Chapter XXV. Exit Mr. John Smith
 

Early in July Mr. Smith took his departure from Hillerton. He made a farewell call upon each of the Blaisdell families, and thanked them heartily for all their kindness in assisting him with his Blaisdell book.

The Blaisdells, one and all, said they were very sorry to have him go. Miss Flora frankly wiped her eyes, and told Mr. Smith she could never, never thank him enough for what he had done for her. Mellicent, too, with shy eyes averted, told him she should never forget what he had done for her--and for Donald.

James and Flora and Frank--and even Jane!--said that they would like to have one of the Blaisdell books, when they were published, to hand down in the family. Flora took out her purse and said that she would pay for hers now; but Mr. Smith hastily, and with some evident embarrassment, refused the money, saying that he could not tell yet what the price of the book would be.

All the Blaisdells, except Frank, Fred, and Bessie, went to the station to see Mr. Smith off. They said they wanted to. They told him he was just like one of the family, anyway, and they declared they hoped he would come back soon. Frank telephoned him that he would have gone, too, if he had not had so much to do at the store.

Mr. Smith seemed pleased at all this attention--he seemed, indeed, quite touched; but he seemed also embarrassed--in fact, he seemed often embarrassed during those last few days at Hillerton.

Miss Maggie Duff did not go to the station to see Mr. Smith off. Miss Flora, on her way home, stopped at the Duff cottage and reproached Miss Maggie for the delinquency.

"Nonsense! Why should I go?" laughed Miss Maggie.

"Why shouldn't you?" retorted Miss Flora. "All the rest of us did, 'most."

"Well, that's all right. You're Blaisdells--but I'm not, you know."

"You're just as good as one, Maggie Duff! Besides, hasn't that man boarded here for over a year, and paid you good money, too?"

"Why, y-yes, of course."

"Well, then, I don't think it would have hurt you any to show him this last little attention. He'll think you don't like him, or--or are mad about something, when all the rest of us went."

"Nonsense, Flora!"

"Well, then, if--Why, Maggie Duff, you're blushing!" she broke off, peering into Miss Maggie's face in a way that did not tend to lessen the unmistakable color that was creeping to her forehead. "You are blushing! I declare, if you were twenty years younger, and I didn't know better, I should say that--" She stopped abruptly, then plunged on, her countenance suddenly alight with a new idea. "Now I know why you didn't go to the station, Maggie Duff! That man proposed to you, and you refused him!" she triumphed.

"Flora!" gasped Miss Maggie, her face scarlet.

"He did, I know he did! Hattie always said it would be a match--from the very first, when he came here to your house."

"Flora!" gasped Miss Maggie again, looking about her very much as if she were meditating flight.

"Well, she did--but I didn't believe it. Now I know. You refused him-- now, didn't you?"

"Certainly not!" Miss Maggie caught her breath a little convulsively.

"Honest?"

"Flora! Stop this silly talk right now. I have answered you once. I shan't again."

"Hm-m." Miss Flora fell back in her chair. "Well, I suppose you didn't, then, if you say so. And I don't need to ask if you accepted him. You didn't, of course, or you'd have been there to see him off. And he wouldn't have gone then, anyway, probably. So he didn't ask you, I suppose. Well, I never did believe, like Hattie did, that--"

"Flora," interrupted Miss Maggie desperately, "will you stop talking in that absurd way? Listen, I did not care to go to the station to- day. I am very busy. I am going away next week. I am going--to Chicago."

"To Chicago--you!" Miss Flora came erect in her chair.

"Yes, for a visit. I'm going to see my old classmate, Nellie Maynard-- Mrs. Tyndall."

"Maggie!"

"What's the matter?"

"Why, n-nothing. It's lovely, of course, only--only I--I'm so surprised! You never go anywhere."

"All the more reason why I should, then. It's time I did," smiled Miss Maggie. Miss Maggie was looking more at ease now.

"When are you going?"

"Next Wednesday. I heard from Nellie last night. She is expecting me then."

"How perfectly splendid! I'm so glad! And I do hope you can do it, and that it won't peter out at the last minute, same's most of your good times do. Poor Maggie! And you've had such a hard life--and your boarder leaving, too! That'll make a lot of difference in your pocketbook, won't it? But, Maggie, you'll have to have some new clothes."

