When had Nimble Dick lost an opportunity for fun at the expense of another? Here was a chance for a jolly lark! A woman scared to death because she was on Green alley. What would she think of Burk Street! Suppose he should send her there? Only three blocks away, through a lovelier part of the city than she had seen yet, he would venture! If the crowds here showed her too much attention, it would be worth something to see how she got through Burk Street.
"Oh, yes," he said, briskly, "I can show you the way in a twinkling. You just go down this alley till you come to the big house on the corner, that has the windows all knocked out of it; then you turn and go down that street till you get to the third crossing; then turn again to the right, and you'll be on Fifth Avenue before you know it."
Had Mrs. Roberts been looking at his face, she would have seen the wicked light dancing in his eyes over the thought that he had thus mapped out for her a walk through the very worst portion of the city, every step, of course, leading her further and further away from Fifth Avenue. The sights that she might see, and the mishaps which might occur to her,—a handsomely-dressed woman alone,—before she made her way through the horrors of these streets were too much even for Nimble Dick's imagination, who knew the locality well. He did not try to calculate them, but gave himself up to the enjoyment of imagining how long it would be before she would reach home if she followed his directions. "She won't see no swallowing serpents that I knows of," he reflected, gleefully; "but I'll miss my reckoning if she don't see what will scare her worse than they would."
But Mrs. Roberts was already "scared." She felt her heart beating hard, and knew that her cheeks were aglow with excitement and vague terror. She was not used to walking such streets alone. She looked ahead at the way pointed out, and could see that the swarming life grew more turbid as far as her eye could reach. She felt that she could not brave its terrors unprotected. Suddenly she turned from looking down the alley, and her hand, a small, delicately-gloved hand, was again laid on Nimble Dick's arm; he could feel it trembling.
"I suppose I shall seem very foolish to you," she said, gently; "but I am afraid to walk down there alone. Would you mind going along with me to protect me? I am only a woman, you know, and we are apt to be cowards."
A very curious sensation came over Nimble Dick. He looked up the alley, and down the alley, and was glad that not one of the "fellows" was in sight. What was to become of his lark? But there was that hand still resting on his arm, with a persuasive touch in it; and he had never been appealed to for protection before,—never in his life! Was it possible that with him she would not be afraid? He turned and looked at her, searchingly, a scowl on his face,—no, she was not "shamming;" her eyes were full of anxious fear, and also of petition. Nimble Dick was amazed at himself and ashamed of himself; he did not know how to account for his sudden change of intention. But he suddenly turned in an opposite direction from the one which he had pointed out, and said, "Come on, then; I'll show you a shorter way," and strode forward.
"Oh, thank you!" she said, relief and gratitude in her voice. "I shall be so much obliged to you for coming with me; I am quite bewildered; cannot decide which way I came, or anything about it. I was trying to find the house of a young man who has been hurt. A policeman told me that he lived on this street, and that his name is Calkins. I was thinking about him, and walked on without noticing, until I did not know where I was. Do you know anything of the young man?"
"You are too far down for him," said Nimble Dick. "He's quality, and lives at the upper end of the alley. That's his house, away up there. He's hurt bad, they say; but I s'pose he'll get well. He's got a quality doctor,—a regular swell, who never come into these alleys before. He was going along when they brought Mark home, and he followed them in, and he come there again last night and this morning. I dunno what for, I'm sure. Mark Calkins can't pay no doctor's bills, if he does work regular, and pay more rent than the rest of folks."
There was a curious mixture of complaint and satisfaction in Dick's tone. Mrs. Roberts gathered from it that the young man, Mark Calkins, in whom the policeman had tried to interest her, was superior to the rest of the miserable people in the alley, and that they resented it as an insult to themselves; but that, at the same time, the reflected honor of having a "swell" doctor come into their midst, attendant upon one who really belonged to their class, was very great. Could she possibly get a little influence over them by following up the injured young man, and giving what help was needful? She had hardly meant to call, though trying to find the house. Her method of reasoning had been something like this: "The policeman said he lived about two blocks from my poor Dirk's home. Since there has so recently been an accident, there may be something to mark the house,—a doctor passing in, possibly, or something that shall give me a landmark, and I can have a glimpse of the outside of one of the homes." In her ignorance of life at that end of the social scale she did not know that a doctor passing in and out, even after an accident, was a sufficiently rare occurrence to make much more of a mark than she was looking for. So absorbed had she been over the boys belonging to her class that she had rather ignored the policeman's manifest hint to add this one to her list. Yet, was it possibly an answer to her prayer, an entering-wedge of some sort, that might open the way to influence?
"Who is the doctor?" she asked her guide, as the possibility of making an entrance through him occurred to her. "Do you know his name?"
Oh yes, Dick knew his name and where he lived, and even the names of some of his "swell" patients;—trust him for gaining information about anything that came into the alley.
"It's Dr. Everett," he said promptly, that curious touch of pride appearing again in his voice. "He lives away up among the Twenty-thirders, and he goes to Cady's house to doctor, and lots of them places where the big ones lives. I dunno how he happens to come here."
Mrs. Roberts had never heard the name, but she reflected that she was a new-comer, and wisely desisted from taking from the glory of Dr. Everett by admitting that he was not known to all the world. He might be a good doctor and a philanthropic one; his visits to this region looked like it.
"Do you know where any of the boys in our class live?"
This was her next carefully-worded question. She did not know whether to hint that she had heard of one who lived in that alley, or whether this would be considered an insult.
"Well," said Nimble Dick, the sly twinkle coming back to his eyes that the strangeness of the situation had driven away for a moment, "I calculate that I know where I live myself; sometimes I do, anyhow."
"To be sure!" she said, laughing at his humor. "I should have said, where any of the others live. Of course you will give me your address, after being so kind as to see me to—some point where I am acquainted."
She had nearly said a place of safety, but checked herself in time. I am not sure, though, that Dick would have noticed it; he was lost in astonishment over the idea of giving anybody his address!
"This is Dirk Colson's house," he said, suddenly, "and he is one of our fellows."
Mrs. Roberts uttered an exclamation. The house was one of the most forlorn in the row, seeming, if the miserable state of the buildings would admit of comparison, to be more out of repair than the others. It came home to her just then, with a sudden, desolating force, that human beings, such as she was trying to reach, and such as she hoped would live in heaven forever, called such earthly habitations as these homes. What possible idea could they ever get of heaven by calling it "home"?
"Do they have the whole of the house?"
She asked the question timidly, for the building looked very large, but she was utterly unused to city tenement life.
"The whole of that house?" Dick fairly shouted the sentence, and bent himself double with laughter. "Well, I should say not, mum! As near as I can calculate, about thirty-five different families have that pleasure. The whole of the house! Oh, my! What a greeny!" And he laughed again.
Mrs. Roberts exerted herself to laugh with him, albeit she was horror-stricken. Thirty-five families in one house! How could they be other than awful in their ways of living?
"I know almost nothing about great cities," she said; "my home was in a much smaller one."
This was the truth, but not the whole truth. Instinct kept this veritable lady, in the truest sense of the word, from explaining that she knew nothing about the abject poor, when she was speaking to one of their number. Just at this moment occurred a diversion; they had been making swift progress through the alley, Dick's long strides requiring effort on his companion's part to keep by his side, but just ahead the way was obstructed.
"WHAT A LITTLE SCHEMER IT IS."
A riot! Not among men, which is sufficiently terrifying; nor yet among women, which is worse; but that most awful of all sights and sounds of sin,—a riot among the children. Swearing, spitting at one another, tearing one another's hair, scratching like tigers, growling like wild beasts, throwing garbage at one another! This was the sort of crowd upon which Mrs. Roberts, in her black silk walking-suit, with her velvet hat and seal furs, presently came. She grasped at Dick's arm in horror, but a feeling that was more than terror was taking her strength away.
"Oh!" she said, and the agony in her voice really suggested more than terror to the young fellow beside her. "And they are little children! They cannot be more than seven or eight! Oh, what can I do?"
"You needn't be scared, mum!" There was a little hint of something like pity in Dick's voice. She clung to him so that he could not help feeling himself her protector. "It ain't an uncommon row at all; they mostly act like this; most likely one of 'em's found a bone and t' other one wants it, and then they're gone in for a row, and all the young ones crowd around and fight, on one side or t' other."
Did this fearful explanation make the situation less terrible?
There was a lull, however, in the quarrel. The elegantly-dressed lady was seen approaching,—an unusual sight in that alley,—and both parties paused to get a view. Paused in their attentions to each other, that is; but at Mrs. Roberts they hooted and jeered, and one threw a handful of mud.
Then did Nimble Dick rise to his position as protector.
"Shut up, there! Stand aside, Pluck, and let us pass! Look out there, you Smirchy! Don't you throw that over here unless you want your head broke for you when I get back!"
This threat was thrown at a wretched little girl, who had dived her hand deeply into a box or cask of garbage, and brought it forth reeking with rotten apples, pork fat, and any liquid horror which the name suggests to you. She had her hand uplifted ready to throw, and was evidently intending to give the strange lady the benefit of what she had prepared for one of the rioters.
The assured tone in which Nimble Dick spoke had its effect; the combatants were all small, and he was large, and was evidently recognized as a power. There were some defiant glances thrown at him, but the motley crowd gave way, and allowed him to pass uninjured. Still he kept an alert watch of them until quite out of reach, and was not sparing of his admonitions.
"Hold on there, Bill,—I see that! Look out, Sally! You'll be sorry if you throw anything,—mind you that!"
