Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

The Little Miser Part 3

The Little Miser, Part 3, concludes this World War I story of home sacrifice and family bonds. Does Hippity-hop’s work on her brother’s behalf go to naught? Does she save him? If you missed the start of this series, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

If you enjoy these stories, let me know in the comments. I have hundreds more.

Closeup of Hippity-hop, the main character in The Little Miser short story.
Hippity-hop hoards her wealth.

Our Story, Continued….

Hippity no longer talked to the flowers, the bees, the butterflies, and the chipmunk. Rags was her only confidant. Once or twice, when she knew they were alone, she permitted herself the luxury of tears. Rags understood how she was suffering, and licked her hands and face. He begged her, in dog talk, to unburden her mind, and tell. He wanted her to be happy again. Then they would romp and play with Daddy and big brother Dick and Hippity would laugh aloud when he chased butterflies. 

Hippity-hop struggled through the succeeding days, her definite purpose marooning her from the mainland of sympathy. Muvver and Daddy thought she was a miser. It was best so. What Dick thought she had no way of discovering, but her mind grasped at a straw. Perhaps he would understand that what she was doing was for him.

At the thought a roseate glow of righteousness enveloped her. In a few days the two months would be up, and she would be able to give him the money he needed. He would be free –– free from the persecution of Jerry Stewart, from the danger that Jerry represented! Then he would tell Muvver and Daddy that she wasn’t a miser, that she was a good little girl, and that she did love her country.

But a few days was a long way off. Supposing––and self-sympathy plunged deep into her mind, crowding out less thoughts––supposing she should die before! She had never seen death, but her imagination luxuriated in the picture of her flower-covered lifeless body wept over by a sorrowful family. When she lay dead they would understand how they had wronged her. She worked herself up into an ecstasy of anticipation until she actually believed her days were numbered. The seraphic exaltation inspired by her impending fate was tempered by a very human satisfaction over the grief and remorse her maligners would justly endure. They would learn too late that she had loved them.

But how would they know? There was only one way. Rags would tell, but they wouldn’t understand him. She must leave a letter. They would read the letter. It would make them weep, and then they would wish they had been kinder. 

Her curriculum at school did not include spelling. She almost decided not to die when she thought of the stupendous task the composition of a letter would entail. Yet she had the heroic persistence which overcomes difficulties. She shut herself in her room. The epistle took her the better part of the afternoon. The sheet was wet with tears of self-pity as she wrote:

deer Mother      Ime not a myzer––I luv you and dad and dick and i luv my Kuntree     I sayvd the muny for dick
Your  ded  chile
Elizabeth Browne

She must not incriminate Dick in any way. He would understand, and in his joy at the deliverance he would tell of her noble sacrifice.

She folded the note and put it into her bank.

Two evenings later, the date marked on the calendar with Daddy’s cross, found her still alive and the possessor of nine dollars and thirty-five cents. She was almost sorry that her last will and her dramatic exit from this vale of tears would have to be sacrificed. But Dick would be saved! That was all she wanted.

It was the hour before dinner. Jerry was dining there that evening. With the money tied in a handkerchief she knocked at Dick’s door, and entered. The glory of her accomplishment bathed her cherubic face. Without a word she untied the handkerchief, emptied its contents on Dick’s bed and with shining eyes looked at her brother. 

She expected an explosion of gratitude, but received only a look of mystification and heard a surprised throaty exclamation.

She gasped in a painful effort to enunciate words. Her face became tragic with her purpose. 

“The money––you know––the money––you––for Jerry!”

She broke down.

His face went red and then very white. His throat swelled. His hands trembled as he asked in a strained whisper:

“How did you know?”

“I heard you an’ Jerry in the study. Jerry said you’d have to go to prison, if you didn’t pay him in two months.” Her voice became tense with the horror of her next disclosure. “I heard him ask you to steal the money from Daddy. I knew you wouldn’t do that.”

“And that’s why you saved the money?”

A sad little affirmative nod was all she could manage. Then, with the thought that she had hurt her brother, she ran to him, threw her arms round his neck, and sobbed her heart out on his shoulder. 

“Dick, Dick, give the money to Jerry! I don’t want ‘em to put you in jail!”

Tears gathered in big brother Dick’s eyes as he realized what the poor little thing had gone through for his sake.

He couldn’t talk, but his shoulders squared with a firm resolve as he picked her up and carried her into the dining room, where Muvver and Daddy and Jerry Stewart awaited them.

Tears were still in Dick’s eyes as he held Hippity close, but in his carriage was a manliness which commanded attention.

“Mother––Dad––I’ve come to tell you the truth.”

