"Yes, five altogether—two of this kind. Here, Todd"—and he picked up the gun—"put it back behind the door."
Gadgem felt in his inside pocket, produced and consulted a memorandum with the air of a man who wanted to be entirely sure, and in a bland voice said:
"I should think at your time of life—if you will permit me, sir—that one less gun would not seriously inconvenience you. Would you permit me, sir, to hope that—"
St. George looked up from his plate and a peculiar expression flitted across his face.
"You mean you want to buy it?"
The bill collector made a little movement forward and scrutinized St. George's face with the eye of a hawk. For a man of Temple's kidney to be without a fowling piece was like a king being without a crown. This was the crucial moment. Gadgem knew Temple's class, and knew just how delicately he must be handled. If St. George's pride, or his love for his favorite chattels—things personal to himself—should overcome him, the whole scheme would fall to the ground. That any gentleman of his standing had ever seen the inside of a pawn-shop in his life was unthinkable. This was what Gadgem faced. As for Todd, he had not drawn a full breath since Gadgem opened his case.
"Not EXactly buy it, sir," purred Gadgem, twisting his body into an obsequious spiral. "Men of your position do not traffic in such things—but if you would be persuaded, sir, for a money consideration which you would fix yourself—say the ORIGinal cost of the gun—to spare one of your five—you would greatly delight—in fact, you would overWHELM with gratitude—a friend of mine."
St. George hesitated, looked out of the window and a brand-new thought forced its way into his mind—as if a closet had been suddenly opened, revealing a skeleton he had either forgotten or had put permanently out of sight. There WAS need of this "original cost"—instant need—something he had entirely forgotten. Jemima would soon need it—perhaps needed it at that very minute. He had, it was true, often kept her waiting: but that was when he could pay at his pleasure; now, perhaps, he couldn't pay at all.
"All right, Gadgem," he said slowly, a far-away, thoughtful look on his face—"come to think of it I don't need two guns of this calibre, and I am quite willing to let this one go, if it will oblige your friend." Here Todd breathed a sigh of relief so loud and deep that his master turned his head in inquiry. "As to the price—I'll look that up. Come and see me again in a day or two. Better take the gun with you now."
The fight had been won, but the risk had been great. Even Pawson could hardly believe his ears when Gadgem, five minutes later, related the outcome of the interview.
"Well, then, it will be plain sailing so long as the rest of the things last," said Pawson, handling the piece with a covetous touch. He too liked a day off when he could get it. "Who will you sell the gun to, Gadgem?"
"God knows—I don't! I'll borrow the money on it somehow—but I can't see him suffer—no, sir—can't see him SUFfer. It's a pleasure to serve him—real gentleman—REAL—do you hear, Pawson? No veneer—no sham—no lies! Damn few such men, I tell you. Never met one before-never will meet one again. Gave up everything he had for a rattle-brain young scamp—BEGgared himself to pay his debts—not a drop of the fellow's blood in his veins either—incredible—inCREDible! Got to handle him like gunpowder or he'll blow everything into matchsticks. Find out the price and I'll bring the money to-morrow. Do you pay it to him; I can't. I'd feel too damn mean after lying to him the way I have. Feel that way now. Good-day."
The same scene was practically repeated the following month. It was an English saddle this time, St. George having two. And it was the same unknown gentleman who figured as "the much-obliged friend," Pawson conducting the negotiations and securing the owner's consent. On this occasion Gadgem sold the saddle outright to the keeper of a livery stable, whose bills he collected, paying the difference between the asking and the selling price out of his own pocket.
Gradually, however, St. George awoke to certain unsuspected features of what was going on around him. The discovery was made one morning when the go-between was closeted in Pawson's lower office, Pawson conducting the negotiations in St. George's dining-room. The young attorney, with Gadgem's assistance, had staved off some accounts until a legal ultimatum had been reached, and, having but few resources of his own left, had, with Todd's help, decided that the silver loving-cup presented to his client's father by the Marquis de Castullux could alone save the situation—a decision which brought an emphatic refusal from the owner. This and the discovery of Pawson's and Gadgem's treachery had greatly incensed him.
"And you tell me, Pawson, that that scoundrel, Gadgem, has—Todd go down and bring him up here immediately—has had the audacity to run a pawnshop for my benefit without so much as asking my leave?—peddling my things?—lying to me straight through?" Here the door opened and Gadgem's face peered in. He had, as was his custom, crept upstairs so as to be within instant call when wanted.
"Yes—I am speaking of you, sir. Come inside and shut that door behind you. You too, Todd. What the devil do you mean, Gadgem, by deceiving me in this way? Don't you know I would rather have starved to death than—"
Gadgem raised his hand in protest:
"EXactly so, sir. That's what we were afraid of, sir—such an uncomfortable thing to starve to death, sir—I couldn't permit it, sir—I'd rather walk my feet off than permit it. I did walk them off—"
"But who asked you to tramp the streets with my things uuder your arm? And you lied to me about it—you said you wanted to oblige a friend. There wasn't a word of truth in it, and you know it."
Again Gadgem's hand went out with a pleading "Please-don't" gesture. "Less than a word, sir—a whole dictionary, less, sir, and UNabridged at that, if I might be permitted to say it. My friend still has the implement of death, and not only does he still possess it, but he is ENORmously obliged. Indeed, I have never SEEN him so happy."
"You mean to tell me, Gadgem," St. George burst out, "that the money you paid me for the gun really came from a friend of yours?"
"I do, sir." Gadgem's gimlet eye was worming itself into Temple's.
"What's his name?"
"Gadgem, sir—John Gadgem, of Gadgem & Coombs—Gadgem sole survivor, since Coombs is with the angels; the foreclosure having taken place last month: hence these weeds." And he lifted the tails of his black coat in evidence.
"Out of your own money?"
"Yes, sir—some I had laid away."
St. George wheeled suddenly and stood looking first at Gadgem, then at Pawson, and last at Todd, as if for confirmation. Then a light broke in upon him—one that played over his face in uncertain flashes.
"And you did this for me?" he asked thoughtfully, fixing his gaze on Gadgem.
"I did, sir," came the answer in a meek voice, as if he had been detected in filching an apple from a stand; "and I would do it again—do it over and over again. And it has been a great pleasure for me to do it. I might say, sir, that it has been a kind of exTREME bliss to do it."
"Why?" There was a tremor now in Temple's voice that even Todd had never noticed before.
Gadgem turned his head away. "I don't know, sir," he replied in a lower tone. "I couldn't explain it on oath; I don't care to explain it, sir." No lie could serve him now—better make a clean breast of the villany.
"And you still own the gun?" Todd had never seen his master so gentle before—not under a provocation such as this.
"I do, sir." Gadgem's voice was barely audible.
"Then it means that you have locked up just that much of your own money for a thing you can never use yourself and can't sell. Am I right?"
Gadgem lowered his head and for a moment studied the carpet. His activities, now that the cat was out of the bag, were fair subjects for discussion, but not his charities.
"I prefer not to answer, sir, and—" the last words died in his throat.
"But it's true, isn't it?" persisted St. George. He had never once taken his eyes from Gadgem.
"Yes, it's true."
St. George turned on his heel, walked to the mantel, stood for an instant gazing into the empty fireplace, and then, with that same straightening of his shoulders and lift of his head which his friends knew so well when he was deeply stirred, confronted the collector again:
"Gadgem!" He stopped and caught his breath. For a moment it seemed as if something in his throat choked his utterance. "Gadgem—give me your hand! Do you know you are a gentleman and a thoroughbred! No—don't speak—don't explain. We understand each other. Todd, bring three glasses and hand me what is left of the old Port. And do you join us, Pawson."
Todd, whose eyes had been popping from his head during the entire interview, and who was still amazed at the outcome, suddenly woke to the dangers of the situation: on no account must his master's straits be further revealed. He raised his hand as a signal to St. George, who was still looking into Gadgem's eyes, screwed his face into a tangle of puckers and in a husky whisper muttered, so low that only his master could hear:
"Dat Port, Marse George"—one eye now went entirely out in a wink—"is gittin' a leetle mite low" (there hadn't been a drop of it in the house for six months) "an' if—"
"Well, then, that old Brown Sherry—get a fresh bottle, Todd—" St. George was quite honest, and so, for that matter, was Todd: the Brown Sherry had also seen its day.
"Yes, sah—but how would dat fine ol' peach brandy de jedge gin ye do? It's sp'ilin' to be tasted, sah." Both eyes were now in eclipse in the effort to apprise his master that with the exception of some badly corked Madeira, Tom Coston's peach brandy was about the only beverage left in the cellar.
"Well, the old peach brandy, then—get it at once and serve it in the large glasses."
St. George had now reached the last stage of his poverty. The selling or pawning of the few valuables left him had been consummated and with the greatest delicacy, so as best to spare his feelings. That he had been assisted by hitherto unknown friends who had sacrificed their own balances in his behalf, added temporarily to his comforts but did not lessen the gravity of the present situation. The fact remained that with the exception of a few possible assets he was practically penniless. Every old debt that could be collected—and Gadgem had been a scourge and a flaming sword as the weeks went on in their gathering—had been rounded up. Even his minor interests in two small ground rents had, thanks to Pawson, been cashed some years in advance. His available resources were now represented by some guns, old books, bridles, another saddle, his rare Chinese punch-bowl and its teakwood stand, and a few remaining odds and ends.
He could hope for no payment from the Patapsco—certainly not for some years; nor could he raise money even on these hopes, the general opinion being that despite the efforts of John Gorsuch, Rutter, and Harding to punish the guilty and resuscitate the innocent, the bank would finally collapse without a cent being paid the depositors. As for that old family suit, it had been in the courts for forty-odd years and it was likely to be there forty-odd years more before a penny would be realized from the settlement.
