"In arriving at a decision, which I may say I have succeeded in doing," continued Aunt Jane, calmly, "I do not claim to have acted with either wisdom or discernment. I have simply followed my own whim, as I have the right to do, and selected the niece I prefer to become my heiress. You cannot accuse of injustice, because none of you had a right to expect anything of me; but I will say this, that I am well pleased with all three of you, and now wish that I had taken pains to form your acquaintance earlier in life. You might have cheered my old age and rendered it less lonely and dull."
"Well said, Jane," remarked Uncle John, nodding his head approvingly.
She did not notice the interruption, but presently continued:
"Some days ago I asked my lawyer, Mr. Watson, to draw up my will. It was at once prepared and signed, and now stands as my last will and testament. I have given to you, Louise, the sum of five thousand dollars."
Louise laughed nervously, and threw out her hands with an indifferent gesture.
"Many thanks, Aunt," she said, lightly.
"To you, Beth," continued Miss Merrick, "I have given the same sum."
Beth's heart sank, and tears forced themselves into her eyes in spite of her efforts to restrain them. She said nothing.
Aunt Jane turned to her brother.
"I have also provided for you, John, in the sum of five thousand dollars."
"Me!" he exclaimed, astounded. "Why, suguration, Jane, I don't—"
"Silence!" she cried, sternly. "I expect neither thanks nor protests. If you take care of the money, John, it will last you as long as you live."
Uncle John laughed. He doubled up in his chair and rocked back and forth, shaking his little round body as if he had met with the most amusing thing that had ever happened in his life. Aunt Jane stared at him, while Louise and Beth looked their astonishment, but Patsy's clear laughter rang above Uncle John's gasping chuckles.
"I hope, dear Uncle," said she, mischievously, "that when poor Aunt Jane is gone you'll be able to buy a new necktie."
He looked at her whimsically, and wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Thank you, Jane," said the little man to his sister. "It's a lot of money, and I'll be proud to own it."
"Why did you laugh." demanded Aunt Jane.
"I just happened to think that our old Dad once said I'd never be worth a dollar in all my life. What would he say now, Jane, if he knew I stood good to have five thousand—if I can manage to outlive you?"
She turned from him with an expression of scorn.
"In addition to these bequests," said she, "I have left five thousand to the boy and twenty thousand to Mr. Watson. The remainder of the property will go to Patricia."
For a moment the room was intensely still. Then Patricia said, with quiet determination:
"You may as well make another will, Aunt. I'll not touch a penny of your money."
"Why not?" asked the woman, almost fiercely.
"You have been kind to me, and you mean well," said Patricia. "I would rather not tell you my reasons."
"I demand to know them!"
"Ah, aunt; can't you understand, without my speaking?"
"No," said the other; but a flush crossed her pale cheek, nevertheless.
Patsy arose and stumped to a position directly in front of Jane Merrick, where she rested on her crutches. Her eyes were bright and full of indignation, and her plain little face was so white that every freckle showed distinctly.
"There was a time, years ago," she began in a low voice, "when you were very rich and your sister Violet, my mother, was very poor. Her health was bad, and she had me to care for, while my father was very ill with a fever. She was proud, too, and for herself she would never have begged a penny of anyone; but for my sake she asked her rich sister to loan her a little money to tide her over her period of want. What did you do, Jane Merrick, you who lived in a beautiful mansion, and had more money than you could use? You insulted her, telling her she belonged to a family of beggars, and that none of them could wheedle your money away from you!"
"It was true," retorted the elder woman, stubbornly. "They were after me like a drove of wolves—every Merrick of them all—and they would have ruined me if I had let them bleed me as they wished."
"So far as my mother is concerned, that's a lie," said Patsy, quietly. "She never appealed to you but that once, but worked as bravely as she could to earn money in her own poor way. The result was that she died, and I was left to the care of strangers until my father was well enough to support me."
She paused, and again the room seemed unnaturally still.
"I'm sorry, girl," said Aunt Jane, at last, in trembling tones. "I was wrong. I see it now, and I am sorry I refused Violet."
"Then I forgive you!" said Patsy, impulsively. "I forgive you all, Aunt Jane; for through your own selfishness you cut yourself off from all your family—from all who might have loved you—and you have lived all these years a solitary and loveless life. There'll be no grudge of mine to follow you to the grave, Aunt Jane. But," her voice hardening, "I'll never touch a penny of the money that was denied my poor dead mother. Thank God the old Dad and I are independent, and can earn our own living."
Uncle John came to where Patsy stood and put both arms around her, pressing her—crutches and all—close to his breast. Then he released her, and without a word stalked from the room.
"Leave me, now," said Aunt Jane, in a husky voice. "I want time to think."
Patricia hobbled forward, placed one hand caressingly upon the gray head, and then bent and kissed Aunt Jane's withered cheek.
"That's right," she whispered. "Think it over, dear. It's all past and done, now, and I'm sorry I had to hurt you. But—not a penny, aunt—remember, not a penny will I take!"
Then she left the room, followed by Louise and Beth, both of whom were glad to be alone that they might conquer their bitter disappointment.
Louise, however, managed to accept the matter philosophically, as the following extract from her letter to her mother will prove:
"After all, it isn't so bad as it might be, mater, dear," she wrote. "I'll get five thousand, at the very worst, and that will help us on our way considerably. But I am quite sure that Patsy means just what she says, and that she will yet induce Aunt Jane to alter her will. In that case I believe the estate will either be divided between Beth and me, or I will get it all. Anyway, I shall stay here and play my best cards until the game is finished."
Aunt Jane had a bad night, as might have been expected after her trials of the previous day.
She sent for Patricia early in the forenoon, and when the girl arrived she was almost shocked by the change in her aunt's appearance. The invalid's face seemed drawn and gray, and she lay upon her cushions breathing heavily and without any appearance of vitality or strength. Even the sharpness and piercing quality of her hard gray eyes was lacking and the glance she cast at her niece was rather pleading than defiant.
"I want you to reconsider your decision of yesterday, Patricia," she begun.
"Don't ask me to do that, aunt," replied the girl, firmly. "My mind is fully made up."
"I have made mistakes, I know," continued the woman feebly; "but I want to do the right thing, at last."
"Then I will show you how," said Patricia, quickly. "You mustn't think me impertinent, aunt, for I don't mean to be so at all. But tell me; why did you wish to leave me your money?"
"Because your nature is quite like my own, child, and I admire your independence and spirit."
"But my cousins are much more deserving," said she, thoughtfully. "Louise is very sweet and amiable, and loves you more than I do, while Beth is the most sensible and practical girl I have ever known."
"It may be so," returned Aunt Jane, impatiently; "but I have left each a legacy, Patricia, and you alone are my choice for the mistress of Elmhurst. I told you yesterday I should not try to be just. I mean to leave my property according to my personal desire, and no one shall hinder me." This last with a spark of her old vigor.
"But that is quite wrong, aunt, and if you desire me to inherit your wealth you will be disappointed. A moment ago you said you wished to do the right thing, at last. Don't you know what that is?"
"Perhaps you will tell me," said Aunt Jane, curiously.
"With pleasure," returned Patsy. "Mr. Bradley left you this property because he loved you, and love blinded him to all sense of justice. Such an estate should not have passed into the hands of aliens because of a lover's whim. He should have considered his own flesh and blood."
"There was no one but his sister, who at that time was not married and had no son," explained Aunt Jane, calmly. "But he did not forget her and asked me to look after Katherine Bradley in case she or her heirs ever needed help. I have done so. When his mother died, I had the boy brought here, and he has lived here ever since."
"But the property ought to be his," said Patricia, earnestly. "It would please me beyond measure to have you make your will in his favor, and you would be doing the right thing at last."
"I won't," said Aunt Jane, angrily.
"It would also be considerate and just to the memory of Mr. Bradley," continued the girl. "What's going to became of Kenneth?"
"I have left him five thousand," said the woman.
"Not enough to educate him properly," replied Patsy, with a shake of her head. "Why, the boy might become a famous artist, if he had good masters; and a person with an artistic temperament, such as his, should have enough money to be independent of his art."
Aunt Jane coughed, unsympathetically.
"The boy is nothing to me," she said.
"But he ought to have Elmhurst, at least," pleaded the girl. "Won't you leave it to him, Aunt Jane?"
"Then do as you please," cried Patsy, flying angry in her turn. "As a matter of justice, the place should never have been yours, and I won't accept a dollar of the money if I starve to death!"
"Think of your father," suggested Aunt Jane, cunningly.
"Ah, I've done that," said the girl, "and I know how many comforts I could buy for the dear Major. Also I'd like to go to a girl's college, like Smith or Wellesley, and get a proper education. But not with your money, Aunt Jane. It would burn my fingers. Always I would think that if you had not been hard and miserly this same money would have saved my mother's life. No! I loathe your money. Keep it or throw it to the dogs, if you won't give it to the boy it belongs to. But don't you dare to will your selfish hoard to me."
"Let us change the subject, Patricia."
"Will you change your will?"
"Then I won't talk to you. I'm angry and hurt, and if I stay here I'll say things I shall be sorry for."
With these words she marched out of the room, her cheeks flaming, and Aunt Jane looked after her with admiring eyes.
"She's right," she whispered to herself. "It's just as I'd do under the same circumstances!"
