Cyrilla’s Inspiration

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and all the boarders at Mrs.
Plunkett’s were feeling dull and stupid, especially the Normal School
girls on the third floor, Cyrilla Blair and Carol Hart and Mary
Newton, who were known as The Trio, and shared the big front room
together.

They were sitting in that front room, scowling out at the weather. At
least, Carol and Mary were scowling. Cyrilla never scowled; she was
sitting curled up on her bed with her Greek grammar, and she smiled at
the rain and her grumbling chums as cheerfully as possible.

“For pity’s sake, Cyrilla, put that grammar away,” moaned Mary. “There
is something positively uncanny about a girl who can study Greek on
Saturday afternoons–at least, this early in the term.”

“I’m not really studying,” said Cyrilla, tossing the book away. “I’m
only pretending to. I’m really just as bored and lonesome as you are.
But what else is there to do? We can’t stir outside the door; we’ve
nothing to read; we can’t make candy since Mrs. Plunkett has forbidden
us to use the oil stove in our room; we’ll probably quarrel all round
if we sit here in idleness; so I’ve been trying to brush up my Greek
verbs by way of keeping out of mischief. Have you any better
employment to offer me?”

“If it were only a mild drizzle we might go around and see the
Patterson girls,” sighed Carol. “But there is no venturing out in such
a downpour. Cyrilla, you are supposed to be the brainiest one of us.
Prove your claim to such pre-eminence by thinking of some brand-new
amusement, especially suited to rainy afternoons. That will be putting
your grey matter to better use than squandering it on Greek verbs out
of study limits.”

“If only I’d got a letter from home today,” said Mary, who seemed
determined to persist in gloom. “I wouldn’t mind the weather. Letters
are such cheery things:–especially the letters my sister writes.
They’re so full of fun and nice little news. The reading of one cheers
me up for the day. Cyrilla Blair, what is the matter? You nearly
frightened me to death!” Cyrilla had bounded from her bed to the
centre of the floor, waving her Greek grammar wildly in the air.

“Girls, I have an inspiration!” she exclaimed.

“Good! Let’s hear it,” said Carol.

“Let’s write letters–rainy-day letters–to everyone in the house,”
said Cyrilla. “You may depend all the rest of the folks under Mrs.
Plunkett’s hospitable roof are feeling more or less blue and lonely
too, as well as ourselves. Let’s write them the jolliest, nicest
letters we can compose and get Nora Jane to take them to their rooms.
There’s that pale little sewing girl, I don’t believe she ever gets
letters from anybody, and Miss Marshall, I’m sure _she_ doesn’t, and
poor old Mrs. Johnson, whose only son died last month, and the new
music teacher who came yesterday, a letter of welcome to her–and old
Mr. Grant, yes, and Mrs. Plunkett too, thanking her for all her
kindness to us. You knew she has been awfully nice to us in spite of
the oil stove ukase. That’s six–two apiece. Let’s do it, girls.”

Cyrilla’s sudden enthusiasm for her plan infected the others.

“It’s a nice idea,” said Mary, brightening up. “But who’s to write to
whom? I’m willing to take anybody but Miss Marshall. I couldn’t write
a line to her to save my life. She’d be horrified at anything funny or
jokey and our letters will have to be mainly nonsense–nonsense of the
best brand, to be sure, but still nonsense.”

“Better leave Miss Marshall out,” suggested Carol. “You know she
disapproves of us anyhow. She’d probably resent a letter of the sort,
thinking we were trying to play some kind of joke on her.”

“It would never do to leave her out,” said Cyrilla decisively. “Of
course, she’s a bit queer and unamiable, but, girls, think of thirty
years of boarding-house life, even with the best of Plunketts.
Wouldn’t that sour anybody? You know it would. You’d be cranky and
grumbly and disagreeable too, I dare say. I’m really sorry for Miss
Marshall. She’s had a very hard life. Mrs. Plunkett told me all about
her one day. I don’t think we should mind her biting little speeches
and sharp looks. And anyway, even if she is really as disagreeable as
she sometimes seems to be, why, it must make it all the harder for
her, don’t you think? So she needs a letter most of all. I’ll write to
her, since it’s my suggestion. We’ll draw lots for the others.”

Besides Miss Marshall, the new music teacher fell to Cyrilla’s share.
Mary drew Mrs. Plunkett and the dressmaker, and Carol drew Mrs.
Johnson and old Mr. Grant. For the next two hours the girls wrote
busily, forgetting all about the rainy day, and enjoying their
epistolary labours to the full. It was dusk when all the letters were
finished.

“Why, hasn’t the afternoon gone quickly after all!” exclaimed Carol.
“I just let my pen run on and jotted down any good working idea that
came into my head. Cyrilla Blair, that big fat letter is never for
Miss Marshall! What on earth did you find to write her?”

