AUTHOR OF "MRS. SOLOMON SMITH LOOKING ON," "HALL IN THE GROVE," "A NEW GIFT ON THE FAMILY TREE," "FIVE FRIENDS," "MARY BURTON," "THE POCKET MEASURE," "ESTER RIED," ETC., ETC.
CHAPTER I. IT MAY BE THAT SHE IS WORKING STILL
CHAPTER II. WHAT DID IT ALL AMOUNT TO, ANYHOW?
CHAPTER III. ANYTHING UNCOMMON ABOUT ME?
CHAPTER IV. I DON'T BLAME THEM
CHAPTER V. A CHRISTIAN HOME
CHAPTER VI. SATAN HE HAS 'EM ALL THE WEEK
CHAPTER VII. WHAT A LITTLE SCHEMER IT IS
CHAPTER VIII. WHAT WOULD YOU DO, DEAR?
CHAPTER IX. "TREMENDOUS FACTS!" HE SAID
CHAPTER X. AND SHE ALWAYS TRIED
CHAPTER XI. I HAVE BUT TO TRY AGAIN
CHAPTER XII. I WANT THEM TO GET USED TO PARLORS
CHAPTER XIII. LET US BE FASHIONABLE
CHAPTER XIV. "SOMETHING'S HAPPENED!"
CHAPTER XV. WHAT MADE HER DIFFERENT?
CHAPTER XVI. HERE WAS HIS OPPORTUNITY
CHAPTER XVII. I WONDER WHAT THEY'RE ALL AFTER
CHAPTER XVIII. YOURN'S THE WAY
CHAPTER XIX. WE HAVE BEGUN BACKWARDS
CHAPTER XX. OH, WHAT A NICE THOUGHT!
CHAPTER XXI. HAD HIS EXPERIMENT BEEN TOO SEVERE?
CHAPTER XXII. SOME PEOPLE ARE HARD TO WARN
CHAPTER XXIII. PART OF THE GREAT WELL-TO-DO WORLD
CHAPTER XXIV. FOR YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT MAY COME
CHAPTER XXV. WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?
CHAPTER XXVI. "O LORD, TAKE DIRK TOO!"
CHAPTER XXVII. AN AWFUL PROBLEM
CHAPTER XXVIII. MAY SHE GO WITH ME?
CHAPTER XXIX. WHAT IF I BELONGED?
CHAPTER XXX. IT IS NO MADE-UP AFFAIR
CHAPTER XXXI. THEIR WORKS DO FOLLOW THEM
"IT MAY BE THAT SHE IS WORKING STILL."
It was raining drearily, and but few people were abroad—that is, few, comparatively speaking, though the streets seemed full of hurrying, dripping mortals. In the large dry-goods store business was by no means so brisk as on sunny days, and one of the younger clerks, whose station was near a window looking out upon the thoroughfare, had time to stand gazing at the passers-by. They did not seem to interest him particularly, or else they puzzled him. His young, handsome face wore a thoughtful look, almost a troubled expression about the eyes, which seemed to be gazing beyond the passers-by. Just across the aisle from him, a lady, seated in one of the easy chairs set for the accommodation of shoppers, waited and watched him,—a young and pretty woman, tastefully, even elegantly dressed, yet her costume was quite in keeping with the stormy day. The young man's face seemed to have special interest for her, though he apparently was unaware of her existence. A close observer would have discovered that she was watching him with deeply interested eyes. Whatever served to hold the thoughts of the young man apparently grew in perplexity, for the troubled look continually deepened. At last, forgetting the possible listener, he addressed the dripping clouds, perhaps,—at least, he was looking at them:—
"I don't know how to do it; but something ought to be done. It is worse than folly to expect good from the way that things are now managed. Ester would have known just what, and how; and how interested she would have been! I try to do her work, and to 'redeem the time;' but the simple truth is, I don't know how, and nobody else seems to."
These sentences were not given all at once, but murmured from time to time at his unsympathetic audience outside.
Patter, patter, patter, drip, drip, drip! steady, uncompromising business. It was all the answer the clouds vouchsafed him.
With the listener inside it was different. The interested look changed to an eager one. She left her seat and moved toward the absorbed young man, breaking in on his reverie with the clearest of voices:—
"I beg your pardon,—but are you thinking of your sister? You are Mr. Ried, I believe? I have heard of your sister's life, and of her beautiful death, through a dear friend of my husband, who loved Ester. I have always wanted to know more about her. I wanted to get acquainted with you, so I might ask you things about her. I am waiting now for my husband to come and introduce us. But perhaps it isn't necessary. Do you know who I am?"
"It is Mrs. Roberts, I believe?" the young man said, struggling with his astonishment and embarrassment.
"Yes, and you are Mr. Alfred Ried. Well, now we know each other without any further ceremony. Will you tell me a little about your sister, Mr. Ried? You were thinking of her just now."
"I was missing her just now," said he, trying to smile, "as I very often am. I was a little fellow when she died; but the older I grow the more difficult I find it to see how the world can spare her. She was so full of plans for work, and there are so few like her."
"It may be that she is working still, in the person of her brother."
He shook his head energetically, though his face flushed.
"No, I can only blunder vaguely over work that I know she, with her energetic ways and quick wits, could have done, and done well. It happens that she was especially interested in a class of people of whom I know something. They need help, and I don't know how to help them. It seems to me that she could have done it."
"Will you tell me who the people are?"
"It is a set of boys for whom nobody cares," he said, speaking sadly; "it hardly seems possible that there could ever have been a time when anybody cared for them, though I suppose their mothers did when they were little fellows."
Thus spoke the ignorant young man,—ignorant of the depths to which sin will sink human nature, but rich in the memory of mother-love.
"I think of my sister Ester in connection with them," he said, speaking apologetically, "because she was peculiarly interested in wild young fellows like them; she thought they might be reached,—that there might be ways invented for reaching them, such as had not been yet. She had plans, and they were good ones. I thought so then, little fellow that I was, and I think so now, only nobody is at work carrying them out; and I wonder sometimes if Ester could have been needed in heaven half as much as she is needed on earth. She used to talk to me a great deal about what might be done. I think now that she wanted to put me in the way of taking up some of the work that she would have done; but she mistook her material. I can't do it."
"Are you sure? You are young yet, and besides, you may be doing more than you think. Couldn't I help? What is there that needs doing for these particular young men?"
"Everything!" he said, excitedly. "If you should see them you would get a faint idea of it. They come occasionally down to the Sabbath-school at the South End; in fact, they come quite frequently, though I'm sure I can't see why. It certainly isn't for any good that they get. Their actions, Mrs. Roberts, surpass anything that I ever imagined."
"Who is their teacher?"
"That would be a difficult question to answer. They have a different teacher every Sabbath. No one is willing to undertake the class twice. They have tried all the teachers who attend regularly, and several who have volunteered for once, and never would attempt it a second time. Just now, there is no one who will make a venture."
"Have you tried?"
He shook his head emphatically.
"I know at least so much. Why, Mrs. Roberts, some of them are as old as I, and, indeed, I think one or two are older. No; we have secured the best teachers that we could for them, but each one has been a failure. I suppose they must go."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"What an awful question! Where will they go, Mrs. Roberts, if we let them slip now?"
He was tremendously in earnest. One could not help feeling that he had studied the possibilities, and felt the danger.
"Suppose I try to help! Shall I come and take that class next Sabbath?"
This simple, directly-put question brought the young man suddenly from the heights of his excitement into visible embarrassment. He looked down on the small, fair lady, reaching hardly to his shoulder, attired in that unmistakable way which bespeaks the lady of wealth and culture, and could imagine nothing more incongruous than to have her seated before that class of swearing, spitting, fighting boys. Not that her wealth or her culture was an objection, but she looked so utterly unlike what he had imagined their teacher must be,—she was so small, so frail, so fair and sweet, and ignorant of the ways of the great wicked world, and especially of those great wicked boys! What could he say to her?
He was so manifestly embarrassed that the small lady laughed.
"You think I cannot do it," she said, almost gayly.
He hastened to answer her.
"Indeed, you have no idea of the sort of class it is. I have given you no conception of it; I cannot. You would think yourself before a set of uncaged animals."
"Yes, and in case of failure I should only be where the others are, who have tried and failed. If you will introduce me, and your superintendent will let me, I mean to try; and that will relieve you of the dilemma of being entirely without a teacher for them."
Young Ried had nothing to say. He thought the attempt a piece of folly,—a worse than useless experiment; but how was he to say so to the wife of his employer?
That gentleman appeared just then, making haste.
"I was unavoidably detained," he explained; "I feared you would grow weary of waiting. Ah, Ried, my wife has introduced herself, I see. Is he the young man you were speaking of, Mrs. Roberts?"
