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Margaret and the moth tr.., p.2

Margaret and the Moth Tree, page 2

 

Margaret and the Moth Tree
 


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  “Your ambitions, girl,” said the lady. “Surely you don’t intend to be a silly little child for the rest of your life. I, for example, started my career in knitting then moved into philanthropy. What do you intend to do?”

  “I don’t know,” said Margaret.

  “Tsk,” said the lady, shaking her head. She jotted something down on the paper. “Well, you ought to be very grateful. We’ve got a place for you at the Hopeton Orphanage.”

  “Oh,” said Margaret, who didn’t feel especially grateful but tried her best to look it. “Thank you.”

  But the birdlike lady wasn’t listening. “Han-nah!” she shouted suddenly, peering out the office door. “Han-nah!”

  After a moment another woman appeared in the room. She wasn’t dumpy like the woman who’d answered the door, or birdish like the woman at the desk. She wasn’t very old or very young. In fact, if you were seeing her for the first time you wouldn’t think there was anything really remarkable about her at all, unless you looked into her hazel eyes and saw the depth of kindness there.

  “Hannah,” said the birdlike lady. “Prepare the car. We are taking Marjorie to her new home.”

  “Margaret,” corrected Margaret.

  “Hmph,” said the birdlike lady.

  The unremarkable face of the lady named Hannah blossomed into a warm smile. “How wonderful!” she said, her voice as soft as feathers. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Margaret. I’m Hannah Tender.”

  Hannah’s hazel eyes met Margaret’s brown ones. And though Margaret still knew she was alone in the world, she felt somehow a little safer.

  “Yes, yes,” said the birdlike lady. “Follow procedure, please, Hannah. The car.”

  “Right away, Gertrude.” Hannah gave Margaret another warm smile, then hurried from the room.

  “Very well, child,” continued the birdlike lady, whose name, it appeared, was Gertrude. “I assume you don’t need anything else.”

  Margaret was tired, hungry and rather in need of a good scrubbing, but not wanting to be a bother, she shook her head politely.

  “Good,” said Gertrude. “I’ll telephone Miss Switch, then, and we’ll be off.”

  And before Margaret could ask who Miss Switch might be, Gertrude had shooed her out into the hallway and shut the door.

  CHAPTER 4

  The Orphanage

  If there has ever been a time in your life when you have wanted something to come right away, like Christmas morning, or your birthday, or the day you will no longer be alone in the world, then you know that the more you want something to hurry up and arrive, the longer it is likely to take.

  And so, as Margaret gazed out the window of a shining pink car, watching the streets of the town give way to trees and rolling hills, the drive to the Hopeton Orphanage seemed to last forever.

  “Don’t daydream, child,” said Gertrude, who was driving the car. “It causes warts.”

  “That it does,” agreed Prudie, who was in the front seat.

  “You must be nervous,” whispered Hannah, who was sitting next to Margaret in the back of the car.

  “Keep your head squarely on your shoulders,” Gertrude continued.

  “There’s nothing like lemon juice to get rid of warts,” said Prudie.

  “Yes,” Margaret whispered back, staring up at Hannah. “I just hope they like me.”

  Hannah smiled. “They’ll love you,” she whispered. And then, as if she were reading Margaret’s mind, “Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”

  Sure enough, only a few minutes later, the dirt road carried them over the top of a hill. “There!” breathed Hannah, pointing off in the distance.

  Margaret caught her breath. At the end of the road was an enormous white gabled house. Wide windows shone across the front of the building in the light of the sun, and a gleaming porch circled around it.

  As they came nearer, Margaret saw that children wearing lovely red and blue coveralls were playing on the porch steps, which had bushes of budding roses on the lawn at either side. The children were smiling, and they waved happily at the car as it approached.

  “Here we are,” said Gertrude. “The Hopeton Orphanage.”

  Margaret’s Great-aunt Linda had often said, “You should never judge a book by its cover.” This is very difficult advice to follow, as the cover of a book can often tell you a great deal about whether or not it is something you might want to read.

