Story of the
Vere De Vere by
The landlord called it an apartment-house, the tenants called their
three or four little closets of rooms, flats, and perhaps if you or I
had chanced to be in West —— Street, near the river, and had glanced
up at the ugly red brick structure, with the impracticable fire-escape
crawling up its front, like an ugly spider, we should have said it was a
common tenement house.
Druse, however, had thought it, if a trifle dirty, a very magnificent
and desirable dwelling. The entrance floor was tesselated with diamonds
of blue and white; there was a row of little brass knobs and
letter-boxes, with ill-written names or printed cards stuck askew in the
openings above them. Druse did not guess their uses at first, how
should she? She had never in all her fifteen years, been in the city
before. How should one learn the ways of apartment-houses when one had
lived always in a little gray, weather-beaten house, on the very
outskirts of a straggling village in Eastern Connecticut?
It happened like this. One day, Tom, the fourth of the nine hungry and
turbulent children, sent to the store on an errand, returned, bringing a
letter. A letter, that was not a circular about fertilizers, or one of
those polite and persuasive invitations to vote for a certain man for a
town office, which penetrated even to the Hand's little gray kennel of a
house toward election-time, was such a rarity that Mrs. Hand forgot the
bread just done in the oven, and sank down wearily on the door-step to
"Well, you ain't a-goin'," she said to Drusilla, who stood quite
patiently by, with a faint color in her pale face. "No, sir, you ain't
a-goin' one step. She was too stuck-up to come here when she was alive,
'n' you ain't a-goin' to take care of her children dead, 'n' that's the
end of it."
Druse made no reply. She never did. Instead, she bent her thin, childish
back, and pulled the burning bread out of the oven.
None the less, Druse went.
It was all Pop's work. Pop was meek and soft; he cried gently of a
Sunday evening at church, the tears trickling down the furrowed
leather-colored skin into the sparse beard, and on week-days he was wont
to wear a wide and vacuous smile; yet somehow, if Pop said this or that
should be, it was,—at least in the little house on the edge of the
And Pop had said Druse should go. For after all, the case is hard, even
if one is occupying a lofty position to rural eyes as a carpenter in
"York," with a city wife, who has flung her head contemptuously at the
idea of visiting his ne'er-do-weel brother; the case is hard, no matter
how high one's station may be, to be left with three motherless
children, over-fond of the street, with no one to look after them, or
make ready a comfortable bit of dinner at night. And so, considering
that Elviry was fourteen, and stronger than Druse, any way, and that
John Hand had promised to send a certain little sum to his brother every
month, as well as to clothe Druse, Druse went to live in the fourth flat
in the Vere de Vere.
Perhaps that was not just the name, but it was something equally
high-sounding and aristocratic; and it seemed quite fitting that one of
the dirty little cards that instructed the postman and the caller,
should bear the pleasing name, "Blanche de Courcy." But Druse had never
read novels. Her acquaintance with fiction had been made entirely
through the medium of the Methodist Sunday School library, and the
heroines did not, as a rule, belong to the higher rank in which, as we
know, the lords and ladies are all Aubreys, and Montmorencis, and
Maudes, and Blanches. Still even Druse's untrained eye lingered with
pleasure on the name, as she came in one morning, after having tasted
the delights of life in the Vere de Vere for a couple of weeks. She felt
that she now lived a very idle life. She had coaxed the three children
into a regular attendance at school, and her uncle was always away until
night. She could not find enough work to occupy her, though, true to her
training, when there was nothing else to do she scrubbed everything
wooden and scoured everything tin. Still there were long hours when it
was tiresome to sit listening to the tramping overhead, or the quarrels
below, watching the slow hands of the clock; and Druse was afraid in the
streets yet, though she did not dare say so, because her bold, pert
little cousins laughed at her. She was indeed terribly lonely. Her uncle
was a man of few words; he ate his supper, and went to sleep after his
pipe and the foaming pitcher of beer that had frightened Druse when she
first came. For Druse had been a "Daughter of Temperance" in East Green.
