She had never seen a room at all like it and thought it curious and gloomy.
When she opened her eyes in the morning it was because a young housemaid had come into her room to light the fire and was kneeling on the hearthrug raking out the cinders noisily. Mary lay and watched her for a few moments and then began to look about the room. She had never seen a room at all like it and thought it curious and gloomy. The walls were covered with tapestry with a forest scene embroidered on it. There were fantastically dressed people under the trees and in the distance there was a glimpse of the turrets of a castle. There were hunters and horses and dogs and ladies. Mary felt as if she were in the forest with them. Out of a deep window she could see a great climbing stretch of land which seemed to have no trees on it, and to look rather like an endless, dull, purplish sea.
“What is that?” she said, pointing out of the window.
Martha, the young housemaid, who had just risen to her feet, looked and pointed also.
“That there?” she said.
“That’s th’ moor,” with a good-natured grin. “Does tha’ like it?”
“No,” answered Mary. “I hate it.”
“That’s because tha’rt not used to it,” Martha said, going back to her hearth. “Tha’ thinks it’s too big an’ bare now. But tha’ will like it.”
“Do you?” inquired Mary.
“Aye, that I do,” answered Martha, cheerfully polishing away at the grate. “I just love it. It’s none bare. It’s covered wi’ growin’ things as smells sweet. It’s fair lovely in spring an’ summer when th’ gorse an’ broom an’ heather’s in flower. It smells o’ honey an’ there’s such a lot o’ fresh air—an’ th’ sky looks so high an’ th’ bees an’ skylarks makes such a nice noise hummin’ an’ singin’. Eh! I wouldn’t live away from th’ moor for anythin’.”
Mary listened to her with a grave, puzzled expression. The native servants she had been used to in India were not in the least like this. They were obsequious and servile and did not presume to talk to their masters as if they were their equals. They made salaams and called them “protector of the poor” and names of that sort. Indian servants were commanded to do things, not asked. It was not the custom to say “please” and “thank you” and Mary had always slapped her Ayah in the face when she was angry. She wondered a little what this girl would do if one slapped her in the face. She was a round, rosy, good-natured-looking creature, but she had a sturdy way which made Mistress Mary wonder if she might not even slap back—if the person who slapped her was only a little girl.
“You are a strange servant,” she said from her pillows, rather haughtily.
Martha sat up on her heels, with her blackingbrush in her hand, and laughed, without seeming the least out of temper.
“Eh! I know that,” she said. “If there was a grand Missus at Misselthwaite I should never have been even one of th’ under house-maids. I might have been let to be scullery-maid but I’d never have been let upstairs. I’m too common an’ I talk too much Yorkshire. But this is a funny house for all it’s so grand. Seems like there’s neither Master nor Mistress except Mr. Pitcher an’ Mrs. Medlock. Mr. Craven, he won’t be troubled about anythin’ when he’s here, an’ he’s nearly always away. Mrs. Medlock gave me th’ place out o’ kindness. She told me she could never have done it if Misselthwaite had been like other big houses.”
“Are you going to be my servant?” Mary asked, still in her imperious little Indian way.
Martha began to rub her grate again.
“I’m Mrs. Medlock’s servant,” she said stoutly. “An’ she’s Mr. Craven’s—but I’m to do the housemaid’s work up here an’ wait on you a bit. But you won’t need much waitin’ on.”
“Who is going to dress me?” demanded Mary.
Martha sat up on her heels again and stared. She spoke in broad Yorkshire in her amazement.
“Canna’ tha’ dress thysel’!” she said.
“What do you mean? I don’t understand your language,” said Mary.
“Eh! I forgot,” Martha said. “Mrs. Medlock told me I’d have to be careful or you wouldn’t know what I was sayin’. I mean can’t you put on your own clothes?”
“No,” answered Mary, quite indignantly. “I never did in my life. My Ayah dressed me, of course.”
“Well,” said Martha, evidently not in the least aware that she was impudent, “it’s time tha’ should learn. Tha’ cannot begin younger. It’ll do thee good to wait on thysel’ a bit. My mother always said she couldn’t see why grand people’s children didn’t turn out fair fools—what with nurses an’ bein’ washed an’ dressed an’ took out to walk as if they was puppies!”
“It is different in India,” said Mistress Mary disdainfully. She could scarcely stand this.
But Martha was not at all crushed.
