THE OPENED SHUTTERS
CLARA LOUISE BURNHAM
* * * * *
By Clara Louise Burnham
THE OPENED SHUTTERS. Illustrated, 12mo, $1.50. JEWEL: A CHAPTER IN HER LIFE. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.50. JEWEL'S STORY BOOK. Illustrated, 12mo, $1.50. THE RIGHT PRINCESS. 12mo, $1.50. MISS PRITCHARD'S WEDDING TRIP. 12mo, $1.50. YOUNG MAIDS AND OLD. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. DEARLY BOUGHT. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. NO GENTLEMEN. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. A SANE LUNATIC. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. NEXT DOOR. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. THE MISTRESS OF BEECH KNOLL. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. MISS BAGG'S SECRETARY. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. DR. LATIMER. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. SWEET CLOVER. A Romance of the White City. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. THE WISE WOMAN. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. MISS ARCHER ARCHER. 16mo, $1.25. A GREAT LOVE. A Novel. 16mo, $1.25; paper, 50 cents. A WEST POINT WOOING, and Other Stories. 16mo, $1.25.
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO. BOSTON AND NEW YORK.
* * * * *
THE OPENED SHUTTERS
CLARA LOUISE BURNHAM
With Frontispiece by Harrison Fisher
Boston and New York Houghton, Mifflin and Company The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1906
Copyright 1906 by Clara Louise Burnham All Rights Reserved
Published October 1906
TO C. D. T.
I. JUDGE TRENT 1
II. MARTHA LACEY 12
III. A RAILWAY TRIP 22
IV. HOTEL FRISBIE 29
V. JUDGE TRENT'S STUDY 43
VI. SYLVIA'S CALLER 57
VII. THE MILL FARM 69
VIII. IN HARBOR 82
IX. EDNA DERWENT 91
X. CAPITULATION 101
XI. THINKRIGHT'S LETTER 112
XII. A LOST OAR 124
XIII. UNCLE AND NIECE 135
XIV. BLIND MAN'S HOLIDAY 146
XV. A FLITTING 155
XVI. EVOLUTION 161
XVII. THE ROSY CLOUD 170
XVIII. HAWK ISLAND 180
XIX. A NOR'EASTER 189
XX. THE POOL 200
XXI. A SWIMMING LESSON 213
XXII. BLUEBERRYING 222
XXIII. A PHILTRE 228
XXIV. SYLVIA'S MYSTERY 239
XXV. THE LITTLE RIFT 248
XXVI. REVELATION 257
XXVII. MISUNDERSTANDING 265
XXVIII. THE POTION 277
XXIX. THE WHITE BAG 288
XXX. THE LIGHT BREAKS 297
XXXI. RECONCILIATION 309
XXXII. A SOFTENED BLOW 321
XXXIII. "LOVE ALONE WILL STAY " 330
THE OPENED SHUTTERS
Judge Trent's chair was tipped back at a comfortable angle for the accommodation of his gaitered feet, which rested against the steam radiator in his private office. There had been a second desk introduced into this sanctum within the last month, and the attitude of the young man seated at it indicated but a brief suspension of business as he looked up to greet his employer.
The judge had just come in out of the cold and wet, and did not remove his silk hat as he seated himself to dry his shoes. He appeared always reluctant to remove that hat. Spotlessly clean as were always the habiliments that clothed his attenuated form, no one could remember having seen the judge's hat smoothly brushed; and although in the course of thirty years it is unlikely that he never became possessed of a new one, even the closest observer, and that was Martha Lacey, could not be certain of the transition period, probably owing to the lingering attachment with which the judge returned spasmodically to the headgear which had accommodated itself to his bumps, and which he was heroically endeavoring to discard.
This very morning Miss Lacey in passing her old friend on the street had been annoyed by the unusually rough condition of the hat he lifted. A few steps further on she happened to encounter the judge's housekeeper, her market basket on her arm. Old Hannah's wrinkled countenance did not grow less grim as Miss Lacey greeted her, but that lady, nothing daunted, stopped to speak, her countenance alert and her bright gaze shining through her eyeglasses.
"I just met Judge Trent, Hannah. Dear me, can't you brush that hat of his a little? It looks for all the world like a black cat that has just caught sight of a mastiff."
"I guess the judge knows how he wants his own hat," returned Hannah, her mouth working disapprovingly.
"But he doesn't realize how it looks. Some one asked me the other day if I supposed Judge Trent slept in his hat."
"And I s'pose you told 'em you didn't know," returned the old woman sourly. "He's got a right to sleep in it if he wants to," and she moved on while Miss Lacey looked after her for a moment, her lips set in a tight line.
"Insolent!" she exclaimed. "All is I know he wouldn't do it if I'd married him," she added mentally, resuming her walk. Martha Lacey's sense of humor was not keen, but suddenly the mental picture of Judge Trent's shrewd, thin countenance, as it might appear in pillowed slumber surmounted by the high hat, overwhelmed her and she laughed silently. Then she frowned with reddening cheeks. "Hannah's impertinent," she murmured.
Judge Trent had read something of disapproval in Miss Lacey's glance as she greeted him a few minutes ago, and he thought of her now as he sat tilted back, his thumbs hooked easily in his arm holes, while he watched the glistening dampness dry from his shoes.
"Martha probably disapproved because I didn't have on my rubbers," he thought, an inward jerk acknowledging the humor of the situation. He had not spoken often with Martha Lacey for many a year. Twenty-five springs had rolled by now since he proposed to her. She had hesitated for a week or so, and then, some difference arising between them, she had refused him. He had led a busy life since then, absorbed in his profession of the law, and had won more than local fame. When recently he decided to take some one into his office and, as he put it, ease up on himself, John Dunham, Harvard graduate, recently admitted to the bar, thought himself a lucky man to get the position even though it exchanged Boston for life in a neighboring rural city.
"Plenty of trains for Boston every day," Judge Trent had said when the young fellow arrived. "If either one of us doesn't like the arrangement you can take one any hour, and no harm done."
That was less than a month ago, but already Calvin Trent had changed his mind. Should he lose young Dunham, he would regret it.
He regarded John now as the clean-shaven profile bent over a lengthy document. The judge had the small man's admiration for the stature and build of his assistant. He liked the sunshine of his smile, the steady gaze of his eyes. The young man's personality had impressed him from the first; but it was after the judge had proved the temper of his mind and quickness of his perception that he allowed these physical advantages to take their place as valuable assets.
"The boy's well born, and well raised," he said to himself. "I suppose he's some kind of a fool, he's too young not to be; but there's no sign of it yet."
It was very pleasant not to have to hurry to the office in the morning, and not to be obliged to furnish all the brains that were supposed to be accessible in this home of the law.
After a few minutes' silence Judge Trent looked up again from his steaming shoes.
"Ever been in love, Dunham?" he asked suddenly.
The young lawyer raised his eyes, with evident effort to bring his attention from the subject in hand, and regarded the quaint face and figure of his employer.
The vagueness of his stare caused the judge to stir and cough with some embarrassment.
"Oh, no matter, of course. I just happened to think of it. When I was your age I had it bad: thought if I couldn't have that one girl life wouldn't be worth living." The speaker's foot slipped on the radiator, and he readjusted his chair.
"Just happened to meet her out there a minute ago;" he jerked the tall hat in the direction of the street.
"That must have been rather startling." Dunham had by this time collected his ideas.
"Oh, no. We've both always lived here; she's kept tab on me ever since; kind of puts the burden of proof on me to show that I can get along without her, if you understand."
"And you've shown her, eh?"
"'M, pretty so-so."
"You've never married, I believe?"
John did not have to assume an interest. This spare little man was small only in physique. He was an object of interest to any and every ambitious young lawyer.
"No, never did." Judge Trent shook his head, and rocked his tilted chair gently. "I might count up the number of kitchen fires I've escaped building on cold winter mornings; the number of nocturnal rambles I've escaped taking with shrieking infants doubled up with the colic—and then there are my books! What would have become of my books! My fair one was the pizen-neat kind. She would have dusted them and driven me to drink!"
Dunham smiled. "And yet those are scarcely facts with which you can reassure her," he remarked.
Judge Trent caught the younger man's eye with a sympathetic twinkle.
"Precisely; and the sad consequence is that she has never been entirely reassured. Her name's against her, poor girl—Martha. Careful about many things."
"Then you had no successor?"
"No, and affairs piled up. I had too much to attend to to renew the attack. I didn't have time to smooth down her ruffled feathers, so—the result is that we've each flocked alone. Just as well, just as well," continued the speaker, musingly. "What I was thinking of just now was how many different lives we seem to live in one; how our tastes change; and at best how few illusions are left to lawyers regarding marriage."
"In other words, you're a confirmed old bachelor. What was it you asked me a minute ago—if I were in love?"
"Yes, or if you had been."
"Have been dozens of times,—am not," returned Dunham, with the smile that his employer liked.
"Just so, just so," the latter answered quickly. "We change. Read First Corinthians, seventh chapter, and if you take Paul's advice and don't pass the Rubicon, then you 'll be free to change as often as you please."
Dunham looked up again. "Are you a Bible student, Judge Trent?"
