When J.P. came home that evening the street lights hadn't yet come on. It was snowing again, but the days were getting longer. He could feel the change in the air.
He stamped his feet well outside the door and entered the kitchen. Young Bridget was at the stove, stirring the soup for supper, but the house was silent as a graveyard. Even Willie, the loud one, wasn't yelling to greet him.
"Where's your Ma, Bridie?" J.P. asked. She was the solemn one, and as the wooden spoon in her hand traversed the huge pot slowly, she answered, "Ma's in the front room and very busy. She said I was to take charge and keep everyone quiet while she worked."
Robbie and Helen, seated at the kitchen table, were unwilling testers of each other's multiplication skills with handmade flash cards. Willie had been given the task of rolling up little balls of yarn.
"For Ma!" he explained, hoisting his lopsided yarn from a maze of tangled skein.
Something was up, and J.P. tiptoed quietly to the front room, pushing it open slowly, peering around the edge of the door. It was a tiny room, not as pretentious as a parlor, but with a small rocker and a tiny day bed.
Mary Margaret was seated in the rocker, the light from the small lamp shining over her shoulder as she
frowned over the knitting needles in her fingers. Hanging off the needles and flowing down her lap was something in a pattern of many green shades, from dark forest to light grass green.
"Ahem" J.P. ventured, as he tiptoed in. Mary Margaret looked up and smiled at her husband. "We'll be eating soon, Bridie's taking care of that. Sit down, James, will you? We have to talk."
The tone of her voice, so low and serious, did not bode well, J.P. thought. When he'd left this morning she had been her usual optimistic self. He admired that, and wished he could claim it so easily. If his cheery Mary was down, things were really bad.
He sat, but he didn't sit back. He perched on the edge of the day bed, waiting. She lowered the needles into her lap and began.
First, she told him about his Uncle Jim's visit, and how they had to have caught up with the rent they were behind by Monday next, or he would be forced to evict them. J.P. put his head down into his hands and sighed, then groaned.
"But, I have a plan." she continued, her words rising with her own self as she stood up and shook out the folds of a shawl she had been working on. J.P. nodded in admiration as the several shades of green blended into a dozen or more intricate knitting patterns.
"Lovely, lovely, Mary, but-"
"It came to me today as I was reading to Willie from the Green Fairy Book," she hurriedly explained.
"Remember the story of Rumpelstiltskin? How the girl could spin gold from straw? Well, it was only one step from spinning to knitting, and I think I have found a way to spin our gold-- that is, the money we need for the rent-- from straw, or in this case, from yarn."
"Ah, I see," J.P. nodded. "You're going to sell your knitting to people, is it? Well, Mary, that's a fine idea, but we couldn't raise the money we need selling one shawl, and who among our acquaintances could afford to buy it? Everyone we know is scraping for pennies as it is."
"Oh, but they can use pennies!" she broke in, her voice rising. "Suppose we had a raffle for it? You would take the shawl around, let people see it, and we would sell one chance for a dime. Everyone can find a dime for something as lovely as this will be.
I figured it out: if we sell 150 tickets for a dime each, we will have raised the $15 dollars we need for one month's rent. Next week I will have another shawl to raffle, and if we do this 6 times, by Easter we'll have caught up with all our rent!
Surely by then the lakes will be open, and you'll have some work. It will get us through this rough time. I'm sure that if Uncle Jim knows what we are about, he will give us some leeway. Once he sees the money coming in, he'll take it."
Her husband pondered this, mentally shifting the pros and cons in his head.
"Bridie's been making tickets since she came home from school, see?" She rummaged into the knitting bag and pulled out a handful of neatly trimmed brown tickets. A rubber band held each bundle together.
He could see that she had cut up the brown grocery bags from the pantry. On each ticket was neatly printed in pen: "The Wee Shawl Raffle, Ten Cents a chance" and then a line for the person's name and address.
J.P. knew Mary Margaret's handwork was beyond reproach, and he had no qualms about taking the shawl around and wheedling tickets from the wide array of friends, relatives and acquaintances they had.
But would he sell enough for the rent? Would he sell enough every week for the next 6 weeks? He shook his head and laughed. "Well, darling, we can give a try, can't we? When do I start?"
She grinned. "Tomorrow morning as soon as you leave. I'll have the shawl done by then if I have to knit all night. The next day I'll have Bridie take it to school and see if the sisters will take chances for the convent. The children will go to all their friends' houses with it and see if they can sell chances as well.
We'll have the drawing on Sunday morning, and I'll take the shawl to the winner myself, and by then I will have finished another shawl and have it ready for you to take around the following Monday. I'll keep enough of the ticket money to buy enough yarn for the next ones, and we'll see where we are on St. Patrick's Day. That's a month from now."
J.P. laughed, his heart lighter than it had been in a long time. "You are a wonder!" Then his face turned serious. "This is a lot of work on you, Mary-are you up to it?"
"I am if everyone helps. The children have to do extra chores and help to sell the tickets. They'll have to shop too, and you'll have to really sell tickets like mad, but if we all work together, we can do it!"
He kissed her lightly, then heartily, for good measure. "Let's eat! I'm starved, and I'll have to build my strength for tomorrow!"
