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Life’s Best Gift
by [?]

Margaret Kelly is dead, and I need not scruple to call her by her own name. For it is certain that she left no kin to mourn her. She did all the mourning herself in her lifetime, and better than that when there was need. She nursed her impetuous Irish father and her gentle English mother in their old age–like the loving daughter she was–and, last of all, her only sister. When she had laid them away, side by side, she turned to face the world alone, undaunted, with all the fighting grit of her people from both sides of the Channel. If troubles came upon her for which she was no match, it can be truly said that she went down fighting. And who of her blood would ask for more?

What I have set down here is almost as much as any one ever heard about her people. She was an old woman when she came in a way of figuring in these pages, and all that lay behind her.

Of her own past this much was known: that she had once been an exceedingly prosperous designer of dresses, with a brown-stone house on Lexington Avenue, and some of the city’s wealthiest women for her customers. Carriages with liveried footmen were not rarely seen at her door, and a small army of seamstresses worked out her plans. Her sister was her bookkeeper and the business head of the house. Fair as it seemed, it proved a house of cards, and with the sister’s death it fell. One loss followed another. Margaret Kelly knew nothing of money or the ways of business. She lost the house, and with it her fine clients. For a while she made her stand in a flat with the most faithful of her sewing-women to help her. But that also had to go when more money went out than came in and nothing was left for the landlord. Younger rivals crowded her out. She was stamped “old-fashioned,” and that was the end of it. Her last friend left her. Worry and perplexity made her ill, and while she was helpless in Bellevue Hospital, being in a ward with no “next friend” on the books, they sent her over to the Island with the paupers. Against this indignity her proud spirit arose and made the body forget its ills. She dragged herself down to the boat that took her back to the city, only to find that her last few belongings were gone, the little hall room she had occupied in a house in Twenty-ninth Street locked against her, and she, at seventy-five, on the street, penniless, and without one who cared for her in all the world.

Yes, there was one. A dressmaker who had known her in happier days saw from her window opposite Father McGlynn’s church a white-haired woman seek shelter within the big storm-doors night after night in the bitter cold of midwinter, and recognized in her the once proud and prosperous Miss Kelly. Shocked and grieved, she went to the district office of the Charities with money to pay for shelter and begged them to take the old lady in charge and save her from want.

And what a splendid old lady she was! Famished with the hunger of weeks and months, but with pride undaunted, straight as an arrow under the burden of heavy years, she met the visitor with all the dignity of a queen. The deep lines of suffering in her face grew deeper as she heard her message. She drew the poor black alpaca about her with a gesture as if she were warding off a blow: “Why,” she asked, “should any one intrude upon her to offer aid? She had not asked for anything, and was not–” she faltered a bit, but went on resolutely–“did not want anything.”

“Not work?” asked her caller, gently. “Would you not like me to find some work for you?”