There was a warning gesture from Jerry, who suddenly paled, but Dick ignored it.

“This blessed baby,” he kissed Hippity’s hand reverently as he spoke, “has been suffering martyrdom for two months on my account. If I had only known that it was my conduct which was causing her sorrow!” Jerry had started nervously on his feet. Dick went on. “I gambled––played poker––with him.” Scornfully Dick made Jerry the target of his gesture. “I lost. I paid him all I had and still owed him eighteen dollars, for which I gave him my IOU. From time to time I paid him what I could. He threatened me with arrest if I didn’t pay all in two months. Tonight the two months are up. I still owe him seven dollars and a half.”

Without a word Daddy took the money from his pocket, handed it to Jerry, who was standing cringingly and sullenly, and pointed to the door. As the door closed on Jerry Stewart the silence was broken by a long, gasping sob of relief from Hippity.

Muvver took the little girl from Dick’s arms. Daddy and she kissed her in reparation for the wrong they had done her.

Dick stood at a distance. He was not fit to join the family circle. Hippity-hop saw him standing shamed, grieved, remorseful. Turning from her mother to her daddy, she spoke imploringly.

“I want you to love Dicky, too.”

Her word had become law. 

Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

The Little Miser Part 2

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.

A little girl sits on her bed, next to a piggy bank and a calendar. Piles of coins scatter in front of her. A red cross poster is on the wall. Illustration from The Little Miser short story.
Hippity-hop tries to conceal her hoard as she is discoverer by Muvver.

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.

Her heart bounded with glad anticipation. She saw the time ahead when she could again help her country.

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, nobody can need the money more than your country. It is wrong to save it, or use it for anything else.

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.

Her face was that of a miser, avid with possession, and fearful lest she be dispossessed of what was rightfully hers.

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.

This was a danger which Hippity had not foreseen. She mustn’t let Muvver’s tears move her.

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.

Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

The Little Miser from 1919

In an earlier blog post I talked about the lure of the Twentieth Century magazine stand. You can read that post here. Today begins a three-part post where I give you one of the stories from World War I: The Little Miser, by Ray Unger. The story was illustrated by Edmund Frederick. Although The Little Miser dates from 1919, it was written during the war itself. The illustration dates from 1916. Enjoy this dip into magazines’ literary past with The Little Miser from 1919.

1916 illustration of little girl counting money on her bed while her mother looks on. A red cross poster hangs above her bed.
Muvver catches Hippity-hop counting her pennies when she should be asleep.

The Little Miser

by Ray Unger

A loud, angry exclamation which came through the open study window produced upon Hippity-Hop the effect of a physical blow. She started back, clutching Rags tightly. Her frightened blue eyes grew black. Her lips parted as she sharply released her breath. Rags snapped an answering bark, but Hippity-Hop’s warning finger quieted him. The child and the Skye terrier understood each other. 

Words of recrimination hot as live coals dropped from Jerry Stewart’s lips. It was hard to believe! Jerry’s image rose before her as she listened in horror. He was a big, reticent youth whose beetling black brows overshadowed deeper gray eyes. She had thought him her brother Dick’s friend, but friends didn’t use such ugly words to each other. At his denunciation a hitherto unknown passion was born in her soul – a strong hate of the young man who dared assail dear, kind, big brother Dick in this unwarrantable fashion – Dick, who loved everybody and whom everybody loved. When she heard Dick, who was afraid of nothing, answer in trembling tones of fear, she marveled. A hard look came into her eye as the conversation continued. The voices ceased. The wedge of reality had pierced her soul. Laughing, singing Hippity-hop Sunbeam, who spent much of her time talking to the flowers, the butterflies, the birds, and the chipmunks, became a responsible Elizabeth.

To big brother Dick she was “Hippity-hop,” to Daddy she was “Sunbeam,” but Muvver called her Elizabeth. The combination of names gives one a fair idea of six-year-old Elizabeth Ellison Browne.

She knew now why he was pale and silent, why Jerry Stewart haunted him like a shadow.

Only this afternoon she had romped with Rags. She had grown tired and was now sitting under the study window. Snub-nosed, happy, and elusive as a flea, but with less responsibility than that insect, the presence of Hippity-hop Sunbeam had brought gladness to the Browne household. Muvver encouraged the sedate company manners of Elizabeth and was answerable for the tight little pigtails done in a pretzel, with the concession to Hippity-hop Sunbeam of two huge red bows. The buds of the old-fashioned Berkeley garden had seemed to expand their chalices to drink in the merriment of her laughter and the rhythm of her dancing footsteps. She had vied with the sunshine in shedding brightness.

