AUTHOR OF "LOST ON THE TRAIL," "TIP LEWIS AND HIS LAMP," "ESTER RIED," "FOUR GIRLS AT CHAUTAUQUA," "CHAUTAUQUA GIRLS AT HOME," ETC.
BOSTON LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
Registered in U. S. Patent Office.
Entered according to the Act of Congress, by WESTERN TRACT AND BOOK SOCIETY, In the Office of the Congressional Librarian, District of Columbia, 1871.
COPYRIGHT, 1899, BY ISABELLA M. ALDEN.
* * * * *
I. SOME BABIES 5 II. JOHN BIRGE'S OPPORTUNITY 15 III. WOLFIE 26 IV. BRAIN WORK 37 V. TODE'S AMBITION 49 VI. NEW IDEAS 57 VII. TWO T'S 67 VIII. WHICH SHALL PROSPER, THIS OR THAT? 77 IX. TAKE IT AWAY 89 X. HABAKKUK 100 XI. BUSINESS AND BOTTLES 113 XII. THE STEPPING STONE 128 XIII. TODE'S REAL ESTATE 145 XIV. SIGNS AND WONDERS 162 XV. EXIT TODE MALL 178 XVI. PLEDGES AND PARTNERSHIPS 195 XVII. TRANSLATIONS 211 XVIII. WINE IS A MOCKER 223 XIX. THE THREE PEOPLE MEET AGAIN 242 XX. MRS. JENKINS' TOMMY 255 XXI. MIDNIGHT WORK 270 XXII. POOR PLINY 289 XXIII. JUDGMENTS 305 XXIV. A DOUBLE CRISIS 322 XXV. STEPS UPWARD 336 XXVI. THEODORE'S INSPIRATION 349 XXVII. DAWN AND DARKNESS 364 XXVIII. DEATH AND LIFE 383 XXIX. SOME MORE BABIES 398
"Tie the sash a very little looser, nurse, and give the loops a more graceful fall; there—so. Now he's a beauty! every inch of him." And Mrs. Hastings moved backward a few steps in order to get the full effect.
A beauty he was, certainly; others beside his mother would have admitted that. What baby fresh from a bath, and robed in the daintiest and most perfect of baby toilets, with tightly curling rings of brown hair covering the handsome head; with great sparkling, dancing blue eyes, and laughing rosebud mouth; with hands and feet and body strung on invisible wires, and quivering with life and glee, was ever other than a beauty?
The whole house was in commotion in honor of the fact that Master Pliny L. Hastings, only son and heir of the great Pliny Hastings, Senior, of Hastings' Hall, had "laughed and cried, and nodded and winked," through the entire space of three hundred and sixty-five days and nights, and actually reached the first anniversary of his birthday.
A remarkable boy was Pliny Hastings. He didn't know yet that his father was a millionaire, but he must have surmised it, for, as far back as he could remember, his bits of sleeves had been looped with real pearls; rosewood and lace and silk and down had united to make his tiny bed; he had bitten his first tooth through on a sphere of solid gold—and all the wonderful and improbable contrivances for royal babyhood that could be bought or imagined, met together in that grand house on the Avenue for this treasured bit of humanity.
On this particular day baby was out in all his glory; he had made the circuit of the great parlors, stopping on his way to be tossed toward the ceiling, in the arms of first one uncle and then another. He had been kissed and cuddled by all the aunties and cousins, until his cheeks were rosy with triumph; and, finally, he had been carried, shouting with glee, high up on his father's shoulder, down to the dining-room, and occupied the seat of honor at the long table, where he crowed, and laughed, and clapped his hands over every plum that found its way into his dainty mouth. This conduct was interspersed, however, by sundry dives and screams after the coffee urn and the ice pitcher, and various unattainable things—for there were unattainable things, even for Pliny Hastings. Oh, the times and times in his young life that he had cried for the beautiful round moon, and got it not! And even gaslight and firelight had hitherto eluded his eager grasp; but he had learned no lessons from his failures, and still pitched and dived after impossibilities in the most insane fashion. To-day he looked with indifference on the gold-lined silver cup bearing his name and age, and wanted the great carving fork instead. He cared not a whit that the sparkling wine was poured, and glasses were touched, and toasts drank on his account; but a touch of wisdom must have come over his baby brain, for he made a sudden dash at his father's glass, sending the red wine right and left, and shivering the frail glass to fragments; he did more than that, he promptly seized on one of the sharpest bits, and thereby cut a long crooked gash in the sweet chubby finger, and was finally borne, shrieking and struggling, from the room, his little heart filled with mingled feelings of terror and rage. So much for Baby Hastings and his birthday.
* * * * *
In a neat white house, no more than a mile away from this great mansion, there was another baby. It was just when Pliny Hastings was hurried away to the nursery that this baby's mother folded away papers, and otherwise tidied up her bit of a nursery, then pushed a little sewing chair in front of her work table, and paused ere she sat down to give another careful tuck to the blanketed bundle, which was cuddled in the great rocking chair, fast asleep. Then she gathered the doubled up fist into her hand, and caressed it softly, while she murmured: "Bless his precious little heart! he takes a splendid nap for his birthday, so he does."
"Ben," this to the gentleman who was lounging in another rocker, reading the paper, "does it seem possible that Bennie is a year old to-day? I declare, Ben, we ought to have got him a present for his birthday."
The father looked up from his paper with a good-natured laugh. "Seems to me he's rather youthful to begin on that tack, isn't he?"
"Oh, Ben, no! I want every one of his birthdays to be so nice and pleasant. Do, papa, come here and see how nice he looks, with his hair all in a curl."
Thus appealed to, Mr. Phillips came over to the arm-chair, and together they stood looking down on the treasured bit of flesh and blood.
"Our eldest born," the mother said, softly.
"And youngest, too, for the matter of that," answered Mr. Phillips, gaily.
His wife laughed. "Ben, there isn't the least bit of sentiment in you, is there? Now they are having a wonderful time to-day in the grand corner house on the Avenue, the Hastings' house, you know, and it's all because their baby is a year old to-day, and he isn't a bit nicer than ours."
"Their baby's father is worth a million."
"I don't care if he is worth a billion, that don't make their baby any sweeter. Say, Ben, I just wish, for the fun of it, we had some little cunning thing for his birthday present."
Mr. Phillips seemed to be very much amused. "Well," he said, still laughing, "Which shall it be, a razor or a jack-knife?"
His wife actually shuddered. "Ben!" she said, with a reproachful face, "how can you say such dreadful things? What if he should grow up and commit suicide?"
"What if I had a boy, and he should grow to be a man, and another man should tread on his toes, and he should knock the other man down, and the other man should die, and they should hang my boy," rattled off Mr. Phillips in anything but a grave tone.
"Little woman, that's what I should call looking into the future, isn't it?"
A knock at the door interrupted them, and Roxie, the tidy little maid of all work, who had been out for an afternoon, appeared to them, talking rapidly.
"If you please, ma'am, I'm a quarter late, and could you please to excuse me; the clock around the corner doesn't go, and Kate she didn't know the time; and Mrs. Meeker said would you please accept her love and these grapes in a basket. She says they're the finest of the lot, and you needn't mind sending of it home, 'cause she'll let little Susie step around after it."
This mixture set Mr. Phillips off into another of his hearty laughs; but when they were alone again, he seized one of the great purple clusters, and flinging himself on the floor in front of the baby, exclaimed:
"I'll tell you what we'll do, little wife: we'll present one of these to the boy, and then you and I will eat it in honor of his birthday, unless, indeed, there may be some bad omen in this, even. You know the juice of the grape may, under certain circumstances, become a dangerous article?"
Mrs. Phillips laughed carelessly as she nestled in the little sewing chair, and prepared to enjoy the grapes. "No," she said, gaily; "grapes are very harmless omens to me. I'm not the least afraid that Baby Benny will ever be a drunkard."
* * * * *
There used to be in Albany, not many years ago, a miniature "Five Points," and one didn't have to go very far up what is now Rensselaer Street to find it, either. There were tenement houses, which from attic to basement swarmed with filthy, ragged, repulsive human life.
In one of the lowest and meanest of these many cellars, on the very day, and at the identical hour, in which Master Pliny Hastings held high carnival at his father's table, and Baby Benny Phillips nestled and dreamed among the soft pillows of his mother's easy chair, a little brother of theirs, clad in dirt and rags, crawled over the reeking floor, and occupied himself in devouring eagerly every bit of potato skin or apple paring that came in his way. Was there ever a more forlorn looking specimen of a baby! It was its birthday, too—there are more babies in the world than we think for whose birthdays might be celebrated on the same day. But this one knew nothing about it—dear me! neither did his mother. I doubt if it had once occurred to her that this poor bit of scrawny, dirty, terrible baby had been through one whole year of life. And yet, perhaps, she loved her boy a little—her face looked sullen rather than wicked. On the whole, I think she did, for as she was about to ascend the stairs, with the sullen look deepening or changing into a sort of gloomy apprehension, she hesitated, glanced behind her, and finally, with a muttered "Plague take the young one," turned back, and, catching him by the arm of his tattered dress, landed him on the topmost step, in a mud-puddle! but she did it because she remembered that he would be very likely to climb into the tub of soapsuds that stood at the foot of the bed, and so get drowned.
Mrs. Ryan came up her cellar stairs at the same time, and looked over at her neighbor, then from her to her forlorn child, who, however, enjoyed the mud-puddle, and finally commenced a conversation.
"How old is that young one of yours?"
"Pretty near a year—why, let me see—what day is it?—why, I'll be bound if he ain't just a year old this very day."
"Birthday, eh? You ought to celebrate."
"Humph," said the mother, with a darkening face, "we shall likely; we do most generally. His loving father will get drunk, and if he don't pitch Tode head over heels out here on the stones, in honor of his birthday, I'll be thankful. Tode Mall, you stop crawling out to that gutter, or I'll shake you within an inch of your life!"
