But Harry knew nothing of the most magnificent of his friend's trophies until it undulated gloriously down the aisle, above the heads of two men, white satin ribbons flying, tinfoil shining—an enormous horseshoe of roses and mignonette!
The parents were both on their feet to crane their necks after it, as it passed them amid the plaudits.
"Oh, it was YOU, Cousin Margaret; I know it was you," cried Harry.
He took the ladies over to the Fitzmaurices the minute that the diplomas were given; and, directly, Tommy joined them, attended by two admiring followers laden with the trophies. Mrs. O'Halloran and Mrs. Macillarney and divers of the friends, both male and female, joined the circle. Tommy held quite a little court. He shook hands with all the ladies, beginning with Mrs. Carriswood (who certainly never had found herself before in such a company, jammed between Alderman McGinnis's resplendent new tweeds and Mrs. Macillarney's calico); he affectionately embraced his mother, and he allowed himself to be embraced by Mrs. Macillarney and Mrs. O'Halloran, while Patrick Fitzmaurice shook hands with the alderman.
"Here's the lady that helped me on me piece, father; she's the lady that sent me the horseshoe, mother. Like to make you acquainted with me father and me mother. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzmaurice, Mrs. Carriswood."
In these words, Tommy, blushing and happy, presented his happy parents.
"Sure, I'm proud to meet you, ma'am," said Fitzmaurice, bowing, while his wife courtesied and wiped her eyes.
They were very grateful, but they were more grateful for the flowers than for the oratorical drilling. No doubt they thought that their Tommy could have done as well in any case; but the splendid horseshoe was another matter!
Ten years passed before Mrs. Carriswood saw her pupil again. During those years the town had increased and prospered; so had the Lossing Art Furniture Works. It was after Harry Lossing had disappointed his father. This is not saying that he had done anything out of the way; he had simply declined to be the fourth Harry Lossing on the rolls of Harvard College. Instead, he proposed to enter the business and to begin by learning his own trade. He was so industrious, he kept at it with such energy that his first convert was his father—no, I am wrong, Mrs. Carriswood was the first; Mrs. Lossing was not a convert, SHE had believed in Harry from the beginning. But all this was years before Mrs. Carriswood's visit.
Another of Master Harry's notions was his belief in the necessity of his "meddling"—so his father put it—in the affairs of the town, the state, and the nation, as well as those of the Lossing furniture company. But, though he was pleased to make rather cynical fun of his son's political enthusiasm, esteeming it in a sense a diverting and therefore reprehensible pursuit for a business man, the elder Lossing had a sneaking pride in it, all the same. He liked to bring out Harry's political shrewdness.
"Fancy, Margaret," says he, "whom do you think Harry has brought over to our side now? The shrewdest ward politician in the town—why, you saw him when he was a boy—Tommy Fitzmaurice."
Then Mrs. Carriswood remembered; she asked, amused, how was Tommy and where was he?
"Tommy? Oh, he went to the State university; the old man was bound to send him, and he was more dutiful than some sons. He was graduated with honors, and came back to a large, ready-made justice court's practice. Of course he drifted into criminal practice; but he has made a fine income out of that, and is the shrewdest, some folks say the least scrupulous, political manager in the county. And so, Harry, you have persuaded him to cast in his lot with the party of principle, have you? and he is packing the primaries?"
"I see nothing dishonest in our trying to get our friends out to vote at the primaries, sir."
"Of course not, but he may not stop there. However, I want Bailey elected, and I am glad he will work for us; what's his price?"
Harry blushed a little. "I believe he would like to be city attorney, sir," said he; and Mr. Lossing laughed.
"Would he make a bad one?" asked Mrs. Carriswood.
"He would make the best kind of a one," replied Harry, with youthful fervor; "he's a ward politician and all that, I know; but he has it in him to be an uncommon deal more! And I say, sir, do you know that he and the old man will take twenty-five thousand of the stock at par if we turn ourselves into a corporation?"
"How about this new license measure? won't that bear a little bit hard on the old man?" This from Mr. Lossing, who was biting his cigar in deep thought.
"That will not prevent his doing his duty; why, the old man for very pride will be the first to obey the law. You'll SEE!"
Six months later they did see, since it was mostly due to Fitzmaurice's efforts that the reform candidate was elected; as a consequence, Tommy became prosecuting attorney; and, to the amazement of the critics, made the best prosecuting attorney that the city had ever known.
It was during the campaign that Mrs. Carriswood met him. Her goddaughter, daughter of the friend to whom years ago she described Tommy, was with her. This time Mrs. Carriswood had recently added Florida to her disappointments in climates, and was back, as she told Mrs. Lossing, "with a real sense of relief in a climate that was too bad to make any pretensions."
She had brought Miss Van Harlem to see the shops. It may be that she would not have been averse to Harry Lossing's growing interested in young Margaret. She had seen a great deal of Harry while he was East at school, and he remained her first favorite, while Margaret was as good as she was pretty, and had half a million of dollars in her own right. They had seen Harry, and he was showing them through the different buildings or "shops," when a man entered who greeted him cordially, and whom he presented to Mrs. Carriswood. It was Tommy Fitzmaurice, grown into a handsome young man. He brought his heels together and made the ladies a solemn bow. "Pleased to meet you, ladies; how do you like the West?" said Tommy.
His black locks curled about his ears, which seemed rather small now; he had a good nose and a mobile, clean-shaven face. His hands were very white and soft, and the rim of linen above them was dazzling. His black frock-coat was buttoned snugly about his slim waist. He brushed his face with a fine silk handkerchief, and thereby diffused the fragrance of the best imported cologne among the odors of wood and turpentine. A diamond pin sparkled from his neckscarf. The truth is, he knew that the visitors were coming and had made a state toilet. "He looks half like an actor and half like a clergyman, and he IS all a politician," thought Mrs. Carriswood; "I don't think I shall like him any more." While she thought, she was inclining her slender neck toward him, and the gentlest interest and pleasure beamed out of her beautiful, dark eyes.
"We like the West, but I have liked it for ten years; this is not my first visit," said Mrs. Carriswood.
"I have reason to be glad for that, madam. I never made another speech so good."
He had remembered her; she laughed. "I had thought that you would forget."
"How could I, when you have not changed at all?"
"But you have," says Mrs. Carriswood, hardly knowing whether to show the young man his place or not.
"Yes, ma'am, naturally. But I have not learned how to make a speech yet."
"Ah, but you make very good ones, Harry tells me."
"Much obliged, Harry. No, ma'am, Harry is a nice boy; but he doesn't know. I know there is a lot to learn, and I guess a lot to unlearn; and I feel all outside; I don't even know how to get at it. I have wished a thousand times that I could talk with the lady who taught me to speak in the first place." He walked on by her side, talking eagerly. "You don't know how many times I have felt I would give most anything for the opportunity of just seeing you and talking with you; those things you said to me I always remembered." He had a hundred questions evidently stinging his tongue. And some of them seemed to Mrs. Carriswood very apposite.
"I'm on the outside of such a lot of things," says he. "When I first began to suspect that I was on the outside was when I went to the High School, and sometimes I was invited to Harry's; that was my first acquaintance with cultivated society. You can't learn manners from books, ma'am. I learned them at Harry's. That is,"—he colored and laughed,—"I learned SOME. There's plenty left, I know. Then, I went to the University. Some of the boys came from homes like Harry's, and some of the professors there used to ask us to their houses; and I saw engravings and oil paintings, and heard the conversation of persons of culture. All this only makes me know enough to KNOW I am outside. I can see the same thing with the lawyers, too. There is a set of them that are after another kind of things; that think themselves above me and my sort of fellows. You know all the talk about this being a free and equal country. That's the tallest kind of humbug, madam! It is that. There are sets, one above another, everywhere; big bugs and little bugs, if you will excuse the expression. And you can't influence the big ones without knowing how they feel. A fellow can't be poking in the dark in a speech or anywhere else. Now, these fellows here, they go into politics, sometimes; and there, I tell you, we come the nearest to a fair field and no favor! It is the best fellow gets the prize there—the sharpest-witted, the nerviest, and stanchest. Oh, talk of machine politics! all the soft chaps who ain't willing to get up early in the morning, or to go out in the wet, THEY howl about the primaries and corruption; let them get up and clean the primaries instead of holding their noses! Those fellows, I'm not nice enough for them, but I can beat them every time. They make a monstrous racket in the newspapers, but when election comes on they can't touch side, edge, or bottom!"
Discoursing in this fashion, with digressions to Harry in regard to the machines, the furniture, and the sales, that showed Mrs. Carriswood that he meant to keep an eye on his twenty odd thousand dollars, he strolled at her side. To Miss Van Harlem he scarcely said three words. In fact, he said exactly three words, uttered as Miss Margaret's silken skirts swung too near a pot of varnish. They were "Look out, miss!" and at the same second, Tommy (who was in advance, with really no call to know of the danger), turned on his heel and whisked the skirts away, turning back to pick up the sentence he had dropped.
Tommy told Harry that Miss Van Harlem was a very handsome lady, but haughty-looking. Then he talked for half an hour about the cleverness of Mrs. Carriswood.
"I am inclined to think Tommy will rise." (Mrs. Carriswood was describing the interview to her cousin, the next day.) "What do you think he said to me last of all? 'How,' said he, 'does a man, a gentleman'—it had a touch of the pathetic, don't you know, the little hesitation he made on the word—'how does he show his gratitude to a lady who has done him a great service?' 'Young or old?' I said. 'Oh, a married lady,' he said, 'very much admired, who has been everywhere.' Wasn't that clever of him? I told him that a man usually sent a few flowers. You saw the basket to-day—evidently regardless of expense. And fancy, there was a card, a card with a gilt edge and his name written on it."
