"I've got my hand on that, Phil. I've answered."
Phil saw that the subject of this correspondence, whose import she had scarcely grasped, was not to be brought into the conversation. She turned away as Amzi addressed her father in a low tone.
"Tom, as I remember, you made a report on that scheme before the bonds were sold. Do you mind telling me whether that was for the same crowd that finally took it up?"
"Yes; but they cut down the amount they undertook to float. Sam Holton sold a lot of the bonds along the line; a good many of them are held right here in this county."
"They are, indeed. It seemed a plausible thing for the home folks to own the securities of a company that was going to do so much for the town; they pulled that string hard. It was a scheme to draw the coin out of the old stocking under the fireplace. If it was good for widows and orphans out in Seattle and Bangor, why wasn't it good for 'em at home? And it is good for the people at home if it's played straight. I've had an idea that these cross-country trolleys will have about the same history the steam roads had,—a good many of 'em will bust and the original investors will see their securities shrink; and there will be smash-ups and shake-downs and then in time the lines will pay. Just what's the trouble here, Tom, if you don't mind?"
"There's an apprehension that the November interest won't be paid. The company's had some hard luck—a wreck that's piled up a lot of damage suits, for one thing; and in one or two counties the commissioners are trying to make them pay for new bridges—a question of the interpretation of the franchise. I gave warning of that possibility."
"Thunder! I hope it won't come to the worst. I didn't know you were keeping track of it."
"One of my old classmates at Williams is counsel for the Desbrosses Trust and Guaranty Company which is the trustee for the bondholders. I passed on the mortgage for them as to its local aspects. I'm going over to Indianapolis to meet him in a few days to determine what to do in event the interest is defaulted. The management has been unsatisfactory, and after five years the replacements are running ahead of the estimates."
"I wonder—" began Amzi; then he paused and rubbed his scalp. "I suppose my neighbor Bill is already out from under."
"I don't know," said Kirkwood soberly. "It was Sam who was the chief promoter."
"Sam was a smooth proposition. Thunder! I lost money when Sam died. I'd made a bet with myself that they'd pin something on him before he got through, but he died just out of spite to make me lose. Thunder! Bill makes strong statements."
The strength of the statements made by the First National Bank did not, however, seem to disturb Amzi. What he had learned from Kirkwood had not been in the nature of fresh information, but it had confirmed certain suspicions touching the Sycamore Traction Company. The Bartletts and Phil were talking quietly in a corner. Amzi rose and pulled down his percale waistcoat and buttoned the top button of his cutaway coat, in which he looked very much like a fat robin. He advanced toward the group in the corner.
"Nan," he said, "you didn't buy a Sycamore bond that time I told you not to, did you?"
Rose beat time for her sister mockingly, and they answered in singsong.
"We did not! We did not! But," Nan added, dropping her hands to her sides tragically, "but if we had, oh, sir!"
"If you had I should have bought it of you at a premium. It's hard work being a banker for women: they all want ten per cent a month."
"Paul Fosdick's things were all guaranteed ten per cent a year," remarked Rose.
They all waited for the explosion that must follow the mention of this particular brother-in-law. Nowhere else in town would any one have dared to bring Fosdick, who was believed to be his pet abomination, into a conversation. Even in Hastings he found a kind of joy; the presence of a retired Hamlet among the foliage of the family tree was funny now that he had got used to it; and Amzi had a sense of humor. This little company expected him to explode and he must not disappoint them. The color mounted to his bald dome and his eyes bulged.
"Thunder! Rose, play that jiggly funeral march of a marionette!"
"I refuse," said Rose, spreading her skirts on the divan, "to do anything so cruel!"
"And besides," said Nan, "I bought a share of stock in his brickyard."
"Nan Bartlett," said Amzi, planting himself before her, "I will give you a peck of parsnips for that share."
"Couldn't take advantage of you, Amzi; and we never eat parsnips. They're bad for the complexion."
"Thunder!" he snorted contemptuously.
"Thunder" was his favorite, almost his only, expletive, but his thunder was only a single boom without reverberations. His four auditors understood him perfectly, however. Fosdick was always "starting" something. He had even attempted to organize a new cemetery association, which, as Greenlawn was commodious, and as any amount of land adjacent made possible its indefinite expansion, Amzi regarded as an absurd and unholy project. With Fosdick, Amzi had no business relations of any kind. He belonged to the Commercial Club, to be sure, but this was a concession on his part; he never attended any of its meetings. And he had, it was said, requested his enterprising brother-in-law to withdraw his patronage from the Montgomery Bank for reasons never wholly clear to the curious. Fosdick had talked about it in bitterness of spirit; Amzi had not. Amzi never talked of his business. He rarely lost a customer; and if a citizen transferred his account to the First or the Citizens' National, it was assumed that Amzi no longer cared particularly to have that individual on his ledgers. Such a transfer aroused in cautious minds a degree of suspicion, for horses rarely died in Amzi's stable.
"Thunder! It's time to go home. Guess the rain's stopped."
Amzi set out for home with the Kirkwoods. He was in capital spirits, and kept up a steady give and take with Phil. Just before reaching his own gate they passed Kirkwood's former home. Amzi's sisters persistently demanded that something be done about the abandoned house, which, with its neglected garden, was a mournful advertisement of their sister's ill-doings. It had been a shock to them to discover, a few years after her flight, that it had passed from her to Amzi and from him to Kirkwood. The consideration had been adequate; the county records told the story plainly. There was, of course, no reason why Lois should continue to own a house for which she had no use; but there was less reason why her former husband should acquire the property merely, as it seemed, from motives of sentiment. Every weed in the garden—and the crop was abundant—called attention to the blot on the Montgomery 'scutcheon. And if Kirkwood was silly enough to cling to the old home, while living in a rented house in a less agreeable neighborhood, there was no reason why he should refuse to lease it and devote the income to Phil's upbringing.
It was not a cheerful item of the urban landscape and the sorrow of Amzi's sisters that it should remain dolefully at their own thresholds was pardonable. The moon looked down at it soberly through dispersing clouds as though grieved by its disrepair. The venerable forest trees that gave distinction to the "old Montgomery place" had shaken their leaves upon this particular part and parcel of the elder Amzi's acres, and piled them upon the veranda steps. The gate, fastened to the post by a chain and padlock, sagged badly, and bulged upon the public walk.
Amzi stopped and pushed it back, causing the chain to rattle dolorously. Kirkwood watched him indifferently. Phil lent her uncle a hand. Amzi, panting from his efforts, ejaculated: "Thunder!" and a moment later they bade each other good-night under the gas lamp at his own gate.
A TRANSACTION IN APPLES
Phil was not visible the next morning when at seven o'clock Kirkwood glanced about the house for her. She had indulged herself in the matter of rising since the high-school bell no longer regulated her habits, and her father had hardly expected to see her. There was no morning newspaper to read—he took a Chicago daily at his office—and he opened the windows and doors to admit the air. Domestic affairs interested Thomas Kirkwood little. During the years in which Phil was passed from aunt to aunt he had lived at the Morton House, and after establishing the new home that he might have her with him, one or another of the aunts had supervised his household, and at times, to his discomfiture, all had taken a hand at it.
This rented cottage where the Kirkwoods lived was in the least fashionable part of Main Street, beyond the commercial district and near the railroad. Trains thundered through a cut not far from the rear fence, and the cars of the Sycamore Traction Company rumbled by at intervals. The cottage was old but comfortable, and it was remarked that Kirkwood had probably chosen it for the reason that he could go to and from his office without passing his abandoned home. Phil liked living on Main Street. Her devotion to that thoroughfare had been a source of great pain to her aunts. Even as her Uncle Amzi absorbed local color from the steps of his bank, Phil was an alert agent in the field, on nodding terms with the motormen of the interurban cars, and with the jehus, who, cigarette in mouth and hat tipped on one side, drove the village hacks. Captain Joshua Wilson, who had been recorder of his county continuously since he lost a leg at Missionary Ridge, and who wrote a poem every year for the reunion of his regiment, had written certain lines for the "Evening Star" in which "P. K." was addressed as the Diana of Main Street. As to the soundness of his mythology there might be debate, but there was no question as to Phil's thorough identification with Main Street, all the way from her father's house, past the court-house, shops, and banks, out to the old Sugar Creek Bridge where the town became country without any warning whatever.
It was Judge Walters who first called her "Otherwise Phyllis." This was in Phil's school days before she passed from her aunts' custody. The judge delighted in Phil's battles with the aunts. Whenever his wife began to recount a day's occurrences at the supper-table, and the recital opened promisingly, it was the judge's habit to cut short her prefaces with, "Otherwise Phyllis—" and bid her hurry on to the catastrophe, sparing no tragic detail.
Kirkwood had never, from the day his wife left him, offered himself in the market-place as an object of sympathy. He had been a man of reserves at all times, and the sudden termination of his married life had merely driven him in further upon himself. If he was broken-hearted, the fragments were well hidden. He felt that he was a failure, and he saw men of less ability passing him in the race. Now and then he had roused himself under stress and demonstrated his unusual gifts by striking successes; but after one of these spurts he would relapse into an indifference to which he seemed increasingly ready to yield.
