Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XIII. The Dancing Begins
Christmas saw many changes in the Blaisdell families.
The James Blaisdells had moved into the big house near the Gaylord place. Mrs. Hattie had installed two maids in the kitchen, bought a handsome touring car, and engaged an imposing-looking chauffeur. Fred had entered college, and Bessie had been sent to a fashionable school on the Hudson. Benny, to his disgust, had also been sent away to an expensive school. Christmas, however, found them all at home for the holidays, and for the big housewarming that their parents were planning to give on Christmas night.
The Frank Blaisdells had also moved. They were occupying a new house not too far from the grocery store. They had not bought it yet. Mrs. Jane said that she wished to live in it awhile, so as to be sure she would really like it. Besides, it would save the interest on the money for that much time, anyway. True, she had been a little disturbed when her husband reminded her that they would be paying rent meanwhile. But she said that didn't matter; she was not going to put all that money into a house just yet, anyway,--not till she was sure it was the best they could do for the price.
They, too, were planning a housewarming. Theirs was to come the night after Christmas. Mrs. Jane told her husband that they should not want theirs the same night, of course, as Hattie's, and that if she had hers right away the next night, she could eat up any of the cakes or ice cream that was left from Hattie's party, and thus save buying so much new for herself. But her husband was so indignant over the idea of eating "Hattie's leavings" that she had to give up this part of her plan, though she still arranged to have her housewarming on the day following her sister-in-law's.
Mellicent, like Bessie, was home from school, though not from the same school. Mrs. Jane had found another one that was just as good as Bessie's, she said, and which did not cost near so much money. Mr. Smith was not living with them now, of course. He was boarding at Miss Maggie Duff's.
Miss Flora was living in the same little rented cottage she had occupied for many years. She said that she should move, of course, when she got through her mourning, but, until then she thought it more suitable for her to stay where she was. She had what she wanted to eat, now, however, and she did not do dressmaking any longer. She still did her own housework, in spite of Harriet Blaisdell's insistence that she get a maid. She said that there was plenty of time for all those things when she had finished her mourning. She went out very little, though she did go to the housewarming at her brother James's--"being a relative, so," she decided that no criticism could be made.
It seemed as if all Hillerton went to that house-warming. Those who were not especially invited to attend went as far as the street or the gate, and looked on enviously. Mrs. Hattie had been very generous with her invitations, however. She said that she had asked everybody who ever pretended to go anywhere. She told Maggie Duff that, of course, after this, she should be more exclusive--very exclusive, in fact; but that this time Jim wanted to ask everybody, and she didn't mind so much--she was really rather glad to have all these people see the house, and all--they certainly never would have the chance again.
Mr. Smith attended with Miss Maggie. Mrs. Hattie had very kindly included him in the invitation. She had asked Father Duff, too, especially, though she said she knew, of course, that he would not go- -he never went anywhere. Father Duff bristled up at this, and declared that he guessed he would go, after all, just to show them that he could, if he wanted to. Mrs. Hattie grew actually pale, but Miss Maggie exclaimed joyfully that, of course, he would go--he ought to go, to show proper respect! Father Duff said no then, very decidedly; that nothing could hire him to go, and that he had no respect to show. He declared that he had no use for gossip and gabble and unwholesome eating; and he said that he should not think Maggie would care to go, either,--unless she could be in the kitchen, where it would seem natural to her!
Mrs. Hattie, however, smiled kindly, and said, of course, now she could afford to hire better help than Maggie (caterers from the city and all that), so Maggie would not have to be in the kitchen, and that with practice she would soon learn not to mind at all being 'round among folks in the parlor.
Father Duff had become so apoplectically angry at this that Mr. Smith, who chanced to be present, and who also was very angry, was forced to forget his own wrath in his desire to make the situation easier for Miss Maggie.
He had not supposed that Miss Maggie would go at all, after that. He had even determined not to go himself. But Miss Maggie, after a day's thought, had laughed and had said, with her eyes twinkling: "Oh, well, it doesn't matter, you know,--it doesn't really matter, does it?" And they had gone.
