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- Oh, Money! Money! - 10/52 -
It was the next afternoon that Mr. Smith inquired his way to the home of Miss Flora Blaisdell. He found it to be a shabby little cottage on a side street. Miss Flora herself answered his knock, peering at him anxiously with her near-sighted eyes.
Mr. Smith lifted his hat.
"Good-afternoon, Miss Blaisdell," he began with a deferential bow. "I am wondering if you could tell me something of your father's family." Miss Flora, plainly pleased, but flustered, stepped back for him to enter.
"Oh, Mr. Smith, come in, come in! I'm sure I'm glad to tell you anything I know," she beamed, ushering him into the unmistakably little-used "front room." "But you really ought to go to Maggie. I can tell you some things, but Maggie's got the Bible. Mother had it, you know, and it's all among her things. And of course we had to let it stay, as long as Father Duff lives. He doesn't want anything touched. Poor Maggie--she tried to get 'em for us; but, mercy! she never tried but once. But I've got some things. I've got pictures of a lot of them, and most of them I know quite a lot about."
As she spoke she nicked up from the table a big red plush photograph album. Seating herself at his side she opened it, and began to tell him of the pictures, one by one.
She did, indeed, know "quite a lot" of most of them. Tintypes, portraying stiffly held hands and staring eyes, ghostly reproductions of daguerreotypes of stern-lipped men and women, in old-time stock and kerchief; photographs of stilted family groups after the "he-is-mine- and-I-am-his" variety; snap-shots of adorable babies with blurred thumbs and noses--never had Mr. John Smith seen their like before.
Politely he listened. Busily, from time to time, he jotted down a name or date. Then, suddenly, as she turned a page, he gave an involuntary start. He was looking at a pictured face, evidently cut from a magazine.
"Why, what--who--" he stammered.
"That? Oh, that's Mr. Fulton, the millionaire, you know." Miss Flora's hands fluttered over the page a little importantly, adjusting a corner of the print. "You must have seen his picture. It's been everywhere. He's our cousin, too."
"Oh, is he?"
"Yes, 'way back somewhere. I can't tell you just how, only I know he is. His mother was a Blaisdell. That's why I've always been so interested in him, and read everything I could--in the papers and magazines, you know."
"Oh, I see." Mr. John Smith's voice had become a little uncertain.
Yes. He ain't very handsome, is he?" Miss Flora's eyes were musingly fixed on the picture before her--which was well, perhaps: Mr. John Smith's face was a study just then.
"Er--n-no, he isn't."
"But he's turribly rich, I s'pose. I wonder how it feels to have so much money."
There being no reply to this, Miss Flora went on after a moment.
"It must be awful nice--to buy what you want, I mean, without fretting about how much it costs. I never did. But I'd like to."
"What would you do--if you could--if you had the money, I mean?" queried Mr. Smith, almost eagerly.
Miss Flora laughed.
"Well, there's three things I know I'd do. They're silly, of course, but they're what I WANT. It's a phonygraph, and to see Niagara Falls, and to go into Noell's restaurant and order what I want without even looking at the prices after 'em. Now you're laughing at me!"
"Laughing? Not a bit of it!" There was a curious elation in Mr. Smith's voice. "What's more, I hope you'll get them--some time."
Miss Flora sighed. Her face looked suddenly pinched and old.
"I shan't. I couldn't, you know. Why, if I had the money, I shouldn't spend it--not for them things. I'd be needing shoes or a new dress. And I COULDN'T be so rich I wouldn't notice what the prices was--of what I ate. But, then, I don't believe anybody's that, not even him." She pointed to the picture still open before them.
"No?" Mr. Smith, his eyes bent upon the picture, was looking thoughtful. He had the air of a man to whom has come a brand-new, somewhat disconcerting idea.
Miss Flora, glancing from the man to the picture, and back again, gave a sudden exclamation.
"There, now I know who it is that you remind me of, Mr. Smith. It's him--Mr. Fulton, there."
"Eh? What?" Mr. Smith looked not a little startled.
"Something about the eyes and nose." Miss Flora was still interestedly comparing the man and the picture, "But, then, that ain't so strange. You're a Blaisdell yourself. Didn't you say you was a Blaisdell?"
