A Couple of Capitalists by Eleanor H. Porter
On the top of the hill stood the big brick house—a mansion,
compared to the other houses of the New England village. At the foot of
the hill nestled the tiny brown farmhouse, half buried in lilacs,
climbing roses, and hollyhocks.
Years ago, when Reuben had first brought Emily to that little brown
cottage, he had said to her, ruefully: “Sweetheart, 'tain't much of a
place, I know, but we'll save and save, every cent we can get, an' by
an' by we'll go up to live in the big house on the hill!” And he kissed
so tenderly the pretty little woman he had married only that morning
that she smiled brightly and declared that the small brown house was
the very nicest place in the world.
But, as time passed, the “big house” came to be the Mecca of all
their hopes, and penny by penny the savings grew. It was slow work,
though, and to hearts less courageous the thing would have seemed an
impossibility. No luxuries—and scarcely the bare necessities of life—
came to the little house under the hill, but every month a tiny sum
found its way into the savings bank. Fortunately, air and sunshine were
cheap, and, if inside the house there was lack of beauty and cheer,
outside there was a riotous wealth of color and bloom—the flowers
under Emily's loving care flourished and multiplied.
The few gowns in the modest trousseau had been turned inside out and
upside down, only to be dyed and turned and twisted all over again. But
what was a dyed gown, when one had all that money in the bank and the
big house on the hill in prospect! Reuben's best suit grew rusty and
seedy, but the man patiently, even gleefully, wore it as long as it
would hang together; and when the time came that new garments must be
bought for both husband and wife, only the cheapest and flimsiest of
material was purchased—but the money in the bank grew.
Reuben never smoked. While other men used the fragrant weed to calm
their weary brains and bodies, Reuben—ate peanuts. It had been a
curious passion of his, from the time when as a boy he was first
presented with a penny for his very own, to spend all his spare cash on
this peculiar luxury; and the slow munching of this plebeian delicacy
had the same soothing effect on him that a good cigar or an old clay
pipe had upon his brother-man. But from the day of his marriage all
this was changed; the dimes and the nickels bought no more peanuts, but
went to swell the common fund.
It is doubtful if even this heroic economy would have accomplished
the desired end had not a certain railroad company cast envious eyes
upon the level valley and forthwith sent long arms of steel bearing a
puffing engine up through the quiet village. A large tract of waste
land belonging to Reuben Gray suddenly became surprisingly valuable,
and a sum that trebled twice over the scanty savings of years grew all
in a night.
One crisp October day, Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Gray awoke to the fact
that they were a little under sixty years of age, and in possession of
more than the big sum of money necessary to enable them to carry out
the dreams of their youth. They began joyous preparations at once.
The big brick house at the top of the hill had changed hands twice
during the last forty years, and the present owner expressed himself as
nothing loath to part, not only with the house itself, but with many of
its furnishings; and before the winter snow fell the little brown
cottage was sold to a thrifty young couple from the neighboring
village, and the Grays took up their abode in their new home.
“Well, Em'ly, this is livin', now, ain't it?” said Reuben, as he
carefully let himself down into the depths of a velvet-covered chair in
the great parlor. “My! ain't this nice!”
“Just perfectly lovely,” quavered the thin voice of his wife, as she
threw a surreptitious glance at Reuben's shoes to see if they were
quite clean enough for such sacred precincts.
It was their first evening in their new abode, and they were a
little weary, for they had spent the entire day in exploring every
room, peering into every closet, and trying every chair that the
establishment contained. It was still quite early when they trudged
anxiously about the house, intent on fastening the numerous doors and
“Dear me!” exclaimed the little woman nervously, “I'm 'most afraid
to go to bed, Reuben, for fear some one will break in an' steal all
these nice things.”
“Well, you can sit up if you want to,” replied her husband dryly,
“but I shall go to bed. Most of these things have been here nigh on to
twenty years, an' I guess they'll last the night through.” And he
marched solemnly upstairs to the big east chamber, meekly followed by
It was the next morning when Mrs. Gray was washing the breakfast
dishes that her husband came in at the kitchen door and stood looking
thoughtfully at her.
“Say, Emily,” said he, “you'd oughter have a hired girl. 'T ain't
your place to be doin' work like this now.”
Mrs. Gray gasped—half terrified, half pleased—and shook her head;
but her husband was not to be silenced.
