Anne Warner.

Sunshine Jane



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"That will be nice," said Madeleine; "yes, I'll come."

CHAPTER VIII
SOUL-UPLIFTING

IT was the next morning about eleven o'clock.

"You see," said Jane, sitting in the Crofts' sitting-room opposite Katie Croft who, whatever else she might or might not be, was certainly not pleasant of expression, "you see, my aunt has been an invalid so much that she appreciates what a change means to both the sick one and the one who cares for her, and so we thought that it would be so nice if you'd let me wheel your mother – "

"She ain't my mother – she's my mother-in-law," broke in Mrs. Katie Croft, instantly indignant over so false an imputation. "Good lands, the very idea! My mother! And never one single stroke of paralysis nor nothing in my family, and all reading the Bible without glasses right up till they died."

"You see, it would give you a little rest, too," Jane continued, "and it would do Aunt Susan good to feel that she was helping a weaker – "

"She ain't weak," broke in Katie Croft, again; "my lands, she's strong as a lady-ox. Anything she makes up her mind to keep she lays hold of with a grip as makes you fairly sick all up and down your back. You don't know perhaps, Miss Grey, as my husband died in our youth, and I come to live with his mother as a sacred duty, and I tell you frankly that I wish I'd never been born or that he'd never been born, forty times an hour – I do."

"You'll like a week alone, I'm sure," said Jane serenely, "and we'll like to have your mother-in-law. Perhaps she'll get a few new ideas – "

"She's stubborn as a mule," interrupted the daughter-in-law.

"But may I see her and ask her? I do so want to help you a little. Life must have been so hard for you these last years."

"Hard!" said Katie Croft, with emphasis. "Hard! Well, I'll tell you what it is, Miss Grey, – to marry a young man as was meek as Moses and then have him just fade right straight out and get a mother-in-law like that old – that old – that old – well, I'll tell you frankly she's a siren and nothing else." (Young Mrs. Croft probably meant "vixen," but Jane did not notice.) "My life ain't really worth a shake-up of mustard and vinegar some days. What I have suffered!"

"I know more than you think," said Jane sympathetically; "nurses take care of so many kinds of people. But do let me ask her. If she likes to come to us, it'll be a great rest to you, and perhaps it'll do her a little good, too."

"I can't understand you're wanting her," said Katie. "It's all over town how queer you are, but I never thought that anybody could be as queer as that!"

"Do let us go to her," Jane urged.

Katie rose and forthwith conducted the caller to old Mrs. Croft's room, a large, square place adorned with no end of black daguerreotypes and faded photographs.

"Mother, it's Miss Grey. You know? – she's Mrs. Ralston's niece."

Old Mrs. Croft received her visitor with acutely suspicious eyes.

"Well?" she said tartly.

Jane took her hand, but she jerked it smartly away.

"Sit down anywhere," said Katie; "she hears well."

"Hear!" said old Mrs. Croft. "I should say I did hear. There ain't a pan fell in the neighborhood for the last ten years as hasn't woke me out of a sound sleep, dreaming of my husband – "

"Miss Grey's come to see you about something," interrupted Katie; "she – "

"I had a husband," continued old Mrs. Croft, raising her voice from Do to Re, "and such a one! Wednesday he'd go to sleep and Thursdays he'd wake, so regular you could tell the days of the week just from his habits. He – "

"Miss Grey wants – " interrupted Katie.

"I came to – " said Jane.

"I had a husband," continued old Mrs. Croft, going from Re to Mi now; "oh, my, but I did have a husband. In May I had him and in December I had him, but he was always the same to me. You can see his picture there, Miss Grey; it's all faded out, just from being looked at; but I'll tell you where it never fades, Miss Grey – it never so much as turns a hair in my heart. My heart is engraved – "

"You'd better go on and say what you've got to say," said Katie to Jane. "I often put her to bed talking, and she talks all the night through."

"I want to ask you – " Jane began.

"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies," sang Mrs. Croft. "Oh, I had – "

" – I want you to come and stay with us," Jane said, with forceful accents.

There was a sudden tense hush.

"My aunt and I want you to come and make us a little visit," the caller added.

The hush grew awful.

"A little change would be so good for you – you've been shut up so long."

Old Mrs. Croft lifted her two hands towards the ceiling.

"What do you want to take me out of my own house for? Going to do something to it that I wouldn't approve, I expect. Oh, I see it all. There was Macbeth and there was Othello, and now there's my house – What are you going to do to it, anyhow?" The question was pitched so high and sharp that Jane jumped.

"We just want to give you a little change."

"Change! I had a change once. Went to Cuba with my husband and nearly died. I don't want no change of house," with deep meaning in the emphasis; "the change that I want is another change. Change is a great thing to have. My husband never changed. Only his collars. Never no other way."

