A CASE OF COINCIDENCE
By Rose Terry Cooke
She was a queer old lady, was Grandmother Grant; she was not a bit
like other grandmothers; she was short and fat and rosy as a winter
apple, with a great deal of snow-white hair set up in a big puff on
top of her head, and eyes as black as huckleberries, always puckered
up with smiles or laughter.
She never would wear a cap.
"I can't be bothered with 'em!" she said: and when Amelia Rutledge,
who was determined her grandma should, as she said, "look half-way
decent," made her two beautiful little mob caps, soft and fluffy, and
each with a big satin bow, one lavender and one white, put on to show
where the front was, Grandma never put them on right; the bow was over
one ear or behind, or the cap itself was awry, and in the end she
pulled them off and stuck them on a china jar in the parlor, or a tin
canister on the kitchen shelf, and left them there till flies and dust
"Amelia's as obstinate as a pig!" said the old lady: "she would have
me wear 'em, and I wouldn't!"
That was all, but it was enough; not a grandchild ever made her
another cap. Moreover Grandmother Grant always dressed in one fashion;
she had a calico dress for morning and a black silk for the afternoon,
made with an old-fashioned surplice waist, with a thick plaited ruff
about her throat; she sometimes tied a large white apron on, but only
when she went into the kitchen; and she wore a pocket as big as three
of yours, Matilda, tied on underneath and reached through a slit in
her gown. Therein she kept her keys, her smelling-bottle, her
pocket-book, her handkerchief and her spectacles, a bit of flagroot
and some liquorice stick. I mean when I say this, that all these
things belonged in her pocket, and she meant to keep them there; but
it was one peculiarity of the dear old lady, that she always lost her
necessary conveniences, and lost them every day.
"Maria!" she would call out to her daughter in the next room, "have
you seen my spectacles?"
"No, mother; when did you have them?"
"Five minutes ago, darning Harry's stockings; but never mind, there's
another pair in the basket."
In half an hour when Gerty came into her room for something she
needed, Grandmother would say:
"Gerty, do look on the floor and see if my specs lie anywhere around."
Gerty couldn't find them, and then Grandma would say:
"Probably they dropped out on the grass under the window, you can see
when you go down; but give me my gold pair out of my upper drawer."
And when Mrs. Maria went to call her mother down to dinner she would
find her hunting all about the room, turning her cushions over,
peering into the wood-basket, shaking out the silk quilt, and say
"What is it you want, mother?"
"My specs, dear. I can't find one pair."
"But there are three on your head now!" and Grandma would sit down and
laugh till she shook all over, as if it were the best joke in the
world to push your spectacles up over the short white curls on your
forehead, one pair after another, and forget all about them.
She mislaid her handkerchief still oftener. Gerty would sometimes pick
up six of these useful articles in one day where the old lady dropped
them as she went about the house; but the most troublesome of all her
habits was a way she had of putting her pocket-book in some queer
place every night, or if ever she left home in the day-time, and then
utterly forgetting where she had secreted it from the burglars or
thieves she had all her life expected.
The house she lived in was her own, but Doctor White who had married
her daughter Maria, rented it of her, and the rent paid her board; she
had a thousand dollars a year beside, half of which she reserved for
her dress and her charities, keeping the other half for her Christmas
gifts to her children and grandchildren. There were ten of these last,
and the ten always needed something. Gerty White, the doctor's
daughter, was twelve years old; she had three brothers: Tom, John, and
Harry, all older than she was. Mrs. Rutledge, who had been Annie
Grant, was a widow with three daughters—Sylvia, Amelia, and Anne,
these latter two now out in society and always glad of new dresses,
gloves, bonnets, ribbons, lace, and the thousand small fineries girls
never have to their full satisfaction. There were Thomas Grant's two
girls of thirteen and fifteen, Rosamond and Kate, and his little boy
Hal, crippled in his babyhood so that he must always go on crutches,
but as bright and happy as Grandma herself, and her prime favorite.
Now it was Grandma's way to draw her money out of the bank two weeks
before Christmas, and go into Boston with Mrs. White to buy all the
things she had previously thought over for these ten and their
parents; and one winter she had made herself all ready to take the
ten-o'clock train, and had just taken her pocket-book out of the
drawer when she was called down-stairs to see a poor woman who had
come begging for some clothes for her husband.
"Come right upstairs, Mrs. Slack," said Grandma. "I don't have many
applications for men's things, so I guess there's a coat of Mr.
Grant's put away in the camphor chest, and maybe a vest or so; you sit
right down by my fire whilst I go up to the garret and look."
