E-text prepared by Al Haines
WILLIAM ADOLPHUS TURNPIKE
[Frontispiece: Kindly hands bound up his wounds]
J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. 27 Melinda Street, Toronto 1913
All rights reserved
TO MY MOTHER
WILLIAM ADOLPHUS TURNPIKE
"What! never been to a political meeting; an' you living in a city. Back to the hamlet for you, boy; you're lost.
"You're not? You know where you live, and could find your way home in the dark? My, but you're cert'nly the quick actor when it comes to thinking.
"Sure I've been to more'n a dozen political meetin's. Ain't my Pa a member er the ex-ecutive of Ward Eighteen Conservative Club? He's a charter member, too. Don't he rent the parlor for a pollin' booth on votin' day, hire himself for a scrooteneer, and have my uncle Henry for constable?
"Your father wouldn't do them things, eh! Well, maybe he ain't never had the chance.
"The first political meeting I went to? Well it was in the hall where the Sons of Italy meets, and Pa he ain't got no business there really because it's not his gang what's holding the meeting. It's all furriners organised into the Ward Eighteen European Reform Club by Jimmy Duggan, the coal and woodyard man. My Pa and Jimmy Duggan is great friends. Jimmy says to Pa, he says, 'Come along, Joe, I got the greatest bunch of murd-erers of English into the club you ever seen,' he says, 'and tonight the Honorable Wallace Fixem, Minister of Public Works, is going to attend our inaggeral meetin',' he says, 'and give us a spiel.'
"And my Pa says, 'How much are you gettin' out of it, Jimmy?' he says.
"And Jimmy says, 'Far be it from me to bandy words with a hopeless dyed-in-the-wool Tory,' he says, 'what's agoin' blindly to his crool end,' he says, 'in spite of——'
"And then Ma butts in. 'That'll do for you, Jimmy Duggan,' she says. 'Both of them political parties is rotten,' she says, 'and you know it.'
"And Jimmy—Gee! but he's the great actor—he looks at Ma with a long face on him, and he says, 'Madam,' he says, 'I admit that the party to which my poor friend here belongs,' he says, 'is all to the bad. I admit,' he says, 'that it has sunk——'
"And Ma says, 'Get out, Jimmy,' she says, 'and take Joe with you.'
"And Pa says, 'Ma,' he says, 'how about Willyum coming along,' and you bet I'm listenin' hard that time.
"And Ma says, 'I'm afraid,' she says, 'about them 'Talians. S'pose they got to fighting, anybody might stick a steeletter into the boy,' she says.
"'Pardon me, madam,' says Jimmy, 'you are doing a great wrong,' he says, 'to our noble feller citerzens——'
"And Ma gets up like she was in a kind of a hurry and she says if Pa don't take Jimmy away she'll throw 'em both out, and Pa can take me to the meeting. And we went.
"Say, you'd orter seen the bunch in that hall. I guess there was some from every country on the map of Europe, and other places too we ain't never dreamed of. It was a cold night, and they had the stove goin'. Me and Pa, we sits near the door because Pa says that when the meetin' gets agoin' they's no telling about what kind of a trouble there might be in a hall like that, and it's us where we can slip out when we wants to.
"Next to my Pa was a feller with whiskers a mile long, and pop eyes, and when Jimmy Duggan left us and starts down to the platform this feller says to Pa, 'Ain't he the great man!' he says.
"And my Pa says, 'He ain't so bad for a Swede.'
"And the man says, 'He ain't no Swede. No! Sir.'
"And my Pa says, 'Since when ain't he a Swede when he's born in Swedeland?'
"'There ain't no such country,' says the man, 'you mean Sweden,' he says, and my Pa says, 'I means just what I say,' he says.
"And the man looks at him and he says, 'Mister Duggan,' he says, 'is an Irishman.'
"'With er name like that,' says my Pa, 'imposserble. 'Sides I never heard of Irishmen. What country do they come from?' and, honest, my Pa never batted an eyelid. Gee! but he's a grand jollier. And I thought the man's eyes would drop out; I almost felt like holdin' out my hands to catch 'em. And he says to my Pa, he says, 'Where do you come from?' and Pa says, 'A free country,' he says, 'where every man gets a square deal and can say what he likes.'
"Well, the man looked at him hard and he says, very sarkastic, he says, 'Where's that?'
"'Russia,' says Pa, and, say, you'd orter heard that man yell. Honest, it made me sick at the stomach. Jimmy Duggan was just giving the committee the last orders on the platform when that yell man cut loose. Jimmy he looks around like he'd been shot, takes a flying leap off'n the platform, and comes rushing down towards my Pa and the man with the whiskers and the bulging eyes. And the man was yelling all the time like the fans do at the baseball game when the score's a tie and the home team's heavy hitter slugs the ball on the left ear for a home run. And he was standing up pointing at Pa with a hand the size of a shovel, and all the rest of the bunch around us was getting restless and cacklin' furrin' talk.
"So when Jimmy gets up to the man with the steam whistle in his throat, he grabs him by the whiskers, gives 'em a tug like he'd pull 'em off, and he says pretty sharp, 'Sit down.' And the feller set, and just as he did he opens his mouth to let out another yell, and Jimmy grabs a cap from another man's head and sticks it in his mouth, and that stopped him. So after he gets the cap out, Jimmy says, 'Now what's the row?'
"And the man points at my Pa and says, 'That man says Russia is a free country,' he says, and starts in to give another yell, only Jimmy lifts a finger at him and the man stops with his mouth open, and he looked foolish I tell you. So then Jimmy bends down and whispers something in the man's ear, and the feller smiles and pats Pa on the shoulder gentlelike, every once in a while, and Pa lets on he never notices it, though I seen he's kinder mad about something.
"Just as Jimmy gets back to the platform a Dago and a Hungarian gets to words about who's the best mus-i-cans in the ward.
"Oh! moosicians, is it? Have it your own way.
"You see the Hungarians was awful mad because the Dagos beat 'em out catering to supply the music for the night, and the Dago orchestra was playing the swellest ragtime music you ever heard. Well, them two gets to blows, and about fifteen others are jumping around ready to pile in when Jimmy Duggan begins to pound on the table with a wooden hammer what they uses in lodges and club rooms.
"A gavel, eh! Very well, me learned friend, I'll not dispute it.
"He bangs so hard they all quits their scrapping and begins to take notice. 'I am just informed, gentlemen,' says Jimmy, 'that the Honorable Fixem is now on the stairs on his way into this meeting, and I would ask the ork-estra,' he says, 'to greet him with a few bars of——'
"And just then the door opens, and a little procession comes in escortin' the Honorable Fixem, and the ork-estra leader waves his hand frantic and the ork-estra strikes up 'All Coons Look Alike to Me.' Well, say, you'd orter heard the row. Some was cheerin' and some was laughin', and the Honorable Fixem he was looking like a sheep outer the meadows, and Jimmy Duggan yells out, 'Stop that tune, darn it,' he says, and the ork-estra man leader he didn't hear what Jimmy says and he thought that he wanted it louder, so he waves his hands like mad and the ork-estra sails into that tune like they'd never quit it, until Jimmy leans over and grabs the leader by the back of the neck and nearly chokes the breath outer him, and the ork-estra is just comin' for Jimmy en massey when the leader says something in Italian and they sits down again looking kinder sad and strikes up 'See the Con'kring Hero Comes,' and the Honorable Fixem gets on the platform. Gee! you'd think that bunch'd never stop yellin'. They just cheered and cheered. Then they begins to present illumernated addresses in every language but Scotch, and my Pa says Scotch ain't anything but two scones on each side of a burr. So when they gets through Jimmy Duggan calls on the Honorable Fixem for a speech, and Fixem started in.
"Say, I never knowed a gover'ment was so much like angels before. The things what the gover'ment's done for this country, judging by the way Fixem told it, is enough to make people want to keep 'em in for ever. My Pa says it's mostly guff, but the pollertishans has gotter feed the people with that kinder guff ev'ry once in a while, he says, they get fat on it, he says.
"Well, everything goes on fine 'cepting some cheers once in a while, until the Honorable gets down to the gover'ment's plans for the immigrants. And he says something about not stooping to bribe any man to cast a vote for the gover'ment by promising to find work for him, but there's a big programme of gover'ment works to be done in the neighbourhood, which, of course, will help to make good times, he says.
"Just then somebody gets up in the hall and yells out, 'Rotten, rotten, what you caller dat but de bribe, eh?' and another feller shies a pineapple at him, whatever he had it there for. Pa says mebbe he's ripenin' it by the stove so as to sell it the next day. Anyway it misses the man what's makin' the noise and hits the ork-estra leader on the brain-house, and the next I knowed Pa has me downstairs—it's only one flight—and he says to me, 'We'll wait for Jimmy,' he says, and we did.
"And every minute we waited there was something doing. Why there was Greeks and Hungarians and Dagos and all kinds coming out the winders or rolling down the stairs and rushing back again, some of them with their noses bleeding and their clothes torn, and all the time shoutin' like mad. Then all of a sudden everything calms down to a whisper, and men began to fly outer that buildin' and run away like mad.
"So when the Honorable Fixem's safely in his carriage, and Jimmy Duggan's walking home with Pa and me. Pa says, 'What stopped it, Jimmy?' And Jimmy says, 'Well, I just got a few of the fellers together,' he says, 'and we hollers "Steeletters, steeletters," and that scared 'em, you bet, for they're all afraid of their lives of them 'Talian knives.'
"'Pretty smart hit, Jimmy,' Pa says, 'but it's almost a pity you didn't get three inches or so of steeletter in your hide,' he says, 'after what you said to that feller sittin' beside me.' 'Well,' says Jimmy, 'he's a Russian,' he says, 'what was mixed up in some of the Nillyist plots, and the only way to keep him quiet,' he says, 'was to tell him you'd been driven looney by the cruelty of the Russian gover'ment,' he says."
