“Well, wife,” said Mr. Benjamin Stanton, as he sat down to a latebreakfast, “I had a letter from Ohio yesterday.”
“From Ohio? Who should write you from Ohio? Anyone I know?”
“My sister, Margaret, you remember, moved out there with her husband tenyears ago.”
“Oh, it's from her, is it?” said Mrs. Stanton, indifferently.
“No,” said her husband with momentary gravity. “It's from a Dr. Kent,who attended her in her last illness. Margaret is dead!”
“Dear me!” returned Mrs. Stanton, uncomfortably; “and I am just out ofmourning for my aunt. Do you think it will be necessary for us to gointo mourning for your sister?”
“No, I think not,” said her husband. “Margaret has lived away from usso long, and people won't know that we have had a death in the familyunless we mention it.”
“Was that all the letter said--about the death, I mean?”
“Why, no,” said Mr. Stanton, with a little frown. “It seems Margaretleft a child--a boy of fourteen; and, as she left no property, thedoctor suggests that I should send for the boy and assume the care ofhim.”
“Upon my word!” said Mrs. Stanton; “you will find yourself in businessif you undertake to provide for all the beggars' brats that apply to youfor assistance.”
“You must remember that you are speaking of my sister's child,” said Mr.Stanton, who, cold and selfish and worldly as he was, had some touchof decency about him, and did not relish the term “beggars' brats,” asapplied to one so nearly related to him.
“Well, call him what you like,” said his wife; “only don't be so foolishas to go spending your money on him when our children need all we have.There's Maria needs a new dress immediately. She says all the girls atSignor Madalini's dancing academy dress elegantly, and she's positivelyashamed to appear in any of her present dresses.”
“How much will it cost?” asked Mr. Stanton, opening his pocketbook.
“You may hand me seventy-five dollars. I think I can make that do.”
Without a word of remonstrance, the money was placed in her hand.
“I want some money, too,” said Tom Stanton, who had just disposed of avery hearty meal.
“What do you want it for, Tom?”
“Oh, some of the fellows are getting up a club. It's going to be aselect affair, and of course each of us has got to contribute somemoney. You see, we are going to hire a room, furnish it nicely with acarpet, black walnut furniture, and so on, and that'll cost something.”
“Whose idea is it?”
“Well, Sam Paget was the first boy that mentioned it.”
“Whose son is he?”
“His father belongs to the firm of Paget, Norwood & Co. He's awfulrich.”
“Yes, it is one of our first families,” said Mr. Stanton, withsatisfaction. “Is he a friend of yours, Tom?”
“Oh, yes, we are quit intimate.”
“That's right!” said his father, approvingly. “I am glad you choose yourfriends so well. That's one of the principal reasons I have for sendingyou to an expensive school, to get you well launched into good society.”
“Yes, father, I understand,” said Tom. “You won't find me associatingwith common boys. I hold my head a little too high for that, I can tellyou.”
“That's right, my boy,” said Mr. Stanton, with satisfaction. “And nowhow much money do you want for this club of yours?”
“Well,” said Tom, hesitatingly, “thirty or forty dollars.”
“Isn't that considerable?” said his father, surprised at the amount.
“Well, you see, father, I want to contribute as much as any of the boys.It would seem mean if I didn't. There's only a few of us to stand theexpense, and we don't want to let in any out of our own set.”
“That's true,” said Mr. Stanton; “I approve of that. It's all very wellto talk about democracy, but I believe in those of the higher orderskeeping by themselves.”
“Then you'll give the money, father?” said Tom, eagerly.
“Yes, Tom, there's forty dollars. It's more than I ought to spare, butI am determined you shall stand as good a chance as any of yourschool-fellows. They shan't be able to say that your father stints youin anything that your position requires.”
“Thank you, father,” said Tom, pocketing the two twenty-dollar billswith great satisfaction.
The fact was that Tom's assessment amounted to only twenty dollars, buthe thought it would be a good excuse for getting more out of his father.As to the extra money, Tom felt confident that he could find uses enoughfor it. He had latterly, though but fourteen years of age, contractedthe habit of smoking cigars; a habit which he found rather expensive,especially as he felt bound occasionally to treat his companions.Then he liked, now and then, to drop in and get an ice-cream or someconfectionery, and these little expenses counted up.
Mr. Stanton was a vain, worldly man. He was anxious to obtain anentrance into the best society. For this reason, he made it a pointto send his children to the most expensive schools; trusting to theirforming fashionable acquaintances, through whom his whole family mightobtain recognition into those select circles for which he cherisheda most undemocratic respect. For this reason it was that, though notnaturally liberal, he had opened his purse willingly at the demands ofMrs. Stanton and Tom.