This interview was but the beginning of a series that lasted during the next fortnight, during which time the invalid persisted in sending for Patricia and fighting the same fight over and over again. Always the girl pleaded for Kenneth to inherit, and declared she would not accept the money and Elmhurst; and always Aunt Jane stubbornly refused to consider the boy and tried to tempt the girl with pictures of the luxury and pleasure that riches would bring her.
The interviews were generally short and spirited, however, and during the intervals Patsy associated more than ever with her cousins, both of whom grew really fond of her.
They fully believed Patricia when she declared she would never accept the inheritance, and although neither Beth nor Louise could understand such foolish sentimentality they were equally overjoyed at the girl's stand and the firmness with which she maintained it. With Patsy out of the field it was quite possible the estate would be divided between her cousins, or even go entire to one or the other of them; and this hope constantly buoyed their spirits and filled their days with interest as they watched the fight between their aunt and their cousin.
Patricia never told them she was pleading so hard for the boy. It would only pain her cousins and make them think she was disloyal to their interests; but she lost no opportunity when with her Aunt Jane of praising Kenneth and proving his ability, and finally she seemed to win her point.
Aunt Jane was really worn out with the constant squabbling with her favorite niece. She had taken a turn for the worse, too, and began to decline rapidly. So, her natural cunning and determination to have her own way enhanced by her illness, the woman decided to deceive Patricia and enjoy her few remaining days in peace.
"Suppose," she said to Mr. Watson, "my present will stands, and after my death the estate becomes the property of Patricia. Can she refuse it?"
"Not legally," returned the lawyer. "It would remain in her name, but under my control, during her minority. When she became of age, however, she could transfer it as she might choose."
"By that time she will have gained more sense," declared Aunt Jane, much pleased with this aspect of the case, "and it isn't reasonable that having enjoyed a fortune for a time any girl would throw it away. I'll stick to my point, Silas, but I'll try to make Patricia believe she has won me over."
Therefore, the very next time that the girl pleaded with her to make Kenneth her heir, she said, with a clever assumption of resignation:
"Very well, Patricia; you shall have your way. My only desire, child, is to please you, as you well know, and if you long to see Kenneth the owner of Elmhurst I will have a new will drawn in his favor."
Patricia could scarcely believe her ears.
"Do you really mean it, aunt?" she asked, flushing red with pleasure.
"I mean exactly what I say, and now let us cease all bickerings, my dear, and my few remaining days will be peaceful and happy."
Patricia thanked her aunt with eager words, and said, as indeed she felt, that she could almost love Aunt Jane for her final, if dilatory, act of justice.
Mr. Watson chanced to enter the room at that moment, and the girl cried out:
"Tell him, aunt! Let him get the paper ready at once."
"There is no reason for haste," said Aunt Jane, meeting; the lawyer's questioning gaze with some embarrassment.
Silas Watson was an honorable and upright man, and his client's frequent doubtful methods had in past years met his severe censure. Yet he had once promised his dead friend, Tom Bradley, that he would serve Jane Merrick faithfully. He had striven to do so, bearing with her faults of character when he found that he could not correct them. His influence over her had never been very strong, however, and he had learned that it was the most easy as well as satisfactory method to bow to her iron will.
Her recent questionings had prepared him for some act of duplicity, but he had by no means understood her present object, nor did she mean that he should. So she answered his questioning look by saying:
"I have promised Patricia that you shall draw a new will, leaving all my estate to Kenneth Forbes, except for the bequests that are mentioned in the present paper."
The lawyer regarded her with amazement. Then his brow darkened, for he thought she was playing with the girl, and was not sincere.
"Tell him to draw up the paper right away, aunt!" begged Patricia, with sparkling eyes.
"As soon as you can, Silas," said the invalid.
"And, aunt, can't you spare a little more to Louise and Beth? It would make them so happy."
"Double the amount I had allowed to each of them," the woman commanded her lawyer.
"Can it all be ready to sign tonight?" asked Patsy, excitedly.
"I'll try, my dear," replied the old lawyer, gravely. Then he turned to Jane Merrick.
"Are you in earnest?" he asked.
Patsy's heart suddenly sank.
"Yes," was the reply. "I am tired of opposing this child's wishes. What do I care what becomes of my money, when I am gone? All that I desire is to have my remaining days peaceful."
The girl spring forward and kissed her rapturously.
"They shall be, aunt!" she cried. "I promise it."
IN THE GARDEN.
From this hour Patsy devoted herself untiringly to Aunt Jane, and filled her days with as much sunshine as her merry ways and happy nature could confer. Yet there was one thing that rendered her uneasy: the paper that Lawyer Watson had so promptly drawn had never yet been signed and witnessed. Her aunt had allowed her to read it, saying she wished the girl to know she had acted in good faith, and Patsy had no fault at all to find with the document. But Aunt Jane was tired, and deferred signing it that evening. The next day no witnesses could be secured, and so another postponement followed, and upon one pretext or another the matter was put off until Patricia became suspicious.
Noting this, Aunt Jane decided to complete her act of deception. She signed the will in the girl's presence, with Oscar and Susan to witness her signature. Lawyer Watson was not present on this occasion, and as soon as Patsy had left her Miss Merrick tore off the signatures and burned them, wrote "void" in bold letters across the face of the paper, and then, it being rendered of no value, she enclosed it in a large yellow envelope, sealed it, and that evening handed the envelope to Mr. Watson with the request that it be not opened until after her death.
Patricia, in her delight, whispered to the lawyer that the paper was really signed, and he was well pleased and guarded the supposed treasure carefully. The girl also took occasion to inform both Beth and Louise that a new will had been made in which they both profited largely, but she kept the secret of who the real heir was, and both her cousins grew to believe they would share equally in the entire property.
So now an air of harmony settled upon Elmhurst, and Uncle John joined the others in admiration of the girl who had conquered the stubbornness of her stern old aunt and proved herself so unselfish and true.
One morning Aunt Jane had Phibbs wheel her into her little garden, as usual, and busied herself examining the flowers and plants of which she had always been so fond.
"James has been neglecting his work, lately," she said, sharply, to her attendant.
"He's very queer, ma'am," replied old Martha, "ever since the young ladies an' Master John came to Elmhurst. Strangers he never could abide, as you know, and he runs and hides himself as soon as he sees any of 'em about."
"Poor James!" said Miss Merrick, recalling her old gardener's infirmity. "But he must not neglect my flowers in this way, or they will be ruined."
"He isn't so afraid of Master John," went on Phibbs, reflectively, "as he is of the young ladies. Sometimes Master John talks to James, in his quiet way, and I've noticed he listens to him quite respectively—like he always does to you, Miss Jane."
"Go and find James, and ask him to step here," commanded the mistress, "and then guard the opening in the hedge, and see that none of my nieces appear to bother him."
Phibbs obediently started upon her errand, and came upon James in the tool-house, at the end of the big garden. He was working among his flower pots and seemed in a quieter mood than usual.
Phibbs delivered her message, and the gardener at once started to obey. He crossed the garden unobserved and entered the little enclosure where Miss Jane's chair stood. The invalid was leaning back on her cushions, but her eyes were wide open and staring.
"I've come, Miss," said James; and then, getting; no reply, he looked into her face. A gleam of sunlight filtered through the bushes and fell aslant Jane Merrick's eyes; but not a lash quivered.
James gave a scream that rang through the air and silenced even the birds. Then, shrieking like the madman he was, he bounded away through the hedge, sending old Martha whirling into a rose-bush, and fled as if a thousand fiends were at his heels.
John Merrick and Mr. Watson, who were not far off, aroused by the bloodcurdling screams, ran toward Aunt Jane's garden, and saw in a glance what had happened.
"Poor Jane," whispered the brother, bending over to tenderly close the staring eyes, "her fate has overtaken her unawares."
"Better so," said the lawyer, gently. "She has found Peace at last."
Together they wheeled her back into her chamber, and called the women to care for their dead mistress.
READING THE WILL.
Aunt Jane's funeral was extremely simple and quiet. The woman had made no friends during her long residence in the neighborhood, having isolated herself at "the big house" and refused to communicate in any way with the families living near by. Therefore, although her death undoubtedly aroused much interest and comment, no one cared to be present at the obsequies.
So the minister came from Elmwood, and being unable to say much that was good or bad of "the woman who had departed from this vale of tears," he confined his remarks to generalities and made them as brief as possible. Then the body was borne to the little graveyard a mile away, followed by the state carriage, containing the three nieces and Kenneth; the drag with Silas Watson and Uncle John, the former driving; and then came the Elmhurst carryall with the servants. James did not join these last; nor did he appear at the house after that dreadful scene in the garden. He had a little room over the tool-house, which Jane Merrick had had prepared for him years ago, and here he locked himself in day and night, stealthily emerging but to secure the food Susan carried and placed before his door.
No one minded James much, for all the inmates of Elhurst were under severe and exciting strain in the days preceding the funeral.
The girls wept a little, but it was more on account of the solemnity following the shadow of death than for any great affection they bore their aunt. Patsy, indeed, tried to deliver a tribute to Aunt Jane's memory; but it was not an emphatic success.
"I'm sure she had a good heart," said the girl, "and if she had lived more with her own family and cultivated her friends she would have been much less hard and selfish. At the last, you know, she was quite gentle."
"I hadn't noticed it," remarked Beth.
"Oh, I did. And she made a new will, after that awful one she told us of, and tried to be just and fair to all"
"I'm glad to hear that" said Louise. "Tell us, Patsy, what does the will say? You must know all about it."
