Jean Webster.

Daddy-Long-Legs online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryJean WebsterDaddy-Long-Legs → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


DADDY-LONG-LEGS


by

JEAN WEBSTER



Copyright 1912 by The Century Company




TO YOU




Blue Wednesday

The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day - a day to
be awaited with dread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste.
Every floor must be spotless, every chair dustless, and every bed
without a wrinkle. Ninety-seven squirming little orphans must be
scrubbed and combed and buttoned into freshly starched ginghams; and
all ninety-seven reminded of their manners, and told to say, 'Yes,
sir,' 'No, sir,' whenever a Trustee spoke.

It was a distressing time; and poor Jerusha Abbott, being the oldest
orphan, had to bear the brunt of it. But this particular first
Wednesday, like its predecessors, finally dragged itself to a close.
Jerusha escaped from the pantry where she had been making sandwiches
for the asylum's guests, and turned upstairs to accomplish her regular
work. Her special care was room F, where eleven little tots, from four
to seven, occupied eleven little cots set in a row. Jerusha assembled
her charges, straightened their rumpled frocks, wiped their noses, and
started them in an orderly and willing line towards the dining-room to
engage themselves for a blessed half hour with bread and milk and prune
pudding.

Then she dropped down on the window seat and leaned throbbing temples
against the cool glass. She had been on her feet since five that
morning, doing everybody's bidding, scolded and hurried by a nervous
matron. Mrs. Lippett, behind the scenes, did not always maintain that
calm and pompous dignity with which she faced an audience of Trustees
and lady visitors. Jerusha gazed out across a broad stretch of frozen
lawn, beyond the tall iron paling that marked the confines of the
asylum, down undulating ridges sprinkled with country estates, to the
spires of the village rising from the midst of bare trees.

The day was ended - quite successfully, so far as she knew. The
Trustees and the visiting committee had made their rounds, and read
their reports, and drunk their tea, and now were hurrying home to their
own cheerful firesides, to forget their bothersome little charges for
another month. Jerusha leaned forward watching with curiosity - and a
touch of wistfulness - the stream of carriages and automobiles that
rolled out of the asylum gates. In imagination she followed first one
equipage, then another, to the big houses dotted along the hillside.
She pictured herself in a fur coat and a velvet hat trimmed with
feathers leaning back in the seat and nonchalantly murmuring 'Home' to
the driver. But on the door-sill of her home the picture grew blurred.

Jerusha had an imagination - an imagination, Mrs. Lippett told her, that
would get her into trouble if she didn't take care - but keen as it was,
it could not carry her beyond the front porch of the houses she would
enter. Poor, eager, adventurous little Jerusha, in all her seventeen
years, had never stepped inside an ordinary house; she could not
picture the daily routine of those other human beings who carried on
their lives undiscommoded by orphans.

Je-ru-sha Ab-bott
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 and
down the corridor, his chant growing louder as he approached room F.
Jerusha wrenched herself from the window and refaced the troubles of
life.

'Who wants me?' she cut into Tommy's chant with a note of sharp anxiety.

Mrs. Lippett in the office,
And I think she's mad.
Ah-a-men!


Tommy piously intoned, but his accent was not entirely malicious. Even
the most hardened little orphan felt sympathy for an erring sister who
was summoned to the office to face an annoyed matron; and Tommy liked
Jerusha even if she did sometimes jerk him by the arm and nearly scrub
his nose off.

