The Two-Dollar Bill
By Charles Hanson Towne
“I saw the prettiest gingham down at Hardy’s store to-day that was ever made! Oh, how I wanted it! And it was only ten cents a yard – very cheap, I think, don’t you, Aunty?”
“Yes, Letty. But don’t talk any more about it now. Will you go and mail this letter for me? It is ready. I hope they accept this.”
“Is it another poem?” asked Letty, as she put on her sun-bonnet preparatory to going to the post-office.
“Yes, dear. I could write as good poetry as you, Aunt Lucy; then I would feel very proud.”
Mrs. Landen laughed.
“You don’t really think I write well, do you?” she asked.
“Yes, I do. Everything you send away is accepted, and I have everything declined. Oh, dear!”
“Don’t feel so bad, Letty. Hurry on now to the post-office.”
Letty hastened out of the house and ran down the pretty village street to mail her aunt’s letter. After this had been done, she went into Mr. Hardy’s store and took another peep at the beautiful gingham she had spoken of. It was indeed pretty, and Letty’s eyes greatly coveted it.
“Dear me!” she sighed, as she left the store and trudged homewards, “how I wish Aunt Lucy wasn’t so stingy; then she’d buy me that gingham and make me a dress just as pretty as Mabel Carter’s.”
Letty possessed a selfish, covetous disposition. She envied Mabel Carter her pretty clothes continuously. She knew that her aunt Lucy, if she could have afforded it, would have gladly purchased for her the coveted gingham; but she tried to make herself believe that such was not the case. Then she thought that she had not really asked aunt Lucy to buy the cloth – she had only hinted to her that she wanted it.
“But she wouldn’t get it, even if I should ask her outright,” she murmured angrily. “She is stingy. She wouldn’t get me that purse when I asked her to, and I know that she could afford it.”
Which was not the truth, for Mrs. Landen, Letty’s dead mother’s sister, was not able to buy pretty things for her little niece as she would like to have done. She was a sort of poetess, and earned trifling sums by using her pen. letty, though so young, had also a talent in that line, but as yet her gift had not attained its full maturity. She often wrote little verses and sent them away, but they were invariably declined.
“I would be happy if I could get some lines printe din a paper,” the little said very often to her aunt.
“Keep on, dear,” Aunt Lucy would reply, “and by-and-bye you will succeed. At present you are too young to be thinking of such things.”
When Letty sat down to the tea table after she came home from the post-office, she again spoke of the gingham at Hardy’s store.
Her aunt said nothing, but busy thoughts were crowding through her mind. How could she get that dress for her little niece? She had been denied so many times, and it was a shame to refuse her everything she craved.
“If they take my poem I can get it for her, ” thought Mrs. Landen, as she drank her tea. “Letty will be so pleased!”
The little girl across the table misinterpreted her aunt’s silence.
“She don’t want to buy me the gingham, and she won’t say so. Oh, dear! such a selfish aunt!” was what passed through her mind. If she could have read her aunt’s thoughts whe would not have indulged in this wicked soliloquy.
Several days passed, and Letty was trying to think of a way to get the coveted gingham, for she had decided to buy it herself and not speak to Aunt Lucy any more about it.
“But I haven’t got a penny,” she thought. “How can I get some money?”
Suddenly a wicked thought entered her head. She always went for the mail, and when the letter came from The Weekly Messenger to her aunt, she would open it and take the money enclosed as payment for the poem!
She watched the mail for over a week, and finally one day the fatal letter came. She saw the printing in the upper left-hand corner which read:
“The Weekly Messenger
Earltown, New York.”
There could be no mistake about the envelope. Letty’s heart beat fast as, with unseemly haste, she retired to her little room after telling aunt Lucy there was no mail. She had never stolen anything before, and she hesitated a long time before opening the letter. Finally she broke the seal and there fell into her lap a bright, crisp two-dollar bill!
“Now the gingham is mine!” she said aloud, in her excitement.
That afternoon Letty purchased ten yards of the pretty goods, which cost her just a dollar.
Unseen, she hid the material in her bureau drawer, and when that was done she sat down and thought how foolish she had been.
What good would the gingham ever do her lying there in her drawer? She could not show it to Aunt Lucy, and therefore she could never wear it. Oh, what a silly girl she had been!
“I wish I had never seen the stuff!” she cried, angrily. “Oh, what have I done – what have I done?”
And in the meantime, Mrs. Landen was anxiously awaiting a letter from The Weekly Messenger.
“It is strange they don’t reply,” she thought. “They are generally so prompt.”
Two weeks she waited and then, knowing how much Letty wated the gingham dress at Hardy’s store, she decided to take a dollar out of her poor savings and purchase it, thinking that she would replace the money when her poem was paid for.
Mr. Hardy looked at her in great surprise when she asked to see the goods.
“Why!” he exclaimed, “Letty, your little niece, came here two or three weeks ago and bought ten yards of this same gingham!”
Mrs. Landen was filled with wonder. She went home and confronted Letty.
“My dear,” she said kindly, “did you buy some of that pretty gingham at Hardy’s store some time ago? Now speak the truth.”
Letty blushed, hung her head and then burst into tears.
Her aunt soothed and kissed her so fondly that she was more than ever ashamed of herself.
“Yes, Aunty,” she sobbed, I – I did buy that gingham, and with your money! Oh, please forgive me! I was so very naughty!”
Mrs. Landen was deeply grieved. After much urging she obtained a full confession from Letty, and then said:
“I shall only punish you by not allowing you to have that gingham after all. I would have bought it to-day for you, but I learned of your deceit in time. Letty, you have been very wicked, but I think your own conscience has punished you more severely than I ever could have done.”
Letty never looks at a two-dollar bill to this day without a feeling of shame comes over her, and brings back the memory of her foolish and wicked episode.
Towne, Charles Hanson (1895, September). The Two-Dollar Bill. The Ladies World, XVI(9), 12. Retrieved from VictorianTimes.us http://victoriantimes.us/short-stories/the-two-dollar-bill. ^