DIPHTHERIA

EARLY in the winter, diphtheria broke out in the schools. Marian said
little about it at home, fearing she might not be allowed to go, though
the daily paper told the whole story. Why the schools were not closed
was a question even in the long ago days when Marian was a child.
Uncle George was indignant, but influenced by his wife’s arguments,
he allowed Marian to have her way. Mrs. St. Claire said Marian was
better off in school than at home, and in no more danger of catching
diphtheria than she would be hanging over the fence talking to passing
children. Marian didn’t tell her Uncle George that she was never
allowed to speak to passing children. He might have kept her home.

Weeks passed and many little ones died. The schoolroom became a solemn
place to Marian. It seemed strange to look at empty seats and know
that the ones who used to sit in them would never come to school again.
Even the boys were quieter than ever before. There were no longer paper
wads flying the minute the teacher’s back was turned, perhaps because
the chief mischief maker’s curly head was missing. He was Tommy Jewel,
and he made things lively at the beginning of the term.

Marian felt that it was something to have known so many girls and boys
who died. At recess in the basement she used to ask children from the
other rooms how many of their number were missing. Marian felt so well
and full of life it never entered her head that she might be taken ill
herself, and the thought of death was impossible, although she often
closed her eyes and folded her hands, trying to imagine her school-days
were over.

At home the children met but seldom after the outbreak of diphtheria.
Marian ate her breakfast alone and Ella had hers when the little cousin
had gone to school. It was easily possible for Mrs. St. Claire to keep
the children entirely separate. To guard Ella from all danger of
contagion was her daily care and the smell of burning sulphur was ever
present in the house.

One morning Marian’s throat was sore and she felt ill. The child
dressed quickly and went down to tell Uncle George. Tilly the maid was
at her home on a short visit, and Uncle George was building the kitchen
fire.

“I’ve got the diphtheria,” announced Marian, and there was terror in
her face.

“Let me look in your throat,” said Uncle George. “Why it looks all
right, Marian, just a little red.”

“I don’t care, I feel sick all over,” insisted the child, “and I tell
you now and then, I know I’ve got it.”

When Aunt Amelia was called she said Marian imagined that her throat
was sore and as Marian ate breakfast, she was sent to school. The child
went away crying. She didn’t swing her little dinner pail around and
around that morning just to show that she could do it and keep the
cover on. Uncle George was inclined to call her back, but Aunt Amelia
laughed at him.

“Any child,” argued Mrs. St. Claire, “that could eat the breakfast she
did, isn’t at death’s door, now you mark my words. She has let her
imagination run away with her. Our darling Ella is far more apt to have
diphtheria than that child. She would be willing to have the disease to
get a little sympathy.”

Marian felt better out in the fresh air and as she met Ellen Day soon
after leaving home, the way to school seemed short. The chief ambition
of Marian’s school life was to sit on a back seat, yet from the
beginning, it had been her lot to belong to the front row. The teachers
had a way of putting her there and Marian knew the reason. It wasn’t
because she was the smallest child in the room, although that was the
truth. Tommy Jewel used to sit on a front seat, too, and once Marian
had to share the platform with him. The teacher said they were a good
pair and the other children laughed. Possibly the memory of Tommy’s
mischievous face caused the teacher to notice how quiet Marian was the
morning her throat was sore. The child sat with her elbows on her desk,
her face in her hands, staring solemnly into space.

“Are you ill, Marian?” asked the teacher.

“No, Miss Beck,” the child answered, recalling her aunt’s remarks.

At last, conscious of pathetic eyes following her about the room and
having heard of Aunt Amelia, the teacher again questioned Marian. “What
is the trouble, little girl? Is there anything you would like to do?
Would you like to write on the blackboard?”

Marian’s face lighted. “I wish I could sit in that empty back seat all
day,” she eagerly suggested.

The teacher smiled. “You may pack your books, Marian, and sit there
until I miss you so much I shall need you down here again.”

Marian knew what that meant. “I’ll be awful good,” she promised. “I
mean, I’ll be ever so good.”

So Marian sat in a back seat that last day and in spite of her sore
throat and headache, she was happy. It was triumph to sit in a back
seat. She was glad the children looked around and smiled. They might
get bad marks for turning their heads, to be sure, but what of it?
At recess Marian walked across the schoolroom once or twice, then
returned to her seat. At noon she refused to go to the basement with
the children to eat her luncheon. In fact, she couldn’t eat. Marian
wondered why time seemed so long.

