Lydia of the Pines/Chapter 6

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pp. 93–110.



"We pines have been useful to man and so he has destroyed us."

The Murmuring Pine.

LYDIA with parted lips and big, wistful eyes stood quietly beside Miss Towne.

"What you giving us," said Kent. "Red's my favorite color."

"Red's all right," Olga tossed her head, "but that dress! She ought to know better. A five cent cheese cloth would have been better'n that."

Kent was truly enamored of pretty Olga but he looked at her angrily.

"You girls make me sick," he grunted and started dodging among the dancers, across the room to Lydia's side. Olga stood pouting.

"What's the matter?" asked Charlie Jackson.

"Oh, I just said Lydia's dress was a fright and Kent went off mad."

Charlie in turn stared at Lydia.

Kent in the meantime was grinning at Lydia amiably.

"Hello, Lyd! Want to dance?"

"I can't. Don't know how," replied Lydia, despondently.

"Easy as anything. Come on, I'll teach you."

Lydia seized Kent's lapel with fingers that would tremble slightly. "Kent, I dassn't stir. My back breadth don't match and my skirt hangs awful."

"Oh, shucks!" replied Kent, angrily, "you girls are all alike. Red's my favorite color."

"Mine too," said Charlie Jackson at his elbow. "What're you two arguing about?"

"Her dress," growled Kent, "I don't see anything the matter with it, do you?"

"Nope, and it's on the prettiest girl in the room too, eh, Kent?"

"You bet," returned Kent, believing, though, that he lied, for Olga was as pretty as a tea rose.

Lydia blushed and gasped.

"If you won't dance, come on over and have some lemonade," suggested Kent.

"If I sit in the window, will you bring me a glass?" asked Lydia, still mindful of the back breadth.

"You take her to the window and I'll get the lemo, Kent," said Charlie.

Kent led the way to the window-seat. "You're a good old sport, Lyd," he said. "Charlie'll look out for you. I gotta get back to Olga."

he returned to make peace with the pink organdy. She was very lovely and Kent was having his first flirtation. Yet before he went to sleep that night the last picture that floated before his eyes was of a thin little figure with worn mittens clasped over patched knees and a ravished child's face looking into his.

Charlie Jackson sat out two whole dances with Lydia. Their talk was of Adam and of fishing. Lydia longed to talk about Indians with him but didn't dare. Promptly at ten, Amos appeared at the front door.

Lydia's first party was over. Amos and old Lizzie were charmed with Lydia's description of it and were sure she had had a wonderful time. But Lydia felt that the dress had made of the party a hideous failure. She knew now that she was marked among her mates as a poverty stricken little dowd whom popular boys like Kent and Charlie pitied.

And yet because life is as kind to us as we have the intelligence to let it be, it was out of the party that grew slowly a new resolve of Lydia's—to have some day as pretty hands and as well shod feet as Olga and Hilda and Cissy, to learn how to make her dresses so that even the composing of an organdy might not be beyond her.

They saw less of John Levine during the late winter and early spring. He was running for sheriff on the Republican ticket. He was elected early in April by a comfortable majority and invited Amos and Lydia to a fine Sunday dinner in celebration at the best hotel in town. Kent's father in April was promoted from a minor position in the office of the plow factory to the secretaryship of the company. The family immediately moved to a better house over on the lake shore and it seemed to Lydia that Kent moved too, out of her life.

She missed him less than might have been expected. Her life was so different from that of any of the children that she knew, that growing into adolescence with the old bond of play disappearing, she fell back more and more on resources within herself. This did not prevent her going faithfully once a month to call on Margery Marshall. And these visits were rather pleasant than otherwise. Margery was going through the paper doll fever. Lydia always brought Florence Dombey with her and the two girls carried on an elaborate game of make-believe, the intricacies of which were entirely too much for Elviry Marshall, sitting within earshot.

Elviry Marshall had two consuming passions in life—Margery and gossip. The questions she asked always irritated Lydia vaguely.

"What wages is your Pa getting now, Lydia?"

"Just the same, Mrs. Marshall."

"Don't you pay Lizzie anything yet?"

"No, Ma'am."

"How much is your grocery bill this month?"

"I don't know."

"Does your Pa ever talk about getting married again?"

"No, Ma'am! Oh, no, Ma'am!"

Lizzie almost exploded with anger when Lydia retailed these questions, but Amos only laughed.

"Pshaw, you know Elviry!"

"Yes, I know Elviry! She's a snake in the grass. Always was and always will be."

"She's a dandy housekeeper," murmured Lydia. "I wonder where she learned. And she isn't teaching Margery a thing. I like Mr. Marshall."

