Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter
Chapter XXIV. That Miserable Money
In the evening, after the Martin girls had gone to their rooms, Miss Maggie and Mr. Smith faced the thing squarely.
"Of course," he began with a sigh, "I'm really not out of the woods at all. Blissfully happy as I am, I'm really deeper in the woods than ever, for now I've got you there with me, to look out for. However successfully John Smith might dematerialize into nothingness--Maggie Duff can't."
"No, I know she can't," admitted Miss Maggie soberly.
"Yet if she marries John Smith she'll have to--and if she doesn't marry him, how's Stanley G. Fulton going to do his courting? He can't come here."
"But he must!" Miss Maggie looked up with startled eyes. "Why, Mr. Smith, you'll have to tell them--who you are. You'll have to tell them right away."
The man made a playfully wry face.
"I shall be glad," he observed, "when I shan't have to be held off at the end of a 'Mr.'! However, we'll let that pass--until we settle the other matter. Have you given any thought as to how I'm going to tell Cousin Frank and Cousin James and Cousin Flora that I am Stanley G. Fulton?"
"No--except that you must do it," she answered decidedly. "I don't think you ought to deceive them another minute--not another minute."
"Hm-m." Mr. Smith's eyes grew reflective. "And had you thought-as to what would happen when I did tell them?"
"Why, n-no, not particularly, except that--that they naturally wouldn't like it, at first, and that you'd have to explain--just as you did to me--why you did it."
"And do you think they'll like it any better--when I do explain? Think!"
Miss Maggie meditated; then, a little tremulously she drew in her breath. She lifted startled eyes to his face.
"Why, you'd have to tell them that--that you did it for a test, wouldn't you?"
"If I told the truth--yes."
"And they'd know--they couldn't help knowing--that they had failed to meet it adequately."
"Yes. And would that help matters any--make things any happier, all around?"
"No--oh, no," she frowned despairingly.
"Would it do anybody any real good, now? Think of that."
"N-no," she admitted reluctantly, "except that--that you'd be doing right."
"But would I be doing right? And another thing--aside from the mortification, dismay, and anger of my good cousins, have you thought what I'd be bringing on you?"
"Yes. In less than half a dozen hours after the Blaisdells knew that Mr. John Smith was Stanley G. Fulton, Hillerton would know it. And in less than half a dozen more hours, Boston, New York, Chicago,--to say nothing of a dozen lesser cities,--would know it--if there didn't happen to be anything bigger on foot. Headlines an inch high would proclaim the discovery of the missing Stanley G. Fulton, and the fine print below would tell everything that happened, and a great deal that didn't happen, in the carrying-out of the eccentric multi- millionaire's extraordinary scheme of testing his relatives with a hundred thousand dollars apiece to find a suitable heir. Your picture would adorn the front page of the yellowest of yellow journals, and--"
"My picture! Oh, no, no!" gasped Miss Maggie.
"Oh, yes, yes," smiled the man imperturbably. "You'll be in it, too. Aren't you the affianced bride of Mr. Stanley G. Fulton? I can see them now: 'In Search of an Heir and Finds a Wife.'--'Charming Miss Maggie Duff Falls in Love with Plain John Smith,' and--"
"Oh, no, no," moaned Miss Maggie, shrinking back as if already the lurid headlines were staring her in the face.
Mr. Smith laughed.
"Oh, well, it might not be so bad as that, of course. But you never can tell. Undoubtedly there are elements for a pretty good story in the case, and some man, with nothing more important to write up, is bound to make the most of it somewhere. Then other papers will copy. There's sure to be unpleasant publicity, my dear, if the truth once leaks out."
"But what--what had you planned to do?" she faltered, shuddering again.
"Well, I had planned something like this: pretty quick, now, Mr. Smith was to announce the completion of his Blaisdell data, and, with properly grateful farewells, take his departure from Hillerton. He would go to South America. There he would go inland on some sort of a simple expedition with a few native guides and carriers, but no other companion. Somewhere in the wilderness he would shed his beard and his name, and would emerge in his proper person of Stanley G. Fulton and promptly take passage for the States. Of course, upon the arrival in Chicago of Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, there would be a slight flurry at his appearance, and a few references to the hundred-thousand-dollar gifts to the Eastern relatives, and sundry speculations as to the why and how of the exploring trip. There would be various rumors and alleged interviews; but Mr. Stanley G. Fulton never was noted for his communicativeness, and, after a very short time, the whole thing would be dismissed as probably another of the gentleman's well-known eccentricities. And there it would end."
