Little Lost Sister
"It isn't always the costume of women of fashion ... or the blazing resplendent show-window that tempts Little Lost Sisters. It is more often just the human need for love and shelter ... the lack of a friendly handclasp that shall lighten tomorrow's labor ... the sympathy and understanding that breeds hope"
LITTLE LOST SISTER
By VIRGINIA BROOKS
Author of "MY BATTLES WITH VICE"
New York THE MACAULAY COMPANY
By F. A. P. GAZZOLO AND R. E. RICKSEN,
All Rights Reserved
I At the Button Mill 17
II Seeing Millville 27
III Enter a Detective 37
IV Harvey Meets "A Dealer in Cattle" 49
V A Serpent Whispers and a Woman Listens 57
VI A Romance Dawns—and a Tragedy 67
VII Harry Boland Hears from His Father 77
VIII The Death of Tom Welcome 85
IX In Which Some of Chicago's Best People Essay a Task Too Big for Them 95
X The Adventures of a Newspaper Story 115
XI A Bomb for Mr. Grogan 133
XII Bad News from Millville 145
XIII The Reader Meets Another Old Acquaintance 155
XIV In Which the Wolf is Bitten by the Lamb 165
XV The Search Begins for the Lost Sister 173
XVI John Boland Meets Mary Randall 185
XVII The Cafe Sinister 203
XVIII Lost in the Levee 219
XIX Mary Randall Goes to Live in a Wolf's Den 229
XX Druce Signs a Significant Document 241
XXI Druce Proves a True Prophet 253
XXII "The Mills of the Gods" 261
XXIII After the Tragedy 271
XXIV "The Highway of the Upright" 277
XXV The Interests Versus Mary Randall 289
XXVI Out on Bail 297
XXVII Harvey Spencer Takes up the Trail 305
XXVIII The Forces That Conquer 317
XXIX The Call of Eternity 329
XXX At the Wedding Feast 335
XXXI With the Roses of Love 345
XXXII At Mary Randall's Summer Home 353
LITTLE LOST SISTER
They came up suddenly over a bit of rising ground, the mill-owner and his friend the writer and student of modern industries, and stood in full view of the factory. The air was sweet with scent of apple-blossoms. A song sparrow trilled in the poplar tree.
"What do you think of our factory?" asked the man of business and of success, turning his keen, aggressive face towards his companion.
The other, the dreamer, waited for moments without speaking, carefully weighing the word, then he answered,
"My dear fellow!" The owner's voice showed that he was really grieved. "Why horrible?"
"Your mill is a crime against Nature. Look how it violates that landscape. Look how it stands there gaunt and tawdry against these fresh green meadows edged round with billowy white clouds that herald summer. And you are proud of it. Could you not have found some arid waste for this factory? Can't you see how Nature cries out against this outrage? Can't you see that she has dedicated this country to seed-time and harvest,—these verdant fields, deep woods and brooding streams?"
"The Millville people wanted our factory. They paid us a subsidy to bring it here."
"Blind, too!" The dreamer looked backward at the town. "They tell me that the founders there called their village Farmington. Have you ever reflected what a change you are working in the lives of these people by substituting industrialism for agriculture? Have you thought of the moral transformations such a substitution must work among them?"
"We are not responsible for their morals," the mill-owner answered, impatiently. "We have spared nothing to make our factory up to date. The mill meets all the demands of modern hygiene and sanitation. We do that for them."
His friend was silent for a time.
"Your employes here are chiefly women, very young women," he said at last.
"Yes, we have two hundred girls," replied the mill-owner.
"What is your highest wage for a girl?"
"Eight dollars a week."
Again the younger man was silent. Then he took his friend's arm within his own.
"These girls are the mothers of tomorrow. To an extent the destinies of our race depend upon them. Your factory places upon you tremendous responsibilities."
"We are growing to realize our responsibilities more and more," said the man of business and of success gravely. "Perhaps we do not realize them keenly enough. It is the fault of the times."
"Yes, it is the fault of the times. Life, honor, virtue itself trampled down in the rush for the dollar."
"I believe that a change is coming, though slowly. I believe that the day will come when we owners of mills will regard it as a disgraceful thing for our corporations to declare a dividend while notoriously underpaying our employes."
"Yes, and perhaps the day is coming, too, when the employer who maintains conditions in his mills that subtly undermine the virtue of his women workers will be regarded as a public enemy."
"No doubt, but that time is a long way ahead!"
"We must look to the future," said his friend. "We must work for the future, too!"
AT THE BUTTON MILL
Elsie Welcome was the one girl in the big machine room of the Millville button factory who did not rise when the bell sounded for the short afternoon recess. She swung on her revolving stool away from her machine and looked eagerly, thirstingly towards the windows where the other girls were crowding for breath of the fresh June air, but she did not stir to follow them. A resolution stronger than her own keen need of the recreation moments was singling out this young girl from among her two hundred companions, laughing and talking together.
"I will speak to Mr. Kemble now—now," she promised herself, watching for the foreman to enter the machine room, according to his daily custom at this hour. Elsie nerved herself to a task difficult to perform, even after her three years of work in the factory, even though she was one of the most skilful workers here.
She drew up her charmingly modeled little figure tensely, and held her small head high, her pure, beautiful features aglow with delicate color, her slender, shapely hands clasping and unclasping each other.
The foreman came into the room. Elsie rose from her place and went to meet him, pushing back the pretty tendrils of her hair.
"Mr. Kemble," she said, "I should like to speak to you a moment."
Hiram Kemble was a tall, thin young man, deeply conscious of his own importance and responsibilities. He had risen by assiduous devotion to the details of button making from office boy to his present exalted state. His mind had become a mere filing cabinet for information concerning the button business.
He stood regarding the girl before him, feeling the attraction of her beauty and resenting it. He did not dislike her; he did not understand her, and it was his nature to distrust what he did not understand.
"Well," he said, with professional brusqueness, "what is it?"
"I wanted to ask you to—to—" Elsie hesitated, then went on with courage, "to raise my wages."
He looked at her in amazement, displeased. "How much are you getting now?"
"Only eight dollars a week."
"Only!" Hiram Kemble was satirical. "That's as much as the others are getting."
"I know it. But it's not enough. Our expenses are heavy. My mother has begun to—to—" Elsie choked. "My mother is compelled to take in washing. She's not strong enough for such heavy work."
"Your sister has a good job."
"She earns only nine dollars."
Tears sprang to Elsie's eyes, but she would not let them fall. "He's not earning anything."
"I know." Kemble spoke accusingly. "He is drinking."
Elsie showed a flash of spirit: "That's not my fault!"
"Just so. But you can't hold the Millville Button Company responsible for your father's misbehavior."
"Is there any chance for me to get more pay?" There was a note of despair in her question.
"Not the least chance in the world. You are getting our maximum wage for women. I couldn't raise your pay if I wanted to without being specially authorized to do so by our board of directors."
"And I can never earn—never get any more here?"
The minute hand of the electric clock pushed forward. Again a bell sounded. Two hundred American girls who had had a few moments' respite came trooping wearily back to their places at the machines.
At the clang of the bell Kemble walked up the room. Elsie went back to her place drooping; she wore a beaten air as if he had struck her visibly.
The girls on either hand spoke to her as they slipped into their places, but she did not hear them. Hours of swift work followed. The machines whirred and the deft hands of the girls flew. These button workers had nearly all been recruited from the district around Millville. With rare exceptions they were descendants of the hardy Americans who had founded the town while it was still called Farmington. The founders had passed away. The outside world had pressed around the village until its people longed to play a more active role in the world. It had seemed a great day when the button factory came, and the town name was changed to Millville.
Now these daughters of the strong elder race were factory workers. The world had been made better by an output of thousands of shiny new buttons when at last the six o'clock whistle blew on this bright June day.
Elsie Welcome got up from her machine and picked up her hat listlessly. She walked to a window and looked out. Suddenly animation came into her face. A young man waved a handkerchief from an automobile which spun by on the gray turnpike below the mill. Elsie waved her handkerchief in return.
Kemble, watching the girl from across the room, saw the episode. He hurried across to her, with the air of pouncing on a victim.
"We'll have none of that here, Miss Welcome," he said. "If you have to flirt, don't flirt on the company's premises."
She turned upon him indignantly. "I am not flirting! That gentleman is a friend of mine."
Kemble sneered. "Oh, he is a friend, is he? Where does a factory girl like you meet men who ride in automobiles?"
Elsie flushed scarlet; she bit her quivering lips.
"Ashamed to tell where you met him, are you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm responsible to my employers for the character of the girls I employ here."
Elsie looked her contempt of him. She laughed a little low scornful laugh which made Kemble thoroughly angry.
"Look here, my girl," he said. "You don't know when you're well off. You are too independent." His tone of anger roused her temper, but she held herself in leash and answered with cold politeness:
"Mr. Kemble, when I feel myself getting independent, the first thing I shall do will be to get away from the Millville button factory."
