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Peter - A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero
by F. Hopkinson Smith
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Then, raising his eyes to hers, he asked, "And is that all, Miss Ruth? Isn't there something more?" Not once had she mentioned his own safety—not once had she been glad over him—"Something more?" he repeated, an ineffable tenderness in his tones—"something—it isn't all, is it?"

"Why, how can I say anything more?" she murmured in a lowered voice, withdrawing her hand as the sound of a step in the hall reached her ear.

The door swung wide: "Well, what are you two young people quarrelling about?" came a soft, purring voice.

"We weren't quarrelling, Aunty. Mr. Breen is so modest he doesn't want anybody to thank him, and I just would."

Miss Felicia felt that she had entered just in time. Scarred and penniless heroes fresh from battle-fields of glory and desirable young women whose fathers have been carried bodily out of burning death pits must never be left too long together.



CHAPTER XVIII



As the weeks rolled by, two questions constantly rose in Ruth's mind: Why had he not wanted her to thank him?—and what had he meant by—"And is that all?"

Her other admirers—and there had been many in her Maryland home—had never behaved like this. Was it because they liked her better than she liked them? The fact was—and she might as well admit it once for all—that Jack did not like her at all, he really DISliked her, and only his loyalty to her father and that inborn courtesy which made him polite to every woman he met—young or old—prevented his betraying himself. She tried to suggest something like this to Miss Felicia, but that good woman had only said: "Men are queer, my dear, and these Southerners are the queerest of them all. They are so chivalrous that at times they get tiresome. Breen is no better than the rest of them." This had ended it with Miss Felicia. Nor would she ever mention his name to her again. Jack was not tiresome; on the contrary, he was the soul of honor and as brave as he could be—a conclusion quite as illogical as that of her would-be adviser.

If she could only have seen Peter, the poor child thought,—Peter understood—just as some women not as old as her aunt would have understood. Dear Uncle Peter! He had told her once what Jack had said about her—how beautiful he thought her and how he loved her devotion to her father. Jack MUST have said it, for Uncle Peter never spoke anything but the exact truth. Then why had Jack, and everything else, changed so cruelly? she would say—talking to herself, sometimes aloud. For the ring had gone from his voice and the tenderness from his touch. Not that he ever was tender, not that she wanted him to be, for that matter; and then she would shut her door and throw herself on her bed in an agony of tears—pleading a headache or fatigue that she might escape her father's inquiry, and often his anxious glance.

The only ray of light that had pierced her troubled heart—and this only flashed for a brief moment—was the glimpse she had had of Jack's mind when he and her father first met. The boy had called to inquire after his Chief's health and for any instructions he might wish to give, when MacFarlane, hearing the young hero's voice in the hall below, hurried down to greet him. Ruth was leaning over the banister at the time and saw all that passed. Once within reach MacFarlane strode up to Jack, and with the look on his face of a man who had at last found the son he had been hunting for all his life, laid his hand on the lad's shoulder.

"I think we understand each other, Breen,—don't we?" he said simply, his voice breaking.

"I think so, sir," answered Jack, his own eyes aglow, as their hands met.

Nothing else had followed. There was no outburst. Both were men; in the broadest and strongest sense each had weighed the other. The eyes and the quivering lips and the lingering hand-clasp told the rest. A sudden light broke in on Ruth. Her father's quiet words, and his rescuer's direct answer came as a revelation. Jack, then, did want to be thanked! Yes, but not by her! Why was it? Why had he not understood? And why had he made her suffer, and what had she done to deserve it?

If Jack suspected any of these heartaches and misgivings, no one would have surmised it. He came and went as usual, passing an hour in the morning and an hour at night with his Chief, until he had entirely recovered his strength—bringing with him the records of the work; the number of feet drilled in a day; cost of maintenance; cubic contents of dump; extent and slope and angles of "fill"—all the matters which since his promotion (Jack now had Bolton's place) came under his immediate supervision. Nor had any word passed between himself and Ruth, other than the merest commonplace. He was cheery, buoyant, always ready to help,—always at her service if she took the train for New York or stayed after dark at a neighbor's house, when he would insist on bringing her home, no matter how late he had been up the night before.

If the truth were known, he neither suspected nor could he be made to believe that Ruth had any troubles. The facts were that he had given her all his heart and had been ready to lay himself at her feet, that being the accepted term in his mental vocabulary—and she would have none of him. She had let him understand so—rebuffed him—not once, but every time he had tried to broach the subject of his devotion;—once in the Geneseo arbor, and again on that morning when he had really crawled to her side because he could no longer live without seeing her. The manly thing to do now was to accept the situation: to do his work; look after his employer's interests, read, study, run over whenever he could to see Peter—and these were never-to-be-forgotten oases in the desert of his despair—and above all never to forget that he owed a duty to Miss Ruth in which no personal wish of his own could ever find a place. She was alone and without an escort except her father, who was often so absorbed in his work, or so tired at night, as to be of little help to her. Moreover, his Chief had, in a way, added his daughter's care to his other duties. "Can't you take Ruth to-night—" or "I wish you'd meet her at the ferry," or "if you are going to that dinner in New York, at so-and-so's, would you mind calling for her—" etc., etc. Don't start, dear reader. These two came of a breed where the night key and the daughter go together and where a chaperon would be as useless as a policeman locked inside a bank vault.

And so the boy struggled on, growing in bodily strength and mental experience, still the hero among the men for his heroic rescue of the "Boss"—a reputation which he never lost; making friends every day both in the village and in New York and keeping them; absorbed in his slender library, and living within his means, which small as they were, now gave him two rooms at Mrs. Hicks's,—one of which he had fitted up as a little sitting-room and in which Ruth had poured the first cup of tea, her father and some of the village people being guests.

His one secret—and it was his only one—he kept locked up in his heart, even from Peter. Why worry the dear old fellow, he had said to himself a dozen times, since nothing would ever come of it.

While all this had been going on in the house of MacFarlane, much more astonishing things had been developing in the house of Breen.

The second Mukton Lode scoop,—the one so deftly handled the night of Arthur Breen's dinner to the directors,—had somehow struck a snag in the scooping with the result that most of the "scoopings" had been spilled over the edge there to be gathered up by the gamins of the Street, instead of being hived in the strong boxes of the scoopers. Some of the habitues in the orchestra chairs in Breen's office had cursed loud and deep when they saw their margins melt away; and one or two of the directors had broken out into open revolt, charging Breen with the fiasco, but most of the others had held their peace. It was better to crawl away into the tall grass there to nurse their wounds than to give the enemy a list of the killed and wounded. Now and then an outsider—one who had watched the battle from afar—saw more of the fight than the contestants themselves. Among these was Garry Minott.

"You heard how Mason, the Chicago man, euchred the Mukton gang, didn't you?" he had shouted to a friend one night at the Magnolia—"Oh, listen! boys. They set up a job on him,—he's a countryman, you know a poor little countryman—from a small village called Chicago—he's got three millions, remember, all in hard cash. Nice, quiet motherly old gentleman is Mr. Mason—butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Went into Mukton with every dollar he had—so kind of Mr. Breen to let him in—yes, put him down for 2,000 shares more. Then Breen & Co. began to hoist her up—five points—ten points—twenty points. At the end of the week they had, without knowing it, bought every share of Mason's stock." Here Garry roared, as did the others within hearing. "And they've got it yet. Next day the bottom dropped out. Some of them heard Mason laugh all the way to the bank. He's cleaned up half a million and gone back home—'so afraid his mother would spank him for being out late o' nights without his nurse,'" and again Garry's laugh rang out with such force and earnestness that the glasses on Biffy's table chinked in response.

This financial set-back, while it had injured, for the time, Arthur Breen's reputation for being "up and dressed," had not, to any appreciable extent, curtailed his expenditures or narrowed the area of his social domain. Mrs. Breen's dinners and entertainments had been as frequent and as exclusive, and Miss Corinne had continued to run the gamut of the gayest and best patronized functions without, the Scribe is pained to admit, bringing home with her for good and all both her cotillion favors and the gentleman who had bestowed them. Her little wren-like head had moved from side to side, and she had sung her sweetest and prettiest, but somehow, when the song was over and the crumbs all eaten (and there were often two dinners a week and at least one dance), off went the male birds to other and more captivating roosts.

Mrs. Breen, of course, raved when Corinne at last opened the door of her cage for Garry,—went to bed, in fact, for the day, to accentuate her despair and mark her near approach to death because of it—a piece of inconsistency she could well have spared herself, knowing Corinne as she had, from the day of her birth, and remembering as she must have done, her own escapade with the almost penniless young army officer who afterward became Corinne's father.

Breen did not rave; Breen rather liked it. Garry had no money, it is true, except what he could earn,—neither had Corinne. Garry seemed to do as he darned pleased,—so did Corinne;—Garry had no mother,—neither had Corinne so far as yielding to any authority was concerned. "Yes,—let 'em marry,—good thing—begin at the bottom round and work up—" all of which meant that the honorable banker was delighted over the prospect of considerable more freedom for himself and considerable less expense in the household.

And so the wedding had taken place with all the necessary trimmings: awning over the carpeted sidewalk; four policemen on the curb; detectives in the hall and up the staircase and in the front bedroom where the jewels were exposed (all the directors of the Mukton Lode were represented); crowds lining the sidewalk; mob outside the church door—mob inside the church door and clear up to the altar; flowers, palms, special choir, with little bank-notes to the boys and a big bank-note to the leader; checks for the ranking clergyman and the two assistant clergymen, not forgetting crisp bills for the sexton and the janitor and the policemen and the detectives and everybody else who could hold out a hand and not be locked up in jail for highway robbery. Yes, a most fashionable and a most distinguished and a most exclusive wedding—there was no mistake about that.

No one had ever seen anything like it before; some hoped they never would again, so great was the crush in the drawing-room. And not only in the drawing-room, but over every square inch of the house for that matter, from the front door where Parkins's assistant (an extra man from Delmonico's) shouted out—"Third floor back for the gentlemen and second floor front for the ladies"—to the innermost recesses of the library made over into a banquet hall, where that great functionary himself was pouring champagne into batteries of tumblers as if it were so much water, and distributing cuts of cold salmon and portions of terrapin with the prodigality of a charity committee serving a picnic.