When the history class was called to the recitation seat early in the
afternoon, one little girl was motionless when the signals were given.

“Marian Lee’s asleep,” volunteered the child who sat in front of her.

At that, Marian raised her head and stumbled to her class.

“Don’t you feel well?” asked the teacher.

Marian shook her head. Her cheeks were crimson. She had never felt so
wretched.

“Don’t you think you had better go home?” continued Miss Beck.

“Oh, no,” answered the child in tones of alarm. “Oh, she wouldn’t let
me come home before school is out.”

“There, there, don’t cry,” begged the teacher. “You may go back to
your seat if you wish.”

Marian did so and was soon asleep again. At recess she awoke to find
herself alone in the room with Miss Beck.

“You had better go home, dear,” the teacher urged. “I am sure you are
ill. Let me help you put on your coat and hood.”

“I can’t go home until school is out,” and Marian began to cry.

“Why not?”

“Because on account of my aunt. She wouldn’t let me come home.”

“But you are ill, Marian.”

“She won’t let me be sick,” was the sobbing reply, “and I don’t dare go
home. You don’t know my aunt. I guess I feel better. I want to go where
it isn’t so hot.”

The teacher was young and hopeful. “Perhaps you will feel better if you
go out to play,” was her reply.

Instead of going out of doors, Marian went into the basement and joined
in a game of blind man’s buff. Only a few minutes and she fell upon
the floor in a dead faint. When the child opened her eyes she found
herself the centre of attraction. The basement was quiet as though the
command had been given to “Form lines.” A strange teacher was holding
Marian and Miss Beck was bathing her face with a damp handkerchief.
Her playmates stood about in little groups, whispering the dread word
“Diphtheria.” Miss Beck came to her senses and ordered the children
into the fresh air. How to send Marian home was the next question. The
child listened to the various suggestions and then, struggling to her
feet declared that she would walk home alone. She couldn’t imagine what
her aunt might say if she did anything else.

The child had her way. Through the gate and down the road she went
alone. The journey was long and the wind was cold. The little feet were
never so weary as that December day. It seemed to Marian that she could
never reach home. Finally she passed the church. Seven more houses
after that, then a turn to the right and two more houses. If she dared
sit down on the edge of the sidewalk and rest by the way, but that
wouldn’t do. “I could never stir again,” she thought and plodded on.

At last she reached her own gate and saw Ella at the window. Would Aunt
Amelia scold? It would be good to get in where it was warm, anyway. Oh,
if Aunt Amelia would open the front door and say, “Come in this way,
Marian,” but she didn’t and the child stumbled along a few more steps
to the back entrance. She was feeling her way through the house when
Aunt Amelia stopped her in the dining-room.

“Don’t come any further,” said she. “I have callers in the parlor. What
are you home in the middle of the afternoon for?”

“I’ve got the diphtheria,” the child replied, and her voice was thick.

Aunt Amelia made no reply but returned immediately through the
sitting-room to the parlor.

“I guess she knows I’m sick now,” Marian whispered as she sank into a
chair by the table and pushed her dinner pail back to make room for
her aching head. The callers left. Marian heard the front door open
and close. Then Aunt Amelia hastily entered the dining-room, threw
a quantity of sulphur upon the stove and went back, closing the door
behind her. Another door closed and Marian knew that her aunt was in
the parlor with Ella.

The child choked and strangled and called to her aunt. She tried to
walk and couldn’t stand. The fumes of burning sulphur grew stronger and
stronger. The air was blue. Marian became terrified as no one replied
to her calls, but in time a merciful feeling of rest and quiet stole
over her and her head fell forward upon the table.

For a long time she knew nothing. Then came dreams and visions. Part
of the time Marian recalled that she was home from school early and
that she had not taken off her hood and coat. Again she wondered where
she was and why it was so still. Then came an awful dread of death.
Where was everybody and what would become of her? The thought of
death aroused Marian as nothing else had done. Would she be left to
die alone? She remembered that some of her schoolmates were ill with
diphtheria but a few hours before the end came. Where was Aunt Amelia?
Had she gone away from the house? Marian could not lift her head and
when she tried to call her aunt her voice was a smothered whisper. What
she suffered before her uncle came was a story long untold. Things
happened when Uncle George walked into the house. He aired the room and
there was wrath in his voice as he demanded explanations.

“Have patience a minute more, little girl, and it will be all right,”
he said to Marian, as he brought a cot into the room and quickly made a
bed. Then he undressed her, put her in bed and grabbed his hat.

