He nodded, and Lucy glanced with a perplexed look from him to Joyce.
"Seems like you're both doing this, and I ought to thank you both," she said. "I was feeling pretty bad before you come in. I couldn't see nothing ahead but to put the children in a Home and go out to service, and—and it 'most killed me!" her lips quivering anew.
Joyce smiled and took her hand.
"Thank him," she said, with a glance up into his eyes. "But you can keep a few kind thoughts for me too, Lucy. I will take it upon myself to attend to your mourning, as I said."
"And you won't forget the veil, Miss Lavillotte?"
"No indeed!" smiling down into the eager young face. "But Lucy"—she bent closer, to speak just above a whisper—"I'm going to poor Nate, now. Have you no kind message to send to him?"
"No, no!" came out sharply, like a suppressed shriek. "He did it! How could I?"
"But to help you, child. It is terrible, I know, and I will not press the matter if it is more than you can bear to speak of it. But, surely, you feel that what Nate did was not intentional? He was shielding you, defending you. Oh, Lucy I would not arraign your father, but I can't help pitying poor Nate, who has been such a friend to you!"
Lucy turned abruptly and went towards the fire, where she stood a moment, shivering perceptibly, a desolate little figure. Soon she raised her head, flung a glance towards Mrs. Hemphill, whose watchful eyes were gloating over the scene, then with a beckoning look towards Joyce walked to the back door. Joyce instantly followed her, leaving her escort in low-toned talk with the undertaker.
"I can't say a word before her," whispered Lucy with a backward jerk of her thumb, "she tattles so! Nate used to tell me not to. But about—I—I can't send no word. He killed my father? Don't you see? He killed my father."
There was such an intensity of trouble and despair in the whisper that it started tears in the eyes of Joyce.
"I can only repeat, my dear, it was not intentional. He was beside himself with trouble and passion; and it was all for you."
"Yes, but 'twas awful, awful! Pa was the red-mad kind, you see; so hot and spunky you couldn't do nothing but run from it. You knew it didn't mean much—just a tantrum that he'd come out of slick enough byme-by, and then be good as pie to make up. But Nate's! 'Twas the awful white-mad kind. I never saw it in him before, and I could see it meant a whole lot. It scared all my scare about pa right out of me. It—I can't tell you how it made me feel! 'Twas like seeing into the bad place, I guess. I knew something had got to break, and it did. 'Twas poor pa's skull. How can I dare to say good words to Nate, when he lies like that in there?"
She pointed backward with a gesture that was tragic in its simplicity, and Joyce could scarcely find words for further argument. But her keen sympathy was with Nate. She had that rare tenderness which goes with acute perceptions, and cannot be complete without them. She could put herself in another's place and actually feel another's woes. She felt poor Tierney's so strongly that she sent up a prayer for guidance before answering, very softly, "My child, Christ forgave from the very cross."
"But you see I can't forgive, because—Oh, you don't know, you don't know. I'm so awful, so wicked!"
She pressed her clasped hands before her mouth as if to shut something back, while Joyce gazed at her, perplexed and uncomprehending.
"You can't forgive, Lucy? Perhaps not, just yet. But you can pity. Let me at least tell poor Nate that you are sure he would not have done it only in great anger, and you'll try to forgive him. Mayn't I say that?"
"Y-yes, make it up any way you like only—only——"
"Only what, Lucy?"
But the girl shook her head.
"I can't tell you. You don't understand. Just say anything you want to."
She turned and ran indoors, then popped out again and sprang down the steps.
"Please don't forget the black hat and veil. Have it very heavy, and very black, and very long, won't you? Oh pa, poor, poor pa!" and, breaking into loud wailing, Lucy disappeared within.
The girl's manner puzzled Joyce. It seemed to her that Lucy attached immense importance to so trivial a thing as a mourning veil, yet she could not feel that this was all girlish frivolity and shallowness. Something in the child's whole manner disputed such a suggestion. Neither was her attitude towards Nate quite clear. She said she could not forgive, yet instinctively Joyce felt that neither did she entirely condemn. Could it be that deep within her she not only forgave, but condoned, and that her almost feverish desire to appear in the trappings of extreme woe was induced by the consciousness that she was not so filled with resentment and horrified grief as she ought to be?
She was still revolving these queries when Dalton joined her and led her around to the front, debouching so as to avoid the few scattered groups still outside. He did not offer his arm, but kept close at her side, ready to aid instantly should she make a misstep amid the unfamiliar surroundings. Once he steadied her as she slipped from the single plank that made the walk around the cottage, but instantly withdrew his sustaining hand. Not until they were walking along the street, with its electric lights at each intersection, did either speak. Then Joyce asked suddenly,
"Will Lucy ever consent to see Nate again? Can the old-time friendship help, in any degree, to soften her towards him?" George looked down upon the sweet face beside him, so filled with sympathy and concern, and checked some impulse to answer hastily. After a little he said in a deliberate voice, as if weighing each word,
"Dear Miss Lavillotte, when death comes into a life like yours it means grief, pure and simple. Other thoughts and interests are put aside. There is no compulsion, no haste. They can wait. But it is not so with the people we have been to see. There is so much besides the simple sense of loss and bereavement. A thousand anxieties crowd so closely the holier sorrow is half shut out. Sometimes, much as we shrink from acknowledging it, the gain is more than the loss. Perhaps it leaves fewer mouths to feed. Perhaps it takes away a continual menace and terror. You can't conceive of feeling that a father means only a—tormentor. But—think of it."
He felt Joyce shiver beside him, and stopped abruptly, shaken by a sudden consciousness that had never before occurred to him. Could it be that out of her own experience she did comprehend? She looked up piteously and her face was white in the dusk.
"Yes, I could," she murmured in a husky whisper. "I know, I understand."
He dared not speak he was so filled with emotion. It had rushed over him in a flood. To think she had suffered so—she! In a minute her plaintive voice broke upon him once more.
"It's like this. Lucy can't be so sorry as she ought to be, and it is dreadful to her. It is like those fearful dreams when we long to get somewhere and cannot take a step, or ache to cry out and cannot make a sound. She aches to feel sorrier; she is ashamed that she cannot. But grief sits back and laughs at hers, and will not be coaxed into her company. It nearly kills her that it is so, for she is a good, conscientious girl who wants to do and to be right—oh, poor little Lucy!"
He took her shaking hand and drew it gently within his arm. She was weeping behind her veil, and he felt the passion in her outburst. He was not stupid; he had known James Early. He could feel to his soul what was passing in hers, and the revelation wrung him as no sorrow had ever wrung him before. If he but dared to comfort her, to assure her that here was a friend who would stand between her and every wrong in future! After a little he dared trust himself to answer.
"Miss Lavillotte, I think life is always harder than it looks from the outside—yet easier, too. At the worst something comes to help out. And, just because it is so hard, it can be no sin to be glad and happy when Heaven gives us the chance. No decent person will kick a man when he is down; neither does fate. When you talk to Lucy again just tell her to enjoy all she can, and honor her poor father by believing that, wherever he may be now, he will be glad to know she is trying to be happy."
If the words held double solace no one could guess it by Dalton's manner. It was decidedly matter-of-fact above its tenderness. Joyce did not answer, except by a long sighing breath, but there was relief in its sound. Her hand still rested in the arm of her manager, and a feeling of safety and contentment gradually stole into her heart, often sore for her own loneliness, as well as over the woes of others.
IN THE LOCK-UP.
The marshal unlocked the door of Nate's narrow cell and held his lantern aloft with a cheery, "Hello! Tierney. Brought you company, you see," and the prisoner rose slowly from his bunk, blinking and staring in the light, with an expectant air. It died out quickly, and murmuring in a broken voice,
"Oh, I thought it might be—evening, Mr. Dalton; evening, Miss," he looked helplessly around for a chair to offer Joyce.
The sheriff had brought one, which he placed for her, and Dalton braced himself against the wall, his hands in his pockets, while the officer sat down sociably beside his prisoner, on the bunk.
"Nate," said George, without preamble, "we don't want to pry into your affairs, nor trouble you in any way, but if we can help you we will be glad to—Miss Lavillotte and I. We believe you are man enough to wish to know the worst, without mincing, whatever it may be, and have come to tell you all. Your old chum, William Hapgood, is dead. The blow you gave him in your anger was harder than you meant. It crushed in his temple. He never knew what killed him." Nate looked up quickly.
"I didn't give him no blow, sir—not intentional, that is—I just swung the fire-stick in spite of me, and his head run agin it. I had been mad, but I'd got it under me. I'd dropped the stick to my side, and was goin' to lead him away, when Lucy's screech made me 'most crazy for a minute, and I didn't know rightly what I was doing. But 'twan't murder was in my heart. I'll swear to that! All I thought was to keep him off and see what ailded Lucy. It seemed so dumb queer to have her go fur me 'cause I was a-goin' to shet up her pa where he could cool off a bit! Women's queer cattle, though," he ruminated slowly, moving his head up and down.
Dalton shrugged his shoulders, then looked at Joyce and said gently,
"You mean we don't always understand them."
"Well, that's it, I s'pose. 'Twas going too fur, I presume, for me to say I'd take him to the lock-up. You see, that was a disgrace, and no mistake. It hurted her feelings an' then she turned agin me."
"But she let me bring a message," interposed Joyce quickly, though her manner was not assured. "I am certain she is sorry for you, and that she means to try and forgive you." Nate turned and looked at her several seconds, as if collecting his wits.
"It's sorter hard to understand," he said at last, in a hopeless tone. "I did it all for her—all but the part that I didn't do at all, for that was an accident and nothin' else—and she says she'll try to forgive me! I've heered of 'em pardoning men out o' state's prison after fifteen or twenty years, maybe, 'cause they found they'd never done the thing they was put in fur. Pardoning 'em out, mind you! I never could understand that. Seems as if it ought to be t'other way, but they go on doin' it just the same, so I s'pose I'm off on that, too. The fact is, things is pretty complexited sometimes. I can't get the right end, nohow."
"Nate," said Dalton, "do you claim you didn't mean to hit Hapgood—not at all?"
"Of course I didn't mean to. Hadn't I had him down, with the stick in my hand, right over him, and didn't I drop it, and take him by the collar, as easy as an old shoe, and tell him to come along?"
