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   Chapter 4 POOR CINDERELLA

A Modern Cinderella By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 17241

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Oh, how busy they were and the babies took this opportunity to begin the cutting of teeth. The auto came for Aunt Hetty. Some of the parlor furnishings were packed away, everything swathed in linen. The closing exercises of the kindergarten took place and Jack distinguished himself by repeating a pretty little poem. In September he would be six.

Then came the last week. They would go on Saturday. Sunday was Fourth of July but it would be held on Monday. Trunks were packed, the last bit of shopping done. The babies fretted and Marilla took them out morning and afternoon with strict injunctions to keep on the shady side of the street. It seemed to grow hotter and hotter. The child lost her appetite and could not eat Bridget's choice tid-bits. Oh, how her little legs ached, and her back felt sometimes as if it would fall apart.

"It's good you are going," declared Bridget. 60

"You're almost a skeleton. Goodness knows I shall miss you enough, and just be thinking of your coming back."

Jack had gone down town with his mother to get some sandals and slippers. She was very glad, for sometimes his talking almost set her crazy, and she really was afraid to be impatient with him.

She had found a beautiful quiet street with great trees that fairly met in the middle of it. Many of the families were away. She sat on one special stoop where the house was all shut up tight. There were no children in the street.

It seemed this day, Thursday, as if she would never get there. The babies were so heavy. She sat down on the second step, leaning against the stone column and pushed the carriage to and fro. Curious shadows went dancing before her eyes, sometimes she could not see at all. And she was so sleepy!

Pansy threw her rattle out and cried for it. Marilla stepped down to pick it up and fell on the sidewalk. What was the matter with her legs? they seemed to have lost their strength. She crawled up again. All the world, 61 the trees and houses went flying round and all was dark. She was falling down-down-Poor little Cinderella!

The babies missed the soft soothing voice. They cried louder and louder, then howled. Some children came to see what was the matter two quite big boys among them. The policeman looked down from the corner and paced with his slow tread.

"What's the row here?" he asked.

A lady came down one of the stoops on the opposite side of the street; a rather tall, slim woman in a soft gray dress and hat with violets around the crown. She crossed over. The policeman had taken the girl by the shoulder and given her a rough shake.

"Those children howl enough to wake the dead, and she's asleep here."

But as he partly raised her Miss Armitage saw that her face was deadly white.

"Oh, poor child!" she cried. "What can be the matter? And whose babies are these?"

"They're Jack Borden's little sisters-twins. And thats the nuss gal," said one of the big boys.

"Do you know where they live?" 62

"Round in Arch street."

"Could you take them there?"

"Well-yes'm."

"Then take them," rejoined the lady.

The carriage being moved she sat down on the step and took the girl in her arms.

"She isn't dead-I see the flutter in the temple."

"Better go to the hospital," proposed the policeman.

Marilla opened her eyes and glanced up but did not seem to notice anything; then the lids fell and the beautiful long lashes shadowed her cheeks.

"Carry her to my house across the street," and she led the way.

He picked up the light burden as if it had been a feather. She opened the door and asked him to take the child upstairs and lay her on the couch.

"I am obliged to you," she said. "In a way I am in Settlement work. We'll have a doctor and see what is the matter. Then I'll decide about the hospital. And I will find out about those people." 63

"You're a good sort, ma'am," and he touched his hat brim to her.

"Jane," she called. "This poor child isn't exactly in a faint, but something is the matter. Get a warm bath ready and we'll put her in. I'll telephone to Dr. Richards."

"Yes-he was just going out. Would be up for a first call."

Miss Armitage undressed her. She was clean and neat, but the poor little body was painfully thin. Then they carried her to the bath. Jane rubbed her softly and she gave some responsive sighs.

"What a pretty lot of little curls and fine as silk. I do wonder who she can be?"

"She's the little nurse girl who brings those babies, twins I suppose they are, and sits on the stoop over opposite."

"What happened?"

"Well it's some sort of a collapse. Now I'll find a nice nightgown, and we'll see what the doctor says."

Marilla opened her eyes. They were a sort of blueish gray, but now very heavy and dull. Her lips moved, but the tone was very 64 low. It sounded as if she said "fairy godmother" and Miss Armitage smiled.

"Oh, poor little thing!"

Dr. Richards flew around in his auto.

"Oh, I thought something had happened to you," he began.

"It has," and she detailed the simple story.

He followed her up to the room. It was such a lovely, restful room. A white bed in the alcove, white window drapery, a carpet with considerable light blue in it, a dressing case, a writing desk, some books and pictures, mostly Madonnas.

"Poor child," he said. "She's been worked too hard. All her strength seems gone. And a case of heat prostration. It's been an awful day. Who is she?"

Miss Armitage told over the incident. "I have seen her sitting there several times. It is shady in the afternoon."

