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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #102


[Mary Lindsay’s older cousin, also named Mary, owned a collection of “little things,” tiny replicas of various objects. Edith, who takes lessons from Mary with her brother and sister, has always loved them.]          Suddenly Edith jumped up and came to her, flinging herself into her arms and sobbing wildly. She held the child firmly but in utter bewilderment. What had she said to provoke this primordial grief? It seemed vast and hopeless, like Eve’s in the Garden when she knew what she had done. She asked no questions but waited, and presently Edith stopped sobbing and was silent.       “What is it, Edith?” she asked at last.       “I stole them,” whispered Edith.       “You what?”       “Stole them.”       “What did you steal?”       “Queen Mab in her coach and the little blue tea set.”        “Tell me about it,” said Mary.        “When the old lady was ill I used to go and kneel in the conservatory and look at the little things. I pretended they were mine; especially Queen Mab and the blue glass tea set. And then one day mother said the old lady had sold her oak chest. And that night I had a nightmare, and the next morning I went to see if the little things were there . They were still there and the window was open.” She stopped and began to sob again.        “And so you took Queen Mab and the tea set to keep them safe from being sold like the chest,” said Mary.         “If I had been you, and nine years old, that’s just what I should have done.” Edith looked up at her astonished and speechless, her face red and blotchy with her tears, the most bedraggled-looking child Mary had ever seen. “Yes, I should. It was unthinkable that Queen Mab and the tea set should go away to some dusty shop in a town. They’d have died there. When I was your age my Cousin Mary, that’s the old lady, offered to give them to me. But I wouldn’t have them. I lived in London and I couldn’t take them from the green parlor to London.”       “Then you don’t think I’m awfully wicked?” whispered Edith. “You don’t think I’ll go to hell?”        Mary laughed. “No, I don’t. It’s like this, Edith. Why you do a thing is more important than what you do. And so stealing because you love is better than not stealing because you don’t love. Not that I am advocating stealing exactly. This question of good and evil is very complicated. Life has been very difficult for us all since Eve ate the apple. Let’s wash your face with the well water. I’ll lean over and dip my hankie in. Where are Queen Mab and the tea set now?”       “In a box inside my handkerchief case. I’m always frightened that Mother will find them and ask questions. You’re quite sure I shan’t go to hell?”       “Quite sure. What will you do with them now?”       “Bring them with me when I come for lessons tomorrow and put them back again with the other little things. And I’ll share them with Rose and Jeremy if you want me to.” The depth of her relief astonished Mary.   “That’s a good girl! Now it’s over and you haven’t got to think of it again.”       Edith cried again in sheer relief, and let Mary bathe her face. Then they laughed together,  each aware of a buoyant lightness, as though a tangled string had snapped and they floated free.  -Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water (1963), pp. 203-205

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