Ralph Henry Barbour
Mrs. Morris's sounded only half-hearted, and she shot an apologetic glance at Willard's father. But for once Mr. Morris, the sternest of disciplinarians, chose to be deaf. After all, the boy's disappointment was keen, and so his criticism of Grandma Pierson elicited only the perfunctory warning from his mother. The boy's disappointment was shared to a scarcely lesser extent by his parents, but they had learned to bear disappointment in silence. Willard, waiting for his father's reprimand, sat with downcast eyes fixed on his untasted breakfast. Finally, however, as the expected storm did not break, Willard took courage and went on, but with more caution.
"Well, I can't help it," he insisted, with a gulp. "She ought never to have promised if she she did n't mean to keep it!"
"I'm certain, Will," responded Mrs. Morris, soothingly, "that your Grandma Pierson fully meant to keep it. Mother was never the sort to say a thing and not mean it."
"If she had lived on, she'd have done just as she said she'd do," said Mr. Morris. "I guess she expected to live a good many years yet. Eighty-one is n't very old; leastways it was n't for her; she was such an active old lady. When were we out there before this time, Mother?"
"Three years ago Christmas. That was when she made the promise. I almost wish she had n't, seeing it's turned out as it has."
"It seems as though she might have made a new will after she promised what she did," said Willard, rebelliously.
"Maybe she put it off, thinking there'd be more money later," replied Mr. Morris. "Cousin Joe writes that the whole estate won't amount to much more than five thousand dollars, and some of that's in a mortgage that 'll take a lot of handling to realize on. The fact is, Mother, I don't just see where she expected to get the money for Will anyway, do you?"
Mrs. Morris shook her head doubtfully. "Perhaps she thought that by the time Will was ready for college, she'd have the money. She certainly meant to do something for him. George. She'd always been especially fond of Will."
"Oh, she meant it, I'm sure. She asked me how much it would take to see him through college, and I told her two thousand. It was her own idea. There was n't anything actually said to that effect, Mother, but I think it was simply understood that Will was to have that money, and that we were n't to expect anything more. And there was n't any reason why we should. She'd have done quite enough for us if—if she'd done that. As it is, Clara and Alice get it all."
"I suppose that's my fault, George. You see, I always wanted her to think we had—had plenty. And then Clara and Alice both needed it more than we did."
"I know. I'm glad you did. And I'm not begrudging the money to your sisters. As you say, they do need it more than we, even if— Anyhow, we 've always managed to get along pretty well so far, have n't we? Maybe we have n't had many luxuries, Jenny, but we 've managed, eh?"
"Of course we have. You and I don't need luxuries. I 've always had everything I really wanted, George. I'd have liked Will to go to college, seeing he's set his heart on it, but maybe this is for the best, too. Perhaps he will be more help to you in the shop."
Willard, staring distastefully at his plate, frowned impatiently. "That's fine, is n't it?" he demanded. "Here I 've been telling all the fellows that I was going to college in the fall; and I 've gone and taken the college course, too; and Mr. Chase has been helping me with my Greek! And now—now I can't go after all! I think it's—" he gulped—"too bad!"
"Maybe you 'll get there, son, although I don't see much chance of it next fall. If only business would pick up— If I can find the money to send you to college, you 'll go. If I can't, you 'll have to buckle down at the shop. There are plenty of men doing well who never went to college. I wish you could go, but maybe it was n't intended so."
"Well, I'm going, sir! When I get through high school next spring, I'm going to find some work and make enough money to start, anyhow! If I can make good on the foot-ball team this year, maybe I 'll get an offer, and college won't cost me anything. Lots of fellows do it," muttered Willard.
"But you 're not to be one of them," returned his father, decisively. "Here, let me see those envelops."
Willard passed the packet across to him, and watched glumly while his father slid off the faded blue ribbon that held the envelops together. One by one Mr. Morris held them up and peered into them for the third or fourth time.
