She was the best-natured woman in the world, and never guessed how hard her neighbors found it to forgive her for always calling their town of thirty thousand souls, "the country." She said that she had pined for years to live in the country, and have horses, and a Jersey cow and chickens, and "a neat pig." All of which modest cravings she gratified on her little estate; and the gardener was often seen with a scowl and the garden hose, keeping the pig neat.
It was later that Mr. Armorer had bought the street railways, they having had a troublous history and being for sale cheap. Nobody that knows Armorer as a business man would back his sentiment by so much as an old shoe; yet it was sentiment, and not a good bargain, that had enticed the financier. Once engaged, the instincts of a shrewd trader prompted him to turn it into a good bargain, anyhow. His fancy was pleased by a vision of a return to the home of his childhood and his struggling youth, as a greater personage than his hopes had ever dared promise.
But, in the event, there was little enough gratification for his vanity. Not since his wife's death had he been so harassed and anxious; for he came not in order to view his new property, but because his sister had written him her suspicions that Harry Lossing wanted to marry his youngest daughter.
Armorer arrived in the early dawn. Early as it was, a handsome victoria, with horses sleeker of skin and harness heavier and brighter than one is used to meet outside the great cities, had been in waiting for twenty minutes; while for that space of time a pretty girl had paced up and down the platform. The keenest observer among the crowd, airing its meek impatience on the platform, did not detect any sign of anxiety in her behavior. She walked erect, with a step that left a clean-cut footprint in the dust, as girls are trained to walk nowadays. Her tailor-made gown of fine blue serge had not a wrinkle. It was so simple that only a fashionable woman could guess anywhere near the awful sum total which that plain skirt, that short jacket, and that severe waistcoat had once made on a ruled sheet of paper. When she turned her face toward the low, red station-house and the people, it looked gentle, and the least in the world sad. She had one of those clear olive skins that easily grow pale; it was pale to-day. Her black hair was fine as spun silk; the coil under her hat-brim shone as she moved. The fine hair, the soft, transparent skin, and the beautiful marking of her brows were responsible for an air of fragile daintiness in her person, just as her almond-shaped, liquid dark eyes and unsmiling mouth made her look sad. It was a most attractive face, in all its moods; sometimes it was a beautiful face; yet it did not have a single perfect feature except the mouth, which—at least so Harry Lossing told his mother—might have been stolen from the Venus of Milo. Even the mouth, some critics called too small for her nose; but it is as easy to call her nose too large for her mouth.
The instant she turned her back on the bustle of the station, all the lines in her face seemed to waver and the eyes to brighten. Finally, when the train rolled up to the platform and a young-looking elderly man swung himself nimbly off the steps, the color flared up in her cheeks, only to sink as suddenly; like a candle flame in a gust of wind.
Mr. Armorer put his two arms and his umbrella and travelling-bag about the charming shape in blue, at the same time exclaiming, "You're a good girl to come out so early, Essie! How's Aunt Meg?"
"Oh, very well. She would have come too, but she hasn't come back from training."
"Yes, dear, she has a regular trainer, like John L. Sullivan, you know. She drives out to the park with Eliza and me, and walks and runs races, and does gymnastics. She has lost ten pounds."
Armorer wagged his head with a grin: "I dare say. I thought so when you began. Meg is always moaning and groaning because she isn't a sylph! She will make her cook's life a burden for about two months and lose ten pounds, and then she will revel in ice-cream! Last time, she was raving about Dr. Salisbury and living on beefsteak sausages, spending a fortune starving herself."
"She had Dr. Salisbury's pamphlet; but Cardigan told her it was a long way out; so she said she hated to have it do no one any good, and she gave it to Maria, one of the maids, who is always fretting because she is so thin."
"But the thing was to cure fat people!"
"Precisely." Esther laughed a little low laugh, at which her father's eyes shone; "but you see she told Maria to exactly reverse the advice and eat everything that was injurious to stout people, and it would be just right for her."
"I perceive," said Armorer, dryly; "very ingenious and feminine scheme. But who is Cardigan?"
"Shuey Cardigan? He is the trainer. He is a fireman in a furniture shop, now; but he used to be the boxing teacher for some Harvard men; and he was a distinguished pugilist, once. He said to me, modestly, 'I don't suppose you will have seen my name in the Police Gazette, miss?' But he really is a very sober, decent man, notwithstanding."
"Your Aunt Meg always was picking up queer birds! Pray, who introduced this decent pugilist?"
Esther was getting into the carriage; her face was turned from him, but he could see the pink deepen in her ear and the oval of her cheek. She answered that it was a friend of theirs, Mr. Lossing. As if the name had struck them both dumb, neither spoke for a few moments. Armorer bit a sigh in two. "Essie," said he, "I guess it is no use to side-track the subject. You know why I came here, don't you?"
"Aunt Meg told me what she wrote to you."
