TURN ABOUT ELEANOR
Turn About Eleanor
ETHEL M. KELLEY
F. GRAHAM COOTES
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
Copyright 1917 The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Printed in the United States of America
BRAUNWORTH & CO.
BROOKLYN, N. Y.
TO MY MOTHER
I Enter Eleanor 1
II The Cooperative Parents 14
III The Experiment Begins 27
IV Peter Elucidates 40
V Eleanor Enjoys Herself in Her Own Way 48
VI Jimmie Becomes a Parent 63
VII One Descent into Bohemia 72
VIII The Ten Hutchinsons 84
IX Peter 101
X The Omniscient Focus 113
XI Gertrude Has Trouble with Her Behavior 124
XII Madam Bolling 138
XIII Brook and River 158
XIV Merry Christmas 167
XV Growing Up 181
XVI Margaret Louisa's Birthright 195
XVII A Real Kiss 203
XVIII Beulah's Problem 219
XIX Mostly Uncle Peter 234
XX The Makings of a Triple Wedding 251
XXI Eleanor Hears the News 261
XXII The Search 271
XXIII The Young Nurse 281
XXIV Christmas Again 292
XXV The Lover 304
TURN ABOUT ELEANOR
TURN ABOUT ELEANOR
A child in a faded tam-o'-shanter that had once been baby blue, and a shoddy coat of a glaring, unpropitious newness, was sitting uncomfortably on the edge of a hansom seat, and gazing soberly out at the traffic of Fifth Avenue.
The young man beside her, a blond, sleek, narrow-headed youth in eye-glasses, was literally making conversation with her. That is, he was engaged in a palpable effort to make conversation—to manufacture out of the thin crisp air of that November morning and the random impressions of their progress up the Avenue, something with a general resemblance to tete-a-tete dialogue as he understood it. He was succeeding only indifferently.
"See, Eleanor," he pointed brightly with his stick to the flower shop they were passing, "see that building with the red roof, and all those window boxes. Don't you think those little trees in pots outside look like Christmas trees? Sometimes when your Aunts Beulah and Margaret and Gertrude, whom you haven't met yet—though you are on your way to meet them, you know—sometimes when they have been very good, almost good enough to deserve it, I stop by that little flower shop and buy a chaste half dozen of gardenias and their accessories, and divide them among the three."
"Do you?" the child asked, without wistfulness. She was a good child, David Bolling decided,—a sporting child, willing evidently to play when it was her turn, even when she didn't understand the game at all. It was certainly a new kind of game that she would be so soon expected to play her part in,—a rather serious kind of game, if you chose to look at it that way.
David himself hardly knew how to look at it. He was naturally a conservative young man, who had been brought up by his mother to behave as simply as possible on all occasions, and to avoid the conspicuous as tacitly and tactfully as one avoids a new disease germ. His native point of view, however, had been somewhat deflected by his associations. His intimate circle consisted of a set of people who indorsed his mother's decalogue only under protest, and with the most stringent reservations. That is, they were young and healthy, and somewhat overcharged with animal spirits, and their reactions were all very intense and emphatic.
He was trying at this instant to look rather more as if he were likely to meet one of his own friends than one of his mother's. His mother's friends would not have understood his personal chaperonage of the shabby little girl at his elbow. Her hair was not even properly brushed. It looked frazzled and tangled; and at the corner of one of her big blue eyes, streaking diagonally across the pallor in which it was set, was a line of dirt,—a tear mark, it might have been, though that didn't make the general effect any less untidy, David thought; only a trifle more uncomfortably pathetic. She was a nice little girl, that fact was becoming more and more apparent to David, but any friend of his mother's would have wondered, and expressed him or herself as wondering, why in the name of all sensitiveness he had not taken a taxicab, or at least something in the nature of a closed vehicle, if he felt himself bound to deliver in person this curious little stranger to whatever mysterious destination she was for.
"I thought you'd like a hansom, Eleanor, better than a taxi-cab, because you can see more. You've never been in this part of New York before, I understand."
"You came up from Colhassett last Saturday, didn't you? Mrs. O'Farrel wrote to your grandmother to send you on to us, and you took the Saturday night boat from Fall River."
"Did you travel alone, Eleanor?"
"A friend of Grandpa's came up on the train with me, and left me on the vessel. He told the colored lady and gentleman to see if I was all right,—Mr. Porter and Mrs. Steward."
"And were you all right?" David's eyes twinkled.
"Not sea sick, nor homesick?"
The child's fine-featured face quivered for a second, then set again into impassive stoic lines, and left David wondering whether he had witnessed a vibration of real emotion, or the spasmodic twitching of the muscles that is so characteristic of the rural public school.
"I wasn't sea sick."
"Tell me about your grandparents, Eleanor." Then as she did not respond, he repeated a little sharply, "Tell me about your grandparents, won't you?"
The child still hesitated. David bowed to the wife of a Standard Oil director in a passing limousine, and one of the season's prettiest debutantes, who was walking; and because he was only twenty-four, and his mother was very, very ambitious for him, he wondered if the tear smudge on the face of his companion had been evident from the sidewalk, and decided that it must have been.
"I don't know how to tell," the child said at last, "I don't know what you want me to say."
"I don't want you to say anything in particular, just in general, you know."
David stuck. The violet eyes were widening with misery, there was no doubt about it. "Game, clean through," he said to himself. Aloud he continued. "Well, you know, Eleanor.—Never say 'Well,' if you can possibly avoid it, because it's a flagrant Americanism, and when you travel in foreign parts you're sure to regret it,—well, you know, if you are to be in a measure my ward—and you are, my dear, as well as the ward of your Aunts Beulah and Margaret and Gertrude, and your Uncles Jimmie and Peter—I ought to begin by knowing a little something of your antecedents. That is why I suggested that you tell me about your grandparents. I don't care what you tell me, but I think it would be very suitable for you to tell me something. Are they native Cape Codders? I'm a New Englander myself, you know, so you may be perfectly frank with me."
"They're not summer folks," the child said. "They just live in Colhassett all the year round. They live in a big white house on the depot road, but they're so old now, they can't keep it up. If it was painted it would be a real pretty house."
"Your grandparents are not very well off then?"
The child colored. "They've got lots of things," she said, "that Grandfather brought home when he went to sea, but it was Uncle Amos that sent them the money they lived on. When he died they didn't have any."
"How long has he been dead?"
"Two years ago Christmas."
"You must have had some money since then."
"Not since Uncle Amos died, except for the rent of the barn, and the pasture land, and a few things like that."
"You must have had money put away."
"No," the little girl answered. "We didn't. We didn't have any money, except what came in the way I said. We sold some old-fashioned dishes, and a little bit of cranberry bog for twenty-five dollars. We didn't have any other money."
"But you must have had something to live on. You can't make bricks without straw, or grow little girls up without nourishing food in their tummies." He caught an unexpected flicker of an eyelash, and realized for the first time that the child was acutely aware of every word he was saying, that even his use of English was registering a poignant impression on her consciousness. The thought strangely embarrassed him. "We say tummies in New York, Eleanor," he explained hastily. "It's done here. The New England stomick, however, is almost entirely obsolete. You'll really get on better in the circles to which you are so soon to be accustomed if you refer to it in my own simple fashion;—but to return to our muttons, Eleanor, which is French for getting down to cases, again, you must have had something to live on after your uncle died. You are alive now. That would almost seem to prove my contention."
"We didn't have any money, but what I earned."
"But—what you earned. What do you mean, Eleanor?"
The child's face turned crimson, then white again. This time there was no mistaking the wave of sensitive emotion that swept over it.
"I worked out," she said. "I made a dollar and a half a week running errands, and taking care of a sick lady vacations, and nights after school. Grandma had that shock, and Grandpa's back troubled him. He tried to get work but he couldn't. He did all he could taking care of Grandma, and tending the garden. They hated to have me work out, but there was nobody else to."
"A family of three can't live on a dollar and a half a week."
"Yes, sir, they can, if they manage."
"Where were your neighbors all this time, Eleanor? You don't mean to tell me that the good, kindly people of Cape Cod would have stood by and let a little girl like you support a family alone and unaided. It's preposterous."
"The neighbors didn't know. They thought Uncle Amos left us something. Lots of Cape Cod children work out. They thought that I did it because I wanted to."
"I see," said David gravely.
The wheel of their cab became entangled in that of a smart delivery wagon. He watched it thoughtfully. Then he took off his glasses, and polished them.
"Through a glass darkly," he explained a little thickly. He was really a very young young man, and once below the surface of what he was pleased to believe a very worldly and cynical manner, he had a profound depth of tenderness and human sympathy.
Then as they jogged on through the Fifty-ninth Street end of the Park, looking strangely seared and bereft from the first blight of the frost, he turned to her again. This time his tone was as serious as her own.
"Why did you stop working out, Eleanor?" he asked.
"The lady I was tending died. There wasn't nobody else who wanted me. Mrs. O'Farrel was a relation of hers, and when she came to the funeral, I told her that I wanted to get work in New York if I could,—and then last week she wrote me that the best she could do was to get me this place to be adopted, and so—I came."
"But your grandparents?" David asked, and realized almost as he spoke that he had his finger on the spring of the tragedy.
"They had to take help from the town."
The child made a brave struggle with her tears, and David looked away quickly. He knew something of the temper of the steel of the New England nature; the fierce and terrible pride that is bred in the bone of the race. He knew that the child before him had tasted of the bitter waters of humiliation in seeing her kindred "helped" by the town. "Going out to work," he understood, had brought the family pride low, but taking help from the town had leveled it to the dust.
