THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN
I. ENTER CHORUS II. A RESCUE III. OLD HOPES IV. THE DISASTER V. BEAVER BEACH VI. "YE'LL TAK' THE HIGH ROAD AND I'LL TAK' THE LOW ROAD" VII. GIVE A DOG A BAD NAME VIII. A BAD PENNY TURNS UP IX. OUTER DARKNESS X. THE TRYST XI. WHEN HALF-GODS GO XII. TO REMAIN ON THE FIELD OF BATTLE IS NOT ALWAYS A VICTORY XIII. THE WATCHER AND THE WARDEN XIV. WHITE ROSES IN A LAW-OFFICE XV. HAPPY FEAR GIVES HIMSELF UP XVI. THE TWO CANAANS XVII. MR. SHEEHAN'S HINTS XVIII. IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY XIX. ESKEW ARP XX. THREE ARE ENLISTED XXI. NORBERT WAITS FOR JOE XXII. MR. SHEEHAN SPEAKS XXIII. JOE WALKS ACROSS THE COURT-HOUSE YARD XXIV. MARTIN PIKE KEEPS AN ENGAGEMENT XXV. THE JURY COMES IN XXVI. "ANCIENT OF DAYS"
THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN
A dry snow had fallen steadily throughout the still night, so that when a cold, upper wind cleared the sky gloriously in the morning the incongruous Indiana town shone in a white harmony—roof, ledge, and earth as evenly covered as by moonlight. There was no thaw; only where the line of factories followed the big bend of the frozen river, their distant chimneys like exclamation points on a blank page, was there a first threat against the supreme whiteness. The wind passed quickly and on high; the shouting of the school-children had ceased at nine o'clock with pitiful suddenness; no sleigh-bells laughed out on the air; and the muffling of the thoroughfares wrought an unaccustomed peace like that of Sunday. This was the phenomenon which afforded the opening of the morning debate of the sages in the wide windows of the "National House."
Only such unfortunates as have so far failed to visit Canaan do not know that the "National House" is on the Main Street side of the Court-house Square, and has the advantage of being within two minutes' walk of the railroad station, which is in plain sight of the windows—an inestimable benefit to the conversation of the aged men who occupied these windows on this white morning, even as they were wont in summer to hold against all comers the cane-seated chairs on the pavement outside. Thence, as trains came and went, they commanded the city gates, and, seeking motives and adding to the stock of history, narrowly observed and examined into all who entered or departed. Their habit was not singular. He who would foolishly tax the sages of Canaan with a bucolic light-mindedness must first walk in Piccadilly in early June, stroll down the Corso in Rome before Ash Wednesday, or regard those windows of Fifth Avenue whose curtains are withdrawn of a winter Sunday; for in each of these great streets, wherever the windows, not of trade, are widest, his eyes must behold wise men, like to those of Canaan, executing always their same purpose.
The difference is in favor of Canaan; the "National House" was the club, but the perusal of traveller or passer by was here only the spume blown before a stately ship of thought; and you might hear the sages comparing the Koran with the speeches of Robert J. Ingersoll.
In the days of board sidewalks, "mail-time" had meant a precise moment for Canaan, and even now, many years after the first postman, it remained somewhat definite to the aged men; for, out of deference to a pleasant, olden custom, and perhaps partly for an excuse to "get down to the hotel" (which was not altogether in favor with the elderly ladies), most of them retained their antique boxes in the post-office, happily in the next building.
In this connection it may be written that a subscription clerk in the office of the Chicago Daily Standard, having noted a single subscriber from Canaan, was, a fortnight later, pleased to receive, by one mail, nine subscriptions from that promising town. If one brought nine others in a fortnight, thought he, what would nine bring in a month? Amazingly, they brought nothing, and the rest was silence. Here was a matter of intricate diplomacy never to come within that youth his ken. The morning voyage to the post-office, long mocked as a fable and screen by the families of the sages, had grown so difficult to accomplish for one of them, Colonel Flitcroft (Colonel in the war with Mexico), that he had been put to it, indeed, to foot the firing-line against his wife (a lady of celebrated determination and hale-voiced at seventy), and to defend the rental of a box which had sheltered but three missives in four years. Desperation is often inspiration; the Colonel brilliantly subscribed for the Standard, forgetting to give his house address, and it took the others just thirteen days to wring his secret from him. Then the Standard served for all.
Mail-time had come to mean that bright hour when they all got their feet on the brass rod which protected the sills of the two big windows, with the steam-radiators sizzling like kettles against the side wall. Mr. Jonas Tabor, who had sold his hardware business magnificently (not magnificently for his nephew, the purchaser) some ten years before, was usually, in spite of the fact that he remained a bachelor at seventy-nine, the last to settle down with the others, though often the first to reach the hotel, which he always entered by a side door, because he did not believe in the treating system. And it was Mr. Eskew Arp, only seventy-five, but already a thoroughly capable cynic, who, almost invariably "opened the argument," and it was he who discovered the sinister intention behind the weather of this particular morning. Mr. Arp had not begun life so sourly: as a youth he had been proud of his given name, which had come to him through his mother's family, who had made it honorable, but many years of explanations that Eskew did not indicate his initials had lowered his opinion of the intelligence and morality of the race.
The malevolence of his voice and manner this morning, therefore, when he shook his finger at the town beyond the windows, and exclaimed, with a bitter laugh, "Look at it!" was no surprise to his companions. "Jest look at it! I tell you the devil is mighty smart. Ha, ha! Mighty smart!"
Through custom it was the duty of Squire Buckalew (Justice of the Peace in '59) to be the first to take up Mr. Arp. The others looked to him for it. Therefore, he asked, sharply:
"What's the devil got to do with snow?"
"Everything to do with it, sir," Mr. Arp retorted. "It's plain as day to anybody with eyes and sense."
"Then I wish you'd p'int it out," said Buckalew, "if you've got either."
"By the Almighty, Squire"—Mr. Arp turned in his chair with sudden heat—"if I'd lived as long as you—"
"You have," interrupted the other, stung. "Twelve years ago!"
"If I'd lived as long as you," Mr. Arp repeated, unwincingly, in a louder voice, "and had follered Satan's trail as long as you have, and yet couldn't recognize it when I see it, I'd git converted and vote Prohibitionist."
"I don't see it," interjected Uncle Joe Davey, in his querulous voice. (He was the patriarch of them all.) "I can't find no cloven-hoof-prints in the snow."
"All over it, sir!" cried the cynic. "All over it! Old Satan loves tricks like this. Here's a town that's jest one squirmin' mass of lies and envy and vice and wickedness and corruption—"
"Hold on!" exclaimed Colonel Flitcroft. "That's a slander upon our hearths and our government. Why, when I was in the Council—"
"It wasn't a bit worse then," Mr. Arp returned, unreasonably. "Jest you look how the devil fools us. He drops down this here virgin mantle on Canaan and makes it look as good as you pretend you think it is: as good as the Sunday-school room of a country church—though THAT"—he went off on a tangent, venomously—"is generally only another whited sepulchre, and the superintendent's mighty apt to have a bottle of whiskey hid behind the organ, and—"
"Look here, Eskew," said Jonas Tabor, "that's got nothin' to do with—"
"Why ain't it? Answer me!" cried Mr. Arp, continuing, without pause: "Why ain't it? Can't you wait till I git through? You listen to me, and when I'm ready I'll listen to—"
"See here," began the Colonel, making himself heard over three others, "I want to ask you—"
"No, sir!" Mr. Arp pounded the floor irascibly with his hickory stick. "Don't you ask me anything! How can you tell that I'm not going to answer your question without your asking it, till I've got through? You listen first. I say, here's a town of nearly thirty thousand inhabitants, every last one of 'em—men, women, and children—selfish and cowardly and sinful, if you could see their innermost natures; a town of the ugliest and worst built houses in the world, and governed by a lot of saloon-keepers—though I hope it 'll never git down to where the ministers can run it. And the devil comes along, and in one night—why, all you got to do is LOOK at it! You'd think we needn't ever trouble to make it better. That's what the devil wants us to do—wants us to rest easy about it, and paints it up to look like a heaven of peace and purity and sanctified spirits. Snowfall like this would of made Lot turn the angel out-of-doors and say that the old home was good enough for him. Gomorrah would of looked like a Puritan village—though I'll bet my last dollar that there was a lot, and a WHOLE lot, that's never been told about Puritan villages. A lot that—"
"WHAT never was?" interrupted Mr. Peter Bradbury, whose granddaughter had lately announced her discovery that the Bradburys were descended from Miles Standish. "What wasn't told about Puritan villages?"
"Can't you wait?" Mr. Arp's accents were those of pain. "Haven't I got ANY right to present my side of the case? Ain't we restrained enough to allow of free speech here? How can we ever git anywhere in an argument like this, unless we let one man talk at a time? How—"
"Go on with your statement," said Uncle Joe Davey, impatiently.
Mr. Arp's grievance was increased. "Now listen to YOU! How many more interruptions are comin'? I'll listen to the other side, but I've got to state mine first, haven't I? If I don't make my point clear, what's the use of the argument? Argumentation is only the comparison of two sides of a question, and you have to see what the first side IS before you can compare it with the other one, don't you? Are you all agreed to that?"
"Yes, yes," said the Colonel. "Go ahead. We won't interrupt until you're through."
"Very well," resumed Mr. Arp, with a fleeting expression of satisfaction, "as I said before, I wish to—as I said—" He paused, in some confusion. "As I said, argumentation is—that is, I say—" He stopped again, utterly at sea, having talked himself so far out of his course that he was unable to recall either his sailing port or his destination. Finally he said, feebly, to save the confession, "Well, go on with your side of it."
