"Peek in the kitchen and see what Barney's up to now," prompted Slivers, nudging Adams as he spoke.
"Oh, he'll be back directly," said Adams.
"Here's somebody comin' now," added Catherwood, presently. "Maybe it's—"
"Sally," muttered Slivers, who meditated proposing for the hand of the buxom Miss Wooster.
She came toward them almost fiercely. Her face was white. She too had detected the change come upon the tiny Indian captive. All night she had accused herself of neglect and heartlessness.
"Where's Barney? Where's the baby?" she demanded.
"Barney's maybe striking off for Thimbleberry Cove," answered Slivers, smilingly. "He was running a bluff on taking the kid to its mother."
"But Tuttle told me the mother's up at Red Shirt Canyon," said the girl.
"Of course," agreed Slivers, uneasily. "We—told him about the Cove to test his sand."
Sally gazed at him wildly. "Then—it must have been a man—Barney!—I saw—on the desert!" she cried, disjointedly. "They'll die! Oh no, he wouldn't—" She ran outside to scan the fearful expanse of alkali, with its gathering blizzard of dust.
The men, suddenly grown nervous, followed her out of the house. Apparently there was nothing, far or wide, on the desert, save the sweeping clouds of white, like drifting snow.
"My God! he wouldn't tackle that!" said Slivers.
"I hear some one out in the kitchen now," said Tate. "It must be him."
Sally ran to see. It was only the dog. She darted forth once more.
"Not there!" she said. "But surely Barney wouldn't—There! There!"
Her cry rang out so shrilly that even Slivers started. She was pointing stiffly. The men all stared at the storm of dust. For one brief second the swirling clouds were reft, revealing, far out eastward, in the dead-land of white, a small dark object—the form of a man.
One poignant sob was the only sound that Sally made, as she ran toward the stable.
"Good Lord! it's him!" said Adams. "Was he heading back this way?"
"I think he was," answered Catherwood.
"He couldn't—do anything—else," stammered Slivers.
For a moment no one spoke.
"I reckon I'll just mosey over to the desert," drawled the fidgety man. "I'd hate to have anything go wrong with Barney."
"Guess I'll go along myself," said Adams.
"Boys!" said Slivers, hoarsely, "I'm going to saddle up and git him back! I didn't mean no harm when I told him wrong. I didn't think he'd go. I'd ride through hell for Barney—or the little Injun, either. You fellers know I didn't mean no harm."
He started at once to get his horse. Before he had covered half the distance to the stable, Sally suddenly rode forth, bareback, on a buckskin pony, and heading for the desert, spurred her bronco to a gallop, crying to him wildly as she went.
"Sally!—Sally—I'll go!" yelled Slivers.
She seemed not to hear, but ran her pony out upon the white expanse, where the wreathing dust seemed to swallow both herself and the animal immediately.
Her horse, fleeing swiftly before the wind, carried Sally a mile or two out from the camp before she reined him in. Believing Barney could have come no farther than this, she began to search and to call.
At every turn of her head her eyes were blinded by the acrid dust. The stuff choked her breathing; already her throat was dry. Dust and powder and snow-of-alkali came from everywhere. It was blowing up her sleeves. It filtered into and through her clothing. Her ears were quickly coated; her hair was heavy.
She turned her head from side to side for a breath. The air was thicker than smoke with dust as heavy as flour.
"Barney!" she called, from time to time, but the alkali coated her tongue. On either side she could see for a distance of twenty feet, or less. It seemed far less, in all that terrible drift of white.
She rode across the wind, doggedly, crying Barney's name. A nameless hopelessness began to grow upon her. Now this way, now that, she urged her horse. How far could Barney hear her calling? How far could he wander? How far would she ride? There were forty miles in length and fifteen in width of this reek of wind-driven alkali. God keep them if ever they got more than two miles away from the Hole!
It was aimless riding, presently, but she still persisted. A sickening conviction that Barney and the little captive would both be dead before she could find them made her desperation unendurable. With eyes starting hotly, with every breath seeming like a struggle for existence, in the dust, she galloped, calling, calling, till at last she could call no more.
Dazed, she halted her horse at last, and sat staring blindly at nothing. The pony turned about, unheeded, and began to fight his way against the storm, his head down between his legs.
Sally's head also came down, by instinct more than by design. She felt past thinking. For a time she rode thus, heedlessly. Then abruptly she clutched at the reins and drew the horse to a halt. The animal pricked up his ears peculiarly.
Weirdly out of the wind and dust came a sound—not a moan, not a croon, but like them both, yet a song, uncertain, apparently coming from no definitive point. She even caught the words:
"All on some lonesome bill-din The swallow makes her nest;
All on some—lonesome bill-din The—swallow makes—her nest."
Sally tried to call out. She made but a croaking noise. Slipping from her horse's back, she groped her way forward, leading the pony, and trying to shout.
For a rod or more she battled against the driving dust, then halted as before. Not another sound would the desert render up—only the strange dry swishing by of the particles of stuff rasping the desert's surface as they passed and rose.
"Barney!" she called, by a mighty effort. There was no response.
Crying now, in her anguish and plight, she led the pony this way and that, up and down, listening, trying to force a shout through her swollen lips. At length, in despair, she knew she could search no more. A lifelessness of feeling was creeping upon her. Mechanically she walked beside her pony, and it was the animal that was leading.
It seemed as if she had plodded onward thus for hours, when at length she stumbled upon a gray little mound in the drifting alkali.
"Barney!" she said, in a voice scarcely more than a whisper. Crooning and sobbing, she lifted him up—unconscious, but clinging to the still, little form that was hugged to the shelter of his breast.
"Hang on—oh, hang on to the horse, dear, please," she coaxed, in all the tender strength of a new-born love. "Barney—try—try, dear, please. I'll be your wife—I'll do anything—if only you'll try."
She had raised him bodily to the pony's back. Stiffly as a man that freezes he straddled the animal. He made no answer, no movement. She feared he must be dead. She dared not look at the little papoose. Barney's weight rested partially upon her shoulder. She tossed away the reins.
"Go on, Sancho—go on home," she croaked to the horse, passionately.
The pony seemed to comprehend. With some faint fragrance of the waters of Bitter Hole in his nostrils, the willing creature fought slowly, steadily forward, against the terrible drift.
* * * * *
John Tuttle and Henry Wooster descried a group, like a sculpture in whitened stone endowed with life, creep strangely out from the blizzard of alkali. A blinded horse, with head bent low, bearing on its back a motionless man, and led by a stumbling, blinded girl, against whose shoulder the helpless rider leaned, came with ghostlike slowness and silence toward them.
And all day long, one by one, more men came forth, like ghosts, from the dead-land. But the twilight had come and the wind had died away before teamster Slivers limped from the desert. He came afoot. He had ridden his horse to death, in his desperate quest. He could barely see—and his hair was white, even below the coating of the dust.
Moody ran to meet him.
"Barney?—Sally?—the kid?" the teamster demanded, raucously.
"Back—and goin' to live," said Moody. "The Injuns up to Red Shirt heard where the little feller was and was goin' on the war-trail, sudden, but the mother came down on the stage to-day,—and got her pretty little kid."
"Oh, God! I didn't deserve it!" said Slivers, and letting himself fall limply to the earth, he lay with his face in the curve of his arm and shook with emotion.
BY EMERY POTTLE
He looked up from the desk where he had been sitting for the last hour, his head down on his arms, trying to shut out the brave, old cry of life coming in through the open windows, pulling gently at his heart, cheeping through the darkened room as lightly and as blithely as the birds in the horse-chestnut tree just outside—the brave cry of life that, somehow, for all its clamorous traditions, seemed just then something peaceful, something that held release, freedom.
He stared about him, furtively, for an instant, as if instinctively on his guard against an unwelcome eye. Then, presently, he smiled, and going to a window, pushed open the blinds, leaning, with elbows on the sill, gratefully out into the rectangular enclosure, walled in high by houses, where the late afternoon sun glanced with uncertain warmth on the horse-chestnut.
There was now, he told himself, no use of evading or denying it longer; right or wrong, things had come to a point with him where anything but the truth was unbearable; it was there, like a live thing with him in the room, and out in the court, too,—almost as if he could put out his hand and draw it in close to him. Freedom, that was it. His lips made the word noiselessly, again and again, fascinated with the sensation. "Free, free," he kept whispering, stretching out his hands greedily, drawing in full breaths of the late September air.
"I'm glad, that's all there is to it—glad. I can't help being glad—I've tried, too, but now, to-day, it's bound to come out. Glad! It's like being let out of school."
That word—school—brought him back sharply. It seemed to precipitate all the old worry in the solution that but a moment ago was so clear. He came back hesitatingly from the window and threw himself down before the desk again, unable to restrain something he vaguely named his conscience from its weary accusations.
"It's an awful thing. It's true, it is. I'm a beast. I'm all wrong to be like this. It's a terrible thing to be glad a person is—" He shivered as he withheld the end of the sentence, though he realized his cowardice in so withholding. "And that person your—" Again he hesitated.
Haldane, by the desk, was a figure to make, involuntarily, demands on one's sympathy. It seemed all his life—perhaps thirty years long—he had been doing this in one way or another, and by no effort of his. People had a fashion of "looking out for him." Not that he had grown up particularly incapable or helpless; it might rather have been due to a certain appealing gentleness of bearing, something that was the resultant of a half-shy manner, expanding into boyish confidence winningly; a shortish, slender figure, scarcely robust; eager, friendly brown eyes behind his glasses; and a keen desire to be liked. It might be seen, in the present sharp nervous play of emotion over his face, how utterly he was unsuited to the weight of mental discomfort,—how it fretted and galled him. That he was a gentleman, and by nature of a morbidly just and fair disposition, only made his present distress the more intolerable to him.
