By F. Hopkinson Smith
Ezekiel Todd, her dry, tight-fisted, lean father, had named her, bawling
it out so loud that the more suitable, certainly the more euphonious,
"Evangeline," proffered in a timid whisper by her faded and somewhat
romantic mother, was completely smothered.
"I baptize thee, Evang—" began the minister, when Ezekiel's voice
"Abijah, I tell ye, Parson—A-b-i-j-a-h—Abijah!" And Abijah it
The women were furious.
"Jes' like Zeke Todd. He's too ornery to live. I come mighty near speakin'
right out, and hadn't been that Martha held on to me I would. Call her
Abbie, for short, Mrs. Todd," exclaimed Deacon Libby's wife, "and shame
Abbie never minded it. She was too little to remember, she always said,
and there were few people in the village of Taylorsville present at the
christening who did.
Old Si Spavey, however, never forgot. "You kin call yourself Abbie if you
choose," he used to say, "and 'tain't none o' my business, but I was in
the meetin'-house and heard Zeke let drive, and b'gosh it sounded just
like a buzz-saw strikin' the butt-end of a log. 'Abijah! Abijah! he
hollered. Shet Parson Simmons up same's a steel trap. Gosh, but it was
Only twice since the christening had she to face the consequences of her
father's ill temper. This was after his death, when the needs of the poor
mother made a small mortgage imperative and she must sign as a witness. It
came with a certain shock, but there was no help for it, and she went
through the ordeal bravely, dotting the "i" and giving a little flourish
to the tail of the "h".
The second time was when she signed her application for the position of
postmistress of the village. The big mill-owner, Hiram Taylor, brought her
"Got to put it all in, Miss Abbie," he said with a laugh. "Shut your eyes
and sign it and then forget it. Awful, ain't it?—but that's the law,
and there ain't no way of getting round it, I guess."
Hiram Taylor had left the village years before, rather suddenly, some had
thought, when he was a strapping young fellow of twenty-two or three, and
had moved West and stayed West until he came back the year before with a
wife and a houseful of children. Then the lawyers in the village got busy,
and pretty soon some builders came down from Boston, only fifty miles
away, and then a lot of bricklayers; and some cars were switched off on
the siding, loaded with lumber and lath and brick, and next a train-load
of machinery, and so the mills were running again with Hiram sole owner
and in full charge. One of the first things he did after his arrival—the
following morning, really—was to look up Abbie's mother. He gave a
littie start when he saw how shabby the cottage looked; no paint for years—steps
rotting—window-blinds broken, with a hinge loose. He gave a big one
when a thin, hollow-chested woman, gray and spare, opened the door at his
"Hiram!" she gasped, and the two went inside, and the door was shut.
All she said when Abbie came home from school—she was teaching that
year—was: "The new mill-owner came to see me. His name's Taylor."
That same day a heavy-set man with gray hair and beard, and jet-black
eyebrows shading two kindly eyes, got out of his wagon, hitched his horse
to a post in front of the school-house and stepped to Abbie's desk.
"I'm Hiram Taylor, up to the mills. Going to send one of my girls to you
to-morrow and thought I'd drop in." Then he looked around and said: "Want
another coat of whitewash on these walls, don't you, and—and a new
stove? This don't seem to be drawin' like it ought to. If them trustees
won't get ugly about it, I got a new stove up to the mill I don't want,
and I'll send it down." And he did. The trustees shrugged their shoulders,
but made no objections. If Hiram Taylor wanted to throw his money away it
was none of their business. Abbie Todd never said she was cold—not
as they had "heard on."
When the new school building was finished—a brick structure with
stone trimmings, steam-heated, and varnished desks and seats—the
craze for the new and up-to-date so dominated the board that they paid
Abbie a month's salary in advance and then replaced her with a man
graduate from Concord. Abbie took her dismissal as a matter of course.
Nothing good ever lasted long. When she went up one step she always slid
back two. It had been that way all her life.
Hiram heard of it and came rattling into the village, where he expressed
himself at a town meeting in language distinguished for its clearness and
force. The result was Abbie's application for the position of
This time he didn't consult the trustees or anybody else. He wrote a
private note to the Postmaster-General, who was his friend, and the
appointment came by return mail.
