Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXIII. Reflections--Mirrored and Otherwise
Miss Maggie was still sitting in the big chair with her face in her hands when the door opened and Mr. Smith came in. He was very white.
Miss Maggie, dropping her hands and starting up at his entrance, caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror in front of her. With a furtive, angry dab of her fingers at her wet eyes, she fell to rearranging the vases and photographs on the mantel.
"Oh, back again, Mr. Smith?" she greeted him, with studied unconcern.
Mr. Smith shut the door and advanced determinedly.
"Miss Maggie, I've got to face this thing out, of course. Even if I had--made a botch of things at the very start, it didn't help any to-- to run away, as I did. And I was a coward to do it. It was only because I--I--But never mind that. I'm coming now straight to the point. Miss Maggie, will you--marry me?"
The photograph in Miss Maggie's hand fell face down on the shelf. Miss Maggie's fingers caught the edge of the mantel in a convulsive grip. A swift glance in the mirror before her disclosed Mr. Smith's face just over her shoulder, earnest, pleading, and still very white. She dropped her gaze, and turned half away. She did not want to meet Mr. Smith's eyes just then. She tried to speak, but only a half-choking little breath came.
Then Mr. Smith spoke again.
"Miss Maggie, please don't say no--yet. Let me--explain--about how I came here, and all that. But first, before I do that, let me tell you how--how I love you--how I have loved you all these long months. I think I loved you from the first time I saw you. Whatever comes, I want you to know that. And if you could care for me a little--just a little, I'm sure I could make it more--in time, so you would marry me. And we would be so happy! Don't you believe I'd try to make you happy- -dear?"
"Yes, oh, yes," murmured Miss Maggie, still with her head turned away.
"Good! Then all you've got to say is that you'll let me try. And we will be happy, dear! Why, until I came here to this little house, I didn't know what living, real living, was. And I have been, just as you. said, a selfish old thing."
Miss Maggie, with a start of surprise, faced the image in the mirror; but Mr. Smith was looking at her, not at her reflection, so she did not meet his ayes.
"Why, I never--" she stammered.
"Yes, you did, a minute ago. Don't you remember? Oh, of course you didn't realize--everything, and perhaps you wouldn't have said it if you'd known. But you said it--and you meant it, and I'm glad you said it. And, dear little woman, don't you see? That's only another reason why you should say yes. You can show me how not to be selfish."
"But, Mr. Smith, I--I-" stammered Miss Maggie, still with puzzled eyes.
"Yes, you can. You can show me how to make life really worth while, for me, and for--for lots of others And now I have some one to care for. And, oh, little woman, I--I care so much, it can't be that you--. you don't care--any!"
Miss Maggie caught her breath and turned away again.
"Don't you care--a little?"
The red crept up Miss Maggie's neck to her forehead but still she was silent.
"If I could only see your eyes," pleaded the man. Then, suddenly, he saw Miss Maggie's face in the mirror. The next moment Miss Maggie herself turned a little, and in the mirror their eyes met--and in the mirror Mr. Smith found his answer. "You do care--a little!" he breathed, as he took her in his arms.
"But I don't!" Miss Maggie shook her head vigorously against his coat- collar.
"What?" Mr. Smith's clasp loosened a little.
"I care--a great deal," whispered Miss Maggie to the coat-collar, with shameless emphasis.
"You--darling!" triumphed the man, bestowing a rapturous kiss on the tip of a small pink ear--the nearest point to Miss Maggie's lips that was available, until, with tender determination, he turned her face to his.
A moment later, blushing rosily, Miss Maggie drew herself away.
"There, we've been quite silly enough--old folks like us."
"We're not silly. Love is never silly-not real love like ours. Besides, we're only as old as we feel. Do you feel old? I don't. I've lost--years since this morning. And you know I'm just beginning to live--really live, anyway! I feel--twenty-one."
"I'm afraid you act it," said Miss Maggie, with mock severity.
"You would--if you'd been through what I have," retorted Mr. Smith, drawing a long breath. "And when I think what a botch I made of it, to begin with--You see, I didn't mean to start off with that, first thing; and I was so afraid that--that even if you did care for John Smith, you wouldn't for me--just at first. But you do, dear!" At arms' length he held her off, his hands on her shoulders. His happy eyes searching her face saw the dawn of the dazed, question.
"Wouldn't care for you if I did for John Smith! Why, you are John Smith. What do you mean?" she demanded, her eyes slowly sweeping him from head to foot and back again. "What do you mean?"