Jerusha went without comment, but with two parallel lines on her brow.
What could have gone wrong, she wondered. Were the sandwiches not thin
enough? Were there shells in the nut cakes? Had a lady visitor seen
the hole in Susie Hawthorn's stocking? Had - O horrors! - one of the
cherubic little babes in her own room F 'sauced' 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 door that
led to the porte-cochere. Jerusha caught only a fleeting impression of
the man - and the impression consisted entirely of tallness. He was
waving his arm towards an automobile waiting in the curved drive. As
it sprang into motion and approached, head on for an instant, the
glaring headlights threw his shadow sharply against the wall inside.
The shadow pictured grotesquely elongated legs and arms that ran along
the floor 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 by
nature a sunny soul, and had always snatched the tiniest excuse to be
amused. If one could derive any sort of entertainment out of the
oppressive fact of a Trustee, it was something unexpected to the good.
She advanced to the office quite cheered by the tiny episode, and
presented a smiling face to Mrs. Lippett. To her surprise the matron
was also, if not exactly smiling, at least appreciably affable; she
wore an expression almost as pleasant 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 of breathlessness. An
automobile flashed past the window; Mrs. Lippett glanced 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 sums
of money towards the asylum's support. I am not at liberty to mention
his name; he expressly stipulated that he was to remain unknown.'

Jerusha's eyes widened slightly; she was not accustomed to being
summoned to the office to discuss the eccentricities of Trustees with
the matron.

'This gentleman has taken an interest in several of our boys. You
remember Charles Benton and Henry Freize? They were both sent through
college by Mr. - er - this Trustee, and both have repaid with hard work
and success the money that was so generously expended. Other payment
the gentleman does not wish. Heretofore his philanthropies have been
directed solely towards the boys; I have never been able to interest
him in the slightest degree in any of the girls in the institution, no
matter how deserving. He does not, I may tell you, care for girls.'

'No, ma'am,' Jerusha murmured, since some reply seemed to be expected
at this point.

'To-day at the regular meeting, the question of your future was brought
up.'

Mrs. Lippett allowed a moment of silence to fall, then resumed in a
slow, placid manner extremely trying to her hearer's suddenly tightened
nerves.

'Usually, as you know, the children are not kept after they are
sixteen, but an exception was made in your case. You had finished our
school at fourteen, and having done so well in your studies - not
always, I must say, in your conduct - it was determined to let you go on
in the village high school. Now you are finishing that, and of course
the asylum cannot be responsible any longer for your support. As it
is, you have had two years more than most.'

Mrs. Lippett overlooked the fact that Jerusha had worked hard for her
board during those two years, that the convenience of the asylum had
come first and her education second; that on days like the present she
was kept at home to scrub.

'As I say, the question of your future was brought up and your record
was discussed - thoroughly discussed.'

Mrs. Lippett brought accusing eyes to bear upon the prisoner in the
dock, and the prisoner looked guilty because it seemed to be
expected - not because she could remember any strikingly black pages in
her record.

'Of course the usual disposition of one in your place would be to put
you in a position where you could begin to work, but you have done well
in school in certain branches; it seems that your work in English has
even been brilliant. Miss Pritchard, who is on our visiting committee,
is also on the school board; she has been talking with your rhetoric
teacher, and made a speech in your favour. She also read aloud an
essay 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 to
ridicule the institution that has done so much for you. Had you not
managed to be funny I doubt if you would have been forgiven. But
fortunately for you, Mr. - , that is, the gentleman who has just
gone - appears to have an immoderate sense of humour. On the strength
of that impertinent paper, he has offered to send you to college.'

'To college?' Jerusha's eyes grew big. Mrs. Lippett nodded.

'He waited to discuss the terms with me. They are unusual. The
gentleman, I may say, is erratic. He believes that you have
originality, and he is planning to educate you to become a writer.'

'A writer?' Jerusha's mind was numbed. She could only repeat Mrs.
Lippett's words.

'That is his wish. Whether anything will come of it, the future will
show. He is giving you a very liberal allowance, almost, for a girl
who has never had any experience in taking care of money, too liberal.
But he planned the matter in detail, and I did not feel free to make
any suggestions. You are to remain here through the summer, and Miss
Pritchard has kindly offered to superintend your outfit. Your board
and tuition will be paid directly to the college, and you will receive
in addition during the four years you are there, an allowance of
thirty-five dollars a month. This will enable you to enter on the same
standing as the other students. The money will be sent to you by the
gentleman's private secretary once a month, and in return, you will
write a letter of acknowledgment once a month. That is - you are not to
thank him for the money; he doesn't care to have that mentioned, but
you are to write a letter telling of the progress in your studies and
the details of your daily life. Just such a letter as you would write
to your parents if they were living.

