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   Chapter 4 No.4

Drusilla with a Million By Elizabeth Cooper Characters: 28649

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


The next few days passed in a whirl of excitement for Drusilla. Dresses were bought for her to fit, and she went into town with Daphne on visits to the great dressmaker, who turned and studied Drusilla as gown after gown was fitted to her slim, yet still erect old figure. But finally they were all finished and great boxes came to the house. They were opened by Jeanne and their treasures spread upon the chairs and the bed to be admired and fingered lovingly by Drusilla, who took as much joy in her new clothes as any girl with her first trousseau. Except for the Bible and the life of John Calvin the contents of the little trunk were lost, so far as Drusilla was concerned. She became another being, as, clothed in soft-toned grays, her hair dressed by the hand of expert Jeanne, she gradually lost her feeling of loneliness, of being a person apart from her new life, and began to move with confidence amongst the treasured beauties of her new home.

The pretty gowns gave her a feeling of respect for herself that she had never experienced before, and for the first time in her life she felt within herself a power. Her opinions were deferred to, her wishes carried out immediately, and it seemed to her that all the world was trying to give her happiness. It took her many days to feel that she might ask for service instead of waiting upon herself; but she soon learned that the many servants were there for her especial use, and expected to be called upon to render any service that she required.

At first she was embarrassed when the housekeeper came to her in the mornings for orders for the day, and she confided to Daphne that she didn't know what to tell her. Daphne interviewed the housekeeper privately and then said to Drusilla, "I have seen Mrs. Perrine and told her that she doesn't need to come to you in the morning, as she understands what is to be done. If there is anything special, you will tell her, but you are not to be bothered with the details of the house now. After a while, perhaps, you will care to attend to some of the things, and tell her what you would like; but don't let it worry you until you get used to it all. I told the chef, too, that he need not send up the menu for the day, as he did to Mr. Doane."

Miss Thornton could not know how thankful Drusilla was for this last order, as the consideration of the menu had been a great embarrassment to her. It was written in French-a language quite unknown to Drusilla-and although she could not read the names of the marvelous creations of the cook, the food delighted her and the quiet, skilful service was always a wonder. The mechanism of the great household seemed to move with almost a machine's precision, and she felt that she was in a world that revolved to the order of unseen hands.

She had been in her new home but a few days when a card was brought her, and she read on it: Thomas Carney, The New York Times. She went to the library, wondering what some strange man could want with her. She found a very quick, alert young man, with twinkling blue eyes, who rose to greet her. She gave him her hand and asked him to be seated. He sat down, and then question after question was asked Drusilla. What relation she was to Elias Doane? Had she ever known him? How she had passed her life; the details of the life in the Doane home; how many years she had been there? Her impressions of her new home; what she intended doing with her million dollars; if she had any relatives to whom she would leave her money? Was she interested in charities? Did she believe in promiscuous giving, or would she help personally the objects of her charity?

Poor Drusilla heard the flood of questions in amazement, and answered them quite frankly; and the keen young newspaper man read much between the answers that showed the loneliness of her life, her bewilderment in her new surroundings, and he congratulated himself that he would have an article for his Sunday paper that not only would be filled with facts but also would have "heart interest."

When he rose to go he asked her if she had a photograph of herself.

She laughed.

"No, I ain't never had my pictur' took since I was a young girl and had it on a tintype."

Nothing daunted, the young man asked for it; but she had to tell him that she had lost it years ago; and then he asked if he might take her photograph as she sat there in her high-backed chair. Drusilla was a little awed by this very confident young man, so she sat still while he took her photograph, and then when he was ready to depart, she hesitatingly said:

"Young man, you have asked me a lot of questions. May I ask you one?"

He laughed.

"Certainly! As many as you want."

"Well, why have you asked me so many things?"

"I represent the New York Times, a newspaper, and we want to tell the people all about you."

"About me? Why should they want to know about me?"

The man laughed again, pleasantly, and said:

"You know we like to know about our neighbors, and you are the newest neighbor."

"But are you going to write all I said?"