Mr. Taylor would often chat with her through the little window with which
she held converse with the public—he often came himself for his mail—but
she made no mention of her state of mind. She was earning her living, and
she was for the time content. He had helped her and she was grateful—more
than this it was not her habit to dwell upon. One thing she was convinced
of: she wouldn't keep the position long.
Her mother knew her misgivings, and so did a small open wood fire in the
sitting-room. Many a night the two would croon together. The mother
shrivelled and faded; Abbie herself being over thirty—not so
fresh-looking as she had been—not so pretty—never had been
very pretty. Her mother knew, too, how hard she had always struggled to do
something better; how she had studied drawing at the normal school when
she was preparing to be a teacher; and how she had spent weeks in the
elaboration of wall-paper patterns, which she had sent to the Decorative
Art Society in Boston, only to have them returned to her in the same
wrapper in which they had been mailed, with the indorsement "not
suitable." That's why she didn't think she was going to be postmistress
long. Far into the night these talks would continue-long after the other
neighbors had gone to bed—nine o'clock maybe—sometimes as late
as ten—an unheard-of thing in Taylorsville, where everybody was up
Then one day an extraordinary thing happened—extraordinary so far as
her modest post-office was concerned. A poster appeared on the wall of her
office—a huge card, big as the top of a school desk, bearing in
large type this legend: "Rock Creek Copper Company. Keep & Co.,
Agents," and at the bottom, in small type, directions as to the best way
of securing the stock before the lists were closed. She had noticed the
name of the company emblazoned on many of the communications addressed to
people in the village—the richer ones—but here it was in cold
type—"hot type," for that matter, for it was in flaming red—on
the wall, in front of her window.
Abbie lifted her head in surprise when she saw what had been done without
even "By your leave." She had found auction sales, sheriff's notices and
tax warnings opposite her window, but never copper mines. The longer she
looked at it the better she liked it. There was a cheery bit of color in
its blazing letters, and she was partial to bits of color. That's why she
kept plants all winter in the little sitting-room at home, and nursed one
cactus that gave out a scarlet bloom once in so many months.
It was Miss Maria Furgusson, of Boston—summer boarder at the next
cottage; second floor, six dollars a week, including washing—that
revived, kept alive, in fact, fanned to fever heat, Abbie's first
impression of the poster. Maria called for her mail, and the intimacy had
gone so far that before the week was out "Miss Todd" had been replaced by
"Abbie" and then "Ab," and Miss Furgusson by "Maria"—the
postmistress being too dignified for further abbreviation.
"Oh, there's our lovely copper mine—where did you get it? Who put it
Maria was a shirt-waisted young woman with a bang and a penetrating voice.
She had charge of the hosiery counter in a department store and could call
"Cash" in tones that brought instant service. This, with her promptness,
had endeared her to many impatient customers—especially those from
out of town who wanted to catch trains. It was through one of these
"hayseeds" that she secured board at so reasonable a price in Taylorsville
during her vacation.
"What do you know about it?" inquired Abbie. Such things were Greek to
"Know? I've got twenty shares, and I'm going to have money to burn before
Abbie bent her head, and took in as much of Miss Furgusson as she could
see through the square hole in her window.
"Who gave it to you?" The idea of a girl like Maria ever having money
enough to buy anything of that kind never occurred to her.
"Nobody; I bought it; paid two dollars a share for it and now it's up to
three, and Mr. Slathers, our floor-walker, says it's going to twenty-five.
I've got a profit of twenty dollars on mine now."
Abbie made a mental calculation; twenty dollars was a considerable part of
her month's salary.
"And everybody in our store has got some. Mr. Slathers has made eight
hundred dollars, and I know for sure that Miss Henders is going to leave
the cloak department and set up a typewriting place, because she told me
so; she's got a brother in the feed business who staked her."
"Staked her? What's that?"
"Loaned her the money," answered Maria, a certain pity in her voice for
one so green and countrified.
"How do you get it?" Abbie's eyes were shining like the disks of a brass
letter scale and almost as large—they were still upon Maria.
"No, the stock."
"Why, send Mr. Keep the money and he buys the stock and sends you back the
certificate. Want to see mine? I've got it pinned in—Here it is."
Abbie opened the door of the glass partition and beckoned to the shopgirl.
She rarely allowed visitors inside, but this one seemed to hold the key to
a new world.
The girl slipped her fingers inside her shirtwaist and drew out a square
piece of paper bearing the inscription of the poster in big letters. At
the bottom of the paper a section of cement drain-pipe poured forth a
steady stream of water, and the whole was underlined by a motto meaning
"Peace and Plenty"—of water, no doubt.
