Welcome to The Little Miser, Part 2. We continue with The Little Miser, a short story by Ray Unger published in 1919. While it was published in January of 1919, it was written during World War I. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
The Little Miser, continued….
Hippity grasped her mother’s skirts and looked pathetically, appealingly into her puzzled eyes. Her words came in a hurried, alarmed, entreating crescendo:
“Oh no, no, no, Muvver! Don’t take me out of school! I want to go to school! I don’t want to stay home! I’ll be polite to Jerry!”
Her excitement increased. Her need was imperative.
Mother took her up in her arms.
“I want my little girl to be happy. Surely you may stay at school if you wish.”
Hippity cuddled gratefully in her mother’s arms.
In the meantime her hoard was slowly growing. Her calendar told her it was a month since she had overheard the angry words which came through the study window.
It was a period of thrift and saving for which Hippity was grateful. Everybody expected little girls to help the war. All the children were taking money to school for the Red Cross. They were nearly all buying Thrift-Stamps. All but her. She had to bear the reproachful looks of her teacher and the scathing denunciation of her patriotic schoolmates. Still her money went into her little bank. Every night after Muvver left her she counted it, and every night she marked her calendar. She wasn’t sure how much she needed, but she would try to find out.
She waylaid Dick one evening. Her manner with him was gentle and sympathetic.
“Dicky, if you had all the money you wanted, wouldn’t that be nice?”
“I should say so. Are you going to tell the fairy to give it to me?”
“How much would you like?”
Without hesitation, with a face of imperturbable gravity, he answered.
“I’d want nine dollars and thirty-five cents.”
Her heart bounded with glad anticipation. She saw the time ahead when she could again help her country. Last night, when she counted her hoard, it had totaled six dollars and twenty-three cents.
Next day Miss Whitney, the teacher, called her at recess.
“Elizabeth, your mamma signed the Red Cross Pledge for you, didn’t she?”
The little girl nodded a silent yes.
“But you haven’t been paying lately.”
Elizabeth looked at her teacher, looked for some sign of sympathy, but met a cold wall of censure. Her heart went dead within her when Miss Whitney continued:
“I know your mother and father wish you to give the money to the Red Cross. I’m sure they didn’t forget to give it to you.”
Elizabeth broke down. She would throw herself on Miss Whitney’s mercy. Her voice was convulsive. Miss Whitney had difficulty in distinguishing the words.
“Muvver – gave – me – the money – and I’m saving it. I can’t ever, ever tell you what for.”
The teacher was moved.
“Elizabeth, nobody can need the money more than your country. It is wrong to save it, or use it for anything else. You’re not a true little American girl if you do.”
Elizabeth’s silence was dogged. Nothing could make her stop saving. But she must hurry – save faster. Nine dollars and thirty-five cents wasn’t so awfully much. It wouldn’t take so very long. If people would only let her alone! Then she could help her flag again. She would sell her hair ribbons. Hadn’t Susie Black offered her an orange for the red one when it came off the other day? She would gather them together and sell them for a penny apiece. All the girls had pennies nowadays. If only Miss Whitney wouldn’t tell Muvver that she wasn’t giving any money to the Red Cross!
But Miss Whitney must have done so. That night, after Muvver had tucked her in bed and left her, Elizabeth took out her bank. She felt secure. Not once had she been disturbed in her nightly task. The coins were strewn over the white counterpane, and Elizabeth was arranging them in systematic piles, when the door quietly opened. Muvver stood in the door looking silently at the little girl, who was clutching the coins and counterpane in a vain effort to hide her occupation. Fear held the child’s heart, but obstinacy veiled her face.
Mrs. Browne’s startled cry, “Elizabeth!” evoked no response from Hippity-hop – merely a tighter clutching of her hoard.
“What are you doing with that money?”
The little girl gave no answer.
It was a Hippity-hop whom Muvver had never seen who pulled the coverlet and its contents close. Her face was that of a miser, avid with possession, and fearful lest she be dispossessed of what was rightfully hers. Silent until now, as Muvver approached, her expression of fear increased and she let forth a shrill scream which formed into articulate words:
“You shan’t have it! it’s mine!”
In her perturbed state she was praying that Muvver would be angry. If Muvver put her arms around her as she always did when her little girl was in trouble, Hippity might break down at the dear touch, and tell. That she mustn’t, mustn’t do, no matter what happened! She kept saying it over and over to herself. She wanted Muvver to love her, and yet she must make Muvver hate her!
The unhappy little girl’s mind was seething with contradictory thoughts. If Muvver took the money away from her, what then? She thought of big brother Dick and set her teeth. She wouldn’t let Muvver have that money––no! not if she had to fight and scratch and scream! Dick must have it! She was like a hunted creature at bay, fighting for her young.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Muvver’s soothing voice. “Elizabeth, dear, of course it’s your money. Mother doesn’t want it. Tell mother all about it. Tell her what’s troubling her little girl!”
With eyes distended, Hippity watched her mother come close. She mustn’t let Muvver take her in her arms and kiss her. She saw what was coming. Muvver was standing over her, a world of love in her eyes, her arms extended. A touch of the loved hands, and Hippity would be lost!
“No, I won’t! Don’t touch me! I just want my money! I don’t want to give it to the Red Cross! I want it myself!”
Her voice was raucous with excitement.
Mother was nonplused. The child was too agitated to be argued with, too irresponsible to be punished. There was nothing to do but leave the room. She looked in later, before retiring. Elizabeth was asleep, the little face flushed, the hands tight, the lips now and then muttering indistinguishable words.
In the morning Hippity’s heart was thumping, but she presented a stolid appearance. She knew Muvver would discover that the hair ribbons were missing, and question her. She must show care. When Muvver put the expected question, Hippity at first refused to answer. When Muvver insisted, she curtly responded:
“I sold ‘em. I want the money.”
Mrs. Browne’s tone abruptly changed from love and distress to censure. It was a case for discipline.
“Elizabeth, if there is anything you want to buy with that money, tell mother. I must know! If you won’t tell me, tell Daddy.”
Her request was met with silence.
“You will, won’t you? You know Muvver and Daddy love you, and would do anything for you.”
Muvver was again speaking in the affectionate tone that Hippity feared. She must make her change it.
She muttered between her lips, her voice a monotone, her face surly and unresponsive.
“I don’t want to buy anything. I just want the money.”
“Then I’ll have to believe that my little girl is a miser. She doesn’t love her daddy and mother and brother; she doesn’t love her country; she loves only money.”
In her extremity the tears gathered in Muvver’s eyes.
This was a danger which Hippity had not foreseen. She mustn’t let Muvver’s tears move her. She didn’t trust her voice. A mask of imperturbable composure hid her inner trembling. She wished Muvver wouldn’t cry. If Muvver cried she didn’t know how she could hold out. But she would –– she would hold out forever! If she told, what would become of Dick?
Mother sent to Miss Whitney the Red Cross money that Hippity owed. She discontinued questioning the child, but Hippity knew she was being watched.
Till next time….
Discover the end to this thrilling tale in the next blog post.
These stories were short enough to read at one sitting, but rather long when posted to a blog. Dividing it into several shorter segments gives enough to keep up with the story, but allows the reader to stop and pick up with the next segment if time is short.
One or two of these stories fit perfectly with a fresh cup of hot coffee or tea. Thanks for sticking with me through The Little Miser, Part 2, and I hope you enjoy Part 3.