She had never seen any one drink beer before. She thought of the poem
that the minister's daughter (in pale blue muslin, tucked to the waist)
had recited at the Temperance Lodge meeting. It began:
"Pause, haughty man, whose lips are at the brim
Of Hell's own draught, in yonder goblet rare—"
She wished she had courage to repeat it. She felt if Uncle John could
have heard Lucinda recite it—. Yet he might not think it meant him; he
was not haughty, although he was a carpenter, and the beer he drank out
of one of the children's mugs. But it troubled Druse. She thought of it
as she sat one afternoon, gravely crotcheting a tidy after an East Green
pattern, before it was time for the children to be back from school. It
was a warm day in October, so warm that she had opened the window,
letting in with the air the effluvia from the filthy street, and the
discordant noises. The lady in the flat above was whipping a refractory
child, whose cries came distinctly through the poor floors and
partitions of the Vere De Vere.
Suddenly there was a loud, clumsy knock at the door. She opened it, and
a small boy with a great basket of frilled and ruffled clothes, peeping
from under the cover, confronted her.
"Say, lady," he asked, red and cross, "Is yer name De Courcy?"
"No, it ain't," replied Druse. "She's the back flat to the right, here.
I'll show you," she added, with the country instinct of "neighboring."
The boy followed her, grumbling, through the long narrow hall, and as
Druse turned to go, after his loud pound on the door, it suddenly flew
open. Druse stood rooted to the ground. A dirty pink silk wrapper, with
a long train covered with dirtier lace, is not a beautiful garment by
full daylight. Yet to untrained eyes it looked almost gorgeous,
gathered about the handsome form. Miss De Courcy had failed to arrange
her hair for the afternoon, and it fell in heavy black folds on her
shoulders, and her temples were bandaged by a white handkerchief.
Perhaps it was not strange that Druse stood and gazed at her. The dark,
brilliant eyes fixed themselves on the slight, flat-chested little form,
clad in brown alpaca, on the pale hair drawn straight back from the pale
face, and arranged in a tight knob at the back of the head.
A whim seized the fair wearer of the negligée. "Come in and sit down, I
want to talk to you. There, leave the clothes, boy. I'll pay your mother
next time," and she pushed the boy out, and drew the young girl in with
Druse looked around the room in bewilderment. It was not exactly dirty,
but things seemed to have been thrown in their places. The carpet was
bright, and much stained, rather than worn; hideous plaques and plush
decorations abounded. A crimson chair had lost a leg, and was pushed
ignominiously in a corner of the tiny room; a table was crowded with
bottles and fragments of food, and a worn, velvet jacket and
much-beplumed hat lay amongst them. A ragged lace skirt hung over the
blue sofa, on one corner of which Miss De Courcy threw herself down,
revealing a pair of high heeled scarlet slippers. "Sit down," she said,
in a rather metallic voice, that ill accorded with the rounded curves of
face and figure. "I've got a beastly headache," pushing up the bandage
on her low brow. "What did you run for, when I opened the door? Did your
folks tell you not to come in here, ever?"
"Why, no, ma'am!" said Druse, raising her blue, flower-like eyes
"Oh! well," responded Miss De Courcy, with a hoarse little laugh of
amusement. "I thought they might have—thought maybe they objected to
your making 'cquaintances without a regular introduction, you know.
Haven't been here long, have you?"
"No," said Druse, looking down at her tidy, with a sudden homesick
thrill. "No, I—I come from East Green, Connecticut. I ain't got used to
it here, much. It's kind o' lonesome, days. I s'pose you don't mind it.
It's different if you're used to it, I guess."
Somehow Druse did not feel as timid as usual, though her weak little
voice, thin, like the rest of her, faltered a trifle, but then she had
never called on a lady so magnificently dressed before.
"Yes, I'm pretty well used to it by this," replied Miss De Courcy, with
the same joyless little laugh, giving the lace skirt an absent-minded
kick with her red morocco toe. "I lived in the country before—when I
"You did!" exclaimed Druse. "Then I guess you know how it is at first.
When you think every Friday night (there ain't been but two, yet)
'There, they're gettin' ready for Lodge meetin';' and every Sunday
evenin' 'bout half-past seven: 'I guess it's mos' time for the Meth'dis'
bell to ring. I must get my brown felt on, and—'"
"Your what?" asked Miss De Courcy.
