BY GRACE LIVINGSTON HILL LUTZ
AUTHOR OF A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS, ETC.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Published by Arrangement with Harper & Brothers
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1917, by Harper & Brothers Printed in the United States of America
TO MY MOTHER MARCIA MACDONALD LIVINGSTON
WHOSE HELPFUL CRITICISM AND LOVING ENCOURAGEMENT HAVE BEEN WITH ME THROUGH THE YEARS
"He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." —I JOHN 5:10
Like a sudden cloudburst the dormitory had gone into a frenzy of sound. Doors slammed, feet trampled, hoarse voices reverberated, heavy bodies flung themselves along the corridor, the very electrics trembled with the cataclysm. One moment all was quiet with a contented after-dinner-peace-before-study hours; the next it was as if all the forces of the earth had broken forth.
Paul Courtland stepped to his door and threw it back.
"Come on, Court, see the fun!" called the football half-back, who was slopping along with two dripping fire-buckets of water.
"Swearing-match! Going to make Little Stevie cuss! Better get in on it. Some fight! Tennelly sent 'Whisk' for a whole basket of superannuated cackle-berries"—he motioned back to a freshman bearing a basket of ancient eggs—"we're going to blindfold Steve and put oysters down his back, and then finish up with the fire-hose. Oh, the seven plagues of Egypt aren't in it with what we're going to do; and when we get done if Little Stevie don't let out a string of good, honest cuss-words like a man then I'll eat my hat. Little Stevie's got good stuff in him if it can only be brought out. We're a-going to bring it out. Then we're going to celebrate by taking him over to the theater and making him see 'The Scarlet Woman.' It'll be a little old miracle, all right, if he has any of his whining Puritanical ideas left in him after we get through with him. Come on! Get on the job!"
Drifting along with the surging tide of students, Courtland sauntered down the corridor to the door at the extreme end where roomed the victim.
He rather liked Stephen Marshall. There was good stuff in him; all the fellows recognized that. Only he was woefully unsophisticated, abnormally innocent, frankly religious, and a little too openly white in his life. It seemed a rebuke to the other fellows, unconscious though it might be. He felt with the rest that the fellow needed a lesson. Especially since the bald way in which he had dared to stand up for the old-fashioned view of miracles in biblical-lit. class that morning. Of course an ignorance like that wouldn't go down, and it was best he should learn it at once and get to be a good fellow without loss of time. A little gentle rubbing off of the "mamma's-good-little-boy" veneering would do him good. He wasn't sure but with such a course Marshall might even be eligible for the frat. that year. He sauntered along with his hands in his pockets; a handsome, capable, powerful figure; not taking any part in the preparations, but mildly interested in the plans. His presence lent enthusiasm to the gathering. He was high in authority. A star athlete, an A student, president of his fraternity, having made the Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, and now in his senior year being chairman of the student exec. There would be no trouble with the authorities of the college if Court was along to give countenance.
Courtland stood opposite the end door when it was unceremoniously thrust open and the hilarious mob rushed in. From his position with his back against the wall he could see Stephen lift his fine head from his book and rise to greet them. There was surprise and a smile of welcome on his face. Courtland thought it almost a pity to reward such open-heartedness as they were about to do; but such things were necessary in the making of men. He watched developments with interest.
A couple of belated participants in the fray arrived breathlessly, shedding their mackinaws as they ran, and casting them down at Courtland's feet.
"Look after those, will you, Court? We've got to get in on this," shouted one as he thrust a noisy bit of flannel head-gear at Courtland.
Courtland gave the garments a kick behind him and stood watching.
There was a moment's tense silence while they told the victim what they had come for, and while the light of welcome in Stephen Marshall's eyes melted and changed into lightning. A dart of it went with a searching gleam out into the hall, and seemed to recognize Courtland as he stood idly smiling, watching the proceedings. Then the lightning was withheld in the gray eyes, and Marshall seemed to conclude that, after all, the affair must be a huge kind of joke, seeing Courtland was out there. Courtland had been friendly. He must not let his temper rise. The kindly light came into the eyes again, and for an instant Marshall almost disarmed the boldest of them with his brilliant smile. He would be game as far as he understood. That was plain. It was equally plain that he did not understand yet what was expected of him.
Pat McCluny, thick of neck, brutal of jaw, low-browed, red of face, blunt of speech, the finest, most unmerciful tackler on the football team, stepped up to Stephen and said a few words in a low tone. Courtland could not hear what they were save that they ended with an oath, the choicest of Pat Cluny's choice collection.
Instantly Stephen Marshall drew himself back, and up to his great height, lightning and thunder-clouds in his gray eyes, his powerful arms folded, his fine head crowned with its wealth of beautiful gold hair thrown a trifle back and up, his lips shut in a thin, firm line, his whole attitude that of the fighter; but he did not speak. He only looked from one to another of the wild young mob, searching for a friend; and, finding none, he stood firm, defying them all. There was something splendid in his bearing that sent a thrill of admiration down Courtland's spine as he watched, his habitual half-cynical smile of amusement still lying unconsciously about his lips, while a new respect for the country student was being born in his heart.
Pat, with a half-lowering of his bullet head, and a twisting of his ugly jaw, came a step nearer and spoke again, a low word with a rumble like the menace of a bull or a storm about to break.
With a sudden unexpected movement Stephen's arm shot forth and struck the fellow in the jaw, reeling him half across the room into the crowd.
With a snarl like a stung animal Pat recovered himself and rushed at Stephen, hurling himself with a stream of oaths, and calling curses down upon himself if he did not make Stephen utter worse before he was done with him. Pat was the "man" who was in college for football. It took the united efforts of his classmates, his frat., and the faculty to keep his studies within decent hailing distance of eligibility for playing. He came from a race of bullies whose culture was all in their fists.
Pat went straight for the throat of his victim. His fighting blood was up and he was mad clear down to the bone. Nobody could give him a blow like that in the presence of others and not suffer for it. What had started as a joke had now become real with Pat; and the frenzy of his own madness quickly spread to those daring spirits who were about him and who disliked Stephen for his strength of character.
They clinched, and Stephen, fresh from his father's remote Western farm, matched his mighty, untaught strength against the trained bully of a city street.
For a moment there was dead silence while the crowd in breathless astonishment watched and held in check their own eagerness. Then the mob spirit broke forth as some one called out:
"Pray for a miracle, Stevie! Pray for a miracle! You'll need it, old boy!"
The mad spirit which had incited them to the reckless fray broke forth anew and a medley of shouts arose.
"Jump in, boys! Now's the time!"
"Give him a cowardly egg or two—the kind that hits and runs!"
"Teach him that we will be obeyed!"
The latter came as a sort of chant, and was reiterated at intervals through the pandemonium of sound.
The fight raged on for minutes more, and still Stephen stood with his back against the wall, fighting, gasping, struggling, but bravely facing them all; a disheveled object with rotten eggs streaming from his face and hair, his clothes plastered with offensive yolks. Pat had him by the throat, but still he stood and fought as best he could.
Some one seized the bucket of water and deluged both. Some one else shouted, "Get the hose!" and more fellows tore off their coats and threw them down at Courtland's feet; some one tore Pat away, and the great fire-hose was turned upon the victim.
Gasping at last, and all but unconscious, he was set upon his feet, and harried back to life again. Over-powered by numbers, he could do nothing, and the petty torments that were applied amid a round of ringing laughter seemed unlimited; but still he stood, a man among them, his lips closed, a firm set about his jaw that showed their labor was in vain so far as making him obey their command was concerned. Not one word had he uttered since they entered his room.
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," shouted one onlooker. "Cut it out, fellows! It's no use! You can't set him cussing. He never learned how. He could easier lead in prayer. You have to teach him how. Better cut it out!"
More tortures were applied, but still the victim was silent. The hose had washed him clean again, and his face shone white from the drenching. Some one suggested it was getting late and the show would begin. Some one else suggested they must dress up Little Stevie for his first play. There was a mad rush for garments. Any garments, no matter whose. A pair of sporty trousers, socks of brilliant colors—not mates, an old football shoe on one foot, a dancing-pump on the other, a white vest and a swallow-tail put on backward, collar and tie also backward, a large pair of white-cotton gloves commonly used by workmen for rough work—Johnson, who earned his way in college by tending furnaces, furnished these. Stephen bore it all, grim, unflinching, until they set him up before his mirror and let him see himself, completing the costume by a high silk hat crammed down upon his wet curls. He looked at the guy he was and suddenly he turned upon them and smiled, his broad, merry smile! After all that he could see the joke and smile! He never opened his lips nor spoke—just smiled.
"He's a pretty good guy! He's game, all right!" murmured some one in Courtland's ear. And then, half shamedly, they caught him high upon their shoulders and bore him down the stairs and out the door.
The theater was some distance off. They bore down upon a trolley-car and took a wild possession. They sang their songs and yelled themselves hoarse. People turned and watched and smiled, setting this down as one more prank of those university fellows.
They swarmed into the theater, with Stephen in their midst, and took noisy occupancy. Opera-glasses were turned their way, and the girls nudged one another and talked about the man in the middle with the queer garments.
The persecutions had by no means ceased because they had landed their victim in a public place. They made him ridiculous at every breath. They took off his hat, arranged his collar, and smoothed his hair as if he were a baby. They wiped his nose with many a flourishing handkerchief, and pointed out objects of interest about the theater in open derision of his supposed ignorance, to the growing amusement of those of the audience who were their neighbors. And when the curtain rose on the most notoriously flagrant play the city boasted, they added to its flagrance by their whispered explanations and remarks.