And at last they were through the crowd. Not out of danger, it seemed; for there, directly in their narrow path, was a drunken man, swaying from side to side in the way which is so terrible to one unused to such sights. Dick felt the hold on his arm tighten, and was astonished at the sound of his own voice as he said, soothingly:—
"You needn't be scared at him, mum; that's only old Jock; he's as ugly as old Nick himself, but he knows better than to be very ugly to me. I can throw him in the gutter as easy as I could them young ones, and he knows it. That's Dirk's father, that is! Ain't he a beauty?"
And again Mrs. Roberts uttered an exclamation of dismay, and part of her terror went out in sorrow over the wrongs of a boy who had such a home and such a father. What ought to be expected of him?
That interminable alley was conquered at last, and they emerged into respectability on the broad avenue. Mrs. Roberts released her hold of her protector's arm, and his new character vanished on the instant.
"You're here, mum," he said, with a saucy twinkle in his eye and a saucy leer on his face. "Can you get yourself home from this spot, or shall I borrow a wheelbarrow and tote you there?"
Much shaken with various emotions though she was, Mrs. Roberts forced herself to laugh. She would not frown on his fun when it was not positively sinful; he might not be aware that it was disrespectful; he might never have heard the word.
"I know the way now, thank you; at least I think I do. Can you tell me whether I take a green car or a yellow one to get to East Fifty-fifth Street?"
"You take a green one," he said, quietly, his character of protector having returned to him with the question, which still showed her dependence on him.
"Thank you," she said again, with great heartiness. "I shall never forget your care of me." Her hand was in her pocket, and a bright coin was between her fingers. She longed to give it to Nimble Dick; he had saved her from so much this morning. And he was so miserably clad, surely he needed help. A moment's reflection, and she resolutely withdrew her hand. He should be paid by a simple hearty, "Thank you!" this morning, for kindness rendered. He might not consider it a current coin, but possibly it would be his first lesson in the courtesies of life.
Later in the day, when Mrs. Roberts was somewhat rested from her morning's campaign, young Ried received a little note:—
Dear Mr. Ried,—I know the names of all the boys, and inclose you a list. It is possible that you may fall in with some one during the day who can impart knowledge concerning them. Anyway, I thought you would like to know their names. Keep me posted, please, as to your success in making their acquaintance. We are allies, remember.
Yours for the Master,
Mrs. E.L. Roberts.
Alfred Ried twisted the delicate note-paper thoughtfully in his hand, a look of perplexity on his face. He felt committed for labor; glad was he, very, yet perplexed. He did not in the least know where to commence. Well, neither had this little lady; yet she had accomplished more in her one day's acquaintance than he after a lapse of weeks. Either she had found opportunities, or had made them. There must be chances; he would be sure to keep his eyes open after this.
In the handsome house on East Fifty-fifth Street, where Mr. Roberts had settled his bride, after a somewhat extended business tour, involving months of absence, matters were in train for a cosy evening in the library. That was the name of the beautiful room where the husband and wife sat down together; but it was quite unlike the conventional library. Books there were in lavish abundance, but there were also pictures and flowers and a singing-bird or two, and an utter absence of that severe attention to business details which characterizes most rooms so named. Little prettinesses, which Mr. Roberts smilingly admitted did not belong to a library, were yet established there, with an air of having come to stay. "We will call it the library for convenience," the master of the house said, "and then we will put into it whatever we please. It shall be a conservatory, and a sewing-room and a lounging-room and anything else that you and I choose to make it." And Mrs. Roberts gleefully assented, and gave free rein to her pretty tastes. Flossy Shipley had been wont to be much trammelled with the ways in which "they" did everything; but Mrs. Evan Roberts was learning that, in unimportant matters at least, they had a right to be a law unto themselves. Perhaps it helped her, to be aware that a large class of people were all ready to quote "Mrs. Evan Roberts" as authority on almost any point of taste.
On the evening in question Mr. Roberts, in dressing-gown and slippers, had drawn his lounging-chair to the drop-light, preparatory to a half-hour of reading aloud. But it transpired that there was something preparatory to that, or at least that must take the precedence. Certain business telegrams followed him home, which required the writing of two or three business letters.
"It will not take me long," he explained to his wife, "and they are not complicated affairs, so I give you leave to talk right on while I dispatch them." She laughed at this hint about her fondness for talk, but presently made use of the privilege.
"Evan, what sort of a young man do you consider Mr. Ried?"
"Ried? Who? Oh, my clerk? The very best sort; a most estimable fellow,—one of a thousand. By the way, did you tell him how you became interested in that sister of his?"
"Not yet; I want to get better acquainted. But, Evan, do you know where he boards?"
Hardly; on Third Avenue somewhere, I believe; or possibly Second. The store register would show. Do you want his address!"
"Oh, I know where it is; but I mean what sort of a place is it?"
Mr. Roberts slightly elevated his shapely shoulders.
"It is a boarding-house, where many clerks board; that tells a doleful story to the initiated, I suspect. Poor fare and dismal surroundings; still, it is eminently respectable."
"Where does he spend his Sabbaths?"
The rapidly-moving pen executed nearly two lines of handsome writing before Mr. Roberts was ready to respond to this question.
"Why, at church, principally, I fancy. He is very regular in his attendance at morning service, and the South End Mission absorbs his afternoons. I suppose he goes to church in the evening; but since we have been giving our attention to that evening mission I have not seen him."
"Ah, but, Evan, I mean the rest of the time; those little bits of Sabbath time that are sacred to home. The twilight, for instance, or for an hour in the morning. Do you know what sort of a place he has for those times?"
Nearly three more lines added to the paper; then Mr. Roberts raised his head:—
"No, my dear, I don't. Now that you bring me face to face with the question, it seems a surprising thing to say that I should not know where a young man who has been for more than a year in our employ spends his choice bits of time, but I don't."
"Then I want to tell you something about it. He has a dingy, fourth-story back room; small, I fancy, from the way in which he spoke of it, and not a speck of fire over! In such weather as this, how can a young man read his Bible, or even pray, under such circumstances?"
Mr. Roberts laid down his pen and sat erect, regarding his wife with a thoughtful, far-away air.
"Flossy," he said at last, "it is an immense question! You open a perfect mine of anxiety and doubt. I have hovered around the edges for some time, but have generally contrived to shut my eyes and refuse to look into it, because I was afraid of what I might see; and because I did not know—what to do with my knowledge. I have not been the working member of the firm very long, you know, and my special field, until lately, has been the other side of the ocean; but I have been at home long enough to know that there are several hundred young men in our employ who are away from their homes; and knowing, as I do, the price of board in respectable houses, and knowing the salaries which the younger ones receive, it does not require a great deal of penetration to discover that they must have rather dreary homes here, to put it mildly. The fact is, Flossy, I haven't wanted to look into this thing very closely, because I do not see the remedy. Look at our house, for instance, with its three hundred clerks, we'll say, who are away from their friends; suppose one-half, or even one-third, of them are miserably situated, what can I do?"
"Are they not sufficiently well paid to have the ordinary comforts of life?"
"Doubtful. The truth is, what you and I call the ordinary comforts of life takes a good deal of money; and in the city, rents are high, and the boarding-house keepers have hard struggles to make their expenditures meet their income, and they carry economy to the very verge of meanness,—some of them fairly over the verge, I presume; and the result is cheap food, badly cooked,—because well-cooked food means high-priced help,—and cold rooms and dreariness and discomfort everywhere. Now what can be done about it? Then our house is only one of hundreds, and in many of these hundreds they employ more help and give less wages than we; in fact, I know that some of our clerks are looked upon with envy by a great many young men. We never have any trouble in supplying vacancies. People swarm around us, because we have the reputation of being liberal. We are not liberal, however; sometimes I am inclined to think we are hardly fair, yet there is nothing I can do. I am a junior partner, with a great deal of the responsibility, and a third of the voting power, and I can't get salaries raised. I've been working at that problem at intervals for a year, and have accomplished very little. Do you wonder that I keep my eyes as closely shut as I can?"
His wife's face wore a thoughtful, not to say perplexed look; she seemed to have no answer ready; and, after waiting a moment for it, Mr. Roberts bent himself again to the task of getting his business letters answered. Before he had written one more line, her face had cleared. She interrupted him:—
"Evan, when you talk about four hundred clerks, and multiply that by hundreds of houses and more hundreds of clerks, I cannot follow you at all. It is not that I am not impressed with the number,—I am,—it appalls me; but I don't want to be appalled; I want to be helpful. Perhaps just now there is nothing that I can do for the hundreds, so I want to narrow my thoughts down to what, possibly, I can do. What, for instance, can be done towards getting a good young man, like Alfred Ried, into a place that will be just a little bit like a home; that will give him a spot where he can study his Bible in comfort, and invite a friend with whom he wants to pray, or whom he wants to reach and help in any way? That isn't a huge problem. Can't it be solved?"
Her husband smiled.
"He is only one of thousands," he said.
"Yes, I know; but he is one of thousands. Since we cannot reach thousands, shall we fail to reach one? Evan, I am only one of thousands, but, but how would you argue about me?"
Mr. Roberts laughed again.
"You are one out of thousands and thousands!" he said, emphatically.
A line more, and he signed the firm name with an unusually fine flourish.
"There! I've accomplished one letter. What do you want to do, Flossy?"
"I want Mr. Ried to have a room where he can invite one of my boys occasionally, and make him comfortable, and do for him what we cannot with our rooms; do for him what only a young man can do for a young man. I don't clearly know what I want further than that, but I see that one thing as a stepping-stone. Remember, I want all your thousands to have just as pleasant rooms, and I would like to help to bring it about, but I don't just now see the way."
"Do you see the way to this?"
"No, but doesn't it seem as though we ought to be able to accomplish so much?"
"It does, certainly. What is your desire, Flossy? Do you want him to have a room in our house?"
She shook her head.
