A STORY FOR GIRLS
By FANNIE E. NEWBERRY
Author of "All Aboard," "Bubbles," etc., etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK.
Copyright, 1899, By A. I. BRADLEY & CO.
"Women have the genius of charity, A man gives but his gold; Woman adds to it her sympathy."
I. Legal Advice
II. Old Friends
III. Joyce's Interests
IV. The Works and Workmen
V. Among the Cottages
VI. Fresh Glimpses
VII. The Hapgoods and Nate
VIII. Littleton Reviewed
X. At the Bonnivels'
XI. The Social House
XII. The House-Warming
XIII. Some Encounters
XIV. Joyce and Her Manager
XV. Mother Flaherty's Telephone
XVI. On a Trail
XVIII. Nate Tierney
XIX. In the Cage
XXI. In the Lock-up
XXII. A Visit to Lozcoski
XXIII. Waiting for the Train
XXIV. Night Watchers
XXV. Camille Speaks Out
XXVI. Not Welcome
XXVII. Night Happenings
XXVIII. Visiting the Shut-ins
XXIX. A Dream Ended
XXX. A Railroad Wedding
The old lawyer caressed his smoothly shaven chin and gazed out at Joyce Lavillotte from under his shaggy eyebrows, as from the port-holes of a castle, impressing her as being quite as inscrutable of aspect and almost as belligerent. She, flushed and bright-eyed, leaned forward with an appealing air, opposing the resistless vigor of youth to the impassiveness of age.
"It is not the crazy scheme you think it, Mr. Barrington," she said in that liquid voice which was an inheritance from her creole ancestry, "and I do not mean to risk my last dollar. You know I have means that cannot be touched. Why should you be so sure I cannot manage the Works—especially when Mr. Dalton is so capable and——"
The lawyer uttered something between a grunt and a laugh.
"It's Mr. Dalton who will manage it all. What do you know of the Works?"
"No, he will not, Mr. Barrington. The factory, of course, is his province, but the village shall be mine. You think, because I am not yet twenty-two, that I do not know my own mind, but you forget how long I have been motherless; and a girl has to think for herself when her mother goes."
"But your father?"
"You knew my father." The tremble in the young voice hardened into a haughty note, and she drew back coldly.
Mr. Barrington heaved a perplexed sigh.
"I know I ought to oppose you to the death, even! You'll never have such another chance to sell out, and the sum safely invested in bonds and mortgages, would keep you like a princess."
"I don't want to be kept like a princess. I don't choose to make use of that money for myself, Mr. Barrington—I can't. There is enough of my mother's for my few needs. I was brought up simply, and I am glad! If I sell the works, as you desire, I shall still give the proceeds away. Had you rather I built a hospital, or founded a girl's college, or set up a mission to the South Pole? I'd rather build a town on rational principles."
The haughtiness had melted now, and the smile with which she ended was hard to resist. A younger man would have yielded sooner, but Mr. Barrington was a sharp, practical financier, and furthermore, he had what he believed to be the best good of his client at heart. She was of age and, under the conditions of her late father's will, absolute mistress of a great fortune. It was aggravating to find she had no intention of sitting down to enjoy this in a comfortable, lady-like manner, but must at once begin to develope schemes and plans which seemed half insane to him. Why should this new generation of women be so streaked with quirks and oddities, so knobby with ideas, when they might be just as helpless and charming as those of his own day, and give themselves blindly to the guidance of astute men like himself? It was maddening to contemplate. Here was one who could be clothed in purple and fine linen and fare sumptuously every day, without so much as lifting her little white finger, and she was planning an infinity of care and worriment, possibly the loss of everything, rather than a calm acceptance of her rosy fortune. It fairly disgusted him!
His vis-a-vis, watching him with her keen dark eyes, read these thoughts as if his brain had been a printed page before her, and in spite of herself laughed outright; in his very teeth—a merry little peal as spontaneous as a sunburst.
"Pardon me!" she begged, trying vainly to control herself, "but you did look so hopeless, Mr. Harrington. I know I'm a nuisance to you, and I appreciate that this solicitude for my interests is more than I've any right to expect when I disappoint you so. If you were not so old a friend I wouldn't feel so guilty. Yet in spite of all—I am resolved."
She said the last three words quite gently, with a level gaze that met his own frowning one and held it. She did not nod nor bridle, and her air was almost deprecating in its modesty, but he felt the battle was over and she was the victor. She would be her own mistress, girl that she was, and he could not turn her. He leaned back in a relaxed attitude and asked in a changed voice, "Will you then care to retain the services of Barrington and Woodstock?"
There was not a hint of triumph in tone or manner as she answered quickly,
"Most certainly, if I may. There will be a constant need of your advice, I know. And now, Mr. Barrington, shall we settle the matter of salary, or do you prefer to make a separate charge for each occasion?"
His smile was rather grim as he arose and took down a bundle of papers and documents, slipped them rapidly from hand to hand, then laid them in order before him.
"I think the salary might be best for you," he answered.
"So do I," blithely, "for I shall probably bore you to death!"
This matter having been satisfactorily adjusted, the lawyer, with a rather ironical air, observed,
"If I am not trenching upon forbidden ground, might I ask a few more questions concerning this scheme of yours?"
"As many as you like, sir."
"Thank you. I take it for granted you will retain Mr. Dalton as manager?"
"And most of the employees as at present?"
"All, for aught I know."
"And you speak of building up a town—just what does that mean to your own mind?"
"I'll try to tell you. You know at present there are only the buildings for the Works, the branch track and engine sheds, and the few rows of uncomfortable cottages for the families of the men. There is no school, no church, no library, no meeting-place of any kind, except the grocery store and saloon; and those bare, staring rows of mean houses, just alike, are not homes in any sense of the word. I want to add all such comforts—no, I call them necessities—and more."
"More? As what, for instance?"
"Well,"—she drew a long breath and settled back in her chair with a nestling movement that made the hard man of business feel a certain fatherly yearning towards her, and at last said slowly, "I can't quite explain to you how I have been led to it, but this thought has become very plain to me—that every real need of humanity must (if this world be the work of a perfect Being) have its certain fulfilment. Most people think the fulfilment should only be looked for in another and better world. I think it might, and ought, to come often in this, and that we alone are to blame that it does not."
"Wait! Let me more fully understand. You think every need—what kind of needs?"
"All kinds. Needs of body, mind, and soul."
"You think they can be fully gratified here?"
"I think they might be. I believe there is no reason, except our own ignorance, stupidity, prejudice, and greed, that keeps them from being gratified here and now."
"But child—that would be Heaven!"
"Very like it—yes. And why shouldn't we have Heaven here, sir? God made this world and pronounced it good. Would the Perfect One make a broken circle, a chain with missing links, a desire without its gratification? That would be incomplete workmanship. When either my body or my soul calls out for anything whatsoever, somewhere there is that thing awaiting the desire. Why relegate it to another world? There must be complete circles here, or this world is not good."
"But, my dear girl, these are rather abstruse questions for your little head."
"I did not think them out, Mr. Barrington. They grew out of—circumstances—and some one a good deal wiser than I made me understand them. But they grew to stay, and I can't get rid of them. That is one of the thoughts, ideas—what you will, and this is the other. A man can do little alone, but men can do anything working together in perfect sympathy."
"Co-operation, as you say. With perfect co-operation and a perfect communication, so that each need may be answered readily—these are the ideas I wish to work out."
"In my village."
He frowned at her in puzzled petulance.
"I don't understand a word."
"And it's almost impossible to make one understand, sir. Just wait and watch the working of my plan. Mr. Barrington, have you ever had a surplus of anything that you would gladly share with another, if you knew exactly where it was most needed?"
"Yes," smiling suddenly, and glancing into a corner where was a heaped-up, disorderly looking set of shelves from which the books had overflowed upon the floor. "I was thinking, the other day, that if I knew just the right young lawyer I would be glad to give him some of those Reports."
"That's it! That's what I mean. Somewhere, some struggling lawyer is longing for books and cannot get them; you have too many and are longing to be rid of them. There are the two halves of a complete whole; don't you see?"
"Certainly—if they could be brought together."
"Well, I want to try and bring them together."
"In your village? But how? Do you imagine you can play Providence to a whole settlement, and complete all its half circles?"
"No, sir, I've no thought of that. I simply want to make it possible for them to play Providence to each other. But it would take all day to tell you just how. You have a clue now, and suppose you watch me work it out. I shall probably come to you often for advice, and I must not take up more of your time to-day."
She arose, with a brisk movement, and began fastening her fur collar, in spite of his detaining gesture.
"No, no," she laughed, "don't tempt me! When I mount my hobby it carries me fast and far. Save yourself from its heels. But I will come again."
He laughed with a hearty note.
"You know when to dismount, evidently, and just in time to whet one's curiosity, too. I may be asking to ride it myself, next. Well, do come again—but wait! What's the name of your new town?"
"I've been puzzling over that, Mr. Barrington. I wanted in some way to have my family name connected with it, and yet not so distinctly as to be suggestive, either. There is the English of it—of course it's a free translation—that might do. I don't care to hint at my ideas in the name, so perhaps——"
"Lavillotte?" he questioned. "What is the English of it."