Kemble was ready to retreat now. The interview was getting beyond his expectation. Elsie was one of the company's fastest workers. He could not afford to have her throw up her place. He did not want to lose her.
"Oh, but you like the factory, Miss Welcome," he said in a suddenly pacific tone.
"Like—the—factory! I hate it," returned the girl, all her pent-up wrongs finding expression. "I hate the mill and everything about it. Do you suppose any girl could like the prospect of being bottled up in this hole year after year for eight dollars a week? Why, some day, Mr. Kemble, I expect to pay eight dollars for a hat, for just one hat."
"So that's it," said Kemble, "fine feathers, eh? I know, you're like a lot of other girls who have come and gone in this factory. You've heard of Chicago's bright lights and you want to singe your wings in them. Let me tell you something, my girl, girls in your position don't get eight dollar hats without paying for them and if they haven't got the money they give something else. They give—"
"Stop," ordered the girl. "You shan't say that to me. I don't believe it. You can't convince me that there isn't something better in life for a girl like me than Millville and eight dollars a week."
"I pity your ignorance," said Kemble, loftily.
"It's not ignorance to want something better than this," replied Elsie. "Why should you taunt me with ignorance, anyway? What do you know about the world? You're just a foreman in a little country mill and because you are satisfied with a narrow little life like that you think everyone else ought to be."
The truth in this goaded Kemble into violation of rule number twelve for button factory foremen which exhorts such employes to be polite to women workers.
"Why the devil don't you go to Chicago and be done with it then?" he demanded. "You're one of these people that has to learn by experience." He sneered at her. "Perhaps you can get your friend in the auto to take you. Why don't you try it?"
Tears rushed to the girl's eyes. She began fastening on her hat to conceal her emotion.
"I'm going to Chicago," she muttered, "just as soon as I am able. Nothing there can be much worse than being compelled to work in Millville under you. Good gracious," she added maliciously, after giving him a thorough inspection, "it's no use to stand here arguing with you."
With this taunt Miss Elsie gave her hat a final adjustment, then, leaving Mr. Hiram Kemble speechless with rage and injured dignity, she walked out of the factory door.
The distance from the Millville button factory to the corner of Main and Pine streets in Millville itself is, if you take the short cut through Nutting's Grove, as all sensible Millvillians do, a five minutes' walk. If the reader, touring Millville in search of the beginnings of this story, will make that journey in his imagination he will find himself standing on the rough board walk in front of John Price's general store.
From her eminence on the top of one of Mr. John Price's high stools Patience Welcome glanced up from the ledger over which she was toiling, put the blunt end of her pen into her mouth and looked out into the street drenched in sunshine. A half dozen farmers' horses, moored to the hitching rack in front of the store, threshed restlessly with their tails at enthusiastic banqueting flies, newborn into a world that seemed to be filled with juicy horses.
The scene did not interest Patience. Her glance went on across the street where an overdressed young man, just alighted from an automobile, stood surveying his surroundings. His eyes met hers. He removed his hat with an elaborate bow. The girl, a little piqued and a little amused, reached over very quietly and drew down the window curtain. Then she resumed operations on the ledger with the sharp end of the pen.
Patience Welcome, like her sister, was dark of hair and eyes. Her hair, too, had the quality of forming into tendrils about her cheeks which glowed with a happy, if not a robust, healthfulness. But there the resemblance ended. The two girls were widely different personalities. Elsie, the younger, was impetuous by nature, imaginative, and easily swept off her mental balance by her emotions. She was ambitious, too, and Millville did not please her. Patience, no less imaginative, perhaps, possessed a stronger hold upon herself. She admired her daring sister, but she was sensible of the dangers of such daring and did not imitate her. She possessed the great gift of contentedness. It colored all her thoughts, created pleasant places for her in what, to Elsie, seemed a desolate life; it made Millville not only a bearable but even a happy place to live in. Millville understood Patience and loved her; Elsie, being less understandable, was less popular.
It had been a busy day in John Price's store and Patience was entering in her books items from a pile of bills on the desk before her. It was five minutes after her usual leaving time, but the girl accepted extra duty with a cheerfulness that was part of her nature.
In the midst of her work there was a bustle at the back of the store. John Price, local merchant prince and owner of this establishment, had returned from the yard at the rear of the store where he had been superintending the storing of goods, arrived on the late afternoon train. He was a wiry little old man of sixty, abrupt, nervous, irritable and given to sharpness of speech which, he was profoundly convinced, hid from outside perception a heart given to unbusinesslike tenderness. He busied himself noisily about the shelves for a few minutes, then suddenly stuck his head through the door of the little office in which Patience was working.
"What," he said, "you here? Get out. Go home."
"I'll be through in a few minutes," rejoined Patience, without taking her eyes from her figures.
"Tush," said Mr. Price. "What are you trying to do, give me a bad name with my trade? People will think I'm a slave driver. Get out."
"In just a minute," smiled Patience.
"Go home, I say," almost shouted Price. He took off his alpaca coat and hung it on a nail. Then he stepped up suddenly behind Patience, took the pen deliberately from her hand and pushed her off the stool.
"Must I throw you out?" he demanded. "Must I? Must I, eh?"
He pointed towards the door.
"All right, Mr. Price," said Patience submissively, gathering up her bills and thrusting them into a drawer.
"Hurry," said Price. "You'll be late for your supper."
"No, I won't," returned Patience, putting on her jacket and hat. "This is wash day at our house. Supper is always late on wash day."
"Wash day, eh? Then you ought to be home helping your mother."
"Elsie will help mother," replied Patience quietly.
"Are you sure about that?" demanded Mr. Price.
"Of course, I'm sure, Mr. Price," said Patience, hurt.
"Well," said Mr. Price, "I'm not so sure. But don't stand here arguing. I haven't any time to argue with a snip of a girl like you. Get out. Go home!"
Patience, still a little hurt by her employer's expressed doubt about her sister, started for the front door. Looking out, she saw the overdressed young man with the automobile still standing across the street. He saw her, too, and waved his cigarette. Patience turned back into the store.
"Girl," demanded Mr. Price, his patience now seemingly exhausted, "where in the devil are you going?"
"Out the back way, if you please, Mr. Price."
Mr. Price got up deliberately from the stool which he had occupied as soon as Patience had vacated it and looked out of the front door.
"The young whelp," he said, apostrophizing the overdressed youth with the cigarette. Then to Patience: "Dodging him, eh? Now don't blush, girl. I don't blame him for looking at you. You're worth looking at. But you show mighty good sense in keeping away from him."
"Why, Mr. Price, I—" Patience stammered.
"O, that's all right, dodge him, keep him guessing. One of those freshies from the city, eh? Well, there's mighty little good in 'em. Give your ma my best regards. Tell her she's got a fine daughter. Good night."
Patience left the store by the rear door and started briskly for her home. She had gone but a block when she heard a wagon rumbling behind her and a voice called out:
"'Lo, there, Patience, late, ain't you?"
It was Harvey Spencer, ambitious "all round" clerk, hostler, collector for Millville's leading grocer. He drove a roan colt which went rather skittishly. There was an older man in the wagon with him. Harvey drew up the colt beside Patience with a vociferous "Whoa."
"Yes," replied Patience, "I'm a little late. Lots of business these days, Harvey?"
"You bet," he retorted, "Millville is flourishing. We'll soon have a real city here. Oh, Miss Welcome, let me make you acquainted with my friend, Mr. Michael Grogan of Chicago."
Patience accepted the introduction with flushed reserve.
"I'm right glad to know you," stated Mr. Grogan, removing his hat gallantly and wiping a perspiring brow with his handkerchief. "But let me tell you I don't think much of your friend, Harvey Spencer. Sure, I've been riding with him for two hours and you're the first pleasant object he's shown me. And such a ride! It's a certainty that this young fellow knows every bump and thank-ye-ma'am in the village and he's taken me full speed over all of them. I feel like I'd been churned. But I'll forgive him all that now—now that he's shown me you."
There was a sincerity in Mr. Grogan's raillery that swept away Patience's reserve. Besides, he was over fifty.
"Sure," she said, slyly imitating Mr. Grogan's brogue, "you've been kissing the blarney stone, Mr. Grogan."
"Will ye listen to that now?" said Grogan enthusiastically, as he started to clamber off the wagon.
"Sit still, Mr. Grogan," said Harvey, laughing.
"But didn't you hear her, man alive? Sure, she's Irish—"
"No, I'm not," put in Patience, "but I've heard of the blarney stone."
"Look at that, now," said Grogan, returning to his seat with an air of keen disappointment. "And I was just longin' to see someone from the Ould Sod. I thought—"
"How do you like riding with Harvey?" inquired Patience, changing the subject.
"Well," said Grogan plaintively, "if I were twenty years younger maybe it would be good exercise, but with my years, Miss, 'tis just plain exhausting."
Here Harvey started the roan colt off again. "See you later," he called back to Patience, "I'm stopping at your house."
"So that's Tom Welcome's daughter, is it?" said Grogan as they got out of hearing.