Thus William Adolphus Turnpike, office boy, to Lucien Torrance, who held a similar exalted position. They were sitting on the front stairs leading to the adjoining offices occupied by Mr. Whimple and his friend Simmons, the architect, in the city of Toronto. The city was then at the transition period; its population had just passed the 200,000 mark, and already included a fair number of lunatics who clamored for a million people. But it had not yet made up its mind that dumping sewage into the Bay and believing that it would not contaminate the adjoining lake, whence came the water supply, was a system apt to result in a large proportion of typhoid fever cases. People had typhoid, and either died of it or got better, and in the latter event they resumed the drinking of the city water.
William had engaged himself to work for Mr. Charles Whimple, "barrister, etc.," just one week previously in response to that gentleman's advertisement for "a bright and intelligent office boy; one who knows the city well." When he arrived at the office on the morning after the insertion of the advertisement, Whimple found William busily engaged in dusting off the lone table in his room. At the back of the office, with its small, very small, ante-room, was the office of his friend, Simmons, and as he was usually down an hour earlier than Whimple, he "opened up" and kept an eye on things for the barrister until he arrived. As Whimple entered, William greeted him with a cheery "Good-morning, Mr. Whimple."
"Good-morning, what are you doing here?"
"I'm your office boy."
"Sure," said William cheerily, "I sent the other bunch away."
"The other bunch——"
"Yep; say, Mr. Whimple——"
"But just a minute," Mr. Whimple interrupted, "how did you know my name? Have we met before?"
"Search me—if we did we wasn't interduced."
"Then how did you know?"
William stopped dusting and regarded him thoughtfully.
"How did you know?" Whimple repeated.
"I always know," the boy repeated slowly, and then, as though communing with himself, "yes, I always know," and, as to-day, there was that in William's voice that haunted and held Whimple, as it has done many since. But that comes later.
William went on still dusting slowly. "Say, Mister Whimple, I mayn't be much, but the rest of the gang was the greatest c'lection er mutts you ever seen. Honest, I don't believe there was one of 'em could say the alphabet without thinking ten minutes first. And I needed the job most anyway."
"How do you know?"
"Because I looked 'em over good, and I heard 'em saying how many hours' work they'd do a day and how much they wanted for it, and most of 'em was saying about how they showed their other bosses what's what. So I knew they didn't want a job; they just wanted a place to bum in. You should'er heard me shooing 'em away. I told 'em you had made your selection and I was IT."
Whimple smiled and William returned the salute. He saw in his employer a young man, tall, with a brown-eyed, good-looking face, and a head of red hair. And Whimple saw a rather thin but healthy-looking lad with a somewhat long face, a nose that William himself always referred to as "pug," round blue eyes, freckles, and hair—well, just "mouse coloured" William's mother always called it.
Their acquaintanceship ripened into friendship very fast; too fast Whimple thought, for by mid-afternoon he had told the boy a great deal about himself and his past and his prospects. And William had listened, asking a question occasionally, sometimes interjecting a remark, and always, so Whimple says now, with an aptness that surprised and delighted him. William evinced no surprise and no regret when informed that bright as were the prospects, two dollars a week, for the present, was the maximum salary he could hope for.
"Don't worry about that," said William when Whimple apologised for the smallness of the amount. "It'll help some at home, and mebbe I ain't worth no two dollars a week anyhow."
"Don't underestimate yourself, William," said Whimple.
"No chance of me doing that. Say, Mr. Whimple, supposin' I'm any good and business improves, me salary goes up too—that's right, ain't it?"
"That's right, my boy."
"Then," solemnly, "it's up to us to increase the business, and to make this office too small to hold the people that want to hire you."
And Whimple smiled again. The lad's cheeriness, the eagerness of the keen young face, and the tone of the voice put new heart into him. The fame he had dreamed of on the day he had been called to the bar was still a phantom; the struggle to earn a living in the profession he had chosen in the years when youth brooked no obstacles was keener far than ever he had believed possible, yet there remained to him hope, courage, and the determination to "look for the silver lining." At thirty he had few clients, and a legacy that brought him just $6.00 a week, and often had been his only barrier against real want. His father and mother had died while he was just a boy; relatives had given him a home until at eighteen he had started "clerking" in a law office, and with his wages and his legacy had carried himself through to the day when his name appeared among those called to the bar. Simmons he had met in the clerking days; the young architect was financially better equipped than the lawyer, and Whimple had not hesitated at times to accept of his assistance—though he never felt free until the obligation had been repaid. It was Simmons who had insisted on the arrangement for the adjoining office, though Whimple at first had strongly demurred. But, indeed, an office floor with a front entrance and a rear stairway that landed you on a lane leading to a back street was not without advantages when money was scarce and bill collectors plentiful.
To many it may seem remarkable, to others amusing, and to the minority a thing unbelievable, that before the end of the first week William should have been manager of the office so far as its routine was concerned. Every one who has had the honour of acquaintance with a first-class office boy will understand. Those who have not had that experience will not, and to them is added those who do not regard boys, office or otherwise, as having the remotest bearing upon, connection with, or part in the working of the world of to-day. Your first-class office boy inspires fear. He knows his indispensability; he knows that more than anything else the boss loathes the trouble of hiring an office boy; he knows—oh! what does he not know? You who have never had to do with him, or depend upon him, go sit at the feet of him who has and try to grasp the outer rim of understanding as to the depth and height and width of the wisdom and learning, the profound knowledge of the only human being to whom the Kings of Finance and Commerce (see any daily paper) appear as they really are—just men.
Sometimes an office boy is beloved—and that not always—for the virtues that tell most in actual work. Or may be a streak of cheeriness in the otherwise inscrutable bearing; it may be a confiding, "Oh! may I trust in you, boss?" kind of manner; it may be that in the man who hires him there still remains—though now well controlled—that love of fun and careless mischievousness that seems to be peculiar to the office boy of all nationalities. What one or what combination of any or all of these qualities Whimple found quite early in William still remains a mystery.
Coming back to William, it is to be observed that while he became Grand Master of Ceremonies in full charge of the office routine, he exercised his authority with discretion and tact. By the end of the first month, he had won Whimple to an announcement on the outer door to the effect that office hours were from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and he had established his own luncheon hour as from 12 to 1. "It wouldn't do for you," he said gravely to Whimple, "to be takin' your lunch then, because you're a per-fession'l man. You gotter keep up with the procesh if you wanter make good."
Whimple laughed, but nodded his acceptance of the idea. "You're an inspiration, William," he said. "You've so much sunshine in your composition that you are shedding it nearly all the time, consciously or unconsciously, on the worthy and unworthy alike."
And he spoke truly; William exercised no discrimination in this regard. You could take it or leave it. Unless you had just lost some one near and dear to you, or otherwise tasted the dregs of sorrow or remorse, you couldn't ordinarily stay within a few yards of William and grieve. Not that he had not suffered, young as he was. Not that he could not and did not grieve with those he knew were in sorrow or distress; you are not to think that of William.
Whimple early discovered that William was not a model of integrity, diligence, and rectitude. Though an office boy he had his failings, and William's explanations of them were as curious, but quite as characteristic, as the lad himself.
"When it comes to business matters, Mister Whimple," he said with a dignity that almost upset the young lawyer's effort to appear gravely judicial, "it's me on the level. You can trust me to tell the truth and do the right thing. But when it comes to spinnin' yarns, nobody don't have to b'lieve 'em. Honest, I don't know when I'm telling the truth about 'em myself."
"That is a curious psychological problem, William."
"Gee! is it as bad as that? I hope it ain't fatal."
Whimple smiled. "No," he said, slowly, "and yet, my boy, there is only one way to build up a good reputation. Do you go to Sunday school?"
"Well—not reg'lar. Sunday's the busy time for me."
"Sure—I take the kiddies out if it's fine, and maybe we don't have the bully times. Say"—his eyes were shining now, and he stood a little closer to Whimple, who was sitting on the table—"there's Pete, he's nine and a holy terror, and Bessie, she's six, and Joey, he's about four, And Dolly—say, Mister Whimple, you'd orter see Dolly, she's got big brown eyes, and brown hair, and a kinder solemn little face. She——"
"Are you spinning yarns now, William?"
"It's between man and man now, Mister Whimple—this ain't no yarn. My Pa says he uster think no man could keep a buncher kids like us and be happy, and now he thinks no man could be happy without a bunch like us, and Ma says it's hard scrapin' sometimes, but she wouldn't be without one of us for a thousand feeter land on the main street, and that's going some."
"What does your father do, William?"
"Pa, he's an express-man, and a good one at that, Mister Whimple. He owns two horses and rigs, and I tell you he keeps agoing all day long, Saturdays too, an' he's a-buyin' the house we're in, an' it ain't no cinch of a job liftin' a mortgage. Many's the time I've heard him say he wished he could lift it as easy as he lifts some of the trunks he carts."
"And what are you going to be, William?"
And William was silent. He flushed a little, toyed with a button of his vest, and finally answered in a low tone—
"I know what I wanter be, and sometimes I think I know how to get there, and sometimes I don't, and I'd rather not tell it just now."
"I hope you'll succeed, William—if your aim is a lofty one."
"Well," drawled William, "it's some high, and Tommy Watson says I'm bughouse, but I tell him he's a bit that way himself."
"Tommy Watson, the auctioneer?"
"Sure—say, Mister Whimple, ain't he a pippin? My Pa says he can make people buy rocks and weep with joy on the bargains they're gettin' in diamon's."
