The Making of Marty

by Elsie Talmage Brandley

Previous episode

Chapter 6 – Plans for a Parade

School closed early in Springdale, for many of the parents needed their children to help with the early farm work. It was just a week after the May-Day party that the last day of school came. Girls and boys said good-bye to their teachers and marched out to their summer vacations, proud of the promotion cards in their hands.

The rest of May was a wonderful holiday for the Conways, for their father’s farm was mostly strawberries, raspberries and alter fruits and work would not begin until the strawberries were ripe. For nearly a month they all spent their days outside, except for the time they were needed in the home. The wise mother, knowing that a long school-year had just ended, and that a hard summer lay ahead, gave them all the freedom she could and did many extra household tasks herself rather than call them in from the bright sunshine which was bringing such gay roses into their cheeks and happy light into their book-tired eyes. They went on hikes down to the river-bed and climbs upon the hills. They played hide-and-seek, run-sheep-run, steal-sticks and blind-man’s buff down in the meadow, and had shows and a circus up in the barn loft. Marty thought she had never had a nicer time in all her life, but she found herself constantly wishing that Jessie could join in their merry-making.

Jessie was not having any holiday at all. Summer was her time of hardest work, for she had the responsibility of the garden which she and Tommy always raised, her mother and brother to care for, and besides she worked from ten in the morning until eight o’clock at night for Mrs. Sandstrom. There were many kind friends and neighbors who ran in to Mrs. Sayre with nice little meals all prepared; or who came to spend an hour or two mending and darning for her. But at best twelve-year-old Jessie worked as hard as any grown woman in Springdale, denied all that she loved and longed for. She was pale and quiet, and her eyes grew larger and larger, with dark circles under them making them look almost black. Mrs. Sandstrom worried over the child but could find no way to make matters better.

Marty and the Conway girls saw Jessie once a week, at Sunday School, but she was always in such a hurry to get home to fix her mother’s dinner that it never seemed possible to get more than a moment to talk with her. Marty often wondered why it was that one girl should have almost everything she wanted, while another was denied all that she loved and cared for. She was deeply ashamed, in her heart, of the selfish, inconsiderate girl she had been five or six months ago and told herself over and over that she would never again be that way, for she would always think of brave, cheerful little Jessie, and try to be more like her.

Finally the holiday came to an end, as all things do. The strawberries were ripening on the vines and preparations were going ahead for picking them. The Conway family held a meeting over the kitchen table to decide which ones should work out in the strawberry fields and which should stay in the house to help there.

Aunt Nanna was in charge.

“Now that Marian has gone,” she said, “we must count Marty as one of the family. Is that all right with you, dear?” with a smile at her niece.

“Oh, yes! I’d hate not to be counted in with the others or I’d feel that I had no family at all.”

The tears began to prick behind her eyes. Marty was beginning to miss her parents more than she ever thought she could. Then Aunt Nanna went on talking and Marty swallowed her homesickness and listened.

“Daddy can get six berry-pickers, so he must have three of the family. He will make ten and that’s the least he can manage with. Teddy is big enough this year to help pick, so it means that two of you girls will help Daddy, and one help me.”

Dora turned to Marty with an explanation.

“We put our money together and divide equally with the one who does the housework. How shall we decide? Draw straws?”

That seemed the easiest way, so Aunt Nanna held the straws between two fingers.

“The shortest one helps me in the house.”

Marty drew first, then Clare and Dora last.

“Marty has the short one. She must do the housework,” cried the other two.

“I’m glad,” Marty told them. “I think it’s ever so much nicer to be in a cool clean house than out in that hot sun, picking mushy berries.”

“Then we are all satisfied. Both Claire and I like mushy berries to pick lots better than mushy kettles and pans to wash.”

By the middle of June the work was on in full force. Marty found out that the housework was not so easy as she had expected, and even the big house did not seem very cool with the blazing June sunshine beating down upon it. Little Dicky and Baby Anne were both cross, and the berry-picking members of the family had such big appetites that they had to have three cooked meals a day. That meant heaps of dishes, morning, noon and night, and dishes were Marty’s own work. She also had the bedrooms to straighten and the rest of the house to dust. On Tuesdays it fell to her lot to iron all the plain things in the wash, as well as her own, Claire’s and Dora’s clothes, except their nicest dresses.

Aunt Nanna did the cooking, sweeping, scrubbing, churning and mending, as well as the part of ironing which was too hard for Marty. Many a time the kind heart of the woman smote her when she saw the blisters on the little girl’s hands, from handling the big flat irons. More than once it was on the tip of her tongue to say: “Marty, run out and play. I’ll do the dishes,” but she wisely bit her tongue and said nothing. She could remember what a self-centered, helpless, lazy child Marty had been at home, and rejoiced to see the change in her. It was hard for her to do all these strange tasks, but it was very good training, and Marty knew it as well as did anyone else.

