SEVEN MILES TO ARDEN
Author of The Primrose Ring
Harper & Brothers Publishers New York & London
SEVEN MILES TO ARDEN
Copyright, 1915, 1916, by The Curtis Publishing Company Copyright, 1915, 1916, by Harper & Brothers Printed in the United States of America Published April, 1916
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BOOKS BY RUTH SAWYER
SEVEN MILES TO ARDEN. Illustrated. Post 8vo THE PRIMROSE RING. Illustrated. Post 8vo
HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK
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_It leads away, at the ring o' day, On to the beckoning hills; And the throstles sing by the holy spring Which the Blessed Virgin fills.
White is the road and light is the load, For the burden we bear together. Our feet beat time on the upward climb That ends in the purpling heather.
There is spring in the air and everywhere The throb of a life new-born, In mating thrush and blossoming brush, In the hush o' the glowing morn.
Our hearts bound free as the open sea; Where now is our dole o' sorrow? The winds have swept the tears we've wept— And promise a braver morrow.
But this I pray as we go our way: To find the Hills o' Heather, And, at hush o' night, in peace to light Our roadside fire together._
I. THE WAY OF IT 1
II. A SIGN-POST POINTS TO AN ADVENTURE 12
III. PATSY PLAYS A PART 25
IV. THE OCCUPANT OF A BALMACAAN COAT 39
V. A TINKER POINTS THE ROAD 48
VI. AT DAY'S END 64
VII. THE TINKER PLAYS A PART 85
VIII. WHEN TWO WERE NOT COMPANY 106
IX. PATSY ACQUIRES SOME INFORMATION 121
X. JOSEPH JOURNEYS TO A FAR COUNTRY 139
XI. AND CHANCE STAGES MELODRAMA INSTEAD OF COMEDY 153
XII. A CHANGE OF NATIONALITY 165
XIII. A MESSAGE AND A MAP 191
XIV. ENTER KING MIDAS 202
XV. ARDEN 216
XVI. THE ROAD BEGINS ALL OVER AGAIN 231
SEVEN MILES TO ARDEN
THE WAY OF IT
Patsy O'Connell sat on the edge of her cot in the women's free ward of the City Hospital. She was pulling on a vagabond pair of gloves while she mentally gathered up a somewhat doubtful, ragged lot of prospects and stood them in a row before her for contemplation, comparison, and a final choice. They strongly resembled the contents of her steamer trunk, held at a respectable boarding-house in University Square by a certain Miss Gibb for unpaid board, for these were made up of a jumble of priceless and worthless belongings, unmarketable because of their extremes.
She had time a-plenty for contemplation; the staff wished to see her before she left, and the staff at that moment was consulting at the other end of the hospital.
Properly speaking, Patsy was Patricia O'Connell, but no one had ever been known to refer to her in that cold-blooded manner, save on the programs of the Irish National Plays—and in the City Hospital's register. What the City Hospital knew of Patsy was precisely what the American public and press knew, what the National Players knew, what the world at large knew—precisely what Patricia O'Connell had chosen to tell—nothing more, nothing less. They had accepted her on her own scanty terms and believed in her implicitly. There was one thing undeniably true about her—her reality. Having established this fact beyond a doubt, it was a simple matter to like her and trust her.
No one had ever thought it necessary to question Patsy about her nationality; it was too obvious. Concerning her past and her family she answered every one alike: "Sure, I was born without either. I was found by accident, just, one morning hanging on to the thorn of a Killarney rose-bush that happened to be growing by the Brittany coast. They say I was found by the Physician to the King, who was traveling past, and that's how it comes I can speak French and King's English equally pure; although I'm not denying I prefer them both with a bit of brogue." She always thought in Irish—straight, Donegal Irish—with a dropping of final g's, a bur to the r's, and a "ye" for a "you." Invariably this was her manner of speech with those she loved, or toward whom she felt the kinship of sympathetic understanding.
To those who pushed their inquisitiveness about ancestry to the breaking-point Patsy blinked a pair of steely-blue eyes while she wrinkled her forehead into a speculative frown: "Faith! I can hearken back to Adam the same as yourselves; but if it's some one more modern you're asking for—there's that rascal, Dan O'Connell. He's too long dead to deny any claim I might put on him, so devil a word will I be saying. Only—if ye should find by chance, any time, that I'd rather fight with my wits than my fists, ye can lay that to Dan's door; along with the stubbornness of a tinker's ass."
People had been known to pry into her religion; and on these Patsy smiled indulgently as one does sometimes on overcurious children. "Sure, I believe in every one—and as for a church, there's not a place that goes by the name—synagogue, meeting-house, or cathedral—that I can't be finding a wee bit of God waiting inside for me. But I'll own to it, honestly, that when I'm out seeking Him, I find Him easiest on some hilltop, with the wind blowing hard from the sea and never a human soul in sight."
This was approximately all the world and the press knew of Patsy O'Connell, barring the fact that she was neighboring in the twenties, was fresh, unspoiled, and charming, and that she had played the ingenue parts with the National Players, revealing an art that promised a good future, should luck bring the chance. Unfortunately this chance was not numbered among the prospects Patsy reviewed from the edge of her hospital cot that day.
The interest of the press and the public approval of the National Irish Players had not proved sufficient to propitiate that iron-hearted monster, Financial Success. The company went into bankruptcy before they had played half their bookings. Their final curtain went down on a bit of serio-comic drama staged, impromptu, on a North River dock, with barely enough cash in hand to pay the company's home passage. On this occasion Patsy had missed her cue for the first time. She had been left in the wings, so to speak; and that night she filled the only vacant bed in the women's free ward of the City Hospital.
It was pneumonia. Patsy had tossed about and moaned with the racking pain of it, raving deliriously through her score or more of roles. She had gone dancing off with the Faery Child to the Land of Heart's Desire; she had sat beside the bier in "The Riders to the Sea"; she had laughed through "The Full o' Moon," and played the Fool while the Wise Man died. The nurses and doctors had listened with open-eyed wonder and secret enjoyment; she had allowed them to peep into a new world too full of charm and lure to be denied; and then of a sudden she had settled down to a silent, grim tussle with the "Gray Brother."
This was all weeks past. It was early June now; the theatrical season was closed for two months, with no prospects in the booking agencies until August. In the mean time she had eight dollars, seventy-six cents, and a crooked sixpence as available collateral; and an unpaid board bill.
Patsy felt sorry for Miss Gibb, but she felt no shame. Boarding-house keepers, dressmakers, bootmakers, and the like must take the risk along with the players themselves in the matter of getting paid for their services. If the public—who paid two dollars a seat for a performance—failed to appear, and box-office receipts failed to margin their salaries, it was their misfortune, not their fault; and others had to suffer along with them. But these debts of circumstance never troubled Patsy. She paid them when she could, and when she could not—there was always her trunk.
The City Hospital happened to know the extent of Patsy's property; it is their business to find out these little private matters concerning their free patients. They had also drawn certain conclusions from the facts that no one had come to see Patsy and that no communications had reached her from anywhere. It looked to them as if Patsy were down and out, to state it baldly. Now the Patsys that come to free wards of city hospitals are very rare; and the superintendent and staff and nurses were interested beyond the usual limits set by their time and work and the professional hardening of their cardiac region.
"She's not to leave here until we find out just who she's got to look after her until she gets on her feet again, understand"—and the old doctor tapped the palm of his left hand with his right forefinger, a sign of important emphasis.
Therefore the day nurse had gone to summon the staff while Patsy still sat obediently on the edge of her cot, pulling on her vagabond gloves, reviewing her prospects, and waiting.
"My! but we'll miss you!" came the voice from the woman in the next bed, who had been watching her regretfully for some time.
"It's my noise ye'll be missing." And Patsy smiled back at her a winning, comrade sort of smile.
"You kind o' got us all acquainted with one another and thinkin' about somethin' else but pains and troubles. It'll seem awful lonesome with you gone," and the woman beyond heaved a prodigious sigh.
"Don't ye believe it," said Patsy, with conviction. "They'll be fetching in some one a good bit better to fill my place—ye see, just."
"No, they won't; 'twill be another dago, likely—"
"Whist!" Patsy raised a silencing finger and looked fearsomely over her shoulder to the bed back of her.
Its inmate lay covered to the cheek, but one could catch a glimpse of tangled black hair and a swarthy skin. Patsy rose and went softly over to the bed; her movement disturbed the woman, who opened dumb, reproachful eyes.
"I'll be gone in a minute, dear; I want just to tell you how sorry I am. But—sure—Mother Mary has it safe—and she's keeping it for ye." She stooped and brushed the forehead with her lips, as the staff and two of the nurses appeared.
"Faith! is it a delegation or a constabulary?" And Patsy laughed the laugh that had made her famous from Dublin to Duluth, where the bankruptcy had occurred.
"It's a self-appointed committee to find out just where you're going after you leave here," said the young doctor.
Patsy eyed him quizzically. "That's not manners to ask personal questions. But I don't mind telling ye all, confidentially, that I haven't my mind made yet between—a reception at the Vincent Wanderlusts'—or a musicale at the Ritz-Carlton."
"Look here, lassie"—the old doctor ruffled his beard and threw out his chest like a mammoth pouter pigeon—"you'll have to give us a sensible answer before we let you go one step. You know you can't expect to get very far with that—in this city," and he tapped the bag on her wrist significantly.
Patsy flushed crimson. For the first time in her life, to her knowledge, the world had discovered more about her than she had intended. Those humiliating eight dollars, seventy-six cents, and the crooked sixpence seemed to be scorching their way through the leather that held them. But she met the eyes looking into hers with a flinty resistance.
"Sure, 'twould carry me a long way, I'm thinking, if I spent it by the ha'penny bit." Then she laughed in spite of herself. "If ye don't look for all the world like a parcel of old mother hens that have just hatched out a brood o' wild turkeys!" She suddenly checked her Irish—it was apt to lead her into compromising situations with Anglo-Saxon folk, if she did not leash her tongue—and slid into English. "You see, I really know quite a number of people here—rather well—too."
"Why haven't they come to see you, then?" asked the day nurse, bluntly.
Patsy eyed her with admiration. "You'd never make a press agent—or a doctor, I'm afraid; you're too truthful."