"Of course. I've been shopping this afternoon. I've got to have--oh, lots of things."

"Of course you have. And, Maggie,"--Miss Flora's face grew eager,-- "please, please, won't you let me help you a little--about those clothes? And get some nice ones--some real nice ones, for once. You know how I'd love to! Please, Maggie, there's a good girl!"

"Thank you, no, dear," refused Miss Maggie, shaking her head with a smile. "But I appreciate your kindness just the same--indeed, I do!"

"If you wouldn't be so horrid proud," pouted Miss Flora.

But Miss Maggie stopped her with a gesture.

"No, no,--listen! I--I have something to tell you. I was going to tell you soon, anyway, and I'll tell it now. I have money, dear,--lots of it now."

"You have money!"

"Yes. Father's Cousin George died two months ago."

"The rich one, in Alaska?"

"Yes; and to father's daughter he left--fifty thousand dollars."

"Mag-gie!"

"And I never even saw him! But he loved father, you know, years ago, and father loved him."

"But had you ever heard from him--late years?"

"Not much. Father was very angry because he went to Alaska in the first place, you know, and they haven't ever written very often."

"Fifty thousand! And you've got it now?"

"Not yet--all of it. They sent me a thousand--just for pin money, they said. The lawyer's written several times, and he's been here once. I believe it's all to come next month."

"Oh, I'm so glad, Maggie," breathed Flora. "I'm so glad! I don't know of anybody I'd rather see take a little comfort in life than you!"

At the door, fifteen minutes later, Miss Flora said again how glad she was; but she added wistfully:--

"I'm sure I don't know, though, what I'm going to do all summer without you. Just think how lonesome we'll be--you gone to Chicago, Hattie and Jim and all their family moved to Plainville, and even Mr. Smith gone, too! And I think we're going to miss Mr. Smith a whole lot, too. He was a real nice man. Don't you think so, Maggie?"

"Indeed, I do think he was a very nice man!" declared Miss Maggie. "Now, Flora, I shall want you to go shopping with me lots. Can you?"

And Miss Flora, eagerly entering into Miss Maggie's discussion of frills and flounces, failed to notice that Miss Maggie had dropped the subject of Mr. Smith somewhat hastily.

Hillerton had much to talk about during those summer days. Mr. Smith's going had created a mild discussion--the "ancestor feller" was well known and well liked in the town. But even his departure did not arouse the interest that was bestowed upon the removal of the James Blaisdells to Plainville; and this, in turn, did not cause so great an excitement as did the news that Miss Maggie Duff had inherited fifty thousand dollars and had gone to Chicago to spend it. And the fact that nearly all who heard this promptly declared that they hoped she would spend a good share of it--in Chicago, or elsewhere--on herself, showed pretty well just where Miss Maggie Duff stood in the hearts of Hillerton.

 .         .           .              .             .       .

It was early in September that Miss Flora had the letter from Miss Maggie. Not but that she had received letters from Miss Maggie before, but that the contents of this one made it at once, to all the Blaisdells, "the letter."

Miss Flora began to read it, gave a little cry, and sprang to her feet. Standing, her breath suspended, she finished it. Five minutes later, gloves half on and hat askew, she was hurrying across the common to her brother Frank's home.

"Jane, Jane," she panted, as soon as she found her sister-in-law. "I've had a letter from Maggie. Mr. Stanley G. Fulton has come back. He's come back!"

"Come back! Alive, you mean? Oh, my goodness gracious! What'll Hattie do? She's just been living on having that money. And us, with all we've lost, too! But, then, maybe we wouldn't have got it, anyway. My stars! And Maggie wrote you? Where's the letter?"