"Unless she meant to put some money or a check in one of these," he murmured, "I can't understand it." He laid the six envelops in a row on the cloth and shook his head over them. Then he took up the papers which, with the strange and disappointing legacy, had arrived from the West by the morning mail. But they told him nothing new. Grandmother Pierson's will, a copy of which Cousin Joe had sent, was short and definite. There was a legacy of some personal trinkets and a small sum of money to an old family servant, and, "To my grandson, Willard Morris, the contents of the packet inscribed with his name which will be found in the mahogany work-box on the table in my bedchamber." The rest of the estate, real and personal, was bequeathed in equal shares to Mrs. Morris's two sisters. Cousin Joe's letter was brief. In pursuance of his duties as executor of the estate, he was forwarding the legacy mentioned in the will, also a copy of the instrument. Willard was to sign the accompanying receipt: and Cousin Joe hoped they were all well.
The package had been done up in a piece of brown paper and tied with a white string—what Grandma Pierson would have called "tie-yarn." On the outside, in the old lady's shaky writing, was the legend, "For my Grandson, Willard Morris." Inside they had found six envelops which, once white, had yellowed with age. The writing on each was the same: "Miss Ellen Hilliard, Fayles Court House, Virginia"; and the post-marks showed various dates in the years 1850 and 1851. In the upper right-hand corner of each envelop was a stamp quite unlike any Mr. Morris had ever seen. Five were buff and one was blue. Each was round and about the size of a silver half-dollar. They were printed in faded black. A circlet of stars ran around the outer edge, and inside was the inscription "Post-office, Alexandria." In the center was the word "Paid," and under it a figure "5."
"You say these were your father's love-letters, Jenny?" asked Mr. Morris.
"Yes. I 've seen them many times. Mother read me parts of them, too, sometimes. He wrote beautifully, you remember. Mother always kept those letters in that old work-box with the green velvet lining, the one the will speaks about. It was her treasure box, and it was always kept locked. I remember there were three or four daguerreotypes there, and some clippings from newspapers, and such things."
"She was careful to take the letters out," mused Mr. Morris.
"Maybe she had a feeling that she would n't get well. I suppose she destroyed the letters. She would n't want any one reading them afterward, you see, Mother would n't. Of course it might be that her mind wandered a little toward the end, and she thought she was really doing something for Will when she put his name on the package."
"But Cousin Joe says the will was the one she made before we were out there," objected Mr. Morris. "I think her mind was all right then. Well, it's strange, that's all." He rose from the table with a sigh. "That's what it is, very strange." He pulled out a big silver watch and looked at it. "Son, I'm sure, it's time we were hiking along."
Willard pushed his chair back disconsolately and arose. He was seventeen, rather tall for his age, and had strong, broad shoulders like his father's; or as his father's had been before constant bending over desk and bench had stooped them. The boy had a good-looking, frank face and nice brown eyes, but just at present the eyes were gloomy and the face expressed discontent.
"Better take those envelops before they get lost, Will," counseled his mother. He regarded them with a scowl of contempt.
"I don't want the old things," he muttered as he left the room. Mr. Morris, looking after him, frowned and then sighed. Mrs. Morris echoed the sigh.
"I fear this settles it, Jenny," said Mr. Morris, tucking the Audelsville "Morning Times" in his pocket. "If I could get hold of the money anyway, he should have it; but I don't know where to turn for it, and that's a fact."
"Never mind, dear," said Mrs. Morris as her husband stooped over to kiss her. "There's almost a year yet, and something may turn up. You never can tell."
"We might as well look on the bright side, I suppose." returned Mr. Morris, "although things have n't been turning up much of late, Jenny.
His gaze encountered the envelops again, and he stared at them a moment. Then, with a puzzled shake of his head, he passed out.
It was a fortnight later that Willard, returning from practice with the high school foot-ball team, and passing in front of Mrs. Parson's boarding-house, heard his name called, and looked up to see Mr. Chase at the open window of his room.
"Come up and pay me a visit, Will," said the assistant principal.
Willard hesitated a moment. He had been rather avoiding Mr. Chase for the last two weeks. Now, however, he waved his hand, and, turning in at the gate, entered the house and climbed the stairs to the teacher's room. Mr. Chase was seated at a small table by the window. A stamp-album lay open before him, and he was affixing little hinges to some stamps, and pasting them, with deft, experienced fingers, into the book.