Now all was changed. She spoke to Rags in a whisper:

“Rags, we mustn’t tell anybody!”

Her bright cherubic face was contorted with dread.

Silently she went into the house. Her eyes sought big brother Dick. She knew now why he was pale and silent, why Jerry Stewart haunted him like a shadow. Muvver and Daddy thought he was studying too hard. She had heard Muvver tell Daddy.

Clenching her little fists and tightening her lips, she muttered:

“I mustn’t, mustn’t ever tell!”

Her ready laugh did not come, but she smiled politely with her lips at Daddy’s jokes. Daddy and Muvver looked concernedly at each other, and then at her. The usual after-dinner romp was dispensed with when Daddy realized Hippity-hop Sunbeam’s half-hearted attempt to show her enjoyment. 

Muvver carried the child off to bed. Bedtime was the hour of confidences between the two. She questioned her little daughter, but her questions elicited no answers. Elizabeth’s pulse was normal, her throat could not have been better; there was no fever, no sign of illness. Reassured by her investigations, Muvver tucked the little girl in bed after hearing her simple prayer. 

Hippity-hop listened as her mother’s footsteps descended the stairs, threw the covers back, sprang from bed, took her bank from the bureau drawer, and hurried back to bed. After listening furtively for any interruption, she emptied it of its contents and started counting the money. That was a laborious task. The nickels and dimes were easy enough, but the pennies and quarters and one half dollar puzzled her. She knew she had to do it alone. Rags was the only one who knew, and he couldn’t help her. After several attempts she counted out four dollars and ninety cents. That was a beginning. The Red Cross would have to do without her money. She couldn’t help it. Her throat constricted with the thought. 

She carried her calendar carefully to her room. By marking each day as it passed, she would be able to work more intelligently toward the fulfillment of her plan.

When Muvver looked in before going to her room, a blanket-tossed bed gave evidence of Elizabeth’s restlessness, but Elizabeth was asleep. 

Next morning a serious problem assailed Hippity-hop. Jerry had said he would give Dick two months. How would she know when the two months were up? A solution came to her. She would ask Daddy for a calendar. If he asked her why she wanted it, she mustn’t tell him.

As Daddy was leaving, he made matters easier by saying as he kissed her:

“Well, Sunbeam, what shall Daddy bring home for his little girl?”

“I’d like a nice calendar with big black numbers on it.”

Daddy laughed heartily.

“Your modest wish refutes the feminine reputation for extravagant demands.”

That night, when Daddy gave her the calendar, she asked:

“Will you put a cross on yesterday?”

Daddy acceded to her wish, at the same time asking the dreaded question. “Why?”

Hippity was prepared. She hadn’t pondered all day for nothing.

“Yesterday Susie Black said she was going to have a birthday in two months. When’s two months?”

Unsuspectingly Daddy was led into the trap. He put a cross on the important date. 

She carried her calendar carefully to her room. By marking each day as it passed, she would be able to work more intelligently toward the fulfillment of her plan.

Hippity-hop knew they were all watching her, knew that she must not divulge her secret, and her need enveloped her perturbation in a husk of unconscious theatrical effort. The crystal transparency of her soul was befogged by a hidden purpose. 

Dick had grown even more quiet and serious. He and Jerry didn’t play tennis so often, nor did Jerry come to the house quite so frequently. There was a constraint between the boys when they were together. Hippity-hop found it an effort to be polite to the sullen, glowering youth when he came. She could not forgive him; she blamed him for the change in her dear brother, her teasing, romping, laughing Dick, who had become silent, morose, furtive. When Jerry did come, Dick and he remained closeted in the study. They said they had to dig for examinations. Muvver and Daddy believed them, but Hippity-hop, although she heard no more angry words, knew better.

Muvver chided her gently when she discovered her standing indeterminately first on one foot, then the other, her hands locked behind, her face, unmantled of courtesy, obviously expressing repulsion. Jerry’s hand was extended to her in welcome.

“Shake hands with Jerry, Elizabeth.”

Coldly, distrustfully, she allowed her hand to rest in Jerry’s for a moment. 

Mother looked at the little girl reproachfully, and apologetically addressed Jerry.

“Elizabeth hasn’t been very well lately. I’m worried about her. Her father and I have been seriously considering taking her out of school for a while.”

Fear clutched the child’s heart. She would have to pull herself together. Taking her out of school would mean being deprived of the money which Muvver gave her for the Red Cross and Thrift stamps.

To be continued…

This story continues in the next two blog posts. Click the title to see The Little Miser Part 2.