This generosity was for a moment disconcerting; however, the quietest of the party took up the opposition—Roger Tabor, a very thin, old man with a clean-shaven face, almost as white as his hair, and melancholy, gentle, gray eyes, very unlike those of his brother Jonas, which were dark and sharp and button-bright. (It was to Roger's son that Jonas had so magnificently sold the hardware business.) Roger was known in Canaan as "the artist"; there had never been another of his profession in the place, and the town knew not the word "painter," except in application to the useful artisan who is subject to lead-poisoning. There was no indication of his profession in the attire of Mr. Tabor, unless the too apparent age of his black felt hat and a neat patch at the elbow of his shiny, old brown overcoat might have been taken as symbols of the sacrifice to his muse which his life had been. He was not a constant attendant of the conclave, and when he came it was usually to listen; indeed, he spoke so seldom that at the sound of his voice they all turned to him with some surprise.
"I suppose," he began, "that Eskew means the devil is behind all beautiful things."
"Ugly ones, too," said Mr. Arp, with a start of recollection. "And I wish to state—"
"Not now!" Colonel Flitcroft turned upon him violently. "You've already stated it."
"Then, if he is behind the ugly things, too," said Roger, "we must take him either way, so let us be glad of the beauty for its own sake. Eskew says this is a wicked town. It may be—I don't know. He says it's badly built; perhaps it is; but it doesn't seem to me that it's ugly in itself. I don't know what its real self is, because it wears so many aspects. God keeps painting it all the time, and never shows me twice the same picture; not even two snowfalls are just alike, nor the days that follow them; no more than two misty sunsets are alike—for the color and even the form of the town you call ugly are a matter of the season of the year and of the time of day and of the light and air. The ugly town is like an endless gallery which you can walk through, from year-end to year-end, never seeing the same canvas twice, no matter how much you may want to—and there's the pathos of it. Isn't it the same with people with the characters of all of us, just as it is with our faces? No face remains the same for two successive days—"
"It don't?" Colonel Flitcroft interrupted, with an explosive and rueful incredulity. "Well, I'd like to—" Second thoughts came to him almost immediately, and, as much out of gallantry as through discretion, fearing that he might be taken as thinking of one at home, he relapsed into silence.
Not so with the others. It was as if a firecracker had been dropped into a sleeping poultry-yard. Least of all could Mr. Arp contain himself. At the top of his voice, necessarily, he agreed with Roger that faces changed, not only from day to day, and not only because of light and air and such things, but from hour to hour, and from minute to minute, through the hideous stimulus of hypocrisy.
The "argument" grew heated; half a dozen tidy quarrels arose; all the sages went at it fiercely, except Roger Tabor, who stole quietly away. The aged men were enjoying themselves thoroughly, especially those who quarrelled. Naturally, the frail bark of the topic which had been launched was whirled about by too many side-currents to remain long in sight, and soon became derelict, while the intellectual dolphins dove and tumbled in the depths. At the end of twenty minutes Mr. Arp emerged upon the surface, and in his mouth was this:
"Tell me, why ain't the Church—why ain't the Church and the rest of the believers in a future life lookin' for immortality at the other end of life, too? If we're immortal, we always have been; then why don't they ever speculate on what we were before we were born? It's because they're too blame selfish—don't care a flapdoodle about what WAS, all they want is to go on livin' forever."
Mr. Arp's voice had risen to an acrid triumphancy, when it suddenly faltered, relapsed to a murmur, and then to a stricken silence, as a tall, fat man of overpowering aspect threw open the outer door near by and crossed the lobby to the clerk's desk. An awe fell upon the sages with this advent. They were hushed, and after a movement in their chairs, with a strange effect of huddling, sat disconcerted and attentive, like school-boys at the entrance of the master.
The personage had a big, fat, pink face and a heavily undershot jaw, what whitish beard he wore following his double chin somewhat after the manner displayed in the portraits of Henry the Eighth. His eyes, very bright under puffed upper lids, were intolerant and insultingly penetrating despite their small size. Their irritability held a kind of hotness, and yet the personage exuded frost, not of the weather, all about him. You could not imagine man or angel daring to greet this being genially—sooner throw a kiss to Mount Pilatus!
"Mr. Brown," he said, with ponderous hostility, in a bull bass, to the clerk—the kind of voice which would have made an express train leave the track and go round the other way—"do you hear me?"
"Oh yes, Judge," the clerk replied, swiftly, in tones as unlike those which he used for strange transients as a collector's voice in his ladylove's ear is unlike that which he propels at delinquents.
"Do you see that snow?" asked the personage, threateningly.
"Yes, Judge." Mr. Brown essayed a placating smile. "Yes, indeed, Judge Pike."
"Has your employer, the manager of this hotel, seen that snow?" pursued the personage, with a gesture of unspeakable solemn menace.
"Yes, sir. I think so. Yes, sir."
"Do you think he fully understands that I am the proprietor of this building?"
"Certainly, Judge, cer—"
"You will inform him that I do not intend to be discommoded by his negligence as I pass to my offices. Tell him from me that unless he keeps the sidewalks in front of this hotel clear of snow I will cancel his lease. Their present condition is outrageous. Do you understand me? Outrageous! Do you hear?"
"Yes, Judge, I do so," answered the clerk, hoarse with respect. "I'll see to it this minute, Judge Pike."
"You had better." The personage turned himself about and began a grim progress towards the door by which he had entered, his eyes fixing themselves angrily upon the conclave at the windows.
Colonel Flitcroft essayed a smile, a faltering one.
"Fine weather, Judge Pike," he said, hopefully.
There was no response of any kind; the undershot jaw became more intolerant. The personage made his opinion of the group disconcertingly plain, and the old boys understood that he knew them for a worthless lot of senile loafers, as great a nuisance in his building as was the snow without; and much too evident was his unspoken threat to see that the manager cleared them out of there before long.
He nodded curtly to the only man of substance among them, Jonas Tabor, and shut the door behind him with majestic insult. He was Canaan's millionaire.
He was one of those dynamic creatures who leave the haunting impression of their wills behind them, like the tails of Bo-Peep's sheep, like the evil dead men have done; he left his intolerant image in the ether for a long time after he had gone, to confront and confound the aged men and hold them in deferential and humiliated silence. Each of them was mysteriously lowered in his own estimation, and knew that he had been made to seem futile and foolish in the eyes of his fellows. They were all conscious, too, that the clerk had been acutely receptive of Judge Pike's reading of them; that he was reviving from his own squelchedness through the later snubbing of the colonel; also that he might further seek to recover his poise by an attack on them for cluttering up the office.
Naturally, Jonas Tabor was the first to speak. "Judge Pike's lookin' mighty well," he said, admiringly.
"Yes, he is," ventured Squire Buckalew, with deference; "mighty well."
"Yes, sir," echoed Peter Bradbury; "mighty well."
"He's a great man," wheezed Uncle Joe Davey; "a great man, Judge Martin Pike; a great man!"
"I expect he has considerable on his mind," said the Colonel, who had grown very red. "I noticed that he hardly seemed to see us."
"Yes, sir," Mr. Bradbury corroborated, with an attempt at an amused laugh. "I noticed it, too. Of course a man with all his cares and interests must git absent-minded now and then."
"Of course he does," said the colonel. "A man with all his responsibilities—"
"Yes, that's so," came a chorus of the brethren, finding comfort and reassurance as their voices and spirits began to recover from the blight.
"There's a party at the Judge's to-night," said Mr. Bradbury—"kind of a ball Mamie Pike's givin' for the young folks. Quite a doin's, I hear."
"That's another thing that's ruining Canaan," Mr. Arp declared, morosely. "These entertainments they have nowadays. Spend all the money out of town—band from Indianapolis, chicken salad and darkey waiters from Chicago! And what I want to know is, What's this town goin' to do about the nigger question?"
"What about it?" asked Mr. Davey, belligerently.
"What about it?" Mr. Arp mocked, fiercely. "You better say, 'What about it?'"
"Well, what?" maintained Mr. Davey, steadfastly.
"I'll bet there ain't any less than four thousand niggers in Canaan to-day!" Mr. Arp hammered the floor with his stick. "Every last one of 'em criminals, and more comin' on every train."
"No such a thing," said Squire Buckalew, living up to his bounden duty. "You look down the street. There's the ten-forty-five comin' in now. I'll bet you a straight five-cent Peek-a-Boo cigar there ain't ary nigger on the whole train, except the sleepin'-car porters."
"What kind of a way to argue is that?" demanded Mr. Arp, hotly. "Bettin' ain't proof, is it? Besides, that's the through express from the East. I meant trains from the South."
"You didn't say so," retorted Buckalew, triumphantly. "Stick to your bet, Eskew, stick to your bet."
"My bet!" cried the outraged Eskew. "Who offered to bet?"
"You did," replied the Squire, with perfect assurance and sincerity. The others supported him in the heartiest spirit of on-with-the-dance, and war and joy were unconfined.
A decrepit hack or two, a couple of old-fashioned surreys, and a few "cut-unders" drove by, bearing the newly arrived and their valises, the hotel omnibus depositing several commercial travellers at the door. A solitary figure came from the station on foot, and when it appeared within fair range of the window, Uncle Joe Davey, who had but hovered on the flanks of the combat, first removed his spectacles and wiped them, as though distrusting the vision they offered him, then, replacing them, scanned anew the approaching figure and uttered a smothered cry.
"My Lord A'mighty!" he gasped. "What's this? Look there!"
They looked. A truce came involuntarily, and they sat in paralytic silence as the figure made its stately and sensational progress along Main Street.
Not only the aged men were smitten. Men shovelling snow from the pavements stopped suddenly in their labors; two women, talking busily on a doorstep, were stilled and remained in frozen attitudes as it passed; a grocer's clerk, crossing the pavement, carrying a heavily laden basket to his delivery wagon, halted half-way as the figure came near, and then, making a pivot of his heels as it went by, behaved towards it as does the magnetic needle to the pole.