'These letters will be addressed to Mr. John Smith and will be sent in
care of the secretary. The gentleman's name is not John Smith, but he
prefers to remain unknown. To you he will never be anything but John
Smith. His reason in requiring the letters is that he thinks nothing
so fosters facility in literary expression as letter-writing. Since you
have no family with whom to correspond, he desires you to write in this
way; also, he wishes to keep track of your progress. He will never
answer your letters, nor in the slightest particular take any notice of
them. He detests letter-writing and does not wish you to become a
burden. If any point should ever arise where an answer would seem to
be imperative - such as in the event of your being expelled, which I
trust will not occur - you may correspond with Mr. Griggs, his
secretary. These monthly letters are absolutely obligatory on your
part; they are the only payment that Mr. Smith requires, so you must be
as punctilious in sending them as though it were a bill that you were
paying. I hope that they will always be respectful in tone and will
reflect credit on your training. You must remember that you are
writing to a Trustee of the John Grier Home.'

Jerusha's eyes longingly sought the door. Her head was in a whirl of
excitement, and she wished only to escape from Mrs. Lippett's
platitudes and think. She rose and took a tentative step backwards.
Mrs. Lippett detained her with a gesture; it was an oratorical
opportunity not to be slighted.

'I trust that you are properly grateful for this very rare good fortune
that has befallen you? Not many girls in your position ever have such
an opportunity to rise in the world. You must always remember - '

'I - yes, ma'am, thank you. I think, if that's all, I must go and sew a
patch on Freddie Perkins's trousers.'

The door closed behind her, and Mrs. Lippett watched it with dropped
jaw, her peroration in mid-air.




The Letters of

Miss Jerusha Abbott

to

Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs Smith


215 FERGUSSEN HALL
24th September

Dear Kind-Trustee-Who-Sends-Orphans-to-College,

Here I am! I travelled yesterday for four hours in a train. It's a
funny sensation, isn't it? I never rode in one before.

College is the biggest, most bewildering place - I get lost whenever I
leave my room. I will write you a description later when I'm feeling
less muddled; also I will tell you about my lessons. Classes don't
begin until Monday morning, and this is Saturday night. But I wanted
to write a letter first just to get acquainted.

It seems queer to be writing letters to somebody you don't know. It
seems queer for me to be writing letters at all - I've never written
more than three or four in my life, so please overlook it if these are
not a model kind.

Before leaving yesterday morning, Mrs. Lippett and I had a very serious
talk. She told me how to behave all the rest of my life, and
especially how to behave towards the kind gentleman who is doing so
much for me. I must take care to be Very Respectful.

But how can one be very respectful to a person who wishes to be called
John Smith? Why couldn't you have picked out a name with a little
personality? I might as well write letters to Dear Hitching-Post or
Dear Clothes-Prop.

I have been thinking about you a great deal this summer; having
somebody take an interest in me after all these years makes me feel as
though I had found a sort of family. It seems as though I belonged to
somebody now, and it's a very comfortable sensation. I must say,
however, that when I think about you, my imagination has very little to
work upon. There are just three things that I know:

I. You are tall.

II. You are rich.

III. You hate girls.

I suppose I might call you Dear Mr. Girl-Hater. Only that's rather
insulting to me. Or Dear Mr. Rich-Man, but that's insulting to you, as
though money were the only important thing about you. Besides, being
rich is such a very external quality. Maybe you won't stay rich all
your life; lots of very clever men get smashed up in Wall Street. But
at least you will stay tall all your life! So I've decided to call you
Dear Daddy-Long-Legs. I hope you won't mind. It's just a private pet
name we won't tell Mrs. Lippett.

The ten o'clock bell is going to ring in two minutes. Our day is
divided into sections by bells. We eat and sleep and study by bells.
It's very enlivening; I feel like a fire horse all of the time. There
it goes! Lights out. Good night.

