Dora’s hands and legs trembled as she faced Mrs. Barnett and her son Patrick in uniform. She wished the earth would open and swallow her rather than face this embarrassment and threat of probable criminal record. What would happen to her child now? She’d gotten into this mess on account of the child though she knew that was really no excuse and she also knew if that’s the way this situation developed, she deserved it.
It surprising how quickly memories could be recalled and pile up on each other showing the path leading to her present situation. Thank goodness her parents were dead as they’d be so disappointed in her if alive. They’d lived the principles of the good book and raised her in a loving nurturing home modelling good citizenship. They were highly respected for their lifestyle in the little town she was brought up in. Her sister would be mortified when the news broke, and it was fortunate she lived in this large city where news like this would be feasted on today and forgotten tomorrow. But records kept in a court setting are permanent.
Basically, Dora still retained the beliefs that had directed her parent’s whole life. She knew what was right and accepted that as the ideal principle to follow and model to her child. How had she chosen to go against those principles despite hardship being experienced?
A voice broke into her thoughts as she stood shaking. “Dora, are you listening?” The voice was not unkind, but insistent.
“Yes Mrs. Barnett, what you suspect is true and I don’t know what to say. I feel so ashamed.”
Memories flashed into action again in rapid succession. She’d been halfway through her nursing studies when James finally swept her off her feet and urged her to marry him. She’d been grieving her mother’s death with her married sister and James had been pursuing her for a couple of years. She thought she’d find comfort in a marriage relationship he was urging and for a time it had been a balm to help with the loss of two parents she and her sister had idolized.
Things had begun to unravel on the birth of his child. They’d named her after Dora’s mother Mildred and James had been half hearted over the birth of a girl when he’d been longing for a son. Dora realized now that she’d possibly compounded the problem by throwing her whole energies into nurture of Milly and now, she could see that possibly he’d felt slighted not having her to himself. But that was no excuse for the coldness he began to show toward her. All those years James had pursued her and even agreed to wait until she’d finished her nursing degree before marriage. She’d begun to realize he was a controlling person and she’d allowed him to manage her all those years she’d known him until he’d become angered when she gave her full attention to the baby and not him. Dora had tried to reason with James as care for the baby overrode her cultivated submission to him, but it only made him angrier.
Then one day he’d packed his bags and moved out leaving her devastated. She had no job and couldn’t afford to live in this rented home. James had controlled the bank account and she’d no source of independent income. Surely, he had an obligation to help them find somewhere to live as she was looking after his child. She asked around among mutual friends so she could contact him and beg for assistance but the best she could get out of them was he’d left the city and they had no forwarding address. She was on her own.
Her sister and brother-in-law took her in while she attempted to pick up the pieces of a shattered life, but they were starting off in life themselves and had little to help her with financially. When she moved in her sister was expecting her second child, so their finances were tight, and while Dora was a burden, they were willing to bear it was a burden Dora knew was seriously affecting them financially. So, she urgently sought help from those she knew from her nursing education days. Obviously, nursing was out of the question as she was not yet qualified but with half her requirements done, she had some skills to offer. Her friends put her in touch with a service that cared for old people who were no longer able to care for themselves properly but not needing the skilled services of an acute care nursing home yet. She’d perform cleaning, cooking, washing and other services for selected aged care people and where nursing services were required an additional qualified nurse would attend briefly. It was hard work, but Dora poured her energies into the job to earn enough to take some of the burden of her sister and brother-in-law.
Then one evening when she returned home her brother-in-law asked to see her alone. With another baby on the way they needed the room so he asked if Dora felt she could survive if she moved out. Her sister would care for her child Milly during the day. There was no ultimation only a request to consider it. Dora knew she had to try. She’d received and signed divorce papers and as it was said James was without a job, she had no expectations of support for his child. Later she found he had been in fact married to a wealthy widow soon after her divorce.
Next day at work while working at Mrs. Barnett’s home she was sobbing as she cleaned up the house and began preparations for lunch. She was unaware of Mrs. Barnett’s presence as she sobbed during those preparations thinking the old lady was sitting on the porch in the sun. But the old lady had quietly propelled her wheelchair into the kitchen for a drink and sat quietly observing her sorrow.