It was that of a tall gentleman, cheerfully, though somewhat with ennui, enduring his nineteenth winter. His long and slender face he wore smiling, beneath an accurately cut plaster of dark hair cornicing his forehead, a fashion followed by many youths of that year. This perfect bang was shown under a round black hat whose rim was so small as almost not to be there at all; and the head was supported by a waxy-white sea-wall of collar, rising three inches above the blue billows of a puffed cravat, upon which floated a large, hollow pearl. His ulster, sporting a big cape at the shoulders, and a tasselled hood over the cape, was of a rough Scotch cloth, patterned in faint, gray-and-white squares the size of baggage-checks, and it was so long that the skirts trailed in the snow. His legs were lost in the accurately creased, voluminous garments that were the tailors' canny reaction from the tight trousers with which the 'Eighties had begun: they were, in color, a palish russet, broadly striped with gray, and, in size, surpassed the milder spirit of fashion so far as they permitted a liberal knee action to take place almost without superficial effect. Upon his feet glistened long shoes, shaped, save for the heels, like sharp racing-shells; these were partially protected by tan-colored low gaiters with flat, shiny, brown buttons. In one hand the youth swung a bone-handled walking-stick, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter, the other carried a yellow leather banjo-case, upon the outer side of which glittered the embossed-silver initials, "E. B." He was smoking, but walked with his head up, making use, however, of a gait at that time new to Canaan, a seeming superbly irresponsible lounge, engendering much motion of the shoulders, producing an effect of carelessness combined with independence—an effect which the innocent have been known to hail as an unconscious one.
He looked about him as he came, smilingly, with an expression of princely amusement—as an elderly cabinet minister, say, strolling about a village where he had spent some months in his youth, a hamlet which he had then thought large and imposing, but which, being revisited after years of cosmopolitan glory, appeals to his whimsy and his pity. The youth's glance at the court-house unmistakably said: "Ah, I recall that odd little box. I thought it quite large in the days before I became what I am now, and I dare say the good townsfolk still think it an imposing structure!" With everything in sight he deigned to be amused, especially with the old faces in the "National House" windows. To these he waved his stick with airy graciousness.
"My soul!" said Mr. Davey. "It seems to know some of us!"
"Yes," agreed Mr. Arp, his voice recovered, "and I know IT."
"You do?" exclaimed the Colonel.
"I do, and so do you. It's Fanny Louden's boy, 'Gene, come home for his Christmas holidays."
"By George! you're right," cried Flitcroft; "I recognize him now."
"But what's the matter with him?" asked Mr. Bradbury, eagerly. "Has he joined some patent-medicine troupe?"
"Not a bit," replied Eskew. "He went East to college last fall."
"Do they MAKE the boys wear them clothes?" persisted Bradbury. "Is it some kind of uniform?"
"I don't care what it is," said Jonas Tabor. "If I was Henry Louden I wouldn't let him wear 'em around here."
"Oh, you wouldn't, wouldn't you, Jonas?" Mr. Arp employed the accents of sarcasm. "I'd like to see Henry Louden try to interfere with 'Gene Bantry. Fanny'd lock the old fool up in the cellar."
The lofty vision lurched out of view.
"I reckon," said the Colonel, leaning forward to see the last of it—"I reckon Henry Louden's about the saddest case of abused step-father I ever saw."
"It's his own fault," said Mr. Arp—"twice not havin' sense enough not to marry. Him with a son of his own, too!"
"Yes," assented the Colonel, "marryin' a widow with a son of her own, and that widow Fanny!"
"Wasn't it just the same with her first husband—Bantry?" Mr. Davey asked, not for information, as he immediately answered himself. "You bet it was! Didn't she always rule the roost? Yes, she did. She made a god of 'Gene from the day he was born. Bantry's house was run for him, like Louden's is now."
"And look," exclaimed Mr. Arp, with satisfaction, "at the way he's turned out!"
"He ain't turned out at all yet; he's too young," said Buckalew. "Besides, clothes don't make the man."
"Wasn't he smokin' a cigareet!" cried Eskew, triumphantly. This was final.
"It's a pity Henry Louden can't do something for his own son," said Mr. Bradbury. "Why don't he send him away to college?"
"Fanny won't let him," chuckled Mr. Arp, malevolently. "Takes all their spare change to keep 'Gene there in style. I don't blame her. 'Gene certainly acts the fool, but that Joe Louden is the orneriest boy I ever saw in an ornery world-full."
"He always was kind of misCHEEvous," admitted Buckalew. "I don't think he's mean, though, and it does seem kind of not just right that Joe's father's money—Bantry didn't leave anything to speak of—has to go to keepin' 'Gene on the fat of the land, with Joe gittin' up at half-past four to carry papers, and him goin' on nineteen years old."
"It's all he's fit for!" exclaimed Eskew. "He's low down, I tell ye. Ain't it only last week Judge Pike caught him shootin' craps with Pike's nigger driver and some other nigger hired-men in the alley back of Pike's barn."
Mr. Schindlinger, the retired grocer, one of the silent members, corroborated Eskew's information. "I heert dot, too," he gave forth, in his fat voice. "He blays dominoes pooty often in der room back off Louie Farbach's tsaloon. I see him myself. Pooty often. Blayin' fer a leedle money—mit loafers! Loafers!"
"Pretty outlook for the Loudens!" said Eskew Arp, much pleased. "One boy a plum fool and dressed like it, the other gone to the dogs already!"
"What could you expect Joe to be?" retorted Squire Buckalew. "What chance has he ever had? Long as I can remember Fanny's made him fetch and carry for 'Gene. 'Gene's had everything—all the fancy clothes, all the pocket-money, and now college!"
"You ever hear that boy Joe talk politics?" asked Uncle Joe Davey, crossing a cough with a chuckle. "His head's so full of schemes fer running this town, and state, too, it's a wonder it don't bust. Henry Louden told me he's see Joe set around and study by the hour how to save three million dollars for the state in two years."
"And the best he can do for himself," added Eskew, "is deliverin' the Daily Tocsin on a second-hand Star bicycle and gamblin' with niggers and riff-raff! None of the nice young folks invite him to their doin's any more."
"That's because he's got so shabby he's quit goin' with em," said Buckalew.
"No, it ain't," snapped Mr. Arp. "It's because he's so low down. He's no more 'n a town outcast. There ain't ary one of the girls 'll have a thing to do with him, except that rip-rarin' tom-boy next door to Louden's; and the others don't have much to do with HER, neither, I can tell ye. That Arie Tabor—"
Colonel Flitcroft caught him surreptitiously by the arm. "SH, Eskew!" he whispered. "Look out what you're sayin'!"
"You needn't mind me," Jonas Tabor spoke up, crisply. "I washed my hands of all responsibility for Roger's branch of the family long ago. Never was one of 'em had the energy or brains to make a decent livin', beginning with Roger; not one worth his salt! I set Roger's son up in business, and all the return he ever made me was to go into bankruptcy and take to drink, till he died a sot, like his wife did of shame. I done all I could when I handed him over my store, and I never expect to lift a finger for 'em again. Ariel Tabor's my grandniece, but she didn't act like it, and you can say anything you like about her, for what I care. The last time I spoke to her was a year and a half ago, and I don't reckon I'll ever trouble to again."
"How was that, Jonas?" quickly inquired Mr. Davey, who, being the eldest of the party, was the most curious. "What happened?"
"She was out in the street, up on that high bicycle of Joe Louden's. He was teachin' her to ride, and she was sittin' on it like a man does. I stopped and told her she wasn't respectable. Sixteen years old, goin' on seventeen!"
"What did she say?"
"Laughed," said Jonas, his voice becoming louder as the recital of his wrongs renewed their sting in his soul. "Laughed!"
"What did you do?"
"I went up to her and told her she wasn't a decent girl, and shook the wheel." Mr. Tabor illustrated by seizing the lapels of Joe Davey and shaking him. "I told her if her grandfather had any spunk she'd git an old-fashioned hidin' for behavin' that way. And I shook the wheel again." Here Mr. Tabor, forgetting in the wrath incited by the recollection that he had not to do with an inanimate object, swung the gasping and helpless Mr. Davey rapidly back and forth in his chair. "I shook it good and hard!"
"What did she do then?" asked Peter Bradbury.
"Fell off on me," replied Jonas, violently. "On purpose!"
"I wisht she'd killed ye," said Mr. Davey, in a choking voice, as, released, he sank back in his chair.
"On purpose!" repeated Jonas. "And smashed a straw hat I hadn't had three months! All to pieces! So it couldn't be fixed!"
"And what then?" pursued Bradbury.
"SHE ran," replied Jonas, bitterly—"ran! And Joe Louden—Joe Louden—" He paused and gulped.
"What did he do?" Peter leaned forward in his chair eagerly.
The narrator of the outrage gulped again, and opened and shut his mouth before responding.
"He said if I didn't pay for a broken spoke on his wheel he'd have to sue me!"
No one inquired if Jonas had paid, and Jonas said no more. The recollection of his wrongs, together with the illustrative violence offered to Mr. Davey, had been too much for him. He sank back, panting, in his chair, his hands fluttering nervously over his heart, and closed his eyes.
"I wonder why," ruminated Mr. Bradbury—"I wonder why 'Gene Bantry walked up from the deepo. Don't seem much like his style. Should think he'd of rode up in a hack."
"Sho!" said Uncle Joe Davey, his breath recovered. "He wanted to walk up past Judge Pike's, to see if there wasn't a show of Mamie's bein' at the window, and give her a chance to look at that college uniform and banjo-box and new walk of his."
Mr. Arp began to show signs of uneasiness.
"I'd like mighty well to know," he said, shifting round in his chair, "if there's anybody here that's been able to answer the question I PUT, yesterday, just before we went home. You all tried to, but I didn't hear anything I could consider anyways near even a fair argument."
"Who tried to?" asked Buckalew, sharply, sitting up straight. "What question?"
"What proof can you bring me," began Mr. Arp, deliberately, "that we folks, modernly, ain't more degenerate than the ancient Romans?"
