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The Flat-Iron Lot
by [?]

Nicholas Oldfield had been smiling his slight, dry smile. At this point, he took up a knife, and cut a careful triangle of pie. He did all these things as if each one were very important.

“Here, Hattie,” Said he, “you taste o’ this dried apple. I put a mite o’ lemon in.”

Hattie, somehow abashed by the mental impact of the little man, ate her pie meekly, and thenceforth waived the larger issue. All the same, she knew the neighbors “pitied father,” and that they would continue to pity him so long as he lived alone in the little peaceful house, doing his own washing and making his own pie.

To-night was a duplication of many another when Nicholas Oldfield had turned the corner and come in sight of his own home; but often as it had been repeated, the experience was never the same. Some would have named his springing emotion delight; but it neither quickened his pace nor made him draw his breath the faster. Perhaps he even walked a little more slowly, to enjoy the taste, for he was a saving man. There was the little house, white as paint could make it, and snug in bowering foliage. He noted, with an approving eye, that the dahlias in the front yard, set in stiff nodding rows, were holding their own bravely against the dry fall weather, and that the asters were blooming profusely, purple and pink. A rare softness came over his features when he stepped into the yard; and though he examined the roof critically in passing, it was with the eye of love. He fitted the key in the lock; the sound of its turning made music in his ears, and, setting his foot upon the sill, he was a man for whom that little was enough. Nicholas Oldfield was at home.

He laid down his bag, and went, without an instant’s pause, straight through to the sitting-room, and stood before the tall eight-day clock. He put his hand on the woodwork, as if it might have been the shoulder of a friend, and looked up understandingly in its face.

“Well, here we be,” said he. “You’d ha’ hil’ out till mornin’, though.”

For wherever he might travel, he always made it a point to be home in time to wind the clocks; and however early he might hurry away again, under stress of some antiquarian impulse, they were left alive and pulsing behind him. There was one in each room, besides the tall eight-day in the parlor, and they were all soft-voiced and leisurely, reminiscent of another age than ours. Though three of them had been inherited, it almost seemed as if Nicholas must have selected the entire company, so harmonious were they, so serenely fitted to the calm decorum of his own desires.

In half an hour he had accomplished many things, and his fire sent a spiral breath toward heaven. The dark old kitchen lay open, door and window, to the still opulent sun, and from the pantry and a corner cupboard came gleams of color, to delight the eye. Here were riches, indeed: old India china, an unbroken set of Sheltered Peasant, and, on the top shelf, little mugs and cups of a pink lustre, soft and sweet as flowers. Many a collector had wooed Nicholas Oldfield to part with his china (for the fame of it had spread afar,) but his only response to solicitation was to open the doors more widely on his treasures, remarking, without emphasis:–

“I guess they might as well stay where they be.”

So passive was he, that many among merchants judged they had impressed him, and returned again and again to the charge; but when they found always the same imperturbable front, the same mild neutrality of demeanor, they melted sadly away, and were seen no more, leaving their places to be taken by others equally hopeful and as sure to be betrayed.