The Two New Year’s Gifts, Part 1
by S. M. F.
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: This didactic piece of short fiction was originally published in Tract Magazine; or, Christian Miscellany. It follows a young woman and the results of her receiving a New Year’s gift of five pounds. Through the story, the consequences that follow the actions of each character attempt to teach the reader about the necessity of Christian charity and eschewing worldly pleasures.
This entry was published as the first of two parts:
It was the second morning of the new year, and Annie Deene sat by the front window of the apartments which she and her mother occupied in a quiet side street turning out of one of the great thoroughfares of busy London. Drawing materials and a group of half-finished flowers, beautifully painted, were before her, but she had laid down her brush and appeared to be thinking. After sitting with her head on her hand for a minute or two, she took up a pencil and began to write something on the paper which she used for trying her tints. “Yes, that will do,” said she, half aloud, as she afterwards read it over: “One pound for charity; I shall give five shillings to the missionary box, and lay out the remainder in a blanket and some coals and flannel for widow Harris and old Mrs. Gray; then a pound for a new winter dress for mamma, and three pounds for myself. How delightful to buy books! yes, I shall lay it all out in books. I will get several which I have wanted a long time; let me see—” but here she was suddenly interrupted by a smart rap at the door; and a minute after a bright, pretty-looking girl, in a fashionable walking dress, entered the room. It was her cousin, Emma Turner.
“A happy new year to you, my sweet cousin,” said she, going up to Annie, and saluting her; “allow me to congratulate you.”
“Upon what?” said Annie, returning her salutation, and at the same time leading her to an easy chair by the fire.
“Ah, you think I am not in the secret; but look here,” she replied, flourishing a five-pound note in the air as she spoke; “I am as rich myself. But, seriously, Annie, what could have induced uncle William to take such a fit of generosity? I assure you I was never so astonished in my whole life.”
“I was a little surprised too,” replied Annie; “but, really, it was very kind of him, was it not? To make a new year’s gift of it too, so much more pleasant than having it any other time.”
“Oh, very kind, indeed,” replied Emma. “I have always had an affection for new years’ gifts ever since I can remember. And now for the next question; what do you mean to buy, Annie?”
“Rather an impertinent question, in my opinion,” returned Annie, good-humouredly. “Suppose, however, I answer it, as some people do, by asking another: what do you mean to buy, Emma?”
“I know you will be shocked,” replied Emma, “but I cannot help it, so I had better tell you at once. I am going to buy a charming new dress for Mrs. Holmby’s ball. The money has come in most apropos for the occasion, for mamma had declared that she would not give me a dress, and I could not possibly have gone in my old white muslin.”
“But, surely, Emma,” said Annie, “you will not spend the whole five pounds on a dress just for one evening.”
“Every penny of it, my love, on the dress and et ceteras. The fact is, Annie, I have set my heart upon this ball; and for once in my life I mean to make the most of myself, and look very nice. Several people are to be there whom I particularly wish to see, especially Lady G—; every one says that she is a most charming woman.”
“I have heard the same,” replied Annie, “but I have also heard that she never goes to balls; and, besides, you know, she lost her mother only about a month ago.”1No end quotation marks in original.
“Well, my dear, I cannot help that,” said Emma; “all I know is that I shall be very glad to avail myself of this same opportunity of getting an introduction to her ladyship. And now, Annie, having satisfied your curiosity as to what I mean to buy with my new year’s gift, be so good as to tell me in return what you mean to do with yours.”
“I have had so short a time to consider of it,” replied Annie, “that I have not yet exactly made up my mind what to do with it; probably I shall buy several things; five pounds, you know, is a larger sum to me than it is to you, Emma”
“Well, as to that I don’t know,” replied Emma; “for I am sure I always want money badly enough, though papa does think my allowance so handsome. But if I were you, Annie,” she continued, dropping her playful tone and speaking very earnestly, “I would not buy several things. I would have something handsome—a new shawl, for instance, such as that which papa gave me last winter; it cost just five guineas, and I was thinking the other day what a time you had had that cloak of yours.”
“It will do very well for this year,” replied Annie. “Besides I do not intend buying myself any articles of dress; I would much rather have a few nice books.”
“Nonsense,” said Emma; “really, Annie, you are quite book mad; surely you will never be so ridiculous as to spend the whole five pounds on books?”
“No, not the whole of it. But if I did, Emma, do you think it would be worse than spending it on a ball-dress?”
In order to avoid answering this question, Emma turned to Annie’s drawing-table and began to talk about the group which she was painting; the ball-dress, however, was still uppermost in her mind; at length putting away the drawing, she said, “Well, Annie, what do you think I had better have, lace or silk? and what flowers shall I wear in my hair, and so on?”
“My dear Emma,” replied Annie, “what is the use of asking me? You know I never go to parties, and, consequently, can have no taste in such things; you had much better consult your dressmaker.”
“I shall do no such thing,” replied Emma, “for you know, Annie, that though I do scold you for being dowdy sometimes, I have a very high opinion of your taste: people who draw always have good taste.”
Annie smiled at this flattery. She could not, however, be of any service in the matter. Any hint in favour of plain and simple attire was instantly set aside; and notwithstanding Emma’s professed admiration of her cousin’s taste, she did not, in any single respect, take her advice; having, in fact, made up her mind beforehand to a much more showy costume than Annie could by any means be brought to admire.
“Emma,” said she, when the subject, much to her relief, was at length exhausted, and the young devotee of fashion arose to depart, “have you remembered the coal ticket which I asked you about for poor Mrs. Brown?”
