THE TELLTALE TILE
: The Children's Book Of Christmas Stories
It begins with a bit of gossip of a neighbour who had come in to see
Miss Bennett, and was telling her about a family who had lately moved
into the place and were in serious trouble. "And they do say she'll
have to go to the poorhouse," she ended.
"To the poorhouse! how dreadful! And the children, too?" and Miss
"Yes; unless somebody'll adopt them, and that's not very like
I must go," the visitor went on, rising. "I wish I could do something
for her, but, with my houseful of children, I've got use for every
penny I can rake and scrape."
"I'm sure I have, with only myself," said Miss Bennett, as she closed
the door. "I'm sure I have," she repeated to herself as she resumed her
knitting; "it's as much as I can do to make ends meet, scrimping as I
do, not to speak of laying up a cent for sickness and old age."
"But the poorhouse!" she said again. "I wish I could help her!" and the
needles flew in and out, in and out, faster than ever, as she turned
this over in her mind. "I might give up something," she said at last,
"though I don't know what, unless--unless," she said slowly, thinking
of her one luxury, "unless I give up my tea, and it don't seem as if I
COULD do that."
Some time the thought worked in her mind, and finally she resolved to
make the sacrifice of her only indulgence for six months, and send the
money to her suffering neighbour, Mrs. Stanley, though she had never
seen her, and she had only heard she was in want.
How much of a sacrifice that was you can hardly guess, you, Kristy, who
have so many luxuries.
That evening Mrs. Stanley was surprised by a small gift of money "from
a friend," as was said on the envelope containing it.
"Who sent it?" she asked, from the bed where she was lying.
"Miss Bennett told me not to tell," said the boy, unconscious that he
had already told.
The next day Miss Bennett sat at the window knitting, as usual--for her
constant contribution to the poor fund of the church was a certain
number of stockings and mittens--when she saw a young girl coming up to
the door of the cottage.
"Who can that be?" she said to herself. "I never saw her before. Come
in!" she called; in answer to a knock. The girl entered, and walked up
to Miss Bennett.
"Are you Miss Bennett?" she asked.
"Yes," said Miss Bennett with an amused smile,
"Well, I'm Hetty Stanley."
Miss Bennett started, and her colour grew a little brighter.
"I'm glad to see you, Hetty." she said, "won't you sit down?"
"Yes, if you please," said Hetty, taking a chair near her.
"I came to tell you how much we love you for--"
"Oh, don't! don't say any more!" interrupted Miss Bennett; "never mind
that! Tell me about your mother and your baby brother."
This was an interesting subject, and they talked earnestly about it.
The time passed so quickly that, before she knew it, she had been in
the house an hour. When she went away Miss Bennett asked her to come
again, a thing she had never been known to do before, for she was not
fond of young people in general.
"But, then, Hetty's different," she said to herself, when wondering at
her own interest.
"Did you thank kind Miss Bennett?" was her mother's question as Hetty
opened the door.
Hetty stopped as if struck, "Why, no! I don't think I did."
"And stayed so long, too? Whatever did you do? I've heard she isn't
fond of people generally."
"We talked; and--I think she's ever so nice. She asked me to come
again; may I?"
"Of course you may, if she cares to have you. I should be glad to do
something to please her."
That visit of Hetty's was the first of a long series. Almost every day
she found her way to the lonely cottage, where a visitor rarely came,
and a strange intimacy grew up between the old and the young. Hetty
learned of her friend to knit, and many an hour they spent knitting
while Miss Bennett ransacked her memory for stories to tell. And then,
one day, she brought down from a big chest in the garret two of the
books she used to have when she was young, and let Hetty look at them.
One was "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and the other "Scottish Chiefs." Poor
Hetty had not the dozens of books you have, and these were treasures
indeed. She read them to herself, and she read them aloud to Miss
Bennett, who, much to her own surprise, found her interest almost as
eager as Hetty's.
All this time Christmas was drawing near, and strange, unusual feelings
began to stir in Miss Bennett's heart, though generally she did not
think much about that happy time. She wanted to make Hetty a happy day.
Money she had none, so she went into the garret, where her youthful
treasures had long been hidden. From the chest from which she had taken
the books she now took a small box of light-coloured wood, with a
transferred engraving on the cover. With a sigh--for the sight of it
brought up old memories--Miss Bennett lifted the cover by its loop of
ribbon, took out a package of old letters, and went downstairs with the
box, taking also a few bits of bright silk from a bundle in the chest.