Main Street, already muffled by the snow, added to its quietude a frozen hush where the wonder-bearing youth pursued his course along its white, straight way. None was there in whom impertinence overmastered astonishment, or who recovered from the sight in time to jeer with effect; no "Trab's boy" gathered courage to enact in the thoroughfare a scene of mockery and of joy. Leaving business at a temporary stand-still behind him, Mr. Bantry swept his long coat steadily over the snow and soon emerged upon that part of the street where the mart gave way to the home. The comfortable houses stood pleasantly back from the street, with plenty of lawn and shrubbery about them; and often, along the picket-fences, the laden branches of small cedars, bending low with their burden, showered the young man's swinging shoulders glitteringly as he brushed by.
And now that expression he wore—the indulgent amusement of a man of the world—began to disintegrate and show signs of change. It became finely grave, as of a high conventionality, lofty, assured, and mannered, as he approached the Pike mansion. (The remotest stranger must at once perceive that the Canaan papers could not have called it otherwise without pain.)
It was a big, smooth-stone-faced house, product of the 'Seventies, frowning under an outrageously insistent mansard, capped by a cupola, and staring out of long windows overtopped with "ornamental" slabs. Two cast-iron deer, painted death-gray, twins of the same mould, stood on opposite sides of the front walk, their backs towards it and each other, their bodies in profile to the street, their necks bent, however, so that they gazed upon the passer-by—yet gazed without emotion. Two large, calm dogs guarded the top of the steps leading to the front-door; they also were twins and of the same interesting metal, though honored beyond the deer by coats of black paint and shellac. It was to be remarked that these dogs were of no distinguishable species or breed, yet they were unmistakably dogs; the dullest must have recognized them as such at a glance, which was, perhaps, enough. It was a hideous house, important-looking, cold, yet harshly aggressive, a house whose exterior provoked a shuddering guess of the brass lambrequins and plush fringes within; a solid house, obviously—nay, blatantly—the residence of the principal citizen, whom it had grown to resemble, as is the impish habit of houses; and it sat in the middle of its flat acre of snowy lawn like a rich, fat man enraged and sitting straight up in bed to swear.
And yet there was one charming thing about this ugly house. Some workmen were enclosing a large side porch with heavy canvas, evidently for festal purposes. Looking out from between two strips of the canvas was the rosy and delicate face of a pretty girl, smiling upon Eugene Bantry as he passed. It was an obviously pretty face, all the youth and prettiness there for your very first glance; elaborately pretty, like the splendid profusion of hair about and above it—amber-colored hair, upon which so much time had been spent that a circle of large, round curls rose above the mass of it like golden bubbles tipping a coronet.
The girl's fingers were pressed thoughtfully against her chin as Eugene strode into view; immediately her eyes widened and brightened. He swung along the fence with the handsomest appearance of unconsciousness, until he reached a point nearly opposite her. Then he turned his head, as if haphazardly, and met her eyes. At once she threw out her hand towards him, waving him a greeting—a gesture which, as her fingers had been near her lips, was a little like throwing a kiss. He crooked an elbow and with a one-two-three military movement removed his small-brimmed hat, extended it to full arm's-length at the shoulder-level, returned it to his head with Life-Guard precision. This was also new to Canaan. He was letting Mamie Pike have it all at once.
The impression was as large as he could have desired. She remained at the opening in the canvas and watched him until he wagged his shoulders round the next corner and disappeared into a cross street. As for Eugene, he was calm with a great calm, and very red.
He had not covered a great distance, however, before his gravity was replaced by his former smiling look of the landed gentleman amused by the innocent pastimes of the peasants, though there was no one in sight except a woman sweeping some snow from the front steps of a cottage, and she, not perceiving him, retired in-doors without knowing her loss. He had come to a thinly built part of the town, the perfect quiet of which made the sound he heard as he opened the picket gate of his own home all the more startling. It was a scream—loud, frantic, and terror-stricken.
Eugene stopped, with the gate half open.
Out of the winter skeleton of a grape-arbor at one side of the four-square brick house a brown-faced girl of seventeen precipitated herself through the air in the midst of a shower of torn card-board which she threw before her as she leaped. She lit upon her toes and headed for the gate at top speed, pursued by a pale young man whose thin arms strove spasmodically to reach her. Scattering snow behind them, hair flying, the pair sped on like two tattered branches before a high wind; for, as they came nearer Eugene (of whom, in the tensity of their flight, they took no note), it was to be seen that both were so shabbily dressed as to be almost ragged. There was a brown patch upon the girl's faded skirt at the knee; the shortness of the garment indicating its age to be something over three years, as well as permitting the knowledge to become more general than befitting that her cotton stockings had been clumsily darned in several places. Her pursuer was in as evil case; his trousers displayed a tendency to fringedness at pocket and heel; his coat, blowing open as he ran, threw pennants of torn lining to the breeze, and made it too plain that there were but three buttons on his waistcoat.
The girl ran beautifully, but a fleeter foot was behind her, and though she dodged and evaded like a creature of the woods, the reaching hand fell upon the loose sleeve of her red blouse, nor fell lightly. She gave a wrench of frenzy; the antique fabric refused the strain; parted at the shoulder seam so thoroughly that the whole sleeve came away—but not to its owner's release, for she had been brought round by the jerk, so that, agile as she had shown herself, the pursuer threw an arm about her neck, before she could twist away, and held her.
There was a sharp struggle, as short as it was fierce. Neither of these extraordinary wrestlers spoke. They fought. Victory hung in the balance for perhaps four seconds; then the girl was thrown heavily upon her back, in such a turmoil of snow that she seemed to be the mere nucleus of a white comet. She struggled to get up, plying knee and elbow with a very anguish of determination; but her opponent held her, pinioned both her wrists with one hand, and with the other rubbed great handfuls of snow into her face, sparing neither mouth nor eyes.
"You will!" he cried. "You will tear up my pictures! A dirty trick, and you get washed for it!"
Half suffocated, choking, gasping, she still fought on, squirming and kicking with such spirit that the pair of them appeared to the beholder like figures of mist writhing in a fountain of snow.
More violence was to mar the peace of morning. Unexpectedly attacked from the rear, the conqueror was seized by the nape of the neck and one wrist, and jerked to his feet, simultaneously receiving a succession of kicks from his assailant. Prompted by an entirely natural curiosity, he essayed to turn his head to see who this might be, but a twist of his forearm and the pressure of strong fingers under his ear constrained him to remain as he was; therefore, abandoning resistance, and, oddly enough, accepting without comment the indication that his captor desired to remain for the moment incognito, he resorted calmly to explanations.
"She tore up a picture of mine," he said, receiving the punishment without apparent emotion. "She seemed to think because she'd drawn it herself she had a right to."
There was a slight whimsical droop at the corner of his mouth as he spoke, which might have been thought characteristic of him. He was an odd-looking boy, not ill-made, though very thin and not tall. His pallor was clear and even, as though constitutional; the features were delicate, almost childlike, but they were very slightly distorted, through nervous habit, to an expression at once wistful and humorous; one eyebrow was a shade higher than the other, one side of the mouth slightly drawn down; the eyelids twitched a little, habitually; the fine, blue eyes themselves were almost comically reproachful—the look of a puppy who thinks you would not have beaten him if you had known what was in his heart. All of this was in the quality of his voice, too, as he said to his invisible captor, with an air of detachment from any personal feeling:
"What peculiar shoes you wear! I don't think I ever felt any so pointed before."
The rescuing knight took no thought of offering to help the persecuted damsel to arise; instead, he tightened his grip upon the prisoner's neck until, perforce, water—not tears—started from the latter's eyes.
"You miserable little muff," said the conqueror, "what the devil do you mean, making this scene on our front lawn?"
"Why, it's Eugene!" exclaimed the helpless one. "They didn't expect you till to-night. When did you get in?"
"Just in time to give you a lesson, my buck," replied Bantry, grimly. "In GOOD time for that, my playful step-brother."
He began to twist the other's wrist—a treatment of bone and ligament in the application of which school-boys and even freshmen are often adept. Eugene made the torture acute, and was apparently enjoying the work, when suddenly—without any manner of warning—he received an astounding blow upon the left ear, which half stunned him for the moment, and sent his hat flying and himself reeling, so great was the surprise and shock of it. It was not a slap, not an open-handed push, nothing like it, but a fierce, well-delivered blow from a clinched fist with the shoulder behind it, and it was the girl who had given it.
"Don't you dare to touch Joe!" she cried, passionately. "Don't you lay a finger on him."
Furious and red, he staggered round to look at her.
"You wretched little wild-cat, what do you mean by that?" he broke out.
"Don't you touch Joe!" she panted. "Don't you—" Her breath caught and there was a break in her voice as she faced him. She could not finish the repetition of that cry, "Don't you touch Joe!"
But there was no break in the spirit, that passion of protection which had dealt the blow. Both boys looked at her, something aghast.
She stood before them, trembling with rage and shivering with cold in the sudden wind which had come up. Her hair had fallen and blew across her streaming face in brown witch-wisps; one of the ill-darned stockings had come down and hung about her shoe in folds full of snow; the arm which had lost its sleeve was bare and wet; thin as the arm of a growing boy, it shook convulsively, and was red from shoulder to clinched fist. She was covered with snow. Mists of white drift blew across her, mercifully half veiling her.
Eugene recovered himself. He swung round upon his heel, restored his hat to his head with precision, picked up his stick and touched his banjo-case with it.
"Carry that into the house," he said, indifferently, to his step-brother.
"Don't you do it!" said the girl, hotly, between her chattering teeth.
Eugene turned towards her, wearing the sharp edge of a smile. Not removing his eyes from her face, he produced with deliberation a flat silver box from a pocket, took therefrom a cigarette, replaced the box, extracted a smaller silver box from another pocket, shook out of it a fusee, slowly lit the cigarette—this in a splendid silence, which he finally broke to say, languidly, but with particular distinctness:
"Ariel Tabor, go home!"
The girl's teeth stopped chattering, her lips remaining parted; she shook the hair out of her eyes and stared at him as if she did not understand, but Joe Louden, who had picked up the banjo-case obediently, burst into cheerful laughter.
"That's it, 'Gene," he cried, gayly. "That's the way to talk to her!"