"No, that would not further my plan for those boys. I would like to have him here, and it would be a good thing for him,—at least I think it would; but I can see things which he could accomplish for these young men, set by himself, in a different part of the city. Besides, Evan, I have other plans for our rooms, entirely different ones, and some of them I am afraid you will think are very strange."
He answered the doubt with a smile that said he had no fears of her or her plans.
"What a little schemer it is!" he said, looking down on her with fond, proud eyes. "Who would have imagined that she could plot, and plot so mysteriously? I used to think she was a very open-hearted woman."
"WHAT WOULD YOU DO, DEAR?"
She joined in his laugh albeit, there was a tender look in her eyes. After a moment, she said, gently:—
"It is not scheming, Evan; I am only trying to set about the work for which I have been chosen. I'll tell you how it all came to me. I was reading—my morning reading, you know—after you had gone; taking little dips here and there in the fashion that you think is so unsystematic, and I came upon this verse: 'He is a chosen vessel unto me,' you know, about Paul? Well, it came to me with a sudden sense of awe and beauty, the being chosen of God to do a great work. I stopped reading to think it out; what a grand moment it must have been to Paul when he realized it. And I began to feel almost sorry that we lived in such different times, with no such opportunities! I stopped right in the midst of my folly to remember that I was as certainly chosen of God as ever Paul was; for assuredly I did not come to him of myself, nor begin to love him of myself, and therefore he must indeed have chosen me; and I wondered whether probably each Christian had not a work to do as definite as Paul's—a work that would be given to no other, unless indeed the chosen one failed. I did not want to fail, and I asked God not to let me. Then, of course, I set to wondering what my work, or my part of some other person's work, could be. It was the morning after you had told me that about Ester Ried. You cannot think how that impressed me. I could not get away from the wonderment as to how her work was prospering, and whether there were chosen ones enough, or if there might possibly be a little place for me. I couldn't settle anything, and finally I decided to look at Paul's work a little while. Of course, it was not reasonable to suppose that the duties of the great apostle had anything in common with my bits of effort; still, I said, the directions given him may help me a little. And Evan, what do you think was the first thing I found? Why, this: 'The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldst know his will.' Surely, so far, the things for which both he and I were chosen were parallel. I looked further: 'And see that Just One.' That was the very next. Was not I, too, chosen for that? 'Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty.' I said over the beautiful promise to assure myself that it was true, and went on: 'And shouldst hear the voice of his mouth.' Was it not strange, Evan? Certainly I shall hear my King speak, often and often, when I get home. Only think of it; so far Paul was not ahead of me. I hurried to find another reference to Paul's work, and I found this; let me read it to you." Her bit of dainty sewing was suddenly pushed one side, and up from the depths of the rose-lined work-basket came a small, plainly-bound Bible, much marked; a rapid turning of the leaves, and the eager disciple read: "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." Now, Evan, you know the veriest child can be a witness if he knows anything about the facts; and I do certainly know some wonderful things about Jesus to which I could witness; and besides, isn't it reasonable to suppose that he will appear to me every day with things for me to witness to? And then I read this; Paul sent to the Gentiles, you know, but for what: 'To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified, by faith that is in me.' Evan, was there ever a more wonderful work to do in the world than that? And yet I cannot tell you how it made me feel to discover, or at least to realize, that a great deal of it was my work! Of course, I naturally began to ask myself, what Gentile was there for me to reach? Whose eyes must I try to open? Do you know, that very afternoon I met Mr. Ried, and heard of those boys? They interested me from the first, and what he told me about his sister increased the interest. Then when I saw them!—Evan, if ever boys were in the power of Satan they are; and to think that they may have an inheritance among them which are sanctified! This morning when I saw where some some of them lived, and imagined how they lived, I fell stunned for a moment. It seemed to me impossible. What means could possibly be found of sufficient power to fit them for such an inheritance? And then directly came the closing words of the commission: 'Through faith that is in me.' Evan, God will save them; and I think he will let me help."
"Amen!" said Mr. Roberts, and his voice was husky. When his wife was in one of her exalted moods he always admired her with a sort of reverence. He had been for years an earnest worker. He carried business plans and business principles into the work; he studied cause and effect, and calculated and expected certain results to follow certain causes, like a mathematical problem; not that he by any means forgot the power of faith, or in any sense attempted to do his work alone. He was a Christian who spent much time on his knees; but little Flossy brought so much of the childlike, unquestioning spirit into her work, that sometimes he stood in awe, not knowing whether he could follow her. It was not so much a mathematical problem to be worked out, as it was the faith that can remove mountains.
"As a little child relies On a strength beyond his own: Knows he is neither strong nor wise, Fears to stir a step alone—"
Mr. Roberts often found himself quoting these lines when his wife gave him glimpses of her heart; and at such times he had no hesitancy in deciding that the steps she took were not alone, but the Lord was with her.
The postman's ring broke in on their quiet.
"I hope there are letters from home to-night," Mrs. Roberts said, "real long ones. It is a week since we have heard."
"And I ought to hope that they would require a first reading in private," her husband answered, as he seized his neglected pen. "It is the only way in which these business letters will get answered. I find the temptation to talk to you irresistible."
One letter! but that was of comfortable dimensions and weight.
"It is from Marion," Mrs. Roberts said, delight in her voice, after the first glance at the familiar writing. She was presently lost in its many pages, and the business of letter-writing went on uninterruptedly for some time.
Mrs. Marion Dennis had not forgotten her fondness for her pretty little Flossy: nor forgotten that,—softly-innocent little creature though she was, she possessed a wisdom far above those who are credited with having keen insight; even a wisdom so subtle, and withal so tender, that its source could only be Infinite Wisdom. So she, in company with many others, was learning to turn to the friend so much younger than herself, as one in whom she could safely confide.
"Dear little Flossy," so the letter ran, "I suppose, though you should live to be a white-haired old lady, sitting with placid face and fluted cap and spectacles, in your high-backed arm-chair, in the most treasured corner mayhap of some granddaughter's choicest room, I, writing to you, would still commence 'Dear little Flossy.' That I have to cover it from prying eyes by the dignified and respectable 'Mrs. Evan Roberts,' is almost a matter of amusement to me. I fancy I can see you making a journey through some of the Chautauqua avenues, picking your way daintily towards Palestine, bending lovingly over the small white stones that mark the village of Bethany,—a pink on your cheek, born, as I thought, of the excitement of being among those tiny photographs of the wonderful past, but born in part, I now believe, of the fact that Mr. Evan Roberts joined us in our walk. Oh, little mousie, how quiet you were!
"Well, many things have since transpired. We are old married women, you, and Ruth, and Eurie and I. I suppose the contrast in our lives,—the outward portion of them, I mean,—is still as strongly marked, perhaps more so, than it was when we were in Chautauqua together. We were girls then; we are matrons now, and with the taking on of that title, Ruth and I took special and great responsibilities. To-night it rains. Mr. Dennis has been called to the upper part of the city,—away out to Springdale, in fact,—to see a sick and dying man, and I am alone and almost lonely. If I could summon any one of the three to my aid and comfort I would. I am almost as lonely as I was on some of those evenings in the old boarding-house. Still there are differences; the smoky old stove is not; a summer warmth floats through the house, born of steam; no ill-smelling kerosene lamp offends your aesthetic friend to-night, but the softest of shaded drop-lights sheds a halo around me. Isn't that almost poetic? Moreover, oh blessed thought! I have no examination papers to prepare, no reports to make up; nothing to do but visit with you. Also, I will admit just to you, that this is another and most blessed difference between this and my lonely past. At almost any moment now I may hope for Dr. Dennis' ring, and when he comes all sense of loneliness will instantly depart. Ah! Flossy, dear Flossy, this is such a difference as even you cannot appreciate! You had your mother and father, and all your dear home friends, and I had no one; and besides,—here I hesitate, lest you may be too obtuse to understand the reasoning,—you have only added Mr. Roberts to your circle of treasures. He is grand and good, I know, and I like him without even a mental reservation; but, my dear, I have added Dr. Dennis! Can human language say more?