"Dave's a miser. He always was and he always will be," snapped Lizzie. "I despise the whole kit and biling of them, money or no money. Dave never earned an honest cent in his life."

"Lots of rich men haven't," replied Amos.

Amos' garden was a thing of beauty. Its trim rows of vegetables were bordered with sunflowers, whose yellow heads vied in height with the rustling ears of corn. Amos had a general grudge toward life. He had a vague, unexpressed belief that because he was a descendant of the founders of the country, the world owed him an easy living. He had a general sense of superiority to his foreign born neighbors and to the workmen in the plow factory.

But in his garden, all his grudges disappeared. Every evening until dark and every Sunday he worked away, whistling softly to himself. He always felt nearer to his wife, in the garden. She too had been bred on a New England farm. He always felt as if the fine orderliness of the rows was for her.

Lydia greatly preferred weeding the garden to cleaning the house. Indeed the contrast between the fine garden, the well kept patch of lawn and the disorderly house was startling. Amos grumbled and complained but Lydia was in the hobble-de-hoy stage—she didn't care and she had no one teach her.

One afternoon in August, clad in her bathing suit, now much too small for her, she was working in the garden, when a voice behind her grunted,


Lydia jumped and turned. The old squaw of two years before stood begging. She was as pitifully thin as ever. As she stared at the ugly old Indian, Lydia's throat tightened. She seemed to feel baby Patience's fingers clinging to hers in fear.

"Want some vegetables?" she asked, motioning toward the garden.

The squaw nodded eagerly and held up the dirty apron she was wearing. Lydia began slowly to fill it, talking as she worked.

"Where do you live?" she asked.

The Indian jerked her gray head toward the north. "Big Woods."

"But that's twenty miles. It must take you a long time to walk it. Poor thing!"

The squaw shrugged her shoulders. Lydia stared at the toothless, trembling old mouth, hideous with wrinkles, then at the gnarled and shaking old hands.

"Haven't you any one to take care of you?"

"All sick—boy sick—man sick—girl sick. All time sick, all time nothing to eat."

"But won't some other Indian make you a garden, a little one?"

Again the squaw shrugged her shoulders. Her apron was full now. She produced a string from inside her waist and tying the apron up bag-like, she slung it over her shoulder. Then she gave Lydia a keen glance.

"Friend," she said, briefly, and turning, she tottered painfully out of the gate.

Followed by Adam, Lydia walked thoughtfully out upon the little pier Amos had built. They had no boat, but Lydia fished and dived from the pier. It was hard to understand how the Indians with all their rich pine land could be so poor. She resolved to ask her father and Levine about it and turned a somersault into the water. She swam about until tired, then turned over on her back to rest. Lying so a shadow drifted across her face and she raised her head. A gray birch bark canoe floated silently beside her. In it, in a gray bathing suit, sat Charlie Jackson.

"Goodness!" exclaimed Lydia. "How in the world you do it so quietly, I don't see."

"I saw something that looked like a wet yellow pup in the water, and stole up on it," grinned Charlie.

"Come on in. It's as warm as suds."

Charlie shot his canoe to the pier and in a moment, was floating beside Lydia. She took a deep breath, let herself sink and a moment or two later came up several yards beyond him. He did not miss her for a moment, then he started for her with a shout. A game of tag followed ending in a wild race to the pier which they reached neck and neck. Adam wept and slobbered with joy over their return.

"You certainly are a little sunfish in the water," panted Charlie, as they sat with feet dangling off the pier.

"Ought to be, I'm in it enough," returned Lydia. "Charlie, there's a poor old squaw came here to-day. What's the matter with the Indians? Why don't they work?"

Charlie turned to look at the white child, uneasily. The two made a wonderful contrast. Charlie was big and bronze and deep chested, with regular features although they were a little heavy. Lydia, growing fast, was thinner than ever but cheeks and eyes were bright.

Charlie's mouth twisted in a sneer. "Why don't they work? Why don't the whites give 'em a chance? Dirty thieves, prowling round like timber wolves. Ask Dave Marshall. Ask that gumshoeing crook of a Levine. Don't ask me."

"Levine's not a crook," shouted Lydia. "He's my friend."

The sneer left Charlie's face and he laughed. "Your friend is he, little sunfish!"

"Yes," said Lydia, furiously. "He gave me Adam," hugging the dog's ugly, faithful head. He immediately tried to sit in her wet lap. "And he's done as much for me as my own father."

"If he's your friend," said the Indian gently, "I won't speak against him to you again."

Lydia instantly was mollified. Charlie was so old and so young! He was so different from Kent that staring into his deep black eyes, Lydia suddenly felt his alien race.

