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   Chapter 12 No.12

Drusilla with a Million By Elizabeth Cooper Characters: 25884

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05

One afternoon Drusilla was working in her corner of the greenhouse transplanting lily bulbs. She did not notice the entrance of Daphne until she heard the fresh young voice at her side.

"Good morning, Miss Doane. I have come on business. I am an agent to enlist your services."

Drusilla pushed her near-seeing glasses up on her forehead so that she could the better regard the pretty face before her.

"Well, now, what company is hirin' you? They have a good agent. Is it a book or a washin' machine?"

Daphne laughed.

"Neither, Miss Doane. How shocking! I am working in a great cause-the cause of the poor."

"So-" said Drusilla. "What do you know about the poor?"

"Oh, I know a lot, Miss Doane. I am one of the volunteer workers in a Settlement house in the slums."

"What's that? I seem to disremember what I have read about such things, if I have ever read about them."

"A Settlement is a lot of nice people who go down to live among the poor, and they have clubs where the boys and girls can come evenings, and they have sometimes a kindergarten or a day nursery where the mothers who go out to work by the day can leave their children while they are away, and they give free baths and have a medical clinic. Dr. Eaton gives his services to one twice a week, and there is a district nurse, and-Oh lots of things are done for the poor in the neighborhood of the Settlement house."

Drusilla put down her trowel and looked interested.

"Do tell! How nice of 'em. Are they paid to do it?"

"Yes; the workers who live in the Settlement get a salary. But girls like myself give a day a week, or every once in a while go there and help."

"What do you do?" asked Drusilla.

"I-I-teach sewing. I have a class."

Drusilla looked at her a moment in astonishment.

"You teach sewing? You have a sewing class? I didn't know you sewed."

"I-don't-much, but I can do enough for a class like I have. They're just making gymnasium suits, and we buy the pattern and I get along some way."

Drusilla laughed.

"Well, for a girl who has all her clothes made and keeps a maid to sew on her buttons, I think it is very nice of you to learn girls how to sew. You must be a great help in that work."

Daphne flushed.

"Now you're laughing at me, Miss Doane."

"No, I'm not laughin'; but it seems to me-how many girls you got in your class?"

"I have ten."

"How old are they?"

"About twelve to fourteen years."

"When do you learn 'em?"

"Saturday afternoon."

"Well-well! You must let me go down with you some day and see you learn girls to make their dresses. I'd surely enjoy the sight."

"That's why I came to you to-day. Our Settlement wants me to bring you down."

Drusilla looked up inquiringly and a little suspiciously.

"Why do they want you to bring me down?"

Daphne said rather hesitatingly: "Well-they would like to interest you in their mother's summer home."

"What's that?"

"They have a home in the country where they send some of the poor mothers who live in the tenements and can't get away for the summer."

"I s'picioned it was a subscription they want; but it sounds like a good thing, and I'd like to know about it."

"Won't you come with me to-day? We'll talk with Mrs. Harris, the head worker, and she'll tell you all about it."

"Well-I don't know-" looking at her plants. "I'd ought-"

"Oh, please come, Miss Doane. You haven't anything to do, have you?"

"I don't know as I have anything particular, though sence I got these babies, my days is as full as a wine cup. But if you want me-"

"That's right; I knew you would! Come right away-I must get to my class."

Drusilla wiped her hands on her apron and went into the house. Soon she was ready and they were being whirled swiftly toward the East Side, a part of New York that Drusilla had never visited. She was interested in the women as they sat upon the tenement steps, and in the many, many children playing in the streets. Spring was in the air, although it could hardly be recognized here except by the people loitering in the streets in order to get away from the crowded homes.

"What a lot of people!" said Drusilla. "Where do they all come from-and the children! I never saw so many children in my life."

"Oh, but you should see it in July and August," Daphne laughed. "Then it is crowded, and the people sleep on the fire-escapes and even on the sidewalks in some of the smaller streets. It is so hot in their stuffy rooms."

Soon they drew up before the door of the Settlement, and were received in the parlor by the head worker. Daphne left Drusilla, to go to her sewing-class, and Mrs. Harris conducted Drusilla over the Settlement. She was shown the kindergarten, the club rooms where the boys and girls of the neighborhood danced in the evening, the clinic, the public baths, and the play yard. Then she asked to be taken to see Daphne with her sewing-class, as she could not get over the idea that it was a joke of some kind for Daphne to teach sewing, knowing that the girl knew nothing about the work. They found Daphne absorbed in cutting out very full trousers and middy blouses by the aid of a paper pattern, while eight girls were basting and stitching them. Drusilla watched them for a while.