"Stow it, you young cub," replied Eugene, not turning to him. "Do you think I'm trying to be amusing?"
"I don't know what you mean by 'stow it,'" Joe began, "but if—"
"I mean," interrupted the other, not relaxing his faintly smiling stare at the girl—"I mean that Ariel Tabor is to go home. Really, we can't have this kind of thing occurring upon our front lawn!"
The flush upon her wet cheeks deepened and became dark; even her arm grew redder as she gazed back at him. In his eyes was patent his complete realization of the figure she cut, of this bare arm, of the strewn hair, of the fallen stocking, of the ragged shoulder of her blouse, of her patched short skirt, of the whole dishevelled little figure. He was the master of the house, and he was sending her home as ill-behaved children are sent home by neighbors.
The immobile, amused superiority of this proprietor of silver boxes, this wearer of strange and brilliant garments, became slightly intensified as he pointed to the fallen sleeve, a rag of red and snow, lying near her feet.
"You might take that with you?" he said, interrogatively.
Her gaze had not wavered in meeting his, but at this her eyelashes began to wink uncontrollably, her chin to tremble. She bent over the sleeve and picked it up, before Joe Louden, who had started towards her, could do it for her. Then turning, her head still bent so that her face was hidden from both of them, she ran out of the gate.
"DO go!" Joe called after her, vehemently. "Go! Just to show what a fool you are to think 'Gene's in earnest."
He would have followed, but his step-brother caught him by the arm. "Don't stop her," said Eugene. "Can't you tell when I AM in earnest, you bally muff!"
"I know you are," returned the other, in a low voice. "I didn't want her to think so for your sake."
"Thousands of thanks," said Eugene, airily. "You are a wise young judge. She couldn't stay—in THAT state, could she? I sent her for her own good."
"She could have gone in the house and your mother might have loaned her a jacket," returned Joe, swallowing. "You had no business to make her go out in the street like that."
Eugene laughed. "There isn't a soul in sight—and there, she's all right now. She's home."
Ariel had run along the fence until she came to the next gate, which opened upon a walk leading to a shabby, meandering old house of one story, with a very long, low porch, once painted white, running the full length of the front. Ariel sprang upon the porch and disappeared within the house.
Joe stood looking after her, his eyelashes winking as had hers. "You oughtn't to have treated her that way," he said, huskily.
Eugene laughed again. "How were YOU treating her when I came up? You bully her all you want to yourself, but nobody else must say even a fatherly word to her!"
"That wasn't bullying," explained Joe. "We fight all the time."
"Mais oui!" assented Eugene. "I fancy!"
"What?" said the other, blankly.
"Pick up that banjo-case again and come on," commanded Mr. Bantry, tartly. "Where's the mater?"
Joe stared at him. "Where's what?"
"The mater!" was the frowning reply.
"Oh yes, I know!" said Joe, looking at his step-brother curiously. "I've seen it in stories. She's up-stairs. You'll be a surprise. You're wearing lots of clothes, 'Gene."
"I suppose it will seem so to Canaan," returned the other, weariedly. "Governor feeling fit?"
"I never saw him," Joe replied; then caught himself. "Oh, I see what you mean! Yes, he's all right."
They had come into the hall, and Eugene was removing the long coat, while his step-brother looked at him thoughtfully.
"'Gene," asked the latter, in a softened voice, "have you seen Mamie Pike yet?"
"You will find, my young friend," responded Mr. Bantry, "if you ever go about much outside of Canaan, that ladies' names are not supposed to be mentioned indiscriminately."
"It's only," said Joe, "that I wanted to say that there's a dance at their house to-night. I suppose you'll be going?"
"Certainly. Are you?"
Both knew that the question was needless; but Joe answered, gently:
"Oh no, of course not." He leaned over and fumbled with one foot as if to fasten a loose shoe-string. "She wouldn't be very likely to ask me."
"Well, what about it?"
"Only that—that Arie Tabor's going."
"Indeed!" Eugene paused on the stairs, which he had begun to ascend. "Very interesting."
"I thought," continued Joe, hopefully, straightening up to look at him, "that maybe you'd dance with her. I don't believe many will ask her—I'm afraid they won't—and if you would, even only once, it would kind of make up for"—he faltered—"for out there," he finished, nodding his head in the direction of the gate.
If Eugene vouchsafed any reply, it was lost in a loud, shrill cry from above, as a small, intensely nervous-looking woman in blue silk ran half-way down the stairs to meet him and caught him tearfully in her arms.
"Dear old mater!" said Eugene.
Joe went out of the front-door quickly.
The door which Ariel had entered opened upon a narrow hall, and down this she ran to her own room, passing, with face averted, the entrance to the broad, low-ceilinged chamber that had served Roger Tabor as a studio for almost fifty years. He was sitting there now, in a hopeless and disconsolate attitude, with his back towards the double doors, which were open, and had been open since their hinges had begun to give way, when Ariel was a child. Hearing her step, he called her name, but did not turn; and, receiving no answer, sighed faintly as he heard her own door close upon her.
Then, as his eyes wandered about the many canvases which leaned against the dingy walls, he sighed again. Usually they showed their brown backs, but to-day he had turned them all to face outward. Twilight, sunset, moonlight (the Court-house in moonlight), dawn, morning, noon (Main Street at noon), high summer, first spring, red autumn, midwinter, all were there—illimitably detailed, worked to a smoothness like a glaze, and all lovingly done with unthinkable labor.
And there were "Italian Flower-Sellers," damsels with careful hair, two figures together, one blonde, the other as brunette as lampblack, the blonde—in pink satin and blue slippers—leaning against a pillar and smiling over the golden coins for which she had exchanged her posies; the brunette seated at her feet, weeping upon an unsold bouquet. There were red-sashed "Fisher Lads" wading with butterfly-nets on their shoulders; there was a "Tying the Ribbon on Pussy's Neck"; there were portraits in oil and petrifactions in crayon, as hard and tight as the purses of those who had refused to accept them, leaving them upon their maker's hands because the likeness had failed.
After a time the old man got up, went to his easel near a window, and, sighing again, began patiently to work upon one of these failures—a portrait, in oil, of a savage old lady, which he was doing from a photograph. The expression of the mouth and the shape of the nose had not pleased her descendants and the beneficiaries under the will, and it was upon the images of these features that Roger labored. He leaned far forward, with his face close to the canvas, holding his brushes after the Spencerian fashion, working steadily through the afternoon, and, when the light grew dimmer, leaning closer to his canvas to see. When it had become almost dark in the room, he lit a student-lamp with a green-glass shade, and, placing it upon a table beside him, continued to paint. Ariel's voice interrupted him at last.
"It's quitting-time, grandfather," she called, gently, from the doorway behind him.
He sank back in his chair, conscious, for the first time, of how tired he had grown. "I suppose so," he said, "though it seemed to me that I was just getting my hand in." His eyes brightened for a moment. "I declare, I believe I've caught it a great deal better. Come and look, Ariel. Doesn't it seem to you that I'm getting it? Those pearly shadows in the flesh—"
"I'm sure of it. Those people ought to be very proud to have it." She came to him quietly, took the palette and brushes from his hands and began to clean them, standing in the shadow behind him. "It's too good for them."
"I wonder if it is," he said, slowly, leaning forward and curving his hands about his eyes so as to shut off everything from his view except the canvas. "I wonder if it is!" he repeated. Then his hands dropped sadly in his lap, and he sank back again with a patient kind of revulsion. "No, no, it isn't! I always think they're good when I've just finished them. I've been fooled that way all my life. They don't look the same afterwards."
"They're always beautiful," she said, softly.
"Ah, ah!" he sighed.
"Now, Roger!" she cried, with cheerful sharpness, continuing her work.
"I know," he said, with a plaintive laugh,—"I know. Sometimes I think that all my reward has been in the few minutes I've had just after finishing them. During those few minutes I seem to see in them all that I wanted to put in them; I see it because what I've been trying to express is still so warm in my own eyes that I seem to have got it on the canvas where I wanted it."
"But you do," she said. "You do get it there."
"No," he murmured, in return. "I never did. I got out some of the old ones when I came in this morning, some that I hadn't looked at for years, and it's the same with them. You can do it much better yourself—your sketches show it."
"No, no!" she protested, quickly.
"Yes, they do; and I wondered if it was only because you were young. But those I did when I was young are almost the same as the ones I paint now. I haven't learned much. There hasn't been any one to show me! And you can't learn from print, never! Yet I've grown in what I SEE—grown so that the world is full of beauty to me that I never dreamed of seeing when I began. But I can't paint it—I can't get it on the canvas. Ah, I think I might have known how to, if I hadn't had to teach myself, if I could only have seen how some of the other fellows did their work. If I'd ever saved money to get away from Canaan—if I could have gone away from it and come back knowing how to paint it—if I could have got to Paris for just one month! PARIS—for just one month!"
"Perhaps we will; you can't tell what MAY happen." It was always her reply to this cry of his.
"PARIS—for just one month!" he repeated, with infinite wistfulness, and then realizing what an old, old cry it was with him, he shook his head, impatiently sniffing out a laugh at himself, rose and went pottering about among the canvases, returning their faces to the wall, and railing at them mutteringly.
"Whatever took me into it, I don't know. I might have done something useful. But I couldn't bring myself ever to consider doing anything else—I couldn't bear even to think of it! Lord forgive me, I even tried to encourage your father to paint. Perhaps he might as well, poor boy, as to have put all he'd made into buying Jonas out. Ah me! There you go, 'Flower-Girls'! Turn your silly faces to the wall and smile and cry there till I'm gone and somebody throws you on a bonfire. I'LL never look at you again." He paused, with the canvas half turned. "And yet," he went on, reflectively, "a man promised me thirty-five dollars for that picture once. I painted it to order, but he went away before I finished it, and never answered the letters I wrote him about it. I wish I had the money now—perhaps we could have more than two meals a day."
"We don't need more," said Ariel, scraping the palette attentively. "It's healthier with only breakfast and supper. I think I'd rather have a new dress than dinner."
