A high fence interposed between the canal and the street; the mill lawn which extended between the canal and the shimmering brick walls was also inclosed. Signs posted on the fence warned trespassers not to venture.
A bridge carried the street across the canal, and Farr stood there for a time and watched the swirl of the water below. Then he sauntered on and surveyed the expanse of mill lawn with appraising and envious gaze.
The young man climbed the canal fence, exhibiting more of his cool contempt for authority by helping himself over the sharp spikes with the aid of a "No Trespassing" sign. The sickly odor of raw cotton came floating to his nostrils from the open windows. He strolled to the head of a transverse canal which sucked water from the main stream. A sprawling tree shaded a foot-worn plank where an old man, with bent shoulders and a withered face, trudged to and fro, clawing down into the black waters with a huge rake. He was the rack-tender—it was his task to keep the ribs of the guarding rack clear of the refuse that came swirling down with the water, for flotsam, if allowed to lodge, might filch some of the jealously guarded power away from the mighty turbines which growled and grunted in the depths of the wheel-pits. With rake in one hand and a long, barbed pole in the other the old man bent over the bubbling torrent that the rack's teeth sucked hissingly between them. Bits of wood, soggy paper, an old umbrella, all manner of stuff which had been tossed into the canal by lazy folks up-stream, he raked and pulled up and piled at the end of his foot-bridge.
"Hy, yi, old Pickaroon!" came a child's shrill voice from a mill window. "There's a tramp under your tree."
The old man raised his head from his work at the rack.
"You must not come on dis place," he cried, with a strong French-Canadian accent.
"Who says so?" inquired the stranger, putting his back against the tree and stretching out his legs.
"And I—my worthy alien—I am Walker Farr from Nowhere. Now that we have been properly introduced I will sit here and rest. I am here because I love the soothing sound of babbling waters on a hot day. Go about your work. I'll watch you. I love surprises. Who knows what next you'll draw forth from the depths of fate?
"I can have you arrest!" cried the old man.
The uninvited guest took off his broad-brimmed hat, laid it across his knees, and ran his hand through his shock of brown hair; it curled damply over his forehead and, behind, reached down nearly to his coat-collar, hiding his tanned neck. In some men that length of hair might have seemed affectation. It gave this man, as he sat there uncovered, that touch of the unusual which separates the person of strong individuality from the mere mob. Then he smiled on old Etienne—such a warm, radiant, compelling, disarming sort of smile that the rack-tender turned to his work again, muttering. His mouth twitched and the crinkles in his withered face deepened.
Walker Farr found a comfortable indentation in the tree-trunk and settled his head there.
"How much do you get a week for doing that, Etienne?" he inquired, with cool assurance.
The old man glance sideways sharply, but the smile won him.
"After supporting your family, what do you do with the rest of the money these generous mill-owners allow you?"
"I never was marry."
The young man looked up at the mill windows where childish heads were bobbing to and fro.
"That was poor judgment, Etienne. You might have married and have a dozen children now, working hard for you in the mill. Just like those children yonder."
The old man came to the end of his foot-bridge and flung down his rake and his pike-pole.
The sudden emotions of his Gallic forebears swept through him. His features worked, his voice was high with passion.
"Ba gar, I don't sleep the night because I think about dem poor childs. Dem little white face, dem arm, dem leg—all dry up—not so big as chicken leg. And all outdoor free to odder childs—not to them childs up dere." He shook his fists at the mill windows. And some child who saw the motion, getting a hasty peep from a widow, squealed, "Hi yi, old Pickaroon!"
"It doesn't pay to get too excited over the sorrows of the world, my friend," drawled the young man under the tree. "It doesn't do any good; and then somebody calls you names. I was something like you once. But I've changed my philosophy. I have hypnotized my altruism. Now I'm perfectly happy."
Etienne stared without understanding these big words. But he had often told himself that he never expected to understand Yankee speech very well. He worked alone; he lived alone in his garret in the tenement block; he talked but little with any person. But this young man with the wonderful smile seemed to inspire him to talk—even to the extent of revealing his secrets.
He lowered his voice. "Thirty year I have work here. I live way up in the little room. Bread I eat with lard on it. It costs little. Of the six dollaire I save much. Ah, oui! Hist! Not for me I save it. Ah, non! To the priest I give it. To the good priest. And the poor childs what are sick—he send 'em to the farm—to have some outdoors. But I don't sleep the night because I think the dollaire come so slow—and so many poor childs are sick."
He picked up his rake and pike and went back to his labor.
The man under the tree did not lose his smile.
"Yonder is a brand of altruism that cannot be hypnotized or modified like Knight Chick's, I fear," he muttered. "You'd have to hit it on the head—kill it with sticks! And my definition of philanthropy has always been, 'giving away something you don't want in order to get yourself advertised.' Etienne is interesting. He is the only philanthropist I have even found who will eat lard instead of butter so as to save more for his philanthropy." Now his smile grew hard. "Don't dare to open your eyes, Altruism," he commanded. "I saw the lids quiver a minute ago while that old man was talking, but remember you're hypnotized."
He saw the rack-tender lay down his pike so as to give both hands to his big rake.
He was pulling at something heavier than the ordinary flotsam—something far below the surface of the water. At last it broke through the black surface of the turbid flood. To Walker Farr, glancing carelessly, it seemed like a bedraggled bundle of rags with something white at the end.
"You come help, m'sieu'," called old Etienne. "It is a dead woman."
Together they pulled the rake's dread burden slowly up the bars of the rack.
"You seem pretty cool about this," gasped the young man.
"It is no new thing. Many drown themselves—they drown in the canal so they will be found. Women and girls, they drown themselves. So! Help me carry her."
Farr gazed down on her after she had been laid on the canal bank. She was young, but thin and work-worn.
"Weaver," commented old Etienne, laying back on her breast one of the hands he had lifted. "There's the marks on the fingers where she have tie so many knots so quick."
There was a key on her breast; it was secured by a cord that passed out of sight between the buttons on her waist. Farr stooped and pulled on the key. A folded paper came with the key; the other end of the cord was tied around the paper.
"You must not—it is for the coroner," protested Etienne. "I know the law—I have drag up so many."
"My besetting sin is curiosity," declared the young man, his calm impertinence unruffled. He pulled the wet paper from the noose of the cord. "We'll read this together."
"I cannot read," confessed the rack-tender. "You shall read it to me." His little black eyes gleamed now with curiosity of his own. "I shall be glad to hear. The coroner he never read to me."
The water had spread the ink and spotted the paper, but Farr was able to decipher the missive. He read aloud:
"'My head has grown bad since my husband died. It is grief, the awful heat, the work at the looms. They said if I would give my little girl away she could go to the country and grow well. But I could not give her up for ever. I could not earn the money to send her to board. I could not earn the money except to buy us bread here in the tenement block. And my bad head has been telling me it's best to kill myself and take her with me. So I kill myself before my head grows so bad that I might take away my little girl's life. It belongs to her and I hope she may be happy. Will somebody take her and give her happiness? It is wicked to kill myself, but my head is so bad I cannot think out the right way to do. This is the key to the room in Block Ten.
"'MRS. ELISIANE SIROIS.
"'Her name is Rosemarie.'"
Walker Farr finished reading and stared into the glittering eyes of the old man.
Etienne Provancher swore roundly and furiously—the strange, hard oaths that his ancestors had brought from the Normandy of the seventeenth century.
"So you shall see—it is as I have say." He shook his fists again at the mill. Its open windows vomited the staccato chatterings of the myriad looms. "It chews up the poor people. Hear its dam' teeth go chank—chank—chank!"
"The Gallic imagination is always active," said Farr, joggling the key at the end of the cord and eyeing it with peculiar interest. "But in this case it seems to picture conditions pretty accurately. I wonder just what a visitor would find inside the door that this key fits!"
"You shall go tell them at the office of the mill," commanded Etienne. "Tell them they have killed another. They will telephone for the coroner. I will give the paper and the key when he come." He held out his hand. "It is the law."
"I have a natural hankering—sometimes—to break the law," affirmed the young man. "I feel that fatal curiosity of mine stirring again, Friend Etienne. I will send the coroner. But coroners love mysteries. If we give him the letter it will take all the spice out of this affair. Let's make him happy—he can drag out the inquest and give his friends a long job on the jury." He smiled and started away, shaking his head when the old man protested shrilly. "Better say nothing about this letter and the key. You'll get into trouble for letting a stranger come in here and carry away evidence. Better keep out of the law, Etienne." He grabbed the "No Trespassing" sign for a hand-hold and climbed over the fence. "I'll come back and tell you, Etienne. But keep mum," he advised.
