"Mr. Dalton," she asked, "who is that man?"
He followed the guarded glance of her eye and looked a moment with a perplexed frown.
"I really can't tell," he said at length. "Yet it seems as if I ought to know, too. I hardly think he's one of our men, unless he has come very lately. He isn't exactly what you'd call a beauty; is he, Miss Lavillotte?"
"Far from it. He looks as if he had suffered awfully, don't you think?"
"Oh possibly—suffering, or sin—one can scarcely tell which it may be at a glance. I'll step and get you the cream and sugar, Mrs. Bonnivel."
Joyce continued to watch the man furtively, neglecting her own food. Every time the sandwiches went by he snatched at them, gulping down his coffee, between whiles, in great hot swallows that made his dreadful eyes stand out still more than was natural. Used as the attendants were to irregularities in this non-etiquetical company, they showed their disgust plainly at his boorishness. Two of them stopped a moment near Joyce's corner, to discuss him in no measured terms. One said,
"Not another thing does he get here, the brute! If he thinks we're keeping a free lunch counter for the likes of him he's mistaken. He hasn't got common decency."
Joyce saw him clear the last crumb from his plate, and glance furtively to and fro from under his bent brows, with a movement that filled her with disgust and pity.
"The poor wretch is starving!" she thought. "The sight and smell of food drive him wild. Where can he have been?"
Even as she was thinking this there was a general movement, and he too rose from his place with the rest. Cup in hand, he neared the table as if to deposit it there before leaving; but his eyes were on a half-emptied tray of the sandwiches just placed there, and as he stooped to set down the cup he made a quick movement, and scooped up a little heap of the slices into the hollow of his hands, from which they slid into a coat pocket with dextrous suddenness. Some one stepped forward with an exclamation at which, with one bound, he sprang between the Madame and Joyce, dodged behind the screen, and when the attendant reached it, had disappeared. The latter turned back with a crestfallen air.
"Did you see that?" he cried excitedly. "I never saw such a hog!"
Joyce rose, and touched him lightly on the arm.
"I think it's hardly worth making a fuss about," she said gently. "He seemed very hungry—starving, indeed. There's plenty of everything, isn't there?"
"Oh, yes, but it makes me mad to be so imposed on! I don't believe the fellow belongs here, anyhow."
"He looked like a sailor to me," she observed thoughtfully.
"Umph! Like a jail-bird I should say, Miss. Will I bring you some more coffee now?"
"No, nothing more, thank you. Just kindly take my cup."
Larry came up to them, wiping the perspiration from his brow.
"Whew! but I'm used up. Aren't you ready to go home, mother? And you Joyce—do you want to stay all night? If I can once get you safely out of this, I shall be glad!"
"Safely out—why do you speak like that, Larry?"
"Then you haven't heard anything here?" looking from one to the other, surprisedly.
"Nothing save what you are hearing now, the clatter of many tongues and plates. Why, my son?"
"Oh! nothing, only there has just been a pretty sharp scrimmage outside. That ugly-looking fellow I had to rebuke for rudeness, out here, was pushing his way to the outer door in the way he seems to affect, when he ran plump into an old party—let's see, they said his name was Murphy, I think, or something like that—and of a sudden—well! they sprang at each others' throats like a couple of tigers. They were right in the midst of it, and every one too astonished to move, when in came a couple of the city police, gave one look, and in a trice had my ugly man thrown down and were putting on the bracelets. It seems, the fellow's an escaped convict, and has been hiding around here in the woods for weeks. He must have been so nearly starved as to lose all caution before coming to so public a place. I can't understand it, myself, but I presume he would have escaped unmolested, only for the fight. Dalton," turning to the manager who had just returned from his prolonged absence, "what does it all mean, anyhow? I suppose you saw the fracas?"
"No, I got there just as it was all over, and I can't tell you much about it. They've taken the man away, and Murfree, too. The latter is pretty badly used up and can't talk. That was as savage a brute as I ever saw!"
"He was a desperate man," said Joyce, still feeling the stirrings of pity. "He was nearly starved to death, and there was something awful between him and that Murfree—I could see that."
"You could?" The manager gave her a wondering glance.
"Are you very observing? No one seems to know any reason for his springing upon Murfree so."
"There was a reason," persisted Joyce. "They had met before, I'm certain. Come, ma mere, let's go home."
"You are tired, child. Yes, we will go at once. It must be late."
Joyce's tone had expressed more than weariness, and Madame Bonnivel's heart ached for her disappointment and chagrin. She took the girl's hand and drew her along.
"Larry, you'll stay with Mr. Dalton and help preserve order! Gilbert can accompany us."
"Oh, if I must," shrugging his shoulders. "But I feel that a motion for all to adjourn would be in order; don't you, Dalton?"
"All right! We'll clear the rooms in no time."
Joyce stopped him with an uplifted hand.
"They must go when and as they choose. It is their party. Please don't interfere in the least. Come Madame, we can slip out unnoticed. Nobody needs us here."
The two stepped briskly on, and Dalton, watching Joyce, shook his head ruefully, then turned to Larry.
"It's too bad she's just as she is. It means a lot of heartbreaks and disappointments. Pity women can't take the world as it is."
"Well, perhaps—provided they don't leave it as it is. I am inclined to believe it's that kind of woman who is responsible for the fact that the world does grow better as the centuries pass. And those who know Joyce Lavillotte would scarcely care to change her."
"No, no; nor I! It was of herself I was thinking. She's got to suffer so. One hates to see a person take a cloud for something tangible and keep falling off, to be bruised and beaten. If she could always soar—but the falls will come."
He sighed, and Larry laughed.
"She'd rather bear the falls than never soar. Let her alone!"
"Oh, of course; it's all one can do. But—it hurts."
The last words were in a whisper, so lost on Larry, who had just turned to speak with the phonograph exhibitor now making ready to depart.
Meanwhile, the Madame and Joyce had hastily gathered up their wraps, and were waiting an instant in the hall till Gilbert could make his way to them from the corner out of which they had beckoned him, (nothing loth, for he was half asleep,) when Rachel passed them quickly, her own wrap on her arm. She looked flushed and animated. Her cold, indifferent mask seemed to have fallen from her face. Her mother was awaiting her, the sleeping baby folded in her shawl.
"Well, d'ye have a good time?" she asked, as the daughter joined her.
"So good I can hardly believe it's real, mother!" was the glad answer. Then, catching sight of the ladies near by, she bowed slightly, with a shy smile at Joyce.
"Good-night," she said softly, flushing a little. "Are you going, too? It's been fine, hasn't it?"
In her surprised pleasure Joyce forgot to answer, except with a vigorous nod and smile, but in an instant she whispered in a brightening tone, "It was Rachel, ma mere. Did you hear?"
"Yes, I did. I could hear the joy in her tone, too. It has been a good time for many, I know, and gladness will soften the hardest and coldest, Joyce. Don't falter because wrong must still be, daughter. People have to be educated in enjoyment as well as in anything else. It may not be one of the first, or best, things in life, but it has its uses, and they are many. My Joyce is not working for appreciation, nor for praise, but just to better these who have become peculiarly her own people. Let us be patient, dear."
And Joyce, though bruised and worn, was not quite beaten, though the evening had been so far from realizing her anticipations. Lucy and Rachel had been pleased, at least. That was something!
JOYCE AND HER MANAGER.
"In every house, Miss Lavillotte? Beg pardon, but have you considered the cost?" Mr. Dalton wore his business face, with its sternest expression, and it did not relent even when he looked up into hers.
Joyce smiled in spite of it, and fished out a newspaper-clipping from her plethoric pocket-book, which she handed her manager with a ceremonious air. He read it, and his visage grew perplexed and miserable.
"M-mm, 'grand entertainment. Five hundred for flowers. Gown of hostess embroidered in seed pearls. Jewels a thousand, and at least ten'—are you sure this is what you meant me to read? You know it's all Greek to me!" looking down with deprecation into her laughing, upturned eyes.
"Perfectly sure. You see who gave that entertainment?"
"Yes, I see."
"Is she a richer woman than I? Has she a larger income?"
"About the same, I presume."
"And the expenses she incurred, as detailed there, were for one evening?"
"Yes. Doubtless this is greatly exaggerated, though. These news items about swelldom usually are, aren't they?"
"I cannot tell, not belonging to swelldom, myself. But granting all that, and allowing even half off, if you say so, it will still exceed what this plan is to cost me. And my little fun is not for one lone evening, but for a whole year, in which nearly five hundred people will share and be benefited—not simply amused or bored."
"You are good at arguing, Miss Lavillotte, and your money is your own. If you wish to squander it that way"—He stopped abruptly, warned by the flash of her eye.
"I had not used that word in this connection," she said coldly, "but you may if you choose."
"Well," he returned, in some desperation, "we'll drop the word 'squander,' then, if it is offensive to you. But you must allow you are spending a great deal, mustn't you? Some of it is well spent, I'll admit, and—and it's none of my business at all—but when it comes to telephones and for those people—please don't be angry, Miss Lavillotte!—it does seem absurd."
Joyce laughed good-naturedly. His distress was genuine.
"I know it must from your point of view, but now pray listen to mine. I believe that there are certain essentials of easy living that ought to be practically free to all, and might be, if managed correctly. Of these, four are air and water, light and heat, and the fifth is prompt communication with your fellow-men. When my grandmother was a girl it cost a neat little sum to send a letter anywhere, and hundreds of families, unable to bear the expense of correspondence, lost sight of each other, often for years, sometimes for life, in the unavoidable separation which must come to all growing households. After a time this matter appealed so strongly to thinking men that they decided to make a great national matter of it, and they established a wonderful mail service, and have kept lowering the rates and adding to the perfection of the service, until now hardly any one is so poor he cannot write a line to a friend, if only on a postal card. Now a quicker, better means of communication is given us in the telephone and telegraph, and I claim that these should also be regulated and run by government in the interests of the people, and thus made available to all at nominal rates. I can't control Congress, but I can control Littleton with its few hundred souls, and that I mean to do in this. Every house shall have its 'phone, that every person may have the opportunity to express his wants at once, or to call in help, if needed."
