Read CHAPTER VIII of The House of Toys , free online book, by Henry Russell Miller, on


Three good fairies had their heads together. One was an astute banker with a mouth delinquent borrowers hated to see, one was a woman who was known to be wise and one was a dinky little man with red whiskers.

“The question before the house,” said Jim Blaisdell, “is, are we justified in playing politics to bolster up a young man we’re afraid can’t stand on his merits? I don’t fancy pulling wires in church matters, that is.”

“The question,” said Mrs. Jim, “is no such a thing. It is, whether we’re to let that insufferable Dick Holden give us another St. Christopher’s?”

“Or to help make a strong fruitful life?” amended Jonathan.

“I can’t quite see Davy as strong,” said Jim, “though he is paying his debts. But Dick certainly is getting to be a conceited duffer. The ayes,” he sighed, “seem to have it. The next question is ways and means. Old Bixby’s method in St. X looks good to me. A conditional contribution what do you say?”

“How much?” inquired the practical Mrs. Jim.

Jim took out an envelope, did sums in subtraction and division and held out the result to his wife. She took it from him, did a sum herself in multiplication and exhibited that result to him.

“Woman,” he cried, “would you rob me? I’m no Standard Oil.”

“It’s the least I can possibly consider,” she answered him firmly. “You can’t expect to play good fairy without paying for the privilege. Now, Mr. Radbourne, what will you do?”

Jonathan, too, took out an envelope, wrote slowly a row of figures, scratched it out, wrote another and handed it doubtfully to Mrs. Jim.

“Will that do,” he inquired, “for a starter?”

Mrs. Jim gave him a special smile. “That is something like.” She waved Jonathan’s figures under her husband’s nose. “There, Mr. Pinchapenny! Are you blushing for shame?”

“Phew!” whistled Jim. “If that’s how he squanders his money, he needn’t ever come asking credit of me.” He grinned at Jonathan. “Davy must be a mighty poor workman, when you’ll pay so high to get rid of him.”

“Oh, no,” Jonathan protested. “It will be very hard to fill his place in one way entirely impossible. But, you see, Davy and I have become good friends, and ”

“And of course,” Mrs. Jim put in sweetly, “in friendship one forgets one is a shaver of notes.”

“Oh, my hands are up,” Jim groaned. “I’ll match your figures, Radbourne. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t raise me again!”

“What I’d like to know,” said Jim, when Jonathan was gone, “is, why we are going to the poorhouse for Davy Quentin?”

“First,” said his wife, “because we know Davy will do work that is worth while and because he is Davy. Second, because it is good for us to give a little out of our much.”

“No one helped me when I was poor,” growled Jim.

“That,” she explained, “was because you were known to have a talent for helping yourself and because you married me, who am help enough for any man.”

“There may be something in that,” Jim was forced to concede. “Shirley still at her aunt’s?”


“Hmmmm! Mighty long visit. What’s she doing there?”

“Having a very good time.”

“While Davy hmmmm! Any trouble there, do you suppose?”

“No-o-o! But Shirley keeps writing about ’poor David, who doesn’t seem to have the money-making knack’ with an air that says, ‘Poor Shirley!’ And when a woman begins to speak sadly of her husband’s flaws, it is time they were together again with all flaws repaired. Shirley being Shirley, it had better be in prosperity.”

“Who’s going to repair Shirley’s flaws?”

“That’s part of the scheme. We must get her back somehow before she knows Davy’s plans are accepted. Then she will seem ”

“I see.” said Jim dryly. “That may allow her time for a very long visit a lifetime, in fact. But isn’t there a theory that hard scratching is good for the soul?”

Mrs. Jim eyed her lord with contempt. “My dear Jim, you are old enough to know that no family ever came happily through money troubles unless the wife was patient and wise indeed. Besides, I’m not trying to prove a theory, but to correct a mistake before it’s too late.”

(But of all this David never was told.) The old witch must have gnashed her teeth in rage as, peeping through his windows, she saw her spell broken. There is a good fairy called Hard Work, and another hight, Hope, and both of these were standing guard. David must have been happy, because he never thought of happiness, its causes or effects. There was a new set to his jaw that meant far more if you were looking for signs of the future than the youthful enthusiasm once reflected on his face. So the witch, shrieking grisly malédictions, rode away to vent her spite on colicky babies and gouty old men.