"My brown felt, my hat, an'—oh! well, there's lots o' things I kind o'
forget, and start to get ready for. An' I can't sleep much on account of
not having Bell an' Virey an' Mimy to bed with me. It's so lonesome
without 'em. The children here won't sleep with me. I did have Gusty one
night, but I woke her up four times hangin' on to her. I'm so used to
holding Mimy in! Oh! I guess I'll get over it all right, but you know
how it is yourself."
Miss De Courcy did not reply. She had closed her eyes, and now she gave
the bandage on her head an angry twich. "Oh, how it aches!" she said
through her shut teeth. "Here, give me that bottle on the stand, will
you? It'll make it worse, but I don't care. My doctor's medicine
don't seem to do me much good, but I sort of keep on taking it," she
said to Druse, grandly as she poured out a brownish liquid into the
cloudy glass that the good little housekeeper had eyed dubiously, before
giving it to her.
Miss De Courcy's doctor evidently believed in stimulants; a strong odor
of Scotch whiskey filled the room.
"It smells quite powerful, does'nt it?" she said. "It has something in
it to keep it, you know. It's very unpleasant to take," she added,
rolling up her brown eyes to Druse's compassionate face.
"I do' know as it would do you any good, prob'ly it wouldn't," said
Druse shyly, shifting the glass from one hand to the other, "but I used
to stroke Ma's head lots, when she had a chance to set down, and it
Miss De Courcy promptly stretched herself at full length, and settled
her feet comfortably in the lace skirts, in which the high, sharp heels
tore two additional rents, and pulled the bandage from her forehead.
"Go ahead," she said, laconically. Druse dragged a chair to the side of
the couch, and for some minutes there was silence—that is, the
comparative silence that might exist in the Vere De Vere—while she
deftly touched the burning smooth flesh with her finger tips.
Miss De Courcy opened her eyes drowsily. "I guess I'm going to get a
nap, after all. You're doing it splendid. You'll come and see me again,
won't you? Say, don't tell your folks you was here to-day, will you?
I'll tell you why. I—I've got a brother that drinks. It's awful. He
comes to see me evenings a good deal, and some daytimes. They'd be
afraid he'd be home, 'n' they wouldn't let you come again. He's cross,
you see 'n' they'd never—let you come again 'f you—"
Miss De Courcy was almost overpowered by sleep. She roused herself a
moment and looked at Druse with dull pleading. "Don't you tell 'em,
will you? Promise! I want you to come again. A girl isn't to blame if
her father—I mean her brother—"
"Yes, ma'am, I'll promise, of course I will," said Druse hastily, her
thin little bosom swelling with compassion. "I won't never let 'em know
I know you, if you say so. No, ma'am, it's awful cruel to blame you for
your brother's drinkin'. I've got some pieces about it at home, about
folkses' families a-sufferin' for their drinkin'. I'd like to come again
if you want me. I'm afraid I ain't much company, but I could stroke your
head every time you have a headache. It's awful nice to know somebody
that's lived in the country and understands just how it is when you
Druse looked down. The doctor's remedy was apparently successful this
time, for with crimson cheeks and parted lips, Miss Blanche De Courcy
had forgotten her headache in a very profound slumber. Druse gazed at
her with mingled admiration and pity. No wonder the room seemed a
little untidy. She would have liked to put it to rights, but fearing she
might waken her new friend, who was now breathing very heavily, she only
pulled the shade down, and with a last compassionate glance at the
victim of a brother's intemperance, she picked up her crocheting and
tip-toed lightly from the room.
After that life in the Vere De Vere was not so dreary. Druse was not
secretive, but she had the accomplishment of silence, and she kept her
promise to the letter. Druse could not feel that she could be much
consolation to so elegant a being. Miss De Courcy was often distraite
when she brought her crocheting in of an afternoon, or else she was
extremely, not to say boisterously gay, and talked or laughed
incessantly, or sang at the upright piano that looked too large for the
little parlor. The songs were apt to be compositions with such titles
as, "Pretty Maggie Kelly," and "Don't Kick him when He's Down," but
Druse never heard anything more reprehensible, and she thought them
Sometimes, quite often indeed, her hostess had the headaches that forced
her to resort to the doctor's disagreeable remedy from the black bottle,
or was sleeping off a headache on the sofa. Miss De Courcy did not seem
to have many women friends. Once, it is true, two ladies with brilliant
golden hair, and cheeks flushed perhaps by the toilsome ascent to the
fourth floor, rustled loudly into the parlor. They were very gay, and so
finely dressed, one in a bright green plush coat, and the other in a
combination of reds, that Druse made a frightened plunge for the door
and escaped, but not before one of the ladies had inquired, with a peal
of laughter, "Who's the kid?" Druse had flushed resentfully, but she did
not care when her friend told her afterward, with a toss of the head,
"They're nothing. They just come here to see how I was fixed."
