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I ;0U R SHORT 6TOKT BAGEU
Copyright, 1909, by Ben J. B. Hampton. DANIEL GRIBBER had given a deal of con sideration to the problem of his aunt. It was his way to consider all his problems with extreme minuteness, and he found it paid. And he had problems, too, in plenty. The casual traveler would not have guessed the village in which Gribber lived and considered they called it Thorpe Dedham to be a place where problems were bred; but if he had had Grlbber's brickfield to deal with, as well as his little farm and his chandler's shop, he would have known better. Thorpe Dedham was not so very far from Lon don, when you found It after much trouble on the map. It might have been twenty-five miles, - as the crow files, but the quickest journey between London and Thorpe Dedham, on solid earth, took a lot out of a day. The nearest railway station to Thorpe Dedham was Ave miles away.. By a strict attention to his little problems, Daniel Gribber was doing very well in his little way. The problem of getting men to work his brickfield and farm for lower wagea than was usual he solved with comparative ease, for work -was scarce thereabout; and the problem of making them spend those wages at his chandler's shop, buying articles of whatever quality he chose to give, for whatever prices he chose to charge, was not so difficult as you might expect. If Grlbber's business had been transferred to America, and multiplied by about a million, it would have been called a trust. As It was, its figures stopped a long way short of millions, or even thousands; and Gribber was too busy mak ing it pay to bother about calling it anything in particular. His little problems were generally solved on . good and paying terms; and until the advent of the aunt difficulty none had involved actual defeat ex cept that of getting the local doctor to pay a com mission on his receipts from Grlbber's men and their families. As to that, he never forgave the doctor. It wouldn't have been much, and what ever It was might easily have been added to the wills But the doctor wouldn't see it was even ruaaly egry at. the suggestion. Clearly no man f boalo. And dow arose the question of Gribber's aunt. She was dying, and the problem, of course, was to make It pay. Aunt Porcher was one of those aunts vaguely credited, by their relations, with hidden wealth cloudy, indefinite, speculative, hid re. wealth, but wealth undoubtedly. She was a vi tvr of a small tradesman in London, and she Iivf-d in lodgings In Wandsworth. in Gribber's family wealth was counted, as I have hinted, not in thousands, but In hundreds; and when Gribber labeled his aunt with her prob able figure mentally . he labeled everybody with a probable figure he never ventured beyond the higher hundreds, for he had a rather superstltiou3 dread of expecting too much. The great danger In the problem of making Aunt Porcher pay was a grand niece of hers, a shopgirl in London, who had the advantage of being nearer the prey. It was because of this danger that Gribber ventured the extravagance of two journeys to London, paying a return fare of four and sixpence each time. On - the first of these journeys he found his aunt looking exceed ingly pale, and feeling very bad, so that he re turned quite happy, being especially encouraged by his aunt's complaints that her grandniece was neglecting her. For it seemed that the thought less shopgirl failed to come and tend her relation, in spite of having nearly an hour to herself every night from the shop only a few miles off at Peck ham. Gribber expressed a proper moral reprobation of such sinful callousness, and went away a good deal happier about his four and sixpence. A man of forty whose habits Incline him to take a vast deal of trouble to gain a shilling does not gladly let slip four of them, and a sixpence over, except upon a clear likelihood of consequent profit. The Becond visit was more eventful. The old woman was very bad indeed now, and the doctor gave so little hope that Gribber grew very hope ful. He was a rather portentous doctor, far better able to impress his patients than to cure them. - Gribber met him on the stairs, and in reply to his - Inquiries the doctor said: "Ha, hum, hum! This is not a case in which I can conscientiously give you any . reasonable ex pectation of your aunt's recovery. Hum! When we have pernicious anaemia in a person of your aunt's age, and when we also have concurrently an enlargement of the lymphatics of obscure causa tion hum then we have not far to look for the end. Hum! About a fortnight, I should say. Hum!" ORCORAN sat Is a corner and watched the pair at a neighboring table. . He felt old. Sometimes it seemed to him as if he were " the very oldest person in New York; and often his face had a gray, cold look thac went ill with its almost boyish outline. The two he watched were very youthful. They bubbled over, in a quiet, decorous way, with vitality, with interest, with merriment. Corcoran smiled, drew his face straight, sighed, and