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Chapter 3

  • Breakfast was always the same. Oatmeal porridge, which Valancy loathed, toas_nd tea, and one teaspoonful of marmalade. Mrs. Frederick thought tw_easpoonfuls extravagant—but that did not matter to Valancy, who hate_armalade, too. The chilly, gloomy little dining-room was chillier an_loomier than usual; the rain streamed down outside the window; departe_tirlings, in atrocious, gilt frames, wider than the pictures, glowered dow_rom the walls. And yet Cousin Stickles wished Valancy many happy returns o_he day!
  • "Sit up straight, Doss," was all her mother said.
  • Valancy sat up straight. She talked to her mother and Cousin Stickles of th_hings they always talked of. She never wondered what would happen if sh_ried to talk of something else. She knew. Therefore she never did it.
  • Mrs. Frederick was offended with Providence for sending a rainy day when sh_anted to go to a picnic, so she ate her breakfast in a sulky silence fo_hich Valancy was rather grateful. But Christine Stickles whined endlessly o_s usual, complaining about everything—the weather, the leak in the pantry,
  • the price of oatmeal and butter—Valancy felt at once she had buttered he_oast too lavishly—the epidemic of mumps in Deerwood.
  • "Doss will be sure to ketch them," she foreboded.
  • "Doss must not go where she is likely to catch mumps," said Mrs. Frederic_hortly.
  • Valancy had never had mumps—or whooping cough—or chicken-pox—or measles—o_nything she should have had—nothing but horrible colds every winter. Doss'
  • winter colds were a sort of tradition in the family. Nothing, it seemed, coul_revent her from catching them. Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles did thei_eroic best. One winter they kept Valancy housed up from November to May, i_he warm sitting-room. She was not even allowed to go to church. And Valanc_ook cold after cold and ended up with bronchitis in June.
  • "None of  _my_  family were ever like that," said Mrs. Frederick, implyin_hat it must be a Stirling tendency.
  • "The Stirling's seldom take cold," said Cousin Stickles resentfully.  _She_ad been a Stirling.
  • "I think," said Mrs. Frederick, "that if a person makes up her mind  _not_  t_ave colds she will not  _have_  colds."
  • So that was the trouble. It was all Valancy's own fault.
  • But on this particular morning Valancy's unbearable grievance was that she wa_alled Doss. She had endured it for twenty-nine years, and all at once sh_elt she could not endure it any longer. Her full name was Valancy Jane.
  • Valancy Jane was rather terrible, but she liked Valancy, with its odd, out-
  • land tang. It was always a wonder to Valancy that the Stirlings had allowe_er to be so christened. She had been told that her maternal grandfather, ol_mos Wansbarra, had chosen the name for her. Her father had tacked on the Jan_y way of civilising it, and the whole connection got out of the difficulty b_icknaming her Doss. She never got Valancy from any one but outsiders.
  • "Mother," she said timidly, "would you mind calling me Valancy after this?
  • Doss seems so—so—I don't like it."
  • Mrs. Frederick looked at her daughter in astonishment. She wore glasses wit_normously strong lenses that gave her eyes a peculiarly disagreeabl_ppearance.
  • "What is the matter with Doss?"
  • "It—seems so childish," faltered Valancy.
  • "Oh!" Mrs. Frederick had been a Wansbarra and the Wansbarra smile was not a_sset. "I see. Well, it should suit  _you_  then. You are childish enough i_ll conscience, my dear child."
  • "I am twenty-nine," said the dear child desperately.
  • "I wouldn't proclaim it from the house-tops if I were you, dear," said Mrs.
  • Frederick. "Twenty-nine!  _I_  had been married nine years when I was twenty-
  • nine."
  • " _I_  was married at seventeen," said Cousin Stickles proudly.
  • Valancy looked at them furtively. Mrs. Frederick, except for those terribl_lasses and the hooked nose that made her look, more like a parrot than _arrot itself could look, was not ill-looking. At twenty she might have bee_uite pretty. But Cousin Stickles! And yet Christine Stickles had once bee_esirable in some man's eyes. Valancy felt that Cousin Stickles, with he_road, flat, wrinkled face, a mole right on the end of her dumpy nose,
  • bristling hairs on her chin, wrinkled yellow neck, pale, protruding eyes, an_hin, puckered mouth, had yet this advantage over her—this right to look dow_n her. And even yet Cousin Stickles was necessary to Mrs. Frederick. Valanc_ondered pitifully what it would be like to be wanted by some one—needed b_ome one. No one in the whole world needed her, or would miss anything fro_ife if she dropped suddenly out of it. She was a disappointment to he_other. No one loved her. She had never so much as had a girl friend.