Abbie looked at the beautifully engraved document and a warm glow suffused
her face. Was it as easy as this? Did this little scrap of paper mean rest
and the spreading of wings, and freedom for her mother? Then she caught
her breath. She hadn't any brother in the feed business—-nor
anywhere else, for that matter. How would she get the money? She had only
her salary; her mother earned little or nothing—the interest on the
mortgage would be due in a day or so; thank God it was nearly paid off.
Then her heart rose in her throat. Mr. Taylor! Why he was so kind she
never knew—but he was. But if he insisted as he had with the store
and the position in the post-office! No—he had done too much
already. Besides, she could never repay him if anything went wrong. No—this
was not her chance for freedom.
Abbie handed the certificate back. "Queer way of making money," was all
she said as she reached for her hat and shawl, and went home to dinner.
That evening after supper, the two crooning over the fire, Abbie talked it
over with her mother—not the stock—not a word of that—but
of how Maria had made a lot of money, and how she wished she had a little
of her own so she could make some, too. This the mother retailed, the next
morning, to her neighbor, who met the expressman, who thereupon sent it
rolling through the village. In both its diluted and enriched form the
neighbor had helped. The story was as follows:
"That Boston girl who was boardin' up to Skitson's had a thousand dollars
in the bank-made it all in a month—so Abbie Todd, who knew her,
said. It was a dead secret how she made it, but Abbie said if she had a
few hundred dollars she could get rich, too. Beats all how smart some
girls is gettin' to be nowadays."
The next morning Mr. Taylor called for his mail. He generally sent a boy
down from the mill, but this time he came himself.
"If you see anything lying around loose, Miss Abbie, where you can pick up
a few dollars—and you must now and then—so many people going
in and out from Boston and other places—and want a couple of hundred
to help out, let me know. I'll stake you, and glad to."
In answer, Abbie passed his mail through the square window. "Thank you,
Mr. Taylor," was all she said. "I won't forget."
Hiram fingered his mail and hung around for a minute. Then with the
remark: "Guess that expressman was lying—I'll find out, anyway," he
got into his buggy and drove away.
"He'll stake me, will he?" said Abbie thoughtfully. "That's what
the feed man did for Maria's friend." With the stake she could get the
stock, and with the stock the clouds would lift! Perhaps her turn was
coming, after all.
Then she resumed her work pigeon-holing the morning's mail. One was from
Keep & Co., judging from the address in the corner, and was directed
to Maria Furgusson, care Miss Skitson—a thick, heavy letter. This
she laid aside.
"Yes, a big one," she called from the window as she passed it out to that
young woman five minutes later. "About the stock, isn't it!"
The girl tore open the envelope and gave a little scream.
"Oh! Gone up to ten dollars a share! Oh, cracky!—how much does that
make? Here, Ab—do you figure—twenty shares at—Ten! Why,
that's two hundred dollars! What?—it can't be! Yes, it is. Oh,
that's splendid! I'm going right back to answer his letter"—and she
When the supper things were washed up that night, and the towels hung
before the stove to dry, and the faded old mother was resting in her chair
by the fire, Abbie told her the facts as they existed. She had seen the
certificate with her own eyes—had had it in her hand and she had
read the letter from the broker, Mr. Keep. It was all true—every
word of it. Maria had borrowed forty dollars and now she could pay it back
and have one hundred and sixty dollars left—more than she herself
could earn in three months.
"If I could get somebody to lend me a little money, Mother," she
continued, "I might—"
The girl stopped and stole a look at her mother sitting hunched up in her
chair, her elbows on her knees, the chin resting on the palms of her
hands, the angle of her thin shoulders outlined through the coarse,
worsted shawl—always a pathetic attitude to the daughter:—this
old mother broken with hard work and dulled by a life of continued
"I was saying, Mother, perhaps I might get somebody to lend me a little
money, and then—"
The figure straightened up. "Don't do it, child!" There was a note almost
of terror in her voice. "Don't you ever do it! That was what ruined my
father. Abbie—promise me—promise me, I say! You won't—you
The girl laid her hand tenderly on her mother's shoulder.'
"Why, Mother, dear—why, what's the matter? You look as if you had
seen a ghost."
