"Hoh I feel so good!" Peaches stretched like a kitten. "Mickey, bet I can walk 'fore long if you do that often! Mickey, I just love you, an' love you. Mickey, say that at the door over again."
"What?" queried Mickey.
"'One't a little kid named Lily,'" prompted Peaches.
Mickey laughed and obeyed.
Neatly he put away all that had been supplied him; before lighting the burner he gave Lily a drink of milk and tried arranging both pillows to prop her up as he had been shown. When the water boiled he dropped in two bouillon cubes the nurse had given him, and set out some crackers he had bought. He put the milk in two cups, and when he cut the bread, he carefully collected every crumb, putting it on the sill in the hope that a bird might come. The thieving sparrows, used to watching windows and stealing from stores set out to cool, were soon there. Peaches, to whom anything with feathers was a bird, was filled with joy. The odour of the broth was delicious. Mickey danced, turned handsprings, and made the funniest remarks. Then he fixed the bowl on a paper, broke the crackers in her broth, growing unspeakably happy at her delight as she tasted it.
"Every Saturday you get a box of that from the Nurse Lady," he boasted. "Pretty soon you'll be so fat I can't carry you and so well you can have supper ready when I come, then we can——" Mickey stopped short. He had started to say, "go to the parks," but if other ladies were like the first one he had talked with, and if, as she said, the law would not let him keep Peaches, he had better not try to take her where people would see her.
"Can what?" asked Peaches.
"Have the most fun!" explained Mickey. "We can sit in the window to see the sky and birds; you can have the shears and cut pictures from the papers I'll bring you, while I'll read all my story books to you. I got three that She gave me for Christmas presents, so I could learn to read them——"
"Mickey could I ever learn to read them?"
"Sure!" cried Mickey. "Surest thing you know! You are awful smart, Lily. You can learn in no time, and then you can read while I'm gone, so it won't seem long. I'll teach you. Mother taught me. I can read the papers I sell. Honest I can. I often pick up torn ones I can bring to you. It's lots of fun to know what's going on. I sell many more by being able to tell what's in them than kids who can't read. I look all over the front page and make up a spiel on the cars. I always fold my papers neat and keep them clean. To-day it was like this: 'Here's your nice, clean, morning paper! Sterilized! Deodorized! Vulcanized!'"
"Mickey what does that mean?" asked Peaches.
"Now you see how it comes in!" said Mickey. "If you could read the papers, you'd know. 'Sterilized,' is what they do to the milk in hot weather to save the slum kids. That's us, Lily. 'Deodorized,' is taking the bad smell out of things. 'Vulcanized,' is something they do to stiffen things. I guess it's what your back needs."
"Is all them things done to the papers?" asked Peaches.
"Well, not all of them," laughed Mickey, "but they are starting in on some of them, and all would be a good thing. The other kids who can't read don't know those words, so I study them out and use them; it catches the crowd for they laugh, and then pay me for making them. See? This world down on the streets is in such a mix a laugh is the scarcest thing there is; so they pay for it. No grouchy, sad-cat-working-on-your-sympathy kid sells many. I can beat one with a laugh every inning."
"What's 'inning,' Mickey?" came the next question.
"Playin' a side at a ball game. Now Ty Cobb——"
"Go on with what you say about the papers," interrupted Peaches.
"All right!" said Mickey. "'Here's your nice, clean morning paper! Sterilized! Deodorized! Vulcanized! I like to sell them. You like to buy them! Sometimes I sell them! Sometimes I don't! Latest war news! Japan takes England! England takes France! France takes Germany! Germany takes Belgium! Belgium takes the cake! Here's your paper! Nice clean paper! Rush this way! Change your change for a paper! Yes, I like to sell them——' and on and on that way all day, 'til they're gone and every one I pick up and smooth out is gone, and if they're torn and dirty, I carry them back on the cars and sell them for pennies to the poor folks walking home."
"Mickey, will we be slum kids always?" she asked.
"Not on your tin type!" cried Mickey.
"If this is slum kids, I like it!" protested Peaches.
"Well, Sunrise Alley ain't so slummy as where you was, Lily," explained the boy.
"This is grand," said Peaches "Fine an' grand! No lady needn't have better!"
"She wouldn't say so," said Mickey. "But Lily, you got something most of the millyingaire ladies hasn't."
"What Mickey?" she asked interestedly.
"One man all to yourself, who will do what you want, if you ask pretty, and he ain't going to drag you 'round and make you do things you don't like to, and hit you, and swear at you, and get drunk. Gee, I bet the worst you ever had didn't hurt more than I've seen some of the swell dames hurt sometimes. It'd make you sick Lily."
"I guess 'at it would," said the girl, "'cause granny told me the same thing. Lots of times she said 'at she couldn't see so much in bein' rich if you had to be treated like she saw rich ladies. She said all they got out of it was nice dresses an' struttin' when their men wasn't 'round; nelse the money was theirn, an' nen they made the men pay. She said it was 'bout half and half."
"So 'tis!" cried Mickey. "Tell you Lily, don't let's ever be rich! Let's just have enough."
"Mickey, what is 'enough?'" asked Peaches.
"Why plenty, but not too much!" explained Mickey judicially. "Not enough to fight over! Just enough to be comfortable."
"Mickey, I'm comf'rable as nangel now."
"Gee, I'm glad, Lily," said Mickey in deep satisfaction. "Maybe He heard my S.O.S. after all, and you just being comfortable is the answer."
"Bearer of Morning"
"Douglas," called Leslie over the telephone, "I have developed nerves."
"Why?" inquired he.
"Dad has just come in with a pair of waist-high boots, and a scalping knife, I think," answered Leslie. "Are you going to bring a blanket and a war bonnet?"
"The blanket, I can; the bonnet, I might," said Douglas.
"How early will you be ready?" she asked.
"Whenever you say," he replied.
"Five?" she queried.
"Very well!" he answered. "And Leslie, I would suggest a sweater, short stout skirts, and heavy gloves. Do you know if you are susceptible to poison vines?"
"I have handled anything wild as I pleased all my life," she said. "I am sure there is no danger from that source; but Douglas, did you ever hear of, or see, a massasauga?"
"You are perfectly safe on that score," he said. "I am going along especially to take care of you."
"All right, then I won't be afraid of snakes," she said.
"I have waders, too," he said, "and I'm going into the swamp with you. Wherever you wish to go, I will precede you and test the footing."
"Very well! I have lingered on the borders long enough. To-morrow will be my initiation. By night I'll have learned the state of my artistic ability with natural resources, and I'll know whether the heart of the swamp is the loveliest sight I ever have seen, and I will have proved how I 'line up' with a squaw-woman."
"Leslie, I'm now reading a most interesting human document," said Douglas, "and in it I have reached the place where Indians in the heart of terrific winter killed and heaped up a pile of deer in early day in Minnesota, then went to camp rejoicing, while their squaws were left to walk twenty-eight miles and each carry back on her shoulder a deer frozen stiff. Leslie, you don't line up! You are not expected to."
"Do you believe that, Douglas?" asked the girl.
"It's history dear, not fiction," he answered.
"Douglas!" she warned.
"Leslie, I beg your pardon! That was a slip!" cried he.
"Oh!" she breathed.
"Leslie, will you do something for me?" he questioned.
"What?" she retorted.
"Listen with one ear, stop the other, and tell me what you hear," he ordered.
"Yes," she said.
"Did you hear, Leslie?" he asked anxiously.
"I heard something, I don't know what," she answered.
"Can you describe it, Leslie?"
"Just a rushing, beating sound! What is it Douglas?"
"My heart, Leslie, sending to you each throbbing stroke of my manhood pouring out its love for you."
"Oh-h-h!" cried the astonished girl.
"Will you listen again, Leslie?" begged the man.
"No!" she said.
"You don't want to hear what my heart has to say to you?" he asked.
"Not over a wire! Not so far away!" she panted.
"Then I'll shorten the distance. I'm coming, Leslie!"
"What shall I do?" she gasped. She stared around her, trying to decide whether she should follow her impulse to hide, when her father entered the room.
"Daddy," she cried, "if you want to be nice to me, go away a little while. Go somewhere a few minutes and stay until I call you."
"Leslie, what's the matter?" he asked.
"I've been talking to Douglas, and Daddy, he's coming like a charging Highland trooper. Daddy, I heard him drop the receiver and start. Please, please go away a minute. Even the dearest father in the world can't do anything now! We must settle this ourselves."
"I'm not to be allowed a word?" he protested.
"Daddy, you've had two years! If you know anything to say against Douglas and haven't said it in all that time, why should you begin now? You couldn't help knowing! Daddy, do go! There he is! I hear him!"
Mr. Winton took his daughter in his arms, kissed her tenderly, and left the room. A second later Douglas Bruce entered. Rushing to Leslie he caught her to his breast roughly, while with a strong hand he pressed her ear against his heart.
"Now you listen, my girl!" he cried. "You listen at close range."
Leslie remained quiet a long second. Then she lifted her face, adorable, misty eyed and tenderly smiling.
"Douglas, I never listened to a heart before! How do I know what it is saying? I can't tell whether it is talking about me or protesting against the way you've been rushing around!" "No levity, my lady," he said grimly. "This is serious business. You listen while I interpret. I love you, Leslie! Every beat, every stroke, love for you. I claim you! My mate! My wife! I want you!"
He held her from him, looking into her eyes.
"Now Leslie, the answer!" he cried. "May I listen to it or will you tell me? Is there any answer? What is your heart saying? May I hear or will you tell me?"
"I want to tell you!" said the girl. "I love you, Douglas! Every beat, every stroke, love for you."
Early the next morning they inspected their equipment carefully, then drove north to the tamarack swamp, where they arranged that Leslie and Douglas were to hunt material, while Mr. Winton and the driver went to the nearest Indian settlement to find the squaw who had made the other basket, and bring her to the swamp.
If you have experienced the same emotions you will know how Douglas and Leslie felt when hand in hand they entered the swamp on a perfect morning in late May. If you have not, mere words are inadequate.