"I dare say you would," the old man mused. "You're young—you're young. What were you doing all this afternoon, child?"
"In my room, trying to make over mamma's wedding-dress for to-night."
"Mamie Pike invited me to a dance at their house."
"Very well; I'm glad you're going to be gay," he said, not seeing the faintly bitter smile that came to her face.
"I don't think I'll be very gay," she answered.
"I don't know why I go—nobody ever asks me to dance."
"Why not?" he asked, with an old man's astonishment.
"I don't know. Perhaps it's because I don't dress very well." Then, as he made a sorrowful gesture, she cut him off before he could speak. "Oh, it isn't altogether because we're poor; it's more I don't know how to wear what I've got, the way some girls do. I never cared much and—well, I'M not worrying, Roger! And I think I've done a good deal with mamma's dress. It's a very grand dress. I wonder I never thought of wearing it until to-day. I may be"—she laughed and blushed—"I may be the belle of the ball—who knows!"
"You'll want me to walk over with you and come for you afterwards, I expect."
"Only to take me. It may be late when I come away—if a good many SHOULD ask me to dance, for once! Of course I could come home alone. But Joe Louden is going to sort of hang around outside, and he'll meet me at the gate and see me safe home."
"Oh!" he exclaimed, blankly.
"Isn't it all right?" she asked.
"I think I'd better come for you," he answered, gently. "The truth is, I—I think you'd better not be with Joe Louden a great deal."
"Well, he doesn't seem a vicious boy to me, but I'm afraid he's getting rather a bad name, my dear."
"He's not getting one," she said, gravely. "He's already got one. He's had a bad name in Canaan for a long while. It grew in the first place out of shabbiness and mischief, but it did grow; and if people keep on giving him a bad name the time will come when he'll live up to it. He's not any worse than I am, and I guess my own name isn't too good—for a girl. And yet, so far, there's nothing against him except his bad name."
"I'm afraid there is," said Roger. "It doesn't look very well for a young man of his age to be doing no better than delivering papers."
"It gives him time to study law," she answered, quickly. "If he clerked all day in a store, he couldn't."
"I didn't know he was studying now. I thought I'd heard that he was in a lawyer's office for a few weeks last year, and was turned out for setting fire to it with a pipe—"
"It was an accident," she interposed.
"But some pretty important papers were burned, and after that none of the other lawyers would have him."
"He's not in an office," she admitted. "I didn't mean that. But he studies a great deal. He goes to the courts all the time they're in session, and he's bought some books of his own."
"Well—perhaps," he assented; "but they say he gambles and drinks, and that last week Judge Pike threatened to have him arrested for throwing dice with some negroes behind the Judge's stable."
"What of it? I'm about the only nice person in town that will have anything to do with him—and nobody except you thinks I'M very nice!"
"I know all about his gambling with darkies," she continued, excitedly, her voice rising, "and I know that he goes to saloons, and that he's an intimate friend of half the riffraff in town; and I know the reason for it, too, because he's told me. He wants to know them, to understand them; and he says some day they'll make him a power, and then he can help them!"
The old man laughed helplessly. "But I can't let him bring you home, my dear."
She came to him slowly and laid her hands upon his shoulders. Grandfather and granddaughter were nearly of the same height, and she looked squarely into his eyes. "Then you must say it is because you want to come for me, not because I mustn't come with Joe."
"But I think it is a little because you mustn't come with Joe," he answered, "especially from the Pikes'. Don't you see that it mightn't be well for Joe himself, if the Judge should happen to see him? I understand he warned the boy to keep away from the neighborhood entirely or he would have him locked up for dice-throwing. The Judge is a very influential man, you know, and as determined in matters like this as he is irritable."
"Oh, if you put it on that ground," the girl replied, her eyes softening, "I think you'd better come for me yourself."
"Very well, I put it on that ground," he returned, smiling upon her.
"Then I'll send Joe word and get supper," she said, kissing him.
It was the supper-hour not only for them but everywhere in Canaan, and the cold air of the streets bore up and down and around corners the smell of things frying. The dining-room windows of all the houses threw bright patches on the snow of the side-yards; the windows of other rooms, except those of the kitchens, were dark, for the rule of the place was Puritanical in thrift, as in all things; and the good housekeepers disputed every record of the meters with unhappy gas-collectors.
There was no better housekeeper in town than Mrs. Louden, nor a thriftier, but hers was one of the few houses in Canaan, that evening, which showed bright lights in the front rooms while the family were at supper. It was proof of the agitation caused by the arrival of Eugene that she forgot to turn out the gas in her parlor, and in the chamber she called a library, on her way to the evening meal.
That might not have been thought a cheerful feast for Joe Louden. The fatted calf was upon the board, but it had not been provided for the prodigal, who, in this case, was the brother that stayed at home: the fete rewarded the good brother, who had been in strange lands, and the good one had found much honor in his wanderings, as he carelessly let it appear. Mrs. Louden brightened inexpressibly whenever Eugene spoke of himself, and consequently she glowed most of the time. Her husband—a heavy, melancholy, silent man with a grizzled beard and no mustache—lowered at Joe throughout the meal, but appeared to take a strange comfort in his step-son's elegance and polish. Eugene wore new evening clothes and was lustrous to eye and ear.
Joe escaped as soon as he could, though not before the count of his later sins had been set before Eugene in detail, in mass, and in all of their depth, breadth, and thickness. His father spoke but once, after nodding heavily to confirm all points of Mrs. Louden's recital.
"You better use any influence you've got with your brother," he said to Eugene, "to make him come to time. I can't do anything with him. If he gets in trouble, he needn't come to me! I'll never help him again. I'm TIRED of it!"
Eugene glanced twinklingly at the outcast. "I didn't know he was such a roarer as all that!" he said, lightly, not taking Joe as of enough consequence to be treated as a sinner.
This encouraged Mrs. Louden to pathos upon the subject of her shame before other women when Joe happened to be mentioned, and the supper was finished with the topic. Joe slipped away through the kitchen, sneakingly, and climbed the back fence. In the alley he lit a cheap cigarette, and thrusting his hands into his pockets and shivering violently—for he had no overcoat,—walked away singing to himself, "A Spanish cavalier stood in his retreat," his teeth affording an appropriate though involuntary castanet accompaniment.
His movements throughout the earlier part of that evening are of uncertain report. It is known that he made a partial payment of forty-five cents at a second-hand book-store for a number of volumes—Grindstaff on Torts and some others—which he had negotiated on the instalment system; it is also believed that he won twenty-eight cents playing seven-up in the little room behind Louie Farbach's bar; but these things are of little import compared to the established fact that at eleven o'clock he was one of the ball guests at the Pike Mansion. He took no active part in the festivities, nor was he one of the dancers: his was, on the contrary, the role of a quiet observer. He lay stretched at full length upon the floor of the enclosed porch (one of the strips of canvas was later found to have been loosened), wedged between the outer railing and a row of palms in green tubs. The position he occupied was somewhat too draughty to have been recommended by a physician, but he commanded, between the leaves of the screening palms, an excellent view of the room nearest the porch. A long window, open, afforded communication between this room, one of those used for dancing, and the dim bower which had been made of the veranda, whither flirtatious couples made their way between the dances.
It was not to play eavesdropper upon any of these that the uninvited Joe had come. He was not there to listen, and it is possible that, had the curtains of other windows afforded him the chance to behold the dance, he might not have risked the dangers of his present position. He had not the slightest interest in the whispered coquetries that he heard; he watched only to catch now and then, over the shoulders of the dancers, a fitful glimpse of a pretty head that flitted across the window—the amber hair of Mamie Pike. He shivered in the draughts; and the floor of the porch was cement, painful to elbow and knee, the space where he lay cramped and narrow; but the golden bubbles of her hair, the shimmer of her dainty pink dress, and the fluffy wave of her lace scarf as she crossed and recrossed in a waltz, left him, apparently, in no discontent. He watched with parted lips, his pale cheeks reddening whenever those fair glimpses were his. At last she came out to the veranda with Eugene and sat upon a little divan, so close to Joe that, daring wildly in the shadow, he reached out a trembling hand and let his fingers rest upon the end of her scarf, which had fallen from her shoulders and touched the floor. She sat with her back to him, as did Eugene.
"You have changed, I think, since last summer," he heard her say, reflectively.
"For the worse, ma cherie?" Joe's expression might have been worth seeing when Eugene said "ma cherie," for it was known in the Louden household that Mr. Bantry had failed to pass his examination in the French language.
"No," she answered. "But you have seen so much and accomplished so much since then. You have become so polished and so—" She paused, and then continued, "But perhaps I'd better not say it; you might be offended."
"No. I want you to say it," he returned, confidently, and his confidence was fully justified, for she said:
"Well, then, I mean that you have become so thoroughly a man of the world. Now I've said it! You ARE offended—aren't you?"
"Not at all, not at all," replied Mr. Bantry, preventing by a masterful effort his pleasure from showing in his face. "Though I suppose you mean to imply that I'm rather wicked."
"Oh no," said Mamie, with profound admiration, "not exactly wicked."
"University life IS fast nowadays," Eugene admitted. "It's difficult not to be drawn into it!"
"And I suppose you look down on poor little Canaan now, and everybody in it!"
"Oh no," he laughed, indulgently. "Not at all, not at all! I find it very amusing."
"All of it?"
"Not you," he answered, becoming very grave.
"Honestly—DON'T you?" Her young voice trembled a little.
"Honestly—indeed—truly—" Eugene leaned very close to her and the words were barely audible.
"You KNOW I don't!"
"Then I'm—glad," she whispered, and Joe saw his step-brother touch her hand, but she rose quickly. "There's the music," she cried, happily. "It's a waltz, and it's YOURS!"
Joe heard her little high heels tapping gayly towards the window, followed by the heavier tread of Eugene, but he did not watch them go.
He lay on his back, with the hand that had touched Mamie's scarf pressed across his closed eyes.
