Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXII. With Every Jim a James
Two days after Fred Blaisdell had returned from college, his mother came to see Miss Maggie. Mr. Smith was rearranging the books on Miss Maggie's shelves and trying to make room for the new ones he had brought her through the winter. When Mrs. Hattie came in, red-eyed and flushed-faced, he ceased his work at once and would have left the room, but she stopped him with a gesture.
"No, don't go. You know all about it, anyway,--and I'd just as soon you knew the rest. So you can keep right to work. I just came down to talk things over with Maggie. I--I'm sure I don't know w-what I'm going to do--when I can't."
"But you always can, dear," soothed Miss Maggie cheerily, handing her visitor a fan and taking a chair near her.
Mr. Smith, after a moment's hesitation, turned quietly back to his bookshelves.
"But I can't," choked Mrs. Hattie. "I--I'm going away."
"Away? Where? What do you mean?" cried Miss Maggie. "Not to--live!"
"Yes. That's what I came to tell you."
"Why, Hattie Blaisdell, where are you going?"
"To Plainville--next month."
"Plainville? Oh, well, cheer up! That's only forty miles from here. I guess we can still see each other. Now, tell me, what does all this mean?"
"Well, of course, it began with Fred--his trouble, you know."
"But I thought Jim fixed that all up, dear."
"Oh, he did. He paid the money, and nobody there at college knew a thing about it. But there were--other things. Fred told us some of them night before last. He says he's ashamed of himself, but that he believes there's enough left in him to make a man of him yet. But he says he can't do it--there."
"You mean--he doesn't want to go back to college?" Miss Maggie's voice showed her disappointment.
"Oh, he wants to go to college--but not there."
"Oh," nodded Miss Maggie. "I see."
"He says he's had too much money to spend--and that 't wouldn't be easy not to spend it--if he was back there, in the old crowd. So he wants to go somewhere else."
"Well, that's all right, isn't it?"
"Y-yes, oh, yes. Jim says it is. He's awfully happy over it, and--and I guess I am."
"Of course you are! But now, what is this about Plainville?" "Oh, that grew out of it--all this. Mr. Hammond is going to open a new office in Plainville and he's offered Jim--James--no, Jim--I'm not going to call him 'James' any more!--the chance to manage it."
"Well, that's fine, I'm sure."
"Yes, of course that part is fine--splendid. He'll get a bigger salary, and all that, and--and I guess I'm glad to go, anyway--I don't like Hillerton any more. I haven't got any friends here, Maggie. Of course, I wouldn't have anything to do with the Gaylords now, after what's happened,--that boy getting my boy to drink and gamble, and-- and everything. And yet--you know how I've strained every nerve for years, and worked and worked to get where my children could--could be with them!"
"It didn't pay, did it, Hattie?"
"I guess it didn't! They're perfectly horrid--every one of them, and I hate them!"
"Oh, Hattie, Hattie!"
"Well, I do. Look at what they've done to Fred, and Bessie, too! I shan't let her be with them any more, either. There aren't any folks here we can be with now. That's why I don't mind going away. All our friends that we used to know don't like us any more, they're so jealous on account of the money. Oh, yes, I know you think I'm to blame for that," she went on aggrievedly. "I can see you do, by your face. Jim says so, too. And maybe I am. But it was just so I could get ahead. I did so want to be somebody!"
"I know, Hattie." Miss Maggie looked as if she would like to say something more--but she did not say it.
Over at the bookcase Mr. Smith was abstractedly opening and shutting the book in his hand. His gaze was out the window near him. He had not touched the books on the shelves for some time.
"And look at how I've tried and see what it has come to--Bessie so high-headed and airy she makes fun of us, and Fred a gambler and a drunkard, and 'most a thief. And it's all that horrid hundred thousand dollars!"
The book in Mr. Smith's hand slipped to the floor with a bang; but no one was noticing Mr. Smith.
"Oh, Hattie, don't blame the hundred thousand dollars," cried Miss Maggie.
"Jim says it was, and Fred does, too. They talked awfully. Fred said it was all just the same kind of a way that I'd tried to make folks call Jim 'James.' He said I'd been trying to make every single 'Jim' we had into a 'James,' until I'd taken away all the fun of living. And I suppose maybe he's right, too." Mrs. Hattie sighed profoundly. "Well, anyhow, I'm not going to do it any more. There isn't any fun in it, anyway. It doesn't make any difference how hard I tried to get ahead, I always found somebody else a little 'aheader' as Benny calls it. So what's the use?"
"There isn't any use--in that kind of trying, Hattie."
