What Came of a Valentine by Charles F. Preston (pseudonym of Horatio Alger, Jr.)
Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: What Came of a Valentine.
In: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. New York, N.Y. : Frank Leslie. Vol. 17, no. 438 (February 20, 1864)
Format: 4 columns ; 42 cm.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
Location: AP 2 .F747a (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
ON the evening of the 13th of February, 1850, two young men sat in a comfortably furnished room in a large New York boarding-house. A bright fire glowed in the grate, well-chosen engravings adorned the walls, and a bright light was diffused about the room from an Argand burner.
Let me introduce the occupants of the apartment as Tom Stacy and John Wilbur, young men of twenty-five or thereabouts, who were known in business circles as Stacy & Wilbur, retail drygoods dealers. No. â€” Broadway. They had not been in business long, but were already doing unusually well. They had taken apartments together, one of which is now presented to the reader.
"Has it occurred to you, Wilbur," asked his partner, removing his cigar and knocking away the ashes, "that to-morrow is St. Valentine's day?"
"Yes, I thought of it this afternoon, as I was walking up from the store."
"So did I, and to some purpose too, as I will show you."
Tom Stacy went to a drawer and drew out a gorgeous valentine, an elaborate combination of hearts, doves, etc.
"What do you think I gave for that?" he asked.
"I don't know, I'm sure. It appears to be very elegant."
"It cost me ten dollars."
"Whew!" whistled Wilbur. "It strikes me you are either very extravagant or very devoted. May I know what fair damsel is to be made glad by the receipt of this elegant missive?"
"That's my secret," said Tom, laughing. "I don't mind telling you, however. It's to go to Edith Castleton."
"I presume you feel particularly interested in the young lady?"
"Not at all. But I told her I would send her valentine,et la voila! Shan't you conform to the custom of the day?"
"I had not thought of it," said John, thoughtfully, "but I believe I will."
"And what fair lady will you select as the recipient?"
"You remember the poor seamstress who occupies an attic in the house."
"Yes, I have met her on the stairs two or three times."
"She looks as if times were hard with her. I think I'll send her a valentine."
"And what good do you think it will do her?" asked Stacy, in surprise.
"Wait till you see the kind of valentine I will send."
Wilbur went to his desk, and taking out a sheet of notepaper, drew from his portemonnaie a ten dollar bill, wrapped it in the paper, on which he had previously written, "From St. Valentine," and placed the whole in an envelope.
"There," said he, "my valentine has cost as much as yours, and I venture to say it will be as welcome."
"You are right. I wish now I had not bought this costly trifle. However, as it is purchased, I will send it."
The next day dawned clear and frosty. It was lively enough for those who sat by comfortable fires and dined at luxurious tables, but for the poor who shared none of these advantages it was indeed a bitter day.
In an attic room, meanly furnished, sat a young girl, pale and thin. She was cowering over a scanty wood fire, the best she could afford, which heated the room very insufficiently. She was sewing steadily, shivering from time to time as the cold blast shook the windows and found its way through crevices.
Poor child! Life had a very black aspect for her on that winter day. She was alone in the world. There was absolutely no one on whom she could call for assistance, though she needed it sorely enough. The thought came to her more than once in her discomfort, "Is it worth while living any longer?" But she recoiled from the sin of suicide. She might starve to death, but she would not take the life which God had given her.
Plunged in gloomy thought, she continued her work. All at once a step was heard ascending the narrow staircase which led to her room. Then there was a knock at the door. She arose in some surprise and opened it, thinking it must be the landlady or one of the servants.
She was right. It was a servant.
"Here's a letter for you that the postboy just brought, Miss Morris.
"A letter for me!" repeated Helen Morris, in surprise, taking it from the servant's hand. "Who can have written to me?"
"Maybe it's a valentine, miss," said the girl, laughing. "You know this is Valentine's day. More by token, I've got two myself this morning. One's a karakter (caricature?), so mistress calls it. Just look at it."
Bridget displayed a highly embellished pictorial representation of a female hard at work at the washtub, the cast of beauty being decidedly Hibernian.
Helen Morris laughed absently, but did not open her letter while Bridget remainedâ€”a little to the disappointment of that curious damsel.
Helen slowly opened the envelope. A banknote for ten dollars dropped from it to the floor.
She eagerly read the few words on the paperâ€” "From St. Valentine!"
"Heaven be praised!" she said, folding her hands gratefully. "This sum will enable me to carry out the plan which I had in view."
Eight years passed away. Eight years with their lights and shadows, their joys and sorrows. They brought with them the merry voices of childrenâ€” they brought with them new-made gravesâ€”happiness to some and grief to others.
Towards the last they brought the great commercial crisis of '57, when houses that seemed built upon a rock tottered all at once to their fall. Do not many remember that time all too well when merchants, with anxious faces, ran frantically from one to another to solicit help, and met only averted faces and distrustful looks?
And how was it in that time of universal famine with our friendsâ€”Stacy and Wilbur ?
