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Sixteen

Evening was closing in when Rosalie drove into the main street of a cosy seaside town. There were white cottages with neat New England porches and hawthorn hedges and here and there a grander house of brick; the streets were clean and well kept; there was a square with the town hall, the post office, and an old church with a tiny cemetery. These, although she did not know it, were the remnants of pioneer culture. When she got to the southern end there were little shops still open, with strange foreign people loitering about them. She turned by a fountain drinking trough and drove back along the main street. “This is where I stay,” she said to herself, “but how and in what house”. She turned again and on the third journey, saw a sign in the big plate glass window of a restaurant ‘Girl Wanted.’

Rosalie halted her car by the curb, walked in, and asked the girl at the desk if she could speak with the manager. He appeared, a short thick-set solemn man in black, with hardly any neck and a round pale flat face.

“You want a girl?” asked Rosalie.

“Yes,” said the manager.

“Will I do?”

“Have you had any experience in restaurants?”

“No,” said Rosalie, “but I’ve had plenty of experience in housework. I’m neat and tidy.”

“Can you wash dishes?”

“I’m a good dishwasher,” said Rosalie.

“I might try you,” The manager was a little dubious about this well-dressed girl.

“What wages?” asked Rosalie.

“Five dollars a week, and your meals, and your room.”

“Can I have a room to myself?”

“Then I could only pay you four dollars a week, the girls usually double up.”

“Right,” said Rosalie. “I’ll take the single room.”

“Name?” said the manager getting out a black notebook.

“Stella Star.”

He asked for no address or references.

“I have a Ford,” said Rosalie. “What can I do with it?”

“There’s a big barn behind, you can stick it in there.”

Rosalie did as she was bid, put away her car and locked it. Two half-grown lads came and carried up her leather trunks.

“Quite a swell for a dishwasher”, said one lad to the other, when he saw her car and luggage.

Rosalie alone in her meagre room, opened the window and looked out on a paved court, where lorries were parked; in the distance she could see the spire of a red brick church. The window she decided needed cleaning.

“Well, here I am sound in wind and limb,” she said to herself. “I’m not dodging the hard things anyway. I wonder what will happen next?” Then she undressed, said a prayer, thought a little while about the little old lady and the strange undecided rhyming boy, then lay down on her narrow bed to sleep the sleep of youth.

Rosalie turned out at six, donned the rather raggedy cotton uniform that had been assigned her, and reported for breakfast. There were six other girls at the table in the very rear of the long narrow restaurant. Two of the girls looked to Rosalie as if they’d been out pretty late the night before, and, as breakfast for people who work is not a very chatty meal, no one at first paid any attention to her. After all, she was only a dishwasher and that is the lowliest of restaurant positions; there is in a restaurant, even as there is in little towns or big towns, a hierarchy; the dishwasher is the lowest in the social scale; the highest, the girl on the cash register. Rosalie was hungry, ate with a good appetite, and minded her own business. Presently, however, the big handsome blonde who sat next to her, yawned and said behind her hand, “What’s your name?”

“Stella”, said Rosalie.

“Why, that’s my name, too.”

“Then there’ll be two Stellas,” said Rosalie, and then realized instinctive­ly, and perhaps by a little drawing away of her companion, that she’d made a mistake. Blonde Stella, as she afterwards learned, was on the cake counter. So Rosalie added, “Of course, I’m only a dishwasher.”

“Tough job,” said the big blond “Got a fella?”

“I only arrived last night,” laughed Rosalie.

Rosalie found out as the days went by, that this was the theme song of the restaurant girls, “got a fella yet?” Well she’d had a “fella”, and run away from him, and she didn’t propose to become the chattel of any other. She only wanted to work, learn, and lead her own life under her new name.

“Where you from?” asked the big blonde.

Rosalie named a place far off, from which she did not come. She was sorry she had to tell those two lies about her name and place of origin. She liked truth and was not a liar by nature, still she had wit enough to know, that in times of stress and danger, necessity drives even the best and wisest into minor falsehood.