"Student of everything," returned the lawyer, with a short wave of his thin hand.
"All books except woman's looks, eh?" answered Dunham, returning to his papers.
"I said I had no successors," remarked the judge, regarding his gaiters musingly. "I'm not at all sure of that. Miss—Martha was a very attractive woman. My impression is that in any case she preferred to concentrate all her faculties upon watching to see that I didn't get into mischief."
"That's faithfulness, I'm sure," returned Dunham. "The necessity for building those kitchen fires wouldn't exist now," he added suggestively.
"Young man, no levity," returned the judge.
There was silence for a few minutes, broken only by the turning of the crisp papers as Dunham continued his researches. At last the telephone bell rang and Dunham answered it. As he hung up the receiver Judge Trent spoke:—
"Just call up the railway station, will you, and secure a chair for me in the nine o'clock train for Boston Wednesday morning?"
John obeyed, and as he returned to his desk his employer continued:—
"I may need your advice on Wednesday's business, Dunham."
"My advice?" returned the young man, with interest. "Is it in the Evans case?"
"No," dryly; "it isn't in the Evans case. It's a case of a girl." The judge scowled at his gaiters and pushed his hat askew. "Hang it, I don't know anything about girls."
The young lawyer waited, his elbows on his desk.
"Anything that I can do, of course," he said at last.
"Have you any sisters?"
"Confound you," returned the other impatiently. "What do you know about it, then?"
"Nearly all there is to know," responded Dunham modestly.
"The conventionalities, the proprieties? Where and how girls may live and where and how they can't, for instance? Unattached girls whose relatives don't want them, for I'd like to bet her aunt won't receive her, and if I should go out of my way to urge it she'd probably turn on me and tell me to take my own medicine."
"I'd do my best," returned John, when the exasperated tones had subsided.
"What's the use of obeying St. Paul if your family won't?" went on the lawyer irritably. "What's the good of avoiding girls of your own, only to have somebody else's dumped on you?"
"Be calm, Judge," said Dunham, smiling. "I felt a little stage fright when I thought it was the Evans case; but if it's only girls, I can attend to them with one hand tied behind me."
Judge Trent regarded him wistfully. "John, do you know what you're saying? Isn't yours the presumption of ignorance?"
"What? when I told you I had been in love a dozen times? To be sure, I never met those who've hit me hardest; but cheer up, Judge, I'll stand by you. What is it?"
"I'm not quite ready to say what it is. I'll fence with Fate by myself awhile longer." As he spoke Calvin Trent took from his pocket a letter and began to read it over once more.
"Very well," returned Dunham, picking up his papers. "I'm ready to act as your second."
The following day Miss Martha Lacey locked the door of her cottage behind her and set off for the business district of the town. Her hair was carefully arranged and her bonnet was becoming. Her neighbors were wont to say with admiration that Martha Lacey, though she did live alone and was poor in kith, kin, and worldly fortune, never lost her ambition. She kept an eye to the styles as carefully as the rosiest belle in town.
"There isn't any sense in a woman letting herself look queer," Miss Lacey often declared. "I don't mean to look queer."
"It's real sensible of Martha to do as she does," said one neighbor to the new minister's wife. "She jilted the smartest man in town when she was young and she's kept on looking the part, as you might say, ever since. If she'd let herself run down, kind of seedy, everybody'd have said she was disappointed; but he hasn't ever married—it's Judge Trent, you know—and the way Martha holds her head up and wears gold eyeglasses sort of makes folks think he'd be glad to get her any time. It's real smart of Martha. The judge looks the seedy one. He never did carry much flesh, but now he's dried up till he ain't much bigger'n a grasshopper; but smart—Martha's smartness ain't to speak of beside his. They do say he's as well known in Boston as he is here."
There was an extra determination in Miss Lacey's walk as she moved along this morning, the watery spring sunshine beaming on the well-brushed gray tailor gown she had bought ready-made at a sale a year ago. She was on her way to the law offices of Calvin Trent, a rare errand indeed and one which, if observed by acquaintances, she knew would even now "make talk;" but she did not falter, nor look to the right or left as she at last entered the dingy doorway and ascended the worn staircase.
Scarcely pausing before the black-lettered door, she walked into the anteroom, and apparently her entrance sent a communication to the inner office; for while she stood for a moment looking dubiously at the uninviting chairs, a tall young man entered the room. Miss Lacey viewed him with curiosity and surprise.
He greeted her courteously and brought forward one of the chairs. She wiped the finger of her gray glove along its edge and examined it.
"I guess you don't have ladies here much," she remarked dryly.
"Oh, is it dusty?" he returned, pulling out his handkerchief with a sudden jerk and wiping the broken cane seat.
"Here's another place;" she pointed an accusing gray finger.
Dunham obediently dusted and she lowered her person gingerly upon the chair.
"Now don't you put that dirty thing back in your pocket," she said, and the young man paused midway in the act, and finally laid the handkerchief on the gray mantelpiece.
"You don't receive many ladies here, I imagine," repeated Miss Lacey, her nostrils dilating.
"No, very few," returned Dunham, flushed. "What can I do for you, madam?"
"Nothing, I guess, except dust the chair. I'm sure I'm much obliged to you for that and I'm sorry that you took your nice handkerchief. You ought to have some soft cheesecloth here."
"I'll—mention it," said Dunham. "May I ask your business?"
"No, you may not," returned Miss Martha equably. "Is Judge Trent in?"
The young lawyer collected himself. "I represent Judge Trent," he said briefly.
"Not to me you don't, young man," rejoined the visitor coolly.
They regarded each other for a moment.
"I wish to see Judge Trent," said Martha at last.
"He is very busy; but if you will tell me the nature of"—
"Busy? So am I," returned Miss Lacey brusquely, "and if you imagine that I am going to climb up to this office and then leave it without seeing the judge you're mistaken. You might give me something to read if he'll be long."
"Do you think you would care for Blackstone?" asked the young lawyer. "There isn't much choice here."
"I shouldn't mind looking at it. I've always known that a little common sense would revise the law so that a lot of this absurd red tape could be cut out."
"Then the world has been waiting for you many years; Mrs.—Mrs."—
"Not at all," returned the visitor; "I'm not Mrs. You go into the office, please, and tell Judge Trent that Miss Martha Lacey would like to see him on important business."
Dunham nodded; but his head had scarcely regained the perpendicular when the name began to impress him. "Martha." "Pizen-neat." He bit his lip, and without venturing again to meet Miss Lacey's cool, incisive gaze he turned and vanished into the inner office.
Judge Trent was sitting at his desk scowling at his work with concentration when his assistant tiptoed to his side, his face sternly repressed and his eyes dancing.
"Miss Martha Lacey wishes to see you, Judge."
The latter looked up with such suddenness as to endanger the situation of the high hat. "Who?" he demanded.
"Sh!" advised Dunham. "Miss Martha Lacey."
Judge Trent placed his hand on his assistant's arm as he stared up at him. "I guess you got the name wrong, Boy," he returned, in a hushed tone.
The young lawyer shook his head solemnly, but his lips refused solemnity. "Miss Martha Lacey," he repeated slowly.
His senior frowned. "These offices are badly planned, Dunham, badly planned. There is no back entrance."
"Exit, do you mean?" asked the other.
"What are you doing in here?" demanded the judge sternly, but careful not to raise his voice. "It was your place to find out her business."
"That's what I thought. In fact, I told her so."
"Well, what is it, then? You go back. I empower you to act." As Judge Trent spoke he pushed his young colleague with one bony hand.
"She won't have me," gurgled Dunham in a whisper. "She's going to wait for you till the last trump, and while she's waiting she says she'll revise Blackstone."
The judge did not smile. He suddenly relaxed throughout his slight frame. "That's Martha," he replied, "you haven't made any mistake. And she'd do it. Very capable woman. Very capable woman. Dunham, I want you to understand," he continued, as he rose and straightened himself, "that I respect that lady very highly."
"Oh, I do understand," responded Dunham. "She's a bright, observant woman. She found the chairs dusty." He drew in his breath in a noiseless whistle.
The little man looked up alertly under his shaggy brows. "They were dusty, I dare say. You cleaned one for her, eh?"
"Yes, with my handkerchief. She didn't like it."
"Oh, no, she wouldn't like that. You are quite sure there'd be no use in your going back again and trying to find out what she—a—eh?"
"Aren't you quite sure?" Dunham stood with his feet apart and a broad grin on his countenance.
The judge rose and shook himself.
"I've got those papers ready, Dunham. It might be well for you to take them over to the office and register them; and as you pass through you may ask Miss Lacey to step in here."
John Dunham composed his countenance, took his hat and the papers, and started on his errand.
Entering the outer room, he paused before Miss Lacey to give his message, and she lifted a small paper parcel that lay in her lap.
"Don't be worried about your handkerchief," she said. "I'm going to take it home and wash it."
"Oh, I beg you won't trouble yourself," exclaimed the young man.
"I shall. You soiled it for me."
Dunham bit his lip. The query flitted through his mind as to whether Miss Lacey had ever been successfully contradicted.