Through fern and brake head high, through sumac, willow, elder, buttonbush, gold-yellow and blood-red osiers, past northern holly, over spongy moss carpet of palest silvery green up-piled for ages, over red- veined pitcher plants spilling their fullness, among scraggy, odorous tamaracks, beneath which cranberries and rosemary were blooming; through ethereal pale mists of dawn, in their ears lark songs of morning from the fields, hermit thrushes in the swamp, bell birds tolling molten notes, in a minor strain a swelling chorus of sparrows, titmice, warblers, vireos, went two strong, healthy young people newly promised for "better or worse." They could only look, stammer, flush, and utter broken exclamations, all about "better." They could not remotely conceive that life might serve them the cruel trick of "worse."
Leslie sank to her knees. Douglas lifted her up, set her on the firmest location he could see, adoring her with his eyes and reverent touch. Since that first rough grasp as he drew her to him, Leslie had felt positively fragile in his hands. She smiled at him her most beautiful smile when wide-eyed with emotion.
"Douglas, why just now, when you've waited two years?" she asked.
"Wanted a degree of success to offer," he answered.
Leslie disdained the need for success.
"Wanted you to have time to know me as completely as possible."
Leslie intimated that she could learn faster.
"Wanted to have the acknowledged right to put my body between yours and any danger this swamp might have to offer to-day."
"Exactly what I thought!" cried she.
"Wise girl," commented the man.
"Douglas, I must hurry!" said Leslie. "It may take a long time to find the flowers I want, while I've no idea what I shall do for a basket. I saw osiers yellow and red in quantities, but where are the orchids?"
"We must make our way farther in and search," he said.
"Douglas, listen!" breathed Leslie.
"I hear exquisite music," he answered.
"But don't you recognize it?" she cried.
"It does seem familiar, but I am not sufficiently schooled in music——"
The girl began softly to whistle.
"By Jove!" cried the man. "What is that Leslie?"
"Di Provenza, from Traviata," she answered. "But I must stop listening for birds Douglas, when I can scarcely watch for flowers or vines. I have to keep all the time looking to make sure that you are really my man."
"And I, that you are my woman. Leslie, that expression and this location, the fact that you are in competition with a squaw and the Indian talk we have indulged in lately, all conspire to remind me that a few days ago, while I was still a 'searcher' myself, I read a poem called 'Song of the Search' that was the biggest thing of its kind that I have yet found in our language. It was so great that I reread it until I am sure I can do it justice. Listen my 'Bearer of Morning,' my 'Bringer of Song——'"
Douglas stood straight as the tamaracks, his feet sinking in "the little moss," while from his heart he quoted Constance Skinner's wonderful poem:
"I descend through the forest alone. Rose-flushed are the willows, stark and a-quiver, In the warm sudden grasp of Spring; Like a woman when her lover has suddenly, swiftly taken her. I hear the secret rustle of little leaves, Waiting to be born. The air is a wind of love From the wings of eagles mating—— O eagles, my sky is dark with your wings! The hills and the waters pity me, The pine-trees reproach me. The little moss whispers under my feet, "Son of Earth, Brother, Why comest thou hither alone?" Oh, the wolf has his mate on the mountain—— Where art thou, Spring-daughter? I tremble with love as reeds by the river, I burn as the dusk in the red-tented west, I call thee aloud as the deer calls the doe, I await thee as hills wait the morning, I desire thee as eagles the storm; I yearn to thy breast as night to the sea, I claim thee as the silence claims the stars. O Earth, Earth, great Earth, Mate of God and mother of me, Say, where is she, the Bearer of Morning, My Bringer of Song? Love in me waits to be born, Where is She, the Woman?
"'Where is she, the Woman?' The answer is 'Here!' 'Bearer of Morning,' 'Bringer of Song,' I adore you!"
"Oh Douglas, how beautiful!" cried Leslie. "My Man, can we think of anything save ourselves to-day? Can we make that basket?"
"It would be a bad start to give up our first undertaking together," he said.
"Of course!" she cried. "We must! We simply must find things. Father may call any minute. Let go my hand and follow behind me. Keep close, Douglas!"
"I should go before to clear the way," he suggested.
"No, I may miss rare flowers if you do," she objected.
"Go slowly, so I can watch before and overhead."
"Yes!" she answered. "There! There, Douglas!"
"Ah! There they are!" he exulted.
"But I can't take them!" she protested.
"Only a few, Leslie. Look before you! See how many there are!" he said.
"Douglas, could there be more wonderful flowers than the moccasins and slippers?" she asked.
"Scarcely more wonderful; there might be more delicate and lovely!"
"Farther! Let us go farther!" she urged.
Her cry closed the man's arms around her.
Then there was a long silence during which they stood on the edge of a small open space breathlessly worshipping, but it was the Almighty they were now adoring. Here the moss lay in a flat carpet, tinted deeper green. Water willow rolled its ragged reddish-tan hoops, with swelling bloom and leaf buds. Overflowing pitcher plants grew in irregular beds, on slender stems, lifting high their flat buds. But scattered in groups here and there, sometimes with massed similar colours, sometimes in clumps and variegated patches, stood the rare, early fringed orchis, some almost white, others pale lavender and again the deeper colour of the moccasins; while everywhere on stems, some a foot high, nodded the exquisite lavender and white showy orchis.
"Count!" he commanded.
Leslie pointed a slender finger indicating each as she spoke: "One, two, three—thirty-two, under the sweep of your arms, Douglas! And more! More by the hundred! Surely if we are careful not to kill them, the Lord won't mind if we take out a few for people to see, will He?"
"He must have made them to be seen!" said Douglas.
"And worshipped!" cried the girl.
"Douglas, why didn't the squaw——?" asked Leslie.
"Maybe she didn't come this far," he said. "Perhaps she knows by experience that these are too fragile to remove. You may not be able to handle them, Leslie."
"I'm going to try," she said. "But first I must make my basket. We'll go back to the osiers to weave it and then come here to fill it. Oh Douglas! Did you ever see such flower perfection in all your life?"
"Only in books! In my home country applied botany is a part of every man's education. I never have seen ragged or fringed orchids growing before. I have read of many fruitless searches for the white ones."
"So have I. They seem to be the rarest. Douglas, look there!"
"There" was a group of purple-lavender, white-lipped bloom, made by years of spreading from one root, until above the rank moss and beneath the dark tamarack branch the picture appeared inconceivably delicate.
"Yes! The most exquisite flowers I ever have seen!"
"And there, Douglas!" She pointed to another group. "Just the shade of the lavender on the toe of the moccasin—and in a great ragged mass! Would any one believe it?"
"Not without seeing it," he said emphatically.
"And there, Douglas! Exactly the colour of the moccasins—see that cluster! There are no words, Douglas!"
"Shall you go farther?" he asked.
"No," she answered. "I'm going back to weave my basket. There is nothing to surpass the orchids in rarity and wondrous beauty."
"Good!" he cried. "I'll go ahead and you follow."
So they returned to the osiers. Leslie pondered deeply a few seconds, then resolutely putting Douglas aside, she began cutting armloads of pale yellow osiers. Finding a suitable place to work, she swiftly and deftly selected perfect, straight evenly coloured ones, cutting them the same length, then binding the tip ends firmly with raffia she had brought to substitute for grass. Then with fine slips she began weaving, gradually spreading the twigs while inwardly giving thanks for the lessons she had taken in basketry. At last she held up a big, pointed, yellow basket.
"Ready!" she said.
"Beautiful!" cried Douglas.
Leslie carefully lined the basket with moss in which the flowers grew, working the heads between the open spaces she had left. She bent three twigs, dividing her basket top in exact thirds. One of these she filled with the whitest, one with stronger, and one with the deepest lavender, placing the tallest plants in the centre so that the outside ones would show completely. Then she lifted by the root exquisite showy orchis, lavender-hooded, white-lipped, the tiniest plants she could select and set them around the edge. She bedded the moss-wrapped roots in the basket and began bordering the rim and entwining the handle with a delicate vine. She looked up at Douglas, her face thrilled with triumph, flushed with exertion, her eyes humid with feeling, while he gazed at her stirred to the depth of his heart with sympathy and the wonder of possession.
"'Bearer of Morning,' you win!" he cried triumphantly. "There is no use going farther. Let me carry that to your father, and he too will say so."
"I have a reason for working out our plan," she said.
"Yes? May I know?" he asked.
"Surely!" she answered. "You remember what you told me about the Minturns. I can't live in a city and not have my feelings harrowed every day, and while I'd like to change everything wrong, I know I can't all of it, so what I can't cope with must be put aside; but this refuses, it is insistent. When you really think of it, that is so dreadful, Douglas. If they once felt what we do now, could it all go? There must be something left! You mention him oftener than any other one man, so you must admire him deeply; I know her as well as any woman I meet in society, better than most; I had thought of asking them to be the judges. She is interested in music and art; it would please her and be perfectly natural for me to ask her; you are on intimate terms with him from your offices being opposite; there could be no suspicion of any ulterior motive in having them. I don't know that it would accomplish anything, but it would let them know, to begin with, that we consider them friends; so it would be natural for them to come with us; if we can't manage more than that to-day, it will give us ground to try again."
"Splendid!" he said. "A splendid plan! It would let them see that at least our part of the world thinks of them together, and expects them to be friends. Splendid!"
"I have finished," said Leslie.
"I quite agree," answered Douglas. "No one could do better. That is the ultimate beauty of the swamp made manifest. There is the horn! Your father is waiting."
A surprise was also waiting. Mr. Winton had not only found the squaw who brought the first basket, but he had made her understand so thoroughly what was wanted that she had come with him, while at his suggestion she had replaced the moccasin basket as exactly as she could and also made an effort at decoration. She was smiling woodenly when Leslie and Douglas approached, but as Leslie's father glimpsed and cried out over her basket, the squaw frowned, drawing back.
"Where you find 'em?" she demanded.
"In the swamp!" Leslie nodded backward.
The squaw grunted disapprovingly. "Lowry no buy 'em! Sell slipper! Sell moccasin! No sell weed!"
Leslie looked with shining eyes at her father.
"That lies with Lowry," he said. "I'll drive you there and bring you back, and you'll have the ride and the money for your basket. That's all that concerns you. We won't come here to make any more."