"You see," explained the old doctor, "these friends of yours are what we professional people term hypothetical cases. We'd like to be sure of something real."
One of Patsy's vagabond gloves closed over the doctor's hand. "Bless you all for your goodness! but the people are more real than you think. Everybody believes I went back with the company and I never bothered them with the truth, you see. I've more than one good friend among the theatrical crowd right here; but—well, you know how it is; if you are a bit down on your luck you keep away from your own world, if you can. There is a girl—just about my own age—in society here. We did a lot for her in the way of giving her a good time when she was in Dublin, and I've seen her quite a bit over here. I'm going to her to get something to do before the season begins. She may need a secretary or a governess—or a—cook. Holy Saint Martin! but I can cook!" And Patsy clasped her hands in an ecstatic appreciation of her culinary art; it was the only one of which she was boastful.
"I'll tell you what," said the old doctor, gruffly, "we will let you go if you will promise to come back if—if no one's at home. It's against rules, but I'll see the superintendent keeps your bed for you to-night."
"Thank you," said Patsy. She waved a farewell to the staff and the ward as she went through the door. "I don't know where I'm going or what I shall be finding, but if it's anything worth sharing I'll send some back to you all."
The staff watched her down the corridor to the elevator.
"Gee!" exclaimed the youngest doctor, his admiration working out to the surface. "When she's made her name I'm going to marry her."
"Oh, are you?" The voice of the old doctor took on its habitual tartness. "Acute touch of philanthropy, what—eh?"
Patricia O'Connell swung the hospital door behind her and stepped out into a blaze of June sunshine. "Holy Saint Patrick! but it feels good. Now if I could be an alley cat for two months I could get along fine."
She cast a backward look toward the granite front of the City Hospital and her eyes grew as blue and soft as the waters of Killarney. "Sure, cat or human, the world's a grand place to be alive in."
A SIGN-POST POINTS TO AN ADVENTURE
Marjorie Schuyler sat in her own snug little den, her toy ruby spaniel on a cushion at her feet, her lap full of samples of white, shimmering crepes and satins. She fingered them absent-mindedly, her mind caught in a maze of wedding intricacies and dates, and whirled between an ultimate choice between October and June of the following year.
The world knew all there was to know about Marjorie Schuyler. It could tell to a nicety who her paternal and maternal grandparents were, back to old Peter Schuyler's time and the settling of the Virginian Berkeleys. It could figure her income down to a paltry hundred of the actual amount. It knew her age to the month and day. In fact, it had kept her calendar faithfully, from her coming-out party, through the periods of mourning for her parents and her subsequent returns to society, through the rumors of her engagements to half a dozen young leaders at home and abroad, down to her latest conquest.
The last date on her calendar was the authorized announcement of her engagement to young Burgeman. Hence the shimmering samples and the relative values of October and June for a wedding journey.
And the world knew more than these things concerning Marjorie Schuyler. It knew that she was beautiful, of regal bearing and distinguished manner. An aunt lived with her, to lend dignity and chaperonage to her position; but she managed her own affairs, social and financial, for herself. If the world had been asked to choose a modern prototype for the young, independent American girl of the leisure class, it is reasonably safe to assume it would have named Marjorie Schuyler.
As for young Burgeman, the world knew him as the Rich Man's Son. That was the best and worst it could say of him.
"I think, Toto," said Marjorie Schuyler to her toy ruby spaniel, "it will be June. There is only one thing you can do with October—a church wedding, chrysanthemums, and oak leaves. But June offers so many possible variations. Besides, that gives us both one last, untrammeled season in town. Yes, June it is; and we'll not have to think about these yet awhile." Whereupon she dropped the shimmering samples into the waste-basket.
A maid pushed aside the hangings that curtained her den from the great Schuyler library. "There's a young person giving the name of O'Connell, asking to see you. Shall I say you are out?"
"O'Connell?" Marjorie Schuyler raised a pair of interrogatory eyebrows. "Why—it can't be. The entire company went back weeks ago. What is she like—small and brown, with very pink cheeks and very blue eyes?"
The maid nodded ambiguously.
"Bring her up. I know it can't be, but—"
But it was. The next moment Marjorie Schuyler was taking a firm grip of Patsy's shoulders while she looked down with mock disapproval at the girl who reached barely to her shoulder.
"Patsy O'Connell! Why didn't you go home with the others—and what have you done to your cheeks?"
Patsy attacked them with two merciless fists. "Sure, they're after needing a pinch of north-of-Ireland wind, that's all. How's yourself?"
Marjorie Schuyler pushed her gently into a great chair, while she herself took a carved baronial seat opposite. The nearness of anything so exquisitely perfect as Marjorie Schuyler, and the comparison it was bound to suggest, would have been a conscious ordeal for almost any other girl. But Patsy was oblivious of the comparison—oblivious of the fact that she looked like a wood-thrush neighboring with a bird of paradise. Her brown Norfolk suit was a shabby affair—positively clamoring for a successor; the boyish brown beaver—lacking feather or flower—was pulled down rakishly over her mass of brown curls, and the vagabond gloves gave a consistent finish to the picture. And yet there was that about Patsy which defied comparison even with Marjorie Schuyler; moreover—a thrush sings.
"Now tell me," said Marjorie Schuyler, "where have you been all these weeks?"
Patsy considered. "Well—I've been taking up hospital training."
"Oh, how splendid! Are you going over with the new Red Cross supply?"
Patsy shook her head. "You see, they only kept me until they had demonstrated all they knew about lung disorders—and fresh-air treatment, and then they dismissed me. I'm fearsome they were after finding out I hadn't the making of a nurse."
"That's too bad! What are you going to do now?"
An amused little smile twitched at the corners of Patsy's mouth; it acted as if it wanted to run loose all over her face. "Sure, I haven't my mind made—quite. And yourself?"
"Oh—I?" Marjorie Schuyler leaned forward a trifle. "Did you know I was engaged?"
"Betrothed? Holy Saint Bridget bless ye!" And the vagabond gloves clasped the slender hands of the American prototype and gave them a hard little squeeze. "Who's himself?"
"It's Billy Burgeman, son of the Burgeman."
"Old King Midas?"
"That's a new name for him."
"It has fitted him years enough." Patsy's face sobered. "Oh, why does money always have to mate with money? Why couldn't you have married a poor great man—a poet, a painter, a thinker, a dreamer—some one who ought not to be bound down by his heels to the earth for bread-gathering or shelter-building? You could have cut the thongs and sent him soaring—given the world another 'Prometheus Unbound.' As for Billy Burgeman—he could have married—me," and Patsy spread her hands in mock petition.
Marjorie Schuyler laughed. "You! That is too beautifully delicious! Why, Patsy O'Connell, William Burgeman is the most conventional young gentleman I have ever met in my life. You would shock him into a semi-comatose condition in an afternoon—and, pray, what would you do with him?"
"Sure, I'd make a man of him, that's what. His father's son might need it, I'm thinking."
Marjorie Schuyler's face became perfectly blank for a second, then she leaned against the baronial arms on the back of her seat, tilted her head, and mused aloud: "I wonder just what Billy Burgeman does lack? Sometimes I've wondered if it was not having a mother, or growing up without brothers or sisters, or living all alone with his father in that great, gloomy, walled-in, half-closed house. It is not a lack of manhood—I'm sure of that; and it's not lack of caring, for he can care a lot about some things. But what is it? I would give a great deal to know."
"If the tales about old King Midas have a thruppence worth of truth in them, it might be his father's meanness that's ailing him."
Marjorie Schuyler shook her head. "No; Billy's almost a prodigal. His father says he hasn't the slightest idea of the value of money; it's just so much beans or shells or knives or trading pelf with him; something to exchange for what he calls the real things of life. Why, when he was a boy—in fact, until he was almost grown—his father couldn't trust Billy with a cent."
"Who said that—Billy or the king?"
"His father, of course. That's why he has never taken Billy into business with him. He is making Billy win his spurs—on his own merits; and he's not going to let him into the firm until he's worth at least five thousand a year to some other firm. Oh, Mr. Burgeman has excellent ideas about bringing up a son! Billy ought to amount to a great deal."
"Meaning money or character?" inquired Patsy.
Marjorie Schuyler looked at her sharply. "Are you laughing?"
"Faith, I'm closer to weeping; 'twould be a lonesome, hard rearing that would come to a son of King Midas, I'm thinking. I'd far rather be the son of his gooseherd, if I had the choosing."
She leaned forward impulsively and gathered up the hands of the girl opposite in the warm, friendly compass of those vagabond gloves. "Do ye really love him, cailin a'sthore?" And this time it was her look that was sharp.
"Why, of course I love him! What a foolish question! Why should I be marrying him if I didn't love him? Why do you ask?"
"Because—the son of King Midas with no mother, with no one at all but the king, growing up all alone in a gloomy old castle, with no one trusting him, would need a great deal of love—a great, great deal—"
"That's all right, Ellen. I'll find her for myself." It was a man's voice, pitched overhigh; it came from somewhere beyond and below the inclosing curtains and cut off the last of Patsy's speech.
"That's funny," said Marjorie Schuyler, rising. "There's Billy now. I'll bring him in and let you see for yourself that he's not at all an object of sympathy—or pity."
She disappeared into the library, leaving Patsy speculating recklessly. They must have met just the other side of the closed hangings, for to Patsy their voices sounded very near and close together.
"Listen, Marjorie; if a girl loves a man she ought to be willing to trust him over a dreadful bungle until he could straighten things out and make good again—that's true, isn't it?"
"Billy Burgeman! What do you mean?"
"Just answer my question. If a girl loves a man she'll trust him, won't she?"
"I suppose so."
"You know she would, dear. What would the man do if she didn't?"
The voice sounded strained and unnatural in its intensity and appeal. Patsy rose, troubled in mind, and tiptoed to the only other door in the den.
"'Tis a grand situation for a play," she remarked, dryly, "but 'tis a mortial poor one in real life, and I'm best out of it." She turned the knob with eager fingers and pulled the door toward her. It opened on a dumbwaiter shaft, empty and impressive. Patsy's expression would have scored a hit in farce comedy. Unfortunately there was no audience present to appreciate it here, and the prompter forgot to ring down the curtain just then, so that Patsy stood helpless, forced to go on hearing all that Marjorie and her leading man wished to improvise in the way of lines.