He had risen this morning with a new resolution, attributable to his talk with Nan Bartlett the night before. Even if he did not care for himself, there was always Phil to consider. And Phil was very much to consider. She had decided for herself that the high school had given her all the education she needed. Kirkwood had weighed the matter carefully and decided that she would not profit greatly by a college course—a decision which Phil had stoutly supported. Her aunts favored a year at a finishing school to tone down her rough edges, but having laid their plan before their brother Amzi that gentleman had sniffed at it. What was the use of spoiling Phil? he demanded. "Thunder!" And there was no reason in the world why Phil should be spoiled.
Phil was not, in any view of the case, an ignorant person. She knew a great many things that were not embraced in the high-school curriculum. Her father harbored an old-fashioned love of the poets; which is not merely to say that at some time in his life he had run through them, but that he read poetry as one ordinarily reads novels, quite naturally and without shame. Something of his own love of poetry had passed to his daughter. He had so trained her that literature meant to Phil not printed pages, but veritable nature and life. Books were a matter of course, to be taken up and put down as the reader pleased, and nothing to grow priggish about. She had caught from him an old habit, formed in his undergraduate days, of a light, whimsical use of historical and literary allusions. She entered zestfully into the spirit of this kind of fooling; and, to his surprise, she had developed an astonishing knack of imitation and parody. Sometimes Kirkwood without preluding, would utter a line for Phil to cap; they even composed sonnets in this antiphonal fashion and pronounced them superior to the average magazine product. Phil had not only learned much from her father, but she had absorbed a great deal of lore at the Bartletts', where everything bookish was vitalized and humanized.
Kirkwood, hearing the creak of the swinging door between the pantry and dining-room,—a familiar breakfast signal,—chose with care a volume of Bagehot and carried it to the table which had been set, he imagined, by the "girl" selected by his sisters-in-law to carry on his establishment during the winter.
He helped himself to grapes, and was eating with his eye on a page of Bagehot when the door swung again and Phil piped a cheerful good-morning. She was an aproned young Phil and her face was flushed from recent proximity to the range. She described her entrance in lines she had fashioned for the purpose:—
"She came While yet the jocund day was young, and fetched In hands but lightly singed upon the stove The coffee-pot, with muddy contents filled—"
Kirkwood, concealing his surprise at seeing her, took his cue:—
"And he, toying meanwhile with fruitage of the vine, To-wit the mellow grape, scarce breathed to see The nut-brown maid, and gasped, 'Where is the cook?'"
"Oh, the cook has went, to come down to the plain prose of it, daddy. There was one here yesterday, but one's dynastic aunts had picked her for her powers of observation and ready communication, so I fired her hence. And with that careless grace which I hope you find becoming in me I decided to run the shop all by my lonesome for a while. I thought I'd start with breakfast so that any poisons that may creep into the victuals will have time to work while the drug-stores are open. How long do you cook an egg, is it two minutes or two weeks?"
"This will never do," said Kirkwood gravely, watching her pour the coffee. "You shouldn't have discharged one cook until you had another."
"Tut! There's not enough to do in this house for two able-bodied women—and I'm one! Rose taught me how to make coffee yesterday, and toast and eggs are easy. Just look at that coffee! Real amber? It's an improvement for looks on what you've been brewing for yourself in camp. And I've been watching your winning ways with the camp frying-pan. Rose gave me a cook-book that is full of perfectly adorable ideas. Come up for lunch and I'll show you some real creations."
She slipped away into the kitchen and reappeared with toast and boiled eggs. She had cooked the eggs by the watch as Rose had instructed her. Her father relaxed the severity of his countenance to commend them. But he did not like Phil in this new role. The casting forth of the cook provided by the aunts would be regarded as an offense not lightly to be passed by those ladies; but Phil had never appeared so wholly self-possessed. She poured coffee for herself, diluted it with hot water, buttered a slice of toast with composure, tasted it and complained that the grocer had sent rancid butter.
Kirkwood pushed aside his Bagehot. He did not know just how to deal with a daughter who, without the slightest warning, dispatched her cook and took upon herself the burden of the household. The coffee was to his liking; it was indubitably better than he had been used to; but the thing would not do. He must show Phil the error of her ways and lose no time about it.
"I'm sorry you didn't like the girl they sent you; but you must find another. There's no reason, of course, why you shouldn't choose for yourself; but it's not easy to find help in a town like this. I can't have you doing the housework. That must be understood, Phil."
"You're not having me; I'm having me, which is a very different thing. If you had driven me into the kitchen with loud, furious words, I should have rebelled—screamed, and made a terrible scene. But you did nothing of the kind. It happened in this wise. Glancing up quite by chance, as it were, you beheld me pouring coffee of my own brewing. Fatherly pride extinguished any feeling of shock or chagrin. You have smothered any class feeling that may linger in your aristocratic soul and are making a good bluff at enjoying the eating of your breakfast with the lady who cooked it. Could anything be more beautiful? The ayes seem to have it; the ayes have it, as I used to be fond of saying when I was boss of the Philomathean. I wish now I'd taken the domestic science course more seriously and spent less time in the gymnasium. But thus it is we live and learn."
Phil's tone made rebuke difficult. He loved her foolishness just as her Uncle Amzi did—just as every one did except her aunts, for whom the affected stiltedness of her speech was merely a part of her general deplorable unconventionality.
"Well, Phil, the idea of your cooking the meals for this establishment isn't debatable. You're overruled and the debate closed."
"Still harping on my daughter's cooking! Please, in current idiom, cut it out. Try marmalade on that too, too perfect toast."
He accepted marmalade and returned to the attack.
"You see, Phil, everything's different now. You've got to wake up to your social responsibilities."
"And be a perfect lady? I know. Amy got me into the back room of the bank yesterday and told me. One's aunts had bullied the old dear into springing the sad intelligence. Then Nan had already given me a session. And now you, too, Brutus, are about to lay the matter before me in a few crisp sentences. But why all this assumption that I'm not a real lady? There's a good deal of loose thinking on that subject, to use one of your own best phrases. If there is nothing more before the house—"
Phil had been studiously stuccoing her toast with marmalade, and she bit into it before looking at her father.
"You know perfectly well what I mean, Phil. This is a serious time in your life. You've got to adapt yourself to the ways of the world—the world of convention. You must consider yourself as a member of society. It's only in a limited sense that we can be individualists. And I can't have my daughter weighed down with such cares as these you threaten to assume. It would hurt me more than I can tell you if I believed it necessary. But it isn't necessary. None the less I know perfectly well that if it were necessary you would be equal to it—you are equal to anything you undertake. But I can't have you wasting yourself on such things."
"Daddy dear, this is getting terribly philosophical. Let us be really serious for a little bit. You know, we haven't much money, have we? Not very much, anyhow."
She had broached the matter as delicately as possible. It had been in her mind that she must speak to her father about their affairs, but she had not thought the opportunity would offer so quickly. It was hard to say to him that she had undertaken to manage the housekeeping as an economical measure; that she knew he owed money that he had no immediate prospect of paying.
The hurt look that she had seen in his eyes sometimes was heartbreaking. When Phil was younger, she used to ask about her mother, but later she had never referred to her. Her aunts had, after their fashion, not been above using her mother to point a moral. In their lack of appreciation of the keenness of the child's intuitions or her eager imagination, they had established in her a belief that her mother was a bad woman: the facts spoke for themselves. And having had a bad mother it was incumbent upon Phil to choose her path with a particular care and to walk in it circumspectly.
Phil had, by this time, considered the case from the changing viewpoints natural to the young mind. In that rosy light through which a girl of fifteen is apt to view life,—the first realizations of sex, the age of the first novels,—Phil had not been free from the contemplation of her mother as a romantic figure. For a woman to forsake a husband for a lover was not without precedents. Phil had dreamed over this a good deal, in an impersonal sort of way, and the unknown mother had been glorified in scenes of renunciation, following nobly the high call of a greater love. By a swift transition her father assumed the sympathetic role in the domestic drama. She chanced upon novels in which the spurned husband was exalted to the shame of the dishonorable wife. Her father fitted well into this picture. She even added herself to the dramatis personae, not without a sense of her value in the scene. But these were only passing phases. There was no morbid strain in Phil. Her father was the best of companions, and she was quick to recognize his fineness and gentleness and to appreciate his cultivation with its background of solid learning.
Phil's question startled her father. Money had never been discussed in the household, and this new gravity in his daughter's eyes troubled him. Phil's needs had been few; her demands had burdened him little. Her aunts had bought her clothes and sent him the bills. When he gave her money to spend, he never asked for an accounting, though he was often amused by the uses to which she put it; and sometimes he had been touched by her gifts at Christmas or on his birthdays, which ranged from a reckless investment in gay neckties to a set of some author whose definitive edition he had coveted—Shelley or Landor or Matthew Arnold. No; money was not a subject that had interested Phil, and her father found her direct question disconcerting.
"No, Phil. We are not rich—far from it. It's hardly possible for a lawyer to grow rich in a town like this. But I haven't been doing as well as I could lately. I've got to do better and I must be about it."
He drew himself up in his chair and glanced at his watch. It had stopped, and as the court-house clock boomed eight he set it. It was quite like him to allow his watch to run down.
"I was in your office yesterday, daddy, and I hope you won't mind, but I was straightening your desk and I couldn't help seeing some old bills. Several of them had been there a long time. My graduating dress hasn't been paid for—and some things like that. We must economize until those bills are paid. And I was thinking that you ought to get more money out of the building. Rents are going up on Main Street. I heard Paul Fosdick say so. You ought to raise the clothing store rent right away. I don't know of any easier way of getting money," she added drolly, "than by wringing it from the tenants."