"The card was his mother's. She has visiting cards, now, and pays visits once a year in a livery carriage. Poor Mrs. Fitzmaurice, she is always so scared; and she is such a good soul! Tommy is very good to her."
"How about the father? Does he still keep that 'nice' saloon?"
"Yes; but he talks of retiring. They are not poor at all, and Tommy is their only child; the others died. It is hard on the old man to retire, for he isn't so very old in fact, but if he once is convinced that his calling stands in the way of Tommy's career, he won't hesitate a second."
"Poor people," said Mrs. Carriswood; "do you know, Grace, I can see Tommy's future; he will grow to be a boss, a political boss. He will become rich by keeping your streets always being cleaned—which means never clean—and giving you the worst fire department and police to be obtained for money; and, by and by, a grateful machine will make him mayor, or send him to the Legislature, very likely to Congress, where he will misrepresent the honest State of Iowa. Then he will bloom out in a social way, and marry a gentlewoman, and they will snub the old people who are so proud of him."
"Well, we shall see," said Mrs. Lossing; "I think better things of Tommy. So does Harry."
Part of the prophecy was to be speedily fulfilled. Two years later, the Honorable Thomas Fitzmaurice was elected mayor of his city, elected by the reform party, on account of his eminent services—and because he was the only man in sight who had the ghost of a chance of winning. Harry's version was: "Tommy jests at his new principles, but that is simply because he doesn't comprehend what they are. He laughs at reform in the abstract; but every concrete, practical reform he is as anxious as I or anybody to bring about. And he will get them here, too."
He was as good as his word; he gave the city an admirable administration, with neither fear nor favor. Some of the "boys" still clung to him; these, according to Harry, were the better "boys," who had the seeds of good in them and only needed opportunity and a leader. Tommy did not flag in zeal; rather, as the time went on and he soared out of the criminal courts into big civil cases involving property, he grew up to the level of his admirers' praises. "Tommy," wrote Mr. Lossing, presently, "is beginning to take himself seriously. He has been told so often that he is a young lion of reform, that he begins to study the role in dead earnest. I don't talk this way to Harry, who believes in him and is training him for the representative for our district. What harm? Verily, his is the faith that will move mountains. Besides, Tommy is now rich; he must be worth a hundred thousand dollars, which makes a man of wealth in these parts. It is time for him to be respectable."
Notwithstanding this preparation, Mrs. Carriswood (then giving Washington the benefit of her doubts of climate) was surprised one day to receive a perfectly correct visiting card whereon was engraved, "Mr. Thomas Sackville Fitzmaurice, M.C."
The young lady who was with her lifted her brilliant hazel eyes and half smiled. "Is it the droll young man we met once at Mrs. Lossing's? Pray see him, Aunt Margaret," said Miss Van Harlem.
Mrs. Carriswood shrugged her shoulders and ordered the man to show him up.
There entered, in the wake of the butler, a distinguished-looking personage who held out his hand with a perfect copy of the bow that she saw forty times a day. "He is taking himself very seriously," she sighed; "he is precisely like anybody else!" And she felt her interest snuffed out by Tommy's correctness. But, directly, she changed her mind; the unfailing charm of his race asserted itself in Tommy; she decided that he was a delightful, original young man, and in ten minutes they were talking in the same odd confidence that had always marked their relation.
"How perfectly you are gotten up! Are you INSIDE, now?"
"Ah, do you remember that?" said he; "that's awfully good of you. Which is so fortunate as to please you, my clothes or my deportment?"
"Both. They are very good. Where did you get them, Tommy? I shall take the privilege of my age and call you Tommy."
"Thank you. The clothes? Oh, I asked Harry for the proper thing, and he recommended a tailor. I think Harry gave me the manners, too."
"And your new principles?" She could not resist this little fling.
"I owe a great deal in that way to Harry, also," answered he, with gravity.
Gone were the days of sarcastic ridicule, of visionary politics. Tommy talked of the civil service in the tone of Harry himself. He was actually eloquent.
"Why, Aunt Margaret, he is a remarkable young man," exclaimed Miss Van Harlem; "his honesty and enthusiasm are refreshing in this pessimist place. I hope he will come again. Did you notice what lovely eyes he has?"
Before long it was not pure good-nature that caused Mrs. Carriswood to ask Fitzmaurice to her house. He was known as a rising young man, One met him at the best houses; yet he was a prodigious worker, and had made his mark in committees, before the celebrated speech that sent him into all the newspaper columns, or that stubborn and infinitely versatile fight against odds which inspired the artist of PUCK.
Tommy bore the cartoon to Mrs. Carriswood, beaming. She had not seen that light in his face since the memorable June afternoon in the Opera-house. He sent the paper to his mother, who vowed the picture "did not favor Tommy at all, at all. Sure Tommy never had such a red nose!" The old man, however, went to his ex-saloon, and sat in state all the morning, showing Tommy's funny picture.
It was about this time that Mrs. Carriswood observed something that took her breath away: Tommy Fitzmaurice had the presumption to be attentive to my lady's goddaughter, Miss Van Harlem. Nor was this the worst; there were indications that Miss Van Harlem, who had refused the noble names and titles of two or three continental nobles, and the noble name unaccompanied by a title of the younger son of an English earl, without mentioning the half-dozen "nice" American claimants—Miss Van Harlem was not angry.
The day this staggering blow fell on her, Mrs. Carriswood was in her dressing-room, peacefully watching Derry unpack a box from Paris, in anticipation of a state dinner. And Miss Van Harlem, in a bewitching wrapper, sat on the lounge and admired. Upon this scene of feminine peace and happiness enter the Destroyer, in the shape of a note from Tommy Fitzmaurice! Were they going on Beatoun's little excursion to Alexandria? If they were, he would move heaven and earth to put off a committee meeting, in order to join them. By the way, he was to get the floor for his speech that afternoon. Wouldn't Mrs. Carriswood come to inspire him? Perhaps Miss Van Harlem would not be bored by a little of it.
It was a well-worded note; as Mrs. Carriswood read it she realized for the first time how completely Tommy was acclimated in society. She remembered his plaint years ago, and his awe of "oil paintings" and "people of culture;" and she laughed half-sadly as she passed the note over to Miss Van Harlem.
"I presume it is the Alexandria excursion that the Beatouns were talking about yesterday," she said, languidly. "He wants to show that young Irishman that we have a mild flavor of antiquity, ourselves. We are to see Alexandria and have a real old Virginian dinner, including one of the famous Beatoun hams and some of the '69 Chateau Yquem and the sacred '47 port. I suppose he will have the four-in-hand buckboard. 'A small party '—that will mean the Honorable Basil Sackville, Mrs. Beatoun, Lilly Denning, probably one of the Cabinet girls, Colonel Turner, and that young Russian Beatoun is so fond of, Tommy Fitzmaurice———"
"Why do you always call Mr. Fitzmaurice Tommy?"—this interruption comes with a slight rise of color from young Margaret.
"Everybody calls him Tommy in his own town; a politician as popular as he with the boys is naturally Tommy or Jerry or Billy. They slap him on the back or sit with an arm around his neck and concoct the ways to rule us."
"I don't think anyone slaps Mr. Fitzmaurice on the back and calls him Tommy, NOW," says Margaret, with a little access of dignity.
"I dare say his poor old father and mother don't venture on that liberty; I wish you had seen them——"
"He has told me about them," says Margaret.
And Mrs. Carriswood's dismay was such that for a second she simply gasped. Were things so far along that such confessions were made? Tommy must be very confident to venture; it was shrewd, very shrewd, to forestall Mrs. Carriswood's sure revelations—oh, Tommy was not a politician for nothing!
"Besides," Margaret went on, with the same note of repressed feeling in her voice, "his is a good family, if they have decayed; his ancestor was Lord Fitzmaurice in King James's time."
"She takes HIM seriously too!" thought Mrs. Carriswood, with inexpressible consternation; "what SHALL I say to her mother?"
Strange to say, perhaps, considering that she was so frankly a woman of the world, her stub-bornest objection to Tommy was not an objection of expediency. She had insensibly grown to take his success for granted, like the rest of the Washington world; he would be a governor, a senator, he might be—anything! And he was perfectly presentable, now; no, it would be on the whole an investment in the future that would pay well enough; his parents would be awkward, but they were old people, not likely to be too much en evidence.
Mrs. Carriswood, while not overjoyed, would not feel crushed by such a match, but she did view what she regarded as Tommy's moral instability, with a dubious and fearful eye. He was earnest enough for his new principles now; but what warrant was there of his sincerity? Margaret and her mother were high-minded women. It was the gallant knight of her party and her political faith that the girl admired, the valiant fight, not the triumph! No mere soldier of fortune, no matter how successful or how brilliant, could win her; if Tommy were the mercenary, not the knight, no worldly glory could compensate his wife.
Wherefore, after a bad quarter of an hour reflecting on these things, Mrs. Carriswood went to the Capitol, resolved to take her goddaughter away. She would not withdraw her acceptance of the Beatouns' invitation, no; let the Iowa congressman have every opportunity to display his social shortcomings in contrast with the accomplished Russian, and Jack Turner, the most elegant man in the army; the next day would be time enough for a telegram and a sudden flitting. Yet in the midst of her plans for Tommy's discomfiture she was assailed by a queer regret and reluctance. Tommy's fascination had affected even a professional critic of life; he had been so amusing, so willing, so trusting, so useful, that her chill interest had warmed into liking. She felt a moving of the heart as the handsome black head arose, and the first notes of that resonant, thrilling voice swelled above the din on the floor.