“Eh! I can see it’s different,” she answered almost sympathetically. “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people. When I heard you was comin’ from India I thought you was a black too.”
Mary sat up in bed furious.
“What!” she said. “What! You thought I was a native. You—you daughter of a pig!”
Martha stared and looked hot.
“Who are you callin’ names?” she said. “You needn’t be so vexed. That’s not th’ way for a young lady to talk. I’ve nothin’ against th’ blacks. When you read about ’em in tracts they’re always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man an’ a brother. I’ve never seen a black an’ I was fair pleased to think I was goin’ to see one close. When I come in to light your fire this mornin’ I crep’ up to your bed an’ pulled th’ cover back careful to look at you. An’ there you was,” disappointedly, “no more black than me—for all you’re so yeller.”
Mary did not even try to control her rage and humiliation.
“You thought I was a native! You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people—they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India. You know nothing about anything!”
She was in such a rage and felt so helpless before the girl’s simple stare, and somehow she suddenly felt so horribly lonely and far away from everything she understood and which understood her, that she threw herself face downward on the pillows and burst into passionate sobbing. She sobbed so unrestrainedly that good-natured Yorkshire Martha was a little frightened and quite sorry for her. She went to the bed and bent over her.
“Eh! you mustn’t cry like that there!” she begged. “You mustn’t for sure. I didn’t know you’d be vexed. I don’t know anythin’ about anythin’—just like you said. I beg your pardon, Miss. Do stop cryin’.”
There was something comforting and really friendly in her queer Yorkshire speech and sturdy way which had a good effect on Mary. She gradually ceased crying and became quiet. Martha looked relieved.
“It’s time for thee to get up now,” she said. “Mrs. Medlock said I was to carry tha’ breakfast an’ tea an’ dinner into th’ room next to this. It’s been made into a nursery for thee. I’ll help thee on with thy clothes if tha’ll get out o’ bed. If th’ buttons are at th’ back tha’ cannot button them up tha’self.”
When Mary at last decided to get up, the clothes Martha took from the wardrobe were not the ones she had worn when she arrived the night before with Mrs. Medlock.
“Those are not mine,” she said. “Mine are black.”
She looked the thick white wool coat and dress over, and added with cool approval:
“Those are nicer than mine.”
“These are th’ ones tha’ must put on,” Martha answered. “Mr. Craven ordered Mrs. Medlock to get ’em in London. He said ‘I won’t have a child dressed in black wanderin’ about like a lost soul,’ he said. ‘It’d make the place sadder than it is. Put color on her.’ Mother she said she knew what he meant. Mother always knows what a body means. She doesn’t hold with black hersel’.”
“I hate black things,” said Mary.
The dressing process was one which taught them both something. Martha had “buttoned up” her little sisters and brothers but she had never seen a child who stood still and waited for another person to do things for her as if she had neither hands nor feet of her own.
“Why doesn’t tha’ put on tha’ own shoes?” she said when Mary quietly held out her foot.
“My Ayah did it,” answered Mary, staring. “It was the custom.”
She said that very often—“It was the custom.” The native servants were always saying it. If one told them to do a thing their ancestors had not done for a thousand years they gazed at one mildly and said, “It is not the custom,” and one knew that was the end of the matter.
It had not been the custom that Mistress Mary should do anything but stand and allow herself to be dressed like a doll, but before she was ready for breakfast she began to suspect that her life at Misselthwaite Manor would end by teaching her a number of things quite new to her—things such as putting on her own shoes and stockings, and picking up things she let fall. If Martha had been a well-trained fine young lady’s maid she would have been more subservient and respectful and would have known that it was her business to brush hair, and button boots, and pick things up and lay them away. She was, however, only an untrained Yorkshire rustic who had been brought up in a moorland cottage with a swarm of little brothers and sisters who had never dreamed of doing anything but waiting on themselves and on the younger ones who were either babies in arms or just learning to totter about and tumble over things.
If Mary Lennox had been a child who was ready to be amused she would perhaps have laughed at Martha’s readiness to talk, but Mary only listened to her coldly and wondered at her freedom of manner. At first she was not at all interested, but gradually, as the girl rattled on in her good-tempered, homely way, Mary began to notice what she was saying.
“Eh! you should see ’em all,” she said. “There’s twelve of us an’ my father only gets sixteen shilling a week. I can tell you my mother’s put to it to get porridge for ’em all. They tumble about on th’ moor an’ play there all day an’ mother says th’ air of t...