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   Chapter 13 No.13

Drusilla with a Million By Elizabeth Cooper Characters: 21291

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Drusilla had one neighbor whom, to use her own words, she "couldn't abide." Miss Sarah Lee lived across the road from her, in a small house left her by her father. This old man had also left her money enough to live in a modest way, and an unkind Providence had left her high and dry on the matrimonial shores, and she was embittered. She had been born and reared in Brookvale and had seen the other girls married and settled in their homes, with their children growing up around them. She had tried for years to get a husband, but finally, at the age of thirty-eight, had given up the fight; and instead of sharing in the happiness of her lifelong neighbors, she had drifted into being the neighborhood gossip, picking flaws in everything and searching with microscopic eye to find the failures in the lives of those around her, trying to find satisfaction in her unmarried state by seeing only the darker side of the matrimonial adventures around her. If a man came home late after dining well but not wisely with his companions, be sure Sarah Lee heard of it. She would take her sewing and go to some neighbor and say in her softly purring voice, "Isn't it too bad that Mr. Smith neglects his wife so dreadfully, and it is shocking the way he drinks. Now the other night, etc., etc.," until her garrulous tongue would make a great crime of perhaps only a small indiscretion. Drusilla had been a joy to her, as she was new in the neighborhood, and she regaled her with all the gossip, much to Drusilla's disgust and discomfiture; but she was too kindly to be rude to the bitter-tongued woman, who was the only one of her neighbors who "ran in" or who brought their sewing and sat down for a "real visit."

One morning Drusilla was sitting in the sun parlor, looking at a great box of baby clothing that had been sent her from the city, when Miss Lee came in. She had her tatting with her and Drusilla saw that she was in for a visitation. She tried to interest her guest in the wonders of the baby frocks, but Miss Lee only shook her head and would not notice them.

"I don't care for children nor their clothing, Miss Doane, and I can never see how you care to burden yourself with all those waifs at your time of life. Now I, if I had your money, would enjoy myself."

"But I am enjoying myself," said Drusilla. "Why I take more comfort in them babies than I've ever had in all my seventy years."

"But they are such a care, such a bother."

"Bother, my aunt!" said Drusilla emphatically. "They ain't no bother. They give me something to think about. Now, look at these clothes. I been all mornin' lookin' at 'em and sortin' 'em out. Look at that petticoat. See how soft and warm it is. I wish I'd made it myself. I can sit here and imagine how some mother'd feel makin' a petticoat like that fer her baby. I'm goin' to buy a lot of cloth and git some patterns and let the mothers make 'em themselves. When it's a little warmer they can set under the trees and sew while the babies is playin' around them."

"But the mothers you have here-will-do you think that class-those kind of mothers will care to sew?"

Drusilla flushed and an angry gleam came into her kindly eyes.

"Sew? Why shouldn't they sew, and what do you mean by that class? All the mothers I got here seem jest like any other mothers."

"We must admit," went on the refined, querulous voice, "that they are not the usual mothers-with husbands-"

Drusilla's eyes distinctly darkened, and the flush deepened.

"Never mind about their husbands. We don't need 'em to sew-and a mother's a mother, and she likes to make things fer her baby."

Miss Lee noted the flush and changed the subject.

"I hear you are going to take some Italians and their children here for the summer."

Drusilla's eyes lighted up, and the angry gleam fled instantly.

"Now, how did you hear that?"

"It's all over the neighborhood. And-"

"Is it? Then I suppose I might as well let the neighbors git it direct. Yes, I been visitin' places where I've traipsed up and down stairs till I'm most knee sprung, but I've learnt a lot of things, and sense I've seen how some of 'em live, I couldn't sleep nights unless I done somethin' fer 'em; and givin' a mother and her babies two weeks in the country is the least I kin do. Why, I look at all this grass, jest made fer babies to roll on, and I see the trees that ain't doin' what a tree should do unless it has some one under it, and I lay awake nights to plan things; and Dr. Eaton don't git no time to see his patients, I keep him so busy. Him and me's been goin' over the house and there's twelve spare bedrooms goin' to waste besides the settin'-rooms that's jined to 'em. And we was talkin' about the big armor room, that place with the tin men and horses. Now, I don't care much fer tin men, although John moons over 'em a lot, but there's a lot of people who like to look at 'em, and don't git a chance' cause they're shut up here doin' no good to no one. Dr. Eaton says that the Metropolitan Museum in the city'd be glad to have 'em as a loan, and then everybody who likes such things could go and see 'em, and I can make the room into a big playroom or day nursery, as folks call it."

Miss Lee looked up, horrified.