"But how, then"——began Dalton.
"Wait, sir, and I'll tell you straight."
Nate had risen and stood opposite the manager, his eyes glowing out from the yellow glare of the lantern, which was set on the floor in their midst. Joyce watched him from her chair, and the officer, also risen, leaned against the bunk, his gaze never leaving the speaker.
"'Twas this way. When Lucy called out so sharp, and come running out, I said 'twas to the lock-up I was going to take him. At that everybody screeched, and Bill turned on me like a mad bear. He's a gritty fighter"—He paused and looked around in his slow way——"I s'pose I oughter say was, now. Bill was a gritty fighter allays and he nearly knocked the breath outen me with his first blow. I felt the stick slidin' away from me, and knew 'twas my only holt. If Bill got the best o' me I was done fur. He was a mighty good fighter, and quicker'n a cat. I gripped at the stick and lost my balance, so't I nearly fell over backward. My arms flew out, spite of me, and the big stick struck wild. It killed poor Bill. But can't you see I didn't do it, Mr. Dalton? Before God, I ain't guilty of the murder of Lucy's father! I was mad, but not like that."
Dalton stepped forward and put out his hand.
"I believe you, Nate. I'm glad you told me!"
They shook hands warmly, and Joyce thrilled in sympathy.
The two talked a while longer, then all said good-night, but not before Nate had been promised the best counsel money could procure. As Joyce shook hands with him, Nate held her soft fingers an instant, and looked searchingly into her face, upon which the smoking lantern shed a fitful light.
"It's good of you to take so much trouble for me," he said. "Did you come, 'cause Lucy asked you to?"
"Not exactly. I meant to come, anyhow, but was glad to bring you word from her."
She felt she could not bluntly tell him that Lucy had avoided speaking of him, especially when she was not at all certain as to the girl's real feeling in the matter. But, alive to all the suppressed wistfulness in the man's look and tone, she yearned to comfort him, so said impulsively,
"Mr. Tierney, you must remember Lucy is terribly upset, now. Her father lies there, dead by a cruel blow, and she does not know that it was purely accidental. He may not have been kind, but with all his faults he was her father. You wouldn't think so much of Lucy if she forgot that. You'd want her to think first of him, and the poor little orphaned children."
"It's right you are, Miss!" grasping her hand heartily once more. "She's a good girl, is Lucy, and does her duty, allays. I'm glad she don't forget it now. But it 'most drives me mad to be shut up here where I can't help her out any. She'll be needing everything these days."
"She shall want for nothing, Nate. Mr. Dalton will tell you the Works are to pay Mr. Hapgood's funeral expenses, and continue his wages for the present. And we women, who are neighbors, will look after the dear girl in other ways. Don't worry about Lucy a minute! Just keep your mind clear to tell your story exactly as it is, and your acquittal is certain."
He looked down into her fair, upturned face and thought that even in the smudgy lantern's glow it looked like the face of some ministering angel. His own rugged visage worked with emotion. He could have kneeled to her, kissed her hand, touched the hem of her gown. But he only gave back her hand in a gentle manner, and said,
"Thank you, ma'am! I'll trust 'em all with you."
A VISIT TO LOZCOSKI.
Joyce was called into the city by the Lozcoski affair the very next day. She was accompanied by George Dalton, also by a tablet filled with memoranda. There were things to buy for the Bonnivels, the Hapgoods, and for her own household. There was counsel to secure for Nate, some business to transact with Mr. Barrington, and, lastly, the Lozcoski matter. She could not expect anything but a busy, tiresome day. The gaunt, haggard face of the Pole haunted her by times, and in the train she suddenly remarked to her manager,
"I can't feel right over that Lozcoski! Every time I think of him I have a feeling that, somehow, he hasn't had fair play. There was an awful anger and despair in his look when he saw Murfree, and an awful terror met it. There has been wrong somewhere between those two men. You are sure the Pole had a fair trial?"
"Why, I suppose so. Of course he couldn't make himself understood very well without an interpreter, and they had difficulty in finding one—indeed had to give it up, I think—but there seemed no doubt of the matter."
"But why couldn't they find an interpreter?"
"Well, as I understand it, the man comes from some remote part of the country, and speaks a villainous patois that even an educated person of his own land can scarcely make out. He is very ignorant, and slow to pick up our tongue."
"Was Murfree his only accuser?"
"Virtually. Still, his written deposition was so clear one could not gainsay it, I have heard."
"Written? Why did he not appear in court?"
"He was ill at the time, I believe. The fact is, it all happened once when I was east on business, and I really know but little about it, except from hearsay."
"Possibly this accounts for Lozcoski's anger against the man. Ignorant as he is, he has no sense of justice, perhaps. But he has suffered cruelly, and I can't help feeling that there is something he resents with all his soul."
"How imaginative you are! Don't you think all wrong-doers resent their punishment?"
"No, I do not. Many times in my life I have felt that I was not getting the full measure of my dues in that way. In fact, the hardest things in my experience have not come to me in the guise of reproof. I could not connect them with any of my ill doings. They just came out of a clear sky, as it were. Often, when I have been naughtiest, I have seemed to escape with less of pain and trouble than when I have been trying to be exceptionally good."
"Perhaps you were not logical enough to trace out cause and effect."
"Possibly not." She looked at him reflectively a moment. "I am very illogical, I fear. I once told myself that anything I might want to do to help Littleton would be over your dead body, almost. And, now, I never make a move without looking to you for the encouragement and support that make it perfectly satisfactory. I ought to have read you better from the first!"
Dalton rigidly suppressed the tremor of emotion that shook him from head to foot, and after an instant's pause answered in a cool tone,
"A man generally makes his employer's interests his own, doesn't he?"
She laughed sweetly.
"Am I your employer? It seems funny, doesn't it? But you need not try to explain it all away through your loyalty to my interests. I won't believe that. You are just as much interested in these people as I am. You know every man, woman, and child by name and nature—now 'fess! Don't you?"
"I'd be a chump if I did not make that a part of my business, at least to some extent. Of course I know some better than others."
They fell into silence after that. George had no desire to talk. It was enough to sit close beside a presence which meant the personification of purity and sweetness to him. Silence is never intrusive, She can sit between lovers, even, and shed a benediction upon both. It is only nervousness and fear that will drive her away. Joyce spoke first, in a tone almost of relief,
"Here we are! Now, shall we go first to Mr. Barrington?"
"When I have all these weightier matters off my mind I can better enjoy my feminine errands, I imagine."
"Certainly. And I hope we'll find him in."
He reached down her umbrella and followed her from the coach. The brakeman winked at the porter, and jerked a thumb towards them, as they walked leisurely down the platform.
"Best looking bride I've seen this season!" he remarked emphatically. "And the groom's got no eyes for any one else. Gee! Don't her clothes fit, though?"
"It's her figger fits," laughed the fat porter, with an unctuous chuckle. "Coffee sacks 'uld look well on her."
Mr. Barrington soon put them on the right path for their legal quest, and before noon they were following a turnkey along a dim stone corridor, which led to the hospital cell where Lozcoski was confined. A third party trailed respectfully in their rear. He was an interpreter whom Joyce had insisted upon securing, at a rather startling sum—for he was reported versed in every patois of Poland—that they might have an opportunity to converse freely with his countryman, before the latter was called upon to testify in the matter.
As the cell door opened before them a wild figure started up from the bunk, and stared through the gloom with great eyes. Joyce drew back, half startled, and Dalton spoke quickly, in a tone of authority.
"Bring this lady something to sit on outside here. She can't go in there."
A chair was brought, and he stood close beside her, repeating her low-toned requests aloud to the interpreter.
"Speak to him and tell him he has nothing to fear, that he is simply to tell an honest story of why he tried to fire the Works, and that all justice shall be granted him."
At first Lozcoski did not seem to listen. Crouched in an attitude of hopeless submission, he would not even raise his eyes as the interpreter's voice skipped over the hard consonants of his native tongue.
But presently his head was thrown back and he spoke in a quick, passionate tone. He was answered in a soothing voice, then took up the word himself, and getting well started, went on faster and faster, gradually straightening himself, and beginning to gesticulate with his hands. Once he raised the right hand and spoke low and impressively, while both he and the interpreter bowed their heads. With every sentence the latter's manner became more interested, and his short interrogations more eager. At last, as the narrative flowed on, he did not attempt to interrupt for some time, then he raised a hand, spoke a sentence in an authoritative manner, and turned to Dalton, seeming to think he was the person to whom he should defer.
"He tells a strange story, sir," said he in English, "and he has sworn to its truth by the most terrible oath in our religion. Shall I tell it to you now?"
"Yes, but speak low," said Dalton, looking towards Joyce, who nodded.
"It seems he, and the man who witnessed against him, both belong to the same secret society—a Nihilistic affair, I take it,—and are sworn to eternal brotherhood, of course. Once, this man he mentions was in danger of the law, and our prisoner here risked his life to save him. He does not explain all the details, but he was obliged to fly from Poland, and came to this country. Arrived here he tried various ways of making a living, and finally shipped as a sailor on a ship of war. He served for two months on the war-ship "Terror"—Joyce at this word looked up in startled fashion and turned pale—"but becoming disabled by a fall from the rigging, was left in hospital before its next cruise on the Florida coast. When he recovered sufficiently to be discharged he was told that a branch of his Nihilistic society was in this city, and would look after him, if he could get here. He managed to beat his way through, and was helped to work of various kinds for a month, or so. At length, one night at a meeting of the society, he encountered his old friend, and greeted him warmly. The man treated him well enough then, and they renewed their old intimacy, the other promising to find him a steady job at some big factory near by. His promises did not materialize, and our prisoner here appealed to him again and again, for he was destitute. Finally, at one of the monthly meetings, the old chum sought him out, and with a somewhat excited air said he was ready now to do him a service, if he would come along home with him that night. Our prisoner, who had been so exceptionally slow in acquiring the English language that he found it difficult to secure work anywhere, listened to his promises with much gratitude, and went along. The man took him to a small village surrounding some big works, and kept Lozcoski shut in his room through the whole of the next day, explaining that scab workmen were around and they must move carefully. That night the man roused him from sleep and told him to come along, for there was work for him at last. It was to be night work, but that was the best he could do for him. Suspecting no harm, he gladly went along and, directed by the other, was set to piling certain light trash against different parts of the building. The place was unlighted except by the glow of the furnaces inside, and he did not clearly know what he was doing. The other directed every movement, then left him standing in the deep shadow of an angle in the building, saying he would return in a moment. He was going after the boss. Lozcoski waited a long time. After a while there were loud shouts, and he could see that there was a glare all about him, as if of fire. He stepped out to see what had happened, and saw men running. Suddenly his chum sprang around the angle and caught him by the shoulder, pressing him forward. The men, at his call, turned and saw him. They were surrounded, and the chum talked loudly, and seemed denouncing our friend here. At any rate, they seized him and took him off to jail. He vainly tried to make some one comprehend the right and wrong of it, but could not make himself understood. Even the interpreter provided could not thoroughly understand him, and took his excited denunciations against the traitor as the ravings of one half insane with trouble. He does not rightly know, even yet, what he is imprisoned for, but his whole soul is bitter against that man, and he means to kill him yet, if it is the last thing he does on earth!"