"There is, you know, a small salary that goes with this being adopted business," he remarked casually a few seconds later. "Your Aunts Gertrude and Beulah and Margaret, and your three stalwart uncles aforesaid, are not the kind of people who have been brought up to expect something for nothing. They don't expect to adopt a perfectly good orphan without money and without price, merely for the privilege of experimentation. No, indeed, an orphan in good standing of the best New England extraction ought to exact for her services a salary of at least fifteen dollars a month. I wouldn't consent to take a cent less, Eleanor."
"Wouldn't you?" the child asked uncertainly. She sat suddenly erect, as if an actual burden had been dropped from her shoulders. Her eyes were not violet, David decided, he had been deceived by the depth of their coloring; they were blue, Mediterranean blue, and her lashes were an inch and a half long at the very least. She was not only pretty, she was going to be beautiful some day. A strange premonition struck David of a future in which this long-lashed, stoic baby was in some way inextricably bound.
"How old are you?" he asked her abruptly.
"Ten years old day before yesterday."
They had been making their way through the Park; the searer, yellower Park of late November. It looked duller and more cheerless than David ever remembered it. The leaves rattled on the trees, and the sun went down suddenly.
"This is Central Park," he said. "In the spring it's very beautiful here, and all the people you know go motoring or driving in the afternoon."
He bowed to his mother's milliner in a little French runabout. The Frenchman stared frankly at the baby blue tam-o'-shanter and the tangled golden head it surmounted.
"Joseph could make you a peachy tam-o'-shanter looking thing of blue velvet; I'll bet I could draw him a picture to copy. Your Uncle David, you know, is an artist of a sort."
For the first time since their incongruous association began the child met his smile; her face relaxed ever so little, and the lips quivered, but she smiled a shy, little dawning smile. There was trust in it and confidence. David put out his hand to pat hers, but thought better of it.
"Eleanor," he said, "my mother knows our only living Ex-president, and the Countess of Warwick, one Vanderbilt, two Astors, and she's met Sir Gilbert Parker, and Rudyard Kipling. She also knows many of the stars and satellites of upper Fifth Avenue. She has, as well, family connections of so much weight and stolidity that their very approach, singly or in conjunction, shakes the earth underneath them.—I wish we could meet them all, Eleanor, every blessed one of them."
THE COOPERATIVE PARENTS
"I wonder how a place like this apartment will look to her," Beulah said thoughtfully. "I wonder if it will seem elegant, or cramped to death. I wonder if she will take to it kindly, or with an ill concealed contempt for its limitations."
"The poor little thing will probably be so frightened and homesick by the time David gets her here, that she won't know what kind of a place she's arrived at," Gertrude suggested. "Oh, I wouldn't be in your shoes for the next few days for anything in the world, Beulah Page; would you, Margaret?"
The third girl in the group smiled.
"I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "It would be rather fun to begin it."
"I'd rather have her for the first two months, and get it over with," Beulah said decisively. "It'll be hanging over your head long after my ordeal is over, and by the time I have to have her again she'll be absolutely in training. You don't come until the fifth on the list you know, Gertrude. Jimmie has her after me, then Margaret, then Peter, and you, and David, if he has got up the courage to tell his mother by that time."
"But if he hasn't," Gertrude suggested.
"He can work it out for himself. He's got to take the child two months like the rest of us. He's agreed to."
"He will," Margaret said, "I've never known him to go back on his word yet."
"Trust Margaret to stick up for David. Anyway, I've taken the precaution to put it in writing, as you know, and the document is filed."
"We're not adopting this infant legally."
"No, Gertrude, we can't,—yet, but morally we are. She isn't an infant, she's ten years old. I wish you girls would take the matter a little more seriously. We've bound ourselves to be responsible for this child's whole future. We have undertaken her moral, social and religious education. Her body and soul are to be—"
"Equally divided among us," Gertrude cut in.
Beulah scorned the interruption.
"—held sacredly in trust by the six of us, severally and collectively."
"Why haven't we adopted her legally then?" Margaret asked.
"Well, you see, there are practical objections. You have to be a corporation or an institution or something, to adopt a child as a group. A child can't have three sets of parents in the eyes of the law, especially when none of them is married, or have the least intention of being married, to each other.—I don't see what you want to keep laughing at, Gertrude. It's all a little unusual and modern and that sort of thing, but I don't think it's funny. Do you, Margaret?"
"I think that it's funny, but I think that it's serious, too, Beulah."
"I don't see what's funny about—" Beulah began hotly.
"You don't see what's funny about anything,—even Rogers College, do you, darling? It is funny though for the bunch of us to undertake the upbringing of a child ten years old; to make ourselves financially and spiritually responsible for it. It's a lot more than funny, I know, but it doesn't seem to me as if I could go on with it at all, until somebody was willing to admit what a scream the whole thing is."
"We'll admit that, if that's all you want, won't we, Beulah?" Margaret appealed.
"If I've got this insatiable sense of humor, let's indulge it by all means," Gertrude laughed. "Go on, chillun, go on, I'll try to be good now."
"I wish you would," Margaret said. "Confine yourself to a syncopated chortle while I get a few facts out of Beulah. I did most of my voting on this proposition by proxy, while I was having the measles in quarantine. Beulah, did I understand you to say you got hold of your victim through Mrs. O'Farrel, your seamstress?"
"Yes, when we decided we'd do this, we thought we'd get a child about six. We couldn't have her any younger, because there would be bottles, and expert feeding, and well, you know, all those things. We couldn't have done it, especially the boys. We thought six would be just about the right age, but we simply couldn't find a child that would do. We had to know about its antecedents. We looked through the orphan asylums, but there wasn't anything pure-blooded American that we could be sure of. We were all agreed that we wanted pure American blood. I knew Mrs. O'Farrel had relatives on Cape Cod. You know what that stock is, a good sea-faring strain, and a race of wonderfully fine women, 'atavistic aristocrats' I remember an author in the Atlantic Monthly called them once. I suppose you think it's funny to groan, Gertrude, when anybody makes a literary allusion, but it isn't. Well, anyway, Mrs. O'Farrel knew about this child, and sent for her. She stayed with Mrs. O'Farrel over Sunday, and now David is bringing her here. She'll be here in a minute."
"Why David?" Gertrude twinkled.
"Why not David?" Beulah retorted. "It will be a good experience for him, besides David is so amusing when he tries to be, I thought he could divert her on the way."
"It isn't such a crazy idea, after all, Gertrude." Margaret Hutchinson was the youngest of the three, being within several months of her majority, but she looked older. Her face had that look of wisdom that comes to the young who have suffered physical pain. "We've got to do something. We're all too full of energy and spirits, at least the rest of you are, and I'm getting huskier every minute, to twirl our hands and do nothing. None of us ever wants to be married,—that's settled; but we do want to be useful. We're a united group of the closest kind of friends, bound by the ties of—of—natural selection, and we need a purpose in life. Gertrude's a real artist, but the rest of us are not, and—and—"
"What could be more natural for us than to want the living clay to work on? That's the idea, isn't it?" Gertrude said. "I can be serious if I want to, Beulah-land, but, honestly, girls, when I come to face out the proposition, I'm almost afraid to. What'll I do with that child when it comes to be my turn? What'll Jimmie do? Buy her a string of pearls, and show her the night life of New York very likely. How'll I break it to my mother? That's the cheerful little echo in my thoughts night and day. How did you break it to yours, Beulah?"
Beulah flushed. Her serious brown eyes, deep brown with wine-colored lights in them, met those of each of her friends in turn. Then she laughed.
"Well, I do know this is funny," she said, "but, you know, I haven't dared tell her. She'll be away for a month, anyway. Aunt Ann is here, but I'm only telling her that I'm having a little girl from the country to visit me."
Occasionally the architect of an apartment on the upper west side of New York—by pure accident, it would seem, since the general run of such apartments is so uncomfortable, and unfriendly—hits upon a plan for a group of rooms that are at once graciously proportioned and charmingly convenient, while not being an absolute offense to the eye in respect to the details of their decoration. Beulah Page and her mother lived in such an apartment, and they had managed with a few ancestral household gods, and a good many carefully related modern additions to them, to make of their eight rooms and bath, to say nothing of the ubiquitous butler's-pantry, something very remarkably resembling a home, in its most delightful connotation: and it was in the drawing room of this home that the three girls were gathered.
Beulah, the younger daughter of a widowed mother—now visiting in the home of the elder daughter, Beulah's sister Agatha, in the expectation of what the Victorians refer to as an "interesting event"—was technically under the chaperonage of her Aunt Ann, a solemn little spinster with no control whatever over the movements of her determined young niece.
Beulah was just out of college,—just out, in fact, of the most high-minded of all the colleges for women;—that founded by Andrew Rogers in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty-one. There is probably a greater percentage of purposeful young women graduated from Rogers College every year, than from any other one of the communities of learning devoted to the education of women; and of all the purposeful classes turned out from that admirable institution, Beulah's class could without exaggeration be designated as the most purposeful class of them all. That Beulah was not the most purposeful member of her class merely argues that an almost abnormally high standard of purposefulness was maintained by practically every individual in it.