"Mr. Watson is going to read it, after the funeral," replied the girl, "and then you will know as much about it as I do. I mustn't tell secrets, my dear."
So Louise and Beth waited in much nervous excitement for the final realization of their hopes or fears, and during the drive to the cemetery there was little conversation in the state carriage. Kenneth's sensitive nature was greatly affected by the death of the woman who had played so important a part in the brief story of his life, and the awe it inspired rendered him gloomy and silent. Lawyer Watson had once warned him that Miss Merrick's death might make him an outcast, and he felt the insecurity of his present position.
But Patsy, believing he would soon know of his good fortune, watched him curiously during the ride, and beamed upon him as frequently as her own low spirits would permit.
"You know, Ken," she reminded him, "that whatever happens we are always to remain friends."
"Of course," replied the boy, briefly.
The girl had thrown aside her crutches, by this time, and planned to return to her work immediately after the funeral.
The brief services at the cemetery being concluded, the little cavalcade returned to Elmhurst, where luncheon was awaiting them.
Then Mr. Watson brought into the drawing room the tin box containing the important Elmhurst papers in his possession, and having requested all present to be seated he said:
"In order to clear up the uncertainty that at present exists concerning Miss Merrick's last will and testament, I will now proceed to read to you the document, which will afterward be properly probated according to law."
There was no need to request their attention. An intense stillness pervaded the room.
The lawyer calmly unlocked the tin box and drew out the sealed yellow envelope which Miss Merrick had recently given him. Patsy's heart was beating with eager expectancy. She watched the lawyer break the seal, draw out the paper and then turn red and angry. He hesitated a moment, and then thrust the useless document into its enclosure and cast it aside.
"Is anything wrong?" asked the girl in a low whisper, which was yet distinctly heard by all.
Mr. Watson seemed amazed. Jane Merrick's deceitful trickery, discovered so soon after her death, was almost horrible for him to contemplate. He had borne much from this erratic woman, but had never believed her capable of such an act.
So he said, in irritable tones:
"Miss Merrick gave me this document a few days ago, leading me to believe it was her last will. I had prepared it under her instruction and understood that it was properly signed. But she has herself torn off and destroyed the signature and marked the paper 'void,' so that the will previously made is the only one that is valid."
"What do you mean?" cried Patsy, in amazement. "Isn't Kenneth to inherit Elmhurst, after all?"
"Me! Me inherit?" exclaimed the boy.
"That is what she promised me," declared Patsy, while tears of indignation stood in her eyes, "I saw her sign it, myself, and if she has fooled me and destroyed the signature she's nothing but an old fraud—and I'm glad she's dead!"
With this she threw herself, sobbing, upon a sofa, and Louise and Beth, shocked to learn that after all their cousin had conspired against them, forebore any attempt to comfort her.
But Uncle John, fully as indignant as Patricia, came to her side and laid a hand tenderly on the girl's head.
"Never mind, little one." he said. "Jane was always cruel and treacherous by nature, and we might have expected she'd deceive her friends even in death. But you did the best you could, Patsy, dear, and it can't be helped now."
Meantime the lawyer had been fumbling in the box, and now drew out the genuine will.
"Give me your attention, please," said he.
Patsy sat up and glared at him.
"I won't take a cent of it!" she exclaimed.
"Be silent!" demanded the lawyer, sternly. "You have all, I believe, been told by Miss Merrick of the terms of this will, which is properly signed and attested. But it is my duty to read it again, from beginning to end, and I will do so."
Uncle John smiled when his bequest was mentioned, and Beth frowned. Louise, however, showed no sign of disappointment. There had been a miserable scramble for this inheritance, she reflected, and she was glad the struggle was over. The five thousand dollars would come in handy, after all, and it was that much more than she had expected to have before she received Aunt Jane's invitation. Perhaps she and her mother would use part of it for a European trip, if their future plans seemed to warrant it.
"As far as I am concerned," said Patsy, defiantly, "you may as well tear up this will, too. I won't have that shameful old woman's money."
"That is a matter the law does not allow you to decide," returned the lawyer, calmly. "You will note the fact that I am the sole executor of the estate, and must care for it in your interests until you are of age. Then it will he turned over to you to do as you please with."
"Can I give it away, if I want to?"
"Certainly. It is now yours without recourse, and although you cannot dispose of it until you are of legal age, there will be nothing then to prevent your transfering it to whomsoever you please. I called Miss Merrick's attention to this fact when you refused to accept the legacy."
"What did she say?"
"That you would be more wise then, and would probably decide to keep it."
Patsy turned impulsively to the boy.
"Kenneth," she said, "I faithfully promise, in the presence of these witnesses, to give you Elmhurst and all Aunt Jane's money as soon as I am of age."
"Good for you, Patsy," said Uncle John.
The boy seemed bewildered.
"I don't want the money—really I don't!" he protested. "The five thousand she left me will be enough. But I'd like to live here at Elmhurst for a time, until it's sold or some one else comes to live in the house!"
"It's yours," said Patsy, with a grand air. "You can live here forever."
Mr. Watson seemed puzzled.
"If that is your wish, Miss Patricia," bowing gravely in her direction, "I will see that it is carried out. Although I am, in this matter, your executor, I shall defer to your wishes as much as possible."
"Thank you," she said and then, after a moment's reflection, she added: "Can't you give to Louise and Beth the ten thousand dollars they were to have under the other will, instead of the five thousand each that this one gives them?"
"I will consider that matter," he replied; "perhaps it can be arranged."
Patsy's cousins opened their eyes at this, and began to regard her with more friendly glances. To have ten thousand each instead of five would be a very nice thing, indeed, and Miss Patricia Doyle had evidently become a young lady whose friendship it would pay to cultivate. If she intended to throw away the inheritance, a portion of it might fall to their share.
They were expressing to Patsy their gratitude when old Donald suddenly appeared in the doorway and beckoned to Uncle John.
"Will you please come to see James, sir?" he asked. "The poor fellow's dying."
JAMES TELLS A STRANGE STORY.
Uncle John followed the coachman up the stairs to the little room above the tool-house, where the old man had managed to crawl after old Sam had given him a vicious kick in the chest.
"Is he dead?" he asked.
"No, sir; but mortally hurt, I'm thinkin'. It must have happened while we were at the funeral."
He opened the door, outside which Susan and Oscar watched with frightened faces, and led John Merrick into the room.
James lay upon his bed with closed eyes. His shirt, above the breast, was reeking with blood.
"The doctor should be sent for," said Uncle John.
"He'll be here soon, for one of the stable boys rode to fetch him. But I thought you ought to know at once, sir."
"Quite right, Donald."
As they stood there the wounded man moved and opened his eyes, looking from one to the other of them wonderingly. Finally he smiled.
"Ah, it's Donald," he said.
"Yes, old friend," answered the coachman. "And this is Mr. John."
"Mr. John? Mr. John? I don't quite remember you, sir," with a slight shake of the gray head. "And Donald, lad, you've grown wonderful old, somehow."
"It's the years, Jeemes," was the reply. "The years make us all old, sooner or later."
The gardener seemed puzzled, and examined his companions more carefully. He did not seem to be suffering any pain. Finally he sighed.
"The dreams confuse me," he said, as if to explain something. "I can't always separate them, the dreams from the real. Have I been sick, Donald?"
"Yes, lad. You're sick now."
The gardener closed his eyes, and lay silent.
"Do you think he's sane?" whispered Uncle John.
"I do, sir. He's sane for the first time in years."
James looked at them again, and slowly raised his hand to wipe the damp from his forehead.
"About Master Tom," he said, falteringly. "Master Tom's dead, ain't he?"
"That was real, then, an' no dream. I mind it all, now—the shriek of the whistle, the crash, and the screams of the dying. Have I told you about it, Donald?"
"It all happened before we knew it. I was on one side the car and Master Tom on the other. My side was on top, when I came to myself, and Master Tom was buried in the rubbish. God knows how I got him out, but I did. Donald, the poor master's side was crushed in, and both legs splintered. I knew at once he was dying, when I carried him to the grass and laid him down; and he knew it, too. Yes, the master knew he was done; and him so young and happy, and just about to be married to—to—the name escapes me, lad!"
His voice sank to a low mumble, and he closed his eyes wearily.
The watchers at his side stood still and waited. It might be that death had overtaken the poor fellow. But no; he moved again, and opened his eyes, continuing his speech in a stronger tone.
"It was hard work to get the paper for Master Tom," he said; "but he swore he must have it before he died. I ran all the way to the station house and back—a mile or more—and brought the paper and a pen and ink, besides. It was but a telegraph blank—all I could find. Naught but a telegraph blank, lad."
Again his voice trailed away into a mumbling whisper, but now Uncle John and Donald looked into one another's eyes with sudden interest.
"He mustn't die yet!" said the little man; and the coachman leaned over the wounded form and said, distinctly:
"Yes, lad; I'm listening."
"To be sure," said James, brightening a bit. "So I held the paper for him, and the brakeman supported Master Tom's poor body, and he wrote out the will as clear as may be."
"Sure enough; Master Tom's last will. Isn't my name on it, too, where I signed it? And the conductor's beside it, for the poor brakeman didn't dare let him go? Of course. Who should sign the will with Master Tom but me—his old servant and friend? Am I right, Donald?"
