Chapter VIII. A Santa Claus Held Up
 

It was about five months after the multi-millionaire, Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, had started for South America, that Edward D. Norton, Esq., received the following letter:--

DEAR NED:--I'm glad there's only one more month to wait. I feel like Santa Claus with a box of toys, held up by a snowdrift, and I just can't wait to see the children dance--when they get them.

And let me say right here and now how glad I am that I did this thing. Oh, yes, I'll admit I still feel like the small boy at the keyhole, at times, perhaps; but I'll forget that--when the children begin to dance.

And, really, never have I seen a bunch of people whom I thought a little money would do more good to than the Blaisdells here in Hillerton. My only regret is that I didn't know about Miss Maggie Duff, so that she could have had some, too. (Oh, yes, I've found out all about "Poor Maggie" now, and she's a dear--the typical self- sacrificing, self-effacing bearer of everybody's burdens, including a huge share of her own!) However, she isn't a Blaisdell, of course, so I couldn't have worked her into my scheme very well, I suppose, even if I had known about her. They are all fond of her--though they impose on her time and her sympathies abominably. But I reckon she'll get some of the benefits of the others' thousands. Mrs. Jane, in particular, is always wishing she could do something for "Poor Maggie," so I dare say she'll be looked out for all right.

As to who will prove to be the wisest handler of the hundred thousand, and thus my eventual heir, I haven't the least idea. As I said before, they all need money, and need it badly--need it to be comfortable and happy, I mean. They aren't really poor, any of them, except, perhaps, Miss Flora. She is a little hard up, poor soul. Bless her heart! I wonder what she'll get first, Niagara, the phonograph, or something to eat without looking at the price. Did I ever write you about those "three wishes" of hers?

I can't see that any of the family are really extravagant unless, perhaps, it's Mrs. James--"Hattie." She is ambitious, and is inclined to live on a scale a little beyond her means, I judge. But that will be all right, of course, when she has the money to gratify her tastes. Jim--poor fellow, I shall be glad to see him take it easy, for once. He reminds me of the old horse I saw the other day running one of those infernal treadmill threshing machines--always going, but never getting there. He works, and works hard, and then he gets a job nights and works harder; but he never quite catches up with his bills, I fancy. What a world of solid comfort he'll take with that hundred thousand! I can hear him draw the long breath now--for once every bill paid!

Of course, the Frank Blaisdells are the most thrifty of the bunch--at least, Mrs. Frank, "Jane," is--and I dare say they would be the most conservative handlers of my millions. But time will tell. Anyhow, I shall be glad to see them enjoy themselves meanwhile with the hundred thousand. Maybe Mrs. Jane will be constrained to clear my room of a few of the mats and covers and tidies! I have hopes. At least, I shall surely have a vacation from her everlasting "We can't afford it," and her equally everlasting "Of course, if I had the money I'd do it." Praise be for that!--and it'll be worth a hundred thousand to me, believe me, Ned.

As for her husband--I'm not sure how he will take it. It isn't corn or peas or flour or sugar, you see, and I'm not posted as to his opinion of much of anything else. He'll spend some of it, though,--I'm sure of that. I don't think he always thoroughly appreciates his wife's thrifty ideas of economy. I haven't forgotten the night I came home to find Mrs. Jane out calling, and Mr. Frank rampaging around the house with every gas jet at full blast. It seems he was packing his bag to go on a hurried business trip. He laughed a little sheepishly--I suppose he saw my blinking amazement at the illumination--and said something about being tired of always feeling his way through pitch- dark rooms. So, as I say, I'm not quite sure of Mr. Frank when he comes into possession of the hundred thousand. He's been cooped up in the dark so long he may want to blow in the whole hundred thousand in one grand blare of light. However, I reckon I needn't worry--he'll still have Mrs. Jane--to turn some of the gas jets down!

As for the younger generation--they're fine, every one of them; and just think what this money will mean to them in education and advantages! Jim's son, Fred, eighteen, is a fine, manly boy. He's got his mother's ambitions, and he's keen for college--even talks of working his way (much to his mother's horror) if his father can't find the money to send him. Of course, that part will be all right now--in a month.

The daughter, Bessie (almost seventeen), is an exceedingly pretty girl. She, too, is ambitious--almost too much so, perhaps, for her happiness, in the present state of their pocketbook. But of course that, too, will be all right, after next month. Benny, the nine-year- old, will be concerned as little as any one over that hundred thousand dollars, I imagine. The real value of the gift he will not appreciate, of course; in fact, I doubt if he even approves of it--lest his privileges as to meals and manners be still further curtailed. Poor Benny! Now, Mellicent--

Perhaps in no one do I expect to so thoroughly rejoice as I do in poor little pleasure-starved Mellicent. I realize, of course, that it will mean to her the solid advantages of college, music-culture, and travel; but I must confess that in my dearest vision, the child is reveling in one grand whirl of pink dresses and chocolate bonbons. Bless her dear heart! I gave her one five-pound box of candy, but I never repeated the mistake. Besides enduring the manifestly suspicious disapproval of her mother because I had made the gift, I have had the added torment of seeing that box of chocolates doled out to that poor child at the rate of two pieces a day. They aren't gone yet, but I'll warrant they're as hard as bullets--those wretched bonbons. I picked the box up yesterday. You should have heard it rattle!