Stephen, in his ridiculous garb, sat in their midst, a prisoner, and watched the play he would not have chosen to see; watched it with a face of growing indignation; a face so speaking in its righteous wrath that those about who saw him turned to look again, and somehow felt condemned for being there.
Sometimes a wave of anger would sweep over the young man, and he would turn to look about him with an impulse to suddenly break away and attempt to defy them all. But his every movement was anticipated, and he had the whole football team about him! There was no chance to move. He must stay it through, much as he disliked it. He must stand it in spite of the tumult of rage in his heart. He was not smiling now. His face had that set, grim look of the faithful soldier taken prisoner and tortured to give information about his army's plans. Stephen's eyes shone true, and his lips were set firmly together.
"Just one nice little cuss-word and we'll take you home," whispered a tormentor. "A single little word will do, just to show you are a man."
Stephen's face was gray with determination. His yellow hair shone like a halo about his head. They had taken off his hat and he sat with his arms folded fiercely across the back of "Andy" Roberts's nifty evening coat.
"Just one little real cuss to show you are a man," sneered the freshman.
But suddenly a smothered cry arose. A breath of fear stirred through the house. The smell of smoke swept in from a sudden open door. The actors paused, grew white, and swerved in their places; then one by one fled out of the scene. The audience arose and turned to panic, even as a flame swept up and licked the very curtain while it fell.
All was confusion!
The football team, trained to meet emergencies, forgot their cruel play and scattered, over seats and railing, everywhere, to fire-escapes and doorways, taking command of wild, stampeding people, showing their training and their courage.
Stephen, thus suddenly set free, glanced about him, and saw a few feet away an open door, felt the fresh breeze of evening upon his hot forehead, and knew the upper back fire-escape was close at hand. By some strange whim of a panic-maddened crowd but few had discovered this exit, high above the seats in the balcony; for all had rushed below and were struggling in a wild, frantic mass, trampling one another underfoot in a mad struggle to reach the doorways. The flames were sweeping over the platform now, licking out into the very pit of the theater, and people were terrified. Stephen saw in an instant that the upper door, being farthest away from the center of the fire, was the place of greatest safety. With one frantic leap he gained the aisle, strode up to the doorway, glanced out into the night to take in the situation; cool, calm, quiet, with the still stars overhead, down below the open iron stairway of the fire-escape, and a darkened street with people like tiny puppets moving on their way. Then turning back, he tore off the grotesque coat and vest, the confining collar, and threw them from him. He plunged down the steps of the aisle to the railing of the gallery, and, leaning there in his shirt-sleeves and the queer striped trousers, he put his hands like a megaphone about his lips and shouted:
"Look up! Look up! There is a way to escape up here! Look up!"
Some poor struggling ones heard him and looked up. A little girl was held up by her father to the strong arms reached out from the low front of the balcony. Stephen caught her and swung her up beside him, pointing her up to the door, and shouting to her to go quickly down the fire-escape, even while he reached out his other hand to catch a woman, whom willing hands below were lifting up. Men climbed upon the seats and vaulted up when they heard the cry and saw the way of safety; and some stayed and worked bravely beside Stephen, wrenching up the seats and piling them for a ladder to help the women up. More just clambered up and fled to the fire-escape, out into the night and safety.
But Stephen had no thought of flight. He stayed where he was, with aching back, cracking muscles, sweat-grimed brow, and worked, his breath coming in quick, sharp gasps as he frantically helped man, woman, child, one after another, like sheep huddling over a flood.
Courtland was there.
He had lingered a moment behind the rest in the corner of the dormitory corridor, glancing into the disfigured room; water, egg-shells, ruin, disorder everywhere! A little object on the floor, a picture in a cheap oval metal frame, caught his eye. Something told him it was the picture of Stephen Marshall's mother that he had seen upon the student's desk a few days before, when he had sauntered in to look the new man over. Something unexplained made him step in across the water and debris and pick it up. It was the picture, still unscarred, but with a great streak of rotten egg across the plain, placid features. He recalled the tone in which the son had pointed out the picture and said, "That's my mother!" and again he followed an impulse and wiped off the smear, setting the picture high on the shelf, where it looked down upon the depredation like some hallowed saint above a carnage.
Then Courtland sauntered on to his room, completed his toilet, and followed to the theater. He had not wanted to get mixed up too much in the affair. He thought the fellows were going a little too far with a good thing, perhaps. He wanted to see it through, but still he would not quite mix with it. He found a seat where he could watch what was going on without being actually a part of it. If anything should come to the ears of the faculty he wanted to be on the side of conservatism always. That Pat McCluny was not just his sort, though he was good fun. But he always put things on a lower level than college fellows should go. Besides, if things went too far a word from himself would check them.
Courtland was rather bored with the play, and was almost on the point of going back to study when the cry arose and panic followed.
Courtland was no coward. He tore off his handsome overcoat and rushed to meet the emergency. On the opposite side of the gallery, high up by another fire-escape he rendered efficient assistance to many.
The fire was gaining in the pit; and still there were people down there, swarms of them, struggling, crying, lifting piteous hands for assistance. Still Stephen Marshall reached from the gallery and pulled up, one after another, poor creatures, and still the helpless thronged and cried for aid.
Dizzy, blinded, his eyes filled with smoke, his muscles trembling with the terrible strain, he stood at his post. The minutes seemed interminable hours, and still he worked, with heart pumping painfully, and mind that seemed to have no thought save to reach down for another and another, and point up to safety.
Then, into the midst of the confusion there arose an instant of great and awful silence. One of those silences that come even into great sound and claim attention from the most absorbed.
Paul Courtland, high in his chosen station, working eagerly, successfully, calmly, looked down to see the cause of this sudden arresting of the universe; and there, below, was the pit full of flame, with people struggling and disappearing into fiery depths below. Just above the pit stood Stephen, lifting aloft a little child with frightened eyes and long streaming curls. He swung him high and turned to stoop again; then with his stooping came the crash; the rending, grinding, groaning, twisting of all that held those great galleries in place, as the fire licked hold of their supports and wrenched them out of position.
One instant Stephen was standing by that crimson-velvet railing, with his lifted hand pointing the way to safety for the child, the flaming fire lighting his face with glory, his hair a halo about his head, and in the next instant, even as his hand was held out to save another, the gallery fell, crashing into the fiery, burning furnace! And Stephen, with his face shining like an angel's, went down and disappeared with the rest, while the consuming fire swept up and covered them.
Paul Courtland closed his eyes on the scene, and caught hold of the door by which he stood. He did not realize that he was standing on a tiny ledge, all that was left him of footing, high, alone, above that burning pit where his fellow-student had gone down; nor that he had escaped as by a miracle. There he stood and turned away his face, sick and dizzy with the sight, blinded by the dazzling flames, shut in to that tiny spot by a sudden wall of smoke that swept in about him. Yet in all the danger and the horror the only thought that came was, "God! That was a man!"
Paul Courtland never knew how he had been saved from that perilous position high up on a ledge in the top of the theater, with the burning, fiery furnace below him. Whether his senses came back sufficiently to guide him along the narrow footing that was left, to the door of the fire-escape, where some one rescued him, or whether a friendly hand risked all and reached out to draw him to safety.
He only knew that back there in that blank daze of suspended time, before he grew to recognize the whiteness of the hospital walls and the rattle of the nurse's starched skirt along the corridor, there was a long period when he was shut in with four high walls of smoke. Smoke that reached to heaven, roofing him away from it, and had its foundations down in the burning fiery pit of hell where he could hear lost souls struggling with smothered cries for help. Smoke that filled his throat, eyes, brain, soul. Terrible, enfolding, imprisoning smoke; thick, yellow, gray, menacing! Smoke that shut his soul away from all the universe, as if he had been suddenly blotted out, and made him feel how stark alone he had been born, and always would be evermore.
He seemed to have lain within those slowly approaching walls of smoke a century or two ere he became aware that he was not alone, after all. There was a Presence there beside him. Light, and a Presence! Blinding light. He reasoned that other men, the men outside of the walls of smoke, the firemen perhaps, and by-standers, might think that light came from the fire down in the pit, but he knew it did not. It radiated from the Presence beside him. And there was a Voice, calling his name. He seemed to have heard the call years back in his life somewhere. There was something about it, too, that made his heart leap in answer, and brought that strange thrill he used to have as a boy in prep. school, when his captain called him into the game, though he was only a substitute.
He could not look up, yet he could see the face of the Presence now. What was there so strangely familiar, as if he had been looking upon that face but a few moments before? He knew. It was that brave spirit come back from the pit. Come, perhaps, to lead him out of this daze of smoke and darkness. He spoke, and his own voice sounded glad and ringing:
"I know you now. You are Stephen Marshall. You were in college. You were down there in the theater just now, saving men."
"Yes, I was in college," the Voice spoke, "and I was down there just now, saving men. But I am not Stephen Marshall. Look again."
And suddenly he understood.
"Then you are Stephen Marshall's Christ! The Christ he spoke of in the class that day!"
"Yes, I am Stephen Marshall's Christ. He let me live in Him. I am the Christ you sneered at and disbelieved!"
He looked and his heart was stricken with shame.
"I did not understand. It was against reason. But had not seen you then."
"Now? What do you want of me?"
"You shall be shown."