And then the heartaches over the cards that never came; and the presents that were never sent, and the wrath of the relations who got below the ribbon in the church and the airs of the strangers who got above it; and the tears over the costly dresses that did not arrive in time and the chagrin over those they had to wear or stay at home—and the heat and the jam and tear and squeeze—and the aftermath of wet glasses on inlaid tables and fine-spun table-cloths burnt into holes with careless cigarettes; and the little puddles of ice cream on the Turkish rugs and silk divans and the broken glass and smashed china!—No—there never had been such a wedding!

This over, Corinne and Garry had gone to housekeeping in a dear little flat, to which we may be sure Jack was rarely ever invited (he had only received "cards" to the church, an invitation which he had religiously accepted, standing at the door so he could bow to them both as they passed)—the two, I say, had gone to a dear little flat—so dear, in fact, that before the year was out Garry's finances were in such a deplorable condition that the lease could not be renewed, and another and a cheaper nest had to be sought for.

It was at this time that the new church to be built at Corklesville needed an architect—a fact which Jack communicated to Garry. Then it happened that with the aid of MacFarlane and Holker Morris the commission was finally awarded to that "rising young genius who had so justly distinguished himself in the atelier of America's greatest architect—Holker Morris—" all of which Garry wrote himself and had inserted in the county paper, he having called upon the editor for that very purpose. This service—and it came at a most critical time in the young man's affairs—the Scribe is glad to say, Garry, with his old-time generous spirit suddenly revived, graciously acknowledged thanking Jack heartily and with meaning in his voice, as well as MacFarlane—not forgetting Ruth, to whom he sent a mass of roses as big as a bandbox.

The gaining of this church building—the largest and most important given the young architect since he had left Morris's protection and guidance—decided Garry to give up at once his expensive quarters in New York and move to Corklesville. So far as any help from the house of Breen was concerned, all hope had ended with the expensive and much-advertised wedding (a shrewd financial move, really, for a firm selling shady securities). Corinne had cooed, wept, and then succumbed into an illness, but Breen had only replied: "No, let 'em paddle their own canoe."

This is why the sign "To Let," on one of the new houses built by the Elm Crest Land and Improvement Company—old Tom Corkle who owned the market garden farms that gave the village of Corklesville its name, would have laughed himself sore had he been alive—was ripped off and various teams loaded with all sorts of furniture, some very expensive and showy and some quite the contrary—especially that belonging to the servants' rooms—were backed up to the newly finished porch with its second coat of paint still wet, and their contents duly distributed upstairs and downstairs and in my lady Corinne's chamber.

"Got to put on the brakes, old man," Garry had said one day to Jack. The boy had heard of the expected change in the architect's finances before the villa was rented, and so Garry's confidential communication was not news to him.

"Been up to look at one of those new houses. Regular bird cage, but we can get along. Besides, this town is going to grow and I'm going to help it along. They are all dead out here—embalmed, some of them—but dead." Here he opened the pamphlet of the company—"See this house—an hour from New York; high ground; view of the harbor—(all a lie, Jack, but it goes all the same); sewers, running water, gas (lot of the last,—most of it in the prospectus) It's called Elm Crest—beautiful, isn't it,—and not a stump within half a mile."

Jack always remembered the interview. That Garry should help along anything that he took an interest in was quite in the line of his ambition and ability. Minott was as "smart as a steel trap," Holker Morris had always said of him, "and a wonderful fellow among the men. He can get anything out of them; he would really make a good politician. His handling of the Corn Exchange showed that."

And so it was not surprising,—not to Jack,—that when a new village councilman was to be elected, Garry should have secured votes enough to be included among their number. Nor was it at all wonderful that after taking his seat he should have been placed in charge of the village funds so far as the expenditures for contract work went. The prestige of Morris's office settled all doubts as to his fitness in construction; and the splendor of the wedding—there could still be seen posted in the houses of the workmen the newspaper cuts showing the bride and groom leaving the church—silenced all opposition to "our fellow townsman's" financial responsibility, even when that opposition was led by so prominent a ward heeler as Mr. Patrick McGowan, who had planned to get the position himself—and who became Garry's arch enemy thereafter.

In these financial and political advancements Corinne helped but little. None of the village people interested her, nor did she put herself out in the least to be polite to them. Ruth had called and had brought her hands full of roses—and so had her father. Garry had continued to thank them both for their good word to the church wardens—and he himself now and then spent an evening at MacFarlane's house without Corinne, who generally pleaded illness; but the little flame of friendship which had flashed after their arrival in Corklesville had died down again.

This had gone on until the acquaintance had practically ended, except when they met on the trains or in crossing the ferry. Then again, Ruth and her father lived at one end of the village known as Corklesville, and Garry and Corinne lived at the other end, known as Elm Crest, the connecting link being the railroad, a fact which Jack told Garry with a suggestive laugh, made them always turn their backs on each other when they parted to go to their respective homes, to which Garry would reply that it was an outrage and that he was coming up that very night—all of which he failed to do when the proposed visit was talked over with Corinne.

None of this affected Jack. He would greet Corinne as affectionately and cordially as he had ever done. He had taken her measure years before, but that made no difference to him, he never forgetting that she was his uncle's nominal daughter; that they had been sheltered by the same roof and that she therefore in a way belonged to his people. Moreover, he realized, that like himself, she had been compelled to give up many of the luxuries and surroundings to which she had been accustomed and which she loved,—worthless now to Jack in his freedom, but still precious to her. This in itself was enough to bespeak his sympathy. Not that she valued it;—she rather sniffed at it.

"I wish Jack wouldn't stand with his hat off until I get aboard the train," she had told Garry one day shortly after their arrival—"he makes me so conspicuous. And he wears such queer clothes. He was in his slouch hat and rough flannel shirt and high boots the other day and looked like a tramp."

"Better not laugh at Jack, Cory," Garry had replied; "you'll be taking your own hat off to him one of these days; we all shall. Arthur Breen missed it when he let him go. Jack's queer about some things, but he's a thoroughbred and he's got brains!"

"He insulted Mr. Breen in his own house, that's why he let him go," snapped Corinne. The idea of her ever taking off her hat, even figuratively, to John Breen, was not to be brooked,—not for an instant.

"Yes, that's one way of looking at it, Cory, but I tell you if Arthur Breen had had Jack with him these last few months—ever since he left him, in fact,—and had listened once in a while to what Jack thought was fair and square, the firm of A. B. & Co. would have a better hold on things than they've got now; and he wouldn't have dropped that million either. The cards don't always come up the right way, even when they're stacked."

"It just served my stepfather right for not giving us some of it, and I'm glad he lost it," Corinne rejoined, her anger rising again. "I have never forgiven him for not making me an allowance after I married, and I never will. He could, at least, have continued the one he always gave me."

Garry winked sententiously, and remarked in reply that he might be making the distinguished money-bags an allowance himself one of these fine days, and he could if some of the things he was counting on came out top side up, but Corinne's opinions did not change either toward Jack or her stepfather.



CHAPTER XIX



When the pain in Jack's heart over Ruth became unbearable, there was always one refuge left—one balm which never failed to soothe, and that was Peter.

For though he held himself in readiness for her call, being seldom absent lest she might need his services, their constrained intercourse brought with it more pain than pleasure. It was then that he longed for the comfort which only his dear mentor could give.

On these occasions Mrs. McGuffey would take the lace cover off Miss Felicia's bureau, as a matter of precaution, provided that lady was away and the room available, and roll in a big tub for the young gentleman—"who do be washin' hisself all the time and he that sloppy that I'm afeared everything will be spi'lt for the mistress," and Jack would slip out of his working clothes (he would often come away in his flannel shirt and loose tie, especially when he was late in paying off) and shed his heavy boots with the red clay of Jersey still clinging to their soles, and get into his white linen and black clothes and dress shoes, and then the two chums would lock arms and saunter up Fifth Avenue to dine either at one of Peter's clubs or at some house where he and that "handsome young ward of yours, Mr. Grayson—do bring him again," were so welcome.

If Miss Felicia was in town and her room in use, there was never any change in the programme, Mrs. McGuffey rising to the emergency and discovering another and somewhat larger apartment in the next house but two—"for one of the finest gintlemen ye ever saw and that quiet," etc.—into which Jack would move and which the good woman would insist on taking full charge of herself.

It was on one of these blessed and always welcome nights, after the two had been dining at "a little crack in the wall," as Peter called a near-by Italian restaurant, that he and Jack stopped to speak to Isaac Cohen whom they found closing his shop for the night. Cohen invited them in and Jack, after following the little tailor through the deserted shop—all the work people had left—found himself, to his great surprise, in a small room at the rear, which Isaac opened with a key taken from his vest pocket, and which even in the dim light of a single gas jet had more the appearance of the den of a scholar, or the workshop of a scientist, than the private office of a fashioner of clothes.

Peter only stayed a moment—long enough to borrow the second volume of one of Isaac's books, but the quaint interior and what it contained made a great impression on Jack,—so much so that when the two had said good-night and mounted the stairs to Peter's rooms, it was with increased interest that the boy listened to the old fellow who stopped on every landing to tell him some incident connected with the little tailor and his life: How after his wife's death some years before, and his only daughter's marriage—"and a great affair it was, my boy, I was there and know,"—Cohen had moved down to his shop and fitted up the back room for a little shelter of his own, where he had lived with his books and his personal belongings and where he had met the queerest looking people—with big heads and bushy beards—foreigners, some of them—speaking all kinds of languages, as well as many highly educated men in town.

Once inside his own cosey rooms Peter bustled about, poking the fire into life, drawing the red curtains closer, moving a vase of roses so he could catch their fragrance from where he sat, wheeling two big, easy, all-embracing arm-chairs to the blaze, rolling a small table laden with various burnables and pourables within reach of their elbows, and otherwise disporting himself after the manner of the most cheery and lovable of hosts. This done, he again took up the thread of his discourse.