The music of that waltz was of the old-fashioned swingingly sorrowful sort, and it would be hard to say how long it was after that before the boy could hear the air played without a recurrence of the bitterness of that moment. The rhythmical pathos of the violins was in such accord with a faint sound of weeping which he heard near him, presently, that for a little while he believed this sound to be part of the music and part of himself. Then it became more distinct, and he raised himself on one elbow to look about.
Very close to him, sitting upon the divan in the shadow, was a girl wearing a dress of beautiful silk. She was crying softly, her face in her hands.
Ariel had worked all the afternoon over her mother's wedding-gown, and two hours were required by her toilet for the dance. She curled her hair frizzily, burning it here and there, with a slate-pencil heated over a lamp chimney, and she placed above one ear three or four large artificial roses, taken from an old hat of her mother's, which she had found in a trunk in the store-room. Possessing no slippers, she carefully blacked and polished her shoes, which had been clumsily resoled, and fastened into the strings of each small rosettes of red ribbon; after which she practised swinging the train of her skirt until she was proud of her manipulation of it. She had no powder, but found in her grandfather's room a lump of magnesia, that he was in the habit of taking for heart-burn, and passed it over and over her brown face and hands. Then a lingering gaze into her small mirror gave her joy at last: she yearned so hard to see herself charming that she did see herself so. Admiration came and she told herself that she was more attractive to look at than she had ever been in her life, and that, perhaps, at last she might begin to be sought for like other girls. The little glass showed a sort of prettiness in her thin, unmatured young face; tripping dance-tunes ran through her head, her feet keeping the time,—ah, she did so hope to dance often that night! Perhaps—perhaps she might be asked for every number. And so, wrapping an old waterproof cloak about her, she took her grandfather's arm and sallied forth, high hopes in her beating heart.
It was in the dressing-room that the change began to come. Alone, at home in her own ugly little room, she had thought herself almost beautiful, but here in the brightly lighted chamber crowded with the other girls it was different. There was a big cheval-glass at one end of the room, and she faced it, when her turn came—for the mirror was popular—with a sinking spirit. There was the contrast, like a picture painted and framed. The other girls all wore their hair after the fashion introduced to Canaan by Mamie Pike the week before, on her return from a visit to Chicago. None of them had "crimped" and none had bedecked their tresses with artificial flowers. Her alterations of the wedding-dress had not been successful; the skirt was too short in front and higher on one side than on the other, showing too plainly the heavy-soled shoes, which had lost most of their polish in the walk through the snow. The ribbon rosettes were fully revealed, and as she glanced at their reflection she heard the words, "LOOK AT THAT TRAIN AND THOSE ROSETTES!" whispered behind her, and saw in the mirror two pretty young women turn away with their handkerchiefs over their mouths and retreat hurriedly to an alcove. All the feet in the room except Ariel's were in dainty kid or satin slippers of the color of the dresses from which they glimmered out, and only Ariel wore a train.
She went away from the mirror and pretended to be busy with a hanging thread in her sleeve.
She was singularly an alien in the chattering room, although she had been born and lived all her life in the town. Perhaps her position among the young ladies may be best defined by the remark, generally current among them, that evening, to the effect that it was "very sweet of Mamie to invite her." Ariel was not like the others; she was not of them, and never had been. Indeed, she did not know them very well. Some of them nodded to her and gave her a word of greeting pleasantly; all of them whispered about her with wonder and suppressed amusement; but none talked to her. They were not unkindly, but they were young and eager and excited over their own interests,—which were then in the "gentlemen's dressing-room."
Each of the other girls had been escorted by a youth of the place, and, one by one, joining these escorts in the hall outside the door, they descended the stairs, until only Ariel was left. She came down alone after the first dance had begun, and greeted her young hostess's mother timidly. Mrs. Pike—a small, frightened-looking woman with a prominent ruby necklace—answered her absently, and hurried away to see that the imported waiters did not steal anything.
Ariel sat in one of the chairs against the wall and watched the dancers with a smile of eager and benevolent interest. In Canaan no parents, no guardians nor aunts, were haled forth o' nights to duenna the junketings of youth; Mrs. Pike did not reappear, and Ariel sat conspicuously alone; there was nothing else for her to do. It was not an easy matter.
When the first dance reached an end, Mamie Pike came to her for a moment with a cheery welcome, and was immediately surrounded by a circle of young men and women, flushed with dancing, shouting as was their wont, laughing inexplicably over words and phrases and unintelligible mono-syllables, as if they all belonged to a secret society and these cries were symbols of things exquisitely humorous, which only they understood. Ariel laughed with them more heartily than any other, so that she might seem to be of them and as merry as they were, but almost immediately she found herself outside of the circle, and presently they all whirled away into another dance, and she was left alone again.
So she sat, no one coming near her, through several dances, trying to maintain the smile of delighted interest upon her face, though she felt the muscles of her face beginning to ache with their fixedness, her eyes growing hot and glazed. All the other girls were provided with partners for every dance, with several young men left over, these latter lounging hilariously together in the doorways. Ariel was careful not to glance towards them, but she could not help hating them. Once or twice between the dances she saw Miss Pike speak appealingly to one of the superfluous, glancing, at the same time, in her own direction, and Ariel could see, too, that the appeal proved unsuccessful, until at last Mamie approached her, leading Norbert Flitcroft, partly by the hand, partly by will-power. Norbert was an excessively fat boy, and at the present moment looked as patient as the blind. But he asked Ariel if she was "engaged for the next dance," and, Mamie having flitted away, stood disconsolately beside her, waiting for the music to begin. Ariel was grateful for him.
"I think you must be very good-natured, Mr. Flitcroft," she said, with an air of raillery.
"No, I'm not," he replied, plaintively. "Everybody thinks I am because I'm fat, and they expect me to do things they never dream of asking anybody else to do. I'd like to see 'em even ASK 'Gene Bantry to go and do some of the things they get me to do! A person isn't good-natured just because he's fat," he concluded, morbidly, "but he might as well be!"
"Oh, I meant good-natured," she returned, with a sprightly laugh, "because you're willing to waltz with me."
"Oh, well," he returned, sighing, "that's all right."
The orchestra flourished into "La Paloma"; he put his arm mournfully about her, and taking her right hand with his left, carried her arm out to a rigid right angle, beginning to pump and balance for time. They made three false starts and then got away. Ariel danced badly; she hopped and lost the step, but they persevered, bumping against other couples continually. Circling breathlessly into the next room, they passed close to a long mirror, in which Ariel saw herself, although in a flash, more bitterly contrasted to the others than in the cheval-glass of the dressing-room. The clump of roses was flopping about her neck, her crimped hair looked frowzy, and there was something terribly wrong about her dress. Suddenly she felt her train to be ominously grotesque, as a thing following her in a nightmare.
A moment later she caught her partner making a burlesque face of suffering over her shoulder, and, turning her head quickly, saw for whose benefit he had constructed it. Eugene Bantry, flying expertly by with Mamie, was bestowing upon Mr. Flitcroft a condescendingly commiserative wink. The next instant she tripped in her train and fell to the floor at Eugene's feet, carrying her partner with her.
There was a shout of laughter. The young hostess stopped Eugene, who would have gone on, and he had no choice but to stoop to Ariel's assistance.
"It seems to be a habit of mine," she said, laughing loudly.
She did not appear to see the hand he offered, but got to her feet without help and walked quickly away with Norbert, who proceeded to live up to the character he had given himself.
"Perhaps we had better not try it again," she laughed.
"Well, I should think not," he returned, with the frankest gloom. With the air of conducting her home he took her to the chair against the wall whence he had brought her. There his responsibility for her seemed to cease. "Will you excuse me?" he asked, and there was no doubt that he felt that he had been given more than his share that evening, even though he was fat.
"Yes, indeed." Her laughter was continuous. "I should think you WOULD be glad to get rid of me after that. Ha, ha, ha! Poor Mr. Flitcroft, you know you are!"
It was the deadly truth, and the fat one, saying, "Well, if you'll just excuse me now," hurried away with a step which grew lighter as the distance from her increased. Arrived at the haven of a far doorway, he mopped his brow and shook his head grimly in response to frequent rallyings.
Ariel sat through more dances, interminable dances and intermissions, in that same chair, in which, it began to seem, she was to live out the rest of her life. Now and then, if she thought people were looking at her as they passed, she broke into a laugh and nodded slightly, as if still amused over her mishap.
After a long time she rose, and laughing cheerfully to Mr. Flitcroft, who was standing in the doorway and replied with a wan smile, stepped out quickly into the hall, where she almost ran into her great-uncle, Jonas Tabor. He was going towards the big front doors with Judge Pike, having just come out of the latter's library, down the hall.
Jonas was breathing heavily and was shockingly pale, though his eyes were very bright. He turned his back upon his grandniece sharply and went out of the door. Ariel turned from him quite as abruptly and re-entered the room whence she had come. She laughed again to her fat friend as she passed him, and, still laughing, went towards the fatal chair, when her eyes caught sight of Eugene Bantry and Mamie coming in through the window from the porch. Still laughing, she went to the window and looked out; the porch seemed deserted and was faintly illuminated by a few Japanese lanterns. She sprang out, dropped upon the divan, and burying her face in her hands, cried heart-brokenly. Presently she felt something alive touch her foot, and, her breath catching with alarm, she started to rise. A thin hand, issuing from a shabby sleeve, had stolen out between two of the green tubs and was pressing upon one of her shoes.
"'SH!" said Joe. "Don't make a noise!"
His warning was not needed; she had recognized the hand and sleeve instantly. She dropped back with a low sound which would have been hysterical if it had been louder, while he raised himself on his arm until she could see his face dimly, as he peered at her between the palms.
"What were you going on about?" he asked, angrily.
"Nothing," she answered. "I wasn't. You must go away, and quick. It's too dangerous. If the Judge found you—"
"Ah, you'd risk anything to see Mamie Pike—"
"What were you crying about?" he interrupted.
"Nothing, I tell you!" she repeated, the tears not ceasing to gather in her eyes. "I wasn't."
