Authors: Ralph Moody
Tags: #FICTION / Family Life
Books by Ralph Moody
Available in Bison Books editions
Come on Seabiscuit!
The Dry Divide
The Fields of Home
The Home Ranch
Horse of a Different Color
Kit Carson and the Wild Frontier
Man of the Family
Mary Emma & Company
Riders of the Pony Express
Shaking the Nickel Bush
Mary Emma & Company
By RALPH MOODY
Illustrated by Tran Mawicke
University of Nebraska Press
Lincoln and London
Copyright Â© 1961 by Ralph Moody
Renewal copyright 1989 by Charles O. Moody
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Moody, Ralph, 1898â
Mary Emma & company / by Ralph Moody; illustrated by Tran Mawicke.
ISBN 978-0-8032-8211-7 (pbk.)
1. FamilyâMassachusettsâFiction. 2. WidowsâMassachusettsâFiction. I. Title. II. Title: Mary Emma and company.
Reprinted by arrangement with Edna Moody Morales and Jean S. Moody
A Look Around
died in March, 1910, soon after we'd moved to Littleton, Colorado, from a ranch near the mountains. That was five months before my youngest sister, Elizabeth, was born, but we didn't have too much trouble in making our own living. Mother and my older sister, Grace, did baking that we sold around the village, and laundered lace curtains for one of the big hotels in Denver. The younger children picked fruit and berries, or helped me gather coal along the railroad. And because we kept a horse I could always find jobs when I wasn't in school; hauling discarded railroad ties to cut into kindling and sell, or working on one of the ranches, or riding for the cattle drover in Littleton.
On New Year's Day, 1912, our good friend, Sheriff McGrath, came to our house and talked to Mother for nearly an hour. After he'd gone she called Grace and me in and told us, “Children, I have to make the greatest decision of my lifeâpossibly of our livesâand I need your help. I'm sure you remember Mr. Loediker, the crazy Dutchman who lived on the ranch next to ours. He has been arrested and accused of an old crime for which he was not morally responsible. If Father were still with us I'm sure he would be able to clear Mr. Loediker, but what little I know of the matter would tend to convict him rather than acquit him.”
“Sheriff McGrath tells me that I shall doubtlessly be subpoenaed within the next few days to testify in court against Mr. Loediker. But I feel certain that he was also trying to tell me, without exactly saying so, that I am free to come and go as I choose until served with the subpoena. If I were not in Colorado, if I could not be found when the subpoena is issued, the prosecution would have to be dropped for lack of evidence. But if we should leave this state we would have to leave everything we have and love. It would take every penny we have in the bank and nearly everything that could be raised quickly from the sale of our belongings just to buy railroad tickets. Children, I am not sure. I have prayed and prayed, and I have tried to think what Father would say if he were still with us, but my mind is so confused. Ralph, what do you think Father would say?”
I didn't have to think. I said, “I
what Father would say, don't you, Grace?”
“Of course I know,” Grace said, “and he wouldn't be afraid of what might happen to us.” Then she turned to Mother and said, “We're not little children any longer; Ralph's thirteen now, and I'm nearly fifteen. We've been able to make a good living here for nearly two years and I'll bet we can do just as well anywhere else. Do you have any idea where we might go?”
For a minute or two Mother sat looking at her folded hands. Then she looked up quickly and said, “My good brother Frank lives near Boston. He will take us in until we can find a place for ourselves. Boston is a big city, and we should find something there that we can do to make our living.”
At a few minutes before midnight on January second we took the train out of Denver, and a few minutes before midnight on January fifth Uncle Frank met us when we got off the train at the North Station in Boston. Within half an hour we were at his house in Medford.
Mother was right when she said her brother Frank would take us in until we could make a place for ourselves, but how in the world he and Aunt Hilda did it I hardly know. They lived in the downstairs half of a double house on Lawrence Street that had one bedroom beside their own. Their baby, Louise, was only two months old, and John was less than two years. It was past midnight and the temperature was down to zero when we got there, but Aunt Hilda had hot chocolate and cake and cookies waiting for us. And if she wasn't as glad to have us come as we were to be there, nobody could ever have guessed it. I liked her from the first minute I saw her. She was tall and pretty, her voice was low in her throat, and she talked with just a tinge of brogue.
I'd seen Uncle Frank before we moved to Colorado in 1906. He'd come to our house the year Father had to be in bed with tuberculosis, but I didn't remember him very well. Coming from Boston to Medford he'd talked to Mother all the way, so I didn't have any chance to get acquainted with him again. But before we'd been in his house fifteen minutes I felt as if I'd known him all my life. He didn't treat me as if I were a little boy, and he had the knack of making people laugh without trying to be funny. As soon as I'd finished my chocolate and cookies he called to me, “Come on there, partner, it's about time we was gettin' this herd bedded down for the night.” Mother must have told him I'd worked on the cattle ranches, and he said it just the way any cowhand on the Y-B spread might have said it.
Except for a cook's fire and a chuckwagon, the house did look sort of like a roundup camp when we were finished. Mother and Elizabeth slept in the one spare bedroom, and the rest of us slept on shake-downs on the parlor floor. They looked like cowhands' bedrolls around a campfire.