“What’s the matter Dora?” The old woman’s voice broke into Dora’s sorrows.
When Dora had contained her emotions the story of her life came out in a flood. The old lady studied her for a few moments and her heart went out to this woman she’d grown to look on more as a daughter than casual employee in the home.
“Dora this is a big home as you will well be aware having to clean every day. I only use one of the four bedrooms and my children are always urging me to downsize and move into a retirement unit, but I like this place as it has happy memories of my husband, and children growing up in it. My children are grown and scattered with their families, but I still have this home to prompt those memories. It would suit me well if you moved in rent free. We could have my son get the car in working order again and you could use that instead of public transport and even take me for a ride now and then to get out of the home. I miss my trips out not having anyone to do that other than my son who visits when he can but if you are willing to be at my beck and call it may be helpful to both of us. I know you don’t get paid much by the service you work for but at least having room and board that would help you. There is the question of your child though. I’m not sure I could handle anything disturbing me when I need to sleep at night and during the day.
Dora stood there with her mouth open in surprise. Her work with the service group required she serve several homes and this woman was proposing she move in there for room and board and be available to her exclusively. Obviously, the service would not be happy with that arrangement and would discontinue her employment. There were no good options in her life, and she had to choose between bad options to see which would do her the least harm financially.
“Mrs. Barnett that is so generous of you, but I’d lose income from the service as I have to serve several homes in a day to get the meagre income I receive each week. And I’m not sure how to deal with my child’s situation. A child needs its mother particularly in the young stage of growth and I don’t feel I’m doing my job as a mother now.”
Tears formed in her eyes again as she thought of the hopelessness of her life. The woman continued to study her.
“How much does the service pay you each week.”
Dora told her and the woman considered, then spoke. “You work for me full time and I’ll pay you that much a week. Who looks after your child when you’re at work now?”
“My sister does, but she has young children of her own and I know it’s a burden to her.”
“I’m sorry but I couldn’t handle a child in the home, but we could negotiate times in the day you could visit with your child at your sister’s place using my car if that’s helpful. I’m sorry I can’t do more than that as I still must pay for nursing services from your present employer unless you can handle my medical needs with the skills you already have in your nursing courses. Think it over and let me know what you wish to do. You better quickly finish that cooking as you have other homes to clean today don’t you.”
Dora arrived at her sister’s home that evening exhausted from the work of the day. She asked to talk with her sister and brother-in-law when he returned from work. After supper her sister and brother-in-law went to their room to discuss what Dora had reported. After some time, they returned to knock on Dora’s bedroom door and came inside to sit on her bed.
Dora we could use this space for the children. If Mrs. Barnett is serious this could be a help to all of us. We will be happy to bring up Milly as our own but will need to have some financial contribution from you and we’re amazed the woman has made that offer to you and even will give you a car to drive around to visit us and Milly. This is an opportunity none of us can afford to push aside.
So, Dora entered Mrs. Barnett’s service exclusively and received the same salary each week which she turned over to her sister almost in its entirety denying herself any expensive treats and buying her clothes from thrift shops. But she realized the money she gave to her sister would not cover needs of her child as it grew, and this continuously played on her mind. She hated taking advantage of her sister that way.
By this time the old lady completely trusted Dora and turned over all the financial payments to her supervision. The utility payments rates and taxes along with the woman’s personal needs, supermarket, and Dora’s wages. The woman chose to write a check for encashment and leave settlement of everything to Dora.
Then on that fateful day Dora’s sister phoned from the hospital. They hadn’t wanted to worry Dora, but Milly had swallowed something she shouldn’t have, and they’d rushed her to the hospital and the procedure had been successful. But the hospital wouldn’t release Milly until five hundred dollars was paid. Could Dora borrow the money from her employer because they could not raise the money themselves. The old lady was taking her afternoon nap and the mother’s concern overpowered her conscience and she fled to the hospital to pay the bill. She should have told Mrs. Barnett the moment she arrived home, but she didn’t. Instead thinking over time she’d return the money out of her wages.
