Ida’s New Year Cake

Mary Craig and Sara Reid and Josie Pye had all flocked into Ida
Mitchell’s room at their boarding-house to condole with each other
because none of them was able to go home for New Year’s. Mary and
Josie had been home for Christmas, so they didn’t really feel so badly
off. But Ida and Sara hadn’t even that consolation.

Ida was a third-year student at the Clifton Academy; she had holidays,
and nowhere, so she mournfully affirmed, to spend them. At home three
brothers and a sister were down with the measles, and, as Ida had
never had them, she could not go there; and the news had come too late
for her to make any other arrangements.

Mary and Josie were clerks in a Clifton bookstore, and Sara was
stenographer in a Clifton lawyer’s office. And they were all jolly
and thoughtless and very fond of one another.

“This will be the first New Year’s I have ever spent away from home,”
sighed Sara, nibbling chocolate fudge. “It does make me so blue to
think of it. And not even a holiday–I’ll have to go to work just the
same. Now Ida here, she doesn’t really need sympathy. She has
holidays–a whole fortnight–and nothing to do but enjoy them.”

“Holidays are dismal things when you’ve nowhere to holiday,” said Ida
mournfully. “The time drags horribly. But never mind, girls, I’ve a
plummy bit of news for you. I’d a letter from Mother today and, bless
the dear woman, she is sending me a cake–a New Year’s cake–a great
big, spicy, mellow, delicious fruit cake. It will be along tomorrow
and, girls, we’ll celebrate when it comes. I’ve asked everybody in the
house up to my room for New Year’s Eve, and we’ll have a royal good
time.”

“How splendid!” said Mary. “There’s nothing I like more than a slice
of real countrified home-made fruit cake, where they don’t scrimp on
eggs or butter or raisins. You’ll give me a good big piece, won’t you,
Ida?”

“As much as you can eat,” promised Ida. “I can warrant Mother’s fruit
cake. Yes, we’ll have a jamboree. Miss Monroe has promised to come in
too. She says she has a weakness for fruit cake.”

“Oh!” breathed all the girls. Miss Monroe was their idol, whom they
had to be content to worship at a distance as a general thing. She was
a clever journalist, who worked on a paper, and was reputed to be
writing a book. The girls felt they were highly privileged to be
boarding in the same house, and counted that day lost on which they
did not receive a businesslike nod or an absent-minded smile from Miss
Monroe. If she ever had time to speak to one of them about the
weather, that fortunate one put on airs for a week. And now to think
that she had actually promised to drop into Ida’s room on New Year’s
Eve and eat fruit cake!

“There goes that funny little namesake of yours, Ida,” said Josie, who
was sitting by the window. “She seems to be staying in town over the
holidays too. Wonder why. Perhaps she doesn’t belong anywhere. She
really is a most forlorn-appearing little mortal.”

There were two Ida Mitchells attending the Clifton Academy. The other
Ida was a plain, quiet, pale-faced little girl of fifteen who was in
the second year. Beyond that, none of the third-year Ida Mitchell’s
set knew anything about her, or tried to find out.

“She must be very poor,” said Ida carelessly. “She dresses so
shabbily, and she always looks so pinched and subdued. She boards in a
little house out on Marlboro Road, and I pity her if she has to spend
her holidays there, for a more dismal place I never saw. I was there
once on the trail of a book I had lost. Going, girls? Well, don’t
forget tomorrow night.”

Ida spent the next day decorating her room and watching for the
arrival of her cake. It hadn’t come by tea-time, and she concluded to
go down to the express office and investigate. It would be dreadful if
that cake didn’t turn up in time, with all the girls and Miss Monroe
coming in. Ida felt that she would be mortified to death.

Inquiry at the express office discovered two things. A box had come in
for Miss Ida Mitchell, Clifton; and said box had been delivered to
Miss Ida Mitchell, Clifton.

“One of our clerks said he knew you personally–boarded next door to
you–and he’d take it round himself,” the manager informed her.

“There must be some mistake,” said Ida in perplexity. “I don’t know
any of the clerks here. Oh–why–there’s another Ida Mitchell in town!
Can it be possible my cake has gone to her?”

The manager thought it very possible, and offered to send around and
see. But Ida said it was on her way home and she would call herself.

At the dismal little house on Marlboro Road she was sent up three
flights of stairs to the other Ida Mitchell’s small hall bedroom. The
other Ida Mitchell opened the door for her. Behind her, on the table,
was the cake–such a fine, big, brown cake, with raisins sticking out
all over it!

“Why, how do you do, Miss Mitchell!” exclaimed the other Ida with shy
pleasure. “Come in. I didn’t know you were in town. It’s real good of
you to come and see me. And just see what I’ve had sent to me! Isn’t
it a beauty? I was so surprised when it came–and, oh, so glad! I was
feeling so blue and lonesome–as if I hadn’t a friend in the world.
I–I–yes, I was crying when that cake came. It has just made the
world over for me. Do sit down and I’ll cut you a piece. I’m sure
you’re as fond of fruit cake as I am.”

Ida sat down in a chair, feeling bewildered and awkward. This was a
nice predicament! How could she tell that other Ida that the cake
didn’t belong to her? The poor thing was so delighted. And, oh, what a
bare, lonely little room! The big, luxurious cake seemed to emphasize
the bareness and loneliness.

“Who–who sent it to you?” she asked lamely.

