“See here,” said Grandma, feeling in her pocket. “Look at these telegrams.”
Margaretta hastily ran her eye over them. “I don’t understand.”
“Let me explain,” said Grandma, softly. “Brother John sends regrets for loss—will guarantee so many hundreds a year. Brother Henry sympathizes deeply to the extent of a tenth of his income. Sister Mary and Sister Lucy will come to see me as soon as possible. Substantial financial aid to be reckoned on.”
“Oh, Grandma! Grandma!” said the girl, still only half-enlightened. “What do they mean?”
Grandma smiled complacently. “You notice that not one of them offers me a home, though, Heaven knows, their homes are as wide as their hearts. They are not rich, not one is exceedingly rich, yet they all offer me a good part of their respective incomes. That is the outcome of ‘Keep the family together.’”
“Oh! oh! oh!” exclaimed Margaretta. “They know how you love us. They want you to keep up a home for us. They will support you.”
“Exactly,” said Grandma.
“And will you take all that money?”
“No, child, not all; some of it, though. I have helped them. I will do it again, if I can.”
“Isn’t that lovely!” cried Margaretta. “It is almost worth while being unfortunate to call out such goodness as that. Now, Grandma, dear, let us talk seriously. You will have to give up this house.”
“It is given up. My lawyer was here this morning.”
“Roger is coming this evening to see you—will you sell all the furniture?”
“I shall have to.”
“Oh, dear! Well, you won’t need it with us.”
“We cannot go to you, Margaretta,” said Grandma, quietly.
“Oh, why not?”
“It would be too great a burden on Roger.”
“Only three persons, Grandma.”
“Roger is a young man. He has lately started housekeeping and family life. Let him work out his plans along his own lines. It will be better not to join households unless necessary.”
“He just loves you, Grandma.”
“And I reciprocate, but I think it better not to amalgamate my quicksilver Berty with another stronger metal just now.”
“Where is she?” asked Margaretta, turning her head.
“She slipped out some time ago.”
“Roger gets on well with her, Grandma.”
“I know he does. By stronger metal, I meant you. Being the elder, you have rather absorbed Berty. She will develop more quickly alone.”
“Do you want to board?”
“There are two kinds of life in America,” said Grandma, “boarding-house life and home-life. Boarding-house life vulgarizes, home life ennobles. As long as God gives me breath, I’ll keep house, if I have only three rooms to do it in.”
“But, Grandma, dear, you will have so little to keep house on. Wouldn’t it be better to go to some first-class boarding-house with just a few nice people?”
“Who might be my dearest foes,” said Grandma, tranquilly. “I’ve rubbed shoulders with such people in hotels before now.”
“Grandma, you haven’t any enemies.”
“Anybody that is worth anything has enemies.”
“Well,” said Margaretta, with a sigh, “what are you going to do? You can’t afford to keep house in such style as this. You won’t want to go into a poor neighbourhood.”
“Give me a house and I’ll make the neighbourhood,” said Grandma, decidedly.
“You have already decided on one?” said her granddaughter, suspiciously.
Grandma smiled. “Not altogether decided.”
“I don’t like your tone,” exclaimed Margaretta. “You have something dreadful to tell me.”
“Berty was out this morning and found a large, old-fashioned house with big open fireplaces. From it we would have a fine view of the river.”
“Tell me where it is,” said Margaretta, brokenly.
“It is where the first people of the town used to live when I was a girl.”
“It isn’t down by the fish-market—oh, don’t tell me that!”
“Just a block away from it, dear.”
Mrs. Roger Stanisfield gave a subdued shriek. “This is Berty’s doing.”
Her grandmother laid down her knitting. “Margaretta, imagine Berty in a fashionable boarding-house—in two rooms, for we could not afford to take more. Imagine the boarding-house keeper when Berty would come in trailing a lame dog or sick cat? The Lord has given me grace to put up with these things, and even to sympathize and admire, but I have had a large house and several servants.”
“But some boarding-house people are agreeable,” moaned Margaretta.
“Agreeable!—they are martyrs, but I am not going to help martyrize them.”
“I quarrel with Berty,” murmured Margaretta, “but I always make up with her. She is my own dear sister.”
“Keep the family together,” said Grandma, shrewdly, “and in order to keep it together let it sometimes drift apart.”
“Grandma, you speak in riddles.”
“Margaretta, you are too direct. I want Berty to stand alone for awhile. She has as much character as you.”
“She has more,” sighed Margaretta. “She won’t mind a word I say—she looks just like you, Grandma, dear. You like her better than you do me.”
“Perhaps I do,” said the old lady, calmly. “Perhaps she needs it.”
“And you are going to let her drag you down to that awful neighbourhood.”
“It isn’t awful—a dose of River Street will be a fitting antidote to a somewhat enervating existence here on Grand Avenue.”