"That's one of them," said Harvey, "but you ought to see the other."
"The old man now," went on Grogan, "is a good deal of a lush."
"The girls can't help what their father is," retorted Harvey, bridling.
"I know, I know," went on Mr. Grogan. "Such things happen in the best of families."
"No, and you can't blame Tom Welcome much, either," went on Harvey. "He was drove to drink. He invented an electrical machine that would have made a fortune for him and some one stole it from him. It wasn't the loss of the money that sent him to the devil, either. He'd spent a lifetime on his machine and just when he was getting it patented, some smart thief in Chicago takes it away from him. That's what I call tough luck."
"They're hard up, you say?" pursued Grogan.
Harvey, unconscious that he had said nothing of the sort, admitted that the Welcomes were in financial straits. "Their mother has to take in washing," he said, "and both the girls work. It's too bad, for they ought to be getting an education."
The roan colt came to an abrupt stop. They were in front of a small cottage. Grogan surveyed the place for a moment and then turned to his jehu. "And what might you be stopping here for?" he inquired.
Harvey paused with one foot on the step of the wagon and looked up at Grogan gravely.
"This is Tom Welcome's cottage," he said.
ENTER A DETECTIVE
While Harvey Spencer was climbing down from his wagon Mr. Michael Grogan, who was not exactly the guileless soul Millville took him to be, permitted himself rather a close inspection of the Welcome premises. There was nothing imposing about them. The cottage was old and obviously in need of repair. The fence which surrounded it had been repaired in places, apparently by someone who had small interest in the job. The little patch of ground in front, however, was decorated with a neatly kept vegetable garden bordered with flowers. The stone step at the cottage entrance was immaculate. Mr. Grogan was shrewd enough to indulge himself in the speculation that whatever Tom Welcome might be his wife was a careful housekeeper.
Mrs. Welcome was standing in her open door and Grogan studied her with a curiosity not entirely disinterested. Her figure was frail and slightly bowed. Her hair, as it showed in the deepening dusk was almost white. Her features had delicacy like those of the daughter Grogan had just met. She was wiping her hands on a gingham apron. They were hands of a hard working woman.
"Hello, Mrs. Welcome, nice day, ain't it?" called Harvey as he came through the gate.
"Yes, it is nice, isn't it, Harvey?" replied Martha Welcome. "I hadn't noticed it before, I've been so busy with the washing."
The woman's voice, Mr. Grogan noted, held a note of sadness.
"Seems to me," said Harvey, dropping his voice and speaking with the assurance of an old family friend, "that if I had two girls like your Elsie and Patience, I'd see that they helped out with the washing."
"How can they help me?" replied Mrs. Welcome. "Patience is up early every morning and off to Mr. Price's store and Elsie is at the mill all day."
"That's so," said Harvey, "I didn't think, but surely they might—"
"Oh, they help a lot," broke in Mrs. Welcome, hurriedly. "They do all their ironing at night. And that's all anyone could ask of them after they come home tired from their work."
"Well, I'm glad to hear it. Your two girls always do look nice."
"Thank you, Harvey."
"But Mrs. Welcome—"
"Don't you think—" Harvey stopped and looked about hesitatingly,—"Ah, don't you think it would be just as well if Elsie didn't see quite as much of this Chicago fellow?"
"Do you mean Mr. Druce?" inquired Mrs. Welcome.
"I do. Of course, he's all right—" Harvey again hesitated and puckered his lips thoughtfully. "He wears fine clothing, patent leather shoes, sports a diamond ring, but it seems to me Elsie's different somehow since that Martin Druce began to hang around."
Mrs. Welcome laughed softly. There was a glint of humor in her eyes. "I guess you're jealous, aren't you, Harvey?"
"Well, say I am," agreed Harvey. "Never mind that. Is it a good thing for Elsie?"
"Elsie's a good girl," replied Mrs. Welcome.
"She sure is, Mrs. Welcome. That's why I want her to be Mrs. Harvey Spencer."
Mrs. Welcome opened her eyes wide at this statement and looked kindly at the stout young man before her.
"You mean it, Harvey?" she demanded.
"I'm so much in earnest," he replied, fumbling in his pocket, "that I've got the ring right here."
He produced a plain gold wedding ring nestling in a white velvet case. Mrs. Welcome uttered a little cry of gladness. She believed in Harvey, who, incidentally, was all he pretended to be.
"O, I know I ain't much," went on Harvey, "just a clerk in a small town store, but I've got ambitions. Look at all the great men! Where did they begin? At the bottom."
Harvey paused. Then he looked all about him carefully and, satisfied with this survey, leaned confidentially toward Mrs. Welcome and whispered:
"Say, can you keep a secret, Mrs. Welcome?"
"I guess so," replied Mrs. Welcome smiling. "Try me, Harvey."
"All right, I'm going to be a detective," Harvey announced proudly.
"You are, Harvey?" was the astonished reply.
"Just watch me," Harvey went on. "I'm taking a correspondence school course. Here are some of my lessons." He took some closely typewritten sheets of paper from his pocket. "Ever notice how broad I am between the eyes?" he demanded.
"I can't say that I have," said Mrs. Welcome.
"Well, I am, and it's one of the signs, so they say, of the born detective. Listen here a moment."
He unfolded the bulky pages and read grandly:
"'Always be observant of even the smallest trifles. A speck of dust may be an important clew to a murder.'"
"Harvey!" cried Mrs. Welcome.
"Don't be frightened, Mrs. Welcome, just wanted to show you that I mean business." Harvey paused for a moment and regarded her steadily. Then he pointed his finger at her accusingly as he said: "I knew you were washing before you told me!"
"You did, Harvey?"
"Sure, because you had suds on your apron where you dried your hands." He drew a deep sigh and threw out his chest. "There," he said. "Oh, I guess I'm bad at these lessons, eh?"
"You're a good boy, Harvey," replied Mrs. Welcome, indulgently.
"Thank you." He bowed. "Oh, perhaps my future mother-in-law and I aren't going to get along fine," he announced to the world in general, exultingly.
The roan colt interrupted this rhapsody by pawing impatiently at the ground. Harvey took his order book from his pocket and stuck his stub of lead pencil in his mouth.
"Well," he inquired, "how about orders, Mrs. Welcome?"
"We—we—need some flour," was the hesitating reply.
"A barrel?" suggested Harvey, turning to a fresh page of his order book.
"No—no—no—I—I guess ten pounds, and—I guess that's about all, Harvey."
"Now you'll excuse me if I doubt your word, Mrs. Welcome," said Harvey, writing down fifty pounds of flour quickly. "Come now, tell me what you do really want."
"O, what's the use. We need everything, we—" Mrs. Welcome broke down and began to weep softly as she turned toward the house.
"Now hold on, Mrs. Welcome, don't break away from me like that!" Harvey followed her and laid his hand gently on her arm. "I hope Mr. Welcome isn't drinking again. Is he?"
"I'm afraid so, Harvey." Mrs. Welcome's frail shoulders quivered as she attempted to restrain her sobs. "Why, Tom hasn't been home for two days and—and our rent is due—and—"
Harvey Spencer interrupted with a prolonged whistle which seemed to be the best way he could think of expressing sympathy. A light dawned on him.
"That's why young Harry Boland is here from Chicago, to collect the rent, eh?" he inquired.
Mrs. Welcome nodded assent, "Yes," she said, "Mr. Boland has been very kind. He has waited two weeks and—and—we can't pay him."
"Why not let me—" suggested Harvey, putting his hand into his pocket. Mrs. Welcome checked him with a quick movement. "No, Harvey, please. I don't want you to do that," she said. "I wouldn't feel right about it somehow."
"Just as you say, Mrs. Welcome." Harvey was rather diffident and hesitated to press a loan on her. To change the subject he said: "Young Mr. Boland seems taken up with Patience."
"I hadn't noticed it," said Mrs. Welcome, drying her eyes.
"O, we detectives have to keep our eyes open," acclaimed Harvey with another burst of pride.
But here Michael Grogan interrupted. "Young man," he called out from the roadway, "are you really taking orders or is this one of your visiting days?" He tied the colt and came into the yard.
"Hello," said Harvey, "getting tired of waiting?"
"Well, I felt myself growing to that hitching post," said Grogan, "so I tied that bunch of nerves you have out there and moved before I took root."
Harvey laughed and turned to Mrs. Welcome. "This is Mr. Michael Grogan, Mrs. Welcome," he said.
Mrs. Welcome backed away toward the porch, removing her apron. "Good afternoon, sir," she greeted him. "I hope you are well?"
"Well," said Grogan, "I was before this young marauder cajoled me into leaving me arm chair on the hotel veranda to go bumping over these roads."
Mrs. Welcome smiled and extended her hand. "I'm very glad to know you, Mr. Grogan. You mustn't mind Harvey's impetuous ways. He's all right here." She placed her hand on her heart.
"I'll go bail he is that if you say so, Mrs. Welcome," replied Grogan gallantly, "anyhow I'll take him on your word."