"Do you mean to say that you are goin' to spoil this beautiful house and these beautiful grounds?"

"Spoil 'em? How'll it spoil 'em? They're goin' to waste as it is."

"Why, having that class of women in your house, and the children on the lawns, will certainly take away from their artistic beauty."

"Will it? Then it'll have to be not so artistic and more useful. Nothin' ain't beauty unless it's doin' something fer somebody, and God didn't intend no sixty acres of His land to be lyin' here jest fer me and a lot of rich people to admire, when women and children are pantin' fer air in hot tenements. And as fer the house, land knows it's big enough, and I feel like a lone pea in a tin can shakin' around loose in it, and I won't never need to see no one unless I want to. But I want to see 'em, I want to see life around me, and life that's bein' made a little happier because of Drusilla Doane. What do you suppose God give me all this big place fer, and all the money, if it wasn't to use fer His people?"

"What shockin' ideas you have, Miss Doane, to bring God into the subject! You are most sacrilegious, dear Miss Doane."

"Yes, I guess I am; most people seem to be afraid to mention Him."

"But the neighbors are feeling very indignant that you are turning the show place of the country into an orphan asylum and a mother's home."

Drusilla looked up quickly, as word had come to her of her neighbors' disapproval.

"I don't see that it's none of their concern," she said.

"But, you see, it lowers the value of their property."

"Let 'em move away."

"Oh, but they can't."

"Well, let 'em stay."

"But it's very annoying to see a lot of dirty children."

"They won't be dirty children, and the neighbors don't need to look over the hedge if they don't want to. It's high enough."

"I am just telling you what they say, Miss Doane. There was a meeting the other day of the people of Brookvale, and they decided to appoint a committee to wait upon you and express their disapproval of your actions, and request you to change your plans in some way."

Drusilla looked over her glasses.

"You don't tell me!" she ejaculated. "When be they comin'?"

"Mr. Carrington, the chairman of the Committee, is coming to see you to-night, I am told."

"Who's he?"

"He lives in the big gray house near the river, and he feels very strongly on the subject."

Drusilla said with asperity: "Well, he'll feel stronger when he leaves."

Miss Lee felt that she had gone far enough on that subject, so she changed it.

"Poor Mrs. Carrington! They feel very bad about children since they lost their little boy about a year ago."

"How did they lose him?"

"He died, and they have never recovered from the shock."

"If they lost their child, I should think they'd want to see other children happy, then. They must be queer people."

"It has changed them a great deal, as sorrow often does."

"It hasn't changed them the right way, as true sorrow does. What've they done?"

"Mrs. Carrington-she was Elsie Young before she married Robert Carrington-is a very beautiful woman, and she was wrapped up in her boy. But since his death she has given herself wholly to society, and they say-now of course I don't know how true it is, but they say-that she and her husband have grown apart since the child is gone. He kept them together, and now-well, she simply lives for amusement. And-now, of course I don't say it is true-but I do know that she is going to Europe in the summer and they say-that is the ladies who know her well-that it means a separation. She is going to get a divorce in Paris."

Drusilla put down the dress in her hand.

"You don't tell me! Just because she lost her baby! Why don't she have more? Lots of people have lost babies, but it ain't cause for divorce. It'd ought to bring 'em closer together."

"Yes," sighed Miss Lee; "but it hasn't in this case. They've just grown apart. They are never together. She goes her way and he goes his, and their paths never seem to meet. It is very sad, because she was such an exceedingly fine girl. So many marriages end unhappily."

Drusilla sniffed.

"I guess if they was poor people and had to work or if she had to git the dinner for her man and wonder if he liked chicken with dumplings better'n with saleratus biscuit, she wouldn't find time to want to go to Paris. The trouble with the rich women around here is that they are thinkin' too much of how to pass the time, instead of doin' somethin' for their men."

"But what can they do? They all have servants to do the work for them. You can't expect women like Mrs. Carrington to cook." And Miss Lee plainly showed what she thought of a woman who cooked.

"No, I suppose they can't cook; but a man's a man, and he likes to feel that his woman is thinkin' about him and what he'll eat, and not leave it all to a servant. A man's like a baby: he wants a lot of attention, especially about his vittles. Now I know John don't like some things and he does like others, and I see he gits 'em; and I know he likes to smoke just as soon as he's done eatin', and I see that his pipe and tobacco is put where he can reach it when he's havin' his coffee. It ain't much, but it tells him I'm thinkin' about his comfort, and men like their comfort in their own way."

Miss Lee was quiet a few moments.

"You-you are speaking

of-of-this old gentleman who is living here?"

