Chapter XV. In Search of Rest
 

June brought all the young people home again. It brought, also, a great deal of talk concerning plans for vacation. Bessie--Elizabeth-- said they must all go away.

From James Blaisdell this brought a sudden and vigorous remonstrance.

"Nonsense, you've just got home!" he exclaimed. "Hillerton'll be a vacation to you all right. Besides, I want my family together again. I haven't seen a thing of my children for six months."

Elizabeth gave a silvery laugh. (Elizabeth had learned to give very silvery laughs.) She shrugged her shoulders daintily and looked at her rings.

"Hillerton? Ho! You wouldn't really doom us to Hillerton all summer, daddy."

"What's the matter with Hillerton?"

"What isn't the matter with Hillerton?" laughed the daughter again.

"But I thought we--we would have lovely auto trips," stammered her mother apologetically. "Take them from here, you know, and stay overnight at hotels around. I've always wanted to do that; and we can now, dear."

"Auto trips! Pooh!" shrugged Elizabeth. "Why, mumsey, we're going to the shore for July, and to the mountains for August. You and daddy and I. And Fred's going, too, only he'll be at the Gaylord camp in the Adirondacks, part of the time."

"Is that true, Fred?" James Blaisdell's eyes, fixed on his son, were half wistful, half accusing.

Fred stirred restlessly.

"Well, I sort of had to, governor," he apologized. "Honest, I did. There are some things a man has to do! Gaylord asked me, and--Hang it all, I don't see why you have to look at me as if I were committing a crime, dad!"

"You aren't, dear, you aren't," fluttered Fred's mother hurriedly; "and I'm sure it's lovely you've got the chance to go to the Gaylords' camp. And it's right, quite right, that we should travel this summer, as Bessie--er--Elizabeth suggests. I never thought; but, of course, you young people don't want to be hived up in Hillerton all summer!"

"Bet your life we don't, mater," shrugged Fred, carefully avoiding his father's eyes, "after all that grind."

"Grind, Fred?"

But Fred had turned away, and did not, apparently, hear his father's grieved question.

Mr. Smith learned all about the vacation plans a day or two later from Benny.

"Yep, we're all goin' away for all summer," he repeated, after he had told the destination of most of the family. "I don't think ma wants to, much, but she's goin' on account of Bess. Besides, she says everybody who is anybody always goes away on vacations, of course. So we've got to. They're goin' to the beach first, and I'm goin' to a boys' camp up in Vermont--Mellicent, she's goin' to a girls' camp. Did you know that?"

Mr. Smith shook his head.

"Well, she is," nodded Benny. "She tried to get Bess to go--Gussie Pennock's goin'. But Bess!--my you should see her nose go up in the air! She said she wa'n't goin' where she had to wear great coarse shoes an' horrid middy-blouses all day, an' build fires an' walk miles an' eat bugs an' grasshoppers."

"Is Miss Mellicent going to do all that?" smiled Mr. Smith.

"Bess says she is--I mean, Elizabeth. Did you know? We have to call her that now, when we don't forget it. I forget it, mostly. Have you seen her since she came back?"

"No."

"She's swingin' an awful lot of style--Bess is. She makes dad dress up in his swallow-tail every night for dinner. An' she makes him and Fred an' me stand up the minute she comes into the room, no matter if there's forty other chairs in sight; an' we have to stay standin' till she sits down--an' sometimes she stands up a-purpose, just to keep us standing. I know she does. She says a gentleman never sits when a lady is standin' up in his presence. An' she's lecturin' us all the time on the way to eat an' talk an' act. Why, we can't even walk natural any longer. An' she says the way Katy serves our meals is a disgrace to any civilized family."

"How does Katy like that?"

"Like it! She got mad an' gave notice on the spot. An' that made ma 'most have hysterics--she did have one of her headaches--'cause good hired girls are awful scarce, she says. But Bess says, Pooh! we'll get some from the city next time that know their business, an' we're goin' away all summer, anyway, an' won't ma please call them 'maids,' as she ought to, an' not that plebeian 'hired girl.' Bess loves that word. Everything's 'plebeian' with Bess now. Oh we're havin' great times at our house since Bess--Elizabeth--came!" grinned Benny, tossing his cap in the air, and dancing down the walk much as he had danced the first night Mr. Smith saw him a year before.

The James Blaisdells were hardly off to shore and camp when Miss Flora started on her travels. Mr. Smith learned all about her plans, too, for she came down one day to talk them over with Miss Maggie.

