"There!" he chuckled, while Ned and Allie, breathless with laughing and with their rapid climb, dropped down on the ground beside him; "we'll give him a rest when he gets up here. If he's going to come along and spoil all our fun, he must pay for it; but he'll be tired by this time."
"I wonder if he'll ever get up here alive," said Allie, as she reached out to the nearest bush, to pick a bit of fur from the twig which had caught it from some passing cottontail. "You almost used me up, and I don't believe Miss Lou could have gone on much farther, so I shouldn't wonder if he was pretty nearly dead."
"Well, 'twould be a nice, convenient place for the funeral; only I shouldn't be surprised if he stuck, half way up here," suggested Ned, comfortably lying on his back, and fanning himself with the hat which Allie had tossed aside. "No; here he comes," he added, as the Reverend Gabriel's wide-brimmed straw hat and flushed face appeared over the brow of the hill, followed by Louise, looking rosy and mischievous, but as fresh as she had done at the start.
"Come over to this tree, doctor, and sit down here in the shade while you rest," she said kindly, as she led the way to the spot where the boys were stretched out on the grass.
There was an unwonted gentleness in her voice, for she had been quick to discover the impish intention of her brothers, and was anxious to atone for their lack of courtesy towards an acquaintance whom she had always regarded as an old man, on the down-hill side of life. In spite of herself she had been amused at the doctor's frantic efforts to keep up with her own firm, quick pace, and at his urgent entreaties that she should tell him if he walked too fast for her. Nevertheless, as she seated herself beside her young brothers, she was resolving to give them a lecture upon the sins of the afternoon, so soon as she could get them in a place of safety.
In the mean time, the doctor appeared to be strangely annoyed over something, although she was unable to discover the cause of his trouble. In obedience to her inviting gesture, he had spread out his large blue silk handkerchief on the ground by her side, and seated himself upon it. Then he started to remove his hat; but he had no sooner raised it a little from his head than he hastily clapped it on again, with a little exclamation of surprise and displeasure.
"I do hope that these bad boys haven't given you too hard a climb, doctor," Louise was saying politely, while she turned to frown down any fresh demonstrations on the part of Grant, who was evidently plotting some new mischief.
"Um—m—ah—no—at least, I beg your pardon, but what was it you said?" inquired the doctor, so abstractedly that Louise looked at him in astonishment.
The Reverend Gabriel sat with his face slightly turned away from her. He was tilting his hat so that, on the farther side, it was raised an inch or two from his head, while, with his disengaged hand, he was feeling carefully about underneath it, as if in search of some missing object. His face, meanwhile, was rapidly assuming every appearance of trouble and distress, which became more and more acute with every fresh motion of his hand. Louise watched him compassionately, sure that something was amiss, but not daring to offer to come to his assistance; then, thinking to spare him any added mortification, she looked away towards the valley.
A lovely picture lay at her feet, for the canon opened out before her eyes in all the grandeur of its mountainous surroundings, while the little town in its bosom was softened and beautified by the kindly autumnal haze, which took away the crude shabbiness of its detail and brought it into harmony with the rugged landscape about it. Beyond the town lay the creek, and over it all floated the heavy pall of thick white smoke, which seemed to be supported on the tall red chimneys of the smelter buildings. The sun was dropping behind the mountains, and already the town lay in shadow, while the last beams lingered upon the cloud of smoke which flushed to a pale pink, then deepened to a rosy glow. The girl's eyes rested on the scene below her; then, surprised at the continued silence of her escort, she glanced at him once more. He was still groping about underneath his hat, with the same strained, upward roll to his eyes; but, as she looked at him, a new light burst in upon Louise's mind, for two long locks of tawny hair had straggled down over his right ear, and lay in a feeble ringlet against the top of his tall collar. The Reverend Gabriel's wrist brushed against them; he felt of them inquiringly; then he deliberately took off his hat to show the top of his head shorn of the glory of his curl, and the long ends of hair hanging in elf-locks about his face.
"Miss—um—Miss Everett," he began hesitatingly, while a dark flush rose on his weather-beaten cheeks; "Miss Everett, I am exceedingly sorry to trouble you, but"—he paused; then went on desperately; "in fact, could you be good enough to lend me a hairpin? The exertion of my climb has removed mine from its accustomed place, and I fear that my hair may be slightly disarranged."
The silence that followed was unbroken while Louise felt about among her braids and drew out a long, slender pin; but when the doctor put his hat down on the ground by his side, carefully rolled up his hair over his two forefingers, spread it into the usual long curl, and fastened it into its place, Allie and Ned fell into an uncontrollable fit of giggling. But, for the once, Grant's attention was distracted, for he was gazing steadily towards the engine house at the mouth of the mine.
"Say, Lou," he exclaimed; "what's going on down there? Everybody's rushing over to the mine; something must be wrong."
Louise's eyes followed the direction of his hand.
"There 's some trouble, down there," she said, rising abruptly. "Will you excuse us, Dr. Hornblower, if we go down without waiting to get rested? I am always a little anxious about my father." And she hurried away down the hill, leaving the Reverend Gabriel to adjust his hairpin at his ease, while he reflected upon the unsatisfactory nature of his walk.
"SWEET CHARITY'S SAKE."
"You see," Howard was explaining to Ned, that evening, "he'd put in his charge for the blast, and was tamping it down all right; but he kicked over his drill, and the end fell on an extra package of giant powder."
"I know that," interrupted Ned. "Papa said he was outrageously careless, to have any of the stuff lying around loose; and 'twas a wonder that there weren't any more men near enough to be killed. Poor old Mike! He's worked in the mine ever since 'twas first opened, and he was one of their best men."
"I don't see how he came to be so careless, then," said Marjorie, wisely shaking her head over the matter. "I should suppose he'd have known better by this time."
"They do know better," said Ned thoughtfully; "only they get hardened to the risk and don't think much about it, or else say their luck will hold out. But Mike has the worst of it. Do you know, this is the first accident in the Blue Creek I ever remember, and I used to see Mike 'most every day, so I can't get to believe it a bit. It seems as if it couldn't be true."
"Papa was all broken up to-night," added Grant. "He knows all the old foremen, and Mike was the best one of them all."
"I believe I'd rather die 'most any way than be blown up," said Allie, with a shudder. "It must be so hard for his family. But didn't you say somebody else was hurt, Howard?"
"Just one boy," answered Howard, rising and walking nervously about the room, as the scene came freshly to his mind. "I don't know who he was, for nobody seemed to be sure of his name. He had dark hair, and was about Charlie Mac's size, I should think. They brought him up in the cage just as Charlie and I stopped at the shaft, and the first thing we knew, we were right beside him."
"What's it going to do to him?" asked Marjorie, as her bright face grew very serious at the picture that Howard had brought before her.
"No one knew, for the doctor wasn't there, of course, and they took him right off home. Papa said he was an English boy that lived over the creek," said Grant, stretching himself out on the sofa, with his heels on the cushion.
Marjorie sprang up and shook herself, with a little shiver.
"Don't let's talk about it any more," she exclaimed. "It just makes me sick to think of it."
"But it's there, all the same, whether we talk about it or not; and if you'd seen it, as we did, you couldn't forget it, even if you did keep still," said Howard soberly; and Allie added,—
"Besides, maybe if we talk about it we can find out there's something to do, to help out."
For an hour, the five young people, gathered in the Everetts' parlor, had been telling over the details of the accident. As Ned had said, it had been a long time since the Blue Creek had been visited by an accident like those which so frequently occurred in the neighboring mines, and this, killing, as it did, one of the oldest and best-known of the miners, had created an intense excitement in the little town. Immediately following the explosion, there had been put in circulation a report of the accident so exaggerated that it had brought to the spot the wives of half the miners in the camp, each one of whom was confident that her husband was among the twenty or more men said to have been killed. It had been this hasty gathering which had caught Grant's eye; and the Everetts and Allie had hurried down into the town just in time to learn the truth that but one man was killed, and to watch the excited groups as they slowly dispersed, so noisy in their joy that their own friends had escaped, that they forgot to give more than a passing thought to poor, careless Mike, whose working days were ended. But that came later; and among all his mourners there were none more sincere than the little group at the Everetts', who knew and appreciated the real worth of the jovial, brawny Irishman, whose pleasant word and helping hand were extended to all with whom he ever came in contact. They were still talking of him when the bell rang; and, a moment later, Wang Kum ushered Dr. Brownlee into the parlor. At sight of him, Marjorie sprang up impulsively.
"Oh, doctor, tell us about the poor boy! How is he?" she asked abruptly, without waiting for any formal greeting.
"If you mean the one who was hurt at the mine this afternoon," the doctor was beginning, when Ned hastily interposed,—
"Hold on a minute, Dr. Brownlee; but don't sit down in that chair. There's something wrong about the stuff it's covered with; 'tisn't real leather, and it melts and gets sticky in summer, or when there's a hot fire. You'd better steer clear of it. We mean to keep it out of the way."