Breakfast over, Rosalie reported to the kitchen. Her helper, or perhaps her superior, instructed her in her duties. He was a fat middle-aged man, none too clean, clad in a long white coat, that had once been spotted, before the spots had run together into one continuous patch of grease; his face bore forever a moronic grin; his hair was sparse; his teeth brown and broken; it was inevitable that he should be called George.

Rosalie did as she was bid, scraped the leavings from the plates into a shoot that led to a garbage can in the basement, and then plunged the scraped dishes into a long coffin-shaped trough that was half full of hot soapy water. In this trough, George dabbled to and fro with a mop of dingy colour. On either side of this coffin-shaped trough, were long sloping fluted zinc shelves that led water back into the Black Sea over which George presided. Rosalie, when the trough was quite full, shifted from George’s right to his left, took out the dishes, piled them in little racks, and shoved them into a steam sterilizer that in two minutes not only sterilized but also dried them. The dishes were boiling hot as she drew the racks out of the sterilizer, and she had to guard against burns on arms and hands. She soon discovered the usefulness of rubber gloves. Mean­while, George had pulled the plug of the Dead Sea and let a dark brown river flow into some desert in the basement. “It always swirls down the hole one way,” said George. “I bin watching it now for years.” George seemed quite proud to exhibit this bit of scientific information to his new assistant. “Now, how do you account for that?” he said. “I’ve tried a hundred times to start her the other way about with the mop, but she al­ways swirls one way. Now, how do you account for that?”

“Due to the dip of the horizon,” said Rosalie, merrily.

George looked at her with interest. “Do you really think so?” said he.

“I shouldn’t wonder?” said Rosalie.

The work was intermittent; a great clatter of trays and dirty dishes as the waitresses carried them out of the dining room between eight and ten in the morning; then a lull with very little to do; another rush from noon to two; a rest; and then the busiest time of all from five in the afternoon to eight in the evening. “We got to keep her clear,” George used to say as if he were pumping a ship.

During the first afternoon, one of the cooks pushed a stool toward her, “Rest yourself,” he said, “or you’ll ruin your feet. How about a movie tonight?”

“I’ve got a date,” said Rosalie. Lie number three she thought, but a very useful lie, a magic formula that she employed a hundred times to avoid the male entanglements of her lowly environment.

Sometimes her back ached, sometimes her hands were sore, but she was quite happy in this humble employment, for she was a free woman, and she knew that even here she was learning about the inside of things and that she must wait patiently for whatever Fate would bring her.

In her off hours, she explored the hidden parts of the restaurant that were not apparent to the public eye; the vaulted store room in the cellar, damp and rather musty for there stood the big garbage cans that caught what came down the shoots and often overflowed; the inner store-room was piled with bags of flour, boxes of patent cereals, big bottles of extracts, and cases of canned goods of every variety. Rosalie wondered where all this food came from, and since so many employees had access to this higgety piggety storeroom why some things were not stolen. After a while, she noticed in fact, that the cook’s helpers and vegetable peelers were adept at petty theft. The cold room into which she peeked was a gruesome place, where dead, very dead looking meat was hung. It was fairly clean with white-washed walls and very cold. The meat-cutter entering, closed the door behind him quickly.

The most interesting place was the bakeshop, which was on the same floor as her dishwashing trough. She liked to watch the cooks stir up great messes in the mixing machines, and then with swift hands, scoop the batter in­to greased pans that were balanced against a weight. Their hands were often dirty and she smiled a little, as she compared the rough and ready methods of the kitchen, with the dainty manner in which the girls at the cake counter handled pies and frosted cakes in the presence of customers. There was some sham in this business; waitresses picked up a piece of toast that had fallen on the floor and stuck it back on a plate; what was unseen by the customer hardly mattered at all. Rosalie recalled a story the little old lady had told her of the negro cook—perhaps it was the very John they had seen on the bridge—who, when he had been teased by some of the sailor-men, would go to the galley and spit in their coffee. She made up her mind that at any rate, she wouldn’t be a sham but the same in her methods in kitchen and dining room.