It was the day of his great speech, the speech that made him, it was said.
As Mrs. Carriswood sank back, turning a little in an instinctive effort to repulse her own sympathy, she was aware of the presence near her of an elderly man and woman. The old man wore a shining silk hat and shining new black clothes. His expansive shirt-bosom was very white, but not glossy, and rumpled in places; and his collar was of the spiked and antique pattern known as a "dickey." His wrinkled, red face was edged by a white fringe of whisker. He wore large gold-bowed spectacles, and his jaws worked incessantly.
The woman was a little, mild, wrinkled creature, with an anxious blue eye and snowy hair, smoothed down over her ears, under her fine bonnet. She was richly dressed, but her silks and velvets ill suited the season. Had she seen them anywhere else, Mrs. Carriswood might not have recognized them; but there, with Tommy before them, both of them feverishly absorbed in Tommy, she recognized them at a glance. She had a twinge of pity, watching the old faces pale and kindle. With the first rustle of applause, she saw the old father slip his hand into the old mother's. They sat well behind a pillar; and however excited they became, they never so lost themselves as to lean in front of their shield. This, also, she noticed. The speech over, the woman wiped her eyes. The old man joined in the tumult of applause that swept over the galleries, but the old woman pulled his arm, evidently feeling that it was not decent for them to applaud. She sat rigid, with red cheeks and her eyes brimming; he was swaying and clapping and laughing in a roar of delight. But it was he that drew her away, finally, while she fain would have lingered to look at Tommy receiving congratulations below.
"Poor things," said Mrs. Carriswood, "I do believe they haven't let him know that they are here." And she remembered how she had pitied them for this very possibility of humiliation years before. But she did not pursue the adventure, and some obscure motive prevented her speaking of it to Miss Van Harlem.
Did Tommy's parents tell Tommy? If they did, Tommy made no sign. The morning found him with the others, in a beautiful white flannel suit, with a silk shirt and a red silk sash, looking handsomer than any man of the party. He took the congratulations of the company modestly. Either he was not much puffed up, or he had the art of concealment.
They saw Alexandria in a conscientious fashion, for the benefit of the guest of the day. He was a modest young fellow with a nose rather too large for his face, a long upper lip, and frank blue eyes. He made himself agreeable to one of the Cabinet girls, on the front seat, while Tommy, just behind him, had Miss Van Harlem and bliss for his portion.
The old streets, the toppling roofs, the musty warehouses, the uneven pavement, all pleased the young creatures out in the sunshine. They made merry over the ancient ball-room, where Washington had asked a far-away ancestress of Beatoun to dance; and they decorously walked through the old church.
IT happened in the church. Mrs. Carriswood was behind the others; so she saw them come in, the same little old couple of the Capitol.
In the chancel, Beatoun was explaining; beside Beatoun shone a curly black head that they knew.
Mrs. Carriswood sat in one of the high old pews. Through a crack she could look into the next pew; and there they stood. She heard the old man: "Whist, Molly, let's be getting out of this! HE is here with all his grand friends. Don't let us be interrupting him."
The old woman's voice was so like Tommy's that it made Mrs. Carriswood start. Very softly she spoke: "I only want to look at him a minute, Pat, jest a minute. I ain't seen him for so long."
"And is it any longer for you than for me?" retorted the husband. "Ye know what ye promised if I'd be taking you here, unbeknownst. Don't look his way! Look like ye was a stranger to him. Don't let us be mortifying him wid our country ways. Like as not 'tis the prisidint, himself, he is colloguein' wid, this blessed minute. Shtep back and be a stranger to him, woman!"
A stranger to him, his own mother! But she stepped back; she turned her patient face. Then—Tommy saw her.
A wave of red flushed all over his face. He took two steps down the aisle, and caught the little figure in his arms.
"Why, mother?" he cried, "why, mother, where did you drop from?"
And before Mrs. Carriswood could speak she saw him step back and push young Sackville forward, crying, "This is my father, this is the boy that knew your grandmother."
He did it so easily; he was so entirely unaffected, so perfectly unconscious, that there was nothing at all embarrassing for anyone. Even the Cabinet girl, with a grandmother in very humble life, who must be kept in the background, could not feel disconcerted.
For this happy result Mrs. Carriswood owns a share of the credit. She advanced on the first pause, and claimed acquaintanceship with the Fitzmaurices. The story of their last meeting and Tommy's first triumph in oratory came, of course; the famous horseshoe received due mention; and Tommy described with much humor his terror of the stage. From the speech to its most effective passage was a natural transition; equally natural the transition to Tommy's grandmother, the Irish famine, and the benevolence of Lady Sackville.
Everybody was interested, and it was Sackville himself, who brought the Fitzmaurices' noble ancestors, the apocryphal Viscounts Fitzmaurice of King James's creation, on to the carpet.
He was entirely serious. "My grandmother told me of your great-grandfather, Lord Fitzmaurice; she saw him ride to hounds once, when she was a little girl. They say he was the boldest rider in Ireland, and a renowned duellist too. King James gave the title to his grandfather, didn't he? and the countryside kept it, if it was given rather too late in the day to be useful. I am glad you have restored the family fortunes, Mr. Fitzmaurice."
The Cabinet girl looked on Tommy with respect, and Miss Van Harlem blushed like an angel.
"All is lost," said Mrs. Carriswood to herself; yet she smiled. Going home, she found a word for Tommy's ear. The old Virginian dinner had been most successful. The Fitzmaurices (who had been almost forced into the banquet by Beatoun's imperious hospitality) were not a wet blanket in the least. Patrick Fitzmaurice, brogue and all, was an Irish gentleman without a flaw. He blossomed out into a modest wag; and told two or three comic stories as acceptably as he was used to tell them to a very different circle—only, carrying a fresher flavor of wit to this circle, perhaps, it enjoyed them more. Mrs. Fitzmaurice looked scared and ate almost nothing, with the greatest propriety, and her fork in her left hand. Yet even she thawed under Miss Van Harlem's attentions and gentle Mrs. Beatoun's tact, and the winning ways of the last Beatoun baby. She took this absent cherub to her heart with such undissembled warmth that its mother ever since has called her "a sweet, funny little old lady."
They were both (Patrick and his wife) quite unassuming and retiring, and no urging could dissuade them from parting with the company at the tavern door.
"My word, Tommy, your mother and I can git home by ourselves," whispered honest Patrick; "we've not exceeded—if the wines WERE good. I never exceeded in my life, God take the glory!"
But he embraced Tommy so affectionately in parting that I confess Mrs. Carriswood had suspicions. Yet, surely, it is more likely that his brain was—let us not say TURNED, but just a wee bit TILTED, by the joy and triumph of the occasion rather than by Beatoun's port or champagne.
But Mrs. Carriswood's word had nothing to do with Tommy's parents, ostensibly, though, in truth, it had everything to do. She said: "Will you dine with us to-morrow, quite en famille, Thomas?"
"I ought to tell you, I suppose, that I find your house a pretty dangerous paradise, Mrs. Carriswood," says Tommy.
"And I find you a most dangerous angel, Thomas; but—you see I ask you!"
"Thank you," answers Tommy, in a different tone; "you've always been an angel to me. What I owe to you and Harry Lossing—well, I can't talk about it. But see here, Mrs. Carriswood, you always have called me Tommy; now you say Thomas; why this state?"
"I think you have won your brevet, Thomas."
He looked puzzled, and she liked him the better that he should not make enough of his conduct to understand her; but, though she has called him Tommy often since, he keeps the brevet in her thoughts. In fact, Mrs. Carriswood is beginning to take the Honorable Thomas Fitzmaurice and his place in the world seriously, herself.
THE Louders lived on the second floor, at the head of the stairs, in the Lossing Building. There is a restaurant to the right; and a new doctor, every six months, who is every kind of a healer except "regular," keeps the permanent boarders in gossip, to the left; two or three dressmakers, a dentist, and a diamond merchant up-stairs, one flight; and half a dozen families and a dozen single tenants higher—so you see the Louders had plenty of neighbors. In fact, the multitude of the neighbors is one cause of my story.
Tilly Louder came home from the Lossing factory (where she is a typewriter) one February afternoon. As she turned the corner, she was face to the river, which is not so full of shipping in winter that one cannot see the steel-blue glint of the water. Back of her the brick paved street climbed the hill, under a shapeless arch of trees. The remorseless pencil of a railway has drawn black lines at the foot of the hill; and, all day and all night, slender red bars rise and sink in their black sockets, to the accompaniment of the outcry of tortured steam. All day, if not all night, the crooked pole slips up and down the trolley wire, as the yellow cars rattle, and flash, and clang a spiteful little bell, that sounds like a soprano bark, over the crossings.
It is customary in the Lossing Building to say, "We are so handy to the cars." The street is a handsome street, not free from dingy old brick boxes of stores below the railway, but fast replacing them with fairer structures. The Lossing Building has the wide arches, the recessed doors, the balconies and the colonnades of modern business architecture. The occupants are very proud of the balconies, in particular; and, summer days, these will be a mass of greenery and bright tints. To-day, it was so warm, February day though it was, that some of the potted plants were sunning themselves outside the windows.
