The Second Chance,
E-text prepared by Michelle LaPointe, Kincardine Ontario Canada 2007
THE SECOND CHANCE
NELLIE L. McCLUNG
Author of"Sowing Seeds in Danny"
Frontispiece by Wladyslaw T. Benda
_"Then I went down to the potter's house and behold he wrought a work on the wheels.
"And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again another vessel as seemed good to the potter to make it."_
----Jeremiah xviii, 3-4.
TORONTOWILLIAM BRIGGSPUBLISHERCopyright, Canada, 1910. byWILLIAM BRIGGS
TO MY MOTHERMRS. LETITIA McCURDY MOONEY
CHAPTER I. Martha II. The Rising Watsons III. "Knowledge Is Power" IV. Something More than Gestures V. At the Chicken Hill School VI. Pearl's Unruly Conscience VII. The Second Chance VIII. A Good Listener IX. Mrs. Perkins's Turn X. The New Pupils XI. The House of Trouble XII. Pearl Visits the Parsonage XIII. The Ladies' Aid Meeting XIV. "In Case----" XV. The Sowing XVI. Spiritual Advisors XVII. The Pioneers' Picnic XVIII. The Lacrosse Match XIX. The End of the Game XX. On the Quiet Hillside XXI. Frozen Wheat XXII. Autumn Days XXIII. Pearl's Philosophy XXIV. True Greatness XXV. The Coming of Thursa XXVI. In Honour's Ways XXVII. The Wedding XXVIII. A Sail! A Sail! XXIX. Martha's Strong Arguments XXX. Another Match-maker XXXI. Mrs. Cavers's Neighbours XXXII. Another Neighbour XXXIII. The Correction Line XXXIV. The Contrite Heart XXXV. The Lure of Love and the West
In the long run all love is paid by love, Tho' undervalued by the hosts of earth. The great eternal government above Keeps strict account, and will redeem its worth. Give thy love freely; do not count the cost; So beautiful a thing was never lost In the long run.
_----Ella Wheeler Wilcox._
THOMAS PERKINS was astonished beyond words. Martha had asked formoney! The steady, reliable, early-to-bed, early-to-rise Martha--theonly one of his family that was really like his own people. If hecould believe his senses, Martha had asked for two dollars in cash,and had distinctly said that due bills on the store would not do!
If Martha had risen from her cradle twenty-five years ago and bangedher estimable parent in the eye with her small pink fist, he couldnot have been more surprised than he was now! He stared at her withall this in his face, and Martha felt the ground slipping away fromher. Maybe she shouldn't have asked for it!
She went over the argument again. "It's for a magazine Mrs. Caverslent me. I would like to get it every month--it's--it's got lots ofnice things in it." She did not look at her father as she said this.
Thomas Perkins moistened his lips.
"By George!" he said. "You youngsters never think how the moneycomes. You seem to think it grows on bushes!"
Martha might have said that spring frost must have nipped the budsfor the last twenty-five years, but she did not. Ready speech was notone of Martha's accomplishments, so she continued to pleat her aproninto a fan and said nothing.
"Here the other day didn't I send thirty-nine dollars into Winnipegto get things for the house, and didn't I get you an eighteen-dollarwallaby coat last year, and let you wear it week days and all, andnever said a word?"
Martha might have reminded him that she was watering and feeding thestock, and saving the wages of a hired man, while she was wearing thewallaby coat, but she said not a word.
"You get a queer old lot more than I got when I was a young shaver,let me tell you. I've often told you young ones how I left home, whenI was nine years old, with the wind in my back--that's all I got fromhome--and with about enough clothes on me to flag a train with. Therewasn't any of these magazines then, and I don't know as they do anygood, anyway. Poor old Ann Winters sent away her good, hard-earneddollar to some place in the States, where they said: 'Send us adollar, and we'll show you how to make fifty; light employment; willnot have to leave home; either ladies or gentlemen can do it.' Shesaw this in a magazine and sent her dollar, and what she got was apretty straight insult, I think. They wrote back, 'put anadvertisement like ours in some paper, and get fifty people likeyourself to answer it.' There's a magazine for you!"
Martha looked at him helplessly. "I promised Mrs. Cavers I'd take it.She's making a little money that way, to get a trip home thisChristmas," she said, locking and unlocking her fingers, the rough,toil-worn joints of which spoke eloquently in her favour, if the oldman had had eyes to see them.
"You women are too easy," he said. "You'll promise anything. Yer poorgrandmother let a man put a piano in the shed once when it wasraining, and he asked her to sign a paper sayin' it was there, and hecould 'come any time he liked to get it; and, by Jinks! didn't afellow come along in a few days wantin' her to pay for it, andshowing her her own name to a note. She wasn't so slow either, forshe purtended she doubted her own writin', and got near enough tomake a grab for it, and tore her name off; but it gave me father sucha turn he advertised her in the paper that he would not beresponsible for her debts, and he never put his name to paper of anykind afterward. There was a fellow in the old Farmers' Home inBrandon that asked me father to sign his name in a big book that heshowed up in front of him, and I tell you it was all we could do tokeep the old man from hittin' him. Of course, Martha, if ye didn'tput it down in writin' she can't hold ye; but puttin' it down is thedeuce altogether."
"But I want to give it," Martha said slowly. "I want the magazine,and I want to help Mrs. Cavers."