"It is his smile—it makes me break the law," mumbled the old man.
THE KEY TO A DOOR IN BLOCK TEN
Walker Farr gave the first policeman—a fat and sweltering individual—a piece of gruesome news and in return casually asked the location of Block Ten.
The policeman grudgingly growled the information over his shoulder while waiting for the station to answer the call from his box.
The young man, taking his time, found the place at last, one in an interminable row of tenement-houses, all identical in structure and squalor, bearing the mark of corporation niggardliness in their cheap lumber and stingy accommodations.
The hallway that Farr entered was narrow and stifling—stale odors of thousands of dead-and-gone boiled dinners mingled there, and a stairway with a greasy handrail invited him. The key bore a number. He hunted till he found a room, far up, flight after flight. Through open doors he saw here and there aged women or doddering old men who were guardians of dirty babes who tumbled about on the bare floors.
"Either too old to run a loom or too young to lug a bobbin," Farr informed himself; "that's why they aren't in the mill."
Old folks and babes stared at him without showing interest.
No one looked at him when he opened the door in which the key fitted.
He stepped in quickly and closed and locked the door behind him.
It was a little room and pitifully bare, and it was under the roof, and the ceiling slanted across it so sharply that the young man, tall above the average, was compelled to bow his head.
A little girl, a wraith of a child, pale with the pallor of a prisoner, hardly more than a toddler, sat on the floor and stared up at the intruder, frozen, silent, immobile with the sudden, paralyzing terror that grasps the frightened child. Pathetically poor little playthings were scattered about her: a doll fashioned from gingham and cotton-waste, makeshift dishes of pasteboard, a doll-carriage made from a broken flower-basket with spools for wheels. The man who entered saw all with one glance and understood that here in this bare room this child had been compelled to drag out the weary hours alone while the mother had toiled. Here now the child waited patiently for—for that water-soaked bundle, with the white, dead face, that lay on the canal bank waiting for the coroner.
And when he realized it and saw this and looked down on that lonely, patient, wistful little creature making the best shift she could with those pitiable playthings, something came up from that man's breast into his throat. He had not supposed he had any of it left in his soul—it was tender, agonizing, heartrending pity.
She still stared at him, terrorized. Probably she had never seen any face come in at that door except her mother's.
His pity must have given Walker Farr a hint of how to deal with this frightened child. He did not speak to her. He made no move toward her.
But it was not the smile he had given the fat plutocrat in the automobile, nor yet the jocular radiance he had displayed to old Etienne. It was such a smile as the man had never smiled before—and he realized it. He did not want to smile. He wanted to weep. But he brought that smile from tender depths in his soul—depths he had not known of before—and tears came with the smile.
Before that time the lines in his face had fitted the smile of the cynic, the grimace of banter, of irony and insolence. But the strange glory that now glowed upon his features came there after the mightiest effort he had ever made to control his feelings and his expression.
In that smile he soothed, he promised, he appealed. Then when he saw the tense expression of fear fade away he smiled more broadly—he provoked reply in kind. And slowly upon the child's face an answering smile began to dawn—little crinkles at the corners of the drooping mouth, little flickerings in the blue eyes, until at last the two beaming faces pledged—on the part of the man tender protection, on the part of the child unquestioning confidence.
But he said no word—he dared not trust his voice.
He went down on his knees cautiously, her smile welcoming him now.
He held out his hands. She hesitated a moment and then gave into them her chiefest possession—her rag doll. It was as if she had pledged her faith in him. He danced the doll upon his broad palm, and the child's eyes, dancing too, thanked him for the courtesy he was paying to her dearest friend.
But Walker Farr realized that something strange and disquieting in the case of a man who believed himself a cynic was stirring within him. That hostage of the doll was not sufficient to satisfy the sudden queer craving. The knowledge of the hopeless helplessness of that little girl throbbed through him. The memory of the spectacle of what he had left on the canal bank made the pathos of this little scene in the garret doubly poignant as he looked into the child's eyes. Never, in his memory, had he invited a child to come to him.
Now he put out his hand—and it trembled. She snuggled her warm little fist into his grasp. And then she scrambled up and came and nestled confidingly against him. She couldn't see his face then, and he allowed the tears of a strong man who is overcome before he has understood—who wonders at himself—he allowed those tears to streak his cheeks and did not wipe them away.
Walker Farr was too perturbed to soliloquize just then in his philosopher's style, but he did realize that some part of his altruism had come out of its trance.
And after he had knelt there on the floor for a time he rose and took the child in his arms and sat down in a creaky rocking-chair and crooned under his breath, and was astonished to find that she had gone sound asleep. He stared into the dusk that was gathering outside the dormer window and wondered what ailed him.
He had heard many feet thudding on the stairs below. The workers were returning. The beehive was filling. There were many voices, clatter of dishes, chatter of patois.
He wondered how well the woman Sirois was known in the house—whether she had relatives—how soon somebody would come and beat upon the door.
He wondered just what disposition was made of children left in this manner.
If the woman had relatives who were forced to take the child it meant more of this horrible tenement life. The child in his arms was pale and thin; her bones seemed as inconsiderable as a bird's.
He did not know much about children's homes, orphanages, institutions for the reception of the homeless, but it seemed to him that such a tiny, frail little girl would be very, very lonely in such a place.
The skies grew dark without. He was cramped because he had sat for hours in one position, fearing to waken her. But when he moved she did not waken—he did not understand how soundly childhood can sleep. He laid her on the foot of the narrow bed and looked about the room, shielding a match with his hands. He had resolved to carry her out of that fetid, overcrowded babel of a tenement. Where? He did not know. He hunted to find her belongings. He found a few clothes. There was no receptacle in which he could pack them. He folded them and crowded the articles in his pockets. He stuffed in the doll and the rude playthings and hooked the basket doll-carriage upon his arm. She did not waken when he picked her up. He tiptoed down the stairs and nobody noticed him, In his own dizzy mind he could not determine whether he felt most like a thief or a lunatic. At any rate, he found himself walking the streets of the mill city at ten o'clock at night, carrying a little girl in his arms and all her earthly possessions in his pockets.
It came over him at last that the longer he kept her the more uncertain he became as to what disposal he should make of her, or else he was more loath to part with her; he didn't exactly know which.
Then she woke and spoke for the first time. "Me is te'bble hungry—and firsty," she mourned.
"Good Lord! What's the matter with me?" grunted the young man. "If I had found a cat or a dog, the first thing I would have done would be to give 'em something to eat. I reckon I must have thought I had picked up an angel." To her he said, smoothing her hair with his free hand. "We'll have sumpin for baby's tummy mighty quick." He flushed at sound of that baby prattle from his lips. But it had popped out in the most natural manner possible.
He headed for the nearest night lunch-cart. He entered with his burden.
He elbowed aside men who were eating sandwiches and pie at the counter. With complete and rueful knowledge as to the extent of his resources, he ordered a bowl of bread and milk—"the best you can do for a hungry kiddie for ten cents," he added.
"Anything for yourself?" inquired the waiter.
He shook his head and paid for the child's supper with his whole capital, two nickels. He held her on the end of the counter and, awkwardly but with tender carefulness, fed the bread and milk to her with a spoon. A healthy man's hunger gnawed within him and the savor of coffee from the big, bubbling urn tantalized him. He tipped the bowl to her lips and she drank the last of the milk with a happy little sigh, and he went out into the night again, carrying her in his arms.
He understood all the suspicions that policemen entertain in the case of night prowlers, and knew that they would be particularly and meddlesomely interested in one who prowled with a child in his arms. The child began to whimper softly. Her interest in the stranger who had won her with a smile, her slumber in his arms, her feast in strange surroundings, had kept her child's mind busy and pacified till then. Now she voiced childhood's unvarying lament—"I wants my mamma!"
He soothed her as best he could, promising, giving her all manner of assurance regarding her mother, wondering all the time what was to be done. Why had he interfered? Why had he taken upon himself the custody of this mite, so trifling a weight in his arms, but now resting—a giant of a burden—on his responsibility? He did not know. He owned up to that ignorance frankly. But he walked on, carrying her, and put away from his thoughts the sensible alternative of placing her in the hands of those duly appointed to care for such cases.
He told himself that, as a stranger in the city, he would not be able to find a refuge—an institution that time of night—and he knew that he was lying to himself, and wondered why.