"Lord God," he muttered, hopelessly, "why, why had it all to be?" And this question might, in the end, be taken as an aimless appeal to the Almighty to know why He had deliberately led him into a wretchedly miserable condition of mind and left him there.
It was the day after Ida's burial—Haldane's wife's burial. A week ago he had taken her to a city hospital, and she had died there—she and her baby—in the night, away from Haldane. He had gone dazedly, very conscientiously, through the dreadful, relentless activity that follows immediately on the heels of death; there was some alleviation in the thought that everything had been done just as she would have liked to have it. To-day the house was free of the grieving, sickening smell of flowers; the last of the people had mercifully fulfilled their duty to Ida and him and had gone, leaving him the humiliation of their honest, warm-hearted words and halting phrases of sympathy.
"Great God!" he had kept saying to himself as he listened to them, "if you knew,—if you knew!"
At times he felt, as he thought of those friends, secretly resentful. "If it hadn't been for them, I don't believe I," he caught himself saying—"I'd ever have married." But again he stopped his mental train abruptly. It was such a wearisome business, this "being fair"—he put it so—to her; this conscientious erasing of self-justification which he felt to be so unworthy. It would have been such a relief to Haldane to be, for an hour, obliviously selfish in his estimate of his two years of marriage with Ida.
There had been nothing, after all, remarkable in Haldane's experience—save for him; nothing very far removed from the commonplace. His father—a simple-hearted musician—had trained his son in music since the days when the lad could first hold a violin under his little chin. He had died when the boy was twenty, and Haldane had gone on, contentedly enough and absorbed, to take his father's place among the violins of an orchestra, and to teach music. As he grew older his father's friends told him he was leading a wretchedly lonely life; that he ought to marry. And at this Haldane smiled his deprecating, affectionate smile—a smile that, somehow, convinced his advisers in their own wisdom.
When Ida Locke came to live in a hall bedroom of the untidy boarding-house Haldane for years had called home, it was not long before she, too, quite unaffectedly, took to the idea that the good-natured musician needed "looking after." And since, all her life, she had tremendously given herself to the care of people around her, it was no unusual experience—she sought it frankly, importantly.
It is scarcely probable that, in the beginning, any thought of ultimate marriage entered her head. Those who knew her invariably said, "Ida is a sensible girl." Rather, her "looking after" Haldane took itself out in the hearty channels of dry boots, overshoes, tea of late afternoons, candid suggestions as to proper winter underwear, remedies for his frequent colds. This solicitude—which was, in essence, quite maternal—made a bond between the two; this and the fact that they both were workers—for Ida taught English in a private school.
It is hardly necessary to elaborate their romance, if it was such, from this point. Gradually, hastened by the awful propinquity in a third-rate boarding-house, Haldane really came to believe—as along the line of least resistance—in his personal incapacity and his loneliness; gradually Ida Locke began to realize that, for the first time, this Love she had read of and dreamed of doubtfully had become a reality for her. She was not a little amazed and gratified at its plain practicability—its sensibleness, she put it.
That she so liked him—indeed, he liked her enormously, he considered—assured Haldane in his moments of misgiving. The very largeness in her ample effect of good looks, her genius for managing his affairs and hers, her prim neatness of dress, her utter freedom from any sort of weak dependence on him, her uncompromising rigidity of moral attitude, and, above all, her goodness to him—this convinced him of her ultimate fitness to be a wife to him; and it must be said that he had never heretofore given anything but the scantest attention to the matter of sentimental attachments; it had not occurred to him, definitely, that he was even likely some day to fall splendidly in love.
So when he asked her, shyly, gently, to marry him she consented frankly—too frankly, Haldane almost admitted. And since, in the world as she knew it, men did not ask women to marry them unless they loved them really, she took much for granted, and began, at once, to look for a cheap flat.
Ida gave up her teaching when they married and went to their Harlem flat. Indeed, she considered this her domestic right; now, after almost a dozen years—she was older than Haldane—of instruction, she wanted "to rest, and keep house," she told her husband.
Then, suddenly, illogically perhaps, after not more than three months of it, Haldane knew it was all quite intolerable to him. Before the desk to-day, Ida's desk, he saw luminously just how intolerable it had been—these two years of marriage.
The more irritatingly unbearable, too, it was because of the excellence of Ida's qualities—qualities he had taken humorously before marriage, but which later he had to take seriously. He began to hate her constant and intimate possession of his motives and tastes, her inquiries as to what he ate for lunch, and whether he considered his flannels quite adequate. He childishly resented her little nagging economies—and especially because he knew they were generally necessary. He chafed at the practical, sensible view he was argued resolutely into on every matter. What made it hard was that Haldane could not decently account for his revulsion of feeling toward Ida, now she was his wife. Worse than all, he saw how lightly she held in esteem his music—his one real love. To her it was a graceful trade to earn a living by—nothing else. And when she finally made it out that in his position in the orchestra he was likely never to rise much higher, unconsciously the fiddling seemed to her rather more of a small business. She told him he ought to be more ambitious.
One night Haldane had played to Ida—he resented so her name Ida—parts of the score of a light opera he had been at work on for years;—he would never play it on the boarding-house piano.
The moment was as vivid for Haldane now as it was then. He could hear again her brisk cheerful voice when he had finished and was waiting—more hopeful than he had ever yet been with her: "That's pretty. It's funny—isn't it, dear?—to think you made it up out of your own head. I never could understand—Leonard, have you got entirely rid of your sore throat?—Why don't you try to sell some of your little tunes?"
The disappointment of it all, for an instant, had brought angry tears to his eyes. He remembered now just the bitter hopelessness of feeling how she had failed him—and the remembrance hurt anew. That night he had seen almost clearly how it was to be with him and her in all the years to come.
There was, in Haldane's subsequent attitude toward the question of his marriage to Ida Locke, nothing worth the name of heroic. Indeed, looked at from the commonplace, critical standpoint, the situation was not so bad. It was Haldane's personal conception of it which caused the difficulty. Probably it was his sense of fairness to her which made him accept matters quietly—as he did accept them. It was his comfort to-day, out of all the ruck of his artificial self-reproach, that Ida had never known—as he said—how he felt toward her.
"She never knew," he repeated often, "she never knew. She couldn't, I'm sure. Thank God for that!"
What she had never known was, in Haldane's mind, his real idea of her as his wife. For he had been very kind; he had patiently let her look out for him; he had kept the fret of his heart off his tongue, and the sulkiness of his temper off his face. What he had not succeeded in doing, however, was to keep the hurt of his soul out of his eyes. So they had gone on with it for the two years, with a prospect of going on with it forever, Haldane growing daily quieter, more reserved, if anything more gently kind, and more pathetically hopeless. With Ida it was, rather, a large, legitimate outlet for all the sensibleness, practicality, capable qualities, she so generously possessed. It seemed to her, when she knew her child was coming, that she was wonderfully reaching the culmination of womanhood and wifehood. Yet, after all, it had been but just death for Ida.
All this was running through Haldane's brain as he sat, on the day after his wife's burial, before her little oak desk. And the result he had to make out of it was always the same:
"I'm glad it's over. I'm glad."
* * * * *
The room seemed less burdensome when he came back to it late that night. Oppressed with the hatefulness of his attitude of the afternoon, Haldane had seized his hat and had fled out into the streets. He had dined at a restaurant, a thing he had not done in years, and had listened to a bad orchestra play cheerful tunes—tunes that somehow livened him up, stayed comfortably in his mind afterwards. Every one he saw seemed so happy. He assured himself that happiness—a quiet content, at least—was to be his now. Why not? Why disguise the fact that he was really, underneath, glad? So he smiled and lingered and sipped his coffee, feeling suddenly the beautiful realization that he was again of the world—irresponsible, careless. Coming back into the dull flat was not half the gloomy effort he had fancied it was going to be. For one blessed thing, he came when he chose. Besides, something had given him a sense of his right, his cheerful right, to be as he liked, what he liked. Haldane went about the tiny rooms humming gently; he played softly on the piano some old love-songs he had composed when he was twenty—things she had never heard.
Presently he sat down, lighted a fresh cigarette, and set himself to thinking out matters anew.
"It was a mistake, that's all," he said, at last. "And that's plain. A mistake for me. But now it's all over and done with. There's nothing to be got out of this endless accusing and regret over something that couldn't be helped—helped, at least, after it was once started.... I'll always wear my hurt of it; that I know. It hurts like the devil to think I didn't—couldn't—give her the love she ought to have had. If there were any way—any possible way of reparation, ... but I suppose there isn't. Nothing except to live decently and honorably—if that's reparation. Thank God, 'tisn't as if there were any other woman mixed up in it—I haven't got that to worry me at any rate. I wonder whether a man gets his punishment for—but no, you can't help feeling, and being, and loving, just as it comes. It's this dreadful unconventionality of—not really liking—loving a person you are supposed to love that warps your judgment. And we lie about it to ourselves and to others till when we have to face the real truth we go all to pieces.... But, just the same, I'd feel so much easier if there were only some way I could make it up to Ida now that she's gone. Poor Ida, poor Ida."
Haldane's eyes strayed to the little, cheap desk again, and for a moment the distress of the afternoon was renewed. But he resolutely threw off the accusing mood he so feared. There was a pile of letters lying there—letters that he had had neither the time nor the heart to look into for the past week. He picked them up now with relief at finding something tangible to be done. Most of them were letters of consolation and sympathy for him from his friends and hers; the worn phrases one can so little avoid in such missives touched him with a sense of their dual ineffectuality. Other letters were addressed to Ida—commonplace messages and bills which she had not been able to open. And there was one from her mother—written evidently before she had heard of her daughter's imminent illness and death. This last Haldane laid aside until he had finished the others; and even then he looked at it long and somewhat tenderly before he opened it.