She laughed, to make it easier for him.
"Yes; that's one way of doing it; only Bernstein had a long lease that expires—I'm not sure when it does expire—" he concluded, and the color deepened in his dark cheeks. It was his business to know when the lease on the property expired, and as though reminded by this lapse of similar failures in other directions, he drew out his watch again and made sure that he had wound it.
"It expires," said Phil, "on the last day of this next December. I looked it up yesterday afternoon in that little memorandum book you keep in your desk."
"I guess that's right. I'm glad you mentioned it. I'll see Bernstein right away and ask him if he wants to renew the lease. I suppose I ought to coax a higher rent out of him, but he's been there a long time."
"Oh, he'll stand another fifty and be glad of it. His sign is on all the fences in the country—'Bernstein's—The Same Old Place.' It would cost him some money to change that. And you could cheer him up by painting the front of the building. The interurban is bringing a lot more business to Montgomery. I've been thinking we ought to do something about that third floor room where the photograph shop used to be. Bernstein has an upstairs room in the next building where his tailor imparts that final deft touch that adjusts ready-made garments to the most difficult figure. It would be handier for him to conduct the sartorial transformations in the chamber over his own gate, wouldn't it? And I don't think we need wait for that photographer to come back from the penitentiary or wherever he languisheth."
She was minimizing the significance of these suggestions—a significance that lay, she knew, in the fact of their coming from her—by lapsing into the absurdities with which she embellished her familiar talk. She pronounced "languisheth" with a prolongation of the last syllable that gave to it a characteristic touch of mockery.
"I'd been hoping he'd show up again and cart off his rubbish. But we've had some fun out of the gallery. If we rent it to Bernstein for his retouching mysteries, we shan't have any place to develop our negatives."
"That's so; but maybe we can retouch Bernstein for enough extra to get them done for us. It's the ducats, my lord, that move my fancy. The Bernsteins have grown almost disagreeably rich at the same old stand and it's about time the Kirkwoods were thrusting their talons into the treasure chest."
Sounds of disaster in the kitchen caused Phil to rise hastily and disappear through the swing doors. She returned calmly a moment later.
"Only the tea-kettle playing at being a geyser. When we get rich I'm going to have a gas range. They say it's the only way to cook and cook and be a lady still."
"That brings us back to cooking—" began her father.
"Not at all, daddy. The subject is dismissed forever. I'm going to have that Ethiop who does chores for us clean up the photograph gallery. I'll be down after while, to see how it looks."
She bade him good-bye at the front door, and went whistling about the further business of the morning. The sky was blue and the air warmed as the sun climbed into the heavens. Phil felt that she had conveyed to her father a sense of their imperative needs without wounding him. She was resolved to help him if she could. Her pride had been pricked by her Uncle Amzi's proffered aid, which she had carefully avoided mentioning to her father. She knew that it would have hurt him, and she had reasoned, much in the fashion of Nan Bartlett, that her father owed it to himself to exercise his unquestioned gifts to reestablish himself in his profession. As he left her and walked toward the street, she was aware that he strode away more quickly than was his wont.
Phil's morning was not eventless. The telephone jingled three times, as three aunts demanded to know why she had parted with the maid-of-all-work they had installed in the Kirkwood kitchen. Aunt Josie was censorious and Aunt Fanny mildly remonstrative; Aunt Kate sought light as to the reason for the cook's early passing, as she was anxious to try her herself. Phil disposed of these calls with entire good humor. Then a senior, between lectures at the college, asked her if she would go driving with him Sunday afternoon. The senior, in the security of his fraternity house, prolonged the conversation. As this was Thursday and there was never any imperative need in Montgomery for making engagements so far ahead, the senior was exercising unjustifiable precaution. Phil declined the invitation. Her aunts had repeatedly warned her against college boys. A daughter of the house of Montgomery was not to waste herself upon students, a lawless body of whom no one knew anything in particular save that they seized every opportunity to murder sleep for reputable citizens.
Phil employed the telephone to order of the grocer and butcher, made beds, swept rooms, and sat down with a new magazine, dropped at the door by the postman, to run her eyes over the pictures. One or two things she was sure her father would like; a sketch of Massenet she must call to Rose Bartlett's attention. She planned luncheon and began the peeling of potatoes with a page of Keats propped on the table beside her—a trick she had learned at the Bartletts'. "Endymion" need suffer nothing from proximity to potatoes, though it should be said that Phil's paring would have distressed a frugal housekeeper.
While thus employed a step sounded on the brick walk, and a young man knocked at the open door without glancing in. He chewed a straw as he observed the chimneys of the adjoining house, and Phil, sitting by the kitchen table, paused in her paring to make sure of his identity. Then she placed her pan of potatoes on the table and crossed quickly to the door.
"Good-morning, madam. Would you like—"
He extended two apples as samples. Phil glanced at them with interest. They were not the best of apples, as any one could see. Fred Holton removed his hat and pulled the straw from his mouth.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Kirkwood," he said, with a gravity that was not mitigated by a slight quivering of Phil's lips as she continued to ignore their earlier acquaintance. "I didn't know this was your house or I shouldn't have come in."
"Then it's a good thing you didn't know," replied Phil. "If you're selling apples you have to try all the houses you come to. Not to go into every gate wouldn't be business."
"Well, I suppose that's so," observed Holton doubtfully, letting one of the apples fall. Phil picked it up with the quick reach of a shortstop. She ignored his apologies for failing to recover it himself, and examined the apple critically.
"If you haven't any better apples in your wagon than this, you're not likely to sell many," Phil commented. "This one's spotted and it's a safe guess that a worm nestles within. You ought to pick out the best for samples."
"They're not a very good lot," confessed Holton. "It's an old orchard and it hasn't had any attention. I'm going to put out some new trees next year."
"That's a good idea," Phil observed reflectively. "I've noticed that they've been planting pears and apples in several places around there. Uncle Amy got a good first crop this year from his young orchard. But he had a man spray the bugs off. There are a lot of things to do to an orchard. The land Uncle Amy turned into an orchard runs right up to your place, and it must be the same kind of land. But it isn't as easy as it looks—apples isn't."
"Apples isn't?" he repeated soberly.
"Oh, cheer up, that's a joke! I know apples aren't!"
The young man smiled.
"Mine isn't, I'm afraid, from what you say about them."
"I think maybe that speck isn't a wormhole, after all," said Phil, subjecting the apple she still held to another scrutiny. "You might give us a half a bushel of these. My ambitions lead me toward apple pie, and if it doesn't come out well I can blame your apples."
He smiled again, and frank admiration shone in his eyes as they surveyed Phil with more assurance.
"If you really want some of these I'll bring them in. Half a bushel?"
"That will be enough," replied Phil succinctly. She rubbed the apple with the corner of her blue-and-white apron, chose a spot that inspired confidence, and bit into it. She waited for the effect absently and puckered her lips. "It's a cooker. What's the name of the brand?"
"Give it up."
"Then I'll tell you. It's a 'Liza Browning. You'd better learn the names of apples before you go much further in the business. Any farmhand can tell you. Uncle Amy's taught me about twenty. What's the price of this precious fruit?"
"Oh, I couldn't charge you for these, you know. You see—"
"Then I won't take them—nary an apple! You bring in those apples and I'll pay you just the same price you ask everybody else."
Her attention was attracted by a black cat moving along the alley fence with noble unconcern. Phil stepped out upon the brick walk, drew back her arm and threw the apple. It struck the fence immediately beneath the cat, which vanished on the alley side.
"Good shot. You almost got him!"
"Almost nothing!" said Phil scornfully. "You didn't suppose I wanted to hit the wretch, did you? He's an old pal of mine and would be lonesome if I didn't scare him to death occasionally."
Holton brought the apples in a sack which he emptied into a basket Phil found for the purpose. His absence had been prolonged. To measure half a bushel of apples is not ordinarily a serious matter, but in this instance the vendor chose fastidiously. The fruit that went into the sack was beyond question the best in the wagon.
"How much?" asked Phil, surveying her purchase, purse in hand.
"Oh, about a quarter."
She handed him a fifty cent piece.
"Please don't try that again—not here! I've been telephoning the grocery and apples about like those are a dollar a bushel. Good-morning!"
"Good-morning, Miss Kirkwood."
He looked at her intently, laughed, threw the sack over his shoulder and went out, holding the coin in his hand.
THE OTHERWISENESS OF PHYLLIS
Hint to those who read with an eye on the clock: skip this chapter! It is made up from notes furnished by Mrs. John Newman King, Judge Walters, Captain Joshua Wilson, the veteran recorder, former-Sheriff Whittlesey and others, and is included merely to satisfy those citizens of Montgomery who think this entire history should be devoted to Phil, to the exclusion of her friends and relations. The historian hopes he is an open-minded person, and he would rather please Montgomery than any other center of thought and industry he knows; but the laws of proportion (as Phil would be the first to point out) may not lightly be ignored. Phil's otherwiseness was always difficult to keep in bounds; it must not tyrannize these pages. Skip and carry thirteen, but don't complain if pilgrims from Montgomery take you to task for denying Phil five minutes of your time.