“Oh, don’t leave me,” begged Marian, “please don’t, Uncle George, I’m
awful sick and I’m afraid when I’m alone.”

“I’m going for the doctor,” was the reply; “lie still and trust Uncle
George.”

The man was gone but a moment and soon after he returned, the doctor
came. It was no easy matter to look in Marian’s throat. It needed more
than the handle of a spoon to hold down the poor little tongue.

“Am I going to die right off?” demanded the child. “Oh, if I can only
live I’ll be so good. I’ll never do anything bad again. Tell me quick,
have I got to die to-night?”

For a time it seemed useless to try to quiet the little girl. “Oh, I’m
afraid to die,” she moaned, “I don’t dare to die. Aunt Amelia says I
won’t go to heaven and I’m afraid. I don’t want to tell what she does
say. Oh, Uncle George, don’t let me die. Tell the doctor you want me to
get well. Tell him I’ll be good.”

Uncle George sat down and covered his face with his hands when Marian
told him she couldn’t hear what he said, that it was dark and she
wanted more light so she could see his face that she might know if he
was angry. Then she called for Aunt Amelia, and Aunt Amelia would not
come; she was afraid of the diphtheria.

“But if I’m going to die, I’ve got to tell her,” cried the child,
clutching at the air, and it was some time before Uncle George
understood.

“Child, child, don’t speak of cookies,” he begged, “that was all right
long ago;” but the assurance fell upon unheeding ears.

The nurse came and went up-stairs to prepare a room for Marian. The
woman’s appearance convinced the child that there was no hope–she was
surely going to die. Uncle George groaned as he listened to her ravings.

At last the doctor put down his medicine case and drew a chair close
beside the cot. He was a big man with a face that little children
trusted. He took both of Marian’s small, burning hands in one of his
and told her she must look at him and listen to what he had to tell
her. Uncle George moved uneasily. He thought the doctor was about to
explain to Marian that unless she kept more quiet, nothing would save
her, she would have to die. The man was surprised when he heard what
the kind physician said. He talked to Marian of the friend of little
children and of the beautiful home beyond the skies. Nor would he allow
her to interrupt, but patiently and quietly told her over and over
that the One who took little children up in His arms and blessed them,
didn’t ask whether they were good or bad. He loved them all. The sins
of little children were surely forgiven.

The troubled brain of the child grasped the meaning at last. There
was nothing to fear. She closed her eyes and was quiet for a few
moments. When she began to talk again, it was of summer mornings and
apple-blossoms, of the wild birds and the chipmunk that lived in the
locust grove. Many days passed before Marian realized anything more:
then she knew that Uncle George took care of her nights and the nurse
came every morning.

“Where is my aunt?” asked the child. “Doesn’t she come up here?”

“Your aunt and little cousin,” replied the nurse, “stay by themselves
in the front part of the house down-stairs. They are afraid of the
diphtheria.”

Marian stared at the wall. She was glad to know there was no danger
that Aunt Amelia might walk in, but somehow it seemed better not to
tell the nurse.

“Am I going to die?” she asked.

The question came so suddenly the nurse was taken by surprise.
“Why–why we hope not,” was the reply.

Something in the tones of the woman’s voice impressed the truth upon
Marian’s mind. She was far more likely to die than to live. “I only
wanted to know,” she remarked, “I’m not afraid any more. I only hope I
won’t be a grown up angel the first thing. I should like to be a little
girl with a mother and live in one of the many mansions for a while,
like other children. I’d pick flowers in the front yard.”

Soon after, the child fell asleep. When she awoke she was delirious,
talking continually about the Rainbow Bridge. The doctor came, but it
was hours before the Rainbow Bridge faded away and Marian was quiet.
That was the day the little pilgrim seemed near the journey’s end.
Until sunset, Uncle George watched each fluttering breath. In the
silent room below, Ella wept bitterly and Aunt Amelia waited to hear
that the little soul was gone. She waited calmly, declaring that she
had done her duty by the child up-stairs.

Marian lived. A few weeks more and Aunt Amelia heard her ringing
laugh and knew that she was happy. At last Marian was well enough to
leave her room but it was days and days after the house was fumigated
before she was allowed to see Ella or sit at the table with the family.
Everything seemed changed. The rooms were brighter and more cheerful.
The pictures on the walls had a different meaning. The very chairs
looked new. Nothing appeared just as Marian left it. Even Aunt Amelia
was better looking and spoke more kindly to the child. Nothing was ever
the same after Marian had diphtheria. She never returned to the little
back room where she was away from all the family at night, nor did she
ever again doubt that Uncle George was her own uncle.

