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- Drusilla with a Million - 2/43 -
The first old lady drew herself up stiffly.
"You may speak for yourself, Mis' Graham, but _I_ am no charity inmate."
"You're just as much of one as I am."
"What do you mean? I pay each year a hundred and twenty dollars, and I paid when I entered an entrance fee of a hundred dollars."
"So'd we all; but still this is an old ladies' charitable home."
"Mis' Graham, how can you say such things!" spoke up a voice that had not been heard before. "I consider that we _pay_ our way; and my grand-nephew who was here last week considers it ample!"
"Oh, so do most of our relations who'd rather pay our way in a home than be bothered with us around."
"You may speak for yourself, Mis' Graham. I pay my way myself."
"Yes, you was a dressmaker or something and saved a little money. Well, I never worked for my livin'. It wasn't considered ladylike in my day."
"Huh! You're trying to say I'm no lady. Well, I consider that if I'm no lady and worked fer my livin', I didn't sponge off my relations and don't now."
"Cat!" hissed Mrs. Graham, and sat back trying to think of some suitable answer.
"But don't Drusilla pay nothin' at _all?"_ queried another woman.
"Not a cent. I tell you, she's charity. She's a sort of servant. Ain't you seen the way Mis' Smith treats her and orders her around? She takes care of the linen to pay her way and does odd jobs fer Mis' Smith and the family."
"How did she get in if she didn't have no money at all?"
"She's a Doane, and this home was give by a Doane most sixty years ago. And the Committee felt they couldn't let Drusilla die in the poor house because of her name. It might reflect on the home, and they'd lose some subscriptions. So they took her in."
"What'd she do before she was took in?"
"She sewed for folks and nursed and done odd jobs for the people in the village. Everything she could git to do, I guess. And then she got old and folks wanted stylisher dresses, and she wa'n't strong enough to nurse much, so she had to be took in somewhere. First they thought of sending her to the county house, and then as I told you they was afraid it would look bad to have the Doane home for old ladies right here and a Doane in the county house, so she was brought here. It most broke her heart, but they've worked her well. She's paid fer her keep and more, which is more than many I know of, what with their appetite."
"You're talkin' at me now, Frances Smith, don't you make no remarks about my appetite. I'm not strong and must eat well to keep up."
"Humph, it makes you feeble to carry round. I don't know what would happen to you if you had a chance to set down once to a square meal of vittles. I guess you'd bust."
"I want you to understand, Mis' Frances Smith, that I've et better vittles than you've ever seen. When I had my home my table was the talk of the countryside."
"Yes, and if you hadn't et up everything, perhaps you wouldn't now be where you are, havin' beans on Monday and cabbage on Tuesday and soup on Wednesday and--"
The wrangling went on amongst these old derelicts sitting on the sunny side of the Doane home for old ladies. Their lives were filled with little jealousies and quarrels over petty details. They lived in the past and exalted it until they themselves had grown to believe that they had always trodden flowery pathways, until by some unfortunate chance, for which they were not to be blamed, these paths had led them, when old age and helplessness came upon them, into this home for the poor and lonely.
* * * * *
Drusilla slowly made her way to the parlor, which she entered with the wondering, surprised look still on her face--surprised that any one should ask for her, and wondering who it could be.
Two gentlemen rose as she entered, and Mrs. Smith, the Director of the home, said:
"This is Drusilla Doane. Drusilla, this is Mr. Thornton and Mr. Gale, who wish to speak with you."
They bowed over Miss Drusilla's hand, which was falteringly extended.
"We are very glad to meet you, Miss Doane. Won't you please sit down, as our business will take quite a little time to transact." Turning to Mrs. Smith: "May we speak with her alone?"
Mrs. Smith plainly showed that she shared in the curiosity of her charges in regard to the meaning of the visit to Drusilla, but she rose from her place and said:
"Oh, of course I will leave if you must see her alone."
"Thank you," said the taller of the men dryly. "Our business is with Miss Doane."
He accompanied Mrs. Smith politely to the door and closed it, then, returning, drew a chair near to Drusilla.
"We are the bearer of news to you, Miss Doane."
Drusilla clasped her hands a little tighter.
"Has anything happened?" she said. "But nothing could happen that would matter to me, unless--" a panic stricken look came into her old eyes "unless--the Committee hain't decided that I can't live here, has it? They ain't goin' to send me to the county house, be they? I work real well, Mr. Thornton; I work as hard as I can. I'm sure I pay fer my keep."
The tall man cleared his throat and said stiffly: "No, Miss Doane, we are the bearer of _good_ news."
The short fat man bent over and impulsively patted the hands that were so tightly clenched in her lap.
"No, Miss Doane, you don't need to worry about the county house. You're not going to it yet."
Drusilla drew a deep breath of relief, and the frightened look died from her eyes. She leaned back in her chair.
"Then I don't know what you've got to tell me. It can't be that some one I know is dead, because all of my friends died long ago."
Mr. Gale said, "Tell her, so she'll understand. You're worrying the poor soul."
Mr. Thornton took a legal looking document from his pocket and a letter.
"Miss Doane," he said, "did you ever hear of Elias Doane?"
"Elias Doane? No, I don't believe I ever did."
"Well, he was a distant relation of yours; another branch of the family. He thought he was the last one of the Doane name, as he never married. A few weeks before his death, hearing about this home he sent me up here to learn the particulars regarding it, and I found you here. I reported that there was an inmate by the name of Doane still living, and we investigated and found that you belonged to the family that we thought was represented by only one man, the late Elias Doane."
"He's dead, then. Was he a relation of mine, did you say?"
"Yes, very distantly related."
"Well, I'm glad I've had _some_ relations, even if I didn't know it."
"Now, we will come to the business, Miss Doane. Our client, the late Elias Doane, was a very wealthy man, very wealthy indeed. His estate amounts to many millions, and he has left a very curious will."
The lawyer opened a paper in his hand and commenced to read, but Mr. Gale interrupted.
"Don't bother her with the will, Robert; she won't understand. Tell her about it and give her the letter."
"Perhaps that is better, as the legal terms might be confusing. The gist of the matter is this, Miss Doane. Our client, the late Elias Doane, left the bulk of his money to the many charities in which he is interested, but he left you his home at Brookvale, near New York City, to be kept up fittingly out of the estate, and he gave you outright, to use as you may see fit, one million dollars."
Drusilla stared at him. Then her faded old face turned as white as the soft hair above it, and without a word she fell forward. For the first time in her life Drusilla Doane had fainted.
Mr. Thornton caught her in his arms and Mr. Gale sprang for the bell. Water and restoratives were brought, and within a few moments Drusilla opened her eyes--and soon she remembered. She brushed back her disarranged hair and laughed a soft, sweet little laugh.
"Well, I'm beginnin' well. All real ladies in story books faint when they hear good news."
When she was again seated in her chair and curious Mrs. Smith had been politely expelled from the room, Mr. Thornton cleared his throat and was again the precise man of business.
"As I was saying, Miss Doane, when you interrupted me, our late client, Mr. Elias Doane, left this very remarkable will and also a
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