"Really," said Mrs. Caxgrove, "I don't think I had better take it."
"It will do no harm," said the white-haired old missionary, still holding out the little mite chest from which the elegantly dressed lady shrank. "It will take up but a trifling space on yonder marble-topped table, and who knows the good it may do?"
"Oh, yes, of course," said Mrs. Caxgrove; "but we have so few visitors who are charitably disposed, and in our own family there are so many necessary outlets for money."
"In some of the homes where I am acquainted," persisted the old clergyman, "there is quite a fund raised by friendly fines levied by different members of the family on each other a penny for gloves or hat left lying round, a penny for a careless of ungrammatical expression, and so on and it is very useful as well as charitable institution."
"I dare say," said Mrs. Caxgrove; "but in our family it would scarcely be worth while."
The old man smiled.
"Are you then so absolutely faultless?"
"Oh, no, I did not mean that," Mrs. Caxgrove answered, somewhat confused. "Only "
"You will allow me to leave the mite chest?" said Mr. Salter, smiling as he placed it on the center of the marble table, just beneath a basket of camellias, tuberoses and other hot-house plants, the cost of which might have filled it a dozen times over. And Mrs. Caxgrove was too polite to object further.
"Such a nuisance!" she said to Mrs. Jaynesford that afternoon. "As if I wanted to turn collection agent for the missionary society. But Mr. Salter is positively a child in the ways of the world."
"I wish he'd get his wife a new silk dress," said Mrs. Jaynesford. "I'm tired of seeing that old figured poplin. Sarah had a new one last Sunday."
"New!" cried Mrs. Caxgrove, elevating her nose scornfully; "it's nothing on earth but the cinnamon brown dyed black?"
"You don't say so!" cried Mrs. Jaynesford. "Did you know that Ellen Black had an Indian shawl?"
"No?" interrogated the lady of the house. "And her uncle failed last week!"
"Some people fail very comfortably," sniffed Mrs. Jaynesford. "And Hellen Barr told me, at the artists' reception last Thursday "
She checked herself as the dark blue velvet curtain which fell over the embrasure of a bay-window was lifted, and her friend's husband sauntered forth.
"I did not know you were there, Stephen," said Mrs. Caxgrove, coloring a little.
"So I concluded!" he observed dryly, And taking up the little mite chest, he held it with a smile toward the visitor.
"I have no pennies," she said, glancing over the contents of her Turkey morocco pertemonnaie, and slightly tossing her head, as she rose to take leave.
"The stingy creature!" said Mrs. Caxgrove, when the door was fairly shut behind her. "I don't believe any one ever knew Myrtilla Jaynesford to give a cent in charity!"
"See here, Lill," said her husband. "I only wish I had a phonographic report of your conversation for the last hour!"
"Because you and your friend Mrs. Jaynesford were tearing the rest of the world fearfully into tatters! What does the bible say about the 'unruly members?'"
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Caxgrove, saddening. "Myrtilla is a great gossip, but "
"I beg your pardon, Lill; but you were quite as bad."
"I don't believe it."
"Let's make a bargain, my dear," said Mr. Caxgrove. "I give you a tolerably good allowance of pin money per week, don't I?"
"Yes, but what on earth has that to do with it?"
"Just this: Every time your tongue touches a neighbor's misdoings, or you speak disparagingly of any one, you shall put a ten cent piece into the mite chest.."
"I would just as soon do it as not," said Mrs. Caxgrove excitedly. "I am sure I never "
"Is it a bargain?"
"Yes, of course. If it was Myrtilla Jaynesford, now "
Mr. Caxgrove held out the mite chest. Lill bit her lip, but she dropped in the little folded bit of paper.
"Stephen, you are too bad! To take me up so!"
"But I thought it was a bargain."
Mrs. Caxgrove swept indignantly across the room. Presently she jerked the bell wire.
"Susan," she said to the girl who answered the summons, "do take those sickening tube-roses away. Anybody might know when Mrs. Lawrence has had a ball at her house by the liberality with which she sends the second-hand flowers round among her friends the next day.
"Susan," said Mr. Caxgrove philosophically, "take that little paper box to your mistress."