Dalton gave a hopeless shrug.
"They'll use them for gossiping, mostly."
"No, that is to be regulated. The time allowed for each separate use will be short, and if any abuse the privilege they will be cut off."
"Humph! Do you expect one central to manage it all?"
"Yes, one officer, but not one girl. I shall have four people, all told, two girls for day hours and two men for night hours. I intend to have them work in relays—four hours off and four on. It is too nervous a strain for longer hours than that. The night operators will have a cot for the one off duty, so that if anything unusual happens the waking one can call the other. I think it must be doleful to stay alone in such a place during those gruesome night hours. I couldn't have it at all."
Dalton laughed outright.
"Positively, Miss Lavillotte, you are too funny! Do you expect to do away with everything disagreeable in your model village?"
"I wish I could, but I do not hope for that. Disagreeable people, who oppose one in everything, will always exist, I fear." Her tone was innocently sad. "But I do mean to try and eradicate what is unnecessarily disagreeable, if scheming can do it. And now, if you are through laughing, Mr. Dalton, I will tell you how I propose to pay for this telephone service without feeling it so severely as you seem to think I shall."
"I am listening, madam."
"Well, I have made a contract, only awaiting your approval and signature, to furnish the glass insulators and the jars, so many thousand a year—wait! I have the figures here somewhere. I never could remember figures—ah! here it is—in exchange."
"You have? Well, I declare! You really do show aptitude for business, I'll have to own."
"Don't I?" laughing with as much pleasure as a child that has turned scolding into praise. "I'm delighted about it in more ways than one. It will give employment to our unskilled hands, who are now idle half the time. Even the children can turn a penny on their holidays, if they like."
Dalton caught at the paper and looked it over with careful scrutiny, his face lighting as he gazed.
"Really!" he said at length, glancing up to give her an approving nod, "really, this isn't bad—that is, I mean you have made a good bargain, for all I can see, and given us the opportunity to work up a new line that may prove lucrative. I wouldn't have thought it of a girl—a young lady like you."
She laughed amusedly.
"I'm glad I have been able to please you at last, Mr. Dalton! The electricians will begin wiring the town in a few days. They will put in a cheap style of 'phone, as it is not looks we are after but convenience, and will hurry the work right through." She stopped with some hesitation of manner, but looked as if more was to come, and her manager gave her a respectful, questioning glance.
"There's another thing," she said presently in a rather faint voice, "the central office is also to be an exchange."
"An exchange. You see, that's really my main reason for having the 'phones. I want my people to learn what the one right principle of exchange is. We talk about money being the medium of exchange, and as such it is thought to be the best thing on earth. Yet the greed of it is the root of all evil. I want to come back to first principles a little, and exchange from man to man, without this pernicious medium that has filled us with covetousness and a lack of consideration for others. I want to see if people are really so callous and cold to each other as they seem, or if this unreadiness to help is only because we are too greatly separated by the many mediums interposed—which prove barriers instead of channels. I want to find if every need cannot somehow, somewhere, meet its fulfilment, unless death itself has shut out the way. It is too limited a field, here, to learn absolutely, but it may give us some idea, and then——"
Mr. Dalton had settled back into his chair with a non-committal expression, and was drumming on the desk before him.
"I'm afraid," he murmured in a concise tone, "that you are talking above my head."
Joyce, rudely aroused from her introspective vision, looked at him rather blankly a moment, then sprang to her feet. At first she seemed offended, then cried briskly, with a mischievous air,
"And through my hat? I know that is what you wanted to say! Well, never mind. Some people hunt for north poles, some for new continents in the tropics, some are content with finding an unclassified species of bug. I want to experiment with human needs and longings a bit. It is my fad just now. You know fads are fashionable."
"Miss Lavillotte, did any one ever tell you that you are a despot?"
"I?" Joyce's eyes opened their widest, "I a despot!"
"Yes. You want to rule as absolutely as any Czar; but not only that; you want to play the part of Providence, and watch the workings of your will——"
"Stop! Mr. Barrington said that, and I told him I wanted my people to play that part to each other. And I am right. It was the teaching of Christ. 'Do it in My name'—surely it is right! Mr. Dalton, it is unfair, even ridiculous, if I may so speak, to lay all our mistakes and misdemeanors at the door of our Creator. He gives us sense, reason, patience, ingenuity. What are they for? To be hidden in a napkin till some crushing calamity comes and shakes us out of our indifference enough to make us exercise them? No! They are given us to prevent calamity, to wrest from earth, air, and sea what is needed for our comfort. He gave man dominion. That does not mean just sitting back and bearing with resignation. It means using every faculty to reduce contending forces to our requirements. Patience is not half a virtue when it simply implies an uncomplaining endurance because one thinks he must endure. The patience that will not endure, but tries and tries again to rectify the ill is the best patience. It never turns aside, never lays down its tools, always has a new plan when the old is crushed out—that is the real patience! You call me a despot—you are unjust! It is only that you don't understand, I do not want to rule for the sake of power, but because people are so supine they will not learn to rule without being pushed into it. I do want to learn to shape circumstances, but not to control Littleton. I do wish to teach them what self-government really means, though. And see how I am placed. Here is this great fortune which I will not use for myself partly because my needs are simple, partly because—well, because I won't. Thus I am given an opportunity few can have. Many have my ideas without the money; a few have the money without the ideas. It happens I have both, and I mean to try for myself whether it is not possible for a community to live on little money and yet have the comforts—yes, even what some consider the luxuries—of life, simply through perfect co-operation, swift communication, and a governing power that is centered in their wishes for their best good."
She stopped abruptly and put her palms to her face with a child-like movement. Her cheeks were hot and flushed.
"How silly to get so excited! You will question my plans with reason if I cannot keep my head in argument."
"One has to question till one can thoroughly understand. These are thoughts I have never gone into, Miss Lavillotte, I have been in danger of forgetting that there was anything more in life than just money-making. Will you tell me more, some day?"
His humble tone melted Joyce.
"Any time you like. And you know, Mr. Dalton, you are the real manager of it all. I shall have to look to you for the practical application of my possibly unpractical ideas. When I soar too high you must jerk me down to level ground."
"I begin to think I might like a cloud-ride myself occasionally, just for variety's sake," he laughed. "And I'll do whatever you tell me to, Miss Lavillotte," he added stoutly. "If the Works go to the dogs, all right, but you shall be obeyed! Only—may I ask a question?"
"Have you put something safely away for your future where it can't be affected by things here?"
"Have I? Certainly not! Do you think I would make myself safe and sure when I might be wrecking so many? No, but unfortunately, on my mother's side, they are cautious. My great-uncle takes care of the right I have there, and I have never been allowed to meddle with it. He sends me two hundred dollars a month, and this is all I need for my living."
"Do you mean?"—His expressive glance swept her well-dressed person and she raised her hand protestingly.
"Don't ask too many questions!" she laughed. "Ellen used to be in a great modiste's establishment and knows the tricks of the trade. My dress and table cost me less a year than most women of means spend in a month. But good-by—oh! I forgot to say, Marie Sauzay is to be one of the telephone girls."
"Marie? The cripple?"
"Yes, she will go to and fro on a tricycle chair, and can thus eke out her sister's earnings. The knowledge that she can do this will almost make her well, I know. She is so ambitious! A messenger has been negotiating with her and told me of her delight in the prospects. The other girl will be a trained one sent by the company. Will you select my night men? They must be sober fellows—possibly somebody can be found who is not good in the Works."
"I'll see to it, and, Miss Lavillotte——"
"Who put all these ideas into your head, please? You are so young!"
She smiled, while blushing deeply.
"Won't you give me any credit for originality, Mr. Dalton? How can one tell where one picks up ideas? They are like pebbles in our pathway; sometimes we never even see them, but carelessly scuff them aside as we walk. Then the sun of somebody's genius shines out and shows them to be gems, and we hasten to pick them up and claim them for our own. I have been taught when to watch for the sun's shining—that's all!"
She waved her hand, nodded, and hurried out of the office, leaving Dalton gazing after her with an eager, baffled face.
MOTHER FLAHERTY'S TELEPHONE.
There was great merriment in Littleton over the advent of the telephone. The women gossips gathered with their babies in their arms and even the men (whom no one would venture thus to name) smoked and stood about in groups during all the long summer evenings, to discuss this latest marvel. Among them, with many differences of opinion, there was much laughter and disclaiming. Old Mrs. Flaherty declared, amid her giggles, that "the two eyes av the craythur fairly give her a turn," and when asked to explain she pointed to the gongs at the top of the apparatus. Lucy Hapgood had heard of live wires, and shrank from touching even the receiver till repeatedly assured there was no danger of electrocution. And when at last she did consent to put it to her ear, and heard her father calling to her from Cole's grocery, she shrieked with astonished awe. For the telephone was as little known in this hamlet as if it had been situated a thousand miles from the metropolis, instead of less than two-score. The limitations of poverty are great, and even fifty-cent fares to the city were seldom compassed, except where, possibly, a legal holiday and a wedding fell on the same day, and the occasion was made memorable by an outing. Even then the returned travelers would have little to relate, except such scenes as clustered around the great depot with its neighboring lodging-houses and saloons. Of parks, galleries, museums, libraries, and palatial dwellings, these tourists scarcely dreamed, and never thought to visit. All dread those things they do not understand, and these people would have told you they had no wish to see such places; they were out of their line.
So all of the older and more conservative Littletonians looked with open disfavor upon the new "speaking machines," and some absolutely refused to use them. In fact, a few did not hesitate to say such doings smacked of the evil one, and one old dame set her sudsy arms akimbo and stoutly defied the electricians to enter her house.
"You kin string up them wires from here to Jerichy, if you want to," she said sternly, letting her lance-like eyes rove in scornful leisure over their equipment, "but you can't bring 'em inside my dure. No, sir! I don't want any voices rousin' me up at all hours of the day an' night. If folks at 'tother end o' town wants to speak to me they knows where to find me. I'm a respictable widdy lady what keeps to home and minds my own washin', and they can't no man nor woman, nuther, get a chance to sass me through any mash-ine. No, sir! I know that young Early. He's got a scheme to see all thet's a-goin' on amongst us day and night, and I won't have it. Tain't decent, and they ain't no law on his side. So jest git along with you now, and don't take up my time a-wranglin', for I've got work to do, if you haven't."