"Well, nearly all; but, Miss Doane, if there is anything you don't want written, I'll cut it."

Drusilla was embarrassed.

"Have I said anything that I shouldn't? If I had known you was from a paper, I'd 'a' waited until Mr. Thornton come."

"I'm jolly glad you didn't. Little copy could have been squeezed from that old lawyer. But don't you worry, Miss Doane. There won't be anything that will hurt you. It's kind of you to see me. I have been trying for several days to get in, but couldn't get past that butler of yours. He sure is a wonder."

"Did the butler stop you?"

"Well, yes; he stood at the door like an armored cruiser. I wouldn't have made it to-day if I hadn't waited until I saw him go out. I knew the second man was at his home and only a maid in charge of you."

Drusilla was unhappy.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have seen you. It must have been Mr. Thornton's orders, and he knows what is best for me."

She crossed over to the young man and looked rather pitifully up into his face.

"You look like a nice young man," she said; "I like your eyes. You won't say nothing that'll make Mr. Thornton unhappy?"

The reporter took the half-outstretched hand and smiled down into the kindly, wrinkled face. When he spoke there was almost a touch of tenderness in his voice.

"I don't care about making Mr. Thornton unhappy, Miss Doane, but I wouldn't do anything to make you unhappy for the world; and if you ever want anything of the papers, here is my card. Just you send for me and I'll do anything for you that I can."

And so ended Drusilla's first interview.

To her amazement the next Sunday there was spread before her the paper with great headlines: MISS DRUSILLA DOANE, OUR NEWEST MILLIONAIRE. There was the picture of the Doane home for old ladies; there were pictures of the home at Brookvale taken from many angles, pictures of the garden, the conservatories; and in the middle of the page there was Drusilla herself, sitting in the high-backed chair. The article was well written, filled with "heart interest." It told of her early struggles, her years of work, and her later life in the charity home. Evidently the young man had visited the village where she had lived and talked with all who knew her; and Mrs. Smith's hand could plainly be seen in the account of the life of the inmates of the institution over which she had charge. Even poor old Barbara had been called upon to tell about Drusilla, the many little acts of kindness which she had done for the poor and lonely. As Drusilla read it she laughed and said, "Well, I guess Barbara had her teeth in that day." The article ended with the account of the million dollar bequest, and suggested that quite likely the charities of New York would benefit by the newest acquisition to the ranks of its millionaires, as Miss Doane was alone in the world, and had no one on whom to lavish her enormous income or to leave the money when she was called to the other world.

Drusilla did not know it, but this last addition of the facile reporter's pen set many heads of institutions to thinking, and caused many a person to wonder how they could gain the affections or the pity of this old lady, and separate her from at least a part of her new-found inheritance.

Drusilla passed many hours among the flowers in the conservatories, where she won the heart of the gardener by the keen interest she took in his work. He would walk around with her and tell her the names of the plants strange to her, pointing out their beauties and their peculiarities. He soon saw that the orchids and the rare blooms from foreign lands did not appeal to her as did the old-fashioned flowers she knew, and they made a little bargain that in the spring she should have some beds of mignonette, phlox, verbenas, and moss rose. One morning she watched him giving directions to one of the under-gardeners for the potting of small plants for the spring.

"Mr. Donald," she said, "I wish I could plant somethin'. It's been years since I dug around in the earth, and I want to plant somethin' and see it grow."

"That's easy, ma'am," said Scotch Mr. Donald. "I'll fix a part of the house here and you can plant what you want in it"; and after that many mornings found Drusilla pottering happily around the conservatory with a trowel, planting seeds or "slipping" plants as she called it. It gave her something to do, and that was the one thing she needed. She missed the active life, the "doing something." Everything was done for her-she had no duties. She, who had passed her life in service for others, here had only to mention a wish and it was immediately carried out. She was not allowed even to look after her clothing. As soon as an article was removed it was whisked out of the room and when returned was brushed, mended, and ready for use again.