It took Grandma some time to find the clothes under all the shawls and
blankets in the chest, and when she had given them to Mrs. Slack she
had to hurry to the station with her daughter, and the cars being on
the track they did not stop to get tickets, but were barely in time to
find seats when the train rolled off. The conductor came round in a
few minutes and Grandma put her hand in her pocket, suddenly turned
pale, opened her big satchel and turned out all its contents, stood up
and shook her dress, looked on the floor, and when Mrs. White said in
amazement, "What is the matter, mother?" she answered curtly, "I've
lost my pocket-book."
"Was it in your pocket?" asked Maria.
"Yes; at least I s'pose so: I certainly took it out of my drawer, for
I noticed how heavy 'twas; that new cashier gave me gold for most of
it, you see."
"You'd have known then if you dropped it on the way, mother."
"I should think so: any way, I can't go to Boston without it! We may
as well stop at the next station and go back."
So back they went; asked at the ticket office if any such thing had
been picked up on the platform, and leaving a description of it, went
rather forlornly back to the house. Here a terrible upturning of
everything took place; drawers were emptied, cupboards ransacked,
trunks explored, even the camphor chest examined to its depths, and
everything in it shaken out.
"You don't suspect Mrs. Slack?" inquired Maria.
"Sally Slack! no, indeed. I've known her thirty year, Maria; she's
honest as the daylight."
Still Maria thought it best to send for Mrs. Slack and inquire if she
had seen it when she was at the house.
"Certain, certain!" answered the good woman. "I see Mis' Grant hev it
into her hand when she went up charmber; I hedn't took no notice of it
before, but she spoke up an' says, says she, 'I'll go right up now,
Mis' Slack, for I'm in some of a hurry, bein' that I'm a goin' in the
cars to Bosstown for to buy our folkses' Christmas things;' so then I
took notice 't she hed a pocket-book into her hand."
This was valuable testimony, and Mrs. Slack's face of honest concern
and sympathy showed her innocence in the matter. Next day there was an
advertisement put in the paper, for the family concluded Grandma must
have dropped her money in the street going to the station, but the
advertisement proved as fruitless as the search, and for once in her
life the dear old lady was downcast enough.
"The first time I never gave 'em a thing on Christmas! I do feel real
downhearted about it, Maria. There's Annie's three girls lotted so on
their gloves an' nicknacks for parties this winter, for I was goin' to
give them gold pieces so's they could get what they wanted sort of
fresh when they did want it; and poor Gerty's new cloak!"
"Oh, never mind that, mother. I can sponge and turn and fix over the
old one; a plush collar and cuffs will make it all right."
"But there's the boys. Tom did want that set of tools and a bench for
'em; and I reckoned on seeing Harry's eyes shine over a real
Newfoundland dog. That makes me think; won't you write to that man in
New York? I've changed my mind about the dog. And Jack can't go to
Thomas's now for vacation; oh dear!"
"Don't worry, mother," said Maria; but Grandma went on:
"Kate and Rosy too, they won't get their seal muffs and caps, and dear
little Hal! how he will long for the books I promised him. It's real
trying, Maria!" and Grandma wiped a tear from her eyes, a most unusual
But it was her way to make the best of things, and she sat down at
once to tell Thomas of her loss, and then put it out of her mind as
well as she might.
It spoke well for all those ten grandchildren that they each felt far
more sorry for Grandmother Grant's disappointment than their own, and
all resolved to give her a present much nicer and more expensive than
ever before, pinching a little on their other gifts to the end; and
because they had to spare from their own presents for this laudable
purpose, it was natural enough that not one should tell another what
they meant to send her, lest it should seem too extravagant in
proportion to what the rest of the family received. Christmas morning
the arrival began. The stocking of Grandpa's which Gerty had insisted
on hanging to the knob of Grandma's door was full, and when she came
down to breakfast she brought it with her still unsearched, that the
family might enjoy her surprise.
At the top a square parcel tied with blue ribbon was marked "from
Gerty," and proved to be a little velvet porte-monnaie.
"Dear child! how thoughtful!" said Grandma, giving her a kiss, and not
observing that the doctor looked funnily at Mrs. White across the
The next package bore John's name and disclosed a pocket-book of
"So useful!" said Grandma, with a twinkle of gratitude in her kind old
Harry emitted a long low whistle, and his eyes shone as the next paper
parcel with his name on it showed an honest black leather pocket-book
with a steel clasp.
Grandma had to laugh. Doctor White roared, and Tom looked a little
rueful as his bundle produced another wallet as like to Harry's as two
peas in a pod:
"Dear boys!" said Grandma, shaking like a liberal bowl of jelly with
the laughter she tried to suppress in vain; but it was the boys' turn
to shout as further explorations into the foot of the old blue
stocking brought up a lovely seal-skin wallet from their mother, and
a voluminous yellow leather one from the doctor.