The impulse that directed his course toward the canal was rather grim, but he remembered the tree which had been sanctuary for him that day. He carefully lowered the little girl over the fence and climbed after her. And she did not call any more for her mother because this strange new scene seemed to impress her and fill her with wonderment. She stared up into the dim, mysterious, rustling foliage of the tree for a long time. She patted her hands upon the grass as if it were something she had never seen or felt before. She seemed to be making her first acquaintance with Mother Nature—claiming the heritage of outdoors that children so intensely covet. The sloped ceiling and the walls of the attic room had been sky and landscape for her. She peered into the still waters of the canal and saw the stars reflected there, and cocked her ear to listen when sleepy birds stirred above and chirped in their dreams. And then she fell asleep again and he tucked her within his coat to keep from her the dampness of the faint mist rising from the canal.
The dawn flushed early and she woke when the birds did, and found so much to interest her—ants who ran up and down the tree, funny bugs that tumbled, robins who bounced along the sward on stiff legs—that she did not ask for her mother nor seem to find at all strange the companionship of this tall man whose face was so kind.
And so Etienne Provancher found them when he came with his rake and pike-pole at six o'clock, the hour when the great turbines began to grunt and rumble in their deep pits.
"It is Rosemarie—I found her in the room," said Walker Farr.
The old man came close and gazed down on the pallor and pathos of this little snipped who still stared at the new wonders of outdoors.
"Anodder one, hey? You found her lock up?"
"Yes, and I brought her away—and I don't know just what the matter is with me, Etienne. I have not been inclined to put myself out for anybody in this world—man, woman, or child—of late years. I had made up my mind to let the world run itself."
"It is the way the rich man say—he do not care. But the poor man should care—he should try to help odder poor man. He should care."
"Oh, there are things that can happen to make a man stop caring. But I brought her away, just the same. I—I woke up—or something. I have been awake all night—I have been thinking—I had nothing else to do. Insomnia has made me insane—one night of it!" He laughed when the old man blinked at him. "I'm so crazy that I want you to help me find some good woman who will take this child to board in a comfortable home."
"I'll pay. Oh, I am completely crazy—I'm going to work—earn money to pay her board."
"I know a good woman near by—she have leetle house, cat, plant in window."
"That's the kind."
"I will tell you where she live. You shall say you come from Etienne Provancher and it will make you good for her." He paused, raised a brown finger, then went on. "But you shall not know where she live onless I may pay half the board money for the poor little one. We have been togedder in it—I tell some lie to the coroner—we must be togedder in help the childs."
There was firm resolve in old Etienne's face and tones.
"Partnership it shall be, my old boy," agreed the young man, heartily. "I'm no pig—I won't keep a good man out of a real picnic." He rose and swept the child into his arms. "Give me the address and hand her over the fence to me. I'll have to quit being nurse and find a real job. By the way, Etienne, I heard a fat man weeping yesterday because he couldn't get men to dig dirt for the Consolidated Water Company. He seemed to take a great fancy to me. Where's their office?"
He received both the information and the child after he had climbed the fence. Etienne was able to point out the little house of sanctuary from where he stood—and he waved his rake reassuringly from a distance when the good woman came to the door, answering Farr's knock. He danced into the house with the child, behind the good woman, who had answered Etienne's signal with a return flip of her apron; he was trying to bring a smile to the little face.
"You'll have to lie to her more or less about her mother, good woman. Etienne and I will tell you all about it when there's time. When she asks about her mother just give her something to eat and lie a bit." He set the child upon the table where the good woman was making fresh cookies. He piled the little toys about her. "I'm going to market, to market to buy a fat pig, and I'll be home again, riggy-jig-jig," he declared in a singsong that fetched a chuckle from the waif, and she followed him with a smile as he hurried out. "That smile will sweeten a day's work in the trench," he assured himself. "I sure am some foster-father when I get started!"
A listless clerk at the Consolidated office gave him a ticket to be delivered to the foreman of construction—the foreman sent him out with other men on a rattling jigger-wagon. By being very humble, and with the aid of his smile, he succeeded in begging a corned-beef sandwich for his breakfast from a workman on the jigger who was carrying his lunch to work. He ate it very slowly so as to make the most of it.
The new trench was in a suburban plot which had just been opened up by a real-estate syndicate. It was a bare tract, flat and dusty, and the only trees were newly planted saplings that were about as large as fishing-poles. How the sun did beat into that trench! But Walker Farr threw off his coat and used again his ready asset—his smile. He smiled at the boss who sneered at the style of "fiddler's hair" worn by a dirt-flinger—smiled so sweetly that the boss came over later and hit him a friendly clap on the shoulder and said, "Well, old scout, here's hoping that times will be better!"
"I'll take her out on the bank of the canal this evening before bedtime and we'll have a lark," reflected Walker Farr as he toiled in the hot trench. And he stopped quizzing himself as to the whys of this sudden devotion to a freakish notion. He seemed to know at last.
THE GIRL FROM TADOUSAC
When the noon hour came Farr went and sat under a spindling tree and began to read in one of his little books, dismissing thoughts of hunger with the resoluteness of a man who had suffered hollow yearning of the stomach and knew how to conquer it.
But he could not escape the keen eyes and kindly generosity of the fraternity of toilers.
"A topper down on his luck a bit—see his clothes," said the foreman, and he took tithes from willing men who were eating from pails that were pinched between their knees; he carried the food to the young man.
Farr accepted with gratitude, ate with thrifty moderation, and hid what remained in the pockets of his coat; it would serve for his supper.
He ate that supper after his day's work was done and after he had laved his face and hands in the overflow from a public fountain in a little square.
Then he hurried to the house of the good woman.
She was busy with her dishes in the kitchen and Rosemarie was on the knees of a young woman who sat and rocked in one of the sitting-room chairs.
Farr entered by the kitchen door and stood there, looking in with some confusion on the girl and child.
"It is only Zelie Dionne; she is my boarder," the woman informed him. "She is a good girl and she has the very nice job in the cloth-hall of the big Haxton mill. She lives with me because I was neighbor of her good folks in the Tadousac country, so far away from here in our Canada. Come! I make you acquaint. You shall see. She is a good girl!"
Zelie Dionne rose and acknowledged the introduction with a French girl's pretty grace. A bit of a flush lighted the dusky pallor of her cheeks when Farr bent before her. The bow in her hair was cocked with true Gallic chic and her gown was crisply smart in its simplicity. Her big, dark eyes were the wonderful feature of her face, and Farr looked into them and seemed to lose a bit of his cool self-possession; he faltered in speech, groping for words in the first commonplaces.
"You must talk together. I must work," said the good woman. She hurried back into her kitchen.
The child ran to Farr and climbed upon his knees.
"You have been good to Rosemarie. I thank you," he said. "I suppose the good woman has told you how it has happened."
"Yes, when I came at noon." Her tones were peculiarly sweet and compassionate. A touch of accent gave piquancy to what she said. She looked at him meaningly. "I have been talking to our little Rosemarie and she will not cry any more for her good mamma who has gone up to the green hills because she is sick and must rest. So Rosemarie will be patient and live here and I will be play-mamma."
"Yes, play-mamma," agreed the child. "Good play-mamma! Two mammas! But only one papa!" She put up her arms and tucked them about his neck and snuggled down with a happy sense of complete understanding of his protection. At last, so it seemed to her, she had recovered the father she had never known. Poor, little, caged bird, her release from that lonely prison was dated in her happy consciousness from his appearance in the doorway, and all things had been well for her after he came—sunlight, the trees, the blue sky, and tender care, and the companionship of human beings. Therefore, the rush of a love her child's comprehension could not analyze had gone out to him.
Farr returned with significance the look Zelie Dionne's dark eyes gave him.
"I found the note. It made me go a-meddling. It left a legacy to somebody—and I accepted—without understanding why I did so." He stroked the child's curls.
"I did not understand at first—when Madame Maillet told me," she confessed, with a smile. "Old Etienne came at noon to tell her and she has told it to me. It is very sad—but yet it is comical when I look at you. But as I look at you I understand better. You have a good heart. I can see!"
"I am only a strolling stranger—here to-day and there to-morrow," protested Farr. "I think the heat must have affected my head. It has been very warm lately. But when I saw her—" He choked suddenly.
"Oh, it is easy to understand," said the girl, reassuringly. A mist of tears came across her big eyes, though her mouth did not lose the wistful smile. "The poor folks help one another—and they understand."