"Pardon me if I don't get up, Will," he said. "I want to get these in before the light fails. Well, how are you getting on at foot-ball?"
"Pretty well, sir."
"It is more interesting than our old friend Homer, eh? You know we have n't had a Greek lesson for a long time, Will."
"No, sir, and I—I guess there is n't any use having any more."
"Why, how's that? Do you think you know enough to pass those exams?"
"I'm not going to take them, sir. I—I'm not going to college after all."
Mr. Chase looked up in surprise. "Not going!" he exclaimed. "Why, Will, I thought that was all settled. What's changed your mind?"
Willard very nearly replied that Grandma Pierson had changed his mind, but he did n't. Instead, "Father can't afford it, sir," he answered.
"Dear, dear, I'm sorry! Is it—quite settled? Is n't there any hope, Will?"
"No, sir, I don't think so. Not unless I earn the money somehow, and I guess I could n't do that."
"It would take some time." Mr. Chase agreed dubiously. "You'd need pretty nearly three hundred a year, Will, although you might scale that down a little. I'm sorry, awfully sorry!"
"Yes, sir, so'm I."
There was silence for a moment. Then Mr. Chase asked, "And you don't think you want to go on with the Greek, eh? Suppose you found, next fall, that you could go, after all, my boy. You'd have hard work passing, I'm afraid."
"I don't believe there's any hope of it, sir."
"Still, the unexpected sometimes happens, does n't it? You would n't want to lose your chance for the need of a little Greek, now, would you?"
"No, sir, but—"
"Then don't you think we'd better go on with our Friday evenings. Will? I do. Even if you should n't get to college, my boy, a working knowledge of Greek is n't going to be a bad thing to have. Now suppose you drop in on Friday after supper?"
"Very well, sir. I guess I might as well. I—I have n't studied much lately, though."
"Better look it over a bit before Friday then. There, that's done! Now we 'll light up and have a chat."
"I did n't know you collected stamps, Mr. Chase," said Willard as the teacher closed the window and lighted the study lamp on the big table.
"Have n't I ever shown you my books?" asked Mr. Chase. "Yes, I'm a 'stamp fiend,' Will. It's not a bad hobby. Expensive, though. I could n't afford it if I was married. I suppose," he added ruefully, "I ought n't to afford it now."
"I started to collect stamps when I was a little kid," confided Willard as he took the chair Mr. Chase pushed forward, "but I did n't get very far. I don't know whatever became of my stamps. I think they 're in the attic, though."
"Yes? Did you have many?" asked Mr. Chase as he washed the mucilage from his fingers at the stand.
"Only about a hundred, I believe. I had a Cape of Good Hope, though."
"Did you?" Mr. Chase inquired. "Which one was it?"
"I don't remember. Is there more than one?"
"There are quite a few," Mr. Chase laughed. "And they differ considerably in value. You must show me your collection sometime."
"I doubt if it's worth showing," murmured Willard. "I guess all my stamps are just common ones. There was one, though, I paid a dollar for. I forget what it was. I suppose you have an awful lot?"
"Only about twelve hundred, I believe, but some of them are rather good. When I stop to consider what those stamps have cost me, though, I have to shudder. Still, stamps—rare ones, I mean—are n't a bad investment. They increase in value right along."
"Twelve hundred!" exclaimed Willard.
"Yes, indeed," replied the teacher, with a smile. "And I don't go in for 'freaks' much, either; nor revenues. Revenues in themselves would keep a man busy."
"What do vou mean by 'freaks'?" asked Willard.
"Oh, 'splits,' and 'blanks,' and surcharges, and such. Of course, though, I have a few surcharges."
"And what is a 'split,' Mr. Chase?"
"A 'split' is a stamp of. say, two-cent denomination cut diagonally across. Each half equals in value a one-cent stamp. Sometime ago, when an office ran out of one-cent stamps, it would cut up a lot of twos. Sometimes a ten-cent stamp was split to make two fives, and in one case three-cent stamps were cut in such a way that two thirds of each did duty for a two-cent stamp. Later, when the government ran out of a certain issue, they merely took a stamp of a lower denomination and surcharged it, that is, printed over it the larger denomination. I have a friend who makes a specialty of provisional stamps, such as 'splits' and 'postmasters.' He pays no attention to anything else, and has two full books already, I believe."