That day Whimple called on Tommy Watson, famed as the peer of auctioneers. To those who counted among his friends and acquaintances, and they were as numerous as the wise "I-told-you-so's" on the day after an election or a prize fight, Tommy was always an inspiration and a delight. His long rambling store, with its wonderful stock of furniture, books, nick-nacks, pictures, all that goes to add zest to the life of the bargain-hunters and auction regulars, was a gathering-place for all classes. Tommy knew and was respected by the men whose names meant power and money; he was beloved by many a wage-earner for the help he gave in the all-important problems of home furnishing, and he was the idol of one William Adolphus Turnpike.
Whimple lost no time in preliminaries. "I've got an office boy, Tommy," he said, "and——"
"One William Adolphus Turnpike, to wit," Tommy broke in.
"The same; he's quite a character, Tommy."
"A good lad though," said the auctioneer, "and a friend of mine."
"He says you know what he wants to be, and that you think he's bughouse."
Tommy laughed. "He spends an hour here every morning," he said.
"Turns up as regular as the clock at about fifteen minutes to eight, and stays until he has just time to get to the office on the stroke of nine."
There was a long pause, each man regarding the other thoughtfully. It was Tommy who relieved the situation.
"So far as I know," he said slowly, "he has confided in no one but myself and one other regarding his plans. He's only a boy; he may change his mind any day. But I don't think it. I never knew any one, man, woman, or child, so earnest and determined."
"You know how I'm situated, Tommy; mighty little yet but hope—and, thank God, I've never lost that. It's really a shame, Tommy, paying him the princely salary of two dollars per, but I need him. Tommy, if you think it best not to tell, don't."
Tommy understood. "It might help," he said, "and I can depend upon you to keep silence. Come along."
He led the way to the back of the store, where his bachelor apartments were situated—a bedroom and a library—a most curious library, for Tommy was an omnivorous reader and particularly given to romances.
In one corner of the room was a small bookcase with perhaps fifty books carefully arranged; a little desk and an arm-chair. "That's his corner," said Tommy abruptly; "look at the books."
Whimple looked over the titles rapidly, then more closely. "Plays," he murmured, "the lives of actors, more plays, The Comedian, Garrick, Nell Gwynn," then turning to Tommy and raising his voice, "he wants to be an actor?"
"But many boys think that—almost every boy thinks that."
"But not the way this boy does."
"Yes, but can he read these, Tommy? I never heard any one murder English like William does. Yet he does it so winningly—that's the word, I think—that any jury would acquit him. And his slang—uh!" He shrugged his shoulders.
"Fierce, ain't it?" said Tommy smilingly.
"But can he really read these books?" Whimple reiterated.
"You should hear him and see him tackling the dictionary when he's stuck. Besides—I'm telling you everything mind in confidence—'Chuck' Epstein reads with him."
"Epstein! Whew!—and in his day he was the greatest comedian of them all. And a Jew!"
"And a man," said Tommy Watson with a note of challenge in his voice.
"I've heard much of his kindnesses," Whimple said, "but know him only by sight."
"He's a great friend of mine," said Tommy; "he spends nearly all his mornings here; has done since he retired from the stage. He's getting feeble, but his mind is as clear as ever, and his heart—well, his heart has never grown old."
"William Adolphus Turnpike, Epstein, retired comedian, Tommy Watson, auctioneer," said Whimple softly, and then looking up he found Watson regarding him with a whimsical smile.
"Us three, and no more—Amen, as the Three Guardsmen used to say," Tommy said.
"Well, not exactly in those words," Whimple replied.
"But meaning the same," Tommy retorted, "so what's the difference? Believe me," he went on, "the boy is safe with us. If his ambition sticks—why, he'll land."
"You're a good sort, Tommy Watson," said Whimple warmly as he left the shop, "I wish I could do more to help the boy."
"You're doing lots," said Tommy genially, "lots, and—well, the legal world'll take off its hat to you yet."
Meanwhile our hero, as Vivian de Vere de Softley, the author of one thousand love stories, would say, was pensively leaning out of one of the office windows and thoughtfully taking pot shots at passers-by with a pea-shooter. Preferably he selected as his marks gentlemen who carried weight, and considered his best shot that which stung the ear of an elderly banker who wore a silk hat, and was detested by all who listened to his exhaustive speeches at banquets given by associations that could not afford to leave him off their programmes. The banker was exceedingly wrath, but as William was an expert in concealment, his victim was foiled in his attempts to discover the cause of the sudden stoppage of his flow of thought on his next great speech.
The banker finally passed on, and William was aiming for his next shot when something struck him on the shoulder. He turned smartly to encounter the stern gaze of a lady, an elderly lady. Her parasol was descending for another blow, but William adroitly dodged it. Nothing daunted, she raised it again, and this time succeeded in rapping "our hero" smartly across the arm.
William dropped to the floor, crawled under the table, rose again and waited. The lady walked gravely toward him, whereupon William again followed the under-the-table route, and finally flopped into a chair by his own desk. The lady regarded these manoeuvres with a gleam of anger in her fine dark eyes.
The boy had swiftly "taken her in," to use his own expressive phrase, and afterwards was able to say that she wore a bonnet, not a hat, that long ringlets of grey hair hung down each side of her face, that her dress was of silk and black, and that she held in her hand a slender chain, to which was attached a dog of the most melancholy countenance, and a shape that made William grin.
"What are you laughing at?" demanded the lady.
"The dog; if it is a dog."
"And a very good dog it is too."
"Well, I've seen pictures of 'em," said William politely, "but I ain't never believed it till now."
"The face and the shape——"
"There's nothing the matter with the shape," was the tart response; "Dick's a Daschund."
"A what! Oh! Gee! Say, my tongue always rolls around like it had no roots when I strike a word like that."
"No wonder; a boy of your age should be at school."
"School! not for mine, lady. I've gotter make a livin'."
"A living—you! What are you doing here?"
"I'm the office boy."
"Office boy! Whose office boy?"
"You're a liar," the words were snapped out with a force and directness that William afterwards declared put him "on the blinks" for a few seconds.
The only retort that he would have made to one of his own sex rose swiftly to the boyish lips, and stayed there. He rose—who shall say what freak of imagination swayed him then—and took a step toward the lady. His hand went to his cap—in the encounter he had forgotten it until then—and off it came with a sweeping bow. He was no longer William, or Willie, or Bill; he was no longer an office boy; this was not Toronto. Here was the lady of the castle, proud, imperious, haughty; he was one who served under the banner of her lord. Beyond, was the great old house, surrounded with stately trees and fine driveways, and Sir William Adolphus Turnpike, in a voice he did not know, was saying, "Fair lady, I am thine to command. If I have offended I prithee forgive; 'twas not my intent, I do assure thee."
And the lady—what half-forgotten dreams came surging to her mind. Long ago, so long ago, there had been a boy with a heart of gold that had lost none of its admiration for her when the boy gave place to the man. But on a far-off border line of the empire he had given his life for the flag, and out of her life there had gone the dreams of a future with him. All through the years since then she had held her heart against those who would have stormed it, and now—and now—she tried to speak, but her lips were tremulous and her eyes tear-dimmed. She courtesied low and with grace, and William, who was standing with the ink-stained fingers of one hand clutching his cap and the other held where he thought his heart might be, felt a thrill of sympathy.
"Lady," he said softly, "I await your command."
And still she did not speak. Then William, true knight, threw down his cap, placed a chair for her, carefully laid her parasol on his desk, and waited.
Presently, "Boy," she said gently, "where did you learn that?"
"I read it somewhere," he said, "some of it, and I guess I just made up the rest. I can't help it, lady. I often have them kinder spells."
She was looking at him thoughtfully, and William blushed under her scrutiny.
"Don't be ashamed, boy," she said. "'Them kinder spells'"—and she mimicked him so well that William laughed outright, "will carry you a long way some day. You may sit down."
William sat, and thereupon Dick, his mistress having loosened her hold upon the chain, ambled over and placed his solemn-faced visage as close to the boy's knees as he could get it. William lifted the dog which snuggled close to his breast.
"If Dick likes you there must be some good in you," said the lady: and her voice was again sharp and firm. "Where's Whimple?"
"He'll be here soon, I expect."
"Umph! Poking around the law courts I suppose. He's never been here when I want him."
"Mister Whimple is a busy man," said William loyally.
"Don't lie to me," was the sharp rejoinder, "I'm a Whimple. Miss Elizabeth Whimple, if you want to know, and I'm his aunt. He would be a fool and enter law against my advice, and I hope he'll starve for it."
William's eyes narrowed. "Did you ever try starving, Miss Whimple?" he demanded.
"Heavens, no!—what would I want to try that for?"
"Well, I'm glad if you never have to," was the answer. "My Dad came near to it sometimes before he got onter his feet, and I ain't very old myself, but I've seen the day I'd walked a long way to get my teeth into a piece of beef-steak."
"I don't believe you."
"Well, of course, you don't have to," said William calmly. "That's a funny thing about grown-ups. They'll believe any old lie if it's in print, but the minute anybody tells 'em the truth straight outen his heart, they don't——"
"Boy," she interrupted sharply, "don't preach to me!"
"Preach! me preach!"
"Yes; you may not call it that, but it's preaching just the same. Now, where's Whimple?"
"Honest, lady, I don't know. He——"
And here Whimple entered by the back door. For collectors were beginning at this time to come in with requests for payments of the monthly bills incidental to the upkeep of an office, and it was the part of wisdom to ascertain before entering the office whether any such were "at anchor."
His aunt greeted him with a fair amount of cheerfulness, and at once informed him that she had come to ask that he look after the interests of her estate.
"I've been acting as my own rent collector for years," she said, "and I'm getting tired of it. I want you to look after that and after any legal business arising therefrom, but mind you I'll pay you only the legal rate, no more, relative or no relative."
They passed into Whimple's room, whence the lady emerged some time later. William opened the office door for her, and as she passed out she admonished him to make good use of his time, and "never, never enter law."
