The youngest girl, Clytemnestra—called Clytie for short —was eleven; her sister, Gwendolen—called Gwen for short —was thirteen; nice girls, and comely. The names betray the latent romance-tinge in the parental blood, the parents’ names indicate that the tinge was an inheritance. It was an affectionate family, hence all four of its members had pet names, Saladin’s was a curious and unsexing one—Sally; and so was Electra’s—Aleck. All day long Sally was a good and diligent book-keeper and salesman; all day long Aleck was a good and faithful mother and housewife, and thoughtful and calculating business woman; but in the cozy living-room at night they put the plodding world away, and lived in another and a fairer, reading romances to each other, dreaming dreams, comrading with kings and princes and stately lords and ladies in the flash and stir and splendor of noble palaces and grim and ancient castles.
Now came great news! Stunning news—joyous news, in fact. It came from a neighboring state, where the family’s only surviving relative lived. It was Sally’s relative—a sort of vague and indefinite uncle or second or third cousin by the name of Tilbury Foster, seventy and a bachelor, reputed well off and corresponding sour and crusty. Sally had tried to make up to him once, by letter, in a bygone time, and had not made that mistake again. Tilbury now wrote to Sally, saying he should shortly die, and should leave him thirty thousand dollars, cash; not for love, but because money had given him most of his troubles and exasperations, and he wished to place it where there was good hope that it would continue its malignant work. The bequest would be found in his will, and would be paid over. Provided, that Sally should be able to prove to the executors that he had taken no notice of the gift by spoken word or by letter, had made no inquiries concerning the MORIBUND’S progress toward the everlasting tropics, and had not attended the funeral.
As soon as Aleck had partially recovered from the tremendous emotions created by the letter, she sent to the relative’s habitat and subscribed for the local paper.
Man and wife entered into a solemn compact, now, to never mention the great news to any one while the relative lived, lest some ignorant person carry the fact to the death-bed and distort it and make it appear that they were disobediently thankful for the bequest, and just the same as confessing it and publishing it, right in the face of the prohibition.
For the rest of the day Sally made havoc and confusion with his books, and Aleck could not keep her mind on her affairs, not even take up a flower-pot or book or a stick of wood without forgetting what she had intended to do with it. For both were dreaming.