"It wouldn't be right to give her to an orphanage," insisted Farr. "She has missed too much already. Of course I don't pretend to know what a little girl needs—but I am willing to be told."
"I will tell you and I will help."
"I think old Etienne and I need you in the partnership—as adviser. I thank you."
Then came the old Canadian, his wrinkled face tender with solicitous interest, and he chuckled when he welcomed the new member of the firm.
"Ah, Mam'selle Zelie she shall help us the very much in what we do not know," he informed the young man, and continued, while the dark eyes flashed protest: "I am of the Tadousac country, and she is a good girl, for I have know her all the years since I trot her on my knee when she much small as the petite Rosemarie. I can tell you how she dance down the meadows in the ring-a-rosy play and how she—"
"Phut! Your tongue is as long as your rake and it goes reaching down into other folks' affairs, old Etienne! What cares this strange gentleman for what happened in Tadousac? Go use your key instead of your tongue. Unlock your little door so that Rosemarie may walk on the cool grass beside the canal."
The old man grinned and started away.
"We're going out where the birds will sing good night to you," Farr told the child and lifted her off his knees. But at the door she stopped and turned to Zelie Dionne, who had not risen.
"I will wait here till you come back, Rosemarie."
But the child was coaxingly insistent, holding out her hand.
"I think it is because she has been so lonely all her life," suggested Farr. "Now that she has found friends she wants them to be with her in her little pleasures. May I presume enough to add my invitation to hers?"
She came and the child walked between them, holding their hands.
"One papa and my play-mamma!" she said, looking up at them in turn.
Mother Maillet came to the kitchen door and waved adieu with her dish-towel.
"Ah, the family!" she cried. "Yesterday it was not—to-day it is. And grandpere marching off ahead!"
"Old folks and children—they say embarrassing things," remarked Farr when they were on their way.
"One must be silly along with them to be disturbed by such chatter," said Zelie Dionne, tartly.
They followed old Etienne through his little door and walked along the canal bank where the waters were still and glassy, for the big gates had been closed and power lay motionless and locked in the sullen depths till morning. The sunset behind the big mills glowed redly through the myriad windows.
They walked slowly because little Rosemarie found marvels for childish eyes at every step, and even the cool carpet of the grass provided unfailing delight as she set slow and cautious footsteps into its yielding luxuriance. The old man plodded ahead, muttering and frowning as he peered down at the flotsam in the motionless waters.
The silence between the two who accompanied the child continued a long time and Farr found it oppressive.
"I have never been in Canada," he said. "I am sorry you did not care to have Etienne talk about your home. I would like to know more about that country."
"He was talking about me instead of my home in Tadousac. I am not so important that I am to be talked about."
"Where is Tadousac?"
Her vivacity returned, her dark eyes glowed. "Ah, m'sieu', you should go there. It is in the country of the good habitants where the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay meet. And now, as the sun is setting, the people are resting under the wide eaves of the little white houses, looking up where the hills are all so blue, or off across the wide bay. The white houses are very small and they crowd along the road, and the farms are narrow, and there is not much money in the homespun clothes or in the old clock, but the good world is wide about them and the people are not sad like those who sit yonder."
She pointed across the canal to rows of wooden tenement-houses many stories in height; on narrow porches, nicked one above another, and on fire-escapes which were slowly cooling after hours on the forge of the sun, men, women, and children were packed, seeking a breath of fresh air.
"They stand at loom and spinner and slasher all day," she said. "They are too tired to walk afar to the parks. They wait there for good air to come and it does not come."
"I don't understand why they flock down here from Canada—why they stay," he declared, bluntly.
"Ah, you look at me when you say that!" she cried, arching her brows. "You hear me talk about the sunset over the meadows and the hills, and you wonder why I am not there? Well, listen! There are fourteen sons and daughters of Onesime Dionne—that's my father—for all the habitant folks marry young, and the priest smiles and blesses the household when there are many children. And girls are not of much account in the house. The sons claim and receive their shares of the arpents of land when those boys are grown and married. The girl may marry—yes! But what if the right one does not ask? What if the right one has a father who says to him that he must obey and marry one the father has chosen? All kinds of things can happen in the habitant country, m'sieu'. So, then, the girl is less account in the house. And the letters come back from the girls who have gone down into the mills in the States. The pictures come back showing the new gown and the smart hat—and so!" She shrugged her shoulders and tossed her free hand. "One more girl for the big mill!"
He stared at her with some curiosity.
"You ask yourself which one of those things happened to me, do you not?"
"Perhaps," he confessed.
"I talk little about myself. I talk about the habitant girls. I am fortunate. I do not breathe the air where the looms clack. I inspect in the cloth-hall because I have sharp eyes and nimble fingers."
"But you came here alone—it is strange. I mean, do not the father and mother and all the family move here, usually?"
She lifted her chin and gazed at him with pride in her mien.
"If you go to Tadousac you shall find that my father owns a large farm and that one of his grandfathers was a captain with General Montcalm, and many Dionnes have lived on the land that was given to a brave man. I came to the States because I wanted to come. My people did not come."
She clipped the last sentence in a manner that suggested to Farr that there was no more to be said on that topic. But she went on after a time in softened tones.
"It is not strange that so many came to the States, sir. The farms of Beauce, of l'Islet, of the Chaudiere, were so crowded. Years ago, the old folks used to tell me, the boys began to drive the little white horses hitched to buckboards across the border in the early summer, and the boys were strong and willing, and the farmers who laughed at them and called them Canucks hired them for the hay-fields just the same. And they slept in the haymows and under the trees and worked hard and brought back all their money. Then the big mills needed men and women and children, and the Yankee girls would not work in the mills any more. You must understand how it was: Ouillette, who had worked in the hay-field, would hear of the work in the mill, and the Ouillettes would sell and go to the city. And as soon as they had seen the lights and the theater and the car which ran with a stick on a wire, and had earned their first pay and had bought Yankee clothes they wrote home to their cousins the Pelletiers and the Pelletiers sat nights till late talking excitedly—and then they sold and came, and so it has gone on and on—the endless chain, one family pulling on its neighbor, down the long way from Canada to the States. But it may be all for the best. I am not wise in such things. But when the sun bakes and the fever comes and the children die in the tenements, then I wish the fathers and mothers were back on the little farms and that workers of some other race than the habitants were chained to the looms in the big mills. That may be a selfish thought, but my own people are dear to me."
Farr was not in the mood to argue the economic side of that question with this girl who had so tersely told the story of two generations of mill-toilers. With that little waif between them, victim of the industrial Moloch which must roll on even if its wheels crushed the innocent here and there, he permitted sentiment to sway him. In fact, for a day and a night he had surrendered to sentiment and had found a strange sort of intoxication in the experience. His heart was with the humble folk and pity was in him—pity which was uncalculating and in which his cynicism was dissolving.
And when the stars were mirrored in the still canal and the grass was damp with the dew, they walked back to the house of Mother Maillet and little Rosemarie murmured her bit of a prayer and was tucked in bed.
"I hope that some day I may go to Tadousac," said Farr to the girl, before he passed out of the good woman's house. "I would like to see the sunset, for you have praised it."
"Ask for the house of Onesime Dionne, second beyond the big parish cross. It will be easy to find, and the sunset is very grand from the porch under the eaves."
Farr went along with the old man and they walked slowly. Their way took them down narrow streets between the high tenements.
"Yes, you shall find it very grand at Tadousac—and M'sieu' Dionne is an honest man," declared Etienne. "Now and then in the thirty year I have been visit up there in Tadousac, and I sit those day and whittle for the children and then little Zelie trot on my knee with the others. So I know the story of those place. And all the people up there don't care if I know, because I listen and am glad to know, and sometimes I can give advice, for I have live long on the States where great matters are happening. But Farmer Leroux would not listen to me when I advise about his good son Jean and Zelie Dionne. Farmer Leroux is a good man, but he is a hard man when his ugly mad get stir. And the children up there do what the father tell—because that is what the cure preach and it is the way of the habitants."
"The old, old story—the Montagues and the Capulets on the banks of the river of the North."