There was one thing the fairies could not guard against, perhaps because they had not been warned. Sometimes the witch perceived that David was not alone. Those occasions were not many: a few minutes now and then when household errands were prolonged a trifle, or lemonade and cookies, sweetened by the aunt’s good wishes, were carried to him. And sometimes he went down-stairs to listen to a song and to tell the singer that her high b-flat was unmistakably easier. There was no great harm in that, to be sure. But the witch, baleful creature that she was, took a hint and hatched a wicked plot.

They had a bond, you see. They faced the same adventure. It did them good to compare notes of progress; and an audience was needed if they were to make a jest of setbacks, such as a throat that seemed all burrs or an idea that had for the moment lost its charm. Also he needed some one to remind him that he took too little sleep and never exercised. He would have been wiser if he had listened. Instead, he laughed at her and said, “Work never kills, and in summer I always get thin.” But evidence of her concern always left him pleasantly glowing.

In August she took her vacation. But she did not go away. Part of each day she spent in his room, putting it to rights and keeping it sweet and clean. She liked to do that, because he never failed to note the result of her labors or to thank her. When she had finished her sweeping and dusting, she would sit for an hour or more studying the sketches and plans he had left on easel or table. She thought it a marvel that a young man could think out a church so proportioned that its harmonies set one to dreaming and thinking, so devised that it would not fall down though the storms of centuries charged against it. And it was a relief to think of him and his work; it took her mind from an ugly little fear lurking in her heart. Her throat did not always behave as a well-meaning throat should.

Sometimes she studied also a new photograph on his mantel of a pretty laughing-eyed young woman playing with a sailor-suited cherub. The young woman, she knew must be the wife of whom he never spoke.

“You are very pretty,” she would whisper. “Why do you stay away from him? Don’t you know he is lonely, with no one to cheer him up but a funny little man and me? You’re the reason he gave up his own work.”

She tried not to be prejudiced against Mrs. David Quentin. But she had a burning curiosity, which is a weakness of all women and men.

She mentioned the picture one evening, very casually.

“This is your family, is it not?”

“Yes,” he said in a queer curt tone she had never heard him use.

“She is very pretty, isn’t she?”

“Yes. They are spending the summer at an aunt’s.”

“What a darling little boy!” she said.

Soon after she left, thinking, “I wonder why she is away from him? It isn’t a happy reason, I’m sure. . . . I wouldn’t stay away from him.”

David was thinking much the same thing. The next day the picture was nowhere in evidence.

When he went down-stairs one evening to tell her the plans were complete, she dissembled her excitement and said, “Now you’ll be able to get enough sleep.” But when, after a few minutes of gay nonsense, he had left her to take her advice, and she thought what success would mean to him, she became very grave and had her first taste of a suspense that grew heavier with each waiting day. . . .

The blind woman was first to see.

There was another dinner at Jonathan’s house, by way of celebration of the plans’ completion, with music, most of which came from his violin. Esther sung only twice, because that was one of the days when the throat behaved ill. “I’ve been working it a little too hard,” she explained.

Between times they were very gay. It seemed to Jonathan that his guests were unusually witty and happy.

Mrs. Radbourne was not asleep, though the lids drooped over the poor sightless eyes. She was listening. But not to the music or jests. And she was seeing, through a sense that only blind people have.

When Jonathan came back from his walk with his guests to the trolley, she was waiting for him.

He began to pace back and forth across the room. She listened closely to the quick staccato tread.

“You seem very happy over something, Jonathan.”

“I am.” She did not need eyes to know that he was beaming. “Did you notice that they both seemed in better spirits than usual?”

“I noticed.”

“They are coming into their own. I can’t help feeling that our ventures are coming out well. It will be something to have helped them a little. There are compensations, you see ” He caught himself abruptly.

“Compensations for what?”

“Oh, for all the things,” Jonathan said vaguely, “that one would like to do and can not.”

“Even for giving your life to the care of a helpless, uninteresting old woman?”

“Hush, mother!” He reached her in a twinkling and patted the fine silver of her hair. “You know better than that.”

“I know what you have given up for me. It is only lately that I have begun to understand. Oh, Jonathan ”

“But think what I’ve gained by staying with you! There have never been any regrets.”

“You have been a good son.” But her smile was very faint. “Do you like David Quentin as well as ever?”



“There are no ‘whys’ in friendship, mother.”

“Does he return your friendship in equal degree, do you think?”