"Is this all the sewing-class you have?" she asked.

"It is all we have at present," Mrs. Harris answered.

"Do the girls in the neighborhood, the grown girls, learn it?"

"No; they all work, and have only their evenings."

"Why don't you have an evening class?"

"We have thought of that, but it is hard to get a girl like Daphne to come down in the evening."

Drusilla watched Daphne frowning over the intricacies of the pattern.

"Now I think it is nice of Daphne," she said, "to want to come here and help them girls learn to sew; but it seems to me that she'd be doin' a good deal more good to the girls if she hired a woman, some one who needed the work and knowed dressmaking, to come and really learn the girls to make their dresses. Learn 'em from the start, from cuttin' out the cloth to sewin' up the seams and makin' the last buttonhole. Them girls don't want to learn how to make them big pants and that shirt; they want to make their clothes-something pretty they can wear. I think a lot of Daphne, but she'd be doin' more good if she hired some one who knowed her business instead of tryin' to do somethin' she don't know nothin' about. Quite likely it does her good, but so far as I can see it don't do the girls much good."

The head worker flushed, as did Daphne.

"We like to interest the girls from homes like Miss Thornton's to come down and help the people less fortunate than themselves."

"Yes, that's good too; interest them. I saw Daphne pay five dollars for a box of candy the other day, and it's bad for her complexion. Instead of buying them things let her hire some one, I say. She can come just the same, but let a dressmaker or a sewing woman learn 'em to sew; not a girl who ain't even sewed a button on her own clothes or made a pocket handkerchief. And then she'd be helpin' the dressmaker too, who might need the money. If you had some sensible sewing learnt you might git some of the girls who work days to come in evenings and learn, but no girl is goin' to waste her time fiddlin' around with things like that, that they ain't goin' to use, or don't have no need of."

"But they do need them. They are gymnasium suits."

"What's gymnasium suits?"

"Suits to take exercise in, physical exercise."

"Do they need special clothes to take exercise in? What's the matter with the clothes they got on?"

"They restrict the movements."

"You mean they can't move their arms and legs. Fudge and fiddlesticks! Put them girls out to play and they'd move their arms and legs quick enough without fancy clothin'. If they can't move 'em with the exercises you give 'em, give 'em other kinds. It seems to me that if these people are as poor as you tell me, exercise ain't what they want. They want to learn things to help 'em pay the rent at home, or save a little money once in a while by makin' their things."

Mrs. Harris was a little angry.

"I am sorry, Miss Doane," she said stiffly, "that you don't approve of our sewing-class."

"No, I don't approve of it. With a teacher like Daphne it's about as much use as squirtin' rose-water on a garbage tin. If the rest of your work is like this, I guess I'll go home-"

She started to leave the room, but at the door she stopped.

"What's that Daphne was tellin' me about a home for mothers in the country?"

The head worker's face brightened. Here she had something that would appeal to the old lady, who was reputed to be very fond of children.

"I am so glad you came to-day. I can show you some of the mothers we were hoping to take to the country. We want to enlarge our house, we can only accommodate twelve mothers with their children, and we should have a place for at least twenty-five, as we have so many applications."

"How long do you keep 'em?"

"We try to give each mother a two weeks' vacation; and she brings with her the small children she cannot leave at home."

"I like the idee. I like children and I like mothers, and from what I've seen it seems to me that it'd be heaven for these people to git away from the noise for a while. It most drives me crazy to hear it for an hour, and it must be awful to live with."

"They get used to it; but they do need a change. Some of the poor mothers are completely worn out and break down in the hot weather. If they could get into the country, even for a short time, it would save many a life."

"Pshaw, is it so bad as that?" said sympathetic Drusilla.

"Yes; this year is especially bad. We had hoped to have the money to build an additional wing to the house and take all our people; but we have not been able to get the money, so we have to tell a great many whom we have promised that they cannot go this year, and-I am afraid it will be a great disappointment."

Here an inspiration came to Mrs. Harris.

"By the way, Miss Doane, I was going this afternoon to tell one of the mothers that she cannot go this year. Would you like to come with me, then you can see for yourself how very much the place is needed."

Drusilla brightened.