“It wasn’t so hard when I got fairly started,” said Cyrilla, smiling.
“Now, let’s hunt up Nora Jane and send the letters around so that
everybody can read his or hers before tea-time. We should have a
choice assortment of smiles at the table instead of all those frowns
and sighs we had at dinner.” Miss Emily Marshall was at that moment
sitting in her little back room, all alone in the dusk, with the rain
splashing drearily against the windowpanes outside. Miss Marshall was
feeling as lonely and dreary as she looked–and as she had often felt
in her life of sixty years. She told herself bitterly that she hadn’t
a friend in the world–not even one who cared enough for her to come
and see her or write her a letter now and then. She thought her
boarding-house acquaintances disliked her and she resented their
dislike, without admitting to herself that her ungracious ways were
responsible for it. She smiled sourly when little ripples of laughter
came faintly down the hall from the front room where The Trio were
writing their letters and laughing over the fun they were putting into
them.

“If they were old and lonesome and friendless they wouldn’t see much
in life to laugh at, I guess,” said Miss Marshall bitterly, drawing
her shawl closer about her sharp shoulders. “They never think of
anything but themselves and if a day passes that they don’t have ‘some
fun’ they think it’s a fearful thing to put up with. I’m sick and
tired of their giggling and whispering.”

In the midst of these amiable reflections Miss Marshall heard a knock
at her door. When she opened it there stood Nora Jane, her broad red
face beaming with smiles.

“Please, Miss, here’s a letter for you,” she said.

“A letter for me!” Miss Marshall shut her door and stared at the fat
envelope in amazement. Who could have written it? The postman came
only in the morning. Was it some joke, perhaps? Those giggling girls?
Miss Marshall’s face grew harder as she lighted her lamp and opened
the letter suspiciously.

“Dear Miss Marshall,” it ran in Cyrilla’s pretty girlish writing, “we
girls are so lonesome and dull that we have decided to write rainy-day
letters to everybody in the house just to cheer ourselves up. So I’m
going to write to you just a letter of friendly nonsense.”




Pages of “nonsense” followed, and very delightful nonsense it was, for
Cyrilla possessed the happy gift of bright and easy letter-writing.
She commented wittily on all the amusing episodes of the
boarding-house life for the past month; she described a cat-fight she
had witnessed from her window that morning and illustrated it by a
pen-and-ink sketch of the belligerent felines; she described a lovely
new dress her mother had sent her from home and told all about the
class party to which she had worn it; she gave an account of her
vacation camping trip to the mountains and pasted on one page a number
of small snapshots taken during the outing; she copied a joke she had
read in the paper that morning and discussed the serial story in the
boarding-house magazine which all the boarders were reading; she wrote
out the directions for a new crocheted tidy her sister had made–Miss
Marshall had a mania for crocheting; and she finally wound up with
“all the good will and good wishes that Nora Jane will consent to
carry from your friend, Cyrilla Blair.”

Before Miss Marshall had finished reading that letter she had cried
three times and laughed times past counting. More tears came at the
end–happy, tender tears such as Miss Marshall had not shed for years.
Something warm and sweet and gentle seemed to thrill to life within
her heart. So those girls were not such selfish, heedless young
creatures as she had supposed! How kind it had been in Cyrilla Blair
to think of her and write so to her. She no longer felt lonely and
neglected. Her whole sombre world had been brightened to sunshine by
that merry friendly letter.

Mrs. Plunkett’s table was surrounded by a ring of smiling faces that
night. Everybody seemed in good spirits in spite of the weather. The
pale little dressmaker, who had hardly uttered a word since her
arrival a week before, talked and laughed quite merrily and girlishly,
thanking Cyrilla unreservedly for her “jolly letter.” Old Mr. Grant
did not grumble once about the rain or the food or his rheumatism and
he told Carol that she might be a good letter writer in time if she
looked after her grammar more carefully–which, from Mr. Grant, was
high praise. All the others declared that they were delighted with
their letters–all except Miss Marshall. She said nothing but later
on, when Cyrilla was going upstairs, she met Miss Marshall in the
shadows of the second landing.

“My dear,” said Miss Marshall gently, “I want to thank you for your
letter, I don’t think you can realize just what it has meant to me. I
was so–so lonely and tired and discouraged. It heartened me right up.
I–I know you have thought me a cross and disagreeable person. I’m
afraid I have been, too. But–but–I shall try to be less so in
future. If I can’t succeed all at once don’t mind me because, under it
all, I shall always be your friend. And I mean to keep your letter and
read it over every time I feel myself getting bitter and hard again.”
“Dear Miss Marshall, I’m so glad you liked it,” said Cyrilla frankly.
“We’re all your friends and would be glad to be chummy with you. Only
we thought perhaps we bothered you with our nonsense.”

“Come and see me sometimes,” said Miss Marshall with a smile. “I’ll
try to be ‘chummy’–perhaps I’m not yet too old to learn the secret of
friendliness. Your letter has made me think that I have missed much in
shutting all young life out from mine as I have done. I want to reform
in this respect if I can.”

When Cyrilla reached the front room she found Mrs. Plunkett there.

“I’ve just dropped in, Miss Blair,” said that worthy woman, “to say
that I dunno as I mind your making candy once in a while if you want
to. Only do be careful not to set the place on fire. Please be
_particularly_ careful not to set it on fire.”

“We’ll try,” promised Cyrilla with dancing eyes. When the door closed
behind Mrs. Plunkett the three girls looked at each other.

“Cyrilla, that idea of yours was a really truly inspiration,” said
Carol solemnly.

“I believe it was,” said Cyrilla, thinking of Miss Marshall.