"I think I know something what you mean, m'sieu', though I don't know your friend you speak about. But if he say to his son, 'Ba gar, you don't marry no girl what I don't like her fadder because we have hosswhip one anodder t'ree or two time when we have fuss over line fence—or crowd our wagon when we go to market'—why, then that's your friend. And it start from there and grow into big thing, so that all the cure can say it don't make no friend of them. So they wait—Jean and Zelie! Ah yes, they wait!" He put his finger beside his nose and winked. "They love. They get marry some nice day. But now!" He flirted his gaunt fingers. "They say nottings. I maself say nottings. But I see some very queer look in Jean Leroux's eye when he say to me as I meet him at the gate of his fadder's farm, 'And how carries Zelie Dionne herself these days?' And though he look high over the tree and chew the straw and look very careless, ah, I see the big tear in his eye and hear him choke in his throat."
"It's played out and old-fashioned, this letting old folks manage young folks that way just to satisfy old grudges," scoffed Farr. "If they are in love they ought to get married and tell the old folks to go hang!"
Etienne stopped and gazed quizzically at the young man who thus expounded the law for lovers.
"I think you have in you none of the understanding of the French habitants who have live the three generation on one farm so that a young man, no matter if he love a mam'selle so very much that all the bread he eat taste ashes in his mouth—ah, he cannot say 'I will leave—I will go!' For then that young man must turn himself to be anodder young man—and the habitant does not so change."
"I may be a poor judge," acknowledged Farr. "I have never yet taken root in the soil of any one place."
"And I think, mebbe, the girl you do not understand! Is it to stay in the home and hear every day about you love the pig of a Leroux, bah? No, no, m'sieu'! That's too proud, is Zelie Dionne. And so is Zelie Dionne too proud to take a son from a home that do not want her. So they wait."
"It's a tough old world, Uncle Etienne," said Farr. "Why, even I, lord of my own affairs as I am, don't know where I'm going to sleep to-night. Do you have a boarding-place?"
"I have my little room on the block up there—my room and my place at the big table. It is not grand. But there is place for you—and anodder little room. If you like you shall come and I will speak good for you."
"All right, Etienne! Take me along and speak good for me."
It was another such place as Block Ten. It was a crowded and stuffy warren, and the basement kitchen advertised itself with stale odors in all the corridors. But Farr was glad to stretch himself upon the narrow bed. He owned up to himself that he was a very weary bird of passage and confessed to his own heart, just as frankly, that he was a captive in the frail grasp of a little girl—and he did not try to understand.
POISON FOR THE POOR
It proved to be an amicable and satisfactory partnership between Etienne Provancher and Walker Farr and dark-eyed Zelie Dionne.
When the days were pleasant the old man kept the little girl with him out of doors on the canal bank. She did not trouble him by running about. Her long days of confinement in the attic room had accustomed her to remain quietly in one place. She sat contentedly in the shade and watched the bugs in the grass and the birds in the tree above her. In the cool of the evening she trudged along the canal bank with Farr and the play-mamma until eyes grew heavy and little feet stumbled with weariness and it was time for bed. Rainy evenings they studied the alphabet or he read to her from picture-books in blazing colors, and after a time she remembered all the stories and made believe read them to him.
He worked in the trench and looked forward impatiently to Saturday nights when the clerk came along with the pay-envelopes; there were so many things in the stores that would delight the heart of a little girl who had never had any toys except a rag doll and a broken flower-basket. Then there were pretty dresses to buy. The taste of Zelie Dionne took charge of that shopping. When he bought the first one—one that was white and fluffy—and Rosemarie walked out with him she displayed such feminine pride in fine feathers that he looked forward to future Saturdays nights and new dresses with anticipatory gusto. If one had questioned him he could have told weeks ahead just what his plans of purchases were, for he canvassed all the possibilities with the play-mamma who knew so well how to get value for a dollar—who knew the places to buy and whose needle helped to much.
It was a wicked summer for those who were doomed to the mills and the tenement-houses. The heat puffed and throbbed over the lashing machinery. The slashers seemed to spit caloric. The spinning-frames tossed it off their spindles. The looms fairly wove it into the warp. The thick, sweet, greasy air seemed to distil cotton-oil upon the faces of the workers. The nights proved to be no better than the days. The stuffy tenements gulped in the hot air of midday and held it as a person holds his breath. All the folks came out upon the little platforms that were ranged, story after story, above each other. They gasped for air in the narrow spaces between the high buildings. The stars above those narrow spaces did not sparkle and suggest coolness; they seemed to float above the hot earth like red cinders.
Every day the undertakers' wagons came "boombling" down the narrow canyons of streets between the "Blocks," for the people were dying. The little white hearse was a more frequent visitor than the rusty black one; the ranks of the children were paying the greatest toll to death.
"But we shall not worry about our Rosemarie," old Etienne told Farr. "Under the shade on the green grass she shall stay where outdoors can paint her cheeks the very fine color."
But when the old man called for her at the good woman's house one morning something else than the sun had painted the little girl's cheeks—they were flushed with fever. He told the good woman to send straight for the doctor, and went to his work much disturbed.
Later in the day the yard overseer, passing the rack, saw that the man was working with furious energy. He was even reaching out his rake to capture floating stuff before it touched the bars.
"This seems to be your busy day, Pickaroon," suggested the overseer.
"I make believe this old rack to be a good friend of mine and that the float stuff be sickness come at him—so I work hard to keep it away."
The overseer went along about his business, commenting mentally on a Frenchman's imagination.
When the big mill bells clanged the noon hour Etienne hurried to the good woman's house. The city physician had been there and had left medicine—two tumblers of it. He had hurried in and had hurried away and had been curt and brusk and had not told her what was the trouble, so the woman reported. But the child had been sleeping.
She was drowsy all that evening while Farr held her in his arms and Etienne sat near by with Zelie Dionne, ministering solicitously.
"Her cheeks are not so hot," said the young man many times. He talked hopefully to reassure himself as well as the others, for he had been dreadfully frightened when he had come from his work. Fright had trodden close on the heels of much joy—for the superintendent of the Consolidated had taken him out of the hot trench that day and had appointed him boss of twoscore Italian diggers, doubling his pay.
"I have been watching you," the superintendent told him. "You're built to boss men. What kind of a bump was it that ever slammed you down like this?"
The answer the superintendent got was a smile which put further questions out of his mind.
"No, her cheeks are not so hot," affirmed Farr when he laid her in her bed that night. "She will come along all right."
But at the end of a week languor still weighed on the child. There were circles under her eyes and her cheeks were wan, and she did not clap her hands with the old-time glee when he brought her new toys; the playthings lay beside her on the bed and invited her touch—staring eyes of dolls, beady eyes of toy dogs—without avail.
"It is the queer way of being sick," lamented the old man. "The doctor mebbe not know, because he very gruff and do not say. I think I know what may cure her—it has been done many time.
"Away up in the Canada country there is the shrine of the good Sainte Anne de Beaupre. There she stand in the middle of the big church and she hold her little grandson in her arm—the little boy Jesus. So she feel very tender toward poor, sick childs. Ah, I have seen her many time—I have seen childs healed there and made so very smart—all cure. She loves little childs. Oui. All about her feet are short, small crutch where she has cure childs. The piece of her wrist-bone is there in the sacristy—it look like a wee scrap of some gray moss under the glass. And it cure when the good priest say the word for her. I know the way to the shrine of La Bonne Sainte Anne—I will go with the little Rosemarie and she shall sing and dance after that."
For a moment the cynical smile of the skeptic etched itself at the corners of Farr's mouth—the flash of the nature the young man had hidden during recent weeks.
He turned to Zelie Dionne and found her regarding him with grave eyes.
"It is as M'sieu' Etienne says," she assured the young man. "La Bonne Sainte listens very tenderly when the children come to her. She is good to all, but her spirit leans over the poor little children and comforts them."
"You have been there?"
"Many times, sir. It is not only the sick body that the good Sainte Anne heals—she comforts anybody who is in much sorrow—she tells the right way to go. There are many roads to take in this life—and if any one goes to her with prayer and humble soul she will guide. Ah, it is true, sir."
There was earnestness in her features and conviction in her tones and it was plain that Zelie Dionne was speaking out of the depths of her heart, and Farr remembered what old Etienne had said about the son of Farmer Leroux.
"Yes, she will lead to the right way and make all well in the end," asserted the girl. "And, most of all, she is kind and gentle to the little children."
Between her and the wistful old man Farr divided tolerant and kindly gaze.
"I believe in more things than I used to," he said. "I'm willing to admit in these days that things I do not understand may have truth in them. The doctor is not making her well. But it is a long way to that shrine."
"It is a long way, so! But I am very scare for her as she lie here all day. I will carry her very tender—on the railway car—on the big boat. The good Sainte Anne is everywhere, too. She will help."
