Also everybody, apparently, felt an equally strong desire to write his name on the marvellous little creature, and each in turn sat down before it and moved his awkward hands with nearly equal slowness over the keys, picking out the magic letters.
It was this episode that made the workers during their next conference branch out in new lines.
"We need something," said Dr. Everett, walking up and down the floor in puzzled thought, "we need something that shall be a genuine common interest, of which we are all, or all but one, equally ignorant—something that we can take hold of with zest, on as low a platform as the most ignorant of those seen. I was convinced of that when I saw the abandon with which we all went into the type-writer business, with a naturalness and equality that, in the matter of reading and writing, it is impossible for us to feel. If the machine were complicated, so that it would take us each three months or so to master it, that would do. What can we take up that will place us on a level?"
"WE HAVE BEGUN BACKWARDS."
"Well," said Mr. Ried, "we should want to have one of our number not 'on a level.' How would it do to appoint you, sir, to give us a few lectures in Hygiene? Popular lectures about air and exercise and ventilation and bathing, and all sorts of every-day topics, about which people are ignorant."
"That's a capital idea, Ried. Those fellows could certainly be benefited by a little attention to such questions; and I'm sure the rest of us would like to hear of the principles which govern these important laws. Such lectures put into popular form are decidedly interesting, I think. Let us vote for them." This was Mr. Roberts' hearty seconding.
But the doctor laughed.
"There is a ludicrous side to it which you do not see," he said. "Imagine me holding forth on the importance of ventilation, for instance, to a poor follow who comes from a region where father and mother, and a horde of children of both sexes and all ages, crowd together in one room, and that a cellar, where the sun never penetrates and the air that crawls in through the one small window is reeking with even more impurities than can be found inside. Or talking about bathing, to the poor wretches who have no clothing to change, and barely water enough, by carrying it long distances, to satisfy their most pressing needs! Still, Ried, I'm not quarrelling with your idea. There is a sensible side to it; there are things that I could tell even those boys which might interest them, and would certainly be to their advantage to know. The subject is one which can be popularized to suit even such an audience. I'll try for it occasionally if it shall seem best: but it doesn't meet my demand. I want us all on a platform where we shall start in equal ignorance and get on together. Of course you are all more or less familiar with all the facts that I should have to present, and the boys would know it. They are sharp fellows; it wouldn't take them an hour to discover that we were fishing for them; and if there is any one thing on which they are at present determined, it is, probably, that they will not be benefited. What is there that one of us knows, of which the others are ignorant? French won't do, for Miss Dennis is acquainted with that language, I think, and so are you, Ried, are you not?"
"Well, I can stammer through a few sentences. I don't speak it like a native as you do."
At this revelation a vivid blush glowed on Gracie Dennis' cheek. She remembered Professor Ellis' comments in French. Then the doctor had understood, though his face was so imperturbable! What could he have thought of the courtesy of her guest?
Meantime Mr. Ried wore a perplexed face.
"You are right," he said to the doctor; "we are not enough on a level; I felt our advantage last night when Miss Dennis was explaining the type-writer; but I don't see the way clear. What subject is there on which all but one of us could meet on common ground, and that one could turn professor?"
Here interposed Mr. Roberts, speaking in a meek tone of voice:—
"If I were not a modest man I should venture a suggestion; as it is, I really don't know what to do."
The doctor turned to him quickly:—
"Out with it, man; if you are master of a profession or a trade or a theory unknown to the rest of us, you are bound on your honor as a member of this unique organization to present it."
At the same moment Mrs. Roberts came to his aid.
"Oh, Evan, teach us short-hand!"
Whereupon Mr. Roberts heaved what was intended to appear as a relieved sigh, and announced that his modesty was preserved.
Upon this suggestion they seized with eagerness; not one of them knew anything about phonetic writing save Mr. Roberts, and he was master of the art.
"It is the very thing!" the doctor said, with heartiness. "I should like exceedingly to learn it, and Ried and the ladies may be able to make it useful in a hundred ways; and as for the seven, if they really master it, it may be the foundation of a fortune for some of them."
So, without more ado, it was planned that at the very next Monday evening the subject should be skilfully presented, its importance and its fascinations discussed, and the boys be beguiled into taking a first lesson, sandwiched in between the all-important reading and writing lessons.
Alas for plans! On the very next Monday the conspirators, with the exception of young Ried, were together by seven o'clock. The faint aroma of coffee floated through the room. A fruit-basket filled with oranges occupied a conspicuous table, and everything waited for the guests.
While they waited, instead of enjoying themselves as the four were certainly capable of doing, they were noticeably restless; listened for the shuffling of careless feet on the steps, and the sound of uncultured voices in the hall, and waited expectantly whenever the bell pealed, only to be obliged to send word to some caller that "Mr. and Mrs. Roberts were engaged."
The special occupation of the four seemed to be to look at their watches and to remark that the doctor's was a trifle fast, and to wonder if half-past seven would be a more suitable hour for the boys, and to wonder what could be detaining Ried.
At last it was half-past seven, and then it was fifteen minutes of eight, and then it was ten minutes of eight! And then the door-bell rang again. It was Ried, and he was alone! One glance at his distressed face told the lookers-on that something was amiss, even before he exclaimed:—
"You won't see a boy to-night!"
"Why?" "What is the trouble?" "Where are they?"
These were the various ways of putting the same question.
"One of the McCullum partners has become interested in the boys, it seems, and has concluded that he will try what he can do towards their elevation; so he has commenced by presenting each one of them with a ticket to the Green Street Theatre, and there they are at this moment!"
This startling intelligence was variously received. Dr. Everett exclaimed:—
"Is it possible?"
Gracie Dennis remarked that it was something like what she had expected; Mrs. Roberts said not a word, and Mr. Roberts added to the astonishment of the moment by bursting into a laugh.
Poor Ried seemed to feel the laugh more than anything; his face gathered into heavier clouds than before, he bit his lip to hold back the vexed words that were just ready to burst forth, and strode almost angrily to the further corner of the room.
An embarrassed silence seemed to fall upon the others. At least Gracie felt embarrassed; the doctor looked simply expectant.
At last Mr. Roberts drew himself up from his lounging attitude and broke into the stillness.
"Ah, now, good people, don't let us make serious mistakes! Come back here, my dear young brother, and let us look this thing in the face, and talk it over calmly. Are we children playing at benevolence that at the first discouragement we should cry out, 'All is lost!' and retire vanquished? Come, I laughed because really this does not seem such a serious matter to me as it seems to present to the rest of you.
"What did we expect? Here are seven boys, right from the gutters; somehow we have had them laid on our hearts, and have enlisted to help fight the battle that is going on about them in this world. Christ died to save them, and Satan means that the sacrifice shall be in vain. He is bringing all his powers to bear on them; and he has many and varied powers.
"Here comes into the scene a man benevolently inclined; not a Christian, but in his way a philanthropist. By accident he has come in contact with one of the boys; by accident he learns that something—he does not know quite what—is being attempted to benefit them. Can't you give him the credit of being honest? The only thing he thinks of that he can do to help is to give them an evening's entertainment. At one of the decent theatres there is being presented what seems to be known in their parlance as a 'moral play!' So he presents each boy with a ticket. Now, what did we expect of those boys?
"Last week a lady and two gentleman who have been members of our church for years, left the regular prayer-meeting, and went to the Philharmonic concert.
"Ought we to expect that it would even occur to our seven boys to give up what to them is a rare treat for the pleasure of spending an evening with us? As for the moral obligation, they have probably never so much as heard the words.
"Isn't it time we knew what we were about? What are we after? It is well enough to teach the poor fellows to read and write, and to help lift them up in other ways, but our efforts will amount to very little unless we succeed in bringing them to the great Lever of human society; unless Christ take hold of this thing we shall fail. Now, has He taken hold? Is He, at least, as much interested in them as we are? Is His Holy Spirit preceding and supplementing all our efforts? And, if this is the case, is an evening at a theatre going to ruin His plans?"
Long before these earnest sentences were concluded Ried had returned from his distant corner, and taken a seat near his employer; his eyes were full of tears, and his voice trembled:—
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Roberts; I'm an ignorant blunderer; I did feel for the moment as though everything were lost."
"We have begun backwards," said Mr. Roberts; "I was reading to-day that a mistake the missionaries made for years in trying to civilize the Greenlanders; and what a perfect failure they made of it until one day almost by accident, a man began to tell them about Christ on the cross, and the story melted them. I don't think I have thought enough about Him in this matter."
"I stand convicted," Dr. Everett said; "I've made the same mistake, I believe, in all my efforts for people. I have been praying for them, it is true; but, after all, I feel now as though there had been too much relying on human means, and not enough on God. It is a case of 'these ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone.'"
"Well," said Mr. Roberts, looking at his watch, "we are in the same condemnation; it is, I believe, the most common, and one of the most fatal, mistakes that Christian workers make. But there is a way out. We expected to spend until ten o'clock with those boys. It is nearly nine now; suppose we spend the next hour with Christ, asking for the power of the Holy Spirit on any and every effort that we may make for them in the future? Our ultimate aim is to bring every one of them to Jesus and He knows it; now if we have gone about in the wrong way, we have only to ask Him forgiveness and look to Him steadily for guidance. What do you say, friends, shall we spend the hour in taking them to the only One who really can afford them lasting help?"