Phil was on her way to Buckeye Lane the first cold day in November to call on the daughter of a newly enrolled member of the Madison faculty when she saw her Uncle Amzi on the bank steps taking the air. She had on her best walking-suit, and swung a silver cardcase in her hand. The cardcase marked an advance. Formal calls were not to Phil's taste, but her aunts had lately been endeavoring to persuade her that it was no longer seemly for her to "drop in" when and where she pleased, but that there were certain calls of duty and ceremony which required her best togs and the leaving of circumspect bits of cardboard inscribed "Miss Kirkwood." When Phil set forth to call upon a girl friend it was still something of a question whether caller and callee would sit in the parlor and be ladies or seek the open to crack walnuts on the kitchen steps or slide down the cellar door.
As Phil spied her uncle she stopped abruptly, feigned to be looking at the sign over his head, and when his glasses presently focused upon her, pretended suddenly to be intent upon the face of the court-house clock two blocks distant.
"Beg pardon, sir, but is this a bank?"
Thus accosted Mr. Montgomery looked upon his niece with exaggerated surprise.
"A bank, little girl? What on earth do you want with a bank?"
"I thought I might separate it from some of its cash; or if the terms are satisfactory I might leave some money. If the venerable old party I address holds a job inside we might withdraw from the public gaze and commune within the portals. The day is raw and that ice-cream suit invites pneumonia."
Passers-by viewed the pair with an amused smile. Captain Wilson, stumping along at the moment, asked without pausing:—
"Stranger in town, Amzi?"
"Yes, Cap; she's just bought the town and wants the key to the bank vault."
Phil followed her uncle into the bank and waited for him to walk round behind the cages. The dingy old room with its walnut counter and desks seemed at once a brighter place. The four clerks made it convenient to expose themselves to Phil's smile. She planted herself at the paying teller's cage and waited for Amzi's benevolent countenance to appear at the wicket. She held up her cardcase that he might have the full benefit of her splendor, extracted a small bit of paper, and passed it in to him. Seeing that it was not one of the familiar checks of the Montgomery Bank, he scrutinized it closely. It was a check of the "Journey's End" Magazine Company for fifty dollars, drawn upon a New York bank and payable to Phyllis Kirkwood.
Amzi's face expressed no surprise. He threw it back and waved her away.
"It's no good. Worthless!"
"No good? You don't mean—"
"No good, Miss Kirkwood—without your indorsement."
"Why didn't you say so! I don't want to come as near sudden death as that again."
He thrust out a pen so that she need not turn to the tall desk behind her to make the indorsement. He examined the signature carefully and blotted it.
"One of your own efforts, Phil?" he asked carelessly.
"Well, yes, you might say so. I suppose you'd call it that."
"A poor guess, Amy, and marks you as an ignorant person. Fifty dollars for a poem out of my green little cantaloupe? That's half what Milton got for 'Paradise Lost.' And the prices haven't gone up much since John died."
She knew that his curiosity was aroused. This play of indifference was an old game of theirs, a part of the teasing to which she subjected him and which he encouraged.
"Absurd! Everybody in this town is writing a novel. Every time I go into the post-office I see scared-looking people getting their manuscripts weighed, and nervously looking round for fear of being caught. Nan says it's a kind of literary measles people have in Indiana. Aunt Josephine's cook writes poetry—burnt up a pan of biscuits the other day when she was trying to find a rhyme for 'Isaiah.'"
"I wondered what caused me so much pain the last time I ate supper at Josie's. I must have swallowed a sonnet. What's your line, Phil?"
"It was this way, Amy. You know that piece I read at the high-school commencement—'The Dogs of Main Street'?"
"I do, Phil, I do; I nearly laughed myself to death."
"Well, it did seem to tickle the folks. I was about to kindle the fire with it one day when I happened to think that if it would make a high-school commencement laugh it ought to raise a laugh out of 'most anybody. So I touched it up and put in a few new dogs I've got the boys in Landers's livery-stable taking care of, and sent it to three magazines. The first two regretted, but the third fell for it. They want pictures of the dogs, though, and will give me twenty more round iron dollars for a full set, so if you see me on the hike with the camera in the morning, don't ring up the town marshal."
"Well, well," said Amzi; "it sounds like easy money. Going to keep it up?"
"I have said nothing," replied Phil, holding up her cardcase and swinging it by its short chain. "Just credit me with the fifty and I'll bring in my book the next time I find it."
In front of the theater she ran into her Uncle Lawrence, gloomily posed before the entrance with his astrakhan collar drawn up about his ears. He had once seen Richard Mansfield in just such a coat and had been moved to imitation.
"Divinity!" breathed Hastings tragically, noting Phil's glowing cheeks and satisfying raiment.
"Forget it!" said Phil. "How about a box for the Saturday matinee? I think I'll pull off a party for a bunch of girls at your expense. What is that on the boards? You don't mean that 'Her Long Road Home' threatens this town again? Why rub it in, Lawrince?"
"They've canceled," said Hastings with a sigh. "That booking-office is a den of thieves. No honor, no feeling, no ideals of art!"
His tones were unusually abysmal. He stood with his back to the door of his theater as though shielding it from Philistine assaults upon the drama's divine temple.
"By the way, Lawrince—" Her Aunt Kate had rebuked her at least a thousand times for calling him "Lawrince." He had asked her to call him "Uncle Larry," which was her main reason for not doing so. Her standard of uncles was high. She had never admitted her aunts' husbands to a share in a relationship that was ennobled by Amzi Montgomery. Fosdick was usually "Paul" to Phil; Waterman she always called "Judge," which he hated. "Lawrince, what became of that play you wrote yourself and put on in Chicago? Why don't you bring it here and give the town a treat?"
Hastings bent upon her the grieved look of a man who suffers mutely the most unkindest cut of all. Et tu, Brute! was in his reproachful glance.
"I didn't think this of you, Phil. Of course you knew the piece closed Saturday night at Peoria."
She had not known. Her aunt had spoken largely of the venture. The theatrical powers of New York having frowned upon Hastings's play, he had produced it himself, sending it forth from Chicago to enlighten the West before carrying it to Broadway, there to put to rout and confusion the lords of the drama who had rejected it. Five thousand dollars had been spent and the play had failed dismally. Nor was this the first of Hastings's misadventures of the same sort. Phil analyzed her uncle's gloom and decided that it was sincere, and she was sorry for him as was her way in the presence of affliction. Hastings was an absurd person, intent upon shining in a sphere to which the gods had summoned him only in mockery. Phil lingered to mitigate his grief as far as possible.
"I'm sorry; but I suppose if a play won't go, it won't."
"A play of merit won't! My aim was to advance the ideal of American drama; that was all. The same money put into musical comedy would have nailed S. R. O. on the door all winter."
"Lawrince," said Phil, glancing up at the facade of The Hastings, "I'll tell you how you can make a barrel of money out of this brick building."
He looked at her guardedly. Phil was a digger of pits, as he knew by experience, and he was in no humor for trifling. His own balance at the bank was negligible, and his wife had warned him that no more money would be forthcoming for the encouragement of the American drama.
"Lawrince, what you ought to do is to hire that blind piano-pounder who thumps for the fraternity dances, put a neat red-haired girl in a box on the sidewalk, get one of the football team who's working his way through college to turn the crank, and put on a fil-lum."
This was, indeed, rubbing salt in his wounds. He flinched at the thought.
"Turn my house over to the 'movies'! Phil, I didn't think this of you. After all I've tried to do to lift this dingy village to a realizing sense of what drama is—what it should mean—"
"Trim it, Hector. You can break all the banks in town uplifting the drama and never put it over. About once a winter you have a good piece; the rest of the time the folks who want to see real actors go to Indianapolis or sneak up to Chicago for a week and beat you to it. That fil-lum show down by the court-house is rotten. Coarse and stupid. Why not spend a few dollars changing the front of this joint and put on good pictures? The people who keep the pictures moving in Indianapolis sit around the fire Sunday evenings and burn money—it comes in so fast the banks haven't room for it. Call this 'The Home Fireside'—no nickelodeon business—and get the Center Church quartette to sing. It will sound just like prayer-meeting to people who think a real theater a sinful place. If you don't tackle it, I'll throw Bernstein out and take it up myself. There's a new man in town right now trying to locate a screen; beat him to the wire, Lawrince."
"By Jove, Phil—!"
She started off briskly and a little farther on met Jack Whittlesey the sheriff, who grinned and touched his coonskin cap.
"Got an engagement, Phil? Hope not. Uncle Alec is goin' to holler in a few minutes."
"I'm out calling, Sheriff, but if you're sure the judge is going to act up, I'll take a look in."
She crossed the street to the court-house. To Phil nothing was funnier than Alec Waterman in the throes of oratory. Waterman was big and burly, with a thunderous voice; and when he addressed a jury he roared and shook his iron-gray mane in a manner truly terrifying. In warm weather when the windows were open, he could be plainly heard in any part of the court-house square. When Phil reached the circuit court-room Judge Walters, with his feet on the judicial desk, was gazing at the ceiling, as was his habit when trials grew tedious. As Phil entered, he jerked down his feet, sat erect, snapped his fingers at the bailiff, and directed the placing of a chair within the space set apart for the bar. Phil smiled her thanks, and made herself comfortable with her back to the clerk's desk. The case in progress was a suit for personal injuries against the Sycamore Traction Company, brought by Waterman for a farmer, who, on the preceding Fourth of July, had been tossed a considerable distance toward Chicago by a violent contact with one of the defendant's cars. The motorman and the conductor had both testified that the car was running empty and that the proper signals had been given at the required crossings.