Tilly could see them if she craned her neck. There were some bouvardias and fuchsias of her mother's among them.
"It IS a pretty building," said Tilly; and, for some reason, she frowned.
She was a young woman, but not a very young woman. Her figure was slim, and she looked better in loose waists than in tightly fitted gowns. She wore a dark green gown with a black jacket, and a scarlet shirt-waist underneath. Her face was long, with square chin and high cheek-bones, and thin, firm lips; yet she was comely, because of her lustrous black hair, her clear, gray eyes, and her charming, fair skin. She had another gift: everything about her was daintily neat; at first glance one said, "Here is a person who has spent pains, if not money, on her toilet."
By this time Tilly was entering the Lossing Building. Half-way up the stairway a hand plucked her skirts. The hand belonged to a tired-faced woman in black, on whose breast glittered a little crowd of pins and threaded needles, like the insignia of an Order of Toil.
"Please excuse me, Miss Tilly," said the woman, at the same time presenting a flat package in brown paper, "but WILL you give this pattern back to your mother. I am so very much obliged. I don't know how I WOULD git along without your mother, Tilly."
"I'll give the pattern to her," said Tilly, and she pursued her way.
Not very far. A stout woman and a thin young man, with long, wavy, red hair, awaited her on the landing. The woman held a plate of cake which she thrust at Tilly the instant they were on the same level, saying: "The cake was just splendid, tell your mother; it's a lovely recipe, and will you tell her to take this, and see how well I succeeded?"
"And—ah—Miss Louder," said the man, as the stout woman rustled away, "here are some Banner of Lights; I think she'd be interested in some of the articles on the true principles of the inspirational faith——" Tilly placed the bundle of newspapers at the base of her load—"and—and, I wish you'd tell your dear mother that, under the angels, her mustard plaster really saved my life."
"I'll tell her," said Tilly.
She had advanced a little space before a young girl in a bright blue silk gown flung a radiant presence between her and the door. "Oh, Miss Tilly," she murmured, blushing, "will you just give your mother this?—it's—it's Jim's photograph. You tell her it's ALL right; and SHE was exactly right, and I was wrong. She'll understand."
Tilly, with a look of resignation, accepted a stiff package done up in white tissue paper. She had now only three steps to take: she took two, only two, for—"Miss Tilly, PLEASE!" a voice pealed around the corner, while a flushed and breathless young woman, with a large baby toppling over her lean shoulder, staggered into view. "My!" she panted, "ain't it tiresome lugging a child! I missed the car, of course, coming home from ma's. Oh, say, Tilly, your mother was so good, she said she'd tend Blossom next time I went to the doctor's, and——"
"I'll take the baby," said Tilly. She hoisted the infant on to her own shoulder with her right arm. "Perhaps you'll be so kind's to turn the handle of the door," said she in a slightly caustic tone, "as I haven't got any hands left. Please shut it, too."
As the young mother opened the door, Tilly entered the parlor. For a second she stood and stared grimly about her. The furniture of the room was old-fashioned but in the best repair. There was a cabinet organ in one corner. A crayon portrait of Tilly's father (killed in the civil war) glared out of a florid gilt frame. Perhaps it was the fault of the portrait, but he had a peevish frown. There were two other portraits of him, large ghastly gray tintypes in oval frames of rosewood, obscurely suggesting coffins. In these he looked distinctly sullen. He was represented in uniform (being a lieutenant of volunteers), and the artist had conscientiously gilded his buttons until, as Mrs. Louder was wont to observe, "It most made you want to cut them off with the scissors." There were other tintypes and a flock of photographs in the room. What Mrs. Louder named "a throw" decorated each framed picture and each chair. The largest arm-chair was drawn up to a table covered with books and magazines: in the chair sat Mrs. Louder, reading.
At Tilly's entrance she started and turned her head, and then one could see that the tears were streaming down her cheeks.
"Now, MOTHER!" exploded Tilly. Kicking the door open, she marched into the bed-chamber. An indignant sweep of one arm sent the miscellany of gifts into a rocking-chair; an indignant curve of the other landed the baby on the bed. Tilly turned on her mother. "Now, mother, what did you promise—HUSH! will you?" (The latter part of the sentence a fierce "ASIDE" to the infant on the bed.) In a second Mrs. Louder's arms were encircling him, and she was soothing him on her broad shoulder, where I know not how many babies have found comfort.
Jane Louder was a tall woman—tall and portly. She had a massive repose about her, a kind of soft dignity; and a stranger would not guess how tender was her heart. Deprecatingly she looked up at her only child, standing in judgment over her. Her eyes were fine still, though they had sparkled and wept for more than half a century. They were not gray, like Tilly's, but a deep violet, with black eyelashes and eyebrows. Black, once, had been the hair under the widow's cap, now streaked with silver; but Jane Louder's skin was fresh and daintily tinted like her daughter's, for all its fine wrinkles. Her voice when she spoke was mellow and slow, with a nervous vibration of apology. "Never mind, dear," she said, "I was just reading 'bout the Russians."
"I KNEW it! You promised me you wouldn't cry about the Russians any more."
"I know, Tilly, but Alma Brown lent this to me, herself. There's a beautiful article in it about 'The Horrors of Hunger.' It would make your heart ache! I wish you would read it, Tilly."
"No, thank you. I don't care to have my heart ache. I'm not going to read any more horrors about the Russians, or hear them either, if I can help it. I have to write Mr. Lossing's letters about them, and that's enough. I've given all I can afford, and you've given more than you can afford; and I helped get up the subscription at the shops. I've done all I could; and now I ain't going to have my feelings harrowed up any more, when it won't do me nor the Russians a mite of good."
"But I cayn't HELP it, Tilly. I cayn't take any comfort in my meals, thinking of that awful black bread the poor children starve rather than eat; and, Tilly, they ain't so dirty as some folks think! I read in a magazine how they have GOT to bathe twice a week by their religion; and there's a bath-house in every village. Tilly, do you know how much money they've raised here?"
"Over three thousand. This town is the greatest town for giving—give to the cholera down South, give to Johnstown, give to Grinnell, give to cyclones, give to fires. The Freeman always starts up a subscription, and Mr. Bayard runs the thing, and Mr. Lossing always gives. Mother, I tell you HE makes them hustle when he takes hold. He's the chairman here, and he has township chairmen appointed for every township. He's so popular they start in to oblige him, and then, someway, he makes them all interested. I must tell you of a funny letter he had to-day from a Captain Ferguson, out at Baxter. He's a rich farmer with lots of influence and a great worker, Mr. Lossing says. But this is 'most word for word what he wrote: 'Dear Sir: I am sorry for the Russians, but my wife is down with the la grippe, and I can't get a hired girl; so I have to stay with her. If you'll get me a hired girl, I'll get you a lot of money for the Russians.'"
"Did he git a girl? I mean Mr. Lossing."
"No, ma'am. He said he'd try if it was the city, but it was easier finding gold-mines than girls that would go into the country. See here, I'm forgetting your presents. Mother, you look real dragged and—queer!"
"It's nothing; jist a thought kinder struck me 'bout—'bout that girl."
Tilly was sorting out the parcels and explaining them; at the end of her task her mind harked back to an old grievance. "Mother," said she, "I've been thinking for a long time, and I've made up my mind."
"Yes, dearie." Mrs. Louder's eyes grew troubled. She knew something of the quality of Tilly's mind, which resembled her father's in a peculiar immobility. Once let her decision run into any mould (be it whatsoever it might), and let it stiffen, there was no chance, any more than with other iron things, of its bending.
"Positively I could hardly get up the stairs today," said Tilly—she was putting her jacket and hat away in her orderly fashion; of necessity her back was to Mrs. Louder—"there was such a raft of people wanting to send stuff and messages to you. You are just working yourself to death; and, mother, I am convinced we have got to move!"
Mrs. Louder dropped into a chair and gasped. The baby, who had fallen asleep, stirred uneasily. It was not a pretty child; its face was heavy, its little cheeks were roughened by the wind, its lower lip sagged, its chin creased into the semblance of a fat old man's. But Jane Louder gazed down on it with infinite compassion. She stroked its head as she spoke.
"Tilly," said she, "I've been in this block, Mrs. Carleton and me, ever since it was built; and, some way, between us we've managed to keep the run of all the folks in it; at least when they were in any trouble. We've worked together like sisters. She's 'Piscopal, and I guess I'm Unitarian; but never a word between us. We tended the Willardses through diphtheria and the Hopkinses through small-pox, and we steamed and fumigated the rooms together. It was her first found out the Dillses were letting that twelve-year-old child run the gasoline stove, and she threatened to tell Mr. Lossing, and they begged off; and when it exploded we put it out together, with flour out of her flour-barrel, for the poor, shiftless things hadn't half a sack full of their own; and her and me, we took half the care of that little neglected Ellis baby that was always sitting down in the sticky fly-paper, poor innocent child. He's took the valedictory at the High School, Tilly, now. No, Tilly, I couldn't bring myself to leave this building, where I've married them, and buried them, and born them, you may say, being with so many of their mothers; I feel like they was all my children. Don't ASK me."
Tilly's head went upward and backward with a little dilatation of the nostrils. "Now, mother," said she in a voice of determined gentleness, "just listen to me. Would I ask you to do anything that wouldn't be for your happiness? I have found a real pretty house up on Fifteenth Street; and we'll keep house together, just as cosey; and have a woman come to wash and iron and scrub, so it won't be a bit hard; and be right on the street-cars; and you won't have to drudge helping Mrs. Carleton extra times with her restaurant."
