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MRS. AND MISS GRAY
Mrs. Gray lived in Fortieth Street. For years Montgomery Brewster had regarded her quiet, old-fashioned home as his own. The house had once been her grandfather's, and it was one of the pioneers in that part of town. It was there she was born; in its quaint old parlor she was married; and all her girlhood, her brief wedded life, and her widowhood were connected with it. Mrs. Gray and Montgomery's mother had been schoolmates and playmates, and their friendship endured. When old Edwin Peter Brewster looked about for a place to house his orphaned grandson, Mrs. Gray begged him to let her care for the little fellow. He was three years older than her. Margaret, and the children grew up as brother and sister. Mr. Brewster was generous in providing for the boy. While he was away at college, spending money in a manner that caused the old gentleman to marvel at his own liberality, Mrs. Gray was well paid for the unused but well-kept apartments, and there never was a murmur of complaint from Edwin Peter Brewster. He was hard, but he was not niggardly.
It had been something of a struggle for Mrs. Gray to make both ends meet. The property in Fortieth Street was her only possession. But little money had come to her at her husband's death, and an unfortunate speculation of his had swept away all that had fallen to her from her father, the late Judge Merriweather. For years she kept the old home unencumbered, teaching French and English until Margaret was well into her teens. The girl was sent to one of the good old boarding-schools on the Hudson and came out well prepared to help her mother in the battle to keep the wolf down and appearances up. Margaret was rich in friendships; and pride alone stood between her and the advantages they offered. Good-looking, bright, and cheerful, she knew no natural privations. With a heart as light and joyous as a May morning, she faced adversity as though it were a pleasure, and no one would have suspected that even for a moment her courage wavered.
Now that Brewster had come into his splendid fortune he could conceive no greater delight than to share it with them. To walk into the little drawing-room and serenely lay large sums before them as their own seemed such a natural proceeding that he refused to see an obstacle. But he knew it was there; the proffer of such a gift to Mrs. Gray would mean a wound to the pride inherited from haughty generations of men sufficient unto themselves. There was a small but troublesome mortgage on the house, a matter of two or three thousand dollars, and Brewster tried to evolve a plan by which he could assume the burden without giving deep and lasting offense.. A hundred wild designs had come to him, but they were quickly relegated to the growing heap of subterfuges and pretexts condemned by his tenderness for the pride of these two women who meant so much to him.
Leaving the bank, he hastened, by electric car, to Fortieth Street and Broadway, and then walked eagerly off into the street of the numeral. He had not yet come to the point where he felt like scorning the cars, even though a roll of banknotes was tucked snugly away in a pocket that seemed to swell with sudden affluence. Old Hendrick, faithful servitor through two generations, was sweeping the autumn leaves from the sidewalk when Montgomery came up to the house.
"Hello, Hendrick," was the young man's cheery greeting. "Nice lot of leaves you have there."
"So?" ebbed from Hendrick, who did not even so much as look up from his work. Hendrick was a human clam.
"Mrs. Gray in?"
A grunt that signified yes.
"You're as loquacious as ever, Hendrick." A mere nod.
Brewster let himself in with his own latch key, threw his hat on a chair and unceremoniously bolted into the library. Margaret was seated near a window, a book in her lap. The first evidence of unbiased friendship he had seen in days shone in her smile. She took his hand and said simply, "We are glad to welcome the prodigal to his home again."
"I remind myself more of the fatted calf."
Her first self-consciousness had gone.
"I thought of that, but I didn't dare say it," she laughed. "One must be respectful to rich relatives."
"Hang your rich relatives, Peggy; if I thought that this money would make any difference I would give it up this minute."
"Nonsense, Monty," she said. "How could it make a difference? But you must admit it is rather startling. The friend of our youth leaves his humble dwelling Saturday night with his salary drawn for two weeks ahead. He returns the following Thursday a dazzling millionaire."
"I'm glad I've begun to dazzle, anyway. I thought it might be hard to look the part."
"Well, I can't see that you are much changed." There was a suggestion of a quaver in her voice, and the shadows did not prevent him from seeing the quick mist that flitted across her deep eyes.
"After all, it’s easy work being a millionaire," he explained, "when you've always had million-dollar inclinations."
"And fifty-cent possibilities," she added.
"Really though, I'll never get as much joy out of my abundant riches as I did out of financial embarrassments."
