How a Bequest of 500 Pounds Enabled the Lonely Recipient to Enjoy Life for One Whole Year.
By Gertrude M. Foxe, in the Pall Mall Magazine.
AMABEL sat with her chin on her hand, wondering if it was a dream. Only last night it had all been so different. She had sat down to her lonely tea in her usual apathetic mood; she had read the newspaper, propped up against the teapot, from cover to cover; and then her glance had fallen on the agony column; and she had read, with overwhelming surprise, “If Amabel, daughter of the late Edmond Royce, of Saxhampton, will communicate with the undersigned, she may hear of something to her advantage.— Newell & Yorke, Solicitors, Chancery Lane.” .
Could they mean her? And if so, who could possibly know anything to her advantage? The only living relations she knew of were an aunt and cousin who wrote to her regularly at Christmas, Easter, and on her birthday, and then in the spirit of having piously fulfilled a duty. Obviously this advertisement was not connected with them.
fv Being governess to the daughters of a rich man, she was unwillingly obliged to postpone her visit to the solicitors until late in the afternoon of the following day; and now she had come home bewildered by the strangeness of the news she had received. A schoolfellow of her father had died abroad, and remembering rather late in the day that the daughter of his old friend had been left practically alone in the world, had bequeathed to her five hundred pounds. A small amount, but a fortoine in the eyes of Amabel.
She sat far into the night thinking out her plans. Invested, the money would bring in at the most £25 a year, an amount which would make very little difference to her; and she was resolved to have a good time for once in her life—to be young, to enjoy herself, to buy what she fancied, to treat her jaded eye to new scenes, to taste the sweetness of continual change, to surfeit herself with plays and new novels, and perhaps—too wonderful to dwell on except in passes' to to balls ! She was determined to make up, to the best of her ability, ^ for those bleak years which lay behind her, during which, In order to keep herself alive, she had been obliged to cut herself off from all that makes it worth while to be alive. She had never yet been able to experience the joy of living, and after all she would not be losing her chances as a teacher. ^ She had her certificates and testimonials ; in a year’s time she could return to her old life. She was too excited at the prospect of leaving it to imagine what the return would be like.
The next day was Saturday, and it was a strange coincidence which caused her aunt, Mrs. Pettifer, and her cousin, Muriel, to call upon her in the afternoon. It was a thing they had never done before.
As they entered it struck Amabel that her room was pokv and her furniture faded : such is the effect of contrast. She also suddenly remembered that she was verging on thirty.
The age of thirty is always a bugbear to an unmarried woman. Why, has never been explained, since she should then be at the 2enith of her looks and her wisdom. But looks and wisdom don’t always mature simultaneously. If they did, men would be in far more danger from feminine wiles. "I should like it very much," replied Amabel, understanding quite well that to start "on her own" without introductions would be to waste much precious time. “If aunt doesn’t mind.” She managed to meet Stanbrook’s eyes with a smile. “Why aren't you. dancing?” she asked gaily.
“We had to come to a wedding near, so we thought we’d run in and see you, dear,’’ explained Muriel, kissing Amabel with her eyes on the looking-glass. “The carriage could not come so far. That wretched cab has knocked me all to bits.”
She proceeded to turn up her veil and rearrange her hat ; after which shetproduced a diminutive powderpuff from her purse-bag and artistically powdered her face.
Meanwhile Mrs. Pettifer had launched into a description of the bride’s dress and an account of their adventures on the way.
Amabel hardly listened to her. Everything seemed blurred and indistinct to-day. At last she managed to insert her news between two items of information relating to the exorbitance and insolence of cabmen.
“Five hundred pounds !” repeated Mrs. Pettifer, making it sound like so many halfpennies. “How very nice ! Quite a little nest-egg! So comforting to know you have that to fall back upon when you are beyond work!”
The prospect did not appeal to Amabel in the least. “I am going to live on it,” she faltered.
“Live on it!” repeated Mrs. Pettifer incredulously. “Whatever put such a foolish idea into your head? I never heard of such a thing! Live on it? Why, it will be gone in no time !”
“I daresay it will last a year,” said Amabel, failing in her effort to speak carelessly. “I am going to enjoy myself for a year, and after that—I don’t care what happens!” There was quavering defiance in her tones.
Muriel, finding that the lookingglass was placed at a very unbecoming angle, had begun to listen to the conversation, and to observe Amabel with the attention she would have bestowed on the furniture if it had been worth noticing.
"I have never had any p1easure like other girls," went on Amabel, pale,
but desperately determined. “I’ve had all the spirit crushed out of me by work and worry. I am going to give myself a good time with this money.”
“I should not think of allowing you to throw it away in this manner,” said Mrs. Pettifer. “The improvidence of poor people is shocking!”
“You can’t prevent me,” replied Amabel, gathering courage as she went. “You never interfered with me when I had no money, and you’re not going to meddle now.”
“This is gratitude !” exclaimed Mrs. Pettifer dramatically, waving a fan with a tempestuous movement. “Muriel ! will you try and instil some sense into your cousin’s mind?”
But Muriel, after the manner of petted daughters, basely deserted her mother at this crisis.
“I don’t see why Amabel shouldn’t enjoy herself if she wants to, mother. It’s her own money !” she said. “As she says, she has had a very dull time up to now. What’s the good of saving up so that she can have a decent funeral ?”
Muriel was a young lady who appreciated the joy of living to its fullest extent ; and she had not the slightest objection to seeing other people enjoy themselves so long as they did not interfere with her.
“Don’t be silly, Muriel!” said her mother. “It is not a laughing matter.”
