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"Thank God!" he cried, and dropped into a chair. "This is no place for children," he said severely, "and I have come to take her home. I want the boys, too," he added hastily before I had a chance to speak. "My wife and I have talked it over, and we have decided that since we are going to the trouble of starting a nursery, we might as well run it for three as for one."
I led him up to my library, where our little family has been domiciled since the fire, and ten minutes later, when I was called down to confer with the trustees, I left J. F. Bretland with his new daughter on his knee and a son leaning against each arm, the proudest father in the United States.
So, you see, our fire has accomplished one thing: those three children are settled for life. It is almost worth the loss.
But I don't believe I told you how the fire started. There are so many things I have n't told you that my arm aches at the thought of writing them all. Sterry, we have since discovered, was spending the week-end as our guest. After a bibulous evening passed at "Jack's Place," he returned to our carriage-house, climbed in through a window, lighted a candle, made himself comfortable, and dropped asleep. He must have forgotten to put out the candle; anyway, the fire happened, and Sterry just escaped with his life. He is now in the town hospital, bathed in sweetoil, and painfully regretting his share in our troubles.
I am pleased to learn that our insurance was pretty adequate, so the money loss won't be so tremendous, after all. As for other kinds of loss, there are n't any. Actually, nothing but gain so far as I can
make out, barring, of course, our poor smashed-up doctor. Everybody has been wonderful; I did n't know that so much charity and kindness existed in the human Did I ever say anything against trustees? I take it back. Four of them posted up from New York the morning after the fire, and all of the local people have been wonderful. Even the Hon. Cy has been so occupied in remaking the morals of the five orphans quartered upon him that he has n't caused any trouble at all.
The fire occurred early Saturday morning, and Sunday the ministers in all the churches called for volunteers to accept in their houses one or two children as guests for three weeks, until the asylum could get its plant into working order again.
It was inspiring to see the response. Every child was disposed of within half an hour. And consider what that means for the future: every one of those families is going to take a personal interest in this asylum from now on. Also, consider what it means for the children. They are finding out how a real family lives, and this is the first time that dozens of them have ever crossed the threshold of a private house.
As for more permanent plans to take us through the winter, listen to all this. The country club has a caddies' club-house which they don't use in winter and which they have politely put at our disposal. It joins our land on the back, and we are fitting it up for fourteen children, with Miss Matthews in charge. Our diningroom and kitchen still being intact, they will come here for meals and school, returning home at night all the better for half a mile walk. "The Pavilion on the Links" we are calling it.
Then that nice motherly Mrs. Wilson, next door to the doctor's, -she who has been so efficient with our little Loretta,has agreed to take in five more at four dollars a week each. I am leaving with her some of the most promising older girls who have shown housekeeping instincts, and would like to learn cooking on a decently small scale. Mrs. Wilson and
her husband are such a wonderful couple, thrifty and industrious and simple and loving, I think it would do the girls good to observe them. A training class in wifehood!
I told you about the Knowltop people on the east of us, who took in fortyseven youngsters the night of the fire, and how their entire house-party turned themselves into emergency nurse-maids? We relieved them of thirty-six the next day, but they still have eleven. Did I ever call Mr. Knowltop a crusty old curmudgeon? I take it back. I beg his pardon. He's a sweet lamb. Now, in the time of our need, what do you think that blessed man has done? He has fitted up an empty tenant house on the estate for our babies, has himself engaged an English trained baby-nurse to take charge,. and furnishes them with the superior milk from his own model dairy. He says he has been wondering for years what to do with that milk. He can't afford to sell it, because he loses four cents on every quart!
The twelve older girls from dormitory A I am putting into the farmer's new cottage; the poor Turnfelts, who had occupied it just two days, are being shoved on into the village. But they would n't be any good in looking after the children, and I need their room. Three or four of these girls have been returned from foster-homes as intractable, and they require pretty efficient supervision. So what do you think I've done? Telegraphed to Helen Brooks to chuck the publishers and You take charge of my girls instead. know she will be wonderful with them. She accepted provisionally. Poor Helen has had enough of this irrevocable contract business; she wants everything in life to be on trial!
For the older boys something particularly nice has happened; we have received a gift of gratitude from J. F. Bretland. He went down to thank the doctor for Allegra; they had a long talk about the needs of the institution, and J. F. B. came back and gave me a check for $3000 to build the Indian camps on a substantial
scale. He and Percy and the village architect have drawn up plans, and in two weeks, we hope, the tribes will move into winter quarters.
What does it matter if my one hundred and seven children have been burned out, since they live in such a kind-hearted world as this?