  If you saw a book with a plain white cover that was called An Introduction to Economics, you would likely put it down and walk away. But if the book had a colorful picture on the front and was called something delightful like The Mystery of the Dragon’s Egg or Adventures on Jungle Rock Island, you would probably snatch it off the shelf in an instant.

  So you can hardly blame Margaret, when she saw the enormous house that was to be her home and the happy children who were to be her friends, for judging that the Hopeton Orphanage was going to be a wonderful place to live.

  Gertrude pulled the car around in a wide circle and came to a stop. Just then, the front door of the house swung open and a woman stepped out.

  If Margaret had been excited before, she now felt close to bursting. Because her first impression of this woman was that she was the most beautiful person Margaret had ever seen.

  The woman was tall, with silky golden hair and creamy skin. She was wearing a plain gray dress with a tattered flower-print apron tied around her waist, and a dusting of flour was brushed lightly across her hands and one cheek.

  When she looked up and saw the car, her face broke into a dazzling smile.

  The children parted before her as she descended the steps, and Gertrude, Prudie and Hannah climbed out of the car.

  “Gertrude, Prudence!” said the woman, wiping her hands on her apron and waving at them.

  “Miss Switch!” said Gertrude. “How nice to see you again.”

  “Hello, Hannah,” said Miss Switch, with a small nod. “And this must be our new arrival.”

  She opened Margaret’s door and leaned down so that they were eye to eye.

  “Hello, darling!”

  “Hello,” said Margaret, feeling dizzy. The beautiful woman smelled like fresh baked bread, and she was looking into Margaret’s eyes exactly as Margaret had always believed a mother would.

  “Why don’t you come out to meet your new family?”

  Miss Switch held out a soft hand, which Margaret took as she climbed down from the car. Everything seemed to be happening in a blur.

  “Children,” said Miss Switch. “Say hello to your new sister, Margaret.”

  The fact that this beautiful woman knew her name was almost too much to take in, and Margaret barely heard as the children called out “Hello, Margaret!” in a chorus of voices.

  As Miss Switch led her up the gleaming white steps and through the front door, it seemed to Margaret that she really was walking in a dream.

  The house was warm and cozy, with comfy chairs and plush carpets and velvet drapes hanging from the windows. Miss Switch led Margaret into the dining room, where an enormous carved table was laid with silver platters of strawberries and cookies and tarts and cakes. It was more food than Margaret had seen in her entire life. She shivered with delight.

  “Are you cold, dear?” Miss Switch asked.

  Without waiting for an answer, she produced a delicate red shawl, which she draped over Margaret’s shoulders. It was as soft as silk and the nicest piece of clothing Margaret had ever worn. When she breathed in, a delicious perfume filled her nose.

  Hannah followed them inside and smiled when she saw the joy on Margaret’s face. “I see everything here is still as lovely as I remember it,” she said, looking at Miss Switch.

  Miss Switch smiled, too, revealing two rows of even, pearly teeth.

  “O
f course, Hannah, dear. We were just about to sit down for tea.” Turning from Hannah, she put a soft hand on Margaret’s shoulder. “I hope you’re hungry, sweetling.”

  Margaret nodded, wide-eyed, feeling she might burst into tears from so much happiness.

  “Now then,” said Gertrude, who had walked in with a purple clipboard. “Miss Switch, do you accept full responsibility for this pitiful foundling and hereby take guardianship of her from the C.L.C. from this point forward?”

  “I do,” said Miss Switch.

  “And Marjorie,” Gertrude said, reading from the paper, “do you agree to this arrangement as well?”

  “Yes!” breathed Margaret, barely louder than a whisper.

  “Fine,” said Gertrude, making checkmarks on the clipboard. “I’ll just finish up this paperwork, and we’ll be on our way.”

  “Are you sure you won’t stay for tea, Gertrude?” said Miss Switch, turning from Margaret to the dining table.