"You might use it for a trap," suggested the doctor laughingly, as he pushed aside the great easy-chair, and settled himself in a willow rocker. Then his face grew grave again, as he turned back to Marjorie. "He's as badly hurt as he can be," he went on. "He'll get over it, but he'll never be able to do anything more. He hasn't come to his senses yet, and I wish he needn't, for the present, for he has a hard time before him," he added, as he rose to meet Louise, who came into the room just then.
"I'm a little upset to-night," he said apologetically, in answer to her exclamation about the coldness of his hand. "To be perfectly honest, this is my first accident case; and it's a very different thing from seeing people quietly ill in bed, even if you know they can't get well. I was at the house when they brought him in, and I hope I sha'n't often have to go through such a scene again."
"Tell me about it," said Louise, with a gentle sympathy which lent a new grace to her beauty. "I'm not afraid to hear, and perhaps I can do something for them by and by."
And the doctor told, forgetting himself, and even the charming young woman before him, as he went on with the story of the mother's frantic sorrow over her only son, of the boy's half-conscious suffering, and of the long, helpless life before him. The girl's eyes filled with tears as she listened, though her pity for the lad was mingled with a new admiration for the speaker. The tale did not lie entirely in the mere words describing the accident; but, under all that, it told of the generous, kindly sympathy of the true doctor, who shrinks from the sight of pain, even while he gives his life to watching and helping it.
Two weeks later Marjorie was spending a stormy afternoon at the Burnams', when Ned appeared on the piazza.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed, as he furled his dripping umbrella, and shook himself out of his rubber coat. "You'd better believe I'm wet. Lou went off before it rained, and I had to pack her rubbers and umbrella over to her. It's no joke to walk a mile in such a pour."
"Where is she?" asked Allie, while she hospitably drew up a chair for her guest.
"Over the creek with that boy of hers. She puts in ever so much time there, since he's better. She says he's crazy to read and be read to, so she goes over 'most every day," responded Ned, as he wriggled away from the too exuberant caresses of Ben.
"How is he getting on?" inquired Marjorie.
"All right, as much as he can. Lou says he's bright and knows a good deal."
"How kind she's been to him!" said Allie thoughtfully. "And Charlie, too. He buys lots of things for him, and sends them over by Dr. Brownlee."
"Good for Charlie Mac! That's just like him," said Ned enthusiastically. "Where is he, anyhow?"
"We supposed he was over at your house with Grant," answered Howard from the corner where he sat, industriously whittling at a set of small wooden pegs.
"It must be nice to have money, and do all sorts of things like that," sighed Marjorie. "I can't afford to buy books and fruit, for I'm always short on my allowance; and mamma won't let me give up my lessons, even for one day, so I can't do what Miss Lou does."
"Poor Marj! It's a hard case; for time's money, and you haven't any of either," remarked Howard.
"Wait a minute!" she answered, starting from her chair, and pacing up and down the room, as was her habit when much absorbed. "I'm getting hold of an idea."
"Hold on, then, and don't let it go," advised Ned, dodging the sofa pillow that Marjorie hurled at him.
"Listen!" she commanded imperatively. "It's really and truly a good plan. You know we haven't any too much money, for we all of us spend our allowances faster than we get them; but let's begin to save, and put it all together, till by and by we can send him something."
"Good, Marjorie! What a splendid idea!" exclaimed Allie, fired with zeal at the thought.
"But, I say," remonstrated Howard; "how long are you going to keep up the scheme? I can save like a house afire, for a little while; but Christmas is coming, and I've promised to give Allie a rubber doll, and charity begins at home, you know. I'm willing to help on your lad for a month or so; but let's put a limit to it."
"I didn't think you'd be so stingy, Howard," said Marjorie, turning on him a gaze of virtuous sorrow.
"'T isn't stingy," retorted Howard; "it's common sense. I 'm as sorry for him as you are; but I think we'd better go easy on it a little, and see how we come out."
"Let's try it for a month," interposed Allie hastily, for she saw that Marjorie was growing indignant. "If we save all we can, we shall have a good deal by that time. What shall we get him?"
"A whole set of Henty's books," suggested Ned promptly.
"No; I think he'd like a tool-chest better," said Howard, eyeing with disfavor the shabby knife in his hand.
"What an idea, Howard! He couldn't use a tool-chest, even if he had one," said Allie, laughing disrespectfully at her brother's suggestion. "We want to get him something he could have the good of all the time. What do you say, Marjorie?"
"Miss Lou said he used to sing a good deal," observed Marjorie, her virtue coming to the surface once more. "Why wouldn't it be nice to get him one of the new hymnals; a great big one, with all the tunes in it? I think he'd find it very comforting."
A pause followed her words; then the boys burst into a shout of laughter. Marjorie looked a little aggrieved.
"I don't see what you're laughing at," she said, with a suspicion of a pout. "Hymns are a great deal better for such people than your crazy old books and tool-chests."
"Don't be a jay, Marjorie," said Ned bluntly. "He isn't any more such people than we are; and because a fellow is down on his luck he doesn't want everybody shying coffins at him. But here comes Grant; let's see what he says. Then we can save up for a month, and see how much we get; after that, we can tell better what to do with it."
For the next four weeks a spirit of miserliness seemed to have broken out among the young people, who scrimped and saved and denied themselves for days, only to succumb to the temptations of "just one little bit of a treat," which swept away most of their savings again, and left them no better off than before. The day after they had taken their great resolution, they went down town in a body, and invested most of the funds at the disposal of the syndicate in an elaborate toy bank, in the form of a dog who stolidly swallowed their stray bits of silver and nickel into an iron strong-box below, which nothing but a powerful hammer could ever succeed in opening. As soon as this purchase was made, and a nest-egg solemnly deposited in its miniature vault, their zeal cooled, and the dog was left in Allie's keeping for a week of slow starvation. It is true that Charlie often begged to be allowed to contribute from his own more abundant resources; but it had been agreed that he could only add one fifth to the combined offerings of the others; so, though the end of the month was fast approaching, the bank was still nearly as light as when it came from the store, and only responded with a faint rattle to Allie's frequent shakings.
Matters were in this condition, one day, when Grant dropped in for one of his frequent short calls on Marjorie.
"Mustn't stay," he answered briefly; "I'm on my way down to get my hair cut. I'm going to try Charlie Mac's barber; he gets a better shape on your hair, somehow."
"Extravagant boy!" said Marjorie reproachfully. "You'll have to pay him ever so much. How much does he charge, anyway?"
"Six bits," answered Grant, as he picked up his hat, and took hold of the door knob.
"That's perfectly shameful," said Marjorie. "It's ever so much more than you generally pay. I'll tell you what: I'll do it for you for ten cents, and you can have all the rest to put in our bank. You haven't begun to give your share."
"I can't help it; a fellow can't live on nothing," said Grant defensively. "I've only had two sodas and a new bat this week. Besides, I want my hair cut like Charlie's."
"I should think you would be ashamed to spend so much on just your looks, when you think of that poor, exploded boy," said Marjorie in a sanctimonious tone. "And then," she added persuasively, "if you let me cut it for ten cents, you can spend some for a treat and put the rest in the bank."
Grant wavered. The prospect of having an unexpected treat, and at the same time of putting a little money into their hoard was an attractive one; but, after all, his boyish soul was filled with a vain desire to see how his yellow hair would look, after being cut by Charlie's man. Moreover, Charlie's barber was an expensive luxury, and Grant had experienced some difficulty in coaxing the necessary funds out of Mrs. Pennypoker, so he had a little natural misgiving as to her opinion of his putting the money to other uses.
"You could get a soda, and ever so many pine nuts," went on the tempter, touching her victim's weakest spot.
Grant yielded a little.
"Have you ever cut anybody's hair?" he demanded.
"No; but I can, well enough. It's just as easy." And Marjorie gave her hand an impressive sweep through the air. "I know just exactly how," she added.
"You're sure you can make it look all right?" asked Grant again, while there floated through his mind a blissful vision of himself, tranquilly eating pine nuts, and of the others, standing grouped about him, praising his generosity.
"Course I can; why not?" said Marjorie scornfully. "Don't you s'pose I know how a boy's hair ought to look?"
"And you'll do it for ten cents?"
"All right; sail in!" And Grant dropped into a chair and closed his eyes, as if he were about to be decapitated.
"You needn't think I'm going to do it here in the parlor," said Marjorie. "It's going to make an awful muss; you must come out of doors."
"You needn't think I'm going to freeze," retorted the victim, opening his eyes to glare at her belligerently. "If I give you the job, and pay you all that for it, I'm going to have something to say about the way it's done. You can spread down a paper, if you're afraid."
"Well," said Marjorie reluctantly; "I don't know but 'twould be cold on the piazza. Wait a minute, and I'll be ready."
Her preparations were quickly made. A layer of newspapers was spread over the carpet, and a chair set out in the middle of the room. Then she tied a blue checked apron around Grant's neck, and announced herself as in readiness.