The men, who had stood in dazed silence, looking sheepishly at each other, went meekly on their way, and one home, at least, boasted no telephone. Indeed, to establish that exchange which was Joyce's dream, seemed for a time a ridiculous failure. The attempt to make these people understand that only good was intended them seemed positively useless. When it was again and again reiterated, by means of printed dodgers shed broadcast among the homes, by Dalton's talks to the boys in the factory at the closing hour, even by Marie Sauzey's urgings over the wire from the central office, that every stringent need, or helpful offer, was to be communicated to her by telephone, they simply winked at each other, and, hanging up the receiver, whispered to any who happened to be present,
"Didn't I tell you, now? It's spies they are, and nothin' else. Sorra a word do they get out o' me this day!"
But one morning, poor old Mother Flaherty suffered a sad accident when quite alone in her cottage. Trying to balance herself on an uncertain chair, in her effort to reach a bottle of medicine on the top shelf of her cupboard, her rickety support gave way and let her down with cruel celerity. Her poor old bones were brittle and snapped with the concussion. When she tried to raise herself, after her momentary groans and exclamations, she found it impossible, for the left femur was broken. She wavered for a time between spells of semi-consciousness, and rousings to fresh shrieks and wails, the pain growing momently more agonizing and the floor more intolerable in its cold and hardness. But the shouts of some children out at play drowned her feeble old voice in happier sounds, and no one heard. She had given herself up to a lonely, horrible death when her wild, roving gaze fell upon the telephone not three feet away, and she remembered the oft-repeated injunction to tell her wants into its non-committal ear. She had no faith in the thing, and was half-afraid of it, believing it a temptation of Satan, but the situation had become unbearable. Flesh weakened and spirit failed. She would try it as a last resort, then cross herself and die. Dragging herself painfully with groans and sobs, she managed to reach up with a broomstick and jog a faint ring out of the gong, at the same time shouting at it in a fury of horror and anxiety,
"Help! Help! Help! I'm kilt intirely. I want a do-octhor!"
The confused sounds that reached Marie were vibrating with trouble and despair, but that long-drawn "do-octhor" came plainly enough for her to know what was needed, though she could get no response to her agitated questioning. She called Dr. Browne up at once, and sent him flying. Poor Mrs. Flaherty, meanwhile, had sunk back, almost spent with her painful exertion, thinking in her desolation,
"It's no good at all, at all! And now I must die unshriven, wid that awful sin on me sowl."
But suddenly the blissful clatter of a man's quick footsteps aroused her, and she saw, as in a vision, the door thrown wide, and the doctor's commiserating face bending above her. His outbreak, "Well, well, well, this is a fix!" sent comfort to her failing consciousness as, with a groan of relief, she slipped into blissful oblivion.
There was no time for talk that day, but when the old creature was resting in her cast, with her nerves soothed into quietude, the next, she looked up at her daughter, who had hurried to her bedside, and asked huskily,
"Norah, tell me thrue; was it the spakin'-mash-ine did it?"
"Did what, mother?"
"You know, don't yez? Did it bring the docthor?"
"Why, yes. When you called up the central, of course they 'phoned the doctor, and so——"
"Norah, will yez shtop thot gabblin', now? What does I be knowin' of centhrals, and all thot? Can't you answer plain, yis or no? Did the spakin'-mash-ine get me the docthor?"
"Yes, mother, it did."
"Thin I'm beholden to it. And I take back all me hard woords and thochts. Give me another sup o' thot cordial, now, till I go to slape. And ye may tell the neighbors, fur me, thot I've thried and I know yez can get what ye nade fur the askin' out o' thim mash-ines. Now be off wid yez—I'm going to slape."
Of course the word spread, and those who had been wise enough to say little in disfavor of the innovation plumed themselves upon their superior information, while the ranters against it were temporarily silenced. Joyce, who was burning with impatience over their slow acceptance of her benefits, fairly ached to go among them with vigorous exhortations, even commands, but the Madame restrained her.
"I wouldn't, Joyce," she said in her ruminant tone. "Let them find out things for themselves. It is the only true wisdom, and nobody wants even cake thrust down his throat. Try the Lord's way, child. We are slower in accepting His good gifts than these people are to believe in yours, yet He waits patiently, and in time we learn their worth."
One morning, however, soon after Mrs. Flaherty's accident, Joyce made an errand into the central office, and while waiting for some distant connection to be made ventured to ask some questions of Marie who, alert and bright-eyed, sat in her wheeled chair, so adjusted that the switch-board was within easy reach.
"You don't have much to do here, they tell me," she began, smiling at the little Frenchwoman in friendly fashion.
Marie now knew Miss Lavillotte as the resident on the knoll, who was popularly supposed to be interested in schools, possibly with the intention of teaching some day, and who had means enough to run a modest establishment of her own. She answered eagerly,
"But, yes, by times I do. It is the young people that do use it most, though. Dose old ones, they so mooch vork do all the day that they will not yet take time to learn so that it seem not strange to them. It will be otherwise in time."
"Do they tell their needs at all?" began Joyce, when Marie had to answer a call, and sat smiling in that way which seems meaningless to a looker-on while some one's voice holds the attention at the other end. Presently she answered in quick tones. "Yes, it is so indeed. I will make note, and see if it may have answer. Yes. Oh, but that is true! Yes. All right, Good-by."
Joyce longed, yet hesitated, to ask what the communication had been, when Marie turned to her.
"You but now did ask, 'Do they tell their needs?' and this was one."
"Really? What was it? Pray tell me! Could it be gratified? I'd so like to know."
Marie smiled at the eagerness of her visitor.
"I tell you, then. It was Mr. Gus Peters, who want somebody to make him one easel, with a drawing-board that will slide up and down easy, for one nice sharp knife with three blade that he will give in exchange. He laugh w'en he say it, as if he think it no use, though."
"But it ought to be of use. Let's think, Marie. Who can do such things? Somebody that needs a nice knife. Some bright boy, say, with a head for such work."
Marie thought a minute.
"There is a boy," she said slowly. "He is not good for mooch, but he like that whittle kind of work, I know."
"Poor child! His mother, she is dead, and his father he have no time to be kind to him, I think, so he wander about and pick up the job here and there. It is he that might do this easel."
"Just the thing! Only he couldn't get the materials together, I fear—wait! Where does he live?"
"In a leetle house back behind of the Vorks, and a seester zat ees older do housekeep, I believe. She is—not good." Marie spoke reluctantly, and turned sad eyes upon Joyce.
"Oh! that is dreadful," cried the latter. "Perhaps—ah! a ring."
Marie was kept busy awhile, several calls succeeding each other rapidly.
"Ah! they do plan to make me confuse," she laughed presently, turning back to Joyce. "See! I have these demands, and they do all laugh as they say them. Lucie Hapgood, she desire a nice ribbon blue for her hat; Mrs. Myron, where a new baby is come, do want a somebody to sit wiz her zis afternoon, so her seester get a leetle rest! Joe Granger, whose vife is away, do long for one goot dinner zis noon and they do need for Mother Flaherty a chair which will raise and lower, zat she may rest from her bed."
"Dear me, it is a jumble!" laughed Joyce. "Well, let me help you out. Don't Lucy's children all go to school now, except the baby?"
"The leetle baby—yes."
"Then couldn't she take it over to Mrs. Myron's till school is out, and look after that lady, who perhaps would give her the blue ribbon to pay for the service? And ask Norah Flaherty if she won't let Joe Granger come there to dinner, if he will hunt up the chair for her mother—and send Joe to me for the chair. You will have to keep reminding them that an exchange means always giving something for what they get; and if I were you, Marie, when they began to tell of a want I should ask at once, "But what have you to give?" That is the important part. You see Gus Peters understood it."
"Yes, I see. And some one haf tell you all ze whole plan, I see too," returned Marie, looking at her somewhat wonderingly.
"Why, ye-s, I know about it, and it does interest me greatly. It's like a puzzle, somehow. Two and two may not always make four, but they will certainly make something. Do you mind my planning with you a little?"
"Not one bit, dear Mees."
"Then let's fix Gus Peters out. Why not phone to that boy—what's his name?"
"Wolly, zey call him zat ozzer name, it ees very deficult to speak and I forget."
"Oh well, Wolly will do. You know his number on the circuit?" Marie pointed it out and called up the house. Wolly was not there, but his sister seemed to think any job would be welcome. The only thing was, he had no tools and no lumber, neither had he money to buy them,
"Now, if some good person who haf ze lumbare would but need something," laughed Marie.
"Wait! I have it. Gus is an architect. There is a great deal of building being done. Possibly Gus could turn himself in some way to get the lumber for the boy."
"And gif the knife, too?"
"The work ought to be worth it. May I talk to Gus?"
"To be sure," giggling enjoyably, for the whole thing seemed a huge joke to the French girl, and even to Joyce it began to seem rather a complicated affair. She felt certain, still, that her principle was all right, but began to perceive that, even so, its practical working might be almost an impossibility.
"If I could always be on hand to adjust matters!" she thought inwardly. "But I can see that when they really begin to use their 'phones at all, as most owners of them do, this exchange business would become a rather unwieldy affair." Then Joyce sighed so profoundly that Gus heard it at the other end, even as he spoke his "Hello!"
A moment's talk with him adjusted that matter. He said readily enough that he could get the youngster what he needed without the least trouble—all he wanted was to be sure and get a decent working easel, and the knife would be forthcoming. So Joyce, relieved for the present, turned eagerly again to Marie.
"How about Lucy? Will Mrs. Myron give her the blue ribbon?"
"She ask eef peenk would not do, and I say, talk wiz Lucie, and she do. Zat is ze way, of course. When one does say what one need we will say, 'try zo-and-zo,' and in time efery body will be serve, and eferybody happy."
"How quick you are to catch the idea, Marie! It will surely adjust itself as you get used to it. And oh! if it will work. If they can be taught——"
Joyce caught the other's astonished glance and checked herself instantly, annoyed enough that she had come so close to self-betrayal.