"The very young man,—Ester Ried's brother. He doesn't know how glad I am to have met him. Some day when we are better acquainted, and you trust me more fully, I am going to tell you how I became so deeply interested in your dear sister. Meantime this little matter should be definitely settled. Mr. Roberts, I have invited myself to take a class to-morrow down at the South End Mission."
"Have you, indeed?"
Mr. Roberts spoke heartily, and seemed by no means dismayed,—only a trifle perplexed as to details.
"How can we manage it, Flossy? My prison class takes me in an opposite direction at the same hour, you know."
"Yes, I thought of that; I propose to ask Mr. Ried to call for me, and show me the way, and vouch for my good intentions after I reach there. Do you suppose he will do it?" She looked smilingly from her husband to young Ried, and both waited for his answer.
"I obey directions," he said, bowing respectfully to Mr. Roberts. "Am I to have the honor of being detailed for that service to-morrow?"
"So Mrs. Roberts says," was the good-humored reply, and then the merchant took his wife away to their waiting carriage that had drawn up before the door, leaving Alfred Ried, if the truth must be told, in a fume.
"Much she knows what she is talking about!" he said, jerking certain boxes out of their places on the shelves, and then banging them back again, seeming to suppose that he was by this process putting his department in order for closing. "Little bit of a dressed-up doll! They will tear her into ribbons, metaphorically, if not literally, before this time to-morrow! She thinks, because she is the wife of Evan Roberts, the great merchant, she can go anywhere and do anything, and that people will respect her. She has never had anything to do with a set of fellows who care less than nothing about money and position, except to be ten times more insolent and outrageous in their conduct than they would if she had less of it! I shall feel like a born idiot in presenting this pretty little doll to teach that class! Mr. Durant will think I have lost what few wits I had! What can possess the woman to want to try? It is just because she has no conception of what she is about! But Mr. Roberts must know—I wonder what he means by permitting it?"
In very much the same state of mind did our young man pilot his new and unsought-for recruit into the crowded mission rooms of the South End on the following Sabbath afternoon. She looked not one whit less able to compete with the terrors which awaited the teacher of the formidable class.
Her dress was simplicity itself, according to Mrs. Roberts' ideas of simplicity; yet, from the row of ostrich tips that bobbed and nodded at each other, all around the front of her velvet hat, to the buttons of her neat-fitting boots, she seemed to bring a new atmosphere into the room.
Yesterday's rain was over, and the pleasant south windows were aglow with sunshine. As Mrs. Roberts sat down the sunbeams came and played about her face, and she seemed in keeping with them, and with nothing else around her.
The superintendent bestowed curious glances on her during the opening exercises. He had seen the shadow on young Ried's face when he seated her, and had found time to question.
"Whom have we here?"
"Mrs. Evan Roberts. She wants to try the vacant class! I did not ask her, Mr. Durant; she invited herself."
Mr. Durant looked over at her, and tried to keep his eyes from smiling.
"She looks very diminutive in every way for such an undertaking. They will frighten her out before she commences, will they not?"
"I presume so; but I didn't know what to do. She wanted to come, and I could not tell her she must not."
"No, of course,—the occasion is too rare to lose. Very few people ask the privilege of trying that class. There is no teacher for them to-day; and your Mrs. Roberts must learn by experience that some things are more difficult than others. I will let her try it."
Meantime, "the boys" of the dreaded class were studying the new face. She was the only person not already seated before a class, and they naturally judged that she was to be their next victim. They looked at her and then at one another, and winked and coughed and sneezed and nudged elbows and giggled outright, every one of them,—meantime chewing tobacco with all their might, and expectorating freely wherever he judged it would be most offensive.
Alfred Ried watched them, inwardly groaning. Being used to their faces, he could plainly read that they anticipated a richer time than usual, and rejoiced greatly over the youth and beauty of their victim.
But young Ried was not the only one who watched. Mrs. Roberts, without seeming to be aware of their presence, lost not a wriggle or a nudge. She was studying her material; and it must be confessed that they startled her not a little. They represented a different type of humanity from her Chautauqua boys, or her boys in the old church at home,—rather, an advanced stage of both those types.
When Mr. Durant came toward her, the look on his face was not reassuring, it so plainly said that he expected failure, and was sorry for her as well as for himself. However, with as good grace as he could assume, he led her to the seat prepared for the teacher, and gave her a formal introduction.
"Boys, this is Mrs. Roberts, who is willing to try to teach you to-day. I wish you would show her that you know how to behave yourselves."
Mrs. Roberts wished that he had left her to introduce herself, or that he had said almost anything rather than what he did; the mischievous gleam in several pairs of eyes said that they meant to show her something that they considered far more interesting than that.
Many were the sympathetic glances that were bestowed on the young and pretty lady as she went to her task. As for Alfred Ried, there was more than sympathy in his face. He was vexed with the young volunteer and vexed with himself.
He told himself savagely that this was what came of his silly habit of thinking aloud. If only he had kept his anxieties about that class to himself, Mrs. Roberts would never have heard of it, and been tempted to put herself in such a ridiculous position; and if this episode did not break him of the habit, he did not know what would.
He was presently, however, given a class of small boys, with enough of original and acquired depravity about them to keep him intensely employed, and the entire school settled to work.
"WHAT DID IT ALL AMOUNT TO, ANYHOW?"
Settled, that is, so far as the class of boys in the corner would permit the use of that term. They had not settled in the least. Two of them indulged in a louder burst of laughter than before, just as Mrs. Roberts took her seat. Yet her face was in no wise ruffled.
"Good afternoon," she said, with as much courtesy as she would have used in addressing gentlemen. "I wonder if you know that I am a stranger in this great city? You are almost the first acquaintances that I am making among the young people, and I have a fancy that I would like to have you all for my friends. Suppose we enter into a compact to be excellent and faithful friends to one another? What do you say?"
What were they to say? They were slightly taken back, surprised into listening quietly to the close of the strange sentence, and then giving no answer beyond violent nudges and aside-looks. What did she mean? Was she "chaffing" them? This was unlike the opening of any lesson! It certainly could not be the first question on the lesson-paper; nor did it sound like certain well-meant admonitions to "try to improve the opportunity" and "learn all that they could." With each of these commencements they were entirely familiar; but this was something new.
"Do you agree to the compact?" she asked, while they waited, her face bright with smiles.
"Dunno about that," said one whom she very soon discovered occupied the position of a ringleader; "as a general thing, we like to be kind of careful about our friendships; we might strike something that wasn't quite the thing with people in our position. You can't be too careful in a big city, you know."
It is impossible to give you an idea of the impishness with which this impudent answer was jerked out, to the great amusement of the others, who laughed immoderately.
It suited Mrs. Roberts to treat the reply with perfect seriousness and composure.
"That is very true," she said, courteously; "but at the same time I venture to hope that since you know nothing ill of me as yet, you will receive me into a sort of conditional friendship, with the understanding that I remain your friend until I am guilty of some conduct that ought to justify you in deserting me. I am sure you cannot object to that; and now, if we are to be friends, we should know each other's names. I am Mrs. Evan Roberts, and I live at No. 76 East Fifty-fifth Street. I shall be glad to see you at my house whenever you would like to call on me. Now, will one of you be kind enough to introduce himself and the class? Perhaps you will introduce me to your friends?"
She looked directly at the ringleader.
"Certainly! certainly, mum!" he replied, briskly. "This is Mr. Carrot Pumpkins, at your service, mum—this fellow on my left, I mean; rather a queer name, I dare say you think. It all came of his being fond of sitting astride of a pumpkin when he was a little shaver, and of his hair being exactly the color of carrots as you can see for yourself. And this fellow on my right is Mr. Champion Chawer, so called because he can make the biggest run on tobacco of any of the set, taking him day in and day out. That fellow at your elbow is 'Slippery Jim.' We don't call him 'Mister,' because he doesn't stay long enough in one place to have it tacked on to him. He is such a slippery scamp that an eel is nowhere, compared to him."
During this rapid flow of words the listeners, who evidently admired their leader, became so convulsed with laughter as to lose all vestige of respectability, and Mr. Durant's disturbed face appeared in view.
"Boys, this is perfectly disgraceful!" he said, speaking in sharp and highly-excited tones,—"perfectly disgraceful! I don't know why you wish to come here to disturb us in this way Sabbath after Sabbath! But we have really endured enough. There is a policeman at the foot of the stairs, and he can easily call others to his help; so now if you wish to remain here you must behave yourselves."
During the deliverance of this sentence some of the boys gave mimic groans, one of them whistled, and others kept up a running comment:—
"A policeman! oh good! that's little Duffer, I know! We've seen him before! Wouldn't mind giving him a chase to-day, just for exercise, you know, mum."
