It was Bess who suggested their activities for this day. She wanted to do something for Inez, the flower-girl, in whom usually thoughtless Bess had taken a great interest. She had written to her mother at once about the poor little street arab, and Mrs. Harley had sent by express a great bundle of cast-off dresses outgrown by Bess’ younger sisters, that easily could be made to fit Inez.
Mrs. Mason had shoes and stockings and hats that might help in the fitting out of the flower-seller; and she suggested that the child be brought to the house that her own sewing maid might make such changes in the garments as would be necessary to make them of use for Inez.
“Not that the poor little thing is at all particular, I suppose, about her clothes,” Bess remarked. “I don’t imagine she ever wore a garment that really fitted her, or was made for her. Her shoes weren’t mates—I saw that the other day, didn’t you, Nan?”
“I saw that they were broken,” Nan agreed, with a sigh. “Poor little thing!”
“And although fashion allows all kinds of hats this season, I am very sure that straw of hers had seen hard service for twelve months or more,” Bess added.
Walter, hearing the number and street of Inez’s lodging, insisted upon accompanying the chums on their errand. Grace did not go. She frankly admitted that such squalid places as Mother Beasley’s were insufferable; and where Inez lived might be worse.
“I’m just as sorry for such people as I can be and I’d like to help them all,” Grace said. “But it makes me actually ill to go near them. How mother can delve as she does in the very slums—well, I can’t do it! Walter is like mother; he doesn’t mind.”
“I guess you’re like your father,” said Bess. “He believes in putting poor people into jails, otherwise institutions, instead of giving them a chance to make good where they are. And there aren’t enough institutions for them all. I never supposed there were so many poor people in this whole world as we have seen in Chicago.
“I used to just detest the word ’poor’—Nan’ll tell you,” confessed Bess. “I guess being with Nan has kind of awakened me to ‘our duties,’ as Mrs. Cupp would say,” and she laughed.
“Oh!” cried Grace. “I’d do for them, if I could. But I don’t even know how to talk to them. Sick babies make me feel so sorry I want to cry, and old women who smell of gin and want to sell iron-holders really scare me. Oh, dear! I guess I’m an awful coward!”
Nan laughed. “What are you going to do with that crisp dollar bill I saw your father tuck into your hand at breakfast, Gracie?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I hadn’t thought. Papa is always so thoughtful. He knows I just can’t make ends meet on my fortnightly allowance.”
“But you don’t absolutely need the dollar?”
“Then give it to us. We’ll spend it for something nice with which to treat those kid cousins that Inez told us about.”