It was a wonderful party. Mr. Smith enjoyed it hugely. He saw almost everybody he knew in Hillerton, and many that he did not know. He heard the Blaisdells and their new wealth discussed from all viewpoints, and he heard some things about the missing millionaire benefactor that were particularly interesting--to him. The general opinion seemed to be that the man was dead; though a few admitted that there was a possibility, of course, that he was merely lost somewhere in darkest South America and would eventually get back to civilization, certainly long before the time came to open the second letter of instructions. Many professed to know the man well, through magazine and newspaper accounts (there were times when Mr. Smith adjusted more carefully the smoked glasses which he was still wearing); and some had much to say of the millionaire's characteristics, habits, and eccentricities; all of which Mr. Smith enjoyed greatly.
Then, too, there were the Blaisdells themselves. They were all there, even to Miss Flora, who was in dead black; and Mr. Smith talked with them all.
Miss Flora told him that she was so happy she could not sleep nights, but that she was rather glad she couldn't sleep, after all, for she spent the time mourning for poor Mr. Fulton, and thinking how good he had been to her. And that made it seem as if she was doing something for him. She said, Yes, oh, yes, she was going to stop black mourning in six months, and go into grays and lavenders; and she was glad Mr. Smith thought that was long enough, quite long enough for the black, but she could not think for a moment of putting on colors now, as he suggested. She said, too, that she had decided not to go to Niagara for the present. And when he demurred at this, she told him that really she would rather not. It would be warmer in the spring, and she would much rather wait till she could enjoy every minute without feeling that--well, that she was almost dancing over the poor man's grave, as it were.
Mr. Smith did not urge her after that. He turned away, indeed, rather precipitately--so precipitately that Miss Flora wondered if she could have said anything to offend him.
Mr. Smith talked next with Mrs. Jane Blaisdell. Mrs. Jane was looking particularly well that evening. Her dress was new, and in good style, yet she in some way looked odd to Mr. Smith. In a moment he knew the reason: she wore no apron. Mr. Smith had never seen her without an apron before. Even on the street she wore a black silk one. He complimented her gallantly on her fine appearance. But Mrs. Jane did not smile. She frowned.
"Yes, I know. Thank you, of course," she answered worriedly. "But it cost an awful lot--this dress did; but Frank and Mellicent would have it. That child!--have you seen her to-night?"
"Miss Mellicent? Yes, in the distance. She, too is looking most charming, Mrs. Blaisdell."
The woman tapped her foot impatiently.
"Yes, I know she is--and some other folks so, too, I notice. Was she with that Pennock boy?"
"Not when I saw her."
"Well, she will be, if she isn't now. He follows her everywhere."
"But I thought--that was broken up." Mr. Smith now was frowning.
"It was. You know what that woman said--the insult! But now, since this money came--" She let an expressive gesture complete the sentence.
Mr. Smith laughed.
"I wouldn't worry, Mrs. Blaisdell. I don't think he'll make much headway--now."
"Indeed, he won't--if I can help myself!" flashed the woman indignantly.
"I reckon he won't stand much show with Miss Mellicent--after what's happened."
"I guess he won't," snapped the woman. "He isn't worth half what she is now. As if I'd let her look at him!"
"But I meant--" Mr. Smith stopped abruptly. There was an odd expression on his face.
Mrs. Blaisdell filled the pause.
"But, really, Mr. Smith, I don't know what I am going to do--with Mellicent," she sighed.
"Do with her?"
"Yes. She's as wild as a hawk and as--as flighty as a humming-bird, since this money came. She's so crazy with joy and excited."
"What if she is?" challenged Mr. Smith, looking suddenly very happy himself. "Youth is the time for joy and laughter; and I'm sure I'm glad she is taking a little pleasure in life."
Mrs. Blaisdell frowned again.
"But, Mr. Smith, you know as well as I do that life isn't all pink dresses and sugar-plums. It is a serious business, and I have tried to bring her up to understand it. I have taught her to be thrifty and economical, and to realize the value of a dollar. But now--she doesn't see a dollar but what she wants to spend it. What can I do?"
"You aren't sorry--the money came?" Mr. Smith was eyeing her with a quizzical smile.
"Oh, no, no, indeed!" Mrs. Blaisdell's answer was promptly emphatic. "And I hope I shall be found worthy of the gift, and able to handle it wisely."
"Er-ah--you mean--" Mr. Smith was looking slightly taken aback.