"... I told you, forged—"
Patsy was tempted to put her fingers in her ears to shut out the sound of his voice and what he was saying, but she knew even then she would go on hearing; his voice was too vibrant, too insistent, to be shut out.
"... my father's name for ten thousand. I took the check to the bank myself, and cashed it; father's vice-president.... Of course the cashier knew me.... I tell you I can't explain—not now. I've got to get away and stay away until I've squared the thing and paid father back."
"Billy Burgeman, did you forge that check yourself?"
"What does that matter—whether I forged it or had it forged or saw it forged? I tell you I cashed it, knowing it was forged. Don't you understand?"
"Yes; but if you didn't forge it, you could easily prove it; people wouldn't have to know the rest—they are hushing up things of that kind every day."
A silence dropped on the three like a choking, blinding fog. The two outside the hangings must have been staring at each other, too bewildered or shocked to speak. The one inside clutched her throat, muttering, "If my heart keeps up this thumping, faith, he'll think it's the police and run."
At last the voice of the man came, hushed but strained almost to breaking. To Patsy it sounded as if he were staking his very soul in the words, uncertain of the balance. "Marjorie, you don't understand! I cashed that check because—because I want to take the responsibility of it and whatever penalty comes along with it. I don't believe father will ever tell. He's too proud; it would strike back at him too hard. But you would have to know; he'd tell you; and I wanted to tell you first myself. I want to go away knowing you believe and trust me, no matter what father says about me, no matter what every one thinks about me. I want to hear you say it—that you will be waiting—just like this—for me to come back to when I've squared it all off and can explain.... Why, Marjorie—Marjorie!"
Patsy waited in an agony of dread, hope, prayer—waited for the answer she, the girl he loved, would make. It came at last, slowly, deliberately, as if spoken, impersonally, by the foreman of a jury:
"I don't believe in you, Billy. I'm sorry, but I don't believe I could ever trust you again. Your father has always said you couldn't take care of money; this simply means you have got yourself into some wretched hole, and forging your father's name was the only way out of it. I suppose you think the circumstances, whatever they may be, have warranted the act; but that act puts a stigma on your name which makes it unfit for any woman to bear; and if you have any spark of manhood left, you'll unwish the wish—you will unthink the thought—that I would wait—or even want you—ever—to come back."
A cry—a startled, frightened cry—rang through the rooms. It did not come from either Marjorie or her leading man. Patsy stood with a vagabond glove pressed hard over her mouth—quite unconscious that the cry had escaped and that there was no longer need of muzzling—then plunged headlong through the hangings into the library. Marjorie Schuyler was standing alone.
"Where is he—your man?"
"He's gone—and please don't call him—that!"
"Go after him—hurry—don't let him go! Don't ye understand? He mustn't go away with no one believing in him. Tell him it's a mistake; tell him anything—only go!"
While Patsy's tongue burred out its Irish brogue she pushed at the tall figure in front of her—pushed with all her might. "Are ye nailed to the floor? What's happened to your feet? For Heaven's sake, lift them and let them take ye after him. Don't ye hear? There's the front door slamming behind him. He'll be gone past your calling in another minute. Dear heart alive, ye can't be meaning to let him go—this way!"
But Marjorie Schuyler stood immovable and deaf to her pleading. Incredulity, bewilderment, pity, and despair swept over Patsy's face like clouds scudding over the surface of a clear lake. Then scorn settled in her eyes.
"I'm sorry for ye, sorry for any woman that fails the man who loves her. I don't know this son of old King Midas; I never saw him in my life, and all I know about him is what ye told me this day and scraps of what he had to say for himself; but I believe in him. I know he never forged that check—or used the money for any mean use of his own. I'd wager he's shielding some one, some one weaker than he, too afeared to step up and say so. Why, I'd trust him across the world and back again; and, holy Saint Patrick! I'm going after him to tell him so."
For the second time within a few seconds Marjorie Schuyler listened and heard the front door slam; then the goddess came to life. She walked slowly, regally, across the library and passed between the hangings which curtained her den. Her eyes, probably by pure chance, glanced over the shimmering contents of the waste-basket. A little cold smile crept to the corners of her mouth, while her chin stiffened.
"I think, Toto," she said, addressing the toy ruby spaniel, "that it will not be even a June wedding," and she laughed a crisp, dry little laugh.
PATSY PLAYS A PART
Patsy ran down the steps of the Schuyler house, jumping the last four. As her feet struck the pavement she looked up and down the street for what she sought. There it was—the back of a fast-retreating man in a Balmacaan coat of Scotch tweed and a round, plush hat, turning the corner to Madison Avenue. Patsy groaned inwardly when she saw the outlines of the figure; they were so conventional, so disappointing; they lacked simplicity and directness—two salient life principles with Patsy.
"Pshaw! What's in a back?" muttered Patsy. "He may be a man, for all his clothes;" and she took to her heels after him.
As she reached the corner he jumped on a passing car going south. "Tracking for the railroad station," was her mental comment, and she looked north for the next car following; there was none. As far as eye could see there was an unbroken stretch of track—fate seemed strangely averse to aiding and abetting her deed.
"When in doubt, take a taxi," suggested Patsy's inner consciousness, and she accepted the advice without argument.
She raced down two blocks and found one. "Grand Central—and drive—like the devil!"
As the door clicked behind her her eye caught the jumping indicator, and she smiled a grim smile. "Faith, in two-shilling jumps like that I'll be bankrupt afore I've my hand on the tails of that coat." And with a tired little sigh she leaned back in the corner, closed her eyes, and relaxed her grip on mind and will and body.
A series of jerks and a final stop shook her into a thinking, acting consciousness again; she was out of the taxi in a twinkling—with the man paid and her eyes on the back of a Balmacaan coat and plush hat disappearing through a doorway. She could not follow it as fast as she had reckoned. She balanced corners with a stout, indeterminate old gentleman who blocked her way and insisted on wavering in her direction each time she tried to dodge him. In her haste to make up for those precious lost seconds she upset a pair of twins belonging to an already overburdened mother. These she righted and went dashing on her way. Groups waylaid her; people with time to kill sauntered in front of her; wandering, indecisive people tried to stop her for information; and she reached the gate just as it was closing. Through it she could see—down a discouraging length of platform—a Balmacaaned figure disappearing into a car.
"Too late, lady; train's leaving."
It was well for Patsy that she was ignorant of the law governing closing gates and departing trains, for the foolish and the ignorant can sometimes achieve the impossible. She confronted the guard with a look of unconquerable determination. "No, 'tisn't; the train guard is still on the platform. You've got to let me through."
She emphasized the importance of it with two tight fists placed not overgently in the center of the guard's rotundity, and accompanied by a shove. In some miraculous fashion this accomplished it. The gate clanged at Patsy's back instead of in her face, as she had expected. A bell rang, a whistle tooted, and Patsy's feet clattered like mad down the platform.
A good-natured brakeman picked her up and lifted her to the rear platform of the last car as it drew out. That saved the day for Patsy, for her strength and breath had gone past summoning.
"Thank you," she said, feebly, with a vagabond glove held out in proffered fellowship. "That's the kindest thing any one has done for me since I came over."
"Irish—same as yourself."
"How did ye know?"
"Sure, who but an Irishman would have had his wits and his heart working at the same time?" And with a laugh Patsy left him and went inside.
Her eye ran systematically down the rows of seats. Billy Burgeman was not there. She passed through to the next car, and a second, and a third. Still there was no back she could identify as belonging to the man she was pursuing.
She was crossing a fourth platform when she ran into the conductor, who barred her way. "Smoking-car ahead, lady; this is the last of the passenger-coaches."
Patsy had it on the end of her tongue to say she preferred smoking-cars, intending to duck simultaneously under the conductor's arm and enter, willy-nilly. But the words rolled no farther than the tongue's edge. She turned obediently back, re-entering the car and taking the first seat by the door. For this her memory was responsible. It had spun the day's events before her like a roulette wheel, stopping precisely at the remark of Marjorie Schuyler's concerning William Burgeman: "He's the most conventional young gentleman I ever saw in my life. Why, you would shock—"
A strange young woman doling out consolation to him in a smoking-car would be anything but a dramatic success; Patsy felt this all too keenly. He was decidedly not of her world or the men and women she knew, who gave help when the need came regardless of time, place, acquaintanceship, or sex.
"Faith, he's the kind that will expect an introduction first, and a month or two of tangoing, tea-drinking, and tennis-playing; after which, if I ask his permission, he might consider it proper—" Patsy groaned. "Oh, I hate the man already!"
"Ticket? What for?"
"What for? Do you think this is a joy ride?" The conductor radiated sarcasm.
Patsy crimsoned. "I haven't mine. I—I was to—meet my—aunt—who had the ticket—and—she must have missed the train."
"Where are you going?"
"I—I—Why, I was telling—My aunt had the tickets. How would I know where I was going without the tickets?"
The conductor snorted.
Patsy looked hard at him and knew the time had come for wits—good, sharp O'Connell wits. She smiled coaxingly. "It sounds so stupid, but, you see, I haven't an idea where I am going. I was to meet my aunt and go down with her to her summer place. I—I can't remember the name." Her mouth drooped for the fraction of a second, then she brightened all over. "I know what I can do—very probably she missed the train because she expects to be at the station to meet me—I can look out each time the train stops, and when I see her I can get off. That makes it all right, doesn't it?" And she smiled in open confidence as a sacrificial maiden might have propitiated the dragon.
But it was not reciprocated. He eyed her scornfully. "And who pays for the ticket?"
"Oh!" Patsy caught her breath; then she sent it bubbling forth in a contagious laugh. "I do—of course. I'll take a ticket to—just name over the stations, please?"
The conductor growled them forth: "Hampden, Forestview, Hainsville, Dartmouth, Hudson, Arden, Brambleside, Mayberry, Greyfriars—"
"What's that last—Greyfriars? I'll take a ticket to Greyfriars." She said it after the same fashion she might have used in ordering a mutton chop at a restaurant, and handed the conductor a bill.
