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- Oh, Money! Money! - 6/52 -


The woman frowned impatiently.

"Jim, don't, please! Do you suppose I got over here on the West Side to open a boarding-house? I guess not--yet!"

"But what shall we do?"

"Oh, we'll get along somehow. Don't worry!"

"Perhaps if you'd worry a little more, I wouldn't worry so much," sighed the man deeply.

"Well, mercy me, I must be going," interposed the little dressmaker, springing to her feet with a nervous glance at her brother and his wife. "I'm forgetting it ain't so near as it used to be. Good-night!"

"Good-night, good-night! Come again," called the three on the veranda. Then the door closed behind them, as they entered the house.

Meanwhile, walking across the common, Benny was entertaining Mr. Smith.

"Yep, they'll take ye, I bet ye--Aunt Jane an' Uncle Frank will!"

"Well, that's good, I'm sure."

"Yep. An' it'll be easy, too. Why, Aunt Jane'll just tumble over herself ter get ye, if ye just mention first what yer'll PAY. She'll begin ter reckon up right away then what she'll save. An' in a minute she'll say, 'Yes, I'll take ye.'"

"Indeed!"

The uncertainty in Mr. Smith's voice was palpable even to eight-year- old Benny.

"Oh, you don't need ter worry," he hastened to explain. "She won't starve ye; only she won't let ye waste anythin'. You'll have ter eat all the crusts to yer pie, and finish 'taters before you can get any puddin', an' all that, ye know. Ye see, she's great on savin'--Aunt Jane is. She says waste is a sinful extravagance before the Lord."

"Indeed!" Mr. Smith laughed outright this time. "But are you sure, my boy, that you ought to talk--just like this, about your aunt?"

Benny's eyes widened.

"Why, that's all right, Mr. Smith. Ev'rybody in town knows Aunt Jane. Why, Ma says folks say she'd save ter-day for ter-morrer, if she could. But she couldn't do that, could she? So that's just silly talk. But you wait till you see Aunt Jane."

"All right. I'll wait, Benny."

"Well, ye won't have ter wait long, Mr. Smith, 'cause here's her house. She lives over the groc'ry store, ter save rent, ye know. It's Uncle Frank's store. An' here we are," he finished, banging open a door and leading the way up a flight of ill-lighted stairs.

CHAPTER III

THE SMALL BOY AT THE KEYHOLE

At the top of the stairs Benny tried to open the door, but as it did not give at his pressure, he knocked lustily, and called "Aunt Jane, Aunt Jane!"

"Isn't this the bell?" hazarded Mr. Smith, his finger almost on a small push-button near him.

"Yep, but it don't go now. Uncle Frank wanted it fixed, but Aunt Jane said no; knockin' was just as good, an' 'twas lots cheaper, 'cause 'twould save mendin', and didn't use any 'lectricity. But Uncle Frank says---"

The door opened abruptly, and Benny interrupted himself to give eager greeting.

"Hullo, Aunt Jane! I've brought you somebody. He's Mr. Smith. An' you'll be glad. You see if yer ain't!"

In the dim hallway Mr. Smith saw a tall, angular woman with graying dark hair and high cheek bones. Her eyes were keen and just now somewhat sternly inquiring, as they were bent upon himself.

Perceiving that Benny considered his mission as master of ceremonies at an end, Mr. Smith hastened to explain.

"I came from your husband's brother, madam. He--er--sent me. He thought perhaps you had a room that I could have."

"A room?" Her eyes grew still more coldly disapproving.

"Yes, and board. He thought--that is, THEY thought that perhaps--you would be so kind."

"Oh, a boarder! You mean for pay, of course?"

"Most certainly!"

"Oh!" She softened visibly, and stepped back. "Well, I don't know. I never have--but that isn't saying I couldn't, of course. Come in. We can talk it over. THAT doesn't cost anything. Come in; this way, please." As she finished speaking she stepped to the low-burning gas jet and turned it carefully to give a little more light down the narrow hallway.

"Thank you," murmured Mr. Smith, stepping across the threshold.

Benny had already reached the door at the end of the hall. The woman began to tug at her apron strings.

"I hope you'll excuse my gingham apron, Mr.--er--Smith. Wasn't that the name?"

"Yes." The man bowed with a smile.

"I thought that was what Benny said. Well, as I was saying, I hope you'll excuse this apron." Her fingers were fumbling with the knot at the back. "I take it off, mostly, when the bell rings, evenings or afternoons; but I heard Benny, and I didn't suppose 't was anybody but him. There, that's better!" With a jerk she switched off the dark blue apron, hung it over her arm, and smoothed down the spotless white apron which had been beneath the blue. The next instant she hurried after Benny with a warning cry. "Careful, child, careful! Oh, Benny, you're always in such a hurry!"

Benny, with a cheery "Come on!" had already banged open the door before him, and was reaching for the gas burner.

A moment later the feeble spark above had become a flaring sputter of flame.

"There, child, what did I tell you?" With a frown Mrs. Blaisdell reduced the flaring light to a moderate flame, and motioned Mr. Smith to a chair. Before she seated herself, however, she went back into the hall to lower the gas there.

During her momentary absence the man, Smith, looked about him, and as he looked he pulled at his collar. He felt suddenly a choking, suffocating sensation. He still had the curious feeling of trying to catch his breath when the woman came back and took the chair facing him. In a moment he knew why he felt so suffocated--it was because that nowhere could he see an object that was not wholly or partially covered with some other object, or that was not serving as a cover itself.

The floor bore innumerable small rugs, one before each chair, each door, and the fireplace. The chairs themselves, and the sofa, were covered with gray linen slips, which, in turn, were protected by numerous squares of lace and worsted of generous size. The green silk spread on the piano was nearly hidden beneath a linen cover, and the table showed a succession of layers of silk, worsted, and linen, topped by crocheted mats, on which rested several books with paper- enveloped covers. The chandelier, mirror, and picture frames gleamed dully from behind the mesh of pink mosquito netting. Even through the doorway into the hall might be seen the long, red-bordered white linen path that carried protection to the carpet beneath.

"I don't like gas myself." (With a start the man pulled himself together to listen to what the woman was saying.) "I think it's a foolish extravagance, when kerosene is so good and so cheap; but my husband will have it, and Mellicent, too, in spite of anything I say-- Mellicent's my daughter. I tell 'em if we were rich, it would be different, of course. But this is neither here nor there, nor what you came to talk about! Now just what is it that you want, sir?"

"I want to board here, if I may."

"How long?"

"A year--two years, perhaps, if we are mutually satisfied."

"What do you do for a living?"

Smith coughed suddenly. Before he could catch his breath to answer Benny had jumped into the breach.

"He sounds something like a Congregationalist, only he ain't that, Aunt Jane, and he ain't after money for missionaries, either."

Jane Blaisdell smiled at Benny indulgently. Then she sighed and shook her head.

"You know, Benny, very well, that nothing would suit Aunt Jane better than to give money to all the missionaries in the world, if she only had it to give!" She sighed again as she turned to Mr. Smith. "You're working for some church, then, I take it."

Mr. Smith gave a quick gesture of dissent.

"I am a genealogist, madam, in a small way. I am collecting data for a book on the Blaisdell family."

"Oh!" Mrs. Blaisdell frowned slightly. The look of cold disapproval came back to her eyes. "But who pays you? WE couldn't take the book,


Oh, Money! Money! - 6/52

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