At Rogers every graduating class has its fad; its propaganda for a crusade against the most startling evils of the world. One year, the sacred outlines of the human figure are protected against disfigurement by an ardent group of young classicists in Grecian draperies. The next, a fierce young brood of vegetarians challenge a lethargic world to mortal combat over an Argentine sirloin. The year of Beulah's graduation, the new theories of child culture that were gaining serious headway in academic circles, had filtered into the class rooms, and Beulah's mates had contracted the contagion instantly. The entire senior class went mad on the subject of child psychology and the various scientific prescriptions for the direction of the young idea.
It was therefore primarily to Beulah Page, that little Eleanor Hamlin, of Colhassett, Massachusetts, owed the change in her fortune. At least it was to Beulah that she owed the initial inspiration that set the wheel of that fortune in motion; but it was to the glorious enterprise and idealism of youth, and the courage of a set of the most intrepid and quixotic convictions that ever quickened in the breasts of a mad half dozen youngsters, that she owed the actual fulfillment of her adventure.
The sound of the door-bell brought the three girls to their feet, but the footfalls in the corridor, double quick time, and accentuated, announced merely the arrival of Jimmie Sears, and Peter Stuyvesant, nicknamed Gramercy by common consent.
"Has she come?" Peter asked.
But Jimmie struck an attitude in the middle of the floor.
"My daughter, oh! my daughter," he cried. "This suspense is killing me. For the love of Mike, children, where is she?"
"She's coming," Beulah answered; "David's bringing her."
Gertrude pushed him into the chaise-lounge already in the possession of Margaret, and squeezed in between them.
"Hold my hand, Jimmie," she said. "The feelings of a father are nothing,—nothing in comparison to those which smolder in the maternal breast. Look at Beulah, how white she is, and Margaret is trembling this minute."
"I'm trembling, too," Peter said, "or if I'm not trembling, I'm frightened."
"We're all frightened," Margaret said, "but we're game."
The door-bell rang again.
"There they come," Beulah said, "oh! everybody be good to me."
The familiar figure of their good friend David appeared on the threshold at this instant, and beside him an odd-looking little figure in a shoddy cloth coat, and a faded blue tam-o'-shanter. There was a long smudge of dirt reaching from the corner of her eye well down into the middle of her cheek. A kind of composite gasp went up from the waiting group, a gasp of surprise, consternation, and panic. Not one of the five could have told at that instant what it was he expected to see, or how his imagination of the child differed from the concrete reality, but amazement and keen disappointment constrained them. Here was no figure of romance and delight. No miniature Galatea half hewn out of the block of humanity, waiting for the chisel of a composite Pygmalion. Here was only a grubby, little unkempt child, like all other children, but not so presentable.
"What's the matter with everybody?" said David with unnatural sharpness. "I want to present you to our ward, Miss Eleanor Hamlin, who has come a long way for the pleasure of meeting you. Eleanor, these are your cooperative parents."
The child's set gaze followed his gesture obediently. David took the little hand in his, and led the owner into the heart of the group. Beulah stepped forward.
"This is your Aunt Beulah, Eleanor, of whom I've been telling you."
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Aunt Beulah," the little girl said, as Beulah put out her hand, still uncertainly.
Then the five saw a strange thing happen. The immaculate, inscrutable David—the aristocrat of aristocrats, the one undemonstrative, super-self-conscious member of the crowd, who had been delegated to transport the little orphan chiefly because the errand was so incongruous a mission on which to despatch him—David put his arm around the neck of the child with a quick protecting gesture, and then gathered her close in his arms, where she clung, quivering and sobbing, the unkempt curls straggling helplessly over his shoulder.
He strode across the room where Margaret was still sitting upright in the chaise-lounge, her dove-gray eyes wide, her lips parted.
"Here, you take her," he said, without ceremony, and slipped his burden into her arms.
"Welcome to our city, Kiddo," Jimmie said in his throat, but nobody heard him.
Peter, whose habit it was to walk up and down endlessly wherever he felt most at home, paused in his peregrination, as Margaret shyly gathered the rough little head to her bosom. The child met his gaze as he did so.
"We weren't quite up to scratch," he said gravely.
Beulah's eyes filled. "Peter," she said, "Peter, I didn't mean to be—not to be—"
But Peter seemed not to know she was speaking. The child's eyes still held him, and he stood gazing down at her, his handsome head thrown slightly back; his face deeply intent; his eyes softened.
"I'm your Uncle Peter, Eleanor," he said, and bent down till his lips touched her forehead.
THE EXPERIMENT BEGINS
Eleanor walked over to the steam pipes, and examined them carefully. The terrible rattling noise had stopped, as had also the choking and gurgling that had kept her awake because it was so like the noise that Mrs. O'Farrel's aunt, the sick lady she had helped to take care of, made constantly for the last two weeks of her life. Whenever there was a sound that was anything like that, Eleanor could not help shivering. She had never seen steam pipes before. When Beulah had shown her the room where she was to sleep—a room all in blue, baby blue, and pink roses—Eleanor thought that the silver pipes standing upright in the corner were a part of some musical instrument, like a pipe organ. When the rattling sound had begun she thought that some one had come into the room with her, and was tuning it. She had drawn the pink silk puff closely about her ears, and tried not to be frightened. Trying not to be frightened was the way she had spent a good deal of her time since her Uncle Amos died, and she had had to look out for her grandparents.
Now that it was morning, and the bright sun was streaming into the windows, she ventured to climb out of bed and approach the uncanny instrument. She tripped on the trailing folds of that nightgown her Aunt Beulah—it was funny that all these ladies should call themselves her aunts, when they were really no relation to her—had insisted on her wearing. Her own nightdress had been left in the time-worn carpetbag that Uncle David had forgotten to take out of the "handsome cab." She stumbled against the silver pipes. They were hot; so hot that the flesh of her arm nearly blistered, but she did not cry out. Here was another mysterious problem of the kind that New York presented at every turn, to be silently accepted, and dealt with.
Her mother and father had once lived in New York. Her father had been born here, in a house with a brownstone front on West Tenth Street, wherever that was. She herself had lived in New York when she was a baby, though she had been born in her grandfather's house in Colhassett. She had lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, too, until she was four years old, and her father and mother had died there, both in the same week, of pneumonia. She wished this morning, that she could remember the house where they lived in New York, and the things that were in it.
There was a knock on the door. Ought she to go and open the door in her nightdress? Ought she to call out "Come in?" It might be a gentleman, and her Aunt Beulah's nightdress was not very thick. She decided to cough, so that whoever was outside might understand she was in there, and had heard them.
"May I come in, Eleanor?" Beulah's voice called.
"Yes, ma'am." She started to get into bed, but Miss—Miss—the nearer she was to her, the harder it was to call her aunt,—Aunt Beulah might think it was time she was up. She compromised by sitting down in a chair.
Beulah had passed a practically sleepless night working out the theory of Eleanor's development. The six had agreed on a certain sketchily defined method of procedure. That is, they were to read certain books indicated by Beulah, and to follow the general schedule that she was to work out and adapt to the individual needs of the child herself, during the first phase of the experiment. She felt that she had managed the reception badly, that she had not done or said the right thing. Peter's attitude had shown that he felt the situation had been clumsily handled, and it was she who was responsible for it. Peter was too kind to criticize her, but she had vowed in the muffled depths of a feverish pillow that there should be no more flagrant flaws in the conduct of the campaign.
"Did you sleep well, Eleanor?" she asked.
"Are you hungry?"
The conversation languished at this.
"Have you had your bath?"
"I didn't know I was to have one."
"Nice little girls have a bath every day."
"Do they?" Eleanor asked. Her Aunt Beulah seemed to expect her to say something more, but she couldn't think of anything.
"I'll draw your bath for you this morning. After this you will be expected to take it yourself."
Eleanor had seen bathrooms before, but she had never been in a bath-tub. At her grandfather's, she had taken her Saturday night baths in an old wooden wash-tub, which had water poured in it from the tea kettle. When Beulah closed the door on her she stepped gingerly into the tub: the water was twice too hot, but she didn't know how to turn the faucet, or whether she was expected to turn it. Mrs. O'Farrel had told her that people had to pay for water in New York. Perhaps Aunt Beulah had drawn all the water she could have. She used the soap sparingly. Soap was expensive, she knew. She wished there was some way of discovering just how much of things she was expected to use. The number of towels distressed her, but she finally took the littlest and dried herself. The heat of the water had nearly parboiled her.
After that, she tried to do blindly what she was told. There was a girl in a black dress and white apron that passed her everything she had to eat. Her Aunt Beulah told her to help herself to sugar and to cream for her oatmeal, from off this girl's tray. Her hand trembled a good deal, but she was fortunate enough not to spill any. After breakfast she was sent to wash her hands in the bathroom; she turned the faucet, and used a very little water. Then, when she was called, she went into the sitting-room and sat down, and folded her hands in her lap.
Beulah looked at her with some perplexity. The child was docile and willing, but she seemed unexpectedly stupid for a girl ten years old.
"Have you ever been examined for adenoids, Eleanor?" she asked suddenly.
"Say, 'no, Aunt Beulah.' Don't say, 'no, ma'am' and 'yes, ma'am.' People don't say 'no, ma'am' and 'yes, ma'am' any more, you know. They say 'no' and 'yes,' and then mention the name of the person to whom they are speaking."
"Yes, ma'am," Eleanor couldn't stop herself saying it. She wanted to correct herself. "No, Aunt Beulah, no, Aunt Beulah," but the words stuck in her throat.