"It must have come very hard to her; Ida was all she had," he considered. "It must have been very hard." He thought of the tear-stained, illegible letter Ida's mother had sent him after she had had his telegram. An illness had prevented her from coming to the funeral; and she lived so far away, somewhere in Iowa. Her heart was bleeding for him, she wrote. Her own loss was almost blotted out in the thought of his terrible grief. He had never finished it—that letter; he could not. Such words had seemed too sacred for him to read, feeling as he did. So he had torn it up.
"Ida was very good to her mother," he reflected; "at least she was conscientiously always trying to do her best by her, support her and all that. She took it awfully as a duty—but she did it."
Once, after they were married, Ida had gone back, for six months, to the private school that she might have money to send her mother in a sudden financial stress. Haldane thought of that, too, with keen regret that he had not been able to earn the necessary money himself—he was ill that winter. Yes, surely, Ida had been splendid in the matter of her mother. "It's a pity that things weren't so that Ida's mother could have come to see us here in New York," Haldane said, as he opened the envelope—"come before Ida died." The letter itself was not long. When he had finished with it—and this only after a third reading—he laid it down slowly and stared silently at the fine old-fashioned characters.
"Great God!" he said at last, gently, "the poor old lady!"
"My dear daughter," ran the letter, "mother is so sorry to have to tell you this now when all your thoughts and energies must be centred on the wonderful event so soon to happen. It seems to me I've always been calling on you for help and you have done so much. Oh, it hurts me to have to worry and distress you now, dear.
"The truth is that Mr. Liddell is going to foreclose the mortgage on the house. He says he cannot wait longer than a week or two. I've tried every way to get the interest, but I can't do it. The little I had left, your cousin George invested for me, and now he tells me—I don't understand it at all—that it's quite lost. I know you'll say I was foolish to let George have it, but he promised so much—and George has been so good to me. I won't ask you and Leonard to give me a home; that would be unfair to you both. I'm so distressed and upset. Write me, if you can, and tell me what you think is best." And there was more in the same distressed key.
Haldane was as near his decision, perhaps, when he laid down the letter as hours afterward when he stumbled to bed. It was strangely clear to him—the attitude he was to assume. Not that he did not make a fight of it, and a sharp fight. But, after all, he knew from the first how it was destined to end.
"I asked for my chance to make it up to her," he muttered. "Well, I've got it, haven't I? Isn't this it? If where she is she knows to-night that I never loved her—sometimes even hated her—then she knows that I'll try to pay it back to her in the only way I can. I'll bring her mother here to live with me.... My God! and I wanted so the freedom of it all again, just to feel free.... No, this is it—my way—I'll take it. It's what I owe Ida. I can't reason it out logically and I dare say the world would put it straight that I didn't have to do this—take her mother—but I will. I wouldn't feel right about it in this life or in any next if I didn't. Yes, that's the reparation."
Haldane's last thought before he slept that night, as it was in the fortnight before she came, was, "What is Ida's mother like? I wonder if—she is like—like Ida?"
* * * * *
It had been six months—a whole winter and more—since Ida's mother had come to live with Leonard Haldane. And altogether unexpectedly it had been, for Haldane, quite the most beautiful winter he had ever spent. As for Ida's mother—well, when she was alone her eyes were constantly filling with tears—tears of thankfulness that the Lord had sent her, in the language of her frequent prayers of gratitude, a son to stay the declining years of her life—a son to her who had so wanted a son all these years.
Haldane could never forget that night he had gone, with sharp misgivings, to the station to meet Mrs. Locke. "I suppose I'm a fool," he had muttered, as he paced miserably up and down the draughty, smoky enclosure where her train, already very late, was to come in. "But it's my debt to the dead I'm going to pay." He added a moment later: "What I shall hate most of all, what will be hardest to bear, will be her endless sympathy. For she won't know—she'll never know—just how it was between Ida and me."
He was to look for a "little dried-up, frightened woman in a black bonnet, with a handkerchief in her left hand"—so Mrs. Locke had written him. Haldane had smiled at the frank characterization—that, somehow, didn't sound like Ida's spirit in her mother.
She was the last to come out through the iron gate. Almost he had given her up, she had delayed so long. A little, dried-up, frightened woman in a black bonnet—that was she. Like a tiny, stray cloud, very nervous and out of place. Her face was white with fatigue, the excitement of the journey, and the thought of how she should meet—ought she to call him Leonard? And when Haldane saw her he suddenly smiled boyishly—as if there could be such a thing as a problem over this scared, half-tearful, ridiculously pathetic, white-haired old woman with a black-bordered handkerchief in her shaking left hand.
Before he considered it he had said gently, "Well, mother—"
The tears in her eyes welled over as she gasped in a whisper, "My boy!"
So, after all, there was no awkward, conscious period of adjustment for the two. They took up their life simply and quite as if it were no new thing to them both—as if they had come together again after a long separation. And it was, perhaps, in a way, just that—a coming together of elements that had long been kept apart. "She's not like Ida," Haldane kept saying to himself.
"You're just like a mother in a storybook; the kind you always want when you read about them," Haldane often told her. "You know, I never had one—one that I remember; mine died so long ago."
"And you—you're—quite my son," she would answer shyly, her voice trembling with the joy of it. It was such a regret to her that she hadn't Leonard's readiness of speech and the courage to break down her reserve—for she wanted to tell him, as she said to herself, just how she felt, just how good he was to her.
So it was a beautiful winter for them both. Naturally there was the fact of Ida that had to be faced. That was tremendously hard at first. He constantly felt her grieving for him, for the failure of all his hopes, the wreck of all a man holds so precious. And there were all the details of Ida's sickness and death to be gone over with her mother—the things she had done just before. How she looked; the quantity of flowers; even what she wore for her burial. Instinctively Haldane knew how dear these matters were to her, and he went over them faithfully, effacing his own bitterness of memory as best he might. When Mrs. Locke hesitatingly asked him one evening if—if Ida had—had said anything—left any message for her, Haldane's heart ached for her; Ida had left no message. He softened it as best he might.
"You see, she didn't know, couldn't know, that—that she was going to die. It was all so sudden, you know, so awfully sudden."
Mrs. Locke nodded. "Yes—I see. Poor Ida! She did so much for me always."
After a month or so, quite unconsciously, they ceased to mention Ida. Haldane, when he thought of it at all—and that with relief—wondered vaguely why Ida's mother did not talk more about her. "Perhaps it's because she doesn't want to keep hurting me," he thought it out, "bless her!"
Gradually the intimacy between Haldane and his mother—for she was quite that to him—grew into a relation that was as rare as it was tender. They both felt it keenly. Their talk was all of him, his affairs, his music. He played to her for hours in the evenings he was not at the orchestra; when he was teaching in the mornings she would steal into the room, and sit, sewing, in a corner, listening gratefully to the dreary routine of his pupils' exercises. She seemed never to tire of "being near Leonard." And always she was asking, "Won't you play a little from the opera, Leonard?"
Once she said to him, with her timid smile: "It's like heaven, having so much music all the time. Seems as if all my life I've been just starved to death for tunes."
Haldane bent and kissed her white hair. "Well, mother," he laughed, "it's quite a real piece of heaven to have you around the place."
"You're spoiling me," she cried; "how can I ever go back to Iowa?"
"Who said Iowa in this house?" he demanded of her. "You're to stay always—as long as you can stand me—always."
"My son!" she kept murmuring after he had gone, as if she loved the words on her lips. "He's just the kind of son I used to hope I might have," she sighed. "I don't see—it's so strange why he's so good to me. I'm not at all like her. Ida was so sensible always, and I'm not at all—Ida always told me I couldn't take care of myself, that I was very foolish. I don't see why Leonard is so kind to me. It must he just because I'm her mother. Leonard must have loved her so much, and understood her. Poor Ida!"
* * * * *
The spring had broken through its first slender greenish film into the freshness of its young beauty. The sense of faint, far voices endlessly calling was in the air. Again the windows of the little flat were opened and again the afternoon sun warmed to golden green the new growth of leaves on the horse-chestnut in the rectangular enclosure outside.
Haldane had never felt so splendidly the birth of new things—in himself and in the world. All the morning he had been constantly picking up his violin, playing what he called his "Spring-feelings"— unrhythmic wild snatches of melody.
"God! it's good, good, good," he cried, throwing back his head. "Good to have lived out of it all into this."
"Mother," he called presently, "what on earth are you doing there all alone? Come out and play with me. You've looked over those old books and papers, spring-cleaned your old closets, too long. If you don't come out at once, I'll come and drag you out bodily—I will indeed."
He ran to her door in another moment, and flinging it open wide, he called: "If you will insist on being led forth—Why, mother, what is it? what's the matter? What is it? Are you ill? Why—"
She sat on a low stool drawn up close to her bed. Her hands were clasped straight out before her over a little book bound in faded imitation red leather—a little book Haldane, on the instant, with curious alertness, knew as one of Ida's old school note-books. On her face was a look so bewildered, so grieved, so terror-stricken almost, that Haldane suddenly ceased to speak. She raised her eyes to him with the pleading of a hurt animal. For a time neither uttered a word. And then, all at once, it seemed to Haldane as if he knew. His gaze fell hesitatingly. When, at last, he spoke, it was in a very gentle voice.
"Mother—is it anything we can talk out together—now?"
She shook her head dumbly, the tears gathering in her eyes. "Oh, Lennie!" she whispered, finally, as if he were a little boy. "It isn't true, is it?"
Haldane did not reply. She reached out the little red book to him slowly. "You'd—you'd better read it. I—found it—this afternoon."
He took the book, without wonder, and went back, softly closing the door on her. Unconsciously he sat down before the little, cheap, oak desk—Ida's desk—and began to read. It was, perhaps, two hours afterward when he had finished. The room was dark and very still.
"So she knew," he said, slowly. "After all, she knew. And I never guessed." His head sank down on his arms.