His answer was without hesitation. “No.”

She was silent.

“That is not to be expected, of course,” he said simply. “I think he would if he could. But such matters are not to be forced.”

She lifted her face and the poor lifeless eyes seemed to be straining to see him. “I am just beginning to know my son. Ah! if I could see you only once! I would ask nothing more.”

Her hands reached toward his face. But he caught them and held them gently.

“Why do you never let me touch your face?”

He mustered a laugh. “I’m afraid you would be disappointed. You know, your hands have seen David, and ”

“Ah!” she breathed. “Always your David! Jonathan ” She paused sharply.


“Jonathan, there is a Mrs. David Quentin, is there not?”


“Where is she now?”

“Visiting relatives, I believe.”

“It is a strangely long visit, don’t you think? In my time husbands and wives lived together.”

“It is an arrangement for the sake of economy, Mrs. Blaisdell tells me. It seems David had got into debt.”

“I should think,” she said slowly, “Mrs. Quentin would find it economical to return.”

“Mother!” Jonathan started. “Just what do you mean?”

“Her husband and you find Miss Summers quite agreeable, do you not?”

“Mother,” he reproved her gently, “you should not even hint such a thing. David is a man of honor.”

“Say he is a man and stop there. A presentable young man whom people seem to like and whose wife has been long away. And Miss Summers is an attractive young woman who has been thrown much with him. . . . I have seen what I have seen.”

“Mother!” Jonathan stood stiffly, as though he had been turned to stone. “Oh, that is impossible. You are unjust. It isn’t like you to be so suspicious. There is nothing between them but a friendly attachment.”

“A friendly attachment! In words, perhaps. But oh, my poor blind son! Jonathan, sit here beside me.”

He went to her and sat down by her side. She took both his hands. And her voice was very gentle.

“You are in love with her, are you not?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Then press your suit quickly, my son.”

“But I can’t you must see that. I am her employer. She is dependent on me. It would put her in a distressing position.”

“I approve of your delicacy. Not many men display it in these greedy days, I am told. But delicacy can be carried to excess. Women love to be wooed strongly, masterfully. I remember how your father ”

“My father was equipped for masterfulness. I,” he smiled sadly, “am not.”

“You are small, I know, like me. I had hoped my son would be tall.” She sighed. “But many small men have been great and strong.”

“You don’t understand. Mother, you have been blessed you have never had to look on your son. That is why I never let you touch my face. I am more than merely small. I am ugly. I am ridiculous. I am almost grotesque. People smile in amusement when they see me and never take me seriously.”

“Does she smile in amusement when she sees you?”

“No. She is too big-hearted for that. She is gentle and kind and friendly, because she is a little sorry for me and because she thinks mistakenly that she has reason to be grateful. As a friend, a helper, I am tolerable. As a lover I should only be absurd. See, mother, for yourself this once!” He lifted her sensitive hands and guided them over his face. “My nose my ears my little pig’s eyes this grinning mouth these silly whiskers that hide a little of my absurdity ”

She drew her hands quickly away.

“You are a gentleman, a fine, great-hearted gentleman ”

“With a face like a comic valentine. Even my mother can’t say no to that. What woman wants a comic valentine for her lover? Don’t you understand now? I can have her friendship now and be with her a little. And I can do little things to help her. I can’t risk losing that to seek something she never could give.”

“But she could have given it once. I know it. I knew it then, but I wouldn’t tell you because I wanted to keep you for myself. He your friend David had not come then. You must take the risk for her sake. And before it is too late.”

“But I can’t inflict myself on her. It would be no kindness to her or to me.” He left her and began to pace back and forth agitatedly, in the pompous, hopping little strut. “You are wrong you must be wrong. It is impossible. It would be terrible, tragic even though they are both good. And it would be my fault. I brought them together, thinking she would help make things cheerful for him. . . . Mother, I wish you hadn’t put this in my mind! I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. He is honorable ”

The blind woman smiled sadly. “It is a thing with which honor or duty or law has nothing to do. And I fear I fear it is already too late because I kept silent when I should have opened your eyes.”

But Jonathan was not listening. He was seeing the faces of his friends as they had been that evening. The scales were falling from his eyes, an evil black fear entering into his heart.

“Oh, Jonathan, my son my dear son ”

She held out her hands to him and he went to her and knelt at her side. And she mothered him, that dinky, absurd little man, and he bowed his head on her knee.