The General's Easter Box by Temple Bailey

The General did not look at all as one would expect a general to look. He was short and thick-set and had a red face and a white mustache, and he usually dressed in a gray tweed suit, with a funny Norfolk jacket with a belt, and wore a soft cap pulled down almost to his eye-glasses.

And he always did his own marketing.

That is how he came to know Jimmy.

Jimmy stood at a corner of Old Market and sold little bundles of dried sage and sweet marjoram, and sassafras and cinnamon, and soup-bunches made of bits of vegetables tied together—a bit of parsley and a bit of celery and a bit of carrot and a sprig of summer savory, all for one cent. Then at Christmas-time he displayed wreaths, which he and his little mother made at home, and as the spring came on he brought wild flowers that he picked in the woods.

And that was how he came to know the General.

For one morning, just before Easter, the General came puffing down the outside aisle of Old Market, with his colored man behind him with an enormous basket. The General's carriage was drawn up to the curbstone, and the gray horses were dancing little fancy dances over the asphalt street, when all at once Jimmy thrust a bunch of arbutus under the General's very nose.

"Go away, go away," said the General, and trotted down to the carriage door, which a footman held open for him.

But a whiff of fragrance had reached him, and he stopped.

"How much?" he asked.

"Three cents," said Jimmy, in a hoarse voice.

The General looked at the little fellow through his eye-glasses.

"Got a cold?" he inquired gruffly.

"Yes, sir," croaked Jimmy.

"Why don't you stay in the house, then?" growled the General.

"Can't, sir," said Jimmy, cheerfully; "business is business."

The General looked at the little stand where "business" was transacted—at the little rows of dried stuffs, at the small basket of flowers, and at the soup-bunches.

"Humph," he said.

Then his hand went down into his pocket, and he pulled out a lot of change. After that he chose two bunches of sweet, pinky blossoms.

"Two for five, sir," said Jimmy.

"Hum," said the General. "You might give me some parsley and a soup-bunch."

Jimmy wrapped up the green stuff carefully and dropped it into the basket carried by the colored man.

"Nine cents, sir," he said; and the General handed him a dime and then moved to the next stall, holding the flowers close to his nose.

"You forgot your change," cried Jimmy, and rushed after him with the one cent.

"Keep—" But one look at the honest little face and he changed his sentence.

"Thank you, young man," he said, and away he drove.

After that Jimmy looked for the General, and the General for Jimmy. Their transactions were always carried on in a strictly business manner, although, to be sure, the General's modest family of two did not require the unlimited sage and sweet marjoram that were ordered from time to time.

On the Saturday before Easter the little stand was gay with new wares. In little nests of dried grasses lay eggs—Easter eggs, bright pink and blue and purple and mottled. Jimmy had invested in a dozen at forty cents the dozen, and he had hopes of doubling the money, for work surely counted for something, and he and the Little Mother had dyed them.

But somehow people passed them by. Inside of the market there were finer nests, and eggs gilded and lettered, and Jimmy began to feel that his own precious eggs were very dull indeed.

But when the General appeared around the corner, the boy's spirits rose. Here, at any rate, was a good customer.

The General, however, was in a temper. There had been an argument with the fish-man which had left him red in the face and very touchy. So he bought two bunches of arbutus and nothing else.

"Any eggs, sir?" asked Jimmy.

"Eggs?" said the General, looking over the little stand.

"Easter eggs," explained Jimmy.

"I've no use for such things," said the General.

"Oh!" said Jimmy, and in spite of himself his voice trembled. When one is the man of the family, and the Little Mother is sewing for dear life, and her work and the little stand in the market are all that pay the rent and buy food, it is sometimes hard to be brave. But the General did not notice the tremble.

Jimmy tried again:

"Any children, sir? Children always like Easter eggs, you know."

"No," said the General; "no one but a son in the Philippines—a son some six feet two in his stockings."

"Any grandchildren, sir?" hopefully.

"Bless my soul," said the General, testily, "what a lot of questions!" And he hurried off to his carriage.

