Dorinda's Desperate Deed by Lucy Maud Montgomery
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.
"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."