Eleanor pushed through the crowd until she reached the foot of the steps. There, lying on the floor, with her towering white pompadour crushed ignominiously against the newel-post, lay the one person in the house who could have brought prompt order out of the chaos. On one side of her knelt Miss Enid frantically applying smelling salts, while on the other stood Miss Isobel futilely wringing her hands and imploring some one to go for a minister.
Suddenly the buzz of excited talk ceased. Madam was returning to consciousness. She groaned heavily, then opened one eye.
"What's the matter?" she demanded feebly. "What's all this fuss about?"
"You fell down the steps, mother. Don't get excited; don't try to move."
But Madam had already tried, with the result that she fell back with a sharp cry of pain.
"Oh, my leg, my leg!" she groaned. "What are you all standing around like fools for? Why don't you send Tom for the doctor?"
"Tom isn't with us any more, dearest," said Aunt Enid with trembling reassurance, "and Dr. Snowden is out of town. But we are trying to get Dr. Bean."
"I won't have Bean," Madam declared, clinching her jaw with pain. "I'll send him away if he comes."
"Dr. Vaughn, then?" suggested Miss Enid tenderly.
"Vaughn nothing! Send for Rawlins. He's an old stick, but he'll do till Dr. Snowden gets here."
"But, mother," protested Miss Isobel. "Dr. Rawlins lives in the country; he can't get here for half an hour."
"Do as I tell you and stop arguing," commanded Madam. "Has anybody telephoned Ranny?"
The two sisters exchanged significant glances.
"Their line is busy," said Miss Enid soothingly. "We will get him soon."
"I want to be taken upstairs," announced Madam; "I want to be put in my own bed."
A buzz of protest met this suggestion, and a small, nervous man in clerical garb, who had just arrived, came forward to add his voice to the rest.
Madam glared at him savagely. "There'll be plenty of time for parsons when the doctors get through with me," she said. "Tell some of those able-bodied men back there to come here and take me upstairs."
Quin, who had been standing in the background looking down at the formidable old lady, promptly came forward.
"I'll take you up," he said. "Which leg is hurt?"
The old lady turned her head and looked up at him. The note of confidence in his voice had evidently appealed to her.
"It's my left leg. I think it's broken just above the knee."
"Do you want me to put a splint on it?"
"Are you a doctor?"
"No, ma'am; but I can fix it so's it won't hurt you so bad when we move you," Quin replied.
"How do you know you can?"
Quin ran his fingers through his hair and smiled.
"Well, I wasn't with the Ambulance Corps for six months in France for nothing."
Madam eyed him keenly for a moment; then, "Go ahead," she commanded.
A chorus of protests from the surrounding group only deepened her determination.
"It's my leg," she said irritably. "If he knows how to splint it, let him do it. I want to be taken upstairs."
It is difficult enough to apply a splint properly under favorable circumstances; but when one has only an umbrella and table napkins to work with, and is hemmed in by a doubtful and at times protesting audience, it becomes well-nigh impossible.
Quin worked slowly and awkwardly, putting the bones as nearly as possible in position and then binding them firmly in place. He paid no more attention to the agitated comments of those about him than he had paid to the whizzing bullets when he rendered first aid to a fallen comrade in No Man's Land.
During the painful operation Madam lay with rigid jaws and clenched fists. Small beads of perspiration gathered on her forehead and her lips were white. Now and then she flinched violently, but only once did she speak, and that was when Miss Enid held the smelling salts too close to her high-bridged nose.
"Haven't I got enough to stand without that?" she sputtered, knocking the bottle into the air and sending the contents flying over the polished floor.
When Quin finished he looked at her with frank admiration.
"You got nerve, all right," he said; then he added gently: "Don't you worry about getting upstairs; it won't hurt you much now."
"You stay and help," said Madam peremptorily.
"Sure," said Quin.
It was not until she was in her own bed, and word had come that Dr. Rawlins was on his way, that she would let Quin go, and even then she called him back.
"You! Soldier! Come here," was the faint edict from the canopied bed. She was getting very weak from the pain, and her words came in gasps. "Do you know where—the—Aristo Apartments are?"
"No, but I can find out," said Quin.
"I want you—to—go for my son—Mr. Randolph Bartlett. If he's not at home—you find him. I'll make it—worth your while."
"I'll find him," Quin said, with a reassuring pat on her wrinkled hand.
As he went into the hall, Eleanor slipped out of the adjoining room and followed him silently down the stairs. She did not speak until they were at the front door, and even then took the precaution of stepping outside.
"I just wanted to come down and say good-by," she said.
"But you surely won't be going now?" said Quin hopefully.
"Yes, I'm to go. Grandmother has just told Aunt Isobel that everything is to be carried out exactly as she planned it. But I wish they'd let me stay and help. Poor granny!"
Her eyes brimmed with ready tears.
"She'll pull through all right," said Quin, to whom the tear-dimmed eyes of youth were more unnerving than age's broken bones. "Don't worry, Miss Eleanor, please. What time does your train go in the morning?"
"I'll be there at ten."
Eleanor brushed her tears away quickly. "No, no—you mustn't," she said in quick alarm. "They don't know that we ever saw each other before. They think you just happened to be passing and ran in to help. Oh, I don't want to give them any more trouble. Promise me not to come!"
"Well, when you come back, then?"
"Yes, yes, when I come back," she whispered hurriedly. Then she put out her hand impulsively. "I think you've been perfectly splendid to-night. Good-by."
For a moment she stood there, her dainty figure silhouetted against the bright doorway, with the light shining through her soft hair giving her an undeserved halo. Then she was gone, leaving him on the steps in the moonlight, tenderly contemplating the hand that had just held hers.
It was well that Quin had an errand to perform that night. His emotions, which had been accumulating compound interest since five o'clock, demanded an outlet in immediate action. He had not the faintest idea where the Aristo Apartments might be; but, wherever they were, he meant to find them. Consultation with a telephone book at the corner drug-store sent him across the city to a newer and more fashionable residence quarter. As he left the street-car at the corner indicated, he asked a man who was just dismounting from a taxi-cab for further information.
When the dapper gentleman, thus addressed, turned toward him, it was evident that he had dined not wisely but too well. He was at that mellow stage that radiates affection, and, having bidden a loving farewell to the taxi driver, he now linked his arm in Quin's and repeated gaily:
"'Risto? Of course I can find it for you, if it's where it was this morning! Always make a point of helping a man that's worse off than I am. Always help a sholdier, anyhow. Take my arm, old chap. Take my cane, too. I'll help you."
Thus assisted and assisting, Quin good-humoredly allowed himself to be conducted in a zigzag course to the imposing doorway of a large apartment-house across the street.
"Forgive me f' taking you up stairway," apologized the affable gentleman. "Mustn't let elevator boy see you in this condishun. Take you up to my apartment. Put you bed in m' own room. Got to take care sholdiers."
At the second floor Quin tried to disentangle himself from his new-found protector.
"You can find your way home now, partner," he said. "I got to go down and find out which floor my party lives on."
But his companion held him tight.
"No, my boy! Mustn't go out again to-night. M.P.'s'll catch you. I'll get you to bed without anybody knowing. Mustn't 'sturb my wife, though. Mustn't make any noise." And, adding force to persuasion, he got his arms around Quin and backed him so suddenly against the wall that they both took an unexpected seat on the floor.
At this inopportune moment a door opened and a delicate blonde lady in a pink kimono, followed by an inquisitive poodle, peered anxiously out.
"'S perfectly all right, darling!" reassured the nethermost figure blithely. "Sholdier friend's had a little too much champagne. Bringing him in so's won't be 'rested. Nicest kind of chap. Perfectly harmless!"
Quin scrambled to his feet and exchanged an understanding look with the lady in the doorway.
"I found him down at the corner. Does he belong here?" he asked. And, upon being informed sorrowfully that he did, he added obligingly, "Don't you want me to bring him in for you?"
"Will you?" said the lady in grateful agitation. "The maids are both out, and I can't handle him by myself. Would you mind bringing him into his bedroom?"
Quin succeeded in detaching an affectionate arm from his right leg and, getting his patient up, piloted him into the apartment.
"I'd just as leave put him to bed for you if you like?" he offered, noting the nervousness of the lady, who was fluttering about like a distracted butterfly.
"Oh, would you?" she asked. "It would help me immensely. If he isn't put to bed he is sure to want to go out again."
"Shure to!" heartily agreed the object of their solicitude. "Leave him to me, darling. I'll hide his uniform so's he can't go out. Be a good girl, run along—I'll take care of him."
Thus left to each other, a satisfactory compromise was effected by which the host agreed to be undressed and put to bed, provided Quin would later submit to the same treatment. It was not the first time Quin had thus assisted a brother in misfortune, but he had never before had to do with gold buttons and jeweled cuff-links, to say nothing of silk underwear and sky-blue pajamas. Being on the eve of adopting civilian clothes for the first time in two years, he took a lively interest in every detail of his patient's attire, from the modish cut of his coat to the smart pattern of his necktie.
The bibulous one, who up to the present had regarded the affair as humorous, now began to be lachrymose, and by the time Quin got him into the rose-draped bed he was in a state of deep dejection.
"My mother loves me," he assured Quin tearfully. "Gives me everything. I don't mean to be ungrateful. But I can't go on in the firm. Bangs is dishonest, but she won't believe it. She thinks I don't know. They both think I'm a cipher. I am a cipher. But they've made me one. Get so discouraged, then go break over like this. Promised Flo never would take another drink. But it's no use. Can't help myself. I'm done for. Just a cipher, a cipher, a ci——"
Quin standing by the bed waiting for him to get through adding noughts to his opinion of himself, suddenly leaned forward and examined the picture that hung above the table. It was of an imperial old lady in black velvet, with a string of pearls about her throat and a tiara on her towering white pompadour. His glance swept from the photograph to the flushed face with the tragic eyes on the pillow, and he seemed to hear a querulous old voice repeating: "Ranny—I want Ranny. Why don't they send for Ranny?"
With two strides he was at the door.
