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A Modern Cinderella By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 22595

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Marilla wondered what the bells were ringing for. And then pistols were firing. Oh, yes, it was Fourth of July. She would get up-but her thin legs gave way and her head spun round. All the room was strange, and everybody seemed mixed up. Then a soft voice said-

"I hope you are better this morning."

"I feel-queer-"

The face was flushed, the little hands were hot.

"The doctor was afraid of fever," Miss Armitage said to Jane, "and it has come."

But the doctor was in early. There would be so many calls on him, by and by.

"Yes, it is fever. She seemed better yesterday. And she can't spare any strength to be burned up, so we must do our best. I don't dare treat her as you would a robust child, but I'll give her something every hour, and get in again before night. Oh, no, I think it is 78 hardly critical," in answer to the lady's anxious look.

Marilla did not seem to know any one. She muttered little catches of talk about the babies and Jack, always pleading with him not to do this or that. Once she laughed and waved her hand to and fro as if in response to music and said-"All the Cinderellas! How beautiful!"

A tall, plain-looking Irish woman came in at midafternoon.

"Tell her it's Bridget," she said. "Can't I see her?"

"Oh, yes," replied Miss Armitage, "But I am afraid she will not recognize you."

So she led the way upstairs. Marilla lay on the cot now and was moving her hands as if acting something.

"Ah, the dear!" Bridget knelt down by the side of the bed. "Don't you remember Bridget whose come to care for you so much? Ah dear! It's meself that sorry enough to see ye lyin' this way, thin as a ghost."

She opened her eyes, "Bridget! Oh, you know the night I went to the ball and fairy godmother turned my old frock into the beautifullest 79 frock, all lace and ribbons. And I danced with the Prince and had such a lovely time!"

Then the eyelids fell and she lapsed into unconsciousness.

Miss Armitage glanced inquiringly.

"It was along of a dream that she had once; it was a dream for such things don't happen now-a-days, more's the pity. But she always believes it real and true, the dear, that she was Cinderella, and had been there. She's the best little thing I ever saw, and she never told you a lie or took a bit of cake without asking. In the beginning she must have belonged to some nice folks; and just look at her pretty hands and feet, light and small enough to dance at any king's ball. But it's hard on the nice ones that have to go to Homes and be put out for little drudges. Though they're nice people, the Bordens, as you may guess by my stayin' with 'em goin' on five year."

"And she wasn't over-worked," ventured Miss Armitage. "She is so thin."

"She's been falling away dreadful the last month. Well, she wasn't and she was. There was an old lady living up on the third floor, 80 an aunt or something and she was afraid of bad spells, she did have some, and she'd ring her bell for Marilla an' it would be upstairs an' down, sometimes way down to my kitchen, and lugging those two fat babies up and down the street––"

"Did she have to carry them any?"

"Oh, no. The mistress didn't want her to lift them. She was afraid of a fall and their backs would get broken. So when they were big enough they sat on the floor and she talked to them and told them funny things and acted 'em off and laughed, and they'd laugh too. It was like a play to see 'em. And they'd jabber back and she'd make b'lieve she understood it all. She was a wonderful child's nurse an' there'll be trouble enough without her. But the babies went to bed early an' then she'd come down an' wipe the dishes for me an' they made no call on her. But Jack was a holy terror, he was that bad, but he went to school in the spring. If he was mine I'd skin him alive. But it was hard dragging them fat, heavy things around. Will you tell me just how you come to find her? They've 81 missed her so. They screech enough to raise the dead, an' I know it's for her."

Miss Armitage told the incident over.

"The saints bless and protect you ma'am for not lettin' her be sent to a hospital! But do you think she can get well? And if that other maid suits, couldn't you keep her here all summer and let her get good and strong? I'm going out to my cousin at Fairfield to stay until next Monday. The boss will be down with his folks until then, and all the vallerbles have been sent out of the house so we can leave it alone. And when I come back we may have a plan for the poor dear that isn't baby tendin'. O the little darlin'! Don't let her die, ma'am, she's so nice and sweet!"

She caught the little hand and kissed it, and winked away the tears that glistened in her eyes.

"I'll do my best, you may be sure. And when you come back, I shall be glad to have a call from you. And by that time she may know us all. Thank you for your sympathy."

Bridget nodded and turned away. Miss Armitage studied the little girl with a new interest. She had seen beautiful children 82 among the very poor, in the slums, with no ancestry back of them. There was something about this child-not beauty either, that set one to thinking. She must learn something about her.

And then she smiled over the fancy of being Cinderella and dancing with the Prince at the ball. What a happy dream it must have been for the child! She was glad to hear that she had not been badly treated or ill fed. She could trust the kindly Bridget for that.