The moronic fat dishwasher who gradually had been translated from her superior to her assistant, for in spite of his observation of the swirl of dishwater, his I.Q. was very low, turned out to be a bit of a wag, and told her endless stories about himself and his wife, with whom he seemed to live in an atmosphere of continued skirmish and only intermittent truce.

“She fair beats Hell out of me,” he explained to Rosalie one day.

“How much does she weigh?” enquired Rosalie.

“Only ninety-eight pounds, but God, she’s got a strong mind!”

“What does she beat you for?” asked Rosalie, anxious to understand the ins and outs of domestic affairs as they approached zero.

“For anything, for any little thing she could start a row about or a pin.

“For instance?” asked Rosalie for fun.

“Well, if I come home smellin’ of a drop of beer—I like a drop after washin’ in this hot kitchen all day—then I’m for it.”

“But how can she beat you?” asked Rosalie. “A ninety-eight pound woman can’t take a two hundred pound man across her knee. Does she spank you?”

“No, she never done that. Last night she hit me with a piece of kindling wood. See that bruise on my forehead?” And the moronic one widened his grin and brushed back his scanty hair.

Rosalie looked at the bruise, and noting that George’s grin expressed a kind of self-satisfaction, said, “I believe you like it, I believe you like your wife to beat you.”

“I don’t mind much,” said he. “You see she’s little and not very well, and it keeps her contented. She has something to look forward to.” Rosalie thought of Joe Gargery at the forge and broke into a peal of merry laughter.

It was at this very moment that the stocky manager, whose neck was so short that his head grew directly out of his body, pushed open the swinging doors, that the waitresses always kicked with deft foot, and came into the kitchen. Rosalie was flushed with the heat and was showing her even white teeth in laughter. The manager saw that she was pretty and good-natured, and from the first he had been impressed by the new Ford standing in the barn. He called her aside.

“How would you like to be a waitress?” he asked.

“More pay?” enquired Rosalie, who had some instinct for bargains.

“Seven dollars a week and tips.”

“And time?” enquired Rosalie.

“Ten hour day, five in the morning, five in late afternoon with a rest-period in between.”

“And a room to myself?”

“A room to yourself and every other Sunday off. You’ll meet more people as a waitress.”

“I’m not sure I want to meet more people,” said Rosalie, “I’m best at just knowing one or two that I can trust.”

“It’s a promotion,” said the manager.

“I’ll be quite sorry to leave George,” said Rosalie. “I’m sure he’ll miss me. He’s not very bright but he’s a good dishwasher, he never tries to be fresh and he makes me laugh with his comical stories.”

“George is all very well in his place,” said the manager profoundly, as if he were a God speaking from Olympus, “but he’ll never be anything but a dishwasher.”

“I wonder how smart he is himself?” thought Rosalie, and then added aloud, “I hoped there be more pay for a waitress job.”

“We’ll raise you each month toward the ceiling price if you’re efficient,” said the neckless one.

Rosalie thought; “How Mice would hate that phrase ‘the ceiling price,’ perhaps he’ll walk into the restaurant someday and I’ll wait on him.”

“All right,” said Rosalie, “I’m on. When do I start?”

“Now,” said the manager. “We’re a waitress short this morning.”

George’s jaw dropped when Rosalie told him she had been promoted to waitress. “I’m right sorry to lose you Stell’” said he, “you’re far and away the best helper I ever had. Maybe now you’re making a mistake, maybe if you stayed here a long time you’d get to be head dishwasher.”

“Then I’d be taking your job away from you George. No, I couldn’t do that. Did your wife beat you again last night?”

George glowed with pleasure; Rosalie knew this was his favourite theme. “She gave me a hell of a beatin’ up last night, she beat me with the hearth broom, but it didn’t hurt much. Afterwards she made cocoa for me, real good hot cocoa.”