"You see how interested even I can get," she laughed, flushing with embarrassment. "It is silly of me, but it does seem such a novel scheme, and one that might help all without impoverishing any, if rightly used. I have really been anxious to watch its practical working. Thank you for letting me bother you so."
"'Tis no bodder. I like to see you always, Mees Lavillotte. Come often and again."
"I will be glad to. And, Marie, when you come to a dead-lock—do you know the meaning of that?—when you cannot fit any want with another want, as we have been doing now, just 'phone to me and perhaps I can help you. Never be afraid of asking for anything that is really needed. I have plenty of time, and such things interest me. And I have ways of getting things that make it easier than for some. You will remember this and surely call upon me?"
"It is verra good you do care," observed Marie, still a good bit amazed.
"You see I have chosen to make my home in Littleton, and I want to be one with you. I want to be helpful, as well as to get help."
"Zat ees a good way to feel. Littleton—zet ees our new name, I hear. It do sound strange to me yet. We nevare haf a name before. It was just the Vorks."
"Do you like the name?"
"Eh, what matters?" flinging out her hands in a way that proved her Parisian blood and birth. "It will do as well as any other, Littleton—Lavillotte—How strange that your name does mean 'the little town,' also! Did you know?"
"Does it?" Joyce felt it was time to flee. This Frenchwoman was too keen to be easily answered. She nodded brightly, perhaps at the question, perhaps to say adieu, and crying back over her shoulder, "Remember my request!" hurried away, laughing within herself at her narrow escape.
ON A TRAIL.
Dan Price was not a guest either opening night at the social house. On the contrary, the first evening, the events of which have been related, he took his dinner pail and tackle, and despite the somewhat showery state of the atmosphere, pedaled out of the settlement towards his woodland haunt as fast as will and muscle could carry him. He had a supreme contempt for all these new "notions" at the Works, which he looked upon as the somewhat crazy hobbies of a man too young to realize what they meant, and too rich to care how he squandered his money. He knew that to go back to the old ways, after a taste of the new, would make that state of slavery seven times worse than before. Better let them alone in what they had become used to; and, for his own part, he wanted no patronizing, he told himself, nor anybody laying down the law as to how he should spend his leisure, either. Out of hours he was his own master, at least, and nobody need interfere. There were things in life worse than physical hardships—experience had sternly taught him that.
He would scarcely fling a glance in the direction of the well-lighted building, towards which already the younger tide of humanity was setting, and his dark face took on a sneer when he noted their evident excitement over the event.
"Always caught with something new!" he muttered to himself. "One would think it more decent to give up hoping sometime, but they never seem to. Haven't we been cheated with fair promises year after year—promises that were as empty as a glass bulb? And yet they all bite just as readily as ever. Even the chronic grumblers, like Murfree, Hapgood, and that gang, are beginning to come over. It makes me tired!"
As he reached a certain cottage he pedaled faster than ever, and with his head bent nearly to the handle-bars, flew by without a glance, or pause. Yet, without looking, he had discerned Rachel standing on the new square porch, exceptionally trim and stiff in a light muslin, while the children swarmed about her admiringly. He could also hear Mrs. Hemphill, from indoors somewhere, screaming her commands to the scattered family in a high key, though no one seemed paying the slightest attention. Had he been able to see out of the back of his head, as they say some women can do, he would have discovered that the smile died out of Rachel's face as he whizzed by, that she gazed after him a moment with a sober look, then turned and went into the house, answering her mother's remarks with a sharp,
"Well, what is it?"
Dan, meanwhile, tore ahead, leaving all artificial lights behind him, and sighed with relief when loneliness wrapped him around, so that he might relax a bit and take a long breath, for he was weary.
It was still far from being really dark, though dusky in the shadows, and, as he was wading the brook, something that was not a shadow seemed to move amid the darker smudges of the vine tangles and underbrush surrounding his little bower. He stopped splashing and peered intently, but saw nothing to confirm the impression and concluded it was but the waving of a branch, or the leap of a squirrel from bough to bough. But no sooner had he stepped foot on the soil than he saw someone had been here since his last visit, at least three weeks before. Vines had been torn down so that the entrance was visible, there were traces of a camp-fire on the sands at his feet, and he could see broken tree-twigs and limbs scattered about, as if in preparation for another. A chill crept over him at thought of this intrusion, and he looked around, half fearfully, as if expecting that someone might spring out from the deeper wood and dispute possession with him.
Keeping an anxious lookout to sides and rear he hastily entered the little leaf-tent, and saw, with a sort of despair, that it had been occupied. He almost groaned to see the scattered leaves from his bed in the corner, but was somewhat consoled to find that evidently no one had discovered the opening below.
"Some tramp," he thought. "It's queer they should find this place, so entirely off their routes, though. I wonder if that was the brute I saw skipping out, then? I've a notion to hunt him down. He's spoiled my rest for to-night, anyhow. And I never can feel safe again till I know who it was, and what it wanted."
But the possession of his wheel hampered him. He did not like to leave it, perhaps to be stolen, and it would be almost impossible to make his way through the brush with it. In a quandary he stepped forth again, to stand an instant among the over-hanging vines, making up his mind. He was so placed as to be invisible from the brookside, though he could see it plainly through the vine's interstices, and in that instant there saw a flash of something black against the vista of light, and he knew, rather than saw, that a man had leaped across the brook where it narrowed suddenly, further down. The spray of the up-leaping water, as he jumped short, sparkled in the pale rays of a rising moon.
At this his resolution was formed. The man, whoever he was, had evidently headed for town. Dan decided instantly, to cross the brook higher up, at another narrow spot, take to the road, mount his wheel, and ride by this piece of woods as if with no object in view, then, when well ahead, hide in some good place and intercept him—or at least see who he might be. It did not take him long to recover the road, mount his wheel, and start. Nobody was yet in sight, but he had not expected to see anybody. The tramp would doubtless skulk along behind the fences till sure Dan was gone, then come out and trudge after as fast as possible. Such was the program the young man mapped out for him, at least. Once, as he toiled through a sandy reach, he was sure he saw the fellow skulking behind a rail fence, but he whistled negligently as he sprinted by and did not seem to notice, though the perspiration started a little at thought that this might be a desperate character, on his very heels, and well armed.
He kept up his pace, anxious to get to a certain spot he had fixed upon as his point of lookout. He presently reached it and, slowing up, gazed well about him. Nobody was in sight, and dusk was now real darkness. Still the moon, when not obscured by clouds, shone brightly. Just now their veil was thick, and a slight shower was beginning to fall. If these should part, any one crossing the road before him would show clearly against the sky.
He dismounted, hid his wheel behind a thick growth of untrimmed poplar saplings, and made himself comfortable in the dry bed of a ditch which crossed the road and was bridged over with a few planks. In the shadow cast by this bridge he crouched and, leaning against a boulder, settled himself for patient waiting. A great bull-frog, which had dropped out of sight at his approach, soon returned again, and croaked hoarsely of his personal affairs. For, in wet weather, this was a marshy spot, and he remembered happier days. Presently the clouds parted and the moon sent a brilliant spear shaft through the rent, making it almost like day. A startled peewit cried out, from his nest under the planking, that he had overslept, but was calmed into drowsiness by his wife's assuring tones; and a noisy beetle of some kind boomed and buzzed around, as if intoxicated by the very thought of daylight. Listening intently, amid all this soft murmur of sound, Dan presently began to hear afar the rhythmic beat of footsteps, falling hard and fast upon the beaten soil. His man was approaching.
He gathered himself together and slowly rose, creeping close to the wooden buttress of the bridge and staying well in its shadow. The footsteps grew plainer, and now, into the well-lighted road, a figure swung with long, wavering strides. It was not tall, but very spare, and was crowned with a bullet head set between high shoulders. But the face, as it flashed into and out of the narrow strip of moonlight, seemed strangely familiar, yet unnatural too.
Dan with difficulty repressed his exclamation of astonishment, and strained forward to make certain if this really were the man he took him to be. But turning neither to right nor left, the fellow plodded on, evidently in a labored way, and was almost instantly swallowed up in the shadows. The watcher drew a long breath.
"Was it Lozcoski?" he muttered presently. "Why, how did the man get out? And what does he want around here? He must be crazy to come into this neighborhood! If Murfree should know he wouldn't be comfortable, I reckon. I believe I ought to follow him and make certain somehow—I must! No telling what might happen, if they should meet."
He hurriedly led out his wheel, remounted it, and sped onward, determined to keep the man in sight. His amazement was great to find that the trail led straight as beaten paths would permit, to the very door of the new Social house, now filled with lights and people, and forming a conspicuous object in the little hamlet. Dan reached there but a rod or two behind his man, and saw him slip into the open doors and mingle with the crowd.
He began to think the likeness which had led him this last chase was an illusion, after all, and that the fellow must be some new workman, who had by chance discovered his woodland retreat and considered it public property.
But if that man were Lozcoski then Murfree ought to know. For, though Dan did not fancy the ranter and his ways, he was his close neighbor and belonged to the same union, which was reason enough why he owed him this duty.
Smoothing himself into shape as well as he could, the lad hid his wheel under the portico and stepped inside, trying to look bold in order to cover his bashful qualms, for he was as afraid of a social crowd as a fox of a pack of hounds. It was thoroughly brave of him to face these lights and people to warn a man not a special friend, and proved the loyal strain in his nature. Possibly, had he stopped to think, he might have weakened and fled. But the excitement of the chase still dominated him, and he had given himself no time for consideration before plunging in. Now, the buzz of talk and laughter sounded all about him; somebody slapped him on the back with a laugh of astonishment, and he began to realize what an impossible sort of thing he had done.
He wanted to turn and run out into the blessed darkness, but they hemmed him in, and, dazed by what seemed to him the luxury on every side, he hesitated and was lost. For, just then, a group of the younger people surged by and wrapped him around in a whirl of merry chaff.
"Hello! Here's Dan."
"Come along, Dan! Thought you wasn't going to any party, eh?"
"Couldn't stand it outside, could you, boy?"