Jimmy felt very forlorn. The General had been his last hope. The eggs were a dead loss.

At last it came time to close up, and he piled all of his wares in a basket. Then he took out a little broom and began to sweep in an orderly way around his little stall. He had a battered old dustpan, and as he carried it out to the street to empty it, he saw a stiff greenish-gray paper sticking out of the dirt. Nothing in the world ever looks exactly like that but an American greenback, and, sure enough, when Jimmy pulled it out it proved to be a ten-dollar bill.

Jimmy sat down on the curb suddenly. His money always came in pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters. The Little Mother sometimes earned a dollar at a time, but never in his whole life had Jimmy possessed a ten-dollar bill.

Think of the possibilities to a little, poor, cold, worried boy. There was two months' rent in that ten-dollar bill—two months in which he would not have to worry over whether there would be a roof over their heads.

Then there was a basket stall in that ten-dollar bill. That had always been his ambition. Some one had told him that baskets sold well in other cities, and not a single person had opened a basket stall in Old Market, and that was Jimmy's chance. Once established, he knew he could earn a good living.

As for ten dollars' worth of groceries and provisions, Jimmy's mind could not grasp such a thing; fifty cents had always been the top limit for a grocery bill.

But—it wasn't Jimmy's ten dollars. Like a flash his dreams tumbled to the ground. There had been many people coming and going through Old Market, but Jimmy knew that the bill was the General's. For the old gentleman had pulled out a roll when he reached for the five cents. Yes, it was the General's; but how to find the General?

Inside the market he found the General's butcher. Yes, the butcher knew the General's address, for he was one of his best customers, and would keep Jimmy's basket while the boy went to the house.

It was a long distance. Jimmy passed rows of great stone mansions, and went through parks, where crocuses and hyacinths were just peeping out.

At last he came to the General's.

A colored man answered the ring of the bell.

"Who shall I say?" he inquired loftily. "The General is very busy, y'know."

"Say Jimmy, from the market, please"; and Jimmy sat down on the great hall seat, feeling very much awed with all the magnificence.

"Well, well," said the General, as he came puffing down the stairs. "Well, well, and what do you want?"

"Please, sir, did you drop this?" and Jimmy held out the tightly rolled bill.

"Did I? Well, now, I'm sure I don't know. Perhaps I did, perhaps I did."

"I found it in front of my stall," said Jimmy.

What a strange thing it seemed that the General should not know! Jimmy would have known if he had lost a penny. He began to feel that the General could not have a true idea of business.

The General took out a roll of bills. "Let me see," he said. "Here's my market list. Yes, I guess that's mine, sure enough."

"I'm glad I noticed it," said Jimmy, simply. "I came near sweeping it into the street."

"And what can I pay you for your trouble?" asked the General, looking at the boy keenly.

"Well," said Jimmy, stoutly, "you see, business is business, and I had to take my time, and I'd like to get back as soon as I can."

The General frowned. He was afraid he was going to be disappointed in this boy.

"And so," went on Jimmy, "if you would give me a nickel for car-fare, I think we might call it square."



The General fumbled around for his eye-glasses, put them on, and looked at Jimmy in astonishment.

"A nickel?" he asked.

"Yes, sir"; Jimmy blushed. "You know I ought to get back."

"Well, well," said the General. The boy had certainly the instincts of a gentleman. Not a single plea of poverty, and yet one could see that he was poor, very poor.

Just then a gong struck softly somewhere. "I'm not going to let you go until you have a bit of lunch with us," said the General. "I have told my wife of Jimmy of the market, and now I want you to meet her."

So Jimmy went down into a wonderful dining-room, where the silver and the cut glass shone, and where at the farther side of the table was the sweetest little old lady, who came and shook hands with him.

Jimmy had never before eaten lunch where the soup was served in little cups, but the General's wife put him at his ease when she told him that his very own soup-bunches were in that soup, and if he didn't eat plenty of it he wouldn't be advertising his wares. Then the General, with knife upraised, stopped in his carving of the cold roast chicken, and turned to Jimmy with a smile of approval in his genial face, and said that it was his sage, too, that was in the chicken dressing.

