A Christmas Present for a Lady
by Myra Kelly
It was the week before Christmas, and the First Reader Class, in a
lower East Side school, had, almost to a man, decided on the gifts to
be lavished on "Teacher." She was quite unprepared for any such
observance on the part of her small adherents, for her first study of
the roll book had shown her that its numerous Jacobs, Isidores, and
Rachels belonged to a class to which Christmas Day was much as other
days. And so she went serenely on her way, all unconscious of the
swift and strict relation between her manner and her chances. She was,
for instance, the only person in the room who did not know that her
criticism of Isidore Belchatosky's hands and face cost her a tall
"three for ten cents" candlestick and a plump box of candy.
But Morris Mogilewsky, whose love for Teacher was far greater than
the combined loves of all the other children, had as yet no present to
bestow. That his "kind feeling" should be without proof when the
lesser loves of Isidore Wishnewsky, Sadie Gonorowsky, and Bertha
Binderwitz were taking the tangible but surprising forms which were
daily exhibited to his confidential gaze was more than he could bear.
The knowledge saddened all his hours, and was the more maddening
because it could in no wise be shared by Teacher, who noticed his
altered bearing and tried with all sorts of artful beguilements to
make him happy and at ease. But her efforts served only to increase his
unhappiness and his love. And he loved her! Oh, how he loved her!
Since first his dreading eyes had clung for a breath's space to her
"like man's shoes" and had then crept timidly upward past a black
skirt, a "from silk" apron, a red "jumper," and "from gold" chain to
her "light face," she had been mistress of his heart of hearts. That
was more than three months ago. How well he remembered the day!
His mother had washed him horribly; and had taken him into the big
red schoolhouse, so familiar from the outside, but so full of unknown
terrors within. After his dusty little shoes had stumbled over the
threshold he had passed from ordeal to ordeal until, at last he was
torn in mute and white- faced despair from his mother's skirts.
He was then dragged through long halls and up tall stairs by a
large boy, who spoke to him disdainfully as "greenie," and cautioned
him as to the laying down softly and taking up gently of those poor,
dusty shoes, so that his spirit was quite broken and his nerves were
all unstrung when he was pushed into a room full of bright sunshine
and of children who laughed at his frightened little face. The
sunshine smote his timid eyes, the laughter smote his timid heart, and
he turned to flee. But the door was shut, the large boy gone, and
despair took him for its own.
Down upon the floor he dropped, and wailed, and wept, and kicked.
It was then that he heard, for the first time, the voice which now he
loved. A hand was forced between his aching body and the floor, and
the voice said:
"Why, my dear little chap, you mustn't cry like that. What's the
The hand was gentle and the question kind, and these, combined with
a faint perfume suggestive of drug stores and barber shops— but nicer
than either— made him uncover his hot little face. Kneeling beside
him was a lady, and he forced his eyes to that perilous ascent; from
shoes to skirt, from skirt to jumper, from jumper to face, they
trailed in dread uncertainty, but at the face they stopped— they had
Morris allowed himself to be gathered into the lady's arms and held
upon her knee, and when his sobs no longer rent the very foundations
of his pink and wide-spread tie, he answered her question in a voice
as soft as his eyes, and as gently sad.
"I ain't so big, and I don't know where is my mama."
So, having cast his troubles on the shoulders of the lady, he had
added his throbbing head to the burden, and from that safe retreat had
enjoyed his first day at school immensely.
Thereafter he had been the first to arrive every morning, and the
last to leave every afternoon; and under the care of Teacher, his
liege lady, he had grown in wisdom and love and happiness, but the
greatest of these was love. And now, when the other boys and girls
were planning surprises and gifts of price for Teacher, his hands were
as empty as his heart was full. Appeal to his mother met with denial
prompt and energetic.
"For what you go and make, over Christmas, presents? You ain't no
Krisht; you should better have no kind feelings over Krishts, neither;
your papa could to have a mad."
"Teacher ain't no Krisht," said Morris stoutly; "all the other
fellows buys her presents, und I'm loving mit her; it's polite I gives
her presents the while I'm got such a kind feeling over her."
"Well, we ain't got no money for buy nothing," said Mrs. Mogilewsky
sadly. "No money, und your papa, he has all times a scare he shouldn't
to get no more, the while the boss"— and here followed
incomprehensible, but depressing, financial details, until the end of
the interview found Morris and his mother sobbing and rocking in one
another's arms. So Morris was helpless, his mother poor, and Teacher
And now the great day, the Friday before Christmas, has come, and
the school is, for the first half hour, quite mad. Doors open suddenly
and softly to admit small persons, clad in wondrous ways and bearing
wondrous parcels. Room 18, generally so placid and so peaceful, is a
howling wilderness full of brightly colored, quickly changing groups
of children, a11 whispering, all gurgling, and all hiding queer
bundles. A new-comer invariably causes a diversion; the assembled
multitude, athirst for novelty, falls upon him and clamors for a
glimpse of his bundle and a statement of its price.
