STORIES OF A WESTERN TOWN
By Octave Thanet
The Besetment of Kurt Lieders
The Face of Failure
Tommy and Thomas
An Assisted Providence
THE BESETMENT OF KURT LIEDERS
A SILVER rime glistened all down the street.
There was a drabble of dead leaves on the sidewalk which was of wood, and on the roadway which was of macadam and stiff mud. The wind blew sharply, for it was a December day and only six in the morning. Nor were the houses high enough to furnish any independent bulwark; they were low, wooden dwellings, the tallest a bare two stories in height, the majority only one story. But they were in good painting and repair, and most of them had a homely gayety of geraniums or bouvardias in the windows. The house on the corner was the tall house. It occupied a larger yard than its neighbors; and there were lace curtains tied with blue ribbons for the windows in the right hand front room. The door of this house swung back with a crash, and a woman darted out. She ran at the top of her speed to the little yellow house farther down the street. Her blue calico gown clung about her stout figure and fluttered behind her, revealing her blue woollen stockings and felt slippers. Her gray head was bare. As she ran tears rolled down her cheeks and she wrung her hands.
"Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh, lieber Herr Je!" One near would have heard her sob, in too distracted agitation to heed the motorneer of the passing street-car who stared after her at the risk of his car, or the tousled heads behind a few curtains. She did not stop until she almost fell against the door of the yellow house. Her frantic knocking was answered by a young woman in a light and artless costume of a quilted petticoat and a red flannel sack.
"Oh, gracious goodness! Mrs. Lieders!" cried she.
Thekla Lieders rather staggered than walked into the room and fell back on the black haircloth sofa.
"There, there, there," said the young woman while she patted the broad shoulders heaving between sobs and short breath, "what is it? The house aint afire?"
"Oh, no, oh, Mrs. Olsen, he has done it again!" She wailed in sobs, like a child.
"Done it? Done what?" exclaimed Mrs. Olsen, then her face paled. "Oh, my gracious, you DON'T mean he's killed himself———"
"Yes, he's killed himself, again."
"And he's dead?" asked the other in an awed tone.
Mrs. Lieders gulped down her tears. "Oh, not so bad as that, I cut him down, he was up in the garret and I sus—suspected him and I run up and—oh, he was there, a choking, and he was so mad! He swore at me and—he kicked me when I—I says: 'Kurt, what are you doing of? Hold on till I git a knife,' I says—for his hands was just dangling at his side; and he says nottings cause he couldn't, he was most gone, and I knowed I wouldn't have time to git no knife but I saw it was a rope was pretty bad worn and so—so I just run and jumped and ketched it in my hands, and being I'm so fleshy it couldn't stand no more and it broke! And, oh! he—he kicked me when I was try to come near to git the rope off his neck; and so soon like he could git his breath he swore at me——"
"And you a helping of him! Just listen to that!" cried the hearer indignantly.
"So I come here for to git you and Mr. Olsen to help me git him down stairs, 'cause he is too heavy for me to lift, and he is so mad he won't walk down himself."
"Yes, yes, of course. I'll call Carl. Carl! dost thou hear? come! But did you dare to leave him Mrs. Lieders?" Part of the time she spoke in English, part of the time in her own tongue, gliding from one to another, and neither party observing the transition.
Mrs. Lieders wiped her eyes, saying: "Oh, yes, Danke schon, I aint afraid 'cause I tied him with the rope, righd good, so he don't got no chance to move. He was make faces at me all the time I tied him." At the remembrance, the tears welled anew.
Mrs. Olsen, a little bright tinted woman with a nose too small for her big blue eyes and chubby cheeks, quivered with indignant sympathy.
"Well, I did nefer hear of sooch a mean acting man!" seemed to her the most natural expression; but the wife fired, at once.
"No, he is not a mean man," she cried, "no, Freda Olsen, he is not a mean man at all! There aint nowhere a better man than my man; and Carl Olsen, he knows that. Kurt, he always buys a whole ham and a whole barrel of flour, and never less than a dollar of sugar at a time! And he never gits drunk nor he never gives me any bad talk. It was only he got this wanting to kill himself on him, sometimes."
"Well, I guess I'll go put on my things," said Mrs. Olsen, wisely declining to defend her position. "You set right still and warm yourself, and we'll be back in a minute."
Indeed, it was hardly more than that time before both Carl Olsen, who worked in the same furniture factory as Kurt Lieders, and was a comely and after-witted giant, appeared with Mrs. Olsen ready for the street.
He nodded at Mrs. Lieders and made a gurgling noise in his throat, expected to convey sympathy. Then, he coughed and said that he was ready, and they started.
Feeling further expression demanded, Mrs. Olsen asked: "How many times has he done it, Mrs. Lieders?"
Mrs. Lieders was trotting along, her anxious eyes on the house in the distance, especially on the garret windows. "Three times," she answered, not removing her eyes; "onct he tooked Rough on Rats and I found it out and I put some apple butter in the place of it, and he kept wondering and wondering how he didn't feel notings, and after awhile I got him off the notion, that time. He wasn't mad at me; he just said: 'Well, I do it some other time. You see!' but he promised to wait till I got the spring house cleaning over, so he could shake the carpets for me; and by and by he got feeling better. He was mad at the boss and that made him feel bad. The next time it was the same, that time he jumped into the cistern——"
"Yes, I know," said Olsen, with a half grin, "I pulled him out."
"It was the razor he wanted," the wife continued, "and when he come home and says he was going to leave the shop and he aint never going back there, and gets out his razor and sharps it, I knowed what that meant and I told him I got to have some bluing and wouldn't he go and get it? and he says, 'You won't git another husband run so free on your errands, Thekla,' and I says I don't want none; and when he was gone I hid the razor and he couldn't find it, but that didn't mad him, he didn't say notings; and when I went to git the supper he walked out in the yard and jumped into the cistern, and I heard the splash and looked in and there he was trying to git his head under, and I called, 'For the Lord's sake, papa! For the Lord's sake!' just like that. And I fished for him with the pole that stood there and he was sorry and caught hold of it and give in, and I rested the pole agin the side cause I wasn't strong enough to h'ist him out; and he held on whilest I run for help——"
"And I got the ladder and he clum out," said the giant with another grin of recollection, "he was awful wet!"
"That was a month ago," said the wife, solemnly.
"He sharped the razor onct," said Mrs. Lieders, "but he said it was for to shave him, and I got him to promise to let the barber shave him sometime, instead. Here, Mrs. Olsen, you go righd in, the door aint locked."
By this time they were at the house door. They passed in and ascended the stairs to the second story, then climbed a narrow, ladder-like flight to the garret. Involuntarily they had paused to listen at the foot of the stairs, but it was very quiet, not a sound of movement, not so much as the sigh of a man breathing. The wife turned pale and put both her shaking hands on her heart.
"Guess he's trying to scare us by keeping quiet!" said Olsen, cheerfully, and he stumbled up the stairs, in advance. "Thunder!" he exclaimed, on the last stair, "well, we aint any too quick."
In fact Carl had nearly fallen over the master of the house, that enterprising self-destroyer having contrived, pinioned as he was, to roll over to the very brink of the stair well, with the plain intent to break his neck by plunging headlong.
In the dim light all that they could see was a small, old man whose white hair was strung in wisps over his purple face, whose deep set eyes glared like the eyes of a rat in a trap, and whose very elbows and knees expressed in their cramps the fury of an outraged soul. When he saw the new-comers he shut his eyes and his jaws.
"Well, Mr. Lieders," said Olsen, mildly, "I guess you better git down-stairs. Kin I help you up?"
"No," said Lieders.
"Will I give you an arm to lean on?"
"Won't you go at all, Mr. Lieders?"
Olsen shook his head. "I hate to trouble you, Mr. Lieders," said he in his slow, undecided tones, "please excuse me," with which he gathered up the little man into his strong arms and slung him over his shoulders, as easily as he would sling a sack of meal. It was a vent for Mrs. Olsen's bubbling indignation to make a dive for Lieders's heels and hold them, while Carl backed down-stairs. But Lieders did not make the least resistance. He allowed them to carry him into the room indicated by his wife, and to lay him bound on the plump feather bed. It was not his bedroom but the sacred "spare room," and the bed was part of its luxury. Thekla ran in, first, to remove the embroidered pillow shams and the dazzling, silken "crazy quilt" that was her choicest possession.
Safely in the bed, Lieders opened his eyes and looked from one face to the other, his lip curling. "You can't keep me this way all the time. I can do it in spite of you," said he.
"Well, I think you had ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Lieders!" Mrs. Olsen burst out, in a tremble between wrath and exertion, shaking her little, plump fist at him.
But the placid Carl only nodded, as in sympathy, saying, "Well, I am sorry you feel so bad, Mr. Lieders. I guess we got to go now."
Mrs. Olsen looked as if she would have liked to exhort Lieders further; but she shrugged her shoulders and followed her husband in silence.
"I wished you'd stay to breakfast, now you're here," Thekla urged out of her imperious hospitality; had Kurt been lying there dead, the next meal must have been offered, just the same. "I know, you aint got time to git Mr. Olsen his breakfast, Freda, before he has got to go to the shops, and my tea-kettle is boiling now, and the coffee'll be ready—I GUESS you had better stay."
But Mrs. Olsen seconded her husband's denial, and there was nothing left Thekla but to see them to the door. No sooner did she return than Lieders spoke. "Aint you going to take off them ropes?" said he.
"Not till you promise you won't do it."
Silence. Thekla, brushing a few tears from her eyes, scrutinized the ropes again, before she walked heavily out of the room. She turned the key in the door.
Directly a savory steam floated through the hall and pierced the cracks about the door; then Thekla's footsteps returned; they echoed over the uncarpeted boards.
She had brought his breakfast, cooked with the best of her homely skill. The pork chops that he liked had been fried, there was a napkin on the tray, and the coffee was in the best gilt cup and saucer.
"Here's your breakfast, papa," said she, trying to smile.
"I don't want no breakfast," said he.
She waited, holding the tray, and wistfully eying him.
"Take it 'way," said he, "I won't touch it if you stand till doomsday, lessen you untie me!"
"I'll untie your arm, papa, one arm; you kin eat that way."