"Thought to-morrow was your night, Dan, but you're welcome, old fellow!"
They seized him by each arm, and, overcoming his mute resistance, dragged him into the first parlor. He managed to wriggle loose after a bit, however, and watched his opportunity made a dart for the smaller one off, and rushed into an alcove somewhat in shadow, intending to escape entirely later on. As he stumbled into its shelter some one, half hidden by the tall back of a chair, turned and met him face to face. It was Rachel Hemphill, and she was as pale as he when she realized who had so summarily invaded her retreat.
"Why, Dan!" she said under her breath. "Is—are you—what has happened?"
"Sh-h! Rachel." He stepped past her and wedged himself in behind the chair, where he was well protected. "I've got no business here. I ain't dressed up. But I followed a man—I thought I knew him. Say, Rachel, do you remember Lozcoski?"
"Lozcoski? Why—oh, do you mean that low fellow that tried to fire the Works?"
"That's the fellow."
"Of course I do! Why?" She stepped closer and stood over him—she was taller than he—in such a way that no one could see him from the room beyond. "But Dan, he's in prison, isn't he? Don't you know how they said he raved and took on in his jargon, and nobody could understand him. He couldn't speak English at all, could he?"
"Not much. They managed to make out he was furious with Murfree, though—I suppose because he denounced him—and evidently was making threats against the old man. At any rate he kept up some kind of a howl about him all the time. I s'pose I ought to make sure, and let Murfree know, if 'tis him."
"You don't mean that Lozcoski's here, do you?"
"Well, that's the question. I—I wish you'd look him up for me, Rachel. I ain't fixed up for this, and I want to get out."
He spoke almost pathetically, shrinking back into his corner like a scared child, and Rachel's eyes began to dance. Something in the situation pleased her wonderfully. That Dan, who had scarcely spoken to her since the tragedy of his brother's death, should be cringing and pleading before her, all his prideful gloom quivering into a girlish terror of being seen in old clothes, was very satisfying to her. She would have liked to prolong the situation, but could not bring herself to torture her old playmate.
"I'll go, Dan," she whispered, "and you stay here till I get back. I'll bring Murfree to you, for he might not pay any attention to me. Nobody'll notice you if you keep this big chair before you. Just squat down on that round footstool thing in the corner. I'll be back in a minute."
Dan squatted, nodding meekly. Rachel adjusted the chair with attention, then hurried away, after a last glance at her captive, a new light on her really high-bred face. As she passed out into the hall she saw her mother in loud and busy talk, and hurried to her side.
"I've decided not to go quite yet," she said quickly, "so don't wait if you're ready."
"Oh, you have? What's up? Thought you was 'most tired to death just now. You don't look much tuckered, seems to me."
Rachel laughed lightly.
"Well, I'm beginning to find some fun in it, mother! I want to stay a little longer. I've got the shawl you sent me for—it lay on a big chair where you left it—and now I'm hunting up something else. Good-night, and don't wait for me."
She flitted on, her mother and companion gazing after her.
"Looks loike Rache has found a beau, or is looking for one," giggled Mother Flaherty, showing her yellow fangs with unpleasant recklessness. (This, you will remember, was before her accident.) But Mrs. Hemphill resented this with dignity.
"I guess you must 'a' forgot she and Will Price was keepin' comp'ny when that gun went off and shot him. She don't never say much—Rache don't—but she's gret to remember. And she ain't lookin' for beaux yet, I can tell you."
But the old Irishwoman only bobbed her wide cap borders to and fro and giggled again, as if not wholly convinced.
It was while Rachel thus stopped in the hall to speak with her mother that Larry was haranguing the crowd at the doors of the refreshment rooms, and when she presently returned to poor Dan, still crouched upon the hassock, her report was as follows:
"I saw Tonguey Murfree going in to supper with that handsome Miss Lavillotte—and a queer thing, too, for her to notice him, I thought—but all of a sudden he left her at the very door and rushed out through the front hall, so I guess he went home. But Dan, I had just a glimpse of a man pushing his way in, and it made me think of Lozcoski. But such a looking face! It was a mere glimpse, but I could only think of some animal. It wasn't just human. Do you suppose it was him?"
"Don't know," said Dan. "Anyhow it's all right, if Murfree keeps out of his way, and he will probably, if he's gone home. I'll stay till they come out from supper, and see the man again."
He said this in an odd voice, and did not look at Rachel. He seemed to be making concessions to somebody, and to be ashamed of doing it. After a look into his upraised eyes, which were full of a trouble she could not quite fathom, she dropped into the sheltering chair, and said gently,
"Dan, I've wanted a talk with you so long! Have I done anything to make you give me the cold shoulder? Or—or is it just that I make you think—of him?"
He threw up one hand, as if to ward off a blow.
"I can't let anybody talk about that. Don't Rachel!"
"I won't, I won't, Dan! I didn't mean to hurt you," soothingly. "But you make me feel, somehow, as if I had been doing something wrong to you, and you know I wouldn't, Dan. We were all such good friends together—then."
Her dark eyes looked down upon him pleadingly, and her fine face showed an emotion greater than her limited vocabulary could express in words.
Sometimes, though, words are less explanatory than looks. If Dan had once glanced up—but his eyes seemed glued to the floor. It was of hard wood, and its polished surface danced before him as he tried to steady himself to answer.
"I ain't blaming you," he muttered, "only—"
"Only what, Dan?"
He made a movement of his head that suggested a trapped animal, then suddenly stood up and looked at her, as if in desperation. She rose also, pale and startled.
"Don't you s'pose I know how you feel?" he murmured, while his large eyes glowed like coals in the shadows. "You're kind, but—but I don't want—pity. I know how I must seem to you, even if you try not to give up to it. When 'twas as it was I've got sense enough not to stay around and remind you——"
But just then there was a shout, a rush, excited cries and screams. Some one knocked over the chair which had screened them so loyally, and from which Rachel had just risen. Dan had caught one word, "Fight! Fight!" and conscience-smitten over his negligence in warning Murfree, sprang towards the hall from which the cries came, leaving Rachel alone. But she felt no special interest in a rough encounter between two men towards whom she was utterly indifferent. Their fate could not thrill her as did the memory of Dan's burning words. What did they mean? Had she the clue to conduct on his part which had grieved her sorely. She could not help a glow of expectation, and a thrill of pleasure. It was at this moment Joyce caught the radiant look on her face, and shared to a degree in that hidden gladness, through the sweet sympathy and friendliness of the glance she gave the girl who had half repulsed her but an hour, or two, before.
It was a glorious morning. Joyce, romping around the lawn chased by Dodo, and much wound up with the cocker spaniel, Robin, did not see George Dalton as he entered her grounds from the front entrance, opposite the park. There was no reason why he should not mount the front steps and ring the doorbell, but a carriage-way led to a side entrance, and he felt certain that the gay laughter he could hear belonged to the person he had come to seek. So, guided by his ears, he followed this driveway till he could see the frolicking trio, then stopped abruptly before being himself discovered, and stepped behind a bed of tall cannas, where he deliberately peeped through the interstices of the massive foliage, his eyes shining with pleasure over the pretty sight.
It seemed a pity to him that he must tell his business and see that laughing young face settle into the maturer lines of thought and calculation. He would have liked to keep care and trouble far from it. But Robin, darting and tumbling about after a ball, pitched erratically in any direction but the right one from Dodo's plump little paw, soon found him out, and the puppy set up such a terrific barking as compelled attention.
"I surrender!" he cried, with a deprecating look at Joyce as he emerged. "I was just—just botanizing, you know." Delighted that she broke into merry laughter over the palpable fib he joined in, adding presently, "Pardon me, but you all looked so jolly! And you know I don't often see you this way."
"I should hope not!" hastily pinning up a stray tress, and wrapping her gown frills around a rent made by the over-eager spaniel. "Down, Robin, down! You tear one to pieces when you get so excited. Pray come in, Mr. Dalton, and Dodo dear, run home with Wobin a little while now. We'll finish our play later."
Before Dodo had time to raise a protest, Mr. Dalton broke in, pleadingly,
"Mightn't we sit here, Miss Lavillotte? I see chairs under the big tree, and it's so charming out there."
"Oh, yes," added Dodo, seeing her advantage, "we can tay out heah, Doyce, an' I'll talk to my doggy while you talk to—dat ozzer one," nodding her head shyly towards Dalton.
"Why Dodo!" cried the young hostess, half shocked, though wholly amused. But as Dalton again broke out she joined him, Dodo quite impersonally adding her cadenza.
She was delighted to feel that Joyce was not going to be sober and disagreeable with this visitor, and send her home before her play was out.
"I think we'll get on thus paired off—I and the other dog," he said, taking the chair Joyce indicated and dropping luxuriously back into its spreading seat, with his hands laid along its broad arms. "How delightful this is! Who could have dreamed, a twelve-month ago, that this scraggy bluff could be made into such beautiful homes, and that the dismal flat-iron below, dumping-place for tincans, frit, and cinders, as it was, could bloom out into that neat grassy park with growing trees along its walks, and flower-beds everywhere. Truly, money talks."
"Not money alone, Mr. Dalton. Something else must talk with it, seems to me."
"Oh, energy and taste to be sure."
"And good will."
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" in shrieks from Dodo, who flies to Joyce's arms, Robin tearing beside her, vindictively shaking something limp and tousled in his sharp white teeth. "It's mine dolly, mine dolly. Oh, Doyce!"
The rag doll rescued from oblivion and Robin boxed, Mr. Dalton thought it time to introduce his business, and began:
"I came, as always, on a matter which concerns your affairs, Miss Lavillotte. I wanted to say——"
"Isn't my Doyce doin' to hab 'fweshments foh her comp'nay," broke in an insinuating little voice, in sweetest accents. "I comed back to tell you 'twould be perlite. Dat's de way my mamma does," and Dodo, first on one foot, then the other, performed a sort of fetish dance around the two, praying for the burnt offerings.
"Yes, yes, presently Dodo. Go on in, and ask Katie to send out cakes and lemonade, if you like. Now, Mr. Dalton."
"Yes, as I was about to say, I wanted——"
"Tan we hab tookies?" from Dodo.
