Mrs. Monday's Boarding Home
Excerpted from Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald; illustrated by Mary GrandPre; introduction by Jeanne Birdsall Copyright © 2010 by Betty MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
It was Christmas Eve. Big snowflakes fluttered slowly through the air like white feathers and made all of Heavenly Valley smooth and white and quiet and beautiful. Tall fir trees stood up to their knees in the snow and their outstretched hands were heaped with it. Trees that were bare of leaves wore soft white fur on their scrawny, reaching arms and all the stumps and low bushes had been turned into fat white cupcakes. Mrs. Monday's big, brick Boarding Home for Children wore drifts on its window sills, thick frosting on its steep slate roofs, big white tam o'shanters on its cold chimneys and by the light of the lanterns on either side of the big iron gates you could see that each of the gateposts wore a round snow hat. Even the sharp spikes of the high iron fencehad been blunted by the snow. However, in spite of its snowy decorations, in spite of the beauty of its setting, and even in spite of its being Christmas Eve, Mrs. Monday's was a forbidding-looking establishment. The fences were high and strong, the house was like a brick fortress and the windows, with the exception of one small one high up and almost hidden by the bare branches of a large maple tree, were like dark staring eyes. No holly wreath graced the heavy front door, no Christmas-tree lights twinkled through the windows and beckoned in the passer-by, no fragrant boughs nor pine cones were heaped on the mantel of the large cold fireplace, for Mrs. Monday, her niece Marybelle Whistle and all but two of her eighteen boarders had gone to the city to spend Christmas. Nancy and Plum Remson (Plum's real name was Pamela but she had named herself Plum when she was too little to say Pamela), the two boarders who remained, were left behind because they had no mother and father. No other place to go on Christmas Eve.
You see, six years before, when Nancy and Plum were four and two years old, their mother and father had been killed in a train wreck and the children turned over to their only living relative, one Uncle John, an old bachelor who lived in a club in the city, didn't know anything about children, didn't want to know anything about children and did not like children. When the telegram from the Remsons' lawyer came notifying Uncle John of the tragic accident and the fact that he had just inherited two little girls, he was frantic.
"Dreadful!" he said, fanning himself with his newspaper. "Gallivanting around the country getting killed. Dreadful and careless! Two little children! Heavens! What will I do with them? I'll have to move from this nice leather chair in this nice comfortable club and will probably wind up washing dishes and making doll clothes. Dreadful! Heavens!" Beads of sweat sprang out on his forehead like dew and he fanned himself some more. It was while he was folding his newspaper to make a bigger and better fan that he noticed the advertisement. It read:
CHILDREN BOARDED--Beautiful country home with spacious grounds, murmuring brooks, own cows, chickens, pigs, and horses. Large orchard. Delicious home-cooked food. A mother's tender loving care. Year round boarders welcome. Rates upon request. Address Mrs. Marybelle Monday, Box 23, Heavenly Valley.
With trembling hands, Uncle John tore out the advertisement and wrote a letter to Mrs. Monday. He received an immediate answer and three days later he was on his way to inspect this delightful boarding home so chock-full of good food and tender loving care for little children.
It was springtime in Heavenly Valley and the fields were golden with dandelions, the slopes were foaming with cherry blossoms, the sky was lazily rolling big white clouds around and meadow larks trilled in the thickets. Uncle John was entranced. "Had forgotten the country was so beautiful!" he said to his chauffeur. "Certainly the place for children. Beautiful, beautiful!"
When they drew up to the imposing entrance of Mrs. Monday's Boarding Home for Children, Uncle John was most impressed. "Nice, solid, respectable place," he said, noting the very large, sturdily built brick house surrounded by the high spiked iron fence."Well built," he said to his chauffeur, who had jumped out to open the heavy iron gates for him.
"It certainly is," the chauffeur said, wondering to himself why a boarding home for little children should have such a wicked-looking fence. Surely not just to keep the rolling lawns from oozing out into the road!