Had he been differently constructed—he a man with scores and scores of friends, many of whom would gladly have helped him—he might have made his wants known; but such was not his make-up. The men to whom he could apply—men like Horn, the archdeacon, Murdoch, and one or two others—had no money of their own to spare, and as for wealthier men—men like Rutter and Harding—starvation itself would be preferable to an indebtedness of that kind. Then again, he did not want his poverty known. He had defied Talbot Rutter, and had practically shown him the door when the colonel doubted his ability to pay Harry's debts and still live, and no humiliation would be greater than to see Rutter's satisfaction over his abject surrender. No—if the worst came to the worst, he would slip back to Wesley, where he was always welcome and take up the practice of the law, which he had abandoned since his father's death, and thus earn money enough not to be a burden to Peggy. In the meantime something might turn up. Perhaps another of Gadgem's thumb-screws could be fastened on some delinquent and thus extort a drop or two; or the bank might begin paying ten per cent.; or another prepayment might be squeezed out of a ground rent. If none of these things turned out to his advantage, then Gadgem and Pawson must continue their search for customers who would have the rare opportunity of purchasing, direct "from the private collection of a gentleman," etc., etc., "one first-class English saddle," etc., etc.
"The meantime," however, brought no relief. Indeed so acute had the financial strain become that another and a greater sacrifice—one that fairly cut his heart in two—faced him—the parting with his dogs. That four mouths besides his own and Todd's were too many to feed had of late become painfully evident. He might send them to Wesley of course, but then he remembered that no one at Tom Coston's ever had a gun in their hands, and they would only be a charge and a nuisance to Peggy. Or he might send them up into Carroll County to a farmer friend, but in that case he would have to pay their keep, and he needed the money for those at home. And so he waited and pondered.
A coachman from across the park solved the difficulty a day or two later with a whispered word in Todd's ear, which set the boy's temper ablaze—for he dearly loved the dogs himself—until he had talked it over with Pawson and Gadgem, and had then broken the news to his master as best he could.
"Dem dogs is eatin' dere haids off," he began, fidgeting about the table, brushing the crumbs on to a tray only to spill half of them on the floor—"an' Mister Floyd's coachman done say dat his young marster's jes' a-dyin' for 'em an' don't cyar what he pay for 'em, dat is if ye—" but St. George cut him short.
"What did you say, Todd?"
"Why dat young marster dat's jes' come up f'om Ann'rundel—got mo' money den he kin th'ow 'way I yere."
"And they are eating their heads off, are they?—and he wants to swap his dirty money for my—Yes—I know. They think they can buy anything with a banknote. And its Floe and Dandy and Sue and Rupert, is it? And I'm to sell them—I who have slept with them and ate with them and hugged them a thousand times. Of course they eat their heads off. Yes—don't say another word. Send them up one at a time—Floe first!"
The scene that followed always lingered in his mind. For days thereafter he could not mention their name, even to Todd, without the tears springing to his eyes.
Up the kitchen flight they tumbled—not one at a time, but all in a scramble, bounding straight at him, slobbering all over his face and hands, their paws scraping his clothes—each trying to climb into his lap—big Gordon setters, all four. He swept them off and ranged them in a row before his arm-chair with their noses flat to the carpet, their brown agate eyes following his every movement.
"Todd says you eat too much, you damned rascals!" he cried in enforced gayety, leaning forward, shaking his finger in their faces. "What the devil do you mean, coming into a gentleman's private apartments and eating him out of house and home!—and that's what you're doing. I'm going to sell you!—do you hear that?—sell you to some stingy curmudgeon who'll starve you to death, and that's what you deserve!... Come here, Floe—you dear old doggie, you—nice Floe!... Here, Dandy—Rupert—Sue!" They were all in his arms, their cold noses snuggled under his warm chin. But this time he didn't care what they did to his clothes—nor what he did to them. He was alone; Todd had gone down to the kitchen—only he and the four companions so dear to his heart. "Come here, you imp of the devil," he continued, rubbing Floe's ears—he loved her best—pinching her nose until her teeth showed; patting her flanks, crooning over her as a woman would over a child, talking to himself all the time. "I wonder if Floyd will be good to them! If I thought he wouldn't I'd rather starve than—No—I reckon it's all right—he's got plenty of room and plenty of people to look after them." Then he rose from his chair and drew his hand across his forehead. "Got to sell my dogs, eh? Turned traitor, have you, Mr. Temple, and gone back on your best friends? By God! I wonder what will come next?" He strode across the room, rang for Todd, and bending down loosened a collar from Dandy's neck, on which his own name was engraved, "St. George Wilmot Temple, Esquire." "Esquire, eh?" he muttered, reading the plate. "What a damned lie! Property of a pauper living on pawnshops and a bill collector! Nice piece of business, St. George—fine record for your blood and breeding! Ah, Todd—that you? Well, take them downstairs and send word to Mr. Floyd's man to call for them to-night, and when you come back I'll have a letter ready for you. Come here, you rascals, and let me hug one or two of you. Good Floe—good doggie." Then the long-fought choke in his throat strangled him. "Take them away, Todd," he said in a husky voice, straightening his shoulders as if the better to get his breath, and with a deep indrawn sigh walked slowly into his bedroom and shut the door behind him.
Half an hour later there followed a short note, written on one of his few remaining sheets of English paper, addressed to the new owner, in which he informed that gentleman that he bespoke for his late companions the same care and attention which he had always given them himself, and which they so richly deserved, and which he felt sure they would continue to receive while in the service of his esteemed and honored correspondent. This he sealed in wax and stamped with his crest; and this was duly delivered by Todd—and so the painful incident had come to an end.
The dogs disposed of, there still remained to him another issue to meet—the wages he owed Jemima. Although she had not allowed the subject to pass her lips—not even to Todd—St. George knew that she needed the money—she being a free woman and her earnings her own—not a master's. He had twice before determined to set aside enough money from former cash receipts to liquidate Jemima's debt—once from the proceeds of Gadgem's gun and again from what Floyd paid him for the dogs—but Todd had insisted with such vehemence that he needed it for the marketing, that he had let it go over.
The one remaining object of real value was the famous loving-cup. With this turned into money he would be able to pay Jemima in full. For days he debated the matter with himself, putting the question in a dozen different lights: it was not really HIS cup, but belonged to the family, he being only its custodian; it would reflect on his personal honor if he traded so distinguished a gift—one marking the esteem in which his dead father had been held, etc. Then the round, good-natured face and bent figure of his old stand-by and comfort—who had worked for him and for his father almost all her life—rose before him, she bending over her tubs earning the bread to keep her alive, and with this picture in his mind all his fine-spun theories vanished into thin air. Todd was summoned and thus the last connecting link between the past and present was broken and the precious heirloom turned over to Kirk, the silversmith, who the next day found a purchaser with one of the French secretaries in Washington, a descendant of the marquis.
With the whole of the purchase money in his hands and his mind firmly made up he rang for his servant:
"Come along, Todd—show me where Aunt Jemima lives—it's somewhere down by the market, I hear—I'm going now."
The darky's face got as near white as his skin would allow: this was the last thing he had expected.
"Dat ain't no fit place for ye, Marse George," he stammered. "I'll go an' git her an' bring her up; she tol' me when I carried dat las' washin' down she wuz a-comin' dis week."
"No, her sister is sick and she is needed where she is. Get your basket and come along—you can do your marketing down there. Bring me my hat and cane. What's the matter with her sister, do you know?"
Again the darky hedged: "Dunno, sah—some kin' o' mis'ry in her back I reckon. Las' time Aunt Jemima was yere she say de doctor 'lowed her kittens was 'fected." (It was another invalid limping past the front steps who had put that in his head.)
St. George roared: "Well, whatever she's got, I'm going to pay my respects to her; I've neglected Aunt Jemima too long. No—my best hat—don't forget that I'm going to call on a very distinguished colored lady. Come, out with it. How far does she live from the market?"
"Jes' 'bout's far's from yere to de church. Is you gwine now? I got a heap o' cleanin' ter do—dem steps is all gormed up, dey's dat dirty. Maybe we better go when—"
"Not another word out of you! I'm going now." He could feel the money in his pocket and he could not wait. "Get your basket."
Todd led the way and the two crossed the park and struck out for the lower part of the city, near Jones Falls, into a district surrounded by one-and two-story houses inhabited by the poorer class of whites and the more well-to-do free negroes. Here the streets, especially those which ran to the wharves, were narrow and ill-paved, their rough cobbles being often obstructed by idle drays, heavy anchors, and rusting anchor-chains, all on free storage. Up one of these crooked streets, screened from the brick sidewalk by a measly wooden fence, stood a two-story wooden house, its front yard decorated with clothes-lines running criss-cross from thumbs of fence-posts to fingers of shutters—a sort of cat's-cradle along whose meshes Aunt Jemima hung her wet clothes.
On this particular day what was left of St. George Temple's wardrobe and bed linen, with the exception of what that gentleman had on his back, was either waving in the cool air of the morning or being clothes-pinned so that it might wave later on.
Todd's anxious face was the first to thrust itself from around the corner of a sagging, sloppy sheet. The two had entered the gate in the fence at the same moment, but St. George had been lost in the maze of dripping linen.
"Go'way f'om dar, you fool nigger, mussin' up my wash! Keep yo' black haid off'er dem sheets, I tell ye, 'fo' I smack ye! An' ye needn't come down yere a-sassin' me 'bout Marse George's clo'es, 'cause dey ain't done—" (here Temple's head came into view, his face in a broad smile). "Well, fer de lan's sakes, Marse George. What ye come down yere fer? Here—lemme git dat basket outer yo' way—No, dem hands ain't fit fer nobody to shake—My!—but I's mighty glad ter see ye! Don't tell me ye come fer dat wash—I been so pestered wid de weather—nothin' don't dry."