"'Now,' says Master Tom, 'take it to Lawyer Watson, James, and bid him care for it. And give my love to Jane—that's the name, Donald; the one I thought I'd forgot—'and now lay me back and let me die.' His very words, Donald. And we laid him back and he died. And he died. Poor Master Tom. Poor, poor young Master. And him to—be married—in a—"
"The paper, James!" cried Uncle John, recalling the dying man to the present. "What became of it?"
"Sir, I do not know you," answered James, suspiciously. "The paper's for Lawyer Watson. It's he alone shall have it."
"Here I am, James," cried the lawyer, thrusting the others aside and advancing to the bed. "Give me the paper. Where is it? I am Lawyer Watson!"
The gardener laughed—a horrible, croaking laugh that ended with a gasp of pain.
"You Lawyer Watson?" he cried, a moment later, in taunting tones. "Why, you old fool, Si Watson's as young as Master Tom—as young as I am! You—you Lawyer Watson! Ha, ha, ha!"
"Where is the paper?" demanded the lawyer fiercely.
James stared at him an instant, and then suddenly collapsed and fell back inert upon the bed.
"Have you heard all?" asked John Merrick, laying his hand on the lawyer's shoulder.
"Yes; I followed you here as soon as I could. Tom Bradley made another will, as he lay dying. I must have it, Mr. Merrick."
"Then you must find it yourself," said Donald gravely, "for James is dead."
The doctor, arriving a few minutes later, verified the statement. It was evident that the old gardener, for years insane, had been so influenced by Miss Merrick's death that he had wandered into the stables where he received his death blow. When he regained consciousness the mania had vanished, and in a shadowy way he could remember and repeat that last scene of the tragedy that had deprived him of his reason. The story was logical enough, and both Mr. Watson and John Merrick believed it.
"Tom Bradley was a level-headed fellow until he fell in love with your sister," said the lawyer to his companion. "But after that he would not listen to reason, and perhaps he had a premonition of his own sudden death, for he made a will bequeathing all he possessed to his sweetheart. I drew up the will myself, and argued against the folly of it; but he had his own way. Afterward, in the face of death, I believe he became more sensible, and altered his will."
"Yet James' story may all be the effect of a disordered mind," said Uncle John.
"I do not think, so; but unless he has destroyed the paper in his madness, we shall he able to find it among his possessions."
With this idea in mind, Mr. Watson ordered the servants to remove the gardener's body to a room in the carriage-house, and as soon as this was done he set to work to search for the paper, assisted by John Merrick.
"It was a telegraph blank, he said."
"Then we cannot mistake it, if we find any papers at all," declared the lawyer.
The most likely places in James' room for anything to be hidden were a small closet, in which were shelves loaded with odds and ends, and an old clothes-chest that was concealed underneath the bed.
This last was first examined, but found to contain merely an assortment of old clothing. Having tossed these in a heap upon the floor the lawyer begun an examination of the closet, the shelves promising well because of several bundles of papers they contained.
While busy over these, he heard Uncle John say, quietly:
"I've got it."
The lawyer bounded from the closet. The little man had been searching the pockets of the clothing taken from the chest, and from a faded velvet coat he drew out the telegraph blank.
"Is it the will?" asked the lawyer, eagerly.
"Read it yourself," said Uncle John.
Mr. Watson put on his glasses.
"Yes; this is Tom Bradley's handwriting, sure enough. The will is brief, but it will hold good in law. Listen: I bequeath to Jane Merrick, my affianced bride, the possession and use of my estate during the term of her life. On her death all such possessions, with their accrument, shall be transferred to my sister, Katherine Bradley, if she then survives, to have and to hold by her heirs and assignees forever. But should she die without issue previous to the death of Jane Merrick, I then appoint my friend and attorney, Silas Watson, to distribute the property among such organized and worthy charities as he may select.' That is all."
"Quite enough," said Uncle John, nodding approval.
"And it is properly signed and witnessed. The estate is Kenneth's, sir, after all, for he is the sole heir of his mother. Katherine Bradley Forbes. Hurrah!" ended the lawyer, waving the yellow paper above his head.
"Hurrah!" echoed Uncle John, gleefully; and the two men shook hands.
PATSY ADOPTS AN UNCLE.
Uncle John and Mr. Watson did not appear at dinner, being closeted in the former's room. This meal, however, was no longer a state function, being served by the old servants as a mere matter of routine. Indeed, the arrangements of the household had been considerably changed by the death of its mistress, and without any real head to direct them the servants were patiently awaiting the advent of a new master or mistress. It did not seem clear to them yet whether Miss Patricia or Lawyer Watson was to take charge of Elmhurst: but there were few tears shed for Jane Merrick, and the new regime could not fail to be an improvement over the last.
At dinner the young folks chatted together in a friendly and eager manner concerning the events of the day. They knew of old James' unfortunate end, but being unaware of its import gave it but passing attention. The main subject of conversation was Aunt Jane's surprising act in annulling her last will and forcing Patricia to accept the inheritance when she did not want it. Kenneth, being at his ease when alone with the three cousins, protested that it would not be right for Patsy to give him all the estate. But, as she was so generous, he would accept enough of his Uncle Tom's money to educate him as an artist and provide for himself an humble home. Louise and Beth, having at last full knowledge of their cousin's desire to increase their bequests, were openly very grateful for her good will; although secretly they could not fail to resent Patsy's choice of the boy as the proper heir of his uncle's fortune. The balance of power seemed to be in Patricia's hands, however; so it would be folly at this juncture to offend her.
Altogether, they were all better provided for than they had feared would be the case; so the little party spent a pleasant evening and separated early, Beth and Louise to go to their rooms and canvass quietly the events of the day, and the boy to take a long stroll through the country lanes to cool his bewildered brain. Patsy wrote a long letter to the major, telling him she would be home in three days, and then she went to bed and slept peacefully.
After breakfast they were all again summoned to the drawing-room, to their great surprise. Lawyer Watson and Uncle John were there, looking as grave as the important occasion demanded, and the former at once proceeded to relate the scene in James' room, his story of the death of Thomas Bradley, and the subsequent finding of the will.
"This will, which has just been recovered," continued the lawyer, impressively, "was made subsequent to the one under which Jane Merrick inherited, and therefore supercedes it. Miss Jane had, as you perceive, a perfect right to the use of the estate during her lifetime, but no right whatever to will a penny of it to anyone. Mr. Bradley having provided for that most fully. For this reason the will I read to you yesterday is of no effect, and Kenneth Forbes inherits from his uncle, through his mother, all of the estate."
Blank looks followed Mr. Watson's statement.
"Good-by to my five thousand," said Uncle John, with his chuckling laugh. "But I'm much obliged to Jane, nevertheless."
"Don't we get anything at all?" asked Beth, with quivering lip.
"No, my dear," answered the lawyer, gently. "Your aunt owned nothing to give you."
Patsy laughed. She felt wonderfully relieved.
"Wasn't I the grand lady, though, with all the fortune I never had?" she cried merrily. "But 'twas really fine to be rich for a day, and toss the money around as if I didn't have to dress ten heads of hair in ten hours to earn my bread and butter."
"It was all a great farce," she said. "I shall take the afternoon train to the city. What an old fraud our dear Aunt Jane was! And how foolish of me to return her hundred dollar check."
"I used mine," said Beth, bitterly. "It's all I'll ever get, it seems." And then the thought of the Professor and his debts overcame her and she burst, into tears.
The boy sat doubled within his chair, so overcome by the extraordinary fortune that had overtaken him that he could not speak, nor think even clearly as yet.
Patsy tried to comfort Beth.
"Never mind, dear," said she. "We're no worse off than before we came, are we? And we've had a nice vacation. Let's forget all disappointments and be grateful to Aunt Jane's memory. As far as she knew, she tried to be good to us."
"I'm going home today," said Beth, angrily drying her eyes.
"We'll all go home," said Patsy, cheerfully.
"For my part," remarked Uncle John, in a grave voice, "I have no home."
Patsy ran up and put her arm around his neck.
"Poor Uncle John!" she cried. "Why, you're worse off than any of us. What's going to become of you, I wonder?"
"I'm wondering that myself," said the little man, meekly.
"Ah! You can stay here," said the boy, suddenly arousing from his apathy.
"No," replied Uncle John, "the Merricks are out of Elmhurst now, and it returns to its rightful owners. You owe me nothing, my lad."
"But I like you," said Kenneth, "and you're old and homeless. Stay at Elmhurst, and you shall always be welcome."
Uncle John seemed greatly affected, and wrung the boy's hand earnestly. But he shook his head.
"I've wandered all my life," he said. "I can wander yet."
"See here," exclaimed Patsy. "We're all three your nieces, and we'll take care of you between us. Won't we, girls?"
Louise smiled rather scornfully, and Beth scowled.
"My mother and I live so simply in our little flat," said one, "that we really haven't extra room to keep a cat. But we shall be glad to assist Uncle John as far as we are able."
"Father can hardly support his own family," said the other; "but I will talk to my mother about Uncle John when I get home, and see what she says."
"Oh, you don't need to, indeed!" cried Patsy, in great indignation. "Uncle John is my dear mother's brother, and he's to come and live with the Major and me, as long as he cares to. There's room and to spare, Uncle," turning to him and clasping his hand, "and a joyful welcome into the bargain. No, no! say nothing at all, sir! Come you shall, if I have to drag you; and if you act naughty I'll send for the Major to punish you!"
