Miss PiM's Party.
lOBODY ever knew how it came about that she gave a party, and least of all Miss Pirn herself. It just popped into her head, she said, and she did it.
Perhaps it was the quantity of oysters that Miss Pim saw every afternoon as she returned home, and the big piles of empty shells which Pasquale himself would be heaping up on the sidewalk next morning as she went back to her work, that first made her think of an oyster supper. Perhaps it was the glowing accounts of balls and parties and receptions and '' five-o'clocks " and high teas that she read about in the stale papers, which her friend '' Gloves'' sometimes gave her as she passed through the salesroom on her way to the fourth-story, for Miss Pim was a cutter in the ready-made department of Great & Co. Now Miss Pim was fond of saying that she had chosen work of this kind because her tastes ran that way. In'the little village up country where had been her home, she had, she declared, excellent advantages in art, and once thought of making it her profession, '' but," and Miss Pim's eyes were seldom
dry when she spoke' of it, " dear papa had died, and there had been mamma to think of," and so she had just eome down to the city and taken work as a cutter because it was in her line, as it were, since she had such an eye for form. Mamma was dead now, and there was only Miss I^im's self for her to think about, but still newspa]>ers were a little beyond her. ^Miloves" confided to her that she herself had them from a *' feller" who was a typesetter, and who sometimes came to walk home with her nights.
But, howL'ver it came about, Miss Pim was fully determined to have an oyster suj)per in honor (»f the anniversary of her own birthday. " In all the born days of her life," she said she had never tasted oysters, and with deliberate avoidance of the important (juestion as to what length of time was measured thereby, would simj)ly add that " she couldn't do it any younger." So that part of the matter was settled ; she would have an oyster supper. It was so very fortunate, she declared, that her birthday came in No-viMuber, a month with the talismanic " r" in it; really it seemed to be intended that she shcndd have an oyster supper.
Miss Pim began to think of it and plan for it weeks before it came of!'. At first she was in a state of great perturbation to know what to have besides ovsters. They were such an unknown (juantity to her tliat she found it difficult to work up a repast with them at the focal point. Perhaps after this she wouldn't like them, they did look so "messy " when Mr. Pasquale took them out of their shells, but try them she must and would. Miss Pim felt it over her like
a covering that she would rather have died than confess to ^^ Gloves" her ignorance in regard to the bivalves, but, nevertheless, determined, since nothing else offered, to obtain from her quondam friend all the second-hand information she could without degradation to herself. She sacrificed her morning nap upon the altar of her desire for knowledge, and spent all her spare moments at the glove counter listening to her friend^s accounts of the ^^entertainments" which she seemed to be in a chronic state of attending. But somehow these conversations always left Miss Pim with only a vague conglomerated idea of '^ fellers " and ^^Wooster" and " oystyers," all of which, and especially the latter pronunciation, convinced Miss Pim that ^^ Gloves " had been a '^ girl " before she became a " saleslady." This settled Miss Pim's mind on the subject of inviting ^' Gloves " to her supper. She was well enough in her way to be sure, and very nice indeed at the store, but—and Miss Pim asked herself the question more than once—" would she be an agreeable social acquaintance ? "
In fact, the question of guests became a very important one. Whom to invite Miss Pim knew not. To be sure the cobbler down stairs spoke to her every morning as she passed, but frequently he had patched her well-worn shoes, so of course he was out of the question. The little milliner on the first floor, with whom she had what she called some '^ social acquaintance," had once given a tea to which Miss Pim was not invited, so that left her out. The Simpkins, Mr. and Mrs., agent and saleslady, were not to be considered, since they were, as Miss Pim expressed it, 12
" utterly devoid of sentiment." Some other time she would invite them, but to this, her first oyster supper, lier guests mu-t ho from the social svorhl—the chosen '*400" itself.
It is true Miss Pirn's \va> only a newspaper ae-quaintiince with ''the set," hut that would serve her jMirpose, perhaps, as well as any. Long before the event was to take place, she conned the social columns of her stock-in-hand of ncwsj)apers, making selection of the guests she would invite. After much cogitation she decided to have four (H)uples and one *'odd irentleman." " The ten of us will make such a nice-sized })arty," she said. Though Missl^im's hair was turned quite grey, and steel-rimmed spectacles held down the loose curls of it that clustered about her ears, her heart began to give a little Huitei when she began to scan the papers for the name of the " odd gentleman" whom she would invite to her supper.