Rosalie was issued a smart new uniform, white with green collar and green cuffs, and a little white cap with a narrow band of green. She had her own stockings and black walking shoes. In her room, she took in her dress a little at the waist to make it snug, tucked up her hair in the conventional fashion, fastened her rather trifling cap, and looked in the glass. “I’m quite pretty in this rig,” said Rosalie to her­self, “I wish my eyes didn’t look as if they were on the point of laughing all the time. I suppose I’ll have to keep on saying, ‘I got a date, I got a date.’ Dear me, how I should like to talk this job over with Mice, and Johnny Allen, and the little old lady.”

The restaurant was a glitter of shining wood and metal and great wall mirrors; the floor was of red and yellow squares that were smooth and easy to clean—Rosalie sprinkled coffee grounds on her section and swept up four or five times a day—there were tables with shiny tops and stalls for lovers; the ceiling too was in squares like the floor, only the ceiling squares were cream and white; two long counters, one for bread and cake, one for soda and coffee drinkers took up a good deal of the floor space there were a few discouraged and melancholy century plants set along a shelf by the stairs that led to the washrooms, the office, and the upstairs dining room. Rosalie decided that the century plants needed water, as they did; when no one was looking she poured a glass of water into their bowls, and they visibly improved under her treatment.

Rosalie at first was a little confused by the glitter and her lack of experience, but she soon learned to make out slips and look interested, while dull slow customers fingered the menu cards, pondered, and slowly made up their minds. After a little while, she knew exactly what each regular customer would order, but she had to smile and wait patiently till the palate and stomach of the orderer telegraphed to his slow brain, what calories were necessary for his bodily well-being.

She learned quickly how to jerk the counter pulls, and to estimate the requisite amount of coca-kola in a glass, how to make banana splits and sundaes, and ice-cream sodas, and sodas with malted milk, and sodas with both malted milk and an egg. Who was Horlick, she used to wonder, for she had no knowledge of Jimmy Horlick or Christ Church or the famous Bullingdon Club in Canterbury Quad; and she little guessed that with each spoonful of malted milk she ladled into a glass, she was helping to support the Bullingdons, that splendidly destructive society. She smiled back at people who smiled at her, but gave them no ‘come-on’ eyes, and she was forever busy about her business. Her social position was now better; she had risen in the hierarchy and the girls now talked to her freely at the breakfast table. Their talk was still about ‘fellas’ and their adventures of the night before, about which they were astonishingly frank. “There must be something wrong with you, Stell, though you look healthy,” they used to say, “You’re an icicle.” Rosalie would laugh and say, “I guess so, everyone can’t be the same.”

Of course, everything did not go along smoothly. There were always a few pushing, cross and unreasonable customers, and petty jealousies among the employees. One day when Rosalie was in the kitchen preparing an order, Stella the big blonde, bumped against Susan, the sullen brunette. They put down their trays for this slight bump was the climax of an aggravation that had been growing between them for some time; they were both after the same ‘fella’; they fought there in the kitchen. Rosalie had never seen women fight before, and a chill of terror crept into her heart and along her spine. There among the dishes, and dishwashing machines, and hot stoves and tables laid out with sliced bread, pies, cakes and meat, they joined battle, hammer and tongs. Plates and cups clattered to the floor and were broken, bread and meat spilt—it was all picked up later and fed to the customers—a pot of potatoes upon the glowing stove was overset and sent up a cloud of steam. Women apparently have no great instinct to strike, but rather to pull and scratch, and in these days of long scarlet painted fingernails, a woman’s hand can be a dangerous weapon. Both contestants had their caps pulled off and their hair pulled down, Stella’s cheek was deeply gouged and Susan had a black eye, before the men cooks, who rather enjoyed this diversion from the monotony of pot and frying-pan, pulled them apart. Then both began to cry hysterically.

Rosalie felt quite sad all day about this fight, but she realized that it was all a part of life, and that even through this rowdy incident she had learned something.

It was soon after this fight, that Rosalie made a friend—not a confidential friend but a kind of companion—of Mary, the laughing brown-eyed girl on the cake-counter. Mary had a steady ‘fella’ who worked in Boston, and she was going to marry him as soon as he’d found a house and saved two thousand dollars. A wise, happy girl was Mary with her head screwed on properly. Sometimes in the summer evenings, Rosalie would drive her in her Ford to Friday Point, where they would sit and talk, cool off, and look out across the sea at the fishermen’s boats chugging homeward.