He had dodged a wet sheet and had the old woman by the hand now, her face in a broad grin at sight of him.
"No, aunty—I came down to pay you some money."
"You don't owe me no money—leastwise you don't owe me nothin' till ye kin pay it," and she darted an annihilating glance at Todd.
"Yes, I do—but let me see where you live. What a fine place—plenty of room except on wash-days. All those mine?—I didn't know I had that many clothes left. Pick up that basket, Todd, and bring it in for aunty." The two made their way between the wet linen and found themselves in front of the dwelling. "And is this all yours?"
"De fust flo' front an 'back is mine an' de top flo' I rents out. Got a white man in dere now dat works in de lumber yard. Jes' come up an' see how I fixed it up."
"And tell me about your sister—is she better?" he continued.
The old woman put her arms akimbo: "Lawd bress ye, Marse George!—who done tol' ye dat fool lie! I ain't got no sister—not yere!"
"Why, I thought you couldn't come back to me because you had to nurse some member of your family who had kittens, or some such misery in her spine—wasn't that it, Todd?" said St. George trying to conceal a smile.
Todd shot a beseeching look at Jemima to confirm his picturesque yarn, but the old woman would have none of it.
"Dere ain't been nobody to tek care ob but des me. I come yere 'cause I knowed ye didn't hab no money to keep me, an' I got back de ol' furniture what I had fo' I come to lib wid ye, an' went to washin', an' if dat yaller skunk's been tellin' any lies 'bout me I'm gwineter wring his neck."
"No, let Todd alone," laughed St. George, his heart warming to the old woman at this further proof of her love for him. "The Lord has already forgiven him that lie, and so have I. And now what have you got upstairs?"
They had mounted the steps by this time and St. George was peering into a clean, simply furnished room. "First rate, aunty—your lumber-yard man is in luck. And now put that in your pocket," and he handed her the package.
"Nearly half a year's wages."
"I ain't gwineter take it," she snapped back in a positive tone.
St. George laid his hand tenderly on the old woman's shoulder. She had served him faithfully for many years and he was very fond of her.
"Tuck it in your bosom, aunty—it should have been paid long ago."
She looked at him shrewdly: "Did de bank pay ye yit, Marse George?"
"Den I ain't gwineter tech it—I ain't gwineter tech a fip ob it!" she exploded. "How I know ye ain't a-sufferin' fer it! See dat wash?—an' I got anudder room to rent if I'm min' ter scrunch up a leetle mo'. I kin git 'long."
St. George's hand again tightened on her shoulder.
"Take it when you can get it, aunty," he said in a more serious tone, and turning on his heel joined Todd below, leaving the old woman in tears at the top of the stairs, the money on her limp outspread fingers.
All the way back to his home—they had stopped to replenish the larder at the market—St. George kept up his spirits. Absurd as it was—he a man tottering on the brink of dire poverty—the situation from his stand-point was far from perilous. He had discharged the one debt that had caused him the most anxiety—the money due the faithful old cook; he had a basketful of good things—among them half a dozen quail and three diamond-back terrapin—the cheapest food in the market—and he had funds left for his immediate wants.
With this feeling of contentment permeating his mind something of the old feeling of independence, with its indifference toward the dollar and what it meant and could bring him, welled up in his heart. For a time at least the spectre of debt lay hidden. A certain old-time happiness began to show itself in his face and bearing. So evident was this that before many days had passed even Todd noticed the return of his old buoyancy, and so felt privileged to discuss his own feelings, now that the secret of their mode of earning a common livelihood was no longer a bugbear to his master.
"Dem taters what we got outer de extry sterrups of dat ridin'-saddle is mos' gone," he ventured one morning at breakfast, when the remains of the cup money had reached a low ebb. "Shall I tote de udder saddle down to dat Gadgem man"—(he never called him anything else, although of late he had conceived a marked respect for the collector)—"or shall I keep it fer some mo' sugar?"
"What else is short, Todd?" said St. George, good-naturedly, helping himself to another piece of corn bread.
"Well, dere's plenty ob dose decanter crackers and de pair ob andirons is still holdin' out wid de mango pickles an' de cheese, but dat pair ob ridin'-boots is mos' gone. We got half barrel ob flour an' a bag o' coffee, ye 'member, wid dem boots. I done seen some smoked herrin' in de market yisterday mawnin' 'd go mighty good wid de buckwheat cakes an' sugar-house 'lasses—only we ain't got no 'lasses. I was a-thinkin' dem two ol' cheers in de garret 'd come in handy; ain't nobody sot in em since I been yere; de bottoms is outen one o' dem, but de legs an' backs is good 'nough fer a quart o' 'lasses. I kin take 'em down to de same place dat Gadgem man tol' me to take de big brass shovel an' tongs—"
"All right, Todd," rejoined St. George, highly amused at the boy's economic resources. "Anything that Mr. Gadgem recommends I agree to. Yes—take him the chairs—both of them."
Even the men at the club had noticed the change and congratulated him on his good spirits. None of them knew of his desperate straits, although many of them had remarked on the differences in his hospitality, while some of the younger gallants—men who made a study of the height and roll of the collars of their coats and the latest cut of waistcoats—especially the increased width of the frogs on the lapels—had whispered to each other that Temple's clothes certainly needed overhauling; more particularly his shirts, which were much the worse for wear: one critic laying the seeming indifference to the carelessness of a man who was growing old; another shaking his head with the remark that it was Poole's bill which was growing old—older by a good deal than the clothes, and that it would have to be patched and darned with one of old George Brown's (the banker's) scraps of paper before the wearer could regain his reputation of being the best-dressed man in or out of the club.
None of these lapses from his former well-to-do estate made any difference, however, to St. George's intimates when it came to the selection of important guests for places at table or to assist in the success of some unusual function. Almost every one in and around Kennedy Square had been crippled in their finances by the failure, not only of the Patapsco, but by kindred institutions, during the preceding few years. Why, then, they argued, should any one criticise such economies as Temple was practising? He was still living in his house with his servants—one or two less, perhaps—but still in comfort, and if he did not entertain as heretofore, what of it? His old love of sport, as was shown by his frequent visits to his estates on the Eastern Shore, might account for some of the changes in his hospitable habits, there not being money enough to keep up establishments both in country and town. These changes, of course, could only be temporary. His properties on the peninsula—(almost everybody had "properties" in those days, whether imaginary or real)—would come up some day, and then all would be well again.
The House of Seymour was particularly in the dark. The Honorable Prim, in his dense ignorance, had even asked St. George to join in one of his commercial enterprises—the building of a new clipper ship—while Kate, who had never waited five minutes in all her life for anything that a dollar could buy, had begged a subscription for a charity she was managing, and which she received with a kiss and a laugh, and without a moment's hesitation, from a purse shrinking steadily by the hour.
Only when some idle jest or well-meant inquiry diverted his mind to the chain of events leading up to Harry's exile was his insistent cheerfulness under his fast accumulating misfortunes ever checked.
Todd was the cruel disturber on this particular day, with a bit of information which, by reason of its source, St. George judged must be true, and which because of its import brought him infinite pain.
"Purty soon we won't hab 'nough spoons to stir a toddy wid," Todd had begun. "I tell ye, Marse George, dey ain't none o' dem gwine down in dere pockets till de constable gits 'em. I jes' wish Marse Harry was yere—he'd fix 'em. 'Fo' dey knowed whar dey wuz he'd hab 'em full o' holes. Dat red-haided, no-count gemman what's a-makin up to Miss Kate is gwineter git her fo' sho—"
It was here that St. George had raised his head, his heart in his mouth.
"How do you know, Todd?" he asked in a serious tone. He had long since ceased correcting Todd for his oustpoken reflections on Kate's suitor as a useless expenditure of time.
"'Cause Mammy Henny done tol' Aunt Jemima so—an' she purty nigh cried her eyes out when she said it. Ye ain't heared nothin' 'bout Marse Harry comin' home, is ye?"
"No—not a word—not for many months, Todd. He's up in the mountains, so his mother tells me."
Whereupon Todd had gulped down an imprecation expressive of his feelings and had gone about his duties, while St. George had buried himself in his easy-chair, his eyes fixed on vacancy, his soul all the more a-hungered for the boy he loved. He wondered where the lad was—why he hadn't written. Whether the fever had overtaken him and he laid up in some filthy hospital. Almost every week his mother had either come herself or sent in for news, accompanied by messages expressing some new phase of her anxiety. Or had he grown and broadened out and become big and strong?—whom had he met, and how had they treated him?—and would he want to leave home again when once he came back? Then, as always, there came a feeling of intense relief. He thanked God that Harry WASN'T at home; a daily witness of the shrinkage of his resources and the shifts to which he was being put. This would be ten times worse for him to bear than the loss of the boy's companionship. Harry would then upbraid him for the sacrifices he had made for him, as if he would not take every step over again! Take them!—of course he would take them!—so would any other gentleman. Not to have come to Harry's rescue in that the most critical hour of his life, when he was disowned by his father, rejected by his sweetheart, and hounded by creditors, not one of whom did he justly owe, was unthinkable, absolutely unthinkable, and not worth a moment's consideration.
And so he would sit and muse, his head in his hand, his well-rounded legs stretched toward the fire, his white, shapely fingers tapping the arms of his chair—each click so many telegraphic records of the workings of his mind.
