Now came great news! Stunning news—joyous news, in fact. It came from a neighboring state, where the family's only surviving relative lived. It was Sally's relative—a sort of vague and indefinite uncle or second or third cousin by the name of Tilbury Foster, seventy and a bachelor, reputed well off and corresponding sour and crusty. Sally had tried to make up to him once, by letter, in a bygone time, and had not made that mistake again. Tilbury now wrote to Sally, saying he should shortly die, and should leave him thirty thousand dollars, cash; not for love, but because money had given him most of his troubles and exasperations, and he wished to place it where there was good hope that it would continue its malignant work. The bequest would be found in his will, and would be paid over. PROVIDED, that Sally should be able to prove to the executors that he had TAKEN NO NOTICE OF THE GIFT BY SPOKEN WORD OR BY LETTER, HAD MADE NO INQUIRIES CONCERNING THE MORIBUND'S PROGRESS TOWARD THE EVERLASTING TROPICS, AND HAD NOT ATTENDED THE FUNERAL.
As soon as Aleck had partially recovered from the tremendous emotions created by the letter, she sent to the relative's habitat and subscribed for the local paper.
Man and wife entered into a solemn compact, now, to never mention the great news to any one while the relative lived, lest some ignorant person carry the fact to the death-bed and distort it and make it appear that they were disobediently thankful for the bequest, and just the same as confessing it and publishing it, right in the face of the prohibition.
For the rest of the day Sally made havoc and confusion with his books, and Aleck could not keep her mind on her affairs, not even take up a flower-pot or book or a stick of wood without forgetting what she had intended to do with it. For both were dreaming.
"Thir-ty thousand dollars!"
All day long the music of those inspiring words sang through those people's heads.
From his marriage-day forth, Aleck's grip had been upon the purse, and Sally had seldom known what it was to be privileged to squander a dime on non-necessities.
"Thir-ty thousand dollars!" the song went on and on. A vast sum, an unthinkable sum!
All day long Aleck was absorbed in planning how to invest it, Sally in planning how to spend it.
There was no romance-reading that night. The children took themselves away early, for their parents were silent, distraught, and strangely unentertaining. The good-night kisses might as well have been impressed upon vacancy, for all the response they got; the parents were not aware of the kisses, and the children had been gone an hour before their absence was noticed. Two pencils had been busy during that hour—note-making; in the way of plans. It was Sally who broke the stillness at last. He said, with exultation:
"Ah, it'll be grand, Aleck! Out of the first thousand we'll have a horse and a buggy for summer, and a cutter and a skin lap-robe for winter."
Aleck responded with decision and composure—
"Out of the CAPITAL? Nothing of the kind. Not if it was a million!"
Sally was deeply disappointed; the glow went out of his face.
"Oh, Aleck!" he said, reproachfully. "We've always worked so hard and been so scrimped: and now that we are rich, it does seem—"
He did not finish, for he saw her eye soften; his supplication had touched her. She said, with gentle persuasiveness:
"We must not spend the capital, dear, it would not be wise. Out of the income from it—"
"That will answer, that will answer, Aleck! How dear and good you are! There will be a noble income and if we can spend that—"
"Not ALL of it, dear, not all of it, but you can spend a part of it. That is, a reasonable part. But the whole of the capital—every penny of it—must be put right to work, and kept at it. You see the reasonableness of that, don't you?"
"Why, ye-s. Yes, of course. But we'll have to wait so long. Six months before the first interest falls due."
"Longer, Aleck? Why? Don't they pay half-yearly?"
"THAT kind of an investment—yes; but I sha'n't invest in that way."
"What way, then?"
"For big returns."
"Big. That's good. Go on, Aleck. What is it?"
"Coal. The new mines. Cannel. I mean to put in ten thousand. Ground floor. When we organize, we'll get three shares for one."
"By George, but it sounds good, Aleck! Then the shares will be worth—how much? And when?"
"About a year. They'll pay ten per cent. half yearly, and be worth thirty thousand. I know all about it; the advertisement is in the Cincinnati paper here."
"Land, thirty thousand for ten—in a year! Let's jam in the whole capital and pull out ninety! I'll write and subscribe right now—tomorrow it maybe too late."