"Some stamps cost a lot, don't they?" Willard asked.
"Unfortunately a good many of them do," Mr. Chase chuckled. "There's a rumor that some one paid seventeen thousand dollars, not so long ago, for a pair of Mauritius post-office stamps, one-penny and two-penny. Those are mighty rare, and I 've never seen them. Then there are the British Guiana one-cent and the Niger Coast Protectorate; the latter—I forget its list number—is perhaps the rarest stamp in the world, since only one of its kind was ever printed."
"My!" said Willard. "What's that worth?"
"So much that it's never had a price put on it, I believe. Some of our own stamps are worth quite a lot, too. Take some of the postmasters' provisionals, for instance. Only one copy is known of an issue from Boscawen. New Hampshire, and whoever has that surely has a prize."
"What is a postmaster's pro—what you said?"
"Provisional?" laughed Mr. Chase. "I 'll show you." He reached under the table and pulled out a big square album. and Willard moved his chair nearer. "Provisional stamps were made and issued by postmasters in the days before we had a national postage-stamp system. Here's one issued in Trenton, New Jersey, and here's one from Portland, Maine. See? Some of them are pretty simple; just the name of the office and the words 'Paid—5." They 're interesting, though, and, as I say, some of them bring a lot of money."
"How—how much did those cost?" asked Willard, eagerly.
"These? Oh, not much. This one was twelve and—let me see—that was eight, I think, and—"
"Hardly! Eight dollars, my boy."
"Well—well, if they came from some other place, would they be worth that much?" stammered Willard.
"That depends on how many there are. It is scarcity that fixes the prices on stamps."
"Supposing they were from Alexandria, Virginia," Willard pursued, rather breathlessly.
Mr. Chase closed the book and replaced it under the table.
"If they came from Alexandria and were genuine, they'd be worth quite as much as these; perhaps more. Why do you ask? You don't happen to have one in your collection, do you?"
"Yes, sir! That is, not in my collection, but I 've got some that—that my grandmother sent me."
"What! postmasters' provisionals of Alexandria, Virginia? Are you certain? What are they like? Where are they?"'
Mr. Chase was plainly interested.
"I don't know whether they 're postmasters' provisionals," replied Willard, "but they 're a good deal like those in your book. They 're round, and sort of yellowish-brown—"
"Yes, buff; go on!"
"And they have some stars around the edge, and then the name, and 'Paid—5" in the middle, just like those of yours."
"You say your grandmother gave them to you?"
"Yes, sir." And thereupon Willard told about the legacy, and Mr. Chase learned the real reason why the college career had been abandoned. And when he had finished, Mr. Chase strode to a bookshelf and returned with a catalogue. After some excited turning of pages, he paused and read silently. "That's right," he said finally. "Your description tallies with Scott's. Where are those envelops, Will? Can you let me see them?"
"I guess they 're at home. I have n't seen them since that day. I—I hope Mother did n't throw them away!"
"Throw them away!" Mr. Chase slammed the book shut, tossed it aside, and seized Willard's cap from the couch. "Put this on," he exclaimed, "and scoot home! Find those envelops and bring them over here! If your mother has thrown them away, you 're out sixty or seventy dollars at least!"
"Where are those envelops, Mother?" asked Willard, five minutes later, bursting into the kitchen, where Mrs. Morris was in the act of sliding a pan of hot biscuits from the oven. The pan almost fell to the floor, and Mrs. Morris straightened up to remonstrate against "scaring a body to death"; but the words died away when she saw Willard's face.
"What envelops do you mean, Will?" she gasped.
"The ones Grandma Pierson sent! Mr. Chase says those stamps may be worth seventy dollars!"
"Sakes alive, Willard Morris! You don't mean it? Why—why—what did I do with them? Have n't you seen them around?"
"No, I have n't seen them since the day they came. Don't you know what you did with them, Mother?"