"Sit down there," she commanded, as she dived into a box of scrap-book materials for a pair of paste-stained scissors; "and don't you dare to wiggle, for I shall cut you if you do." And she gave the scissors an expressive clash above his head.
"All right," said Grant again, as he once more closed his eyes and assumed a look of abject misery.
Then silence fell upon the room, and for a long half hour the stillness was only broken by the clatter of the loose-jointed scissors, and an occasional moan from Grant, when the blunt points collided with his skin with more than ordinary vigor. With one hand clutching the boy's yellow head for support, Marjorie stood over him, clipping and trimming, then stopping to contemplate the result of her labors, before attacking a new spot. She had started out upon her undertaking valiantly enough; but a dozen reckless slashes had begun to awaken some slight misgivings in her mind, and she proceeded more slowly and with frequent pauses, while an anxious pucker about her brows showed that she was not entirely satisfied with her work. Worst of all, Grant was beginning to grow restive.
"'Most through?" he had inquired some time before.
But Marjorie had consoled him with assurances of his speedy release; and he had resigned himself to the inevitable and sat quiet for ten minutes longer. Then he burst out again.
"Say, Marjorie," he protested; "you scratch like fun; and you've been long enough about it to cut a dozen hairs. Hurry up, there!"
"I'm almost through," she answered hastily. "Your hair's so tough it takes me longer than I thought 'twould."
"How's it going to look?"
"Lovely!" responded Marjorie, with a fervor which she was far from feeling, while she made a few hurried clips at a long lock which, in some way, had escaped her vigilance. "There!" she added. "That's all. You can get up."
Grant rose and shook himself; then, with the apron still hanging about his neck, he marched to the nearest mirror and gazed at the reflection of his shorn head. It was a strange picture that met his eyes. His head was encircled with narrow furrows, where the scissors had done their work so well that not a spear of hair rose above the bare skin. These ridges were intermingled with patches of stubble of varying length; while, here and there, a long lock had escaped entirely, and, in the lack of its former support, now stood out from his scalp at an aggressive angle, like the fur on the back of an angry cat. The whole effect resembled nothing so much as a piece of half-cleared woodland, where the workman's axe had here levelled everything to the ground, here left a clump or two of bushes, and here spared an occasional giant tree which towered far above its fallen comrades, in the conscious pride of its unimpaired strength.
The result was novel; but Grant appeared to fail to appreciate it, for when he turned back to face Marjorie again his brown eyes were blazing, and he was well-nigh speechless with indignation.
"You beastly fraud!" he shouted, while he rubbed his hand over his denuded pate, with a tenderly caressing motion, as if to console it for its appearance.
"What's the matter?" asked Marjorie faintly.
"Matter!" stormed Grant. "Look at my head and see for yourself. You said you could cut my hair all right, and you've just spoiled it all. I won't pay you one cent. It'll take weeks and weeks for it to get back again."
"It looks all right," said Marjorie stubbornly; "and you've got to pay me. You said you would, and you never lie. The time I spent on it is worth more than ten cents, anyway."
"I sha'n't pay you," retorted Grant doggedly.
"Then I'll tell Allie and Charlie, and all the rest, that you're stingy and a great big cheat."
"Tell away if you're mean enough."
"And I'll tell Mrs. Pennypoker; and she'll send you to bed without your supper, for stealing her money."
"Didn't steal it!"
"Yes, you did, too! She gave it to you for something, and you were going to spend part of it for soda; that's stealing."
"'T isn't, either!"
"'T is, too, and you know it! And if you aren't ashamed of it why don't you want me to tell her?"
Grant saw that his enemy had outflanked him, and that his only possible course was to make the best terms he could.
"Now, see here," he said more quietly, as he pointed to his head again; "this isn't worth anything; but you've cornered me, so I can't get out. But, if I pay you, you must give me back a nickel, to pay for the hole you snicked out of my ear."
Marjorie's face fell. She had been hoping that he would not notice the little red spot on the tip of his left ear.
"And then," continued Grant remorselessly; "you can just put on your hat, and come along with me to Allie's. We'll each put a nickel in the bank, and then we'll be square. But you'd better believe I'll tell the boys who did this, so they won't get taken in as I did."
A week later, Charlie and Allie opened the bank and counted the funds. Only sixty-five cents had accumulated there; Allie's face fell as she surveyed the meagre hoard.
"Hush up!" commanded Charlie, as he dropped something yellow and shining into her lap. "I was in a bad fix last summer, and I know how 'tis, so I ought to help on more than the rest of you. You just keep still and don't say anything to the others."
And no one else ever knew the full history of the magazine that put in its appearance at the beginning of the following month, with a greeting to the stranger boy from his friends across the creek.
HOME WITHOUT A MOTHER.
There was mutiny in the Burnam household. It had broken out the night before, when Vic was saying his prayers in the presence of Mrs. Pennypoker, who was supposed to be temporarily filling his mother's place. At the petition for daily bread, Vic had stopped short.
"Go on," said Mrs. Pennypoker, in slow, measured tones.
Victor opened his eyes and glared at her with undevout opposition.
"Don't want bread," he said firmly. "Vic likes biskies."
"It means the same thing, Victor," answered Mrs. Pennypoker, in her hard voice. "Now be a good little boy and finish your prayer, or God won't listen to you, another time, when you are asking him for something."
It was then that Vic had delivered himself of his first baby heresy, which had been slowly working in his brain while Mrs. Pennypoker had been urging him through his devotions, in a manner so unlike the tender gentleness of his pretty mamma.
"I don't like your God," he said deliberately, as he gazed up into the cold, dark eyes above him; "I don't like your God a bit; I'm tired of him. I want my mamma's." And, rising from his knees, he dived into bed, where he burst out sobbing for mamma; nor would he be quieted until Mrs. Pennypoker had left the room, and sent Allie up to comfort her baby brother with repeated assurances that mamma would come by and by.
Two days before this, Mrs. Burnam had received a note from her husband, saying that a fall from his horse had bruised and strained him a little, and that it seemed best for him to stay a few days at a small country hotel, not far from his camp. In reality, it was only a slight affair; but Mrs. Burnam had felt so uneasy that she had resolved to go to him, to be at hand in case he might need any of the little attentions which it would be hard for him to get, in the small town where he was left. Since Victor would be only an additional care, she had decided not to take him with her; but, remembering the emergency which had arisen during her last absence, she had begged Mrs. Pennypoker to take charge of the household for the time that she was away from home.
This arrangement had not met with the entire approval of the young people, it must be confessed; for Howard and Allie had hoped to be allowed to pose as heads of the house, while Victor had lifted up his voice in vigorous protest against the intruder. However, until Victor's rebellion, the second night, there had been no open outbreak, although there was an undercurrent of antagonism between Mrs. Pennypoker and the children, which threatened an explosion at any moment. It was a new experience for Howard and Allie to have their fun and laughter repressed, and they were far from being ready to submit to it with a good grace; while Janey had promptly ranged herself upon their side, and manifested a monkey-like ingenuity in planning the pranks which were making Mrs. Pennypoker's frown grow deeper at every moment.
"Just look at Janey!" Howard had whispered to his sister, as the maid came in at dinner-time, with the strings of her dainty white cap tied under her chin, and the point standing up from her forehead like an old woman's poke bonnet.
Mrs. Pennypoker caught the whisper. Putting on her glasses, she turned to glare at Janey, who received her stare with an unmoved countenance.
"Jane," she said, with crushing dignity; "go back to the kitchen, and arrange your cap properly."
And Janey went, but it was not until she had given the two boys a look which upset their gravity and forced them to retire behind their napkins. She was gone for some moments, and when she reappeared her cap was drawn far down over her face, and she came tiptoeing in with short, mincing steps, to go through her serving with an exaggerated elegance, bowing and smirking and flourishing her tray, with all the airs and graces at her command. However, there was nothing to be done about it, and Mrs. Pennypoker was forced to be content with ignoring her for the present, while she frowned down any demonstrations of amusement on the part of the children. The rest of the meal was hurried through in silence, and as soon as it was over the young people shut themselves up in Allie's room, to vent their indignation by talking over the events of the past two days.
"You don't catch anybody getting in ahead of Janey, though," said Howard with a chuckle. "She's a match for even Mrs. Pennypoker."
"I'm 'most afraid she'll get mad and go off," said Allie anxiously. "Mrs. Pennypoker has just been nagging at her all day long, and Janey won't put up with it. She isn't used to it, as Wang Kum is."
"Even Wang Kum kicked, the other day," said Charlie, sitting down on the footboard of the bed, and swinging his heels while he talked. "Grant told me about it. Wang made a mistake and threw away all her soup she'd made, just before dinner; and when she scolded him for it, he said he 't'ought 'twas dish-water.' She gave him fits, scolded like everything, till all at once he drew himself up and said: 'Old lady scold heap much; Wang no be bossed by hens.' And he turned and walked off, and left her standing there, with her mouth wide open."
"Good enough for her!" applauded Howard. "I only hope Janey'll serve her the same way."