“I was quite serious,” protested Muriel. “Why can’t she come and stay with us for a time? We can introduce her to heaps of people, and she can have a ripping time. She can come abroad with us, too. She pays her own expenses. Wouldn’t you like to come, Amabel?” Perhaps Amabel’s pinched, pale face and dowdy dress had found, and touched, a heart under Muriel’s cloak of egoism; perhaps she thought it would be an interesting experiment to try the effect of happiness on this starved and stunted nature.
“If you are determined to carry out your mad scheme,” returned Mrs. Pettifer, “I have nothing more to say. Of course we shall be very pleased to have you with us. That goes without saying.”
Amabel retlected swiftly that they had never asked her to stay with them before; but she only smiled.
“Isn’t she weird?” laughed Muriel on the way home. “But I do feel rather sorry for the poor thing. I’ll do my best for her. It’s just possible that we may get her married by the end of the year, and what a good thing that would be ! Some middleaged men prefer meekness even to good looks or youth.”
Stanbrook could not get near her, but he could look at her, and mentally compare her with what she had been a year ago.
He remembered Muriel’s answer to his question on the day of their first meeting. “My cousin ! Didn’t I introduce you ? So sorry ! I want you to be kind to her. She has had a very hard time, and mother and I want to make up for it all we can.”
Her words implied that they were also bearing the pecuniary burden of their kindness.
It was from Amabel herself that Stanbrook learned the truth. She was not afraid of him. His manner invited confidence. She told him the whole story. “Do you think I have been wrong?” she concluded wistfully.
He looked at her thoughtfully, and saw in her possibilities which stirred his heart. A distaste for Muriel, whom he had been courting for the last two months, grew up in his mind at the same moment. “No; I think you were quite right,” he assured her. “Human nature cannot develop properly without some sunshine.”
Since then he had watched her development. It was so rapid, and so surprising, that Muriel did not want to talk about it. Her thin cheeks and attenuated figure had filled out, her face had taken the delicate color of
a blossom, her eyes had grown bright. She rivalled her cousin in her capacity for enjoyment. She seemed like a girl in her teens. Muriel began to feel that she had cherished a viper. Not that Amabel would have willingly or consciously hurt her; but she had her own reasons.
It was Amabel’s last dance. After to-night she must go back to dreary drudgery, for she had arrived at the end of her five hundred pounds. So different was she from the old Amabel, that she laughed and joked about it to her aunt and cousin. But as she sat, a long way from Stanbrook, but within sight of him, listening to the inane remarks of a youth who had suggested sitting out the dance, her thoughts ran thus: “To-morrow I
must turn my back on brightness and joy for ever. (No, thank you; I’ve had four ices this evening.) Well, I must not complain. It is what I chose myself. I had no idea the contrast would be so bitter. (Yes, I always like this music.) Yet, what a lovely time I have had ! Looking back, it seems a year of perfect happiness. (Were you hurt? Men are so fond of dangerous games, aren’t they?) And every one has been so good to me— even Muriel. I hate myself for feeling a sort of irritability towards her. (No, I don’t think women are so venturesome as men.) Perhaps it is because she is so sure of herself—even of her complexion, which can’t last for ever. (More endurance certainly. They need it!) I wonder if it is because of what she said this morning—am I jealous? (No; of course I don't hate men ! What a ridiculous idea!) I can’t get her words out of my head: ‘When everything is settled between Mr. Stanbrook and me.’ She spoke as if they were almost engaged ! But of course she knew him first. He has only been kind to me. (I shouldn’t mind an ice now if you were to otter me one.) Anything to get rid of that persistent cackle ! And I must say good-bye to him—for ever ! He’s coming across to me! He mustn’t guess that I—regret.”
“Because you haven’t a dance to spare,” he replied.
“The next is ours,” she reminded him.
“Where's Morris?” he asked.
“Gone to fetch me an ice.”
“He can give it to some other girl. Come with me. I want to talk to you.’’
She raised some objection, but at length she gave in.
"Muriel tells me you are going away to-morrow,” he said abruptly, whe* they were alone.
“Yes,” she laughed. “My experiment has been a success. I have lived —and learned.”
“You have learned to be insincere!” he said.
For a second she was confused. Then she said lightly, “It is one of the lessons one must learn.”
He stared at her as if he were trying to find words.
“I have had a lovely time,” she went on confusedly. “I shall never forget—nor regret it.”
“Have you spent all that five hundred pounds?” he asked suddenly.
“IOh—why?” she faltered.
“Because I’ve been waiting for that
—to ask you to marry me,” he said, not troubling to wait for her answer, but taking the role of an accepted lover without giving her time to breathe.
“I haven’t spent all,” she told him demurely, when she found a chance of speaking; “I’ve got nineteen and fourpence left.”
“Well!” exclaimed Muriel, “this is the last time I put myself out to be kind to any one! I suppose she was playing up for this all the time! As to Mr. Stanbrook, I consider he has behaved shamefully. I little thought, when I introduced them and tried to get him to take an interest in her, how I was going to be repaid.”
“My dear Muriel,” said her mother, “you acted against my advice from the first. Please don’t forget that. And we mustn’t let people suspect that you are put out about it.”
“I’m not quite an imbecile !” retorted the young lady. “Of course I have told everybody that I am perfectly delighted, and that we had seen how things were going for some time. I suppose I ought not to grudge the poor girl the chance—for she must be thirty, if she’s a day!”
It is because men are prone to be partial towards those they love, unjust towards those they hate, servile towards those above them, arrogant towards those below them, and either harsh or over indulgent to those in poverty and distress, that it is so difficult to find anyone cipable of exercising sound judgment with respect to the qualities of others. Therefore, it is the part of wisdom to withhold judgment and immerse ourselves in our own affairs in order that others may attend to theirs.— Confucius.
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