"I can fit it up for a workbox," she said, "and I'm sure Hetty will
For many days after this Miss Bennett had her secret work, which she
carefully hid when she saw Hetty coming. Slowly, in this way, she made
a pretty needle-book, a tiny pincushion, and an emery bag like a big
strawberry. Then from her own scanty stock she added needles, pins,
thread, and her only pair of small scissors, scoured to the last
extreme of brightness.
One thing only she had to buy--a thimble, and that she bought for a
penny, of brass so bright it was quite as handsome as gold.
Very pretty the little box looked when full; in the bottom lay a
quilted lining, which had always been there, and upon this the fittings
she had made. Besides this, Miss Bennett knit a pair of mittens for
each of Hetty's brothers and sisters.
The happiest girl in town on Christmas morning was Hetty Stanley. To
begin with, she had the delight of giving the mittens to the children,
and when she ran over to tell Miss Bennett how pleased they were, she
was surprised by the present of the odd little workbox and its pretty
Christmas was over all too soon, and New Year's, and it was about the
middle of January that the time came which, all her life, Miss Bennett
had dreaded--the time when she should be helpless. She had not money
enough to hire a girl, and so the only thing she could imagine when
that day should come was her special horror--the poorhouse.
But that good deed of hers had already borne fruit, and was still
bearing. When Hetty came over one day, and found her dear friend lying
on the floor as if dead, she was dreadfully frightened, of course, but
she ran after the neighbours and the doctor, and bustled about the
house as if she belonged to it.
Miss Bennett was not dead--she had a slight stroke of paralysis; and
though she was soon better, and would be able to talk, and probably to
knit, and possibly to get about the house, she would never be able to
live alone and do everything for herself, as she had done.
So the doctor told the neighbours who came in to help, and so Hetty
heard, as she listened eagerly for news.
"Of course she can't live here any longer; she'll have to go to a
hospital," said one woman.
"Or to the poorhouse, more likely," said another.
"She'll hate that," said the first speaker. "I've heard her shudder
over the poorhouse."
"She shall never go there!" declared Hetty, with blazing eyes.
"Hoity-toity! who's to prevent?" asked the second speaker, turning a
look of disdain on Hetty.
"I am," was the fearless answer. "I know all Miss Bennett's ways, and I
can take care of her, and I will," went on Hetty indignantly; and
turning suddenly, she was surprised to find Miss Bennett's eyes fixed
on her with an eager, questioning look.
"There! she understands! she's better!" cried Hetty. "Mayn't I stay and
take care of you, dear Miss Bennett?" she asked, running up to the bed.
"Yes, you may," interrupted the doctor, seeing the look in his
patient's face; "but you mustn't agitate her now. And now, my good
women"--turning to the others--"I think she can get along with her
young friend here, whom I happen to know is a womanly young girl, and
will be attentive and careful."
They took the hint and went away, and the doctor gave directions to
Hetty what to do, telling her she must not leave Miss Bennett. So she
was now regularly installed as nurse and housekeeper.
Days and weeks rolled by. Miss Bennett was able to be up in her chair,
to talk and knit, and to walk about the house, but was not able to be
left alone. Indeed, she had a horror of being left alone; she could not
bear Hetty out of her sight, and Hetty's mother was very willing to
spare her, for she had many mouths to fill.
To provide food for two out of what had been scrimping for one was a
problem; but Miss Bennett ate very little, and she did not resume her
tea so they managed to get along and not really suffer.
One day Hetty sat by the fire with her precious box on her knee, which
she was putting to rights for the twentieth time. The box was empty,
and her sharp young eyes noticed a little dust on the silk lining.
"I think I'll take this out and dust it," she said to Miss Bennett, "if
you don't mind."
"Do as you like with it," answered Miss Bennett; "it is yours."
So she carefully lifted the silk, which stuck a little.
"Why, here's something under it," she said--"an old paper, and it has
"Bring it to me," said Miss Bennett; "perhaps it's a letter I have
Hetty brought it.
"Why, it's father's writing!" said Miss Bennett, looking closely at the
faded paper; "and what can it mean? I never saw it before. It says,
'Look, and ye shall find'--that's a Bible text. And what is this under
it? 'A word to the wise is sufficient.' I don't understand--he must
have put it there himself, for I never took that lining out--I thought
it was fastened. What can it mean?" and she pondered over it long, and
all day seemed absent-minded.
After tea, when they sat before the kitchen fire, as they always did,
with only the firelight flickering and dancing on the walls while they
knitted, or told stories, or talked, she told Hetty about her father:
that they had lived comfortably in this house, which he built, and that
everybody supposed that he had plenty of money, and would leave enough
to take care of his only child, but that when he died suddenly nothing
had been found, and nothing ever had been, from that day to this.