I suppose that He who "maketh the wrath of man to praise Him" is equally able to manage the folly of man. Could the injudicious philanthropist have looked into that room that evening, and heard the prayers that went up to God for those boys, and understood something of the power of prayer, he would have had one illustration of how God manages the foolishness of men.
It was a very earnest prayer-meeting. These workers had each one bowed in secret, and with more or less earnestness, asked for God's blessing on their efforts; but it occurred to them that evening, as a very strange thing, that they had never unitedly prayed for this before. Therefore there was an element of confession in all the prayers that moved Gracie Dennis strangely. Especially was this the case when she heard her old acquaintance, Flossy, pour out her soul's longings. It happened, so strange are the customs of Christians, that though this was the daughter of a minister of the gospel, herself a Christian, she had never before heard a lady pray in the presence of gentlemen. She had heard of their doing so; heard them criticised with sharp sarcasm. Some of the criticisms which had sounded full of keenness and wit when she heard them, recurred to her at this time, and some way, with Flossy's low, earnest voice filling her heart, they dwindled into shallowness and coarseness. All the same, their baneful influence was on her, and helped to hold her back from opening her lips, for the critic had been Professor Ellis.
When the hostess and her young guest were left alone together that evening, the latter had a question to ask:—
"Flossy Shipley!"—the name you will remember which she always went back to when excited—"I didn't know you believed in praying in public! Have you changed in everything?"
"In public, my dear!" with a quiet smile; "why, I am in my own house!"
"Oh, yes; but you know what I mean—before gentlemen. Do you really think it is necessary?"
"As to that, Gracie, I don't believe I thought anything about it. I wanted to pray for those boys, and so I prayed."
"And didn't you really shrink from it at all? How very queer! Flossy, I do believe nobody was ever so much changed by religion as you have been. I don't see what makes the difference. I'm sure I think I'm a Christian, but I could never do such a thing as that."
"Not if you believed it to be your duty?"
"But I don't believe it," said the fair logician, her face flushing; "I think it is out of place. I beg your pardon, Flossy, I don't mean I think it sounded badly in you; but only that for me it would be horrid, and I couldn't do it."
"Then what are you talking about, my dear? If you should never consider it your duty, you would certainly never be called upon to do it."
"OH, WHAT A NICE THOUGHT!"
This very calm view of the question gave Gracie time to recover from her excitement, and to laugh at her folly. Then Mrs. Roberts said, still speaking very gently:—
"I don't want to argue with you, dear, and I couldn't if I wished; you know I am a dunce about all such things; but I just want to ask you a little question; you need not answer me unless you choose; not now, that is—perhaps some time we may want to talk about it. I would like to know the reasons that people have for thinking that it is out of place for a lady to kneel down with her Christian friends and speak to Jesus about a thing that they unitedly desire, and that they believe He is able to do for them? If it is not proper to speak before them, why is it proper to speak to them on the same subject?"
This question Gracie carried to her room for thought.
Meantime, as Dr. Everett and young Ried went homeward, they had a talk together.
"When I found out that those boys had gone to the theatre to-night I was completely discouraged," declared Ried. "It seemed to me that our work was a failure; I could almost see Satan laughing over the success of his scheme. I never felt so about anything in my life. And now it seems to me that perhaps the Lord will let it result in being the best thing that ever happened to us."
To all of which Dr. Everett made the apparently irrelevant answer:—
"Mr. Roberts and his wife are singularly well mated; how perfectly they fit into each other's thoughts. Ried, you and I have a great deal to learn from them."
"I have," said Ried, meekly.
Yet another bit of talk closed this evening:
"McCullum has given me an idea," Mr. Roberts said to his wife as they sat together reviewing the day. "Not a bad one, I fancy. I wonder when we can act on it and watch results? There are tickets for other places besides theatres. Why couldn't we furnish them for some entertainment, lecture, or concert, or something of the sort, that would be really helpful? The only difficulty is that there are few helpful places as yet within reach of their capacities. It takes an exceptional genius to hold such listeners."
But his wife, her face aglow, clasped her hands in an ecstasy of delight.
"What a beautiful thought!" she said; "and how nice that it should come to you just now, when there will be such a splendid opportunity to put it in practice. Why, don't you know? Gough, next week, fifty cent tickets; on temperance, too! how grand! And Evan, let us give them each two tickets. I want that Dirk Colson to take his sister; perhaps he will not, but then he may; one can never tell. Oh, Evan, won't it be nice?"
"Ah!" said Mr. Roberts, "as usual you are ahead of me. I had not thought of the two tickets apiece. That is a suggestion for their manliness. Flossy, we'll try it."
Yet another bit of talk.
They shambled down the stairs, from the second-rate hall at a late hour that evening—those seven boys; quiet for them, though the play had been exciting, and not remarkably moral "viewed" from the standpoint of a Christian.
"After all," said Nimble Dick, breaking a silence with speech, as though the subject of which he spoke had been under discussion among them, "after all, it was rather sneaking to bolt and say nothing; I kind of wish we hadn't done it."
"That's what I told you all along," said Dirk Colson, with even unusual sullenness, "but you would go and do it, and we was fools enough to follow you."
"And I'll bet she had oysters or something!" This from Jerry Tompkins; you have probably no idea how hungry he was at that moment.
"They was goin' to do somethin' new to-night; that there Dennis girl told me so when I met her on the street yesterday; something that we would like first rate, she said—a brand-new notion." This was Stephen Crowley's contribution to the general discomfort.
"Well," said Nimble Dick, and the sigh with which he spoke the word would have gone to Mrs. Roberts' heart, "I s'pose it's all up now; I shouldn't wonder if we never got another bid; I wouldn't if I was them, I know that; and their old theatre wasn't no great shakes, after all. We've been a pack of fools, and I don't mind owning it."
Whereupon, having reached the corner, they separated and went glumly to their homes. And this is gratitude! What a pity Mr. McCullum—who had been smiling over his benevolence all the evening—could not have heard them!
The weeks that followed this night, were crowded with trifles on which hung important and far-reaching results. This is a very trite saying, I know. All weeks are crowded with eventful trifles; at least, we in our blindness call them trifles, although we are constantly discovering their importance, and being constantly astonished over them.
Among other things, the seven boys became nine,—having taken to their companionship two choice spirits, apparently worse than themselves, and appeared at the South End Mission with all the bravado that boys of their stamp are apt to put on when they feel somewhat ashamed of themselves. The consequence was that the trials which Mrs. Roberts had to endure from them, though a trifle less apparent to others, were not a whit less distressing than usual.
But before the session was concluded they were treated to a sensation that held them in silent astonishment for nearly five minutes. Any person well acquainted with Alfred Ried could have told that he had a plan in view, and was trying to carry it in the face of some opposition. He looked convinced, and Mr. Durant looked astonished and troubled; there was much low-toned talk between them and some shaking of head. Apparently, however, Mr. Ried came off victor, for his brow cleared, and he presently made his way to Mrs. Roberts' side and said a few words, and must have been gratified by the sudden lighting up of her face and her eager:—
"Oh, what a nice thought! Even if it fails, apparently, it will not utterly, for the suggestion will help them."
In the course of time the new idea came to the front. There was to be a festival, or a social, or an entertainment at the South End in the course of a few weeks,—a sort of anniversary of the starting of the Mission. Among other work that was in progress, the decoration of the room, involving the hanging of pictures, banners, mottoes, wreaths, etc., required some strong arms and willing hands. Committees were to be formed. Two weeks before, teachers had been appointed to prepare a list of committees. It fell to young Ried to appoint the committee on decoration. When he was called upon for his report, he came promptly forward, like a man ready for action, and commenced:—
"A committee of four has been deemed amply sufficient for decoration, and I appoint for the purpose the following: Richard Bolton, Morris Burns, Miss Gracie Dennis, and Miss Annie Powell."
The teachers, who had been long at the Mission, looked from one to another with a bewildered air. Morris Burns they knew,—a clear-eyed young Scotchman, with willing hands and feet ever ready to run of errands for all workers; a boy of nineteen or so, whom everybody liked; warm-hearted, unselfish, and thoroughly trustworthy. Annie Powell was one of the older girls in Mr. Durant's Bible-class; a sweet-faced, ladylike little factory girl, who would work in with Morris Burns nicely. Miss Gracie Dennis was Mrs. Roberts' beautiful young friend; all the teachers knew her, and all thought it very kind in her to throw her strength and taste into the preparations as heartily as though she were one of them. But who was Richard Bolton? Nobody knew. Yet their knowledge of business etiquette told them that he was chairman of the Decoration Committee. Where was he? Not a teacher, certainly, for they were intimately acquainted with one another; and they knew no such name in the one Bible-class made up of trustworthy helpers.
Over in Mrs. Roberts' class, with the single exception of the teacher, there was equal ignorance; the nine boys had stopped their restless mischief to listen, because there is a sort of fascination to boys in all the details of well-managed business; they liked to hear the appointments; but who Richard Bolton might be seemed not to occur to one of them. It is true that Jerry Tompkins nudged Nimble Dick in anything but a quiet way with his elbow, and murmured, "You've got a namesake it seem, in this 'ere job." Yet no light dawned on them.