When the doctor came in Sunday morning a smile lighted up his face.

"A real improvement," he exclaimed. "No fever and a normal temperature. Pulse stronger. Now, with nourishing diet and some salt in the baths we shall have her about again, though I've had several patients lie weeks in this state in the hot weather."

Marilla glanced up and smiled back.

"Why, I feel all well," she began. "Couldn't I get up."

"Yes," said Miss Armitage. "Jane will you bring that small pink kimona and put it on."

She took the doctor over in the bay window. 83

"The Borden's cook came in to see the child. She seemed very fond of her and said she was the sweetest little thing. And that she was wonderful with the babies. I was glad she had not been 'put upon' as they say over to the house. And that she always had enough to eat. And she wasn't allowed to lift the babies––"

"But dragged them about in the carriage. Such children are not strong enough for nursemaids. She was pretty well used up, and she'll be sometime getting over it."

"I've taken a curious fancy to the child. Jane thinks she must have belonged to what we call 'nice people.' She flattered me by asking, the first coherent words she uttered if I was not 'a fairy godmother?' Think of that!" smiling.

"Well, I think you have been that many a time. I wonder you haven't filled the house with children."

"I'm always full of pity for them. But when they are cured and put in some place where they can do their best, and have a little love and care, I go on to the next. I do not believe I am a real missionary, and I 84 have a theory-it may not be a very noble one," and a soft color suffused her fine face, "that people who bring children into the world ought to be made to feel the responsibility of them and not shift them on society at large, trusting Providence to take care of them."

"That is what ought to be taught-the responsibility of children. Women as well as men sin in this respect. The woman who forgives the drunken husband and takes him back until tired of working he goes off again leaving another child to add to the poorly-fed throng she can hardly take care of. I think the man who goes off the second time, or who does not take care of the children he has, should be put in some institution and made to earn their support. And the girls ought to be educated up to better ideas of marriage. It doesn't near always conduce to morality. I preach sermons to you-don't I?" and he gave a short laugh. "And we can never set the world straight. But these Homes and Republics are doing a good work in training children to self reliance."

Jane wrapped the little girl in the kimona and lifted her up in the reclining chair. 85

"Oh, that's so nice. How good you are! And everything is so lovely. Oh, I'll soon be well."

Then the little face clouded over. Oh, she truly would not mind being ill if she could stay in this beautiful house where everything was so quiet. Jane went in and out, and presently she brought a cup of broth. How good it tasted!

"Would you mind if I went back to bed? I'm so sleepy."

"Oh, no," returned Jane, and she put her gently back on the cot where she soon fell asleep.

There was slight rise of fever and restlessness about noon. She talked in broken snatches imploring Jack not to do this or that and not to pinch the babies. Then she was so tired, so tired! But about midafternoon, she seemed to rouse and come to herself and said she was hungry. There was broth and hot milk and some stewed fruit, and Jane brushed her hair that fell in a bed of rings and asked if she didn't want to sit up. She brought her over by the window so she could 86 look out, but the back yard was very pretty for it was gay with blooming flowers.

Miss Armitage had been to church, and at two she had a class of young girls who were clerks in stores. Half of them were going away on Monday to the Rest House for a week, and they were full of that. Two of them had never been before. Was it like Coney Island?

"It is not far from the shore, the broad Sound that leads out to the ocean. But there are not side shows. Just rowing and bathing, and a ride every day in a big omnibus. And plenty of girls. Oh, you won't be lonesome;" and Miss Armitage smiled.

"Another girl and I went away last summer to a house that wasn't country but a beautiful street with lawns in front. There were three ladies, and oh, they were so particular. They did not have any story papers and the books were all dull and religious and if you took up one you must put it back in the same place. They didn't like us to talk 'store' nor sing any street songs and one lady only played hymns on the piano. Oh, we were so homesick."

"The Rest House has a big farm and chickens 87 and two cows, and a tennis court and croquet. And there are lovely walks. And hammocks and swings."

"That's the ticket!" said one of the girls. "You want some fun."

Miss Armitage did not check her. She thought of the amusements and pleasures of her youth. Then she came home to her little girl whose face lighted up with gladness, and who put out her thin hand.

"You look lovely," Marilla said. "And I'm getting almost well."

"That is good news," and the lady smiled.

"Only it seems so queer when I try to think. It is such a long while. I seem to have been lost and couldn't find my way out. Do you know where the babies are?"

"They all went down to Long Island. I sent them a new girl. And Bridget was here to inquire about you."

"Oh, she was so good to me. I was a little afraid of her at first, especially when she said she'd 'skin me alive.' Don't you think it would hurt dreadfully? She used to threaten Jack, but she never did it. And she said that about the fairy godmother and the King's 88 ball

was a dream. What is it that goes to strange places when you are asleep? And how can you enjoy and remember all, and hear the music for days afterward? If there are two lives, one for day and one for night, why doesn't the night one go straight on?"

