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´╗┐Title: Miss Heck's Thanksgiving Party - or Topsy Up To Date
Author: Munsell, Ida Hamilton
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Miss Heck's Thanksgiving Party or, Topsy Up to Date.





    Dedicated to
    The Woman's Club
    Of Evanston, Illinois.


            UP TO DATE

    (Copyrighted by the Author.)

_To the Woman's club of Evanston_:

    Devoted, as it is, to "mutual helpfulness in all the
    affairs of life," and to a union of effort towards
    attaining the "higher development of humanity," this
    little brochure is dedicated by one of its members.


    or, TOPSY


Any person with but half an eye could recognize at a glance the
extraordinary character of Miss Myra Heck! And furthermore, if
novelists did not show such decided preferences for white-skinned
heroines, Miss Heck would long since have won the world-wide renown
which of right belongs to her. But, unfortunately, Miss Myra was
born of black parents away down in the sunny southland, and the dark
hue of skin and wisps of woolly curls which are characteristic of
the negro race have descended upon their offspring. This is the more
unfortunate in that this daughter--now a young woman of twenty-four or
thereabouts--is possessed of really uncommon talents, while her brain
teems at all times with schemes worthy of a French diplomat; and were
she fair and dainty as to exterior, she would not now be occupying
the situation of "maid of all work" in the little town where we first
discovered her.

Yet, notwithstanding the accidental disadvantages which hamper this
bright maid, she has managed to achieve at least local distinction in
more directions than one. Few families are there in Rexville who have
not at one time or another availed themselves of Miss Heck's services.
Servants of any degree of ability are exceedingly rare in Rexville,
so that Miss Myra could easily reign as the bright particular star
in the domestic firmament of the universe, were it not for certain
peculiarities of temperament, added to an ugly habit of prevaricating,
together with a too confident disposition to presume upon her mistress'
willingness to permit her cook to parade the streets dressed in silks
and satins from her own wardrobe.

But, because of this scarcity of help, and in view of the general
ability possessed by Miss Heck, her employers have shut their eyes to
such peccadillos as these so often, that by dint of much experience
the young woman has at last possessed herself of such power that she
rules the mistresses of Rexville with a rod of iron. She has indeed
reached the conclusion that although one family may decide to forego
the benefit of her assistance in their household because of some little
peculiarity of hers, nevertheless she is sure of a position with some
other lady on the street before twenty-four hours shall have sped. So
she oscillates back and forth--like a pendulum--from one kitchen to
another throughout the length and breadth of Rexville. Her period of
tarrying varies according to the blindness of her mistress and the
condition of the master's pocket-book, for this latter article shortly
feels the drain of Miss Myra's extravagant habits, and sooner or later
collapses into empty space. Then self-defense demands that the sable
goddess of the cuisine depart to new fields and pastures green until
such time as self-denial and rigid economy shall have once more filled
the purse, and brought a return of the prosperity which had been
temporarily suspended.

Thus you see that even though Miss Heck has not attained the national
reputation of which she is worthy, she has at least in one small
corner of the earth won for herself glory and renown. In this little
town, if nowhere else, her name is a household word. It is difficult
to draw a correct word picture of this wily maid; her talents, too,
are so numerous and varied that one hesitates which to portray first.
Possibly, we can convey a better idea of her personality if we describe
one particular scheme of hers and its outcome.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the day before Thanksgiving, in the year of our Lord 1892, and
Miss Myra sat upon the floor of her mother's dingy little parlor deeply
absorbed in thought. She was working just at present for banker Holmes'
people, but fortunately for herself the entire family had gone east a
week before Thanksgiving in order to eat turkey in good old-fashioned
comfort with relatives not seen for months. This left Miss Myra free
to enjoy life to the uttermost. To be sure she carried the key to
the big house in her pocket, and daily went through the pretense of
airing and then dusting the premises. She also had access to the cold
storage room, which privilege augmented greatly the bill of fare at
her father's shanty. Her parents had since earliest childhood greatly
admired their offspring, and this ability of hers to vary the supply
and quality of their edibles on occasion did not at all diminish this
fond regard.