"If faith can move mountains it ought to heal easily one poor, little toddlekins," muttered Farr.
A new doctor came the next day, a breezy young man, a talkative and frank young man, the assistant of the over-worked city physician, whose municipal duties had obliged him to take on helpers.
"I shall ask him, hey—about the shrine?" whispered Etienne to Farr while the doctor was examining the child.
"Yes; he'll be more patient with you than with me."
"And do you think that pretty soon she can go on the railway if I be very careful, good docteur?" asked the old man, wistfully, apologetically.
"On the pilgrimage to the shrine of the good Sainte Anne in the Canada country."
"Don't you realize what this case is?" demanded the young physician.
"He have not say—he hurry in, he hurry out."
"You the grandfather?"
The doctor turned on Farr.
"Then I can talk right out to you two. This is a case of typhoid that will be fatal in twenty-four hours. There's no use lying about it."
Old Etienne's mouth and eyes seemed to sink deep into his wrinkles, as if Time had forced him suddenly to swallow an extra score of years. He looked at Farr's blank and whitening face, and as quickly looked away.
"Break it to her grandmother," advised the doctor, nodding toward the kitchen where the good woman was at work.
"But you don't know what you say," stammered the old man.
"It so happens that I do, my man. I've been handling too many of these cases to be fooled. Why, I've got more than fifty cases of typhoid in this city—just myself."
"But she has had sun and fresh air—on the canal bank where I tend the rack."
"Sun and fresh air can't cure victims of the poison that is being pumped through the water-mains of this city," snapped the doctor.
The doctor turned and stared at Farr, for the husky croak of his exclamation had not sounded human.
"That's what I said. You can't have lived very long in this state not to know what we're up against on the water proposition."
"I haven't lived here long. But about the child—it can't—"
"Why, this Consolidated Company is owned by Colonel Dodd and his politicians—and they own all the city and town water systems in this state," said the doctor, no longer interested in his patient—exploding with the violence of imprudent youth. "They boss mayors, the aldermen, the politicians—boss the governor himself. That's because they've got the machine and the money. They've got a lot of money, because they won't wake up and spend it to lay lines far enough to tap the lakes in the hills. They tap these rotten rivers at our back doors, pump poison through the mains, sell it at prices that yield them twenty percent dividends. They say the water is all right—and back it up with analyses. I say it's all wrong."
"And you damnation doctors are letting this go on—letting folks drink poison—telling us when it's too late!" shouted Farr, purple replacing the white in his face.
"Well, the folks up-town who have got wisdom and the money buy spring-water and mineral water. All the doctors don't agree that the river is responsible for the typhoid. With the governor and the legislature bossed by Dodd and his associates, and the city governments tied up by them, and the banks taking orders from the syndicate in case any town or an independent company tries to borrow money and install a water system, and the mill corporations and the tenement-block owners all in cahoots, a crusader who expected to get anywhere in politics or make money out of his business would stand a fine and dandy show, now wouldn't he? And the most of us in this world are trying to get ahead either in business or in politics." He snapped the catch of his little black case. "Forget what I have said, you two. I hold my job through politics. I'm apt to talk too much when I get started. But don't drink city water, no matter if Colonel Dodd's analyses do give it a clean bill."
Farr caught him at the door, restraining him with a heavy hand.
"You stay here, don't you let that baby die. By the gods, she sha'n't die!"
"My staying will do no good, my friend. The little girl is death-struck already. It's quick work with the children. Sometimes we can bring the grown folks through. Get another doctor, if you feel like it, but I've got to keep moving—there are lots of folks waiting for me in these tenements."
He shook off Farr's hand and hurried away.
Old Etienne stood by the bedside, gazing down on the little sufferer, closing and unclosing his shriveled hands as if he were grasping at straws of hope, dragging the depths of his soul for reassurance even as he dragged his rake in the black waters of the canal.
"The whippersnapper lied about her. Because she's a baby he won't bother," stormed Farr. "I'll ransack this town for doctors—I'll find one who knows his business." He tiptoed to the bed and laid tender palm against the child's cheek. "I say her face isn't as hot as it was," he persisted. "Where can I find a doctor with gray whiskers, Etienne? That young fool doesn't know."
"There are many wise old docteurs in the long street named Western Boulevard—they live in the big houses—but they don't come to the tenement folks."
"One of them will come this time even if I have to lug him on my back."
He began to search for his hat, not remembering where he had tossed it in the haste and eagerness of his arrival at the good woman's house. He did not find it readily and he rushed out bareheaded.
"The sun and the air they do no good! It is the poison water—and the poor folks of the tenements they do not know!" muttered the old man. "That is what he say?" He went to the kitchen sink and unscrewed the faucet. He sniffed and made a wry face, then he ran his thin finger into the valve-chamber. He hooked and brought forth stringy slime, held it near his nose, and groaned. "The poor folks do not know. They who ask for the votes of the slashers, the weavers, the beamers—the men of the mills—they who ask votes do not want the poor folks to know, because the votes would not be given to them who sell poison in the water," he told the astonished good woman who had watched his act.
"I am careful about my kitchen—I am neat—I wash everything, Etienne," she assured him, sniffing at the slime in the sink, overcome by confusion, her housewife's reputation at stake.
"Yes, but you cannot wash the souls of them dam' scoundrels who send that water through the pipes to the poor people who can buy no other," he raged. "This is not your blame—you did not know." He pointed his finger, quivering, dripping with the slime, at the child on the bed. "They have murder her! With this!" He slatted his finger with the gesture of one who throws off a noisome serpent.
"But I drink the water—it hasn't made me sick," she protested.
"You—me—odders that are all dry up—tough old fools—we ought to die and we don't," he raged, stamping back and forth across the kitchen, waving his arms. "We have been poison so much we do not notice. But the poor little childs—the young folks that die—die in these tenements all the time—and we see the white ribbons hanging from the doors, so many place every day—the poor young folks with life ahead and much to live for even down here—they are poison and they do not know! Oh, le bon Dieu! Boil dem dam' devil in hell in the water they have sell to the poor!" He stopped, shocked by these words he heard coming from his mouth, and crossed himself contritely. "But I look at her—I hear what the docteur say—I talk and I cannot help!" He staggered into the room where the child lay, and sat down in a chair and held his face in his hands.
It was an aged and somewhat unctuous physician whom Farr brought. The doctor pursed his lips and puckered his eyebrows above the little wraith who minded him not at all, lying with eyes half closed, plucking with finger and thumb at the bedclothing.
"With a bit stronger constitution—if she were a little older—Take the case of an adult—"
"Say it short," growled Farr, clenching his fists as if he wanted to beat indulgence for the child out of the hide of the world. "I'm paying you for her life."
"I have nothing to sell you in this case—therefore there can be no pay." He leaned over the bed and smoothed the moist, tangled hair away from the child's brow. "I can only give you something, my friend. I give you all my sympathy. This baby is departing on a long journey, and I'm Christian enough to believe that the way will be made very smooth for the feet of little children. That's the faith of an old man."
There were both earnestness and tenderness in his tones—the smugness of the physician was gone. He shook Farr's hand and went out of the room, treading softly.
And the next day Rosemarie's tiny fingers stopped their flutterings and she went away—somewhere!
THE LORDS OF THE CITY
Walker Farr would not allow the tiny body of Rosemarie to be carried away in the white hearse. In his grief he had not been able as yet to dissociate the identity of the child from the poor little tenement in which her spirit had dwelt for the few barren years of her life; it seemed to him that she would be very lonely in the white hearse. He rode to the cemetery, holding the tiny casket across his knees. There was only the one carriage—it was sufficient to carry the friends of little Rosemarie: one Walker Farr and old Etienne and play-mamma Zelie Dionne.
The rack-tender sat opposite Farr and nursed a bundle on his knees. He had wrapped it surreptitiously.
The two men sent Zelie Dionne back to the city in the carriage. But they waited beside the grave until the sexton had finished his work; Farr felt an uncontrollable impulse to wait till all was ended, as he had always waited every night till the little girl was sound asleep and tucked up in bed in the good woman's house. He sat crouched on the edge of a turfed grave, elbows on his knees, his hands clutched into his shock of hair.
After the sexton had departed, tools on his shoulder, Etienne unwrapped the bundle. He began to arrange the child's toys on the grave.
"It is as the others do—the fathers and mothers of our faith in the tenement-houses," he explained, wistfully, to the young man. He pointed to other graves in the vicinity, short and narrow graves. Toys were spread on them, too. They were the poor treasures of dead children. The toys had been left there in the vague, helpless yearning of parents who strove to reach their human consolation beyond the grave.
