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   Chapter 6 DOCTOR RICHARDS

A Modern Cinderella By Amanda M. Douglas Characters: 25566

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Doctor Richards went slowly down stairs, Miss Armitage let herself in with her latch key.

"How is my little patient today?" she asked.

"Stronger in some respects. But I don't quite like the heart action. And I'm afraid I haven't improved it any."

"Oh, you did not scold her-?" in a half upbraiding tone.

"No, no. But I coaxed that dream story out of her and several other things. In a year or two more those Borden babies will have her all worn out. So many of the little Cinderellas don't get half a chance with life, the stolid ones do better. But she could hold an audience with that story, if she was not afraid of the audience," smiling a little, "and the lovely expressions that flit over her face! She is not the usual child."

"I've been a little afraid to think that. So 101 many of the child prodigies flatten out and make ordinary people."

"And some of them never get the true opportunity. I've a boy under my observation who is going to make a first-class surgeon, and I'm persuading a man to educate him. His father is going to put him in a foundry. Think of hands fitted for the nicest surgery being coarsened by contact with rough iron and hard tools. He would lose the fine touch by hard manual labor if he worked for his education. No one knows all the children sacrificed to Moloch. But the little girl! Of course she thinks of going back. She isn't even tugging at the chain. But I, for one, don't believe God puts people in just the place He wants them to stay, when He must see that they can't work out. Well-did you get the girls off?"

"Yes, and they were a delighted lot. Three only are to have their wages paid. Yet an employer told me about a week ago he had subscribed twenty-five dollars to one of these girls' summer homes. That at four dollars a week would have paid six girl's a week's wages. His name goes down on the generous 102 list of course. Oh, I don't wonder people like to do the things that show! The things that only God can know do not come up for credit. But it is 'deal justly' first of all."

"I'd like to stay and talk-but there is a serious matter before me. Take good care of our little girl-but I needn't charge you. I'll be in again tomorrow."

Miss Armitage went slowly upstairs, paused a few moments at her desk to jot down some items. When she went through to the next room, Marilla was asleep. The little face was framed in with rings of shining hair, the lips were palely pink and parted with a half smile, the skin still showed blue veins. With a little care, such as rich people gave their children, she might grow up pretty, she would always be sweet. And the pudgy babies with their wondering eyes loved her!

Marilla improved slowly but surely. She walked from room to room, and one day she went down stairs to luncheon. Just the small round table in the recess by the side window set out with all manner of pretty dishes and a pretty glass basket of flowers in the center. And there was Jane to wait upon them, and 103 she seemed so pleased to have Marilla down stairs though the little girl had held tight to the bannister, lest she should lose her balance and fall. Everything looked so cool and sweet. The pictures were of woods and lakes, or a bit of sedgy river. There were fine sheer draperies at the windows, a tall vase of flowers on the beautiful centerpiece that adorned the real dining table.

Oh, how good the delicate asparagus soup tasted. And the cold chicken, the rice and the dainty potato cake. Marilla was all smiles inside, she could feel the quiver. She had not been waited on this way since the night in fairy land. Bridget had a way of shoving things toward you or asking you to get up and help yourself. But then, Bridget had done the cooking and was tired, and Marilla was glad to wait on her.

After the dessert, they went through to the drawing room and that looked lovely to the little girl. There was a portfolio of engravings on a sort of stand, and you could sit there and turn them over without any effort. There were so many pretty children among them, and some of royal families that were to be kings and queens. 104

The postman came and Jane brought in a handful of letters. Miss Armitage looked them over casually. Here was one from Bayside and she opened it.

"My dear Miss Armitage," it began.