"I knew she would. She had compunctions of conscience letting him hang round you, until she told me; and then she had awful gripes because she had told, and had to confess to YOU!"
He continued in a different tone: "Essie, I have missed your mother a long while, and nobody knows how that kind of missing hurts; but it seems to me I never missed her as I do to-day. I need her to advise me about you, Essie. It is like this: I don't want to be a stern parent any more than you want to elope on a rope ladder. We have got to look at this thing together, my dear little girl, and try to—to trust each other."
"Don't you think, papa," said Esther, smiling rather tremulously, "that we would better wait, before we have all these solemn preparations, until we know surely whether Mr. Lossing wants me?"
"Don't you know surely?"
"He has never said anything of—of that—kind."
"Oh, he is in love with you fast enough," growled Armorer; but a smile of intense relief brightened his face. "Now, you see, my dear, all I know about this young man, except that he wants my daughter—which you will admit is not likely to prejudice me in his favor—is that he is mayor of this town and has a furniture store——"
"A manufactory; it is a very large business!"
"All right, manufactory, then; all the same he is not a brilliant match for my daughter, not such a husband as your sisters have." Esther's lip quivered and her color rose again; but she did not speak. "Still I will say that I think a fellow who can make his own fortune is better than a man with twice that fortune made for him. My dear, if Lossing has the right stuff in him and he is a real good fellow, I shan't make you go into a decline by objecting; but you see it is a big shock to me, and you must let me get used to it, and let me size the young man up in my own way. There is another thing, Esther; I am going to Europe Thursday, that will give me just a day in Chicago if I go to-morrow, and I wish you would come with me. Will you mind?"
Either she changed her seat or she started at the proposal. But how could she say that she wanted to stay in America with a man who had not said a formal word of love to her? "I can get ready, I think, papa," said Esther.
They drove on. He felt a crawling pain in his heart, for he loved his daughter Esther as he had loved no other child of his; and he knew that he had hurt her. Naturally, he grew the more angry at the impertinent young man who was the cause of the flitting; for the whole European plan had been cooked up since the receipt of Mrs. Ellis's letter. They were on the very street down which he used to walk (for it takes the line of the hills) when he was a poor boy, a struggling, ferociously ambitious young man. He looked at the changed rows of buildings, and other thoughts came uppermost for a moment. "It was here father's church used to stand; it's gone, now," he said. "It was a wood church, painted a kind of gray; mother had a bonnet the same color, and she used to say she matched the church. I bought it with the very first money I earned. Part of it came from weeding, and the weather was warm, and I can feel the way my back would sting and creak, now! I would want to stop, often, but I thought of mother in church with that bonnet, and I kept on! There's the place where Seeds, the grocer that used to trust us, had his store; it was his children had the scarlet fever, and mother went to nurse them. My! but how dismal it was at home! We always got more whippings when mother was away. Your grandfather was a good man, too honest for this world, and he loved every one of his seven children; but he brought us up to fear him and the Lord. We feared him the most, because the Lord couldn't whip us! He never whipped us when we did anything, but waited until next day, that he might not punish in anger; so we had all the night to anticipate it. Did I ever tell you of the time he caught me in a lie? I was lame for a week after it. He never caught me in another lie."
"I think he was cruel; I can't help it, papa," cried Esther, with whom this was an old argument, "still it did good, that time!"
"Oh, no, he wasn't cruel, my dear," said Armorer, with a queer smile that seemed to take only one-half of his face, not answering the last words; "he was too sure of his interpretation of the Scripture, that was all. Why, that man just slaved to educate us children; he'd have gone to the stake rejoicing to have made sure that we should be saved. And of the whole seven only one is a church member. Is that the road?"
They could see a car swinging past, on a parallel street, its bent pole hitching along the trolley-wire.
"Pretty scrubby-looking cars," commented Armorer; "but get our new ordinance through the council, we can save enough to afford some fine new cars. Has Lossing said anything to you about the ordinance and our petition to be allowed to leave off the conductors?"
"He hasn't said anything, but I read about it in the papers. Is it so very important that it should be passed?"
"Saving money is always important, my dear," said Armorer, seriously.
The horses turned again. They were now opposite a fair lawn and a house of wood and stone built after the old colonial pattern, as modern architects see it. Esther pointed, saying:
"Aunt Meg's, papa; isn't it pretty?"
"Very handsome, very fine," said the financier, who knew nothing about architecture, except its exceeding expense. "Esther, I've a notion; if that young man of yours has brains and is fond of you he ought to be able to get my ordinance through his little eight by ten city council. There is our chance to see what stuff he is made of!"
"Oh, he has a great deal of influence," said Esther; "he can do it, unless—unless he thinks the ordinance would be bad for the city, you know."
"Confound the modern way of educating girls!" thought Armorer. "Now, it would have been enough for Esther's mother to know that anything was for my interests; it wouldn't have to help all out-doors, too!"