The smoke ebbed low and swung away his consciousness, and even the place grew dim about him, but the Presence was there. Always through suspended space as he was borne along, and after, when the smoke gave way, and air, blessed air, was wafted in, there was the Presence. If it had not been for that he could not have borne the awfulness of nothing that surrounded him. Always there was the Presence!
There was a bandage over his eyes for days; people speaking in whispers; and when the bandage was taken away there were the white hospital walls, so like the walls of smoke at first in the dim light, high above him. When he had grown to understand it was but hospital walls, he looked around for the Presence in alarm, crying out, "Where is He?"
Bill Ward and Tennelly and Pat were there, huddled in a group by the door, hoping he might recognize them.
"He's calling for Steve!" whispered Pat, and turned with a gulp while the tears rolled down his cheeks. "He must have seen him go!"
The nurse laid him down on the pillow again, replacing the bandage. When he closed his eyes the Presence came back, blessed, sweet—and he was at peace.
The days passed; strength crept back into his body, consciousness to his brain. The bandage was taken off once more, and he saw the nurse and other faces. He did not look again for the Presence. He had come to understand he could not see it with his eyes; but always it was there, waiting, something sweet and wonderful. Waiting to show him what to do when he was well.
The memorial services had been held for Stephen Marshall many days, the university had been draped in black, with its flag at half-mast, the proper time, and its mourning folded away, ere Paul Courtland was able to return to his room and his classes.
They welcomed him back with touching eagerness. They tried to hush their voices and temper their noisiness to suit an invalid. They told him all their news, what games had been won, who had made Phi Beta Kappa, and what had happened at the frat. meetings. But they spoke not at all of Stephen!
Down the hall Stephen's door stood always open, and Courtland, walking that way one day, found fresh flowers upon his desk and wreathed around his mother's picture. A quaint little photograph of Stephen taken several years back hung on one wall. It had been sent at the class's request by Stephen's mother to honor her son's chosen college.
The room was set in order, Stephen's books were on the shelves, his few college treasures tacked up about the walls; and conspicuous between the windows hung framed the resolutions concerning Stephen the hero-martyr of the class, telling briefly how he had died, and giving him this tribute, "He was a man!"
Below the resolutions, on the little table covered with an old-fashioned crocheted cotton table-cover, lay Stephen's Bible, worn, marked, soft with use. His mother had wished it to remain. Only his clothes had been sent back to her who had sent him forth to prepare for his life-work, and received word in her distant home that his life-work had been already swiftly accomplished.
Courtland entered the room and looked around.
There were no traces of the fray that had marred the place when last he saw it. Everything was clean and fine and orderly. The simple saint-like face of the plain farmer's-wife-mother looked down upon it all with peace and resignation. This life was not all. There was another. Her eyes said that. Paul Courtland stood a long time gazing into them.
Then he closed the door and knelt by the little table, laying his forehead reverently upon the Bible.
Since he had returned to college and things of life had become more real, Reason had returned to her throne and was crying out against his "fancies." What was that experience in the hospital but the phantasy of a sick brain? What was the Presence but a fevered imagination? He had been growing ashamed of dwelling upon the thought, ashamed of liking to feel that the Presence was near when he was falling asleep at night. Most of all he had felt a shame and a land of perplexity in the biblical-literature class where he faced "FACTS" as the professor called them, spoken in capitals. SCIENCE was another force which mocked his fancies. PHILOSOPHY cooled his mind and wakened him from his dreams. In this atmosphere he was beginning to think that he had been delirious, and was gradually returning to his normal state, albeit with a restless dissatisfaction he had never known before.
But now in this calm, rose-decked room, with the quiet eyes of the simple mother looking down upon him, the resolutions in their chaplet-of-palm framing, the age-old Bible thumbed and beloved, he knew he had been wrong. He knew he would never be the same. That Presence, Whoever, Whatever it was, had entered into his life. He could never forget it; never be convinced that it was not; never be entirely satisfied without it! He believed it was the Christ! Stephen Marshall's Christ!
By and by he lifted up his head and opened the little worn Bible, reverently, curiously, just to touch it and think how the other boy had done. The soft, much-turned leaves fell open of themselves to a heavily marked verse. There were many marked verses all through the book.
Courtland's eyes followed the words:
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.
Could it be that this strange new sense of the Presence was "the witness" here mentioned? He knew it like his sense of rhythm, or the look of his mother's face, or the joy of a summer morning. It was not anything he could analyze. One might argue that there was no such thing, science might prove there was not, but he knew it, had seen it, felt it! He had the witness in himself. Was that what it meant?
With troubled brow he turned over the leaves again:
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.
Ah! There was an offer, why not close with it?
He dropped his head on the open book with the old words of self-surrender:
"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
A moment later Pat McCluny opened the door, cautiously, quietly; then, with a nod to Tennelly back of him, he entered with confidence.
Courtland rose. His face was white, but there was a light of something in his eyes they did not understand.
They went over to him as if he had been a child who had been lost and was found on some perilous height and needing to be coaxed gently away from it.
"Oh, so you're here, Court," said Tennelly, slapping his shoulder with gentle roughness, "Great little old room, isn't it? The fellows' idea to keep flowers here. Kind of a continual memorial."
"Great fellow, that Steve!" said Pat, hoarsely. He could not yet speak lightly of the hero-martyr whom he had helped to send to his fiery grave.
But Courtland stood calmly, almost as if he had not heard them. "Pat, Nelly," he said, turning from one to the other gravely, "I want to tell you fellows that I have met Steve's Christ and after this I stand for Him!"
They looked at him curiously, pityingly. They spoke with soothing words and humored him. They led him away to his room and left him to rest. Then they walked with solemn faces and dejected air into Bill Ward's room and threw themselves down upon his couch.
"Where's Court?" Bill looked up from the theme he was writing.
"We found him in Steve's room," said Tennelly, gloomily, and shook his head.
"It's a deuced shame!" burst forth Pat. (He had cut out swearing for a time.) "He's batty in the bean!"
Tennelly answered the shocked question in the eyes of Bill with a nod. "Yes, the brightest fellow in the class, but he sure is batty in the bean! You ought to have heard him talk. Say! I don't believe it was all the fire. Court's been studying too hard. He's been an awful shark for a fellow that went in for athletics and everything else. He's studied too hard and it's gone to his head!"
Tennelly sat gloomily staring across the room. It was the old cry of the man who cannot understand.
"He needs a little change," said Bill, putting his feet up on the table comfortably and lighting a cigarette. "Pity the frat. dance is over. He needs to get him a girl. Be a great stunt if he'd fall for some jolly girl. Say! I'll tell you what. I'll get Gila after him."
"Who's Gila?" asked Tennelly, gloomily. "He won't notice her any more than a fly on the wall. You know how he is about girls."
"Gila's my cousin. Gila Dare. She's a good sport, and she's a winner every time. We'll put Gila on the job. I've got a date with her to-morrow night and I'll put her wise. She'll just enjoy that kind of thing. He's met her, too, over at the Navy game. Leave it to Gila."
"What style is she?" asked Tennelly, still skeptical.
"Oh, tiny and stylish and striking, with big eyes. A perfect little peach of an actress."
"Court's too keen for acting. He'll see through her in half a second. She can't put one over on Court."
"She won't try," said the ardent cousin. "She'll just be as innocent. They'll be chums in half an hour, or it'll be the first failure for Gila."
"Well, if any girl can put one over on Court, I'll eat my hat; but it's worth trying, for if Court keeps on like this we'll all be buying prayer-books and singing psalms before another semester."
"You'll eat your hat, all right," said Bill Ward, rising in his wrath. "Nelly, my infant, I tell you Gila never fails. If she gets on the job Court'll be dead in love with her before the midwinter exams.!"
"I'll believe it when I see it," said Tennelly, rising.
"All right," said Bill. "Remember you're in for a banquet during vacation. Fricaseed hat the piece de resistance!"
It was a sumptuous library in which Gila Dare awaited the coming of Paul Courtland.
Great, deep, red-leather chairs stood everywhere invitingly, the floor was spread with a magnificent specimen of Royal Bokhara, the rich recesses of the noble walls were lined with books in rare editions, a heavily carved table of dull black wood from some foreign land sprawled in the center of the room and held a great bronze lamp of curious pattern, bearing a ruby light. Ornate bronzes lurked on pedestals in shadows, unexpectedly, and caught the eye alarmingly, like grim ones set to watch. A throbbing fire like the heart of a lit ruby burned in a massive fireplace of grotesque tiles, as though it were the opening into great depths of unquenchable fire to which this room might be but an approach.
Gila herself, slight, dark-eyed, with pearl-white skin and dusky hair, was dressed in crimson velvet, soft and clinging like chiffon, catching the light and shimmering it with strange effect. The dark hair was curiously arranged, and stabbed just above her ears with two dagger-like combs flashing with jewels. A single jewel burned at her throat on an invisible chain, and jewels flashed from the little pointed crimson-satin slippers, setting off the slim ankles in their crimson-silk covering. The whole effect was startling. One wondered why she had chosen so elaborate a costume to waste upon a single college student.
She stood with one dainty foot poised on the brass trappings of the hearth. In her short skirts she seemed almost a child; so sweet the droop of the pretty lips; so innocent the dark eyes as they looked into the fire; so soft the shadows that played in the dark hair! And yet, as she turned to listen for a step in the hall, there was something gleaming, sinister, in those dark eyes, something mocking in the red lips. She might have been a daughter of Satan as she stood, the firelight picking out those jeweled horns and slippers.
"Leave him to me," she had said to her cousin when he told her how the brilliant young athlete and intellectual star of the university had been stung by the religious bug. "Send him to me. I'll take it out of him and he'll never know it's gone."