"Well, try to remember," Beulah said. She was thinking of the case in a book of psychology that she had been reading that morning, of a girl who was "pale and sleepy looking, expressionless of face, careless of her personal appearance," who after an operation for adenoids, had become "as animated and bright as before she had been lethargic and dull." She was pleased to see that Eleanor's fine hair had been scrupulously combed, and neatly braided this morning, not being able to realize—as how should she?—that the condition of Eleanor's fine spun locks on her arrival the night before, had been attributable to the fact that the O'Farrel baby had stolen her comb, and Eleanor had been too shy to mention the fact, and had combed her hair mermaid-wise, through her fingers.
"This morning," Beulah began brightly, "I am going to turn you loose in the apartment, and let you do what you like. I want to get an idea of the things you do like, you know. You can sew, or read, or drum on the piano, or talk to me, anything that pleases you most. I want you to be happy, that's all, and to enjoy yourself in your own way."
"Give the child absolute freedom in which to demonstrate the worth and value of its ego,"—that was what she was doing, "keeping it carefully under observation while you determine the individual trend along which to guide its development."
The little girl looked about her helplessly. The room was very large and bright. The walls were white, and so was the woodwork, the mantle, and some of the furniture. Gay figured curtains hung at the windows, and there were little stools, and chairs, and even trays with glass over them, covered with the same bright colored material. Eleanor had never seen a room anything like it. There was no center-table, no crayon portraits of different members of the family, no easels, or scarves thrown over the corners of the pictures. There were not many pictures, and those that there were didn't seem to Eleanor like pictures at all, they were all so blurry and smudgy,—excepting one of a beautiful lady. She would have liked to have asked the name of that lady,—but her Aunt Beulah's eyes were upon her. She slipped down from her chair and walked across the room to the window.
"Well, dear, what would make this the happiest day you can think of?" Beulah asked, in the tone she was given to use when she asked Gertrude and Margaret and Jimmie—but not often Peter—what they expected to do with their lives.
Eleanor turned a desperate face from the window, from the row of bland elegant apartment buildings she had been contemplating with unseeing eyes.
"Do I have to?" she asked Beulah piteously.
"Have to what?"
"Have to amuse myself in my own way? I don't know what you want me to do. I don't know what you think that I ought to do."
A strong-minded and spoiled younger daughter of a widowed mother—whose chief anxiety had been to anticipate the wants of her children before they were expressed—with an independent income, and a beloved and admiring circle of intimate friends, is not likely to be imaginatively equipped to explore the spiritual fastnesses of a sensitive and alien orphan. Beulah tried earnestly to get some perspective on the child's point of view, but she could not. The fact that she was torturing the child would have been outside of the limits of her comprehension. She searched her mind for some immediate application of the methods of Madame Montessori, and produced a lump of modeling clay.
"You don't really have to do anything, Eleanor," she said kindly. "I don't want you to make an effort to please me, only to be happy yourself. Why don't you try and see what you can do with this modeling clay? Just try making it up into mud pies, or anything."
"Let the child teach himself the significance of contour, and the use of his hands, by fashioning the clay into rudimentary forms of beauty." That was the theory.
"Yes, dear, mud pies, if you wish to."
Whereupon Eleanor, conscientiously and miserably, turned out a neat half-dozen skilful, miniature models of the New England deep dish apple-pie, pricked and pinched to a nicety.
Beulah, with a vision related to the nebulous stages of a study by Rodin, was somewhat disconcerted with this result, but she brightened as she thought at least she had discovered a natural tendency in the child that she could help her develop.
"Do you like to cook, Eleanor?" she asked.
In the child's mind there rose the picture of her grim apprenticeship on Cape Cod. She could see the querulous invalid in the sick chair, her face distorted with pain and impatience; she could feel the sticky dough in her fingers, and the heat from the stove rising round her.
"I hate cooking," she said, with the first hint of passion she had shown in her relation to her new friends.
The day dragged on wearily. Beulah took her to walk on the Drive, but as far as she was able to determine the child saw nothing of her surroundings. The crowds of trimly dressed people, the nursemaids and babies, the swift slim outlines of the whizzing motors, even the battleships lying so suggestively quiescent on the river before them—all the spectacular, vivid panorama of afternoon on Riverside Drive—seemed absolutely without interest or savor to the child. Beulah's despair and chagrin were increasing almost as rapidly as Eleanor's.
Late in the afternoon Beulah suggested a nap. "I'll sit here and read for a few minutes," she said, as she tucked Eleanor under the covers. Then, since she was quite desperate for subjects of conversation, and still determined by the hot memory of her night's vigil to leave no stone of geniality unturned, she added:
"This is a book that I am reading to help me to know how to guide and educate you. I haven't had much experience in adopting children, you know, Eleanor, and when there is anything in this world that you don't know, there is usually some good and useful book that will help you to find out all about it."
Even to herself her words sounded hatefully patronizing and pedagogic, but she was past the point of believing that she could handle the situation with grace. When Eleanor's breath seemed to be coming regularly, she put down her book with some thankfulness and escaped to the tea table, where she poured tea for her aunt, and explained the child's idiosyncrasies swiftly and smoothly to that estimable lady.
Left alone, Eleanor lay still for a while, staring at the design of pink roses on the blue wall-paper. On Cape Cod, pink and blue were not considered to be colors that could be combined. There was nothing at all in New York like anything she knew or remembered. She sighed. Then she made her way to the window and picked up the book Beulah had been reading. It was about her, Aunt Beulah had said,—directions for educating her and training her. The paragraph that caught her eye where the book was open had been marked with a pencil.
"This girl had such a fat, frog like expression of face," Eleanor read, "that her neighbors thought her an idiot. She was found to be the victim of a severe case of ad-e-noids." As she spelled out the word, she recognized it as the one Beulah had used earlier in the day. She remembered the sudden sharp look with which the question had been accompanied. The sick lady for whom she had "worked out" had often called her an idiot when her feet had stumbled, or she had failed to understand at once what was required of her.
Eleanor read on. She encountered a text replete with hideous examples of backward and deficient children, victims of adenoids who had been restored to a state of normality by the removal of the affliction. She had no idea what an adenoid was. She had a hazy notion that it was a kind of superfluous bone in the region of the breast, but her anguish was rooted in the fact that this, this was the good and useful book that her Aunt Beulah had found it necessary to resort to for guidance, in the case of her own—Eleanor's—education.
When Beulah, refreshed by a cup of tea and further sustained by the fact that Margaret and Peter had both telephoned they were coming to dinner, returned to her charge, she found the stolid, apathetic child she had left, sprawling face downward on the floor, in a passion of convulsive weeping.
It was Peter who got at the heart of the trouble. Margaret tried, but though Eleanor clung to her and relaxed under the balm of her gentle caresses, the child remained entirely inarticulate until Peter gathered her up in his arms, and signed to the others that he wished to be left alone with her.
By the time he rejoined the two in the drawing-room—he had missed his after-dinner coffee in the long half-hour that he had spent shut into the guest room with the child—Jimmie and Gertrude had arrived, and the four sat grouped together to await his pronouncement.
"She thinks she has adenoids. She wants the doll that David left in that carpetbag of hers he forgot to take out of the 'Handsome cab.' She wants to be loved, and she wants to grow up and write poetry for the newspapers," he announced. "Also she will eat a piece of bread and butter and a glass of milk, as soon as it can conveniently be provided for her."
"When did you take holy orders, Gram?" Jimmie inquired. "How do you work the confessional? I wish I could make anybody give anything up to me, but I can't. Did you just go into that darkened chamber and say to the kid, 'Child of my adoption,—cough,' and she coughed, or are you the master of some subtler system of choking the truth out of 'em?"
"Anybody would tell anything to Peter if he happened to want to know it," Margaret said seriously. "Wouldn't they, Beulah?"
Beulah nodded. "She wants to be loved," Peter had said. It was so simple for some people to open their hearts and give out love,—easily, lightly. She was not made like that,—loving came hard with her, but when once she had given herself, it was done. Peter didn't know how hard she had tried to do right with the child that day.
"The doll is called the rabbit doll, though there is no reason why it should be, as it only looks the least tiny bit like a rabbit, and is a girl. Its other name is Gwendolyn, and it always goes to bed with her. Mrs. O'Farrels aunt said that children always stopped playing with dolls when they got to be as big as Eleanor, but she isn't never going to stop.—You must get after that double negative, Beulah.—She once wrote a poem beginning: 'The rabbit doll, it is my own.' She thinks that she has a frog-like expression of face, and that is why Beulah doesn't like her better. She is perfectly willing to have her adenoids cut out, if Beulah thinks it would improve her, but she doesn't want to 'take anything,' when she has it done."
"You are a wonder, Gram," Gertrude said admiringly.
"Oh! I have made a mess of it, haven't I?" Beulah said. "Is she homesick?"
"Yes, she's homesick," Peter said gravely, "but not for anything she's left in Colhassett. David told you the story, didn't he?—She is homesick for her own kind, for people she can really love, and she's never found any of them. Her grandfather and grandmother are old and decrepit. She feels a terrible responsibility for them, but she doesn't love them, not really. She's too hungry to love anybody until she finds the friends she can cling to—without compromise."
"An emotional aristocrat," Gertrude murmured. "It's the curse of taste."
"Help! Help!" Jimmie cried, grimacing at Gertrude. "Didn't she have any kids her own age to play with?"
"She had 'em, but she didn't have any time to play with them. You forget she was supporting a family all the time, Jimmie."