  “We shouldn’t … Procedure, you know,” said Gertrude, reaching for a piece of poppyseed cake.

  Margaret gazed out the window, where the red- and blue-clad children had begun a game of tag on the lawn. She had never seen so many children before, and her eyes darted from one to the other excitedly. As she watched, one pretty dark-haired girl ran past a smiling scrawny boy, smacking him hard across the back. A look of pain crossed the boy’s face for a split second, but was quickly replaced by a new, even wider smile.

  Margaret thought this seemed a little strange, but before she could glimpse any more —

  “All done!” said Gertrude, wiping her mouth and snapping the clipboard shut.

  “Such a pleasure, as always, ladies,” Miss Switch said, ushering Gertrude out the door.

  “It’s time for us to go, Margaret,” said Hannah, dropping to her knees. “Good luck,” she whispered. “And call if you need anything.”

  “Thanks,” said Margaret. “But I don’t think I will.”

  Hannah pulled her into a gentle hug.

  Bleeeeeeeep. The car horn blared outside, making them both jump. Then with a last smile, Hannah ran to join the others.

  Trailing behind, Margaret was just in time to see the shiny pink car start off down the road, raising a cloud of dust behind it. Miss Switch was waving a handkerchief, and Margaret stood beside her and waved, too.

  “Goodbye!” she called out. “And thank you!”

  She watched the dust settle on the road and hoped that soon she, too, would be settled.

  Gone were thoughts of bossy old ladies, and crowded buses, and mysterious signs on quiet streets. From now on, this wonderful place would be her home, and these wonderful people, her family.

  CHAPTER 5

  Philanthropy

  At this happy and hopeful point in our tale, let us leave Margaret to enjoy herself for just a moment. Let us leave that important day and go back to one that came long before it.

  If you have passed enough time in this world, you will have noticed that every great event is the result of many smaller things that happened before it. Had Cousin Amos put more stock in washing his socks, for instance, he might never have caught antisanitosis. Had Margaret not run out of parents and relatives to take care of her, she might never have come to the Hopeton Orphanage. And had a certain town meeting not taken place many years before that, the Hopeton Orphanage might never have come into existence at all.

  “Order!” cried the Mayor to the townspeople, at this very meeting.

  The young Mayor, who was called Harold Picklewort, banged a small gavel against his podium. There was very little noise in the town hall, since the people of Hopeton prided themselves on manners, but Mayor Picklewort greatly enjoyed banging his gavel.

  “Order!” he cried again, with three more bangs for good measure.

  He cleared his throat loudly.

  “We are here today to discuss philanthropy,” he said, pausing to let the grandness of this word sink in.

  “As you all know,” he continued, “over in Munsfield, they’ve recently turned their general store into a soup kitchen.”

  Angry mutterings rose from the crowd.

  “Yes,” said the Mayor. “Once again, Munsfield is trying to show us up. Trying to make us look bad. Which is why we need to figure out what sort of philanthropy we’re going to do in return. We can’t let them get away with this.”

  The crowd of heads nodded in agreement.

  True philanthropy is a wonderful thing. If you have ever reunited a baby with its lost teddy bear, or helped an old granny cross the road, or returned a missing wallet to its owner, then you have done a bit of philanthropy yourself — so long as you didn’t take any money from the wallet, granny or baby. True philanthropy is doing something kind for someone else without giving the slightest bit of thought to yourself.

  Unfortunately, true philanthropy is not quite what the Mayor had brought the Hopetoners together to discuss.

  A woman in the front row raised her hand. “How about a homeless shelter?” she asked.

  “Definitely not,” said the Mayor. “The hobos might start sleeping in it. The last thing we want is a bunch of hobos mussing up our philanthropy.”

  Mutters of agreement came from around the room, and the woman in the front row sank down in her chair.

  “Why don’t we build a soup kitchen, too?” someone said. “An even bigger soup kitchen!”

