Chapter XIV. From Me to You with Love
 

It was certainly a gay one--that holiday week. Beginning with the James Blaisdells' housewarming it was one continuous round of dances, dinners, sleigh-rides and skating parties for Hillerton's young people particularly for the Blaisdells, the Pennocks, and the Gaylords.

Mr. Smith, at Miss Maggie's, saw comparatively little of it all, though he had almost daily reports from Benny, Mellicent, or Miss Flora, who came often to Miss Maggie's for a little chat. It was from Miss Flora that he learned the outcome of Mellicent's present to her mother. The week was past, and Miss Flora had come down to Miss Maggie's for a little visit.

Mr. Smith still worked at the table in the corner of the living-room, though the Duff-Blaisdell records were all long ago copied. He was at work now sorting and tabulating other Blaisdell records. Mr. Smith seemed to find no end to the work that had to be done on his Blaisdell book.

As Miss Flora entered the room she greeted Mr. Smith cordially, and dropped into a chair.

"Well, they've gone at last," she panted, handing her furs to Miss Maggie; "so I thought I'd come down and talk things over. No, don't go, Mr. Smith," she begged, as he made a move toward departure. "I hain't come; to say nothin' private; besides, you're one of the family, anyhow. Keep right on with your work; please."

Thus entreated, Mr. Smith went back to his table, and Miss Flora settled herself more comfortably in Miss Maggie's easiest chair.

"So they're all gone," said Miss Maggie cheerily.

"Yes; an' it's time they did, to my way of thinkin'. Mercy me, what a week it has been! They hain't been still a minute, not one of 'em, except for a few hours' sleep--toward mornin'."

"But what a good time they've had!" exulted Miss Maggie.

"Yes. And didn't it do your soul good to see Mellicent? But Jane--Jane nearly had a fit. She told Mellicent that all this gayety was nothing but froth and flimsiness and vexation of spirit. That she knew it because she'd been all through it when she was young, and she knew the vanity of it. And Mellicent--what do you suppose that child said?"

"I can't imagine," smiled Miss Maggie.

"She said she wanted to see the vanity of it, too. Pretty cute of her, too, wasn't it? Still it's just as well she's gone back to school, I think myself. She's been repressed and held back so long, that when she did let loose, it was just like cutting the puckering string of a bunched-up ruffle--she flew in all directions, and there was no holding her back anywhere; and I suppose she has been a bit foolish and extravagant in the things she's asked for. Poor dear, though, she did get one setback."

"What do you mean?" "Did she tell you about the present for her mother?"

"That she was going to get it--yes."

Across the room Mr. Smith looked up suddenly.

"Well, she got it." Miss Flora's thin lips snapped grimly over the terse words. "But she had to take it back."

"Take it back!" cried Miss Maggie.

"Yes. And 'twas a beauty--one of them light purple stones with two pearls. Mellicent showed it to me--on the way home from the store, you know. And she was so pleased over it! 'Oh, I don't mind the saving all those years now,' she cried, 'when I see what a beautiful thing they've let me get for mother' And she went off so happy she just couldn't keep her feet from dancing."

'"I can imagine it," nodded Miss Maggie.

"Well, in an hour she was back. But what a difference! All the light and happiness and springiness were gone. She was almost crying. She still carried the little box in her hand. 'I'm takin' it back,' she choked. 'Mother doesn't like it.' 'Don't like that beautiful pin!' says I. 'What does she want?'

"'Oh, yes, she liked the pin,' said Mellicent, all teary; 'she thinks it's beautiful. But she doesn't want anything. She says she never heard of such foolish goings-on--paying all that money for a silly, useless pin. I--I told her 'twas a present from me, but she made me take it back. I'm on my way now back to the store. I'm to get the money, if I can. If I can't, I'm to get a credit slip. Mother says we can take it up in forks and spoons and things we need. I--I told her 'twas a present, but--' She couldn't say another word, poor child. She just turned and almost ran from the room. That was last night. She went away this morning, I suppose. I didn't see her again, so I don't know how she did come out with the store-man."

"Too bad--too bad!" sympathized Miss Maggie. (Over at the table Mr. Smith had fallen to writing furiously, with vicious little jabs of his pencil.) "But Jane never did believe in present-giving. They never gave presents to each other even at Christmas. She always called it a foolish, wasteful practice, and Mellicent was always so unhappy Christmas morning!"

"I know it. And that's just what the trouble is. Don't you see? Jane never let 'em take even comfort, and now that they can take some comfort, Jane's got so out of the habit, she don't know how to begin."

"Careful, careful, Flora!" laughed Miss Maggie. "I don't think you can say much on that score."