"Miss Maggie!" Instinctively his tongue went back to the old manner of address, but his hands still held her shoulders. "You don't mean--you can't mean that--that you didn't understand--that you don't understand that I am--Oh, good Heavens! Well, I have made a mess of it this time," he groaned. Releasing his hold on her shoulders, he turned and began to tramp up and down the room. "Nice little John-Alden-Miles- Standish affair this is now, upon my word! Miss Maggie, have I got to- -to propose to you all over again for--for another man, now?"
"For--another man! I--I don't think I understand you." Miss Maggie had grown a little white.
"Then you don't know--you didn't understand a few minutes ago, when I- -I spoke first, when I asked you about--about those twenty millions--"
She lifted her hand quickly, pleadingly.
"Mr. Smith, please, don't let's bring money into it at all. I don't care--I don't care a bit if you haven't got any money."
Mr. Smith's jaw dropped.
"If I haven't got any money!" he ejaculated stupidly.
"No! Oh, yes, I know, I said I loved money." The rich red came back to her face in a flood. "But I didn't mean--And it's just as much of a test and an opportunity when you don't have money--more so, if anything. I didn't mean it--that way. I never thought of--of how you might take it--as if I wanted it. I don't. Indeed, I don't! Oh, can't you-understand?"
"Understand! Good Heavens!" Mr. Smith threw up both his hands. "And I thought I'd given myself away! Miss Maggie." He came to her and stood close, but he did not offer to touch her. "I thought, after I'd said what I did about--about those twenty millions that you understood-- that you knew I was--Stanley Fulton himself."
"That you were--who?" Miss Maggie stood motionless, her eyes looking straight into his, amazed incredulous.
"Stanley Fulton. I am Stanley Fulton. My God! Maggie, don't look at me like that. I thought--told you. Indeed, I did!"
She was backing away now, slowly, step by step. Anger, almost loathing, had taken the place of the amazement and incredulity in her eyes.
"And you are Mr. Fulton?"
"Yes, yes! But--" "And you've been here all these months--yes, years-- under a false name, pretending to be what you weren't--talking to us, eating at our tables, winning our confidence, letting us talk to you about yourself, even pretending that--Oh, how could you?" Her voice broke.
"Maggie, dearest," he begged, springing toward her, "if you'll only let me--"
But she stopped him peremptorily, drawing herself to her full height.
"I am not your dearest," she flamed angrily. "I did not give my love-- to you."
"Maggie!" he implored.
But she drew back still farther.
"No! I gave it to John Smith--gentleman, I supposed. A man--poor, yes, I believed him poor; but a man who at least had a right to his name! I didn't give it to Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, spy, trickster, who makes life itself a masquerade for sport! I do not know Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, and--I do not wish to." The words ended in a sound very like a sob; but Miss Maggie, with her head still high, turned her back and walked to the window.
The man, apparently stunned for a moment, stood watching her, his eyes grieved, dismayed, hopeless. Then, white-faced, he turned and walked toward the door. With his hand almost on the knob he slowly wheeled about and faced the woman again. He hesitated visibly, then in a dull, lifeless voice he began to speak.
"Miss Maggie, before John Smith steps entirely out of your life, he would like to say just this, please, not on justification, but in explanation of----of Stanley G. Fulton. Fulton did not intend to be a spy, or a trickster, or to make life a masquerade for--sport. He was a lonely old man--he felt old. He had no wife or child. True, he had no one to care for, but--he had no one to care for him, either. Remember that, please. He did have a great deal of money--more than he knew what to do with. Oh, he tried--various ways of spending it. Never mind what they were. They are not worth speaking of here. They resulted, chiefly, in showing him that he wasn't--as wise as he might be in that line, perhaps."
The man paused and wet his lips. At the window Miss Maggie still stood, with her back turned as before.
"The time came, finally," resumed the man, "when Fulton began to wonder what would become of his millions when he was done with them. He had a feeling that he would like to will a good share of them to some of his own kin; but he had no nearer relatives than some cousins back East, in--Hillerton."
Miss Maggie at the window drew in her breath, and held it suspended, letting it out slowly.
"He didn't know anything about these cousins," went on the man dully, wearily, "and he got to wondering what they would do with the money. I think he felt, as you said to-day that you feel, that one must know how to spend five dollars if one would get the best out of five thousand. So Fulton felt that, before he gave a man fifteen or twenty millions, he would like to know--what he would probably do with them. He had seen so many cases where sudden great wealth had brought--great sorrow.
"And so then he fixed up a little scheme; he would give each one of these three cousins of his a hundred thousand dollars apiece, and then, unknown to them, he would get acquainted with them, and see which of them would be likely to make the best use of those twenty millions. It was a silly scheme, of course,--a silly, absurd foolishness from beginning to end. It--"
He did not finish his sentence. There was a rush of swift feet, a swish of skirts, then full upon him there fell a whirlwind of sobs, clinging arms, and incoherent ejaculations.