The squaw smiled again, so they started to the city. They drove straight to the Winton residence for the slippers. While Mr. Winton and the squaw went to take the baskets to Lowry's and leave Douglas at his office, Leslie in his car went to Mrs. Minturn's.
"Don't think I'm crazy," laughed Leslie, as Mrs. Minturn came down to meet her. "I want to use your exquisite taste and art instinct a few minutes. Please do come with me. We've a question up. You know the wonderful stuff the Indians bring down from the swamps to sell on the streets and to the florists?"
"Indeed yes! I often buy of them in the spring. I love the wild white violets especially. What is it you want?"
"Why you see," said Leslie, looking eagerly at Mrs. Minturn, "you see there are three flower baskets at Lowry's. Douglas Bruce is going to buy me the one I want most for a present, to celebrate a very important occasion, and I can't tell which is most artistic. I want you to decide. Your judgment is so unfailing. Will you come? Only a little spin!"
"Leslie, you aren't by any chance asking me to select your betrothal gift, are you?"
Leslie's face was rose-flushed smiling wonderment. She had hastily slipped off her swamp costume. Joy that seemed as if it must be imperishable shone on her brightly illumined face. With tightly closed, smile-curved lips she vigorously nodded. The elder woman bent to kiss her.
"Of course I'll come!" she laughed. "I feel thrilled, and flattered. And I congratulate you sincerely. Bruce is a fine man. He'll make a big fortune soon."
"Oh I hope not!" said Leslie.
"Are you crazy?" demanded Mrs. Minturn. "You said you didn't want me to think you so!"
"You see," said Leslie, "Mr. Bruce has a living income; so have I, from my mother. Fortunes seem to me to work more trouble than they do good. I believe poor folks are happiest, they get most out of life, and after all what gives deep, heart-felt joy, is the thing to live for, isn't it? But we must hurry. Mr. Lowry didn't promise to hold the flowers long."
"I'll be ready in a minute, but I see where Douglas Bruce is giving you wrong ideas," said Mrs. Minturn. "He needs a good talking to. Money is the only thing worth while, and the comfort and the pleasure it brings. Without it you are crippled, handicapped, a slave crawling while others step over you. I'll convince him! Back in a minute."
When Mrs. Minturn returned she was in a delightful mood, her face eager, her dress beautiful. Leslie wondered if this woman ever had known a care, then remembered that not long before she had lost a little daughter. Leslie explained as they went swiftly through the streets.
"You won't mind waiting only a second until I run up to Mr. Bruce's offices?" she asked.
He was ready, so together they stopped at Mr. Minturn's door. Douglas whispered: "Watch the office boy. He is Minturn's Little Brother I told you about."
Leslie nodded and entered gaily.
"Please ask Mr. Minturn if he will see Miss Winton and Mr. Douglas Bruce a minute?" she said.
An alert, bright-faced lad bowed politely, laid aside a book and entered the inner office.
"Now let me!" said Leslie. "Good May, Mr. Minturn!" she cried. "Positively enchanting! Take that forbidding look off your face. Come for a few minutes Maying! It will do you much good, and me more. All my friends are pleasuring me to-day. So I want as good a friend of Mr. Bruce as you, to be in something we have planned. You just must!"
"Has something delightful happened?" asked Mr. Minturn, retaining the hand Leslie offered him as he turned to Douglas Bruce.
"You must ask Miss Winton," he said.
Mr. Minturn's eyes questioned her sparkling face, while again with closed lips she nodded. "My most earnest congratulations to each of you. May life grant you even more than you hope for, and from your faces, that is no small wish to make for you. Surely I'll come! What is it you have planned?"
"Something lovely!" said Leslie. "At Lowry's are three flower baskets that are rather bewildering. I am to have one for my betrothal gift, but I can't decide. I appealed to Mrs. Minturn to help me, and she agreed; she is waiting below. Mr. Bruce named you for him; so you two and Mr. Lowry are to choose the most artistic basket for me, then if I don't agree, I needn't take it, but I want to see what you think. You'll come of course?"
Mr. Minturn's face darkened at the mention of his wife, while he hesitated and looked penetratingly at Leslie. She was guileless, charming, and eager.
"Very well," Mr. Minturn said gravely. "I'm surprised, but also pleased. Beautiful young ladies have not appealed to me so often of late that I can afford to miss the chance of humouring the most charming of her sex."
"How lovely!" laughed Leslie. "Douglas, did you ever know Mr. Minturn could flatter like that? It's most enjoyable! I shall insist on more of it, at every opportunity! Really, Mr. Minturn, society has missed you of late, and it is our loss. We need men who are worth while."
"Now it is you who flatter," smiled Mr. Minturn.
"See my captive!" cried Leslie, as she emerged from the building and crossed the walk to the car. "Mr. Bruce and Mr. Minturn are great friends, so as we passed his door we brought him along by force."
"It certainly would require that to bring him anywhere in my company," said Mrs. Minturn coldly.
The shock of the cruelty of the remark closed Douglas' lips, but it was Leslie's day to bubble, so she resolutely set herself to heal and cover the hurt.
"I think business is a perfect bugbear," she said as she entered the car. "I'm going to have a pre-nuptial agreement as to just how far work may trespass on Douglas' time, and how much belongs to me. I think it can be arranged. Daddy and I always have had lovely times together, and I would call him successful. Wouldn't you?"
"A fine business man!" said Mr. Minturn heartily.
"You could have had much greater advantages if he had made more money," said Mrs. Minturn.
"The advantage of more money—yes," retorted Leslie quickly, "but would the money have been of more advantage to me than the benefits of his society and his personal hand in my rearing? I think not! I prefer my Daddy!"
"When you take your place in society, as the mistress of a home, you will find that millions will not be too much," said Mrs. Minturn.
"If I had millions, I'd give most of them away, and just go on living about as I do now with Daddy," said Leslie.
"Leslie, where did you get bitten with this awful, common—what kind of an idea shall I call it? You haven't imbibed socialistic tendencies have you?"
"Haven't a smattering of what they mean!" laughed Leslie. "The 'istics' scare me completely. Just social ideas are all I have; thinking home better than any other place on earth, the way you can afford to have it. Merely being human, kind and interested in what my men are doing and enjoying, and helping any one who crosses my path and seems to need me. Oh, I get such joy, such delicious joy from life."
"If I were undertaking wild-eyed reform, I'd sell my car and walk, and do settlement work," said Mrs. Minturn scornfully.
Then Leslie surprised all of them. She leaned forward, looked beamingly into the elder woman's face and cried enthusiastically: "I am positive you'd be stronger, and much happier if you would! You know there is no greater fun than going to the end of the car line and then walking miles into the country, especially now in bloom-time. You see sights no painter ever transferred even a good imitation of to canvas; you hear music—I wish every music lover with your trained ear could have spent an hour in that swamp this morning. You'd soon know where Verdi and Strauss found some of their loveliest themes, and where Beethoven got the bird notes for the brook scene of the Pastoral Symphony. Think how interested you'd be in a yellow and black bird singing the Spinning Song from Martha, while you couldn't accuse the bird of having stolen it from Flotow, could you? Surely the bird holds right of priority!"
"If you weren't a little fool and talking purposely to irritate me, you'd almost cause me to ask if you seriously mean that?" said Mrs. Minturn.
"Why," laughed Leslie, determined not to become provoked on this her great day, "that is a matter you can test for yourself. If you haven't a score of Martha, get one and I'll take you where you can hear a bird sing that strain, then you may judge for yourself."
"I don't believe it!" said Mrs. Minturn tersely, "but if it were true, that would be the most wonderful experience I ever had in my life."
"And it would cost you only ten cents," scored Leslie. "You needn't ride beyond the end of the car line for that, while a woman who can dance all night surely could walk far enough, to reach any old orchard. That's what I am trying to tell you. Money in large quantities isn't necessary to provide the most interesting things in the world, while millions don't bring happiness. I can find more in what you would class almost poverty."
"Why don't you try it?" suggested Mrs. Minturn.
"But I have!" said Leslie. "And I enjoy it! I could go with a man I love as I do Daddy, and make a home, and get joy I never have found in society, from just what we two could do with our own hands in the woods. I don't like a city. If Daddy's business didn't keep him here, I would be in the country this minute. Look at us poor souls trying to find pleasure in a basket from the swamp, when we might have the whole swamp. I'd be happy to live at its door. Now try a basket full of it. There are three. You are to examine each of them carefully, then write on a slip of paper which you think the most artistic. You are not to say things that will influence each other's decisions, or Mr. Lowry's. I want a straight opinion from each of you."
They entered the florist's, and on a glass table faced the orchids, the slippers, the fringed basket, and the moccasins. Mr. Winton and the squaw were waiting, while the florist was smiling in gratification, but the Minturns went to the flowers without a word. They simply stood and looked. Each of the baskets was in perfect condition. The flowers were as fresh as at home in the swamp. Each was a thing of wondrous beauty. Each deserved the mute tribute it was exacting. Mrs. Minturn studied them with gradually darkening face. Mrs. Minturn repeatedly opened her lips as if she would speak, but did not. She stepped closer and gently turned the flowers and lightly touched the petals.
"Beautiful!" she said at last. "Beautiful!"
Another long silence.
Then: "Honestly Leslie, did you hear a bird sing that strain from Martha?"
"Yes!" said Leslie, "I did. And if you will go with me to the swamp where those flowers came from, you shall hear one sing a strain that will instantly remind you of the opening chorus, while another renders Di Provenza Il Mar from Traviata."
The lady turned again to the flowers. She was thinking something deep and absorbing, but no one could have guessed exactly what it might be. Finally: "I have decided," she said. "Shall we number these one, two, and three, and so indicate them?"
"Yes," said Leslie a little breathlessly.
"Put your initials to the slips and I'll read them," offered Douglas. Then he smilingly read aloud: "Mr. Lowry, one. Mrs. Minturn, two. Mr. Minturn, three!"
"I cast the deciding vote," cried Leslie. "One!"
The squaw seemed to think of a war-whoop, but decided against it.
"Now be good enough to state your reasons," said Mr. Winton. "Why do you prefer the slipper basket, Mr. Lowry?"
"It satisfies my sense of the artistic."
"Why the fringed basket, Mrs. Minturn?"