"I'm about as near to it as I'll ever get," answered William politely.
This is a chronicle of facts, culled from the life of William Adolphus Turnpike and other personages, as distinguished from mere history. Everybody in this age of research and cheap books, to say nothing of magazines and newspapers, knows that history is not true. It is established beyond doubt, for instance, that King Richard III. was a man of loving disposition, and that the story of his being an accessory to the death of the little princes has no foundation. We know also that the Scots deliberately planned the loss of the battle of Flodden in order to pave the way for their modern invasion of England and the capture of all the good jobs in the empire. They simply lured the English on, because they knew that no Englishman could live north of the Tweed and ever get enough to eat, while every Scotsman is impervious to stomachic or climatic conditions so long as there is a position to be filled or a bawbee to be paid out.
Here then, sticking to facts, is to be recorded that William Adolphus Turnpike reached the office one Monday morning, some time after the events last chronicled, wearing a black eye, an abrased nose, and a scratched chin. Naturally, Lucien Torrance, office boy to Simmons, the architect, and therefore on terms of equality with William, demanded an immediate and detailed explanation, which William proceeded to give.
"Did yer see the lacrosse match between the Easts and the Stars on Saturday?
"What! yer didn't? Gee! you missed it. Say, there was somethin' doing nearly every minute till the police broke up the game and took the players to the Number 4 Station.
"What's that—did I take the kiddies? Not for a minute I didn't. Would yer wanter take your little brothers or sisters——
"You ain't got none. Well, nobody's blamin' you, are they? I'm just supposin' you had. Would you wanter take 'em any place you'd thought there was goin' to be a scrap? Not much you wouldn't. I seen them teams play once before when I was a kid.
"What! Well, I like that. Fourteen last birthday, and I'm taking nothin' from any feller my age around these parts and don't you forget it, or I might forget I promised me mother I'd try not to fight for one day.
"Well, anyway I piked off alone to the flats to see the game, and, say, there was about half a millyun people there.
"What's that! There ain't half a millyun in the whole city of Toronto? You'd be a peach of a booster for this town, wouldn't you? Suppose there ain't, it sounds good anyway. Besides, you know very well I'm just trying to give you some idea about the size of the mob. And say, maybe there wasn't some tough mugs there neither. Uh!
"Well, the referee he gives the teams a talking to about keeping the nation-al game clean and free from disgrace. 'The first man,' he says, 'that forgets he's playing lacrosse and begins laying the hickory on anybody,' he says, ''ll get a good long penalty.'
"Then Alderman McWhirter takes a whirl at 'em; him with the spongy whiskers on each side of his face, and a jaw like the vestibul of a street car.
"Vestibool, is it? Where did ye learn French? You muster lived in Montreal.
"You never? Well, hold your hair on; hold your hair on. Kinder soured on your food, ain't yer? What d'ye eat for breakfast anyway? Malted soapsuds, chipped mule fritters, er any o' them fancy foods?
"Porridge! my, but you're away behind the times. Wake up, man, wake up, the fast express is tearin' down the track and——
"All right. I'll proceed. So McWhirter gives the bunch a spiel a mile long and would be going yet, but somebody calls out to him to dry up, an' he gets red in the face and dries up, and the game starts.
"For about one minute they played like Sunday school was a joy to them, and then the Easts bangs the ball into the net and the goal umpire he ups with his hand, meanin' a goal and——
"What's that? You know that means a goal, eh! Feeling pretty pert this morning, eh! Mebbe you'd like to go on an' tell the story to yourself.
"Oh! all right, all right. Well, anyway, up goes the goal umpire's hand for a goal, and down goes the umpire for the count, for Tip Doolen of the Stars cracks him a wallop on his brain factory you could hear a mile away. And all the Easts piles on to Tip and it took the police fifteen minutes to get 'em untied. And the police sergeant he says, it's Tip to the station, but the goal umpire wakes up and says he wouldn't lodge no complaint, for Tip and him's friendly, only would they please get a new goal umpire, he says, and they did.
"Then the police sergeant wouldn't let 'em go on playing till he'd had a little say, and you'd oughter heard it. He says, 'It looks to me like most er you fellers is spoilin' for a clubbin', and I'd hate,' he says, 'to disappoint you if that's the case. But I'm willing to stay on duty a few hours beyond me time,' he says, 'in order to please you.'
"And the fellers swear they're ready to go on with the game and play like kinder-gart'ners. So the sergeant says, 'Let her go,' he says.
"So it went all right for quite a while and there wasn't much doin' except the noise, for both sides had big gangs there and you cert'nly could hear 'em.
"At the end of the second quarter it was a tie—two goals each, and not more'n half the players on the mourners' bench.
"What! You don't know what the mourners' bench is? Say, if you'd only study the English language 'stead of loading your think tank with them furrin' words you wouldn't need nobody to tell you that the mourners' bench is just another name for the penalty bench.
"But when the third quarter gets nicely started! Well, say, the referee he puts one of the Easts off the field for trippin', and another one of the Easts he swings his stick on the referee's slats for all he's worth, an' the referee just has time to kick him in the shins before a third feller gives the referee a biff under the ear and lays him out. About half the people made a mad rush for the Easts and the other half rushes for the Stars, and there's only six policemen there. But the sergeant—say, my Pa knows him well—he's the wise guy. He lets 'em all get going and you couldn't see anything but people shovin' and crowdin' and hittin'. And then he chases for the caretaker of the park where the flats are an' gets two lines of hose fixed on a hydrant and two cops a holdin' the hose. And pretty soon two streams er water hits the crowd, and you'd oughter have seen the way it bust up. Honest, I never thought there was so many fast runners in the whole of Canada. And when the most of the people is outer the way, here's nearly all the Easts and the Stars a rolling around on the ground tearin' each other to pieces. The water never fizzed on 'em. And the police sergeant—my Pa says he's a strat-eg-ist—he says, 'It's just adding fuel to the flames,' he says, 'to put water on 'em,' and looks round, and I did too, and sees the patrol wagon coming along with more cops in it. Them lacrosse fellers is just attendin' strictly to business same as if there wasn't anybody in the whole province of Ontario but them. And then the cops waded right in and clubbed them fellers good and plenty, and——
"That's what I'm coming to, if you'd only keep the brakes on your forty horse power tongue a minute.
"Yes, sir, they squeezed the whole shooting match into the wagon and took 'em to the station.
"Sure they gave 'em bail that night, and soaked 'em five and costs apiece in the court Monday morning. And I was telling my Pa about it, and I says to him, 'Now,' I says, 'in a case like that, Pa, who wins?' Of course I meant the game.
"And my Pa says to me, he says, 'Well,' he says, 'it looks to me like a draw,' he says, 'with first-class honors,' he says, 'to Sergeant Mackay and second place to the magistrate,' he says. And he never bats an eyelid when he says it. I tell you it's a pretty wise guy that can put one over on my Pa.
"What's that gotter do with my face! Gee, but you oughter to be in the law—you'd be the peach of a cross-exam'ner you would. But just so's to have no hard feelin's I'll tell you. I'm an East-ender myself, and I made some noise too. One of the Star rooters got kinder mad at me making a few remarks during the game, and when the mix-up starts I'm laying for him. But he seen me comin' and I couldn't dodge the brick he had. It's all right to pipe off about fighting square and fair, but that guy wasn't lettin' his brick go to waste till he could think up a motter. Not for him. He did just what I would have done if I'd seen that brick first."
But when Whimple asked for the cause of the battered visage, William merely answered that he had collided with a brick.
"Was the brick hurt any?"
"Well, not so's you'd notice it," retorted William smilingly.
"Um! It's rather unfortunate that it was such a hard object—for you, I mean," said Whimple. "You see I had intended to start you collecting rents to-day."
"Yes. Miss Whimple, my boy, is the possessor of some twenty houses; four of them in your district, William, to say nothing of some choice lots that are increasing in value every month. She's a wonderful woman, boy; her dad left her four houses to begin with, and she's done the rest. If I had her business ability, William, I'd be on the fair way to being wealthy now."
"But, Mister Whimple, my face won't matter. Like as not it'll give me a chance to talk to the people and find out whether they're good tenants or not. Let me try it, sir."
"All right. One of the tenants down your way owes two months' rent now, and in the other cases the rents are due to-day. Here are the addresses. You look after these four tenants every month; I'll take care of the others."
And forthwith William Adolphus Turnpike set out, as he expressed it to Lucien Torrance, "to round up some coin for Mister Whimple's aunt." He was proud of the trust imposed in him, and could not forbear a parting shot at Lucien.
"You're gotter stay here," he said importantly, "and answer fool questions when people call. But it's me to the front, Lucien Torrance, on a man's job."
William was an unconscious diplomat. His business career had already been marked by the devotion of much time to the consideration of the easiest methods of dealing with problems as they presented themselves from time to time, though not always with success, and his first perusal of the list of tenants handed him by Whimple showed him that the job of rent collecting would be no sinecure. He knew his own district very well; the work and conditions, the family life, and many other details of a more or less intimate nature, were matters of knowledge to him. He read the list over again as he turned down a street to make his first call, and then passed the first house on his list, and kept right on until he came to Jimmy Duggan's coal and wood yard. Jimmy was located in his office, a wooden shack with a tin roof, where he was laboriously engaged in the monthly task of straightening out his books. To him William confided the errand entrusted to him, and over the habits and the career of the first-named tenant on the list there followed a solemn conference. At its close, William, with a "Much obliged, Jimmy," sallied forth to the house he had passed on his way, and knocked sharply at the door. A girl, untidy, unwashed, with a face that might have been pretty if the coating of dirt upon it were removed, appeared at the bay window of the ground floor. William knew the girl and she knew William. Unabashed, he endured her calm scrutiny, banking on his belief that she would never "tumble" to his errand. She looked a long time, but finally came to the door and slowly opened it. Whereupon William promptly stepped inside.