This last, in a louder and most threatening tone, to the ambitious baby. But poor Tode didn't understand, or forgot, or something, for while his mother talked with her companion, out he traveled toward the inviting gutter again, and tumbled into it, from whence he was carried, dripping and screaming, by his angry mother, who bestowed the promised shake, and added a vigorous slapping, whereat Tode kicked and yelled in a manner that proved him to be without doubt a near relative of Master Pliny Hastings himself. Three brothers they were, Messrs. Pliny, Bennie and Tode, opening their wondrous eyes on the world on precisely the same day of time, though under such different circumstances, and amid such different surroundings, that I doubt if it looked equally round to them all. Besides, they hadn't the least idea each of the existence of the other; but no matter for that, they were brothers, linked together in many a way.
Perhaps you wouldn't have had an idea that their fathers were each occupied in the same business; but such was the case. Pliny L. Hastings, the millionaire, owned and kept in motion two of the hotels in a western city where the bar-rooms were supplied with marble counters, and the customers were served from cut-glass goblets, resting on silver salvers. Besides he was a wholesale liquor dealer, and kept great warehouses constantly supplied with the precious stuff. Bennie Phillips' good-natured father was a grocer, on a modest and unpretending scale; but he had a back room in his store where he kept a few barrels of liquor for medicinal purposes, and a clerk in attendance. Tode Mall's father kept an unmitigated grog-shop, or rum hole, or whatever name you are pleased to call it, without any cut glass or medicinal purposes about it, and sold vile whisky at so much a drink to whoever had sunk low enough to buy it. So now you know all about how these three baby brothers commenced their lives.
JOHN BIRGE'S OPPORTUNITY.
One day it rained—oh, terribly. Albany is not a pleasant city when it rains, and Rensselaer Street is not a pleasant street. That was what John Birge thought as he held his umbrella low to avoid the slanting drops, and hurried himself down the muddy road, hurried until he came to a cellar stairs, and then he stopped short in the midst of rain and wind, such a pitiable sight met his eye, the figure of a human being, fallen down on that lowest stair in all the abandonment of drunkenness.
"This is awful!" muttered John Birge to himself. "I wonder if the poor wretch lives here, and if I can't get him in."
Wondering which, he hurried down the stairs, made his way carefully past the "poor wretch" and knocked at the door. No answer. He knocked louder, and this time a low "come in" rewarded him, and he promptly obeyed it. A woman was bending over a pile of straw and rags, and an object lying on top of them; and a squalid child, curled in one corner, with a wild, frightened look in his eyes. The woman turned as the door opened, and John Birge recognized her as his mother's washerwoman.
"Oh, Mr. Birge," she said, eagerly, "I'm too thankful for anything at seeing you. This woman is going so fast, she is; and what to do I don't know."
Mr. Birge set down his umbrella and shook himself free of what drops he could before he approached the straw and rags; then he saw that a woman lay on them, and on her face the purple shadows of death were gathering.
"What is it?" he asked, awe-struck. "What is the matter?"
"Clear case of murder, I call it. Her man is a drunkard, and a fiend, too, leastways when he's drunk he is—and he's pitched her down them there stairs once too often, I reckon. I was goin' to my work early this morning, and I heard her groaning, so I come in, and I just staid on ever since. Feelings is feelings, if a body does have to lose a day's work to pay for 'em. She lies like that for a spell, and then she rouses up and has an awful turn."
"Turn of what? Is she in pain?"
"No, I reckon not; it's her mind. She knows she's going, and it makes her wild, like. Maybe you can talk to her some, and do her good—there, she sees you!"
A pair of stony, rather than wild, eyes were suddenly fixed on Mr. Birge's face. He bent over her and spoke gently.
"My poor woman, what can I do for you?"
"Nothing at all," she said, stolidly. "My heart's broke, and that's the end of it. It don't make no difference what comes next, I'm done with it."
"But, my poor friend, are you ready for what is coming to you?"
"You mean I'm dying, I s'pose. Yes, I know that, and it makes no kind of difference. I've had enough of living, the land knows. Things can't be worse with me than they are here."
And now John spoke eagerly.
"But don't you know that they can be better, that there is a home and rest and peace waiting for you, and that the Lord Jesus Christ wants you?"
"I don't know anything about them things. I might, I s'pose, if I'd been a mind to. It's too late now, and I don't care about that, either. Things can't be worse, I tell you."
"It's not too late; don't ruin yourself with that folly. The Lord is all powerful. He can do anything. He doesn't need time as men do. He can save you now just as well as he could last year. All you have to do is to ask him; he will in no wise cast out; he 'is able to save to the uttermost.' Believe on him, and the work is all done."
It is impossible to tell the eager energy with which these words were poured forth by the man who saw that the purple shadows were creeping and the time was short; but the same stony look still settled on the listener's face, and she repeated with the indifference of despair—
"It's no use—my time is gone—it don't matter. My heart's broke, I tell you, and I don't care."
"He will save you if you will let him; he wants to. I can't tell you how much he has promised to hear the very faintest, latest call. Say 'Lord Jesus forgive me' with all your heart, and the work is done."
A sudden change swept over the sick stolid face, a gleam of interest in the dreary eyes, and she spoke with eagerness.
"Do you say he can do everything?"
"Everything. 'Whatever ye ask in my name, believing, ye shall receive.' These are his own words."
"Does he believe in rum?"
"No!" promptly replied the startled, but strongly temperate John Birge.
"Then I'll pray," was the quick response. "I never prayed in my life, but I will now; like enough I can save him yet. You folks think he can hear everything that's said, don't you?"
Strangely moved as well as startled, her visitor answered her only by a bow. The shaking hands were clasped, and in a clear firm voice the sick woman spoke:
"O Lord, don't let Tode ever drink a drop of rum!"
Then the little boy crouching in the corner, rose up and came quickly over to his mother.
"Keep away, Tode," said the woman at the foot of the bed, speaking in an awe-stricken voice. "Keep away, don't touch her; she ain't talking to you."
Not so much as a glance did the mother bestow upon her boy, but repeated over and over again the sentence, "O Lord, don't let Tode ever touch a drop of rum."
"Is that the way?" she asked, suddenly turning her sharp bright eyes full on Mr. Birge.
"Is that the way they pray? are them the right kind of words to use?"
"My poor friend," began he, but she interrupted him impatiently.
"Just tell me if that's the name you call him by when you pray?"
"Yes," he said. "Only won't you add to them, 'And forgive and save me for Jesus' sake.'"
"Never mind me," she answered, promptly. "'Tain't of no consequence about me, never has been; and I haven't no time to waste on myself. I want to save him. 'O Lord, don't let Tode ever touch a drop of rum.'"
"He doesn't need time," pleaded her visitor. "He can hear both prayers at once. He can save both you and Tode in a second of time; and he loves you and is waiting."
This was her answer:
"O Lord, don't let Tode ever touch a drop of rum."
All that woman's soul was swallowed up in the one great longing. Unable longer to endure the scene in silence, John Birge dropped on his knees and said:
"Lord Jesus, hear this prayer for her boy, and save this poor woman who will not pray for herself."
The words seemed to arrest her attention.
"What do you care?" she added, at length.
"The Lord Jesus cares. He died to save you."
Then John Birge repeated his prayer, adding a few simple words.
The little silence that followed was broken by the repetition of the poor woman's one solemn sentence:
"O Lord, don't let Tode ever touch a drop of rum."
"And save me," added John Birge.
"And save me"—her lips took up the sentence—"for Jesus' sake."
"For Jesus' sake."
The next time she added these words of her own accord; and again and again was the solemn cry repeated, until there came a sudden changing of the purple shadows into solemn ashy gray, and with one half-murmured effort, "not a drop of rum" and "for Jesus' sake," the voice was forever hushed.
The neighbor watcher was the first to break the stillness.
"Well, I never in all my life!" she ejaculated, speaking solemnly. "For the land's sake! I wish every rum-seller in the world could a heard her. Well, her troubles is over, Mr. Birge. Now, what's to be done next?"
"Is she anything to you, Mary, except an acquaintance?"
"I'm thankful to say she ain't. If she had been I'd expect to die of shame for letting her die in this hole. She's a neighbor of mine, at least I live around the corner; but I don't know much about her, only that her man comes home drunk about every night, and tears around like a wild beast."
Which last recalled to John's remembrance the reason of his being in that room.
"Is that her husband lying out there?" he asked, nodding toward the door.
"Yes, it is. Been there long enough to know something by this time, I should think, too."
"It seems to me the first thing to be done is to get him in here; it isn't decent to leave him in this storm."
"It's decenter than he deserves, in my opinion, enough sight," Mary muttered.
Nevertheless they went toward the door, and with infinite pains and much fearful swearing from the partially roused man, they succeeded in pushing and pulling and dragging him inside the cellar on the floor, when he immediately sank back into heavy sleep.
"Isn't he a picture of a man, now?" said the sturdy Mary, with a face and gesture of intense disgust.
"I would rather be he than the man who sold him the rum," her companion answered, solemnly. "Well, Mary, have you time to stay here awhile, or must you go at once?"
"I'll take time, sir. Feelings is feelings, if I be poor; and I can't leave the boy and all, like this."
"Very well. You shall not suffer for your kind act. I'll go at once to notify the Coroner and the proper authorities, and meantime my mother will probably step around. Shall I have this fellow taken to the station?"
"No," said Mary, with another disgusted look at the drunken man. "Let the beast sleep it out; he's beyond hurting anybody, and she wouldn't want him sent to the station."
* * * * *
"It was the most solemnly awful sight I ever saw," said John Birge, telling it all over to his friend McElroy. "I never shall forget that woman's prayer. It was the most tremendous temperance lecture I ever heard."
"Is the woman buried?"
"Yes, this afternoon. They hurry such matters abominably, McElroy. Mother saw, though, that things were decent, and did what she could. We mean to keep an eye on the boy. He has great wild eyes, and a head that suggests great possibilities of good or evil, as the case may be. We would like to get him into one of the Children's Homes, and look after him. I meant to go around there this very evening and see what I could do. What do you say to going with me now?"
"Easy enough thing to accomplish, I should think. I presume his father will be glad to get rid of him; but it's storming tremendously, is it not?"
"Pretty hard. It does four-fifths of the time in Albany, you know. Wouldn't you venture?"
"Why, it strikes me not, unless it were a case of life and death, or something of that sort. I should like to assist in rescuing the waif, but won't it do to-morrow?"
