Chapter IX. "Dear Cousin Stanley"
 

It was very early in November that Mr. Smith, coming home one afternoon, became instantly aware that something very extraordinary had happened.

In the living-room were gathered Mr. Frank Blaisdell, his wife, Jane, and their daughter, Mellicent. Mellicent's cheeks were pink, and her eyes more star-like than ever. Mrs. Jane's cheeks, too, were pink. Her eyes were excited, but incredulous. Mr. Frank was still in his white work-coat, which he wore behind the counter, but which he never wore upstairs in his home. He held an open letter in his hand.

It was an ecstatic cry from Mellicent that came first to Mr. Smith's ears.

"Oh, Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith, you can't guess what's happened! You couldn't guess in a million years!"

"No? Something nice, I hope." Mr. Smith was looking almost as happily excited as Mellicent herself.

"Nice--nice!" Mellicent clasped her hands before her. "Why, Mr. Smith, we are going to have a hundred thousand--"

"Mellicent, I wouldn't talk of it--yet," interfered her mother sharply.

'But, mother, it's no secret. It can't be kept secret!"

"Of course not--if it's true. But it isn't true," retorted the woman, with excited emphasis. "No man in his senses would do such a thing."

"Er--ah--w-what?" stammered Mr. Smith, looking suddenly a little less happy.

"Leave a hundred thousand dollars apiece to three distant relations he never saw."

"But he was our cousin--you said he was our cousin," interposed Mellicent, "and when he died--"

"The letter did not say he had died," corrected her mother. "He just hasn't been heard from. But he will be heard from--and then where will our hundred thousand dollars be?"

"But the lawyer's coming to give it to us," maintained Mr. Frank stoutly. Then abruptly he turned to Mr. Smith. "Here, read this, please, and tell us if we have lost our senses--or if somebody else has."

Mr. Smith took the letter. A close observer might have noticed that his hand shook a little. The letterhead carried the name of a Chicago law firm, but Mr. Smith did not glance at that. He plunged at once into the text of the letter.

"Aloud, please, Mr. Smith. I want to hear it again," pleaded Mellicent.

DEAR SIR (read Mr. Smith then, after clearing his throat),--I understand that you are a distant kinsman of Mr. Stanley G. Fulton, the Chicago millionaire.

Some six months ago Mr. Fulton left this city on what was reported to be a somewhat extended exploring tour of South America. Before his departure he transferred to me, as trustee, certain securities worth about $300,000. He left with me a sealed envelope, entitled "Terms of Trust," and instructed me to open such envelope in six months from the date written thereon--if he had not returned--and thereupon to dispose of the securities according to the terms of the trust. I will add that he also left with me a second sealed envelope entitled "Last Will and Testament," but instructed me not to open such envelope until two years from the date written thereon.

The period of six months has now expired. I have opened the envelope entitled "Terms of Trust," and find that I am directed to convert the securities into cash with all convenient speed, and forthwith to pay over one third of the net proceeds to his kinsman, Frank G. Blaisdell; one third to his kinsman, James A. Blaisdell; and one third to his kinswoman, Flora B. Blaisdell, all of Hillerton.

I shall, of course, discharge my duty as trustee under this instrument with all possible promptness. Some of the securities have already been converted into cash, and within a few days I shall come to Hillerton to pay over the cash in the form of certified checks; and I shall ask you at that time to be so good as to sign a receipt for your share. Meanwhile this letter is to apprise you of your good fortune and to offer you my congratulations.

Very truly yours,

EDWARD D. NORTON.

"Oh-h!" breathed Mellicent.

"Well, what do you think of it?" demanded Mr. Frank Blaisdell, his arms akimbo.

"Why, it's fine, of course. I congratulate you," cried Mr. Smith, handing back the letter.

"Then it's all straight, you think?"

"Most assuredly!"

"Je-hos-a-phat!" exploded the man.

"But he'll come back--you see if he don't!" Mrs. Jane's voice was still positive.

"What if he does? You'll still have your hundred thousand," smiled Mr. Smith.

"He won't take it back?"

"Of course not! I doubt if he could, if he wanted to."

"And we're really going to have a whole hundred thousand dollars?" breathed Mellicent.

"I reckon you are--less the inheritance tax, perhaps.

"What's that? What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Jane. "Do you mean we've got to pay because we've got that money?"

"Why, y-yes, I suppose so. Isn't there an inheritance tax in this State?"

"How much does it cost?" Mrs. Jane's lips were at their most economical pucker. "Do we have to pay a great deal? Isn't there any way to save doing that?"

"No, there isn't," cut in her husband crisply. "And I guess we can pay the inheritance tax--with a hundred thousand to pay it out of. We're going to spend some of this money, Jane."

The telephone bell in the hall jangled its peremptory summons, and Mr. Frank answered it. In a minute he returned, a new excitement on his face.