"Nonsense aside, sweet little woman, God has been very good to you and me. Yet, Flossy, do you remember how, during those last months in which we were together, I fell into the habit of telling you a great deal about the thorns, and admitted to you once that they pricked less when they had felt your smoothing touch? I want to tell you something. Our Gracie—I am so sorry for her, yet I don't know what to do. She is living a most unhappy life, and of course she shadows our lives also. I told you, dear, about Prof. Ellis. He is still trying to convince poor Gracie, that I, being her step-mother, must be her natural enemy; reminding her that before I came into the family her father was entirely willing to receive his calls, and allowed her to accept his attentions. Don't you see, it isn't strange at all that the poor little girl should believe him, and turn from me? She has many judicious helpers in her father's congregation. There are those who sigh over her almost in my hearing. 'Poor Gracie' they say, 'how changed she is! She used to be so bright and happy. There is something unnatural in these second-mother relations; all high-spirited children rebel.' Imagine such talk helping Gracie! Meantime, what do you suppose can be Prof. Ellis' motive? I cannot think that he cares for her; I almost do not believe that there is enough purity left in him even to admire a pure-hearted young girl; certainly not one with such high ideals and earnest ambitions as Gracie had. 'Why does she admire him?' I fancy I hear you asking. My dear, she doesn't; she thinks she does, and at seventeen such thoughts sometimes work irreparable mischief; but left alone, one of these days she would make the discovery that she was flattered by his attentions, because he is nearly fifteen years older than she, and is brilliant in conversation, and quoted as the finest musician in the city. I wish I knew more things about him; what I do know shows me plainly enough the sort of man he is; but with these guileless young things it seems as though one had to unmask wickedness very thoroughly before they will believe that it is anything but gossip or misrepresentation. He has gone away for a six weeks' vacation; I don't know where, nor does Dr. Dennis. Gracie knows, but does not enlighten me. Flossy, dear, could you give me a little wholesome advice, do you think? I wonder, sometimes, whether I was not too complacent over my proposed duties. Such schemed as I had! I was going to be the blessedest step-mother that girl ever had. That would not be saying much, possibly. Don't we all incline to think that the second mothers must be wrong, and the sons and daughters poor abused darlings? But I loved Gracie, you know, and she seemed to love me, and to be so happy over the thought of our near relationship. There is very little happiness from any such source during these days. Gracie has retired into dignity. She can be the most dignified young woman on occasion that I ever beheld. She is not rude to me, on the contrary she is ceremoniously polite; calls me Mrs. Dennis, and all that sort of thing, when necessity compels her to call me anything; but she speaks as little as possible; sits at table with us three times a day, when she cannot secure an excuse for absence that her father will accept; says 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir,' obediently to him, and 'No, ma'am, thank you,' to me, and that is the extent of our conversation. Generally her face is pale and her eyes red, and at the first possible moment she begs to be excused, and retires to the privacy of her own room and locks her door. Her father has stopped her music lessons; at least she preferred to have them stopped rather than take lessons of any other person, so she practices no more. She continues her German and French, and secures good reports from the professors, but there is an air of weariness and dreariness about everything she does that makes one alternate between a feeling of deep pity for her, and a desire to box her ears or shut her up in a corner until she can behave herself. As a rule, however, I am sorry for her. I was young once myself. I was undisciplined, I had no mother, and I had a thousand wild fancies, any one of which might have ruined me. What do you think you would do, dear, if Mr. Roberts had a daughter, and you were her mother? You are all in a flush, now, and have lain down this sheet and said aloud: 'What an idea! Marion does say the most absurd things!' Well, then, if you were Marion Dennis, and stood before God in the place of mother to Grace Dennis, what do you imagine you would do? I'll tell you my policy; I am uniformly cheerful in her presence—gay, if I can make gayety out of anything; not toward her father, you understand, because I can fancy that might irritate her. I really try to be gay toward Gracie herself; but can you imagine an attempt to be cheery with a tombstone? I study as much as I can, her tastes, in the ordering of dinner and desserts, and arrange the flowers that I know she likes best, and in short try to do all those little bits of nice things that I feel certain you would do in my place; and just here I may as well own that I learned these small prettinesses, studying you; never should have thought them out for myself. Flossy, Dr. Dennis is one of the most patient and long-suffering of men, but it is very hard for him to be patient with poor Gracie; harder than it is for me; first, because I know by personal experience just what a turbulent young creature a miss of seventeen or eighteen can be, and secondly, because it is upon me her displeasure falls most heavily, and that naturally he resents.
"Why am I writing all this to you? I don't, know, childie, really, save that I remember what a curious way you have of telling Jesus all about your friends and their trials, and I remember with great comfort that you are my friend. Don't imagine me as miserable; I can never be that so long as Christ is the present Helper that he is to me now; and you do not need to be told that I daily thank him for giving me my husband. But I think you will understand better than many would how earnestly I desire to fill the place of mother, to my bright young motherless Gracie, with her dangerous beauty and her dangerous talents and her capacity for being miserable. Oh, I want to do more than my duty; I want to love her with all my heart, and to have her love me. If it were not for that man, who always hated me, and who, I believe in my heart, has sought her out and is pressing his attentions upon her because he sees a possibility of stinging me through her, I might hope to fill the place in her heart that I thought I could."
The letter closed abruptly at this point, and was finished a few days afterwards in a different strain, giving plenty of home news, and being full of the brightness which always sparkled in Marion's letters; but it was the first two or three pages to which Mrs. Roberts turned back, and which she thoughtfully re-read. Then she interrupted the busy pen:—
"Evan, are not the business letters nearly done? I want to read this to you, and then I want to talk to you."
"Delightful prospects, both of them," he said with energy, as he added the last hurried line, signed and delivered to his wife to enclose in its envelope, then pushed aside writing materials and sat back to enjoy.
"It isn't all delightful," his wife said, shaking her head. "I did hope that poor Marion was going to have a few years of rest. Her life has been such a hard one."
"TREMENDOUS FACTS!" HE SAID.
It is well that Mrs. Marion Dennis felt entirely safe in her friend Flossy's hands, for her affairs were very thoroughly talked over that evening, and sundry conclusions arrived at.
One question Mrs. Roberts asked her husband, at the close of the conference, which apparently had nothing to do with Marion Dennis' affairs:—
"Evan, do you know Dr. Everett?"
"Everett? Let me think—yes, I know of him; a young physician, comparatively, who had not been here long, and has made his mark."
"In what direction?"
"Several, perhaps; but I have heard of him chiefly in the line of his profession. He was accidentally called to attend a young lady belonging to a very wealthy family out in Brookline. I say accidentally—that is a reverent way we have of speaking, you know; of course, I mean providentially. The nursery governess in the family was sick, and this Dr. Everett, who had fallen in with her somewhere, volunteered to cure her. He was calling on her one morning when the sick daughter, who, by the way, had been given up by her physician, was taken suddenly and alarmingly worse; in the emergency Dr. Everett was summoned, and while they waited for the regular physician he succeeded in doing such good service that he inspired the mother with confidence; she became anxious to put the case entirely into his hands, which was done, and the young lady recovered, and Dr. Everett's position, professionally, was assured. Isn't that an interesting little item for you? He is said to have marked success; and, of course, since the Brookline occurrence his practice is largely among the wealthy. How has your attention been called to him?"
"My protector this morning said he was a 'swell' doctor, who was attending that Calkins boy. I wondered if he did it because he loved Christ. He might be a helper. I want to call on that sick boy to-morrow if I can arrange it. I think I must take some one with me."
"You may take me with you," her husband said, emphatically.
However much trips through alleys with Nimble Dick might be conducive to that young man's moral development, Mr. Roberts felt that his wife had experimented sufficiently.
Thus it transpired that, dressed in the plainest, quietest garb which her wardrobe would furnish, Mrs. Roberts went to the alley the next morning accompanied by her husband.
In one sense it was a mistake that the first call in the alley should have been made on the Calkins family. It was calculated to give Mrs. Roberts mistaken ideas as to the manner in which poor people lived. A bare enough room, certainly, not even a bit of carpet laid before the bed, but it was a clean room. Floor and window and cupboard-door were as clean as water could make them; and the bed, while it looked hopelessly hard and dreadful to Mrs. Roberts, was really a pattern of neatness and purity to every dweller in that attic. There was a straw tick, covered with a dark calico spread, which did duty as a sheet, and the boy who lay on it was covered by a patched quilt that had been mended, and was clean. Wonderful things these to say of such a locality! Mr. Roberts suspected it, and Dr. Everett knew it. That gentleman was bending over his patient when the two guests arrived, and vouchsafed them not even a glance, while the dark-haired, dark-eyed, homely, decently-dressed girl gave Mrs. Roberts a seat on the one chair which the room contained, and set a stool for her husband that had been made of four old chair legs and a square board.
Sallie Calkins was somewhat flurried by this unexpected call. She had no idea who the people were, nor for what they had come. A vague fear that they might be in some way connected with her brother's "place" at the printing-office, which he was in such fear of losing that his night had been a restless one, made her hasten to say, in a tremulous voice:—
"The doctor thinks he will be well in a little while. It isn't a bad break, he says, and Mark wants to keep his place. He thinks, maybe, some of the alley boys would keep it for him, if you would be so kind."
She was evidently addressing Mr. Roberts, but she looked at Flossy. The fair, sweet face, that gave her such sympathetic glances, seemed the one to appeal to. Mr. Roberts, however, discerned that he was mistaken for the employer, and immediately dispelled the idea by asking where the boy worked, and how the accident had happened.
"It was the elevator, sir," she said, eagerly. "The chain broke, and it went down with a bang, and Mark was on it, and he rolled off somehow, he doesn't know how; and he has been that bad that he couldn't tell me if he had. He was kind of wild, sir, all night, and talking about his place."
"Was there no one but you to be with him during the night?" Mrs. Roberts asked. "Where is the mother?"
"We've got no mother, ma'am; there is only Mark and me—and father," she added, after a doubtful pause. "But father was not at home last night. Oh, I didn't need no one to take care of Mark. I wouldn't have left him."
"And he likes to have you take care of him, I am sure. What do you give him to eat? He will need nourishing food, I think; beef teas and broths, and nice little tempting dishes, made with milk, perhaps. Are you his cook, too? I wonder if you wouldn't like to have me show you how to make good things for him? I've learned how to make some nice dishes that sick people like."
Before the bewildered girl could answer, the doctor turned abruptly from his long examination of his patient, and gave the guests the first attention he had vouchsafed them. The truth was this man had had some unfortunate experiences with district visitors, and had perhaps an unreasonable prejudice against them as a class. "I can't help it, ma'am," he said to Mrs. Saunders, when she was taking him to task one day. "There are exceptions, of course, at least we will hope there are; but if you had seen some of my specimens, you would be the first to wish an infusion of common sense could be introduced among them. As a rule, they offer a tract where they should give a loaf of bread or a bowl of broth; and wedge their advice and reproofs in with every helpful movement. It is like so many doses of medicine to the patient; to be endured because he is at their mercy, and can't help himself. They mean well, the most of them; but the trouble is, we have a way of making district visitors out of people who have nothing to do, and who have never learned that 'all the nations of the earth were made of one blood.'"
Something in Mrs. Roberts' tones or words seemed to interest him, and he turned toward her.
"Does this alley belong to you?" he asked, abruptly, his mind still full of the district visitor.
