MoboReader > Literature > Told in a French Garden / August, 1914


Told in a French Garden / August, 1914 By Mildred Aldrich Characters: 15971

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The Tale of a Foundling

The house was very quiet next day. All the men, except the Critic and the Sculptor, had made an early and hurried run to Paris. So we saw little of each other until we gathered for dinner, and the conversation was calm-in fact subdued.

The Doctor was especially quiet. No one was really gay except the Youngster. He talked of what he had seen in Paris-the silent streets-the moods of the women-the sight of officers in khaki flying about in big touring cars-and no one asked what had really taken them to town.

The Trained Nurse and I had walked to the nearest village, but we brought back little in the way of news. The only interesting thing we saw was Monsieur le Curé talking to a handsome young peasant woman in the square before the church. We heard her say, with a sob in her throat, "If my man does not come back, I'll never say my prayers again. I'll never pray to a God who let this thing happen unless my man comes back."

"She will, just the same," said the Lawyer. "One of the strangest features of such a catastrophe is that it steadies a race, especially the race convinced that it has right on its side."

"It goes deeper than that," said the Journalist. "It strikes millions with the same pain, and they bear together what they could not have faced separately."

"True," remarked the Doctor, "and that is one reason why I have always mistrusted the effort of people outside the radius of disaster to help in anyway, except scientifically."

"That is rather a cruel idea," commented the Trained Nurse.

"Perhaps. But I believe organized charity even of that sort is usually ineffective, and weakens the race that accepts it. I believe victims of such disaster are healthier and come out stronger for facing it, dying, or surviving, as Fate decrees."

"Keep off the grass," cried the Youngster. "I brought back a car full of books." The hint was taken, and we talked of books until the coffee came out.

As usual, the Trained Nurse sat behind the pot, and when we were all served, she pushed the tray back, folded her strong capable white hands on the edge of the table, and said quietly:

"Messieurs et Mesdames"-

We lit our cigarettes, and she began:

* * *

It was the first year after I left home and took up nursing. I had a room at that time in one of the Friendly Society refuges on the lower side of Beacon Hill. It was under the auspices of an Episcopal High Church in the days of Father Hall, and was rather English in tone. Indeed its matron was an Englishwoman-gentle, round-faced, lace-capped, and very sympathetic. I was very fond of her. I had, as a seamstress, a neat little girl named Josephine.

Josephine was a tiny creature, all grey in tone, with mouse-colored hair. She was a foundling. She had not the least notion who her people were. Her first recollections were of the orphan asylum where she was brought up. In her early teens she had been bound out to a dressmaker, who had been kind to her, and, when her first employer died, Josephine, who had saved a little money, and longed for independence, began to go out as a seamstress among the women she had grown to know in the dressmaking establishment, and went to live at one of the Christian Association homes for working girls.

Every one knows what those boarding houses are-two or three hundred girls of all ages, from sixteen up, of all temperaments. All girls willing to submit to control; girls with their gay days and their tragic, girls of ambition, and girls with faith in the future, as well as girls of no luck, and girls with their simple youthful romances.

Every one loved Josephine.

She was by nature a little lady, dainty in her ways, industrious, unrebellious, always ready to help the other girls about their clothes, and a model of a confidant. Every one told her their little troubles, every one confided their little romances. They were sure of a good listener, who never had any troubles or romances of her own to confide.

I don't know how old Josephine was at that time. She might have been twenty-five, looked younger, but was perhaps older. She was so tiny, and such a mouse of a thing that she seemed a child, but for her energy, and her capacity for silence.

It was, I fancy, three years after I first knew her that she one evening confided to a group of her intimate friends, as they sat together over their sewing, that she was engaged to be married. There was a great excitement. Little lonely Josephine, so discreet, who had sympathized with the romances of so many of her comrades, had a romance of her own. Such a hugging and kissing as went on, you never saw, unless you have seen a crowd of such girls together. Every one was full of questions, and there were almost as many tears shed as questions asked.

He was a carpenter, Josephine told them. She had known him ever since she was with the dressmaker who took her out of the asylum. He lived in Utica, New York. He had a good job, and they were to be married as soon as she could get ready.