"I want to know what it was," he insisted. "Didn't the fools ask you to dance? Ah! You needn't tell me. That's it. I've been here for the last three dances and you weren't in sight till you came to the window. Well, what do you care about that for?"
"I don't!" she answered. "I don't!" Then suddenly, without being able to prevent it, she sobbed.
"No," he said, gently, "I see you don't. And you let yourself be a fool because there are a lot of fools in there."
She gave way, all at once, to a gust of sorrow and bitterness; she bent far over and caught his hand and laid it against her wet cheek. "Oh, Joe," she whispered, brokenly, "I think we have such hard lives, you and I! It doesn't seem right—while we're so young! Why can't we be like the others? Why can't we have some of the fun?"
He withdrew his hand, with the embarrassment and shame he would have felt had she been a boy. "Get out!" he said, feebly.
She did not seem to notice, but, still stooping, rested her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. "I try so hard to have fun, to be like the rest,—and it's always a mistake, always, always, always!" She rocked herself, slightly, from side to side. "I am a fool, it's the truth, or I wouldn't have come to-night. I want to be attractive—I want to be in things. I want to laugh like they do—"
"To laugh just to laugh, and not because there's something funny?"
"Yes, I do, I do! And to know how to dress and to wear my hair—there must be some place where you can learn those things. I've never had any one to show me! Ah! Grandfather said something like that this afternoon—poor man! We're in the same case. If we only had some one to show us! It all seems so BLIND, here in Canaan, for him and me! I don't say it's not my own fault as much as being poor. I've been a hoyden; I don't feel as if I'd learned how to be a girl yet, Joe. It's only lately I've cared, but I'm seventeen, Joe, and—and to-day—to-day—I was sent home—and to-night—" She faltered, came to a stop, and her whole body was shaken with sobs. "I hate myself so for crying—for everything!"
"I'll tell you something," he whispered, chuckling desperately. "'Gene made me unpack his trunk, and I don't believe he's as great a man at college as he is here. I opened one of his books, and some one had written in it, 'Prigamaloo Bantry, the Class Try-To-Be'! He'd never noticed, and you ought to have heard him go on! You'd have just died, Ariel—I almost bust wide open! It was a mean trick in me, but I couldn't help showing it to him."
Joe's object was obtained. She stopped crying, and, wiping her eyes, smiled faintly. Then she became grave. "You're jealous of Eugene," she said.
He considered this for a moment. "Yes," he answered, thoughtfully, "I am. But I wouldn't think about him differently on that account. And I wouldn't talk about him to any one but you."
"Not even to—" She left the question unfinished.
"No," he said, quietly. "Of course not."
"No? Because it wouldn't be any use?"
"I don't know. I never have a chance to talk to her, anyway."
"Of course you don't!" Her voice had grown steady. "You say I'm a fool. What are you?"
"You needn't worry about me," he began. "I can take care—"
"'SH!" she whispered, warningly. The music had stopped, a loud clatter of voices and laughter succeeding it.
"What need to be careful," Joe assured her, "with all that noise going on?"
"You must go away," she said, anxiously. "Oh, please, Joe!"
"Not yet; I want—"
She coughed loudly. Eugene and Mamie Pike had come to the window, with the evident intention of occupying the veranda, but perceiving Ariel engaged with threads in her sleeve, they turned away and disappeared. Other couples looked out from time to time, and finding the solitary figure in possession, retreated abruptly to seek stairways and remote corners for the things they were impelled to say.
And so Ariel held the porch for three dances and three intermissions, occupying a great part of the time with entreaties that her obdurate and reckless companion should go. When, for the fourth time, the music sounded, her agitation had so increased that she was visibly trembling. "I can't stand it, Joe," she said, bending over him.
"I don't know what would happen if they found you. You've GOT to go!"
"No, I haven't," he chuckled. "They haven't even distributed the supper yet!"
"And you take all the chances," she said, slowly, "just to see her pass that window a few times."
"Of what the Judge will do if any one sees you."
"Nothing; because if any one saw me I'd leave."
A colored waiter, smiling graciously, came out upon the porch bearing a tray of salad, hot oysters, and coffee. Ariel shook her head.
"I don't want any," she murmured.
The waiter turned away in pity and was re-entering the window, when a passionate whisper fell upon his ear as well as upon Ariel's.
"Ma'am?" said the waiter.
"I've changed my mind," she replied, quickly. The waiter, his elation restored, gave of his viands with the superfluous bounty loved by his race when distributing the product of the wealthy.
When he had gone, "Give me everything that's hot," said Joe. "You can keep the salad."
"I couldn't eat it or anything else," she answered, thrusting the plate between the palms.
For a time there was silence. From within the house came the continuous babble of voices and laughter, the clink of cutlery on china. The young people spent a long time over their supper. By-and-by the waiter returned to the veranda, deposited a plate of colored ices upon Ariel's knees with a noble gesture, and departed.
"No ice for me," said Joe.
"Won't you please go now?" she entreated!
"It wouldn't be good manners," he responded. "They might think I only came for supper—"
"Hand me back the things. The waiter might come for them any minute."
"Not yet. I haven't quite finished. I eat with contemplation, Ariel, because there's more than the mere food and the warmth of it to consider. There's the pleasure of being entertained by the great Martin Pike. Think what a real kindness I'm doing him, too. I increase his good deeds and his hospitality without his knowing it or being able to help it. Don't you see how I boost his standing with the Recording Angel? If Lazarus had behaved the way I do, Dives needn't have had those worries that came to him in the after-life."
"Give me the dish and coffee-cup," she whispered, impatiently. "Suppose the waiter came and had to look for them? Quick!"
"Take them, then. You'll see that jealousy hasn't spoiled my appetite—"
A bottle-shaped figure appeared in the window and she had no time to take the plate and cup which were being pushed through the palm-leaves. She whispered a syllable of warning, and the dishes were hurriedly withdrawn as Norbert Flitcroft, wearing a solemn expression of injury, came out upon the veranda.
He halted suddenly. "What's that?" he asked, with suspicion.
"Nothing," answered Ariel, sharply. "Where?"
"Behind those palms."
"Probably your own shadow," she laughed; "or it might have been a draught moving the leaves."
He did not seem satisfied, but stared hard at the spot where the dishes had disappeared, meantime edging back cautiously nearer the window.
"They want you," he said, after a pause. "Some one's come for you."
"Oh, is grandfather waiting?" She rose, at the same time letting her handkerchief fall. She stooped to pick it up, with her face away from Norbert and towards the palms, whispering tremulously, but with passionate urgency, "Please GO!"
"It isn't your grandfather that has come for you," said the fat one, slowly. "It is old Eskew Arp. Something's happened."
She looked at him for a moment, beginning to tremble violently, her eyes growing wide with fright.
"Is my grandfather—is he sick?"
"You better go and see. Old Eskew's waiting in the hall. He'll tell you."
She was by him and through the window instantly. Norbert did not follow her; he remained for several moments looking earnestly at the palms; then he stepped through the window and beckoned to a youth who was lounging in the doorway across the room.
"There's somebody hiding behind those plants," he whispered, when his friend reached him. "Go and tell Judge Pike to send some of the niggers to watch outside the porch, so that he doesn't get away. Then tell him to get his revolver and come here."
Meanwhile Ariel had found Mr. Arp waiting in the hall, talking in a low voice to Mrs. Pike.
"Your grandfather's all right," he told the frightened girl, quickly. "He sent me for you, that's all. Just hurry and get your things."
She was with him again in a moment, and seizing the old man's arm, hurried him down the steps and toward the street almost at a run.
"You're not telling me the truth," she said. "You're not telling me the truth!"
"Nothing has happened to Roger," panted Mr. Arp. "Nothing to mind, I mean. Here! We're going this way, not that." They had come to the gate, and as she turned to the right he pulled her round sharply to the left. "We're not going to your house."
"Where are we going?"
"We're going to your uncle Jonas's."
"Why?" she cried, in supreme astonishment. "What do you want to take me there for? Don't you know that he's stopped speaking to me?"
"Yes," said the old man, grimly, with something of the look he wore when delivering a clincher at the "National House,"—"he's stopped speaking to everybody."
The Canaan Daily Tocsin of the following morning "ventured the assertion" upon its front page that "the scene at the Pike Mansion was one of unalloyed festivity, music, and mirth; a fairy bower of airy figures wafting here and there to the throb of waltz-strains; a veritable Temple of Terpsichore, shining forth with a myriad of lights, which, together with the generous profusion of floral decorations and the mingled delights afforded by Minds's orchestra of Indianapolis and Caterer Jones of Chicago, was in all likelihood never heretofore surpassed in elegance in our city.... Only one incident," the Tocsin remarked, "marred an otherwise perfect occasion, and out of regard for the culprit's family connections, which are prominent in our social world, we withhold his name. Suffice it to say that through the vigilance of Mr. Norbert Flitcroft, grandson of Colonel A. A. Flitcroft, who proved himself a thorough Lecoq (the celebrated French detective), the rascal was seized and recognized. Mr. Flitcroft, having discovered him in hiding, had a cordon of waiters drawn up around his hiding-place, which was the charmingly decorated side piazza of the Pike Mansion, and sent for Judge Pike, who came upon the intruder by surprise. He evaded the Judge's indignant grasp, but received a well-merited blow over the head from a poker which the Judge had concealed about his person while pretending to approach the hiding-place casually. Attracted to the scene by the cries of Mr. Flitcroft, who, standing behind Judge Pike, accidentally received a blow from the same weapon, all the guests of the evening sprang to view the scene, only to behold the culprit leap through a crevice between the strips of canvas which enclosed the piazza. He was seized by the colored coachman of the Mansion, Sam Warden, and immediately pounced upon by the cordon of Caterer Jones's dusky assistants from Chicago, who were in ambush outside. Unfortunately, after a brief struggle he managed to trip Warden, and, the others stumbling upon the prostrate body of the latter, to make his escape in the darkness.