The Old Lady's
Restoration by Grace E. King
The news came out in the papers that the old lady had been restored
to her fortune. She had been deprived of it so long ago that the real
manner of her dispossession had become lost, or at least hidden under
the many versions that had been invented to replace lapses of memory,
or to remedy the unpicturesqueness of the original truth. The face of
truth, like the face of many a good woman, is liable to the accident of
ugliness, and the desire to embellish one as well as the other need not
necessarily proceed from anything more harmful than an overweighted
love of the beautiful.
If the old lady had not been restored to her fortune, her
personalia would have remained in the oblivion which, as one might
say, had accumulated upon everything belonging to her. But after that
newspaper paragraph, there was such a flowering of memory around her
name as would have done credit to a whole cemetery on All Saints. It
took three generations to do justice to the old lady, for so long and
so slow had been her descent into poverty that a grandmother was needed
to remember her setting out upon the road to it.
She set out as most people do, well provided with money, diamonds,
pretty clothing, handsome residence, equipage, opera-box, beaus (for
she was a widow), and so many, many friends that she could never
indulge in a small party—she always had to give a grand ball to
accommodate them. She made quite an occasion of her first
reverse,—some litigation decided against her,—and said it came from
the court's' having only one ear, and that preempted by the other
She always said whatever she thought, regardless of the
consequences, because she averred truth was so much more interesting
than falsehood. Nothing annoyed her more in society than to have to
listen to the compositions women make as a substitute for the original
truth. It was as if, when she went to the theater to hear Shakspere and
Moliere, the actors should try to impose upon the audience by reciting
lines of their own. Truth was the wit of life and the wit of books. She
traveled her road from affluence so leisurely that nothing escaped her
eyes or her feelings, and she signaled unhesitatingly every stage in
“My dear, do you know there is really such a thing as existence
without a carriage and horses?”—“I assure you it is perfectly new to
me to find that an opera-box is not a necessity. It is a luxury. In
theory one can really never tell the distinction between luxuries and
necessities.”—“How absurd! At one time I thought hair was given us
only to furnish a profession to hair-dressers; just as we wear
artificial flowers to support the flower-makers.”—“Upon my word, it is
not uninteresting. There is always some haute nouveaute in
economy. The ways of depriving one's self are infinite. There is wine,
now.”—“Not own your residence! As soon not own your tomb as your
residence! My mama used to scream that in my ears. According to her, it
was not comme il faut to board or live in a rented house. How
little she knew!”
When her friends, learning her increasing difficulties, which they
did from the best authority (herself), complimented her, as they were
forced to do, upon her still handsome appearance, pretty laces,
feathers, jewelry, silks, “Fat,” she would answer—“fat. I am living
off my fat, as bears do in winter. In truth, I remind myself of an
animal in more ways than one.”
And so every one had something to contribute to the conversation
about her—bits which, they said, affection and admiration had kept
alive in their memory.
Each city has its own roads to certain ends, its ways of Calvary, so
to speak. In New Orleans the victim seems ever to walk down Royal
street and up Chartres, or vice versa. One would infer so, at
least, from the display in the shops and windows of those
thorough-fares. Old furniture, cut glass, pictures, books, jewelry,
lace, china—the fleece (sometimes the flesh still sticking to it) left
on the brambles by the driven herd. If there should some day be a trump
of resurrection for defunct fortunes, those shops would be emptied in
the same twinkling of the eye allowed to tombs for their rendition of
The old lady must have made that promenade many, many times, to
judge by the samples of her “fat or fleece” displayed in the windows.
She took to hobbling, as if from tired or sore feet.
“It is nothing,” in answer to an inquiry. “Made-to-order feet
learning to walk in ready-made shoes: that is all. One's feet, after
all, are the most unintelligent part of one's body.” Tea was her
abomination, coffee her adoration; but she explained: “Tea, you know,
is so detestable that the very worst is hardly worse than the very
best; while coffee is so perfect that the smallest shade of impurity is
not to be tolerated. The truly economical, I observe, always drink
tea.” “At one time I thought if all the luxuries of the world were
exposed to me, and but one choice allowed, I should select gloves.
Believe me, there is no superfluity in the world so easily dispensed
As may be supposed, her path led her farther and farther away from
her old friends. Even her intimates became scarce; so much so, that
these observations, which, of course, could be made only to intimates,
became fewer and fewer, unfortunately, for her circumstances were
becoming such that the remarks became increasingly valuable. The last
thing related of her was apropos of friends.
“My friends! My dear, I cannot tell you just so, on the spur of the
moment, but with a little reflection and calculation I could tell you,
to a picayune, the rent of every friend in the market. You can lease,
rent, or hire them, like horses, carriages, opera-boxes, servants, by
year, month, day, or hour; and the tariff is just as fixed.
“Christians! Christians are the most discreet people in the world.
If you should ask me what Christianity has most promoted in the world,
I should answer without hesitation, discretion. Of course, when I say
the world I mean society, and when I say Christianity I mean our
interpretation of it. If only duns could be pastors, and pastors duns!
