Chapter XII. The Toys Rattle Out
 

Early in December Mrs. Hattie, after an extended search, found a satisfactory home. It was a somewhat pretentious house, not far from the Gaylord place. Mrs. Hattie had it repapered and repainted throughout and two new bathrooms put in. (She said that everybody who was anybody always had lots of bathrooms.) Then she set herself to furnishing it. She said that, of course, very little of their old furniture would do at all. She was talking to Maggie Duff about it one day when Mr. Smith chanced to come in. She was radiant that afternoon in a handsome silk dress and a new fur coat.

"You're looking very well--and happy, Mrs. Blaisdell," smiled Mr. Smith as he greeted her.

"I am well, and I'm perfectly happy, Mr. Smith," she beamed. "How could I help it? You know about the new home, of course. Well, it's all ready, and I'm ordering the furnishings. Oh, you don't know what it means to me to be able at last to surround myself with all the beautiful things I've so longed for all my life!"

"I'm very glad, I'm sure." Mr. Smith said the words as if he meant them.

Yes, of course; and poor Maggie here, she says she's glad, too,-- though I don't see how she can be, when she never got a cent, do you, Mr. Smith? But, poor Maggie, she's got so used to being left out--"

"Hush, hush!" begged Miss Maggie.

"You'll find money isn't everything in this world, Hattie Blaisdell," growled Mr. Duff, who, to-day, for some unknown reason, had deserted the kitchen cookstove for the living-room base-burner. "And when I see what a little money does for some folks I'm glad I'm poor. I wouldn't be rich if I could. Furthermore, I'll thank you to keep your sympathy at home. It ain't needed nor wanted--here."

"Why, Father Duff," bridled Mrs. Hattie indignantly, "you know how poor Maggie has had to--"

"Er--but tell us about the new home," interrupted Mr. Smith quickly, "and the fine new furnishings."

"Why, there isn't much to tell yet--about the furnishings, I mean. I haven't got them yet. But I can tell you what I'm going to have." Mrs. Hattie settled herself more comfortably, and began to look happy again. "As I was saying to Maggie, when you came in, I shall get almost everything new--for the rooms that show, I mean,--for, of course, my old things won't do at all. And I'm thinking of the pictures. I want oil paintings, of course, in gilt frames." She glanced a little disdainfully at the oak-framed prints on Miss Maggie's walls.

"Going in for old masters, maybe," suggested Mr. Duff, with a sarcasm that fell pointless at Mrs. Hattie's feet.

"Old masters?"

"Yes--oil paintings."

"Certainly not." Her chin came up a little. "I'm going to have anything old in my house--where it can be seen--For once I'm going to have new things--all new things. You have to make a show or you won't be recognized by the best people."

"But, Hattie, my dear," began Miss Maggie, flushing a little, and carefully avoiding Mr. Smith's eyes, "old masters are--are very valuable, and--"

"I don't care if they are," retorted Mrs. Hattie, with decision. "If they're old, I don't want them, and that settles it. I'm going to have velvet carpets and the handsomest lace curtains that I can find; and I'm going to have some of those gold chairs, like the Pennocks have, only nicer. Theirs are awfully dull, some of them. And I'm going to buy--"

"Humph! Pity you can't buy a little common sense--somewhere!" snarled old man Duff, getting stiffly to his feet. "You'll need it, to swing all that style."

"Oh, father!" murmured Miss Maggie.

"Oh, I don't mind what Father Duff says," laughed Mrs. Hattie. But there was a haughty tilt to her chin and an angry sparkle in her eyes as she, too, arose. "I'm just going, anyway, so you don't need to disturb yourself, Father Duff."

But Father Duff, with another "Humph!" and a muttered something about having all he wanted already of "silly chatter," stamped out into the kitchen, with the usual emphasis of his cane at every other step.

It was just as well, perhaps, that he went, for Mrs. Hattie Blaisdell had been gone barely five minutes when her sister-in-law, Mrs. Jane, came in.

"I've come to see you about a very important matter, Maggie," she announced, as she threw off her furs--not new ones--and unbuttoned her coat--which also was not new.

"Then certainly I will take myself out of the way," said Mr. Smith, with a smile, making a move to go.

"No, please don't." Mrs. Jane held up a detaining hand. "Part of it concerns you, and I'm glad you're here, anyway. I should like your advice."

