The Minister's Tidy

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Cold Springs Recorder December 26, 1885

“It's the queerest thing!”

“So it is. I never heard anything so queer.”

The two little girls stared at each other disconsolately.

“I know we shall never find it,” said Martha.

“I don't think we ever shall,” said Louisa, with a mournful shake of the head. “I do think it is too bad; I wish mother would come; sometimes she does find things when we can't, you know.”

“She can't find this; we've hunted everywhere. Why, we've taken every thing out of the bureau drawers.”

“And we knew it wasn't in them, anyway.”

“That's all you ever did know about anything that's lost,” said Martha, in a wise manner. “There's lots of places where it isn't, and you feel awful silly looking in them.”

“Well, you do find it there, sometimes, anyhow. There's mother coming! and Aunt Hatty is with her.”

Then the two girls ran to the door, and greeted their mother with a burst of lamentation.

“Oh, mother! we've lost it and we can't find it anywhere.”

“Lost what?” asked both Mrs. Richmond and Aunt Harriet, together.

“Why, the tidy — the tidy that we made for Mr. Green — for the minister's study chair. Isn't it too bad?”

“Oh, I guess you will find it,” said Mrs. Richmond, entering the house. “When did you miss it?”

“Right after you went away; we went to get it to show Addie Merton; she came in here; and we couldn't find it. We've hunted everywhere, and we just know it isn't in the house. We've always kept it in the basket on the closet lower shelf, you know, but it isn't there.”

“What kind of a tidy was it,” asked Aunt Hatty.

“Oh! it was a beautiful tidy,” said both together; “just as pretty! Miss Muffet and the spider in etching stitch on buff linen. I did Miss Muffet, I did the spider and the tuffet! And it was going on the minister's study chair. Mrs. Green said something about its needing one; but she wasn't any hand to do such things herself! And it's only the day before Christmas, and there's no time to make another. Isn't it too bad?”

“Oh, you'll find it,” said Aunt Hatty, sympathizingly. “I'll assist in the search. Of course it is in the house.”

“And I will look by and by,” said Mrs. Richmond.

She took the loss very coolly, for she was quite accustomed to similar distresses on the part of her daughters, and to coming to their rescue. Their losses seldom proved irredeemable ones when she set about the search herself. But this time she was no more successful than the girls; and she was inclined to give it up, finally, and admit that it was not in the house, though that was absurd, for none of them had taken it out.

“When did you have it last? Do you remember?” she asked.

“Day before yesterday afternoon, we got it out to show cousin Minnie,” replied Martha, promptly. “Then we all went down street together, and that was the last time we saw it. Louisa and I both remember it. We both of us thought that we put it in the basket and in the closet, after we showed it.”

“Of course you didn't, or it would be there,” said their mother. She could not help thinking what a lesson upon the benefits of an orderly arrangement of their things this was to the two rather careless girls. But it was a pretty severe one. They had worked very hard upon this tidy.

“I was in here day before yesterday afternoon,” said Aunt Hatty, thoughtfully. “I remember Mr. Green had been calling here. He went out the gate as I came in. I don't recollect noticing the tidy.”

“Oh, mother! you don't suppose that Mr. Green saw the tidy, do you,” cried Louisa in a flutter.

“He would not have remembered it the next hour if he had. He is too absent-minded for such trifles as that,” replied their mother, smiling.

“It is a pity that Mr. Green is quite so absent-minded,” Aunt Hatty remarked.

“I think it only because his mind is occupied with better things,” said Mrs. Richmond, warmly. “Nobody ever knew him to be absent-minded when it concerned his people's welfare.”

“Well, I guess that is true,” said Aunt Hatty. “No one ought to find any fault with Mr. Green. He is a good man.”

The children's Christmas threatened to be about spoiled by the loss of their precious tidy. All day they searched at intervals. They kept picturing the beauties of the lost article to each other, and mourning over it.

“It was so hard to make Miss Muffet's neck and mouth,” said Martha, “but she did look so sweet after she was done.”

“And the spider was so cunning,” chimed in Louisa, mournfully.

“Mr. Green would have been so pleased. I know we can make him another for New Year's, but it won't be half so nice.”

That night there was a Christmas tree for the Sunday school in the church, and the two little girls went. They were a good deal out of spirits. Even the prospect of their own presents failed to cheer them much.

“I am so sorry about the tidy,” Mrs. Richmond told her husband, as they walked along behind the dejected pair. “They have worked so hard over it. It is, really, a most extraordinary thing but then, losses are always extraordinary.”

Martha and Louisa sat on the very front seat of all, close to the Christmas tree. First the presents were distributed; they had some unusually pretty ones; and their hearts grew lighter in spite of themselves. After the distribution of presents, there was singing, and some of the children spoke pieces, and then the minister rose to make a few remarks.

The two little girls on the front seat listened to him attentively. He was always interesting on such occasions. But in the midst of his remarks, when their eyes were fastened on him more intently than ever, he drew something out of his pocket.

Martha and Louisa were two sober, decorous little maidens. They wore their soft brown hair parted in the center and brushed smoothly off their foreheads. They had not even nicknames. Nobody ever dreamed of calling them “Mattie” and “Louie.” They were two very womanly girls. But now, right in the front seat, before the minister's face, they giggled! How could they help it? That which the minister pulled out of his pocket, and flourished a little before bringing it to his face, was no pocket-handkerchief. It was their lost tidy!

They both saw Miss Muffet, and the spider, and the tuffet, for one second with awful plainess.

Mr. Green paused with it nearly up to his face put it back in his pocket, swiftly, and went on.

He had caught a startling glimpse of Miss Muffet, and the spider, and the tuffet, also!

But no one else had besides Martha and Louisa and the minister, excepting the minister's wife. Poor Mrs. Green! Her cheeks turned rosy pink; but every one else listened as composedly as before. If they had thought any thing about it, they thought that the minister had a quaintly embroidered handkerchief!

Martha and Louisa stopped giggling with a great effort. They did not dare to look at each other. They were glad enough when the exercises were over. Then they could laugh all they wanted to.

Their mother heard them after they were in bed, when they ought to have been sound asleep.

The next morning, Mr. Green rang the Richmond's door-bell. Martha was quickly at the door. The minister had a small parcel which he handed to her with a queer look on his face.

“Is this yours?” asked he.

Martha said, “Yes, sir,” meekly, but did not open it. She tried to keep from laughing, but when she saw that the minister's eyes twinkled a little, she ventured to relax her countenance.

“I suppose I took it by mistake on the day I called here,” the minister went on to say. “I found it in my pocket. I am very sorry.”

“It was not any matter, sir,” said Martha. “Because it was for you, anyway.”

“For me?

“Yes, sir. Louisa and I made it for a Christmas present to you, for your study chair.”

“Then, I came and appropriated my own present before it was given to me,” said the minister. And he laughed so heartily then, that Martha was not afraid to give vent to her suppressed fun, and Louisa, standing in the parlor doorway, though unseen was not unheard.