With the closing in of the autumn and the coming of the first winter cold, the denizens of Kennedy Square gave themselves over to the season's entertainments. Mrs. Cheston, as was her usual custom, issued invitations for a ball—this one in honor of the officers who had distinguished themselves in the Mexican War. Major Clayton, Bowdoin, the Murdochs, Stirlings, and Howards—all persons of the highest quality—inaugurated a series of chess tournaments, the several players and those who came to look on to be thereafter comforted with such toothsome solids as wild turkey, terrapin, and olio, and such delectable liquids as were stored in the cellars of their hosts. Old Judge Pancoast, yielding to the general demand, gave an oyster roast—his enormous kitchen being the place of all others for such a function. On this occasion two long wooden tables were scoured to an unprecedented whiteness—the young girls in white aprons and the young men in white jackets serving as waiters—and laid with wooden plates, and two big wooden bowls—one for the hot, sizzling shells just off their bed of hickory coals banked on the kitchen hearth, and the other for the empty ones—the fun continuing until the wee sma' hours of the morning.
The Honorable Prim and his charming daughter, not to be outdone by their neighbors, cleared the front drawing-room of its heavy furniture, covered every inch of the tufted carpet with linen crash, and with old black Jones as fiddler and M. Robinette—a French exile—as instructor in the cutting of pigeon wings and the proper turning out of ankles and toes, opened the first of a series of morning soirees for the young folk of the neighborhood, to which were invited not only their mothers, but their black mammies as well.
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Horn, not having any blithesome daughter, nor any full-grown son—Oliver being but a child of six—and Richard and his charming wife having long since given up their dancing-slippers—were good enough to announce—(and it was astonishing what an excitement it raised)—that "On the Monday night following Mr. Horn would read aloud, to such of his friends as would do him the honor of being present, the latest Christmas story by Mr. Charles Dickens, entitled 'The Cricket on the Hearth.'" For this occasion Mr. Kennedy had loaned him his own copy, one of the earliest bound volumes, bearing on its fly-leaf an inscription in the great master's own handwriting in which he thanked the distinguished author of "Swallow Barn" for the many kindnesses he had shown him during his visit to America, and begged his indulgence for his third attempt to express between covers the sentiment and feeling of the Christmas season.
Not that this was an unusual form of entertainment, nor one that excited special comment. Almost every neighborhood had its morning (and often its evening) "Readings," presided over by some one who read well and without fatigue—some sweet old maid, perhaps, who knew how to grow old gracefully. At these times a table would be rolled into the library by the deferential servant of the house, on which he would place the dear lady's spectacles and a book, its ivory marker showing where the last reading had ended—it might be Prescott's "Ferdinand and Isabella," or Irving's "Granada," or Thackeray's "Vanity Fair," or perhaps, Dickens's "Martin Chuzzlewit."
At eleven o'clock the girls would begin to arrive, each one bringing her needle-work of some kind—worsted, or embroidery, or knitting—something she could manage without discomfort to herself or anybody about her, and when the last young lady was in her seat, the same noiseless darky would tiptoe in and take his place behind the old maid's chair. Then he would slip a stool under her absurdly small slippers and tiptoe out again, shutting the door behind him as quietly as if he found the dear lady asleep—and so the reading would begin.
A reading by Richard, however, was always an event of unusual importance, and an invitation to be present was never declined whether received by letter or by word of mouth.
St. George had been looking forward eagerly to the night, and when the shadows began to fall in his now almost bare bedroom, he sent for Todd to help him dress.
"Have you got a shirt for me, Todd?"
"Got seben oh 'em. Dey wants a li'l' trimmin' roun' de aidges, but I reckon we kin make 'em do—Aunt Jemima sont 'em home dis mawnin'. She's been a-workin' on 'em, she says. Looks ter me like a goat had a moufful outer dis yere sleeve, but I dassent tell er so. Lot o' dem butters wanderin' roun' dat Marsh market lookin' fer sumpin' to eat; lemme gib dem boots anudder tech."
Todd skipped downstairs with the boots and St. George continued dressing; selecting his best and most becoming scarf; pinning down the lapels of his buff waistcoat; scissoring the points of his high collar, and with Todd's assistance working his arms between the slits in the silk lining of the sleeves of his blue cloth, brass-buttoned coat, which he finally pulled into place across his chest.
And a well-dressed man he was in spite of the frayed edges of his collar and shirt ruffles and the shiny spots in his trousers and coat where the nap was worn smooth, nor was there any man of his age who wore his clothes as well, no matter what their condition, or one who made so debonair an appearance.
Pawson was of that opinion to-night when St. George, his toilet complete, joined him at the bottom of the stairs. Indeed he thought he had never seen his client look better—a discovery which sent a spasm of satisfaction through his long body, for he had a piece of important news to tell him, and had been trying all day to make up his mind how best to break it.
"You look younger, Mr. Temple," he began, "and, if you will allow me to say so, handsomer, every day. Your trip to the Eastern Shore last spring did you no end of good," and the young attorney crooked his long neck and elevated his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth in the effort to give to his sinuous body a semblance of mirth.
"Thank you, Pawson," bowed St. George, graciously. "You are really most kind, but that is because you are stone blind. My shirt is full of holes, and it is quite likely I shall have to stand all the evening for fear of splitting the knees of my breeches. Come—out with it"—he laughed—"there is something you have to tell me or you would not be waiting for me here at this hour in the cold hall."
Pawson smiled faintly, then his eyebrows lost their identity in some well-defined wrinkles in his forehead.
"I have, sir, a most unpleasant thing to tell you—a very unpleasant thing. When I tried this morning for a few days' grace on that last overdue payment, the agent informed me, to my great surprise, that Mr. John Gorsuch had bought the mortgage and would thereafter collect the interest in person. I am not sure, of course, but I am afraid Colonel Rutter is behind the purchase. If he is we must be prepared to face the worst should he still feel toward you as he did when you and he"—and he jerked his thumb meaningly in the direction of the dining-room—"had it out—in there."
St. George compressed his lips. "And so Rutter holds the big end of the whip after all, does he?" he exclaimed with some heat. "He will find the skin on my back not a very valuable asset, but he is welcome to it. He has about everything else."
"But I'd rather pay it somehow if we could," rejoined Pawson in a furtive way—as if he had something up his sleeve he dare not spring upon him.
"Yes—of course you would," retorted St. George with a cynical laugh, slipping on his gloves. "Pay it?—of course pay it. Pay everything and everybody! What do you think I'd bring at auction, Pawson? I'm white, you know, and so I can't be sold on the block—but the doctors might offer you a trifle for cutting-up purposes. Bah! Hand me my coat, Todd."
A deprecatory smile flitted across the long, thin face of the attorney. He saw that St. George was in no mood for serious things, and yet something must be done; certainly before the arrival of Gorsuch himself, who was known to be an exact man of business and who would have his rights, no matter who suffered.
"I had a little plan, sir—but you might not fall in with it. It would, perhaps, be only temporary, but it is all I can think of. I had an applicant this morning—in fact it came within an hour after I had heard the news. It seemed almost providential, sir."
St. George was facing the door, ready to leave the house, his shoulders still bent forward so that Todd could adjust his heavy cloak the better, when for the first time the anxious tone in Pawson's voice caught his attention. As the words fell from the attorney's lips he straightened, and Todd stepped back, the garment still in the darky's hands.
"An applicant for what?" he inquired in a graver tone. He was not surprised—nothing surprised him in these days—he was only curious.
"For the rooms you occupy. I can get enough for them, sir, not only to clear up the back interest, but to keep the mortgage alive and—"
St. George's face paled as the full meaning of Pawson's proposal dawned in his mind. That was the last thing he had expected.
"Turn me into the street, eh?" There was a note of pained surprise in his voice.
"I don't want you to put it that way, sir." His heart really bled for him—it was all he could do to control himself.
"How the devil else can I put it?"
"Well, I thought you might want to do a little shooting, sir."
"Shooting! What with? One of Gadgem's guns? Hire it of him, eh, and steal the powder and shot!" he cried savagely.
"Yes—if you saw fit, sir. Gadgem, I am sure, would be most willing, and you can always get plenty of ammunition. Anyway, you might pass a few months with your kinsfolk on the Eastern Shore, whether you hunted or not; it did you so much good before. The winter here is always wearing, sloppy and wet. I've heard you say so repeatedly." He had not taken his eyes from his face; he knew this was St. George's final stage, and he knew too that he would never again enter the home he loved; but this last he could not tell him outright. He would rather have cut his right hand off than tell him at all. Being even the humblest instrument in the exiling of a man like St. George Wilmot Temple was in itself a torture.
"And when do you want me to quit?" he said calmly. "I suppose I can evacuate like an officer and a gentleman and carry my side-arms with me—my father's cane, for instance, that I can neither sell nor pawn, and a case of razors which are past sharpening?" and his smile broadened as the humor of the thing stole over him.
"Well, sir, it ought to be done," continued Pawson in his most serious tone, ignoring the sacrifice—(there was nothing funny in the situation to the attorney)—"well—I should say—right away. To-morrow, perhaps. This news of Gorsuch has come very sudden, you know. If I can show him that the new tenant has moved in already he might wait until his first month's rent was paid. You see that—"
"Oh, yes, Pawson, I see—see it all clear as day," interrupted St. George—"have been seeing it for some months past, although neither you nor Gadgem seem to have been aware of that fact." This came with so grave a tone that Pawson raised his eyes inquiringly. "And who is this man," Temple went on, "who wants to step into my shoes? Be sure you tell him they are half-soled," and he held up one boot. He might want to dance or hunt in them—and his toes would be out the first thing he knew."