"Are you Mrs. Randolph Bartlett?" he asked of the lady who was nervously pacing the hall.
"Because they sent me after him. It's his mother, you see—she's hurt."
"Madam Bartlett? What's happened?"
"She fell down the steps and broke her leg."
"How terrible! But she mustn't know about him," cried Mrs. Ranny in instant alarm. "It always makes her furious when he breaks over; and yet, she is to blame—she drives him to it."
"How do you mean?" asked Quin, plunging into the situation with his usual temerity.
"I mean that she has dominated him, soul and body, ever since he was born!" cried Mrs. Ranny passionately. "She has forced him to stay in the business when every detail of it is distasteful to him. His life is a perfect hell there under Mr. Bangs. He ought to have an outdoor life. He loves animals—he ought to be on a ranch." She pulled herself up with an effort. "Forgive me for going into all this before a stranger, but I am almost beside myself. Of course I am sorry for Madam Bartlett, but what can I do? You can see for yourself that my husband is in no condition to go to her."
"Can't you say he's sick?"
"She wouldn't believe it. She's suspicious of everything I do and say. Do you have to take back an answer?"
"I told the old lady I'd find him for her. You see, I'm a—sort of a friend of Miss Eleanor's."
Under ordinary circumstances Mrs. Ranny would have been the last to accept this without an explanation; but there were too many other problems pressing for her to worry about this one.
"I wonder how it would do," she said, "for you to telephone that we are both out of town for the night, spending the week-end in the country?"
"I guess one lie is as good as another," said Quin ruefully. He was getting involved deeper than he liked, but there seemed no other way out. "I'll telephone from the drug-store. Anything else I can do for you?"
"You have been so kind, I hate to ask another favor."
"Let's have it," said Quin.
"Would you by any chance have time to leave a package of papers at Bartlett & Bangs' for me the first thing in the morning? Mr. Bangs has been telephoning me about them all day, and I've been nearly distracted, because my husband had them in his pocket and I did not know where he was."
"Wait a minute," said Quin, going back into the bedroom. "Are these the ones?"
"Yes. They must be very important; that's why I am afraid to intrust them to my maid. Be sure to take them to Mr. Bangs himself, and if he asks any questions——" She caught her trembling lip between her teeth and tried to force back the tears.
"Don't you worry!" cried Quin. "I'll make it all right with him. You drink a glass of hot milk or something, and go to bed."
She looked up at him gratefully. "I don't know your name," she said, "but I certainly appreciate your kindness to me to-night. I wish you would come back some time and let us thank you——"
"Oh, that's all o.k.," said Quin, turning to the door in sudden embarrassment. Then he discovered that he was trying to shake hands and hold his cap with the same hand, and in his confusion he slipped on the hard-wood floor, and achieved an exit that was scarcely more dignified than his entrance a half-hour before.
The news that Quin had broken through the Bartlett barrage afforded great amusement to the Martels at breakfast next morning. Of course they were sympathetic over Madam Bartlett's accident—the Martels' sympathy was always on tap for friend or foe,—but that did not interfere with a frank enjoyment of Quin's spirited account of her high-handed treatment of the family, especially the incident of the smelling salts.
"She ought to belong to the Tank Brigade," said Rose. "'Treat 'em rough' is her motto."
"I like the old girl, though," said Quin disrespectfully, "she's got so much pep. And talk about your nerve! You should have seen her set her jaw when I put the splint on!"
"Is the house very grand?" asked Myrna, hungering for luxurious details.
"No," Cass broke in scornfully. "I been in the hall twice. It looks like a museum—big pictures and statuary, and everything dark and gloomy."
"Yes, and Miss Isobel and Miss Enid are the mummies," added Rose. "The only nice one in the bunch besides Nell is Mr. Ranny, and he is hardly ever sober."
"Well, I wouldn't be, either," said Cass, "if I'd been held down like he has all his life. The Bartlett estate was left in trust to the old lady, and she holds the purse-strings and has the say-so about everything."
Quin refrained from mentioning the fact that he had also met Mr. Ranny. It was a point to his credit, for the story would have been received with hilarity, and he particularly enjoyed making Rose laugh.
The entrance of Mr. Martel put an end to the discussion of the Bartletts. Bitter as was his animosity toward the old lady, he would permit no disrespect to be shown her or hers in his presence. In the garish light of day he looked a trifle less imposing than he had on New Year's eve in the firelight. His long white hair hung straight and dry about his face; baggy wrinkles sagged under his eyes and under his chin. The shoulders that once proudly carried Mark Antony's shining armor now supported a faded velvet breakfast jacket that showed its original color only in patches. But even in the intimacy of the breakfast hour Papa Claude preserved his air of distinction, the gracious condescension of a temporary sojourner in an environment from which he expected at any moment to take flight.
When Cass had gone to work and the girls were busy cleaning up the breakfast dishes, he linked his arm in Quin's and drew him into the living-room.
"I have never allowed myself to submit to the tyranny of time!" he said. "The wine of living should be tasted slowly. Pull up a chair, my boy; I want to talk to you. You don't happen to have a cigar about you, do you?"
"Yes, sir. Here are two. Take 'em both. I got to cut out smoking; it makes me cough."
Mr. Martel, protesting and accepting at the same time, sank into his large chair and bade Quin pull up a rocker. In the Martels' living-room all the chairs were rockers; so, in fact, were the table and the sofa, owing to missing castors.
"I am going to talk to you quite confidentially," began Mr. Martel, giving himself up to the enjoyment of the hour. "I am going to tell you of a new and fascinating adventure upon which I am about to embark. You have doubtless heard me speak of a very wealthy and talented young friend of mine—Mr. Harold Phipps?"
Quin admitted without enthusiasm that he had, and that he also knew him.
"Well, Mr. Phipps,—or Captain, as you probably know him,—after a short medical career has found it so totally distasteful that he is wisely returning to an earlier love. As soon as he gets out of the army he and I are going to collaborate on a play. Of course I have technic at my finger-tips. Construction, dramatic suspense, climax are second nature to me. But I confess I have a fatal handicap, one that has doubtless cost me my place at the head of American dramatists to-day. I have never been able to achieve colloquial dialogue! My style is too finished, you understand, my diction too perfect. Manager after manager has been on the verge of accepting a play, and been deterred solely on account of this too literary quality. I suffer from the excess of my virtue; you see?"
Quin did not see. Mr. Martel's words conveyed but the vaguest meaning to him. But it flattered his vanity to be the recipient of such a great man's confidence.
"Well, here's my point," continued his host impressively. "Mr. Phipps knows nothing of technic, of construction; but he has a sense for character and dialogue that amounts to genius. Now, suppose I construct a great plot, and he supplies great dialogue? What will be the inevitable result? A masterpiece, a little modern masterpiece!"
Mr. Martel, soaring on the wings of his imagination, failed to observe that his listener was not following.
"Does—does Miss Eleanor know about all this?" Quin asked.
"Alas, no. I had no opportunity to tell her. Ah, Mr. Graham, I must confess, it hurts me, it hurts me here,"—he indicated a grease-spot just below his vest pocket,—"to be separated from that dear child just when she needs me most. She should be already embarked in her great career. Ellen Terry, Bernhardt, Rachel, all began their training very early. If she had been left to me she would be behind the footlights by now."
"They'll never stand for her going on the stage," said Quin authoritatively. It was astonishing how intimate he felt with the Bartletts since he had put two of them to bed.
"Ah, my friend," said Mr. Martel, shaking his head and smiling, "what can be avoided whose end is purposed by the mighty gods? Eleanor will follow her destiny. She has the temperament, the voice, the figure—a trifle small, I grant you, but lithe, graceful, pliant as a reed."
"Yes, I know what you mean," Quin agreed ardently; "you can tell that in her dancing."
"But more than all, she has the great ambition, the consuming desire for self-expression, for——"
Quin's face clouded slightly and he again lost the thread of the discourse.
"Lots of girls are stage-struck," he said presently, breaking in on Mr. Martel's rhapsody. "Miss Eleanor's young yet. Don't you believe she will get over it?"
"Young! Why, Mary Anderson was playing Meg Merrilies when she was two years younger than Eleanor. I tell you, Quinby—you'll forgive my addressing you thus—I tell you, the girl will never get over it. She has inherited the histrionic gift from her mother—from me. The Bartletts have given her money, education, social position; but it remained for me—the despised Claude Martel—to give her the soul of an artist. And mark me,"—he paused effectively with a lifted forefinger,—"it will be Claude Martel who gives her her heart's desire. For years I have fostered in her a love for the drama. I have taken her to see great plays. I have taught her to read great lines, and above all I have fed her ambition. The time was limited—a night here, a day there; but I planted a seed they cannot kill. It has grown, it will flower; no one can stop it now."
The subject was one upon which Quin would fain have discoursed indefinitely, but a glance at his watch reminded him that the business of the day did not admit of further delay. He not only had an important errand to perform, but he must look for work. His exchequer, as usual, was very low and the need for replenishing it was imperative.
When he reached Bartlett & Bangs' on the outskirts of the city, the big manufacturing plant was ominously still. The only sign of life about the place was at the wide entrance doors at the end of the yards, where a group of men were talking and gesticulating excitedly.
"What's the shindy?" Quin asked a bystander.
"Union men trying to keep scabs from going to work," answered his informant. "Somebody's fixin' to get hurt there in about two minutes."
Quin, to whom a scrap was always a pleasant diversion, ran forward and craned his neck to see what was happening. Speeches were being made, hot impassioned speeches, now in favor of the union, now against it, and every moment the excitement increased. Quin listened with absorbed attention, trying to get the straight of the matter.
Just now a sickly-looking man, with a piece of red flannel tied around his throat, was standing on the steps, making a futile effort against the noise to explain his return to work.
"I can't let 'em starve," he kept repeating in a hoarse, apologetic voice. "When a man's got a sick wife and eight children, he ain't able to do as he likes. I don't want to give in no more 'n you-all do. Neither does Jim here, nor Tom Dawes. But what can we do?"