So Josephine set to work with her nimble fingers to make her trousseau. During the years she had worked for me, the Matron at the Friendly Society, and many of its patrons had come to know and love dear little Josephine, and in our house there was almost as much excitement over the news as there was at the Association at the South End. All the girls set to work to make something for little Josephine. Every one for whom she had worked gave her something. One lady gave her black silk for a frock. All the girls sewed a bit of underwear for her. She had sheets and table linen, and all sorts of dainty things which her girl friends loved to count over, and admire in the evening without the least bit of envy. By the time Spring came Josephine had to buy a new trunk to pack her things away in.

Then she told us all that she was going to Utica to be married. What was the use of his spending his money to come east for her, and pay his expenses back? That seemed reasonable, and the day was fixed for her departure.

Her trunks were packed.

She took a night train so that we could all go to the station to see her off, and I am sure that the crowd who saw us kissing her good-bye are not likely to forget the scene.

Then the girls went home chattering about "dear little Josephine."

In due time came a letter from a place near Utica, where she was, she said, on her little "wedding trip," and "very happy," and "he" sent his love, and it was signed with her new name, and she would send us her address as soon as she was settled.

Time went by-some months. Then she did send an address, but she did not write often, and when she did, she said little but that she was happy.

As nearly as I can remember, it was a year and a half after she left that news came that Josephine had a son. By that time a great many of the girls she had known were gone. Changes come fast in such a place. But there was great rejoicing, and those who had known her found time to make something for dear little Josephine's baby, and the sending of the things kept up the interest in her for some months.

Then the letters ceased again.

I can't be sure how long it was after that that I received a letter from her. She told me that her husband was dead, that she never really had taken root in Utica, and now that she was alone, with her baby to support, she longed to come back to Boston, and asked my advice. Did I think she could take up her old work?

I took the letter at once to the Matron of the Friendly Society-I happened to be resting between two cases-and we decided that it was safe. At least between us we could help her make the trial.

A few months later she came, and we went to the station to meet her. I could not see that she had changed a bit. She did not look a day older, and the bouncing baby she carried in her arms was a darling.

Of course she could not go back to the Association

. That was not for married women. But we found her a room just across the street, and in no time, she dropped right back into the place she had left. Every morning she took the baby boy to the crêche and every night she took him home, and a better cared-for, better loved, more wisely bred youngster was never born, nor a happier one. Every one loved him just as every one loved Josephine.

There I thought Josephine's story ended, and so far as she was concerned, it did.

But when the baby was six years old, and forward for his age, the Matron of the Friendly Society came into my room one day, when I was there to take a longer rest than usual, after a very trying case, and told me that she was in great distress. A friend of hers, who had been her predecessor, and was now the Matron of an Orphan Asylum in New York State, was going to the hospital to have a cataract removed from her eye, and had written to ask her to come and take her place while she was away. She begged me to replace her at the Friendly Society while she was gone. As her assistant was a capable young woman, and my relations with every one were pleasant I was only too glad to consent. She had always been so good to me.

She was gone a month.

On her return I noticed that she was distressed about something. I taxed her with it. She said it was nothing she felt like talking about. But one evening when Josephine had been sewing for me, after she was gone, the Matron, who had been in my room, got up, and closed the door after her.

"I've really got to tell you what is on my mind," she said. "And I am sure that you will look on it as a confidence. You know the asylum where I have been is not far from Utica, where Josephine went when she was married. Well, one day, about a fortnight after I got there, I had occasion to look up the record of a child in the books, and my attention was attracted by a name the same as Josephine's. The coincidence struck me, and I read the record that on a certain day, which as near as I could calculate, must have been a year after Josephine left, a person of her name, written down as a widow, a member of the Orthodox Church, had adopted a male child a few months old. I was interested. I did not suspect anything, but I asked the assistant matron if she remembered the case. She did, clearly. She said the woman was a dear little thing, who had come there shortly before, a young widow, a seamstress. She was a lonely little thing, and some one connected with the asylum had given her work, which she had done so well that she soon had all she needed. She had been employed in the asylum, and loved children as they did her. The child in question was the son of a woman who had died at its birth, from the shock of an accident which had killed the father. It took a fancy to Josephine, and she wanted to adopt it. The committee took the matter up. The clergyman spoke well of her, as did every one, and they all decided that she was perfectly able to care for it. So she took the child. All of a sudden, one day, Josephine went, as she had come. There was no mystery about it. She told the clergyman that she was homesick for her old friends, and had gone east, and would write, and she always has.