"He is Mr. Gorsuch's attorney, sir, a Mr. Fogbin," Pawson answered, omitting any reference to the boots and still concerned over the gravity of the situation. "He did some work once for Colonel Rutter, and that's how Gorsuch got hold of him. That's why I suspect the colonel. This would make the interest sure, you see—rather a sly game, is it not, sir? One I did not expect."
St. George pondered for a moment, and his eye fell on his servant.
"And what will I do with Todd?"
The darky's eyes had been rolling round in his head as the talk continued, Pawson, knowing how leaky he was, having told him nothing of the impending calamity for fear he would break it to his master in the wrong way.
"I should say take him with you," came the positive answer.
"Take him with me! You didn't think I would be separated from him, did you?" cried St. George, indignantly, the first note of positive anger he had yet shown.
"I didn't think anything about it, sir," and he looked at Todd apologetically.
"Well, after this please remember, Mr. Pawson, that where I go Todd goes."
The darky leaned forward as if to seize St. George's hand; his eyes filled and his lips began to tremble. He would rather have died than have left his master.
St. George walked to the door, threw it open, and stood for an instant, his eyes fixed on the bare trees in the park. He turned and faced the two again:
"Yes, Marse George—" Two hot ragged tears still lingered on the darky's eyelids.
"To-day is Monday, is it not?—and to-morrow is boat day?"
"Yes, Marse George," came the trembling answer.
"All right, Pawson, I'll go. Let Talbot Rutter have the rest—he's welcome to it. Now for my cloak, Todd—so—and my neckerchief and cane. Thank you very much, Pawson. You have been very kind about it all, and I know quite well what it has cost you to tell me this. You can't help—neither can I—neither, for that matter, can Gorsuch—nor is it his fault. It is Rutter's, and he will one day get his reckoning. Good-night—don't sit up too late. I am going to Mr. Horn's to spend the evening. Walk along with me through the Park, Todd, so I can talk to you. And, Todd," he continued when they had entered the path and were bending their steps to the Horn house, "I want you to gather together to-morrow what are left of my clothes and pack them in one of those hair trunks upstairs—and your own things in another. Never mind about waiting for the wash. I'm going down to Aunt Jemima's myself in the morning and will fix it so she can send the rest to me later on. I owe her a small balance and must see her once more before I leave. Now go home and get to bed; you have been losing too much sleep of late."
And yet he was not cast down, nor did his courage fail him. Long before the darky's obedient figure had disappeared his natural buoyancy had again asserted itself—or perhaps the philosophy which always sustains a true gentleman in his hour of need had come to his assistance. He fully realized what this last cowardly blow meant. One after another his several belongings had vanished: his priceless family heirlooms; his dogs; and now the home of his ancestors. He was even denied further shelter within its walls. But there were no regrets; his conscience still sustained him; he would live it all over again. In his determination to keep to his standards he had tried to stop a freshet with a shovelful of clay; that was all. It was a foolhardy attempt, no doubt, but he would have been heartily ashamed of himself if he had not made the effort. Wesley, of course, was not a very exciting place in which to spend the winter, but it was better than being under obligations to Talbot Rutter; and then he could doubtless earn enough at the law to pay his board—at least he would try.
He had reached the end of the walk and had already caught the glow of the overhead lantern in the hall of the Horn mansion lighting up the varied costumes of the guests as Malachi swung back the front door, revealing the girls in their pink and white nubias, the gallants in long cloaks with scarlet linings, the older men in mufflers, and the mothers and grandmothers in silk hoods. There was no question of Richard's popularity.
"Clar to goodness, Marse George, you is a sight for sore eyes," cried Malachi, unhooking the clasp of the velvet collar and helping him off with his cloak. "I ain't never seen ye looking spryer! Yes, sah, Marse Richard's inside and he'll be mighty glad ye come. Yes—jedge—jes's soon as I—Dat's it, mistis—I'll take dat shawl—No, sah, Marse Richard ain't begun yit. Dis way, ladies," and so it had gone on since the opening rat-a-tat-tat on the old brass knocker had announced the arrival of the first guest.
Nor was there any question that everybody who could by any possibility have availed themselves of Richard's invitation had put in an appearance. Most of the men from the club known to these pages were present, together with their wives and children—those who were old enough to sit up late; and Nathan Gill, without his flute this time, but with ears wide open—he was beginning to get gray, was Nathan, although he wouldn't admit it; and Miss Virginia Clendenning in high waist and voluminous skirts, fluffy side curls, and a new gold chain for her eyeglasses—gold rims, too, of course—not to mention the Murdochs, Stirlings, Gatchells, Captain Warfield and his daughter, Bowdoin, and Purviance. They were all there; everybody, in fact, who could squeeze inside the drawing-room; while those who couldn't filled the hall and even the stairs—wherever Richard's voice could be heard.
St. George edged into the packed room, swept his glance over the throng, and made his way through the laughing groups, greeting every one right and left, old and young, as he moved—a kiss here on the upturned cheek of some pretty girl whom he had carried in his arms when a baby; a caressing pat of approbation on some young gallant's shoulder; a bend of the head in respectful homage to those he knew but slightly—the Baroness de Trobiand, Mrs. Cheston's friend, being one of them; a hearty hand held out to the men who had been away for the summer—interrupted now and then by some such sally from a young bride as—"Oh, you mean Uncle George! No—I'm not going to love you any more! You promised you would come to my party and you didn't, and my cotillon was all spoiled!" or a—"Why, Temple, you dear man!-I'm so glad to see you! Don't forget my dinner on Thursday. The Secretary is coming and I want you to sit between him and Lord Atherton"—a sort of triumphal procession, really—until he reached the end of the room and stood at Kate's side.
"Well, sweetheart!" he cried gayly, caressing her soft hand before his fingers closed over it. Then his face hardened. "Ah, Mr. Willits! So you, too, must come under the spell of Mr. Horn's voice," and without waiting for a reply continued as if nothing had interrupted the joy of his greeting. "You should sit down somewhere, my dear Kate—get as near to Richard as you can, so you can watch his face—that's the best part of it. And I should advise you, too, Mr. Willits, to miss none of his words—it will be something you will remember all your life."
Kate looked up in his face with a satisfied smile. She was more than glad that her Uncle George was so gracious to her escort, especially to-night when he was to meet a good many people for the first time.
"I'll take the stool, then, dear Uncle George," she answered with a merry laugh. "Go get it, please, Mr. Willits—the one under the sofa." Then, with a toss of her head and a coquettish smile at St. George: "What a gadabout you are; do you know I've been three times to see you, and not a soul in your house and the front door wide open, and everything done up in curl papers as if you were going to move away for good and all and never coming back? And do you know that you haven't been near me for a whole week? What do you mean by breaking my heart? Thank you, Mr. Willits; put the stool right here, so I can look up into Mr. Horn's eyes as Uncle George wants me to. I've known the time, sir"—and she arched her brows at St. George—"when you would be delighted to have me look my prettiest at you, but now before I am halfway across the park you slip out of the basement door to avoid me and—No!—no—no apologies—you are just tired of me!"
St. George laughed gayly in return, his palms flattened against each other and held out in supplication; but he made no defence. He was studying the couple, his mind on the bearing and manner of the young man toward the woman he was pursuing so relentlessly. He saw that he had completely regained his health, his clear eyes and ruddy skin and the spring with which he moved denoting a man in perfect physical condition. He discovered, too, that he was extremely well dressed and his costume all that it should be—especially the plum-colored coat, which fitted his shoulders to perfection; his linen of the whitest and finest, each ruffle in flutes; the waist-coat embroidered in silk; the pumps of the proper shape and the stockings all that could be desired—except perhaps—and a grim smile crossed his face—that the silk scarf was a shade out of key with the prevailing color of his make-up, particularly his hair; but, then, that was to be expected of a man who had a slight flaw in his ancestry. He wondered if she had noticed it and studied her face for an answer. No! She had not noticed it. In fact there were very many things she was overlooking in these last days of his wooing, he thought to himself.
Suddenly he became occupied with Kate's beauty. He thought he had never seen her so bewitching or in such good spirits. From his six feet and an inch of vantage his eyes followed her sloping shoulders and tapering arms and rested on her laughing, happy face—rose-colored in the soft light of the candles—a film of lace looped at her elbows, her wonderful hair caught in a coil at the back: not the prevailing fashion but one most becoming to her. What had not this admixture of Scotch and Virginia blood—this intermingling of robust independence with the gentle, yielding feminine qualities of the Southern-born woman—done for this girl?
Richard clapped his hands to attract attention, and advancing a step in front of the big easy-chair which Malachi had just pulled out for him, raised his fingers to command silence.
All eyes were instantly turned his way. Alert and magnetic, dignified and charming, he stood in the full glow of the overhead chandelier, its light falling upon his snuff-brown coat with its brass buttons, pale-yellow waistcoat, and the fluff of white silk about his throat—his grave, thoughtful face turned toward Kate as his nearest guest, his glance sweeping the crowded room as if to be sure that everybody was at ease; Malachi close behind awaiting his master's orders to further adjust the chair and reading-lamp.
In the interim of the hush Kate had settled herself at Richard's feet on the low stool that Willits had brought, the young man standing behind her, the two making a picture that attracted general attention; some wondering at her choice, while others were outspoken in their admiration of the pair who seemed so wonderfully suited to each other.
"I have a rare story," Richard began "to read to you to-night, my good friends, one you will never forget; one, indeed, which I am sure the world at large will never forget. I shall read it as best I can, begging your indulgence especially in rendering the dialect parts, which, if badly done, often mar both the pathos and humor of the text." Here he settled himself in his chair and picked up the small volume, Malachi, now that his service was over, tiptoeing out to his place in the hall so as to be ready for belated arrivals.