Many bright days crowded one upon another during the remaining weeks
of winter. The neighbors invited Marian to their homes and took her
driving with them. Dolly Russel’s mother gave a house party for her,
inviting little girls from the country for a week in town. That was the
time Marian was so happy she almost believed herself a princess in
a fairy tale. When she was home again, the child added a line to her
diary.

“February 29.–I had diphtheria this winter and it was a good thing. I
got well and now I am having the best time that ever was written down
in a diary. I have changed my mind about being an author. I won’t have
time to write books. There is too much fun in the world.”

ONCE in a great while Marian and Ella had a chance to play together.
These rare occasions were times of joy.

Mrs. St. Claire usually took Ella with her wherever she went, but
sometimes she was compelled to leave the child at home with her father
or Tilly, and there was merriment in the house. The little cousins
had gay times and their only regret was that such hours of happiness
were few. At last Marian thought of a plan. Her new room was opposite
Ella’s. As Aunt Amelia insisted upon sending Marian to bed at seven,
Uncle George declared that early hours were necessary for Ella’s
welfare. Accordingly, both children went to their rooms at the same
time with instructions not to talk. No one cautioned them not to sing
and singing was one of Marian’s habits. After listening to the solos a
few nights, Ella tried a song of her own and that gave Marian an idea.
She listened until Ella stopped for breath and then expressed a few
thoughts to the tune of “Home, Sweet Home.”

“O-oh, I know what will be great fun
And I’ll tell you what it is,
We will play go to gay old concerts,
And take our children too.

“First the other lady
Can sing a good long song,
And then it will be my turn next,
And I’ll sing a song myself.

“Fun fu-un-fun, fun-fun,
I guess it will be fun-fun,
I guess it will be fun.”

It was fun. The other lady took the hint quickly. She and her children
went to the concert without waiting to get ready. Furthermore she left
herself sitting beside her children in the best seat in the hall and at
the same time took her place on the stage. She even went so far as to
become a colored man while she sang

“Way down upon the Suwanee River.”

Ella’s mother came up-stairs for something as the gentleman was
rendering this selection with deep feeling, but she had no idea that
her little daughter was singing on the stage, nor did she know that the
greatest soprano in America was the next performer, although she did
hear Marian begin in tragic tones, “‘There is a happy land, far, far
away.'” “Far, far away” was tremulous with emotion.

From that hour dated many a concert, and after the concerts, the ladies
continued to sing everything they had wished to talk over during the
day. Often the musical conversations were cut short by an admonition
from the hall below, but even Tilly never learned the nature of those
evening songs. As the children disturbed nobody and were put to bed
long before they were sleepy, Uncle George said, “Let them sing.” In
this way Marian and Ella became well acquainted.

One night Marian asked Ella if she knew anything about how she happened
to be taken to the Little Pilgrim’s Home when she was a baby.

“No-o-o,” replied Ella in shrill soprano,
“They won’t tell-ell me-e a thing now-ow days
But a long time ago-go
They used to talk about everything
Right before me-e, only the trouble is-s,
I was such a little goo-oose
I didn’t think much about it.”

“Do you know anything about my mother-other-other?”
Chanted the musician across the hall.

“No-o-o,” was the response,
“I only know-o that my mother-other
Didn’t know your mother-other, ever in her li-ife,
But I do-oo remember-ember that the folks at that Ho-o-me
Had some things that used to belong-long
To your mother-other.
And they are packed away-way somewhere in the house.
I guess they are in the attic-attic,
But of course I don’t know-o.

“Once I saw-aw a picture of your mother-other
But I don’t remember-ember
What she looked like, looked like-looked like.
Don’t you wi-ish your mother wasn’t dead?
If you had a mother-other
I could go to your hou-ouse
And your mother-other
Would let us play together-ether.”

“Yes, yes, she would,” Marian’s voice chimed in,
“She would let us play-ay
All the day-ay.
And sometimes I thi-ink my mother is ali-ive,
And if she is, won’t I be gla-ad.
If I do find my mother-other
And I go to live with her-er,
Why, may be your mother-other will die-i
And then you can come and live with u-us
And won’t that be gay-ay.
You never know what’s going to happen in this world.”

“What kind of a song are you singing?” called Aunt Amelia.

“Opera house music,” replied Marian, who feared that concerts were over
for the season when she heard the question.