Farr gazed on these pitiful memorials of the children—from those graves to the new mound which covered Rosemarie. The ache that had been in his throat for so many hours grew more excruciating. He realized that a father in those circumstances would weep, but he did not feel like shedding tears, and he was ashamed of himself for what seemed lack of something within himself. What he felt then, what he had felt ever since that young doctor had passed sentence of death was surly, bitter rancor—the anger of a man who is robbed.
"Look all around at the graves," said Etienne, tears in his wrinkles. "I know something better since I take off that faucet. Not all the martyr die when the lion eat 'em up and the fire burn 'em; there be some martyr these day, too. And sometimes, mebbe, some man what have the power will come here and see all these poor little grave and then he go and choke the lion what eat all these poor childs."
"What kind of man would that be?" pondered Farr. At that moment he had little faith—much less faith than usual—in the decency of any human being; and for many years his faith in humankind had been expressed by a contemptuous snap of his finger.
To sit there longer and look at that fresh earth with the pathetic toys sprinkled over it was a torment his soul could not endure.
He arose and hurried away and Etienne followed him. They trudged in silence back to the city—Etienne to take his rake and pike-pole from the hands of the man who had substituted at the rack, and Farr to resume surly domination over his sweating Italians.
"The martyrs," Etienne had called them. The notion of that stuck in Farr's brooding thoughts.
He tried to look deeper into his own heart than he had ever looked before and explain to himself just what motive had attracted him to the child in the first place; he had never been especially interested in children before. He found himself muttering, "And a little child shall lead them," without understanding just why this child had led him so strangely.
If one Walker Farr had understood it at all and had been able to explain it to himself, he would have penetrated the mystery of the dynamics of love—the great gift to humanity that God has not seen fit to expose in its inner workings. Therefore, Farr strode here and there in the hot sun, spurred his diggers with crisp oaths, and on the heels of his profanity muttered to himself, "And a little child shall lead them."
The tile boss of the Consolidated, whose crew was following the trench-diggers, accosted Farr, after several inspections of his lugubrious countenance.
"Don't you think you need to be cheered up a little?"
Farr scowled at him.
"I don't know what has disagreed with you, but you're certainly in a bad way," pursued the boss. "Go up with the crowd to City Hall to-night and hear 'em open up the police scandals. Plenty of free fun for the heavy-hearted! There are about half a dozen fat cops in this city who'll be fried to a crisp on both sides, and the sound of the sizzling will be pleasant in the ears."
"I'm not interested."
"You will be, if you tend out. The hearing is before the mayor and the whole city government. Nothing very hefty in the way of charges—only loafing in beer-coolers during the heat of the day, spending their time chasing the labor-agitators out of the parks, and letting burglars keep house all summer in the mansions up-town while the owners are away at the seashore. It's all more or less of a joke."
"Why don't the mayor and aldermen of this city attend to duty instead of jokes?"
"Oh, this city is run so smooth that there's nothing to do in the summer except stage a little farce comedy at City Hall."
"Let me tell you that there's something to be investigated in this city that isn't a joke," raged Farr, his bitter ponderings blossoming into speech.
"Murder going on every day in this damnable town."
"Well, I guess if there was any murder going on which we didn't hear about, even from our fat cops, it would be investigated, all right. What's the matter with you?"
"I'm glad now you told me about that hearing to-night," stated Farr, ignoring the other's curiosity. "I'm glad I know when and where to locate the mayor and his men in session. I'll find out if they propose to waste the people's time hearing funny stories about policemen and are going to let murder go on while they are laughing."
He strode away, cursing at his workmen as he tramped along the side of the ditch.
Farr knocked at the garret room of Etienne early that evening.
"I want you to come with me," he commanded.
The old man obeyed without questions. As they walked along the streets Farr did not volunteer information. He was grimly sure that if Etienne should receive an inkling of what was expected of him the old man would not stop running until he had crossed the Canadian border.
They were ten minutes worming their way through the press that packed the corridors of City Hall. Groups were bulked at the doors admitting to the aldermen's room—men thatched against each other and overlapping like bees in a swarm at the door of a hive.
But the young man was tall and his shoulders were broad and he kept uttering the magic words, "Room for witnesses!" In his own consciousness he knew that what he should attempt to testify to that night was not on the slate, but the crowd accepted him as one of those from whom they anticipated entertainment, and allowed him to pass—and Etienne, holding to his young friend's coat, followed close and made his way before the throng could close in again.
The hearing began and progressed, and there was much laughter when the delinquencies of certain fat policemen were related—it was a free-and-easy affair—a sort of midsummer fantasy in municipal politics—a squabble between ward bosses who had become jealous in matters of the distribution of police patronage.
Walker Farr, standing against the wall of the audience-chamber, did not laugh. He was busy with thoughts of his own. This bland fooling in municipal matters while stealthy death, protected by city franchise, dripped, so he believed, from every faucet in the tenement-house district, stirred his bitter indignation. Etienne Provancher stood beside him, and the old man did not laugh, either, because he did not understand in the least what those men were talking about. And he was very uneasy, wistfully awe-stricken, hardly daring to touch with his hands the polished oak at his back. He was in the great hotel de ville whose exterior he had stared at many times without presuming or daring to enter the broad portals.
Then there came a recess while the mayor examined papers at his desk. The aldermen leaned back in their chairs with lighted cigars.
"Etienne," whispered the young man, deep resolve thrilling him, his eyes blazing into the wondering gaze of the old man, "those men who sit behind those desks can do something to save the children and the poor folks in the tenements. But they must wake up, these men here must. You and I must try to wake them up!"
Etienne's eyes opened wide. He did not in the least comprehend how he could serve.
"I know you will not desert a friend, Etienne. I know you'll stand behind me. I know you love the children. So be a brave man now!"
The next moment Etienne was so frightened that he feared he would drop where he stood, because the young man raised his voice so that it rang through the great hall and all eyes were turned that way.
"Your honor the mayor, and gentlemen; I am a stranger here. But I humbly ask permission to address you."
"If you are a witness in the police matter you will be called on in your turn after the recess," stated the mayor.
"I am not a witness in the police matter. I am here on other business."
"There is no other business before this meeting."
"But there should be, sir, for the business I have come on is a dreadful matter. It is a matter of life and death."
A hush fell on those in the chamber, and the mayor and his aldermen leaned forward, staring apprehensively. They had been warned that there were dangerous labor-agitators in the city. Many meetings had been broken up by the police at the request of Colonel Dodd, president of the Consolidated Water Company, and other employers had backed him. This tall young man had startled them with his sudden outbreak.
"It is a matter, gentlemen, which concerns every man, woman, and child in this city—vitally concerns them every hour of the day—every hour they are awake. You say you have no other business now except this silly police investigation. For God's sake, wake up and attend to real business—save the people's lives. Here you are in session and here are the people to listen."
"State your complaint. Be very brief," commanded the mayor.
But Walker Farr, it was plain, possessed craft as well as courage; he realized that curiosity, properly tickled, will make men more patient in listening.
"First, I want to call a witness. I am not known to this city. But I have here a man whom many of you know, I'm sure, for he has stood out in plain view of a street where many pass, and has worked there for thirty years. It is Etienne Provancher."
Several men laughed when Farr pushed the old man into view. There was a murmured chorus of "Pickaroon."
"It's for the children—the poor folks—for the memory of our little girl," hissed Farr in the old man's ear. "Will you go to your bed to-night—the night of the day we buried her—knowing that—you are a coward? These are only men. We must tell them so that they will know. Speak! Tell them!" He set his firm clutch around the trembling old Frenchman's arm and held him out where all could see.
"I do not know how to talk here—to so much man—to the lords of the city," stammered the miserable old man, licking his parched lips, scared until all was black before his eyes.
The hush was profound. Men curved their palms at their ears, wondering what old Pickaroon could have to say in City Hall.
"Remember what we have left up there—in the cemetery—the poor children in their graves," muttered Farr, again bending close to Etienne's ear.
Then, thus reminded, thus spurred, all his Gallic emotion bursting into flame in him suddenly, the old man felt the desperate resolution that often animates the humble and ignorant in great emergencies. The little ones had been martyrs—why not he? That thought flashed through the tumult in his brain.