Miss Flora was looking very well in a soft gray and white summer silk. Her forehead had lost its lines of care, and her eyes were no longer peering for wrinkles. Miss Flora was actually almost pretty.

"How nice you look!" exclaimed Miss Maggie.

"Do I?" panted Miss Flora, as she fluttered up the steps and sank into one of the porch chairs.

"Indeed, you do!" exclaimed Mr. Smith admiringly. Mr. Smith was putting up a trellis for Miss Maggie's new rosebush. He was working faithfully, but not with the skill of accustomedness.

"I'm so glad you like it!" Miss Flora settled back into her chair and smoothed out the ruffles across her lap. "It isn't too gay, is it? You know the six months are more than up now."

"Not a bit!" exclaimed Mr. Smith.

"No, indeed!" cried Miss Maggie.

"I hoped it wasn't," sighed Miss Flora happily. "Well, I'm all packed but my dresses."

"Why, I thought you weren't going till Monday," said Miss Maggie.

"Oh, I'm not."

"But--it's only Friday now!"

Miss Flora laughed shamefacedly.'

"Yes, I know. I suppose I am a little ahead of time. But you see, I ain't used to packing--not a big trunk, so--and I was so afraid I wouldn't get it done in time. I was going to put my dresses in; but Mis' Moore said they'd wrinkle awfully, if I did, and, of course, they would, when you come to think of it. So I shan't put those in till Sunday night. I'm so glad Mis' Moore's going. It'll be so nice to have somebody along that I know."

"Yes, indeed," smiled Miss Maggie.

"And she knows everything--all about tickets and checking the baggage, and all that. You know we're only going to be personally conducted to Niagara. After that we're going to New York and stay two weeks at some nice hotel. I want to see Grant's Tomb and the Aquarium, and Mis' Moore wants to go to Coney Island. She says she's always wanted to go to Coney Island just as I have to Niagara."

"I'm glad you can take her," said Miss Maggie heartily.

"Yes, and she's so pleased. You know, even if she has such a nice family, and all, she hasn't much money, and she's been awful nice to me lately. I used to think she didn't like me, too. But I must have been mistaken, of course. And 'twas so with Mis' Benson and Mis' Pennock, too. But now they've invited me there and have come to see me, and are so interested in my trip and all. Why, I never knew I had so many friends, Maggie. Truly I didn't!"

Miss Maggie said nothing, but, there was an odd expression on her face. Mr. Smith pounded a small nail home with an extra blow of his hammer.

"And they're all so kind and interested about the money, too," went on Miss Flora, gently rocking to and fro. "Bert Benson sells stocks and invests money for folks, you know, and Mis' Benson said he'd got some splendid-payin' ones, and he'd let me have some, and--"

"Flo, you didn't take any of that Benson gold-mine stock!" interrupted Miss Maggie sharply.

Mr. Smith's hammer stopped, suspended in mid-air.

"No; oh, no! I asked Mr. Chalmers and he said better not. So I didn't." Miss Maggie relaxed in her chair, and Mr. Smith's hammer fell with a gentle tap on the nail-head. "But I felt real bad about it-- when Mis' Benson had been so kind as to offer it, you know. It looked sort of--of ungrateful, so."

"Ungrateful!" Miss Maggie's voice vibrated with indignant scorn. "Flora, you won't--you won't invest your money without asking Mr. Chalmers's advice first, will you?"

"But I tell you I didn't," retorted Miss Flora, with unusual sharpness, for her. "But it was good stock, and it pays splendidly. Jane took some. She took a lot."

"Jane!--but I thought Frank wouldn't let her."

"Oh, Frank said all right, if she wanted to, she might. I suspect he got tired of her teasing, and it did pay splendidly. Why, 'twill pay twenty-five per cent, probably, this year, Mis' Benson says. So Frank give in. You see, he felt he'd got to pacify Jane some way, I s'pose, she's so cut up about his selling out."

"Selling out!" exclaimed Miss Maggie.

"Oh, didn't you know that? Well, then I have got some news!" Miss Flora gave the satisfied little wriggle with which a born news-lover always prefaces her choicest bit of information. "Frank has sold his grocery stores--both of 'em."

"Why, I can't believe it!" Miss Maggie fell back with a puzzled frown.

"Sold them! Why, I should as soon think of his--his selling himself," cried Mr. Smith. "I thought they were inseparable."