"I'd like to go," she said.

The worker hesitated.

"You are not afraid of contagion?"

"There ain't nothin' catchin' in the house, is there? I don't want to git the smallpox at my time of life, or the mumps-"

Mrs. Harris laughed.

"No, nothing as bad as that; but the tenements are not overly clean, you know."

"Pshaw, I don't care about that. If they can live in 'em all the year, I guess it won't hurt me to visit 'em for ten minutes."

They entered the motor, surrounded by a crowd of noisy children who clung to the footboard and hung on the back and made themselves into a noisy escort until the tenement was reached. There Drusilla and Mrs. Harris climbed three flights of stairs. In answer to the knock, a soft voice said, Entre lei, and they stepped into a room that was evidently the kitchen, living- and dining-room.

Near the only window in the room was a kitchen table. Around it sat the father, the mother, a little boy of nine, two younger girls, and a little round-faced boy of four, while two other children, mere babies, were playing on the floor. The people at the table were sticking marguerites onto wreaths, about ten flowers to a wreath. The flowers were in bundles stuck together, and the little boy took them apart and handed them to the other children, who took yellow stems from other bundles, dipped them into paste, then into the center of the marguerite and handed the finished flower to the father or mother, who placed it in position on the wreath. They worked quickly, showing long practice.

The mother gave chairs to her guests; then went back to her work.

"I have come, Mrs. Tolenti," Mrs. Harris said, "to tell you about the country."

"Si," and the dark Italian face brightened. "I ready go any day."

"I am sorry, awfully sorry, but we have no place for you this year."

The Italian woman looked at the speaker uncomprehendingly.


"I am sorry," Mrs. Harris began again, speaking slowly, "that we cannot take you. We have not been able to enlarge the house, and there were so many applications ahead of you."

The woman looked at her blankly for a moment, then Drusilla saw that she understood. Her mouth drooped and quivered, her hands faltered in their work, but only for a moment. Mechanically she put the flower into the paste, then placed it on the wreath. She worked quietly for several moments.

"I hope next year, Mrs. Tolenti-"

But Mrs. Harris was interrupted.

"I no wanta next year. I wanta dis year, I wanta now! I tired. I wanta see da country. I wanta see da flower, not dese tings-I hata dem." She gave the flowers in

front of her a push. "I hata dem! I wanta see da rosa on da bush, I wanta see da leaves on da tree. I wanta put ma face in da grass lak when I young girl in Capri. I wanta look at da sky, I wanta smell da field. I wanta lie at night wi ma bambini and hear da rain. I no can wait one year, I wanta go now!"

"But, Mrs. Tolenti," Mrs. Harris said, secretly a little elated at the storm she had raised, which she could see was impressing Miss Doane, "I had no idea you felt it so strongly-"

"Yes," the low voice continued, "I feel it here," pointing to her breast. She was quiet for a while, then went on in the low, monotonous voice of the desperate poor. "This winter ver had. My man no work. Sometime go wood yard, but only fifty cents one day. He walk, walk, walk, looka for work. We must eat, we must pay rent. We all work maka da flower, but no can maka da mon. Fi' cent a gross for da wreath. It taka long time to maka one dozen wreath, and only git fi' cent. No can live. I canno' live every day, every day da same. Nine year I stay here maka da flower, always maka da flower. Nine year I no go away from dis street. But dis year I tink I go to da country. When I set here maka da flower I say three mont more, two mont more, one mont more, den I see da grass, I hear da bird, I shuta ma eyes, I tink I again in my Capri-Oh, Dio mio!" She turned suddenly and let her face fall upon her arms, stretched out on the pile of flowers before her. "Der ain't no God for poor man, der ain't no God!"

Mrs. Harris looked at her sadly and said nothing; but the tears were streaming down the face of Drusilla and she impulsively rose from her seat and coming to the mother, put her arms round the shaking shoulders, and said quietly:

"You certainly shall go to the country with your babies. You certainly shall go. Don't think a moment again about it."

The woman did not raise her face nor seem to understand; dry sobs shaking her worn and wasted body. She seemed utterly broken and disheartened.

Drusilla turned to Mrs. Harris.

"Will you make her understand?"