"Not lessen you untie all of me, I won't touch a bite."
"You know why I won't untie you, papa."
"Starving will kill as dead as hanging," was Lieders's orphic response to this.
Thekla sighed and went away, leaving the tray on the table. It may be that she hoped the sight of food might stir his stomach to rebel against his dogged will; if so she was disappointed; half an hour went by during which the statue under the bedclothes remained without so much as a quiver.
Then the old woman returned. "Aint you awful cramped and stiff, papa?"
"Yes," said the statue.
"Will you promise not to do yourself a mischief, if I untie you?"
Thekla groaned, while the tears started to her red eyelids. "But you'll git awful tired and it will hurt you if you don't get the ropes off, soon, papa!"
"I know that!"
He closed his eyes again, to be the less hindered from dropping back into his distempered musings. Thekla took a seat by his side and sat silent as he. Slowly the natural pallor returned to the high forehead and sharp features. They were delicate features and there was an air of refinement, of thought, about Lieders's whole person, as different as possible from the robust comeliness of his wife. With its keen sensitive-ness and its undefined melancholy it was a dreamer's face. One meets such faces, sometimes, in incongruous places and wonders what they mean. In fact, Kurt Lieders, head cabinet maker in the furniture factory of Lossing & Co., was an artist. He was, also, an incomparable artisan and the most exacting foreman in the shops. Thirty years ago he had first taken wages from the senior Lossing. He had watched a modest industry climb up to a great business, nor was he all at sea in his own estimate of his share in the firm's success. Lieders's workmanship had an honesty, an infinite patience of detail, a daring skill of design that came to be sought and commanded its own price. The Lossing "art furniture" did not slander the name. No sculptor ever wrought his soul into marble with a more unflinching conscience or a purer joy in his work than this wood-carver dreaming over sideboards and bedsteads. Unluckily, Lieders had the wrong side of the gift as well as the right; was full of whims and crotchets, and as unpractical as the Christian martyrs. He openly defied expense, and he would have no trifling with the laws of art. To make after orders was an insult to Kurt. He made what was best for the customer; if the latter had not the sense to see it he was a fool and a pig, and some one else should work for him, not Kurt Lieders, BEGEHR!
Young Lossing had learned the business practically. He was taught the details by his father's best workman; and a mighty hard and strict master the best workman proved! Lossing did not dream that the crabbed old tyrant who rarely praised him, who made him go over, for the twentieth time, any imperfect piece of work, who exacted all the artisan virtues to the last inch, was secretly proud of him. Yet, in fact, the thread of romance in Lieders's prosaic life was his idolatry of the Lossing Manufacturing Co. It is hard to tell whether it was the Lossings or that intangible quantity, the firm, the business, that he worshipped. Worship he did, however, the one or the other, perhaps the both of them, though in the peevish and erratic manner of the savage who sometimes grovels to his idols and sometimes kicks them.
Nobody guessed what a blow it was to Kurt when, a year ago, the elder Lossing had died. Even his wife did not connect his sullen melancholy and his gibes at the younger generation, with the crape on Harry Lossing's hat. He would not go to the funeral, but worked savagely, all alone by himself, in the shop, the whole afternoon—breaking down at last at the sight of a carved panel over which Lossing and he had once disputed. The desolate loneliness of the old came to him when his old master was gone. He loved the young man, but the old man was of his own generation; he had "known how things ought to be and he could understand without talking." Lieders began to be on the lookout for signs of waning consideration, to watch his own eyes and hands, drearily wondering when they would begin to play him false; at the same time because he was unhappy he was ten times as exacting and peremptory and critical with the younger workmen, and ten times as insolently independent with the young master. Often enough, Lossing was exasperated to the point of taking the old man at his word and telling him to go if he would, but every time the chain of long habit, a real respect for such faithful service, and a keen admiration for Kurt's matchless skill in his craft, had held him back. He prided himself on keeping his word; for that reason he was warier of using it. So he would compromise by giving the domineering old fellow a "good, stiff rowing." Once, he coupled this with a threat, if they could not get along decently they would better part! Lieders had answered not a word; he had given Lossing a queer glance and turned on his heel. He went home and bought some poison on the way. "The old man is gone and the young feller don't want the old crank round, no more," he said to himself. "Thekla, I guess I make her troubles, too; I'll git out!"
That was the beginning of his tampering with suicide. Thekla, who did not have the same opinion of the "trouble," had interfered. He had married Thekla to have someone to keep a warm fireside for him, but she was an ignorant creature who never could be made to understand about carving. He felt sorry for her when the baby died, the only child they ever had; he was sorrier than he expected to be on his own account, too, for it was an ugly little creature, only four days old, and very red and wrinkled; but he never thought of confiding his own griefs or trials to her. Now, it made him angry to have that stupid Thekla keep him in a world where he did not wish to stay. If the next day Lossing had not remembered how his father valued Lieders, and made an excuse to half apologize to him, I fear Thekla's stratagems would have done little good.
The next experience was cut out of the same piece of cloth. He had relented, he had allowed his wife to save him; but he was angry in secret. Then came the day when open disobedience to Lossing's orders had snapped the last thread of Harry's patience. To Lieders's aggrieved "If you ain't satisfied with my work, Mr. Lossing, I kin quit," the answer had come instantly, "Very well, Lieders, I'm sorry to lose you, but we can't have two bosses here: you can go to the desk." And when Lieders in a blind stab of temper had growled a prophecy that Lossing would regret it, Lossing had stabbed in turn: "Maybe, but it will be a cold day when I ask you to come back." And he had gone off without so much as a word of regret. The old workman had packed up his tools, the pet tools that no one was ever permitted to touch, and crammed his arms into his coat and walked out of the place where he had worked so long, not a man saying a word. Lieders didn't reflect that they knew nothing of the quarrel. He glowered at them and went away sore at heart. We make a great mistake when we suppose that it is only the affectionate that desire affection; sulky and ill-conditioned souls often have a passionate longing for the very feelings that they repel. Lieders was a womanish, sensitive creature under the surly mask, and he was cut to the quick by his comrades' apathy. "There ain't no place for old men in this world," he thought, "there's them boys I done my best to make do a good job, and some of 'em I've worked overtime to help; and not one of 'em has got as much as a good-by in him for me!"
But he did not think of going to poor Thekla for comfort, he went to his grim dreams. "I git my property all straight for Thekla, and then I quit," said he. Perhaps he gave himself a reprieve unconsciously, thinking that something might happen to save him from himself. Nothing happened. None of the "boys" came to see him, except Carl Olsen, the very stupidest man in the shop, who put Lieders beside himself fifty times a day. The other men were sorry that Lieders had gone, having a genuine workman's admiration for his skill, and a sort of underground liking for the unreasonable old man because he was so absolutely honest and "a fellow could always tell where to find him." But they were shy, they were afraid he would take their pity in bad part, they "waited a while."
Carl, honest soul, stood about in Lieders's workshop, kicking the shavings with his heels for half an hour, and grinned sheepishly, and was told what a worthless, scamping, bragging lot the "boys" at Lossing's were, and said he guessed he had got to go home now; and so departed, unwitting that his presence had been a consolation. Mrs. Olsen asked Carl what Lieders said; Carl answered simply, "Say, Freda, that man feels terrible bad."
Meanwhile Thekla seemed easily satisfied. She made no outcry as Lieders had dreaded, over his leaving the shop.
"Well, then, papa, you don't need git up so early in the morning no more, if you aint going to the shop," was her only comment; and Lieders despised the mind of woman more than ever.
But that evening, while Lieders was down town (occupied, had she known it, with a codicil to his will), she went over to the Olsens and found out all Carl could tell her about the trouble in the shop. And it was she that made the excuse of marketing to go out the next day, that she might see the rich widow on the hill who was talking about a china closet, and Judge Trevor, who had asked the price of a mantel, and Mr. Martin, who had looked at sideboards (all this information came from honest Carl); and who proposed to them that they order such furniture of the best cabinet-maker in the country, now setting up on his own account. He, simple as a baby for all his doggedness, thought that they came because of his fame as a workman, and felt a glow of pride, particularly as (having been prepared by the wife, who said, "You see it don't make so much difference with my Kurt 'bout de prize, if so he can get the furniture like he wants it, and he always know of the best in the old country") they all were duly humble. He accepted a few orders and went to work with a will; he would show them what the old man could do. But it was only a temporary gleam; in a little while he grew homesick for the shop, for the sawdust floor and the familiar smell of oil, and the picture of Lossing flitting in and out. He missed the careless young workmen at whom he had grumbled, he missed the whir of machinery, and the consciousness of rush and hurry accented by the cars on the track outside. In short, he missed the feeling of being part of a great whole. At home, in his cosey little improvised shop, there was none to dispute him, but there was none to obey him either. He grew deathly tired of it all. He got into the habit of walking around the shops at night, prowling about his old haunts like a cat. Once the night watchman saw him. The next day there was a second watchman engaged. And Olsen told him very kindly, meaning only to warn him, that he was suspected to be there for no good purpose. Lieders confirmed a lurking suspicion of the good Carl's own, by the clouding of his face. Yet he would have chopped his hand off rather than have lifted it against the shop.
That was Tuesday night, this was Wednesday morning.
The memory of it all, the cruel sense of injustice, returned with such poignant force that Lieders groaned aloud.
Instantly, Thekla was bending over him. He did not know whether to laugh at her or to swear, for she began fumbling at the ropes, half sobbing. "Yes, I knowed they was hurting you, papa; I'm going to loose one arm. Then I put it back again and loose the other. Please don't be bad!"
He made no resistance and she was as good as her word. She unbound and bound him in sections, as it were; he watching her with a morose smile.
Then she left the room, but only to return with some hot coffee. Lieders twisted his head away. "No," said he, "I don't eat none of that breakfast, not if you make fresh coffee all the morning; I feel like I don't eat never no more on earth."
Thekla knew that the obstinate nature that she tempted was proof against temptation; if Kurt chose to starve, starve he would with food at his elbow.
"Oh, papa," she cried, helplessly, "what IS the matter with you?"