"'The little town,' but Littletown——"
"Why not drop the w?"
"And make it Littleton? Well, why not? I rather like that! It seems impersonal; it explains nothing."
"Except its smallness," laughed the lawyer, "and that would be apparent anyhow, I suppose."
She laughed with him.
"I'm afraid so. Yes, I believe it will do. Littleton! It really suits me."
"There! Didn't I tell you? I've named your model town already; I shall be galloping side by side with you before you know it. Off with you now, hobby and all!"
But she passed out smiling and satisfied. When Mr. Barrington took that tone she knew he was the old friend again, and not the legal adviser; and much as she respected the lawyer, she far preferred the friend, to-day.
Miss Lavillotte descended in the elevator and hurried out to her waiting brougham, and stopped an instant with her foot on the step, to turn a kindly, inquiring gaze upon the elderly coachman, who held the door open before her. An amused twinkle grew in his honest eyes as he gravely responded to the glance with the words, "No, Miss Joyce, I'm not tired nor cold—where next?"
"If you are certain, Gilbert; but it was a good while, and"—"It's mild and pleasant to-day, Miss Joyce."
"Well, it's good of you to think so. Then drive to the Bonnivels, and I won't be so long this time."
"Take all the time you want, Miss Joyce."
He gently shut the door upon her and, mounting to the box, drove carefully away through the thronged streets, turning westward and leaving the neighborhood of legal offices to plunge into the somewhat unsavory precincts given over to markets and fruit venders, passing which, he gradually emerged into the less frequented lengths of avenue leading far out into the suburbs. It was a long and not too pleasant drive, but Joyce Lavillotte was too busy with her thoughts to mind, and Gilbert Judson too intent upon the safe guidance of her spirited team to care. The dreamer inside was indeed surprised when he stopped and, glancing out, she saw they had reached their destination.
It was a corner house, frame-built, and of a comfortable, unfashionable aspect, set down in a square which showed its well-kept green even in winter. The lace-hung windows were broad, sunny and many paned, and a gilded cage flashed back the light in one of them. Joyce flung it an eager glance of expectancy and ran lightly up the steps of the square porch, as if overjoyed to be there. Before she could ring, the door was flung open with the outburst,
"I knowed it was you! I saw you froo de window." She caught up the laughing child with a loving word. "Of course you knew me, sweetheart! Where's mama, and Auntie, and 'Wobin', and all?"
The brown curls bobbed against her shoulder and the red lips met her own in frank affection.
"Dey's heah, but Wobin's wunned away."
"Wunned away? The naughty dog! Ah, Dorette, there you are! How's the blessed mother?"
"Better, Joyce; no pain in several days. Come in, dear—she'll be so glad! Oh, Joyce I did think when all restrictions were removed——"
"Ah! no, dear. You knew I would observe every form of respect. I have been nowhere yet."
She glanced down meaningly at her black gown, and Dorette's olive skin flushed in a delicate fashion.
"I beg your pardon. You are right, as usual. Come in to ma mere."
Joyce followed the sweet-faced young woman, still carrying the little child who was so like her, and thus entered the large and pleasant living-room of the old house. In the embrasure of one broad window, seeming to focus all the light which streamed in freely through the thin, parted curtains, sat a woman in a gown of soft white wool, made with artistic simplicity. Her face had the same soft cream tint as her gown, and the hair, turned back in loose waves from her broad forehead, was of a purplish black, occasionally streaked with gray. All the features were clean-cut and delicate, but the expression in the large black eyes was that vague, appealing one which too surely indicates the utter loss of sight.
Evidently the woman, still exceptionally beautiful in her maturity, was hopelessly blind.
Joyce quickly set down the little one, and advanced on winged feet.
"Ma mere," she said in a voice almost of adoration, as she dropped to her knees beside the woman's chair, "Ma mere, I have come back."
"Dear one! Ma petite!" exclaimed the other in liquid southern accents, reaching out a delicate, trembling hand, which the girl caught and kissed devotedly. "We have longed for you. But we knew you would come! Let me see your face, child."
Joyce turned it upward and remained very still while the other lightly touched brow, eyes, lips, and chin, in a swift, assured fashion.
"Ah, you are truly the same little Joyce. There is the breadth between the eyes like an innocent child's, the straight, firm little nose like a Greek outline, the full curved lips—do you still pout when angry, cherie?—and that square, decided turn to the chin, more apparent than ever. You have grown, Joyce; you are a woman now."
"Yes, mother, but still a baby to you, and I want always to keep the old name for you, no matter how I grow. Ma mere, you have grown younger, and are more beautiful than ever."
"No flattery, mignonne! It is not good for me. Sit down here and tell us all there is to tell. You are very lonely, now?"
"I am alone—yes."
Joyce drew a chair close beside the other and sat down, while the older women smiled slightly.
"Yes, there is a difference. They tell me you are very rich."
"Too rich, dear mother; it frightens me!"
"Money is a great power, my child."
"And a terrible responsibility, as you have always taught me, ma mere."
"True. We have both known happy days without it. Still——" "If it had only come in the right way, Mother Bonnivel!" cried the girl in an irrepressible outburst, "But oh! there's a stain on every dollar. I must spend my whole life trying to remove the stain, trying to make it honest money. Do you remember our little French fable? How the cursed coin of the oppressor left its mark in boils and burns, until it had been sanctified by relieving the starving child? I must sanctify what my father—snatched—ma mere."
"And you will, Joyce—I know that."
"Yes, I mean to, God helping me. I have just come from a stormy interview with dear old Mr. Barrington, but I have won him over at last. Yet, it is you, mother, who will do it all, for I shall simply carry out your plans and——"
"My plans? what, Joyce! I have never——"
"Oh no, because you had not the means, so what was the use? But all the same it is you. Didn't you supply all the ideas, all the longings and the foresight? Every bit of it is what you have instilled into me from babyhood."
"They are your own dreams—yours and Leon's. Now let us make them reality. But where did Dorette go, and where is Camille? I want you all to hear—and good Larry, too."
"Then stay the day with us, dear. Larrimer will not be home till evening, and there is so much to talk about."
"Shall I? Oh, how blissful to think I can! I will go out and send Gilbert home, then. He has waited for me so patiently all the morning. Dear Mother Bonnivel, is it wicked that I can't be sad and regretful, but that the freedom is so sweet—so sweet?"
"It is natural at least, my love. Go and dismiss Gilbert until to-morrow morning. It will be too late for your long ride home after our seven o'clock dinner. Then hurry back. I begrudge every minute you are gone."
Joyce sped gaily away, and returned minus her hat and furs.
"I left them in the hall," she explained, as Dorette looked up questioningly, having just re-entered. "Are you glad I'm to stay, Dodo? Do give me some sewing now, Dorey, just in the old way. Is there nothing to do for baby?"
"Nothing! Indeed you'd think there was something, to see the way she goes through her clothing. She's a perfect terror, Joyce! Well, take this bit of a yoke—can you hemstitch as neatly as ever?"
"Try me; I don't know. Ellen does everything now."
"You have a maid?"
"Oh yes, I could not live alone. But Ellen is scarcely that. She is too staid, too old and respectable. She is my companion, rather."
"And you are still in that great hotel?"
"Yes, our rooms were taken for a year, and the time is not up for some months yet, so it seemed best. And we are quite independent there. We live as quietly in our suite of rooms as if we were in a separate flat. And our places at table are reserved in a far corner of the great salon, so that by timing ourselves we avoid the crowd, and we do not become conspicuous."
"Yes, I understand. One can live much as one elects to anywhere," said Madame Bonnivel, caressing little Dodo as the child leaned against her.
"I don't know," laughed Joyce. "There have been times when we didn't think so—did we, Dorette? Oh, it is so good—so good to be here!"
Over their needle-work the talk ran on, largely reminiscent in character, and mostly in a joyous strain. The young matron, Mrs. Larrimer Driscoll, was evidently no ready talker, but her interest was so vivid that she was a constant incitement to Joyce, who seemed to have broken bounds, and was by turns grave and gay, imperious and pleading in a succession of moods as natural as a child's and almost as little controlled. Presently she who has been referred to as Dodo's auntie, Miss Camille Bonnivel, entered and, after one swift look at the guest, who stood smilingly awaiting the outbreak of her astonishment, threw up both hands and flew across the room.
"Joyce!" she cried, "Joyce Lavillotte! So the proud heiress of a hundred acres—mostly marsh-land, but no matter!—has condescended to our low estate. Shall I go down on one knee, or two?"
"On four, if you have them, you gypsy! Come, kiss me and stop this nonsense. Dear! How you have grown, you tiny thing. You must be nearly to my elbows by this."
"Elbows! I'm well on towards five feet, I'll let you know. But you are superb, Joyce—'divinely tall and most divinely fair'; isn't that it? Come, stoop to me."