"I say, boys, let's cut and run, the whole caboodle of us. We can jump these seats at one bound, and take the little woman along on our shoulders for a ride! Shall we do it?" This from the leader, who in time came to be known as "Nimble Dick."
"Bah! no!" replied a third; "let's stick it out and see what she's got to say; she's a new party. Besides, we can't give her the slip in that way; we're friends of hers, you know."
"Mrs. Roberts," said the distressed Mr. Durant, in a not very good undertone, "I think you will have to give it up. They are worse than usual this morning. We have endured much from them, and I must say that my patience is exhausted. Will you not take the seat at the other end of the room?"
"Not unless they wish me to."
The people who had known Flossy Shipley well would have detected a curious little quiver in her voice, which meant that she was making a strong effort at self-control; but a stranger would hardly have observed it.
"Do you wish me to go away, young gentlemen?"
The scamps thus appealed to, looked at one another again, as if in doubt what to say. This again was new ground to them. Policemen they were accustomed to. At last Nimble Dick made answer:—
"No, I'm bound if we do; it comes the nearest to looking like a lark of anything that we have had in a long time. I say, Parson, go off about your business and let us alone. We was having a good time getting acquainted till you come and spoiled it. We'll be as sober as nine deacons at a prayer-meetin'. And look out how you insult this young woman; she's a friend of ours, and we're bound to protect her. No asking of her to change her seat; she's going to sit right here to the end of the chapter."
Mr. Durant looked his willingness to summon the police at once, but Mrs. Roberts' voice, evenly poised now, took up the story:—
"Thank you; then I will stay. And since it is getting late, suppose we lose no more time. There was something about which I wanted to tell you. But a few evenings ago I attended a gathering where I saw some very singular things. A gentleman in the party was tied with a strong rope, hands and feet, as firmly as two men could tie him,—people who knew how to tie knots, and they did their best; yet while we stood looking at him he shook his hand free and held it out to them. How do you think it was done?"
"Sham knots!" said one.
"No, for my husband was one of the gentlemen who tied him, and he assured me that he tied the rope as firmly as he could. Besides, more wonderful things than that were done. I tied my own handkerchief into at least a dozen very hard knots, and gave it to him, and I saw him put it in a glass of water, then seize it and shake it out, and the knots were gone. I saw him take two clean glasses, and pour water from a pitcher into one, and it seemed to turn instantly to wine; then he poured that glass of wine into the other empty glass, and immediately it turned back to water, or seemed to. Dozens of other strange things he did. I should really like to tell you about them all. I will, at some other time; but just now I think you would like to know how he did them."
"How he did them!" "As if you could tell!" "Can you tell?" "Pitch in, mum; I'd like to hear that part myself!" These were some of the eager answers.
Had the little teacher, under the embarrassments of the occasion, taken leave of her senses? Actually she was bending forward, opened Bible turned face downward on her knee, engaged in describing in somewhat minute detail the explanations of certain slight-of-hand performances which she had recently seen! What idea of the sacredness of the office of teacher, and the solemnity of the truths to be taught, had she?
The boys were listening, their heads bent forward all around her. What of that? They would have listened equally well to a graphically-told story of a Fourth Avenue riot, and been equally benefited, you think? They did not know just when the speaker slipped from the events of last week to the events of more than three thousand years ago. Indeed, so ignorant were they of all past history, that they were not even aware that she went back into the past; for aught they knew, she might have gone, on Wednesday of last week to see the man who could untie knots by magic, and on Thursday to see the men who could drop canes on the ground that would appear to turn into wriggling serpents. But there was one statement that proved too much for their credulity.
"You could not imagine what occurred next," said the bright-faced teacher. "The cane or rod that the first man had dropped, actually opened its mouth and swallowed the other rods that seemed to be serpents, and was left there alone in its triumph!"
"Oh, bosh!" said Nimble Dick, contempt expressed in the very curve of his nose, "that's too steep; I don't believe a word of it! These fellows can do lots of queer things; I've seen 'em perform, myself; but they never made a live thing yet; I've heard folks that know, say so."
"Precisely what I wanted to reach," said Mrs. Roberts, with animation. "You are right, they never did; and you have discovered just the difference between them and the one man of whom I have been telling you. He worked by the power of God; he distinctly stated that he did; and that God really turned his rod into a serpent, and allowed it to swallow the imitations of life, and then turned it back again into a rod, to show that nothing was beyond his power."
"Did you see the thing done?" questioned a young skeptic, running his tongue into his cheek in a skillful way, and distorting his whole face with a disagreeable leer. He began to suspect that he was being cheated into listening to a Bible story.
Mrs. Roberts was prompt with her answer:—
"Oh, no, I did not, neither did I see the great fire that you had in this city about a year ago. At that time I was a thousand miles away; and it so happens that I have never talked with any person who did see it, yet I know there was a great fire, and many buildings were burned, and lives lost. It has been proved to me."
"Oh, well," said skeptic number two, while number one retired into silence to speculate over this answer, "fires are common enough things; anybody can know that they happen; but it ain't such a common affair to see a stick turn into a serpent and swallow up other serpents. I've seen them fellows make things that looked like snakes, myself; I could most swear to it that I'd seen them wriggle; but they never did no swallowing."
"That is, they did not give unmistakable signs that they were alive. But do you think it too strange a thing for God to do? Surely he can make life! How is it that you are here, breathing, talking, thinking, if there is no power anywhere to make life?"
"Oh, I came from a tadpole," said the boastful young scientist, putting his thumbs under his arms, and affecting an air of great wisdom. "I know all about that; I was there, and see the things wriggle."
Evolution staring her in the face in a corner class in a mission school;—a class that had been gathered from the slums! Mrs. Roberts did not know that these are the very places in which to find it in all its coarseness. Yet she made haste to meet the boy on his own ground.
"Very well, if you choose to take that view of it. Was not the tadpole alive? Where did the life come from? You insist that the story I have been telling you is untrue because you know that none of these sleight-of-hand performers have ever, or can ever make actual life! That it is an impossible thing for human beings to do. Yet when I tell you that God did it you refuse the statement. How are you going to account for life? If, in its very lowest forms, it cannot be made by men who have given all their time to the study of the marvellous, how is it that it is everywhere about us, unless I am correct, and there is a Power that can produce life?"
Not a boy among them had heard the term "evolution;" knew anything about "the survival of the fittest." They were entirely ignorant of "protoplasm" or "bioplasm;" yet not one of them but had caught the meaning of some of these terms as they had been translated for them into the vernacular of the city slums; not one in the class but perceived that their champion arguer had been met on his own ground and vanquished. Not with an outburst of horror; he had not even been informed that he was irreverent. Nimble Dick delighted in making each teacher tell him this; he had merely been replied to in the calmest of argumentative tones, and called upon to account for the facts in his own statements, and had been unable to do so. The crowd broke into a derisive laugh, and were noisy, it is true, and brought troubled frowns to the face of their superintendent, and made the flush on Alfred Ried's face deepen; yet if both these anxious watchers had known it, it was worthy of note that the laugh had been at the expense of one of their number, and not at their teacher.
"Well, go on," interposed the youngest and quietest of the group. "Tell us some more about your old fellow with his serpents. Did they stay swallowed, and what did it all amount to, anyhow?"
Thus challenged, Mrs. Roberts gave her whole heart to the business of giving, in as dramatic a manner as she could, the closing scenes in the act performed in Egypt so long ago, carefully avoiding any reference to time, and mentioning no names, using only modern terms, and an exceedingly simple conversational form of language. She was, however, presently interrupted with a question:—
"When did all this happen? And why don't somebody do something like it nowadays?"
Ignoring the first question, Mrs. Roberts adroitly gave herself to the second.
"Why don't you find your pleasure in tumbling around on the floor, playing with a bright-colored marble or two as you did when a child? The world was in its childhood when God taught the people in this way. He has given them just as wonderful lessons since, but lessons more suited to men and women who have learned to think and reason. We don't like to be always treated as children."
Whether they really dimly understood the meaning or not is possibly doubtful, yet it appealed to their sense of dignity in so indirect a way, that they did not themselves realize what inclined them to quiet for a moment, while she finished her sentence earnestly. In the midst of the quiet the closing-bell rang, and the seven young scamps seemed at once to take into their hearts seven other spirits worse than themselves, and behaved abominably during the closing exercises, and tumbled out of the door over each other, in the wildest fashion, the moment the signal was given, halting only to say, in the person of their leader:—
"You be on hand next Sunday; we like your yarns first rate."
Mrs. Roberts, with glowing cheeks, and eyes behind which there were unshed tears, made her way to the desk where Mr. Durant was standing, and spoke quickly:
"There is a difference between others who have tried it and myself, Mr. Durant. The sentence in Mr. Ried's account that gave me courage was, 'Every one has failed, so far; people are unwilling to take the class a second time.' I have failed, but I want to try again."