Observe with what precision I obey rules - due to my training in the
John Grier Home.

Yours most respectfully,
Jerusha Abbott




To Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs Smith

1st October

Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

I love college and I love you for sending me - I'm very, very happy, and
so excited every moment of the time that I can scarcely sleep. You
can't imagine how different it is from the John Grier Home. I never
dreamed there was such a place in the world. I'm feeling sorry for
everybody who isn't a girl and who can't come here; I am sure the
college you attended when you were a boy couldn't have been so nice.

My room is up in a tower that used to be the contagious ward before
they built the new infirmary. There are three other girls on the same
floor of the tower - a Senior who wears spectacles and is always asking
us please to be a little more quiet, and two Freshmen named Sallie
McBride and Julia Rutledge Pendleton. Sallie has red hair and a
turn-up nose and is quite friendly; Julia comes from one of the first
families in New York and hasn't noticed me yet. They room together and
the Senior and I have singles. Usually Freshmen can't get singles;
they are very scarce, but I got one without even asking. I suppose the
registrar didn't think it would be right to ask a properly brought-up
girl to room with a foundling. You see there are advantages!

My room is on the north-west corner with two windows and a view. After
you've lived in a ward for eighteen years with twenty room-mates, it is
restful to be alone. This is the first chance I've ever had to get
acquainted with Jerusha Abbott. I think I'm going to like her.

Do you think you are?


Tuesday

They are organizing the Freshman basket-ball team and there's just a
chance that I shall get in it. I'm little of course, but terribly
quick and wiry and tough. While the others are hopping about in the
air, I can dodge under their feet and grab the ball. It's loads of fun
practising - out in the athletic field in the afternoon with the trees
all red and yellow and the air full of the smell of burning leaves, and
everybody laughing and shouting. These are the happiest girls I ever
saw - and I am the happiest of all!

I meant to write a long letter and tell you all the things I'm learning
(Mrs. Lippett said you wanted to know), but 7th hour has just rung, and
in ten minutes I'm due at the athletic field in gymnasium clothes.
Don't you hope I'll get in the team?

Yours always,
Jerusha Abbott

PS. (9 o'clock.)

Sallie McBride just poked her head in at my door. This is what she
said:

'I'm so homesick that I simply can't stand it. Do you feel that way?'

I smiled a little and said no; I thought I could pull through. At
least homesickness is one disease that I've escaped! I never heard of
anybody being asylum-sick, did you?




10th October

Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

Did you ever hear of Michael Angelo?

He was a famous artist who lived in Italy in the Middle Ages.
Everybody in English Literature seemed to know about him, and the whole
class laughed because I thought he was an archangel. He sounds like an
archangel, doesn't he? The trouble with college is that you are
expected to know such a lot of things you've never learned. It's very
embarrassing at times. But now, when the girls talk about things that
I never heard of, I just keep still and look them up in the
encyclopedia.

I made an awful mistake the first day. Somebody mentioned Maurice
Maeterlinck, and I asked if she was a Freshman. That joke has gone all
over college. But anyway, I'm just as bright in class as any of the
others - and brighter than some of them!

Do you care to know how I've furnished my room? It's a symphony in
brown and yellow. The wall was tinted buff, and I've bought yellow
denim curtains and cushions and a mahogany desk (second hand for three
dollars) and a rattan chair and a brown rug with an ink spot in the
middle. I stand the chair over the spot.

The windows are up high; you can't look out from an ordinary seat. But
I unscrewed the looking-glass from the back of the bureau, upholstered
the top and moved it up against the window. It's just the right height
for a window seat. You pull out the drawers like steps and walk up.
Very comfortable!

Sallie McBride helped me choose the things at the Senior auction. She
has lived in a house all her life and knows about furnishing. You
can't imagine what fun it is to shop and pay with a real five-dollar
bill and get some change - when you've never had more than a few cents
in your life. I assure you, Daddy dear, I do appreciate that allowance.

