A Challenge,
and what came of it.
by Anna M. Lawson.

Two young ladies — both very handsome — were sitting together in an elegant parlor one bright May afternoon. Their names were Eva Darcy and Florence Cary.

The former was the young mistress of the house, and the latter her most intimate friend. They were like sisters to each other, and shared every thing in common.

Eva had recently engaged herself to a young man named Frederick Lee; and, as the ladies were wholly unreserved in their friendly intercourse, the betrothment was now the subject of conversation.

‘"I have heard it said that Mr. Lee is parsimonious, even miserly!"’ remarked Florence, with privileged freedom; ‘"and in that case, Eva, you will lead a most sorry life. I am no advocate for extravagance or improvidence, but a stingy man is almost invariably a tyrant, and by no means the proper person to make a woman happy."’

‘"I agree with you in that, Florence!"’ responded Eva, ‘"but most emphatically deny the application in the case. Frederick is careful and economical, I admit — for he has a laudable ambition to get ahead in the world — but nothing more; and I would far rather have him that way than be made to feel that he was more generous than just, more free than wise"’

‘"Why, Eva, Fred. Lee's stinginess is proverbial among all the young men of his acquaintance!"’ exclaimed Florence. ‘"I have heard several speak of it in no complimentary terms."’

‘"Indeed!"’ responded Eva; ‘"and did they say in what consisted his stinginess?"’

‘"Certainly, my dear; he's never ready to spend as others do,"’ rejoined Florence, quickly. ‘"Those may not be the exact words, but that was what it amounted to. "’

‘"But that does not constitute stinginess,"’ said Eva; calmly. ‘"If he will not squander his limited means in idle and useless dissipation, he is more prudent than parsimonious, and far more deserving of credit than censure. Mr. Lee enjoys himself in all reasonable and rational ways, I feel certain; and is never close handed when the call is of a deserving character. Nor is he at all backward in contributing to the enjoyment of his lady friends, as you yourself well know. But, let me ask a question, Florence — probably that will throw some light on the subject. Does Mr. Lee accept any favors from his friends which he does not show a willingness to reciprocate?"’

‘"Oh, no! he neither gives nor receives; and makes it a practice to refuse all invitations to participate in those pleasures generally so congenial to young men of his age. "’

‘"Then it seems that Mr. Lee's stinginess is but a misunderstanding between himself and his friends in regard to the true meaning of the word,"’ said Eva, with undisturbed serenity. ‘"His friends think that because he will not consent to 'treat and be treated'--I believe those are the terms, my dear — because he will not actually squander his means and injure himself, both in body and reputation, that he is stingy; and he thinks differently, and with a true, manly independence, conducts himself according to his own impressions. Isn't that just so, Florence?"’

‘"Well, yes, perhaps it is; but still he might be a little more social and liberal, and yet not hurt himself. And it don't follow, either, that he must become really dissipated, as you seem to think, Eva. Now, for my part, I feel certain there must be something in it more than we can see, or such a report would never have got into circulation. Still, I have nothing to charge against Mr. Lee, myself, and wouldn't have you think so for anything I speak only for your own good, my dear.--Stingy men always were my aversion, however, and I'd a hundredfold rather die an old maid than link my fate with one who bears the suspicion of such a character."’

‘"And so would I, Florence!"’ earnestly responded Eva; "but I think you are mistaken in regard to Mr. Lee; and I fancy, you have been led astray by others who do not properly appreciate his motives."

‘"And, I suppose, you think that you do understand him!"’

‘"I hope so; and, to prove my words, I'll make you a challenge."’

‘"Well, my dear, what is it like? I'm open to conviction; and, therefore, agree to anything reasonable."’

At that moment something about the person of Florence appeared to attract Eva's particular attention.

‘"What is it, Eva?"’ inquired Miss Cary, instantly noticing the circumstance.

‘"What a beautiful new bracelet you have got!"’ responded Eva. ‘"Let me look at it. A gift from papa, I suppose!"’

‘"Oh, no; Dick Freely gave me that, with papa's consent, of course."’

"Richard Freely, it may be well to remark, en passant, was generally looked upon as Miss Cary's most assiduous, and, indeed, most acceptable suitor.

‘"Of course,"’ said Eva. ‘"And so Dick Freely made you a present of this! "’ she added, turning the bauble over and over.-- ‘"It is very handsome, and must have cost fifty dollars, at least. Dick is very generous."’