"Why, Maggie Duff, I'M taking comfort," bridled Miss Flora. "Didn't I have chicken last week and turkey three weeks ago? And do I ever skimp the butter or hunt for cake-rules with one egg now? And ain't I going to Niagara and have a phonograph and move into a fine place just as soon as my mourning is up? You wait and see!"

"All right, I'll wait," laughed Miss Maggie. Then, a bit anxiously, she asked: "Did Fred go to-day?"

"Yes, looking fine as a fiddle, too. I was sweeping off the steps when he went by the house. He stopped and spoke. Said he was going in now for real work--that he'd played long enough. He said he wouldn't be good for a row of pins if he had many such weeks as this had been."

"I'm glad he realized it," observed Miss Maggie grimly. "I suppose the Gaylord young people went, too."

"Hibbard did, but Pearl doesn't go till next week. She isn't in the same school with Bess, you know. It's even grander than Bess's they say. Hattie wants to get Bess into it next year. Oh, I forgot; we've got to call her 'Elizabeth' now. Did you know that?"

Miss Maggie shook her head.

"Well, we have. Hattie says nicknames are all out now, and that 'Elizabeth' is very stylish and good form and the only proper thing to call her. She says we must call her 'Harriet,' too. I forgot that."

"And Benny 'Benjamin'?" smiled Miss Maggie.

"Yes. And Jim 'James.' But I'm afraid I shall forget--sometimes."

"I'm afraid--a good many of us will," laughed Miss Maggie.

"It all came from them Gaylords, I believe," sniffed Flora. "I don't think much of 'em; but Hattie seems to. I notice she don't put nothin' discouragin' in the way of young Gaylord and Bess. But he pays 'most as much attention to Mellicent, so far as I can see, whenever Carl Pennock will give him a chance. Did you ever see the beat of that boy? It's the money, of course. I hope Mellicent'll give him a good lesson, before she gets through with it. He deserves it," she ejaculated, as she picked up her fur neck-piece, and fastened it with a jerk.

In the doorway she paused and glanced cautiously toward Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith, perceiving the glance, tried very hard to absorb himself in the rows of names dates before him; but he could not help hearing Miss Flora's next words.

"Maggie, hain't you changed your mind a mite yet? Won't you let me give you some of my money? I'd so love to, dear!"

But Miss Maggie, with a violent shake of her head, almost pushed Miss Flora into the hall and shut the door firmly.

Mr. Smith, left alone at his table, wrote again furiously, and with vicious little jabs of his pencil.

. . . . . . .

One by one the winter days passed. At the Duffs' Mr. Smith was finding a most congenial home. He liked Miss Maggie better than ever, on closer acquaintance. The Martin girls fitted pleasantly into the household, and plainly did much to help the mistress of the house. Father Duff was still as irritable as ever, but he was not so much in evidence, for his increasing lameness was confining him almost entirely to his own room. This meant added care for Miss Maggie, but, with the help of the Martins, she still had some rest and leisure, some time to devote to the walks and talks with Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith said it was absolutely imperative, for the sake of her health, that she should have some recreation, and that it was an act of charity, anyway, that she should lighten his loneliness by letting him walk and talk with her.

Mr. Smith could not help wondering a good deal these days about Miss Maggie's financial resources. He knew from various indications that they must be slender. Yet he never heard her plead poverty or preach economy. In spite of the absence of protecting rugs and tidies, however, and in spite of the fact that she plainly conducted her life and household along the lines of the greatest possible comfort, he saw many evidences that she counted the pennies--and that she made every penny count.

He knew, for a fact, that she had refused to accent any of the Blaisdells' legacy. Jane, to be sure, had not offered any money yet (though she had offered the parlor carpet, which had been promptly refused), but Frank and James and Flora had offered money, and had urged her to take it. Miss Maggie, however would have none of it.

Mr. Smith suspected that Miss Maggie was proud, and that she regarded such a gift as savoring too much of charity. Mr. Smith wished he could say something to Miss Maggie. Mr. Smith was, indeed, not a little disturbed over the matter. He did try once to say something; but Miss Maggie tossed it off with a merry: "Take their money? Never! I should feel as if I were eating up some of Jane's interest, or one of Hattie's gold chairs!" After that she would not let him get near the subject. There seemed then really nothing that he could do. It was about this time, however, that Mr. Smith began to demand certain extra luxuries--honey, olives, sardines, candied fruits, and imported jellies. They were always luxuries that must be bought, not prepared in the home; and he promptly increased the price of his board--but to a sum far beyond the extra cost of the delicacies he ordered. When Miss Maggie remonstrated at the size of the increase, he pooh-poohed her objections, and declared that even that did not pay for having such a nuisance of a boarder around, with all his fussy notions. He insisted, moreover, that the family should all partake freely of the various delicacies, declaring that it seemed to take away the sting of his fussiness if they ate as he ate, and so did not make him appear singular in his tastes. Of the Blaisdells Mr. Smith saw a good deal that winter. They often came to Miss Maggie's, and occasionally he called at their homes. Mr. Smith was on excellent terms with them all. They seemed to regard him, indeed, as quite one of the family, and they asked his advice, and discussed their affairs before him with as much freedom as if he were, in truth, a member of the family.