Teacher watches in dumb amaze. What can be the matter with the
children? They can't have guessed that the shrouded something in the
corner is a Christmas tree? What makes them behave so queerly, and why
do they look so strange? They seem to have grown stout in a single
night, and Teacher, as she notes this, marvels greatly. The
explanation is simple, though it comes in alarming form. The sounds of
revelry are pierced by a long, shrill yell, and a pair of agitated
legs spring suddenly into view between two desks. Teacher, rushing to
the rescue, notes that the legs form the unsteady stem of an upturned
mushroom of brown flannel and green braid, which she recognizes as the
outward seeming of her cherished Bertha Binderwitz; and yet, when the
desks are forced to disgorge their prey, the legs restored to their
normal position are found to support a fat child— and Bertha was best
described as "skinny"— in a dress of the Stuart tartan tastefully
trimmed with purple. Investigation proves that Bertha's accumulative
taste in dress is an established custom. In nearly all cases the glory
of holiday attire is hung upon the solid foundation of every-day
clothes as bunting is hung upon a building. The habit is economical of
time, and produces a charming embonpoint.
Teacher, too, is more beautiful than ever. Her dress is blue, and
"very long down, like a lady," with bands of silk and scraps of lace
distributed with the eye of art. In her hair she wears a bow of what
Sadie Gonorowsky, whose father "works by fancy goods," describes as
"black from plush ribbon— costs ten cents."
Isidore Belchatosky, relenting, is the first to lay tribute before
Teacher. He comes forward with a sweet smile and a tall candlestick—
the candy has gone to its long home— and Teacher for a moment can not
be made to understand that all that length of bluish-white china is
really hers "for keeps."
"It's to-morrow holiday," Isidore assures her; "and we gives you
presents, the while we have a kind feeling. Candlesticks could to cost
"It's a lie. Three for ten,'' says a voice in the background, but
Teacher hastens to respond to Isidore's test of her credulity:
"Indeed, they could. This candlestick could have cost fifty cents,
and it's just what I want. It is very good of you to bring me a
"You're welcome," says Isidore, retiring; and then, the ice being
broken, the First Reader Class in a body rises to cast its gifts on
Teacher's desk, and its arms round Teacher's neck.
Nathan Horowitz presents a small cup and saucer; Isidore Applebaum
bestows a large calendar for the year before last; Sadie Gonorowsky
brings a basket containing a bottle of perfume, a thimble, and a
bright silk handkerchief; Sarah Schodsky offers a penwiper and a
yellow celluloid collar-button, and Eva Kidansky gives an elaborate
nasal douche, under the pleasing delusion that it is an atomizer.
Once more sounds of grief reach Teacher's ears. Rushing again to
the rescue, she throws open the door and comes upon woe personified.
Eva Gonorowsky, her hair in wildest disarray, her stocking fouled,
un-gartered, and down- gyved to her ankle, appears before her teacher.
She bears all the marks of Hamlet's excitement, and many more,
including a tear-stained little face and a gilt saucer clasped to a
"Eva, my dearest Eva, what's happened to you now?" asks
'Teacher, for the list of ill chances which have befallen this one of
her charges is very long. And Eva wails forth that a boy, a· very big
boy, had stolen her golden cup "what I had for you by present," and
has left her only the saucer and her undying love to bestow.
Before Eva's sobs have quite yielded to Teacher's arts, Jacob
Spitsky presses forward with a tortoise-shell comb of terrifying
aspect and hungry teeth, and an air showing forth a determination to
adjust it in its destined place. Teacher meekly bows her head; Jacob
forces his offering into her long suffering hair, and then retires
with the information, "Costs fifteen cents, Teacher," and the
courteous phrase— by etiquette prescribed "Wish you health to wear
it." He is plainly a hero, and is heard remarking to less favored
admirers that "Teacher's hair is awful softy and smells off of
Here a big boy, a very big boy, enters hastily. He does not belong
to Room 18, but he has long known Teacher. He has brought her a
present; he wishes her a merry Christmas. The present, when produced,
proves to be a pretty gold cup, and Eva Gonorowsky, with renewed
emotion, recognizes the boy as her assailant and the cup as her
property. Teacher is dreadfully embarrassed; the boy not at all so.
His policy is simple and entire denial, and in this he perseveres,
even after Eva's saucer has unmistakably proclaimed its relationship
to the cup.
Meanwhile the rush of presentation goes steadily on. Other cups and
saucers come in wild profusion. The desk is covered with them, and
their wrappings of purple tissue paper require a monitor's whole
attention. The soap, too, becomes urgently perceptible. It is of all
sizes, shapes, and colors, but of uniform and dreadful power of
perfume. Teacher's eyes fill with tears of gratitude as each new
piece, or box, is pressed against her nose, and Teacher's mind is full
of wonder as to what she can ever do with all of it. Bottles of
perfume vie with one another and with the all-pervading soap until the
air is heavy and breathing grows laborious, while pride swells the
hearts of the assembled multitude. No other teacher has so many helps
to the toilet. None other is so beloved.