"But think how fine it is, Monty, not ever to wonder where your winter's overcoat is to come from and how long the coal will last, and all that."
"Oh, I never wondered about my overcoats; the tailor did the wondering. But I wish I could go on living here just as before. I'd a heap rather live here than at that gloomy place on the avenue."
"That sounded like the things you used to say when we played in the garret. You'd a heap sooner do this than that — don't you remember?"
"That's just why I'd rather live here, Peggy. Last night I fell to thinking of that old garret, and hanged if something didn't come up and stick in my throat so tight that I wanted to cry. How long has it been since we played up there? Yes, and how long has it been since I read 'Oliver Optic' to you, lying there in the garret window while you sat with your back against the wall, your blue eyes as big as dollars?"
"Oh, dear me, Monty, it was ages ago — twelve or thirteen years, at least," she cried, a soft light in her eyes.
"I'm going up there this afternoon to see what the place is like," he said eagerly. "And, Peggy, you must come too. Maybe I can find one of those Optic books, and, we'll be young again."
"Just for old time's sake," she said impulsively. "You'll stay for luncheon, too."
"I'll have to be at the — no, I won't, either. Do you know, I was thinking I had to be at the bank at twelve-thirty to let Mr. Perkins go out for something to eat? The millionaire habit isn't so firmly fixed as I supposed." After a moment's pause, in which his growing seriousness changed the atmosphere, he went on, haltingly, uncertain of his position: "The nicest thing about having all this money is that — that — we won't have to deny ourselves anything after this." It did not sound very tactful, now that it was out, and he was compelled to scrutinize rather intently a familiar portrait in order to maintain an air of careless assurance. She did not respond to this venture, but he felt that she was looking directly into his sorely-tried brain. "We'll do any amount of decorating about the house and — and you know that furnace has been giving us a lot of trouble for two or three years —" he was pouring out ruthlessly, when her hand fell gently on his own and she stood straight and tall before him, an odd look in her eyes.
"Don't — please don't go on, Monty," she said very gently but without wavering. "I know what you mean. You are good and very thoughtful, Monty, but you really must not."
"Why, what's mine is yours — " he began
"I know you are generous, Monty, and I know you have a heart. You want us to — to take some of your money," — it was not easy to say it, and as for Monty, he could only look at the floor. "We cannot, Monty, dear, — you must never speak of it again. Mamma and I had a feeling that you would do it. But don't you see, — even from you it is an offer of help, and it hurts."
"Don't talk like that, Peggy," he implored.
"It would break her heart if you offered to give her money in that way. She'd hate it, Monty. It is foolish perhaps, but you know we can't take your money."
"I thought you — that you — oh, this knocks all the joy out of it," he burst out desperately. "Dear Monty!"
"Let's talk it over, Peggy; you don't understand — " he began, dashing at what he thought would be a break in her resolve.
"Don't!" she commanded, and in her blue eyes was the hot flash he had felt once or twice before.
He rose and walked across the floor, back and forth again, and then stood before her, a smile on his lips — a rather pitiful smile, but still a smile. There were tears in her eyes as she looked at him.
"It's a confounded puritanical prejudice, Peggy," he said in futile protest, "and you know it."
"You have not seen the letters that came for you this morning. They're on the table over there," she replied, ignoring him.
found the letters and resumed his seat in the window, glancing
half-heartedly over the contents of the envelopes. The last was from
Grant & Ripley, attorneys, and even from his abstraction it
brought a surprised "By Jove!" He read it aloud to
MONTGOMERY BREWSTER, ESQ.,
Dear Sir: — We are in receipt of a communication from Mr. Swearengen Jones of Montana, conveying the sad intelligence that your uncle, James T. Sedgwick, died on the 24th inst. at M — Hospital in Portland, after a brief illness. Mr. Jones by this time has qualified in Montana as the executor of your uncle's will and has retained us as his eastern representatives. He incloses a copy of the will, in which you are named as sole heir, with conditions attending. Will you call at our office this afternoon, if it is convenient? It is important that you know the contents of the instrument at once.
GRANT & RIPLEY.
For a moment there was only amazement in the air. Then a faint bewildered smile appeared in Monty's face, and reflected itself in the girl's.
"Who is your Uncle James?" she asked. "I've never heard of him."
"You must go to Grant & Ripley's at once, of course.'
"Have you forgotten, Peggy," he replied, with a hint of vexation in his voice, "that we are to read 'Oliver Optic' this afternoon?"