The room grew silent. Even Mrs. Cheston, who rarely ceased talking when she had anything to say—and she generally did have something to say—folded her hands in her lap and settled herself in her arm-chair, her whole attention fastened on the reader. St. George, who had been talking to her, moved up a chair so he could watch Kate's face the better.
Again Richard raised his voice:
"The time is of the present, and the scene is laid in one of those small towns outside London. I shall read the whole story, omitting no word of the text, for only then will you fully grasp the beauty of the author's style."
He began in low, clear tones reciting the contest between the hum of the kettle and the chirp of the cricket; the music of his voice lending added charm to the dual song. Then there followed in constantly increasing intensity the happy home life of bewitching Dot Perrybingle and her matter-of-fact husband, John the Carrier, with sleepy Tilly Slowboy and the Baby to fill out the picture; the gradual unfolding of the events that led up to the cruel marriage about to take place between old Tackleton, the mean toy merchant, and sweet May Fielding, in love with the sailor boy, Edward, lost at sea; the finding of the mysterious deaf old man by John the Carrier, and the bringing him home in his cart to Dot, who kept him all night because his friends had not called for him; the rapid growth of a love affair between Dot and this old man, who turned out to be a handsome young fellow; the heart-rending discovery by John, through the spying of Tackleton, that Dot was untrue to him, she meeting the man clandestinely and adjusting the disguise for him, laughing all the while at the ruse she was helping him to play; the grief of John when he realized the truth, he sitting all night alone by the fire trying to make up his mind whether he would creep upstairs and murder the villain who had stolen the heart of his little Dot, or forgive her because he was so much older than she and it was, therefore, natural for her to love a younger man; and finally the preparations at the church, where Tackleton was to wed the beautiful May Fielding, who, broken-hearted over the death of her sailor boy, had at last succumbed to her mother's wishes and consented to join Tackleton at the altar.
For an hour Richard's well-modulated, full-toned voice rolled on, the circle drawing closer and closer with their ears and hearts, as the characters, one after another, became real and alive under the reader's magical rendering. Dot Perrybingle's cheery, laughing accents; Tackleton's sharp, rasping tones; John the Carrier's simple, straightforward utterances and the soft, timid cadence of old Caleb, the toy maker—(drowned Edward's father)—and his blind daughter Bertha were recognized as soon as the reader voiced their speech. So thrilling was the story of their several joys and sorrows that Kate, unconscious of her surroundings, had slipped from her low stool, and with the weight of her body resting on her knees, sat searching Richard's face, the better to catch every word that fell from his lips.
To heighten the effect of what was the most dramatic part of the story—the return of the wedding party to the Carrier's house, where Dot, Caleb, and his blind daughter awaited them—Richard paused for a moment as if to rest his voice—the room the while deathly still, the loosening of a pent-up breath now and then showing how tense was the emotion. Then he went on:
"Are those wheels upon the road, Bertha?", cried Dot. "You've a quick ear, Bertha—And now you hear them stopping at the garden gate! And now you hear a step outside the door—the same step, Bertha, is it not—And now—"
Dot uttered a wild cry of uncontrollable delight, and running up to Caleb put her hand upon his eyes, as a young man rushed into the room, and, flinging away his hat into the air, came sweeping down upon them.
"Is it over?" cried Dot.
"Do you recollect the voice, dear Caleb? Did you ever hear the like of it before?" cried Dot.
"If my boy Edward in the Golden South Americas was alive—" cried Caleb, trembling.
"He is alive!" shrieked Dot, removing her hands from his eyes and clapping them in ecstasy; "look at him! See where he stands before you, healthy and strong! Your own dear son! Your own dear, living, loving brother, Bertha!"
All honor to the little creature for her transports! All honor to her tears and laughter, when the three were locked in one another's arms! All honor to the heartiness with which she met the sunburnt, sailor-fellow, with his dark, streaming hair, halfway, and never turned her rosy little mouth aside, but suffered him to kiss it freely, and to press her to his bounding heart!
"Now tell him (John) all, Edward," sobbed Dot, "and don't spare me, for nothing shall make me spare myself in his eyes ever again."
"I was the man," said Edward.
"And you could steal disguised into the home of your old friend," rejoined the carrier...
"But I had a passion for her."
"I had," rejoined the other, "and she returned it—I heard twenty miles away that she was false to me—I had no mind to reproach her but to see for myself."
Once more Richard's voice faltered, and again it rang clear, this time in Dot's tones:
"But when she knew that Edward was alive, John, and had come back—and when she—that's me, John—told him all—and how his sweetheart had believed him to be dead, and how she had been over-persuaded by her mother into a marriage—and when she—that's me again, John—told him they were not married, though close upon it—and when he went nearly mad for joy to hear it—then she—that's me again—said she would go and sound his sweetheart—and she did—and they were married an hour ago!—John, an hour ago! And here's the bride! And Gruff and Tackleton may die a bachelor! And I'm a happy little woman, May, God bless you!"
Little woman, how she sobbed! John Perrybingle would have caught her in his arms. But no; she wouldn't let him.
"Don't love me yet, please, John! Not for a long time yet! No—keep there, please, John! When I laugh at you, as I sometimes do, John, and call you clumsy, and a dear old goose, and names of that sort, it's because I love you, John, so well. And when I speak of people being middle-aged and steady, John, and pretend that we are a humdrum couple, going on in a jog-trot sort of way, it's only because I'm such a silly little thing, John, that I like, sometimes, to act a kind of play with Baby, and all that, and make believe."
She saw that he was coming, and stopped him again. But she was very nearly too late.
"No, don't love me for another minute or two, if you please, John! When I first came home here I was half afraid I mighn't learn to love you every bit as well as I hoped and prayed I might—being so very young, John. But, dear John, every day and hour I love you more and more. And if I could have loved you better than I do, the noble words I heard you say this morning would have made me. But I can't. All the affection that I had (it was a great deal, John) I gave you, as you well deserve, long, long ago, and I have no more left to give. Now, my dear husband, take me to your heart again! That's my home, John; and never, never think of sending me to any other."
Richard Stopped and picking up a glass from the table moistened his lips. The silence continued. Down more than one face the tears were trickling, as they have trickled down millions of faces since. Kate had crept imperceptibly nearer until her hands could have touched Richard's knees. When Willits bent over her with a whispered comment a slight shiver ran through her, but she neither answered nor turned her head. It was only when Richard's voice finally ceased with the loud chirp of the cricket at the close of the beloved story, and St. George had helped her to her feet, that she seemed to awake to a sense of where she was. Even then she looked about her in a dazed way, as if she feared some one had been probing her heart—hanging back till the others had showered their congratulations on the reader. Then leaning forward she placed her hands in Richard's as if to steady herself, and with a sigh that seemed to come from the depths of her nature bent her head and kissed him softly on the cheek.
When the eggnog was being served and the guests were broken up into knots and groups, all discussing the beauty of the reading, she suddenly left Willits, who had followed her every move as if he had a prior right to her person, and going up to St. George, led him out of the room to one of the sofas in Richard's study, her lips quivering, the undried tears still trembling on her eyelids. She did not release his hand as they took their seats. Her fingers closed only the tighter, as if she feared he would slip from her grasp.
"It was all so beautiful and so terrible, Uncle George," she moaned at last—"and all so true. Such awful mistakes are made and then it is too late. And nobody understands—nobody—nobody!" She paused, as if the mere utterance pained her, and then to St. George's amazement asked abruptly "Is there nothing yet from Harry?"
St. George looked at her keenly, wondering whether he had caught the words aright. It had been months since Harry's name had crossed her lips.
"No, nothing," he answered simply, trying to fathom her purpose and completely at sea as to her real motive—"not for some months. Not since he left the ship."
"And do you think he is in any danger?" She had released his hand, and with her fingers resting on the sleeve of his coat sat looking into his eyes as if to read their meaning.
"I don't know," he replied in a non-committal tone, still trying to understand her purpose. "He meant then to go to the mountains, so he wrote his mother. This may account for our not hearing. Why do you ask? Have you had any news of him yourself?" he added, studying her face for some solution of her strange attitude.
She sank back on the cushions. "No, he never writes to me." Then, as if some new train of thought had forced its way into her mind, she exclaimed suddenly: "What mountains?"
"Some range back of Rio, if I remember rightly. He said he—"
"Rio! But there is yellow fever at Rio!" she cried, with a start as she sat erect in her seat, the pupils of her eyes grown to twice their size. "Father lost half of one of his crews at Rio. He heard so to-day. It would be dreadful for—for—his mother—if anything should happen to him."
Again St. George scrutinized her face, trying to probe deep down in her heart. Had she, after all, some affection left for this boy lover—and her future husband within hearing distance! No! This was not his Kate—he understood it all now. It was the spell of the story that still held her. Richard's voice had upset her, as it had done half the room.
"Yes, it is dreadful for everybody," he added. And then, in a perfunctory manner, as being perhaps the best way to lead the conversation into other channels, added: "And the suspense will be worse now—for me at any rate—for I, too, am going away where letters reach me but seldom."
Her hand closed convulsively over his.
"You going away! YOU!" she cried in a half-frightened tone. "Oh, please don't, Uncle George! Oh!—I don't want you away from me! Why must you go? Oh, no! Not now—not now!"
Her distress was so marked and her voice so pleading that he was about to tell her the whole story, even to that of the shifts he had been put to to get food for himself and Todd, when he caught sight of Willits making his way through the throng to where they sat. His lips closed tight. This man would always be a barrier between him and the girl he had loved ever since her babyhood.