"There! And I never thought to bring it," ejaculated Miss Flora vexedly. "But, never mind! I can tell you all she said. She didn't write much. She said it would be in all the Eastern papers right away, of course, but she wanted to tell us first, so we wouldn't be so surprised. He's just come. Walked into his lawyer's office without a telegram, or anything. Said he didn't want any fuss made. Mr. Tyndall brought home the news that night in an 'Extra'; but that's all it told--just that Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, the multi-millionaire who disappeared nearly two years ago on an exploring trip to South America, had come back alive and well. Then it told all about the two letters he left, and the money he left to us, and all that, Maggie said; and it talked a lot about how lucky it was that he got back just in time before the other letter had to be opened next November. But it didn't say any more about his trip, or anything. The morning papers will have more, Maggie said, probably."

"Yes, of course, of course," nodded Jane, rolling the corner of her upper apron nervously. (Since the forty-thousand-dollar loss Jane had gone back to her old habit of wearing two aprons.) "Where do you suppose he's been all this time? Was he lost or just exploring?"

"Maggie said it wasn't known--that the paper didn't say. It was an 'Extra' anyway, and it just got in the bare news of his return. But we'll know, of course. The papers here will tell us. Besides, Maggie'll write again about it, I'm sure. Poor Maggie! I'm so glad she's having such a good time!"

"Yes, of course, of course," nodded Jane again nervously. "Say, Flora, I wonder--do you suppose we'll ever hear from him? He left us all that money--he knows that, of course. He can't ask for it back--the lawyer said he couldn't do that! Don't you remember? But, I wonder--do you suppose we ought to write him and--and thank him?"

"Oh, mercy!" exclaimed Miss Flora, aghast. "Mercy me, Jane! I'd be scared to death to do such a thing as that. Oh, you don't think we've got to do that?" Miss Flora had grown actually pale.

Jane frowned.

"I don't know. We'd want to do what was right and proper, of course. But I don't see--" She paused helplessly.

Miss Flora gave a sudden hysterical little laugh.

"Well, I don't see how we're going to find out what's proper, in this case," she giggled. "We can't write to a magazine, same as I did when I wanted to know how to answer invitations and fix my knives and forks on the table. We can't write to them, 'cause nothing like this ever happened before, and they Wouldn't know what to say. How'd we look writing, 'Please, dear Editor, when a man wills you a hundred thousand dollars and then comes to life again, is it proper or not proper to write and thank him?' They'd think we was crazy, and they'd have reason to! For my part, I--"

The telephone bell rang sharply, and Jane rose to answer it. She was gone some time. When she came back she was even more excited.

"It was Frank. He's heard it. It was in the papers to-night."

"Did it tell anything more?"

"Not much, I guess. Still, there was some. He's going to bring it home. It's 'most supper-time. Why don't you wait?" she questioned, as Miss Flora got hastily to her feet.

Miss Flora shook her head.

"I can't. I left everything just as it was and ran, when I got the letter. I'll get a paper myself on the way home. I'm going to call up Hattie, too, on the long distance. My, it's 'most as exciting as it was when it first came,--the money, I mean,--isn't it?" panted Miss Flora as she hurried away.

The Blaisdells bought many papers during the next few days. But even by the time that the Stanley G. Fulton sensation had dwindled to a short paragraph in an obscure corner of a middle page, they (and the public in general) were really little the wiser, except for these bare facts:--

Stanley G. Fulton had arrived at a South American hotel, from the interior, had registered as S. Fulton, frankly to avoid publicity, and had taken immediate passage to New York. Arriving at New York, still to avoid publicity, he had not telegraphed his attorneys, but had taken the sleeper for Chicago, and had fortunately not met any one who recognized him until his arrival in that city. He had brought home several fine specimens of Incan textiles and potteries: and he declared that he had had a very enjoyable and profitable trip. Beyond that he would say nothing, He did not care to talk of his experiences, he said.

For a time, of course, his return was made much of. Fake interviews and rumors of threatened death and disaster in impenetrable jungles made frequent appearance; but in an incredibly short time the flame of interest died from want of fuel to feed upon; and, as Mr. Stanley G. Fulton himself had once predicted, the matter was soon dismissed as merely another of the multi-millionaire's well-known eccentricities.

All of this the Blaisdells heard from Miss Maggie in addition to seeing it in the newspapers. But very soon, from Miss Maggie, they began to learn more. Before a fortnight had passed, Miss Flora received another letter from Chicago that sent her flying as before to her sister-in-law.