"Just dying is the matter with me, Thekla. If I can't die one way I kin another. Now Thekla, I want you to quit crying and listen. After I'm gone you go to the boss, young Mr. Lossing—but I always called him Harry because he learned his trade of me, Thekla, but he don't think of that now—and you tell him old Lieders that worked for him thirty years is dead, but he didn't hold no hard feelings, he knowed he done wrong 'bout that mantel. Mind you tell him."
"Yes, papa," said Thekla, which was a surprise to Kurt; he had dreaded a weak flood of tears and protestations. But there were no tears, no protestations, only a long look at him and a contraction of the eyebrows as if Thekla were trying to think of something that eluded her. She placed the coffee on the tray beside the other breakfast. For a while the room was very still. Lieders could not see the look of resolve that finally smoothed the perplexed lines out of his wife's kind, simple old face. She rose. "Kurt," she said, "I don't guess you remember this is our wedding-day; it was this day, eighteen year we was married."
"So!" said Lieders, "well, I was a bad bargain to you, Thekla; after you nursed your father that was a cripple for twenty years, I thought it would be easy with me; but I was a bad bargain."
"The Lord knows best about that," said Thekla, simply, "be it how it be, you are the only man I ever had or will have, and I don't like you starve yourself. Papa, say you don't kill yourself, to-day, and dat you will eat your breakfast!"
"Yes," Lieders repeated in German, "a bad bargain for thee, that is sure. But thou hast been a good bargain for me. Here! I promise. Not this day. Give me the coffee."
He had seasons, all the morning, of wondering over his meekness, and his agreement to be tied up again, at night. But still, what did a day matter? a man humors women's notions; and starving was so tedious. Between whiles he elaborated a scheme to attain his end. How easy to outwit the silly Thekla! His eyes shone, as he hid the little, sharp knife up his cuff. "Let her tie me!" says Lieders, "I keep my word. To-morrow I be out of this. He won't git a man like me, pretty soon!"
Thekla went about her daily tasks, with her every-day air; but, now and again, that same pucker of thought returned to her forehead; and, more than once, Lieders saw her stand over some dish, poising her spoon in air, too abstracted to notice his cynical observation.
The dinner was more elaborate than common, and Thekla had broached a bottle of her currant wine. She gravely drank Lieders's health. "And many good days, papa," she said.
Lieders felt a queer movement of pity. After the table was cleared, he helped his wife to wash and wipe the dishes as his custom was of a Sunday or holiday. He wiped dishes as he did everything, neatly, slowly, with a careful deliberation. Not until the dishes were put away and the couple were seated, did Thekla speak.
"Kurt," she said, "I got to talk to you."
An inarticulate groan and a glance at the door from Lieders. "I just got to, papa. It aint righd for you to do the way you been doing for so long time; efery little whiles you try to kill yourself; no, papa, that aint righd!"
Kurt, who had gotten out his pencils and compasses and other drawing tools, grunted: "I got to look at my work, Thekla, now; I am too busy to talk."
"No, Kurt, no, papa"—the hands holding the blue apron that she was embroidering with white linen began to tremble; Lieders had not the least idea what a strain it was on this reticent, slow of speech woman who had stood in awe of him for eighteen years, to discuss the horror of her life; but he could not help marking her agitation. She went on, desperately: "Yes, papa, I got to talk it oud with you. You had ought to listen, 'cause I always been a good wife to you and nefer refused you notings. No."
"Well, I aint saying I done it 'cause you been bad to me; everybody knows we aint had no trouble."
"But everybody what don't know us, when they read how you tried to kill yourself in the papers, they think it was me. That always is so. And now I never can any more sleep nights, for you is always maybe git up and do something to yourself. So now, I got to talk to you, papa. Papa, how could you done so?"
Lieders twisted his feet under the rungs of his chair; he opened his mouth, but only to shut it again with a click of his teeth.
"I got my mind made up, papa. I tought and I tought. I know WHY you done it; you done it 'cause you and the boss was mad at each other. The boss hadn't no righd to let you go———"
"Yes, he had, I madded him first; I was a fool. Of course I knowed more than him 'bout the work, but I hadn't no right to go against him. The boss is all right."
"Yes, papa, I got my mind made up"—like most sluggish spirits there was an immense momentum about Thekla's mind, once get it fairly started it was not to be diverted—"you never killed yourself before you used to git mad at the boss. You was afraid he would send you away; and now you have sent yourself away you don't want to live, 'cause you do not know how you can git along without the shop. But you want to get back, you want to get back more as you want to kill yourself. Yes, papa, I know, I know where you did used to go, nights. Now"—she changed her speech unconsciously to the tongue of her youth—"it is not fair, it is not fair to me that thou shouldst treat me like that, thou dost belong to me, also; so I say, my Kurt, wilt thou make a bargain with me? If I shall get thee back thy place wilt thou promise me never to kill thyself any more?"
Lieders had not once looked up at her during the slow, difficult sentences with their half choked articulation; but he was experiencing some strange emotions, and one of them was a novel respect for his wife. All he said was: "'Taint no use talking. I won't never ask him to take me back, once."
"Well, you aint asking of him. I ask him. I try to git you back, once!"
"I tell you, it aint no use; I know the boss, he aint going to be letting womans talk him over; no, he's a good man, he knows how to work his business himself!"
"But would you promise me, Kurt?"
Lieders's eyes blurred with a mild and dreamy mist; he sighed softly. "Thekla, you can't see how it is. It is like you are tied up, if I don't can do that; if I can then it is always that I am free, free to go, free to stay. And for you, Thekla, it is the same."
Thekla's mild eyes flashed. "I don't believe you would like it so you wake up in the morning and find ME hanging up in the kitchen by the clothes-line!"
Lieders had the air of one considering deeply. Then he gave Thekla one of the surprises of her life; he rose from his chair, he walked in his shuffling, unheeled slippers across the room to where the old woman sat; he put one arm on the back of the chair and stiffly bent over her and kissed her.
"Lieber Herr Je!" gasped Thekla.
"Then I shall go, too, pretty quick, that is all, mamma," said he.
Thekla wiped her eyes. A little pause fell between them, and in it they may have both remembered vanished, half-forgotten days when life had looked differently to them, when they had never thought to sit by their own fireside and discuss suicide. The husband spoke first; with a reluctant, half-shamed smile, "Thekla, I tell you what, I make the bargain with you; you git me back that place, I don't do it again, 'less you let me; you don't git me back that place, you don't say notings to me."
The apron dropped from the withered, brown hands to the floor. Again there was silence; but not for long; ghastly as was the alternative, the proposal offered a chance to escape from the terror that was sapping her heart.
"How long will you give me, papa?" said she.
"I give you a week," said he.
Thekla rose and went to the door; as she opened it a fierce gust of wind slashed her like a knife, and Lieders exclaimed, fretfully, "what you opening that door for, Thekla, letting in the wind? I'm so cold, now, right by the fire, I most can't draw. We got to keep a fire in the base-burner good, all night, or the plants will freeze."
Thekla said confusedly that something sounded like a cat crying. "And you talking like that it frightened me; maybe I was wrong to make such bargains———"
"Then don't make it," said Lieders, curtly, "I aint asking you."
But Thekla drew a long breath and straightened herself, saying, "Yes, I make it, papa, I make it."
"Well, put another stick of wood in the stove, will you, now you are up?" said Lieders, shrugging his shoulders, "or I'll freeze in spite of you! It seems to me it grows colder every minute."
But all that day he was unusually gentle with Thekla. He talked of his youth and the struggles of the early days of the firm; he related a dozen tales of young Lossing, all illustrating some admirable trait that he certainly had not praised at the time. Never had he so opened his heart in regard to his own ideals of art, his own ambitions. And Thekla listened, not always comprehending but always sympathizing; she was almost like a comrade, Kurt thought afterward.
The next morning, he was surprised to have her appear equipped for the street, although it was bitterly cold. She wore her garb of ceremony, a black alpaca gown, with a white crocheted collar neatly turned over the long black, broadcloth cloak in which she had taken pride for the last five years; and her quilted black silk bonnet was on her gray head. When she put up her foot to don her warm overshoes Kurt saw that the stout ankles were encased in white stockings. This was the last touch. "Gracious, Thekla," cried Kurt, "are you going to market this day? It is the coldest day this winter!"
"Oh, I don't mind," replied Thekla, nervously. Then she had wrapped a scarf about her and gone out while he was getting into his own coat, and conning a proffer to go in her stead.
"Oh, well, Thekla she aint such a fool like she looks!" he observed to the cat, "say, pussy, WAS it you out yestiddy?"
The cat only blinked her yellow eyes and purred. She knew that she had not been out, last night. Not any better than her mistress, however, who at this moment was hailing a street-car.
The street-car did not land her anywhere near a market; it whirled her past the lines of low wooden houses into the big brick shops with their arched windows and terra-cotta ornaments that showed the ambitious architecture of a growing Western town, past these into mills and factories and smoke-stained chimneys. Here, she stopped. An acquaintance would hardly have recognized her, her ruddy cheeks had grown so pale. But she trotted on to the great building on the corner from whence came a low, incessant buzz. She went into the first door and ran against Carl Olsen. "Carl, I got to see Mr. Lossing," said she breathlessly.
"There ain't noding——"
"No, Gott sei dank', but I got to see him."
It was not Carl's way to ask questions; he promptly showed her the office and she entered. She had not seen young Harry Lossing half a dozen times; and, now, her anxious eyes wandered from one dapper figure at the high desks, to another, until Lossing advanced to her.
He was a handsome young man, she thought, and he had kind eyes, but they hardened at her first timid sentence: "I am Mrs. Lieders, I come about my man——"
"Will you walk in here, Mrs. Lieders?" said Lossing. His voice was like the ice on the window-panes.
She followed him into a little room. He shut the door.
Declining the chair that he pushed toward her she stood in the centre of the room, looking at him with the pleading eyes of a child.
"Mr. Lossing, will you please save my Kurt from killing himself?"
"What do you mean?" Lossing's voice had not thawed.