"But, Tilly," eagerly interrupted Mrs. Louder, "you know I dearly love to cook, and she PAYS me. I couldn't feel right to take any of the pension money, or the little property your father left me, away from the house expenses; but what I earn myself, it is SUCH a comfort to give away out of THAT."
Tilly ran over and kissed the agitated face. "You dear, generous mother!" cried she, "I'LL give you all the money you want to spend or give. I got another rise in my salary of five a month. Don't you worry."
"You ain't thinking of doing anything right away, Tilly?"
"Don't you think it's best done and over with, after we've decided, mother? You have worked so hard all your life I want to give you some ease and peace now."
"But, Tilly, I love to work; I wouldn't be happy to do nothing, and I'd get so fleshy!"
Tilly only laughed. She did not crave the show of authority. Let her but have her own way, she would never flaunt her victories. She was imperious, but she was not arrogant. For months she had been pondering how to give her mother an easier life; and she set the table for supper, in a filial glow of satisfaction, never dreaming that her mother, in the kitchen, was keeping her head turned from the stove lest she should cry into the fried ham and stewed potatoes. But, at a sudden thought, Jane Louder laid her big spoon down to wipe her eyes.
"Here you are, Jane Louder"—thus she addressed herself—"mourning and grieving to leave your friends and be laid aside for a useless old woman, and jist be taken care of, and you clean forgetting the chance the Lord gives you to help more'n you ever helped in your life! For shame!"
A smile of exaltation, of lofty resolution, erased the worry lines on her face. "Why, it might be to save twenty lives," said she; but in the very speaking of the words a sharp pain wrenched her heart again, and she caught up the baby from the floor, where he sat in a wall of chairs, and sobbed over him: "Oh, how can I go away when I got to go for good so soon? I want every minnit!"
She never thought of disputing Tilly's wishes. "It's only fair," said Jane. "She's lived here all these years to please me, and now I ought to be willing to go to please her."
Neither did she for a moment hope to change Tilly's determination. "She was the settest baby ever was," thought poor Jane, tossing on her pillow, in the night watches, "and it's grown with every inch of her!"
But in the morning she surprised her daughter. "Tilly," said she at the breakfast-table, "Tilly, I got something I must do, and I don't want you to oppose me."
"Good gracious, ma!" said Tilly; "as if I ever opposed you!"
"You know how bad I have been feeling about the poor Russians———"
"And how I've wished and wished I could do something—something to COUNT? I never could, Tilly, because I ain't got the money or the intellect; but s'posing I could do it for somebody else, like this Captain Ferguson who could do so much if he just could get a hired girl to take care of his wife. Well, I do know how to cook and to keep a house neat and to do for the sick——"
Tilly could restrain herself no longer; her voice rose to a shout of dismay—"Mother Louder, you AIN'T thinking of going to be the Ferguson's hired girl!"
"Not their hired girl, Tilly; just their help, so as he can work for those poor starving creatures." Jane strangled a sob in her throat. Tilly, in a kind of stupor of bewilderment, frowned at her plate. Then her clouded face cleared. If Mrs. Louder had surprised her daughter, her daughter repaid the surprise. "Well, if you feel that way, mother," said she, "I won't say a word; and I'll ask Mr. Lossing to explain to the Fergusons and fix everything. He will."
"You're real good, Tilly."
"And while you're gone I guess it will be a good plan to move and git settled——"
For some reason Tilly's throat felt dry, she lifted her cup. She did not intend to look across the table, but her eyes escaped her. She set the coffee down untasted. The clock was slow, she muttered; and she left the room.
Jane Louder remained in her place, with the same pale face, staring at the table-cloth.
"It don't seem like I COULD go, now," she thought dully to herself; "the time's so awful short, I don't s'pose Maria Carleton can git up to see me more'n once or twice a month, busy as she is! I got so to depend on seeing her every day. A sister couldn't be kinder! I don't see how I am going to bear it. And to go away, beforehand——"
For a long while she sat, her face hardly changing. At last, when she did push her chair away, her lips were tightly closed. She spoke to the little pile of books lying on the table in the corner. "I cayn't—these are my own and you are strangers!" She walked across the room to take up the same magazine which Tilly had found her reading the day before. When she began reading she looked stern—poor Jane, she was steeling her heart—but in a little while she was sniffing and blowing her nose. With a groan she flung the book aside. "It's no use, I would feel like a murderer if I don't go!" said she.
She did go. Harry Lossing made all the arrangements. Tilly was satisfied. But, then, Tilly had not heard Harry's remark to his mother: "Alma says Miss Louder is trying to make the old lady move against her will. I dare say it would be better to give the young woman a chance to miss her mother and take a little quiet think."
Tilly saw her mother off on the train to Baxter, the Fergusons' station. Being a provident, far-sighted, and also inexperienced traveller, she had allowed a full half-hour for preliminary passages at arms with the railway officials; and, as the train happened to be an hour late, she found herself with time to spare, even after she had exhausted the catalogue of possible deceptions and catastrophes by rail. During the silence that followed her last warning, she sat mentally keeping tally on her fingers. "Confidence men"—Tilly began with the thumb—"Never give anybody her check. Never lend anybody money. Never write her name to anything. Don't get out till conductor tells her. In case of accident, telegraph me, and keep in the middle of the car, off the trucks. Not take care of anybody's baby while she goes off for a minute. Not take care of babies at all. Or children. Not talk to strangers—good gracious!"
Tilly felt a movement of impatience; there, after all her cautions, there was her mother helping an old woman, an utterly strange old woman, to pile a bird-cage on a bandbox surmounting a bag. The old woman was clad in a black alpaca frock, made with the voluminous draperies of years ago, but with the uncreased folds and the brilliant gloss of a new gown. She wore a bonnet of a singular shape, unknown to fashion, but made out of good velvet. Beneath the bonnet (which was large) appeared a little, round, agitated old face, with bobbing white curls and white teeth set a little apart in the mouth, a defect that brought a kind of palpitating frankness into the expression.
"Now, who HAS mother picked up now?" thought Tilly. "Well, praise be, she hasn't a baby, anyhow!"
She could hear the talk between the two; for the old woman being deaf, Mrs. Louder elevated her voice, and the old woman, herself, spoke in a high, thin pipe that somehow reminded Tilly of a lost lamb.
"That's just so," said Mrs. Louder, "a body cayn't help worrying over a sick child, especially if they're away from you."
"Solon and Minnie wouldn't tell me," bleated the other woman, "they knew I'd worry. Kinder hurt me they should keep things from me; but they hate to have me upset. They are awful good children. But I suspicioned something when Alonzo kept writing. Minnie, she wouldn't tell me, but I pinned her down and it come out, Eliza had the grip bad. And, then, nothing would do but I must go to her—why, Mrs. Louder, she's my child! But they wouldn't hark to it. 'Fraid to have me travel alone——"
"I guess they take awful good care of you," said Mrs. Louder; and she sighed.
"Yes, ma'am, awful." She, too, sighed.
As she talked her eyes were darting about the room, eagerly fixed on every new arrival.
"Are you expecting anyone, Mrs. Higbee?" said Jane. They seemed, at least, to know each other by name, thought Tilly; it was amazing the number of people mother did know!
"No," said Mrs. Higbee, "I—I—fact is, I'm kinder frightened. I—fact is, Mrs. Louder, I guess I'll tell you, though I don't know you very well; but I've known about you so long—I run away and didn't tell 'em. I just couldn't stay way from Liza. And I took the bird—for the children; and it's my bird, and I was 'fraid Minnie would forget to feed it and it would be lonesome. My children are awful kind good children, but they don't understand. And if Solon sees me he will want me to go back. I know I'm dretful foolish; and Solon and Minnie will make me see I am. There won't be no good reason for me to go, and I'll have to stay; and I feel as if I should FLY—Oh, massy sakes! there's Solon coming down the street——"
She ran a few steps in half a dozen ways, then fluttered back to her bag and her cage.
"Well," said Mrs. Louder, drawing herself up to her full height, "you SHALL go if you want to."
"Solon will find me, he'll know the bird-cage! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"
Then a most unexpected helper stepped upon the stage. What is the mysterious instinct of rebellion to authority that, nine cases out of ten, sends us to the aid of a fugitive? Tilly, the unconscious despot of her own mother, promptly aided and abetted Solon's rebel mother in her flight.
"Not if I carry it," said she, snatching up the bird-cage; "run inside that den where they sell refreshments; he'll see ME and go somewhere else."
It fell out precisely as she planned. They heard Solon demanding a lady with a bird-cage of the agent; they heard the agent's reply, given with official indifference, "There she is, inside." Directly, Solon, a small man with an anxious mien, ran into the waiting-room, flung a glance of disappointment at Tilly, and ran out again.
Tilly went to her client. "Did he look like he was anxious?" was the mother's greeting. "Oh, I just know he and Minnie will be hunting me everywhere. Maybe I had better go home, 'stead of to Baxter."
"No, you hadn't," said Tilly, with decision. "Mother's going to Baxter, too, and if you like, minnit you're safely off, I'll go tell your folks."
"You're real kind, I'd be ever so much obliged. And you don't mind your ma travelling alone? ain't that nice for her!" She seemed much cheered by the prospect of company and warmed into confidences.
