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into ironical politeness; and he really cessity of a reply; "but I 've always been looked at her for the first time.
attracted by the Middle West; and so, when I found that Alice and Charles were preparing to elope,-yes, I assure you, they were on the verge,-I proposed, as an alternative, that we all come here and talk it over with you. I think I'm going to like Brookfield very much. Your Ozark Mountains remind me of the Berkshire Hills, except that the Ozarks seem ever so much more tropical. Your winters, I presume, are mild."
She was inclined to be plump, with the comfortable plumpness of middle age. Her pleasant, decided facial lines and large, quick gray eyes suggested that she could be both audacious and proper at the same time. It is a prerogative granted to certain very sensible, well-trained natures.
"Thank you; then I think I shall," she said, pushing away her plate with a firm, competent hand.
"Mrs. Mallet," called Brinton, "make it two orders of bacon and eggs. Will you have three eggs or four, Mrs. Powell?" little
But there was something a daunted in the very assuredness with which he delivered the order. He had been "got around"; his declaration of independence had fallen flat. He was obliged to establish his acquaintance with the lady on a new basis, and the effort confused him.
"Your son has told me a great deal about you, you see, Mr. Brinton," said Mrs. Powell, brightly, stepping into the breach. "I think that was one of the main reasons why I came to Brookfield. I am really very much interested in you."
"There is nothing about me to be in terested in," hedged John Brinton. "I'm a money-grubber, that's all. Making money is all I care for, and I make no bones about admitting it."
He acknowledged the arrival of his bacon and eggs by pursing his lips and giving attention to his plate. His square face and puckery gray eyes, the solid quality of the jaw under his bristling gray beard, had moved Brookfield to credit him with a likeness to General Grant. As he ate, he shot an occasional reconnoitering glance at Miss Alice Powell, the future Mrs. Charles Brinton. Mrs. Powell had struck up a conversation with Charles that left Brinton and her daughter stranded.
"Ever been West before?" asked John Brinton of the young lady, categorically.
She lifted a pair of startled brown eyes to him, and a face somewhat rosy with embarrassment. Her eyes slanted downward a little at the outer corners, giving to her expression a plaintive cast that added to her quiet style of good looks.
"Never west of New York," put in Mrs. Powell, relieving the girl of the ne
"Yes," said Brinton.
"I must get some one to drive me about the town to-morrow," said Mrs. Powell. "I want specially to see the fine residence district. Out on Cherry Avenue, is n't it? You see, I 've learned a great deal about Brookfield from your son. He made me almost as anxious to see it as to see you."
Promptly at his customary hour of ten o'clock he bade them a gruff good night, made his usual round of the house to see that all was safe and tight, and retired to his bedroom. Methodically he removed his collar, coat, waistcoat, and shoes, got a big crooked pipe out of the top drawer of his bureau, and began to smoke. From time to time he was disturbed by sounds of merriment from the front room; a wheezy little pedal-organ, unopened for years, added to the disturbance. He rubbed his gray-socked feet on the worn carpet, scowled at the faded wall-paper, puffed gouts of smoke at the ceiling. He might have been General Grant planning a campaign.
Some one knocked at his door.
"Come in!" he called; and his son entered.
By the light of the little kerosene lamp on the bureau, Charles and his shadow seemed to fill one end of the narrow room. He was a large-boned youth, clothed in the tight trousers and wide-shouldered coat fashionable just then. His very wide, very high collar and flaring cravat added to his appearance of top-heaviness.
"Saw your light under the door," he said, and sat down on the bed; since Brinton occupied the rocking-chair, it was the only thing to sit on in the room. "I say,
Dad," he went on, "now that I'm home for good, don't you think it would be a good idea for us to take a larger house?"
John Brinton gave him one quick, searching glance and puffed his pipe.
"And something a little tonier than this," suggested Charles; "say a goodsized house out on Cherry Avenue, for instance. That's where all the nobs live, and we 've got a right to be about as nobby as any of 'em, have n't we?"
"Did Mrs. Powell put you up to this?" asked Brinton.
Charley smiled a little sheepishly.