He was flying to the writing-desk, but Aleck stopped him and put him back in his chair. She said:
"Don't lose your head so. WE mustn't subscribe till we've got the money; don't you know that?"
Sally's excitement went down a degree or two, but he was not wholly appeased.
"Why, Aleck, we'll HAVE it, you know—and so soon, too. He's probably out of his troubles before this; it's a hundred to nothing he's selecting his brimstone-shovel this very minute. Now, I think—"
Aleck shuddered, and said:
"How CAN you, Sally! Don't talk in that way, it is perfectly scandalous."
"Oh, well, make it a halo, if you like, I don't care for his outfit, I was only just talking. Can't you let a person talk?"
"But why should you WANT to talk in that dreadful way? How would you like to have people talk so about YOU, and you not cold yet?"
"Not likely to be, for ONE while, I reckon, if my last act was giving away money for the sake of doing somebody a harm with it. But never mind about Tilbury, Aleck, let's talk about something worldly. It does seem to me that that mine is the place for the whole thirty. What's the objection?"
"All the eggs in one basket—that's the objection."
"All right, if you say so. What about the other twenty? What do you mean to do with that?"
"There is no hurry; I am going to look around before I do anything with it."
"All right, if your mind's made up," signed Sally. He was deep in thought awhile, then he said:
"There'll be twenty thousand profit coming from the ten a year from now. We can spend that, can we, Aleck?"
Aleck shook her head.
"No, dear," she said, "it won't sell high till we've had the first semi-annual dividend. You can spend part of that."
"Shucks, only THAT—and a whole year to wait! Confound it, I—"
"Oh, do be patient! It might even be declared in three months—it's quite within the possibilities."
"Oh, jolly! oh, thanks!" and Sally jumped up and kissed his wife in gratitude. "It'll be three thousand—three whole thousand! how much of it can we spend, Aleck? Make it liberal!—do, dear, that's a good fellow."
Aleck was pleased; so pleased that she yielded to the pressure and conceded a sum which her judgment told her was a foolish extravagance—a thousand dollars. Sally kissed her half a dozen times and even in that way could not express all his joy and thankfulness. This new access of gratitude and affection carried Aleck quite beyond the bounds of prudence, and before she could restrain herself she had made her darling another grant—a couple of thousand out of the fifty or sixty which she meant to clear within a year of the twenty which still remained of the bequest. The happy tears sprang to Sally's eyes, and he said:
"Oh, I want to hug you!" And he did it. Then he got his notes and sat down and began to check off, for first purchase, the luxuries which he should earliest wish to secure. "Horse—buggy—cutter—lap-robe—patent-leathers—dog—plug-hat— church-pew—stem-winder—new teeth—SAY, Aleck!"
"Ciphering away, aren't you? That's right. Have you got the twenty thousand invested yet?"
"No, there's no hurry about that; I must look around first, and think."
"But you are ciphering; what's it about?"
"Why, I have to find work for the thirty thousand that comes out of the coal, haven't I?"
"Scott, what a head! I never thought of that. How are you getting along? Where have you arrived?"
"Not very far—two years or three. I've turned it over twice; once in oil and once in wheat."
"Why, Aleck, it's splendid! How does it aggregate?"
"I think—well, to be on the safe side, about a hundred and eighty thousand clear, though it will probably be more."
"My! isn't it wonderful? By gracious! luck has come our way at last, after all the hard sledding, Aleck!"
"I'm going to cash in a whole three hundred on the missionaries—what real right have we care for expenses!"
"You couldn't do a nobler thing, dear; and it's just like your generous nature, you unselfish boy."
The praise made Sally poignantly happy, but he was fair and just enough to say it was rightfully due to Aleck rather than to himself, since but for her he should never have had the money.
Then they went up to bed, and in their delirium of bliss they forgot and left the candle burning in the parlor. They did not remember until they were undressed; then Sally was for letting it burn; he said they could afford it, if it was a thousand. But Aleck went down and put it out.
A good job, too; for on her way back she hit on a scheme that would turn the hundred and eighty thousand into half a million before it had had time to get cold.