"When Sir Walter Raleigh flung down his coat for a queen to walk upon, history doesn't say that Elizabeth sent it to the dry-cleaners," he remarked.
"That just shows how different two old maids can act," returned Miss Lacey.
Dunham laughed and bowed. "I don't believe the difference would continue throughout," he said. "I fancy you and Queen Bess have lots of points in common."
With this he took his departure, and Martha Lacey rose and passed into the inner room where Judge Trent waited, grimly wondering at that burst of laughter which he saw reflected on his visitor's lips as she entered.
She advanced and shook hands with him. "How do you do, Calvin? That isn't any fool you've taken into your office."
"Won't you have a chair?" offering Dunham's. "I wasn't looking for a fool when I engaged him. Perhaps that explains it."
"You have your hat on, Calvin," remarked Miss Lacey, as she accepted the seat after an investigating sweep of her gloved finger.
"I beg your pardon," returned the disconcerted lawyer, removing his hat and setting it reluctantly on his desk. Then he, too, sat down, passing his hand over his scanty locks.
"Your furniture in the next room is shockingly soiled," she went on. "Why don't you have Hannah come with some good flannel rags and tepid water and ivory soap and furniture polish?"
"It is so old, I don't believe it's worth the trouble," returned the judge pacifically.
"Well, it isn't my place to say you ought to have new; but do look at it the next time you go out there. I've come, Calvin, to see if you've heard about Sam."
Judge Trent settled his head in his neck as though bracing himself. "I learned of it yesterday, Martha. Pray accept my condolences. I should have called on you this evening."
"Excuse me," returned Miss Lacey somewhat tartly, "if I say I don't believe it; and I don't blame you, either. You know very well that there was no more love lost between my brother and me than there was between your brother-in-law and you. Sam didn't make your sister Laura happy, to my shame and sorrow. I'm the one that owes you condolences, and have any time this twenty years."
"Say ten," returned the judge concisely. "Laura's troubles have been over for nearly ten years."
"So they have, poor Laura! I used to think that it was such a beautiful thing that Sam had such an artistic temperament; but how seldom it goes with the practical! Poor Sam had just enough talent to tempt him away from a useful business life, and not enough to make his family comfortable. How I do hope his daughter hasn't inherited his happy-go-lucky, selfish nature; for there is that girl for us to deal with, Calvin." Martha Lacey flashed an anxious look at her vis-a-vis.
"Sam's girl, yes," returned the lawyer. His face had become expressionless. His shoulders had humped forward. He reminded his companion of some animal who instinctively draws itself together to avoid the enemy's detection. So a tree-toad clings against the bark. So a porcupine rolls itself into a ball. To Miss Lacey the latter simile would have been more appealing. She dreaded the arrows he could launch.
"Sam's girl, yes; but Laura's girl, too, Calvin."
"Well?" he responded non-committally, and his face and figure seemed incapable of moving a muscle.
"I couldn't go 'way out to Illinois to the funeral even if I'd known in time," said Miss Lacey plaintively. "I couldn't think of affording it, and I wrote Sylvia so."
"Then you have been in correspondence with her?" asked the lawyer, and his cold manner appeared to seize an advantage.
"No, I haven't," responded Martha quickly. "It wasn't till Sam's life was despaired of that she wrote to me, as in duty bound. Of course I answered her; but do you believe, Calvin Trent, before my letter had time to get there—I wasn't very prompt—she wrote again, and said it was all over and some friends were paying her expenses to Boston, and she'd be here on Tuesday."
Miss Lacey leaned back in her chair and looked desperately for a sign of life in the stony countenance before her.
"Well?" responded the judge, after a pause.
"Well, what?" she retorted, in a tense voice. "I've no doubt she's as slipshod—as easy-going, I should say, as her father. The idea of her not waiting for advice from her relatives before she took such a step and came to a strange land uninvited; but she's our flesh and blood, Calvin, and she's in her teens yet. What are you going to do about it?"
Judge Trent was humped over more defensively than ever. Miss Lacey's nervous tension could not endure the prolonging of the silence with which he met the question.
"No doubt it comes suddenly on you, Calvin. Still, you say you heard of Sam's death. Did Sylvia write you?"
"Did she tell you she was coming to Boston?"
"Have you got an idea in this world, Calvin Trent, what she's going to do?"
"No, have you?"
It was something to have won a question from him. Miss Martha stirred in her chair.
"No, I haven't. It is easy to see how her friends thought it would be cheapest to pay her fare here and get her off their hands. Now I thought I'd go to Boston Wednesday morning instead of sending for her to come here, for if she once gets in here it'll be every one's business to nose into our affairs and have something to say." Miss Lacey paused a moment and then added boldly: "And I thought if you would go with me, we could find out just what she has to live on, if anything, and whether she has any plans."
The humped-over figure continued to gaze silently into space.
"It would be hypocrisy for me to say I have any affection for an absolute stranger just because she happens to be the child of a brother who never was any comfort to me in this world. With you it may be different," continued Miss Lacey, with what she intended to be adroitness. "Laura was a dear little thing, and you loved her, and this is her child."
Another pause. It was doubtful what thoughts were behind Judge Trent's half-closed eyes.
"My affairs aren't any more brilliant and promising as the years go by," pursued Miss Lacey. "You know as well as I do what condition I'm in to adopt Sam's girl."
She suddenly dashed some bright drops from her lashes. Indignant tears they were, brought there by the apparent futility of her appeals.
"By the way," said the judge slowly, "that visit of condolence I was intending to make on you was to be one of congratulation as well."
Martha paused, her handkerchief poised in air.
"Yes; that unfortunate investment of yours turned out all right after all. At least I secured your principal for you."
The surprised, glad color came into Martha's face. "How in the world did you manage that, Calvin!" she ejaculated.
"I'll send you the papers and cash very soon."
"I don't know how to thank you. I really don't," stammered the visitor.
She had been very angry with her erstwhile lover a minute ago. The revulsion of feeling bewildered her.
The judge rose, and she found herself following his example.
"You haven't told me a word what your judgment is about the girl," she said, rather pitifully.
He nodded. "Your judgment will be the best. A woman is worth two men in such a case. Carry out your plan, Martha. Interview her, and then we'll see—we'll see."
He held open the office door for his visitor to pass out, and woman-like her memory flew back. It seemed but yesterday that this man was hanging on her looks, pleading for her love.
A fleeting glance at his expressionless face as he waited for her to pass him was enough. Again her eyes swept the dingy anteroom. "Good-by, Calvin, it's been a relief to talk to you," she said.
They shook hands. "If I'd married him," thought Miss Lacey, "that room wouldn't look like that."
The judge softly closed the door behind her. "There, but for the grace of God," he murmured devoutly, "goes Mrs. Calvin Trent." Then he returned to his desk, put on his hat, and sat down at his work.
Before long Dunham returned. His employer beckoned him with a long, bony finger.
The young man's eyes glistened, and he tiptoed forward obediently.
"What's the matter with you?" uneasily. "She—the lady has gone?"
"Certainly, Judge. I saw her just now disappearing up the street."
"Well, listen. I have decided not to go to Boston Wednesday morning. You will go in my place."
"Miss Lacey is going on the same train."
"Ah," Dunham nodded slowly and with becoming gravity.
"You will have a seat in the parlor car. She will not have. Martha would think that nonsense; but her errand will be at the same place as yours. My sister married her brother. Both are dead, and they have left a daughter who has come out of the West to Boston to seek us. I suspect there may be a good deal of wool clinging to her."
"A lamb, of course," murmured Dunham.
"The disposition of this girl is costing Miss Lacey considerable worry, and me quite as much, although I don't think best to let Martha know it. I intended to go to the hotel to meet her myself; but"—
The younger man smiled, and the judge saw that he understood.
"I shall prepare some memoranda for you. What I am ready to buy is peace. You understand? You will be cautious, and not let me in for anything except perhaps immediate expenses. Follow Miss Lacey's lead; but let her lead. Eh?"
"Certainly, Judge Trent. As I said before, I can manage this with one hand tied behind me. It isn't as if it were the Evans case."
"The Evans case!" Judge Trent growled scornfully. "The Evans case is a bagatelle to this. Now you see to it that you're wise as a serpent in this matter. First and foremostly, and last and lastly, I won't have that girl in my house. Understand?"
"Oh, surely. I understand."
"Let Miss Lacey make the decisions and you be cautious."
"Ay, ay, Judge," returned Dunham airily.
A RAILWAY TRIP
The speculator on a large scale feels no more elated over the rescue of a fortune from anticipated loss than did Miss Lacey in the recovery of her one thousand dollars. In the expansion of ideas which it caused she determined to celebrate by taking a chair in the parlor car for Boston on Wednesday morning.
John Dunham boarded the train just as it was pulling out of the station, and as he approached his seat suddenly heard himself greeted:—
"It is Sir Walter," said a pleased voice. "I wasn't sure till you took your hat off."
The young man paused in the act of hanging up his hat and looked down upon the occupant of the next chair. She was regarding him with interest.
"Why, good-morning, Miss Lacey," he responded, and perhaps his smile would not have been so pronounced but for the quick consideration of Judge Trent's situation had he not transferred his ticket this morning.