"No, I suppose there isn't. Jim said I was like the little boy that they asked what would make him the happiest of anything in the world, and he answered, 'Everything that I haven't got.' And I suppose I have been something like that. But I don't see as I'm any worse than other folks. Everybody goes for money; but I'm sure I don't see why--if it doesn't make them any happier than it has me! Well, I must be going." Mrs. Hattie rose wearily. "We shall begin to pack the first of the month. It looks like a mountain to me, but Jim and Fred say they'll help, and--"
Mr. Smith did not hear any more, for Miss Maggie and her guest had reached the hall and had closed the door behind them. But when Miss Maggie returned, Mr. Smith was pacing up and down the room nervously.
"Well," he demanded with visible irritation, as soon as she appeared, "will you kindly tell me if there is anything--desirable--that that confounded money has done?"
Miss Maggie looked up in surprise.
"You mean--Jim Blaisdell's money?" she asked.
"I mean all the money--I mean the three hundred thousand dollars that those three people received. Has it ever brought any good or happiness--anywhere?"
"Oh, yes, I know," smiled Miss Maggie, a little sadly. "But--" Her countenance changed abruptly. A passionate earnestness came to her eyes. "Don't blame the money--blame the spending of it! The money isn't to blame. The dollar that will buy tickets to the movies will just as quickly buy a good book; and if you're hungry, it's up to you whether you put your money into chocolate eclairs or roast beef. Is the money to blame that goes for a whiskey bill or a gambling debt instead of for shoes and stockings for the family?"
"Why, n-no." Mr. Smith had apparently lost his own irritation in his amazement at hers. "Why, Miss Maggie, you--you seem worked up over this matter."
"I am worked up. I'm always worked up--over money. It's been money, money, money, ever since I could remember! We're all after it, and we all want it, and we strain every nerve to get it. We think it's going to bring us happiness. But it won't--unless we do our part. And there are some things that even money can't buy. Besides, it isn't the money that does the things, anyway,--it's the man behind the money. What do you think money is good for, Mr. Smith?"
Mr. Smith, now thoroughly dazed, actually blinked his eyes at the question, and at the vehemence with which it was hurled into his face.
"Why, Miss Maggie, it--it--I--I--"
"It isn't good for anything unless we can exchange it for something we want, is it?"
"Why, I--I suppose we can give it--"
"But even then we're exchanging it for something we want, aren't we? We want to make the other fellow happy, don't we?"
"Well, yes, we do." Mr. Smith spoke with sudden fervor. "But it doesn't always work that way. Look at the case right here. Now, very likely this--er--Mr. Fulton thought those three hundred thousand dollars were going to make these people happy. Personification of happiness--that woman was, a few minutes ago, wasn't she?" Mr. Smith had regained his air of aggrieved irritation.
"No, she wasn't. But that wasn't the money's fault. It was her own. She didn't know how to spend it. And that's just what I mean when I say we've got to do our part--money won't buy happiness, unless we exchange it for the things that will bring happiness. If we don't know how to get any happiness out of five dollars, we won't know how to get it out of five hundred, or five thousand, or five hundred thousand, Mr. Smith. I don't mean that we'll get the same amount out of five dollars, of course,--though I've seen even that happen sometimes!--but I mean that we've got to know how to spend five dollars--and to make the most of it."
"I reckon--you're right, Miss Maggie."
"I know I'm right, and 't isn't the money's fault when things go wrong. Money's all right. I love money. Oh, yes, I know--we're taught that the love of money is the root of all evil. But I don't think it should be so--necessarily. I think money's one of the most wonderful things in the world. It's more than a trust and a gift--it's an opportunity, and a test. It brings out what's strongest in us, every time. And it does that whether it's five dollars or five hundred thousand dollars. If--if we love chocolate eclairs and the movies better than roast beef and good books, we're going to buy them, whether they're chocolate eclairs and movies on five dollars, or or-- champagne suppers and Paris gowns on five hundred thousand dollars!"
"Well, by--by Jove!" ejaculated Mr. Smith, rather feebly.
Miss Maggie gave a shamefaced laugh and sank back in her chair.
"You don't know what to think of me, of course; and no wonder," she sighed. "But I've felt so bad over this--this money business right here under my eyes. I love them all, every one of them. And you know how it's been, Mr. Smith. Hasn't it worked out to prove just what I say? Take Hattie this afternoon. She said that Fred declared she'd been trying to make every one of her 'Jims' a 'James,' ever since the money came. But he forgot that she did that very same thing before it came. All her life she's been trying to make five dollars look like ten; so when she got the hundred thousand, it wasn't six months before she was trying to make that look like two hundred thousand."