"Why—why," faltered Mrs. Morris, "it doesn't seem as if I did anything with them. Will! I don't recollect seeing them after you and your father went off. Will, you don't suppose—" her voice became scarcely more than a whisper—"you don't suppose I threw them away, do you?"
"You would n't be likely to, would you?" he asked anxiously. "Please try and think."
"I am trying, Will, but—but I can't remember seeing them again." She hurried to the dining-room, which was also the sitting-room, and began a feverish search. Willard followed behind her and looked wherever she did, and in two minutes the room had the appearance of having been devastated by a cyclone. And in the midst of the confusion Mr. Morris entered. Being informed of what was going on, he too took a hand in the hunt. But ten minutes later, they all had to acknowledge that the envelops were not in the room.
"I don't see what I could have done with them," reiterated Willard's mother for the twentieth time. "Are you sure you did n't take them, Will?"
"I know he did n't," said Mr. Morris. "I remember seeing them lying right here when I left the room."
"Well, then I did something with them, that's certain," murmured Mrs. Morris, looking dazedly about; "but I don't see what!"
"I guess we'd better have supper," said Willard's father. "We can have another look afterward."
So Mrs. Morris returned to her duties, while Willard, preparing hastily for the meal, returned to the room and continued the search. At the table he ate very little, and as soon as supper was over, he began rummaging again. The search ultimately led from the dining-room to the parlor, from the parlor to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the hall closet, and from there to the bedrooms up-stairs. And at eight o'clock, Mrs. Morris, lamp in hand, was peering about in the attic! At half-past eight, Willard went to the telephone and, calling Mr. Chase up, acknowledged defeat.
"You can't find them?" came the teacher's voice. "That's too bad. Have you looked in the waste-baskets, and the ash-can, and—and those places?"
"We 've looked everywhere. I guess what happened was that my mother shook the table-cloth at the back door, and they were in it and fell out."
"Well, I'd have another look to-morrow by daylight," advised Mr. Chase, in disappointed tones. "Don't give up yet, Will. You may find them tucked away where you least expect to. I'm awfully sorry. Good night."
Willard hung up the receiver, sadly. "Oh, if I could find those envelops and get seventy dollars for the stamps, I'd have to earn only about a hundred and eighty to have enough for the first year. He says it 'll take about three hundred, but I'm sure I could do it on two hundred and fifty. And if I could get through the first year, they'd have a whole lot of trouble keeping me away the second!"
In the morning, after a sleep badly disturbed by dreams, Willard was up early, and when the kitchen fire was started, he was out in the back yard searching around the kitchen doorway, among the currant bushes, and along the picket-fence. But he found no trace of the envelops. That was Tuesday, and hope did n't actually fail him until Thursday. It would not have failed him then had it not been that, on that day, Mr. Morris put his foot down.
"They 're gone for good, Mother, and there is n't any use fretting about them. So please stop pulling the house to pieces and settle down again. When a thing's so it's so, and you can't make it any other way, no matter how much you worry about it. There's nothing to do but let 'em go, and try to forget about it!"
That evening, Willard found his old stamp-book in the attic, and took it over to Mr. Chase. But although the latter went through it carefully, he found no prizes there. The entire contents would n't have brought a dollar at a stamp dealer's. When he was leaving, Mr. Chase reminded him that they were to begin the Greek lessons again the next evening; Willard hesitated, and then promised half-heartedly to come. What was the good of knowing Greek if he could n't get to college?
But at seventeen no disappointment is big enough to last forever, and Friday was a wonderful autumn day, with just the right amount of tingle in the air, and at foot-ball practice Willard played so well that the coach promised to let him start the game against Shreeveport High the next afternoon; and—well, after a good supper eaten with a healthy appetite, Willard had quite forgotten about Grandma Pierson's legacy. And at half-past seven he found his Iliad—it was n't an easy task, either, because, since the search for the lost envelops, scarcely anything was where it used to be!—and set out for Mrs. Parson's with a light heart.
"I did n't have a chance to study this at all," said Willard, as he seated himself across the table from Mr. Chase. "I 've been too busy looking for those envelops, you see. So you 'll have to excuse me if I flunk."