"I don't know how we can thank you for taking Marilla in as you did, and by this time I hope she is about well. Mr. Borden comes up on Saturday morning to see a client and will call for Marilla at about two. We simply can't do without her. We've had the most awful time! Two babies getting four teeth apiece are enough to drive one crazy. There was no trouble about the other teeth, but I think it would not have been so bad if we'd had Marilla. They have missed her and cried after her and no one could get them asleep until they were fairly worn out and then they sobbed in the most heartbreaking way. We've had no rest day or night. Ellen is very good and patient, but the babies simply won't let her touch them. Marilla always knew just what to do. She was so entertaining. She certainly was born for a nurse girl, though I thought she was most too young when I took her, I've never let 105 her lift them, for they're like a lump of lead. They have grown thinner and I do hope it will keep on, unless Marilla makes them laugh so much they fat up again. They have each cut two teeth and they had to be lanced. Sister and I have had an awful time. We shall be so glad to get Marilla back. I think Ellen will not be a success as a child's nurse. And I can get her a first-class place as a parlor maid where she can have eighteen dollars a month, which I couldn't afford to pay. There is a cook and a laundress kept, so she won't lose by coming down. She is very nice, pleasant and tidy, and we had to have some one in the emergency. And poor little Marilla must have gone to a hospital but for your kindness. We are all so obliged and if Mr. Borden can be of service to you, sometime, he will be very glad. These are the favors money cannot repay.

"So if you will have Marilla ready about two o'clock on Saturday, Mr. Borden will call for her. If she needs a dress will you kindly purchase it and tell him. We have all her clothes down here. There is a beautiful big lawn with hammocks and everything, and 106 if she is not very strong yet she can have sea bathing which is splendid, and fine diet. And we certainly are your deeply grateful friends.

"Mrs. Mary Borden."

Miss Armitage read the letter over twice and watched the pale little girl enjoying the pictures. It was not quite a heartless letter but, it had no special sympathy for the poor little Cinderella, if she did not have to sit in the ashes. Then she laid it by and went at the others.

"Please Miss Armitage, may I go upstairs? I am so tired. What do you suppose makes me feel tired so easily?"

"You are not strong yet. Yes, we will go upstairs and you must lie down."

She placed her arm around the slender body. Marilla kissed the white hand.

The doctor came in the next morning, and Miss Armitage handed him the letter.

"Has the average woman any soul!" he exclaimed angrily.

"Mrs. Borden has had no means of knowing how severe the case really was––"

"See here, she might have written on-say Tuesday and inquired. Why Marilla might 107 have died with just a little more. She doesn't go. She won't be strong enough to bother with teething babies in some time yet, if at all."

"Oh, you don't think––"

"She has a weak heart. It may have come from the shock and there is time enough for her to outgrow it, with care. Are you going to tire of her?"

She saw there was no doubt in his face and smiled.

"Marilla's no more trouble than a kitten. Jane is positively in love with her. I'm not sure but I shall ask to have her transferred to me."

"Hilda Armitage you ought to be the mother of girls. I don't know about the boys," with a doubtful laugh.

"I've had two disappointments."

"I told you that Conklin girl was not worth the trouble. She's singing in a vaudeville show and it does suit her. You couldn't get any refined ambition in that vain and silly brain. It is casting pearls before swine. Save the pearls for some one worthy. She doesn't go back to the Borden's this summer. When you get tired of her––" 108

"Shall we quarrel about her?" She glanced up with an odd, humorous smile.

"Perhaps we shall in the end, but that is a good way off. When that man comes today, just let him see Marilla."

Mr. Borden came punctually at two and was quite profuse in his thanks for Miss Armitage's kindness.

"I regret to say that Marilla has progressed very slowly. She had quite an exhausting fever at first. She was not able to come downstairs until yesterday, and lies down several times through the day."

"Is it possible! Why we thought-and we need her so much! Did you-" he flushed a little, "have a good physician?"

"An excellent one whose practice is mostly among children. He thought her quite worn out, but it was being overcome with the heat and she fell off the steps. It was near congestion of the brain I believe."

"I'm awfully sorry. We were so busy just then, and my wife was worried to death. The babies had always been so good, but I can't imagine anything being so-so dreadful as they've been for a week. I've scarcely 109 slept an hour at a time and Mrs. Borden is clear worn out. She thinks just the sight of Marilla would comfort them. We might go on keeping that Ellen, though the babies won't take to her. I think Marilla charmed them; but they're always been good until now. And there's four more teeth to come through," in a despairing sort of tone.

Miss Armitage had large sympathy and she felt really sorry for him. Yet how providential that Marilla had missed the care!

"You have had a very bad time, certainly, and it is fortunate that Marilla didn't give out on your hands. Would you like to see her, though I think she is asleep."