They kissed heartily, the dark little creature standing on tiptoe, while Joyce bent her head low, then Dodo claimed attention from "Cammy," and amid bursts of laughter and sometimes a rush of sudden tears, the talk flowed on, as it can only flow when dearest friends meet after long separation, with no estrangement and no doubts to dim the charms of renewed intercourse.
Joyce had not exaggerated when she spoke of the settlement about the Works as a desolate, unpicturesque, uninviting spot, and Camille had skirted the truth, at least, when she referred to the inherited acres as "marsh lands." Had she named them a desert instead, though, she would have been nearer correct, for is not a desert a "great sandy plain?" So was the site of the great factories known as the Early Glass Works. They seemed to have been set down with no thought but to construct—a shelter for costly machinery; as to those who worked it, let them manage anyhow. The buildings were massive and expensive where used to protect senseless iron and steel; low, squalid, and flung together in the cheapest way where used to house sentient human beings.
In a certain spasm of reformation they had been purchased by James J. Early after a venture in his gambling schemes so surpassingly "lucky"—to quote himself—that he was almost shamed into decency by its magnitude. He even felt a thrill of compunction—a very brief thrill—for the manner in which two-score people, who had trusted him, were left in the trough of ruin while he rode high on the wave of success. Almost trembling between triumph and contrition, he had been seized with the virtuous resolve to quit speculation for honest industry, and his investment in these glass-works was the result. Through his wildest plunging he had been shrewd enough never to risk his all in one venture—in fact, he never took any great risks for himself, except so far as his immortal soul was concerned—consequently when death overtook him and he, perforce, laid down the only thing he valued, his fortune, it had reached proportions of which figures could give but little idea. His daughter Joyce, sole heir-at-law, was almost overwhelmed by the burden of these millions, especially as she realized how dishonestly they had been acquired. She thoroughly appreciated the methods taken to possess them (one cannot say earn in this connection) and her sensitive soul shrank in terror from benefiting only through others' misfortunes. If she could not gather up and restore, she might at least bestow wherever help seemed most needed, thus perhaps in time lifting the curse she felt must rest on these ill-gotten gains. With James Early's usual policy he had spent money at the Works only where it would increase the value of the plant, and the working power of the machinery. The idea of wasting a dollar in making the homes of his employees more attractive, or in putting within their reach mental and moral helps, had never even occurred to him. Treeless, arid, and flat, the country stretched away on every side, only broken by one or two slight knolls separating the Works from a small river that intersected the land at some distance. In the midst of this plain stood the great buildings, belching forth smoke from their tall chimneys, while, radiating from this busy nucleus, were several rows of mere barracks, known as the cottages of the workmen.
It should be the daughter's policy to make this district blossom as the rose, and to make its people happy and contented.
You have doubtless noticed the seeming discrepancy between the names borne by Joyce and her father, and this is its explanation. The marriage of the scheming Yankee, James Early, into the then wealthy and powerful family of Lavillotte, old-timers of Louisiana soil, was considered the opposite of an honor by them, with the exception of the young girl, educated in the north, who had been fascinated by his fine looks and glib tongue. Therefore, when Joyce was born, an edict was issued by its leading members—two patriarchal uncles who held control of the property—that she should be cut off from her maternal rights in the family estate unless allowed to take the family name. Now, the loss of money was to J. J. Early the only loss worth mentioning, so he reluctantly consented, with but one stipulation—that she should bear his middle name, which was Joyce. Having assured themselves that Joyce was a proper Christian cognomen, suitable to a woman, they yielded the point, and Joyce Early was made Joyce Lavillotte by due process of law before old enough to know, much less to speak, her name. That this property was largely lost during the civil war, leaving the Earlys almost destitute at the time that broken-spirited lady died, had never altered this fact; nor was it changed when, later, after the death of both uncles, the property in partially restored shape came to the girl, so bound beneath legal restrictions, that she could never have the management of anything but the income. In fact, so engrossed had Early become in his own money-making, by this, that he had little thought to bestow upon a daughter who could never sympathize in what made life's interest for him. He had controlled her existence to his own purposes, knowing that an acknowledged home and daughter somehow give a man caste in the community, but outside of certain restrictions, and very galling ones, he had let her severely alone. Now that liberty and great means had fallen to her, what use should she make of them?
She stood a moment looking around her, after she had alighted from the train at the little brown one-room station-house, trying to take it all in at one glance of her brilliant eyes. She had never been here before, but she had had countless photographs made, and supposed herself thoroughly acquainted with the spot. But, to some minds, photographs are confusing things, jumbling up the points of compass in an unreliable manner. Joyce found that it was almost as strange as if never pictured out before her, and a great deal uglier than she had supposed. She shivered as she gazed around upon the bleakness everywhere, perhaps largely accentuated by a gray, chilly morning of early spring, with the small patches of snow, left by winter, blackened and foul. Ellen Dover, at her elbow, remarked plaintively,
"There, Miss Joyce, I knowed you'd need your sealskin such a day," to which the girl only answered, with an odd smile,
"Even a sealskin couldn't stop that shiver, Ellen; it might make it worse, indeed. Come, I think this is the way to the office. Doesn't it say something over that door at the right? Yes, there it is—come on!"
They traversed a considerable space of uneven ground crossed and recrossed by the narrow-gauge tracks upon which the sand and grit trucks ran, avoiding one or two localities where steam shot upward from the ground in a witch-like and erratic manner, with short angry hisses and chopping sounds that suggested danger, and finally stood before the door designated "OFFICE" in plain lettering. Joyce looked around at her companion with a perplexed little laugh.
"Do we knock, Ellen? How does one do at a place like this,—just walk in as it 'twere a shop, or wait till you're let in, as at a house?"
"Goodness me!" bridled Ellen, gazing at the uninviting exterior. "Why should you be knocking and waiting when you own the whole business, I'd like to know? Just push in and tell who you be—that's what I'd do."
"Oh, I think not, Ellen—would you? I'd rather err on the safe side, seems to me. Do let's be polite, at least! Yes, I'll knock," and a timid rat-tat-tat, made by a small kid-covered knuckle, announced the first visit of the present owner of the great Early Works.
After an instant's delay the door was partly opened, and a preoccupied face, with perpendicular lines between the keen gray eyes, was thrust out impatiently, with the words,
"Well, why don't you come in? What—Oh, excuse me, ladies. Good-morning! What can I do for you?"
"Is Mr. Dalton in?" asked Joyce embarrassedly.
"Yes, I am he; please walk in. You'll have to excuse the litter here. I've been too busy to let them clean it up. Here's a chair, Miss—and here, ma'am"—calmly overturning two close beside the desk, that were heaped with papers.
Having thus seated his guests, the man stood in an inquiring attitude, surreptitiously glancing at Joyce who seemed to him almost superhumanly beautiful in that dusty place, for her pink flush and shy eyes only accentuated her charms. She found it necessary to explain the intrusion at once, but was so nervous over just the right form of self-introduction required that she rather lost her head, and stammered out,
"I—I thought I'd like to see the works and—and you"—then stopped, feeling how awkward was this beginning.
A smile flitted over his grave countenance.
"I am before you," he said, bowing somewhat elaborately. "If looking at me can do anybody any good——"
She checked him with a somewhat imperious gesture.
"I am Joyce Lavillotte," she said, growing cool again, "and I would like to look the place over."
The sentence died into silence before an ejaculation so amazed and long-drawn it made Joyce's eyes open wide. The man looked ready to burst into laughter, yet full of respect, too. At length he broke out,
"I beg your pardon! I am so surprised. I supposed you were a man. It's your name, probably, that deceived me—and then I never thought of a girl—a young lady—caring to examine into things, and asking for statistics, and so on. Then your handwriting—it was so bold. And your methods of expression—well, I have been completely fooled!"
He stopped the voluble flow of words, which Joyce felt instinctively to be unlike himself, and gazed at her again in a forgetfulness somewhat embarrassing. Joyce was trying to think of something to say when he broke out once more, "Yes, I supposed of course you were a man, and not so very young, either. I had pictured you the moral image of your father"—he stopped an instant, then asked with a sort of regretful note in his voice—"he was your father?"
"Yes," said Joyce coldly. "Only I bear my mother's name for certain private reasons."
"Yes. I had thought Lavillotte was merely a middle name. We have always spoken of—of you—as young Early, here. But excuse me! I am very glad to see you, Miss Lavillotte. You wish to go over the works, you say?"
"Yes, if perfectly convenient. And I want, if possible, to go inside one or two of the houses, if I may. Could it be managed, Mr. Dalton?"
"Assuredly. Just let me announce you, and they'll be honored——"
"But wait a minute!" Joyce was gathering her wits again.
"Is the idea general here that I am a man?" smiling up into his face so blithely that his eyes reflected the light in hers.
"Why, yes, I'm afraid it is. You see we know so little of Mr.—of your father—in a personal way, and all I have said has been under that impression. I humbly beg your pardon for it, Miss Lavillotte."
"No, you needn't. I'm not sure but I shall thank you for the mistake, indeed. Let me think a minute. Yes, I believe I shall leave myself undiscovered for a time, at least. I may see things more exactly as they are in that way. But don't they know my name at all, Mr. Dalton?"