Paul Courtland entered, unsuspecting. He had met Gila a number of times before, at college dances and the games. He was not exactly flattered, but decidedly pleased that she had sent for him. Her brightness and seeming innocence had attracted him strongly.
The contrast from the hall with its blaze of electrics to the lurid light of the library affected him strangely. He paused on the threshold and passed his hand over his eyes. Gila stood where the ruby light of hearth and lamp would set her vivid dress on fire and light the jewels at her throat and hair. She knew her clear skin, dark hair, and eyes would bear the startling contrast, and how her white shoulders gleamed from the crimson velvet. She knew how to arrange the flaming scarf of gauze deftly about those white shoulders so that it would reveal more than it concealed.
The young man lingered unaccountably. He had a sense of leaving something behind him. Almost he hesitated as she came forward to greet him, and looked back as if to rid himself of some obligation. Then she put her bits of confiding hands out to him and smiled that wistful, engaging smile that would have been worth a fortune on the screen.
He thrilled with wonder over her delicate, dazzling beauty; and felt the luxury of the room about him, responding to its lure.
"So dandy of you to come to me when you are so busy after your long illness." Her voice was soft and confiding, its cadences like soothing music. She motioned him to a chair. "You see, I wanted to have you all to myself for a little while, just to tell you how perfectly fine you were at that awful fire."
She dropped upon the couch drawn out at just the right angle from the fire and settled among the cushions gracefully. The flicker of the firelight played upon the jeweled combs and gleamed at her throat. The little pointed slippers cozily crossed looked innocent enough to have been meant for the golden street. Her eyes looked up into his with that confiding lure that thrills and thrills again.
Her voice dropped softer, and she turned half away and gazed pensively into the fire on the hearth. "I wouldn't let them talk to me about it. It seemed so awful. And you were so strong and great."
"It was nothing!" He did not want to talk about the fire. There was something incongruous, almost unholy, in having it discussed here. It jangled on his nerves. For there in front of him in the fireplace burned a mimic pit like the one into which the martyr Steve had fallen; and there before him on the couch sat the girl! What was there so familiar about her? Ah! now he knew. The Scarlet Woman! Her gown was an exact reproduction of the one the great actress had worn on the stage that night. He was conscious of wishing to sit beside her on that couch and revel in the ravishing color of her. What was there about this room that made all his pulses beat?
Playfully, skilfully, she led him on. They talked of the dances and games, little gossip of the university, with now and then a telling personality, and a sweep of long lashes over pearly cheeks, or a lifting of great, innocent eyes of admiration to his face.
She offered wine in delicate gold-incrusted ruby glasses, but Courtland did not drink. He scarcely noticed her veiled annoyance at his refusal. He was drinking in the wine of her presence. She suggested that he smoke, and would not have hesitated to join him, perhaps, but he told her he was in training, and she cooed softly of his wonderful strength of character in resisting.
By this time he was in the coveted seat beside her on the couch, and the fire burned low and red. They had ceased to talk of games and dances. They were talking of each other, those intimate nothings that mean a breaking down of distance and a rapidly growing familiarity.
The young man was aware of the fascination of the small figure in her crimson robings, sitting so demurely in the firelight, the gauzy scarf dropped away from her white neck and shoulders, the lovely curve of her baby cheek and tempting neck showing against the background of the shadows behind her. He was aware of a distinct longing to take her in his arms and crush her to him, as he would pluck a red berry from a bank, and feel its stain upon his lips. Stain! A stain was a thing that was hard to remove. There were blood-stains sometimes and agonies; and yet men wanted to pluck the berries and feel the stain upon their lips!
He was not under the hallucination that he was suddenly falling in love with this girl. He did not name the passionate outcry in his soul love. He knew she had been a charmer of many, and in yielding himself to her recognized power he was for the moment playing with a force that was new and interesting, with which he had felt altogether strong enough to contend for an evening or he would not have come. That it should thrill along all his senses with this unreasoning rapture was most astonishing. He had never been a fellow to "fall" for every girl he met, and now he felt himself gradually yielding to the beautiful spell about him with a kind of wonder.
The lights and coloring of the room that had smote his senses unpleasantly when he first entered had thrown him now into a kind of delicious fever. The neglected wine sparkling dimly in the costly glasses seemed a part of it. He felt an impulse to reach out, seize a glass, and drain it. What if he should? What if he flung away his ideas and principles and let the moment sway him as it would, just for once? Why should he not try life as it presented itself?
These fancies fled through his brain like phantoms that did not dare to linger. His was no callow mind, ignorant of the world. He had thought and read and lived his ideas well for so young a man. He had vigorously protested against weakness of every kind; yet here he was feeling the drawing power of things he had always despised; reveling in the wine-red color of the room, in the pit-like glow of the fire; watching the play of smiles and wistfulness on the lovely face of the girl. He had often wondered what others saw so attractive in her beyond a pretty face. But now he understood. Her child-like speech and pretty little ways fascinated him. Perhaps she was really innocent of her own charms. Perhaps a man might lead her to give up certain of her ways that caused her to be criticized. What a woman she would be then! What a friend to have!
This was the last sop he threw to his conscience before he consciously began to yield to the spell that was upon him.
She had been speaking of palmistry, and she took his hand in hers, innocently, impersonally, with large eyes lifted inquiringly. Her breath was on his face; her touch had stirred his senses with a madness he had never felt nor measured in himself before.
"The life-line is here," she said, coolly, and traced it delicately along his palm with a sea-shell tinted finger. Like cool delicious fire it spread from nerve to nerve and set aside his reason in a frenzy. He would seize the berry and feel its stain upon his lips now no matter what!—
It was as distinct upon his ear as if the words had been spoken; as startling and calming as a cool hand upon his fevered brow; the sudden entrance of a guest. He had seized her hands with sudden fervor, and now, almost in the same moment, flung them from him and stood up, a man in full possession of his senses. "Hark!" he said, and as he spoke a cry broke faintly forth above them, and there was sound of rushing feet. A frightened maid burst into the room unannounced.
"Oh, Miss Gila, I beg yer pardon, but Master Harry's got his father's razor, an' he's cut hisself something awful."
The maid was weeping and wringing her hands helplessly, but Gila stood frowning angrily. Courtland sprang up the stairs. In the tumult of his mind he would have rejoiced if the house had been on fire, or a cyclone had struck the place—anything so he could fling himself into service. He drew in long, deep breaths. It was like mountain air to get away from that lurid room into the light once more. A sense of lost power returned, was over him. The spell was broken.
He bent over the little boy alertly, grasped the wrist, and stopped the spurt of blood. The frightened child looked up into his face and stopped crying.
"You should have telephoned for the doctor at once and not made all this fuss in the presence of a guest," scolded Gila as she came up the stairs. She looked garish and out of place with her red velvet and jewels in the brilliant light of the white-tiled bathroom. She stood helplessly by the door, making no move to help Courtland. The maid was at the telephone, frantically calling for the family physician.
"Hand me those towels," commanded Courtland, and saw the look of disgust upon Gila's face as she reluctantly picked her way across the blood-stains. It struck him that they were the color of her frock. The stain of the crushed berry. He moistened his dry lips. At least the stain was not upon his lips. He had escaped. Yet by how narrow a margin.
The girl felt the man's changed attitude without in the least understanding it. She thought it had been the cry of the child that made him jump up and fling her hands from him with that sudden "Hark!" in the moment when he had almost yielded. She did not know that an inner voice had called him. She only knew that she had lost him for the time, and her vanity was still panting like a wild thing that has lost its prey.
He gathered the little boy into his arms when he had bound up the cut, and talked to him cheerfully. The child's curly head rested trustfully against the big shoulder.
"Floor all bluggy!" he remarked, languidly. "Wall all bluggy!" Then his eyes fell on his sister in her scarlet frock. "Gila all bluggy, too!" he laughed, and pointed with his well hand.
"Be still, Harry!" said Gila, sharply, and when Courtland looked up in wonder he saw the delicate brows drawn blackly, and the mouth had lost its innocent sweetness. The child shrank in his arms, and he put a reassuring hand upon the little head that snuggled comfortedly against his coat. It was one of Courtland's strong points, this love of little children. He grew fine and gentle in their presence. It often drew attention on the athletic field when some little fellow strayed his way and Courtland would turn to talk to the child. People would stop their conversation and look his way; and a whole grand stand would come to silence just to see him walk across the diamond with a little golden-haired kid upon his shoulder. There was something inexpressibly beautiful about his attitude toward a child.
Gila saw it now and wondered. What unexpected trait was this that sat upon the young man like a crown? Here, indeed, was a man who was worth cultivating, not merely for the caprice of the moment. There was something in his face and attitude now that commanded her respect and admiration; something that drew her as she had not been drawn before. She would win him now for his own sake, not just to show how she could charm away his morbid fancies.
She continued to stare at the young man with eyes that saw new things in him, while Courtland sat petting the child and telling him a story. He paid no further attention to her.
When Gila set her heart upon a thing she had always had it. This had been her father's method of bringing her up. Her mother was too busy with her clubs and her social functions to see the harm. And now Gila suddenly became aware that she was setting her heart upon this young man. The eternal feminine in her that was almost choked with selfishness was crying out for a man like this one to comfort and pet her the way he was comforting and petting her little brother. That he had not yielded too easily to her charms made him all the more desirable. The interruption had come so suddenly that she couldn't even be sure he had been about to take her hands in his when he flung them from him. He had sprung from the couch almost as if he had been under orders. She could not understand it, only she knew she was drawn by it all.