"I presume so. We'll go to-morrow after class, then. Well, take the rocking chair and an apple, and make yourself comfortable. I say, McElroy, when I get into my profession I'll preach temperance, shall not you?"
* * * * *
Rain and wind and storm were over by the next afternoon; the sun shone out brilliantly, trying to glorify even the upper end of Rensselaer Street through which the two young men were sauntering, in search of the waif on whom John Birge meant to keep an eye.
"I'm strangely interested in the boy," Birge was saying. "That prayer was something so strange, so fearfully solemn, and the circumstances connected with my stumbling upon them at all were so sad. I was sorry after I left that I had not tried to impress upon the little fellow's mind the solemn meaning of his mother's last words. I half went back to have a little talk with him, but then I thought there would be sufficient opportunity for that in the future. Here, this is the cellar. Be careful how you tread, these steps are abominable. Hallo! Why, what on earth!"
They descended the stairs; they knocked at the door, but they received no answer; they tried the door, it was locked; they looked in at the rickety window, the miserable stove, the rags, even the straw, were gone—no trace of human residence was to be seen.
It does not take long to move away from Rensselaer Street. Tode and his father were gone; and neither then nor afterward for many a day, though John Birge and his companion made earnest search, were they to be found. The "sufficient opportunity" was gone, too, and young Birge kept no eye on the boy; but there was an All-seeing eye looking down on poor Tode all the while.
Mr. Hastings started on a journey. It was midwinter, so he muffled himself in overcoat and furs, and carried his great fur-lined traveling cloak, all nicely rolled and strapped, ready for extra occasions.
He was not in the very best humor when the night express reached Albany, and he had finally changed his quarters from the Central to the Hudson River Railroad. His arrangements had not been made for spending the night on the train at all; his plan was to be fairly settled under the blankets in a New York hotel by this time, but there had been detention after detention all along his route. So the great man settled himself with what grace he could, and unstrapped the fur-lined cloak, and made other preparations for passing a night in the cars, his face, meanwhile, wearing an ominous frown.
It was not so much the sitting-up all night that troubled him, for Mr. Hastings was in excellent health, and an excellent traveler, and really did not so much mind the fatigue; but he was a man accustomed to carrying out his plans and intentions to the very letter, and it jarred upon him to have even snow and ice audacious enough to interfere.
There were other travelers that night who had no fur-lined cloaks. One in particular, who sat near the stove, and made such good use of the dampers that Mr. Hastings had no use for his cloak, even after unstrapping it, but flung it into a great furry heap on the nearest seat behind him, and knew not then, nor ever, that the insignificant little act was one of the tiny links in the chain of circumstances that were molding Tode Mall's life.
Tode Mall started on a journey that very evening. He didn't pack his valise, nor take his overcoat, nor ride to the depot in a carriage. In fact, his father kicked him out of the cellar like a foot-ball, and bade him good-by in these words:
"There! get out. And don't let me ever see a sight of your face again."
Tode rolled over once in the snow, then got up and shook himself, and made prompt answer:
"All right! I'm agreed."
He then stuffed his hands into the ragged pockets of his ragged jacket, and marched off up town, and because he happened to roll over and come up with his face turned in the direction of the depot, is the only known reason why he walked up town instead of down.
Apparently he didn't take his father's late treatment very much to heart.
"He's drunk," he said, philosophically. "That's what's the matter with him. In about two hours he'll be over this part of the carouse and be snoring, then I'll slip back all right, if I don't freeze beforehand. Ain't it cold, though. I must travel faster than this."
On he went aimlessly, reached the depot presently, and followed the crowd who crossed the river, for no better reason than that a great many people seemed to be going that way. Following a portion of this same crowd brought him at last to a platform of the departing train, just as the steam-horse was giving a premonitory snort, and the official called out for the second time:
"No, we ain't exactly," said Tode. "But it wouldn't take long to get aboard if that is what you want, particularly if you've got a fire in there."
And he peered curiously in at the drowsy passengers. It was just at this point that Mr. Hastings threw his furry cloak away from him, and settled among his other wraps for a night's rest. The action caught Tode's eye.
"My! ain't that fellow comfortable?" chuckled he to himself. "Got a wolf there that he don't appear to need. If he'd lend it to me I wouldn't mind keeping him company for a spell. S'pose I try it?"
And suiting the action to the word he pushed open the door, and walked boldly forward among the sleepy people, halted at the stove, and while the delicious sense of warmth crept slowly over him he kept one eye on Mr. Hastings until he felt sure, just as the train got fairly into motion, that the gentleman had fairly commenced his nap, then he slid himself into the empty seat, and used his hands and his wits in so disposing of the "wolf" that it would cover his cuddled up body completely, and at the same time look like nothing but an innocent cloak thrown carelessly on the seat; and he chuckled as distinctly as he dared when he heard the conductor's voice calling "tickets" to the sleepy people, and presently the door opened, and shut with a slam, and the silence that followed showed that he considered his business with that car finished.
"He didn't ask Wolfie for his ticket," giggled Tode. "I reckon he don't know he's alive, no more don't the man that thinks he owns him. I say now, what if he gets a cold streak, and wants to borrow Wolfie for himself after a spell? Poh!" he added after a minute, "it's easy enough to get out the way I came in; but it will be time enough to do it when I have to. I ain't going to keep doing it all night. I vote for one good warm nap, I do—so here goes."
And Tode went straightway to the land of dreams. The night wore on, the restless traveler near the stove dozed and wakened and attended to the dampers, thereby all unknowingly contributing his mite to Tode's warm journey. The train halted now and again at a station, and a few sleepy people stumbled off, and a few wide-awake ones came on, but still seats were comparatively plenty and no one disturbed the fur cloak. In the course of time Tode's sleep grew less sound; he twisted around as much as his limits would allow, and punched an imaginary bed-fellow with his elbow, muttering meanwhile:
"Keep still now. Which of you is joggling?"
The joggling continued, and at last the boy twisted and punched himself awake and into a sitting posture, and finally the look of unmixed astonishment with which he took in his surroundings, gave way to one of unmistakable fun.
"Here's a go!" he at last informed himself. "I've come a journey and no mistake; made a night of it sure as I live. Lucky I waked up first of this crowd. If somebody had sat down on Wolfie now by mistake, there might have been trouble. Guess I'll look about me."
He shook himself free from the cloak and sauntered out on the platform. The gray dawn was just glimmering over the frozen earth, the world looked snowy and icy and desolate. On swept the train, and not a familiar object met his eye. Did Tode feel dreary and homesick, lost in the whizzing strangeness, sorry he had come? Did he want to shrink away from sight and sound? Did he feel that he would give anything in the world to be landed at that moment somewhere near Broadway in Albany? Not a bit of it! Nothing of the sort entered his brain. He feel homesick! Why his home was anywhere and nowhere. Since that day, years ago, when his mother died, he had had less of a home than even before. Sometimes he slept on the cellar floor with his father, but oftener in the street, in a stable, or curled in a barrel when he had the good fortune to find one—anywhere; but never in all his life had he spent such a comfortable night as this last had been. But his father? Oh dear, you don't know what fathers can become to their children, if you think he missed him. Please remember his last act had been to kick his son out of a cellar into the snow; but Tode bore him no ill-will for this or any other attention. Oh no, nor good-will either. Why, his father was simply less than nothing to him. So this morning, without an idea as to what he was going to do next, he stood and watched himself being whirled into New York, with no feeling save one of extreme satisfaction at the success of his last night's plan, and alert only to keep out of the reach of the conductor. The car door slammed behind him, and he turned quickly, as two gentlemen came out. One of them eyed him closely, and finally addressed him.
"Who are you with, my lad?"
Tode chuckled inwardly at this question, but added promptly enough,
"A man in there," nodding his head toward the car which contained Mr. Hastings.
"Humph! the man must be crazy to let his servant travel in such a suit as that in this bitter weather."
This remark was addressed to his companion as the two passed into the next car. Tode chuckled outright this time; he had a new idea.
"That's the talk," he informed himself. "I'm his servant; just it prezackly—much obliged. I hadn't thought of that arrangement before, but I like the plan first rate. Maybe Wolfie and I will get another night or so together by the means."
So now he had two items of business on hand, dodging the conductor and keeping an eye on his traveling companion. The first he managed to accomplish by dint of always passing out at one end of the car just as that official was entering at the other, aided in his scheme by the fact that it was not yet light, and also that they were fairly in the city. But the last was an extremely difficult matter. A dozen times, as he breathlessly pushed and elbowed his way through the hurrying crowd, did he think that he had hopelessly lost sight of his guide, and as often did he catch another glimpse of him and push on. At last a car, not too full for Mr. Hastings to crowd himself into, rewarded his signal, and Tode plunged after him as far as the platform. There he halted. There were many passengers and much fare to collect, so our young scamp had enjoyed quite a ride before his turn came.
"Fare," said the conductor at last, briefly and sharply, right at his elbow.
"Yes, sir," answered Tode as promptly. "Only it's pretty cold and windy."
"Pay your fare," shouted the conductor.
"Oh bless me—yes, to be sure."
And Tode fumbled in both pockets, drawing out bits of strings and balls of paper and ends of candles, everything but pennies; then looked up with an innocent face.
"Why, as true as you live, I haven't got a cent."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"Why riding, to be sure. It's enough sight nicer than walking this windy day. Your driver stopped for everybody that held up his hand. I saw him, so when I was invited kind of, how did I know I'd have to pay?"
The demure, innocent, childlike air with which Tode rattled off this story can not be described. The conductor laughed.
"You're either very green or VERY old," he said at last. "And I'm not sure which. Where do you want to go?"
"Oh I ain't a bit particular. You needn't go out of your way on my account. I'll ride right along with you, and look at the sights."
Which accommodating spirit seemed greatly to amuse the other platform riders; and as the car stopped at that moment for passengers, the conductor turned away with a laugh, and left Tode to enjoy his ride in peace.