Uncle John's eyes were moist. He looked on Patsy most affectionately and cast a wink at Lawyer Watson, who stood silently by.
"Thank you, my dear," said he; "but where's the money to come from?"
"Money? Bah!" she said. "Doesn't the Major earn a heap with his bookkeeping, and haven't I had a raise lately? Why, we'll be as snug and contented as pigs in clover. Can you get ready to come with me today, Uncle John?"
"Yes," he said slowly. "I'll be ready, Patsy."
So the exodus from Elmhurst took place that very day, and Beth travelled in one direction, while Louise, Patsy and Uncle John took the train for New York. Louise had a seat in the parlor car, but Patsy laughed at such extravagance.
"It's so much easier than walking," she said to Uncle John, "that the common car is good enough," and the old man readily agreed with her.
Kenneth and Mr. Watson came to the station to see them off, and they parted with many mutual expressions of friendship and good will. Louise, especially, pressed an urgent invitation upon the new master of Elmhurst to visit her mother in New York, and he said he hoped to see all the girls again. They were really like cousins to him, by this time. And after they were all gone he rode home on Nora's back quite disconsolate, in spite of his wonderful fortune.
The lawyer, who had consented to stay at the mansion for a time, that the boy might not be lonely, had already mapped put a plan for the young heir's advancement. As he rode beside Kenneth he said:
"You ought to travel, and visit the art centers of Europe, and I shall try to find a competent tutor to go with you."
"Can't you go yourself?" asked the boy.
The lawyer hesitated.
"I'm getting old, and my clients are few and unimportant, aside from the Elmhurst interests," he said. "Perhaps I can manage to go abroad with you."
"I'd like that," declared the boy. "And we'd stop in New York, wouldn't we, for a time?"
"Of course. Do you want to visit New York especially?"
"It's rather a stupid city," said the lawyer, doubtfully.
"That may be," answered the boy. "But Patsy will be there, you know."
The Major was at the station to meet them. Uncle John had shyly suggested a telegram, and Patsy had decided they could stand the expense for the pleasure of seeing the old Dad an hour sooner.
The girl caught sight of him outside the gates, his face red and beaming as a poppy in bloom and his snowy moustache bristling with eagerness. At once she dropped her bundles and flew to the Major's arms, leaving the little man in her wake to rescue her belongings and follow after.
He could hardly see Patsy at all, the Major wrapped her in such an ample embrace; but bye and bye she escaped to get her breath, and then her eyes fell upon the meek form holding her bundles.
"Oh, Dad," she cried, "here's Uncle John, who has come to live with us; and if you don't love him as much as I do I'll make your life miserable!"
"On which account," said the Major, grasping the little man's hand most cordially, "I'll love Uncle John like my own brother. And surely," he added, his voice falling tenderly, "my dear Violet's brother must be my own. Welcome, sir, now and always, to our little home. It's modest, sir; but wherever Patsy is the sun is sure to shine."
"I can believe that," said Uncle John, with a nod and smile.
They boarded a car for the long ride up town, and as soon as they were seated Patsy demanded the story of the Major's adventures with his colonel, and the old fellow rattled away with the eagerness of a boy, telling every detail in the most whimsical manner, and finding something humorous in every incident.
"Oh, but it was grand, Patsy!" he exclaimed, "and the Colonel wept on my neck when we parted and stained the collar of me best coat, and he give me a bottle of whiskey that would make a teetotaler roll his eyes in ecstacy. 'Twas the time of my life."
"And you're a dozen years younger, Major!" she cried, laughing, "and fit to dig into work like a pig in clover."
His face grew grave.
"But how about the money, Patsy dear?" he asked. "Did you get nothing out of Jane Merrick's estate?"
"Not a nickle, Dad. 'Twas the best joke you ever knew. I fought with Aunt Jane like a pirate and it quite won her heart. When she died she left me all she had in the world."
"Look at that, now!" said the Major, wonderingly.
"Which turned out to be nothing at all," continued Patsy. "For another will was found, made by Mr. Thomas Bradley, which gave the money to his own nephew after Aunt Jane died. Did you ever?"
"Wonderful!" said the Major, with a sigh.
"So I was rich for half a day, and then poor as ever."
"It didn't hurt you, did it?" asked the Major. "You weren't vexed with disappointment, were you, Patsy?"
"Not at all, Daddy."
"Then don't mind it, child. Like as not the money would be the ruination of us all. Eh, sir?" appealing to Uncle John.
"To be sure," said the little man. "Jane left five thousand to me, also, which I didn't get. But I'm not sorry at all."
"Quite right, sir," approved the Major, sympathetically, "although it's easier not to expect anything at all, than to set your heart on a thing and then not get it. In your case, it won't matter. Our house is yours, and there's plenty and to spare."
"Thank you," said Uncle John, his face grave but his eyes merry.
"Oh, Major!" cried Patsy, suddenly. "There's Danny Reeves's restaurant. Let's get off and have our dinner now; I'm as hungry as a bear."
So they stopped the car and descended, lugging all the parcels into the little restaurant, where they were piled into a chair while the proprietor and the waiters all gathered around Patsy to welcome her home.
My, how her eyes sparkled! She fairly danced for joy, and ordered the dinner with reckless disregard of the bill.
"Ah, but it's good to be back," said the little Bohemian, gleefully. "The big house at Elmhurst was grand and stately, Major, but there wasn't an ounce of love in the cupboard."
"Wasn't I there. Patsy?" asked Uncle John, reproachfully.
"True, but now you're here; and our love, Uncle, has nothing to do with Elmhurst. I'll bet a penny you liked it as little as I did."
"You'd win," admitted the little man.
"And now," said the girl to the smiling waiter, "a bottle of red California wine for Uncle John and the Major, and two real cigars. We'll be merry tonight if it bankrupts the Doyle family entirely."
But, after a merry meal and a good one, there was no bill at all when it was called for.
Danny Reeves himself came instead, and made a nice little speech, saying that Patsy had always brought good luck to the place, and this dinner was his treat to welcome her home.
So the Major thanked him with gracious dignity and Patsy kissed Danny on his right cheek, and then they went away happy and content to find the little rooms up the second flight of the old tenement.
"It's no palace," said Patsy, entering to throw down the bundles as soon as the Major unlocked the door, "but there's a cricket in the hearth, and it's your home, Uncle John, as well as ours."
Uncle John looked around curiously. The place was so plain after the comparative luxury of Elmhurst, and especially of the rose chamber Patsy had occupied, that the old man could not fail to marvel at the girl's ecstatic joy to find herself in the old tenement again. There was one good sized living-room, with an ancient rag-carpet partially covering the floor, a sheet-iron stove, a sofa, a table and three or four old-fashioned chairs that had probably come from a second-hand dealer.
Opening from this were two closet-like rooms containing each a bed and a chair, with a wash-basin on a bracket shelf. On the wails were a few colored prints from the Sunday newspapers and one large and fine photograph of a grizzled old soldier that Uncle John at once decided must represent "the Colonel."
Having noted these details, Patsy's uncle smoothed back his stubby gray hair with a reflective and half puzzled gesture.
"It's cozy enough, my child; and I thank you for my welcome," said he. "But may I enquire where on earth you expect to stow me in this rather limited establishment?"
"Where? Have you no eyes, then?" she asked, in astonishment. "It's the finest sofa in the world, Uncle John, and you'll sleep there like a top, with the dear Colonel's own picture looking down at you to keep you safe and give you happy dreams. Where, indeed!"
"Ah; I see," said Uncle John.
"And you can wash in my chamber," added the Major, with a grand air, "and hang your clothes on the spare hooks behind my door."
"I haven't many," said Uncle John, looking thoughtfully at his red bundle.
The Major coughed and turned the lamp a little higher.
"You'll find the air fine, and the neighborhood respectable," he said, to turn the subject. "Our modest apartments are cool in summer and warm in winter, and remarkably reasonable in price. Patsy gets our breakfast on the stove yonder, and we buy our lunches down town, where we work, and then dine at Danny Reeves's place. A model home, sir, and a happy one, as I hope you'll find it."
"I'm sure to be happy here," said Uncle John, taking out his pipe. "May I smoke?"
"Of course; but don't spoil the lace curtains, dear," answered Patsy, mischievously. And then, turning to her father, she exclaimed: "Oh, daddy! What will the Uncle do all the day while we're at work?"
"That's as he may choose," said the Major, courteously.
"Couldn't we get him a job?" asked Patsy, wistfully. "Not where there'll be much work, you know, for the Uncle is old. But just to keep him out of mischief, and busy. He can't hang around all day and be happy, I suppose."
"I'll look around," answered the Major, briskly, as if such a "job" was the easiest thing in the world to procure. "And meantime—"
"Meantime," said Uncle John, smiling at them, "I'll look around myself."
"To be sure," agreed the Major. "Between the two of us and Patsy, we ought to have no trouble at all."
There was a moment of thoughtful silence after this, and then Patsy said:
"You know it won't matter, Uncle John, if you don't work. There'll easy be enough for all, with the Major's wages and my own."
"By the bye," added the Major, "if you have any money about you, which is just possible, sir, of course, you'd better turn it over to Patsy to keep, and let her make you an allowance. That's the way I do—it's very satisfactory."
"The Major's extravagant," exclaimed Patsy; "and if he has money he wants to treat every man he meets."
