II — Little Marg'ret Snell: The Village Runaway

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Ladies' Home Journal Vol. XIII No. 2 (January 1896)

It certainly goes rather hard for any mother in this village, of a fanciful and romantic turn of mind, who tries to depart from our staid old customs in the naming of her children. She is directly thought to be putting on airs in a particularly foolish fashion, and her attempts are frustrated so far as may be.

For instance, when Mrs. White named her second boy Reginald, and the neighbors knew that there was no such appellation in the family, that it was only a “fancy name,” they sniffed contemptuously, and called him “Ridgy.” Ridgy White he will be in this village until the day of his death. And when Mrs. Beals named her little girl Gertrude, the school-children, who scorned such fine names, transformed it to “Gritty,” and Gritty the poor child goes.

As for Marg'ret Snell, she fared somewhat better; she might easily have been dubbed Gritty too, had it not been for the fact that Gertrude Beals is eight months older, and went to school first. She is only called in strict conformance to the homely old customs, “Marg'ret” and sometimes “Màrgy,” with a hard g, when her real name is Marguerite.

How the neighbors sniffed when they learned what Francis Snell's wife had named her girl-baby. Miss Lurinda Snell, Francis' sister, told of it in Mrs. Harrison White's. She had dropped in there one afternoon, about a week after Marg'ret's birth, and several other neighbors had dropped in, too.

“Sophi has named the baby,” said Lurinda. Mrs. Francis Snell's name is Sophia, but everybody calls her “Sophi,” with a strong emphasis on the last syllable.

Then the others inquired eagerly what she had named it, and Lurinda replied with a scornful lift and twist of her thin nose and lips: “Marguerite.”

“Marg'ret, you mean,” said the others.

“No, it's Marguerite,” said Lurinda.

“Where did she get such a name as that?” asked the neighbors.

“Out of a book of poetry,” replied Lurinda, with another scornful sneer.

The neighbors then and there agreed that it was very silly to twist about a good sensible name, and Frenchify it in that way; that Sophi read too much, and that she wouldn't be likely to have much government.

Whether the first was silly or not they certainly have never abetted it. Not one of them has ever called the little girl anything but Marg'ret or Margy, and whether they were right or not about Mrs. Snell's superfluous reading they most assuredly were about her lack of government. Sophia Snell is a good woman, and probably one of the most intellectual persons in the village, but she does hold a loose rein over her domestic affairs. That broad, white, abstracted brow of hers cannot seem to bring itself to bear very well upon stray buttons, and heavy bread and childish peccadillos. Francis Snell sews on his buttons himself or uses pins, or his sister Lurinda calls him in and sews them on for him with strong and virtuous jerks. It is popularly believed that he never eats light bread unless his sister takes pity upon him, and as for little Marg'ret, she runs loose. She always has, ever since she could run at all. When she was nothing but a baby, and tumbled over her petticoats every few minutes, she was repeatedly captured and brought back to her mother, who immediately let her run away again, with the same impeded but persistent species of locomotion.

Before little Marg'ret was three years old she had toddled and tumbled all alone by herself over the entire village, and often far on the outskirts. Once Thomas Gleason, who lives on a farm three miles out, brought her home. Nobody could understand how she got there, but she toddled into the yard at sunset in her little muddy pink frock, with one shoe gone, and no bonnet, very dirty, but very smiling, and not at all tired or frightened.

Little Marg'ret never was afraid of anybody or anything. Probably there is not another such example of absolute fearlessness in the village as she. She marches straight up to cross dogs and cows, the dark has no terrors for her, the loudest clap of thunder does not make her childish bosom quake. And she certainly has no fear, and possibly no respect, for mortal man. Speak harshly to her, even give her a little smart shake, or cuff her small, naughty hands, and she stands looking up at you as innocently and unabashedly as a pet kitten.

Everybody prophesied that little Marg'ret, through this fearlessness of hers, would come soon to and untimely end. “She'll get bitten by a dog or hooked by a cow,” they said. “She'll get lost, she'll follow a strange man, she'll walk into the pond and get drowned.” But she never has so far, and she is going bravely on to six.

Little Marg'ret's Aunt Lurinda Snell has probably endured sharper pangs of anxiety on her account than anybody else. Marg'ret's father is an easy-going man; his sister Lurinda seems to have all the capacity for worry in the family.

Lurinda is much given to sitting in her front window. She arises betimes of a morning, and her solitary maiden house is soon set to rights, and not a soul who comes down the street escapes her. Let little Marg'ret essay to scamper past, and straightway comes the sharp tap of bony knuckles upon the window-pane, then the window slides up with a creak, and Lurinda's voice is heard, sharp and shrill, “Marg'ret, Marg'ret, you stop! Where you going?”

Then when Marg'ret scuds past, with a roguish cock of her head toward the window, the call comes again, “Marg'ret Snell, you stop! You come right in here!”

But Marg'ret seldom comes to order. She goes where she wills, and nowhere else. The very essence of freedom seems to be in her childish spirit. You might as well try to command a little wild rabbit. All Lurinda's shrill orders are of no avail, unless she sees her soon enough to head her off, and actually brings her into the house by dint of superior bodily strength.

If Marg'ret has once the start her aunt can never catch her, but sometimes she starts across her track before the little wild thing has time to double. Then, indeed, there are struggles and wails and shrill interjections of wrath.

To compensate for her lack of parental survey the whole neighborhood, as well as Lurinda, takes a hand at controlling this small and refractory member, although in uncertain fashion, which, perhaps, does more harm than good. However, we all do our best to reduce Marg'ret to subjection, each for one's self — we are driven to it.

None of us are safe from an invasion of Marg'ret at any hour of the day, upon all occasions. Have we any very particular company to tea, in walks Marg'ret in her soiled pinafore, with her yellow hair in a tousle, and her face very dirty, and sweetly smiling, into the best parlor, and seats herself in the best chair, if a guest has not anticipated her. When told with that gentle and ladylike authority, which one can display before company, that she had better run right home like a good little girl, Marg'ret sits still and smiles.

Then there is nothing to do but to say in a bland voice that thinly disguises impatience, “Come out in the kitchen with me, Marg'ret, and I'll give you a piece of cake,” and toll her out in that way, — Marg'ret will sell her birthright of her own way for cake, and cake alone, — and then to cram the cake with emphasis into the small hand, and say, “Marg'ret, you go right home and don't you come over here again to-day.” But no one can be sure that she will not appear at the company tea-table, and pull at the company's black silk skirts for more cake, like a petted pussy cat.

Marg'ret walks into the minister's study when he is writing his sermons or when he is conducting family prayers. The doctor keeps his dangerous drugs on high shelves where she cannot reach them; he has found her alone in his office so many times. She walks over all our houses as she chooses. We are never sure on going into any room that Marg'ret will not start up like a little elf and confront us. She has been found asleep in the middles of spare chamber feather-beds; she has been found investigating with her curious little fingers the sacred mysteries of best parlor china-closets.

Little Marg'ret is the one lively and utterly incorrigible thing in our dull little village. There are other children, but she is that one all-pervading spirit of childhood which keeps us all fretting but powerless under its tyranny, and yet, if the truth must be told, ready enough to cut the sweet cake, which it loves, for it when it runs away into our hearts.