"And doesn't that seem a strange way to manage a matter like that,—to put it into the hands of a detective?"
"Well, I don't know," said Mr. Izard. "We're used to strange things, and this isn't so very strange. No, it's very common. I suppose he knew that if he gave it to me it would be attended to in a quiet and innocent sort o' way. Some people hate mighty bad to get talked about. Nobody's seen that picture but you and one 'aid,' and just as soon as he saw it he said, 'Why, that's the chap that Dr. Sevier took out of the Parish Prison last September.' And there won't anybody else see it."
"Don't you intend to see Richling?" asked the Doctor, following the detective toward the door.
"I don't see as it would be any use," said the detective, "seeing he's been sent down, and so on. I'll write to the lawyer and state the facts, and wait for orders."
"But do you know how slight the blame was that got him into trouble here?"
"Yes. The 'aid' who saw the picture told me all about that. It was a shame. I'll say so. I'll give all the particulars. But I tell you, I just guess—they'll drop him."
"I dare say," said Dr. Sevier.
"Well, Doctor," said Mr. Izard, "hope I haven't annoyed you."
"No," replied the Doctor.
But he had; and the annoyance had not ceased to be felt when, a few mornings afterward, Narcisse suddenly doubled—trebled it by saying:—
"Doctah Seveeah,"—it was a cold day and the young Creole stood a moment with his back to the office fire, to which he had just given an energetic and prolonged poking,—"a man was yeh, to see you, name' Bison. 'F want' to see you about Mistoo Itchlin."
The Doctor looked up with a start, and Narcisse continued:—
"Mistoo Itchlin is wuckin' in 'is employment. I think 'e's please' with 'im."
"Then why does he come to see me about him?" asked the Doctor, so sharply that Narcisse shrugged as he replied:—
"Reely, I cann' tell you; but thass one thing, Doctah, I dunno if you 'ave notiz: the worl' halways take a gweat deal of welfa'e in a man w'en 'e's 'ising. I do that myseff. Some'ow I cann' 'e'p it." This bold speech was too much for him. He looked down at his symmetrical legs and went back to his desk.
The Doctor was far from reassured. After a silence he called out:—
"Did he say he would come back?" A knock at the door arrested the answer, and a huge, wide, broad-faced German entered diffidently. The Doctor recognized Reisen. The visitor took off his flour-dusted hat and bowed with great deference.
"Toc-tor," he softly drawled, "I yoost taught I trop in on you to say a verte to you apowt teh chung yentleman vot you hef rickomendet to me."
"I didn't recommend him to you, sir. I wrote you distinctly that I did not feel at liberty to recommend him."
"Tat iss teh troot, Toctor Tseweer; tat iss teh ectsectly troot. Shtill I taught I'll yoost trop in on you to say a verte to you,—Toctor,—apowt Mister"— He hung his large head at one side to remember.
"Richling," said the Doctor, impatiently.
"Yes, sir. Apowt Mister Richlun. I heff a tifficuldy to rigolict naymps. I yoost taught I voot trop in und trop a verte to you apowt Mr. Richlun, vot maypy you titn't herr udt before, yet."
"Yes," said the Doctor, with ill-concealed contempt. "Well, speak it out, Mr. Reisen; time is precious."
The German smiled and made a silly gesture of assent.
"Yes, udt is brecious. Shtill I taught I voot take enough time to yoost trop in undt say to you tat I heffent het Mr. Richlun in my etsteplitchmendt a veek undtil I finte owdt someting apowt him, tot, uf you het a-knowdt ud, voot hef mate your letter maypy a little tifferendt written, yet."
Now, at length, Dr. Sevier's annoyance was turned to dismay. He waited in silence for Reisen to unfold his enigma, but already his resentment against Richling was gathering itself for a spring. To the baker, however, he betrayed only a cold hostility.
"I kept a copy of my letter to you, Mr. Reisen, and there isn't a word in it which need have misled you, sir."
The baker waved his hand amicably.
"Sure, Tocter Tseweer, I toandt hef nutting to gomblain akinst teh vertes of tat letter. You voss mighty puttickly. Ovver, shtill, I hef sumpting to tell you vot ef you het a-knowdt udt pefore you writed tose vertes, alreatty, t'ey voot a little tifferendt pin."
"Well, sir, why don't you tell it?"
Reisen smiled. "Tat iss teh ectsectly vot I am coing to too. I yoost taught I'll trop in undt tell you, Toctor, tat I heffent het Mr. Richlun in my etsteplitchmendt a veek undtil I findte owdt tat he's a—berfect—tressure."
Doctor Sevier started half up from his chair, dropped into it again, wheeled half away, and back again with the blood surging into his face and exclaimed:—
"Why, what do you mean by such drivelling nonsense, sir? You've given me a positive fright!" He frowned the blacker as the baker smiled from ear to ear.
"Vy, Toctor, I hope you ugscooce me! I yoost taught you voot like to herr udt. Undt Missis Reisen sayce, 'Reisen, you yoost co undt tell um.' I taught udt voot pe blessant to you to know tatt you hett sendt me teh fynust pissness mayn I effer het apowdt me. Undt uff he iss onnust he iss a berfect tressure, undt uff he aint a berfect tressure,"—he smiled anew and tendered his capacious hat to his listener,—"you yoost kin take tiss, Toctor, undt kip udt undt vare udt! Toctor, I vish you a merrah Chris'mus!"
BEES, WASPS, AND BUTTERFLIES.
The merry day went by. The new year, 1858, set in. Everything gathered momentum. There was a panic and a crash. The brother-in-law of sister Jane—he whom Dr. Sevier met at that quiet dinner-party—struck an impediment, stumbled, staggered, fell under the feet of the racers, and crawled away minus not money and credit only, but all his philosophy about helping the poor, maimed in spirit, his pride swollen with bruises, his heart and his speech soured beyond all sweetening.
Many were the wrecks. But over their debris, Mercury and Venus—the busy season and the gay season—ran lightly, hand in hand. Men getting money and women squandering it. Whole nights in the ball-room. Gold pouring in at the hopper and out at the spout,—Carondelet street emptying like a yellow river into Canal street. Thousands for vanity; thousands for pride; thousands for influence and for station; thousands for hidden sins; a slender fraction for the wants of the body; a slenderer for the cravings of the soul. Lazarus paid to stay away from the gate. John the Baptist, in raiment of broadcloth, a circlet of white linen about his neck, and his meat strawberries and ice-cream. The lower classes mentioned mincingly; awkward silences or visible wincings at allusions to death, and converse on eternal things banished as if it were the smell of cabbage. So looked the gay world, at least, to Dr. Sevier.
He saw more of it than had been his wont for many seasons. The two young-lady cousins whom he had brought and installed in his home thirsted for that gorgeous, nocturnal moth life in which no thirst is truly slaked, and dragged him with them into the iridescent, gas-lighted spider-web of society.
"Now, you know you like it!" they said.
"A little of it, yes. But I don't see how you can like it, who virtually live in it and upon it. Why, I would as soon try to live upon cake and candy!"
"Well, we can live very nicely upon cake and candy," retorted they.
"Why, girls, it's no more life than spice is food. What lofty motive—what earnest, worthy object"—
But they drowned his homily in a carol, and ran away arm in arm to dress for another ball. One of them stopped in the door with an air of mock bravado:—
"What do we care for lofty motives or worthy objects?"
A smile escaped from him as she vanished. His condemnation was flavored with charity. "It's their mating season," he silently thought, and, not knowing he did it, sighed.
"There come Dr. Sevier and his two pretty cousins," was the ball-room whisper. "Beautiful girls—rich widower without children—great catch! Passe, how? Well, maybe so; not as much as he makes himself out, though." "Passe, yes," said a merciless belle to a blade of her own years; "a man of strong sense is passe at any age." Sister Jane's name was mentioned in the same connection, but that illusion quickly passed. The cousins denied indignantly that he had any matrimonial intention. Somebody dissipated the rumor by a syllogism: "A man hunting a second wife always looks like a fool; the Doctor doesn't look a bit like a fool, ergo"—
He grew very weary of the giddy rout, standing in it like a rock in a whirlpool. He did rejoice in the Carnival, but only because it was the end.
"Pretty? yes, as pretty as a bonfire," he said. "I can't enjoy much fiddling while Rome is burning."
"But Rome isn't always burning," said the cousins.
"Yes, it is! Yes, it is!"
The wickeder of the two cousins breathed a penitential sigh, dropped her bare, jewelled arms out of her cloak, and said:—
"Now tell us once more about Mary Richling." He had bored them to death with Mary.
Lent was a relief to all three. One day, as the Doctor was walking along the street, a large hand grasped his elbow and gently arrested his steps. He turned.
"Well, Reisen, is that you?"
The baker answered with his wide smile. "Yes, Toctor, tat iss me, sure. You titn't tink udt iss Mr. Richlun, tit you?"
"No. How is Richling?"
"Vell, Mr. Richlun kitten along so-o-o-so-o-o. He iss not ferra shtrong; ovver he vurks like a shteam-inchyine."
"I haven't seen him for many a day," said Dr. Sevier.
The baker distended his eyes, bent his enormous digestive apparatus forward, raised his eyebrows, and hung his arms free from his sides. "He toandt kit a minudt to shpare in teh tswendy-four hourss. Sumptimes he sayss, 'Mr. Reisen, I can't shtop to talk mit you.' Sindts Mr. Richlun pin py my etsteplitchmendt, I tell you teh troot, Toctor Tseweer, I am yoost meckin' monneh haynd ofer fist!" He swung his chest forward again, drew in his lower regions, revolved his fists around each other for a moment, and then let them fall open at his sides, with the added assurance, "Now you kott teh ectsectly troot."
The Doctor started away, but the baker detained him by a touch:—
"You toandt kott enna verte to sendt to Mr. Richlun, Toctor!"
"Yes. Tell him to come and pass an hour with me some evening in my library."
The German lifted his hand in delight.
"Vy, tot's yoost teh dting! Mr. Richlun alvayss pin sayin', 'I vish he aysk me come undt see um;' undt I sayss, 'You holdt shtill, yet, Mr. Richlun; teh next time I see um I make um aysk you.' Vell, now, titn't I tunned udt?" He was happy.
"Well, ask him," said the Doctor, and got away.
"No fool is an utter fool," pondered the Doctor, as he went. Two friends had been kept long apart by the fear of each, lest he should seem to be setting up claims based on the past. It required a simpleton to bring them together.
TOWARD THE ZENITH.
"Richling, I am glad to see you!"
Dr. Sevier had risen from his luxurious chair beside a table, the soft downward beams of whose lamp partly showed, and partly hid, the rich appointments of his library. He grasped Richling's hand, and with an extensive stride drew forward another chair on its smooth-running casters.
