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Chapter III--Mrs. Crane’s Story
 As I said before, almost all I remember about going away is the leaves, bags, dust, and peanut shells which whirled in the wind around the station platform. A great many people came down to see me off, which was dear of them, considering that my conduct has not always been exemplary. And they all kissed me and said that they hoped New York would be pleasant and that I wouldn’t be lonesome, and a few of them, women, said that they hoped it would tame me down, which I did not entirely enjoy. Even the minister came down, and he put me out of the choir last year because I let mice loose in the middle of Miss Hooker’s solo, which she finished from the top of the organ, in a squawk (Willy Jepson dared me to), and it was especially nice of the minister to come down, I thought.
Uncle Frank coughed a lot and blamed it on the dust, but I think he was feeling badly because I was going away. “Ho hum,” he said, “dust pretty bad, pretty bad! I have here----” And then he pulled out a little box in which he’d mounted a little beetle, which stays in the ground three years and then comes out and acquires lovely shiny wings and flies, beside making a real song with its hind legs. He said he hoped I would understand the implied lesson, and he meant that I was to dig hard at knowledge for three years, not that I was to attempt noises with my hind legs. He said when things looked hard I was to look at that little insect who so patiently waited for wings and worked so hard to get them and to be ready to float and make attractive tunes. And I said I would keep it on my bureau next to the china cat with a hollow back for matches that Bradly-dear gave me.
And then there was a great deal of kissing; Uncle Frank ho-hummed some and coughed, Bradly-dear frankly wept, Willy Jepson reminded me that I could lean on him, if I had to, leaves swirled madly as the train pulled in and made a real breeze around the station, and--I started.
I carried five bouquets which had been presented, an umbrella, a suitcase, and a shirt-waist box which held all those things which the trunk wouldn’t hold, beside a basket of Miss Hooker’s sheep-nose apples. I have often eaten them, but she never gave me any before. I was ever so grateful. Her orchard is walled and guarded by a dog, and getting her apples is really difficult. We used to do it by dropping a packing-box over the dog and then adding bricks, to be sure that he’d stay, but that is another story. The gift of those apples really touched me, but they didn’t taste as good. I can understand how self-made men feel about their fortunes. It is perfectly natural to enjoy something that you steal under adverse circumstances. It sort of makes you feel clever, which feeling everyone enjoys.
But to get on. I was to go to Doctor Crane’s for the night. His wife was a great friend of my mother’s, and has always written me more or less regularly, beside sending me things at Christmas-time. And, although it is hard for me to meet strangers, I really looked forward to going there. And it was lovely.
I arrived in Baltimore at eight that night, and I was never so frightened. In the first place, I had never been in a large city before, and the crowd was dense. And then--I am used to being near people I know, and I hadn’t spoken a word to anyone beside the conductor all day. I began to feel terribly lonely.
So, after I had got to the waiting-room with the help of a porter, I stood and waited, feeling intensely miserable. And--when I heard, “Miss Natalie Page?” in a nice man’s voice, I said, “Thank you ever so much, God----” (inside) for I was beginning to wonder what I should do if I wasn’t met. I didn’t feel as if I could go out and take a taxi as I had been told to. For I was sure I wouldn’t know a taxi from any other kind of a car, although Miss Hooker said they had flags on them.
Well, it was Doctor Crane, and he has a real smile.
“Yes,” he went on, “it is Miss Natalie Page, and some baggage,” and we both laughed. Then he got a porter, had my things put in his small car, and we started.
“I think Mrs. Crane has a little supper waiting,” he said very cheerfully (I am sure he somehow knew that I felt timid and a little alone), “for I heard her ordering patty-cases and French pastries this morning. I don’t suppose you like them?”
I said I was sure I would.
Then he asked about uncle and my trip, and whether I’d ever been in a city before, and I answered him, trying ever so hard not to be frightened by the great crowds that ran right in front of cars at the crossings. I was quite sure we could kill someone, but we didn’t.
“Nervous?” asked Doctor Crane as we turned up into a quieter street which went past the Walters’ Art Gallery (Doctor Crane told me what it was). I said I wasn’t exactly, but that I expected to see someone killed in the mob through which we had threaded.
He laughed and replied that he didn’t have to do it with a Ford--because he was a doctor. And then we rode quite a distance, although it didn’t seem so, for I was interested, and at last we stopped before a lovely old white house. A little girl of about thirteen stood on the door-step, and as we neared I heard her call: “Mother, she’s come! They’re here! Mother!” And then she stopped yelling into the house and ran down to open the door of the car for me.
“I am Mary Elinor Crane,” she said shyly, but she smiled so genuinely that I liked her right away.
“Yes,” said the Doctor, “the only girl we have left, and if she marries there’ll be a massacre around here!”
And then Mrs. Crane came to the door, and I forgot Mary Elinor and the Doctor. She kissed me and said, “Why, my dear little girl!” and I felt as if I had always known her. “Just like your mother,” she went on, “just like Nelly Randolph--the prettiest girl in the Green Spring Valley!” And I saw that her eyes were too bright, and swimming. And then she changed the subject abruptly and said: “Come in, dear. . . . You must be tired. . . . Ted, have Lucky take those bags up to the blue room”--Lucky was the darkest little coon I ever saw--“and,” she went on, “Mary Elinor, you take Miss Natalie upstairs and see that she has clean towels and has a nice chance to brush up, and then come down to supper.”