"I mean that I regard wealth as one of the greatest of trusts, to be wisely administered, Mr. Smith," she amplified a bit importantly.
'Oh-h!" subsided the man.
"That is why it distresses me so to see my daughter so carried away with the mere idea of spending. I thought I'd taught her differently," sighed the woman.
"Perhaps you taught her--too well. But I wouldn't worry," smiled Mr. Smith, as he turned away.
Deliberately then Mr. Smith went in search Of Mellicent. He found her in the music-room, which had been cleared for dancing. She was surrounded by four young men. One held her fan, one carried her white scarf on his arm, a third was handing her a glass of water. The fourth was apparently writing his name on her dance card. The one with the scarf Mr. Smith recognized as Carl Pennock. The one writing on the dance programme he knew was young Hibbard Gaylord.
Mr. Smith did not approach at once. Leaning against a window-casing near by, he watched the kaleidoscopic throng, bestowing a not too conspicuous attention upon the group about Miss Mellicent Blaisdell.
Mellicent was the picture of radiant loveliness. The rose in her cheeks matched the rose of her gown, and her eyes sparkled with happiness. So far as Mr. Smith could see, she dispensed her favors with rare impartiality; though, as he came toward them finally, he realized at once that there was a merry wrangle of some sort afoot. He had not quite reached them when, to his surprise, Mellicent turned to him in very evident relief.
"There, here's Mr. Smith," she cried gayly. "I'm going to sit it out with him. I shan't dance it with either of you."
"Oh, Miss Blaisdell!" protested young Gaylord and Carl Pennock abjectly.
But Mellicent shook her head.
"No. If you will both write your names down for the same dance, it is nothing more than you ought to expect."
"But divide it, then. Please divide it," they begged. "We'll be satisfied."
"I shan't be!" Mellicent shook her head again merrily.
"I shan't be satisfied with anything--but to sit it out with Mr. Smith. Thank you, Mr. Smith," she bowed, as she took his promptly offered arm.
And Mr. Smith bore her away followed by the despairing groans of the two disappointed youths and the taunting gibes of their companions.
"There! Oh, I'm so glad you came," sighed Mellicent. "You didn't mind?"
"Mind? I'm in the seventh heaven!" avowed Mr. Smith with exaggerated gallantry. "And it looked like a real rescue, too."
Mellicent laughed. Her color deepened.
"Those boys--they're so silly!" she pouted.
"Wasn't one of them young Pennock?"
"Yes, the tall, dark one."
"He's come back, I see."
She flashed an understanding look into his eyes.
"Oh, yes, he's come back. I wonder if he thinks I don't know--why!"
"And---you?" Mr. Smith was smiling quizzically.
She shrugged her shoulders with a demure dropping of her eyes.
Oh, I let him come back--to a certain extent. I shouldn't want him to think I cared or noticed enough to keep him from coming back--some."
"But there's a line beyond which he may not pass, eh?"
"There certainly is!--but let's not talk of him. Oh, Mr. Smith, I'm so happy!" she breathed ecstatically.
"I'm very glad."
In a secluded corner they sat down on a gilt settee.
"And it's all so wonderful, this--all this! Why Mr. Smith, I'm so happy I--I want to cry all the time. And that's so silly--to want to cry! But I do. So long--all my life--I've had to wait for things so. It was always by and by, in the future, that I was going to have-- anything that I wanted. And now to have them like this, all at once, everything I want--why, Mr. Smith, it doesn't seem as if it could be true. It just can't be true!"
"But it is true, dear child; and I'm so glad--you've got your five- pound box of candy all at once at last. And I hope you can treat your friends to unlimited soda waters."
"Oh, I can! But that isn't all. Listen!" A new eagerness came to her eyes. "I'm going to give mother a present--a frivolous, foolish present, such as I've always wanted to. I'm going to give her a gold breast-pin with an amethyst in it. She's always wanted one. And I'm going to take my own money for it, too,--not the new money that father gives me, but some money I've been saving up for years--dimes and quarters and half-dollars in my baby-bank. Mother always made me save 'most every cent I got, you see. And I'm going to take it now for this pin. She won't mind if I do spend it foolishly now--with all the rest we have. And she'll be so pleased with the pin!"