I suppose you are wondering why I don't vouchsafe some details about the doctor's condition. I can't give any firsthand information, since he won't see me. However, he has seen everybody except me-Betsy, Allegra, Mrs. Livermore, Mr. Bretland, Percy, various trustees; they all report that he is progressing as comfortably as could be expected with two broken ribs and a fractured fibula. That, I believe, is the professional name. of the particular leg bone he broke. He does n't like to have a fuss made over him, and he won't pose gracefully as a hero. I myself, as grateful head of this institution, called on several different occasions to present my official thanks, but I was invariably met at the door with word that he was sleeping and did not wish to be disturbed. The first two times I believed Mrs. McGurk; after that-well, I know our doctor! So when it came time to send our little maid to prattle her unconscious good-bys to the man who had saved her life, I despatched her in charge. of Betsy.
I have n't an idea what is the matter with the man. He was friendly enough. last week, but now, if I want an opinion from him, I have to send Percy to extract it. I do think that he might see me as the superintendent of the asylum, even if he does n't wish our acquaintance to be on a personal basis. There is no doubt about it, our Sandy is Scotch!
It is going to require a fortune in stamps to get this letter to Jamaica, but I do want you to know all the news, and we have never had so many exhilarating things happen since 1876, when we were
founded. This fire has given us such a shock that we are going to be more alive for years to come. I believe that every institution ought to be burned to the ground every twenty-five years in order to get rid of old-fashioned equipment and obsolete ideas. I am superlatively glad now that we did n't spend Jervis's money last summer; it would have been intensively tragic to have had that burn. I don't mind so much about John Grier's, since he made it in a patent medicine which, I hear, contained opium.
As to the remnant of us that the fire left behind, it is already boarded up and covered with tar-paper, and we are living along quite comfortably in our portion of a house. It affords sufficient room for the staff and the children's dining-room and kitchen, and more permanent plans can be made later.
Do you perceive what has happened to us? The good Lord has heard my prayer, and the John Grier Home is a cottage institution!
I am, The busiest person north of the equator, S. MCBRIDE.
John Grier Home, January 16. Dear Gordon:
Please, please behave yourself, and don't make things harder than they are. It's absolutely out of the question for me to give up the asylum this instant. You ought to realize that I can't abandon my chicks just when they are so terribly in need of me. Neither am I ready to drop this blasted philanthropy. (You can see how your language looks in my handwriting!)
You have no cause to worry. I am not overworking. I am enjoying it; never was so busy and happy in my life. The papers made the fire out much more lurid than it really was. That picture of me leaping from the roof with a baby under each arm was overdrawn. One or two of the children have sore throats, and our poor doctor is in a plaster cast; but we 're all alive, thank Heaven! and are going to pull through without permanent scars.
Helen Brooks is taking hold of those fourteen fractious girls in a most masterly fashion. The job is quite the toughest I had to offer, and she likes it. I think she is going to be a valuable addition to our staff.
And I forgot to tell you about Punch. When the fire occurred, those two nice women who kept him all summer were on the point of catching a train for California, and they simply tucked him under their arms, along with their luggage, and carried him off. So Punch spends the winter in Pasadena, and I rather fancy he is theirs for good. Do you wonder that I am in an exalted mood over all these happenings?
Poor bereaved Percy has just been spending the evening with me, because I am supposed to understand his troubles. Why must I be supposed to understand everybody's troubles? It's awfully wearing to be pouring out sympathy from an empty heart. The poor boy at present is pretty low, but I rather suspect-with Betsy's aid that he will pull through. He is just on the edge of falling in love with Betsy, but he does n't know it. He's in the stage now where he 's sort of enjoying his troubles; he feels himself a tragic hero, a man who has suffered deeply. But I notice that when Betsy is about, he offers cheerful assistance in whatever work is toward.
Gordon telegraphed to-day that he is coming to-morrow. I am dreading the interview, for I know we are going to have an altercation. He wrote the day after the fire and begged me to "chuck the
asylum" and get married immediately, and now he 's coming to argue it out. I can't make him understand that a job involving the happiness of one hundred or so children can't be chucked with such charming insouciance. I tried my best to keep him away, but, like the rest of his sex, he 's stubborn. Oh dear, I don't know what's ahead of us! I wish I could glance into next year for a moment.
The doctor is still in his plaster cast, but I hear is doing well after a grumbly fashion. He is able to sit up a little every day and to receive a carefully selected list of visitors. Mrs. McGurk sorts them out at the door, and repudiates the ones she does n't like.
Good-by. I'd write some more, but I'm so sleepy that my eyes are shutting on me. (The idiom is Sadie Kate's.) I must go to bed and get some sleep against the one hundred and seven troubles of to
This letter has nothing to do with the John Grier Home. It's merely from Sallie McBride.
Do you remember when we read Huxley's letters our senior year? That book contained a phrase which has stuck in my memory ever since. "There is always a Cape Horn in one's life that one either weathers or wrecks oneself on." It 's terribly true; and the trouble is that you can't always recognize your Cape Horn when you see it. The sailing is sometimes pretty foggy, and you 're wrecked before you know it.