"Well, my dear Kate," he replied calmly, his eyes still on Willits, who in approaching from the other room had been detained by a guest, "you see I must go. Mr. Pawson wants me out of the way while he fixes up some of my accounts, and so he suggested that I go back to Wesley for a few months." He paused for an instant and, still keeping his eye on Willets, added: "And now one thing more, my dear Kate, before your escort claims you"—here his voice sank to a whisper—"promise me that if Harry writes to you you will send him a kind, friendly letter in return. It can do you no harm now, nor would Harry misunderstand it—your wedding is so near. A letter would greatly cheer him in his loneliness."
"But he won't write!" she exclaimed with some bitterness—she had not yet noticed Willits's approach—"he'll never write or speak to me again."
"But you will if he does?" pleaded St. George, the thought of his boy's loneliness overmastering every other feeling.
"But he won't, I tell you—never—NEVER!"
"But if he should, my child? If—"
He stopped and raised his head. Willits stood gazing down at them, searching St. George's face, as if to learn the meaning of the conference: he knew that he did not favor his suit.
Kate looked up and her face flushed.
"Yes—in one minute, Mr. Willits," and without a word of any kind to St. George she rose from the sofa and with her arm in Willits's left the room.
One winter evening some weeks after St. George's departure, Pawson sat before a smouldering fire in Temple's front room, reading by the light of a low lamp. He had rearranged the furniture—what was left of it—both in this and the adjoining room, in the expectation that Fogbin (Gorsuch's attorney) would move in, but so far he had not appeared, nor had any word come from either Gorsuch or Colonel Rutter; nor had any one either written or called upon him in regard to the overdue payment; neither had any legal papers been served.
This prolonged and ominous silence disturbed him; so much so that he had made it a point to be as much in his office as possible should his enemy spring any unexpected trap.
It was, therefore, with some misgivings that he answered a quick, impatient rap on his front door at the unusual hour of ten o'clock. If it were Fogbin he had everything ready for his comfort; if it were any one else he would meet him as best he could: no legal papers, at any rate, could be served at that hour.
He swung back the door and a full-bearded, tightly-knit, well-built man in rough clothes stepped in. In the dim light of the overhead lamp he caught the flash of a pair of determined eyes set in a strong, forceful face.
"I want Mr. Temple," said the man, who had now removed his cap and stood looking about him, as if making an inventory of the scanty furniture.
"He is not here," replied Pawson, rummaging the intruder's face for some clew to his identity and purpose in calling at so late an hour.
"Are you sure?" There was doubt as well as marked surprise in the man's tone. He evidently did not believe a word of the statement.
"Very sure," rejoined the attorney in a more positive tone, his eyes still on the stranger. "He left town some weeks ago."
The intruder turned sharply, and with a brisk inquisitive movement strode past him and pushed open the dining-room door. There he stood for a moment, his eyes roaming over the meagre appointments of the interior—the sideboard, bare of everything but a pitcher and some tumblers—the old mahogany table littered with law books and papers—the mantel stripped of its clock and candelabras. Then he stepped inside, and without explanation of any kind, crossed the room, opened the door of St. George's bedroom, and swept a comprehensive glance around the despoiled interior. Once he stopped and peered into the gloom as if expecting to find the object of his search concealed in its shadows.
"What has happened here?" he demanded in a voice which plainly showed his disappointment.
"Do you mean what has become of the rest of the furniture?" asked the attorney in reply, gaining time to decide upon his course.
"Yes, who is responsible for this business?" he exclaimed angrily. "Has it been done during his absence?"
Pawson hesitated. That the intruder was one of Gorsuch's men, and that he had been sent in advance on an errand of investigation, was no longer to be doubted. He, however, did not want to add any fuel to his increasing heat, so he answered simply:
"Mr. Temple got caught in the Patapsco failure and it went pretty hard with him, and so what he didn't actually need he sold."
The man gave a start, his features hardening; but whether of surprise or dissatisfaction Pawson could not tell.
"And when it was all gone he went away—is that what you mean?" This came in a softened tone.
"Yes—that seems to be the size of it. I suppose you come about—some"—again he hesitated, not knowing exactly where the man stood—"about some money due you?—Am I right?"
"No, I came to see Mr. Temple, and I must see him, and at once. How long will he be gone?"
"All winter—perhaps longer." The attorney had begun to breathe again. The situation might not be as serious as he had supposed. If he wanted to see Mr. Temple himself, and no one else would do, there was still chance of delay in the wiping out of the property.
Again the man's eyes roamed over the room, the bareness of which seemed still to impress him. Then he asked simply: "Where will a letter reach him?"
"I can't say exactly. I thought he had gone to Virginia—but he doesn't answer any of my communications."
A look of suspicion crept into the intruder's eyes.
"You're not trying to deceive me, are you? It is very important that I should see Mr. Temple, and at once." Then his manner altered. "You've forgotten me, Mr. Pawson, but I have not forgotten you—my name is Rutter. I lived here with Mr. Temple before I went to sea, three years ago. I am just home—I left the ship an hour ago. I'll sit down if you don't mind—I've still got my sea-legs on and am a little wobbly."
Pawson twisted his thin body and bent his neck, his eyes glued to the speaker's face. There was not a trace of young Harry in the features.
"Well, you don't look like him," he replied incredulously—"he was slender—not half your size, and—"
"Yes—I don't blame you. I am a good deal heavier; may be too a beard makes some change in a man's face. But you don't really doubt me, do you? Have you forgotten the bills that man Gadgem brought in?—the five hundred dollars due Slater, and the horse Hampson sold me—the one I shot?" and one of his old musical laughs rose to his lips.
Pawson sprang forward and seized the intruder's hand. He would recognize that laugh among a thousand:
"Yes—I know you now! It's all come back to me," he cried joyously. "But you gave me a terrible start, Mr. Rutter. I thought you had come to clear up what was left. Oh!—but I AM glad you are back. Your uncle—you always called him so, I remember—your uncle has had an awful hard time of it—had to sell most of his things—terrible—terrible! And then, too, he has grieved so over you—asking me, sometimes two or three times a day, for letters from you—asking me questions and worrying over your not coming and not answering. Oh, this is fine. Now may be we can save the situation. You don't mind my shaking your hand again, do you? It's so good to know there is somebody who can help. I have been all alone so far except Gadgem—who has been a treasure. You remember him. Why didn't you let Mr. Temple know you were coming?"
"I couldn't. I have been up in the mountains of Brazil, and coming home went ashore—got wrecked. These clothes I bought from a sailor," and he opened his rough jacket the wider.
"Yes—that's exactly what I heard him say—that's what he thought—that is, that you were where you couldn't write, although I never heard him say anything about shipwreck. I remember his telling Mr. Willits and Miss Seymour that same thing the morning he left—that you couldn't write. They came to see him off."
Harry edged his chair nearer the fireplace and propped one shoe on the fender as if to dry it, although the night was fair. The mention of Kate's and her suitor's names had sent the blood to his head and he was using the subterfuge in the effort to regain control of himself before Pawson should read all his secrets.
Shifting his body he rested his head on his hand, the light of the lamp bringing into clearer relief his fresh, healthy skin, finely modelled nose, and wide brow, the brown hair, clipped close to his head, still holding its glossy sheen. For some seconds he did not speak: the low song of the fire seemed to absorb him. Now and then Pawson, who was watching him intently, heard him strangle a rebellious sigh, as if some old memory were troubling him. His hand dropped and with a quick movement he faced his companion again.
"I have been away a long time, Mr. Pawson," he said in a thoughtful tone. "For three months—four now—I have had no letters from anybody. It was my fault partly, but let that go. I want you to answer some questions, and I want you to tell me the truth—all the truth. I haven't any use for any other kind of man—do you understand? Is my mother alive?"
"And Alec? Is he all right?"
"And my uncle? Is he ruined?—so badly ruined that he is suffering? Tell me." There was a peculiar pathos in his tone—so much so that Pawson, who had been standing, settled into a chair beside him that his answers might, if possible, be the more intimate and sympathetic.
"I'm afraid he is. The only hope is the postponement in some way of the foreclosure of the mortgage on this house until times get better. It wouldn't bring its face value to-day."
Harry caught his breath: "My God!—you don't tell me so! Poor Uncle George—so fine and splendid—so good to everybody, and he has come to this! And about this mortgage—who owns it?"
"Mr. Gorsuch, I understand, owns it now: he bought it of the Tyson estate."
"You mean John Gorsuch—my father's man of business?"
"And was there nothing left?—no money coming in from anywhere?"
Pawson shook his head: "We collected all that some time ago—it came from some old ground rents."
"And how has he lived since?" He wanted to hear it all; he could help better if he knew how far down the ladder to begin.
"From hand to mouth, really." And then there followed his own and Gadgem's efforts to keep the wolf from the door; the sale of the guns, saddles, and furniture; the wrench over the Castullux cup—and what a godsend it was that Kirk got such a good price for it—down to the parting with the last article that either or both of them could sell or pawn, including his four splendid setters.
As the sad story fell from the attorney's sympathetic lips Harry would now and then cover his face with his hands in the effort to hide the tears. He knew that the ruin was now complete. He knew, too, that he had been the cause of it. Then his thoughts reverted to the old regime and its comforts: those which his uncle had shared with him so generously.
"And what has become of my uncle's servants?" he asked—"his cook, Aunt Jemima, and his body-servant, Todd?"
"I don't know what has become of the cook, but he took Todd with him."
Harry heaved a sigh of relief. If Todd was with him life would still be made bearable for his uncle. Perhaps, after all, a winter with Tom Coston was the wisest thing he could have done.