"Er--y-yes, oh, yes. I'm a Blaisdell," nodded Mr. Smith hastily. "Very likely I've got the--er--Blaisdell nose. Eh?" Then he turned a leaf of the album abruptly, decidedly. "And who may this be?" he demanded, pointing to the tintype of a bright-faced young girl.
"That? Oh, that's my cousin Grace when she was sixteen. She died; but she was a wonderful girl. I'll tell you about her."
"Yes, do," urged Mr. Smith; and even the closest observer, watching his face, could not have said that he was not absorbedly interested in Miss Flora's story of "my cousin Grace."
It was not until the last leaf of the album was reached that they came upon the picture of a small girl, with big, hungry eyes looking out from beneath long lashes.
"That's Mellicent--where you're boarding, you know--when she was little." Miss Flora frowned disapprovingly. "But it's horrid, poor child!"
"But she looks so--so sad," murmured Mr. Smith.
"Yes, I know. She always did." Miss Flora sighed and frowned again. She hesitated, then burst out, as if irresistibly impelled from within. "It's only just another case of never having what you want WHEN you want it, Mr. Smith. And it ain't 'cause they're poor, either. They AIN'T poor--not like me, I mean. Frank's always done well, and he's been a good provider; but it's my sister-in-law--her way, I mean. Not that I'm saying anything against Jane. I ain't. She's a good woman, and she's very kind to me. She's always saying what she'd do for me if she only had the money. She's a good housekeeper, too, and her house is as neat as wax. But it's just that she never thinks she can USE anything she's got till it's so out of date she don't want it. I dressmake for her, you see, so I know--about her sleeves and skirts, you know. And if she ever does wear a decent thing she's so afraid it will rain she never takes any comfort in it!"
"Well, that is--unfortunate."
"Yes, ain't it? And she's brought up that poor child the same way. Why, from babyhood, Mellicent never had her rattles till she wanted blocks, nor her blocks till she wanted dolls, nor her dolls till she was big enough for beaus! And that's what made the poor child always look so wall-eyed and hungry. She was hungry--even if she did get enough to eat."
"Mrs. Blaisdell probably believed in--er--economy," hazarded Mr. Smith.
"Economy! My stars, I should think she did! But, there, I ought not to have said anything, of course. It's a good trait. I only wish some other folks I could mention had more of it. There's Jim's wife, for instance. Now, if she's got ten cents, she'll spend fifteen--and five more to show HOW she spent it. She and Jane ought to be shaken up in a bag together. Why, Mr. Smith, Jane doesn't let herself enjoy anything. She's always keeping it for a better time. Though sometimes I think she DOES enjoy just seeing how far she can make a dollar go. But Mellicent don't, nor Frank; and it's hard on them."
"I should say it might be." Mr. Smith was looking at the wistful eyes under the long lashes.
"'T is; and 't ain't right, I believe. There IS such a thing as being too economical. I tell Jane she'll be like a story I read once about a man who pinched and saved all his life, not even buying peanuts, though he just doted on 'em. And when he did get rich, so he could buy the peanuts, he bought a big bag the first thing. But he didn't eat 'em. He hadn't got any teeth left to chew 'em with."
"Well, that was a catastrophe!" laughed Mr. Smith, as he pocketed his notebook and rose to his feet. "And now I thank you very much, Miss Blaisdell, for the help you've been to me."
"Oh, you're quite welcome, indeed you are, Mr. Smith," beamed Miss Blaisdell. "It's done me good, just to talk to you about all these folks and pictures. I we enjoyed it. I do get lonesome sometimes, all alone, so! and I ain't so busy as I wish I was, always. But I'm afraid I haven't helped you much--just this."
"Oh, yes, you have--perhaps more than think," smiled the man, with an odd look in his eyes.
"Have I? Well, I'm glad, I'm sure. And don't forget to go to Maggie's, now. She'll have a lot to tell you. Poor Maggie! And she'll be so glad to show you!"
"All right, thank you; I'll surely interview--Miss Maggie," smiled the man in good-bye.
He had almost said "poor" Maggie himself, though why she should be POOR Maggie had come to be an all-absorbing question with him. He had been tempted once to ask Miss Flora, but something had held him back. That evening at the supper table, however, in talking with Mrs. Jane
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