The Daltons and the Legacy
The Daltons and the Legacy
The legacy amounted to ten thousand dollars; and coming as it did from a little known, scarcely remembered relative it seemed even more unreal than the man who had bequeathed it. Not until lawyers' visits and numerous official-looking papers had convinced the Daltons beyond the smallest doubt did the family believe their good fortune genuine; then, with the conviction, came all the overwhelming ambitions and unsatisfied longings of past years.
"There, now we can leave the farm," exulted Mrs. Dalton.
"Why, Sarah, do—do you think that is quite—wise?" asked her husband.
"Wise? Of course it is!" she returned decidedly. "Why, Caleb, don't you know?—we've always wanted to go to the city; and Cousin John said he'd give you a place in his store any time, so you'll earn something to start with right away. We never dared to before, you know, for you wa'n't sure how you'd do; but now we've got all this money we shan't have to worry a mite. Oh, is n't it just splendid, Caleb?"
"Yes; but—" he hesitated.
"Why, Caleb, I don't believe you appreciate it a bit!"
"Oh, I do, indeed I do, Sarah, but—" again he hesitated.
"But there is n't any 'but,' Caleb," laughed Sarah, and turned to a boy of twelve and a girl of fourteen who entered the room at that moment. "We've got it all settled, children. We're going to Boston, sure, this fall."
"Oh, mother!"—Ethel's hands came together in ecstasy, while Fred whooped in glee.
"There's the lovely big stores and the people," cried Ethel.
"And the cars and Bunker Hill Monument," supplemented Fred.
"And we won't ever have to come back to this snippy little town," continued Ethel.
"My, won't Bill Higgins just stare!" interposed Fred. "Oh, I say, sis, we might come back just once, you know, just to tell them about things."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Ethel readily; "and—say, let's tell them now that we're going. Come on!" she finished over her shoulder as she flew through the door.
"There, Caleb, I told you how it would be," smiled Mrs. Dalton as the door banged behind Fred; then, anxiously: "You would n't want to spoil it all, now, would you?"
"N-no; but—no, no, of course not," murmured Caleb, rising to his feet and crossing to the outside door with heavy, slow-moving steps.
This was in August. By the middle of September such household goods as the Daltons had planned to take with them were packed, burlapped, crated, and labeled. It had been Mrs. Dalton's idea to sell the rest of the furniture and the farm at auction, but just here she encountered an unexpected but stubborn resistance from her husband. Consequently, the remainder of the goods were stored in the attic, and the farm was rented until the first of May—the house being close to the village, it made a not undesirable winter residence. A longer lease than this Caleb would not grant, in spite of his wife's remonstrances.
"Just as if we would want to come back by May, Caleb!" she scoffed. "Why, by that time we shall be real city folks, and you'll be a partner in the business, maybe."
"Hm-m,—maybe," echoed Caleb imperturbably; "but—we'll see when May comes."
"Cousin John" in Boston had received the news of their intended coming with cordial interest, and had already procured for them a six-room apartment in Roxbury; and it was in his thriving market and grocery store on Warren Avenue that Caleb was to have a position as clerk. The wages, at first, were not large—Cousin John explained when he good-naturedly ran up to the farm to make arrangements—but the figures looked fabulous to Sarah until John told her that they must pay twenty-five dollars every month for their flat.
"Twenty-five dollars, and not even a spare room!" she gasped. "Why, John, it's too nice—it must be. We did n't want such a fancy one."
"Oh, 't is n't fancy," laughed the man, "not a bit! It's clean and neat and on a respectable street. Land costs something down there, you know. You have to pay something for rent. Why, I pay fifty, myself."
"Oh, oh!" moaned Sarah. Then she threw back her head with an assumed courage. "Never mind, I'll just have to change my plans a bit. I did n't intend to keep anything, but I can have just a few hens and a cow as well as not, and that will help some. Like enough I can sell a little butter and what eggs I don't use, too, and—" a long, hearty laugh interrupted her.