“Well, you had—an' you've got to, too. An' you must buy some new
clothes—lots of 'em! Why, Em'ly, we've got heaps of money now, an' we
hadn't oughter wear such lookin' things.”
Emily nodded; she had thought of this before. And the hired-girl
hint must have found a warm spot in her heart in which to grow, for
that very afternoon she sallied forth, intent on a visit to her
counselor on all occasions—the doctor's wife.
“Well, Mis' Steele, I don't know what to do. Reuben says I ought to
have a hired girl; but I hain't no more idea where to get one than
anything, an' I don't know's I want one, if I did.”
And Mrs. Gray sat back in her chair and rocked violently to and fro,
eying her hostess with the evident consciousness of having presented a
poser. That resourceful woman, however, was far from being nonplussed;
she beamed upon her visitor with a joyful smile.
“Just the thing, my dear Mrs. Gray! You know I am to go South with
May for the winter. The house will be closed and the doctor at the
hotel. I had just been wondering what to do with Nancy, for I want her
again in the spring. Now, you can have her until then, and by that time
you will know how you like the idea of keeping a girl. She is a perfect
treasure, capable of carrying along the entire work of the household,
only”—and Mrs. Steele paused long enough to look doubtfully at her
friend—“she is a little independent, and won't stand much
Fifteen minutes later Mrs. Gray departed, well pleased though withal
a little frightened. She spent the rest of the afternoon in trying to
decide between a black alpaca and a green cashmere dress.
That night Reuben brought home a large bag of peanuts and put them
down in triumph on the kitchen table.
“There!” he announced in high glee, “I'm goin' to have a bang-up
“Why, Reuben,” remonstrated his wife gently, “you can't eat them
things— you hain't got no teeth to chew 'em with!”
The man's lower jaw dropped.
“Well, I'm a-goin' to try it, anyhow,” he insisted. And try he did;
but the way his poor old stomach rebelled against the half-masticated
things effectually prevented a repetition of the feast.
Early on Monday morning Nancy appeared. Mrs. Gray assumed a brave
aspect, but she quaked in her shoes as she showed the big strapping
girl to her room. Five minutes later Nancy came into the kitchen to
find Mrs. Gray bending over an obstinate coal fire in the range—with
neither coal nor range was the little woman in the least familiar.
“There, now,” said Nancy briskly, “I'll fix that. You just tell me
what you want for dinner, and I can find the things myself.” And she
attacked the stove with such a clatter and din that Mrs. Gray retreated
in terror, murmuring “ham and eggs, if you please,” as she fled through
the door. Once in the parlor, she seated herself in the middle of the
room and thought how nice it was not to get dinner; but she jumped
nervously at every sound from the kitchen.
On Tuesday she had mastered her fear sufficiently to go into the
kitchen and make a cottage cheese. She did not notice the unfavorable
glances of her maid-of-all-work. Wednesday morning she spent happily
puttering over “doing up” some handkerchiefs, and she wondered why
Nancy kept banging the oven door so often. Thursday she made a special
kind of pie that Reuben liked, and remarked pointedly to Nancy that she
herself never washed dishes without wearing an extra apron;
furthermore, she always placed the pans the other way in the sink.
Friday she rearranged the tins on the pantry shelves, that Nancy had so
unaccountably mussed up. On Saturday the inevitable explosion came:
“If you please, mum, I'm willin' to do your work, but seems to me it
don't make no difference to you whether I wear one apron or six, or
whether I hang my dish-towels on a string or on the bars, or whether I
wash goblets or kittles first; and I ain't in the habit of havin' folks
spyin' round on me. If you want me to go, I'll go; but if I stay, I
want to be let alone!”
Poor little Mrs. Gray fled to her seat in the parlor, and for the
rest of that winter she did not dare to call her soul her own; but her
table was beautifully set and served, and her house was as neat as wax.
The weeks passed and Reuben began to be restless. One day he came in
from the postoffice fairly bubbling over with excitement.
“Say, Em'ly, when folks have money they travel. Let's go somewhere!”
“Why, Reuben—where?” quavered his wife, dropping into the nearest
“Oh, I dunno,” with cheerful vagueness; then, suddenly animated,
“Let's go to Boston and see the sights!”
“But, Reuben, we don't know no one there,” ventured his wife
“Pooh! What if we don't? Hain't we got money? Can't we stay at a
hotel? Well, I guess we can!”
And his overwhelming courage put some semblance of confidence into
the more timid heart of his wife, until by the end of the week she was
as eager as he.