  The Mayor shook his head. “No, no. If we do that, the Munsfielders will just say we copied them. There’s got to be some philanthropy we can do that will really make them squirm in their boots!”

  The townspeople furrowed their brows and fell to thinking about squirming Munsfielders.

  “What about something for children?” came a voice from the back of the hall.

  The Mayor’s face lit up. “Yes!” he shouted. “Something for children! Everybody likes children, don’t they?”

  “An orphanage!” cried a thin, birdlike woman with a long pointy nose. “Somewhere we can put all the stray ragamuffins nobody wants. And far away from here, so they won’t hang around our nice town.”

  The room began to buzz with excitement.

  “Bingo!” said the Mayor. “An orphanage is much more philanthropic than a stuffy kitchen! That’d show those soup-sniffing Munsfielders!”

  “I quite agree,” said a gravelly voice, and everyone turned to look at an important-looking old gentleman with bushy eyebrows, whose name was Professor Thrumble.

  Professor Thrumble was the most well-educated man in town, having spent many years reading long and serious books, and many more years putting the schoolchildren of Hopeton to sleep with long and serious lectures.

  “An orphanage,” said Professor Thrumble, “is the perfect place to educate the excess population. It will prepare them for useful roles in society, should they ever cease to be children.”

  “Indeed!” said the birdlike woman, pleased that someone so well educated had approved her idea. “As chairwoman of the Knitting Society,” she said, “I will take charge of rounding up the orphans. I am very concerned for these pitiful foundlings.”

  “So am I,” said a dumpy woman with large bulgy eyes. “Very concerned.”

  “Shush, Prudie,” said the birdlike woman, who, if you hadn’t guessed, was Gertrude.

  “Allow me to say a few words,” said the Professor, and several of his listeners got ready to take a short nap. He was known for making long and serious speeches to people whether they were children or not. On that particular day, he gave a speech on the dangers of uneducated orphans.

  “In conclusion,” he finished fifteen minutes later, “if you should need a noble mind to guide these stray youths, I shall be happy to offer my wisdom.”

  The Professor gave a deep bow, Gertrude burst into applause, and Mayor Picklewort, who
had dozed off, shook himself awake and gave several loud bangs of his gavel.

  “It’s settled then!” the Mayor shouted, waking up the rest of the hall. “Professor Thrumble will take the post of Master of the new orphanage.”

  And with the Mayor banging his gavel, the townspeople chose a site on the very edge of the town limits on which to build their orphanage.

  “We’ll build a place for misplaced infants!” they cheered.

  “A home for homeless tots!”

  “Ooo, I can’t wait to see the looks on the Munsfielders’ faces!”

  After the meeting, the townspeople trundled back to their cozy houses, and most of them never thought of their philanthropy again, except to inform any Munsfielder who hadn’t heard of it.

  This meeting led to quite a lot of paperwork, which led to quite a lot of money from the town treasury, which went to Gertrude and Prudence and was then mostly forgotten. And a few years after that, on an unwanted plot of land on the very edge of the town, the Hopeton Orphanage opened its doors.

  They were the very same doors, in fact, that opened many years later to Margaret Grey. The same doors that led her to a home filled with happy laughing children, piles of wonderful things to eat, and the beautiful, smiling Miss Switch.

  CHAPTER 6

  The Switch

  When last we saw Margaret Grey, she was waving goodbye to a pink car, watching the dust settle on a long dirt road and hoping great hopes about her new life.

  Just at that moment, a firm hand gripped her shoulder, making her turn around. Miss Switch was towering over her, her eyes following the pink car as it disappeared over a hill.

  “Come now, dear,” Miss Switch said, placing her other hand on Margaret’s back and pushing her into the house.

  The rest of the children filed in behind them. Margaret smiled, hoping to make a good first impression, but no one smiled back.

  “Would you like help laying out the tea?” she asked, having always been taught to be a helpful houseguest.

  There were several moments of empty silence. Margaret looked around, wondering if perhaps no one had heard her.

 
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