After a little Druse offered timidly to clean up the room for her, and
quite regularly then, would appear on each Wednesday with her broom and
duster, happy to be allowed to bring order out of chaos.
"Well, you are a good little thing," Miss De Courcy would say, pulling
on her yellow gloves and starting for the street when the dust began to
fly. She never seemed to be doing anything. A few torn books lay about,
but Druse never saw her open them. She had warned Druse not to come in
of an evening, for her brother might be home in a temper. Druse thought
she saw him once, such a handsome man with his hair lightly tinged with
gray; he was turning down the hall as Druse came wearily up the stairs,
and she saw him go in Miss De Courcy's room; but then again when Gusty
was sick, and she had to go down at night and beg the janitress to come
up and see if it were the measles, there was a much younger man, with
reddened eyes, from whose glance Druse shrank as she passed him, and he
certainly reeled a little, and he also went in Miss De Courcy's door,
and from motives of delicacy she did not ask which was he,—though she
felt a deep curiosity to know. Not that Miss De Courcy refrained from
mentioning him. On the contrary, she told heart-rending incidents of his
cruelty, as she tilted back and forth lazily in her rocking-chair, while
Druse sat by, spellbound, her thin hands clasped tightly over the work
in her lap, neglecting even the bon-bons that Miss De Courcy lavished
One morning there was a cruel purple mark on the smooth dark skin of
Miss De Courcy's brow, and the round wrist was red and swollen. Druse's
eyes flashed as she saw them. "I expect I'm as wicked as a murderer,"
she said, "for I wish that brother of yours was dead. Yes, I do, 'n' I'd
like to kill him!" And the self-contained and usually stoical little
thing burst into passionate tears, and hid her face in Miss De Courcy's
A dark flush passed over that young lady's face, and something glittered
in the hard blue eyes. She drew Druse tight against her heart, as though
she would never let her go, and then she laughed nervously, trying to
soothe her. "There, there, it ain't anything. They're all brutes, but I
was ugly myself last night, 'n' made him mad. Tell me something about
the country, Druse, like you did the other day—anything. I don't care."
"Do you wish you was back there, too?" asked homesick Druse, wistfully.
Druse could no more take root in the city than could a partridge-berry
plant, set in the flinty earth of the back-yard.
"Wish I was back? Yes, if I could go back where I used to live," said
Miss De Courcy with her hoarse, abrupt little laugh. "No, I don't
either. Folks are pretty much all devils, city or country."
Druse shivered a little. She looked up with dumb pleading into the
reckless, beautiful face she had learned to love so well from her humble
tendings and ministerings. She had the nature to love where she served.
She had no words to say, but Miss De Courcy turned away from the
sorrowful, puzzled eyes of forget-me-not blue, the sole beauty of the
homely, irregular little face.
"I was only a-joking, Druse," she added, smiling. "Come, let's make some
But Druse did not forget these and other words. She pondered over them
as she lay in her stifling little dark bedroom at night, or attended to
her work by day, and she waged many an imaginary battle for the
beautiful, idle woman who represented the grace of life to her.
The fat janitress sometimes stopped to gossip a moment with Druse.
"Ever seen Miss De Courcy on your floor?" she asked, one day, curiously.
"Yes, ma'am, I—I've seen her," replied Druse, truthfully, the color
rising to her pale cheeks.
