Marcella's Reward by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Dr. Clark shook his head gravely. "She is not improving as fast as I
should like to see," he said. "In fact—er—she seems to have gone
backward the past week. You must send her to the country, Miss
Langley. The heat here is too trying for her."
Dr. Clark might as well have said, "You must send her to the moon"—or
so Marcella thought bitterly. Despair filled her heart as she looked
at Patty's white face and transparent hands and listened to the
doctor's coolly professional advice. Patty's illness had already swept
away the scant savings of three years. Marcella had nothing left with
which to do anything more for her.
She did not make any answer to the doctor—she could not. Besides,
what could she say, with Patty's big blue eyes, bigger and bluer than
ever in her thin face, looking at her so wistfully? She dared not say
it was impossible. But Aunt Emma had no such scruples. With a great
clatter and racket, that lady fell upon the dishes that held Patty's
almost untasted dinner and whisked them away while her tongue kept
time to her jerky movements.
"Goodness me, doctor, do you think you're talking to millionaires?
Where do you suppose the money is to come from to send Patty to the
country? I can't afford it, that is certain. I think I do pretty
well to give Marcella and Patty their board free, and I have to work
my fingers to the bone to do that. It's all nonsense about Patty,
anyhow. What she ought to do is to make an effort to get better. She
doesn't—she just mopes and pines. She won't eat a thing I cook for
her. How can anyone expect to get better if she doesn't eat?"
Aunt Emma glared at the doctor as if she were triumphantly sure that
she had propounded an unanswerable question. A dull red flush rose to
"Oh, Aunt Emma, I can't eat!" said Patty wearily. "It isn't because
I won't—indeed, I can't."
"Humph! I suppose my cooking isn't fancy enough for you—that's the
trouble. Well, I haven't the time to put any frills on it. I think I
do pretty well to wait on you at all with all that work piling up
before me. But some people imagine that they were born to be waited
Aunt Emma whirled the last dish from the table and left the room,
slamming the door behind her.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. He had become used to Miss Gibson's
tirades during Patty's illness. But Marcella had never got used to
them—never, in all the three years she had lived with her aunt. They
flicked on the raw as keenly as ever. This morning it seemed
unbearable. It took every atom of Marcella's self-control to keep her
from voicing her resentful thoughts. It was only for Patty's sake that
she was able to restrain herself. It was only for Patty's sake, too,
that she did not, as soon as the doctor had gone, give way to tears.
Instead, she smiled bravely into the little sister's eyes.
"Let me brush your hair now, dear, and bathe your face."
"Have you time?" said Patty anxiously.
"Yes, I think so."
Patty gave a sigh of content.
"I'm so glad! Aunt Emma always hurts me when she brushes my hair—she
is in such a hurry. You're so gentle, Marcella, you don't make my head
ache at all. But oh! I'm so tired of being sick. I wish I could get
well faster. Marcy, do you think I can be sent to the country?"
"I—I don't know, dear. I'll see if I can think of any way to manage
it," said Marcella, striving to speak hopefully.
Patty drew a long breath.
"Oh, Marcy, it would be lovely to see the green fields again, and the
woods and brooks, as we did that summer we spent in the country
before Father died. I wish we could live in the country always. I'm
sure I would soon get better if I could go—if it was only for a
little while. It's so hot here—and the factory makes such a noise—my
head seems to go round and round all the time. And Aunt Emma scolds
"You mustn't mind Aunt Emma, dear," said Marcella. "You know she
doesn't really mean it—it is just a habit she has got into. She was
really very good to you when you were so sick. She sat up night after
night with you, and made me go to bed. There now, dearie, you're fresh
and sweet, and I must hurry to the store, or I'll be late. Try and
have a little nap, and I'll bring you home some oranges tonight."
Marcella dropped a kiss on Patty's cheek, put on her hat and went out.
As soon as she left the house, she quickened her steps almost to a
run. She feared she would be late, and that meant a ten-cent fine. Ten
cents loomed as large as ten dollars now to Marcella's eyes when every
dime meant so much. But fast as she went, her distracted thoughts went
faster. She could not send Patty to the country. There was no way,
think, plan, worry as she might. And if she could not! Marcella
remembered Patty's face and the doctor's look, and her heart sank like
lead. Patty was growing weaker every day instead of stronger, and the
weather was getting hotter. Oh, if Patty were to—to—but Marcella
could not complete the sentence even in thought.
If they were not so desperately poor! Marcella's bitterness overflowed
her soul at the thought. Everywhere around her were evidences of
wealth—wealth often lavishly and foolishly spent—and she could not
get money enough anywhere to save her sister's life! She almost felt
that she hated all those smiling, well-dressed people who thronged the
streets. By the time she reached the store, poor Marcella's heart was
seething with misery and resentment.