"Well, they ain't--because he's separated 'em." Miss Flora was rocking a little faster now.

"But why?" demanded Miss Maggie.

"He says he wants a rest. That he's worked hard all his life, and it's time he took some comfort. He says he doesn't take a minute of comfort now 'cause Jane's hounding him all the time to get more money, to get more money. She's crazy to see the interest mount up, you know--Jane is. But he says he don't want any more money. He wants to spend money for a while. And he's going to spend it. He's going to retire from business and enjoy himself."

"Well," ejaculated Mr. Smith, "this is a piece of news, indeed!"

"I should say it was," cried Miss Maggie, still almost incredulous. "How does Jane take it?"

"Oh, she's turribly fussed up over it, as you'd know she would be. Such a good chance wasted, she thinks, when he might be making all that money earn more. You know Jane wants to turn everything into money now. Honestly, Maggie, I don't believe Jane can look at the moon nowadays without wishing it was really gold, and she had it to put out to interest!"

"Oh, Flora!" remonstrated Miss Maggie faintly.

"Well, it's so," maintained Miss Flora, "So 't ain't any wonder, of course, that she's upset over this. That's why Frank give in to her, I think, and let her buy that Benson stock. Besides, he's feeling especially flush, because he's got the cash the stores brought, too. So he told her to go ahead."

"I'm sorry about that stock," frowned Miss Maggie.

"Oh, it's perfectly safe. Mis' Benson said 'twas," comforted Miss Flora. "You needn't worry about that. And 'twill pay splendid." "When did this happen--the sale of the store, I mean?" asked Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith was not even pretending to work now.

"Yesterday--the finish of it. I'm waiting to see Hattie. She'll be tickled to death. She's always hated it that Frank had a grocery store, you know; and since the money's come, and she's been going with the Gaylords and the Pennocks, and all that crowd, she's felt worse than ever. She was saying to me only last week how ashamed she was to think that her friends might see her own brother-in-law any day wearing horrid white coat, and selling molasses over the counter. My, but Hattie'll be tickled all right--or 'Harriet,' I suppose I should say, but I never can remember it.

"But what is Frank going to--to do with himself?" demanded Miss Maggie. "Why, Flora, he'll be lost without that grocery store!"

"Oh, he's going to travel, first. He says he always wanted to, and he's got a chance now, and he's going to. They're going to the Yellowstone Park and the Garden of the Gods and to California. And that's another thing that worries Jane--spending all that money for them just to ride in the cars."

"Is she going, too?" queried Mr. Smith.

"Oh, yes, she's going, too. She says she's got to go to keep Frank from spending every cent he's got," laughed Miss Flora. "I was over there last night, and they told me all about it."

"When do they go?"

"Just as soon as they can get ready. Frank's got to help Donovan, the man that's bought the store, a week till he gets the run of things, he says. Then he's going. You wait till you see him." Miss Flora got to her feet, and smoothed out the folds of her skirt. "He's as tickled as a boy with a new jack-knife. And I'm glad. Frank has been a turrible hard worker all his life. I'm glad he's going to take some comfort, same as I am."

When Miss Flora had gone, Miss Maggie turned to Mr. Smith with eyes that still carried dazed unbelief.

"Did Flora say that Frank Blaisdell had sold his grocery stores?"

"She certainly did! You seem surprised."

"I'm more than surprised. I'm dumfounded."

"Why? You don't think, like Mrs. Jane, that he ought not to enjoy his money, certainly?"

"Oh, no. He's got money enough to retire, if he wants to, and he's certainly worked hard enough to earn a rest."

"Then what is it?"

Miss Maggie laughed a little.

"I'm not sure I can explain. But, to me, it's--just this: while he's got plenty to retire upon, he hasn't got anything to--to retire to."

"And, pray, what do you mean by that?"

"Why, Mr. Smith, I've known that man from the time he was trading jack-knives and marbles and selling paper boxes for five pins. I remember the whipping he got, too, for filching sugar and coffee and beans from the pantry and opening a grocery store in our barn. From that time to this, that boy has always been trading something. He's been absolutely uninterested in anything else. I don't believe he's read a book or a magazine since his school days, unless it had something to do with business or groceries. He hasn't a sign of a fad- -music, photography, collecting things--nothing. And he hates society. Jane has to fairly drag him out anywhere. Now, what I want to know is, what is the man going to do?"