"Jane, Jane, Maggie's met him!" she cried, breathlessly bursting into the kitchen where Jane was paring the apples that she would not trust to the maid's more wasteful knife.

"Met him! Met who?"

"Mr. Fulton. She's talked with him! She wrote me all about it."

"Our Mr. Fulton?"

"Yes."

"Flora!" With a hasty twirl of a now reckless knife, Jane finished the last apple, set the pan on the before the maid, and hurried her visitor into the living-room. "Now, tell me quick--what did she say? Is he nice? Did she like him? Did he know she belonged to us?"

"Yes--yes--everything," nodded Miss Flora, sinking into a chair. "She liked him real well, she said and he knows all about that she belongs to us. She said he was real interested in us. Oh, I hope she didn't tell him about--Fred!"

"And that awful gold-mine stock," moaned Jane. "But she wouldn't--I know she wouldn't!"

"Of course she wouldn't," cried Miss Flora. "'Tisn't like Maggie one bit! She'd only tell the nice things, I'm sure. And, of course, she'd tell him how pleased we were with the money!"

"Yes, of course, of course. And to think she's met him--really met him!" breathed Jane. "Mellicent!" She turned an excited face to her daughter, who had just entered the room. "What do you think? Aunt Flora's just had a letter from Aunt Maggie, and she's met Mr. Fulton-- actually talked with him!"

"Really? Oh, how perfectly splendid! Is he nice? Did she like him?"

Miss Flora laughed.

"That's just what your mother asked. Yes, he's real nice, your Aunt Maggie says, and she likes him very much."

"But how'd she do it? How'd she happen to meet him?" demanded Jane.

"Well, it seems he knew Mr. Tyndall, and Mr. Tyndall brought him home one night and introduced him to his wife and Maggie; and since then he's been very nice to them. He's taken them out in his automobile, and taken them to the theater twice."

"That's because she belongs to us, of course," nodded Jane wisely.

"Yes, I suppose so," agreed Flora. "And I think it's very kind of him."

"Pooh!" sniffed Mellicent airily. "I think he does it because he wants to. You never did appreciate Aunt Maggie. I'll warrant she's nicer and sweeter and--and, yes, prettier than lots of those old Chicago women. Aunt Maggie looked positively handsome that day she left here last July. She looked so--so absolutely happy! Probably he likes to take her to places. Anyhow, I'm glad she's having one good time before she dies."

"Yes, so am I, my dear. "We all are," sighed Miss Flora." Poor Maggie!"

"I only wish he'd marry her and--and give her a good time all her life," avowed Mellicent, lifting her chin.

"Marry her!" exclaimed two scornful voices.

"Well, why not? She's good enough for him," bridled Mellicent. "Aunt Maggie's good enough for anybody!"

"Of course she is, child!" laughed Miss Flora. "Maggie's a saint--if ever there was one."

"Yes, but I shouldn't call her a marrying saint," smiled Jane.

"Well, I don't know about that," frowned Miss Flora thoughtfully. "Hattie always declared there'd be a match between her and Mr. Smith, you know."

"Yes. But there wasn't one, was there?" twitted Jane. "Well, then, I shall stick to my original statement that Maggie Duff is a saint, all right, but not a marrying one--unless some one marries her now for her money, of course."

"As if Aunt Maggie'd stand for that!" scoffed Mellicent. "Besides, she wouldn't have to! Aunt Maggie's good enough to be married for herself."

"There, there, child, just because you are a love-sick little piece of romance just now, you needn't think everybody else is," her mother reproved her a little sharply.

But Mellicent only laughed merrily as she disappeared into her own room.

"Speaking of Mr. Smith, I wonder where he is, and if he'll ever come back here," mused Miss Flora, aloud. "I wish he would. He was a very nice man, and I liked him."

"Goodness, Flora, you aren't, getting romantic, too, are you?" teased her sister-in-law.

"Nonsense, Jane!" ejaculated Miss Flora sharply, buttoning up her coat. "I'm no more romantic than--than poor Maggie herself is!"

Two weeks later, to a day, came Miss Maggie's letter announcing her engagement to Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, and saying that she was to be married in Chicago before Christmas.