"O Lord!" ejaculated the janitress, heaving a portentous sigh from the
depths of her capacious, brown calico-covered bosom, "if I was the owner
of these here flats, instead of the old miser that's got 'em, wouldn't I
have a clearin' out! Wouldn't I root the vice and wickedness out of some
of 'em! Old Lowder don't care what he gits in here, so long's they pay
Druse did not reply. She felt sure that the janitress meant Miss De
Courcy's drunken brother, and she was very glad that "old Lowder" was
not so particular, for she shuddered to think how lonely she should be
were it not for the back flat to the right. Even the janitress, who
seemed so kind, was heartless to Miss De Courcy because she had a
Druse began to find the world very, very cruel. The days went on, and
the two lives, so radically unlike, grew closer entwined. Druse lost
none of her stern, angular little ways. She did not learn to lounge, or
to desire fine clothing. If either changed, an observer, had there been
one, might have noticed that Miss De Courcy did not need as much
medicine as formerly, that the hard ring of her laugh was softened when
Druse went by, and that never an oath—and we have heard that ladies of
the highest rank have been known to swear under strong
provocation—escaped the full red lips in Druse's presence.
One morning Druse went about the household duties with aching limbs and
a dizzy head. For the first since she had acted as her uncle's
housekeeper, she looked hopelessly at the kitchen floor, and left it
unscrubbed: it was sweeping day, too, but the little rooms were left
unswept, and she lay all the morning in her dark bedroom, in increasing
dizziness and pain. For some days she had been languid and
indisposed, and now real illness overcame her; her head was burning, and
vague fears of sickness assaulted her, and a dread of the loneliness of
the black little room. She dragged herself down the hall. Miss De Courcy
opened the door. Her own eyes were red and swollen as with unshed tears.
She pulled Druse in impetuously.
"I'm so glad you're come. I—Why, child, what is the matter with you?
What ails you, Druse?"
She took Druse's hot little hand in her's and led her to the mirror.
Druse looked at herself with dull, sick eyes; her usually pallid face
was crimson, and beneath the skin, purplish angry discolorations
appeared in the flesh.
"I guess I'm goin' to be sick," she said, with a despairing cadence. "I
expect it's somethin' catchin'. I'll go home. Let me go home."
She started for the door, but her limbs suddenly gave way, and she
fell, a limp little heap on the floor.
Miss De Courcy looked at her a moment in silence. Her eyes wandered
about the room, and fell on a crumpled letter on the table. She paused a
moment, then she turned decisively, and let down the folding-bed that
stood in the corner by day. She lifted the half-conscious Druse in her
strong young arms, and laid her on the bed. It was only a few minutes'
work to remove the coarse garments, and wrap her in a perfumed, frilled
nightdress, that hung loosely on the spare little form. Miss De Courcy
surveyed the feverish face against the pillows anxiously. Druse half
opened her dull eyes and moaned feebly; she lifted her thin arms and
clasped them around Miss De Courcy's neck. "Ain't you good!" she said
thickly, drawing the cool cheek down against her hot brow.
"I'm going for the doctor, Druse," said Miss De Courcy, coaxingly. "Now,
you lay right still, and I'll be back in no time. Don't you move;
And Druse gave an incoherent murmur that passed for a promise.
The doctor, who lived on the corner, a shabby, coarse little man, roused
her from a fevered dream. He asked a few questions perfunctorily, turned
the small face to the light a moment, and cynically shrugged his
"Small-pox," was his laconic remark, when he had followed Miss De Courcy
into the next room.
"Then she's going to stay right here," said that young woman firmly.
"Well, I guess not" replied the doctor, looking her over. "How about
your own complexion if you take it?" he added, planting a question he
expected to tell.
Miss De Courcy's remark was couched in such forcible terms that I think
I had better not repeat it. It ought to have convinced any doctor
living that her complexion was her own affair.
"Oh! that's all right," replied the man of science, unoffended, a tardy
recognition of her valor showing through his easy insolence. "But how
about the Board of Health, and how about me? She's better off in a
hospital, any way. You can't take care of her," with a scornful glance
at the draggled finery and striking hat. "What do you want to try it
for? I can't let the contagion spread all over the house, you know; how
would you get anything to eat? No, it's no use. She's got to go. I'm not
going to ruin my reputation as a doctor, and—"
Miss De Courcy smiled sweetly into the doctor's hard, common face. She
drew a purse from her pocket, and selected several bills from a roll
that made his small eyes light up greedily, and pressing the little
packet into his not too reluctant fingers, she remarked significantly,
as she sat down easily on the top of a low table:
"You're mistaken about what's the matter with her, doctor. She's got
the chicken-pox. You just look at her again as you go out, and you'll
see that I am right. But it's just as well to be careful. You might mail
a note for me when you go out, and my wash-woman will buy things for me,
and bring them up here to the door. I'll swear I won't go out till you
say I may, or till you take me to the hospital. And then, as you go
along, you can step into the front flat left, and tell her uncle she's
took bad with chicken-pox. He's got a lot of young ones, and he'll be
glad enough to let me do it, see? And of course, chicken-pox is quite
serious sometimes. I should expect to pay a doctor pretty well to bring
a patient out of it," she added, with a placid smile.
