ALONE WITH HER WEALTH
On a beautiful September afternoon in a handsome room of one of the grand, up-town hotels in New York sat Mrs. Cliff, widow and millionaire.
Widow of a village merchant, mistress of an unpretending house in the little town of Plainton, Maine, and, by strange vicissitudes of fortune, the possessor of great wealth, she was on her way from Paris to the scene of that quiet domestic life to which for nearly thirty years she had been accustomed.
She was alone in the hotel; her friends, Captain Horn and his wife Edna, who had crossed the ocean with her, had stayed but a few days in New York and had left early that afternoon for Niagara, and she was here by herself in the hotel, waiting until the hour should arrive when she would start on a night train for her home.
Her position was a peculiar one, altogether new to her. She was absolutely independent,—not only could she do what she pleased, but there was no one to tell[Pg 2] her what it would be well for her to do, wise for her to do, or unwise. Everything she could possibly want was within her reach, and there was no reason why she should not have everything she wanted.
For many months she had been possessed of enormous wealth, but never until this moment had she felt herself the absolute, untrammelled possessor of it. Until now Captain Horn, to whom she owed her gold, and the power it gave her, had been with her or had exercised an influence over her. Until the time had come when he could avow the possession of his vast treasures, it had been impossible for her to make known her share in them, and even after everything had been settled, and they had all come home together in the finest state-rooms of a great ocean liner, she had still felt dependent upon the counsels and judgment of her friends.
But now she was left absolutely free and independent, untrammelled, uncounselled, alone with her wealth.
She rose and looked out of the window, and, as she gazed upon the crowd which swept up and down the beautiful avenue, she could not but smile as she thought that she, a plain New England countrywoman, with her gray hair brushed back from her brows, with hands a little hardened and roughened with many a year of household duties, which had been to her as much a pleasure as a labor, was in all probability richer than most of the people who sat in the fine carriages or strolled in their fashionable clothes along the sidewalk.
“If I wanted to do it,” she thought, “I could have one of those carriages with prancing horses and a driver[Pg 3] in knee breeches, or I could buy that house opposite, with its great front steps, its balconies, and everything in it, but there is nobody on this earth who could tempt me to live there.”
“Now,” said Mrs. Cliff to herself, as she turned from the window and selected a fresh easy chair, and sank down into its luxurious depths, “there is nothing in this world so delightful as to go back rich to Plainton. To be rich in Paris or New York is nothing to me; it would simply mean that I should be a common person there as I used to be at home, and, for the matter of that, a little more common.”
As the good lady’s thoughts wandered northward, and spread themselves from the railroad station at Plainton all over the little town, she was filled with a great content and happiness to go to her old home with her new money. This was a joy beyond anything she had dreamed of as possible in this world.
But it was the conjunction of the two which produced this delightful effect upon her mind. The money anywhere else, or Plainton without it, would not have made Mrs. Cliff the happy woman that she was.
It pleased her to let her mind wander over the incidents of her recent visit to her old home, the most unhappy visit she had ever made in all her life, but everything that was unpleasant then would help to make everything more delightful in the present home-coming.
She thought of the mental chains and fetters she had worn when she went to Plainton with plenty of money in her purse and a beautiful pair of California blankets[Pg 4] in her handsome trunk; when she had been afraid to speak of the one or to show the other; when she had sat quietly and received charity from people whose houses and land, furniture, horses, and cows, she could have bought and given away without feeling their loss; when she had been publicly berated by Nancy Shott for spending money on luxuries which should have been used to pay her debts; when she had been afraid to put her money in the bank for fear it would act as a dynamite bomb and blow up the fortunes of her friends, and when she could find no refuge from the miseries brought upon her by the necessity of concealing her wealth except to go to bed and cover up her head so that she should not hear the knock of some inquiring neighbor upon her front door.
Then when she had made this background as dark and gloomy as it was possible to make it, she placed before it the glittering picture of her new existence in Plainton.
But this new life, bright as it now appeared to her, was not to be begun without careful thought and earnest consideration. Ever since her portion of the golden treasure had been definitely assigned to her, the mind of Mrs. Cliff had been much occupied with plans for her future in her old home.
It was not to be altogether a new life. All the friends she had in the world, excepting Captain and Mrs. Horn, lived in Plainton. She did not wish to lose these friends,—she did not wish to be obliged to make new ones. With simple-minded and honest Willy[Pg 5]Croup, who had long lived with her and for her; with Mrs. Perley, the minister’s wife; with all her old neighbors and friends, she wished to live as she had always lived, but, of course, with a difference. How to manage, arrange, and regulate that difference was the great problem in her mind.
One thing she had determined upon: her money should not come between her and those who loved her and who were loved by her. No matter what she might do or what she might not do, she would not look down upon people simply because she was rich, and oh, the blessed thought which followed that! There would be nobody who could look down upon her because she was not rich!
She did not intend to be a fine new woman; she did not intend to build a fine new house. She was going to be the same Mrs. Cliff that she used to be,—she was going to live in the same house. To be sure, she would add to it. She would have a new dining-room and a guest’s chamber over it, and she would do a great many other things which were needed, but she would live in her old home where she and her husband had been so happy, and where she hoped he would look down from heaven and see her happy until the end of her days.
As she thought of the things she intended to do, and of the manner in which she intended to do them, Mrs. Cliff rose and walked the floor. She felt as if she were a bird, a common-sized bird, perhaps, but with enormous wings which seemed to grow and grow the more she thought of them until they were able to carry her[Pg 6] so far and so high that her mind lost its power of directing them.
She determined to cease to think of the future, of what was going to be, and to let her mind rest and quiet itself with what really existed. Here she was in a great city full of wonders and delights, of comforts, conveniences, luxuries, necessities, and all within her power. Almost anything she could think of she might have; almost anything she wanted to do she might do. A feeling of potentiality seemed to swell and throb within her veins. She was possessed of an overpowering desire to do something now, this moment, to try the power of her wealth.
Near her on the richly papered wall was a little button. She could touch this and order—what should she order? A carriage and prancing pair to take her to drive? She did not wish to drive. A cab to take her to the shops, or an order to merchants to send her samples of their wares that here, in her own room, like a queen or a princess, she might choose what she wanted and think nothing of the cost? But no, she did not wish to buy anything. She had purchased in Paris everything that she cared to carry to Plainton.
She went and stood by the electric button. She must touch it, and must have something! Her gold must give her an instant proof that it could minister to her desires, but what should she ask for? Her mind travelled over the whole field of the desirable, and yet not one salient object presented itself. There was absolutely nothing that she could think of that she[Pg 7] wished to ask for at that moment. She was like a poor girl in a fairy tale to whom the good fairy comes and asks her to make one wish and it shall be granted, and who stands hesitating and trembling, not being able to decide what is the one great thing for which she should ask.
So stood Mrs. Cliff. There was a fairy, a powerful fairy, in her service who could give her anything she desired, and with all her heart she wanted to want something that minute. What should she want?
In her agitation she touched the bell. Half frightened at what she had done, she stepped back and sat down. In a few minutes there was a knock, the door opened, a servant entered. “Bring me a cup of tea,” said Mrs. Cliff.
Categories: English Literature