"It's Hattie. She's crazy, of course. They're coming right over."

"Oh, yes! And they've got it, too, haven't they?" remembered Mellicent. "And Aunt Flora, and--" She stopped suddenly, a growing dismay in her eyes. "Why, he didn't--he didn't leave a cent to Aunt Maggie!" she cried.

"Gosh! that's so. Say, now, that's too bad!" There was genuine concern in Frank Blaisdell's voice.

"But why?" almost wept Mellicent.

Her mother sighed sympathetically.

"Poor Maggie! How she is left out--always!"

"But we can give her some of ours, mother,--we can give her some of ours," urged the girl.

"It isn't ours to give--yet," remarked her mother, a bit coldly.

"But, mother, you will do it," importuned Mellicent. "You've always said you would, if you had it to give."

"And I say it again, Mellicent. I shall never see her suffer, you may be sure,--if I have the money to relieve her. But--" She stopped abruptly at the sound of an excited voice down the hall. Miss Flora, evidently coming in through the kitchen, was hurrying toward them.

"Jane--Mellicent--where are you? Isn't anybody here? Mercy me!" she panted, as she reached the room and sank into a chair. "Did you ever hear anything like it in all your life? You had one, too, didn't you?" she cried, her eyes falling on the letter in her brother's hand. "But 'tain't true, of course!"

Miss Flora wore no head-covering. She wore one glove (wrong side out), and was carrying the other one. Her dress, evidently donned hastily for the street, was unevenly fastened, showing the topmost button without a buttonhole.

"Mr. Smith says it's true," triumphed Mellicent.

"How does he know? Who told him 'twas true?" demanded Miss Flora.

So almost accusing was the look in her eyes that Mr. Smith actually blinked a little. He grew visibly confused.

"Why--er--ah--the letter speaks for itself Miss Flora," he stammered.

"But it can't be true," reiterated Miss Flora. "The idea of a man I never saw giving me a hundred thousand dollars like that!--and Frank and Jim, too!"

"But he's your cousin--you said he was your cousin," Mr. Smith reminded her. "And you have his picture in your album. You showed it to me."

"I know it. But, my sakes! I didn't know he knew I was his cousin. I don't s'pose he's got my picture in his album! But how did he know about us? It's some other Flora Blaisdell, I tell you."

"There, I never thought of that," cried Jane. "It probably is some other Blaisdells. Well, anyhow, if it is, we won't have to pay that inheritance tax. We can save that much."

"Save! Well, what do we lose?" demanded her husband apoplectically.

At this moment the rattling of the front-door knob and an imperative knocking brought Mrs. Jane to her feet.

"There's Hattie, now, and that door's locked," she cried, hurrying into the hall.

When she returned a moment later Harriet Blaisdell and Bessie were with her.

There was about Mrs. Harriet Blaisdell a new, indescribable air of commanding importance. To Mr. Smith she appeared to have grown inches taller.

"Well, I do hope, Jane, now you'll live in a decent place," she was saying, as they entered the room, "and not oblige your friends to climb up over a grocery store."

"Well, I guess you can stand the grocery store a few more days, Hattie, "observed Frank Blaisdell dryly. "How long do you s'pose we'd live--any of us--if 'twa'n't for the grocery stores to feed us? Where's Jim?"

"Isn't he here? I told him I was coming here, and to come right over himself at once; that the very first thing we must have was a family conclave, just ourselves, you know, so as to plan what to give out to the public."

"Er--ah--" Mr. Smith was on his feet, looking somewhat embarrassed; "perhaps, then, you would rather I were not present at the--er--family conclave."

"Nonsense!" shouted Frank Blaisdell.

"Why, you are one of the family, 'seems so," cried Mellicent.

"No, indeed, Mr. Smith, don't go," smiled Mrs. Hattie pleasantly. "Besides, you are interested in what concerns us, I know--for the book; so, of course, you'll be interested in this legacy of dear Cousin Stanley's."

Mr. Smith collapsed suddenly behind his handkerchief, with one of the choking coughs to which he appeared to be somewhat addicted.

"Ain't you getting a little familiar with 'dear Cousin Stanley,' Hattie?" drawled Frank Blaisdell.

Miss Flora leaned forward earnestly.

"But, Hattie, we were just sayin', 'fore you came, that it couldn't be true; that it must mean some other Blaisdells somewhere."

"Absurd!" scoffed Harriet. "There couldn't be any other Frank and Jim and Flora Blaisdell, in a Hillerton, too. Besides, Jim said over the telephone that that was one of the best law firms in Chicago. Don't you suppose they know what they're talking about? I'm sure, I think it's quite the expected thing that he should leave his money to his own people. Come, don't let's waste any more time over that. What we've got to decide is what to do. First, Of course, we must order expensive mourning all around."