"Oh, Cousin Sarah, Cousin Sarah!" choked John, as soon as he could find his voice.
"Well," said Mrs. Dalton, with some dignity, "I'm waiting."
Cousin John pulled his face into shape and steadied his voice.
"Sarah, your flat is up three flights, and has n't even a back piazza. Where are you going to keep hens and cows?"
Mrs. Dalton's jaw fell.
"Three flights!" she gasped.
"And is n't there a yard, or—or anything?"
"Not that belongs to you—except the fire escape and a place on the roof to dry your clothes." His lips were twitching, as Mrs. Dalton was not slow to see.
"Never mind," she retorted airily. "I did n't want them, anyhow, and, after all, we've got the money, so why can't we take a little good in spending it!"
Some weeks later when Mrs. Dalton saw her new home, she did n't know whether to laugh or to cry. The three long flights of stairs and dim, narrow halls filled her with dismay, but the entrance with its shining letter-boxes and leaded-glass door-panels overwhelmed her with its magnificence. The big brick block in which she was to live looked like a palace to her eyes; but the six rooms in which she was to stow herself and family amazed and disheartened her with their diminutiveness.
"Why, Caleb, I—I can't breathe—they're so small!" she gasped. Then she broke off suddenly, as she glanced through the window: "Oh, my, my—who'd ever have thought there were so many roofs and chimneys in the world!"
Getting settled was a wonderful experience. The Daltons had never moved before, and it took many days to bring even a semblance of order out of the chaos into which the six small rooms were thrown by the unpacking of the boxes and barrels. The delay worried Sarah more than did the work itself.
"Oh, dear, Ethel," she moaned each afternoon, "we're so slow in getting settled, and I just know some one will call before we're even half fixed!"
At last the tiny "parlor" with its mirror-adorned mantel and showy gas fixtures—the pride of Sarah's heart—was in order; and, after that, Sarah made sure each day that three o'clock found her dressed in her best and sitting in solemn state in that same parlor waiting for the calls that were surely now long overdue.
Days passed, and her patience was unrewarded save for a sharp ring from a sewing-machine agent, and another from a book canvasser.
Sarah could not understand it. Surely, her neighbors in the block must know of her arrival even if those in her immediate vicinity on the street did not. Occasionally she met women in the halls, or going in and out of the big main door. At first she looked at them with a half-formed smile on her face, waiting for the confidently expected greeting; later, she eyed them with a distinctly grieved expression—the greeting had never been given; but at last, her hunger to talk with some one not of her own family led her to take the initiative herself. Meeting a tall, slender woman, whom she had already seen three times, she spoke.
"How—how d'ye do?" she began timidly.
The tall woman started, threw a hurried glance around her, then came to the conclusion that the salutation was meant for herself.
"Good-morning," she returned, then hurried along through the hall.
Sarah stood looking after her with dazed eyes.
"Why, how funny!" she murmured. "She did n't even stop a minute. Maybe she's sort of bashful, now. I should n't wonder a mite if she was."
Three days later the two ladies again met at the outer door.
"Oh, how d'ye do? Nice day, ain't it?" began Sarah, hurriedly. "You—you live here, don't you?"
"Why—yes," said the woman, smiling a little.
"I do, too—on the top floor. You're not so high up, are you?"
The woman shook her head.
"Not quite," she said.
"I—I'm all settled, now," announced Sarah, stumbling over the words a little.
"Is that so?" returned the woman politely, but without enthusiasm.
"Yes, all ready for callers. I—I hope you'll come soon," she finished with sudden courage.
"Thank you; you are very kind," murmured the woman, as she smiled and turned away.
The tall woman did not call, and Sarah never asked her again. A few words from Cousin John's wife at about this time opened Sarah's eyes, and taught her not to expect to become acquainted with her neighbors. At first Sarah was more than dismayed; but she quickly brought to bear the courage with which she fought all the strange things in this new life.