When he had given her the change and passed on, still disgruntled, Patsy allowed herself what she called a "temporary attack of private prostration."
"Idiot!" she groaned in self-address. "Ye are the biggest fool in two continents; and the Lord knows what Dan would be thinking of ye if he were topside o' green earth to hear." Whereupon she gripped one vagabond glove with the other—in fellow misery; and for the second time that afternoon her eyes closed with sheer exhaustion.
* * * * *
The train rumbled on. Each time it stopped Patsy watched the doorway and the window beside her for sight of her quarry; each time it started again she sighed inwardly with relief, glad of another furlough from a mission which was fast growing appalling. She had long since ceased to be interested in Billy Burgeman as an individual. He had shrunk into an abstract sense of duty, and as such failed to appeal or convince. But as her interest waned, her determination waxed; she would get him and tell him what she had come for, if it took a year and a day and shocked him into complete oblivion.
She was saying this to herself for the hundredth time, adding for spice—and artistic finish—"After that—the devil take him!" when the train pulled away from another station. She had already satisfied herself that he was not among the leaving passengers. But suddenly something familiar in a solitary figure standing at the far end of the gravel embankment caught her eye; it was back toward her, and in the quick passing and the gathering dusk she could make out dim outlines only. But those outlines were unmistakable, unforgetable.
"A million curses on the house of Burgeman!" quoth Patsy. "Well, there's naught for it but to get off at the next station and go back."
The conductor watched her get off with a distinct feeling of relief. He had very much feared she was not a responsible person and in no mental position to be traveling alone. Her departure cleared him of all uneasiness and obligation and he settled down to his business with an unburdened mind. Not so Patsy. She blinked at the vanishing train and then at her empty hands, with the nearest she had ever come in her life to utter, abject despair. She had left her bag in the car!
When articulate thinking was possible she remarked, acridly, "Ye need a baby nurse to mind ye, Patricia O'Connell; and I'm not sure but ye need a perambulator as well." She gave a tired little stretch to her body and rubbed her eyes. "I feel as if this was all a silly play and I was cast for the part of an Irish simpleton; a low-comedy burlesque—that ye'd swear never happened in real life outside of the county asylums."
A headlight raced down the track toward her and the city, and she gathered up what was left of her scattered wits. As the train slowed up she stepped into the shadows, and her eye fell on the open baggage-car. She smiled grimly. "Faith! I have a notion I like brakemen and baggagemen better than conductors."
And so it came to pass as the train started that the baggageman, who happened to be standing in the doorway, was somewhat startled to see a small figure come racing toward it out of the dusk and land sprawling on the floor beside him.
"A girl tramp!" he ejaculated in amazement and disgust, and then, as he helped her to her feet, "Don't you know you're breaking the law?"
She laughed. "From the feelings, I thought it was something else." She sobered and turned on him fiercely. "I want ye to understand I've paid my fare on the train out, which entitled me to one continuous passage—with my trunk. Well, I'm returning—as my trunk, I'll take up no more room and I'll ask no more privileges."
"That may sound sensible, but it's not law," and the man grinned broadly. "I'm sorry, miss, but off you go at the next station."
"All right," agreed Patsy; "only please don't argue. Sure, I'm sick entirely of arguing."
She dropped down on a trunk and buried her face in her hands. The baggageman watched her, hypnotized with curiosity and wonder. At the next station he helped her to drop through the opening she had entered, and called a shamefaced "good-by" after her in the dusk.
She hunted up the station-agent and received scanty encouragement: Very likely he had seen such a man; there were many of that description getting off every day. They generally went to the Inn—Brambleside Inn. The season was just open and society people were beginning to come. No, there was no conveyance. The Inn's 'buses did not meet any train after the six-thirty from town, unless ordered especially by guests. Was she expected?
Patsy was about to shake her head when a roadster swung around the corner of the station and came to a dead stop in front of where she and the station-master were standing.
The driver peered at her through his goggles in a questioning, hesitating manner. "Is this—are you Miss St. Regis?" he finally asked.
"Miriam St. Regis?" Patsy intended it for a question, realizing even as she spoke the absurdity of inquiring the name of an English actress at such a place.
But the driver took it for a statement of identity. "Yes, of course, Miss Miriam St. Regis. Mr. Blake made a mistake and thought because your box came from town you'd be coming that way. It wasn't until your manager, Mr. Travis, telephoned half an hour ago that he realized you'd be on that southbound train. Awfully sorry to have kept you waiting. Step right in, please."
Whereupon the driver removed himself from the roadster, assisted her to a seat, covered her with a rug—for early June evenings can be rather sharp—and the next moment Patsy found herself tearing down a stretch of country road with the purr of a motor as music to her ears.
"Sure, I don't know who wrote the play and starred me in it," she mused, dreamily, "but he certainly knows how to handle situations."
For the space of a few breaths she gave herself over completely to the luxury of bodily comfort and mental inertia. It seemed as if she would have been content to keep on whirling into an eternity of darkness—with a destination so remote, and a mission so obscure, as not to be of the slightest disturbance to her immediate consciousness. All she asked of fate that moment was the blessedness of nothing; and for answer—her mind was jerked back ruthlessly to the curse of more complexities.
The lights of a large building in the distance reminded her there was more work for her wits before her and no time to lose. "I must think—think—think, and it grows harder every minute. If Miriam St. Regis is coming here, it means, like as not, she's filling in between seasons, entertaining. Well, until she comes, they're all hearty welcome to the mistake they've made. And afterward—troth! there'll be a corner in her room for me the night, or Saint Michael's a sinner; either way, 'tis all right."
The driver unbundled her and helped her out as courteously as he had helped her in. He led the way across a broad veranda to the main entrance, and there she fell behind him as he pushed open the great swinging door.
"Oh, that you, Masters? Did Miss St. Regis come?"
"Sure thing, sir; she's right here."
The next moment Patsy stood in a blaze of lights between a personally conducting chauffeur and a pompous hotel manager, who looked down upon her with distrustful scrutiny. She was wholly aware of every inch of her appearance—the shabbiness of her brown Norfolk suit, the rakishness of her boyish brown beaver hat, and the vagabond gloves. But of what value is the precedent of having been found hanging on the thorn of a Killarney rose-bush by the Physician to the King, of what value is the knowledge of past kinship with a certain Dan O'Connell, if one allows a little matter of clothes to spoil one's entrance and murder one's lines?
The blood came flushing back into Patsy's cheeks, turning them the color of thorn bloom, and her eyes deepened to the blue of Killarney, sparkling as when the sun goes a-dancing. She smiled—a fresh, radiant, witching smile upon that clay lump of commercialism—until she saw his appraisement of her treble its original figure.
Then she said, sweetly: "I have had rather a hard time getting here, Mr. Blake; making connections in your country is not always as simple as one might expect. My room, please." And with an air of a grand duchess Patsy O'Connell, late of the Irish National Players, Dublin, and later of the women's free ward of the City Hospital, led the way across one of the most brilliant summer hotel foyers in America.
As she entered the elevator a young man stepped out—a young man with a small, blond, persevering mustache, a rather thin, esthetic, melancholy face, and a myopic squint. He wore a Balmacaan of Scotch tweed and carried a round, plush hat.
Patsy turned to the bell-boy. "Did that man arrive to-night?"
"Yes, miss; I took him up."
"What is his name—do you know?"
"Can't say, miss. I'll find out, if you like."
"There is no need. I rather think I know it myself." And under her breath she ejaculated, "Saint Peter deliver us!"
THE OCCUPANT OF A BALMACAAN COAT
Safe in her room, with the door closed and locked, Patsy stood transfixed before a trunk—likewise closed and locked.
"Thank Heaven for many blessings!" she said, fervently. "Thank Heaven Miriam St. Regis has worn wigs of every conceivable color and style on the stage, so there is small chance of any one here knowing the real color of her hair. Thank Heaven she's given to missing her engagements and not wiring about it until the next day. Thank Heaven I've played with her long enough to imitate her mannerisms, and know her well enough to explain away the night, if the need ever comes. Thank Heaven that George Travis is an old friend and can help out, if I fail. Thank Heaven for all of these! But, holy Saint Patrick! how will I ever be getting inside that box?"
On the heels of her fervor came an inspiration. Off came her gloves and hat, off came coat and skirt, blouse and shoes, and into the closet they all went. For, whereas Patsy could carry off her shabbiness before masculine eyes, she had neither the desire nor the fortitude to brave the keener, more critical gaze of her own sex. It was always for the women that Patsy dressed, and above all else did she stand in awe of the opinion of the hotel chambermaid, going down in tottering submission before it. Unlocking her door, she rang the bell; then crept in between the covers of her bed, drawing them up about her.
The chambermaid came and Patsy ordered the housekeeper. The housekeeper came and Patsy explained to her the loss of her bag—the loss of the keys was only implied; it was a part of Patsy's creed of life never to lie unless cornered. She further implied that she was entertaining no worry, as a well-appointed hotel always carried a bunch of skeleton trunk keys for the convenience of their guests.
Patsy's inspiration worked to perfection. In a few minutes the Inn had proved itself a well-appointed hostelry, and the trunk stood open before her. Alone again, she slipped out of bed—to lock the door and investigate. A wistaria lounging-robe was on in a twinkling, with quilted slippers to match. Then Patsy's eager fingers drew forth a dark emerald velvet, with bodice and panniers of gold lace, and she clasped it ecstatically in her arms.
"Miriam always had divine taste, but the faeries must have guided her hand for the choosing of this. Sure, I'd be feeling like a king's daughter if I wasn't so weak and heartsick. I feel more like a young gosling that some one has coaxed out of its shell a day too soon. Is it the effect of Billy Burgeman, I wonder, or the left-overs from the City Hospital, or an overdose of foolishness—or hunger, just?"
"Miss St. Regis" dined in her own room, and she dined like a king's daughter, with an appetite whetted by weeks of convalescing, charity fare. Even the possible appearance at any minute of her original self offered no terrors for her in the presence of such a soul-satisfying, hunger-appeasing feast.
* * * * *
At nine-thirty that evening, when the manager sent the hall-boy to call her, she looked every inch the king's daughter she had dined. The hall-boy, accustomed to "creations," gave her a frank stare of admiration, which Patsy noted out of the tail of her eye.