On they went, and in spite of driving snow and sleet, Tode managed to make the acquaintance of the driver, and get considerable amusement out of his trip, when he suddenly broke off in the midst of a sentence, and cleared the steps with a bound. Mr. Hastings had left the car and crossed the street. Then commenced another chase, around the corner, down one block, up another, on and on, until Tode, panting and breathless, brought up at last before a grand hotel, inside which Mr. Hastings vanished. Tode pushed boldly forward, shied behind a fat gentleman who ran against them in the hall, and remained hidden long enough to overhear the following conversation:
"Why, Mr. Hastings! How do you do? When did you arrive?"
"By the morning train, sir. All full here?"
"Well, comfortably so. Make room for you without a doubt. Stop here?"
"Yes, sir. Always do."
"No, return on Friday. Waiter, this way, sir."
Tode drew a long breath of relief, and dodged out.
"Well," said he, with a satisfied air, "I'm thankful to say I've got that man landed at last where he'll be likely to stay for some time. He's Mr. Hastings, is he? It's convenient to know who one belongs to. Now I must trudge off and do a little business on my own account, seeing we 'return on Friday.' First let's take a look at the name of this place where I've decided to leave him, and this street is—yes, I see. Now I'm all right—trust me for finding my way here again. Don't you be one mite worried, Brother Hastings, I'll be around in time."
And Tode disappeared around a corner, whistling merrily.
What Tode didn't do during those three days' tarry in New York could be told almost better than what he did. No country novice visiting the great city for the first time could have begun to crowd in the sights and scenes that revealed themselves to Tode's eager, wide-open eyes, in the same space of time.
The boy had the advantage of most such, in that he had not much to eat, and nowhere to eat it; also that he was in the habit of sleeping nowhere in particular, consequently these matters took up very little of his time. However he fared well, better than usual. He carried a package for an over-loaded man for a short distance, thereby earning ten cents, which he immediately expended in peanuts, and became peanut merchant for the time being. So by dint of changing his business ten or a dozen times, and being always on the alert, and understanding pretty thoroughly the art of economy, he managed his lodging and three meals a day, and was richer by twenty-five cents on the morning when he prepared to take his departure than he was when he arrived in the city, a fact of which few people who have been spending several days in New York can boast.
Tode's fancy for attaching himself to Mr. Hastings still continued in full force, and brought him bright and early on Friday morning around to the hotel, where he had last seen him. Not one minute too early, however, and but for Mr. Hastings' own tardiness too late. He had just missed a car, and no other was in sight. Tode took in the situation at a glance, and hopped across the street.
"Carry your baggage, sir?"
Mr. Hastings had a valise, a package, a cane, an umbrella, and the great fur-lined cloak. He appreciated Tode's assistance.
"Yes," he said. "Take this, and this."
Away they went down town to head off another car, which was presently signaled.
"Jump in, boy, and be ready to help me at the other end, if you're a mind to," said Mr. Hastings, graciously, noticing the wistful look on the boy's face, and thinking he wanted a ride.
Tode obeyed in great glee; he considered this a streak of luck. He sat beside Mr. Hastings and watched with great satisfaction while that gentleman counted out double fare. For the first time, Tode thought they had assumed proper positions toward each other. Of course Mr. Hastings ought to pay his fare since he belonged to him.
Arrived at the depot, and Mr. Hastings' baggage properly disposed of, himself paid, and supposed to be dismissed, Tode was in a quandary. Here was the train, and on it he meant to travel; but how to manage it was another question. It was broad daylight; sleep and Wolfie couldn't serve him now. He stuffed his hands into his pocket, and studied ways and means; eyes bent on the ground, and the ground helped him, rather a bit of pasteboard did. He picked it up, and read, first in bewilderment then in delight: "New York to Castleton." A ticket! all properly stamped, and paid for, undoubtedly. Did Tode hesitate, have great qualms of conscience, consider what he ought to do, how to set about to find the owner? He never once thought of any thing. Poor Tode hardly knew so much as that there were such articles as consciences, much less that he had anything to do with them. Somebody had lost his ticket, and he had found it, and it was precisely what he wanted. Once at Castleton, it would be an easy matter to get to Albany. He thrust the precious card into his pocket, swung himself on the train, and selected his seat at leisure. Tode had never been to Sabbath-school, had never in his life knelt at the family altar and been prayed for. There are boys, I fear me, who having been shielded by both these things, placed in like position would have followed his example.
The seat he selected was as far as possible removed from the one which Mr. Hastings occupied. It was no part of Tode's plan to be discovered by that gentleman just at present. On the whole, this part of his journey was voted "tame." He had to sit up in his seat, and show his ticket like any one else; and it required no skill at all to forget to jump off at Castleton, and so of necessity be carried on. He sauntered over in Mr. Hastings' vicinity once, and heard an important conversation.
"Can you tell me, sir," inquired that gentleman of his next neighbor, "whether by taking the midnight train at Albany I shall reach Buffalo in time to connect with a train on the Lake Shore Road?"
"You will, sir; but it is a slow train. By keeping right on now you can connect with the Lake Shore Express."
"I know; but I have business that will detain me in Albany."
"So have I," muttered Tode, well pleased with the arrangement, and went back to his seat.
* * * * *
"Halloo, Tode! where you been?" called out a sixteen-year old comrade from a cellar grocery window, as Tode turned out of Broadway that same evening.
"Been traveling for my health. Say, Jerry, seen anything of father lately?"
"He's gone off on a frolic. Went night before last—bag and baggage."
"Where did he go?"
Jerry shook his head.
"More than I know. Doubt if he knew himself about the time he started; but he'll bring up all right after a spell, likely."
Landed in Albany, the only home he knew, Tode had his first touch of loneliness and depression. The cellar was closed, his father gone, no one knew where nor for how long an absence, nor even if he meant to return at all. Tode was cold and dreary. Up to this time he had followed out his whim of belonging to the owner of the fur cloak, merely as a whim, with no definite purpose at all; but now, queerly enough, parted with the man with whom he had journeyed, and over whom he kept so close a watch during these four days, he had a feeling of loneliness as if he had lost something—he begun to wish he did belong to him in very truth. Suppose he did, worked for him say, and earned a warm place to sleep in of nights—this was the hight of his present ambition. The warm place to sleep suggested to him the good night's rest under the cloak, and also the fact that there was another bitter night shutting down rapidly over the earth, and that he had no spot for shelter.
"I'll push on," he said at last, in a decisive tone. "I'd as lief go to Buffalo as anywhere else—the thing is to get there; but then I can get on the cars, and get off at Buffalo if I can, and before if I have to."
This matter settled, his spirits began to rise at once; and by the time Mr. Hastings and he crowded their way through the midnight train, the cars contained no such gleeful spirit as Tode Mall's.
More skill was needed than on the preceding journey, for the fur-lined cloak was thrown over the back of the seat fronting him this time, and Mr. Hastings sat erect and wide awake, and looked extremely cross.
"I have the most extraordinary luck," he was telling a man, as Tode entered. "Nothing but delay and confusion since I left home. Never had such an experience before."
But the car was warm and the air was heavy, and Mr. Hastings' erect head began to nod in a suspicious manner. Tode watched and waited, and was finally rewarded. The gentleman made deliberate preparations for a nap, and was soon taking it.
Now for the young scamp's trial of skill! He slipped into the vacant seat—he curled himself into a ball—he pulled and twitched softly and dextrously at the fur cloak, to make it come down and lie over him in such a manner that it would look like pure accident; and at last he was settled for the night. He felt the soft, delicious, furry warmth once more, and he hugged his friend and fairly shook with delight and triumph.
"Oh, ho! Ha! Hum!" he chuckled. "How are you, Wolfie? How've you been? You and me is friends, we is. We're travelers, we are. Now, we'll have a tall sleep. Ain't this just the jolliest thing, though?"
Then Tode went to sleep. By and by he felt a jerking. He roused up, the car lamps were burning dim. Mr. Hastings was pulling at his cloak and eyed him severely, but Tode innocently and earnestly helped him to right it, and treated its tumble over on to him as a very natural accident. The train was at a stand-still. Tode thought best to find out his whereabouts. He went out to the platform.
"What station is this?" he inquired of a boy who, like himself, was peering into the darkness.
"Oh, this is a way-station. We'll be in Syracuse in about half an hour. We've got to change cars there."
"We don't if we're going to Buffalo," answered Tode, in a business-like tone. He knew nothing whatever about the matter.
"Yes we do, too. Got to wait an hour. I just asked the conductor."
Tode walked in and took his seat; he saw his way clear. Presently came the conductor, and halted before him. Tode's hand sought his pocket.
"How much to Syracuse?" he questioned; and being naturally told the rate of fare from their last stopping place to Syracuse, he counted it out and sat back at his leisure.
At Syracuse Mr. Hastings went into the hotel to get his breakfast. Tode walked the piazza and whistled for his; besides he had something to do. He didn't see his way clear, but the more difficult the way grew the more delightful it looked to Tode, and the more determined was he to tread it. The hour sped on. Mr. Hastings' breakfast was concluded. He was in the depot now talking with an acquaintance. Tode was just behind him thinking still.
"All aboard!" shouted the official. "Passengers for Buffalo this way!"
And Mr. Hastings caught up valise, bundle, umbrella, cane, and vanished—all those, but the fur-lined cloak lay innocently cuddled in a warm heap on the seat. Tode seized upon it in an instant and hugged it close.
"Oh, Wolfie, Wolfie!" he chuckled, "You're the best friend I got in the world. You went and got left on my account, didn't you?"
It was but the work of a moment to hustle himself and his prize into the train—not into the car that Mr. Hastings had taken—and once more they were off.
When they were fairly under way he presented himself before the astonished eyes of Mr. Hastings with this brief sentence:
"Here he is, sir, safe and sound."
"Here who is?"
"Wolfie, sir. You left him lying on a seat in Syracuse, and I got him and jumped on."
"Why, is it possible I left my cloak? Why, bless me! I never did such a careless thing before in my life; and so you jumped on, and have got carried off by the means. Well, sir, you're an honest boy; and now what shall I give you to make it all right?"
"I want to get to Buffalo like sixty," answered Tode, meekly. "And I haven't a cent to my name."
"You do, eh? And you would like to have me pay your fare? Well, that's not an unreasonable demand, seeing this is a very valuable cloak."
And Mr. Hastings counted out the fare to Buffalo and a few pennies over; and Tode thankfully received it, and went out and sat down in a corner and whistled.