Mrs. Todd drew her shawl closer about her shoulders and leaned nearer to
the girl, her voice trembling:
"It's worse than a ghost, child—it's a debt! Debt along of
money you never worked for; money somebody gives you sort o'
friendly-like, and when you can't pay it back, they bite you, like dogs.
No—let's sit here and starve first, child. We can shut the door and
nobody 'll know we're hungry." She straightened up and threw the shawl
from her shoulders. Terror had taken the place of an undefined dread.
"You ain't gettin' discouraged, Abbie, be you?" she continued in a calmer
tone. "Don't get discouraged, child. I got discouraged when I was younger
than you, and I ain't never been happy since. You never knew why, and I
ain't goin' to tell you now, but it's been black night all these years—all
'cept you. You've been the only thing made me live. If you get
discouraged, child, I can't stand it. Say you ain't, Abbie—let me
hear you say it—please Abbie!"
The girl rose from her chair and stood looking down at her mother. The
sudden outburst, so unusual in one so self-restrained, the unmistakable
suffering in the tones of her voice, thrilled and alarmed her. Her first
impulse was to throw her arms about her mother's neck and weep with her.
This had been her usual custom when the load seemed too heavy for her
mother to bear. Then the more practical side of her nature asserted
itself. It was strength, not sympathy, she wanted. Slipping her hand under
her mother's arm, she raised her to her feet, and in a firm, decided
voice, quite as a hospital nurse would speak to a restless patient, she
"You'd better not sit up any longer, Mother dear. Come, I'll help put you
There was no resistance. Whatever suddenly aroused memory had stirred the
outburst, the paroxysm was over now.
"Well, maybe I am tired, child," was all she said, and the two left the
"Poor, dear old Mother! Poor, tired old Mother!" the girl remarked to
herself when she had resumed her place by the dying fire. "Wonder if I'll
get that way when I'm as old as she is!"
Then the hopelessness of the struggle she was making rose before her. How
much longer would this go on? Up at six o'clock; a cup of coffee and a
piece of bread; then the monotonous sorting of letters and papers—the
ceaseless answering of stupid questions; then half an hour for dinner;
then the routine again till train time, and home to the mother and the two
chairs by the fire, only to begin the dreary tread-mil! again the next
morning. And with this the daily growing older—older; her face
thinner and more pinched, the shoulders sharp; her hair gray, head bent,
just as her poor mother's was, and, with all that, hardly money enough to
buy herself a pair of shoes—never enough to give her dear mother the
Discouraged! Hadn't she reason to be?
The next morning Hiram walked into the post-office and called to Abbie,
through the square window, to open the door. Once inside he loosened his
fur driving-coat, took out a long, black wallet, picked out a thin slip of
paper and laid it on Abbie's desk.
"I have been thinking over what I told you yesterday. There's a check
drawn to your order for two hundred dollars. All you got to do is to put
your name on the back of it and it's money. It's good—never knew one
The girl started back.
"I didn't ask you for it. I don't—"
"I know you didn't, and when you did it would be too late maybe—got
to catch things sometimes when they're flying past. I don't know whether
it's those town lots they're booming over to Haddam's Corners, and I don't
care, but if that ain't enough there's more where that came from.
Good-day!" and he slammed the glass door behind him. Abbie picked up the
thin slip of paper and studied every line on its face, from the red number
in the upper corner to "Hiram Taylor" in a bold, round hand. Then her eyes
lighted on "Abijah Todd or order."
Yes, it was hers—all of it. Not to spend, but to make money out
of. Then her mother's words of warning rang clear: "Worse than a
ghost, my child!" Should she—could she take it? She turned to lay it
in a drawer until she could hand it back to him and her eyes fell upon the
poster framed in by the square of her window. She stopped and shut the
drawer. Was she never to have her chance? Would the treadmill never end?
Would the dear mother's head never be lifted? Folding the check carefully,
she loosened the top button of her dress and pushed it inside. There it
burned like a hot coal.
That night, after putting her mother to bed, she pinned a shawl over her
head, threw her mother's cloak about her shoulders, sneaked into Maria's
house, and crept up into her friend's room like a burglar. What was to be
done must be done quickly, but intelligently.
"I've got some money," she exclaimed to the astonished girl who, half
undressed, sat writing at her table. (It was after nine o'clock—an
unheard-of hour for visiting.) "How much stock can I buy for two hundred
dollars?" and she shook out the check, keeping her finger over the
"Twenty shares," answered Maria.
