Chapter XI begins with Mary asking grandmother for a piece of white lawn cotton.
“Why, certainly, dear,” said Grandma. ”You are such a good child. I am sure I never saw a little girl who was so able to amuse herself.”
“My, I wish I could explain about my little friends,” thought Mary Frances, but she answered, “I don’t get very lonely when you are away, Nanny dear, because I keep busy; and when you are here, we have such fun together!”
“Heigho!” exclaimed Grandma, “I feel really young again!”
And then Grandma leaves again. She must. It’s essential for the plot for her to always leave.
Mary then takes her doll, Angie, in her arms and rocks her to sleep. She suspects that Angie is too old a doll to baby but Mary has left her baby-baby doll back home. What Mary told Gran, about not getting lonely, was a lie. Mary needs to feel a connection to something familiar and now that means rocking her doll to sleep and crying.
“I’d certainly get very lonesome if I didn’t do it—with Mother and Father so far away—and Billy in camp!”
The big tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Come, Mary Frances,” she said. ”I feel like shaking you. When you promised Father so faithfully to be a woman, and your Grandma is such a darling!”
Mary re-read her mother’s last letter and took comfort in it. Of course the letter also reminded her that her Brother Billy is a very good scout.
“My, I feel better,” said Mary Frances, drying her tears. ”But if it weren’t for my sewing lessons, even with Grandma’s help, I’d not be a Scout. Billy is a good Scout:—but now,—for the lesson,” and she went to the sewing-room very softly, with Angie asleep in her arms.”
I’m not even sure what that means. I think it’s there to remind little girls that being a scout is not the sort of thing a girl aspires to…and to once more justify why Billy’s summer is paid for and involves peers and human teachers and Mary is left to hide her sobs from the servant and interact with Thimble Folks.
Sadistic Thimble Folks.
“Hee-ha!” she heard through the door, which was a very tiny way open, “that’s the time!”
She thought it was the voice of Silver Thimble.
AND IT WAS!
“I don’t care,” answered a new voice. “It’s too much, to have to clean them all at once.”
“Oh, there are only two more. Come, I’m ready— it is really excellent practice for a soldier!”
Mary peered into the sewing room to find Mr.Silver Thimble thrusting needle after needle into the body/face of Mr. Emery Bag.
Emery (corundite) is a dark granular rock used to make an abrasive powder. it might be most recognizable as the coating for emery nail files. An emery bag is a fabric pouch filled with emery powder. Sewists jab pins and needles into emery bags to remove built-up rust from these tools.
One most often sees small strawberry-shaped emery bags paired with tomato-shaped pin-cushions. I do not own either…yet.
“Take ‘em out, I say!”
And now the world of Mary Frances forces me to ask once more…is this some racist bullshit? Think I’m overreacting? I’ve read the Mary Frances Housekeeping book, Jane E Fryer was…a white woman of her time.
“Emery Bag, what do you think you were made for? I hope you realize it’s your duty to clean all the rust and roughness off these needles as I run them through you, so that the little Miss may sew more easily,” lectured Thimble. “No in-sub-or-din-a-tion! Stop and think! You know my family’s power,—you know my family’s wealth. You realize, I hope, you live in a land named for my aris-to-crat-ic ancestors— Thimble Land!”
“Oh, ancestors go-to-China!” exclaimed Emery Bag. “We live in the present, and I demand—I demand justice. I leave it to anybody if it’s fair to have twenty needles stuck into your heart at once!”
“The idea of being such a coward!” retorted Thimble. “Where’s your heart of steel you brag of so often?”
….uh. So. Many. Questions.
Is Mr. Emery Bag supposed to be Chinese? Is that why he (and later Ma Chine) doesn’t have illustrated big, wide eyes? If not, why are his ancestors going to China? Is he wearing one of those tacky “China hat with attached braid” deals?
Is…is the needle thing related to acupuncture? It certainly was practiced at that time, albeit not legalized or seen as acceptable for westerners until the early 1970’s after Nixon’s China visit. It probably would have been known of by 1900’s as something “those inscrutable Asians” did.
Mary stops none of this– she just watches it unfold from the doorway.
“It’s scarcely fair, you know,” came a new voice. “You see, twenty needles at once are really more than are needed.”
“Humph, Tommy Pin Cushion,” answered Silver Thimble. “What you sticking your ‘pinion in for? It’s a wonder Sewing Bird hasn’t stuck her bill in! Tommy Pin Cushion, you might just as well keep out of this—everybody knows you’re stuck on yourself— Fatty!”
“You conceited old Silver Thimble,” came the voice of Pin Cushion. “You will please address me by my full name—’Tomato-Pin-Cushion, Custodian-of-the-Sword-Needles’;—and what’s more, if you don’t quickly remove all those needles from poor Emery, you won’t get any more sword-needles to wield. So there! You know Sewing Bird’s taking forty winks; that’s why you don’t act in your best military manner.”
Sewing Bird began to wake. Mr. Thimble ran to put the needles into Tommy, hiding the evidence of his brutal treatment of Emery Bag. With no more conflict to avoid, Mary sighed to herself, “Good. Now I’ll go in.”
Yeah, Mary’s not winning any prizes today.