"Do like the rest of us!" shouted some one in the crowd, "Stick it out! Learn 'em a lesson. They can't run their bloomin' old plant without us. Pull him down off them steps, boys!"
"Naw, you don't!" cried another man, seizing a stick and jumping at the steps. "We got a right to do as we like, same as you! Come on up, Tom Dawes! We ain't going to let our families in for the Charity Organization."
Quick cries of "Traitor!" "Scab!" "Pull 'em down!" were succeeded by a lively scrimmage in which there was a rush for the steps.
Quin, from his place at the edge of the crowd, saw a dozen men surround three. He saw the man with the red rag about his throat put up a feeble defense against two assailants. Then he ceased to see and began only to feel. Whatever the row was about, they weren't fighting fairly, and his blood began to rise. He stood it as long as he could; then, with a cry of protest, he plunged through the crowd. In his sternest top-sergeant voice he issued orders, and enforced them with a brawny fist that was used to handling men. A moment later he dragged a limp victim from under the struggling group.
This unexpected interruption by an unknown man in uniform, together with the appearance of a stern-faced man in spectacles at an upper window, had an instant effect on the crowd. The strikers began to slink out of the yards, while the three assaulted men dusted their clothes and entered the factory.
Quin followed them in, and upon inquiring for the office was directed to the second floor, where he followed devious ways until he reached the door of a large room filled with desks in rows, at each of which sat a clerk.
"Mr. Bangs?" repeated a red-nosed girl, in answer to his inquiry. "Got an appointment?"
"No," said Quin; "but I've got a parcel that's to be delivered in person."
The red-nosed one thereupon consulted the man at the next desk, and, after some colloquy, conducted Quin to one of the small rooms at the rear of the large one.
The next moment Quin found himself face to face with the stern-looking personage whose mere appearance at the window a few minutes before had had such a subduing effect on the crowd below.
As he listened to Quin's message he looked at him narrowly and suspiciously with piercing black eyes that seemed intent on seeking out the weakest spot of whatever they rested upon.
"When did Mr. Bartlett give you these letters?" he asked in a tone as cold as the tinkle of ice against glass.
"I got 'em last night, sir."
"At his house, when I went to carry word about his mother's accident."
"Close that door back of you," said Mr. Bangs, with a jerk of his head; then he went on, "So Mr. Bartlett was at home when you reached there last night?"
"Oh, yes, sir!" Quin assured him with an emphasis that implied Mr. Randolph Bartlett's unfailing presence at his own fireside on every Sabbath evening.
"That is strange," Mr. Bangs commented dryly. "Miss Enid Bartlett telephoned an hour ago that her brother and his wife were out of the city."
Quin was visibly embarrassed. He was not used to treading the quicksands of duplicity, and he felt himself sinking.
"Young man," said Mr. Bangs sternly, "I am inclined to think you are deceiving me."
"No," said Quin with spirit, "I haven't deceived you; but I did lie to Miss Eleanor's aunt over the telephone."
"What was your object?"
"Well, I couldn't tell her Mr. Bartlett was stewed, could I?"
Mr. Bangs gave a short, contemptuous laugh. "As I thought," he said. "That will do."
But Quin had no intention of going until he had spoken a word in his own behalf. The idea had just occurred to him that by obtaining a position with Bartlett & Bangs he could add another link to the chain that was to bind him to Eleanor.
"You don't happen to have a job for me?" he inquired of the back of Mr. Bangs's bald, dome-like head.
"A job?" repeated Mr. Bangs, glancing over his shoulder at Quin's uniform.
"Yes, sir. I'm out of the service now."
"What can you do?"
Quin looked at him quizzically. "I can receive and obey the orders of the commanding officer," he said.
Mr. Bangs, being humor-proof, evidently considered this impertinent, and repeated his question sharply.
"Oh, I'll do anything," said Quin rashly. "Soldiers can't be choosers these days."
Mr. Bangs cast a critical eye on his strong, well built frame:
"We might use you in the factory," he said indifferently; "we need all the strike-breakers we can get."
Quin's face fell. "I don't know about that," he said slowly. "I haven't made up my mind yet about this union business."
"I thought you were helping the union men in the yard just now."
"I was helping that little Irishman that was getting the life choked out of him."
Mr. Bangs's mouth became a hard, straight line.
"Then I take it you sympathize with the strikers?"
"I don't know whether I do or not," Quin declared stoutly. "I don't know anything about it. But one thing's certain—I'm not going to take another fellow's job, when he's holding out for better conditions, until I know whether those better conditions are due him or not."
Mr. Bangs's fish eyes regarded him with glittering disfavor.
"Perhaps you would prefer an office job?" he suggested with cold insolence. "I need some one to brush out in the morning and to wash windows when necessary."
The erstwhile hero of the Sixth Field Artillery felt his heart thumping madly under his distinguished-conduct medal; but he had declared that he would accept any kind of work, and he was determined not to have his bluff called.
"All right, sir," he said gamely; "I'll start at that if it will lead to something better."
"That rests entirely with you," said Mr. Bangs. "Report for work in the morning."
Quin got out of the office with a hot head, cold hands, and a terrible sinking of the heart. He had forged the first link in his chain—he was an employee of the great Bartlett & Bangs Company; but the gap between himself and Eleanor seemed suddenly to have widened to infinity.
If the window-washing did not become an actuality, it was due to the weather rather than to any clemency on the part of Mr. Bangs. He seemed bent upon testing Quin's mettle, and required tasks of him that only a man used to the discipline of the army would have performed.
Quin, on his part, carried out instructions with a thoroughness and dispatch that upset the entire office force. He had been told to clean things up, and he took an unholy joy in interpreting the order in military terms. Never before had there been such a drastic overhauling of the premises. He did not stop at cleaning up; he insisted upon things being kept clean and orderly. In a short time he had instituted reforms that broke the traditions of half a century.
"Who moved my desk out like this?" thundered Mr. Bangs on the second day after Quin's arrival.
"I did, sir," said Quin. "You can get a much better light here, and no draught from the door."
"Well, when I want my desk moved I will inform you," said Mr. Bangs.
But a day's trial of the new arrangement proved so satisfactory that the desk remained in its new position.
Other innovations met with less favor. The clerks in the outer office objected to the windows being kept down from the top, and Mr. Bangs was constantly annoyed when he found that his papers were disturbed by a daily dusting and sorting. Quin met the complaints and rebuffs with easy good humor, and went straight on with his business. The moment his energies were dammed at one point, they burst forth with fresh vigor at another.
The only object about the office that was left undisturbed was Minerva, a large black cat which the stenographer told him belonged to Mr. Randolph Bartlett. Quin was hopelessly committed to cats in general, and to black cats in particular, and the fact that this one met with Mr. Bangs's marked disfavor made him champion her cause at once. One noon hour, in his first week, he was sitting alone in the inner office, scratching Minerva's head in the very spot behind the ear where a cat most likes to be scratched, when a lively voice from the doorway demanded:
"Well, young man, what do you mean by making love to my cat in my absence?"
"She flirted with me first," said Quin. Then he took a second look at the stranger and got up smiling. "You are Mr. Bartlett, I believe?"
"Yes. Are you waiting for Mr. Bangs?"
"No, sir," said Quin; "he's waiting for me. I'm to let him know as soon as you come in. I am the new office-boy."
He grinned down on the shorter man, who in his turn laughed outright.
"Office-boy? What nonsense! Where have I seen you before? What is your name?"
"Quinby Graham, sir."
"Drop the sir, for heaven's sake. I'm no officer. Where in the dickens have I met you? Oh! wait a second, I've got it! Sunday night. We were out somewhere together——"
"Hold on there," said Quin. "You were out together, but I was out by myself. We met at your door."
"So you were the chap that played the good Samaritan? Well, it was damned clever of you, old man. I'm glad of a chance to thank you. I hadn't touched a drop for six weeks before that, but you see——"
Mr. Bangs's metallic voice was heard in the outer office, and the two younger men started.
"You bet I see!" said Quin sympathetically as he hurried out to inform the senior member of the firm that the junior member awaited his pleasure.
What happened at that interview was recounted to him by Miss Leaks, the little drab-colored stenographer, who had returned from lunch when the storm was at its height.
"It's a wonder Mr. Ranny don't kill that old man for the way he sneers at him," she said indignantly to Quin, "Why, I wouldn't take off him what Mr. Ranny does! But then, what can he do? His mother keeps him here for a mouth-piece for her, and Mr. Bangs knows it. It's no wonder he drinks, hitched up to a cantankerous old hyena like that. He never can stand up for himself, but he stood up for you all right."
"For me?" repeated Quin. "Where did I come in?"
"Why, he said it was a shame for a man like you to be doing the work you are doing, and that he for one wouldn't stand it. He talked right up to the boss about patriotism and our duty to the returned soldier, until he made the old tyrant look like ten cents! And then he come right out and said if Mr. Bangs couldn't offer you anything better he could."
"What did he say to that?" asked Quin.
"He curled up his lip and asked Mr. Ranny why he didn't engage you for a private secretary, and if you'll believe me Mr. Ranny looked him straight in the eye and said it was a good idea, and that he would."
"A private secretary!" Quin exclaimed. "But I don't know a blooming thing about stenography or typewriting."
"Don't you let on," advised Miss Leaks. "Mr. Ranny doesn't have enough work to amount to anything, and he's so tickled at carrying his point that he won't be particular. I can teach you how to take dictation and use the typewriter."
The following week found Quin installed in the smaller of the two private offices, with a title that in no way covered the duties he was called upon to perform. To be sure, he got Mr. Ranny's small affairs into systematic running order, and, under Miss Leaks's efficient instruction, was soon able slowly but accurately to hammer out the necessary letters on the typewriter. He was even able at times to help Mr. Chester, the melancholy bookkeeper whom the other clerks called "Fanny."
Through working with figures all his life Mr. Chester had come to resemble one. With his lean body and drooping oval head, he was not unlike the figure nine, an analogy that might be continued by saying that nine is the highest degree a bachelor number can achieve, the figures after that going in couples. It was an open secret that the tragedy of Mr. Chester's uneventful life lay in that simple fact.