Three years before, when Marcella had been sixteen and Patty nine,
their parents had died, leaving them absolutely alone in the world
except for their father's half-sister, Miss Gibson, who lived in
Canning and earned her livelihood washing and mending for the hands
employed in the big factory nearby. She had grudgingly offered the
girls a home, which Marcella had accepted because she must. She
obtained a position in one of the Canning stores at three dollars a
week, out of which she contrived to dress herself and Patty and send
the latter to school. Her life for three years was one of absolute
drudgery, yet until now she had never lost courage, but had struggled
bravely on, hoping for better times in the future when she should get
promotion and Patty would be old enough to teach school.
But now Marcella's courage and hopefulness had gone out like a spent
candle. She was late at the store, and that meant a fine; her head
ached, and her feet felt like lead as she climbed the stairs to her
department—a hot, dark, stuffy corner behind the shirtwaist counter.
It was warm and close at any time, but today it was stifling, and
there was already a crowd of customers, for it was the day of a
bargain sale. The heat and noise and chatter got on Marcella's
tortured nerves. She felt that she wanted to scream, but instead she
turned calmly to a waiting customer—a big, handsome, richly dressed
woman. Marcella noted with an ever-increasing bitterness that the
woman wore a lace collar the price of which would have kept Patty in
the country for a year.
She was Mrs. Liddell—Marcella knew her by sight—and she was in a
very bad temper because she had been kept waiting. For the next half
hour she badgered and worried Marcella to the point of distraction.
Nothing suited her. Pile after pile, box after box, of shirtwaists
did Marcella take down for her, only to have them flung aside with
sarcastic remarks. Mrs. Liddell seemed to hold Marcella responsible
for the lack of waists that suited her; her tongue grew sharper and
sharper and her comments more trying. Then she mislaid her purse, and
was disagreeable about that until it turned up.
Marcella shut her lips so tightly that they turned white to keep back
the impatient retort that rose momentarily to her lips. The insolence
of some customers was always trying to the sensitive, high-spirited
girl, but today it seemed unbearable. Her head throbbed fiercely with
the pain of the ever-increasing ache, and—what was the lady on her
right saying to a friend?
"Yes, she had typhoid, you know—a very bad form. She rallied from it,
but she was so exhausted that she couldn't really recover, and the
"Really," interrupted Mrs. Liddell's sharp voice, "may I ask you to
attend to me, if you please? No doubt gossip may be very interesting
to you, but I am accustomed to having a clerk pay some small
attention to my requirements. If you cannot attend to your business, I
shall go to the floor walker and ask him to direct me to somebody who
can. The laziness and disobligingness of the girls in this store is
really getting beyond endurance."
A passionate answer was on the point of Marcella's tongue. All her
bitterness and suffering and resentment flashed into her face and
eyes. For one moment she was determined to speak out, to repay Mrs.
Liddell's insolence in kind. A retort was ready to her hand. Everyone
knew that Mrs. Liddell, before her marriage to a wealthy man, had been
a working girl. What could be easier than to say contemptuously: "You
should be a judge of a clerk's courtesy and ability, madam. You were a
shop girl yourself once?"
But if she said it, what would follow? Prompt and instant dismissal.
And Patty? The thought of the little sister quelled the storm in
Marcella's soul. For Patty's sake she must control her temper—and she
did. With an effort that left her white and tremulous she crushed back
the hot words and said quietly: "I beg your pardon, Mrs. Liddell. I
did not mean to be inattentive. Let me show you some of our new
lingerie waists, I think you will like them."
But Mrs. Liddell did not like the new lingerie waists which Marcella
brought to her in her trembling hands. For another half hour she
examined and found fault and sneered. Then she swept away with the
scornful remark that she didn't see a thing there that was fit to
wear, and she would go to Markwell Bros. and see if they had anything
worth looking at.
When she had gone, Marcella leaned against the counter, pale and
exhausted. She must have a breathing spell. Oh, how her head ached!
How hot and stifling and horrible everything was! She longed for the
country herself. Oh, if she and Patty could only go away to some place
where there were green clover meadows and cool breezes and great hills
where the air was sweet and pure!
During all this time a middle-aged woman had been sitting on a stool
beside the bargain counter. When a clerk asked her if she wished to be
waited on, she said, "No, I'm just waiting here for a friend who
promised to meet me."
She was tall and gaunt and grey haired. She had square jaws and cold
grey eyes and an aggressive nose, but there was something attractive
in her plain face, a mingling of common sense and kindliness. She
watched Marcella and Mrs. Liddell closely and lost nothing of all that
was said and done on both sides. Now and then she smiled grimly and
When Mrs. Liddell had gone, she rose and leaned over the counter.
Marcella opened her burning eyes and pulled herself wearily together.
"What can I do for you?" she said.