"I think not. You have only been mentioned as Early's son, I am certain. There has been no occasion to speak of the heir except to one or two, and I know the name Early was given him."
Joyce could scarcely keep from laughing outright at his tone and manner, for he could not yet conceal his sense of the unexpected, even the ludicrous, in this denouement. And if it so impressed him, might it not also make her something of a laughing-stock among her people, as she liked to call them? Would they give her credit for knowing enough to try and promote their interests in all she did? The idea of remaining incognito appealed still more strongly to her, and she said slowly,
"I don't exactly relish the role of impostor, but it might be justifiable in this case. Mr. Dalton, I want to make improvements here that shall benefit the people directly, and I don't want to begin by having them laugh at me—as you are doing."
He glanced up quickly at the reproachful tone, but catching the gleam of fun in her eye relaxed happily.
"I didn't mean to," he said contritely, "but you took me so by surprise! I am ready, now, to do whatever you wish done, and there shall be no more laughing."
"Well, then, could we not—this is Miss Dover, Mr. Dalton—couldn't we pass as acquaintances of yours, say? Don't people ever come to look the Works over?"
"Not often, but they might. And shall I invent new names for you both?" His manner was as alert as Joyce's own, now, and the perpendicular lines were nearly smoothed out between his eyes.
"No. If, as you say, my name is unknown we will not dye ourselves too deeply in deception. I think I'll remain Joyce Lavillotte, thank you! Can we start at once?"
He seemed pleased at her eagerness, but gave her handsome mourning costume a perplexed glance.
"Assuredly, only—I don't know much about such things, but aren't you pretty well dressed to go around in the worst parts? There are some dirty places, though it's clean work in the main. I know you wish to be thorough," with an approving glance, "so I mention it. You haven't any old frock that you could get at near by?"
At this instant Ellen was heard to give a little sniff and both turned their gaze upon her, Dalton's questioning, and Joyce's laughing and deprecatory.
"Did you speak, Ellen?" she asked mischievously.
"No 'm, I didn't, but I was just a-thinkin' that if you'd 'a' listened to me and wore your old Henrietta-cloth——"
"But as usual I did not listen, Ellen, and we won't scold now about unimportant matters. Lead on, Mr. Dalton; we're ready."
The man reached for his hat, closed his ledger carefully upon the pen he had been using, then opened an inner door, and stood aside to let them pass on through a short, narrow entry, from which another door led them directly into the noise and vapors of the Works.
THE WORKS AND WORKMEN.
It would not be best to attempt a detailed description of the Early Glass Works, lest the subject prove so interesting we forget our story. There are few industries so fascinating to watch, or even to read about, as that of glass-blowing, and on this inspection morning Joyce had to keep reminding herself that she had come, primarily, to study the workmen and not the process, so absorbed did she frequently become in the latter.
The Early Works made a specialty of flint-glass crystal, and cut and engraved ware for domestic and ornamental use, also of the finer qualities of shades for lamps and chandeliers. As Joyce lingered again and again to watch the swift and graceful shaping of the molten substance, while airy stem or globe were blown into being by the breath of man, to be afterwards carved into exquisite designs upon the emery-wheel, or graven against the spindle, all with a dexterity that seemed simply marvelous to her ignorance, she decided in her own mind that a master at glass working was not an artisan, but an artist.
Mr. Dalton seemed amused at her child-like delight, and tried to explain all she observed in language not too technical for her comprehension. But often she became too absorbed to question, or even listen, at which times he stood silently by, watching with open admiration her fair, expressive face.
Dalton was, in a sense, a self-made man, having begun as stoker of one of the annealing furnaces when both he and the Works were young. He had climbed steadily, serving his apprenticeship in each department, and studying at a night-school, when such were in operation, until the sudden demise of Mr. Early had lifted him from the position of foreman to that of manager, by right of a thorough understanding of the business. He was a plain thoughtful-seeing man, in his thirties, who showed by his terse speech, practical manner, and business garb that he had no intention of forgetting his work-a-day life in his present elevation. Perhaps he had never so keenly felt how entirely it had been a work-a-day life until this morning.
After a time Joyce ceased to feel dazed over the dull roar of the furnaces, the flash and glow of the fiery masses of molten glass as lifted from the pots, the absorbing sight of the blowing, rolling, clipping, joining, cutting, and engraving, and the precision and silence of the white-aproned, sometimes mask-protected workmen. She could begin to notice individuals and study faces.
She stopped, finally, close by the marver of a young man—boy she called him to herself—the precision of whose workmanship was that of a machine. He was shaping a slender, long-stemmed, pitcher-like vase made in three parts, foot, body and handle, afterwards joining them in one exquisitely fine whole, after the manner of the Clichy crystal ware. He was a remarkable looking being, she thought, divided between studying his face and admiring his workmanship. Though somewhat deformed, with a curving back and high shoulders, the face that crowned this misshapen figure might have been the original of one of those intaglios of Venice, which seem to reproduce all that is refined and choice in human features. He had the broad brow, delicate, sensitive nose, curved and mobile lips, and the square, slightly cleft chin that make up an almost perfect outline. Yet the large dark eyes bore an expression of such hopelessness, such unyouthful gravity, that the whole face seemed gloomed over, as when a heavy cloud shuts out the brilliant sunshine of an August day. He did not deign so much as a glance towards the visitors, but like an automaton blew the graceful bulb, shaped it upon his marver, with a light, skilful blow detached it from his blowing-iron, received from his assistant the foot and joined the two, with a dextrous twist and turn shaped the slender handle and added that, all the time keeping his "divining-rod" (as Joyce named it to herself) turning, rolling, advancing, receding, as if it were some inspired wand, impelled to create the absolutely beautiful in form and finish. As they slowly passed on Joyce breathed out involuntarily,
"Poor boy! He seems too sad even to wish for anything."
Dalton gave her a quick, keen glance.
"You have guessed it, Miss Lavillotte. He's got where he doesn't care. He is one of our finest workmen, and a good fellow, but he is so unsocial and gloomy the other boys all shun him."
"Do you know his story?" asked Joyce with interest.
"Why, yes, I know something of him. It isn't much of a story, though," laughing a little. "We don't go much into romancing here. He had a twin brother that was as handsome as he in the face, and straight and tall into the bargain; in fact, as fine a fellow as you'll see in a century—and he shot him last year."
"Shot him?" Joyce recoiled in horror.
"Yes, accidentally of course. Their father had been a soldier in the civil war, and in some way the rifle he carried, with his name and the date scratched on the trigger-plate, was sent to the boys by a comrade after his death. Dan, there, was handling it, supposing it unloaded as usual, when it went off and shot his brother, who was leaning over him, right through the heart. That's all."
"All!" Joyce breathed the word with a meaning, practical George Dalton scarcely understood, and they proceeded in silence.
One other of the workers attracted the girl, as instantly, and partially distracted her thoughts from Dan. This was a girl with a peculiar face; not handsome. Joyce could only think of one descriptive word—high. Pale, with dark coloring in hair and eyes, she seemed somehow remote, lifted above the common life about her, like one living in a world of her own. She, too, seemed absorbed in her work of engraving, and did not for an instant remove her eyes from her delicate task, as she slowly turned and pressed the globe against the spindle, working out the pattern etched in the film covering its surface. But Joyce asked no questions about her as they passed on.
"Now for the homes," she said, after the long tour of the buildings was completed. "How can we gain entrance without seeming to intrude? Had we better all try to go? It will seem like a regular incursion, won't it?"
Mr. Dalton smiled.
"If you could let me out, I'd be grateful. I've a big day's work laid out on the time-books and accounts, for to-morrow's pay-day. But of course, if you need me——"
"No, no. It has been very good of you to give us so much time. If I were only an agent, now, and had something to sell——"
"'Twouldn't be a bad scheme, Miss Lavillotte, in case you really want to see them as they are. If you had some new-fangled baking dish, or a story paper, or——"
Joyce looked up with a flashing glance, and turned to Ellen, who received the notice with a sniff and a restrained smile.
"You have one, Ellen. We bought it on the train, It's full of pictures and short stories."
"Yes 'm, I've got it. You left it on the seat and I picked it up."
"And now your frugality is to be rewarded. But wouldn't it be prying, Mr. Dalton?"
"Possibly. But wouldn't it be, anyway? I gather you have some good reason for wishing to see these people at home."
"I have. I want to know just how and where to help them best, but I hate to act in an underhanded way. And yet, if the paper would serve to give me entrance I'd try not to prevaricate in the least."
"I think you may be trusted, Miss Lavillotte."
"Ellen, will you stay here in the office while I try it alone?"
"If you tell me to I s'pose I must, but I think it's a wild-goose chase anyhow," was the disapproving answer. "I can tell you what you'll find well enough," sniffing disgustedly, "and that is babies, bad smells, dirt, and scolding. I've been there afore!"
Joyce laughed gaily.
