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Solon Talbot had two strong desires. One was to acquire wealth. The other was to get into good society.
He had moved to the city of New York with the idea of helping himself in both these particulars. He took a house on an up-town street at a considerable rental. It was really beyond his means, but he felt that he must make a good appearance.
He sent Edgar to a fashionable school where he instructed him to be especially attentive to his wealthier schoolfellows. Though Edgar made himself disagreeable to his poor relations, he flattered and fawned upon the boys who he thought could help him socially, for he, like his father, was ambitious to "get into society."
Thus he contrived to get invited to the party given by Maud Gilbert.
When he had compassed this he was greatly elated.
"Father," he said on his return home, "I am invited to Miss Gilbert's party next Thursday evening."
"Do you mean the Gilberts of West Forty-Fifth Street?"
"I am very much pleased, Edgar. Mr. Gilbert is a wealthy merchant, and stands very high in society. How did you manage it?"
"Through Stanley Rayburn, who knows her brother."
"Have you made the acquaintance of Miss Gilbert?"
"Yes, I met her walking with Stanley on Fifth Avenue. He introduced me."
"I should hardly think she would have invited you on such short acquaintance."
"I got Stanley to make a personal request of her. She objected at first, but finally came round. Stanley says she is very good-natured and obliging."
"Luckily for you. Well, I am glad you have the invitation. It will be an entering wedge. You must try to get acquainted with as many of her guests as possible."
"Trust me for that, father. I know on which side my bread is buttered."
"I know you are sensible. You quite accord with me in your views on this subject. As for your mother she has no proper pride. She would be contented to associate with persons in the same social position as Mrs. Mason and Mark. This very morning she applied to me for permission to call upon her sister."
"Of course you refused."
"Of course. Not but I would consent if your aunt, instigated by Mark, had not acted in such an extraordinary way about signing a release to me as administrator to your grandfather's estate."
"What is her reason?"
"I suppose she thinks she ought to have more than she has received from it."
"Grandfather was very poor, wasn't he?"
"I didn't think so when he lived, but he left next to nothing after his debts were paid."
"Some people are very unreasonable."
"Of course. I suppose Mrs. Mason and Mark think I ought to make up for their disappointment."
"But you won't, father?"
"Certainly not. I did offer them a hundred dollars out of pity for their poverty, but they are standing out for more."
"It is quite disgusting."
"It is human nature, I suppose," said Mr. Talbot leniently. "I don't know that I am surprised."
Mrs. Talbot was very unlike her husband and son. She was sincerely attached to her sister, and her affection had not been diminished by Mrs. Mason's poverty.
It was her desire to call on her as soon as she arrived in the city, but she stood somewhat in awe of her husband who had positively refused his consent. So she unwillingly gave up the plan for the present, hoping that the time would soon come when she and her sister could meet.
It came two days before the party.
With the money with which Mark supplied her, Mrs. Mason went up town to the well-known store of Arnold & Constable, intending to get dress patterns there.
She had made her purchases and received her bundle.
"Will you have it sent home?" asked the salesman courteously.
"No, thank you."
Mrs. Mason shrank from having the parcel brought to her humble abode in St. Mark's Place.
She was turning to go when she heard her name called in glad and familiar accents.
"Why, Ellen, do I meet you at last?"
"Lucy!" exclaimed Mrs. Mason, as she clasped hands warmly with her sister. "This is a delightful surprise."
"To me also; I thought I should never see you again."
"It is not my fault, Lucy."
"No, no. I know it," answered Mrs. Talbot. "Mr. Talbot is peculiar, as you know. He thinks everything of social rank. Now tell me, how are you getting on?"
"Very poorly till lately, but now better."
"You are not in want? Solon doesn't allow me much money, but——"
"No, Lucy. I want for nothing. Mark is a good boy, and he has been fortunate. You see I have just bought two dress patterns, one for Edith, the other for myself."