One afternoon Drusilla sat down by the window to mend a tear on the bottom of her skirt. Jeanne, coming into the room, quickly took the garment from her.

"Madame, she must not do that. Quelle horreur! I will attend to it at once."

Drusilla laughed.

"Can't I even patch my dress?" she said. "Jane, where are my stockin's? I am sure there must be some darnin'."

Jeanne looked at her reproachfully.

"Madame does not wear darned stockings."

"Stuff and nonsense!" said Drusilla. "Why shouldn't I wear darned stockin's?"

"Yes, but it would not be au fait for Madame to wear darned stockings."

Drusilla became a little angry.

"How foolish you are, Jane! I've wore darned stockin's all my life. A few darns don't hurt one way or another. What becomes of my stockin's? I saw a hole in one the other day."

Jeanne looked a little embarrassed.

"Why-why-when they become not convenable for Madame, I-I take them."

"Oh," said shrewd Drusilla, looking at Jeanne over her glasses. "And I presume you are the judge of when they become 'convenable'-whatever that means. But you'd better let me tell you when I think they're ready to be passed on."

Drusilla sat back in the chair with folded hands for a few moments; then she looked down at them as they lay idly in her lap.

"I don't see what I'm goin' to do with my hands. I've always had a work-basket by my side whenever I set down, and now you just expect me to set. Well, I'm tired of it; I want to do something."

A few of the neighbors, headed by Mrs. Thornton, the typical New York woman devoted to "society," made calls upon Drusilla; and when the first caller's card was brought to Drusilla, she went into the drawing-room and greeted the stylishly dressed lady who rose to meet her, wondering why she had come. The lady sat down and talked to Drusilla about the weather, asked how she liked Brookvale, spoke of the opera season and of a new singer, asked her if she cared for symphonies, which Drusilla thought at first was something to eat, mentioned a ball that was being given at Sherry's that night for charity; and then departed, leaving Drusilla still wondering why she came. Evidently she told her friends of her visit, as many came, some from curiosity and others from real kindliness and desire to be friendly with their newest neighbor.

One day Daphne saw the cards.

"Oh," she said, "has Mrs. Druer called, and Mrs. Cairns, and Mrs. Freeman. I am so glad. You must return the call."

"Is that a call? What did they come for? I been wondering about it ever since they come."

"They are your neighbors."

"Oh, is that the way they are neighborly in the city? Set down and talk about nothing for ten minutes and then go home. Well, I don't see as it's very fillin'."

"They want to get acquainted."

"Well, why don't they stay a while and git acquainted? We jest git started to talkin' when they go away. Where I lived when a neighbor come to see you, they brought their sewin' and spent the afternoon. You can't git acquainted settin' opposite each other and wonderin' what to say. Why, they all look when they git ready to go, 'Well, I've done my duty; thank goodness it's over!'"

Daphne laughed.

"You must go and return the calls."

"You mean that I must go to their houses and do what they done-set ten minutes and ask them about the weather and the opera and symphonies? I don't know nothin' about them things at all."

"You needn't ask them about the opera, but you must return their calls."

Drusilla shook her head.

"No, I won't do it."

"Oh, but you must."

"But I won't, Miss Thornton," said Drusilla obstinately. "I don't know what to say."

"I'll go with you, Miss Doane."

"Well-" and Drusilla was a little pacified-"well, I'll go once and see what it's like. I'll do anything once, but I won't promise to do it much."

"Never mind; you must return the first calls. I'll come for you to-morrow and we'll go. You have cards-I had them made for you; and I'll bring my new cardcase. No, I'll get you the dearest bag I saw downtown. Gray suede with a cardcase and mirror in it, and a pencil and everything you need."

"What do I want a mirror in my hand satchel for?"

"Why to powder your nose if it gets shiny, Miss Doane. You're not up to date. You must have a vanity box in your bag or you won't be in it at all now."

Drusilla laughed.

"You ain't forgot how vain I was that first day when I peeked in all the mirrors at the hotel. But now I can pass one without lookin' in, if I ain't got a new dress on."