"And she's always wanted one?"
"Yes, always; but she never thought she could afford it. But now--! I'm going to open the bank to-morrow and count it; and I'm so excited over it!" She laughed shamefacedly. "I don't believe Mr. Fulton himself ever took more joy counting his millions than I shall take in counting those quarters and half-dollars to-morrow."
"I don't believe he ever did." Mr. Smith spoke with confident emphasis, yet in a voice that was not quite steady. "I'm sure he never did."
"What a comfort you are, Mr. Smith," smiled Mellicent, a bit mistily. "You always understand so! And we miss you terribly--honestly we do!-- since you went away. But I'm glad Aunt Maggie's got you. Poor Aunt Maggie! That's the only thing that makes me feel bad,--about the money, I mean,--and that is that she didn't have some, too. But mother's going to give her some. She says she is, and--"
But Mellicent did not finish her sentence. A short, sandy-haired youth came up and pointed an accusing finger at her dance card; and Mellicent said yes, the next dance was his. But she smiled brightly at Mr. Smith as she floated away, and Mr. Smith, well content, turned and walked into the adjoining room.
He came face to face then with Mrs. Hattie and her daughter. These two ladies, also, were pictures of radiant loveliness--especially were they radiant, for every beam of light found an answering flash in the shimmering iridescence of their beads and jewels and opalescent sequins.
"Well, Mr. Smith, what do you think of my party?"
As she asked the question Mrs. Hattie tapped his shoulder with her fan.
"I think a great deal--of your party," smiled the man. "And you?" He turned to Miss Bessie.
"Oh, it'll do--for Hillerton." Miss Bessie smiled mischievously into her mother's eyes, shrugged her shoulders, and passed on into the music-room.
"As if it wasn't quite the finest thing Hillerton ever had--except the Gaylord parties, of course," bridled Mrs. Hattie, turning to Mr. Smith. "That's just daughter's way of teasing me--and, of course, now she is where she sees the real thing in entertaining--she goes home with those rich girls in her school, you know. But this is a nice party, isn't it Mr. Smith?"
"It certainly is."
"Daughter says we should have wine; that everybody who is anybody has wine now--champagne, and cigarettes for the ladies. Think of it--in Hillerton! Still, I've heard the Gaylords do. I've never been there yet, though, of course, we shall be invited now. I'm crazy to see the inside of their house; but I don't believe it's much handsomer than this. Do you? But there! You don't know, of course. You've never been there, any more than I have, and you're a man of simple tastes, I judge, Mr. Smith." She smiled graciously. "Benny says that Aunt Maggie's got the nicest house he ever saw, and that Mr. Smith says so, too. So, you see, I have grounds for my opinion."
Mr. Smith laughed.
"Well, I'm not sure I ever said just that to Benny, but I'll not dispute it. Miss Maggie's house is indeed wonderfully delightful--to live in."
"I've no doubt of it," conceded Mrs. Hattie complacently. "Poor Maggie! She always did contrive to make the most of everything she had. But she's never been ambitious for really nice things, I imagine. At least, she always seems contented enough with her shabby chairs and carpets. While I--"She paused, looked about her, then drew a blissful sigh. "Oh, Mr. Smith, you don't know--you can't know what it is to me to just look around and realize that they are all mine--these beautiful things!"
"Then you're very happy, Mrs. Blaisdell?"
"Oh, yes. Why, Mr. Smith, there isn't a piece of furniture in this room that didn't cost more than the Pennocks'--I know, because I've been there. And my curtains are nicer, too, and my pictures, they're so much brighter--some of her oil paintings are terribly dull-looking. And my Bessie--did you notice her dress to-night? But, there! You didn't, of course. And if you had, you wouldn't have realized how expensive it was. What do you know about the cost of women's dresses?" she laughed archly. "But I don't mind telling you. It was one hundred and fifty dollars, a hundred and fifty dollars, and it came from New York. I don't believe that white muslin thing of Gussie Pennock's cost fifty! You know Gussie?"
"I've seen her."