"Yes-oh yes. If we kept Ellen, don't you think she might come down next week. The sea-bathing would no doubt strengthen her."

"She has some heart weakness. I'm afraid she couldn't stand the bathing."

Then she rose and led the way up stairs.

Marilla was asleep. Mr. Borden studied her in surprise.

"Why, she's grown dreadfully thin. Yes, she must have been very ill, but like the babies, 110 she'd always been well. I'm awful sorry. I don't know what we shall do. Mrs. Borden had counted so on her coming. And she said over half a dozen times that I must not forget to thank you for all this kindness. You must send me the doctor's bill. She's such a nice child, Miss Armitage."

Marilla stirred and opened her eyes, closed them sighed and opened them again, then half murmured-"Oh, doctor," and started.

"Marilla, child, don't you remember Mr. Borden?"

"I had not told her about your coming. We keep her as tranquil as possible."

"Oh, Mr. Borden!" Marilla sat up. "And the babies?"

"The babies are in a very poor way, Marilla. They certainly are homesick for you. We try to keep them comforted with the promise of you. Oh, I hoped you would be well enough to go down with me this afternoon. Their mother will be telling them you will surely come. Poor little girl, but you are going to get well, aren't you? And Jack thinks there's no fun without you, and no one to read to him or tell him stories." 111

The child gave a vague smile. She was very glad to be away from Jack; indeed, sick babies did not appear attractive to her just now, but she said-

"Oh, I'm very sorry. The doctor said it was the heat and––"

"It was awfully hot that week. That made the babies worse. Oh, if I could take you down just to amuse them. You made them laugh so, Marilla. You know just how to do it. Well-it can't be helped, but you must try to get well and have some good of the pretty country place. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Miss Armitage is so good. And Jane and the doctor. And the yard is full of flowers. I'm very happy."

"I suppose so. Maybe you won't want to come back. But you belong to us, you know and we can't give you up."

Then he turned to go.

"Will you kiss the babies for me and tell them how sorry I am, and ask Jack not to tease them, and-and-" she swallowed over a great lump in her throat-"I shall come back when I get well." 112

"That's a good girl. Good-bye. I shall be in town next week and will come in and see you."

He gave the little hand a clasp. Miss Armitage went down with him. Marilla turned her face over on the pillow and cried as if her heart would break. Could she go back to the babies and Jack? And Bridget wasn't as sweet as Jane, and there was sharp Aunt Hetty––

"M

y dear! My dear!" said the soft voice with its infinite pity, and the sweet lips kissed hers.

"Oh, Miss Armitage, won't God take you to heaven if you pray very hard? I should hate to leave you and the dear, nice doctor, but I'm afraid I don't want to go back to the babies and Jack. I'm tired of them, and I feel as if it was foolish to be funny when there are so many sweet things to think of and books to read and your beautiful music. But I must go away from all that, and somehow heaven looks nicer. And when you die doesn't an angel come and take you in his arms and just carry you up and up to the other side of the sky where everything is 113 peace and loveliness, and no one will torment you––"

"Oh my child, perhaps God wants you to live here a little longer and do some work for him. The doctor would be very sorry not to have you get well. Some one might say-'He let that little girl die when he might have saved her,' but they wouldn't know it was because she kept brooding over it all the time and would make no effort to get well. God knows what is best for us."

"I didn't mind about going back. But today it seemed to be-dreadful," with a convulsive sob.

"Then we have spoiled you. Oh, I am sorry for that."

"Oh, dear Miss Armitage, don't be sorry when you have been so good. But I don't quite understand how anyone can bind you out and make you stay years if you didn't want to."

"But children do not know what is best for them. Some go wandering round the streets without any home and are picked up and put in a place almost like a prison where they have to work whether they like it or not. And some 114 even have cruel fathers and mothers. You said the Bordens were good to you. Would you rather be there or at the Home?"

"Oh, I'd rather be there than at the Home, but––" and she swallowed hard over a sob.

"If they worked you beyond reason or half starved you a complaint could be made but they all seem to love you––"

Miss Armitage smiled with a soft kind of sadness, as if she wished the truth were not quite so true, and the things that looked so delightful were not so often the thing it was best to give up for honor's sake.

"Yes, they do love me, babies and all, and of course I must go back when I am well enough."