"Oh, I see," murmured Miss Maggie, in very evident relief. "That would be better--in some ways; only it does seem terrible not to--to tell them who you are."
"But we have just proved that to do that wouldn't bring happiness anywhere, and would bring misery everywhere, haven't we?"
"Then why do it?--particularly as by not doing it I am not defrauding anybody in the least. No; that part isn't worrying me a bit now--but there is one point that does worry me very much."
"What do you mean? What is it?"
"Yourself. My scheme gets Stanley G. Fulton back to life and Chicago very nicely; but it doesn't get Maggie Duff there worth a cent! Maggie Duff can't marry Mr. John Smith in Hillerton and arrive in Chicago as the wife of Stanley G. Fulton, can she?"
"N-no, but he--he can come back and get her--if he wants her." Miss Maggie blushed.
"If he wants her, indeed!" (Miss Maggie blushed all the more at the method and the fervor of Mr. Smith's answer to this.) "Come back as Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, you mean?" went on Mr. Smith, smiling at Miss Maggie's hurried efforts to smooth her ruffled hair. "Too risky, my dear! He'd look altogether too much like--like Mr. John Smith."
"But your beard will be gone--I wonder how I shall like you without a beard." She eyed him critically.
Mr. Smith laughed and threw up his hands with a doleful shrug.
"That's what comes of courting as one man and marrying as another," he groaned. Then, sternly: "I'll warn you right now, Maggie Duff, that Stanley G. Fulton is going to be awfully jealous of John Smith if you don't look out."
"He should have thought of that before," retorted Miss Maggie, her eyes mischievous. "But, tell me, wouldn't you ever dare to come--in your proper person?"
"Never!--or, at least, not for some time. The beard would be gone, to be sure; but there'd be all the rest to tattle--eyes, voice, size, manner, walk--everything; and smoked glasses couldn't cover all that, you know. Besides, glasses would be taboo, anyway. They'd only result in making me look more like John Smith than ever. John Smith, you remember, wore smoked glasses for some time to hide Mr. Stanley G. Fulton from the ubiquitous reporter. No, Mr. Stanley G. Fulton can't come to Hillerton. So, as Mahomet can't go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mahomet."
"Meaning--?" Miss Maggie's eyes were growing dangerously mutinous.
"That you will have to come to Chicago--yes."
"And court you? No, sir--thank you!"
Mr. Smith chuckled softly.
"I love you with your head tilted that way." (Miss Maggie promptly tilted it the other.) "Or that, either, for that matter," continued Mr. Smith genially. "However, speaking of courting--Mr. Fulton will do that, all right, and endeavor to leave nothing lacking, either as to quantity or quality. Think, now. Don't you know any one in Chicago? Haven't you got some friend that you can visit?"
"No!" Miss Maggie's answer was prompt and emphatic--too prompt and too emphatic for unquestioning acceptance.
"Oh, yes, you have," asserted the man cheerfully. "I don't know her name--but she's there. She's Waving a red flag from your face this minute! Now, listen. Well, turn your head away, if you like--if you can listen better that way," he went on tranquilly paying no attention to her little gasp. "Well, all you have to do is to write the lady you're coming, and go. Never mind who she is--Mr. Stanley G. Fulton will find a way to meet her. Trust him for that! Then he'll call and meet you--and be so pleased to see you! The rest will be easy. There'll be a regular whirlwind courtship then--calls, dinners, theaters, candy, books, flowers! Then Mr. Stanley G. Fulton will propose marriage. You'll be immensely surprised, of course, but you'll accept. Then we'll get married," he finished with a deep sigh of satisfaction.
"Mr. Smith!" ejaculated Miss Maggie faintly.
"Say, can't you call me anything--" he began wrathfully, but interrupted himself. "However, it's better that you don't, after all. Because I've got to be 'Mr. Smith' as long as I stay here. But you wait till you meet Mr. Stanley G. Fulton in Chicago! Now, what's her name, and where does she live?"
