Dick Hamilton's Fortune/19
THE FRESH-AIR YOUNGSTERS.
"Hold him back! Hold him! Let me hide! He'll bite me!" exclaimed Uncle Ezra, as he saw Grit's wicked-looking teeth.
"Grit!" spoke Dick, softly, and in a reproving voice. "This is my Uncle Ezra," he went on. "Don't you know any better than that?"
Instantly Grit's manner changed. He showed that he was sorry for the mistake he had made of growling at one of the family visitors. He even approached Uncle Ezra as if to make friends, but Mr. Larabee shrunk away.
"I can't bear dogs," he said.
Grit acted as if he understood, for he turned away. Nor did he seem to miss a caress from Mr. Larabee. Grit was a wise dog, and he well knew that the man disliked him.
"If you keep that dog in the house I'm afraid I can't stay, Nephew Richard," Dick's uncle went on. "I wouldn't sleep a wink thinking of him."
"Gibbs, take Grit to the stable," said Dick to the butler, with a little sigh, and the dog, with a somewhat reproachful look at his master, allowed himself to be led away. Nor was he permitted to come into the house during Uncle Ezra's visit, which quarantine he seemed to resent, for he always growled menacingly whenever Mr. Larabee came near him out doors. But this was not often, as Dick's uncle was very much afraid of Grit.
Mr. Hamilton soon came home, and warmly greeted his wife's brother.
"I'm glad to see you," said the millionaire. "How would you like to take a run to Hazelton this evening to the theatre? They have a good summer company playing there and we can make a quick trip in Dick's runabout."
"I never go to theatres," said Mr. Larabee, in severe tones. "It's sinful, and a wicked waste of money. If there is a good instructive lecture in the village I would much rather go to that."
"I'm afraid there isn't," replied Mr. Hamilton, trying not to smile, for he respected his brother-in-law's scruples. "But we can spend the evening pleasantly at home—talking."
"Pleasantly!" repeated Dick to himself, with a sort of groan. "Pleasantly, with Uncle Ezra? Never!"
After supper Mr. Larabee and Dick's father chatted in the library. The talk ranged from business matters to subjects in Dankville, where Mr. Hamilton knew several families.
"Perhaps you'd like to take a look about the house," suggested Mr. Hamilton, after a pause "I've been putting in some improvements lately, and enlarging the conservatory. Dick will show you around."
"What? Tramp through the house just to look at it? I don't believe in doing that," replied Uncle Ezra, firmly. "Things wear out fast enough as it is without using them when it isn't necessary. No use walking on the best carpets when there isn't a need for it. Besides, I don't believe in spending money on a house when it's good enough. Your place was very nice without adding to it. Think of the money you could have saved."
"But I didn't have to save it," responded Mr. Hamilton. "I made lots this year, and I thought it was a wise thing to put it into something permanent. I have increased the value of my house."
"Much better put it in the bank," advised Uncle Ezra, with a disapproving sniff.
Mr. Hamilton and Dick tried to entertain their visitor, but it was hard work. He cared nothing for the things they were interested in, and was somewhat inclined to dictate what Mr. Hamilton should do with his money.\
"You burn too many lights," he said, noting that several incandescents were aglow in the library where they sat. "One would do as well," and he turned out all but one.
"I contract for it by the year," said Mr. Hamilton. "It doesn't cost me any more to burn five lamps than it does one."
"But the lamps wear out," was Uncle Ezra's answer. "And speaking of things wearing out reminds me. We got a letter the other day and it almost made Samanthy sick. She hasn't got over the shock of it yet."
"What was it?" asked Dick.
"Why, it was from some crazy society in New York, wanting us to take twenty-five 'fresh-air children,' the letter said, to board at our house for a few weeks. Said they heard we had a big farmhouse and could accommodate 'em."
"Are you going to take them?" inquired Mr. Hamilton. "I think your house would be just the place for them. You have lots of room, and you can't eat all that you raise on the farm. It would do the poor things good."
"Are—we—going—to—take—them?" repeated Mr. Larabee. "I'm surprised at you, Mortimer Hamilton. The idea of taking twenty-five street-arabs in our house! Why, the very idea of it made Samanthy sick a bed for a day. Those rapscallions wouldn't leave a carpet on the floor! They'd tear the house apart! I know! I've read about 'fresh-air children' before."
"You might take the carpets up," suggested Dick, with a smile.
"What?" almost shouted Uncle Ezra. "Nephew Richard, there's carpets in our house that hasn't been up for years. Why the spare room hasn't been opened since sister Jane's funeral, and that was—let me see—that was the year when Ruth Enderby got married. Take 'fresh-air children' into our house! Why, we wouldn't have any house left at the end of the week."
"Oh, I guess not as bad as that," replied Mr. Hamilton, indulgently. "But, of course, you know your own business best. I hope Mrs. Larabee soon recovers."