"Of course they can't call on every one, Cousin Mary," she said airily to John's wife; "and like enough they're not the kind of folks I would care to know, anyhow."
Sarah was not the only member of the family who had found trials by the way. Ethel and Fred had entered school, and at first they came home each afternoon with woeful faces. New methods of study, recitation, discipline, and even of recreation puzzled and frightened them. They regularly begged each morning not to go back; but as regularly their mother's diplomatic bantering and systematic appeals to their pride conquered, and they started off at half-past eight, heads high, and chins bravely up-raised.
To Caleb, the city was a thing of noise, hurry, and more people than he had thought existed. Early and late he worked in the store. To the "early" part he did not object—it even seemed late to his farm-bred ideas of early rising; but to the evenings—Caleb never understood the rush and confusion that entered the big market and grocery with the lighting of the flaring gas jets. To him it was a time for quiet meditation and sleep—not for haggling over the price of sugar and beans.
"I don't like it," he would say sometimes to his wife; "I don't like it, Sarah. This doling out a peck of potatoes and two quarts of apples—why, Sarah, just think of the bushels and barrels I've grown myself! It's so small, Sarah, so small!"
"Of course it is now," comforted Sarah, "but only think what 't will be later on—only think."
December, January, February, and March passed; and the first of April brought a letter from the lessee of the farm asking if he was to have the place through the summer.
"Of course he can have it," declared Sarah. "Just as if we wanted it again!"
"Yes, yes, of course," murmured Caleb. "I—I'll write later on. He said if he heard by the middle of the month, 't would do."
It was an early, and a wonderfully beautiful spring that year. Warm, moist winds came up from the south and stirred the twigs and branches into life. The grass grew green on sunny slopes, and the tulips and crocuses turned the dull brown beds into riotous color and bloom. Caleb went out of his way each day that he might pass a tiny little park, and he always stopped there a motionless two minutes—he would have told you that he was listening to the green things growing. Sarah grew restless indoors. She even crawled out on to the fire escape and sat there one day; but she never tried that but once.
Downstairs, on each side of the big front door was a square-yard patch of puny, straggling grass; and it was these two bits of possibilities that put a happy thought into Sarah's head. For three days she said nothing, but she fell into the way of going often in and out of that door, and always her eyes were hungrily fixed on one or the other of those squares. On the fourth day she bought a trowel and some flower seeds and set resolutely to work. She had dug the trowel into the earth four times, and was delightedly sniffing the odor from the moist earth when the janitor appeared.
"Did ye lose something, ma'am?" he asked suspiciously.
"Lose something?" laughed the woman. "Of course not! I've found something, William. I've found a flower bed. I'm going to have the prettiest one ever was."
"Oh, come now," began the man, plainly disturbed, "that ain't going to do, you know. I'll have to—"
"Oh, I'll tend it," she interrupted eagerly. "You won't even have to touch it."
The man shook his head.
"’T won't do, ma 'am,—'t won't, really, now. I'm sorry, but the boss won't stand it."
"Won't stand it!—not even for flowers!" she gasped.
"No, ma'am"—the janitor's tone was firm but regretful. A queer feeling of sympathy came over him for this gentle little woman on the top floor whom he had always liked. "There hain't none of the tenants no business with them yards; he said so."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Dalton, "I—I'll go then." And she picked up the trowel and rose to her feet.
She passed the janitor without a word, her head held high, and her eyes looking straight before her; but once in the seclusion of the halls, her head drooped, and her eyes rained tears that rolled down her cheeks unceasingly all the way to the top floor.
It was that night that Caleb brought out the paper and pen to write the letter which would lease the farm for another six months. Twice he dipped his pen in the ink, and paused with no word written. Finally he spoke.
