“I won’t live on my brother-in-law,” said the slight, dark girl.
“Yes, you will,” said the fair-haired beauty, her sister, who was standing over her in a somewhat theatrical attitude.
“I will not,” said Berty again. “You think because you have just been married you are going to run the family. I tell you, I will not do it. I will not live with you.”
“I don’t want to run the family, but I am a year and a half older than you, and I know what is for your good better than you do.”
“You do not—you butterfly!”
“Alberta Mary Francesca Gravely—you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” said the beauty, in concentrated wrath.
“I’m not ashamed of myself,” replied her sister, scornfully. “I’m ashamed of you. You’re just as extravagant as you can be. You spend every cent of your husband’s income, and now you want to saddle him with a big boy, a girl, and an—”
“An old lady,” said Margaretta.
“Grandma isn’t old. She’s only sixty-five.”
“Sixty-five is old.”
“It is not.”
“Well, now, can you call her young?” said Margaretta. “Can you say she is a girl?”
“Yes,” replied Berty, obstinately, “I can call her a girl, or a duck, or anything I like, and I can call you a goose.”
“A goose!” repeated Mrs. Stanisfield, chokingly; “oh, this is too much. I wish my husband were here.”
“I wish he were,” said Berty, wickedly, “so he could be sorry he mar—”
“Children,” said a sudden voice, “what are you quarrelling about?”
Both girls turned their flushed faces toward the doorway. A little shrewd old lady stood there. This was Grandma, one of their bones of contention, and this particular bone in deep amusement wanted to laugh, but knew better than to do so.
“Won’t you sit down, Margaretta?” she said, calmly coming into the room and taking a chair near Berty, who was lounging provokingly on the foot of the bed.
It was Grandma’s bed, and they were in Grandma’s room. She had brought them up—her two dear orphan granddaughters, together with their brother Boniface.
“What are you quarrelling about?” repeated the little old lady, taking a silk stocking from her pocket, and beginning to knit in a leisurely way.
“We’re quarrelling about keeping the family together,” said Margaretta, vehemently, “and I find that family honour is nothing but a rag in Berty’s estimation.”
“Well, I’d rather have it a nice clean rag put out of sight,” said Berty, sharply, “than a great, big, red flag shaken in everybody’s face.”
“Sit down, Margaretta,” said Grandma, soothingly.
“Oh, I am too angry to sit down,” said Margaretta, shaking herself slightly. “I got your note saying you had lost your money. I came to sympathize and was met with insults. It’s dreadful!”
“Sit down, dear,” said Grandma, gently, pushing a rocking-chair toward her.
Margaretta took the chair, and, wiping her white forehead with a morsel of lace and muslin, glared angrily at her sister.
“Roger says,” she went on, excitedly, “that you are all—”
“All!” groaned Berty.
“All,” repeated Margaretta, furiously, “or one or two, whichever you like, to come and live with us. He insists.”
“No, you insist,” interrupted Berty. “He has too much sense.”
Margaretta gave a low cry. “Isn’t this ingratitude abominable—I hear of your misfortune, I come flying to your relief—”
“Dear child,” said Grandma, “I knew you’d come.”
“But what do you make of Berty, Grandma? Do say something cutting. You could if you tried. The trouble is, you don’t try.”
Grandma tried not to laugh. She, too, had a tiny handkerchief that she pressed against her face, but the merriment would break through.
“You laugh,” said Margaretta, in awe, “and you have just lost every cent you own!”
Grandma recovered herself. “Thank fortune, I never chained my affections to a house and furniture and a bank-account.”
“Roger says you are the bravest woman he ever saw,” murmured Margaretta.
“Did he say that?” replied Grandma, with twinkling eyes.
“Yes, yes, dear Grandma,” said Margaretta, fondly, “and he told me to offer you all a home with us.”
The little old lady smiled again, and this time there was a dimple in her cheek. “What a dear grandson-in-law! What a good man!”
“He is just perfection,” said Margaretta, enthusiastically, “but, Grandma, darling, tell me your plans! I am just dying to know, and Berty has been so provoking.”
“Berty is the mainstay of the family now,” said Grandma, good-naturedly; “don’t abuse her.”
“The mainstay!” repeated Margaretta, with a bewildered air; “oh, yes, I see. You mean that the little annuity left her by our great-aunt, your sister, is all that you have to depend on.”
“Just those few hundred dollars,” said Grandma, tranquilly, “and a little more.”
“That is why she is so toploftical,” said Margaretta. “However, it is well that she was named for great-aunt Alberta—but, Grandma, dear, don’t knit.”
“It is so prosaic, after all you have gone through,” said Margaretta. “When I think of your trials, it makes me sick.”
“My trials are nothing to what Job had,” remarked her grandmother. “I read of his tribulations and they make mine seem very insignificant.”
“Poor Grandma, you have had about as many as Job.”
“What have I had?” asked the old lady, softly.
Margaretta made a gesture of despair. “Your mother died at your birth.”
“The Lord took her,” said the old lady, gently, “and when I needed a mother he sent me a good stepmother.”
