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Graeve, Oscar (ed.) / Delineator
Vol. 119, No. 1 (July, 1931)

Dawson, Coningsby
Little Annie,   pp. 13-14 PDF (1.2 MB)


Page 14

DELINEATOR
N
Everybody making plans for her, when her only
thought was that old Mr. Nesbit had recorded his true
opinion of her. It was the first time she had known that
she was anybody's friend. A faithful servant-yes. She
supposed she had been faithful. But his dear friend!
That was a surprise to her.
Yearnings for romance, which years ago she had
stifled, were stirring. She wanted to be alone; wanted
them all to go; these children whom only the other day
she had tucked safely in their beds. Vhile they were
present, she was too conscious of the change that had
befallen her.
Miss Dollie was the one who gave the signal for depar-
ture by retouching her complexion.
"Got a date with a John," Mr. Ralph chaffed her.
"There's a new husband round every corner, isn't there,
Dollie?"
From behind a curtained window little Annie watched
them. The flivver was the last to start. Then the street
pale with evening and empty, save for spring and a young
girl walking.
A young girl! Little Annie would never be that.
Locking doors and lowering blinds, she retired to her
kitchen.
How long ago it seemed since she was young! Forty
years since she had left England. If she went back. as
Miss Jane had suggested, her relatives wouldn't recognize
her. To them she wouldn't be little Annie; she would be
cnlv an under-sized, rather ridiculous old woman. To
associate with them she would have to live in a colliery
district fouled with coal-dust. She had only nieces and
nephews remaining; their interest in her would be
limited to their avarice.
The only life that now was real to her had begun when
Mrs. Nesbit, searching for a maid-of-all-work, had
chosen her from a group of newly arrived immigrants in
an employment agency at Judah, New Jersey. At the
time when that had happened she had been fifteen; Mrs.
Nesbit and her husband had been thirty. From that day
till the day of their death, she had never had another
situation and they, from force of habit, when economy
had ceased to argue, had never engaged a second servant
for the kitchen.
S HE had shared and more than shared, the shifts and
shams of their early poverty, the grinding poverty of
the respectable. She had postponed her wages for months,
when it had been inconvenient to pay.her. There had
been no sacrifice which had been too exacting to demand
from her. Her reward had been to watch the financial
rise of her employers and finally their achievement of
fabulous prosperity. She had been so busy over the
family's advancement that she had never had leisure to
fall in love herself.
The family, as it had grown, had almost forgotten her
surname. From the start she had been known as little
Annie. The title suited her. She had been little and faith-
ful as a girl; she was little and faithful as an ageing
( 14)
"Never forget you're worth ten
thousand a year, little Annie.
You must learn to look like it"
woman. Every triumph of the Nesbits had seemed to be
her personal triumph.
Old Mr. Nesbit she had trusted much more than most
wives trust their husbands. To serve him had been her
religion. At his command she had handed over her wages
and Christmas gifts for him to invest. She had never
known how much she possessed and had never inquired.
After the Nesbits had become so rich that they had
kept a garage full of cars and had made almost yearly
trips to Europe, little Annie had still refused to come
out of her kitchen. The kitchen was her environment.
She knew the place for which she was best fitted. There
was no position in the house which she could grace as
well and she had been unambitious to be promoted.
From time to time old Mr. Nesbit had called her into
his library and given her papers to sign. He had men-
tioned figures which had astonished her. It had all had
something to do with monies he was manipulating;
she hadn't been interested. What good was money if
she had people who needed her and whom, in return, she
respected?
T HEN old Mr. Nesbit had died and old Mrs. Nesbit a
week later. She had attended both their funerals, trying
to believe that when those neat boxes had been lowered,
she would return home to find their tenants still waiting
for her to serve them.
She was still waiting, serving them in spirit, keeping
their house dusted, their floors polished. Everything that
she did was from habit.
The morning after the reading of the will young Mr.
Nesbit called. He wasn't so young at that; but he would
always be young to her.
"You're keeping the house beautifully," he compli-
mented her.
"I try to give satisfaction, Mr. Ralph."
He slipped his arm through hers.
"I've come to discuss your future. Where can we talk
best?"
There was a sinking at her heart as she led the way to
her kitchen. She seated herself in her chair against the
white deal table, as she had always done when Mrs.
Nesbit had visited her to give her orders. Her entire life
had been spent in receiving orders.
Mr. Ralph perched himself unconventionally on the
edge of the table.
"It's my duty"-he attempted jocularity-"to explain
to you your worldly standing."
She listened. At the start it was pleasant hearing.
She was much more secure against calamity than she
had fancied. Besides the hundred thousand bequeathed
to her there were her savings, which old Mr. Nesbit had
caused to breed and multiply.
"You're quite an heiress," Mr. Ralph jollied her.
"I guess, you're worth at this moment not less than
another hundred and fifty thousand. If you care to, you
can ride in your carriage like Queen Victoria."
The purpose of his errand was to escort her to his
lawyers and afterwards to a bank, that she might make a
trust of her belongings and live at peace forever, protected
against penury. His car was in the driveway. He bade
her scurry into her outdoor clothes that they might
accomplish as much as possible before lunch-time. True
to her instinct for obedience, she mounted the many
stairs to her attic and soon rejoined him clad in decent
mourning. Her only hesitancy was at leaving the house
unguarded.
"It's insured," Mr. Ralph eased her conscience.
"Besides, if you stopped, what could you do against
burglars?"
At the lawyers she signed papers, following instructions
blindly just as she had been wont to do when old Mr.
Nesbit had commanded her. At the bank she did the
same, seated at a mahogany desk in the president's office.
"Now that's settled." Mr. Ralph heaved a sigh. "It's
a load off my chest. From now on these gentlemen will
look after you. They'll send you your interest monthly.
When the hundred thousand my father left you has been
paid into the estate, you'll have approximately ten
thousand to live on. Never take any step involving money
without first consulting them."
She nodded, as a child does when it is too shy to confess
that it hasn't understood its lessons. The conundrum
that puzzled her was why she should have to seek advice
from strangers, when she could learn all she required from
Mr. Ralph himself. Of one thing she was certain: that no
one, except old Mr. Nesbit, had ever been cleverer or
wiser.
"low about a bite of lunch?" Mr. Ralph suggested.
She wanted to tell him that the honor was too flatter-
ing. But before she could gather her wits to refuse him,
he had hustled her back into the car and then in a moment
was piloting her through the revolving doors of the Presi-
dent Grant, Judah's most impressive hotel. (Turn to page 70)


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