Up to 1857 they had been doing an excellent business. They had gradually enlarged the sphere
of their operations and were rapidly growing rich, when this crash came.
They immediately took in sail. Both were prudent, and both [knew?] that this was the time when this quality was urgently needed.
By great efforts they had succeeded in keeping up till the 14th of February, 1858. On that morning a note of two thousand dollars came due. This was their last peril. That surmounted they would be able to go on in assured confidence.
But, alas! this was the rock of which they had most apprehension. They had taxed their resources to the utmost. They had called upon their friends, but their friends were employed in taking care of themselves, and the selfish policy was the one required then.
''Look out for number one" superseded the golden rule for the time being.
As I have said, two thousand dollars were due on the 1st of February.
"How much have you got towards it?" asked Wilbur, as Stacy came in at half-past eleven.
Three hundred and seventy-five dollars," was the dispirited reply.
"Was that all you could raise?" inquired his partner, turning pale.
"Are you sure you thought of everybody?"
"I have been every where. I'm fagged to death," was the weary reply of Stacy, as he sank exhausted into a chair.
"Then the crash must come," said Wilbur, with gloomy resignation.
"I suppose it must."
There was a silence. Neither felt inclined to say anything. For six months they had been struggling with the tide. They could see shore, but in sight of it they must go down.
At this moment a note was brought in by a boy. There was no postmark. Evidently he was a special messenger.
It was opened at once by Mr. Wilbur, to whom it was directed. It contained these few words only:
"If Mr. John Wilbur will call immediately at No. â€” Fifth Avenue, he will learn something to his great advantage."
There was no signature.
John Wilbur read it with surprise, and passed it to his partner. "What does it mean, do you think?"
"I don't know," was the reply, "but I advise you to go at once."
"It seems to be in a feminine handwriting," said Wilbur, thoughtfully.
Yes. Don't you know any lady on Fifth Avenue?"
"Well, it is worth noticing. We have met with so little to our advantage lately that it will be a refreshing variety."
In five minutes John Wilbur jumped into a horsecar, and was on his way to No. â€” Fifth Avenue.
He walked up to the door of a magnificent brown stone house, and rang the bell. He was instantly admitted and shown into the drawing-room, superbly furnished.
He did not have to wait long. An elegantly dressed lady, scarcely thirty, entered, and bowing, said, "You do not remember me, Mr. Wilbur?"
"No, madam," said he, in perplexity.
"We will waive that, then, and proceed to business. How has your house borne the crisis, in which so many of our large firms have gone down?"
John Wilbur smiled, bitterly.
"We have struggled successfully till to-day, he answered. But the end has come. Unless we can raise a certain sum of money by two; we are ruined."
"What sum will save you?" was the lady's question.
"The note due is two thousand, dollars. Towards this we have but three hundred and seventy-five."
"Excuse me a moment," said his hostess. She left the room, but quickly returned.
"There," said she, handing a small strip of paper to John Wilbur, "is my cheque for two thousand dollars. You can repay it at your convenience. If you should require more, come to me again."
"Madam, you have saved us," exclaimed Wilbur, springing to his feet in delight. "What can have inspired in you such a benevolent interest in our prosperity?"
"Do you remember, Mr. Wilbur," said the lady, "a certain valentine, containing a ten dollar note, which you sent to a young girl occupying an attic room in your lodging-house, eight years since?"
"I do distinctly. I have often wondered what became of the young girl. I think her name was Helen Morris."
"She stands before you," was the quiet response.
"You, Helen Morris!" exclaimed Wilbur, starting back in amazement. "You, surrounded with luxury!"
"No wonder you are surprised. Life has strange contrasts. The money which you sent me seemed to come from God. I was on the brink of despair. With it I put my wardrobe in repair, and made application for the post of companion to a wealthy lady. I fortunately obtained it. I had been with her but two years when a gentleman in her circle, immensely wealthy, offered me his hand in marriage. I esteemed him. He was satisfied with that. I married him. A year since he died, leaving me this house and an immense fortune. I had never forgotten you, having accidentally learned that my timely succor came from you. I resolved, if fortune ever put it in my power, I would befriend you as you befriended me. That time has come. I have paid the first instalment of my debt. Helen Eustace remembers the obligations of Helen Morris."
John Wilbur advanced, and respectfully took her hand. "You have nobly repaid me," he said. "Will you also award me the privilege of, occasionally calling upon you?"
"I shall be most happy," said Mrs. Eustace, cordially.
John took a hurried leave, and returned to his store as the clock struck one. He showed his delighted partner the cheque which he had just received. "I haven't time to explain," he said, "this must at once be cashed."
Two o'clock came and the firm were savedâ€” saved from their last peril. Henceforth they met with nothing but prosperous gales.
Helen Eustace has again changed her name. She is now Helen Wilbur, and her husband now lives at No. â€” Fifth Avenue.
And all this came of a valentine.