"Just ready to go, Mr. Grogan, when you called," put in Harvey. Then he caught Mrs. Welcome by the arm and bustled her into the house, saying: "And I'll see that you get all of those things, Mrs. Welcome, flour, corn meal, tomatoes, beans, lard—" and in spite of her protestations he closed the door on her with a parting: "Everything on the first delivery tomorrow morning sure." Then he added to Grogan, who stood smiling with a look of comprehension on his face, "All right. Ready to go."
"It's about time," commented Grogan as they went toward the wagon. "Don't think I'm too inquisitive if I ask who are these Welcomes anyhow?"
"People who are having a tough time," replied Harvey, unhitching his colt. "Tom Welcome used to be quite a man. He had that invention I was telling you about, an electric lamp. He was done out of it and went to the booze for consolation."
"So," murmured Grogan, half to himself, "Two girls in the family, eh?"
"Yes, that was one of them you met just before we came here."
"The pretty one?"
"Yes, and they're the best ever," added Harvey, antagonized by something he sensed in his companion's manner.
Grogan turned to him smiling. "There," he said, "don't get hot about it. Nobody doubts that, meself least of all. Ain't I Irish? It's the first article of every Irishman's creed to believe that all women, old or young, pretty or otherwise, all of them are just—good."
Harvey seized the older man's hand and shook it vigorously. Then looking up the road he said:
"Here comes Elsie Welcome, I think. I want you to meet her."
"Ah," retorted Grogan. He turned and looked at Elsie closely. She ran rapidly down the pathway toward the gate. She saw them, paused, walked more slowly and came up to them apparently in confusion.
"Why, hello Harv! What are you doing here so late?" she asked. Without waiting for a reply she started toward the gate flinging back a short "Good night."
The girl's whole manner indicated a guilty conscience. It was evident that she did not wish to talk to Harvey Spencer. She passed through the gate toward the door of her home.
HARVEY MEETS "A DEALER IN CATTLE"
Harvey threw the reins into Grogan's lap and strode recklessly after Elsie. His good-natured face was flushed with anger.
"Say," he demanded, "what's the matter?"
The girl, unwilling, halted. "Nothing," she replied, "what makes you ask that?"
"Why," explained Harvey, hiding his anger and attempting to take her hand, "you're out of breath."
"Been running," was the girl's laconic explanation.
"You don't usually run home from the mill, Elsie," Harvey's detective instinct was showing itself.
Elsie was extremely irritated by this unwished for interview.
"Well, I—" she stammered, "I wanted to get here because it's Monday and mother's washing day and—" She paused, her irritation getting the better of her. "I don't see what right you have to question me, Harvey Spencer."
Grogan had got down from the wagon and at this moment came through the gate.
"Young man," he began, addressing Spencer. The girl interrupted him.
"Who are you?" she demanded. "Do you come from the mill?"
"I come from no mill," retorted Grogan, piqued by the girl's tone, "and if you'll excuse me I don't want to."
"This is Mr. Michael Grogan of Chicago," put in Harvey placatingly. "I've been showing him the town."
"And," added Grogan quickly, "I haven't seen much."
"That's not at all strange," said Elsie, "because there's nothing to see."
"And in Chicago, where I come from," said Grogan sagely, "there's altogether too much."
Grogan saw by his two companions' faces that he was an intruder.
"Young man," he said, "I don't think I'll wait for you. I've some letters to write at the hotel. I think I'll be strolling along."
"Why," said Harvey, hospitable in the face of intrusion, "you're welcome to ride. Won't you wait?"
"No, thanks," said Grogan, "that grocery wagon of yours wasn't built to accommodate a man of my size."
Harvey and the girl watched Grogan disappear in the dusk. Then the young man turned to the girl.
"Elsie—" he began tenderly.
But the girl stopped him. "Now don't begin to question me," she ordered. "I won't answer."
"You are trying to hide something from me," said Harvey, grasping the girl's unwilling hand. The girl drew away from him.
"That's not true," she said. "I don't want you to bother me."
"I never used to bother you," said Harvey, his face flushing.
"That was before—" began Elsie impulsively. "I mean now," she went on, catching herself. "I mean that you do now because you have changed."
"No," contradicted Harvey, "but you have."
"What do you mean by that?" challenged the girl.
Harvey stood silent for a moment and jerked out a laugh of embarrassment. "I don't know exactly what I mean," he said, "but you know we were engaged."
Elsie flushed. "We were not," she said.
"I mean," said Harvey miserably stumbling on, "we sort of were. We understood." He brought one hand from his pocket. It held the box containing the ring. "Why, Elsie," he said pleadingly, "I even bought the ring. Just a plain band of gold. I did so hope that some day, soon perhaps, you'd let me put it on your finger and take you to our home. It wouldn't be much, but I'd love you and care for you. Why I'd work night and day just to make things easy for you. I love you. It all begins and ends with that."
Elsie stood for a moment as though this honest appeal had touched her. Then she turned sharply.
"O, what's the use," she cried, "Look at this place. See how we live. And you—you want me to go on like this? No!"
Harvey stared at her stupidly.
"Don't stare at me like that," said the girl annoyed.
"I am wondering what has changed you so," said Harvey apologetically.
"Nothing, I tell you."
"Yes, there is something, or somebody."
"Now Harvey, please don't begin—" Elsie paused. Her glance left Harvey's face. A young man in a brown tweed suit and carrying a light walking stick in his gloved hand was coming toward the gate.
"Hello," he said easily, addressing Elsie and ignoring Spencer, "anybody at home?"
Elsie turned toward him with impulsive friendliness, then remembering her other suitor paused and tried to assume a manner of unconcern.
"Of course, there's someone at home," she said, "can't you see there is?"
"Can't be sure that such loveliness is real," said the newcomer gallantly.
"You're talking Chicagoese," said the girl, not, however, displeased.
"Simple fact, believe me," was the assured response.
Elsie saw that Harvey was eyeing the stranger with hostility. "Do you know Mr. Spencer, Mr. Druce?"
"Everybody in Millville knows Mr. Spencer," replied Martin Druce, putting out his hand. "He's a town institution."
"Thank you," said Harvey, mollified by what he thought a sincere compliment and shaking hands.
"Institution!" laughed Elsie.
Harvey stopped and withdrew the hand. It dawned on him that there was a secret understanding between Druce and the girl.
"Now hold on," he asked. "Just what do you mean by that word 'institution?'"
"Why you're one of the landmarks here," explained Druce, "the same as the bank or the opera house." He brushed the lapel of Harvey's coat with his gloved hand and straightened his collar. Then he soberly removed Harvey's straw hat, fingered it into grotesque lines and replaced it on his head. He stepped back to observe the effect, adding satirically: "I'll bet you won't stay long in this jay town."
"You're dead right there," boasted Harvey. "Millville is all right and a rising place but—"
"I knew it," said Druce gravely. "You'll be coming up to Chicago to show Marshall Field how to run his store."
"Well, I may—" began Harvey proudly.
"Oh!" Elsie's voice was pained. "Don't do that, Mr. Druce!" Then she turned to Spencer. "Why do you let him make a joke of you?"
"Who? Me?" Harvey looked at her in astonishment. He turned to Druce savagely. "Say," he demanded, "are you trying to kid me?"
"Not on your life," was the reply. "I knew better than to try to kid a wise young man like you. What I'm trying to say is that you're too big for this town. Say, what's your ambition?"
"Oh, I've got one, Mr. Druce. I'm going to be a detective."
"Well, there's lots of room for a real one in Chicago," said Druce, suppressing a contemptuous smile.
"I may go there some day."
"Come along," said Druce, "the more the merrier."
"Say, Mr. Druce," asked Harvey, now completely taken in by the ingratiating stranger, "what's your business?"
"Mine, why—" The man moved toward Elsie as he spoke, gazing at her steadily.
"Yes, you've got one, haven't you?" persisted Harvey.
Druce seemed confused for a moment. Then his face broke into a genial smile. Both Elsie and Spencer were watching him curiously.
"Sure, I've got a business. It's a mighty profitable one, too. I'm a dealer in live stock."
"Oh, cattle?" said Harvey.
"You got me," was the casual response, "just cattle."
A SERPENT WHISPERS AND A WOMAN LISTENS
The word cattle seemed to arouse the roan colt to his own existence. He whinnied ingratiatingly and tugged at his hitching strap. Whether or not his master had forgotten, he knew it was supper time. Harvey heard him.
"Well," he said to Druce, backing away towards the gate. "I've got to be going. Drop into the store some time. I'll give you a cigar."
"Thanks," laughed Druce. Then under his breath he added, "Like blazes I will." He turned back to Elsie. "Is that the Rube," he demanded, "who wants to marry you?"
"Yes," defended Elsie hotly, "and he's all right, too. I don't think it was nice of you to make fun of him as you did."
"Now, now," said Druce soothingly. "Don't be angry with me. I was just playing around." He paused and looked warily at the house. "Everything all right, eh?"