  • "I haven't even a gift for friendship," she had once admitted to hersel_itifully.
  • "Doss, you haven't eaten your crusts," said Mrs. Frederick rebukingly.
  • It rained all the forenoon without cessation. Valancy pieced a quilt. Valanc_ated piecing quilts. And there was no need of it. The house was full o_uilts. There were three big chests, packed with quilts, in the attic. Mrs.
  • Frederick had begun storing away quilts when Valancy was seventeen and sh_ept on storing them, though it did not seem likely that Valancy would eve_eed them. But Valancy must be at work and fancy work materials were to_xpensive. Idleness was a cardinal sin in the Stirling household. When Valanc_ad been a child she had been made to write down every night, in a small,
  • hated, black notebook, all the minutes she had spent in idleness that day. O_undays her mother made her tot them up and pray over them.
  • On this particular forenoon of this day of destiny Valancy spent only te_inutes in idleness. At least, Mrs. Frederick and Cousin Stickles would hav_alled it idleness. She went to her room to get a better thimble and sh_pened  _Thistle Harvest_ guiltily at random.
  • "The woods are so human," wrote John Foster, "that to know them one must liv_ith them. An occasional saunter through them, keeping to the well-trodde_aths, will never admit us to their intimacy. If we wish to be friends we mus_eek them out and win them by frequent, reverent visits at all hours; b_orning, by noon, and by night; and at all seasons, in spring, in summer, i_utumn, in winter. Otherwise we can never really know them and any pretence w_ay make to the contrary will never impose on them. They have their ow_ffective way of keeping aliens at a distance and shutting their hearts t_ere casual sightseers. It is of no use to seek the woods from any motiv_xcept sheer love of them; they will find us out at once and hide all thei_weet, old-world secrets from us. But if they know we come to them because w_ove them they will be very kind to us and give us such treasures of beaut_nd delight as are not bought or sold in any market-place. For the woods, whe_hey give at all, give unstintedly and hold nothing back from their tru_orshippers. We must go to them lovingly, humbly, patiently, watchfully, an_e shall learn what poignant loveliness lurks in the wild places and silen_ntervales, lying under starshine and sunset, what cadences of unearthly musi_re harped on aged pine boughs or crooned in copses of fir, what delicat_avours exhale from mosses and ferns in sunny corners or on damp brooklands,
  • what dreams and myths and legends of an older time haunt them. Then th_mmortal heart of the woods will beat against ours and its subtle life wil_teal into our veins and make us its own forever, so that no matter where w_o or how widely we wander we shall yet be drawn back to the forest to fin_ur most enduring kinship."
  • "Doss," called her mother from the hall below, "what are you doing all b_ourself in that room?"
  • Valancy dropped  _Thistle Harvest_  like a hot coal and fled downstairs to he_atches; but she felt the strange exhilaration of spirit that always cam_omentarily to her when she dipped into one of John Foster's books. Valanc_id not know much about woods—except the haunted groves of oak and pine aroun_er Blue Castle. But she had always secretly hankered after them and a Foste_ook about woods was the next best thing to the woods themselves.
  • At noon it stopped raining, but the sun did not come out until three. The_alancy timidly said she thought she would go uptown.
  • "What do you want to go uptown for?" demanded her mother.
  • "I want to get a book from the library."
  • "You got a book from the library only last week."
  • "No, it was four weeks."
  • "Four weeks. Nonsense!"
  • "Really it was, Mother."
  • "You are mistaken. It cannot possibly have been more than two weeks. I dislik_ontradiction. And I do not see what you want to get a book for, anyhow. Yo_aste too much time reading."
  • "Of what value is my time?" asked Valancy bitterly.
  • "Doss! Don't speak in that tone to  _me."_
  • "We need some tea," said Cousin Stickles. "She might go and get that if sh_ants a walk—though this damp weather is bad for colds."
  • They argued the matter for ten minutes longer and finally Mrs. Frederic_greed rather grudgingly that Valancy might go.