Teacher's aspect is quite changed, and the "blue long down like a
lady dress" is almost hidden by the offerings she has received.
Jacob's comb has two massive and bejeweled rivals in the "softy hair."
The front of the dress, where aching or despondent heads are wont to
rest, is glittering with campaign buttons of American celebrities,
beginning with James G. Blaine and extending into modern history as
far as Patrick Divver, Admiral Dewey, and Captain Dreyfus. Outside the
blue belt is a white one, nearly clean; and bearing in "sure 'nough
golden words" the curt, but stirring, invitation, "Remember the
Maine." Around the neck are three chaplets of beads, wrought by chubby
fingers and embodying much love, while the waist-line is further
adorned by tiny and' beribboned aprons. Truly, it is a day of triumph.
When the waste-paper basket has been twice filled with wrappings
and twice emptied; when order is emerging out of chaos; when the
Christmas tree has been disclosed and its treasures distributed, a
timid hand is laid on Teacher's knee and a plaintive voice whispers,
"Say, Teacher, I got something for you"; and Teacher turns quickly to
see Morris, her dearest boy charge, with his poor little body showing
quite plainly between his shirtwaist buttons and through the gashes he
calls pockets. This is his ordinary costume, and the funds of the
house of Mogilewsky are evidently unequal to an outer layer of finery.
"Now, Morris, dear," says Teacher, "you shouldn't have troubled to
get me a present; you know you and I are such good friends that—"
"Teacher, yis, ma'am," Morris interrupts, in a bewitching rising
inflection of his soft and plaintive voice; "I know you got a kind
feeling by me, and I couldn't to tell even how I'm got a kind feeling
by you. Only it's about that kind feeling I should give you a present.
I didn't"— with a glance at the crowded desk "I didn't to have no
soap nor no perfumery, and my mama; she couldn't to buy none by the
store; but, Teacher, I'm got something awful nice for you by present."
"And what is it, deary?" asks the already rich and gifted young
person. "What is my new present?"
"Teacher, it's like this: I don't know; I ain't so big; like I
could to know"— and, truly, God pity him! he is passing small— "It
ain't for boys— it's for ladies. Over yesterday on the night comes my
papa on my house, and he gives my mama the present. Sooner she looks
on it, sooner she has a awful glad; in her eye stands tears, und she
says, like that— out of Jewish— `Thanks,' un' she kisses my papa. a
kiss. Und my papa, how he is polite! he says— out of Jewish,
too— `You're welcome, all right,' un' he kisses my mama a kiss. So my
mama, she sets and looks on the present, und all the time she looks
she has a glad over it. Und I didn't to have no soap, so you could to
have the present."
"But did your mother say I might?"
"Teacher, no ma'am; she didn't say like that un' she didn't to say
not like that: She didn't to know. But it's for ladies, un' I
didn't to have no soap. You could to look on it. It ain't for boys."
And here Morris opens a hot little hand and discloses a
tightly-folded pinkish paper. As Teacher reads it he watches her with
eager, furtive eyes, dry and bright, until hers grow suddenly moist,
when his promptly follow suit. As she looks down at him, he makes his
moan once more:
"It's for ladies, und I didn't to have no soap."
"But, Morris, dear," cries Teacher unsteadily, laughing a little,
and yet not far from tears, "this is ever so much nicer than soap— a
thousand times better than perfume; and you're quite right, it is for
ladies, and I never had one in all my life before. I am so very
"You're welcome, all right. That's how my papa says; it's polite,"
says Morris proudly. And proudly he takes his place among the very
little boys, and loudly he joins in the ensuing song. For the rest of
that exciting day he is a shining point of virtue in a slightly
confused class. And at three o'clock he is at Teacher's desk again,
carrying on the conversation as if there had been no interruption.
"Und my mama," he says insinuatingly— "she kisses my papa a kiss."
"Well?" says Teacher.
"Well," says Morris, "you ain't never kissed me a kiss, und I seen
how you kissed Eva Gonorowsky. I'm loving mit you too. Why don't you
never kiss me a kiss?"
"Perhaps," suggests Teacher mischievously, "perhaps it ain't for
But a glance at her "light face," with its crown of surprising
combs, reassures him.
"Teacher, yis, ma'am; it's for boys," he cries as he feels her arms
about him, and sees that in her eyes, too, "stands tears."
"It's polite you kisses me a kiss over that for ladies' present."
Late that night Teacher sat in her pretty room— for she was,
unofficially, a great pampered young person— and reviewed her
treasures. She saw that they were very numerous, very touching, very
whimsical, and very precious. But above all the rest she cherished a
frayed pinkish paper, rather crumpled and a little soiled. For it held
the love of a man and woman and a little child, and the magic of a
home, for Morris Mogilewsky's Christmas present for ladies was the
receipt for a month's rent for a room on the top floor of a Monroe