Song of the Lark
Being sick was all very well, but Thea knew from experience that starting back to
school again was attended by depressing difficulties. One Monday morning she
got up early with Axel and Gunner, who shared her wing room, and hurried into
the back living-room, between the dining-room and the kitchen. There, beside a
soft-coal stove, the younger children of the family undressed at night and
dressed in the morning. The older daughter, Anna, and the two big boys slept
upstairs, where the rooms were theoretically warmed by stovepipes from below.
The first (and the worst!) thing that confronted Thea was a suit of clean, prickly
red flannel, fresh from the wash. Usually the torment of breaking in a clean suit of
flannel came on Sunday, but yesterday, as she was staying in the house, she
had begged off. Their winter underwear was a trial to all the children, but it was
bitterest to Thea because she happened to have the most sensitive skin. While
she was tugging it on, her Aunt Tillie brought in warm water from the boiler and
filled the tin pitcher. Thea washed her face, brushed and braided her hair, and
got into her blue cashmere dress. Over this she buttoned a long apron, with
sleeves, which would not be removed until she put on her cloak to go to school.
Gunner and Axel, on the soap box behind the stove, had their usual quarrel
about which should wear the tightest stockings, but they exchanged reproaches
in low tones, for they were wholesomely afraid of Mrs. Kronborg's rawhide whip.
She did not chastise her children often, but she did it thoroughly. Only a
somewhat stern system of discipline could have kept any degree of order and
quiet in that overcrowded house.
Mrs. Kronborg's children were all trained to dress themselves at the earliest
possible age, to make their own beds, --the boys as well as the girls,--to take
care of their clothes, to eat what was given them, and to keep out of the way.
Mrs. Kronborg would have made a good chessplayer; she had a head for moves
Anna, the elder daughter, was her mother's lieutenant. All the children knew
that they must obey Anna, who was an obstinate contender for proprieties and
not always fairminded. To see the young Kronborgs headed for SundaySchool
was like watching a military drill. Mrs. Kronborg let her children's minds alone.
She did not pry into their thoughts or nag them. She respected them as
individuals, and outside of the house they had a great deal of liberty. But their
communal life was definitely ordered.
In the winter the children breakfasted in the kitchen; Gus and Charley and
Anna first, while the younger children were dressing. Gus was nineteen and was
a clerk in a dry-goods store. Charley, eighteen months younger, worked in a feed
store. They left the house by the kitchen door at seven o'clock, and then Anna
helped her Aunt Tillie get the breakfast for the younger ones. Without the help of
this sister-in-law, Tillie Kronborg, Mrs. Kronborg's life would have been a hard
one. Mrs. Kronborg often reminded Anna that "no hired help would ever have
taken the same interest."