Uncle John shook his head, reproachfully, at the Major.
"A very bad habit, sir," he said.
"I acknowledge it, Mr. Merrick," responded the Major. "But Patsy is fast curing me. And, after all, it's a wicked city to be carrying a fat pocketbook around in, as I've often observed."
"My pocketbook is not exactly fat," remarked Uncle John.
"But you've money, sir, for I marked you squandering it on the train," said Patsy, severely. "So out with it, and we'll count up, and see how much of an allowance I can make you 'till you get the job."
Uncle John laughed and drew his chair up to the table. Then he emptied his trousers' pockets upon the cloth, and Patsy gravely separated the keys and jackknife from the coins and proceeded to count the money.
"Seven dollars and forty-two cents," she announced. "Any more?"
Uncle John hesitated a moment, and then drew from an inner pocket of his coat a thin wallet. From this, when she had received it from his hand, the girl abstracted two ten and one five dollar bills, all crisp and new.
"Good gracious!" she cried, delightedly. "All this wealth, and you pleading poverty?"
"I never said I was a pauper," returned Uncle John, complacently.
"You couldn't, and be truthful, sir," declared the girl. "Why, this will last for ages, and I'll put it away safe and be liberal with your allowance. Let me see," pushing the coins about with her slender fingers, "you just keep the forty-two cents, Uncle John. It'll do for car-fare and a bit of lunch now and then, and when you get broke you can come to me."
"He smokes," observed the Major, significantly.
"Bah! a pipe," said Patsy. "And Bull Durham is only five cents a bag, and a bag ought to last a week. And every Saturday night, sir, you shall have a cigar after dinner, with the Major. It's it our regular practice."
"Thank you, Patsy," said Uncle John, meekly, and gathered up his forty-two cents.
"You've now a home, and a manager, sir, with money in the bank of Patsy & Company, Limited," announced the Major. "You ought to be very contented, sir."
"I am," replied Uncle John.
UNCLE JOHN ACTS QUEERLY.
When Patsy and the Major had both departed for work on Monday morning Uncle John boarded a car and rode downtown also. He might have accompanied them part of the way, but feared Patsey might think him extravagant if she found him so soon breaking into the working fund of forty-two cents, which she charged him to be careful of.
He seemed to be in no hurry, for it was early yet, and few of the lower Broadway establishments were open. To pass the time he turned into a small restaurant and had coffee and a plate of cakes, in spite of the fact that Patsy had so recently prepared coffee over the sheet-iron stove and brought some hot buns from a near-by bakery. He was not especially hungry; but in sipping the coffee and nibbling the cakes he passed the best part of an hour.
He smiled when he paid out twenty-five cents of his slender store for the refreshment. With five cents for car-fare he had now but twelve cents left of the forty-two Patsy had given him! Talk about the Major's extravagance: it could not be compared to Uncle John's.
Another hour was spent in looking in at the shop windows. Then, suddenly noting the time. Uncle John started down the street at a swinging pace, and presently paused before a building upon which was a sign, reading: "Isham, Marvin & Co., Bankers and Brokers." A prosperous looking place, it seemed, with a host of clerks busily working in the various departments. Uncle John walked in, although the uniformed official at the door eyed him suspiciously.
"Mr. Marvin in?" he inquired, pleasantly.
"Not arrived yet," said the official, who wore a big star upon his breast.
"I'll wait," announced Uncle John, and sat down upon a leather-covered bench.
The official strutted up and down, watching the customers who entered the bank or departed, and keeping a sharp watch on the little man upon the bench.
Another hour passed.
Presently Uncle John jumped up and approached the official.
"Hasn't Mr. Marvin arrived yet?" he enquired, sharply.
"An hour ago," was the reply.
"Then why didn't you let me know? I want to see him."
"He's busy mornings. Has to look over the mail. He can't see you yet."
"Well, he will see me, and right away. Tell him John Merrick is here."
"Your card, sir."
"I haven't any. My name will do."
The official hesitated, and glanced at the little man's seedy garb and countryfied air. But something in the angry glance of the shrewd eye made him fear he had made a mistake. He opened a small door and disappeared.
In a moment the door burst open to allow egress to a big, red-bearded man in his shirtsleeves, who glanced around briefly and then rushed at Uncle John and shook both his hands cordially.
"My dear Mr. Merrick!" he exclaimed, "I'm delighted and honored to see you here. Come to my room at once. A great surprise and pleasure, sir! Thomas, I'm engaged!"
This last was directed at the head of the amazed porter, who, as the door slammed in his face, nodded solemnly and remarked:
"Fooled ag'in, and I might 'a' known it. Drat these 'ere billionaires! Why don't they dress like decent people?"
Uncle John had been advised by Patsy where to go for a good cheap luncheon; but he did not heed her admonition. Instead, he rode in a carriage beside the banker to a splendid club, where he was served with the finest dishes the chef could provide on short notice. Moreover, Mr. Marvin introduced him to several substantial gentlemen as "Mr. John Merrick, of Portland"; and each one bowed profoundly and declared he was "highly honored."
Yet Uncle John seemed in no way elated by this reception. He retained his simple manner, although his face was more grave than Patsy had often seen it; and he talked with easy familiarity of preferred stocks and amalgamated interests and invested, securities and many other queer things that the banker seemed to understand fully and to listen to with respectful deference.
Then they returned to the bank for another long session together, and there was quite an eager bustle among the clerks as they stretched their necks to get a glimpse of Mr. Marvin's companion.
"It's John Merrick" passed from mouth to mouth, and the uniformed official strutted from one window to another, saying:
"I showed him in myself. And he came into the bank as quiet like as anyone else would."
But he didn't go away quietly, you may be sure. Mr. Marvin and Mr. Isham both escorted their famous client to the door, where the Marvin carriage had been ordered to be in readiness for Mr. Merrick's service.
But Uncle John waived it aside disdainfully.
"I'll walk," he said. "There are some other errands to attend to."
So they shook his hand and reminded him of a future appointment and let him go his way. In a moment the great Broadway crowd had swallowed up John Merrick, and five minutes later he was thoughtfully gazing into a shop window again.
By and bye he bethought himself of the time, and took a cab uptown. He had more than the twelve cents in his pocket, now, besides the check book which was carefully hidden away in an inside pocket; so the cost of the cab did not worry him. He dismissed the vehicle near an uptown corner and started to walk hastily toward Danny Reeves's restaurant, a block away, Patsy was standing in the doorway, anxiously watching for him.
"Oh, Uncle John," she cried, as he strolled "I've been really worried about you; it's such a big city, and you a stranger. Do you know you're ten minutes late?"
"I'm sorry," he said, humbly; "but it's a long way here from downtown."
"Didn't you take a car?"
"No, my dear."
"Why, you foolish old Uncle! Come in at once. The Major has been terribly excited over you, and swore you should not be allowed to wander through the streets without someone to look after you. But what could we do?"
"I'm all right," declared Uncle John, cordially shaking hands with Patsy's father. "Have you had a good day?"
"Fine," said the Major. "They'd missed me at the office, and were glad to have me back. And what do you think? I've got a raise."
"Really?" said Uncle John, seeing it was expected of him.
"For a fact. It's Patsy's doing, I've no doubt. She wheedled the firm into giving me a vacation, and now they're to pay me twelve a week instead of ten."
"Is that enough?" asked Uncle John, doubtfully.
"More than enough, sir. I'm getting old, and can't earn as much as a younger man. But I'm pretty tough, and mean to hold onto that twelve a week as long as possible."
"What pay do you get, Patsy?" asked Uncle John.
"Almost as much as Daddy. We're dreadfully rich, Uncle John; so you needn't worry if you don't strike a job yourself all at once."
"Any luck today, sir," asked the Major, tucking a napkin under his chin and beginning on the soup.
Uncle John shook his head.
"Of course not," said Patsy, quickly. "It's too early, as yet. Don't hurry, Uncle John. Except that it'll keep you busy, there's no need for you to work at all."
"You're older than I am," suggested the Major, "and that makes it harder to break in. But there's no hurry, as Patsy says."
Uncle John did not seem to be worrying over his idleness. He kept on questioning his brother-in-law and his niece about their labors, and afterward related to them the sights he had seen in the shop windows. Of course he could not eat much after the feast he had had at luncheon, and this disturbed Patsy a little. She insisted he was tired, and carried her men away to the tenement rooms as soon as possible, where she installed them at the table to play cribbage until bed-time.
The next day Uncle John seemed to be busy enough, although of course Patsy could not know what he was doing. He visited a real-estate office, for one thing, and then telephoned Isham, Marvin & Co. and issued a string of orders in a voice not nearly so meek and mild as it was when he was in Patsy's presence. Whatever he had undertaken required time, for all during the week he left the tenement directly the Major and his daughter had gone to the city, and bustled about until it was time to meet them for dinner at the restaurant. But he was happy and in good spirits and enjoyed his evening game of cribbage with the Major exceedingly.
"You must be nearly bankrupt, by this time," said Patsy on Tuesday evening.
"It's an expensive city to live in," sighed Uncle John.
She gave him fifty cents of his money, then, and on Friday fifty cents more.
"After a time," she said, "you'll manage to get along with less. It's always harder to economize at first."
"How about the bills?" he inquired. "Don't I pay my share of them?"
"Your expenses are nothing at all," declared the Major, with a wave of his hand.