"You and Aunt Susan are old friends – " suggested Jane.

"Never nothing special," broke in old Mrs. Croft. "My goodness, I do hope your aunt ain't calling me her friend, because if she is, it's a thing I can't allow."

Jane thanked her stars that her powers of mental concentration forbade her mind to wander. "I'm sure if you came to us, you'd enjoy it," she said persuasively; "we've such a pretty bedroom down-stairs, and I'll sleep on the dining-room sofa, so you won't feel lonely."

"Lonely. I never feel lonely. I'd thank Heaven if I could be let alone for a little, once in a while. I don't want to come, and that's a fact. If that be treason, make the most of it."

"Oh, but you must come," said Jane; "you'll like it. We want you, and you must come."

"Well, get me my bonnet then," said old Mrs. Croft. "Run, Katie, I've been sitting here waiting for it for over an hour."

Katie and Jane regarded one another in consternation. They hadn't quite counted on this.

"I'm going visiting," said Mrs. Croft gaily. "Oh, my, and how I shall visit. Years may come and years may go, and still I shall sit there visiting away, and when I hear the door-bell, I shall know it's time for Christmas dinner."

Katie took Jane's hand and drew her out of the room. "I don't believe you'd better take her," she said; "she's so flighty. I know how to manage her, and you don't. Just give it up."

"No, I won't," said Jane, smiling. "I know that it's a kind thing to do and that I must do it. I'm going to take her."

"Seems so odd you're wanting to," said Katie. "You're very funny, I think. People are saying that you think that everything's for the best. Do you really believe that?"

"Of course. We can't get outside of God's plan, whatever we may do. If we do wrong, we have to bear the consequences because it's as easy to see the right thing to do as the wrong, but the great Plan never wavers."

"Oh, my," said Katie. "I'm glad to know that."

Jane pressed her hand. "I'll get things all ready, and we'll bring her over tomorrow night," she said; "that'll be best. Then she can go right to bed and get rested from the effort."

So it was arranged, and the Sunshine Nurse went home to tell Susan that Mrs. Croft had consented to come. She felt quite positive that now they would both attain unto a higher plane without any difficulty, if they kept such a guest in the house for a week.

"It isn't going to be easy, Auntie," she said, a bit later, "but it will teach you and me a lot, and if one wants to voyage greatly, one must get out into the deep water."

"I'll do anything to get hold of some different way of getting on with Matilda," said Susan, "and I begin to see what you mean when you say that if I change me, I'll change it all. If you could make flour into sugar, you'd have cake instead of biscuit, but, oh, my! Old Mrs. Croft!"

"It won't be for so very long," said Jane, "and think of Katie Croft through all these years! She's been splendid, I think."

"Well, she didn't have any other place to live, you know," Susan promptly reminded her niece.

"Work's work, no matter why you do it," Jane said, "and all the big laws work greatly. This having old Mrs. Croft is a pretty big step for you and me to take, and you'll see that when Aunt Matilda returns, we'll be so strongly settled in our new ways that she can't unsettle us. We'll be absolutely different people."

"Y – yes," said Susan, confidence fighting doubt stoutly. "I'm willing to try, although left to myself I should never have thought of old Mrs. Croft as a way of getting different."

"Anything that we do with earnest purpose is a way of getting better," said Jane. She looked out of the window for a minute, and her lip almost quivered. Susan didn't notice. "Everything is always for the best, if we're sure of it," she then said firmly.

CHAPTER IX
MADELEINE'S SECRET

THE two girls were enjoying a pleasant time in Susan's big, tidy kitchen.

"I never knew that a kitchen could be so perfectly lovely," said Madeleine, as they took tea by the little table by the window. "Jane, you are a genius! One opens the gate here with a bubbling feeling that everything in the whole world's all right."

"I'm so glad," said Jane; "it's grand to feel that one is a real channel of happiness. I always seem to see people as made to form that kind of connection between God and earth, and that happiness is the visible sign of success, a good 'getting through,' so to speak."

"Do you know, the English language is awfully indefinite. That sentence might mean good flowing like water through people, or people so made that good can go through them easily. Do you see?"

"Yes, I see. But either meaning is all right. It isn't what I say that matters so much, anyway. It's how you take it."

"I took that two ways."

"Yes, and both were good. That's so fine, – to get two good meanings, where I only meant one."

They smiled together.

"Mr. Rath and I were talking about that last evening," said Madeleine, the color coming into her face a little. "Do you know, he's really a very dear man. He's awfully nice."

Jane jumped up to drive a wasp out of the window. "You know him better than I do," she said, very busy.

"I've known him for several years, but never as well as here."

Jane came back and sat down. Madeleine was silent, seeming to search for words.

"You were going to tell me a secret," her friend said, after a little.

"I know, but I – I can't."