"It is for you that he will kill himself, Mr. Lossing. This is the dird time he has done it. It is because he is so lonesome now, your father is died and he thinks that you forget, and he has worked so hard for you, but he thinks that you forget. He was never tell me till yesterday; and then—it was—it was because I would not let him hang himself——"
"Hang himself?" stammered Lossing, "you don't mean——"
"Yes, he was hang himself, but I cut him, no I broke him down," said Thekla, accurate in all the disorder of her spirits; and forthwith, with many tremors, but clearly, she told the story of Kurt's despair. She told, as Lieders never would have known how to tell, even had his pride let him, all the man's devotion for the business, all his personal attachment to the firm; she told of his gloom after the elder Lossing died, "for he was think there was no one in this town such good man and so smart like your fader, Mr. Lossing, no, and he would set all the evening and try to draw and make the lines all wrong, and, then, he would drow the papers in the fire and go and walk outside and he say, 'I can't do nothing righd no more now the old man's died; they don't have no use for me at the shop, pretty quick!' and that make him feel awful bad!" She told of his homesick wanderings about the shops by night; "but he was better as a watchman, he wouldn't hurt it for the world! He telled me how you was hide his dinner-pail onct for a joke, and put in a piece of your pie, and how you climbed on the roof with the hose when it was afire. And he telled me if he shall die I shall tell you that he ain't got no hard feelings, but you didn't know how that mantel had ought to be, so he done it right the other way, but he hadn't no righd to talk to you like he done, nohow, and you was all righd to send him away, but you might a shaked hands, and none of the boys never said nothing nor none of them never come to see him, 'cept Carl Olsen, and that make him feel awful bad, too! And when he feels so bad he don't no more want to live, so I make him promise if I git him back he never try to kill himself again. Oh, Mr. Lossing, please don't let my man die!"
Bewildered and more touched than he cared to feel, himself, Lossing still made a feeble stand for discipline. "I don't see how Lieders can expect me to take him back again," he began.
"He aint expecting you, Mr. Lossing, it's ME!"
"But didn't Lieders tell you I told him I would never take him back?"
"No, sir, no, Mr. Lossing, it was not that, it was you said it would be a cold day that you would take him back; and it was git so cold yesterday, so I think, 'Now it would be a cold day to-morrow and Mr. Lossing he can take Kurt back.' And it IS the most coldest day this year!"
Lossing burst into a laugh, perhaps he was glad to have the Western sense of humor come to the rescue of his compassion. "Well, it was a cold day for you to come all this way for nothing," said he. "You go home and tell Lieders to report to-morrow."
Kurt's manner of receiving the news was characteristic. He snorted in disgust: "Well, I did think he had more sand than to give in to a woman!" But after he heard the whole story he chuckled: "Yes, it was that way he said, and he must do like he said; but that was a funny way you done, Thekla. Say, mamma, yesterday, was you look out for the cat or to find how cold it been?"
"Never you mind, papa," said Thekla, "you remember what you promised if I git you back?"
Lieders's eyes grew dull; he flung his arms out, with a long sigh. "No, I don't forget, I will keep my promise, but—it is like the handcuffs, Thekla, it is like the handcuffs!" In a second, however, he added, in a changed tone, "But thou art a kind jailer, mamma, more like a comrade. And no, it was not fair to thee—I know that now, Thekla."
THE FACE OF FAILURE
AFTER the week's shower the low Iowa hills looked vividly green. At the base of the first range of hills the Blackhawk road winds from the city to the prairie. From its starting-point, just outside the city limits, the wayfarer may catch bird's-eye glimpses of the city, the vast river that the Iowans love, and the three bridges tying three towns to the island arsenal. But at one's elbow spreads Cavendish's melon farm. Cavendish's melon farm it still is, in current phrase, although Cavendish, whose memory is honored by lovers of the cantaloupe melon, long ago departed to raise melons for larger markets; and still a weather-beaten sign creaks from a post announcing to the world that "the celebrated Cavendish Melons are for Sale here!" To-day the melon-vines were softly shaded by rain-drops. A pleasant sight they made, spreading for acres in front of the green-houses where mushrooms and early vegetables strove to outwit the seasons, and before the brown cottage in which Cavendish had begun a successful career. The black roof-tree of the cottage sagged in the middle, and the weather-boarding was dingy with the streaky dinginess of old paint that has never had enough oil. The fences, too, were unpainted and rudely patched. Nevertheless a second glance told one that there were no gaps in them, that the farm machines kept their bright colors well under cover, and that the garden rows were beautifully straight and clean. An old white horse switched its sleek sides with its long tail and drooped its untrammelled neck in front of the gate. The wagon to which it was harnessed was new and had just been washed. Near the gate stood a girl and boy who seemed to be mutually studying each other's person. Decidedly the girl's slim, light figure in its dainty frock repaid one's eyes for their trouble; and her face, with its brilliant violet eyes, its full, soft chin, its curling auburn hair and delicate tints, was charming; but her brother's look was anything but approving. His lip curled and his small gray eyes grew smaller under his scowling brows.
"Is THAT your best suit?" said the girl.
"Yes, it is; and it's GOING to be for one while," said the boy.
It was a suit of the cotton mixture that looks like wool when it is new, and cuts a figure on the counters of every dealer in cheap ready-made clothing. It had been Tim Powell's best attire for a year; perhaps he had not been careful enough of it, and that was why it no longer cared even to imitate wool; it was faded to the hue of a clay bank, it was threadbare, the trousers bagged at the knees, the jacket bagged at the elbows, the pockets bulged flabbily from sheer force of habit, although there was nothing in them.
"I thought you were to have a new suit," said the girl. "Uncle told me himself he was going to buy you one yesterday when you went to town."
"I wouldn't have asked him to buy me anything yesterday for more'n a suit of clothes."
"Why?" The girl opened her eyes. "Didn't he do anything with the lawyer? Is that why you are both so glum this morning?"
"No, he didn't. The lawyer says the woman that owns the mortgage has got to have the money. And it's due next week."
The girl grew pale all over her pretty rosy cheeks; her eyes filled with tears as she gasped, "Oh, how hateful of her, when she promised——"
"She never promised nothing, Eve; it ain't been hers for more than three months. Sloan, that used to have it, died, and left his property to be divided up between his nieces; and the mortgage is her share. See?"
"I don't care, it's just as mean. Mr. Sloan promised."
"No, he didn't; he jest said if Uncle was behind he wouldn't press him; and he did let Uncle get behind with the interest two times and never kicked. But he died; and now the woman, she wants her money!"
"I think it is mean and cruel of her to turn us out! Uncle says mortgages are wicked anyhow, and I believe him!"
"I guess he couldn't have bought this place if he didn't give a mortgage on it. And he'd have had enough to pay cash, too, if Richards hadn't begged him so to lend it to him."
"When is Richards going to pay him?"
"It come due three months ago; Richards ain't never paid up the interest even, and now he says he's got to have the mortgage extended for three years; anyhow for two."
"But don't he KNOW we've got to pay our own mortgage? How can we help HIM? I wish Uncle would sell him out!"
The boy gave her the superior smile of the masculine creature. "I suppose," he remarked with elaborate irony, "that he's like Uncle and you; he thinks mortgages are wicked."
"And just as like as not Uncle won't want to go to the carnival," Eve went on, her eyes filling again.
Tim gazed at her, scowling and sneering; but she was absorbed in dreams and hopes with which as yet his boyish mind had no point of contact.
"All the girls in the A class were going to go to see the fireworks together, and George Dean and some of the boys were going to take us, and we were going to have tea at May Arlington's house, and I was to stay all night;"—this came in a half sob. "I think it is just too mean! I never have any good times!"
"Oh, yes, you do, sis, lots! Uncle always gits you everything you want. And he feels terrible bad when I—when he knows he can't afford to git something you want——"
"I know well enough who tells him we can't afford things!"
"Well, do you want us to git things we can't afford? I ain't never advised him except the best I knew how. I told him Richards was a blow-hard, and I told him those Alliance grocery folks he bought such a lot of truck of would skin him, and they did; those canned things they sold him was all musty, and they said there wasn't any freight on 'em, and he had to pay freight and a fancy price besides; and I don't believe they had any more to do with the Alliance than our cow!"
"Uncle always believes everything. He always is so sure things are going to turn out just splendid; and they don't—only just middling; and then he loses a lot of money."
"But he is an awful good man," said the boy, musingly.
"I don't believe in being so good you can't make money. I don't want always to be poor and despised, and have the other girls have prettier clothes than me!"
"I guess you can be pretty good and yet make money, if you are sharp enough. Of course you got to be sharper to be good and make money than you got to be, to be mean and make money."
"Well, I know one thing, that Uncle ain't EVER going to make money. He——" The last word shrivelled on her lips, which puckered into a confused smile at the warning frown of her brother. The man that they were discussing had come round to them past the henhouse. How much had he overheard?
He didn't seem angry, anyhow. He called: "Well, Evy, ready?" and Eve was glad to run into the house for her hat without looking at him. It was a relief that she must sit on the back seat where she need not face Uncle Nelson. Tim sat in front; but Tim was so stupid he wouldn't mind.
Nor did he; it was Nelson Forrest that stole furtive glances at the lad's profile, the knitted brows, the freckled cheeks, the undecided nose, and firm mouth.
The boyish shoulders slouched forward at the same angle as that of the fifty-year-old shoulders beside him. Nelson, through long following of the plough, had lost the erect carriage painfully acquired in the army. He was a handsome man, whose fresh-colored skin gave him a perpetual appearance of having just washed his face. The features were long and delicate. The brown eyes had a liquid softness like the eyes of a woman. In general the countenance was alertly intelligent; he looked younger than his years; but this afternoon the lines about his mouth and in his brows warranted every gray hair of his pointed short beard. There was a reason. Nelson was having one of those searing flashes of insight that do come occasionally to the most blindly hopeful souls. Nelson had hoped all his life. He hoped for himself, he hoped for the whole human race. He served the abstraction that he called "PROgress" with unflinching and unquestioning loyalty. Every new scheme of increasing happiness by force found a helper, a fighter, and a giver in him; by turns he had been an Abolitionist, a Fourierist, a Socialist, a Greenbacker, a Farmers' Alliance man. Disappointment always was followed hard on its heels by a brand-new confidence. Progress ruled his farm as well as his politics; he bought the newest implements and subscribed trustfully to four agricultural papers; but being a born lover of the ground, a vein of saving doubt did assert itself sometimes in his work; and, on the whole, as a farmer he was successful. But his success never ventured outside his farm gates. At buying or selling, at a bargain in any form, the fourteen-year-old Tim was better than Nelson with his fifty years' experience of a wicked and bargaining world.