But instead of enlarging on this point, he went into a sketch of the improvements the road could make with the money saved by the change, and was waxing eloquent when a lady of a pleasant and comely face, and a trig though not slender figure, advanced to greet them.
It was after breakfast (and the scene was the neat pig's pen, where Armorer was displaying his ignorance of swine) that he found his first chance to talk with his sister alone. "Oh, first, Sis," said he, "about your birthday, to-day; I telegraphed to Tiffany's for that silver service, you know, that you liked, so you needn't think there's a mistake when it comes."
"Oh, 'Raish, that gorgeous thing! I must kiss you, if Daniel does see me!"
"Oh, that's all right," said Armorer, hastily, and began to talk of the pig. Suddenly, without looking up, he dropped into the pig-pen the remark: "I'm very much obliged to you for writing me, Meg."
"I don't know whether to feel more like a virtuous sister or a villanous aunt," sighed Mrs. Ellis; "things seemed to be getting on so rapidly that it didn't seem right, Esther visiting me and all, not to give you a hint; still, I am sure that nothing has been said, and it is horrid for Esther, perfectly HORRID, discussing her proposals that haven't been proposed!"
"I don't want them ever to be proposed," said Armorer, gloomily.
"I know you always said you didn't want Esther to marry; but I thought if she fell in love with the right man—we know that marriage is a very happy estate, sometimes, Horatio!" She sighed again. In her case it was only the memory of happiness, for Colonel Ellis had been dead these twelve years; but his widow mourned him still.
"If you marry the right one, maybe," answered Armorer, grudgingly; "but see here, Meg, Esther is different from the other girls; they got married when Jenny was alive to look after them, and I knew the men, and they were both big matches, you know. Then, too, I was so busy making money while the other girls grew up that I hadn't time to get real well acquainted with them. I don't think they ever kissed me, except when I gave them a check. But Esther and I——" he drummed with his fingers on the boards, his thin, keen face wearing a look that would have amazed his business acquaintances—"you remember when her mother died, Meg? Only fifteen, and how she took hold of things! And we have been together ever since, and she makes me think of her grandmother and her mother both. She's never had a wish I knew that I haven't granted—why, d—— it! I've bought my clothes to please her——"
"That's why you are become so well-dressed, Horatio; I wondered how you came to spruce up so!" interrupted Mrs. Ellis.
"It has been so blamed lonesome whenever she went to visit you, but yet I wouldn't say a word because I knew what a good time she had; but if I had known that there was a confounded, long-legged, sniffy young idiot all that while trying to steal my daughter away from me!" In an access of wrath at the idea Armorer wrenched off the picket that he clutched, at which he laughed and stuck his hands in his pockets.
"Why, Meg, the papers and magazines are always howling that women won't marry," cried he, with a fresh sense of grievance; "now, two of my girls have married, that's enough; there was no reason for me to expect any more of them would! There isn't one d—— bit of need for Esther to marry!"
"But if she loves the young fellow and he loves her, won't you let them be happy?"
"He won't make her happy."
"He is a very good fellow, truly and really, 'Raish. And he comes of a good family——"
"I don't care for his family; and as to his being moral and all that, I know several young fellows that could skin him alive in a bargain that are moral as you please. I have been a moral man, myself. But the trouble with this Lossing (I told Esther I didn't know anything about him, but I do), the trouble with him is that he is chock full of all kinds of principles! Just as father was. Don't you remember how he lost parish after parish because he couldn't smooth over the big men in them? Lossing is every bit as pig-headed. I am not going to have my daughter lead the kind of life my mother did. I want a son-in-law who ain't going to think himself so much better than I am, and be rowing me for my way of doing business. If Esther MUST marry I'd like her to marry a man with a head on him that I can take into business, and who will be willing to live with the old man. This Lossing has got his notions of making a sort of Highland chief affair of the labor question, and we should get along about as well as the Kilkenny cats!"
Mrs. Ellis knew more than Esther about Armorer's business methods, having the advantage of her husband's point of view; and Colonel Ellis had kept the army standard of honor as well as the army ignorance of business. To counterbalance, she knew more than anyone alive what a good son and brother Horatio had always been. But she could not restrain a smile at the picture of the partnership.
"Precisely, you see yourself," said Armorer. "Meg"—hesitating—"you don't suppose it would be any use to offer Esther a cool hundred thousand to promise to bounce this young fellow?"
"Horatio, NO!" cried Mrs. Ellis, tossing her pretty gray head indignantly; "you'd insult her!"