"I—I'm going to give him some hints, Sarah. He won't know how to run some of the things, I'm sure. If he should plant the meadow lot to potatoes, now, it—"
"And, Caleb," cut in Sarah, "be sure and send word to his wife about the roses; if she don't spray 'em real early, the bugs and worms will get an awful start. Caleb, don't you remember how lovely that crimson rambler was last year?"
Caleb nodded; his eyes were fixed on the wallpaper.
"I—I wonder if this warm weather has made the leaves start out on it," resumed Sarah. "I hope not—you know we always have frosts up there."
"Hm-m," murmured Caleb.
There was a long silence; then Sarah drew a deep breath.
"Caleb, do you s'pose it'll get up to the front-chamber window this year—that rosebush, I mean?"
"I don't know, Sarah." Caleb's eyes were still on the wall-paper.
There was another long silence, broken this time by the children's entrance.
"Mother," began Fred discontentedly, "don't they ever go fishing down here, or swimming, or anything?"
Sarah sprang to her feet with a nervous little laugh.
"Caleb, we—we might go up home just for—for a visit," she said.
"Hurrah!—let's!" crowed Fred; and Ethel clapped her hands.
"I'll do it," cried Caleb suddenly, bringing his fist down hard on his knee. "I'll write that we ll go up next week for three days. There's lots of room, and they can tuck us away somewhere for just that little time. We can show 'em things better than we can tell 'em, and I can close the deal when I get there."
It was a jubilant four that left the North Station a few days later, and it was a still more jubilant four that arrived in the village at the foot of the green hills. The Dalton's intended visit had been heralded far and near, and the progress from the train to the farmhouse was a succession of hand-shakes and cordial greetings.
"Oh, don't it look splendid and roomy!" cried Sarah, as they reached the turn where they could see the farmhouse. "And don't the air smell good!"
"Hm-m," murmured Caleb, and turned his face away with set lips.
How crowded to overflowing those three days were! Caleb valiantly tried to give his intended suggestions, but the most of his time was spent in joyous tramps from one end of the farm to the other, that no favorite field nor pet pasture should escape his adoring eyes. Sarah, when not gloating over every tender shoot and starting bud in her flower garden, was being fêted and fed by the entire neighborhood.
"Oh, how good it is to just talk!" murmured Sarah, as she went to sleep that first night.
As for Fred and Ethel, they were scarcely seen at the farmhouse.
Just at dusk on the third day Caleb found his wife in the old summer-house. Wrapped in shawls, she was fastening vines to the trellis.
"Well, Sarah, I—I s'pose I'd better settle up with West, now. I hain't yet, you know."
Sarah nodded, without speaking.
"I hain't seemed to amount to much about telling him things," continued Caleb. "Somehow, I did n't get time. He's careless, too; I'm afraid he ain't going to do well."
"She is, too," moaned Sarah. "She don't know a thing about roses. Caleb, do you think that rosebush will get up to that window?"
"I don't know," returned Caleb absently. Then, with a choke in his voice, he said: "Things look first-rate, now, but—I've got my doubts of West. I—I wish I could handle them myself."
Sarah threw a quick glance at his averted face.
"Well—why—don't you?" she almost whispered.
"Sarah!" exclaimed Caleb.
"Oh, here you are," cried Fred from the doorway. "Say, is it to-morrow we go?—just to-morrow? Why, we have n't done half that we wanted to!" Behind him stood Ethel, her eyes wistful, her mouth drooping at the corners.
Sarah drew a quick breath.
"Ask—ask your father," she faltered.
"Sarah, would you?—would you come back? Do you mean it?" cried Caleb, with a swift joy in his eyes.
Sarah burst into tears, and threw herself into her husband's arms. "Oh, Caleb, I—just would! I—I've wanted to ever so long, but—I just would n't own up."
"There, there," soothed the man, with loving pats, his face alight, "we'll come back, so we will; we'll come back right away."
Ethel and Fred ran shouting from the summer-house, and Sarah raised a tear-stained face.
"Well, anyhow," she laughed softly, "now we can see just how high that rosebush does get!"