Jane Scarlett has a lonely and sad existence living in a dingy boardinghouse room and working the button counter of a department store. Until one day a young socialite woman visits her counter and they strike up a conversation that will lead Jane to a home and family connections she thought lost.
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By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill
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New York City
The day had been intensely hot. There didn't seem to be a breath of air stirring anywhere. Even in the great wide store that was supposed to be "air-conditioned" the sultriness of the fervid August day had penetrated.
Jane Scarlett had been working hard all day. Of the two girls who usually helped her at the button and clasp counter, one had been taken sick that noon and gone home, and the other had gone to a picnic. That was Nellie Forsythe. She was pretty and popular with the heads of the department and would get away with it without losing a cent from her pay. Jane shut her lips hard and fanned herself with her handkerchief, after carefully mopping her face. Not many times today had she been able to get enough respite from work to do even that much. It seemed as if there had always been somebody at the counter wanting to look over the whole stock. Not that she had had so many sales, for people weren't buying buttons and clasps in August, unless they saw a particular lovely bargain.
The fourth girl who usually served at that counter was on vacation. She would return in three more days, that is if she didn't have to take a few more days' sick leave to get over her holiday.
Jane's lips curled. Well, she was supposed to have a vacation, too, but she wasn't going to take it. She didn't have to, of course, if she was willing to give it up and go on working. One got a little more money if one worked during vacation time, and she needed the money. She had practically told Mr. Clark, the head of the department, that she wouldn't balk at staying if he needed her. Why should she go on a vacation anyway? She had no place to go. Of course one could go any place at all just for a rest, but why bother if there wasn't any place you really wanted to go? If you had to go among strangers? Also, she hadn't any vacation clothes. She was making last year's things do, because she really needed a warm coat for winter. Though today in the heat a warm coat seemed less desirable than a summer organdie.
Well, August was almost over, and then the winter's work would begin. Perhaps if she worked all summer she might get a promotion or something, and that would be nice. She drew a deep breath and gave a tired look around, and then sighted a girl with a button in her hand coming straight toward her. And just at that very minute came the bugle for closing time! It would work out that way, a girl with a button to match at the last minute, on a day like this! Of course she must stay and wait on the girl even if she didn't buy half a button. That was the rule. She must be polite to late people. She couldn't put on a distant reproving air and say "I'm sorry, madam, it's closing time!" and slam the last drawer back into place as if she had been insulted. They gave lectures to the girls now and again on an attitude like that, and she knew just what happened to girls who persisted in such behavior in spite of the instruction. Of course some of them could get away with it by lying, or acting innocent and smiling judiciously. But she scorned an attitude like that.
The girl with the button hastened her steps and arrived definitely at the button counter now, smiling ingratiatingly toward Jane. The bugle gave the last clear note for closing, but Jane shadowed forth a weary smile, with a hope in her heart that the request might be for something she didn't have.
"I wonder if you can match this button?" said the customer pleasantly.
Jane accepted the button and saw at a glance that she had it. Just a common black button.
"Yes, we have it," said Jane swinging briskly around and reaching with accustomed fingers to the little drawer where such buttons were kept.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" said the other girl with a relieved sigh. "I came in town just on purpose for those buttons, and then I almost forgot them! I'll take a dozen. And if you have a smaller size, about right for sleeves, you can give me a dozen of those, too!"
In silence Jane hunted out the smaller size and showed them to her customer, and then with her sharp little scissors cut in half the card that held two dozen.
"It's terribly hot, isn't it?" said the customer.
Jane summoned a semblance of a smile and agreed. Her swift fingers were putting the buttons into a bag and accepting the right change, while her mind leaped forward to her freedom.
"I'm ashamed to have kept you a minute longer than closing time," said the customer as she accepted her package. "I suppose you are just dying to get to your home and put on the coolest thing you own."
Jane smiled then.
"Oh, that's all right," she said. And then, following a sudden impulse she added: "You see, I haven't any home! I never have had. And I guess after all this store is cooler than the little third-story back room where I board."
"Oh! I'm sorry!" said the other girl. And then added earnestly: "Come on down with me to the shore. I'd love to have you. We have a cottage right close to the beach and there's a big cool guest room overlooking the ocean. I know Mother would welcome you. Will you come?"
Jane felt something unaccustomed like a sudden rush of tears near the surface, and a little blaze of glory came into her pale face.
"Oh, thank you! I couldn't! But it was dear of you to suggest it. Just the memory of your asking me will quite cool me off for the evening."
"Well, I wish you could come. I'd like to get to know you. When I get back to the city I'll look you up. Maybe we can plan something nice together. I'm really grateful to you for being so nice when I kept you after hours. May I know your name?"
"Oh! Why, it's Scarlett. Jane Scarlett!"
"What a lovely name. I won't forget that. Good-bye. I'll be seeing you again sometime in the fall."
