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By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2016 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
Dale Hathaway finished typing the last page of the invoicing, snapped the paper out of her machine, and laid it on the top of the pile on her desk with a sigh of relief. She was dog weary and had eaten nothing all day, hoping to be finished and get out to find a boarding place before dark. But a quick glance at the somber window across the gloomy room showed her that dusk was already descending.
There had not been anything inviting in the house she had left that morning to tempt her to take even a bite. The woman who did the cleaning there yesterday must have eaten everything worth eating or carried it away with her when she left last night; and Dale, too anxious to get done the work yet remaining to her in the dismal old office, and hoping against hope to be finished before lunchtime, had not bothered to stop at a restaurant before she got to the office. There had been a time around noon when she had felt dizzy faintness, but that had passed, and now there was left only weakness and an overwhelming apathy toward all food.
Dale with a sweeping motion gathered up the pages, counted over their numbers, clipped them together, gathered up a few other papers and walked down the hall to another door, tapped, and entered.
"These are the invoices, and all the other papers, Mr. Brower," she said with cool dignity. "And if that is all I'm going now."
The little dried-up solemn man at the desk recalled his mind from his own business affairs, accepted the papers, looked them over, and then glanced at the girl, apparently identifying her with a matter that was only remotely within his scope. Then he bowed with due dignity.
"Very good," he said condescendingly. "And do I understand this completes the invoices for the time during which you served Mr. Baker as secretary?"
"Yes. Those are all the invoices with which I have had to do."
"And--did you tell me that you had been paid for the work you have done this week? Is everything clear between yourself and the estate of Baker and Company for which you have been working?"
"No, Mr. Brower," said Dale looking the suave little man bravely in the eyes. "I've had nothing since Mr. Baker was taken ill, three weeks ago yesterday."
"Ah! Yes, I recall now. And the agreement was--yes, here is the paper. You were to receive part of your salary in money and part in board. Is that right?"
"Yes, Mr. Brower."
"And you have been boarding with Mrs. Baker for the past three weeks?"
"I've been staying there nights, and helping about the house before office hours as much as I could during Mr. Baker's illness. Of course since his death Mrs. Baker has been away at the neighbors' most of the time, and the household even before that has been so much upset that the meals have been very irregular. A great deal of the time I have had either to get my own meals or go to a restaurant."
"I see!" Mr. Brower tapped with his long slim fingers on the top of his desk thoughtfully.
He opened a drawer and took out a small sheaf of papers, fluttered them through carefully, studying a paragraph here and there, then set down some neat figures and worried them with his sharp pointed pencil for a minute or two.
"Very well," he said coldly at last, "would seventy-five dollars satisfy you, to cover everything? You know the estate is not large and we want to give Mrs. Baker as much as possible now that she is alone with no one to depend upon. Would you consider seventy-five a fair price for all that you have done?"
Dale drew a sad little sigh.
"I had hoped it would be more than that," she said firmly. "You see, there were two weeks when I first came during which I had no pay. It was understood that that was a sort of a deposit that would be returned to me if I left at any time. And I really have had to spend quite a little for food at different times when Mrs. Baker was away or ill, and gave me no time to get meals. I had hoped there would be at least a hundred and twenty-five dollars coming to me. I really need it. Mrs. Baker has children who can help her, and I have no one. And now I have no job. I don't know how long it will be before I can secure one. I don't want to beg for more than is due me, but I really feel I have earned more than I have suggested."
Mr. Brower drummed on the desk a little longer.
"Well," he said reluctantly but with that same colorless tone to his voice, "of course, we want you to be satisfied. I'm sorry I do not happen to know of another job for you just now, but we want to do the best we can for you. Suppose I write your check for one hundred dollars. Will that be entirely satisfactory? I really shouldn't feel justified in offering you more than that without consultation with the others who have charge of the estate. I could take it up with some of the family, of course. Possibly Mrs. Baker's son would know more about this matter. If you feel like settling the matter for a hundred dollars and giving me a receipt I can give you your check at once, but if I wait to consult the family there might be some delay. They might not even agree to the hundred dollars. I believe seventy-five was the amount they suggested----"
Great tears were gathering in Dale's eyes, but she forced them back, and taking a deep breath said sadly: "Well, I suppose I shall have to accept what you are willing to give me, for I really have immediate need for it, and it would be very hard for me if I had to wait."