In addition to Quin's heterogeneous duties at the office, he was frequently pressed into service for more personal uses. When Mr. Ranny failed to put in an appearance, he was invariably dispatched to find him, and was often able to handle the situation in a way that was a great relief to all concerned.
One day, after he had been with the firm several weeks, he was dispatched with a budget of papers for Madam Bartlett to sign. It was the first time he had entered the house since the night of the accident, and as he stood in the front hall waiting instructions, he looked about him curiously.
The lower floor had been "done" in peacock blue and gold when Miss Enid made her debut twenty years before, and it had never been undone. An embossed dado and an even more embossed frieze encircled the walls, and the ceiling was a complicated mosaic of color and design. The stiff-backed chairs and massive sofas were apparently committed for life to linen strait-jackets. Heavy velvet curtains shut out the light and a faint smell of coal soot permeated the air. Over the hall fireplace hung a large portrait of Madam Bartlett, just inside the drawing-room gleamed a marble bust of her, and two long pier-glasses kept repeating the image of her until she dominated every nook and corner of the place.
But Quin saw little of all this. To him the house was simply a background for images of Eleanor: Eleanor coming down the broad stairs in her blue and gray costume; Eleanor tripping through the hall in her Red Cross uniform; Eleanor standing in the doorway in the moonlight, telling him how wonderful he was.
He had written her exactly ten letters since her departure, but only two had been dispatched, and by a fatal error these two were identical. After a superhuman effort to couch his burning thoughts in sufficiently cool terms, he had achieved a partially successful result; but, discovering after addressing the envelope that he had misspelled two words, he laboriously made another copy, addressed a second envelope, then inadvertently mailed both.
He had received such a scoffing note in reply that his ears tingled even now as he thought of it. It was only when he recalled the postscript that he found consolation. "How funny that you should get a position at Bartlett & Bangs's," she had written. "If you should happen to meet any member of my family, for heaven's sake don't mention my name. They might link you up with the Hawaiian Garden, or the trip to the camp that night grandmother was hurt. Just let our friendship be a little secret between you and me."
"'You and me,'" Quin repeated the words softly to himself, as he stood there among the objects made sacred by her one-time presence.
"Madam Bartlett wishes you to come upstairs and explain the papers before she signs them," said a woman in nurse's uniform from the stair landing, and, cap in hand, Quin followed her up the steps.
At the open door of the large front room he paused. Lying in royal state in a huge four-poster bed was Madam Bartlett, resplendent in a purple robe, with her hair dressed in its usual elaborate style, and in her ears pearls that, Quin afterward assured the Martels, looked like moth-balls.
"You go on out of here and stay until I ring for you," she snapped at the nurse; then she squinted her eyes and looked at Quin. She did not put on her eye-glasses; they were reserved for feminine audiences exclusively.
"What do they mean by sending me this jumble of stuff?" she demanded, indicating the papers strewn on the silk coverlid. "How do they expect me to know what they are all about?"
"They don't," said Quin reassuringly, coming forward; "they sent me to tell you."
"And who are you, pray?"
"I am Mr. Randolph's er—er—secretary."
For the life of him he could not get through it without a grin, and to his relief the old lady's lips also twitched.
"Much need he had for a secretary!" she said, then added shrewdly: "Aren't you the soldier that put the splint on my leg?"
Quin modestly acknowledged that he was.
"It was a mighty poor job," said Madam, "but I guess it was better than nothing."
"How's the leg coming on?" inquired Quin affably.
"It's not coming on at all," Madam said. "If I listen to those fool doctors it's coming off."
Quin shook his head in emphatic disapproval.
"Don't you listen to 'em," he advised earnestly.
"Doctors don't know everything! Why, they told a fellow out at the hospital that his arm would have to come off at the shoulder. He lit out over the hill, bath-robe and all, for his home town, and got six other doctors to sign a paper saying he didn't need an amputation. He got back in twenty-four hours, was tried for being A. W. O. L., and is serving his time in the prison ward to-day. But he's still got his arm all right."
"Good for him!" said Madam heartily; then, recalling the business in hand, she added peevishly: "Well, stop talking now and explain these papers."
Quin went over them several times with great patience, and then held the ink-well while she tremblingly signed her name.
"Kinder awkward doing things on your back," he said sympathetically, as she sank back exhausted.
"Awkward? It's torture. The cast is bad enough in itself; but having to lie in one position like this makes me sore all over."
"You don't have to tell me," said Quin, easing up the bed-clothes with quite a professional air; "I was six months on my back. But there's no sense in keeping you like this. Why don't they rig you up a pulley, so's you can change the position of your body without disturbing your leg?"
"How do you mean?"
"Like this," said Quin, taking a paper-knife and a couple of spoons from the table and demonstrating his point.
Madam listened with close attention, and so absorbed were she and Quin that neither of them were conscious of Miss Isobel's entrance until they heard her feeble protest:
"I would not dare try anything like that without consulting Dr. Rawlins."
"Nobody wants you to dare anything," flared out her mother. "What the boy says sounds sensible. He says he has fixed them for the soldiers at the hospital. I want him to fix one for me."
"When shall I come?" Quin asked.
"Come nothing. You'll stay and do it now. Telephone the factory that I am keeping you here for the morning. Isobel, order him whatever he needs. And now get out of here, both of you; I want to take a nap."
Thus it was that, an hour later, the new colored butler was carrying the papers back to Bartlett & Bangs's, and Mr. Randolph's new secretary was sawing wood in Madam Bartlett's cellar. It was a humble beginning, but he whistled jubilantly as he worked. Already he saw himself climbing, by brilliant and spectacular deeds, to a dazzling pinnacle of security in the family's esteem.
Madam Bartlett's accident had far-reaching results. For fifty years her firm hand had brooked no slightest interference with the family steering-wheel, and now that it was removed the household machinery came to a standstill. She who had "ridden the whirlwind and directed the storm" now found herself ignominiously laid low. Instead of rising with the dawn, primed for battle in club committee, business conclave, or family council, she lay on her back in a darkened room, a prisoner to pain. The only vent she had for her pent-up energy was in hourly tirades against her daughters for their inefficiency, the nurses for their incompetency, the doctors for their lack of skill, and the servants for their disobedience.
The one person who, in any particular, found favor with her these days was her son's new secretary. Every Saturday, when Quinby Graham stopped on his way to the bank with various papers for her to sign, he was plied with questions and intrusted with various commissions. A top sergeant was evidently just what Madam had been looking for all her life—one trained to receive orders and execute them. All went well until one day when Quin refused to smuggle in some forbidden article of diet; then the steam-roller of her wrath promptly passed over him also.
He waited respectfully until her breath and vocabulary were alike exhausted, then said good-humoredly:
"I used to board with a woman up in Maine that had hysterics like that. They always made her feel a lot better. Don't you want me to shift that pulley a bit? You don't look comfortable."
Madam promptly ordered him out of the room. But next day she made an excuse to send for him, and actually laughed when he stepped briskly up to the bed, saluted smartly, and impudently asked her how her grouch was.
There was something in his very lack of reverence, in his impertinent assumption of equality, in his refusal to pay her the condescending homage due feebleness and old age, that seemed to flatter her.
"He's a mule," she told Randolph—"a mule with horse sense."
Quin's change from khaki to civilian clothes affected him in more ways than one. Constitutionally he was opposed to saying "sir" to his fellow men; to standing at attention until he was recognized; to acknowledging, by word or gesture, that he was any one's inferior on this wide and democratic planet. He much preferred organizing to being organized, leading to being led. Early in his military training he had evinced an inclination to take things into his own hands and act without authority. It was somewhat ironic that the very trait that had deprived him of a couple of bars on his shoulder should have put the medal on his breast.
But freedom from the restrictions of army life brought its penalties. He found that blunders condoned in a soldier were seriously criticized in a civilian; that the things he had been at such pains to learn in the past two years were of no apparent value to him now. It was a constant surprise to him that a plaid suit and three-dollar necktie should meet with less favor in the feminine eye than a dreary drab uniform.
About the first of March he was getting somewhat discouraged at his slow progress, when an incident happened that planted his feet firmly on the first rung of his social ladder.
Ever since their mother's accident, Miss Isobel and Miss Enid had stood appalled before their new responsibilities. They were like two trembling dead leaves that still cling to a shattered but sturdy old oak. What made matters worse was the absence of the faithful black Tom, who for years had served them by day and guarded them by night. They lived in constant fear of burglars, which grew into a veritable terror when some one broke into the pantry and rifled the shelves.
Quin heard about it when he arrived on Saturday morning, and as usual offered advice:
"What you need is a man in the house. Then you wouldn't be scared all the time."
"Well," said Madam, "what about you?"
Quin's face fell. He had no desire to exchange the noisy, wholesome family life of the Martels for the silent, somber grandeur of the Bartletts. His affections had taken root in the shabby little brown house that always seemed to be humming gaily to itself. When the piano was not being played, the violin or guitar was. There were bursts of laughter, snatches of song, and young people going and coming through doors that never stayed closed.
"You don't seem keen about the proposition," Madam commented dryly, smoothing the bed-clothes with her wrinkled fingers.
"Well, I can't say I am," Quin admitted. "You see, I'm living with some friends out on Sixth Street. They are sort of kin-folks of yours, I believe—the Martels."
A carefully aimed hand grenade could have produced no more violent or immediate result. Madam damned the Martels, individually and collectively, and furiously disclaimed any relationship.
"They are a trifling, worthless lot!" she stormed. "I wish I'd never heard of them. They fastened their talons on my son Bob, and ruined his life, and now they are doing all they can to ruin my granddaughter. Haven't you ever heard them speak of me?"
"Oh, yes," said Quin with laughing significance.
"What do they say?" Madam demanded instantly.
"You want it straight?"
"Well, Mr. Martel told me only last night that he thought you were an object of pity."
Madam's jaw relaxed in amazement.