He knew that Mrs. Hattie Blaisdell was having a very gay winter, and that she had been invited twice to the Gaylords'. He knew that James Blaisdell was happy in long evenings with his books before the fire. From Fred's mother he learned that Fred had made the most exclusive club in college, and from Fred's father he learned that the boy was already leading his class in his studies. He heard of Bessie's visits to the homes of wealthy New Yorkers, and of the trials Benny's teachers were having with Benny.

He knew something of Miss Flora's placid life in her "house of mourning" (as Bessie had dubbed the little cottage), and he heard of the "perfectly lovely times" Mellicent was having at her finishing school. He dropped in occasionally to talk over the price of beans and potatoes with Mr. Frank Blaisdell in his bustling grocery store, and he often saw Mrs. Jane at Miss Maggie's. It was at Miss Maggie's, indeed, one day, that he heard Mrs. Jane say, as she sank wearily into a chair:--

"Well, I declare! Sometimes I think I'll never give anybody a thing again!"

Mr. Smith, at his table, was conscious of a sudden lively interest. So often, in his earlier acquaintance with Mrs. Jane, while he boarded there, had he heard her say to mission-workers, church-solicitors, and doorway beggars, alike, something similar to this; "No, I can give you nothing. I have nothing to give. I'd love to, if I could--really I would. It makes me quite unhappy to hear of all this need and suffering. I'd so love to do something! And if I were rich I would; but as it is, I can only give you my sympathy and my prayers."

Mr. Smith was thinking of this now. He had wondered several times, since the money came, as to Mrs. Jane's giving. Hence his interest now in what she was about to say.

"Why, Jane, what's the matter?" Miss Maggie was querying.

"Everything's the matter," snapped Jane. "And positively a more ungrateful set of people all around I never saw. To begin with, take the church. You know I've never been able to do anything. We couldn't afford it. And now I was so happy that I could do something, and I told them so; and they seemed real pleased at first. I gave two dollars apiece to the Ladies' Aid, the Home Missionary Society, and the Foreign Missionary Society--and, do you know? they hardly even thanked me! They acted for all the world as if they expected more--the grasping things! And, listen! On the way home, just as I passed the Gale girls' I heard Sue say: 'What's two dollars to her? She'll never miss it.' They meant me, of course. So you see it wasn't appreciated. Now, was it?"

"Perhaps not."

"What's the good of giving, if you aren't going to get any credit, or thanks, just because you're rich, I should like to know? And they aren't the only ones. Nothing has been appreciated," went on Mrs. Jane discontentedly." Look at Cousin Mary Davis--you know how poor they've always been, and how hard it's been for them to get along. Her Carrie- -Mellicent's age, you know--has had to go to work in Hooper's store. Well, I sent Mellicent's old white lace party dress to Mary. 'Twas some soiled, of course, and a little torn; but I thought she could clean it and make it over beautifully for Carrie. But, what do you think?--back it came the next day with a note from Mary saying very crisply that Carrie had no place to wear white lace dresses, and they had no time to make it over if she did. No place to wear it, indeed! Didn't I invite her to my housewarming? And didn't Hattie, too? But how are you going to help a person like that?"

"But, Jane, there must be ways--some ways." Miss Maggie's forehead was wrinkled into a troubled frown. "They need help, I know. Mr. Davis has been sick a long time, you remember."

"Yes, I know he has; and that's all the more reason, to my way of thinking, why they should be grateful for anything--anything! The trouble is, she wants to be helped in ways of her own choosing. They wanted Frank to take Sam, the boy,--he's eighteen now--into the store, and they wanted me to get embroidery for Nellie to do at home--she's lame, you know, but she does do beautiful work. But I couldn't do either. Frank hates relatives in the store; he says they cause all sorts of trouble with the other help; and I certainly wasn't going to ask him to take any relatives of mine. As for Nellie--I did ask Hattie if she couldn't give her some napkins to do, or something, and she gave me a dozen for her--she said Nellie'd probably do them as cheap as anybody, and maybe cheaper. But she told me not to go to the Gaylords or the Pennocks, or any of that crowd, for she wouldn't have them know for the world that we had a relative right here in town that had to take in sewing. I told her they weren't her relations nor the Blaisdells'; they were mine, and they were just as good as her folks any day, and that it was no disgrace to be poor. But, dear me! You know Hattie. What could I do? Besides, she got mad then, and took back the dozen napkins she'd given me. So I didn't have anything for poor Nellie. Wasn't it a shame?"