It was a curious inconsistency in the mind of Ida Locke which had prompted her to write in that red-covered note-book just what she had written. No one would have guessed the secret strain of introspection in her, nor guessed the impulse which led her to put into writing her hidden life. Unless, indeed, that introspection and that impulse are always part of the intuitions of love—yielded to or not, as may be. The entries were scattered—as if put down when the stress of feeling had overcome her. They ranged over the two years of their married life. In each one she had seemed, with a startling lucidity, to have apprehended exactly her husband's state of mind toward her. She had written freely, baldly, without excess of sentimentality. "I know he hates me sometimes; I see it in his eyes." Again: "He is hideously kind." "He lives in a mental room that I can't break into." In another place it ran: "Why is it? I am his mental equal; his superior in education. I'm his wife and he asked me to marry him. And yet he can't bear to have me near him. He hates me to-day." "I'm afraid," she wrote again, "how Leonard will regard our child. If he should hate it, too. Perhaps we shall both not live through it." And so it ran on, with awful candor.
"I'm so sorry she had to know," Haldane sighed again and again. "And, now, what's to be the end of it? What will Ida's mother do? Lord God, she'll never forgive me—never."
* * * * *
Late that night Mrs. Locke came in. Haldane had scarcely stirred from his chair. The note-book lay open before him on the desk. He looked at her compassionately, for now his thoughts were all for the shrinking, hurt woman beside him. She had never before seemed so fragile, so dependent, and yet he could not but mark in her hearing a new resolution of forces, a dignity as of a stern decision. Haldane did not wait for her to question.
"You will want to know," he began, wearily, "if all this written here is true. All this Ida wrote down. You want to ask me that? It's—it's all true, quite true." He waited, but she gave no sign. "Quite true; I—I suppose it wouldn't be worth while for me to explain things now. You will think I've lied to you all along. In a way, I have. No, I suppose you don't want to hear me make futile explanations, excuses."
"If there—there is anything to be said, Leonard, you had better say it—now," she answered, nervously, twisting her handkerchief in her fingers.
He hesitated painfully. "Everything I might say seems to be trying to shift the load from my shoulders on to—another's," he said, at last. "It was a mistake—that's all. A mistake for us. Before it began—our marriage—it was different, but afterward—She was very good to me; looked after me and all that, but—Oh, I'm afraid I'm only hurting you the worse by saying all this. You won't, you can't understand. Let it be that it was all my fault. It was, it was. Believe that, please.... And I know you won't want to stay here with me any longer—after this. I quite understand that. A man who—who felt as she wrote it all down here—such a man you wouldn't, you couldn't—" He stopped hopelessly. "I can't bear to have you go," he burst out, impulsively. "Where will you go? Back there to Iowa?"
She nodded sorrowfully.
"And have no more music? And—and—oh, it's cruel. Why had you to find it out? It didn't matter anyway when it was all done with. Why did you have to know? ... And you haven't any money. You must let me help you. Let me do that—just that. Can't you forget it all enough for that? Surely you've liked me—for what you've liked in me, let me help you. Great heavens, if I thought of you alone out there, without money—Must you go?"
Haldane was fast losing control of himself. With an effort he pulled himself together and tried to smile.
"You're right to go," he said. "Right. You wouldn't want anything to do with me now."
He looked up at her, though loath to meet her eyes. There was a wonderful pity in her face. "Don't!" he cried, sharply, not understanding.
"I want to say this," he broke out again, almost roughly. "I never guessed that she knew how I felt toward her. I wasn't cruel or beastly—I was kind. They say that's cruelty, too. I tried—my God! how I tried!—never to let her know the truth. That's all I can say for myself; ... you'd better go."
She was so silent that at last he faced her again. She was crying softly, and, it appeared, without bitterness. Haldane stared at her curiously.
"I wanted to know that—that last you said," Mrs. Locke gasped, with difficulty. "I—I—I've been thinking it all over in my room. It's very hard to say—please let me go on with it just as I can, I—I've said I wanted to hear that last. But I knew it—in my heart—all the time. I knew you couldn't be cruel to a living thing. And—and—somehow— it changed—things. I've had such a terrible struggle all alone. I've tried to pray over it and—oh, I'm afraid I'm very wrong and very wicked—I almost know I am." Her voice sank to a whisper. "But—oh, Leonard ... somehow I just seemed to feel inside me just how you felt, just how—it was with you those two years. Oh, it's a dreadful thing to say, isn't it? Poor Ida! She was so good to me, and yet sometimes—" The trembling old woman's voice faltered and broke.
Haldane's eyes were full of tears. A great light was slowly breaking for him. He dared not speak.
"Don't think I'm a wicked old woman, Leonard; I never even guessed—till I came here—how I felt. And then you were like a son—my son—the boy I wanted so, and—I loved the music so, and being with you, more than anything I ever knew—it doesn't seem as if—"
Haldane put his hand on hers gently, "As if you could go away now?"
She turned to him with a little sad smile, and in her face was a sweet dignity.
"Yes, I cannot go—now, my son."
THE YEARLY TRIBUTE
BY ROSINA HUBLEY EMMET
"For science is a cruel mistress. She exacts a yearly tribute of flesh and blood like the dragons of ancient pagan mythology."
The eminent scientist paused momentarily here and viewed the earnest young faces before him. In this poetic figure of speech he saw fit to present to them the hardships of the life they had chosen to embark upon. It was a hot June morning, and the heavy scent of syringa came in through the high uncurtained windows of the lecture-hall. All the students stared with reverence at this distinguished stranger, who had come a long distance to speak to the graduating class; and one of its members sighed deeply and turned his eyes to the window, and watched some maple leaves moving languidly against the blue sky. The lecturer heard his sigh, saw him fall into abstraction, realized the peculiar character of his face; and marked him as a man who would serve to the end, possibly becoming one of the victims of that cruel mistress.
* * * * *
Pilchard and Swan had stopped to rest in the middle of the plaza. The black Mexican night was falling and a few stars blossomed in the sky, but there was no abatement in the heat which had held since sunrise; rather, indeed, the thickness of the atmosphere seemed intensified. The two Americans, who had spent a whole year in Mexico and become accustomed to the climate, attempted to make themselves comfortable. Pilchard sank to a dilapidated bench and lighted a cigarette; and Swan, not having even sufficient spirit to smoke, stretched himself bodily on the flat stones which paved the plaza, and placed his old hat upon his upturned face.
Both young men seemed depressed, and without speaking they listened to the moaning of the ocean which heaved and glistened in the distance; and when Pilchard finally said, "So poor Murphy is gone too," and Swan responded, "His troubles are over, poor fellow," it showed how completely they had been absorbed in the same thought.
"And Mulligan last week," Pilchard continued, "and all the others who went before, and Peele taken sick this afternoon. Swan, we're the only white men left."
"And we've only got ten days left."
"Oh, I guess we can do it, so long as we're out of the swamp."
"So long as the swamp isn't in us."
They were alluding to the railroad they had come to Mexico to build. The time-limit given in the contract would expire in ten days, and it would be a race to get the tracks through the town and down to the new docks in that time. Swan, whenever he thought of it, became restless, and now he sat up with a jerk, and his old hat slipped off his face. Even in that dim light Swan's ugliness was apparent. He measured over six feet and was loose-jointed and ungainly; he had big flat feet, and big bony, capable hands; and his features, which were big and bony too, seemed in proportion to nothing but his general ungainliness. Swan was an inventive Yankee with no background and no tradition. He could not even claim the proverbial Connecticut farm. His people had been dreary commercials in a middle-sized New Hampshire town, and he had worked his way through college to fit himself for a scientific career. His memory of his deceased parents was so colorless that it seemed to Swan as if they had never existed, and his contacts had been so dull, his outlook so dreary, that he had almost no conception of beauty. His plain college room, where, by the hour, he had worked out mathematical problems, and a grimy engine-room (which was the next stage of his advancement), where he had stood in a greasy black shirt, surrounded by an unceasing whir of machinery, and bossed a gang of men—these had been the things which had substituted for him romance and passion and life; and finally, when Pilchard, a college friend, had persuaded him to come down to Mexico and build a railroad, he had taken off his greasy black shirt and gone, principally because this was such a big undertaking, and it would undoubtedly in the end lead to something very much bigger.
The company which was causing the railroad to be built had established large exporting-houses in San Francisco, which sent down certain articles of merchandise to Mexico, and the railroad was designed to transport this freight from one of the southwestern seaport towns to the city of Mexico. The undertaking included the erection of docks with swinging elevators to lift the freight from the vessels and deposit it in the cars, and as the pay was very large and Pilchard was an adventurous soul, he undertook the job when it was offered to him, and going to the manager's office, impressed him with his boldness and ability, and signed his name to the contracts without reading them through; then gayly, and feeling no uneasiness, he buttoned his coat over the neatly folded paper and went to see Swan.
Swan, in a greasy black shirt, was in the engine-room, hard at work, and he was just about to reprimand one of the men when Pilchard came in. Although it was early in May, a spell of precocious heat had taken New York by the throat, and what with the whir of rapidly turning wheels, and the smell of hot machine-oil and perspiring men, there was something filthy and degraded about the atmosphere. Swan suddenly realized this, although it was the only atmosphere he knew anything about. Glancing upward, he saw a little patch of blue sky through the top of one of the grimy windows ... a white cloud sailed past ... and then another ... something akin to longing welled in his heart, something like a wave of despair and hope, a desire to lift himself into a higher and less degraded world.... He looked toward the door and saw Pilchard, and crossing the room, he greeted him warmly and read the contract Pilchard pulled from his pocket.
"That's a queer business," said Swan, when he had finished.
"Man alive, haven't you read what you've signed your name to?"
"Certainly I've read it."
"And you think you can put the job through in a year?"
"Why not?" asked Pilchard, with his "cock-sure" smile.
Swan, like every one else, was taken in by this smile, and to convince himself he read the contract again, out loud this time, and in a thoughtful way. Pilchard listened.