But of course you do not know what duns are; they are the guardian
angels of the creditor, the pursuing fiends of the debtor.”
After that, the old lady made her disappearance under the waves of
that sea into the depths of which it is very improbable that a single
friend ever attempted to pursue her. And there she remained until the
news came that she was restored to fortune.
A week passed, two weeks; no sight or sound of her. It was during
this period that her old friends were so occupied resuscitating their
old friendships for her—when all her antique sayings and doings became
current ball-room and dinner-table gossip—that she arose from her
obscurity like Cinderella from her ashes, to be decked with every gift
that fairy minds could suggest. Those who had known her intimately made
no effort to conceal their importance. Those who did not know her
personally put forward claims of inherited friendship, and those who
did not know her traditionally or otherwise—the nouveaux riches
and parvenus, who alone feel the moneyed value of such social
connections—began making their resolutions to capture her as soon as
she came in sight of society.
The old residence was to be re-bought, and refurnished from France;
the avant scene at the opera had been engaged; the old cook was
to be hired back from the club at a fabulous price; the old balls and
the old dinners were to gladden the city—so said they who seemed to
know. Nothing was to be spared, nothing stinted—at her age, with no
child or relative, and life running short for pleasure. Diamonds,
laces, velvets, champagne, Chateau Yquem—“Grand Dieu Seigneur!” the
old Creole servants exclaimed, raising their hands at the enumeration
Where the news came from nobody knew, but everything was certified
and accepted as facts, although, as between women, the grain of salt
should have been used. Impatience waxed, until nearly every day some
one would ring the bell of the old residence, to ask when the mistress
was going to move in. And such affectionate messages! And people would
not, simply could not, be satisfied with the incomprehensible answers.
And then it leaked out. The old lady was simply waiting for everything
to arrive—furniture, toilets, carriage, etc.—to make a grand
entree into her old sphere; to come riding on a throne, as it were.
And still the time passed, and she did not come. Finally two of the
clever-heads penetrated the enigma: mauvaise honte, shyness—so
long out of the world, so old; perhaps not sure of her welcome. So they
determined to seek her out.
[Illustration: THE ROOM IN THE OLD GALLERY.]
“We will go to her, like children to a grandmother, etc. The others
have no delicacy of sentiment, etc. And she will thus learn who really
remember, really love her, etc.”
Provided with congratulatory bouquets, they set forth. It is very
hard to find a dweller on the very sea-bottom of poverty. Perhaps that
is why the effort is so seldom made. One has to ask at grocers' shops,
groggeries, market-stalls, Chinese restaurants; interview corner
cobblers, ragpickers, gutter children. But nothing is impossible to the
determined. The two ladies overcame all obstacles, and needled their
way along, where under other circumstances they would not have glanced,
would have thought it improper to glance.
They were directed through an old, old house, out on an old, old
gallery, to a room at the very extreme end.
“Poor thing! Evidently she has not heard the good news yet. We will
be the first to communicate it,” they whispered, standing before the
dilapidated, withered-looking door.
Before knocking, they listened, as it is the very wisdom of
discretion to do. There was life inside, a little kind of voice, like
some one trying to hum a song with a very cracked old throat.
The ladies opened the door. “Ah, my friend!”
“Ah, my friend!”
“Just the same!”
“Exactly the same!”
It was which one would get to her first with bouquet and kiss,
competition almost crowding friendship.
“The good news!”
“The good news!”
“We could not stay!”
“We had to come!”
“It has arrived at last!”
“At last it has arrived!”
The old lady was very much older, but still the same.
“You will again have a chance!”
“Restored to your friends!”
“Comforts! Luxuries!” At last the old lady had an opportunity to
slip in a word. “And friends! You say right.”
There was a pause—a pause which held not a small measure of
embarrassment. But the two visitors, although they were women of the
world, and so dreaded an embarrassment more than they did sin, had
prepared themselves even to stand this.
The old lady standing there—she was very much thinner, very much
bent, but still the same—appeared to be looking not at them, but at
“Comfort!” She opened a pot bubbling on the fire. “Bouillon! A good
five-cent bouillon. Luxury!” She picked up something from a chair, a
handful of new cotton chemises. “Luxury!” She turned back her
bedspread: new cotton sheets. “Did you ever lie in your bed at night
and dream of sheets? Comfort! Luxury! I should say so! And friends! My
dear, look!” Opening her door, pointing to an opposite gallery, to the
yard, her own gallery; to the washing, ironing, sewing women, the
cobbling, chair-making, carpentering men; to the screaming, laughing,
crying, quarreling, swarming children. “Friends! All friends—friends
for fifteen years. Ah, yes, indeed! We are all glad—elated in fact. As
you say. I am restored.”
The visitors simply reported that they had found the old lady, and
that she was imbecile; mind completely gone under stress of poverty and
old age. Their opinion was that she should be interdicted.