She regarded him with a puzzled air for a moment, then answered naively:—
"I don't think it does; if it did I would have some things ever so different."
Dr. Everett laughed; and Mr. Roberts came forward and introduced himself.
"My wife has hardly answered you fully," he said. "I am under the impression that she desires to adopt a certain portion of this alley; at least I have heard of little else since last Sabbath afternoon. She is in search of some stray sheep who have been put under her care."
"Ah," the doctor said, turning quickly to her, "a Sabbath-school teacher? Is this young man one of your scholars?"
"No," she explained; "but she had heard of him while inquiring where one of her boys lived, and she had called to see if she could help in any way. Dirk Colson was the boy who, they told her, lived near this place."
The eyes of the trim sister brightened.
"He lives on the next square," she said. "Oh, ma'am, are you his teacher, and do you care for him? I'm so glad."
"He is a favorite of yours, is he?" the doctor asked, looking from one speaking face to another, and seeming immensely interested in the matter.
"No, indeed!" the girl said, quickly. "He's horrid! But I'm sorry for his sister; and she wants Dirk to get on, and he never does get on; but I thought maybe such a kind of a teacher could help him."
There was such intense and genuine admiration in the girl's voice for the vision of loveliness before her that Dr. Everett could not help smiling.
"It doesn't seem unlikely," said he, with significance; and added: "Who is this Dirk Colson, who seems to be an object of interest?"
"He is one of the worst boys in the alley, sir; sometimes I think he is the very worst, because he is cross as well as hateful; but Mark is always kind of sorry for him, and says he has such a bad father he can't help it. And Mart—that's his sister—she is a friend of mine, and she feels bad about Dirk, but she can't do nothing; he ain't a bit like Mark there."
The last words were spoken tenderly, and the sisterly eyes turned toward the boy on the bed, and obeying a sign from his eyes she went over to him. The doctor plied his questions:—
"Have you recently taken a class, madam? and is their general reputation as encouraging as this special scamp of whom we are hearing?"
His words almost jarred on Mrs. Roberts; she had already prayed enough for her boys to have a sort of tender feeling for them—a half desire to cover their faults from the gaze of the indifferent world. Did Dr. Everett represent the indifferent world, or did he love her Master? She wished she knew.
"There is nothing encouraging about them," she said, with grave earnestness, "save the facts that they are made in the image of God, and that he wants them to 'turn from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them which are sanctified.'"
A rare flash of intelligence and appreciation greeted her now from those fine eyes bent so scrutinizingly on her.
"Tremendous facts!" he said. "Glorious possibilities! 'Himself hath said it.' I claim kinship with you; I am an heir of the same inheritance."
He held a hand to each, and they were cordially grasped. Then Dr. Everett proceeded to business.
"There is enough to do," he said; "everything is lacking here; there is severe poverty, united to the most scrupulous tenderness and the most tender love on the part of this brother and sister. I stumbled on the case, and will do professionally all that is needed. And I have a friend who would undoubtedly come to the rescue, but she is crowded just now. I shall be rejoiced to report to her a helper. Do you know Joy Saunders? Well, I wish you did; she is one whom you could appreciate. She is young, though, and without a husband to guard her, and there are some places to which she cannot come."
"Has she learned that important fact?" asked Mr. Roberts, with a significant smile. Then some explanation seemed necessary. "This lady," he said, "tried the alley alone yesterday, and lost her way, and went lower down,—quite near to Burk Street, I imagine."
"And what happened?" The quick question and the doctor's tone suggested possibilities not pleasant.
"Oh, she met one of her new recruits,—as hard a boy, so one of the policemen on this beat tells me, as there is in the row,—and pressed him into service to escort her back to civilization; and strange to say, the fellow did it without placing any tricks."
The doctor turned on the small lady a curious glance.
"I think you may be able to do something, even for Dirk Colson," he said.
"Do you know him?"
He laughed over the eagerness of the question.
"Never heard of him before. I was only thinking of our friend's description of his awfulness. Ah, whom have we here?"
For the door had opened abruptly, and a pair of great blue eyes, set in a frame of tawny hair, all in a frizzle, had peered in on them. The vision was clothed in garments so torn the wonder was that they stayed on at all, and there was a general look of abject poverty about her to which Sallie Calkins, with all the bareness of her lot, was a stranger. She stood for just a moment, as if transfixed by astonishment at the unwonted sight in the room, then turned and sped away as swiftly and silently as she had come.
"That is Dirk's sister," Sallie Calkins said, coming forward, her homely face aglow with shame. "She isn't a bad girl, ma'am, she doesn't mean to be, but she has a dreadful time. Her mother is sickly, and has to go out washing, times when she isn't able to sit up; and there'll be days when she can't hold up her head; and the father is bad, ma'am, and drinks, and swears, and sells things for drink till there ain't nothing left to sell; and Mart hasn't anything to mend her clothes with, and she doesn't know how, anyway; and she hasn't even got a comb to comb her hair with, her father he took it to sell; and everything there is horrid, and Dirk, he's awful."
It was strange, she could not herself account for it; but with every added word of misery that set poor Dirk Colson lower and lower in the scale of humanity, there seemed to come into this woman's heart, and shine in her face, an assurance that he was to be a "chosen vessel unto God."
The doctor was watching her again, curious, apparently, to see how this pitiful appeal for forbearance in judging of poor Mart affected her, and something in his face made her say, speaking low, "an inheritance among them which are sanctified."
"Amen!" he said. And there came to Mrs. Roberts a feeling that this earnest prayer, for the second time repeated by two men who prayed, was a sort of seal from the Master.
She turned away from both gentlemen then; the tears were very near the surface. She must do something to tone down the beating of her heart. Sallie was at hand, and she went with her to another corner of the room, and a low-toned conversation was carried on, scraps of which floated back to the gentlemen in the form of "sheets," "grape jelly," "mutton broth," "a soft pillow," and the like.
"I feel my patient growing better," the doctor said, with satisfaction.
"Is there no father here?" Mr. Roberts asked.
The doctor shook his head, but answered:—
"There is the most pitiful apology for a father that I ever saw,—a mere wreck of a man! Spends his time in a sort of weak drinking, if I may coin a phrase to describe him; he actually uses no energy even in that business. Just staggers around and bemoans his lot; a most unfortunate man, in his own estimation, with whom the world, through no fault of his, has gone wrong. He is never downright intoxicated, and never free from the effects of liquor. He is much like a wilted leaf in the hands of this boy and girl. They could pitch him out of the window without much difficulty, and if the fall did not kill him he would shed tears and say it was a hard world. But now, what do we see, when the name of father is so dishonored,—made a wreck, as it were? Why, the order of nature is reversed, and these children take on the protective. They are father and mother, and he is the weak, sinning child. The way that that boy and girl have worked to keep their miserable father from starving or freezing is something to astonish the very angels. They shield him, too; nobody who wants to reach their hearts must blame him. They are a study!—as different from the other inhabitants of the alley as the sky is different from that mud-hole down there. It isn't a good simile, either. There is no religion in their efforts. They are the veriest heathen."
"How do you account for the development?"
The doctor shook his head:—
"I don't account for it; it is abnormal. There must have been a mother who left her impress. I can't learn anything about the mother—she died when the girl was an infant; but I would like to know her history. I venture to assert that she belonged to Christ, and that a gleam of the divine pity that she saw in him, and loved, left its impress on her children. That is somewhat mystical," he added, smiling. "I rarely talk in this way; it must have been your wife who set me off."
"But she is the most practical and energetic of beings!"
"Ay, so are the angels, I fancy; and make us think of heaven directly we hear the rustle of their wings. Has your wife been a Christian long?"
"Barely two years since she began to think of these things."
"I thought as much. She impresses me as one who is being led; who does not choose to go alone; has not learned how, indeed. A very few Christians never learn how, and with them the Lord does his special work. Well, sir; I must go. I'm glad to have met you, and glad to leave you here. Good morning!"
"AND SHE ALWAYS TRIED."
Other business was transacted that morning which brought results. A curious habit of Mrs. Roberts',—one which, perhaps, most strongly marked the difference between her ways of working and those of other people,—was that of appealing to the person at hand for information on any subject which chanced to be the one prominent in her mind at the time.
Where other and more systematic persons would have said, "He is not the one to ask about this matter! there is no reason for supposing that he has any knowledge in this direction!" Mrs. Roberts would say: "I cannot be sure that he may not be able to give just the information which I need. In any case, what harm will it do to try?" And she always tried.
It was on this principle that she arrested Dr. Everett's speedy departure with a question:—
"Dr. Everett, are you familiar with boarding-houses for young men?"
Something like a vision swept instantly before the doctor, in which he saw the long line of young men, and the long line of boarding-houses, in the world, and he laughed with eyes and lips, the question seemed so queerly put.
"With how many of them, madam?" There was amusement in his voice, but there was also curiosity,—he wanted to know what this original little lady was in search of.
"One would do, if it were of just the right stamp. I'll tell you what I want,—a nice, quiet, comfortable home sort of place, with a small room, capable of being warmed, a single bedstead, with a passably good bed, and a moderate rate of board. Are not those modest enough requirements?"
"Not at all! They are preposterous! A boarding-house to which one could conveniently apply the word 'home!' Fire in a young man's room! He is expected to enjoy freezing in a city; and if he come from the country, he should be grateful for the privilege! But the idea of calling for a good bed! That is the wildest suggestion of all! Has she ever boarded, Mr. Roberts?"
"Not at a boarding-house, at least," said that gentleman, enjoying the fun.
But Mrs. Roberts looked grave.