Then inquiries were exchanged as to the health of one and the other. The Doctor, with his professional eye, noticed, as the light fell full upon his visitor's buoyant face, how thin and pale he had grown. He rose again, and stepping beyond Richling with a remark, in part complimentary and in part critical, upon the balmy April evening, let down the sash of a window where the smell of honeysuckles was floating in.
"Have you heard from your wife lately?" he asked, as he resumed his seat.
"Yesterday," said Richling. "Yes, she's very well, been well ever since she left us. She always sends love to you."
"Hum," responded the physician. He fixed his eyes on the mantel and asked abstractedly, "How do you bear the separation?"
"Oh!" Richling laughed, "not very heroically. It's a great strain on a man's philosophy."
"Work is the only antidote," said the Doctor, not moving his eyes.
"Yes, so I find it," answered the other. "It's bearable enough while one is working like mad; but sooner or later one must sit down to meals, or lie down to rest, you know"—
"Then it hurts," said the Doctor.
"It's a lively discipline," mused Richling.
"Do you think you learn anything by it?" asked the other, turning his eyes slowly upon him. "That's what it means, you notice."
"Yes, I do," replied Richling, smiling; "I learn the very thing I suppose you're thinking of,—that separation isn't disruption, and that no pair of true lovers are quite fitted out for marriage until they can bear separation if they must."
"Yes," responded the physician; "if they can muster the good sense to see that they'll not be so apt to marry prematurely. I needn't tell you I believe in marrying for love; but these needs-must marriages are so ineffably silly. You 'must' and you 'will' marry, and 'nobody shall hinder you!' And you do it! And in three or four or six months"—he drew in his long legs energetically from the hearth-pan—"death separates you!—death, sometimes, resulting directly from the turn your haste has given to events! Now, where is your 'must' and 'will'?" He stretched his legs out again, and laid his head on his cushioned chair-back.
"I have made a narrow escape," said Richling.
"I wasn't so fortunate," responded the Doctor, turning solemnly toward his young friend. "Richling, just seven months after I married Alice I buried her. I'm not going into particulars—of course; but the sickness that carried her off was distinctly connected with the haste of our marriage. Your Bible, Richling, that you lay such store by, is right; we should want things as if we didn't want them. That isn't the quotation, exactly, but it's the idea. I swore I couldn't and wouldn't live without her; but, you see, this is the fifteenth year that I have had to do it."
"I should think it would have unmanned you for life," said Richling.
"It made a man of me! I've never felt young a day since, and yet I've never seemed to grow a day older. It brought me all at once to my full manhood. I have never consciously disputed God's arrangements since. The man who does is only a wayward child."
"It's true," said Richling, with an air of confession, "it's true;" and they fell into silence.
Presently Richling looked around the room. His eyes brightened rapidly as he beheld the ranks and tiers of good books. He breathed an audible delight. The multitude of volumes rose in the old-fashioned way, in ornate cases of dark wood from floor to ceiling, on this hand, on that, before him, behind; some in gay covers,—green, blue, crimson,—with gilding and embossing; some in the sumptuous leathers of France, Russia, Morocco, Turkey; others in worn attire, battered and venerable, dingy but precious,—the gray heads of the council.
The two men rose and moved about among those silent wits and philosophers, and, from the very embarrassment of the inner riches, fell to talking of letter-press and bindings, with maybe some effort on the part of each to seem the better acquainted with Caxton, the Elzevirs, and other like immortals. They easily passed to a competitive enumeration of the rare books they had seen or not seen here and there in other towns and countries. Richling admitted he had travelled, and the conversation turned upon noted buildings and famous old nooks in distant cities where both had been. So they moved slowly back to their chairs, and stood by them, still contemplating the books. But as they sank again into their seats the one thought which had fastened itself in the minds of both found fresh expression.
Richling began, smilingly, as if the subject had not been dropped at all,—"I oughtn't to speak as if I didn't realize my good fortune, for I do."
"I believe you do," said the Doctor, reaching toward the fire-irons.
"Yes. Still, I lose patience with myself to find myself taking Mary's absence so hard."
"All hardships are comparative," said the Doctor.
"Certainly they are," replied Richling. "I lie sometimes and think of men who have been political prisoners, shut away from wife and children, with war raging outside and no news coming in."
"Think of the common poor," exclaimed Dr. Sevier,—"the thousands of sailors' wives and soldiers' wives. Where does that thought carry you?"
"It carries me," responded the other, with a low laugh, "to where I'm always a little ashamed of myself."
"I didn't mean it to do that," said the Doctor; "I can imagine how you miss your wife. I miss her myself."
"Oh! but she's here on this earth. She's alive and well. Any burden is light when I think of that—pardon me, Doctor!"
"Go on, go on. Anything you please about her, Richling." The Doctor half sat, half lay in his chair, his eyes partly closed. "Go on," he repeated.
"I was only going to say that long before Mary went away, many a time when she and I were fighting starvation at close quarters, I have looked at her and said to myself, 'What if I were in Dr. Sevier's place?' and it gave me strength to rise up and go on."
"You were right."
"I know I was. I often wake now at night and turn and find the place by my side empty, and I can hardly keep from calling her aloud. It wrenches me, but before long I think she's no such great distance away, since we're both on the same earth together, and by and by she'll be here at my side; and so it becomes easy to me once more." Richling, in the self-occupation of a lover, forgot what pains he might be inflicting. But the Doctor did not wince.
"Yes," said the physician, "of course you wouldn't want the separation to be painless; and it promises a reward, you know."
"Ah!" exclaimed Richling, with an exultant smile and motion of the head, and then dropped his eyes in meditation. The Doctor looked at him steadily.
"Richling, you've gathered some terribly hard experiences. But hard experiences are often the foundation-stones of a successful life. You can make them all profitable. You can make them draw you along, so to speak. But you must hold them well in hand, as you would a dangerous team, you know,—coolly and alertly, firmly and patiently,—and never let the reins slack till you've driven through the last gate."
Richling replied, with a pleasant nod, "I believe I shall do it. Did you notice what I wrote you in my letter? I have got the notion strongly that the troubles we have gone through—Mary and I—were only our necessary preparation—not so necessary for her as for me"—
"No," said Dr. Sevier, and Richling continued, with a smile:—
"To fit us for a long and useful life, and especially a life that will be full of kind and valuable services to the poor. If that isn't what they were sent for"—he dropped into a tone of reflection—"then I don't understand them."
"And suppose you don't understand," said the Doctor, with his cold, grim look.
"Oh!" rejoined Richling, in amiable protest; "but a man would like to understand."
"Like to—yes," replied the Doctor; "but be careful. The spirit that must understand is the spirit that can't trust." He paused. Presently he said, "Richling!"
Richling answered by an inquiring glance.
"Take better care of your health," said the physician.
Richling smiled—a young man's answer—and rose to say good-night.
TO SIGH, YET FEEL NO PAIN.
Mrs. Riley missed the Richlings, she said, more than tongue could tell. She had easily rented the rooms they left vacant; that was not the trouble. The new tenant was a sallow, gaunt, wind-dried seamstress of sixty, who paid her rent punctually, but who was—
"Mighty poor comp'ny to thim as's been used to the upper tin, Mr. Ristofalo."
Still she was a protection. Mrs. Riley had not regarded this as a necessity in former days, but now, somehow, matters seemed different. This seamstress had, moreover, a son of eighteen years, principally skin and bone, who was hoping to be appointed assistant hostler at the fire-engine house of "Volunteer One," and who meantime hung about Mrs. Riley's dwelling and loved to relieve her of the care of little Mike. This also was something to be appreciated. Still there was a void.
"Well, Mr. Richlin'!" cried Mrs. Riley, as she opened her parlor door in response to a knock. "Well, I'll be switched! ha! ha! I didn't think it was you at all. Take a seat and sit down!"
It was good to see how she enjoyed the visit. Whenever she listened to Richling's words she rocked in her rocking-chair vigorously, and when she spoke stopped its motion and rested her elbows on its arms.
"And how is Mrs. Richlin'? And so she sent her love to me, did she, now? The blessed angel! Now, ye're not just a-makin' that up? No, I know ye wouldn't do sich a thing as that, Mr. Richlin'. Well, you must give her mine back again. I've nobody else on e'rth to give ud to, and never will have." She lifted her nose with amiable stateliness, as if to imply that Richling might not believe this, but that it was true, nevertheless.
"You may change your mind, Mrs. Riley, some day," returned Richling, a little archly.
"Ha! ha!" She tossed her head and laughed with good-natured scorn. "Nivver a fear o' that, Mr. Richlin'!" Her brogue was apt to broaden when pleasure pulled down her dignity. "And, if I did, it wuddent be for the likes of no I-talian Dago, if id's him ye're a-dthrivin' at,—not intinding anny disrespect to your friend, Mr. Richlin', and indeed I don't deny he's a perfect gintleman,—but, indeed, Mr. Richlin', I'm just after thinkin' that you and yer lady wouldn't have no self-respect for Kate Riley if she should be changing her name."
"Still you were thinking about it," said Richling, with a twinkle.
"Ah! ha! ha! Indeed I wasn', an' ye needn' be t'rowin' anny o' yer slyness on me. Ye know ye'd have no self-respect fur me. No; now ye know ye wuddent,—wud ye?"
"Why, Mrs. Riley, of course we would. Why—why not?" He stood in the door-way, about to take his leave. "You may be sure we'll always be glad of anything that will make you the happier." Mrs. Riley looked so grave that he checked his humor.
"But in the nixt life, Mr. Richlin', how about that?"
"There? I suppose we shall simply each love all in absolute perfection. We'll"—
"We'll never know the differ," interposed Mrs. Riley.
"That's it," said Richling, smiling again. "And so I say,—and I've always said,—if a person feels like marrying again, let him do it."
"Have ye, now? Well, ye're just that good, Mr. Richlin'."
"Yes," he responded, trying to be grave, "that's about my measure."
"Would you do ut?"
"No, I wouldn't. I couldn't. But I should like—in good earnest, Mrs. Riley, I should like, now, the comfort of knowing that you were not to pass all the rest of your days in widowhood."
"Ah! ged out, Mr. Richlin'!" She failed in her effort to laugh. "Ah! ye're sly!" She changed her attitude and drew a breath.
"No," said Richling, "no, honestly. I should feel that you deserved better at this world's hands than that, and that the world deserved better of you. I find two people don't make a world, Mrs. Riley, though often they think they do. They certainly don't when one is gone."