The placid look of Mr. Brower's lips showed that he had won an easier victory than he had expected, and Dale almost regretted that she had given in so readily. Yet she dared not risk letting the matter lie over, for she had just a little over three dollars in her worn purse. She was desperately in need of more before she could hope to get settled in new quarters. So she watched her check being written out, and with a bitter feeling in her heart signed the receipt that the man handed over. She reflected as she did so how glad she had been to get that job after the years of hardship while her mother was so ill, and they were going from doctor to doctor seeking for healing, and finding none. And then what a desperate disappointment to have this job turn out so unpleasantly. For she had come to it in high hope of being able to make a little place for herself where she could earn her living. Coming through the recommendation of a dear friend of her dead father, it had been a bitter thing to find that the man for whom she was to work had no kindness in his makeup, and that his wife was a selfish whining semi-invalid, who demanded service at home from her in addition to the work at her husband's office.
She had served her, yes, as far as she could, hoping constantly to be able to find some better job. But nothing had materialized, and everyone said the times were hard and there seemed to be nothing anywhere.
Having signed the receipt, and received her check and a wish that she might soon find a good job, Dale Hathaway went down the three long flights of dusty stairs to the street and started out on her own through the winter's dusk.
There was a place she knew where she could get a good substantial dinner for thirty cents. It was not a particularly attractive place, but they served good palatable food, and she must not spend more than that tonight, for she must find a room before she slept, and she must be sure to have enough to pay for it.
But when she was seated at the counter and the waitress brought the steaming dish of lamb stew that had been the only item on the menu that attracted her, she looked at it with a weary indifference. Somehow it seemed a task to have to eat that, hungry as she had been a little while before. She was so heartsick over the small amount of her check that it scarcely seemed worthwhile to eat. However, one had to eat to live; she had grown up believing that God really cared for her, and that all things work together for good to them that love God.
"Of course that doesn't mean all things work out the way we would like them to be," she reflected as she took a casual bite of the stew and found it didn't taste quite so much like old stewed dishrags as it smelled. "It means He is working out our lives to that His purpose for us shall be fulfilled."
But as she told it over to herself, the lesson that her mother had done her best to impress upon her, somehow the words seemed to have no meaning to her jaded mind. She was so weary and heartsick that even desirable things had lost their zest for her. Why had she ever dreamed that those old skinflints would pay her all they owed her? She had been a fool to stay with them all those awful months. She should have gone out and taken a chance of course, got some kind of a job and been free from them. The fact that she had no money ahead had held her too long a prisoner. In fact, she shouldn't ever have agreed to work that first two weeks without being paid at once. Only she had been so much afraid that they would send her drifting if she demurred in any way. And she just couldn't be on her own in a great strange city!
Of course, there had been Dinsmore Ramsay, the young man who had grown up working in her father's office, and who had been quite patronizingly ready to marry her and take her over after her mother's death. But she couldn't see herself marrying Dinsmore Ramsay, ever, even if he hadn't been patronizing.
And there had been Arliss Webster, a man almost twenty years older than herself, who had been piteously eager to marry her and take her to a nice snug house in the best part of the town where she had grown up.
And there had been Sam Swayne, a nice boy with whom she had gone to high school. All right in his way, and smart. Was doing well in business, too. He had been very simple and honest in his proposal.
But she didn't want to marry any of them, and she was glad she hadn't, even if she was in straits now.
She took another bite of the stew and tried to savor it more pleasantly. It wasn't so bad, and it did feel comforting after it was swallowed, just the heat of it in her empty chilly stomach put new heart into her. Gradually as she coaxed the unappetizing food down, she began to revive and to plan ahead. Perhaps if Mrs. Baker happened to be in the house she would realize that she ought to give her something extra for the many little personal things she had done for her, especially during the last few days. That would be nice. It wouldn't likely be more than five or ten dollars of course, but even five to ten dollars would help a little. Still Mrs. Baker wasn't given to benevolence, and she would never feel that such a thing would be a natural debt. Well, never mind. She ought to be thankful that she was done with the Bakers now. She had long wished to be out from there, and she should have gone before, of course.
She ate a piece of apple pie because it came with the stew and rolls and coffee. There was an infinitesimal scrap of cheese with the pie, the only really tasty bite about the meal, and she dutifully swallowed everything. She could not afford to pay even thirty cents for a meal that she didn't eat. She would need the strength it gave, even if it wasn't appetizing.