Drusilla looked up suddenly.

"John ain't so old. He's only two years older'n me, and I don't call myself old yet-unless it's to git me out of doin' somethin' that I don't like to do, like makin' calls."

"Is-is Mr. Brierly a relation of yours?"

"No, John ain't no relation; he's just a friend."

"Is he-is he making you a long visit?"

"I hope so. He's goin' to live here always with me if I can make him."

Again Miss Lee tatted industriously. Then she looked up with what she tried to make a most friendly smile.

"Now you know, Miss Doane, I never gossip, but I am a friend of yours and I think you ought to be told. The neighbors think it queer that you have this man live here, who is no relative of yours."

"How's it queer?"

"Well, it's unconventional, to say the least."

"What do you mean by unconventional?"

"I don't know how I can say it so that you will understand. Not quite proper, you know."

Drusilla sat back in her chair. A bright spot appeared on her faded cheek and there was an ominous light in her eyes.

"So my neighbors think I'm improper! Well, that's news and I'm glad to hear it. I've always wanted to do something unconventional, as you call it, but I ain't never had no chance. I always had to do what was expected of me. I had to live a life just about as broad as a needle, just because I had to make my livin' and couldn't afford to do nothin' that'd be different from what other folks done. But now I got a chance, and I'm glad I ain't too old yet to shock my neighbors. I'd keep John now if I had to tie him in his chair."

Miss Lee saw the light in the eyes, and hastened to say:

"Now, please, dear Miss Doane, don't think that I am blaming you. I understand perfectly-perfectly. I just feel that you ought to know what is being said."

"You're real kind, Miss Lee. People won't miss what's bein' said about 'em if you don't git paralyzed in your tongue."

Miss Lee flushed and gathered her threads together.

"Well, my intentions are always of the best, I assure you. I must be going. I see my maid talking to one of your gardeners. It must be stopped."

"Yes, I'd stop it if I was you. She might be enjoyin' herself. Good-by. And when you stop at your next place, tell 'em that I'm waitin' for that Committee, and that I'm enjoyin' John Brierly's visit, and that he's goin' to live here, and so's my babies, and that they don't need to know what's goin' on in my grounds if they don't stretch their necks to see over the walls when they ride by. Good-by."

Drusilla watched the woman as she went down the road and as she disappeared she heaved a sigh.

"Well, the Lord sendeth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed-I guess I'll go see John."

She went up to the small library where she knew she would find him poring over a book.

John looked up as she entered the room, and Drusilla sat down in a chair and looked into the fire, as if seeing pictures there. John went on with his reading, but finally, seeing Drusilla looking at him intently, he spoke.

"What is it, Drusilla?"

Drusilla said softly: "John, do you remember when we used to walk down Willow Lane in the moonlight, and one night some of the neighbors saw your arm around me and they went to mother and said we was carryin' on and it ought to be put a stop to? Well, the neighbors say we are carryin' on again."

John closed the book in his hand.

"What do you mean, Drusilla?"

"The neighbors say we are carryin' on. They think that because you ain't a relation that's it's unconventional, them's her words, unconventional that you stay here."

A pained look came into kindly John's eyes.

"Why, Drusilla, I hadn't thought of that. Perhaps I'd better go."

Drusilla reached over and patted his hand.

"Just you set right still, John Brierly, and don't get excited. I ain't felt so young sence mother scolded me for walkin' out with you." She laughed a little happy laugh. "Why, it takes me back fifty years!"

"Oh, Drusilla," murmured John. "If it makes you talked about-"

"Makes me talked about! Why, who'd 'a' thought when Mis' Fisher come to mother when we was young and said that our carryin's on was disgraceful, that in fifty years another Mis' Fisher-kind would say the same thing. Oh, John, why don't you laugh?"

"I don't see anything to laugh about, Drusilla."

"You never had a sense of humor, John; but you was born without it. But, I tell you, it makes me young again. Why, it makes a woman old to feel she can do just as she pleases and not git talked about; and I feel I ain't got one foot in the grave to know that I can still be carryin' on-Oh, I guess, I'll go and put on my new dress that's just come home. I ain't seventy-I'm still a girl!"

And, chuckling to herself, she went out of the room, followed by John's wondering eyes. He sat quietly a moment, then went back to his book, feeling that woman's reasoning was far beyond his ken.

That night, as she and John were sitting down to their seven o'clock dinner, a frightened nurse came running in.

"Oh, Miss Doane," she said, "one of the babies is very sick. He don't seem able to breathe."