‘"Just as free as water, my dear! And, like me, Dick hates stingy people most consumedly."’

‘"He hates Mr. Lee, then!"’ rejoined Eva, as she handed the glittering bracelet back to her friend.

‘"Oh, no, not hate him, Eva, by any means!"’ exclaimed Florence, in a deprecating manner. ‘"He thinks him very close, though, and very queer, too, for a young man."’

‘"Well, I must say Mr. Lee never goes to such lengths as that; nevertheless, I'd be willing to make you a handsome present if, upon trial, my Fred should not display the most real charity."’

‘"I accept the wager, Eva,"’ rejoined Florence; ‘"not out of any particular dislike to Mr. Lee, nor from any especial regard for Mr. Freely, but simply with a view to test the young gentlemen and satisfy ourselves. But how shall the trial be made?" ’

‘"I'll tell you,"’ said Eva, who forthwith entered into a full description of her little plan. ‘"Fred,"’ she added in conclusion, ‘"will be here this evening, and we can put him to the test at once."’

‘"So we can my dear."’

The scene changes.

Just about dusk of the same day on which Eva and Florence held the above-mentioned conversation, two fine looking, handsomely a tired young men accidentally met together on the corner of cross streets, a few squares distant from the residence of the first mentioned young lady. They were Frederick Lee and Richard Freely.

They stopped, shook hands, and passed the usual stereotyped compliments.

‘"I suppose you're going to Miss Darcy's, Lee?"’ said Freely.

‘"I am, Dick,"’ was the quiet reply.

‘"I'm bound there, too, my fine fellow! I dropped in to see Miss Cary a while ago, and was told that I should find her at Miss Darcy's, whither I was wending my way when we chanced to meet. Fine girls, both. Don't you think so, Lee?"’

‘"I do, Dick."’

‘"Excuse, me, Lee; but, now, don't you really think Miss Darcy seems a little too old- fashioned, a trifle too prim?"’

‘"Not to my eyes, Dick, though she may to some others!"’

‘"Well, I suppose, we don't all of us see alike."’

‘"No, that's true!"’ responded Lee, with an almost imperceptible smile.

At that moment, two poorly, lily-clad females, with their faces closely muffled in old, ragged hoods, came around the corner, and halted in close proximity to the young men. One walked with a cane, and leaned upon the arm of the other, and both looked poverty-stricken enough in all conscience.

‘"Charity, gentlemen,"’ exclaimed the one who was supporting the other, and who appeared to be the younger of the two.

The tones of her voice were sad and husky; and the young men stopped, Lee halting first, however, and Freely following his example, as if he could not well help it.

Dick paid but little or no attention to the women, but Fred regarded them earnestly and attentively.

‘"Did I understand you to solicit charity?"’ said the latter, kindly addressing the mendicants. ‘"Are you really in want?"’

‘"Painfully so, sir!"’ was the smothered reply. "My mother is very old and feeble, as you may see, and my own days are swiftly passing away. We have no friends at all to keep us, and nothing to depend on but the cold charity of the world. I worked as long as I was able; but this winter I could not find a great deal of employment, and what little I could was almost too much for me. We live in a garret, sir, and never pass a day that we do not experience the direct want. Ah, me!" signed the woman, in conclusion.

‘"The old story, Lee,"’ abruptly cried Freely. ‘"You'd meet a dozen such in every square of the city; and they'll tell the same winning, pitiful tale. Don't give 'em a cent. I won't. If they are as bad off as they say they are, let 'em go to the poor house--that's the place for all such vagrants."’

‘"You and I, Dick, have different notions on a good many subjects!"’ responded Lee; ‘"and, contrary to your advice, I shall aid these poor creatures to the best of my ability. If they deceive me, the punishment will be theirs — not mine."’ Turning to the women, at the same time drawing some coin from his pocket, be added: ‘"Here are a couple of dollars for your present needs; and if you will call at my place of business, No. --, -- street, and inquire for Frederick Lee, I will see if something more cannot be done to aid you."’

‘"God bless your kind heart!"’ simultaneously responded the two women, in deep earnest tones.

‘"Won't you give them a trifle, Dick?"’ added Fred, turning to Freely.