You will sec from all this that Miss Pim was in the highest degree romantic, but, singularly enough, she determined that she wouhl have a good, strong, sensible-sounding name for her '' odd gentleman," and this she hit U|)on to her satisfaction in Adam Croft. It made no diiferenc(> to her that the papers from which she selected were out of date, she saw this name recurring so fre(juently, and the owner of it seemed to be so popular, that she felt perfectly satisfied that her choice was a wnse one.
As to ladies, the first one Miss Pim hit upon to invite was a certain Miss Alexia Brain, who, it would appear, went everywhere. Now, once upon a time, lAiss Pim herself had two names, and that one which
she had lost a^long with her father and mother and the friends of her village childhood was none other than Alexia, and that is why Miss Brain, her namesake, eame to be the heroine of all her romances about the ^^ upper ten,'' as Adam Croft was the hero, and why those two were to be the first invited. The other guests she selected in a haphazard kind of way, set-tlinir upon a D, an E, an F and a G, an H, an I and a J.'
But liow were they to be invited? Miss Pim's first idea was to write a card to each one and then stuff the whole batch of invitations up the chimney, as she had used to do hitters to Santa Claus long ago. But somehow that seemed too much make believe, and she finally determined to spend nine oF lier hoard of pennies for stamps, and mail the cards, addressed to the " city " at large which was as much as Miss Pim knew of the whereabouts of the guests she was inviting. This gave much more tangibility to tlie thing and pleased her beyond measure.
Upon the cards she intended for Alexia Brain and Adam Croft she spent particular pains. On the former she wrote simply in her little, neat, stifi' hand : ^^ At home. Miss Pim. November 21st. Room 17, No. 413 Blank street," and around the margin she scattered pen drawings of oysters on the half shell. She had hit upon this as being an excellent way of announcing ''the style of entertainment;" but the card which Adam Avas to receive she felt must be more ornate still, since he was to be the " odd gentleman ;'' so, instead of pen drawings, she painted forget-me-nots and bow-knots all around in water-color,
ami (lid the \vritiii<: in <rili with ;i vorv tine brush. It wa.s vtTy " pritly,'' as Miss V\in calh-d it, and tlu* next morning as she went dnwn stairs eanyini; her dainty j)a(ket of nine cards, all duly signed, s( aled and acMressi'd, her heart heat very iiist, and she had a va^uc tear that she would trip and x-atter lur precious invitatifuis over the dusty steps.
To make the descent more ditlicult, the new ytKing man was just comiuir up, and Miss Pim was in sucii a state of perturbation that she could scarctdy return the bow he gave her, but which she afterwards, however, stoutly declared wa> a remarkably gallant one. Now, the new young man was a tall, broad-shouldered, good-lo(>king tellow, who had rented the little room at the end of the hall trom Miss l*im\s,and who kept a light burning in his room half the night. Miss Pim's kindly iieart misgave her that she could not invite this y()ung man tt» liei- party. Though he wore a rough great-coat and only a simple wide-awake atop of his crisping waves (d' hair, Miss Pim fancied she detected the prince-in-disguise air about him, and was (juite sure, from a look whi(;h slu' sometimes saw in his handsome grey eyes, that he was in trouble, and she longed to comfort him. She was, moreover, certain that he ate oysters, for she had frequently seen him carrying a little paper box of them to his room. But—and her heart sank—she could not invite him ; she did not even know his name,and besides it would not be proper, since he would be the only one who could really come.
Upon the morning «d' the twenty-tirst Miss Pim rose early. Every crack and cranny of her little
room was swept and garnished. She got out the time-honored white spread that she had known on the company bed at home, and the embroidered pillow-slips, which showed the work of her own dainty girlhood's fingers. She set the table, putting thereon the much-darned cloth of snowy damask, which was still sweet with ancient odor of cedar and lavender. Though her stock of table-ware was exhausted in laying three covers, she kept saying to herself in childish make-believe: '^ Maybe they won't all come.'' There was the plate with the wreath of little tight pink roses all around, and the cup and saucer to match; these she would put at " Alexia's place," she said, and the ones witli garlands and bow-knots must be left for ^Hhe odd gentleman." She herself would use the little set so gay with immodest shepherdesses in short frocks, and who sat so very close to the wry-faced shepherds that Miss Pim fervently hoped none of her guests would observe them.