'Yes, of course you have--with Fred. He used to go with her a lot. He goes with Pearl Gaylord more now. There, you can see them this minute, dancing together--the one in the low-cut, blue dress. Pretty, too, isn't she? Her father's worth a million, I suppose. I wonder how 'twould feel to be worth--a million." She spoke musingly, her eyes following the low-cut blue dress. "But, then, maybe I shall know, some time,--from Cousin Stanley, I mean," she explained smilingly, in answer to the question she thought she saw behind Mr. Smith's smoked glasses. "Oh, of course, there's nothing sure about it. But he gave us some, and if he's dead, of course, that other letter'll be opened in two years; and I don't see why he wouldn't give us the rest, as long as he'd shown he remembered he'd got us. Do you?"
"Well--er--as to that--" Mr. Smith hesitated. He had grown strangely red.
"Well, there aren't any other relations so near, anyway, so I can't help thinking about it, and wondering," she interposed. "And 'twould be millions, not just one million. He's worth ten or twenty, they say. But, then, we shall know in time."
"Oh, yes, you'll know--in time," agreed Mr. Smith with a smile, turning away as another guest came up to his hostess.
Mr. Smith's smile had been rather forced, and his face was still somewhat red as he picked his way through the crowded rooms to the place where he could see Frank Blaisdell standing alone, surveying the scene, his hands in his pockets.
"Well, Mr. Smith, this is some show, ain't it?' greeted the grocer, as Mr. Smith approached.
"It certainly is."
"Gee! I should say so--though I can't say I'm stuck on the brand, myself. But, as for this money business, do you know? I'm as bad as Flo. I can't sense it yet--that it's true. Gosh! Look at Hattie, now. Ain't she swingin' the style to-night?"
She certainly is looking handsome and very happy."
"Well, she ought to. I believe in lookin' happy. I believe in takin' some comfort as you go along--not that I've taken much, in times past. But I'm goin' to now."
"Good! I'm glad to hear it."
"Well, I am. Why, man, I'm just like a potato-top grown in a cellar, and I'm comin' out and get some sunshine. And Mellicent is, too. Poor child! She's been a potato-top in a cellar all right. But now--Have you seen her to-night?"
"I have--and a very charming sight she was," smiled Mr. Smith.
"Ain't she, now?" The father beamed proudly. "Well, she's goin' to be that right along now. She's goin' where she wants to go, and do what she wants to do; and she's goin' to have all the fancy fluma-diddles to wear she wants."
"Good! I'm glad to hear that, too," laughed Mr. Smith.
"Well, she is. This savin' an' savin' is all very well, of course, when you have to. But I've saved all my life and, by jingo, I'm goin' to spend now! You see if I don't."
"I hope you will."
"Thank you. I'm glad to have one on my side, anyhow. I only wish--You couldn't talk my wife 'round to your way of thinkin', could you?" he shrugged, with a whimsical smile. "My wife's eaten sour cream to save the sweet all her life, an' she hain't learned yet that if she'd eat the sweet to begin with she wouldn't have no sour cream--'twouldn't have time to get sour. An' there's apples, too. She eats the specked ones always; so she don't never eat anything but the worst there is. An' she says they're the meanest apples she ever saw. Now I tell her if she'll only pick out the best there is every time, as I do she'll not only enjoy every apple she eats, but she'll think they're the nicest apples that ever grew. Funny, ain't it? Here I am havin' to urge my wife to spend money, while my sister-in-law here--Talk about ducks takin' to the water! That ain't no name for the way she sails into Jim's little pile."
Mr. Smith laughed.
"By the way, where is Mr. Jim?" he asked.
The other shook his head.
"Hain't seen him--but I can guess where he is, pretty well. You go down that hall and turn to your left. In a little room at the end you'll find him. That's his den. He told Hattie 'twas the only room in the house he'd ask for, but he wanted to fix it up himself. Hattie, she wanted to buy all sorts of truck and fix it up with cushions and curtains and Japanese gimcracks like she see a den in a book, and make a showplace of it. But Jim held out and had his way. There ain't nothin' in it but books and chairs and a couch and a big table; and they're all old--except the books--so Hattie don't show it much, when she's showin' off the house. You'll find him there all right. You see if you don't. Jim always would rather read than eat, and he hates shindigs of this sort a little worse 'n I do." "All right. I'll look him up," nodded Mr. Smith, as he turned away.
