Uncle 'Bial's Bonds
Uncle 'Bial's Bonds
IT really was a funny thing, how it turned out about Uncle 'Bial's bonds—he was Harry's uncle, not mine, although he got to seem my uncle 'Bial. I never did know whether the way things turned out was because of the bonds or in spite of them, or whether everything would have been just the same if we had never heard of them.
Harry and I had been engaged about eighteen months when Uncle 'Bial died. But I had heard of him before, I assure you. Whenever we were having a ripping good time—when we were out with the crowd at the theater or having supper at a café, or dancing around—Harry had a way of sadly saying something about Uncle 'Bial. The story he was most apt to tell then was the little tin bank, and how Uncle 'Bial had said, when Harry didn't put another penny in it during a whole summer to keep company with the five-cent piece Uncle 'Bial had put in, "I guess you're going to be a spender, Harry, not a saver," or, "Would you have had more respect for the bank if I had made the nest-egg bigger?" How many times I have heard that story—and always when Harry had been perfectly lovely getting me something I wanted, like an engagement-ring with three two-caret diamonds instead of one. So I just got to look on it as the natural consequence of having a perfectly splendid time, like the headache you have after a perfectly delicious box of candy on a rainy day.
But I think eighteen months is enough time to look totally consumed with interest over the same stories. And they had to be the same stories about Uncle 'Bial, for Harry hadn't seen him since Harry was a little boy, so there couldn't be a new story until the one about the bonds, and I seem to be the one that always tells that.
I remember just as plainly as anything when Harry told me Uncle 'Bial had died. And he looked so cut up that I felt just as sorry for the dear boy, and I was as sympathetic as I could be. Of course, I expected all of the stories about Uncle 'Bial now, about the roomy old buggy and how he was so saving about himself and so charitable about other people. He couldn't see, if I sort of closed my eyes, it had got to be an effort to act as if I had heard them for the first time. But I was doing all I could to comfort him; his head was on my shoulder, and I stroked his hair and all that. But he surprised me by not saying anything until he told me, with a quiver in his big, deep voice, about the bonds.
"What's a bond?" You'll hardly believe that I was so ignorant a short time ago. But I never did hear anything about bonds at home. We always seemed to spend a lot of money; money was always just coming in or going out. I don't believe we ever had anything saved up but life insurance, because that was easy to borrow money on—and, oh yes, I remember that father might once have had some kind of a position that would have paid a lot only he couldn't get anybody to go on his bond. Harry says that isn't the same kind of bond as Uncle 'Bial's. But, anyway, it took my breath away when he said that Uncle 'Bial had left him four one-thousand-dollar bonds.
"Four thousand dollars!" Honestly, I couldn't believe it. I had never heard of so much money in my family except when father used to tell men who came to the house how they would clean up any number of thousand dollars if they'd just buy this stock or that. Only he stopped talking that way to Harry when he found Harry wanted to marry me.
Four thousand it is," Harry said, looking very far away. I could see that he was thinking of how good Uncle 'Bial had been to him when he was a freckle-faced boy. Harry must have had freckles, because he has that nice red color in his face and a most fascinating auburn tinge to his hair. And he was seeing that funny old face with the long, shaved upper lip and the nice twinkle in the eyes. And he wasn't thinking a bit about the money except that it was like his kind old friend to send him this—like a sort of message that he hadn't forgotten and was still fond of his boy.
It was just like Harry—for he really is splendid, you know— not to think of the money. But I think it was rather natural, too, for me, when we had been quiet for a long time and I had helped all I could—at least when I stopped stroking his hair for a moment he would press my hand against his cheek as if he wanted it to stay there—I think it was natural, since it wasn't my uncle 'Bial at all, for me to wonder just a little what we were going to do with that money.
After a long time I cleared my throat loudly, so he would listen, and repeated, "Four thousand dollars."
I suppose my voice must have sounded awe-struck, for Harry came out of his dream and pinched my cheek. "Goodness, Childer!"—that's what he calls me most of the time. And sometimes it's nice, and sometimes it isn't. "You needn't make such big eyes over that. I make more than that in a year, and you think that isn't enough to be married on."
"But you haven't had that all at once," I said, quickly. "When you think of trying to live on four hundred or so a month! But you can do so much with four thousand dollars all at once.