"Give me the story paper, Ellen. I'm going to find all those things, surely, but more—much more, as you'll see in time," and, snatching the sheet from her maid's reluctant hand, she was off with a merry look back at the two, who watched her till she had rounded the corner of the great building and disappeared.
"It's a queer streak!" muttered Dalton, as he turned back into the little office room, which had never looked so dim and dingy before. "For a girl that's rich and handsome——"
"Don't see what there is so queer in being good!" returned Ellen belligerently. "Just 'cause she's got a heart and sense beyond her years folks calls her a freak. Of course it cuts, but she only laughs and goes on just the same's ever. I get so mad, sometimes, I'd like to stomp on 'em, but she just looks at me smiling brave-like, with her lips twitching a bit, and says, 'Never mind so long's we're surely right,' and then I can't say a word."
Dalton looked at her reflectively. He was not used to women, and it struck him, once or twice, that this elderly companion would have liked to dictate to her young mistress, had the latter allowed it. So, not feeling quite sure of his ground, he remarked vaguely,
"I suppose a girl like that would be naturally wilful—having everything heart could wish. But——"
"Well then, I'll let you know she isn't," snapped Miss Dover. "Wilful indeed!" and seating herself with resentful suddenness she glared at him till he was glad to bury himself in his books, and try to forget the excitements of the morning in figures.
AMONG THE COTTAGES.
Joyce, laughing to herself, tripped across the ground occupied by the works, and, after a hurried glance along the first row of cottages, selected one at random and making straight for it, knocked with some trepidation, but no delay. She heard herself announced inside by a childish voice in descriptive fashion—"Say, ma, it's a girl in swell clothes—hurry!" and began to question if she were too well dressed, even in her plain black garb, for her part. Certainly there was an air about her not common to the traveling agency people, but whether it were entirely due to her garments may be doubted.
After considerable scurrying about inside, plainly distinguished through the thin planking, the door was gingerly opened a few inches and a touzled head appeared in the slit.
"Good-morning, 'm," spoke the head with an inquiring accent, which plainly meant, "And what do you want?"
Joyce partly ignored the woman and her brusquerie, for the pretty curly pate of a baby clinging to her skirts, and her ready smile was for him, as she said,
"What a bright-eyed baby! May I come in for a minute and talk to you?"
The mother thawed to that, and the door fell wide apart. "Why, yes, come in, come in! I'm washing to-day, but there's no great hurry's I knows on. Sit there, won't ye? It's more comfor'ble."
Quite willing to be "more comfor'ble," if at no one's expense, Joyce sank into the old cane rocker, still beaming upon the baby, who shyly courted her from amid the damp folds of his mother's skirts.
"He's pretty smart for 'leven months," affirmed the latter, lifting him to her knee, and dropping into the wooden chair opposite with a sense of utter relaxation that struck the caller as being the next thing to unconscious grace, even in that lank, slatternly figure. "He can go clear 'round the room by takin' hold o' things. I guess you like babies, 'm?"
"I like some babies—and yours is a beauty; large, too. I had thought him much older."
"Yes, he's as big as I care to lug—that's certain! Dorey, go and stir down the clo'es in the boilin' suds, and be quick about it, too! Don't ye know better'n to stand starin' at folks like a sick cat?" This, to a little girl, presumably the herald of Joyce's approach, who had been peeping in through the crack of a rear door.
Joyce, dreading a storm, asked politely,
"You have two children, have you?"
The woman laughed with something of a bitter cadence. "Oh yes, and seven more atop o' them. There's two between baby and Dorey, and five older. My three oldest is in the Works, and Rache is about the best hand they've got, if I do say it. Rache earns good wages, I tell ye—better'n the boys. But then, what with tobacco and beer, and beauin' the girls around to dances and shows, and all, you can't expect a fellow to have much left for his own folks. And my other two gals is workin' out in town. Dorey, stop jouncin' them hot clo'es up an' down in the suds! You'll git scalt with 'em yit."
"Do any of your children go to school?" asked the caller, quickly.
The woman laughed shortly.
"Where'd they go? There ain't no schools around here, and we ain't wanting any, either, since our time with that one last year. 'Twas a reg'lar sell! The gal what kep' it asked a nickel a week for every young 'un, and left us right in the middle of a term, 'cause she said it didn't pay. Stuck-up thing she was, too! Couldn't see nothin' lower'n the top of her own head, I couldn't abide her! No, if you're thinkin' of gettin' up any of them kinter-gardens you might as well give it up," eying Joyce suspiciously. "We don't want 'em."
"But would you object to a free public school?" asked Joyce with a patient air.
"Oh, I don't know's I should object," tolerantly. "Rache, she's a great hand to read, and she takes in a magerzine, too, but I never could see the sense o' spendin' time and money that way. If she marries she'll hev to come down to scrubbin' and cookin', and tendin' baby, same's her ma; and if she's an old maid, why, there's the Works, or goin' out to housework, and either way I don't see just where an eddication comes in."
"It might help her to some easier employment," suggested Joyce, but rather faintly, for the woman's airy loquacity disconcerted her.
"It might, an' then it mightn't. I've seen girls as got above their business come down a good deal lower than what they started from, and I say, let well enough alone. There's lots of born ladies that ain't no softer spoken than my girl Rache, and she's good to me and the young 'uns. I don't want anybody spoilin' my fam'ly by these highfalutin' notions."
The woman assumed a Cornelia expression that almost daunted poor Joyce, who was half a coward at heart, anyhow, so she meekly rose to go.
"I won't delay you from your washing any longer; good-by," she said, nodding at the baby, who showed pearly teeth in return; and she passed out, nor realized until later that she had not posed as a canvasser here, unless in an educational sense.
She felt just a trifle discouraged by the unflinching attitude of this Spartan mother, and was proportionately surprised when, obeying a call to enter at the next door, she stepped into a bright, tastefully furnished apartment with flowers in the window and magazines on the table. Near by, in a large invalid chair reclined a girl—nay, a woman, as Joyce decided after the second look, though a small creature—busily embroidering upon a little frame, while on a small, detachable table, now screwed to the arm of her chair, was a bright array of silks, and beside them a half-open book, with a pencil slid between its leaves. She gave Joyce an inquiring glance, and waited for her to speak. The latter flushed a little, scarcely knowing how to introduce herself, but a second look towards the magazines touched up her memory, and she began graciously,
"I see you are a reader. I wonder if you would care for the paper I have here," and she handed it over for inspection.
"Ah, I cannot tell if 'tis so; pray be seated ma'amselle. Yes, I like mooch those peectures and those patterns. They do help in my work." Her accent was distinctly foreign, yet every word was so plainly enunciated that it was easy to understand her. "You do sell this?" she asked.
Joyce was nonplussed, but caught at her waning wits enough to answer,
"Not this copy. It is only for you to look at."
"Ah yes,"—quickly, with a merry smile, "It ees a sahmple, eh?"
"Yes, a sample copy, but if you think you could use it in your work I will see that you have it every month."
"And the expense of it?" She looked up apprehensively. "That, too, must be considered."
"Surely. You see it says ten cents a number, or one dollar a year. But I think I might furnish you a sample copy free, if you would speak a good word for it among your neighbors. Not to trouble yourself any, of course."
"That is most kind, and I could do it. The girls do coom in and listen as I read, by times. It is a great deal that books do for one like me, ma'amselle. They are my friends, my coomfort. They, and my vork."
"I can well believe it. And what beautiful work you do! Doesn't it tire you while in that reclining position? You look so delicate."
"But I am so mooch bettare—quite near to well once more. I do this, while my sister, she work in the glass-house. She is all well and strong—my sister."
"That is good! And you live here alone together?"
"Yes, we do. We come across from Havre together—we, the two—and we think we will make a fortune, now we have lost our parents, and have no big strong brother. And then it is I that must get sick, and when the fevaer do go after the long weeks, it takes with it all my strength, and so I cannot yet walk."
"Poor little woman! But you have such a pretty room—how kind your sister must be."
"My Babette? Ah, she is so bright, so gay. She will not let me say that we have been onlooky—oh no! She say, 'You here, I here, nevare mind any other thing.' So she coomfort me."
"And do you send this beautiful embroidery into the city?"
"Yes, I do. To an eschange for womans. I have teeket and that make me one member."
"I see; 'tis an excellent plan. But who keeps house for you?"
"Oh, that is an easy thing. I do skin off the potatoes and schop up the meat for the hash, and Babette, she do sweep with the broom and set out the table. And while we work she can tell me all there is going about outside, and I can tell how mooch bettare I am doing this day—do not you see?"
"I see you must be very happy together! But do you stay alone all day! And what if you need something, meanwhile?" she laughed.
"See?" with a comprehensive sweep of the hands, "I have everything. But for fear I do get sick, see this?"
She put out her hand to a rope dangling along the wall close beside her. "When I pull hard once Lucie, in the next house, knows that I would like to see her, but it is not bad; when I pull twice then she must indeed run quick, for I need her. She is so good, little Lucie!"
By her motions Joyce knew she was speaking of the house upon the opposite side from that where she herself had just called. So, feeling she must economize her time, and anxious to learn all she could, she asked at once,
"Who is this Lucy? Please tell me about her."