"What on earth did he mean?" she asked.
"He said you'd got 'most everything in life that he'd missed, but he'd hate to change places with you."
She lay perfectly still, staring at him with her small restless eyes, and when she spoke again it was to revert to the subject of burglars.
Quin was relieved. He had been skating on thin ice in discussing the Martels, for any moment might have brought up a question concerning Eleanor.
"I used to have a corporal that was an ex-burglar," he said, plunging into the new subject with alacrity. "First-rate fellow, too. Last I heard of him, he had a position as chauffeur with a rich old lady who lived alone up in Detroit. She had two burglar-alarm systems, but the joke of it was she made him sleep in the house for extra protection!"
"I suppose you are trying to frighten me off from engaging you?" Madam asked.
"Not exactly," Quin smiled. "Of course I'll come if you can't get anybody else. But there's no question of engaging me. If I come, I pay board."
Madam laughed aloud for the first time since her accident.
"Do you take me for a landlady?" she asked.
"Only when you take me for a night-watchman," said Quin.
They eyed each other steadily for a moment, then she held out her hand.
"We'll compromise," she said. "No salary and no board. We'll try it out for a week."
The next day Quin's suit-case, containing all his worldly possessions, was transferred from the small stuffy room over the Martels' kitchen to the large luxurious one over the Bartletts' dining-room. It was quite the grandest room he had ever occupied, with its massive walnut furniture and its heavily draped windows; but, had it been stripped bare but for a single picture, it would still have been a chambre de luxe to him. The moment he entered he discovered a photograph of Eleanor on the mantel, and ten minutes later, when Hannah tapped at the door to say that dinner was served, he was still standing with arms folded on the shelf in absorbed adoration.
That first meal with the Misses Bartlett was an ordeal he never forgot. Their formal aloofness and evident dismay at his presence were enough in themselves to embarrass him; but combined with the necessity of choosing the right knife and fork, of breaking his bread properly, and of removing his spoon from his coffee-cup, they were quite overpowering. During his two years in the army he had drifted into the easy habits and easier vernacular of the enlisted man. Whatever knowledge he had of the amenities of life had almost been forgotten. But, though his social virtues were few, he passionately identified himself with them rather than with his faults, which were many. To prove his politeness, for instance, he insisted upon his hostesses having second helps to every dish, offered to answer the telephone whenever it rang, and even obligingly started to answer the door-bell during the salad course.
That dinner was but the initiation into a week of difficult adjustments. When he was not in the arctic region surrounding Miss Isobel and Miss Enid, he was in the torrid zone of Madam's presence. New and embarrassing situations confronted him on every hand, and when he was not breaking conventions he was breaking china. But Quin was not sensitive, and, in spite of the fact that he was being silently or vocally condemned most of the time, he cheerfully persevered in his determination to win the respect of the family.
The saving of his ignorance was that he never tried to conceal it. He looked at it with surprise and discussed it with disconcerting frankness. He was no more abashed in learning new and better ways of conducting himself than he would have been in learning a new language. He laughed good-humoredly at his mistakes and seldom committed the same one a second time. His limitations were to him like the frontier to a pioneer—a thing to be reached and crossed.
If only he could have contented himself with performing the one duty required of him and then gracefully effacing himself, his success would have been assured. But that was not Quin's nature. Having identified himself with the family, he promptly assumed full responsibility for its welfare. By the end of the second week he was the self-constituted head of the establishment. No mission was too high or too low for him to volunteer to perform. One moment he was tactfully severing diplomatic relations with a consulting physician in the front hall, the next he was firing the furnace in the basement. Whenever he was in the house he was meeting emergencies and adjusting difficulties, upsetting established customs and often achieving unexpected results with new ones.
Miss Isobel and Miss Enid stood aghast at his temerity, and waited hourly for the lightning of Madam's wrath to annihilate him. But, though the bolts rained about him, they failed to destroy him.
On one occasion Miss Isobel was so outraged by his familiar attitude toward her mother that she plucked up courage to remonstrate with him; but Madam, instead of appreciating the interference on her behalf, promptly turned upon her defender.
"Now, Isobel," she said caustically, "you may be old enough to want men to respect you, but I am young enough to want them to like me. You leave young Graham alone."
Quin meanwhile, in spite of his arduous duties at the office and at home, was living in a world of dreams. The privilege of hearing Eleanor's name frequently mentioned, of getting bits of news of her from time to time, the exciting possibility of being under the same roof with her when she returned, supplied the days with thrilling zest. Since her teasing note in answer to his double-barreled communication, he had written but once and received no answer; but he knew that she was expected home for the Easter vacation, and he lived on that prospect.
One evening, when he was summoned to Madam's room to shorten her new crutches, he realized that the all-important subject was under discussion.
"Isn't that exactly like her?" Madam was saying. "Refusing to go in the first place, and now objecting to coming home."
"Well, it isn't especially gay for her here, is it?" Miss Enid ventured in feeble defense. "I am afraid we are rather dull company for a young girl."
"Well, make it gay," commanded Madam. "You and Isobel aren't so old and feeble that you can't think of some way to entertain young people."
"A tea?" suggested Miss Enid.
"A tea would never tempt Eleanor. She's too much her mother's child to enjoy anything so staid and respectable."
"Why don't you give her a dance?" suggested Quin enthusiastically, looking up from his work.
"Give who a dance?" demanded Madam in surprise.
"Miss Eleanor," said Quin, bending over his work and blushing to the roots of his stubby hair.
The three ladies exchanged startled glances; then Miss Enid said:
"Of course. I had forgotten that you met her the night of the accident. I wonder if we could give the dear child a party?"
"It is not to be thought of," said Miss Isobel, "with no regular butler, and mother ill——"
"I tell you, I'm not ill!" snapped Madam. "I intend to be up and about by Easter. I'll give as many parties as I like. Hurry up with those crutches, Graham; do you think I am going to wait all night?"
One of Quin's first acts upon coming into the house had been to aid and abet Madam in her determination to use her injured leg. Dr. Rawlins had infuriated her by his pessimistic warnings and his dark suggestions of a wheeled chair.
"We'll show 'em what you can do when you get that cast off," Quin had reassured her with the utmost confidence. "I've limbered up heaps of stiff legs for the fellows. It takes patience and grit. I got the patience and you got the grit, so there we are!"
Now that the cast was off, a few steps were attempted each night, during which painful operation Miss Enid fled to another room to shed tears of apprehension, while Miss Isobel hovered about the hall, ready to call the doctor if anything happened.
"Is that better?" he asked now, as he got Madam to her feet and carefully adjusted the crutches. "If you say they are too short, I'll tell you what the little man said when he was teased about his legs. 'They reach the ground,' he said; 'what more can you ask?'"
"Shut up your nonsense, and mind what you are doing!" cried Madam. "My leg is worse than it was yesterday. I can't put my foot to the ground."
"Oh, yes, you can," Quin insisted, coaxing her from the bed-post to the dresser. "You are coming on fine. I never saw but one person do better. That was a guy I knew in France who never danced a step until he lost a leg, and then his cork leg taught his other leg to do the fox-trot."
"Didn't I tell you to hush!" commanded Madam, laughing in spite of herself. "You will have me falling over here in a minute."
When she was back in her chair and Quin was leaving, she beckoned to him.
"What about Mr. Ranny?" she asked in an anxious whisper. "Was he at the office to-day?"
Quin had been dreading the question, but when it came he did not evade it. Randolph Bartlett's lapses from grace were coming with such alarming frequency that the sisters' frantic efforts to keep the truth from their mother only resulted in arousing her suspicion and making her more unhappy.
"No," said Quin; "he hasn't been there for a week. He's never going to be any better as long as he stays in the business. You don't know what he has to stand from Mr. Bangs."
"I know what Mr. Bangs has had to stand from him."
"Yes; but Mr. Ranny's never mean. He is one of the kindest, nicest gentlemen I ever met up with. But he can't stand being nagged at all the time, and he feels that he don't count for anything. He says Mr. Bangs considers him a figurehead, and that he'd rather be selling shoestrings for himself than be in partnership with him."
"Yes, and if I let him go that's what he would be doing," said Madam bitterly.
"Mr. Chester don't think so," persisted Quin; "he says Mr. Ranny's got a lot of ability."
"Don't quote that sissified Francis Chester to me. He may be a good man—I suppose he is; but I can't abide the sight of him. He goes around holding one hand in the other as if he were afraid he'd spill it! What did you say he said about Ranny?"
"He said he had ability; that if he was on his own in the country some place——"
"'On his own'!" Madam's contempt was great. "He hasn't got any own. He's just like the girls—no force or decision about any of them. Their father wasn't like that; I am sure I'm not. What's the matter with them, anyhow?"
Quin looked her straight in the eyes. "Do you want to know, honest?"
Disconcerting as it was to have an oratorical question taken literally, Madam's curiosity prompted her to nod her head.
"The same thing's the matter with them," said Quin, with brutal frankness, "that's the matter with your leg. They've been broken and kept in the cast too long."
Then, before he could get the berating he surely deserved, he was off down the stairs, disturbing the silence of the house with his cheerful whistle.
At breakfast the next morning he scented trouble. Until now he had made little headway with the two sisters, having been too much occupied in storming the fortress of Madam's regard to concern himself with the outlying districts. But this morning he met with an even colder reception than usual. In vain he fired off his best jokes: Miss Enid remained pale and languid, and Miss Isobel presided over the coffee-pot as if it had been a funeral urn. A crisis was evidently pending, and he determined to meet it half way.
"Is Queen Vic mad at me?" he asked suddenly, leaning forward on his folded arms and smiling with engaging candor.
Miss Isobel started to pour the cream into the sugar-bowl, but caught herself in the act.
"If you mean my mother," she said with reproving dignity, "she has asked me to tell you—that is, we all think it best——"
"For me to go?" Quin finished it for her. "Now, look here, Miss Isobel; you can fire me, but you know you can't fire the furnace! Who is going to stay here at night? Who is going to carry Madam up and down stairs? Of course I don't want to butt in, but if ever a house needed a man it's this one. Why don't you have me stay on until things get to running easy again?"