"ANYTHING UNCOMMON ABOUT ME?"
Though they rushed out with even more noise than usual, every boy of them knew that the noise was to cover a certain sense of shame-facedness, because they had actually been beguiled into listening quietly for a few minutes to earnest words.
Directly they had reached the privacy of the street they became quieter.
"I say, boys," said Nimble Dick, "is that an awful green one, or a new kind?"
"New, I should say," replied one of the younger boys; "she ain't like anything that's been in that room since we got acquainted with it. I don't know her style, myself."
"What do you take it she meant by that stuff about being friends, and telling us where she lived, and all that?"
"Dunno what she meant; but she ain't green, you may bet your head on that. I'll tell you what I think, boys: I b'lieve she knows what she is about, every time."
What this sage conclusion amounted to, one not acquainted with the dialect of the street might have been at a loss to understand, but the rest of the party received it in grave silence and nods of the head, as though it were a thought that needed careful investigation. In common parlance, Jerry Tompkins had expressed the opinion that Mrs. Roberts had some point to gain in being so uncommonly polite and attentive to them, and they were curious to know what the motive could possibly be.
They considered the important question in silence until they reached the next corner; then Nimble Dick, tossing back his head as one who had thrown off an abstruse problem, and would have none of it, said:—
"Well, what next? We've got through with that fun for to-day. What are you going to do, boys? Say we go around to Poke's, and see what is going on there?"
To this proposition there was eager agreement from all the party save one; he maintained a somewhat moody silence.
"What say, Dirk?" the leader asked, addressing him; "are you ready for Poke's?"
"No; I don't think I'll go around, just now."
"What, then? If you've got something better on hand, why don't you let a fellow know? We're not dying for Poke's place."
"I haven't got a thing on hand; only I don't care about going there."
"Nowhere! Mean place. Too cold weather to stop in the streets. There'll be a good fire at Poke's. You come along; don't go to getting the sulks; it ain't becoming, just after you've been to Sunday-school."
But the young fellow persisted in gloomily refusing to join them, and presently they began to tease, in what they meant to be a good-natured way.
"Dirk's struck," said one. "That yellow-haired party has got him by the throat; I saw her looking at him most uncommon sharp, when she was telling that biggest story of hers, about the serpent that swallowed. Dirk he thinks he's been swallowed by one of 'em; he feels it choking in his throat."
"No," said another, "that ain't it; Dirk's a-going to get pious. That's his last dodge; I've seen the spell coming on, for some time. Didn't you see him pick up that there Bible and lay it on the seat the other Sunday, after Jerry's elbow knocked it off by mistake? I've been scared about Dirk ever since; and now he won't go to Poke's! It's a bad sign. I say, Dirk, maybe there's going to be a prayer-meeting down your way, and you wouldn't mind letting us come?"
They expected him to laugh, but his face grew blacker than before, and at last he said, in very significant tones:—
"You better hold up there, Scrawly, if you don't want to try the depth of that gutter."
"Leave him be," said Nimble Dick, quickly; "he's going into one of his tantrums. When he begins like that, there's no end to the fighting that's in him; and I don't want a row now,—it's too early in the day; besides, I know something that's better fun. You fellows come along with me, and let him go."
As this was said in a sort of undertone as Dirk strode on ahead; and when, at another corner, he dashed down it, leaving them all, there was no call after him. He was free to go where he would, and for reasons that he himself could not have explained he chose that it should be home,—that is, the place which he called home. It might not meet your ideas of what a spot so named should be. The road to it led through one of the meanest portions of the city. Each foot of the way the houses seemed to grow more squalid looking, and the streets filthier. The particular alley down which he dived at last was narrower and blacker than any yet passed, and the cellar door which he pushed open let him into the meanest-looking house in the row,—a long, low, dark room. In one corner there was the remnant of a stove, braced up by bricks and stones, but no fire was burning therein, though the day was cold. Furniture there was none, unless the usual rickety table and two broken chairs could be called by that name. A door was ajar that led into an inner cellar, and a glimpse of piles of offensive looking rags, that were called "bed-clothes" by the family, might have given you an idea of what their home life was, as hardly any other phase of it can. The rags were not all in the further cellar, however; a gay patch-work quilt, or at least one that had once been gay, but from which bits of black cotton now oozed in every direction, seemed to have curled itself in a heap against the one window. However, it moved soon after Dirk opened the door, and showed itself to be more than a quilt. Inside was a young girl, the quilt wrapped around her closely, drawn up about her face and head, as if she would hide all but her eyes within, and try to get rid of shivering.
"You home?" she said, her tones expressing surprise, but at the same time indifference. "What is it for?"
"Because I wanted to come. Hasn't a fellow a right to come home if he wants to?"
"Of course; and it's such a lovely home, and you are so fond of it, no one need wonder at your coming in the middle of the day."
The sentence was sarcastic enough, but the tones were hardly so; they expressed too much indifference even for sarcasm.
Dirk surveyed her thoughtfully; he seemed to have no answer ready. In fact, his face wore almost a startled air, and really the thought which presented itself for consideration was startling. Something about the face of the girl, done up so grotesquely in her ragged quilt, suggested the lady who had been his teacher at the Mission! Could one find a sharper contrast than existed between these two? Yet Dirk, as he looked, could not get away from it.
"What are you staring at?" the girl asked, presently, growing uneasy over the fixedness of his gaze. "Do you see anything uncommon about me?"
"Where's mother?" he asked, dropping his eyes, and turning from her.
"In there, asleep. You needn't talk quite so loud; it won't hurt her to get a bit of rest. She sat up till morning, poking at your old coat."
Dirk looked down at it thoughtfully. There had been an attempt to make it decent, although the setting of the patches showed an unpractised hand, and they were of a strikingly different color from the coat itself.
"You might have done it for her, then, in the daytime," he said, briefly, and added, "Where's father?"
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
"How should I know? Where he is most of the time; you know more about it than I do, or ought to; you live on the street."
He gave her an answer which seemed to surprise her:—
"I say, Mart, what is the use in being so horrid cross all the time?"
"You are so good-natured," she said, "and everything is so nice and pleasant around me, it is a wonder that I should ever be cross!"
"That's all lost, Mart, for I never said I was good-natured, nor thought I was; and if I don't know just how hateful things are, I should like to know who does! But, after all, what good does it do to snarl? Why couldn't you and me say a good-natured word once in a while, just for a change?"
"Try it," she said; "I wish you would! I'm so tired of things as they now are, that most any change would be fine. But I'll risk your doing much in that line; it isn't in you."
What was there in this cross girl to remind any one in his senses of Mrs. Evan Roberts? Yet even as she spoke that last ungracious sentence, she turned a little, so that a slant beam of sunshine—one of the few that ever found its way into this dreary room—laid a streak of light just across her hair, yellowing it until it was almost the shade that he had noted in the lady at the Mission; and he thought of her again, and wondered curiously whether, if Mart were dressed in the shining black dress, and fur wraps and feather-decked bonnet that the lady had worn, she would really resemble her. How would Mart look dressed up, he wondered; even decently dressed, as the girls were whom he met on the streets. He had never seen her in anything much more becoming than the ragged quilt. He was studying her in a way that Mart did not in the least understand. She broke the spell suddenly again:—
"Have you had any dinner?"
"Dinner? Why, no! of course not! Where would I find that sort of thing? I looked all up and down the streets, and smelled plenty of it, but not a bite did I get."
"Where have you been?"
"Oh, around in several places; not much of anywhere."
"I know where you've been,"—a severe light coming into her eyes; "you've been down to the South End, and if I was you I'd be ashamed of myself! I know how you fellows go on down there. Sallie Calkins goes, and she told me all about it. She said that she was ashamed to live on the same street with any of you, and that none of the folks in the Mission knew what to do with you, and the next thing you knew you would all be marched off to the lockup."
"Let them try it," muttered Dirk, his face growing darker; "we'd make that street too hot to hold them in short order if they played at any such game as that, and I guess they know it."
"Well, anyhow, I wouldn't be meaner and lower down than I had to be, Dirk Colson! It is bad enough as it is,—a drunkard for a father, and we nothing more than beggars! But I'd behave myself half-way decent when I went among folks that wanted to be good to me, or else I'd stay away."
"Look here, you keep your preaching for them that wants to hear it; I don't. A fellow can't come home without having a row; if it isn't of one kind, it's another. I wonder I ever come home at all."
Dirk was angry now, and his dark, thin face looked fierce with passion. His sister kept the curiously composed tone and manner with which she had said all her exasperating things.
"I wonder you do," she said. "I suppose you get starved, and can't help it, now and then. There's some dinner I saved for you. If you want it, eat it, and then take yourself to some place that suits you better."