It wasn't quite daylight next morning when Mother woke me quietly and motioned for me to follow her into her room. Grace was already there, sitting on the edge of the bed with her feet hunkered up under her nightgown. I sat down near her, then Mother sat between us and whispered, “When we came here I didn't realize that we would be virtually crowding Uncle Frank and Aunt Hilda out of their own home, but that is exactly what we're doing, and we mustn't stay here any longer than is absolutely necessary. I shall get right out early this morning and see what can be found in the way of a place where we can liveâand what can be picked up inexpensively in the way of second-hand furniture. Then I shall go in to Boston and inquire about getting curtains to launder for hotels, just as we did for the Brown Palace in Denver.”
She put an arm around each of us and went on, “Gracie, I want you to help Aunt Hilda in every way you can, but you must be careful not to be too aggressive. It is a part of your nature that you will have to watch. No woman likes to have another come into her home and try to change her way of doing things. And, Ralph, you might take Muriel and Philip and Hal for a nice long walk this forenoon. That will keep you all out from under Aunt Hilda's feet, and will give you an opportunity to find out where your school is situated. Now run along, both of you, and lie quietly until you hear Uncle Frank and Aunt Hilda getting up. They are probably not used to rising as early as we do, and we must accommodate ourselves to their customs.”
I took the children for a walk right after breakfast, but I didn't go looking for any schoolhouses. Ever since Father died Mother had let me stay out of school whenever I could find a job that paid fifty cents a day or more. And I thought that if I hurried up and found myself a good job like that right away, she might not make me go back to school at all. But there was something else that I wanted even more than a good job and not having to go to school. I wanted a job with a horse.
There had hardly been a time since I was eight years old when I didn't have a horse to take care of, and to ride and drive, and I knew that I'd be lonesome without one. But I had sense enough to know that there wouldn't be any cattle to herd around an eastern city, and that jobs with horses would probably be scarce. I'd thought about it a lot when I'd had nothing else to do on the train, and there was only one answer I could find: every city would have to have grocery stores, and grocery stores had to have delivery wagons, and wherever there was a delivery wagon there'd have to be at least one horse.
From the second we'd stepped off the train in Medford I'd kept my eye peeled for a grocery store, and I found one within two minutes. The Glenwood Station in Medford was half a block down the railroad tracks from a street that had four or five stores on it, and the D & H Grocery was right on the corner where the sidewalk from the depot met the street.
After Mother sent Grace and me back to bed that morning, I had to lie quiet for a long time before I heard Uncle Frank getting up, but it gave me a good chance to do a little planning. I knew I couldn't get out of taking the children for a walk, but I wasn't going to let that get in the way of my trying to get a job in the D & H Grocery just as fast as I could. For a little while I was worried about going in to ask for a job while I had three little children with me. It didn't seem quite businesslike. Then I got an idea that made it seem better that way than any other.
Whenever I'd earned any money I'd always taken it all home to Mother, but she knew I sort of liked to have a little change in my pocket, so she'd always give me back a dime or a nickel that I could keep for myself. That morning I knew that I had seventeen cents: a dime, a nickel, and two pennies. I wasn't sure when I'd be able to earn any more, so I kind of wanted to hold onto it all, but I thought the time had come when it would be best to spend some. I could hardly walk into the D & H Grocery with three little children and tell the owner that I'd come looking for a job driving his delivery wagon. But if we just went in as if I'd come to buy them some candy there'd be a good excuse for their being there, and I'd have a little better chance to talk to the man if we'd come in as customers. For a while I thought about spending the odd two cents, but I remembered Mother's saying once that it didn't pay to be too pinch-penny, so I decided that I'd spend the whole nickel.
Spring Street ran a little downhill at the railroad crossing, and the door of the D & H Grocery was at the foot of the hill, so that one end of it was almost in a cellar, and the plate glass window at the upper end was only about two feet high. That made it sort of hard to see into, but I wanted to look the store over in good shape, and pick out which one of the men would be the boss, before I went in to spend my nickel and ask him for a job.
The first time we walked by I couldn't see anybody in the store; just a calico cat, curled up and asleep on the counter. Then, when we came back past on the other side of the street, there was a short, fat man behind the counter, leaning on it and stroking the cat. The candy case was right beside him, straight in from the door. That time I walked the children a couple of blocks down Spring Street before we came back, so that if the man had seen us go by twice he wouldn't think I was spying. When we came back the cat was off the counter and there was a second man behind it, grinding coffee. He wasn't much taller than the fat man, but thin, and quick in his movements.
From the way he was working I was pretty sure the thin man would be the boss, and I wanted to wait until he was through grinding coffee before we went in, so I stalled for a few minutes, letting Hal try to count the oranges in one of the windows. As soon as the man was through grinding the coffee he put it in a bag, tied it, and went quickly to weigh some crackers that he took out of a tin box. I could see that there wasn't much chance of getting him to wait on us, so I took Hal by the hand and we all went in.