"Such as—?" He pulled me around so he could look straight at me. I think he had forgotten Uncle 'Bial for a moment.
"Oh, well—automobiles. There are cars you can get for less than four thousand."
"Oh—cars! But if we spent the money for a car we couldn't have it for—for anything else, you know."
"Oh, well, maybe I'd rather have a neck—"
"Childer—could we—would you care enough—? But I suppose you couldn't—"
Then he stopped. Wouldn't that make anybody cross? I thought I knew what he meant. And not to give me the chance to make him say it first!
"Would you dare—? But there!" he went on to himself, "the idea of my asking that baby if she would risk it! What does she know about it?"
I think you'll agree this was too much. "Henry Owen!" I said. And you'd be surprised to know how cool and indignant my voice sounded. "If you think I don't know as much about being married as you do you are very much mistaken."
Then he burst out into a great roar, and he—just grabbed me. "How did you know I meant 'being married'? You were thinking of it yourself! You can't deny it. And you want to—you know you want to!"
"The idea of such a thing! You imagined it. We ought not to get married until you have ever so much more." I said lots of things like that. But it didn't seem to make much impression on him. I suppose I didn't make much impression on myself, to tell the truth.
I suppose I really did—want to. Well, anyway, we got married in a sort of a rush after that, and didn't have time to think what we would do with the bonds until we came back from our wedding-trip. We did have the best time; we were only away two weeks, and we were at ten different hotels. I never did think I could get enough of hotels—and I could order lobster salad for breakfast if I wanted to—and I did. And I had a chance to wear all my new clothes. But, of course, the next thing to do was to get an apartment and go to housekeeping.
Honestly, the first time I thought about the bonds was when we were looking at the fortieth apartment in three days. The agent showed us a cunning little cubby-hole back of the built-in bookcase. You didn't see anything at all until you pressed a spring in the woodwork and a little door slid open. I certainly would have been crazy about that when I was a little girl. I know I would have spent all my time pressing the spring. I had done it several times when I heard the agent saying:
"This little safe-deposit is just the place to put valuable diamonds, money, stocks, bonds—" and that made me think of Uncle 'Bial's gift.
"Oh, where are they?"
Harry understood right away. Harry always does understand. But there! If I get to talking about Harry I never will get anything else said. All the girls say they just give up when I begin. Marie says she tried to make the same remark five times in succession and that I just stared her down and kept on talking about Harry. But, anyway, Harry laughed and said:
"I got them yesterday. It was a special bequest. Uncle 'Bial seemed to think I might need them right away. Yet I had never written him anything about you—"
"Well, we'll put them right away in that cubby-hole, and that settles the apartment question."
"But you haven't looked—"
"Won't the bonds go in there?" I thought that was what he meant, and I really was scared for a moment; but Harry laughed and said he was sure they would.
"But the kitchen opens on an air-shaft," he said, "and you said you wouldn't—" The agent was looking for his hat, but Harry said, rather weakly, "It's more than we ought to pay."
"We have the bonds," I told him.
And then he said something about "not having your cake and eating it, too." But wasn't that foolish when the only reason we got married was because we had the bonds! I said so, and then Harry said, real reproachfully, "Was that the only reason?" And then the agent said he'd be going back to the office to make out the lease.
So that was the way we happened to take the apartment, and I never did like the paper in the living-room or the dining-room or the entrance-hall; and the owner wouldn't change them because we signed the lease before we asked him. And I think that was just as mean of him.
Now I'm not going to tell any of the things people usually write about rent or gas or furniture or maids. I started out to put down only what happened because of the bonds. I don't know whether you'd say the next thing had any real connection or not. But after we got settled at last I had to ask Harry for an advance on my allowance. It isn't any one thing, you know; it's when they're added together.
"But I haven't any money." It was the first time Harry had looked worried. "I drew my salary in advance this month."
I believe I would have begun to cry in a moment, for I was sure he would think it was all my fault, if Harry, after he had walked up and down two or three times with a frown on his face, hadn't gone to the cubby-hole in the wall and pulled out the bonds.
"Oh no, Harry! We won't have to do that!" I don't know how I felt. It was as if, when you are tired out swimming beyond your depth and make for the life-raft you find it isn't there. Harry gave a little grunt of satisfaction. "That's all right. I thought I remembered it was this month they paid interest. To-morrow I'll get the hundred, and that will tide us over."