"She may, but it was quite a shock," replied Uncle Ezra. "Well, I think I'll go to bed. I must be up early in the morning. I came here to transact a little business, and the sooner it's over the sooner I can get back home. I'm afraid my hired man will burn too much kindling wood starting the fires. He's the most wasteful man I ever saw." And, sighing deeply at the depravity of hired men in general and his own in particular. Uncle Ezra went to bed.
Dick offered to take him for a spin in the runabout the next day, but his uncle declined, on the ground that there might be an accident.
"You might run somebody down and hurt them," he said. "Then they'd sue you for damages and I'd be liable for a share. I haven't any money to throw away on automobile accidents."
"All right," said Dick. "But I'm very careful."
"You can come walking with me instead," suggested his uncle. "You and I ought to be friends. We may have to live together some day, you know," and he tried to smile, but it was only a forced grin.
"Not much!" thought Dick, as, with rather a heavy heart, he prepared to accompany his uncle on the walk. "No, no, Grit, you can't go," he said, as the dog jumped about in delightful anticipation, for he always went with Dick. "You might bite Uncle Ezra," he added, as, much against his wish, he chained Grit in the kennel. Dick could not bear to look back at his pet, who gazed reproachfully after him.
Dick showed his uncle such sights as there were in Hamilton Corners. It was a hot day, and, as they tramped along, Dick got quite thirsty.
"Come in here. Uncle Ezra," he suggested, as they passed a drug store, "and we'll get some soda water."
"What? Pay for a drink of water?" asked Mr. Larabee, horrified.
"Well, it's got ice-cream in it," replied Dick.
"It's a sinful waste of money!" declared his uncle. "We can get all the water we want to drink at home. But, as I am a little thirsty, I'll go in and ask the man for a glass of plain water. He'll be glad to give it to us."
Dick was a little doubtful on this score, and he felt that it would be rather embarrassing to have his uncle ask for water in the drug store, where Dick was well known. But he was too polite to object to what Mr. Larabee did. The latter walked into the store, and, in his rasping voice, asked for two glasses of water.
"Do you mean soda water?" inquired the clerk.
"No, plain water. I don't drink such trash as soda water," replied Mr. Larabee.
The clerk looked at him in much astonishment, and then glanced at Dick. The latter managed to wink, and the clerk seemed to understand. He went to the back part of the store, and presently came back with two glasses of water.
"There, nephew," said Mr. Larabee, triumphantly, as he sipped the plain beverage. "You see our thirst is quenched and we have saved our money. Young men should economize, and when they are old they will not want."
"Yes, sir," replied Dick, dutifully, but when they went out he managed to lay ten cents on the counter where the clerk would see it. Dick wasn't going to be made fun of the next time he went in for a glass of soda.
"Now, I think we'll go home, Nephew Richard," suggested Mr. Larabee, when they had walked an hour longer. "There is no use wearing out our shoes any more than we can help. Besides, I have some business to transact this afternoon, and I must get the papers out of my valise."
Dick was glad enough to return, and gladder still, when, the next morning, Uncle Ezra announced that he was going back to Dankville.
"You must come and see me and your Aunt Samantha," he said to Dick, as he bade the lad good-bye, and Dick murmured something that might be taken as an expression of a fervent desire to pay another visit to The Firs, but it was not.
"Dad," said Dick that night, "do you know what I'm thinking of?"
"Not exactly, you think of so many things."
"I'm thinking of those poor httle fresh-air kids, and how disappointed they must be not to get a trip to the country. I don't know as I want them to go to Uncle Ezra's, but—er—say, dad, I'd like to give a bunch of fresh-air kids some sort of an outing. Think of the poor little tots shut up in sizzling New York this kind of weather."
"Well, you can bring them here, I suppose," began Mr. Hamilton, doubtfully, with a look around his handsomely furnished house, "only this isn't exactly the country."
"Oh, I didn't mean here," said Dick, hastily. "I was thinking we could have a crowd of 'em out to Sunnyside."
This was the name of a large farm which Mr. Hamilton owned on the outskirts of the country village of Prattville.
"The very thing!" exclaimed Mr. Hamilton, with as much fervor as Dick had shown. "That's the ticket, Dick. I'll write to Foster at once and ask him if he and his wife can take a crowd of the waifs at Sunnyside for a few weeks. Then you will have to manage the other end yourself. Foster will do as I say, I guess, for he loves children and he has a heart as big as a barrel. You'll have to furnish the children."
"I'll do it!" exclaimed Dick, delightedly. "I'll write to Uncle Ezra and ask him the address of that committee in New York. Hurrah for the fresh-air kids! I hope they have a good time!"
"I guess they will if he has anything to do with it," mused Mr. Hamilton, with a fond look at his son as Dick went to get writing material to pen a letter to Uncle Ezra.