Jane watched her as she walked away, a lovely graceful girl in expensive clothes, with a beautiful summer home by the sea, and probably a lovelier one back in the city. But why had she answered her that way? Blurting out to her that she had no home, and never had had one? What a silly thing to do! Sob stuff, that was what it was. The kind of thing she just loathed. She had been guilty of that! She was aghast at herself.
Abruptly she turned and put the card of buttons back in its drawer, slammed it shut, drew down the gingham covers over the whole section, and went on her way, hurrying her steps to make up for the loss of time.
And Audrey Havenner, the girl with the parcel of buttons, took a taxi to the station and boarded the bridge train to the shore. In due time she arrived at the lovely place beside the sea and got herself into charming filmy garments for evening.
"Did you have a very uncomfortable time in the city, dear, this hot day? I understand the mercury fairly soared in town."
Her mother said this conversationally at the dinner table after the meal was well under way.
"This certainly wasn't a very good day to select for shopping," remarked her father with a lifting of his eyebrows. "I wouldn't have gone in town if I hadn't had to."
"Nor I," said Kent, her older brother, emphatically. "You women never do know when you're well off."
"It wasn't so bad," said Audrey cheerily. "The stores are air-conditioned, you know."
"Yes? Well, for all that, I'd have stayed in a cool place by the sea if I'd had my choice."
"So would I," said Audrey amiably, "but, you see, I didn't have my choice. I went in town to see a friend who is in the hospital and is deadly lonely, and incidentally I did the shopping for the family. By the way, Dad, I got your buttons that you are always talking about. I almost forgot them, too, and went back at the last minute. Came near missing my train in the act. And Mother, I nearly brought a guest out with me."
"Why didn't you, dear? Who was it?"
"Nobody I ever saw before. She waited on me for coat buttons after the bugle blew and was as sweet as she could be."
"They have to be, or they'd get fired!" said Kent, importantly.
"Oh, but this was a different kind of sweetness, brother," said Audrey lightly. "This was really courtesy."
"Heavens! Courtesy in a button salesgirl!" exclaimed Evalina Harrison, a self-invited second cousin who had been with them all summer. "Is that the kind of guests you pick out to land on us? I'm glad you restrained your impulses. This cottage is already overcrowded."
"Why, I didn't restrain my impulses," said Audrey. "She did it for me. I did invite her. You see, I realized I had kept her overtime, and I apologized and told her I knew she was just dying to get home and get into the coolest thing she had and rest. She looked terribly warm, and utterly tired out. But she just smiled and said that was all right. She hadn't any home and never had had. And then of course I really tried hard to make her come. I told her Mother would have given her a lovely welcome. But she wouldn't come."
"Heavens, Audrey!" said Evalina. "Haven't you any discretion? And don't you know her at all? I don't think that was being very kind to the rest of us. She might have been an awful nuisance. You really ought to think of your brothers, Audrey. A girl like that would be very likely to get notions in her head about Kent, think he was in love with her and all that!"
"Yes, Audrey," put in Kent solemnly, "you really ought to protect my tender impressionable youth!"
"But really, Audrey, I mean it. A sister should be careful about strange girls. You don't even know her name, do you?" persisted the cousin.
"Oh, yes, I do!" said Audrey with a comical twinkle in her eye. "She has a lovely name. I asked her what it was and she told me. I told her I wanted to get acquainted with her sometime when I got back to town."
"Audrey!" said her cousin. "That's just like you! Have you no discretion at all? Cousin Mary, I hope you'll forbid an acquaintance like that. A mere button saleswoman! The perfect idea!"
"What was her name, Aud? Kent is all ears to hear it!" grinned the fourteen-year-old wickedly, his eyes on the elderly cousin.
"Her name is Jane Scarlett!" said Audrey with a twinkle at her young brother.
"Jane Scarlett?" said Kent looking up in amazement and dropping his fork on his plate with a sharp clash. "You don't mean it!"
Audrey looked up with a startled expression.
"Why? Do you know her, Kent?" A shade of half fear crossed her face, lest after all her cousin would really think there was some ground for her insinuations.
"Great Scott!" said Kent excitedly. "Jane Scarlett! No, I don't know her, but I've been hearing her name almost all day long. She's been more talked of in our law office than any other one person today. Great Caesar's ghost! Jane Scarlett. If I could really locate her I'd get the attention of the office turned to my humble self, I guess! She's very much wanted, and nobody knows where to find her. But then, I don't suppose she's the right one."
"Yes," said Cousin Evalina, "I thought so! Some criminal, I suppose! What's she done? Killed somebody?"
"No!" said Kent crossly. "Nothing like that! Just a matter of when she was born and a few dates. You wouldn't understand."
"H'm!" said Evalina offendedly. "She's probably trying to break a will or something. I told you, Audrey, that you should never ingratiate yourself to strangers. You can't tell what they'll turn out to be!"