"You'll have to ask the doctor these curious puzzles. They are beyond me."

"Is Bridget at the house?" she inquired after a moment's thought.

"She was going away to some cousin to stay a week as Mr. Borden will be down to-Bayside, I think it is, all the week."

"When I get well I suppose I shall have to go back to the babies. You know I am a bound out girl-until I am eighteen. But they'll be growing bigger all the time. I wish they were as pretty as Jack. Don't you think all babies ought to be pretty? And have curly hair?"

"I think the curly hair quite an addition."

"There's another puzzle. Why should some hair curl and some hair keep straight?"

"I don't know. But your's is curly," smiling.

"Yes, I like it. At the Home there were 89 two other girls with curly hair. And the nurse said it made us vain, so she cut it close to the skin and she said it wouldn't curl any more. That was last summer. But it did when it grew out, and I was glad. I tried to make the babies curl, and Mrs. Borden said she'd give me a silver dollar if I could. But it was so straight and there wasn't much of it. Do you remember the fat little girl of the Campbell's Soups? The babies look a good deal like her. They have high foreheads and round eyes full of wonder, and such chubby cheeks. But Aunt Florence said Mr. Borden was just such a baby and he isn't at all chubby now and has dark eyes. Jack's are dark. Maybe they'll grow prettier. But they're good and-funny. They laugh over everything, and they seem to understand everything I say or read to them. I wonder if they will like the new girl."

"She is very pleased and, I think, patient-four years older than you."

"Oh, suppose they didn't want me back?" and the child drew a long breath of half fear. 90

"There will be something else," in an assuring tone.

Marilla leaned her head back on the pillow. She had talked herself tired. How queer that was, too, when she had talked for hours to the babies.

"Would you like me to read to you?" inquired Miss Armitage.

"Oh, yes, if it's verses. There's a curious music in verses that goes all through you, keeping time to something in your brain. I just love them."

The lady found "Songs of Seven" with its musical lilt and the child listened wide-eyed as if it made pictures to her. Then the doctor came in and was very much pleased over her improvement.

But the next day she was quite languid again. She took a few steps when suddenly everything swam before her eyes and she would have fallen but for Jane's strong arm.

"Oh, you don't suppose I can never walk any more?" she cried in affright. "For there was a nurse at the Home who fell down that way and she had been very well, too. But something happened to her hips. I can't 91 think what they called it, and she never could walk again. They had to send her to the hospital and she could get about just a little on crutches. Oh, dear" and Marilla began to cry.

"There don't think of such a thing. It was only weakness," comforted Miss Armitage. "Once when I was ill I fainted a great many times for just nothing at all. You have not had a chance to get strong yet."

Marilla recalled seeing the nurse brought down stairs on a stretcher, they called it. And the doctor said she could never walk again. Oh, how dreadful that would be. She turned her face over on the pillow and let the tears drop silently, and she could not swallow any supper, something lay so heavy on her breast. Miss Armitage kissed her, and Marilla twined her arms around the soft white neck hardly hidden by the lace. There had never been any one to love during the later years. And her mother had been busy and away in a store.

"Don't worry, dear," said the soothing voice. "God takes care of us all."

The sun was shining the next morning and the next door canary hanging out on the back 92 porch was singing with all his might and main. Such long sweet warbles, such a merry staccato with little pauses, as if he asked-"Now, what do you think of that?" and the child laughed with a sense of glee. Oh, how nice it would be to be a bird. But she wouldn't want to live in a cage all the time.

Jane came and gave her a bath, rubbed her softly but thoroughly across the hips and up and down the spine, holding her up with one strong arm. Marilla took a frightened step, then another and laughingly flung her arms around Jane's neck, crying-

"Oh, I can walk! I can walk!"

"Why did you think you could never walk again?" Jane laughed wholesomely.

"I felt so queer-and I thought of the woman at the Home."

"But she must have been quite an old body. They do get paralyzed; children don't. Oh, you must not think of dreadful things. Come, see how you can walk."

Jane's arm was around her and she led her back to the room and dressed her. Miss Armitage came up just then and greeted her 93 with a happy smile. But Marilla felt shaky and was very glad to sit down on the couch.

"Now I shall bring you up some breakfast," said Jane.

"Don't you suppose I could go down and have some real breakfast at the table-not today, but sometime."

Then Marilla flushed. She was a bound-out girl and had always taken her meals with Bridget.