Mr. Durant, who, it is possible, has not appeared to you in a favorable light, for the reason that he was being much perplexed by the entirely new methods being introduced among the boys who had heretofore driven him to the very verge of desperation, was really a quickwitted man, and having succumbed to what he feared was a wild experiment, knew how to help carry it out properly. He came briskly to the front,—Alfred's committee being the last on the list,—and began his work.
"The chairmen of these different committees will be kind enough to report to me as rapidly as possible the time and place of their first meeting for consultation, and I will make the announcements." Then he stepped to Mrs. Roberts' class. "Bolton," he said, bending toward that astonished scamp, and speaking as though this were an every-day affair, "you are chairman, I believe, of the Decoration Committee; where and when will you have them meet?"
Imagine Nimble Dick's eyes! Nay, imagine the eyes and faces of the entire nine! It would have been a study for an artist.
For a moment Nimble Dick was speechless; then he managed to burst forth with:—
"What in thunder are you talking about?"
"Your committee," said Mr. Durant, politely ignoring the manner of the questioner. "You must call them together, you know, to plan your work. Where shall it be, and when?"
"I ain't got no committee; and I ain't got no place to meet nobody; and I don't know what in thunder you're after."
Then came Mrs. Roberts to the rescue:—
"Why, Mr. Bolton, you can meet at our society parlor, you know; it is the very place, and will be so convenient for Miss Dennis."
"What's to meet, and what's to do?" said Dick, defiantly. "I ain't going to meet nobody."
"Why, it is just to hang mottoes and banners, and trim the room for the Anniversary. Of course you'll help; I would have the meeting arranged there by all means."
"Very well," said Mr. Durant, quickly, as though he had received the answer from the chairman himself. "Now as to time; you ought to come together to-morrow evening if you could; there is a good deal to do."
"Mr. Bolton, couldn't you come up at six o'clock for once? Then you could get your work all done before the time for our social. I can arrange for Annie Powell to be there at that time; and, Mr. Durant, doesn't Morris Burns work for you? Could he be present at six o'clock? Then I don't see but your meeting is nicely planned. You can be there at six, can't you, Mr. Bolton?"
"I tell you I don't know nothin' what you are talking about."
Nimble Dick, who was rarely anything but good-natured, was surprised by the bewilderments of the situation into being almost as fierce as Dirk Colson was habitually; the gaping amazement of his boon companions seeming to add to his irritation.
"But you will," said his teacher, cheerily. "It is an easy matter to explain; Miss Dennis knows all about such things; and I'm going to help, though they haven't honored me with an appointment."
At a sign from the lady, Mr. Durant stepped back to his platform and announced:—
"The chairman of the Committee on Decoration desires me to say that his committee is called together to-morrow evening, at the Young Men's Social Parlors, No. 76 East Fifty-fifth Street, at six o'clock, sharp, as the chairman has another engagement at seven."
"I had to coin a name for the place of meeting," he said to Mrs. Roberts afterwards. "I beg your pardon if it was wrong; but Ried has been giving me glowing accounts of that room, and you said something about its being a social parlor, didn't you?"
"It is a good name," said Mrs. Roberts. "We have awkwardly called it the 'new room.' I am glad it is christened. I will have some curtains hung through the centre to-morrow, to make parlors instead of parlor of it; I can see how a second room can be made useful in several ways."
Thus was the bewildering committee willed into existence; the chairman thereof being still so dumbfounded with his position that he did not rouse until the laughing boys, by whom he was surrounded, began to take in some of the fun of the situation, and to assault him right and left with mock congratulations, ill-suppressed groans, hisses, and the like. Then he turned towards them with new-born dignity that would have fitted Dirk Colson, and said:—
"If you fellows don't shut up, and behave yourselves something like decent for the rest of the time, I'll chaw half a dozen of you into mincemeat as soon as we are out of this!"
"HAD HIS EXPERIMENT BEEN TOO SEVERE?"
Dr. Everett was driving rapidly through the city; at least, as rapidly as the crowded character of the street would permit. He was out on professional duty, and had just been congratulating himself that his regular calls were now made for the day, and unless something special intervened he should have a couple of hours free for the alleys.
That meant professional duty, too, and of the very hardest character, one would suppose, as it brought him in contact not only with sickness in some of its most repulsive forms, but with abject poverty as well, and too often with loathsome forms of sin; yet he went about this work with a zest that his regular practice did not furnish. This was something done solely for Jesus' sake, and with an eye that was manifestly single to His glory.
He had already selected his alley, and was planning how, when his horses were safely stabled, he could make a cross-cut to it, when his eyes were held by two persons who were ascending together the stairway that led to one of the public halls. His face darkened as he watched them. Apparently they were engrossed with each other, and took no notice of him; but there were reasons why he specially desired to keep them in view. A network of carriages and wagons such as is common to crowded thoroughfares blocked his path just then, and prolonged his opportunity to watch the two.
They made their way in a very leisurely manner up the long staircase, letting others, more in haste, pass them continually; yet presently they joined the group who were passing up tickets of entrance.
The doctor signalled a policeman, and entered into conversation:—
"What is going on in Seltzer Hall?"
"Well, sir, there's a kind of a concert, I guess. They play on goblets, they say—just common glass goblets—and make fine music."
"An afternoon entertainment?"
"Yes, sir, as a kind of introduction, you know; they expect to get a crowd for evening by the means."
"Do you know where tickets are to be had?"
The policeman indicated a bookstore at his left by a gesture from his thumb, and said, "Right here," and offered to secure some at once. He knew Dr. Everett; many of the policemen did.
His offer was accepted with thanks, and the doctor presently wound his way out from the network with two green tickets in his pocket. His plans for the afternoon had been suddenly changed. Instead of spending the time in Sewell alley, he had decided to attend a musical exhibition, the instruments being goblets!
He must make all speed now, so he left the crowded street and dodged through several byways to the stables.
No use to keep his horses. "She would be afraid to drive through such crowds," he explained to himself, "and I should be afraid to leave the carriage standing."
Rushing out from the stables he caught just the right street-car, and in a short space of time was ringing at Mr. Roberts' door.
Gracie Dennis was in the hall, dressed for the street.
"Ah," said the doctor, "I am either fortunate or unfortunate, I wonder which? I had set my heart on having you for a companion to what I fancy may be a unique entertainment. Is there another engagement in the way? I know this is a most unconventional method, but a doctor is never sure of his time."
But Gracie Dennis felt too well acquainted with Dr. Everett, and was too young and ready for enjoyment to be disturbed about conventionality. She merrily declared her willingness to be taken to whatever entertainment the doctor had to propose. Mrs. Roberts was out with her husband on business connected with church matters, and she had only intended to walk a square or two for her health.
On the way the doctor was distrait, Gracie having most of the talking to do herself. The truth was, he was trying to recall the faces of the people he had seen crowding into the hall, to make sure that he was not taking Gracie among people whom he would not care to have her meet. Apparently the couple whose movements had changed all his afternoon plans were not a sufficient guarantee of respectability. However, his face cleared as he recalled one and another, as being in the crowd seeking admission; they might not be of the class with whom Gracie was accustomed to mingle, but they were respectable people.
Gracie was in a merry mood. She understood enough of the doctor's busy life to feel sure that this sudden resolve to be entertained was quite out of his ordinary line, and that of itself served to mark the hour as exceptional.
"He feels the need of a little every-day fun," she told herself, "and I'll help him to have it if I can. Poor man! it must be doleful to go among sick and dying people all the time."
They were late at the hall; the concert was well under way; but there were plenty of vacant seats. Dr. Everett swept his eye over the room; then indicated to the usher just which seat he would have. It was one which commanded a view of the young man and woman who seemed to have such a mysterious influence over his plans.
He was relieved to find quite early in the entertainment that it really was unique, and, in its way, well worth hearing. Had the surroundings been agreeable he could easily have given himself up to enjoyment. However, they had been seated but a few moments, when he saw by Gracie's startled eyes that she had seen and recognized at least one of the couple at their left. Professor Ellis, in his usual faultless attire, lounged gracefully on the seat in such a manner that his side-face was distinct; he rested a well-shaped arm on the back of the seat next him, and his delicately gloved hand almost, if not quite, touched the shoulder of his companion.
Both he and the lady at his side gave extremely little attention to the entertainment in progress. Apparently they had come thither for purposes of conversation. They kept up a continuous murmur of talk, interspersed at intervals with rippling laughter, and really seemed so entirely absorbed in each other as to have at times forgotten that the hall was public, and that the attention of many was being turned toward them. The girl was pretty, extremely so, with an entirely different style of beauty from Gracie Dennis; and a certain indescribable something in her face and manner would have told even the most casual observer that she moved in a different circle. It was not her dress, unless that was a little too pronounced for the place and hour; but quite young ladies in good society sometimes make a similar mistake.
Neither was her manner objectionable to the degree that you could have pointed to any one thing as offensive; yet you would have been sure, had you watched her, that she was without the pale of what we call society.
Gracie Dennis watched her with a kind of fascination;—becoming at last so absorbed with the watching, and the apparently troubled thoughts which grew out of it, that she gave but slight attention to Dr. Everett's occasional remarks, nor seemed to observe that at last he lapsed into total silence.