"Suppose she did? I think she 's right. She's a remarkably astute lady. When you-"
"Widow?" queried Brinton. "Hey? Yes. Why-" "I thought so," said Brinton. "Hey? Oh, say," Charley chuckled, -"you don't want to think she 's setting her cap at you. She 's like that-awfully frank and friendly with everybody. She's been a music-teacher back in Boston, you know; put Alice through Radcliffe, and laid by quite a little money all by her lonesome. She 's well off, and one of the livest
"I don't care what she is," interrupted Brinton. Charley's start and stare bore witness that such abruptness was not customary between father and son. "You can tell her that if she wants a house out on Cherry Avenue, she can buy it herself. And you can tell her at the same time that I don't believe in young men marrying before they can support their wives. If you marry her daughter, you don't get a cent-understand? You can have a job in my office at twelve a week as long as you 're worth it, and that 's all. Tell her that."
Charley's face slowly turned brick-color. "This is a trifle
sudden," he remarked.
"Sudden or not, it goes," snapped Brinton. "If you marry her daughter, you do it on your own hook. Tell her that."
He arose, and began removing the studs from his shirt-front. Charley walked as far as the door, and faced about. He seemed to be halfway between perplexity and anger.
"If I thought you meant that," he said, "I'd get out to-morrow."
A slow light dawned on Charley's face. "Good night, Dad," he said with the utmost good humor, and gently closed the door.
"The sooner the better. If my house is n't good enough for you and your Boston friends, my money 's too good."
The following morning Brinton went to his office too early to breakfast with the additions to his household. He did not nake his customary trip to Grove Street for his noonday meal; the office-boy brought him some pie and coffee from a restaurant. Denying himself to visitors, he employed himself in verifying half a hundred monthly statements of rent due John Brinton. But his heart was not in his work. With the pile half finished, he treated himself to a cigar, leaned far back in his swivel-chair, and cogitated. He continued to cogitate until the growing restlessness of the office-boy informed him that it was time to go home.
As he drew near the dingy little cottage on Grove Street, he became aware of changes. The grass had been cut on the small lawn, and there were two new wicker chairs on the long-chairless front porch. Slowly he passed along the dingy white pickets of the front fence, grimly he surveyed the weather-beaten exterior of his home. In the gateway he paused. There was a new screen-door, behind which the housedoor stood ajar; the front windows gaped wide open, as though luxuriating in their unexpected chance to get a breath of air, and he caught a glimpse of filmy curtains behind new, green-glistening windowscreens. Hestalked, according to custom, around to the back door and into the kitchen.
apparent there also. Mrs. Powell, in a long white apron, was bending over the sink. She
turned to meet him with the graciousness of an old acquaintance.
"You go right into the front room,"
she said to him. "You'll find your newspaper on the center-table. I'll be in as soon as I get supper going."
Mr. Brinton, after a moment of hesitation, did as he was directed. His carpetcovered rocking-chair, which had worn parallel lines before the dining-room window, was pulled up beside one of the west windows of the front room. He took his newspaper from the center-table and sat down, but he did not look at it. He stared about at the clean, airy sittingroom that had been evolved over-day from his musty, dusty vault of a parlor. His face made no comment on the change; he simply stared.
Mrs. Powell rustled in, without her apron, in a white linen gown that made the most of her numerous pleasing curves.
"That frightful Mrs. Mallet and I-" she began, then interrupted herself long enough to fetch one of the new wicker chairs from the porch. "We had a disagreement as to the relative amount of dust and fresh air required in a house. I'll fill in until we can get some one else."
Brinton had tardily risen to help her with the chair. While she permitted him to assist her in setting it down, he measured her impudence with eyes like cold steel. As she met his stare with a frank audacity that turned its point, he noticed that her eyes were nearly on a level with his own. He sat down again, and she sat opposite him.
"I 've had a perfectly delightful day," she informed him, evidently as a sign that he had nothing more to say about the Mallet matter. "But first, Charley told
me this morning what you said to him last night-about depending on himself for a living, you know. The poor boy was somewhat cut up."
The slight thawing that had begun in Brinton's manner stopped abruptly; he pursed his lips.
"But I think you 're perfectly right." She turned on him a face fairly dazzling with approbation. with approbation. "Charley's a fine boy, but easy-going, and I've seen too many young men like him swamped in a flood of parental dollars. Your decision removes my last objection to his marriage with Alice."
"I'm glad to hear it, ma'am," said Brinton, with the air of recover
ing from a flashlight explosion.