Nancy was tremblingly requested to take a two weeks' vacation, and
great was the rejoicing when she graciously acquiesced.
On a bright February morning the journey began. It was not a long
one— four hours only—and the time flew by as on wings of the wind.
Reuben assumed an air of worldly wisdom, quite awe-inspiring to his
wife. He had visited Boston as a boy, and so had a dim idea of what to
expect; moreover, he had sold stock and produce in the large towns near
his home, and on the whole felt quite self-sufficient.
As the long train drew into the station, and they alighted and
followed the crowd, Mrs. Gray looked with round eyes of wonder at the
people—she had not realized that there were so many in the world, and
she clung closer and closer to Reuben, who was marching along with a
fine show of indifference.
“There,” said he, as he deposited his wife and his bags in a seat in
the huge waiting-room; “now you stay right here, an' don't you move.
I'm goin' to find out about hotels and things.”
He was gone so long that she was nearly fainting from fright before
she spied his dear form coming toward her. His thin, plain face looked
wonderfully beautiful to her, and she almost hugged him right before
all those people.
“Well, I've got a hotel all right; but I hain't been here for so
long I've kinder forgot about the streets, so the man said we'd better
have a team to take us there.” And he picked up the bags and trudged
off, closely followed by Emily.
His shrewd Yankee wit carried him safely through a bargain with the
driver, and they were soon jolting and rumbling along to their
destination. He had asked the man behind the news-stand about a hotel,
casually mentioning that he had money—plenty of it—and wanted a
“bang- up good place.” The spirit of mischief had entered the heart of
the news-man, and he had given Reuben the name of one of the very
highest- priced, most luxurious hotels in the city.
As the carriage stopped, Reuben marched boldly up the broad steps
and entered the palatial office, with Emily close at his heels. Two
bell- boys sprang forward—the one to take the bags, the other to offer
to show Mrs. Gray to the reception-room.
“No, thank you, I ain't particular,” said she sweetly; “I'll wait
for Reuben here.” And she dropped into the nearest chair, while her
husband advanced toward the desk. She noticed that men were looking
curiously at her, and she felt relieved when Reuben and the pretty boy
came back and said they would go up to their room.
She stood the elevator pretty well, though she gave a little gasp
(which she tried to choke into a cough) as it started. Reuben turned to
“Where can I get somethin' to eat?”
“Luncheon is being served in the main dining-room on the first
Visions of a lunch as he knew it in Emily's pantry came to him, and
he looked a little dubious.
“Well, I'm pretty hungry; but if that's all I can get I suppose it
will have to do.”
Ten minutes later an officious head waiter, whom Emily looked upon
with timid awe, was seating them in a superbly appointed dining-room.
Reuben looked at the menu doubtfully, while an attentive, soft-voiced
man at his elbow bent low to catch his order. Few of the
strange-looking words conveyed any sort of meaning to the poor hungry
man. At length spying “chicken” halfway down the card, he pointed to it
“I guess I'll take some of that,” he said, briefly; then he added,
“I don't know how much it costs—you hain't got no price after it.”
The waiter comprehended at once.
“The luncheon is served in courses, sir; you pay for the
whole—whether you eat it or not,” he added shrewdly. “If you will let
me serve you according to my judgment, sir, I think I can please you.”
And there the forlorn little couple sat, amazed and hungry, through
six courses, each one of which seemed to their uneducated palate one
degree worse than the last.
Two hours later they started for a long walk down the wonderful,
fascinating street. Each marvelous window display came in for its full
share of attention, but they stood longest before bakeries and
restaurants. Finally, upon coming to one of the latter, where an
enticing sign announced “Boiled Dinner To-day, Served Hot at All
Hours,” Reuben could endure it no longer.
“By Jinks, Em'ly, I've just got to have some of that. That
stodged-up mess I ate at the hotel didn't go to the spot at all. Come
on, let's have a good square meal.”
The hotel knew them just one night. The next morning before
breakfast Reuben manfully paid his—to him astounding—bill and
departed for more congenial quarters, which they soon found on a
neighboring side street.
The rest of the visit was, of course, delightful, only the streets
were pretty crowded and noisy, and they couldn't sleep very well at
night; moreover, Reuben lost his pocketbook with a small sum of money
in it; so, on the whole, they concluded to go home a little before the
two weeks ended.