"Because it contains daintier, more wonderful flowers than the others, and is by far the most pleasing production."
"Now Minturn, your turn. Why do you like the moccasin basket?"
"It makes the deepest appeal to me," he answered.
"But why?" persisted Mr. Winton.
"If you will have it—the moccasins are the colour I once loved on the face of my little daughter."
"Now Leslie!" said Mr. Winton hurriedly as he noted Mrs. Minturn's displeased look.
"Must I tell?" she asked.
"Yes," said her father.
"Douglas selected it for me, so I like it best."
"But Leslie!" cried Douglas, "there were only two baskets when I favoured that. Had the fringed orchids been here then, I most certainly should have chosen them. I think yours far the most exquisite! I claim it now. Will you give it to me?"
"Surely! I'd love to," laughed the girl.
"You have done your most exquisite work on the fringed basket," said Mrs. Minturn to the squaw.
"No make!" said she promptly, pointing to Leslie.
"Leslie Winton, did you go to the swamp to make that basket?" demanded Mrs. Minturn.
"Yes," answered Leslie.
"Did you make all of them?"
"Only that one," replied Leslie.
"Why?" marvelled the lady.
"To see if I could go to the tamarack swamp and bring from it with the same tools and material, a more artistic production than an Indian woman."
"Well, you have!" conceded Mrs. Minturn.
"The majority is against me," said Leslie.
"Majorities mean masses, and masses are notoriously insane!" said Mrs. Minturn.
"But this is a small, select majority," said Leslie.
"Craziest of all," said Mrs. Minturn decidedly. "If you have finished with us, I want to thank you for the pleasure of seeing these, and Leslie, some day I really think I shall try that bird music. The idea interests me more than anything that I have ever heard of. If it were true, it would indeed be wonderful, it would be a new experience!"
"If you want to hear for yourself, make it soon, because now is nesting time; not again until next spring will the music be so entrancing. I can go any day."
"I'll look over my engagements and call you. If one ever had a minute to spare!"
"Another of the joys of wealth!" said Leslie. "Only the poor can afford to 'loaf and invite their souls.' The flowers you will see will delight your eyes, quite as much as the music your ears."
"I doubt your logic, but I'll try the birds. Are you coming Mr. Minturn?"
"Not unless you especially wish me. Are these for sale?" he asked, picking up the moccasins.
"Only those," replied the florist.
"Send your bill," he said, turning with the basket.
"How shining a thing is consistency!" sneered his wife. "You condemn the riches you never have been able to amass, but at the same time spend like a millionaire."
"I never said I was not able to gain millions," replied Mr. Minturn coldly. "I have had frequent opportunities! I merely refused them, because I did not consider them legitimate. As for my method in buying flowers, in this one instance, price does not matter. You can guess what I shall do with them."
"I couldn't possibly!" answered Mrs. Minturn. "The only sure venture I could make is that they will not by any chance come to me."
"No. These go to baby Elizabeth," he said. "Do you want to come with me to take them to her?"
With an audible sneer she passed him. He stepped aside, gravely raising his hat, while the others said good-bye to him and followed.
"Positively insufferable!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "Every one of my friends say they do not know how I endure his insults and I certainly will not many more. I don't, I really don't know what he expects."
Mr. Winton and Douglas Bruce were confused, while Leslie was frightened, but she tried turning the distressing occurrence off with excuses.
"Of course he intended no insult!" she soothed. "He must have adored his little daughter and the flowers reminded him. I am so much obliged for your opinion and I shall be glad to take you to the swamp any time. Your little sons—would they like to go? It is a most interesting and instructive place for children."
"For Heaven's sake don't mention children!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "They are a bother and a curse!"
"Oh Mrs. Minturn!" exclaimed Leslie.
"Of course I don't mean quite that; but I do very near! Mine are perfect little devils; all the trouble James and I ever had came through them. His idea of a mother is a combined doctor, wet-nurse and nursery maid, while I must say, I far from agree with him. What are servants for if not to take the trouble of children off your hands?"
Leslie was glad to reach the rich woman's door and deposit her there.
As the car sped away the girl turned a despairing face toward Douglas: "For the love of Moike!" she cried. "Isn't that shocking? Poor Mr. Minturn!"
"I don't pity him half so much as I do her," he answered. "What must a woman have suffered or been through, to warp, twist, and harden her like that?"
"Society life," answered Leslie, "as it is lived by people of wealth who are aping royalty and the titled classes."
"A branch of them—possibly," conceded Douglas. "I know some titled and wealthy people who would be dumbfounded over that woman's ideas."
"So do I," said Leslie. "Of course there are exceptions. Sometimes the exception becomes bigger than the rule, but not in our richest society. Douglas, let's keep close together! Oh don't let's ever drift into such a state as that. I should have asked them to lunch, but I couldn't. If that is the way she is talking before her friends, surely she won't have many, soon."
"Then her need for a real woman like you will be all the greater," answered Douglas. "I suppose you should have asked her; but I'm delighted that you didn't! To-day began so nearly perfect, I want to end it with only you and your father. Will he resent me, Leslie?"
"It all depends on us. If we are selfish and leave him alone he will feel it. If we can make him realize gain instead of loss he will be happier than he is now."
"I wish I hadn't felt obliged to reject his offer the other night. I'm very sorry about it."
"I'm not," said Leslie. "You have a right to live your life in your own way. I have seen enough of running for office, elections and appointments that I hate it. You do the work you educated yourself for and I'll help you."
"Then my success is assured," laughed Douglas. "Leslie, may I leave my basket here? Will you care for it like yours, and may I come to see it often?"
"No. You may come to see me and look at the basket incidentally," she answered.
"Do you think Mrs. Minturn will go to the swamp to listen to those birds?" he asked.
"Eventually she will," answered the girl. "I may have to begin by taking her to an orchard to hear a bird of gold sing a golden song about 'sewing, and mending, and baby tending,' to start on; but when she hears that, she will be eager for more."
"How interesting!" cried Douglas. "'Bearer of Morning,' sing that song to me now."
Leslie whistled the air, beating time with her hand, then sang the words:
"I can wash, sir, I can spin, sir, I can sew and mend, and babies tend."
"Oh you 'Bringer of Song!'" exulted Douglas. "I'd rather hear you sing that than any bird, but from what she said, Nellie Minturn won't care particularly for it!"
"She may not approve of, or practise, the sentiment," said Leslie, "but she'll love the music and possibly the musician."
"Now what am I going to do yet to make the day shorter, Lily?" asked Mickey.
"I guess I got everything," she answered. "There's my lunch. Here's my pictures to cut. Here's my lesson to learn. There's my sky and bird crumbs. Mickey, sometimes they hop right in on the sheet. Yest'day one tried to get my lunch. Ain't they sassy?"
"Yes," said Mickey. "They fight worse than rich folks. I don't know why the Almighty pays attention if they fall."
"Mebby nobody else cares," said Peaches, "and He feels obliged to 'cause He made 'em."
"Gee! You say the funniest things, kid," laughed Mickey as he digested the idea. "Wonder if He cares for us 'cause He made us."
"Mebby he didn't make us," suggested Peaches.
"Well we got one consoling thing," said Mickey. "If He made any of them, He made us, and if He didn't make us, He didn't none of them, 'cause everybody comes in and goes out the same way; She said so."
"Then of course it's so," agreed Peaches. "That gives us as good a chance as anybody."
"Course it does if we got sense to take it," said Mickey. "We got to wake up and make something of ourselves. Let me see if you know your lesson for to-day yet. There is the picture of the animal—there is the word that spells its name. Now what is it?"
"Milk!" answered Peaches, her eyes mischievous.
Mickey held over the book chuckling.
"All right! There is the word for that, too. For being so smart, Miss Chicken, you can learn it 'fore you get any more to drink. If I have good luck to-day, I'm going to blow in about six o'clock with a slate and pencil for you; and then you can print the words you learn, and make pictures. That'll help make the day go a lot faster."
"Oh it goes fast enough now," said Peaches. "I love days with you and the window and the birds. I wish they'd sing more though."
"When your back gets well, I'll take you to the country where they sing all the time," promised Mickey, "where there are grass, and trees, and flowers, and water to wade in and——"
"Mickey, stop and go on!" cried Peaches. "Sooner you start, the sooner I'll get my next verse. I want just norful good one to-night."
She held up her arms. Mickey submitted to a hug and a little cold dab on his forehead, counted his money, locked the door and ran. On the car he sat in deep thought, then suddenly sniggered aloud. He had achieved the next installment of the doggerel to which every night Peaches insisted on having a new verse added as he entered. He secured his papers, and glimpsing the headlines started on his beat crying them lustily.
Mickey knew that washing, better air, enough food, and oil rubbing were improving Peaches. What he did not know was that adding the interest of her presence to his life, even though it made his work heavier, was showing on him. He actually seemed bigger, stronger, and his face brighter and fuller. He swung down the street thrusting his papers right and left, crossed and went up the other side, watching closely for a customer. It was ten o'clock and opportunities with the men were almost over. Mickey turned to scan the street for anything even suggesting a sale. He saw none and started with his old cry, watching as he went: "I like to sell papers! Sometimes I sell them! Sometimes I don't——!"
Then he saw her. She was so fresh and joyous. She walked briskly. Even his beloved nurse was not so wonderful. Straight toward her went Mickey.
"I like to sell papers! Sometimes I sell them! Sometimes I don't! Morning paper, lady! Sterilized! Deodorized! Vulcanized! Nice clean paper!"
The girl's eyes betokened interest; her smiling lips encouraged Mickey. He laid his chin over her arm, leaned his head against it and fell in step with her.
"Sometimes I sell them! Sometimes I don't! If I sell them, I'm happy! If I don't, I'm hungry! If you buy them, you're happy! Pa—per?—lady."
"Not to-day, thank you," she said. "I'm shopping, so I don't wish to carry it."
Mickey saw Peaches' slate vanishing. It was a beautiful slate, small so it would not tire her bits of hands, and its frame was covered with red. His face sobered, his voice changed, taking on unexpected modulations.
"Aw lady! I thought you'd buy my paper! Far down the street I saw you coming. Lady, I like your gentle voice. I like your pleasant smile! You don't want a nice sterilized paper?—lady."