But he should yield! She had power and she would use it. She had beauty and it should wound him. She would win that gentle deference and attention for her own. In her jealous, spoiled, little heart she hated the little brother for lying there in his arms so, interrupting their evening just when she had him where she had wanted him. Whether she wanted him for more than a plaything she did not know, but her plaything he should be as long as she desired him—and more also if she chose.
When Courtland lifted his head at the sound of the doctor's footsteps on the stairs he saw the challenge in Gila's eyes. Drawn up against the white enamel of the bathroom door, all her brilliant velvet and jewels gleaming in the brightness of the room, her regal little head up, her chin lifted half haughtily, her innocent mouth pursed softly with determination, her eyes wide with an inscrutable look—something more than challenge—something soft, appealing, alluring, that stirred him and drew him and repelled him all in one.
With a sense of something stronger than he was back of him, he lifted his own chin and hardened his eyes in answering challenge. He did not know it, of course, but he wore the look that he always had when about to meet a foe in a game—a look of strength and concealed power that nearly always made the coming foe quake when he saw it.
He shrank from going back to that red room again, or from being alone with her; and when she would have had him return to the library he declined, urging studies and an examination on the morrow. She received his somewhat brusque reply with a hurt look, her mouth drooped grievedly, and her eyes took on a wide, child-like look of distress that gave an impression of innocence. He went away wondering if, after all, he had not misjudged her. Perhaps she was only an adorable child who had no idea of the effect her artlessness had upon men. She certainly was lovely—wonderful! And yet the last glimpse he had of her had left that impression of jeweled horns and scarlet, pointed toes. He had to get away and think it out calmly before he went again. Oh yes, he was going again. He had promised her at the last moment.
The sense of having escaped something fateful was passing already. The coolness of the night and the quiet of the starlight had calmed him. He thought he had been a fool not to have stayed a little longer when she asked him so prettily; and he must go soon again.
"I think I'll go to church this morning, Nelly. Do you want to go along?" announced Courtland, the next morning.
Tennelly looked up aghast from the sporting page of the morning paper he was lazily reading.
"Go with him, Nelly, that's a good boy!" put in Bill Ward, agreeably, winking his off eye at Tennelly. "It'll do you good. I'd go with you, only I've got to get that condition made up or they'll fire me off the 'varsity, and I only need this one more game to get my letter."
"Go to thunder!" growled Tennelly. "What do you think I want to go to church for a morning like this? Court, you're crazy! Let's go and get two saddle-horses and ride in the park. It's a peach of a morning for a ride."
"I think I'll go to church," said Courtland, with his old voice of quiet decision. "Do you want to go or not?"
There was something about Courtland's voice, and the way Bill Ward kept up winking his off eye, that subdued Tennelly.
"Sure, I'll go," he growled, reluctantly.
"You old crab, you," chirped Bill, cheerfully, when Courtland had gone out. "Can't you see you've got to humor him? He needs homeopathic treatment. 'Like cures like.' Give him a good dose of religion and he'll get good and tired of it. Church won't hurt him any, just give him a good, pious feeling so he'll feel free to do as he pleases during the week. I had a 'phone from Gila this morning. She says he's made another date with her after exams. He fell, all right, so go get your little lid and toddle off to Sunday-school. Try to toll him into a big, stylish church. They're safest; but 'most any of 'em are cold enough to freeze the eye-teeth out of a stranger as far as my experience goes."
"Well, this isn't my funeral," sulked Tennelly, going to his closet for suitable raiment. "I s'pose you get your way, but Court's keen intellectually, and if he happens to strike a good preacher he's liable to fall for what he says, in the mood he's in now."
"Well, he won't strike a good preacher. There isn't one nowadays. There are orators in the pulpit, plenty of them, but they're all preaching about politics these days, or raving about uplifting the masses, and that sorta thing won't hurt Court. Most of 'em are dry as punk. If Court keeps awake through the service he won't go again, mark my words."
They chose a church at random, these two who had decided to go up to the house of God. High-arched and Gothic were its massive walls, with intricate carving like lace in the stonework. Softly swung leather doors shut the sanctuary from the outer world. The fretted gold-and-blue-and-scarlet ceiling stretched away miles, as it were, in the space above them, and rich carvings in dark, costly wood met the wonderful frescoes at lofty heights. The carpets were soft, and the pews were upholstered in tones to match. A great silence brooded over the place, making itself felt above and beneath the swelling tones of the wonderful organ. People trod the aisles softly, like puppets playing each his part. They bent in form of prayer for a moment and settled into silence. The minister came stiffly into the pulpit, casting a furtive eye about his congregation.
They noticed almost at once that the most unpopular professor in the university was acting as usher on the other side of the church. Tennelly frowned and looked at Courtland, who sat watching the aforesaid usher as he showed people to their seats, wondering if that man had a thing he called religion, and if he was in any way related to Stephen Marshall's Christ. This was a voyage of discovery for Courtland, this visit to a Christian church. He had scarcely been to religious services since he entered the university. He had considered them a waste of time. Now he had come to see if there was really anything in them. It did not occur to him that they had a real connection with those verses he had read in the Bible about "doing the will," or that the going or staying away from them was in any wise obligatory upon one who had allied himself with Christ. The church stood to him as to many other young pagans such as he was, for a man-made institution, to be attended or not as one chose.
The music was not uplifting. It was well done by a paid choir, who had good voices and sang wonderful music, but they had no heart in their singing. The congregation attempted no more than a murmur of the hymns. There was not a large congregation.
The sermon was a dissertation on the Book of Jonah, a sort of resume of all the argument, on both sides, that has torn the theological world in these latter days. Not a word of Stephen Marshall's Christ, save a sort of side reference to a verse about Jonah being three days and three nights in the whale, and the Son of Man being three days in the heart of the earth. Courtland wasn't even sure that this reference meant the Christ, and it never entered his head that it touched at the heart of the great doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. As far as he could understand the reverend gentleman the arguments he quoted against the Book of Jonah were far stronger and more plausible than those put forth in its defense. What was it all about, anyway? What did it matter whether Jonah was or was not, or whether anybody accepted the book? How could a thing like that affect the life of a man?
Tennelly watched the expressive face beside him and decided that perhaps Bill Ward had been half right, after all.
On their way back to the university they met Gila Dare. Gila all in gray like a dove, gray suit of soft, rich cloth, gray furs of the depth and richness of smoke, gray suede boots laced high to meet her brief gray skirts, silver hat with a single velvet rose on the brim to match the soft rose-bloom on her cheeks. Gila with eyes as wide and innocent as a baby's, cupid mouth curved sweetly in a gracious, shy smile, and dainty little prayer-book done in gray suede held devoutly in her little gloved hand.
"Who's that?" growled Tennelly, admiringly, when they had passed a suitable distance.
"Why, that's Bill Ward's cousin, Gila Dare," announced Courtland, graciously. He was still basking in the pleasure of her smile, and thinking how different she looked from last evening in this soft, gray, silvery effect. Yes, he had misjudged her. A girl who could look like that must be sweet and pure and unspoiled. It had been that unfortunate dress last night that had reminded him unpleasantly of the scarlet woman and the awful night of the fire. If he ever got well enough acquainted he would ask her never to wear red again; it made her appear sensual; and even she, delicate and sweet as she was, could not afford to cast a thought like that into the minds of her beholders. It was then he began to idealize Gila.
"Gila Dare!" Tennelly straightened up and took notice. So that was the invincible Gila! That little soft-eyed exquisite thing with the hair like a midnight cloud.
"Some looker!" he commented, approvingly, and wished he were in Courtland's shoes.
"She's got in her work all right," he commented to himself. "Old Court's fallen already. Guess I'll have to buy a straw hat, it'll be more edible."
Courtland was like his gay old self when he got back to the dormitory. He joked a great deal. His eyes were bright and his color better than it had been since he was sick. He said nothing about the morning service, and by and by Bill Ward ventured a question: "What kind of a harangue did you hear this morning?"
"Rotten!" he answered, promptly, and turned away. Somehow that question recalled him to the uneasiness within his soul for which he had sought solace in the church service. He became silent again, and, strolling away into Stephen's room and closing the door, sat down.
There was something strange about that room. The Presence seemed always to be there. It hadn't made itself felt in the church at all, as he had half hoped it would. He had taken Tennelly with him because he wanted something tangible, friendly, sane, from the world he knew, to give him ballast. If the Presence had been in the church, with Tennelly by his side, he would have been sure it was not wholly a hallucination connected with his memory of Stephen.
It was strange, for now that he sat there in that quiet room that had once witnessed the trying out of a manly soul, and saw the calm eyes of the plain mother on the wall opposite, and the true eyes of the dowdy school-boy on the other wall, he was feeling the Presence again!
Why hadn't he felt its power in the church? Was it because of the presence of such people in the temple as that little mean-souled professor, whom everybody knew to be insincere from the crown of his head to the soles of his sly little feet? Was it because the people were cold and careless and didn't sing even with their lips, let alone their hearts, but hired it all done for them?
And then there had been that call of his name when he was with Gila Dare, as clear and distinct, like a friend he had left outside who had grown tired of waiting, and worried about him. Why hadn't the sense of the Presence gone with him into the room? Would a Presence like that be afraid of hostile influences? No. If it was real and a Presence at all it would be more powerful than any other influence in the universe. Then why?
