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 ruined them.

"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 symptom.

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 table.

The next package bore John's name and disclosed a pocket-book of
Russia leather.

"So useful!" said Grandma, with a twinkle of gratitude in her kind old eyes.

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!