"Two fat babies," and he laughed. "I should think one would be enough for such a child to manage. Overwork and underfeeding I think, and the heat. I'll see if I can rouse her."

Marilla opened her eyes and the lids 65 seemed to fall from absolute weariness. The lips moved but made no sound.

"It is a kind of comatose state. Not knowing all that is back of it I can't quite make up my mind. If this awful heat would let up! I'll leave some drops to be given to her and will come in one my first round in the morning. I haven't been to the Settlement House yet."

"Oh, you must go. That little Mary Burns died at noon, and her mother is half crazy over it. Poor little thing, deformed and all that. This child has a nice straight body and a fine smooth skin. I'll go round in Arch street and see what I can learn about her."

"She looks worth saving if life really holds anything for her. Poor things! Why are so many sent into the world 'just to toil.'"

"I was going over––"

"Never mind now. I'll attend to it all, and see the Burns' priest. Don't be worried. These drops will keep up her strength," nodding to Marilla. "And I will report in the morning."

Dr. Richards went his way. Miss Armitage sat and considered. Perhaps it would be as 66 well to go to Mrs. Borden's. They would be feeling much alarmed, no doubt. She explained to Jane and put on her hat again and picked up her sun umbrella, for some streets were still in a glow. This was the best part of the city however, and there were some fine trees.

She stopped and looked in a directory. There was only one Borden living on Arch street, a Mr. John Borden, lawyer. She made a note of the number. Arch street was some distance farther west, and then only a block or so. A very nice looking three-story brick with a stone stoop. She mounted and rang the bell. There certainly was a child or children crying.

A young woman much distraught answered the door. And now positive howls greeted her ears.

"We are in such trouble," apologized the woman.

"I am Miss Armitage and live in Loraine place, nearly opposite where the little girl fainted. Did the babies get home safely?"

"Oh, we are so glad! Won't you please come upstairs for my sister can't leave the children. We have been almost crazy! One 67 boy said she fell off the steps. Is she much hurt?"

"She had a bad fainting spell. The doctor came and he hardly knows what to think until tomorrow. The policeman proposed sending her to the Hospital, but I am one of the managers of the Settlement House in Beacon street, so I had her brought over to my house. A fall, you said?"

"That was what a boy said-that she tumbled off the step. Oh, Pansy dear, do hush! You miss Marilla, don't you? The best little nurse in all the world. Oh, what can we do without her!"

Mrs. Borden was pacing the floor with the baby's head against her shoulder and gently patting her. She did not scream now, but sobbed in a very sleepy fashion.

"You see, we are to start on Saturday noon, and we shall not come b

ack until the middle of September. We thought it would be so nice for Marilla, too, she'd kind of run down though she wasn't at all ill. Bridget worried that she ate so little and she was growing thin."

"How long has she been with you?" 68

"I took her from an institution-the Bethany Home-about the middle of October. She was just twelve, the Matron said. I think she was very glad to come. She's had a good home and plenty to eat. And one funny thing is that Bridget took such a fancy to her, and though Bridget's good as gold, she has some queer streaks."

Mrs. Borden sat down and drew a long breath. Pansy had fallen asleep at last.

"And we never let her lift the children or carry them up and down. I think babies are sometimes injured for life that way in falling. They used to sit on the rug and she'd tell them stories. I think she must have made them out of her head-funny things and she'd act them off and the babies would laugh and laugh-it was as good as a play. They seemed to understand every word. Marilla was a born nurse girl. But what can we do? We must have someone, and there's only such a little time."

Miss Armitage was thinking.

"Perhaps I might help you out," she said kindly. "There is a young girl with us who worked in a factory until she gave out. We 69 sent her to the Rest House in the country and she did improve, but they wouldn't take her back in the factory. She's a nice pleasant girl about seventeen."

"Oh, how good of you to think of it! But I can't pay high wages, for there'll be her board and it won't be hard. When the babies are well they are as good as kittens though they can't scamper around so much. And they're so fat they won't walk very soon. It'll just be sitting round and amusing them and looking after their food. I couldn't give more than three dollars a week-we are not at all rich," with a short laugh of apology.

"I think Ellen would come for awhile."

"And I should want Marilla as soon as she was well enough. You see she's bound-out to me, and we all like her so much. I don't see what could have happened to her. She has been out in the fresh air most of the time and we always tell her to go slow with the babies, not rush along in the heat. What did she say?"

"Oh, she hasn't spoken at all. She lies just unconscious."

"Good gracious! Oh, you don't think she 70 will die?" and Mrs. Borden really turned pale with fright.

"A person sometimes lies that way for days when overcome with the heat. The doctor can tell better tomorrow."

"Oh, poor little Marilla! She is so sweet-tempered. And you were so good not to send her off to a hospital. How ever should we have found her! There is so little time. When shall we hear about this other girl?"

"I will telephone as soon as I go home and tell them to send her in the morning," and Miss Armitage rose.