"All right, Will, I 'll forgive you this time. Do you remember where we left off? Was n't it where Ulysses and Diomedes are setting out to spy on the enemy's camp?"
"No, sir, we were way past that. I 've got the place marked. I think—"
"Hello, what's wrong?" exclaimed Mr. Chase.
"Why—why—here they are! They were—they were in this book!" stammered Willard.
"Eh? What were in—"
"Those envelops, sir! Look!"
And there they were, sure enough: all together, and with the bit of faded blue ribbon about them. Mr. Chase, beaming, held out his hand for them. Willard, still exclaiming, hazarding theories as to how they got into his Iliad, followed around the table while Mr. Chase carefully slid off the band of ribbon and looked them over.
"‘Alexandria,’" he muttered. "‘Paid—5.’ They 're the real thing, Will! By jove, what a find! Perfect condition, too! Not a tear on one of them! And no—hello, what's this?"
"What, sir?" asked Willard.
Mr. Chase was staring at the last envelop as though he could n't believe his eyes. "Why—why, it's blue!" he almost shouted.
"Yes, sir, I—I forgot that one was blue. There were five of them brown and one blue. Is n't—is n't it any good?"
"Any good!" exclaimed Mr. Chase. "Any good?—it's—"
He sprang up excitedly, and seized the catalogue from the shelf. "Any good!" he muttered as he turned the pages quickly. "Any good! Any-" His voice died out, and Willard, wondering, watched his lips move as he read silently. Then the teacher studied the envelop again. "‘Ditto,’" he murmured, "‘on blue.’" Then he closed the catalogue slowly and decisively, and laid it on the table. Willard watched him fascinatedly. He had never seen Mr. Chase look so excited, so wild-eyed, as this. Was it possible that the assistant principal had suddenly lost his mind?
"Will," said Mr. Chase, slowly and solemnly, "I—I can't be sure—I m afraid to be sure—but if this stamp is genuine, it's worth—" He stopped and shook his head. When he continued, it was to himself rather than to Willard. "There may be a mistake. Perhaps the catalogue's wrong. We 'll wait and see."
"Do you mean," asked Willard, eagerly, "that the blue one is worth more than the others?"
Mr. Chase laid the envelop on the table and was silent a moment. When he answered, he was quite himself again.
"It looks so, Will. Yes, I think I may safely say that the blue stamp is worth quite a little money. You see, there are two or three dozen of the buff ones that are known of, but, so far, only one or two blues have ever shown up. But I may be mistaken: don't get your hopes up until we 've had it examined, my boy."
"How much is it worth if—if it is—what you think?" asked Willard.
Mr. Chase shook his head. "Let's not talk about that now. I—there's the possibility that I may be mistaken. Will you let me have these for a week or so? I'd like to send them to the city and get expert advice."
"Of course. You do anything you like with them, sir. Only—if you care for it, I'd like you to have one of them, Mr. Chase."
"That's nice of you, Will, but I could n't take one as a gift. I 'll gladly buy one if I can afford it. Or—wait a bit! If this blue one is worth what I think it is, I 'll accept one of the buff stamps as a present. How will that do?"
"I'd like you to have one, anyhow, sir. Do you think the blue stamp is worth—worth a hundred dollars?" asked Willard.
"Will, I don't dare to say. Yes, perhaps a hundred: perhaps more, much more—unless I'm making a bad mistake somehow. I 'll mail these to-morrow, and we ought to hear within a week. Now—now let's get back to the lesson."
But Willard did n't make much progress that evening.
Of course Mrs. Morris remembered when Willard told her.
"Is n't it funny?" she asked beamingly. "It all comes back to me now. When I went to clear off the table, those envelops were there, and I thought to myself, 'Those are Will's, and he may want them after all, and I 'll just tuck them in his Greek book.' It was lying on the side table there. And then I forgot all about it! I'm so sorry. Will!"
"It does n't matter a bit now," Willard declared. "How much do you suppose that blue stamp will be worth, Mother?"