"Yes! He's a wonderful old fellow, this Isaac Cohen," he rattled on when the two were seated. "You had only a glimpse of that den of his, but you should see his books on costumes,—he's an authority, you know,—and his miniatures,—Oh, a Cosway, which he keeps in his safe, that is a wonder!—and his old manuscripts. Those are locked up too. And he's a gentleman, too, Jack; not once in all the years I have known him have I ever heard him mention the word money in an objectionable way, and he has plenty of it even if he does press off my coat with his own hands. Can you recall anybody you know, my boy—even in the houses where you and I have been lately, who doesn't let the word slip out in a dozen different ways before the evening is over? And best of all, he's sane,—one of the few men whom it is safe to let walk around loose."

"And you like him?"

"Immensely."

"And you never remember he is a Jew?" This was one of the things Jack had never understood.

"Never;—that's not his fault,—rather to his credit."

"Why?"

"Because the world is against both him and his race, and yet in all the years I have known him, nothing has ever soured his temper."

Jack struck a match, relit his cigar and settling himself more comfortably in his chair, said in a positive tone:

"Sour or sweet,—I don't like Jews,—never did."

"You don't like him because you don't know him. That's your fault, not his. But you would like him, let me tell you, if you could hear him talk. And now I think of it, I am determined you shall know him, and right away. Not that he cares—Cohen's friends are among the best men in London, especially the better grade of theatrical people, whose clothes he has made and whose purses he has kept full—yes—and whom he sometimes had to bury to keep them out of Potter's field; and those he knows here—his kind of people, I mean, not yours."

"All in his line of business, Uncle Peter," Jack laughed. "How much interest did they pay,—cent per cent?"

"I am ashamed of you, Jack. Not a penny. Don't let your mind get clogged up, my boy, with such prejudices,—keep the slate of your judgment sponged clean."

"But you believe everybody is clean, Uncle Peter."

"And so must you, until you prove them dirty. Now, will you do me a very great kindness and yourself one as well? Please go downstairs, rap three times at Mr. Cohen's shutters—hard, so that he can hear you—that's my signal—present my compliments and ask him to be kind enough to come up and have a cigar with us."

Jack leaned forward in his seat, his face showing his astonishment.

"You don't mean it?"

"I do."

"All right."

The boy was out of his chair and clattering down-stairs before Peter could add another word to his message. If he had asked him to crawl out on the roof and drop himself into the third-story window of the next house, he would have obeyed him with the same alacrity.

Peter wheeled up another chair; added some small and large glasses to the collection on the tray and awaited Jack's return. The experience was not new. The stupid, illogical prejudice was not confined to inexperienced lads.

He had had the same thing to contend with dozens of times before. Even Holker had once said: "Peter, what the devil do you find in that little shrimp of a Hebrew to interest you? Is he cold that you warm him, or hungry that you feed him,—or lonely that—"

"Stop right there, Holker! You've said it,—lonely—that's it—LONELY! That's what made me bring him up the first time he was ever here. It seemed such a wicked thing to me to have him at one end of the house—the bottom end, too—crooning over a fire, and I at the top end crooning over another, when one blaze could warm us both. So up he came, Holker, and now it is I who am lonely when a week passes and Isaac does not tap at my door, or I tap at his."

The distinguished architect understood it all a week later when the new uptown synagogue was being talked of and he was invited to meet the board, and found to his astonishment that the wise little man with the big gold spectacles, occupying the chair was none other than Peter's tailor.

"Our mutual friend Mr. Grayson, of the Exeter Bank, spoke to me about you, Mr. Morris," said the little man without a trace of foreign accent and with all the composure of a great banker making a government loan; rising at the same time, with great dignity introducing Morris to his brother trustees and then placing him in the empty seat next his own. After that, and on more than one occasion, there were three chairs around Peter's blaze, with Morris in one of them.

All these thoughts coursed through Peter's head as Jack and Cohen were mounting the three flights of stairs.

"Ah, Isaac," he cried at first sight of his friend, "I just wanted you to know my boy, Jack Breen, better, and as his legs are younger than mine, I sent him down instead of going myself—you don't mind, do you?"

"Mind!—of course I do not mind,—but I do know Mr. Breen. I first met him many months ago—when your sister was here—and then I see him going in and out all the time—and—"

"Stop your nonsense, Isaac;—that's not the way to know a man; that's the way not to know him, but what's more to the point is, I want Jack to know you. These young fellows have very peculiar ideas about a good many things,—and this boy is like all the rest—some of which ought to be knocked out of his head,—your race, for one thing. He thinks that because you are a Jew that you—"

Jack uttered a smothered, "Oh, Uncle Peter!" but the old fellow who now had the tailor in one of his big chairs and was filling a thin wineglass with a brown liquid (ten years in the wood)—Holker sent it—kept straight on. "Jack's all right inside, or I wouldn't love him, but there are a good many things he has got to learn, and you happen to be one of them."

Cohen lay back in his chair and laughed heartily.

"Do not mind him, Mr. Breen,—do not mind a word he says. He mortifies me that same way. And now—" here he turned his head to Peter—"what does he think of my race?"

"Oh! He thinks you are a lot of money-getters and pawnbrokers, gouging the poor and squeezing the rich."

Jack broke out into a cold perspiration: "Really, Uncle Peter! Now, Mr. Cohen, won't you please believe that I never said one word of it," exclaimed Jack in pleading tones, his face expressing his embarrassment.

"I never said you did, Jack," rejoined Peter with mock solemnity in his voice. "I said you THOUGHT so. And now here he is,—look at him. Does he look like Scrooge or Shylock or some old skinflint who—" here he faced Cohen, his eyes brimming with merriment—"What are we going to do with this blasphemer, Isaac? Shall we boil him in oil as they did that old sixteenth-century saint you were telling me about the other night, or shall we—?"

The little tailor threw out his hands—each finger an exclamation point—and laughed heartily, cutting short Peter's tirade.

"No—no—we do none of these dreadful things to Mr. Breen; he is too good to be a saint," and he patted Jack's knees—"and then again it is only the truth. Mr. Breen is quite right; we are a race of money-getters, and we are also the world's pawnbrokers and will always be. Sometimes we make a loan on a watch or a wedding ring to keep some poor soul from starving; sometimes it is a railroad to give a millionaire a yacht, or help buy his wife a string of pearls. It is quite the same, only over one shop we hang three gilt balls: on the other we nail a sign which reads: 'Financial Agents.' And it is the same Jew, remember, who stands behind both counters. The first Jew is overhauled almost every day by the police; the second Jew is regarded as our public-spirited citizen. So you see, my young friend, that it is only a question of the amount of money you have got whether you loan on rings or railroads."

"And whether the Christian lifts his hat or his boot," laughed Peter.

Cohen leaned his elbows on his plump knees and went on, the slender glass still in his hand, from which now and then he took a sip. Peter sat buried in his chair, his cigar between his fingers. Jack held his peace; it was not for him to air his opinions in the presence of the two older men, and then again the tailor had suddenly become a savant.

"Of course, there are many things I wish were different," the tailor continued in a more thoughtful tone. "Many of my people forget their birthright and force themselves on the Christian, trying to break down the fence which has always divided us, and which is really our best protection. As long as we keep to ourselves we are a power. Persecution,—and sometimes it amounts to that—is better than amalgamation; it brings out our better fighting qualities and makes us rely on ourselves. This is the view of our best thinkers, and they are right. Just hear me run on! Why talk about these things? They are for graybeards, not young fellows with the world before them." Cohen straightened up—laid his glass on the small table, waved his hand in denial to Peter who started to refill it, and continued, turning to Jack: "And now let me hear something about your own work, Mr. Breen," he said in his kindest and most interested voice. "Mr. Grayson tells me you are cutting a great tunnel. Under a mountain, is it not? Ah!—that is something worth doing. And here is this old uncle of yours with his fine clothes and his old wine, who does nothing but pore over his musty bank-books, and here am I in the cellar below, who can only sew on buttons, and yet we have the impudence to criticise you. Really, I never heard of such conceit!"

"Oh!—but it isn't my tunnel," Jack eagerly protested, greatly amused at the Jew's talk; "I am just an assistant, Mr. Cohen." Somehow he had grown suddenly smaller since the little man had been talking.

"Yes,—of course, we are all assistants; Mr. Grayson assists at the bank, and I assist my man, Jacob, who makes such funny mistakes in the cut of his trousers. Oh, yes, that is quite the way life is made up. But about this tunnel? It is part of this new branch, is it not? Some of my friends have told me about it. And it is going straight through the mountain."

And then before Jack or Peter could reply the speaker branched out into an account of the financing of the great Mt. Cenis tunnel, and why the founder of the house of Rothschild, who had "assisted" in its construction, got so many decorations from foreign governments; the talk finally switching off to the enamelled and jewelled snuff boxes of Baron James Rothschild, whose collection had been the largest in Europe; and what had become of it; and then by one of those illogical jumps—often indulged in by well-informed men discussing any subject that absorbs them—brought up at Voltaire and Taine and the earlier days of the Revolution in which one of the little tailor's ancestors had suffered spoliation and death.

Jack sat silent—he had long since found himself out of his depth—drinking in every word of the talk, his wonderment increasing every moment, not only over Cohen, but over Peter as well, whom he had never before heard so eloquent or so learned, or so entertaining. When at last the little man rose to go, the boy, with one of those spontaneous impulses which was part of his nature, sprang from his seat, found the tailor's hat himself, and conducting him to the door, wished him good-night with all the grace and well-meant courtesy he would show a prince of the blood, should he ever be fortunate enough to meet one.

Peter was standing on the mat, his back to the fire, when the boy returned.

"Jack, you delight me!" the old fellow cried. "Your father couldn't have played host better. Really, I am beginning to believe I won't have to lock you up in an asylum. You're getting wonderfully sane, my boy,—real human. Jack, do you know that if you keep on this way I shall really begin to love you!"

"But what an extraordinary man," exclaimed Jack, ignoring Peter's compliment and badinage. "Is there anything he does not know?"

"Yes,—many things. Oh! a great many things. He doesn't know how to be rude, or ill bred, or purse-proud. He doesn't know how to snub people who are poorer than he is, or to push himself in where he isn't wanted; or to talk behind people's backs after he has accepted their hospitality. Just plain gentleman journeyman tailor, Jack. And now, my boy, be honest. Isn't he a relief after some of the people you and I meet every day?"