Dunham even wondered if Miss Lacey might not have learned in some way who it was that had engaged this chair and made her arrangements accordingly. However, the surprise with which she recognized him was certainly genuine.
"Aren't these seats comfortable?" she went on as he sank into his. "I never traveled in one before. I'm just being reckless this morning."
Her triumphant, half-defiant regard did not indicate that she was laboring under any disappointment.
Upon Dunham's acquiescence she continued: "Perhaps, being in the office, you know about my windfall?"
"I hadn't heard, but I'm glad there was a windfall."
Miss Martha scrutinized the speaker's countenance approvingly. "He's about as pleasant-looking a man as I ever laid eyes on," she thought.
"It isn't exactly a windfall, because it's only my own come back to me; but it's money I never expected to see again, and if Cal—if Judge Trent wasn't a good deal smarter than the average I never should have, either."
"Not many people can get ahead of him," returned Dunham.
"I guess not," said Miss Lacey, and she bridled proudly in a manner not lost upon her neighbor. "So I just said to myself this morning, 'What's the use of always being so careful?' Said I, 'I believe I'll see for once how it feels to go to Boston like a nabob.'"
Dunham smiled and nodded, perceiving that Miss Martha felt that her extravagance must be explained even if it could not be justified.
The extra alertness of her look suffered a slight cloud as she continued: "One thing that made me feel reckless was that affairs are taking a turn that may make me be more careful and more economical than I ever was before, and I just thought before I found out I'd have one good time!"
As she finished, the defiant expression returned, and she cast a glance at her companion which seemed to challenge his disapproval. "I notice you don't—I notice lots of folks don't mind the extravagance."
"Ah, but Judge Trent pays my expenses, you see."
Miss Lacey drew herself up under the smiling regard. "He came very near paying mine," was her unspoken thought, and she would have been astonished to know how close her companion came to reading it.
"Of course that makes a difference," she returned, and she regarded her neighbor curiously, wishing she knew just what his business arrangement was with the judge.
"And I would have known, too, if I'd married him," she thought.
Dunham had been handling a magazine, watching for the moment when he could open it; but gaining more and more the impression that Miss Lacey felt his companionship to be a perquisite which rendered more reasonable the price of her chair, he dropped the periodical in his lap.
"Well, for my part, Miss Lacey," he said, leaning his head back definitely, "I think some well-distributed extravagance isn't so disreputable."
"Perhaps not," she returned, "but if you were a lone spinster without a bank account you might have your doubtful moments."
There was a hint of childlike excitement in the speaker's manner which Dunham found rather touching.
"Don't pretend to me that you ever have doubtful moments," he said, regarding the alert face with curiosity as to how it had appeared in those days when Judge Trent had wanted "just that one girl."
"My!" exclaimed Miss Lacey. "I'm having a doubtful moment right now; not one, but dozens! I'm on the most ticklish errand of my life. That's what I called on Judge Trent about the other day."
"That's right," commented Dunham gravely. "Never move without legal advice."
"And if I'd had any idea I was going to meet you, I'd have brought your handkerchief. I've done it up as smooth as satin."
"How good of you!"
"And it's pretty near as fine as satin, too; and that worked monogram is a beauty; but it's lucky you're a lawyer, for it would take one to figure out what the letters are;—but you needn't tell your sweetheart I said so."
Dunham laughed. "I won't. It would break her heart."
"Don't you ever wipe off chairs with it again. It's wicked," declared Miss Lacey emphatically.
"Then don't you ever come into the office and give me heart failure by your unkind comments."
"I don't know as I ever shall," returned Miss Lacey, suddenly pensive and looking into space. "The other day I was clear out of Judge Trent's office and into the street, and it was too late to go back, before I realized that I'd scarcely got three words from him that were really definite or any use to me. Has he mentioned to you anything about a niece of his who has come to Boston? I suppose he hasn't."
"Yes, he has."
"Indeed? Well, she's mine, too, and this minute I'm on my way to see her." Miss Lacey made the declaration impressively. "He ought to be here himself. But I won't shirk my duty if he does his. She's come clear from Illinois, and I don't know what for. I wish I was like some folks and could let her shift for herself; but she isn't twenty yet, and I haven't got the heart. I haven't been smart, I saw that afterward; for if I'd gone to Judge Trent and just said I was too poor to do anything for Sylvia and stuck to it, and carried matters with a high hand and told him I wasn't going near her, he'd have had to. I see that as plain as day now, but he came at me with the good news about my money, and kind of sidled me toward the door, and while I was gasping and trying to realize it, the first thing I knew I was downstairs."
Dunham received her injured look with a nod as she paused.
"I live all alone," she went on, and John wondered who then customarily received her flow of conversation; "and all this sudden business is a great disturbance to me. I've laid awake over the matter, and prayed over it, and here I am, not knowing yet what I'm going to do."
She fell silent. She could not tell this stranger that it was the ne'er-do-well character of her only brother which caused her panic at the mere hint of taking the responsibility of his daughter, many years motherless and the companion of his wholly slipshod methods of life. In years past Calvin Trent had been wont to say it was like pouring water into a sieve to endeavor to help Sam Lacey.
While Miss Martha was indulging in a resume of the dismal situation her companion took a folded memorandum from an inside pocket and scanned it.
* * * * *
"Girl at Hotel Frisbie.
"Name Sylvia Lacey.
"Her mother, my sister, dead for ten years.
"Her father, recently deceased, an alleged artist, a rolling stone and a scapegrace all his life.
"Be present at interview between Miss Martha Lacey and the girl.
"Let Miss Martha take the lead."
* * * * *
There were a few further instructions, but Miss Lacey here broke in upon the reading.
"I'm going to ask you to do one more gallant thing for me, Sir Walter."
"Put me on the right car for Hotel Frisbie. The Boston street-cars are a hopeless muddle to me,—always were and always will be."
"I'll escort you to the hotel."
"Oh, that's too kind!" exclaimed Miss Martha. "I'm not quite non compos. I can get out all right. It's the getting in that's the puzzle."
"But I have to go there myself. Judge Trent thought you might need a lieutenant. He has sent me to help you."
The color rushed to Miss Martha's face. Calvin was thinking of her, after all. Her eyes glistened with sudden hope.
"What is he willing to do?" she demanded.
"Nothing—that is, very little," responded Dunham hastily. "You, I suppose, are acquainted with this young lady?"
"Indeed I'm not!" Miss Martha repudiated the charge with energy. "And I'm not nearly as well able to help her as Calvin is. So he sent you. He has a conscience about it, after all. I don't suppose he'd consent to her living with him?"
"Not for one moment," returned Dunham quickly. "Whatever course you consider, that idea must be dismissed."
"Whatever course I consider," repeated Miss Lacey bitterly. "Judge Trent has no business to leave all the considering to me. It's cowardly, and it's mean, and I don't care one bit if you tell him I said so!"
"I shan't," returned Dunham. "He has sent me. He is prepared to do something, anything in reason that you think best."
After this Miss Lacey's problem descended heavily upon her, and she averted her head and looked gloomily at the flying landscape; so Dunham opened his magazine and read until they reached Boston.
The Frisbie being a commercial house in a crowded business centre, Miss Lacey was glad of Dunham's safe conduct amid clanging bells and interlacing traffic wagons. She followed him through the dark hall of the hotel and into an elevator. Leaving this, they entered the depressing stretches of a long parlor whose stiff furniture and hangings clung drearily against a harassing wall paper as dingy as themselves. Finding the room empty, Miss Lacey began to speak excitedly as soon as they were seated and Dunham had sent the bell-boy on his errand.
"Exactly the sort of a hotel my brother Sam would have come to!" she said. "I wondered why Sylvia chose it. Like as not he's brought her here before."
Then her lips snapped together, for she remembered she was not going to speak slightingly of her brother before a stranger.
"Too bad he was not the sort of man with whom you and Judge Trent could have been in sympathy," replied Dunham civilly. "It would have made the present situation easier."
"Then Calvin has told you about it," returned Miss Martha, with mingled relief and resentment, "and you understand why we can't feel anything except a painful duty in this matter. If Sylvia had stayed West like a reasonable being, instead of rushing on to Boston without our permission, we would have helped her what we could—at least the judge would. It would have been a great deal simpler to send a little money to Springfield, Illinois, than to have the worry of the girl right here with us—neither of us wanting her,—we couldn't be expected to." Miss Lacey's tongue was loosened now and all reserves broken down. "I'm not in a position to assume the care of anybody, and as for Judge Trent, you know how set and peculiar he is, and besides that, my brother always made his wife perfectly miserable"—
"It's a lie!"
Miss Lacey sank back in her chair and Dunham sprang to his feet as the girlish voice rang out, and a black-clothed figure stood before them. She had been standing behind one of the heavy hangings watching the passing in the seething street when the two entered the room, and until now had listened tense and motionless.
For a silent moment the visitors faced the girl, whose crop of short, curly hair vibrated, and whose eyes sent forth sparks of blue fire as she stood there, indignation incarnate. Her glance roved from one to the other, and Miss Martha pinched herself to make certain that she had not fallen into a bad dream, while Dunham crimsoned under the burning gaze.