"Take it the same way, eh? Well, perhaps; Essie has high-toned notions. That's all right, it is the thing for women. Mother had them too. Look here, Meg, I'll tell you, I want to see if this young fellow has ANY sense! We have an ordinance that we want passed. If he will get his council to pass it, that will show he can put his grand theories into his pockets sometimes; and I will give him a show with Esther. If he doesn't care enough for my girl to oblige her father, even if he doesn't please a lot of carping roosters that want the earth for their town and would like a street railway to be run to accommodate them and lose money for the stockholders, well, then, you can't blame me if I don't want him! Now, will you do one thing for me, Meg, to help me out? I don't want Lossing to persuade Esther to commit herself; you know how, when she was a little mite, if Esther gave her word she kept it. I want you to promise me you won't let Esther be alone one second with young Lossing. She is going to-morrow, but there's your whist-party to-night; I suppose he's coming? And I want you to promise you won't let him have our address. If he treats me square, he won't need to ask you for it. Well?"
He buttoned up his coat and folded his arms, waiting.
Mrs. Ellis's sympathy had gone out to the young people as naturally as water runs down hill; for she is of a romantic temperament, though she doesn't dare to be weighed. But she remembered the silver service, the coffee-pot, the tea-pot, the tray for spoons, the creamer, the hot-water kettle, the sugar-bowl, all on a rich salver, splendid, dazzling; what rank ingratitude it would be to oppose her generous brother! Rather sadly she answered, but she did answer: "I'll do that much for you, 'Raish, but I feel we're risking Esther's happiness, and I can only keep the letter of my promise."
"That's all I ask, my dear," said Armorer, taking out a little shabby note-book from his breast-pocket, and scratching out a line. The line effaced read:
"See E & M tea-set."
"The silver service was a good muzzle," he thought. He went away for an interview with the corporation lawyer and the superintendent of the road, leaving Mrs. Ellis in a distraction of conscience that made her the wonder of her servants that morning, during all the preparations for the whist-party. She might have felt more remorseful had she guessed her brother's real plan. He knew enough of Lossing to be assured that he would not yield about the ordinance, which he firmly believed to be a dangerous one for the city. He expected, he counted on the mayor's refusing his proffers. He hoped that Esther would feel the sympathy which women give, without question generally, to the business plans of those near and dear to them, taking it for granted that the plans are right because they will advantage those so near and dear. That was the beautiful and proper way that Jenny had always reasoned; why should Jenny's daughter do otherwise? When Harry Lossing should oppose her father and refuse to please him and to win her, mustn't any high-spirited woman feel hurt? Certainly she must; and he would take care to whisk her off to Europe before the young man had a chance to make his peace! "Yes, sir," says Armorer, to his only confidant, "you never were a domestic conspirator before, Horatio, but you have got it down fine! You would do for Gaboriau"—Gaboriau's novels being the only fiction that ever Armorer read. Nevertheless, his conscience pricked him almost as sharply as his sister's pricked her. Consciences are queer things; like certain crustaceans, they grow shells in spots; and, proof against moral artillery in one part, they may be soft as a baby's cheek in another. Armorer's conscience had two sides, business and domestic; people abused him for a business buccaneer, at the same time his private life was pure, and he was a most tender husband and father. He had never deceived Esther before in her life. Once he had ridden all night in a freight-car to keep a promise that he had made the child. It hurt him to be hoodwinking her now. But he was too angry and too frightened to cry back.
The interview with the lawyer did not take any long time, but he spent two hours with the superintendent of the road, who pronounced him "a little nice fellow with no airs about him. Asked a power of questions about Harry Lossing; guess there is something in that story about Lossing going to marry his daughter!"
Marston drove him to Lossing's office and left him there.
He was on the ground, and Marston lifting the whip to touch the horse, when he asked: "Say, before you go—is there any danger in leaving off the conductors?"
Marston was raised on mules, and he could not overcome a vehement distrust of electricity. "Well," said he, "I guess you want the cold facts. The children are almighty thick down on Third Street, and children are always trying to see how near they can come to being killed, you know, sir; and then, the old women like to come and stand on the track and ask questions of the motorneer on the other track, so that the car coming down has a chance to catch 'em. The two together keep the conductors on the jump!"
"Is that so?" said Armorer, musingly; "well, I guess you'd better close with that insurance man and get the papers made out before we run the new way."
"If we ever do run!" muttered the superintendent to himself as he drove away.
Armorer ran his sharp eye over the buildings of the Lossing Art Furniture Manufacturing Company, from the ugly square brick box that was the nucleus—the egg, so to speak—from which the great concern had been hatched, to the handsome new structures with their great arched windows and red mortar. "Pretty property, very pretty property," thought Armorer; "wonder if that story Marston tells is true!" The story was to the effect that a few weeks before his last sickness the older Lossing had taken his son to look at the buildings, and said, "Harry, this will all be yours before long. It is a comfort to me to think that every workman I have is the better, not the worse, off for my owning it; there's no blood or dirt on my money; and I leave it to you to keep it clean and to take care of the men as well as the business."
"Now, wasn't he a d—— fool!" said Armorer, cheerfully, taking out his note-book to mark.