"Is Mister Jonas in?" he asked as he closed the door behind him.
"No," she said timidly.
"Ah! gone out for a walk I suppose?" said William politely.
In the dim light of the hall she looked at him with fear in her eyes.
"He's a great walker, I believe," William went on with a tinge of sarcasm. "Out in the mornings, out in the afternoons, takes another stroll in the evenings. Does he ever go to sleep?"
She made no answer, and William, who was at least a head shorter, patted her on the shoulder. "Cheer up," he said patronisingly, "it's all right. I've just come for the rent, that's all."
"For what?" she gasped.
"The rent; hadn't you better show me where he is right away?"
"Didn't I say he wasn't in?" she answered sharply.
"You did, my dear, but I'm willing to forget it. I believe that kinder answer goes in polite society when the lady of the house don't want to see anybody, and the lady what calls hopes that the lady she calls on ain't in. But it don't go with me."
"But he ain't in," the girl whined.
"Then he's out for the first time in three years," was the rejoinder, "and it's funny he'd pick rent day for a walk; him owing two months' rent at that. P'raps he left the money with you?"
"H'm. Then I'll wait till he comes back."
"But he won't be back until to-night."
"All the same to me. I can wait; that's part of my work."
She shifted ground uneasily, and finally burst out, "He's in the kitchen, Will Turnpike, and you can go in yourself. He's wild today."
William walked solemnly through to the kitchen where Jonas was sitting by the window in a great arm-chair. A weird-looking figure he was, muffled in an old overcoat, though it was summer and the day was warm. A growth of untrimmed whiskers through which peered crafty eyes, and a mass of long matted hair topping a big head, gave an uncanny appearance to the man, who was a helpless cripple through rheumatism. He glared at William, who cordially expressed the hope that he was feeling a little better.
"Is that what she let you in for?" he demanded fiercely.
"Well, I didn't just put it to her in that way, if you mean your daughter," said William calmly. "I'm after some money, to tell you the truth."
"Money!" the old man shrieked the word.
"You heard me first time," returned William politely, "and ain't you glad your sickness don't hinder your hearing some?"
"Money!" shouted the old man again. "Money! What do you want money from me for?"
"The rent," said William calmly—"two months, due to-day. You can read, I believe," and he held before the old man's face two receipts, properly made out for the amounts due. "I see," he said, pointing to an open letter on the window sill, "that you got Mister Whimple's note about it. I'm the coll-ect-or he speaks of."
"The same, Mister Jonas."
The man glared at him savagely, and then shouted, "You—you—get t'hades out of this."
"Sure, I'll get out as soon as I get the rent. But as for the place you speak of—not for mine. This is a good enough world for me, Mister Jonas."
The old man fumed in helpless rage. He cursed William and his family and their antecedents, cursed his daughter, cursed everybody and everything for a full five minutes, and ended up with the declaration, "I haven't got any money."
William silently regarded him for a moment, and then leaning forward a little said, very clearly, "Well, I guess you ain't making so much as you uster when you sold light-weight coal on the big contract from the city, but I'm told on the best au-thor-ity, Mister Jonas, that you ain't ever likely to know what it means to be without money."
For a long time then they looked at each other, fear on the old man's face, William inwardly troubled, outwardly cool and unruffled. The old man broke the silence.
"Mary, Mary," he screamed, and his daughter ran to him, "pay this young ruffian two months' rent, and get the receipts from him, and if you ever let him in again—I'll—I'll kill you."
When the transaction was completed, William turned to Jonas. "I'll be here to the minute when the next rent's due," he said confidently, "and it'll be ever so much nicer for you to have it ready, else," and here he assumed what he believed to be the correct attitude for such an occasion, "I'll have to have you turned out."
Then he left, the old man hurling curses at him until the door closed.
"He's gotter great line of talk," said William to himself. "Now for Mrs. Moriarity," that lady being the next on his list. William knew her for a good-natured, careless woman, who nevertheless was the real head of the Moriarity household, which included nine children of varying ages and sizes. Nothing was ever done on time in her house; no bill was ever paid when it was due, though Mrs. Moriarity never tried to evade one. She was just happy-go-lucky and careless.
William approached the house with some misgivings. A number of the younger Moriaritys were playing around the door, and just as William approached them a drunken man staggered up, singing loudly. He fell over one of the children, and the youngster set up a howl that brought the mother to the open door. She reached it just as the man, thrusting out a long arm, brutally flung another child on one side. With an angry cry the mother rushed for the brute, but William reached him first. Without a word the boy stooped, grabbed one of the man's ankles firmly, and, putting all his strength into the effort, pulled his foot off the ground. The man lurched heavily and fell full length upon his face, just escaping William, who stood upright, as Mrs. Moriarity, talking volubly, plumped down on the man's back. "And here oi'll sit till a p'licemon comes," she said; "you, William Turnpike, kape a lukout for wan." And even as she said it a policeman came along and took the drunken offender into custody. As the policeman marched his prisoner away, Mrs. Moriarity turned to William, who was trying to comfort the little Moriaritys, for those who had not been hurt were crying as lustily from fear and sympathy as those who had. In the short struggle with the man William's face had received a buffet that had re-opened one of the scratches, and this was now bleeding somewhat freely.
"For the luv of heavin, Willyum, did that brute do that to you?" cried Mrs. Moriarity.
William tried to explain, but she never heard him. "It's good f'r him Moriarity wasn't here or he'd a bruk his neck," she went on excitedly. "Come on in," she ordered, "all ov yez; come on, Willyum." And William went. She comforted her offspring and bathed William's face in warm water, unheeding his protests and deaf to his explanation of the original cause of his injuries. It was only after she had made him drink a cup of tea and had sent the children out to their play again that he was able to explain his errand.
"And yu're a rint collector—a bhoy loike you! Think ov that now. Willyum, yu're mother ought to be proud ov yez. Sure an' oi'll pay the rint: oi'd clane forgotten this was the day, but oi've some money by me, bhoy, an' yez can have it." She escorted him to the door after the rent had been paid over, patting him on the head, calling him a hero, and telling him that "the rint wud always be rady for the loikes ov him." And at the door, in the open light of day, she flung her arms around his neck. "God bless yez, ye darlint," she said, and kissed him warmly. William blushed all over, but went on his way rejoicing. Whimple had told him that the other two tenants were always on time, and this day William found it to be so.
It was nearly six o'clock when he started back to the office, one hand holding the rents thrust deep into a pocket. Whimple, who had been growing anxious at the boy's long absence, and had been blaming himself for asking him to do the work, met him half-way to the office. "I was a little bit worried," he said simply; "I'm afraid I made a mistake putting so much responsibility on you, William."
But when, in the inner room of the office, William laid down the money he had collected with the laconic statement, "It's kinder slow work," Whimple's misgivings fled.
"Bully for you, William," he said enthusiastically. "You're a winner. There's a new day dawning for me—and for you. I have had two new clients in to-day. You've brought me luck, boy."
And William grinned delightedly.
For a week before the first appearance in vaudeville of "Flo Dearmore," Tommy Watson's behaviour alarmed his friends. He ate little; it was plain to those who met him daily that he slept little, and William Adolphus Turnpike confided to Whimple that Tommy was "shaping up for the asylum." "He don't know what he's sayin' half the time, and the other half he ain't sayin' anything, he's just singing Scotch songs, and Tommy's singing ain't much diff'rent to the hootin' of a factory whistle," he said earnestly.
"You sing some old country songs pretty well yourself, William."
"Pa says so, and so does Ma, but——" he paused.
"Well—I ain't laying out to be no singer. Tommy took me to one of them singing factories one day, and the feller what heard me says, 'Well,' he says, 'he has a sweet enough voice, but that's about all for him.'"
"That was encouraging though."
"But I ain't hankering to get my living by singing. Anyway, that's not worrying me now—it's Tommy. Mister Epstein says he can guess, but he won't tell."
"Guess what's troubling Tommy?"
"Yes—and I wish I did. Maybe I could help—if I am only a boy."
"Well, we'll have to go slowly, William; it won't do to intrude on a man's private affairs."
"That's what Jimmy Duggan said when he laid out the burglar what was crackin' his safe in the coal yard office; only this is diff'rent; nobody ain't swipin' Tommy's money. I asked him and he says to me, 'Willyum, you know what our old friend Bill Shakespeare says.' And I says, 'What?' 'Well,' he says, 'Bill has a few lines to say it don't matter much who swipes me purse, it's what hits me heart that counts.'"
"Um—well, that may be Tommy's version of it: Shakespeare's was somewhat different."
There the conversation dropped. Whimple thought no more about it until the following Monday night when he received from Epstein an invitation to go to the Variety with him. He met the old comedian at the door of the theatre, and found Watson and William with him. They had seats in the front row of the balcony. Epstein and Whimple sat together, Watson next to the barrister, and William next to Watson. It was a fair bill as vaudeville bills go, with Flo Dearmore about half-way down on the programme. Whimple noticed that Watson paid no heed to the various turns, though William was revelling in them. But when Flo Dearmore's number went up he saw Watson lean forward with his arms on the rail in front of him, and even in the vague light of the semi-darkened theatre he noticed that his face was pale and drawn. The very simplicity of "the turn" constituted one of its greatest charms. Flo came on the stage and sang in a pure contralto voice several old country songs. A pretty woman she was, not tall, but gracefully formed, with dark blue eyes and a wealth of black hair, crowning a well-shaped head. She was a remarkably expressive singer—you saw the scenes of her songs as clearly as though you were wandering through them with Flo by your side. The applause was heartier with every song; it grew into an outburst of cheering when she sang "Come Back to Erin:" and at its close bowed and smiled her acknowledgments. She would have left the stage then, but the audience would not have it. Again and again she advanced and bowed her thanks, and again and again the cheering rolled out. Finally the lights went up, once more she stepped to the front of the stage, nodded to the orchestra leader, who waved his baton, and began "Loch Lomond." Sweet and clear the voice rose and fell; they cheered after the first verse; they cheered again at the close of the second; and then—she saw Tommy Watson, who was staring straight at her, his face brighter now, his eyes aflame, his lips slightly parted. What was it that brought the tears to her eyes; that made her falter and sway a little, and then stand silent and helpless while the orchestra twice started the air for the third verse, and the audience begin to grow restless?