"Syl—Sylvia, is that you!" exclaimed Miss Lacey unsteadily.
The girl scorned to reply. White and accusing she stood. Miss Martha looked up at her companion appealingly. "Mr.—Mr.—Sir Walter—Oh, I don't know your name!"
The young girl half closed her eyes and looked down on her aunt with a strange expression.
"Do you," she asked slowly, "talk like that about your dead brother even to persons whose names you haven't learned?"
"Great Scott!" thought Dunham, whose crimson was fast becoming prickly heat. "What have I got into!"
"I know this gentleman—I do, Sylvia," returned Miss Martha earnestly. "He is your Uncle Calvin's—yes, your Uncle Calvin's trusted friend."
"I should judge so," returned the girl, fixing the unhappy Dunham with her gaze. "I should judge his position to be very nearly one of the family. Does Uncle Calvin know his name?"
Dunham had for some years been aware that his height was six feet. Now he appeared to himself to be shrinking together until he was twin to his employer. It would be a fortunate moment to present his card to these ladies! For the first time in his life he found his hands in his way.
"The situation is very peculiar—very," stammered Miss Martha nervously, "and I'm very sorry, very sorry indeed that you were listening."
"Oh, so am I!" ejaculated the girl, the angry tenseness of her face changing and her voice breaking as she threw up her hands in a despairing gesture. The pathos of the black figure struck through Dunham's mortification.
"I wouldn't have hurt your feelings for anything," pursued Miss Martha earnestly.
"No; and I wish you would believe it and not look at me so strangely. I never had hysterics in my life, but I feel as if I might have them right off, if you don't stop."
The young girl had regained her self-control. "It might be the best ending to the interview," she said, "for I could leave you then to—to the trusted friend. I don't know what to do now." She clasped her hands over her face for a second, then dropped them.
"She's dreadfully theatrical, dreadfully," thought Miss Lacey.
"She is broken-hearted," thought Dunham; and pulling himself together he found his voice.
"My name is Dunham, Miss Lacey," he said, meeting the blue eyes where the fire had burned out, showing the face so white, so young. "This is in the day's work for me, and I'm sorry. I am in Judge Trent's office, and he sent me here with your aunt to represent him."
"My aunt saved a lot of time," rejoined the girl slowly, speaking low. "She represented them both while I stood there behind the curtain." Her hands pressed together, and she looked again from one to the other.
"There isn't anything for you to stay for now, is there?" she added, after a painful silence.
"Why, of course there is!" exclaimed Miss Martha. "We haven't made any plan at all."
"What plan had you thought of making?"
Miss Martha cleared her throat and looked up at Dunham.
"I—we—wanted to ask what your plans were."
"They're nothing to you, I'm sure," returned the girl.
"Why, they're a great deal to us. You mustn't think Judge Trent and I don't feel any responsibility of you. We do."
The girl's lips quivered into something that tried to be a smile.
"How did you intend to show it before—before you came in here this morning?"
"Why, we"—Miss Martha cleared her throat again, "we—feel sure, of course, that—unless your father left you money you—you will want to find something to do, and we intend to help you find it."
Sylvia looked like a pale flower as she stood there. There rose in Dunham the involuntary desire to protect that any man who saw her would have felt.
"And to pay your expenses until you do find it," he added hastily. "That is Judge Trent's idea," he declared, in a recklessly encouraging tone. "To pay your expenses so long as you need it."
The girl's quivering smile grew steadier. Her pride stiffened under this man's regard.
"Where?" she asked, with self-possession. "Not at the Touraine, probably."
It was like a downward jerk on a balloon. Dunham suddenly remembered the memoranda and his employer's shaggy gaze.
"At the Young Women's Christian Association," he replied apologetically.
The girl laughed. "I don't like the sound of it," she said. "Is it some sort of reformatory?"
"It is not," replied Miss Martha warmly. "That is a very good idea of your uncle's. I hadn't heard of it. It is a very generous and proper arrangement," with growing conviction. "Boston is dreadfully overcrowded, and you'd have probably done better in Springfield, whatever it's like; but I'll stay with you now,"—Miss Martha began taking off her gloves nervously,—"and help you pack up and take you over to the Association, and see you settled. The superintendent can no doubt help you to find something to do, and perhaps everything will be all right, after all."
Sylvia Lacey stretched out her hand. "Put those gloves on again, Aunt Martha. Your duty to me is done. You and Mr. Dunham can go home now."
Miss Martha's eyes snapped behind her glasses. "What do you mean? What are you going to do, then?"
The girl shrugged her shoulders carelessly. "Any one of half a dozen things. Get married, probably."
Miss Martha stared. "Are you engaged all this time and we worrying ourselves like this?"
"No, but a man, an actor, wants me to marry him. He believes I would do well on the stage."
"Sylvia Lacey, you mustn't marry an actor. You mustn't consider such a thing!" The speaker sprang to her feet and took a step forward.
"I haven't until now,"—Sylvia's white cheeks gave the lie to her nonchalant tone,—"but father said he believed Nat would be good to me. I thought it very strange at the time, but he seemed much more certain that Nat would be kind than that you and Uncle Calvin would."
"Sylvia, you mustn't be willful. You're a young girl. You must let your uncle and me think for you. I am going to remain with you until I see you moved. You can't stay in this hotel alone, not a day." Miss Martha glanced about as if she expected to see some of her brother's disreputable friends leap up from behind the stuffy old armchairs.
"Go at once, please," returned the girl. "Won't you take her?" suddenly turning to Dunham appealingly. "I'm very tired."
He did not need to be convinced of it. The white face showed the nervous strain. He believed the short curls meant some recent illness. He wished himself a thousand miles away, and took a final grip on the hat he was holding.
"We're unwilling to leave you in such uncertainty," he said lamely.
Sylvia's eyes rested on his.
"Tell Uncle Calvin"—she paused, for her throat filled—"no," she added with difficulty, "just go, please."
"Sylvia, I beg of you," Miss Lacey came forward, face and voice perturbed, and attempted to take her niece's hand.
Sylvia fell back a step. "You said everything a few minutes ago, Aunt Martha. Nothing could make any difference now. Good-by. Go, or else I must."
"Why, it's impossible, it's unheard of!" Tears sprang to Miss Martha's eyes, but Dunham took her arm and led her to the door, and while a sob of anxiety struggled in her breast he hurried her to the elevator and out upon the street, and at once hailed an approaching car.
"Do you wish to go right to the station, or to do errands?" he asked.
"Oh, errands!" exclaimed Miss Lacey wildly. "Who could think of errands!"
"Well, this car will take you to the station. I have some business to attend to, but shall probably catch the same train you do."
The car stopped. Dunham helped his bewildered companion to enter, and stepping back to the sidewalk, walked half a block in the opposite direction with business-like haste. Then he turned on his heel, observed that no stoppage in the street had detained Miss Martha's noisy conveyance, and striding back to the hotel, he reentered the dingy elevator.
He knew that there could scarcely be a more deserted, isolated spot at this hour of the day than the parlor of the old hotel; and it was as he hoped. The girl had not left it. He descried the slender black figure at once. She was clinging hopelessly with both hands to one of the sodden hangings and sobbing into its heavy folds.
He went up to her. "Pardon me. I've come back. Please don't do that."
She lifted her swollen eyes in surprise for a moment and then hid them.
"What right have you!" she murmured.
"None, but I couldn't do anything else, of course. You can see that. Come over here and sit down, please. Somebody might come in."
The girl controlled her sobs; but kept her face hidden. "I don't want to talk to you," she gasped.
"I know you don't. It makes it rather awkward. Is there any one else in Boston—any one I could go and bring to you?"
She rubbed her soft little curls into the aged hangings in a hopeless negative.
"Say!" said Dunham, in acute protest, "would you mind taking your head out of that curtain? Why, it might give you typhoid fever."
"I've just had it," replied the girl chokingly. "That's why I'm so weak and—and—Oh, if I could just telegraph to Nat!"
"If you'll come out of the curtain I'll wire Nat," responded Dunham eagerly,—"that is, if it's the best thing," he added doubtfully.
"You can't wire him. He's one-nighting. I don't know where to catch him, and he couldn't come anyway."
John continued to regard her as she left her hold on the curtain and pressed a wet handkerchief to her eyes. "Come over here and sit down one minute, please. I won't stay long."
She followed reluctantly to the chair he placed. "You shouldn't stay at all," she returned. "I don't wish to trouble a perfect stranger with my woes, and except for Uncle Calvin you have no reason to be here, and—and I haven't any uncle any more."
It was pitiful to see her effort to control the pretty, grieving lips. Her soul was smarting with the shock of her discovery, and the mortification of this stranger's knowledge of it. She wished to send him out of her sight at once; but her voice failed.
"Now, I'm neither Aunt Martha nor Uncle Calvin," said John, "and I refuse to be treated as if I were. If you haven't any friends in Boston I'm sure you can make one of me for five minutes. The situation is awkward enough, and you might feel for me a bit, eh?"