Once, during the hour, the young woman glanced casually in their direction, and the careless nod, and free and easy smile with she acknowledged Dr. Everett's presence, drew a startled glance from Gracie to rest on him for a moment.
"Now I wish I had my horses," the doctor said, as at last they made their way down the aisle. "I have a mile's drive up town to take, and I think the exercise might be good for you."
Gracie caught at the suggestion, and begged to be allowed to remain in the bookstore below while he went for the horses.
"I want a ride, and I want to talk with you," she said, simply.
As this was precisely what he wanted, he went for the horses without more delay.
Meantime, Gracie, in one of the windows of the bookstore, was supposed to be employed in examining a late book, but in reality gave much attention to the couple who were crossing the street, or rather waiting for an opportunity to do so.
They seemed in no haste, but were conspicuous, even in the crowded street, for their interest in each other. More than one policeman regarded them narrowly, as Professor Ellis stood with head bent toward the lady, engaged in eager and animated conversation. It was just the attitude of absorbed interest with which he had so often listened to Gracie; not on the street, it is true, but in some crowded parlor, and it had flattered her. It made her frown to-day. They were starting now to make the disagreeable crossing. He had taken his companion's hand, preparatory to a leap over a muddy curbing; but Gracie could see that there was a pressure of it that was unnecessary, and, for the street, peculiar; his face, too, was distinctly visible, and the expression on it was what Gracie had seen before, but certainly she supposed no other person had.
Altogether it was probably well for Professor Ellis' peace of mind that he did not turn at that moment, and get a glimpse of the young lady in the bookstore. Instead he took his lady away, and they were lost in the crowd.
Dr. Everett, making all haste with his horses, had still time for anxious thought. Had his experiment been too severe on Gracie? Was it possible that her interest in the man was such that the afternoon's experience had been mixed with pain as well as with disgust? He could not believe it possible that the pure-hearted young girl cared for such a man as Professor Ellis! Yet there had been a look on her face when she saw those two which startled and hurt him.
When fairly seated in his carriage he did not speak until they had threaded the maze of wagons and reached clear ground. Even then he only said, "Now for speed," and gave the horses their desire, until crowds and business were left behind, and they were driving down a broad avenue, lined on either side with stately yet quiet-looking homes. Then he drew rein, and obliged the horses to walk; he had by this time resolved on probing the wound, if there was one.
"I wish I knew just how much of a villain that man is." These were the somewhat startling words which broke his silence.
"What man?" Yet the very tones of Gracie's voice indicated that she knew of whom he was speaking.
"That man, Ellis! Professor, I think he is called. I have reason to be very suspicious of him. By the way, Miss Gracie, I think he is an acquaintance of yours. Have you confidence in him?"
How promptly and indignantly such a question would have received an affirmative answer two months before! What should she say now?
"In what respect?" she faltered, more for the purpose of gaining time than because she did not understand the question.
"Well, in any respect I am almost prepared to say. I have not the honor of the man's acquaintance; but whatever I hear about him, or see in him, I dislike and distrust. Just at present his ways are specially disturbing. You noticed him this afternoon, I think! The young girl in his company belongs to my Sabbath-school. I have a deep interest in her, partly because she is the sort of girl who is always more or less in danger in this wicked world, and partly because she is capable of strongly influencing another, who is a special protege of mine."
"Who is the girl?" Gracie's manner was abrupt, and her voice constrained. It was evident that she was making great effort to control herself, and appear indifferent to all parties.
The doctor took no notice of her constraint.
"Her name is Mason. Hester Mason. She attends the Packard Place Sabbath-school, which you know I superintend. She is motherless, and worse than fatherless; is a clerk in one of the Fourth Avenue stores, and is, or was, inclined to be what is called gay. I do not know that that term conveys any special meaning to you; in young men I think they call the same line of conduct 'fast.' I hope and believe that you would not well understand either term; yet, I think, possibly, that watching her this afternoon in a public hall will give you some conception of the stretch that there is between yourself and her."
"SOME PEOPLE ARE HARD TO WARN."
Had Dr. Everett desired in a few words to show Gracie the gulf between herself and the man who had been the girl's companion for the afternoon, perhaps he could not have formed his sentence better.
She shivered visibly, and the doctor drew the carriage-wraps more carefully about her, while he continued:—
"I would not want to give you a wrong estimate of Hester Mason, nor lead you to imagine for a moment that I believe a girl who serves behind a counter cannot be a true lady. I wanted, rather, to explain to you that her opportunities had been limited. She means to be a good girl, I think: in fact, I may say I have the utmost confidence in her intentions. She is not a Christian, but a few weeks ago I had her name on my note-book as one who was almost persuaded, She has been fighting the question of personal religion for some time,—her special stumbling-block being that she is quick-witted, and has quite a clear idea of how Christians ought to live, and can find very few who seem to her to be living what they profess. However, as I say, I have been very hopeful of her until within a few weeks, when she came in contact with this man, and I tremble for the result. He is constant in his attentions, and she is evidently flattered and dazed."
"How long has he known her? How did he become acquainted?" Abrupt questions still, asked in that curiously repressed voice.
The doctor's face was growing very grave and stern. He feared that there was a real wound here.
"Inadvertently, Miss Dennis, it seems that both you and I are to blame, or, at least, are involved in the acquaintance. Do you remember a little incident which occurred in a streetcar some six weeks ago? A young woman, in leaving the car, dropped a package, which you noticing, called our attention to, and pointed out the person crossing the street, and Professor Ellis announced his willingness to overtake her and return the package, as he was about to leave the car. Miss Mason was the person in question, and Professor Ellis presumed on that very slight introduction to cultivate an acquaintance. I have learned that he quoted my name in connection with the incident, and since that day has been on terms of exceeding intimacy with Hester."
Gracie was surprised out of her reserve.
"I remember the incident perfectly: but the girl I saw this afternoon cannot be the one who was on the car."
"Yes; she was in holiday attire to-day, and in her working garb when you saw her momentarily on the car. I remember a feeling of regret that Professor Ellis should have so promptly volunteered to do your errand: yet I did not know what I dreaded. I simply shrank from the man, and wanted others to do so."
"Dr. Everett, what is his motive in showing her attention?"
"I wish I knew. I can tell you what I greatly fear: That it is to play with the human heart; to see to what extent he can gain power over it. And in this case certainly it is a most cruel thing. The girl has no friends, no father or mother to advise with or help her. She is bright and pretty, and is being shown glimpses of a world that seems to her like fairyland. She is dazzled, and one cannot blame her, for she has neither carefully-formed judgment nor trustworthy friends to lean upon. Miss Dennis, you can judge from her manner this afternoon what is her knowledge of the customs of polite society. I do not think she has an idea that she was conspicuous, save for her beauty and the fine appearance of her attendant. She is not one to shrink from what she would consider legitimate public admiration, and this you can see but adds to her danger."
"But, Dr. Everett, you do not think,—you cannot mean that he intends to pay her special attention; that he means anything beyond the desire to give her a little pleasure?"
"Well," said the doctor, speaking slowly, but with firmness, "you may judge, Miss Dennis, what I think,—what any honorable person thinks,—of a man who bestows in public the sort of attentions which we saw this afternoon, You would have been insulted by them. The only reason that this poor girl was not, is because she does not know any better.
"Did you observe the flashing of a peculiarly set ring on her finger? I have reason to fear that it belongs to him and that she believes herself specially honored in being asked to wear it."
Poor Gracie's cheeks were flaming now. She had not observed the ring, but she knew it well, and for one brief evening had worn it herself, and then had returned it to the owner with the assurance that she could not bring herself to wear it without her father's consent. She remembered what a wound she had felt herself bestowing when he had looked at her with those expressive, reproachful eyes, and replied that if she felt toward him as he did to her, she would not allow even a father to come between them. And he had actually given that ring into the keeping of this girl!
They rode on in silence, the doctor giving a hint to the horses that they might go as fast as they chose. He was in great doubt and pain of heart. Could it be possible that this carefully-shielded young girl was caught in the toils of a man whom he believed to be an unprincipled villain?
If so, had he been unnecessarily cruel in his revelations? Ought he to take her home, or drive further, and give her time to recover herself?
Could he have understood what was passing in her mind he would have known better what next to say. The simple truth was this: Before she came to Mrs. Roberts' the child had believed herself to be a martyr to the unreasonable prejudices of her stepmother. She had been led to feel that her father had turned against her, solely because of his wife's influence over him, and that the wife was piqued because Professor Ellis had not paid her sufficient attention in the days of her maidenhood. This, the professor had succeeded in teaching Gracie to feel, was the sole charge against him. He was, therefore, an ill-used man, and therefore her heart went out towards him in sympathy.
It had not been at first a stronger feeling than this; but flattered by his attentions, so much more marked and polished than had ever been offered to the young girl before, she had taught herself to believe that, but for her father's bitterness, she could be to Professor Ellis what he delicately and vaguely assured her no one else could, and fill a place that hitherto in his lonely life had been left void. She had not engaged herself to him; indeed, he had never, in actual words, asked her to do so; but to the young and innocent and well-trained there is a language which speaks as clearly as words, and is held as sacred.