Imagine Mr. Hastings' astonishment when, soon after he had made his last change of cars and was speeding homeward on the Lake Shore Road, Tode appeared to him.
"Well!" was his exclamation, "what are you doing here? This isn't Buffalo."
"No, sir; but a fellow sometimes has to get to Buffalo before he can get to Cleveland, you know."
"Oh, you're bound for Cleveland, are you? And who pays your way this time?"
"Well, sir," said Tode, gravely, "I'm traveling with you."
"I am. I've been from Albany to New York with you, and I left you at the hotel, and I came after you on Friday, and carried your valise and things to the cars, and came up to Albany with you, and waited for you until the midnight train, and came on to Syracuse with you, and waited while you got your breakfast—and here I am."
Unbounded amazement kept Mr. Hastings silent. Presently he asked, incredulously:
"Who paid your fare all this time?"
"Wolfie," pointing to the cloak. "I hid under him, and cuddled up, and he made it all right with the conductor."
Mr. Hastings' face was a study—astonishment, indignation and fun each struggling for the mastery. At last his face broadened, and his eyes twinkled, and he leaned back in his seat and indulged in a long, loud, hearty laugh. Tode's eyes twinkled, but he waited decorously for the laugh to subside.
"This is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of in my life," began the gentleman when he could speak.
"So you're traveling with me, are you? And what do you propose to do when you get to Cleveland?"
"Mean to work for you, sir."
"Upon my word! How do you know I shall need your help?"
"You've needed it several times on this journey," said Tode, significantly.
Whereupon Mr. Hastings laughed again.
"You'll do," he said at length. "I don't see that you need any help from me. I should say that you are thoroughly capable of taking care of yourself."
Tode shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm a stranger on this road," he answered, gravely. "Just as you was on the Central and them roads, I suppose."
"And you think inasmuch as you took care of me during the time I spent on your roads, I ought to return the favor now we are on mine." This with a strong emphasis on that word "mine."
"Well, sir, I don't know that I ever did so foolish a thing in my life, but then you must be considered as a remarkable specimen. Conductor, could you do me the favor to pass this youngster through to Cleveland?"
Mr. Hastings spoke with easy assurance. Tode didn't know how nearly he had touched the truth when he hinted at the great man's power on that road.
"Certainly, sir," answered the obliging conductor, "if it will be a favor to you."
"All right, sir. Now, young man, help yourself to a seat, and I shall expect to be most thoroughly cared for during the rest of this journey."
Tode obeyed with great alacrity, and gave himself a great many little commendatory nods and pats for the successful way in which he had managed the whole of this delicate and difficult business.
Mr. Hastings' elegant carriage was drawn up at a safe distance from the puffing iron animal who had just screeched his way into the depot. The coachman on the box managed with dextrous hand the two black horses who seemed disposed to resent the coming of their puffing rival, while with his hand resting on the knob of the carriage door, looking right and left for somebody, and finally springing forward to welcome his father, was Master Pliny Hastings, older by fourteen years than when that dinner party was given in honor of his birthday.
"Tumble up there with the driver," was Mr. Hastings' direction to Tode, who stood and looked with open-eyed delight on carriage, horses, driver, everything, while father and son exchanged greeting.
Pliny did wait until the carriage door was closed before he burst forth with:
"Father, where on earth did you pick up that bundle of rags, and what did you bring him home for?"
"He brought me, I believe," answered Mr. Hastings, laughing at the droll remembrance. "At least I think you'll find that's his version of the matter."
"What are you going to do with him?"
"More than I know. I'm entirely at his disposal."
"Father, how queer you are. What's his name?"
"Upon my word I don't know. I never thought to inquire. You may question him to your heart's content when you get home. There is a funny story connected with him, which I will tell you sometime. Meantime let me rest and tell me the news."
"He is a very smart specimen, Augusta," explained Mr. Hastings to his wife that evening, when she looked aghast at the idea of harboring Tode for the night.
"A remarkable boy in some respects, and I fancy he may really become a prize in the way of a waiter at one of the hotels. These fellows who have brought themselves up on the street do sometimes develop a surprising aptitude for business, and I am greatly mistaken if this one is not of that stamp. I'll take him off your hands in the morning, Augusta, and he can't demoralize Pliny in one evening. Besides," he added as a lofty afterthought, "if my son can be injured by coming in contact with evil in any shape, I am ashamed of him."
In very much the same style was Tode introduced at one of the grand hotels the next morning.
"The boy is sharp enough for anything," explained Mr. Hastings to the landlord. "I don't believe you will find his match in the city. Suppose you take him in, and see what you can do for him?"
The landlord eyed the very ragged, and very roguish, and very doubtful looking personage thus introduced with a not particularly hopeful face; but Mr. Hastings was a person to be pleased first and foremost under all circumstances, so the answer was prompt.
"Well, sir, if you wish it we will give him a trial, of course; but what can we set him at in that plight?"
"Um," remarked Mr. Hastings, thoughtfully, "I hadn't thought of that. Oh well, he means to earn some better clothes at once. Isn't that so, my lad?"
Tode nodded. He hadn't thought of such a thing—his aim was still only a warm place to sleep in; but he immediately set down better clothes as another hight to be attained.
"Meantime, Mr. Roberts, hasn't Tom some old clothes that he has outgrown? This fellow is shorter than Tom, I should think. He'll work for his board and clothes, of course, for the present. Can you make it go, Mr. Roberts?"
Mr. Roberts thought he could, and as Mr. Hastings drew on his gloves he remarked to that gentleman aside:
"I've taken a most unaccountable interest in the young scamp. He's a scamp, no mistake about that, and he'll have to be looked after very closely. But then he's sharp, sharp as steel; just the sort to develop into a business man with the right kind of training, such as he will receive here. The way in which he wheedled me into bringing him home with me was a most astonishing proceeding. I shall have to tell you all about it when we are more at leisure. Good-morning, sir."
And Mr. Hastings bowed himself out.
By noon Tode was fairly launched upon his new life, and made such good use of his eyes and ears that in some respects he knew more about the business than did the new errand boy who had been there for a week. For the first time in his life he was going to earn his living.
Mr. Hastings was correct in his opinion. Tode was sharp; yet he was after all, not unlike a piece of soft putty, ready to be molded into almost any shape, ready to take an impression from anything that he chanced to touch. If the people who dined at that great hotel on the Avenue during those following weeks could have known how the chance words which they let drop, and in dropping forgot, were gathered up by that round-eyed boy, how startled they would have been! There was one memory which stood out sharply in Tode's life—it was of his mother's death. The boy had never in his fifteen years of life heard but one prayer, that was his mother's, it was for him: "O Lord, don't let Tode ever drink a drop of rum." He had very vague ideas in regard to prayer, very bewildering notions concerning the Being to whom this prayer was addressed; but he knew what rum was—he had excellent reason to know; and he knew that these words of his mother's had been terribly earnest ones—they had burned themselves into his brain. He remembered his mother as one who had given him what little care and kindness he had ever received. Finally he had a sturdy, positive, emphatic will of his own, which is not a bad thing to have if one takes proper care of it. So without any sort of idea as to the right or wrong of the matter, with perfect indifference as to whether this thing came under either head, he had sturdily resolved that he would never, no never, so long as he lived, drink a drop of rum. In this resolution he had been strengthened by the constant jeers and gibes and offerings of his father not only but of his boon companions.
There are natures which grow stronger by opposition. Tode had one of these; so the very forces which would have met to ruin nine boys out of ten, came and rallied around him to strengthen his purpose. So Tode, having been brought up, or rather having come up, thus far in one of the lowest of low grog-shops, had steadily and defiantly adhered to his determination. It was seven years since his mother's prayer had gone up to God; Tode, only seven at that time, but older by almost a dozen years than are those boys of seven who have been tenderly and carefully reared in happy homes, had taken in the full force of that one oft-repeated sentence and had lived it ever since.
Behold him now, the caterpillar transformed into the butterfly. He had shuffled off the grog-shop, and fluttered into one of the brightest of Cleveland hotels. The bright-winged moth singes itself in the brilliant gaslight sometimes where the caterpillar never comes.
Queer thoughts came into Tode's head with that suit of new clothes with which he presently arrayed himself. Not particularly new, either. Tom Roberts was in college, and they were his cast-off attire, worn before he, too, in his way became a butterfly; and he would not have been seen in them—no, nor have had it enter into the mind of one of his college mates that he ever had been seen in them, for a considerable sum even of spending money.
Different eyes have such different ways of looking at the same thing. Tode will never forget how that suit of clothes looked to his eyes, nor how, when arrayed in them, he stood before his bit of glass, and took a calm, full, deliberate survey of himself. To be sure, Tom being a chunk and Tode being long limbed, notwithstanding Mr. Hastings' supposition to the contrary, pants and jacket sleeves were somewhat lacking in length; moreover there was a patch on each knee, and you have no idea how nice those patches looked to Tode. Why, bless you! he was used to seeing great jagged, unseemly holes where these same neat patches now were. Also he had on a shirt! A real, honest white shirt; and so persistently does one improvement urge upon us the necessity of another in this world, that Tode had already been obliged to doff his shirt once in order to bring his face and hair into something like propriety, that the contrast might not be too sharp.
There was a stirring of new emotions in his heart. Perhaps he then and there resolved to be a genius, to be the president, or at least the governor; perhaps he did, but he only gave his thoughts utterance after this fashion:
"Jemima Jane! Do you tell the truth, you young upstart in the glass there? Be you Tode Mall, no mistake? Well now, for the land's sake, a fellow does look better in a shirt, that's as true as whistling. I mean to have a shirt of my own, I do now. S'pose these are mine after I earn 'em. Oh, ho; me earn a shirt for myself. Ain't that rich now? What you s'pose Jerry would think of that, hey, old fellow in the glass? Well, why not? Like enough I'll earn a pair of boots some day. I will now, true's you live; it's real jolly. I wonder a fellow never thought of it before. Oh I'll be some; I'll have a yellow bow one of these days for a cravat, see if I don't!"
And this was the hight and end and aim of Tode's ambition.