The judge left the bench and lounged about the clerk's desk, hoping to catch Phil's eye and draw her aside for one of the parleys in which he delighted; but Phil had immediately become absorbed in the testimony. Waterman's voice rose louder and louder as he sought to befuddle the motorman as to the time of the accident, the place where the collision occurred and the signaling, but without avail. The attorney for the company looked on with an amused smile of unconcern. Both the motorman and the conductor had been carefully rehearsed in their testimony and there was little likelihood that plaintiff's counsel would be able to trap them. Waterman was going back and forth over the time of day, attempting to show that the car was behind its schedule, and exceeding the speed limit, but the man clung to his story stubbornly. It was at exactly five minutes past three; he was running slowly, and had whistled at all the earlier stops; and when he saw the plaintiff driving upon the right of way ahead of him he put on the brakes as quickly as possible.
Phil moved to a chair just behind Waterman. He was so deeply engrossed that he did not notice her. He was making no headway, and was about to drop the witness when Phil bent over and whispered. Without turning round he rose and renewed the attack.
"I will ask you, sir, to state to this jury whether it is not a fact that the brake of your car was out of order and whether it had not given you trouble before you struck the plaintiff?"
The witness stammered and glanced at counsel for the defendant, who rose and objected to the question as not proper cross-examination. The judge returned to the bench with renewed interest and overruled the objection. The witness admitted that there had been some slight trouble with the brake, and Waterman roared another question that drowned the explanation.
"Isn't it a fact that you ran past Stop 7 just south of the scene of this collision, and did not stop your car because it was out of control by reason of a crippled brake?"
The witness was plainly disturbed, and the defendant's counsel was unable to protect him. He admitted that the brake might not have been in perfect order, but it was an old car—
"It was an old car," boomed Waterman, "and the brake was worn out and you couldn't have stopped at that crossing even if you had wanted to! Isn't that the fact?"
The motorman telegraphed appealingly to the company's lawyer. The judge ordered him to answer the question.
"There were no passengers on the car," the man, now thoroughly confused, murmured inconsequently.
Waterman bent his head and took another cue from Phil, then strode majestically toward the witness.
"There were no passengers on your car? Why not?" he thundered.
"Why not what?" faltered the witness.
"I ask you, sir, if it isn't true that there was a passenger waiting at Stop 7 and that you ran by that crossing because your brake wouldn't work?"
The witness looked at Phil and involved himself in difficulty by admitting that the car's speed was such that he was unable to see clearly whether any passenger was waiting at Stop 7. After sparring between counsel, Phil was placed upon the stand and sworn to tell the whole truth. Main Street had heard that something unusual was happening in the circuit court and the room filled.
Her name, she testified, was Phil Kirkwood. (She always signed herself Phil at school, distrusting Phyllis as high-falutin'.)
"Otherwise Phyllis," interposed the judge soberly. "It is essential that the record identify all witnesses beyond per-adventure."
The audience tittered. Phil began her story. She had been spending the Fourth of July at her Uncle Amzi's farm, but wanted to return home before her uncle was ready, to attend a party. There was no question of the time, as she had walked across the fields to that particular stop to meet the car on its scheduled hour. She had stood upon the track and waved the flag placed in the shed at the stop for that purpose, but to her disgust the car had rushed by at full speed. She had heard the hissing of the air as the car whirled by, and there being no other car for an hour she had been obliged to return to the farm and wait for her uncle to drive her in.
Counsel for defendant, a stranger to the ways of Montgomery, who had come from Indianapolis to try the case, asked Phil ironically if she were an expert in the management of a trolley car.
"Oh, I shouldn't say that," said Phil; "but I used to ride with motormen sometimes, back and forth to the farm, and they let me stop and start the car."
She explained that she knew from the sound as the air went on that the brake was out of order. The twelve good men and true in the jury box bent forward attentively as she met the lawyer's questions. He was a young man and Phil was undeniably pretty. In her calling clothes she did not look like a girl who would chum with motormen. His manner was elaborately deferential.
"Miss Kirkwood, may I trouble you to tell the jury whether you ever rode in the car of this particular motorman?" he asked.
"No, sir," replied Phil.
"You never saw him before, and after all you're not sure he's the man who was in charge of that car that day, are you?"
Phil dangled the cardcase from her white-gloved fingers carelessly.
"Perfectly confident of it," she answered.
"If you are sure of it, will you kindly tell the jury just how it is you remember him—how you identify him as the motorman on this car on that particular afternoon?"
"Oh! Do you really want me to tell that?" asked Phil.
"Answer the question!" the attorney returned sharply, misreading her apparent reluctance.
"Why," began Phil, speaking rapidly and distinctly and turning toward the jurors,—"why, it's because I had noticed him all that summer passing our house and he always ran faster than the other motormen,—you could tell his car at night if you didn't see it because it ran so fast,—and he's the same man who ran into Bernstein's delivery wagon—the one with the lame horse—at the corner of Monon Street about a week before the Fourth of July. I saw that, too!"
"If Your Honor please," said Waterman, rising as the court ruled that Phil's last answer, which the defendant's counsel had sought vainly to interrupt, should be stricken out, "the plaintiff rests. We will waive argument in this case," he added impressively, putting from him, with unprecedented self-denial, the chance of pillorying the unfeeling defendant corporation.
Judge Walters looked down at Phil solemnly.
"The court is unable to determine whether the witness is also associate counsel for plaintiff, but in any event, I suggest that she claim the usual witness fee at the clerk's office."
Phil left the court-room and resumed her walk toward Buckeye Lane.
Paul Fosdick, just coming down from his office, arrested her. Fosdick, whose blithe spirit was never greatly disturbed by the failure of his enterprises, greeted Phil gayly. He entertained a high opinion of Phil. At family gatherings, which his wife and sisters-in-law made odious by petty bickerings, Phil was always a refuge. It was nothing to Phil which of her aunts wore the best hat, or that Mrs. Hastings had been abroad and to New York while the others had been denied these recreations and delights. If his wife's faith in him had been shaken by his inability to grasp the fortune which always seemed just within reach; and if, on Christmas and New Year's and Thanksgiving Day, when they met at Amzi's, he was a bit uncomfortable, knowing that his wife's share of the Montgomery money had gone into many ventures without ever coming out again, Phil could be depended upon to infuse cheer into those somber occasions. He frequently discussed his schemes with Phil, who was usually sympathetic; and now and then she made a suggestion that was really worth considering. Where other members of the family criticized him harshly behind his back, Phil delivered her criticisms face to face.
"Phil, what's new about Sycamore Traction? They say your pa's going to have a receiver appointed."
"If he does they will print it in the papers. How do you like my hat?"
"It's a dream, but I hope you're not going to make trouble for your dear aunts' husbands by going in for clothes. The competition in the family is hot enough now without you butting in. Hastings is in mourning at the bank and Waterman is sad over his last political licking and my billions are coming by slow freight."
"By the way, Paul, I fell over that busted brickyard of yours out by the flour mill the other day when I was walking for my health. There ought to be money in bricks," she ended meditatively.
"There ought, Phil, but there ain't. I'm still hoping to pull that scheme out, but it takes time. You know this town doesn't know how to back up its enterprises."
"Cease knocking! What you want to do is to stop trying to organize an undertakers' trust in this town where everybody lives to a green old age and get busy with brick. The last time I was in Indianapolis I saw a lot of new houses built out of brick that looked just about like those pink-and-yellow effects you started in on. They came from over in Illinois somewhere, and I guess the clay's off the very same stratum. What you ought to do is to nail close to some of the city architects and hypnotize them into using your goods."
"We tried all that, Phil; but they wouldn't listen."
"Let me see; what name did you give those bricks?"
"We called 'em the 'Gold Finish.' Nothing the matter with that, is there?"
"'Most everything's the matter with that name. Anything that suggests a gold brick is bound to scare sensible people. Think of living in a house that people would laugh at and call the 'gold-brick' house! You've got to get a lot better, Paul. Try once more and call 'em the 'Daffodil' or the 'Crocus'—something that sounds springlike and cheerful. And play up local pride—a Hoosier product for Hoosier people. Then when you've done that, fly to Chicago and give away enough to build a house in one of the new suburbs and daffodils will spring up all over the prairie. Am I lucid?"
"There may be something in giving an old dog a new name. I've a good notion to give it a try, and if—"
"Oh, there's no charge! You might send me up a couple of those brick; I can use 'em for nut-crackers."
Judge Walters once said of Phil that if she would keep a diary and write down honestly everything that happened to her if would some day put Pepys to the blush. Not every day was as rich in adventure as this; but this is not a bad sample. If Phil had been a prig or fresh or impertinent, she would not have been the idol of Main Street. A genius for being on the spot when events are forward must be born in one, and her casual, indifferent air contributed to a belief in Main Street that she was leagued with supernatural agencies. If there was a fire, Phil arrived ahead of the department; and if a prisoner broke out of jail, Phil knew it before the "Evening Star" could print the fact.
"Some one told me," Captain Wilson would begin, addressing Judge Walters; and the judge would answer, "Otherwise Phyllis." And the judge would say, "I'm going to quit taking the 'Star' and subscribe for Phil."
Phil had, on the whole, a pretty good time.