“Come on,” said Mary Elinor, as she slipped her arm through mine. And we went up some splendid broad, winding stairs which led to a great upstairs hall. It was the loveliest house I’d ever seen. I could only gasp.
There were dark old pictures in beautifully wide, gently mellowed gilt frames, and funny old-fashioned pieces of furniture standing here and there. I particularly noticed one, and Mary Elinor told me it was a frame on which people of our great-great-grandmother’s time did embroidery. . . . And on the floor were rag rugs, in the prettiest colours. They belonged with the old mahogany. I don’t know about periods or anything like that, but I could feel that they fitted.
As we went along, Mary Elinor talked ever so fast. She said that they had always been poor, since people almost never paid the Doctor unless they were awfully sick and wanted him to come again--and most always they were only really sick once. But she said that they had an aunt who gave them a lot of money and that now they were comfortable and had ice-cream as often as three times a week, and two cars, one of which her mother ran. And she has two sisters, and a brother who was visiting then and was going to college. And that little girl is the aunt of two children! A boy and a girl. She said her sister Barbara almost named her baby after her, but it happened to be a boy, and of course a name like Mary Elinor was out of the question. She told me quite a lot as I washed up, and said she wished I would stay, as she missed her sisters and brother and would like to have me around. I thought it was dear of her, and then, as I was ready and awfully hungry, we went downstairs.
And there--I began to understand that it was not all history, geography, French, English, and mathematics that I was to learn in New York. I began to see what I never had seen--or could see--in our little village. That is--the prettier way of living. For even Miss Hooker’s table never looked like Mrs. Crane’s. And Miss Hooker went to the World’s Fair, studied singing in Washington in 1895, and has been as far West as Chicago.
It was lovely. I did wish that Uncle Frank and Bradly-dear could see it! There was a lunch set on it, and the way the table gleamed between the lace edges was beautiful. . . . There were candles with pink shades, and in a high glass basket late autumn roses. . . . Then there were tiny baskets of nuts and candies. . . . I could only look.
I said, “I think that is beautiful, Mrs. Crane!” and she said, “Dear child!” which wasn’t exactly an answer, but which satisfied me. . . . Then we ate, and the things were very good. I did enjoy myself.
They laughed and talked a lot, and we had such a good time. Mrs. Crane and Mr. Crane seem to talk by looking, too, which is queer--and yet, I suppose if you’ve been in the same house with a person for a great many years, and loved them lots, you would understand every little flicker that makes a change in expression, just as I understand what sort of a fly fish will want--from a look at the light and the depth of the water, and the sort of wings the insects have that hover above. . . . Sometimes I think that everything in the world is observation, that that is the only education. And that education perhaps, after all, only tries to make you do that.
I was deeply impressed by the French pastries. Of course, I had never had them before, because almost everyone in Queensburg does their own baking, and there isn’t any bakery nearer than Parsons, and that deals in nothing more involved than macaroons. I asked Mrs. Crane whether she thought that I could get them in New York, and she said I could. I was ever so glad, for I think that if you are very homesick you can be diverted as well by cheerful things to go inside as by cheerful surroundings. I told them so.
Mary Elinor agreed with me.
“Eating,” she said, “is underrated. It has a great deal to do with the set of your spirits (mother, I would love having another pastry--the brown one was a complete disappointment, and I only ate it to save it), and when I grow up and am a doctor I am going to advocate complete freedom in gratifying appetite.”
“Better advocate complete freedom in engulfing soda mints,” advised Doctor Crane. “Most people need ’em, even while eating with care.”
Mary Elinor didn’t answer. She was too much occupied with the pink pastry. When she did speak, she announced something which excited me. “Natalie,” she said, “mother’s going to give you a present to-night, something that is really yours and ever so valuable because of historic association, and I am so anxious to see you get it. For it is really yours, your moth----”
But her mother interrupted with “That’ll do, Chicky,” and she didn’t finish. And then an old coloured woman came in with little cups of coffee for Doctor and Mrs. Crane, and chocolate with whipped cream on top for Mary Elinor and me. We walked a little longer, went in a yellow room and played the victrola, and then I said good-night, and Mary Elinor and I went up.
After I had got undressed and was in bed, Mrs. Crane tapped on my door.
“Dearie,” she said, “may I come in?”
I sat up and said, “Oh, please do,” just as Mary Elinor, from way down the corridor, screamed a request to come over too.
Mrs. Crane asked if she might, and I said I’d love having her, so she did. When she came along, Mrs. Crane said: “Get in with Natalie--if she doesn’t mind. Daddy hasn’t any time to fuss with colds now, and this is a long story----” And then, as Mary Elinor got under the covers, Mrs. Crane opened a square box which was covered in yellow satin (a satin which had once been white), and held it so I could see a beautiful bracelet inside.