Gracie had allowed herself to be looked upon as one who was held by others from being more to Professor Ellis than she was; who might always, perhaps, be held back,—for she had resolved in her own sad heart that she would never marry against her father's consent, no, not if she were twice of age.
Of late, strange reflections had come to her. She had measured Professor Ellis with other men, Christian men, and he had appeared at a disadvantage. Also she had measured herself by the side of other Christian workers, and herself had appeared at a disadvantage. A vague unrest and dissatisfaction with her Christian experience were growing on her. Moreover, she was growing interested in those boys, as she had not believed that it would be possible for her to be interested when she first saw them. She began to believe that some of them, at least, would be saved. She wanted to help save them, and to help others. Her martyrdom dwindled rapidly into insignificance, until there would pass entire days in which she did not once remember that she as an unhappy girl.
At last, but a week or two before this afternoon, she had taken her affairs in hand, and tried to look steadily at them. The result of her hours of thought and prayer was that she was bound to Professor Ellis. That is, provided there should come a time in the dim and distant future when her father should give his consent, it would be her duty and her pleasure, because of what had passed between them, to marry him. Still, she began to feel less amazed at her father's opinion of him, less angry about it. She began to say to herself, softly and pitifully: "Poor, lonely man! he has no one to be his friend. He is not a Christian, and that is what makes so great a difference between him and others. It is that which papa misses, but I must not desert him; I must pray for him all the time, and work for his conversion; then he will grow to be the sort of man whom papa can like, and everything will be right." And while she said it, she was dimly conscious of a feeling of satisfaction over the thought that she was very young, and that it would be a long, long time yet before anything could be settled; and that, meantime, it certainly was not right for her to have anything to do with Professor Ellis, only to pray for him; and that perhaps her father would allow her to carry out a project that was under delightful discussion in the Roberts family, namely, to remain in the city as a pupil in the famous Green Lawn School. And she did not know, foolish little thing, that so far even as her heart was concerned everything was wrong.
Perhaps it would be difficult for me to explain to you—that is, if you do not understand without explanation—what a turmoil she was thrown into by this afternoon's experience. She was far from realizing as yet that the uppermost feeling even now was not wounded love, but wounded pride; of what poor stuff she had been making a hero! Nothing had ever opened her eyes like this before. Was it possible that she had spent entire evenings with a man who stooped to set in unpleasant, even suspicious light, not his own character only, but that of an ignorant young girl?
It would not do to plead a lack of knowledge in excuse for him; he might be ignorant of the ways of the Christian world, but no one understood better the rules which governed society. During part of the afternoon she had been very angry with the girl, but after listening to Dr. Everett it began to dawn upon her that her friend had been playing with the ignorance of a girl who probably trusted him fully. You are to understand that Gracie Dennis was the sort of girl who would be made very angry by such a suspicion. The glow on her cheeks was not all caused by the fresh air of the spring day.
"Dr. Everett," she said at last, breaking the silence, "what do you think he means by asking the girl to wear that ring, or by letting her wear it? Does he—do you suppose that he has engaged himself to her?"
"I wish I knew what he meant!" Dr. Everett said again, a surge of indignation rushing over him. "If he really meant anything so honorable as that, it would be bad enough business for poor Hester; but, as I said, I distrust the man utterly; and from my experience with the world I have reason. From your knowledge of him, Miss Dennis, could you suppose him to be honest and earnest in his attentions to that girl?"
It was a very plain question. It meant more to Dr. Everett than even Gracie saw, but she saw enough to know that she was admitting an intimacy that made her blush; however, she answered steadily,—
"No, I cannot think that he is honest or honorable."
"So I fear. Witness this afternoon. Gentlemen do not parade their friendships before the public gaze, and that man knows it."
The doctor's voice was very stern. He was sure now that there was a wound, and that it was being probed; he believed in making thorough work, even with wounds; there would be more hope of genuine healing afterward.
Gracie's next question—if her companion had but known it—was a singular one: "Why have not people who are her friends warned her against him, and held her back from making such a false step, if she does it in ignorance?"
Oh, Gracie Dennis! How are warnings sometimes received, even by carefully-trained girls, who have every reason to trust the love that would shield them?
"Some people are very hard to warn," said the doctor. "I have tried it, and I have a friend who has tried to help her; but the poor girl, you must remember, has not been brought up in a Christian atmosphere—has never had a Christian friend who came with the authority of relationship. If she had a good father the way would be made so plain. As it is, can't you see how naturally she distrusts the rest of us, in favor of the man who makes special professions of friendship? I am not surprised at Hester, I am only sorry for her."
Had the doctor been carefully informed as to all the circumstances connected with Gracie's intimacy with the professor, he could not have chosen words which would have touched her conscience more. Had not her good father tenderly and patiently warned her? and had she not chosen to blind her eyes to all his words, and believe rather in Professor Ellis than in him?
"PART OF THE GREAT WELL-TO-DO WORLD."
"I must call at this house," the doctor said, suddenly drawing rein before a quiet little house at the foot of a wide lawn. "The gatekeeper of this American castle has a sick child whom I have promised to see. Can you hold the horses, Miss Dennis, or shall I tie them? This is a quiet spot, and they are gentle."
"I am not afraid of anything," Gracie said, eyes aglow as well as cheeks. And the doctor went into the house wondering whether Professor Ellis, if he could see her now, would not be afraid of her.
Once inside he gave a start of surprise, almost of dismay, for the face which appeared at the open door of the sick-room belonged to Joy Saunders.
"You here?" he said, trying to control the disturbed element in his voice.
She answered quietly:—
"I came out by street-car. Did you drive?"
"Yes,"' he said, abruptly, "but I am not alone. How is the child?" and he went forward at once to his professional duties, leaving her to wonder over his manner.
It was peculiar, certainly. Joy Saunders was used to abruptness from this man, but there was a quality in it to-day that she did not recognize. She went and looked out of the window, and saw Gracie Dennis holding the horses, saw her red, red cheeks, and flashing eyes, and the peculiar, haughty poise of her head, with which the stepmother at home was well acquainted.
She did not know this Gracie Dennis save by reputation. Once Dr. Everett had asked her to call at Mrs. Roberts', and had made her feel as though she were foolishly conventional in declining to do so. "How is she ever to know you, according to the rules which trammel society? There ought to be some way arranged for Christians to be free from trammels." This had been his comment; but he had not asked her again, and she had never met Mrs. Roberts, nor yet Gracie Dennis. Yet she knew her very well, and had watched her often as she passed. She knew instantly who she was now, as she sat there in her haughty beauty, checking with determined hand the impatience of those horses. Oh, she knew more than this! It was very apparent now why Dr. Everett was peculiarly abrupt, and—well, yes—embarrassed. She had almost thought that was the name of the feeling, only it had seemed so absurd. And then Joy Saunders held her meek little head high, and told herself that he need not fear her presence; she could go as she had come, in the street-car.
The doctor came towards her now, speaking rapidly, as usual:—
"Joy, the child is very sick. There ought to be an experienced person here to-night. Not you; I am sorry you came up. Do you think your mother would come? Will you ride down with me? I have Miss Dennis in the carriage, but it is quite large enough for three, you know."
Then Joy had turned away her head, holding it high, and said:—
"No, thank you; I am going down in the street-car."
And that blundering doctor drew on his gloves, saying to himself, "I don't know but that is best," and went out, only waiting to say to Joy:—
"Will you ask your mother about it? I will see her as soon as I can get around. I wish you would go directly home from here—will you?"
Then he lifted his hat to her, and sprang into his carriage and rode away with Gracie Dennis; and Joy Saunders waited for the next yellow car, and climbed into it, and told herself all the way down town that she wished she had stayed at the little house and watched all night by the sick child.
The thoughts that Dr. Everett had given to the entire matter were few. They ran somewhat after this fashion:—
"Joy here! and I'm afraid of the fever, from all I have heard. I shall take her home as soon as possible. How will that poor little girl in the carriage manage with a new acquaintance just now, I wonder?
"I am afraid it will be quite a strain. Still, I can do the talking, and let her be quiet. The main point is that I hoped she might have a suggestion to make about Hester. If she could rouse herself to try to save that girl it would be the best thing she could do. If she only knew it, Joy is the one who could help her in that direction or any other."
As they dashed down the avenue, he was still occupied in wishing that he had urged Joy to ride, and thus forced an acquaintance between her and the pretty girl at his side. He was not very patient with what he called the "trammels" of society. When there were two people so fitted to enjoy and help one another, as were Joy Saunders and Gracie Dennis, he held it to be a waste in Christian economy that they should not know each other.
Too much occupied with his thoughts and his driving to give heed to passers-by, he lost the careful bow that young Ried had for them as they drew near the city's whirl again. Gracie did not; she returned it, with a slightly-heightened color in her cheeks, and wondered if that young man knew Professor Ellis, and what he thought of him, and what he thought of her for being acquainted with him.