George and Joyce looked at each other.
"You divined it," he murmured.
"Yes, to a certain extent. This Lozcoski must have justice, and so—so must Murfree."
"Yet you will hate to punish him, I can see!" His eyes, looking down into hers, were soft and shining, and held that little twinkle of tender ridicule which he seemed to reserve for her. She no longer resented it, however. She knew the loyalty that tempered it. She said in the same low tone,
"I want a question asked."
"The queen has but to command."
"Thanks, sir courtier. Ask who commanded that war-ship they spoke of."
Dalton turned to the interpreter, who put the question.
Lozcoski shook his head in replying, and the other explained, "He has forgotten."
"Then let him tell about the night he came to the Social-house," suggested the "queen," and the narrative was resumed.
It was not long. Lozcoski, while in prison, brooded over the wrong done him, day and night. When the fire gave him opportunity, he managed to escape with two other convicts, and leaving them at the first chance, he made his way to Littleton, resolving never to leave there until he had punished his man. He had chanced upon Dan's retreat, evidently, and had lived as he could for days, but on extremely short rations, as the fields were all harvested and berry time over. At night he would walk into town and wait around, hoping to see his victim. But the old man was wary and nearly always traveled in company. If Lozcoski had possessed a revolver he could have made short work of him, but having no means to procure any he had to wait for a personal encounter. The night he came to the Social-house he had been three days without food, and was insane with hunger. He had but two ideas in his disordered brain—to eat, and to kill. He must do the first in order to gain strength for the second. Even the actual sight of his enemy, before the door of the refreshment room, could not detain him from the food that he had caught sight of through the door. His hunger partly appeased, he had started out boldly to find Murfree, who fled for home on seeing him. Finding no one there, however, and afraid to be alone, he had rushed back again, feeling safety in numbers. He was just in time to meet his avenger in the hall, and in spite of the onlookers, the Pole's terrible onslaught had nearly finished him.
Dalton put several searching questions, then assuring the prisoner, through the interpreter, that matters should be righted, and his surroundings made comfortable at once, they left him with a new look on his worn face.
After leaving the interpreter, well satisfied with his morning's work, they were standing at a corner waiting for a trolley, when Joyce said in a weary voice,
"Is that all we have to do together?"
Dalton glanced down at her, and his lips twitched a little at the corners.
"For the present, I fear. Luncheon comes next, doesn't it? I had hoped—but I heard you accept Mr. Barrington's invitation to his house."
"Yes," absently. "Then I won't see you again?"
"What train did you think of taking for home?"
"I want to take the 5.13, if I can make it, but may have to wait for the 6.05. Which do you take?"
"I'll be there for the 5.13."
"All right!" cheerfully. "I'll try and be there. It's so much pleasanter to have company. Is this my car?"
He helped her on, and stepped back to await his own, going to another part of the city.
"Poor little thing!" he thought. "How the contact with crime sickens her. I can always see it. Yet she will not swerve from her good work, though she might sit lapped in luxury. They say those soldiers who sicken and tremble when going into the fight often make the bravest heroes. She is the pluckiest little fighter I ever saw, but it is herself she conquers—and me!"
WAITING FOR THE TRAIN.
It was a hard day for Joyce. Luncheon was late at Mr. Barrington's, and the purchases she must make took her far and near. It seemed impossible to get through for the 5.13 train; but she was somewhat astonished to find herself rushing from counter to counter, and eagerly consulting her little watch for fear she should miss it.
"But what if I do?" she asked herself. "I told them not to hurry dinner, and I can be at home soon after seven by the next train. What's the use in making myself ill by scrambling about like this?"
Yet, despite all arguing, as the moments fled her eagerness increased, and though she would not say, even to her own soul, "It is because George Dalton is taking that train," still something did say it within her, in utter disregard of her own proud disclaiming of any such motive. She even neglected one or two quite important purchases of her own, so that she might board a car for the distant depot with a minute or two of leeway, as she calculated.
But we have all heard about those plans that "go agley."
To her impatience the delays seemed endless, and she fairly anathematized herself, because she had not run a block or two to a cab-stand, and bidden one race the distance for double fare. Great trucks seemed determined to appropriate the rails and ignore all signals. At one place a jam of traffic stopped them entirely for a space. At a certain railway crossing they had to wait before the gates, Joyce in an ill-concealed agony of impatience, while a long freight train steamed slowly by. She felt half tempted to spring out and walk, then calmed herself with a contemptuous,
"How silly! I can take the next train. It will be tedious waiting, and no wonder I dread it, but I can buy something at the news-stand to read."
She scarcely waited for her car to stop when opposite the long, massive stone building, and, rushing through the great, ever-swinging doors, she traversed the office corridors with rapid tread, her hands too full of packages to consult her watch. But twisting her head to see the round clock, just above the entrance, with its great brass weights ponderously doling off the time, in plain view, she started with dismay, for its hands remorselessly pointed to fourteen minutes past five. One minute late. It was too provoking! She felt the tears close, and dashed on down the long steps leading to the passenger gates, at the risk of falling full length. She hoped against hope that some unprecedented event might have delayed the train. But as she sped along beside the cruel steel netting that shut her from the railway tracks, she realized that she was baffled. The one she was interested in was already pulling out from the end of the long depot. She could see it through the lace-work of steel, and knew every hope was gone. She must calm herself and wait. But she could not refrain from watching it a moment, with hungry eyes, pressed like a child's against the barrier. It was carrying George home, and she was left behind! She felt like a deserted waif, and looked it. Somebody, watching the little pantomime from behind a baggage truck not far away, read in the gaze almost more than he dared to believe.
"Her disappointment is not on your account, you booby!" he told himself frankly. "Don't be an idiot."
Joyce turned sadly, wearily, towards the waiting-room.
Her drooping figure, so unlike her usual erect and joyous bearing, proclaimed her dejection, as well as fatigue.
She felt utterly spent.
She had not reached the room when a hand lightly touched her shoulder. She turned quickly to meet George Dalton's smiling gaze, and her own face amply reflected his gladness. As he saw it a new expression leaped to his eyes. They were brilliant—were they triumphant, too? But he controlled himself to speak in an even, sensible tone.
"Let me take your packages. You are loaded down."
"Oh, it is you?" cried Joyce, catching her breath. "You didn't take the train then? Were you late, too?"
"I couldn't seem to get away, somehow," he answered with nonchalance, heaping the packages up methodically on one arm, and avoiding her glance. "But we've plenty of time for the next," laughing mischievously. "Can you stand it to wait an hour?"
"I'll have to, won't I?" But she did not look oppressed by the anticipation, he could see.
"We'll try and mitigate its horrors," he remarked as they slowly mounted the stairs. "I'll secure the best rocker the room affords, and all the periodicals on the stand, if you say so."
"Oh, must I read?" she cried naively. "I thought we might talk, perhaps."
He looked away suddenly. He dare not meet her softened gaze just then.
"We will do whatever you wish," he said in a steady tone, after a minute. "Now, let's see."
They had reached the room, and he took a calm survey of it, in all its details. Then he marched up to a small urchin who, with much effort, was rocking a large chair to and fro, his chubby legs just reaching to the edge of its broad seat.
"I'm afraid you are working too hard, my son," he remarked blandly. "Just take these pennies, and drop them in the slot of that machine over in the farthest corner—see? There's no knowing what will drop out in return."
"I know!" cried the youth all agrin. "It's butter-scotch, or gum. I've seed that kind before."
He toddled briskly off with the handful of pennies and Dalton drew the vacated chair into a quiet nook, where the light fell softly and the crowd did not gather.
"Follow! Follow!" he called in a low tone over his shoulder, and, smiling happily, Joyce obeyed.
He seated her, heaped her many parcels on a convenient marble slab near by, then stood and looked at her a moment.
"I think you'll do," he observed in a whimsical tone, "but there's one thing more."
"Yes, a chair for you," she returned eagerly.
His bronzed cheek took on a perceptible tinge of red.
"Thank you! I would not mind sitting on the floor, I think—just there," and his tan toe lightly touched a spot just beyond the edge of her gown. "But, for custom's sake, I'll find a chair. We are not Turks, you see."
He strode away quite out of sight, but after some time returned, dragging an arm chair over the tiling. In his other hand he gingerly held a quaint little Indian basket, gaily stained, and inwoven with sweet-scented grass. It was heaped with great yellow peaches, each with a crimson cheek, while, flung carelessly among them, were clusters of grapes in their perfection, purple-blue and whitish-green, promising rare sweetness and flavor.
"They were the best I could find, but scarcely good enough for you," he remarked deprecatingly, as he placed the basket in her hand.
"Oh, beautiful! What delicious fruit! And where did you ever find such a pretty, fragrant basket?"
"Have you never noticed the old squaw, who sits mutely amid her wares near the traffic gate? She declared this her choicest creation, her masterpiece, indeed. I am so glad you admire it!"
"The whole thing is lovely. It makes me hungry to look at this fruit, and yet it seems too pretty, just as it is, to spoil by dipping into it."