I've been realizing of late that I have reached the Cape Horn of my own life. I entered upon my engagement to Gordon honestly and hopefully, but little by little I've grown doubtful of the outcome. The girl he loves is not the me I want to be. It 's the me I've been trying to grow away from all this last year. I'm not sure she ever really existed. Gordon just imagined she did. Anyway,
she does n't exist any more, and the only fair course both to him and to myself was to end it.
We no longer have any interests in common; we are not friends. He does n't comprehend it; he thinks that I am making it up, that all I have to do is to take an interest in his life, and everything will turn out happily. Of course I do take an interest when he 's with me. I talk about the things he wants to talk about, and he does n't know that there's a whole part of me- -the biggest part of me-that simply does n't meet him at any point. I pretend when I am with him. I am not myself, and if we were to live together in constant daily intercourse, I'd have to keep on pretending all my life. He wants me to watch his face and smile when he smiles and frown when he frowns. He can't realize that I'm an individual being just as much as he is.
I have social accomplishments. I dress well, I'm spectacular, I would be an ideal hostess in a politician's household—and that 's why he likes me.
Anyway, I suddenly saw with awful distinctness that if I kept on I'd be in a few years where Helen Brooks is. She's a far better model of married life for me to contemplate just this moment than you, dear Judy. I think that such a spectacle as you and Jervis are a menace to society. You look so happy and peaceful and companionable that you induce a defenseless on-looker to rush off and snap up the first man she meets-and he 's always the wrong man.
Anyway, Gordon and I have quarreled definitely and finally. I should rather have ended without a quarrel, but considering his temperament,-and mine, too, I must confess, we had to go off in a big smoky explosion. He came yesterday afternoon, after I 'd written him not to come, and we went walking over Knowltop. For three and a half hours we paced back and forth over that windy moor and discussed ourselves to the bottommost recesses of our beings. No one can ever say the break came through misunderstanding each other!
It ended by Gordon's going, never to return. As I stood there at the end and watched him drop out of sight over the brow of the hill, and realized that I was free and alone and my own master, well, Judy, such a sense of joyous relief, of freedom, swept over me! I can't tell you; I don't believe any happily married person could ever realize how wonderfully, beautifully alone I felt. I wanted to throw my arms out and embrace the whole waiting world that belonged suddenly to me. Oh, it is such a relief to have it settled! I faced the truth the night of the fire when I saw the old John Grier go, and realized that a new John Grier would be built in its place and that I would n't be here to do it. A horrible jealousy clutched at my heart. I could n't give it up, and during those agonizing moments while I thought we had lost our doctor, I realized what his life meant, and how much more significant than Gordon's. And I knew then that I could n't desert him; I had to go on and carry out all of the plans we made together.
I don't seem to be telling you anything but a mess of words, I am so full of such a mess of crowding emotions; I want to talk and talk and talk myself into coherence. But, anyway, I stood alone in the winter twilight, and I took a deep breath of clear cold air, and I felt beautifully, wonderfully, electrically free; and then I ran and leaped and skipped down the hill and across the pastures toward our iron confines, and I sang to myself. Oh, it was a scandalous proceeding, when, according to all precedent, I should have gone trailing home with a broken wing. I never gave one thought to poor Gordon, who was carrying a broken, bruised, betrayed heart to the railroad station.
As I entered the house I was greeted by the joyous clatter of the children trooping to their supper. They were suddenly mine, and lately, as my doom became more and more imminent, they had seemed fading away into little strangers. I seized the three nearest and hugged them hard. I have suddenly found such new life and exuberance, I feel as though I had been
released from prison and were free. I feel,-oh, I'll stop,-I just want you to know the truth. Don't show Jervis this letter, but tell him what 's in it in a decently subdued and mournful fashion.
It 's midnight now, and I 'm going to try to go to sleep. It 's wonderful not to be going to marry some one you don't want to marry. I'm glad of all these children's needs, I'm glad of Helen Brooks, and, yes, of the fire, and everything that has made me see clearly. There's never been a divorce in my family, and they would have hated it.
I know I'm horribly egotistical and selfish; I ought to be thinking of poor Gordon's broken heart. But really it would just be a pose if I pretended to be very sorrowful. He 'll find some one else with just as conspicuous hair as mine, who will make just as effective a hostess, and who won't be bothered by any of these damned modern ideas about public service and woman's mission and all the rest of the tomfoolery the modern generation of women is addicted to. (I paraphrase, and soften our young man's heartbroken utterances.)
Good-by, dear people. How I wish I could stand with you on your beach and look across the blue, blue sea! I salute the Spanish main.
I wonder if this note will be so fortunate as to find you awake? Perhaps you are not aware that I have called four times to offer thanks and consolation in my best bedside manner? I am touched by the news that Mrs. McGurk's time is entirely occupied in taking in flowers and jelly and chicken broth, given by the adoring ladies of the parish to the ungracious hero in a plaster cast. I know that you find a cap of homespun more comfortable than a halo, but I really do think that you might have regarded me in a different light from the hysterical ladies