"No, not if you have come to try to persuade me to do anything. Nat—Mr. Forsyth, says he is sure I could get a chance on the stage, and—and he says it would make everything easier if I married him; but my friends at home urged me so much, and said the stage was a dog's life, and persuaded me that my own people were the ones to help me now. My own people!" the speaker pressed the handkerchief to her unsteady lips again, and her eyes swam afresh.
Dunham regarded her. Of course she could get a position on the stage. Any creature so pretty always could. He pictured her in some chorus, these quivering lips reddened and the swimming eyes laughing in the shade of an outrageous hat.
"I should say the stage last myself," he returned. "Your own people are the ones. Your Uncle Calvin"—
"I haven't any."
"Well, Judge Trent, then, is what is popularly described as a dried-up old bachelor. It never occurred to him that happiness might be—that he might find a daughter in you; but he wants to do his duty by you—indeed he does," for the girl's face was discouraging, "and, by George, you ought to let him do it."
"Never! And I always bade his picture good-night. Mother loved him so, and she taught me." The last word was inaudible.
Dunham leaned forward with his hands on his knees. "Now would you mind telling me, since you haven't any one else to tell, how much money you have?"
A little determined shake of the curls. "I shouldn't think of telling you."
"Then you're a very foolish girl. You ought to have more head and not so much heart in this affair. Judge Trent is a man whom any one might be proud to claim, and if you won't behave childishly we can bring him around all right."
"Do you think I'd stoop to bring him around?" she asked, with a moist flash of the eyes.
"You wouldn't be the first who stooped to conquer. If you were clever you would."
"Father thought I was clever, and so does Nat," she said, with feeble resentment.
"They wouldn't if they knew what you are doing now. Just because a busy old bachelor of a lawyer, immersed in hard-headed affairs, doesn't throw all aside and come here to welcome you and behave like a family man, you repudiate him altogether."
"She said they didn't either of them want me." The voice was a wail.
"But you weren't anything to them but a name."
"I'm their own flesh and blood."
"Yes, and see that you don't forget it. You have a claim upon them. Now at best it must be some days before you can communicate with your—friend, perhaps I ought to say your lover."
"Oh, no, don't," with faint dissent. "He's father's friend, really, and he's—poor thing, he's so fat I don't think he'd call himself anybody's lover; but he's so kind. He was so good to father."
This time the speaker did not vanish into the handkerchief, but caught her lip between her little teeth, and looking away, struggled for composure in a way that drew on John's heartstrings.
This slender creature, not yet strong from the illness that had crowned her head with those silky tendrils, and with no supporting arm save that of a barn-storming actor, mediocre in his middle age, what was Judge Trent's representative to do or say to prevent her from taking some foolish and desperate course!
"Now you simply must have money to tide you over," he announced. "Let's not have any nonsense. You can't knock about this hotel. Judge Trent knew what he was doing when he said the Young Women's Christian Association. He wanted you guarded, and he wasn't—he didn't—he couldn't very well guard you himself." Dunham stammered, but collected himself with praiseworthy dignity. He had recalled his six feet of height, and rising, began to make the most of the last inch, and to try the effect of a frown down on the flower face whose eyes, looking a little startled, encouraged him. He frowned more heavily as he took a bill book from his pocket and counted out five five-dollar bills.
"Now take that money and put it away in some safe place," he said briefly. "I'll take you over to the Association myself. No, indeed, I'm not Aunt Martha, and you're going with me."
The girl let the bills drop into her lap while she drew her hands away from them.
"I'd rather go and jump into the water!" she began passionately.
"Don't—be—silly!" returned Dunham, in a biting, big-brother tone which seemed to have an effect.
"Is this Uncle Calvin's money?"
"Of course it is. What would your mother say if she were here? Of course I understand you're not going to be dependent upon Judge Trent. You've made up your mind to that, and I'm not going to try to shake you; but I suppose you're not so childish as to refuse a small gift from your mother's brother, just because you're disappointed in him, or angry with him—or whatever you choose to call it. I'm rather pressed for time," continued John, after a short pause, assuming the tone he reserved for a book agent on his busy day, and taking out his watch he gave it a sweeping glance. "It would oblige me very much if you could hurry a little. You can't stay here, you know, and I'll have a carriage ready."
Sylvia rose undecidedly. "You take a great deal for granted," she said. "I—there's only one condition on which I'll go, and that is that you don't tell either my uncle or my aunt where I am. I will not see them. I'll have no more of their sense of duty! I won't have Aunt Martha come back there."
"Oh, very well," Dunham gave a hasty and rather bored nod.
"But do you promise?" The blue eyes began to dry and to sparkle again.
"Well, yes, of course. I promise."
She left the room; and the various shades of dignity, sarcasm, and boredom gradually vanished from the young man's countenance. He smiled and shrugged his big shoulders with the gesture of a ten-year-old schoolboy, and moving over to a hoary mirror with a freckled gilt frame, he executed a brief and silent clog before it.
"I'm not so bad," he commented to his reflection. "Nat isn't the only star in the profession."
JUDGE TRENT'S STUDY
Dunham took care not to see Miss Lacey again until their train was nearing its destination. Then as he approached the seat where she gazed out the car window he observed that her eyes bore traces of tears.
She gave a nervous start as she recognized him.
"Oh, there you are. I've been afraid you missed the train. I'm very glad you've come, for I'm going straight to Judge Trent's office with you, Mr. Dunham."
"Oh, are you?" responded the young man dubiously. He seemed to see his employer's warning glance. "I rather think Judge Trent will have gone home. It's pretty late."
"Very well," returned Miss Lacey decisively, "then we go on to his house. This is no time to stand on ceremony. Every moment counts."
Whatever was in her mind her companion saw that she had worked herself to a pitch of excitement which made a railroad train no fitting environment for its expression; and to avoid further conversation he moved to the door and stood looking through the glass, meditating upon the approaching interview.
The station reached, Miss Lacey waited while Dunham telephoned to the office. There was no reply.
"The judge has evidently gone home," he said, returning to anxious Miss Martha.
"Then, as I told you," she answered, with firmness, "I am going to his house."
She had turned this possibility over in her mind several times. The long spring day was bright. Neighbors would observe her and comment upon her action, and she was not indifferent to this.
It did not occur to Dunham that she might consider the present situation an ordeal, but he was certain of Judge Trent's frame of mind, and he felt it incumbent upon him to do what he could.
"Shan't I put you on the car for home, Miss Lacey?" he asked persuasively, "and bring Judge Trent to see you?"
"It would be very nice if you could," she returned briefly, "but you couldn't."
"Oh, I assure you,"—began John smoothly.
Miss Lacey emitted a sort of impatient groan. "Don't talk," she exclaimed brusquely. "You don't know anything about it. He'll go on shirking just the way he's begun if I give him the chance. Isn't that the car coming? Oh, no, it isn't!"
"Probably you'd rather see him alone," suggested John, seizing upon a sudden hope. "Being so essentially a family matter and—eh—don't you think?"
"No, I don't think!" returned Miss Lacey. "If I'd had my way it would have been a family matter. Calvin and I ought to have attended to it entirely alone; but he would drag you into it—yes, I know it's very uncomfortable for you, but you are in, and I need you for a witness and to back me up, and you must come, Mr. Dunham; there's the car now."
John yielded to the inevitable. He remembered grimly one item of his memoranda. "Follow Miss Lacey's lead."
Whatever of humor was in the situation was in abeyance. He had an irritating consciousness that what should have been the problem of these people had been shifted upon himself in a manner most unfair of Fortune. The desolate face that he had left haunted his thoughts; and the girl's pride and obstinacy in binding him to secrecy made the coming interview awkward.
Judge Trent, all unsuspicious, was sitting in his study. He had slipped on the dressing-gown with the indistinguishable pattern, and the rusty slippers that his soul loved. His silk hat formed a shadow for his eyes, and his big table was covered with a riot of books and papers.
At the moment chosen by his visitors for their entrance, the down-trodden heels were also resting on the table as the judge leaned back luxuriously in his desk chair and read the Boston papers.
Miss Lacey declined to allow Hannah to announce their visit.
"He might get out some back way," she declared to Dunham in a nervous undertone. She had outraged the proprieties by coming, as she read in the disapproving puckers around the old housekeeper's mouth. She was not going now to have the name without the game.
The library door opened.
Judge Trent looked up vaguely, then frowningly, then brought down his feet with a start.
"Good-evening," said Dunham; "we have come back."
Unexpected as was the sight of Miss Lacey in his sanctum, Judge Trent's astonishment was merged in the apprehension of what might be beyond. He looked over her shoulder with startled eyes as he arose.
Miss Martha understood. "No, indeed," she exclaimed, "she isn't here."
The host breathed a sigh of relief, and his sharp eyes began to question Dunham while he collected himself sufficiently to bring forward a chair for the lady.
"You honor me, Mar—Miss Lacey," he said.
"Thank you—Judge Trent," she returned, and giving his figure a comprehensive glance from top to toe, she touched her bonnet significantly as she sat down.
He did not observe the gesture. "Well," he said, resuming his seat and waving Dunham to another, "so you have come to tell me of your success. Very kind of you."