She kept thinking of it all dow^n at the store, and wondering if she had left anything undone. It seemed to her the day woukl never end, but when the hour for closing came her heart was as light as a feather. There was quite a little spring in her step when she left the elevator, and she was just on the point of inviting ''Gloves" out of hand and taking her olf in triumph to her supper. But "Gloves" greeting to her was to announce that she was going to the theatre with her "feller," so that settled it.
Mr. Pasquale was very gracious when she stopped to make her purchase of the precious oysters, and himself added two for " lagniappe,'' he said. He
st'lccted tlie \vhit(*««t aiul crispest >talks of celery, wrappliiji," tliein up earefiilly so as not to break the tops, and was satislied to weigh only in his soih'd hut douhth'ss i;-enerous tinkers the halt' pound of crackers that coni|)leted Iter order.
The little cohhler was just closinir up for the night, when Miss Pini passed.
" SeasiMiahle weather," he said, pleasantly, and Miss Pini knew fmm ids ujanner there was more to follow.
" Was a lady down heiT < iH|uii-iu' tor you this inornin','' he went on. "Sec aiiythiiiL: of her? A youngish ladv an' prrttv. I -«¦(• that tlToiiLdi her Veil."
"A young lady t'ii(|uii-ing t'oi- nir/"' said Miss l*iiu, blankly.
" Why, you see,'' re-ponthtl the cobbler, warming to his subject under Miss J'im's mystificati<ui, '' first thing I know a carriage drove up, an' the young lady was gettin' out. 'I'ime 1 see her I kuctw she's that girl with so much money she couldn't use it all herself, and so she have jest taken to lookin' roun' to tin' somebody as 'ill spen' it for her. ' Slummin',' vou know, they calls it, an' I see this girl over an' often passin' here on her errans, but I couldn't noways make out whv she's stoppin'. Well, howsomever, she did stop, an' J see she hidt a card in her han', an' she looked first at it, then at the number on the door there, an' then at me agin, an' then she asked (piite pleasant-like: 'Can you tell me, please, if Miss Pim lives upstairs?' 'She (h)es. Ma'am,' says I, an' then afore I know it she's there in the shop, the young
lady was, askiu' me all about you. ^ Do you know her?' says she. 'I do, Ma'am,' says I, * seein' her pass ever day these five years, an' patchin' for her oft an' on, an', if I do say it, a pleasanter lady I never see.' " Miss Pirn blushed quite prettily at this well-rounded compliment, but tlie cobbler went on. ^^ An' so, bein' asked, I up an' told her all about you. Miss, an' likewise I put the question to the young lady, if there was any message she would wish delivered, see-in's I was here constant. But she said there warn't none, an' she thanked me for bein' so kin', an' then she lef as suddint as she come, drivin' off in her carriage."
He waited for Miss Pim to speak, but she was too busy witli her thoughts.
^' You don't know the young lady yourself, Ma'am? " he asked.
" Oh, no, and I have no idea what she could have wanted." The little lady spoke quite truly, but she tripped upstairs with her head as full of fancies as her arms were full of bundles.
Everything in the little room was just as she had left it. A bright fire was soon burning in the grate, and Miss Pim went around the table carefully blowing upon ever vacant spot of cloth, to make sure that no semblance of cinders or dust should cling to the snowy linen. She polished the little array of cups and saucers till they shone again, and put the crisp stalks of celery on a stand in the midst of all. The rest of the work Avas not so easy. She pressed her lips close together, and there was just the least bit of an upward tilt to her nose as she dumped the oysters
out into the little l>ovvl. She stuffevl the soaking paper box in the fire and set the bowl o^inircrly on the table.
*' The things do look so s-s-slip[)ery," she was saying aloud to herself, when a rap at the door startled her almost int«) turning the littb' bowl (|uite over on the eloth.