"Concerns me?" puzzled the man.

"Yes. I'm afraid I shall have to give up boarding you, and one thing I came to-day for was to ask Maggie if she'd take you. I wanted to give poor Maggie the first chance at you, of course."

"Chance at me!" Mr. Smith laughed,--but unmistakably he blushed. "The first--But, my dear woman, it is just possible that Miss Maggie may wish to--er--decline this great honor which is being conferred upon her, and she may hesitate, for the sake of my feelings, to do it before me. Now I'm very sure I ought to have left at once."

"Nonsense!" (Was Miss Maggie blushing the least bit, too?) "I shall be very glad to take Mr. Smith as a boarder if he wants to come--but he's got something to say about it, remember. But tell me, why are you letting him go, Jane?" "Now this surely will be embarrassing," laughed Mr. Smith again nervously. "Do I eat too much, or am I merely noisy, and a nuisance generally?"

But Mrs. Jane did not appear to have heard him. She was looking at Miss Maggie, her eyes somber, intent.

"Well, I'll tell you. It's Hattie." "Hattie!" exclaimed two amazed voices.

"Yes. She says it's perfectly absurd for me to take boarders, with all our money; and she's making a terrible fuss about where we live. She says she's ashamed--positively ashamed of us--that we haven't moved into a decent place yet."

Miss Maggie's lips puckered a little.

"Do you want to go?"

"Y-yes, only it will cost so much. I've always wanted a house--with a yard, I mean; and 'twould be nice for Mellicent, of course."

"Well, why don't you go? You have the money."

"Y-yes, I know I have; but it'll cost so much, Maggie. Don't you see? It costs not only the money itself, but all the interest that the money could be earning. Why, Maggie, I never saw anything like it." Her face grew suddenly alert and happy. "I never knew before how much money, just money, could earn, while you didn't have to do a thing but sit back and watch it do it. It's the most fascinating thing I ever saw. I counted up the other day how much we'd have if we didn't spend a cent of it for ten years--the legacy, I mean."

"But, great Scott, madam!" expostulated Mr. Smith. "Aren't you going to spend any of that money before ten years' time?"

Mrs. Jane fell back in her chair. The anxious frown came again to her face.

'Oh, yes, of course. We have spent a lot of it, already. Frank has bought out that horrid grocery across the street, and he's put a lot in the bank, and he spends from that every day, I know. And I'm willing to spend some, of course. But we had to pay so much inheritance tax and all that it would be my way not to spend much till the interest had sort of made that up, you know; but Frank and Mellicent--they won't hear to it a minute. They want to move, too, and they're teasing me all the time to get new clothes, both for me and for her. But Hattie's the worst. I can't do a thing with Hattie. Now what shall I do?"

"I should move. You say yourself you'd like to," answered Miss Maggie promptly.

"What do you say, Mr. Smith?"

Mr. Smith leaped to his feet and thrust his hands into his pockets as he took a nervous turn about the room, before he spoke.

"Good Heavens, woman, that money was given you to--that is, it was probably given you to use. Now, why don't you use it?"

"But I am using it," argued Mrs. Jane earnestly. "I think I'm making the very best possible use of it when I put it where it will earn more. Don't you see? Besides, what does the Bible say about that man with one talent that didn't make it earn more?"

With a jerk Mr. Smith turned on his heel and renewed his march.

"I think the only thing money is good for is to exchange it for something you want," observed Miss Maggie sententiously.

"There, that's it!" triumphed Mr. Smith, wheeling about. "That's exactly it!"

Mrs. Jane sighed and shook her head. She gazed at Miss Maggie with fondly reproving eyes.

"Yes, we all know your ideas of money, Maggie. You're very sweet and dear, and we love you; but you are extravagant."

"Extravagant!" demurred Miss Maggie.

"Yes. You use everything you have every day; and you never protect a thing. Actually, I don't believe there's a tidy or a linen slip in this house." (did Mr. Smith breathe a fervent "Thank the Lord!" Miss Maggie wondered.) "And that brings me right up to something else I was going to say. I want you to know that I'm going to help you."

Miss Maggie looked distressed and raised a protesting hand; but Mrs. Jane smilingly shook her head and went on.