"Yes, I guess so," replied Elsie, with an anxious look in the same direction. "Harvey frightened me when I first got home. For a moment I thought he knew that I had been out with you."
"Well, what if he did? There's no harm in going for a ride with me, is there?"
"No-o," Elsie shook her head doubtfully. "But I don't feel just right about it."
"And that grocery fellow didn't know after all, eh?"
"I think not. At least he said nothing."
Druce shrugged his shoulders derisively.
"I think not. At least he said nothing." he couldn't detect a hair in the butter. I'm not worried about him. How is it with your own folks? Your mother doesn't know?"
[Transcriber's note: previous paragraph transcribed as printed, with apparent obfuscation by duplicated line.]
"No," replied Elsie, uneasy again. "Anyway, mother wouldn't matter so much, but dad—" She covered her face with her hands.
"Never mind," said Druce tenderly, drawing her toward him and caressing her. "We had some ride, didn't we?"
"Grand," replied Elsie, brightened by the recollection.
"I told you it would be all right if I hired the car and picked you up around the corner from the mill. Say—" The man lowered his tone. "Gee, you're prettier than ever today, Elsie!"
Something in his manner caused the girl to recoil. The shrinking movement did not escape Druce.
"What's the matter, girlie?" he inquired. "Do you know that in all the weeks I have been coming down here from Chicago to see you, you haven't even kissed me?"
"Please," pleaded the girl, pushing him away. She scarcely understood her mood. She only knew she did not want Druce to touch her.
"What's the matter?" repeated Druce, following close behind her.
"I—I don't know," faltered the girl, "I feel wicked somehow."
"Why?" He led her to a bench and sat down beside her. "Haven't I always treated you like a lady?"
"Yes, Martin, you've been good to me—but—I feel wicked."
Druce laughed. "Nonsense, girlie," he said, "you couldn't be wicked if you tried. Do you know what you ought to do?"
"What?" she asked.
"Turn your back on this town where nothing ever happens and come to little old Chicago, the live village by the lake."
"Chicago! What could I do there?"
"Make more money in a month than you can earn here in a year."
"You can sing," said Druce appraisingly. "You're there forty ways when it comes to looks. Why they'd pay you a hundred dollars a week to sing in the cabarets."
"Cabarets?" The girl's interest was aroused. "What's a cabaret?"
"A cabaret," said Druce, "is a restaurant where ladies and gentlemen dine. A fine great hall, polished floors, rugs, palms, a lot of little tables, colored lights, flowers, silver, cut glass, perfumes, a grand orchestra—get that in your mind—and then the orchestra strikes up and you come down the aisle, right through the crowd and sing to them."
"Oh, I'd love to do that," said the girl.
"Why not try it?"
"I—I wouldn't know how to begin."
"I'll show you how."
"Tell me, tell me how, quick."
"Dead easy," Druce explained smoothly. "I'm going back to Chicago on the evening train tonight. Now there's no use having trouble with your folks. They wouldn't understand. You tell them you are going over to one of the neighbors', anything you can think of. That train slows down at the junction, right across the field there—you can always hear it whistle. I'll be aboard the last car and I'll take you to Chicago with me. Then when we get there we—"
He broke off abruptly for Elsie started up from the bench and moved slowly away.
"What's the matter, girlie?" asked Druce.
"I—I don't know," the girl answered. "There isn't anyone here but just us, is there?"
"No," replied Druce, watching the girl closely, "why?"
"Because," she half whispered, "it seemed to me just then that someone touched me on the arm and said, 'Don't go!'"
Druce started. He looked carefully around. Then he laughed.
"You're hearing things tonight, Elsie," he said. "There's no one here but just you and me." He took her by the hand and was drawing her down to the bench when suddenly the front door of the cottage opened and Mrs. Welcome appeared.
"Elsie," she called. She stood framed in the lighted doorway, her eyes shaded with her hand. Like a shadow Druce faded from his seat beside the girl and dodged behind a tree out of sight, but in hearing.
"Is that you, Elsie?" asked the mother. "I thought I heard voices. Was Harvey here?"
"Yes," replied the girl in confusion, "he has just gone."
"You didn't see anything of your father, did you?"
Elsie shook her head. "You—you don't suppose dad's drinking again?" the girl asked anxiously.
"I suppose so," replied the mother wearily. "He hasn't been here all day."
"Oh, mother," the girl wailed. "What shall we do?" She sank down on the seat.
Her mother took her in her arms. "Don't cry," she said. "Come in and help me get supper."
"I'm waiting for Patience," replied the girl. "I'll be in the house in a moment. You go ahead with the work. When Patience comes we'll both help you."
Mrs. Welcome walked back into the cottage. As the door closed behind her Druce reappeared. He had not missed a word of the conversation between Elsie and her mother; as he now approached he outlined in his mind an immediate plan of attack.
"Elsie," he said softly. The girl started.
"I thought you had gone," she said. "No, don't touch me. I'm in trouble. My father—" she covered her face with her hands.
"Yes, I know," said Druce. "I heard it all. Why do you stay here? Why do you—"
"It isn't that," retorted the girl, too proud to accept sympathy. "You made me lie to my mother. That is the first time I ever deceived my mother."
"Don't cry," said Druce. He drew her to the bench. "Come," he went on, "be sensible. Dry those tears. Come with me to Chicago."
"How do you know I could get a chance to sing in that place you told me of?" she demanded, open to argument.
Druce pressed his advantage. "Why," he said, "I'm interested in one myself. I think I could arrange to place you."
"Martin," said Elsie, "you said you were in the live stock business."
Druce hesitated a moment, toying with his cane. "I am," he said slowly. "This cabaret—er—is a little speculation on the side. Come now, say you'll be at the train at eight o'clock."
The girl considered long.
"Think," said Druce, "with one hundred dollars a week you will be able to take your mother out of this hole. Why, you'll be independent! You owe it to your family not to let this opportunity escape you."
"I'll go," said Elsie.
"Good! Good for you, I mean," said Druce.
"On one condition," the girl went on.
"What do you mean?"
Elsie got up from her seat embarrassed. "It all depends," she said.
"On what?" demanded Druce.
"On you, Martin."
"Me?" Druce laughed uneasily.
"Yes," said the girl walking close to him and looking him in the face. "There is only one way I can go to Chicago with you."
"How's that, girlie?" was Druce's astonished question.
Elsie held up her left hand timidly. "With a plain gold ring on that finger, Martin," she said. She was now blushing furiously. She knew that she had virtually proposed to Druce. He laughed and something in his laugh jarred her.
"Oh, marriage," he said.
"You know that Martin, don't you? I couldn't go to Chicago with you any other way."
Druce took off his hat. "Elsie," he said, "you're as good as gold. I honor you for your scruples."
He paused to think for a moment. "I'll tell you," he said. "You come along with me and I'll marry you as soon as we reach Chicago. Meanwhile I'll telegraph ahead and arrange to have you taken care of by my old aunt. You'll be as safe with her as if you were in your own home."
"You promise to marry me?"
"Sure I do, girlie." He broke off blusteringly. "What do you take me for? Do you think I'd lure you to Chicago and then leave you?"
"Martin," said Elsie gravely, "a girl must protect herself."
"You'll go, honey?" Druce persisted.
"I can't tell," replied the girl desperately, anxious to promise and yet afraid.
"You'll go," said Druce positively, "at eight o'clock—"
A cool voice broke in on his sentence. Druce started like a man suddenly drenched with cold water.
"What's that is going to happen at eight o'clock, Mr. Druce?"
The speaker was Patience Welcome.
A ROMANCE DAWNS—AND A TRAGEDY
Patience Welcome shared all the prejudices of her employer, John Price, against "city chaps." Her observation of those who had presented themselves in Millville had not raised her estimate of them. As a class she found them overdressed and underbred. They came into her small town obsessed with the notion of their superiority. Patience had been at some pains in a quiet way to puncture the pretensions of as many as came within scope of her sarcasm. She was not, like many girls of Millville, so much overwhelmed by the glamour of Chicago that she believed every being from that metropolis must be of a superior breed. She had penetration enough to estimate them at their true value. In her frankness, she made no effort to conceal her sentiments toward them.
But recently there had come into her acquaintance a product of Chicago whom she could not fit into Mr. Price's city chap category. This was Harry Boland.
Young Boland, the son of Chicago's "electrical king," was himself president of his father's Lake City Electrical Company. He was good looking, quiet, competent and totally lacking in the bumptiousness that Patience found so offensive in other Chicago youths. Toward him Patience had been compelled to modify her usual attitude of open aversion to mere cold reserve. She did not quite comprehend him and until conviction of his merits came she was determined to occupy the safe ground of suspicion.
Patience and Harry Boland had first met on a basis that could scarcely have been more formal. The young man, early in his business career, had been his father's collector. Part of his duties had consisted of collecting the rents of a large number of workmen's cottages which the elder Boland owned at Millville. The Welcomes occupied one of these cottages. As Tom Welcome not infrequently was unable to pay the rent when it was due, Boland had had numerous opportunities for seeing Patience, who was treasurer of the Welcome household.