One Sunday when both she and Mary had the day off, they packed a lunch and drove off to the nearby valley of the great river. The valley was spacious and beautiful and the broad river rushing to the sea changed its moods and colours with the moods and colours of the sky. Rosalie had never seen a big river before—this was five times as wide as Mice’s river—and its strength and beauty filled her heart with gladness.

Mary did not want to look at the river very much, for she had grown up in the valley, and was used to the river; she wanted to talk about John and his letters and her hopes for the future. Rosalie told Mary nothing about herself but listened, with half her mind—she had that faculty of half-concentration—and said ‘yes, yes, isn’t that grand’ at appropriate intervals. Her eyes, however, were on the river and she thought a little bit about Mice, and what fun it would be to be with him. She was sure he would kick the pebble no more.

Mary’s people lived further up river, and with them they had tea. Rosalie listened to the family talk and learned that the river valley was a great source of wealth to the people who lived there. Perhaps it was on that day that it began to dawn in her mind that things, rather than money, made real value and that men could advance little without friendliness and co-operation. If they burned their pastures in common, there was a wealth of blueberries in August; the sea fogs that rolled up the valley were a benison to their acres of straw-piled strawberries; the wooded hills gave them wood and timber; in May the river was crowded with spawning kayaks that they dipped and sold for bait to the lobster fishermen; guides were well paid in May and June by the sportsmen who came to take the salmon; there was a run of silver-bellied sea-going eels in October, that Italians wanted in New York, and spawning smelts to be taken through the ice of January and February. “How gracious God was to some people,” she thought, and how proudly and freely lived the dwellers in the valley with their fierce independence. But all had to be organized; there had to be net makers, and punt makers, and packers, and truck drivers to haul and ship the fish. Men had to trust one another and could do little without cooperation. Money, she began to see, had no value in itself, but was only a convenience in trade and an insurance against old age. Rosalie listened and learned a great deal on that day and other days in the valley.

The work in a restaurant is tiresome and the employees are changed frequently: sometimes a tired waitress has a flare-up with the manager, sometimes one marries, sometimes one gets in trouble. The last was the case with the rather shy brown-eyed girl at the soda fountain. Rosalie had hardly spoken with this girl, but she liked her gentle, quiet manner. Her ‘fella’ claimed that he was not the only one, and refused to marry her. The girl was kept on till she became too bulky for public appearance. Rosalie was on the cash when this sad girl, battered suitcase in hand, came to draw her last pay. Rosalie followed her through the door to the sidewalk and thrust into her hand a ten-dollar bill. “Here,” she said, “here’s the ten dollars Johnny Allen gave me, when I was on the road.” She never saw this girl again and often wondered what became of her.

So because of these intermittent vacancies, Rosalie, because she was industrious and pleasant, was after three months of waiting promoted to the bread counter—she enjoyed wrapping up the loaves of fresh warm bread—and thence to the cake-counter—she knew how cakes were made in the kitchen—and before Christmas, she was put on the cash, and became the reigning queen of the establishment. All these promotions carried with them increases in pay; Rosalie saw to that.

Every week she wrote a letter to the little old lady and told all she could about her life in the restaurant. Rosalie could write a very amusing letter. But the old lady had no gift for literary composition. She merely replied from time to time; “I am well, the moron is still with me. Come soon, the house is empty without you.”