“You want to make a philanthropist or a city missionary of my poor sister.”
“She might do worse,” said Grandma, coolly.
“But she won’t be one,” said Margaretta, desperately. “She is too self-centred. She is taken with the large house and the good view. She will be disgusted with the dirty people.”
“We shall see,” said Grandma, calmly.
“You will only take the house for a short time, of course.”
“I shall probably stay there until eternity claims me.”
“One little old woman in this big republic will not encourage home faithlessness,” said Grandma, firmly.
“Dearest of grandmothers, what do you mean?”
“How the old homes must suffer,” said Grandma, musingly. “Families are being reared within their walls, then suddenly the mother takes a caprice—we must move.”
“But all houses are not equally convenient.”
“Make them so,” said the little lady, emphatically. “Have some affection for your roof-tree, your hearthstone. Have one home, not a dozen. Let your children pin their memories to one place.”
Margaretta fell into silence, and sat for a long time watching in fascination the quick, active fingers manipulating the silk stocking.
“You are a wonderful woman,” she said, at last.
“Do you really think so?”
“Oh, yes, yes,” said Margaretta, enthusiastically. “You let people find out things for themselves. Now I don’t believe in your heart of hearts you want to go to River Street.”
For the first time a shade of sadness came over the face of the older woman. “Set not your affections on earthly things,” she said, “and yet I love my home—— However, it is all right, Margaretta. If the Lord sends me to River Street, I can go. If He tells me to love River Street, I shall make a point of doing so. If I feel that River Street discipline is not necessary for me at my time of life, I shall console myself with the thought that it is necessary for Berty.”
“Once,” said Margaretta, keenly, “there was a young girl who teased her grandmother to take her to Paris in the dead of winter. The grandmother didn’t want to go, but she went, and when the girl found herself shut up below on a plunging steamer that was trying to weather a cyclonic gale, she said, ‘Grandma, I’ll never overpersuade you again.’”
“And did she keep her promise?” asked Grandma, meaningly.
Margaretta sprang to her feet, laughing nervously. “Dearest,” she said, “go to River Street, take your house. I’ll help you to the best of my ability. I see in advance what you are doing it for. Not only Berty, but the whole family will be benefited. You think we have been too prosperous, too self-satisfied—now, don’t you?”
Grandma smiled mischievously. “Well, child, since you ask me, I must say that since your marriage I don’t see in you much passion for the good of others. Roger spoils you,” she added, apologetically.
“I will be better,” said the beautiful girl, “and, Grandma, why haven’t you talked more to me—preached more. I don’t remember any sermons, except ‘Keep the family together.’”
“It was all there, only the time hadn’t come for you to see it. You know how it is in this new invention of wireless telegraphy—a receiver must be tuned to the same pitch as that of the transmitter, or a message cannot pass between.”
A brilliant expression burst like a flood of sunlight over the girl’s face. “I’m tuned,” she said, gaily. “I’m getting older and have more sense. I can take the message, and even pass it on. Good-bye, best of Grandmas. I’m going to make my peace with Berty.”
“Keep the family together,” said Grandma, demurely.
“Berty, Berty, where are you?” cried Margaretta, whisking her draperies out into the hall and down-stairs. “I am such a sinner. I was abominably sharp with you.”
“Hush,” said Berty, suddenly.
She had come into the hall below and was standing holding something in her hand.
“What is it?” asked Margaretta. “Oh!” and she gave a little scream, “a mouse!”
“He is dead,” said Berty, quickly, “nothing matters to him now. Poor little thing, how he suffered. He was caught in a cruel trap.”
Margaretta gazed scrutinizingly at her. “You have a good heart, Berty. I’m sorry I quarrelled with you.”
“I forgot all about it,” said Berty, simply, “but I don’t like to quarrel with you, Margaretta. It usually gives me a bad feeling inside me.”
“You want to go to River Street?” said Margaretta, abruptly.
“Oh, yes, we shall be so near the river. I am going to keep my boat and canoe. The launch will have to go.”
Margaretta suppressed a smile. “How about the neighbourhood?”
“Don’t like it, but we shall keep to ourselves.”
“And keep the family together,” said Margaretta.
“Yes,” said Berty, soberly. “Trust Grandma to do that. I wish you and Roger could live with us.”
“Bless your heart,” said Margaretta, affectionately throwing an arm around her.
“LEANING OVER THE STAIR RAILING”
“But you’ll come to see us often?” said Berty, anxiously.
“Every day; and, Berty, I prophesy peace and prosperity to you and Grandma—and now good-bye, I’m going home to save.”
“Yes, to save money—to keep my family together,” and holding her head well in the air, Margaretta tripped through the long, cool hall out into the sunlight.
“Thank God they have made up their quarrel,” said Grandma, who was leaning over the stair railing. “Nothing conquers a united family! And now will Margaretta have the strength of mind to keep to her new resolution?”