The speaker's endeavor to be courteous was offset by an impatient drumming of his fingers on the desk and the drawing together of his brows.
Martha ignored the signs. Let him drum. Let him scowl. "No," she returned impressively, "we have come to tell you of our failure."
Her manner was trying. It irritated her host still further. "How so?" he demanded.
She measured him with a severe gaze. "Calvin, you are wearing your hat," she announced frigidly.
"Eh? Oh! Pardon me." With hasty discomfiture the lawyer deposited his boon companion on the table.
"Oh! not in all that dust!" implored Miss Lacey.
He blew the vicinity vaguely. "Hannah doesn't do her duty by you!" she continued.
"Thank heaven, no," responded the judge devoutly.
Dunham was choking as quietly as possible by the mantelpiece, where he had remained standing despite his host's invitation.
"Say on, Mar—Miss Lacey," said the lawyer. "Do you mean you didn't find the girl? Make it short, please. Come to the point."
Miss Lacey's spirit arose. A human soul was involved, and no man, be he lawyer or lover, should browbeat or persuade her.
"Judge Trent," she began emphatically, fixing him with eyes which he but now perceived were swollen, "don't think to hurry me. I've come here on serious business. Men call you an eminent lawyer, a brilliant man. Now we'll see if you are sufficiently able to save your only sister's only child from an awful future."
Miss Lacey paused with working lips. Judge Trent perceived that she was deeply moved, and not endeavoring to make the most of an enjoyable situation. He pushed up his spectacles and looked questioningly at Dunham.
"You wouldn't come," pursued Miss Martha accusingly; "you wouldn't help me."
"I sent Dunham with full power."
"What could he do?" retorted Miss Lacey, in grief. "A mere boy like him, and no relation. Of course, after I had made a complete mess of it, what was left for him to do when she turned us out, but to come back with me?"
"You told me to follow Miss Lacey's lead," stated Dunham.
"Your place was there, Calvin. You might have saved the day even after my blunder."
"Perhaps you will tell me what blunder."
"Why, she was in the parlor curtains, Sylvia was, when we went in," Martha's voice trembled, "and I don't suppose, to be fair, that she thought of eavesdropping."
"No," put in Dunham feelingly, "I've no doubt she was watching for you; and I can imagine how eager and—and different her face looked then." His reminiscent tone was earnest, and his employer regarded him with sudden sharpness.
"So she's pretty," he said dryly.
"Oh, indeed she is—or would be if she was painted up the way they do," groaned Miss Martha. "She's too pale—but that might have been all anger."
"No," said Dunham quickly, "she's had typhoid fever."
Miss Lacey stared at him. "How do you know that?" she demanded.
"Why—why—of course," stammered John, "her short curly hair meant that. Didn't you think of it at once?"
"That's an absurd conclusion," returned Miss Martha, while Judge Trent quietly regarded the young man's flushing countenance.
"But if it should be true, Calvin," continued the lady miserably, "she's not fit yet to go to work at anything! I haven't told you yet. I talked right out to Mr. Dunham in that parlor about our not wanting her, you and I; and how we wished she'd stayed West. Oh, I've gone over it dozens of times since, and it keeps growing worse. Every word I said was true, and it was perfectly compatible with our intention to help her all the time; but she couldn't realize that, and I was just sort of explaining to Mr. Dunham your coolness in the matter by telling him how miserable Sam made Laura when the girl jumped out of those curtains like a—like a perfect fury, didn't she, Mr. Dunham?"
He nodded. "She seemed at a white heat with righteous indignation," he agreed.
Miss Martha took up the tale.
"Then she began to score us all, Calvin, and perhaps you could have fixed it, but she simply froze me and my apologies; and then that child positively told us to go. I tried to stand my ground, and Mr. Dunham came out with your good sensible offer to send her to the Young Women's Christian Association, and I tried my best to persuade her to let me take her over there; but she laughed us to scorn, or smiled scorn, anyway; but I would not leave her until she told me what she was going to do—and what do you think it is, that your niece, Judge Trent's niece, proposes to do? She proposes to go on the stage," finished Miss Martha, in a hollow voice,—"to go on the stage and marry an actor; an actor named Nat!"
"Fat and middle-aged and mediocre," added Dunham.
Miss Lacey turned on him quickly. "Sylvia didn't say a word about his being fat and middle-aged!" she declared severely. "Are you presuming to make fun of this situation, Mr. Dunham?"
Judge Trent's keen gaze again noted the crimsoning ears of his assistant.
"Why—why, of course I wouldn't do that, Miss Lacey," blurted out the young man. "Didn't you notice what she said about his being her father's friend? What else could he be but middle-aged, and probably fat?"
"Well, we don't need to call on our imagination for anything," said Miss Martha coldly. "The facts are sufficient." She turned back to Judge Trent.
"So there's that young creature, Calvin, our own flesh and blood, alone in that rattle-te-banging city, without money for all we know, going to pin her faith to an actor man, and each of us with our homes, closed against her, as she feels, and you know we did feel so, too, Calvin; and when I put myself in her place and remember the things she heard me say, I don't blame her for refusing our advice and help. She's young and high-strung, and oh, I've made such a mess of it, and,—and,—say something, Calvin Trent!" Miss Lacey made the addition so explosively that the judge jumped. "Say you'll send some of your detectives to keep watch of her—quick—to-morrow—before she has a chance to get away from that hotel and get lost to us!"
Martha suddenly raised her clasped hands to her face, and burying her eyes in her handkerchief, wept miserably.
Judge Trent cleared his throat, and Dunham stirred and felt his knowledge weigh upon him guiltily.
"Don't get nervous, Martha," returned the lawyer. "Did you think I kept a brace of detectives in the back yard? I'm sorry about this. I'm"—
Miss Lacey emerged from the handkerchief as suddenly as she had entered it. "Oh, the mistake I made—the minute I saw you wouldn't do your part in this—the mistake I made not to ask Thinkright. I never thought of him; but it came to me on the cars that he would have been the right one. I suppose you'd have consented easily enough that Sylvia should go to the farm; and now—Oh, Mr. Dunham, I can't forgive you for putting that typhoid fever idea into my head, but if she did have"—
"A farm?" interrupted Dunham quickly, with an interest not lost upon his employer. "A farm would have been just the thing. Where is it, Judge Trent?"
"It's a little place I have in Maine. A cousin of mine runs it for me. So you think, Martha, that I'm below criticism in this whole matter, do you? That's a rather bright thought of yours about Thinkright."
"But it comes too late," returned Martha excitedly. "How do you know that Sylvia won't take the night train for the West right off to join that horrible Nat?"
"Then you think she has money?"
"I don't know. I only know she spurned the idea of any help from us."
"Wouldn't take a cent, eh?" rejoined Judge Trent. He turned toward Dunham. "I'll take that twenty-five then, Boy. It's pay-day for Hannah."
Dunham started from his leaning posture by the mantelpiece, and the lawyer watched his embarrassed countenance as he began a search through his pockets. He succeeded in extracting bills from two.
"I've only eight dollars here, Judge," he said at last, avoiding the other man's eyes.
"H'm. You and Miss Lacey must have painted the town," remarked Judge Trent, accepting the money. "Had a good appetite for dinner in spite of your troubles, hadn't you, Martha?"
"We didn't have luncheon together," returned Miss Martha, indignant at her friend's flippancy. "Do you suppose I cared whether I ever ate again or not?"
"The boy deserted you, did he? Didn't I tell you to take care of Miss Lacey?"
Dunham caught Judge Trent's eye for a second, and looked away. "I think I took care of her," he replied coldly.
"Of course you did," said Miss Martha impatiently. "He had business to attend to. Now perhaps you'll choose some other time for joking, Calvin Trent, and tell me what you propose to do while valuable minutes are flying."
The judge drummed thoughtfully now on his desk. "That was a bright idea of yours concerning Thinkright," he remarked musingly.
"Then make it worth something!" responded Miss Lacey. His deliberate manner was driving her to frenzy. "Send a telegram if you can't send a detective. Say, 'News to your advantage coming,' or something like that. Anything to keep her there while we send for Thinkright."
"Send for him, eh?" mused the judge aloud.
"Why, of course!" responded Martha, in the very throes of impatience. "She wouldn't come with me, would she? She certainly wouldn't come with you!" The speaker brought out the last pronoun with a vicious satisfaction.
"Too bad of you to blacken me to her like that," remarked the judge. "I sent, as I supposed, an entirely capable representative. John admitted that he could carry off the affair with flying colors. How about that hand you had tied behind you, Boy?"
Dunham changed his position. "It was a very strange and hard situation, Judge Trent," he replied stiffly. "Most unexpected and uncomfortable all around."
"Then I may assume that you untied the hand?"
The young man did not reply. His indignation at his employer's imperturbability was becoming as pronounced as Miss Lacey's.
"I ought to have gone," continued Judge Trent. "Really I didn't suppose that a fellow recommended as an expert by such high authority as himself could be so invertebrate. You actually came away just because the girl told you to. Why, a novice could have done that."
Dunham regarded the little man with a stern displeasure which entertained the judge highly. Then John turned toward Miss Lacey: "Just where is this farm you speak of?"