"By jove, I'd like to forget it."
"She had one friend named Albertina Weston that she used to run around with in school. Albertina also wrote poetry. They used to do poetic 'stunts' of one poem a day on some subject selected by Albertina. I think Albertina was a snob. She candidly admitted to Eleanor that if her clothes were more stylish, she would go round with her more. Eleanor seemed to think that was perfectly natural."
"How do you do it, Peter?" Jimmie besought. "If I could get one damsel, no matter how tender her years, to confide in me like that I'd be happy for life. It's nothing to you with those eyes, and that matinee forehead of yours; but I want 'em to weep down my neck, and I can't make 'em do it."
"Wait till you grow up, Jimmie, and then see what happens," Gertrude soothed him.
"Wait till it's your turn with our child," Margaret said. "In two months more she's coming to you."
"Do I ever forget it for a minute?" Jimmie cried.
"The point of the whole business is," Peter continued, "that we've got a human soul on our hands. We imported a kind of scientific plaything to exercise our spiritual muscle on, and we've got a real specimen of womanhood in embryo. I don't know whether the situation appalls you as much as it does me—" He broke off as he heard the bell ring.
"That's David, he said he was coming."
Then as David appeared laden with the lost carpetbag and a huge box of chocolates, he waved him to a chair, and took up his speech again. "I don't know whether the situation appalls you, as much as it does me—if I don't get this off my chest now, David, I can't do it at all—but the thought of that poor little waif in there and the struggle she's had, and the shy valiant spirit of her,—the sand that she's got, the sand that put her through and kept her mouth shut through experiences that might easily have killed her, why I feel as if I'd give anything I had in the world to make it up to her, and yet I'm not altogether sure that I could—that we could—that it's any of our business to try it."
"There's nobody else who will, if we don't," David said.
"That's it," Peter said, "I've never known any one of our bunch to quit anything that they once started in on, but just by way of formality there is one thing we ought to do about this proposition before we slide into it any further, and that is to agree that we want to go on with it, that we know what we're in for, and that we're game."
"We decided all that before we sent for the kid," Jimmie said, "didn't we?"
"We decided we'd adopt a child, but we didn't decide we'd adopt this one. Taking the responsibility of this one is the question before the house just at present."
"The idea being," David added, "that she's a fairly delicate piece of work, and as time advances she's going to be delicater."
"And that it's an awkward matter to play with souls," Beulah contributed; whereupon Jimmie murmured, "Browning," sotto voice.
"She may be all that you say, Gram," Jimmie said, after a few minutes of silence, "a thunderingly refined and high-minded young waif, but you will admit that without an interpreter of the same class, she hasn't been much good to us so far."
"Good lord, she isn't refined and high-minded," Peter said. "That's not the idea. She's simply supremely sensitive and full of the most pathetic possibilities. If we're going to undertake her we ought to realize fully what we're up against, and acknowledge it,—that's all I'm trying to say, and I apologize for assuming that it's more my business than anybody's to say it."
"That charming humility stuff, if I could only remember to pull it."
The sofa pillow that Gertrude aimed at Jimmie hit him full on the mouth and he busied himself pretending to eat it. Beulah scorned the interruption.
"Of course, we're going to undertake her," Beulah said. "We are signed up and it's all down in writing. If anybody has any objections, they can state them now." She looked about her dramatically. On every young face was reflected the same earnestness that set gravely on her own.
"The 'ayes' have it," Jimmie murmured. "From now on I become not only a parent, but a soul doctor." He rose, and tiptoed solemnly toward the door of Eleanor's room.
"Where are you going, Jimmie?" Beulah called, as he was disappearing around the bend in the corridor.
He turned back to lift an admonitory finger.
"Shush," he said, "do not interrupt me. I am going to wrap baby up in a blanket and bring her out to her mothers and fathers."
ELEANOR ENJOYS HERSELF IN HER OWN WAY
"I am in society here," Eleanor wrote to her friend Albertina, with a pardonable emphasis on that phase of her new existence that would appeal to the haughty ideals of Miss Weston, "I don't have to do any housework, or anything. I sleep under a pink silk bedquilt, and I have all new clothes. I have a new black pattern leather sailor hat that I sopose you would laugh at. It cost six dollars and draws the sun down to my head but I don't say anything. I have six aunts and uncles all diferent names and ages but grown up. Uncle Peter is the most elderly, he is twenty-five. I know becase we gave him a birthday party with a cake. I sat at the table. I wore my crape da shine dress. You would think that was pretty, well it is. There is a servant girl to do evry thing even passing your food to you on a tray. I wish you could come to visit me. I stay two months in a place and get broghut up there. Aunt Beulah is peculiar but nice when you know her. She is stric and at first I thought we was not going to get along. She thought I had adenoids and I thought she dislikt me too much, but it turned out not. I take lessons from her every morning like they give at Rogers College, not like publick school. I have to think what I want to do a good deal and then do it. At first she turned me loose to enjoy myself and I could not do it, but now we have disapline which makes it all right. My speling is weak, but uncle Peter says Stevanson could not spel and did not care. Stevanson was the poat who wrote the birdie with a yellow bill in the reader. I wish you would tel me if Grandma's eye is worse and what about Grandfather's rheumatism.
"Your fond friend, Eleanor.
"P. S. We have a silver organ in all the rooms to have heat in. I was afrayd of them at first."
* * * * *
In the letters to her grandparents, however, the undercurrent of anxiety about the old people, which was a ruling motive in her life, became apparent.
* * * * *
"Dear Grandma and Dear Grandpa," she wrote,
"I have been here a weak now. I inclose my salary, fifteen dollars ($15.00) which I hope you will like. I get it for doing evry thing I am told and being adoptid besides. You can tell the silectmen that I am rich now and can support you just as good as Uncle Amos. I want Grandpa to buy some heavy undershurts right of. He will get a couff if he doesn't do it. Tell him to rub your arm evry night before you go to bed, Grandma, and to have a hot soapstone for you. If you don't have your bed hot you will get newmonia and I can't come home to take care of you, becase my salary would stop. I like New York better now that I have lived here some. I miss seeing you around, and Grandpa.
"The cook cooks on a gas stove that is very funny. I asked her how it went and she showed me it. She is going to leve, but lucky thing the hired girl can cook till Aunt Beulah gets a nother cook as antyseptic as this cook. In Rogers College they teach ladies to have their cook's and hired girl's antyseptic. It is a good idear becase of sickness. I inclose a recipete for a good cake. You can make it sating down. You don't have to stir it much, and Grandpa can bring you the things. I will write soon. I hope you are all right. Let me hear that you are all right. Don't forget to put the cat out nights. I hope she is all right, but remember the time she stole the butter fish. I miss you, and I miss the cat around. Uncle David pays me my salary out of his own pocket, because he is the richest, but I like Uncle Peter the best. He is very handsome and we like to talk to each other the best. Goodbye, Eleanor."
* * * * *
But it was on the varicolored pages of a ruled tablet—with a picture on its cover of a pink cheeked young lady beneath a cherry tree, and marked in large straggling letters also varicolored "The Cherry Blossom Tablet"—that Eleanor put down her most sacred thoughts. On the outside, just above the cherry tree, her name was written with a pencil that had been many times wet to get the desired degree of blackness, "Eleanor Hamlin, Colhassett, Massachusetts. Private Dairy," and on the first page was this warning in the same painstaking, heavily shaded chirography, "This book is sacrid, and not be trespased in or read one word of. By order of owner. E. H."
It was the private diary and Gwendolyn, the rabbit doll, and a small blue china shepherdess given her by Albertina, that constituted Eleanor's lares et penates. When David had finally succeeded in tracing the ancient carpetbag in the lost and found department of the cab company, Eleanor was able to set up her household gods, and draw from them that measure of strength and security inseparable from their familiar presence. She always slept with two of the three beloved objects, and after Beulah had learned to understand and appreciate the child's need for unsupervised privacy, she divined that the little girl was happiest when she could devote at least an hour or two a day to the transcribing of earnest sentences on the pink, blue and yellow pages of the Cherry Blossom Tablet, and the mysterious games that she played with the rabbit doll. That these games consisted largely in making the rabbit doll impersonate Eleanor, while the child herself became in turn each one of the six uncles and aunts, and exhorted the victim accordingly, did not of course occur to Beulah. It did occur to her that the pink, blue and yellow pages would have made interesting reading to Eleanor's guardians, if they had been privileged to read all that was chronicled there.
* * * * *
"My aunt Beulah wears her hair to high of her forrid.
"My aunt Margaret wears her hair to slic on the sides.
"My aunt Gertrude wears her hair just about right.
"My aunt Margaret is the best looking, and has the nicest way.
"My aunt Gertrude is the funniest. I never laugh at what she says, but I have trouble not to. By thinking of Grandpa's rheumaticks I stop myself just in time. Aunt Beulah means all right, and wants to do right and have everybody else the same.
"Uncle David is not handsome, but good.
"Uncle Jimmie is not handsome, but his hair curls.
"Uncle Peter is the most handsome man that ere the sun shown on. That is poetry. He has beautiful teeth, and I like him.
"Yesterday the Wordsworth Club—that's what Uncle Jimmie calls us because he says we are seven—went to the Art Museum to edjucate me in art.