"I am glad indeed to hear it. Mark is a telegraph messenger, is he not?"
"I shouldn't think that would pay very well."
"It does not, so far as wages go, but some who have employed him have been liberal."
"Come out with me for a walk. My purchases can wait. We will go to Sixth Avenue, as we are less likely to be seen together than on Broadway."
For an hour the two sisters talked, and it seemed delightful to both to be again together.
"I must go home now," said Mrs. Mason, "as I left Edith alone. Besides it is time for me to prepare supper for Mark. I wish you could go with me."
"I would, Ellen, but Mr. Talbot would be angry."
"Do you think he is justified in keeping you away from your only sister?"
"No, but, Ellen, I am ready to make a sacrifice for a quiet life."
"Can't we meet again?"
"Yes; I will go to Arnold & Constable's next week on the same day and at the same hour. I wish I could invite you to my house, but you know how matters stand."
"Yes I know. Mr. Talbot appears to have increased his property."
"Yes, I judge so, though I receive no larger allowance. But he tells me very little of his affairs. He is more confidential with Edgar than myself."
"I have seen Edgar. He came to my rooms with his father some time since. He is about the age of Mark."
"Yes; there is not over a month's difference between them."
"If Mr. Talbot was different they would be company for each other. I believe Mark meets Edgar occasionally in the street. I hope Edgar is a comfort to you."
"He is my son, and of course I love him; but, Ellen; I fear his father is not exercising a good influence upon him. He is making him proud and arrogant. I would not mention this except to you."
At this moment Mark, going up-town on an errand in a Sixth Avenue car, saw his mother and his aunt together on the sidewalk. He instantly left the car and joined them.
"How do you do, Aunt Lucy?" he said, his face lighting up.
"And this is Mark!" said Mrs. Talbot equally pleased. "How you have grown and how well you look!"
"Thank you, aunt. I am tall enough to look over my mother's head."
"As Edgar is taller than I. Your mother tells me you meet Edgar sometimes."
"Yes, Aunt Lucy," returned Mark smiling, "but he doesn't care to be very intimate with his poor relations."
Mrs. Talbot looked grave.
"You won't suspect me of the same feeling, Mark?" she said.
"No; you are too much like mother."
"I am glad to hear that you are doing well."
"Yes; I have been fortunate."
"I wish you were in a better position. Perhaps Mr. Talbot might interest himself to get you a better place."
"No, aunt, don't ask him. I have other friends who will help me when I wish to make a change. For the present I am content to remain as I am."
Mark excused himself and boarded the next car, as he did not wish to lose any time.
The sisters separated and Mrs. Mason went home feeling cheered by her unexpected interview with Mrs. Talbot.
When she returned to her humble home Edith said, "Mrs. Mack wants to see you. I think she is very sick. A gentleman came to see her, but I don't know whether it was a doctor."
Mrs. Mason went up stairs immediately.
The old lady was lying on the bed, looking fatigued.
"How do you do, Mrs. Mack?" said Mrs. Mason kindly.
"I feel tired, but I am strong—oh, yes, I am very strong. I think I shall live ten years," and the old woman peered anxiously into Mrs. Mason's face hoping for a confirmation of her opinion.
"I hope you will if you desire it. Edith tells me you have had a visit from the doctor."
"No, it was not the doctor; it was a lawyer. I have made my will."
Mrs. Mason looked surprised.
"Not that I have much to leave, but I don't want my nephew to get anything. If anything happens to me—some years hence—I would like you to call on my lawyer and tell him. He has an office at 132 Nassau Street. Mr. Page. You will remember?"
"He has my will. I didn't want to leave it here. It might be stolen, or mislaid, and then Jack Minton would inherit. You'll put down the address?"
"I will do it at once."
"That is all. I think I will sleep now."
"I wonder who will inherit the old lady's money," thought Mrs. Mason. "Very probably she has left it to some charitable society. I know of no other relation except Jack Minton."
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