The worker said something to the father, and he nodded his head and they went from the room. Drusilla stopped at the door to take a last look around the room, at the wondering faces of the children who watched her with great black eyes, but who did not stop their fingers from separating and placing the flowers together again. She saw the babies on the floor playing quietly, as if they too were oppressed by the tragedy that was always before them, and then she looked at the blank wall outside the window, and it seemed to her that the lives of these hopeless poor were like that window, only a blank wall to face.

They arrived at the Settlement house and Mrs. Harris ordered tea to be brought to her sitting-room. She was delighted at the effect of her visit, and her imagination ran riot in the thought of the additions that might be made to the summer home for mothers.

Drusilla was quiet during tea, but when it was carried away she spoke.

"Now tell me about your home. You say you want to make an addition, add an ell or something."

"Yes; we think by adding a wing we can double our capacity. But I have the plans of the new work, and a picture and plans of the present house."

She brought a book of views with an architect's drawings of the new hoped-for wing, and the pictures and plans of the present house. Drusilla drew her glasses from her bag and bent over the new plans; then she turned her attention to the house now in use.

"You say this is where they are at present? Which is the rooms you use for the mothers?"

The worker pointed them out.

"We have six beds in this room, and four beds in this, and five beds in this room. In this long room we can put about twelve cots for the children that do not have to be with their mothers during the night. This is the dining-room; this the living-room."

Drusilla caught sight of some rooms upstairs.

"What's these three rooms. Who're they for?"

"Those are for the workers who go out for the week-end."

"What do you mean by the week-end?"

"From Saturday to Monday."

"You mean the women who work here like yourself go out there and spend Saturday and Sunday?"


"But why do you need three rooms?"

"Well, you see there are a great many workers here, and they take turns, and often three or four of them go out."

"They each have a room to themselves?"

"Yes, you see they are in the noise here all the week, and they must have a place where they can rest and have quiet."

Drusilla looked at her sharply.

"What do you do with the rooms the rest of the time?"

"They are vacant."

"You don't put none of the mothers in 'em?"

"Certainly not. We could not use them if they had been occupied by the class of people we send out."

"Why don't you double up when you go out, and not take so much room? You could put four beds in that room and all be together and use them other rooms for mothers."

"That would be hard on our workers. They like their privacy. And then we would not like the mothers and their children so close to us. They would disturb us and we could not get the rest we need."

Drusilla was quiet for a moment, drumming lightly on the table with her fingers.

"I don't see how you can rest or sleep at night with a cry in your ears like that I jest heard from that mother. I'd sleep on a board by the side of the fence to let her get a chance to 'put her face in the grass' as she says. How can you talk about privacy and quiet when you see such misery and unhappiness as that I jest saw? No, don't stop me-" as she saw Mrs. Harris raise her flushed face and open her lips as if to speak-"I'm all wrought up. I'll hear that mother's cry and see her poor body bent over that table, and those babies settin' there workin' when they ought to be out playin' as long as I live. And you see them and hear them every day and yet can talk about havin' to have quiet and privacy! And you take the three best rooms in a house that's supported by people who think they are giving some poor Italian family an outin' in the country! You could all go in one room and that would mean that five or six more mothers could go; the woman we left up there could go-instead of keeping the rooms for women who have a nice place like your'n here." She looked with scorn around the cozily furnished room. "And you keep them for only one or two days a week! I can't talk, I'm all wrought up."

Drusilla sat back in her chair and fanned herself with the book of views.

The worker was aghast. She had not thought of any possible outcome except the one for which she had been planning.

"But you see, Miss Doane, when we have a wing-"

"I'd 'a' give you a wing, or two wings, or a whole batch of wings, if I hadn't seen them three rooms. How'd I know that you wouldn't take the best rooms for the rest of your workers; or perhaps your cook might need rest or privacy for a part of the week. No-" shaking her old head vigorously-"I'll build my own wings where I can watch 'em."

She rose then.

"I must be goin'. Will you send for Daphne? I want to think about what I can do for that family. I'll give her my own room if I have to, but she's goin' to the country!"

Daphne came in soon, and looked quickly at Drusilla's flushed, excited face.

"Did you have a nice time, Miss Doane? Isn't it a wonderful work?"

"Yes, I had a lovely time, and I learnt a lot. Thank you so much for your tea, Mis' Harris. I'm real glad I come."

And before the chagrined hostess could find words in which to try to rectify her mistake, Drusilla was in the motor.

Daphne looked at the angry old lady curiously.