Though Miss Pini never (lontesscd even afterwards what she had expected, when she held the door open and saw coming in to her a young girl with a big buneh of roses in her hands, she declares in telling of it all now :
" I felt 1 should faint."
What she actually did, however, was to stand slock still and let the girlwith the beautiful eyes, and beautiful mouth and beautiful hair go (piite up tn her and say very sweetly :
" 1 am .Vlexia Brain, Miss Pim, and 1 thank you so much for letting mc come to you to-night. I brought these roses thinking y<>n might like tluMU for your table."
Now, never in Miss Pirn's born days had she seen so many and such beautiful roses, and when she had longed for them she felt that only in heaven would her wish be gratified, and so what did she do but just take tiie precious flowers in her ai*nis and droj) down into the little chair, and cry for very joy and wonderment, to her lifelong regret never saying a word of welcome to her guest. To this day she cannot tell liow it came about that Alexia Brain just laid her fnrs upon the little bed, and sat down beside her in the warm firelight, putting around her a ])air of strong,
young arms, and resting her head upon a firm, young shoulder till the flood of tears was spent.
Slie never knew either how it happened that she soon came to be telling Alexia all the story of her poor life—it needed but a few words for this—and about her party and her invitations.
"And Alexia,'' Miss Pirn would declare afterwards, ** just sat there on my old hair-bottomed chair as natural as if she had never been anyw^iere else in her life, till I fairly blinked to see if I was dreaming."
But she knew that she was not dreaming when she heard firm footsteps resounding in the hallway and there came a moment later a knock upon her door, but, nevertheless, she opened it tremblingly, to find standing upon the threshold, without his great-coat and wide awake, but still broad-shouldered and handsome—the " new young man." But there was a light in his eyes that made her forget their sadness, for they looked quite over Miss Pirn's head, and the girl beyond, in the glow of the firelight felt the warm blood mount to her cheek, as she said eagerly :
"Adam Croft? " echoed Miss Pim, faintly. Would wonders never cease ?
" I am glad to meet you. Miss Pim. I have seen you frequently, and hope we shall be better neighbors."
That is what the young man's lips said, gallantly, but his eyes w^ere still fire wards, his heart was beating "Alexia, Alexia, Alexia," and a moment later he held her hand in his. The girl looked up into his face, and then a strange thing happened. Adam Croft knew that a question he had been telling himself every day
and hour for the past year he eould uo longer h(H)e to ask, had in tliat moment been asked and answered. And Alexia lirain knew that a question she had so longed to hear had in that moment been asked, and rejoiced that her heart had answere<l truly.
Is there anv more to be told? Yes, still of Miss Pirn's party, and -urely there was never anything like it. *
Hv and bv Alexia put the rose- into the little bowl which Miss Pim callecl the " t>ld blue and white," but which she herself called a Crown Derby.
'i'hei-e wa> only a bit of white at the girl's throat, and she wore a simple blue wool dress, but her cheeks glowed and her eyes shone beneath the curling rings of her brown hair, and Adam ('roft knew she had never l)e<'n more be:iutiful. He watched her cut thin slices from the loaf which Miss I'im had hastily brought from the cupboard, dismayed at the meagre sup})lv of crackers, and himself knelt beside her ou the hearth to helj) with the toasting.
"A knowledge of cooking is what <;ame t<» me as a compensation for that money J lost,'' he said.
" Yes, and a knowledge «)f something elsti, too," said the girl. " Do you think that during the year you have kej)t yourself away from your friends that none of them would be reading and recognizing the books you have written? "
" I hoped you would read them," he said, '^ and in that hope I dipped my pen."
Miss Pirn's joy was su])reme.
"¦ I just sat there," she says, "and looked at the two beautiful things till I was fairly daft for joy at
their happiness. Indeed, I know I was quite daft, else I never could have eaten those horrid s-s-slippery things which Alexia put upon my plate.''
Times have changed for Miss Pirn since that night, however, if she has never learned to eat oysters, and times have changed for Alexia Brain and Adam Croft.
^' I should never have had the courage to speak if you had not come to Miss Pim's party, Alex, dear/' he always says; and she answers confidently, "Then I should have died, Adam, dear."
And Miss Pim at least believes it.