"But my dinners at Danny Reeves' place must cost a lot," protested Uncle John.
"Surely not; Patsy has managed all that for a trifle, and the pleasure of your company more than repays us for the bit of expense."
On Saturday night there was a pint of red wine for the two men, and then the weekly cigars were brought—very inexpensive ones, to be sure. The first whiff he took made Uncle John cough; but the Major smoked so gracefully and with such evident pleasure that his brother-in-law clung manfully to the cigar, and succeeded in consuming it to the end.
"Tomorrow is the day of rest," announced Patsy, "so we'll all go for a nice walk in the parks after breakfast."
"And we sleep 'till eight o'clock, don't we, Patsy?" asked the Major.
"And the eggs for breakfast?"
"I've bought them already, three for a nickle. You don't care for more than one, do you, Uncle John?"
"No, my dear."
"It's our Sunday morning extra—an egg apiece. The Major is so fond of them."
"And so am I, Patsy."
"And now we'll have our cribbage and get to bed early. Heigho! but Sunday's a great day for folks that work."
A BUNCH OF KEYS.
Uncle John did not sleep well. Perhaps he had a guilty conscience. Anyway, he tossed about a good deal on the sofa-bed in the living-room, and wore himself out to such an extent that when Patsy got up at eight o'clock her uncle had fallen into his first sound sleep.
She never disturbed him until she had made the fire and cooked the coffee and boiled the three white eggs. By this time the Major was dressed and shaved, and he aroused Uncle John and bade him hurry into the closet and make his toilet, "so that Patsy could put the house to rights."
Uncle John obeyed eagerly, and was ready as soon as the Major had brought the smoking rolls from the bakery. Ah, but it was a merry breakfast; and a delicious one into the bargain. Uncle John seemed hungry, and looked at the empty egg-shells regretfully.
"Next time, Patsy," he said, "you must buy six eggs."
"Look at his recklessness!" cried Patsy, laughing. "You're just as bad as the Major, every bit. If you men hadn't me for a guardian you'd be in the poorhouse in a month."
"But we have you, my dear," said Uncle John, smiling into her dancing eyes; "so we won't complain at one egg instead of two."
Just then someone pounded on the door, and the girl ran to open it. There was a messenger boy outside, looking smart and neat in his blue-and-gold uniform, and he touched his cap politely to the girl.
"Miss Patricia Doyle?"
"A parcel for you. Sign here, please."
Patsy signed, bothering her head the while to know what the little package contained and who could have sent it. Then the boy was gone, and she came back slowly to the breakfast table, with the thing in her hand.
"What is it, Patsy?" asked the Major, curiously.
"I'm dying to know, myself," said the girl.
Uncle John finished his coffee, looking unconcerned.
"A good way is to open it," remarked the Major.
It was a very neat package, wrapped in fine paper and sealed with red wax. Patsy turned it over once or twice, and then broke the wax and untied the cord.
A bunch of keys fell out first—seven of them, strung on a purple ribbon—and then a flat, impressive looking letter was discovered.
The Major stared open-mouthed. Uncle John leaned back in his chair and watched the girl's face.
"There's a mistake," said Patsy, quite bewildered. Then she read her name upon the wrapper, quite plainly written, and shook her head. "It's for me, all right. But what does it mean?"
"Why not read the letter?" suggested the Major.
So she opened the big envelope and unfolded the stiff paper and read as follows:
"Miss Patricia Doyle, Becker's Flats, Duggan Street, New York. Dear Miss Doyle: An esteemed client of our house, who desires to remain unknown, has placed at your disposal the furnished apartments 'D,' at 3708 Willing Square, for the period of three years, or as long thereafter as you may care to retain them. Our client begs you to consider everything the apartments contain as your own, and to use it freely as it may please you. All rentals and rates are paid in advance, and you are expected to take possession at once. Moreover, our firm is commanded to serve you in any and every way you may require, and it will be our greatest pleasure to be of use to you. The keys to the apartments are enclosed herewith.
"Isham, Marvin & Co."
Having read this to the end, in a weak voice and with many pauses, Miss Patricia Doyle sat down in her chair with strange abruptness and stared blankly at her father. The Major stared back. So did Uncle John, when her eyes roved toward his face.
Patricia turned the keys over, and jingled them. Then she referred to the letter again.
"Apartments D, at 3708 Willing Square. Where's that?"
The Major shook his head. So did Uncle John.
"Might look in a directory" suggested the latter, uncertainly.
"Of course," added the Major.
"But what does it all mean?" demanded Patsy, with sudden fierceness. "Is it a joke? Isham, Marvin & Co., the great bankers! What do I know of them, or they of me?"
"That isn't the point," observed the Major, reflectively. "Who's their unknown and mysterious client? That's the question."
"To be sure," said Uncle John. "They're only the agents. You must have a fairy godmother, Patsy."
She laughed at the idea, and shook her head.
"They don't exist in these days, Uncle John. But the whole thing must be a joke, and nothing more."
"We'll discover that," asserted the Major, shrewdly scrutinizing the letter, which he had taken from Patsy's hands. "It surely looks genuine enough, on the face of it. I've seen the bank letter-head before, and this is no forgery, you can take my word. Get your things on, Patsy. Instead of walking in the park we'll hunt up Willing Square, and we'll take the keys with us."
"A very good idea," said Uncle John. "I'd like to go with you, if I may."
"Of course you may," answered the girl. "You're one of the family now, Uncle John, and you must help us to unravel the mystery."
The Major took off his carpet slippers and pulled on his boots, while Patricia was getting ready for the walk. Uncle John wandered around the room aimlessly for a time, and then took off his black tie and put on the white one.
Patsy noticed this, when she came out of her closet, and laughed merrily.
"You mustn't be getting excited, Uncle John, until we see how this wonderful adventure turns out." she said. "But I really must wash and iron that necktie for you, if you're going to wear it on Sundays."
"Not a bad idea," said the Major. "But come, are we all ready?"
They walked down the rickety steps very gravely and sedately, Patsy jingling the keys as they went, and made their way to the corner drug store, where the Major searched in the directory for Willing Square.
To his surprise it proved to be only a few blocks away.
"But it's in the dead swell neighborhood," he explained, "where I have no occasion to visit. We can walk it in five minutes."
"Really, it's no use going, Dad," she protested. "It isn't in reason that I'd have a place presented me in a dead swell neighborhood. Now, is it?"
"We'll have to go, just the same," said Uncle John. "I couldn't sleep a wink tonight if we didn't find out what this all means."
"True enough," agreed the Major. "Come along, Patsy; it's this way."
Willing Square was not very big, but it was beautiful with flowers and well tended and 3708 proved to be a handsome building with a white marble front, situated directly on a corner. The Major examined it critically from the sidewalk, and decided it contained six suites of apartments, three on each side.
"D must be the second floor to the right." he said, "and that's a fine location, sure enough."
A porter appeared at the front door, which stood open, and examined the group upon the sidewalk with evident curiosity.
Patsy walked up to him, and ignoring the big gold figures over the entrance she enquired:
"Is this 3708 Willing Square?"
"Yes, Miss," answered the porter; "are you Miss Doyle?"
"I am," she answered, surprised.
"One flight up, Miss, and turn to the right," he continued, promptly; and then he winked over the girl's head at Uncle John, who frowned so terribly that the man drew aside and disappeared abruptly. The Major and Patsy were staring at one another, however, and did not see this by-play.
"Let's go up," said the Major, in a husky voice, and proceeded to mount the stairs.
Patsy followed close behind, and then came Uncle John. One flight up they paused at a door marked "D", upon the panel of which was a rack bearing a card printed with the word "Doyle."
"Well, well!" gasped the Major. "Who'd have thought it, at all at all!"
Patsy, with trembling fingers, put a key in the lock, and after one or two efforts opened the door.
The sun was shining brilliantly into a tiny reception hall, furnished most luxuriously.
The Major placed his hat on the rack, and Uncle John followed suit.
No one spoke a word as they marched in humble procession into the living-room, their feet pressing without sound into the thick rugs. Everything here was fresh and new, but selected with excellent taste and careful attention to detail. Not a thing; was lacking, from the pretty upright piano to the enameled clock ticking upon the mantel. The dining-room was a picture, indeed, with stained-glass windows casting their soft lights through the draperies and the side-board shining with silver and glass. There was a cellarette in one corner, the Major noticed, and it was well stocked.
Beyond was a pantry with well filled shelves and then the kitchen—this last filled with every article that could possibly be needed. In a store-room were enough provisions to stock a grocery-store and Patsy noted with amazement that there was ice in the refrigerator, with cream and milk and butter cooling beside it.
They felt now as if they were intruding in some fairy domain. It was all exquisite, though rather tiny; but such luxury was as far removed from the dingy rooms they had occupied as could well be imagined. The Major coughed and ahemmed continually; Patsy ah'd and oh'd and seemed half frightened; Uncle John walked after them silently, but with a pleased smile that was almost childish upon his round and rugged face.
Across the hall were three chambers, each with a separate bath, while one had a pretty dressing-room added.
"This will be Patsy's room," said the Major, with a vast amount of dignity.
"Of course," said Uncle John. "The pins on the cushion spell 'Patricia,' don't they?"
"So they do!" cried Patsy, greatly delighted.
"And this room," continued the Major, passing into the next, "will be mine. There are fine battle-scenes on the wall; and I declare, there's just the place for the colonel's photograph over the dresser!"