Sometimes it seems to me a real pity that on occasion there could not be some way of looking into one another's thoughts. So many misunderstandings might thus be saved. For instance, there was Ried, who went on his way with a clouded brow. Where had Dr. Everett been? and why was Gracie Dennis with him? Was it probable that he had been riding for pleasure? The bare suggestion astonished the young man. He found that he had never before given room to the thought that Dr. Everett took time for pleasure! Allowing this to be the case, why had he not taken Joy Saunders with him? Such a proceeding would have seemed altogether natural, though the honest-hearted young fellow admitted to himself that, had he been taking a ride for pleasure, the companion of his choice would not have been Joy Saunders. It was certainly a bewildering world. So trying did young Ried find his thoughts on that evening that he actually set himself deliberately to learn whether the ride was the result of chance or design. The consequence was that he learned not only of the ride, but of the afternoon entertainment at Seltzer Hall, with glass goblets for instruments. This increased his astonishment, and did not lessen the gloom on his face.
But the two in the carriage, unconscious of the gloomy young man, or of the sad-hearted young girl riding in a street-car, were almost silent during the homeward ride, until just as they turned into the avenue that led to Mr. Roberts' door. Then Grace said:—
"Dr. Everett, I should like to know that girl. There are some things that I ought to say to her, and if I had a chance I would try to say them in a way to help her."
"I will manage it," said Dr. Everett, speaking in a quick, relieved tone. He felt encouraged for Hester now, and greatly relieved about Gracie. She might be wounded, but she was made of the material of which he had hoped. She was not going to die herself, nor fold her hands and see others ruined, merely because she had been deceived.
He bade her a cheery "Good afternoon!" and drove away, feeling that, although he had been obliged to give up Sewell Alley, good work had been accomplished. He believed now that he understood the situation.
He was right about one thing: Gracie Dennis had not the slightest idea of dying. Her mood was better expressed, half an hour later, when she stood at the parlor window, and returned a low, lingering bow from Professor Ellis, with a haughty stare from flashing eyes, looking out from an erect and motionless head.
* * * * *
Dirk Colson's brain was in a whirl. He had an important question to settle. In his pocket were two blue tickets, promising to admit him to the largest and finest hall in the city to hear the great temperance orator. Dirk knew very little about orators, but he had heard of John B. Gough, and everything he had heard made him wish to have a glimpse of him. You will remember that Dirk was an imitator. He had heard that Mr. Gough was also, and down deep in his heart the boy had an ambition to hear the man. Now was his unexpected opportunity. Of course, he was going, but the perplexing thing was, what to do with that other ticket.
There was Mart? Oh, yes, to be sure, he had not forgotten her; but what a strange thing it would be to take her to a lecture! He had never taken her anywhere in his life. She had nothing to wear, though he remembered at that moment that the mother had, by earnest effort, succeeded in getting her shawl out of pawn.
There was one incentive for taking her; it would please Mrs. Roberts. Dirk studied the thing for some time, to try to discover why she should care, and had finally given up the problem as too great for him. Yet he was sure she cared; there had been a wistful light in her eyes when she said, "I thought possibly you might like to take that sister with the golden hair," that he saw and interpreted. It took him three days to decide what he should say, supposing he made up his mind to ask her.
Several people were at work helping him, though he knew nothing about that. Mrs. Roberts remarked one evening to young Ried that she wished she knew a way to induce Dirk Colson to take his sister, without actually asking him to do so. She fancied that, besides the advantage which might possibly directly follow an evening spent in that way, it would suggest new thoughts to the brother.
The young man caught at the suggestion, and wanted to help carry it out. It was not an easy thing to do. He had not grown intimate with Dirk Colson; in fact, that misguided young fellow rather resented any attempt at intimacy. He was, however, acquainted with Sallie Calkins; the numerous trips he had made to their room during Mark's illness had brought him into such constant and pleasant contact with Sallie and her brother that they looked upon him as a tried friend. Sallie, he knew, was a friend of the shy, golden-haired sister. So one evening he went to call at the Calkins room, with a vague hope of helping indirectly in bringing to pass Mrs. Roberts' desires.
To Sallie he made known the wish that Dirk would take his sister to the lecture, and secured from her a promise to help the scheme along, provided it developed.
After he went away, Sallie sat long at her sewing, making all alone, by a dim light, one of the most heroic little sacrifices that was ever offered "in His name." To fully understand it, you must know that Mark Calkins had recovered sufficiently to take his place in the office where Dr. Everett had secured him an opening, and an employment that would enable him to sit, most of the time, thereby giving his injured limb a chance to rest. Also, Mark had been admitted to the Monday evening gatherings, and was distinguishing himself there by his skill in reading and writing. Of course, he had received two tickets, and equally of course, being the boy he was, he had planned to take Sallie with him to the lecture. Great was Sallie's prospective pleasure! The event of her lifetime it was to be. To walk with Mark through the crowded streets, both neatly dressed; to walk boldly forward with the throng, and present their tickets of admittance to the great hall; hitherto seen only from the outside; to move down the long aisles as those who had a right, and select their seats unquestioned by police; in short, to be like other people—part of the great well-to-do world,—this was Sallie's joy!
She had washed and mended her best calico dress; she had sewed buttons on the pretty cape, according to Mrs. Roberts' directions; she had tried on the neat bonnet which had been manufactured for her by Mrs. Roberts' own fingers, and, altogether, Sallie had probably gotten, during these two days, more enjoyment out of Gough's lecture than many others, who had heard him a dozen times, ever secured. I do not think it any wonder that, as she rocked and sewed, and thought out her great thought, there fell tears on the work she was doing.
"FOR YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT MAY COME."
This was the thought: Suppose Dirk Colson should want to take his sister. Sallie did not believe it in the least probable; she had not that amount of faith in Dirk Colson; but suppose he should, Mart could not go, for the reason that she would have nothing to wear.
And here was Sallie's pretty cape, which would cover the worst of her dress, and her pretty bonnet, which she knew would make a picture of Mart; but if she lent them it meant staying at home to Sallie. Could she do it? Could she bear to think of such a thing? What would Mark say? What would he do with his other ticket?
Would she be likely ever to have another chance to go to that wonderful hall, and be like other folks?
But Mart had never been anywhere in her life.
"And I," said poor Sallie, catching her breath with a sob, "have been often for a walk on the brightest streets, and looked in at the shop windows, and everything. I 'most know I will help her to go if I can."
Young Ried had no conception of the sacrifice for which he had asked.
It is little wonder, surely, that Sallie's voice faltered that same evening, as she explained to Mart, who had slipped in for a bit of talk, that if ever she wanted to go anywhere very bad, she was to let Sallie know, and she should have her cape and bonnet to wear. Then she had anxiously planned for her a way to mend her dress, so that it would look quite well under the cape, and she had even urged:—
"Now do, Mart, if anybody should want you to go don't say you won't; but take your chance, for you don't know what may come."
Also she bore with patience Mart's scornful laugh, and emphatic statement that no chances ever came to her, and nobody ever wanted her to go anywhere. As she talked she grew interested and eloquent; urged earnestly that Mart should embrace the first opportunity to go somewhere, and wear her new cape and bonnet. At the same time she was silent about the lecture. Suppose no chance should come? Then it would be doubly hard to Mart to have had the possibility suggested. The same delicate reasoning had held her from dwelling on her own prospects. Some people would have been very much astonished over the amount of delicate consideration for the feelings of others which could be found in that little room.
Dirk loitered strangely over his meagre dinner the next afternoon. It was late, for he had secured a position at last in one of the printing offices, and was apt to take his meals at any hour when it happened to be convenient to do without him at the office. He had only been three days at work, and Mart had taken little notice of the new departure, except to remark grimly that it would not last; but to Sallie she had boasted that Dirk had gone to work as hard as anybody. If somebody could only have told Dirk that his sister ever boasted of him it might have helped him much during these days.
"What are you hanging around for? You've got all there will be to eat in this house to-day, and it is time you were off." This was the ungracious manner in which the sister took note of his lingering. She was painfully afraid that he had already grown weary of regular employment, and the fear made her voice gruffer than usual.
His reply amazed her; in fact, it amazed himself:—
"Mart, I've got tickets to a show,—a nice place,—and I want you to go along."
"Humph!" said Mart, "that is a likely story!"
Then he grew earnest, displayed his treasures, and urged her acceptance—quite astonished with himself the while. Did he really want her to go, he wondered, or did he want to please Mrs. Roberts?
You would have been interested, an hour later, to have seen Mart skip up the rickety stairs leading to the Calkins abode. You would probably have thought that she endangered life or limb by her rapid movements; but Mart was used to such staircases, and the news she had to communicate required haste.
"There's a chance!" she said, breathless with speed and eagerness; "Sallie Calkins, there's a chance, and you'd never guess how. Dirk he wants me to go to a show with him this very night! He's got tickets. It is a big show,—where all the grand folks go. It is in the very biggest hall in this city, and Dirk he says I am to go. Sallie Calkins, do you mean it, truly, that I am to wear your lovely new bonnet and cape? Do you suppose I can really go anywhere? I don't known why Dirk wants me to so bad, but he coaxed and coaxed."
Poor Sallie! She stooped quickly to pick up a pin from the floor, so that Mart might not get a glimpse of her eyes with the sudden tears in them. Yet, as she stooped, she made her final, grand sacrifice—Mart should go!
Then she entered with entire abandon into the preparations. Not only her bonnet and cape, but her shoes—new ones that Mark had bought her with his first earnings after his illness—were to attend the lecture.
