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The Girls at Mount Morris By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 23382

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Lilian Boyd entered the small, rather shabby room, neat, though everything was well worn. Her mother sat by a little work table busy with some muslin sewing and she looked up with a weary smile. Lilian laid a five-dollar bill on the table.

"Madame Lupton sails on Saturday," she said. "Oh how splendid it must be to go to Paris! Mrs. Cairns is to finish up; there is only a little to do, but Madame said everything you did was so neat, so well finished that she should be very glad to have you by the first of October."

The mother sighed. "Meanwhile there is almost two months to provide for, and I had to break in the last hundred dollars to pay the rent. Oh Lilian! I hardly know which way to turn. I am not strong any more, I have made every effort to-" and her voice broke, "but I am afraid you will have to give up school."

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.

"Oh, mother, don't! don't!" the girl implored. "I suppose it was selfish of me to think of such a thing and you couldn't go through two years more. You are not as well as you were a year ago. I'll see Sally Meeks tonight and take the place in the factory. I only have to give two weeks and then begin on five dollars a week. It will be better than the sewing."

Lilian Boyd stood up very straight and determined, though her heart sank within her. To give up her cherished wish, to join the great army of shop girls with no hope of advancement in the future! She was almost sixteen; she had been two years in the High School and was a favorite scholar. Two years more and she could teach. It was in the walk of life that she so ardently desired. Tall for her age, vigorous, with courage and earnestness in every line of the face that was fine, now, to the casual observer and might develop into beauty. It was spirited, eager, with a clear complexion, deep blue eyes that in some moods seemed black, while the hair was light and abundant. The brows and lashes were much darker. The features were regular, the chin broad and cleft, but it was the courage and uplift in the face that gave it character.

The mother was so different. It was not altogether a weak face but intensely commonplace; the sort of woman who has no ambitions beyond the ordinary round of life. Was it the old story of the eagle in the dove's nest?

"You are very tired," she began, presently. "Lie down on the lounge while I get supper."

Mrs. Boyd was still crying softly. Lilian kissed her, threw a light shawl over her shoulders, then lighted the gas burner and set on the kettle. She would run out and get a chop for her mother, some for breakfast as well. Yes, she must begin to be the care taker, she had been so engrossed with her studies and giving her help with the sewing they did for a dressmaking establishment that she had hardly noted. She swallowed over a great lump in her throat, it was a bitter sacrifice and yet she must make it. She could not even study during the evenings for she must help with the sewing, and if her mother should be ill!

The little supper was tastily arranged, the tea and the chop had an unwonted fragrance.

"I'm awfully sorry," said the mother, "but Sally says it is a nice shop and the boss is particular about the kind of girls he has, and to think Sally's earning nine dollars a week now!"

"Yes, Sally's a nice pleasant girl," that was all she could trust her voice to say.

"And it will be company back and forth. Maybe-sometime-"

Oh, had she been right in that long ago time? It seemed ages to her, so much had happened since, and she thought she could not live without the child, but after all the girl was not of her kind. What if she had done her a great wrong! She had never been an introspective woman, her life was mostly on the surface, with commonplace aims and desires.

The kitchen was small, the middle room not much larger, but it had two nice windows, the front was on a much neglected street with a big carpenter's shop across the way. They used that for a sleeping room and it had in it the remnant of better days. The sewing room was much more quiet.

Lilian cleared away the things. Mrs. Boyd went back to the lounge. Then the girl went down the street. She had best make her sacrifice at once, it was not a subject to ponder over and she realized it had been a big black cloud hanging about her the last month.

Sally's mother sat out on the small porch gossiping with a neighbor.

"Oh, Lily Boyd," she exclaimed. "Sally was coming up on Saturday but she had to fly round like a bee in a flower garden. It want her turn to go to the Rest House, but the other girl couldn't-sickness at home. So Sally went in her place. Splendid, isn't it! And board only two dollars a week. I tell Sally she's got the nicest boss we've ever heard about. She'll be home Sat'day night and tell you all about it."

"Yes, I want to see her. No, I can't stay. Oh, mother does not seem very well. Good-night."

Lilian did not go straight home. This was the old part of the town there were no real cottages and little gardens fragrant with flowers, but people were huddled in them. There would presently be factories and tenement houses.

She was making a sharp, desperate fight. Strong natures have to. Why was she born with these ambitions and aims and capabilities and the ardent desire to do something? All girls did not have them. Some in the class laughed and made merry without a thought of the future. Some expected to teach and 'just hated it.' She would have been so glad. Well the dream must be given up-at least for years. It would be horrible to count on her mother's death for freedom. She shuddered.