The stage manager, alarmed and worried, was about to ring down the curtain when, from the balcony, a clear boyish voice took up the song. All eyes were turned in that direction. Flo Dearmore herself flung out her hands as though urging the people to listen and the orchestra to play on. Whimple started from his seat and then sat down again on Epstein's sharp "Leave him alone," and William, looking down on the stage, unconscious of anything but the vision of helpless loveliness there, sang in his sweet boyish voice:—
"The wild flowers spring, and the wee birdies sing, And in sunshine the waters are gleaming, But the broken heart, it kens nae second spring, Though the waeful may cease frae their greetin'."
She joined him then in the refrain, both keeping perfect time:—
"Oh! you'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low road, And I'll be in Scotland afore ye, But me an' my true love will never meet again, On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond."
There followed a scene the like of which the Variety had never witnessed. For long minutes the applause and cheering echoed and re-echoed through the theatre. Everybody told everybody else what a clever act it was; but they had been "on to it" from the first. Scores of people confided to other scores that they had noticed the lad come into the theatre and take the seat reserved for him. They wondered how old he was; if he was "her brother," and between times they hoped that there would be a repeat.
But as a "repeater" William would not have been a success. He was trembling and almost hysterical when he sat down, and Tommy Watson was in almost as bad a condition. Whimple was uneasy; Epstein only seemed to be cool. He passed the word along, and, as the curtain went up for the next act, the four friends quietly left their seats and walked down the stairs into the main entrance of the theatre. Here they were met by the manager, who seized Epstein by the arm. "Say, 'Chuck," he said excitedly, "that was a great stunt. How much will the kid take for the week?"
Epstein smiled and turned to William. "I wouldn't do it again for a hundred dollars a night," said William pointedly, "and I don't know what I did it for anyway."
"But, see here, my boy," said the manager, "there's big money in it for you—say——"
William, however, was already at the door, and Whimple, not wholly understanding what lay behind Epstein's murmured, "Sorry—but I'll have to explain later," followed him.
The manager was talking now to Tommy. "Flo Dearmore wants to see you, Mr. Watson," he said. "Do you know her?"
Tommy nodded. "Come along then—you coming too, Epstein?"
"No." The old comedian smiled affectionately on Tommy as the latter went off with the manager, and then walked away slowly, his lips moving as though he was communing with himself.
At the door of the dressing-room the manager left Tommy, who knocked gently. The door was opened at once by a coloured maid of uncertain age, who turned to her mistress at the sight of Tommy. "It's a gent, honey," she said, and Flo, who was already in street attire, turned to the door. "Come in, Tommy Watson," she said quietly. "Toots," to the maid, "leave us a little while."
Tommy stood near the door, his eyes sparkling, his cheeks full of colour now, his hands rigid by his side. Flo waited, her own cheeks burning, her heart beating fast. Tommy came a little nearer to her, and, "It seems like a long, long time since you went on the stage, Flo Dearmore," he said.
She nodded, and recovering a little of her dashing self, answered, "It's only ten years, Tommy."
"No," said Tommy, "it's more than that—it's all of twenty."
"I'm forty and you're thirty—think of that, Flo, and you were ten the first time I saw you on the stage. Don't you remember the pantomime in the old schoolhouse? You were the Queen of the Fairies, and——"
"Yes, but I was still a school-girl."
"And your heart was already set upon the stage. I've never forgotten that night, Flo; such a winsome little fairy you were."
"But—but——" she faltered.
"I did—I tell you," he asserted stoutly, as though she had contradicted him—"I fell in love with you that night; I watched you grow into young womanhood, Flo; and always—and always—you filled my heart."
"And when I asked you—and when you laughed——" he broke off abruptly.
"Don't," she pleaded—"don't, Tommy. It was cruel of me——"
He came nearer still—his arms outstretched now. She rose with a swift, "No, no, Tommy, I cannot—not yet—wait a little longer—give me a little time," and there was a note of appeal in her voice. She went on rapidly. "I must feel that I can give you all that you would have, Tommy. There is no other man—believe me—and my work—my work—well, it is not all now. There are times when—" and again she halted. Then looking at him bravely, she said, "Tommy, if you are of the same mind at the end of the season, and there is no other woman," this with a gleam of mischief in her eyes, "perhaps I'll know for sure."
And Tommy, the silver-tongued auctioneer, the man whose eloquence opened people's pockets and made them buy bargains they didn't want, meekly accepted her rebuff when she refused even to allow him to kiss her hand, and left her when she said, "It must be good-night, Tommy, now."
The next morning the newspapers with one accord paid tribute to the cleverness of the Loch Lomond scene in "Flo Dearmore's turn," and at every remaining performance it was repeated. But William had no part in it. A choir boy from a city church got "the big money" the manager had talked of. And Tommy Watson, who attended every performance during the week for just so long as Flo Dearmore's act lasted, began to eat like a man who had many slim meals to make up for.
The truth as to William's turn at the Variety having gradually become known among his friends, he assumed, in the opinion of various of his youthful associates, an importance not hitherto felt for him, and this manifested itself in the form of an invitation to take part in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," to be presented by the Berkeley Junior Dramatic Society. William's eager consent was somewhat dampened when he was informed by the young and ambitious manager of the production that he would have to take the part of a small coloured boy and that there were no lines for him—particularly. "You'll just come in kind of incidental," said the manager—who was not much older than William—"and sing a piece."
"Not much. No singing for mine."
"Pshaw! It'll be dead easy, and I bet it'll make a hit too. You know the stunt—lights down—spotlight on the stage—you in it singing in a low sweet voice 'Loch Lomond.'"
"What in Sam Hill has 'Loch Lomond' gotter do with 'Uncle Tom's Cabin!'" demanded William truculently. "Them niggers never even heard of it, I'll bet."
"Well, this ain't no ordinary Uncle Tom's show, let me tell you that," retorted the manager. "We've doctored it up quite a bit. It's too slow for our bunch the way it is put on by most companies."
"But 'Loch Lomond' in a nigger show! Gee! you're crazy. Next thing I know you'll want me to wear kilts."
"I never thought of that," said the manager thoughtfully; "but, say, that would be an elegant stunt. Let's do it."
"Not with my legs," said William. "Didjer ever see 'em? They're about as fat as fishing rods."
"All the better. It'll bring the house down, I tell you."
"Well, I don't want any house falling on me the way that'll be liable to when it sees me in kilts and me face black—'oh! mother, mother, mother, pin some clothes on me,'" he concluded sarcastically. But in the end William was won over, and he entered into the rehearsals with a whole-hearted determination that gladdened the manager's heart, and made half of the rest of the cast jealous.
You who discriminate in the choice of plays; who talk learnedly of the art of Irving, Mansfield, Forbes Robertson, and Miller; you should have seen that presentation given to a packed house. There were all of three hundred people in the Berkeley Junior Dramatic Society's club house that night, and every one of them parted with coin of the realm to the amount of one quarter of a dollar for admission, and never a one complained that he or she didn't get all of it back in real value.
The scenery and all accessories, including the costumes, were home-made. Who can value the loving care and thoughtfulness that mothers and sisters put into every stitch of those costumes; with what interest they studied the play, as "doctored," in order that the garments might be historically correct? And who shall fittingly describe William's kilts, as made by Mrs. Turnpike from a Scottish shawl? William appeared in the first scene, without having anything to say, but the costume spoke for him. There was a shout of laughter as he walked across the stage for the first time, to be renewed when a shrill voice invited all and sundry to "pipe them legs." The audience piped them—they were encased in black stockings—and laughed again, whereupon William advanced to the front and, pointing an accusing finger in the direction of the original "piper," shouted, "I'm on to you, Tom Edwards: everybody knows you're so bow-legged you wouldn't dare wear anything but long pants." It took the audience some time to recover its equilibrium, but eventually the play proceeded to the scene where Eliza made the perilous trip across the floating ice.
Eliza, a buxom girl with a heavy tread, carrying a large rag doll, made the flight very slowly. She didn't trust "them cakes of ice," knowing full well that packing cases, however stoutly built, and however ably disguised in white cheese cloth, were parlous things for a lady of her weight. The prompter urged her in an audible voice to get a move on, to which she retorted sharply, "Shut up, I ain't going to break any of my legs for fun."
But when the baying of the bloodhounds, faithfully imitated by the entire company, only partially concealed in the wings, was joined by the barking of the real live dog in the show, she began to move a little faster. She moved faster still when the real dog, a fair-sized animal of uncertain breed, wearing a stout muzzle, broke away from the "crool slave masters" and dashed towards her, and just as she lit on the last cake of ice it gave way. The excited and hilarious applause of the audience, together with Eliza's frantic screams, struck panic to the heart of the already frightened dog, which, turning towards the foot-lights, made a flying leap into the audience. Fortunately it landed on the stout knees of William's Pa, and that worthy, firmly grasping it by the neck, and thus effectually stopping its barking, carried it to the main door and threw it into the street. Whereupon the scene proceeded, the stage carpenter and his staff of one having meanwhile extricated Eliza from the cake of ice and started her on the concluding portion of her journey to safety. It was then that William, burning to distinguish himself, and having a vague notion that "Chuck" Epstein, who was in the audience, had once declared that the actor who could interpolate telling lines in his part was on a fair way to fame, advanced solemnly to the front, regardless of the dropping curtain which landed on his shoulders and flopped ungracefully around him, to declare in his loudest voice, "And I wish to say, that the man what hits a woman is a coward." William and the curtain were somehow parted by the now irate manager, but the audience insisted on the "nigger kiltie" returning to the front, while they gave him another hearty round of applause.