Deliberately, but with apparent carelessness, strolled Mr. Smith through the big drawing-rooms, and down the hall. Then to the left-- the directions were not hard to follow, and the door of the room at the end was halfway open, giving a glimpse of James Blaisdell and Benny before the big fireplace.
With a gentle tap and a cheerful "Do you allow intruders?" Mr. Smith pushed open the door.
James Blaisdell sprang to his feet.
"Er--I--oh, Mr. Smith, come in, come right in!" The frown on his face gave way to a smile. "I thought--Well, never mind what I thought. Sit down, won't you?"
"Thank you, if you don't mind."
Mr. Smith dropped into a chair and looked about him.
"Ain't it great?" beamed Benny. "It's 'most as nice as Aunt Maggie's, ain't it? And I can eat all the cookies here I want to, and come in even if my shoes are muddy, and bring the boys in, too."
"It certainly is--great," agreed Mr. Smith, his admiring eyes sweeping the room again.
To Mr. Smith it was like coming into another world. The deep, comfortable chairs, the shaded lights, the leaping fire on the hearth, the book-lined walls--even the rhythmic voices of the distant violins seemed to sing of peace and quietness and rest.
"Dad's been showin' me the books he used ter like when he was a little boy like me," announced Benny. "Hain't he got a lot of 'em?--books, I mean."
"He certainly has."
Mr. James Blaisdell stirred a little in his chair.
"I suppose I have--crowded them a little," he admitted. "But, you see, there were so many I'd always wanted, and when the chance came--well, I just bought them; that's all."
"And you have the time now to read them."
"I have, thank--Well, I suppose I should say thanks to Mr. Stanley G. Fulton," he laughed, with some embarrassment. "I wish Mr. Fulton could know--how much I do thank him," he finished soberly, his eyes caressing the rows of volumes on the shelves. "You see, when you've wanted something all your life--" He stopped with an expressive gesture.
"You don't care much for--that, then, I take it," inferred Mr. Smith, with a wave of his hand toward the distant violins.
"Dad says there's only one thing worse than a party, and that's two parties," piped up Benny from his seat on the rug.
Mr. Smith laughed heartily, but the other looked still more discomfited.
"I'm afraid Benny is--is telling tales out of school," he murmured.
"Well, 'tis out of school, ain't it?" maintained Benny. "Say, Mr. Smith, did you have ter go ter a private school when you were a little boy? Ma says everybody does who is anybody. But if it's Cousin Stanley's money that's made us somebody, I wished he'd kept it at home--'fore I had ter go ter that old school."
"Oh, come, come, my boy," remonstrated the father, drawing his son into the circle of his arm. "That's neither kind nor grateful; besides, you don't know what you're talking about. Come, suppose we show Mr. Smith some of the new books."
From case to case, then, they went, the host eagerly displaying and explaining, the guest almost as eagerly watching and listening. And in the kindling eye and reverent fingers of the man handling the volumes, Mr. Smith caught some inkling of what those books meant to Jim Blaisdell.
"You must be fond of--books, Mr. Blaisdell," he said somewhat awkwardly, after a time.
"Ma says dad'd rather read than eat," giggled Benny; "but pa says readin' is eatin'. But I'd rather have a cookie, wouldn't you, Mr. Smith?"
"You wait till you find what there is in these books, my son," smiled his father. "You'll love them as well as I do, some day. And your brother--" He paused, a swift shadow on his face. He turned to Mr. Smith. "My boy, Fred, loves books, too. He helped me a lot in my buying. He was in here--a little while ago. But he couldn't stay, of course. He said he had to go and dance with the girls--his mother expected it."
"Ho! Mother! Just as if he didn't want ter go himself!" grinned Benny derisively. "You couldn't hire him ter stay away--'specially if Pearl Gaylord's 'round."