She rejoiced over the excellent fit of the shoes. She did more than this. As Mart watched the process of buttoning them, and remarked complacently that she shouldn't wonder if Dirk would buy her a pair some day, when he earned money enough, she kept her lip from curling with an incredulous sneer. You will remember that she had not the slightest faith in Dirk.
Neither must I forget that there was another thing to lend—her comb, in order that Mart's wonderful yellow hair might be for once reduced to something like order. And at the risk of leading you to think that Sallie was altogether too "aesthetic" for her position in life, I shall have to confess that this was her hardest bit of sacrifice; her comb was so new and so pretty!
However, it did its duty on Mart's tawny locks, and the transforming effect was marvellous. In fact, when all was ready, the cape adjusted, the hat which Mrs. Roberts had shown her how to wear set on the yellow head, Sallie said not a word, but went to the packing-box in the corner which served as a treasure cupboard, and drew forth the one possession about which she had been utterly silent—a little hand-glass which Mark had brought her one winter evening just before he was hurt. A cheap, little, ugly glass, which you would have turned from in disgust, saying that it made your nose awry, and your chin protrude and your eyes squint, and was altogether horrid; but, held before Mart's glowing face, what a secret did it reveal! Mart looked, and was silent, too; and went home in a hushed frame of mind to wait for Dirk. Home was deserted. The mother had dragged her wearied body out for a day of "light" work. The time had gone by when she was able to do any that people called heavy. Where the father was, none of the family knew, and their chief hope concerning him was that he would stay away as long as possible.
I find myself longing to give you an idea of what that elegant, brilliantly lighted hall, with its brilliant audience, was to this girl, and being unable to do it.
When people live so far below us that our every-day experiences are to them like a day at the World's Fair, it is very hard indeed to describe how our special treats affect them.
It is a treat to everybody to hear Gough. How then can I tell you what it was to this girl and her brother? Dirk listened; he must have listened well, for long afterward he was able to repeat entire paragraphs, and to imitate the manner of the great orator with remarkable skill;—yet at the time he would have seemed to a close watcher to have been absorbed in another way. He looked at Mart somewhat as he had on that Sabbath when his acquaintance with Mrs. Roberts began. But the thought which had dimly haunted him that day blossomed on this evening. Certainly Mart looked like Mrs. Roberts! It might be folly to think so; doubtless the fellows would make no end of fun of him if he should ever tell them so, which he meant to take excellent care not to do; but the fact remained, that in Sallie's bonnet and cape, and, above all, with the waves of hair floating about her, there was a look which instantly and strongly reminded him of that lady.
There was another listener at the lecture who was unexpectedly present. Part of poor Sallie's trial had been to tell her brother, who had been radiant for a week over the prospect of taking her, that she had with her own hand put away the blessing. How would Mark take it? Dirk's forlorn-looking sister was no favorite of his. I think it would have been very difficult to have convinced him that there was a trace of Mrs. Roberts in her face.
But such curious creatures are we that it actually hurt Sallie to see how quietly he took the great sad news of her sacrifice. After the first start of surprise, he seemed preoccupied, and she could almost have thought that he did not hear her explanation. She had much ado to keep back the tears, but she had made a special little feast for him that evening, with a white cloth on the table, and a cup of actual tea, and the cup set in a saucer. She was not going to spoil the scene with tears; so after a little she said, cheerily:—
"Now you have a chance to do something nice for somebody. Who will you take on your ticket?"
"I was thinking," he answered, slowly. "You know it is a temperance lecture, and it is by a wonderful man. The fellows in the shop have been talking about him all day, and they say you just can't help thinking when he gets agoing; and I was just thinking, What if we could get him to go, and he would listen, and get to thinking."
There are no italics that will give you an idea of the peculiar emphasis which the boy put on the pronouns. Sallie understood; that "he" could mean but one person in the world. But her brother must have answered the look on her face, for she spoke no word.
"Sometimes they do, Sallie. There was old Pete, you know."
Oh, yes, Sallie knew old Pete; every body in that alley knew him; a notorious drunkard once, of the sort which people, even good Christian people, are apt to pronounce hopeless; yet now he wore a neat suit of clothes every day, and brought home twenty pounds of flour at one time in a sack, and bought his coal by the barrel. Wonderful things occasionally happened in that alley.
"Yes," said Sally, "that is true; and old Pete wasn't much like him."
The tone spoke volumes. It would have almost angered her, even now, to have had it hinted that old Pete was superior to that father, though hardly a person acquainted with the two but would have said that there was more hope for old Pete, even in his miserable past, than for this one.
How they managed it, those two: the difficult task of getting him persuaded to go, find then the more difficult task of keeping him sufficiently sober to get there, would make a story in itself. I fancy there are many such stories in real life which will never get told. The probabilities are, if they were, some wise critic would pronounce them unnatural and sensational.
Suffice it to say that the task was accomplished, and among the most attentive listeners to the great speaker that evening was Sallie's father, while she sat at home and mended a badly torn jacket, and cried now and then, and was glad and sorry and proud and frightened and hopeful by turns all that long evening.
I am not sure but it was better for her that she sat at home. I don't know just what she might have done had she been in the hall to see her father, at the close of the meeting, shamble forward with the crowd, and sign his name to the total abstinence pledge.
She might have screamed out in her excitement, or she might have fainted; for although there were those who said—some with a sneer, and some with a sigh—that "signing the pledge would not amount to anything; the miserable fellow could not keep a pledge to save his life!" Sally would have thought nothing of the kind. She had faith in her father's word.
It is a wonderful stimulus to have some one who believes in us.
"WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?"
"Do you know," said Mrs. Roberts, addressing Gracie Dennis, who, with young Ried, had waited in the hall for her to join them (they were ready for the lecture, and were to take up Mr. Roberts on the way): "Do you know that I have a desire which I see no way of realizing? If Mr. Colson should bring his sister with him to-night I should like so much to get possession of her and bring her home with me! But I have been planning all day, and see no possible excuse for such an apparently wild proceeding."
I want you to notice how naturally Mrs. Roberts said "Mr. Colson"; she never talked about Dirk under any other name; she even taught herself to think of him as "Mr. Colson." Consequently, when she spoke the name in his presence, there was not a trace of unnaturalness in tone or manner. The others tried in vain to follow her example. Dr. Everett could not speak of him in this way without slight hesitation and a touch of embarrassment. "The truth is," said he, "I think Dirk all the week, and on the Sabbath I find it impossible to reach up to 'Mr. Colson' without an effort." There was no touch of "reaching up" or reaching down, about Mrs. Roberts' talk with her pupils. It is possible that this is one link in the chain of influence which she was weaving around them.
Gracie Dennis' face expressed curiosity, and when they were seated in the carriage, she referred to the cause:—
"But Flossy, I cannot imagine why you should want to do such a thing. It will certainly be too late to-night to try to get acquainted with her. I should think some time when you could have an unbroken evening would be the better for experimenting."
"For some sorts of experimenting it would," Mrs. Roberts answered, smiling quietly; "my experiment, in part at least, was to see how the pink room might impress her."
When Gracie took refuge in that name her hostess knew she was not only much excited, but a trifle disapproving; at such times she made haste to change the subject.
It happened that the thing for which she had been planning, shaped itself so naturally as to give not the slightest color or premeditation to the act.
When Dirk and his sister worked their way through the dense crowds to the open air they discovered that it was raining heavily. For almost the first time in her life the fact struck terror to Mart Colson's soul! Ordinarily no duck could have been more indifferent to a rain storm than herself. On this evening she gave vent to her dismay in short, expressive words:
"Sallie's bonnet!" "And cape!" This last, after a moment's thought. "And shoes!" she added, as the magnitude of her troubles grew upon her.
Drawn up close to the sidewalk stood a carriage and a pair of horses that Dirk could not help giving admiring attention to, despite the rain. A fine horse always held his attention. No thought of the occupants of the carriage came to him, not even after a head leaned forward and a hand beckoned; of course it was beckoning to somebody else. Then a clear voice spoke:—
He started quickly forward; there was but one person who ever said "Mr. Colson," and besides, that voice belonged only to one.
"I want your sister to go home with me. It is raining so hard that she ought not to walk, and I should like very much to have her stay with me to-night. Won't you ask her to, please?"
If Mrs. Roberts had been asking a favor, instead of conferring one, her voice could not have been sweeter and more winning.
Dirk went back to his sister, too much bewildered by the state of affairs even to express surprise. "Mart," he said, "she wants you."
A quick spring to the sidewalk, and young Ried was standing beside Mart. "It is raining so hard," he explained, "Mrs. Roberts would be very glad if you would come."
And Mart, thinking of nothing at all, save Sallie's bonnet and cape and shoes, turned toward the waiting carriage.
Mr. Ried had his umbrella raised, and carefully shielded the bonnet, assisting its wearer to enter the carriage with as much courtesy as he had bestowed on Gracie Dennis but a few moments before. Not a movement was lost on the watching Dirk.
When the door was closed and the goodnights had been said,—Mrs. Roberts leaning from the carriage again for that purpose,—and when the horses had dashed around the corner, he still occupied his position on the curbstone, gazing down the street, gazing at nothing unless he saw a reflection of his own bewildered thoughts.
"Come!" said a policeman who knew him, and was therefore suspicious, "What are you hanging about here for? Move on!"
