|Julia Haugland reading stories to children she's caring for, about five years after "Beth" was written|
The golden sun slowly sinking behind the white snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains cast a glorious ribbon of crimson in the mirrored water of Puget Sound. The almost perfect silence of the summer evening was broken by the sound of the slowly-working engine of a sand-barge passing by Sunny Bend.
Such was the doleful sound of the engine that it seemed to add to the desolation of life for Beth, who sat alone by the window, longing for a change from her lonesome life - longing to be like other girls. She had been compelled to end her education with that of the elementary school.
It had been a sad day when her mother had passed away. She was practically alone except for her loving father, one sister and two brothers, and a very few close friends who were the only source of sympathy for her. Since she was 18 years of age and the oldest of her father's children, it had become her lot to take the place of mother in the home, while her father found it necessary to work in the city. Though Beth thought life was a desolate place - thought it drudgery to stay at home to cook and scrub and clean and to do the countless other duties - she still was patient and willing to do her best for the welfare of her home. She had no hope whatsoever for her future. She was not permitted to make joyful plans for her happiness as were most girls at her age.
It was Saturday evening and Beth was anxiously waiting for her brothers and sister to come home from their school picnic. Supper was all prepared, so Beth had decided to take a little rest and was therefore allowing her mind to wander. Presently in came Bob, happy as a lark. "Hello Beth! How's ol' Sis? Got a letter from Dad! He's coming on the 7:15 boat. Oh, boy! Supper ready?"
"Yes, everything's ready," answered Beth, feeling a bit happier, "Where's Bill and Dorothy?"
"Oh, they're loafing along. Dorothy saw some posies and wanted Bill to help her pick some. C'mon, le's eat! I'm starved!" complained Bob, all pep.
"So, Dad's coming home tonight, did you say?" asked Beth somewhat enthused.
"Yeah! He says for us to meet him at the dock. D'ya think we can all go?"
"Well, you and Bill better go because Dorothy and I will have some supper ready for Dad. I know he'll be starved on a long trip like that after a hard day's work. And we'll have to do the chores, too, before dark," reasoned Beth.
"Ah! Stick something on the stove or in the oven and leave the chores 'til we come back," suggested Bob. "Won't that be OK?"
"Well, but you see, Bob, it'll be dark by that time and our lantern is broken and we can't do it in the dark," Beth argued.
"Aw well, have it your way!" grumbled Bob.
"You'd better start out now before you eat," Beth suggested. "It's quarter to seven already, and if you meet Bill and Dorothy on the way, tell Dorothy to hurry home, and you take Bill with you. Here's a sandwich." So it was agreed.
Meantime Dorothy came home with the "spoils" of the day. Her arms were laden down with bouquets of blue bells and daisies. She was a lover of flowers - of all nature, as it were - and so it was her privilege to decorate the home. She not only loved nature, but she also had a wonderful talent to produce art. Ever since starting High School, she often hinted that she would "love" to study art as her life career, but such a thing was not to be hoped for under present conditions of the home.
However, Dorothy helped Beth to prepare for the homecoming of Dad. It was not very often that Beth could coax a little help from her sister, as it was not in Dot's line to do housework. She "hated it," as she had so often confessed. But it would not do when Dad was coming home to spend Sunday with them. She must be willing so as to keep Beth and everyone else in good humor.
All was in readiness at 7:45 when the men folks came home. Beth and Dot were happy to see their father after his absence of two weeks. Beth was especially happy as she had kept within herself some secret plans to discuss with him.
A hearty meal was enjoyed by the family. The dishes were soon "out of the way." And it was time to talk over their accomplishments. Bill had been building on a rowboat and he told of his "air-castles" as a fisherman during the summer vacation. Bob was to play in the school orchestra entertainment and tours during the summer. Dot was all enthusiasm over the newly painted picture which was to be sent to the country fair as 1st prize. And Beth - why she hadn't anything to say it seemed. So on and on the children talked until they realized that the clock had struck eleven.
The next day was a busy one. Before Sunday School at 10 o'clock, the chores were to be done, the house was to be straightened up and the dinner was to be half-way prepared.
All except Beth and her father had left for Sunday School when Beth thought it the best opportunity to speak her wishes.
"Dad," she said, as they started to climb the uphill path, "I want to have a talk with you. Your know I have been so lonesome this last week. It seems that there is no hope for me. Here I stay at home every day without a chance in the world to get any peace. I'm getting tired of it all. I wish that in some way I might be able to attend the Nurses' Training School. You know it is just another year before Dot will be graduating from High School and maybe..." Beth stopped to ascertain her father's will.
"Beth, my dear girl, I have been thinking much of you these days. And I have a secret I want to disclose to you. How would you like to have...a step-mother?" he asked with some hesitation.
"Oh, but Daddy, you know what I think of step-mothers. You know what kind of a step-mother Mary Wilson has, and it seems that all step-mothers are alike in..." Again Beth was interrupted.
"But Beth, if you only knew what a sweet woman she is. She is the matron of a girls' home in Los Angeles. She's almost what I would call a God-sent mother to help unfortunate ones as we are. If you could only see her, Beth! I am going to bring her home with me in about three weeks. I'm sure, Beth, that you will be a happy girl when you see her and learn to know her."
"Maybe I would then have a chance to become something in this world. You know how long I have wished to be a nurse."
"Yes, Beth, it will be the best luck that could come to you."