‘"Not a farthing, Lee! I can lay my money out to a better account than that, I tell you!"’

‘"Well, if you won't, you won't, I suppose,"’ rejoined Lee; ‘"but in such a case, I think the money is well invested."’

‘"And I don't, my boy; so there's just the difference between us!"’ responded Freely, turning upon his heel and moving off.

After again requesting the mendicants to call upon him, Lee followed his heartless, selfish companion.

With very little conversation, and that nearly all on the part of Freely, the young men reached Miss Darcy's residence, and were shown into the parlor, with the assurance that the ladies would make their appearance in a few minutes.

Immediately after parting with the young men, the beggar women turned down the cross street out of sight; and it was strange to see what a great and sudden change came over them. The decrepit old woman straightened herself up, and both appeared to forget their feebleness and regain new life. With rapid steps they hastened through a small, back street, to the rear of Miss Darcy's home, which they entered through a back yard.

Need I tell the reader that the beggar women were personated by Miss Darcy and Miss Cary; or that the former made good her word in regard to Frederick Lee and Richard Freely? I think not.

Upon reaching Eva's apartment, the young girls hastily threw off their disguises, and prepared to go down into the parlor.

‘"Well, Florence, are you convinced?"’ demanded Eva, meantime.

‘"Entirely so!"’ was the emphatic response; ‘"and if ever any one says, in my presence, that Fred Lee is stingy, I shall contradict them. As for Dick Freely-- he's a brute, and I'm done with him!"’

‘"I am pleased to hear you express such sentiments, Florence!"’ responded Eva, ‘"and I hope that our adventure will open your eyes fully. Now, let us go down stairs; but not a word or sign about our escaped. It was rather imprudent upon our part; and the censorious world might not give us proper credit for our practical experiment."’

‘"I'll be quite dumb on the subject, my dear Eva — though I shouldn't wonder at all if I were a little huffy to Mr. Dick Freely. Just to think of the puppy spending fifty dollars for a bracelet for me, and refusing a pittance to a poor, sick woman!"’

‘"Oh! but he's so generous!--so free!"’ responded Miss Darcy, with a slight laugh.

‘"Don't! now don't, Eva, if you love me!"’

The young girls tripped down stairs and into the parlor; and in an hour or so afterward Florence departed for her home, accompanied by Freely, whose escort, under the circumstances, she could not well refuse. Frederick Lee, however, remained all the evening with Miss Darcy, but neither before nor after the departure of Florence and Freely was any reference made to the mendicant women. Richard Freely, probably, did not give the matter a second thought-- Frederick Lee, too frequently exercised his charitable feelings to think the subject of any particular importance — and the girls had their own reasons for avoiding the topic. Both the young ladies were a little cold to Dick, however; and, but for fear of betraying their secret, would probably have displayed their feelings still more pointedly.

On the plea of a headache, Florence excused herself for not inviting Richard Freely into the house, as usual; and the next day — being really a woman of right mind and good principles --she returned the young gentleman his bracelet, and respectfully, but decidedly, declined the honor of his company, in any other respect than as an acquaintance.

Dick was very much put out at this unlocked for turn in events; but though he tried hard, he could not change the flat that had gone forth. At length he yielded to his fate and went his way, and without the satisfaction of knowing what had led to his dismissal.

A short time afterward, Frederick Lee and Eva Darcy were married, and the happy young bride never had the slightest reason to regret her choice of a husband. In a few years, Lee became a man of means and influence, and was much beloved abroad, as he was at his own pleasant fireside.

Florence Cary soon found another suitor; but her new admirer was an entirely different man from Freely. A year or so after Eva's marriage, she, too, gave herself away — confident, this time, that she had made a good selection, and would not be disappointed.

‘"He's just like your Fred, I am sure!"’ she whispered to Eva, on her wedding night; and, happily, after times proved that her words were prophetic.

He was like Frederick Lee; and two better men, or two happier women, the sun ne'er shone upon.

Subsequently, the gentlemen were let into the secret of the little event which I have just recorded; and, at the time of the revelation, Eva returned to her husband the two dollars -- always carefully preserved — which he had so kindly bestowed upon the so distant beggars. The money, with a considerable addition, was afterwards handed over to a deserving charity.

As for Dick Freely, reader, he married an heiress, spent her money, broke her heart, and ‘ "went to the bad"’ in a few years.

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