“I thought,” responded Aunt Amelia, “that a lunatic asylum was turned
loose. Don’t let me hear another sound to-night.”

The musicians laughed softly, and there were no more solos that evening.

The following day Ella and Aunt Amelia went visiting and in the middle
of the forenoon, when Tilly was busily working in the kitchen, Marian
climbed the attic stairs with determination in her eye. An old portrait
of George Washington on the wall at the landing seemed to question
her motives. “Don’t worry, Mr. Washington,” remarked the child, “I’m
not going to tell a lie, but sir, I’m looking for my mother and I’m
going to find her if she’s here.” Marian gazed steadily at the face in
the old oaken frame, and meeting with no disapproval there, passed on,
leaving the Father of her Country to guard the stairway.

There were numerous trunks, boxes, barrels and an old sea-chest in the
attic. Marian hesitated a moment before deciding to try the yellow
chest. Her knees shook as she lifted the cover. At first she was
disappointed; there seemed to be nothing but blankets in the chest.
Then a bit of blue silk peeping from beneath the blankets caught her
eye and Marian knew she was searching in the right place. From the
depths of the chest she drew forth a bundle, unfolded it and beheld a
beautiful gown of pale blue silk, trimmed with exquisite lace. Tears
filled her eyes as she touched the shimmering wonder. She had never
seen anything like it.

“This was my mother’s,” she whispered, and kissed the round neck as
she held the waist close in her arms. “She wore it once, my mother.”
Marian would gladly have looked at the dress longer but time was
precious and there was much to see. Embroidered gowns of purest white,
bright sashes and ribbons were there, and many another dainty belonging
of the woman whose name was never mentioned in the presence of her
child. In a carved ivory box, were jewels. Marian closed it quickly,
attracted by a bundle at the bottom of the chest. She had found it at
last. The picture of her mother. It was in an oval frame, wrapped in a
shawl of white wool.

“Oh, if I had her, if she could only come to me,” cried Marian, as the
lovely face became her own. Though the child might never again see the
picture, yet would it be ever before her.

When she dared stay in the attic no longer, Marian kissed the picture,
wrapped it in the white shawl and laid it tenderly away. As she did so
she noticed for the first time a folded newspaper on the bottom of the
chest. Inside the paper was a small photograph. Marian tiptoed to the
attic stairs and listened a moment before she looked at the photograph.
Then she uttered a low exclamation of delight. There was no doubt that
the face in the oval frame was her mother’s, for the small picture was
a photograph of Marian’s father and a beautiful woman. “It’s the same
head,” whispered the child, “and oh, how pretty she is. I am so glad
she is my mother!

“I wonder what they saved an old newspaper so carefully for?” continued
Marian. “Maybe I had better look at it. What does this mean? ‘Claimed
by Relatives,’ who was claimed, I wonder? Oh! I was! Now I’ll find out
all I want to know because, only see how much it tells!”

Marian laid the photograph down and read the article from beginning
to end. She didn’t see George Washington when she passed him on the
landing on the way down-stairs and for the rest of the day the child
was so quiet every one in the house marveled. There were no concerts
that evening. The leading soprano had too much on her mind. The
following morning Marian sharpened her lead pencil and opened her
diary. After looking for a moment at the white page she closed the book.

“No use writing down what you are sure to remember,” she remarked, “and
besides that, it is all too sad and finished. I am going outdoors and
have some fun.” Marian was in the back yard watching a cricket, when
Ella sauntered down the path singing, “Good-morning, Merry Sunshine.”

“Where are you going, sweetheart?” called her mother from the kitchen
window.

“Just down here by the fence to get some myrtle leaves,” Ella replied
and went on singing.

Marian bent over the cricket nor did she look up although Ella gave her
surprising information as she passed.

“If I were you, Miss Marian Lee,
I’ll tell you what I’d do,
I’d pack my doll and everything I wanted to take with me,
Because in the very early morning,
You’re surely going away
To a country town where you will stay
Until school begins again.

“I knew they were going to send you somewhere,
But I didn’t know just when,
Until I just now heard my father and mother
Both talking all about it.
I know you’ll have a pretty good time,
I wish I were going too,
But maybe you’ll find some girls to play with,
I’m sure I hope you do.”

Marian smiled but dared not reply, especially as the singer broke
down and laughed and Aunt Amelia knew there were no funny lines in
“Good-morning, Merry Sunshine.”

The hint was enough. Marian straightened her affairs for a journey and
a long absence from home.