"Young people don't really need money-I mean much money," she announced. "They 've got everything else. I never felt a positive need of money much. money, of course -until I was middle-aged. When your son told me how much you had, and how little use you made of it, my fingers itched." For a moment Brinton's face expressed absolutely nothing; then the faintest hint of a smile, a wry smile of appreciation, twitched the corners of his mouth.
"I never thought much about the use of it," he admitted half to himself; "all that interests me is making it come in."
"Well, I think you 've been missing a good deal by thinking only of the one side, although, of course, making it come in must be interesting, too. I've often wished I 'd gone into business; but I had to do what I could. I'm a music-teacher, you know. And that reminds me-" She
nodded at him confidentially. "I'm going to open a studio in this town. I saw half a dozen persons about it this morning. Brookfield really needs me.'
"I'm glad you find that 's so," said Brinton, civilly.
"Do you know Professor Bordman, organist at the Calvary Presbyterian Church? He 's perfectly splendid; gave me all the data I needed. Alice and I are going to sing the offertory there next Sunday. You must come with us. Oh, those potatoes!" She whirled away to the accompaniment of an energetic rustle of starched skirts.
she replied. Alice and I
Brinton picked up his newspaper and perused half a dozen head-lines. He gave up the attempt presently, went over to the new wicker chair, and sat down to gaze out of his front door. The front of his house seemed amazingly open; he shrank a little whenever any one passed, as though it were guilty of indecent exposure. And yet the smell of the newly cut grass was an improvement on the pervading mustiness that had followed Mrs. Mallet's custom of never opening a window.
"I guess we might as well have supper now," said Mrs. Powell, appearing in the doorway. "Everything 's ready, and the Lord only knows when Alice and Charley will get back. They went for a drive out to the National Cemetery."
He sat down, staring like a stranger in his own house at the unaccustomed white table-cloth, white napkins, and polished silver plate. Mrs. Powell reappeared, bearing a plate of muffins covered with a napkin, and something on a covered larger plate. The removal of the cover disclosed an oblong mass of a golden-brown color, surrounded by a neat palisade of hashedbrowned potatoes and decorated with a few sprigs of parsley. Brinton's eyes blinked with the acuteness of his interest.
"I almost dropped in to see you at your office this afternoon," said the lady, deftly dividing the golden-brown creation. "I needed somebody to drive me round; I hired a livery rig, you know. The more I see of Brookfield, the better I like it."
coction. She made a little mound of potatoes beside a generous portion of it, and handed him his plate. He tasted, and, lo! it was his favorite bacon and eggs, etherealized, delicate with additional flavors, the apotheosis of bacon and eggs.
"What do you call this?" he asked, slowly tasting his first succulent mouthful. "That? Oh, that 's a Spanish omelet," she replied. "In consideration of your likes, I added a little crisped bacon, chopped fine. Do you like it?"
"Yes," admitted Brinton "I like itin fact, very much."
"Have a muffin," suggested Mrs. Powell; "and there's some butter just beside you. I hope you'll like those muffins; they 're made according to a recipe that 's been in our family for more than a hundred years. Will you have cream in your coffee?"
"Glad to hear it," said Brinton, with his eyes on the plate she was preparing for him. At the stroke of the knife a luscious mixture of vegetables and things had oozed from the midst of the golden-brown con
"Yes. I managed to get a milkman by telephone. He 's going to leave us milk and cream every morning. Maybe you 'd like to walk over to Professor Bordman's with me after supper. It's only a dozen blocks or so, and the walk would do you good after your day in the office."
"I don't know but I might," said Brinton, considerately helping himself to another muffin.
He went to church the next Sunday for the first time in twenty years, and displayed considerable quiet satisfaction in escorting homeward the two ladies who, once more to quote "The Morning Democrat," had accorded Brookfield one of its rarest and most artistic musical treats. When the bills announcing Mrs. Powell's activities came in, he paid them grimly and held his peace. On the credit side of the ledger was the fact that he had had no indigestion since Mrs. Powell's arrival; that she continued, with Alice's assistance, to make a home of his house; and that her keen common sense and good humor were at his service when he felt like conversation. Several times he stopped himself on the verge of discussing his business matters with her.
But pungent Brookfield rumors were able to scale even the heights of the new sky-scraper, in the dizzy tower of which, six stories above the street, he had his office. Something in the eyes of his business acquaintances whenever they in