Dorothy Dale in the City
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“There, there, dear,” said the latter, “I can’t let you talk about it. The girls will tell you all about their trip and you’ll forget the miserable aches and pains.” She puffed and patted the pillows on which her sister was resting.
Mrs. Bergham smiled languidly. “It’s so fine to be young and strong,” she said. “I have two small sons, and it made my Christmas so hard not to have them with me. But I couldn’t take care of them. They are such robust little fellows! Sister decided, and I suppose she’s right – she always is – that it would be best for me not to have the care of them while I am so ill.” She sighed and smiled patiently at Miss Mingle. “So we sent them away to school. I did so count on having them with me this holiday, but sister thought it would only be a worry; didn’t you, dear?”
Miss Mingle hesitated just the fraction of a second, then she answered cheerfully: “Mrs. Bergham is so nervous, and the boys are such lively little crickets, we didn’t have them home for Christmas.”
“Children are sometimes such perfect cares,” declared Tavia, feeling that something should be said.
“Then, too,” continued Mrs. Bergham, evidently greatly enjoying the opportunity to talk about herself to the helpless callers, “I’ve tried hard to add a little to our income. I paint,” she arched her straight, black eyebrows slightly. “Everything was going along so beautifully, although it is an expensive apartment to keep up, and I cared nothing for myself, I like to keep a home for my sister, and I worked and worked, and was so worried. Don’t you like this apartment? I’ve grown very fond of it.” She talked in a rambling way, but her voice was pleasing and her manner quite tranquil, so that Dorothy wondered how she said so much with apparently little exertion.
“The night the telegram came,” said Miss Mingle, “I thought she was dying, and I must say,” she laughed, “that that alone saved you naughty girls from receiving some horrible punishment.” They all laughed at the remembrance of that last night at Glenwood. “But when I got here,” continued Miss Mingle, “my sister was much better, and I was so relieved to find her just like her own dear self, when I had expected to find her – very ill – that I forgot everything, even having the boys home, so that sister’s fatherless sons had no Santa Claus this year.”
Tavia was curious. The furnishings of the room were good, almost elaborate, but the carelessness of it all at first hid the good points. Surely Mrs. Bergham did not keep it up on her painting. Tavia judged that, by the long, slender, almost helpless hand and the whole poise of the woman. And the two little boys at school! Could it be possible, she thought, that Miss Mingle supported the family?
“I’m sorry I am not well enough to arrange to have you meet some of my young friends,” said Mrs. Bergham. “We entertain a little, sister and I. I know so many interesting young people. Bohemians, sister calls them!”
Miss Mingle was arranging the books on top of a bookcase and they fell with a clatter.If she made any answer, it was lost in the noise.
At the name of “Bohemians” Dorothy brightened. “I’ve never seen a real, live Bohemian!” she exclaimed, clasping her hands together with ecstasy.
“But we met an actress yesterday,” Tavia said, hesitatingly.
Mrs. Bergham waved her hand in space. “I mean real artists, people who have genius, who are doing wonderful things for the world! We count those among our friends,” she said.
“My!” thought Dorothy, “did Miss Mingle belong to that society? Did she know the geniuses of the world, and yet had never mentioned it to the girls at school?” But Miss Mingle had little to say. She finished arranging the books, and moving swiftly, nervously about, she tried to bring some kind of order out of the confusion in the room.
“Do sit down, sister, this can all wait. I’m sure the girls don’t mind if we are not in perfect order,” said Mrs. Bergham.
Dorothy and Tavia, in one breath, assured the ladies that they didn’t mind a bit, and Tavia even added, with the intention of making Miss Mingle feel at ease, that it was “more home-like.”
“I never could sit up perfectly straight nor stay comfortably near anything that was just where it should be,” explained Mrs. Bergham. “My husband loved that streak of disorder that was part of my nature, but sister was always the most precise and careful little creature.” She looked at Miss Mingle with limpid, loving eyes. “Sister was always the greatest girl for taking all the responsibility, she was so hopelessly in love with work in her girlhood! What a lovely time our girlhood was! Isn’t it time for my broth?” she asked, as she glanced at a small watch on her wrist.
“Forgive me, dear,” said Miss Mingle, “I forgot. I’ll prepare it immediately,” and she dropped what she was doing and hurried to the kitchen.
Mrs. Bergham arose and walked to the window seat, resting her elbows on some pillows. She wore a light blue dressing gown, made on simple lines, but so perfectly pretty that Dorothy and Tavia decided at once to make one like it immediately, on reaching home. The light blue shade brought out the clear blue-grey of her eyes, and her heavy dark lashes shaded the soft, white skin. She sighed, and asked the girls to sit with her in the window seat. In her presence Tavia felt very awkward, young and inexperienced, and she sat rather rigidly. Dorothy was more at ease and, too, more critical of their hostess. She listened to the quick, nervous steps of Miss Mingle as she hurried about the kitchen, preparing nourishment for her languid sister.
“There isn’t much view from this window,” said Tavia bluntly, more because she felt ill at ease than because she had expected to see something besides the tall, brown buildings across the street. The buildings were high, no sky could be seen from the window, and the sun did not seem to penetrate the long line of stone buildings across the way.
“Oh, there are disadvantages here, I know, but I’m so fond of just this one room. The house is in that part of the city most convenient to everything – that is, everything worth while, of course. So, sister decided it was best to stay here. However, the rent is enormous. It was that mostly which caused my breakdown. In six months time our rent has been doubled by the landlord. I got ill thinking about it, and I just had to send for sister. Sister’s salary isn’t so large, and the constant increase in our rent is a burden too great to bear.”