THE SMOKING-OUT OF AMZI
Although a Holton had brought scandal upon the house of Montgomery by eloping with one of its duly married daughters, or perhaps because of that disagreeable circumstance, Mrs. Hastings, Mrs. Fosdick, and Mrs. Waterman were constantly exercised over the affairs of the Holtons. The Holtons prospered, as witness the fashion in which William (the wicked Jack's brother) had built up the First National Bank after the dissolution of the old Montgomery & Holton partnership. And there was Samuel, who had varied his political activities by organizing companies to raise vanilla beans or sarsaparilla, or to dig silver in Mexico—a man of affairs, unquestionably, who had outgrown Montgomery and moved to the state capital where he died. Even Samuel's paltry achievements were touched with a certain magnificence in the eyes of these ladies; Samuel had escaped from Montgomery and this was a consummation that had long been the burden of their prayers. The very existence of the First National Bank was offensive to the sisters of Amzi Montgomery. They had wanted Amzi to "nationalize" his bank when the break occurred and it had been "just like" their stubborn brother to continue in the old rut.
Mrs. William Holton lived in a modern house that was superior to anything the Montgomerys could boast. It had two bathrooms, a music-room, and electric lights. In Montgomery one bathroom had long been a summit-crowning achievement, to which the fortunate possessor might point with pride; and as for dedicating a room to music, and planting in it a grand piano flanked by a bust of Mozart, and shedding upon it a dim opalescent glow from concealed lights—no one in the community had ever before scaled such heights of grandeur.
For half a dozen years after their sister's escapade the Montgomery sisters had not spoken to a Holton; but in such communities as theirs the "cutting" of persons with whom one has been brought up is attended with embarrassments. William Holton had married, a little late, a Memphis woman he had met on a trip to Mexico to inspect the plantations in which he and his brother Samuel were interested. She was "a Southern woman," with a charming accent, as every one admitted. The accent was greatly admired. Several young girls sought to soften the vowels of their native Hoosier speech in conformity with the models introduced by Mrs. Holton. The coming of this lady, the zest with which she entered into the social life of the town, the vacillations of certain old friends of the Montgomerys who had taken sides against the Holtons after the Kirkwood incident, had given the three sisters an excuse for abandoning the feud in so far at least as it applied to William Holton. In any view of the case, no matter how base the Holtons might be, there was no reason why the family sins should be visited upon the lady with the aforesaid accent, whose taste in dress was unassailable and who poured tea with such an air.
Amzi read his newspaper in the little back room of the bank on a November afternoon and awaited the coming of his sisters. The necessity for any business discussions between them had steadily diminished. Their father's estate had long ago been distributed, and Amzi had not troubled himself as to the subsequent fate of the money he had paid to his sisters. They were all blessed with husbands, and if these gentlemen did not safeguard their wives' property it was no affair of his. There had been about half a million dollars, which meant in round figures a hundred thousand dollars apiece, and this in Montgomery is a great deal of money.
When his sisters arrived, Amzi rose with the nice courtesy that lay in him and placed chairs for them about the table. Then panting from his exertion he pulled a cigar from his waistcoat and dry-smoked it. They were unwontedly grave, suggesting the gloom of a committee appointed to perfect funeral arrangements for a poor relation.
"You have talked to Phil about the party, I suppose," said Mrs. Waterman.
"I have: I most certainly have, Josie," replied Amzi, sighing heavily.
"And she's going to do what we want?"
Amzi tilted his head to one side reflectively, and took the cigar from his mouth.
"She's going to stand for the party, if that's what you mean; but as to doing what you want on general principles, I'm not so dead sure."
"It was your duty, Amzi, to go into the matter thoroughly—to lay down the law to her," observed Mrs. Fosdick.
"All right," nodded Amzi. "In the words of the poet, I done it. But Phil doesn't need lectures."
"Doesn't need them?" sniffed Mrs. Fosdick. "That poor child couldn't have a lecture too many. She always pulls the wool over your eyes. It's right and proper for us to know just what she said when you told her she had to stop running round so much and act like a respectable well-brought-up girl."
"You're a lot of silly geese about Phil—all of you," declared Amzi, bringing his gaze to bear upon them seriatim. "Phil is far from being a fool, and there's a heart in her as big as the court-house. We don't appreciate her; we're always nagging her and trying to reform her."
The plural was pure chivalry. It was not Amzi who nagged Phil. The aunts, perfectly aware of this, and ready usually to challenge any intimation that their attitude toward Phil was not dictated by equity and wisdom, were silent. Their failure to respond with their customary defense aroused his suspicions. They had been to a tea somewhere and were in their new fall togs. Their zealous attempts to live up to what were to him the absurdest, the most preposterous ideals, struck him just now as pathetic; but he was fond of his sisters. If the course of their lives was inexplicable and their ambitions ridiculous and futile, his good humor never failed in his intercourse with them. But they had not disclosed their hand on this occasion—he was confident of this—and he warily fortified himself to meet whatever assault their strategy had planned. The three women glanced at one another covertly: Kate and Fanny seemed to be deferring to their older sister. It was with unmistakable diffidence and after a minute scrutiny of her cardcase that Mrs. Waterman spoke.
"Amzi, this is an important time in Phil's life, and there are some things we ought to counsel each other about. We all take it for granted that you know where Lois is."
Amzi crossed his fat legs and shrugged his fat shoulders. He was not in the least pleased by the direction of the inquiry.
"We feel we are entitled to know all you know about her," added Mrs. Fosdick.
"You should remember," said Mrs. Hastings, "that she's our sister as well as yours."
Amzi's jaws tightened and he inspected the end of his cigar. This sudden manifestation of sisterly interest in Lois was not without its amusing side. They had long ago spurned their sister with bitterness, and his speculations as to the real object of their visit had not touched the remote horizons against which Lois was vaguely limned.
"I don't see," he observed deliberately, "that Lois has anything whatever to do with Phil or any of the rest of us."
"Of course not, Amzi. That's exactly the point. We only want to be sure she's a long way off; we're entitled to know that. And we've heard—"
Mrs. Hastings laid upon heard that fine, insinuating inflection that is a part of the grammar of gossip. His sisters had heard something, and while he discounted its value automatically, as was his way, he was not without curiosity as to its nature. They saw that he was interested.
"The Walters have just got back from a Western trip, and they heard in Seattle that Lois has left Holton. He had been doing badly—drinking, and all that."
"It was bound to come, of course," said Mrs. Waterman. "You can't tell me that people who do a thing like that can ever be happy."
Her tone did not please Amzi. It was clear that he found the whole subject disagreeable. He was immensely annoyed that they had come to him to discuss Lois after years of silence. It was as though a great rock planted in the avenue of her exit had succumbed to the tooth of Time and its exfoliations were falling ominously about him.
"I thought it was understood long ago that we had dropped Lois. If she and Holton got tired of each other, it's their business. I don't imagine you want me to send for her to come home."
"Amzi!" they gasped.
It seemed that this shuddering exclamation expressed a horror that shook their very souls. It was incredible that so dark a thought should have crossed the mind of a man commonly looked upon as sane.
"That would be the limit," cried Mrs. Hastings. "Don't even mention such a thing—it's too horrible to joke about."
"I wasn't joking. If she's gone to smash with Holton, I thought maybe you wanted us to bring the prodigal home, and give her veal loaf for Sunday evening tea. By the way, Kate, don't ever turn me loose on any of your veal loaf again. The last I had at your house gave me indigestion; it might have led to apoplexy and killed me."
The fierceness of his frowning caused his scalp to wrinkle clear back to his fringe of hair. His sisters were vexed by his attempt to relieve the discussion with humor. It was necessary to sober him, and Mrs. Hastings thought she could effect the sobering of Amzi.
"Minnie Walters says they have lost their money; the judge saw Jack Holton, but you know how the judge is; he wouldn't ever speak of it to a soul."
"Minnie would," said Amzi dryly.
"Minnie only mentioned it in the kindest way," said Mrs. Waterman, coloring. "You know Minnie doesn't gossip; but as an old friend of our family she thought we ought to know. I think it was kind of her to tell us."
"Well, it doesn't seem to have made you girls much happier. What on earth are you going to do; what do you want me to do?" he demanded, blowing out his cheeks and glaring.
"We don't want you to do anything, Amzi," said Mrs. Hastings, with that sweetness with which women of little discernment attempt to blunt the wrath of man.
It was important to keep Phil in the picture: with Phil dancing before them Amzi could be held in subjection. Mrs. Waterman hastened to mention Phil and the responsibility they all felt about her, to justify their curiosity as to Phil's mother. Amzi blew his nose and readjusted his spectacles. Mrs. Waterman advanced the battle-line boldly.
"We assume that you have always kept in touch with poor Lois and that you still hear from her. And we feel that the time has come for you to treat us more frankly about her. It's for Phil's sake, you know, Amzi."
Amzi could not see how any of the later transactions in the life of Phil's mother were of the slightest importance to Phil. He shook his head impatiently and shrugged his shoulders.
"Lois," he blurted, "is in Dresden."
"Then she has left him!" cried Mrs. Fosdick, with a note of triumph that trumpeted the complete vindication of Mrs. Waterman's averments.
"I tell you I don't know anything about Holton," replied Amzi, who had, in strictest truth, told them nothing of the kind. He experienced the instant regret suffered by secretive persons who watch a long-guarded fact slip away beyond reclamation; but repentance could avail nothing, so he added,—
"Yes; she's abroad. She's been over there for some time."