Then she turned her face away and tried to keep back the tears. Jane entered at that moment and the tension was broken.

Miss Armitage read verses to her after she was in bed that evening, and kissed her good night with motherly tenderness. Then she sat for some time and thought.

Why should she have taken a fancy to this little girl? She had seen prettier children who were homeless and helped provide for them. 115 The Bordens were not rough or heartless. Bridget had spoken well of them. The child had a comfortable home, and she was bound in honor. It would be mean to entice her to break the bargain, to make her dissatisfied. No, she must not do that.

Miss Armitage's life lines had run along smoothly through girlhood. Her mother was a widow and they had a comfortable income. Hilda had a good voice and sang in church, gave some music lessons. There had been a lover and a dear friend and the old tragedy had occurred, that might have been more heartbreaking if her mother had not been taken ill. For days her recovery was doubtful. Then an uncle at Los Angeles besought her to come out to that genial clime and spend her remaining days with him, for now he was quite alone.

Hilda made all preparations. Such of the furniture as had intrinsic value was to be stored with a friend, the rest sold. And then Mrs. Armitage had an unlooked for relapse and Hilda went out alone.

Her uncle was a kindly man past middle life and he took an instant fancy to Hilda. 116 The house and its surroundings were loveliness itself. Life here would be really enchanting. It was such a beautiful world.

"But you have not seen half of it yet. Hilda, what would you say to going abroad? I've wanted to half my life. But my wife, as you have heard, was an invalid and not inclined to travel. We lost our two children. I'm not too old to start out now and view some things with the eyes of an enthusiastic young girl."

So abroad they went. She had seven years of the richness of the old world, learning languages, listening to music that stirred every pulse of her soul, haunting art galleries with loving companionship that somehow saw the best and most beautiful in everything if it was not always high art.

And then she returned alone. It seemed more of a loss than the death of her mother. She remained awhile in California settling up some business and then the longing seized her to return to the home of her youth, to have a real home where she could make the center she was still dreaming of, surround herself with friends and do something worth while with her money. 117

Newton had changed as well, enlarged its boundaries and made itself beautiful at the northern end. The shops and factories were kept down by the railroad center where two important lines crossed, and the river was navigable. Then Main Street was devoted to really fine stores, Brandon to offices and men's businesses, the Postoffice being there. A handsome library building adorned Broadway, there were Orphan Homes, an Old Ladies' Home, a Social Settlement.

Miss Armitage liked the aspect of it. Boarding at a hotel for awhile she looked about and decided on Loraine place. The houses stood in a row, but they had a pretty court yard in front, and a real stretch of ground at the back for grass and flowers and two fine fruit trees.

Of course old friends sought her out. Perhaps the fortune helped. The young girls of her time were matrons with growing children. How odd it seemed! She thought sometimes that she felt reprehensibly young, as if she was having girlhood over again in her heart, but it was a richer, wiser and more fervent girlhood, with the added experiences of the woman. 118

There were many things for her to take an interest in but they finally settled around the babies and little children's hospital, and the Settlement House. In a way, she was fond of the sweet, helpless babies who seemed so very dependent on human kindness. If there was one of her own flesh and blood it would take possession of her very soul, all her thoughts, all her affection. But it should have been hers earlier in life. Now she wanted companionship. She could not wait for it to develop and then find unpleasant traits that had come from alien blood. No, she could not adopt a baby and wait a dozen years to know whether it would satisfy or not.

She had helped two or three girls to better things. One through the last two years of High School and who was now teaching. And there had been one with a charming voice and an attractive face who had been injured in a mill and who would never have perfect use of her right hand. If she could be trained for a singer!

She and Doctor Richards came to words about her. He said plainly she would not be worth the money spent upon her. But 119 Miss Armitage insisted on spending it a year when the girl threw up her friend and joined a concert troupe, slipping presently into vaudeville where she was a success.

And out of the dispute came a proffer of love and marriage. Alvah Richards had begun life at the opposite pole from Miss Armitage. There had been a fortune, a love for the study of medicine, a degree in Vienna and one at Paris. Then most of the fortune had been swept away. He returned to America and some way drifted to Newton. They were just starting the hospital and he found plenty to do. He could live frugally. To help his still poorer fellow creatures in suffering, to restore them to strength and teach them to be useful members of society, or to comfort them and make the path easier over the river to the other country; this was his highest aim.

