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There is a large tenement house on St. Mark's Place, between Third Avenue and Avenue A. The suites of rooms consist, as is the general New York custom in tenement houses, of one square apartment used as kitchen, sitting room and parlor combined, and two small bedrooms opening out of it.
It was in an apartment of this kind on the third floor back, that Mark Mason's mother and little sister Edith lived. It was a humble home, and plainly furnished, but a few books and pictures saved from the wreck of their former prosperity, gave the rooms an air of refinement not to be found in those of their neighbors.
Mrs. Mason was setting the table for supper and Edith was studying a lesson in geography when the door opened and Mark entered.
His mother greeted him with a pleasant smile.
"You are through early, Mark," she said.
"Yes, mother. I was let off earlier than usual, as there was an errand up this way that fortunately took very little time."
"I'm glad you've come home, Mark," said Edith, "I want you to help me in my map questions."
"All right, Edie, but you will have to wait till after supper. I've got something to tell mother."
"What is it, Mark?"
"I saw two old acquaintances of ours from Syracuse, this forenoon."
"Who were they?" asked Mrs. Mason eagerly.
"Uncle Solon and Edgar."
"Is it possible? Where did you see them?"
"In City Hall Park. Edgar had just been having his boots blacked by Tom Trotter."
"Did you speak to them?"
"How did they appear?"
"Well, they didn't fall on my neck and embrace me," answered Mark with a smile. "In fact they seemed very cool."
"And yet Solon Talbot is my brother-in-law, the husband of my only sister."
"And Edgar is my own cousin. He's an awful snob, mother, and he looks as like his father as one pea looks like another."
"Then he is not very handsome. I wish I could see them. Did you invite them to call?"
"And what did Solon—Mr. Talbot—say?"
"He said he might call; but he was in a great hurry."
"Did you remember to give him our address?"
"Yes, mother; I said you would like to see him about grandfather's estate."
"I certainly would. It seems strange, very strange—that father should have left so little money."
"We only got seventy-five dollars out of it."
"When I expected at least five thousand."
"I suspect there's been some dishonesty on the part of Uncle Solon. You know he is awfully fond of money."
"Yes, he always was."
"And Tom Trotter says that Edgar told him his father was very rich."
"It seems strange the change that has taken place. When I first knew Solon Talbot I was a young lady in society with a high position, and he was a clerk in my father's store. He was of humble parentage, though that, of course, is not to his discredit. His father used to go about sawing wood for those who chose to employ him."
"You don't mean it! You never told me that before."
"No, for I knew that Solon would be ashamed to have it known, and as I said before it is nothing to his discredit."
"But it might prevent Edgar from putting on such airs. He looked at me as if I was an inferior being, and he didn't care to have anything to say to me."
"I hope you don't feel sensitive on that account."
"Sensitive? No. I can get along without Edgar Talbot's notice. I mean some time to stand as high or higher than Uncle Solon, and to be quite as rich."
"I hope you will, Mark, but as we are at present situated it will be hard to rise."
"Plenty of poor boys have risen, and why not I?"
"It is natural for the young to be hopeful, but I have had a good deal to depress me. Did you remember that the rent comes due the day after to-morrow?"
"How much have you towards it, mother?"
"Only five dollars, and it's eight. I don't see where the other three dollars are coming from, unless,"—and here her glance rested on the plain gold ring on her finger.
"Pledge your wedding-ring, mother!" exclaimed Mark. "Surely you don't mean that?"
"I would rather do it than lose our shelter, poor as it is."
"There must be some other way—there must be."
"You will not receive any wages till Saturday."
"No, but perhaps we can borrow something till then. There's Mrs. Mack up-stairs. She has plenty of money, though she lives in a poor way."
"There isn't much hope there, Mark. She feels poorer than I do, though I am told she has five thousand dollars out at interest."
"Never mind. I am going to try her."
"Eat your supper first."
"So I will. I shall need all the strength I can get from a good meal to confront her."
Half an hour later Mark went up-stairs and tapped at the door of the rooms above his mother's.
"Come in!" said a feeble quavering voice.
Mark opened the door and entered. In a rocking chair sat, or rather crouched, a little old woman, her face seamed and wrinkled. She had taken a comforter from the bed and wrapped it around her to keep her warm, for it was a chilly day, and there was no fire in her little stove.
"Good evening, Mrs. Mack," said Mark. "How do you feel?"
"It's a cold day," groaned the old lady. "I—I feel very uncomfortable."
"Why don't you have a fire then?"
"It's gone out, and it's so late it isn't worth while to light it again."
"But it is worth while to be comfortable," insisted Mark.
"I—I can keep warm with this comforter around me, and—fuel is high, very high."
"But you can afford to buy more when this is burned."
"No, Mark. I have to be economical—very economical. I don't want to spend all my money, and go to the poor-house."
"I don't think there's much danger of that. You've got money in the savings bank, haven't you?"
"Yes—a little, but I can't earn anything. I'm too old to work, for I am seventy-seven, and I might live years longer, you know."
"Don't you get interest on your money?"
"Yes, a little, but it costs a good deal to live."
"Well, if the interest isn't enough, you can use some of the principal. I can put you in the way of earning twenty-five cents."
"Can you?" asked the old woman eagerly. "How?"
"If you'll lend me three dollars till Saturday—I get my wages then—I'll pay you twenty-five cents for the accommodation."
"But you might not pay me," said the old woman cautiously, "and it would kill me to lose three dollars."
Mark wanted to laugh, but felt that it would not do.
"There isn't any danger," he said. "I get two weeks' pay on Saturday. It will be as much as nine dollars, so you see you are sure of getting back your money."
"I—I don't know. I am afraid."
"What are you afraid of?"
"You might get run over by the horse cars, or a truck, and then you couldn't get your money."
"I will be careful for your sake, Mrs. Mack," said Mark good-humoredly. "You'll get your money back, and twenty-five cents more."
The old woman's face was a study—between avarice on the one hand and timidity on the other.
"I—I'm afraid," she said.
She rocked to and fro in her chair in her mental perturbation, and Mark saw that his errand was a failure.
"If you change your mind, let me know," he said.
As he reached the foot of the stairs he was treated to a surprise. There just in front of his mother's door stood Solon Talbot and Edgar.
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