There was an embarrassing pause during which Miss Isobel fidgeted with the cups and saucers and Miss Enid bit her lips nervously.
"Don't you-all like me?" persisted Quin with his terrible directness.
Now, Miss Isobel had spent her life in evasions and reservations and compromises. To have even a personal liking stripped thus in public offended her maiden modesty, and she scurried to the cover of silence.
"Of course we like you," murmured Miss Enid, coming to her rescue. "We like you very much, Mr. Graham, and we appreciate your kindness in coming to help us out. But mother feels that we shouldn't impose on your good nature any longer."
Quin shook his impatient head.
"That's not it," he said. "She's mad at something I said last night, and she's got a right to be. It was true all right, but it was none of my business. I made up my mind before I went to bed that I was going to apologize. I can fix things up with her. It's you and Miss Isobel I can't understand. You say you like me, but you don't act like it. I know I make mistakes about lots of things, and that I do things wrong and say things I oughtn't to. But all you got to do is to call me down. I want to help you; but that's not all—I want to learn the game. When a fellow has knocked around with men since he was a kid——"
He broke off suddenly and stared into his coffee-cup.
"I think he might go up and speak to mother, don't you, Isobel?" asked Miss Enid tentatively.
Quin pushed back his chair and rose precipitately from the table, dragging the cloth away as he did so.
"That's not the point!" he said heatedly. "It's for you two to decide, as well as her. Do you want me to go or to stay?"
Miss Isobel and Miss Enid, who had been assuring each other almost hourly that they could not stand that awful boy in the house another day, looked at each other intercedingly.
"It would be a great help if you could stay at least until mother learns to use her crutches," urged Miss Enid.
"Yes, and until we get some one we can trust to stay with us at night," added Miss Isobel.
"I'll stay as long as you like!" said Quin heartily; and he departed to make his peace with Madam.
From that time on Quin's status in the family became less anomalous. To be sure, he was still Mr. Randolph's private secretary, Madam's top sergeant, Miss Isobel's and Miss Enid's body-guard, and the household's general-utility man; but he was now something else in addition. Miss Isobel had discovered, quite by chance, that he was the grandson of Dr. Ezra Quinby, whose book "Christianizing China" had been one of the inspirations of her girlhood.
"And to think we considered asking him to eat in the pantry!" she exclaimed in horror to her sister.
"Well, I told you all along he was a gentleman by instinct," said Miss Enid.
To be sure, they were constantly shocked by his manners and his frank method of speech, but they were also exhilarated. He was like a disturbing but refreshing breeze that swept through their quiet, ordered lives. He talked about things and places they had never heard of or seen, and recounted his experiences with an enthusiasm that was contagious.
As for Quin, he found, to his surprise, that he was enjoying his new quarters quite as much as he had the old ones. Madam was a never-ending source of amusement and interest to him, and Miss Isobel and Miss Enid soon had each her individual appeal. He liked the swish of their silk petticoats, and the play of their slim white hands about the coffee-tray. He liked their super-feminine delicacies of speech and motion, and the flattering interest they began to take in all his affairs.
Miss Isobel developed a palpitating concern for his spiritual welfare and invited him to go to church with her. She even introduced him to the minister with proud reference to his distinguished grandfather, and basked in the reflected glory.
Quin did not take kindly to church. He considered that he had done his full duty by it in the first fourteen years of his life, when he, along with the regenerate heathen, had been forced to attend five services every Sunday in the gloomy chapel in the compound at Nanking. But if Eleanor's aunt had asked him to accompany her to the gates of hell instead of the portals of heaven, he would have acquiesced eagerly. So strenuously did he lift his voice in the familiar hymns of his youth that he was promptly urged to join the choir, an ordeal whose boredom was mitigated only during the few moments when the collection was taken up and he and the tenor could bet on which deacon would make his round first.
Not for years had Miss Isobel had such thrilling occupation as that of returning Ezra Quinby's grandson to the spiritual fold. In spite of the fact that Quin was a fairly decent chap already, whose worst vices were poker and profanity, she persisted in regarding him as a brand which she had been privileged to snatch from the burning.
What gave him a yet more intimate claim upon her was the fact that his heart and lungs were still troublesome, and with any over-exertion on his part, or a sudden change in the weather, his chest became very sore and his racking cough returned. At such times Miss Isobel was in her glory. She would put him to bed with hot-water bottles and mustard plasters and feed him hot lemonade. Quin took kindly to the coddling. No one had fussed over him like that since his mother died, and he was touchingly grateful.
"Say, you'd be a wonder out at the hospital," he said to her on one of these occasions. "I wish some of those fellows with the flu could have you to look after them."
Miss Isobel's long, sallow face with its dark-ringed eyes lit up for a moment.
"There is nothing I should like better," she said. "But of course it's out of the question."
"Mother doesn't approve of us doing any work at the camp. She did make an exception in the case of my niece, but Eleanor was so insistent. Sister and I try never to oppose mother's wishes. It cuts us off from a great many things; but then, I contend that our first duty is to her."
Miss Isobel's attitude toward her mother was that of a monk to his haircloth shirt. She acquired so much merit in her friends' eyes and in her own by her patient endurance that the penance was robbed of half its sting.
"Things are awful bad out at the hospital now," went on Quin. "A fellow was telling me yesterday that in some of the wards they only have one nurse to two hundred patients. The epidemic is getting worse every day. You-all in town here don't know what it's like where there's so many sick and so few to take care of 'em."
Miss Isobel, with morbid interest, insisted upon the details. When Quin had finished his grim recital, she turned to him with scared determination.
"Do you know," she fluttered, "I almost feel as if I ought to go in spite of mother's wishes."
"Of course you ought," Quin conceded, "especially when you are keeping a trained nurse here in the house who doesn't do a thing but carry up trays and sit around and look at herself!"
"I know it," Miss Isobel admitted miserably. "I've lain awake nights worrying over it. Sister and I are perfectly able to do what is to be done. But mother insists upon keeping the nurse."
"Well, she can't keep you, if you really want to go. I guess you got a right to do your duty."
The word was like a bugle call to Miss Isobel. She went about all day in a tremor of uncertainty, and at last yielded to Quin's insistence, and, donning Eleanor's Red Cross uniform, accompanied him to the hospital.
Every afternoon after that, when Madam was taking her rest, Miss Isobel, feeling like Machiavelli one moment and Florence Nightingale the next, stepped into the carriage, already loaded with delicacies, and proceeded on her errand of mercy. She invariably returned in a twitter of subdued excitement, and recounted her experiences with breathless interest at the dinner-table.
"I've never seen sister like this before," Miss Enid told Quin. "She talks more in an hour now than she used to talk in a week, and she seems so happy."
The change wrought in Miss Isobel's life by Quin's advent into the family was mild, however, compared to the cataclysm effected in the life of her sister. Miss Enid, having had her own affections wrecked in early youth, spent her time acting as a sort of salvage corps following the devastation caused by her cyclonic mother. When Madam shattered things to bits, Miss Enid tried patiently to remold them nearer to the heart's desire. She had acquired a habit of offsetting every disagreeable remark by an agreeable one, and she was apt to see incipient halos hovering above heads where less sympathetic observers saw horns. When the last chance of getting rid of the disturbing but helpful Quin vanished, she set herself to work to discover his possibilities with the view of undertaking his social reclamation.
One evening, as he was passing through the hall, she called him into the library. It was a small, high-ceilinged room, with bookcases reaching to the ceiling, and a massive mahogany table bearing a reading-lamp with two green shades. Lincoln and his Cabinet held session over one door, and Andrew Jackson, surrounded by his weeping family, died over the other. Miss Enid, with books piled up in front of her, was sitting at the table.
"Quinby," she said,—it had been "Quinby" ever since the discovery of his grandfather,—"I wonder if you can help me? I have a club paper on the 14th, and I can't find a thing about my subject. Can't you tell me something about the position of women in China?"
Quin, who had come in expecting to be called upon to put up a window or fix the electric light, looked at her blankly. Under ordinary circumstances he would have laughingly disclaimed any knowledge of the subject; but with Miss Enid sitting there looking up at him with such flattering confidence, it was different. Out of the dusty pigeon holes of his brain he dragged odds and ends of information, memories of the native houses, the customs and manners of the people, stories he had heard from his Chinese nurses, street incidents he had seen, stray impressions picked up here and there by a lively active American boy in a foreign city.
"I ought to be able to tell you a lot more," he said apologetically in conclusion. "I could if I wasn't such a bonehead."
"But you've given me just what I wanted!" cried Miss Enid. "And you've made it all so vivid. It takes a very good mind to register details like that and to be able to present them in such good order."
Quin looked at her quizzically. He was confident enough of his abilities along other lines, but he had a low opinion of his mental equipment.
"I guess the only kind of sense I got is common," he said.
But Miss Enid would not have it so. "No," she said, earnestly regarding the toe of her beaded slipper; "your mind is much above the average. But it isn't enough to be born with brains—one must know how to use them."
"I suppose you mean I don't?" asked Quin, also regarding the beaded slipper.
"Nobody does who has had no training," Miss Enid gently suggested. "It seems a pity that a young man of your possibilities should have had so little opportunity for cultivating them."
"Well, I ain't a Methuselah!" said Quin, slightly peaked. "What's the matter with me beginning now?"
"It's rather late, I am afraid. Still, other men have done it. I wonder if you would consider taking up some night courses at the university?"
"I'd consider anything that would get me on in the world. I've got a very particular reason, Miss Enid, for—for wanting to get on."
She looked at him with increased interest.
"Really? How interesting! You must tell me all about it some day. But this would keep you back for a time. You would have to give all your spare hours to study, and you might not even be able to take the better position they promised you at the factory this spring."
