Why Not Ask Miss Price? by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Frances Allen came in from the post office and laid an open letter on the table beside her mother, who was making mincemeat. Alma Allen looked up from the cake she was frosting to ask, "What is the matter? You look as if your letter contained unwelcome news, Fan."
"So it does. It is from Aunt Clara, to say she cannot come. She has received a telegram that her sister-in-law is very ill and she must go to her at once."
Mrs. Allen looked regretful, and Alma cast her spoon away with a tragic air.
"That is too bad. I feel as if our celebration were spoiled. But I suppose it can't be helped."
"No," agreed Frances, sitting down and beginning to peel apples. "So there is no use in lamenting, or I would certainly sit down and cry, I feel so disappointed."
"Is Uncle Frank coming?"
"Yes, Aunt Clara says he will come down from Stellarton if Mrs. King does not get worse. So that will leave just one vacant place. We must invite someone to fill it up. Who shall it be?"
Both girls looked rather puzzled. Mrs. Allen smiled a quiet little smile all to herself and went on chopping suet. She had handed the Thanksgiving dinner over to Frances and Alma this year. They were to attend to all the preparations and invite all the guests. But although they had made or planned several innovations in the dinner itself, they had made no change in the usual list of guests.
"It must just be the time-honoured family affair," Frances had declared. "If we begin inviting other folks, there is no knowing when to draw the line. We can't have more than fourteen, and some of our friends would be sure to feel slighted."
So the same old list it was. But now Aunt Clara--dear, jolly Aunt Clara, whom everybody in the connection loved and admired--could not come, and her place must be filled.
"We can't invite the new minister, because we would have to have his sister, too," said Frances. "And there is no reason for asking any one of our girl chums more than another."
"Mother, you will have to help us out," said Alma. "Can't you suggest a substitute guest?"
Mrs. Allen looked down at the two bright, girlish faces turned up to her and said slowly, "I think I can, but I am not sure my choice will please you. Why not ask Miss Price?"
Miss Price! They had never thought of her! She was the pale, timid-looking little teacher in the primary department of the Hazelwood school.
"Miss Price?" repeated Frances slowly. "Why, Mother, we hardly know her. She is dreadfully dull and quiet, I think."
"And so shy," said Alma. "Why, at the Wards' party the other night she looked startled to death if anyone spoke to her. I believe she would be frightened to come here for Thanksgiving."
"She is a very lonely little creature," said Mrs. Allen gently, "and doesn't seem to have anyone belonging to her. I think she would be very glad to get an invitation to spend Thanksgiving elsewhere than in that cheerless little boarding-house where she lives."
"Of course, if you would like to have her, Mother, we will ask her," said Frances.
"No, girls," said Mrs. Allen seriously. "You must not ask Miss Price on my account, if you do not feel prepared to make her welcome for her own sake. I had hoped that your own kind hearts might have prompted you to extend a little Thanksgiving cheer in a truly Thanksgiving spirit to a lonely, hard-working girl whose life I do not think is a happy one. But there, I shall not preach. This is your dinner, and you must please yourselves as to your guests."
Frances and Alma had both flushed, and they now remained silent for a few minutes. Then Frances sprang up and threw her arms around her mother.
"You're right, Mother dear, as you always are, and we are very selfish girls. We will ask Miss Price and try to give her a nice time. I'll go down this very evening and see her."
* * * * *
In the grey twilight of the chilly autumn evening Bertha Price walked home to her boarding-house, her pale little face paler, and her grey eyes sadder than ever, in the fading light. Only two days until Thanksgiving--but there would be no real Thanksgiving for her. Why, she asked herself rebelliously, when there seemed so much love in the world, was she denied her share?
Her landlady met her in the hall.
"Miss Allen is in the parlour, Miss Price. She wants to see you."
Bertha went into the parlour somewhat reluctantly. She had met Frances Allen only once or twice and she was secretly almost afraid of the handsome, vivacious girl who was so different from herself.
"I am sorry you have had to wait, Miss Allen," she said shyly. "I went to see a pupil of mine who is ill and I was kept later than I expected."
"My errand won't take very long," said Frances brightly. "Mother wants you to spend Thanksgiving Day with us, Miss Price, if you have no other engagement. We will have a few other guests, but nobody outside our own family except Mr. Seeley, who is the law partner and intimate friend of my brother Ernest in town. You'll come, won't you?"
"Oh, thank you, yes," said Bertha, in pleased surprise. "I shall be very glad to go. Why, it is so nice to think of it. I expected my Thanksgiving Day to be lonely and sad--not a bit Thanksgivingy."
"We shall expect you then," said Frances, with a cordial little hand-squeeze. "Come early in the morning, and we will have a real friendly, pleasant day."
That night Frances said to her mother and sister, "You never saw such a transfigured face as Miss Price's when I asked her up. She looked positively pretty--such a lovely pink came out on her cheeks and her eyes shone like stars. She reminded me so much of somebody I've seen, but I can't think who it is. I'm so glad we've asked her here for Thanksgiving!"