Her attitude toward him had at first amused, then annoyed and finally interested him. When he began to understand what was back of her coldness a respect, such as he had felt for no other girl, developed in him. The more she held him off the more eager he became for a better acquaintance. This desire was fed by her repulses. Long ago he had made up his mind that he loved her. Now, in spite of the social chasm that yawned between them, he was determined to win her. His intentions toward her were honor itself. He was determined to marry her.
When Harvey Spencer drove off, after having introduced Patience to Grogan, the girl started toward her home. She had gone only a short distance when a quick step behind her appraised her that she was followed. A moment later Harry Boland appeared at her side, hat in hand.
"How do you do, Miss Welcome?"
"I'm very well, thank you," replied Patience, primly.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" demanded Harry inanely.
"Yes," agreed Patience, "I love the spring and even Millville is beautiful now."
"I think it the most beautiful place in the world," declared Harry enthusiastically.
Patience looked at him in surprise, then colored and laughed. "Do you?" she said with the accent on the first word.
"I hope," said Harry, "that you don't mind if I smoke."
"Not at all."
There was an awkward silence.
"Patience," Harry used the girl's name for the first time with deliberation, "why don't you speak to me?"
Patience did not resent the familiarity. "I am thinking," she replied.
"You act as though you do not like me. What have I done?"
"It's not that," replied Patience shortly.
"Then you are trying to avoid me."
"Don't you know?" She turned and looked at him squarely. She was determined to dispose of his attentions then and there.
"I'm not good at riddles."
"Think a moment, then. You are Harry Boland, only son of the richest and most powerful man in Chicago. I am Patience Welcome, daughter of a broken inventor, tenant in a cottage which you own, where I cannot pay the rent. Can there be anything in common between us?"
Harry ignored the question. "You have forgotten one fact," he said. There was determination in his voice. "Or don't you know it?"
"What is that?" asked Patience over her shoulder, for she had turned from him.
"That Harry Boland is in love with Patience Welcome."
"What an absurdity!"
"You don't believe me?"
"How can you talk like that to me?" said the girl, now agitated. "Look at me. You know we are in arrears for rent."
"Don't worry about that."
She turned on him defiantly and looked into his eyes. Then her glance fell under his more burning one. She flushed and turned away.
"I suppose," she said, huskily with humiliation, "that you have paid the rent yourself." She was almost in tears.
"Now don't take it like that," pleaded Harry. "No one but you and me will ever know. And if you will let me I will take you away from all this."
Patience raised her head. She had recovered her composure.
"All men come to that finally," she said coldly. "Even in my slight experience I have learned the phrase almost by heart. All men say that. They offer—"
"Just a moment." Harry put out his hand emphatically. "Wait! All the men in your slight experience may have said it, but all have not meant it. I mean that if I take you away from all this I shall take you as Mrs. Harry Boland—as my wife."
"Harry!" His name was wrenched from the girl's very heart by her surprise.
"Do you believe that I love you now?" demanded Boland.
"Yes. I didn't know, I didn't understand. I have wronged you ever since I have known you. Forgive me. But your father?"
"Let me call your attention to the fact," said Harry, planting himself firmly before her, "that I am many years past the age of seven—and can choose a wife for myself."
"But your father?" insisted Patience.
"Oh, he may rage and fume," retorted Harry, "but I have a standing of my own. I am president of the Lake City Electric Company that controls dad's patent light."
"My father was interested in electricity, too—before—"
But Harry interrupted her. "Never mind our fathers," he said. "We are the chief characters in this romance, you know."
They had reached the path leading to the Welcome cottage. Patience, eager to end the interview which had thrown her into a state of consternation, such as she had never experienced before, seized the present opportunity.
"Harry," she said, "please go. We are expecting father home and—I'm afraid—it won't be pleasant."
"You haven't answered me. I'm off to Chicago tomorrow."
"Tomorrow!" Patience caught her breath quickly.
"Yes, in my new car. I'm going to drive back. I've overstayed my time and there are business calls which I simply cannot ignore. I'll not insist on an answer tonight, but will you write me?"
The girl put out her hand which Harry grasped. Her lips quivered and she breathed, "Yes."
He lifted the hand to his lips, but the girl drew it from him, whispered "goodby" and darted away. He stood watching her until she disappeared. Patience hurrying toward the cottage was roused from her tumult of emotion by the sound of voices. Once she heard the words "eight o'clock," without recognizing the speaker. When they were spoken again she knew the voice as that of Martin Druce. She disliked Druce. The thought of his being alone with Elsie chilled her.
She came toward him swiftly but in silence. Her question: "What did you say was going to happen at eight o'clock, Mr. Druce?" was a complete surprise.
"Eh—why—" stammered Druce, off his guard.
"Why Patience, how late you are," interrupted Elsie to conceal Druce's confusion.
"Just a little, dear," replied Patience, now confused herself. "I have been busy at the store." Then she turned to Druce again. "What is it about eight o'clock—is it something concerning Elsie?" she persisted.
"O, I was just saying that I had to meet a man at the hotel at eight," returned Druce, full of assurance again.
"Ah!" said Patience, "well, you'll catch him all right—if you start now."
Druce laughed. "Here's your hat—what's your hurry, eh?"
"Patience, how can you?" demanded Elsie.
"I didn't mean to be rude," retorted Patience serenely, "only I wouldn't have him miss that man."
"Oh, I can take a hint." Druce started for the gate. As he reached it he turned back to the two girls and added:
"I sure hope that man keeps his appointment to meet me at eight o'clock."
HARRY BOLAND HEARS FROM HIS FATHER
Harry Boland strode away from his interview with Patience deeply occupied with tumultuous reflections, not seeing the beauties of Millville which, but a short time before, he had been enthusiastically celebrating. He was, in fact, a young man walking in a dream. Every word the girl had uttered, every inflection of her voice, the involuntary confession of affection won from her by his own no less sudden avowal of love, projected themselves against his excited mind with all the vividness of kinetoscope pictures. He was very happy with these reflections that come to the youth in love when a familiar voice suddenly recalled him to mundane things.
"Hello, there Harry," said the voice.
It was Grogan's.
"Hello," replied Harry, roused but not displeased to meet his father's intimate political adviser in this part of the world, "what are you doing in this part of Illinois?"
"I'm on my way home," replied Grogan, laconically.
"Ah, yes, Dad wrote me. You went to Kansas City, didn't you?"
"I did. Your father caught me on the wire at St. Louis."
"What did the governor want?"
"Nothing much. He told me you were here and suggested that I meet you. He thought it would be pleasant for us both to have company home."
It dawned on Harry that perhaps his father had not been quite disinterested in this.
"You're a good politician, Mike," he said shortly.
"Is that a compliment now, or a slander against my character?" Grogan demanded, smiling.
"Neither," replied Harry. "It's a fact."
"And why, might I ask, have you recalled it at this particular moment?"
"Because your conversation in this particular instance seemed to me to be that of a person who was concealing something. Politician's talk, Grogan, is specious, but notable for its reticence."
"Well, Harry," returned Grogan, "your own line of talk is not particularly illuminating, either."
"What do you mean, Mike?"
"Well, here I am, an old friend of your father's, mixed up with him in half a dozen deals. I've known you ever since you sat in a high chair and spooned gruel from a bowl. I come on you in this out of the way corner and you say never a word of why you're here, or what you're doing. I think Clam is your middle name."
"Why," replied Harry, "I came down to Millville to collect some rents."
"Only rents?" queried Grogan pointedly.
"What the devil do you mean?"
"Youngsters of your age sometimes amuse themselves collecting—shirtwaists."
"Stop that, Grogan," retorted Harry angrily.
"Stop what, me boy?"
"I don't like that sort of insinuation."
"Ho," said Grogan, "angry, eh? Then it's as I thought. There's always fire in the heart when a young man flares up about a girl."
"Look here, Grogan—"
"Easy, boy," interrupted the older man. "I'm your friend and I don't want to see you get into trouble—with your father, I mean."
"Did he send you to spy on me?" demanded Harry hotly.
"Not at all," returned Grogan suavely, "only he's worried."
"Worried, what the devil about?"
Grogan did not reply.
"I know I've overstayed my time," Harry went on, "but some of these people have been difficult. I couldn't throw them into the street when they promised to pay and—"
"I know, I know," put in Grogan. "It's not about you. Your father's worried about business. One of these crazy reform waves has started in Chicago. A vice investigating committee is raising ructions."
"What do you mean by a reform wave? What can a vice investigating committee have to do with my father?"
"Well, you see," Grogan was picking his words carefully, "your father has large interests. An investigation of that sort unsettles business."
"What started the reform wave?"
"I said a girl," replied Grogan evenly.
"Yes," said Grogan, "they all laughed at her at first, just as you are doing now. But the joke is beginning to lose its point."
"Who is she?"
"Her name," returned Grogan, "is Mary Randall."
"Mary Randall," repeated Harry. The words meant nothing to him. "Who is she?"