The lady stopped short; she lifted Mickey's chin in a firm grip, looking intently into his face.
"Just by the merest chance, could your name be Mickey?" she asked.
"Sure, lady! Mickey! Michael O'Halloran!"
Her smile became even more attractive.
"I really don't want to be bothered with a paper," she said; "but I do wish a note delivered. If you'll carry it, I'll pay you the price of half a dozen papers."
"Gets the slate!" cried Mickey, bouncing like a rubber boy. "Sure I will! Is it ready, lady?"
"One minute!" she said. She stepped to the inside of the walk, opened her purse, wrote a line on a card, slipped it in an envelope, addressed it and handed it to Mickey.
"You can read that?" she asked.
"I've read worse writing than that," he assured her. "You ought to see the hieroglyphics some of the dimun-studded dames put up!"
Mickey took a last glimpse at the laughing face, then wheeling ran. Presently he went into a big building, studied the address board, then entered the elevator and following a corridor reached the number.
He paused a second, glancing around, when he saw the name on the opposite door. A flash passed over his face. "Ugh!" he muttered. "'Member now—been to this place before! Glad she ain't sending a letter to that man." He stepped inside the open door before him, crossed the room and laid the note near a man who was bending over some papers on a desk. The man reached a groping hand, tore open the envelope, taking therefrom a card on which was pencilled: "Could this by any chance be your Little Brother?"
He turned hastily, glancing at Mickey, then in a continuous movement arose with outstretched hand.
"Why Little Brother," he cried, "I'm so glad to see you!"
Mickey's smile slowly vanished as he whipped his hands behind him, stepping back.
"Nothin' doing, Boss," he said. "You're off your trolley. I've no brother. My mother had only me."
"Don't you remember me, Mickey?" inquired Douglas Bruce.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You made Jimmy pay up!"
"Has he bothered you again?" asked the lawyer.
"Nope!" answered Mickey.
"Sit down, Mickey, I want to talk with you."
"I'm much obliged for helping me out," said Mickey, "but I guess you got other business, and I know I have."
"What is your business?" was the next question.
"Selling papers. What's yours?" was the answer.
"Trying to be a corporation lawyer," explained Douglas. "I've been here only two years, and it is slow getting a start. I often have more time to spare than I wish I had, while I'm lonesome no end."
"Is your mother dead?" asked Mickey solicitously.
"Yes," answered Douglas.
"So's mine!" he commented. "You do get lonesome! Course she was a good one?"
"The very finest, Mickey," said Douglas. "And yours?"
"Same here, Mister," said Mickey with conviction.
"Well since we are both motherless and lonesome, suppose we be brothers!" suggested Douglas.
"Aw-w-w!" Mickey shook his head.
"No?" questioned Douglas.
"What's the use?" cried Mickey.
"You could help me with my work and share my play, while possibly I could be of benefit to you."
"I just wondered if you wasn't getting to that," commented Mickey.
"Getting to what?" inquired Douglas.
"Going to do me good!" explained Mickey. "The swell stiffs are always going to do us fellows good. Mostly they do! They do us good and brown! They pick us up a while and make lap dogs of us, then when we've lost our appetites for our jobs and got to having a hankerin' for the fetch and carry business away they go and forget us, so we're a lot worse off than we were before. Some of the fellows come out of it knowing more ways to be mean than they ever learned on the street," explained Mickey. "If it's that Big Brother bee you got in your bonnet, pull its stinger and let it die an unnatural death! Nope! None! Good-bye!"
"Mickey, wait!" cried Douglas.
"Me business calls, an' I must go—'way to my ranch in Idaho!" gaily sang Mickey.
"I'd like to shake you!" said Douglas Bruce.
"Well, go on," said Mickey. "I'm here and you're big enough."
"If I thought it would jolt out your fool notions and shake some sense in, I would," said Douglas indignantly.
"Now look here, Kitchener," said Mickey. "Did I say one word that ain't so, and that you don't know is so?"
"What you said is not even half a truth, young man! I do know cases where idle rich men have tried the Little Brother plan as a fad, and made a failure of it. But for a few like that, I know dozens of sincere, educated men who are honestly giving a boy they fancy, a chance. I can take you into the office of one of the most influential men in this city, right across the hall there, and show you a boy he liked who has in a short time become his friend, an invaluable helper, and hourly companion, and out of it that boy will get a fine education, good business training, and a start in life that will give him a better chance to begin on than the man who is helping him had."
Mickey laughed boisterously, then sobered suddenly.
"'Scuse me, Brother," he said politely, "but that's most too funny for any use. Once I took a whirl with that gentleman myself. Whether he does or not, I know the place where he ought to get off. See? Answer me this: why would he be spending money and taking all that time for a 'newsy' when he hardly knows his own kids if he sees them, and they're the wickedest little rippers in the park. Just why now?"
Douglas Bruce closed the door; then he came back and placing a chair for Mickey, he took one opposite.
"Sit down Mickey," he said patiently. "There's a reason for my being particularly interested in James Minturn, and the reason hinges on the fact you mention: that he can't control his own sons, yet can make a boy he takes comfort in, of a street gamin."
Mickey's eyes narrowed while he sat very straight in the chair he had accepted.
"If he's made so much of him, it sort of proves that he wasn't a gamin. Some of the boys are a long shot closer gentlemen than the guys who are experimenting with them; 'cause they were born rich and can afford it. If your friend's going to train his pick-up to be what he is, then that boy would stand a better chance on his own side the curb. See? I've been right up against that gentleman with the documents, so I know him. Also her! Gee! 'Tear up de choild and gimme de papers' was meant for a joke; but I saw that lady and gentleman do it. See? And she was the prettiest little pink and yellow thing. Lord! I can see her gasping and blinking now! Makes me sick! If the boy across the hall had seen what I did, he'd run a mile and never stop. Gee!"
Douglas Bruce stared aghast. At last he said slowly: "Mickey, you are getting mighty close the very thing I wish to know. If I tell you what I know of James Minturn, will you tell me what you know and think?"
"Sure!" said Mickey readily. "I got no reasons for loving him. I wouldn't convoy a millying to the mint for that gentleman!"
"Mickey, shall I go first, or will you?"
"I will," replied Mickey instantly, "'cause when I finish you'll save your breath. See?"
"I see," said Douglas Bruce. "Proceed."
"Well, 'twas over two years ago," said Mickey, leaning forward to look Bruce in the eyes. "I hadn't been up against the game so awful long alone. 'Twas summer and my papers were all gone, and I was tired, so I went over in the park and sat on a seat, just watching folks. Pretty soon 'long comes walking a nice lady with a sweet voice and kind eyes. She sat down close me and says: 'It's a nice day.' We got chummy-like, when right up at the fountain before us stops as swell an automobile as there is. One of the brown French-governess-ladies with the hatchet face got out, and unloaded three kids: two boys and a girl. She told the kids if they didn't sit on the benches she socked them on hard, and keep their clothes clean so she wouldn't have to wash and dress them again that day, she'd knock the livers out of them, and walked off with the entrance policeman. Soon as she and Bobbie got interested, the kids began sliding off the bench and running around the fountain. The girl was only 'bout two or three, a fat toddly thing, trying to do what her brothers did, and taking it like the gamest kid you ever saw when they pushed her off the seat, and tripped her, and 'bused her like a dog.
"Me and the woman were getting madder every minute. 'Go tell your nurse,' says she. But the baby thing just glanced where nurse was and kind of shivered and laughed, and ran on round the fountain, when the big boy stuck his foot out so she fell. Nursie saw and started for her, but she scrambled up and went kiting for the bench, and climbed on it, so nurse told her she'd cut the blood out of her if she did that again, then went back to her policeman. Soon as she was gone those little devils began coaxing their sister to get down and run again. At last she began to smile the cunningest and slipped to the walk, then a little farther, and a little farther, all the time laughing and watching the nurse. The big boy, he said: 'You ain't nothing but a girl! You can't step on the edge like I can and then step back!' She says: 'C'n too!' She did to show him, and just as she did she saw that he was going to push her, then she tried to get back, but he did push, and over she went! Not real in, but her arms in, and her dress front some wet.
"She screamed while the little devil that pushed her grabbed her, pretending to be pulling her out. Honest he did! Up came nurse just frothing, and in language we couldn't understand she ripped and raved. She dragged little pink back, grabbed her by the hair and cracked her head two or three times against the stone! The lady screamed, and so did I, and we both ran at her. The boys just shouted and laughed and the smallest one he up and kicked her while she was down. The policeman walked over laughing too, but he told nurse that was too rough. Then my lady pitched in, so he told her to tend to her business, that those kids were too tough to live, and deserved all they got. The nurse laughed at her, and went back to the grass with the policeman. The baby lay there on the stones, and never made a sound. She just kind of gasped, and blinked, and lay there, till my lady went almost wild. She went to her and stooped to lift her up when she got awful sick. The policeman said something to the nurse, so she came and dragged the kid away and said, 'The little pig has gone and eaten too much again, and now I'll have to take her home and wash and dress her all over,' then she gave her an awful shake. The policeman said she'd better cut that out, because it might have been the bumping, and she said 'good for her if 'twas.' The driver pulled up just then and he asked 'if the brat had been stuffin' too much again?' She said, 'yes,' and the littlest boy he said, 'she pounded her head on the stone, good,' and the nurse hit him 'cross the mouth till she knocked him against the car, and she said, 'Want to try that again? Open your head to say that again, and I'll smash you too. Eating too much made her sick.' She looked at the big boy fierce like so he laughed and said, 'Course eating too much made her sick!' She nodded at him and said, 'Course! You get two dishes of ice and two pieces of cake for remembering!' then she loaded them in and they drove away.
"My lady was as white as marble and she said, 'Is there any way to find out who they are?' I said, 'Sure! Half a dozen!' 'Boy,' she said, 'get their residence for me and I'll give you a dollar.' Ought to seen me fly. Car was chuffing away, waiting to get the traffic cop's sign when to cut in on the avenue. I just took a dodge and hung on to the extra tire under the top where nobody saw me, and when they stopped, I got the house number they went in. Little pink was lying all white and limber yet, and nurse looked worried as she carried her up. She said something fierce to the boys, the big one rang and they went inside. I saw a footman take the girl. I heard nurse begin that 'eat too much' story, then I cut back to the park. The lady said, 'Get it?' I said, 'Sure! Dead easy.' She said, 'Can you take me?' I said, 'Glad to!'