"Aunt Beulah wanted to take me to one room and keep me there until I asked to come out. Uncle Jimmie wanted to show me the statures. Uncle David said I ought to begin with the Ming period and work down to Art Newvoo. Aunts Gertrude and Margaret wanted to take me to the room of the great masters. While they were talking Uncle Peter and I went to see a picture that made me cry. I asked him who she was. He said that wasn't the important thing, that the important thing was that one man had nailed his dream. He didn't doubt that lots of other painters had, but this one meant the most to him. When I cried he said, 'You're all right, Baby. You know.' Then he reached down and kissed me."
* * * * *
As the month progressed, it seemed to Beulah that she was making distinct progress with the child. Since the evening when Peter had won Eleanor's confidence and explained her mental processes, her task had been illumined for her. She belonged to that class of women in whom maternity arouses late. She had not the facile sympathy which accepts a relationship without the endorsement of the understanding, and she was too young to have much toleration for that which was not perfectly clear to her.
She had started in with high courage to demonstrate the value of a sociological experiment. She hoped later, though these hopes she had so far kept to herself, to write, or at least to collaborate with some worthy educator, on a book which would serve as an exact guide to other philanthropically inclined groups who might wish to follow the example of cooperative adoption; but the first day of actual contact with her problem had chilled her. She had put nothing down in her note-book. She had made no scientific progress. There seemed to be no intellectual response in the child.
Peter had set all these things right for her. He had shown her the child's uncompromising integrity of spirit. The keynote of Beulah's nature was, as Jimmie said, that she "had to be shown." Peter pointed out the fact to her that Eleanor's slogan also was, "No compromise." As Eleanor became more familiar with her surroundings this spirit became more and more evident.
"I could let down the hem of these dresses, Aunt Beulah," she said one day, looking down at the long stretch of leg protruding from the chic blue frock that made her look like a Boutet de Monvil. "I can't hem very good, but my stitches don't show much."
"That dress isn't too short, dear. It's the way little girls always wear them. Do little girls on Cape Cod wear them longer?"
"Yes, Aunt Beulah."
"How long do they wear them?"
"Albertina," they had reached the point of discussion of Albertina now, and Beulah was proud of it, "wore her dresses to her ankles, be—because her—her legs was so fat. She said that mine was—were getting to be fat too, and it wasn't refined to wear short dresses, when your legs were fat."
"There are a good many conflicting ideas of refinement in the world, Eleanor," Beulah said.
"I've noticed there are, since I came to New York," Eleanor answered unexpectedly.
Beulah's academic spirit recognized and rejoiced in the fact that with all her docility, Eleanor held firmly to her preconceived notions. She continued to wear her dresses short, but when she was not actually on exhibition, she hid her long legs behind every available bit of furniture or drapery.
The one doubt left in her mind, of the child's initiative and executive ability, was destined to be dissipated by the rather heroic measures sometimes resorted to by a superior agency taking an ironic hand in the game of which we have been too inhumanly sure.
On the fifth week of Eleanor's stay Beulah became a real aunt, the cook left, and her own aunt and official chaperon, little Miss Prentis, was laid low with an attack of inflammatory rheumatism. Beulah's excitement on these various counts, combined with indiscretions in the matter of overshoes and overfatigue, made her an easy victim to a wandering grip germ. She opened her eyes one morning only to shut them with a groan of pain. There was an ache in her head and a thickening in her chest, the significance of which she knew only too well. She found herself unable to rise. She lifted a hoarse voice and called for Mary, the maid, who did not sleep in the house but was due every morning at seven. But the gentle knock on the door was followed by the entrance of Eleanor, not Mary.
"Mary didn't come, Aunt Beulah. I thought you was—were so tired, I'd let you have your sleep out. I heard Miss Prentis calling, and I made her some gruel, and I got my own breakfast."
"Oh! how dreadful," Beulah gasped in the face of this new calamity; "and I'm really so sick. I don't know what we'll do."
Eleanor regarded her gravely. Then she put a professional hand on her pulse and her forehead.
"You've got the grip," she announced.
"I'm afraid I have, Eleanor, and Doctor Martin's out of town, and won't be back till to-morrow when he comes to Aunt Ann. I don't know what we'll do."
"I'll tend to things," Eleanor said. "You lie still and close your eyes, and don't put your arms out of bed and get chilled."
"Well, you'll have to manage somehow," Beulah moaned; "how, I don't know, I'm sure. Give Aunt Annie her medicine and hot water bags, and just let me be. I'm too sick to care what happens."
After the door had closed on the child a dozen things occurred to Beulah that might have been done for her. She was vaguely faint for her breakfast. Her feet were cold. She thought of the soothing warmth of antiphlogistine when applied to the chest. She thought of the quinine on the shelf in the bathroom. Once more she tried lifting her head, but she could not accomplish a sitting posture. She shivered as a draft from the open window struck her.
"If I could only be taken in hand this morning," she thought, "I know it could be broken."
The door opened softly. Eleanor, in the cook's serviceable apron of gingham that would have easily contained another child the same size, swung the door open with one hand and held it to accommodate the passage of the big kitchen tray, deeply laden with a heterogeneous collection of objects. She pulled two chairs close to the bedside and deposited her burden upon them. Then she removed from the tray a goblet of some steaming fluid and offered it to Beulah.
"It's cream of wheat gruel," she said, and added ingratiatingly: "It tastes nice in a tumbler."
Beulah drank the hot decoction gratefully and found, to her surprise, that it was deliciously made.
Eleanor took the glass away from her and placed it on the tray, from which she took what looked to Beulah like a cloth covered omelet,—at any rate, it was a crescent shaped article slightly yellow in tone. Eleanor tested it with a finger.
"It's just about right," she said. Then she fixed Beulah with a stern eye. "Open your chest," she commanded, "and show me the spot where it's worst. I've made a meal poultice."
Beulah hesitated only a second, then she obeyed meekly. She had never seen a meal poultice before, but the heat on her afflicted chest was grateful to her. Antiphlogistine was only Denver mud anyhow. Meekly, also, she took the six grains of quinine and the weak dose of jamaica ginger and water that she was next offered. She felt encouraged and refreshed enough by this treatment to display some slight curiosity when the little girl produced a card of villainous looking safety-pins.
"I'm going to pin you in with these, Aunt Beulah," she said, "and then sweat your cold out of you."
"Indeed, you're not," Beulah said; "don't be absurd, Eleanor. The theory of the grip is—," but she was addressing merely the vanishing hem of cook's voluminous apron.
The child returned almost instantly with three objects of assorted sizes that Beulah could not identify. From the outside they looked like red flannel and from the way Eleanor handled them it was evident that they also were hot.
"I het—heated the flatirons," Eleanor explained, "the way I do for Grandma, and I'm going to spread 'em around you, after you're pinned in the blankets, and you got to lie there till you prespire, and prespire good."
"I won't do it," Beulah moaned, "I won't do any such thing. Go away, child."
"I cured Grandma and Grandpa and Mrs. O'Farrel's aunt that I worked for, and I'm going to cure you," Eleanor said.
Eleanor advanced on her threateningly.
"Put your arms under those covers," she said, "or I'll dash a glass of cold water in your face,"—and Beulah obeyed her.
Peter nodded wisely when Beulah, cured by these summary though obsolete methods, told the story in full detail. Gertrude had laughed until the invalid had enveloped herself in the last few shreds of her dignity and ordered her out of the room, and the others had been scarcely more sympathetic.
"I know that it's funny, Peter," she said, "but you see, I can't help worrying about it just the same. Of course, as soon as I was up she was just as respectful and obedient to my slightest wish as she ever was, but at the time, when she was lording it over me so, she—she actually slapped me. You never saw such a—blazingly determined little creature."
Peter smiled,—gently, as was Peter's way when any friend of his made an appeal to him.
"That's all right, Beulah," he said, "don't you let it disturb you for an instant. This manifestation had nothing to do with our experiment. Our experiment is working fine—better than I dreamed it would ever work. What happened to Eleanor, you know, was simply this. Some of the conditions of her experience were recreated suddenly, and she reverted."
JIMMIE BECOMES A PARENT
The entrance into the dining-room of the curly headed young man and his pretty little niece, who had a suite on the eighth floor, as the room clerk informed all inquirers, was always a matter of interest to the residents of the Hotel Winchester. They were an extremely picturesque pair to the eye seeking for romance and color. The child had the pure, clear cut features of the cameo type of New England maidenhood. She was always dressed in some striking combination of blue, deep blue like her eyes, with blue hair ribbons. Her good-looking young relative, with hair almost as near the color of the sun as her own, seemed to be entirely devoted to her, which, considering the charm of the child and the radiant and magnetic spirit of the young man himself, was a delightfully natural manifestation.
But one morning near the close of the second week of their stay, the usual radiation of resilient youth was conspicuously absent from the young man's demeanor, and the child's face reflected the gloom that sat so incongruously on the contour of an optimist. The little girl fumbled her menu card, but the waitress—the usual aging pedagogic type of the small residential hotel—stood unnoticed at the young man's elbow for some minutes before he was sufficiently aroused from his gloomy meditations to address her. When he turned to her at last, however, it was with the grin that she had grown to associate with him,—the grin, the absence of which had kept her waiting behind his chair with a patience that she was, except in a case where her affections were involved, entirely incapable of. Jimmie's protestations of inability to make headway with the ladies were not entirely sincere.
"Bring me everything on the menu," he said, with a wave of his hand in the direction of that painstaking pasteboard. "Coffee, tea, fruit, marmalade, breakfast food, ham and eggs. Bring my niece here the same. That's all." With another wave of the hand he dismissed her.