Her conscience plagued her, and she was desperate to know how she’d pay the bills. Then several days later after returning from the daily visit to her child the old woman confronted her. She hadn’t paid the telephone company and they were threatening to cut off the phone. So, Dora in a panic took the supermarket money and paid the telephone bill. Something about Dora’s agitation triggered suspicion in the old woman’s mind. She arranged for her son who was a police officer in the city to come over when Dora was visiting her child. He checked the status of payments to the various house services then checked the money jar and went through receipts that Dora kept on file. Money could not be accounted for.
So now on her return from a visit to her child Dora stood before Mrs. Barnett and her son in police uniform shaking. She expected the next move would be arrest and charge for theft. Her own father had been a policeman in their town for life. She’d bought discredit to his memory by her actions and that discredit would follow her child as it grew.
Mrs. Barnett spoke again, kindly but firmly. “Why Dora?”
So, the story of the hospital visit came out with a deluge of tears. These were not the tears of a woman caught out but one who’d dishonored herself by taking money without permission. She cried because of this blight on her family’s good name.
Mother and son looked at each other. It was a sad story, and they were moved. Mrs. Barnett had shared Dora’s life story with her son as they waited for her to return from her home visit. Patrick Barnett sized Dora up and liked what he saw. Her repentance was genuine, and he’d investigated her family history and knew she came from a good family. He understood the concern of a mother for her daughter though the law was the law
Patrick spoke. “Dora, I think the stress of what you’ve done has been punishing you for a while so perhaps you’ve been punished enough. I received word from the doctor today that my mother needs to move into high level care. Her latest tests show she doesn’t have much time to live so you wouldn’t be able to help her much now.” He paused to watch Dora’s expression.
“I’m so sorry to hear that sir and particularly so knowing I’ve betrayed her trust when she’s been so good to me. Shall I get ready for you to take me to the station for charging for theft?” She felt so helpless. How would her sister be able to afford her child in the home without extra salary contribution? She stood waiting for the final word.
“Dora my mother has discussed what should be done and I think her suggestion is a good one. With mother in high level care the family feels we should dispose of the home. Now I have a solution that may care for both our needs. My wife died two years ago leaving me with a child to look after and I’ve had mother-in-law, sisters and my wife’s sisters taking time off in turn to care for the child while I’m at work. This arrangement naturally is causing friction as they have families of their own in other cities to care for. So, if you’re agreeable, you could be my housekeeper and I’d be happy for you to bring your own child to live at my place. I understand what drove you to take that money but having investigated your family background and on the recommendation of my mother I’m putting this to you as a possibility. I don’t think you could get a better offer and it certainly would solve my problem as I believe you’d look after my child well and keep an eye on my mother in high level care while I continue to do my job. Perhaps you could build your feeling of self-worth again caring for those I love and be fully supported by me for doing that. What do you say?”
Dora cried for several minutes, and the old lady wheeled herself across to put her arm around her. “Hush child! Please accept my son’s offer.”
“Yes, sir and thank you sir and you too Mrs. Barnett for your forgiveness and kindness.”
Patrick took out a stack of dollars and counted them. “Here’s five hundred dollars to replace what you took. Go and pay all the outstanding accounts.” He paused and counted out another two hundred dollars.
“Please buy some cheerful clothes Dora. People will think bad of me if they see you wearing those clothes in my home. Now tomorrow help my mother pack the required things and see she is registered in this high-level care place the doctors have already arranged for and make her comfortable.” He wrote the address of the hospital and handed it to her then withdrew it to write his phone number handing it back.
“Phone me when that’s done then lock the house after collecting your personal things and transfer your things to this address. Take mother’s car with you” He took out another leaf from his notebook and wrote his address. “I’ll phone my sister to set you up in a room there where you can have privacy with your child. My sister will be delighted to see you as she wants to get back to her husband. She will introduce you to my daughter Claire when you arrive. Claire is precious to me so guard her carefully when I’m at work. Oh, and please don’t call me sir, I hate that! Call me Patrick as everyone does that.”
“Yes sir, I mean yes Patrick.”
Patrick smiled at her. “Mother loves you very much, so I anticipate we’ll get along just fine, and we’ll never mention the missing money again, OK?”
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