As she spoke, she jerked open the door of a little cupboard near which she stood, and brought therefrom a much-cracked plate, on which lay a baked potato, with one end broken or bitten off, then carefully replaced, as if the owner might have had a second thought as to its disposal; there was also a bit of corn-bread, somewhat burned, and half of a roasted apple.
Meagre as the fare was for a hungry boy, there was more variety than he had expected, and something in the simple preparation touched him, and quieted his anger.
"Where did this come from?" he asked, taking in the unaccustomed morsel of apple with two eager bites. "I tell you, that is good!"
"Sally Calkins gave it to me last night. She got one give to her somewhere."
Just as the last bite was gone, it occurred to Dirk, first to wonder, and then to be almost certain, that his sister, having shared the apple, had saved her entire share for him. It was not the first time he had known of such an effort on her part to supply him with food. Had he thought of it sooner he would certainly have left a bit of the dainty for her; but no thought of telling her so, for an instant crossed his mind. Neither had she, on her part, the slightest idea of describing to him with what care and patience she and Sallie had roasted the choice morsel before Sallie's fire, only last night,—Sallie's father being fortunately late in coming, and so giving them a chance; then she had borne hers home in a bit of paper, and carefully guarded it all day, just for this hour. Also, she might have told him that she bit the end from the potato before she remembered that there would be none left for him, and then fitted it on again as best she could, and went without. She would not have told him for worlds. Why? She could not have explained why. Something within her shrank from letting him know, not that she sacrificed for him, but that she cared enough for him to want to do it!
Potato and corn-bread were gone, to the last crumb; it seemed to Dirk that there had been only enough of them to show him how hungry he was.
"I suppose there isn't anything more?" he said, wistfully, with the rising inflection, indeed, but not as one who had any idea of receiving an affirmative answer.
"I should think there wasn't!"—defiance in the tone—"there's a piece of bread that I kept for mother's supper, and I mean she shall have it."
"Well, don't bite me! I'm perfectly willing that she shall. Isn't there anything for a fire?"
"Only some chips that I'm saving till mother has her nap out."
"You better go to bed yourself, then; it's awful cold here."
"I ain't going to stir from this corner so long as this streak of light lasts. It isn't so very often I see it that I can afford to lose it."
Her brother turned and looked at her. She had gathered the folds of the ragged quilt about her again, and was crouching at the low window, and the very last gleam that the sunshine would vouchsafe them came and glimmered in her hair.
There it was again,—that mysterious, haunting resemblance! What would Mart think if he told her of it? Probably that he was trying to poke fun at her. At least, he should not experiment. Yet he could not help wondering again, how Mart would look if she were dressed like other people.
"I say, Mart," he began, suddenly, breaking the stillness, "let's you and I get out of this, where it is warmer. Come and take a walk down on the avenue; the sun will shine yet for half an hour, and it is real warm and bright."
"In this quilt?" she asked, significantly, looking down at it.
The boy's face darkened.
"Hasn't your shawl got out of pawn yet?"
"How should it?"
He flung himself angrily out of the broken chair, picked up his ragged cap, and strode angrily and noisily across the room, out at the door, stumbling up the steps, like one half-blind with disgust or rage, and went on swift feet down the street out of sight. And Mart, poor Mart, left thus to solitude, let the last beam of the sun go without watching, and buried her face in the ragged quilt and cried.
"I DON'T BLAME THEM."
It was not a "pet" name. Poor Mart Colson would not have known what to do with a pet name. Her life had not taught her how to use such phrases; how she came to be named Martha, she did not know; but a hollow-eyed, sad-voiced woman could have told her of a country home, long ago, where there were daffodils blowing in the early spring, almost under the snow; where, later, the earth was turned into sky, or the stars came down and gleamed all over her father's fields, so plentiful were the dandelions; and the breath of the clover came in at all the open windows, and the cows—her father's cows—coming home from pasture, and the tinkle of their bells were sights and sounds familiar to her ear. She sat there one summer evening, in the back-door, watching the glory and the peace, and studying, between times, her Sabbath lesson. Often and often the words came back to her in future years. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." That was one of the verses. Was it a dim memory of the words, and a sort of blind reaching out after their fulfilment, that led her to name her poor little two-days-old baby, Martha? The old home had vanished, the sweet-scented meadows, the tinkling bells, the peace and the plenty, were as utterly things of the past as though they had not been. Mother, and father, and one brother, were gone, lying in grass-grown, neglected graves; and she—why the two-days-old baby's father was drunk; and had been for three weeks! A hard, hateful-sounding word,—coarse, almost. Why don't I say intoxicated? Oh, because I can't! I've no desire to find smooth-sounding words with which to cover the sin of that baby's father. But the mother named her Martha. She never told her why, if, indeed, she herself fully knew; it was not a family name. Gradually, after the fashion of the times, she sought to shorten the name; and because they had not sweet, short words, as "Pet," and "Dear" and "Sweet,"—all such belong to happy homes,—they grew to calling her Mart. And now even she herself hardly realized that she had ever owned to any other call. Poor Mart! I find myself wanting to use the adjective over and over again when I speak of her. Such a desolate, loveless life! Always a drunken father,—she had never known any other; always a sharp-toned, weary-eyed, disheartened mother, who shut her tenderness for the child within herself, as one who could not afford to show it. Then Dirk, the one brother, going astray almost as soon as he was born. What wonder, from such a home? Yet Mart wondered and felt bitter over it. Why could not Dirk be like some others of whom she knew? Like Sallie Calkin's brother, for instance, who worked day and night, and brought home, often and often, an apple, or a herring, or sometimes even a picture paper for Sallie! Mart was sharp-tongued; all her life had taught her to be so. She spoke sharp words out of the bitterness of her heart at Dirk, and of late rarely anything but sharp words, yet—and this was Mart's secret, hidden away as if it were something of which to be ashamed—she loved Dirk, loved him fiercely, with all the pent-up wealth of her young heart; and often, because she loved him, she was harsh and bitter towards him, though she did not herself understand why this should be.
As for Dirk, he walked rapidly but for a few blocks; his dinner had been too insufficient to give him strength, after the first aimless anger had subsided. Then came the question what to do with himself. Why hadn't he gone with the fellows? More than likely some of them had contrived a way to get a dinner. Why had he persisted in sullenly leaving them all and going home?
He had not the least idea why he had been impelled to go home. Now that he was fairly away from home again, he had no idea what to do with himself. A place where he could warm his feet and his hands, where he could get a bite to eat, possibly,—this last would be an immense attraction, but was not a necessity, and he did not expect it,—but warmth, at least, he felt that he must have. Where would he find it? What place had been provided for such as he? He ought by this time to have been earning his own living, to have had a corner which he could call home, earned by himself, where some of the decencies of life were gathered. Of course he ought; but the painful fact to meet just now, was that he had not done his duty. He had gone astray; not so far but that there were plenty of chances to go farther, greater deeps to which he might yet reach, but far enough to all but break any watchful mother's heart; only that his mother's heart was broken before he was born. The simple question waiting to be solved was this: Having done as poorly for himself as under the circumstances he well could, what was Dirk Colson to do next? He had no idea; neither, apparently, had multitudes of Christian people engaged in praying that the Father's will might be done on earth, even as it was in heaven. The young man walked six blocks down the respectable avenue, lined with pleasant homes, where the people went to church, and read their Bibles, and had family prayers, and kept holy the Sabbath day. Not a door among them all opened and held out a winning signal to arrest his heedless feet. Not so Satan! Is he ever caught idling at his post?
Just around the corner from the respectable avenue (and around the corner Dirk presently turned, still uncertain what to do, where to find the warmth he craved) then the winning invitations for such as he began to present themselves. Saloons, and saloons, and saloons! How many of them were there? Far outnumbering the churches! Pleasant they looked, too; opening doors, ever and anon, revealing brightness and warmth within. They would like to see him inside. Of this Dirk was sure; not that he had money, but he had something that in such places often served him well,—a decided and dangerous talent for imitating any and every peculiarity of voice or manner that had chanced to come under his notice. He could make the fellows in these saloons roar with laughter. If he did particularly well, they were willing to order for him a glass of beer, or a fairly good cigar; in any case he had a chance to get warm. This was actually Dirk's only present source of income! Yet he shrank from it; he could not have told you why, but on this particular Sabbath he was averse to earning his coveted warmth in this way. He walked resolutely by two or three places where he had reason to think he might be welcomed, wondering vaguely whether there wasn't something else a fellow could do to keep himself from freezing. Oddly enough there seemed to be something about the glimmer of sunshine as he saw it in Mart's hair that kept him from halting before any of the places open to him. What if she had come out with him to take a walk; he could not have taken her into one of them! Then, poor fellow, he set himself to wondering where the place was, open and warmed, to which he could take Mart. There were places, several of them, in the large city; but Dirk knew nothing about them, and he was acquainted with the saloons. He thought of another thing; he had been invited to call at a house on East Fifty-fifth Street. Suppose he should walk up there this very afternoon and ring the bell, and say that he had come to call! What would happen then? Whereupon he laughed aloud. The fancy seemed to him so utterly preposterous. The idea of his making a call! The utter improbability of his ever seeing the inside of one of the East Fifty-fifth Street mansions!