"I don't believe I do," said Allie thoughtfully. "She's here, and we'll have to make the best of her. But don't you pity Ned and Grant, to have to stand her all the time?"
The predicted explosion was not slow in coming. Charlie had come in after his lessons, the next morning, clasping a huge watermelon in his arms, and, without a word to Mrs. Pennypoker, he had carried it through to the kitchen.
"Here, Janey," he called; "I'm awfully hungry, and if you'll cut this up for us to eat now, before lunch, I'll give you a quarter of it. You'd better do it, for it's the last one you'll get this year."
With the zeal of her melon-loving race, Janey's eyes glistened, as she received the treasure.
"Dat's a gay one, Mars' Charlie!" she exclaimed, as she snapped her fingers against its green rind, and listened delightedly to the clear, crisp sound. "Janey'll cut it right up for you, befo' she sets de table or anything. You all likes melons so well, you ought to see 'em we has down Souf. Reckon you'd jus' about bu'st you'selves, eatin' 'em."
She gave the melon one more ecstatic embrace, and dandled it fondly in her arms for a moment; then she laid it carefully down on the table, while she went for a knife.
"'Wa-a-atermelon! Green rind, red meat; All juicy, so sweet. Dem dat has money mus' come up an' buy; And dem dat hasn't mus' stan' back an' cry Wa-a-a-atermelon!'"
She crooned to herself, as she returned with the knife in her hand, and stuck it in, clear to the heart of the fruit before her.
"What's that, Janey?" asked Allie, who had followed Charlie out into the kitchen.
"Dat? Dat's a song I done heard an ol' man singin', one day. He had some melons to sell, out on de corner by my mudder's house, an' he kep' a singin' it ober an' ober. Ah, dat's a fine one!" she added contentedly, as the rich red heart of the melon appeared. She paused for a moment, then she cocked her head on one side, as she gazed rapturously at the great piece which Charlie offered her. "You all know how me an' my brudder use' to eat our melons, when mammy wan' roun' to smack us?" she inquired suddenly.
"How'd you do it?" asked Charlie, laughing.
"Dis way. See?" And clutching the piece in both hands, she buried her face in it, and began to devour it, much as a squirrel gnaws the meat out of a walnut.
So absorbed was she in her enjoyment of her feast, that she did not hear the door open and Mrs. Pennypoker come into the kitchen.
"Jane!" said the strong voice.
Janey started at the sound, and choked on a seed.
"Yes, mis'," she responded as soon as she could speak, while she raised her head from the rind.
"What are you doing?" demanded Mrs. Pennypoker sternly.
Her manner was not encouraging. There was a defiant flash in Janey's eyes, as she said sullenly,—
"Ol' mis' done got eyes. What she s'pose I's doin'?"
"But I told you to get the lunch."
"I was goin' to, in a minute; but Mars' Charlie done wanted me to cut his melon, an' I thought 'twouldn't make no difference."
"You are not here to think; you are here to do the work," said Mrs. Pennypoker magisterially. "If I tell you to do something, you must do it."
At the last words, Janey drew herself up to her full height and glared at Mrs. Pennypoker. Something in the unconscious dignity of her figure, as she stood there, seemed to dwarf her temporary mistress into insignificance.
"You cyarn' say mus' to me," she said in a slow, repressed tone. "Dese ain' no slave days, an ol' mis' cyarn' make 'em so. I ain' no heathen an' I ain' no slave. My mammy bought herself an' her husban', an' we's all freeborn."
She had moved forward a step or two, and thrown out her hand, while her eyes gleamed with an angry luster. Suddenly she controlled herself.
"I sha'n' say no mo'," she went on slowly; "'cause I might forget myself an' be sassy, an' I don' wan' to do dat. But ol' mis' better not interfere with me, an' say mus', or I'll pack my trunk an' not come back till Mrs. Burnam comes home. She buys my time, an' while I'm yere I belongs to her; but she don' bully me. She's a lady like what we use' ter have down Souf, befo' de war; not like you Yankees."
Into her final sentence Janey had compressed all the scorn of which she was capable. For a moment longer, she stood facing Mrs. Pennypoker; then, turning on her heel, she left the room.
Mrs. Pennypoker was the first one of the group to come to her senses.
"That girl shall leave the house to-night," she exclaimed angrily. "I won't have her here an hour longer."
"You aren't going to send Janey off!" demanded Allie indignantly.
"I certainly shall not keep her after what has occurred," returned Mrs. Pennypoker coldly.
"But you can't; she isn't yours. She's mamma's," remonstrated Allie.
"I am taking your mother's place for the present, and I shall not retain a servant who is so disrespectful," answered Mrs. Pennypoker again. "I am surprised at you, Alice, for interfering in a matter which does not belong to you."
"It does belong to me, too," returned Allie mutinously. "Janey's a splendid girl, and mamma just thinks everything of her. She'll never forgive you, if you send her off; and what's more, I hope she won't; so there, now!"
"Alice!" And there was no mistaking the meaning of Mrs. Pennypoker's tone.
"I don't care if 'tis!" exclaimed Allie, with illogical recklessness. "You're just too mean, and I don't blame Janey one bit."
"Alice!" repeated Mrs. Pennypoker. "You may go to your room, and not leave it again to-day. I shall tell your mother exactly what has occurred."
"Tell away!" returned Allie. "I just hope you will. I'm not afraid of mamma; she's not so cross as some people." And forcing back the angry tears, she walked away in the direction of her room, leaving the half-frightened boys to look alter her in silent sympathy.
Once in the safe retreat of her own room, Allie's courage broke down, and, throwing herself on her bed, she began to cry convulsively, as she realized all the injustice of her punishment, all the petty tyranny she had borne for the past three days. For a few moments the sobs came faster and faster. Then, when her first excitement was over, she began to think. Mrs. Pennypoker ought to be ashamed of herself for abusing them so; and how angry her mother would be when she knew it! Perhaps the long day of loneliness and fasting would make her ill; then Mrs. Pennypoker would be sorry. It might be that she would never get over it, but would go into a decline. How they would all mourn for her! She went on to plan the minutest details of her funeral with all the gloomy cheerfulness of an undertaker; but, when she came to fancy the loneliness of Howard and Charlie, the distressing picture overcame her, and she began to sob once more. However, the tears would not flow quite so readily this time; and, under all her pity for herself, she began to wonder uneasily if, perhaps, she had not been a little hasty and rude to Mrs. Pennypoker. It might be that her mother would not altogether sympathize with her, after all. This was not an agreeable thought, and, to silence it, she sprang up and crossed the room to put some cold water on her flushed and swollen face. As she did so, she saw a slip of paper tucked under the door, and she seized it eagerly, for it was addressed to her, and in Charlie's writing.
"Good for you, Allie!" it said. "Keep up your pluck till afternoon, and we'll have some fun then."
There was something encouraging in the boyish sympathy; and, as Allie stood caressingly rubbing the note against her cheek, she found herself wondering what he could mean by his reference to possible fun in the afternoon. The outlook for the rest of the day did not seem to promise much in the way of enjoyment; but Allie knew her cousin's ingenuity well enough to rely upon his word, so she could resign herself to wait.
The next hour was a long one to the young prisoner, who wandered restlessly about the room, or tried to amuse herself with a book, although all the time she was inwardly dwelling upon the ignominy of her punishment, and dreading lest it should reach the ears of Marjorie and the Everetts, or, worst of all, of Dr. Brownlee, whose good opinion she especially desired to retain. At the end of the hour, Mrs. Pennypoker herself appeared on the threshold, with a plate of crackers in one hand and a glass of water in the other. Without a word to the captive, she set the meagre lunch upon the table, and withdrew, locking the door behind her. At this last insult, Allie's temper flashed up again. It was enough to punish her so severely; but it was not necessary to distrust her honor, and lock her up like a criminal. At least, she would not touch the rations her jailer had left. Deliberately she picked them up, and, going to the window, she threw out the water with a splash, and tossed the crackers after it. She hesitated for a moment, and then hurled the plate and glass after them, with an angry determination which sent them crashing far across the uneven ground beneath her window. That done, she sat down to read with a quieted conscience.
Through the closed door she could hear Mrs. Pennypoker moving to and fro about the house, and now and again Vic's baby voice fell upon her ears; but, for the most part, the house was very still. At length she heard some one calling her name in a low voice. Throwing aside her book, she went to the door and listened intently, till she heard the call repeated. This time it was evident that the sound came from outside the window. She hurried across the room and threw it wide open. In a moment more Charlie had scrambled into the room.
"Hullo!" he remarked, as he tossed his cap into a chair. "You're awfully warm in here, so let's leave the window open. We're safe enough, for Mrs. Pennypoker can't hear us. Besides, Dr. Hornblower is in the parlor talking to her, and she won't know anything more to-day."
"But what are you going to do?" asked Allie, watching him in amazement, as he seated himself at his ease and unbuttoned his light gray coat, to expose to view a great round parcel concealed inside it.