She was ravishing. The green and gold brought out the tawny red glint of her hair, which was bound with two gold bands about the head, ending in tiny emerald clasps over the barely discoverable tips of her ears; little gold shoes twinkled in and out of the clinging green as she walked.
"Faith! I feel like a whiff of Old Ireland herself," was Patsy O'Connell's subconscious comment as "Miss St. Regis" crossed the stage; and something of the feeling must have been wafted across the footlights to the audience, for it drew in its breath with a little gasp of genuine appreciation.
She heard it and was grateful for the few seconds it gave her to look at the program the manager had handed her as she was entering. It had never occurred to her that Miss St. Regis might arrange her program beforehand, that the audience might be expecting something definite and desired in the form of entertainment. It took all the control of a well-ordered Irish head to keep her from bolting for the little stage door after one glance at the paper. Her eye had caught the impersonation of two American actresses she had never seen, the reading of a Hawaiian love poem she had never heard of, and scenes from two plays she had never read. It was all too deliciously, absurdly horrible for words; and then Patsy O'Connell geared up her wits, as any true kinswoman of Dan's should.
In a flash there came back to her what the company had done once when they were playing one-night stands and the wrong scenery had come for the play advertised. It was worth trying here.
"Dear people," said Patsy O'Connell-St. Regis, smiling at the audience as one friend to another, "I have had so many requests from among you—since I made out my program—to give instead an evening of old Irish tales, that I have—capitulated; you shall have your wish."
The almost unbelievable applause that greeted her tempted her to further wickedness. "Very few people seem ever to remember that I had an Irish grandfather, Denis St. Regis, and that I like once in a while to be getting back to the sod."
There was something so hypnotic in her intimacy—this taking of every one into her confidence—that one budding youth forgot himself entirely and naively remarked, "It's a long way to Tipperary."
That clinched her success. She might have chanted "Old King Cole" and reaped a houseful of applause. As it was, she turned faery child and led them all forth to the Land of Faery—a world that neighbored so close to the real with her that long ago she had acquired the habit of carrying a good bit of it about with her wherever she went. It was small wonder, therefore, that, at the end of the evening, when she fixed upon a certain young man in the audience—a man with a persevering mustache, an esthetic face, and a melancholy, myopic squint—and told the last tale to him direct, that he felt called upon to go to her as she came down the steps into the ball-room and express his abject, worshipful admiration.
"That's all right," Patsy cut him short, "but—but—it would sound so much nicer outside, somewhere in the moonlight—away from everybody. Wouldn't it, now?"
This sudden amending of matter-of-factness with arch coquetry would have sounded highly amusing to ears less self-atuned than the erstwhile wearer of the Balmacaan. But he heard in it only the flattering tribute to a man chosen of men; and the hand that reached for Patsy's was almost masterful.
"Oh, would you really?" he asked, and he almost broke his melancholy with a smile.
"It must be my clothes," was her mental comment as he led her away; "they've gone to my own head; it's not altogether strange they've touched his a bit. But for a man who's forged his father's name and lost the girl he loved and then plunged into mortal despair, he's convalescing terribly fast."
They had reached a quiet corner of the veranda. Patsy dropped into a chair, while her companion leaned against a near-by railing and looked down at her with something very like a soulful expression.
"I might have known all along," Patsy was thinking, "that a back like that would have a front like this. Sure, ye couldn't get a real man to dress in knee-length petticoats." And then, to settle all doubts, she faced him with grim determination. "I let you bring me here because I had something to say to you. But first of all, did you come down here to-night on that five-something train from New York?"
The man nodded.
"Did you get to the train by a Madison Avenue car, taken from the corner of Seventy-seventh Street, maybe?"
"Why, how did you know?" The melancholy was giving place to rather pleased curiosity.
"How do I know!" Patsy glared at him. "I know because I've followed you every inch of the way—followed you to tell you I believed in you—you—you!" and her voice broke with a groan.
"Oh, I say, that was awfully good of you." This time the smile had right of way, and such a flattered, self-conscious smile as it was! "You know everybody takes me rather as a joke."
"Joke!" Patsy's eyes blazed. "Well, you're the most serious, impossible joke I ever met this side of London. Why, a person would have to dynamite his sense of humor to appreciate you."
"I don't think I understand." He felt about in his waistcoat pocket and drew forth a monocle, which he adjusted carefully. "Would you mind saying that again?"
Patsy's hands dropped helplessly to her lap. "I couldn't—only, after a woman has trailed a man she doesn't know across a country she doesn't know to a place she doesn't know—and without a wardrobe trunk, a letter of credit, or a maid, just to tell him she believes in him, he becomes the most tragically serious thing that ever happened to her in all her life."
"Oh, I say, I always thought they were pretty good; but I never thought any one would appreciate my poetry like that."
"Poetry! Do you—do that, too?"
"That's all I do. I am devoting my life to it; that's why my family take me a little—flippantly."
A faint streak of hope shot through Patsy's mind. "Would you mind telling me your name?"
"Why, I thought you knew. I thought you said that was why you wanted to—to—Hang it all! my name's Peterson-Jones—Wilfred Peterson-Jones."
Patsy was on her feet, clasping her hands in a shameless burst of emotion while she dropped into her own tongue. "Oh, that's a beautiful name—a grand name! Don't ye ever be changing it! And don't ye ever give up writing poetry; it's a beautiful pastime for any man by that name. But what—what, in the name of Saint Columkill, ever happened to Billy Burgeman!"
"Billy Burgeman? Why, he came down on the train with me and went back to Arden."
Patsy threw back her head and laughed—laughed until she almost feared she could not stop laughing. And then she suddenly became conscious of the pompous manager standing beside her, a yellow sheet of paper in his hand.
"Will you kindly explain what this means?" and he slapped the paper viciously.
"I'll try to," said Patsy; "but will you tell me just one thing first? How far is it to Arden?"
"Arden? It's seven miles to Arden. But what's that got to do with this? This is a wire from Miss St. Regis, saying she is ill and will be unable to fill her engagement here to-night! Now, who are you?"
"I? Why, I'm her understudy, of course—and—I'm—so happy—" Whereupon Patricia O'Connell, late of the Irish National Players and later of the women's free ward of the City Hospital, crumpled up on the veranda floor in a dead faint.
A TINKER POINTS THE ROAD
The Brambleside Inn lost one of its guests at an inconceivably early hour the morning after Patsy O'Connell unexpectedly filled Miss St. Regis's engagement there. The guest departed by way of the second-floor piazza and a fire-escape, and not even the night watchman saw her go. But it was not until she had put a mile or more of open country between herself and the Inn that Patsy indulged in the freedom of a long breath.
"After this I'll keep away from inns and such like; 'tis too wit-racking to make it anyways comfortable. I feel now as if I'd been caught lifting the crown jewels, instead of giving a hundred-guinea performance for the price of a night's bed and board and coming away as poor as a tinker's ass."
A smile caught at the corners of her mouth—a twitching, memory smile. She was thinking of the note she had left folded in with the green-and-gold gown in Miriam St. Regis's trunk. In it she had stated her payment of one Irish grandfather by the name of Denis—in return for the loan of the dress—and had hoped that Miriam would find him handy on future public occasions. Patsy could not forbear chuckling outright—the picture of anything so unmitigatedly British as Miriam St. Regis with an Irish ancestor trailing after her for the rest of her career was too entrancing.
An early morning wind was blowing fresh from the clover-fields, rose-gardens, and new-leafed black birch and sassafras. Such a well-kept, clean world of open country it looked to Patsy as her eye followed the road before her, on to the greening meadows and wooded slopes, that her heart joined the chorus of song-sparrow and meadow-lark, who sang from the sheer gladness of being a live part of it all.
She sighed, not knowing it. "Faith! I'm wishing 'twas more nor seven miles to Arden. I'd like to be following the road for days and days, and keeping the length of it between Billy Burgeman and myself."
Starting before the country was astir, she had met no one of whom she could inquire the way. A less adventuresome soul than Patsy might have sat herself down and waited for direction; but that would have meant wasting minutes—precious minutes before the dawn should break and she should be no longer sole possessor of the road and the world that bounded it. So Patsy chose the way for herself—content that it would lead her to her destination in the end. The joy of true vagabondage was rampant within her: there was the road, urging her like an impatient comrade to be gone; there was her errand of good-will giving purpose to her journey; and the facts that she was homeless, penniless, breakfastless, a stranger in a strange country, mattered not a whit. So thoroughly had she always believed in good fortune that somehow she always managed to find it; and out of this she had evolved her philosophy of life.
"Ye see, 'tis this way," she would say; "the world is much like a great cat—with claws to hide or use, as the notion takes it. If ye kick and slap at it, 'twill hump its back and scratch at ye—sure as fate; but if ye are wise and a bit patient ye can have it coaxed and smoothed down till it's purring to make room for ye at any hearthside. And there's another thing it's well to remember—that folks are folks the world over, whether they are wearing your dress and speaking your tongue or another's."
And as Patsy was blessed in the matter of philosophy—so was she blessed in the matter of possessions. She did not have to own things to possess them.
There was no doubt but that Patsy had a larger share of the world than many who could reckon their estates in acreage or who owned so many miles of fenced-off property. She held a mortgage on every inch of free roadway, rugged hilltop, or virgin forest her feet crossed. She claimed squatters' rights on every bit of shaded pasture, or sunlit glade, or singing brook her heart rejoiced in. In other words, everything outside of walls and fences belonged to her by virtue of her vagabondage; and she had often found herself pitying the narrow folk who possessed only what their deeds or titles allotted to them.
And yet never in Patsy's life had she felt quite so sure about it as she did this morning, probably because she had never before set forth on a self-appointed adventure so heedless of means and consequences.
"Sure, there are enough wise people in the world," she mused as she tramped along; "it needs a few foolish ones to keep things happening. And could a foolish adventuring body be bound for a better place than Arden!"
She rounded a bend in the road and came upon a stretch of old stump fencing. From one of the stumps appeared to be hanging a grotesque figure of some remarkable cut; it looked both ancient and romantic, sharply silhouetted against the iridescence of the dawn.