"Yes, I think so. We will see what the doctor says this morning. I shall have to go out presently and see twenty girls get started for a vacation. They are in stores and factories, and have two weeks in the summer, and the Rest House doesn't charge any board-they earn so little. When you are well enough to travel about, I must take you out to the House."

Maybe she wouldn't have to go back to the babies right away!

The breakfast tasted good, though it was only a poached egg and some toast. But she didn't seem very hungry, and though she felt sort of joyously well at heart her body was tired and she lay on the couch to rest. The 94 doctor found her quiet and there was a whimsical light playing over his face and settling in his eyes.

"So you haven't run away yet?" he began.

"I don't believe I could run very far. Yet I seem quite well-and it's queer, too."

Jane said you fainted yesterday.

"Well it was-something, and then I was frightened-"

"Stand up a moment." He helped her to her feet, then he passed his hand down her spine and over her hips. "Does it hurt any?" he asked.

"No, not a real hurt."

"You fell off of the stoop over there, a boy said."

"The baby dropped something and I went to pick it up, I guess I stumbled. And when I turned round everything was upside down and black and I don't remember any more until I was over here. Miss Armitage was so good, is so good."

"Yes; well it might have been worse. But I think now you are on the high road to health again." 95

"I've never been real sick unless this is it," and she gave a vague smile.

"I think it is," nodding humorously. "The babies have been rather too much for you this hot weather. Were you very fond of them?"

"Well, they were not bad and very funny. You can't love bad people."

"Oh, can't you?"

"No, you can't," with an emphasis. "You may like them and think they're pretty and sweet sometimes, but you don't truly love them I mean you wouldn't choose them if you had you choice."

"Which you don't often have in this world. Now what would be your choice?"

"Oh, I'd like to stay here. I don't know what I'd do if I was Miss Armitage's bound-out girl. Jane does everything and-cook does the meals. She might let me wipe the dishes. But-maybe you don't know I'm bound-out to Mrs. Borden until I'm eighteen, so I shall have to go back. And the babies need me. I'm teaching them to talk. I'm almost Cinderella, not the kitchen kind, though I wouldn't mind that with Bridget." 96

"I heard you went to the King's ball with a fairy godmother. Would you mind telling me?"

Marilla colored. Yes, she would be quite pretty if she wasn't so thin.

"Why it was just a dream. And I was asleep by the kitchen stove. I hadn't any belief in her at first. Oh, do you know anything about that curious part of your brain that dreams?"

"No, I do not. I think no one really does. I suppose you had been reading about Cinderella."

"I used to read it over to the babies, or tell them. But there was Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk and Hop o' My Thumb. Jack had them all, but I never dreamed of them. And the babies seemed to understand them all. They laughed at the funny places and they looked so shocked at the dreadful things, and were so pleased when the old wolf fell down the chimney, dead. Why it was just delightful to me, only sometimes I did get tired talking so much and had to wait for my breath."

"Are you tired now?" and he listened a moment to her heart. 97

"Oh, no. I feel all good and rested, and Jane said I ate a nice breakfast. I'm almost well, though I wouldn't mind being ill a long, long while if I could stay here. There was a little girl once who died and went to heaven. Miss Florence had the book. That wasn't any fairy story, and I think this must be a good deal like heaven. It's so quiet with no one troubling you, and when Miss Armitage plays––"

Her soft eyes were like wind-blown lakes and the far-away sight moved him inexpressibly.

"Suppose you tell me about the dream?"

"Oh, you'll only laugh at me."

"No, I won't laugh. I never knew a Cinderella who went to the palace and danced with the King's son."

He drew her up a little in the bed and placed the pillows around her. Then he seated himself on the couch at her feet and smiled so persuasively that she really couldn't resist. She pictured the kitchen and how comfortably she had settled herself and-she really couldn't have been asleep she saw everything so plainly and, at first, she did not believe the fairy godmother. 98

Dr. Richards was really charmed as she went on. It was all so vivid, so beautiful. She appeared to have a better command of language than most children of her years, and the whole picture was exquisite. Why, it seemed very real to him. And her face was a study. Surely the child must be a genius, she made the things so real and not overdrawn. A veritable fairy palace.

Then she drew a long breath and a lovely smile irradiated her eyes.

"I'm so glad I went," she said in a satisfied tone, freighted with a certain joyousness that appealed to his heart. She really was transfigured at that moment. What possibilities were lying in her soul unawakened. The little bound-out girl would never, could never realize them alone in her fight with life. For he had known:

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen

And waste its sweetness on the desert, air."

When a helping hand would have transplanted it into a garden of appreciation. 99

A sudden fatherhood stirred within him. He had thought more than once of the woman he would like for his wife; now he wanted this little girl to grow up by his side and bloom with the sacred joy within her.

"I'm glad, too," he said in a strange, full voice that trembled with emotion.

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