Miss Myra had enjoyed her freedom now for seven whole days; she had
walked the streets at morning, noon and night, dressed always in
her best, and this best was no mean style, for the young woman was
possessed of a figure neat and trim, while every cent of her earnings
went into clothes with which she might easily outshine the rest of
the working girl population of Rexville. She had, during these past
seven days, neither baked nor swept, set the table, or made the beds
for anybody. In fact, she had lived an existence of unalloyed pleasure
which comes from that idleness so dear to the African heart. But now
she owned--to herself, at least--that she was tired. The dull monotony
wearied her.

What could she do to create a new sensation? she asked herself, while
she sat with her feet crossed under her, tailor-fashion, upon the bare
floor. One dingy brown hand, with its hue of pallor on the palm, moved
restlessly to and fro through her crown of wool and roughened its
carefully plastered locks until they stood out in grotesque tangles all
about her head. At length a bright idea occurred to her; she laughed
aloud; a merry chime of bells could not make sweeter music. "I'se hit
it this time, sure, mammy," she called out to the woman who was bending
over a steaming tub in an outer room. Her mother wiped her hands
hastily upon the skirt of her gown and went into the parlor where Miss
Myra yet sat upon the floor.

"Hit what, chile? What mischief has you got in dat hed of yourn dis
time, I'd like to know?" she asked eagerly, as she threw her ponderous
body into a chair. "Grand scheme, mammy; the best I'se had yet,"
announced the girl, as she slowly untangled her feet from beneath her
dress and rose from the floor.

"It's bound ter be a first rate one den shuah enough, Myrie," the woman
said admiringly, as she watched the supple form stretch itself to
relieve the cramped feeling of the limbs caused by her long continued
crouching attitude.

"What you goin' do dis time, chile? tell your poor old mammy," the
negress went on, seeing the young woman made no haste to unbosom
herself of her scheme.

"Wall, then, old lady, if you _must_ know, here goes! but don't let it
take your bref away," the girl replied with provoking deliberateness,
and she crossed the room to where a small cracked mirror hung upon
the wall; here she proceeded to re-arrange her hair, holding the
pins in her mouth as she did so, tantalizing yet further the anxious
mother. "The longer you wait, the better it'll seem, mammy," Miss
Myra said after a few moments. The old lady made no reply; she always
let "Myrie" have her own way; she had found by experience that it was
not easy to do otherwise. At length even the critical taste of Miss
Myra seemed satisfied with the vision she beheld in the little glass,
for she turned away with a contented sigh, as she did so exclaiming,
"I'se gwine to give a Thanksgiving party here, mammy, tomorrer night!
And it'll be a swell affair, tew, take my wurd for it!" Then she put
on her coat and hat, blew a kiss from the ends of her fingers toward
the old negress yet sitting stupid with amazement in the rickety
rocking-chair, and with another ringing, happy laugh went out into the
storm. The sky was lead-colored, the wind blew fiercely and flung the
snowflakes which were falling rapidly with spiteful force against the
girl, until her heavy garments were soon hidden by a soft covering of
white. But not even the fleecy crystals of snow had power to change the
hue of the ebony face, and Miss Myra, who was a sensitive young woman,
could not but feel a sensation of disgust as she thought, "I must look
blacker than ever by contrast."

On down the street she walked rapidly; here and there she paused long
enough at some house to leave an invitation for the cook or coachman to
attend her Thanksgiving party; but at the end of two hours this part of
her preparation was ended.

It was time, then, she decided, to turn her attention to further
details of her audacious plan; and retracing her steps she soon found
herself at banker Holmes' door. Here she entered, and for a long
time busied herself with necessary preparations for the morrow's
festivities. As twilight fell, she closed the house once more and
walked rapidly homeward. That she had not been idle, the next night's
feast would show.

       *       *       *       *       *

Any one passing by Jim Heck's tumbled-down cottage Thanksgiving night
would have been astonished at the number of gleaming lights flashing
out upon the snow through the cracked and grimy window-panes, and would
have stopped for a moment to listen to the sounds of revelry within
doors. A fiddle squeaked in a lively, even if discordant fashion, while
a banjo made frantic efforts to keep it company. There was a sound,
too, as if of many feet dancing an old-fashioned break-down, which made
the shanty fairly tremble under the unwonted strain upon its frail

The aroma of hot coffee also floated out upon the crisp air, mingled
with an odor of more substantial viands, which appealed strongly to the
imagination of a passing tramp who had paused to look through a window
void of shade or curtain.