Patsy eyed it curiously. "It comes natural for me to be partial to anything hanging to a thorn, or a stump; but—barring that—it still looks interesting."
As she came abreast it she saw it was not hanging, however. It was perched on a lower prong of a root and it was a man, clothed in the most absolute garment of rags Patsy had ever seen off the legitimate stage.
"From an artistic standpoint they are perfect," was Patsy's mental tribute. "Wouldn't Willie Fay give his Sunday dinner if he could gather him in as he is, just—to play the tinker! Faith! those rags are so real I wager he keeps them together only by the grace of God."
As she stopped in front of the figure he turned his head slowly and gazed at her with an expression as far away and bewildered as a lost baby's.
In the half-light of the coming day he looked supernatural—a strange spirit from under the earth or above the earth, but not of the earth. This was borne in upon Patsy's consciousness, and it set her Celtic blood tingling and her eyes a-sparkling.
"He looks as half-witted as those back in the Old Country who have the second sight and see the faeries. Aye, and he's as young and handsome as a king's son. Poor lad!" And then she called aloud, "'Tis a brave day, this."
"Hmm!" was the response, rendered impartially.
Patsy's alert eyes spied a nondescript kit flung down in the grass at the man's feet and they set a-dancing. "Then ye are a tinker?"
"Hmm!" was again the answer. It conveyed an impression of hesitant doubt, as if the speaker would have avoided, if he could, the responsibility of being anything at all, even a tinker.
"That's grand," encouraged Patsy. "I like tinkers, and, what's more, I'm a bit of a vagabond myself. I'll grant ye that of late years the tinkers are treated none too hearty about Ireland; but there was a time—" Patsy's mind trailed off into the far past, into a maze of legend and folk-tale wherein tinkers were figures of romance and mystery. It was good luck then to fall in with such company; and Patsy, being more a product of past romance than present civilization, was pleased to read into this meeting the promise of a fair road and success to her quest.
Moreover, there was another appeal—the apparent helpless bewilderment of the man himself and his unreality. He was certainly not in possession of all his senses, from whatever world he might have dropped; and helplessness in man or beast was a blood bond with Patsy, making instant claim on her own abundant sympathies and wits.
She held the tinker with a smile of open comradeship while her voice took on an alluring hint of suggestion. "Ye can't be thinking of hanging onto that stump all day—now what road might ye be taking—the one to Arden?"
For some minutes the tinker considered her and her question with an exaggerated gravity; then he nodded his head in a final agreement.
"Grand! I'm bound that way myself; maybe ye know Arden?"
"And how far might it be?"
Patsy wrinkled her forehead. "That's strange; 'twas seven miles last night, and I've tramped half the distance already, I'm thinking. Never mind! What's behind won't trouble me, and the rest of the way will soon pass in good company. Come on," and she beckoned her head in indisputable command.
Once again he considered her slowly. Then, as if satisfied, he swung himself down from his perch on the stump fence, gathered up his kit, and in another minute had fallen into step with her; and the two were contentedly tramping along the road.
"The man who's writing this play," mused Patsy, "is trying to match wits with Willie Shakespeare. If any one finds him out they'll have him up for plagiarizing."
She chuckled aloud, which caused the tinker to cast an uneasy glance in her direction.
"Poor lad! The half-wits are always suspicious of others' wits. He thinks I'm fey." And then aloud: "Maybe ye are not knowing it, but anything at all is likely to happen to ye to-day—on the road to Arden. According to Willie Shakespeare—whom ye are not likely to be acquainted with—it's a place where philosophers and banished dukes and peasants and love-sick youths and lions and serpents all live happily together under the 'Greenwood Tree.' Now, I'm the banished duke's own daughter—only no one knows it; and ye—sure, ye can take your choice between playing the younger brother—or the fool."
"The fool," said the tinker, solemnly; and then of a sudden he threw back his head and laughed.
Patsy stopped still on the road and considered him narrowly. "Couldn't ye laugh again?" she suggested when the laugh was ended. "It improves ye wonderfully." An afterthought flashed in her mind. "After all's said and done, the fool is the best part in the whole play."
After this they tramped along in silence. The tinker kept a little in advance, his head erect, his hands swinging loosely at his sides, his eyes on nothing at all. He seemed oblivious of what lay back of him or before him—and only half conscious of the companion at his side. But Patsy's fancy was busy with a hundred things, while her eyes went afield for every scrap of prettiness the country held. There were meadows of brilliant daisies, broken by clumps of silver poplars, white birches, and a solitary sentinel pine; and there was the roadside tangle with its constant surprises of meadowsweet and columbine, white violets—in the swampy places—and once in a while an early wild rose.
"In Ireland," she mused, "the gorse would be out, fringing the pastures, and on the roadside would be heartsease and faery thimbles, and perhaps a few late primroses; and the meadow would be green with corn." A faint wisp of a sigh escaped her at the thought, and the tinker looked across at her questioningly. "Sure, it's my heart hungering a bit for the bogland and a whiff of the turf smoke. This exile idea is a grand one for a play, but it gets lonesome at times in real life. Maybe ye are Irish yourself?"
It was Patsy's turn to glance across at the tinker, but all she saw was the far-away, wondering look that she had seen first in his face. "Poor lad! Like as not he finds it hard remembering where he's from; they all do. I'll not pester him again."
He looked up and caught her eyes upon him and smiled foolishly.
Patsy smiled back. "Do ye know, lad, I've not had a morsel of breakfast this day. Have ye any money with ye, by chance?"
The tinker stopped, put down his kit, and hunted about in his rags where the pocket places might be; but all he drew forth were his two empty hands. He looked down the stretch of road they had come with an odd twist to his mouth, then he burst forth into another laugh.
"Have ye been playing the pigeon, and some one plucked ye?" she asked, and went on without waiting for his answer. "Never mind! We'll sharpen up our wits afresh and earn a breakfast. Are ye handy at tinkering, now?"
"You bet I am!" said the tinker. It was the longest speech he had made.
* * * * *
At the next farm Patsy turned in, with a warning to the tinker to do as he was told and to hold his tongue. It was a thoroughly well-kept-looking farm, and she picked out what she decided must be the side door, and knocked. A kindly-faced, middle-aged woman opened it, and Patsy smiled with the good promise of her looks.
"We are two—down on our luck, and strangers hereabouts. Have ye got any tinkering jobs for my man there? He's a bit odd and says little; but he can solder a broken pot or mend a machine with the best. And we'll take out our pay in a good, hearty meal."
"There be a pile of dishes in the pantry I've put by till we was goin' to town—handles off and holes in the bottom. He can mend them out on the stoop, if he likes. I've got to help with berry-pickin'; we're short-handed this season."
"Are ye, just? Then I'm thinking I'll come in handy." Patsy smiled her smile of winning comradeship as she stooped and picked up a tray of empty berry-boxes that stood by the door; while the woman's smile deepened with honest appreciation.
"My! but you are willing folks; they're sometimes scarce 'round here."
"Faith, we're hungry folks—so ye best set us quickly to work."
They left the tinker on the stoop, surrounded by a heterogeneous collection of household goods. Patsy cast an anxious backward glance at him, but saw that he was rolling up the rags that served for sleeves, thereby baring a pair of brawny, capable-looking arms, while he spread his tools before him after the manner of a man who knows his business.
"Fine!" commented Patsy, with an inner satisfaction. "He may be foolish, but I bet he can tinker."
They picked berries for an hour or more, and then Patsy turned too and helped the woman get dinner. They bustled about in silence to the accompanying pounding and scraping of the tinker, who worked unceasingly. When they sat down to dinner at last there was a tableful—the woman and her husband, Patsy, the tinker, and the "hands," and before them was spread the very best the farm could give. It was as if the woman wished to pay their free-will gift of service with her unstinted bounty.
"We always ask a blessin'," said the farmer, simply, folding his hands on the table, about to begin. Then he looked at Patsy, and, with that natural courtesy that is common to the true man of the soil, he added, "We'd be pleased if you'd ask it."
Patsy bowed her head. A little whimsical smile crept to her lips, but her voice rang deep with feeling: "For food and fellowship, good Lord, we thank Thee. Amen!" And she added under her breath, "And take a good grip of the Rich Man's son till we get him."
* * * * *
The late afternoon found them back on the road once more. They parted from the farmer and his wife as friend parts with friend. The woman slipped a bundle of food—bread, cheese, and meat left from the dinner, with a box of berries—into Patsy's hand, while the man gave the tinker a half-dollar and wished him luck.
Patsy thanked them for both; but it was not until they were well out of earshot that she spoke to the tinker: "They are good folk, but they'd never understand in a thousand years how we came to be traveling along together. What folks don't know can't hurt them, and 'tis often easier holding your tongue than trying to explain what will never get through another's brain. Now put that lunch into your kit; it may come in handy—who knows? And God's blessing on all kind hearts!"
Whereupon the tinker nodded solemnly.
They had tramped for a mile or more when they came to a cross-roads marked by a little white church. From the moment they sighted it Patsy's feet began to lag; and by the time they reached the crossing of the ways she had stopped altogether and was gazing up at the little gold cross with an odd expression of whimsical earnestness.
"Do ye know," she said, slowly, clasping the hands long shorn of the vagabond gloves—"do ye know I've told so many lies these last two days I think I'll bide yonder for a bit, and see can Saint Anthony lift the sins from me. 'Twould make the rest o' the road less burdensome—don't ye think?"
The tinker looked uncomfortably confused, as though this sudden question of ethics or religion was too much for his scattered wits. He dug the toe of his boot in the gravel of the church path and removed his cap to aid the labor of his thinking. "Maybe—" he agreed at last. "An' will I be waitin' for you—or keepin' on?"
"Ye'll wait, of course," commanded Patsy.
She had barely disappeared through the little white door, and the tinker thrown himself down with his back to the sign-post which marked the roads, when a sorrel mare and a runabout came racing down the road over which they had just come. There were two men in the runabout, both of them tense and alert, their heads craned far in advance of the rest of them, their eyes scanning the diverging roads.
"I cal'ate she's gone that way." The driver swung the whip, indicating the road that ran south.
"Wall—I cal'ate so, too," agreed the other. "But then again—she mightn't."