"See abt road M—D—"
And he went in. Harry greeted him with exceeding cordiality and a fine blush. Armorer explained that he had come to speak to him about the proposed street-car ordinances; he (Armorer) always liked to deal with principals and without formality; now, couldn't they come, representing the city and the company, to some satisfactory compromise? Thereupon he plunged into the statistics of the earnings and expenses of the road (with the aid of his note-book), and made the absolute necessity of retrenchment plain. Meanwhile, as he talked he studied the attentive listener before him; and Harry, on his part, made quite as good use of his eyes. Armorer saw a tall, athletic, fair young man, very carefully, almost foppishly dressed, with bright, steady blue eyes and a firm chin, but a smile under his mustache like a child's; it was so sunny and so quick. Harry saw a neat little figure in a perfectly fitting gray check travelling suit, with a rose in the buttonhole of the coat lapel. Armorer wore no jewellery except a gold ring on the little finger of his right hand, from which he had taken the glove the better to write. Harry knew that it was his dead wife's wedding-ring; and noticed it with a little moving of the heart. The face that he saw was pale but not sickly, delicate and keen. A silky brown mustache shot with gray and a Van-dyke beard hid either the strength or the weakness of mouth and chin. He looked at Harry with almond-shaped, pensive dark eyes, so like the eyes that had shone on Harry's waking and sleeping dreams for months that the young fellow felt his heart rise again. Armorer ended by asking Harry (in his most winning manner) to help him pull the ordinance out of the fire. "It would be," he said, impressively, "a favor he should not forget!"
"And you must know, Mr. Armorer," said Harry, in a dismal tone at which the president chuckled within, "that there is no man whose favor I would do so much to win!"
"Well, here's your chance!" said Armorer.
Harry swung round in his chair, his clinched fists on his knee. He was frowning with eagerness, and his eyes were like blue steel.
"See here, Mr. Armorer," said he, "I am frank with you. I want to please you, because I want to ask you to let me marry your daughter. But I CAN'T please you, because I am mayor of this town, and I don't dare to let you dismiss the conductors. I don't DARE, that's the point. We have had four children killed on this road since electricity was put in."
"We have had forty killed on one street railway I know; what of it? Do you want to give up electricity because it kills children?"
"No, but look here! the conductors lessen the risk. A lady I know, only yesterday, had a little boy going from the kindergarten home, nice little fellow only five years old——"
"She ought to have sent a nurse with a child five years old, a baby!" cried Armorer, warmly.
"That lady," answered Harry, quietly, "goes without any servant at all in order to keep her two children at the kindergarten; and the boy's elder sister was ill at home. The boy got on the car, and when he got off at the crossing above his house, he started to run across; the other train-car was coming, the little fellow didn't notice, and ran to cross; he stumbled and fell right in the path of the coming car!"
"Where was the conductor? He didn't seem much good!"
"They had left off the conductor on that line."
"Well, did they run over the boy? Why haven't I been informed of the accident?"
"There was no accident. A man on the front platform saw the boy fall, made a flying leap off the moving car, fell, but scrambled up and pulled the boy off the track. It was sickening; I thought we were both gone!"
"Oh, you were the man?"
"I was the man; and don't you see, Mr. Armorer, why I feel strongly on the subject? If the conductor had been on, there wouldn't have been any occasion for any accident."
"Well, sir, you may be assured that we will take precautions against any such accidents. It is more for our interest than anyone's to guard against them. And I have explained to you the necessity of cutting down our expense list."
"That is just it, you think you have to risk our lives to cut down expenses; but we get all the risk and none of the benefits. I can't see my way clear to helping you, sir; I wish I could."
"Then there is nothing more to say, Mr. Lossing," said Armorer, coldly. "I'm sorry a mere sentiment that has no real foundation should stand in the way of our arranging a deal that would be for the advantage of both the city and our road." He rose.
Harry rose also, but lifted his hand to arrest the financier. "Pardon me, there is something else; I wouldn't mention it, but I hear you are going to leave to-morrow and go abroad with—Miss Armorer. I am conscious I haven't introduced myself very favorably, by refusing you a favor when I want to ask the greatest one possible; but I hope, sir, you will not think the less of a man because he is not willing to sacrifice the interests of the people who trust him, to please ANYONE. I—I hope you will not object to my asking Miss Armorer to marry me," concluded Harry, very hot and shaky, and forgetting the beginning of his sentences before he came to the end.
"Does my daughter love you, do I understand, Mr. Lossing?"
"I don't know, sir. I wish I did."
"Well, Mr. Lossing," said Armorer, wishing that something in the young man's confusion would not remind him of the awful moment when he asked old Forrester for his Jenny, "I am afraid I can do nothing for you. If you have too nice a conscience to oblige me, I am afraid it will be too nice to let you get on in the world. Good-morning."
"Stop a minute," said Harry; "if it is only my ability to get on in the world that is the trouble, I think———"
"It is your love for my daughter," said Armorer; "if you don't love her enough to give up a sentimental notion for her, to win her, I don't see but you must lose her, I bid you good-morning, sir."