Could it be that he had gone deliberately into an influence that would make it impossible for the Presence to guide?
Or was it possible that his own attitude toward that girl had been at fault? He had gone to see her regarding her somewhat lightly. As a gentleman he should regard no woman with disrespect. Her womanhood should be honored by him even if she chose to dishonor it herself. If he had gone to see Gila with a different attitude toward her, expecting high, fine things of her, rather than merely to be amused by one whom he scarcely regarded seriously, perhaps all this strange mental phenomena would not have come to pass.
Finally he locked the door and knelt down with his head upon the worn Bible. He had no idea of praying. Prayer meant to him but a repetition of a form of words. There had been prayers in his childhood, brought about by the maiden aunt who kept house for his father after his mother's death, and assisted in bringing him up until he was old enough to go away to boarding-school. They were a good deal of a bore, coming as they did when he was sleepy. There was a long, vague one beginning, "Our Father which art," in which he always had to be prompted. There was, "Now I lay me," and "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, bless the bed I lie upon; Wish I may, wish I might, get the wish I wish to-night!" Or was that a prayer? He never could remember as he grew older.
He did not know why he was drawn to kneel there with his eyes closed and his cheek upon that Bible. Strange that when he was in that room all doubt about the Presence vanished, all uneasiness about reconciling it with realities, laws, and science fled away.
Later he stood in his own room by the window, watching the great red sun go down in the west and light a ruby fire behind the long line of tall buildings that stretched beyond the campus. The glow in no wise resembled, but yet reminded him, of the fire in the glowing grate of the Dare library. Why had that room affected him so strangely? And Gila, little Gila, how sweet and innocent she had looked when they met her that morning with her prayer-book. How wrong he must have been to take the idle talk that people chattered about her and let it influence his thoughts of her. She could not be all that they said, and yet look so sweet and innocent. What had she reminded him of in literature? Ah! he had it. Solveig in Peer Gynt!
How fair! Did ever you see the like? Looked down at her shoes and her snow-white apron!— And then she held on to her mother's skirt-folds, And carried a psalm-book wrapped up in a 'kerchief!—
That ample purple person by her side, with the dark eyes, the double chin, and the hard lines in her painted face, must be Gila's mother! Perhaps people talked about the daughter because of her mother, for she looked it fully! But then a girl couldn't help having a foolish mother! She was to be pitied more than blamed if she seemed silly and frivolous now and then.
What a thing for a man to do, to teach her to trust him, and then guide her and help her and uplift her till she had the highest standards formed! She was so young and tiny, and so sweet at times! Yes, she was, she must be, like Solveig.
If a man with a good moral character, a tolerably decent reputation for good taste and respectability, no fool at his studies, no stain on his name, should go with her, help her, get her to give up certain daring things she had the name of doing—if such a fellow should give her the protection of his friendship and let the world see that he considered her respectable—wouldn't it help a lot? Wouldn't it stop people's mouths and make them see that Gila wasn't what they had been saying, after all?
It came to him that this would be a very pleasant mission, for his leisure hours during the rest of that winter. All thought of any danger to himself through such intercourse as he was suggesting to his thoughts had departed from his mind.
Half a mile away Gila was pouring tea for two extremely ardent youths who scarcely occupied half of her mind. With the other half she was planning a little note which should bring Courtland to her side early in the week. She had no thoughts of God. She was never troubled with much pondering. She knew exactly what she wanted without thinking any further about it, and she meant to have it.
It was a great source of question with Courtland afterward, just why it should have been he that happened to carry that telegram over to the West Dormitory to Wittemore, instead of any one of a dozen other fellows who were in the office when it arrived and might just as well have gone. Did anything in this world happen, he wondered?
He could not tell why he had held out his hand and offered to take the message.
It was not because he was not trying hard, and studying for all he was worth, that "Witless Abner," as Wittemore had come to be called, had won his nickname. He worked night and day, plunged in a maze of things he did not quite understand until long after the rest of the class had passed them. He was majoring in sociology through the advice of a faddist uncle who had never seen him. He had told Abner's mother that sociology was the coming science, and Abner was faithfully carrying out the course of study he suggested. He was floundering through hours of lectures on the theory of the subject, and conscientiously working in the college settlement to get the practical side of things. He had the distressed look of a person with very short legs who is trying to keep up with a procession of six-footers, although there was nothing short about Abner. His legs were long, and his body was long, his arms were long, too long for most of his sleeves. His face was long, his nose and chin were painfully long, and were accompanied by a sensitive mouth that was always on the quiver with apprehension, like a rabbit's, and little light eyes with whitish eyelashes. His hair was like licked hay. There was absolutely nothing attractive about Wittemore except his smile, and he so seldom smiled that few of the boys had ever seen it. He had almost no friends.
He had apparently just entered his room when Courtland reached his door, and was stumbling about in a hurry to turn on the light. He stopped with his lips aquiver and a dart of fear in his eyes when he saw the telegram. Nobody but his mother would send him a telegram, and she would never waste the money for it unless there was something dreadful the matter. He looked at it fearfully, holding it in his hand and glancing up again at Courtland half helplessly, as if he feared to open it.
Then, with that set, stolid look of prodding ahead that characterized all Abner's movements he clumsily tore open the envelope.
"Your mother is dying. Come at once," were the terse, cruel words that he read, signed with a neighbor's initials.
The young man gave the gasp of a hurt thing and stood gaping up at Courtland.
"Nothing the matter, I hope," said Courtland, kindly, moved by the gray, stricken look that had come over the poor fellow's face.
"It's mother!" he gasped. "Read!" He thrust the telegram into Courtland's hand and sank down on the side of his bed with his head in his hands.
"Tough luck, old man!" said Courtland, with a kindly hand on the bowed shoulder. "But maybe it's only a scare. Sometimes people get better when they're pretty sick, you know."
Wittemore shook his head. "No. We've been expecting this, she and I. She's been sick a long time. I didn't want to come back this year! I thought she was failing! But she would have it! She'd got her heart so set on my graduating!"
"Well, cheer up!" said Courtland, breezily. "Very likely your coming will help her to rally again! What train do you want to get? Can I help you any?"
Wittemore lifted his head and looked about his room helplessly. It was plain he was dazed.
Courtland looked up the train, 'phoned for a taxi, went around the room gathering up what he thought would be necessities for the journey, while Wittemore was inadequately trying to get himself dressed. Suddenly Wittemore stopped short in the midst of his ineffective efforts and drew something out of his pocket with an exclamation of dismay.
"I forgot about this medicine!" he gasped. "I'll have to wait for the next train! Never mind that suit-case. I haven't time to wait for it! I'll go right up to the station as soon as I land this."
He seized his hat and would have gone out the door, but Courtland grabbed him by the arm.
"Hold on, old fellow! What's up? Surely you won't let anything keep you from your mother now."
"I must!" The words came with a moan of agony from the sensitive lips. "It's medicine for a poor old woman down in the settlement district. She's suffering horribly, and the doctor said she ought to have it to-night, but there was no one else to get it for her, so I promised. She's lying there waiting for it now, listening to every sound till I come. Mother wouldn't want me to come to her, leaving a woman suffering like that when I'd promised. I only came up here to get car fare so I could get there sooner than walking. It took all the change I had to get the prescription filled."
"Darn you, Wittemore! What do you think I am? I'll take the medicine to the old lady—ten old ladies if necessary! You get your train! There's your suit-case. Have you got plenty of money?"
A blank look came over the poor fellow's face. "If I could find Dick Folsom I would have about enough. He owes me something. I did some copying for him."
Courtland's hand was in his pocket. He always had plenty of money about him. That had never been one of his troubles. He had been to the bank that day, fortunately. Now he thrust a handful of bills into Wittemore's astonished hands.
"There's fifty! Will that see you through? And I can send you more if you need it. Just wire me how much you want."
Wittemore stood looking down at the bills, and tears began to run down his cheeks and splash upon them. Courtland felt his own eyes filling. What a pitiful, lonely life this had been! And the fellows had let him live that way! To think that a few paltry greenbacks should bring tears!
A few minutes later he stood looking after the whirling taxi as it bore away Wittemore into the darkness of the evening street, his heart pounding with several new emotions. Witless Abner for one! What a surprise he had been! Would everybody you didn't fancy turn out that way if you once got hold of the key of their souls and opened the door?
Then the little wrapped bottle he held in his hand reminded him that he must hasten if he would perform the mission left for him and return in time for supper. There was something in his soul that would not let him wait until after supper. So he plunged forward into the dusk and swung himself on board a down-town car.
He had no small trouble in finding the street, or rather court, in which the old woman lived.
He stumbled up the narrow staircase, lighting matches as he went, for the place was dark as midnight. By the time he had climbed four flights he was wondering what in thunder Wittemore came to places like this for? Just to major in sociology? Didn't the nut know that he would never make a success in a thing like that? What was he doing it for, anyway? Did he expect to teach it? Poor fellow, he would never get a job! His looks were against him.
He knocked, with no result, at several doors for his old woman, but at last a feeble voice answered: "Come in," and he entered a room entirely dark. There didn't even appear to be a window, though he afterward discovered one opening into an air-shaft. He stood hesitating within the room, blinking and trying to see what was about him.
"Be that you, Mr. Widymer?" asked a feeble voice from the opposite corner.
"Wittemore couldn't come. He had a telegram that his mother is dying and he had to get the train. He sent me with the medicine."
"Oh, now ain't that too bad!" said the voice. "His mother dyin'! An' to think he should remember me an' my medicine! Well, now, what d' ye think o' that?"