“I’d move,” said Tavia, promptly.
“But where would we find another place that meets all the requirements as this place does? If sister were always with me, we might come across something suitable some time, but alone, I am of little use in a business manner. Sister is so clever! She can do everything so much better than I. My illness is keeping me at home at present, and as my sister will return to school directly, there is really no time to look about for other quarters.” The sufferer said this quite decidedly.
“Who raises the rents?” Dorothy tried to ask the question naturally, but a lump seized her throat, and she felt the blood rushing to her cheeks.
“Oh, some agent. Several dozens of persons have bought and sold this house, according to Mr. Akerson, since we moved in.” The subject was evidently beginning to bore Mrs. Bergham, for she yawned. “What pretty hair you have, Miss Dale,” she exclaimed, “so much like the gold the poets sing about.”
Dorothy brushed back the tiny locks that persisted in hanging about her ears, and she smiled shyly.
“Can’t you refuse to pay the increases in the rent?” asked Dorothy.
“Oh, these is always some good reason for the increases,” answered Mrs. Bergham. “Some new improvements, or some big expense attached to maintaining a studio apartment, in fact, according to Mr. Akerson, the reasons for raising our rent are endless.”
Dorothy’s eyes met Tavia’s in a quick flash, as she noted the name of the agent.
Then Miss Mingle came into the room with a neatly-arranged tray for her sister. Mrs. Bergham thanked her and waited patiently while little Miss Mingle drew up a table to the window seat and placed the things on it.
Mrs. Bergham held up a napkin. “I don’t want to trouble, dear, but really I’ve used this napkin several times. Just hand me any kind; I know things haven’t been ironed or cared for as they should be, but I don’t mind. There, that one is all right. I’m an awful care; am I not?”
Miss Mingle squeezed her hand. “Just get well and be your old, happy self again, that’s all I ask.” She turned to the girls. “My sister and her boys are all I have in the world to work and live for,” she finished.
“I’m really so sorry, sister, that you did not speak about the girls spending their holiday in town. We could have a nice little dinner before you all return to Glenwood,” suggested Mrs. Bergham.
“Don’t think of it,” said Dorothy, shocked at the idea of little Miss Mingle being burdened with the additional care of trying to give a dinner for Tavia and herself. Indeed, it would have been more to Dorothy’s mind to have taken Miss Mingle with her, and have her sit in Aunt Winnie’s luxurious apartment, and be waited on for just one day, as the little teacher was waiting on her languid sister.
Tavia, too, thought, since the idea of increasing any of Miss Mingle’s responsibilities was apt to be brought up, it was the right moment to depart.
Dorothy held Miss Mingle’s hand as they were leaving and said: “Mrs. Bergham told us of your difficulty about the rent. I’m so sorry.”
“We are absolutely helpless,” said Miss Mingle. “We are paying three times what the apartment was originally rented for and there is no logical reason why it should be so. The agent says it’s the landlord’s commands, and if we don’t like it we can move. It seems that this particular landlord is money mad!”
“Oh,” cried Dorothy, “something must be done!”
“The only thing that I can think of,” said Mrs. Bergham, wiping two tears from her eyes, “is to forget the whole tiresome business. It was horrid of me to say anything at all, but it’s so much on our minds that I cannot help talking about it.”
“I’m very glad indeed,” said Dorothy, “that you did.”
“We were not bored by that story,” Tavia said, “and we surely are very pleased to have had this pleasure of becoming acquainted with Miss Mingle’s sister.”
In another moment the girls began the weary climb down the four flights of stairs.
Reaching the street Dorothy started off at a mad pace.
“I’m so thoroughly provoked,” she said to Tavia, who was a yard behind, “that I must walk quickly or I’ll explode.”
“Well, I’m disgusted too, Dorothy, but I’ll take a chance on exploding, I’m not used to six-day walking races, however much you may be. And incidentally, I must say I should have liked very much to have shaken a certain person until all the languidness was shaken out of her bones!”
“Shaken her!” cried Dorothy, “I should have liked to spank her!”
“If that is an artistic temperament,” said Tavia, “I never wish to meet another. Of all the lackadaisical clinging vines; of all the sentimental, selfish people that ever existed!”
“To think of that poor little woman teaching school, and going without ordinary comforts, to help support her sister in ease and relieve her of the responsibility of bringing up her two children!” Dorothy had slackened her pace and the girls walked together, although still swinging along rapidly.
“A person without a temperament would have moved instantly, but that creature stayed on and on, paying every increase, getting the extra money of course from Miss Mingle, just because she was so fond of that one room!” Tavia mimicked Mrs. Bergham’s voice and manner.
“Too languid to look for another,” said Dorothy, her eyes aglow with indignation. “But, Tavia, there is one thing certain. Dear Aunt Winnie shall now know where the leak in her income is,” said Dorothy.
Tavia did not reply, because a sudden idea had leaped to her brain. She listened quietly while Dorothy talked about Aunt Winnie’s business affairs, her brain awhirl with the excitement of this thing that had suddenly come to her; come as a means of repaying Dorothy and Aunt Winnie for all their loving kindness to her. To keep the idea tucked away in the innermost regions of her mind, she bit her tongue, so afraid was she that once her lips opened the idea would burst forth. So Dorothy talked on and on and Tavia only listened.