"Now, Martha, look a here," the old man said, "you're a real goodgirl, and very like my own folks--in the way you handle a hoe yerjust like my poor sister Lizzie that married a peddler against allour wishes. I mind well, the night before she ran away, how shekissed me and says she: 'Good-bye, Tommy, don't forgit to shut thehenhouse door,' and in the mornin' she was gone."
Lizzie's bereaved brother wiped his eyes with a red handkerchief, andlooked dreamily into the fire.
Martha, still pleating her apron, stood awkwardly by the table, butinstinctively she felt that the meeting had closed, and thetwo-dollar bill was still inside.
She went upstairs to her own room. It was a neat and pretty littleroom, and the pride of Martha's heart, but to-night Martha's hearthad nothing in it but a great loneliness, vague and indefinite, alonging for something she had never known.
A rag carpet in well-harmonized stripes was on the floor; a blue andwhite log-cabin quilt was on the bed; over the lace-edged pillowcovers there hung embroidered pillow shams. One had on it a wreath ofwild roses encircling the words "I slept and dreamed that life wasBeauty," while its companion, with a similar profusion of roses, madethe correction: "I woke and knew that, life was Duty." Martha had notchosen the words, for she had never even dreamed that life wasbeauty. A peddler (not the one that had beguiled her Aunt Lizzie) hadbeen storm-stayed with them the winter before and he had given herthese in payment for his lodging.
She sat now on a little stool that she had made for herself of emptytomato cans, covered with gaily flowered cretonne, and drawing backthe muslin frilled curtains, looked wearily over the fields. It was apleasant scene that lay before Martha's window--a long reach ofstubble field, stretching away to the bank of the Souris, flanked bypoplar bluffs. It was just a mile long, that field, a wonderfulstretch of wheat-producing soil; but to Martha it was all a wearinessof the flesh, for it meant the getting of innumerable meals for themen who ploughed and sowed and reaped thereon.
To-night, looking at the tall elms that fringed the river bank, shetried to think of the things that had made her happy. They weregetting along well, there had been many improvements in the
With a sudden impulse, she went to the mirror on her dressing table,and looked long and earnestly at her image there. Martha wastwenty-five years old, and looked older. Her shoulders were slightlybent, and would suggest to an accurate observer that they had becomeso by carrying heavy burdens. Her hair was hay-coloured and broken.Her forehead and her eyes were her best features, and her mouth, too,was well formed and firm, giving her the look of a person who couldendure.
To-night, as she sat leaning her head on the window-sill, Martha'sthoughts were as near to bitterness as they had ever been. This,then, was all it came to, all her early rising and hard work, all hersmall economies. She had not been able to get even two dollars whenshe wanted it. She sat up straight and looked sadly out into thevelvet dusk, and the tears that had been long gathering in her heartcame slowly to her eyes; not the quick, glittering tears of childhoodthat can be soon chased away by smiles--not that kind, no, no; butthe slow tears that scald and wither, the tears that make one old.
It was dark when Martha lifted her head. She hastily drew down theblind, lit the lamp, and washed away, all traces of her tears. Goingto a cupboard that stood behind the door, she took out a piece offine embroidery and was soon at work upon it.
Hidden away in her heart, so well hidden that no one could havesuspected its presence, Martha cherished a sweet dream. To her sternsense of right and wrong it would have seemed improper to think thethoughts she was thinking, but for the fact that they were so idle,so vain, so false, so hopeless. It had all begun the fall before,when, at a party at one of the neighbours', Arthur Wemyss, the youngEnglishman, had asked her to dance. He had been so different from theyoung men she had known, so courteous and gentle, and had spoken toher with such respect, that her heart was swept with a strange, newfeeling that perhaps, after all there might be for her the homage andadmiration she had seen paid to other girls. In her innocence of theworlds ways, good and bad, she did not know that young men likeArthur were taught to reverence all women, and that the deference ofhis manner was nothing more than that.
Martha fed her heart with no false hope-she never forgot to remindherself that she was a dull, plain girl--and even when she sat at herembroidery and let the imagination of her heart weave for her agolden dream, it was only a dream to her, nothing more!
When Arthur bought Jim Russell's quarter-section and began farmingindependently, the Perkinses were his nearest neighbours. Marthabaked his bread for him, and seldom gave him his basket of newly madeloaves that it did not contain a pie, a loaf of cake, or some otherexpression of her good-will, all of which Arthur received verygratefully.
He never knew what pleasure it gave her to do this for him, andalthough she knew he was engaged to be married to a young lady inEngland, it was the one bright evening of the week for her when hecame over, to get his weekly allowance.
Martha had never heard of unrequited love. The only books she hadread were the Manitoba Readers as far as Book IV, and they arenoticeably silent on the affairs of the heart. In the gossip of theneighbourhood she had heard of girls making "a dead set for fellowswho did not care a row of pins" for them, and she knew it was notconsidered a nice thing for any girl to do; but it came to her nowclearly that it was not a subject for mirth, and she wondered why anyperson found it so.
As for Martha herself, the tricks of coquetry were foreign to her,unless flaky biscuits and snowy bread may be so called; and so, dayby day, she went on baking, scrubbing, and sewing, taking whathappiness she could out of dreams, sweet, vanishing dreams.