"You can't eat it all, Uncle Jimmie," Eleanor protested.
"I'll make a bet with you," Jimmie declared. "I'll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that if she brings it all, I'll eat it."
"Oh! Uncle Jimmie, you know she won't bring it. You never bet so I can get the dollar,—you never do."
"I never bet so I can get my doughnut, if it comes to that."
"I don't know where to buy any doughnuts," Eleanor said; "besides, Uncle Jimmie, I don't really consider that I owe them. I never really say that I'm betting, and you tell me I've lost before I've made up my mind anything about it."
"Speaking of doughnuts," Jimmie said, his face still wearing the look of dejection under a grin worn awry, "can you cook, Eleanor? Can you roast a steak, and saute baked beans, and stew sausages, and fry out a breakfast muffin? Does she look like a cook to you?" he suddenly demanded of the waitress, who was serving him, with an apologetic eye on the menu, the invariable toast-coffee-and-three-minute-egg breakfast that he had eaten every morning since his arrival.
The waitress smiled toothily. "She looks like a capable one," she pronounced.
"I can cook, Uncle Jimmie," Eleanor giggled, "but not the way you said. You don't roast steak, or—or—"
"Don't you?" Jimmie asked with the expression of pained surprise that never failed to make his ward wriggle with delight. There were links in the educational scheme that Jimmie forged better than any of the cooperative guardians. Not even Jimmie realized the value of the giggle as a developing factor in Eleanor's existence. He took three swallows of coffee and frowned into his cup. "I can make coffee," he added. "Good coffee. Well, we may as well look the facts in the face, Eleanor. The jig's up. We're moving away from this elegant hostelry to-morrow."
"Are we?" Eleanor asked.
"Yes, Kiddo. Apologies to Aunt Beulah (mustn't call you Kiddo) and the reason is, that I'm broke. I haven't got any money at all, Eleanor, and I don't know where I am going to get any. You see, it is this way. I lost my job six weeks ago."
"But you go to work every morning, Uncle Jimmie?"
"I leave the house, that is. I go looking for work, but so far no nice juicy job has come rolling down into my lap. I haven't told you this before because,—well—when Aunt Beulah comes down every day to give you your lessons I wanted it to look all O. K. I thought if you didn't know, you couldn't forget sometime and tell her."
"I don't tattle tale," Eleanor said.
"I know you don't, Eleanor. It's only my doggone pride that makes me want to keep up the bluff, but you're a game kid,—you—know. I tried to get you switched off to one of the others till I could get on my feet, but—no, they just thought I had stage fright. I couldn't insist. It would be pretty humiliating to me to admit that I couldn't support one-sixth of a child that I'd given my solemn oath to be-parent."
"Be-parent, if it isn't a word, I invent it. It's awfully tough luck for you, and if you want me to I'll own up to the crowd that I can't swing you, but if you are willing to stick, why, we'll fix up some kind of a way to cut down expenses and bluff it out."
Eleanor considered the prospect. Jimmie watched her apparent hesitation with some dismay.
"Say the word," he declared, "and I'll tell 'em."
"Oh! I don't want you to tell 'em," Eleanor cried. "I was just thinking. If you could get me a place, you know, I could go out to work. You don't eat very much for a man, and I might get my meals thrown in—"
"Don't, Eleanor, don't," Jimmie agonized. "I've got a scheme for us all right. This—this embarrassment is only temporary. The day will come when I can provide you with Pol Roge and diamonds. My father is rich, you know, but he swore to me that I couldn't support myself, and I swore to him that I could, and if I don't do it, I'm damned. I am really, and that isn't swearing."
"I know it isn't, when you mean it the way they say in the Bible."
"I don't want the crowd to know. I don't want Gertrude to know. She hasn't got much idea of me anyway. I'll get another job, if I can only hold out."
"I can go to work in a store," Eleanor cried. "I can be one of those little girls in black dresses that runs between counters."
"Do you want to break your poor Uncle James' heart, Eleanor,—do you?"
"No, Uncle Jimmie."
"Then listen to me. I've borrowed a studio, a large barnlike studio on Washington Square, suitably equipped with pots and pans and kettles. Also, I am going to borrow the wherewithal to keep us going. It isn't a bad kind of place if anybody likes it. There's one dinky little bedroom for you and a cot bed for me, choked in bagdad. If you could kind of engineer the cooking end of it, with me to do the dirty work, of course, I think we could be quite snug and cozy."
"I know we could, Uncle Jimmie," Eleanor said. "Will Uncle Peter come to see us just the same?"
It thus befell that on the fourteenth day of the third month of her residence in New York, Eleanor descended into Bohemia. Having no least suspicion of the real state of affairs—for Jimmie, like most apparently expansive people who are given to rattling nonsense, was actually very reticent about his own business—the other members of the sextette did not hesitate to show their chagrin and disapproval at the change in his manner of living.
"The Winchester was an ideal place for Eleanor," Beulah wailed. "It's deadly respectable and middle class, but it was just the kind of atmosphere for her to accustom herself to. She was learning to manage herself so prettily. This morning when I went to the studio—I wanted to get the lessons over early, and take Eleanor to see that exhibition of Bavarian dolls at Kuhner's—I found her washing up a trail of dishes in that closet behind the screen—you've seen it, Gertrude?—like some poor little scullery maid. She said that Jimmie had made an omelet for breakfast. If he'd made fifty omelets there couldn't have been a greater assortment of dirty dishes and kettles."
"Jimmie made an omelet for me once for which he used two dozen eggs. He kept breaking them until he found the yolks of a color to suit him. He said pale yolks made poor omelets, so he threw all the pale ones away."
"I suppose that you sat by and let him," Beulah said. "You would let Jimmie do anything. You're as bad as Margaret is about David."
"Or as bad as you are about Peter."
"There we go, just like any silly, brainless girls, whose chief object in life is the—the other sex," Beulah cried inconsistently. "Oh! I hate that kind of thing."
"So do I—in theory—" Gertrude answered, a little dreamily. "Where do Jimmie and Eleanor get the rest of their meals?"
"I can't seem to find out," Beulah said. "I asked Eleanor point-blank this morning what they had to eat last night and where they had it, and she said, 'That's a secret, Aunt Beulah.' When I asked her why it was a secret and who it was a secret with, she only looked worried, and said she guessed she wouldn't talk about it at all because that was the only way to be safe about tattling. You know what I think—I think Jimmie is taking her around to the cafes and all the shady extravagant restaurants. He thinks it's sport and it keeps him from getting bored with the child."
"Well, that's one way of educating the young," Gertrude said, "but I think you are wrong, Beulah."
ONE DESCENT INTO BOHEMIA
"Aunt Beulah does not think that Uncle Jimmie is bringing me up right," Eleanor confided to the pages of her diary. "She comes down here and is very uncomforterble. Well he is bringing me up good, in some ways better than she did. When he swears he always puts out his hand for me to slap him. He had enough to swear of. He can't get any work or earn wages. The advertisement business is on the bum this year becase times are so hard up. The advertisers have to save their money and advertising agents are failing right and left. So poor Uncle Jimmie can't get a place to work at.
"The people in the other studios are very neighborly. Uncle Jimmie leaves a sine on the door when he goes out. It says 'Don't Knock.' They don't they come right in and borrow things. Uncle Jimmie says not to have much to do with them, becase they are so queer, but when I am not at home, the ladies come to call on him, and drink Moxie or something. I know becase once I caught them. Uncle Jimmie says I shall not have Behemiar thrust upon me by him, and to keep away from these ladies until I grow up and then see if I like them. Aunt Beulah thinks that Uncle Jimmie takes me around to other studios and I won't tell but he does not take me anywhere except to walk and have ice-cream soda, but I say I don't want it because of saving the ten cents. We cook on an old gas stove that smells. I can't do very good housekeeping becase things are not convenient. I haven't any oven to do a Saturday baking in, and Uncle Jimmie won't let me do the washing. I should feel more as if I earned my keap if I baked beans and made boiled dinners and layer cake, but in New York they don't eat much but hearty food and saluds. It isn't stylish to have cake and pie and pudding all at one meal. Poor Grandpa would starve. He eats pie for his breakfast, but if I told anybody they would laugh. If I wrote Albertina what folks eat in New York she would laugh.
"Uncle Jimmie is teaching me to like salud. He laughs when I cut up lettice and put sugar on it. He teaches me to like olives and dried up sausages and sour crought. He says it is important to be edjucated in eating, and everytime we go to the Delicate Essenn store to buy something that will edjucate me better. He teaches me to say 'I beg your pardon,' and 'Polly vous Fransay?' and to courtesy and how to enter a room the way you do in private theatricals. He says it isn't knowing these things so much as knowing when you do them that counts, and then Aunt Beulah complains that I am not being brought up.
"I have not seen Uncle Peter for a weak. He said he was going away. I miss him. I would not have to tell him how I was being brought up, and whether I was hitting the white lights as Uncle Jimmie says.—He would know."
* * * * *
Eleanor did not write Albertina during the time when she was living in the studio. Some curious inversion of pride kept her silent on the subject of the change in her life. Albertina would have turned up her nose at the studio, Eleanor knew. Therefore, she would not so much as address an envelope to that young lady from an interior which she would have beheld with scorn. She held long conversations with Gwendolyn, taking the part of Albertina, on the subject of this snobbishness of attitude.
