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IX. Una Intervenes
Miss Cornelia had an interview with Mr. Meredith which proved something of a
shock to that abstracted gentleman. She pointed out to him, none too
respectfully, his dereliction of duty in allowing a waif like Mary Vance to come into
his family and associate with his children without knowing or learning anything
about her.
"I don't say there is much harm done, of course," she concluded. "This Mary-
creature isn't what you might call bad, when all is said and done. I've been
questioning your children and the Blythes, and from what I can make out there's
nothing much to be said against the child except that she's slangy and doesn't
use very refined language. But think what might have happened if she'd been like
some of those home children we know of. You know yourself what that poor little
creature the Jim Flaggs' had, taught and told the Flagg children."
Mr. Meredith did know and was honestly shocked over his own carelessness in
the matter.
"But what is to be done, Mrs. Elliott?" he asked helplessly. "We can't turn the
poor child out. She must be cared for."
"Of course. We'd better write to the Hopetown authorities at once. Meanwhile, I
suppose she might as well stay here for a few more days till we hear from them.
But keep your eyes and ears open, Mr. Meredith."
Susan would have died of horror on the spot if she had heard Miss Cornelia so
admonishing a minister. But Miss Cornelia departed in a warm glow of
satisfaction over duty done, and that night Mr. Meredith asked Mary to come into
his study with him. Mary obeyed, looking literally ghastly with fright. But she got
the surprise of her poor, battered little life. This man, of whom she had stood so
terribly in awe, was the kindest, gentlest soul she had ever met. Before she knew
what happened Mary found herself pouring all her troubles into his ear and
receiving in return such sympathy and tender understanding as it had never
occurred to her to imagine. Mary left the study with her face and eyes so
softened that Una hardly knew her.
"Your father's all right, when he does wake up," she said with a sniff that just
escaped being a sob. "It's a pity he doesn't wake up oftener. He said I wasn't to
blame for Mrs. Wiley dying, but that I must try to think of her good points and not
of her bad ones. I dunno what good points she had, unless it was keeping her
house clean and making first-class butter. I know I 'most wore my arms out
scrubbing her old kitchen floor with the knots in it. But anything your father says
goes with me after this."
Mary proved a rather dull companion in the following days, however. She
confided to Una that the more she thought of going back to the asylum the more
she hated it. Una racked her small brains for some way of averting it, but it was
Nan Blythe who came to the rescue with a somewhat startling suggestion.
"Mrs. Elliott might take Mary herself. She has a great big house and Mr. Elliott is
always wanting her to have help. It would be just a splendid place for Mary. Only
she'd have to behave herself."