"I'm going to spend the afternoon with you, of course," returned Charlie composedly. "You didn't s'pose I was going back on you after the way you stuck to me last June? Well, not much! We could climb out of the window and go off, but she'd be sure to find it out, and that would only make it worse, so we'll stay here and have a lark."
"You're a dear old boy, Charlie!" And Allie embraced him tempestuously. "But how did you ever stand it to be shut in here so long, last summer? This last hour has 'most killed me."
"I wasn't all alone, you know, much of the time. But, I say, come off!" he remonstrated, as Allie renewed her demonstrations of affection. "You needn't stand my hair on end just because I've come. Here's a pie I sniped off the pantry shelf, for I thought most likely you'd be hungry."
"I'm nearly starved," answered Allie gratefully. "Mrs. Pennypoker did bring me some crackers this noon, though."
"Crackers aren't much good, and those are all gone by this time, aren't they?" inquired Charlie scornfully.
"Yes, every one; gone out of the window," returned her cousin disdainfully. "Charlie MacGregor, I'd have starved to death before I touched one of her old crackers!"
"That's the way to talk," said Charlie approvingly. "She's a Tartar and a Turk, Allie, and I'd like to tell her what I think of her—if I only dared. But, if I did, she'd just lock us up in different rooms; and it's more fun to be together."
"I did tell her—Oh, dear, I wish mamma would come back," sighed Allie. "How shall we ever stand it three more days, Charlie?"
"Grin and bear it, mostly," returned Charlie, philosophically. "Janey's packed up her clothes and gone off, and she says she won't step into this house again till auntie gets back. I don't blame her; but Mrs. Pennypoker'll have to turn cook, or else send over for Wang. But go on and eat your pie, Allie, and you'll feel better. She's a Turk, I tell you; but I'll see that auntie knows all about it, and I know she won't think you're a bit to blame."
"But, Charlie, you aren't going to stay here all this everlasting afternoon," remonstrated Allie, as her woe yielded to the combined influences of her cousin's consolation and his pie. "It isn't fair at all, when you might be off with the boys having a good time."
"Well, it strikes me this ought to be my innings," answered Charlie quietly, while he settled his glasses on his nose and then took up the book which his cousin had just tossed aside. "How many days and weeks, I'd like to know, did you stay in here with me, when 't was hot and dark and stuffy here! It's only fair that you should let me take my turn now. You needn't talk to me, if you don't want to; but I shall stay here as long as I choose, and you can't put me out, so you may as well make up your mind to it."
Two hours later, as Mrs. Pennypoker's step was heard in the hall outside, Charlie quietly let himself drop from the window-sill. Then he turned back to whisper,—
"Just don't you say anything about it, Allie; we aren't even now, and we sha'n't be, very soon. Besides, it's worth all the rest to have the fun of getting the inside track of her. Good-by till breakfast-time!" And he vanished around the corner of the house.
AT THE NINE-HUNDRED LEVEL.
Late October had come, and already the snow-line was creeping down the mountain sides towards the little town in the canon. Occasional flurries of snow filled the air, too, and the nights were sharp and frosty; but in the middle of the day it was still warm and bright, with a clearer, more bracing air than the summer had given, an air which tempted the young people out for long walks and rides up and down the valley. Louise often joined them in these expeditions, and it was no uncommon thing for them to be overtaken by Dr. Brownlee, who generally begged permission to spend a leisure hour with their party. This addition to their number was always hailed with delight by the children; for while the doctor usually took his place by the side of Louise, he was never too much absorbed in his companion to join the boys in their fun, or to treat Allie and Marjorie with the gentle chivalry which made them feel so grown up and elegant, a chivalry that is so rarely shown to children, yet never fails to afford them a delight even more keen than it gives to their older sisters.
Allie and the boys were coming up through the town, one Saturday morning, after a brisk walk in the clear, crisp air. They had passed "tin-can-dom," as Howard called the open field just below the town, which was thickly strewn with these indigestible relics of past feasts, and were just outside the fence separating Chinatown from its American surroundings, when Allie stopped abruptly.
"Look there!" she exclaimed, pointing over the low wall into the enclosure, where the tiny log cabins were scattered irregularly about the ground, and where long-tailed, moon-faced Chinamen were scuffling aimlessly about. "Isn't that Vic?"
"Where?" asked Howard, while Charlie added,—
"What an idea, Allie! Of course he wouldn't be in there."
"Yes; but 'tis Vic. I know that long red coat of his," responded Allie hastily. "Right in there, between those two log houses—see?"
True enough, there in the forbidden ground of Chinatown stood Vic, his red coat and fez making him a striking little figure against the dull background of a rough log house, as he gazed intently up into the yellow face of an elderly Chinaman, who was carrying two buckets of water hanging from a yoke across his shoulders.
"'Tis, after all; but what can he be doing there?" said Charlie, staring in astonishment at the scene before him.
"Never mind what he's doing," said Allie. "He ran away, I suppose; but we must get him home. I'll wait here, while you go and bring him out. Mamma'd be dreadfully frightened if she knew where he was. Now hurry!"
The boys dashed away, and soon came back to her side, with the small wanderer between them. Vic was in a state of open rebellion over this abrupt ending to his explorations, and lifted up his voice in lamentation, as Allie firmly turned his steps towards home.
"Everybody went off," he explained in an aggrieved tone. "You went, and Ben went, and papa went, and ven I went, too. And I will go back to see the Moolly-cow-man."
But his sister refused to be persuaded, and Vic's voice died away to a whisper, as he continued to babble to himself of the wonders he had seen in his walk.
"There's one thing, Allie, that I don't get used to, in this country," remarked Charlie, as they were crossing the main street; "and that's the signs. See there!" And he pointed to a long, white building, one door of which was surmounted with the sign, in great gilt letters: Embalming Emporium; while a board, swinging out from its next-door neighbor, bore the legend, Shoos 1/2 Soled Here. "But, I say," he added, as they came in sight of the house; "what do you suppose Ned and Grant want? They've camped out on our piazza, as if they meant to stay there. Hi—i!" he shouted, waving his cap above his head.
"Hurry u—up!" responded Ned, returning the salute with interest.
"Thought you'd never come," added Grant, as they drew nearer.
"What do you want?" asked Howard.
But before Ned had time to reply, Allie interposed,—
"Just wait one minute, do, till I take Vic into the house to mamma. Is she very much worried about him?"
"Don't believe she is," answered Ned. "She didn't say anything about it. Probably she hasn't missed him at all. Now," he resumed, as Allie came back to the piazza; "I've been waiting here for thirty-nine ages and a quarter; and I was just ready to give up and go home again. Papa sent me up to tell you that he's going to take a crowd down the Blue Creek, this afternoon, and to ask you if you don't want to come along with us."
"I shouldn't think he'd dare take Charlie again, for fear he'd hoodoo it all," said Grant disrespectfully.
"Who's going?" asked Howard.
"All of us; Cousin Euphemia and all; and Dr. Brownlee and Marjorie and you. We're going to have an early dinner, and start at one, so we can go through the smelter, after we come up. Cousin Euphemia is making her will now, most likely; she didn't want to go, but papa talked her into it. You'll be on hand; won't you?"
"We'll be thar," responded Howard, with a twang that might have done credit to Janey.
"Isn't it fun to go!" said Allie delightedly. "I've always wanted to go down, and never could. You and I will be the green ones, Charlie; all the rest have been before."
"The doctor and Cousin Euphemia haven't," said Ned. "But I'll take care of you, Allie, and show you all there is to be seen. Come along, Grant; we must be going." And the brothers departed in haste.
Punctually at one o'clock, Charlie and his cousins were at the Everetts', where they found that their party had received one unexpected addition. The Reverend Gabriel Hornblower had dropped in to dinner, and common courtesy had made it necessary for Mr. Everett to invite him to join the expedition. As they left the house, Louise, with her father and Dr. Brownlee, took the lead, while close in the rear walked Dr. Hornblower, edging forward as far as possible, in order to join in their conversation, with an utter disregard of Mrs. Pennypoker, who had attached herself to his side, and manifested every intention of maintaining her position. The short walk through the town was quickly taken; and it was still early in the afternoon when they stood beside the shaft. Mr. Somers, Mr. Everett's assistant, was waiting for them there; and, a few moments later, the new cage had come up the shaft, and halted to receive them.
"But what makes them call it a cage?" demanded Allie, eyeing with disfavor the pair of heavy platforms before her "I thought 'twould have openwork brass sides, like the elevators in Denver."
"And hot and cold water, and gas, and all the other modern improvements?" inquired Ned, as he helped himself to a pair of candles in their iron sockets, and passed one of them on to Allie. "Don't be a snob, Allie; you won't find much furniture down below."
"You take Mrs. Pennypoker and my daughter, with the gentlemen, on the upper deck, Somers," Mr. Everett was saying; "and I'll take these children in the lower, and look out for them there."