"Of course, he's run through her money; that was to be expected!" exclaimed Mrs. Fosdick in a tone that implied a deep resentment of the fate that had robbed the erring Lois of her money.
"If he did she never told me so," Amzi answered. "But Lois was never what you might call a squealer; if he robbed her you can be pretty dead sure she wouldn't sob about it on the street corners. That wouldn't be a bit like the Lois I remember. Lois wasn't the woman to go scampering off after the Devil and then get scared and burst out crying when she found her shoes beginning to get hot."
After all these years Amzi had spoken, and his sisters did not like his tone. Their brother, a gentleman the correctness of whose life had never been questioned, was referring to the conduct of the sister who had disgraced her family in outrageous and sinful terms. The Prince of Darkness and the fervid pavements of his kingdom were not to be brought into conversation with any such lightness, as though the going to the Devil were not, after all, so horrible—not something to be whispered with terror in the dark confessional of their souls. One might have imagined that Lois's very sins had endeared her to this phlegmatic older brother! There was not only this gloomy reflection, but his admissions had opened long vistas to their imaginations. He probably knew more than he meant to disclose, and this made it necessary to continue their pumping with the greatest discretion.
"It would be hard if she came back on you for help—after everything that's happened; but of course that would be your affair, Amzi," said Mrs. Hastings leadingly.
"It would," Amzi admitted explosively. "It undoubtedly would!"
This, in their eagerness, seemed an admission. The interview was proving fruitful beyond their fondest hopes. He had doubtless been in Lois's fullest confidence from the first; and darkest of all, it was wholly likely, now that she had broken with Holton, that Amzi was supplying her with the means of subsistence in the capitals of Europe. Around this last thought they rallied.
"Of course, if Lois should really be in need, Amzi," said Mrs. Waterman, "it would be the duty of all of us to help her; that would only be right. But even if it comes to that we should have to consider Phil, too. When you think of everything, our responsibility is much greater for Phil than for Lois. Phil is here; her life's before her; she's one of us, you know, Amzi."
"Right, Josie; you are mighty right. What you mean is that if it came to a question of Lois's starving in Europe and Phil's starving on our doorsteps, we'd help Phil first because she's right here under our noses. But I don't understand that Lois is starving; nor is Phil for that matter. Phil's all right."
The thought that he was sending money to Lois was disagreeable; that he should be doing so when Phil's needs cried so stridently aroused the direst apprehensions. They had all received from Amzi their exact proportion of their father's estate; even Waterman had never been able to find a flaw in the adjustment. Through Waterman they had learned that Lois's proper receipt was on file; they knew exactly the date on which it had been placed of record in the county clerk's office. They had looked upon this as the final closing of all the doors that shut this sister out of their calculations. They, or their children, were potential beneficiaries in Amzi's property if he ultimately died a bachelor. And there was no telling when his asthma might be supplemented by a fatal pneumonia. This was never to be whispered in so far as the chances of their own offspring were concerned; but of Phil and the propriety of her expectations they might speak with entire candor.
"While we are talking of these matters," observed Mrs. Hastings, "we may as well face one or two things that have troubled us all a good deal. You know as well as we do that poor Tom has gradually been playing out; it's pitiful the way he has been letting his business go. Every one knows that he has ability, but he's been living more and more up in the air. He owns the block over there and the rent he gets from that is about all he has. And I shouldn't be at all surprised if the block had been mortgaged."
"I've heard," said Mrs. Waterman, examining a button on her white glove, "that he has borrowed money on it."
They looked guardedly at Amzi. Mrs. Waterman's husband, who kept an eye on the county records, had, at his wife's behest, assured himself frequently that Kirkwood's block in Main Street was unencumbered. Kirkwood's former home, the decaying monument to his domestic tragedy, and the only other thing he owned, was free also. In this process of "smoking out" their brother it would have helped if they could have pointed to the menace of her father's encumbered property to Phil; but they had already learned more than they had expected in establishing beyond per-adventure the fact that Lois and Amzi maintained communication, and that in all likelihood he was providing for her in her exile. It was high time they scanned the top shelves of the closet occupied by the dancing family skeleton!
"While we're about it we may as well face the possibility that Tom may marry again," remarked Mrs. Fosdick suddenly.
Amzi drew his hand across his pink dome.
"Nothing to hinder him that I know of," he replied.
"I don't know of anything that would wake him up unless it would be that. The right sort of woman could do a lot for a man like Tom, with all that he has suffered." This from Mrs. Waterman, who seemed deeply moved by the thought of Kirkwood's sufferings.
"But Phil—I can't imagine Phil with a stepmother. We never could allow that; we should have to take her away from him," declared Mrs. Fosdick.
Amzi rested his elbow on the table, and breathed hard for a minute. He took the unlighted cigar from his mouth and waved it at them.
"What's got into you girls anyhow! You're borrowing trouble in all the banks in the universe—a little above your line of credit. You seem terribly anxious about Lois all of a sudden. It just happens that I know she ain't hungry, and that she's over there living like a respectable woman. Lois isn't like the rest of us; Lois is different! There's more electricity in Lois than the rest of us have; you know it as well as I do. Now just to satisfy your curiosity I'll tell you that I saw Lois—"
"You saw her!" they chorused.
"I saw her in Chicago about two months ago. She was on her way to Europe then; I had dinner with her and put her on the train for New York, and she sailed the day she got there; so now, if you're scared to death for fear she's going to turn up here in town, you can put it clean out of your minds."
They sighed their relief. He was not given to long speeches and the effort of his recent deliverances caused him to cough, and the coughing brought his voice finally to a high wheeze. He had not quite finished yet, however.
"Now, as for Tom Kirkwood marrying," he went on, "let him marry. It's none of our business, is it? He married into our family and got the worst of it. It wasn't a particularly cheerful business, the way it came out. If he's fool enough to try it again, it's his trouble not ours; and you can't tell but he might make a go of it next time."
"We have no idea of trying to hinder him," said Mrs. Waterman with dignity. "As you say, it's Tom's trouble. And of course we could manage so Phil wouldn't suffer, no matter what he did."
"Phil suffer! Thunder! What are you always talking about Phil for; I tell you Phil's all right! Phil's got more gumption than all the rest of us put together. Phil's an honor to the family; she's the best girl in this town and the best girl in the whole state of Indiana, or the United States, for that matter. If you have visions of seeing Phil chased over the back lot by any stepmother, you have another guess coming. Thunder!"
He drew out a white silk handkerchief and blew his nose. The sisters saw with regret that there was no recurring to the attractive subject of that interview in Chicago, though their minds were beset with a thousand questions they wished to ask him about it. They realized that to do so would be a blunder. They had stumbled upon a gold mine and were obliged to leave its rich hoard untouched. They returned to Phil, who, as a topic, offered safer ground than her mother.
"Phil's party," said Mrs. Hastings briskly, "ought to be in keeping with the family dignity. We thought it a lot better for you to have it in your house than for us—our own houses are small." (This with resignation.) "And it doesn't seem quite nice for us to have it in the Masonic Hall, though some of the nicest people are doing that. To bring Phil out in her grandfather's house speaks for the whole family. And it's dear of you to consent to it. We all appreciate that, Amzi."
"Of course it's the place for it!" affirmed Amzi impatiently. "I'll give that party and you can get whatever Phil needs and do it right; you understand? And then I want you to give me all the bills. Now what else do you want?"
"We feel," began Mrs. Fosdick, "that the invitations, which will go out in your name, should take in everybody we want Phil to know."
Amzi grinned guardedly.
"That's pretty good, Fanny. Do you suppose there's a man, woman, baby, or yellow dog in this town that Phil doesn't know? I doubt it. But go on."
"We don't mean that way, Amzi," said Mrs. Waterman patiently. "We mean—"
"Thunder! Go on!"
"We mean that the list should be representative—that old differences should be put aside."
The wrinkles on Amzi's pink pate scampered back to find refuge in his absurd fringe of pale-gold hair. Mrs. Waterman advanced her pickets hurriedly.
"You know we've had to recognize the Holtons of late, disagreeable though it has been. William isn't like Jack—you know that; and when he brought his wife here, a perfect stranger, it didn't seem fair to ignore her."
"The fact is," Mrs. Fosdick interpolated, "we simply couldn't, Amzi. This town's too small to carry on a feud comfortably. We all stopped speaking to the Holtons after poor Lois left, but the rest of them couldn't help what Jack did; and, of course, Lois—"
"You want to ask Mr. and Mrs. William to Phil's party?"
Mrs. Fosdick, fearing from the fierceness with which he reduced the matter to words, that he was about to veto the suggestion, hastened to strengthen their case.
"For business reasons, Amzi, we feel that we ought to bury the hatchet. Paul has to meet William Holton constantly. No matter what we think, William is really one of the wide-awake business men of the town, and in all sorts of things; and Paul has to keep him on the executive committee of the Commercial Club—the president of the First National Bank can't be overlooked, though you can't ever doubt Paul's devotion to all our interests."
"And," Mrs. Waterman added, "Mr. Holton retained Alec in a case last winter."
"Yep," observed Amzi, "he did. It was that suit about opening up Chapel Street and I was one of the defendants." And then he added, with calculated softness, as though recalling a pleasant memory, "Alec lost the suit."