"Mourning!" ejaculated an amazed chorus.

"Oh, great Scott!" spluttered Mr. Smith, growing suddenly very red. "I never thought--" He stopped abruptly, his face almost purple.

But nobody was noticing Mr. Smith. Bessie Blaisdell had the floor.

"Why, mother, I look perfectly horrid in black, you know I do," she was wailing. "And there's the Gaylords' dance just next week; and if I'm in mourning I can't go there, nor anywhere. What's the use in having all that money if we've got to shut ourselves up like that, and wear horrid stuffy black, and everything?"

"For shame, Bessie!" spoke up Miss Flora, with unusual sharpness for her. "I think your mother is just right. I'm sure the least we can do in return for this wonderful gift is to show our respect and appreciation by going into the very deepest black we can. I'm sure I'd be glad to."

"Wait!" Mrs. Harriet had drawn her brows together in deep thought. "I'm not sure, after all, that it would be best. The letter did not say that dear Cousin Stanley had died--he just hadn't been heard from. In that case, I don't think we ought to do it. And it would be too bad--that Gaylord dance is going to be the biggest thing of the season, and of course if we were in black--No; on the whole, I think we won't, Bessie. Of course, in two years from now, when we get the rest, it will be different."

"When you--what?" It was a rather startled question from Mr. Smith.

"Oh, didn't you know? There's another letter to be opened in two years from now, disposing of the rest of the property. And he was worth millions, you know, millions!"

"But maybe he--er--Did it say you were to--to get those millions then?"

"Oh, no, it didn't say it, Mr. Smith." Mrs. Harriet Blaisdell's smile was a bit condescending. "But of course we will. We are his kinsmen. He said we were. He just didn't give it all now because he wanted to give himself two more years to come back in, I suppose. You know he's gone exploring. And, of course, if he hadn't come back by then, he would be dead. Then we'd get it all. Oh, yes, we shall get it, I'm sure."

"Oh-h!" Mr. Smith settled back in his chair. He looked somewhat nonplused.

"Humph! Well, I wouldn't spend them millions--till I'd got 'em, Hattie," advised her brother-in-law dryly.

"I wasn't intending to, Frank," she retorted with some dignity. "But that's neither here nor there. What we're concerned with now is what to do with what we have got. Even this will make a tremendous sensation in Hillerton. It ought to be written up, of course, for the papers, and by some one who knows. We want it done just right. Why, Frank, do you realize? We shall be rich--rich--and all in a flash like this! I wonder what the Pennocks will say now about Mellicent's not having money enough for that precious son of theirs! Oh, I can hardly believe it yet And it'll mean--everything to us. Think what we can do for the children. Think--"

"Aunt Jane, Aunt Jane, is ma here?" Wide open banged the front door as Benny bounded down the hall. "Oh, here you are! Say, is it true? Tommy Hooker says our great-grandfather in Africa has died an' left us a million dollars, an' that we're richer'n Mr. Pennock or even the Gaylords, or anybody! Is it true? Is it?"

His mother laughed indulgently.

"Not quite, Benny, though we have been left a nice little fortune by your cousin, Stanley G. Fulton--remember the name, dear, your cousin, Stanley G. Fulton. And it wasn't Africa, it was South America."

"And did you all get some, too?" panted Benny, looking eagerly about him.

"We sure did," nodded his Uncle Frank, "all but poor Mr. Smith here. I guess Mr. Stanley G. Fulton didn't know he was a cousin, too," he joked, with a wink in Mr. Smith's direction.

"But where's Aunt Maggie? Why ain't she here? She got some, too, didn't she?" Benny began to look anxious.

His mother lifted her eyebrows.

"No. You forget, my dear. Your Aunt Maggie is not a Blaisdell at all. She's a Duff--a very different family."

"I don't care, she's just as good as a Blaisdell," cut in Mellicent; "and she seems like one of us, anyway."

"And she didn't get anything?" bemoaned Benny. "Say," he turned valiantly to Mr. Smith, "shouldn't you think he might have given Aunt Maggie a little of that money?"

"I should, indeed!" Mr. Smith spoke with peculiar emphasis.

"I guess he would if he'd known her!"

"I'm sure he would!" Once more the peculiar earnestness vibrated through Mr. Smith's voice.

"But now he's dead, an' he can't. I guess if he could see Aunt Maggie he'd wish he hadn't died 'fore he could fix her up just as good as the rest."

"I'm very sure he would!" Mr. Smith was laughing now, but his voice was just as emphatic, and there was a sudden flame of color in his face.

"Your Cousin Stanley isn't dead, my dear,--that is, we are not sure he is dead," spoke up Benny's mother quickly. "He just has not been heard from for six months."

"But he must be dead, or he'd have come back," reasoned Miss Flora, with worried eyes; "and I, for my part, think we ought to go into mourning, too."