Jane lifted her eyes almost pitifully. "Why not?"

"I don't feel that I have the right, after all. Secrets are such precious things."

"If I can help you – ?"

"Oh, no, no. – It isn't any trouble. It's something quite different – I – I thought that perhaps I could tell you my thoughts, but – I can't."

There was a silence.

"There are such wonderful feelings in the world," Madeleine went on, after a little; "they don't seem to fit into words at all. One feels ashamed to have even planned to talk about them. One feels so humble when – " she paused – then closed her lips.

Jane put out her hand and took the hand upon the other side of the little table, close. "Don't mind me, dear; I understand."

"Do you really?"

"Yes."

Madeleine's eyes were anxious. "Do you guess? Did you guess?"

"Yes."

"And how – what – what do you think?"

"I think that it would be lovely, only, of course, I don't quite know it all, for I shall never have anything like it."

Madeleine started. "Oh, Jane, don't say that."

"But it's so, dear."

"Oh, no."

"No, dear, – I can guess and sympathize. But I shall never have any such happiness. It's – it's quite settled."

Madeleine left her seat, went round by the side of the other girl, flung herself down on the floor, and looked as if she were about to cry. "Oh, Jane, you mustn't feel so. Why shouldn't you marry?"

"I can't, dear; I've debts of my father's to pay, and I'm pledged to my Order."

"But they'll get paid after a while."

"It will take all my youth."

"But a way can be found?"

"No way can ever be. There is no one in the wide world to help me. I'm quite alone."

"Why, Jane," said Madeleine, always kneeling and always looking up, "I know some one who can manage everything, and you do, too."

Jane stared a little. "My aunt, do you mean?"

"No, – God."

Jane smiled suddenly. "Thank you, dear. I hadn't forgotten, but I just didn't think. Still, I think God means me to be brave about my burdens. I don't think that He sees them as things from which to be relieved."

Madeleine was still looking up. "But the channel doesn't think; the channel just conveys what pours along it," she whispered.

Just at this second the scene altered.

"Oh, there's my aunt!" Jane exclaimed. Susan passed the window, and the next minute she came in the door. "I've had the most bee – youtiful afternoon," she announced radiantly. "I did Jane lots of credit, for I never said a word about anybody, but oh, how splendid it was to just be good and silent, and hear all the others talk. They talked about everybody, and a good many were of my own opinion, so I had considerable satisfaction without doing a thing wrong."

Jane couldn't help laughing or Madeleine, either. "Was young Mrs. Croft there?"

"No, and most everybody says that she'll go off to-morrow and never come back, and we'll have old Mrs. Croft till she dies. They looked at me pretty hard, but I stuck to my soul and never said a word."

"It was noble in you, Auntie," Jane said warmly.

"Yes, it was," assented Susan. Then she turned to Madeleine, who had returned to her chair. "Jane's religion's pretty hard on me, but I like its results, and I can do anything I set out to do, and I don't mean to not get a future if I can help it. You see, my sister Matilda is a very peculiar person. You must know that by this time?"

"I have heard a good deal about her," Madeleine admitted.

"Well, I hope it isn't unkind in me to say that I know more than anybody else can possibly imagine."

"But she's coming back all right," Jane interrupted firmly; "we mustn't forget that."

"No," said Susan, with a quick gasp in her breath; "no, I'm not forgetting a thing. I'm only talking a little. And oh, how Mrs. Cowmull did talk about you, Madeleine. She says Mr. Rath can't put his nose out of the door alone."

"That's dreadful," said Madeleine, trying not to color, "especially as we always come straight here."

"Well, I tell you it's pretty hard work being good," said Susan, with a cheerful sigh; "it's a relief to get home and take off one's bonnet."

"And don't you want some tea, Auntie? It's all hot under the cozy."

"Yes, I will, you Sunshine Jane, you. I'll never cease to be grateful for good tea again as long as I live. I've had five years of the other kind to help me remember."

Later, when Madeleine was gone, Susan said: "Do you know, Jane, Katie Croft is certainly going to desert that awful old woman when we get her here? Everybody says so."

"No, she isn't, Auntie; the expected is never what happens."

"Jane, any one with your religion can't rely on proverbs to help them out, because the whole thing puts you right outside of common-sense to begin with."

Jane was sitting looking out upon the pretty garden. "I know, Auntie; I only quoted that in reference to the Sewing Society gossip. It's never the expected that happens in their world; it's the expected that always happens in my world. And proverbs don't exist in my world; they're every one of them a human limitation."

"Well, Jane, I don't know; some of them are very pretty, and when I've seen Matilda over the fence and run down to get a few scraps, I've taken considerable comfort in 'No cloud without a silver lining' and 'It never rains but it pours.' They were a great help to me."