"But I don't understand."
And then Harry explained to me all about interest, and how those stocks, if we didn't sell them, would bring us in two hundred a year. I could hardly believe it.
"I never knew interest was something you got. I thought it was something you had to pay out all the time!"
Then Harry started to say something about my father, and turned red and wouldn't finish, and pretty soon he was teasing me because he said I put the bonds back in the cubby as tenderly as if I were establishing the goose that laid the golden eggs on her nest. And after that we always talked about selling our eggs when we cut our coupons. And, oh, it was so sure and safe somehow, in our little apartment, with Harry so—so—reliable on the other side of the reading-table, with the bonds in the cubby, that I—oh, I don't know how to say it—I suppose I just turned and sunned myself as a cat does.
One evening Harry, who had been very thoughtful for some time, said, "Now, Childer, I suppose we ought to talk about what we are going to do about the bonds."
I jumped. "But then we wouldn't have them in the cubby. Do we have to do anything with them?" Honestly, it seemed to me that it would be dangerous to get along without them.
Harry laughed a little, and then he said: "But my only excuse for marrying you was to have those bonds to spend. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had the assurance to put the matrimonial pin through a pretty little butterfly like you and stick you up on my wall. I wanted a happy little wife, not a specimen. What do you want most?"
You may be sure I didn't think about the bonds after that. What did I want? I could think of about two million things without half trying. And I got so excited trying to decide what I wanted most that I was perfectly miserable thinking how hard it would be to go without all the other things. And it seemed to me that I would die if I didn't have everything right off. Harry sat watching me with a serious, puzzled sort of look on his face, as if he were trying to think something out. At last he leaned across the table and said, very slowly:
"I tell you what let's do. Suppose I have a power of attorney made out for you—"
He explained that it was something that would give me the right to sell the bonds or do anything I liked with them.
"And we will put it in there with the bonds. Then we won't say anything to each other about it for six months—six months and a day." He laughed. His face had cleared up, and he looked confident and strong the way I like to have him, for it makes me feel so safe. "And in the mean time, if something comes up you are sure, after taking three days to consider, that you want more than anything else, you can sell the bonds and get it. I am to have the same right. But, unless you are sure, beyond all question, you are not to open the door. I am to be bound by the same conditions. What do you say?"
"I won't know, unless I am ready to sell the bonds, whether you have already used them or not?"
He nodded. "You won't have anything on me in that respect."
"But—oh—how queer! what a lot of confidence you must have in me!"
"Why not? You have to trust me, too. I might elope with a chorus-girl."
I just laughed scornfully at that. "Oh, what a lark! It's like a fairy story. Oh, won't it make things exciting!"
I clapped my hands— No, I didn't. Isn't it funny how you get into the habit of using a kind of formula like that? I never clapped my hands for joy in my life, and I never saw anybody else do it. When I'm awfully pleased about anything, what I'm really liable to do is to kiss Harry. So whenever I say I clapped my hands, from force of habit, you can understand what I really mean. I can't take the time to be sure about every little detail.
We had great fun looking at the bonds, perhaps for the last time, and I couldn't sleep for thinking of all the ways I wanted to spend that money. Spending money had always seemed the most fascinating thing in the world to me. This was like the stories I used to imagine when I was a child: how it would be to be the only person in the world, and be able to go into all the candy-shops and toy-shops and get everything you wanted without having to ask permission of anybody at all. And it was always glorious for a little while, but after a time a queer sort of blankness seemed to descend on your imagination at the picture of yourself all alone with everything you wanted within reach. There seemed to be nothing in the world to think about. And when I had got to that point that night and felt so lonesome that I found myself sobbing to myself, I put out my hand to Harry's bed and touched his cheek. Even in his sleep he turned his face so he could touch my hand with his lips, and I knew it wouldn't be like my little child self alone in a world of candy and toys, but that there would be Harry for ever and ever to enjoy the treasure-trove with. And so I fell asleep, too.