They reined in and discovered the tinker. "Some one passed this way sence you been settin' there?" they inquired almost in unison.
"I don't know"—the tinker's fingers passed hurriedly across his eyes and forehead, by way of seeking misplaced wits—"some one might be almost any one," he smiled, cheerfully.
"Look here, young feller, if you're tryin' to be smart—" the driver began, angrily; but his companion silenced him with a nudge and a finger tapped significantly on the crown of his hat. He moderated his tone:
"We're after a girl in a brown suit and hat—undersized girl. She was asking the way to Arden. Seen any one of that description?"
"What do you want with her?"
"Never mind," growled the first man.
But the second volunteered meager information, "She's a suspect. Stayed last night in the Inn and this morning a couple of thousand dollars' worth of diamonds is missin'; that's what we want her for."
The tinker brightened perceptibly. "Guess she went by in a wagon half an hour ago—that way. I think I saw her," and as the men turned southward down the road marked Arden he called after them, "Better hurry, if you want to catch her; the wagon was going at a right smart pace."
He waited for their backs to be turned and for the crack of the whip that lifted the heels of the sorrel above the dashboard before she plunged, then, with amazing speed, of mind as well as of body, he wrenched every sign from the post and pitched them out of sight behind a neighboring stone wall.
The dust from departing wheels still filled the air when Patsy stepped out of the cross-roads church, peacefully radiant, and found the tinker sitting quietly with his back against the post.
"So ye are still here. I thought ye might have grown tired of my company, after all, and gone on." Patsy laughed happily. "Now do ye know which road goes to Arden?"
"Sure," and the tinker joined in her laugh, while he pointed to the straight road ahead, the road that ran west, at right angles to the one the runabout had taken.
"Come on, then," said Patsy; "we ought to be there by sundown." She stopped and looked him over for the space of a second. "Ye are improving wonderfully. Mind! ye mustn't be getting too keen-witted or we'll have to be parting company."
"That's the why!" And with this satisfactory explanation she led the way down the road the tinker had pointed.
AT DAY'S END
Their road went the way of the setting sun, and Patsy and the tinker traveled it leisurely—after the fashion of those born to the road, who find their joy in the wandering, not in the making of a distance or the reaching of a destination. Since they had left the cross-roads church behind Patsy had marked the tinker casting furtive glances along the way they had come; and each time she marked, as well, the flash of a smile that lightened his face for an instant when he saw that the road still remained empty of aught but themselves.
"It's odd," she mused; "he hasn't the look of a knave who might fear a trailing of constables at his heels; and yet—and yet his wits have him pestered about something that lies back of him."
Once it was otherwise. There was a rising of dust showing on one of the hills they had climbed a good half-hour before. When the tinker saw it he reached of a sudden for Patsy's hand while he pointed excitedly beyond pasture bars ahead to a brownish field that lay some distance from the road.
"See, lass, that's sorrel. If you'll break the road along with me I'll show you where wild strawberries grow, lots of 'em!"
Her answer was to take the pasture bars at a run as easily as any country-bred urchin. The tinker swung himself after her, an odd wisp of a smile twisting the corners of his mouth, just such a smile as the fool might wear on the road to Arden. The two raced for the sorrel-tops—the tinker winning.
When Patsy caught up he was on his knees, his head bare, his eyes sparkling riotously, running his fingers exultantly through the green leaves that carpeted the ground. "See," he chuckled, "the tinker knows somethin' more 'n solder and pots."
Patsy's eyes danced. There they were—millions of the tiny red berries, as thick and luscious as if they had been planted in Elysian fields for Arcadian folk to gather. "The wee, bonnie things!" she laughed. "Now, how were ye afther knowing they were here?"
The tinker cocked his head wisely. "I know more 'n that; I know where to find yellow lady's-slippers 'n' the yewberries 'n' hummin'-bird nests."
She looked at him joyfully; he was turning out more and more to her liking. "Could ye be showing them to me, lad?" she asked.
The tinker eyed her bashfully. "Would you—care, then?"
"Sure, and I would;" and with that she was flat on the ground beside him, her fingers flying in search of strawberries.
So close they lay to the earth, so hidden by the waving sorrel and neighboring timothy, that had a whole county full of constables been abroad they could have passed within earshot and never seen them there.
With silence between them they ate until their lips were red and the cloud of dust on the hill back of them had whirled past, attendant on a sorrel mare and runabout. They ate until the road was quite empty once more; and then the tinker pulled Patsy to her feet by way of reminding her that Arden still lay beyond them.
"Do ye know," said Patsy, after another silence and they were once more afoot, "I'm a bit doubtful if the banished duke's daughter ever tasted anything half as sweet as those berries on her road to Arden; or, for that matter, if she found her fool half as wise. I'm mortial glad ye didn't fall off that stump this morning afore I came by to fetch ye off."
The tinker doffed his battered cap unexpectedly and swept her an astounding bow.
"Holy Saint Christopher!" ejaculated Patsy. "Ye'll be telling me ye know Willie Shakespeare next."
But the tinker answered with a blank stare, while the far-away, bewildered look of fear came back to his eyes. "Who's he? Does he live 'round here?" he asked, dully.
Patsy wrinkled a perplexed forehead. "Lad, lad, ye have me bursting with wonderment! Ye are a rare combination, even for an Irish tinker; but if ye are a fair sample of what they are over here, sure the States have the Old Country beaten entirely."
And the tinker laughed as he had laughed once before that day—the free, untrammeled laugh of youth, while he saucily mimicked her Irish brogue. "Sure, 'tis the road to Arden, ye were sayin', and anythin' at all can happen on the way."
The girl laughed with him. "And ye'll be telling me next that this is three hundred years ago, and romance and Willie Shakespeare are still alive." Her mind went racing back to the "once-upon-a-time days," the days when chivalry walked abroad—before it took up its permanent residence between the covers of story-books—when poets and saints, kings' sons and—tinkers journeyed afar to prove their manhood in deeds instead of inheritances; when it was no shame to live by one's wits or ask hospitality at any strange door. Ah—those were the days! And yet—and yet—could not those days be given back to the world again? And would not the world be made a merrier, sweeter place because of them? If Patsy could have had her way she would have gone forth at the ring of each new day like the angel in the folk tale, and with her shears cut the nets that bound humanity down to petty differences in creed or birth or tongue.
"Faith, it makes one sick," she thought. "We tell our children the tales of the Red Branch Knights—of King Arthur and the Knights of the Grail—and rejoice afresh over the beauty and wonder of them; we stand by the hour worshiping at the pictures of the saints—simple men and women who just went about doing kindness; and we read the Holy Book—the tales of Christ with his fishermen, wandering about, looking for some good deed to do, some helpfulness to give, some word of good cheer to speak; and we pray, 'Father, make us good—even as Thou wert.' And what does it all mean? We hurry through the streets afeared to stop on the corner and succor a stranger, or ashamed to speak a friendly word to a troubled soul in a tram-car; and we go home at night and lock our doors so that the beggar who asked for a bit of bread at noon can't come round after dark and steal the silver." Patsy sighed regretfully—if only this were olden times she would not be dreading to find Arden now and the man she was seeking there.
The tinker caught the sigh and looked over at her with a puzzled frown. "Tired?" he asked, laconically.
"Aye, a bit heart-tired," she agreed, "and I'm wishing Arden was still a good seven miles away."
Whereupon the tinker turned his head and grinned sheepishly toward the south.
* * * * *
The far-away hills had gathered in the last of the sun unto themselves when the two turned down the main street of a village. It was unquestionably a self-respecting village. The well-tarred sidewalks, the freshly painted meeting-house neighboring the engine-house "No. 1," the homes with their well-mowed lawns in front and the tidily kept yards behind—all spoke of a decency and lawfulness that might easily have set the hearts of the most righteous of vagabonds a-quaking.
Patsy looked it carefully over. "Sure, Arden's no name for it at all. They'd better have called it Gospel Center—or New Canaan. 'Twould be a grand place, though, to shut in all the Wilfred Peterson-Joneses, to keep them off the county's nerves—and the rich men's sons, to keep them off the public sympathy. But 'tis no place for us, lad."
The tinker shifted his kit from one shoulder to the other and held his tongue.
Their entrance was what Patsy might have termed "fit." The dogs of the village were on hand; that self-appointed escort of all doubtful characters barked them down the street with a lusty chorus of growls and snarls and sharp, staccato yaps. There were the children, too, of course; the older ones followed hot-foot after the dogs; the smaller ones came, a stumbling vanguard, sucking speculative thumbs or forefingers, as the choice might be. The hurly-burly brought the grown-ups to windows and doors.
"'Hark! hark! the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town,'" quoted Patsy, with a grim little smile, and glanced across at the tinker. He was blushing fiercely. "Never mind, lad. 'Tis better being barked into a town than bitten out of it."
For answer the tinker stopped and folded his arms sullenly. "I'm not such a fool I can't feel somethin'. Don't you reckon I know the shame it is to be keepin' a decent woman company with these rags—and no wits?"
"If I've not misplaced my memory, 'twas myself that chose the company, and 'twas largely on account of those very things, I'm thinking. Do ye guess for a minute that if ye had been a rich man's son in grand clothes—and manners to match—I'd ever have tramped a millimeter with ye?" She smiled coaxingly. "Faith! there's naught the matter with those rags; a king's son might be proud o' them. As for foolishness, I've known worse faults in a man."
The tinker winced imperceptibly, and all unconsciously Patsy went on: "'Tis the heart of a man that measures him, after all, and not the wits that crowd his brain or the gold that lines his pockets. Oh, what do the folks who sit snug by their warm hearthsides, knitting their lives into comfortables to wrap around their real feelings and human impulses, ever know about their neighbors who come in to drink tea with them? And what do the neighbors in turn know about them? If I had my way, I'd tumble the whole sit-by-the-fire-and-gossip world out of doors and set them tramping the road to somewhere; 'tis the surest way of getting them acquainted with themselves and the neighbors. For that matter, all of us need it—just once in so often. And so—to the road, say I, with a fair greeting to all alike, be they king's son or beggar, for the road may prove the one's the other afore the journey's done."
