That little prairie house girl lived nearby with her family and she went to the same school as they did. She was an odd girl, always questioning things and getting into scrapes. Sometimes her dress had a tear in the material and more than once her apron was stained with black marks before the day’s teaching had even started.
Miss Jackson asked Carrie to look after her when she first arrived in school and had few friends. Carrie was pretty and clever and everyone liked her, but she really didn’t want to babysit an outsider with straggly hair and a clumpy manner. Carrie had her own friends and she would much rather play with them. She did contemplate ignoring the new girl in favour of her friends, but she knew Jesus would be watching. Jesus wouldn’t like Carrie to be so mean.
The new girl was called Mary Ann and she was real polite and said please and thank you and even nearly curtseyed when Carrie went to talk to her in the school yard. She was just so keen, like a licky puppy dog. Carrie hated puppy dogs that licked and licked. Mary Ann almost looked like she had a tail she was so happy to be friends. They talked for a while, mostly Mary Ann talking non-stop about where her family had lived and what she liked to do and maybe Carrie could come to tea one Sunday, and then Carrie rose to take her leave. Maybe she could rescue something from the day and she walked off towards her friends, giving Mary Ann a quick wave before disappearing round the side of the schoolhouse.
Mary Ann sat alone under the big tree, looking up at the branches. Oak, she thought, from those leaves. The shade was cool and hid her from sight of most of the children. She drew her knees up to her chest and watched the children running and playing. She caught a glimpse of Carrie, golden curls bouncing in the sun, skipping with two other girls. They were all so pretty and their dresses had beautiful ribbons on. Mary Ann had never had a dress with ribbons on, not once. Mama said she would only catch them on a nail and rip them clean off.
A small boy headed for the tree, trying to look like he was going somewhere else and landing up under the shade was a complete accident. “Hello,” he said. “My name’s Jake. I’m new too.”
“Mary Ann. Could you climb this tree? I could climb this tree, not that I’m allowed. Mama says ladies don’t climb trees and I must start being a lady and Papa says I better no do it as he ain’t going to collect me from the doctor if I fall and break my neck.” She looked up into the branches.
“Will you give me a leg up?” she said.