The doctor had turned, and was looking with deep interest at a chromo on
"I'll take another look at her. I may have been mistaken, doctors
sometimes are—symptoms alike—and—m—m—you can get that letter ready
for me to mail."
Strange days and nights ensued. Druse had a dim knowledge of knocks at
the door at night, of curses and oaths muttered in the hall, of Miss De
Courcy's pleading whispers, of a final torrent of imprecations, and then
of a comparative lull; of days and nights so much alike in their fevered
dull monotony that one could not guess where one ended and another
began; of an occasional glimpse that melted into the general delirium,
of Miss De Courcy's face, white, with heavy, dark-ringed eyes, bending
over her, and of Miss De Courcy's voice, softened and changed, with
never a harsh note; of her hand always ready with cooling drink for the
blackened, dreadful mouth. Yes, in the first few days Druse was
conscious of this much, and of a vague knowledge that the rocking ship
on which she was sailing in scorching heat, that burnt the flesh from
the body, was Miss De Courcy's bed; and then complete darkness closed
in upon the dizzy little traveller, sailing on and on in the black,
burning night, further and further away from the world and from life.
How could she guess how many days and nights she sailed thus? The ship
stopped, that was all she knew; but still it was dark, so dark; and then
she was in a strange land where the air was fire, and everything one
touched was raging with heat, and her hands, why had they bandaged her
hands, so that she could not move them?
"I can't see," said Druse, in a faint, puzzled whisper. "Is it night?"
And Miss De Courcy, bending over the bed, haggard and wan, and years
older in the ghostly gray dawn, said soothingly:
"Yes, Druse, it's night," for she knew Druse would never see the light
"Miss De Courcy!"
"I expect I've kept your brother out all this time. I hope he won't be
"No, no, Druse; be quiet and sleep."
"I can't sleep. I wish it would be morning. I want to see you, Miss De
Courcy. Well, never mind. Somehow, I guess I ain't goin' to get better.
If what I've had—ain't catchin'—I suppose you wouldn't want to—to
kiss me, would you?"
Without hesitation, the outcast bent her face, purified and celestial
with love and sacrifice; bent it over the dreadful Thing, loathsome and
decaying, beyond the semblance of human form or feature, on the
bed,—bent and kissed, as a mother would have kissed.
The gray dawn crept yet further into the room, the streets were growing
noisier, the Elevated trains rushed by the corner, the milkmen's carts
rumbled along the Avenue, the sparrows twittered loudly on the
neighboring roofs. And yet it seemed so solemnly silent in the room.
"Well, now!" said Druse, with pleased surprise, "I didn't expect you
would. What a long time it is gettin' light this mornin'. To think of
you, a-takin' care of me, like this! An' I ain't never done a thing
for you excep' the headaches and sweepin', an' even that was nicer for
me than for you. I knew you was awful good, but I never knew you was
religious before, Miss De Courcy. Nobody but folks that has religion
does such things, they say. I wish I could remember my prayers. Ain't it
strange, I've forgot them all? Couldn't you say one? Just a little one?"
And Miss De Courcy, her face buried in her hands, said, "Lord, have
mercy upon us," and said no more.
"Thank you," said Druse, more feebly, and quite satisfied. "We won't
forget each other, an' you'll promise to come by'm'by. Won't you? I'll
be so pleased when you come!"
"Yes, Druse," whispered Miss De Courcy, "I promise."
And then the terrible form that had been Druse sat up in bed with a
mighty effort, and turned its sightless eyes joyfully toward Miss De
Courcy's tear-stained face.
"It's morning! I can see you!" it said, and fell back into the faithful
arms and upon the faithful breast.
And so Druse, not having lived and died in vain, passed away forever
from the Vere De Vere.