“Your father perished in a burning hotel,” said the girl, in a low voice.
“And went to heaven in a chariot of fire,” replied Grandma, firmly.
“You married and were happy with your husband.”
“Yes, bless the Lord!”
“But your daughter, our mother, kissed you good-bye one day to go on a pleasure excursion with her husband, and never came back—oh, it breaks my heart to think of that day—my father and mother lost, both at once!” and, dropping miserably on her knees, Margaretta hid her face in her grandmother’s lap.
The old lady’s lip trembled, but she said, steadily, “The Lord giveth—He also taketh away.”
“And now,” said Margaretta, falteringly, “you are not old, but you have come to an age when you are beginning to think about getting old, and you have lost everything—everything.”
“All save the greatest thing in the world,” said Grandma, patting the bowed head.
“You always had that,” exclaimed Margaretta, lifting her tear-stained face. “Everybody has loved you since you were born—how could any one help it?”
“If everybody loves me, why is it?” inquired Grandma, guilelessly, as she again took up her knitting.
Margaretta wrinkled her fair brows. “I don’t know—I guess it is because you don’t talk much, and you seem to like every one, and you don’t contradict. You’re exceedingly canny, Grandma.”
“Yes, canny. I don’t know what the Scottish people mean by it, but I mean clever, and shrewd, and smart, and quiet, and you keep out of scrapes. Now, when I’m with that provoking creature there,” and she looked disdainfully at Berty, “I feel as if I were a fifty-cornered sort of person. You make me feel as if I were round, and smooth, and easy to get on with.”
Grandma picked up a dropped stitch and said nothing.
“If you’d talk more, I’d like it better,” said Margaretta, dolefully, “but I dare say I should not get on so well with you.”
“Women do talk too much,” said Grandma, shortly; “we thresh everything out with our tongues.”
“Grandma, dear, what are you going to do?” asked Margaretta, coaxingly. “Do tell me.”
“Keep the family together,” said Grandma, serenely.
“The old cry,” exclaimed Margaretta. “I’ve heard that ever since I was born. What makes you say it so much?”
“Shall I tell you?”
“Yes, yes—it is a regular watchword with you.”
“When my father found himself trapped in that burning building,” said Grandma, knitting a little more rapidly than before, “he looked down from his window into the street and saw a man that he knew. ‘Jefferson,’ he called out, ‘will you take a message to my wife?’
“‘I’ll take fifty, sir,’ answered the man, in an agony.
“My father was quite calm. ‘Then, Jefferson,’ he went on, ‘tell my wife that I said “God bless her,” with my last breath, and that I want her to keep the family together. Mind, Jefferson, she is to keep the family together.’
“‘I’ll tell her,’ said the man, and, groaning and dazed with the heat, he turned away. Now, that wife was my stepmother, but she did as her husband bade her. She kept the family together, in sickness and in health, in adversity and in prosperity.”
Margaretta was crying nervously.
“If you will compose yourself, I will go on,” said Grandma.
Margaretta dried her tears.
“Those four dying, living words were branded on my memory, and your mother was taught to lisp them with her earliest breath, though she was an only child. When she left me that sunny spring day to go on her long, last journey, she may have had a presentiment—I do not know—but I do know that as she pressed her blooming face to mine, she glanced at her three children playing on the grass, and whispered, lovingly, ‘Keep the family together.’”
“And you did it,” cried Margaretta, flinging up her head, “you did it nobly. You have been father, mother, grandfather and grandmother to us. You are a darling.” And seizing the little, nimble hands busy with the stocking, she kissed them fervently.
Grandma smiled at her, picked up her work, and went on, briskly: “Keep the family together, and you keep the clan together. Keep the clan together, and you keep the nation together. Foster national love and national pride, and you increase the brotherhood of man.”
“Then the family is the rock on which the nation is built,” said Margaretta, her beautiful face a flood of colour.
“Then I am a helping stone in the building of a nation,” continued Margaretta. “I, only a young woman in a small city of this great Union?”
“You are a wife,” said Grandma, composedly, “a young and inexperienced one, but still the head of a family.”
Margaretta shivered. “What a responsibility—what kind of a wife am I?”
Grandma maintained a discreet silence.
“Berty says I am extravagant,” exclaimed Margaretta, with a gesture toward the bed.
Again her grandmother said nothing.
“Am I, Grandma, darling, am I?” asked the young woman, in a wheedling voice.
Grandma’s lips trembled, and her dimple displayed itself again.
“I am,” cried Margaretta, springing up and clasping her hands despairingly. “I spend all Roger gives me. We have no fortune back of us, only his excellent income from the iron works. If that were to fail, we should be ruined. I am a careless, poorly-turned stone in the foundation of this mighty nation. I must shape and strengthen myself, and, Grandma, dear, let me begin by helping you and Berty and Bonny. You will have to give up this house—oh, my darling Grandma, how can you—this handsome house that grandfather built for you? What will you do without your velvet carpets, and lace curtains, and palms and roses? Oh, you will come to me! I shall save enough to keep you, and I shall lose my reason if you don’t.”