Miss Maggie laughed in spite of herself, as she said severely: "Her name, indeed! I'm afraid Mr. Stanley G. Fulton is so in the habit of having his own way that he forgets he is still Mr. John Smith. However, there is an old schoolmate," she acknowledged demurely.
"Of course there is! Now, write her at once, and tell her you're coming."
"But she--she may not be there."
"Then get her there. She's got to be there. And, listen. I think you'd better plan to go pretty soon after I go to South America. Then you can be there when Mr. Stanley G. Fulton arrives in Chicago and can write the news back here to Hillerton. Oh, they'll get it in the papers, in time, of course; but I think it had better come from you first. You see--the reappearance on this earth of Mr. Stanley G. Fulton is going to be of--of some moment to them, you know. There is Mrs. Hattie, for instance, who is counting on the rest of the money next November."
"Yes, I know, it will mean a good deal to them, of course. Still, I don't believe Hattie is really expecting the money. At any rate, she hasn't said anything about it very lately--perhaps because she's been too busy bemoaning the pass the present money has brought them to."
"Yes, I know," frowned Mr. Smith, with a gloomy sigh. "That miserable money!"
"No, no--I didn't mean to bring that up," apologized Miss Maggie quickly, with an apprehensive glance into his face. "And it wasn't miserable money a bit! Besides, Hattie has--has learned her lesson, I'm sure, and she'll do altogether differently in the new home. But, Mr. Smith, am I never to--to come back here? Can't we come back-- ever?"
"Indeed we can--some time, by and by, when all this has blown over, and they've forgotten how Mr. Smith looks. We can come back then. Meanwhile, you can come alone--a very little. I shan't let you leave me very much. But I understand; you'll have to come to see your friends. Besides, there are all those playgrounds for the babies and cleaner milk for the streets, and--"
"Cleaner milk for the streets, indeed!"
"Eh? What? Oh, yes, it was the milk for the babies, wasn't it?" he teased. "Well, however that may be you'll have to come back to superintend all those things you've been wanting to do so long. But"-- his face grew a little wistful--"you don't want to spend too much time here. You know--Chicago has a few babies that need cleaner milk."
"Yes, I know, I know!" Her face grew softly luminous as it had grown earlier in the afternoon.
"So you can bestow some of your charity there; and--"
"It isn't charity," she interrupted with suddenly flashing eyes. "Oh, how I hate that word--the way it's used, I mean. Of course, the real charity means love. Love, indeed! I suppose it was love that made John Daly give one hundred dollars to the Pension Fund Fair--after he'd jewed it out of those poor girls behind his counters! And Mrs. Morse went around everywhere telling how kind dear Mr. Daly was to give so much to charity! Charity! Nobody wants charity--except a few lazy rascals like those beggars of Flora's! But we all want our rights. And if half the world gave the other half its rights there wouldn't be any charity, I believe."
"Dear, dear! What have we here? A rabid little Socialist?" Mr. Smith held up both hands in mock terror. "I shall be petitioning her for my bread and butter, yet!"
"Nonsense! But, honestly, Mr. Smith, when I think of all that money"-- her eyes began to shine again--"and of what we can do with it, I--I just can't believe it's so!"
"But you aren't expecting that twenty millions are going to right all the wrongs in the world, are you?" Mr. Smith's eyes were quizzical.
"No, oh, no; but we can help some that we know about. But it isn't that I just want to give, you know. We must get behind things--to the causes. We must--"
"We must make the Mr. Dalys pay more to their girls before they pay anything to pension funds, eh?" laughed Mr. Smith, as Miss Maggie came to a breathless pause.
"Exactly!" nodded Miss Maggie earnestly. "Oh, can't you see what we can do--with that twenty million dollars?"
Mr. Smith, his gaze on Miss Maggie's flushed cheeks and shining eyes, smiled tenderly. Then with mock severity he frowned.
"I see--that I'm being married for my money--after all!" he scolded.
"Pooh!" sniffed Miss Maggie, so altogether bewitchingly that Mr. Smith gave her a rapturous kiss.