"I must go in and dress," she said. "It's time to get supper."

Charlie nodded and untied his canoe. After he was seated with paddle lifted, he glanced up at her mischievously.

"You're a very nice little girl," he said; "I shall come again. You may call me Uncle Charlie."

Lydia put out her tongue at him. "Good-by, Uncle!" she called and raced up the bank to the house.

"Daddy," she said that night at supper, "why should Mr. Marshall and Charlie Jackson both say Mr. Levine is a crook?"

Amos ate a piece of bread meditatively before replying. "Any man that goes into politics in this country leaves his reputation behind him. You and I'll never have a better friend than John Levine."

Lydia nodded. She was only a child after all and still retained implicit faith in the opinion of those she loved. She went back to school that fall full of interest and importance. She was a sophomore now and very proud of the fact that she knew the ropes. Her arrangement with Billy held for his second year books. With much pinching of the grocery money, Lizzie had achieved two new galatea sailor suits and so while she felt infinitely inferior to the elaborately gowned young misses of her grade, Lydia was not unhappy.

There was a new course of study offered the pupils this year. It was called the Cookery Course and was elective, not required. Lydia turned her small nose up at it. She was a good cook, without study, she told herself. But Miss Towne thought differently. She called Lydia into her room one day, early in the term.

"Lydia, why don't you take the Cooking Course?"

"I can cook, Miss Towne. I do all our cooking and Daddy says I'm fine at it."

"I know, my dear, but there are other things connected with the Course that you need."

"What things?" asked Lydia, a trine obstinately.

"That's what I want you to find out for yourself. Come, Lydia, take my word for it. It's only two hours a week and no outside study required. If after a term of it, you still think it's useless, why drop it."

So behold Lydia entered in the Cooking Course which was not popular. The mothers of the majority of the girls did not, they said, send their daughters to school to be taught kitchen service. But by the efforts of Miss Towne and one or two other teachers, a dozen children ranging in age from fourteen to eighteen, with Lydia as the infant of the class, were enticed into the bright model kitchen in the basement.

It was not long after this that Lydia said to her father, one evening,

"Daddy, I've got to have twenty-five cents."

Amos looked up from his newspaper. "What for, Lydia? A quarter's a good deal of money. Takes me pretty near two hours to earn it."

"I know it," answered Lydia, wincing, "but I've got to buy a nail file. You ought to see my hands compared with the other girls. And you ought to see dirty finger nails under the microscope. The cooking school teacher showed us before we made bread, to-day."

Amos looked at Lydia thoughtfully for a moment, then he carefully abstracted a quarter from his pocket, laid it on the table and went back to his reading.

Lydia planned a real feast for Thanksgiving. She negotiated with Billy Norton for the exchange of two pounds of fudge for a brace of wild duck. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, she gave the house its usual "lick and promise" and then started out with her skates to enjoy the first ice of the season.

She had a glorious morning. There was no snow and the lake had frozen crystal clear. The air was breathless. As she skated she chanted, to improvised tunes, bits of verse.

The stag at eve had drunk his fill
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill
And deep his midnight lair had laid
In lone Glenartney's hazel shade.

"I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris and he,
I galloped, Dirk galloped, we galloped all three.
'Good speed!' cried the watch as the gate bolts undrew,
'Speed' echoed the wall to us galloping through."

She hunted through Scottish mountains and moors, she whirled from Ghent to Aix and still high hearted and in the land of visions, took off her skates and entered the house. She banged the door, then stood for a moment staring. Elviry and Margery were seated before the living-room stove, while old Lizzie sat on one edge of Amos' arm chair eyeing the two belligerently.

Margery was wearing a new fur coat. Her beautiful black eyes looked out from under a saucy fur-trimmed hat with a scarlet quill on the side. Elviry wore black broadcloth with fox collar and muff. Lydia, in a remodeled coat of her mother's, and her old Tam and mended mittens, recovered from her surprise quickly.

"Hello!" she said. "When did you come? This is the first time you've ever been in our house, Mrs. Marshall, isn't it?"

"Yes," replied Elviry, "and," with a glance at Lizzie, "I wouldn't be here now if Mr. Marshall hadn't made me."

"Oh, Mamma," protested Margery, "I wanted to come."

"You hush up, Margery! What I came for is that Mr. Marshall would like to have the three of you come to our house for Thanksgiving dinner."

Lydia suddenly giggled. "Don't worry, Mrs. Marshall, we can't come. We're going to have company ourselves for Thanksgiving."

Elviry gave a huge sigh of relief. "Well, that's too bad," she said.

"We're going to have a grand dinner, too."