Was that any part of the reason, he wondered to-day, why at the end of thirty years of unflinching toil and honesty, he found himself with a vast budget of experience in the ruinous loaning of money, with a mortgage on the farm of a friend, and a mortgage on his own farm likely to be foreclosed? Perhaps it might have been better to stay in Henry County. He had paid for his farm at last. He had known a good moment, too, that day he drove away from the lawyer's with the cancelled mortgage in his pocket and Tim hopping up and down on the seat for joy. But the next day Richards—just to give him the chance of a good thing—had brought out that Maine man who wanted to buy him out. He was anxious to put the money down for the new farm, to have no whip-lash of debt forever whistling about his ears as he ploughed, ready to sting did he stumble in the furrows; and Tim was more anxious than he; but—there was Richards! Richards was a neighbor who thought as he did about Henry George and Spiritualism, and belonged to the Farmers' Alliance, and had lent Nelson all the works of Henry George that he (Richards) could borrow. Richards was in deep trouble. He had lost his wife; he might lose his farm. He appealed to Nelson, for the sake of old friendship, to save him. And Nelson could not resist; so, two thousand of the thirty-four hundred dollars that the Maine man paid went to Richards, the latter swearing by all that is holy, to pay his friend off in full at the end of the year. There was money coming to him from his dead wife's estate, but it was tied up in the courts. Nelson would not listen to Tim's prophecies of evil. But he was a little dashed when Richards paid neither interest nor principal at the year's end, although he gave reasons of weight; and he experienced veritable consternation when the renewed mortgage ran its course and still Richards could not pay. The money from his wife's estate had been used to improve his farm (Nelson knew how rundown everything was), his new wife was sickly and "didn't seem to take hold," there had been a disastrous hail-storm—but why rehearse the calamities? they focussed on one sentence: it was impossible to pay.
Then Nelson, who had been restfully counting on the money from Richards for his own debt, bestirred himself, only to find his patient creditor gone and a woman in his stead who must have her money. He wrote again—sorely against his will—begging Richards to raise the money somehow. Richards's answer was in his pocket, for he wore the best black broadcloth in which he had done honor to the lawyer, yesterday. Richards plainly was wounded; but he explained in detail to Nelson how he (Nelson) could borrow money of the banks on his farm and pay Miss Brown. There was no bank where Richards could borrow money; and he begged Nelson not to drive his wife and little children from their cherished home. Nelson choked over the pathos when he read the letter to Tim; but Tim only grunted a wish that HE had the handling of that feller. And the lawyer was as little moved as Tim. Miss Brown needed the money, he said. The banks were not disposed to lend just at present; money, it appeared, was "tight;" so, in the end, Nelson drove home with the face of Failure staring at him between his horses' ears.
There was only one way. Should he make Richards suffer or suffer himself? Did a man have to grind other people or be ground himself? Meanwhile they had reached the town. The stir of a festival was in the air. On every side bunting streamed in the breeze or was draped across brick or wood. Arches spanned some of the streets, with inscriptions of welcome on them, and swarms of colored lanterns glittered against the sunlight almost as gayly as they would show when they should be lighted at night. Little children ran about waving flags. Grocery wagons and butchers' wagons trotted by with a flash of flags dangling from the horses' harness. The streets were filled with people in their holiday clothes. Everybody smiled. The shopkeepers answered questions and went out on the sidewalks to direct strangers. From one window hung a banner inviting visitors to enter and get a list of hotels and boarding-houses. The crowd was entirely good-humored and waited outside restaurants, bandying jokes with true Western philosophy. At times the wagons made a temporary blockade in the street, but no one grumbled. Bands of music paraded past them, the escort for visitors of especial consideration. In a window belonging, the sign above declared, to the Business Men's Association, stood a huge doll clad in blue satin, on which was painted a device of Neptune sailing down the Mississippi amid a storm of fireworks. The doll stood in a boat arched about with lantern-decked hoops, and while Nelson halted, unable to proceed, he could hear the voluble explanation of the proud citizen who was interpreting to strangers.
This, Nelson thought, was success. Here were the successful men. The man who had failed looked at them. Eve roused him by a shrill cry, "There they are. There's May and the girls. Let me out quick, Uncle!"
He stopped the horse and jumped out himself to help her. It was the first time since she came under his roof that she had been away from it all night. He cleared his throat for some advice on behavior. "Mind and be respectful to Mrs. Arlington. Say yes, ma'am, and no, ma'am——" He got no further, for Eve gave him a hasty kiss and the crowd brushed her away.
"All she thinks of is wearing fine clothes and going with the fellers!" said her brother, disdainfully. "If I had to be born a girl, I wouldn't be born at all!"
"Maybe if you despise girls so, you'll be born a girl the next time," said Nelson. "Some folks thinks that's how it happens with us."
"Do YOU, Uncle?" asked Tim, running his mind forebodingly over the possible business results of such a belief. "S'posing he shouldn't be willing to sell the pigs to be killed, 'cause they might be some friends of his!" he reflected, with a rising tide of consternation. Nelson smiled rather sadly. He said, in another tone: "Tim, I've thought so many things, that now I've about given up thinking. All I can do is to live along the best way I know how and help the world move the best I'm able."
"You bet I ain't going to help the world move," said the boy; "I'm going to look out for myself!"
"Then my training of you has turned out pretty badly, if that's the way you feel."
A little shiver passed over the lad's sullen face; he flushed until he lost his freckles in the red veil and burst out passionately: "Well, I got eyes, ain't I? I ain't going to be bad, or drink, or steal, or do things to git put in the penitentiary; but I ain't going to let folks walk all over me like you do; no, sir!"
Nelson did not answer; in his heart he thought that he had failed with the children, too; and he relapsed into that dismal study of the face of Failure.
He had come to the city to show Tim the sights, and, therefore, though like a man in a dream, he drove conscientiously about the gay streets, pointing out whatever he thought might interest the boy, and generally discovering that Tim had the new information by heart already. All the while a question pounded itself, like the beat of the heart of an engine, through the noise and the talk: "Shall I give up Richards or be turned out myself?"
When the afternoon sunlight waned he put up the horse at a modest little stable where farmers were allowed to bring their own provender. The charges were of the smallest and the place neat and weather-tight, but it had been a long time before Nelson could be induced to use it, because there was a higher-priced stable kept by an ex-farmer and member of the Farmers' Alliance. Only the fact that the keeper of the low-priced stable was a poor orphan girl, struggling to earn an honest livelihood, had moved him.
They had supper at a restaurant of Tim's discovery, small, specklessly tidy, and as unexacting of the pocket as the stable. It was an excellent supper. But Nelson had no appetite; in spite of an almost childish capacity for being diverted, he could attend to nothing but the question always in his ears: "Richards or me—which?"
Until it should be time for the spectacle they walked down the hill, and watched the crowds gradually blacken every inch of the river-banks. Already the swarms of lanterns were beginning to bloom out in the dusk. Strains of music throbbed through the air, adding a poignant touch to the excitement vibrating in all the faces and voices about them. Even the stolid Tim felt the contagion. He walked with a jaunty step and assaulted a tune himself. "I tell you, Uncle," says Tim, "it's nice of these folks to be getting up all this show, and giving it for nothing!"
"Do you think so?" says Nelson. "You don't love your book as I wish you did; but I guess you remember about the ancient Romans, and how the great, rich Romans used to spend enormous sums in games and shows that they let the people in free to—well, what for? Was it to learn them anything or to make them happy? Oh, no, it was to keep down the spirit of liberty, Son, it was to make them content to be slaves! And so it is here. These merchants and capitalists are only looking out for themselves, trying to keep labor down and not let it know how oppressed it is, trying to get people here from everywhere to show what a fine city they have and get their money."
"Well, 'TIS a fine town," Tim burst in, "a boss town! And they ain't gouging folks a little bit. None of the hotels or the restaurants have put up their prices one cent. Look what a dandy supper we got for twenty-five cents! And ain't the boy at Lumley's grocery given me two tickets to set on the steamboat? There's nothing mean about this town!"
Nelson made no remark; but he thought, for the fiftieth time, that his farm was too near the city. Tim was picking up all the city boys' false pride as well as their slang. Unconscious Tim resumed his tune. He knew that it was "Annie Rooney" if no one else did, and he mangled the notes with appropriate exhilaration.
Now, the river was as busy as the land, lights swimming hither and thither; steamboats with ropes of tiny stars bespangling their dark bulk and a white electric glare in the bow, low boats with lights that sent wavering spear-heads into the shadow beneath. The bridge was a blazing barbed fence of fire, and beyond the bridge, at the point of the island, lay a glittering multitude of lights, a fairy fleet with miniature sails outlined in flame as if by jewels.
Nelson followed Tim. The crowds, the ceaseless clatter of tongues and jar of wheels, depressed the man, who hardly knew which way to dodge the multitudinous perils of the thoroughfare; but Tim used his elbows to such good purpose that they were out of the levee, on the steamboat, and settling themselves in two comfortable chairs in a coign of vantage on deck, that commanded the best obtainable view of the pageant, before Nelson had gathered his wits together enough to plan a path out of the crush.
"I sized up this place from the shore," Tim sighed complacently, drawing a long breath of relief; "only jest two chairs, so we won't be crowded."
Obediently, Nelson took his chair. His head sank on his thin chest. Richards or himself, which should he sacrifice? So the weary old question droned through his brain. He felt a tap on his shoulder. The man who roused him was an acquaintance, and he stood smiling in the attitude of a man about to ask a favor, while the expectant half-smile of the lady on his arm hinted at the nature of the favor. Would Mr. Forrest be so kind?—there seemed to be no more seats. Before Mr. Forrest could be kind Tim had yielded his own chair and was off, wriggling among the crowd in search of another place.
"Smart boy, that youngster of yours," said the man; "he'll make his way in the world, he can push. Well, Miss Alma, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Forrest. I know you will be well entertained by him. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll get back and help my wife wrestle with the kids. They have been trying to see which will fall overboard first ever since we came on deck!"