"I am kinder lonesome, sometimes, that's a fact," said she, "and I kinder wish I lived in a block or a flat like your ma. You see, Minnie teaches in the public school and she's away all day, and she don't like to have me make company of the hired girl, though she's a real nice girl. And there ain't nothing for me to do, and I feel like I wasn't no use any more in the world. I remember that's what our old minister in Ohio said once. He was a real nice old man; and they HAD thought everything of him in the parish; but he got old and his sermons were long; and so they got a young man for assistant; and they made HIM a pastor americus, they called it—some sort of Latin. Folks did say the young feller was stuck up and snubbed the old man; anyhow, he never preached after young Lisbon come; and only made the first prayers. But when the old folks would ask him to preach some of the old sermons they had liked, he only would say, 'No, friends, I know more about my sermons, now.' He didn't live very long, and I always kinder fancied being a AMERICUS killed him. And some days I git to feeling like I was a kinder AMERICUS myself."
"That ain't fair to your children," said Tilly; "you ought to let them know how you feel. Then they'd act different."
"Oh, I don't know, I don't know. You see, miss, they're so sure they know better'n me. Say, Mrs. Louder, be you going to visit relatives in Baxter?"
"No, ma'am, I'm going to take care of a sick lady," said Jane, "it's kinder queer. Her name's Ferguson, her——"
"For the land's sake!" screamed Mrs. Higbee, "why, that's my 'Liza!" She was in a flutter of surprise and delight, and so absorbed was Tilly in getting her and her unwieldy luggage into the car, that Jane's daughter forgot to kiss her mother good-by.
"Put your arm in QUICK," she yelled, as Jane essayed to kiss her hand through the window; "don't EVER put your arm or your head out of a train!"—the train moved away—"I do hope she'll remember what I told her, and not lend anybody money, or come home lugging somebody else's baby!"
With such reflections, and an ugly sensation of loneliness creeping over her, Tilly went to assure Miss Minnie Higbee of her mother's safety. She described her reception to Harry Lossing and Alma, later. "She really seemed kinder mad at me," says Tilly, "seemed to think I was interfering somehow. And she hadn't any business to feel that way, for SHE didn't know how I'd fooled her brother with that bird-cage. I guess the poor old lady daren't call her soul her own. I'd hate to have my mother that way—so 'fraid of me. MY mother shall go where she pleases, and stay where she pleases, and DO as she pleases."
"That makes me think," says Alma, "I heard you were going to move."
"Yes, we are. Mother is working too hard. She knows everybody in the building, and they call on her all the time; and I think the easiest way out is just to move."
Alma and Mr. Lossing exchanged glances. There is an Arabian legend of an angel whose trade it is to decipher the language of faces. This angel must have perceived that Alma's eyes said, with the courage of a second in a duel, "Go on, now is the time!" and that Harry's answered, with masculine pusillanimity, "I don't like to!"
But he spoke. "Very likely your mother does sometimes work too hard," said he. "But don't you think it would be harder for her not to work? Why, she must have been in the building ever since my father bought it; and she's been a janitor and a fire inspector and a doctor and a ministering angel combined! That is why we never raised the rent to you when we improved the building, and raised it on the others. My father told me your mother was the best paying tenant he ever had. And don't you remember how, when I used to come with him, when I was a little boy, she used to take me in her room while he went the rounds? She was always doing good to everybody, the same way. She has a heart as big as the Mississippi, and I assure you, Miss Louder, you won't make her happy, but miserable, if you try to dam up its channel. She has often told me that she loved the building and all the people in it. They all love her. I HOPE, Miss Louder, you'll think of those things before you decide. She is so unselfish that she would go in a minute if she thought it would make you happier." The angel aforesaid, during this speech (which Harry delivered with great energy and feeling), must have had all his wits busy on Tilly's impassive features; but he could read ardent approval, succeeded by indignation, on Alma's countenance, at his first glance. The indignation came when Tilly spoke. She said: "Thank you, Mr. Lossing, you're very kind, I'm sure"—Harry softly kicked the wastebasket under the desk—"but I guess it's best for us to go. I've been thinking about it for six months, and I know it will be a hard struggle for mother to go; but in a little while she will be glad she went. It's only for her sake I am doing it; it ain't an easy or a pleasant thing for me to do, either——" As Tilly stopped her voice was unsteady, and the rare tears shone in her eyes.
"What's best for her is the only question, of course," said Alma, helping Harry off the field.
In a few days Tilly received a long letter from her mother. Mr. Ferguson was doing wonders for the Russians; the family were all very kind to her and "nice folks" and easily pleased. ("Of COURSE they're pleased with mother's cooking; what would they be made of if they weren't!" cried Tilly.) It was wonderful how much help Mrs. Higbee was about the house, and how happy it made her. Mrs. Ferguson had seemed real glad to see her, and that made her happy. And then, maybe it helped a little, her (Jane Louder's) telling Mrs. Ferguson ("accidental like") how Tilly treated her, never trying to boss her, and letting her travel alone. Perhaps, if Mrs. Ferguson kept on improving, they might let her come home next week. And the letter ended:
"I will be so glad if they do, for I want to see you so bad, dear daughter, and I want to see the old home once more before we leave. I guess the house you tell me about will be very nice and convenient. I do thank you, dear daughter, for being so nice and considerate about the Russians. Give my love to Mrs. Carleton and all of them; and if little Bobby Green hasn't missed school since I left, give him a nickel, please; and please give that medical student on the fifth floor—I forget his name—the stockings I mended. They are in the first drawer of the walnut bureau. Good-by, my dear, good daughter.
"MOTHER, JANE M. LOUDER."
When Tilly read the letter she was surrounded by wall-paper and carpet samples. Her eyes grew moist before she laid it down; but she set her mouth more firmly.
"It is an awful short time, but I've just got to hurry and have it over before she comes," said she.
Next week Jane returned. She was on the train, waiting in her seat in the car, when Captain Ferguson handed her Tilly's last letter, which had lain in the post-office for three days.
It was very short:
"DEAR MOTHER: I shall be very glad indeed to see you. I have a surprise which I hope will be pleasant for you; anyhow, I truly have meant it for your happiness.
"Your affectionate daughter,
"M. E. LOUDER."
There must have been, despite her shrewd sense, an obtuse streak in Tilly, else she would never have written that letter. Jane read it twice. The paper rattled in her hands. "Tilly has moved while I was gone," she said; "I never shall live in the block again." She dropped her veil over her face. She sat very quietly in her seat; but the conductor who came for her ticket watched her sharply, she seemed so dazed by his demand and was so long in finding the ticket.
The train rumbled and hissed through darkening cornfields, into scattered yellow lights of low houses, into angles of white light of street-arcs and shop-windows, into the red and blue lights dancing before the engines in the station.
"Mother!" cried Tilly's voice.
Jane let her and Harry Lossing take all her bundles and lift her out of the car. Whether she spoke a word she could not tell. She did rouse a little at the vision of the Lossing carriage glittering at the street corner; but she had not the sense to thank Harry Lossing, who placed her in the carriage and lifted his hat in farewell.
"What's he doing all that for, Tilly?" cried she; "there ain't—there ain't nobody dead—Maria Carleton———" She stared at Tilly wildly.
Tilly was oddly moved, though she tried to speak lightly. "No, no, there ain't nothing wrong, at all. It's because you've done so much for the Russians—and other folks! Now, ma, I'm going to be mysterious. You must shut your eyes and shut your mouth until I tell you. That's a dear ma."
It was vaguely comforting to have Tilly so affectionate. "I'm a wicked, ungrateful woman to be so wretched," thought Jane; "I'll never let Tilly know how I felt."
In a surprisingly short time the carriage stopped. "Now, ma," said Tilly.
A great blaze of light seemed all about Jane Louder. There were the dear familiar windows of the Lossing block.
"Come up-stairs, ma," said Tilly.
She followed like one in a dream; and like one in a dream she was pushed into her own old parlor. The old parlor, but not quite the old parlor; hung with new wall-paper, shining with new paint, soft under her feet with a new carpet, it looked to Jane Louder like fairyland.
"Oh, Tilly," she gasped; "oh, Tilly, ain't you moved?"
"No, nor we ain't going to move, ma—that's the surprise! I took the money I'd saved for moving, for the new carpet and new dishes; and the Lossings they papered and painted. I was SO 'fraid we couldn't get done in time. Alma and all the boarders are coming in pretty soon to welcome you, and they've all chipped in for a little banquet at Mrs. Carleton's—why, mother, you're crying! Mother, you didn't really think I'd move when it made you feel so bad? I know I'm set and stubborn, and I didn't take it well when Mr. Lossing talked to me; but the more I thought it over, the more I seemed to myself like that hateful Minnie. Oh, mother, I ain't, am I? You shall do just exactly as you like all the days of your life!"
AN ASSISTED PROVIDENCE
IT was the Christmas turkeys that should be held responsible. Every year the Lossings give each head of a family in their employ, and each lad helping to support his mother, a turkey at Christmastide. As the business has grown, so has the number of turkeys, until it is now well up in the hundreds, and requires a special contract. Harry, one Christmas, some two years ago, bought the turkeys at so good a bargain that he felt the natural reaction in an impulse to extravagance. In the very flood-tide of the money-spending yearnings, he chanced to pass Deacon Hurst's stables and to see two Saint Bernard puppies, of elephantine size but of the tenderest age, gambolling on the sidewalk before the office. Deacon Hurst, I should explain, is no more a deacon than I am; he is a livery-stable keeper, very honest, a keen and solemn sportsman, and withal of a staid demeanor and a habitual garb of black. Now you know as well as I any reason for his nickname.