Then the oddest six months began that I ever lived through. I went downtown every day. I looked at necklaces first. A necklace is such a good investment. I felt one would really be a great economy, for it wouldn't matter what kind of a frock I wore, I would look well-dressed in anything with either of two that I liked—and it really takes so little material to make an evening dress; and that would be such a saving for Harry, and I did so want to help Harry. Then there were fur coats. I never had had a really good one, and Harry would look so perfectly splendid in a fur-lined coat with sable collar and cuffs. Once they sold the one I wanted, but the next day one just like it was shown in the case and they had told me it was an exclusive model, and that was rather disillusioning. And every day I saw more things I wanted, and I would have spent that money ten times over if I hadn't promised to wait three days before deciding, and at the end of that time there were just as many more.
I got to know about every kind of Oriental rug made. One time I got perfectly crazy over some new pottery. I felt I couldn't live if I didn't have a tiny vase with the most marvelous blue glaze I ever saw and the most perfect lines. They had such an intelligent salesman, and a certain millionaire had just paid five thousand for a vase not half so perfect, and I could have this one for two thousand! But if I got that, Harry and I couldn't both have fur coats—at least his wouldn't have a real sable collar, and I knew that every time I looked at the vase and saw Harry's coat with just a Persian-lamb collar I'd hate the vase. So I waited a few days, and by that time there were the most wonderful Italian laces sold cheap because of the war, and there was a picture at Bantimes that I felt I couldn't live without. And every beautifully dressed woman I saw looked shabby, because she didn't have on furs as fine as those I could have if I wanted them. And I didn't see any diamonds like mine—at the big jewelry stores. But meantime I wasn't buying anything. It didn't seem worth while when I could have 'most anything I wanted. But whenever I tried to think of myself with some of the things and without the others, I felt just poverty-stricken. So I found my last year's things would do, with my wedding clothes, and didn't buy anything at all. And sometimes it would come over me that perhaps Harry had spent the money before I got to it, and my heart went flop.
Almost every day I was late to dinner, and the maids got so cross I had to change several times. I had been so absorbed, that we were having that warm weather we sometimes have in March before I began to notice how queerly Harry was acting. I had begun to be tired shopping, and thought I'd better take time to think things over before I decided, so I noticed how late Harry was almost every day. He was odd and absent-minded, and Marie told me she had run across him out in Pelham, and he seemed confused when I spoke about it; and I tell you I just had the worst time I ever had in my life for a while. Harry had a secret from me!
I was just wild. There never had been a time when I didn't feel as if I could look right down to the bottom of Harry's thoughts just like one of those lovely crystal springs where you can see the silvery pebbles at the bottom. But now, every little while, I had a queer, no-thoroughfare sort of feeling. Such different things made me feel it. Sometimes it was trains and sometimes it was roses and sometimes it was trolleys and sometimes it was bonds and sometimes it was wicker rockers! Now what could any one make of that? If any one line of conversation led up to the deadlock, I might have been able to understand. And I suppose I was awfully touchy myself because if Harry said Turkish rugs were as good as Persian, or spoke disrespectfully of the new décolleté, I was up in arms as if the family honor was being attacked. Conversation was very difficult, and the most awful doubts of Harry, who had always seemed as sure as the everlasting hills—but what was he doing out in Pelham?—made me absolutely wretched.
At last Harry had a mania for trying cars. Then, of course, I understood it all. And my heart did sink, for though a car was the first thing I had thought of—and still I wasn't sure—it is a very different thing when a woman wants a car and when a man does, I tell you. A woman wants one just for use, and is perfectly willing to use a car two years. But with a man! Well, it is just the beginning of the end. That car gets to represent the reputation of the family, and it has to be a new one every year, with limousine top and all the attachments; and now that they have got a twelve-cylinder, of course Harry would have to have that. And we'd spend every cent we had and more taking people on trips and suppers, and for cold drinks and ices and restaurant tips. And that would eat up every cent of the four thousand and start us on a career of mad extravagance besides. I got so worried thinking about Harry's extravagance that I began to hold on to my allowance. Half the time I didn't spend it just out of opposition. And I felt so superior. And perhaps that didn't make me very agreeable.