"Stephen!" cried Mrs. Caxgrove. "I only "
"I know it, my dear," said her husband. "If you say so, I'll release you from the agreement."
"I do not want to be released," said Mrs. Caxgrove angrily. "Accident happens to be on your side just now."
"On the side of the Home Mission, you mean," said her husband. "By the way, there's that note from Miss Dallas to be answered. Have you forgotten it?"
"What shall I say?"
"Accept her invitation, I suppose."
"Oh Stephen, I would so much rather go to the opera! It's always so stupid at the Dallas's, with old Mrs. Dallas telling about her coughs and colds, and Jessie always full of the last sewing circle."
"Well, I suppose it isn't very lively," sand Mr. Caxgrove, with a sly smile. "Ten cents, Lill, if you please."
"Why Stephen, what have I said? Oh to be sure!" And Mrs. Caxgrove could not help laughing. "Well its worth ten cents to have the privilege of speaking my mind. Any way, I shall send regrets."
"There will be an awful fib, then!" said Mr. Caxgrove.
"Only a polite fiction. There I haven't a sheet of note paper left! Mrs. Captain Sibthorpe sent in and borrowed the last yesterday; and Mrs. Sibthorpe never returns anything she borrows, by any possibility."
"Like the wicked woman in the scripture," said her husband. "Ten cents my love."
"It's too bad!" cried Lill, with flaming cheeks. "I didn't mean to be taken up this way."
"I only wish Mrs. Jaynesford or one of her set would call again," said Mr. Caxgrove roguishly. "There goes the bell now!"
"I shall be on my guard," said his wife. "I do believe it's Mrs. Montague, the very one of all others I most wished to see. No, it isn't either it's old Miss Ducey! Oh dear! Now I shall be bored for a mortal half hour."
"The Home Mission again!" said Mr. Caxgrove, calmly presenting the inexorable mite chest, at the same instant in which Miss Ducey was shown into the drawing-room.
Miss Ducey had come to tell Mrs. Caxgrove all the particulars of a recent wedding, and she stayed an hour and a half. And when she went away she circulated a report that "poor dear Mrs. Caxgrove's husband was really getting quite insane on the subject of money, for all the time she was there he sat in the bay-window, pretending to be busy with a book, but every now and then he would repeat to himself, 'Ten cents!' 'ten cents!' 'ten cents!'
"And, my dear," added Miss Ducey, "I never saw a poor creature so mortified as Mrs. Caxgrove. She turned as red as a beet!"
"Stephen," cried the wife as soon as her visitor was gone, "it's too bad for you to make me responsible for the tongue of an old talebearer like Miss Ducey! I couldn't stop her mouth!"
"Of course not," said Stephen, "your mouth is the only one for which you are accountable, and it has just got you into another ten cent difficulty. Upon my word, the Home Mission is making money at a railroad rate! Don't look so vexed, Lill, darling; all this only proves to you that you really were getting into an almost unconscious habit of criticism and fault-finding."
"But I declare I won't be caught again," said Mrs. Caxgrove resolutely.
At the end of five minutes she came back with a telegram in her hand.
"You'll have to go to the depot, Stephen," she said, "to meet the Ravens. Here is a telegraphic dispatch to say they are on there way to visit us. Oh, dear, why can't they stay at home? What shall I do with those three horrid, disagreeable young savages of children. I declare, I'd rather pay "
"Ten cents, Mrs. Caxgrove," said her husband. And then he went off to meet the train.
At the end of the week the mite chest was opened, and found to contain five dollars and thirty cents in fine money.
"I didn't know I was so bad, Stephen," said Mrs. Caxgrove, half laughing, half crying. "For the future I will try to 'set a watch upon the door of my lips.'"
Mr. Caxgrove counted out the money and sent it to Mr. Salter, with a little note, saying that the mite chest had met with better luck than his wife anticipated.
"We'll set the little trap to catch a bad habit again," he said laughingly to Lilla. "I hope the money will do the Home Mission much benefit, but I am sure it has already wrought a good work in my own little domestic home mission."
"I think so too, Stephen," said Lilla.February 11, 1886. Door County Advocate 24(42): 1. Published at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.