"Of course he'd have come back," declared Mrs. Jane, "and kept the money himself. Don't you suppose he knew what he'd written in that letter, and don't you suppose he'd have saved those three hundred thousand dollars if he could? Well, I guess he would! The man is dead. That's certain enough."

"Well, anyhow, we're not going into mourning till we have to." Mrs. Harriet's lips snapped together with firm decision.

"Of course not. I'm sure I don't see any use in having the money if we've got to wear black and not go anywhere," pouted Bessie.

"Are we rich, then, really, ma?" demanded Benny.

"We certainly are, Benny."

"Richer 'n the Pennocks?"

"Very much."

"An' the Gaylords?"

"Well--hardly that"--her face clouded perceptibly--"that is, not until we get the rest--in two years." She brightened again.

"Then, if we're rich we can have everything we want, can't we?" Benny's eyes were beginning to sparkle.

"Well--" hesitated his mother.

"I guess there'll be enough to satisfy your wants, Benny," laughed his Uncle Frank.

Benny gave a whoop of delight.

"Then we can go back to the East Side and live just as we've a mind to, without carin' what other folks do, can't we?" he crowed. "Cause if we are rich we won't have ter keep tryin' ter make folks think we are. They'll know it without our tryin'."

"Benny!" The rest were laughing; but Benny's mother had raised shocked hands of protest. "You are incorrigible, child. The East Side, indeed! We shall live in a house of our own, now, of course--but it won't be on the East Side."

"And Fred'll go to college," put in Miss Flora eagerly.

"Yes; and I shall send Bessie to a fashionable finishing school," bowed Mrs. Harriet, with a shade of importance.

"Hey, Bess, you've got ter be finished," chuckled Benny.

"What's Mell going to do?" pouted Bessie, looking not altogether pleased. "Hasn't she got to be finished, too?"

"Mellicent hasn't got the money to be finished--yet," observed Mrs. Jane tersely.

"Oh, I don't know what I'm going to do," breathed Mellicent, drawing an ecstatic sigh. "But I hope I'm going to do--just what I want to, for once!"

"And I'll make you some pretty dresses that you can wear right off, while they're in style," beamed Miss Flora.

Frank Blaisdell gave a sudden laugh.

"But what are you going to do, Flo? Here you've been telling what everybody else is going to do with the money."

A blissful sigh, very like Mellicent's own, passed Miss Flora's lips.

"Oh, I don't know," she breathed in an awe-struck voice. "It don't seem yet--that it's really mine."

"Well, 't isn't," declared Mrs. Jane tartly, getting to her feet. "And I, for one, am going back to work--in the kitchen, where I belong. And--Well, if here ain't Jim at last," she broke off, as her younger brother-in-law appeared in the doorway.

"You're too late, pa, you're too late! It's all done," clamored Benny. "They've got everything all settled."

The man in the doorway smiled.

"I knew they would have, Benny; and I haven't been needed, I'm sure,-- your mother's here."

Mrs. Harriet bridled, but did not look unpleased.

"But, say, Jim," breathed Miss Flora, "ain't it wonderful--ain't it perfectly wonderful?"

"It is, indeed,--very wonderful," replied Mr. Jim

A Babel of eager voices arose then, but Mr. Smith was not listening now. He was watching Mr. Jim's face, and trying to fathom its expression.

A little later, when the women had gone into the kitchen and Mr. Frank had clattered back to his work downstairs, Mr. Smith thought he had the explanation of that look on Mr. Jim's face. Mr. Jim and Beany were standing over by the fireplace together.

"Pa, ain't you glad--about the money?" asked Benny.

"I should be, shouldn't I, my son?"

"But you look--so funny, and you didn't say anything, hardly."

There was a moment's pause. The man, with his eyes fixed on the glowing coals in the grate, appeared not to have heard. But in a moment he said:--

"Benny, if a poor old horse had been climbing a long, long hill all day with the hot sun on his back, and a load that dragged and dragged at his heels, and if he couldn't see a thing but the dust of the road that blinded and choked him, and if he just felt that he couldn't go another step, in spite of the whip that snapped 'Get there--get there!' all day in his ears--how do you suppose that poor old horse would feel if suddenly the load, and the whip, and the hill, and the dust disappeared, and he found himself in a green pasture with the cool gurgle of water under green trees in his ears--how do you suppose that poor old horse would feel?"

"Say, he'd like it great, wouldn't he? But, pa, you didn't tell me yet if you liked the money."

The man stirred, as if waking from a trance. He threw his arm around Benny's shoulders.

"Like it? Why, of course, I like it, Benny, my boy! Why, I'm going to have time now--to get acquainted with my children!"

Across the room Mr. Smith, with a sudden tightening of his throat, slipped softly into the hall and thence to his own room. Mr. Smith, just then, did not wish to be seen.