He laughed and, selecting the largest peach of all, began to pare it with his own pocket-knife, making a plate and napkin of his newspaper. With careful slowness he pared and stoned and quartered it, then handed her the segments on a bit of the paper torn from a clean spot.
"Such immense pains!" she laughed, as she received the offering.
"It is very little I can do for you," he murmured in return, and looked off through the window, though nothing but an expanse of unlighted brick wall could be found beyond.
Joyce did not answer. She ate her fruit slowly, as if luxuriating in its taste. Presently she looked up.
"And won't you eat any of my peaches?" she asked archly, with a lingering emphasis on the "my."
"Indeed I will!" reaching with eager haste for the one she offered.
She had selected the finest one left and, as his fingers touched it, she clung to it an instant.
"So you will take a peach from me?" she said, with an odd expression; "Especially after being the one to secure it to me."
"Oh yes, with pleasure."
"I'm glad your pride has limits," laughing and flushing a little. "Some people are proud over everything."
"I am proud over seeing you enjoy my little gift."
"And I am proud over being the recipient of your gift, which strikes me as not being so 'little' as you seem to think it. After all, this matter of giving and taking should be very simple; don't you see? The surcharged cloud pours its electricity into the empty one, and both are equalized. But has the full cloud any more to boast of than the other?"
"I think I never saw any one so ingenious in pleas for the sharing system. Possibly, if you were the empty cloud you would feel differently."
"I hope not. I think it takes a larger nature to receive nobly than to give nobly."
"So do I. It takes a nature so great few men have attained to it," he said quickly. "I acknowledge that I have not."
"'A fault confessed is half redressed'," murmured Joyce.
"Is pride a fault?" he asked quickly.
"Isn't it? According to the Bible it's a large one, almost a crime." Her laughing eyes sought his, and she continued, "Now, I haven't a particle of pride. I've eaten one peach and I want another. Moreover, I want it pared and quartered."
They were almost as isolated in their little corner as if in a nook of the woods. The crowds surged to and fro, and its units were "but as trees walking" to their oblivious eyes. Joyce was discovering new depths in George Dalton's nature. He was a thinker, and as his thinking had grown out of contact with men, rather than from grubbing in books, it was often of a unique and picturesque kind.
He saw the ludicrous in everything, and, with all his practicality, there was a strain of romance so fresh and young mingled with it, that it made a boy of him whenever he was dominated by it. He was the boy to-night, and as he leaned towards Joyce, talking in an undertone, his eye bright, his laughter frequent, his manner full of respectful friendliness, she forgot that he had ever seemed hard, cold, and given over to business alone.
At length the call of a train at some distant doorway startled Joyce, and she glanced around.
"Isn't that our train he's calling? It can't be! But I'm afraid it is."
Each consulted a watch, and looked guiltily at the other.
"It has been very short," said Joyce involuntarily.
"And very sweet!" added George below his breath. "Well, come on, little parcels. One-two-three-four—have I got them all? Why—what is it?"
The girl's face had a piteous look as it was turned to his.
"I had forgotten it all—the Hapgoods, Lozcoski, poor Nate! We were as easy as if there were no trouble anywhere. It all rushed over me once more, and I felt, for the instant, that I could never bear it again. But you will help me? You'll understand now, and not think me foolish and crazy, as you sometimes do?"
"Do I? I did not know it. I'll stand by you in everything, never fear! Come, child, or we'll miss this train, too."
She preceded him without a word, and he was glad to keep quite behind for a little, for when he remembered how he had called her "child" his face was hot with embarrassment. He had never forgotten before. Had she noticed? Her face told him nothing.
As they hurried out through the gates and down the platform to their waiting train, the passengers were descending from another, just arrived. Hastily crossing this tide transversely two men, arm in arm, passed them close in the busy throng.
There was a familiar look about one of them, Joyce thought, as she had just a side glimpse while hurrying by. But, absorbed in her own haste, she did not notice particularly. George stopped short and turned for an instant, then kept on just behind her. He had recognized Nate, and knew him to be in charge of an officer, doubtless being conveyed to the county jail. He had not expected this event till morning, and had meant, himself, to prepare the poor fellow for it. Saddened and angry that the man had been so summarily dealt with, Dalton's face took on its sternest look, which Joyce caught as they seated themselves.
Not knowing its cause, she was startled and chagrined at the change. What had she said, or done, to cause it?
Silently ruminating amid the sweet experiences of the day she failed to find any clue, till he at length said, with a sigh.
"I have something to tell you. I thought at first I would keep it to myself, but I'd rather tell you, myself, than have you hear it elsewhere. They've taken poor Nate away. Did you notice, just now——"
"Was that he—with the tall man arm in arm? And was the tall man an officer?"
George nodded to both questions.
"Yes, I'm sorry to say."
"Oh, poor Nate. He will be heart broken. Why couldn't they have left him there? Till after the funeral at least. Oh, my friend, we have been too thoughtless to-day! Our people at home have been suffering."
"And, had you been the sufferer, would you begrudge others a bit of joy?"
"No, no, indeed!"
"Then why be self-reproachful now? We have done what we could for them, and that is all even they could ask. We will not spoil the day with regrets, or self-upbraidings, now."
He spoke in a deep voice, and added hesitantly, after a moment,
"I have not had so much happiness, myself, but that I am greedy of it. This day will stand out from all the days of my life. On it you, Joyce Lavillotte, called me, George Dalton, friend!"
The funeral of William Hapgood was over. Death had dignified him, and few ventured to speak of him as "Bill," just now. Lucy had wept convulsively in her very long and very black veil, and Tilly and Rufie had sniveled on either side of her, after a last shrill quarrel over which should wear the black jacket, and which the cape with a black ribbon bow, that Joyce had provided.
The whole village had attended the obsequies at the pretty new church, and favorably commented thereon. Mrs. Hemphill thought it a "turrible waste" that they did not have the silver name-plate taken off the casket, however, and declared solemnly:
"Them that buries silver's like to dig fur copper 'fore they die theirselves."
But the women were all deeply impressed with Lucy's genteel mourning costume, and felt an added respect for the little creature in her trailing crepe. Marie and Babette were in and out continually, aiding and suggesting, and Rachel had stayed with Lucy every night.
During one of these she and Babette had been asked to "sit up with the corpse," Gus Peters and Dan being chosen to share their vigil. It had taken much urging to induce Dan to feel it his duty, but at last he had given in with a good grace, and appeared with Gus promptly at the appointed hour. With these people a funeral was often the forerunner of a wedding. It was quite the proper thing for those "keeping company" together to sit out the long night hours beside the dead, and too often a keg of liquor was tapped, over which hilarity reigned to a ghastly degree.
There was no danger of that in this case, though. Neither Gus, nor Dan, was of the drinking set, and Lucy had a horror of the stuff, so would not have it in the house. All was decorum over the body of the man who had been ruined by his own appetite.
They sat around the fire the cool fall evenings required, and talked in low tones. Once in a while one or another of the boys would step into the little room off, a minute, then come quietly back to the group. Bill Hapgood had good care that night. But after a time the little group seemed to disintegrate into pairs. Gus and Babette, sitting side by side on the old lounge, dropped their voices to whispers, while Dan and Rachel, somewhat withdrawn from each other, slowly rocked in two old cane chairs. As Dan returned to his seat after one of his short absences with the dead, he flung a glance toward the other couple and remarked, sotto voce.
"Gus is getting lots of cheek since he come to be an architect. There was a time he darsn't look at Bab."
"He always liked her, though."
"Oh, of course. Who don't? She's pretty and good and gay. But she felt above Gus, once."
"Did she? I never thought so."
"He thought so. She would hardly notice him."
"Sometimes," said Rachel slowly, "folks feel offish themselves, and imagine everybody else does. I've heard Freda Wilkes talk about folks slighting her, when she'd go along the street with her head so high they couldn't anybody reach up to her. I'm some that way myself, mother says. But I don't know it till it's over. I get to thinking, and forget what's around me. It seems to me, often, as if there was a lot more things in this world—yes, and people too—than we can see around us. I don't believe in ghosts, either, at least not the scarey kind, but sometimes I seem to get off this earth into something higher and better. It's then I forget folks. But it isn't pride. I never feel how little and ignorant I am as at those times."
Dan rocked on silently and looked at the fire.
He loved to hear Rachel talk. There was a peculiar cadence in her voice, a rich depth, unusual in young women. There was not a shrill nor common strain in it. That "high" look Joyce had noted went with high thoughts, and a voice undertoned by a beautiful soul. Dan felt this without thinking it out in so many words. Another idea began to force its way into his moody brain. Just because Rachel had this unusual quality, this power of looking inward, might she not understand the complexities of his life better than others? He wondered in his tense silence, but did not raise his eyes to see.
His silence finally chilled Rachel, and she, too, began to stare at the fire. The low talk of the other couple ceased and Gus said, explanatorily,
"We were just speaking of Mr. Dalton and Miss Lavillotte. Bab thinks that'll be a match."
"She's good enough for a king," said Babette, "and as pretty and grand as a princess, and he is our king here. Why shouldn't it be all right?"
"She's different from him, though," returned Rachel slowly. "She's been brought up different, Mr. Dalton has made himself a gentleman, but she didn't have to be made. She is a lady born."
"She must have money, too," said Gus. "She's real generous, I hear; and I guess it's true, for I know she has a kind way with her."
"I don't know about her having much money," said Rachel, "but she seems to feel that we all belong to her, somehow, and that she's got to look after us. If the Works, and the whole town, too, was her own she couldn't be more interested."
"She consults lots with Dalton," spoke up Dan. "But they say they're connections of some kind, and he looks after what property she's got."
"Then she has means?" asked Babette.
"Must have considerable," replied Gus. "That old fellow that works for her told me, once, that if she wanted to she could make a big splurge, but she wouldn't do it. He hinted as if she had reasons for being so interested here, but I couldn't pump a thing out of him. I guess he likes to boast pretty well, and he thinks she made the earth, anyhow."
"It's queer," mused Rachel, "that the new boss has never appeared in all these changes and improvements. I should think he'd want to see for himself what's going on. If he cares enough to do so much, he ought to care enough to come and look on."
"But he's in Europe, ain't he?"
"What makes you think so, Dan?"