"Humph!" said Dirk, as he slowly took his hands out of his pockets, eyes still fixed on the corner where the carriage had turned, "what if I should?"
Something in his eye would have told Mrs. Roberts, had she been there, that he meant more than moving down the street; though that he presently did, regardless of wind and rain.
Meantime the bonnet and cape in the carriage stepped somewhat into the background, and the girl who wore them allowed herself once more to think of her individuality, and to wonder at her position. She sat bolt upright on the edge of the soft, gray seat, and gazed about her as well as she could by the glimmer of the street lamps. She in a carriage! Mart Colson sitting on a back seat, beside a grand lady, and rolling down the avenue! Who would have supposed that such a thing could have happened to Sallie Calkins' bonnet? Mrs. Roberts recognized the bonnet and cape with a smile of satisfaction. She had studied much over the possibilities of this girl's costume. Was it probable that she had anything suitable to wear to a lecture? She had passed the cellar where the girl lived but once, and had had but one glimpse of her; yet these glimpses had been enough to render it highly improbable that she had any street costume. Then, had Mrs. Roberts canvassed the possibilities of getting a street-suit for her, there were apparently insurmountable difficulties in the way. She was too utterly unacquainted with the ground to venture. Besides, there were reasons for believing that anything of value would find its way from that cellar to a pawnbroker's in a very short space of time.
Having spent hours over many different schemes, and rejected each one as liable to bring disaster, Mrs. Roberts was obliged to betake herself to prayer. If the watching Saviour wanted her to work through the medium of this lecture on this particular child of His, He could certainly see that she was present; could furnish her with clothes to wear, either through herself or some other of His servants. She would wait and watch.
Not once had she thought of Sallie Calkins and the new bonnet that her own fingers had helped to fashion; yet here it was beside her on the head of this girl, toward whom she was drawn! The fact made Mrs. Roberts radiant.
She said almost nothing to the startled prisoner at her side, beyond a murmured, "So glad you let me carry you home with me!" Then she drew a bright-colored wrap about her, and left her to her amazement, while the eager tongues of the rest of the party talked continuously.
By the way, you are not acquainted with the pink room, I think? You should see it before it is invaded for the night. Large, it is. I think little people sometimes have a peculiar fondness for large rooms; Mrs. Roberts had. The walls were tinted with what might be called a suggestion of pink, with just a touch of sunset gold about the mouldings.
The carpet was soft and rich; it gave back no sound of footfall. It was strewn with pink buds; some just opening into beauty, some half-blown. Accustomed to the sight of elegant carpets as you are, you would almost have stooped to pick one of these buds, they looked so real. The curtains to the windows were white, but lined with rose pink; they were looped back with knots of pink ribbons. The bed was a marvel of pink and white drapery; so was the dressing-bureau. The easy-chairs were upholstered in soft grays with a pinkish tinge; and the tidies, lavishly displayed, were all of pink and white. There was nothing conventional about the room. A professional would have been shocked by some of its appointments. Many a lady of wealth, accustomed to having things as "they" decree, would have been more than doubtful over the pink ribbons and the profusion of white drapery. Aside from the carpet, and a choice picture or two, there was nothing especially expensive about the furnishings. It was simply a room in which Mrs. Roberts had allowed her own sweet little fancies to take her captive.
The gas was lighted; the door was ajar into a toilet-room; a lavish display of great, beautiful towels could be seen as you peeped in, and various touches told of an expected guest. Flowers were blossoming on the mantel, and a tiny vase which stood on a bracket near the toilet-stand held a single rose of a peculiar hue and perfume, which had blossomed for this hour. At least, Mrs. Roberts thought so.
Into this room, in all its purity and beauty, went Sallie Calkins' bonnet and cape and her strong, new, thick shoes; and the wearer thereof pushed the bonnet away from her flushed face, and stood and looked about her.
Down stairs they discussed in curious tones—not her, but the mistress of the mansion.
"Flossy, I do think you are too queer for anything! Why don't you have her go to Katy's room? Katy is away for the night, you know, and I'm sure her room is as neat and pretty as can be. Imagine what a contrast it would be to anything that she has ever seen! Mr. Ried, you ought to see the room into which she has been put. There isn't a more elegant one in the house. Some of its furnishings are so delicate that I hardly like to touch them. What sort of a disease is it that has taken Mrs. Roberts, do you suppose, to send her there? Flossy, she will get no rest to-night; she will be afraid of that immaculate bed."'
This, of course, was Gracie Dennis.
Mr. Roberts looked from her to his wife,—his face smiling, curious, yet with a sort of at-rest expression.
"What do you hope to accomplish, Flossy?" He asked the question as one who was pleased to watch a new experiment, yet felt sure that the experimenter had an end to attain which would justify any measures that she might take. Mr. Roberts had believed in his wife when he chose her from all others; but he was learning to believe in her in a peculiar sense, as one led by a hand that made no mistakes.
She turned to answer his question; her face bright, yet half puzzled:—
"I am not sure that I can explain to you what I hoped for," she said; "I caught the idea from Mr. Ried."
"From me!" and the young man thus mentioned looked so astonished and incredulous that Gracie laughed.
"He is sure he never thought of anything so wild," she said, gayly. "Flossy, you must find a better excuse than that."
"Yet it was something that he said. Do you remember telling me, not long ago, about your sister's idea that all the world had lost its place because of sin; that God intended everything here to be beautiful, and all life to be bright with joy, and that Satan had gotten hold of men's lives, and was trying to ruin them, and that every beautiful creation was God's picture to the world of what his intention had been? I'm telling it poorly; but it made a very deep impression. This girl's face, you know, is beautiful. It is what God meant some faces to be; at least, I mean he has given her the frame for a face of beauty. I have a vague, half-understood sort of wish to give her a glimpse of harmony; something that will fit her golden hair and lovely complexion; and see what she will think of God's idea, and whether she will understand that it is sin which has spoiled it, and whether she is willing to serve the author of her ruin. I don't believe I am making myself plain, but I know what I mean, at least."
"If we do not, I think it must be because you have caught a thought from God, that we are not able to reach up to."
It was Mr. Roberts who made this reply. Something in his wife's experiment had deeply moved him.
As for Mr. Ried, his face lighted, as it always did, at the mention of his sister's name.
"Sometimes I almost think that it is Ester still at work, and that He lets her work through this woman."
It was what he said to Gracie Dennis in an aside. Mrs. Roberts had already gone to see in person to the comfort of her guest.
"O LORD, TAKE DIRK, TOO!"
She found her standing before the mirror. By reason of the fact that she understood no pretty trick of braid or curl, her long yellow hair hung just as Nature had made it, with no waves or ripples save those which had grown with its growth. It fell about her now like a sunset cloud. She had taken from the vase near at hand a rose, which she had pushed in among the masses of hair, with no knowledge as to how it should be arranged, or, indeed, thought; yet the effect was something which made Mrs. Roberts give an involuntary start of admiration.
Still it was evident that, though apparently gazing at herself, she was thinking away beyond herself. It is doubtful if at that moment she saw the flower, or her own reflection, or knew that she was looking. Her eyes had the faraway expression which one sometimes sees in great power on faces like hers. She turned as Mrs. Roberts, having softly knocked and received no answer, softly entered, and her first words indicated the intensity of her thought, whatever it was:—
"Dirk has got to go there!"
"Go where?" asked Mrs. Roberts, startled out of the words she meant to speak; startled by the hint of power in the voice and manner.
"Of whom are you thinking, my dear girl? and where do you want him to go?"
"I'm thinking about Dirk, ma'am; I thought about him all the evening; the man made me; and I've made up my mind; he's got to go to heaven!"
I suppose I cannot give you an idea of the force in her voice. It was as though a resolution, from which there could be no appeal, had been taken, and the person resolving felt her own power to accomplish. It was altogether an unexpected answer to Mrs. Roberts. She did not know whether to be half-frightened or to laugh.
She sat down in one of the easy-chairs to study the girl, and consider what answer to make. Mart, meantime, turned back to the survey of herself in the mirror, or to the survey of whatever she saw there, and continued talking:—
"I never knew much about heaven. You may guess that, if you have ever been in our alley. Only lately, Sallie Calkins she's been telling me what you told her; and I had a kind of notion that you must know what you was talking about, and that it was for rich folks and grand folks like you; but the man told about that Madge, you know, to-night—an awful drunkard and swearer, and all that—how she reformed and went to heaven. Dirk ain't no drunkard; but he will be. Everybody says he will, because father is such an awful one. Mother, she's never had no hope of him. She says father didn't drink till he was most twenty, and then he begun; and she's looking for Dirk to begin, and I haven't thought he could help it either. What if he doesn't care for it much yet? He will, it's likely. I've never told nobody that, not even Sallie, and I've been mad at mother every time she said any such thing; but all the time I've been expecting him to begin; and I know well enough, when once they begin, how it goes on. But that man to-night told things that made a difference. He says that God can keep them from wanting to drink, and help them right straight along; and that they can go to heaven as well as the next one. I've wanted nice things for Dirk all my life; but I never saw no way to get them, and it made me mad. To-night I saw a way, but I never had no kind of a notion how heaven looked till I come into this room, and see the light and the flowers and the shine, and another room spread out there in the glass: and now I know, and Dirk shall go!"