Aunt Jane's Nieces/Chapter 27


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?"

Louise drew back from the window, pale and trembling. Then she caught up a shawl and rushed from the room. Uncle John must be overtaken and brought back, at all hazards.

The elevator was coming down, fortunately, and she descended quickly and reached the street, where she peered eagerly up and down for the round, plump figure of the little millionaire. But by some strange chance he had already turned a corner and disappeared.

While she hesitated the young man came briskly up, swinging his cane.

"Why, Miss Louise," he said in some surprise, "were you, by good chance, waiting for me?"

"No, indeed," she answered, with a laugh; "I've been saying good-bye to my rich uncle, John Merrick, of Portland, who has just called."

"John Merrick, the tin-plate magnate? Is he your uncle?"

"My father's own brother," she answered, gaily. "Come upstairs, please. Mother will be glad to see you!"