Miss Armitage was almost dumb with surprise. She raised her hand in entreaty.

"Oh, don't! don't," she cried. "It is quite impossible; it cannot be. I like you very much, but I am not in love. And then––"

"Then what?" with eager eyes and incisive voice. 120

"You had a birthday last week. I heard you telling it. You are thirty-one."

"Well-" There was a proud smile on his manly face.

"And when my birthday comes, I shall be thirty-six. When you are sixty, rich in experience, famous, a real man among men, I shall be quite an old woman. No, I shouldn't do it for your sake."

"As if a few years made any difference! Why you could discount seven years at least. Have you been loved so much that you can throw away a man's honest, honorable, tender love that will last all his life, that wear it as you like, in any stress, you can never wear out."

"Oh," she cried. "You have spoiled a splendid friendship. I liked you so much, I have no love to give in return."

"Then let us be friends again. I would rather have you for a friend than any other woman for a wife. I simply will not give you up."

So the pendulum went on swinging evenly between the two points, when Cinderella entered both lives. 121

And now it was Sunday morning and the chimes were pealing-"Oh, come all ye faithful." Marilla listened with a throb of joy, though she did not know the words they were saying in sweetest melody. Miss Armitage came and stood by the cot with a cordial good morning.

Marilla stretched out her hand and glanced up with an entreating sort of smile.

"Was I very bad last night?" she asked in a wistful tone.

"Bad? Why-what was it?"

"I've been thinking it over. Oh, I didn't want to go back to Mrs. Borden. It is so lovely and quiet and beautiful here. But it is right. I am her bound-out girl, and I was glad to go there. You wouldn't like me to be always looking for what was nice and pleasant and shirking other things, would you?"

"Dear." She stooped and kissed her. She had been going over some arguments fitted for a child's understanding, and she was afraid of a rather painful time. And the worst to her was the fact that she had come to love the child and really desired her.

"The babies, you know, are so fond of me, 122 and they are all very good. So I wouldn't have any reason for not staying with them. And it will be only five years more, then I shall be eighteen. And I thought-" flushing daintily, "that maybe Jane might marry, and you would want some one in her place and if it was-me," rather tremulously-"I could come-I love you so. I'd be your Cinderella always. And when I go back it will be like the King's ball-I shall keep thinking how lovely it was for you to bring me here instead of sending me to a hospital, and it will comfort me just as the music did."

Miss Armitage bent over and kissed her but there were tears in her eyes. She was touched with the child's reasoning that was so like heroism.

"Yes, dear," she said. "We will think of it that way. And if you should be ill at any time, I will have you brought here, and you shall stop when you take the babies out and let me see them, and rest a little."

"Oh that will be just lovely. You are so good," and she kissed the white hand lying on her shoulder.

Then Jane came in and she had her bath. 123 How delightful it was to be rubbed so carefully, to have her curly mop brushed.

"I ought to dress myself now. Why I'm not sick at all only I get tired easily, but I am stronger every day."

The breakfast was so nice. And to be waited upon! Marilla gave an inward laugh of delight.

And while Miss Armitage was at church, Dr. Richards came and bundled her up, carried her downstairs and deposited her in the buggy. He was very merry, somehow. He was going out in the country and, oh, how beautiful everything was! There had been a shower in the night and the air was full of fragrance from the grass, the pines and cedars, the orchards, wild flowers, and newly cut hay, that had not all been gathered in. Children ran about or swung in hammocks. Hens were fairly shouting with no regard for Sunday. Birds were caroling all sorts of joyous tunes and the tree twigs were gaily dancing. And here and there such beautiful drifts went over the sky, ships, she called them. They were going to fairy land-something that was not quite heaven, but a lovely place 124 for all that. There must be so many lovely places in this great world! Over the ocean where Miss Armitage had been, and she recalled the castles and palaces and beautiful woods, and peasants dancing on the green and laughing; that she had seen in the portfolio of engravings. And the legends she had listened to! Oh, if she could go to school and learn ever so many things now, for when she was eighteen she would be too old, and a kind of perplexity settled in her smooth forehead.

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