"Mary Cary's Business" by Kate Langely Bosher (1910)
10-25-2011 12:42 PM
Meet Mary Cary, a 12-year-old orphan living in the Yorkburg Female Orphan Asylum in Virginia in 1910. She calls the well-behaved and proper side of her nature "Mary," and the more undisciplined and practical side of herself "Martha." In this chapter, Mary comes up with some ideas to raise money to buy Christmas presents for her friends.
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“Mary Cary’s Business”
From Mary Cary, Frequently Martha by Kate Langley Bosher (1910)
This is a busy time of the year, and things are moving. I'm in business. The Apple and Entertainment business.
The reason I went in business was to make money, and the money was to buy Christmas presents with.
I didn't have a cent. Not one. Christmas was coming. Money wasn't. And what's the use of Christmas if you can't give something to somebody?
Religion is the only thing I know of that you can get without money and without price, and even that you can't keep without both. Not being suitable to the season, I couldn't give that away, even if I had it to spare, and wondering what to do almost made me sick.
I thought and thought until my brain curdled. I looked over everything I had to see if there was a thing I could sell. There wasn't. I couldn't tell Miss Katherine, knowing she'd fix up some way to give me some and pretend I was earning it; and then, one day, when she was out, I locked myself in her room, and Martha gave Mary such a spanking talk that Mary moved.
Everything Martha had suggested before, Mary had some excuse for not doing. Mary is lazy at times, and, as for pride, she's full of it. Martha generally gives the trouble, but Mary needs plain truth every now and then, and that day she got it. When the talk was over, there was a plan settled on, and the plan was this.
Each day in December we have an apple for dinner. Mr. Riley sends us several barrels every winter, and, as they won't keep, we have one apiece until they're gone.
We don't have to eat them at the table, and when Martha told Mary you could do anything you wanted if you wanted to hard enough—except raise the dead, of course—the idea came that I could sell my apple. And right away came the thought of the boy I could sell it to. John Maxwell is his name.
He goes to our Sunday-school and is fifteen, and croaks like a bull-frog. Ugly? Pug-dog ugly; but he's awful nice, and for a boy has real much sense.
His father owns the shoe-factory, and has plenty of money. I know, for he told me he had five cents every day to get something for lunch, and fifty cents a week to do anything he wants with. His mother gives it to him.
Well, the next Sunday he came over to talk, like he always does after Sunday-school is out, and I said, real quick, Mary giving signs of silliness:
"I'm in business. Did you know it?"
"No," he said. "What kind? Want a partner?"
"I don't. I want customers. I'm in the Apple business. I have an apple every day. It's for sale. Want to buy it?"
"What's the price?" Then he laughed. "I'm from New Jersey. What's it worth?"
"It's worth a cent. As you're from New Jersey, I charge you two. Take it?"
"I do." And he started to hand the money out.
But I told him I didn't want pay in advance. And then we talked over how the apple could be put where he could get it, and the money where I could. We decided on a certain hole in the Asylum fence John knew about, and every evening that week I put my apple there and found his two pennies. On Saturday night I had fourteen cents. Wasn't that grand? Fourteen cents!
But the next Sunday there came near being trouble. Roper Gordon—he's John Maxwell's cousin—had heard about the apple selling. He told me I wasn't charging enough, and that he'd pay three cents for it.
"I'll be dogged if you will," said John. "I'm cornering that apple, and I'll meet you. I'll give four."
"All right," I said. "I'm in business to make money. I'm not charging for worth, but for want. The one who wants it most will pay most. It can go at four."
"No, it can't!" said Roper. His father is rich, too. He's the Vice-President of the Factory, and Roper puts on lots of airs. He thinks money can do anything.
"I'll give five. Apples in small lots come high, and selected ones higher. John is a close buyer, and isn't toting square."
"That's a lie!" said John, and he lit out with his right arm and gave Roper such a blow that my heart popped right out on my tongue and sat there. Scared? I was weak as a dead cat.
But I grabbed John and pulled him behind me before Roper could hit back, and then in some way they got outside, and I heard afterward John beat Roper to a jelly.
I don't blame him. If any one were to say I wasn't square, I'd fight, too.
When you don't fight, it's because what is said is true, and you're afraid it will be found out. And a coward. Good Lord!
Anyhow, after that I got five cents a day for my apple. John put six cents in, raising Roper, he said, but I wouldn't keep but five.
"I can't," I said. "I hate my conscience, for even in business it pokes itself in. But five cents is all I can take."