"Are you serious?" she asked, gently. "Is there no chance in this great city for a Christian young man to have the ordinary comforts of common life; just a little quiet room where he can pray, and where he can invite some tempted soul, and try to help him? Doesn't it seem all wrong?"
The laugh was gone from the doctor's face. There was a look of keen interest and genuine respect.
"How many young men are you thinking about? There are many Christians, I believe, among that class,—poor young men, away from home,—and I have reason to fear that their chances for comfortable retirement are very scarce. I have thought about the problem somewhat how to help them. In the concrete, I don't see the way. Of how many are you thinking?"
"I am willing to think about them all," Mrs. Roberts said,—and now it was her turn to laugh,—"but I am panning for just one. I cannot work in great ways, but I thought I might help one."
"Exactly! Mr. Roberts, if every Christian in our city would undertake to help one, the problem would be solved. Well, there is one boarding-house to which the word 'home' may properly be applied; and there is one small room on the third floor vacated yesterday. I wonder if the Master wants it for your young man? It seems to me if there is any one thing more than another that we need in that house just now it is a Christian young man. Of what type is your friend? Will he help or hinder a gay young scamp much sought after by Satan?"
"He will try hard to help," said both Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. And before they parted the doctor had taken Mr. Ried's address, and promised to call on him and negotiate the matter.
"That plan will work in two ways," said Mrs. Roberts, gleefully. "Mr. Ried will be in the same home with, and somewhat under the influence of that grand doctor. Isn't it splendid that we asked just him?"
And her husband smilingly assented, and added that he should not have thought of such a thing as asking him.
On her way down town, Mrs. Roberts had dropped a letter in the mail, which also brought results. It read thus:—
"DEAR MARION,—I have time for but a line, for I want to catch the morning mail. I have such a nice plan. Suppose you let your Gracie come and stay with me for a few weeks. You know she always liked me a little, and Evan and I think we can make it pleasant for her. I will try to get her so much interested in seven boys whom I know that she will forget all about Professor Ellis. Mr. Barnwell a confidential clerk in the store (old and gray-headed), will go to-morrow to transact some business with papa. Evan will give him a letter of introduction to Dr. Dennis. He expects to return on Saturday, and if you will trust Gracie to us, and she is willing to come, she might travel in Mr. Barnwell's care, and we would meet her at the depot. Dear Marion, we should like it ever so much: and I have prayed about it all the morning, and cannot help thinking that Jesus likes it too."
Thus it came to pass that when Mrs. Roberts took her seat on the next Sabbath afternoon before her seven boys at the South End Mission, a vision of loveliness, such as the mission had not often seen, came in with her, and looked with wide-open eyes on all the new and strange sights and sounds about her. A very pretty creature was Gracie Dennis. Her eyes had lost none of their brightness, although they had shed some tears during her recent experiences. They were fairly sparkling to-day, for the great city into which she had come for the first time was like fairyland to her; albeit, she had passed through scenes that afternoon which bore no resemblance to her idea of fairyland. What the boys thought of her could only be determined from their stares. Let us hope that her presence had nothing to do with their conduct, for never, in all the annals of the South End Mission, had seven boys comported themselves as did those before whom Mrs. Roberts sat that winter afternoon.
Nimble Dick, as if to be revenged for his unintentional courtesy of the Monday before, placed his ill-kept feet on the seat in front of him, in alarming proximity to Mrs. Roberts' shoulders, and chewed his tobacco, and defiled the floor with its juice, and talked aloud, and was in every sense disgusting. Neither was Dirk Colson one whit behind him. The spirit of entertainment was upon him. He mimicked Mr. Durant's somewhat hoarse tones, exaggerating the imitation, of course, until it was ludicrous. He imitated the somewhat shrill tenor, and the nasal tones of Deacon Carter, who was doing good work with a class of meek-looking women. He even imitated Mrs. Roberts' soft, low voice, as she essayed to interest them in Moses and some of the wonders which he performed.
Vain hope! Struggle as she might to be intensely dramatic in her narrative, she did not for a moment gain the ascendency.
"Moses?" interrupted Nimble Dick in the very midst of one of her most earnest sentences. "Let's see! that was the old fellow who swallowed the serpents, wasn't it? I should have thought he would have been used up."
"You don't know nothin'," interrupted Stephen Crowley, with a nudge at Dirk that the latter pretended tipped him entirely off the seat, and left him a limp heap at Mrs. Robert' feet.
"He don't know nothin'!" repeated Stephen, addressing Mrs. Roberts in a confidential tone. "'T was the serpents swallowed Moses, wasn't it? Question is, How did he get around again?"
"Quit that!" came at this point from Dirk Colson, in his fiercest tone. "Look here, you Bill Snyder, if you try pinching on me again I'll pitch you over the head of old Durant in less than a second!"
What was the poor, pale little woman to do? With one boy crawling about the floor and two others in a hand-to-hand fight, with the rest in a giggle, of what use to try to talk to them about Moses? You should have seen Gracie Dennis eyes by that time! Horror and disgust were about equally expressed, and rising above them both, a look of actual fear. Mr. Durant came over to attempt a rescue, his face distressed beyond measure.
"Mrs. Roberts, this is too much. I am sure that patience has ceased to be a virtue. They have never gone so far before. I suspected mischief to-day. I have heard from several of them during the week, and never anything but evil. I am prepared for it; there is a full police force on guard in the next room; what I propose is to have every one of these fellows taken to the lock-up. It will be a lesson that they richly deserve, and may do them good."
Whispering was not one of Mr. Durant's strong points. He meant to convey secret intelligence of carefully-laid plans to Mrs. Roberts alone. In reality not a boy in the class but heard every word. They were startled into silence. "A full police force!" They were not fonder of the lock-up than are most boys who deserve that punishment. They were skilful in escaping the hands of policemen. They had not believed that the South End Mission would resort to any such means. They recognized in the Mission an attempt to do them good; and, without any effort at reasoning it out, they had by tacit consent decided that policemen and lock-ups and Christian effort did not match. They had chuckled much over the stationing of "little Duffer" at the door on guard. Any two of the strong young fellows were a match for him, and in the event of a riot, which they would like no better fun than to help get up, how many choice spirits all about the room would join them if given the word, and in the delightful confusion which would result how easy to escape from sight and hearing while Policeman Duffer was summoning aid! They had felt comparatively safe. But "a full police force" detailed for duty was quite another thing. They felt caught in a trap. Nimble Dick got up in haste from the floor and took his seat, and the boys looked from one to another with ominous frowns. There were reasons why none of them cared to come before the police court just now. What was to be done?
While they waited and considered, Mrs. Roberts did it. Her hand was on Mr. Durant's arm, and directly the loud whispering ceased, she spoke in low, but distinctly emphatic tones:—
"I beg of you, Mr. Durant, do no such thing. I would dismiss every policeman at once, with thanks, if I were you. We shall not need their help. I give you my word of honor that the boys will be quiet during the rest of the session, not because they are afraid of policemen, but because they respect me, and do not want to see me frightened or annoyed. Please don't let a policeman come near us."
I am not sure which was the more astonished, the superintendent or the boys. He returned to his desk with the bewildered air of one whose deep-laid schemes had come to naught in an unexpected manner without giving him time to rally; and the boys looked at one another in perplexity, and were silent.
Mrs. Roberts turned to them with quiet voice:—
"Boys," she said, "you have spoiled the story that I was going to tell you. I have lost my place, and there isn't time to go back and find it. I am sorry, for I think you would have liked the story. I spent a good deal of time this week trying to make it interesting. But never mind now, there is something else I want to say. Will you spend the hours from eight to ten with me to-morrow evening at my house? I brought cards with me for each of you, containing my address, that you might have no trouble in finding the place."
Whereupon she produced the delicate bits of pasteboard, with her name and address handsomely engraved thereon.
Nimble Dick took his between his soiled thumb and finger, turned it over in a pretence of great interest, and finally endeavored to "sight" it with his eye, as a workman does his board.
"What'll you do with us if we come?" Stephen Crowley asked, fixing what was intended as a wise look upon her, the leer in his eye hinting that he was smart enough to see another trap, and meant not to fall into it.
Mrs. Roberts laughed pleasantly.
"It is an unusual question, when one invites company," she said; "but I don't mind answering it. For one thing I thought we would have an oyster stew and some good coffee together. Then, if any of you like music, I have a friend with me who is a good singer; and I have a few pictures I should like you to see, if you cared to; and—I don't know whether you are fond of flowers, but some of you may have a mother, or sister at home who is, and the greenhouse is all aglow just now. Oh, how can I tell what I should do to entertain guests? Just what seemed to me to be pleasant at the time. That is the way I generally do. May I expect you?"
The boys stared. This was a new departure, indeed! How much of it did she mean? What was she trying to do? Was it a trap? Still she had rescued them from the police force, and they had not expected that, for every boy of them knew that he had treated her shamefully. Timothy Haskell was generally the quietest one of the group, and perhaps the most straightforward. He went directly to the point of the question that he saw in the eyes of the others.
"What do you do it for?"
"Yes, that's the talk," said Nimble Dick. "What do you want of us?"
"Why, I want you to spend the evening with me. Didn't I tell you? If you really mean to be friends with me of course I must invite you to my home. What could I want except to have a nice time? I'm trying to make you like me. Of course I want you to like me. How can we have pleasant times together unless you do?"
"I HAVE BUT TO TRY AGAIN"
"Pleasant times like we've been having to-day?" said Nimble Dick, with a wicked leer.
If he meant to disconcert her, he missed his point.
"No!" she said, promptly, "we haven't had a bit nice times to-day, and as for liking you, I haven't done so to-day at all. If I had the least idea that you meant often to treat me as you have this afternoon I should know it was of no use. But I cannot think that you will continue to treat a lady in such a manner, particularly when I am really trying to make a pleasant time for you. There is no object, you see, in spoiling it."