When spring came Nancy returned to her former mistress, and her
vacant throne remained unoccupied. Little by little the dust gathered
on the big velvet chairs in the parlor, and the room was opened less
and less. When the first green things commenced to send tender shoots
up through the wet, brown earth, Reuben's restlessness was very
noticeable. By and by he began to go off very early in the morning,
returning at noon for a hasty dinner, then away again till night. To
his wife's repeated questioning he would reply, sheepishly, “Oh, just
loafin', that's all.”
And Emily was nervous, too. Of late she had taken a great fancy to a
daily walk, and it always led in one direction—down past the little
brown house. Of course, she glanced over the fence at the roses and
lilacs, and she couldn't help seeing that they all looked sadly
neglected. By and by the weeds came, grew, and multiplied; and every
time she passed the gate her throat fairly choked in sympathy with her
Evenings, she and Reuben spent very happily on the back stoop,
talking of their great good fortune in being able to live in such a
fine large house. Somehow they said more than usual about it this
spring, and Reuben often mentioned how glad he was that his wife didn't
have to dig in the garden any more; and Emily would reply that she,
too, was glad that he was having so easy a time. Then they would look
down at the little brown farmhouse and wonder how they ever managed to
get along in so tiny a place.
One day, in passing this same little house, Emily stopped a moment
and leaned over the gate, that she might gain a better view of her
She evinced the same interest the next two mornings, and on the
third she timidly opened the gate and walked up the old path to the
door. A buxom woman with a big baby in her arms, and a bigger one
hanging to her skirts, answered her knock.
“How do you do, Mis' Gray. Won't you come in?” said she civilly,
looking mildly surprised.
“No, thank you—yes—I mean—I came to see you,” stammered Emily
“You're very good,” murmured the woman, still standing in the
“Your flowers are so pretty,” ventured Mrs. Gray, unable to keep the
wistfulness out of her voice.
“Do you think so?” carelessly; “I s'pose they need weedin'. What
with my babies an' all, I don't get much time for posies.”
“Oh, please,—would it be too much trouble to let me come an' putter
around in the beds?” queried the little woman eagerly. “Oh, I would
like it so much!”
The other laughed heartily.
“Well, I really don't see how it's goin' to trouble me to have you
weedin' my flowers; in fact, I should think the shoe would be on the
other foot.” Then the red showed in her face a little. “You're welcome
to do whatever you want, Mis' Gray.”
“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed Emily, as she quickly pulled up an
enormous weed at her feet.
It took but a few hours' work to bring about a wonderfully happy
change in that forlorn garden, and then Mrs. Gray found that she had a
big pile of weeds to dispose of. Filling her apron with a portion of
them, she started to go behind the house in search of a garbage heap.
Around the corner she came face to face with her husband, hoe in hand.
“Why, Reuben Gray! Whatever in the world are you doing?”
For a moment the man was crushed with the enormity of his crime;
then he caught sight of his wife's dirt-stained fingers.
“Well, I guess I ain't doin' no worse than you be!” And he turned
his back and began to hoe vigorously.
Emily dropped the weeds where she stood, turned about, and walked
through the garden and up the hill, pondering many things.
Supper was strangely quiet that night. Mrs. Gray had asked a single
question: “Reuben, do you want the little house back?”
A glad light leaped into the old man's eyes.
“Em'ly—would you be willin' to?”
After the supper dishes were put away, Mrs. Gray, with a light shawl
over her head, came to her husband on the back stoop.
“Come, dear; I think we'd better go down to-night.”
A few minutes later they sat stiffly in the best room of the
farmhouse, while the buxom woman and her husband looked wonderingly at
“You wan't thinkin' of sellin', was ye?” began Reuben insinuatingly.
The younger man's eyelid quivered a little. “Well, no,—I can't
hardly say that I was. I hain't but just bought.”
Reuben hitched his chair a bit and glanced at Emily.
“Well, me and my wife have concluded that we're too old to
transplant— we don't seem to take root very easy—and we've been
thinkin'—would you swap even, now?”
* * * * *
It must have been a month later that Reuben Gray and his wife were
contentedly sitting in the old familiar kitchen of the little brown
“I've been wondering, Reuben,” said his wife—“I've been wondering
if 'twouldn't have been just as well if we'd taken some of the good
things while they was goin'—before we got too old to enjoy 'em.”
“Yes—peanuts, for instance,” acquiesced her husband ruefully.