The first time I noticed the house was when we had been going on this way trying cars for about a week. I hadn't paid much attention to the scenery. To tell the truth, although we had never had a car, we had been motored about so much by friends that I was tired of seeing scenery always sliding by. I could only appreciate it when it stood still. This idea of driving fifty miles to get dinner, and twenty more to dance a little, and twenty-five more to find a place where some one thinks the cool things are the best, and do this over and over, didn't appeal to me. Once it had seemed great fun. But now that I had Harry I wanted to stay and look at him. It seemed to me that all the crowd were so restless it was like having a nervous disease. There's Marie now. She isn't happy unless she is sprinting around all the time, and Horace begins to look stringy and hollow-eyed, and I can't see why she can't settle down and let others— Why, Marie's a year older than I am, and I've been married almost a year! And it certainly was queer that Marie was the only one who saw Harry in Pelham!
Well, this special time I was feeling tired and jumpy. If you don't understand that, just try to imagine how wearing it was, in addition to all my other worries, not to know for four months what you were going to spend four thousand dollars for or whether you were going to get a chance at it at all! And it had been a hot, lifeless day, when I felt that I couldn't breathe in our little apartment all choked up with furniture and hangings.
All at once I noticed we were rolling very silently—and slowly for once—through the loveliest, homeyest, trimmest, and sweetest little street with lovely cottagey, small English-manory houses set in smooth, green lawns, with fragrant bushes and shrubs in flower— Oh, I just loved it all at once. I loved it so hard that it squeezed the tears out into my eyes. It was the silliest thing. But—it was just as if I had been a forlorn little child wandering in my dreams, for ever and ever looking for home, and finding it at last.
"Oh, wait!" I cried. And Harry jumped. "Oh, please go slowly," I said to the man driving. "And then turn around."
"What is it?" asked Harry, in a stifled sort of voice. "There isn't anything the matter with the car, Childer. It's running first-rate. Don't you think so?" He exchanged a queer glance with the man who was driving the car.
"Oh, the car!" I couldn't help saying it impatiently.
The man who was trying to sell the car turned around and looked at me. "Is anything the matter? I'll guarantee the car, Mrs. Owen." He grinned at Harry.
"Oh—nothing!" I couldn't have told either of them what I felt for anything—a pair of car-mad men, Harry as bad as the other!
You see, near the end of the street I had seen a big "For Sale" sign. And it just made me crazy. When we drove by it, I saw that it was just as sweet as the others, only the windows were shut and there wasn't any lawn-mower or fountain-spray going, or any baby-carriage on the lawn. At the house next to the vacant one there was a wicker bassinet on the veranda, all fluttering with fresh white muslin and pink ribbons. And there was a lovely pinky baby in it crowing and playing with his rosy little toes and trying to put one in his mouth. We drove slowly enough for me to see when he did it!
I just didn't hear anything that was said all the rest of the drive. Every few minutes one of them said something to me about that car. And I hated it. It would cost the four thousand by the time the year was out. And I knew at last what I wanted. I never could be happy in this world until I owned that lovely cottagey house, and had my own lawn-mower and my own lawn-spray and my own lilac and myrtle and flowering fruit bushes and my own— Oh, I knew at last that I was just homesick for a real home and grass and shrubs and—everything. And for the first time I couldn't say anything to Harry about what I cared for most.
I could hardly wait to get to the apartment and get the bonds out of the cubby, and find out the agent and buy as much of the house as I could for four thousand dollars. But before I got home, even, I realized I couldn't do it at all. There was Harry, who wanted a car as much as I wanted a house. And I couldn't disappoint Harry—now, could I? It seemed as if I had been perfectly free to do whatever I wanted with that money. But I wasn't free at all. And then Harry might have already taken the bonds out to buy that hateful, luxurious car in which we would be whizzed about for ever and ever, and never stop to have a sweet little home with grass and flowers and rose-bushes and lawn-mower and lawn-spray and—and everything. It was perfectly wretched to be in suspense, and yet I couldn't bear to open that cubby. Unless I had decided, I hadn't any moral right to look, and I couldn't decide if I thought Harry had set his heart on something else; and if Harry had gone ahead and got a car when I wanted a house, I felt it would kill me to know it. I was being unselfish. But I wasn't a bit elevated and happy over it. I was just cross and snappish.