Drusilla put down her napkin and started immediately for the nursery, where she found one of the younger babies struggling for its breath, evidently in the earlier stages of pneumonia. She looked at it a moment, then said:

"Now you git one of the babies' bathtubs filled with hot water and I'll be back in a minute. Have some one telephone for Dr. Eaton."

She hurried to her rooms and put on a big white apron, then to the linen closet and got a piece of white flannel, and was just starting for the nursery again, when a card was brought her. She read on it: James Carrington.

"He's part of the Committee," she said; and as she passed through the hall she went up to him.

"You're Mr. Carrington," she began abruptly.

"I'm real glad to see you. I know what you come for, but I ain't got time to talk now. You come with me and we'll talk afterwards."

And before the chairman of the Committee could say a word he was hurried upstairs and into a small room, where a couple of frightened nurses were looking at a baby whose flushed face and labored breathing showed that he was very ill. Drusilla went to the small bathtub that was placed on the floor.

"Come here, Mr. Carrington," she said; "you're stronger than I am. Lift this up on them two chairs. So-that's right. Now put this thermometer in the water and see if it's 100 degrees. I can't see to read it. Is it right? Now-we'll take the baby-take off your coat and hat-yes, you'd better take off that coat too"-seeing that the man was in evening dress-"and turn up your sleeves-you'll git your cuffs wet. Now take off the baby's clothes, Mary. So-poor little thing!-take 'em all off, shirt and all, and we'll put him in this piece of flannel. Now you hold him like this, Mr. Carrington. Hold him in the hot water. There-jest so's his face is out-don't let him slip! So-now he's breathin' better already. Don't let the water git cold, Mary. Put a little more hot water in-there-that's right. Yes, he's gittin' red, Mr. Carrington, but he wants to git red. See, he's breathin' better. Does your arm ache? Hold him a little longer; I'm goin' to git some goose grease that I brought along with me from the home. I'll be back in a minute. Don't let the water git cool."

She returned in a few moments with a bottle in her hand, and handed it to one of the nurses.

"Warm it, put it in hot water till it runs. Now-"

Just then the door opened and a woman stood in the doorway, an angry look on her pretty, petulant face. She was covered with a big white evening wrap, and was most impatient. She looked at the scene before her without comprehending it, and her voice said angrily:

"Robert, we will be late for the opera! What do you mean by-"

Drusilla looked from the baby to the woman in the doorway.

"Come right in, Mis' Carrington. I'm glad you come. Take off your coat. Yes, we need you. Lay it over there on the bed."

And before the astonished woman knew what she was doing her wrap was laid upon a small white bed and she was standing in her elaborate evening gown looking down at a very red baby being held in a hot bath by the hands of her husband.

"Now, Mis' Carrington, lay that other piece of flannel on the bed, and we'll put the baby in it. I think he's boiled most of his cold out. So-that's right, roll him out-and we'll rub him with the grease. You do it, Mis' Carrington; your hands is younger and not so stiff as mine. Put lots on his chest and around his throat. And turn him over on his back, Mr. Carrington. Put a lot on his back. So-that's right. Rub it in well. And now we'll put him in the bed. There, poor little mite, he breathes better now, don't he?" They stood around the bed, looking down at the child, whose regular breathing showed that he had stopped fighting for his breath and the battle was won. Soon his eyes, which had been staring so pitifully closed, and with a little sigh the baby slept.

Drusilla turned to say something, to speak a few words of thanks for their help; but she stopped at the sight of the two people standing on opposite sides of the little bed. The man with his coat off, his white waistcoat and shirt gleaming in the light, the woman opposite him clothed in her decolette' gown, with jewels glistening in her hair and on her neck. But she did not notice the dress, when she saw the light in the woman's eyes as they rested on the man. They looked into each other's faces for a full moment; then the woman reached over her hand, and in a low, broken voice said, "Robert, is it too late? Shall we try again?" The man's quivering lips could say nothing, but the hand that clasped the one that came to him so timidly was answer enough.

The doctor entered at that moment and the baby was turned over to him, while Drusilla's guests put on their wraps and followed her downstairs. At the door of her sitting-room Drusilla turned to them.

"Won't you come in? You wished to see me about-"

Mr. Carrington said hastily:

"No; we will let the matter wait. We are on our way to the opera-"

"No, Miss Doane," the wife interrupted; "we were on our way to the opera, but now-we're going home, Robert." Turning to the man beside her she repeated: "We're going home, Robert. Do you understand, we're going home!"

Drusilla stood in the hall until the motor started.

"The Bible says a lot of things that's true," she murmured to herself, "and one of 'em is, 'A little child shall lead 'em.'"

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