Deacon Hurst is fond of the dog as well as of that noble animal the horse (he has three copies of "Black Beauty" in his stable, which would do an incalculable amount of good if they were ever read!); and he usually has half a dozen dogs of his own, with pedigrees long enough for a poor gentlewoman in a New England village. He told Harry that the Saint Bernards were grandsons of Sir Bevidere, the "finest dog of his time in the world, sir;" that they were perfectly marked and very large for their age (which Harry found it easy to believe of the young giants), and that they were "ridiculous, sir, at the figger of two hundred and fifty!" (which Harry did not believe so readily); and, after Harry had admired and studied the dogs for the space of half an hour, he dropped the price, in a kind of spasm of generosity, to two hundred dollars. Harry was tempted to close the bargain on the spot, hot-headed, but he decided to wait and prepare his mother for such a large addition to the stable.
The more he dwelt on the subject the more he longed to buy the dogs.
In fact, a time comes to every healthy man when he wants a dog, just as a time comes when he wants a wife; and Harry's dog was dead. By consequence, Harry was in the state of sensitive affection and desolation to which a promising new object makes the most moving appeal. The departed dog (Bruce by name) had been a Saint Bernard; and Deacon Hurst found one of the puppies to have so much the expression of countenance of the late Bruce that he named him Bruce on the spot—a little before Harry joined the group. Harry did not at first recognize this resemblance, but he grew to see it; and, combined with the dog's affectionate disposition, it softened his heart. By the time he told his mother he was come to quoting Hurst's adjectives as his own.
"Beauties, mother," says Harry, with sparkling eyes; "the markings are perfect—couldn't be better; and their heads are shaped just right! You can't get such watch-dogs in the world! And, for all their enormous strength, gentle as a lamb to women and children! And, mother, one of them looks like Bruce!"
"I suppose they would want to be housedogs," says Mrs. Lossing, a little dubiously, but looking fondly at Harry's handsome face; "you know, somehow, all our dogs, no matter how properly they start in a kennel, end by being so hurt if we keep them there that they come into the house. And they are so large, it is like having a pet lion about."
"These dogs, mother, shall never put a paw in the house."
"Well, I hope just as I get fond of them they will not have the distemper and die!" said Mrs. Lossing; which speech Harry rightly took for the white flag of surrender.
That evening he went to find Hurst and clinch the bargain. As it happened, Hurst was away, driving an especially important political personage to an especially important political council. The day following was a Sunday; but, by this time, Harry was so bent upon obtaining the dogs that he had it in mind to go to Hurst's house for them in the afternoon. When Harry wants anything, from Saint Bernards to purity in politics, he wants it with an irresistible impetus! If he did wrong, his error was linked to its own punishment. But this is anticipating, if not presuming; I prefer to leave Harry Lossing's experience to paint its own moral without pushing. The event that happened next was Harry's pulling out his check-book and beginning to write a check, remarking, with a slight drooping of his eyelids, "Best catch the deacon's generosity on the fly, or it may make a home run!"
Then he let the pen fall on the blotter, for he had remembered the day. After an instant's hesitation he took a couple of hundred-dollar bank-notes out of a drawer (I think they were gifts for his two sisters on Christmas day, for he is a generous brother; and most likely there would be some small domestic joke about engravings to go with them); these he placed in the right-hand pocket of his waistcoat. In his left-hand waistcoat pocket were two five-dollar notes.
Harry was now arrayed for church. He was a figure to please any woman's eye, thought his mother, as she walked beside him, and gloried silently in his six feet of health and muscle and dainty cleanliness. He was in a most amiable mood, what with the Saint Bernards and the season. As they approached the cathedral close, Harry, not for the first time, admired the pure Gothic lines of the cathedral, and the soft blending of grays in the stone with the warmer hues of the brown network of Virginia creeper that still fluttered, a remnant of the crimson adornings of autumn. Beyond were the bare, square outlines of the old college, with a wooden cupola perched on the roof, like a little hat on a fat man, the dull-red tints of the professors' houses, and the withered lawns and bare trees. The turrets and balconies and arched windows of the boys' school displayed a red background for a troop of gray uniforms and blazing buttons; the boys were forming to march to church. Opposite the boys' school stood the modest square brick house that had served the first bishop of the diocese during laborious years. Now it was the dean's residence. Facing it, just as you approached the cathedral, the street curved into a half-circle on either side, and in the centre the granite soldier on his shaft looked over the city that would honor him. Harry saw the tall figure of the dean come out of his gate, the long black skirts of his cassock fluttering under the wind of his big steps. Beside him skipped and ran, to keep step with him, a little man in ill-fitting black, of whose appearance, thus viewed from the rear, one could only observe stooping shoulders and iron-gray hair that curled at the ends.
"He must be the poor missionary who built his church himself," Mrs. Lossing observed; "he is not much of a preacher, the dean said, but he is a great worker and a good pastor."
"So much the better for his people, and the worse for us!" says Harry, cheerfully.
"Naturally. We shall get the poor sermon and they will get the good pastoring!"
Then Harry caught sight of a woman's frock and a profile that he knew, and thought no more of the preacher, whoever he might be.
But he was in the chancel in plain view, after the procession of choir-boys had taken their seats. He was an elderly man with thin cheeks and a large nose. He had one of those great, orotund voices that occasionally roll out of little men, and he read the service with a misjudged effort to fill the building. The building happened to have peculiarly fine acoustic properties; but the unfortunate man roared like him of Bashan. There was nothing of the customary ecclesiastical dignity and monotony about his articulation; indeed, it grew plain and plainer to Harry that he must have "come over" from some franker and more emotional denomination. It seemed quite out of keeping with his homely manner and crumpled surplice that this particular reader should intone. Intone, nevertheless, he did; and as badly as mortal man well could! It was not so much that his voice or his ear went wrong; he would have had a musical voice of the heavy sort, had he not bellowed; neither did his ear betray him; the trouble seemed to be that he could not decide when to begin; now he began too early, and again, with a startled air, he began too late, as if he had forgotten.
"I hope he will not preach," thought Harry, who was absorbed in a rapt contemplation of his sweetheart's back hair. He came back from a tender revery (by way of a little detour into the furniture business and the establishment that a man of his income could afford) to the church and the preacher and his own sins, to find the strange clergyman in the pulpit, plainly frightened, and bawling more loudly than ever under the influence of fear. He preached a sermon of wearisome platitudes; making up for lack of thought by repetition, and shouting himself red in the face to express earnestness. "Fourth-class Methodist effort," thought the listener in the Lossing pew, stroking his fair mustache, "with Episcopal decorations! That man used to be a Methodist minister, and he was brought into the fold by a high-churchman. Poor fellow, the Methodist church polity has a place for such fellows as he; but he is a stray sheep with us. He doesn't half catch on to the motions; yet I'll warrant he is proud of that sermon, and his wife thinks it one of the great efforts of the century." Here Harry took a short rest from the sermon, to contemplate the amazing moral phenomenon: how robust can be a wife's faith in a commonplace husband!
"Now, this man," reflected Harry, growing interested in his own fancies, "this man never can have LIVED! He doesn't know what it is to suffer, he has only vegetated! Doubtless, in a prosaic way, he loves his wife and children; but can a fellow who talks like him have any delicate sympathies or any romance about him? He looks honest; I think he is a right good fellow and works like a soldier; but to be so stupid as he is, ought to HURT!"
Harry felt a whimsical moving of sympathy towards the preacher. He wondered why he continually made gestures with the left arm, never with his right.
"It gives a one-sided effect to his eloquence," said he. But he thought that he understood when an unguarded movement revealed a rent which had been a mended place in the surplice.
"Poor fellow," said Harry. He recalled how, as a boy, he had gone to a fancy-dress ball in Continental smallclothes, so small that he had been strictly cautioned by his mother and sisters not to bow except with the greatest care, lest he rend his magnificence and reveal that it was too tight to allow an inch of underclothing. The stockings, in particular, had been short, and his sister had providently sewed them on to the knee-breeches, and to guard against accidents still further, had pinned as well as sewed, the pins causing Harry much anguish.
"Poor fellow!" said Harry again, "I wonder is HE pinned somewhere? I feel like giving him a lift; he is so prosy it isn't likely anyone else will feel moved to help."
Thus it came about that when the dean announced that the alms this day would be given to the parish of our friend who had just addressed us; and the plate paused before the Lossing pew, Harry slipped his hand into his waistcoat pocket after those two five-dollar notes.
I should explain that Harry being a naturally left-handed boy, who has laboriously taught himself the use of his right hand, it is a family joke that he is like the inhabitants of Nineveh, who could not tell their right hand from their left. But Harry himself has always maintained that he can tell as well as the next man.
Out drifted the flock of choir-boys singing, "For thee, oh dear, dear country," and presently, following them, out drifted the congregation; among the crowd the girl that Harry loved, not so quickly that he had not time for a look and a smile (just tinged with rose); and because she was so sweet, so good, so altogether adorable, and because she had not only smiled but blushed, and, unobserved, he had touched the fur of her jacket, the young man walked on air.
He did not remember the Saint Bernards until after the early Sunday dinner, and during the after-dinner cigar. He was sitting in the library, before some blazing logs, at peace with all the world. To him, thus, came his mother and announced that the dean and "that man who preached this morning, you know," were waiting in the other room.
"They seem excited," said she, "and talk about your munificence. What HAVE you been doing?"
"Appear to make a great deal of fuss over ten dollars," said Harry, lightly, as he sauntered out of the door.