"How do I get it?"
"Send the money to Keep & Co. Oh, you got a check! Well, put 'Keep
& Co.' on—here, I'll do it, and you sign your name underneath.
And I'll write 'em a letter and tell 'em I helped sell it to you. Oh,
ain't I glad, Ab. You must be getting awful big pay to have saved all
that. Wish I—"
"How long before I know?" She had not much time to talk—her mother
might wake and call her.
"They'll telephone you. You got a long-distance, ain't you, in the office?
Yes, I seen it."
Abbie took the name of the senior partner, replaced the check, and was by
her own fire again. The mother hadn't stirred.
All the next day she waited for the rattle of the bell. At three o'clock
she sprang to the 'phone.
"This Miss Todd—postmistress?"
"Got your check—bought you twenty Rock Creek at ten—-mail you
The following morning the certificate took the place of the check—pinned
tight. She could feel it crinkle when she walked. All that day she moved
about her office like one dazed. There was no exaltation—no thrill
of triumph. A dull, undefined terror took possession of her. What if the
stock went down in price and she couldn't pay back the money? Of whom,
then, could she borrow? Repay Hiram she must and would. Again her mother's
warning words rang in her ears. Then came the resolve never to tell her.
If it went right she would add to the dear woman's comforts in silence. If
it went wrong—but it couldn't go wrong: Maria had said so: the
papers had said so: the posters said so—everybody and everything
As the day wore on she became so nervous that she mixed the letters in
"That ain't for me, Miss Todd," was called out half a dozen times when B
or F or S letters had gone into the wrong box. "Guess you must a-got it in
the B's by mistake. Woolgathering, ain't ye?"
Maria was her only confidante and her only comfort. The Boston girl
laughed when she listened to her fears, and braced her up with fairy
stories of the winnings of Miss Henders and Slathers and the money they
were making; but the relief was only temporary.
Soon the strain began to show itself in her face. "You ain't sick, Abbie,
be you?" asked the mother. "No? Well, you look kind o' peaked. Don't work
too hard, child. Maybe something's worryin' you—something you ain't
told me. No man I don't know about, is there?" and the mother's sad eyes
searched the daughter's.
To all these inquiries the girl only shook her head, adding that the down
mail was late and a big one and she had hurried to sort it.
When the Boston mail arrived the next morning and was dumped from its bag
upon her sorting-table, her own name flamed out on one of Keep & Co.'s
Abbie broke the seal and devoured its contents with bated breath, her
We are happy to inform you that the last sales of Rock Creek ranged from
13 to 14 3/4—15 bid at close. We confidently expect the stock will
sell at 20 before the week is out. We shall be glad to receive your
further orders as well as those of any of your friends.
Abbie's heart gave a bound; the blood mounted to the roots of her hair.
"Fifteen—twenty—why—why! that's two hundred dollars for
me after paying Mr. Taylor." The chill of doubt was over now. The fever of
hope had set in. "Two hundred! Two hundred!" she kept repeating, as her
fingers caressed the certificate snuggling close to her heart.
When she swung wide the porch door and threw her arms around her
astonished mother's neck, the refrain was still on her lips. It had been
years since the hard-working girl had given way to any such joyous
"Oh, I'm so happy! Don't ask me why—but I am!"
The mother kissed her in reply and patted the girl's shoulder. "There is
somebody," she sighed to herself. "And they've made up again"—and a
prayer trembled on her lips.
Her joy now became contagious. The expressman noticed it; so did Mrs.
Skitson and the storekeeper. So did Mr. Taylor, who stopped his wagon and
leaned half out to shake her hand.
"You do look wholesome this morning, and no mistake, Miss Abbie" (he
always called her so). "Don't forget what I told you—lots more where
that come from"—and he drove on muttering to himself: "Ain't no
finer woman in Taylorsville than Abbie Todd."
Keep & Co. letters arrived now by almost every mail. With these came a
daily stock-list printed on tissue-paper, giving the sales on the
exchange. Rock Creek was still holding its own between 13 and 15. "From my
brokers," she would say with a smile to Maria, falling into the ways of
One of these letters, marked "Private and confidential," she took to
Maria. It was in the writer's own hand and signed by the senior member of
the firm. Literally translated into uncommercial language by that female
financier, it meant that Miss Todd, "on notice from Keep & Co."
should write her name at the bottom of the transfer blank on the back of
the certificate and mail it to them. This done they would buy her another
ten shares of stock, using her certificate as additional margin. There was
no question that Rock Creek would sell at forty before the month ended,
and they did not want her to be "left" when the "melon was cut."