"Speaking of dresses, Miss Doane, put on that dark gray velvet that Marcelle made you and the hat with the mauve. Oh, I wish it were cold, so you could wear your new furs. But-well-they'll see them all after a while. We mustn't astonish them too much at first."

"Do I have to fix up so much?"

"But I want them to see how pretty you are."

Drusilla blushed like a girl.

"Pshaw, Miss Thornton, don't you know I'm past seventy years old? You shouldn't say such things."

"Oh, but I mean it. Margaret Fairchild, who was here with her mother, told the girls the other night at the dance that she couldn't keep her eyes off of you, as you sat with the light on your hair, and your pretty dress that was so half old-fashioned and half the latest style. She said you looked as if you had just stepped out of a picture."

"It's my clothes, I guess."

"Yes, it's partly the clothes, and that's where Marcelle is clever. She makes the clothes suit you, and doesn't try to make a fashionable middle-aged woman out of you. She spoke of your hands too, said they looked so-so-sort of feminine as they lay on the arms of the chair. You are clever, Miss Doane, to always sit on one of those high-backed chairs when callers come; it makes a lovely background."

"Does it? I hadn't thought of that. I generally set in the chair that's nearest the door; and I like one with arms that I can take hold of, 'cause it makes me nervous to have the women stare at me, and sometimes when there is such a long time between talks, I hold on to the arm tight so's I won't show I'm nervous and wonderin' what to say to fill in. But I didn't think any one noticed my hands." She looked down at them rather sadly. "They've always worked hard and I guess they show the marks."

"Oh, your hands are beautiful, Miss Doane. I can't ever believe you have worked with them."

"Can't you? I never had my hands idle in my lap in all my life till I come here. But-well, they ought to have something happen to 'em the way Jane works with 'em. Whenever I let her she's fussin' with my hands with little sticks and knives, until sometimes I'd like to box her ears. How any one can spend so much time just settin' still and lettin' some one fuss with their hands, I don't see. But I let her do it, as I don't have much else to do here but just set still, and she'd better fool with my hands than spend her time talkin' with William, which she does enough as it is."

"Oh, is Jeanne flirting?"

"Now, I shouldn't say anything. But I can't help seein' things, even if they do think I'm an old woman with my eyes half shut."

"I'll speak to Father about it."

"No, you won't, Miss Thornton. Leave her alone. It ain't much company for a young girl like her just to wait on an old woman like me; and William seems a nice young man. I like him, Miss Thornton, but I jest can't bear the sight of James."

Daphne turned quickly.

"Has James been impertinent to you?"

Drusilla shook her head.

"No, not at all. I wish he would be impudent or anything except jest stand around and look grand. He don't approve of me, Miss Thornton-even his back when he leaves the dining-room says he don't approve of me. I never seen a back that can say so much as his'n."

"Well, if you don't like him I will speak to Father and he will get another butler."

"No, don't do that. He don't do nothin' to lose his place for; and I'd hate to have to git used to another back. He never says a word, but he jest looks; but perhaps he'll git over it, or I'll git used to it, or maybe when I git more used to things I'll talk to him and ask him if he can't be a little more human, instead of lookin' like the chief mourner at a funeral. It sometimes makes me feel that I'm dead and he's takin' the last look."

Daphne laughed.

"Oh, that's his way. He's English, you know, and English servants are trained to look like mummies."

"Well, he certainly had good trainin'. What time do we go callin' to-morrow? I want to git it over."

"I'll come for you at four, and I'll tell them to have the small car ready. Good-by. I'm going to a great big tea where I am to pour. I love to give tea, although I always give the wrong person lemon."

The next day Jeanne, being told that Drusilla was going to call upon the ladies of the neighborhood, took extra care in dressing her; and when Daphne came, Drusilla was a very richly, exquisitely dressed old lady waiting for her car. The bag delighted Drusilla and she examined the fittings, and looked at the little vanity case with its tiny powder puff and mirror. Daphne laughed as she saw her peep into the mirror.

"Oh, Miss Doane, you're just like us all. We can't pass a mirror without a peep."