"Amen!" said the tinker, devoutly, and Patsy laughed.
They had stopped in the middle of the street, midway between the church and the engine-house, Patsy so absorbed in her theories, the tinker so absorbed in Patsy, that neither was aware of the changed disposition of their circling escort until a cold, inquisitive nose and a warm, friendly tongue brought them to themselves. Greetings were returned in kind; heads were patted, backs stroked, ears scratched—only the children stood aloof and unconvinced. That is ever the way of it; it is the dogs who can better tell glorious vagabondage from inglorious rascality.
"Sure, ye can't fool dogs; I'd be taking the word of a dog before a man's anywhere when it comes to judging human beings." Patsy looked over her shoulder at the children. "Ye have the creatures won over entirely; 'tis myself might try what I could do with the wee ones. If we had the dogs and the childther to say a good word for us—faith! the grown-ups might forget how terribly respectable they were and make us welcome for one night." A sudden thought caught her memory. "I was almost forgetting why I had come. Hunt up a shop for me, lad, will ye? There must be one down the street a bit; and if ye'll loan me some of that half-crown the good man paid for your tinkering, I'd like to be having a New York News—if they have one—along with the fixings for a letter I have to be writing. While ye are gone I'll bewitch the childther."
And she did.
When the tinker returned she was sitting on the church steps, the children huddled so close about her that she was barely distinguishable in the encircling mass of shingled heads, bobby curls, pigtails and hair-ribbons. Deaf little ears were being turned to parental calls for supper—a state of affairs unprecedented and unbelievable; while Patsy was bringing to an end the tale of Jack, the Irish hero of a thousand and one adventures.
"And he married the king's daughter—and they lived happier than ye can tell me—and twice as happy as I can tell ye—in a castle that had a window for every day in the year."
"That would make a fine endin' for any lad's story," said the tinker, soberly. "'A window for every day in the year' would mean a whole lot of cheerfulness and sunshine, wouldn't it?"
Patsy nodded. "But don't those who take to the road fetch that castle along with them? Sure, there it is"—and her hand swept toward the skyline an encompassing circle about them—"with the sun flooding it from dawn to day's end." She turned to the eager faces about her, waiting for more. "Are ye still there? Faith! what have I been hearing this half-hour but hungry childther being called for tea. 'Twas 'Joseph' from the house across the way, and 'Rebecca' from off yonder, and 'Susie May' from somewhere else. Away with yez all to your mothers!" And Patsy scattered them as if they had been a flock of young sheep, scampering helter-skelter in all directions.
But one there was who lagged behind, a little boy with an old, old face, who watched the others go and then crept closer, held by the spell of the tale. He pulled at Patsy's sleeve to gain attention. "I'm—I'm Joseph. Was it true—most of it?"
She nodded a reply as solemn as his question, "Aye, as true as youth and the world itself."
"And would it come true for another boy—any boy—who went a-tramping off like that? Would he find—whatever he was wishin' for?" And even as he spoke his eyes left hers and went searching for the far-away hills—and what might lie beyond.
"Come here, little lad." Patsy drew him to her and put two steadying hands on his shoulders. She knew that he, too, had heard the call of the road and the longing to be gone—to be one with it, journeying to meet the mysterious unknown—was upon him. "Hearken to me: 'Tis only safe for a little lad to be going when he has three things to fetch with him—the wish to find something worth the bringing home, the knowledge of what makes good company along the way, and trust in himself. When ye are sure of these, go; but ye'll no longer be a little lad, I'm thinking. And remember first to get the mother's blessing and 'God-speed,' same as Jack; a lad's journey ends nowhere that begins without that."
He went without a word, but content; and his eyes brimmed with visions.
Patsy watched him tenderly. "Who knows—he may find greatness on his road. Who knows?"
The tinker dropped the bundle he had brought back from the store into her lap, but she scarcely heeded him. Her eyes were looking out into the gathering dusk while her voice sank almost to a whisper.
"Ochone! but I've always envied that piper fellow from Hamelin town. Think of being able to gather up all the childther hereabouts, eager, hungry-hearted childther with mothers too busy or deaf to heed them, and leading them away to find their fortunes! Wouldn't that be wonderful, just?"
"What kind of fortunes?" asked the tinker.
"What but the best kind!" Patsy thought for a moment, and smiled whimsically while her eyes grew strangely starry in that early twilight. "Wouldn't I like to be choosing those fortunes, and wouldn't they be an odd lot, entirely! There'd be singing hearts that had learned to sing above trouble; there'd be true fellowship—the kind that finds brotherhood in beggars as well as—as prime ministers; there'd be peace of soul—not the kind that naps by the fire, content that the wind doesn't be blowing down his chimney, but the kind that fights above fighting and keeps neighbor from harrying neighbor. Troth, the world is in mortial need of fortunes like the last."
"And wouldn't you be choosin' gold for a fortune?" asked the tinker.
Patsy shook her head vehemently.
"That's the why!" Suddenly Patsy clenched her hands and shook two menacing fists against the gathering dark. "I hate gold, along with the meanness and the lying and the thieving and the false judgment it brings into the world."
"But the world can't get along without it," reminded the tinker, shrewdly.
"Aye, but it can. It can get along without the hoarded gold, the inherited gold, the cheating, bribing, starving gold—that's the kind I mean, the kind that gets into a man's heart and veins until his fingers itch to gild everything he touches, like the rich man in the city yonder."
"What rich man? I thought the—I thought the city was full o' rich men."
"Maybe; but there's just one I'm thinking of now; and God pity him—and his son."
The tinker eyed her stupidly. "How d'you know he has a son?"
Patsy laughed. "I guessed—maybe." Then she looked down in her lap. "And here's the news—with no light left to read it by; and I'm as hungry as an alley cat—and as tired as two. Ye'd never dream, to hear me talking, that I'd never had much more than a crooked sixpence to my name since I was born; and here I am, with that gone and not a slither to buy me bed or board for the night."
The tinker looked down at her with an altogether strange expression, very different from anything Patsy had seen on his face all day. Had she chanced to catch it before it flickered out, it might have puzzled even her O'Connell wits to fathom the meaning of it. For it was as if the two had unexpectedly changed places, and the tender pity and protectiveness that had belonged to her had suddenly become his.
"Never mind, lass; there's board in the kit for to-night—what the farm wife put up; and there's this left, and I'll—I'll—" He did not finish; instead he dropped a few coins in her hand, the change from the half-dollar. Then he set about sweeping the dust from the step with his battered cap and spreading their meager meal before her.
They ate in silence, so deep in the business of dulling their appetites that they never noticed a small figure crossing the street with two goblets and a pitcher hugged tight in his arms. They never looked up until the things were set down beside them and a voice announced at their elbow, "Mother said I could bring it; it's better 'n eatin' dry."
It was Joseph; and the pitcher held milk, still foamy from a late milking. He looked at Patsy a moment longingly, as if there was more he wanted to ask; but, overcome with a sudden bashful confusion, he took to his heels and disappeared around the corner of the meeting-house before they had time even to give thanks.
The tinker poured the goblets full, handed Patsy's to her with another grave bow, and, touching his to hers, said, soberly, "Here's to a friendly lass—the first I ever knew, I reckon."
For an instant she watched him, puzzled and amused; then she raised her glass slowly in reply. "And here's to tinkers—the world over!"
When everything but the crumbs were eaten she left him to scatter these and return Joseph's pitcher while she went to get "the loan of a light from the shopkeeper, and hunt up the news."
* * * * *
The store was store, post-office, and general news center combined. The news was at that very moment in process of circulation among the "boys"—a shirt-sleeved quorum from the patriarchs of the town circling the molasses-keg—the storekeeper himself topped it. They looked up as Patsy entered and acknowledged her "Good evening" with that perfect indifference, the provincial cloak in habitual use for concealing the most absolute curiosity. The storekeeper graciously laid the hospitality of his stool and counter and kerosene-lamp at her feet; in other words, he "cal'ated she was welcome to make herself t' home." All of which Patsy accepted. She spread out the newspaper on the counter in front of her; she unwrapped a series of small bundles—ink, pen, stamped envelope, letter-pad, and pen-holder, and eyed them with approval.
"The tinker's a wonder entirely," she said to herself; "but I would like to be knowing, did he or did the shopkeeper do the choosing?" Then she remembered the thing above all others that she needed to know, and swung about on the stool to address the quorum. "I say—can you tell me where I'd be likely to find a—person by the name of Bil—William Burgeman?"
"That rich feller's boy?"
Patsy nodded. "Have you seen him?"
The quorum thumbed the armholes of their vests and shook an emphatic negative. "Nope," volunteered the storekeeper; "too early for him or his sort to be diggin' out o' winter quarters."
"Are you sure? Do you know him?"
"Wall, can't say exactly ef I know him; but I'd know ef he'd been hangin' round, sartin. Hain't been nothin' like him loose in these parts. Has there, boys?"
The quorum confirmed the statement.
Patsy wrinkled up a perplexed forehead. "That's odd. You see, he should have been here last night, to-day at the latest. I had it from somebody who knew, that he was coming to Arden."
"Mebby he was," drawled the storekeeper, while the quorum cackled in appreciation; "but this here is a good seven miles from Arden."
Patsy's arms fell limp across the counter, her head followed, and she sat there a crumpled-up, dejected little heap.
"By Jack-a-diamonds!" swore the storekeeper. "She 'ain't swoomed, has she, boys?"
The quorum were on the verge of investigating when she denied the fact—in person. "Where am I? In the name of Saint Peter, what place is this?"
"This? Why, this is Lebanon."
She smiled weakly. "Lebanon! Sounds more like it, anyhow. Thank you."
She turned about and settled down to the paper while the "boys" reverted to their original topic of discussion. There were two items of news that interested her: Burgeman, senior, was critically ill; he had been ill for some time, but there had been no cause for apprehension until the last twenty-four hours; and Marjorie Schuyler had left for San Francisco—on the way to China. She was to be gone indefinitely.
"The heathen idols and the laundrymen are welcome to her," growled Patsy, maliciously. "If they'd only fix her with the evil eye, or wish such a homesickness and lovesickness on her that 'twould last for a year and a day, I'd forgive her for what she's made me wish on myself."