THE SON OF JOSEPHINE
THE TALE OF A FOUNDLING
The house was very quiet next day. All the men, except the Critic and the Sculptor, had made an early and hurried run to Paris. So we saw little of each other until we gathered for dinner, and the conversation was calm–in fact subdued.
The Doctor was especially quiet. No one was really gay except the Youngster. He talked of what he had seen in Paris–the silent streets–the moods of the women–the sight of officers in khaki flying about in big touring cars–and no one asked what had really taken them to town.
The Trained Nurse and I had walked to the nearest village, but we brought back little in the way of news. The only interesting thing we saw was Monsieur le Cure talking to a handsome young peasant woman in the square before the church. We heard her say, with a sob in her throat, “If my man does not come back, I’ll never say my prayers again. I’ll never pray to a God who let this thing happen unless my man comes back.”
“She will, just the same,” said the Lawyer. “One of the strangest features of such a catastrophe is that it steadies a race, especially the race convinced that it has right on its side.”
“It goes deeper than that,” said the Journalist. “It strikes millions with the same pain, and they bear together what they could not have faced separately.”
“True,” remarked the Doctor, “and that is one reason why I have always mistrusted the effort of people outside the radius of disaster to help in anyway, except scientifically.”
“That is rather a cruel idea,” commented the Trained Nurse.
“Perhaps. But I believe organized charity even of that sort is usually ineffective, and weakens the race that accepts it. I believe victims of such disaster are healthier and come out stronger for facing it, dying, or surviving, as Fate decrees.”
“Keep off the grass,” cried the Youngster. “I brought back a car full of books.” The hint was taken, and we talked of books until the coffee came out.
As usual, the Trained Nurse sat behind the pot, and when we were all served, she pushed the tray back, folded her strong capable white hands on the edge of the table, and said quietly:
” Messieurs et Mesdames “–
We lit our cigarettes, and she began:
* * * * *
It was the first year after I left home and took up nursing. I had a room at that time in one of the Friendly Society refuges on the lower side of Beacon Hill. It was under the auspices of an Episcopal High Church in the days of Father Hall, and was rather English in tone. Indeed its matron was an Englishwoman–gentle, round-faced, lace-capped, and very sympathetic. I was very fond of her. I had, as a seamstress, a neat little girl named Josephine.
Josephine was a tiny creature, all grey in tone, with mouse-colored hair. She was a foundling. She had not the least notion who her people were. Her first recollections were of the orphan asylum where she was brought up. In her early teens she had been bound out to a dressmaker, who had been kind to her, and, when her first employer died, Josephine, who had saved a little money, and longed for independence, began to go out as a seamstress among the women she had grown to know in the dressmaking establishment, and went to live at one of the Christian Association homes for working girls.
Every one knows what those boarding houses are–two or three hundred girls of all ages, from sixteen up, of all temperaments. All girls willing to submit to control; girls with their gay days and their tragic, girls of ambition, and girls with faith in the future, as well as girls of no luck, and girls with their simple youthful romances.