Under the leeway of this pleasantry he bowed and retired. Nelson turned with determined politeness to the lady. He was sorry that she had come, she looking to him a very fine lady indeed, with her black silk gown, her shining black ornaments, and her bright black eyes. She was not young, but handsome in Nelson's judgment, although of a haughty bearing. "Maybe she is the principal of the High School," thought he. "Martin has her for a boarder, and he said she was very particular about her melons being cold!"
But however formidable a personage, the lady must be entertained.
"I expect you are a resident of the city, ma'am?" said Nelson.
"Yes, I was born here." She smiled, a smile that revealed a little break in the curve of her cheek, not exactly a dimple, but like one.
"I don't know when I have seen such a fine appearing lady," thought Nelson. He responded: "Well, I wasn't born here; but I come when I was a little shaver of ten and stayed till I was eighteen, when I went to Kansas to help fight the border ruffians. I went to school here in the Warren Street school-house."
"So did I, as long as I went anywhere to school. I had to go to work when I was twelve."
Nelson's amazement took shape before his courtesy had a chance to control it. "I didn't suppose you ever did any work in your life!" cried he.
"I guess I haven't done much else. Father died when I was twelve and the oldest of five, the next only eight—Polly, that came between Eb and me, died—naturally I had to work. I was a nurse-girl by the day, first; and I never shall forget how kind the woman was to me. She gave me so much dinner I never needed to eat any breakfast, which was a help."
"You poor little thing! I'm afraid you went hungry sometimes." Immediately he marvelled at his familiar speech, but she did not seem to resent it.
"No, not so often," she said, musingly; "but I used often and often to wish I could carry some of the nice things home to mother and the babies. After a while she would give me a cookey or a piece of bread and butter for lunch; that I could take home. I don't suppose I'll often have more pleasure than I used to have then, seeing little Eb waiting for sister; and the baby and mother——" She stopped abruptly, to continue, in an instant, with a kind of laugh; "I am never likely to feel so important again as I did then, either. It was great to have mother consulting me, as if I had been grown up. I felt like I had the weight of the nation on my shoulders, I assure you."
"And have you always worked since? You are not working out now?" with a glance at her shining gown.
"Oh, no, not for a long time. I learned to be a cook. I was a good cook, too, if I say it myself. I worked for the Lossings for four years. I am not a bit ashamed of being a hired girl, for I was as good a one as I knew how. It was Mrs. Lossing that first lent me books; and Harry Lossing, who is head of the firm now, got Ebenezer into the works. Ebenezer is shipping-clerk with a good salary and stock in the concern; and Ralph is there, learning the trade. I went to the business-college and learned book-keeping, and afterward I learned typewriting and shorthand. I have been working for the firm for fourteen years. We have educated the girls. Milly is married, and Kitty goes to the boarding-school, here."
"Then you haven't been married yourself?"
"What time did I have to think of being married? I had the family on my mind, and looking after them."
"That was more fortunate for your family than it was for my sex," said Nelson, gallantly. He accompanied the compliment by a glance of admiration, extinguished in an eye-flash, for the white radiance that had bathed the deck suddenly vanished.
"Now you will see a lovely sight," said the woman, deigning no reply to his tribute; "listen! That is the signal."
The air was shaken with the boom of cannon. Once, twice, thrice. Directly the boat-whistles took up the roar, making a hideous din. The fleet had moved. Spouting rockets and Roman candles, which painted above it a kaleidoscopic archway of fire, welcomed by answering javelins of light and red and orange and blue and green flares from the shore; the fleet bombarded the bridge, escorted Neptune in his car, manoeuvred and massed and charged on the blazing city with a many-hued shower of flame.
After the boats, silently, softly, floated the battalions of lanterns, so close to the water that they seemed flaming water-lilies, while the dusky mirror repeated and inverted their splendor.
"They're shingles, you know," explained Nelson's companion, "with lanterns on them; but aren't they pretty?"
"Yes, they are! I wish you had not told me. It is like a fairy story!"
"Ain't it? But we aren't through; there's more to come. Beautiful fireworks!"
The fireworks, however, were slow of coming. They could see the barge from which they were to be sent; they could watch the movements of the men in white oil-cloth who moved in a ghostly fashion about the barge; they could hear the tap of hammers; but nothing came of it all.
They sat in the darkness, waiting; and there came to Nelson a strange sensation of being alone and apart from all the breathing world with this woman. He did not perceive that Tim had quietly returned with a box which did very well for a seat, and was sitting with his knees against the chair-rungs. He seemed to be somehow outside of all the tumult and the spectacle. It was the vainglorying triumph of this world. He was the soul outside, the soul that had missed its triumph. In his perplexity and loneliness he felt an overwhelming longing for sympathy; neither did it strike Nelson, who believed in all sorts of occult influences, that his confidence in a stranger was unwarranted. He would have told you that his "psychic instincts" never played him false, although really they were traitors from their astral cradles to their astral graves.
He said in a hesitating way: "You must excuse me being kinder dull; I've got some serious business on my mind and I can't help thinking of it."
"Is that so? Well, I know how that is; I have often stayed awake nights worrying about things. Lest I shouldn't suit and all that—especially after mother took sick."
"I s'pose you had to give up and nurse her then?"
"That was what Ebenezer and Ralph were for having me do; but mother—my mother always had so much sense—mother says, 'No, Alma, you've got a good place and a chance in life, you sha'n't give it up. We'll hire a girl. I ain't never lonesome except evenings, and then you will be home. I should jest want to die,' she says, 'if I thought I kept you in a kind of prison like by my being sick—now, just when you are getting on so well.' There never WAS a woman like my mother!" Her voice shook a little, and Nelson asked gently:
"Ain't your mother living now?"
"No, she died last year." She added, after a little silence, "I somehow can't get used to being lonesome."
"It IS hard," said Nelson. "I lost my wife three years ago."
"That's hard, too."
"My goodness! I guess it is. And it's hardest when trouble comes on a man and he can't go nowhere for advice."
"Yes, that's so, too. But—have you any children?"
"Yes, ma'am; that is, they ain't my own children. Lizzie and I never had any; but these two we took and they are most like my own. The girl is eighteen and the boy rising of fourteen."
"They must be a comfort to you; but they are considerable of a responsibility, too."
"Yes, ma'am," he sighed softly to himself. "Sometimes I feel I haven't done the right way by them, though I've tried. Not that they ain't good children, for they are—no better anywhere. Tim, he will work from morning till night, and never need to urge him; and he never gives me a promise he don't keep it, no ma'am, never did since he was a little mite of a lad. And he is a kind boy, too, always good to the beasts; and while he may speak up a little short to his sister, he saves her many a step. He doesn't take to his studies quite as I would like to have him, but he has a wonderful head for business. There is splendid stuff in Tim if it could only be worked right."
While Nelson spoke, Tim was hunching his shoulders forward in the darkness, listening with the whole of two sharp ears. His face worked in spite of him, and he gave an inarticulate snort.
"Well," the woman said, "I think that speaks well for Tim. Why should you be worried about him?"
"I am afraid he is getting to love money and worldly success too well, and that is what I fear for the girl, too. You see, she is so pretty, and the idols of the tribe and the market, as Bacon calls them, are strong with the young."
"Yes, that's so," the woman assented vaguely, not at all sure what either Bacon or his idols might be. "Are the children relations of yours?"
"No, ma'am; it was like this: When I was up in Henry County there came a photographic artist to the village near us, and pitched his tent and took tintypes in his wagon. He had his wife and his two children with him. The poor woman fell ill and died; so we took the two children. My wife was willing; she was a wonderfully good woman, member of the Methodist church till she died. I—I am not a church member myself, ma'am; I passed through that stage of spiritual development a long while ago." He gave a wistful glance at his companion's dimly outlined profile. "But I never tried to disturb her faith; it made HER happy."
"Oh, I don't think it is any good fooling with other people's religions," said the woman, easily. "It is just like trying to talk folks out of drinking; nobody knows what is right for anybody else's soul any more than they do what is good for anybody else's stomach!"
"Yes, ma'am. You put things very clearly."
"I guess it is because you understand so quickly. But you were saying———"
"That's all the story. We took the children, and their father was killed by the cars the next year, poor man; and so we have done the best we could ever since by them."
"I should say you had done very well by them."
"No, ma'am; I haven't done very well somehow by anyone, myself included, though God knows I've tried hard enough!"
Then followed the silence natural after such a confession when the listener does not know the speaker well enough to parry abasement by denial.
"I am impressed," said Nelson, simply, "to talk with you frankly. It isn't polite to bother strangers with your troubles, but I am impressed that you won't mind."
"Oh, no, I won't mind."
It was not extravagant sympathy; but Nelson thought how kind her voice sounded, and what a musical voice it was. Most people would have called it rather sharp.
He told her—with surprisingly little egotism, as the keen listener noted—the story of his life; the struggle of his boyhood; his random self-education; his years in the army (he had criticised his superior officers, thereby losing the promotion that was coming for bravery in the field); his marriage (apparently he had married his wife because another man had jilted her); his wrestle with nature (whose pranks included a cyclone) on a frontier farm that he eventually lost, having put all his savings into a "Greenback" newspaper, and being thus swamped with debt; his final slow success in paying for his Iowa farm; and his purchase of the new farm, with its resulting disaster. "I've farmed in Kansas," he said, "in Nebraska, in Dakota, in Iowa. I was willing to go wherever the land promised. It always seemed like I was going to succeed, but somehow I never did. The world ain't fixed right for the workers, I take it. A man who has spent thirty years in hard, honest toil oughtn't to be staring ruin in the face like I am to-day. They won't let it be so when we have the single tax and when we farmers send our own men instead of city lawyers, to the Legislature and halls of Congress. Sometimes I think it's the world that's wrong and sometimes I think it's me!"