"I reckon you're right."
"Jane is just the opposite. Jane used to buy ingrain carpets and cheap chairs and cover them with mats and tidies to save them."
"You're right she did!"
Miss Maggie laughed appreciatively.
"They got on your nerves, too, didn't they? Such layers upon layers of covers for everything! It brought me to such a pass that I went to the other extreme. I wouldn't protect anything--which was very reprehensible, of course. Well, now she has pretty dishes and solid silver--but she hides them in bags and boxes, and never uses them except for company. She doesn't take any more comfort with them than she did with the ingrain carpets and cheap chairs. Of course, that's a little thing. I only mentioned it to illustrate my meaning. Jane doesn't know how to play. She never did. When you can't spend five cents out of a hundred dollars for pleasure without wincing, you needn't expect you're going to spend five dollars out of a hundred thousand without feeling the pinch," laughed Miss Maggie.
"And Miss Flora? You haven't mentioned her," observed Mr. Smith, a little grimly.
Miss Maggie smiled; then she sighed.
"Poor Flora--and when she tried so hard to quiet her conscience because she had so much money! But you know how that was. You helped her out of that scrape. And she's so grateful! She told me yesterday that she hardly ever gets a begging letter now."
"No; and those she does get she investigates," asserted Mr. Smith. "So the fakes don't bother her much these days. And she's doing a lot of good, too, in a small way."
"She is, and she's happy now," declared Miss Maggie, "except that she still worries a little because she is so happy. She's dismissed the maid and does her own work--I'm afraid Miss Flora never was cut out for a fine-lady life of leisure, and she loves to putter in the kitchen. She says it's such a relief, too, not to keep dressed up in company manners all the time, and not to have that horrid girl spying 'round all day to see if she behaves proper. But Flora's a dear."
"She is! and I reckon it worked the best with her of any of them."
"Worked?" hesitated Miss Maggie.
"Er--that is, I mean, perhaps she's made the best use of the hundred thousand," stammered Mr. Smith. "She's been--er--the happiest."
"Why, y-yes, perhaps she has, when you come to look at it that way."
"But you wouldn't--er--advise this Mr. Fulton to leave her--his twenty millions?"
"Mercy!" laughed Miss Maggie, throwing up both hands. "She'd faint dead away at the mere thought of it."
"Humph! Yes, I suppose so." Mr. Smith turned on his heel and resumed his restless pacing up and down the room. From time to time he glanced furtively at Miss Maggie. Miss Maggie, her hands idly resting in her lap, palms upward, was gazing fixedly at nothing.
"Of just what--are you thinking?" he demanded at last, coming to a pause at her side.
"I was thinking--of Mr. Stanley G. Fulton," she answered, not looking up.
"Oh, you were!" There was an odd something in Mr. Smith's voice.
"Yes. I was wondering--about those twenty millions."
"Oh, you were!" The odd something had increased, but Miss Maggie's eyes were still dreamily fixed on space.
"Yes. I was wondering what he had done with them."
"Had done with them!"
"Yes, in the letter, I mean." She looked up now in faint surprise. "Don't you remember? There was a letter--a second letter to be opened in two years' time. They said that that was to dispose of the remainder of the property--his last will and testament."
"Oh, yes, I remember," assented Mr. Smith, turning on his heel again. "Then you think--Mr. Fulton is--dead?" Mr. Smith was very carefully not meeting Miss Maggie's eyes.
"Why, yes, I suppose so." Miss Maggie turned back to her meditative gazing at nothing. "The two years are nearly up, you know,--I was talking with Jane the other day--just next November."
"Yes, I know." The words were very near a groan, but at once Mr. Smith hurriedly repeated, "I know--I know!" very lightly, indeed, with an apprehensive glance at Miss Maggie.
"So it seems to me if he were alive that he'd be back by this time. And so I was wondering--about those millions," she went on musingly. "What do you suppose he has done with them?" she asked, with sudden animation, turning full upon him.
"Why, I--I--How should I know?" stuttered Mr. Smith, a swift crimson dyeing his face.
Miss Maggie laughed merrily.
"You wouldn't, of course--but that needn't make you look as if I'd intimated that you had them! I was only asking for your opinion, Mr. Smith," she twinkled, with mischievous eyes.
