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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.

蓝色的星期三

每个月的第一个星期三是个糟糕的日子——它是个在忧虑中等待,勇敢地忍耐,然后在忙碌中忘记的日子。这一天,每层楼的地板都必须纤尘不染,每张椅子都要光洁照人,全部床单都不能有半条皱褶。还要把97个四处乱跳的小孤儿梳洗一遍,给他们穿上浆洗过的格子衬衫,嘱咐他们要注意礼貌。回答理事们的问话时要说,“是的,先生。”“不是的,先生。”

这个日子真是令人沮丧,可怜的乔若莎·艾伯特,作为孤儿院里年纪最大的孤儿当然更加倒霉。不过,这个特别的星期三,终于到头了。乔若莎离开了厨房,她刚在这里为来客们做了三明治,现在正跑回楼上完成她每天的例行工作。她负责第6室,那里有11个4岁到7岁的小家伙和11张排成一列的小床。乔若莎好不容易把他们叫过来,帮他们整理好皱巴巴的衣服,擦干净鼻涕,排成一行,然后带领他们去餐室,在那里他们可以尽情地享受半小时的好时光,喝牛奶,吃面包和梅子布丁。

她疲惫地跌坐在窗台的椅子上,把涨得发疼的太阳穴贴着冰冷的玻璃。

从早晨5点钟开始,她的手脚就不停地忙碌着,听从所有人的命令,还不时被神经兮兮的女监事骂得晕头转向。私下的李皮太太可不是像她面对理事们和来访的女士面前表现的那样冷静、庄重。乔若莎的眼神掠过孤儿院高高的铁栏杆外一片上了冻的开阔草地,看到远处起伏的山峰,山上散落的村舍,光秃秃的树丛中露出了房屋的尖顶。

这一天就算过去了——就她所知应该是圆满落幕,因为没有出现任何差错。理事们和来访团已经巡视过一遍,听取了汇报,也喝了茶,现在正忙着赶回自家温暖的炉火边,起码要再过一个月才会想起这些需要他们照管的磨人的小家伙。乔若莎倚着窗台,好奇地看着一连串的马车、汽车穿过孤儿院的大门。她不禁产生了幻想。

她想象自己跟着一辆又一辆车,来到坐落在山脚下的密密麻麻的大房子前。她看见自己穿着一件貂皮大衣,带着天鹅绒装饰的丝织帽子靠在车座上,漫不经心地对司机说“回家!”不过,当她回到家门口,整个想象就变得模糊不清了。

乔若莎喜欢幻想——李皮太太说,如果不小心,幻想就会让她惹上麻烦。但是,不管她的想象力多么丰富,都无法带领她走进那些渴望进入的大门,她只能待在门廊上。可怜的充满冒险精神的小乔若莎,在她17年的岁月里,从未进入任何一个家庭。她完全无法想象,其他没有孤儿干扰的人们会有怎样的日常生活。

 

“乔……若……莎……艾……伯……特

有人要……你

去办公室,

而我想啊,

你最好动作快一点!”

 

汤米·狄伦刚加入了唱诗班,他唱着歌经过楼梯和走廊,当他走向第6室时,声音越来越响。乔若莎将思绪从窗外收回来,再次面对生活中的麻烦。

“谁在叫我?”她打断汤米的哼唱,急切地问道。

 

“办公室的李皮太太,

我觉得她的火气很大,

阿……门!”

 

汤米依然拉长腔调,他的语气并没有幸灾乐祸的意思。即便是心肠最硬的小孤儿也会同情这个做了错事的姐姐,因为她将要去见那个讨厌的院长。更何况,汤米还挺喜欢乔若莎,虽然她偶尔会使劲地扯他的胳膊,给他洗脸时几乎擦掉他的鼻子!

乔若莎默默地走开了,她的额头上出现了两道皱纹。她想知道差错在哪里,三明治切得不够薄?还是杏仁蛋糕里有壳?或者哪位来访的女士看到了苏西·华生袜子上的破洞?还是……哎呀,糟糕!是不是第6室的顽皮的小宝贝们把调味酱弄在理事身上了?

低矮的长廊上已经灭了灯,当她下楼时,最后一个理事站在那儿正打算离开。他站在通往院外的大门前,乔若莎看了一眼这个人,只有一个感觉——高。他正朝院外一辆等待的汽车招手,汽车发动时,耀眼的灯光把他的影子投射在屋子的墙上,怪模怪样的影子把手脚都拉长了,滑稽的样子从地板一直延伸到走廊的墙壁上。活像人们俗称的“长腿叔叔”——一只晃来晃去的大蜘蛛。

乔若莎顿时展开紧锁的眉头,欢快地笑起来。她是个天性乐观的姑娘,一点小事都能让她开怀大笑。能够从一个使人压抑的理事身上发现笑料,确实让人感到意外。这段小插曲让她很高兴,以至她进入办公室见到李皮太太时,脸上还带着笑容。出乎意料的是,院长也在对她笑,就算不是真的笑容,但表情还算和蔼。她几乎像对来访的客人一样充满善意。

“乔若莎,坐下,我有些话要对你说。”

乔若莎坐在最近的椅子上,屏息等待。一辆汽车从窗前驶过,光芒掠过窗户。李皮太太注视着远去的车子问:“你是否注意到了刚走的那位先生?”