"We are so much obliged." She followed her visitor out in the hall.

"Do not come down," said Miss Armitage. "And I hope the babies will improve."

"Thank you-for everything."

The sun was going down and some stray wafts of wind wandered along, which made the heat rather more endurable.

"Jane," she said as she walked into the room, "did you notice any bruise on the child's head while you were bathing her. She fell off of the steps it seemed."

"There was none on her forehead. Her hair 71 is very thick and I really did not look only to see that it was in a nice, clean condition. She hasn't suffered for want of cleanliness."

Then she told Jane all she had learned, adding:

"They seem very nice kind of people. But oh! those babies!"

Miss Armitage telephoned to the settlement House, stating the case.

"Yes, Ellen Day was still there and would be very glad of the position. She would go the first thing in the morning."

Jane insisted on bringing in a cot and sleeping beside the little girl who lay quite as still as if she were dead. Now and then she gave her the drops and fanned the air about her. The morning came and the city was astir again. But it was quiet in Loraine place. So many had gone away and there were no trolleys nearby.

They looked over Marilla's head and found one spot above the ear that had a small bit of discoloration, but it was not in a dangerous place. The doctor came in. 72

"I did not think there would be much change," he said. Then he tried to rouse her. Jane held her up while they gave her a little milk which she swallowed without difficulty. She opened her eyes and closed them again, then lay quiet.

He listened to Miss Armitage's interview and nodded as she went along.

"The child is terribly run down. I think she has worked harder than any one imagined. But they seem to have appreciated her."

No one could guess the strain of talking so incessantly to amuse the babies, of reading to Jack, of having eyes all over to see that he did not torment the little ones, push their playthings out of the way, give them sly pinches or tweak their hair. She did hate to tell tales on him. And when he coaxed to go out with her he was a constant care. School had been closed for a fortnight. Oh, how tired she was every night!

"You don't eat more than a bird," Bridget would complain.

"But I'm never hungry now, I shall be so glad when we get to the real country, and grass, and everything. I'm so tired of the 73 rows and rows of red brick houses, and they all seem so hot."

And now Bridget was almost heart broken.

Ellen Day came in to tell Miss Armitage how glad she was that a good word had been spoken for her. "And she was sure she should like the ladies and the pretty little boy. But how fat the babies were and not a bit pretty. They were to start at twelve tomorrow."

It was still hot, but in the afternoon it clouded up and the evening brought a most refreshing shower. The hot wave was broken.

Sunday afternoon they had rolled the couch over by the window. Miss Armitage sat reading. Jane had gone out for a walk. The child seemed to have grown thinner in these few days.

She opened her eyes slowly and looked intently at the woman sitting there in her soft, white attire. She was so sweet and pretty.

"Are you a fairy godmother?" Marilla asked in a weak, wandering tone.

"A-what?" smiling in surprise.

"A fairy godmother. You don't look like the other one, but then it was night and we went to the King's ball. Oh, it was so splendid!" 74

"When was that?" in a soft, persuasive tone.

"Oh, a long time ago. I was Cinderella, and every new Cinderella dances with the Prince, you know. Only they can't dance but once with him."

It was something the child had read, doubtless.

"Do you feel better?" she asked tenderly.

Marilla glanced around and sighed. Then she said in a frightened tone-

"Oh, where am I? And where are the babies? I heard them cry."

"You are all safe and right. And the babies and all the family went down on Long Island."

"It's so queer."

The eyelids drooped again and she fell asleep.

An hour later she woke, and seemed to study the room and the lady.

"I never was at fairyland but that once," she said slowly. "Then there was such lovely music and dancing and everybody was so gay. It's beautiful here and you are very sweet. I don't know how I came here. Must I go back?" 75

"Not until you are well. You have been ill. And you were brought here––"

"I can't think. There were the babies. I went to get something and stumbled and everything looked so queer, blue and red and full of stars, and then I went down and down and all was dark and I kept going down––"

"You fainted and were brought over here. The babies were taken home. And you have been ill, but now you are going to get well."

"I've never been real ill. There were the measles once in the home and we had to stay in bed. I was so hungry. Oh, do you know where Bridget is? She was so good to me."

"She is at Mr. Borden's."

"Could I please to have a drink?"

Miss Armitage brought a glass of milk.

"Would you like something to eat-a bit of custard?"

"I'm not hungry. But the milk was good. Thank you. Who brought me back from that great dark pit?"

"The doctor, I guess," with a smile.

"Could I be turned over?"

Miss Armitage turned her so her face was toward the sky. She drew a long breath. 76

"Do you mind if I should go to sleep?"

"Oh, no, and I'll read to you."

The sweet voice soon lulled her to sleep. And she did not speak again all through the evening, but was rather restless all night. No one had to watch with her now, but Miss Armitage was troubled at the soft, long sighs.

* * *

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