* * * * *
Thanksgiving came, as bright and beautiful as a day could be, and the Allens' guests came with it. Bertha Price was among them, paler and shyer than ever. Ernest Allen and his friend, Maxwell Seeley, came out from town on the morning train.
After all the necessary introductions had been made, Frances flew to the kitchen.
"I've found out who it is Miss Price reminds me of," she said, as she bustled about the range. "It's Max Seeley. You needn't laugh, Al. It's a fact. I noticed it the minute I introduced them. He's plump and prosperous and she's pinched and pale, but there's a resemblance nevertheless. Look for yourself and see if it isn't so."
Back in the big, cheery parlour the Thanksgiving guests were amusing themselves in various ways. Max Seeley had given an odd little start when he was introduced to Miss Price, and as soon as possible he followed her to the corner where she had taken refuge. Ernest Allen was out in the kitchen talking to his sisters, the "uncles and cousins and aunts" were all chattering to each other, and Mr. Seeley and Miss Price were quite unnoticed.
"You will excuse me, won't you, Miss Price, if I ask you something about yourself?" he said eagerly. "The truth is, you look so strikingly like someone I used to know that I feel sure you must be related to her. I do not think I have any relatives of your name. Have you any of mine?"
Bertha flushed, hesitated for an instant, then said frankly, "No, I do not think so. But I may as well tell you that Price is not my real name and I do not know what it is, although I think it begins with S. I believe that my parents died when I was about three years old, and I was then taken to an orphan asylum. The next year I was taken from there and adopted by Mrs. Price. She was very kind to me and treated me as her own daughter. I had a happy home with her, although we were poor. Mrs. Price wished me to bear her name, and I did so. She never told me my true surname, perhaps she did not know it. She died when I was sixteen, and since then I have been quite alone in the world. That is all I know about myself."
Max Seeley was plainly excited.
"Why do you think your real name begins with S?" he asked.
"I have a watch which belonged to my mother, with the monogram 'B.S.' on the case. It was left with the matron of the asylum and she gave it to Mrs. Price for me. Here it is."
Max Seeley almost snatched the old-fashioned little silver watch, from her hand and opened the case. An exclamation escaped him as he pointed to some scratches on the inner side. They looked like the initials M.A.S.
"Let me tell my story now," he said. "My name is Maxwell Seeley. My father died when I was seven years old, and my mother a year later. My little sister, Bertha, then three years old, and I were left quite alone and very poor. We had no relatives. I was adopted by a well-to-do old bachelor, who had known my father. My sister was taken to an orphan asylum in a city some distance away. I was very much attached to her and grieved bitterly over our parting. My adopted father was very kind to me and gave me a good education. I did not forget my sister, and as soon as I could I went to the asylum. I found that she had been taken away long before, and I could not even discover who had adopted her, for the original building, with all its records, had been destroyed by fire two years previous to my visit. I never could find any clue to her whereabouts, and long since gave up all hope of finding her. But I have found her at last. You are Bertha Seeley, my little sister!"
"Oh--can it be possible!"
"More than possible--it is certain. You are the image of my mother, as I remember her, and as an old daguerreotype I have pictures her. And this is her watch--see, I scratched my own initials on the case one day. There is no doubt in the world. Oh, Bertha, are you half as glad as I am?"
Bertha's eyes were shining like stars. She tried to smile, but burst into tears instead and her head went down on her brother's shoulder. By this time everybody in the room was staring at the extraordinary tableau, and Ernest, coming through the hall, gave a whistle of astonishment that brought the two in the corner back to a sense of their surroundings.
"I haven't suddenly gone crazy, Ernest, old fellow," smiled Max. "Ladies and gentlemen all, this little school-ma'am was introduced to you as Miss Price, but that was a mistake. Let me introduce her again as Miss Bertha Seeley, my long-lost and newly-found sister."
Well they had an amazing time then, of course. They laughed and questioned and explained until the dinner was in imminent danger of getting stone-cold on the dining-room table. Luckily, Alma and Frances remembered it just in the nick of time, and they all got out, somehow, and into their places. It was a splendid dinner, but I believe that Maxwell and Bertha Seeley didn't know what they were eating, any more than if it had been sawdust. However, the rest of the guests made up for that, and did full justice to the girls' cookery.
In the afternoon they all went to church, and at least two hearts were truly and devoutly thankful that day.
When the dusk came, Ernest and Maxwell had to catch the last train for town, and the other guests went home, with the exception of Bertha, who was to stay all night. Just as soon as her resignation could be effected, she was to join her brother.
"Meanwhile, I'll see about getting a house to put you in," said Max. "No more boarding out for me, Ernest. You may consider me as a family man henceforth."
Frances and Alma talked it all over before they went to sleep that night.
"Just think," said Frances, "if we hadn't asked her here today she might never have found her brother! It's all Mother's doing, bless her! Things do happen like a storybook sometimes, don't they, Al? And didn't I tell you they looked alike?"