But Mrs. Morris shook her head. "Goodness knows, Will! But maybe it 'll bring enough to buy you a nice suit of clothes and—"
"Clothes!" scoffed Willard. "That money is going to put me in college. If there is n't enough of it. I 'll get a job somewhere next summer and earn the difference. I heard of a fellow who made nearly three hundred dollars one summer just selling books!"
"It's my opinion," declared Mr. Morris, "that that stamp is worth a lot of money, and that your grandma knew it."
"I don't see how she could, sir," Willard objected. "Why, even Mr. Chase is n't certain about it yet."
"Mother was a great one to read the papers," said Mrs. Morris, "and I would n't be surprised if she saw sometime that stamps like that were valuable. She was forever cutting things out of newspapers and saving them."
"We 'll wait and see," said Mr. Morris. "You 'll find I'm right, son. And if I am, I 'll be mightily pleased!"
Waiting, though, was hard work for Willard. For a week he managed to be fairly patient, but at the end of that period he began to be uneasy. "You don't think they got lost in the mail, do you?" he asked Mr. Chase.
"They could n't, because I did n't send them by mail. I was afraid to. I sent them by express, and put—well, a good big valuation on them. So, even if they should be lost, Will, you 'll have a lot of money coming to you from the express company."
That was comforting, anyhow, and there were times when Willard hoped devoutly that the express company had mislaid the package. But it had n't. Four days later. Willard was called to the telephone at supper-time.
"Will, can you come over here after supper?"
It was Mr. Chase's voice.
"Yes, sir! Have you heard—"
"Yes, I 've just got a letter. You come over—"
"Is it all right, sir? About the blue stamp, I mean?"
"H-m; well, you come over and I 'll tell you." Something that sounded like a chuckle reached Willard. "Good-by!"
"I'm going over to Mr. Chase's," he announced. "He's heard about the stamp. I don't want any more supper!"
"What about it, Will?" his father asked eagerly. "How much is it worth?"
"I don't know yet. He would n't tell me. Where's my cap? Has any one seen— Here it is! I 'll come back right away—if it's all right!"
"Hello, Will!" greeted Mr. Chase. "Nice evening, is n't it?" There was a perceptible twinkle in his eye, and Willard grinned.
"Yes, sir, it's a fine evening," he answered with a gulp.
"Yes, we 're having wonderful weather for the time of year. I got a reply from that fellow in New York. What did I do with it?" Mr. Chase pretended to have mislaid it, and dipped into one pocket after another. Willard squirmed in his chair. "Ah, here it is!" said the teacher finally, drawing the letter from his inside pocket. "Now, let's see." He opened it with tantalizing deliberation. "I asked him to examine those envelops and give me an estimate of their value. I did n't tell him we had four more of them, by the way."
"No, sir," murmured Willard.
"Well, he says he will buy the buff one for twelve dollars. That's less than I hoped to get for them, and maybe we might do a little better somewhere else. What do you think?"
"Yes, sir: I mean—I don't know!" blurted Willard.
"Now in regard to the blue one—" Mr. Chase paused and looked across at the boy. What he saw seemed to please him, for he smiled. "I 'll read you what Watkins says about the blue one, Will. Let—me—see; here we are! 'Of course you know you 've got the prize of the year in the "black-on-blue." I 'll take it off your hands if you want me to, but you'd probably do better at auction. The stamp is in perfect condition, and being on the original envelop, ought to fetch top price. There's a big auction in December, and you'd better let me list it for that if you want to sell it. Your letter does n't state whether you do or don't. I'm keeping the stamps until I hear further. The last Alexandria postmaster black-on-blue sold two years ago in this city to John Thayer Williams of Philadelphia. It was without envelop and slightly soiled. The price paid was twenty-six hundred dollars. Your stamp ought to bring a couple of hundred more, at least. Awaiting your instructions, respectfully yours, W. L. Watkins.’"
Mr. Chase folded the letter and smiled across at the boy.
"Well, what do you think of that, Will?" he asked.
Willard returned the smile, rather tremulously.
"I think," he began. Then he stopped, swallowed, and began over again. "I think," he said huskily, "that Grandma Pierson is going to send me to college after all, just as she promised!"