"Come," said Pliny Hastings, halting before the hotel, and addressing his companion, "father said if it snowed hard when school was out to come in here to dinner."
"Well, go ahead, then," answered his friend, gaily. "Father didn't tell me so, and I suppose I must go home."
"Oh bother—come on and get some dinner with me; then when the pelting storm is over we'll go up together."
So the two came into the great dining-room, and Tode came briskly forward to help them. Tode had been in his new sphere for more than three weeks, and already began to pride himself on being the briskest "fellow in the lot."
Pliny Hastings ordered dinner for two with an ease and promptness that proved him to be quite accustomed to the proceeding; and Tode dodged hither and thither, and finally hovered near, and looked on with admiring eyes as the two ate and drank, and talked and laughed. Thus far in his life Tode had been, without being aware of it, a believer in "blood descent," distinct spheres in life, and all that sort of nonsense. He was a boy to be sure, but it had never so much as occurred to him that he could be even remotely connected with such specimens of boyhood as were before him now. Not that they were any better than he. Oh no, Tode never harbored such a thought for a moment; but then they were different, that he saw, and like many another unthinking mortal, he never gave a thought to the difference that home, and culture, and Christianity must necessarily make. But what nonsense am I talking! Tode didn't know there were any such words, but then there are people who do, and who reason no better than did he.
While he looked and enjoyed, Pliny was seized with a new want, and leaned back in his chair with the query:
"Where's Tompkins? Oh, Mr. Tompkins, here you are. Can you make Ben and me something warm and nice this cold day?"
Mr. Tompkins paused in his rush through the room.
"In a very few minutes, Master Hastings, I will be at your service. Let me see—could you wait five minutes?"
"Very well then. Tode, you may come below in five minutes, and I shall be ready."
Tode went and came with alacrity, and stood waiting and enjoying while the two drained their glasses.
There was a little wet sugar left in the bottom of Pliny's glass, and he, catching a glance from Tode's watchful eye, suddenly held it forth, and spoke in kindly tone:
"Want that, Todie?"
Tode, a little taken aback, shook his head in silence.
"You don't like leavings, eh? Get enough of the real article, I presume. How do they make this? I dare say you know, now you are at headquarters?"
Tode shook his head again.
"Belongs to the trade," he answered, with an air of wisdom.
"Oh it does. Well how much of it do you drink in a day?"
"Not a drop."
Tode didn't resent this incredulous tone. He was used to being doubted; moreover he knew better than did any one else that there was no special reason for trusting him, so now he only laughed.
"Come, tell us, just for curiosity's sake, I'd like to know how much your queer brain will bear. I won't tell of you."
"You won't believe me," answered Tode coolly, "so what's the use of telling you."
"I will, too, if you'll tell me just exactly. This time I'll believe every word."
"Well then, not a drop."
"Why not?" queried Pliny, still incredulous. "Don't you like it?"
"Can't say. Never tasted it."
"Weren't you ever where there was any liquor before?"
"Slightly!" chuckled Tode over the remembrance of his cellar life, and knowing by a sort of instinct that these two had never been inside of such a place in their lives.
Pliny continued his examination:
"Don't you like the smell of it?"
"Then why don't you take it?"
"Ain't a going to."
And then for the first time his companion spoke:
"Are you a total abstainer?"
Both boys stopped to laugh ere they made answer.
"Why people who think it wicked to 'touch, taste or handle,' you know. Say, Pliny, did you know there's quite an excitement on the subject up our way? Old Mousey is round trying to get all the folks to promise not to sell Joe any more brandy."
"Stuff and nonsense!" oracularly pronounced Pliny, quoting the unanswerable argument of his elders.
"Fact. And folks say Joe has been drunk more times in a week since than he ever was before."
"Of course, that's the way it always works, trying to make folks do what they won't do. Joe ought to be hung, though. What does a fellow want to be a fool for and go and get drunk? But say, Todie, why don't you drink a drop?"
"I ain't a going to," was Tode's only answer.
The two friends looked at each other curiously.
"You're green," said Pliny, at last.
"Yes," said Tode, promptly, "maybe; so's the moon."
Whereat the two laughed and strolled away.
"Isn't he a queer chap?" they said to each other as they went out into the snow.
Meantime Tode looked after them for a moment before he began briskly to gather up the remains of the feast. Tode had some new ideas. He had formerly lived a stratum below the temperance movement; it had scarce troubled his father's cellar; so he had to-day discovered that there were others besides his mother who prayed their sons not to drink a drop of rum. Also that a young man who went and got drunk was considered a fool by elegant young men, such as he had just been serving. Also, and sharpest, these two evidently thought him "green." If they had said a thief or scamp Tode would have laughed, but "green!" that touched.
"I'll show them a thing or to, maybe," he said, defiantly, as he seized a pile of plates and vanished.
Now our three babies, nurtured severally in the lace-canopied crib, in the plump-cushioned rocking-chair, in the reeking cellar corner, had come together from their several "spheres" and held their first conversation. Other hungry people came for their dinner and Tode served them, and was very attentive to their wants and their words. A busy life the boy led during these days—a brisk, bustling life, which kept him in a state of perpetual delight. There was something in his nature which answered to all this rush and systematic confusion of business, and rejoiced in it. He liked the air of method and system which even the simplest thing wore; he liked the stated hours for certain duties; the set programme of employment laid out for each; the set places for every thing that was to be handled; the very bells, as with their different tongues they called him hither and thither to different duties, were all so much music to him. He did not know why he chuckled so much over his work; why, at the sound of one of his bells, he gave that quick spring which was so rapidly earning him a reputation for remarkable promptness; but in truth there was that in the boy which met and responded to all these things. Every bit of the clock-work machinery filled him with a kind of glee.
There was another reason why Tode enjoyed his hotel life. He had discovered himself to be an epicure, and an amazing quantity of the good things of this life fell to his share—no, hardly that—but disappeared mysteriously from shelf and jar and box, and only grave, innocent-looking Tode could have told whither they went. Mince-pies, and cranberry-pies, and lemon-pies, and the whole long catalogue of pies, were equal favorites of his, and huge pieces of them had a way of not being found. Poor Tode, his training-school had been a sad one; the very first principle of honesty was left out of his street education, and the only rule he recognized was one which would assist him in not being discovered. So he eluded sharp eyes and hoodwinked sharp people; he commended himself for being a cute, and, withal, a lucky fellow. On the whole, although Tode was certainly clad in decent garments, and slept in a comfortable bed, and was to all outward appearances earning a respectable living, I can not say that I think he was really improving. There were ways and means of leading astray in that hotel, to which even his street life had not given him access; and if anybody's brain ever appeared ripe for mischief of any sort, it was certainly Tode Mall's. Any earthly friend, if he had possessed one, would have watched his course just now with trembling terror, and made predictions of his certain downfall. But Tode had no friend in all that great city; not one who ever gave him a second thought. Christian men came there often, and were faithfully served by the boy whose soul was very precious in their Master's eyes, but his servants never thought to speak a word to the soul for the Master. Why should they?—it was a hotel, and they had come in to get their dinner; that duty accomplished and they would go forth to attend the missionary meeting, or the Bible meeting, or the tract meeting, or some other good meeting; but those and the hotel dinner were distinct and separate matters, and the little Bibleless heathen, who served them to oysters and coffee, went on his way, and they went theirs. But God looked down upon them all. As the days passed, the three boys, whose lives had been cast in such different molds, met often. Pliny Hastings liked exceedingly to come to the hotel for his dinner, and, loitering around wherever best suited his fancy, await his father's carriage. This was very much pleasanter than the long walk alone; and he liked to bring Ben Phillips with him—first, because he was in some respects a generous-hearted boy, and liked to bestow upon Ben the handsome dinners which he knew how to order; and secondly, because he was a pompous boy, and liked to show off his grandeur to his simple friend. Was there another reason never owned even to each other, why these two boys loved to come to that place rather than to their pleasant homes? Did it lie in the bottom of those bright glasses filled with "something nice and warm," which Pliny never forgot to order? Sometimes little Mrs. Phillips worried, and good-natured Mr. Phillips laughed and "poohed" at her fancies. Sometimes Mr. Hastings sharply forbade his son's visits to his favorite hotel, and the next windy day sent him thither to dine. Sometimes his fond mother thought his face singularly flushed, and wondered why he suffered so much from headache; but only Tode who had come up in the atmosphere, and knew all about it, cool, indifferent Tode, looked with wise eyes upon the two boys, and remarked philosophically to himself:
"Them two fellows will get drunk some day, fore they know what they're up to."
Evil days had fallen upon Tode. He stood before the window with an unmistakable frown on his face. The demon "Ambition" had taken possession of him, and metamorphosed him so that he didn't know himself. The Hastings' carriage passed in its elegant beauty, and as Tode gazed his frown deepened. Not that he wanted to be seated among the velvet cushions with Mrs. Hastings and Miss Dora. Oh no, he still belonged to that other sphere; but he did long with a burning, absorbing passion to be seated on the box, not with the driver, but alone, himself the driver, above all others. Oh to be able to grasp those reins, to guide and direct those two proud-stepping horses, to wind in and out of the crowded street, to drive where no other dared to go, to extricate the wheels very skillfully from among the bewildering confusion, to be a prince among drivers! He could do it, he knew he could, if only he had the chance; but how was that to be had? Poked up here, carrying plates and cups, and cleaning knives, wouldn't help him to that longed-for place, Tode said, and drummed crossly on the window pane. Already he was changed in the short space of six weeks. The clothes clean, and whole, the clean warm bed, the plentiful supply of food, had become every-day affairs to him, and were now just nothing at all in comparison with those prancing horses, and his desire to get dominion over them. Sad results had come of this new desire; all his list of duties had dropped suddenly into entire insignificance, and he had taken to leaving black stains on the knives, and rivers of water on the plates, and being just exactly as long as he chose to be in doing everything. Mr. Roberts was getting out of sorts with him, and things were looking very much as though he would soon be discharged, and permitted to gaze after the black horses with no troublesome interruptions such as came to him at this present moment.