But there is yet another phase of the money business in connection with Mellicent that pleases me mightily. A certain youth by the name of Carl Pennock has been beauing her around a good deal, since I came. The Pennocks have some money--fifty thousand, or so, I believe--and it is reported that Mrs. Pennock has put her foot down on the budding romance--because the Blaisdells have not got money enough! (Begin to see where my chuckles come in?) However true this report may be, the fact remains that the youth has not been near the house for a month past, nor taken Mellicent anywhere. Of course, it shows him and his family up--for just what they are; but it has been mortifying for poor Mellicent. She's showing her pluck like a little trump, however, and goes serenely on her way with her head just enough in the air--but not too much.

I don't think Mellicent's real heart is affected in the least--she's only eighteen, remember--but her pride is. And her mother--! Mrs. Jane is thoroughly angry as well as mortified. She says Mellicent is every whit as good as those Pennocks, and that the woman who would let a paltry thing like money stand in the way of her son's affections is a pretty small specimen. For her part, she never did have any use for rich folks, anyway, and she is proud and glad that she's poor! I'm afraid Mrs. Jane was very angry when she said that. However, so much for her--and she may change her opinion one of these days.

My private suspicion is that young Pennock is already repentant, and is pulling hard at his mother's leading-strings; for I was with Mellicent the other day when we met the lad face to face on the street. Mellicent smiled and nodded casually, but Pennock--he turned all colors of the rainbow with terror, pleading, apology, and assumed indifference all racing each other across his face. Dear, dear, but he was a sight!

There is, too, another feature in the case. It seems that a new family by the name of Gaylord have come to town and opened up the old Gaylord mansion. Gaylord is a son of old Peter Gaylord, and is a millionaire. They are making quite a splurge in the way of balls and liveried servants, and motor cars, and the town is agog with it all. There are young people in the family, and especially there is a girl, Miss Pearl, whom, report says, the Pennocks have selected as being a suitable mate for Carl. At all events the Pennocks and the Gaylords have struck up a furious friendship, and the young people of both families are in the forefront of innumerable social affairs--in most of which Mellicent is left out.

So now you have it--the whole story. And next month comes to Mellicent's father one hundred thousand dollars. Do you wonder I say the plot thickens?

As for myself--you should see me! I eat whatever I like. (The man who says health biscuit to me now gets knocked down--and I've got the strength to do it, too!) I can walk miles and not know it. I've gained twenty pounds, and I'm having the time of my life. I'm even enjoying being a genealogist--a little. I've about exhausted the resources of Hillerton, and have begun to make trips to the neighboring towns. I can even spend an afternoon in an old cemetery copying dates from moss-grown gravestones, and not entirely lose my appetite for dinner-- I mean, supper. I was even congratulating myself that I was really quite a genealogist when, the other day, I met the real thing. Heavens, Ned, that man had fourteen thousand four hundred and seventy- two dates at his tongue's end, and he said them all over to me. He knows the name of every Blake (he was a Blake) back to the year one, how many children they had (and they had some families then, let me tell you!), and when they all died, and why. I met him one morning in a cemetery. I was hunting for a certain stone and I asked him a question. Heavens! It was like setting a match to one of those Fourth- of-July flower-pot sky-rocket affairs. That question was the match that set him going, and thereafter he was a gushing geyser of names and dates. I never heard anything like it.

He began at the Blaisdells, but skipped almost at once to the Blakes-- there were a lot of them near us. In five minutes he had me dumb from sheer stupefaction. In ten minutes he had made a century run, and by noon he had got to the Crusades. We went through the Dark Ages very appropriately, waiting in an open tomb for a thunderstorm to pass. We had got to the year one when I had to leave to drive back to Hillerton. I've invited him to come to see Father Duff. I thought I'd like to have them meet. He knows a lot about the Duffs--a Blake married one, 'way back somewhere. I'd like to hear him and Father Duff talk--or, rather, I'd like to hear him try to talk to Father Duff. Did I ever write you Father Duff's opinion of genealogists? I believe I did.

I'm not seeing so much of Father Duff these days. Now that it's grown a little cooler he spends most of his time in his favorite chair before the cook stove in the kitchen.

Jove, what a letter this is! It should be shipped by freight and read in sections. But I wanted you to know how things are here. You can appreciate it the more--when you come.

You're not forgetting, of course, that it's on the first day of November that Mr. Stanley G. Fulton's envelope of instructions is to be opened.

As ever yours,

JOHN SMITH.