Kent opened his lips with a glare toward Evalina and then closed them firmly and drew one corner of his mouth down in quiet amusement.
"You're wrong again, Cousin Evalina, but I'm not telling any more about it. This isn't my business, it belongs to the office, and I've no right to go around discussing it. Which store was that, Audrey? Stevens and Drake?"
"No, Windle and Harrower."
"You see!" said Cousin Evalina. "The mischief is done. Now if anything happens it will be your fault, Audrey!"
The brother and sister twinkled their eyes at each other.
"My sins be upon my own head!" said Audrey comically.
Then there was a momentary cessation of the conversation as the dessert was brought in, and as callers came in for the evening the subject was not again taken up. The young people hoped their cousin had forgotten.
But Evalina never forgot. She came into Audrey's room late that evening while she was preparing to retire, and told long gruesome stories of young men who had made unfortunate marriages that might have been avoided, until finally Audrey was driven to get into bed, and her pleasant regular breathing soon proclaimed that she was asleep, so that Evalina was forced to turn out the light and retire to her own room.
Audrey was up quite early the next morning and walked with her brother to his train.
"Kent! What is this you are going to do to the girl I discovered yesterday? Because I won't stand for anything happening to her. She's fine! And I shan't tell you where she is if —"
"You've already told me!" he laughed. "Have you forgotten!"
"Kent! I protest! You shan't do anything to her. You shan't get her in any jams. I saw the dark, tired circles under her eyes, and if you give her any added troubles I'll feel that it was all my fault. Why can't you just ignore what I told last night? Forget it! You haven't any right at all to take advantage of my confidences. I was just talking for the benefit of my family, and it's disloyal to take what I said and make trouble for someone I like who did me a real favor. I tell you truly, Kent, if you go and hunt up that girl and put your old law firm on her track I'll telephone her before you get there and tell her to make tracks for Nowhere and hide till I give her the high sign. I really will. I mean it, brother!"
"Say look here, kid, what do you think I am?" laughed the brother. "A sleuth? Or a gangster? I'm not even a detective. I wasn't hunting for this girl myself, but I knew the whole office force was put to it to find her whereabouts, and it's such a peculiar name I couldn't help but notice. Of course I shouldn't have said a word, not before the highly respectable cousin anyway. But you needn't worry about that girl. If she's the right one, which I very much doubt, because they are searching for her up in New England at a school, nothing will happen to her except what is perfectly all right. I don't know just what it is, but you needn't think I'm going to hurt your protégée. They'll only ask her a few simple questions, what her father's name was, and where she was born — things like that."
"It'll scare her to death!"
"Not at all. They'll tell her it's for some statistics the law firm is working on, and if she is the child of the wrong father they'll beg her pardon and buy a few buttons and make their way out of your old store, and nobody any the wiser."
"Are you being square with me?"
"I sure am. Now, will you be good? And for Pete's sake, don't tell a word of what I said to the cousin with the gimlet eyes. Let her marry me off to a few heathen maidens or whatever she likes, but just laugh."
Audrey gave her brother a long, level look.
"All right, brother, when you look like that I know I can trust you. I just wanted you to know that this girl is an all-right girl, and I won't have her pestered."
Her brother grinned wisely. "All right, kiddo. You win," he said gravely, "but it beats me how you found all that out in ten minutes while you bought coat buttons. I know you have pretty good hunches about people and they usually come out right, but I just want you to be sane and realize that you couldn't be trusted in a casual glance like that to sift out a possible criminal. Some of them are pretty slick, you know."
"Yes, I know. But this girl is a real lady."
Her brother studied her for a moment and then he said: "Oh, yeah?"
"Well, wait till you see her yourself — if you do," said Audrey sharply.
"Yes — if I do!"CHAPTER 2
Most of the other girls with whom Jane occasionally walked partway had already gone, and when she came out of the store after selling Audrey the coat buttons, her own footsteps lagged as she reached the hot pavement. What was the point in her hastening to her stifling little third-story back bedroom? It would be unbearable there now, and hard enough to bear after dark. It was too hot to light her tiny flame of an oil stove and attempt any cooking. Even a cooked cereal would heat up the place so she couldn't sleep afterward, and to heat a can of soup would fill the room with the smell of onions. Besides, she didn't want anything to eat. She wished she didn't have to eat. It was too hot to eat. But of course she must eat. Well, probably ice cream would be best. Ice cream and a cracker. Maybe not even a cracker. She had crackers in her room she could eat later if she got hungry. Perhaps she would just get some ice cream now and then go around by the little park and sit there on a bench. Perhaps there would be a breath of air and she could get cool. Anyway it would be pleasant to walk past the trees and shrubs and hear the fountain splashing, for it wasn't likely she could get an empty bench at this time of the day.
Excerpted from Homing by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beautiful, timeless story, that clearly points to Jesus as the way.