“This, my dear,” she said, “was your mother’s, and her father gave it to me a short time after she died. . . . Isn’t it lovely?” She held out the box, and very carefully I picked it up. . . . It was a wonderful thing of soft, dull gold, and the sort that they wore at that time--broad and firm looking. . . . I had a queer feeling to think that it had been around my mother’s arm, and I ran my fingers around the inside of it. . . . Then Mrs. Crane leaned over and clasped it on my arm and kissed me. And I was awfully afraid I was going to cry, but I didn’t. I find if you swallow two or three times, very hard, when tears are near, that you can divert them.
“Well,” said Mrs. Crane as she sat down on a little rocking-chair that stood near the bed, “that has a history. A great history. It belonged to Madam Jumel. . . . She married Aaron Burr, you know, when she was an old woman and he was seventy-eight. Nice rosy age for romance, wasn’t it?”
I was glad to have something at which to laugh.
“Yes,” she went on, “that was her bracelet. It happened that one of your great-great-grandmothers sailed for Bordeaux on the same ship in which Madam Jumel took passage. Madam Jumel was then travelling under the name of the widow of the Vice-President of the United States (although she divorced Aaron Burr after they had been married for less than a year), and a very grand lady indeed she thought herself to be. She had letters to write to French nobility, letters which she wished to send from Bordeaux, announcing her arrival; but her French was faulty, and she found the task of writing them extreme, and the result far from her personal satisfaction. So--your great-great-grandmother, being a person of education and the nicest sort of French, helped her.
“One noon, Madam Jumel waited for her at the entrance to the dining-saloon, and as your relative approached said: ‘Pardon, madam, but I heard you conversing in the most elegant and genteel French (I could not help but overhear it), and I wondered whether you would be so good as to offer me your assistance. My letters to royalty’--and history says she waved a hand most airily--‘are things that must be just so, as you can understand. . . . I am proud that crowned heads bow to me, but laws, my dear, it is a pest!’
“And the long and the short of it is that she was helped, and by your great-great-grandmother, Natalie. . . . After the letters had been corrected and little niceties were added, Madam Jumel expressed deep gratitude. . . . ‘Thank you a million times, dear friend,’ she said, in very quaintly broken French. And then, taking this bracelet from her arm, added: ‘No doubt one day, when I am dead (but not forgotten), the bracelet which I retain, the companion to this, will be displayed. . . . They will say it belonged to the widow of Burr (my dear, he was a wretch!), but this one, which I give you, and you must accept (I will have no noes!) your descendants will display as having belonged to your friend--a friend who was helped by a friend. Let me clasp it, please. Ah, there we are, and well it looks upon your arm, although it has not the round fairness of mine.’ And--that is the story.”
I looked down at the bracelet.
“Did my mother wear it?” I asked.
Mrs. Crane’s face changed curiously, and then she said she had--but not often.
“But she did?” I questioned further. “Really did?”
“Yes, dear,” she responded.
“There’s a picture in the Jumel mansion,” she went on, after a few moments, “which you will doubtless see. It shows Madam Jumel wearing the companion to this bracelet. The painting was done in Rome, the last time she went abroad, which was the time your great-great-grandmamma met her. In it she is sitting between her niece and nephew--the nephew who afterward, angered at her, threw an ink-well at his aunt’s face in the painting, missed it, and left a scar above his own head.”
“Wasn’t that frightful!” I said. (I was thinking of the aim, more than the motive.) “He must have been a rotten pitch.” But Mrs. Crane thought I meant his anger was wrong.
“It was,” she said, “and yet--old Madam Jumel was a queer piece. She adopted children who, one by one, all left her. She was a lonely old woman and one pities her--but, Natalie--the world gives back what you put in it. And usually when people are lonely, they have been cruel.”
“I suppose so,” I said. “What was the matter with him? Didn’t he ever play ball?”
Mrs. Crane didn’t know, but went on with:
“You’ll be interested in the Jumel Mansion, because of your bracelet. . . . And in Madam Jumel. Her husband, Aaron Burr, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel; and Alexander Hamilton’s son, who was Alexander Hamilton, Junior, was her lawyer, even during the time when she was Mrs. Burr. . . . Wasn’t that strange? . . . There are lots of queer things about her, and more about her influence----” Again Mrs. Crane’s face changed (I wondered what made it), and she looked at the bracelet.
Then, after a little more talk, she kissed me, ordered Mary Elinor off, and put out the light. . . . When I was alone I put the bracelet under my pillow and kept my hand on it. I loved feeling it. It was nice to think that my mother had worn it, if only for a few times. . . . I lay awake thinking of it for a long time; and I am sure it must have been away past eleven when I at last slept. Before I did I thought of Uncle Frank and Mrs. Bradly. I wasn’t worried about Uncle Frank, for he always has bugs. But I did hope that Bradly-dear wasn’t crying. . . . When I thought she might be, I was miserable again--and then I found the bracelet to be a comfort. I put my hand on the inside of it, for Mrs. Crane did say my mother wore it sometimes. And it seems queer, but it helped lots--lots!

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