Jack settled again in his chair. His mind was not at all easy.

"Yes, he is, and that makes me afraid I was rude. I didn't mean to be."

"No,—you acted just right. I wanted to draw him out so you could hear, and you must say that he was charming. And the best of it is that he could have talked equally well on a dozen other subjects."

For some time Jack did not answer. Despite Peter's good opinion of him, he still felt that he had either said or done something he should be ashamed of. He knew it was his snap judgment about Cohen that had been the cause of the object lesson he had just received. Peter had not said so in so many words—it was always with a jest or a laugh that he corrected his faults, but he felt their truth all the same.

For some minutes he leaned back in his chair, his eyes on the ceiling; then he said in a tone of conviction:

"I WAS wrong about Mr. Cohen, Uncle Peter. I am always putting my foot in it. He is an extraordinary man. He certainly is, to listen to, whatever he is in his business."

"No, Jack, my boy—you were only honest," Peter rejoined, passing over the covert allusion to the financial side of the tailor. "You didn't like his race and you said so. Act first. Then you found out you were wrong and you said so. Act second. Then you discovered you owed him an ample apology and you bowed him out as if he had been a duke. Act third. And now comes the epilogue—Better be kind and human than be king! Eh, Jack?" and the old gentleman threw back his head and laughed heartily.

Jack made no reply. He was through with Cohen;—something else was on his mind of far more importance than the likes and dislikes of all the Jews in Christendom. Something he had intended to lay before Peter at the very moment the old fellow had sent him for Isaac—something he had come all the way to New York to discuss with him; something that had worried him for days. There was but half an hour left; then he must get his bag and say good-night and good-by for another week or more.

Peter noticed the boy's mood and laid his hand on his wrist. Somehow this was not the same Jack.

"I haven't hurt you, my son, have I?" he asked with a note of tenderness in his voice.

"Hurt me! You couldn't hurt me, Uncle Peter!" There was no question of his sincerity as he spoke. It sprang straight from his heart.

"Well, then, what's the matter?—out with it. No secrets from blundering old Peter," he rejoined in a satisfied tone.

Jack laughed gently: "Well, sir, it's about the work." It wasn't; but it might lead to it later on.

"Work!—what's the matter with the work! Anything wrong?" There was a note of alarm now that made Jack reply hastily:

"No, it will be finished next month: we are lining up the arches this week and the railroad people have already begun to dump their cross ties along the road bed. It's about another job. Mr. MacFarlane, I am afraid, hasn't made much money on the fill and tunnel, but he has some other work offered him up in Western Maryland, which he may take, and which, if he does, may pay handsomely. He wants me to go with him. It means a shanty and a negro cook, as near as I can figure it, but I shall get used to that, I suppose. What do you think about it?"

"Well," chuckled Peter—it was not news; MacFarlane had told him all about it the week before at the Century—"if you can keep the shanty tight and the cook sober you may weather it. It must be great fun living in a shanty. I never tried it, but I would like to."

"Yes, perhaps it is,—but it has its drawbacks. I can't come to see you for one thing, and then the home will be broken up. Miss Ruth will go back to her grandmother's for a while, she says, and later on she will visit the Fosters at Newport and perhaps spend a month with Aunt Felicia." He called her so now.

Jack paused for some further expression of opinion from his always ready adviser, but Peter's eyes were still fixed on the slow, dying fire.

"It will be rather a rough job from what I saw of it," Jack went on. "We are to run a horizontal shaft into some ore deposits. Mr. MacFarlane and I have been studying the plans for some time; we went over the ground together last month. That's why I didn't come to you last week."

Peter twisted his head: "What's the name of the nearest town?" MacFarlane had told him but he had forgotten.

"Morfordsburg. I was there once with my father when I was a boy. He had some ore lands near where these are;—those he left me. The Cumberland property we always called it. I told you about it once. It will never amount to anything,—except by expensive boring. That is also what hurts the value of this new property the Maryland Mining Company owns. That's what they want Mr. MacFarlane for. Now, what would you do if you were me?"

"What sort of a town is Morfordsburg?" inquired Peter, ignoring Jack's question, his head still buried between his shoulders.

"Oh, like all other country villages, away from railroad connection."

"Any good houses,—any to rent?"

"Yes,—I saw two."

"And you want my advice, do you, Jack?" he burst out, rising erect in his seat.

"Yes."

"Well, I'd stick to MacFarlane and take Ruth with me."

Jack broke out into a forced laugh. Peter had arrived by a short cut! Now he knew, he was a mind reader.

"She won't go," he answered in a voice that showed he was open to conviction. Peter, perhaps, had something up his sleeve.

"Have you asked her?" The old fellow's eyes were upon him now.

"No,—not in so many words."

"Well, try it. She has always gone with her father; she loves the outdoor life and it loves her. I never saw her look as pretty as she is now, and she has her horse too. Try asking her yourself, beg her to come along and keep house and make a home for the three of you."

Jack leaned back in his seat, his face a tangle of hopes and fears. What was Uncle Peter driving at, anyhow?

"I have tried other things, and she would not listen," he said in a more positive tone. Again the two interviews he had had with Ruth came into his mind; the last one as if it had been yesterday.

"Try until she DOES listen," continued Peter. "Tell her you will be very lonely if she doesn't go, and that she is the one and only thing in Corklesville that interests you outside of your work—and be sure you mention the dear girl first and the work last—and that you won't have another happy hour if she leaves you in the—"

"Oh!—Uncle Peter!"

"And why not? It's a fact, isn't it? You were honest about Isaac; why not be honest with Ruth?"

"I am."

"No, you're not,—you only tell her half what's in your heart. Tell her all of it! The poor child has been very much depressed of late, so Felicia tells me, over something that troubles her, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if you were at the bottom of it. Give yourself an overhauling and find out what you have said or done to hurt her. She will never forget you for pulling her father out of that hole, nor will he."

Jack bristled up: "I don't want her to think of me in that way!"

"Oh, you don't! don't you? Oh, of course not! You want her to think of you as a great and glorious young knight who goes prancing about the world doing good from habit, and yet you are so high and mighty that—Jack, you rascal, do you know you are the stupidest thing that breathes? You're like a turkey, my boy, trying to get over the top rail of a pen with its head in the air, when all it has to do is to stoop a little and march out on its toes."

Jack rose from his seat and walked toward the fire, where he stood with one hand on the mantel. He knew Peter had a purpose in all his raillery and yet he dared not voice the words that trembled on his lips; he could tell the old fellow everything in his life except his love for Ruth and her refusal to listen to him. This was the bitterest of all his failures, and this he would not and could not pour into Peter's ears. Neither did he want Ruth to have Peter's help, nor Miss Felicia's; nor MacFarlane's; not anybody's help where her heart was concerned. If Ruth loved him that was enough, but he wouldn't have anybody persuade her to love him, or advise with her about loving him. How much Peter knew he could not say. Perhaps!—perhaps Ruth told him something!—something he was keeping to himself!

As this last thought forced itself into his brain a great surge of joy swept over him. For a brief moment he stood irresolute. One of Peter's phrases now rang clear: "Stoop a little!" Stoop?—hadn't he done everything a man could do to win a woman, and had he not found the bars always facing him?

With this his heart sank again. No, there was no use of thinking anything more about it, nor would he tell him. There were some things that even Peter couldn't understand,—and no wonder, when you think how many years had gone by since he loved any woman.

The chime of the little clock rang out.

Jack turned quickly: "Eleven o'clock, Uncle Peter, and I must go; time's up. I hate to leave you."

"And what about the shanty and the cook?" said Peter, his eyes searching Jack's.

"I'll go,—I intended to go all the time if you approved."

"And what about Ruth?"

"Don't ask me, Uncle Peter, not now." And he hurried off to pack his bag.



CHAPTER XX



If Jack, after leaving Peter and racing for the ferry, had, under Peter's advice, formulated in his mind any plan by which he could break down Ruth's resolve to leave both her father and himself in the lurch and go out in the gay world alone, there was one factor which he must have left out of his calculations—and that was the unexpected.

One expression of Peter's, however, haunted him all the way home:—that Ruth was suffering and that he had been the cause of it. Had he hurt her?—and if so, how and when? With this, the dear girl's face, with the look of pain on it which Miss Felicia had noticed, rose before him. Perhaps Peter was right. He had never thought of Ruth's side of the matter—had never realized that she, too, might have suffered. To-morrow he would go to her. If he could not win her for himself he could, at least, find out the cause and help relieve her pain.

This idea so possessed him that it was nearly dawn before he dropped to sleep.

With the morning everything changed.

Such a rain had never been known to fall—not in the memory of the oldest moss-back in the village—if any such ancient inhabitant existed. Twelve hours of it had made rivers of the streets, quagmires of the roads, and covered the crossings ankle-deep with mud. It had begun in the night while Isaac was expounding his views on snuff boxes, tunnels, and Voltaire to Peter and Jack, had followed Jack across the river and had continued to soak into his clothes until he opened Mrs. Hicks's front door with his private key. It was still pelting away the next morning, when Jack, alarmed at its fury, bolted his breakfast, and, donning his oilskins and rubber boots, hurried to the brick office from whose front windows he could get a view of the fill, the culvert, and the angry stream, and from whose rear windows could be seen half a mile up the raging torrent, the curve of the unfinished embankment flanking one side of the new boulevard which McGowan was building under a contract with the village.

Hardly had he slipped off his boots and tarpaulins when MacFarlane, in mackintosh and long rubber boots, splashed in:

"Breen," said his Chief, loosening the top button of his storm coat and threshing the water from his cap:

Jack was on his feet in an instant:

"Yes, sir."

"I wish you would take a look at the boulevard spillway. I know McGowan's work and how he skins it sometimes, and I'm getting worried. Coggins says the water is backing up, and that the slopes are giving way. You can see yourself what a lot of water is coming down—" here they both gazed through the open window. "I never saw that stream look like that since I've been here; there must be a frightful pressure now on McGowan's retaining walls. We should have a close shave if anything gave way above us. Our own culvert's working all right, but it's taxed now to its utmost."