"I asked Mr. Dalton, once, if he'd be here before we put in the new annealing furnace, just to see what he'd say, and he answered that he thought not. It would be a long time before young Early would reach these shores. So I concluded he was across the water."
"You didn't like Miss Lavillotte at first, did you, Rachel?" asked young Peter.
The girl laughed out, a low laugh in deference to the dead.
"Yes, I liked her so well I tried not to notice her! I expected she'd do something high and mighty to make me mad, so I held myself back. But I found I didn't need to. I was soon ashamed of it. She can't help looking different from others. A china cup isn't to blame for looking finer and whiter than a brown jug. It's made so!"
"Speaking of cups and jugs makes me hungry, somehow," observed Gus, glancing about him.
"Didn't they say something about a lunch for us, Bab?"
"Yes, it's all fixed there in the cupboard. Want me to make you a cup of coffee? You know I can make good coffee, Gus."
Babette could not help being coquettish, even amid solemn surroundings at two o'clock in the morning. As she spoke she glanced sidewise at the young man and tossed back her pretty curling locks from her forehead. In a few minutes the coffee-pot was slowly steaming over the little gas grate, a delicious odor beginning to exude from its spout.
The girls, with quiet movements, drew a small table before the hearth, and set out thereon cold meat, bread, and milk, also the inevitable pie of the Americanized workman. The boys helped them, or pretended to, and even Dan grew sociable under the sense of close companionship and good cheer.
They had finished their impromptu meal, but were still at the table, thoroughly enjoying themselves, half forgetful of the awesome figure in the next room, when out of the weird stillness came a sudden cry, and a dull thud, as of some body falling against a solid obstruction.
Babette clutched at Gus, while Dan's hand involuntarily closed over Rachel's, outstretched in terror. Then, ashamed of the momentary start, he drew it away and rose from his chair.
"Sit still," he said, "till I look into this."
He stepped into the little room, Gus at his heels, but both turned back at once, assured all was right there.
"It's outside," said Dan, in a low voice. "Some drunken man, probably. You stay with the girls, and I'll go out and see."
"Not much," said Gus indignantly. "Guess I'm no more afraid than you are!"
He had no idea of appearing cowardly before the girl of his heart. But she clung to him.
"Oh Gus, I'm scared to death! Don't go."
Dan had already let himself out, bidding Rachel lock the door behind him. She turned now to Babette.
"Come, come, Bab!" she said. "We are not going to be nervous and frighten the children."
She was interrupted by a shriek, long and blood-curdling. The girls clung together, and Gus rushed out after Dan, fearing something terrible had occurred. A frightened cry from upstairs was almost a relief from the strain, and the girls fled back to the stairway door to meet Lucy and the little girls, who were huddled there in a great fright.
"What is it?" they asked in a whispered chorus. "Is pa all right?"
Rachel was the only one calm enough to answer.
"Some drunken fellow, likely. Come out by the fire, girls, or you'll take cold. Dan has gone to see about it."
"And Gus," added Babette jealously, finding her voice to defend her lover.
They all crouched together before the fire, Rachel bringing a shawl to wrap around the scantily clad sisters, and the five enlarged upon the event in all its details, as people do whose range of thought is not wide. The morning twilight was gray in the room when a noise outside caught their attention.
"Dan! I know his step," cried Rachel in a joyous tone, springing to open the door.
Lucy and the children fled to shelter behind the stairway door, and remained there to hear without being seen. Dan stumbled in with an exhausted air, and dropped into a chair.
"Hasn't Gus come?" he asked.
"No, where is he?" cried Babette excitedly. "You didn't leave him alone with the thing, did you?"
"The 'thing', as you call it, was poor old Murfree. He got out of bed while the nurse was asleep, and has been wandering around enough to kill a well person. I did not know who I was following for a long time, for sure, but I suspected it was Murfree when I saw he was undressed. He led me an odd chase, I tell you!"
"Oh, tell us all about it!" piped up Tilly from the stairway.
Dan looked towards it, then broke into a laugh, perhaps the first real mirthful sound that had passed his lips since his brother's death. It made Rachel's heart beat faster with joy and surprise.
"All right!" he said. "I will. It don't seem like a sick man could do it, but he did. He struck out for the Works as soon as I got outside and I after him. Didn't you hear him shriek. He was quite a ways ahead, and I let him keep so. Soon as I was sure about him I knew I oughn't to frighten him by waking him too sudden."
"Why, was he asleep?" This from Rufie.
"Sure! But what he did was the queerest. He began dodging in and out around the sheds, and every now and then he'd stoop and seem to be fixing something. Then he'd motion like he was lightin' a match. I kept back and watched him. I knew by this time he was either doing over something he'd done before which had come to him in a dream, or else somebody had hypnotized him. He moved just like a machine. I kept thinking he'd drop, for it seemed as if he must be worn out, but he didn't for a long time."
"But where was Gus all this while?" asked Babette.
"I don't know. I think he went some other way. I didn't see him again till Murfree had led me along opposite of Dodge's cow-shed. As long as the man was making for home I wouldn't disturb him. But right there what I expected happened. He fell in a dead faint. And just then, mighty luckily for me, Gus came up. We couldn't manage him alone, so we called up Jim Dodge out of bed, and he helped us get him into the house. Everybody was out hunting Murfree up, so we had to stay till I could call Dr. Browne by 'phone and we could get him warmed up once more. I left Gus there, to come and tell you, for I knew you'd worry. I guess this night'll finish poor old Tonguey Murfree! Queer, wasn't it?"
He was looking at Rachel, and she answered, thrilling to the naturalness of his look and tone, after these weary months of deepest gloom and silence. The old Dan seemed to have come back to her out of the long, gruesome night. She understood, without explanation, that these adventures had taken him out of himself, that care and thought for others had lifted him above the murk of his own despair. He was as alert, interested, and ready to talk, as ever he used to be. As she plied him with questions she longed in some tangible way to show her quickened sympathy and gladness. She wanted to clasp his hand, to touch his arm, to smile up into his eyes. But she was proud; and then she feared to break the happy spell.
Instead, she set the coffee over, and when it had boiled, brought it to his side.
"I know you're tired and hungry, Dan. I'll fix you up a cup that will make you fresh again. You like just a little milk, I know, but plenty of sugar. And here's the last piece of pie."
Rachel was true to the traditions of her class. She knew the way to a man's heart. Dan ate and drank, feeling that some barrier was down between them. This was not the Rachel of yesterday, who without seeming to repulse him, yet held herself so high and far he dare not believe in her kindness, even. Was it his hand that had swept that barrier away? Yet he had sworn never to do that while the memory of his brother stood between them, for he firmly believed that Rachel had been Will's promised wife.
CAMILLE SPEAKS OUT.
"There's George Dalton going to Joyce's again," remarked Camille, turning from the library window which looked towards the other house. "They seem to find plenty of matters to discuss, lately."
"I can well believe it," replied her mother calmly. "What with hurrying to complete all the houses before snow falls, and looking after Nate's trial and Lucy's family, it keeps Joyce on the anxious seat."
"Oh well, she likes it," laughed the girl. "There, he's gone in now. He always comes to the house to talk nowadays, instead of her going to the office."
"It's a better plan, I think."
"You always think everything is either good, better, or best, mother. But it seems to me——"
She stopped to study the Madame's sightless countenance, until that lady asked, laughingly,
"Well, what has cut you off, child? I imagine you suspended in mid-air."
Camille joined in the laugh, but not too heartily.
"I was going to say, it seems to me there's something more than business in it all, ma mere."
Madame Bonnivel looked up quickly.
"Are you justified in saying that, daughter?"
"I don't know. I only spoke of the way in which it strikes me. There now! He's coming out, and Joyce with him. She has on her new jacket and her best walking hat. I do verily believe they are going into the city. And I was going myself this afternoon, then gave it up—how provoking! She looks odd, Joyce does."
"Well, excited perhaps. She doesn't seem to see, or think, of anything but just what she is doing. I wonder if anything has happened, or if it's just being with him?"
"Camille, dear, is it quite the thing to stand and comment on your neighbor, so?"
"Why, it's only Joyce, mother. And I won't any longer. She's out of sight now, anyway, and gone straight toward the station, too. But, I will maintain, she consults twice as much with that manager lately as with you, mother. You know that as well as I do."
A slight contraction of the Madame's smooth brow proved that the shaft had hit.
"Yes, that is probable enough. It isn't to be wondered at, either. He is her manager, and an excellent one. Camille, did you say Leon enclosed a note to Joyce in his last letter to you?"
The girl's face broke into a mischievous grin. "What made you think of that just now, dear? Yes he did, but it was a short one, and she didn't show it to me. I wish he would come home!"
The Madame sighed.
"So do I. After all, what prospects in life has a naval officer without private property? He must always be gone from home, where he may be exposed to unknown dangers. He can scarcely hope to form family ties."
"Humph! Joyce's husband needn't be in the navy, if she doesn't like to have him, mother."
"Hush, child, don't be absurd! They are like brother and sister."
"But they are not brother and sister, and I'm glad of it—if that Dalton will keep his distance. I don't know but it's my duty to make up to him, myself."
"Camille! Don't be coarse."
"Coarse! You ought to hear most of the girls talk. Well, good-by. I told Joyce I'd go and tend library this afternoon, and I must be off. I'll send Dodo in to keep you out of mischief."
She stooped to kiss the smooth cheek, where time had been sparing of wrinkles, and her mother drew her down for a closer caress.
"Adieu, my love. One of the lessons my blindness teaches me is that, a great many times in this world, the hardest work we are given is just to sit one side and neither speak, nor act. It is then prayer becomes an unspeakable blessing."
"Mother, you're awfully good! I won't meddle; don't worry. Here's Dodo. She hasn't learned that lesson yet, bless her heart! Now don't let Mamma mope, Blossom."
"Me'll tate tare ob her, S'e tan p'ay wiv mine Wobin, an' hol' mine dolly."
