Dorinda’s Desperate Deed

Dorinda had been home for a whole wonderful week and the little Pages
were beginning to feel acquainted with her. When a girl goes away when
she is ten and doesn’t come back until she is fifteen, it is only to
be expected that her family should regard her as somewhat of a
stranger, especially when she is really a Page, and they are really
all Carters except for the name. Dorinda had been only ten when her
Aunt Mary–on the Carter side–had written to Mrs. Page, asking her to
let Dorinda come to her for the winter.

Mrs. Page, albeit she was poor–nobody but herself knew how poor–and
a widow with five children besides Dorinda, hesitated at first. She
was afraid, with good reason, that the winter might stretch into other
seasons; but Mary had lost her own only little girl in the summer, and
Mrs. Page shuddered at the thought of what her loneliness must be. So,
to comfort her, Mrs. Page had let Dorinda go, stipulating that she
must come home in the spring. In the spring, when Dorinda’s bed of
violets was growing purple under the lilac bush, Aunt Mary wrote
again. Dorinda was contented and happy, she said. Would not Emily let
her stay for the summer? Mrs. Page cried bitterly over that letter and
took sad counsel with herself. To let Dorinda stay with her aunt for
the summer really meant, she knew, to let her stay altogether. Mrs.
Page was finding it harder and harder to get along; there was so
little and the children needed so much; Dorinda would have a good home
with her Aunt Mary if she could only prevail on her rebellious mother
heart to give her up. In the end she agreed to let Dorinda stay for
the summer–and Dorinda had never been home since.

But now Dorinda had come back to the little white house on the hill at
Willowdale, set back from the road in a smother of apple trees and
vines. Aunt Mary had died very suddenly and her only son, Dorinda’s
cousin, had gone to Japan. There was nothing for Dorinda to do save
to come home, to enter again into her old unfilled place in her
mother’s heart, and win a new place in the hearts of the brothers and
sisters who barely remembered her at all. Leicester had been nine and
Jean seven when Dorinda went away; now they were respectively fourteen
and twelve.

At first they were a little shy with this big, practically brand-new
sister, but this soon wore off. Nobody could be shy long with Dorinda;
nobody could help liking her. She was so brisk and jolly and
sympathetic–a real Page, so everybody said–while the brothers and
sisters were Carter to their marrow; Carters with fair hair and blue
eyes, and small, fine, wistful features; but Dorinda had merry black
eyes, plump, dusky-red cheeks, and a long braid of glossy dark hair,
which was perpetually being twitched from one shoulder to another as
Dorinda whisked about the house on domestic duties intent.

In a week Dorinda felt herself one of the family again, with all the
cares and responsibilities thereof resting on her strong young
shoulders. Dorinda and her mother talked matters out fully one
afternoon over their sewing, in the sunny south room where the winds
got lost among the vines halfway through the open window. Mrs. Page
sighed and said she really did not know what to do. Dorinda did not
sigh; she did not know just what to do either, but there must be
something that could be done–there is always something that can be
done, if one can only find it. Dorinda sewed hard and pursed up her
red lips determinedly.

“Don’t you worry, Mother Page,” she said briskly. “We’ll be like that
glorious old Roman who found a way or made it. I like overcoming
difficulties. I’ve lots of old Admiral Page’s fighting blood in me,
you know. The first step is to tabulate just exactly what difficulties
among our many difficulties must be ravelled out first–the capital
difficulties, as it were. Most important of all comes–”

“Leicester,” said Mrs. Page.

Dorinda winked her eyes as she always did when she was doubtful.

“Well, I knew he was one of them, but I wasn’t going to put him the
very first. However, we will. Leicester’s case stands thus. He is a
pretty smart boy–if he wasn’t my brother, I’d say he was a very smart
boy. He has gone as far in his studies as Willowdale School can take
him, has qualified for entrance into the Blue Hill Academy, wants to
go there this fall and begin the beginnings of a college course. Well,
of course, Mother Page, we can’t send Leicester to Blue Hill any more
than we can send him to the moon.”

“No,” mourned Mrs. Page, “and the poor boy feels so badly over it. His
heart is set on going to college and being a doctor like his father.
He believes he could work his way through, if he could only get a
start. But there isn’t any chance. And I can’t afford to keep him at
school any longer. He is going into Mr. Churchill’s store at Willow
Centre in the fall. Mr. Churchill has very kindly offered him a place.
Leicester hates the thought of it–I know he does, although he never
says so.”