"And maybe Dot will have a chance to attend art school a year from this coming autumn. You know how talented she is. Why, Dot could make fortunes in that sort of work."
"Yes, all will be well." Now they realized that they were in the presence of the church people and were almost on the church steps, so thus the conversation closed with happy hopes.
Sunday School came to a close and during the short recess before morning Worship, Beth was permitted to meet a few friends and to have a little chat, but that was all, before the service opened. During the service, Beth was embarrassed to detect a handsome young man's quick, shy glances at her. She noticed that he wore a neat suit of clothes and was, all in all, a well-groomed man - almost too much so to pay any attention to a hard-working girl like Beth. Nevertheless, the sermon was a blank speech by the time Beth realized that the service was drawing to a close. Such embarrassment had Beth never before experienced. To think that a handsome man had his eye on her was almost too much for her. However, as the opportunity presented itself, Beth found herself being introduced to one - Dick Coleridge. Never had she known such a likable personage. He shook her hand with a warm grasp that made Beth tremble and blush.
"Very glad to meet you, I'm sure, Miss Beth," said Dick in recognition of his introduction.
"How do you do?" replied Beth, shyly.
"Fine summer we had, wasn't it?"
"Yes, indeed," bid Beth, who was not a bit responsible for any comment on the summer.
The conversation was interrupted by a woman who wished to speak to Beth about some church program. She wanted to know if Beth thought Bob would play his saxophone "a week from this evening." Beth assured her that Bob would be willing. And so after usual inquiries of Beth's health and so forth the woman left, only to leave Beth to go home.
Beth could not forget that kind face of Dick Coleridge as she walked home ahead of the rest in order to prepare the noon meal. She felt somewhat positive that it wasn't the only time she would see him. Happy thoughts came to Beth. Probably her dreams would come true after all. Probably she would be like other girls in the near future.
The Sunday afternoon passed swiftly by, only to disclose the sunset - the end of a perfect day.
Beth's father must leave for work early in the morning - probably before daybreak. So Beth arose early to prepare a warm meal, and bade farewell to him.
What joy Beth experienced with her gay expectations. Life seemed a new place now. She would soon be loosed from the ties that kept her away from the outside world. She was treading on rosy paths. Life was really worth something after all. In just three more months Beth would be in training. She would send in her application immediately.
Two weeks passed by and the McDonald household was moving about so swiftly and working in such harmony that the change was almost unbelievable. They were happily making preparations for the expected "immigrant" to their home. Wouldn't it be strange to call someone "Mother" now, after the long absence of their own dear mother.
* * * *
The first nine months of her training were strenuous ones, but Beth's strength was enough to "buck the tide." She was a new girl since she had been relieved of her motherly responsibilities at home. However, she had not neglected to "drop a few lines" to her home at least once a week. She continued to be the same sweet girl and was not in the least influenced by the "flapper" nurses who were there just for the hopes that after finishing their training course they would earn enormous salaries. They did not have the capacity of sweet sympathy of which a devoted nurse was a fortunate owner. To the latter type belonged Beth McDonald - a heaven-sent angel to have mercy on the suffering human being.
As she scurried from room to room to aid the patients, she was always cheerful, always radiating gladness and sunshine to the hearts of the unfortunate ones.
In one room there was a little girl suffering from the results of an accident. She was an enthusiastic admirer of Beth and was often heard asking for the "nurse that smiles at me and tells me stories." Another patient was a dear old woman who loved Beth as her very own daughter. She would often ask Beth to come to her home when the elderly lady would be able to leave the hospital - to leave her bed of suffering.
And so on through each day Beth was admired and loved by everyone.
A collision of two automobiles has sent three more patients to the hospital, and Beth was given the charge of Room 516, where she ministered to a young man for a week or so when the youth had acquired sufficient strength to converse with others. It was one sunny morning that he had an opportunity to speak to his sweet nurse. He had been studying her smiling face until he seemed to recognize her.
"Are you not the Miss Beth I met one Sunday morning in that country church about a year ago? If so, you probably remember me."
Beth was a little embarrassed to recognize this handsome gentleman who had been looking at her so much during that service so long ago.
"Why...uh...yes, I believe I do remember now when I think back...uh...your name is Dick Coleridge, is it not?"
"Yes, yes, that's it. Well, well, so you have become a nurse, and a good one at that."
Beth blushed at the sudden compliment, for she felt in her heart that there was something more than admiration for the young man.
However, as time flew by, and her new friend was recovering rapidly from his injuries, their acquaintance grew to deeper admiration of each other - and more than that. Dick confessed to himself that never before had he met such a "sweet little girl."
* * * *
It was late afternoon on a beautiful summer's day! A car stopped in front of a new little bungalow on Parkland Street, surrounded by a velvet-like lawn, well-kept shrubbery and beds of beautiful flowers. The young man drew a long breath, and took the steps of the veranda three at a time, bursting into the living room. In an easy chair, watching for the young man's return, sat a little woman holding in her motherly arms a real "bundle of love." The man kissed the little mother and looked with fatherly love upon the little sleeping child in her arms.
Later at the table the man glanced over the evening paper and said, "Beth, dear, the dinner is wonderful. You get to be a better cook every day."
"Oh, Dick, babykins is crying."
Dick picked the baby up into his big arms and sat in the big easy chair to quiet the "sweet little thing" while Beth sat on the arm of the chair, with tears of joy in her eyes.
The fire in the hearth burned brightly and swiftly. Enfolding shadows closed slowly about the happy little home.
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