"I don't know," replied Grogan. "I've never met the lady. That's the mystery of her and she's keeping it well. She belongs to the Randalls of Chicago—society folk—that's all I know. But she isn't one of these Michigan boulevard tea party reformers. They just talk. She goes out and delivers the goods. She's a fighter."
Harry laughed again. "This is good," he said. "An unknown girl, a society bud, working single handed stirs up Chicago until she gets all of you alleged smart politicians worrying. Grogan, I'm going to write a comedy about that."
"Are you now?" said Grogan. "Well, I don't approve of your idea. It's not funny. The other night they raided the Baker Club and when they came into court they had evidence enough to hang them all. This Randall girl had worked in the club for a month as a waitress and she KNEW."
"Still, Mike, that shouldn't affect father."
"Not directly—no," replied Grogan, again picking his words with care, "but it gives the whole city an unsteady feeling. People won't invest their money. If I were in your place, my boy, I'd go home."
"I'm off tomorrow in my new car. Better come with me."
"Make it tonight and I will," replied Grogan.
"You're on," agreed Harry. "We'll go tonight." He surveyed the sky. "It's going to storm," he said; "but even if it does, unless there's a flood the roads will be good. We'll go tonight."
THE DEATH OF TOM WELCOME
Both Harry Boland and Grogan fell silent after having reached their agreement to return to Chicago immediately. To a degree both men regretted the decision.
Grogan had accomplished the purpose for which the elder Boland had despatched him to Millville—that of disentangling Harry from his romance—but what he had seen of Patience Welcome had led him to dislike his task.
Harry had no sooner promised to drive back to Chicago in the night than he was assailed with yearning to see the girl again. Each occupied himself with his own thoughts. Dusk descended on the village. They had reached the corner of the street that led to their hotel when they were arrested by a maudlin voice.
"I'm all right, I tell you, Harve."
Two men came out from beneath the shadow of the trees and could be seen dimly under the sickly gleam of a street light. One leaned heavily against the other.
"Sure, you're all right," replied the drunken man's companion in a voice both recognized as that of Harvey Spencer. "I'm just going to see you as far as your house." He spoke in the voice people use in humoring drunken men and children.
"I hain't drunk, Harve," insisted Harvey's companion.
"Of course, you ain't," replied Harvey, "come on."
"I'm just overcome with the heat. I—"
The reeling man broke off suddenly. He saw Harry and Grogan.
"Who the devil are you?" he demanded truculently.
"My name is Harry Boland," replied the young man.
"Oh, the son of John Boland, eh?" jeered the drunken man. "Son of John Boland, 'lectric light king. John Boland's son, eh?"
"Yes," replied Harry sharply, "what of it?"
"Nothing I can prove," retorted Welcome, grimly, "only—give my regards to your father. Just tell him Tom Welcome sends his regards. He'll know." He began to whimper softly. "Poor old Tom Welcome, who might have been riding in his carriage this day." He stopped whining abruptly and snarled at the young man: "If there was any justice on God's earth—"
Welcome lurched forward. Harry grasped his wrist and peered into his bloated face.
"What do you mean by that?" he demanded.
Grogan interrupted a good deal agitated. "He doesn't mean anything," he said, "he's just drunk. Come, boy, let's get out of here."
"I want to know—" persisted Harry, but he dropped Welcome's arm.
"Don't be a fool," commanded Grogan, "can't you see the man's drunk? Come on."
"But I tell you I want to know—"
"Oh, you don't know anything!"
Harry was about to retort angrily when Grogan seized his wrist with an iron grip and swung him around the corner. Half dragging the young man along with him he got him to the hotel. There Grogan succeeded in convincing him of the folly of engaging in a street argument with a dipsomaniac he did not know.
Meanwhile Harvey and Welcome continued their slow and stumbling journey to the Welcome cottage. Welcome, after his interview with Harry Boland was in a savage mood. A debauch of two days had left him virtually a mad man. It required all of Harvey's diplomacy to get him into his house quietly.
The lights were burning in the living room when they arrived. Harvey convoyed his swaying companion to the back of the house, opened the door quietly and pushed him in. Mrs. Welcome and the two girls were in the living room, but the wind was sighing without and they heard nothing. A storm had come up with the setting of the sun and occasional flashes of lightning lighted the darkened room where Welcome found himself while the thunder deadened the sound of his stumbling feet. He made his way through the kitchen to a bedroom and sank down exhausted on a bed.
But Tom Welcome could not sleep. Every nerve in his body jangled. The interview with young Boland, for reasons which will be apparent to the reader later, had aroused in him a smouldering anger. He tossed restlessly on his couch.
While he lay there he heard some one knocking at the front door. All of his perceptions had grown abnormally keen. He heard a boy's voice and recognized it as that of a neighbor's son.
"It's me, Jimmie," said the boy. "Pa sent me over with Elsie's veil. She dropped it while she was out in the auto this afternoon."
He heard the door close and then the accusing voice of his wife demanding:
"Elsie, who have you been out with, automobiling?"
"I was out this afternoon with Martin Druce," replied the girl defiantly.
"Then," went on the mother, conscious that a crisis of some sort between her and her daughter was approaching, "you were talking to him this evening and not to Harvey Spencer? You told me a falsehood?"
"What if I did?" Elsie's tone was low and stubborn.
Mrs. Welcome began to sob.
"Mother, mother," pleaded Patience, "Elsie didn't mean—"
"I did mean it," flared back Elsie. "I did mean it! Why shouldn't I go autoing when I have the chance? Isn't life in Millville hard enough without—" She paused overcome by a wave of passion. "I'm tired of Millville," she exclaimed, "I'm tired of the factory. I'm tired of living here as we do in this miserable, tumble-down place we call home. I'm tired of working like a slave, while a drunken father—"
The words had scarcely left the girl's lips when Tom Welcome, red-eyed, dishevelled, swaying, appeared in the doorway behind her. His face was lit with demoniac passion. He rushed at the girl and she screamed in terror. With a vicious lunge he struck her down and then, seizing her by the hair, dragged her into the bedroom where, amid her cries, he rained blow after blow upon her.
Harvey Spencer, just passing through the gate, heard the first scream. He rushed back into the house as Welcome, finished for the moment with Elsie, had returned to the cottage living room and was approaching his wife menacingly. He seized the raging man by the collar and hurled him into a corner.
"Stay there," he said, "or I'll brain you."
Welcome stood for a moment glaring at the intruder. He attempted to speak, but foam flecked his lips and seemed to choke his voice. His eyes acquired a fixed and unearthly stare. He raised his fist as though to strike and then plunged headlong to the floor.
Patience was the first to reach her father's side. A vivid flash of lightning followed by a terrific detonation of thunder rocked the cottage.
"He's dying," screamed Patience.
Mrs. Welcome, forgetting past injuries, sprang to her husband's side.
"Tom," she wailed, "speak to me. Tom—Tom, I'm your wife—"
The dying man tried to sit up. His mania had passed. He patted his wife's shoulder feebly and smiled. A great weakness had come into his face. "Forgive me," he said, "I didn't know—I didn't know what I was doing. It was the drink. I am going. Call Elsie!"
Patience sprang toward the bedroom, but it was empty. The open doors through the kitchen showed how she had fled. As she searched frantically for her sister, the little clock on the mantel slowly struck the hour of eight.
"She's gone," cried Patience. A premonition of the tragedy of Elsie's flight flashed upon her mind. "Oh," she cried, "my little lost sister! My little lost sister!"
"Gone," cried Harvey. "Gone where?" He opened the door. The rain was falling pitilessly. "Not out into this storm. Someone must find her." He rushed out into the darkness.
"Gone!" echoed Tom Welcome. His voice was hollow as a knell. The drink-racked body stiffened in a spasm and then dropped limply into his weeping wife's arms. "Gone!" he gasped.
Tom Welcome was dead.
Another flash of lightning and a roar of thunder. The two women strove to revive the corpse. At last the dreadful realization came to them that Tom Welcome would never speak again. The wind smote the cottage and the light in the single lamp in the room fluttered as though in mortal terror. The skies were shattered with a final climactic crash of thunder. The mother and daughter, alone in that chamber of death, clung to each other silently feeling themselves isolated from all mankind, with even the elements storming against them.
While they waited, blanched and terror-stricken, for the last reverberations of the thunder, the whistle of the Fast Express, bound from Millville to the great city, rose wildly on the air, like the scream of an exultant demon, and died away in a series of weird and mocking echoes into the night.
IN WHICH SOME OF CHICAGO'S BEST PEOPLE ESSAY A TASK TOO BIG FOR THEM
Lucas Randall inserted his key into the door and let himself into his Michigan boulevard residence. The butler, busy in one of the reception rooms, looked up merely to nod a welcome as he entered. Mr. Randall turned to the mirror in the hallway. He saw the reflection of a man sixty years of age, gray but well preserved, intelligent but not forceful.