There was a way with Joyce that made people like to confide in her. She was so bright and pretty, so interested, and so free from guile, that hearts opened to her as blossoms to the sun. One could not long be reserved in her presence. The invalid smiled upon her and chatted on in her odd English, telling of the children next door lately left motherless, where the oldest girl, Lucy, aged sixteen, was bravely keeping house for father, and looking after two younger girls, a baby boy, just learning to toddle alone and a younger baby of a few months. It was evident a great friendship existed between this little Frenchwoman and the maiden, and that there was mutual helpfulness in their intercourse, Lucy bringing youthful cheer and strength to exchange for thoughtful lessons in some of the finer ways of living, not common here.
"I hope her father is very good to her!" cried Joyce, becoming at once a partisan of the plucky child, upon whom the other was showering encomiums. "Only sixteen, and doing all that! Is he a fine workman? Does he earn much?"
"Yes, when he do work." The embroiderer bent over her frame with renewed diligence, and shut her lips together in a determined way.
"I understand," said Joyce quickly, with a little sigh; "he isn't quite steady?"
"I would nevare say ill of him. He mean well—oh, yes! But he do not know when it is time to leave off. He take one drink, that make him talk loud and laugh; he take two, that make him swear bad worts and knock round the furniture; he take t'ree, that make him come home and beat thos poor leetle girls till it make your heart sore! And poor Lucie will try so hard, and then he will be so oogly—but I should not so speak to a strangare."
"Don't let that trouble you; it shall go no further. I will try and see this Lucy, soon. What is her other name?"
"It is Hapgood, ma'amselle. I pray you to forget I have ill spoke of a man who means to be kind, but so troubled he must try somehow to forget his cares. Many men are like that. And of a truth there is no place to go for rest. In the small house the children do cry and quarrel, and tired Lucie will scold at times, and he does come home so weary, himself. If all is not to please him he snatches his hat and goes rushing away—but where? The only place that makes welcome is the saloon—you know it."
"Yes, yes, I do know. And the poor children, too! They ought to have places where they can be jolly and make a noise besides in these barren streets. Tell me, Mrs.——"
"I am not that," laughing merrily, "I am Marie Sauzay, and my sister, she is Babette, though everybody makes it Bab for short, and she likes the little name."
"I can imagine it is like her—short and sweet. Well, Ma'amselle Marie, tell me this. Is there no public hall here—no place of meeting where the people may go for music, or pleasure. Don't you have any amusements?"
"Amusements!" Marie laughed outright. "And who would care to amuse us, who have to work? No, no, that is not to be thought of. That Mr. Early, who is the high boss, he would laugh at such a question. What have we to do with amusements?"
Joyce winced at what seemed to her a direct slur upon her father's memory, but knew it was just. She could fairly hear him laugh as Marie spoke, sitting back in an easy attitude, perhaps mixing a julep and cackling amusedly in that peculiar voice that was curiously like a scolding woman's. How often she had heard him say, "Don't try to mix business and philanthropy, my dear. It won't work. As well hope to combine oil and water. You would only spoil the one and make a mess of the other. The working-classes are best off when let quite alone. If you don't want them to override you, be careful to keep them well down. Once let them see you mean to give them any leeway, and they are only content with a revolution. You can give away as much as you like in charity, but just leave me to manage the Works, if you please."
She sighed once more, and rose to her feet.
"Thank you for your courtesy," she said, happening to remember her ostensible errand. "I shall send you the paper soon, and may some day see you again. Good-by!"
She passed out, smiling back at the little woman until she had softly closed the door, then her young face relapsed into grave thoughtfulness.
"How large and formidable evil seems when one sets out to battle with it!" she murmured. "I wonder, is it really so powerful, or does it diminish on a closer view, like all things seen through a mist? Can I ever accomplish what I have determined upon? Well, at least I can die trying, as Leon used to say."
She smiled, and a soft look crept over her face though she had set her little teeth in stubborn fashion. She bent her head as if in retrospect, and walked some distance, apparently forgetful of her purpose, before she finally selected another door at random, and sought admittance.
It was high noon when Joyce came quickly into the office, her face pale and set, and a strange expression in her eyes.
"Mr. Dalton," she said, without any preliminaries, "did you know that Gus Peters has been frightfully burned with some of the molten glass, this morning, and has no one to take care of him? His hands and arms are so bad he is perfectly helpless, and there's no one in the house but a stupid child that is too frightened to do anything but stare. Isn't there a doctor here, or somebody? Ellen, you and I must attend to him, if there isn't. He is suffering awfully!"
"That Gus Peters!" said the manager with a disgusted accent. "He always was an awkward lout. Of course there's a doctor—why didn't he send for him?"
"Send! Haven't I told you there was nobody to wait upon him? How could he send, mad with pain as he is, and that child scared out of all the wits it ever had? And no telephone, nor even an errand-boy anywhere. How can I get the doctor? Which way shall I go? Don't you appreciate the fact that something must be done!"
She was talking so fast and excitedly the man could only stand and gaze at her, but spurred by her impatient gesture he broke out beseechingly:
"Please wait a minute, and I'll send a boy. But you needn't worry so! These accidents are happening—that is, often happen. They get used to them. It's because Gus is new at the business. Excuse me a moment."
He disappeared through the door into the work-room, and Joyce tramped up and down the office as if caged, now stopping to look out of the dingy windows, now leaning over the desk as if to examine the papers upon it, but with a face set in such troubled lines it was obvious she saw nothing. Ellen looked on with an unflinching expression. She was evidently used to these moods, and did not favor them, but wisely held her peace.
Presently Mr. Dalton returned, looking a bit anxious and grim.
"They've gone for Dr. Browne and he'll see to Gus all right. But you look very tired. Won't you go home with me to dinner? I have 'phoned my aunt to——"
"'Phoned? Why, I thought—I don't see——"
He smiled indulgently.
"Oh, it's an individual affair I had put up. I found it inconvenient not to have some method of communication as we are nearly ten minutes' walk apart."
"Ah yes, it is inconvenient—especially in cases of real need, such as dinner, for instance. Thank you, but I think——"
Ellen, who had risen at Mr. Dalton's first word of dinner, now advanced with alacrity.
"I hope we can go somewheres," she exclaimed with asperity, "for I'm all one cramp setting still so long. And you know you'll have a headache if you don't eat something, Miss Joyce; you allays do."
The latter laughed impatiently.
"Oh, my headaches! You feel them more than I do, Ellen. However—well, yes, Mr. Dalton, thank you, we will be very glad to accompany you. Now tell me, please, where is there some good, kind man or woman to go and nurse that boy?"
"You mean Gus? Oh, really, Miss Lavillotte, he couldn't pay anybody if you sent them. The neighbors will look after him. They're kind in such cases. Let's see"—bowing his guests out of the door and locking it behind him—"Gus keeps bachelor's hall with two or three of the other boys, doesn't he? Oh, they'll see to him—don't you worry! There'll be a crowd to wait on him, now it's nooning hour. They are positively happy when there's an accident to stir them up. It breaks the monotony. This way, please, it's a bit rougher than by the street, but cuts off half a block. Perhaps, though, you'd rather——"
"No, no, this way's all right. Mr. Dalton," sternly, "were you ever badly burned?"
The man turned with a sharp movement, and looked at her. "Why I—I don't know that I ever was. Not seriously, you know."
"Well, I have been."
Joyce pushed up the sleeve of her jacket and drew down her glove with a quick motion, full of repressed intensity. He had just a glimpse of a red scar on the white flesh when, with as sudden a motion and a rosy flush, she dropped her arm and let the sleeve fall over her wrist, then added more gently,
"One knows how it hurts when one has suffered oneself. I was only eight years old, but I have never forgotten the day I tripped and fell against a red-hot stove—and I had the tenderest and most constant care, too."
Had Joyce been looking at her companion's face she would no doubt have been made furious by its expression. If ever a laugh struggled in a man's eyes, trying to break bounds, it struggled now in George Dalton's gray orbs! After an instant, which Joyce fondly imagined was given to silent sympathy, he said gently,
"Burns are serious things, I know. Miss Lavillotte, I began stroking for the furnaces here when I was eight years old. I think"—looking off in an impersonal manner, as if reckoning a problem,—"that from that time on to fourteen, at least, I was never without burns on face, hands or arms. Probably I grew used to them."
Joyce looked up quickly. He was quite serious now, and seemed almost to have forgotten the subject up between them. Joyce felt suddenly very young, and she devoutly wished she had never consented to this detestable visit with her manager. Then pride came to her aid, and she asked deliberately, with an intrepid air,
"I doubt if people ever really get used to pain. Do you think the doctor will be through with that boy in half an hour?"
"Possibly. Of course I don't know the extent of his injuries."
"Let us hurry then," doubling her pace. "I shall have none too much time before the 2.39 train, and we must take that, as I have an engagement in the city. Ellen, am I tiring you?"
