from National Magazine
What Tom Said About It
by Ellis Parker Butler
Of course if you are in love with a girl and as good as engaged to her, you have to give her a Christmas present. It may not be good form, but it is good policy. And Tom Morgan had always given Maude Steinhammer pretty nice presents. In fact he usually began to save for it about July first, but this year he was fool enough to buy a watch. It was a good watch, solid gold, with his monogram engraved on the glittering case, and he was very proud of it, but Christmas found him without funds, and Maude to be remembered. So he pawned it, and bought a pretty lace pin for Maude and sent it "with best wishes and love." Maude was tickled nearly to death over it. She was such a dear girl, anyway, and he always wore her picture near his heart. At least, it was pasted in the case of his watch, and that is near enough for any practical purpose. He had some scruples about pawning Maude, but she was pasted in good and solid, so she was laid away in Solomon Levi's safe with the watch. Only temporarily, remember.
Christmas eve, Tom parted his hair in the middle, put on his red striped tie and viewed himself in his glass. His vest pained him. It was too dead, too black. He missed the glitter of his watch chain. It relieved the dullness of the black vicuna. So he put a few keys on the chain to hold the watchless end in his pocket, gave his tie a last pat, and went out. He had a call to make at Maude's house.
As he stepped on the car, the conductor noticed the chain.
"Say mister," he said, "Gimme the time, will you? my watch ain't runnin' to-night."
Tom smiled sickly.
"Sorry," he said, "neither is mine."
The conductor laughed.
"Christmas breaks us all up, don't it?" he said.
Tom haughtily buttoned up his coat.
It was bad enough to have to pawn his watch, without having it patent to the world. As he entered the car, every one glanced at him. He felt that they must have heard the words of the low fellow. He felt as if he was plastered over with pawn-tickets. He felt -- but he soon forgot his shame in thoughts of the pleasure of meeting Maude. The car seemed to creep. When at length it reached his destination, he knew he must be late.
Unconsciously he drew from his pocket -- a bunch of keys. An old lady and a sedate old man smiled. He saw a small boy nudge his mother.
His face burned, and he left the car feeling like a criminal.
But Maude, dear Maude, soon chased away his cares. There was a bunch of mistletoe on the hall light, and he smothered her thanks for the lace pin -- some way. She didn't care, not a bit. Nice girl, Maude.
So thoughtful, too. She meant to have a good long evening with him, she said. Pa and ma had retired already.
"And you know they can hear the parlor clock strike, and always scold me the next morning about how late you stay? Well, I've stopped the clock so they can't hear it. We don't need it because you have your watch."
Tom smiled, sickly. He felt so; very. If Maude knew he had pawned his watch! Oh, holy Moses!
Maude was such a dear, affectionate little thing. She liked to snuggle up to a fellow, and investigate his coat pockets, and look to see if her picture was still in his watch. She had so many nice little ways! Talk about diplomacy! Tallyrand would have died of chagrin had he seen Tom's artful efforts to keep Maude at arm's length.
There was one pocket in which he always carried some dainty little breath perfumers and she had a pretty habit of finding them. A cold chill crept up his back, when he remembered he had put the pawn-ticket in that pocket.
"Mama gave papa a watch for Christmas," said Maude artlessly, "and I believe it is the living image of yours. They are so pretty."
"Not half so pretty as some eyes I know," he said, and she hid them.
But she didn't forget the watch.
"I wonder what time it is," she said presently.
"Oh, it's early yet," he said, and added reproachfully, "but if you are tired, I'll go home."
"Oh no!" she cried, "I didn't mean that. I only wondered," and then she added, "I believe you are afraid to show it to me because you have some other girl's photo in it."
"Why Maude!" he exclaimed, "you know that is not so, I have only yours."
"I want to see," she pouted.
"Look in the mirror," he said, "and you'll see a prettier face than any photograph could be."
He was very uneasy. He looked at the clock constantly, hoping it was late enough to go, but the clock was stopped. Once he thoughtlessly reached for his watch, and shuddered as he remembered in time. He talked rapidly and with forced brilliancy. He did cake-walks and pranced around the room so that he would not have to sit near her. He made a speech, and mimicked all the popular actors. He felt himself all kinds of a fool. Maude seemed surprised.
At length he announced that he must go. He felt he must go or go crazy.
"Wait just one minute," she said, and she vanished into the back room. She was back in a moment bearing a dainty little parcel wrapped in pink tissue.
"It's so hard to know what to give a boy," she said. "I tried and tried to think of something you would like, and then I thought I would make you this. I made it myself, Tom, and I do hope you'll like it." She laid it softly in his hand. "With all the good wishes in the world, old boy," she said.
"May I look at it now?" he asked, fondling it. "Yes," she said, "I wish you would. I'm so afraid it isn't the right size. I wish you would try it and see."
He smiled as he gently undid the wrapper as carefully as a mother might handle a sick babe, while Maude waited tremulously for his first word of pleasure.
Then his brow contracted, and he gasped convulsively.
It was a neatly embroidered chamois-skin case for his watch.
He gazed at it blankly a minute, and then he said what you would have said had you been in his place.