But the next morning the brightest idea struck me. I hadn't had time to spend my allowance for ever so long. I had just poked the money that was left over each week—in the envelope that Harry always gave it to me in—away in my desk. I hadn't paid much attention to it. It seemed so small when you compared it with four thousand that it didn't seem as if you could do anything with it. But when I came to add it all together, what do you suppose I had? I had saved up four hundred dollars without realizing I was doing it. And the paper had advertisements of houses that you could get by paying a few hundred down and the rest "on time." Of course they weren't like my house, but if I had saved up four hundred dollars in three months without realizing it, I was sure I could save a lot more when I really tried. And if Harry had his car, perhaps he would let me have my house.
The first thing I did was to buy a bank, a little tin bank that must have been just like the one Uncle 'Bial gave Harry. I don't believe the fashions change much in banks. I didn't scrimp on housekeeping; that wouldn't have been fair. But everything I wanted myself and didn't get I put into the bank. I had to get the money changed into gold lots of times or the bank would have been filled up right away; but it made me feel near Harry when he was a little boy, even if he didn't save. And he seemed like my uncle 'Bial now more than Harry's.
The white-fox furs that everybody was wearing with filmy frocks that summer went into the bank, and I got only two hats, and the other two went in. I teased Harry to stay home sometimes when the crowd went off to places. It wasn't only to save the money; I did feel that it wasn't safe to leave the apartment so much. Somebody might find out about the safe-deposit and steal the bonds long before either of us would open it, and it did seem as if we ought to stay home more and watch it. Then, too, Marie did make the most outrageous eyes at Harry, and I never could quite forget that Pelham business. When a girl doesn't marry until late in life she does get sort of restless and reckless. I've often noticed it.
The truth is, I wasn't very happy. Harry came home later and later. When we weren't out trying new motors, he stayed down-town until all sorts of hours. Sometimes he was away in the evening, too. I was ashamed to admit how hurt I felt. It was just an insult to Harry to suspect that he was doing anything that wasn't perfectly right, and I didn't—really. But people began to tell me about meeting him in the oddest places, on local trains or at florists', on trolleys where I couldn't see any reason for his being at all; and he was so cross when I asked him about it— I began to realize that the possession of money does divide people.
It went along this way through April and May. It was on the third of June that the six months would be up, the six months and a day. My money in the tin bank was growing. When I thought about the house I was happy. But the next minute when I thought about Harry I wanted to cry. Suppose he shouldn't care about it? Suppose he thought it would be a bore to drive into town even if he had his old car? It seemed to me that every drive we took I was aggravated by being driven past that house. I realized it needed a special kind of man to like to live in that house, the kind of nice-looking men I saw there, looking cool and fresh those early summer evenings, in Palm Beach suits, or cool-looking blouses and flannel trousers, pushing their lawn-mowers or spraying the lawns or wheeling—I began to be afraid Harry wasn't the kind of man.
The day before the third of June Harry threw a roll of bills into my lap. "I'm dividing profits," he said. "I brought a new client into the firm, an important one, and they gave me a bonus. There's some talk of a partnership."
Harry said this carelessly, but I could see how glad he was. And I was so glad that I—clapped my hands.
"I met him the first time on a Westchester local, and we got to talking. Queer thing—it came through my asking for his paper to look at stock reports. He found I had some White River Quarry bonds, and he did, too. He came from Vermont. I think I went up in his estimation because I had them. Put me in the solid-citizen class, you know. The upshot of it is that he has thrown some fat business into the firm. Nice men that take these local trains, you know, Childer; men that have an interest in local boards, and vote, and all that—solid people, you know—"
Local trains again. All my pleasure went. I didn't sleep much that night.
When Harry called me up from downtown the next afternoon and asked me if I wouldn't like to motor, I was pretty snappish. Here it was the third of June. I saw it all. He was going to take me out in the car he had bought and tell me that was what he had chosen. I was silent during that drive, I tell you. When I found we were taking the road that led to my house, I couldn't keep the tears back. Luckily I was alone in the back seat, and Harry didn't turn his head. But when we got to that darling street I just shut my eyes. I could never live there and I couldn't bear to look at it.
I suppose I didn't notice at first that the car had stopped. When I opened my eyes we were before that house. Harry, as he helped me out—I moved as if I had been a jumping-jack pulled by a string—was saying:
"That's all right, Preston. I'll talk the matter over with Mrs. Owen and let you know. We can go back on the train."
"No train for an hour, Mr. Owen."
"We'll need all that time. Or we can go home on the trolley."