The maid smiled grimly. She understood this as an overture for peace, knowing her young mistress was never so thoughtful and conciliatory as just after being most unreasonable and peremptory. She rightly conjectured that the girl was already ashamed of her sharpness, and wished to make amends in some way. Mr. Dalton's slower comprehension of womankind was bewildered by these rapid changes. Having inwardly decided, in spite of Ellen's favorable testimony, that here was a young lady who had been allowed her own way more than was good for her, he was left stranded on the shore of his own conjectures by her present tone. He had mentally dubbed her a sort of princess, determined to have her say in everything; now she seemed a child eager to be led by any one. But Ellen was answering with fine sarcasm.
"I might walk faster, too, if I hadn't got 'most paralyzed on them wooden chairs. But never mind! Keep right on—I guess I can manage to get there, if I try hard."
Fortunately for her legs and temper, they stopped presently before a rather ornate cottage, with several peaks and a turret, which was set down in the midst of a square lawn that looked unnaturally green to Joyce in comparison with the bareness all about it. Grass, except in long scraggy tufts here and there, or in sparse blades in some odd fence corner, was not prevalent at the Works. Joyce liked all that was trim and beautiful, but just now this house and lawn, so new and snug and smiling, jarred upon her like a discordant note. What business had he to live where fresh paint and large windows and broad verandas should mock at the poverty and squalor of all the other houses? She felt it almost as a personal insult.
Mr. Dalton, to whom a neat home of his own was still a novelty, was a trifle hurt by her lack of enthusiasm. He had really looked for a girlish "Oh, how pretty!" and somewhat resented Miss Lavillotte's quiet way of saying,
"I see you have been able to make yourself comfortable, even in this forbidding spot, Mr. Dalton."
But he answered cheerfully,
"Oh, yes, yes. It seems good to have a home after so many years of fifth-rate boarding houses. And the best of it is, my good aunt, who has had a hard time breasting the world, enjoys it even more than I."
The girl did not speak at once. She was distinctly ashamed of herself. Then she broke out quickly:
"I see. It was most good of you. I am hasty as an ill-tempered child in my judgments! Mr. Dalton"—she stopped before the neat iron gate in the low fence, which he was holding open for her to pass through, and barring the way, said rapidly, "as we will have to work together in all that is done here, I may as well say at once—I am often quick, irascible, unkind. I want things to move at once, and when they don't it makes me cross. It isn't because I—I have money, though—you mustn't think it. I am not such a cad! It's just my nature, that's all. I can't help it, and it cuts me up when I come to my senses more than it possibly can anybody else. There! Shall we be friends and co-workers, or not?"
She held out her small gloved hand, and as he warmly clasped it, a flush that was so strange to his bronzed cheek it fairly colored for its own temerity, made his face foolishly warm. He laughed out like a boy.
"Why, you are the boss, of course," he said with a ring of delight in his voice. "I shall do exactly what you tell me to—how could I help it?"
"No, you must help it," gravely. "I really am young and inexperienced, as Mr. Barrington says. But these ideas are better than I—they really are! When you come to see what I mean, and what I want to do, you will approve, I am sure."
She was so eager for this approval that he felt positively dazed by the situation. He could not follow such spiral flights, such swoopings and dartings of mood. He could only look on and be ready to her hand the instant she might alight beside him. So he only murmured, "Depend upon me for any assistance whatever!" thinking meanwhile, with a sense of relief, "Aunt Margaret will understand her; she's a woman."
They had barely stepped within the modern hall when a tall figure advanced between the heavy portieres at one side to meet them. Mrs. Margaret Phelps was rather finely formed, but had no other beauty except a heavy head of silvery white hair. Yet Joyce thought, for a homely woman she was the best-looking one she had ever seen! There was sense and kindness in her face, as well as a certain self-respect, which drew out answering respect to meet it. She acknowledged her nephew's introduction with that embarrassed stiffness common to those unused to social forms, but the grasp of her large hand was warm and consoling, and her voice had a hearty genuineness, as she remarked,
"My nephew, George, says you've been looking at the Works. It isn't many young ladies would care to come so far outside of the city just to see them. They wouldn't think it worth while."
Joyce exchanged a quick glance with Dalton and knew her identity had not been divulged, so answered easily,
"Oh, don't you think so? It was like an enchanted land to me this morning! It was all so far beyond me I could only look on and wonder; but to watch a vase grow into perfect form at a breath was a real marvel of creation."
"Well, yes, I guess it's so. I always feel that way, too, when I see an engine. It seems such a grand thing that anybody could get the parts all fitted together, and then dare to start it when it was done. You can understand how folks may learn figures and poetry, and even engineering—but to go back and make the things they have to learn about; that beats me!"
Joyce laughed with her, while Mrs. Phelps took her wraps, then relinquished them to Ellen, who stood by like a sentinel awaiting their movements. She seemed to find the presence of the maid somewhat embarrassing, and followed her laden figure into the hall, to whisper,
"Say, I've got a real nice lady sewing for me. Wouldn't you like to get acquainted with her?"
"Don't know as I mind," returned Ellen, and followed into the next room. During the space his aunt was absent, Dalton took up the conversation where it had dropped.
"We always think things are hardest to do that are out of our sphere, don't we? I suppose, now, you and Aunt Margaret could both understand making a dress, couldn't you?"
"Oh yes, even though I could not do it," laughed Joyce.
"Well, and I can imagine building the engine, but as for the frock"—he looked at her and made a gesture of impotence—"I should never even attempt it, though I were to lose my head for not trying. In the first place," glancing from the trim, smooth, tailor-made black gown of his guest to the home-cut skirt and shirt-waist of his aunt, just entering, and dimly discerning the difference, "I never thought of it before, but I cannot even conceive how you get into and out of the things. I suppose you do, for I see you women in different ones at times, but my thought would be that they must grow upon you"—he was looking at Joyce—"as the calyx around a blossom. It all seems merged into you, somehow. I never felt it so before."
Mrs. Phelps laughed with hearty enjoyment.
"It's the cut of it, George! You never felt that way looking at me, or—or Rachel Hemphill, say—did you?"
"Why no; it seems a new sensation," laughing half shamefacedly. "But it may be just because the talk called it up. Isn't dinner ready—well, I thought it was time."
A somewhat strident-sounding bell announced it, and the three passed directly into the next room, furnished so conventionally there was absolutely nothing upon which to let the eyes rest in surprise, or pleasure. But it was painfully neat and regular, and both aunt and nephew were secretly satisfied that it must impress even this young heiress as a perfectly proper dining-room. And it did.
Ellen and the "nice lady," who had been sewing for Mrs. Phelps, joined them at once, and the talk languished as each was called upon to help the other in a wearisome round of small dishes, which it seemed to Joyce was like the stage processions that simply go out at one side to come in at the other. But when she tasted of these she no longer begrudged their number. They were each deliciously palatable, having a taste so new to her hotel-sated palate that she could almost have smacked her lips over them in her enjoyment. She had a healthy girlish appetite and the morning had been long. She positively wanted to pass back one or two of the saucers for refilling, but was ashamed of her greediness. Had she known that it would have rejoiced Mrs. Phelps for days to be thus honored by real appreciation of the dainties she had herself prepared, she certainly would have done so. Even Ellen forgot to sniff, and all set to with a vigor that rather precluded conversation.
She thought about it afterwards, as she sat in the train, moving rapidly citywards, and wondered why there had been such positive pleasure in the mere taste of food. She had sat and minced over rich dishes day after day, and never felt that exquisite sense of wholesomeness and recuperation.
She turned to Ellen.
"Did you ever eat such nice things before? What made them so good, anyhow?"
Ellen smiled with unusual relaxation.
"They was nice, wa'n't they? Well, I'll tell you what my mother used to say, and she was the best cook in Eaton county, by all odds. Them things made me think of her to-day. She used to say that 'twas with cooking just like 'twas with church work, or anything else. You'd got to put heart into it, as well as muscle. She said these hired cooks just put in muscle and skill, and they stopped there. But when a mother was cooking for her own fam'ly she put in them, and heart besides, and that was why men was allays telling about their mother's cooking. That was what she said, and I guess she come as near to it as most folks."
"I guess she did," assented Joyce. "Well, if I can put into my work the same quality Mrs. Phelps puts into her cooking I shall make a success of it; won't I, Ellen?"
"Don't ask me!" was the quick response, as the maid drew herself up into the austere lines she affected. "You must remember hearts don't amount to much till they've been hammered out by hard knocks. You'll do your best, I presume, but what can a young thing like you understand? However, they's one thing"——
"Well, what's that?" as Ellen paused abruptly.
"Oh nothing. I was just thinking you could make anybody do anything you want 'em to, and that goes a good way. Well, well, I s'pose there is some advantage in being young!"
THE HAPGOODS AND NATE.
The spring was backward that year, and on its first evening of real softness and beauty the houses of Littleton seemed turned wrong-side-out, like a stocking-bag, upon the streets. Every door-step had its occupants, every fence rail its leaning groups (though fences were scarce in Littleton), and the left-overs gathered in and around the saloon, familiarly known as Lon's. Among the loungers on its broad, unroofed platform, sat two men, tilted back in wooden armchairs, talking in that slow, desultory fashion common among those who use hands more than tongues in their battle with life.