Jack unhooked his water-proof from a nail behind the door—he had began putting on his rubber boots again before MacFarlane finished speaking.

"He will have to pay the bills, sir, if anything gives way—" Jack replied in a determined voice. "Garry told me only last week that McGowan had to take care of his own water; that was part of his contract. It comes under Garry's supervision, you know."

"Yes, I know, and that may all be so, Breen," he replied with a flickering smile, "but it won't do us any good,—or the road either. They want to run cars next month."

The door again swung wide, and a man drenched to the skin, the water glistening on his bushy gray beard stepped in.

"I heard you were here, sir, and had to see you. There's only four feet lee-way in our culvert, sir, and the scour's eating into the underpinning; I am just up from there. We are trying bags of cement, but it doesn't do much good."

MacFarlane caught up his hat and the two hurried down stream to the "fill," while Jack, buttoning his oilskin jacket over his chest, and crowding his slouch hat close to his eyebrows and ears strode out into the downpour, his steps bent in the opposite direction.

The sight that met his eyes was even more alarming. The once quiet little stream, with its stretch of meadowland reaching to the foot of the steep hills, was now a swirl of angry reddish water careering toward the big culvert under the "fill." There it struck the two flanking walls of solid masonry, doubled in volume and thus baffled, shot straight into and under the culvert and so on over the broad fields below.

Up the stream toward the boulevard on the other side of its sky line, groups of men were already engaged carrying shovels, or lugging pieces of timber as they hurried along its edge, only to disappear for an instant and reappear again empty-handed. Shouts could be heard, as if some one were giving orders. Against the storm-swept sky, McGowan's short, squat figure was visible, his hands waving wildly to other gangs of men who were running at full speed toward where he stood.

Soon a knife-edge of water glistened along the crest of the earth embankment supporting the roadway of the boulevard, scattered into a dozen sluiceways, gashing the sides of the slopes, and then, before Jack could realize his own danger, the whole mass collapsed only to be swallowed up in a mighty torrent which leaped straight at him.

Jack wheeled suddenly, shouted to a man behind him to run for his life, and raced on down stream toward the "fill" a mile below where MacFarlane and his men, unconscious of their danger, were strengthening the culvert and its approaches.

On swept the flood, tearing up trees, cabins, shanties, fences; swirling along the tortuous bed only to leap and swirl again, its solid front bristling with the debris it had wrenched loose in its mad onslaught, Jack in his line of flight keeping abreast of its mighty thrust, shouting as he ran, pressing into service every man who could help in the rescue.

But MacFarlane had already been forewarned. The engineer of the morning express, who had crossed close to the boulevard at the moment the break occurred, had leaned far out of his cab as the train thundered by at right angles to the "fill," and with cupped hands to his mouth, had hurled this yell into the ravine:

"Water! Look out! Everything busted up above! Water! Water! Run, for God's sake!"

The men stood irresolute, but MacFarlane sprang to instant action. Grabbing the man next him,—an Italian who understood no English—he dragged him along, shouting to the others, the crowd swarming up, throwing away their shovels in their flight until the whole posse reached a point of safety near the mouth of the tunnel.

There he turned and braced himself for the shock. He realized fully what had happened: McGowan's ill-constructed culvert had sagged and choked; a huge basin of water had formed behind it; the retaining walls had been undermined and the whole mass was sweeping down upon him. Would there be enough of it to overflow the crest line of his own "fill" or not? If it could stand the first on-thrust there was one chance in a hundred of its safety, provided the wing-walls and the foundations of the culvert held up its arch, thus affording gradual relief until the flood should have spent its force.

It was but a question of minutes. He could already see the trees sway as the mad flood struck them, the smaller ones rebounding, the large ones toppling over. Then came a dull roar like that of a tram through a covered bridge, and then a great wall of yellow suds, boiling, curling, its surface covered with sticks, planks, shingles, floating barrels, parts of buildings, dashed itself against the smoothed earth slopes of his own "fill," surged a third of its height, recoiled on itself, swirled furiously again, and then inch by inch rose toward the top. Should it plunge over the crest, the "fill" would melt away as a rising tide melts a sand fort, the work of months be destroyed, and his financial ruin be a certainty.

But the man who had crawled out on the shore end of the great cantilever bridge over the Ohio, and who had with his own hands practically set the last rebellious steel girder one hundred feet above the water level, had still some resources left. Grabbing a shovel from a railroad employee, he called to his men and began digging a trench on the tunnel end of the "fill" to form a temporary spillway should the top of the flood reach the crest of the road bed.

Fifty or more men sprang to his assistance with pick and shovel wherever one could stand and dig. The water had now reached within five feet of the top: the rise was slower, showing that the volume had lessened; the soakage, too, was helping, but the water still gained. The bottom of the trench, cut transversely across the road bed of the "fill," out of which the dirt was still flying from scores of willing shovels, had reached the height of the flood line. It was wide enough and deep enough to take care of the slowly rising overflow and would relieve the pressure on the whole structure; but the danger was not there. What was to be feared was the scour on the down-stream—far side—slope of the "fill." This also, was of loose earth: too great a gulch might mean total collapse.

To lessen this scour MacFarlane had looted a carload of plank switched on to a siding, and a gang of men in charge of Jack,—who had now reached his Chief's side,—were dragging them along the downstream slope to form sluices with which to break the force of the scour.

The top of the flood now poured into the mouth of the newly dug trench, biting huge mouthfuls of earth from its sides in its rush; spreading the reddish water fan-like over the down-stream slope: first into gullies; then a broad sluiceway that sunk out of sight in the soft earth; then crumblings, slidings of tons of sand and gravel, with here and there a bowlder washed clean; the men working like beavers,—here to free a rock, there to drive home a plank, the trench all the while deepening, widening—now a gulch ten feet across and as deep, now a canon through which surged a solid mass of frenzied water.

With the completion of the first row of planking MacFarlane took up a position where he could overlook all parts of the work. Every now and then his eyes would rest on a water-gauge which he had improvised from the handle of a pick; the rise and fall of the wet mark showing him both the danger and the safety lines. He seemed the least interested man in the group. Once in a while he would consult his watch, counting the seconds, only to return to the gauge.

That thousands of dollars' damage had so far been done did not seem to affect him in the least. Only when Jack would call out that everything so far was solid on the main "fill" did his calm face light up.

Tightening his wide slouch hat farther down on his head, he drew up the tops of his high-water boots and strode through the slush to the pick-handle. His wooden record showed that half an hour before the water had been rising at the rate of an inch every three minutes; that it had then taken six, and now required eight! He glanced at the sky; it had stopped raining and a light was breaking in the West.

Pocketing his watch he beckoned to Jack:

"The worst is over, Breen," he said in a voice of perfect calmness—the tone of a doctor after feeling a patient's pulse. "Our culvert is doing its work and relieving the pressure. This water will be out of here by morning. Tell the foreman to keep those planks moving wherever they do any good, but they won't count much longer. You can see the difference already in the overflow. And now go up to the house and tell Ruth. She may not know we are all right and will be worrying."

Jack's heart gave a bound. No more delightful duty could devolve on him.

"What shall I tell her about the damage if she asks me, sir?" he demanded, hiding his pleasure in a perfunctory, businesslike tone, "and she will."

"Tell her it means all summer here for me and no new bonnets for her until next winter," replied MacFarlane with a grim smile.

"Yes, I suppose, but I referred to the money loss," Jack laughed in reply. "There is no use worrying her if we are not to blame for this." He didn't intend to worry her. He was only feeling about for some topic which would prolong his visit and encourage conversation.

"If we are, it means some thousands of dollars on the wrong side of the ledger," answered MacFarlane after a pause, a graver tone in his voice. "But don't tell Ruth that. Just give her my message about the bonnet—she will understand."

"But not if McGowan is liable," argued Jack. If Ruth was to hear bad news it could at least be qualified.

"That depends somewhat on the wording of his contract, Breen, and a good deal on whether this village wants to hold him to it. I'm not crossing any bridges of that kind, and don't you. What I'm worrying about is the number of days and nights it's going to take to patch this work so they can get trains through our tunnel—And, Breen—"

"Yes, sir," answered Jack, as he stopped and looked over his shoulder. There were wings on his feet now.

"Get into some dry clothes before you come back."

While all this had been going on Ruth had stood at the window in the upper hall opposite the one banked with geraniums, too horrified to move. She had watched with the aid of her opera-glass the wild torrent rushing through the meadow, and she had heard the shouts of the people in the streets and the prolonged roar when the boulevard embankment gave way.

The hurried entrance and startled cry of the grocer's boy in the kitchen below, and the loud talk that followed, made her move to the head of the stairs. There she stood listening, her heart in her mouth, her knees trembling. Such expressions as "drownded,"—"more'n a hundred of 'em—" reached her ears. Then came the words—"de boss's work busted; ain't nobody seen him alive, so dey say."

For an instant she clutched the hand rail to keep her from falling, then with a cry of terror she caught up an old cloth cape, bound a hat to her head with a loose veil, and was downstairs and into the street before the boy had reached the curb.

"Yes, mum," he stammered, breathlessly, his eyes bulging from his head,—"Oh! it's awful, mum! Don't know how many's drownded! Everybody's shovelin' on de railroad dump, but dere ain't nothin' kin save it, dey say!"

She raced on—across the long street, avoiding the puddles as best she could; past the Hicks Hotel—no sign of Jack anywhere—past the factory fence, until she reached the railroad, where she stopped, gathered her bedraggled skirts in her hand and then sped on over the cross-ties like a swallow, her little feet scarce touching the cinders.

Jack had caught sight of the flying girl as she gained the railroad and awaited her approach; he supposed she was the half-crazed wife or daughter of some workman, bringing news of fresh disaster, until she approached near enough for him to note the shape and size of her boots and the way the hat and veil framed her face. But it was not until she uttered a cry of agony and ran straight toward him, that he sprang forward to meet her and caught her in his aims to keep her from falling.

"Oh, Jack!—where is daddy—where—" she gasped.