Mary Margaret worked through the early evening into the late evening, and around 1 o'clock in the morning, she finished the deep fringe around the shawl's outer edge. In the lamplight, the greens blended and shimmered softly. Oh, it was lovely, lovely! She had put every intricate pattern she had ever learned into it. It must sell, it must!
J.P. went off with the wee shawl that morning, carrying the tapestry shopping bag carefully, a mass of tickets tucked into his coat pocket. Mary Margaret gave herself leave to take the day off.
The day ended with never a word from J.P. until he rounded the corner as the sun set. Helen and Robbie had been placed at the gate as messengers to their mother-was it a quick step their father had, or was he dragging?
They would know by his step if their hopes should be dashed or buoyant. Helen and Robbie reported with great glee that Pa was practically tapping down the sidewalk!
It had been a highly successful day, J.P. reported around the supper table, full of himself and the results of the raffle. In one day alone he had sold all 150 tickets.
Wasn't he the one, knowing so many people to buttonhole? There were smiles all around now, and tomorrow the children would take the shawl off for more ticket selling.
The next two days were successful as well, the children returning home with their pockets full of dimes, nickels and pennies. Mary Margaret suspected that a few of the pennies had been spent at the candy store, as a black tongue and the odor of licorice still clung to Robbie, but she was elated that they were doing so well, and she had begun the next shawl.
She was only a little behind because Willie had come down with a slightly high fever. Remembering the terrible flu epidemic of her youth, she cosseted him with special attention.
That night after supper, however, both Robbie and Helen started to look feverish as well, their normally high color even brighter and flushed.
She put the back of her forearm against their brows and knew they, too, were down with "something." The small room at the front of the house became a sickroom again, Robbie tucked at one end, Helen the opposite end, and both of them too miserable to even play "footsies" with one another.
Bridie had to take up the slack with the chores, and even their quiet one complained about the extra work, so Mary Margaret put the knitting aside to catch up with the washing and ironing.
When Sunday came, Helen and Robbie were better, so off they all went to church. After breakfast, while J.P. read the paper and the others sprawled on the floor with the comic pages, Mary Margaret announced she was taking the shawl to the winner.
"We wanted to watch you draw, Ma!" the children complained. "Well, I can see you are feeling better, with the whining all started up," she said, "And it was no one you knew anyway-- a rich swell on the Avenue bought some tickets from me the day I went to buy groceries."
"Can we go with you, Ma?"they all chorused.
"Certainly not! How can I be professional about this with a gaggle of you hanging on someone's doorstep, nudging and gawking?" she said. Then she softened as she added, "Besides, I don't want you to have relapses."
"But I haven't been sick, Ma" Bridie put in.
"All the better-stay that way!" and with that, out the door Mary Margaret flew, the tapestry bag fluttering under her arm.
When she returned, however, she was feeling a little flushed herself, and J.P. took one look at her and pushed her to the bedroom, insisting that she "have a lie-down." J.P. stayed home the next day, only going out to sell the tickets.
He tucked the 2nd shawl into the tapestry bag and warned Willie to stay away from the pot on the stove where it had been shoved to the back burner. Mary Margaret sat at the kitchen table, holding the knitting needles loosely, the short pattern of the shawl barely reaching the end of her hand.
"Will you be all right, love, while I go out to sell?"
"I'm fine. I'll just work on this a bit. I think I can finish it by tonight if I try really hard."
The tickets sales had gone wonderfully well for the 2nd week, and now they had the 3rd week to get through, then they would see where they were financially. Uncle Jim had been struck with joy at the handing over of one month's back rent.
Sunday came again, and Mary Margaret pulled the winning ticket while the others were otherwise engaged, and took the walk to deliver the 2nd shawl to the new owner.
She had gotten her strength back quickly, so she enjoyed the walk around the block and over to the botanical gardens. It hadn't snowed in a week, and the days were getting longer and the temperatures rising. Today with the sun shining it was a brisk but pleasant walk. She heard a church bell chime the 2 o'clock hour and decided she had taken the requisite time, and headed home.
J.P. had seen the children over to his sister's to play with their cousins. He enjoyed the tick-tick of the little clock in the kitchen shelf, as he seldom heard its voice with all the other voices competing for attention. He decided that he owed himself a little set-down for the afternoon, until Mary Margaret returned, so he lay down on the daybed his feet propped on the metal footrail so he could look out the front window easily.
He punched the pillow into a comfortable fold, but the bed seemed lumpier than usual.
He pulled the thin comforter to the side and then lifted the mattress, to inspect the springs. As he lifted the springs, he saw a white folded tablecloth between the mattress and springs.
"Now what the devil--?" He thought as he pulled the tablecloth out. As it fell to the floor, the folds opened to reveal a shawl. It was the twin to the shawl Mary Margaret had knitted for the first and second raffles.
J.P. looked over at the rocker in the corner by the lamp. The knitting needles held the first 4 inches of the same shawl pattern.
If the one for the coming week's raffle was the one on the needles, and Mary Margaret had taken the 2nd winner's shawl to deliver, then where had this bundled-up shawl come from, and why was it hidden in the tablecloth under the mattress?
To be Continued.
The final chapter to come:
Punishment and Penance
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