As he turned from the glass he saw his wife descending the broad stairs. She was small and fragile. In her youth she had had a delicate pink and gold beauty. The years had worn away the pink and the gold but had left a spirituality that seemed even finer.
"I'm glad you're home early, Luke dear," he heard her saying. Then noticing his air of abstraction she added: "Did you forget after all, Luke?"
"Forget," he repeated blankly, "forget what, Lucy?"
"Oh you man!" replied his wife as if man were a word of reproach. "The church committee is to be here this afternoon to formulate its report on vice conditions."
"Oh, that!" Mr. Randall chuckled. "Yes, I had forgotten, but anyhow I made it, you see. How's Mary?"
"Very well—" Mrs. Randall broke off suddenly. There was a troubled look in her eyes. Then she added lightly almost to herself: "What a queer child!"
"Yes, Luke, queer," returned Mrs. Randall. Again that troubled look. "Luke, dear, I want to make a confession. I don't understand Mary. After your brother Henry died, when we insisted that Mary come and live with us, it seemed wicked to leave her in that great house alone—and we have no children. Now, there are times I am almost sorry we did it. It isn't that I want to criticise Mary"—noticing her husband's look of surprise—"I know she loves us both and yet—well, I have the feeling that we don't really know her. The intimacy I had longed for hasn't developed. She seems to live a part of her time in another world than ours." She broke off again, laughing nervously. "Do you know," she said, "I sometimes have the feeling that Mary lives a sort of double life—nothing evil, you know—but uncanny. She's not unkind nor lacking in affection for either of us, but often when we are together it seems to me that her mind is miles away."
"Queer, eh?" said Mr. Randall, sympathetically. "Well, her father was like that."
"It's not strange if she is like her father," charged Mrs. Randall. "He brought her up like a boy. After her mother died she was more like a chum to him than a daughter."
Lucas Randall became meditative.
"The church work, now," he asked, "does she seem interested?"
"At first I think she was. I took her on some of my regular poor people calls. She seemed interested—too interested. Why, one day I lost her in a tenement on Kosciusko street. I had to come home without her, half wild with anxiety. She rushed in an hour later and when I questioned her as to where she had been she replied that she had found a poor Scotch family and had been so interested that she had forgotten me. 'Forgotten'—that's the very word she used. She said she had been 'seeking the causes of poverty.' I told her poverty came from people being poor, but that did not seem to satisfy her. She asked me why they were poor. I answered that often it was because they were shiftless. 'Not always,' she replied, 'these Scotch people, aunt, dear, were strangely like you and me.' She spoke as if I were the one who did not understand."
"And since then?"
"Well, she has seemed to prefer going alone." Mrs. Randall paused on the verge of a new confession. "Luke, dear," she went on hurriedly, "Mary goes into sections of the city you have warned me not to visit!"
"Not the Levee?"
"Good Lord," ejaculated Mr. Randall, "surely she doesn't go alone?"
"Yes, except for her maid."
"That girl she took from the Refuge?"
"Where is Mary now?"
"In her room."
"She'll come down to the committee meeting, I suppose?"
"I asked her and she replied that of course she would come."
"Has she been out today, Lucy?"
"Nearly all day."
"Calls, I suppose."
"No, she's been attending the hearings of the vice commission."
"In God's name, why?" Mr. Randall was really disturbed.
"I asked her that very question. She replied that the proceedings interested her."
"Heavens!" Mr. Randall paced the room. "'Interested' her! A girl with an income she can't possibly spend, a girl who might have anything, do anything, go anywhere, marry any man—"
He broke off suddenly. "Lucy," he demanded, "is there any man Mary might care for? That good looking young curate, for instance?"
Mrs. Randall shook her head emphatically. "No, Luke," she said. "If you were to ask me to name the two things Mary never gives a thought to I'd say men and matrimony. And that's another thing about her I cannot fathom."
Further confidences were cut short by the entrance of the butler announcing the Rev. Thomas Brattle, a clergyman of sixty with an old fashioned flowing white beard, small white hands and shiny gold-bowed spectacles, and Marvin Lattimer, a business man with a turn for religious activities. Desultory conversation followed broken by the entrance of Mrs. Sumnet-Ives, a well preserved woman of forty and a social power, and Miss Emma Laforth, slender, dark, intelligent looking and gifted with a political acumen that had given her an unassailable position in women's club circles. They were escorted by Grove Evans, plump, wealthy, well born, mildly interested in reform because reform was the proper thing, and Wyat Carp, a lawyer with literary tendencies.
Greetings and small talk; then Lucas Randall led the way to the library. There the Rev. Mr. Brattle, clearing his throat in an official manner, established himself before a priceless seventeenth century table of carved mahogany.
"The meeting will come to order," he announced.
A circle of chairs had been drawn up before the table. The committee members occupied them with a subdued rustle of garments. The Rev. Mr. Brattle watched the circle benignly, waiting for a moment of total silence. When he spoke his voice was smooth, finely modulated, pitched in the right key. His manner, in fact, was perfect. Indeed, in the spacious luxury of Lucas Randall's fine library no one could have appeared to better advantage.
"Dear friends," he said, beaming about him, "we are gathered here, as you know, to formulate the report of our investigation into vice conditions. You have labored long and faithfully. Now the time has come to put forth the fruit of your labors in a form at once concrete and illuminating."
He paused, then continued:
"The problem we are approaching is world-old. Mankind has struggled with it intermittently since civilization began. Apparently we have made no progress. The twentieth century, in fact, with its terrific congestion in cities, its vast consumption of nervous energy and its universal commercialism, has complicated our problem. But with these new complications have come new means for warring against the evil. Intelligence on the subject is more general. Fine minds everywhere are addressing themselves to the riddle. Thus it seems that humanity is at last coming to grips with the traffic in women. Who knows but that out of this little gathering may not be evolved some theory which, injected into the circulation of modern life, shall immunize us against this social malady."
There was subdued applause.
"As my time has been somewhat occupied," the clergyman went on, "I have asked Mr. Carp to employ his well known literary gift in formulating our report. Let me add that I have read our brother's resume of our investigations and endorse it fully as to the facts found."
Meanwhile Wyat Carp, with his best poet's air, had arisen and bowed to the little circle. He laid a terrifying number of manuscript sheets on the table and polished his glasses with his silk handkerchief. His was the subdued manner of a surgeon about to perform an operation and, it must be confessed, his audience felt some of the sensations of the patient.
"My friends," began Wyat Carp, "in putting before you what I trust you may see fit to adopt as our united report I am naturally moved by a feeling of delicacy—"
He paused, for directly behind the little circle of hearers the heavy curtains had been pushed aside, and a girl stood framed there against the dull red of the draperies. She was rather above medium height, with a figure rounded by exercise, a face oval and lighted by deep blue eyes underneath masses of burnished, coppery hair. Her personality seemed to fill the room. She breathed wholesomeness, vigor, sincerity and purpose.
As Lucas Randall half started from his chair the girl put out her hand and checked him.
"No, Uncle Luke," she said, "don't disturb yourself. I've been standing just outside the door for several minutes waiting for a moment to slip in quietly."
She bowed to them all, and seated herself near the window overlooking the boulevard.
"Just go on with the report, Mr. Carp," she said, "I assure you I am most eager to hear it."
Wyat Carp coughed gently and picked up his manuscript.
"Thank you, Miss Randall," he began gravely, "I—I—"
"You were saying that you were moved by a feeling of delicacy," prompted the girl.
"Thank you, Miss Randall." Mr. Carp bowed. "I—er—am experiencing a feeling of embarrassment because this is a meeting of both sexes and the subject is one which, only recently, has been discussed in mixed company. When one so young as yourself is present—"
"Oh," replied the girl, a shade of amusement in her voice, "please don't let my youth interfere with our deliberations. I assure you that, young as I may appear to be, I am quite familiar with the matter we have under consideration."
This remarkable declaration caused something of a real sensation. Mrs. Sumnet-Ives mentally put the speaker down as "a pert little chit." Grove Evans was amused, for he disliked Carp. Mrs. Randall catalogued it as another ebullition of Mary's queerness; even her uncle, despite an affection that accepted everything Mary did as right and proper, felt himself a little shocked. As for Miss Laforth, she favored Miss Randall with a long, inventorying inspection. Here, she reflected, might be a future political rival.
Mr. Carp began to read slowly with here and there a pause to enable his audience to catch a subtle turn of phrase or the flowing rhythm of his periods. He read while the light grew fainter and the fire glowed more brightly, read until Lucas Randall leaned across the table and switched on the light in the great brass lamp.
Mary Randall, deep in her easy chair beside the window and lulled by the soporific monotone of Mr. Carp's voice, saw the afternoon darken into dusk and the dusk deepen into night. Before her half-closed eyes the city, slowly but purposefully, began to throw off the habiliments of day and don the tinsel of evening. One by one, from far down the spacious avenue, the street lamps glowed into bulbs of color which the wet asphalt, like a winding black mirror, caught up and flung against the polished finishings of a swift and silent train of automobiles and the windows of the nearby mansions.