Another and a newer and a more vibrant song now rose to her lips. Forty
for Rock Creek meant four—six—yes, eight hundred dollars—with
two hundred to Mr. Taylor! Yes! Six hundred clear! The scrap of paper in
her bosom was no longer a receipt for money paid, but an Aladdin's lamp
producing untold wealth.
That night the music burst from her lips before she had taken off her
cloak and hat.
"You made six hundred dollars, Abbie! You!" cried the mother, with
a note of wonder in her voice.
Then the whole story came out; her mother's arms about her, the pale cheek
touching her own, tears of joy streaming from both their eyes. First
Maria's luck, then that of her fellow-clerks; then the letters, one after
another, spread out upon her lap, the lamp held close, so the dim eyes
could read the easier—down to the stake-money of two hundred
"And who gave you that, child? Miss Furgusson?" The mother's heart was
still fluttering. After all, the sun was shining.
"No; Mr. Taylor."
The mother put her hands to her head.
"Hiram! You ain't never borrowed any money of Hiram, have you?" she
cried in an agonized voice.
"But, Mother dear, he forced it upon me. He came—"
"Yes, that's what he did to me. Give it back to him, child, now, 'fore you
sleep. Don't wait a minute. Borrowed two hundred dollars of Hiram—and
my child, too! Oh, it can't be! It can't be!"
The mother dropped into a chair and rocked herself to and fro. The girl
started to explain, to protest, to comfort her with promises; then she
crossed to where her mother was sitting, and stood patient until the
paroxysm should pass. A sudden fright now possessed her; these attacks
were coming on oftener; was her mother's mind failing? Was there anything
serious? Perhaps it would have been better not to tell her at all.
The mother motioned Abbie to a chair.
"Sit down, child, and listen to me. I ain't crazy; I ain't out of my head—I'm
"But, Mother dear, I can get the money any day I want it. All I've got to
do is to telephone them and a check comes the next day."
"Yes, I know—I know." She was still trembling, her voice hardly
audible. "But that ain't what skeers me; it's Hiram. He done the same
thing to me last December. Come in here and laid the bills on that table
behind you and begged me to take 'em; he'd heard about the mortgage; he
wanted to fix the house up, too. I put my hands behind my back and got
close to the wall there. I couldn't touch it, and he begged and begged,
and then he went away. Next he went to the school-house, and you know what
he did. That's why you got the post-office."
A light broke in upon the girl. "And you've known him before?"
"Yes, forty years ago. He loved me and I loved him. We had bad luck, and
my father got into trouble. He and Hiram's father were friend's; been boys
together, and Hiram's father loaned him money. I don't know how much—I
never knew, but considerable money. My father couldn't pay, and then come
bad blood. The week before Hiram and I were to be called in church they
struck each other, and when Hiram took my father's part his father drove
him out of his house, and Hiram hadn't nothing, and went West; and I never
heard from him nor saw him till the day he come in here last fall. Don't
you see, child, you got to take him back his money?"
Abbie squared her shoulders. The blood of the Puritan was in her eyes.
This was a fight for home and freedom. Her flintlock was between the
cracks of her log cabin. The old mother, with the other women and
children, lay huddled together in the far corners. This was no time for
"No!" she cried in a firm voice. "I won't give it back, not till I get
good and ready. Mr. Taylor loaned me that two hundred dollars to make
money with, and he won't get it again till I do." She wondered at her
courage, but it seemed the only way to save her mother from herself. "What
happened forty years ago has nothing to do with what's happening to-day."
The look in the girl's eyes; her courage; the ring of independence in her
voice, the sureness and confidence of her words, began to have their
effect. The Genie of the Lamp was at work: the life-giving power of Gold
was being pumped from her own into the poor old woman's poverty-shrunken
"And you don't think, child, that it will bring you trouble?"
"Bring trouble!" No!
The cabin was saved; the enemy was in retreat. She could sing once more!
"It will bring nothing but joy and freedom, you precious old Mother! Do
you know what I'm going to do?"
"I'm going to pay off the mortgage, every cent of it."