looked again. .. . Jack and Mildred nearly always had good time?. And the best of their good times they had to gether. They saw so many things to laugh at; occasionally they saw things to be sad about; they saw loving, sweet, delightful things, right under their sensitive noses, and then they would toucii each other's hands in sudden and silent sympathy. Corcoran hardly ever saw things to laugh at. He seldom allowed himself to be sad, and the loving, sweet, tender little things that veut right -on under his very well-shaped nose m:;h: have been going on under the nose of a blind man for any thrill of sympathy that they sent to Corcoran s unresponsive heart. Jack and Mildred laughed and 'ate and talked and ae and laughed again and drank their pint of Chablis, nnd so made a royal feast; while Cor coran ate his somewhat heavy table d'hote, feel ing a little less tired than usual because an un suspected current was playing between his table and the one in the other corner. And because, too. he somehow liked the glint of Mildred's wavy nalr and the smile on her pretty mouth. He "also liked Jack's face in a negative sort of way. He wasn't bad-looking; that was the way Corcoran put it to himself. : - As he lighed a. cigarette and waited for his salad, he was half conscious that he was feeling vaguely resentful about something. He tried to think what there was to annoy him, and not be ing an analyst did not connect the uncomfortable feeling with tho two at the other table. Quite suddenly he felt as if he wanted to tell some body something. There was no one to tell it to. he realized, and he didn't quite know what he wanted to telL So he put it all out of his mind; ) Gribber. therefore, greeted his dear aunt with very great affection. She lay extraordinarily pale and languid, and talked feebly and peevishly. She was angrier than before with her grandniece, whom it seemed she suspected of more affection for "the fellers" than for her Invalid aunt; and, T::n she had crown suddenly continental on the sub ject of her birthplace. "I'd "a" liked to 'a' ceen Thorpe Bodliam a?;aln 'fore I went," she said, "but it ain't to be. i 'eard the doctor talkin to ycu o-otrilc. "a sail a fortnight. I 'eard ,'im. But it wen't be a3 Ions. That I'm sure 01." Gribber said comething quits dutiful, though WHEN YOUTH vague and nebulous as it was war-, ho could sweep it out as if he were using his will as a brojn. And then he turned again to Jack and Mildred. She was listening intently while Jack told li i a harrowing tale of an office boy. He had waited to tell her till she should be where the lights and music and good dinner might counteract the ef fect of the little story. Mildred had a horrid little habit of worrying about people; thinking how dreadful it was that everybody didn't have good times, as she did, couldn't be well and str;n an always sure of a good long night's sleep, as she was. . Tho woman who didn't sleep had been the cause of a half night's torture when Mil dred's brown eyes would close and she would try to keep them open, just to see how awful it must be not to sleep. Then there was the lame girl who came for their laundry, and Jack had caught Mildred limping about their apartment several times, when the laundry girl was new to her. Mildred was not morbid. She was only vivid. She was likely , to put things graphically before herself. A practical result always followed these unnecessary flagellations witness a bunch of the most cheerful new novels for the sleepless lady, and car-fare- always on hand for the limping laundress. So Jack had reserved the office-boy story, the story of a theft, till Mildred should be in a bonny mood, so that the shadow he knew it would cast might be as light and fleeting as possible. He had to tell her because the lame laundress was sister to the office boy and he knew that sooner or later the story would reach Mildred's ears. : They ate more slowly, and sipped a little wino untastingly. and there was no laughter now. not eren a smile. Corcoran noticed it; that is. he noticed "4 11 d red's face. He stirred uneasily and woadved what the fellow was telling his wife to change her from a radiant girl to a sensitive, hurt woman. Corcoran laid down his cigarette and ate his salad, feeling very depressed. When his fruit and coffee came, turning his head a little, he saw that the red lips were curving into a smile, a tender, win ning anile; there was hope and gladness in It; the B y A r t h u r Mo rriso n not entirely true, about hoping It would be a great deal longer, but the old woman's thin face shook in an emphatic negative. "No, no," she said, "it won't. People as bad as me knows well enough. I bhan't last much more'n a week, Dan, an p'r'aps 1 shan't see you cz.v ELvn i,io:;v aain. I want you to' rromico to do something when I'm gece." Gribber was ready to premise anything that '.