The contract guaranteed that a railroad covering two hundred and fifty miles, between the city of Mexico and the little seaport of Zacatula, on the Pacific Ocean, would be built and completed in one year's time, work starting on the 25th of June. Docks and freight-elevators were included in the work, and if the tracks were not in fit condition for the trains to run by the date specified, every penny of the very large pay would be forfeited by the builders. A strange contract, indeed! Pilchard, however, as he heard it read, betrayed by no sign that he was as much surprised as Swan.
"Well," said Swan, looking up and meeting that "cock-sure" smile, "you think you can do it in a year?"
"I'm certain I can."
"Of course," Swan continued, not yet convinced, "it's the worst country on earth; full of swamp and yellow fever."
"I'll run in a gang of Mexican Indians to lay the ties. They can stand their own climate."
"But you'll have to take down some white men, too, good fellows who know the business. You can't be the only man to do the bossing. It'd kill you."
All this time Pilchard was closely watching Swan, and almost unconsciously something had been growing in his mind. Swan had an ugly, resolute face, and endurance seemed to be expressed in every line of his body. Behind him the engine roared, and spit steam, and ground out the produce of a great city factory; his face and hands were grimy and covered with grease, and the black cinders around his deep-set eyes gave him a terrible, deathly look. Pilchard saw instantly that he must have Swan to do the work. He must take him down to Mexico or else the railroad would never be built. Swan would come, too, because there was a look of tragic fatigue in his deep-set eyes, an expression of sick nausea in the lines about his mouth, that showed how gladly he would change, how completely he had come to the end of his hopes here; so Pilchard suggested with a careless smile that they go down to Mexico together. "Of course," he said, "I don't say that it mightn't be better for me to do it alone—two heads to a job, you know, isn't always a good arrangement; but you've got a pretty mean berth here. It'll take years for you to get a rise, and you're wasting your youth and health shut up with this filthy gang of men. This job of mine would push you right along, and you'll get others like it. Better come."
Swan reflected. His work was the only thing on earth that he cared for, and to progress in his work, to keep putting through more and more difficult jobs, was what he had always aimed to do. But had he a right to take advantage of Pilchard's generosity? He glanced around the room, conscious of the incessant chattering of the different parts of the engine, which he must keep going in order to turn out the produce of a great city factory. He was no more here than one of the many parts of that engine, and if some day he should be absorbed into the midst of those whirring wheels and ground up like corn, who would ever be the wiser?
So he went.
* * * * *
"Had a letter from the company today," Pilchard observed, suddenly.
"They're going to send a fellow down from Frisco on the steamer that touches on the 25th. Everything plays into their hands. Steamer reaches here the day the contract expires."
"Well, that's all right."
"They request that I meet the fellow and show him around."
"That's easy, too."
Pilchard breathed smoke through his nose in his self-possessed way, and said nothing more, until Swan suddenly broke out:
"Well, I for one won't be sorry to get out of this hole. I'll get the job done, of course, but we've just had a terrible setback. I think Peele's dying."
"I came away from him only half an hour ago. He may last through the night, but I doubt it. Anyhow, if he lives or dies, we're devilish pressed for time. I'm beginning to think we'll have to work at night, too."
"There's a full moon. Here she comes now." Swan looked at the full moon, which, as the darkness increased, grew in radiance.
Pilchard breathed more smoke through his nose, then said with a sigh: "That's hard luck, Swan. I'm sorry."
"And yet it's a lucky thing that you're as strong as you are. It's a lucky thing you haven't got the responsibilities at home that I have."
"I don't see what you mean."
"Why, you know I'm engaged! I'm as good as married. That poor girl's got everything ready for the wedding. You met her that day last year you came up to Maine before we left New York."
"Yes, I met her."
"And you remember how much she thought of me?" Pilchard spoke slowly. It was impossible to tell why he did so. Was it because he did not care to discuss the woman he loved with an outsider like Swan, or was it because he was going on tiptoe, because he wondered what he must say next, because he was waiting, hoping that something unexpected would develop?
Swan, however, dropped the question of Pilchard's marriage.
"You mean, I suppose, that you won't work at night."
"I can't. I'm not well enough."
Swan grunted and sighed and stretched all his limbs, shaking his great shoulders as if he were trying to shake out the ague. Then he cleared his throat again and turned to Pilchard.
"See here, Pilchard, it's time we came to some understanding."
"Understanding?" Pilchard queried in a surprised voice.
"Yes, about this job. About the pay—m—not so much the pay as the credit. This job ought to give a man a name. It's been a big piece of engineering and devilish hard work to put it through. I've planned the whole thing and watched every stroke of what's been done, and I deserve at least half the credit, if not all."
Swan spoke in a brutal, masterful way. Perhaps he realized as he did so how completely the acknowledgment of his services depended on Pilchard's generosity. Pilchard alone had signed the contract, and Swan's existence was no more to the company than the existence of the other workmen. Moreover, the eleven mechanics they had brought down had all been carried off by fever, and there was no one else who, in case of necessity, could testify to the splendid work Swan had done, practically alone. All this was in Pilchard's mind as well as Swan's, and all this suddenly showed Pilchard how completely Swan was in his power. He must play a careful game.
"Why, what the devil do you mean?" he asked, speaking rather angrily.
"What do I mean? I mean that this is all too unbusinesslike. It's too vague. I'm risking my life to put this business through, and I want to get what I deserve. It's the biggest thing I've ever done, and I won't do it for nothing."
"For nothing? Man alive, you're almost accusing me of dishonesty! I told you when we started out that I'd give you half the pay. If I'd ever supposed you didn't trust my word I'd have had it drawn up on paper. And as for the credit, you deserve it all, and you'll get it all ... and that's all."
Pilchard ended with a self-conscious laugh, and got up to go indoors and take a few drinks before he went to bed. He stood for a moment, uncertainly, before Swan, wondering with a strange distrust, which lately had been growing upon him, what Swan really thought. Swan was so silent and reserved, and he worked with such unflinching constancy, that Pilchard often felt as if he too must be developing some plan. It was fortunate, he told himself, that there were only ten days more. His nerves could not have held out much longer; but after he had filled himself with several drinks and was sitting in gauzy pajamas beside an open window, things began to look brighter. Ten days might develop unheard-of things. To work all night on the borders of a swamp in this rainy season, which is almost certain death for a white man—Pilchard closed his eyes and peacefully slept....
Swan continued to sit on the bench, and throwing back his head, looked at the sky. A full moon swung above him, huge and tropical and red, seeming to garnish the black depths that lay behind it and that great black mouth that opened immeasurably into the west. All his actual surroundings faded away, and, as is often the case with men at these moments, he thought of a woman that he had seen once and had never forgotten.
That cool summer day just a year ago that he had spent on the coast of Maine, whither he had gone to see Pilchard about some final arrangements for their journey to Mexico—Pilchard had introduced him to the girl he was going to marry, and it had somehow happened that he and she had taken a short walk together along a cliff where some pines were growing, and which looked forlornly enough across the solitary ocean. Nothing but the most commonplace words had passed between them; they had talked of Pilchard and his enterprise, and had stopped to look at the view, and had gazed out over the rolling waves. He had scarcely dared look at his companion, but once he had helped her over some rocks, and he remembered that her foot had slipped, and for an instant her body had swayed against his. He remembered, too, that she had pale cheeks and dreamy eyes, and a slim hand laden with rings that held back her skirts. This slight experience had made a changed man of him. New senses existed for him, new hopes for the future that turned him dizzy, a splendid and deeper insight into life. The sordid realities of his life no longer claimed all his thoughts; they were beautified by rare and exquisite dreams, and by repetitions of that strange welling of hope and despair which had come to him in the grimy engine-room. After all, there were things in the world other than engines and boilers and steel tracks; there were plenty of uses for him besides calculating and experimenting and bossing a lot of filthy men. He, too, could serve and wait and hope and ... die!
* * * * *
Swan spent the remainder of that night with Peele, and as the sick man was still alive at sunrise, and Swan was obliged to oversee the men, he swallowed some coffee and went off, leaving Pilchard in charge. About noon Pilchard came out to him with a white face.
"What's the matter?" Swan asked, full of apprehension.
"Peele died before you'd been gone an hour."
"We must see to having him buried at once."
"He's underground already."
"Where we'll all be if we stay much longer."
"Where I feel as if I ought to be," Pilchard groaned.
"What d'ye mean?"
"I mean that I'm about ready to give up. If it wasn't for you I would give up. I'm as weak as water. I just saw Peele die, and that finished me. Ugh! It was awful!"
And Pilchard, who certainly was pale, drew a flask from his pocket and took a long drink. He seemed to drink to his own weakness. He seemed to glory in the fact that he had given up, and that he knew Swan never would.
Swan realized this and looked wearily across the swamp they had just covered. It was all his work. A narrow mound of solid earth ran back as far as eye could reach, and on it two shining steel rails glittered in the blazing sun. On either side lay wet, poisonous ground covered with deadly growths and exuding fearful odors and devitalizing forces which even the heat could not dissipate. In that noonday light which burned and burned and made no impression on the moisture, Swan's face was wilted like a white flower which is dead and turning yellow. His eyes, too, were like things once living and now dead. The muscles around his mouth twitched like electric wire.
"It isn't possible for me to finish it alone," he told himself. He knew that he could finish the job by working both night and day, but could he stand the strain? Had he, after all, a stronger physique than any other white man had ever had before? He leaned far back as if he were trying to fold himself up, and then bent forward in the same manner, trying, with a desperation like death, to relieve the weakness that was numbing his limbs. He suddenly felt dizzy as he looked at the hot distance where some big leaves were waving—dizzy as he knew that he must fail.
"By God!" he exclaimed, striking the pile of dirt. "By God! I'll do it!"
Pilchard put on his hat and smiled. He had been waiting for this. "If you say you will, I bet you will!" he told Swan. "That's why you'll always come out ahead." As he said this he looked intently at Swan, who was still sitting on the pile of dirt. He noticed for the first time the peculiar look in his eyes and the trembling of his whole body.