Drusilla said: "I wonder if we ever git too old not to want to see ourselves. As long as I can have hats like this one, I won't. Ain't it funny what clothes can do for you. Now with my velvet dress I ain't a bit afraid to go in that big house, in the front door and set down in the parlor, while if I had on my old black dress, I'd feel that I belonged in the kitchen. Yet it's the same Drusilla Doane inside."

Drusilla made many calls that afternoon. At some of the places, being told that the lady was not at home, a card was left.

"Pshaw now," she said to Daphne, "will I have to come again, now she ain't at home?"

"No," said Daphne; "she'll find your cards and know you have called. That's all you have to do."

"Well, that's one good thing"-and Drusilla was relieved to find that the disagreeable duty was so quickly done. "If I'd a knowed that, I'd a sent William to tell me when they was out and then I'd a come."

"Oh, but you'll like your neighbors when you know them. Here-Mrs. Crane is at home, I know"-and Drusilla spent a most miserable half hour sitting on the edge of a hard chair, wishing Daphne would rise as a signal to leave. Tea was served by a maid, and Drusilla held the cup awkwardly, while she ate the little wafer and infinitesimal sandwich which was passed with it.

"Why didn't they have a table?" she asked when they were outside. "I was in mortal fear that I'd spill the tea on my new dress-and I don't eat well with my gloves on."

Two more calls of the same kind were made and as they were turning into another gate, Drusilla leaned forward and said to the chauffeur: "Joseph, go straight ahead." Then, turning to Daphne, Drusilla said: "We're goin' for a ride now; we ain't goin' to spoil this lovely day with no more calls."

Drusilla would not listen to Daphne's remonstrances, and the motor flew along the beautiful drive overlooking the Hudson. Drusilla did not speak for a time, simply enjoying the ride. Then she turned to the girl.

"Daphne, what does subsidize mean."

Daphne frowned for a moment.

"I wonder if I can tell. I know what it means but it is hard to say it. It means to pay a certain sum of money to some one or some thing. For instance, the ships that carry the mails for some governments are subsidized; or if the government wants to aid some project, to enable it to start, it subsidizes it-that is, gives it a certain sum per year like a salary. Have I made myself clear? Father could tell you better than I can."

"I guess I see what it is," Drusilla said.

"Why do you want to know?" queried Daphne.

"Well, I got a little mixed up in what it meant. I got a letter this morning from some man-some poet I guess he is-who said that I should leave my money to subsidize struggling poets, who had a great message to give the world, but who had to work so hard making a livin' that they didn't git no chance to give the message. I'm afraid I got kind of mixed up-I could think of nothin' but etherize. I guess it was the strugglin' that confused my mind, and I been wondering why I could etherize a lot of struggling young poets. But now I understand."

"Well, of all the impertinence-"

"I don't know, Daphne; there's some truth in what he said. He said that nations needed great thoughts as well as they needed great inventions-them's his words not mine-and often rich men subsidized a poor inventor or a poor scientist so's they could have time to make their inventions and not have to worry over their daily bread; so why shouldn't it be done for the poets who would then have time to give great thoughts to the people, thoughts that would inspire them to noble deeds and works. There's a lot of sense in what he says."

"But you would never think of doing such a thing-"

"No, of course not; but I like to hear about it. And I been a studyin' a lot about that young man,-I am sure he was young or he wouldn't have had the courage to write me; it's only the young who have the courage to try."

"I call it nerve," said Daphne scornfully; "plain nerve."

"Yes, perhaps it is. But I was thinkin' about this young man who has got a feelin' inside of him that he could say somethin' that would make the world better, and he tries, then he's got to go to an office or somewhere and perhaps count rolls of cloth, or he may be a newspaper man who has to write stories of murders and divorces and-and-things like that, when beautiful things is just a chokin' him."

She was silent for a moment.

