Daddy Long-Legs: A Comedy in Four Acts
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WHEN PATTY WENT TO COLLEGE, ETC.
BY THE AUTHOR
AND SCENES FROM THE PLAY
GROSSET & DUNLAP
Copyright, 1912, by
The Century Co.
The Curtis Publishing Company
Published October, 1912
The first Wednesdayin every month was a Perfectly Awful Day—a day to be awaited withdread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste. Every floor mustbe spotless, every chair dustless, and every bed without a wrinkle.Ninety-seven squirming little orphans must be scrubbed and combed andbuttoned into freshly starched ginghams; and all ninety-seven remindedof their manners, and told to say, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” whenever aTrustee spoke.
It was a distressing time; and poor Jerusha Abbott, being the oldestorphan, had to bear the brunt of it. But this particular firstWednesday, like its predecessors,4finally dragged itself to a close. Jerusha escaped from the pantry whereshe had been making sandwiches for the asylum’s guests, and turnedupstairs to accomplish her regular work. Her special care wasroom F, where eleven little tots, from four to seven, occupiedeleven little cots set in a row. Jerusha assembled her charges,straightened their rumpled frocks, wiped their noses, and started themin an orderly and willing line toward the dining-room to engagethemselves for a blessed half hour with bread and milk and prunepudding.
Then she dropped down on the window seat and leaned throbbing templesagainst the cool glass. She had been on her feet since five thatmorning, doing everybody’s bidding, scolded and hurried by a nervousmatron. Mrs. Lippett, behind the scenes, did not always maintain thatcalm and pompous dignity with which she faced an5audience of Trustees and lady visitors. Jerusha gazed out across a broadstretch of frozen lawn, beyond the tall iron paling that marked theconfines of the asylum, down undulating ridges sprinkled with countryestates, to the spires of the village rising from the midst of baretrees.
The day was ended—quite successfully, so far as she knew. TheTrustees and the visiting committee had made their rounds, and readtheir reports, and drunk their tea, and now were hurrying home to theirown cheerful firesides, to forget their bothersome little charges foranother month. Jerusha leaned forward watching with curiosity—anda touch of wistfulness—the stream of carriages and automobilesthat rolled out of the asylum gates. In imagination she followed firstone equipage then another to the big houses dotted along the hillside.She pictured herself in a fur coat and a velvet hat trimmed withfeathers6leaning back in the seat and nonchalantly murmuring “Home” to thedriver. But on the door-sill of her home the picture grew blurred.
Jerusha had an imagination—an imagination, Mrs. Lippett toldher, that would get her into trouble if she did n’t takecare—but keen as it was, it could not carry her beyond the frontporch of the houses she would enter. Poor, eager, adventurous littleJerusha, in all her seventeen years, had never stepped inside anordinary house; she could not picture the daily routine of those otherhuman beings who carried on their lives undiscommoded by orphans.
You are wan-ted
In the of-fice,
And I think you ’d
Better hurry up!
Tommy Dillon who had joined the choir, came singing up the stairs anddown7the corridor, his chant growing louder as he approached room F. Jerushawrenched herself from the window and refaced the troubles of life.
“Who wants me?” she cut into Tommy’s chant with a note of sharpanxiety.
Mrs. Lippett in the office,
And I think she ’s mad.
Tommy piously intoned, but his accent was not entirely malicious.Even the most hardened little orphan felt sympathy for an erring sisterwho was summoned to the office to face an annoyed matron; and Tommyliked Jerusha even if she did sometimes jerk him by the arm and nearlyscrub his nose off.
Jerusha went without comment, but with two parallel lines on herbrow. What could have gone wrong, she wondered. Were the sandwiches notthin enough? Were there shells in the nut cakes? Had8a lady visitor seen the hole in Susie Hawthorn’s stocking?Had—O horrors!—one of the cherubic little babes in herown room F “sassed” a Trustee?
The long lower hall had not been lighted, and as she came downstairs,a last Trustee stood, on the point of departure, in the open doorthat led to the porte-cochère. Jerusha caught only a fleeting impressionof the man—and the impression consisted entirely of tallness. Hewas waving his arm toward an automobile waiting in the curved drive. Asit sprang into motion and approached, head on for an instant, theglaring headlights threw his shadow sharply against the wall inside. Theshadow pictured grotesquely elongated legs and arms that ran along thefloor and up the wall of the corridor. It looked, for all the world,like a huge, wavering daddy-long-legs.