"It wasn't silly--it wasn't silly. It was perfectly splendid! I see it all now. I see it all! I understand. Oh, I think it was--wonderful! And I--I'm so ashamed!"
Later--very much later, when something like lucid coherence had become an attribute of their conversation, as they sat together upon the old sofa, the man drew a long breath and said:--
"Then I'm quite forgiven?"
"There is nothing to forgive."
"And you consider yourself engaged to both John Smith and Stanley G. Fulton?"
"It sounds pretty bad, but--yes," blushed Miss Maggie.
"And you must love Stanley G. Fulton just exactly as well--no, a little better, than you did John Smith."
"I'll--try to--if he's as lovable." Miss Maggie's head was at a saucy tilt.
"He'll try to be; but--it won't be all play, you know, for you. You've got to tell him what to do with those twenty millions. By the way, what will you do with them?" he demanded interestedly.
Miss Maggie looked up, plainly startled.
"Why, yes, that's so. You--you--if you're Mr. Fulton, you have got-- And I forgot all about--those twenty millions. And they're yours, Mr. Smith!"
"No, they're not Mr. Smith's," objected the man. "They belong to Fulton, if you please. Furthermore, can't you call me anything but that abominable 'Mr. Smith'? My name is Stanley. You might--er-- abbreviate it to--er--' Stan,' now."
"Perhaps so--but I shan't," laughed Miss Maggie,--"not yet. You may be thankful I have wits enough left to call you anything--after becoming engaged to two men all at once."
"And with having the responsibility of spending twenty millions, too."
"Oh, yes, the money!" Her eyes began to shine. She drew another long breath. "Oh, we can do so much with that money! Why, only think what is needed right here--better milk for the babies, and a community house, and the streets cleaner, and a new carpet for the church, and a new hospital with--"
"But, see here, aren't you going to spend some of that money on yourself?" he demanded. "Isn't there something you want?"
She gave him a merry glance.
"Myself? Dear me, I guess I am! I'm going to Egypt, and China, and Japan--with you, of course; and books--oh, you never saw such a lot of books as I shall buy. And--oh, I'll spend heaps on just my selfish self--you see if I don't! But, first,--oh, there are so many things that I've so wanted to do, and it's just come over me this minute that now I can do them! And you know how Hillerton needs a new hospital." Her eyes grew luminous and earnest again. "And I want to build a store and run it so the girls can live, and a factory, too, and decent homes for the workmen, and a big market, where they can get their food at cost; and there's the playground for the children, and--"
But Mr. Smith was laughing, and lifting both hands in mock despair.
"Look here," he challenged, "I thought you were marrying me, but--are you marrying me or that confounded money?"
Miss Maggie laughed merrily.
"Yes, I know; but you see--" She stopped short. An odd expression came to her eyes.
Suddenly she laughed again, and threw into his eyes a look so merry, so whimsical, so altogether challenging, that he demanded:--
"Well, what is it now?"
'Oh, it's so good, I have--half a mind to tell you."
"Of course you'll tell me. Where are you going?" he asked discontentedly.
Miss Maggie had left the sofa, and was standing, as if half-poised for flight, midway to the door.
"I think--yes, I will tell you," she nodded, her cheeks very pink; "but I wanted to be--over here to tell it."
"'Way over there?"
"Yes, 'way over here. Do you remember those letters I got awhile ago, and the call from the Boston; lawyer, that I--I wouldn't tell you about?"
"I should say I did!"
"Well; you know you--you thought they--they had something to do with-- my money; that I--I'd lost some."
"I did, dear."
"Well, they--they did have something to do--with money."
"I knew they did!" triumphed the man. "Oh, why wouldn't you tell me then--and let me help you some way?"
She shook her head nervously and backed nearer the door. He had half started from his seat.
"No, stay there. If you don't--I won't tell you."
He fell back, but with obvious reluctance.
"Well, as I said, it did have something to do--with my money; but just now, when you asked me if I--I was marrying you or your money--"
"But I was in fun--you know I was in fun!" defended the man hotly.
"Oh, yes, I knew that," nodded Miss Maggie. "But it--it made me laugh and remember--the letters. You see, they weren't as you thought. They didn't tell me of--of money lost. They told me of money--gained."
"Yes. That father's Cousin George in Alaska had died and left me-- fifty thousand dollars."
"But, my dear woman, why in Heaven's name wouldn't you tell me that?"
"Because." Miss Maggie took a step nearer the door. "You see, I thought you were poor--very poor, and I--I wouldn't even own up to it myself, but I knew, in my heart, that I was afraid, if you heard I had this money, you wouldn't--you wouldn't--ask me to--to--"
She was blushing so adorably now that the man understood and leaped to his feet.
But the door had shut--Miss Maggie had fled.