A lecture behind the curtain, in which the manager, the stage carpenter, Eliza and Legree, and Uncle Tom combined, seared William's soul to the centre, though he said not a word, and the play went on.
The death-bed scene, described in the home-made programmes as the "grand finally," included the appearance of "the sweet boy singer, William Adolphus Turnpike, in 'Loch Lomond.'" Little Eva was dying beautifully when the pianist, who was not at all merciful to the uncertain age and still more uncertain tone of his instrument, began the air. William, who was one of the group around the bed, advanced and began to sing. The audience ceased its snickering after the first few words to listen intently. To many it was a beloved song; they could forget the incongruous surroundings in the sweet memories it recalled, and to others it appealed, as many old-world songs do, by its plaintive sweetness. William was making a hit, and he knew it. Boy though he was, he felt to the full the bond of sympathy between himself and the audience. There was a queer sensation in his heart as he began the last verse, and he wondered if he could finish it. He had reached the second line when the voice of the prompter, imploringly pitched, begged him to "hurry it up; little Eva's bed's a falling down." William turned sharply toward the bed and, as he turned, something gave way at his waist. He rushed to the death-bed, snatched therefrom the coverlet, wrapped it majestically around him, and walked off the stage, leaving behind him a little plaid heap—the kilts. The curtain dropped suddenly in response to the manager's frantic signals. Little Eva, the boy who had also taken the part of Legree, jumped from the bed hysterically crying, "You spoiled me part," grappled madly with the manager, and while the battle raged, William Adolphus Turnpike, coverlet and all, slipped quietly out of the back door and raced frantically for home, only two short blocks away.
"When I feel gloomy, I'm good and gloomy," said William to Lucien Torrance one sunshiny afternoon in June, as they sat together in Whimple's office, their respective "bosses" being out "on business," another way of saying that they had gone to the baseball match.
"This is one day when I'm gloomy, and I just gotter gloom—it ain't no good your buttin' in and telling me to cheer up and all that kinder rot. No, sir, I just gotter gloom till it's all over."
"What have you got to 'gloom' for to-day?" ventured Lucien, "it's a bright, cheery day; the sun is——"
"The sun might be the moon for all I care," interrupted William impatiently. "I got up gloomy, and likely as not I'll go to bed gloomy. Gee! this is a rotten world sometimes."
"Maybe you're ill," suggested Lucien.
"Ill nothing—don't you ever feel gloomy?"
"Not without good cause."
"Well, I'd just hate to be you. Sometimes a song, or somebody humming a tune, sets me gloomin', or something I read, or sometimes it ain't nothing at all that I could tell. It just comes and sticks around till I don't know whether I'd sooner be a gloomer or a merry-ha-ha feller, with a smile for everybody and everything. I uster get that way in school sometimes, and I hated school bad enough, except the play time, but I sometimes wish I was back again."
"How the dickens do I know? Don't you?"
"No—I've made up my mind to a business career, and——"
William broke in again. "Well, you cert'nly have your mind well trained. If I had a mind like that, I'd take it out and dump it into the Bay every once in a while."
"How could I do that? I'd have to commit suicide."
"Well, you're a living suicide anyway, with a mind like yours," said William. "It's too regular, that's what it is."
They sat silent for a long time. Lucien was afraid to speak, and William was just "glooming." He turned to his comrade at last, and began, "Say, whenever I get the gloom on me, sooner or later I get to thinkin' about the first day Pete went to school. That was two years ago—and he's nine now, and maybe he don't like school. Say, he'd go without a meal rather'n be late. He's got that medal bug in his brain pan; you know the game, never late and good conduct for about seventeen years, and you get a medal that's pretty to look at and no darn good to help you get a job. There's one good thing about Pete though, even if he is a kid." He paused.
"What is it?"
"He can fight. Say, Lucien, you'd oughter see him at it. Why, last week he had three fights with one feller."
"Well, the guy licked him the first two times, and didn't know any better than to go around and beef about it. So Pete tackled him again and licked him good and plenty, and every day since then Pete asks him does he wanter fight again, and he says, 'No.' That's the way with some folks, they know when they've had enough, but Pete never does; he just stays with it till he wins out, then he looks for another fight. But he's cunning, Pete is, he don't fight around the school none—Pete wants that medal.
"But I was going to tell you about the first day he went to school. One morning Pa says to Ma, 'Well, what about Pete starting school?' he says.
"And Ma gets kinder white and her lips is trembly, and she says, 'I guess he'll have to go,' and she says to Pete, 'Do you wanter go to school, Pete?' and Pete says he's crazy to go.
"So Pa says to me, 'You'd better take him along, Willyum, I guess there's no need for me to go tottin' up there.'
"But Ma says to Pa, 'I'd kinder like you to take him, Joe, the first day,' she says, 'and I'll go and meet him at noon,' she says.
"And you bet Pa does what Ma asks him, he's that set on her. So Pa takes him, and I seen Ma crying when they starts, so I pikes out after 'em quick, for it makes me feel kinder queer to see Ma and Pa feeling bad about anything.
"Pa goes to the principal, and he asks Pete the same old fool things they ask every boy and girl what goes to school, and finds out Pete can read and write some, so he sticks him in the first form, and, of course, it's a lady teacher. She bends down and pats Pete on the head—he's gotter great mop of curls—and says, 'Well, my little man,' she says, 'I hope you'll be a good scholar.' 'Sure,' says Pete, 'anything to oblige a lady.' So she laughs and says, 'What did you say your full name was?' And Pete shuffles around some, and then he says, 'Peter Cornelius Turnpike,' he says.
"Well, that set some of the kids a snickerin'; and one of 'em, a boy about Pete's size, says, 'Gee! what a name.' Pete walks over to him and says, 'My Ma likes it, and anything she likes goes, see,' and with that he pastes the kid one in the eye, and right there they goes for each other fierce.
"Sure the teacher stopped 'em. Didjer ever know a woman that wouldn't stop boys fightin' or get somebody to stop 'em? She stops 'em all right, and keeps Pete in after school to give him a spiel about being good and a credit to the school and his Ma and Pa, and right there she plants the idea in Pete about getting a medal.
"When I gets out after school there's no Pete, so I ask some of the kids, and they says the teacher's talking to him. I waited around, and all of a sudden I sees Ma coming along, and I'm just going to speak to her when along comes Pa. He lets on he's just coming that way on accounter business, but his face gets a kinder red, and Ma laughs a glad little laugh. And when I told 'em about Pete being kept in, they both looks awful solemn and plunks down on the steps to wait for him. Pa, he takes one'r Ma's hands and tells her to cheer up, and Ma says she can't, she feels gloomy, and the house was awful lonesome with both the boys away. So, just when I think there's going to be a crying match, out comes Pete with his face a shining. Ma grabbed him and kissed him like she'd never stop, and Pa hoists him on his shoulder, and the procesh starts for home.
"Well, both Ma and Pa were for Pete staying home that afternoon, but not for Pete. He was crazy for school. He told 'em what he'd done, and Pa laughs and Ma tells him he'd orter be ashamed to laugh at his boy fightin' the first day he's at school. But Pa laughs some more and says, 'It ain't a bad sign,' he says; 'they gotter fight some time or other, and there's nothing like starting early,' he says.
"So Pete and me goes off to school in the afternoon, and Pa says to Ma, 'Keep a stiff upper lip, Ma, the boys are all right,' he says, and I guess Pa knows.
"There's quite a bunch in our family now, and some of 'em ain't old enough for school yet, and I s'pose Ma 'll feel gloomy about 'em when they start, same as she did about Pete."
He rose, put on his cap, and informed Lucien that he was going to look at the bulletin boards to see how the baseball team was doing. "I hope they'll lose," he added.
"Why?" Lucien demanded.
"Well, they've lost three games in a row now to the tail enders, and if they lose this one it'll make me gloomier'n ever, and maybe I'll be so gloomy there'll be no sense in it, and I'll begin to cheer up."
It was Miss Whimple who heard the first detailed account of William's experiences as a rent collector, and she heard it from William's own lips. She sent a note to the office one day, asking Whimple to send the lad up, ostensibly with some papers, "but in reality," she added, "because I want him to take luncheon with me; I want to ask him about some things."
"And if she wants to ask him she'll ask him, all right," Whimple mused to himself, "and William 'll have to answer, for Aunt is a remarkably bright woman, and a remarkably direct woman, too."
To William he said, "You'll take these papers up to Miss Whimple, and you'll take luncheon with her at her house——"
"Take luncheon with her."
"Gee!" said William, and then—"Say, honest, Mister Whimple, has she gotter bunch of servants?"
"No—no, a maid, and a man who looks after the grounds and the horse and that kind of work."
"Gosh, I'm glad of that. The idea of me eatin' with rich folks with one of them solemn butlers that you read about standing behind me chair—why, honest, I'd choke to death on the first bite."
Leaving Whimple, William marched into Simmons' office and demanded of Lucien Torrance, "Have you gotter clean han'kerchief?"
Lucien said he had, and produced one in proof of his assertion. William snatched it from him; seized the jug of ice water, the common property of the occupants, soused one corner of the handkerchief, and calmly, but vigorously, wiped his face with it, using the unwetted portion to dry his visage. Lucien's protests had no effect on William.
"Don't get mad, Lucien," he said soothingly. "I'm invited out to eat with a lady. I gotter keep my own han'kerchief clean, and you wouldn't like me to go with a dirty face, I know. Just hang it outer the window and it'll be dry in a minute," and thereupon he departed.