"I've already got it," Quin said. "Mr. Bangs told me to-day that I was to start in as shipping clerk Monday morning. But he'd let me off nights if I'd put it up to him. Old Chester says——"
Miss Enid's Pre-Raphaelite brows contracted slightly. "Don't you think it would be more respectful——"
"Sure," agreed Quin; "I didn't mean any harm. I like Mr. Chester. He asked me to come up to his rooms some night and see his collection of flutes."
"That was like him," Miss Enid said warmly. "He's always doing kind things like that. I know his reputation for being diffident and hard to get acquainted with, but once you get beneath the surface——"
Quin was not in the least interested in Mr. Chester's surface. He sat on the edge of the table, swinging his foot and staring off into space, wholly absorbed in the idea of cultivating that newly discovered intellect of his.
"Say, Miss Enid," he said, impulsively interrupting her eulogy of Mr. Chester's neglected virtues, "I wish you'd sort of take me in hand. You know what I need better than I do. If you'll get a line on that school business, I'll start right in, if I have to start in the kindergarten. Hand out the dope and I'll take it. And whenever you see me doing things wrong, or saying things wrong, I'd take it as a favor if you'd jack me up."
Miss Enid smiled ruefully. "Why, Quinby, that is just what we have all been doing ever since you came. If you weren't the best-natured——"
"Not a bit of it," disclaimed Quin. "Queen Vic lets me have it in the neck sometimes, but that's nothing. I've learned more since I've been in this house than I ever learned in all my life put together. Why, sometimes I don't hardly know myself!"
"Two negatives, Quinby, make an affirmative," suggested Miss Enid primly; and thus his higher education began.
Miss Enid was right when she said his mind was above the average. Its one claim to superiority lay in the fact that it had received the little training it had at first hand. What he knew of geography he knew, not from maps, but from actual observation in many parts of the world. Higher mathematics were unknown to him, but through years of experience he had learned to solve the most difficult of all problems—that of making ends meet. He had learned astronomy from a Norwegian sailor, as they lay on the deck of a Pacific transport night after night in the southern seas. He had even tackled literature during his six months in hospital, when he had plowed through all the books the wards provided from Dante's "Inferno" to "Dere Mable."
Soon after his talk with Miss Enid he decided to call upon Mr. Chester, not because Mr. Chester was an enlivening companion, but because he was so touchingly grateful for the casual friendship that Quin bestowed upon him.
"He's so sort of lonesome," Quin told Miss Leaks. "When he looks at me with those big dog eyes of his, I feel like scratching him back of his ear."
Mr. Chester, in his small but tastefully furnished bachelor apartment, outdid himself in his efforts to be hospitable. He insisted upon Quin taking the best chair, gave him a good cigar, showed him some rare first editions, displayed his collection of musical instruments, and struggled valiantly to establish a common footing. But there was only one subject upon which they could find anything to say, and they came back again and again to the affairs of the Bartlett family.
"Why don't you ever come around and see the folks?" Quin asked hospitably. "They get awful lonesome with so few people dropping in."
Mr. Chester in evident embarrassment flicked the ash from his cigar and answered guardedly:
"I used to be there a great deal in the old days. Unfortunately, Madam Bartlett and I had a misunderstanding. As a matter of fact, I have not crossed that threshold in—let me see—it must be fifteen years! It was a party, I remember, given for Eleanor, the little granddaughter, on her fifth birthday."
"Oh, yes!" said Quin, finding Mr. Chester for the first time interesting. "They've got a picture of her taken with Miss Enid in her party dress."
"I suppose you mean this?" Mr. Chester reached over and took from his desk a somewhat faded photograph, in a silver frame, of a little girl leaning against a big girl's shoulders, both enveloped in a cloud of white tulle.
"Gee, but she was pretty!" exclaimed Quin, devouring every detail of Eleanor's chubby features.
"A beautiful woman," sighed Mr. Chester—and Quin, looking up suddenly, surprised a look in his host's eyes that was anything but numerical.
Obligingly relinquishing his application of the pronoun for Mr. Chester's, he said:
"She certainly thinks a lot of you!"
"How do you know?" demanded Mr. Chester.
"From the way she talks. She says people are barking up the wrong tree when they think you are cold and indifferent and all that; says you've got one of the noblest natures she ever knew."
Quin was appalled at the effect of these words. Mr. Chester's eyes got quite red around the rims and his lips actually trembled.
"Poor Enid!" he said. Then he remembered himself, or rather forgot himself, and became a Number Nine again, and bored Quin talking business until ten o'clock.
At parting they shook hands cordially, and Mr. Chester urged him to come again.
"I wonder if you would care to use one of my tickets for the Symphony Orchestra next week?" he asked.
Quin looked embarrassed. He had accepted a similar invitation the week before, and had confided to Rose Martel afterward that he "never heard such a bully band playing such bum music." But Mr. Chester's intention was so kind that he could run no risk of offending him.
"I'll go if I can," he said, leaving himself a loophole.
"Here is the ticket," said Mr. Chester, "and in case you do not use it, perhaps you will so good as to pass it on to some one who can."
This suggestion afforded Quin an inspiration.
"Say, Miss Enid," he said the next morning at breakfast. "I want to give you a ticket to the Symphony Orchestra next Friday night. Will you go?"
"But, my dear boy," she protested greatly touched, "I cannot go by myself."
"You don't have to. I'm going to take you and come for you. You ain't going to turn me down, are you?"
"Have you got the ticket?"
"Right here. Now you will go, won't you?"
It would have taken a less susceptible heart than Miss Enid's to resist Quin's persuasive tones, and in spite of Miss Isobel's disapprobation she agreed to go.
Just what happened on that opening night of the Fine Arts Series, when two old lovers found themselves in embarrassing proximity for the first time in fifteen years, has never been told. But from subsequent events it is safe to conclude that during the long program they became much more interested in their own unfinished symphony than in Schubert's, and when Quin came to take Miss Enid home, he found them in a corner of the lobby, still so engrossed in conversation that he obligingly walked around the block to give them an additional five minutes.
Quin's desire for self-improvement soon became an obsession. With Miss Enid's assistance he got into a night course at the university, and proceeded to attack his ignorance with something of the fierce determination he had attacked the Hun the year before in France. He plunged through bogs of history, got hopelessly entangled in the barbed wire of mathematics, had hand-to-hand struggles with belligerent parts of speech, and more than once suffered the shell-shock of despair. But his watchword now, as then, was, "Up and at 'em!" And before long he had the satisfaction of seeing his enemy gradually giving way.
Having taken his small public into his confidence in regard to his belated ambition to get an education, he was surprised to find how ready everybody was to help him. Mr. Chester not only assisted him with his mathematics, but insisted upon taking him to hear good music, in the vain effort to reclaim an ear hopelessly attuned to jazz and rag-time. Mr. Martel devoted Sunday afternoons to making him read aloud from the classics, with great attention to precise enunciation. Miss Isobel still looked after his moral welfare, and Miss Enid continued to devote herself to his social improvement. But it remained for Madam Bartlett to render him the service of which he was most in need. Whenever the bubble of his self-esteem threatened to carry him away, she always took pains to puncture it.
"Don't let them make a fool of you, Graham," she said one day, as she leaned heavily upon his arm in a painful effort to walk without her crutches—an experiment that she allowed neither one of her daughters to share, as they invariably limped with her and got frightened when she stumbled. "They all treat you like a puppy that has learned to walk on its hind legs. Remember that you belong on your hind legs. You are only doing what most boys in your position do in their teens. If you were as smart as they claim, you would have got an education long ago. But young people these days have no sense! Just look at my granddaughter, for instance."
There being no direction in which he was more eager to look, Quin gave her his undivided attention.
"I've spent thousands of dollars on that girl's education," Madam continued, "and what do you suppose she elected to specialize in? 'Expression'! In my day they called it elocution. When a girl was too dumb to learn anything else, the teacher got money out of her parents by teaching her to swing her arms around her hear and say, 'Curfew Shall Not Ring To-night.' Now they all want to write poetry, or play the flute, or go on the stage, or some other fool thing like that."
"What about those that want to go on a farm? That's sensible enough for you." Quin couldn't resist the thrust on behalf of Mr. Ranny.
"It's sensible for a sensible person," Madam said crossly. "It's where you belong, instead of attempting all this university business."
There were times these days when Quin quite agreed with Madam. When the tide of his confidence was out, he regarded himself as a hopeless fool and despaired of ever making up the years he had lost. But at high tide there was no limit to his aspirations, nor to his courage. While his struggles at the university kept him humble, his success at the factory constantly elated him. Having achieved two promotions in less than three months, he already saw himself a prospective member of the firm. In fact, he slightly anticipated this event by flinging himself into the affairs of Bartlett & Bangs with even more ardor than was advisable. Hardly a day passed that he did not seek a chance to apprise Mr. Bangs of some colossal scheme or startling innovation that would revolutionize the business.
"See here, young man," said Mr. Bangs, when this had occurred once too often; "I pay you to work for me, not to think for me."
"But they are the same thing," urged Quin, with appalling temerity. "Why, I can't sleep nights for thinking how other firms are walking away with our business. Smith & Snelling, up in Illinois, have got a plant that's half as big as ours, and they export twice as much stuff as we do. And their plows can't touch ours; they ain't in a thousand miles of 'em."
"How do you know?"
"I've seen 'em both in action, and I've heard men talk about 'em. Why, if we could get a start in the Orient, and open up an agency in Japan and China——"
"There—that will do," said Mr. Bangs testily; "you get back to your work. You talk too much."
Both Mr. Ranny and Mr. Chester warned Quin again and again that he was not supposed to emerge from the obscurity of his humble position as shipping clerk. But Quin was the descendant of a long line of missionaries whose duty it was to reform. The effect of his heredity and early environment was not only to increase his self-reliance and intensify his motive power, but to commit him to ideals as well. Once he recognized a condition as being capable of improvement, he could not rest until he had tried to better it.
