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The Sincere Spinster








From: The Virginian

I do not know with which of the two estimates--Mr. Taylor's or the
Virginian's--you agreed. Did you think that Miss Mary Stark Wood of
Bennington, Vermont, was forty years of age? That would have been an
error. At the time she wrote the letter to Mrs. Balaam, of which
letter certain portions have been quoted in these pages, she was in
her twenty-first year; or, to be more precise, she had been twenty some
eight months previous.

Now, it is not usual for young ladies of twenty to contemplate a journey
of nearly two thousand miles to a country where Indians and wild animals
live unchained, unless they are to make such journey in company with a
protector, or are going to a protector's arms at the other end. Nor is
school teaching on Bear Creek a usual ambition for such young ladies.

But Miss Mary Stark Wood was not a usual young lady for two reasons.

First, there was her descent. Had she so wished, she could have belonged
to any number of those patriotic societies of which our American ears
have grown accustomed to hear so much. She could have been enrolled in
the Boston Tea Party, the Ethan Allen Ticonderogas, the Green Mountain
Daughters, the Saratoga Sacred Circle, and the Confederated Colonial
Chatelaines. She traced direct descent from the historic lady whose name
she bore, that Molly Stark who was not a widow after the battle where
her lord, her Captain John, battled so bravely as to send his name
thrilling down through the blood of generations of schoolboys. This
ancestress was her chief claim to be a member of those shining societies
which I have enumerated. But she had been willing to join none of them,
although invitations to do so were by no means lacking. I cannot tell
you her reason. Still, I can tell you this. When these societies were
much spoken of in her presence, her very sprightly countenance became
more sprightly, and she added her words of praise or respect to the
general chorus. But when she received an invitation to join one of
these bodies, her countenance, as she read the missive, would assume an
expression which was known to her friends as "sticking her nose in the
air." I do not think that Molly's reason for refusing to join could have
been a truly good one. I should add that her most precious possession--a
treasure which accompanied her even if she went away for only one
night's absence--was an heirloom, a little miniature portrait of the old
Molly Stark, painted when that far-off dame must have been scarce more
than twenty. And when each summer the young Molly went to Dunbarton, New
Hampshire, to pay her established family visit to the last survivors of
her connection who bore the name of Stark, no word that she heard in the
Dunbarton houses pleased her so much as when a certain great-aunt would
take her by the hand, and, after looking with fond intentness at her,
pronounce: "My dear, you're getting more like the General's wife every
year you live."

"I suppose you mean my nose," Molly would then reply.

"Nonsense, child. You have the family length of nose, and I've never
heard that it has disgraced us."

"But I don't think I'm tall enough for it."

"There now, run to your room, and dress for tea. The Starks have always
been punctual."

And after this annual conversation, Molly would run to her room, and
there in its privacy, even at the risk of falling below the punctuality
of the Starks, she would consult two objects for quite a minute before
she began to dress. These objects, as you have already correctly
guessed, were the miniature of the General's wife and the looking glass.

So much for Miss Molly Stark Wood's descent.

The second reason why she was not a usual girl was her character. This
character was the result of pride and family pluck battling with family
hardship.

Just one year before she was to be presented to the world--not the great
metropolitan world, but a world that would have made her welcome and
done her homage at its little dances and little dinners in Troy and
Rutland and Burlington--fortune had turned her back upon the Woods.
Their possessions had never been great ones; but they had sufficed. From
generation to generation the family had gone to school like gentlefolk,
dressed like gentlefolk, used the speech and ways of gentlefolk, and as
gentlefolk lived and died. And now the mills failed.

Instead of thinking about her first evening dress, Molly found pupils
to whom she could give music lessons. She found handkerchiefs that she
could embroider with initials. And she found fruit that she could
make into preserves. That machine called the typewriter was then in
existence, but the day of women typewriters had as yet scarcely begun
to dawn, else I think Molly would have preferred this occupation to the
handkerchiefs and the preserves.


There were people in Bennington who "wondered how Miss Wood could go
about from house to house teaching the piano, and she a lady." There
always have been such people, I suppose, because the world must always
have a rubbish heap. But we need not dwell upon them further than to
mention one other remark of theirs regarding Molly. They all with one
voice declared that Sam Bannett was good enough for anybody who did
fancy embroidery at five cents a letter.

"I dare say he had a great-grandmother quite as good as hers," remarked
Mrs. Flynt, the wife of the Baptist minister.

"That's entirely possible," returned the Episcopal rector of Hoosic,
"only we don't happen to know who she was." The rector was a friend of
Molly's. After this little observation, Mrs. Flynt said no more, but
continued her purchases in the store where she and the rector had
happened to find themselves together. Later she stated to a friend that
she had always thought the Episcopal Church a snobbish one, and now she
knew it.

So public opinion went on being indignant over Molly's conduct. She
could stoop to work for money, and yet she pretended to hold herself
above the most rising young man in Hoosic Falls, and all just because
there was a difference in their grandmothers!

Was this the reason at the bottom of it? The very bottom? I cannot be
certain, because I have never been a girl myself. Perhaps she thought
that work is not a stooping, and that marriage may be. Perhaps--But all
I really know is that Molly Wood continued cheerfully to embroider
the handkerchiefs, make the preserves, teach the pupils--and firmly to
reject Sam Bannett.

Thus it went on until she was twenty. There certain members of her
family began to tell her how rich Sam was going to be--was, indeed,
already. It was at this time that she wrote Mrs. Balaam her doubts and
her desires as to migrating to Bear Creek. It was at this time also
that her face grew a little paler, and her friends thought that she was
overworked, and Mrs. Flynt feared she was losing her looks. It was at
this time, too, that she grew very intimate with that great-aunt over at
Dunbarton, and from her received much comfort and strengthening.

"Never!" said the old lady, "especially if you can't love him."

"I do like him," said Molly; "and he is very kind."

"Never!" said the old lady again. "When I die, you'll have
something--and that will not be long now."

Molly flung her arms around her aunt, and stopped her words with a kiss.
And then one winter afternoon, two years later, came the last straw.

The front door of the old house had shut. Out of it had stepped the
persistent suitor. Mrs. Flynt watched him drive away in his smart
sleigh.

"That girl is a fool!" she said furiously; and she came away from her
bedroom window where she had posted herself for observation.

Inside the old house a door had also shut. This was the door of Molly's
own room. And there she sat, in floods of tears. For she could not bear
to hurt a man who loved her with all the power of love that was in him.

It was about twilight when her door opened, and an elderly lady came
softly in.

"My dear," she ventured, "and you were not able--"

"Oh, mother!" cried the girl, "have you come to say that too?"

The next day Miss Wood had become very hard. In three weeks she
had accepted the position on Bear Creek. In two months she started,
heart-heavy, but with a spirit craving the unknown.





Next: The Spinster Meets The Unknown

Previous: Through Two Snows



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