By Christmas time I was so well acquainted with both Leslie and Viola, that when, a week before Christmas, Viola called me in her room and told me what she was writing, I told her that I thought she was foolish.
“Doesn’t he send you all the money he can?” I questioned in turn.
“Probably,” (she jabbed holes in the blotter with her pen) “but I need more. You see early in the game, when Miss Parrish deigned to notice me, I borrowed money of her, she was always pressing it upon me. One of her sweet ways of impressing people with her wealth importance,” (I didn’t say anything, but I thought Viola was mean.) “and I need to repay that, and then my clothes are in rags,” (which was nonsense, for they weren’t) “and I always do ask father for extra money at Christmas time,” she continued, “because he softens then, or is in so deep that he thinks a little more won’t matter. Anyway, since I always do ask him, there’s no reason for you to be so shocked.”
“He’s your father,” I stated, “but I’ll tell you, I’d hate to send my father a letter like that to get around Christmas time!”
Viola shrugged her shoulders. Then she grew haughty. “As you say,” she said, “he is my father, and it is my affair.”
“You asked me about it,” I put in sharply, “I was going by, and you called me in and said you were writing your father for money, and asked me what I thought would come of it.”
“I meant how much would come of it.”
“He’s quite used to it, Jane,” she went on, and almost apologetically, “Mother has to ask him for extra money all the time. We simply struggle, and pinch at every point, but even then we can’t put up half the appearance that we should, and we never have what everyone around us has and takes for granted. Did you hear Miss Meek say ‘I’ll wager it’s jolly slummish around the jail!’ yesterday when I was describing our breakfast room? Horrid old thing!”
I didn’t say so, but Viola had made Miss Meek hazard this opinion about Ossining because she, Viola, had put on so many unnecessary and silly airs about her home. Miss Meek added, after her first remark, that of course she knew nothing whatsoever about it, since she never had visited such low places. The moment that followed had been strained - and funny!
“It does seem,” Viola went on, after she had wiped her pen on her stocking, and then said something vigorous because she had forgotten that she wore a brown pair, “it does seem as if Father might try to do better. It makes it very hard for a girl of my type. It doesn’t agree with me to accommodate to poverty, or to pinch and scrape as I have to all the time!”
That was nonsense, but I didn’t say so, because with Leslie and Viola my opinion about money and things didn’t count.
So I only stood there a minute, feeling a little sorry for Viola and very sorry for her father, and wondering why people felt so about that which Viola called “Appearance,” and then I decided I’d go to my room and finish a letter I’d started to Mother, who would, Miss Sheila had stated, write me herself, very soon.
“Where are you going?” asked Viola after I had said I must hurry on.
“My room,” I answered, as I turned the doorknob.
“How’d your lesson go?”
“If Miss Parrish doesn’t join you, I will later.”
“All right,” I responded, “but I won’t have a fire.”
“I should think you’d die without one,” said Viola, pityingly.
“I get along all right,” I answered, shortly, because it seemed to me that Viola had better get along without a fire herself - a scuttle of coal cost about thirty cents, and the kindling that started it, ten - instead of shivering for me, while she badgered her father for money that she confessed wouldn’t be easy for him to spare.
“Don’t be angry,” she called after me.
“I’m not angry,” I replied.
“Well, you acted it. Funny holiday, isn’t it? Just sitting in our rooms. No parties or anything.”
“We could have one if you and Leslie wouldn’t hitch at it, and spoil everything,” I responded. “We could get a nice one up.”
“Well, I’m willing to fly the white flag that evening,” she stated with an indifference I felt that she put on.
But that made the party possible, for I saw how it might be managed and I hurried right on to Leslie’s room to find her lying down on her bed and staring up at a sky-blue ceiling that had gilt stars painted on it.
“Look here,” I said, as I shut the door after myself, “I think we ought to have a party, a Christmas party, but we can’t unless you and Viola stop scrapping for the evening. She said she would; will you?”
Leslie sat up and drew her padded silk dressing gown around her, and then answered. “I am sure,” she said, “that I would act as I always do. One’s personal feelings dare not be aired; I assure you I invariably exercise restraint.”
“All right,” I answered and then I sat down on the edge of her bed, and we planned it.
“Mr. Wake and Sam will come,” I said, after we had decided to buy those cracker things that pop and have paper caps in them, and Leslie had said she would donate some pastries and some French chocolates.
“Mr. Wake would be fearfully bored,” she objected.
“I don’t believe it,” I disagreed.
“But with Miss Meek and Miss Bannister and Mr. Hemmingway? For of course if we have it here we’ll have to ask the old things!”
“Probably it’ll be the first party they’ve been to in years,” I stated, and I saw that Leslie felt a little mean.
“Well, I’d tell him that the whole institution will be on board,” she advised, and I said I would.
“Beata would serve,” said Leslie, who seemed to have a lot of head about planning the refreshments and how they should be brought on.
“And she’d like it,” I commented, “probably it’ll help her out.”
“What’s the matter with her, anyway?” Leslie asked, and I’d told Leslie about forty times, but I told her once again.
“How much does she need?” she asked, as she lay back and again looked up at the ceiling.
“I think about seventy-five dollars,” I answered. Leslie laughed in a queer, unhappy way.
“Fancy it’s being as simple as that!” she murmured in an undertone.
“Not particularly simple, if she can’t get it,” I disagreed. “And poor Beata doesn’t believe she’ll ever be able to save it, and she loved him so. His name is Pietro La Nasa, and he is good looking. I’ve seen him standing in the court - he knows Gino, who owns the brass shop down there - and he looks up so longingly - and you know how much Beata cries.”
“Yes, I know.”
Suddenly Leslie turned and clasped my hand between both of hers. “Look here, Jane,” she said, and with the prettiest look I had ever seen on her pretty face, “we’ll try to make this a real party. My father sent me a little extra money - I had a dividend from something or other that has done well - and I’d love to spend it this way. As you say, the crowd here probably haven’t had a good time for years.”
“And may not again for years, if ever,” I put in. Leslie nodded.
“We’ll do it,” she said, with lots of energy in her voice. “And you can ask Viola to help with the decorating and so on. Understand, I want nothing to do with her after it is over. I shall never forget the things she said to me about my Grandfather who had a little interest in a factory where they put up chow chow (he made his fortune in railroads) and about my having an inflated idea of my own importance. I have not, but I assure you, Jane, the Harris-Clarkes are nobodies.”
Well, I’d heard that all about a thousand times before, and I had got so that I was honestly bored - and for the first time in my life - whenever Viola started on the Parrishes, or Leslie about the Harris-Clarkes.
“I can’t give any presents,” I broke in.
“I’ll loan you any amount, dear,” said Leslie, quickly.
“No, you won’t!” I answered. “I won’t give presents because I shouldn’t, but we can have an awfully good time, presents or not!”
“And will!” she promised, quickly, and then she crawled out and put a kettle of water over her spirit lamp and began to make tea, and I had three cups and four crackers and two slices of nut cake and some kisses. Then, feeling a little refreshed, I went back to my own room, on the way stopping at Viola’s. “It’s all right,” I said, from the doorway, “she’ll pretend, if you will.”
“I’m honestly glad,” said Viola.
Before I started on, I saw her lick the flap of the envelope that was to take her complaining letter across the sea to her father. I had a queer, sad feeling as she did it, and then I said a short “Bye,” and went on to my own room.