"Not quite yet, sir"—Harry jumped before the door; "you give me the alternative of being what I call dishonorable or losing the woman I love!" He pronounced the last word with a little effort and his lips closed sharply as his teeth shut under them. "Well, I decline the alternative. I shall try to do my duty and get the wife I want, BOTH."
"Well, you give me fair warning, don't you?" said Armorer.
Harry held out his hand, saying, "I am sorry that I detained you. I didn't mean to be rude." There was something boyish and simple about the action and the tone, and Armorer laughed. As Harry attended him through the outer office to the door, he complimented the shops.
"Miss Armorer and Mrs. Ellis have promised to give me the pleasure of showing them to them this afternoon," said Harry; "can't I show them and part of our city to you, also? It has changed a good deal since you left it."
The remark threw Armorer off his balance; for a rejected suitor this young man certainly kept an even mind. But he had all the helplessness of the average American with regard to his daughter's amusements. The humor in the situation took him; and it cannot be denied that he began to have a vivid curiosity about Harry. In less time than it takes to read it, his mind had swung round the circle of these various points of view, and he had blandly accepted Harry's invitation. But he mopped a warm and furrowed brow, outside, and drew a prodigious sigh as he opened the note-book in his hand and crossed out, "See L." "That young fellow ain't all conscience," said he, "not by a long shot."
He found Mrs. Ellis very apologetic about the Lossing engagement. It was made through the telephone; Esther had been anxious to have her father meet Lossing; Lossing was to drive them there, and later show Mr. Armorer the town.
"Mr. Lossing is a very clever young man, very," said Armorer, gravely, as he went out to smoke his cigar after luncheon. He wished he had stayed, however, when he returned to find that a visitor had called, and that this visitor was the mother of the little boy that Harry Lossing had saved from the car. The two women gave him the accident in full, and were lavish of harrowing detail, including the mother's feelings. "So you see, 'Raish," urged Mrs. Ellis, timidly, "there is some reason for opposition to the ordinance."
Esther's cheeks were red and her eyes shone, but she had not spoken. Her father put his arm around her waist and kissed her hair. "And what did you say, Essie," he asked, gently, "to all the criticisms?"
"I told her I thought you would find some way to protect the children even if the conductors were taken off; you didn't enjoy the slaughter of children any more than anyone else."
"I guess we can fix it. Here is your young man."
Harry drove a pair of spirited horses. He drove well, and looked both handsome and happy.
"Did you know that lady—the mother of the boy that wasn't run over—was coming to see my sister?" said Armorer, on the way.
"I did," said Harry, "I sent her; I thought she could explain the reason why I shall have to oppose the bill, better than I."
Armorer made no reply.
At the shops he kept his eye on the young man. Harry seemed to know most of his workmen, and had a nod or a word for all the older men. He stopped several moments to talk with one old German who complained of everything, but looked after Harry with a smile, nodding his head. "That man, Lieders, is our best workman; you can't get any better work in the country," said he. "I want you to see an armoire that he has carved, it is up in our exhibition room."
Armorer said, "You seem to get on very well with your working people, Mr. Lossing."
"I think we generally get on well with them, and they do well themselves, in these Western towns. For one thing, we haven't much organization to fight, and for another thing, the individual workman has a better chance to rise. That man Lieders, whom you saw, is worth a good many thousand dollars; my father invested his savings for him."
"You are one of the philanthropists, aren't you, Mr. Lossing, who are trying to elevate the laboring classes?"
"Not a bit of it, sir. I shall never try to elevate the laboring classes; it is too big a contract. But I try as hard as I know how to have every man who has worked for Harry Lossing the better for it. I don't concern myself with any other laboring men."
Just then a murmur of exclamations came from Mrs. Ellis and Esther, whom the superintendent was piloting through the shops. "Oh, no, it is too heavy; oh, don't do it, Mr. Cardigan!" "Oh, we can see it perfectly well from here! PLEASE don't, you will break yourself somewhere!" Mrs. Ellis shrieked this; but the shrieks turned to a murmur of admiration as a huge carved sideboard came bobbing and wobbling, like an intoxicated piece of furniture in a haunted house, toward the two gentlewomen. Immediately, a short but powerfully built man, whose red face beamed above his dusty shoulders like a full moon with a mustache, emerged, and waved his hand at the sideboard.
"I could tackle the two of them, begging your pardon, ladies."
"That's Cardigan," explained Harry, "Miss Armorer may have told you about him. Oh, SHUEY!"
Cardigan approached and was presented. He brought both his heels together and bowed solemnly, bending his head at the same time.
"Pleased to meet you, sir," said Shuey. Then he assumed an attitude of military attention.
"Take us up in the elevator, will you, Shuey?" said Harry. "Step in, Mr. Armorer, please, we will go and see the reproductions of the antique; we have a room upstairs."
Mr. Armorer stepped in, Shuey following; and then, before Harry could enter it, the elevator shot upward and—stuck!