According to the usual method, the upper platform was brought to the level of the ground, to receive its freight, before the cage was raised the necessary seven feet, to allow Mr. Everett and the young people to step on the lower floor. Then they slowly sank away from the light, down, down, while Allie clutched Ned's protecting hand, and tried in vain to enjoy her novel ride. At length they came to a halt at a broad, square station, and the two decks of the cage were quickly unloaded.
"This is the nine-hundred level," Mr. Everett told them, as they stood grouped about him. "We have three more below,—they're one hundred feet apart, you know,—and we're still sinking the shaft. The cage in that next compartment is given up to the men who are doing the sinking."
"It's a rich vein, then, I take it," said Dr. Brownlee.
"A fine one, better than we supposed when we bought it. It dips down sharply to the east, and we cross it at the five-hundred, so we don't have to work so far in any one direction to strike it. You see, we run a cross-cut straight out from the shaft, till we hit the vein; then we turn both ways and run along through it; so, at every level, our workings are like a great T, with the stem growing larger with every hundred feet we go down."
"And this is how deep?" asked Louise.
"Nine hundred," repeated her father, while he hastily snatched Marjorie out of the path of an ore car, which came thundering down the cross-cut and turned abruptly into the station.
"It's a solemn thing to feel that you are nine hundred feet from the light," observed Mrs. Pennypoker, as she gathered her skirts more closely about her.
"Yes," responded the Reverend Gabriel, waving his right hand, lamp and all; "it reminds one of the mighty power of the earthquake, when it stoops to trample on a worm."
Then they were silent, as they followed Mr. Everett through the long gallery, pausing now and then near one of the electric lights that dotted the corridor, to listen to his off-hand explanations of the work below ground. Dr. Brownlee appeared to be especially interested in the subject.
"How do you get the ore on the cage?" he asked. "Do you run it on, car and all, or do you unload it?"
"How little these Eastern folks do know!" remarked the Reverend Gabriel, in an audible aside to Louise.
"Perhaps we should all be better off, if we knew more about it," she replied, with a touch of coldness in her tone, as she turned her back upon the Reverend Gabriel, and took her place at her father's side, where she met the amused glance of Dr. Brownlee, who had overhead both remarks.
"They signal the cage, and run the car on it," answered Mr. Everett. "We don't let but one man ring for the engineer. He has to stay near one of the stations, where he can hear; and when the miners want him, they go to the station and pound their signal on one of the water-pipes, for him to repeat. We had a green hand, though, that tried to improve on our plan, a few years ago. He attempted to catch the cage on the fly, as it went up past him; and he actually aimed the car at it, and ran it down."
"Did he hit it?" asked Charlie.
"Hardly," returned Mr. Everett, laughing. "The cage was too quick for him, and went on up; and both the car and the man fell clear to the bottom of the shaft."
"Oh-h!" And Marjorie's eyes grew round with horror. "I should think 'twould have hurt him awfully."
"Well, yes, Marjorie; I should have thought it would," said Howard, mimicking her tone, while the others joined in the laugh at her expense.
Then they went on to the end of the cross-cut, and, turning at a sharp angle, they came into the drift, the long gallery running through the vein. For some distance, the drift, like the cross-cut, was lined with timbers, then the lining ceased, as they neared the end of the drift, where the miners were hard at work, drilling for fresh blasts, or tearing out the ore loosened by the last explosion, and loading it into the little car which stood ready to be run down the track to the station. Seven feet above, so that the roof of the lower level formed the flooring of the next, was another short gallery, where the men were busy stoping, digging out the ore from the upper tier. Dingy and grimy as they were, it was fascinating to watch them, burrowing, like so many moles, in the depths of the earth. The visitors lingered to look at them until they were frightened away by the preparations for a blast; then they slowly made their way back to the station, pausing a moment to watch a loaded car, as it rolled from the rails to the polished steel flooring, and swung around the corner into position, to wait for the cage. Mr. Everett looked at his watch.
"I'm sorry to hurry you," he said; "but I think we ought to be going; don't you, Somers? It's change day; and at three the cages will be full."
"Change day!" remarked Charlie to his cousin, in an undertone; "what's that?"
"Hush!" she whispered. "Don't show Dr. Hornblower how little you know. Remember that you're from the East, too."
But Dr. Brownlee was animated by no such motives of prudence, and quietly asked for an explanation of the term.
"We have two sets of men," Mr. Everett answered. "The day shift goes on at seven, and works till half past five; and the night one comes on at seven in the evening, and stays till half past five in the morning. Of course that's harder on one set of men than the other, so, once in two weeks, we have what we call change day. The day shift goes on at seven, and works till three; then the night fellows come right on and stay till eleven; and the old day shift comes back at eleven. By the next morning, you see, their places are just changed, and the night men are working in the daytime. Now," he added, as he stepped to the shaft, to ring his own private signal; "we'll go up and take a look through the smelter before—Why, where are Mrs. Pennypoker and Dr. Hornblower?"
There was a startled pause. No one had seen the missing members of the party since they had left the head of the drift, although they had supposed them to be following close behind their companions. Turning, they looked back up the cross-cut, but there was no Mrs. Pennypoker in sight. It seemed impossible that they could have lost their way, in a long, straight corridor, less than ten feet wide; some accident must have befallen them. Worst of all, there was no time for delay; the cage had just come for them, and in the distance could be heard the steps of the approaching miners, as they came in for the change of shift.
"We mustn't keep the cage waiting for us, now," said Mr. Everett hastily. "You go up with the others, Somers, and I'll go back and look them up. They can't be far off."
Turning, he walked rapidly back up the cross-cut, expecting at every moment to meet the truants, so sure was he that they had only loitered along behind the others, absorbed in discussing the spiritual welfare of Wang Kum and his Mongolian brethren. It was not until he had turned into the drift, and paused to question a group of miners whom he met there, that he began to be seriously alarmed. The men had not seen Mrs. Pennypoker and her escort since they had all been together at the head of the drift. Mr. Everett felt no hesitation in accepting their statement, for, in their ignorance of the relationship between the superintendent and his cousin, the miners spoke of Mrs. Pennypoker's appearance in such unguarded terms as left him no room to doubt their knowledge of the person for whom he was seeking. However, he still kept on to the head of the drift, thinking it possible that they might be in some dark corner, though he could think of no reason which should tempt them to conceal themselves in any such fashion. But his quest was unavailing, and, facing about, he returned to the head of the cross-cut where he paused, uncertain what course to pursue. Then he opened his mouth and shouted their names, with the full power of his strong bass voice. The sound echoed up and down through the galleries and then died away, to be followed by a high-pitched feminine shriek.
The cry came from the opposite end of the drift from the one which they had been exploring, and Mr. Everett turned his steps in that direction. This end had been abandoned, some days before, in consequence of a serious leak in the pipes connecting with the pump; and it was now only lighted for a short distance beyond the mouth of the cross-cut. Now that the pump had ceased, the water had settled over the floor, to form a deep, thick clay which rendered progress slow and difficult. He had just passed the last electric light and was proceeding even more cautiously than before, when he came to an abrupt halt. The feeble glimmer of his miner's lamp had fallen upon a strange picture, and one whose meaning he was not slow to grasp.
At one side of the drift and leaning against the wall, stood Mrs. Pennypoker, with one foot drawn up under her, much in the attitude of a meditative hen. A few feet away from her, the doctor was bending forward, with his lamp extended in one hand, while with his other he held his cane, which he was poking about in the soft, sticky mud.
"Well," said Mr. Everett at length, after he had watched them in silence, during some moments; "what are you doing here?"
The Reverend Gabriel and Mrs. Pennypoker both started guiltily. So interested had they been in their search, that they had been unconscious of Mr. Everett's approach until he stood before them. In her surprise, Mrs. Pennypoker came near losing her balance, and, to support herself, she put down her other foot. It was a shapely foot, and was covered with an immaculate white stocking, for Mrs. Pennypoker still adhered to some of the fashions of her far-off youth. Then the Reverend Gabriel answered.
"We inadvertently strayed from our way and came into this place, without realizing whither our steps were leading us," he said, while he continued to prod the mud before him; "and at length we fell, as you might observe, into the miry clay. I had just suggested the expediency of our return, when Mrs. Pennypoker—um—in short, met with an accident which unduly detained us and—ah, I have it!" he exclaimed triumphantly, as he carefully worked his stick put through the earth, and extended it in mid-air, with a shapeless, dripping mass hanging on its tip.
No further explanation was needed. Mrs. Pennypoker, as has been said, still clung to some of the fashions of bygone days; and, among other similar foibles, she cherished a fondness for congress gaiters, and invariably wore those feeble apologies for shoes whose limp cloth uppers are held in place by means of elastic wedges at the sides. In arraying herself for her visit to the mine, with characteristic New England thrift, she had put on an ancient pair of these gaiters, whose elastic sides had long since lost all their spring, and lay in ample folds about her ankles.