"Oh, he'll find something," laughed Mr. Smith. "He's going to travel, first, anyhow."

"Yes, he's going to travel, first. And then--we'll see," smiled Miss Maggie enigmatically, as Mr. Smith picked up his hammer again.

By the middle of July the Blaisdells were all gone Hillerton and there remained only their letters for Miss Maggie--and for Mr. Smith. Miss Maggie was very generous with her letters. Perceiving Mr. Smith's genuine interest, she read him extracts from almost every one that came. And the letters were always interesting--and usually characteristic.

Benny wrote of swimming and tennis matches, and of "hikes" and the "bully eats." Hattie wrote of balls and gowns and the attention "dear Elizabeth" was receiving from some really very nice families who were said to be fabulously rich. Neither James nor Bessie wrote at all. Fred, too, remained unheard from.

Mellicent wrote frequently--gay, breezy letters full to the brim of the joy of living. She wrote of tennis, swimming, camp-fire stories, and mountain trails: they were like Benny's letters in petticoats, Miss Maggie said.

Long and frequent epistles came from Miss Flora. Miss Flora was having a beautiful time. Niagara was perfectly lovely--only what a terrible noise it made! She was glad she did not have to stay and hear it always. She liked New York, only that was noisy, too, though Mrs. Moore did not seem to mind it. Mrs. Moore liked Coney Island, too, but Miss Flora much preferred Grant's Tomb, she said. It was so much more quiet and ladylike. She thought some things at Coney Island were really not nice at all, and she was surprised that Mrs. Moore should enjoy them so much.

Between the lines it could be seen that in spite of all the good times, Miss Flora was becoming just the least bit homesick. She wrote Miss Maggie that it did seem queer to go everywhere, and not see a soul to bow to. It gave her such a lonesome feeling--such a lot of faces, and not one familiar one! She had tried to make the acquaintance of several people--real nice people; she knew they were by the way they looked. But they wouldn't say hardly anything to her, nor answer her questions; and they always got up and moved away very soon.

To be sure, there was one nice young man. He was lovely to them, Miss Flora said. He spoke to them first, too. It was when they were down to Coney Island. He helped them through the crowds, and told them about lots of nice things they didn't want to miss seeing. He walked with them, too, quite awhile, showing them the sights. He was very kind--he seemed so especially kind, after all those other cold-hearted people, who didn't care! That was the day she and Mrs. Moore both lost their pocketbooks, and had such an awful time getting back to New York. It was right after they had said good-bye to the nice young gentleman that they discovered that they had lost them. They were so sorry that they hadn't found it out before, Miss Flora said, for he would have helped them, she was sure. But though they looked everywhere for him, they could not find him at all, and they had to appeal to strangers, who took them right up to a policeman the first thing, which was very embarrassing, Miss Flora said. Why, she and Mrs. Moore felt as if they had been arrested, almost! Miss Maggie pursed her lips a, little, when she read this letter to Mr. Smith, but she made no comment.

From Jane, also, came several letters, and from Frank Blaisdell one short scrawl.

Frank said he was having a bully time, but that he'd seen some of the most shiftless-looking grocery stores that he ever set eyes on. He asked if Maggie knew how trade was at his old store, and if Donovan was keeping it up to the mark. He said that Jane was well, only she was getting pretty tired because she would try to see everything at once, for fear she'd lose something, and not get her money's worth, for all the world just as she used to eat things to save them.

Jane wrote that she was having a very nice time, of course,--she couldn't help it, with all those lovely things to see; but she said she never dreamed that just potatoes, meat, and vegetables could cost so much anywhere as they did in hotels, and as for the prices those dining-cars charged--it was robbery--sheer robbery! And why an able- bodied man should be given ten cents every time he handed you your own hat, she couldn't understand.

At Hillerton, Mr. Smith passed a very quiet summer, but a very contented one. He kept enough work ahead to amuse him, but never enough to drive him. He took frequent day-trips to the surrounding towns, and when possible he persuaded Miss Maggie to go with him. Miss Maggie was wonderfully good company. As the summer advanced, however, he did not see so much of her as he wanted to, for Father Duff's increasing infirmities made more and more demands on her time.

The Martin girls were still there. Annabelle was learning the milliner's trade, and Florence had taken a clerkship for afternoons during the summer. They still helped about the work, and relieved Miss Maggie whenever possible. They were sensible, jolly girls, and Mr. Smith liked them very much.