"She said, 'That was the dreadfullest sight I ever saw. That child's mother is going to know right now what kind of a nurse she is paying to take care of her children. You come show me,' she said, so we went.
"'Will you come in with me?' she asked and I said, 'Yes!'
"Well, we rang and she asked pleasant to see the lady of the house on a little matter of important business, so pretty soon here comes one of the dimun-studded, fashion-paper ladies, all smiling sweet as honey, and asked what the business was. My nice lady she said her name was Mrs. John Wilson and her husband was a banker in Plymouth, Illinois, and she was in the city shopping and went to the park to rest and was talking to me, when an automobile let out a nurse, and two boys and a lovely little pink girl, and she give the number and asked, 'was the car and the children hers?' The dimun-lady slowly sort of began to freeze over, and when the nice lady got that far, she said: 'I have an engagement. Kindly state in a few words what you want.'
"My lady sort of stiffened up and then she said: 'I saw, this boy here saw, and the park policeman nearest the entrance fountain saw your nurse take your little girl by the hair, and strike her head against the fountain curb three times, because her brother pushed her in. She lay insensible until the car came, and she has just been carried into your house in that condition.'
"I could see the footman peeking and at that he cut up the stairs. The dimun-lady stiffened up and she said: 'So you are one of those meddling, interfering country jays that come here and try to make us lose our good servants, so you can hire them later. I've seen that done before. Lucette is invaluable,' said she, 'and perfectly reliable. Takes all the care of those dreadful little imps from me. Now you get out of here.' And she reached for the button. My lady just sat still and smiled.
"'Do you really think I'd take the trouble to come here in this way if I couldn't prove I had seen the thing happen?' she asked.
"'God only knows what you country women would do!' the woman answered.
"'We would stand between our children and beastly cruelty,' my lady said. 'Your child's condition is all the proof my words need. You go examine her head, and feel the welt on it; see hew ill she is and you will thank me. Your nurse is not reliable! Keep her and your children will be ruined, if not killed.'
"'Raving!' sneered the dimun-lady. 'But I know your kind so I'll go, as it's the only way to get rid of you.'
"Now what do you think happened next? Well sir, 'bout three minutes in walked the footman and salutes, sneering like a cat, and he said: 'Madam's compliments. She finds her little daughter in perfect condition, sweetly sleeping, and her sons having dinner. She asks you to see how quickly you can leave her residence.'
"The woman looked at me so I said: 'It's all over but burying the kid if it dies; come on, lady, they'd be glad to plant it, and get it out of the way.' So I started and she followed, and just as he let me out the door I handed him this: 'I saw you listen and cut to tell, and I bet you helped put the kid to sleep! But you better look out! She gave it to that baby too rough for any use!'
"He started for me, but I flew. When we got on the street, the lady was all used up so she couldn't say anything. She had me call a taxi to take her to her hotel. I set down her name she gave me, and her house and street number. I cut to a Newsies' directory and got the name of the owner of the palace-place and it was Mrs. James Minturn. Next morning coming down on the cars I was hunting headliners to make up a new call, like I always do, and there I saw in big type, 'Mr. and Mrs. James Minturn prostrate over the sudden death of their lovely little daughter from poisoning, from an ice she ate.' I read it every word. Even what the doctors said, and how investigation of the source of the ice came from was to be made. What do you think of it?"
"I have no doubt but it's every word horrible truth," answered Douglas.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I just hiked to the park and walked up to the cop and showed him the paper, and he looked awful glum. I can point him out to you, and give you the lady's address, and there were plenty more who saw parts of it could be found if anybody was on the kid's side. Sure it's the truth!
"Well I kept a-thinking it over. One day about three weeks later, blest if the same car didn't stop at the same fountain, and the same nurse got out with the boys and she set them on the same bench and told them the same thing, and then she went into another palaver with the same p'liceman. I looked on pretty much interested, and before long the boys got to running again and one tripped the other, and she saw and come running, and fetched him a crack like to split his head, and pushed him down still and white, so I said to myself: 'All right for you. Lady tried a lady and got nothing. Here's where a gentleman tries a gentleman, and sees what he gets.'
"I marched into the door just across the hall from you here, and faced Mr. James Minturn, and gave him names, and dates, and addresses, even the copper's name I'd got; and I told him all I've told you, and considerable more. He wasn't so fiery as the lady, so I told him the whole thing, but he never opened his trap. He just sat still and stony, listened till I quit, and finally he heaved a big breath and looked at me sort of dazed like and he said: 'What do you want, boy?'
"That made me red hot so I said: 'I want you to know that I saw the same woman bust one of your boys a good crack, over the head, a few minutes ago.'
"That made him jump, but he didn't say or do anything, so I got up and went—and—the same woman was in the park with the same boys yesterday, and they're the biggest little devils there. What's the answer?"
"A heartbroken man," said Douglas Bruce. "Now let me tell you, Mickey."
Then he told Mickey all he knew of James Minturn.
"All the same, he ought to be able to do something for his own kids, 'stead of boys who don't need it half so bad," commented Mickey. "Why honest, I don't know one street kid so low that he'd kick a little girl— after she'd been beat up scandalous, for his meanness to start on. Honest, I don't! I don't care what he is doing for the boy he has got, that boy doesn't need help half so much as his own; I can prove it to you, if you'll come with me to the park 'most any morning."
"All right, I'll come," said Douglas promptly.
"Well I couldn't say that they would be there this minute," said Mickey, "but I can call you up the first time I see they are."
"All right, I'll come, if it's possible. I'd like to see for myself. So this gives you a settled prejudice against the Big Brother movement, Mickey?"
"In my brogans, what would it give you?"
"A hard jolt!" said Douglas emphatically.
"Then what's the answer?"
"That it is more unfair than I thought you could be, to deprive me of my Little Brother, because you deem the man across the hall unfit to have one. Do I look as if you couldn't trust me, Mickey?"
"No, you don't! But neither does Mr. James Minturn. He looks as if a fellow could get a grip on him and pull safe across Belgium hanging on. But you know I said the same woman——"
"I know Mickey; but that only proves that there are times when even the strongest man can't help himself."
"Then like Ulhan I'd trot 1:54-1/2 to the judge of the Juvenile Court," said Mickey, "and I'd yell long and loud, and I'd put up the proof. That would get the lady down to brass tacks. See?"
"But with Mrs. Minturn's position and the stain such a proceeding would put on the boys——"
"Cut out the boys," advised Mickey. "They're gold plated, staining wouldn't stick to them."
"So you are going to refuse education, employment and a respectable position because you disapprove of one man among millions?" demanded Douglas.
"That lets me out," said Mickey. "She educated me a lot! No day is long enough for the work I do right now; you can take my word for it that I'm respectable, same as I'm taking yours that you are."
"All right!" said Douglas. "We will let it go then. Maybe you are right. At least you are not worth the bother it requires to wake you up. Will you take an answer to the note you brought me?"
"Now the returns are coming in," said Mickey. "Sure I will; but she is in the big stores shopping."
"I'll find out," said Douglas.
He picked up the telephone and called the Winton residence; on learning Leslie was still away, he left a request that she call him when she returned.
"I would spend the time talking with you," he said to Mickey, "if I could accomplish anything; as I can't, I'll go on with my work. You busy yourself with anything around the rooms that interests you."
Mickey grinned half abashed. He took a long survey of the room they were in, arose and standing in the door leading to the next he studied that. To him "busy" meant work. Presently he went into the hall and returned with a hand broom and dust pan he had secured from the janitor. He carefully went over the floor, removing anything he could see that he thought should not be there, and then began on the room adjoining. Next he appeared with a cloth and dusted the furniture and window seats. Once he met Douglas' eye and smiled. "Your janitor didn't have much of a mother," he commented. "I could beat him to his base a rod."
"Job is yours any time you want it."
"Morning papers," carrolled Mickey. "Sterilized, deodorized, vulcanized. I like to sell them——"
Defeated again Bruce turned to his work and Mickey to his. He straightened every rug, pulled a curtain, set a blind at an angle that gave the worker more light and better air. He was investigating the glass when the telephone rang.
"Hello, Leslie! It certainly was! How did you do it? Not so hilarious as you might suppose. Leslie, I want to say something, not for the wire. Will you hold the line a second until I start Mickey with it? All right!
"She is there now, Mickey. Can you find your way?"
"Sure!" laughed Mickey. "If you put the address on. She started me from the street."
"The address is plain. For straightening my rooms and carrying the note, will that be about right?"
"A lady-bird! Gee!" cried Mickey. "I didn't s'pose you was a plute! And I don't s'pose so yet. You want a Little Brother bad if you're willing to buy one. This number ain't far out, and I wouldn't have sold more than three papers this time of day—twenty-five is about right."
"But you forget cleaning my rooms," said Douglas.
Mickey grinned, his face flushed.
"Me to you!" he said. "Nothing! Just a little matter of keeping in practice. Good-bye and be good to yourself!"
Douglas turned to the telephone.
"Leslie!" he said, "I'm sending Mickey back to you with a note, not because I had anything to say I couldn't say now, but because I can't manage him. I pretended I didn't care, and let him go. Can't you help me? See if you can't interest him in something that at least will bring him back, or show us where to find him. Certainly! Thank you very much!"
When Mickey delivered the letter the lovely young woman just happened to be in the hall. She told him to come in until she read it, to learn what Mr. Bruce wanted. Mickey followed into a big room, looked around, then a speculative, appreciative gleam crossed his face. He realized the difference between a home and a show room. He did not know what he was seeing or why it affected him as it did. Really the thought that was in his mind was that this woman was far more attractive, but had less money to spend on her home, than many others. He missed the glitter, but enjoyed the comfort, for he leaned back against the chair offered him, thinking what a cool, restful place it was. The girl seemed in no hurry to open the letter.
"Have trouble finding Mr. Bruce?" she asked.