As Mr. Everett had surmised, his cousin, feeling no deep interest in the mine, had fallen into a theological discussion with her pastor. This had so engrossed them both that they had lost their way, and had only come to their senses when they found themselves in the dark, muddy passage of the deserted drift. They had hastily turned to retrace their steps, when Mrs. Pennypoker's foot slipped and plunged deep down into the clay; and, on her withdrawing it, she was horrified to feel that her foot was slowly but surely pulling out of her gaiter, instead of pulling her gaiter out with it. In vain she had attempted to work her foot down into her shoe once more; in vain she had endeavored to hook her bent toes into it, with a hold sufficient to draw it out. The mischief was done, and she could only lift up her foot, while the soft mud quickly settled in above the gaiter, and left no trace of the spot where it lay embedded.
It was evidently impossible for her to wade back to the cross-cut without it, and her size, age and dignity all combined to make it equally impossible for her to hop on one foot as far as the cross-cut; so she had been forced to come to a halt, while her companion prospected about in the earth, to find the vein in which his treasure was buried. At last it was found; but not even Mrs. Euphemia Pennypoker could present a dignified appearance as she received her muddy shoe from the end of the Reverend Gabriel's cane, drew it on to her foot, and walked away towards the station, with mingled clay and water oozing out from her gaiter, at her every step.
THE BEGINNING OF THE OLD STORY.
Once more winter had come, and the snow lay deep and white over the little camp. The pines on the mountain sides looked a hazy blue against the glistening slopes, and the bald white summits of the mountains themselves stood out in bold relief against the clear blue heavens. Even the night sky was changed at that altitude, for the stars glittered down through the cold, still air, with an intensity which made them look like gleaming bits of metal scattered over the dense, dark-blue clouds; while often and often the north was lighted with the glare of the pale aurora which streamed far across the sky, in long, waving banners of rose color or light green.
"But I like the way you people out here make fun of New England weather," remonstrated Charlie one day, as he stood in the front window, watching a sudden flurry of snow sweep down through the canon. "When I went down town to get the mail, this morning, it was raining so hard that I wore my mackintosh; but, by the time I was at the post-office, the sun was shining. I walked straight back home again, and it was hailing when I came up the steps. What sort of a climate do you call it, anyway?"
"A perfect one," returned Allie loyally.
"Not much! Montana buys up the job lots of weather left over from the other States, and cuts them up small before she serves them out again, just as they happen to come. Montana weather and Montana slang are the two richest crops in the State."
The past two months had been unbroken by any event of marked importance. Between their lessons and their frolics, the time of the young people had been well filled, and the days had hurried by, without any one's stopping to ask where they had gone. At the Burnams', life was going on smoothly and pleasantly, although Mr. Burnam was now busy in the field, hurrying to accomplish all that he could, before the storms of February should drive his party out of the mountains, until the spring thaws made field work possible once more.
By way of helping to pass the long winter evenings, Charlie had tried to bribe Allie to become his pupil and, after his hour of practice was ended, he usually took her in hand for a time, in a vain endeavor to teach her to play. But, in spite of her desire to please her cousin, Allie had neither the patience nor steadiness needful to keep her at the piano; and she much preferred to settle herself comfortably in front of the fire, and listen to her cousin's performances, rather than go through the drudgery of scales and exercises, upon which Charlie insisted, as the orthodox preparation for later work. Accordingly, Allie's music usually ended in a playful skirmish which sent Charlie back to the piano, to beguile her into good temper again, by means of some favorite melody. On rare occasions, when she was uncommonly meek, or when all other employment failed, she would be coaxed into running up and down over a few scales; but, in the end, her fingers invariably became snarled up with her thumbs; and, after one or two discordant crashes on the keys, she gave it up and threatened to buy a hand-organ for her contribution to the family music.
Her singing appeared to succeed no better. While she had a sweet, flexible voice, and went about the house singing softly to herself, as soon as she approached the piano a spirit of perversity seemed to enter into her, and she wandered along at her own sweet will, perfectly regardless of the time and key of the accompaniment with which Charlie was struggling to follow her. At length her cousin was forced to abandon his efforts and allow her to drop back into her old place as listener, a part which she always played with perfect success and contentment, while he turned his attention to the others. Grant was taking banjo lessons now, and Ned occasionally strummed a little on the venerable guitar which Louise had thrown aside in favor of her mandolin; so their little orchestra was frequently in demand to fill in gaps in an evening's entertainment. Howard and Marjorie, too, were ready to add their share of music, for they had toiled away in secret till they had mastered one or two simple duets, which they invariably sang whenever an opportunity offered.
In the mean time, a warm friendship had developed between Mr. Everett and Dr. Brownlee. The young doctor was now a frequent guest at the superintendent's house, where he had quickly become popular with them all, even to Mrs. Pennypoker, who never failed to array herself in her best gown and unbend her majesty whenever he was expected to appear. The acquaintance started during their camping expedition had rapidly ripened into a mutual liking, and it was surprising to see how often the younger man found time to drop in at Mr. Everett's office, late in the afternoon, for a few minutes' conversation. Once there, it was only natural that he should walk home with his friend, and, after a little polite hesitation, accept his invitation to come in for a call. Little by little the calls grew in length until, from accepting occasional invitations to dine, the doctor came to stay, quite as a matter of course, although he still made a feeble pretence of rising to go away, before yielding to their suggestion of dinner and a game of whist later on in the evening. At length, even this form was abandoned, and it grew to be an established fact that, whenever the doctor dropped in for an afternoon call, an extra plate and chair should be included in the dinner preparations, and that the card table should be brought out as soon as the meal was over. It also soon came to be a matter of course that Louise and the doctor should always play together, while Mr. Everett and Mrs. Pennypoker ranged themselves against them, and devoted their attention to the game with unswerving vigilance. Not even Mrs. Pennypoker had been able to withstand the doctor's genial, hearty manner; and, in his presence, she laid aside her eye-glasses and her dignity, and laughed at all his jokes in an appreciative fashion, which Ned and Grant were quite at a loss to understand, since she never paid the slightest heed to their attempts at facetiousness.
In spite of the strict etiquette of the game which demands such perfect silence and watchfulness, it is strange how rapidly a newly-formed acquaintance can grow into strong friendship around a whist table. Everything conspires to help it on: the absorption of the opponents in their own hands; the chivalrous offer, on one side, to do all the dealing, and the grateful accepting of the courtesy on the other; and, most of all, the moment of hesitation over a doubtful play, followed by the silent meeting of the eyes, as the trick falls to one or the other. And yet, neither Louise nor Dr. Brownlee realized in the least whither they were so rapidly drifting. The doctor still regarded Mr. Everett as his chief friend in the family, and thankfully accepted his hospitality, which broke in so pleasantly upon his solitary life at the boarding-house, where the long table was presided over by his landlady, with her cap awry and her sleeves rolled to her elbows, while she gossiped volubly with her boarders, in the intervals of her skirmishes with the frowsy waiting maid. And Louise? She only knew that she enjoyed the society of the young doctor, just as her father and Mrs. Pennypoker appeared to enjoy it; but, all unconsciously to herself, her young life was rounding out with a new, sweet meaning; and the womanhood opening before her was daily gaining fresh inspiration and purpose, from the influence of the true, earnest manhood of their frequent guest.
But the time had slipped away and Christmas was at hand. The week before the festival found the young people much absorbed in a little entertainment, to be given for the benefit of some local charity, in which they were all to take a part. Mr. Nelson had started the project, and had called upon Dr. Brownlee and Louise to help him form and carry out his plans. After much discussion, it had been arranged to have an hour of music and readings, followed by a play in which the doctor and Louise, Charlie, Marjorie, and Allie should be the actors. The play was quickly chosen, a little French one which Louise had translated, and adapted to their meagre resources of costume and scenery; and the rehearsals had been going on for some weeks, until the success of the enterprise was sufficiently assured to allow them to announce their plans and decide upon the date. The dress rehearsal had been held before a select audience of fathers and mothers, who were hearty in their praises of the saucy maid and the irrepressible young brother, while they thoroughly enjoyed the spirited acting of Louise, who, in the person of the widowed mother, did all that lay in her power to thwart the flirtations between the doctor and Allie, until her efforts were set at naught by the disloyalty of her maid and the traditions of amateur acting, which demand a happy ending to every love affair.
The little hall was well filled, the next evening. Audiences in Blue Creek were often rather mixed; and, on this particular occasion, rich and poor, young and old, had gathered, to show their interest in a worthy cause, and their liking for the young actors, whose unvarying kindness and courtesy had made them favorites throughout the town. Even Janey's black face looked on from the background, while far at one side sat Wang Kum with two of his friends, whom he had persuaded to buy tickets, as a proof of their loyalty to Louise.
Behind the scenes there reigned the usual confusion, preparatory to the rising of the curtain. Moreover, in some quarters, there existed grave doubts of the curtain's being prevailed upon to rise at all, since, the night before, it had persistently stuck fast, at two feet from the floor. At length all was in readiness for the first part of the program, and Charlie had just stepped forward to make his bow, before seating himself at the piano, when the doctor hurriedly approached Louise.