They went to bed, but neither of them slept until after midnight. Now and then Lilian heard a soft sob. She felt that she ought to comfort her mother, but what could she say? Since she had been growing up she had become aware of a barrier between them. Mrs. Boyd had loved her fervently as a little girl, she had not taken any special pride in her entering the High School with such a fine record. She was in no sense an ambitious or an intellectual woman and the girl's vigor and intentness sometimes frightened her. She should have been in some other sphere.

Lilian sank into a sort of dull apathy, questioning everything as youth often does under a great disappointment. What was the use of living if one could never attain the things one desired? She was not like Sally nor dozens of other girls. Their commonplace lives would be martyrdom to her.

So they both slept late. Lilian prepared the simple breakfast.

"Perhaps it would be a good thing to get out last winter's clothes and see what can be fixed over," said the mother. "But you have grown so much this year, Lilian."

Oh, if clothes mattered, if anything mattered! There was the postman's whistle.

Quite a thick letter for her mother in a neat lady's hand.

"Why that's funny," and a smile brightened the girl's face.

Mrs. Boyd glanced it over. "Why it's from Mrs. Searing. She was here last March, you know. She has always taken such an interest in you, and-oh read it, read it aloud. My head is so bad this morning."

She began to cry again.

Helen took the letter. The first page was full of friendly interest and then she branched off into a delightful visit she had been making at a very pretty place, one of the old fashioned aristocratic towns where a relative kept a select and high class Seminary for young ladies. She had found her in something of a quandary. The woman who had taken charge of the bed and table line and a sort of general seamstress had suddenly married, and it was necessary to fill her place before school opened. She wanted a middle aged person with some experience who was neat and careful. She would have a pleasant room and the duties would not be arduous. There was a housekeeper and several maids beside the cook.

"So," wrote Mrs. Searing, "I told her about Lilian, remembering you had said you were afraid you could not keep her in school to finish, and her ambition to be a teacher. She was wonderfully interested and I told her somewhat of your misfortunes and struggles. So she proposes that you shall accept this position and that Lilian shall take a sort of supervision of some of the younger pupils and go on with her own education. Mrs. Barrington has been very kind and helpful to several young girls and I know Lilian will admire her extremely."

The girl sprang up with a glad cry and flung her arms around her mother's neck.

"Oh, let us go, let us go! Why it seems like a miracle," and then she was crying, too, from an overwrought heart.

Presently she resumed the letter. They would have a pleasant room together, considerable leisure, and there would be music, a fine library beside that in the town and the society was charming. The mother's salary was a very fair one and in another year the daughter might be able to earn something for herself. Mrs. Searing really urged the matter. Would Mrs. Boyd write at once to Mrs. Barrington?

"Oh, mother, to think! No rent to pay, no bills to meet, no bother of cooking and house keeping. It seems too good to be true. Let me read it over again lest I must have skipped something."

It seemed more attractive at the second perusal. Lilian's heart beat with unwonted emotion. Mrs. Boyd leaned back in her chair, paler than ever but not quite so depressed.

"You must answer it, Lilian; I couldn't make it sound right, and you can tell her about yourself; I don't understand all these things. I never had any high up education. People were not thinking of it then."

Lilian was glad to do it. She knew a person of refinement and education would see what her mother missed and perhaps doubt her ability. She made a draft and read it aloud to Mrs. Boyd.

"It sounds beautiful; I couldn't have done it."

Was it education that gave one the power, the sense of what was appropriate, or some underlying fact that she dared not face? What if it had been a great mistake in that far back time? Could it ever be remedied?

"Oh, mother, I thought last night that I shouldn't want to live if I could never reach any of my aims. When I hear delicious music I feel it in my very finger ends. When I read about pictures and statuary and magnificent churches I can almost see them, and a rift in the sky, an autumnal branch of red brown leaves, nooks that I have seen now and then, looks that are grand and high and beautiful stir my very soul. Where did I get this from? Was my father-"

She looked really beautiful standing there, her eyes full of inspiration, her cheeks aglow, her scarlet lips quivering. Mrs. Boyd trembled with a mysterious chill, and a shiver went over her.

"Oh, no, no! he was a plain man, a good, honest man"-her voice failed.

"And if he had lived we should have been very happy, I know; and I did like the boarding house better. I wish we could have kept it, but to sit here day after day and not see any way out of the narrow distasteful life, feeling as if you could fly-am I wicked? Poor little mother do I frighten you? Oh, don't cry, I am going to be a good daughter and not wish for impossible things if this comes true."

She clasped her mother's hands that were seldom idle so long. How thin they were with dullish, prominent veins. The mother looked past her child rather than at her, but she could feel the glowing, spirited force like a ghost out of the past that shook its upbraiding finger at her. She leaned her face on Lilian's breast.