If she was ever tempted to give up in despair and say she couldn’t stand the sight of another dishpan, she had only to think of seven-year-old Teddy, and her strength returned. Teddy had come in after his first day in the patch, sunburned and aching, but full of triumph.

“Gee, that’s hard work!” he said to Marty. “But I don’t think I’m just picking strawberries. I think I’m picking money to buy a horse so I can help Daddy on the farm when I’m bigger.”

It had been a lesson to Marty, for she had never saved a penny in her life, and had expected her father to buy what she wanted. She blushed as she recalled the unhappiness she had caused him in January because he had not bought a pony and cart for her pleasure. Quite different that was from Teddy’s idea of working hard so he could buy a horse to help his father.

By the last Sunday in June all of the children were somewhat weary of their labors, so it was with great pleasure that they listened to an announcement made from the stand by the Superintendent.

“We have been asked to furnish three floats for the twenty-fourth of July parade. It is to be a real pioneer parade, with hand-carts and other interesting features. We are to have twelve children on a wagon to represent a pioneer school, and ten others to walk behind carts and wagons with older people. We didn’t know just how to choose twenty-two out of this Sunday School, so we decided to let you choose yourselves. We want real pioneers! Not the old people, who came across the plains in the early days, but their grandchildren and others of you who stand for the principles the Pioneers stood for. We want in our parade only those who love their neighbors, who are true to their duty, and who forget themselves in working for the good of others. If you have a little friend, or sister, or brother who does these things, come and give us the name of that one, after Sunday School. Ask yourself the question, ‘What is my duty in carrying out the work begun by the Pioneers?’ and if you feel that you yourself are doing that duty, give us your name as one fitted to represent Pioneer children in our celebration.”

Marty put the question squarely to herself, and she answered silently, “I am trying to learn what my duty is, but for eleven years I didn’t even care about it. Claire and Dora measure up to Pioneer standards, and so does Teddy, and Jessie Sayre does most of all. I’ll hand their names in and maybe by next year I’ll be good enough to be in their float, if they have one.”

That afternoon was cooler than most of the June days had been, so after dinner Marty proposed a stroll down in the Grove. Aunt Nanna was asked about it and gave her consent immediately.

“Be sure you don’t go into the old Simms place. His well used to be full of the nicest drinking water in town but since he moved away it has not been cleaned out, and two cases of typhoid fever have been traced to that water.”

Marty promised to remember, and they all set out. As they passed Jessie’s house, they saw her sitting on the front porch reading to Tommy, and called to her to come with them.

“I’d love to, if you’ll have Tommy along, too. Mother is sleeping, so we can go as well as not.”

So two more were added to the group. They were happy and carefree as they went slowly down the street and across a field before they reached the cool green beauty of the Grove. There were flowers in profusion, and the girls began to make chains of blue bells and daisies growing so beautifully together. They talked of the coming Pioneer Day celebration and Jessie had the interesting news that the twenty-two for the parade had been chosen, and all four of them were in the list.

“Our teacher came to see Mother about an hour ago and told me we had been chosen. I said I couldn’t go for I never had time to practice, but she said it won’t need many practices, and I could be excused from all but one. Won’t it be fun?”

They chatted and laughed for an hour or more, then rose to go home, as the sun was getting low. Jessie, looking around for Tommy, was surprised to find him gone.

“We’ve been talking so fast we didn’t notice him. He’s always chasing butterflies or bugs, so he probably hasn’t gone far away.” She raised her voice and called him.

“Tommy, Tommy!”

“Here I come.” The lad appeared at the top of a little hill and quickly ran down to them. “I was just watching a butterfly. It went over there to get a drink, so I got one too.”

Marty’s heart almost stopped beating, with terror. Where had the boy been for a drink of water? In her interest in the flower-chains and conversation she had forgotten the warning Aunt Nanna had given her about Simms well and now perhaps it is too late.

“Where did you get a drink, Tommy?” she asked.

“Just out of a nice well over that hill. There was a little bucket hanging on a rope, and I dipped it in and it tasted good.”

Marty was cold with fear and remorse, but she said nothing. None of the others seemed worried, so it might not be the Simms well at all. Anyway, the only thing to do was wait and see if anything developed. But Marty made a decision.

“I don’t know who put my name in as a pioneer girl, but I must tell the teacher in the morning that I wasn’t true to my trust, and can’t be in the parade.”

For days after that Sunday Marty went around with a heavy heart. When a week had passed and Tommy was still to be seen running around at work and play, the load began to lift from her, and she believed all would be well. She had not told the other girls of the fear she had had, and they could not understand her firm determination to stay out of the Pioneer parade. Question after question brought forth the same answer, which told them very little.

“I have not a pioneer soul. I was given a trust, and wasn’t true to it.”

(To be continued)

Continue reading at the original source →