"Yes, I am. I always said I should, if I had money, and I shall-- though I must confess that I'd have a good deal more heart to do it if you weren't quite so extravagant. I've already given you Mr. Smith to board."

"Oh, I say!" spluttered Mr. Smith.

But again she only smilingly shook her head and continued speaking.

"And if we move, I'm going to give you the parlor carpet, and some rugs to protect it."

"Thank you; but, really, I don't want the parlor carpet," refused Miss Maggie, a tiny smouldering fire in her eyes.

'And I shall give you some money, too," smiled Mrs. Jane, very graciously,--"when the interest begins to come in, you know. I shall give you some of that. It's too bad you should have nothing while I have so much."

"Jane, please!" The smouldering fire in Miss Maggie's eyes had become a flame now.

"Nonsense, Maggie, you mustn't be so proud. It's no shame to be poor. Wasn't I poor just the other day? However, since it distresses you so, we won't say any more about it now. I'll go back to my own problems. Then, you advise me--you both advise me--to move, do you?"

"I do, most certainly," bowed Miss Maggie, still with a trace of constraint.

"And you, Mr. Smith?"

Mr. Smith turned and threw up both his hands.

"For Heaven's sake, lady, go home, and spend--some of that money!"

Mrs. Jane laughed a bit ruefully.

"Well, I don't see but what I shall have to, with everybody against me like this," she sighed, getting slowly to her feet. "But if you knew-- if either of you knew--how really valuable money is, and how much it would earn for you, if you'd only let it, I don't believe you'd be quite so fast to tell me to go and spend it."

"Perhaps not; but then, you see, we don't know," smiled Miss Maggie, once again her cheery self.

Mr. Smith said nothing. Mr. Smith had turned his back just then.

When Mrs. Jane was gone, Mr. Smith faced Miss Maggie with a quizzical smile.

"Well?" he hazarded.

"You mean--"

"I'm awaiting orders--as your new boarder."

"Oh! They'll not be alarming, I assure you. Do you really want to come?"

"Indeed I do! And I think it's mighty good of you to take me. But-- should you, do you think? Haven't you got enough, with your father to care for? Won't it be too hard for you?"

She shook her head.

"I think not. Besides, I'm going to have help. Annabelle and Florence Martin, a farmer's daughters are very anxious to be in town to attend school this winter, and I have said that I would take them. They will work for their board."

The man gave a disdainful sniff.

"I can imagine how much work you'll let them do! It strikes me the 'help' is on the other foot. However, we'll let that pass. I shall be glad enough to come, and I'll stay--unless I find you're doing too much and going beyond your strength. But, how about--your father?"

"Oh, he won't mind. I'll arrange that he proposes the idea himself. Besides,"--she twinkled merrily--"you really get along wonderfully with father, you know. And, as for the work--I shall have more time now: Hattie will have some one else to care for her headaches, and Jane won't put down any more carpets, I fancy, for a while."

"Well, I should hope!" he shrugged. "Honestly, Miss Maggie, one of the best things about this Blaisdell money, in my eyes, is that it may give you a little rest from being chief cook and bottle washer and head nurse combined, on tap for any minute. But, say, that woman will spend some of that money, won't she?"

Miss Maggie smiled significantly.

"I think she will. I saw Frank last evening--though I didn't think it necessary to say so to her. He came to see me. I think you'll find that they move very soon, and that the ladies of the family have some new clothes."

"Well, I hope so."

"You seem concerned."

"Concerned? Er--ah--well, I am," he asserted stoutly. "Such a windfall of wealth ought to bring happiness, I think; and it seemed to, to Mrs. Hattie, though, of course, she'll learn better, as time goes on how to spend her money. But Mrs. Jane--And, by the way, how is Miss Flora bearing up--under the burden?"

Miss Maggie laughed.

"Poor Flora!"

"'Poor Flora'! And do I hear 'Poor Maggie' say 'Poor Flora'?"

"Oh, she won't be 'poor' long," smiled Miss Maggie. "She'll get used to it--this stupendous sum of money--one of these days. But just now she's nearly frightened to death."

"Frightened!"

"Yes-both because she's got it, and because she's afraid she'll lose it. That doesn't sound logical, I know, but Flora isn't being logical just now. To begin with, she hasn't the least idea how to spend money. Under my careful guidance, however, she has bought her a few new dresses--though they're dead black--"

"Black!" interrupted the man.