"Cigars, too," said Patsy, opening a little cabinet; "but 'twill be a shame to smoke in this palace."
"Then I won't live here!" declared the Major, stoutly, but no one heeded him.
"Here is Uncle John's room," exclaimed the girl, entering the third chamber.
"Mine?" enquired Uncle John in mild surprise.
"Sure, sir; you're one of the family, and I'm glad it's as good as the Major's, every bit."
Uncle John's eyes twinkled.
"I hope the bed is soft," he remarked, pressing it critically.
"It's as good as the old sofa, any day," said Patsy, indignantly.
Just then a bell tinkled, and after looking at one another in silent consternation for a moment, the Major tiptoed stealthily to the front door, followed by the others.
"What'll we do?" asked Patsy, in distress.
"Better open it," suggested Uncle John, calmly.
The Major did so, and there was a little maid bowing and smiling outside. She entered at once, closing the door behind her, and bowed again.
"This is my new mistress, I suppose," she said, looking at Patsy. "I am your servant, Miss Patricia."
Patsy gasped and stared at her. The maid was not much older than she was, but she looked pleasant and intelligent and in keeping with the rooms. She wore a gray dress with white collar and white apron and cap, and seemed so dainty and sweet that the Major and Uncle John approved her at once.
Patsy sat down, from sheer lack of strength to stand up.
"Who hired you, then?" she asked.
"A gentleman from the bank," was the reply. "I'm Mary, if you please, Miss. And my wages are all arranged for in advance, so there will be nothing for you to pay," said the little maid.
"Can you cook?" asked Patsy, curiously.
"Yes, Miss," with a smile. "The dinner will be ready at one o'clock."
"Oh; you've been here before, then?"
"Two days, Miss, getting ready for you."
"And where will you sleep?"
"I've a little room beyond the kitchen. Didn't you see it, Miss Patricia?"
"Anything more at present, Miss Patricia?"
The maid bowed again, and disappeared toward the kitchen, leaving an awe-struck group behind her.
The Major whistled softly. Uncle John seemed quite unconcerned. Patsy took out her handkerchief. The tears would come in spite of her efforts.
"I—I—I'm going to have a good cry," she sobbed, and rushed into the living-room to throw herself flat upon the divan.
"It's all right," said the Major, answering Uncle John's startled look; "the cry will do her good. I've half a mind to join her myself."
But he didn't. He followed Uncle John into the tatter's room and smoked one of the newly-discovered cigars while the elder man lay back in an easy chair and silently puffed his pipe.
By and bye Patsy joined them, no longer crying but radiant with glee.
"Tell me, Daddy," said she, perching on the arm of the Major's chair, "who gave me all this, do you think?"
"Not me," answered the Major, positively. "I couldn't do it on twelve a week, anyhow at all."
"And you robbed me of all my money when I came to town," said Uncle John.
"Stop joking," said the girl. "There's no doubt this place is intended for us, is there?"
"None at all," declared the Major. "It's ours for three years, and not a penny to pay."
"Well, then, do you think it's Kenneth?"
The Major shook his head.
"I don't know the lad." he said, "and he might be equal to it, although I doubt it. But he can't touch his money till he comes of age, and it isn't likely his lawyer guardian would allow such extravagances."
"Then who can it be?"
"I can't imagine."
"It doesn't seem to matter," remarked Uncle John, lighting a fresh pipe. "You're not supposed to ask questions, I take it, but to enjoy your new home as much as you can."
"Ex—actly!" agreed the Major.
"I've been thinking," continued Uncle John, "that I'm not exactly fit for all this style, Patsy. I'll have to get a new suit of clothes to match my new quarters. Will you give me back ten dollars of that money to buy 'em with?"
"I suppose I'll have to," she answered, thoughtfully.
"We'll have to go back to Becker's flats to pack up our traps," said the Major, "so we might as well go now."
"I hate to leave here for a single moment," replied the girl.
"I'm afraid it will all disappear again."
"Nonsense!" said Uncle John. "For my part, I haven't any traps, so I'll stay here and guard the treasure till you return."
"Dinner is served, Miss Patricia," said the small maid, appearing in the doorway.
"Then let's dine!" cried Patsy, clapping her hands gleefully; "and afterward the Major and I will make our last visit to Becker's flats."
LOUISE MAKES A DISCOVERY.
Uncle John did not stay to guard the treasure, after all, for he knew very well it would not disappear.
As soon as Patsy and the Major had departed for Becker's flats, he took his own hat from the rack and walked away to hunt up another niece, Miss Louise Merrick, whose address he had casually obtained from Patsy a day or two before.
It was near by, and he soon found the place—a pretty flat in a fashionable building, although not so exclusive a residence district as Willing Square.
Up three flights he rode in the elevator, and then rang softly at the door which here the card of Mrs. Merrick.
A maid opened it and looked at him enquiringly.
"Are the ladies in?" he asked.
"I'll see. Your card, sir?"
"I haven't any."
She half closed the door.
"Any name, then?"
"Yes, John Merrick."
She closed the door entirely, and was gone several minutes. Then she came back and ushered him through the parlor into a small rear room.
Mrs. Merrick arose from her chair by the window and advanced to meet him.
"You are John Merrick?" she enquired.
"Your husband's brother, ma'am," he replied.
"How do you do, Uncle John?" called Louise, from the sofa. "Excuse my getting up, won't you? And where in the world have you come from?"
Mrs. Merrick sat down again.
"Won't you take a chair?" she said, stiffly.
"I believe I will," returned Uncle John. "I just came to make a call, you know."
"Louise has told me of you," said the lady. "It was very unfortunate that your sister's death deprived you of a home. An absurd thing, altogether, that fiasco of Jane Merrick's."
"True," he agreed.
"But I might have expected it, knowing the woman's character as I did."
Uncle John wondered what Jane's character had to do with the finding of Tom Bradley's last will; but he said nothing.
"Where are you living?" asked Louise.
"Not anywhere, exactly," he answered, "although Patsy has offered me a home and I've been sleeping on a sofa in her living-room, the past week."
"I advise you to stay with the Doyles," said Mrs. Merrick, quickly. "We haven't even a sofa to offer you here, our flat is so small; otherwise we would be glad to be of some help to you. Have you found work?"
"I haven't tried to, yet, ma'am."
"It will be hard to get, at your age, of course. But that is a matter in which we cannot assist you."
"Oh, I'm not looking for help, ma'am."
She glanced at his worn clothing and soiled white necktie, and smiled.
"But we want to do something for you," said Louise. "Now," sitting up and regarding him gravely, "I'm going to tell you a state secret. We are living, in this luxurious way, on the principal of my father's life insurance. At our present rate of expenditure we figure that the money will last us two years and nine months longer. By that time I shall be comfortably married or we will go bankrupt—as the fates decide. Do you understand the situation?"
"Perfectly. It's very simple," said the old man.
"And rather uncertain, isn't it? But in spite of this, we are better able to help you than any of your other relatives. The Doyles are hard-working folks, and very poor. Beth says that Professor De Graf is over head and ears in debt and earns less every year, so he can't be counted upon. In all the Merrick tribe the only tangible thing is my father's life insurance, which I believe you once helped him to pay a premium on."
"I'd forgotten that," said Uncle John.
"Well, we haven't. We don't want to appear ungenerous in your eyes. Some day we may need help ourselves. But just now we can't offer you a home, and, as mother says, you'd better stay with the Doyles. We have talked of making you a small allowance; but that may not be necessary. When you need assistance you must come to us, and we'll do whatever we can, as long as our money lasts. Won't that be the better way?"
Uncle John was silent for a moment. Then he asked:
"Why have you thought it necessary to assist me?"
Louise seemed surprised.
"You are old and seemed to be without means," she answered, "and that five thousand Aunt Jane left to you turned out to be a myth. But tell me, have you money, Uncle John?"
"Enough for my present needs," he said, smiling.
Mrs. Merrick seemed greatly relieved.
"Then there is no need of our trying to be generous," she said, "and I am glad of that on all accounts."
"I just called for a little visit," said Uncle John. "It seemed unfriendly not to hunt you up, when I was in town."
"I'm glad you did," replied Mrs. Merrick, glancing at the clock. "But Louise expects a young gentleman to call upon her in a few minutes, and perhaps you can drop in again; another Sunday, for instance."
"Perhaps so," said Uncle John, rising with a red face. "I'll see."
"Good bye, Uncle," exclaimed Louise, rising to take his hand. "Don't feel that we've hurried you away, but come in again, whenever you feel like it."
"Thank you, my dear," he said, and went away.
Louise approached the open window, that led to a broad balcony. The people in the next flat—young Mr. Isham, the son of the great banker, and his wife—were sitting on the balcony, overlooking the street, but Louise decided to glance over the rail to discover if the young gentleman she so eagerly awaited chanced to be in sight.
As she did so Mr. Isham cried in great excitement:
"There he is, Myra—that's him!" and pointed toward the sidewalk.
"Whom?" enquired Mrs. Isham, calmly.
"Why John Merrick! John Merrick, of Portland, Oregon."
"And who is John Merrick?" asked the lady.
"One of the richest men in the world, and the best client our house has. Isn't he a queer looking fellow? And dresses like a tramp. But he's worth from eighty to ninety millions, at least, and controls most of the canning and tin-plate industries of America. I wonder what brought him into this neighborhood?"