Grandmother Elsie by Martha Finley
"One Pinch, hungry, leanfac'd villain." --Shake.
Captain Raymond's two little daughters were at this time in a village in one of the Northern States, in charge of Mrs. Beulah Scrimp, a distant relative on the mother's side.
Mrs. Scrimp was a widow living in rather genteel style in a house and upon means left her by her late husband. She was a managing woman, fond of money; therefore glad of the increase to her income yielded by the liberal sum Captain Raymond had offered her as compensation for the board and care of his motherless little girls.
She had undertaken Max also at first, but given him up as beyond her control; and now, though continuing to attend school in the town, he boarded with the Rev. Thomas Fox, who lived upon its outskirts.
Mrs. Scrimp was a woman of economies, keeping vigilant watch over all expenditures, great and small, and employing one servant only, who was cook, housemaid, and laundress all in one, and expected to give every moment of her time to the service of her mistress, and be content with smaller wages than many who did less work.
Mrs. Scrimp was a woman of theories also, and her pet one accorded well with the aforementioned characteristic. It was that two meals a day were sufficient for any one, and that none but the very vigorous and hard-working ought to eat anything between three o'clock in the afternoon and breakfast-time the next morning.
That was a rule to which neither Max nor Lulu could ever be made to submit; but Grace, the youngest, a delicate, fragile child, with little force of will, had no strength or power to resist, so fell a victim to the theory; each night went supperless to bed, and each day found herself too feeble and languid to take part in the active sports in which her stronger sister delighted.
It is quite possible that Mrs. Scrimp had no intention of being cruel, but merely made the not uncommon mistake of supposing that what is good for one person is of course good for everybody else. She was dyspeptic, and insisted that she found her favorite plan exceedingly beneficial in her own case; therefore she was sure so delicate a child as Gracie ought to conform to the same regimen.
She seemed fond of the little girl, petted and caressed her, calling her by many an endearing name, and telling her very often that she was "a good, biddable child; far better than fiery-tempered, headstrong Lulu."
Lulu would hear the remark with a scornful smile and toss of the head, sometimes saying proudly, "I wouldn't let anybody call you names to me, Gracie; and I wouldn't be such a little goose as to be wheedled and flattered into putting up with being half-starved."
There had been a time when Mrs. Scrimp tried to prevent and punish such daring words, but she had given it up long since, and contented herself with sighing sadly over the "depravity of that irrepressible child."
She had once or twice threatened to write to Captain Raymond and tell him that Lulu was unmanageable, but the child coolly replied, "I wish you would; for then papa would send Gracie and me somewhere else to stay."
"Where you would, perhaps, fare a great deal worse," returned Mrs. Scrimp wrathfully.
"I am willing to risk it," Lulu said; and that was the end of it, for Mrs. Scrimp would have been very loath to lose the children's board.
One pleasant October morning Lulu came down a trifle late to her breakfast. Mrs. Scrimp and Gracie were already seated at the table and had began their meal.
"Lulu," said Mrs. Scrimp with a portentous frown, "you were in the pantry last night, helping yourself."
"Of course I was," returned the child as she took her seat at the table. "I told you I wouldn't go without my supper, and you didn't have Ann get any for me; so what could I do but go and help myself?"
"You have no right to go to my pantry and take the food that belongs to me. It's neither more nor less than stealing, Miss Lulu Raymond."
"Well, Aunt Beulah, what do you call it when you take the money my father pays you for feeding Gracie and me, and don't give us the food he has paid for?"
Mrs. Scrimp colored violently at that, but quickly answered, "He doesn't pay for any particular kind or quantity, and doesn't want you overfed; and I don't consider it at all good for you to eat after three o'clock, as I've told you fifty times."
"Oftener than that, I dare say," returned Lulu with indifference, "but you might say it five hundred times and I shouldn't believe it a bit the more. Papa and mamma never had us put to bed without our supper; they always gave us plenty to eat whenever we were hungry, and Gracie was far stronger then than she is now."
Mrs. Scrimp was exasperated into a return to old tactics. "Lulu, you are the most impudent child I ever saw!" she exclaimed, "and shall go without supper to-night, if it were only to punish you for talking as you have this morning."
"No, I'll not. I'll have something to eat if I must go to the neighbors for it."
"I'll lock you up."
"Then I'll call out to the people in the street and tell them you won't give me enough to eat. And just as soon as papa comes I'll tell him all about it right before you."
"You wouldn't dare tell him how you've talked to me; he'd punish you for your impertinence."