Oh, well, he's young, and young feet always dance When Pan pipes," explained the father, with a smile that was a bit forced. "But Pan doesn't always pipe, and he's ambitious--Fred is." The man turned eagerly to Mr. Smith again. "He's going to be a lawyer--you see, he's got a chance now. He's a fine student. He led his class in high school, and he'll make good in college, I'm sure. He can have the best there is now, too, without killing himself with work to get it. He's got a fine mind, and--" The man stopped abruptly, with a shamed laugh. "But--enough of this. You'll forgive 'the fond father,' I know. I always forget myself when I'm talking of that boy--or, rather perhaps it's that I'm remembering myself. You see, I want him to do all that I wanted to do--and couldn't. And--"
"Jim, Jim!" It was Mrs. Hattie in the doorway. "There, I might have known where I'd find you. Come, the guests are going, and are looking for you to say good-night. Jim, you'll have to come! Why, what'll people say? They'll think we don't know anything--how to behave, and all that. Mr. Smith, you'll excuse him, I know."
"Most certainly," declared Mr. Smith. "I must be going myself, for that matter," he finished, as he followed his hostess through the doorway.
Five minutes later he had found Miss Maggie, and was making his adieus.
Miss Maggie, on the way home, was strangely silent.
"Well, that was some party," began Mr. Smith after waiting for her to speak.
"It was, indeed."
"Quite a house!"
"How pretty Miss Mellicent looked!"
"I'm glad at last to see that poor child enjoying herself."
Mr. Smith frowned and stole a sidewise glance at his companion. Was it possible? Could Miss Maggie be showing at last a tinge of envy and jealousy? It was so unlike her! And yet--
"Even Miss Flora seemed to be having a good time, in spite of that funereal black," he hazarded again.
"And I'm sure Mrs. James Blaisdell and Miss Bessie were very radiant and shining."
"Oh, yes, they--shone."
Mr. Smith bit his lip, and stole another sidewise glance.
"Er--how did you enjoy it? Did you have a good time?"
"Oh, yes, very."
There was a brief silence. Mr. Smith drew a long breath and began again.
"I had no idea Mr. James Blaisdell was so fond of--er--books. I had quite a chat with him in his den."
"He says Fred--"
"Did you see that Gaylord girl?" Miss Maggie was galvanized into sudden life. "He's perfectly bewitched with her. And she--that ridiculous dress--and for a young girl! Oh, I wish Hattie would let those people alone!"
"Oh, well, he'll be off to college next week," soothed Mr. Smith.
"Yes, but whom with? Her brother!--and he's worse than she is, if anything. Why, he was drunk to-night, actually drunk, when he came! I don't want Fred with him. I don't want Fred with any of them."
"No, I don't like their looks myself very well, but--I fancy young Blaisdell has a pretty level head on him. His father says--"
"His father worships him," interrupted Miss Maggie. "He worships all those children. But into Fred--into Fred he's pouring his whole lost youth. You don't know. You don't understand, of course, Mr. Smith. You haven't known him all the way, as I have." Miss Maggie's voice shook with suppressed feeling. "Jim was always the dreamer. He fairly lived in his books. They were food and drink to him. He planned for college, of course. From boyhood he was going to write--great plays, great poems, great novels. He was always scribbling--something. I think he even tried to sell his things, in his 'teens; but of course nothing came of that--but rejection slips.
"At nineteen he entered college. He was going to work his way. Of course, we couldn't send him. But he was too frail. He couldn't stand the double task, and he broke down completely. We sent him into the country to recuperate, and there he met Hattie Snow, fell head over heels in love with her blue eyes and golden hair, and married her on the spot. Of course, there was nothing to do then but to go to work, and Mr. Hammond took him into his real estate and insurance office. He's been there ever since, plodding plodding, plodding."
By George!" murmured Mr. Smith sympathetically.
"You can imagine there wasn't much time left for books. I think, when he first went there, he thought he was still going to write the great poem, the great play the great novel, that was to bring him fame and money. But he soon learned better. Hattie had little patience with his scribbling, and had less with the constant necessity of scrimping and economizing. She was always ambitious to get ahead and be somebody, and, of course, as the babies came and the expenses increased, the demand for more money became more and more insistent. But Jim, poor Jim! He never was a money-maker. He worked, and worked hard, and then he got a job for evenings and worked harder. But I don't believe he ever quite caught up. That's why I was so glad when this money came-- for Jim. And now, don't you see? he's thrown his whole lost youth into Fred. And Fred--"
"Fred is going to make good. You see if he doesn't!"
"I hope he will. But--I wish those Gaylords had been at the bottom of the Red Sea before they ever came to Hillerton," she fumed with sudden vehemence as she entered her own gate.