This plain bit of truth, for the time being so commended itself to the judgment of the boys that they regarded the speaker gravely, without attempting a reply. She was not moralizing; at least it was unlike any moralizing that they had ever heard. It seemed to be simply a bit of practical common sense. Not a boy would have owned it, but each felt, just at that moment, a faint hope that she would not decide it was of no use, and give them up. Straightforward Tim Haskell had one more question to ask:—
"Why didn't you let them bring in their police and settle us?"
Their teacher hesitated just a moment. Would the "whole truth" do to speak in this case? Could she hope to make them understand that she saw in it a step lower down, and that thus degraded before her eyes, she feared her possible hold on them would be gone forever? No; it wouldn't do! A little, a very little piece of the truth was all that she could treat them to. A faint sparkle in her bright eyes, which every one of them saw, and she said:—
"I was afraid you might not be excused in time to keep your engagement with me to-morrow evening."
They all laughed, not boisterously, actually an appreciative laugh. They were bright; there is hardly a street boy living by his wits who isn't. They recognized the humor hidden in the answer, and enjoyed it.
Then the superintendent's bell rang. That bell always did seem to have an evil influence on those boys. Indeed, Mrs. Roberts was known to remark, a few Sundays afterwards, that if there were no opening and closing exercises in the Sabbath-school, her work would be easier; that street boys did not seem to have one element of devotion in them, and needed to be kept at high pressure, in order to be able to control themselves.
The thought is worthy of study, perhaps. It is just possible that our opening and closing exercises are too long drawn out even for those who are not street boys.
Be that as it may, the little spell which Mrs. Roberts had been able for a few minutes to weave around her boys on this particular Sabbath, was broken by the sound of the bell. The boys returned to their memories of insult, as they regarded the police force. They muttered sullenly among themselves about "traps" and "sells," and "guessed they wouldn't get caught here again;" and Mrs. Roberts, seeming not to hear, heard with a heavy heart.
How angry they looked! Even Nimble Dick's usually merry face was clouded over. What a curious thing it was that even they had their ideas of propriety, and felt themselves insulted! Was it an instinct, she wondered—a reminder that there was in them material for manhood?
Would they ever, any of them, be men—Christian gentlemen? It seemed almost too great a stretch for even her imagination. As she moved in her seat her delicately-embroidered, perfumed handkerchief fell to the floor. Mrs. Roberts was used to young men—mere boys, even—whose instinctive movement would be to instantly restore it to her. Not a boy before her thought of such a thing. She had not expected it, of course. Yet she wondered if the instinct were not dormant, needing but the suggestion. It was a queer little notion, worthy of Flossy Shipley herself, who, from being continually busy about little things, had come to the conclusion that nothing anywhere was little; that the so-called trifles, which make up many lives, had much to do with the happiness of other lives. Was it worth her while to try to teach these street Arabs to pick up fallen handkerchiefs? She differed from many Christian workers, in that, in her simplicity, she really thought it was.
There was a lull just at that moment. A hymn had been announced, but the organist's note-book had been mislaid, and was being sought after. It could disturb no one if Mrs. Roberts tried her little experiment. She looked longingly at Dirk Colson, but his brows were black and his eyes fierce; this was no time to reach him. Nimble Dick looked much more approachable. She determined to venture him:—
"Mr. Bolton," spoken in her sweetest voice, "I have dropped my handkerchief."
"Anybody with half an eye could see that, mum; and a mighty dirty spot you picked out for such a nice little rag to lie in."
This was her only response. Then the discomfited experimenter told herself that she was a blunderer. How could the poor fellow be expected to know what she meant? Why had she not asked the service from him? She would try again.
Would he be kind enough to pick it up for her? It was long afterwards before Mrs. Roberts could think of his answer without a sinking heart. Fixing bold, saucy eyes on her, he spoke in deliberate tones, loud enough to be heard half-way across the room:—
"Why, pick it up yourself, mum! It is as near to you as it is to me, and you don't look weakly."
She picked it up, her poor cheeks burning, but she did not forget it.
Various after-school conferences told their different stories.
"Well!" Mr. Durant said, stopping in the act of mopping his hot forehead to shake hands with her, "Mrs. Roberts, I honor your courage. Those boys were simply fearful to-day; I really feared some outbreak that would be hard to quell. I'm afraid we shall have to give them up. Yes, I know how you feel: but you haven't been here to see what we have borne from them. All sorts of teachers have been tried. We have given them the best material we had, both men and women, and every one has failed. Then you actually want to try it for another Sabbath! Well, I'm glad of it. Oh, I don't want to give them up; it makes my heart ache to think of it; but if we can't keep them in sufficient order to get any benefit, nor find a teacher who is willing to hold on to them, what else is there for us to do? But that last complaint I needn't make so long as you 'hold on,' need I?" This last with a genial smile. "Well, God bless you; I couldn't begin to tell you how much I hope you will succeed."
But his face said: "However, I know you won't."
He turned from her and said as much to young Ried:—
"She is in earnest, Ried, and she has resources; but she won't catch them, simply because they don't mean to be caught; they come here to make trouble and for nothing else. Just look at the way they have performed to-day—worse than ever, and they never had a better teacher. I've watched her, and I believe she knows how. I'll tell you what it is, Ried, we must hold on to her, and when she gives up those boys we must secure her for that class of girls down by the door. I really think we have a prize."
Now, if he had but known it, Mrs. Evan Roberts meant to teach no other class at the South End Mission save those boys.
"Flossy Shipley!" This was Gracie Dennis' exclamation; when she was very much excited, she went back to the old name. "What are you trying to do with those horrid boys? and how can you endure their impudence? I never saw anything like their actions in my life, and I thought I had seen bad boys. You look completely worn out, and no wonder. I shouldn't think Mr. Roberts would let you do this. What good can you do such creatures, Flossy?"
"My dear Gracie, don't you think that Jesus Christ died to save them?"
"Well!" said Gracie, hesitatingly. It was a favorite phrase with her, as it is with many people when they don't know what to say next.
"And don't you think he wants them saved? And will he not be pleased with even my little bits of efforts if he knows that my sincere desire is to save these souls for his glory?"
"But what I mean is, what good can you do them so long as they act as they do now? They didn't listen to a word you said, so as to get any good out of it."
"I don't know that, dear, nor do you. Don't you think the Holy Spirit sometimes presses words on people that they do not seem to be heeding? In any event, that is a part with which I have nothing to do. I tried; and if I failed utterly I have but to try again. It isn't as though there were some good teacher ready to take them. Nobody will make a second effort. Now there is one thing I can certainly do. I can keep on making efforts; who knows but some of them may bear fruit? By the way, Gracie, I want ever so much of your help."
"Mine?"' said Gracie, with wide-open eyes. "I don't know how to help people; I'm not good." And her face darkened in a frown,—some unpleasant memories that went far toward proving the truth of that statement coming to mind just then. After a moment she spoke in a somewhat more gentle tone: "Don't count on me, Flossy, for help about those boys. They frighten me; I never saw such fellows. I couldn't help wondering what—papa would have said to them."
Between the "wondering" and the noun there had been an observable pause. Mrs. Roberts suspected that the thought in Gracie's mind was rather what Mrs. Dennis, who was supposed to have much knowledge of boys, would have thought of them. But since her arrival Gracie had studiously avoided any reference to her stepmother, and Mrs. Roberts had humored her folly.
"Never mind, you can help them; and when you begin to realize that, you will forget your fears."
"Do you expect to see one of the creatures to-morrow evening? What in the world would you do with them if they did come?"
"I'm not sure that I expect them. I only hope for them. As to what to do with them, I trust to you to help answer that question. I want to give them an idea of what a nice time is."
"I cannot help," said Gracie again, but she was interested, and referred again and again to the subject, cross-questioning Mrs. Roberts as to her plans and hopes, until that lady gave a satisfied smile to the thought that her seven boys had begun their work.
The first part of this conversation was held while they waited in one of the class-rooms for Mr. Ried to give in his report before joining them. The waiting suggested to Gracie another question.
"Who is this Mr. Ried, who seems to have us in charge?"
"He is one of the clerks from the store, which accounts, in part, for his attendance on us. But I am interested in him for other reasons. He had a wonderful sister; that is, she was a wonderful Christian; she died when quite young, but one might be ready to go to heaven early if one had accomplished as much as she did. By one of those strange arrangements, which I should think would go far toward making observing people believe in a special Providence, her life, or I might almost say her death, was the means of changing the current of my husband's life. He says he was a gay young fellow; a member of the church, but giving just as little attention to religion as many do whom you and I know. An accident to one of his family held him for several weeks in the town where this Ester Ried lived; and her physician, with whom he became acquainted, introduced him to her. It seems she was very much interested in young men, in their Christian development. He went to see her several times; and, to use his own expression, she first made him realize that there was such a thing as zeal, and then she set it on fire. What she had begun in life she finished in her death. Evan attended her funeral services, and the walls were hung with Bible texts of her selection. The most wonderful texts! All about Christian work, and about being in earnest, because the time was short. Evan says he began to understand, then, that the service of Christ was first, best, and always.
"Wasn't it a singular Providence that led him under the influence of that young girl during the closing weeks of her life? Only think, he has been doing her work ever since,—doing it, possibly, in ways that she could not compass. That is one reason why I am so much interested in those boys. It seems to me as though they were her boys. Did I tell you that her heart went out especially after the neglected? I learned about the boys through Mr. Ried. He was but a child when his sister died, and yet she succeeded in so enthusing him with her ideas that he is all the time trying to carry out her plans. She had some wonderful ones. This idea of inviting the boys, socially, I had from her. Do you see how plainly she is working yet, though she has been in heaven so long?"