"Poor mother, dear mother," in a sweet comforting tone. "I'm afraid I haven't always been a loving daughter, but whatever comes we will share it together. In a

few years I will be working for you, that is the splendid side to this offer."

"But-if you shouldn't be-some girls, young ladies think they must draw a line-"

"Oh, I shall not mind that if I suit Mrs. Barrington. I shall go to work and to study, and when I reach some high place in teaching, I shall smile over those petty things. A boy gets praised when he works for his education, why shouldn't a girl?"

Then she brought out her paper and wrote her letter. She wished her stationery had been finer, but she would not spend the money to gratify pride. Then she went and posted it and bought some little luxuries for dinner. After they had partaken of it she made her mother lie down and take a good rest while she went over some of her school books and worked out several problems.

Yet the waiting was very wearing. Sally came after having had a splendid time at the Rest House and said she, Lilian, could come in two weeks. She wrote a letter to her mother's friend Mrs. Searing who was most happy that they had accepted the position, and enclosed a ten-dollar note to buy some of the little things young girls long for.

They took out last winter's clothing, but alas, it was outgrown and well worn.

"When we hear you must have a new outfit," the mother commented.

"But it seems dreadful to break into your last resource," said the girl regretfully.

"But I shall be able to replace it from my salary, for as you said we shall have no expense in the future for living. Oh, what a blessed relief! Mrs. Searing has been our good providence."

"And you are quite happy about it?"

"Yes, oh yes!"

The mother watched her elastic step, her proud carriage, the attractive face that had so much vigor and purpose. Oh, she was not of her kind. At times the thought was terrifying.

Then the longed for letter came. It began:

"My dear Miss Boyd. I was much pleased with your letter and the consideration evinced for your mother. I hope the change will benefit her. Mount Morris is considered a very healthy place and it is certainly beautiful. I hope you will both be very happy here, and you seem not only an ambitious girl but quite willing to work for the things you desire." Then follows a description of the school and the duties, and what would be expected of the mother, the routes of travel and several time tables enclosed. Mrs. Barrington would like them to come as soon after the 20th of August as they could.

Lilian could not conceal her joy. They shopped a little, finding some bargains from early spring left-overs. They packed up a few things and disposed of the rest. Lilian's few friends were surprised. Sally hoped she would not be disappointed.

"Mount Morris has such a pretty sound," exclaimed Lilian, "and I think Mrs. Barrington is a tall and stately woman with the grand beauty you sometimes see in a picture. I want her complexion to be lovely and her hair snowy white, and her voice like the music that makes you feel sorry when it stops. I want to like her very much, and make myself useful to her."

"I am quite sure she will like you," returned the mother.

Lilian felt as if she could dance and sing. Was there such a thing as being too glad and happy? To go out of this poor old life with its pinches, and the sordid economies to a lovely home! She read Mrs. Searing's letter over and over again. These were the things that appealed to her, that she enjoyed in every fibre of her being. She glanced at her mother. Why the face was almost stolid! Oh, that was wicked! She had been so good and kind. Was it not the hard grind of poverty and hopeless work, never making any advance, that quenched the vitality of soul and brain? She must make her mark before hope dropped out of the years. She had watched her teachers in a curious manner, though she was too young to understand analysis of character. Some were favorites, some had favorites, girls who were of the noted families or had prosperity back of them. There were others, one she had liked very much who seemed to study with you, to help you to understand. Her classes always had many of the finest pupils. That was the kind of teacher she meant to be.

Of course there had been slights, sometimes sneers. These lilies of the field in their fine array longed to crowd their mates out in the arid, dusty highway. She stood her ground and she was a fine scholar. She was helpful, too; she had no sneers or cruel laughs over the blunders of others.

A few of her mates were truly sorry to part with her and surprised to find she was going to a high-up Seminary to be trained for a teacher. The teacher she liked so much was away on her vacation.

So they left the old noisy, dirty factory city. It was Lilian's first journey in the great world. And oh how large and beautiful it was! They passed thriving towns, beautiful villages, great fields of waving corn, fruit orchards, then towns again, rivers, lakes, high hills cleft by rocky passes that sparkled in places as if set by gems. Then stretches so serene so instinct with fairy beauty she drew long breaths and dreamed of delightful futures, and what is a girl of sixteen filled with a love of beauty and ambition worth if she cannot dream some grand ventures.

Mrs. Boyd was not interested in the scenery. She gave a quiet assent to the girl's enthusiasms and presently Lilian ceased to appeal. It was so when she had read stirring prose or exquisite poetry aloud.

