Mother’s Birthday Present
Lizzie was sitting in a corner counting her money. “Thirty-five, Kitty, thirty-five cents.” When Lizzie’s mother was away, washing, she made her kitten her confidant. “Talk about mamma’ll be surprised when she gets this birthday present, My-i! Third one I’m giving her — when I was five I gave her peanut candy; only she didn’t come home till the peanuts were picked out. Second time I gave her a blue hair ribbon; blue looks nice on my red hair. Now I’m seven — twice seven and I won’t have these freckles and long skirt’ll cover my skinny legs, and,” she continued, getting up and trying to stand dignifiedly, “my name’ll be Elizabeth. Then I’ll give mamma a album! So long, Kitty.”
Out of the door she skipped, and down the alley toward the market. She forgot about the market when she reached the corner of the alley, for there stood a cart loaded with clocks, vases, jewellery, everything to satisfy one’s birthday wish — even an album.
Lizzie joined the crowd that had gathered to hear what the owner of these articles had to say. She listened a moment and then danced for joy — the man, who seemed to be all stomach and voice, was actually inviting them to take a twenty-five dollar watch for five cents.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” said the stomach and voice, “any article on this counter for five cents — every piece of chewing gum wins something. You want to try, mister? Now, folks, watch him read the name of one of these handsome presents from the slip of paper around that gum. Gold-handled umbrella? Here you are. Who’s going to win the other one? Nothing faky. That’s right, try your luck” — to a man who was edging to the front. “Diamond stud? You’re lucky — only a few more diamond studs left. Next! Anyone else? Don’t stop ’cause you won an umbrella. That’s it. What you got now? Gold bracelet? Five rubies and four emeralds in it, ladies and gents.”
Lizzie began to realize that she wasn’t dreaming — three prizes gone already!
“Lady, don’t you want this linen tablecloth? Fifteen dollars retail. Or this album that plays music when you’re looking at your loved ones?”
Lizzie gasped — there was only one album. “I want to win the album,” she shouted.
“Come right up with your nickel. Here’s a gal knows a good thing even if she did swallow two teeth.”
Had this remark been made about Lizzie’s teeth at another time she would have fired a red-headed retort, but now she thought only of the album.
She exchanged her five pennies for the gum, and with trembling fingers unrolled the tissue paper and let the stomach and voice read the name from the slip of paper — “Lead pencil,” was announced.
Poor Lizzie’s heart sank, and the stomach and voice was telling the crowd that there were a few pencils in the lot, and showed them a box containing five pencils.
At this Lizzie cheered up — she decided that if no one else won those pencils and she was unlucky five more times she would still have five cents left with which to win the album.
She won five more pencils, had given a last look at the last five pennies, unrolled the slip of paper and given it to her nearest neighbor to read — “lead pencil,” was read.
“Since they ain’t no more pencils I’ll take the album,” announced Lizzie triumphantly.
“Got more, sissy,” said the stomach and voice, taking a few from his pocket and placing them in the box, handing one to Lizzie.
The crowd jeered and left. Lizzie was too dazed to go, and, sitting on a soapbox in the alley, stared at the album. She heard the shrill whistle the stomach and voice gave, and a few minutes later saw the winners appear, returning the articles they had won. She wondered why they did this, and, as a new crowd was coming, drew closer to the cart.
She listened again to the same harangue and saw the umbrella winner take another chance. She gave a start when he thundered “umbrella” — she saw through the performance, and her cheeks glowed with indignation.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she screamed, “this is a fake business — that man won a umbrella and brought it back, and so did the other man.” By this time she was out of reach of the stomach and voice, who threatened to knock two more teeth down her throat. But Lizzie’s voice was not out of reach, and the crowd could hear her yelling, “Everybody else wins penny lead pencils.” The crowd laughed and left.
Lizzie waited for the next crowd, and, coming from her hiding-place, gave them the same information.
After the crowd had gone the stomach and voice caught Lizzie, who, while trying to free herself from his grasp, bumped her lip, and the blood oozed from her tender gum.
“Policeman, policeman, help!” she screamed.
Seeing the people in the neighborhood coming to Lizzie’s rescue, the stomach and voice promised to return her money if she would keep quiet.
“I’m gonna tell them all you knocked my teeth out unless you give me the album,” snapped Lizzie.
“All right,” meekly answered the stomach and voice, who had been collared by this time, but was released when the men received Lizzie’s invitation to come up the alley and see her album.
“Good-bye, mister — thanks awfully for the gum and pencils, too,” and away she ran, the album in her arms.
When in the room, she locked the door for fear the album would be taken away.
“Kitty, look! A album, and me only seven. They’ll just have to call me Elizabeth, freckles and legs and all.”
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About the Author
Miss Seever lived in St. Louis and Tuscon, working for the St. Louis Times and the Tuscon Daily Citizen, respectively. She was apparently also active in Red Cross work overseas. The Daily Citizen ran a story about her winning the Life Short Story prize in 1915.
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This work was published in Short Stories from Life in 1916, and is in the public domain.