One other question now trembled on his lips. It was one he felt he had no right to ask—not of Pawson—but it was his only opportunity, and he must know the truth if he was to carry out the other plans he had in view the day he dropped everything and came home without warning. At last he asked casually:
"Do you know whether my father returned to Uncle George the money he paid out for me?" Not that it was important—more as if he wanted to be posted on current events.
"He tried, but Mr. Temple wouldn't take it. I had the matter in hand, and know. This was some three years ago. He has never offered it since—not to my knowledge."
Harry's face lightened. Some trace of decency was still left in the Rutter blood! This money was in all honor owed by his father and might still become an asset if he and his uncle should ever become reconciled.
"And can you tell me how they all are—out at Moorlands? Have you seen my father lately?"
"Not your father, but I met your old servant, Alec, a few days ago."
"Alec!—dear old Alec! Tell me about him. And my mother—was she all right? What did Alec say, and how did the old man look?"
"Yes; your mother was well. He said they were all well, except Colonel Rutter, whose eyes troubled him. Alec seemed pretty much the same—may be a little older."
Harry's mind began to wander. The room and his companion were forgotten. He was again at Moorlands, the old negro following him about, his dear mother sitting by his bed or kissing him goodnight.
For an instant he sat gazing into the smouldering embers absorbed in his thoughts. Then as if some new vista had opened out before him he asked suddenly:
"You don't know what he was doing in town, do you? Was my mother with him?"
"No, he was alone. He had brought some things in for Mr. Seymour—some game or something, if I remember right. There's to be a wedding there soon, so I hear. Yes, now I think of it, it WAS game—some partridges, perhaps, your father had sent in. The old man asked about you—he always does. And now, Mr. Rutter, tell me about yourself—have you done well?" He didn't think he had, judging from his general appearance, but he wanted to be sure in case St. George asked him.
Harry settled in his chair, his broad shoulders filling the back. The news of Kate's wedding was what he had expected. Perhaps it was already over. He was glad, however, the information had come to him unsought. For an instant he made no reply to Pawson's inquiry, then he answered slowly: "Yes, and no. I have made a little money—not much—but some—not enough to pay Uncle George everything I owe him—not yet; another time I shall do better. I was down with fever for a while and that cost me a good deal of what I had saved. But I HAD to come back. I met a man who told me Uncle George was ruined; that he had left this house and that somebody had put a sign on it, I thought at first that this must refer to you and your old arrangement in the basement, until I questioned him closer. I knew how careless he had always been about his money transactions, and was afraid some one had taken advantage of him. That's why I was so upset when I came in a while ago: I thought they had stolen his furniture as well. The ship Mohican—one of the old Barkeley line—was sailing the day I reached the coast and I got aboard and worked my passage home. I learned to do that on my way out. I learned to wear a beard too. Not very becoming, is it?"—and a low, forced laugh escaped his lips. "But shaving is not easy aboard ship or in the mines."
Pawson made no reply. He had been studying his guest the closer while he was talking, his mind more on the man than on what he was saying. The old Harry, which the dim light of the hall and room had hidden, was slowly coming back to him:—the quick turn of the head; the way his lips quivered when he laughed; the exquisitely modelled nose and brow, and the way the hair grew on the temples. The tones of his voice, too, had the old musical ring. It was the same madcap, daredevil boy mellowed and strengthened by contact with the outside world. Next he scrutinized his hands, their backs bronzed and roughened by contact with the weather, and waited eagerly until some gesture opened the delicately turned fingers, exposing the white palms, and felt relieved and glad when he saw that they showed no rough usage. His glance rested on his well-turned thighs, slender waist, and broad, strong shoulders and arms—and then his eyes—so clear, and his skin so smooth and fresh—a clean soul in a clean body! What joy would be Temple's when he got his arms around this young fellow once more!
The wanderer reached for his cap and pushed back his chair. For an instant he stood gazing into the smouldering coals as if he hated to leave their warmth, his brow clouded, his shoulders drawn back. He had all the information he wanted—all he had come in search of, although it was not exactly what he wished or what he had expected:—his uncle ruined and an exile; his father half blind and Kate's wedding expected any week. That was enough at least for one night.
He stepped forward and grasped Pawson's hand, his well-knit, alert body in contrast to the loosely jointed, long-legged, young attorney.
"I must thank you, Mr. Pawson," he said in his old outspoken, hearty way "for your frankness, and I must also apologize for my apparent rudeness when I first entered your door; but, as I told you, I was so astounded and angry at what I saw that I hardly knew what I was doing. And now one thing more before I take my leave: if Mr. Temple does not want his present retreat known—and I gather from the mysterious way in which you have spoken that he does not—let me tell you that I do not want mine known either. Please do not say to any one that you have seen me, or answer any questions—not for a time, at least. Good-night!"
With the closing of the front door behind him the exile came to a standstill on the top step and looked about him. Across the park—beyond the trees, close sheltered under the wide protecting roof, lay Kate. All the weary miles out and back had this picture been fixed in his mind. She was doubtless asleep as it was now past eleven o'clock: he would know by the lights. But even the sight of the roof that sheltered her would, in itself, be a comfort. It had been many long years since he had breathed the same air with her; slept under the same stars; walked where her feet had trodden. For some seconds he stood undecided. Should he return to the Sailors' House where he had left his few belongings and banish all thoughts of her from his mind now that his worst fears had been confirmed? or should he yield to the strain on his heart-strings? If she were asleep the whole house would be dark; if she were at some neighbor's and Mammy Henny was sitting up for her, the windows in the bedroom would be dark and the hall lamp still burning—he had watched it so often before and knew the signs.
Drawing the collar of his rough peajacket close about his throat and crowding his cap to his ears, he descended the steps and with one of his quick, decided movements plunged into the park, now silent and deserted.
As he neared the Seymour house he became conscious, from the glow of lights gleaming between the leafless branches of the trees, that something out of the common was going on inside. The house was ablaze from the basement to the roof, with every window-shade illumined. Outside the steps, and as far out as the curb, lounged groups of attendants, while in the side street, sheltered by the ghostly trees, there could be made out the wheels and hoods of carryalls and the glint of harness. Now and then the door would open and a bevy of muffled figures—the men in cloaks, the girls in nubias wound about their heads and shoulders—would pass out. The Seymours were evidently giving a ball, or was it—and the blood left his face and little chills ran loose through his hair—was it Kate's wedding night? Pawson had said that a marriage would soon take place, and in the immediate future. It was either this or an important function of some kind, and on a much more lavish scale than had been old Prim's custom in the days when he knew him. Then the contents of Alec's basket rose in his mind. That was why his father had sent the pheasants! Perhaps both he and his mother were inside!
Sick at heart he turned on his heel and with quickened pace retraced his steps. He would not be a spy, and he could not he an eavesdropper. As the thought forced itself on his mind, the fear that he might meet some one whom he would know, or who would know him, overtook him. So great was his anxiety that it was only when he had left the park far behind him on his way back to the Sailors' House, that he regained his composure. He was prepared to face the truth, and all of it whatever it held in store for him; but he must first confront his father and learn just how he stood with him; then he would see his mother and Alec, and then he would find St. George: Kate must come last.
The news that his father had offered to pay his debts—although he did not intend that that should relieve him in any way of his own responsibility to his uncle—kindled fresh hopes in his heart and buoyed him up. Now that his father had tried repeatedly to repair the wrong he had done it might only be necessary to throw himself on his knees before him and be taken back into his heart and arms. To see him, then, was his first duty and this he would begin to carry out in the morning. As to his meeting his mother and Alec—should he fail with his father—that must be undertaken with more care, for he could not place himself in the position of sneaking home and using the joy his return would bring them as a means to soften his father's heart. Yes, he would find his father first, then his mother and Alec. If his father received him the others would follow. If he was repulsed, he must seek out some other way.
This over he would find St. George. He knew exactly where his uncle was, although he had not said so to Pawson. He was not at Coston's, nor anywhere in the vicinity of Wesley, but at Craddock, on the bay—a small country house some miles distant, where he and his dogs had often spent days and weeks during the ducking season. St. George had settled down there to rest and get away from his troubles; that was why he had not answered Pawson's letters.
Striding along with his alert, springing step, he swung through the deserted and unguarded Marsh Market, picked his way between the piles of produce and market carts, and plunging down a narrow street leading to the wharf, halted before a door over which swung a lantern burning a green light. Here he entered.
Although it was now near midnight, there were still eight or ten seafaring men in the room—several of them members of his own crew aboard the Mohican. Two were playing checkers, the others crowded about a square table where a game of cards was in progress; wavy lines of tobacco smoke floated beneath the dingy ceiling; at one end was a small bar where a man in a woollen shirt was filling some short, thick tumblers from an earthen jug. It was the ordinary sailors' retreat where the men put up before, between, and after their voyages.
One of them at the card-table looked up from his game as Harry entered, and called out:
"Man been lookin' for you—comin' back, he says. My trick! Hearts, wasn't it?" (this to his companions).
"Do I know him?" asked Harry with a slight start, pausing on his way to his bedroom upstairs, where he had left his bag of clothes two hours before. Could he have been recognized and shadowed?
"No—don't think so; he's a street vendor. Got some China silks to sell—carries his pack on his back and looks as if he'd took up a extry 'ole in his belt. Hungry, I wouldn't wonder. Wanted to h'ist 'em fur a glass o' grog an' a night's lodgin', but Cap wouldn't let him—said you'd be back and might help him. Wasn't that it, Cap?"—this to the landlord, who nodded in reply.
"How could I help him?" asked Harry, selecting a tallow dip from a row on a shelf, but in a tone that implied his own doubt in the query, as well as his relief, now that the man was really a stranger.