“Yes, I’m in luck,” he began. “Miss Betsey is a dear soul. We’re bound to be happy in spite of all this polished brass an’ plate an’ mahogany. There’s nothin’ here that I can put my feet on, except the rugs or the slippery floor or the fender. Everything has the appearance o’ bein’ more valuable than I am. If it was mine I’d take an axe an’ bring things down to my level. I’m kind o’ scairt for fear I’ll sp’ile suthin’ er other. Sometimes I feel as if I’d like to crawl under the grand pyano an’ git out o’ danger. Now look at old gran’pa Smead in his gold frame on the wall. He’s got me buffaloed. Watches every move I make. Betsey laughs an’ tells me I can sp’ile anything I want to, but gran’pa is ever remindin’ me o’ the ancient law o’ the Smeads an’ the Persians.”
“Mr. Potter, I owe so much to you,” I said. “I want to make you a present—something that you and your wife will value. I’ve thought about it for weeks. Can you—”
He interrupted me with a smile and these gently spoken words:
“Friends who wish to express their good-will in gifts are requested to consider the large an’ elegant stock o’ goods in the local ninety-nine-cent store. Everything from socks to sunbursts may be found there. Necklaces an’ tiaras are not prohibited if guaranteed to be real ninety-nine-centers. These days nobody has cheap things. That makes them rare an’ desirable. All diamonds should weigh at least half a pound. Smaller stones are too common. Everybody has them, you know. Why, the wife of the butcher’s clerk is payin’ fifty cents a week on a solitaire. Gold, silver, an’ automobiles will be politely but firmly refused—too common, far too common! Nothin’ is desired likely to increase envy or bank loans or other forms of contemporaneous crime in Pointview. We would especially avoid increasin’ the risk an’ toil of overworked an’ industrious burglars. They have enough to do as it is—poor fellows—they hardly get a night’s rest. Miss Betsey’s home has already given ’em a lot o’ trouble.”
His humor had relieved its pressure in the deep, good-natured chuckle of the Yankee, as he strode up an’ down the floor with both hands in his trousers pockets.
“Look at that ol’ duffer,” he went on, as he pointed at the stern features of grandpa Smead. “Wouldn’t ye think he’d smile now an’ then. Maybe he’ll cheer up after I’ve lived here awhile.”
He moved a couple of chairs to give him more room, an’ went on:
“Now, there’s Bill Warburton. I supposed he was a friend o’ mine, but we had a fight in school, years ago, an’ I guess he’s never got over it. Anyhow, I caught him tryin’ to slip an automobile on me—just caught him in time. There he was tryin’ to rob me o’ the use o’ my legs an’ about fifteen hundred a year for expenses an’ build me up into a fat man with indigestion an’ liver-complaint. I served an injunction on him.