"Of course, cookies if you want. Now run along!"
"Tan we hab toast-tookies?" persisted the bit of femininity.
Dodo had a way of lumping everything in the line of cookery that was brown and crisp under the name of "toast," from potatoes to pie. The cookies she referred to were simply a toothsome molasses cake, spread out thin and cut into crisp delicious squares, which Katie kept in a jar with rounded sides, after breaking apart. That jar was a mine of riches to the child, and those sweeties her pet confection. In fact, she had readily taken the large contract of keeping the jar from overflowing, and was the principal consumer of "toast cookies." Smiling helplessly, Joyce assented.
"Yes, toast-cookies it shall be."
She gave the child a little push and nodded towards her manager to urge haste. He galloped ahead.
"I wanted to say that this escaped criminal does prove to be Lozcoski, the man I told you of who attempted once to fire the Works. He had heaped kindlings, dipped in kerosene, wherever a bit of woodwork gave opportunity to start a blaze. He was caught by Murfree, and——"
"I telled her, Doyce," panting with the haste of her precipitate return. "I telled her, and she said 'Umph!' but I dess she will. Say, Doyce——"
"Hush, Dodo! Mr. Dalton is talking, and you must be quiet. Shall I hold you?"
"No, no, I don't want to be church-'till. I want to womp."
"Well, go and 'womp' then, bless you! And be quick about it."
"But I wants to eat first."
"Talk fast, Mr. Dalton. She is pouting now, and you may get in a sentence or two."
He met her merry look with a very kindly one.
"I see you can be patient, Miss Lavillotte. Well, as this Lozcoski set fire to your Works and was imprisoned on that indictment, he has been rearrested to serve out his sentence. He escaped from prison one night when a fire in the dormitories had demoralized the discipline. He——"
"It's tomin'! It's tomin'! Dere's de lemmade and tookies, Doyce. See, see?"
The young lady put a white hand over the child's restless lips and nodded vigorously towards her manager, who continued rapidly:
"He hid in the woods till that night of the party, waiting for a chance at Murfree, I presume, for he is bitter against him yet. But, driven desperate by hunger, he came into town, and the smell and sight of the feasting nearly crazed him, I imagine. So——"
"Doyce! Doyce! Heah's Katie waitin'. Where'll we hab de table? Why don't you pay 'tention to Katie? Where's de table-cloff? Oh, oh, if she puts it down on dat twee-bench Wobin will eat it all up!"
Joyce put out a warning hand again, and kept her eyes on Dalton's.
"And so—and so—dear me! I'm all in a mix-up. Can't remember what I was going to say, but the gist is, you will have to go into court to swear something——"
"Doyce, I fink you is aw-wful naughty! Pooh Katie is so tired."
"Well, you see Mr. Dalton—it's no use. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die! Dodo, you are the great American nuisance, in person. Katie, give me that tray and run back for the little rustic stand in the arbor—oh, thank you, Mr. Dalton! Now, Dodo, sit down there and don't speak till you have eaten that cookie all up."
"Two tookies, Doyce. Two-o tookies!"
"Very well, two or twenty, only that you remain tongue-tied meanwhile. Shall I give you a glass, Mr. Dalton?"
"It's dood!" from Dodo, sipping ecstatically from her special little mug, filled by Katie, and taking great scalloping bites out of her square cake, while Robin, planted directly before her, but as quiveringly as if on coiled springs, watched every bite, snapping his own jaws each time in acutest sympathy.
"Yes, and two-o tookies, please," laughed the man with a warm feeling of comfort and sweetness wrapping him round like a soft blanket. "And let's give it up for a while and be happy."
"Why not?" returned Joyce, obliviously. "Here's the plate of cakes at your elbow. Eat them all if you will. There are plenty more."
A shriek from Dodo, who has dropped half of hers and seen it incontinently snapped up and gorged by Robin. Of course the shriek ends in a choking cough, as her mouth is full, and Mr. Dalton has to snatch her up and turn her face downwards, while Joyce paddles her little back till the morsel is ejected. When they have all got their breaths again—the dog meanwhile having sneaked a whole cake from the plate and fled to a safe distance—they subside into a restful silence for a space. George Dalton's hair is somewhat rumpled, and Joyce's cheeks are red. Neither laughs outright, but both long to. It is a decided relief from the tension when a maid appears from the other house, and Miss Dodo is carried off for her nooning nap, kicking vigorously. They sit back and sip their iced drinks relishingly. The morning is warm and Joyce's lovelocks are tightly curled against her wet forehead. She mops it daintily with a bit of cambric and lace, and he watches her silently, while the branches of the tree above his head sway softly against each other, and the leaves whisper confidingly way up in the clear ether.
The busy man feels the charm of it as he has seldom felt such things before, and Joyce feels his pleasure and is glad over it, but secretly thinks it quite time for him to finish his business and be gone. Her appearance is far from tidy, and she is half expecting a friend from the city out to luncheon. At length, in a dreamy way, he takes up the narrative so often interrupted.
"I was going to give a few more details about the Pole. You knew about the way he acted in the Social-house—his ravenous ways over the food?"
"Yes, I saw him," shuddering a little.
"He had been starving for three days. The officers were fast on his track and arrested him hot from the fight. Had he not seen Murfree I presume he would have made his way back to the woods safely. But they came in by train just in time to learn of his queer actions and nab him. Not a minute too soon, either. He had nearly choked the life out of his accuser."
"How is Murfree, Mr. Dalton?"
"Pretty well used up. I never saw him so completely cowed. It knocked all the eloquence out of him for once. The man is a crank and an agitator. I have kept my eye on him for some time. He is a fairly good workman in his line, though, and just now can't do much harm, as times are easy and these new improvements of yours keep the people busy with other interests. But he would stir them all up, if he could."
"And the other—Lozcoski—is he in prison again?"
"No, he was hurt, too. He is in the jail hospital. What with his starving and all, he is quite ill. There is some legal hitch, too, about his re-commitment, and you and I are to be summoned to testify as to various matters concerning the Works. It will necessitate a journey into town. And shall I plan to go with you?" He was quite the business manager again.
"Certainly, if you will be so kind."
"I would advise taking Mr. Barrington with us to the jail. He can coach us as to details."
"Yes," said Joyce thoughtfully. "And we must try and get at the bottom of the affair this time. Must you go now?" for he had risen with a resolute air.
"Indeed I must. I don't know when I have spent such a lazy—and happy—morning!"
"Next time we'll have to banish naughty Dodo. Isn't she a persistent baby?"
"A very charming one, though. Good-morning!"
He made her a stiff little bow, and hurried away without so much as one look behind him. But as he passed the next house, and heard a voice near some upper window crooning a lullaby, he smiled to himself, and whispered,
"Blessed little Dodo! Sweet sleep and happy dreams."
The heated spell was succeeded by a week of chilling rains. These made the children appreciate the arcade leading from the park to the school-house, and one afternoon they were romping up and down its cement roadway, just after school was out. Even Mrs. Hemphill's younger brood was there, for the delight of the youngsters in their classes, which embraced lessons in carpentry, husbandry, electrical science, cookery, sewing, nursing, and so on, had so infected them that they simply could not be kept at home.
Joyce's school, planned to the least detail, under the Madame's instruction, was not quite like any other known. Text-books were used, to be sure, and classes were, in a sort, graded, but books played a smaller part than usual in the teachings of each day, and every task of the pupils was so put into actual practice as to make it a lesson of experience, if possible.
For instance, little Tirza Hemphill, before she learned to rattle off her table of dry measure, as other school children do, had discovered its scale for herself, by practical application. A series of measures was set out in a row, from pint to bushel, while a great box of shelled corn stood by, and she was told to begin with the smallest in order to find out for herself how many times it must be emptied into the next to fill it, and so on to the bushel. The increased size of the receptacle here, made it necessary to take the rest on trust, but being assured by actual measurement that the pints, quarts, and bushels were correct, she was prepared to believe the rest.
As to the classes in needle-work, cookery, and house service, they answered the purpose of recesses between the book lessons, and were considered great fun by the girls, while the boys equally enjoyed their hammering, out-door husbandry, and telegraph operating.
It took room, but they had plenty of that in Littleton, and one part of the ample school grounds was the farm and garden. It took tools, and they cost money, but some were very primitive, often made by the more ingenious lads, themselves; and when Wolly of the unpronounceable surname actually made a little wheeled cultivator, the harrow being the tooth from a broken horse-rake, and the two wheels a relic from a defunct doll-wagon, he was considered the hero of the school. It took a stove and kitchen, but they used the one in the Social-house, going to and fro in procession, with a teacher in charge.
It was indeed a novel school, and one just out from a stiff, starched, eastern graded Grammar school might have raised his hands in holy horror. Still there was no lack of method, nor of discipline, and each class, be it held out-doors or in, was made to understand that good work was required. All was orderly enough, even when the noon class went through the ceremony of serving a neat meal, and eating it in quiet decency.
The older pupils were intensely interested in the banking class, the teacher acting as president, and two or three being chosen as cashier, teller, and clerk. They were furnished with neatly stamped coins and bills, such as are sold for toy money, and the rest of the class became depositors and learned how to draw and deposit, to count readily, to make change, to make out checks, to compute interest, discount bills, buy drafts, etc., etc.
Once Mr. Dalton asked Joyce, with that cynicism which belonged to him,
"Why do you have the poor little beggars taught this sort of business? That they may learn to value the money they may never possess?" and she had flashed around upon him with the answer,
"They will possess it! Do you for an instant believe our scholars are to be kept in bondage to one solitary trade? They will not all be glass-blowers, I can promise you."
In fact, already these little financiers were substituting real money for the spurious pretense, and Saturday mornings they came to deposit their penny savings in the bank kept by their teacher, or to draw, with interest, their savings of weeks. In order to encourage frugality, this interest was compounded, after the principal had been left in bank for three months, silver to be returned where only copper had been deposited. Behind all this stood Joyce's useful millions and the Madame's guiding hand.