Swan sat silent. He saw the dark perspiring bodies of the Indians who were laying ties, and his lifelong ambition to be a great engineer suddenly presented itself to him in the old strong unemotional way.
"For science is a cruel mistress. She exacts her yearly tribute of flesh and blood like the dragons of ancient pagan mythology."
This had been said by an eminent scientist who had addressed his graduating class. Swan had heard it then and remembered it now. He clearly remembered that hot June morning ten years ago. Some young maple leaves had made a lovely pattern on the blue northern sky outside the uncurtained windows of the lecture-hall. He remembered that he had looked through the window and vowed that he would never give up.
He organized two bands of men, one to work by moonlight and one by sunlight; but it was necessary for him to overlook them both, day and night, so it happened that there were just two hours in the twenty-four when he could find any rest. This was when the daily tropical storm broke, late in the afternoon, and all the workmen scampered for shelter. Swan crawled into a shanty the men had put up to hold their tools, and wrapping himself in a blanket, slept until the storm was over. That is to say, for three or four times he slept, but gradually he found it impossible to get any rest, and nobody knew the agonies he endured fighting off the fever, which he felt had marked him for its own. He never looked forward longer than twelve hours, thinking always that the next day would decide his fate, and the next day never did. "If I can keep it off till to-morrow, I guess it won't come back," he repeated, mechanically, standing in the moonlight and dosing himself and bossing the men. But in the morning there was never any abatement in those deadly symptoms which told him that the period of incubation would soon be over; and it almost seemed to him as if his cruel mistress was saving him in some miraculous way to complete her work, for it was not until the evening of the ninth day, when the railroad was finished and the last man paid off, that his temperature rose to fever-heat, his pulse quickened, and his tongue became congested, and this demon of the tropical swamp claimed him for its own.
Early on the morning of the 25th, a Pacific mail-steamer touched at the little port of Zacatula, and a man was put off who came down from San Francisco to do business for the company in the event of the railroad not being completed. He was greatly astonished when Pilchard showed him that the last day's work had been done.
"Then," said the agent, mopping his perspiring bald head, "we may say that you've carried out the contract to the letter, to the very minute. You say you only paid off the men last night?"
"Yes," answered Pilchard, with his engaging smile, and casting a possessive glance down the front of his white trousers. "And it was an awful rush to get the job done." But in spite of Pilchard's sleek figure and social smile, he looked pale that morning. The hot sunlight that bathed the end of the dock met no responsive glow in his cheeks.
The agent hung his handkerchief over the top of a post to dry it, and looked more closely at his companion. "Anything the matter?" he asked, kindly. "You certainly haven't lost anything on the job?"
"No—no." Pilchard brought out that ever-ready smile that was so delightful. "But it's about time to go home. This is a terrible climate. We've lost every white man that came down, eleven all told, except myself and—and—one other, who's dying over in that shed now. Maybe—maybe—he's dead—" Pilchard jerked with his thumb towards a shanty just where the docks joined the land....
* * * * *
In this rude shanty, knocked together by the workmen to hold their tools, on a heap of sacks and blankets, Swan lay as he had dropped the night before. Pilchard had found him there, and the full moon coming in at the wide opening had revealed a fearful sight—Swan in the throes of terrific fever, his face scarlet, his eyes ferrety and congested, and his swollen tongue lolling between his lips. When he saw Pilchard he asked in a strange voice for water. Pilchard brought him some and felt his forehead. It seemed on fire.
"Pilchard," began Swan, in a deliberate voice, as if he were trying to fight off the delirium, "the swamp got into me, after all. I've taken the fever."
Pilchard, appalled by the terrible sight before him, and the things it suggested, which he could not help but see, leaned against the rude wall, and for once his self-possession deserted him. "Swan," he faltered, "Swan—for God's sake—"
"Hush," Swan interposed, in that same deliberate voice. "Don't lose your head. I'm keeping mine. Am I talking sense?"
"Yes, yes, Swan. Perfectly correctly."
"Then I'll tell you what to do." Swan spoke more and more slowly as the fire mounted to his brain and besieged it. "There's every symptom of fever. You can't deny that."
"Symptoms, Swan? I don't see any. You're worn out, poor fellow. That's all."
"Then what's this?" Swan opened his mouth and showed his scarlet tongue. "And this?" He tore open the breast of his shirt and showed the congested condition of his skin. "But I'll fight death as I fought the fever! I'm not going to die. There's too much for me to do in the world! I'll be a great engineer. I'll make her proud. I vowed it when we looked out over the waves and I wanted to take her in my arms. See here!" and suddenly seizing a pickaxe from the ground beside him, he swung it around his head and sent it whizzing past Pilchard's ear, out through the opening of the shanty. "I've got my muscle and I've got my brain and I'll keep my life. I deserve to live. I deserve it as payment for putting the job through. I'll keep my wife here, too, here in the engine-room, with the pines behind us, and I can look after the men then. Who's that leaning against the wall? Pilchard? Poor fool! Why did you boast you were the only man who had ever loved a woman?"
"Me boast! Heaven forbid," faltered Pilchard.
"Then," shouted Swan, suddenly sitting up and striking out with both arms, "take these things away. All these little black things that are pouring over me. It's a regular shower. It must be a whole city. No! No! They're sparks! They're fire! They burn! They burn! Take the wheels away from me! They're grinding me like corn—oh, Lord! it's heavy, it's heavy! There, there! It crushes me! Now, now it's over. This is—death—" And he sank back, oppressed by a sudden, and overwhelming load of oblivion.
Swan grew worse toward morning, and though the disease had only attacked him at sunset the night before, so rapid and terrible were its onslaughts that by the time the sun rose a complete physical collapse had occurred. His pulse had fallen below normal, and his skin assumed a strange yellow hue, the color of a lemon, and in these signs and the constant hiccough which convulsed the death-stricken frame Pilchard guessed properly what the termination must be. The end would come easily. Swan had ceased to suffer.
When light crept gray and silent into the shanty, Pilchard stood and looked at Swan's prostrate form. No sound came to them but the gentle lapping of the waves. Sober as a dove Day hovered in the sky, and that solemn change which is Death was somewhere near, hiding and waiting; and Pilchard and Death and the breaking Day were for one second alone. And Pilchard was overwhelmed with terror. Some spectre had seized him, and he could not shake it off. He looked once more at the dying man, at his closed eyes and his still body, momentarily convulsed by the final signs of life, like a great piece of machinery when the steam power is gradually running down. Then he turned and broke away, to take a bath and to take a drink and then go to meet the steamer from San Francisco....
* * * * *
"Eleven? You don't say. Fever, I suppose?"
"Yes. We tackled three swamps on our way down from Mexico."
"That so? Well, it's worth some sacrifice. It's a good job. I wouldn't 'a' undertaken it myself."
"I wouldn't do it again."
They walked down the dock....
Swan opened his eyes and looked through the wide opening of the shanty out to where the blazing sun struck the hot water of the little harbor. He hardly remembered where he was. Oh yes! He must get up and go down-town. In a minute, when he was fully awake. And he closed his eyes again and heard the accustomed whir of machinery, and knew that he was in the engine-room. One of the workmen needed to be spoken to; he was the filthiest of the lot, and Swan was the only man who could control him. Suddenly Swan opened his eyes again and saw that this same workman had entered the shanty and was standing beside him. He instantly recognized the man's greasy black shirt.
"For science is a cruel mistress," the man said. "She exacts her yearly tribute of flesh and blood."
But, singularly enough, these words meant something entirely different. Swan looked curiously at the workman and saw that he too was really somebody else. The man smiled and, leaning over, gently raised him up, and for the first time in his life Swan felt himself encircled by a woman's arms, and he tasted a strange, delicious joy awakening deep within him that knowledge of reciprocal love which slumbers in the heart of every man.
"And you did it all for me," she said.
"Did what?" he asked her.
"Built the road?"
"Yes," he whispered, closing his eyes again, filled with this new strange joy.
"And now we'll go home together to the North, where the maple leaves make a lovely pattern against the blue sky."
He knew nothing for a minute, and then she spoke again:
"Well, it's a good job. I'll see that you get pushed along. The company 'll have plenty more work; big pay, too. This business has made your name. You're a wonderful fellow! You say you worked night as well as day?"
"For eight days, yes."
It was Pilchard's voice. He was talking to another man. They were leaning heavily against the rough wall of Swan's shanty. A horrible sensation came over the sick man, that sensation experienced by men who emerge from some unnatural mental condition, who are recalled by one sentence, often by one word, which acts like a key and opens again to their terrified vision the horrible realities of actual life. Swan raised his arms to bring that woman's face close to his, but he could not find it. He opened his eyes, and tears of weakness watered his cheeks. He was alone in the hovel knocked together by the men to hold their tools, and the work for which he had given his life was being claimed outside by another man....
The agent leaned against the side of the shanty, gazing reflectively at his steamer, which was anchored half a mile from shore. "I'm going clear round to New York. You'd better get aboard and come with me," he proposed to Pilchard, to whom he had taken a fancy. "Good Lord!" he suddenly shouted, leaping forward. "Is this the shed where you said a workman was dying of fever? Let's get out quick or we'll take the infection."
But Pilchard, pale as death, put up a warning hand. "Yes, let's clear out—let's get to sea before I go crazy! But—but—don't speak so loud. He may hear!"
He had heard every word. His faculties, numb with death, sprang instantly into life. He leaped to his feet and left the shanty, momentarily endowed with his full strength, and facing the two men, spoke three times: "My work! My work! My work!" His eyes were on Pilchard all the time, and that look pierced like a sword; it penetrated to the very foundations of his being....