Sallie is the most entertaining person in the world - and Julia Rutledge
Pendleton the least so. It's queer what a mixture the registrar can
make in the matter of room-mates. Sallie thinks everything is
funny - even flunking - and Julia is bored at everything. She never
makes the slightest effort to be amiable. She believes that if you are
a Pendleton, that fact alone admits you to heaven without any further
examination. Julia and I were born to be enemies.

And now I suppose you've been waiting very impatiently to hear what I
am learning?

I. Latin: Second Punic war. Hannibal and his forces pitched camp at
Lake Trasimenus last night. They prepared an ambuscade for the Romans,
and a battle took place at the fourth watch this morning. Romans in
retreat.

II. French: 24 pages of the Three Musketeers and third conjugation,
irregular verbs.

III. Geometry: Finished cylinders; now doing cones.

IV. English: Studying exposition. My style improves daily in
clearness and brevity.

V. Physiology: Reached the digestive system. Bile and the pancreas
next time. Yours, on the way to being educated,

Jerusha Abbott

PS. I hope you never touch alcohol, Daddy? It does dreadful things to
your liver.




Wednesday

Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

I've changed my name.

I'm still 'Jerusha' in the catalogue, but I'm 'Judy' everywhere else.
It's really too bad, isn't it, to have to give yourself the only pet
name you ever had? I didn't quite make up the Judy though. That's
what Freddy Perkins used to call me before he could talk plainly.

I wish Mrs. Lippett would use a little more ingenuity about choosing
babies' names. She gets the last names out of the telephone
book - you'll find Abbott on the first page - and she picks the Christian
names up anywhere; she got Jerusha from a tombstone. I've always hated
it; but I rather like Judy. It's such a silly name. It belongs to the
kind of girl I'm not - a sweet little blue-eyed thing, petted and
spoiled by all the family, who romps her way through life without any
cares. Wouldn't it be nice to be like that? Whatever faults I may
have, no one can ever accuse me of having been spoiled by my family!
But it's great fun to pretend I've been. In the future please always
address me as Judy.

Do you want to know something? I have three pairs of kid gloves. I've
had kid mittens before from the Christmas tree, but never real kid
gloves with five fingers. I take them out and try them on every little
while. It's all I can do not to wear them to classes.

(Dinner bell. Goodbye.)




Friday

What do you think, Daddy? The English instructor said that my last
paper shows an unusual amount of originality. She did, truly. Those
were her words. It doesn't seem possible, does it, considering the
eighteen years of training that I've had? The aim of the John Grier
Home (as you doubtless know and heartily approve of) is to turn the
ninety-seven orphans into ninety-seven twins.

The unusual artistic ability which I exhibit was developed at an early
age through drawing chalk pictures of Mrs. Lippett on the woodshed door.

I hope that I don't hurt your feelings when I criticize the home of my
youth? But you have the upper hand, you know, for if I become too
impertinent, you can always stop payment of your cheques. That isn't a
very polite thing to say - but you can't expect me to have any manners;
a foundling asylum isn't a young ladies' finishing school.

You know, Daddy, it isn't the work that is going to be hard in college.
It's the play. Half the time I don't know what the girls are talking
about; their jokes seem to relate to a past that every one but me has
shared. I'm a foreigner in the world and I don't understand the
language. It's a miserable feeling. I've had it all my life. At the
high school the girls would stand in groups and just look at me. I was
queer and different and everybody knew it. I could FEEL 'John Grier
Home' written on my face. And then a few charitable ones would make a
point of coming up and saying something polite. I HATED EVERY ONE OF
THEM - the charitable ones most of all.

Nobody here knows that I was brought up in an asylum. I told Sallie
McBride that my mother and father were dead, and that a kind old
gentleman was sending me to college which is entirely true so far as it
goes. I don't want you to think I am a coward, but I do want to be
like the other girls, and that Dreadful Home looming over my childhood
is the one great big difference. If I can turn my back on that and


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryJean WebsterDaddy-Long-Legs → online text (page 1 of 9)