Camille disappeared, throwing kisses as she went. The library she mentioned was one in connection with the school, and somewhat chaotic in condition. Joyce had bought a selected lot of good reading matter in paper covers, with which to start a circulating library, and with the assistance of the Bonnivels, was getting it in shape. In the absence of a catalogue the books were now numbered on the backs, and when issued the corresponding number, on a slip of paper marked the vacant place on the shelf. In addition, the name of the drawer had to be recorded, making the work of distribution something of a task. As yet no regular librarian had been appointed. Joyce thought that either Dan or Rachel could do the work satisfactorily, but both were valuable glass-workers, and Dalton demurred at giving up any of their time. So the matter rested.
Though well into the Fall the day had come off sunny and mild. As always, in such weather, that part of the population not confined in the factory was pretty well turned out of doors. Camille, crossing the park from one end to the other, noted the women standing about in groups, or passing from cottage to cottage, and wondered when they ever found time for their household duties. She exchanged pleasant nods with those she met—all liked her gay, gypsyish face and easy manners—and was in great good humor when the school-house was reached.
It was still early and the children not dismissed, but already a large group of women were waiting in the library room. Among these, so demure and still as to seem oldest of all, waited Lucy Hapgood. Camille could scarcely keep back a smile at sight of her incongruous attire. Her gown was a cotton one of a washed out indigo-blue, with large polka spots that had once been white, before the other color had beclouded them. Over this, as if apologizing and condoning, streamed the sombre veil, more suitable for a widow than for that round-faced child. But Lucy drew it about her with a tender touch, as she sat apart, and Camille could plainly note her satisfaction in its heavy folds.
The latter at once began her work of distribution, that these older people might be disposed of before the school children should come trooping in. When Lucy's turn arrived, and she took her place before the little railing, like a veiled oriental mute, Camille looked down upon her with an air of good comradeship, and said,
"I know you'll want something bright and wide awake. I don't believe you like doleful books any better than I do."
Lucy's demure face lightened, but she seemed to hesitate for a reply.
"I did like that kind," she said finally, "but now I don't know. Mis' Hemphill said I ought to read something sober, nowadays. There's a book about a girl that was took up because they thought she'd killed her father, and they tried to torment and torture her into telling."
"Good gracious! Such a book would be the death of you. Is she crazy? I'll pick you out something. Now, here's the loveliest story! It's about two merry, sensible girls who found themself obliged to earn their own living. They did not sit down and cry, but just went about it, as gay and jolly as you please, and they had lots of funny adventures, but conquered in the end. I know you'd like it."
Lucy looked at the volume wistfully.
"Do you think I ought to?" she whispered.
"Of course I do. Why not? Look it over, at least."
She took the book, dipped into it here and there, looked at the illustrations, then glanced up with a flushing cheek.
"I know I'd like it and, if you say so—"
"Certainly I say so. What's its number?"
"One hundred and twenty."
"All right. Now, you read every word of it, and tell me how you like it when you bring it back, will you?"
Lucy tucked it carefully under her veil, but lingered.
"Isn't Miss Lav'lotte going to be here to-day?"
"No, I think she went into the city, probably to see Mr. Nate Tierney."
Camille spoke deliberately, turning to replace a volume in the large pine case as she did so.
"Do—do you know where 'tis she goes to see him?" asked the girl in a low voice, glancing about her with a furtive air.
Camille looked at her quickly.
"Don't you know? Haven't they told you?'"
"Then he is in—jail?"
Camille nodded regretfully.
"I kinder thought maybe Mr. Dalton might get him out," was the next remark in a despairing tone.
"I hope they will soon, Lucy, but it takes time. Have you been to see him yet?"
"I?" Lucy started, and stared at her.
"Yes, you to be sure. He has been such a good friend of yours. Of course they'll do all they can—Mr. Dalton and Joyce—but you know him so much better he could tell you things he wouldn't them. Then, he must get awfully lonely for his own friends. He suffers terribly over it all."
"But—but—you know what he's in jail for?"
"Of course. But nobody believes he is guilty. Miss Lavillotte says, and so does every one, that it was just an accident."
"He was mad at pa, though, fearful mad!"
"Yes, he owns to that. But he had gotten control of himself. He simply meant to shut him up where he could not harm you."
"I wish I was sure. Nate never lied to me in his life. If he'd say it solemn and true I'd believe it."
"Why don't you go to see him, then, and ask all about it?"
"Oh, I couldn't What would people say?"
She shrank back as if from a blow.
"Do you always stop to think about that?" asked Camille with contempt. "Why don't you figure out what is really right and then go ahead? I do."
Lucy studied her a minute, then asked in return,
"Do you think it's right to care more for other folks than for your own family?"
"I don't think it's natural, but, if you do, there must be something wrong with the family. We generally like those nearest to us, if they'll let us."
"Yes, that's so," said the other eagerly, as if new light were coming to her.
"As far as family is concerned, though, I like Joyce Lavillotte better than any cousin I have, almost better than my own sister, and she is no relation at all."
"Not the slightest. And my mother, I do believe, likes her better than anybody in the world."
"Not better'n you—her own girl?"
"Just as well, I'm sure. And it's all right, too. I would not have it otherwise. They say this Mr. Tierney has always been kindness itself to you and the children; I should think you ought to love him just as well as if he were your big brother."
"Do you think so—really?"
"I know it."
Something of perplexed sadness fell away from the child's face, and just then the measured beat of young feet being marched through the halls proclaimed that school was dismissed. Lucy turned quickly and grasped at Camille.
"Say, I don't know where to go nor how to get at him. I don't know where to write to him, even. If you'd tell Miss Lav'lotte, don't you b'lieve she'd go with me, or something? She's so kind."
"Of course she would. I'll tell her."
"And see here, you—you won't tell anybody else?" speaking low and hurriedly for the children were at the door.
"Tell! Of course not! But Lucy, what ails you is you have been so used to care and sorrow that you don't dare to catch the least ray of sunshine that comes to you. Now, that's all wrong. You ought to talk with my mother. Come and see us some day, on the knoll, will you? Come soon."
"Oh may I? How lovely to ask me!" Lucy's face fairly shone at the thought. "Good by," she whispered, fairly squeezing Camille's little brown paw, "good-by. I'll come, sure," and dropping the thick veil to hide smiles rather than tears, she glided out between the ranks of impatient children, who looked after her with awed interest.
That evening Camille, full of frank curiosity, tripped across to the other house, tapping lightly on the side door opening upon the driveway, and entered without waiting for admission. The room she stepped into was unlighted, except from the hall beyond, but crossing both she came into a delightful little apartment, softly illumined with lamps which shed a rosy light through their silken shades. A couple of logs burned on the brass andirons of the fireplace with an aromatic odor that suggested deep pine woods.
Before them a couch was drawn, upon which Joyce nestled lazily amid a nest of pillows. At a table, little withdrawn, Ellen was reading aloud from a late magazine, the rosy light making her look almost young and handsome to-night. She withdrew, after a word or two of greeting, while Joyce without stirring, said drowsily,
"I know you won't ask me to get up, Camille; you are too good-natured. Come, take this easy little rocker and tell me all you know."
"No thank you. I've come to put you to the question, my lady! Who told you you could go off to the city with that handsome George Dalton when I had given up the trip just because I hated to go alone?"
"Had you? What a pity we did not know!" The lamps made Joyce's cheeks a lovely color. "Of course our business would have been a bore to you, but we could have met for a nice time somewhere, later."
"How do you know it would have been a bore? And what was 'our' business, anyhow?"
"Camille, we are both convinced that poor Lozcoski has been unjustly accused, and Murfree is the real criminal. To get the Pole out of prison, and to keep Murfree out, requires some man[oe]uvring, and a lot of 'lawing,' as Gilbert calls it."
"But why keep that old Murfree out? I should think he deserved all he can get."
"I suppose he does, but the poor man is so ill. It's a cruel world, dear—but a beautiful one, too!"
"Then, didn't you go to see the Tierney man?" asked Camille, more interested in that tragedy than the other.
"Yes, we did. He has every comfort, and we secured him the best of counsel. We are sure he will be acquitted."
Camille winked at the fire, a smile on her lips. That "we" tickled her. She glanced around at Joyce, who lay dreamily gazing into the blaze, her eyes and thoughts far away. She broke into a little laugh which attracted the dreamer's attention, and as the latter turned her head surprisedly, she said.
"Do you realize how funny that 'we' and 'our' sound, Joycie dear? Six months ago you thought little enough of George Dalton, and now he is in everything you do."
"Well, it's his business to be, child. Six months ago I did not understand nor appreciate him—now, I do."
Camille gave a grunt.
"We don't see anything of you at all, any more," she flung out, almost spitefully.
"I have been very busy, sweetheart. Did you eat pickled peppers for supper? I wouldn't. They spoil your—complexion."
Camille had to laugh at the tone of this, and at the other's merry eyes.
"No, I didn't, and I've been good all day. I went to your old library concern and attended to it beautifully, and I talked to Lucy like a grandmother, and gave her splendid advice. She really chirked up wonderfully, and tried to hide her smiles behind that ridiculous veil. Isn't she funny?"
"Or pathetic—which? But you've been a good child, I see. Now, try the same process on me. I'm all tired out and need 'chirking,' too."
"You may be tired, but it hasn't struck in, Joyce. You're just beaming inside, and it shines through."
Joyce laughed and snuggled down closer into her pillows.
"What sharp eyes you have! So you don't approve of me unless I am weary inside, as well as out?"
"I do too, only—well, this is just the way you used to look when we were expecting Leon home, and we are not expecting him now."
"Oh, you think I have mistaken the occasion? I see!" She spoke in a tone Camille knew of old which, though seldom used towards a Bonnivel, could hold almost any one in check. So the girl went on rapidly, determined to have her say out,
"I won't beat about the bush any more. I believe you are perfectly happy with George Dalton, and don't want anybody else. Now, aren't you? Own up!"
Joyce had burrowed so deeply by this time that only one pink ear was visible, and Camille was looking at this with a determined expression when a quick, firm step was heard in the hall—in fact, more than one—and Larry's voice called impatiently.
"Where are you girls, anyhow? Can't you let a wanderer in without the ceremony of an announcement?"
"Here!" called Camille rising, while Joyce hastily shook up the pillows and arranged her hair. "What's wanted of us?"