Still remained that hopeless question: What should he do with himself? The sun was quite gone now, and a cold wind was blowing up freshly from the north. It blew directly through Dirk's threadbare garments. He turned suddenly and slipped inside one of the worst of the many saloons which literally lined this end of the street. He had refused to go with the boys to Poke's, an hour or two before, and this was several grades below Poke's in decency! But it was growing dark, and he was cold.
There was one young man who saw him dash down those cellar stairs, who stood still and looked at him, his face darkening the while with discouragement. This, then, was all the afternoon's Sabbath-school had accomplished for him. To be sure he was not disappointed at the result; it was no more than he had expected; but it was so discouraging to be an eye-witness to the degradation to which these young wretches had fallen! Of course the young man was Alfred Ried, and he went home, and was dreary, over all sorts of failures in Christian work, mission Sabbath-schools especially; and their own, more especially than any other.
Among the early shoppers on Monday morning came Mrs. Evan Roberts. Shopping, however, seemed to be a small part of her business. She came directly to young Ried's counter, and addressed him very much as though she had ceased talking with him but a moment before:—
"Mr. Ried, what can you and I do for those boys during the week?"
But Alfred was at his gloomiest.
"I don't see that we can do anything for them at any time," he said, dismally. "What is an hour on Sunday, set against all the rest of the time? They go from the school-room to the rum saloons, and dawdle away the rest of the day. Yesterday I met that young Colson going into one of the worst saloons on Dey Street. They are not to blame, either." This last in a fiercer tone, after a slight pause. "I don't blame them; they have nowhere else to go, and nothing to do; and it is cold on the streets, and warm in the saloons."
If he expected the small lady, who was regarding him so steadily, to take the other side of this question, he was disappointed. She spoke quietly enough, but with the earnestness of conviction.
"Those are startling facts. I do not see how one could be surprised that the results are they are; and the practical question forces itself upon us, What are we to do under the circumstances? Mr. Ried, you have had your eyes open in regard to this subject for some time; what have you thought out?"
Now was Mr. Alfred Ried embarrassed. It was true that his eyes had been long open to the subject; it was true that he had given it a great deal of what he had called thought. But with those alert eyes fixed on his face, her whole manner indicating intense earnestness, he suddenly realized that all his thought had been to no purpose, had accomplished nothing, unless it had served to give him a feeling almost of irritation against the boys, and their teachers who made failures, and the people who folded their hands and let things go to ruin. Here confronted him one, whose hands were not folded, though they rested quietly enough on the counter before him. He began to feel that there might be latent power in them.
"I have nothing to say," and he said it at last with flushed face and embarrassed voice; "I have thought out nothing. The whole thing seemed hopeless to me with my utter lack of resources. My sister had schemes, many of them, and they seemed to me good ones, even then; they seem better now, only I cannot carry them out."
She caught at the name.
"Your sister? Ester Ried? Good! Let us carry them out, you and I, and as many more as we can get to help us. She is at work yet,—don't you see? What is that prophecy about her?—that voice which the prophet heard, you know, 'And I heard a voice saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.'"
How strangely the words sounded, repeated in her low, clear voice, amid the hum of business on every side! Alfred Ried felt singularly moved. He had been a highly strung, imaginative child. He had been his sister Ester's almost constant companion during those last months in which she was slowly fading out of sight. While Julia held steadily to her mother's side, and learned to do many helpful things, he had been stationed chief nurse in Ester's room, to see that she lacked for no tender care during the hours when others must be away from her. And those hours she had tenderly improved. He remembered to this day just how she looked, with a pink flush all over her cheeks, and a bright light in her eyes, as she talked to him of the things that she and Dr. Douglass had meant to do for boys,—neglected, homeless, friendless boys. Oh, the plans they had carefully thought out, to reach after these forsaken ones! He remembered that his own cheeks had grown hot while he listened, and the blood had seemed to race like fire through his veins when she said, "God wants me for something else, Alfred; but you will do my work when you get to be a man; you will find helpers, and carry it on as I wanted to do." He had made no audible answer, but he had told himself sturdily again and again that he certainly would. Yet here he was, barely of age, and almost soured by disappointments. Certain well-meant attempts having proved failures, and having not found the helpers whom he had eagerly expected, the magnitude of the work impressed itself upon him more remorselessly each hour. Yet now he seemed to feel again the thrill in his veins, and he felt almost under the power of his sister's eye while those words were in his ears: "They rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." Might it possibly be that this was one of the "helpers" of whom Ester used to talk, sent by God himself to take up her planned work and follow it out? Yet she was so utterly unlike his memory of Ester! She had seemed to him a self-reliant, strong-toned woman; Mrs. Roberts was so small and frail-looking, and so fashionably dressed, and how those boys had acted with her only yesterday! What could she possibly do?
Customers came just then, to change the current of his thoughts. They wanted round collars, and deep collars, and fichus, and edges, and a hundred little irritating things. Young Ried, usually so gracious and patient, had much ado to keep from showing his annoyance over the smallness of all their wishes.
Meantime Mrs. Roberts, who had taken a seat, entered apparently with absorption into the relative merits of round or pointed collars with a young lady acquaintance. She patiently measured to discover whether the turned-down corner of one was a quarter of an inch deeper than the other or not; she gave, with due deliberation, her opinion as to whether the points were more becoming to the young lady's style of beauty than the rolling fronts, and even went to the trouble of unfastening her furs to show still another style that she liked better than either; sending the disgusted Alfred to an entirely different box in search of a like pattern. As he went, his lip curled visibly. What a fool he had been to allow himself to get momentarily excited over this doll! How preposterous in him to mention his dead sister's name to her! She had already forgotten the entire matter, and was deep in the merits of collars! His first estimate of her had been the correct one. Her mind was just about as deep, he believed, as the tiny collar she was measuring. What a farce it was to talk to her about helping those poor fellows! She probably thought a few soup tickets, and a chance for a good Christmas dinner at some of the public charity halls, was the way to reach and reform them. He shouldn't help her; she mustn't expect it. Doubtless she did not. Probably she had by this time forgotten that she had suggested it. Why need she putter here about a few collars for a young lady in her own circle to wear with her morning dresses? That was just it, he told himself. It was because she was in her circle, and because the collars were to be honored by being worn by such as she, that they became important, and the boys and their desperate needs sunk into insignificance. Well, he wished they would both go, and leave him to himself; give him a chance to rally from his momentary excitement, of which he was now ashamed.
At last the collars were bought,—but not until the counter was strewn with different sorts; and the lady, with many bright little nothings for last words, moved off to another part of the store, and Mrs. Roberts whirled on her seat until her eyes were in full view again, and said:
"What were some of her plans, Mr. Ried?"
"A CHRISTIAN HOME."
"I don't suppose you can go into detail just now," she added, noting young Ried's hesitation and embarrassment; "but I was wondering if you could give me some general idea of what she wanted to do, or thought could be done."
"There were a great many things that she wanted to do, and I believe she thought they could be done; but I don't think she knew the world very well," said this aged cynic. "She judged everybody from the standpoint of her own unselfishness. I remember she was not in sympathy with soup-houses, and dinner-tickets, and great public charities of that sort. Or, I don't know that I should say she was not in sympathy with them. I mean, rather, that those would not have been her ways of working. She was thinking of young people, and to give them a dinner now and then, she would not have considered a very great step toward elevating them morally and spiritually. Mrs. Roberts, it was just that which she wanted to do,—lift them up. She thought there could be invented ways of reaching them, so that they would want helping, want teaching,—crave it, I mean; and she thought that Christian homes of wealth and culture could be opened to them, and they gradually toled in,—made to feel on a level with others, in the social scale; in short, she believed that instead of people going down to them in a condescending spirit, they could be drawn up to the level of others, so that they would realize their manhood, and be led to make earnest efforts to take their rightful places in the world. I know I am bungling dreadfully; I don't know how to tell you her plans, only that they were splendid. But I am afraid the world will have to be made over, before they can be carried out."
