? or city?" asked the directress once more of Miss Henderson.

"I didn't say. It's country, though-twenty miles out."

"What wages?"

"I'll find the girl first, and settle that afterwards."

"Anybody to do general housework in the country, twenty miles out?"

The prevailing expression of the assemblage changed. There was a settling down into seats, and a resumption of knitting and needlework.

One pair of eyes, however, looked on, even more eagerly than before. One young girl-she with the short curly hair who hadn't seen the country for six years

and more-caught her breath, convulsively, at the word.

"I wish I dar'st! I've a great mind!" whispered she to her tidy companion.

While she hesitated, a slatternly young woman, a few seats farther forward, moved, with a "don't care" sort of look, to answer the summons.

"Oh, dear!" sighed the first. "I'd ought to a done it!"

"I don't think she would take a young girl like you," replied her friend.

"That's the way it always is!" exclaimed the disappointed voice, in forgetfulness and excitement uttering itself aloud. "Plenty of good times going, but they all go right by. I ain't never in any of 'em!"

"Glory McWhirk!" chided the directress, "be quiet! Remember the rules, or leave the room."

"Call that red-headed girl to me," said Miss Henderson, turning square round from the dirty figure that was presenting itself before her, and addressing the desk. "She looks clean and bright," she added, aside, to Faith, as Glory timidly approached. "And poor. And longing for a chance. I'll have her."

A girl with a bonnet full of braids and roses, and a look of general knowingness, started up close at Miss Henderson's side, and interposed.

"Did you say twenty miles, mum? How often could I come to town?"

"You haven't been asked to go out of town, that I know of," replied Miss Henderson, frigidly, abashing the office habitué, who had not been used to find her catechism cut so summarily short, and moving aside to speak with Glory.

"What was it I heard you say just now?"

"I didn't mean to speak out so, mum. It was only what I mostly thinks. That there's always lots of good times in the world, only I ain't never in 'em."

"And you thought it would be good times, did you, to go off twenty miles into the country, to live alone with an old woman like me?"

Miss Henderson's tone softened kindly to the rough, uncouth girl, and encouraged her to confidence.

"Well, you see, mum, I should like to go where things is green and pleasant. I lived in the country once-ever so long ago-when I was a little girl."

Miss Henderson could not help a smile that was half amused, and wholly pitiful, as she looked in the face of this creature of fourteen, so strange and earnest, with its outline of fuzzy, cropped hair, and heard her talk of "ever so long ago."

"Are you strong?"

"Yes'm. I ain't never sick."

"And willing to work?"

"Yes'm. Jest as much as I know how."

"And want to learn more?"

"Yes'm. I don't know as I'd know enough hardly, to begin, though."

"Can you wash dishes? And sweep? And set table?"

To each of these queries Glory successively interposed an affirmative monosyllable, adding, gratuitously, at the close, "And tend baby, too, real good." Her eyes filled, as she thought of the Grubbling baby with the love that always grows for that whereto one has sacrificed oneself.

"You won't have any babies to tend. Time enough for that when you've learned plenty of other things. Who do you belong to?"

"I don't belong to anybody, mum. Father, and mother, and grandmother is all dead. I've done the chores and tended baby up at Mrs. Grubbling's ever since. That's in Budd Street. I'm staying now in High Street, with Mrs. Foye. Number 15."

"I'll come after you to-morrow. Have your things ready to go right off."

"I'm so glad you took her, auntie," said Faith, as they went out. "She looks as if she hadn't been well treated. Think of her wanting so to go into the country! I should like to do something for her."

"That's my business," answered Aunt Faith, curtly, but not crossly. "You'll find somebody to do for, if you look out. If your mother's willing, though, you might mend up one of your old school dresses for her. 'Tisn't likely she's got anything to begin with." And so saying, Aunt Faith turned precipitately into a drygoods store, where she bought a large plaid woolen shawl, and twelve yards of dark calico. Coming out, she darted as suddenly, and apparently unpremeditatedly, across the street into a milliner's shop, and ordered home a brown rough-and-ready straw bonnet, and four yards of ribbon to match.

"And that you can put on, too," she said to Faith.

That evening, Faith was even unwontedly cheery and busy, taking a burned half breadth out of a dark cashmere dress, darning it at the armhole, and pinning the plain ribbon over the brown straw bonnet.

At the same time, Glory went up across the city to Budd Street, with a mingled heaviness and gladness at her heart, and, after a kindly farewell interview with Katie Ryan at the Pembertons' green gate, rang, with a half-guilty feeling at her own independence, at the Grubblings' door. Bubby opened it.

"Why, ma!" he shouted up the staircase, "it's Glory come back!"

"I've come to get my bundle," said the girl.

Mrs. Grubbling had advanced to the stair head, somewhat briskly, with the wakeful baby in her arms. Two days' "tending" had greatly mollified her sentiments toward the offending Glory.

"And she's come to get her bundle," added the young usher, from below.

Mrs. Grubbling retreated into her chamber, and shut herself and the baby in.

Poor Glory crept upstairs to her little attic.

Coming down again, she set her bundle on the stairs, and knocked.

"What is it?" was the ungracious response.

"Please, mum, mightn't I say good-by to the baby?"

The latch had slipped, and the door was already slightly ajar. Baby heard the accustomed voice, and struggled in his mother's arms.

"A pretty time to come disturbing him to do it!" grumbled she. Nevertheless, she set the baby on the floor, who tottled out, and was seized by Glory, standing there in the dark entry, and pressed close in her poor, long-wearied, faithful arms.

"Oh, baby, baby! I'm in it now! And I don't know rightly whether it's a good time or not!"

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