"Mr. Richlin'," exclaimed Mrs. Riley, drawing back and waving her hand sweetly, "stop yer flattery! Stop ud! Ah! ye're a-feeling yer oats, Mr. Richlin'. An' ye're a-showin' em too, ye air. Why, I hered ye was lookin' terrible, and here ye're lookin' just splendud!"
"Who told you that?" asked Richling.
"Never mind! Never mind who he was—ha, ha, ha!" She checked herself suddenly. "Ah, me! It's a shame for the likes o' me to be behavin' that foolish!" She put on additional dignity. "I will always be the Widow Riley." Then relaxing again into sweetness: "Marridge is a lottery, Mr. Richlin'; indeed an' it is; and ye know mighty well that he ye're after joking me about is no more nor a fri'nd." She looked sweet enough for somebody to kiss.
"I don't know so certainly about that," said her visitor, stepping down upon the sidewalk and putting on his hat. "If I may judge by"— He paused and glanced at the window.
"Ah, now, Mr. Richlin', na-na-now, Mr. Richlin', ye daurn't say ud! Ye daurn't!" She smiled and blushed and arched her neck and rose and sank upon herself with sweet delight.
"I say if I may judge by what he has said to me," insisted Richling.
Mrs. Riley glided down across the door-step, and, with all the insinuation of her sex and nation, demanded:—
"What'd he tell ye? Ah! he didn't tell ye nawthing! Ha, ha! there wasn' nawthing to tell!" But Richling slipped away.
Mrs. Riley shook her finger: "Ah, ye're a wicket joker, Mr. Richlin'. I didn't think that o' the likes of a gintleman like you, anyhow!" She shook her finger again as she withdrew into the house, smiling broadly all the way in to the cradle, where she kissed and kissed again her ruddy, chubby, sleeping boy.
* * *
Ristofalo came often. He was a man of simple words, and of few thoughts of the kind that were available in conversation; but his personal adventures had begun almost with infancy, and followed one another in close and strange succession over lands and seas ever since. He could therefore talk best about himself, though he talked modestly. "These things to hear would Desdemona seriously incline," and there came times when even a tear was not wanting to gem the poetry of the situation.
"And ye might have saved yerself from all that," was sometimes her note of sympathy. But when he asked how she silently dried her eyes.
Sometimes his experiences had been intensely ludicrous, and Mrs. Riley would laugh until in pure self-oblivion she smote her thigh with her palm, or laid her hand so smartly against his shoulder as to tip him half off his seat.
"Ah! Get out wid ye, Raphael Ristofalo,—to be telling me that for the trooth!"
At one such time she was about to give him a second push, but he took the hand in his, and quietly kept it to the end of his story.
He lingered late that evening, but at length took his hat from under his chair, rose, and extended his hand.
"Man alive!" she cried, "that's my hand, sur, I'd have ye to know. Begahn wid ye! Lookut heere! What's the reason ye make it so long atween yer visits, eh? Tell me that. Ah—ah—ye've no need fur to tell me, Mr. Ristofalo! Ah—now don't tell a lie!"
"Too busy. Come all time—wasn't too busy."
"Ha, ha! Yes, yes; ye're too busy. Of coorse ye're too busy. Oh, yes! ye air too busy—a-courtin' thim I-talian froot gerls around the Frinch Mairket. Ah! I'll bet two bits ye're a bouncer! Ah, don't tell me. I know ye, ye villain! Some o' thim's a-waitin' fur ye now, ha, ha! Go! And don't ye nivver come back heere anny more. D'ye mind?"
"Aw righ'." The Italian took her hand for the third time and held it, standing in his simple square way before her and wearing his gentle smile as he looked her in the eye. "Good-by, Kate."
Her eye quailed. Her hand pulled a little helplessly and in a meek voice she said:—
"That's not right for you to do me that a-way, Mr. Ristofalo. I've got a handle to my name, sur."
She threw some gentle rebuke into her glance, and turned it upon him. He met it with that same amiable absence of emotion that was always in his look.
"Kate too short by itself?" he asked. "Aw righ'; make it Kate Ristofalo."
"No," said Mrs. Riley, averting and drooping her face.
"Take good care of you," said the Italian; "you and Mike. Always be kind. Good care."
Mrs. Riley turned with sudden fervor.
"Good cayre!—Mr. Ristofalo," she exclaimed, lifting her free hand and touching her bosom with the points of her fingers, "ye don't know the hairt of a woman, surr! No-o-o, surr! It's love we wants! 'The hairt as has trooly loved nivver furgits, but as trooly loves ahn to the tlose!'"
"Yes," said the Italian; "yes," nodding and ever smiling, "dass aw righ'."
"Ah! it's no use fur you to be a-talkin' an' a-pallaverin' to Kate Riley when ye don't be lovin' her, Mr. Ristofalo, an' ye know ye don't."
A tear glistened in her eye.
"Yes, love you," said the Italian; "course, love you."
He did not move a foot or change the expression of a feature.
"H-yes!" said the widow. "H-yes!" she panted. "H-yes, a little! A little, Mr. Ristofalo! But I want"—she pressed her hand hard upon her bosom, and raised her eyes aloft—"I want to be—h—h—h-adaured above all the e'rth!"
"Aw righ'," said Ristofalo; "das aw righ'; yes—door above all you worth."
"Raphael Ristofalo," she said, "ye're a-deceivin' me! Ye came heere whin nobody axed ye,—an' that ye know is a fact, surr,—an' made yerself agree'ble to a poor, unsuspectin' widdah, an' [tears] rabbed me o' mie hairt, ye did; whin I nivver intinded to git married ag'in."
"Don't cry, Kate—Kate Ristofalo," quietly observed the Italian, getting an arm around her waist, and laying a hand on the farther cheek. "Kate Ristofalo."
"Shut!" she exclaimed, turning with playful fierceness, and proudly drawing back her head; "shut! Hah! It's Kate Ristofalo, is it? Ah, ye think so? Hah-h! It'll be ad least two weeks yet before the priest will be after giving you the right to call me that!"
And, in fact, an entire fortnight did pass before they were married.
Richling in Dr. Sevier's library, one evening in early May, gave him great amusement by an account of the Ristofalo-Riley wedding. He had attended it only the night before. The Doctor had received an invitation, but had pleaded previous engagements.
"But I am glad you went," he said to Richling; "however, go on with your account."
"Oh! I was glad to go. And I'm certainly glad I went."
Richling proceeded with the recital. The Doctor smiled. It was very droll,—the description of persons and costumes. Richling was quite another than his usual restrained self this evening. Oddly enough, too, for this was but his second visit; the confinement of his work was almost like an imprisonment, it was so constant. The Doctor had never seen him in just such a glow. He even mimicked the brogue of two or three Irish gentlemen, and the soft, outlandish swing in the English of one or two Sicilians. He did it all so well that, when he gave an instance of some of the broad Hibernian repartee he had heard, the Doctor actually laughed audibly. One of his young-lady cousins on some pretext opened a door, and stole a glance within to see what could have produced a thing so extraordinary.
"Come in, Laura; come in! Tell Bess to come in."
The Doctor introduced Richling with due ceremony Richling could not, of course, after this accession of numbers, go on being funny. The mistake was trivial, but all saw it. Still the meeting was pleasant. The girls were very intelligent and vivacious. Richling found a certain refreshment in their graceful manners, like what we sometimes feel in catching the scent of some long-forgotten perfume. They had not been told all his history, but had heard enough to make them curious to see and speak to him. They were evidently pleased with him, and Dr. Sevier, observing this, betrayed an air that was much like triumph. But after a while they went as they had come.
"Doctor," said Richling, smiling until Dr. Sevier wondered silently what possessed the fellow, "excuse me for bringing this here. But I find it so impossible to get to your office"— He moved nearer the Doctor's table and put his hand into his bosom.
"What's that?" asked the Doctor, frowning heavily. Richling smiled still broader than before.
"This is a statement," he said.
"Of the various loans you have made me, with interest to date."
"Yes?" said the Doctor, frigidly.
"And here," persisted the happy man, straightening out a leg as he had done the first time they ever met, and drawing a roll of notes from his pocket, "is the total amount."
"Yes?" The Doctor regarded them with cold contempt. "That's all very pleasant for you, I suppose, Richling,—shows you're the right kind of man, I suppose, and so on. I know that already, however. Now just put all that back into your pocket; the sight of it isn't pleasant. You certainly don't imagine I'm going to take it, do you?"
"You promised to take it when you lent it."
"Humph! Well, I didn't say when."
"As soon as I could pay it," said Richling.
"I don't remember," replied the Doctor, picking up a newspaper. "I release myself from that promise."
"I don't release you," persisted Richling; "neither does Mary."
The Doctor was quiet awhile before he answered. He crossed his knees, a moment after folded his arms, and presently said:—
"Foolish pride, Richling."
"We know that," replied Richling; "we don't deny that that feeling creeps in. But we'd never do anything that's right if we waited for an unmixed motive, would we?"
"Then you think my motive—in refusing it—is mixed, probably."
"Ho-o-oh!" laughed Richling. The gladness within him would break through. "Why, Doctor, nothing could be more different. It doesn't seem to me as though you ever had a mixed motive."
The Doctor did not answer. He seemed to think the same thing.
"We know very well, Doctor, that if we should accept this kindness we might do it in a spirit of proper and commendable—a—humble-mindedness. But it isn't mere pride that makes us insist."
"No?" asked the Doctor, cruelly. "What is it else?"
"Why, I hardly know what to call it, except that it's a conviction that—well, that to pay is best; that it's the nearest to justice we can get, and that"—he spoke faster—"that it's simply duty to choose justice when we can and mercy when we must. There, I've hit it out!" He laughed again. "Don't you see, Doctor? Justice when we may—mercy when we must! It's your own principles!"
The Doctor looked straight at the mantel-piece as he asked:—
"Where did you get that idea?"
"I don't know; partly from nowhere, and"—
"Partly from Mary," interrupted the Doctor. He put out his long white palm. "It's all right. Give me the money." Richling counted it into his hand. He rolled it up and stuffed it into his portemonnaie.
"You like to part with your hard earnings, do you, Richling?"
"Earnings can't be hard," was the reply; "it's borrowings that are hard."
The Doctor assented.
"And, of course," said Richling, "I enjoy paying old debts." He stood and leaned his head in his hand with his elbow on the mantel. "But, even aside from that, I'm happy."
"I see you are!" remarked the physician, emphatically, catching the arms of his chair and drawing his feet closer in. "You've been smiling worse than a boy with a love-letter."
"I've been hoping you'd ask me what's the matter."
"Well, then, Richling, what is the matter?"
"Mary has a daughter."
"What!" cried the Doctor, springing up with a radiant face, and grasping Richling's hand in both his own.
Richling laughed aloud, nodded, laughed again, and gave either eye a quick, energetic wipe with all his fingers.