"Easy! I'd been to the same building before."
"And I suppose you'll be there many times again," she suggested.
"I'm going back right now, if you want to send an answer to that letter," he said.
"And if it requires none?" she questioned.
"Then I'm going to try to sell the rest of these papers, get a slate for Lily and go home."
"Is Lily your little sister?" she asked.
Mickey straightened, firmly closing his lips. He had done it again.
"Just a little girl I know," he said cautiously.
"A little bit of a girl?" she asked.
"'Bout the littlest girl you ever saw," said Mickey, unconsciously interested in the subject.
"And you are going to take her a slate to draw pictures on? How fine! I wish you'd carry her a package for me, too. I was arranging my dresser this morning and I put the ribbons I don't want into a box for some child. Maybe Lily would like them for her doll."
"Lily hasn't any doll," he said. "She had one, but her granny sold it and got drunk on the money."
Mickey stopped suddenly. In a minute more he would have another Orphans' Home argument on his hands.
"Scandalous!" cried Leslie. "In my room there is a doll just begging to go to some little girl. If you took it to Lily, would her granny sell it again?"
"Not this morning," said Mickey. "You see Miss, a few days ago she lost her breath. Permanent! No! If Lily had a doll, nobody would take it from her now."
"I'll bring it at once," she offered "and the ribbons."
"Never mind," said Mickey. "I can get her a doll."
"But you haven't seen this one!" cried Leslie. "You save your money for oranges."
Without waiting for a reply she left the room, presently returning with a box and a doll that seemed to Mickey quite as large as Peaches. It had a beautiful face, hair, real hair that could be combed, and real clothes that could be taken off. Leslie had dressed it for a birthday gift for the little daughter of one of her friends; but by making haste she could prepare another. Mickey gazed in bewilderment. He had seen dolls, even larger and more wonderful than that, in the shop windows, but connecting such a creation with his room and Peaches required mental adjustments.
"I guess you better not," he said with conviction.
"But why not?" asked Leslie in amazement.
"Well for 'bout fifty reasons," replied Mickey. "You see Lily is a poor kid, and her back is bad. That doll is so big she couldn't dress it without getting all tired out; and what's the use showing her such dresses, when she can't have any herself. She's got the best she ever had, and the best she can have right now; so that ain't the kind of a doll for Lily—it's too big—and too—too gladsome!"
"I see," laughed Leslie. "Well Mickey, you show me what would be the right size of a doll for Lily. I'll get another, and dress it as you say. How would that do?"
"You needn't!" said Mickey. "Lily is happy now."
"But wouldn't she like a doll?" persisted Leslie. "I never knew a girl who didn't love a doll. Wouldn't she like a doll?"
"'Most to death I 'spect," said Mickey. "I know she said she cried for the one her granny sold, 'til she beat her. Yes I guess she'd like a doll; but I can get her one."
"But you can't make white nighties for Lily to put on it to take to bed with her, and cunning little dresses for morning, and a street dress for afternoon, and a party dress for evening," tempted the girl.
"Lily has been on the street twice, and she never heard of a party. Just nighties and the morning dress would do, and there's no use for me to be sticking. If you like to give away dolls, Lily might as well have one, for she'd just—I don't know what she would do about it," conceded Mickey.
"All right," said Leslie. "I'll dress it this afternoon, and tomorrow you can come for it in the evening before you go home. If I am not here, the package will be ready. Take the ribbons now. She'd like them for her hair."
"Her hair's too short for a ribbon," said Mickey.
"Then a headband! This way!" said Leslie.
She opened a box and displayed a wonderment of ribbon bands, and bits of gay colour.
"Gee!" gasped Mickey. "I couldn't pick up that much brightness for her in a year!"
"You save what you find for her?" asked Leslie.
"Sure!" said Mickey. "You see Miss, things are pretty plain where she is, so all the brightness I can take her ain't going to hurt her eyes. Thank you heaps. Is there going to be any answer to the letter?"
"Why I haven't read it yet!" cried the girl.
"No! A-body can see that some one else is rustling for your grub!" commented Mickey.
"That's so too," laughed Leslie. "Darling old Daddy!"
"Just about right is he?" queried Mickey, interestedly.
"Just exactly right!" said Leslie.
"Gur-ur-and!" said Mickey. "Some of them ain't so well fixed! And he that wrote the note, I guess he's about as fine as you make them, too!"
"He's the finest man I ever have known, Mickey!" said the girl earnestly.
"Barring Daddy?" suggested Mickey.
"Not barring anybody!" cried she. "Daddy is lovely, but he's Daddy! Mr. Bruce is different!"
"No letter?" questioned Mickey, rising.
"None!" said the girl. "Come to-morrow night. You are sure Lily is so very little, Mickey?"
"You wouldn't call me big, would you?" he asked. "Well! I can lift her with one hand! Such a large doll as that would be tiring and confusing. Please make Lily's more like she's used to. See?"
"Mickey, I do see!" said Leslie. "I beg your pardon. Lily's doll shall not tire her or make her discontented with what she has. Thank you for a good idea."
Mickey returned to the street shortly after noon, with more in his pocket than he usually earned in a day, where by expert work he soon disposed of his last paper. He bought the slate, then hurried home carrying it and the box. At the grocery he carefully selected food again. Then he threw open his door and achieved this:
"Once a little kid named Peaches, Swelled my heart until it eatches. If you think I'd trade her for a dog, Your think-tank has slipped a cog!"
Peaches laughed, stretching her hands as usual. Mickey stooped for her caress, scattering the ribbons over her as he arose. She gasped in delighted amazement.
"Oh! Mickey! Where did you ever? Mickey, where did you get them? Mickey, you didn't st——?"
"You just better choke on that, Miss!" yelled Mickey. "No I didn't st——! And I don't st——! And nothing I ever bring you will be st——! And you needn't ever put no more st's—— at me. See?"
"Mickey, I didn't mean that! Course I know you wouldn't! Course I know you couldn't! Mickey, that's the best poetry piece yet! Did you bring the slate?"
"Sure!" said Mickey, somewhat mollified, but still injured. "I must have dropped it with the banquet!"
Peaches pushed away the billow of colour, taking the slate. Her fingers picking at the string reminded Mickey of sparrow feet; but he watched until she untied and removed the paper which he folded to lay away. She picked up the pencil, meditating.
"Mickey!" she said. "Make my hand do a word!"
"Sure!" said Mickey. "What do you want to write first, Flowersy-girl?"
Peaches looked at him reproachfully.
"Course there wouldn't be but one I'd want to do first of all," she said. "Hold my hand tight, and big and plain up at the top make it write, 'Mickey-lovest.'"
"Sure," said the boy in a hushed voice. He gripped the hand, bending above her, but suddenly collapsed, buried his face in her hair and sobbed until he shook.
Peaches crouched down, lying rigidly. She was badly frightened. At last she could endure it no longer.
"Mickey!" she gasped. "Mickey, what did I do? Mickey, don't write it if you don't want to!"
Mickey arose, wiping his face on the sheet.
"You just bet I want to write that, Lily!" he said. "I never wanted to do anything more in all my life!"
"Then why——?" she began.
"Never you mind 'why' Miss!" said Mickey.
Grasping her hand, he traced the words. Peaches looked at them a long time, then carefully laid the slate aside. She began fingering the ribbons.
"Let me wash you," said Mickey, "and rub your back to rest you from all this day, then I'll comb your hair and you pick the prettiest one. I'll put it on the way she showed me, so you'll be a fash'nable lady."
"Who showed you Mickey, and gave you such pretties?"
"A girl I carried a letter to. After you're bathed and have had supper I'll tell you."
Then Mickey began work. He sponged Peaches, rubbed her back, laid her on his pallet, putting fresh sheets on her bed and carefully preparing her supper. After she had eaten he again ran the comb through her ringlets, telling her to select the ribbon he should use.
"No you!" said Peaches.
Mickey squinted, so exacting was the work of deciding. Red he discarded with one sweep against her white cheeks; green went with it; blue almost made him shudder, but a soft warm pink pleased him, so Mickey folded it into the bands in which it had been creased before, binding it around Peaches' head as Leslie had shown him, then with awkward fingers did his best on a big bow. He crossed the room and picked up a mirror which he held before her reciting: "Once a little kid named Peaches, swelled my heart——"
Peaches took the mirror, studying the face intently. She glanced over her shoulder so Mickey piled the pillows higher. Then she looked at him. Mickey scrutinized her closely.
"You're clean kid, clean as a plate!" he assured her. "Honest you are! You needn't worry about that. I'll always keep you washed clean. She was more particular about that than anything else. Don't you fret about my having a dirty girl around! You're clean, all right!"
Peaches sighed as she returned the mirror. Mickey replaced it, laid the slate and ribbons in reach, washed the dishes, then the sheets he had removed, and their soiled clothing. Peaches lay folding and unfolding the ribbons; asking questions while Mickey worked, or with the pencil tracing her best imitations of the name on the slate. By the time he had finished everything to be done and drawn a chair beside the bed, to see if she had learned her lesson for the day, it was cool evening. She knew all the words he had given her, so he proceeded to write them on the slate. Then told her about the big man named Douglas Bruce and the lovely girl named Leslie Winton, also every word he could remember about the house she lived in; then he added: "Lily, do you like to be surprised better or do you like to think things over?"
"I don't know," said Peaches.
"Well, before long, I'll know," said Mickey. "What I was thinking was this: you are going to have something. I just wondered whether you'd rather know it was coming, or have me walk in with it and surprise you."
"Mickey, you just walk in," she decided.
"All right!" said Mickey.
"Mickey, write on the other side of my slate what you said at the door to- night," she coaxed. "Get a little book an' write 'em all down. Mickey, I want to learn all of them, when I c'n read. Lemme tell you. You make all you c'n think of. Nen make more. An' make 'em, an' make 'em! An' when you get big as you're goin' to be, make books of 'em, an' be a poet-man 'stead of sellin' papers."
"Sure!" said Mickey. "I'd just as lief be a poet-man as not! I'd write a big one all about a little yellow-haired girl named Lily Peaches, and I'd put it on the front page of the Herald! Honest I would! I'd like to!"