"Do you think," asked Gracie Dennis, a timid, gentle sound to her voice, "that all Christians ought to put religion 'first, best, and always,' as your husband said? I fancied that some were set apart to do a special work."
"We are all set apart, dear, don't you think? Given to Him to use as He will. The trouble is that so many of us take back the gifts, and use our time and our tongues as though they were our own."
"Our tongues!" repeated Gracie, amazement in her voice.
"Why, yes; didn't you give Him your tongue when you gave Him yourself? And yet you are fortunate if you have not dishonored Him with it many a time."
Said Gracie, "What a queer way you have of putting things."
Then came Alfred Ried in haste, and apologizing for the long delay. Gracie Dennis, watched him curiously; listened critically to his words. Was it to be supposed that this young man put religion "first, best, and always"; and considered his tongue as given to the Lord? Alfred bore the scrutiny well. He took very little notice of Miss Gracie, being entirely absorbed with another matter. He had settled opinions about Mrs. Roberts now, from which he would not be likely to waver. He had seen much of her during the week, and he knew she had not been idle. She had given him much valuable information concerning the boys in whom he had been interested all winter; and whom she had known for a week. Also he was aware that Sally and Mark Calkins had seen much of her, to their great benefit. She had made him her messenger on one occasion, and he had seen Sally Calkins take from the basket the clean, sweet-smelling sheets that were to freshen her brother's bed, and bestow on them rapturous kisses, while she murmured, "I'd walk on my knees in broad daylight through the gutter to serve her,—that I would."
"Sheets aren't much, I suppose," moralized the young man, as he walked thoughtfully homeward. "People with much less money than she has must have furnished them. It is thinking about things that makes the difference between her and others."
But he had not quite found the secret. The main difference between her and many other people lay in the fact that she set steadily about doing the things she thought of that would be nice to do.
On the whole, young Ried was fully prepared to sympathize with Mr. Durant's opinion, that the South End Mission had secured a prize. Not that he was very hopeful over those boys. He felt that their conduct, under the circumstances, showed a depth of depravity which was beyond the reach of Mission schools; but it was a comfort to think that good things were arranged for them if they had but chosen to receive. He began at once to talk about them.
"Mrs. Roberts, they are worse than I had supposed. I am afraid that your patience is exhausted."
Her answer was peculiar.
"Mr. Ried, I want you to spend to-morrow evening with me. I have invited my boys, and I depend on you and Gracie here to help entertain them."
"Are you equal to such formidable work as that?" asked Gracie, with a mischievous smile.
He did not respond to the smile; he was looking at Mrs. Roberts, studying her face as one bewildered with the rapidity of her moves.
"I want to be," he said, with feeling; "I want to know how to work, and I'm learning. Mrs. Roberts, I moved to my new boarding-house last evening, and my room is a perfect little gem. There is an illuminated text in it, and all around it is twined an ivy, growing,—don't you think! Hidden, you know, behind the frame in a bottle; and the text is one of my sister's treasures. Isn't that a singular coincidence?"
"It is very nice," said Mrs. Roberts, with satisfied eyes. She still made much use of that little word.
"And, Mrs. Roberts, I asked one of your boys to come in this evening and see my room."
"I WANT THEM TO GET USED TO PARLORS."
"Those two people can think and talk of nothing but those dreadful boys," said Gracie to herself, half annoyed and wholly interested. She found herself that very evening turning over the music, with the wonderment in her mind as to what she could sing that they would be likely to care for, provided one of them appeared, which thing she did not expect.
But I have not told you of all the discussions had that day. The boys went their various ways, their minds also busy with the events of the afternoon. Dirk Colson and Stephen Crowley went off together; not that they were special friends, but their homes lay near together. For the distance of half a block they walked in silence; then Stephen Crowley spoke his mind:—
"Nimble Dick wasn't near as smart to-day as he thinks he was, accordin' to my way of thinkin'."
"He was meaner than dirt!" burst forth Dirk, fiercely. "To go back on her like that, after she had saved us from a row with the police, ain't what I believe in. Why couldn't he have picked up the rag, seeing she wanted him to? That's what I say. I'd a done it myself if she had give me the chance."
"That there Dick Bolton can be too mean for anything when he sets out," said Stephen, with a grave air of superiority. "I don't go in for anything of that kind myself. We wasn't none of us much to boast of; but Dick, he went too fur. I say, Dirk, what do you s'pose all that yarn means about to-morrow night? And what be we goin' to do about it? Dick, he said it was all a game to get hold of us somehow, and he wasn't goin' to have nothin' to do with it."
Had Stephen Crowley desired exceedingly to secure Dirk's vote in favor to the proposed entertainment he could not, at that moment, have chosen a better way. Dirk tossed his thick mat of black hair in a defiant fashion and answered:—
"He needn't have a thing to do with it, so far as I care. I don't know who'll miss him; but if he thinks he's got all the fellows under his thumb, and they're goin' to do as he says, I'll show him a thing or two. I'm a goin' to-morrow night. I don't care what it is, nor what it is for. She was nice and friendly to us to-day, and I'm willin' to trust her to-morrow. I shall go up there and see what she does want. It can't kill a fellow to do that much."
"Then I'm a goin', too," declared Stephen, with decision. "Dick, he thinks there won't none of us go if he don't; and I'd just like to show him that he must get up early in the mornin' if he wants to keep track of us."
If Dirk Colson needed anything to strengthen his resolution, there was material in that last sentence which supplied it. He had long chafed under the control of Dick Bolton; here was a chance to assert superiority. He even, just at that moment, conceived the brilliant idea of supplanting Dick—running an opposition party, as it were.
What if he should get every fellow in the class to promise to go, and Dick, the acknowledged leader, should find himself left out alone in the cold. The thought actually made his grim face break into a smile. Thus it came to pass that the most efficient worker for the success of the Monday evening entertainment, so far at least as securing the presence of the guests, was Dirk Colson.
In Mr. Roberts' mansion preparations for receiving and entertaining the hoped-for guests went briskly forward. Preparations which astonished the young guest already arrived.
"Are you really going to let them come in here?" she asked, as she followed Mrs. Roberts through the elegant parlors, and watched her putting delicate touches here and there.
"Certainly; why not? Don't you open your parlors when you receive your friends?"
"I don't think we have such peculiar friends on our list," Gracie said, with a little laugh; and then, "Flossy, they will spoil your furniture."
"If one evening in the Master's service will spoil anything it surely ought to be spoiled," Mrs. Roberts answered, serenely.
"But, Flossy,"—with a touch of impatience in her voice,—"what is the use? Wouldn't the dining-room answer every purpose; be to them the most elegant room they ever beheld, and be less likely to suffer from their contact?"
The busy little mistress of all the beauty around her turned to her guest with a peculiar smile on her face, half mischievous and wholly sweet, as she said:—
"I want them to get used to parlors, my dear; they may have much to do with them, as well as with dining-rooms."
"They are more likely to have to do with penitentiaries and prisons," Gracie said; but she abandoned discussion, and gave herself to the pleasure of arranging lonely flowers in their lovely vases.
There was a divided house as to the probability of the guests appearing,—Mr. Roberts inclining to the belief that some of them would come, while Gracie was entirely skeptical. Mrs. Roberts kept her own counsel, neither expressing wish nor fear, but steadily pushing her preparations.
As a matter of fact, the entire seven appeared together, promptly, as the clock struck eight.
At the last moment Dick Bolton, the usual leader, finding himself in a minority of one, not to be outwitted, protested that he had not the least notion of staying away; of course he was going, and good-naturedly joined the group.
I wonder if you have the least conception of how those boys looked? The ideas of some people cannot get below nicely-patched clothes, carefully brushed boots, clean collars, and neatly arranged hair.
Clean collars! Not a boy of them owned a collar. No thought of brushing their worn-out, unmended boots ever entered their minds. Their clothes were much patched, but in many places needed it still.
Stephen Crowley had made a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to put his mass of hair in order. Most of the others had not thought even of that. Why should they? Poor Dirk, you will remember, if he had thought of it, had no comb with which to experiment. It is doubtful if many of the others were any better off in this respect.
Imagine the seven standing, a confused, grinning, heap, in the centre of Mrs. Roberts' large and brilliantly-lighted hall!
She came forward to welcome them, shaking hands, though they made no attempt to offer a hand in greeting. She had to grasp after each. She essayed to introduce Gracie; not one of them attempted a bow.
"Come this way," Mrs. Roberts said, "and take seats." Then she led the way into the long, bright, elegantly-furnished, flower-decked room.
They followed her in a row. Midway in the room they made a halt. They caught a view of themselves—full length at that—revealed by the great mirrors. They had never seen themselves set in contrast before. They could not sit in a row, for the easy chairs and sofas, though plentiful, had the air of having been just vacated by people who had left them carelessly just where they had chanced to sit.
It required diplomacy to seat those boys. When at last Stephen Crowley dropped into one of the great pillowy chairs, he instantly sprang up again, and looked at it doubtfully.
Was the thing a trap? How far down would it sink with him? This was too much for Nimble Dick, even under the present overpowering circumstances—he laughed. His hostess blessed him for that laugh. The horrible stiffness was somewhat broken, and all were seated.
Just at that moment came Alfred Ried, hurriedly, like one who had intended promptness and missed it.
"All here ahead of me!" he exclaimed, "Mrs. Roberts, I beg your pardon. At the last moment I went in search of Dr. Everett; there was serious illness in a house next door, and I happened to know just where he was."
During this address he was shaking hands with his hostess, his manner easy and graceful, as one used to it all. Then he crossed the room, that wonderful room, treading down those flowers on the carpet as though he had no fears of breaking their stems.