Jerusha’s anxious frown gave place to quick laughter. She was bynature a sunny9soul, and had always snatched the tiniest excuse to be amused. If onecould derive any sort of entertainment out of the oppressive fact of aTrustee, it was something unexpected to the good. She advanced to theoffice quite cheered by the tiny episode, and presented a smiling faceto Mrs. Lippett. To her surprise the matron was also, if not exactlysmiling, at least appreciably affable; she wore an expression almost aspleasant as the one she donned for visitors.
“Sit down, Jerusha, I have something to say to you.”
Jerusha dropped into the nearest chair and waited with a touch ofbreathlessness. An automobile flashed past the window; Mrs. Lippettglanced after it.
“Did you notice the gentleman who has just gone?”
“I saw his back.”
“He is one of our most affluential Trustees, and has given large sumsof money toward the asylum’s support. I am10not at liberty to mention his name; he expressly stipulated that he wasto remain unknown.”
Jerusha’s eyes widened slightly; she was not accustomed to beingsummoned to the office to discuss the eccentricities of Trustees withthe matron.
“This gentleman has taken an interest in several of our boys. Youremember Charles Benton and Henry Freize? They were both sent throughcollege by Mr.—er—this Trustee, and both have repaid withhard work and success the money that was so generously expended. Otherpayment the gentleman does not wish. Heretofore his philanthropies havebeen directed solely toward the boys; I have never been able tointerest him in the slightest degree in any of the girls in theinstitution, no matter how deserving. He does not, I may tell you,care for girls.”
“No, ma’am,” Jerusha murmured, since11some reply seemed to be expected at this point.
“To-day at the regular meeting, the question of your future wasbrought up.”
Mrs. Lippett allowed a moment of silence to fall, then resumed in aslow, placid manner extremely trying to her hearer’s suddenly tightenednerves.
“Usually, as you know, the children are not kept after they aresixteen, but an exception was made in your case. You had finished ourschool at fourteen, and having done so well in your studies—notalways, I must say, in your conduct—it was determined to letyou go on in the village high school. Now you are finishing that, and ofcourse the asylum cannot be responsible any longer for your support. Asit is, you have had two years more than most.”
Mrs. Lippett overlooked the fact that Jerusha had worked hard for herboard12during those two years, that the convenience of the asylum had comefirst and her education second; that on days like the present she waskept at home to scrub.
“As I say, the question of your future was brought up and your recordwas discussed—thoroughly discussed.”
Mrs. Lippett brought accusing eyes to bear upon the prisoner in thedock, and the prisoner looked guilty because it seemed to beexpected—not because she could remember any strikingly black pagesin her record.
“Of course the usual disposition of one in your place would be to putyou in a position where you could begin to work, but you have done wellin school in certain branches; it seems that your work in English haseven been brilliant. Miss Pritchard who is on our visiting committee isalso on the school board; she has been talking with your rhetoricteacher, and made a speech in your favor. She also read aloud an13essay that you had written entitled, ‘Blue Wednesday.’”
Jerusha’s guilty expression this time was not assumed.
“It seemed to me that you showed little gratitude in holding up toridicule the institution that has done so much for you. Had you notmanaged to be funny I doubt if you would have been forgiven. Butfortunately for you, Mr. ——, that is, the gentleman whohas just gone—appears to have an immoderate sense of humor. On thestrength of that impertinent paper, he has offered to send you tocollege.”
“To college?” Jerusha’s eyes grew big.
Mrs. Lippett nodded.
“He waited to discuss the terms with me. They are unusual. Thegentleman, I may say, is erratic. He believes that you haveoriginality, and he is planning to educate you to become a writer.”
“A writer?” Jerusha’s mind was14numbed. She could only repeat Mrs. Lippett’s words.
“That is his wish. Whether anything will come of it, the future willshow. He is giving you a very liberal allowance, almost, for a girl whohas never had any experience in taking care of money, too liberal. Buthe planned the matter in detail, and I did not feel free to make anysuggestions. You are to remain here through the summer, and MissPritchard has kindly offered to superintend your outfit. Your board andtuition will be paid directly to the college, and you will receive inaddition during the four years you are there, an allowance ofthirty-five dollars a month. This will enable you to enter on the samestanding as the other students. The money will be sent to you by thegentleman’s private secretary once a month, and in return, you willwrite a letter of acknowledgment once a month. That is—you are notto thank him for the money; he does n’t15care to have that mentioned, but you