"It's in Casco Bay. You take the train from Portland and then drive."
"And this man with the strange name?" pursued Dunham.
"Oh, it isn't his name, but nobody thinks of calling him anything else. He's Judge Trent's cousin, Jacob Johnson, and he lives on this farm winter and summer. He's a good soul, and he was cousin to Sylvia's mother, too, of course, and he"—
"Casco Bay. I have friends who go there in the summer." Dunham's manner grew purposeful.
Judge Trent rubbed his chin the wrong way. "I could send a detective, Martha," he said thoughtfully. "I don't keep them in the back yard, but I usually have one around the office. I could shadow the girl."
Miss Lacey took hope. This met her longings. "If we only surely knew where she is!" she responded acutely.
"Yes, if we only did," the judge replied equably. "Where is she, Dunham?"
The young man flushed at the question.
"I can't tell you," he answered, after a moment's pause.
"Of course he can't," exclaimed Martha. "How queer you act, Calvin. Do you intend to do anything, after all?" Tears sprang to her eyes and overflowed, but she paid no attention to them as she gazed distractedly at the exasperating lawyer.
Judge Trent's manner changed. He even smiled into the tearful countenance, and as she had suddenly risen he rose too.
"Yes, Martha," he answered, "I expect to see something done about it right away. The fat actor shan't get Laura's little girl this time."
Miss Lacey regarded the shrewd face in the intervals of wiping her eyes. "You'll telegraph to Sylvia, and send another message to Thinkright to come right here. Of course we can't be sure that Sylvia will get it, though—and there's all Thinkright's traveling expenses." The speaker's wet eyes looked appealing.
"Dunham's going to tell us where Sylvia is," returned the judge quietly. He paused, and Martha looked bewildered by this persistence. She turned toward John questioningly.
"I can't," replied Dunham again.
Judge Trent shrugged his shabby shoulders. "Oh, well, I suppose you can telegraph for us, then."
John swallowed, and meeting the lawyer's eyes, realized that he might as well save circumlocution.
"Of all things!" exclaimed Martha, with a start. "What do you mean?"
The judge hooked his thumbs in his armholes, regarding Dunham quizzically. "How about Jacob Johnson, Esquire, alias Thinkright. Do you suppose if I sent to him to shake the hayseed out of his hair and come on here you might unburden yourself to him somewhat?"
"Look here, Judge Trent," said Dunham, with exasperation, "perhaps you think I've had a pleasant day."
The lawyer approached the speaker and patted his big arm. "Could you, John, could you, do you think?"
"Yes, confound you!"
"Then we're fixed, Martha," said Judge Trent calmly. "You're all right, Dunham. You didn't overrate yourself at all."
"But I don't understand," exclaimed Martha tremulously, looking from one to the other.
Judge Trent opened the door for her ceremoniously.
"The intricate workings of the law, Martha, are difficult of explanation; but, after all, what do you care if the net result proves to be the arrival of your niece at the Mill Farm in a few days."
"Of your niece, Calvin," returned Miss Lacey, moving to the door, followed by Dunham, whose brow was lowering. "Don't think of coming with me, Mr. Dunham," she added, turning to him. "It is still fully light—and," ingratiatingly, "did you say you were going to telegraph Sylvia?"
"What shall he say, Calvin?"
"I should trust his judgment before my own," returned the lawyer. "Here's your eight dollars, Boy, and you're a trump."
John took the money without smiling; but he was glad to know about the farm.
Miss Martha boarded her car with a heart that was questioning but beginning to hope, and her mind was busy piecing together the evidence.
Mr. Dunham had left her for hours. He had been unable to return Judge Trent's money. He knew where Sylvia was.
Her misery gradually abated, and before she reached her gate she began to wonder if her bonnet had been on straight during the recent interview.
When Dunham's telegram reached Sylvia Lacey she was for the time being powerless to disobey it. The excitement and disappointment of the interview with her aunt had resulted in a feverish attack which, though slight, destroyed her ambition to do more than lie on her narrow bed and meditate upon the situation.
She could not write to the friends at home who had pictured such a pleasant future for her with her Boston relatives. She was not able even to go out and buy a "Dramatic Mirror" to discover where Nat's company would be playing the coming week.
She lay white and slender in her black wrapper, and listlessly fingered the telegram, which was now two days old. It read:—
"Do not leave Association till you hear from me. Important. JOHN DUNHAM."
In the hopelessness of her thought her mental pictures of Dunham were always mortifying. He had heard her belittled, had heard her father slandered, had forced her to accept grudging charity, and yet the sunshine of the smile with which he had bade her good-by, his encouraging words and friendly handclasp, formed the only spot of cheer in her wilderness. The telegram was a straw to which she clung when, in the processes of dismal thought, waves seemed to go over her head.
What important matter could be coming to her? If it were only that he intended returning, with apologies or propositions from her discarded relations, she told herself with set lips that his errand would be fruitless; but even while she took comfort in reiterating this resolution, she was finding a ray of brightness in the idea that he would be the messenger.
Her aunt's words often recurred to her. "Of course we knew you would wish to get something to do."
In the precarious hand-to-mouth existence she had led with her father since she was old enough to understand his visionary, happy-go-lucky temperament, he had regarded her and taught her to regard herself as a flower of the field. He had petted her, praised her beauty, and had managed to pay their board spasmodically in first one, then another locality; and being a good fellow who usually won the hearts of his creditors, it was not until after his death that a multitude of small claims came buzzing about his daughter's ears; and it was these as much as anything which had made her accept with childlike insouciance the arrangement of the friends who packed her away to her relatives with all the celerity possible.
Her father's men friends had always admired and flattered her; she supposed that men were all alike, and that she had but to throw her lovely arms around Uncle Calvin's neck and tell him of her father's misfortunes and petty debts to have all troubles smoothed away. She had doubted a little how she should like Uncle Calvin and Aunt Martha (the latter's stiff epistles had not prepossessed her), but she had never entertained one question as to how they would like her.
To hear it declared first and foremostly that they took no interest in her, and did not want her, and secondly, that they proposed sending her out into the world to work for her living—these nightmarish facts made her rebound at once to the memory of the carefree, shabby environment where rosy possibilities had always been held before her. As her eyes rested now on the bare wall of her bedroom, it softened and melted until she saw a vision of footlights, herself in the centre of the stage, while a murmur of applause, heart-warming, inspiring, intoxicated her senses.
The day-dream soothed her to slumber, but the applause continued. Instead of rejoicing, at last it began to disturb her. Her eyes slowly opened, and she grew conscious that some one was knocking on her door.
At her summons a maid entered. "Somebody to see you, Miss. You don't feel well enough, do you?"
The girl's tone was sympathetic. Sylvia was of a different type from those who usually sought the Association. Her appearance suggested romance.
"Who is it?" she asked eagerly, half rising. "A man?"
"A tall man, very straight?"
"He ain't so awful straight," returned the maid doubtfully.
"Thick hair?" (quickly).
"I—I didn't see his teeth."
"Law, ma'am, his beard covers his chin."
"Beard!" Sylvia sprang to her feet. "You're crazy."
"No, I ain't, ma'am. Oh, 'tain't the gentleman you came here with, and the superintendent said was one o' the best connected folks in Boston. 'Tain't him. I saw him. He's grand. I guess this one is sort of a country gentleman, but he's awful pleasant-spoken and his beard's as white as the driving snow."
Sylvia flung herself back on the bed. "You've made a mistake. He asked for somebody else."
"No, ma'am," returned the maid; "because I thought first he said 'silver lace,' and I thought maybe he was a peddler, 'cause he had a bag; so I told him we didn't want anything, and he was real nice. His eyes sort of twinkled up, and he said he did want something. He wanted to see Miss—Sylvia—Lacey, real slow; and was you here? and I said you was, and he told me to tell you a cousin of your mother's wanted to see you, and his name was Jacob Johnson."
"I never heard of such a person," said Sylvia. "Does he look shabby—poor? It sounds like an impostor."
"N-no," returned the girl doubtfully. "He ain't exactly a Rube, but then you'd know he wasn't a swell, either. He looks awful nice out of his eyes. I'd like to have him my mother's cousin."
This was somewhat encouraging, but country cousins were no part of Sylvia's plan. "You go down and tell him I've been ill. I'm not able to see him," she said at last decidedly.
"I don't like to one bit," returned the maid. "I kind of hate to disappoint him." She lingered a moment, but Sylvia shrugged her shoulders and turned her face to the wall, so the girl departed.
Only a couple of minutes had passed when the knock sounded again on Sylvia's door, and the maid pushed it open without awaiting permission.
"He asked was you able to be dressed," she began, rather breathless from her quick run, "and I said you was, and he said for me to tell you he'd come about the telegram you got."
Sylvia was still holding the telegram. She started. So Mr. Dunham was not coming. He had not admired her, then. He did despise her as a cast-off poor relation. A flush rose to her cheeks, and she sprang from the bed quickly. "I'll go down," she said briefly.
"Well, I'm real glad," declared the maid. "That wrapper looks all right. I wouldn't stop to change."