"Perhaps so. Christ is at work making the world over, you know." The lady before him, whose eyes never for an instant moved from his face, spoke with exceeding sweetness and gravity. Neither by word nor glance did she give him to understand that she thought his schemes wild. "But I find that, after all, I want details. I catch a glimpse of the grandness of your sister's meaning. What were some of the steps,—the little steps, such as you and I could take, toward accomplishing? Yet, even while I ask the question, I see something of what the answer must be. 'Christian homes opening to receive them!' That is a new thought to me, and in the plural number I do not see how just now, it could be done, but one Christian home,—I ought to be able to manage that. Mr. Ried, that is the way to begin it, you may depend. Indeed, I suppose you have tried it? The city is full of boys, and many of them are away down. Since we cannot reach all of them this week, we must try to reach seven; and failing in that, suppose we say one? For which one have you been working? Just who, at this moment, specially interests you? I hope it is one of my boys, because, you see, they appeal to me, just now, as no others can. Which is it, Mr. Ried? and what have you tried to do for him? and to what extent have you succeeded?"
There were never any hotter cheeks than young Ried's just at that moment. This was the most extraordinary person with whom he had ever talked. It was impossible to generalize with her. Not that he wanted to generalize; on the contrary, he at once saw the possibilities growing out of individual effort, and caught at the idea of undertaking something. But the question was, Why had he not thought of it before? One person to reach after, and try for!—surely, he might have attempted it, instead of trying to carry the hundreds that he stumbled against, and so accomplish nothing for any of them. It was humiliating, the confession that he had to make:—
"Indeed, Mrs. Roberts, I have not one in mind. If you asked me what one hundred I was most anxious about, I might possibly be able to answer; but I see that there has been no individuality about it, unless, perhaps, the half-dozen or more boys who compose that class are taking a little stronger hold on me than any of the others; but even for them I have tried to do nothing, unless two or three attempts to secure a permanent teacher for them—which have ended in failure—may count for effort. I don't blame myself as much as I might, because, now that you suggest personal work to me, I realize that there is nothing for one situated as I am to do. I have no Christian home at my command."
"Ah, but we are to come down to very small numbers, you know,—to fractions, if need be. You have a piece of Christian home at command, I trust?"
But he looked at her inquiringly, and she explained:—
"Why, you have the privacy of your own room, which is, of course, your corner of home just now, and it is a Christian corner. Is there not room in it sometimes for two?"
He smiled faintly over that.
"Mrs. Roberts, there is one thing with which you evidently are not familiar, and that is the corner which a poor clerk in the city has to call home. Mine is the fourth story back of a fourth-rate boarding-house, where the thermometer drops often below the freezing-point, and this place I share with as uncongenial a fellow as ever breathed. What would you think of labelling such accommodations 'home?' and what can I do in it for others?"
"Not much, perhaps," smiling, "unless for the uncongenial fellow. I should think there might be a chance in this direction."
"Ah, but," he said, eagerly, "he is a Christian. My sympathies do not need to be drawn out in that direction."
The smile was a peculiar one now, but the tone was very quiet in which the little lady said that some time, when they had leisure to talk, she should like to ask him whether his experience with Christians had been so exceptionally bright that he thought there was no work to do in that direction.
"But just now," she added, earnestly, "I want to know, since you are shut away from home effort, for which of these boys you are praying especially, and which of them do you carry about on your heart, with the hope of a chance meeting, an unexpected, opportunity to speak a word, or do a kindness, or look a kindness that shall give you possible future influence? Don't you have to work in those ways? Two people never equally interest me at the same moment. I find I must be intensely individual, not to the exclusion of others, but in praying. For instance, yesterday I prayed, and this morning I prayed, for my entire class, but there was one all the time who was uppermost. I find myself questioning, What can I do for them all, but especially for him? Do you know, I fancy that most Christians feel the same; individual effort is so necessary that I have thought perhaps the Holy Spirit turns our thoughts most directly toward one person at a time, so that we may concentrate our efforts. Do you think this is so?"
Young Ried did not answer promptly; he had no answer ready that suited him. His strongest feeling just then was one of self-reproach, mingled with humiliation. How had he looked down on this fair and beautiful little woman,—her very beauty being, he had fancied, an element against her when it came to actual effort. How had he allowed himself to sneer over her attempts at teaching that class of boys! How actually irritable he had been over it! How almost angrily he had questioned why it was that a teacher was not found for them fitted to their needs; when he had prayed about it so much; determined not to believe that the prayer had been answered, and the teacher found; yet here she was, the one whose efforts he had despised, talking already about individual prayer for them, while he, who had done a great amount of fretting for them, had not once presented them as individuals to Christ, and asked a definite blessing for each! His answer, when it came, was low and full of feeling:—
"I have concentrated my desires in praying for the coming of such a teacher as might get hold of them; and I begin to think that I have an answer to my prayers."
But she was absolutely proof against compliments. She wasted not a moment's thought on that, but said:—
"Mr. Ried, who are they? I tried to get their names yesterday, but soon saw that they were not in the mood to help me. I don't think I have one correct name. Can you give me a list?"
No, he could not—which admission did not lessen the glow on his cheek. Possibly he could mention the names of two, and guess at a third, but of the others he knew nothing.
"To whom, then, can I go? Mr. Durant would know, of course. Where shall I find him?"
So much Alfred knew. Mr. Durant was to be found at the Fourth National Bank; but, as for giving information in regard to that class, he was sure it was beyond him. He (Alfred) had asked only last Sabbath who the boy was who behaved so wretchedly, and also who was the fellow next him, but Mr. Durant had not known.
Well, then, Mrs. Roberts said, nothing daunted, not even a shadow appearing on her quiet face, she must just study it out with his help.
"There is immediate work for you," she said, "for of course I want to know their names. Who are the two? This Dirk Colson, whom you mentioned,—which was he?"
Alfred described him as well as his bewilderment would allow, and was interrupted—
"Oh, the small dark one. I know,—he interested me. Where does he live?"
But to this question no clear answer could be given. Down in one of the alleys towards the South End; but just which alley, or how far down it, Alfred did not know. He knew it was a disreputable alley, and that there wasn't a decent home anywhere about it, and that was all.
"What does Dirk do for a living?"
This question was quite as difficult to answer as the other. Nothing, young Ried believed; at least nothing regular; odd jobs he doubtless picked up occasionally, but as for regular employment, Alfred was sure he had none.
"Is that his fault? I mean, doesn't he desire work, and make an effort to secure it?"
But this young Ried could not even pretend to answer. Work, for such as he, was scarce; boys with better habits, brought up to be industrious, were at this present time out of work. Possibly the fellow was not to blame for being an idler.
Many other questions were asked, and many attempts were made at answers; but when the shoppers began to press in, to such a degree that their conversation was broken, and the energetic seeker after information felt herself obliged to retire, one thing had been accomplished: Alfred Ried had been made to realize that he knew much less than he had supposed he did about the seven boys who had seemed to be filling his thoughts for several weeks; and also, in his eager, passionate desire that everything should be done for all of them, he had overlooked the chances for doing here and there some little thing for one of them.
"Good morning," Mrs. Roberts had said, turning cordially to a fashionably-dressed lady. "Collars? Oh, yes, this is the counter for them to be found in endless variety. They have a new pattern that I have been admiring. Mr. Ried, please show Mrs. Emory the curtain collars, with embroidered points."
Which thing Mr. Ried proceeded to do with alacrity and respect, no trace of the earlier contemptuous feeling shadowing his face. Here was a woman who knew stylish collars when she saw them, and who also knew several other things, and had taught him a lesson this very morning that he would not be likely to forget.
But Mrs. Roberts, as she made her way out from the fast-filling store, felt that she had not made great progress toward getting acquainted with her class.
Still it must be admitted that if young Ried had gotten some new ideas, so also had she. "A Christian home!" She found herself repeating the phrase, lingering over it, wondering if her new home, in every sense of the word, merited that title. "It cannot simply mean a home where Christ is honored," she said to herself. "I surely have that. It rather means a home where everything pertaining to it serves His cause. The very furniture and the light and the brightness are made to do duty for Him, else they have no place there; and I, labelled Christian, have no right to them. Can they bear the test, I wonder? What is there that I can do with all the beauties of my parlors? There are things that I have not done. I can see some to do; but how can my Christian home serve these boys? When I get them into it, of course it will work for me; but how to get them in! Who are they? I wonder what spring I can touch to give me even this meagre bit of information?"
As if in answer to her mental query, she came just then full upon Policeman Duffer. She recognized him instantly: a man who, though by no means small, was so far from having the majestic presence of most policemen that, in the estimation of the boys, he merited the name "Little Duffer." Mrs. Roberts carried to her new work one talent not always to be found among even efficient workers,—the ability to remember both names and faces. Especially did a name seem, without any effort on her part, to fasten itself upon her memory; and not only that, but it brought with it a train of memories enabling her to locate when and where, and under what circumstances, she heard the name; and, therefore, generally whom the name fitted. Recognizing the features of the policeman whom she had seen at the door of the South End Mission, she connected him at once with the term "Little Duffer," heard in her class, and addressed him:—
"Mr. Duffer, I believe."