It was not a great while before the mothers began to come in with their petty savings, also, and after a long talk with Mr. Barrington, one day, a real banking institution was incorporated, with the stock issued in dollar shares. Mr. Barrington, as president, headed the list of stockholders with a hundred, Miss Lavillotte following with seventy-five, while Mr. Dalton, Madame Bonnivel, and Larry Driscoll were all down for fifty, or less.
It was a delightful little bank, where pennies stood for dollars, where everyone had confidence in everybody else, where no other banks could make or break, and where the assets were so in excess of the liabilities that it could not be touched by panic. Every three months there was to be a change of clerks, though the officers were retained. This was to give each scholar an opportunity of learning all the practical routine of a bank, also, to offer facilities for the handling and counting of money.
I have enlarged upon the bank more than its relative importance warrants. Really, the domestic economy classes were given greater prominence in the school, and the changes these well-taught children gradually introduced into their sordid home life were many and excellent.
Mother Flaherty was so electrified over the tin of light, sweet rolls her little grand-daughter made for supper, one evening, that she caught it up with the dish-towel and ran a block to Mrs. Hemphill's, to display the golden-brown beauties before allowing one of the family to touch them. But, a few days later, Mrs. Hemphill, not to be outdone, invited Mother Flaherty in to tea, and they were served to a neat little meal by Tirza and Polly, where every article, from the smoking-hot croquettes to the really delicate custard and cakes, was the work of these two little girls. It was an honest rivalry, which hurt nobody, and the men, better fed at their evening meal, began to linger at home to join in the children's geographical and other games, picked up at school, or to accompany their families over to the Social-house, to listen to the orchestra made up of their older sons, to hear Miss Lavillotte play and sing, to witness an exhibition of kinetoscope pictures, or sometimes just to meet other friends and simply bask in the light and ease of the pretty rooms. They almost forgot Lon's place, even, as they gazed contentedly about, and enjoyed the bright open fire in the immense hall grate, which these cool nights made welcome.
While the pendulum of our narrative has been swinging back and forth through these many months of effort, the children whom we left playing in the arcade are still awaiting us, enjoying their out-door freedom, but well protected by its roof from the damp weather. Their modes of playing are not quite the same as those of a year ago. There is boisterousness, to be sure, but less cruelty, and far less profanity. The dogs join merrily in the frolics, now, with no dread of old tin-can attachments, and even little crippled Dosey Groesbeck lingers about on his crutches, not expecting them to be knocked from under him, as used to be the case.
They are cleaner, also, for it is not true that the poor naturally love dirt. They get used to it, because often they have no conveniences for bathing, and sometimes every drop of water must be sought at a distant hydrant, and carried up two or three rickety flights of stairs before available for use. This makes it so precious that they learn to do without it. Joyce never forgot the picture of one little waif of two years, brought in from the streets, taking its first warm bath in a tub, an embodiment of delight, splashing, laughing, dipping, screaming, in a very ecstasy of happiness. Repeatedly, the attendant tried to remove her, only to yield to her cries and entreaties against her own judgment, until the little creature had to be forcibly removed and consoled with a new wonder—a delicious cup of warm, creamy milk in which sweet cracker had been crumbled. Accepting her change of heavens with tranquillity, the new Ariadne fell asleep in the warm enveloping blanket, worn out with sheer pleasure.
So the Littleton children, having the bathing facilities of the rich, if not on so gorgeous a scale, were a really trim, decent lot to-day, and their merry voices reached Nate Tierney, going rapidly along the street, outside, making him waver, hesitate, then turn in, with a smile on his honest face. He was a favorite with the younglings. With cries of "Nate! Nate!" "Hello, Nate!" "Be on my side, Nate!" they surrounded him, and dragged him into their game of Indian-and-white man, a willing captive.
"Well now," he laughed, "do you think it's quite fair to turn a feller into an injun off hand, like that? However, if I've got to be one, I'll be an awful one, you bet: A red, ramping, roaring old Apache, that'll think nothing o' scalping and tomahawking everything he can ketch. Be off now, or I'll snatch the whole pack of you, and make you run the gauntlet. One—two—three—GO."
They were off, shrieking with excited fun, all white men for the minute, with one big Indian driving them before him. The arcade could not contain them in this wild rush for safety, and they streamed into and across the park, Nate at their backs, giving the most approved Apache war-whoop between his shouts of laughter.
As he stopped in the street beyond, out of breath, calling merrily, between his gasps, that they weren't playing fair to run so far and leave him all alone, he noticed his friend, Hapgood, just turning in at the door of his now neat cottage, further down the block. He stopped yelling to give the man a critical stare.
"Off his base a bit, hey?" he muttered. "Stepped into Lon's as he come by, and didn't stop at one glass, nuther. If Bill warn't sech an all-round good feller I'd call him a fool! A man 'ts got jest a wife might look into a glass now and then. Like as not she could bring him to time, if he went too far. When he's got wife and children both, he oughter go it easy and stop off short and quick; but when he's got children and no wife, and just a slim little gal like Lucy to look after things, why, he ought never even to look toward a green door? I ain't no teetotaller, goodness knows! But men 't ain't got no sense oughtn't to be fathers. Guess that's why I'm an old bach," laughing a little.
The children, swarming back with taunting cries, broke in upon his meditations, and dragged him into one more race. He was bounding nimbly after them, the young pack in full cry, when he saw something that froze his blood, and stopped him as suddenly as if by a wall of rock. It was Lucy, wild-eyed and white-faced, dashing out of the house-door, while close at her heels raced her father, a stick of stove wood raised in air, as if to strike. Liquor and passion had made him an utter maniac for the minute. Clasped close in the poor girl's arms was the little baby, its head pressed so tightly against her breast that it could not cry out. Lucy, flying for life, was evidently too spent and breathless to make a sound, either.
With a hoarse cry of horror, Nate took a great leap forward and flung himself, with the fury of a mad bull, between the girl and her natural protector, meeting Hapgood's onslaught with head down and hands extended. The latter, blind with his insensate fury, plunged ahead, unable to stop himself if he would. It looked as if Nate's skull would be laid open with the billet of wood.
But just as Hapgood would have felled the obstruction, neither knowing nor caring what it might be, he stubbed his toe and went down like a log, the stick flying out of his hand, and hitting the ground harmlessly just beyond. In an instant Nate had grasped it, and stood over the prostrate inebriate in his turn. It is well said, "Beware the fury of a patient man." Slow Nate Tierney was white to his lips, now, beneath the bronze of years, and the knotted veins of his temples throbbed perceptibly. For perhaps the first time in his life he was thoroughly angry.
"Lie there, you brute! You scum!" he cried in a deep harsh voice, unrecognizable as his own. "You'll chase your own children, will you? You'll hit your little Lucy with sticks like this, will you? And she savin' the poor baby in her arms. Dog! I've a mind to brain you where you lie."
The scared children, looking on, wondered if this could indeed be Nate. The drunken man on the ground, winking and blinking through bleared eyes, tried to remember if he had ever seen that marble-faced avenger before. Lucy, peering fearfully through the front window behind locked doors, hardly knew which to dread the more, her passionate unreasoning father, or this new and strange edition of her good-natured old friend.
Nobody spoke or moved for an instant, while Nate stood there, the man's life in his hand, then slowly he lowered the uplifted weapon, caught Hapgood by the collar, and dragged him to his feet.
"I won't soil my hands with the killing of you, Bill Hapgood!" he muttered. "The cage is the place for mad dogs, and there you go. Now march!"
"Now Nate, what you up to?" whined the other, pretty well sobered by all this. "Le' go o' me, can't you? 'Tain't any of your funerals, is it?"
"It may be if I kill you," was the grim answer. "March!" and he gave the wretched Hapgood a smart tap with his improvised billy that sent him on several paces.
Then, to his utter discomfiture, out popped Lucy, red with indignation.
"Nate Tierney, what you doing with my father? Where you going to take him to? Let him alone, I say. Let him alone!" Her voice rang out shrilly, as she came forward, trembling with anger, and her knight-errant looked up at her in a daze of wonderment. Could this be Lucy?
"I'm a-goin' to take him where he won't have a chance at you again very soon, child," he answered gently. "I'm a-goin' to put him in the lock-up."
"The lock-up!" shrieked Lucy.
"The lock-up?" yelled the children.
"The lock-up!" roared the prisoner, galvanized into action by this supreme horror. With one mighty effort he wrenched himself loose and turned upon Nate, fighting like a tiger.
It was a short battle. Taken by surprise Tierney was for a minute overpowered, but as he felt his only weapon, the stick, slipping from his grasp he put forth all his strength and caught it back with a desperate grip. Half fallen backward in the struggle he made a wild pass in the air. He heard a crashing noise that seemed to rend his own soul apart. Then the thud of a heavy body as it fell. And then, heaven and earth seemed to stand still for one awful minute as, feeling no further resistance, he raised himself and looked down upon his friend, William Hapgood. Inert and still he lay, with his skull crushed in just above the left temporal bone.
IN THE CAGE.
Sometimes an eternity of suffering is condensed into a single minute, yet that suffering is so like a dream, because of the paralyzed brain, that one cannot fully realize it until afterwards. As Nate Tierney stood over his victim, nerveless and faint, with eyeballs starting from their sockets, he realized the lowest deep of hell, yet as if it had been another man whose agony he looked upon. It was quite beyond his own enduring. Lucy's horrified shriek brought him more fully to his senses, and the screams of the children who scattered in every direction, crying as they ran on, only to creep back after a moment drawn by that prurient curiosity which is the one natural tie left between the buzzard and man.
It afterward seemed to Nate as if in that one horrible, helpless minute a hundred shapes had suddenly encompassed him, risen out of the earth perhaps, so rapidly did they crowd about him, hemming him in. Amid the wild confusion some one thought to summon the marshal, another Mr. Dalton, still another the doctor, and these three strode upon the scene in time to see poor Nate lifting his old friend's head, to whisper hoarsely,
"Oh, Bill! I didn't mean it. I didn't mean it!" in a wail that would have melted granite.
He looked up as Dr. Browne thrust everybody aside, and begged pitifully:
"Oh, can't you mend it, doctor? It's broke in, but can't you mend it? I didn't go to do it. I just swung the stick. Can't you mend it?"