"Gee!" said Peaches. "You go on an' grow hel—wope! I mean hurry! Hurry an' grow up!"
The Song of a Bird
"Leslie," said the voice of Mrs. James Minturn over the telephone, "is there any particular time of the day when that bird of yours sings better than at another?"
"Morning, Mrs. Minturn; five, the latest. At that time one hears the full chorus, and sees the perfect beauty. Really, I wouldn't ask you, if I were not sure, positively sure, that you'd find the trip worth while."
"I'll be ready in the morning, but that's an unearthly hour!" came the protest.
"It is almost unearthly sights and sounds to which you are going," answered Leslie. "And be sure you wear suitable clothing."
"What do you call suitable clothing?"
"High heavy shoes," said Leslie, "short stout skirts."
"As if I had such things!" laughed Mrs. Minturn.
"Let me send you something of mine," offered Leslie. "I've enough for two."
"You're not figuring on really going in one of those awful places, are you?" questioned Mrs. Minturn.
"Surely!" cried Leslie. "The birds won't sing to an automobile. And you wouldn't miss seeing such flowers on their stems as you saw at Lowry's for any money. It will be something to tell your friends about."
"Send what I should have. I'd ride a llama through a sea of champagne for a new experience."
Mrs. Minturn turned from the telephone with a contemptuous sneer on her face; but Leslie's gay laugh persisted in her ears. Restlessly she moved through her rooms thinking what she might do to divert herself, and shrinking from all the tiresome things she had been doing for years until there was not a drop of the fresh juice of life to be extracted from them.
"I'm going to take a bath, go to bed early and see if I can sleep," she muttered. "I don't know what it is that James is contemplating, but his face haunts me. Really, if he doesn't be more civil, and stop his morose glowering when I do see him, I'll put him or myself where we won't come in contact. He makes it plain every day that he blames me about Elizabeth. Why should he? He couldn't possibly know of the call of that wild-eyed reformer. So unfortunate that she should come just at that time too! Of course hundreds of children die from spoiled milk every summer, the rich as well as the poor. I'll never get over regretting that I didn't finish what I started to do; but I'd scarcely touched her in her life. She always was so pink and warm, and that awful whiteness chilled me to the soul. I wish I had driven, forced myself! Then I could defy James with more spirit. That's what I lack—spirit! Maybe this trip to the swamp will steady my nerves! Something must be done soon, and I believe, actually I believe he is thinking of doing it! Pooh! What could he do? There isn't an irregularity in my life he can lay his fingers on!"
She rang for her maid and cancelling two engagements for the evening, went to bed, but not to sleep. When she was called early in the morning, she gladly arose, and was dressed in Leslie Winton's short skirts, a waist of khaki, and high shoes near enough her size to be comfortable. Her bath had refreshed her, a cup of hot coffee stimulated her, and despite the lack of sleep she felt better than she had that spring as she went down to the car. On the threshold she met her husband. Evidently he had been out all night on strenuous business. His face was haggard, his eyes bloodshot, while in both hands he gripped a small, square paper-wrapped package. They looked at each other a second that seemed long to both, then the woman laughed.
"Evidently an accounting is expected," she said. "Leslie Winton at the door and the roll of music I carry should be sufficient to prove why I am going out at this hour. You heard us make the arrangement. Thank Heaven I've no interest in knowing where you have been, or what your precious package contains."
His expression and condition frightened her.
"For the weight of a straw overbalance," he said, "only for a hint that you have a soul, I'd freeze it for all time with the contents of this package."
"A threat? You to me?" she cried in amazement.
"Verily, Madam," he said. "I wish you all the joy of the birds and flowers this morning."
"You've gone mad!" she cried.
"Contrarily, I have come to my senses after years of insanity," he said. "I will see you when you return."
She stood bewildered, watching him go down the hall and enter his library. That and his sleeping room were the only places in the house sacred to him. No one entered, no one, not even the incorrigible children, touched anything there. She slowly went to the car, trying to rally to Leslie's greeting, struggling to fix her mind on anything pointed out to her as something she might enjoy.
At last she said: "I don't know what is the matter with me Leslie. James is planning something, I haven't an idea what; but his grim, reproachful face is slowly driving me wild. I'm getting so I can't sleep. You saw him come home as I left. He talked positively crazy, as if he had the crack of doom in his hands and were prepared to crack it. He said he 'would see me when I came back.' Indeed he will—to his sorrow! He will be as he used to be, or we will separate. The idea, with scarcely a cent to his name, of him undertaking to dictate to me, to me! Do you blame me Leslie? You heard him the other day! You know how he insulted me!"
Leslie leaned forward, laying a firm hand in a grip on Mrs. Minturn's arm.
"Since you ask me," she said, "I will answer. If you find life with Mr. Minturn insufferable, an agony to both of you, I would separate, and speedily. If it has come to the place where you can't see each other or speak without falling into unpleasantness, then I'd keep apart."
"That is exactly the case!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "Oh Leslie, I am so glad you agree with me!"
"But I haven't finished," said Leslie, "you interrupted me in the middle. If you are absolutely sure you can't go on peaceably, I would stop; but if I once had loved a man enough to give my life and my happiness into his keeping, to make him the father of my children, I would not separate from him, until I had exhausted every resource, to see if I couldn't in some possible way end with credit."
"If you had been through what I have," said Mrs. Minturn, "you wouldn't endure it any longer."
"Perhaps," said Leslie. "But you see dear Mrs. Minturn, I am handicapped by not knowing what you have been through. To your world you appear to be a woman of great wealth, who does exactly as she pleases and pays her own bills. You seem to have unlimited money, power, position, leisure for anything you fancy. I'll wager you don't know the names of half the servants in your house; a skillful housekeeper takes the responsibility off your hands. You never are seen in public with your children; competent nurses care for them. You don't appear with your husband any more; yet he is a man of fine brain, unimpeachable character, who handles big affairs for other men, and father says he believes his bank account would surprise you. He has been in business for years; surely all he makes doesn't go to other men."
"You know I never thought of that!" cried Mrs. Minturn. "He had nothing to begin on and I've always kept our establishment; he's never paid for more than his clothing. Do you suppose that he has made money?"
"I know that he has!" said Leslie. "Not so fast as he might! Not so much as he could, for he is incorruptible; but money, yes! He is a powerful man, not only in the city, but all over the state. Some of these days you're going to wake up to find him a Senator, or Governor. You seem to be the only person who doesn't know it, or who doesn't care if you do. But when it comes about, as it will, you'll be so proud of him! Dear Mrs. Minturn, please, please go slowly! Don't, oh don't let anything happen that will make a big regret for both."
"Leslie, where did you get all this?" asked Mrs. Minturn in tones of mingled interest and surprise.
"From my father!" answered Leslie. "And from Douglas Bruce. Douglas' office is across the hall from Mr. Minturn's; they meet daily, and from the first they have been friends. Mr. Minturn took Douglas to his clubs, introduced him and helped him into business, so often they work together. Why only yesterday Douglas came to me filled with delight. Mr. Minturn secured an appointment for him to make an investigation for the city which will be a great help to Douglas. It will bring him in contact with prominent men, give him big work and a sample of how mercenary I am—it will bring him big pay and he knows how to use the money in a big way. Douglas knows Mr. Minturn so well, and respects him so highly, yet no one can know him as you do——"
"That is quite true! I live with him! I know the real man!" cried Mrs. Minturn.
"How mean of you!" laughed Leslie, "to distort my reasoning like that! I don't ask you to think up all the little things that have massed into one big grievance against him; I mean stop that for to-day, out here in the country where everything is so lovely, and go back where I am."
"He surely has an advocate! Leslie, when did you start making an especial study of Mr. Minturn?"
"When Douglas Bruce began speaking to me so frequently of him!" answered Leslie. "Then I commenced to watch him and to listen to what people were saying about him, and to ask Daddy."
"It's very funny that every one seems so well informed and so enthusiastic just at the time when I feel that life is unendurable with him," said Mrs. Minturn. "I can't understand it!"
"Mrs. Minturn, try, oh do try to get my viewpoint before you do anything irreparable," begged Leslie. "Away up here in the woods let's think it out! Let's discuss James Minturn in every phase of his nature and see if the big manly part doesn't far outweigh the little irritations. Let's see if you can't possibly go to the meeting he wants when we return with a balance struck in his favour. A divorced woman is always—well, it's disagreeable. Alone you'd feel stranded. Attempt marrying again, where would you find a man with half the points that count for good, to replace him? In after years when your children realize the man he is, how are you going to explain to them why you couldn't live with him?"
"From your rush of words, it is evident you have your arguments at hand," said Mrs. Minturn. "You've been thinking more about my affairs than I ever did. You bring up points I never have thought of; you make me see things that would not have occurred to me; yet as you put them, they have awful force. You haven't exactly said it, but what you mean is that you believe me in the wrong; so do all my friends. All of you sympathize with Mr. Minturn! All of you think him a big man worthy of every consideration and me deserving none."
"You're putting that too strong," retorted Leslie. "You are right about Mr. Minturn; but I won't admit that I find you 'worthy of no consideration at all,' or I wouldn't be imploring you to give yourself a chance at happiness."
"'Give myself a chance at happiness!'"
"Dear Mrs. Minturn, yes!" said Leslie. "All your life, so far, you have lived absolutely for yourself; for your personal pleasure. Has happiness resulted?"
"Happiness?" cried Mrs. Minturn in amazement. "You little fool! With my husband practically a madman, my children incorrigible, my nerves on edge until I can't sleep, because one thought comes over and over."
"Well you achieved it in society!" said Leslie. "It's the result of doing exactly what you wanted to! You can't say James Minturn was to blame for what you had the money and the desire to do. You can't think your babies would have preferred their mother to the nurses and governesses they have had——"
"If you say another word about that I'll jump from the car and break my neck," threatened Mrs. Minturn. "No one sympathizes with me!"
"That is untrue," said Leslie. "I care, or I wouldn't be doing what I am now. And as for sympathy, I haven't a doubt but every woman of your especial set will weep tears of condolence with you, if you'll tell them what you have me. There is Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Farley, and a dozen women among your dearest friends who have divorced their husbands, and are free lances or remarried; you can have friends enough to suit you in any event."