Then she began to plan for the next few minutes. She would have to go back to the Baker home, of course. Her bags were there, and her trunk, and she would have to say good-bye to Mrs. Baker. But all that ought not to take long. She had packed everything before she left to come down to the office that morning. That is everything except her comb and brush and toothbrush and a few things she had left hanging in her closet. But that wouldn't take but a second, just to slip those in her overnight bag. If she only knew where she could get a room she could take a taxi and drive her things right to it, but getting a room she could afford would take time. If they had given her the hundred and twenty-five she would have ventured on that pleasant little room in the new apartment house. It was new and clean, and had a tiny radiator, besides elevator service. It was awfully small, and the price was higher than she ought to pay, but that extra twenty-five would have helped out on the first three or four weeks, and after that she would have time to look around and get something cheaper. Or, it might be she would be able by that time to land a really good job. And it would have been such a comfort to get into a clean new spot where her soul wouldn't have to shrink from everything she hadn't actually cleansed with her own hands. Just to get rested calm. How blessed that would be!
Then she considered the possibility of being allowed to sleep in the Baker house that night and not start out to hunt a home until morning. Perhaps Mrs. Baker would at least grant that request, in case her conscience did not prompt her to pay her anything more. It was queer she hadn't suggested it. Perhaps she would want her to stay there a few days until the movers came to take her furniture.
Dale was quite accustomed to entering an empty house; during the last few days Mrs. Baker had been out most of the time, staying with the kind neighbors who had invited her.
She mounted the steps of the old brownstone house, the sixth in the row from the corner, and inserted her key into the lock, but even as she swung the door open and fumbled for the switch of the hall light, the chill of great emptiness came out and smote her with startling keenness.
She stood still for an instant to get used to the strange sensation, and then she snapped on the light in the long hall and then the light for the front room, and stood there staring. The front room, designated by Mrs. Baker as "the parlor" was absolutely empty, and so was the hall. The old hall hat rack was gone, with its mirror and its skewy brass hooks with their three prongs. The parlor table was gone, and the old threadbare Brussels rug that never did quite reach to the dilapidated sofa whose internal works were always protruding. The four chairs of different denominations were gone, and the corner whatnot with its pink china shepherdess, its three pink-lined shells with humps on their backs, its hideous red and blue and gilt vases, and the red glass one on top, with its plumes of pampas grass. They were all gone!
Gone was the old-fashioned combination bookcase and secretary that Mrs. Baker used to say belonged to her great-grandfather; and all the musty old books that gloomed forth behind the grimy glass doors. Even the two faded photographs of deceased parents, framed in gilded pinecones, were gone. They used to swing on red worsted cords, and when the wind blew in at the front window it would waft around them till they made a scratchy sound on the old ugly red wallpaper that was faded to a dull magenta in spots. They were all gone, and the rooms were dusty and empty!
In sudden panic Dale started up the stairs.
What had become of her trunk and bags? Where were the few little things she had left hanging in her closet? Her good coat and hat to replace the little jacket and knitted cap she was wearing to her work? Surely, surely they wouldn't carry off her things? What would she do if they had? How in the world had the house been cleared of everything so quickly? When she left that morning Mrs. Baker told her that the moving van was not coming for at least two days, and she had planned to get her own things away before they came. What could have happened?
As she flew up the stairs, breathless, she caught a glimpse of the empty dining room, its golden oak table and sideboard, and chairs that were no longer golden, only dirty oak, were gone, too, and through the open door into the kitchen she could see that there was nothing left there but the gas range, which was built in. No pots and pans hanging about, no old chairs, no gingham apron hanging on the back door.
She dashed into her own room and found it as empty as all the rest of the house.
"O-hh!" she gasped and found there were tears falling down her cheeks. Oh, she just couldn't afford to lose everything she had! Surely, surely Mrs. Baker wouldn't do that to her! Her mother's and father's photographs! The bits of precious family heirlooms, not very valuable perhaps, but wondrously precious. Little things her mother had made for her that it would break her heart to lose!
"Oh, God!" she quavered aloud. "Would you let them do that to me? Did I need that, somehow, to make me right for what you want of me?"
Then suddenly the doorbell pealed through the house and startled her almost out of her senses. It seemed almost like an answering voice to her prayer. Yet God wouldn't ring the doorbell!
Trembling in every fiber she hurried down to answer the ring. Probably only some beggar, or someone selling dishcloths and shoestrings, she thought.
Excerpted from Partners by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2016 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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