* * * * *
Pilchard caught the body as it fell and lowered it to the ground, and then looked at the agent with a scared face to see how much he knew. The agent had leaped still farther away, and now was crouching, livid with fear, before this man whose last words had been words of delirium. No, he knew nothing. Pilchard alone knew the extent of his own deceit, which dead lips could never disclose. He alone knew of that half-formed idea he had not dared to mature, which had come to him a year ago when he looked at Swan's resolute face in the engine-room; and he alone in all the world could ever know of the terror which had possessed him at daybreak in the shanty when he had turned in a panic and run away—from what? ...
A MATTER OF RIVALRY
BY OCTAVE THANET
It was the fifth afternoon of St. Kunagunda's fair. An interlude of semi-rest had come between the clearing up last night's debris of crowd and traffic, which had filled the morning, and the renewed crowd and traffic that would come with the lamps. The tired elderly women in charge of the supper had sunk into chairs before their clean linen and dazzling white stone-china dishes and fresh bunches of lilacs. The pretty young girls at the "fancy table" were laughing and prattling rather loudly with two amiable young men who had been tacking home-made lace handkerchiefs and embroidered "art centres" in the vacant spaces left on the pink cambric wall by the departure of last night's purchases. A comely matron kept guard simultaneously over the useful but not perilously alluring wares of the "household table" and the adjacent temptations of the flower-stand and the candy-booth. The last was indeed fair to see, having a magnificent pyramid of pop-corn balls and entrancing heaps of bright-colored home-made French candy; and round and round its delights prowled a chubby and wistful boy, with hands in his penniless pockets, waiting for the chancellor of the exchequer.
Across the hall, the walls whereof were lavishly decked with red, white, and blue festoons of cambric, and had the green and gold of Erin's flag intertwined with the yellow and black of Germany, stood a table which had been the centre of interest for four nights, but which now was entirely deserted. There was no glory of color or pomp of bedizenment about it; nothing more taking to the eye than a ballot-box and a small show-case (the contents of the latter draped in newspapers at the present) and a neatly lettered sign above a blackboard, to one side. The sign simply demanded, "Vote Here!" The blackboard in less trim script announced that "For most popular business man" Mr. Timothy G. Finnerty had 305 votes, and three or four other candidates so few that there was no interest in deciphering the chalk figures; and that "For most popular young lady" Miss Norah Murray had 842 votes, and Miss Freda Berglund had 603. At intervals some one of the score of people in the hall would saunter up to the show-case or to the blackboard, to peer into the one or to study the figures on the other—although, really, there was no one in the hall who did not know every line on the board, and who had not seen both the gold watch and the gold-headed cane of the show-case. Two women came from different quarters of the room at the same instant to look at the blackboard. One was a comely dame in a silken gown that rustled and glittered with jet. She had just entered the hall, and was a little flushed with the climb up the stairs. The other was a stunted, wiry little Irish woman in black weeds of ancient make. She caught sight of the one in silk attire and paused. The first-comer also paused. Her color deepened; her head erected itself more proudly on her shoulders. Then she continued her progress, halting, with a dignified and elegant air, before the blackboard. The little Irish woman tossed her own head and appeared about to follow; however, her intention changed at a few words from the guardian of the apron table. She inclined her head, and with a glance of scorn at the silken back passed on over to the aprons and quilts.
The matrons at the supper-table had viewed the incident with interest. A little sigh of relief or regret rippled about the board.
"'Tis a great pity, that's sure," said one.
"I was there when they had the words," said another. "Mrs. Conner was saying this voting business was all wrong—"
"Well, sure she ain't far out of the way, with this time," interjected a voice; "bad blood more'n in this instance it's raised; the whole town's taking sides on it, and there was two fights yesterday. Why didn't they jest raffle the watch off decent and peaceable?"
"There's some objects to raffling."
"There's some objects to drinking tea an' coffee, they're so bigoted! In a raffle there's nobody pays more'n their quarter, or maybe a dollar or two—"
"And that's it. Look at the power o' money we're gettin', Mrs. O'Brien dear! We'd niver 'a' got nigh on to four hundred dollars for a gold watch rafflin'; and well you know it!"
"Maybe," agreed Mrs. O'Brien, grimly, "but neither would we have got fightin' out of the church and fightin' in it; nor Pat Barnes be having his head broke. 'Twas hurted awful bad he was. His own mother told me; and she said Fritz Miller was sick in bed from it; Pat paid him well for talkin' down ould Ireland; and poor Terry Flanagin, he lost his job at the saw-mill for maddin' the boss that's Dutch, and infidel Dutch at that; and there's quarrels on ivery side, God forgive 'em! They talk of it at the stores, and they talk of it at the saloon, where they do be going too often to talk it; and 'tis a shame an' a disgrace, down to that saloon the dirty Dutchman—"
"Whisht!" three or four mouths puckered in warning, and Mrs. O'Brien caught the smouldering gaze of a flaxen-haired woman in very full black skirts and black basque of an antique cut, who had but now approached the group; with her race's nimbleness of wit she added, "Sure there's dirty Germans and there's dirty Irish."
"Dere is," agreed the new-comer, with displeasing alacrity, "und some is in dis parish und dis sodality. I vas seen dem viping dishes mit a newsbaber. Dot's so. Yesterday night."
An electric thrill ran through the circle, and two matrons, suddenly very red, answered at once:
"Would you have us wipe them on our handkerchiefs? The towels were all gone!"
"'Twas the awful crowd did it; an' 'twas only some saucers for the ice-cream."
Mrs. O'Brien waved her hands, very clean, not very shapely, and worn by many an honest day's toil, persuading and pleading for peace at once. "Sure," says she, "if you'd wurrk at fairs you'd know that you can't be doing things like you'd do them at home; and 'twas only for a minit they wiped the saucers with the paper napkins, clean tishy-paper napkins, Mrs. Orendorf; 'twas only two or three saucers got wiped with the newspaper, because the napkins was give out and they was shrieking and clamoring for saucers; and they're terrible, them young girls! waving their hands and jumpin' an' squealin'. 'Me first, Mrs. O'Brien!' 'It's my turn, Mrs. O'Brien!' 'Oh, Mrs. O'Brien, wait on me. I've got six people haven't had a bite in half an hour; and they're so cross!' Till your mind's goin'! No doubt we're makin' money, but I'm for a smaller crowd an' more good falein'."
"It's for der voting dey kooms," grumbled the German woman, only half pacified. "Dot vas bad mistake haf dot votin'. Vot vas dot dirty Deutchman you call him do dot make you so mad?"
"Oh, it wasn't so much"—Mrs. O'Brien was still bent on peace—"he jist telephoned to the next door an' got the returns, as he called them, and had 'em posted up in his saloon. An' if they was daughters of mine—I 'ain't got anny daughters, praise God! for since I seen the way these waiters go on, I'm misdoubtin' I niver could manage thim—but if they was daughters of mine, 'twould be the sorry day for me whin they'd their names posted up in a saloon!"
"Meine fader in der old country kept a saloon," said the German woman, with extreme dryness of accent, "und does you mean to say vun vurd against Freda Berglund?"
"No, indade," cried Mrs. O'Brien.
"And do you mean to say one word against Norah Murray?" a bolder partisan on the Celtic side struck in, with a determined air. Three or four voices murmured assent.
The German stood her ground. "I nefer seen her till yesterday"—thus without committing direct assault on the Murray supporters she avoided concession; "all I know of her is dot she nefer haf dot gold vatch!"
"Then you know more than we do. Norah's ahead, and she'll be more ahead this evening," retorted a Murray voter; "there's plenty more money to spend for old Ireland—ain't there, ladies?"
"Whisht!" called the peace-maker, in her turn. "Ain't it easy to see how Mrs. Conner and Mrs. Finn come to words and hard falein' when we're nigh that same ourselves, we that determined to kape out of the worry? They are both awful nice, pretty young ladies, and I'm sorry such a question come up between them; and 'tis dreadful, O'Brien says, the way the young men was spinding their money for Norah last night. Sure, an' it is that. 'Tis all a bad thing; I think that like Mrs. Conner."
Mrs. Orendorf was unable to adjust her mental view to the varying argument; she cast a sullen and puzzled eye on the amiable Irish woman, and said, grimly:
"It isn't joost yoong mans vot kan spend money. Freda don't have got no yoong mans, 'cause her Schatz vent to der var und die py der fever in Florida—"
"Sure he did that!" cried Mrs. O'Brien, "an' 'twas a fine man an' a fine carpenter he was. Aw, the poor girl! I mind how she looked the day Company E marched out of town, him turnin' his eyes up sidewises, an' her white as paper but a-smilin'!"
"God pity her!" chimed in another matron, with the ready response to sympathy of the Celt. There was a little murmur of assent. Mrs. Orendorf's swelling crest fell a little; her tone was softer.
"But Freda got a fader, a goot man, too goot and kind; he say he vunt haf his dochter look down on like she don't got no friends. He go and mortgage his farm, und he got drie—tree hunterd dollar"—she tapped the sum off her palm with solemn deliberation—"und he svear he vill in der votin' all, all spend, an' sie git dot vatch. Ach Himmel! er ist verruckt! He say he got his pension and he got der insure on his life, und he 'ain't got nobody 'cept Freda, und he vunt haf Freda look down on. Und sie don't know. Mans don't can talk mit him; he git mad. He git mad at me 'cause I talk. Dot's vat der fine votin' do!"
A little gasp from the audience meant more than agreement; their eyes ran to Mrs. O'Brien, who faced the German and could see what they saw; then back of Mrs. Orendorf to the crimson face of a young girl. Mutely they signalled consternation.
But the young girl did not speak; she walked away quickly, not turning her head as she passed the voting-booth. She was a pretty girl, with fresh skin, the whiter and fresher against her abundant silky black hair and black-lashed violet eyes. She carried her dainty head a little haughtily, but her soft eyes had a wistful sweetness. Her big flowered hat and her white gown, brightened by blue ribbons, were as fresh as her skin and became her rich beauty. She walked with the natural light grace often seen in girls of her race, whatever their class. No one could watch the winsome little figure pass and not feel the charm of youth and frank innocence and immeasurable hopes. More than one pair of elderly eyes that had seen the glory and freshness of the dream fade followed it kindly and with a pensive pride.