"So are we," retorted Lydia.

"How's Florence Dombey?" asked Margery. "Mamma, can't I stay and play with Lydia a while?"

"We'll stay a few minutes," said Elviry, loosing her furs and settling back in her chair. "It's a real small place, Lizzie, but you can do so little work now, I s'pose it's just as well."

Lydia had produced a pasteboard shoe box of paper dolls which she gave to Margery. She cuddled Florence Dombey in her arms and gave one ear to Margery's question as to the names and personalities of the paper dolls, the other to Elviry's comments.

"It ain't so small," sniffed Lizzie. "It's bigger'n anything you ever lived in, Elviry, till Dave sold enough lumber he stole from the Government to start a bank."

Elviry was not to be drawn into a quarrel. "You always was a jealous body, Lizzie. That old mahogany belonged to both Amos and his wife's folks, I've heard. Why don't you get rid of it and buy more of this here new Mission stuff that's coming in? Though I suppose you'd better wait till Lydia's old enough to take more interest in keeping the house clean. Butter's awful high this winter. How much does your grocery bill average, Lizzie?"

"None of your business," replied Lizzie.

"I don't think Imogen is as good looking as Marion. I'd rather have Marion marry Prince Rupert, then these can be their children," Margery murmured on.

"Land, Lizzie, don't be so cross," said Elviry. "I suppose you've heard the talk about John Levine? He's getting in with that half breed crowd up on the reservation that the Indian agent's such friends with. They say Levine's land hungry enough to marry a squaw. He's so dark, I wouldn't be surprised if he had Indian blood himself. Land knows nothing would surprise me about him. They say he's just naturally crooked."

Lydia and Florence Dombey suddenly stood in front of Elviry.

"Don't you say such things about Mr. Levine," said Lydia slowly, cheeks bright, eyes as blue as Florence Dombey's.

"Well!" exclaimed Elviry, beginning to pull her furs up, "I don't seem to be able to please you two with my conversation, so I'll be going. Margery, get up off that dirty floor. I never cared much about Amos' wife, she was too proud, but at least she was clean. She'd turn over in her grave if she knew what this house looked like. Come, Margery, the horse will be cold, standing so long."

Lizzie opened her mouth to speak but Lydia shook her head, and the two stood in silence, watching the departure of the visitors. When the door had closed Lizzie burst forth in an angry tirade, but Lydia only half listened. She looked slowly around the living-room, then walked into the dining-room and thence into the kitchen. She opened the pantry door and stared at the dust and disorder, the remnants of food, the half washed dishes. Suddenly she thought of the shining and orderly kitchen in the High School basement. Supposing the cooking teacher should come out to supper, sometime! Lydia had asked her to come.

She came slowly back into the living-room. Old Lizzie was replenishing the stove, still muttering to herself. Lydia observed for the first time that her apron was dirty. Thinking it over, she could not recall ever having seen Lizzie with a clean apron. A deep sense of shame suddenly enveloped Lydia.

"Oh, I wish some one had taught me," she groaned. "I wish mother had lived. Everybody has to go and die on me! I suppose Lizzie and Dad'll be next. Adam helps to keep the house dirty. There's dog hair everywhere."

"Don't you get worked up over Elviry Marshall, child," said Lizzie.

"I hate her," exclaimed Lydia, "but what she said about the house is true. Anyhow, I've learned how to clean pantry shelves, so here goes."

She tied one of Lizzie's aprons round her neck, pushed a chair into the pantry and began her unsavory task. It was dusk when she finished and led Lizzie out to observe the shiny, sweet smelling orderliness of the place.

"Land, it does make a difference! If the rheumatiz didn't take all the ambition out of me, I'd keep it that way for you," said the old lady.

"I'll do it, every Saturday. Gosh, I'm tired!" groaned Lydia, throwing herself on the living-room couch. "Lizzie, give me some of your mutton tallow to rub on my hands. The cooking teacher says it's fine for hands."

Lydia lay in the twilight, watching the coals glow in the base burner, while the aroma of the baked beans and brown bread Lizzie was tending in the kitchen floated in to her. Adam lay on the floor by the stove, where he could keep one drowsy eye on her every motion. She was thinking of her mother and of little Patience. She could think of them now without beginning to tremble. She tried to picture every detail of her mother's face. They had no picture of her nor of the baby, and Lydia was afraid she would forget. She wondered if they were together, if they knew how hard she was trying to obey her mother's injunction to "make something" of herself. "Be a lady!" "Never be coarse." There was nobody to show her things, she thought. How could she ever learn to be a lady? "If I believed in praying any more, I'd pray about lots of things," she thought, sadly. "But either there isn't any God, or else He don't believe in prayer, Himself. Gee, supper smells good. I'm awful hungry. I wonder why Mrs. Marshall hates me so. I suppose because I'm such a common kid and she still thinks I almost drowned Margery. And I don't believe a word she says about Mr. Levine, either. Hateful old beast! If I believed in prayer, you bet I'd tell God a few things about her."