“Well,” said Mrs. Stanton, after Tom's little financial affair had beenadjusted, “what are you going to write to this doctor? Of course youwon't think of sending for your nephew?”
“By no means. He is much better off where he is. I shall write Dr. Kentthat he is old enough to earn his own living, and I shall recommend thathe be bound out to some farmer or mechanic in the neighborhood. It isan imposition to expect, because I am tolerably well off, that it is myduty to support other people's children. My own are entitled to all Ican do for them.”
“That's so, father,” said Tom, who was ready enough to give his consentto any proposition of a selfish nature. “Charity begins at home.”
With Tom, by the way, it not only began at home, but it ended there, andthe same may be said of his father. From time to time Mr. Stanton's namewas found in the list of donors to some charitable object, provided hisbenevolence was likely to obtain sufficient publicity, Mr. Stanton didnot believe in giving in secret. What was the use of giving away moneyunless you could get credit for it? That was the principle upon which healways acted.
“I suppose,” continued Tom, “this country cousin of mine wears cowhideboots and overalls, and has got rough, red hands like a common laborer.I wonder what Sam Paget would say if I should introduce such a fellowto him as my cousin. I rather guess he would not want to be quite sointimate with me as he is now.”
If anything had been needed, this consideration would have beensufficient to deter Mr. Stanton from sending for his nephew. He couldnot permit the social standing of his family to be compromised by thepresence of a poor relation from the country, rough and unpolished as hedoubtless was.
Maria, too, who had been for some time silent, here contributed tostrengthen the effect of Tom's words.
“Yes,” said she, “and Laura Brooks, my most intimate friend, who isshocked at anything vulgar or countrified--I wouldn't have her know thatI have such a cousin--oh, not for the world!”
“There will be no occasion for it,” said her father, decidedly. “I shallwrite at once to this Dr. Kent, explaining to him my views andwishes, and how impossible it is for me to do as he so inconsideratelysuggests.”
“It's the wisest thing you can do, Mr. Stanton,” said his wife, who wasto the full as selfish as her husband.
“What is his name, father?” asked Maria.
“Herbert? I thought it might be Jonathan, or Zeke, or some such name.Herbert isn't at all countrified.”
“No,” said Tom, slyly; “of course not. We all know why you like thatname.”
“Oh, you're mighty wise, Mr. Tom!” retorted his sister.
“It's because you like Herbert Dartmouth; but it isn't any use. He's inlove with Lizzie Graves.”
“You seem to know all about it,” said Maria, with vexation; for Tom wasnot far from right in speaking of her preference for Herbert Dartmouth.
“Of course I do,” said Tom; “I ought to, for he told me so himself.”
“I don't believe it!” said Maria, who looked ready to cry.
“Well, you needn't; but it's so.”
“Be quiet, children,” said Mrs. Stanton. “Thomas, you mustn't plagueyour sister.”
“Don't take it so hard, Maria,” said Tom, in rather an aggravating tone.“There's other boys you could get. I guess you could get Jim Gorham fora beau, if you tried hard enough.”
“I wouldn't have him,” said Maria. “His face is all over freckles.”
“Enough of this quarreling, children,” said Mrs. Stanton. “I hope,” shecontinued, addressing her husband, “you won't fail to write at once.They might be sending on the boy, and then we should be in a prettypredicament.”
“I will write at once. I don't know but I ought to inclose some money.”
“I don't see why you need to.”
“Perhaps I had better, as this is the last I intend to do for him.”
“At any rate, it won't be necessary to send much,” said Mrs. Stanton.
“Five dollars will do, I should think. Because he happens to be yournephew, there is no good reason why he should be thrown upon you forsupport.”
“Perhaps it will be best to send ten dollars,” said Mr. Stanton. “Peopleare unreasonable, you know, and they might charge me with meanness, if Isent less.”
“Then make it ten. It's only for once. I hope that will be the last weshall hear of him.”
The room in which this conversation took place was a handsomelyfurnished breakfast room, all the appointments of which spoke not onlyof comfort, but of luxury. Mr. Stanton had been made rich by a series oflucky speculations, and he was at present carrying on a large wholesalestore downtown. He had commenced with small means twenty years before,and for some years had advanced slowly, until the tide of fortune set inand made him rich. His present handsome residence he had only occupiedthree years, having moved to it from one of much smaller pretensions onBleecker Street. Tom and Maria were forbidden to speak of their formerhome to their present fashionable acquaintances, and this prohibitionthey were likely to observe, having inherited to the full the worldlyspirit which actuated their parents. It will be seen that Herbert Masonwas little likely to be benefited by having such prosperous relations.