"Nothing. I ain't looking for to have anything done for me. You need
to have something done for you, I guess, by the looks of you. You seem
dead beat out. Aren't you awful tired? I've been listening to that
woman jawing you till I felt like rising up and giving her a large and
wholesome piece of my mind. I don't know how you kept your patience
with her, but I can tell you I admired you for it, and I made up my
mind I'd tell you so."
The kindness and sympathy in her tone broke Marcella down. Tears
rushed to her eyes. She bowed her head on her hands and said
sobbingly, "Oh, I am tired! But it's not that. I'm—I'm in such
"I knew you were," said the other, with a nod of her head. "I could
tell that right off by your face. Do you know what I said to myself? I
said, 'That girl has got somebody at home awful sick.' That's what I
said. Was I right?"
"Yes, indeed you were," said Marcella.
"I knew it"—another triumphant nod. "Now, you just tell me all about
it. It'll do you good to talk it over with somebody. Here, I'll
pretend I'm looking at shirtwaists, so that floor walker won't be
coming down on you, and I'll be as hard to please as that other woman
was, so's you can take your time. Who's sick—and what's the matter?"
Marcella told the whole story, choking back her sobs and forcing
herself to speak calmly, having the fear of the floor walker before
"And I can't afford to send Patty to the country—I can't—and I
know she won't get better if she doesn't go," she concluded.
"Dear, dear, but that's too bad! Something must be done. Let me
see—let me put on my thinking cap. What is your name?"
The older woman dropped the lingerie waist she was pretending to
examine and stared at Marcella.
"You don't say! Look here, what was your mother's name before she was
"Well, I have heard of coincidences, but this beats all! Mary
Carvell! Well, did you ever hear your mother speak of a girl friend of
hers called Josephine Draper?"
"I should think I did! You don't mean—"
"I do mean it. I'm Josephine Draper. Your mother and I went to
school together, and we were as much as sisters to each other until
she got married. Then she went away, and after a few years I lost
trace of her. I didn't even know she was dead. Poor Mary! Well, my
duty is plain—that's one comfort—my duty and my pleasure, too. Your
sister is coming out to Dalesboro to stay with me. Yes, and you are
too, for the whole summer. You needn't say you're not, because you
are. I've said so. There's room at Fir Cottage for you both. Yes,
Fir Cottage—I guess you've heard your mother speak of that. There's
her old room out there that we always slept in when she came to stay
all night with me. It's all ready for you. What's that? You can't
afford to lose your place here? Bless your heart, child, you won't
lose it! The owner of this store is my nephew, and he'll do
considerable to oblige me, as well he might, seeing as I brought him
up. To think that Mary Carvell's daughter has been in his store for
three years, and me never suspecting it! And I might never have found
you out at all if you hadn't been so patient with that woman. If you'd
sassed her back, I'd have thought she deserved it and wouldn't have
blamed you a mite, but I wouldn't have bothered coming to talk to you
either. Well, well well! Poor child, don't cry. You just pick up and
go home. I'll make it all right with Tom. You're pretty near played
out yourself, I can see that. But a summer in Fir Cottage, with plenty
of cream and eggs and my cookery, will soon make another girl of
you. Don't you dare to thank me. It's a privilege to be able to do
something for Mary Carvell's girls. I just loved Mary."
The upshot of the whole matter was that Marcella and Patty went, two
days later, to Dalesboro, where Miss Draper gave them a hearty welcome
to Fir Cottage—a quaint, delightful little house circled by big
Scotch firs and overgrown with vines. Never were such delightful weeks
as those that followed. Patty came rapidly back to health and
strength. As for Marcella, Miss Draper's prophecy was also fulfilled;
she soon looked and felt like another girl. The dismal years of
drudgery behind her were forgotten like a dream, and she lived wholly
in the beautiful present, in the walks and drives, the flowers and
grass slopes, and in the pleasant household duties which she shared
with Miss Draper.
"I love housework," she exclaimed one September day. "I don't like the
thought of going back to the store a bit."
"Well, you're not going back," calmly said Miss Draper, who had a
habit of arranging other people's business for them that might have
been disconcerting had it not been for her keen insight and hearty
good sense. "You're going to stay here with me—you and Patty. I don't
propose to die of lonesomeness losing you, and I need somebody to help
me about the house. I've thought it all out. You are to call me Aunt
Josephine, and Patty is to go to school. I had this scheme in mind
from the first, but I thought I'd wait to see how we got along living
in the same house, and how you liked it here, before I spoke out. No,
you needn't thank me this time either. I'm doing this every bit as
much for my sake as yours. Well, that's all settled. Patty won't
object, bless her rosy cheeks!"
"Oh!" said Marcella, with eyes shining through her tears. "I'm so
happy, dear Miss Draper—I mean Aunt Josephine. I'll love to stay
here—and I will thank you."
"Fudge!" remarked Miss Draper, who felt uncomfortably near crying
herself. "You might go out and pick a basket of Golden Gems. I want to
make some jelly for Patty."