When the car had rolled off, Harry turned to me. "Well, what do you think of the house, Childer?" He was looking at me anxiously.
"But what—? I don't understand. Why, it is my house—"
He stammered in turn. "What do you mean? I didn't tell you. I did hope once that you liked it, but you never said anything."
It all came to me. And I thinking—! "Harry, have you bought this house?" Did you ever hear anything so absurd? And wasn't he the dear?
There was an expression of hurt virtue on his face. "Do you think I would buy a house without being sure you wanted it?"
"But the bonds—? That was the bargain."
"Well, I just couldn't unless we did it together—that's all. But I did hope— Oh, Childer, it's so much better—!"
"Don't you say a word to me, Henry Owen! I've longed so for this house that I've just been sick. And I was so afraid—I thought you were going to buy that car."
He burst out laughing. "So you bit. Preston's the agent for the house; he was in the joke. I wouldn't force you into deciding my way for anything—but I wasn't above stuffing the ballot-box a little."
It took a long time to realize it was really so. We walked around and around the house, and Harry had the keys so we could go in. The rooms were the dearest and the sunniest and airiest. Even with no furniture in it that house looked homey. Then we went out again, and the sweet dusk was falling. The scents came out from all the shrubs, and somebody had been cutting grass on the next place and the air was fragrant with the hay.
"So Uncle 'Bial's bonds are to go for this," I said. "I know he would like it, but I do feel lonesome to think of their going. And we won't have any more eggs to sell, will we? But, Harry, it looks as if somebody had been planting things here recently! Isn't that a trowel? And those rose-bushes, and the shrubs? Surely they don't furnish those with the house. And everything looks so well-watered and flourishing."
Harry certainly did look guilty.
"Why, you see, Childer, when the spring came on—and I knew we had the bonds to make a cash payment with—I got crazy, I suppose. And I haven't exactly bought the house, not with Uncle 'Bial's bonds, I mean; I wouldn't do that without your consent. But I saved up a little—I had a childish kind of fancy, and I bought a little tin bank—as much like the one Uncle 'Bial had, you know. And the extra fee came in nicely. So I have paid something on the house. It could just be an investment, and a good one, too, if you didn't want it. And I have been coming out pretty often for the last month or so. I had a gardener look over the place a little, too, and plant some things. When you saw it I wanted it to look like our home."
I drew a long breath. That explained the trains and the trolleys and the florists! I didn't tell Harry—not then. But I—I clapped my hands again.
Then I thought of the money in my bank. We wouldn't need it—or, yes, of course we couldn't have too much to pay on the house; that could go in, too. I told Harry, and he certainly was surprised. I don't know whether it was quite complimentary to have him quite so thunderstruck. Then we sat down on the porch, and Harry told me what he had put into the bank—cigars, and clubs that he never went to now that he had me, and theaters that neither of us cared for so much now, and all that boring racketing with the crowd. And he felt just as I do about Marie.
At last, a big idea came to me: "Oh, Harry! Wouldn't it be enough, just what we have saved? And couldn't we keep them here—Uncle 'Bial's bonds—and have a new cubby built in back of the book-shelves here, and keep them? I'd feel so lonesome without them! And they made me feel so safe. And it's so fascinating to sell our eggs every six months. Could we?"
At first Harry didn't think it could be done. But, afterward, when we had added up what was in both tin banks, he said we could. And then we had a really sentimental moment, and Harry's eyes looked misty, and he said, "Perhaps that was what the dear old fellow meant."
I'd be ashamed to tell what train we took to get into town. It was dark then, so we just took hands and danced up and down.
"Oh, Harry!" I said. "We are going to be solid people—"
"And vote," said Harry. "This is only the beginning. And be on the school board—"
"With a lawn-mower and a fountain-spray—"
"And a pew in church. And subscribe to charities!" Harry made a little face, but he didn't really mean it.
"And lilac-bushes and roses."
"And a place to smoke in the evening—"
"And wicker porch furniture—"
"I've been looking at some—and—and—" Harry stopped, and looked up and down the misty street. He didn't finish, for even in the dusk we could see the baby-carriages at every place. Even next door the bassinet had merely been put on an upper sleeping-porch, and I could hear the baby gurgle.
I didn't say anything. I—I suppose I didn't really have to. But I clapped my hands. I clapped them a very—long—clap.