"Which shows you're new in business, or you'd take the other fellow's skin if he had to have what you've got. And I'm bound to have that apple. Bound to!" And he dug the toe of his shoe so deep in the dirt he could have put his foot in. We were down at the fence, where I went to tell him he mustn't leave but five cents any more.
The Apple business was much easier than the Entertainment business; but I enjoyed both. Making money is exciting. I guess that's why men love to make it.
I made in all $2.34. One dollar and fifty cents on entertaining, and eighty-four cents on apples.
The entertaining was this way. Mrs. Dick Moon is twin to the lady who lived in a shoe. Her house isn't far from the Asylum, and I like her real much; but she isn't good on management. Everything on the place just runs over everything else, and nothing is ever ready on time.
She has money—that is, her husband has, which Miss Katherine says isn't always the same thing. And she has servants and a graphophone and a pianola, but she doesn't really seem to have anything but children, and they are everywhere.
They are the sprawly kind that lie on their stomachs and kick their heels, and get under your feet and on your back. And their mouths always have molasses or sugar in the corners, and their noses have colds, and their hands are that sticky they leave a print on everything they touch.
But they aren't mean-bad, just bad because they don't know what to do, and they beg me to stay and play with them when Miss Jones sends me over with a message. Sometimes I do, and the day Martha gave Mary such a rasping about making money, another thought came besides the apples, and I went that afternoon to see Mrs. Moon.
"Mrs. Moon," I said, "the children have colds and can't go out. If Miss Bray will let me, would you like me to come over and entertain them during our play-hour? It's from half-past four to half-past five. I'll come every day from now until Christmas, and I charge twenty-five cents a week for it."
I knew my face was rambler red. I hated to mention money, but I hated worse not to have any to buy Miss Katherine a present with. If she thought twenty-five cents a week too high she could say so. But she didn't.
"Mercy, Mary Cary!" she said, "do you mean it? Would I like you to come? Would I? I wish I could buy you!" And she threw her arms around me and kissed me so funny I thought she was going to cry.
"Of course I want you," she went on, after wiping her nose. She had a cold, too. "You can manage the children better than I, and if you knew what one quiet hour a day meant to the mother of seven, all under twelve, you'd charge more than you're doing. I'll see Miss Bray to-morrow."
She saw, and Miss Bray let me come.
Mrs. Moon is a member of the Board, and Mr. Moon is rich. Miss Bray never sleeps in waking time.
Well, when Mrs. Moon paid me for the first week, she gave me fifty cents instead of twenty-five, and I wouldn't take it.
"But you've earned it," she said, putting it back in my hand, and giving it a little pat—a little love pat. "You didn't say you were coming on Sundays, and you came. Sunday is the worst day of all. I nearly go crazy on Sunday. No, child, don't think you're getting too much. One doctor's visit would be two dollars, and the prescription forty cents, anyhow. The children would be on the bed, and my head splitting, and Mammy as much good in keeping them quiet as a cackling hen. I feel like I'm cheating in only paying fifty cents. Each nap was worth that. I wish I could engage you by the year!" And she gave me such a squeeze I almost lost my breath.
But they are funny, those Moon children. Sarah Sue is the oldest, and nobody ever knows what Sarah Sue is going to say.
Yesterday I made them tell me what they were going to buy for their mother's and father's Christmas presents, and the things they said were queer. As queer as the presents some grown people give each other.
"I'm going to give father a set of tools," said Bobbie. "I saw 'em in Mr. Blakey's window, and they'll cut all right. They cost eighty-five cents."
"What are you going to give your father tools for?" I asked. "He's not a boy."
"But I am." And Bobbie jumped over a chair on Billy's back. "You said yourself you ought always to give a person a thing you'd like to have, and I'd like those tools. They're the bulliest set in Yorkburg. I'm going to give mother a little yellow duck. That's at Mr. Blakey's, too."
"It don't cost but five cents," said Sarah Sue, and she looked at Bobbie as if he were not even the dust of the earth. Then she handed me her list.
"But, Sarah Sue," I said, after I'd read it, "you've got seventy-five cents down here for your mother and only fifty for your father. Do you think it's right to make a difference?"
"Yes, I do." And Sarah Sue's big brown eyes were as serious as if 'twere funeral flowers she was selecting. "You see, it's this way. I love them both seventy-five cents' worth, but I don't think I ought to give them the same. Father is just my father by marriage, but Mother's my mother by bornation. I think mothers ought always to have the most."
I think so, too.
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If you enjoyed this chapter, read the book Mary Cary, Frequently Martha.
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