“Next to Leicester’s college course we want–”

“Music lessons for Jean.”

Dorinda winked again.

“Are music lessons for Jean really a difficulty?” she said. “That is,
one spelled with a capital?”

“Oh, yes, Dorinda dear. At least, I’m worried over it. Jean loves
music so, and she has never had anything, poor child, not even as much
school as she ought to have had. I’ve had to keep her home so much to
help me with the work. She has been such a good, patient little girl
too, and her heart is set on music lessons.”

“Well, she must have them then–after we get Leicester’s year at the
academy for him. That’s two. The third is a new–”

“The roof _must_ be shingled this fall,” said Mrs. Page anxiously.
“It really must, Dorinda. It is no better than a sieve. We are nearly
drowned every time it rains. But I don’t know where the money to do it
is going to come from.”

“Shingles for the roof, three,” said Dorinda, as if she were carefully
jotting down something in a mental memorandum. “And fourth–now,
Mother Page, I _will_ have my say this time–fourthly, biggest capital
of all, a Nice, New Dress and a Warm Fur Coat for Mother Page this
winter. Yes, yes, you must have them, dearest. It’s absolutely
necessary. We can wait a year or so for college courses and music
lessons to grow; we can set basins under the leaks and borrow some
more if we haven’t enough. But a new dress and coat for you we must,
shall, and will have, however it is to be brought about.”

“I wouldn’t mind if I never got another new stitch, if I could only
manage the other things,” said Mrs. Page stoutly. “If your Uncle
Eugene would only help us a little, until Leicester got through! He
really ought to. But of course he never will.”

“Have you ever asked him?” said Dorinda.

“Oh, my dear, no; of course not,” said Mrs. Page in a horrified tone,
as if Dorinda had asked if she had ever stolen a neighbour’s spoons.

“I don’t see why you shouldn’t,” said Dorinda seriously.

“Oh, Dorinda, Uncle Eugene hates us all. He is terribly bitter against
us. He would never, never listen to any request for help, even if I
could bring myself to make it.”

“Mother, what was the trouble between us and Uncle Eugene? I have
never known the rights of it. I was too small to understand when I was
home before. All I remember is that Uncle Eugene never came to see us
or spoke to us when he met us anywhere, and we were all afraid of him
somehow. I used to think of him as an ogre who would come creeping up
the back stairs after dark and carry me off bodily if I wasn’t good.
What made him our enemy? And how did he come to get all of
Grandfather Page’s property when Father got nothing?”

“Well, you know, Dorinda, that your Grandfather Page was married
twice. Eugene was his first wife’s son, and your father the second
wife’s. Eugene was a great deal older than your father–he was
twenty-five when your father was born. He was always an odd man, even
in his youth, and he had been much displeased at his father’s second
marriage. But he was very fond of your father–whose mother, as you
know, died at his birth–and they were good friends and comrades until
just before your father went to college. They then quarrelled; the
cause of the quarrel was insignificant; with anyone else than Eugene a
reconciliation would soon have been effected. But Eugene never was
friendly with your father from that time. I think he was jealous of
old Grandfather’s affection; thought the old man loved your father
best. And then, as I have said, he was very eccentric and stubborn.
Well, your father went away to college and graduated, and then–we
were married. Grandfather Page was very angry with him for marrying
me. He wanted him to marry somebody else. He told him he would
disinherit him if he married me. I did not know this until we were
married. But Grandfather Page kept his word. He sent for a lawyer and
had a new will made, leaving everything to Eugene. I think, nay, I am
sure, that he would have relented in time, but he died the very next
week; they found him dead in his bed one morning, so Eugene got
everything; and that is all there is of the story, Dorinda.”

“And Uncle Eugene has been our enemy ever since?”

“Yes, ever since. So you see, Dorinda dear, that I cannot ask any
favours of Uncle Eugene.”

“Yes, I see,” said Dorinda understandingly. To herself she added, “But
I don’t see why _I_ shouldn’t.”

Dorinda thought hard and long for the next few days about the capital
difficulties. She could think of only one thing to do and, despite old
Admiral Page’s fighting blood, she shrank from doing it. But one
night she found Leicester with his head down on his books and–no, it
couldn’t be tears in his eyes, because Leicester laughed scornfully at
the insinuation.