"What's the matter?" cried Armorer.
Shuey was tugging at the wire rope. He called, in tones that seemed to come from a panting chest: "Take a pull at it yourself, sir! Can you move it?"
Armorer grasped the rope viciously; Shuey was on the seat pulling from above. "We're stuck, sir, fast!"
"Can't you get down either?"
"Divil a bit, saving your presence, sir. Do ye think like the water-works could be busted?"
"Can't you make somebody hear?" panted Armorer.
"Well, you see there's a deal of noise of the machinery," said Shuey, scratching his chin with a thoughtful air, "and they expect we've gone up!"
"Best try, anyhow. This infernal machine may take a notion to drop!" said Armorer.
"And that's true, too," acquiesced Shuey. Forthwith he did lift up his voice in a loud wailing: "OH—H, Jimmy! OH—H, Jimmy Ryan!"
Jimmy might have been in Chicago for any response he made; though Armorer shouted with Shuey; and at every pause the whir of the machinery mocked the shouters. Indescribable moans and gurgles, with a continuous malignant hiss, floated up to them from the rebel steam below, as from a volcano considering eruption. "They'll be bound to need the elevator some time, if they don't need US, and that's one comfort!" said Shuey, philosophically.
"Don't you think if we pulled on her we could get her up to the next floor, by degrees? Now then!"
Armorer gave a dash and Shuey let out his muscles in a giant tug. The elevator responded by an astonishing leap that carried them past three or four floors!
"Stop her! stop her!" bawled Shuey; but in spite of Armorer's pulling himself purple in the face, the elevator did not stop until it bumped with a crash against the joists of the roof.
"Well, do you suppose we're stuck HERE?" growled Armorer.
"Well, sir, I'll try. Say, don't be exerting yourself violent. It strikes me she's for all the world like the wimmen,—in exthremes, sir, in exthremes! And it wouldn't be noways so pleasant to go riproaring that gait down cellar! Slow and easy, sir, let me manage her. Hi! she's working."
In fact, by slow degrees and much puffing, Shuey got the erratic box to the next floor, where, disregarding Shuey's protestations that he could "make her mind," Mr. Armorer got out, and they left the elevator to its fate. It was a long way, through many rooms, downstairs. Shuey would have beguiled the way by describing the rooms, but Armorer was in a raging hurry and urged his guide over the ground. Once they were delayed by a bundle of stuff in front of a door; and after Shuey had laboriously rolled the great roll away, he made a misstep and tumbled over, rolling it back, to a tittering accompaniment from the sewing-girls in the room. But he picked himself up in perfect good temper and kicked the roll ten yards. "Girls is silly things," said the philosopher Shuey, "but being born that way it ain't to be expected otherwise!"
He had the friendly freedom of his class in the West. He praised Mrs. Ellis's gymnastics, and urged Armorer to stay over a morning train and see a "real pretty boxing match" between Mr. Lossing and himself.
"Oh, he boxes too, does he?" said Armorer.
"And why on earth would he groan-like?" wondered Shuey to himself. "He does that, sir," he continued aloud; "didn't Mrs. Ellis ever tell you about the time at the circus? She was there herself, with three children she borrowed and an unreasonable gyurl, with a terrible big screech in her and no sense. Yes, sir, Mr. Lossing he is mighty cliver with his hands! There come a yell of 'Lion loose! lion loose!' at that circus, just as the folks was all crowding out at the end of it, and them that had gone into the menagerie tent came a-tumbling and howling back, and them that was in the circus tent waiting for the concert (which never ain't worth waiting for, between you and me!) was a-scrambling off them seats, making a noise like thunder; and all fighting and pushing and bellowing to get out! I was there with my wife and making for the seats that the fools quit, so's to get under and crawl out under the canvas, when I see Mrs. Ellis holding two of the children, and that fool girl let the other go and I grabbed it. 'Oh, save the baby! save one, anyhow,' cries my wife—the woman is a tinder-hearted crechure! And just then I seen an old lady tumble over on the benches, with her gray hair stringing out of her black bonnet. The crowd was WILD, hitting and screaming and not caring for anything, and I see a big jack of a man come plunging down right spang on that old lady! His foot was right in the air over her face! Lord, it turned me sick. I yelled. But that minnit I seen an arm shoot out and that fellow shot off as slick! it was Mr. Lossing. He parted that crowd, hitting right and left, and he got up to us and hauled a child from Mrs. Ellis and put it on the seats, all the while shouting: 'Keep your seats! it's all right! it's all over! stand back!' I turned and floored a feller that was too pressing, and hollered it was all right too. And some more people hollered too. You see, there is just a minnit at such times when it is a toss up whether folks will quiet down and begin to laugh, or get scared into wild beasts and crush and kill each other. And Mr. Lossing he caught the minnit! The circus folks came up and the police, and it was all over. WELL, just look here, sir; there's our folks coming out of the elevator!"