"Ain't she pretty and slim!" sighed a stout lady in silk (Mrs. Conner, the most important supporter of the parish, no less), "and think of me having a waist as little as hers when I was married! But I wish she hadn't let them drag her into this voting business, for it has caused trouble."
"Norah's as good and sweet's she's pretty," another elderly woman replied. "Just to think of that young thing supporting her mother and educating her brother for a priest with only those pretty little hands! But she won't be doing it long if the boys can one of them get their way. And what will we do for a dress-maker then? We never did have such a stylish one!"
"That's so," Mrs. Conner agreed, cordially; "she's the only one I ever went to didn't make me look fleshier than I am. But I say it is all the more shame to make that innocent young creature talked about and fought over, and have jokes made in the saloon and at the stores, and quarrels outside the parish and in it, too."
"I guess it has gone farther than we thought," said the other. "Look! there's Father Kelly and the Vicar-General; they're looking at the blackboard. I wish I could hear what they are saying."
Norah, indeed, was the only person who did not look at the two quiet gentlemen before the blackboard, curiously, and wonder the same, since the voting-booth had become a firebrand menacing the peace of the parish. Norah was too busy with her own thoughts even to see them; she only wanted to get past her wellwishers and be alone with her perplexities. If she did not see her spiritual guides, they saw her, and Father Kelly's tired face brightened. "You really can't blame the boys," he said, smiling; "and she's as good a daughter and sister, and as good a girl, too, as ever stepped."
The Vicar-General smiled faintly, but his eyes were absent. The parish at Clover Hill was the newest in the diocese—a feeble folk struggling to build a church, or rather help build it, and holding its first bazar. There were no rich people of their faith—unless one except the Conners, who owned the saw-mill and were well-to-do—not even many poor to club their mites; more disheartening yet, the parish roll held about an equal proportion of Irish and German names. The Vicar-General and the Bishop shook their heads at the yoking of the two races; but there was no church nearer than Father Kelly's, five miles away, and Father Kelly was not young, and his own great parish growing all the time; so the parish was made, and a young American priest, who had more sense than always goes with burning enthusiasm, was sent to guide the souls at Clover Hill and keep the peace. He kept it until the fair, when in an evil hour he consented to the voting-booth. He expected—they all expected—that the excitement would focus on the gold-headed cane, and that Mr. Michael Conner would lead the poll, although the popular Finnerty might give him a pretty race for his honors; the gold watch was but an incidental attraction to please the young people and attract outsiders; nor was there any suggestion of names. Alas! Michael Conner, a blunt man, dubbed the voting scheme a "d—- weather-breeder," and would not give the use of his name; hence there was a walkaway for Finnerty; and somehow, before any of the elders quite realized how it began, the Irish girl and the German girl were unconsciously setting the whole town by the ears, and imported voters from Father Kelly's were joyously mixing in the fight.
"There's no question about the need of stopping it," said the Vicar-General, continuing his own train of thought aloud, "but how are we to do it? The feeling is a perfect dynamite factory now, and the least stumble on our part will bring an explosion. If we tried to give them the money back—and you know women have a tight grip on money —we shouldn't know where to give it. Positively we're like the family of the poor fellow who had the fit—one doctor said it would kill him to bring him to his senses, and the other said he would die if they didn't!"
"And Father Martin safe in his bed with pneumonia!" groaned Father Kelly.
Norah had found her progress barred by new-comers, and she had fled back to avoid them. Her cheeks reddened again, and the tears burned her eyelids; she went past too fast for more than a hurried salutation, at which Father Kelly shook his head. "That's the girl, isn't it?" said the Vicar-General. "I'm afraid the situation is a little too much for her, too; she looks excited."
"Not a bit, not a bit," cried Father Kelly, undaunted; "she's a bit impulsive, but she's got good sense."
"She wears too much jewelry."
Norah did not hear this; she was out of the hall, speeding back to Mrs. Conner's gown that awaited her finishing touches. Her mother, a little creature with sweet temper that made amends for an entire lack of energy, was rocking over some bastings, sawing the air with her forefinger as she discoursed on the weighty splendor of the gold watch and chain, ending in gush of parental complacency, "And Norah says it'll be as much mine 's hers!"
Norah could hear her chirping on, happily, while she laid away her hat in the bandbox and girt herself with a protecting apron.
The talk turned her cold. "It ain't only for myself I want it," she declared to an invisible suggester, "though I do want something real. I never had a real gold chain, or even a real gold breastpin, in my life—or a ring. Oh, I did want one!" She looked scornfully at the gay prism gleaming from her pretty fingers (fingers as daintily kept as any lady's); they had flashed like rubies and sapphires and diamonds from the white velvet drifts of the show-case in the great department store where she bought them when she went to the city; but now they were cheapened and dimmed by her memories of the "real" watch. She peeled them roughly from her hands.
She had no morsel of news ready for the hungry ears awaiting her. To her mother's questions she answered briefly that the only thing she heard was that Freda Berglund would have a great number of new votes in the evening.
Mrs. Murray tossed back a confident: "Let her! I know some boys that's going to go this night, with a hundred dollars in their pockets each of 'em. Let her bring on her votes, I say. It's a good cause gits the money. But it's you'll be wearin' the watch next Sunday, and not Freda Berglund!"
Norah bit her lip. She was not used to silence, but she sewed silently (Norah, who was so sweet-tempered that she had been known to work a whole day with a machine that skipped stitches, never getting cross, and stopping four times to wrestle with the bobbin before she subdued it). Her mother did not know what to make of her. Her own nickering complaints of Norah's "glumness" sank into dumb anxiety. She stole timid glances at the bowed black head and the frowning black brows; after a glance she would sigh, a prolonged, patient sigh. There are times when a sigh is to strained nerves like a blast of hot air on a burn. Norah jumped up and ran away from her own irritation before it exploded. She made a pretext of looking at her skirt (which was new) in the parlor cheval-glass; but in the parlor, behind the door, she did not give a glance to the picture in the mirror. The "pire glass," as Mrs. Murray called it, was a relic of the family's better days when Norah's father was alive and kept a grocery-store and owned a horse and wagon; its florid frame of black-walnut etched with gilt, its tall mirror, very little marred by water-spots on the back, long had been reverently admired by Norah; it showed that the family had "had things"; but she passed it without a glance, just as she passed the cabinet organ decked in flowered plush which she had bought with her own savings. Never until that day had she stood in the parlor without a sensation of pleasure over its fresh paint and paper and the many gilt frames on the wall; but to-day she went, unnoting, to the crayon picture of a man, and looked through tears at a plain, smiling, kindly face.
"I wish you hadn't died," was all she said; but the tears rolled down her cheeks and her frame shook with sobs that she forced to be noiseless. At last she dried her wet cheeks and tossed her head. "I don't see that I need do anything," she muttered, while she hurried round the house outside, in order that she might reach the bedroom and efface the traces of her weeping. "I'm a great fool to think of doing anything," she declared. "I didn't put myself up, and I won't put myself down—and disappoint mother and all my friends. It's none of my business." Therewith she assumed a light and cheerful air, which she carried securely through the remainder of the afternoon.
* * * * *
The fifth evening of St. Kunagunda's fair opened with a stifling crowd. Protestants, Catholics, and Germans who never had seen the interior of an American church jostled the buyers at the booths, and the faithful dutifully ate turkey and cold rolls for the fifth time at the supper-tables. The outsiders did not linger at the booths; they were come to vote or to witness the voting, and their jests and comments buzzed noisily above the talk. Every moment the note of the buzz grew more hostile. More than a few ears were tingling; at every turn there were scowls and sullen eyes and ugly smiles. The matrons' cheeks were burning; their eyes flashed; every now and again one of their voices shrilled defiantly above the hoarse hum of the crowd. The young Irish girls were laughing, enjoying the excitement, and admiring the young men flaunting their banknotes with the swing of their father's shillalahs. The young German girls curled their lips and whispered together. There was a significant herding of the contending races apart, while the visiting Anglo-Saxons wore an air of safe and dispassionate enjoyment, such as pertains of right to the boy on the fence waiting for the fight.
Norah Murray had a circle of young men about her, who laughed rapturously at her sallies. She wore her chain and a new rhinestone brooch and all her rings. She looked very handsome with her flushed cheeks and bright eyes. She raised her voice to be heard above the din. Mrs. Murray's new bonnet nodded its red roses and black ostrich tips among the lace handkerchiefs and embroidery of the fancy table—she being enthroned on the step-ladder for lack of other seat—and her delighted eyes ran from her daughter to the voting blackboard. She waved a spangled fan and smiled buoyantly at every familiar face, whether turned towards her in recognition or not. Mrs. O'Brien, who had slipped away from the kitchen to be sure the lamps were not smoking, stopped a moment beside her. Mrs. O'Brien looked tired and worried when she let her own smile of greeting slip from her face. A tinge of the same expression was on Father Kelly's kind old countenance, but the Vicar-General's features were as inscrutable as a doctor's. He had made a genial procession through the room, distributing the merited praise at each booth, and appreciably softening the atmosphere by his presence. He halted opposite Norah's party. Father Kelly's gaze grew anxious. "I mind me," said he—"I mind me of the child when her father died—not six she was—holding her mother's hand, not weeping herself, the creature, just stroking her mother's hand and petting her; and holding the baby, the one that's off to the seminary now. Her father was an honest man. He failed once, and then paid every dollar with interest—an honest man. I mind me of little Norah at her first communion—"
The Vicar-General smiled. "Kelly, you're a good fellow," said he, not removing his glance from Norah's excited face.