"Very little," cried Larry, bouncing in with a beaming face. "I've simply brought you a new beau," and he pointed behind him to a tall, straight figure in dark blue, which stood at "attention," smiling happily.
"Leon!" cried Camille, springing to his arms, and Joyce was thankful for the instant's space in which to collect herself.
When he turned quickly to her both hands were out to meet his own, but she neither paled nor flushed as her eyes met his with a glance of truest friendship and camaraderie.
They visited long that evening, and Joyce slept late the next day. When she arose Ellen hastened to inform her that Lucy Hapgood had telephoned to ask when she might call and talk with her a few moments, and that Mr. Dalton was below, waiting for a certain architect's drawing Joyce had wished him to see, but would not let her be disturbed till she awoke of her own accord.
"I told him, if 'twas just a drawin' that I'd bring the pile of 'em, and let him pick out what he wanted, seeing he was in a hurry," explained Ellen, "but he seemed to think he'd better wait till you come, so I let him. But I was bound I wouldn't wake you up, if he stayed all day!"
"Thank you, Ellen, but never fear to waken me when he—or any one—is waiting. Has he been here long?"
"No, only ten minutes or so, and he's got that album 'ts got your pictures ranged along ever sence you was a baby. I guess he'll git along. What shall I 'phone that Hapgood girl?"
"Ask her to come in an hour from now, if she can. Oh, is that my new house-gown? You have it all finished, and how pretty it is! Had I better put it on?"
"That's what 'twas made for, wa'n't it? Of course!"
Ellen, herself, adjusted its lace and ribbons, then watched Joyce's descent to the lower floor with approving eyes.
"There ain't many 'twould make her look so well on so little, that's certain. But then again there ain't many that needs so little to make 'em look well, so I guess it's a stand-off. And she's always pleased with what I do, and that's comforting," she remarked to the balustrade.
George Dalton stepped forward to meet his employer with extended hand, and did not immediately resign the fingers committed to his clasp.
"I felt that I nearly walked you to death yesterday," he observed apologetically, "and ought to assure myself of your health this morning. You look very fresh and beau—and ready for anything."
"Oh, I am; though I was up half the night in addition, which explains my laziness this morning. I suppose you know who has come?"
"No, I've not heard. Mr. Barrington hasn't ventured into the wilds, has he? Or that other lawyer, Mr. West?"
"No." Joyce shook her head, shrinking unaccountably from making the simple statement, and wishing Ellen had been more communicative with the visitor. "It's Madame Bonnivel's son, the naval officer, Leon."
The little exclamation was prolonged, and something seemed to die out of the young man's face. To her own disgusted surprise she felt herself trembling and flushing. How silly it all was! The manager stepped back stiffly, and picked up his soft hat from the chair upon which he had carelessly tossed it when he came bravely in, a few moments since, feeling himself an assured and welcome guest. As he regained it the old, stern manner, almost forgotten of late, fell over him like a mantle.
"This Bonnivel has been in the war, has he?"
"No, not in active service. They have been kept cruising between Florida and Key West, on guard duty. His ship is the 'Terror'?"
He looked at her, trying to remember where that name had come up before. Then it appeared to him in a flash.
"Why, that's where Lozcoski served?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"And you tried to question him about the captain's name."
"You see, I wanted to make sure that he was on that ship. His forgetting seemed to make it doubtful."
"But is this Bonnivel captain?"
"Oh, no indeed, only lieutenant of the engineering corps. He is quite young."
He looked at her blankly, and felt himself Methuselah in his thirty-fourth year. He could not think of another question to ask, so, fingering his hat in awkward fashion, turned slowly as if to leave, his errand quite forgotten.
Joyce felt the chill that had come over him, but could not see how to dispel it. There seemed nothing to say, though there had been a thousand things yesterday. How stupid she must seem!
"I—I'm expecting Lucy," she brought out finally, catching at this straw of a subject gladly. "I wonder what she can want to see me about so particularly."
"Did you tell her she was to be subp[oe]naed as witness for the prosecution?" he asked, trying to be business-like.
"No, I didn't. I'm afraid it will trouble her greatly."
"Doubtless." His manner dropped into listlessness, and by slow stages he now reached the door. He would have been out of it in a second when a quick tap on the other, which opened into a side corridor, was followed by the entrance of Camille, with her brother in tow.
"Are you up at last?" she cried gaily. "We've been waiting hours for you—oh, good morning, Mr. Dalton."
That gentleman bowed stiffly from the doorway, and Joyce with an effort, drew herself together.
"Good morning, Camille! Leon, this is Mr. Dalton, of whom you have heard so much in my letters. You will scarcely need to scrape acquaintance. What's on the docket this morning, Gypsy?"
Leon had advanced smilingly, with extended hand, prepared to fully like the man who had been such an able assistant to Joyce. But the sudden consciousness that it was only as her employee that this young officer had thought of him, and Joyce's own outspoken declaration as to the correspondence between them, stung George Dalton to the quick.
He was not versed in the ways of society, and this insecurity left him helpless how to act in such an emergency. To ignore it never occurred to him; he could only resent it. He bowed too low to see Leon's extended hand, and saying frostily, "I am honored to meet you, sir!" turned on his heel and stalked out with no further word.
"The coolness of him!" cried Camille, indignantly, while her brother's dark eyes turned astonishedly from one to the other.
"Was I to blame? What ailed him anyhow?" he asked quickly.
"Just a lack of good manners," returned Camille in a disgusted tone. "One never knows where such people will break out next."
Joyce felt something flare up so hotly within her that she had to turn away, so that neither might notice her deep chagrin. She changed the subject entirely by her next remark, and Dalton's name was not again mentioned.
But when Camille proposed the drive the two had planned, Joyce found Lucy's promised call a sufficient excuse to decline going. Her neighbors would not be so easily put off, however.
"How absurd, Joyce! 'Phone her to come later, can't you? We'll be back by two or three o'clock. You know Leon's furlough only lasts a fortnight."
"But it may be a grave matter with Lucy. Have you told Leon of our tragic happenings, here? I believe I have not written them?" giving him a quick glance.
"No, you haven't—nor anything else. I began to think you had dropped me from your list, Joyce."
"I have been so busy. No, I must not put Lucy off just for my own pleasure."
"And ours." Leon was studying her face with a thoughtful expression on his own. She seemed unreal to him, somehow.
"Oh, I shall claim all the rest of your day. I want you all to come over for dinner to-night, down to Dodo. You won't disappoint me?"
"I don't know," pouted Camille, unappeased.
"Well, I do," said Leon heartily, still oblivious to currents and counter-currents. "I shall come at any rate, and I doubt not the rest will come trailing after. Perhaps, Joyce, you won't refuse a drive alone with me, to-morrow?"
"We will see."
"I know you have plenty of calls upon your time, but I won't keep you long. Will you go?"
He looked straight into her eyes with the old commanding manner, which she had never been able to resist. She smiled and murmured "Yes," but, to her own dazed surprise, her whole soul roused up to whisper emphatically "No!"
And she did not go, after all. When Lucy appeared it was to beg with tears that she might be taken to see poor Nate, and Joyce gladly promised all that she desired. Her pride once broken down, Lucy sobbed and cried in an abandon of sorrow, letting her childish heart lie bare beneath Joyce's tender gaze. The latter told the child she could not leave that day on account of the dinner-party, but would be ready early in the morning for the first train.
"I will have to excuse myself to Leon," she thought with an odd lightening at her heart.
And then, as the vision of his fine face and figure, his grace of manner, his joyous frankness and charm of conversation, rose before her, a wave of astonishment, almost of protest, swept over her till the tears rose in her eyes. What had so changed her that she should be glad to avoid her old friend?
The dinner, as Camille remarked once or twice, was a strictly family affair. Mrs. Phelps, who happened in on an errand just as they were gathering, so reported it at her own tea-table, soon afterwards, with glowing comments on the "handsome young officer" who had just come home.
Her nephew listened without replying, and did not finish his second delicate muffin, though she had baked them herself with the expectation that he would dispose of several, as was his custom. She noticed, but set it down to some unknown bother over business, and wondered whether there had been trouble with any of the furnaces, or if some order had been returned on his hands. She knew too much to ask, though. It was never easy to question George, even in his most relaxed moods. Joyce was about the only one who had ever attempted it successfully.
The meal over, he wandered outside, and stood with his hands in his pockets, looking aimlessly around him, with a feeling of wonder mingled with his sense of desolation. It had never occurred to him, before, to find time hanging heavily on his hands, to wonder what he should do next. Work had always driven him, and even after his special hours were over, there were countless duties for the manager. Then, it was always such a delight to find a few moments for reading, where he had so little leisure that a lull was seized with avidity.
But to-night the very thought of bills, or books, disgusted him! He turned sharply away from the factory, and, avoiding the knoll at the other end of town, struck out for the open country. It happened to be the road Dan so often traveled, though George did not know that. He found its scenes entirely new, had he noticed them. He was not a man who found much time for country strolls.
It was not yet dark, and the pink glow of a fine sunset still lingered in the air, which was soft and still. The first frosts had tinged the outermost leaves of the maples, and the sumach was brilliant in the hedges, yet the bulk of the foliage was still green, for in that locality winter held off, sometimes, until December ushered him in. The green of the trees, vivified by the late rains, thrown out against this rosy sky, was as satisfying as the odor of flowering currant in the early spring. It made one love the world. The dust was beaten down into smooth swirls in the road, and the footpath, worn in the sod alongside, felt hard as cement under his leather soles. The silence and beauty of it all soothed him, and the rhythm of his own tramp, tramp, steadied his nerves and relieved the tension at his throat. He began to relax from jaw to instep, and presently found himself softly whistling one of the late coon songs, with its quaint "rag-time," which had caught his ear and held his memory ever since he had heard it, a week or two ago.
At a certain place the footpath broke and mingled with others. Glancing up and around, he saw a wood at his side, and just here a cattle-gate in the rail fence, through which a herd had evidently passed, not long since, to be milked and housed in the home barn for the night. The gate was left carelessly open, as if it did not matter now, and, lured by the dark interior, he slipped in.