"Why, he is all right, Miss Ruth,—everybody's all right! Why did you come here? Oh! I am so sorry you have had this fright! Don't answer,—just lean on me until you get your breath."

"Yes—but are you sure he is safe? The grocer's boy said nobody had seen him alive."

"Of course I am sure! Just look across—there he is; nobody could ever mistake that old slouch hat of his. And look at the big 'fill.' It hasn't given an inch, Miss Ruth—think of it! What a shame you have had such a fright," he continued as he led her to a pile of lumber beside the track and moved out a dry plank where he seated her as tenderly as if she had been a frightened child, standing over her until she breathed easier.

"But then, if he is safe, why did you leave daddy? You are not hurt yourself, are you?" she exclaimed suddenly, reaching up her hand and catching the sleeve of his tarpaulin, a great lump in her throat.

"Me, hurt!—not a bit of it,—not a scratch of any kind,—see!" As an object-lesson he stretched out his arm and with one clenched hand smote his chest gorilla fashion.

"But you are all wet—" she persisted, in a more reassured tone. "You must not stand here in this wind; you will get chilled to the bone. You must go home and get into dry clothes;—please say you will go?"

Something warm and scintillating started from Jack's toes as the words left her lips, surged along his spinal column, set his finger tips tingling and his heart thumping like a trip hammer. She had called him "Jack!" She had run a mile to rescue him and her father, and she was anxious lest he should endanger his precious life by catching cold. Cold!—had he been dragged through the whirlpool of Niagara in the dead of winter with the thermometer at zero and then cast on a stranded iceberg he would now be sizzling hot.

Again she repeated her command,—this time in a more peremptory tone, the same anxious note in her voice.

"Please come, if daddy doesn't want you any more you must go home at once. I wouldn't have you take cold for—" she did not finish the sentence; something in his face told her that her solicitude might already have betrayed her.

"Of course, I will go just as soon as you are rested a little, but you mustn't worry about me, Miss Ruth, I am as wet as a rat, I know, but I am that way half the time when it rains. These tarpaulins let in a lot of water—" here he lifted his arms so she could see the openings herself—"and then I got in over my boots trying to plug the holes in the sluiceway with some plank." He was looking down into her eyes now. Never had he seen her so pretty. The exercise had made roses of her cheeks, and the up-turned face framed by the thatch of a bonnet bound with the veil, reminded him of a Madonna.

"And is everything all right with daddy? And was there nobody in the shanties?" she went on. "Perhaps I might better try to get over where he is;—do you think I can? I would just like to tell him how glad I am it is no worse."

"Yes, if you change boots with me," laughed Jack, determined to divert her mind; "I was nearly swamped getting back here. That is where most of this mud came from—" and Jack turned his long, clay-encrusted boot so that Ruth could see how large a section of the "fill" he had brought with him.

Ruth began to laugh. There was no ostensible reason why she should laugh; there was nothing about Jack's make-up to cause it. Indeed, she thought he had never looked so handsome, even if his hair were plastered to his temples under his water-soaked hat and his clothes daubed with mud.

And yet she did laugh:—At the way her veil got knotted under her chin,—so tightly knotted that Jack had to take both hands to loosen it, begging pardon for touching her throat, and hoping all the while that his clumsy fingers had not hurt her;—at the way her hat was crumpled, the flowers "never,—never, being of the slightest use to anybody again"; at her bedraggled skirts—"such a sight, and sopping wet."

And Jack laughed, too,—agreeing to everything she said, until she reached that stage in the conversation, never omitted on occasions of this kind, when she declared, arching her head, that she must look like a perfect fright, which Jack at once refuted exclaiming that he had never seen her look so—he was going to say "pretty," but checked himself and substituted "well," instead, adding, as he wiped off her ridiculously small boots, despite her protests, with his wet handkerchief,—that cloud-bursts were not such bad things, after all, now that he was to have the pleasure of escorting her home.

And so the two walked back to the village, the afternoon sun, which had now shattered the lowering clouds, gilding and glorifying their two faces, Jack stopping at Mrs. Hicks's to change his clothes and Ruth keeping on to the house, where he was to join her an hour later, when the two would have a cup of tea and such other comforts as that young lady might prepare for her water-soaked lover.



CHAPTER XXI



If ten minutes make half an hour, then it took Jack that long to rush upstairs, two steps at a time, burst into his room, strip off his boots, tear off his wet clothes, struggle into others jerked from his wardrobe, tie a loose, red-silk scarf under the rolling collar of his light-blue flannel shirt, slip into a grey pea-jacket and unmentionables, give his hair a brush and a promise, tilt a dry hat on one side of his head and skip down-stairs again.

Old Mrs. Hicks had seen him coming and had tried to catch him as he flew out the door, hoping to get some more definite news of the calamity which had stirred the village, but he was gone before she could reach the front hall.

He had not thought of his better clothes; there might still be work to do, and his Chief might again need his services. Ruth would understand, he said to himself—all of which was true. Indeed, she liked him better in his high-water rubber boots, wide slouch hat and tarpaulins than in the more conventional suit of immaculate black with which he clothed his shapely body whenever he took her to one of the big dinners at one of the great houses on Washington Square.

And she liked this suit best of all. She had been peeping through the curtains and her critical admiring eyes had missed no detail. She saw that the cavalier boots were gone, but she recognized the short pea-jacket and the loose rolling collar of the soft flannel shirt circling the strong, bronzed throat, and the dash of red in the silken scarf.

And so it is not surprising that when he got within sight of her windows, his cheeks aflame with the crisp air, his eyes snapping with the joy of once more hearing her voice, her heart should have throbbed with an undefinable happiness and pride as she realized that for a time, at least, he was to be all her own. And yet when he had again taken her hand—the warmth of his last pressure still lingered in her palm—and had looked into her eyes and had said how he hoped he had not kept her waiting, all she could answer in reply was the non-committal remark:

"Well, now you look something like"—at which Jack's heart gave a great bound, any compliment, however slight, being so much manna to his hungry soul; Ruth adding, as she led the way into the sitting-room, "I lighted the wood fire because I was afraid you might still be cold."

And ten minutes had been enough for Ruth.

It had been one of those lightning changes which a pretty girl can always make when her lover is expected any instant and she does not want to lose a moment of his time, but it had sufficed. Something soft and clinging it was now; her lovely, rounded figure moving in its folds as a mermaid moves in the surf; her hair shaken cut and caught up again in all its delicious abandon; her cheeks, lips, throat, rose-color in the joy of her expectancy.

He sat drinking it all in. Had a mass of outdoor roses been laid by his side, their fragrance filling the air, the beauty of their coloring entrancing his soul, he could not have been more intoxicated by their beauty.

And yet, strange to say, only commonplaces rose to his lips. All the volcano beneath, and only little spats of smoke and dying bits of ashes in evidence! Even the message of his Chief about her not getting a new bonnet all summer seemed a godsend under the circumstances. Had there been any basis for her self-denial he would not have told her, knowing how much anxiety she had suffered an hour before. But there was no real good reason why she should economize either in bonnets or in anything else she wanted. McGowan, of course, would be held responsible; for whatever damage had been done he would have to pay. He had been present when the young architect's watchful and trained eye had discovered some defects in the masonry of the wing walls of the McGowan culvert bridging the stream, and had heard him tell the contractor, in so many words that if the water got away and smashed anything below him he would charge the loss to his account. McGowan had groveled in dissent, but it had made no impression on Garry, whose duty it was to see that the work was properly carried out and whose signature loosened the village purse strings.

None of these details would interest Ruth; nor was it necessary that they should. The bonnet, however, was another matter. Bonnets were worn over pretty heads and framed lovely hair and faces and eyes—one especially! And then again any pleasantry of her father's would tend to relieve her mind after the anxiety of the morning. Yes, the bonnet by all means!

"Oh, I never gave you your father's message," he began, laying aside his cup, quite as if he had just remembered it. "I ought to have done so before you hung up the hat you wore a while ago."

Ruth looked up, smiling: "Why?" There was a roguish expression about her mouth as she spoke. She was very happy this afternoon.

"He says you won't get a new bonnet all summer," continued Jack, toying with the end of the ribbon that floated from her waist.

Ruth put down her cup and half rose from her chair All the color had faded from her cheeks.

"Did he tell you that?" she cried, her eyes staring into his, her voice trembling as if from some sudden fright.

Jack gazed at her in wonderment:

"Yes—of course he did and—Why, Miss Ruth!—Why, what's the matter! Have I said anything that—"

"Then something serious has happened," she interrupted in a decided tone. "That is always his message to me when he is in trouble. That is what he telegraphed me when he lost the coffer-dam in the Susquehanna. Oh!—he did not really tell you that, did he, Mr. Breen?" The old anxious note had returned—the one he had heard at the "fill."

"Yes—but nothing serious HAS happened, Miss Ruth," Jack persisted, his voice rising in the intensity of his conviction, his earnest, truthful eyes fixed on hers—"nothing that will not come out all right in the end. Please, don't be worried, I know what I am talking about."

"Oh, yes, it is serious," she rejoined with equal positiveness. "You do not know daddy. Nothing ever discourages him, and he meets everything with a smile—but he cannot stand any more losses. The explosion was bad enough, but if this 'fill' is to be rebuilt, I don't know what will be the end of it. Tell me over again, please—how did he look when he said it?—and give me just the very words. Oh, dear, dear daddy! What will he do?" The anxious note had now fallen to one of the deepest suffering.

Jack repeated the message word for word, all his tenderness in his tones—patting her shoulder in his effort to comfort her—ending with a minute explanation of what Garry had told him: but Ruth would not be convinced.

"But you don't know daddy," she kept repeating "You don't know him. Nobody does but me. He would not have sent that message had he not meant it. Listen! There he is now!" she cried, springing to her feet.

She had her arms around her father's neck, her head nestling on his shoulder before he had fairly entered the door. "Daddy, dear, is it very bad?" she murmured.

"Pretty bad, little girl," he answered, smoothing her cheek tenderly with his chilled fingers as he moved with her toward the fire, "but it might have been worse but for the way Breen handled the men."

"And will it all have to be rebuilt?"

