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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHouse - Chapter 11. I Make A Stand For My Rights
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House - Chapter 11. I Make A Stand For My Rights Post by :caller Category :Nonfictions Author :Eugene Field Date :May 2012 Read :3395

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House - Chapter 11. I Make A Stand For My Rights


Shortly after Mr. Black's arrival that worthy gentleman was escorted with all due formality to the old Schmittheimer place in Clarendon Avenue. Recognizing the fact that first impressions are lasting, we determined that Mr. Black's first impressions of our purchase should be favorable. So we conducted him to our property by a rather circuitous route. The approach to the old Schmittheimer place from the north is by all means the most agreeable; it leads by Mr. Rink's fine colonial house and Martin Howard's new place and through an embowered avenue of weeping willows, which, out of deference to his melancholy profession, Mr. Dimmons, landscape gardener of our most prosperous cemetery, has constructed in front of his beautiful residence in Thistle Patch Court; a turn is then made upon Dandelion Place, and just one block this side of Mr. Allworth's bowlder house (famous as the greatest bargain ever acquired on the North Shore) another turn to the right brings you in sight and within a few yards of our property.

Mr. Black was pleased with the neighborhood. He is not a man of enthusiasms; in all the years of my acquaintance with him I have never known him to give way to an ebullition of any kind. Yet upon this occasion there was an expression upon his face when he first set eyes upon our property which gave me to understand that he approved of our purchase. I hastened to clinch this favorable impression by apprising him briefly of the proposition Colonel Bobbett Doller had made to me the previous afternoon, and I flatter myself that, between us, Alice and I made a pretty fair presentation of the merits of our new place.

"You seem to have begun reconstructing the house," said Mr. Black. "Who is your architect?"

"We have no real architect," said I. "In order to save expense we have employed a boss carpenter capable not only of designing plans, but also of executing them. His name is Silas Plum."

"Plum? That is a very familiar name to me," said Mr. Black. "I wonder whether he is any kin to the Plum family of Maine. There was an Elnathan Plum, who used to live in Aroostook, and I went to school with him at Pocatapaug Academy in the winter of 1827. The last time I visited Maine I was told that he had moved west in 1840, or thereabouts. He married a third cousin of mine whose maiden name was Eastman--Euphemia Eastman, as I recall it."

Of course I was unable to say what Uncle Si's antecedents were, but I felt pretty certain that, if left to himself, Mr. Black would find out all about them, for of all the people I ever met with Mr. Black surely has the most astounding faculty for acquiring and remembering genealogical data.

Our worthy friend consumed fully a half-hour's time inspecting our front lawn, examining into the condition of the fence, learning what kind of trees we had, and ascertaining the character and depth of the soil. I do not hesitate to affirm that he knew more about these things at the end of that half-hour than I shall know at the end of ten years' daily association with them. I took pains, however, to make the most of what small knowledge I had, and with considerable flourish I called Mr. Black's attention to our lilac and gooseberry bushes, and with conscious pride pointed out the wild grape vine in the corner of the yard. I told Mr. Black that it was our intention to have a kitchen garden back of the house, and that among other things we should cultivate onions of the choicest quality. I had an object in specifying the onions particularly, for I knew that Mr. Black had a fondness (amounting almost to a passion) for this succulent fruit.

In all that I pointed out and in all that I said Mr. Black appeared to take more than common interest. One thing that seemed to please him particularly was the discovery that three of our currant bushes had escaped the malice of the workmen, and he promised Alice to write to his niece at Biddeford for her recipe for making currant wine, a beverage which, he assured us, would cheer but not inebriate.

Alice and I had made it up beforehand that we would leave Mr. Black and Uncle Si together for a spell after we had introduced them to each other; for we wanted our patron to learn for himself (unembarrassed by our presence) just what had been done and how it had been done. I take it for granted that the two enjoyed their three hours' confabulation, but I more than half suspect they spent precious little of that time in a discussion of our affairs. Mr. Black told me afterward that he had ascertained that Uncle Si (or Silas, as he called him) was, as he had surmised, a son of Elnathan Plum of Aroostook.

"Silas looks more like his mother's side of the family," said Mr. Black. "The Eastmans, as I remember them, were tall and spare, with blue eyes and straight noses. We have an Eastman in Cincinnati who looks enough like Silas to be his brother, although he belongs to the Ebenezer Eastman branch of the family, who located in Westboro, Mass,, in 1765. Tooker Eastman, the Cincinnati representative of the family, is pastor of the First Church; he married Sukey, the widow of Amos Sears, who (that is to say, Amos) was a son of Calvin Sears, who was postmaster at Biddeford while I was a young man in that town."