"Doctor," he said, as the physician sank back into his chair, "we want to name"—he hesitated, stood on one foot and leaned again against the shelf—"we want to call her by the name of—if we may"—
The Doctor looked up as if with alarm, and John said, timidly,—"Alice!"
Dr. Sevier's eyes—what was the matter? His mouth quivered. He nodded and whispered huskily:—
After a long pause Richling expressed the opinion that he had better be going, and the Doctor did not indicate any difference of conviction. At the door the Doctor asked:—
"If the fever should break out this summer, Richling, will you go away?"
On the twentieth of June, 1858, an incident occurred in New Orleans which challenged special attention from the medical profession. Before the month closed there was a second, similar to the first. The press did not give such matters to the public in those days; it would only make the public—the advertising public—angry. Times have changed since—faced clear about: but at that period Dr. Sevier, who hated a secret only less than a falsehood, was right in speaking as he did.
"Now you'll see," he said, pointing downward aslant, "the whole community stick its head in the sand!" He sent for Richling.
"I give you fair warning," he said. "It's coming."
"Don't cases occur sometimes in an isolated way without—anything further?" asked Richling, with a promptness which showed he had already been considering the matter.
"And might not this"—
"Richling, I give you fair warning."
"Have you sent your cousins away, Doctor?"
"They go to-morrow." After a silence the Doctor added: "I tell you now, because this is the time to decide what you will do. If you are not prepared to take all the risks and stay them through, you had better go at once."
"What proportion of those who are taken sick of it die?" asked Richling.
"The proportion varies in different seasons; say about one in seven or eight. But your chances would be hardly so good, for you're not strong, Richling, nor well either."
Richling stood and swung his hat against his knee.
"I really don't see, Doctor, that I have any choice at all. I couldn't go to Mary—when she has but just come through a mother's pains and dangers—and say, 'I've thrown away seven good chances of life to run away from one bad one.' Why, to say nothing else, Reisen can't spare me." He smiled with boyish vanity.
"O Richling, that's silly!"
"I—I know it," exclaimed the other, quickly; "I see it is. If he could spare me, of course he wouldn't be paying me a salary." But the Doctor silenced him by a gesture.
"The question is not whether he can spare you, at all. It's simply, can you spare him?"
"Without violating any pledge, you mean," added Richling.
"Of course," assented the physician.
"Well, I can't spare him, Doctor. He has given me a hold on life, and no one chance in seven, or six, or five is going to shake me loose. Why, I tell you I couldn't look Mary in the face!"
"Have your own way," responded the Doctor. "There are some things in your favor. You frail fellows often pull through easier than the big, full-blooded ones."
"Oh, it's Mary's way too, I feel certain!" retorted Richling, gayly, "and I venture to say"—he coughed and smiled again—"it's yours."
"I didn't say it wasn't," replied the unsmiling Doctor, reaching for a pen and writing a prescription. "Here; get that and take it according to direction. It's for that cold."
"If I should take the fever," said Richling, coming out of a revery, "Mary will want to come to me."
"Well, she mustn't come a step!" exclaimed the Doctor.
"You'll forbid it, will you not, Doctor? Pledge me!"
"I do better, sir; I pledge myself."
So the July suns rose up and moved across the beautiful blue sky; the moon went through all her majestic changes; on thirty-one successive midnights the Star Bakery sent abroad its grateful odors of bread, and as the last night passed into the first twinkling hour of morning the month chronicled one hundred and thirty-one deaths from yellow fever. The city shuddered because it knew, and because it did not know, what was in store. People began to fly by hundreds, and then by thousands. Many were overtaken and stricken down as they fled. Still men plied their vocations, children played in the streets, and the days came and went, fair, blue tremulous with sunshine, or cool and gray and sweet with summer rain. How strange it was for nature to be so beautiful and so unmoved! By and by one could not look down a street, on this hand or on that, but he saw a funeral. Doctors' gigs began to be hailed on the streets and to refuse to stop, and houses were pointed out that had just become the scenes of strange and harrowing episodes.
"Do you see that bakery,—the 'Star Bakery'? Five funerals from that place—and another goes this afternoon."
Before this was said August had completed its record of eleven hundred deaths, and September had begun the long list that was to add twenty-two hundred more. Reisen had been the first one ill in the establishment. He had been losing friends,—one every few days; and he thought it only plain duty, let fear or prudence say what they might, to visit them at their bedsides and follow them to their tombs. It was not only the outer man of Reisen, but the heart as well, that was elephantine. He had at length come home from one of these funerals with pains in his back and limbs, and the various familiar accompaniments.
"I feel right clumsy," he said, as he lifted his great feet and lowered them into the mustard foot-bath.
"Doctor Sevier," said Richling, as he and the physician paused half way between the sick-chambers of Reisen and his wife, "I hope you'll not think it foolhardy for me to expose myself by nursing these people"—
"No," replied the veteran, in a tone of indifference, and passed on; the tincture of self-approval that had "mixed" with Richling's motives went away to nothing.
Both Reisen and his wife recovered. But an apple-cheeked brother of the baker, still in a green cap and coat that he had come in from Germany, was struck from the first with that mortal terror which is so often an evil symptom of the disease, and died, on the fifth day after his attack, in raging delirium. Ten of the workmen, bakers and others, followed him. Richling alone, of all in the establishment, while the sick lay scattered through the town on uncounted thousands of beds, and the month of October passed by, bringing death to eleven hundred more, escaped untouched of the scourge.
"I can't understand it," he said.
"Demand an immediate explanation," said Dr. Sevier, with sombre irony.
How did others fare? Ristofalo had, time and again, sailed with the fever, nursed it, slept with it. It passed him by again. Little Mike took it, lay two or three days very still in his mother's strong arms, and recovered. Madame Ristofalo had had it in "fifty-three." She became a heroic nurse to many, and saved life after life among the poor.
The trials of those days enriched John Richling in the acquaintanceship and esteem of Sister Jane's little lisping rector. And, by the way, none of those with whom Dr. Sevier dined on that darkest night of Richling's life became victims. The rector had never encountered the disease before, but when Sister Jane and the banker, and the banker's family and friends, and thousands of others, fled, he ran toward it, David-like, swordless and armorless. He and Richling were nearly of equal age. Three times, four times, and again, they met at dying-beds. They became fond of each other.
Another brave nurse was Narcisse. Dr. Sevier, it is true, could not get rid of the conviction for years afterward that one victim would have lived had not Narcisse talked him to death. But in general, where there was some one near to prevent his telling all his discoveries and inventions, he did good service, and accompanied it with very chivalric emotions.
"Yesseh," he said, with a strutting attitude that somehow retained a sort of modesty, "I 'ad the gweatess success. Hah! a nuss is a nuss those time'. Only some time' 'e's not. 'Tis accawding to the povvub,—what is that povvub, now, ag'in?" The proverb did not answer his call, and he waved it away. "Yesseh, eve'ybody wanting me at once—couldn' supply the deman'."
Richling listened to him with new pleasure and rising esteem.
"You make me envy you," he exclaimed, honestly.
"Well, I s'pose you may say so, Mistoo Itchlin, faw I nevva nuss a sing-le one w'at din paid me ten dollahs a night. Of co'se! 'Consistency, thou awt a jew'l.' It's juz as the povvub says, 'All work an' no pay keep Jack a small boy.' An' yet," he hurriedly added, remembering his indebtedness to his auditor, "'tis aztonizhin' 'ow 'tis expensive to live. I haven' got a picayune of that money pwesently! I'm aztonizh' myseff!"
"I MUST BE CRUEL ONLY TO BE KIND."
The plague grew sated and feeble. One morning frost sent a flight of icy arrows into the town, and it vanished. The swarthy girls and lads that sauntered homeward behind their mothers' cows across the wide suburban stretches of marshy commons heard again the deep, unbroken, cataract roar of the reawakened city.
We call the sea cruel, seeing its waters dimple and smile where yesterday they dashed in pieces the ship that was black with men, women, and children. But what shall we say of those billows of human life, of which we are ourselves a part, that surge over the graves of its own dead with dances and laughter and many a coquetry, with panting chase for gain and preference, and pious regrets and tender condolences for the thousands that died yesterday—and need not have died?
Such were the questions Dr. Sevier asked himself as he laid down the newspaper full of congratulations upon the return of trade's and fashion's boisterous flow, and praises of the deeds of benevolence and mercy that had abounded throughout the days of anguish.
Certain currents in these human rapids had driven Richling and the Doctor wide apart. But at last, one day, Richling entered the office with a cheerfulness of countenance something overdone, and indicative to the Doctor's eye of inward trepidation.
"Doctor," he said hurriedly, "preparing to leave the office? It was the only moment I could command"—
"I've been trying every day for a week to get down here," said Richling, drawing out a paper. "Doctor"—with his eyes on the paper, which he had begun to unfold.
"Richling"— It was the Doctor's hardest voice. Richling looked up at him as a child looks at a thundercloud. The Doctor pointed to the document:—
"Is that a subscription paper?"
"You needn't unfold it, Richling." The Doctor made a little pushing motion at it with his open hand. "From whom does it come?"
Richling gave a name. He had not changed color when the Doctor looked black, but now he did; for Dr. Sevier smiled. It was terrible.
"Not the little preacher that lisps?" asked the physician.
"He lisps sometimes," said Richling, with resentful subsidence of tone and with dropped eyes, preparing to return the paper to his pocket.
"Wait," said the Doctor, more gravely, arresting the movement with his index finger. "What is it for?"
"It's for the aid of an asylum overcrowded with orphans in consequence of the late epidemic." There was still a tightness in Richling's throat, a faint bitterness in his tone, a spark of indignation in his eye. But these the Doctor ignored. He reached out his hand, took the folded paper gently from Richling, crossed his knees, and, resting his elbows on them and shaking the paper in a prefatory way, spoke:—
"Richling, in old times we used to go into monasteries; now we subscribe to orphan asylums. Nine months ago I warned this community that if it didn't take the necessary precautions against the foul contagion that has since swept over us it would pay for its wicked folly in the lives of thousands and the increase of fatherless and helpless children. I didn't know it would come this year, but I knew it might come any year. Richling, we deserved it!"
Richling had never seen his friend in so forbidding an aspect. He had come to him boyishly elated with the fancied excellence and goodness and beauty of the task he had assumed, and a perfect confidence that his noble benefactor would look upon him with pride and upon the scheme with generous favor. When he had offered to present the paper to Dr. Sevier he had not understood the little rector's marked alacrity in accepting his service. Now it was plain enough. He was well-nigh dumfounded. The responses that came from him came mechanically, and in the manner of one who wards off unmerited buffetings from one whose unkindness may not be resented.