"Can you spare me, for three quarters of an hour?" he asked. "I've just heard, by the merest chance, that the evening train is off the track, down in the cut below the station. The engine jumped the track, and pulled the baggage car after it; they both rolled over, and they say one man is hurt. Nobody has sent for me; but I'd like to just run down, and see if I can be of any use."
For a moment, Louise looked aghast at the idea of losing her chief actor and assistant. Then she said cordially,—
"Go, of course. We'll arrange to do without you, in some way."
The doctor's eyes thanked her; but he wasted no time in mere words, as he went on hastily,—
"I wouldn't say anything to the audience, for 'twould just break up the whole affair. If you'll put off my reading till just before your last duet with Charlie, I'll be here, unless there's serious trouble. If there is any reason that I can't come, I'll send word at once." And he was gone.
The program of the first part of the evening was drawing smoothly to its close. Charlie had delighted his audience with his playing, both alone and with the Everett boys; Howard and Marjorie had sung a new duet, which they had learned, in honor of the occasion; and Allie had convulsed her more critical hearers with a recitation, which she had rendered with an originality of tone and gesture that would have struck terror to the followers of Delsarte, even though it had won her the first encore of the evening. Then, after a moment's enjoyment of the continued applause which had followed her disappearance from the stage, she came back once more, and gave them "Aunt Tabitha." She threw herself into it with an abandonment of fun which, in itself, would have been enough to show her sympathy with the trend of the poem, while she could not forbear glaring defiantly down upon Mrs. Pennypoker's uplifted countenance, as she delivered herself of the closing lines, with a fervor that astonished her audience,—
"'But when to the altar a victim I go, Aunt Tabitha'll tell me she never did so.'"
And she swept off from the little stage, in a parting storm of cheers.
In the mean time, Louise had heard nothing from Dr. Brownlee; and she was beginning to grow uneasy, for the time for his reading was at hand, and the play was to follow it almost immediately. She was just resolving to give up all hope, and bring the entertainment to a hasty close, when she saw the doctor come hurrying in at the side door. She turned to Charlie MacGregor, who chanced to be standing near her.
"Will you help me out, Charlie?" she asked. "Go on again, and play—anything, I don't care what, just to give Dr. Brownlee time to get his breath."
"But strikes me they've had about all of me they can stand," demurred Charlie.
"Never mind if they have," said Louise. "There isn't anybody else that can appear, at a minute's warning. Go, please."
The next moment the doctor was by her side.
"Miss Everett, have you any powder?" he asked, laughing a little, as he pointed to a great purplish bruise on the side of his forehead.
"Dr. Brownlee!" she exclaimed in alarm. "What is it? Are you hurt?"
"Hush!" he said, in a low voice, though he was conscious of a quick sense of pleasure at the anxiety of her tone. "It's only a bump; but it doesn't look well, and I don't want it to show. Can't you cover it up somehow, before I go on?"
"Come this way," she said hastily. "I'm not much used to powder, but I'll see what I can do. Tell me," she begged, as the doctor dropped into a chair; "what has happened? It's a bad bruise, and your cheek is cut; what was it?"
"I was helping them get the man out of the car, and one of the beams fell against me; that's all. I found the new doctor, Dr. Hofer, in charge; so I just helped him lift the man out, and then came back here," he answered as lightly as he could, and without adding a word about the moments that he himself had lain there stunned from the force of the blow on his head.
Louise looked down at him anxiously. His face was white, and his hands were a little unsteady.
"Please don't try to read, Dr. Brownlee," she urged. "I'm sure you don't feel able."
"I'm all right," he said, rousing himself with a forced laugh; "if you can cover up the spot so it won't show. I don't want them to think I've been fighting."
He resigned himself into her hands, while she hunted among the properties for the powder-puff and the comb, and then did her best to conceal the great bruise on his temple, which had quickly swollen and turned dark. But, even as she did so, she felt a sudden impulse to drop the puff and run away, rather than meet the earnest gaze of the gray eyes looking so steadily up into her own, and listen to the quiet "Thank you," which greeted the end of the toilet, as the doctor rose and stepped forward to take his place on the stage.
At the suggestion of Mr. Nelson, he had decided to read "Elizabeth"; and Louise, as she stood at the side of the stage, listening to the quaint old tale of the Quaker wooing, found herself forgetting all her surroundings in the interest of the familiar story. Dr. Brownlee had turned a little to one side, in order to conceal his discolored temple from the audience, and this brought him into a position directly facing the young woman who, quite unconsciously, made a charming picture in the gown she had donned for the play. Just in the act of turning a leaf of the book in his hand, the doctor raised his eyes, and they rested upon her fair young face. As he did so, there rushed into his mind the memory of her womanly pity and gentleness in caring for his bruise, and he seemed to feel again the touch of her light hands upon his hair. He paused; then, with his gaze still fixed upon her, he went on in his quiet voice, low, but so distinct that not a syllable was lost on its hearers,—
"'I have something to tell thee, Not to be spoken lightly, nor in the presence of others. Them it concerneth not, only thee and me it concerneth.'"
Just then Louise raised her eyes to his; but, as she met the intentness of his look, her own eyes drooped, while the color rushed to her cheeks and then fled again. For a moment more the doctor's eyes rested upon her, then he went on with his reading; but his voice was unsteady and his heart was throbbing with the sudden new hope that had come to him.
The reading was ended, and the curtain fell amid the enthusiastic applause of the audience, who devoted the intermission to discussing the performers, with a perfect unconsciousness of the fact that two of them had entered upon a new life during the past hour. Though their secret was as yet unspoken, that one look had taught both Louise and Dr. Brownlee that the stories of their future lives were written in the same volume. Already they had glanced at the preface, and soon the first chapter would lie open in their hands.
But now there was no time for any such thoughts, for chaos once more reigned behind the scenes, as the actors hastily dressed for the play; and, within a few moments, the curtain rose again upon the transformed scene. Howard and the Everett boys, who had finished their share in the program, had come out into the audience in order to get a better view of the stage. After a little hesitation, they had discovered some vacant seats behind Wang Kum and his friends, who were sitting spellbound in their admiration of the scenes before them. For a time the boys listened attentively; but a constant attendance at the rehearsals had made the play an old story to them, and their interest began to flag. Grant was lazily leaning back in his seat, with one hand outstretched, abstractedly swinging Wang Kum's pigtail to and fro, when Ned suddenly started up, with a naughty sparkle in his dark eyes.
"Say, Howard, haven't you a piece of string in some of your pockets?" he whispered.
"I d'know," answered Howard, in the same stealthy tone. "What you want?"
Ned bent over to speak a few low words in his ear, and both the boys began to giggle.
"What's the joke?" inquired Grant curiously; while Howard dived into one pocket after another.
Ned cautiously imparted the secret to his brother, who received it with manifest delight; then he took possession of the dozen or more scraps of twine that Howard had produced, and tied them together to form one long string. This done, he appeared to lose all consciousness of the people around him, in the interest of the play, for he bent forward with his hands on his knees and stared fixedly at the stage. A moment later he drew a long breath and leaned back in his chair. Then it became apparent that his hands had not been idle, for one end of the string was securely tied about the tip of Wang Kum's queue, and woven in and out through the openwork back of his chair, while the rest of the string was in Howard's hands, to be passed on in turn to Grant. Five minutes afterwards the three unconscious Chinamen were firmly lashed to their seats and the boys had once more disappeared behind the scenes.
The play was at last ended, and the actors were called before the curtain for one final round of applause, in which the Chinamen joined with unflagging zeal. Then the audience rose to leave the hall, and the miners respectfully stood aside to let their superintendent and his party take the lead. Wang and his brethren still sat quiet, watching the people flock past them, with an evident determination to stay until the very end; but at length they too grasped their hats and started to rise. The next instant there was a clattering of chairs, followed by three startled howls, which broke upon the air and turned every face in the same direction. There in a row stood the three Chinamen, ruefully rubbing the backs of their heads, while their little almond eyes seemed to be popping out from their sockets, with surprise and with the unwonted strain upon their scalps. From the end of every pigtail dangled one of the light folding chairs which filled the room. Howard's strings were as strong as Ned's knots were firm. The Chinamen had not risen from their seats; their seats had risen with the Chinamen.
"Really and truly, Charlie, I never should have known you; you look so perfectly elegant."
"Thank you, ma'am!" And Charlie bowed low before his cousin, who joined him in the laugh at the unexpected form that her intended compliment had taken.
"You know what I mean," she said saucily. "Of course, you're always a dear old boy, even if you aren't a beauty. But now there's a sort of young man look to you, that makes me half afraid of you."
"Perhaps, if you stayed so, you'd treat me a little better," suggested Charlie teasingly. "I feel most uncommon queer, though. Do you honestly like the looks, Allie?"
Allie dropped into an easy-chair, and surveyed him from head to foot.
"Now turn around very slowly," she commanded; "and then walk off a few steps, so. Yes," she added, after an admiring pause; "you really do look very well, considering who you are; only I never, never should know you. It just changes you all over, and makes you seem four or five years older."