“All I ask is,” said Quincy, “that before you destroy that letter, you will let me read to you once more what is written upon the envelope.”
“Why, certainly,” said Alice, “how could I refuse so harmless a request as that?”
“I am greatly obliged for your kindness,” said Quincy to her; but he thought to himself, “I will find out what is in that envelope, if there is any honorable way of doing so.”
Hiram came over to see Mandy that evening, and Mrs. Crowley, who was in the best of spirits, sang several old-time Irish songs to them, Hiram and Mandy joining in the choruses. They were roasting big red apples on the top of the stove and chestnuts in the oven. Quincy, attracted by the singing, came downstairs to the kitchen, and was invited to join in the simple feast. He then asked Mrs. Crowley to sing for him, which she did, and he repaid her by singing, “The Harp That Once Thro’ Tara’s Halls” so sweetly that tears coursed down the old woman’s cheeks, and she said, “My poor boy Tom, that was killed in the charge at Balaklava, used to sing just like that.”
Then the poor woman began weeping so violently that Mandy coaxed her off to bed and left the room with her.
When Hiram and Quincy were alone together, the latter said: “Any news, Hiram?”
“Not much,” replied Hiram. “The snow is too deep, and it’s too darned cold for the boys to travel ‘round and do much gossipin’ this weather. A notice is pasted up on Hill’s grocery that it’ll be sold by auction next Tuesday at three o’clock in the afternoon. And I got on to one bit of news. Strout and his friends are goin’ to give Huldy Mason a surprise party. They have invited me and Mandy simply because they want you to hear all about it. But they don’t propose to invite you, nor ’Zeke, nor his sister.”
“Has Strout got anybody to back him up on buying the grocery store?” asked Quincy.
“Yes,” said Hiram, “he has got two thousand dollars pledged, and I hear he wants five hundred dollars more. He don’t think the whole thing will run over twenty-five hundred dollars.”
“How much is to be paid in cash?” Quincy inquired.
“Five hundred dollars,” said Hiram; “and that’s what troubles Strout. His friends will endorse his notes and take a mortgage on the store, for they know it’s a good payin’ business. They expect to get their money back with good interest, but it comes kinder hard on them to plunk down five hundred dollars in cold cash.”
At that moment Mandy returned, and after asking her for a spoon and a plate upon which to take a roast apple and some chestnuts upstairs, Quincy left the young couple together. As he sat before the fire enjoying his lunch, he resolved that he would buy that grocery store, cost what it might, and that ’Zeke Pettengill, Alice, and himself would go to that surprise party.