-'is perfectly safe. "I want to be put avay in the churchyard at Thorre Dedham. I've made a will for you to c'o it. What money I've get is to po o you, if you'll have no buried decent at Thorpe Dsdham. That's By Anne Story Allen sun 'was coming out. Corcoran felt much better. Mildred had a plan for the office boy. It was an inspiration; even Jack, who had thought that nothing could possibly be done, admitted that it was worth trying. Hardened as Jack was Vt Mil dred's sympathies, at least as he told himse'f he was, his eyes grew moist as he listened to Mil dred's scheme, full of love and good-will toward the office boy. - "Poor little chap," fluttered the mother notes in her voice. "Now we must and so on. And Jack agreed. Now Corcoran had made a big success and a pitiful failure. Long, long ago. when he felt young, he had started out to make a houie and a fortune. He had got the fortune, at lease a good foundation for it. but the home, without the right foundation, had been swept away. He had married a girl who was glad enough to marry him. For there seemed nothing but that or work for her at the time. Of course neither of them put it to the other like that. The girl persuaded herself that she was very fond of Corcoran, and Corcoran dragged out prematurely a lovely ideal he had deep in his soul, and tried his best to realize it in his fiancee. It" was difficult enough when she was his fiancee; when they were married the ideal shuddered and turned away, and alter two years of married life Corcoran had almost forgotten what - he had dreamed, for the vision had crept far back into its hiding-place. Corcoran got along as best he could; he quite got into the way of thinking that marriage was like this with everybody a make-it-do sort of arrangement. And if he was not happy, he was not very miserable, and he found a, con-, genial occupation in building that good solid foun dation that his fortune was to stand on. . Then a brute of a man came out of the West, cousin to the girl Corcoran had married. And he shook that poor woman to the depths of her scared little soul with the strength of the love he came to have for her. And Corcoran saw noth ing till one day he came home suddenly. There was an explanation In which an that was manly In the cousin arose and took the blame from the weak shoulders of Corcoran'a wife; then a all the conditions. Ton will do that, won't you?" Gribber promised with something perilously like joyful alacrity. v "There ain't so much as there was." the old woman went on, "but I don't owe nothing out o what there is. Feel under the pillow." Gribber did so, and presently drew forth a grubby, dog-biscult-colored savings-bank book and a little canvas bag. "All right; put the bag back," Aunt Porcher said. "That's a pound or two loose, just to pay for things. Look in the book. It ought to be jist over a 'undred and twenty now. It was one hundred and twenty pounds fifteen shillings, in exact figures. Gribber experienced mingled feelings some gratification, for this was certainly an amount worth having: and some dis appointment, for it was very low in the hundreds indeed. He resolved to do the funeral at the cheapest possible figure. "The will you'll find all right," Aunt Porcher concluded. "111 see about that. It's what I said all to you, provided you bury me at Thorpe Dedham. near mother. An' now I'm tired; an' I think I can sleep a little. Good-by, Dan, my boy, an' God bless ye." Well, it seemed settled that there was to be a fair profit out of Aunt Porcher, after all, if not a vast one. Gribber saw the landlady before ha left, and entrusted her with six penny stamps. One was to be used to communicate with him as soon as it was clear that Mrs. Porcher could last, no more than twenty-four hours. But if the break-up came suddenly, then the landlady was authorized and empowered to squander the whole six on a telegram. Gribber was most friendly and gracious with the landlady, but he did not mean to leave her alone with Aunt Porcher's possessions if he could help it. Also, there was a grandniece to bear in mind. Gribber began his journey home in a rather happy frame of mind, but finished it in perplexity and alarm. As a prudent man of business he dropped in at each undertaker's on the way to the railway station, to ascertain the very lowest, derry-down, rock-bottom cut price for a pjain coSin anl laying out, delivered complete, with ccrpse enclosed, free on rail at St. Pancras. The result made him very uncomfortable. At first he received the estimates with airy derision, explaining that h3 didn't want gold lining and nails jeweled in tour hole3, but soon it grew plain that the thing really was. going to run into money; end then hi3 faceliousness turned to positive Glccm. Moreover, not an undertaker of them all would even consider his proposal to give the corpse's old clctb.es in whole or part payment, but themselves grew derisive (if not indignant) at the subjection. lie had ct first even indulged the hope that he nilht diarovcr an undertaker from whom actual carh prof.t rcisht be derived in the matter of those oil clothes, over anl above the cost of the ccfan. scc.'ns that the cofiln itself misht be of any quality