From this and other similar morsels of information which Mr. Black let fall in my hearing I gathered that Mr. Black's talk with Uncle Si had been rather of a historical and reminiscent than of a business character. But this mattered not to me; it was clear that Mr. Black approved of our purchase and of the improvements we contemplated, and that was enough to insure our entire satisfaction.

When I came down from my study that evening I found Mr. Black and Alice sitting in the parlor, looking mysteriously solemn.

"I have been advising your wife to make a will," said Mr. Black.

"Why, Alice dear, are you ill?" I asked, in genuine alarm.

Alice laughingly answered that she had never before felt heartier or in finer spirits.

"Then why make a will?" I asked. "Who ever heard of a person's making a will unless he was sick?"

"You are laboring under a delusion too common to humanity," said Mr. Black. "In the midst of life we are in death. It is during health and while we are in full possession of our physical and mental faculties that we should provide against that penalty which we all alike as debtors are sooner or later to pay to nature. Your wife has recently become possessed by purchase of property that may eventually be of large value. It seems proper that she should draw a will indicating her desires as to the disposal of this property in the event of her demise."

"But what," I cried with honest feeling, "what would be lands or gold without my Alice?"

"Calm your agitation, Reuben dear," said Alice. "The suggestion which Mr. Black has made does not involve you to the extent of making you an heir."

"No," said Mr. Black, "it is proper that you should have a life estate in the property, but the property itself should ultimately go to the children."

"Still," said Alice, thoughtfully, "if Reuben were to survive me it would be just like him to marry again, and I believe I should just rise up in my grave if I thought another woman was living on the premises which I myself had earned."

"Oh, but Alice, that is very unfair!" I expostulated. "It is _I who am earning the money--or, at least, it is I who expect to earn the money wherewith to repay our dear friend, Mr. Black, the sums he has advanced and may advance for our property!"

"There! I suspected it all the time," cried Alice, indignantly. "You are already claiming the property--you are already preparing for my death--I daresay you have your eyes already on the woman who is to step into my place when I am gone! But I won't die--no, I just won't! But I 'll make a will and I 'll give everything to the children, and you sha' n't have a thing when I do die--not a thing, not even a life estate--so there!"

Mr. Black and I were trying to soothe the dear creature, when there came a knock at the front door. Alice popped up and made her escape into the dining-room. The front door opened and the ruddy, smiling face of neighbor Denslow appeared.

"Pardon my informality," said Mr. Denslow, cheerily; "can I come in?"

"By all means," I cried. "You are in good season to meet my old and valued friend, Mr. Black."

Mr. Denslow greeted Mr. Black effusively. All my neighbors had heard me speak of my generous patron, and they all took a really noble neighborly pride in promoting my interests with him. Mr. Denslow began at once to dilate in eloquent terms upon the bargain Alice and I had secured in the old Schmittheimer place.

"And, by the way," said Mr. Denslow, turning to me, "the mention of your bargain reminds me of the object of my call. August Schmittheimer, a son of the widow, came to my office to-day to tell me that he is prepared to let you have the thirty-three feet in the rear of your lot at a merely nominal price--say two hundred dollars."

I had cast envious eyes upon this particular strip of ground several times. Alice had remarked that it would afford an ideal spot upon which to hang out the washing on Monday mornings; at other times it would serve as a convenient playground for Josephine and little Erasmus. It really seemed like a special Providence that what we had been wishing for should unexpectedly be thrust within our very grasp.

"I think that we should have that extra strip by all means," said I; and then I added, by way of demonstrating the wisdom of my opinion to Mr. Black: "We shall thus be enabled to enlarge our onion bed to pretentious proportions."

This argument must have convinced Mr. Black, for he remarked at once that he recognized the wisdom of acquiring the extra piece of land at the bargain price suggested.

"If it pleases you, then," said Mr. Denslow, "I will attend the first thing in the morning to having the investigation into the title begun, and I suppose that within the next three days the deal can be consummated and the property duly transferred to Mrs. Baker."

Too often I do not think of the bright and felicitous thing to say or do until it is too late. On this occasion, however, a really shrewd and happy thought occurred to me. The somewhat malicious purpose it contemplated was justified, I claim, by the context (so to speak) of events.

"Neighbor Denslow," said I, confidentially, "when it comes to the transfer of that property please be so kind as to have the warranty deed made to me."

Mr. Denslow looked so surprised, and so did Mr. Black, that I deemed an explanation necessary.

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