"If you'll tell me where your gas is located I'll make a light for you," said Courtland, politely.
"Gas!" The old lady laughed aloud. "You won't find no such thing as gas around this part o' town. There's about an inch of candle up on that shelf. The distric' nurse left it there. I was thinkin' mebbe I'd get Mr. Widymer to light it fer me when he come, an' then the night wouldn't seem so long. It's awful, when you're sufferin' to have the nights long."
He groped till he found the shelf and lit the candle. By degrees the flickering light revealed to him a small bare room with no furniture except a bed, a chair, a small stove, and a table. A box in the corner apparently contained a few worn garments. Some dishes and provisions were huddled on the table. The walls and floor were bare. The district nurse had done her level best to clear up, perhaps, but there had been no attempt at good cheer. A desolate place indeed to spend a weary night of suffering, even with an inch of candle sending weird flickerings across the dusky ceiling.
His impulse was to flee, but somehow he couldn't. "Here's this medicine," he said. "Where do you want me to put it?"
The woman motioned with a bony hand toward the table. "There's a cup and spoon over there somewhere," she said, weakly. "If you could go get me a pitcher of water and set it here on a chair I could manage to take it durin' the night."
He could see her better now, for the candle was flaring bravely. She was little and old. Her thin, white hair straggled pitifully about her small, wrinkled face, her eyes looked as if they had been burned almost out by suffering. He saw she was drawn and quivering with pain, even now as she tried to speak cheerfully. A something rebellious in him yielded to the nerve of the little old woman, and he put down his impatience. Sure he would get her the water!
She explained that the hydrant was down on the street. He took the doubtful-looking pitcher and stumbled out upon those narrow, rickety stairs again.
Way down to the street and back in that inky blackness! "Gosh! Thunder! The deuce!" (He didn't allow himself any stronger words these days.) Was this the kind of thing one was up against when one majored in sociology?
"I be'n thinkin'," said the old lady, quaveringly, when he stumbled, blinking, back into the room again with the water, "ef you wouldn't mind jest stirrin' up the fire an' makin' me a sup o' tea it would be real heartenin'. I 'ain't et nothin' all day 'cause the pain was so bad, but I think it'll ease up when I git a dose of the medicine, and p'r'aps I might eat a bite."
Courtland was appalled, but he went vigorously to work at that fire, although he had never laid eyes on anything so primitive as that stove in all his life. Presently, by using common sense, he had the thing going and a forlorn little kettle steaming away cheerfully.
The old woman cautioned him against using too much tea. There must be at least three drawings left, and it would be a long time, perhaps, before she got any more. Yes, there was a little mite of sugar in a paper on the table.
"There's some bread there, too—half a loaf 'most—but I guess it's pretty dry. You don't know how to make toast I 'spose," she added, wistfully.
Courtland had never made toast in his life. He abominated it. She told him how to hold it up on a fork in front of the coals and he managed to do two very creditable slices. He had forgotten his own supper now. There was something quite fresh and original in the whole experience. It would have been interesting to have told the boys, if there weren't some features about it that were almost sacred. He wondered what the gang would say when he told them about Wittemore! Poor Wittemore! He wasn't as nutty as they had thought! He had good in his heart! Courtland poured the tea, but the sugar-paper had proved quite empty when he found it; likewise a plate that had once contained butter.
The toast and tea, however, seemed to be quite acceptable without its usual accessories. "Now," he said, with a long breath, "is there anything else you'd like done before I go?—for I must be getting back to college."
"If you just wouldn't mind makin' a prayer before you go," responded the little old woman, wistfully, her feeble chin trembling with her boldness. "I be'n wantin' a prayer this long while, but I don't seem to have good luck. The distric' nurse, she ain't the prayin' kind; an' Mr. Widymer he says he don't pray no more since he's come to college. He said it so kind of ashamed-like I didn't like to bother him again; and there ain't anybody else come my way for three months back. You seem so kind-spoken and pleasant-like as if you might be related to a preacher, and I thought mebbe you wouldn't mind just makin' a little short prayer 'fore you go. I dunno how long it'll be 'fore I'll get a chancet of one again."
Courtland stood rooted to the floor in dismay. "Why,—I—" he began, growing red enough to be apparent even by the flickering inch of candle.
Suddenly the room which had been so empty seemed to grow hushed and full of breathless spectators, and One, waiting to hear what he would say—whether he would respond to the call. Before his alarmed vision there came the memory of that wall of smoke which had shut him in, and that Voice calling him by name and saying, "You shall be shown." Was this what the Presence asked of him? Was this that mysterious "doing His will" that the Book spoke about, which should presently give the assurance?
He saw the old woman's face glow with eagerness. It was as if the Presence waited through her eyes to see what he would do. Something leaped up in his heart in response and he took a step forward and dropped upon his knees beside the old wooden chair.
"I'm afraid I shall make a worse bungle of it than I did of the toast," he said, as he saw her folding her hands with delight. She smiled with serene assurance, and he closed his eyes and wondered where were words to use in such a time as this.
"Now I lay me" would not do for the poor creature who had been lying down many days and might never rise again; "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" was more appropriate, but there was that uncertainty about it being a prayer at all. "Our Father"—Ah! He caught at the words and spoke them.
"Our Father which art"—but what came next? That was where he had always had to be prompted, and now, in his confusion, all the rest had fled from his mind. But now it seemed that with the words the Presence had drawn near, was standing close by the chair. His mind leaped forth with the consciousness that he might talk with this invisible Presence, unfold his own perplexities and restlessness, and perhaps find out what it all meant. With scarcely a hesitation his clear voice went on eagerly now:
"Our Father, which art in this room, show us how to find and know You." He could not remember afterward what else he said. Something about his own longing, and the old woman's pain and loneliness. He was not sure if it was really a prayer at all, that halting petition.
He got up from his knees greatly embarrassed; but more by the Presence to whom he had dared to speak thus for the first time on his own account, than by the little old woman, whose hands were still clasped in reverence, and down whose withered cheeks the tears were coursing. The smoky walls, the cracked stove, the stack of discouraged dishes, seemed to fade away, and the room was somehow full of glory. He was choking with the oppression of it, and with a kind of sinking at heart lest the prayer had been only an outbreak of his own desire to know what this Force or Presence was that seemed dominating him so fully these days.
The old woman was blessing him. She held out her hands like a patriarch: "Oh, that was such a beautiful prayer! I'll not forget the words all the night through and for many a night. The Lord Himself bless ye! Are you a preacher's son, perhaps?"
He shook his head; but he had no smile upon his face at the thought, as he might have had five minutes before.
"Well, then, yer surely goin' to be a preacher yerself?"
"No," he said; then added, thoughtfully, "not that I know of." The suggestion struck him curiously as one who hears for the first time that there is a possibility that he may be selected for some important foreign embassy.
"Well, then, yer surely a blessed child o' God Himself, anyhow, and this is a great night fer this poor little room to be honored with a pretty prayer like that!"
Scarcely hearing her, he said good night and went thoughtfully down the dark stairs, a strange sense of peace upon him. Curiously enough, while he felt that he had left the Presence up in that little dismal room, it yet seemed to be moving beside him, touching his soul, breathing upon him! He was so engrossed with this thought that it never occurred to him that he had given the old woman every cent he had in his pocket. He had forgotten entirely that he had been hungry. A great world-wonder was moving within his spirit. He could not understand himself. He went back with awe over the last few minutes and the strange new world into which he had been so suddenly plunged.
Scarcely noticing how he went, he got himself out of the intricacies of the court into a neighborhood a shade less poverty-stricken, and stood upon the corner of a busy thoroughfare in an utterly unfamiliar district, pausing to look about him and discover his whereabouts.
A little child with long, fair hair rushed suddenly out of a door on the side-street, eagerly pulling a ragged sweater about his small shoulders, and stood upon the curbstone, breathlessly watching the coming trolley. The car stopped, and a young girl in shabby clothes got out and came toward him.
"Bonnie! Bonnie! I've got supper all ready!" the child called in a clear, bird-like voice, and darted from the curb across the narrow side-street to meet her.
Courtland, standing on the corner in front of the trolley, saw, too late, the swift-coming automobile bearing down upon the child, its head-lights flaring on the golden hair. With a cry the young man sprang to the rescue, but the child was already crumpled up like a lily and the relentless car speeding onward, its chauffeur darting frightened, cowardly glances behind him as he plunged his machine forward over the track, almost in the teeth of the up-trolley. When the trolley was passed there was no sign of the car, even if any one had had time to look for it. There in the road lay the little, broken child, the long hair spilling like gold over the pavement, the little, still, white face looking up like a flower that has suddenly been torn from the plant.
The girl was beside the child almost instantly, dropping all her parcels; gathering him into her slender arms, calling in frightened, tender tones:
"Aleck! Darling! My little darling!"
The child was too heavy for her to lift, and she tottered as she tried to rise, lifting a frightened face to Courtland.
"Let me take him," said the young man, stooping and gathering him gently from her. "Now show me where!"
Into the narrow brick house from which he had run forth so joyously but a few short minutes before, they carried him, up two flights of steep stairs to a tiny room at the back of the hall.
The gas was burning brightly at one side, and something that sent forth a savory odor was bubbling on a little two-burner gas-stove. Courtland was hungry, and it struck his nostrils pleasantly as the door swung open, revealing a tiny table covered with a white cloth, set for two. There was a window curtained with white, and a red geranium on the sill.