It took a nimble winding in and out to avoid tree-roots, underbrush, and marshy tracts, till at length he came to an open glade by a small stream. It impressed him how regularly the trees grew about this glade. They seemed trimmed up just so high, like a hedge. After a moment's thought, he discovered the reason. The trimming was done by the cattle, and the length of their stretched necks determined the height of the trimming. A gardener with clippers could not have made a neater job of it.
Pleased with the beauty of the spot, he lingered some time. Nature's charm was almost an unknown quantity to him, but it held him in close bonds to-night. After a while, as it darkened, he rose from the fallen log upon which he had been sitting, and began to follow the little stream, still wrapped in far-away thoughts. The twilight had settled into a night that was moonless, but had that luminosity often seen on clear nights in late autumn. He could see all about him, even in the wood. As he reached another somewhat open space, coming upon it silently from behind a thick growth of underbrush, with only the narrow cow-path to cut it, a sound arrested him, and, lying flat on the ground, he saw the figure of a man. The sound was a groan.
He stopped, paralyzed into rigidity for the instant, and a sobbing voice broke upon him,
"Oh, if I could only know! Is she yours, or not? Why can't you come out of space and answer me? I would have given my heart's blood for you, yet it seems as if, all the time, I must seem to take yours. What was Rachel to you, Will? Answer! Answer!"
The cry was almost a shriek, but Dalton knew the voice, and, after the instant's dazed astonishment, comprehended the scene. His first impulse, which he would have acted upon a few weeks since, was to steal away undetected; his second, born of his own sadness to-night, was to stay and help the poor fellow, if he could. He took a step forward, and spoke softly,
The boy sat up with a sudden jerk, and gazed at him, wide-eyed, white as the froth in the stream's eddies.
"Will!" he whispered. "Have you come at last?"
"No, no, Dan! It's I, Dalton. I just happened here, or possibly I was sent. How do we know, but Will directed me here? My poor boy, let me sit beside you and tell you something. May I?"
Dan bowed his head respectfully, as he muttered,
"Oh, the boss!"
"Listen, Dan. I know how this tragic death of your brother's has preyed upon you, and cut you off from your friends. But can't you see, in the light of poor Nate's similar experience, how little you are blamed—how, instead, you are sympathized with? Have you heard a word from the boys, except pity for him? It was a terrible accident in both cases, and worse in yours, but neither you nor Nate can be blamed."
"But they've got him shut up."
"Until the matter can be tried, yes. I haven't a doubt of his acquittal, though, and it's better for Nate to be tried and acquitted, than to have the affair left in doubt."
"I almost wish they'd tried me."
"Why, Dan, there was never even a charge against you. Everybody, from the coroner out, knew it was an accident. And Dan, I'm going to say one thing more. Your brother was not engaged to Rachel Hemphill. I know that!"
"How?" he whispered huskily.
"From his own lips. It was only a few days before he—went. I came upon them talking together, and Will, saying good-by to her, turned and joined me, to ask some question, or other. I liked him well, as you know, and began guying him a little about Rachel; and what do you think he said?"
"He laughed out in his happy way, and looked me in the face with dancing eyes. 'Why, don't you know—but of course you don't,' he said, 'for I found it all out by accident, myself. Rache isn't the girl to give herself away, and you mustn't let on if I tell you.' I promised good faith and he bent over and said, low and gently, 'I'm awfully fond of Rache, but not that way. It's for a sister I want her, and perhaps I'll have her, too. For I've found out she's gone on Dan—dear old Dan! Isn't that too good to be true?' And then he actually squeezed my hand in his joy."
Dan had clutched at Dalton's knee, as if to steady himself, and sat strained forward, his whole being concentrated in the act of listening. At length he slowly turned his head, and gazed steadily into the other's eyes. A star, just above the little opening where they sat, lighted them with its shining. Each could see to read the truth in the other's face.
"You are speaking as before God, George Dalton?"
"As before God, Daniel Price."
"Then may He bless you forever!"
Their hands clasped warmly and, after a little while, during which neither had spoken, Dan stood up.
"I want to go home and think about it," he said.
"And, first, I'm going to a place I have near here, to get some things. It's a place I won't need any more. I'm going to put the whole thing back of me, and live like Will did. Don't you think that will please him best?"
"I know it will, Dan."
"And Mr. Dalton, it ain't any of my business, but us folks can't help noticing how things are going with our bosses—specially when we're fond of them. I hope it's true about you and Miss Lavillotte, for I believe you're just made for each other—you don't mind my speaking out?"
"No, Dan; it's all been speaking out to-night. Just between ourselves and the Heaven up there. And, in that way, I'll say, I'm afraid, my boy, I'm afraid! She's away beyond me."
"She's a beauty, and like a queen, but she isn't too good for you, sir."
"Thank you, Dan, but you don't know all."
Dalton had risen now, and they stood facing each other. Something in his voice made Dan look at him keenly.
"Rachel has suspected something, and she's whispered it to me, sir. We've been wondering if there is a 'young Early,' and if there isn't—" He stopped, and Dalton's hand pressed his arm.
"Dan, I can trust you and Rachel?"
"To the death, sir!"
"Then, you understand. She is the one. She owns it all. You see, now, why I cannot aspire to her."
"No, sir, I don't! I see why you're just the man to help her in doing a great, good work, and making of us all the loyalest workmen that ever lived. Don't you never give her up, sir, never!"
"Not if there are older claimants on the field?"
"But are there?"
"One has come—a spruce young naval officer—no, I'll be fair;—a fine, handsome, well-bred fellow, every inch a man in appearance. And she corresponds with him."
"But what could he do in her life, sir? He'd pull one way, and she another. Don't you give her up!"
"I'll hang till she shakes me, Dan!" laughed the other, lapsing into the slang of the men as his hopes rose.
They said good-night and took their several ways, Dan to break up the little retreat in the woods, which he no longer needed, since hope and action were to supersede despair and remorseful grief; Dalton to tramp sturdily back to the village, resolved to wait and work.
As he neared the settlement he noticed lights ablaze in Bachelor's Row, and many figures flitting about with hurried movements. He stopped to inquire the cause. Mrs. Hemphill edged her way close to him, breaking in before the slower speech of the man so questioned had forced its way out.
"Why, you see Murfree's dead, at last. He's been trying to fling hisself out o' bed agin, an' it took three men to hold him. In the struggle he just cullopsed and died. They wasn't nobody but Dan could keep him down lately, and Dan's gone some'ers to-night."
She had scarcely finished when the lad, on a well-weighted wheel, sprinted into view. Dalton called him.
"This way, Dan," and he flung himself off.
"What is it? Murfree off again?"
"Yes," walking beside the boy as he led his wheel on a detour around the group. "Off forever, poor fellow! They were trying to keep him on the bed when he 'cullopsed,' they tell me."
The word had impressed Dalton, and he could not refrain from using it himself, smiling over it in the darkness. But Dan did not notice.
"I oughtn't to have left him, but I got so down-hearted I had to. Come around through my room, and we can get in without forcing this crowd. I want to put up my bike."
They were soon in the apartment which Murfree had occupied, just across from the cobbler's. Dr. Browne stood over the bed, and had the two watchers guarding the door to keep out the frankly-curious people without. They thronged up to its lintels just as the surf presses against the dykes, that are the doors of the land, to guard it from that strange old sea which would learn all its secrets, only to obliterate them. The doctor looked up. "He is resting at last," he said in brusque fashion, "and a good thing for everybody. Did you ever see this mark on him, Dan? Regular tatooing, isn't it?"
They both examined the bare shoulder, and, on its curve into the arm, observed the red and blue marking, plainly defined on the white skin. A circle formed of twisted snakes, head to head and with tails intertwined, enclosed a monogram, apparently, but the letters were not English in character, and so intermingled that none of the three could separate them.
"I've seen that, or what's just like it," said Dan hurriedly. "It's stamped on some papers he give me to keep once, when he was himself for a few minutes. He said, if he died I might open 'em, and they'd secure justice. He didn't say justice to who. Then he went off again, mumbling and muttering. I never could find out just what he wanted me to do with 'em."
"We'll look into that," said Dalton, who had his own ideas concerning the dead man. "We can't do any more here, doctor?"
"No. I'll turn him over to these boys, now. They know what to do; and I've got to go back to Jim Dodge's to-night. His little girl's down with measles—severe case."
Dalton busied himself for a few moments with Murfree's effects, then, beckoning Dan, they went back into the lad's room at the rear.
"I wish you'd let me see those papers," said Dalton, in his authoritative voice, and soon the two were pouring over a small book, written full; a document or two on parchment; a badge, in which the letters and the twisted serpents were wrought out of gun-metal into a cheap-looking pin; and several letters. Neither said much as they passed these from hand to hand, Dalton fully recognizing the right of his workman to know the full contents of what had been left in his care; the other never questioning the manager's interest and concern in all matters pertaining to his employees. As Dalton rose to go, he said:
"My boy, you fully understand the importance of keeping this to yourself, till we need it in evidence?"
"Yes, sir; I do."
"Well, I know you are to be trusted. Put them in some safe place, under lock and key, and wait till I give you the word. Good-night."
He went out the back way, though the crowd was mostly dispersed now, and, as he gained the street, glanced over toward the park. At its other end a light still gleamed in an upper window of the pretty house, and he hoped it was Joyce's window, for he was in that romantic stage, never fully explained by the psychologists, where every inanimate thing becomes interesting just in proportion to the nearness of its connection with one person—oftentimes a very ordinary young person to outsiders.
It was decidedly out of his way, but he plunged into the park shadows, and hastened through it, then stood in the narrow street which separated its broad end from Joyce's confines, and gazed up at the light.
His devotion ought to have been rewarded—perhaps it was.
Presently the glow fell off into a glimmer, but, as he was turning away, another sprang into brightness below. This he knew to be the library, and it gave him an idea which he was quick to act upon. He took a sprinter's pace for home, and, as soon as he arrived there, made straight for the telephone, where he called up Miss Lavillotte. In a moment her gentle "Hello!" came softly to his ears, and his face took on the look of a satisfied idiot, or possibly an inspired poet seeking for a rhyme; the eyes upturned and the mouth open.
"Do you know who is talking?" he asked.
"Yes; Mr. Dalton."
"You are right!" as if she had mastered an intricate problem. "And I would not have disturbed you, but I have great news for you."