"It's an awful thing to be poor, Daphne-real poor. Yet-" she said musingly, "even when you're real poor you can always find somethin' to give. Like Mis' Sweet. Did I ever tell you about Mis' Sweet? She lived in our village and she was mortal poor all her life. When her husband lived he didn't do no more work than he had to and she had to git along as best she could, and then when he died she lived with her son, who was so mean and stingy that he made her go to bed at dark so's she wouldn't burn kerosene. She was so poor that she never had cookies or cakes to send her neighbors, and it kind o' cut her, because in the country we was always sendin' some little thing we'd been bakin' to each other, because that's about the only kind of presents country women can make to each other, somethin' they make themselves.

"So Mis' Sweet felt kind o' bad that she couldn't make no return. But, as I says, one ain't never too poor but that they kin give something. Now Mis' Sweet and nothin' pretty in her house, and never saw much that was beautiful, but she had beautiful thoughts inside, and she loved the flowers and things that grew around her.

"Mis' Sweet made paper flowers trying to say the beautiful things she felt inside, jest like that poet. She couldn't buy none of the pretty crinkled papers that we see nowadays; she never saw none of those; but she saved all the little pieces of tissue paper, and any scrap of silk, and the neighbors saved 'em for her too, and they saved their broom wire; and no one ever thought of throwin' away an old green window shade-it was sent to Mis' Sweet for her leaves. She twisted the broom wires with any piece of green paper that she could git hold of, and she cut the papers into flowers, the white ones into daisies and the little pieces of silk was colored with dyes that the neighbors give her that they had left over, and she made roses and apple blossoms and begonias and geraniums, and all the flowers that she knowed. If some were peculiar and didn't look like much o' anything she called them jest wild flowers. She made them all into bouquets. And there wasn't a new baby born in the village but that the mother found by her bedside a bouquet of Mis' Sweet's, and no bride went to the altar but she had a little piece o' orange blossom on her that had been lovingly pinned on by Mis' Sweet, and before the lid was closed over our dead-they had slipped in their fingers a little flower from their old neighbor. And do you think that we laughed at her stiff little bouquets? No! We all loved 'em and we understood, 'cause with each leaf made out of our old window shades and from each wire from our wore out brooms, there was a little love mixed in with the coverin'."

She was silent for a few moments; then she added:

"And I think that this young poet will find a way to give something to the world, if he really loves it and wants to give, same as Mis' Sweet did."

They were returning home along the drive.

"We haven't made half the calls that we should," Daphne said. "We must go another day."

Drusilla shook her head decisively.

"No; I won't make no more calls."

"Oh, but, Miss Doane, you must. You must return your calls."

"Oh, but I mustn't, and I won't," said Drusilla, shaking her head obstinately. "I most froze at some of them places, and I won't risk it again. I won't make calls. They can come to me, Miss Thornton, but I won't go back."

"But they won't come to see you if you don't return the calls."

"Well, they can stay at home then-it ain't much loss on either side."

"But what will you do?"

"I'll send William to know when they are out, and he can leave my cards jest as well as I can. I won't go into them rooms and drink tea out of my lap and eat with my gloves on, and talk about things I don't know nothin' about and don't care even if I did. I'm too old to begin such foolishness."

"But what will I tell them when they ask why you don't return their calls?"

"You can tell them anything you want to. I won't go."

Daphne said mischievously: "I'll say you are a very old lady, and feeble, and cannot take the exertion of making calls."

Drusilla sat up very straight and a slight flush appeared on her cheeks.

"You'll say no such thing, Daphne Thornton. You say the truth, that I don't see no sense in it. Old indeed! I'm not so old; and as to being feeble-"

Daphne snuggled her face against the arm near her.

"Oh, you are a dear, Miss Doane. I love to see you get angry. But you say you are old!"

"That's different. I say it with my own meanin', and generally to pet out of doin' somethin' I don't want to do. But I'm growin' younger each minute. Perhaps"-she chuckled softly to herself-"it's my second childhood."

They came to the door, and it was opened by James-stiff, correct, funereal.

"No," almost groaned Drusilla; "there's James. Now I know I'm dead and only waitin' for the buryin'."

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