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Far Above Rubies
by [?]

When her father almost suddenly left them alone, Annie was already acting as assistant in the Girls’ High School–but, alas! without any recognition of her services by even a promise of coming payment. She lived only in the hope of a small salary, dependent on her definite appointment to the office. To attempt to draw upon this hope would be to imperil the appointment itself. She could not, even for her friend, risk her mother’s prospects, already poor enough; and she could not help perceiving the hopelessness of her friend’s case, because of the utter characterlessness of the husband to whom she was enslaved. Why interfere with the hunger he would do nothing to forestall? How could she even give such a man the sixpence which had been her father’s last gift to her?

But Annie was one to whom, in the course of her life, something strange had not unfrequently happened, chiefly in the shape of what the common mind would set aside as mere coincidence. I do not say many such things had occurred in her life; but, together, their strangeness and their recurrence had caused her to remember every one of them, so that, when she reviewed them, they seemed to her many. And now, with a shadowy prevision, as it seemed, that something was going to happen, and with a shadowy recollection that she had known beforehand it was coming, something strange did take place. Of such things she used, in after days, always to employ the old, stately Bible-phrase, “It came to pass”; she never said, “It happened.”

As she walked along with her eyes on the ground, the withered leaves caught up every now and then in a wild dance by the frolicsome wind, she was suddenly aware of something among them which she could not identify, whirling in the aerial vortex about her feet. Scarcely caring what it was, she yet, all but mechanically, looked at it a little closer, lost it from sight, caught it again, as a fresh blast sent it once more gyrating about her feet, and now regarded it more steadfastly. Even then it looked like nothing but another withered leaf, brown and wrinkled, given over to the wind, and rustling along at its mercy. Yet it made an impression upon her so far unlike that of a leaf that for a moment more she fixed on it a still keener look of unconsciously expectant eyes, and saw only that it looked–perhaps a little larger than most of the other leaves, but as brown and dead as they. Almost the same instant, however, she turned and pounced upon it, and, the moment she handled it, became aware that it felt less crumbly and brittle than the others looked, and then saw clearly that it was not a leaf, but perhaps a rag, or possibly a piece of soiled and rumpled paper. With a curiosity growing to expectation, and in a moment to wondering recognition, she proceeded to uncrumple it carefully and smooth it out tenderly; nor was the process quite completed when she fell upon her knees on the cold flags, her little cloak flowing wide from the clasp at her neck in a yet wilder puff of the bitter wind; but suddenly remembering that she must not be praying in the sight of men, started again to her feet, and, wrapping her closed hand tight in the scanty border of her cloak, hurried, with the pound-note she had rescued, to the friend whose need was sorer than her own–not without an undefined anxiety in her heart whether she was doing right. How much good the note did, or whether it merely fell into the bottomless gulf of irremediable loss, I cannot tell. Annie’s friend and her shiftless mate at once changed their dirty piece of paper for silver, bought food and railway tickets, left the town, and disappeared entirely from her horizon.