She was glad for Jack, but it was her father who now filled her mind.

"That I can't tell, Puss"—one of his pet names for her, particularly when she needed comforting—"but it's safe for the night, anyway."

"And you have worked so hard—so hard!" Her beautiful arms, bare from the elbow, were still around his neck, her cheek pressed close—her lovely, clinging body in strong contrast to the straight, gray, forceful man in the wet storm-coat, who stood with arms about her while he caressed her head with his brown fingers.

"Well, Puss, we have one consolation—it wasn't our fault—the 'fill' is holding splendidly although it has had a lively shaking up. The worst was over in ten minutes, but it was pretty rough while it lasted. I don't think I ever saw water come so fast. I saw you with Breen, but I couldn't reach you then. Look out for your dress, daughter. I'm pretty wet."

He released her arms from his neck and walked toward the fire, stripping off his gray mackintosh as he moved. There he stretched his hands to the blaze sod went on: "As I say, the 'fill' is safe and will stay so, for the water is going down rapidly; dropped ten feet, Breen, since you left. My!—but this fire feels good! Got into something dry—did you, Breen? That's right. But I am not satisfied about the way the down-stream end of the culvert acts"—this also was addressed to Jack—"I am afraid some part of the arch has caved in. It will be bad if it has—we shall know in the morning. You weren't frightened, Puss, were you?"

She did not answer. She had heard that cheery, optimistic note in her father's voice before; she knew how much of it was meant for her ears. None of his disasters were ever serious, to hear daddy talk—"only the common lot of the contracting engineer, little girl," he would say, kissing her good-night, while he again pored over his plans, sometimes until daylight.

She crept up to him the closer and nestled her fingers inside his collar—an old caress of hers when she was a child, then looking up into his eyes she asked with almost a throb of suffering in her voice, "Is it as bad as the coffer-dam, daddy?"

Jack looked on in silence. He dared not add a word of comfort of his own while his Chief held first place in soothing her fears.

MacFarlane passed his hand over her forehead—"Don't ask me, child! Why do you want to bother your dear head over such things, Puss?" he asked, as he stroked her hair.

"Because I must and will know. Tell me the truth," she demanded, lifting her head, a note of resolve in her voice. "I can help you the better if I know it all." Some of the blood of one of her great-great-grandmothers, who had helped defend a log-house in Indian times, was asserting itself. She could weep, but she could fight, too, if necessary.

"Well, then, I'm afraid it is worse than the coffer-dam," he answered in all seriousness. "It may be a matter of twelve or fifteen thousand dollars—maybe more, if we have to rebuild the 'fill.' I can't tell yet."

Ruth released her grasp, moved to the sofa and sank down, her chin resting on her hand. Twelve or fifteen thousand dollars! This meant ruin to everybody—to her father, to—a new terror now flashed into her mind—to Jack—yes, Jack! Jack would have to go away and find other work—and just at the time, too, when he was getting to be the old Jack once more. With this came another thought, followed by an instantaneous decision—what could she do to help? Already she had determined on her course. She would work—support herself—relieve her father just that much.

An uncomfortable silence followed. For some moments no one spoke. Her father, stifling a sigh, turned slowly, pushed a chair to the fire and settled into it, his rubber-encased knees wide apart, so that the warmth of the blaze could reach most of his body. Jack found a seat beside him, his mind on Ruth and her evident suffering, his ears alert for any fresh word from his Chief.

"I forgot to tell you, Breen," MacFarlane said at last, "that I came up the track just now as far as the round-house with the General Manager of the Road. He has sent one of his engineers to look after that Irishman's job before he can pull it to pieces to hide his rotten work—that is, what is left of it. Of course it means a lawsuit or a fight in the Village Council. That takes time and money, and generally costs more than you get. I've been there before, Breen, and know."

"Does he understand about McGowan's contract?" inquired Jack mechanically, his eyes on Ruth. Her voice still rang in his ears—its pathos and suffering stirred him to his very depths.

"Yes—I told him all about it," MacFarlane replied. "The Road will stand behind us—so the General Manager says—but every day's delay is ruinous to them. It will be night-and-day work for us now, and no let-up. I have notified the men." He rose from his seat and crossed to his daughter's side, and leaning over, drew her toward him: "Brace up, little girl," there was infinite tenderness in his cadences—"it's all in a lifetime. There are only two of us, you know—just you and me, daughter—just you and me—just two of us. Kiss me, Puss."

Regaining his full height he picked up his storm-coat from the chair where he had flung it, and with the remark to Jack, that he would change his clothes, moved toward the door. There he beckoned to him, waited until he had reached his side, and whispering in his ear: "Talk to her and cheer her up, Breen. Poor little girl—she worries so when anything like this happens"—mounted the stairs to his room.

"Don't worry, Miss Ruth," said Jack in comforting tones as he returned to where she sat. "We will all pull out yet."

"It is good of you to say so," she replied, lifting her head and leaning back so that she could look into his eyes the better, "but I know you don't think so. Daddy was just getting over his losses on the Susquehanna bridge. This work would have set him on his feet. Those were his very words—and he was getting so easy in his mind, too—and we had planned so many things!"

"But you can still go to Newport," Jack pleaded. "We will be here some months yet, and—"

"Oh—but I won't go a step anywhere. I could not leave him now—that is, not as long as I can help him."

"But aren't you going to the Fosters' and Aunt Felicia's?" She might not be, but it was good all the same to hear her deny it.

"Not to anybody's!" she replied, with an emphasis that left no doubt in his mind.

Jack's heart gave a bound.

"But you were going if we went to Morfordsburg," he persisted. He was determined to get at the bottom of all his misgivings. Perhaps, after all, Peter was right.

Ruth caught her breath. The name of the town had reopened a vista which her anxiety over her father's affairs had for the moment shut out.

"Well, but that is over now. I am going to stay here and help daddy." Again the new fear tugged at her heart. "You are going to stay, too, aren't you, Mr. Breen?" she added in quick alarm. "You won't leave him, will you?—not if—" again the terrible money loss rose before her. What if there should not be money enough to pay Jack?

"Me! Why, Miss Ruth!"

"But suppose he was not able to—" she could not frame the rest of the sentence.

"You can't suppose anything that would make me leave him, or the work." This also came with an emphasis of positive certainty. "I have never been so happy as I have been here. I never knew what it was to be myself. I never knew," he added in softened tones, "what it was to really live until I joined your father. Only last night Uncle Peter and I were talking about it. 'Stick to Mac,' the dear old fellow said." It was to Ruth, but he dared not express himself, except in parables. "Then you HAD thought of going?" she asked quickly, a shadow falling across her face.

"No—" he hesitated—"I had only thought of STAYING. It was you who were going—I was all broken up about being left here alone, and Uncle Peter wanted to know why I did not beg you to stay, and I—"

Ruth turned her face toward him.

"Well, I am going to stay," she answered simply. She did not dare to trust herself further.

"Yes!—and now I don't care what happens!" he exclaimed with a thrill in his voice. "If you will only trust me, Miss Ruth, and let me come in with you and your father. Let me help! Don't let there be only two—let us be three! Don't you see what a difference it would make? I will work and save every penny I can for him and take every bit of the care from his shoulders; but can't you understand how much easier it would be if you would only let me help you too? I could hardly keep the tears back a moment ago when I saw you sink down here. I can't see you unhappy like this and not try to comfort you."

"You do help me," she murmured softly. Her eyes had now dropped to the cushion at her side.

"Yes, but not—Oh, Ruth, don't you see how I love you! What difference does this accident make—what difference does anything make if we have each other?" He had his hand on hers now, and was bending over, his eyes eager for some answer in her own. "I have suffered so," he went on, "and I am so tired and so lonely without you. When you wouldn't understand me that time when I came to you after the tunnel blew up, I went about like one in a dream—and then I determined to forget it all, and you, and everything—but I couldn't, and I can't now. Maybe you won't listen—but please—"

Ruth withdrew her hand quickly and straightened her shoulders. The mention of the tunnel and what followed had brought with it a rush of memories that had caused her the bitterest tears of her life. And then again what did he mean by "helping"?

"Jack," she said slowly, as if every word gave her pain, "listen to me. When you saved my father's life and I wanted to tell you how much I thanked you for it, you would not let me tell you. Is not that true?"

"I did not want your gratitude, Ruth," he pleaded in excuse, his lips quivering, "I wanted your love."

"And why, then, should I not say to you now that I do not want your pity? Is it because you are—" her voice sank to a whisper, every note told of her suffering—"you are—sorry for me, Jack, that you tell me you love me?"

Jack sprang to his feet and stood looking down upon her. The cruelty of her injustice smote his heart. Had a man's glove been dashed in his face he could not have been more incensed. For a brief moment there surged through him all he had suffered for her sake; the sleepless nights, the days of doubts and misunderstandings! And it had come to this! Again he was treated with contempt—again his heart and all it held was trampled on. A wild protest rose in his throat and trembled on his lips.

At that instant she raised her eyes and looked into his. A look so pleading—so patient—so weary of the struggle—so ready to receive the blow—that the hot words recoiled in his throat. He bent his head to search her eyes the better. Down in their depths, as one sees the bottom of a clear pool he read the truth, and with it came a reaction that sent the hot blood rushing through his veins.

"Sorry for you, my darling!" he burst out joyously—"I who love you like my own soul! Oh, Ruth!—Ruth!—my beloved!"

He had her in his arms now, her cheek to his, her yielding body held close.

Then their lips met.

The Scribe lays down his pen. This be holy ground on which we tread. All she has she has given him: all the fantasies of her childhood, all the dreams of her girlhood, all her trust, her loyalty—her reverence—all to the very last pulsation of her being.

And this girl he holds in his arms! So pliant, so yielding, so pure and undefiled! And the silken sheen and intoxicating perfume of her hair, and the trembling lashes shading the eager, longing, soul-hungry eyes; and the way the little pink ears nestle; and the fair, white, dovelike throat, with its ripple of lace. And then the dear arms about his neck and the soft clinging fingers that are intertwined with his own! And more wonderful still, the perfect unison, the oneness, the sameness; no jar, no discordant note; mind, soul, desire—a harmony.