Miss Whimple lived a considerable distance beyond the then city limits. She occupied what had once been a farm-house, solidly built, and surrounded by several acres of land, including a small but excellent orchard. She owned a good deal of land in the neighbourhood, now one of Toronto's finest residential districts.
As William turned into the driveway leading to the front entrance, he was hailed by a man who was cutting the grass around one of the flower beds. "What'll you be wantin', laddie?" said the grass-cutter.
"To see Miss Whimple," answered William readily.
"And what for?"
William eyed the questioner, and with a gleam of mischief in his eyes, replied quietly, "On business."
"Aye—business, they'll all be saying that. She'll no see ye, ma lad, so you better be tellin' me, and maybe I'll be able to tell ye the way to be goin' aboot it."
"What part of Scotland did you come from?" asked William sweetly. The man glowered at him—the boy went on, "You could never deny you came from Scotland, the thistles is just stickin' out on you in bunches."
"You're a verra cheeky young——" began the man, but William cut him short with, "Save your breath, Scotty, I know more about myself than you can ever guess." And then changing his tone, he asked sharply, "Do you own this place?"
"Miss Whimple is the owner, young man, and I'm thinking——"
"Don't—don't get to thinkin'. It'll stop the grass-cutting if you do; but seeing that you don't own the place I guess it's no good asking you what you'll take for it——"
"Ye young——" began the man, but whatever else he might have said he kept to himself, for at that moment a woman appeared at the front entrance of the house and called, "John, ye'll be leaving the laddie alone—Miss Whimple's expectin' him."
William walked up to the woman, lifted his cap, and asked in his best manner, "That gentleman back there a relative of yours?" She smiled at the audacity of it perhaps, but answered, "Aye, the gowk's marrit till me, but I'm sometimes feared I made a mistake takin' peety on him. Will ye come in—if your name happens to be Tur'r'rnpike."
"Well, it's something like that," answered William cordially as he stepped inside, "but it don't often get so many 'r's' slung into it."
Miss Whimple appeared in the hallway and extended a hand to William, who squeezed it heartily and hoped the lady was well. She was, she said.
"Well, I'm glad to hear it," said William.
"Umph—it doesn't take the boys long to follow the example of the men. Now, you don't really care a cent about my health, and you know it!"
"You're wrong, Miss Whimple," he answered, and there was earnestness in his tone. "I like people I know to be well—most of them anyway."
"You don't care whether the others are or not?"
"Well, some of 'em—some of 'em. You see there's a few wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they was well, and the others—well, never mind 'em."
That was a rare luncheon. William ate heartily and praised the cooking, two things that pleased both Miss Whimple and the maid. "I'm good and hungry," he said by way of explanation, "and Pa always says it ain't no disgrace to be hungry, and it's only a chump what won't eat all he can when he gets next to it. There's enough as can't get what they want to eat, he says, when they need it most, without anybody's what's hungry playing manners when they can get it."
He liked Miss Whimple's direct manner of speech and her habit of insisting upon answers to her determined questioning. It was in answer to her demand that he gave the story of his experiences as a rent collector, and he gave it well. He started out easily enough, but was quick to see that she was following him with keen interest; he noticed, too, that the maid had ceased altogether the "clearing away" process, and was standing by her mistress, listening with shining eyes and mouth slightly open. Their interest thrilled him, it mattered not that the audience numbered only two—it was to him as though nothing in the world mattered but the recital of his story in such a manner as that those two should live it with him. He rose as the recital proceeded and paced the floor, using the chairs occasionally to indicate the positions of himself or some of the others who had played their parts. And the women laughed and applauded, or murmured words of sympathy and understanding as the tale proceeded. It came to an end somewhat abruptly, William suddenly embarrassed, half ashamed, altogether shy, longing to get out of the house and back to the office. "And that's all," he ended curtly.
"And did Mrs. Moriarity say anything when she kissed you?" asked Miss Whimple slyly. William blushed—he did not often feel so hot and uncomfortable at a mere question. He felt a sudden rush of anger at himself for blushing, and some annoyance at Miss Whimple as the cause of it, and it was only after she had repeated the question that he answered, "Yes—she—she—says, 'God bless ye, darlint.'"
They allowed him to go finally, but it was only after Miss Whimple had exacted from him a promise that he would bring Pete and the other young members of the Turnpike family to spend a Saturday afternoon with her.
The maid accompanied him to the door, and stood watching him as he walked down the path towards the gate. William noticed that the grass-cutting operations had brought the maid's husband closer to the house. "John," said the maid, "ye'll nae be needin' tae stop the laddie wi' ony of yer fulish questions. If there's onything to tell aboot him, I'll tell it."
The man looked at her sharply, and William, as he passed him, said softly, "Gee! but you married men have the hard times." And he ducked in time to avoid a good-sized piece of wood that the man hurled at him.
William was not long in fulfilling his promise to Miss Whimple to take his younger brothers and sisters up to spend a Saturday afternoon at her house. His mother started early on the task of getting them ready, and spent an anxious hour keeping them clean and tidy until William arrived from the office and "cleaned up." She watched them, with pride and tenderness on her face, as they departed, Bessie and Joey, aged six and four years respectively, in front, where, as William put it, he could "keep an eye on 'em;" William and Pete, with Dolly, the baby, two years old, toddling along between them. As a shepherd, William herded them by street car and on foot, until they reached the Whimple house. Miss Whimple was at the gate to meet them. "Here's the bunch, Miss Whimple," he said smilingly, and then contrived to get in an aside to Pete, "Now you mind what I said about behavin' or I'll knock your block off when we gets away."
The youngsters were timid and shy. They hung to William closely for a while, with hazy notions only of what to do with themselves, and from sheer embarrassment rebuffing the kindly advances of Miss Whimple and the maid. They began to feel more at home when Miss Whimple suggested a tour of the grounds, and a visit to the barn to see the cows, two fine Jerseys, and presently they began to talk to her and to one another with freedom, all but Dolly. Miss Whimple, who was greatly taken with the little toddler, noticed that William was particularly tender toward her, his hands were ever ready to lift her, or guide her over rough ground, he suited his steps to hers when she walked, and all the time he kept up a running fire of baby talk. Dolly was all dimples and smiles; she seemed to be perfectly happy and contented, but she made no sound. It was some time before Miss Whimple noticed this, and when she said to the little one, "Such a little pet, I'll warrant you talk a lot to your mammy though," Dolly smiled at her and then turned to William her wonderful brown eyes full of questioning. William smiled back, "She likes oo, Dolly," he said softly, and then looked at Miss Whimple, his eyes moist, his lips trembling a little. He tried to speak, but could not find words. But Miss Whimple understood. Her hands went to her breast. "Oh—" she murmured, "I—I—didn't understand, William, I—I——" Down on her knees she went near one of the flower beds, pulled therefrom a rose, and, with the tears streaming, pinned the flower to Dolly's dress, saying half to herself, "Deaf and dumb—deaf and dumb—poor little mite. God bless you—and—help you."
Thereafter she made Dolly her special care, and the child seemed to like it, making occasional dashes on to the lawn to join William and the others, whose restraint having passed were playing with joyous zest, under the direction of the elder brother.
It was getting near to tea time when "Chuck" Epstein appeared on the scene. Tired of their play, the children had assembled on the verandah, Dolly sitting on Miss Whimple's knee looking over a picture book, the others listening to one of William's fairy stories. "Chuck," whose acquaintance with Miss Whimple dated back many years, took a seat near them. He was joyfully greeted by William and "the bunch," and Miss Whimple felt something like a pang of jealousy when Dolly wriggled from her knee and went to Epstein. It was only for a moment though, the child was palpably so delighted to be with the old comedian, whose smile of greeting to her was wonderfully expressive. He tenderly lifted her to his knees, and with an arm around her little body, held her close to his side. William was dethroned, and he knew it, and accepted the situation quite calmly, though he did not laugh so heartily as the others when Pete demanded, "Tell us one of your stories, Mr. Epstein, they beat Billy's to bits." And Epstein told one, and then another, and another. He acted them too. The children screamed with delight as he changed his voice to each character of the story, yes, and changed his very appearance as they watched him, and all so naturally, so easily, that they seemed to be hearing and seeing so many different people taking part in the unfolding of the tales. They were almost hanging to the old man, when the maid appeared with the announcement that tea was ready. They entered the airy dining-room, crowding around "Chuck," all begging to be allowed to sit next him, and the argument grew so heated that William had to settle it. "Dolly on one side," he said with emphasis, "and Bessie on the other, and everybody keeps quiet or gets out," and then in a loud whisper to Pete and Joey, "Don't you be makin' hogs of yourselves. No more'n three pieces of cake, mind."
But the terror of William's threats faded before the hunger of "the bunch," and the determination of Miss Whimple and the maid, to say nothing of Epstein, to see that it was appeased. Pete ate until even to chew became a decided effort, and when Miss Whimple pressed him to take "just one more piece of pie," he answered wearily, "It ain't no good, Miss Whimple—I'm full to the collar bone."
William, who had been glaring at him for some time, remarked scathingly, "Gee, you'd think you never got a square meal at home," to which Pete promptly retorted, "Well, I wasn't going to let Miss Whimple think I couldn't eat her cooking."
Tired, happy, and full, William and "the bunch" departed at last, Miss Whimple and Epstein going with them to the electric car—a quarter of a mile away from the house—the old comedian, despite the protests of Miss Whimple and William, carrying Dolly all the way. He kissed her gently as he placed her in the car, and the child threw her arms around his neck and pressed her little cheek against his for a moment ere he left.
When the car had disappeared from view, Epstein escorted Miss Whimple home. They walked in silence for a little distance, and then she asked him suddenly, "When did you first meet William?"