“我看见了他的背影。”

“他是理事中最富有的人之一,曾给孤儿院捐了大笔的钱。我不能告诉你他的姓名,因为他特意要求不要透露他的姓名。”

乔若莎微微张大了双眼。她不太习惯被院长叫到办公室一起讨论理事们的怪癖。

“这位先生非常关照孤儿院的几个男孩子。你记得查理·班顿和亨利·弗理兹吧?他们都是被这位先生……哦,这位理事送去上大学的。两人都很用功,用良好的成绩回报了他慷慨的资助。这位先生并不要求别的回报。到目前为止,他的仁慈仅限于男孩子,我从来都无法做到让他对女孩们留心,哪怕她们多么出色。我可以告诉你,他对女孩子没有什么兴趣。”

“是的,太太。”乔若莎喃喃地开口,因为此刻这个问题似乎需要她的回答。

“在今天的例会上,有人提到你的去向问题。”

李皮太太略微停顿了一下,然后才慢条斯理地往下说。这让她的听众突然绷紧了神经,非常痛苦。

“一般情况下,你知道,孩子们过了16岁就不能继续留在这里了,不过你是特例。你14岁就读完了孤儿院的课程,成绩良好——但我不得不说,你的操行并非一直表现优良——因此我们让你继续读村里的高中。现在你即将毕业,我们不能再继续负担你的生活费。即便如此,你也比其他人多享受了两年教育。”

李皮太太完全不提乔若莎在两年中为了自己的食宿,工作得极度卖力。孤儿院的工作永远排在第一位,功课排在第二位。只要是像今天这种日子,她就得留下来打扫卫生。

“我刚才说过,有人提出你的去向问题,讨论了你的表现——彻彻底底地讨论了一番。”

李皮太太用责备的眼光盯着她的犯人,囚犯也表现出有罪的样子,倒不是因为她真的做过什么坏事,而是觉得李皮太太需要她这样。

“当然啦,对于你,我们随便安排一个工作就行了,不过你在学校的时候某些科目表现突出,英文写作甚至算得上非常出色。普丽查小姐正好在参访团里,她也是理事会的成员,她和你的作文老师谈过,为你说了很大一番好话,因为她读了你的一篇名为《蓝色的星期三》的作文。”

这下乔若莎真的认罪了。

“我觉得你在嘲笑这个为你做了这么多的孤儿院方面很有天赋,没有表示一点感激。如果你不是那么逗乐的话,我怀疑几乎没有人愿意原谅你。不过幸亏那位先生,就是刚走的那位理事先生,表现出了很强的幽默感。那篇不礼貌的文章使他愿意让你去念大学。”

“念大学?”乔若莎不可置信地睁大了眼睛。

李皮太太点了点头。

“他留下来和我讨论了条件。条件很不寻常。我觉得,这位先生真有点古怪。他觉得你对写作有些天分,想把你培养成一个作家。”

“作家?”乔若莎的脑子麻木起来,只能重复李皮太太说的话。

“那只是他的希望。结果到底怎样,以后自然会知道。他会给你足够的零用钱,对一个从没处理过钱财的女孩子来说,实在是太大方了。但是他把这些琐事安排得很周全,我几乎不能提出什么异议。这个夏天你继续留在这里,好心的普丽查小姐答应帮你添置新衣服,你的食宿与学费都由那位先生直接付给学校,在上学的4年期间,你每个月还有35美元的零用钱,足以使你跟其他学生平起平坐。每个月,这位先生的私人秘书会将这笔钱寄给你,你则每个月要给他写一封信。并不是需要你向他道谢,他对此毫不在意,你要写信告诉他人你学习的内容和日常生活的细节,就像写给你的父母一样,如果他们还在世的话。”

“这些信寄给约翰·史密斯先生,由他的秘书转交。这位先生的真名当然不是约翰·史密斯,因为他希望当个无名氏。对你而言,他永远是约翰·史密斯先生。他要求你写信的原因在于,他认为没有什么比写信更能培养人的写作能力了。既然你没有可以联络的亲人,他就希望你能这么做,另外,他也想随时知道你的学习情况。他不会给你回信,也不会对你的信吹毛求疵。他讨厌写信,但也不希望写信成为你的负担。如果出现紧急的情况需要他回复——比如你被学校开除,我想应该不会发生这种情况——你可以联系他的秘书格里兹先生。对你来说,每月写一封信是绝对要遵守的义务,这也是史密斯先生惟一的要求。所以你一定要一丝不苟,按时交付,就像付账单一样。我希望你能始终保持一种尊敬的语气,而且好好地发挥出写作技巧。你一定要记住,你的信是写给约翰·戈利尔孤儿院的理事。”

乔若莎心急地寻找着大门,她已经兴奋得有些晕头转向了,现在只想快点从李皮太太的老生常谈中逃跑,好好地思考一下。她站起身,试探着退了一步。李皮太太举手示意她留下来,这么好的教育机会怎么能随便放过呢?

“我相信你一定会感谢这个从天而降的好运吧?世上很少有像你这样出身的女孩子能遇上这种好运气。你一定要牢记……”

“我会的,太太,万分感谢您。我想,如果没有其他事,我得去缝补弗莱迪·柏金裤子上的补丁了。”

她带上房门走了,李皮太太不得不咽下被打断的满腹长篇大论,目瞪口呆地望着门——她的演说才刚刚开始呢。