"You can't think that only those died who were to blame?" he asked, helplessly; and the Doctor's answer came back instantly:—
"Ho, no! look at the hundreds of little graves! No, sir. If only those who were to blame had been stricken, I should think the Judgment wasn't far off. Talk of God's mercy in times of health! There's no greater evidence of it than to see him, in these awful visitations, refusing still to discriminate between the innocent and the guilty! Richling, only Infinite Mercy joined to Infinite Power, with infinite command of the future, could so forbear!"
Richling could not answer. The Doctor unfolded the paper and began to read: "'God, in his mysterious providence'—O sir!"
"What!" demanded Richling.
"O sir, what a foul, false charge! There's nothing mysterious about it. We've trampled the book of Nature's laws in the mire of our streets, and dragged her penalties down upon our heads! Why, Richling,"—he shifted his attitude, and laid the edge of one hand upon the paper that lay in the other, with the air of commencing a demonstration,—"you're a Bible man, eh? Well, yes, I think you are; but I want you never to forget that the book of Nature has its commandments, too; and the man who sins against them is a sinner. There's no dispensation of mercy in that Scripture to Jew or Gentile, though the God of Mercy wrote it with his own finger. A community has got to know those laws and keep them, or take the consequences—and take them here and now—on this globe—presently!"
"You mean, then," said Richling, extending his hand for the return of the paper, "that those whose negligence filled the asylums should be the ones to subscribe."
"Yes," replied the Doctor, "yes!" drew back his hand with the paper still in it, turned to his desk, opened the list, and wrote. Richling's eyes followed the pen; his heart came slowly up into his throat.
"Why, Doc—Doctor, that's more than any one else has"—
"They have probably made some mistake," said Dr. Sevier, rubbing the blotting-paper with his finger. "Richling, do you think it's your mission to be a philanthropist?"
"Isn't it everybody's mission?" replied Richling.
"That's not what I asked you."
"But you ask a question," said Richling, smiling down upon the subscription-paper as he folded it, "that nobody would like to answer."
"Very well, then, you needn't answer. But, Richling,"—he pointed his long finger to the pocket of Richling's coat, where the subscription-list had disappeared,—"this sort of work—whether you distinctly propose to be a philanthropist or not—is right, of course. It's good. But it's the mere alphabet of beneficence. Richling, whenever philanthropy takes the guise of philanthropy, look out. Confine your philanthropy—you can't do it entirely, but as much as you can—confine your philanthropy to the motive. It's the temptation of philanthropists to set aside the natural constitution of society wherever it seems out of order, and substitute some philanthropic machinery in its place. It's all wrong, Richling. Do as a good doctor would. Help nature."
Richling looked down askance, pushed his fingers through his hair perplexedly, drew a deep breath, lifted his eyes to the Doctor's again, smiled incredulously, and rubbed his brow.
"You don't see it?" asked the physician, in a tone of surprise.
"O Doctor,"—throwing up a despairing hand,—"we're miles apart. I don't see how any work could be nobler. It looks to me"— But Dr. Sevier interrupted.
"—From an emotional stand-point, Richling. Richling,"—he changed his attitude again,—"if you want to be a philanthropist, be cold-blooded."
Richling laughed outright, but not heartily.
"Well!" said his friend, with a shrug, as if he dismissed the whole matter. But when Richling moved, as if to rise, he restrained him. "Stop! I know you're in a hurry, but you may tell Reisen to blame me."
"It's not Reisen so much as it's the work," replied Richling, but settled down again in his seat.
"Richling, human benevolence—public benevolence—in its beginning was a mere nun on the battle-field, binding up wounds and wiping the damp from dying brows. But since then it has had time and opportunity to become strong, bold, masculine, potential. Once it had only the knowledge and power to alleviate evil consequences; now it has both the knowledge and the power to deal with evil causes. Now, I say to you, leave this emotional A B C of human charity to nuns and mite societies. It's a good work; let them do it. Give them money, if you can."
"I see what you mean—I think," said Richling, slowly, and with a pondering eye.
"I'm glad if you do," rejoined the Doctor, visibly relieved.
"But that only throws a heavier responsibility upon strong men, if I understand it," said Richling, half interrogatively.
"Certainly! Upon strong spirits, male or female. Upon spirits that can drive the axe low down into the causes of things, again and again and again, steadily, patiently, until at last some great evil towering above them totters and falls crashing to the earth, to be cut to pieces and burned in the fire. Richling, gather fagots for pastime if you like, though it's poor fun; but don't think that's your mission! Don't be a fagot-gatherer! What are you smiling at?"
"Your good opinion of me," answered Richling. "Doctor, I don't believe I'm fit for anything but a fagot-gatherer. But I'm willing to try."
"Oh, bah!" The Doctor admired such humility as little as it deserved. "Richling, reduce the number of helpless orphans! Dig out the old roots of calamity! A spoon is not what you want; you want a mattock. Reduce crime and vice! Reduce squalor! Reduce the poor man's death-rate! Improve his tenements! Improve his hospitals! Carry sanitation into his workshops! Teach the trades! Prepare the poor for possible riches, and the rich for possible poverty! Ah—ah—Richling, I preach well enough, I think, but in practice I have missed it myself! Don't repeat my error!"
"Oh, but you haven't missed it!" cried Richling.
"Yes, but I have," said the Doctor. "Here I am, telling you to let your philanthropy be cold-blooded; why, I've always been hot-blooded."
"I like the hot best," said Richling, quickly.
"You ought to hate it," replied his friend. "It's been the root of all your troubles. Richling, God Almighty is unimpassioned. If he wasn't he'd be weak. You remember Young's line: 'A God all mercy is a God unjust.' The time has come when beneficence, to be real, must operate scientifically, not emotionally. Emotion is good; but it must follow, not guide. Here! I'll give you a single instance. Emotion never sells where it can give: that is an old-fashioned, effete benevolence. The new, the cold-blooded, is incomparably better: it never—to individual or to community—gives where it can sell. Your instincts have applied the rule to yourself; apply it to your fellow-man."
"Ah!" said Richling, promptly, "that's another thing. It's not my business to apply it to them."
"It is your business to apply it to them. You have no right to do less."
"And what will men say of me? At least—not that, but"—
The Doctor pointed upward. "They will say, 'I know thee, that thou art an hard man.'" His voice trembled. "But, Richling," he resumed with fresh firmness, "if you want to lead a long and useful life,—you say you do,—you must take my advice; you must deny yourself for a while; you must shelve these fine notions for a time. I tell you once more, you must endeavor to reestablish your health as it was before—before they locked you up, you know. When that is done you can commence right there if you choose; I wish you would. Give the public—sell would be better, but it will hardly buy—a prison system less atrocious, less destructive of justice, and less promotive of crime and vice, than the one it has. By-the-by, I suppose you know that Raphael Ristofalo went to prison last night again?"
Richling sprang to his feet. "For what? He hasn't"—
"Yes, sir; he has discovered the man who robbed him, and has killed him."
Richling started away, but halted as the Doctor spoke again, rising from his seat and shaking out his legs.
"He's not suffering any hardship. He's shrewd, you know,—has made arrangements with the keeper by which he secures very comfortable quarters. The star-chamber, I think they call the room he is in. He'll suffer very little restraint. Good-day!"
He turned, as Richling left, to get his own hat and gloves. "Yes," he thought, as he passed slowly downstairs to his carriage, "I have erred." He was not only teaching, he was learning. To fight evil was not enough. People who wanted help for orphans did not come to him—they sent. They drew back from him as a child shrinks from a soldier. Even Alice, his buried Alice, had wept with delight when he gave her a smile, and trembled with fear at his frown. To fight evil is not enough. Everybody seemed to feel as though that were a war against himself. Oh for some one always to understand—never to fear—the frowning good intention of the lonely man!
It was about the time, in January, when clerks and correspondents were beginning to write '59 without first getting it '58, that Dr. Sevier, as one morning he approached his office, noticed with some grim amusement, standing among the brokers and speculators of Carondelet street, the baker, Reisen. He was earnestly conversing with and bending over a small, alert fellow, in a rakish beaver and very smart coat, with the blue flowers of modesty bunched saucily in one button-hole.
Almost at the same moment Reisen saw the Doctor. He called his name aloud, and for all his ungainly bulk would have run directly to the carriage in the middle of the street, only that the Doctor made believe not to see, and in a moment was out of reach. But when, two or three hours later, the same vehicle came, tipping somewhat sidewise against the sidewalk at the Charity Hospital gate, and the Doctor stepped from it, there stood Reisen in waiting.
"Toctor," he said, approaching and touching his hat, "I like to see you a minudt, uff you bleace, shtrict prifut."
They moved slowly down the unfrequented sidewalk, along the garden wall.
"Before you begin, Reisen, I want to ask you a question. I've noticed for a month past that Mr. Richling rides in your bread-carts alongside the drivers on their rounds. Don't you know you ought not to require such a thing as that from a person like Mr. Richling? Mr. Richling's a gentleman, Reisen, and you make him mount up in those bread-carts, and jump out every few minutes to deliver bread!"
The Doctor's blood was not cold.
"Vell, now!" drawled the baker, as the corners of his mouth retreated toward the back of his neck, "end't tat teh funn'est ting, ennahow! Vhy, tat iss yoost teh ferra ting fot I comin' to shpeak mit you apowdt udt!" He halted and looked at the Doctor to see how this coincidence struck him; but the Doctor merely moved on. "I toant make him too udt," he continued, starting again; "he cumps to me sindts apowdt two-o-o mundts aco—ven I shtill feelin' a liddle veak, yet, fun teh yalla-feewa—undt yoost paygs me to let um too udt. 'Mr. Richlun,' sayss I to him, 'I toandt kin untershtayndt for vot you vawndts to too sich a ritickliss, Mr. Richlun!' Ovver he sayss, 'Mr. Reisen,'—he alvays callss me 'Mister,' undt tat iss one dting in puttickly vot I alvays tit li-i-iked apowdt Mr. Richlun,—'Mr. Reisen,' he sayss, 'toandt you aysk me te reason, ovver yoost let me co abate undt too udt!' Undt I voss a coin' to kiff udt up, alretty; ovver ten cumps in Missess Reisen,—who iss a heap shmarter mayn as fot Reisen iss, I yoost tell you te ectsectly troot,—and she sayss, 'Reisen, you yoost tell Mr. Richlun, Mr. Richlun, you toadnt coin' to too sich a ritickliss!'"
The speaker paused for effect.