The reply came in crisp and assured accents, which were the strongest contrast to Nelson's soft, undecided pipe: "Seems to me in this last case the one most to blame is neither you nor the world at large, but this man Richards, who is asking YOU to pay for HIS farm. And I notice you don't seem to consider your creditor in this business. How do you know she don't need the money? Look at me, for instance; I'm in some financial difficulty myself. I have a mortgage for two thousand dollars, and that mortgage—for which good value was given, mind you—falls due this month. I want the money. I want it bad. I have a chance to put my money into stock at the factory. I know all about the investment; I haven't worked there all these years and not know how the business stands. It is a chance to make a fortune. I ain't likely to ever have another like it; and it won't wait for me to make up my mind forever, either. Isn't it hard on me, too?"
"Lord knows it is, ma'am," said Nelson, despondently; "it is hard on us all! Sometimes I don't see the end of it all. A vast social revolution——"
"Social fiddlesticks! I beg your pardon, Mr. Forrest, but it puts me out of patience to have people expecting to be allowed to make every mortal kind of fools of themselves and then have 'a social revolution' jump in to slue off the consequences. Let us understand each other. Who do you suppose I am?"
"Miss—Miss Almer, ain't it?"
"It's Alma Brown, Mr. Forrest. I saw you coming on the boat and I made Mr. Martin fetch me over to you. I told him not to say my name, because I wanted a good plain talk with you. Well, I've had it. Things are just about where I thought they were, and I told Mr. Lossing so. But I couldn't be sure. You must have thought me a funny kind of woman to be telling you all those things about myself."
Nelson, who had changed color half a dozen times in the darkness, sighed before he said: "No, ma'am; I only thought how good you were to tell me. I hoped maybe you were impressed to trust me as I was to trust you."
Being so dark Nelson could not see the queer expression on her face as she slowly shook her head. She was thinking: "If I ever saw a babe in arms trying to do business! How did HE ever pay for a farm?" She said: "Well, I did it on purpose; I wanted you to know I wasn't a cruel aristocrat, but a woman that had worked as hard as yourself. Now, why shouldn't you help me and yourself instead of helping Richards? You have confidence in me, you say. Well, show it. I'll give you your mortgage for your mortgage on Richards's farm. Come, can't you trust Richards to me? You think it over."
The hiss of a rocket hurled her words into space. The fireworks had begun. Miss Brown looked at them and watched Nelson at the same time. As a good business woman who was also a good citizen, having subscribed five dollars to the carnival, she did not propose to lose the worth of her money; neither did she intend to lose a chance to do business. Perhaps there was an obscurer and more complex motive lurking in some stray corner of that queer garret, a woman's mind. Such motives—aimless softenings of the heart, unprofitable diversions of the fancy—will seep unconsciously through the toughest business principles of woman.
She was puzzled by the look of exaltation on Nelson's features, illumined as they were by the uncanny light. If the fool man had not forgotten all his troubles just to see a few fireworks! No, he was not that kind of a fool; maybe—and she almost laughed aloud in her pleasure over her own insight—maybe it all made him think of the war, where he had been so brave. "He was a regular hero in the war," Miss Brown concluded, "and he certainly is a perfect gentleman; what a pity he hasn't got any sense!"
She had guessed aright, although she had not guessed deep enough in regard to Nelson. He watched the great wheels of light, he watched the river aflame with Greek fire, then, with a shiver, he watched the bombs bursting into myriads of flowers, into fizzing snakes, into fields of burning gold, into showers of jewels that made the night splendid for a second and faded. They were not fireworks to him; they were a magical phantasmagoria that renewed the incoherent and violent emotions of his youth; again he was in the chaos of the battle, or he was dreaming by his camp-fire, or he was pacing his lonely round on guard. His heart leaped again with the old glow, the wonderful, beautiful worship of Liberty that can do no wrong. He seemed to hear a thousand voices chanting:
"In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!"
His turbid musings cleared—or they seemed to him to clear—under the strong reaction of his imagination and his memories. It was all over, the dream and the glory thereof. The splendid young soldier was an elderly, ruined man. But one thing was left: he could be true to his flag.
"A poor soldier, but enlisted for the war," says Nelson, squaring his shoulders, with a lump in his throat and his eyes brimming. "I know by the way it hurts me to think of refusing her that it's a temptation to wrong-doing. No, I can't save myself by sacrificing a brother soldier for humanity. She is just as kind as she can be, but women don't understand business; she wouldn't make allowance for Richards."
He felt a hand on his shoulder; it was Martin apologizing for hurrying Miss Brown; but the baby was fretting and——
"I'm sorry—yes—well, I wish you didn't have to go!" Nelson began; but a hoarse treble rose from under his elbows: "Say, Mr. Martin, Uncle and me can take Miss Brown home."
"If you will allow me the pleasure," said Nelson, with the touch of courtliness that showed through his homespun ways.
"Well, I WOULD like to see the hundred bombs bursting at once and Vulcan at his forge!" said Miss Brown.
Thus the matter arranged itself. Tim waited with the lady while Nelson went for the horse, nor was it until afterward that Miss Brown wondered why the lad did not go instead of the man. But Tim had his own reasons. No sooner was Nelson out of earshot than he began: "Say, Miss Brown, I can tell you something."
"That Richards is no good; but you can't get Uncle to see it. At least it will take time. If you'll help me we can get him round in time. Won't you please not sell us out for six months and give me a show? I'll see you get your interest and your money, too."
"You?" Miss Brown involuntarily took a business attitude, with her arms akimbo, and eyed the boy.
"Yes, ma'am, me. I ain't so very old, but I know all about the business. I got all the figures down—how much we raise and what we got last year. I can fetch them to you so you can see. He is a good farmer, and he will catch on to the melons pretty quick. We'll do better next year, and I'll try to keep him from belonging to things and spending money; and if he won't lend to anybody or start in raising a new kind of crop just when we get the melons going, he will make money sure. He is awful good and honest. All the trouble with him is he needs somebody to take care of him. If Aunt Lizzie had been alive he never would have lent that dead-beat Richards that money. He ought to get married."
Miss Brown did not feel called on to say anything. Tim continued in a judicial way: "He is awful good and kind, always gets up in the morning to make the fire if I have got something else to do; and he'd think everything his wife did was the best in the world; and if he had somebody to take care of him he'd make money. I don't suppose YOU would think of it?" This last in an insinuating tone, with evident anxiety.
"Well, I never!" said Miss Brown.
Whether she was more offended or amused she couldn't tell; and she stood staring at him by the electric light. To her amazement the hard little face began to twitch. "I didn't mean to mad you," Tim grunted, with a quiver in his rough voice. "I've been listening to every word you said, and I thought you were so sensible you'd talk over things without nonsense. Of course I knew he'd have to come and see you Saturday nights, and take you buggy riding, and take you to the theatre, and all such things—first. But I thought we could sorter fix it up between ourselves. I've taken care of him ever since Aunt Lizzie died, and I did my best he shouldn't lend that money, but I couldn't help it; and I did keep him from marrying a widow woman with eight children, who kept telling him how much her poor fatherless children needed a man; and I never did see anybody I was willing—before—and it's—it's so lonesome without Aunt Lizzie!" He choked and frowned. Poor Tim, who had sold so many melons to women and seen so much of back doors and kitchen humors that he held the sex very cheap, he did not realize how hard he would find it to talk of the one woman who had been kind to him! He turned red with shame over his own weakness.
"You poor little chap!" cried Miss Brown; "you poor little sharp, innocent chap!" The hand she laid on his shoulder patted it as she went on: "Never mind, if I can't marry your uncle, I can help you take care of him. You're a real nice boy, and I'm not mad; don't you think it. There's your uncle now."
Nelson found her so gentle that he began to have qualms lest his carefully prepared speech should hurt her feelings. But there was no help for it now. "I have thought over your kind offer to me, ma'am," said he, humbly, "and I got a proposition to make to you. It is your honest due to have your farm, yes, ma'am. Well, I know a man would like to buy it; I'll sell it to him, and pay you your money."
"But that wasn't my proposal."
"I know it, ma'am. I honor you for your kindness; but I can't risk what—what might be another person's idea of duty about Richards. Our consciences ain't all equally enlightened, you know."
Miss Brown did not answer a word.
They drove along the streets where the lanterns were fading. Tim grew uneasy, she was silent so long. On the brow of the hill she indicated a side street and told them to stop the horse before a little brown house. One of the windows was a dim square of red.
"It isn't quite so lonesome coming home to a light," said Miss Brown.
As Nelson cramped the wheel to jump out to help her from the vehicle, the light from the electric arc fell full on his handsome face and showed her the look of compassion and admiration, there.
"Wait one moment," she said, detaining him with one firm hand. "I've got something to say to you. Let Richards go for the present; all I ask of you about him is that you will do nothing until we can find out if he is so bad off. But, Mr. Forrest, I can do better for you about that mortgage. Mr. Lossing will take it for three years for a relative of his and pay me the money. I told him the story."
"And YOU will get the money all right?"
"Just the same. I was only trying to help you a little by the other way, and I failed. Never mind."
"I can't tell you how you make me feel," said Nelson.
"Please let him bring you some melons to-morrow and make a stagger at it, though," said Tim.
"Can I?" Nelson's eyes shone.
"If you want to," said Miss Brown. She laughed; but in a moment she smiled.
All the way home Nelson saw the same face of Failure between the old mare's white ears; but its grim lineaments were softened by a smile, a smile like Miss Brown's.
TOMMY AND THOMAS
IT was while Harry Lossing was at the High School that Mrs. Carriswood first saw Tommy Fitzmaurice. He was not much to see, a long lad of sixteen who had outgrown his jackets and was not yet grown to his ears.
At this period Mrs. Fitzmaurice was his barber, and she, having been too rash with the shears in one place, had snipped off the rest of his curly black locks "to match;" until he showed a perfect convict's poll, giving his ears all the better chance, and bringing out the rather square contour of his jaws to advantage. He had the true Irish-Norman face; a skin of fine texture, fair and freckled, high cheekbones, straight nose, and wide blue eyes that looked to be drawn with ink, because of their sharply pencilled brows and long, thick, black lashes. But the feature that Mrs. Carriswood noticed was Tommy's mouth, a flexible and delicately cut mouth, of which the lips moved lightly in speaking and seldom were quite in repose.
"The genuine Irish orator's mouth," thought Mrs. Carriswood.