The highly satisfactory Thanksgiving feast was eaten and praised. The dishes were washed and set away in the immaculate pantry, and Amos and John Levine were smoking by the fire.

"Seems to me this room looks all slicked up," said Levine.

Amos nodded. "Lydia's coming along. Says the cooking school teacher told her to sprinkle wet tea leaves over the carpet before sweeping to keep down the dust. Place was like a cyclone this morning for an hour, but the result pays. She's growing like her mother."

"She's only a child, and small for her age, at that," said John. "It's a shame for her to work so hard."

"I know it," answered Amos, "but what can I do? On a dollar and a half a day—I swan—"

There was a rap on the door. Lizzie admitted Dave Marshall and Margery.

"Out for a tramp as a digester," explained Dave. "Came to call on my friend Lydia. I ain't seen her for ages."

He and Levine nodded to each other. Amos shook hands and Dave kissed Lydia, catching a dark scowl on Levine's face as he did so.

"Let's play paper dolls," said Margery, as soon as she had pulled off her coat.

"You play 'em," replied Lydia, "I'm awful tired."

"Why should a baby like you be tired?" inquired Marshall, pulling her to his side as he seated himself in Amos' arm chair.

"If you'd tasted our dinner," said Amos, "you'd know why she and Lizzie should be half dead."

"I wish I could 'a' tasted it," replied Marshall. "Have a smoke, friends?"

Amos took a cigar but Levine refused.

"Come, John, come," said the stout banker, banteringly. "This is a legal holiday and you and I at least agree on Lydia. Let's stop war for the day, eh?"

Levine's sallow face hardened, then he caught Lydia's blue gaze on him as she stood beside Marshall. It was such a transparent, trusting gaze, so full of affection, so obviously appealing to him to "be nice," that in spite of himself he grinned and took a cigar.

Amos settled back with a sigh of satisfaction. He enjoyed company and had had no one but John since his wife's death.

"Looks as if the country'd go Republican next fall," he said by way of starting a conversation.

"I don't see why," returned Marshall, who was a Democrat.

"Folks are sick of Democratic graft," said Levine.

"And Republicans think it's their turn, eh?" inquired Marshall. "Well, maybe it is, maybe it is!"

Amos laughed genially. "Satisfied with your share, Dave?"

"Got my eye on just one more little mite. Just one little mite, then I'm through," chuckled Marshall. "Then you good Republicans can get your feet into the trough."

"Co-ee! Lydia!" came a call from the lake shore.

Lydia ran to the kitchen door. Charlie Jackson and Kent were skating up to the bank.

"Come out for a while," cried Kent.

"I can't. I've got company. Come on up and get warm," returned Lydia.

The two boys slipped off their skates and came up to the cottage. Kent needed no introduction, and Lydia made short work of Charlie by saying to the assemblage at large, "This is Charlie Jackson. Come on up by the stove, boys."

The boys established themselves on the couch back of the baseburner.

"Hello, Marg," said Kent. "What you doing?"

"Paper dolls," returned Margery from her corner, without looking up. Charlie Jackson stared at the beautiful little black head bent over the bright colored bits of paper with interest.

Amos took up the interrupted conversation. "If we could get a Republican Congress, that block o' pine and black loam twenty miles north would be given to its rightful owners."

"Meaning the full bloods, I suppose," said Levine with a short laugh.

"Yes—full blooded whites," returned Amos.

Charlie Jackson suddenly threw back his head and rose.

"I'm a full blood Indian," he said, quietly. The three men looked at him as if they saw him for the first time.

"Well, what of it?" asked Marshall, shortly.

"This of it," said Charlie, tensely, "that you whites with your Constitution and your Declaration of Independence are a lot of liars and thieves."

Marshall turned purple, but John Levine spoke quickly. "Easy there, my boy! You're talking of things you don't understand."

"Oh, but he does," interrupted Lydia eagerly. "'Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.' We had it in school. It must mean Indians too."

John Levine laughed. "There you have it. And Charlie is right, we are liars and thieves, but we have to be. Might is right in this world."

"Speak for yourself, Levine," cried Marshall.

"Levine!" exploded Charlie. "Are you Levine? You're the man then that my sister—" his voice rose to a shout. "I'll beat the face off of you right now."

And he made a sudden spring for the astonished Levine.