"Undt ten Mr. Richlun, he talks!—Schweedt?—Oh yendlemuns, toandt say nutting!" The baker lifted up his palm and swung it down against his thigh with a blow that sent the flour out in a little cloud. "I tell you, Toctor Tseweer, ven tat mayn vawndts to too udt, he kin yoost talk te mo-ust like a Christun fun enna mayn I neffa he-ut in mine li-i-fe! 'Missess Reisen,' he sayss, 'I vawndts to too udt pecause I vawndts to too udt.' Vell, how you coin' to arg-y ennating eagval mit Mr. Richlun? So teh upshodt iss he coes owdt in teh prate-cawts tistripputin' te prate!" Reisen threw his arms far behind him, and bowed low to his listener.
Dr. Sevier had learned him well enough to beware of interrupting him, lest when he resumed it would be at the beginning again. He made no answer, and Reisen went on:—
"Bressently"— He stopped his slow walk, brought forward both palms, shrugged, dropped them, bowed, clasped them behind him, brought the left one forward, dropped it, then the right one, dropped it also, frowned, smiled, and said:—
"Bressently"—then a long silence—"effrapotty in my etsteplitchmendt"—another long pause—"hef yoost teh same ettechmendt to Mr. Richlun,"—another interval,—"tey hef yoost tso much effection fur him"—another silence—"ass tey hef"—another, with a smile this time—"fur—te teffle himpselluf!" An oven opened in the baker's face, and emitted a softly rattling expiration like that of a bursted bellows. The Doctor neither smiled nor spoke. Reisen resumed:—
"I seen udt. I seen udt. Ovver I toandt coult untershtayndt udt. Ovver one tay cumps in mine little poy in to me fen te pakers voss all ashleep, 'Pap-a, Mr. Richlun sayss you shouldt come into teh offuss.' I kumpt in. Mr. Richlun voss tare, shtayndting yoost so—yoost so—py teh shtofe; undt, Toctor Tseweer, I yoost tell you te ectsectly troot, he toaldt in fife minudts—six minudts—seven minudts, udt may pe—undt shoadt me how effrapotty, high undt low, little undt pick, Tom, Tick, undt Harra, pin ropping me sindts more ass fife years!"
The longest pause of all followed this disclosure. The baker had gradually backed the Doctor up against the wall, spreading out the whole matter with his great palms turned now upward and now downward, the bulky contents of his high-waisted, barn-door trowsers now bulged out and now withdrawn, to be protruded yet more a moment later. He recommenced by holding out his down-turned hand some distance above the ground.
"I yoompt tot hoigh!" He blew his cheeks out, and rose a half-inch off his heels in recollection of the mighty leap. "Ovver Mr. Richlun sayss,—he sayss, 'Kip shtill, Mr. Reisen;' undt I kibt shtill."
The baker's auditor was gradually drawing him back toward the hospital gate; but he continued speaking:—
"Py undt py, vun tay, I kot someting to say to Mr. Richlun, yet. Undt I sendts vert to Mr. Richlun tat he shouldt come into teh offuss. He cumps in. 'Mr. Richlun,' I sayss, sayss I to him, 'Mr. Richlun, I kot udt!'" The baker shook his finger in Dr. Sevier's face. "'I kot udt, udt layst, Mr. Richlun! I yoost het a suspish'n sindts teh first tay fot I employedt you, ovver now I know I kot udt!' Vell, sir, he yoost turnun so rate ass a flennen shirt!—'Mr. Reisen,' sayss he to me, 'fot iss udt fot you kot?' Undt sayss I to him, 'Mr. Richlun, udt iss you! Udt is you fot I kot!'"
Dr. Sevier stood sphinx-like, and once more Reisen went on.
"'Yes, Mr. Richlun,'" still addressing the Doctor as though he were his book-keeper, "'I yoost layin, on my pett effra nighdt—effra nighdt, vi-i-ite ava-a-ake! undt in apowdt a veek I make udt owdt ut layst tot you, Mr. Richlun,'—I lookt um shtraight in te eye, undt he lookt me shtraight te same,—'tot, Mr. Richlun, you,' sayss I, 'not dtose fellehs fot pin py mo sindts more ass fife yearss, put you, Mr. Richlun, iss teh mayn!—teh mayn fot I—kin trust!'" The baker's middle parts bent out and his arms were drawn akimbo. Thus for ten seconds.
"'Undt now, Mr. Richlun, do you kot teh shtrengdt for to shtart a noo pissness?'—Pecause, Toctor, udt pin seem to me Mr. Richlun kitten more undt more shecklun, undt toandt take tot meticine fot you kif um (ovver he sayss he toos). So ten he sayss to me, 'Mister Reisen, I am yoost so sollut undt shtrong like a pilly-coat! Fot is teh noo pissness?'—'Mr. Richlun,' sayss I, 've goin' to make pettent prate!'"
"What?" asked the Doctor, frowning with impatience and venturing to interrupt at last.
The listener frowned heavier and shook his head.
"Oh! patent bread; yes. Well?"
"Yes," said Reisen, "prate mate mit a mutcheen; mit copponic-essut kass into udt ploat pefore udt is paked. I pought teh pettent tiss mawning fun a yendleman in Garontelet shtreedt, alretty, naympt Kknox."
"And what have I to do with all this?" asked the Doctor, consulting his watch, as he had already done twice before.
"Vell," said Reisen, spreading his arms abroad, "I yoost taught you like to herr udt."
"But what do you want to see me for? What have you kept me all this time to tell me—or ask me?"
"Toctor,—you ugscooce me—ovver"—the baker held the Doctor by the elbow as he began to turn away—"Toctor Tseweer,"—the great face lighted up with a smile, the large body doubled partly together, and the broad left hand was held ready to smite the thigh,—"you shouldt see Mr. Richlun ven he fowndt owdt udt is goin' to lower teh price of prate! I taught he iss goin' to kiss Mississ Reisen!"
SWEET BELLS JANGLED.
Those who knew New Orleans just before the civil war, even though they saw it only along its riverfront from the deck of some steam-boat, may easily recall a large sign painted high up on the side of the old "Triangle Building," which came to view through the dark web of masts and cordage as one drew near St. Mary's Market. "Steam Bakery" it read. And such as were New Orleans householders, or by any other chance enjoyed the experience of making their way in the early morning among the hundreds of baskets that on hundreds of elbows moved up and down along and across the quaint gas-lit arcades of any of the market-houses, must remember how, about this time or a little earlier, there began to appear on one of the tidiest of bread-stalls in each of these market-houses a new kind of bread. It was a small, densely compacted loaf of the size and shape of a badly distorted brick. When broken, it divided into layers, each of which showed—"teh bprindt of teh kkneading-mutcheen," said Reisen to Narcisse; "yoost like a tsoda crecker!"
These two persons had met by chance at a coffee-stand one beautiful summer dawn in one of the markets,—the Treine, most likely,—where, perched on high stools at a zinc-covered counter, with the smell of fresh blood on the right and of stale fish on the left, they had finished half their cup of cafe au lait before they awoke to the exhilarating knowledge of each other's presence.
"Yesseh," said Narcisse, "now since you 'ave wemawk the mention of it, I think I have saw that va'iety of bwead."
"Oh, surely you poundt to a-seedt udt. A uckly little prown dting"—
"But cook well," said Narcisse.
"Yayss," drawled the baker. It was a fact that he had to admit.
"An' good flou'," persisted the Creole.
"Yayss," said the smiling manufacturer. He could not deny that either.
"An' honness weight!" said Narcisse, planting his empty cup in his saucer, with the energy of his asservation; "an', Mr. Bison, thass a ve'y seldom thing."
"Yayss," assented Reisen, "ovver tat prate is mighdy dtry, undt shtickin' in ten dtroat."
"No, seh!" said the flatterer, with a generous smile. "Egscuse me—I diffeh fum you. 'Tis a beaucheouz bwead. Yesseh. And eve'y loaf got the name beaucheouzly pwint on the top, with 'Patent'—sich an' sich a time. 'Tis the tooth, Mr. Bison, I'm boun' to congwatulate you on that bwead."
"O-o-oh! tat iss not mine prate," exclaimed the baker. "Tat iss not fun mine etsteplitchmendt. Oh, no! Tatt iss te prate—I'm yoost dtellin' you—tat iss te prate fun tat fellah py teh Sunk-Mary's Morrikit-house! Tat's teh 'shteam prate'. I to-undt know for vot effrapotty puys tat prate annahow! Ovver you yoost vait dtill you see mine prate!"
"Mr. Bison," said Narcisse, "Mr. Bison,"—he had been trying to stop him and get in a word of his own, but could not,—"I don't know if you—Mr.—Mr. Bison, in fact, you din unde'stood me. Can that be poss'ble that you din notiz that I was speaking in my i'ony about that bwead? Why, of co'se! Thass juz my i'onious cuztom, Mr. Bison. Thass one thing I dunno if you 'ave notiz about that 'steam bwead,' Mr. Bison, but with me that bwead always stick in my th'oat; an' yet I kin swallow mose anything, in fact. No, Mr. Bison, yo' bwead is deztyned to be the bwead; and I tell you how 'tis with me, I juz gladly eat yo' bwead eve'y time I kin git it! Mr. Bison, in fact you don't know me ve'y intimitly, but you will oblige me ve'y much indeed to baw me five dollahs till tomaw—save me fum d'awing a check!"
The German thrust his hand slowly and deeply into his pocket. "I alvayss like to oplyche a yendleman,"—he smiled benignly, drew out a toothpick, and added,—"ovver I nivveh bporrah or lend to ennabodda."
"An' then," said Narcisse, promptly, "'tis imposs'ble faw anybody to be offended. Thass the bess way, Mr. Bison."
"Yayss," said the baker, "I tink udt iss." As they were parting, he added: "Ovver you vait dtill you see mine prate!"
"I'll do it, seh!— And, Mr. Bison, you muzn't think anything about that, my not bawing that five dollars fum you, Mr. Bison, because that don't make a bit o' dif'ence; an' thass one thing I like about you, Mr. Bison, you don't baw yo' money to eve'y Dick, Tom, an' Hawwy, do you?"
"No, I dtoandt. Ovver, you yoost vait"—
And certainly, after many vexations, difficulties, and delays, that took many a pound of flesh from Reisen's form, the pretty, pale-brown, fragrant white loaves of "aerated bread" that issued from the Star Bakery in Benjamin street were something pleasant to see, though they did not lower the price.
Richling's old liking for mechanical apparatus came into play. He only, in the establishment, thoroughly understood the new process, and could be certain of daily, or rather nightly, uniform results. He even made one or two slight improvements in it, which he contemplated with ecstatic pride, and long accounts of which he wrote to Mary.
In a generous and innocent way Reisen grew a little jealous of his accountant, and threw himself into his business as he had not done before since he was young, and in the ardor of his emulation ignored utterly a state of health that was no better because of his great length and breadth.