"Weren't you interested, Miss Doane? Aren't you going to help the Settlement? They need money so badly for their summer home-"

"Now, Daphne, don't talk to me about the summer home! You know we got a big lot of things and people that always is asking me for money. I git a heap of letters every morning from preachers, and charity workers and beggars and poor people, and people who are trying to make a fool of me, and git my money. I guess there ain't a person in New York or an institution that's got a want, but they feel that it won't do no harm for to try me."

"Why, I didn't know you were bothered. Why don't you have them all sent to Father?"

"Humph-mighty little attention they'd git. No, I go over 'em all myself, with Dr. Eaton. You didn't know he was my private advisor, did you? He's a fine young man and he's got a head on his shoulders; and him and me go over all the letters and them that he thinks that is honest, he sees, and then he tells me what he thinks we had better do. He's got sense and don't let me git foolish, because sometimes the letters or the cases is so pitiful that I can't help cryin', and generally them's the ones he finds is no good. I been visitin' institutions with him, orphan asylums, and rescue homes. We got a lot of new babies and their mothers comin' to the house next week; we got them from the hospitals. He's workin' out a plan for me, and now I want to talk to him about them mothers and the country. We are going by his office, as I can't wait until he comes out to-night."

Daphne flushed.

"We might take him out with us."

"That's a good idea, Daphne. You go up to his office and tell him to come down an we'll take him home. I want to talk and he can stay to dinner."

"Can't I stay too-" shyly said Daphne, slipping her hand into Drusilla's.

Drusilla looked down at her and laughed.

"No, you can't. Your father wouldn't like it, and besides if you are there the doctor won't talk sense. He'll jest set and look at you."

Daphne laughed happily.

"I wish I thought he liked to look at me, but-"

"But what?"

"Well-he doesn't ever seem very anxious to see me. He's invited to lots of places where he knows I will be, and he doesn't come."

"You mean dances and things like that. Laws sakes, Daphne, ain't he got nothin' better than to go to dances and daddle around the room with a fool girl-"

"But I'm not a fool girl."

"No one would know it by your actions sometimes."

"I guess you are right, Miss Doane. I do act as if nothing were worth while but having a good time."

"Yes; I seen a lot of your friends and I often think that a young man's takin' a lot of risk by marryin' one of you unless he's got nothin' to do in the world but to go to parties and to make money to buy you clothes and motorcars. But never mind-here we are. You go upstairs and get the doctor. Tell him I want to talk to him particular."

Daphne was gone longer than was actually needed to go to an office and fetch a man to the motor car, but Drusilla only smiled when they came down.

"Did we keep you waiting? I am so sorry," murmured Daphne.

Drusilla laughed.

"Yes, you look worried to death; but I won't scold you. You don't git much chance to talk alone together, and I suppose you wanted to discuss the latest improvements in medicine. It's a big subject and would take time."

"Oh, no, we didn't talk at all-the doctor-was busy-"

The doctor laughed.

"What is it you want to see me about, Miss Doane?"

"I want to talk to you about mothers and their babies. I'll tell you all about it after dinner. Daphne's goin' home and you and me and John'll set down and talk it all over. John ain't no good; he ain't what you call sensible, but he's comfortable. And I got some new things on my mind.

"Yes," broke in Daphne. "Miss Doane has been visiting our Settlement."

The doctor smiled.

"What do you think of it?"

Before Drusilla could reply, Daphne said: "What do you think Dr. Eaton calls them, Miss Doane? It's dreadful. He calls them the 'decayed gentle ladies' refuge.'"

The doctor flushed.


"Do you?" queried Drusilla, interestedly. "Why?"

"Well-" the doctor said rather apologetically, "perhaps I shouldn't; but most of the settlements that I know are filled with workers who are charming women, too good to be stenographers or clerks or housekeepers. They come to the settlements, where they receive a good salary and keep their social position, which they feel they could not do if they worked. You see it's rather a fad to be a social settlement worker, and most of the women couldn't make their living to save their soul at work that really took trained brains or executive ability."

"Do tell!" said Drusilla. "I kind of thought something like that when I saw Mrs. Harris, but she seemed to be real pert."

"Oh, I am only generalizing. Some of them, the heads especially, are competent women, but the great average-" and he spread his hands out expressively.

"Well, anyway, Dr. Eaton-you remember that big blue pencil that we use to draw across the names that ain't no good?-I got a new name to-day to add to that list-settlements-and I want to git home and sharpen the pencil."

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