But it was while she was still a waitress that she had the encounter that coloured the rest of her life. There used to come into the restaurant in mid-afternoon, a stooped man with a shock of grey tousled hair. His age was hard to calculate for when he walked, stooped and with bad balance, he seemed well over seventy, but when he sat down in a stall and his stoop was not apparent, he seemed much younger for his face was unlined and fresh and friendly. He had an eye that was roving yet intent, and it was obvious that he liked pretty girls. Rosalie did not mind this quality for she had learned that all healthy men, young or old, like pretty girls. Rosalie had a friendly feeling for this old man, and sometimes, when she could catch his eye on his entrance, she would nod him to one of her stalls. After a while, he needed no nodding, but always came to be waited on by her and always left a tip. He drank a lot of coffee and ate little. For a long time he did not speak to Rosalie except to give his order. Often this old man would bring along an exercise book, and write and write as he sipped his coffee and smoked a cigarette. Rosalie used to wonder what he wrote and wrote forever in his book, and sometimes as she made her rounds, she gave a quick glance over his shoulder, but his writing was difficult, and she could discover nothing, except that he wrote with a large soft pencil on un-ruled paper.

One day, however, when she brought his coffee, he asked abruptly, “What’s your name?” “Rosalie,” she said instinctively, “I mean Stella.” “It can’t be both,” said the old man looking at her closely. “I think it’s Rosalie.”

Rosalie glanced around to see if anyone was listening, then she looked straight in the man’s face to see if she could trust him. She decided she could.

“You’re right,” she said, “it’s really Rosalie but they call me Stella here.”

That’s a bit of a mystery,” said he. “Stella a star, Rosalie a little rose.”

“I know about the meaning of Stella,” she said, “but I’m afraid I’m very unlike a little rose. I’ve only lately been promoted from dishwasher.”

“I think Rosalie suits you very well,” said he.

“It seemed,” said Rosalie, “that you had something to tell me.”

“I have,” said the old man, “but not now,” and he went on with his coffee and his writing. That was all of their first conversation. After that, they had many scraps of conversation, and always passed the time of day with mutual smiles. Rosalie was certain he had something important to say to her, and his delay increased her confidence. As she rang up the cash register, smiled and handed out the correct change, she felt something strange in her heart as if a far-off spring were already close at hand.

One day when they were almost alone in the restaurant, he leaned his elbows on the glass tobacco case before paying his bill, and said;

“What are you doing here, Rosalie?”

“I’m working and learning,” said Rosalie. “The little old lady, who is the wisest person I’ve seen, told me I had to work at common work and learn about people, and wait patiently for what would happen to me.”

“Just so,” said the old man. “I won’t ask who the little old lady is, for that might take too long in the telling. How much education have you had?”

“I’ve passed grade eleven, and taught a country school for two years.”

“And how old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“Then you’re just ready for what I propose. I’ve had you in my mind for some time.”

“Oh, but I’m not ready,” said Rosalie, “that’s the hard part of it. I know you can keep a secret.”

“I can keep a secret,” said he. “I have kept many of my own and other people’s secrets.”

“Well,” said Rosalie, “I didn’t do anything bad like stealing or murdering but I had to run away, I couldn’t take it, and all my school standing is in my first name. I’d have to begin all over again. I’m Stella Star now, and I’ve lost all my standing.”

“Too bad,” said the old man, “but not impossible. Have you a good memory? Do you like to study?”

“Yes,” said Rosalie, “I think my memory is pretty good, and I’d sooner read and study than do anything else.”

“Do you think you could pass those examinations again?”

“I’m sure I could,” said Rosalie, “I taught some of the work for two years and I read some in both French and English last winter.”

“You’d have to go over your work,” said he “You’d have to have a good tutor in the evenings.”

“I’ve got plenty of money,” said Rosalie “and I could pay for a tutor, but what does that lead to? When I pass as Stella Star, I’ll still be a cash girl in a restaurant.”

“It may lead to many things,” said the old man. “That examination is the gateway to all the professions. I had to tell you this because something within me told me to tell you. I don’t go about upsetting people for fun. Will you trust me? Would you like to try?”

Rosalie reflected hardly a minute. She was throughout her life always Johnny-on-the-spot mentally, and could make quick decisions.

“Get me a clever girl to help me and I’ll start this very evening. I have a room to myself,” said she.

Rosalie liked Claire, her tutor, and worked faithfully. In June, she passed fourth highest in the county. It was then that the old man revealed his intention. “Now,” said he, “I will enter your name as a candidate as a student in training at the local hospital. I have some influence there; you will be admitted.”