She said "I" now; it had been "we" all the years before: Keep rubbing,
dear old Genie. "Then I'll fix up the house and paint it, and get you some
nice clothes, and a new cook stove that isn't all rusted out——"
"You won't resign, will you, Abbie—and leave me?" the mother
exclaimed. The chill of possible desertion suddenly crept over her, (The
Genie is often unmindful of others, especially the poor.)
"Leave you! What, now? You darling Mother. As to resigning, I may later.
But I'm going to Boston when I get my vacation and stay a week with Maria,
and go to the opera if I never do another thing. Oh! just you wait,
Mother, you and I will lead a different life after this."
"And you think, Abbie, you'll make more than six hundred dollars?" Already
the mother's veins were expanding—wonderful elixir, this Extract of
"Six hundred! Why, if the stock goes to what they call par—and
that's where they all go, so Maria says—I'll have—have—two
thousand, less Mr. Taylor's two hundred—I'll have eighteen hundred
dollars!" The little fellow in her bosom was rubbing away now with all his
might. She could hear his heart beat against her own.
It was nearly midnight when the two went to bed. Stick after stick had
been thrown on the fire; the logs had flamed and crackled in sympathy with
their own joyous feelings, and had then fallen into piled-up coals, each
heap a castle of delight, rosy in the glow of freshly enkindled hopes.
And the song in her heart never ceased. Day by day a fresh note was added;
everything she touched; everything she saw was transformed. The old
tumble-down house with its propped-up furniture and makeshift carpets
seemed to have become already the place she planned it to be. There would
be vines over the door and a new summer kitchen at the back'; and there
would be a porch where her mother could sit, flowers all about her—her
dear mother, bent no longer, but fresh and rosy in her new clothes,
smiling at her as she came up the garden path.
And what delight it was just to breathe the air! Never had her step been
so light, or her daily walk to the dingy office—dingy no longer—so
bracing. And the out-of-doors—the sky and drifting clouds; the low
hills, bleak in the winter's gloom—what changes had come over them?
Was it the first blush of the coming spring that had softened their lines,
or had her eyes been blind to all their beauty? Oh! Marvellous elixir that
makes hopes certainty and gilds each cloud!
One morning a man waiting for a letter from an absent son heard the
telephone ring, and saw Abbie drop her letters and catch up the receiver:
"Yes, I'm Miss Todd.—Oh! Mr. Keep? Yes.—Yes—I've got it
here." Her face grew deathly white. "What! Selling at twelve!" The man
feared she was about to fall. "I thought you told me... A big slump! Well,
I don't want to lose if... Yes, I'll mail it right away... Reach you by
the 9.10 to-morrow."
"I hope you ain't got any bad news, have you?" the man asked in a
"No," she answered in a choking voice, as she handed him his letter; then
she turned her back and took the certificate from her bosom.
"Selling at twelve," she kept saying to herself; "perhaps at ten; perhaps
at five. Would it go lower? Suppose it went down to nothing. What could
she say to her mother? How would she pay Mr. Taylor?" Her breath came
short; a dull sense of some impending calamity took possession of her.
Everything seemed slipping from her grasp.
An hour passed—two. In the interim she had indorsed the certificate
and had dropped it into the open mouth of the night-bag. Again the bell
"Yes," she answered in a faint voice; her shoulder was against the wall
now for support.
She was ready for the blow; all her life they had come this way.
"Sold your twenty at ten. Mail you check for $190 on receipt of
Abbie clutched her bosom as if for relief, but there came no answering
throb. The little devil was gone, and the lamp with him.
"And is it all over, Abbie?" asked her mother, as she drew her shawl
closer about her head. One stick of wood must last them till bedtime now.
"Yes—all." The girl lay crouched at her feet sobbing, her head in
her mother's lap.
"Can you pay Hiram?"
"I have paid him in full. I gave him Mr. Keep's check and ten dollars of
my pay—paid him this morning. He wouldn't take any interest."
"Oh, that's good—that's good, child!" she crooned.
There came a long pause, during which the two women sat motionless, the
mother looking into the smouldering coals. She had but few tears left none
for disappointments like these.
"And we have got to keep on as we have?"
"Yes." The reply was barely audible.
The mother lifted her thin, worn hand, and laid it on Abbie's head.
"Well, child," she said slowly, "you can thank God for one thing. You
had your dream; ain't many even had that."