"Yes, she's put on mourning," smiled Miss Maggie, as he came to a dismayed stop. "She would do it. She declared she wouldn't feel half decent unless she did, with that poor man dead, and giving her all that money."

"But he isn't dead--that is, they aren't sure he's dead," amended Mr. Smith hastily.

"But Flora thinks he is. She says he must be, or he would have appeared in time to save all that money. She's very much shocked, especially at Hattie, that there is so little respect being shown his memory. So she is all the more determined to do the best she can on her part."

"But she--she didn't know him, so she can't--er--really mourn for him," stammered the man. There was a most curious helplessness on Mr. Smith's face.

"No, she says she can't really mourn," smiled Miss Maggie again, "and that's what worries her the most of anything--because she can't mourn, and when he's been so good to her--and he with neither wife nor chick nor child to mourn for him, she says. But she's determined to go through the outward form of it, at least. So she's made herself some new black dresses, and she's bought a veil. She's taken Mr. Fulton's picture (she had one cut from a magazine, I believe), and has had it framed and, hung on her wall. On the mantel beneath it she keeps fresh flowers always. She says it's the nearest she can come to putting flowers on his grave, poor man!"

"Good Heavens!" breathed Mr. Smith, falling limply into a chair.

"And she doesn't go anywhere, except to church, and for necessary errands."

"That explains why I haven't seen her. I had wondered where she was."

"Yes. She's very conscientious. But she is going later to Niagara. I've persuaded her to do that. She'll go with a party, of course,--one of those 'personally conducted' affairs, you know. Poor dear! she's so excited! All her life she's wanted to see Niagara. Now she's going, and she can hardly believe it's true. She wants a phonograph, too, but she's decided not to get that until after six months' mourning is up-- it's too frivolous and jolly for a house of mourning."

"Oh, good Heavens!" breathed Mr. Smith again.

"It is funny, isn't it, that she takes it quite so seriously? Bessie suggested (I'm afraid Bessie was a little naughty!) that she get the phonograph, but not allow it to play anything but dirges and hymn tunes."

"But isn't the woman going to take any comfort with that money?" demanded Mr. Smith.

"Indeed, she is! She's taking comfort now. You have no idea, Mr. Smith, what it means to her, to feel that she need never want again, and that she can buy whatever she pleases, without thinking of the cost. That's why she's frightened--because she is so happy. She thinks it can't be right to be so happy. It's too pleasant--to be right. When she isn't being frightened about that, she's being frightened for fear she'll lose it, and thus not have it any more. I don't think she quite realizes yet what a big sum of money it is, and that she'd have to lose a great deal before she lost it all."

"Oh, well, she'll get used to that, in time. They'll all get used to it--in time," declared Mr. Smith, his face clearing a little. "Then they'll begin to live sanely and sensibly, and spend the money as it should be spent. Of course, you couldn't expect them to know what to do, at the very first, with a sum like that dropped into their laps. What would you do yourself? Yes, what would you do?" repeated Mr. Smith, his face suddenly alert and interested again. "What would you do if you should fall heir to a hundred thousand dollars--to-morrow?"

"What would I do? What wouldn't I do?" laughed Miss Maggie. Then abruptly her face changed. Her eyes became luminous, unfathomable. "There is so much that a hundred thousand dollars could do--so much! Why, I would--" Her face changed again abruptly. She sniffed as at an odor from somewhere. Then lightly she sprang to her feet and crossed to the stove. "What would I do with a hundred thousand dollars?" she demanded, whisking open a damper in the pipe. "I'd buy a new base- burner that didn't leak gas! That's what I'd do with a hundred thousand dollars. Are you going to give it to me?"

"Eh? Ah-what?" Mr. Smith was visibly startled.

Miss Maggie laughed merrily.

"Don't worry. I wasn't thinking of charging quite that for your board. But you seemed so interested, I didn't know but what you were going to hand over the hundred thousand, just to see what I would do with it," she challenged mischievously. "However, I'll stop talking nonsense, and come down to business. If you'll walk this way, Mr. New Boarder, I'll let you choose which of two rooms you'd like."

And Mr. Smith went. But, as had occurred once or twice before, Mr. Smith's face, as he followed her, was a study.