They were just landing; and Mrs. Ellis wanted to know where he had gone.
"We run away from ye, shure," said Shuey, grinning; and he related the adventure. Armorer fell back with Mrs. Ellis. "Did you stay with Esther every minute?" said he. Mrs. Ellis nodded. She opened her lips to speak, then closed them and walked ahead to Harry Lossing. Armorer looked—suspicion of a dozen kinds gnawing him and insinuating that the three all seemed agitated—from Harry to Esther, and then to Shuey. But he kept his thoughts to himself and was very agreeable the remainder of the afternoon.
He heard Harry tell Mrs. Ellis that the city council would meet that evening; before, however, Armorer could feel exultant he added, "but may I come late?"
"He is certainly the coolest beggar," Armorer snarled, "but he is sharp as a nigger's razor, confound him!"
Naturally this remark was a confidential one to himself.
He thought it more times than one during the evening, and by consequence played trumps with equal disregard of the laws of the noble game of whist and his partner's feelings. He found a few, a very few, elderly people who remembered his parent, and they will never believe ill of Horatio Armorer, who talked so simply and with so much feeling of old times, and who is going to give a memorial window in the new Presbyterian church. He was beginning to think with some interest of supper, the usual dinner of the family having been sacrificed to the demands of state; then he saw Harry Lossing. The young mayor's blond head was bowing before his sister's black velvet. He caught Armorer's eye and followed him out to the lawn and the shadows and the gay lanterns. He looked animated. Evening dress was becoming to him. "One of my daughters married a prince, but I am hanged if he looked it like this fellow," thought Armorer; "but then he was only an Italian. I suppose the council did not pass the ordinance? your committee reported against it?" he said quite amicably to Harry.
"I wish you could understand how much pain it has given me to oppose you, Mr. Armorer," said Harry, blushing.
"I don't doubt it, under the circumstances, Mr. Lossing." Armorer spoke with suave politeness, but there was a cynical gleam in his eye.
"But Esther understands," says Harry.
"Esther!" repeats Armorer, with an indescribable intonation. "You spoke to her this afternoon? For a man with such high-toned ideas as you carry, I think you took a pretty mean advantage of your guests!"
"You will remember I gave you fair warning, Mr. Armorer."
"It was while I was in the elevator, of course. I guessed it was a put-up job; how did you manage it?"
Harry smiled outright; he is one who cannot keep either his dog or his joke tied up. "It was Shuey did it," said he; "he pulled the opposite way from you, and he has tremendous strength; but he says you were a handful for him."
"You seem to have taken the town into your confidence," said Armorer, bitterly, though he had a sneaking inclination to laugh himself; "do you need all your workmen to help you court your girl?"
"I'd take the whole United States into my confidence rather than lose her, sir," answered Harry, steadily.
Armorer turned on his heel abruptly; it was to conceal a smile. "How about my sister? did you propose before her? But I don't suppose a little thing like that would stop you."
"I had to speak; Miss Armorer goes away tomorrow. Mrs. Ellis was kind enough to put her fingers in her ears and turn her back."
"And what did my daughter say?"
"I asked her only to give me the chance to show her how I loved her, and she has. God bless her! I don't pretend I'm worthy of her, Mr. Armorer, but I have lived a decent life, and I'll try hard to live a better one for her trust in me."
"I'm glad there is one thing on which we are agreed," jeered Armorer, "but you are more modest than you were this noon. I think it was considerably like bragging, sending that woman to tell of your heroic feats!"
"Oh, I can brag when it is necessary," said Harry, serenely; "what would the West be but for bragging?"
"And what do you intend to do if I take your girl to Europe?"
"Europe is not very far," said Harry.
Armorer was a quick thinker, but he had never thought more quickly in his life. This young fellow had beaten him. There was no doubt of it. He might have principles, but he declined to let his principles hamper him. There was something about Harry's waving aside defeat so lightly, and so swiftly snatching at every chance to forward his will, that accorded with Armorer's own temperament.
"Tell me, Mr. Armorer," said Harry, suddenly; "in my place wouldn't you have done the same thing?"
Armorer no longer checked his sense of humor. "No, Mr. Lossing," he answered, sedately, "I should have respected the old gentleman's wishes and voted any way he pleased." He held out his hand. "I guess Esther thinks you are the coming young man of the century; and to be honest, I like you a great deal better than I expected to this morning. I'm not cut out for a cruel father, Mr. Lossing; for one thing, I haven't the time for it; for another thing, I can't bear to have my little girl cry. I guess I shall have to go to Europe without Esther. Shall we go in to the ladies now?"
Harry wrung the president's hand, crying that he should never regret his kindness.
"See that Esther never regrets it, that will be better," said Armorer, with a touch of real and deep feeling. Then, as Harry sprang up the steps like a boy, he took out the note-book, and smiling a smile in which many emotions were blended, he ran a black line through
"See abt L."