"No, he would say it was justifiable under the circumstances."
"Dear me!" sighed Mrs. Scrimp, lifting hands and eyes in holy horror, "what a time your stepmother will have with you! I shouldn't want to be in her place."
"My stepmother!" cried Lulu, growing very red, while her dark eyes flashed with anger. "I haven't any! What do you mean by talking in that way, Aunt Beulah?"
Mrs. Scrimp's laugh jarred very unpleasantly upon the nerves of the excited child.
"Your father will be presenting you with one some of these days, I'll warrant," she said in a tantalizing tone.
Lulu felt ready to burst into passionate weeping, but would not give her tormentor the satisfaction of seeing her do so. She struggled determinedly with her emotion, and presently was able to say in a tone of perfect indifference: "Well, I don't care if he does; anything will be better than staying here with you."
"Ungrateful, hateful child!" said Mrs. Scrimp. "Gracie's a real comfort to me, but you are just the opposite."
"Aunt Beulah," said Lulu, fixing her keen eyes steadily upon Mrs. Scrimp's face, "you've called me ungrateful ever so many times. Now I'd like to know what I have to be grateful for toward you? My father pays you well for everything you do for Gracie and me."
"There are some things that can't be bought with money, and that money can't pay for, Miss Impertinence;" and Mrs. Scrimp, having satisfied her appetite, rose from the table and, taking Gracie by the hand, walked out of the room with her in the most dignified manner.
Presently afterward Lulu saw her, through the window, in bonnet and shawl and with a basket on her arm, going out to do the marketing.
Having finished her breakfast, Lulu walked into the sitting-room.
Gracie lay on the sofa looking pale and weak. Lulu went to her, stroked her hair, and kissed her.
"Poor little Gracie! weren't you hungry for some supper last night?"
"Yes, Lulu," replied the child, lifting a thin white little hand and stroking her sister's face, "but Aunt Beulah says it makes me worse to eat at night."
"I don't believe it!" cried Lulu vehemently, and half stamping her foot, "and I'm going to write a letter to papa and tell him how she starves you, and would starve me too if I'd let her!"
"I wish papa would come!" sighed Gracie. "Lulu, did it use to make us sick to eat supper when we lived with papa and mamma?"
"No, never a bit! O Gracie, Gracie, why did mamma die? why did God take her away from us when we need her so much? I can't love Him for that! I don't love Him!" she exclaimed with a sudden shower of tears, albeit not much given to shedding them.
"Don't cry, Lulu," Gracie said in distress, "maybe papa will find another mamma for us. I wish he would."
"I don't! stepmothers are always hateful! I'd hate her and never mind a word she said. O Max, Max! I'm so glad to see you!" as a handsome, dark-eyed, merry-faced boy came rushing in.
"I've just come for a minute!" he cried half breathlessly, catching her in his arms, giving her a resounding kiss, then bending over Gracie with a sudden change to extreme gentleness of manner; she was his baby sister and so weak and timid.
"Poor little Gracie!" he said softly. "I wish I was a big man to take you and Lulu away and give you a good time!"
"I love you, Max," she returned, stroking and patting his cheek. "I wish you'd be a good boy, so you could live here with us."
"I don't want to," he answered, frowning. "I mean I don't want to live with her; I sha'n't ever call her aunt again. I wouldn't have come in if I hadn't known she was out. I saw her going to market. I'm going off to Miller's Pond to fish for trout. You know it's Saturday and there's no school. Jim Bates is going with me and we're to be back by noon; that is, old Tommy said I must."
Lulu laughed at Max's irreverent manner of alluding to the man who had the oversight of him out of school hours; then jumping up, "O Max!" she cried, "I want to go too! I'll be ready in a minute."
"What'll Mrs. Scrimp say?" laughed Max.
Lulu tossed her head with a scornful smile which said more plainly than words that she did not care what Mrs. Scrimp might do or say in regard to the matter, ran into the hall, and returned almost instantly with hat and sacque.
"Come, Max," she said, "we'd better be off before she gets back. Gracie, you won't mind being left alone for just a little bit? Ann's in the kitchen, you know."
"I wish I could go too!" sighed Gracie. "I wish I could run about and have good times like you and Max!"
"Maybe you will, some o' these days. Good-by, little one," said Max, giving a parting pat to the little white cheek.
"Good-by," cried Lulu from the doorway; "don't fret, because maybe I'll find something pretty to bring you when I come back."
She took a small basket from the table in the hall, Max shouldered his fishing-rod, which he had left there behind the front door, and they went out together.