The girl entered ahead of him, sweeping back a bright chintz curtain that divided the tiny room, and drew forth a child's cot bed. Courtland gently laid down the little inert figure. The girl was on her knees beside the child at once, a bottle in her hand. She was dropping a few drops in a teaspoon and forcing them between the child's lips.
"Will you please get a doctor, quick," she said, in a strained, quiet voice. "No, I don't know who; I've only been here two weeks. We're strangers! Bring somebody! anybody! quick!"
Courtland was back in a minute with a weary, seedy-looking doctor who just fitted the street. All the way he was seeing the beautiful agony of the girl's face. It was as if her suffering had been his own. Somehow he could not bear to think what might be coming. The little form had lain so limply in his arms!
The girl had undressed the child and put him between the sheets. He was more like a broken lily than ever. The long dark lashes lay still upon the cheeks.
Courtland stood back in the doorway, looking at the small table set for two, and pushed to the wall now to make room for the cot. There was just barely room to walk around between the things. He could almost hear the echo of that happy, childish voice calling down in the street: "Bonnie! Bonnie! I've got supper all ready!"
He wondered if the girl had heard. And there was the supper! Two blue-and-white bowls set daintily on two blue-and-white plates, obviously for the something-hot that was cooking over the flame, two bits of bread-and-butter plates to match; two glasses of milk; a plate of bread, another of butter; and by way of dessert an apple cut in half, the core dug out and the hollow filled with sugar. He took in the details tenderly, as if they had been a word-picture by Wells or Shaw in his contemporary-prose class at college. They seemed to burn themselves into his memory.
"Go over to my house and ask my wife to give you my battery!" commanded the doctor in a low growl.
Courtland was off again, glad of something to do. He carried the memory of the doctor's grizzled face lying on the little bared breast of the child, listening for the heart-beats, and the beautiful girl's anguish as she stood above them. He pushed aside the curious throng that had gathered around the door and were looking up the stairs, whispering dolefully and shaking heads:
"An' he was so purty, and so cheery, bless his heart!" wailed one woman. "He always had his bit of a word an' a smile!"
"Aw! Them ottymobbeels!" he heard another murmur. "Ridin' along in their glory! They'll be a day o' reckonin' fer them rich folks what rides in 'em! They'll hev to walk! They may even have to lie abed an' hev their wages get behind!"
The whole weight of the sorrow of the world seemed suddenly pressing upon Courtland's heart. How had he been thus unexpectedly taken out of the pleasant monotony of the university and whirled into this vortex of anguish! Why had it been? Was it just happen that he should have been the one to have gone to the old woman and made her toast, and then been called upon to pray, instead of Tennelly or Bill Ward or any of the other fellows? And after that was it again just coincidence that he should have happened to stand at that corner at that particular moment and been one to participate in this later tragedy? Oh, the beautiful face of the suffering girl! Fear and sorrow and suffering and death everywhere! Wittemore hurrying to his dying mother! The old woman lying on her bed of pain! But there had been glory in that dark old room when he left it, the glory of a Presence! Ah! Where was the Presence now? How could He bear all this? The Christ! And could He not change it if He would—make the world a happy place instead of this dark and dreadful thing that it was? For the first time the horror of war surged over his soul in its blackness. Men dying in the trenches! Women weeping at home for them! Others suffering and bleeding to death out in the open, the cold or the storm! How could God let it all be? His wondering soul cried out, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here!"
It was the old question that used to come up in the class-room, yet now, strangely enough, he began to feel there was an answer to it somewhere; an answer wherewith he would be satisfied when he found it.
It seemed an eternity of thought through which he passed as he crossed and recrossed the street and was back in the tiny room where life waited on death. It was another eternity while the doctor worked again over the boy. But at last he stood back, shaking his head and blinking the tears from his kind, tired, blue eyes.
"It's no use," he said, gruffly, turning his head away. "He's gone!"
It was then the girl brushed him aside and sank to her knees beside the little cot.
"Aleck! Aleck! Darling brother! Can't you speak to your Bonnie just once more before you go?" she called, clearly, distinctly, as if to a child who was far on his way hence. And then once again pitifully:
"Oh, darling brother! You're all I had left! Let me hear you call me Bonnie just once more before you go to mother!"
But the childish lips lay still and white, and the lips of the girl looking down upon the little quiet form grew whiter also as she looked.
"Oh, my darling! You have gone! You will never call me any more! And you were all I had! Good-by!" And she stooped and kissed the boy's lips with a finality that wrung the hearts of the onlookers. They knew she had forgotten their presence.
The doctor stepped into the hall. The tears were rolling down his cheeks. "It's tough luck!" he said in an undertone to Courtland.
The young man turned away to hide the sudden convulsion that seemed coming to his own face. Then he heard the girl's voice again, lower, as if she were talking confidentially to one who stood close at hand.
"Oh Christ, will You go with little Aleck and see that he is not afraid till he gets safe home? And will You help me somehow to bear his leaving me alone?"
The doctor was wiping away the tears with a great, soiled handkerchief. The girl rose calmly, white and controlled, facing them as if she remembered them for the first time.
"I want to thank you for all you've done!" she said. "I'm only a stranger and you've been very kind. But now it's over and I will not hinder you any longer."
She wanted to be alone. They could see that. Yet it wrung their hearts to leave her so.
"You will want to make some arrangements," growled the doctor.
"Oh! I had forgotten!" The girl's hand fluttered to her heart and her breath gave a quick catch. "It will have to be very simple," she said, looking from one to another of them anxiously. "I haven't much money left. Perhaps I could sell something!" She looked desperately around on her little possessions. "This little cot! It is new just two weeks ago and he will not need it any more. It cost twenty dollars!"
Courtland stepped gravely toward her. "Suppose you leave that to me," he said, gently. "I think I know a place where they would look after the matter for you reasonably and let you pay later or take the cot in exchange, you know, anything you wish. Would you like me to arrange the matter for you?"
"Oh, if you would!" said the girl, wearily. "But it is asking a great deal of a stranger."
"It's nothing. I can look after it on my way home. Just tell me what you wish."
"Oh, the very simplest there is!"—she caught her breath—"white if possible, unless it's more expensive. But it doesn't matter, anyway, now. There'll have to be a place somewhere, too. Some time I will take him back and let him lie by father and mother. I can't now. It's two hundred miles away. But there won't need to be but one carriage. There's only me to go."
He looked his compassion, but only asked, "Is there anything else?"
"Any special clergyman?" asked the doctor, kindly.
She shook her head sadly. "We hadn't been to church yet. I was too tired. If you know of a minister who would come."
"It's tough luck," said the doctor again as they went down-stairs together, "to see a nice, likely little chap like that taken away so. And I operated this afternoon on a hardened old reprobate around the corner here, that's played the devil to everybody, and he's going to pull through! It does seem strange. It ain't the way I should run the universe, but I'm thundering glad I 'ain't got the job!"
Courtland walked on through the busy streets, thinking that sentence over. He had a dim current of inner perception that suggested there might be another way of looking at the matter; a possibility that the wicked old reprobate had yet something more to learn of life before he went beyond its choices and opportunities; a conviction that if he were called to go he had rather be the little child in his purity than the old man in his deviltry.
The sudden cutting down of this lovely child had startled and shocked him. The bereavement of the girl cut him to the heart as if she had belonged to him. It brought the other world so close. It made what had hitherto seemed the big worth-while things of life look so small and petty, so ephemeral! Had he always been giving himself utterly to things that did not count, or was this a perspective all out of proportion, a distorted brain again, through nervous strain and over-exertion?
He came presently to a well-known undertaker's, and, stepping in, felt more than ever the borderland-sense. In this silent house of sadness men stepped quietly, gravely, decorously, and served you with courteous sympathy. What was the name of the man who rowed his boat on the River Styx? Yes! Charon! These wise-eyed grave men who continually plied their oars between two worlds! How did they look on life? Were they hardened to their task? Was their gentle gravity all acting? Did earthly things appeal to them? How could they bear it all, this continual settled sadness about the place! The awful hush! The tear-stained faces! The heavy breath of flowers! Not all the lofty marble arches, and beauty of surroundings, not all the soft music of hidden choirs and distant organ up in one of the halls above where a service was even then in progress, could take away the fact of death; the settled, final fact of death! One moment here upon the curbstone, golden hair afloat, eyes alight with joyous greeting, voice of laughter; the next gone, irrevocably gone, "and the place thereof shall know it no more," Where had he heard those words? Strange, sad house of death! Strange, uncertain life to live. Resurrection! Where had he caught that word in carven letters twined among lilies above the marble staircase? Resurrection! Yes, there would need to be if there was to be any hope ever in this world!
It was a strange duty he had to perform, strange indeed for a college boy to whom death had never come very close since he had been old enough to understand. It came to him to wonder what the fellows would say If they could see him here. He felt half a grudge toward Wittemore for having let him in for all this. Poor Wittemore! By this time to-morrow night Wittemore might be doing this same service for his own mother!
Death! Death! Death! Everywhere! It seemed as if everybody was dying!
He made selections with a memory of the girl's beautiful, refined face. He chose simple things and everything all white. He asked about details and gave directions so that everything would move in an orderly manner, with nothing to annoy. He even thought to order flowers, valley-lilies, and some bright rosebuds, not too many to make her feel under obligation. He took out his check-book and paid for the whole thing, arranging that the girl should not know how much it all really cost, and that a small sum might be paid by her as she was able, to be forwarded by the firm to him; this to make her feel entirely comfortable about it all.