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Kate’s Choice
by [?]

My winter lecture travels sometimes bring me to a town not a thousand miles from New York, where my mail awaits me. If it happens then, as it often does, that it is too heavy for me to attack alone–for it is the law that if a man live by the pen he shall pay the penalty in kind–I send for a stenographer, and in response there comes a knock at my door that ushers in a smiling young woman, who answers my inquiries after “Grandma” with the assurance that she is very well indeed, though she is getting older every day. As to her, I can see for myself that she is fine, and I wonder secretly where the young men’s eyes are that she is still Miss Murray. Before I leave town, unless the train table is very awkward, I am sure to call on Grandma for a chat–in office hours, for then the old lady will exhibit to me with unreserved pride “the child’s” note-book, with the pothooks which neither of us can make out, and tell me what a wonderful girl she is. And I cry out with the old soul in rapture over it all, and go away feeling happily that the world is all right with two such people in it as Kate Murray and her grandmother, though the one is but a plain stenographer and the other an old Irishwoman, but with the faithful, loving heart of her kind. To me there is no better kind anywhere, and Grandma Linton is the type as she is the flower of it. So that you shall agree with me I will tell you their story, her story and the child’s, exactly as they have lived it, except that I will not tell you the name of the town they live in or their own true names, because Kate herself does not know all of it, and it is best that she shall not–yet.

When I say at the very outset that Margaret Linton, Kate’s mother, was Margaret Linton all her brief sad life, you know the reason why, and there is no need of saying more. She was a brave, good girl, innocent as she was handsome. At nineteen she was scrubbing offices to save her widowed mother, whom rheumatism had crippled. That was how she met the young man who made love to her, and listened to his false promises, as girls have done since time out of mind to their undoing. She was nineteen when her baby was born. From that day, as long as she lived, no word of reproach fell from her mother’s lips. “My Maggie” was more than ever the pride of the widow’s heart since the laughter had died in her bonny eyes. It was as if in the fatherless child the strongest of all bonds had come between the two silent women. Poor Margaret closed her eyes with the promise of her mother that she would never forsake her baby, and went to sleep with a tired little sigh.

Kate was three years old when her mother died. It was no time then for Grandma Linton to be bothered with the rheumatics. It was one thing to be a worn old woman with a big strong daughter to do the chores for you, quite another to have this young life crying out to you for food and shelter and care, a winsome elf putting two plump little arms around one’s neck and whispering with her mouth close to your ear, “I love oo, Grannie.” With the music of the baby voice in her ears the widow girded up her loins and went out scrubbing, cleaning, became janitress of the tenement in which she and Kate occupied a two-room flat–anything so that the thorns should be plucked from the path of the child’s blithesome feet. Seven years she strove for her “lamb.” When Kate was ten and getting to be a big girl, she faced the fact that she could do it no longer. She was getting too old.