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
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.
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
‘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.