"Toctor Tseweer!" he said, as the physician appeared one day in his office. "Vell, now, I yoost pet finfty tawllars tat iss Mississ Reisen sendts for you tat I'm sick! Ven udt iss not such a dting!" He laughed immoderately. "Ovver I'm gladt you come, Toctor, ennahow, for you pin yoost in time to see ever'ting runnin'. I vish you yoost come undt see udt!" He grinned in his old, broad way; but his face was anxious, and his bared arms were lean. He laid his hand on the Doctor's arm, and then jerked it away, and tried to blow off the floury print of his fingers. "Come!" He beckoned. "Come; I show you somedting putiful. Toctor, I vizh you come!"
The Doctor yielded. Richling had to be called upon at last to explain the hidden parts and processes.
"It's yoost like putt'n' te shpirudt into teh potty," said the laughing German. "Now, tat prate kot life in udt yoost teh same like your own selluf, Toctor. Tot prate kot yoost so much sense ass Reisen kot. Ovver, Toctor—Toctor"—the Doctor was giving his attention to Richling, who was explaining something—"Toctor, toandt you come here uxpectin' to see nopoty sick, less-n udt iss Mr. Richlun." He caught Richling's face roughly between his hands, and then gave his back a caressing thwack. "Toctor, vot you dtink? Ve goin' teh run prate-cawts mit copponic-essut kass. Tispense mit hawses!" He laughed long but softly, and smote Richling again as the three walked across the bakery yard abreast.
"Well?" said Dr. Sevier to Richling, in a low tone, "always working toward the one happy end."
Richling had only time to answer with his eyes, when the baker, always clinging close to them, said, "Yes; if I toandt look oudt yet, he pe rich pefore Reisen."
The Doctor looked steadily at Richling, stood still, and said, "Don't hurry."
But Richling swung playfully half around on his heel, dropped his glance, and jerked his head sidewise, as one who neither resented the advice nor took it. A minute later he drew from his breast-pocket a small, thick letter stripped of its envelope, and handed it to the Doctor, who put it into his pocket, neither of them speaking. The action showed practice. Reisen winked one eye laboriously at the Doctor and chuckled.
"See here, Reisen," said the Doctor, "I want you to pack your trunk, take the late boat, and go to Biloxi or Pascagoula, and spend a month fishing and sailing."
The baker pushed his fingers up under his hat, scratched his head, smiled widely, and pointed at Richling.
The Doctor went and sat down with Reisen, and used every form of inducement that could be brought to bear; but the German had but one answer: Richling, Richling, not he. The Doctor left a prescription, which the baker took until he found it was making him sleep while Richling was at work, whereupon he amiably threw it out of his window.
It was no surprise to Dr. Sevier that Richling came to him a few days later with a face all trouble.
"How are you, Richling? How's Reisen?"
"Doctor," said Richling, "I'm afraid Mr. Reisen is"—Their eyes met.
"Insane," said the Doctor.
"Does his wife know whether he has ever had such symptoms before—in his life?"
"She says he hasn't."
"I suppose you know his pecuniary condition perfectly; has he money?"
"He'll not consent to go away anywhere, I suppose, will he?"
"Not an inch."
"There's but one sensible and proper course, Richling; he must be taken at once, by force if necessary, to a first-class insane hospital."
"Why, Doctor, why? Can't we treat him better at home?"
The Doctor gave his head its well-known swing of impatience. "If you want to be criminally in error try that!"
"I don't want to be in error at all," retorted Richling.
"Then don't lose twelve hours that you can save, but send him off as soon as process of court will let you."
"Will you come at once and see him?" asked Richling, rising up.
"Yes, I'll be there nearly as soon as you will. Stop; you had better ride with me; I have something special to say." As the carriage started off, the Doctor leaned back in its cushions, folded his arms, and took a long, meditative breath. Richling glanced at him and said:—
"We're both thinking of the same person."
"Yes," replied the Doctor; "and the same day, too, I suppose: the first day I ever saw her; the only other time that we ever got into this carriage together. Hmm! hmm! With what a fearful speed time flies!"
"Sometimes," said the yearning husband, and apologized by a laugh. The Doctor grunted, looked out of the carriage window, and, suddenly turning, asked:—
"Do you know that Reisen instructed his wife about six months ago, in the event of his death or disability, to place all her interests in your hands, and to be guided by your advice in everything?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Richling, "he can't do that! He should have asked my consent."
"I suppose he knew he wouldn't get it. He's a cunning simpleton."
"But, Doctor, if you knew this"—Richling ceased.
"Six months ago. Why didn't I tell you?" said the physician. "I thought I would, Richling, though Reisen bade me not, when he told me; I made no promise. But time, that you think goes slow, was too fast for me."
"I shall refuse to serve," said Richling, soliloquizing aloud. "Don't you see, Doctor, the delicacy of the position?"
"Yes, I do; but you don't. Don't you see it would be just as delicate a matter for you to refuse?"
Richling pondered, and presently said, quite slowly:—
"It will look like coming down out of the tree to catch the apples as they fall," he said. "Why," he added with impatience, "it lays me wide open to suspicion and slander."
"Does it?" asked the Doctor, heartlessly. "There's nothing remarkable in that. Did any one ever occupy a responsible position without those conditions?"
"But, you know, I have made some unscrupulous enemies by defending Reisen's interests."
"Um-hmm; what did you defend them for?"
Richling was about to make a reply; but the Doctor wanted none. "Richling," he said, "the most of men have burrows. They never let anything decoy them so far from those burrows but they can pop into them at a moment's notice. Do you take my meaning?"
"Oh, yes!" said Richling, pleasantly; "no trouble to understand you this time. I'll not run into any burrow just now. I'll face my duty and think of Mary."
"Excellent pastime," responded Dr. Sevier.
They rode on in silence.
"As to"—began Richling again,—"as to such matters as these, once a man confronts the question candidly, there is really no room, that I can see, for a man to choose: a man, at least, who is always guided by conscience."
"If there were such a man," responded the Doctor.
"True," said John.
"But for common stuff, such as you and I are made of, it must sometimes be terrible."
"I dare say," said Richling. "It sometimes requires cold blood to choose aright."
"As cold as granite," replied the other.
They arrived at the bakery.
"O Doctor," said Mrs. Reisen, proffering her hand as he entered the house, "my poor hussband iss crazy!" She dropped into a chair and burst into tears. She was a large woman, with a round, red face and triple chin, but with a more intelligent look and a better command of English than Reisen. "Doctor, I want you to cure him ass quick ass possible."
"Well, madam, of course; but will you do what I say?"
"I will, certain shure. I do it yust like you tellin' me."
The Doctor gave her such good advice as became a courageous physician.
A look of dismay came upon her. Her mouth dropped open. "Oh, no, Doctor!" She began to shake her head. "I'll never do tha-at; oh, no; I'll never send my poor hussband to the crazy-house! Oh, no, sir; I'll do not such a thing!" There was some resentment in her emotion. Her nether lip went up like a crying babe's, and she breathed through her nostrils audibly.
"Oh, yes, I know!" said the poor creature, turning her face away from the Doctor's kind attempts to explain, and lifting it incredulously as she talked to the wall,—"I know all about it. I'm not a-goin' to put no sich a disgrace on my poor hussband; no, indeed!" She faced around suddenly and threw out her hand to Richling, who leaned against a door twisting a bit of string between his thumbs. "Why, he wouldn't go, nohow, even if I gave my consents. You caynt coax him out of his room yet. Oh, no, Doctor! It's my duty to keep him wid me an' try to cure him first a little while here at home. That aint no trouble to me; I don't never mind no trouble if I can be any help to my hussband." She addressed the wall again.
"Well, madam," replied the physician, with unusual tenderness of tone, and looking at Richling while he spoke, "of course you'll do as you think best."
"Oh! my poor Reisen!" exclaimed the wife, wringing her hands.
"Yes," said the physician, rising and looking out of the window, "I am afraid it will be ruin to Reisen."
"No, it won't be such a thing," said Mrs. Reisen, turning this way and that in her chair as the physician moved from place to place. "Mr. Richlin',"—turning to him,—"Mr. Richlin' and me kin run the business yust so good as Reisen." She shifted her distressed gaze back and forth from Richling to the Doctor. The latter turned to Richling:—
"I'll have to leave this matter to you."
"Where is Reisen?" asked the Doctor. "In his own room, upstairs?" The three passed through an inner door.
"This spoils some of your arrangements, doesn't it?" asked Dr. Sevier of Richling, stepping again into his carriage. He had already said the kind things, concerning Reisen, that physicians commonly say when they have little hope. "Were you not counting on an early visit to Milwaukee?"
"That illusion has been just a little beyond reach for months." He helped the Doctor shut his carriage-door.
"But now, of course—" said the physician.
"Of course it's out of the question," replied Richling; and the Doctor drove away, with the young man's face in his mind bearing an expression of simple emphasis that pleased him much.
Late at night Richling, in his dingy little office, unlocked a drawer, drew out a plump package of letters, and began to read their pages,—transcripts of his wife's heart, pages upon pages, hundreds of precious lines, dates crowding closely one upon another. Often he smiled as his eyes ran to and fro, or drew a soft sigh as he turned the page, and looked behind to see if any one had stolen in and was reading over his shoulder. Sometimes his smile broadened; he lifted his glance from the sheet and fixed it in pleasant revery on the blank wall before him. Often the lines were entirely taken up with mere utterances of affection. Now and then they were all about little Alice, who had fretted all the night before, her gums being swollen and tender on the upper left side near the front; or who had fallen violently in love with the house-dog, by whom, in turn, the sentiment was reciprocated; or whose eyes were really getting bluer and bluer, and her cheeks fatter and fatter, and who seemed to fear nothing that had existence. And the reader of the lines would rest one elbow on the desk, shut his eyes in one hand, and see the fair young head of the mother drooping tenderly over that smaller head in her bosom. Sometimes the tone of the lines was hopefully grave, discussing in the old tentative, interrogative key the future and its possibilities. Some pages were given to reminiscences,—recollections of all the droll things and all the good and glad things of the rugged past. Every here and there, but especially where the lines drew toward the signature, the words of longing multiplied, but always full of sunshine; and just at the end of each letter love spurned its restraints, and rose and overflowed with sweet confessions.
Sometimes these re-read letters did Richling good; not always. Maybe he read them too often. It was only the very next time that the Doctor's carriage stood before the bakery that the departing physician turned before he reentered the vehicle, and—whatever Richling had been saying to him—said abruptly:—
"Richling, are you falling out of love with your work?"
"Why do you ask me that?" asked the young man, coloring.
"Because I no longer see that joy of deliverance with which you entered upon this humble calling. It seems to have passed like a lost perfume, Richling. Have you let your toil become a task once more?"