Suddenly the dance ended; the music ceased with one last unearthly
squeak, and for the space of a single moment almost perfect silence
reigned, and then it seemed as though just previously a cyclone of
noise had been running riot.

At this juncture from the doorway of the combined dining-room and
kitchen the host himself announced in his most gracious manner, "Supper
am suhved, ladies and gemmin; choose youah pardners and walk out!"

With one hand he pulled down the draperies which had been improvised
for the occasion, and which had so far kept the glories of the feast
hidden from view; whilst with the other he politely motioned his guests
to cross the hospitable threshold. For a second nobody stirred; a
bashfulness as sudden as it was unusual seemed to have seized old and
young alike. Then a tall mulatto took his late "partner" by the arm
and made a hasty exit into the supper room. This was the signal for
a general stampede for seats; but when the full glories of the scene
impressed themselves upon the senses of the bewildered guests, each and
all stood as if rooted to the spot, staring with eyes and mouth wide
open at the unexpected grandeur.

At the head of the table stood Miss Myra herself. But such a Miss Myra!
Accustomed to see her always in the latest style, they had, "up to
date," never beheld her attired like this.

Solomon in all his glory, the lilies of the field in their beauty, were
as nothing compared to her!

She wore a trained robe of richest ivory satin, elaborately trimmed
with point lace; the dusky neck and arms shone like polished ebony
against the glimmering sheen of the satin.

She stood perfectly silent for a moment, her head uplifted, and with
a haughty smile upon her lips, did her utmost to impress these humble
admirers with this transitory grandeur.

"Yes, it jis' is indeed Mis Holmes' weddin' dress, nuffin' else, you
simpletons," she said calmly, as if announcing the most commonplace
fact. "An' dis yeah is her linen, and dat's her coffee; and it's
her silber, too," she added calmly, as she moved her hands here and
there, pointing out the objects which she named. "But dat is nobody's
business but mine; you uns has nuffin' to do but enjoy de good things
I'se provided. Sit down, goosies, and let der feast proceed," she
commanded in an imperious manner, and set the example by seating
herself--with due regard for her long-trained gown--at the head of the

This proceeding elicited tumultuous applause, and from that moment
until the gray dawn began to lighten the east, the fun was fast and

Of all races in the world none can equal the African in its abandon
of enjoyment. From the far-off homes of their ancestors, where the
tropical sun forces vegetation into luxuriance and raises the blood
to well-nigh fever heat, the negroes of the South have derived the
power to live in and for the present only. "Foolish!" you say? Well,
probably. Yet, after all, how much of human wretchedness results from
either idle regrets for an unalterable past, or causeless care for an
undiscoverable future? Be this as it may, at Miss Myra's Thanksgiving
party shouts of laughter, bursts of negro melody, the shuffling of
feet, all these sounds became more and more tumultuous as the night

In the early morning dusky forms might have been seen entering many a
back or side door in Rexville, and many a mistress complained that day
of inattention to duty; but the darkies never told the secret of their
all-night festivities.

For many and many a day the glories of Miss Heck's Thanksgiving party
lingered in the minds and on the tongues of the favored guests.

Upon the return of the banker's wife, that worthy lady found all her
belongings in the same condition, apparently, as when she left home.
Miss Myra was shrewd enough to skillfully effect this result, and if
ever her conscience troubled her in reference to her late "grand ball,"
she always quieted its qualms by saying: "What Mis Holmes don't know
ain't gwine ter hurt her none! 'Tain't right ter be selfish in dis
wurld noway! If der Lawd don't make no ekal division of things, why
I'll jes have ter help, an' dat's all ther is about hit!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It must have been at least a year after the occurrence before the
banker's wife learned of the party at which her possessions had played
so very conspicuous and magnificent a part; and by this time Miss Heck
had left her employ, being maid of all work at the parsonage, and hence
beyond all need of censure from outsiders, since it was perfectly
evident that her reverend employer was trying to convert this Topsy (up
to date) from the error of her ways and to pluck one more brand from
the burning, adding yet another jewel to his anticipated dazzlingly
brilliant crown.

But at last accounts the worthy man's efforts had not met with that
measure of success which usually have crowned his ministrations. Miss
Heck appears to be a rather difficult "subject."

Topsy yet reigns over all the mistresses of Rexville, and condescends
to work for them all in turn.

Her impartiality is sublime!

    EVANSTON, November, 1895.


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