"Bother the coffee and the old fellow who wants it. I hope it will be hot enough to scald him. I'll drink it half up on the way in, anyhow," muttered Tode, as he turned slowly and reluctantly from the window, whence he could see Jonas just getting into a delightful snarl among the wheels. Jonas was Mr. Hastings' coachman. Three gentlemen were waiting for coffee and oysters; two friends talking and laughing while they ate; one, sitting apart from the others, eating with haste and with a preoccupied air. Tode having served them, fell into his accustomed habit of hovering near, ready for service, and making use of his ears. Curious yet respectful glances were cast now and again at the preoccupied stranger; and when he paid his bill and departed in haste, the two broke into a conversation concerning him.
"Richest man in this city," remarked one of them, swallowing an immense oyster. "Made it all in ten years, too. Came here a youngster twenty-five years ago; had exactly twenty-five cents in the world."
"How did he make his money?" queried his friend.
Whereat Tode drew nearer and listened more sharply. He was immensely interested. He was certainly a youngster, and twenty-five cents was the exact amount of money he possessed.
"I heard a man ask him just that question once, and he answered, book-fashion. He's a precise sort of a fellow, and it makes me think of Ben Franklin, or some of those fellows who ate and drank and slept by rule.
"'Well, sir,' he said, drawing himself up in a proud way that he has. 'Well, sir, the method is very simple. I made it a point to live up to three maxims: Do everything exactly in its time. Do everything as well as possible. Learn everything I possibly can about everything that can be learned.'"
The two laughed immensely over these directions, then swallowed their last drops of coffee and departed, leaving Tode in an ecstasy of glee. He had learned how to secure the management of those horses; they were not beyond his reach after all. If so great things were attainable merely from the following out of those simple rules, why then the position of coachman was attainable to him.
"Easy enough thing to do," he said, as he freshened the tables for new comers. "It's just going straight ahead, pitching into what you've got to do, and doing it first-rate, and finding out about everything under the sun as fast as you can. I can do all that."
And having reduced the synopsis of all success to language that best suited his style, Tode straightened the cloths and brought fresh napkins, and gave an extra touch to the glittering silver, and managed to throw so much practice from his newly acquired stock in trade into his movements, that Mr. Roberts, passing through the room, said within himself: "That queer scamp is improving again. I believe I'll hold on to him a while longer." So sunshine came back to Tode. Not that he gave up the horses—not he, it was not his way to give up; but he had bright visions in the dim distant future of himself seated grandly on a stylish coach box, and he whistled for joy and pushed ahead.
The very next afternoon Tode was sent on an errand to the Hastings mansion. It wasn't often he got out in the daytime, so he made the most of his walk; and the voice was fresh and cheery which floated up to Pliny Hastings as he tossed wearily among the pillows in his mother's room.
"Is that Tode? Yes, it is, I hear his voice. Dora, ring the bell, I want to have him come up here."
"My son—" began Mrs. Hastings.
"Oh now, mother, do let a fellow breathe. I've staid poked up here until I'm ready to fly, and he's just as cute as he can be. Ring the bell, Dora."
Dora obeyed, and in a very few minutes thereafter Tode was ushered into the elegance of Mrs. Hastings' sitting-room.
"You sick," he said, pausing in his work of gazing eagerly about him to bestow a pitying glance on Pliny's pale face. "Jolly! that's awful stupid work, ain't it? What's the matter?"
"I should think it was," Pliny answered, laughing a little though at Tode's tone. "I've a confounded sick headache, that's what's the matter."
"Pliny!" Mrs. Hastings said, rebukingly.
"Oh bother, mother! Excruciating headache then, if that suits you better. Tode, have you seen Ben to-day?"
"Not a sign of him. Couldn't think what had become of you two. You're as thick as hops, ain't you?"
Pliny glanced uneasily at his mother, but a summons to the parlor relieved him, and the three were left alone. Dora returned to her writing, and her small fingers glided swiftly over the page. Tode watched her with wondering and admiring eyes.
"Be you writing?" he exclaimed at last.
"Why, yes," said Dora. "Don't you see I am?"
"How old be you?"
"I'm eleven years old. You never studied grammar, did you?"
"And you know how to write?"
"Why, yes," said Dora again, this time laughing merrily. "I've known how more than a year."
Tode's answer was grave and thoughtful:
"Are you, though?" said Pliny. "That's just my age."
"And can't you write?" questioned Dora.
"Me?" said Tode, growing gleeful over the thought. "I shouldn't think I could."
"Aren't you ever going to learn?"
"Never thought of it. Is it fun? No, I don't suppose I'll ever learn. Yes, I will, too. You learn me, will you?"
"How could I? Do you mean it? Do you truly want to learn? Dear me! I never could teach you; mamma wouldn't allow it."
For an answer Tode stepped boldly forward, deterred by no feeling of impropriety, and looked over the little lady's shoulder at the round fair letters.
"What's that?" he asked, pointing to the first letter of a sentence.
"That is T; capital T. Why, that's the very first letter of your name."
"I don't see anything capital about it; it twists around like a snake. What do you curl it all up like that for?"
"Why, that's the way to make it. Mamma says I make a very pretty letter T, and it's a capital because—because—Oh, Pliny, why is it a capital?"
"Because it is," answered Pliny, promptly.
"Oh yes," said Tode, quickly. "Course that's the reason. Queer we didn't think of it." Then to Dora. "Let's see you snarl that thing around."
Dora quickly and skillfully obeyed.
"Do it again, and don't go so like lightning. How can a fellow tell what you're about?"
So more slowly, and again and again was the feat repeated until at last Tode seized hold of the pen as he said:
"Let me have a dab at the fellow; see if I can draw him."
"Why, you do it real well. Really and truly he does, Pliny," said the delighted Dora.
"But do you know there are two t's?" she added, turning again to her pupil. "One has a cross to it, just so. You make a straight mark with a little crook to it; then you cross it, so."
Pliny from his sofa chuckled and exclaimed over this explanation: "A straight mark with a little crook to it. Oh, ho!" But the others were absorbed, and bent eagerly over their paper, and thus the horrified Mrs. Hastings found them on her return from the parlor, the offshoot from a cellar rum hole bending his curly head close beside her daughter's!
She exclaimed in indignant astonishment:
And eager, innocent Dora hastened to make answer:
"Mamma, he can make the two t's; the capital and the other, you know; and he has them both on this piece of paper. Just see, mamma."
"Say, now," interrupted Tode, "I've decided to do them all. You learn me, will you? I'm to come up here every night after this with the seven o'clock mail. Just you make a letter on a paper for me, the big fellow, and the little one, you know, and I'll work at it off and on the next day, and have it ready for you at night. Will you do it? Come now."
Pliny raised himself on one elbow, his face full of interest:
"Take a figure, Tode, with your letters; figures are a great deal sharper than letters. I'll make one a night for you."
"All right," said Tode. "I don't mind working in a figure now and then. A fellow might need to use 'em."
"Mamma," said Dora, "may I? I should so love to; it would be real teaching, you know. He is fifteen years old, and he don't know how to write, and it won't take one little minute of my time. Oh please yes, mamma."
What could the elegant Mrs. Hastings say? What was there to say to so simple, original, yet so absurd a request? Still she was annoyed, and looked it, but she did not speak it, and Tode was not sensitive to looks, or words either, for that matter, and moved with a brisker, more business-like step back to the hotel, and someway felt an inch taller, for was he not to have a new letter and a figure every evening, and did he not know how to make two t's?
WHICH SHALL PROSPER, THIS OR THAT?
The Rev. John Birge stood before the window in his cosy little study, and drummed disconsolately and dismally on the pane. Without there was a genuine carnival among the elements, a mingling of snow and rain, which became ice almost as it fell, and about which a regular northeast wind was blustering. The Rev. John looked, and drummed, and knitted his brows, and finally turned abruptly to little Mrs. John, who sat in the smallest rocking-chair, toasting her feet on the hearth.
"Now, Emma, isn't it strange that of all the evenings in the week Thursday should be the one so constantly stormy? This is the third one in succession that has been so unpleasant that very few could get out."
This sentence was delivered in a half-impatient, half-desponding tone; and Mrs. John took time to consider before she answered, soothingly:
"Well, you will have the satisfaction of feeling that those who come out this evening love the prayer-meeting enough to brave even such a storm as this, and of remembering that there are many others who would brave it if they dared."
But the minister was not to be beguiled into comfort; he gave an impatient kick to an envelope that lay at his feet, and continued his story.
"I haven't a thing prepared suitable for such an evening as this. My intention was to have a short, practical, personal talk, addressed almost entirely to the unconverted; and I shall have Deacon Toles and Deacon Fanning, and a few other gray-haired saints, who don't need a word of it, to listen to me. I had in mind just the persons that I hoped to reach by this evening's service, and that makes it all the more discouraging to feel almost absolutely certain that not one of them will be out to-night. I certainly do not see why it is that the one evening of the week, which as Christians we try to give to God, should be so often given up to storm."
Mrs. John could not see her husband's face this time, it had been turned again to the window pane; but there was that in the tone of his voice which made her change her tactics.
"It is a pity and a shame," she said, in demure gravity, "that Thursday evening of all others should prove stormy. Do you think it can be possible that our Heavenly Father knows that so many of his people have made it an evening of prayer? Or if he does, can't he possibly send some poor little sinner to meeting, if it be his will to do so, as well as those saints you spoke of?"
The minister did not reply for a little. Presently he turned slowly from the window and met his wife's gaze; then he laughed, a low, half-amused, half-ashamed laugh. He could afford to do so, for be it known this was a new order of things in the minister's household. Truth to tell, it was the little wife who became out of sorts with the weather, with the walking, with the people, and had to be reasoned, or coaxed, or petted into calm by the grave, earnest, faithful, patient minister; and his rebellious spirit had been slain to-night by the use of some of his own weapons, hurled at him indeed in a pretty, graceful, feminine way, but he recognized them at once, and could afford to laugh. Afterward when he had buckled his overshoes and buttoned his overcoat, and prepared to brave the storm in answer to the tolling bell, he came over to the little rocking-chair.
"My dear," he said, "we will kneel down and have a word of prayer, that our Father will have this meeting in his care, and bring good out of seeming ill."
And as they knelt together they had changed places again, and the minister's wife looked up with a kind of wistful reverence to the calm, earnest face of her husband.