The wise men say there are no parallels in nature; that no one thing in the wide universe exactly mates and matches any other one thing; that each cloud has differed from every other cloud-form in every hour of the day and night, to-day, yesterday and so on back through the forgotten centuries; that no two leaves in form, color, or texture, lift the same faces to the sun on any of the million trees; that no wave on any beach curves and falls as any wave has curved and fallen before—not since the planet cooled. And so it is with the drift of wandering winds; with the whirl and crystals of driving snow, with the slant and splash of rain. And so, too, with the flight of birds; the dash and tumble of restless brooks; the roar of lawless thunder and the songs of birds.

The one exception is when we hold in our arms the woman we love, and for the first time drink in her willing soul through her lips. Then, and only then, does the note of perfect harmony ring true through the spheres.

For a long time they sat perfectly still. Not many words had passed, and these were only repetitions of those they had used before. "Such dear hands," Jack would say, and kiss them both up and down the fingers, and then press the warm, pink shell palm to his lips and kiss it again, shutting his eyes, with the reverence of a devotee at the feet of the Madonna.

"And, Jack dear," Ruth would murmur, as if some new thought had welled up in her heart—and then nothing would follow, until Jack would loosen his clasp a little—just enough to free the dear cheek and say:

"Go on, my darling," and then would come—

"Oh, nothing, Jack—I—" and once more their lips would meet.

It was only when MacFarlane's firm step was heard on the stairs outside that the two awoke to another world. Jack reached his feet first.

"Shall we tell him?" he asked, looking down into her face.

"Of course, tell him," braved out Ruth, uptilting her head with the movement of a fawn surprised in the forest.

"When?" asked Jack, his eager eyes on the opening door.

"Now, this very minute. I never keep anything from daddy."

MacFarlane came sauntering in, his strong, determined, finely cut features illumined by a cheery smile. He had squared things with himself while he had been dressing: "Hard lines, Henry, isn't it?" he had asked of himself, a trick of his when he faced any disaster like the present. "Better get Ruth off somewhere, Henry, don't you think so? Yes, get her off to-morrow. The little girl can't stand everything, plucky as she is." It was this last thought of his daughter that had sent the cheery smile careering around his firm lips. No glum face for Ruth!

They met him half-way down the room, the two standing together, Jack's arm around her waist.

"Daddy!"

"Yes, dear." He had not yet noted the position of the two, although he had caught the joyous tones in her voice.

"Jack and I want to tell you something. You won't be cross, will you?"

"Cross, Puss!" He stopped and looked at her wonderingly. Had Jack comforted her? Was she no longer worried over the disaster?

Jack released his arm and would have stepped forward, but she held him back.

"No, Jack,—let me tell him. You said a while ago, daddy, that there were only two of us—just you and I—and that it had always been so and—"

"Well, isn't it true, little girl?" It's extraordinary how blind and stupid a reasonably intelligent father can be on some occasions, and this one was as blind as a cave-locked fish.

"Yes, it WAS true, daddy, when you went upstairs, but—but—it isn't true any more! There are three of us now!" She was trembling all over with uncontrollable joy, her voice quavering in her excitement.

Again Jack tried to speak, but she laid her hand on his lips with—

"No, please don't, Jack—not yet—you will spoil everything."

MacFarlane still looked on in wonderment. She was much happier, he could see, and he was convinced that Jack was in some way responsible for the change, but it was all a mystery yet.

"Three of us!" MacFarlane repeated mechanically—"well, who is the other, Puss?"

"Why, Jack, of course! Who else could it be but Jack? Oh! Daddy!—Please—please—we love each other so!"

That night a telegram went singing down the wires leaving a trail of light behind. A sleepy, tired girl behind an iron screen recorded it on a slip of yellow paper, enclosed it in an envelope, handed it to a half-awake boy, who strolled leisurely up to Union Square, turned into Fifteenth Street, mounted Peter's front stoop and so on up three flights of stairs to Peter's door. There he awoke the echoes into life with his knuckles.

In answer, a charming and most courtly old gentleman in an embroidered dressing-gown and slippers, a pair of gold spectacles pushed high up on his round, white head, his index finger marking the place in his book, opened the door.

"Telegram for Mr. Grayson," yawned the boy.

Ah! but there were high jinks inside the cosey red room with its low reading lamp and easy chairs, when Peter tore that envelope apart.

"Jack—Ruth—engaged!" he cried, throwing down his book. "MacFarlane delighted—What!—WHAT? Oh, Jack, you rascal!—you did take my advice, did you? Well I—well! I'll write them both—No, I'll telegraph Felicia—No, I won't!—I'll—Well!—well!—WELL! Did you ever hear anything like that?" and again his eyes devoured the yellow slip.

Not a word of the freshet; of the frightful loss; of the change of plans for the summer; of the weeks of delay and the uncertain financial outlook! And alas, dear reader—not a syllable, as you have perhaps noticed, of poor daddy tottering on the brink of bankruptcy; nor the slightest reference to brave young women going out alone in the cold, cold world to earn their bread! What were floods, earthquakes, cyclones, poverty, debt—what was anything that might, could, would or should happen, compared to the joy of their plighted troth!



CHAPTER XXII



Summer has come: along the banks of the repentant stream the willows are in full leaf; stretches of grass, braving the coal smoke and dust hide the ugly red earth. The roads are dry again; the slopes of the "fill" once more are true; all the arches in the mouth of the tunnel are finished; the tracks have been laid and the first train has crawled out on the newly tracked road where it haggled, snorted and stopped, only to crawl back and be swallowed by The Beast.

And with the first warm day came Miss Felicia. "When your wretched, abominable roads, my dear, dry up so that a body can walk without sinking up to their neck in mud—" ran Miss Felicia's letter in answer to Ruth's invitation,—"I'll come down for the night," and she did, bringing Ruth half of her laces, now that she was determined to throw herself away on "that good-for nothing—Yes, Jack, I mean you and nobody else, and you needn't stand there laughing at me, for every word of it's true; for what in the world you two babes in the wood are going to live on no mortal man knows;" Ruth answering with her arm tight around the dear lady's neck,—a liberty nobody,—not even Peter, ever dared take—and a whisper in her ear that Jack was the blessedest ever, and that she loved him so sometimes she was well-nigh distracted—a statement which the old lady remarked was literally true.

And we may be sure that Peter came too—and we may be equally positive that no impassable roads could have held him back. Indeed, on the very afternoon of the very day following the receipt of the joyful telegram, he had closed his books with a bang, performed the Moses act until he had put them into the big safe, slipped on his coat, given an extra brush to his hat and started for the ferry. All that day his face had been in a broad smile; even the old book-keeper noticed it and so did Patrick, the night-watchman and sometimes porter; and so did the line of depositors who inched along to his window and were greeted with a flash-light play of humor on his face instead of the more sedate, though equally kindly expression which always rested on his features when at work. But that was nothing to the way he hugged Jack and Ruth—separately—together—then Ruth, then Jack—and then both together again, only stopping at MacFarlane, whose hand he grabbed with a "Great day! hey? Great day! By Cricky, Henry, these are the things that put new wine into old leather bottles like you and me."

And this was not all that the spring and summer had brought. Fresh sap had risen in Jack's veins. This girl by his side was his own—something to work for—something to fight for. MacFarlane felt the expansion and put him in full charge of the work, relieving him often in the night shifts, when the boy would catch a few hours' sleep, and when, you may be sure, he stopped long enough at the house to get his arms around Ruth before he turned in for the night or the morning, or whenever he did turn in.

As to the injury which McGowan's slipshod work had caused to the "fill," the question of damages and responsibility for the same still hung in the air. The "fill" did not require rebuilding—nor did any part of the main work—a great relief. The loss had not, therefore, been as great as MacFarlane had feared. Moreover, the scour and slash of the down-stream slope, thanks to Jack's quick work, required but few weeks to repair; the culvert, contrary to everybody's expectation, standing the test, and the up-stream slope showing only here and there marks of the onslaught. The wing walls were the worst; these had to be completely rebuilt, involving an expense of several thousands of dollars, the exact amount being one point in the discussion.

Garry, to his credit, had put his official foot down with so strong a pressure that McGowan, fearing that he would have to reconstruct everything from the bed of the stream up, if he held out any longer, agreed to arbitrate the matter, he selecting one expert and MacFarlane the other; and the Council—that is, Garry—the third. MacFarlane had chosen the engineer of the railroad who had examined McGowan's masonry an hour after the embankment had given way. McGowan picked out a brother contractor and Garry wrote a personal letter to Holker Morris, following it up by a personal visit to the office of the distinguished architect, who, when he learned that not only Garry, MacFarlane, and Jack were concerned in the outcome of the investigation, but also Ruth—whose marriage might depend on the outcome,—broke his invariable rule of never getting mixed up in anybody's quarrels, and accepted the position without a murmur.

This done everybody interested sat down to await the result of the independent investigations of each expert, Garry receiving the reports in sealed envelopes and locking them in the official safe, to be opened in full committee at its next monthly meeting, when a final report, with recommendations as to liability and costs, would be drawn up; the same, when adopted by a majority of the Council the following week, to be binding.

It was during this suspense—it happened really on the morning succeeding the one on which Garry had opened the official envelopes—that an envelope of quite a different character was laid on Jack's table by the lady with the adjustable hair, who invariably made herself acquainted with as much of that young gentleman's mail as could be gathered from square envelopes sealed in violet wax, or bearing family crests in low relief, or stamped with monograms in light blue giving out delicate perfumes, each one of which that lady sniffed with great satisfaction; to say nothing of business addresses and postal-cards,—the latter being readable, and, therefore, her delight.

This envelope, however, was different from any she had ever fumbled, sniffed at, or pondered over. It was not only of unusual size, but it bore in the upper left-hand corner in bold black letters the words:

ARTHUR BREEN & COMPANY, BANKERS.

It was this last word which set the good woman to thinking. Epistles from banks were not common,—never found at all, in fact, among the letters of her boarders.

Jack was even more astonished.

"Call at the office," the letter ran, "the first time you are in New York,—the sooner the better. I have some information regarding the ore properties that may interest you."

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