Mrs. Boyd was going over her past life. It had been much in her mind the last year. A commonplace factory girl earning her living, an orphan at that. Her dream was a lover, presently, marriage, a little home, and keeping it tidy, and babies of her very own. The lover came, a nice steady machinist with a little education, saving up money, marriage and the home of a few rooms, buying this and that of the simplest kind, and then the baby, a nice, plump, blue-eyed boy who grew apace and was the delight of both. What more could she ask for? That was certainly content.

He took out a small life insurance, though it almost broke her heart to think of his dying. And she never dreamed of the baby. He was so well and strong and joyous. Yet a few days' illness swept him out of the world, and almost broke their hearts. Then a little girl came. She liked girls the best, they were more to the mother. She could make their clothes, they could go out together. Then lovers would come and marriage, and all the everyday interest of new lives.

One sad day James Boyd was brought home dead. Something had gone wrong with the machinery and before it could be stopped his life had been beaten out. Neighbors were kind to her, the employer took charge of the funeral, but there were other sorrows and losses in the world.

She had one brother of whom she had seen very little, as he had gone West when a mere boy. He had a big farm and five children and he wrote for her to come out, as his wife had recently died. The steady home looked so inviting. Yes, she would go.

The life insurance had been well invested by a friend of her husbands'.

"Don't disturb it," he counseled. "You may not like it there and want to come back, and your brother may marry again. There's enough to give you a nice start in something."

If she had never gone! How many times she had wondered! For midway in the journey there was a horrible accident in a small town where two roads crossed. The child flew out of her arms and she lay unconscious. There was no hospital. Kindly neighbors took in the wounded and the dead.

When she came to herself one morning the child was fretting and she nursed it. She could not remember distinctly, but they were both alive and she gave thanks as she hugged the child to her heart.

"Will you have some breakfast? You had a good natural sleep last night, and the baby is all right. The other poor baby was killed and its mother is dying, maybe dead now. There was so much confusion. The baggage car was wrecked and burned, the trunks lost, and it seems so hard to get on track of relatives. Some cannot be identified."

The listener shuddered. Then the breakfast came and she ate it with an eager appetite.

"You might try getting up by and by. The railroad company are doing all they can and sending passengers to their destination."

"When was it?" in a tremulous tone.

"Two days ago; well, it will be three tonight. It was hardly midnight when it happened. I never was in an accident before. It was awful."

Emma Boyd sat up in the bed and took the child in her arms, studying it earnestly. Oh, how sweet and rosy it was with its dimpled mouth and its fringe of soft hair. Then she laid it down and crept out of bed, feeling rather shaky, but having the use of all her limbs. There was the dress hanging on her chair. She wondered what would be done. Should she go on?

There was another pocket in the side of her skirt and she felt for that. There was the remainder of her trip ticket and some money. She had only put a small amount in her satchel and that was safe as well. Rescuers had been honest. Was it a token that she should go on?

The official was in that afternoon and made her a general allowance, she thought, for her losses. There would be a through train at nine the next morning if she was able to go.

"Could I see the-the other lady. How was the baby hurt?"

"Oh, it was all crushed. The mother was killed. One of the passengers recognized her and the lady, and though you were stunned for a long while you came partly to, and called for your baby. So we brought it, and although you were not quite rational you were so happy with it and improved rapidly. You've been fortunate, ma'am."

"Yes," with a queer, frightened sound.

"She's a beautiful woman and belongs to the quality, but her hip is broken and her back twisted, and there's something hurt in her head. She can't live-we thought her dead in the night. It's a blessing the poor baby has gone."

She lay like marble. A beautiful woman, truly. The eyelids with their long lashes looked as if they were carven. There was only an infrequent sign of respiration.

"We hope we are on the track of some one belonging to her. The doctors want her moved to the hospital."

The next morning Emma Boyd journeyed out to her brother's. A coarse, common, loud voiced farmer, rough and unkempt and five unruly children. She was appalled, and a dreary stretch of prairie land with hardly a neighbor in sight. Why she had been crazy to come! and she found farm work quite too hard for her. She had better be housemaid at Laconia, or go in the mills again. And when her brother found she had a little money he was eager to get hold of it. Yes, she had better return to her native town, especially as her brother was meaning to marry again.

So she came back to Laconia which was a manufacturing town with iron mines at its elbow. There were varying fortunes as there often is with the poor. Mill work when she had to leave the child alone, then a boarding house which really prospered, but was sold with some other property for a big factory. Then housekeeping for a nervous invalid wife, and here she had met Mrs. Searing who had proved a true friend. After that sewing, making skirts for a dressmaker and working at childrens' clothes. When it was dull times they drew on the little fund. The girl was ambitious and had mapped out her own life, different from what her mother had planned. They loved each other but it was as if two foreign natures were trying to assimilate and there was no conformable ground for perfect harmony. Yes, she would take this last step for the girl's sake; she owed it to her.

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