"Yes," drawled one, as he cut off a generous slice from the cake of fine-cut in his hands, "yes, I'm not saying but the town'll look better when it's done, but what's it being done for? That's what I want to know. 'Twon't make the plant any more valuable, will it?"
"It orter," was the response as the other knocked the ashes from his black pipe, blew through its stem, and proceeded to fill it from a dirty little bag drawn from his ragged coat pocket. "Good houses is better'n shanties, ain't they?"
"Of course they're better, but that's just it. We can't none of us pay any more rent than we're payin' now; so what'll he do about it?"
"The new man that owns it—young Early, ain't it?"
"Oh, the son; yes. It's just half way possible he thinks we ought to have something better'n pig-styes to live in!"
"Well, he isn't any Early then! I've see the old man, and I know. Straight's a glass rod, and not caring shucks for anything but his money. He'd grind a feller down to biled-tater parings, if he could."
It was Lucy's father just speaking, and his name of William Hapgood had been shortened to Bill among the villagers, who seemed to have little use for family cognomens where family pride was not a failing. He was a small man with a rasping voice and sharp nose, while the bristling growth about his chin was red and his hair brown. All this denoted temper, but not the deep and lasting kind; rather the flash-in-the-pan sort, common enough among shrewish women, and only common in men of this type. Just now his tone was bitter.
"Well, it's a change for the better anyhow, Bill," said the other, who was large, dark, stolid, and kindly. "They've shortened our hours, and allowed the shillin' a week extry. That's something."
"Oh, everything's something. I hain't seen no call to go down on my marrer-bones yet, though. You allays did slop over at nothing, Nate."
"Oh, but what's the use o' bein' so everlastingly cranky and onreasonable?"
"I ain't onreasonable. I say it's you're that, when you're so pleased with the least thing. See here! Did you ever see a big boss that would go halvers with his men in flush times, and of his own notion pay 'em extry? No, you never did. But when the fires are mostly out, oh! then we must live on half wages and be thunderin' thankful to git that. I say there ain't one o' them that cares a copper cent for one of us, 'cept just for what he can git outen us. I'm blessed if I believe they even think of us as men at all—just lump us off with the machinery, like. One man, one blowpipe, one marver—and the man least 'count of all."
The other chuckled softly, then waved his hand towards a group of shapely cottages off at the right.
"When you get into one o' them new houses, with a piazzer acrost the front, and plenty of windows, and a grass plot, and see Lucy washin' dishes at the little white sink with the hot and cold water runnin' free out of silver fassets, and know you don't have to tote your drinkin'-water a block, and ketch what rain-water you can in a bar'l, you won't feel so gritty, Bill!"
The other smiled somewhat sheepishly, pleased in spite of himself at the picture, but rallied to the challenge with—
"But what's it all for? That's what gets me. I can't and won't pay no more rent, and that's settled."
"Don't be allays looking fur traps, Bill."
"And don't you be walkin' into 'em open-eyed, Nate. No sir, you mark me! We ain't got to heaven yet, and in this world o' woe folks don't go and spend a big lot o' money just to make it easier fur the folks that's under 'em—'tisn't nater."
"It mayn't be your nater, nor mine, but it may be some folkses. Well, argy as you may, the place don't look the same, now does it? D'ye mind the houses they've finished off? Well they're leveling off the yards around 'em, and seedin' 'em to grass. Fact! I see it myself. And 'nother thing. They're filling up that old flat-iron place, where we used to cart rubbish to, and hauling trees to set out as they get it leveled down. If 'twa'n't perfectly ridiculous I'd say 'twas to be a park—just imagine a park!"
Both laughed gruffly, while a loiterer or two, just passing in or out the swing doors, who had stopped to listen, joined in.
"The thing 't really is so," observed one of these with his hand on the door, "is that they're a-goin' to have a church. It's so, Bill! Ground was broke for it to-day, and I've seen the plan, and who do you think's goin' to boss the job?"
"Who? Oh, some big architec' from town, of course," sneered Hapgood.
"Now, that's where you're off the track. It's Gus Peters."
"What? Gus Peters!"
Both men looked up, startled into real interest.
"How did it happen?" asked Nate.
"Don't know. It seems he's been studyin' the business, evenings and all. He's allays mooning over plans and drawings; and so they've give the job to him."
"Well, I never!" cried Hapgood. "That awk'ard—why, he can't finish off a glass rod without break-in' it, or burning himself!"
"No, he's no blower!" laughed the other. "Nary kind, I reckon. But they do say he's great on drawing plans. I'm glad there's something he can do, and I guess it was a lucky day for him when he burnt his arms so bad. We thought he'd have to go on the county, sure, with his hands so helpless, but he seems to 've got along first-rate."
"Did he have an accident policy?"
"Don't know. Never heard of none. They say some relation or other's been keepin' him in cash. Have a drink, Bill?"
"Well, don't care if I do. It's gettin' thirsty weather these warm days."
Nate Tierney, the dark man, looked after him and chuckled again.
"It most generally is thirsty weather for Bill," he ruminated alone as the men crowded within. "Guess I'll go along and take a look at Lucy and the babies. Kinder seems to me if I had a lot o' nice little gals like that I wouldn't git thirsty quite so often—but I don't know. The stuff's powerful comfortin' when you git tired of rememberin'—I've noticed that."
He strolled slowly down the lane-like street between the rows of houses, like peas in a pod for sameness, and stopped, with a smile on his honest face, as a little girl burst suddenly from the door of one and, closely pursued by another, just a step higher, ran shrieking with laughing fright right into his outstretched arms.
"There! I've caught you now," he cried, then called to the pursuer. "What you up to, Rufie, chasing Tilly so? Do you want to scare her into an idjit?"
Tilly, nestling in happy defiance within the shelter of his strong arm, tried to tell her woes, while Rufie dancing hotly about outside, declared in even shriller tones that Tilly deserved a slap and should get it, adding invitations to the younger girl to come out and see if she wouldn't, which were of doubtful persuasiveness. At this moment Lucy appeared in the doorway, the little baby in her arms and a larger one clinging to her skirts, to look anxiously and angrily after her younger sisters.
"I've got 'em safe, Lucy," called Nate, restraining his laughing captive and grasping at the other girl, "I'll bring in the pris'ners—don't you worry! Now, girls, be good, can't ye? What did Tilly do, Rufie, that makes you so fierce after her?"
"Stole my ribbon, the little——"
"Eh, eh! Stole is a big word for young lips," interrupted the man, while the accused protested,
"I didn't neither! I was just lookin' at it to see if 'twould match my new dress a lady guv me."
"Oh, looking!" was Rufie's sneering rejoinder. "Where is it now? Didn't I see you tuck it in your pocket, you thief o' the——"
"Sh—h! That's not nice talk for a pretty gal like you, Rufie. Don't call names like a hoodlum. Where's the ribbon, Tilly?"
"There, you old stingy!" bringing it forth with a flirt, to slap it across her sister's face, at which the later snatched it eagerly with a few choice epithets, which flowed as easily from her young lips as if she had been ages old in sin.
Nate looked from one to the other, and the amused smile died out of his face.
"I don't like you when you're that way, girls," he said in a hopeless tone. "See how you worry sister!" for Lucy was calling fretfully,
"I do wish you two could be still one second! Tommy was asleep, and baby almost, when you began screeching like a fire engine and racing and slamming through the house—where's pa, Nate?"
"Pa? Oh, he—he's around uptown some'ers."
"I s'pose 'some'ers' means up to Lon's, as usual," snapped the girl bitterly. "He might better live there and be done with it."
She was a slight creature, too pale and worn for even the natural prettiness of youth, but her large, lovely eyes suggested that in a more fortunate environment she might have been described as beautiful, by that stretch of imagination which chroniclers of the great are allowed. Many a so-called beauty of high caste has shown less natural endowment than did poor Lucy, but dragging care had wiped out the life and sparkle until, no one thought of her as attractive, even—only pathetic.
The man let go of the squabbling children to lift the fretting baby from her weary arms, and followed her into the unkempt room, which made almost the sole scene in her onerous life.
"You ain't got your dishes done yet, either; have you, child?" he asked in sympathizing tones. "Well, well, I'll keep the youngsters while you red things up. Here, girls, you come now and help sister, while I 'tend baby, and we'll have things comfortable in a jiffy. Let's all try and be good together."
The admonition proved effectual. Soon the girls were quietly at work, and the little baby's startled eyes closed beneath the influence of the gentle lullaby crooned by this rough-looking man, from whom some dainty women might have shrunk in fear, had they met him on the public street. When the little one was safely deposited in his wooden cradle, the other baby, scarce two years older, being consigned to an uncomfortable nest between restless Rufie and Tilly, in a bed scarcely wide enough for them, the tired oldest sister dropped down on the door-step near kind old Nate, who sat tilted back against the house wall, the legs of his wooden chair boring deep holes in the sandy soil.