“Oh dear,” she replied, “I forgot all about it; and, besides, Annie,” she added, slightly colouring, “I think I never paid my subscription to the coal society last year, and so, of course, I am not entitled to any tickets. I am very sorry, but I dare say the poor woman will get one given to her by some one else.”
Annie looked disappointed; but she did not speak her thoughts, and Emma forthwith took her leave.
The next morning Annie wended her way in and out several narrow streets; and at last came to a tall house, the door of which stood open. She went in, and passing up stairs knocked at one of the doors on the second landing place. It was opened by a little girl.
“Well, Martha,” said she, “how is your mother to-day?”
“Better, ma’am, thank you,” replied the child’; “she thinks she shall be able to get up this afternoon.”
The room was scantily furnished, but was neat and clean; there was a bright little fire in the grate, and on the bed, which stood near it, lay a sick woman; she was covered with a warm new blanket.
“Oh, miss,” said she, as Annie approached her, “how can we thank you for your goodness? I haven’t been so warm before all this winter.”
“I am so glad,” said Annie. “I thought you would find the blanket comfortable; but you must not thank me, for if it had not been for the kindness of a friend I could not have sent it to you. Do you think you are feeling a little better?”
“Yes, miss, thank God, I feel a good bit stronger to-day. I think it is being warm that has done me as much good as anything. Oh, miss, I can’t tell you what a treasure the coals were you were so good as to send last night; we hadn’t had a spark of fire all day. I was almost perished; and poor Patty, there, was crying with the cold ready to break her heart.”
A still small voice whispered in Annie’s heart, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” She however said nothing, but, taking out her little pocket Testament, sat down, as was her wont, to read from it to the sick woman. When she had finished, and made some few simple remarks, the little girl, who had been an attentive listener, said to her mother, “Mother, wouldn’t Ellen like to hear Miss Deene read?”
“Who is Ellen? some friend of yours, Martha?” inquired Annie.
“She is a poor young woman, miss,” replied Mrs. Harris, “who has lately taken the room over this. She used to keep a stall in one of the bazaars at the west end, but she had a bad illness three or four months ago, and now she takes in plain needlework.”
“Poor girl!” said Annie; “I will go up and see her; for though I have not anything to give her, she may perhaps be glad of a book to read. Martha, will you ask her if I shall come up now?”
Martha gladly flew off on her errand, and in less than ten minutes, Annie, seated by the side of the wan, weary-looking young sempstress, was listening with patient ear and ready sympathy to her sad, but, alas! common tale of poverty and suffering. She was one who had seen better days; and Annie could not help feeling as much struck by the superior tone of her manners and conversation, as she was by the pious resignation and patience with which she seemed to bear the trials and sufferings which God had seen fit to lay upon her.
“You are still looking very thin and weak,” said she; “do you not find the exertion of working so closely too much for you?”
“Sometimes I do, miss,” she replied, “and then I lie down and rest for half-an-hour; but I ought to be very thankful that I can get work to do, for if I could not I must either starve or go to the workhouse. These shirts that I am making now,” she added, “are very fine; and stitching the collars and wristbands tries my eyes sadly; they have been so very weak ever since my illness, that on some days I cannot see to stitch at all.”
After half-an-hour’s further conversation, Annie again found herself in the busy street. “How I wish that I were rich!” thought she, as she passed along; “If I had at my disposal but half the money that Emma has, how much good I would do!” Suddenly, as much from habit as anything, she stood still before a bookseller’s shop and began to read over the names of the volumes in the window. She did not however remain long; in less than five minutes she had retraced her steps and again entered the small chamber of the young needlewoman.
“It has just struck me,” said she, hurriedly, “that I know of a way in which I could help you a little. I am not rich, or I would do something better for you, but you said that it hurts your eyes to stitch; if you will trust me with the collars and wristbands you spoke of, I will do them for you and bring them back the next time I come.”
The poor girl had suffered alone so long and so much, that this proof of genuine kindness and sympathy from one to whom she was a perfect stranger quite overcame her, and she burst into tears. “You are too good!” she murmured.
“Oh, no,” said Annie, “do not think anything of it; my eyes are strong, and I have plenty of time at home: give them to me.”
“God will reward you,” said the needlewoman, as she placed them in her hand; “I never can.”
In the course of a few days Annie’s self-imposed task was completed, and she was again seated in Ellen Martin’s little room. “I suppose,” said she, “that your stall in the bazaar was much more profitable to you than plain work.”
“Oh, yes, much more,” replied Ellen; “I was beginning to get quite a comfortable living when my illness came. At one time I hoped to have been able to get back again, but I fear I must quite give up the thought of it now.”
“You have of course parted with all your stock,” remarked Annie.
“No, miss, only with a part of it. A person, whom I knew, consented, when I was in my greatest need, to lend me three pounds upon the remainder; if I could repay the money I might of course have the things and take my stall again, but I fear I shall never be able to do so; it is as much as I can do to live now, and fancy articles do not bear keeping, they get old fashioned and lose their beauty.”
Annie did not reply for a minute or two; at length she said, “If any one were to lend you the money, do you think you should ever be able to repay it?”
“Oh, yes, I am sure I should in time, but I know no one of whom I could ask such a favour; people do not like to lend money to those who are as poor as I am.”
Annie had left home that morning with the intention of going to the booksellers in order to purchase the volumes with which she intended to treat herself out of her uncle’s new year’s gift. Instead however of carrying this intention into effect, she passed the shop without even looking in, and went straight home again. Her visit to Ellen Martin had brought to her mind a new plan of using her money. But she did not wish to do anything hastily, and so determined to consult her mother before putting it into execution.
To be continued.
This story is continued in The Two New Year’s Gifts, Part 2.
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15 March 2023
22 June 2023
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