or rcre: but now it grew clear that, on the contrary,-, the coffin was going to coct a good deal mere than it seemed f " woitlt. ...n -Cribbcr ie"t to calculating prime costs with such rjc5Uilt,,that h? r.et aside for future consideration the idea of acd'ng a little undertaking trade to fh9 trickflcla, the farm, and the chandler's shop. As if the undertaker's estimates were not suf ficiently alarming, another blow awaited Gribber at the railway station. He had assumed that a corrse, prepcrly packed in a cofDn. would travel at good rates; but an inquiry dieted the stagger . i'.ig information that the carriage would come to thirtv-thr?e thillis! The thin.? seemed so absurd that Gribber ven tured to renrove the efneia! for his obvious igno rance of the company's regulations, since he. Crlbher, alive and well, could travel the distance for exactly one-twelfth of the sum, with a liability on the company in case tf his death by accident, which, for obvious reasons, they need net fear in the ca?e of a corpse. But all for naught: for tho impatient cflclal. 'hrust.'nT his finger into the midst of a gret printed column of charges and regulations, withdrew to his work, and left the clisnisye Gribber to face the indubitable, printed, exorbitant black-and-vhite fart that the un blushing charge fnr the conveyance of a corpsn was trulv and actually- a billing a mile. Pocr Gribber enteral the train a gloomy and soured legatee: and be reached Thorpe Dedham at last, to fnd occasion fcr more sourness and increaped gloom. For be there ascertained that iho-'rh the bur'al fees fcr a person dying in the parish were moderate, those for an imported ccrp-o were a very different matter. Although, it would seem that Aunt Porcher was be::t cn dy!n; with every circumstance of AWAKE talk in which the woman sobbed, and Corcoran was quite cold and felt nothing. - After all the legal steps had been taken, after her life had been cut from his and joined to the other man's Corcoran drew a long breath, took' bachelor apartments as a free man, and started in anew to increase his bank account and "hold ings. But some way. somewhere in it all, he had begun to feel very old and had gone on feeling so; ' his youth slept so deep and so quietly that he quite forgot that it was still with him, and he did not recognize its stirrings as he watched Jack and Mildred, or rather as he fixed his eyes on Mil dred's earnest, unconscious face, and was glad from bis heart that she smiled again. They all got up' to go at the same time. He followed them to the coat-room window. Mil dred stood aside while Jack asked for her coat. It was so swift, the whole happening, that it took till Eome time afterward for Corcoran to realize what had happened. As he stepped from the window, a waiter dashed by him. a badly cut hand extended, his white apron and napkin splashed with blood. There was a little cry from some one back of Corcoran. He turned, and a slim black-clad figure flung itself against him. "Pinch me, pinch me!" cried a pitiful voice; "don't let me faint!" To say that Corcoran was surprised would not be exactly truthful, for with one bound the spirit of youth within him, with all that youth stood for in . tenderness, in protection, in love of - man for woman, awoke in the full light of the Beauti fully Possible there was no room for surprise. --' His arms closed around her as naturally as they had never closed about another woman. He pressed her head against his arm with a man's instinctive Impulse to protect. Her cry. her turn ing to him, her putting of her hand before her eyes, seemed to him as natural as though she had turned to him so a hundred times before. . That he had released her, or she had released herself instantly, did not alter the fact that he had held her: that his face was composed and his voice perfectly quiet as he received her em wicked extravagance. It was a wicked thins that the brutal undertaker, the bloated and callous railway company, and now the very parson and churchwardens, should thus conspire to oppress the bereaved. Daniel Gribber .was wrung to th heart. He poured out his grief before his wife, bat sot little practical sympathy. Mrs. Gribber was not a woman of intellect, and Gribber had married her because it came cheaper than keeping a servant. Still, it is hard if a man's wife cannot share his at Mictions; and Gribber realised it sadly now. whet the rapacity of his fellow-men grieved his soul. But light was coming light in the depths of Gribber's darkness. In the midst of his gloomy cogitations there came an idea a flash of Inspira tion. Like all great ideas, it seemed so simple that he marveled.it had not come sooner. Why; not bring Aunt Porcher alive-? Her fare as a corpse would be thirty-three shill ings; as a living person two and nlnepence a clear saving of one pound vten and threepence to begin with. Even allowing three shillings for s cab to the station, the saving would be one pound seven and threepence. Then she would die in Thorpe Dedham parish, an down would come the