The dean greeted him with something almost like confusion in his cordiality; he introduced his companion as the Rev. Mr. Gilling.
"Mr. Gilling could not feel easy until he had——"
"Made sure about there being no mistake," interrupted Mr. Gilling; "I—the sum was so great———"
A ghastly suspicion shot like a fever-flush over Harry's mind. Could it be possible? There were the two other bills; could he have given one of them? Given that howling dervish a hundred dollars? The thought was too awful!
"It was really not enough for you to trouble yourself," he said; "I dare say you are thanking the wrong man." He felt he must say something.
To his surprise the dean colored, while the other clergyman answered, in all simplicity:
"No, sir, no, sir. I know very well. The only other bill, except dollars, on the plate, the dean here gave, and the warden remembers that you put in two notes—I"—he grew quite pale—"I can't help thinking you maybe intended to put in only ONE!" His voice broke, he tried to control it. "The sum is so VERY large!" quavered he.
"I have given him BOTH bills, two hundred dollars!" thought Harry. He sat down. He was accustomed to read men's faces, and plainly as ever he had read, he could read the signs of distress and conflict on the prosaic, dull features before him.
"I INTENDED to put in two bills," said he. Gilling gave a little gasp—so little, only a quick ear could have caught it; but Harry's ear is quick. He twisted one leg around the other, a further sign of deliverance of mind.
"Well, sir, well, Mr. Lossing," he remarked, clearing his throat, "I cannot express to you properly the—the appreciation I have of your—your PRINCELY gift!" (Harry changed a groan into a cough and tried to smile.) "I would like to ask you, however, HOW you would like it to be divided. There are a number of worthy causes: the furnishing of the church, which is in charge of the Ladies' Aid Society; they are very hard workers, the ladies of our church. And there is the Altar Guild, which has the keeping of the altar in order. They are mostly young girls, and they used to wash my things—I mean the vestments" (blushing)—"but they—they were so young they were not careful, and my wife thought she had best wash the—vestments herself, but she allowed them to laundry the other—ah, things." There was the same discursiveness in his talk as in his sermon, Harry thought; and the same uneasy restlessness of manner. "Then, we give to—various causes, and—and there is, also, my own salary——"
"That is what it was intended for," said Harry. "I hope the two hundred dollars will be of some use to you, and then, indirectly, it will help your church."
Harry surprised a queer glance from the dean's brown eyes; there was both humor and a something else that was solemn enough in it. The dean had believed that there was a mistake.
"All of it! To ME!" cried Gilling.
"All of it. To YOU," Harry replied, dryly. He was conscious of the dean's gaze upon him. "I had a sudden impulse," said he, "and I gave it; that is all."
The tears rose to the clergyman's eyes; he tried to wink them away, then he tried to brush them away with a quick rub of his fingers, then he sprang up and walked to the window, his back to Harry. Directly he was facing the young man again, and speaking.
"You must excuse me, Mr. Lossing; since my sickness a little thing upsets me."
"Mr. Gilling had diphtheria last spring," the dean struck in, "there was an epidemic of diphtheria, in Matin's Junction; Mr. Gilling really saved the place; but his wife and he both contracted the disease, and his wife nearly died."
Harry remembered some story that he had heard at the time—his eyes began to light up as they do when he is moved.
"Why, YOU are the man that made them disinfect their houses," cried he, "and invented a little oven or something to steam mattresses and things. You are the man that nursed them and buried them when the undertaker died. You digged graves with your own hands—I say, I should like to shake hands with you!"
Gilling shook hands, submissively, but looking bewildered.
He cleared his throat. "Would you mind, Mr. Lossing, if I took up your time so far as to tell you what so overcame me?"
"I should be glad——"
"You see, sir, my wife was the daughter of the Episcopal minister—I mean the rector, at the town—well, it wasn't a town, it was two or three towns off in Shelby County where I had my circuit. You may be surprised, sir, to know that I was once a Methodist minister."
"Is it possible?" said Harry.
"Yes, sir. Her father—my wife's, I mean—was about as high a churchman as he could be, and be married. He induced me to join our communion; and very soon after I was married. I hope, Mr. Lossing, you'll come and see us some time, and see my wife. She—are you married?"
"I am not so fortunate."
"A good wife cometh from the Lord, sir, SURE! I thought I appreciated mine, but I guess I didn't. She had two things she wanted, and one I did want myself; but the other—I couldn't seem to bring my mind to it, no—anyhow! We hadn't any children but one that died four years ago, a little baby. Ever since she died my wife has had a longing to have a stained-glass window, with the picture, you know, of Christ blessing little children, put into our little church. In Memoriam, you know. Seems as if, now we've lost the baby, we think all the more of the church. Maybe she was a sort of idol to us. Yes, sir, that's one thing my wife fairly longed for. We've saved our money, what we COULD save; there are so many calls; during the sickness, last winter, the sick needed so many things, and it didn't seem right for us to neglect them just for our baby's window; and—the money went. The other thing was different. My wife has got it into her head I have a fine voice. And she's higher church than I am; so she has always wanted me to INTONE. I told her I'd look like a fool intoning, and there's no mistake about it, I DO! But she couldn't see it that way. It was 'most the only point wherein we differed; and last spring, when she was so sick, and I didn't know but I'd lose her, it was dreadful to me to think how I'd crossed her. So, Mr. Lossing, when she got well I promised her, for a thank-offering, I'd intone. And I have ever since. My people know me so well, and we've been through so much together, that they didn't make any fuss—though they are not high—fact is, I'm not high myself. But they were kind and considerate, and I got on pretty well at home; but when I came to rise up in that great edifice, before that cultured and intellectual audience, so finely dressed, it did seem to me I could NOT do it! I was sorely tempted to break my promise. I was, for a fact." He drew a long breath. "I just had to pray for grace, or I never would have pulled through. I had the sermon my wife likes best with me; but I know it lacks—it lacks—it isn't what you need! I was dreadfully scared and I felt miserable when I got up to preach it—and then to think that you were—but it is the Lord's doing and marvellous in our eyes! I don't know what Maggie will say when I tell her we can get the window. The best she hoped was I'd bring back enough so the church could pay me eighteen dollars they owe on my salary. And now—it's wonderful! Why, Mr. Lossing, I've been thinking so much and wanting so to get that window for her, that, hearing the dean wanted some car-pentering done, I thought maybe, as I'm a fair carpenter—that was my trade once, sir—I'd ask him to let ME do the job. I was aware there is nothing in our rules—I mean our canons—to prevent me, and nobody need know I was the rector of Matin's Junction, because I would come just in my overalls. There is a cheap place where I could lodge, and I could feed myself for almost nothing, living is so cheap. I was praying about that, too. Now, your noble generosity will enable me to donate what they owe on my salary, and get the window too!"
"Take my advice," said Harry, "donate nothing. Say nothing about this gift; I will take care of the warden, and I can answer for the dean."
"Yes," said the dean, "on the whole, Gilling, you would better say nothing, I think; Mr. Lossing is more afraid of a reputation for generosity than of the small-pox."
The older man looked at Harry with glistening eyes of admiration; with what Christian virtues of humility he was endowing that embarrassed young man, it is painful to imagine.
The dean's eyes twinkled above his handkerchief, which hid his mouth, as he rose to make his farewells. He shook hands, warmly. "God bless you, Harry," said he. Gilling, too, wrung Harry's hands; he was seeking some parting word of gratitude, but he could only choke out, "I hope you will get MARRIED some time, Mr. Lossing, then you'll understand."
"Well," said Harry, as the door closed, and he flung out his arms and his chest in a huge sigh, "I do believe it was better than the puppies!"
THE note-book of Mr. Horatio Armorer, president of our street railways, contained a page of interest to some people in our town, on the occasion of his last visit.
He wrote it while the train creaked over the river, and the porter of his Pullman car was brushing all the dust that had been distributed on the passengers' clothing, into the main aisle.
If you had seen him writing it (with a stubby little pencil that he occasionally brightened with the tip of his tongue), you would not have dreamed him to be more profoundly disturbed than he had been in years. Nor would the page itself have much enlightened you.
"See abt road M— D— See L See E & M tea-set See abt L."
Translated into long-hand, this reads: "See about the street-car road, Marston (the superintendent) and Dane (the lawyer). See Lossing, see Esther and Maggie, and remember about tea-set. See about Lossing."
His memoranda written, he slipped the book in his pocket, reflecting cynically, "There's habit! I've no need of writing that. It's not pleasant enough to forget!"
Thirty odd years ago, Horatio Armorer—they called him 'Raish, then—had left the town to seek his fortune in Chicago. It was his daydream to wrestle a hundred thousand dollars out of the world's tight fists, and return to live in pomp on Brady Street hill! He should drive a buggy with two horses, and his wife should keep two girls. Long ago, the hundred thousand limit had been reached and passed, next the million; and still he did not return. His father, the Presbyterian minister, left his parish, or, to be exact, was gently propelled out of his parish by the disaffected; the family had a new home; and the son, struggling to help them out of his scanty resources, went to the new parish and not to the old. He grew rich, he established his brothers and sisters in prosperity, he erected costly monuments and a memorial church to his parents (they were beyond any other gifts from him); he married, and lavished his money on three daughters; but the home of his youth neither saw him nor his money until Margaret Ellis bought a house on Brady Street, far up town, where she could have all the grass that she wanted. Mrs. Ellis was a widow and rich. Not a millionaire like her brother, but the possessor of a handsome property.