“It must have been Mrs. Henderson, because there is nobody else who
would,” answered the other Ida. “Two years ago I was going to school
in Trenton and I boarded with her. When I left her to come to Clifton
she told me she would send me a cake for Christmas. Well, I expected
that cake last year–and it didn’t come. I can’t tell you how
disappointed I was. You’ll think me very childish. But I was so
lonely, with no home to go to like the other girls. But she sent it
this year, you see. It is so nice to think that somebody has
remembered me at New Year’s. It isn’t the cake itself–it’s the
thought behind it. It has just made all the difference in the world.
There–just sample it, Miss Mitchell.”




The other Ida cut a generous slice from the cake and passed it to her
guest. Her eyes were shining and her cheeks were flushed. She was
really a very sweet-looking little thing–not a bit like her usual
pale, timid self.

Ida ate the cake slowly. What was she to do? She couldn’t tell the
other Ida the truth about the cake. But the girls she had asked in to
help eat it that very evening! And Miss Monroe! Oh, dear, it was too
bad. But it couldn’t be helped. She wouldn’t blot out that light on
the other Ida’s face for anything! Of course, she would find out the
truth in time–probably after she had written to thank Mrs. Henderson
for the cake; but meanwhile she would have enjoyed the cake, and the
supposed kindness back of it would tide her over her New Year
loneliness.

“It’s delicious,” said Ida heartily, swallowing her own disappointment
with the cake. “I’m–I’m glad I happened to drop in as I was passing.”
Ida hoped that speech didn’t come under the head of a fib.

“So am I,” said the other Ida brightly. “Oh, I’ve been so lonesome and
downhearted this week. I’m so alone, you see–there isn’t anybody to
care. Father died three years ago, and I don’t remember my mother at
all. There is nobody but myself, and it is dreadfully lonely at times.
When the Academy is open and I have my lessons to study, I don’t mind
so much. But the holidays take all the courage out of me.”

“We should have fraternized more this week,” smiled Ida, regretting
that she hadn’t thought of it before. “I couldn’t go home because of
the measles, and I’ve moped a lot. We might have spent the time
together and had a real nice, jolly holiday.”

The other Ida blushed with delight.

“I’d love to be friends with you,” she said slowly. “I’ve often
thought I’d like to know you. Isn’t it odd that we have the same name?
It was so nice of you to come and see me. I–I’d love to have you come
often.”

“I will,” said Ida heartily.

“Perhaps you will stay the evening,” suggested the other Ida. “I’ve
asked some of the girls who board here in to have some cake, I’m so
glad to be able to give them something–they’ve all been so good to
me. They are all clerks in stores and some of them are so tired and
lonely. It’s so nice to have a pleasure to share with them. Won’t you
stay?”

“I’d like to,” laughed Ida, “but I have some guests of my own invited
in for tonight. I must hurry home, for they will most surely be
waiting for me.”

She laughed again as she thought what else the guests would be waiting
for. But her face was sober enough as she walked home.

“But I’m glad I left the cake with her,” she said resolutely. “Poor
little thing! It means so much to her. It meant only ‘a good feed,’ as
Josie says, to me. I’m simply going to make it my business next term
to be good friends with the other Ida Mitchell. I’m afraid we
third-year girls are very self-centred and selfish. And I know what
I’ll do! I’ll write to Abby Morton in Trenton to send me Mrs.
Henderson’s address, and I’ll write her a letter and ask her not to
let Ida know she didn’t send the cake.”

Ida went into a confectionery store and invested in what Josie Pye was
wont to call “ready-to-wear eatables”–fancy cakes, fruit, and
candies. When she reached her room she found it full of expectant
girls, with Miss Monroe enthroned in the midst of them–Miss Monroe
in a wonderful evening dress of black lace and yellow silk, with roses
in her hair and pearls on her neck–all donned in honour of Ida’s
little celebration. I won’t say that, just for a moment, Ida didn’t
regret that she had given up her cake.

“Good evening, Miss Mitchell,” cried Mary Craig gaily. “Walk right in
and make yourself at home in your own room, do! We all met in the
hall, and knocked and knocked. Finally Miss Monroe came, so we made
bold to walk right in. Where is the only and original fruit cake, Ida?
My mouth has been watering all day.”

“The other Ida Mitchell is probably entertaining her friends at this
moment with my fruit cake,” said Ida, with a little laugh.

Then she told the whole story.

“I’m so sorry to disappoint you,” she concluded, “but I simply
couldn’t tell that poor, lonely child that the cake wasn’t intended
for her. I’ve brought all the goodies home with me that I could buy,
and we’ll have to do the best we can without the fruit cake.”

Their “best” proved to be a very good thing. They had a jolly New
Year’s Eve, and Miss Monroe sparkled and entertained most brilliantly.
They kept their celebration up until twelve to welcome the new year
in, and then they bade Ida good night. But Miss Monroe lingered for a
moment behind the others to say softly:

“I want to tell you how good and sweet I think it was of you to give
up your cake to the other Ida. That little bit of unselfishness was a
good guerdon for your new year.”

And Ida, radiant-faced at this praise from her idol, answered
heartily:

“I’m afraid I’m anything but unselfish, Miss Monroe. But I mean to try
to be more this coming year and think a little about the girls outside
of my own little set who may be lonely or discouraged. The other Ida
Mitchell isn’t going to have to depend on that fruit cake alone for
comfort and encouragement for the next twelve months.”