"It storms like the mischief," Mr. Roberts said on this same evening, as he closed the door with a bang, and a shrug of his shoulders. "Very few people will venture out this evening. Tode, if you want an hour or two for a frolic, now is your time to take it. After you have been up with the mail you can go where you like until the train is due."
Here was fun for Tode. This would give him two full hours, and he had at least two dozen schemes for filling up the time; but it chanced that wind and sleet and cold were too much even for him.
"Jolly!" he said. "What a regular old stunner that was," as a gust of wind nearly blew him away; and he clapped both hands to his head to see if his cap had withstood the shock.
"This ain't just the charmingest kind of an evening that ever I was out. I'd tramp back to our hotel quicker, only a fellow don't like to spend his evening just exactly where he does all the others when it's a holiday. I wonder what's in here? They're singing like fun, whatever 'tis. I mean to peek in—might go in; no harm done in taking a look. 'Tain't anyways likely that it blows in there as it does out here. Tode and me will just take a look, we will."
And he pushed open the door and slipped into the nearest seat by the fire just as the singing was concluded, and the Rev. John Birge began to read; and the words he read were about that strange old story of the great company and the lack of food, and the lad with the five barley loaves and two small fishes, and the multitude that were fed, and the twelve baskets of fragments that remained—story familiar in all its details to every Sabbath-school scholar in the land, but utterly new to Tode, falling on his ear for the first time, bearing all the charm of a fairy tale to him. There was just one thing that struck this ignorant boy as very strange, that a company of men and women, some of them gray-headed, should spend their time in coming together that stormy evening, and reading over and talking about so utterly improbable a tale. He listened eagerly to see what might be the clew to this mystery.
"We are wont to say," began Mr. Birge, "that the age of miracles is past; yet if we knew in just what mysterious, unknown paths God leads the children of this day to himself, I think some of their experiences would seem to us no less miraculous than is this story which we are considering to-night."
No clew here to the mystery; only a number of words which Tode did not understand, and something about God, which he could not see had anything to do with the fairy story. I wonder if we Christian people ever fully realize how utterly ignorant the neglected poor are of Bible truth. One more ignorant in the matter than was Tode can hardly be imagined. He knew, to be sure, that there was a day called Sunday, and that stores and shops as a general rule were closed on that day, just why he would have found very difficult to explain. He knew that there were such buildings as churches, and that these were opened on these same Sundays, and that well-dressed people went into them, but they had nothing whatever to do with him. Oh no, neither had Sunday nor churches. He knew in a vague general way that there was a Being called God, who created all things, and that the aforesaid well-dressed people were in some way connected with him; but it chanced, oh, bitter chance, that there had never come to him the slightest intimation that God in Christ was busy looking up the homeless, the friendless, the forsaken ones of earth, and bidding them find home and friend and joy in him. The meeting continued with but one other interruption. Midway in the services the door opened somewhat noisily, and with many a rustle and flutter Mrs. Hastings and Miss Dora made their way from out the storm and found shelter in the quiet chapel. This was just as Deacon Fanning asked a question.
"Mr. Birge, don't you think this little story is to teach us, among other things, that God can take the very few, weak, almost worthless materials that we bring him, and do great things with them?"
"I think we may learn that precious truth from the story," answered Mr. Birge. "And I never feel saddened and discouraged with the thought that I have nothing with which to feed the multitudes, that this story does not bring me comfort. God doesn't need even our five barley loaves, but stoops to use them that we may feel ourselves workers together with him."
What queer talk it was! Tode had never heard anything like it in his life.
Then Deacon Toles had something to say.
"Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, just expresses our feelings, I think, sometimes. 'There is a lad here which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes; but what are they among so many?' Andrew was gloomy and troubled even while talking face to face with Jesus. Not disposed to think that the Master could do anything with so little food as that, it's just the way I feel every now and then. 'Lord, here we are, a handful of people, and we have fragments of the bread of life in our hearts: but what are we among so many?'"
"Yet the Lord fed the five thousand despite Andrew's doubts," chimed in the pastor. "May we not hope and pray that he will deal thus graciously with us?"
Tode could make nothing of it all, and was half inclined to slip out and go on his way; but the same dear Savior who had so long ago fed the five thousand had his All-seeing Eye bent on this one poor boy, and had prepared a crumb for him.
There arose from the seat near the door an old gray-haired man. His dress was very plain and poor, his manner was uncultured, his language was ungrammatical. There were those who were disposed to think that so illiterate a man as old Mr. Snyder ought not to take up the valuable time. However old Mr. Snyder prayed, and Tode listened.
"O, dear Jesus," he said, "the same who was on the earth so many years ago, and fed the hungry people, feed us to-night. We are poor, we want to be rich; take us for thy children; help us to come to thee just as the people used to do when thou didst walk this very earth, and ask for what we want. We need a friend just like Jesus for our own—a friend who will love us always, who will take care of us always, who will give us everything we need, and heaven by and by. We know none are too poor or too bad for thee to take and wash in thy blood, and feed with thy love which lasts forever. Give us faith to trust thee always, to work for thee here, and to keep looking ahead to that home in heaven, which thou hast got all ready for us when we die. Amen."
There were those present who did not quite see the connection of this prayer with the topic of the evening. There were those who thought it very commonplace and rather childish in language. But how can we tell what strange, bewildering thoughts it raised in the heart of our poor Tode?
Was there really such a somebody somewhere as that man talked about, who would make people rich, or anyhow give them all they needed; who would take care of them, no matter how poor or how bad; who would even take care of them in that awful time when they had to die, and all this just for the asking? If there were any truth in it why didn't folks ask, and have it all? But then if there wasn't, what did these folks all mean?
"They don't look like fools; now that's a fact," said Tode, meditatively, and was in great bewilderment.
The meeting closed. Mrs. Hastings rustled up to the minister.
"So sorry to have intruded upon you, Mr. Birge, but the gale was so unusually severe. Dora and I were making our way to the carriage, which was but a very short distance away, and just as we reached your door there came a fearful gust of wind and we were obliged to desist."
While Mr. Birge was explaining that to come to prayer-meeting was not considered an intrusion, Dora turned to Tode. Now Tode had in mind all day a burning desire to tell Dora that he had made all the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, just twenty-six times on twenty-six old envelopes that he had gathered together from various waste-baskets, and could "make every one of 'em to a dot." But instead of all this he said:
"Say, do you believe all this queer talk?"
"What do you mean, Tode?"
"Why this about the youngster, and his fishes and bread, and such lots of folks eating 'em, and more left when they got done than there was when they begun. Likely story, ain't it?"
Dora's eyes were large and grave.
"Why, Tode, it's in the Bible," she said, reverently.
Tode knew nothing about reverence, and next to nothing about the Bible.
"What of that?" he said, defiantly. "It's queer stuff all the same; and what did that old man mean about his friend, and taking care of folks, everybody, good or bad, and feeding 'em, and all that?"
"It's about Jesus, Tode. Don't you know; he died, you see, for us, and if we love him he'll take care of us, and take us to heaven. Sometimes do you think that you'll belong to him, Tode? I do once in a while."
"I don't know anything what you're talking about," was Tode's answer, more truthful than grammatical.
"Why, give your heart to him, you know, and love him, and pray, and all that. But, Tode, won't you run around to Martyn's and order the carriage for us? John was to wait there until we came, and I guess he'll think we are never coming."
Mrs. Hastings repeated the direction, and Tode vanished, brushing by in his exit the very man who had prayed at his dying mother's bedside years before, and who had intended to keep an eye on him. As he slid along the icy pavements the boy ruminated on what he had heard, and especially on that last explanation, "Why, give your heart to him, you know, and love him, and pray, and all that." To whom, and how, and where, and when? What a perfectly bewildering confusion it all was to Tode.
"I'll be hanged if I can make head or tail to any of it," he said aloud.
Then he whistled, but after a moment his whistle broke off into a great heavy sigh. Someway there was in Tode's heart a dull ache, a longing aroused that night, and which nothing but the All-seeing, All-pitying Love could ever soothe.
"There were fourteen people in prayer-meeting," the Rev. John informed his wife. "The two deacons of whom I spoke, and several other good men. I couldn't make use of my lecture at all, for there were none present but professing Christians, save and except Mrs. Pliny Hastings, who apologized for intruding!"
And then the husband and wife laughed, a half-amused, half-sorrowful laugh.
After a moment Mr. Birge added:
"There was a rather rough-looking boy there; strayed in from the storm, I presume. I meant to speak with him, but Mrs. Hastings annoyed me so much that it escaped my mind until he brushed past me and vanished."
"TAKE IT AWAY!"
Tode rang the bell at Mr. Hastings', and waited in some anxiety as to whether he should get a glimpse of Miss Dora. He had some momentous questions to ask her. Fortune, or, in other words, Providence, favored him. While he waited for orders, Dora danced down the hall with a message.
"Tode, papa says you are to come in the dining-room and wait; he wants to send a note by you."
"All right," said Tode, following her into the brightly lighted room, and plunging at once into his subject.
"Look here, what did you mean the other night about hearts, and things?"
"Why, don't you know? Down there to the meeting."
"Oh! Why I meant that; just what I said. That's the way they always talk at a prayer-meeting about Jesus, and loving him, and all that."
"Was that a prayer-meeting where we was t'other night?"
"Why yes, of course. Tode, have you got the letters and figures all made?"
"Do you go every time?"
"What, to prayer-meeting? What a funny idea. No, of course not. It stormed, you know, and we had to go in somewhere. Wasn't it an awful night?"
"Who is Jesus, anyhow?"
"Why, he is God. Tode, how queer you act. Why don't you ask Mr. Birge, or somebody, if you want to know such things. Mamma says he is awful."
"Yes, awful good, you know. He's the minister down there at that chapel. Wasn't it a funny looking church? Ours don't look a bit like that. Tode, where do you go to church?"
"My!" said Tode, with his old merry chuckle. "That's a queer one. I don't go to church nowhere; never did."
"You ought to," answered Miss Dora, with a sudden assumption of dignity. "It isn't nice not to go to church and to Sunday-school. I go. Pliny doesn't, because he has the headache so much. Shall I show you my card?"