They made Jimmy talk, and finally he told them of his ambition for a basket stall.

"And when do you expect to get it?" asked the General, with a smile.

"When I get the goose that lays the golden egg, I am afraid, sir," said Jimmy, a little sadly.

Then the General's wife asked questions, and Jimmy told her about the Little Mother, and of their life together; but not one word did he tell of their urgent need, for Jimmy had not learned to beg.

At last the wonderful lunch was over, somewhat to Jimmy's relief, it must be confessed.

"I shall come and see your mother, Jimmy," said the General's wife, as Jimmy left her.

Out in the hall the General handed the boy a nickel. "Business is business, young man," he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

That night Jimmy and his mother sat up very late, for the boy had so much to tell.

"Do you think I was wrong to ask for the nickel, Mother?" he asked anxiously, when he had finished.

"No," said his mother; "but I am glad you didn't ask for more."

Then, after Jimmy had gone to bed, the mother sat up for a long time, wondering how the rent was to be paid.

On Easter Monday morning Jimmy and the Little Mother started out to pick the arbutus and the early violets which Jimmy was to sell Tuesday at his little stall.

It was a sunshiny morning. The broad road was hard and white after the April showers, the sky was blue, and the air was sweet with the breath of bursting buds. And, in spite of cares, Jimmy and his mother had a very happy time as they filled their baskets.

At last they sat down to tie up the bunches. Carriage after carriage passed them. As the last bunch of flowers was laid in Jimmy's basket, a victoria drawn by a pair of grays stopped in front of the flower-gatherers.

"Well, well," said a hearty voice, and there were the General and his wife! They had called for Jimmy and his mother, they said, and had been directed to the wooded hill.

"Get in, get in," commanded the General; and, in spite of the Little Mother's hesitancy and timid protests, she was helped up beside the General's wife by the footman, while Jimmy hopped in beside the General, and away they went over the hard white road.

The General was in a gay mood.

"Well, my boy, have you found your golden egg?" he asked Jimmy.

"No, sir," said Jimmy, gravely; "not yet."

"Too bad, too bad," said the old gentleman, while he shifted a white box that was on the seat between himself and Jimmy to the other side.

"You're quite sure, are you, that you could only get it from a goose?" he asked later.

"Get what, sir?" said Jimmy, whose eyes were on the gay crowds that thronged the sidewalks.

"The egg," said the General.

"Oh—yes, sir," replied Jimmy, with a smile.

The General leaned back and laughed and laughed until he was red in the face; but Jimmy could see nothing to laugh at, so he merely smiled politely, and wondered what the joke was.

At last they reached Jimmy's home, and the General helped the Little Mother out. As he did so he handed her a white box. Jimmy was busy watching the gray horses, and saw nothing else.

"For the boy," whispered the General.

The Little Mother shook her head doubtfully.

"Bless you, madam," cried the General, testily, "I have a boy of my own—if he is six feet two in his stockings." Then, in a softer tone, "I beg of you to take it, madam; it will please an old man and give the boy a start."

So when good-by had been said, and Jimmy stood looking after the carriage and the prancing grays, the Little Mother put the white box in his hand.

Jimmy opened it, and there on a nest of white cotton was an egg. But it was different from any of the eggs that Jimmy had sold on Saturday. It was large and gilded, and around the middle was a yellow ribbon.

Jimmy lifted it out, and found it very heavy.

"What do you think it is?" he said.

"Untie the ribbon," advised his mother, whose quick eyes saw a faint line which showed an opening.

Jimmy pulled the yellow ribbon, the upper half of the egg opened on a hinge, and there were glistening gold coins—five-dollar gold pieces.

"Oh!" said Jimmy, and he sat down on the step, breathless with surprise and joy.

A slip of white paper lay between two of the coins. Jimmy snatched it out, and this is what he read:

Please accept the contents of the golden egg, with the best wishes
of The Goose.