"Part of the place I let to John Thompson, Hetty, and that rent is all
I have to live on. I don't know what makes me think of old times so
"I know," said Hetty; "it's that paper, and I know what it reminds me
of," she suddenly shouted, in a way very unusual with her. "It's that
tile over there," and she jumped up and ran to the side of the
fireplace, and put her hand on the tile she meant.
On each side of the fireplace was a row of tiles. They were Bible
subjects, and Miss Bennett had often told Hetty the story of each one,
and also the stories she used to make up about them when she was young.
The one Hetty had her hand on now bore the picture of a woman standing
before a closed door, and below her the words of the yellow bit of
paper: "Look, and ye shall find."
"I always felt there was something different about that," said Hetty
eagerly, "and you know you told me your father talked to you about
it--about what to seek in the world when he was gone away, and other
"Yes, so he did," said Miss Bennett thoughtfully; "come to think of it,
he said a great deal about it, and in a meaning way. I don't understand
it," she said slowly, turning it over in her mind.
"I do!" cried Hetty, enthusiastically. "I believe you are to seek here!
I believe it's loose!" and she tried to shake it. "It IS loose!" she
cried excitedly. "Oh, Miss Bennett, may I take it out?"
Miss Bennett had turned deadly pale. "Yes," she gasped, hardly knowing
what she expected, or dared to hope.
A sudden push from Hetty's strong fingers, and the tile slipped out at
one side and fell to the floor. Behind it was an opening into the
brickwork. Hetty thrust in her hand.
"There's something in there!" she said in an awed tone.
"A light!" said Miss Bennett hoarsely.
There was not a candle in the house, but Hetty seized a brand from the
fire, and held it up and looked in.
"It looks like bags--tied up," she cried. "Oh, come here yourself!"
The old woman hobbled over and thrust her hand into the hole, bringing
out what was once a bag, but which crumpled to pieces in her hands, and
with it--oh, wonder!--a handful of gold pieces, which fell with a
jingle on the hearth, and rolled every way.
"My father's money! Oh, Hetty!" was all she could say, and she seized a
chair to keep from falling, while Hetty was nearly wild, and talked
like a crazy person.
"Oh, goody! goody! now you can have things to eat! and we can have a
candle! and you won't have to go to the poorhouse!"
"No, indeed, you dear child!" cried Miss Bennett who had found her
voice. "Thanks to you--you blessing!--I shall be comfortable now the
rest of my days. And you! oh! I shall never forget you! Through you has
everything good come to me."
"Oh, but you have been so good to me, dear Miss Bennett!"
"I should never have guessed it, you precious child! If it had not been
for your quickness I should have died and never found it."
"And if you hadn't given me the box, it might have rusted away in that
"Thank God for everything, child! Take money out of my purse and go buy
a candle. We need not save it for bread now. Oh, child!" she
interrupted herself, "do you know, we shall have everything we want
to-morrow. Go! Go! I want to see how much there is."
The candle bought, the gold was taken out and counted, and proved to be
more than enough to give Miss Bennett a comfortable income without
touching the principal. It was put back, and the tile replaced, as the
safest place to keep it till morning, when Miss Bennett intended to put
it into a bank.
But though they went to bed, there was not a wink of sleep for Miss
Bennett, for planning what she would do. There were a thousand things
she wanted to do first. To get clothes for Hetty, to brighten up the
old house, to hire a girl to relieve Hetty, so that the dear child
should go to school, to train her into a noble woman--all her old
ambitions and wishes for herself sprang into life for Hetty. For not a
thought of her future life was separate from Hetty.
In a very short time everything was changed in Miss Bennett's cottage.
She had publicly adopted Hetty, and announced her as her heir. A girl
had been installed in the kitchen, and Hetty, in pretty new clothes,
had begun school. Fresh paint inside and out, with many new comforts,
made the old house charming and bright. But nothing could change the
pleasant and happy relations between the two friends, and a more
contented and cheerful household could not be found anywhere.
Happiness is a wonderful doctor and Miss Bennett grew so much better,
that she could travel, and when Hetty had finished school days, they
saw a little of the world before they settled down to a quiet, useful
"Every comfort on earth I owe to you," said Hetty, one day, when Miss
Bennett had proposed some new thing to add to her enjoyment.
"Ah, dear Hetty! how much do I owe to you! But for you, I should, no
doubt, be at this moment a shivering pauper in that terrible poorhouse,
while some one else would be living in this dear old house. And it all
comes," she added softly, "of that one unselfish thought, of that one
self-denial for others."