* * * * *
"Lots of people in New York have to live in little teny, weeny rooms, Albertina," she would say. "Rents are perfectly awful here. This studio is so big I get tired dusting all the way round it, and even if it isn't furnished very much, why, think how much furnishing would cost, and carpets and gold frames for the pictures! The pictures that are in here already, without any frames, would sell for hundreds of dollars apiece if the painter could get anybody to buy them. You ought to be very thankful for such a place, Albertina, instead of feeling so stuck up that you pick up your skirts from it."
* * * * *
But Albertina's superiority of mind was impregnable. Her spirit sat in judgment on all the conditions of Eleanor's new environment. She seemed to criticize everything. She hated the nicked, dun colored dishes they ate from, and the black bottomed pots and pans that all the energy of Eleanor's energetic little elbow could not restore to decency again. She hated the cracked, dun colored walls, and the mottled floor that no amount of sweeping and dusting seemed to make an impression on. She hated the compromise of housekeeping in an attic,—she who had been bred in an atmosphere of shining nickle-plated ranges and linoleum, where even the kitchen pump gleamed brightly under its annual coat of good green paint. She hated the compromise, that was the burden of her complaint—either in the person of Albertina or Gwendolyn, whether she lay in the crook of Eleanor's arm in the lumpy bed where she reposed at the end of the day's labor, or whether she sat bolt upright on the lumpy cot in the studio, the broken bisque arm, which Jimmie insisted on her wearing in a sling whenever he was present, dangling limply at her side in the relaxation Eleanor preferred for it.
The fact of not having adequate opportunity to keep her house in order troubled the child, for her days were zealously planned by her enthusiastic guardians. Beulah came at ten o'clock every morning to give her lessons. As Jimmie's quest for work grew into a more and more disheartening adventure, she had difficulty in getting him out of bed in time to prepare and clear away the breakfast for Beulah's arrival. After lunch, to which Jimmie scrupulously came home, she was supposed to work an hour at her modeling clay. Gertrude, who was doing very promising work at the art league, came to the studio twice a week to give her instruction in handling it. Later in the afternoon one of the aunts or uncles usually appeared with some scheme to divert her. Margaret was telling her the stories of the Shakespeare plays, and David was trying to make a card player of her, but was not succeeding as well as if Albertina had not been brought up a hard shell Baptist, who thought card playing a device of the devil's. Peter alone did not come, for even when he was in town he was busy in the afternoon.
As soon as her guests were gone, Eleanor hurried through such housewifely tasks as were possible of accomplishment at that hour, but the strain was telling on her. Jimmie began to realize this and it added to his own distress. One night to save her the labor of preparing the meal, he took her to an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood where the food was honest and palatable, and the service at least deft and clean.
Eleanor enjoyed the experience extremely, until an incident occurred which robbed her evening of its sweetness and plunged her into the purgatory of the child who has inadvertently broken one of its own laws.
Among the belongings in the carpetbag, which was no more—having been supplanted by a smart little suit-case marked with her initials—was a certificate from the Massachusetts Total Abstinence Society, duly signed by herself, and witnessed by the grammar-school teacher and the secretary of the organization. On this certificate (which was decorated by many presentations in dim black and white of mid-Victorian domestic life, and surmounted by a collection of scalloped clouds in which drifted three amateur looking angels amid a crowd of more professional cherubim) Eleanor had pledged herself to abstain from the use as a beverage of all intoxicating drinks, and from the manufacture or traffic in them. She had also subscribed herself as willing to make direct and persevering efforts to extend the principles and blessings of total abstinence.
"Red ink, Andrea," her Uncle Jimmie had demanded, as the black-eyed waiter bent over him, "and ginger ale for the offspring." Eleanor giggled. It was fun to be with Uncle Jimmie in a restaurant again. He always called for something new and unexpected when he spoke of her to the waiter, and he was always what Albertina would consider "very comical" when he talked to him. "But stay," he added holding up an admonitory finger, "I think we'll give the little one eau rougie this time. Wouldn't you like eau rougie, tinted water, Eleanor, the way the French children drink it?"
Unsuspectingly she sipped the mixture of water and ice and sugar, and "red ink" from the big brown glass bottle that the glowing waiter set before them.
As the meal progressed Jimmie told her that the grated cheese was sawdust and almost made her believe it. He showed her how to eat spaghetti without cutting it and pointed out to her various Italian examples of his object lesson; but she soon realized that in spite of his efforts to entertain her, he was really very unhappy.
"I've borrowed all the money I can, Angelface," he confessed finally. "Tomorrow's the last day of grace. If I don't land that job at the Perkins agency I'll have to give in and tell Peter and David, or wire Dad."
"You could get some other kind of a job," Eleanor said; "plumbing or clerking or something." On Cape Cod the plumber and the grocer's clerk lost no caste because of their calling. "Couldn't you?"
"I could so demean myself, and I will. I'll be a chauffeur, I can run a car all right; but the fact remains that by to-morrow something's got to happen, or I've got to own up to the bunch."
Eleanor's heart sank. She tried hard to think of something to comfort him but she could not. Jimmie mixed her more eau rougie and she drank it. He poured a full glass, undiluted, for himself, and held it up to the light.
"Well, here's to crime, daughter," he said. "Long may it wave, and us with it."
"That isn't really red ink, is it?" she asked. "It's an awfully pretty color—like grape juice."
"It is grape juice, my child, if we don't inquire too closely into the matter. The Italians are like the French in the guide book, 'fond of dancing and light wines.' This is one of the light wines they are fond of.—Hello, do you feel sick, child? You're white as a ghost. It's the air. As soon as I can get hold of that sacrificed waiter we'll get out of here."
Eleanor's sickness was of the spirit, but at the moment she was incapable of telling him so, incapable of any sort of speech. A great wave of faintness encompassed her. She had broken her pledge. She had lightly encouraged a departure from the blessings and principles of total abstinence.
That night in her bed she made a long and impassioned apology to her Maker for the sin of intemperance into which she had been so unwittingly betrayed. She promised Him that she would never drink anything that came out of a bottle again. She reviewed sorrowfully her many arguments with Albertina—Albertina in the flesh that is—on the subject of bottled drinks in general, and decided that again that virtuous child was right in her condemnation of any drink, however harmless in appearance or nomenclature, that bore the stigma of a bottled label.
She knew, however, that something more than a prayer for forgiveness was required of her. She was pledged to protest against the evil that she had seemingly countenanced. She could not seek the sleep of the innocent until that reparation was made. Through the crack of her sagging door she saw the light from Jimmie's reading lamp and knew that he was still dressed, or clothed at least, with a sufficient regard for the conventionalities to permit her intrusion. She rose and rebraided her hair and tied a daytime ribbon on it. Then she put on her stockings and her blue Japanese kimono—real Japanese, as Aunt Beulah explained, made for a Japanese lady of quality—and made her way into the studio.
Jimmie was not sitting in the one comfortable studio chair with his book under the light and his feet on the bamboo tea table as usual. He was not sitting up at all. He was flung on the couch with his face buried in the cushions, and his shoulders were shaking. Eleanor seeing him thus, forgot her righteous purpose, forgot her pledge to disseminate the principles and blessings of abstinence, forgot everything but the pitiful spectacle of her gallant Uncle Jimmie in grief. She stood looking down at him without quite the courage to kneel at his side to give him comfort.
"Uncle Jimmie," she said, "Uncle Jimmie."
At the sound of her voice he put out his hand to her, gropingly, but he did not uncover his face or shift his position. She found herself smoothing his hair, gingerly at first, but with more and more conviction as he snuggled his boyish head closer.
"I'm awfully discouraged," he said in a weak muffled voice. "I'm sorry you caught me at it, Baby."
Eleanor put her face down close to his as he turned it to her.
"Everything will be all right," she promised him, "everything will be all right. You'll soon get a job—tomorrow maybe."
Then she gathered him close in her angular, tense little arms and held him there tightly. "Everything will be all right," she repeated soothingly; "now you just put your head here, and have your cry out."
THE TEN HUTCHINSONS
"My Aunt Margaret has a great many people living in her family," Eleanor wrote to Albertina from her new address on Morningside Heights. "She has a mother and a father, and two (2) grandparents, one (1) aunt, one (1) brother, one (1) married lady and the boy of the lady, I think the married lady is a sister but I do not ask any one, oh—and another brother, who does not live here only on Saturdays and Sundays. Aunt Margaret makes ten, and they have a man to wait on the table. His name is a butler. I guess you have read about them in stories. I am taken right in to be one of the family, and I have a good time every day now. Aunt Margaret's father is a college teacher, and Aunt Margaret's grandfather looks like the father of his country. You know who I mean George Washington. They have a piano here that plays itself like a sewing machine. They let me do it. They have after-dinner coffee and gold spoons to it. I guess you would like to see a gold spoon. I did. They are about the size of the tin spoons we had in our playhouse. I have a lot of fun with that boy too. At first I thought he was very affected, but that is just the way they teach him to talk. He is nine and plays tricks on other people. He dares me to do things that I don't do, like go down-stairs and steal sugar. If Aunt Margaret's mother was my grandma I might steal sugar or plum cake. I don't know. Remember the time we took your mother's hermits? I do. I would like to see you. You would think this house was quite a grand house. It has three (3) flights of stairs and one basement. I sleep on the top floor in a dressing room out of Aunt Margaret's only it isn't a dressing room. I dress there but no one else can. Aunt Margaret is pretty and sings lovely. Uncle David comes here a lot. I must close. With love and kisses."