"I think it was." Miss Maggie's lips shut in a thin straight line.

"Well, what could I do?" bridled Jane defiantly. "Besides, if I'd taken them to her, they wouldn't have appreciated it, I know. They never appreciate anything. Why, last November, when the money came, I sent them nearly all of Mellicent's and my old summer things--and if little Tottie didn't go and say afterwards that her mamma did wish Cousin Jane wouldn't send muslins in December when they hadn't room enough to store a safety pin. Oh, of course, Mary didn't say that to me, but she must have said it somewhere, else Tottie wouldn't have got hold of it. 'Children and fools,' you know," she finished meaningly, as she rose to go.

Mr. Smith noticed that Miss Maggie seemed troubled that evening, and he knew that she started off early the next morning and was gone nearly all day, coming home only for a hurried luncheon. It being Saturday, the Martin girls were both there to care for Father Duff and the house. Not until some days later did Mr. Smith suspect that he had learned the reason for all this. Then a thin-faced young girl with tired eyes came to tea one evening and was introduced to him as Miss Carrie Davis. Later, when Miss Maggie had gone upstairs to put Father Duff to bed, Mr. Smith heard Carrie Davis telling Annabelle Martin all about how kind Miss Maggie had been to Nellie, finding her all that embroidery to do for that rich Mrs. Gaylord, and how wonderful it was that she had been able to get such a splendid job for Sam right in Hooper's store where she was.

Mr. Smith thought he understood then Miss Maggie's long absence on Saturday.

Mr. Smith was often running across little kindnesses that Miss Maggie had done. He began to think that Miss Maggie must be a very charitable person--until he ran across several cases that she had not helped. Then he did not know exactly what to think.

His first experience of this kind was when he met an unmistakably "down-and-out" on the street one day, begging clothing, food, anything, and telling a sorry tale of his unjust discharge from a local factory. Mr. Smith gave the man a dollar, and sent him to Miss Maggie. He happened to know that Father Duff had discarded an old suit that morning--and Father Duff and the beggar might have been taken for twins as to size. On the way home a little later he met the beggar returning, just as forlorn, and even more hungry-looking.

"Well, my good fellow, couldn't she fix you up?" questioned Mr. Smith in some surprise.

"Fix me up!" glowered the man disdainfully. "Not much she did! She didn't fix me up ter nothin'--but chin music!"

And Mr. Smith had thought Miss Maggie was so charitable!

A few days later he heard an eager-eyed young woman begging Miss Maggie for a contribution to the Pension Fund Fair in behalf of the underpaid shopgirls in Daly's. Daly's was a Hillerton department Store, notorious for its unfair treatment of its employees.

Miss Maggie seemed interested, and asked many questions. The eager- eyed young woman became even more eager-eyed, and told Miss Maggie all about the long hours, the nerve-wearing labor, the low wages--wages upon which it was impossible for any girl to live decently--wages whose meagerness sent many a girl to her ruin.

Miss Maggie listened attentively, and said, "Yes, yes, I see," several times. But in the end the eager-eyed young woman went away empty- handed and sad-eyed. And Mr. Smith frowned again.

He had thought Miss Maggie was so kind-hearted! She gave to some fairs--why not to this one? As soon as possible Mr. Smith hunted up the eager-eyed young woman and gave her ten dollars. He would have given her more, but he had learned from unpleasant experience that large gifts from unpretentious Mr. John Smith brought comments and curiosity not always agreeable.

It was not until many weeks later that Mr. Smith chanced to hear of the complete change of policy of Daly's department store. Hours were shortened, labor lightened, and wages raised. Incidentally he learned that it had all started from a crusade of women's clubs and church committees who had "got after old Daly" and threatened all sorts of publicity and unpleasantness if the wrongs were not righted at once. He learned also that the leader in the forefront of this movement had been--Maggie Duff.

As it chanced, it was on that same day that a strange man accosted him on the street.

"Say, she was all right, she was, old man. I been hopin' I'd see ye some day ter tell ye."

"To tell me?" echoed Mr. Smith stupidly.

The man grinned.

"Ye don't know me, do ye? Well, I do look diff'rent, I'll own. Ye give me a dollar once, an' sent me to a lady down the street thar. Now do ye remember?"

"Oh! Oh! Are you that man?"

"Sure I am! Well, she was all right. 'Member? I thought 'twas only chin-music she was givin' me. But let me tell ye. She hunted up the wife an' kids, an' what's more, she went an' faced my boss, an' she got me my job back, too. What do ye think of that, now?"

"Why, I'm--I'm glad, of course!" Mr. Smith spoke as one in deep thought.

And all the way home Mr. Smith walked--as one in deep thought.