"Of course I was puzzled. There was no doubt in my mind that it was our little Josephine. Naturally I was discreet. Luckily. I spoke of her to several people who remembered her, and they all called her 'dear little Josephine' just as we had. I talked of her with the clergyman and his wife. I asked questions that were too natural to rouse suspicions, when I told them that I knew her, that the baby was the dearest and happiest child I knew, and what do you suppose I found out, more by inference than facts?"

No need to ask me. Didn't I know?

Josephine had never been married. There had never been any "He." It all seemed so natural. It did not shock me, as it had the Matron, and I was glad she had told no one but me. Dear little Josephine! Sitting there in the Association without family, with no friends but her patrons, and those girls whose little romances went on about her! No romances ever came her way. So she had made one all of her own. I proved to the Matron easily that what she had discovered by accident was not her affair, that to keep Josephine's secret was a virtue, and not a sin. I was sure of that, for, as I watched her afterwards, I knew that Josephine had played her part in her dream romance so well, that she no longer remembered that it was not true. She had forgotten she had not really borne the child she carried so lovingly in her arms.

* * *

"Is that all?" asked the Journalist.

"That is all," replied the Trained Nurse.

"By Jove," said the Doctor, "that is a good story. I wish I had told it."

"Thank you, Doctor," laughed the Trained Nurse. "I thought it was a bit in your line."

"But fancy the cleverness of the little thing to do all the details up so nicely," said the Lawyer. "She dovetailed everything so neatly. But what I want to know is whether she planned the baby when she planned the make-believe husband?"

"I fancy not," replied the Nurse. "One thing came along after another in her imagination, quite naturally."

"Poor little Josephine-it seems to me hard luck to have had to imagine such an every day fate," sighed the Divorcée.

"Don't pity her," snapped the Doctor. "Poor little Josephine, indeed! Lucky little Josephine, who arranged her own romance, and risked no disillusion. There have been cases where the joys of the imagination have been more dangerous."

"You are sure she had no disillusion?" asked the Critic.

"I am," said the Nurse.

"And her name was Josephine?" asked the Divorcée.

"It was not, and Utica was not the town," replied the Nurse.

"Perhaps her disillusion is ahead of her," said the Journalist. "'Say no man'-or woman either-'is happy until the day of his death.'"

"She is dead," said the Nurse.

"I told you she was lucky little Josephine," ejaculated the Doctor.

"And she died without telling the boy the truth?" asked the Journalist.

"The truth?" repeated the Nurse. "I've told you that she had forgotten it. No woman was ever so loved by a son. No mother ever so grieved for."

"Then the son lives?" asked the Doctor.

The Nurse smiled quietly.

"Good-night," said the Doctor. "I am going to bed to dream of that. It is a pity some of the rest of us childless slackers had not done as well as Josephine. She took her risk. She was lucky."

"She did," replied the Nurse, "but she did not realize anything of that. She was too simple, too unanalytic."

"I wonder?" said the Critic.

"You need not, I know." Her eyes fell on the Lawyer, and she caught a laugh in his eye. "What does that mean?" she asked.

"Well," said the Lawyer, "I was only thinking. She was religious, that dear little Josephine?"

"At least she always went to church."

"I know the type," said the Violinist, gently. "Accepted what she was taught, believed it."

"Exactly," said the Lawyer, "that is what I was getting at. Well then, when her son meets her au dela-he will ask for his father-"

"Or," interrupted the Violinist, "his own mother will claim him."

"Don't worry," laughed the Critic. "It's dollars to doughnuts that she was 'dear little Josephine' to all the Heavenly Host half an hour after she entered the 'gates of pearl.' Don't look shocked. That is not sacrilegious. It is intentions-motives, that are immortal, not facts. Besides-"

"Don't push that idea too far," interrupted the Doctor from the door.

"Don't be alarmed. I was only going to say-there are Ik Marvels au dela-"

"I knew that idea was in your head. Drop it!" laughed the Doctor.

"Anyway," said the Violinist, "if Life is but a dream, she had a pretty one. Good night." And he went up to bed, and we all soon followed him, and I imagine not one of us, as we looked out into the moonlit air, thought that night of war.

* * *

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