The doctor knew at the first glance that there was no mending for that mortal hurt. But it was hard to say so in answer to that wild white face quivering at his feet.
"Get back, Nate," he said kindly, stooping to the body. "I'll see what can be done. Let somebody that's stronger than her help to carry him," and at his gesture, two or three onlookers stepped forward obeying ward.
As they lifted the lifeless form, Nate, still stupidly kneeling beside it as if unable to move, the slow-dripping blood from that crushed temple fell on his upturned face, and trickled down into the stubble of his unshorn beard. Lucy, amid her frantic cries, saw it and fell back half fainting, into the arms of Babette, who hastily led her away inside her own rooms, assisted by Rachel, who came quickly to her aid. The baby, nearly dropping from her sister's nerveless arms, was caught by Dan before it reached the ground, and the little thing clung to him, wailing feebly in its fright and misery. So, not knowing what else to do, he followed the girls indoors, a part of the women pressing after. But most of the crowd trailed in the wake of the little procession which was being led by the doctor into the Hapgood cottage, only to be promptly shut out at the door.
Dalton went inside with the doctor, but the marshal put a hand on Nate's shoulder, and said under his breath,
Nate looked at him dully.
"Yes, indeed, I'll do anything for him, anything you say. Won't they let me sit by him, don't you think?"
The man of law looked into the other's face amazedly. Didn't he understand yet? he wondered.
"You can't do anything now," he said. "Just come along wi' me. Don't you know what you've done, man alive?"
Nate looked at him an instant and staggered where he stood.
"Go on," he said thickly, after that one instant's horrified perception. "I'm ready," and he spoke no more.
The marshal hustled him quickly through the crowd and down the street, to the little building known as the lock-up. It was the place to which he had meant to consign Hapgood a bit ago. The crowd buzzing after like flies around a dead horse, surged up to the door and leaned against it, outside. It was a small square building, scarcely larger than a smoke-house, with two tiny barred windows up under its roof, and one thick door, clamped with iron, in front. It was built of stone laid in cement up to within three feet of the eaves, and finished out with timber. There was no way of heating it, and it held absolutely no movable furniture. A bunk projected two feet from one of the cemented walls, eighteen inches above the stone floor, bare planks, without mattress or blanket. That was all. A cage, indeed, as Nate had called it in his anger of a short time since, which had so completely vanished now. But he little cared for its bareness in that misery of the soul which so far transcends bodily suffering.
"I'll bring you in a blanket and a comfortable of my wife's to make up your bed, and a basin and pitcher of water. I don't want to be hard on an old chum. I'll fix you up real snug while you stay, and you just try and settle down to make the best of it. You can't gather up spilled milk, Nate, nor spilled blood, neither. Now I'm going, but I'll come back pretty soon, and don't worry."
Nate still did not answer, nor move. But as the door closed heavily his lips parted.
"Dead! Dead! No, no, NO!" and a strong shudder took possession of him, as uncontrollable as an ague fit.
When the marshal returned, a few moments later, with the comforts he had promised, Nate still sat there, gray, haggard, and speechless. The kind-hearted jailer looked askance at him, and hesitated to ask him to rise that he might arrange the bunk. When he did proffer the request Nate stared at him a moment, as if unhearing, then slowly rose and looked down at the planks he had been sitting on, seemingly seeing them for the first time. Then he continued the survey, letting his eyes, already bloodshot with excitement and misery, scan the narrow place.
"So," he said finally, in a low, hoarse whisper, smiling up into the officer's face with an expression that almost started the tears even to those hardened orbs, "So, you're going to bury us both—Bill and me. Him in a grave and me in a tomb—Bill and me. I never thought 'twould be like that—Bill and me. Buried together—Bill and me." He continued to mutter the words over and over, and when the keeper left the building he shook his head sadly.
"Poor Nate! It's touchin' him in the brain, I reckon. Hope he won't lose his reasons afore the trial comes on, though. He'll need 'em then if he ever does. Blarst his foolishness! What did he mix in for, anyhow?"
Joyce had just returned from a half day in the city with Camille, whom she had been treating to some first-class music, and was just crossing the lawns to her own door, when she saw George Dalton come swiftly across the road from the park. She turned towards the walk to greet him, but her happy face fell as she saw the perturbed expression upon his.
"What is it?" she asked, looking down upon him from the ascending walk, which led somewhat steeply up to her veranda steps. "There is some trouble?"
"Yes." He gained her vicinity with a long stride, and said gently, "It's trouble beyond even your helping, this time. Lucy Hapgood's father is dead."
"Dead? Why, has he been ill? I didn't know. Why wasn't I told sooner?"
"No, not ill. He was killed—struck down in anger by Nate Tierney."
"By Nate? Good Nate, who has been so kind; who was such a friend? I can't believe it!"
"Nor I, hardly. Only poor Bill is dead with a broken skull, and Nate in the lock-up. The man—Hapgood, of course—came home drunk, and began abusing Lucy. Nate saw her running from him and snatched the billet of wood that her father was chasing her with. Then they fought, and Bill was finished. It happened not two hours ago."
You will perceive that Dalton told the story as he had heard it, not just as it happened. But his version was the one generally accepted at that time. Joyce clasped her hands together with a passionate movement.
"Dreadful! Dreadful! Poor Lucy; poor Nate!"
"You don't say poor Bill, Miss Lavillotte."
"No, it is the living who are to be pitied here, and Nate most of all. He did it for Lucy's sake, I know; it was to save her from her father's fury. There can be no doubt of that. Did you say that he is already in the lock-up? Where is that?"
He told her.
"I must go to Lucy first," she mused. "How does the poor child bear it?"
"Badly for a time, but she is more quiet now. The French sisters and Rachel are with her, and a lot of other women, who might be spared."
"Miss Joyce, dinner is ready," called Ellen from the veranda with a sour voice, for she resented being kept waiting.
"Come in and eat with us," said Joyce, laying a hand lightly on Dalton's arm. "It will not take us long, and then I can go with you. Won't you, please?"
He colored with pleasure, for her manner was most friendly. Just so might she speak to Mr. Driscoll, he thought.
The little meal was something of a revelation to the man. Ellen carved, and a neat maid handed the plates about on a silver salver. There were flowers on the table, and little else, it seemed to him. Yet, as one course followed another, he felt it to be a bountiful meal, even for the healthy man's appetite that he possessed. It did not please his palate any better than his aunt's excellent dinners, but he felt there were intricacies and embellishments in some of these unknown dishes that her best skill had never compassed. He began with some nervousness, but Joyce's simple, homelike manner soon dispelled it, and they ended over the fruit and coffee in most friendly converse, he telling, she hearing, many particulars of the Hapgood family, that were new to her.
Long before he had concluded Joyce was smiling over a thought which had been growing upon her for some time. George Dalton was not so indifferent to these people of hers as he would often try to appear. Evidently he watched them, understood them, even, possibly, sympathized with them. They were not mere machines to him, as she had once felt they were. He did have an interest that was close and personal, and not wholly of a business character, however much he might try to conceal it under his cool manner.
They soon reached the Hapgood door, around which still clustered a crowd of the neighbors, the men stolidly smoking, the women whispering in detached groups, all with that expectant air which attends upon a tragic incident. They made way respectfully for the manager, but looked somewhat wonderingly upon his companion, probably questioning what could be her interest in the event. Dalton pushed through the press, keeping her close in his wake. But once within the door no conventional barriers were interposed. The gloomy distance and silence attendant upon the last hours of the great were not in the way of friendly sympathy, or unfriendly intrusion, here. The back door stood wide open, and people came and went, while the children's sobs mingled with the curt, outspoken directions of the undertaker and the clatter of dishes, which some obliging neighbor was washing at the kitchen sink. The body of the murdered man lay on the bed in a small room off the little sitting-room—an apartment so tiny that the door had to be left open, so that the implements of this last service to his body might overflow into the larger room. Lucy, pale and swollen-eyed, was rocking the baby before the little gas grate, with her back that way, the child with wide, wakeful eyes gazing solemnly up into her suffering face, trying vainly to puzzle out the situation. Babette, a pretty girl with a rose and lily face, was soothing Rufie and Tilly near by, while Mrs. Hemphill, with her own baby in her arms, kept a sharp lookout both on this little group, and upon the two men in the small bedroom. It seemed to Joyce that the place was aswarm with bustling humanity, and struck her with a sharp pang that the little children should see and hear so much of these gruesome details. Just as they entered Mrs. Hemphill's high-pitched voice was making a remark—
"No, 'tain't easy to dispose of young'uns that's left orphans. Children's like tooth-picks—most folks prefers their own," and Joyce could imagine why Lucy's expression was so tense and drawn.
She stepped quickly to the young girl's side and, stooping, tenderly kissed her cheek. Lucy looked up wonderingly an instant, then burst into a fresh flood of tears, while Joyce held the weary little head against her side, smoothing its pretty hair with soft fingers, but saying no word. Presently the bereaved girl sobbed out, "It's so good of you to come!" and she answered softly, "I was glad to, Lucy. I want you to let me help in someway." She drew a chair forward and looked at the unwinking baby, but did not offer to take it. She felt that the sister drew quietness and comfort from the warmth and pressure of its little body. But in gentle tones she began asking questions of Babette as to the plans and needs for the next few days; and, in listening to her suggestions and promises of assistance, Rufie and Tilly ceased sobbing and drew closer, while even Lucy soon leaned forward, talking unreservedly. The baby, seeing that normal conditions were apparently restored, at last began to blink, and finally fell away into happy dreamland. When Joyce rose to go a sense of comfort pervaded the group. Lucy, fully assured that her father would be laid away with fitting ceremony and that she and the children—though what was she but a child herself, poor thing!—should be decently arrayed in mourning apparel, began to take on a less worried expression. As she also rose, to lay the baby aside on an old lounge in the corner, where the older baby was already asleep, Joyce beckoned to Dalton and conferred with him a minute, then drew on her wrap, to leave.
As Lucy turned, the manager spoke a few words to her.
"Oh, will you, sir?" cried the girl as he finished. "My! but that takes a load offen me. And I can stay in the dear little house, and keep the children, just like I allays did!"