A dress parade

The weeks that followed taught the Shaws, as many other families have been taught, how rapidly riches take to themselves wings and fly away, when they once begin to go. Mr. Shaw carried out his plans with an energy and patience that worked wonders, and touched the hearts of his hardest creditors. The big house was given up as soon as possible, and the little house taken, being made comfortable with the furniture Madam left there when she went to live with her son. The old-fashioned things had been let with the house, and now seemed almost like a gift from Grandma, doubly precious in these troublous times. At the auction, several persons tried to show the family that though they had lost their fortune, friends still remained, for one bid in Fanny’s piano, and sent it to her; another secured certain luxurious articles for Mrs. Shaw’s comfort; and a third saved such of Mr. Shaw’s books as he valued most, for he had kept his word and given up everything with the most punctilious integrity. So the little house was not bare, but made pleasant to their eyes by these waifs from the wreck, brought them by the tide of sympathy and goodwill which soon set in.

Everybody who knew them hastened to call, many from a real regard, but more from mere curiosity to “see how they took it”. This was one of the hardest things they had to bear, and Tom used strong language more than once when some fine lady came to condole, and went away to gossip. Polly’s hopes of Mrs. Shaw were disappointed, for misfortune did not have a bracing effect. She took to her bed at once, received her friends in tears and a point-lace cap, and cheered her family by plaintively inquiring when she was to be taken to the almshouse. This was hard for Fanny; but after an interval of despair, she came to the conclusion that under the circumstances it was the best thing her mother could have done, and with something of her father’s energy, Fanny shouldered the new burden, feeling that at last necessity had given her what she had long needed, something to do.

The poor girl knew as much of household affairs as Snip; but pride, and the resolution “to stand by father”, kept up her courage, and she worked away with feverish activity at whatever task came first, till, just as strength and heart were about to fail, order began to emerge from chaos, and the vision of a home made happy and comfortable by her skill and care, came to repay and sustain her.

Maud, being relieved from the fear of back-door beggary, soon became reconciled to bankruptcy; thought it rather a good joke on the whole for children like novelty, and don’t care much for Mrs. Grundy. She regarded the new abode as a baby-house on a large scale, where she was allowed to play her part in the most satisfactory manner. From the moment when, on taking possession of the coveted room, she opened the doors of the three-cornered closet, and found a little kettle, just like Polly’s, standing there, she felt that a good time was coming for her, and fell to dusting furniture, washing cups, and making toast, the happiest, fussiest little housewife in the city. For Maud inherited the notable gifts of her maternal grandmother, and would have made a capital farmer’s daughter, in spite of her city breeding.

Polly came and went through all these changes, faithful, helpful, and as cheery as she could be, when her friends were in trouble. The parts seemed reversed now, and it was Polly who gave, Fanny who received; for where everything seemed strange and new to Fan, Polly was quite at home, and every one of the unfashionable domestic accomplishments now came into play, to the comfort of the Shaws and the great satisfaction of Polly. She could not do enough to prove her gratitude for former favours, and went toiling and moiling about, feeling that the hardest, most disagreeable tasks were her especial duty. In the moving, nothing suited her better than to trot up and down, lugging heavy things; to pound her fingers black and blue, nailing carpets and curtains; and the day she nearly broke her neck, tumbling down the cellar stairs, in her eagerness to see that Mrs. Shaw’s wine was rightly stored, she felt that she was only paying her debts, and told Tom she liked it, when he picked her up, looking as grimy as a chimney-sweep.

“You can turn your hand to anything, you clever girl, so do come and give me some advice, for I am in the depths of despair,” said Fanny, when the “maid-of-all-work”, as Polly called herself, found a leisure hour.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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