Richling dropped his eyes and pushed the ground with the toe of his boot.
"I didn't want you to find that out, Doctor."
"I was afraid, from the first, it would be so," said the physician.
"I don't see why you were."
"Well, I saw that the zeal with which you first laid hold of your work was not entirely natural. It was good, but it was partly artificial,—the more credit to you on that account. But I saw that by and by you would have to keep it up mainly by your sense of necessity and duty. 'That'll be the pinch,' I said; and now I see it's come. For a long time you idealized the work; but at last its real dulness has begun to overcome you, and you're discontented—and with a discontentment that you can't justify, can you?"
"But I feel myself growing smaller again."
"No wonder. Why, Richling, it's the discontent makes that."
"Oh, no! The discontent makes me long to expand. I never had so much ambition before. But what can I do here? Why, Doctor, I ought to be—I might be"—
The physician laid a hand on the young man's shoulder.
"Stop, Richling. Drop those phrases and give us a healthy 'I am,' and 'I must,' and 'I will.' Don't—don't be like so many! You're not of the many. Richling, in the first illness in which I ever attended your wife, she watched her chance and asked me privately—implored me—not to let her die, for your sake. I don't suppose that tortures could have wrung from her, even if she realized it,—which I doubt,—the true reason. But don't you feel it? It was because your moral nature needs her so badly. Stop—let me finish. You need Mary back here now to hold you square to your course by the tremendous power of her timid little 'Don't you think?' and 'Doesn't it seem?'"
"Doctor," replied Richling, with a smile of expostulation, "you touch one's pride."
"Certainly I do. You're willing enough to say that you love her and long for her, but not that your moral manhood needs her. And yet isn't it true?"
"It sha'n't be true," said Richling, swinging a playful fist. "'Forewarned is forearmed;' I'll not allow it. I'm man enough for that." He laughed, with a touch of pique.
"Richling,"—the Doctor laid a finger against his companion's shoulder, preparing at the same time to leave him,—"don't be misled. A man who doesn't need a wife isn't fit to have one."
"Why, Doctor," replied Richling, with sincere amiability, "you're the man of all men I should have picked out to prove the contrary."
"No, Richling, no. I wasn't fit, and God took her."
In accordance with Dr. Sevier's request Richling essayed to lift the mind of the baker's wife, in the matter of her husband's affliction, to that plane of conviction where facts, and not feelings, should become her motive; and when he had talked until his head reeled, as though he had been blowing a fire, and she would not blaze for all his blowing—would be governed only by a stupid sentimentality; and when at length she suddenly flashed up in silly anger and accused him of interested motives; and when he had demanded instant retraction or release from her employment; and when she humbly and affectionately apologized, and was still as deep as ever in hopeless, clinging sentimentalisms, repeating the dictums of her simple and ignorant German neighbors and intimates, and calling them in to argue with him, the feeling that the Doctor's exhortation had for the moment driven away came back with more force than ever, and he could only turn again to his ovens and account-books with a feeling of annihilation.
"Where am I? What am I?" Silence was the only answer. The separation that had once been so sharp a pain had ceased to cut, and was bearing down upon him now with that dull, grinding weight that does the damage in us.
Presently came another development: the lack of money, that did no harm while it was merely kept in the mind, settled down upon the heart.
"It may be a bad thing to love, but it's a good thing to have," he said, one day, to the little rector, as this friend stood by him at a corner of the high desk where Richling was posting his ledger.
"But not to seek," said the rector.
Richling posted an item and shook his head doubtingly.
"That depends, I should say, on how much one seeks it, and how much of it he seeks."
"No," insisted the clergyman. Richling bent a look of inquiry upon him, and he added:—
"The principle is bad, and you know it, Richling. 'Seek ye first'—you know the text, and the assurance that follows with it—'all these things shall be added'"—
"Oh, yes; but still"—
"'But still!'" exclaimed the little preacher; "why must everybody say 'but still'? Don't you see that that 'but still' is the refusal of Christians to practise Christianity?"
Richling looked, but said nothing; and his friend hoped the word had taken effect. But Richling was too deeply bitten to be cured by one or two good sayings. After a moment he said:—
"I used to wonder to see nearly everybody struggling to be rich, but I don't now. I don't justify it, but I understand it. It's flight from oblivion. It's the natural longing to be seen and felt."
"Why isn't it enough to be felt?" asked the other. "Here, you make bread and sell it. A thousand people eat it from your hand every day. Isn't that something?"
"Yes; but it's all the bread. The bread's everything; I'm nothing. I'm not asked to do or to be. I may exist or not; there will be bread all the same. I see my remark pains you, but I can't help it. You've never tried the thing. You've never encountered the mild contempt that people in ease pay to those who pursue the 'industries.' You've never suffered the condescension of rank to the ranks. You don't know the smart of being only an arithmetical quantity in a world of achievements and possessions."
"No," said the preacher, "maybe I haven't. But I should say you are just the sort of man that ought to come through all that unsoured and unhurt. Richling,"—he put on a lighter mood,—"you've got a moral indigestion. You've accustomed yourself to the highest motives, and now these new notions are not the highest, and you know and feel it. They don't nourish you. They don't make you happy. Where are your old sentiments? What's become of them?"
"Ah!" said Richling, "I got them from my wife. And the supply's nearly run out."
"Get it renewed!" said the little man, quickly, putting on his hat and extending a farewell hand. "Excuse me for saying so. I didn't intend it; I dropped in to ask you again the name of that Italian whom you visit at the prison,—the man I promised you I'd go and talk to. Yes—Ristofalo; that's it. Good-by."
That night Richling wrote to his wife. What he wrote goes not down here; but he felt as he wrote that his mood was not the right one, and when Mary got the letter she answered by first mail:—
"Will you not let me come to you? Is it not surely best? Say but the word, and I'll come. It will be the steamer to Chicago, railroad to Cairo, and a St. Louis boat to New Orleans. Alice will be both company and protection, and no burden at all. O my beloved husband! I am just ungracious enough to think, some days, that these times of separation are the hardest of all. When we were suffering sickness and hunger together—well, we were together. Darling, if you'll just say come, I'll come in an instant. Oh, how gladly! Surely, with what you tell me you've saved, and with your place so secure to you, can't we venture to begin again? Alice and I can live with you in the bakery. O my husband! if you but say the word, a little time—a few days will bring us into your arms. And yet, do not yield to my impatience; I trust your wisdom, and know that what you decide will be best. Mother has been very feeble lately, as I have told you; but she seems to be improving, and now I see what I've half suspected for a long time, and ought to have seen sooner, that my husband—my dear, dear husband—needs me most; and I'm coming—I'm coming, John, if you'll only say come.
Your loving MARY."
RISTOFALO AND THE RECTOR.
Be Richling's feelings what they might, the Star Bakery shone in the retail firmament of the commercial heavens with new and growing brilliancy. There was scarcely time to talk even with the tough little rector who hovers on the borders of this history, and he might have become quite an alien had not Richling's earnest request made him one day a visitor, as we have seen him express his intention of being, in the foul corridors of the parish prison, and presently the occupant of a broken chair in the apartment apportioned to Raphael Ristofalo and two other prisoners. "Easy little tasks you cut out for your friends," said the rector to Richling when next they met. "I got preached to—not to say edified. I'll share my edification with you!" He told his experience.
It was a sinister place, the prison apartment. The hand of Kate Ristofalo had removed some of its unsightly conditions and disguised others; but the bounds of the room, walls, ceiling, windows, floor, still displayed, with official unconcern, the grime and decay that is commonly thought good enough for men charged, rightly or wrongly, with crime.
The clergyman's chair was in the centre of the floor. Ristofalo sat facing him a little way off on the right. A youth of nineteen sat tipped against the wall on the left, and a long-limbed, big-boned, red-shirted young Irishman occupied a poplar table, hanging one of his legs across a corner of it and letting the other down to the floor. Ristofalo remarked, in the form of polite acknowledgment, that the rector had preached to the assembled inmates of the prison on the Sunday previous.
"Did I say anything that you thought was true?" asked the minister.
The Italian smiled in the gentle manner that never failed him.
"Didn't listen much," he said. He drew from a pocket of his black velveteen pantaloons a small crumpled tract. It may have been a favorite one with the clergyman, for the youth against the wall produced its counterpart, and the man on the edge of the table lay back on his elbow, and, with an indolent stretch of the opposite arm and both legs, drew a third one from a tin cup that rested on a greasy shelf behind him. The Irishman held his between his fingers and smirked a little toward the floor. Ristofalo extended his toward the visitor, and touched the caption with one finger: "Mercy offered."
"Well," asked the rector, pleasantly, "what's the matter with that?"
"Is no use yeh. Wrong place—this prison."
"Um-hm," said the tract-distributor, glancing down at the leaf and smoothing it on his knee while he took time to think. "Well, why shouldn't mercy be offered here?"
"No," replied Ristofalo, still smiling; "ought offer justice first."
"Mr. Preacher," asked the young Irishman, bringing both legs to the front, and swinging them under the table, "d'ye vote?"
"Yes; I vote."
"D'ye call yerself a cidizen—with a cidizen's rights an' djuties?"
"That's right." There was a deep sea of insolence in the smooth-faced, red-eyed smile that accompanied the commendation. "And how manny times have ye bean in this prison?"
"I don't know; eight or ten times. That rather beats you, doesn't it?"
Ristofalo smiled, the youth uttered a high rasping cackle, and the Irishman laughed the heartiest of all.
"A little," he said; "a little. But nivver mind. Ye say ye've bin here eight or tin times; yes. Well, now, will I tell ye what I'd do afore and iver I'd kim back here ag'in,—if I was you now? Will I tell ye?"
"Well, yes," replied the visitor, amiably; "I'd like to know."
"Well, surr, I'd go to the mair of this city and to the judge of the criminal coort, and to the gov'ner of the Sta-ate, and to the ligislatur, if needs be, and I'd say, 'Gintlemin, I can't go back to that prison! There is more crimes a-being committed by the people outside ag'in the fellies in theyre than—than—than the—the fellies in theyre has committed ag'in the people! I'm ashamed to preach theyre! I'm afeered to do ud!'" The speaker slipped off the table, upon his feet. "'There's murrder a-goun' on in theyre! There's more murrder a-bein' done in theyre nor there is outside! Justice is a-bein' murdered theyre ivery hour of day and night!'"
He brandished his fist with the last words, but dropped it at a glance from Ristofalo, and began to pace the floor along his side of the room, looking with a heavy-browed smile back and forth from one fellow-captive to the other. He waited till the visitor was about to speak, and then interrupted, pointing at him suddenly:—