It was not until the approach of Easter that his mind began to stray from the highroads of industry and learning into the byways of pleasure. From certain signs about the Bartlett house it was apparent that preparations were in progress for an event of importance. Paperhangers and cleaners came and went, consultations were held daily concerning new rugs and curtains. Miss Enid and Miss Isobel gave tentative orders and Madam promptly countermanded them. Workmen were engaged and dismissed and reengaged. The door to the room at the head of the stairs, which he knew to be Eleanor's, now stood open, revealing a pink-and-white bower. Stray remarks now and then concerning caterers and music and invitations further excited his fancy, and he waited impatiently for the time when he should be formally apprised of Eleanor's home-coming.
Never before in his life had he been so inordinately happy. He burst into song at strange times and places, and had to be spoken to more than once for whistling in the office. Instead of studying at night, he frequently lapsed into delectable reveries in which he anticipated the bliss of being under the same roof with Eleanor. He already heard himself telling her about his promotions, his work at the university, his capture of her family. And always he pictured her as listening to him as she had that day at the Hawaiian Garden, with lips ready to smile or tremble and eyes that sparkled like little pools of water in the sunlight.
Occasionally reason suggested that she would be at home very little and that the obnoxious Phipps would be lying in wait for her whenever she went abroad. But Phipps was forbidden the house, and with such a handicap as that he surely was out of the running. Besides, Miss Eleanor had probably forgotten all about the Captain by this time! Thus reassuring himself, the fatuous Quin loosened the reins of his fancy and rode full tilt for an inevitable fall.
The first intimation of it came the week before Easter, when Madam presented him with a handsome watch in recognition of his services. The gift itself was sufficiently overwhelming, but the formal politeness of the presentation sounded ominous. Madam suggested almost tactfully, in conclusion, that, now she was on her feet again, he need not feel obligated to remain longer.
"But I don't feel obligated!" he burst out impetuously. "I'd rather stay here than anywhere in the world."
"Well, you can't stay," said Madam, whose small stock of courtesy had been exhausted on her initial speech. "My granddaughter is bringing some girls home with her for the Easter vacation, and I need your room."
"But I'll sleep in the third story," urged Quin wildly. "You can billet me any old place—I don't care where you put me."
"No," said Madam firmly. "It's best for you to go."
That night at dinner the sisters did what they could to soften the blow for Quin. They gave vague excuses that did not excuse, and explanations that did not explain.
"Of course, we have no idea of losing sight of you," Miss Enid said with forced brightness. "You must drop in often to tell us how you are getting along and to make mother laugh. You are the only person I know who can do that."
"Yes, and we shall count on you to come to supper every Sunday evening," Miss Isobel added; "then we can go to church together."
"Next Sunday?" asked Quin, faintly hopeful.
"Well, no," said Miss Isobel. "For the next two weeks we shall be occupied with the young ladies and their friends; but after that we shall look for you."
Quin looked at the two gentle sisters in dumb amazement. How could they sit there saying such kind things to him, and at the same time shut the door between him and the great opportunity of his life? What did it all mean? Where had he failed? Surely there was some terrible misunderstanding! In his complete bewilderment he created quite the most dreadful blunder that is registered against him in his long list of social sins.
"But don't you expect me to meet the young ladies?" he blurted out indignantly. "Aren't you going to ask me to the party?"
A horrible pause followed, during which the walls seemed to rock around him and he felt the blood surging to his head. He was starting up from the table when Miss Enid laid a quieting hand on his sleeve.
"Of course you are to be invited, Quinby," she said in her suavest tones; "the invitation will reach you to-morrow."
On the night of the Bartlett party, Quin stood before the small mirror of his old room over the Martels' kitchen and surveyed himself in sections. The first view, obtained by standing on a chair, was the least satisfactory; for, in spite of the most correct of wing-toed dancing-shoes, there was a space between them and the cuffs of his trousers that no amount of adjustment could diminish. The second section was far more reassuring. Having amassed what to him seemed a fortune, for the purchase of a dress-suit, Quin had allowed himself to be persuaded by the voluble and omniscient salesman to put all of his money into a resplendent dinner-coat instead. The claim for the coat that it was "the classiest garment in the city" was reinforced by the fact that it had adorned the dummy in the shop window for seven consecutive days and occasioned much comment by its numerous "novelties." Quin had no doubts whatever about the coat. Its glory not only dimmed his eyes to the shortcomings of the trousers, which he had rented for the occasion, but even made him forget the aching tooth that had been harassing him all day.
As he went down to present himself for the family inspection, it is useless to deny that he was very much impressed with the elegance and correctness of his costume. It had been achieved with infinite pains and considerable expense. Nothing was lacking, not even a silver cigarette-case, bearing an unknown monogram, which he had purchased at a pawn-shop the day before.
His advent into the sitting-room produced a gratifying sensation.
"Ha! Who comes here!" cried Mr. Martel. "The glass of fashion and the mould of form." Then he came forward for close inspection. "Hadn't you any better studs than those, my boy?"
"They are the ones that came in the shirt," said Quin, instantly on the defensive.
"Well, they hardly do justice to the occasion. Step upstairs, Cassius, and get my pearl ones out of the top chiffonier drawer."
"I wish Captain Phipps could see you," said Rose admiringly. "You should have seen his face when I told him you were going to-night! He wasn't invited, you know."
"Where did you see him?" Quin asked, brushing a speck of lint from the toe of his shining shoe.
"Here. He's been coming twice a week to work with Papa Claude ever since you left. Give 'em to me, Cass"—this to her brother. "I'll put them in."
"Aren't they too little for the buttonholes?" asked Quin anxiously.
"Not enough to matter," Rose insisted. Then, as she finished, she added in a whisper: "Tell Nell somebody sent his love."
"Nothing doing," laughed Quin with a superior shrug; "somebody else is taking his."
The curb was lined with automobiles by the time he arrived at the Bartletts'. The house looked strangely unfamiliar with its blaze of lights and throng of arriving guests. He instinctively felt in his pocket for his latch-key, and then remembered, and waited for the strange butler to open the door. The inside of the house looked even less natural than the outside. The floors were cleared for dancing and the mantels were banked high with flowers and ferns. Under the steps the musicians were already tuning their instruments.
"Upstairs, sir; first room to your left," said the important person at the door, and Quin followed the stream of black-coated figures who were filing up the stairs and turning into the room he had occupied a short week ago. It was just as he had left it, except for the picture that no longer adorned the mantel.
"Beg pardon, sir," said the lofty attendant who took his overcoat, "your stud's come loose."
"I bet the damn thing's going to do that all night," Quin said confidentially. "Say, you haven't got a pin, have you?"
"Oh, no, sir, it couldn't be pinned," protested the man in a shocked tone.
Quin adjusted it as best he could, took a final look at himself in the mirror, and proceeded downstairs. Arrived in the lower hall, he glanced about him in some perplexity. Not a member of the family was visible, and he looked in vain for a familiar face. In his uncertainty as to his next move, he went back to the pantry and got himself a glass of water.
As he was returning to the hall, some one plucked at his sleeve and whispered:
"Hello there, Graham!"
Turning around, he encountered the gaping mouth of a shining saxophone, behind which beamed the no less shining countenance of Barney McGinness.
Barney had been in the 105th Infantry Band, and he and Quin had returned from France on the same transport. They exchanged hearty greetings under their breath.
"Serving here to-night, are you?" asked Barney.
"Serving?" repeated Quin; then he laughed good-naturedly. "You got another guess coming your way, Barney."
"So it's the parlor instid of the pantry, is it? I'd 'a' seen it for meself if I had used me eyes instead of me mouth. You look grand enough to be doing a turn on the vawdyville."
Quin tried not to expand his chest in pride, for fear the movement would disturb those temperamental studs. He would fain have lingered indefinitely in the warmth of Barney's admiring smile, but the signal for the first dance was already given, and he moved nervously out into the throng again.
Now that the moment had come for him to meet Eleanor—the moment he had longed for by day and dreamed of by night,—he found himself overcome with terrible diffidence. Suppose she did not want to see him again? Suppose she should be angry at him for coming to her party? Suppose she should be too taken up with all these strange friends of hers to have time to dance with him?
After obstructing social traffic in the hall for several moments, he encountered Miss Enid. She was all a lavender flutter, with sleeves floating and scarf dangling, and she wore an air of subdued excitement that made her almost pretty.
"Why, Quinby!" she said, and her eyes swept him. "Have you spoken to mother yet?"
"No; where is she?"
"In the library. And sister will present you to the young ladies in the parlor."
She hesitated a moment, then she placed a timid hand on Quin's arm.
"But before you go in would you mind doing something for me? Will you watch the front door and let me know as soon as Mr. Chester arrives?"
"Yes. You see, it's been a great many years since he came to the house, and I want to—to make sure that he is properly welcomed."
"I'll wait for him," said Quin, glad of any excuse for not entering that crowded parlor.
Lovely young creatures in rainbow tints drifted down the stairs and disappeared beyond the portieres; supercilious young men, all in tail coats and most of them wearing white gloves, passed and repassed him.
Quin was experiencing the wholly new sensation of timidity. In vain he sought reassuring reflections from the long pier-glass, as he did guard duty in the front hall pending Mr. Chester's arrival. He'd be all right, he assured himself, as soon as he got to know some of the people. Once he had spoken to Eleanor and been sure of her welcome, he didn't care what happened. Meanwhile he worked with his shirt-stud and tried not to think about his tooth.
It was late when Mr. Chester arrived, and by the time he had been placed in Miss Enid's care the receiving line in the parlor had dissolved and the dance was in full swing.
Quin made his way back to the library and presented his belated respects to Madam, who sat enthroned in state where she could command the field and direct the manoeuvers. She was resplendent in black velvet and old lace. A glittering comb topped her high white pompadour, and a dog-collar of diamonds encircled her wrinkled neck.
"Well, I am glad one man has the manners to come and speak to his hostess!" she said grimly, extending her hand to Quin. "The young lords of the present day seem to consider a lady's house a public dance-hall. Sit down and talk to me."
Quin didn't wish to sit down. He wished very ardently to plunge into that dancing throng and find Eleanor. But the old lady's vise-like grip closed on him, and he had to content himself with watching the couples circle past the door while he listened to a tirade against present-day customs.