Jane kissed her tenderly. "Bless you, Auntie, – everything's all right and all lovely, and Madeleine made me so happy to-day. I'm sure that she's engaged."

"Yes, I've thought that, too."

"Yes, and I'm so glad for her."

"I hope he's good enough for her."

"Oh, I'm sure that he is." Jane thought a minute. "And Madeleine gave me a big lesson, too," she added.

"What?"

"She showed me that with all my teaching and preaching, I don't trust God half enough yet."

"Well, Jane," said Susan solemnly, "I s'pose trusting God is like being grateful for the sunshine, – human beings ain't big enough to hold all they ought to feel."

"Perhaps we'd be nothing but trust and gratitude, then," said Jane, smiling.

"They're nice feelings to be made of," said Susan serenely, "but I must go and put my bonnet away. But, oh, heavens, when I think that to-morrow old Mrs. Croft is coming!"

"And that lots of good is coming with her; she is coming to bring happiness and happiness only."

"Yes, I know," Susan's air was completely submissive. "I can hardly wait for her to get here. They wondered at the Sewing Society if she'd sing Captain Jinks all night often. She does sometimes, you know. But I'm sure we'll like her. She's a nice woman."

CHAPTER X
OLD MRS. CROFT

OLD Mrs. Croft arrived the next afternoon about half after four. She was rolled up in her chair, and her small trunk followed on a wheelbarrow.

"How old you have grown!" she said to Susan, by way of greeting, as she grated up the gravel. "My, to think you ever looked young!"

They wheeled her into the hall. "Same hall," she said, looking about, "same paper you had thirty years ago. Oh, my, to think of it. I've papered and papered and scraped off, and papered and papered and scraped off, and then papered again in those same thirty years."

They got her into the room on the ground floor, which had been prepared for her. "I suppose this was the most convenient place to put me," she said, "and so you put me in it. Put me where you please, only I do hope you haven't beetles. It makes me very nervous to hear 'em chipping about all night, and when I'm nervous, I don't sleep, and when I don't sleep, I just can't help lying awake. It's a way I've got. I caught it from my husband when he was a baby. He'd wake up and give it to me."

Susan went out with Jane to get her some supper. "I never thought much about Katie Croft," she said, "but I never doubted she had a hard time."

"Yes," said Jane, "and one of the nicest things in this world is to be able to give some one who's had a hard time a rest."

"Wouldn't it be dreadful if she died, though, while she was here?"

"Who? Old Mrs. Croft?"

"Oh, no, she won't ever die. I meant Katie. Everybody says she's going to run away, but if she don't do that and dies, we'll be just as badly off as if she did it."

"Oh, Auntie!"

"Well, Jane, we'd have to keep old Mrs. Croft till she died."

"I guess there's not much chance of that," Jane said; "she won't die. She has come here to do us good and to receive good herself, that's all."

Susan looked appalled. "Surely you don't expect to sunshine her up, do you?"

"Yes, I do."

Then Susan looked amazed. "Well, I never did! I thought she was just here to do us good. I – "

Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by a piercing shriek. Jane flew.

"I'm so happy I just had to let it out," Mrs. Croft announced. "I can't hold in joy or sorrow. Sorrow I let out in the low of my voice – like a cow, you know – but joy I let rise to the skies. You'll hear to-night."

Jane looked at her and smiled. She looked like a story-book witch in a nice, white, modern bed. "I thought that perhaps you wanted something," she said, turning to leave the room again.

"No, indeed, I never want anything. I ain't by no means so bad off as is give out."

"I guessed as much. You can make a fresh start now, and we shan't remind you of the past."

"Oh, then I'm coming to the table," exclaimed Mrs. Croft, "and I'm going to be helped like a Christian and feed myself like a human being. This being put to bed and just all but tied there with a rope isn't going to go on much longer, I can tell you."

"Don't speak of it at all," said Jane; "you just do what you please here, and we'll let you. I'm going to get you your supper now."

"Stop!" cried old Mrs. Croft sharply. "Stop! I won't have it! I won't stand it. Oh, I've had such a time," she went on, bringing her clenched fist down vigorously on her knee under the bedclothes and raising her voice very high indeed, "such a time! I had a beautiful son that you or any girl might have been proud to marry, and then he must go and marry that Katie Croft creature. There ain't many things to cut a mother's heart to the quick like seeing her own son marry her own daughter-in-law. Such a nice raised boy as he was, so neat, and she kicking her clothes under the bed at night to tidy up the room. Oh!" cried Mrs. Croft, lifting her voice to a still more surprising pitch, "what I have suffered! Nothing ain't been spared me. I lost my son and the use of my legs from the shock and – "

"Supper is all ready," Jane interrupted sweetly and calmly.

"What you got?"

"Sardines – "

"I never eat 'em."

"Toast."

"I hate it."

"Plum preserves."



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