The mention of the Chapel Street Extension had been an unfortunate slip on Mrs. Waterman's part; but Amzi was generous.
"Bill Holton is undoubtedly a leading citizen," he observed, looking at the ceiling and rubbing his nose absently. The irony of this, if he intended any, was well hidden. William Holton, president of the First National Bank, was a business rival, and Amzi never abused his competitors. Having satisfied his curiosity as to the ceiling, he announced his complete acquiescence in the idea of inviting the William Holtons. "No objection whatever," he declared, "to asking Bill and his wife. Is that all of 'em you want?"
"Well, there are Ethel and Charlie. They've just closed their house here and mean to live in Indianapolis, but of course they still belong here. Charlie is doing very well, they say—quite a brilliant young man; and Ethel is very sweet and well-bred. She went to Miss Waring's school in Indianapolis and knows some of the nicest young people in the city. I think it would be nice to ask them; it always looks well to have some out-of-town guests."
"That Sam's children you're talking about? What's the matter with the other boy?"
"Fred? I think the less we say about him the better. He's been down in Mexico on one of Sam's schemes and I guess he didn't do well. He's on the old farm next your place. I guess Ethel and Charlie can represent that branch of the family. If you think—" began Mrs. Fosdick, anxious that Amzi should be fully satisfied.
"Thunder! I don't think. You fix it up to suit yourselves."
They began to adjust their wraps, fairly well satisfied with the results of the visit. Amzi eyed their autumnal splendors with the mild wonder a woman's raiment always aroused in him.
"Tom marry again, you say," he observed pensively. "What's put that idea in your head?"
"Why, you know as well as we do, Amzi, that he and Rose Bartlett are very sympathetic," exclaimed Mrs. Hastings, veiling a sharp glance at him. The three women, feigning inattention, were alert for their brother's reply. It came promptly.
"Rose is a fine woman," he said with cordial emphasis. "A fine woman. And," he immediately added, "so's Nan!"
Then he thrust his hands into his coat pockets and filled his cheeks and glared.
They were grieved by the mention of Nan. The bluff heartiness with which he had expressed his admiration for Rose had been gratifying and satisfying; but by speaking with equal fervor of Nan he had sent them adrift again.
GHOSTS SEE THE LIGHT AGAIN
Kirkwood plunged into work with an ardor that was not lost upon Phil. He rose early and kept office hours with a new faithfulness, and he frequently carried books and papers home for study. Something was impending, Phil surmised, in the affairs of the Sycamore Traction Company, for he had been to Indianapolis to confer with the New York lawyer who represented the trustee for the bondholders and they had made an inspection of the road together. It had always been Kirkwood's way when aroused to devote himself tirelessly to his client's business, and Phil had not failed to note how completely labor transformed him. His languor and indifference now disappeared; he spoke feelingly of the generosity of his Williams classmate, who had placed the Sycamore case in his hands. It was a great opportunity and he assured her that he meant to make the most of it.
He warned her that she was not to tell any one what he was engaged upon, and that she must not be surprised into confessions by her aunts. He began to visit the capital, always returning on the evening train, though she knew that he might more comfortably have spent the night in the city. He explained to Phil that he hoped to adjust the Sycamore's affairs without litigation.
"I'm just enough of an old fogy to cut myself out of a big fee by smoothing the wrinkles without a lawsuit. It's the professor in me, Phil; it's the academic taint."
And to this the obvious retort was, of course, that it was because of his highmindedness that he sought peaceable adjustments where more drastic measures would have been to his profit.
She, too, was putting forth her best energies, and he was relieved to find that she disposed of her work so lightly; even her frequent calamities were a matter for jesting. They made a joke of the washing of the supper dishes: he insisted on helping her, and would don an apron and do the rougher part of it. He declared that he had never been so well fed before, and that her cooking showed real genius. It would be a dark day when his fee in the traction case would make it possible to install a new maid-of-all work.
Phil was aware that their talk drifted often and with seeming inevitableness to the Bartletts. Her successes with the housekeeping were due to the friendly supervision of the sisters in Buckeye Lane. He liked to hear her recount the ways in which they were her guide and inspiration. In doubts she flew to them; but one or the other appeared almost daily at the cottage. "Rose showed me how to make that sponge cake," Phil would say; or, if the furniture in their little parlor had been rearranged, it was very likely Nan who had suggested the change. It was a considerable distance across town from the Kirkwoods' to Number 98 Buckeye Lane, and as these women were exceedingly busy it was not without sacrifice that they visited Phil so constantly. "Nan read me some new jokes she's just sending off this morning: I wonder how people think up such things," Phil would observe, turning, perhaps, with her hand on the pantry door; and she knew that her father's face lighted at the mention of Nan and her jokes.
The aunts had not been above planting in Phil's young breast the suspicion that her father was romantically "interested" in one of the Bartletts—as to which one they hoped she would enlighten them. They tried to keep track of the visits paid by the father and daughter to Buckeye Lane; their veiled inquiries were tinged also with suspicions that Amzi might be contemplating marriage with one of these maiden ladies of the Lane—the uncertainties in each case as to the bright star of particular adoration giving edge to their curiosity. The cautious approaches, the traps set in unexpected places, amused Phil when she was not angered by them. As she viewed the matter it would be perfectly natural for her father to marry either of the Bartlett sisters, her only fear being that marriage would disturb the existing relations between the two houses which were now so wholly satisfactory.
Phil managed to visit her father's office every day or two, trips to "town" being among the Montgomery housewife's privileges, a part of her routine. Much visiting was done in Main Street, and there was always something to take one into Struby's drug-store, which served as a club. Even in winter there was hot chocolate and bouillon to justify the sociably inclined in lingering at the soda-water tables by the front windows. Phil, heedful of the warnings of the court-house clock, managed to keep in touch with current history without jeopardizing the regularity of meals at home. She was acquiring the ease of the Bartletts in maintaining a household with a minimum of labor and worry. Her aunts had convoyed her to Indianapolis to buy a gown for the coming-out party, which was now fixed for the middle of November; and they were to return to the city shortly for a fitting. All Main Street was aware that Phil was to be brought out; the aunts had given wide publicity to the matter; they had sighingly confessed to their friends the difficulties, the labor, the embarrassment of planting their niece firmly in society.
Phil, dropping into her father's office in the middle of an afternoon and finding him absent, dusted it from force of habit and began turning the pages of a battered copy of "Elia" she kept tucked away in an alcove that contained the Indiana Reports. A sign pinned on the door stated that her father would return in half an hour. This card, which had adorned the door persistently for several years, had lately ceased to prophesy falsely, Phil knew, and she thought she heard her father on the stairs when a young man she did not at once recognize opened the door and glanced about, then removed his hat and asked if Mr. Kirkwood would return shortly.
"I'm Mr. Charles Holton," said the visitor.
For a man to prefix "mister" to his own name was contrary to local usage, and the manner, the voice, the city clothes of Charles Holton at once interested Phil. She was sitting in her father's old swivel chair, well drawn in under his big flat-top desk, across which she surveyed the visitor at leisure. She placed him at once in his proper niche among the Holtons: it was of him that people were speaking as a Montgomery boy who was making himself known at the capital. He was the brother of Ethel and Fred, and clearly an alert and dashing person.
"Pardon me; but I remember you perfectly, Miss Kirkwood. I hope we may dispense with the formality of an introduction—we old Montgomery people—and that sort of thing!"
Holton carried a stick, which was not done in Montgomery save by elderly men, or incumbents of office, like Judge Walters or Congressman Reynolds. His necktie also suggested more opulent avenues than Main Street.
"By the outward and visible sign upon the portal I assume that Mr. Kirkwood will return shortly."
He referred to his watch, absently turned the stem-key, and sat down in one of the chairs which Phil had lately dusted.
"I used to see you around a lot when I was a boy—you and your pony; but we've all been away so much—my sister Ethel and I. You know Ethel?"
"I've seen her," said Phil.
"We've just been breaking up our old home here. Rather tough, too, when you think we're quite alone. We've sold the old house; sorry, but the best offer I got was from a doctor who wants to turn it into a drink-cure sanatorium. Tough on the neighbors, but there you are! It didn't seem square to stand in the way of bracing up booze victims."
He expected her approval of this attitude; and Phil murmured phrases that seemed to fill the gap he left for them.
"Had to go to the highest bidder—you can hardly give away an old house like that in a place like this. Neighbors are kicking, but it wasn't my fault."
Phil said she supposed that was so.
She was still noting various small items of Holton's raiment—his tan oxford shoes, brilliant socks, and brown derby. A brown derby seemed odd in Montgomery. From the pocket of his sackcoat protruded the cuffs of tan gloves, and he wore an inconspicuous watch chain passed from pocket to pocket of his waistcoat. Not even the most prosperous of the college seniors had ever presented to Phil's eye a variety of adornments so tastefully chosen, a color scheme so effective. The interview seemed to be to the young man's liking. He talked with assurance, holding his light stick with one hand, and balancing his hat on his knee with the other. Often before men had come into the office as Phil sat there and she had conversed with them while they waited for her father. She had usually exhausted the possibilities in forecasting her father's return at such times; but this gentleman seemed in no wise impatient. He spoke of the world's affairs lightly and with a flattering confidence in the understanding and sympathy of his auditor. The theatrical attractions at the capital, the promise of grand opera in Chicago, the political changes, these were things of passing interest, but nothing to grow feverish about.