It is safe to say that Policeman Duffer, entirely accustomed as he was to hearing himself addressed officially a hundred or a thousand times a day, was yet utterly unaccustomed to the prefix of "Mr.", and started in surprise.
"Are you not the gentleman whom I saw at the South End last Sabbath?"
The policeman admitted that he probably was. He was detailed for duty there. Then she plunged at once into business. Did he know the boys who attended that school? Some of them he did, better than he wanted to; and a precious set they were, in Policeman Duffer's opinion.
"Might as well go out to the Zoo," he declared, "and get a set of animals and try to tame 'em."
Mrs. Roberts was not in the mood to argue; she was bent on information. Did he know, she wondered, the boys who composed her class? She had just taken the class, and was so unfortunate as not to be acquainted with their names. One was Dirk Colson, and another she had heard was Haskell—Timothy Haskell, perhaps, though of that she was not certain. Did that give Mr. Duffer any clue?
"Plenty of clue," he said, shaking his head. "So you've taken that class, ma'am?"—a curious mixture of amazement and credulity in his voice. "What possessed you, if I may be so bold? They're a hard lot, ma'am. I know them, as I said, altogether too well. I've had enough to do with some of them; and I expect more work from them. They gain in wickedness in a most surprising way. Their names, yes; there's Scrawley and Sneaking Billy, and Black Dirk,—him you know."
Mrs. Roberts interrupted him. She begged his pardon, but could those really be the boys names? Were they not rather some unfortunate street names that had been fastened upon them?
Thus brought back to his senses, Policeman Duffer laughed, and admitted that he supposed Sneaking Billy was properly named Sneyder; but he was once caught in a mean trick, from which he tried in so many ways to squirm out, that the boys had themselves named him Sneaking Billy, and the name had stuck.
As for "Scrawley," his real name was Stephen Crowley. How it became contracted into "Scrawley" the boys could tell better than anybody else. They always called him that, and so did other people; and Policeman Duffer was inclined to doubt whether the fellow remembered that he had any other name.
"You can see yourself, ma'am," he added, "how Black Dirk came by his name. He is the blackest white fellow as ever I saw, and I've seen crowds of 'em."
The streets were full, and Policeman Duffer was being interviewed by a great many people in regard to all the questions that policemen are expected to answer. But by dint of patient waiting, one foot poised on a curbstone to keep it out of the mud, making hurried little memoranda while Policeman Duffer was engaged, and earnestly plying her questions when he was at leisure, Mrs. Roberts learned the names of her seven boys, and where several of them lived.
"SATAN, HE HAS 'EM ALL THE WEEK."
"That Black Dirk is a case," said Policeman Duffer, turning hastily away from an unusually stupid man, who could not be made to understand where a certain street was. "He is the worst of the lot, I believe. Jerry Tompkins is slyer, and Dick Bolton is quicker than lightning at mischief; Nimble Dick they call him; he's a sort of ringleader; what he does the rest are apt to; but, to my thinking, Dirk is ahead of them all for evil. The rest are kind of jolly; fun seems to be about half that they are after; but Dirk, he's sullen; you never know how to take him, nor when he may burst out on you. He's dangerous. I am always looking out for something awful that he will do."
Poor Dirk! Yet he was the boy to whom Mrs. Roberts' desires had gone out the most anxiously. It was over his image that she had lingered that morning in her closet. Policeman Duffer would have been greatly astonished had he known there was that in his words which gave her courage. "Perhaps," she said to herself, with quickening breath, "oh, perhaps the poor boy is the most in danger of them all, and the Saviour, knowing it, sees ways in which I may reach him, and so presses his poor, sullen face on my memory."
"What does he do for a living?" she hastened to ask.
"Well, to the best of my knowledge, he loafs for a living. That's all I've ever known him guilty of doing. He's got a drunken father,—one of the meanest kind of drunkards. If he would go and stay drunk all the time and leave them alone they might manage; but he has spells of getting half over it, and coming home and tearing around like all possessed. Then they have times! I've been in there when it took all my strength to manage him. If he would get killed in one of his rows I'd have some hope of the rest of 'em; but he won't. That kind of folks never do get killed; it's the decent ones. A fellow was carried by here just with a broken leg,—a nice, decent boy; works hard to help his sister. He's the sort now that gets his leg broken and gets laid up for the rest of the winter. How do you account for that? He lives pretty near Black Dirk's. Of course, he's got a drunken father; they all have in that row; but if I was going in for benevolence I'd twice as soon do something for young Calkins as for any of your set; they're a bad lot. They aren't worth lifting a finger for. Now, that's a fact."
"And yet," said Mrs. Roberts, her voice tremulous with a feeling that just then surged over her, "how can I help remembering that if the Lord Jesus had said that of us, and stayed up there in his glory, we should have been utterly without help or hope to-day?"
Very much astonished was Policeman Duffer. Ladies on all sorts of errands had consulted him. He had been presented with many tracts in his day; but rarely had a clear-voiced, earnest-eyed woman quietly confronted him with that name, as if it contained an unanswerable argument. However, he was not embarrassed; it took a great deal to embarrass him.
"I don't take much stock in him," he said, with a lofty toss of his head, and a careless tone, as though the question were one easy to dispose of. "I don't believe in him myself."
"Do you know him?"
Earnest eyes, raised to his face, fixed steadily on his face, while the questioner waited quietly for an answer.
Policeman Duffer was embarrassed now; he was not used to being confronted with such matter-of-fact questions.
"Do I know him?" with a confused little laugh. "Why, I reckon not, ma'am; according to the popular notion he is too far away for folks to be well acquainted."
"Then popular notion is mistaken, for I know him very well indeed; and he is by no means far away. But what I meant was, Have you studied his life and character, and do you fully understand the arguments for believing in him?"
"I study the folks who profess to belong to him, ma'am, and I find that about as much as I can stand."
This was said with a saucy little laugh, and with the air of a man who believed he had produced an unanswerable argument. The steady eyes did not move from his face, and the voice which answered him had lost none of its quietness:—
"But do you think it is wise to spend your time in studying the imperfect copies, without looking at the perfect pattern? You would not take the child's careless imitation as a proof that his teacher could not write. I thank you for helping me to-day. I wish you would help my boys when you can; and I wish you would study my Master instead of me. Good morning."
"That's a queer party!" did Policeman Duffer exclaim, as he watched her far down the street. "I'm blessed if I wouldn't like to know who she is; she ain't like the rest, somehow. Her boys! Much she knows about 'em! Her bears she might as well call 'em! What does she think she can do with that set in her little hour, Sunday afternoon? Satan, he has 'em all the week, and looks after 'em sharp; and then these Christians come in of a Sunday, and mince a little, and think they can upset his doings by it. Shows their sense! But she's a curious little party; sharp, without knowing it. I'm blessed if I don't keep an eye on her, and save her from scrapes, if I can."
Meantime, all unconscious of his good intentions, Mrs. Roberts pursued her way down the thronged avenue, and presently turned from it entirely, and moved down one of the side-streets with resolute steps. A daring thought had come into her mind; she would try to find the alley where one at least of her boys lived. It couldn't be worse than some of the alleys at home which she had penetrated. She felt certain that by following the policeman's directions she could find the place, and possibly be able to minister to the boy with a broken limb. At all events, it was necessary for her to know how her boys lived, and where they lived, if she were to reach them. But there are alleys, and alleys, as the venturesome lady found to her cost. This one into which she was plunging excelled anything in that line which she had ever imagined,—swarming with life in its most repulsive forms, and growing every moment more terrifying to a well-dressed woman braving its horrors alone.
She stopped in dismay at last, admitting, reluctantly, that the wisest thing she could do was to turn around and go home. Possibly the wisest, but not, it appeared, practicable. Where was home? Down which of the cross-streets had she come? Did this one where she stood lead to it, or did it lead, as it appeared to her, in an entirely opposite direction? She looked up and down and across for some familiar landmark, and looked in vain, growing momentarily more frightened at the attention she was attracting by standing irresolutely there. Flossy Shipley, in her girlhood days, had been almost a hopeless coward; and Flossy Roberts felt, by the throbbing of her heart, that she had not yet outgrown her girlish character. Suddenly she gave a little exclamation of delight, and with a spring forward laid her hand on the arm of one whom she recognized, none other than "Nimble Dick" himself.
"I am so glad," she said to the amazed young scamp, a little quiver of satisfaction in her voice, "so glad to have met you. Do you know you are a friend in need? I have lost my way. I cannot decide which way to turn to reach Fifth Avenue again. Will you help me, please?"