"Of course!" Mr. Smith laughed now, a little precipitately. "But, indeed, Miss Maggie, you turned so suddenly and the question was so unexpected that I felt like the small boy who, being always blamed for everything at home that went wrong, answered tremblingly, when the teacher sharply demanded, 'Who made the world?' 'Please, ma'am, I did; but I'll never do it again!'"
"And now," said Mr. Smith, when Miss Maggie had done laughing at his little story, "suppose I turn the tables on you? What do you think Mr. Fulton has done--with that money?"
"I don't know what to think." Miss Maggie shifted her position, her face growing intently interested again. "I've been trying to remember what I know of the man."
"What you--know of him!" cried Mr. Smith, with startled eyes.
"Yes, from the newspaper and magazine accounts of him. Of course, there was quite a lot about him at the time the money came; and Flora let me read some things she'd saved, in years gone. Flora was always interested in him, you know."
"Well, what did you find?"
"Why, not much, really, about the man. Besides, very likely what I did find wasn't true. Oh, he was eccentric. Everything mentioned that. But I was trying to find out how he'd spent his money himself. I thought that might give me a clue--about the will, I mean."
"Oh, I see."
"Yes; but I didn't find much. In spite of his reported eccentricities, he seems to me to have done nothing very extraordinary."
"Oh, indeed!" murmured Mr. Smith.
"He doesn't seem to have been very bad."
"No?" Mr. Smith's eyebrows went up.
"Nor very good either, for that matter."
"Sort of a--nonentity, perhaps." Mr. Smith's lips snapped tight shut.
Miss Maggie laughed softly.
"Perhaps--though I suppose he couldn't really be that--not very well-- with twenty millions, could he? But I mean, he wasn't very bad, nor very good. He didn't seem to be dissipated, or mixed up in any scandal, or to be recklessly extravagant, like so many rich men. On the other hand, I couldn't find that he'd done any particular good in the world. Some charities were mentioned, but they were perfunctory, apparently, and I don't believe, from the accounts, that he ever really interested himself in any one--that he ever really cared for-- any one."
"Oh, you don't!" If Miss Maggie had looked up, she would have met a most disconcerting expression in the eyes bent upon her. But Miss Maggie did not look up.
"No," she proceeded calmly. "Why, he didn't even have a wife and children to stir him from his selfishness. He had a secretary, of course, and he probably never saw half his begging letters. I can imagine his tossing them aside with a languid 'Fix them up, James,-- give the creatures what they want, only don't bother me.'"
"He never did!" stormed Mr. Smith; then, hastily: "I'm sure he never did. You wrong him. I'm sure you wrong him."
"Maybe I do," sighed Miss Maggie. "But when I think of what he might do--Twenty millions! I can't grasp it. Can you? But he didn't do-- anything--worth while with them, so far as I can see, when he was living, so that's why I can't imagine what his will may be. Probably the same old perfunctory charities, however, with the Chicago law firm instead of 'James' as disburser--unless, of course, Hattie's expectations are fulfilled, and he divides them among the Blaisdells here."
"You think--there's something worth while he might have done with those millions, then?" pleaded Mr. Smith, a sudden peculiar wistfulness in his eyes.
"Something he might have done with them!" exclaimed Miss Maggie. "Why, it seems to me there's no end to what he might have done--with twenty millions."
"What would you do?"
"I?--do with twenty millions?" she breathed.
"Yes, you." Mr. Smith came nearer, his face working with emotion. "Miss Maggie, if a man with twenty millions--that is, could you love a man with twenty millions, if--if Mr. Fulton should ask you--if I were Mr. Fulton--if--" His countenance changed suddenly. He drew himself up with a cry of dismay. "Oh, no--no--I've spoiled it all now. That isn't what I meant to say first. I was going to find out--I mean, I was going to tell--Oh, good Heavens, what a--That confounded money-- again!"
Miss Maggie sprang to her feet.
"Why, Mr. Smith, w-what--" Only the crisp shutting of the door answered her. With a beseeching look and a despairing gesture Mr. Smith had gone.
Once again Miss Maggie stood looking after Mr. Smith with dismayed eyes. Then, turning to sit down, she came face to face with her own image in the mirror.
"Well, now you've done it, Maggie Duff," she whispered wrathfully to the reflection in the glass. "And you've broken his heart! He was--was going to say something--I know he was. And you? You've talked money, money, money to him for an hour. You said you loved money; and you told what you'd do--if you had twenty millions of dollars. And you know--you know he's as poor as Job's turkey, and that just now he's more than ever plagued over--money! And yet you--Twenty millions of dollars! As if that counted against--"
With a little sobbing cry Miss Maggie covered her face with her hands and sat down, helplessly, angrily.