Tommy, however, was not a finished orator, and Mrs. Carriswood herself deigned to help him with his graduating oration; Tommy delivering the aforesaid oration from memory, on the stage of the Grand Opera House, to a warm-hearted and perspiring audience of his towns-people, amid tremendous applause and not the slightest prod-dings of conscience.
Really the speech deserved the applause; Mrs. Carriswood, who had heard half the eloquence of the world, spent three evenings on it; and she has a good memory.
Her part in the affair always amused her; though, in fact, it came to pass easily. She had the great fortune of the family. Being a widow with no children, and the time not being come when philanthropy beckons on the right hand and on the left to free-handed women, Mrs. Carriswood travelled. As she expressed it, she was searching the globe for a perfect climate. "Not that I in the least expect to find it," said she, cheerfully, "but I like to vary my disappointments; when I get worn out being frozen, winters, I go somewhere to be soaked." She was on her way to California this time, with her English maid, who gave the Lossing domestics many a jolly moment by her inextinguishable panic about red Indians. Mrs. Derry supposed these savages to be lurking on the prairie outside every Western town; and almost fainted when she did chance to turn the corner upon three Kickapoo Indians, splendid in paint and feathers, and peacefully vending the "Famous Kickapoo Sagwa." She had others of the artless notions of the travelling English, and I fear that they were encouraged not only by the cook, the "second girl," and the man-of-all-work, but by Harry and his chum, Tommy; I know she used to tell how she saw tame buffalo "roosting" on the streets, "w'ich they do look that like common cows a body couldn't tell 'em hapart!"
She had a great opinion of Tommy, a mystery to her mistress for a long time, until one day it leaked out that Tommy "and Master Harry, too," had told her that Tommy's great-grandfather was a lord in the old country.
"The family seem to have sunk in the world since, Derry," was Mrs. Carriswood's single remark, as she smiled to herself. After Derry was dismissed she picked up a letter, written that day to a friend of hers, and read some passages about Harry and Tommy, smiling again.
"Harry"—one may look over her pretty shoulder without impertinence, in a story—"Harry," she wrote, "is a boy that I long to steal. Just the kind of boy we have both wanted, Sarah—frank, happy, affectionate. I must tell you something about him. It came out by accident. He has the Western business instincts, and what do you suppose he did? He actually started a wee shop of his own in the corner of the yard (really it is a surprisingly pretty place, and they are quite civilized in the house, gas, hot water, steam heat, all most comfortable), and sold 'pop' and candy and cakes to the boys. He made so much money that he proposed a partnership to the cook and the setting up a little booth in the 'county fair,' which is like our rural cattle shows, you know. The cook (a superior person who borrows books from Mrs. Lossing, but seems very decent and respectful notwithstanding, and broils game to perfection. And SUCH game as we have here, Sarah!)—well, the cook made him cream-cakes, sandwiches, tarts, and candy, and Harry honorably bought all the provisions with his profits from the first venture. You will open your eyes at his father permitting such a thing, but Henry Lossing is a thorough Westerner in some ways, and he looks on it all as a joke. 'Might show the boy how to do business,' he says.
"Well, they had a ravishing display, so Alma, the cook, and William, the man, assured me—per Derry. All the sadder its fate; for alas! a gang of rowdy boys fell upon Harry, and while he was busy fighting half of them—he is as plucky as his uncle, the general—the other half looted the beautiful stock in trade! They would have despoiled our poor little merchant entirely but for the opportune arrival of a schoolmate who is mightily respected by the rowdies. He knocked one of them down and shouted after the others that he would give every one of them a good thrashing if they did not bring the plunder back; and as he is known to be a lad of his word for good or evil, actually the scamps did return most of the booty, which the two boys brushed off and sold, as far as it went (!) The consequence of the fray has been that Harry is unboundedly grateful to this Tommy Fitzmaurice, and is at present coaching him on his graduating oration. Fitzmaurice has studied hard and won honors, and wants to make a show with his oration, to please his father. 'You see,' says Harry, 'Tommy's father has saved money and is spending it all on Tommy, so's he can be educated. He needs Tommy in the business real bad, but he won't let him come in; he keeps him at school, and he thinks everything of his getting the valedictory, and Tommy, he worked nights studying to get it.' When I asked what was the father's business, Harry grew a bit confused. 'Well, he kept a saloon; but'—Harry hastened to explain—'it was a very nice saloon, never any trouble with the police there; why, Tommy knew every man on the force. And they keep good liquors, too,' said Harry, earnestly; 'throw away all the beer left in the glasses.' 'What else would they do with it?' asked innocent I. 'Why, keep it in a bucket,' said Harry, solemnly, 'and then slip the glass under the counter and half fill out of the bucket, then hold it under the keg LOW, so's the foam will come; that's a trick of the trade, you know. Tommy says his father would SCORN that!' There is a vista opened, isn't there? I was rather shocked at such associates for Harry, and told his mother. Did she think it a good idea to have such a boy coming to the house? a saloon-keeper's son? She did not laugh, as I half expected, but answered quite seriously that she had been looking up Tommy, that he was very much attached to Harry, and that she did not think he would teach him anything bad. He has, I find myself, notions of honor, though they are rather the code of the street. And he picks up things quickly. Once he came to tea. It was amusing to see how he glued his eyes on Harry and kept time with his motions. He used his fork quite properly, only as Harry is a left-handed little fellow, the right-handed Thomas had the more difficulty.
"He is taking such vast pains with his 'oration' that I felt moved to help him. The subject is 'The Triumph of Democracy,' and Tommy civilly explained that 'democracy' did not mean the Democratic party, but 'just only a government where all the poor folks can get their rights and can vote.'
"The oration was the kind of spread-eagle thing you might expect; I can see that Tommy has formed himself on the orators of his father's respectable saloon. What he said in comment interested me more. 'Sure, I guess it is the best government, ma'am, though, of course, I got to make it out that way, anyhow. But we come from Ireland, and there they got the other kind, and me granny, she starved in the famine time, she did that—with the fever. Me father walked twenty mile to the Sackville's place, where they gave him some meal, though he wasn't one of their tenants; yes, and the lady told him how he would be cooking it. I never will forget that lady!'
"I saw a dramatic opportunity: would Tommy be willing to tell that story in his speech? He looked at me with an odd look—or so I imagined it! 'Why not?' says he; 'I'd as soon as not tell it to anyone of them, and why not to them all together?' Well, why not, when you come to think of it? So we have got it into the speech; and I, I myself, Sarah, am drilling young Demos-thenes, and he is so apt a scholar that I find myself rather pleasantly employed." Having read her letter, Mrs. Carriswood hesitated a second and then added Derry's information at the bottom of the page. "I suppose the lordly ancestor was one of King James's creation—see Macaulay, somewhere in the second volume. I dare say there is a drop or two of good blood in the boy. He has the manners of a gentleman—but I don't know that I ever saw an Irishman, no matter how low in the social scale, who hadn't."
Thus it happened that Tommy's valedictory scored a success that is a tradition of the High School, and came to be printed in both the city papers; copies of which journals Tommy's mother has preserved sacredly to this day; and I have no doubt, could one find them, they would be found wrapped around a yellow photograph of the "A Class" of 1870: eight pretty girls in white, smiling among five solemn boys in black, and Tommy himself, as the valedictorian, occupying the centre of the picture in his new suit of broadcloth, with a rose in his buttonhole and his hair cut by a professional barber for the occasion.
It was the story of the famine that really captured the audience; and Tommy told it well, with the true Irish fire, in a beautiful voice.
In the front seat of the parquette a little old man in a wrinkled black broadcloth, with a bald head and a fringe of whisker under his long chin, and a meek little woman, in a red Paisley shawl, wept and laughed by turns. They had taken the deepest interest in every essay and every speech. The old man clapped his large hands (which were encased in loose, black kid gloves) with unflagging vigor. He wore a pair of heavy boots, the soles of which made a noble thud on the floor.
"Ain't it wonderful the like of them young craters can talk like that!" he cried; "shure, Molly, that young lady who'd the essay—where is it?"—a huge black forefinger travelled down the page—"'Music, The Turkish Patrol,' No—though that's grand, that piece; I'll be spakin' wid Professor Von Keinmitz to bring it when we've the opening. Here 'tis, Molly: 'Tin, Essay. The Darkest Night Brings Out the Stars, Miss Mamie Odenheimer.' Thrue for you, mavourneen! And the sintiments, wasn't they illigant? and the lan-gwidge was as foine as Pat Ronan's speeches or Father—whist! will ye look at the flowers that shlip of a gyirl's gitting! Count 'em, will ye?"
"Fourteen bouquets and wan basket," says the little woman, "and Mamie Odenheimer, she got seventeen bouquets and two baskets and a sign. Well," she looked anxious, but smiled, "I know of siven bouquets Tommy will git for sure. And that's not countin' what Harry Lossing will do for him. Hiven bless the good heart of him!"
"Well, I kin count four for him on wan seat," says the man, with a nod of his head toward the gay heap in the woman's lap, "barrin' I ain't on-vaygled into flinging some of thim to the young ladies!"
Harry Lossing, in the seat behind with his mother and Mrs. Carriswood, giggled at this and whispered in the latter lady's ear, "That's Tommy's father and mother. My, aren't they excited, though! And Tommy's white's a sheet—for fear he'll disappoint them, you know. He has said his piece over twice to me, to-day, he's so scared lest he'll forget. I've got it in my pocket, and I'm going behind when it's his turn, to prompt him. Did you see me winking at him? it sort of cheers him up."
He was almost as keen over the floral procession as the Fitzmaurices themselves. The Lossing garden had been stripped to the last bud, and levies made on the asparagus-bed, into the bargain, and Mrs. Lossing and Alma and Mrs. Carriswood and Derry and Susy Lossing had made bouquets and baskets and wreaths, and Harry had distributed them among friends in different parts of the house. I say Harry, but, complimented by Mrs. Carriswood, he admitted ingenuously that it was Tommy's idea.
"Tommy thought they would make more show that way," says Harry, "and they are all on the middle aisle, so his father and mother can see them; Tim O'Halloran has got one for him, too, and Mrs. Macillarney, and she's got some splendid pinies. Picked every last one. They'll make a show!"