“Oh,” said Rosalie, “I should like that.”

“I don’t know whether it was you flitting around the restaurant in your white uniform that put the idea in my mind or whether some earth spirit whispered it to me. But it seemed to be your destiny.

 

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

 

“Hamlet!” said Rosalie “I’ve just passed in that.”

“Good,” said the old man. I hope you remember more of it. It is the best thing ever written. Your destiny, I believe, is to be a nurse, to tend the sick and afflicted and perhaps care for little children.”

“I have often dreamed of being a children’s nurse,” said Rosalie. “You are the fourth person who has helped me along the road.”

 

~ 🌹 ~

 

So in July, Rosalie left the restaurant, regretted by many. George came out front wiping his hands on his unspeakable apron, “Come back and see us Rosalie.” “I will” said Rosalie, “I’ll come out in the kitchen and see you.”

“She don’t beat me no more,” said George, “she got converted this winter in the new Reformed Emmanuel Church. She prays over me now. I don’t know but what it’s worse than beatin’.”

Rosalie drove off along the road by which she had entered the town. After three hours she came to the river, the iron bridge, and Mice’s bungalow. She halted, got out of her car, and went in on the pretext of ask­ing a direction. A pretty but rather sentimental looking woman was seated on the verandah. This, Rosalie decided must be Mice’s mother. The lady answered her question politely and gave her a friendly smile. Nothing more; there was no sign of Mice. She drove off almost hoping that she would over­take him kicking a new pebble along the road, though this would represent a surrender of his new principles. But there was no sign of Mice along the highway.

At last she drove up the lane by the half-burnt church to the little yellow house, and the little old lady, a little frailer now, was at the back door to welcome her. “I saw you coming for miles and miles,” she said.

The moronic maid was given indefinite leave; Rosalie spent six weeks with the kittle old lady. They drove about the country; they talked without ceasing, for now Rosalie had some stories to tell. In the evenings, as formerly, they indulged in minor gambling with great earnestness and pleasure. Rosalie did not tell the little old lady about Mice, but revealed the name and residence of the old man who had helped her.

“That,” said the little old lady, “was one of the boys that helped salvage the Ardmore.”

“Oh, come now, Old Lady,” said Rosalie, “that’s too much of the good thing, that’s too much like a story-book. Affairs can’t go around in circles like that.” But the old lady protested that it was true, “I know all about him” she said. “He lives in that very town and his back was hurt in the war.”

Rosalie never quite believed that this was true, but perhaps it was. She had to take the little old lady’s stories at their face value, even though she was getting very weak and old and perhaps a little faulty in memory.

The little old lady still had plenty of stories in her bag and an evening would begin thus;

“Once I remember we were coming up through Sunda Strait and we passed quite close to a little island, for the water was bold, that had a feathery crest of palm trees. Evening was coming on, and I was standing behind the steersman, a very old, very black, purple-black negro sailor-man. He was a big Jamaican negro and he had gold ear-rings in his ears, ‘Missus,’ he said to me, ‘you see that island? There’s a Nova Scotia woman buried there. I helped bury her when I was a young man.

“ ‘What ship, John?’ I asked, for his name was John.

“ ‘I don’t rightly remember the ship’s name,’ said he, ‘I sail on so many ships But she was the Master’s wife.’

“And then I asked, ‘What happened?’

“ ‘She had a baby, Missus, she had a baby before we got where the old man expected to be. She died, and that little baby live and grow up I guess. I helped dig her grave and I cover it all good with shells. Dey say shells keep off hants.’

“Well,” said the little old lady to Rosalie, “I decided to find out about that …” and then she rambled off into some half-forgotten tale of the sea.

At last in early September, Rosalie had to go. The little old lady who dreaded sentimentality, said to her in parting, “I knew you were honest and that you were going somewhere when I saw what a neat hole you made for the skunk. I put a new cross up for him this spring last, winter’s snow had beat the old one down.”

In mid-September Rosalie was entered at the hospital along with fourteen other girls.

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Sixteen by Dalhousie University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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