burial fees. And again, those ravening harplea the London undertakers would be baked complete ly. And the carpenter at Thorpe Dedham could do a very nice coffin to set off against his bill foe groceries, or have his credit stopped forthwith. Nothing troubled Gribber but bis. unaccount able slowness in perceiving this brilliant way out of his difficulties. At any rate, no more time should be lost, lest it might be found wholly im possible to move the old lady. . Se he sent off a; letter by the evening post, and prepared to follow, it in the morning. This was the letter: My Dear Aunt: It grieved me much to see you so low to-day. and I been thinking particular abo it your wanting to see Thorpe Dedham once morci Dear aunt leave it all to me and I will come to-, morrow first train, and I hare no doubt the change, will restore you to health as it leaves me at pres-. ent. The best cab in London is not too gooa ror you dear aunt, and money will never be no object, to me when you are consumed. So no more as It leave me at present hoping to see you first rat to-morrow Tour affectort nephew. DanieL i This letter, read to her by the landlady, at first 1 prostrated and then amazingly inspirited Auntf Porcher; so much so that although ahe began by: protesting it would be instant death If ahe moved. when Gribber arrived he was astonished ovenj a little disconcerted to find her sitting tap 1 nl mummylike roll of shawls and blankets, wherein she bad been endued, under her own Imperative! The cab may not have been the best la London. but it was good enough; and the Invalid's transfer. to the train was effected with no worse Incident than Gribber's natural dispute with the cabman. But the journey, as a whole, was rather too much for the old lady, and she collapsed somewhat! alarmingly ere the train reached Its destination. Gribber's spring cart was waiting. .however, and the riav was fine: and a mile or tWOof Joltlnn as far roused her that she presently naked faintly:; f "Dan! Is that the old Blue Lion I can see tho roof of. Just in front?" "Yes," Gribber answered, a little t surprised a; "that's the Blue Lion, right enough." "An' do they still 'ave Bingham's Old Stingo, there?" "Why, ye. I b'lieve so." I "Pull up, Dan! I'll 'ave a pint o Bingham's)1 Old Stingo if I die in this 'ere cart for it." I Now, that was within a fortnight of two yearn ago. And to-day one of the very toughest and healthiest old laies in Thorpe Dedham la Aunt Porcher. who is still staying with her nephew. Whether it was the mere change of air and! diet that did it. the absence of the London doctor, the return to her native surroundings, or Bing ham's Old Stingo, or something of al? four to gether, are problems for which Gribber does not concern himself. For the solid . problem which, now confronts him is: what on earth la he to do?! The will is still in his favor, with the old pro viso; but he calculates that his aunt's visit has cost him very nearly the value of the legacy already. Yet if he turns her out that legacy will go at once, of course, and the speculation will stand a dead loss. On the other hand Aunt Porcher might live for, twenty years, eating him out of house and home.' as she is doing now. The problem is one requir ing thought, and certainly Gribber gives It plenty. It is no marvel that he is losing all faith in human nature. Even the Wandsworth landlady never returned those six stamps. barrassed apology, did not lessen his Inner exult atlon. What it was all about he would have to deter mine later. But his heart- beat bard and his hands would have shaken had he allowed it, at he pulled on his gloves. Jack met him at the door. "My sister says ' she made a pretty bad sals take just now." Corcoran answered quite as any other masj would have done. "A good many women." he said, "and men too, for that matter, turn faint at the sight of blood." And then he looked at Mildred deeply, straight, in the eyes, but neither Jack nor Mildred could, find fault with the look. Then Mildred said, to turn her mind from dering at his look. "I'm glad you didn't pinch me." And they all laughed easily and went down tho steps. " Jack and Mildred went one way and Corcoran another. ,"I'm glad you selected a gentleman, said Jack sarcastically. "Of course. I thought it was you. Jack. said. Mildred for the sixth time. Then she signed. Brothers, dear and sweet as they were. Just wouldn't understand sometimes. Then In deep repentance of her thought she held his arm more tightly. . , "He did have nice eyes." she said demurely. And Jack gave her a little shake, and his rood humor returned. Corcoran strode up the avenue. Youth kept pace wth him. His step was springy, his eyes alight. There was something in the world for him. somewhere, somebody. His ideal crept out of her hiding-place and sunned herself in the warmth of his imaginings. "It may be she!" cried Youth to Corcoran. . "Nonsense." began Corcoran; then ho stopped. "It would he absurd to suppose." he began; again. i "Nonsense!" rejoined Youth. "Love's never an-j surd." .