“I wouldn’t cry over it, Dorinda; I hope I’m more of a man than
_that_. But I do really feel rather cut up because I’ve no chance of
getting to college. And I hate the thought of going into a store. But
I know I must for Mother’s sake, and I mean to pitch in and like it in
spite of myself when the time comes. Only–only–”

And then Leicester got up and whistled and went to the window and
stood with his back to Dorinda.




“That settles it,” said Dorinda out loud, as she brushed her hair
before the glass that night. “I’ll do it.”

“Do what?” asked Jean from the bed.

“A desperate deed,” said Dorinda solemnly, and that was all she would
say.

Next day Mrs. Page and Leicester went to town on business. In the
afternoon Dorinda put on her best dress and hat and started out.
Admiral Page’s fighting blood was glowing in her cheeks as she walked
briskly up the hill road, but her heart beat in an odd fashion.

“I wonder if I am a little scared, ‘way down deep,” said Dorinda. “I
believe I am. But I’m going to do it for all that, and the scareder I
get the more I’ll do it.”

Oaklawn, where Uncle Eugene lived, was two miles away. It was a fine
old place in beautiful grounds. But Dorinda did not quail before its
splendours; nor did her heart fail her, even after she had rung the
bell and had been shown by a maid into a very handsome parlour, but it
still continued to beat in that queer fashion halfway up her throat.

Presently Uncle Eugene came in, a tall, black-eyed old man, with a
fine head of silver hair that should have framed a ruddy, benevolent
face, instead of Uncle Eugene’s hard-lipped, bushy-browed
countenance.

Dorinda stood up, dusky and crimson, with brave, glowing eyes. Uncle
Eugene looked at her sharply.

“Who are you?” he said bluntly.

“I am your niece, Dorinda Page,” said Dorinda steadily.

“And what does my niece, Dorinda Page, want with me?” demanded Uncle
Eugene, motioning to her to sit down and sitting down himself. But
Dorinda remained standing. It is easier to fight on your feet.

“I want you to do four things, Uncle Eugene,” she said, as calmly as
if she were making the most natural and ordinary request in the world.
“I want you to lend us the money to send Leicester to Blue Hill
Academy; he will pay it back to you when he gets through college. I
want you to lend Jean the money for music lessons; she will pay you
back when she gets far enough along to give lessons herself. And I
want you to lend me the money to shingle our house and get Mother a
new dress and fur coat for the winter. I’ll pay you back sometime for
that, because I am going to set up as a dressmaker pretty soon.”

“Anything more?” said Uncle Eugene, when Dorinda stopped.

“Nothing more just now, I think,” said Dorinda reflectively.

“Why don’t you ask for something for yourself?” said Uncle Eugene.

“I don’t want anything for myself,” said Dorinda promptly. “Or–yes, I
do, too. I want your friendship, Uncle Eugene.”

“Be kind enough to sit down,” said Uncle Eugene.

Dorinda sat.

“You are a Page,” said Uncle Eugene. “I saw that as soon as I came in.
I will send Leicester to college and I shall not ask or expect to be
paid back. Jean shall have her music lessons, and a piano to practise
them on as well. The house shall be shingled, and the money for the
new dress and coat shall be forthcoming. You and I will be friends.”

“Thank you,” gasped Dorinda, wondering if, after all, it wasn’t a
dream.

“I would have gladly assisted your mother before,” said Uncle Eugene,
“if she had asked me. I had determined that she must ask me first. I
knew that half the money should have been your father’s by rights. I
was prepared to hand it over to him or his family, if I were asked for
it. But I wished to humble his pride, and the Carter pride, to the
point of asking for it. Not a very amiable temper, you will say? I
admit it. I am not amiable and I never have been amiable. You must be
prepared to find me very unamiable. I see that you are waiting for a
chance to say something polite and pleasant on that score, but you may
save yourself the trouble. I shall hope and expect to have you visit
me often. If your mother and your brothers and sisters see fit to come
with you, I shall welcome them also. I think that this is all it is
necessary to say just now. Will you stay to tea with me this evening?”

Dorinda stayed to tea, since she knew that Jean was at home to attend
to matters there. She and Uncle Eugene got on famously. When she left,
Uncle Eugene, grim and hard-lipped as ever, saw her to the door.

“Good evening, Niece Dorinda. You are a Page and I am proud of you.
Tell your mother that many things in this life are lost through not
asking for them. I don’t think you are in need of the information for
yourself.”

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