"Six souls with but a single thought;
Six hearts that beat as one;"
misquoted Mrs. Maria, and a chorus of laughter that almost rattled the
windows followed her. They were still holding their sides and bursting
out afresh every other minute, when little Sylvia Rutledge sailed into
the dining-room with a delicate basket in her hand.
"Merry Christmas!" said she, "but you seem to have it already."
The boys all rushed at once to explain.
"Wait a minute," said she, "till I have given Grandma her gifts," and
she produced successively from her basket four parcels.
Sylvia's held another velvet porte-monnaie; Annie's contained a second
of hand-painted kid, daisies on a black ground; and Amelia's was a
third pocket-book of gray canvas with Russia leather corners and
straps; while Mrs. Rutledge's tiny packet produced an old-fashioned
short purse, with steel fringe and clasp, which she had knit herself
for her mother.
How can words tell the laughter which hailed this repetition?
The boys rolled off their chairs and roared till their very sides
ached; tears streamed down Mrs. White's fair face; Grace gazed at the
presents with a look half rueful and half funny, while the doctor's
vigorous "haw! haw! haw!" could have been heard half a mile had it not
been happily the season of shut doors and windows, while Sylvia
herself perceiving the six pocket-books which had preceded her
basketful, appreciated the situation and laughed all the harder
because she was not tired with a previous fit of mirth, and Grandma
sat shaking and chuckling in her chair, out of breath to be sure, but
her face rosy and her eyes shining more than ever.
Suddenly a loud knock at the front door interrupted their laughter.
Tom ran to admit the intruder; it was the expressman with a box from
New York directed in uncle Tom's hand to Mrs. J. G. Grant.
"Something better than pocket-books this time, mother!" said the
doctor, as Tom ran for the screwdriver; but alas! the very first
bundle that rolled out and fell heavily to the floor, proved when
picked up to be indeed another pocket-book, cornered and clasped with
silver, and Grandma's initials on the clasp; beautiful as the gift was
it was thrust aside with a certain impatience, for the next package,
labelled "from Rosamond," but opened only to display the very
counterpart of Amelia's gift; and a paper box with Kate's script
outside held the recurrent pocket-book again in black velvet and gilt
corners, while a little carved white-wood box, the work of Hal's
patient fingers, showed within its lid a purse of silvered links which
had cost all his year's savings.
This was the last touch. Hitherto their curiosity as one thing was
displayed after another had kept them in a sort of bubbling quiet, but
this final development was too much; they laughed so loud and so long
that old Hannah, hurrying from the kitchen and opening the door to see
what was the matter, looked thunderstruck as she beheld the whole
family shaking, choking, rolling about or holding on to each other in
roars of sidesplitting laughter, while fourteen purses and pocket-books
made the breakfast table look like a fancy fair.
"I thought I heard a crackling of thorns, as scripter says," she
growled. "Be you a-going to set up a fancy store, Mis' White?"
"Bring in breakfast, Hannah," said the doctor, recovering himself.
"It's a melancholy truth that we can't eat pocket-books!"
For the satisfaction of the curious I must explain that the next May,
when a certain old clock on the landing of the garret stairs was taken
down to be put in order and made into a household god after the modern
rage for such things, right under it lay Grandma's pocket-book intact.
"Well, now I remember!" said the astonished old lady, who never did
remember where she had hidden anything till somebody else found it.
"I was goin' up to the chest to get out those things of husband's for
Sally Slack, and I thought I wouldn't leave my pocket-book in my room,
'twould be putting temptation in her way, which isn't really right if
a person is ever so honest; we're all frail as you may say when our
time comes, and I didn't have my cloak on to put it in the pocket, and
my under pocket was full, so I just slipped it under the clock case as
I went up, feeling certain sure I should remember it because I never
put it there before."
But the family voted that no harm had been done after all, for next
Christmas the Rutledge girls each had a lovely silk party dress from
the double fund; Gracie's cloak was mated by the prettiest hat and
muff; Tom had his wild desire for a bicycle fulfilled; Harry owned a
real gold watch which was far better than a dog; and Jack's ten gold
eagles took him in the spring to Niagara and down the St. Lawrence, a
journey never to be forgotten. Kate and Rosamond had their sealskin
caps with muffs, gloves and velvet skirts to correspond with and
supplement their last year's jackets; and Hal not only had his
precious books, but a bookcase for them, and the pocket-books were
redistributed among their givers; so that in the end good and not evil
came of Grandma's losing her Christmas pocket-book!