"Yes, since you all hark for me to speak I will speak," he declared. "Messieurs, I am a poor man. Not wise. It is very hard for me to talk to you. But I have been to-day up where the little children are bury—so many of them, with their playthings on the graves. I went to take there anodder little child, poor baby girl. I leave her there with the odder ones—so very lonesome all of them—their modders cannot sing them to sleep any more."
"This is irregular," cried the mayor. "What do you want?"
"Nottings for maself," cried Etienne, passionately shrill in his tone now. "But I have to ask you, masters of this city, how much longer shall you send poison down the water-pipes to the poor folks and the children in the tenement blocks? It is poison that has kill our little Rosemarie—and all her life ahead! The doctor say so—and he say I cannot understand about the rich man, why he do it. But I understand that the childs are dying. I say you shall not sent that water—if you do send it I will bring here the fadders who have lost their babies and the modders of the babies." His lips curled back in his excitement and froth flecked his mouth. "Sacred name of God! We shall tear that poison-factory up from the ground with our bare hands!"
"Officer, put that man out of the room," ordered the mayor.
"Won't you listen to us?" shouted Farr. "You are the chief magistrate of this city. You and these aldermen are the guardians of the people. Are you going to sit there in those cushioned chairs and let a crowd of rich assassins murder the poor people?"
Men hissed that speech.
The mayor rapped his gavel furiously.
"This is no matter to be brought up here at this time. You're slandering honorable men, sir! We have other business."
"Can there be any other business as important as this?"
"Put both of these men out, officer."
"Are you and these aldermen owned by the water syndicate, as report says you are?" cried Farr. "Look here, you men, men in this room and at the door! This is your City Hall—these aldermen are elected by your votes. Aren't you going to demand that the people be heard in this matter? Don't you know that typhoid fever is killing off the children in this city—and that poison water is the cause of it?"
"It's rotten stuff to drink—we all know that," cried a voice. "But there'll have to be a change in politics in this state before they'll give us anything else."
Two policemen elbowed their rough way to Farr and Etienne.
"The big chap is right—it's about time to have this water question opened up, Mr. Mayor," called another voice.
"Open it up in a legal and proper way, then," snapped the mayor. "Go to the law."
"That's it—go to the law—go to the law," jeered another. "And we'll all be dead and the lawyers will have all our money before the thing is decided."
There were more hisses.
But an outburst of indorsing voices indicated that many men in that chamber understood more or less of the political management behind the Consolidated Water Company.
"If a thing is wrong, change it. What better law do you need than that?" asked Farr, disregarding an officer's thumb that jerked imperious gesture.
"When you know a little more law you won't be ignoramus enough to come into a public hearing and try to break it up. You'd better go and study law," said the indignant mayor. He pounded his gavel to indicate that the recess was over.
"I'll take your advice," replied Farr, towering over the policeman and vibrating his finger at his Honor. "If you hadn't found law so handy in your own case you wouldn't forget yourself in your excitement and recommend it to others. If we've got to fight the devil we'd better use his weapons."
Men shouted approval all around him.
"Clear the room," ordered the mayor. "Everybody out!"
"Keep your hands off," Farr advised the officer nearest him. "I'll go without any help. I have found out that I'm only wasting my time in this place."
In the corridor men pressed around him. Some of them insisted on shaking his hand. Others shouted commendation. Still others exhibited only frank curiosity in the stalwart stranger. And others were clamorously hostile.
"By gad! If you wanted to start something you took the right way to do it," affirmed one of the throng.
"You showed good courage," declared an elderly man with an earnest face. "Some of the rest of us have tried to do something in the past. But those who didn't have much power were either kept out or kicked out of any office in city government or the legislature—and those who did amount to something were gobbled up by the machine. The machine can pay. Working for the people isn't very profitable. So I'm afraid you won't get very far."
"You needn't worry about that chap not getting along all right," remarked one of the group—but his indorsement was ironical. "He's a construction boss for the Consolidated, and he went into that hearing to start some kind of a back-fire. Shrewd operators—the Consolidated folks."
The men about Farr pulled away from him and there was considerable malicious laughter in the crowd.
"So we see the game, even if we don't catch on to the meaning of it just now," said the observant one.
Farr squared his shoulders. They stared at him with fresh interest and a bit of additional respect. They saw in him something more than a mere popular agitator—a disturber of a municipal hearing; he must be a trusted agent of the great political machine, executing a secret mission.
"You're right—I have been working for the Consolidated," he admitted in tones that all could hear.
"Move on! Get outdoors! Clear this corridor—all of you," shouted a captain of police who had come hurrying up from down-stairs and had taken command of the situation.
The crowd began to surge on, following Farr.
"I went to work digging in their trenches because I struck this town on my uppers and needed the money—needed it quick. I was promoted to be a boss. But I want to tell you now, gentlemen, that I do not work for the Consolidated."
"I reckon you're right," said somebody. "I just overheard a man telephoning to the superintendent about you—and if I'm any judge of a conversation you are not working for the Consolidated. Not any more!"
"I'm sorry you're going to leave the city," lamented the elderly man. "We need chaps like you."
"I'm not going to leave the city."
"You might just as well," counseled one of the bystanders, "after what you said in that hearing. If you get a job in this city after this you'll be a good one!"
When they were outside City Hall, Farr waited for a moment on the steps. Etienne, still trembling after that most terrible experience of his placid life, pressed close at the young man's side.
"Will all you gentlemen please take a good look at me so that you'll know me when you see me again?" invited the ex-boss for the Consolidated.
They stared at him. His face was well lighted by the arc-light under the arch of the door.
"I am not a labor-leader, nor a walking delegate, nor a politician, nor an anarchist. You men go home and unscrew the faucets in your kitchens, take a good sniff, and pull the slime out of the valve. Then remember that the mayor and aldermen of this city wouldn't listen to me to-night in the Hall that the tax-payer's money built. Also remember that a little later they will listen to me. Gentlemen, my name is Walker Farr. I'm going to stay here in this city. Good night."
AT THE FOOT OF THE THRONE
As usual at nine-thirty in the afternoon, the big tower clock on the First National Bank building in the city of Marion pointed the finger of its minute-hand straight downward.
As usual, at this hour, as he had done for many years, Colonel Symonds Dodd eased himself down from the equipage that brought him to his office. This day the vehicle was his limousine car.
In view of the fact that Colonel Dodd owned the First National block the big clock seemed to point its finger at him with the bland pride of a flunky in a master. It seemed to say, "Behold! The great man is here!"
Colonel Dodd was never embarrassed when fingers were pointed at him wherever he went. If a man is lord of finance and politics in his state he expects to be pointed out.
When he stepped from his car he carried in his arms, with great tenderness, a long parcel which was carefully wrapped in tissue-paper. He always carried a similar parcel when he came to his office. Each morning the gardener of the Dodd estate laid choice flowers on the seat of that vehicle which had been chosen to convey the master to the city.
Colonel Dodd coddled the long parcel with the care a nurse would have bestowed on an infant—but he kicked his fat leg clumsily at an urchin who got in his way on the sidewalk. A college professor of Marion happened to be passing at the moment and saw the act and knew what the colonel was carrying in his arms. The professor made a mental note of fresh material for his lecture on "The Psychological Phenomena of the Bizarre in the Emotions." The professor had just met a woman wheeling a cat out in a baby-carriage.
The doctor had advised exercise for the colonel—a small amount. The colonel toilsomely climbed the one flight of stairs to his office. That was his daily quota of exercise.
A little man with a beak of a nose was waiting in the corridor and hastened to unlock a door marked "Private," and the colonel went in, and the little man locked the door and tiptoed down the corridor to the general offices.
Before he removed his hat Colonel Dodd carefully stripped the tissue-paper from the damp flowers. There were two huge bouquets. He set these into vases of ornate bronze, one on each end of his desk. He patted and stroked the flowers until they appeared to best advantage. He stood back and bestowed affectionate regard on them. No human being had ever reported the receipt of such a look from Colonel Symonds Dodd. It was rather astonishing to find softness in him in respect to flowers. He seemed as hard as a block of wood. He had a squat, square body and his legs seemed to be set on the corners of that body. His square face was smooth except for a wisp of whisker, minute as a water-color brush, jutting from under his pendulous lower lip.
He hung up his hat and stood for a moment before a massive mirror. The report in Marion was that he stood before that mirror and made up his expression to suit the character of a day's business.
Then he sat down at his desk and stuck a pudgy finger on one button of a battery of buttons.
A girl entered with a promptitude which showed that she had been waiting for the summons.
He did not look up at her. His gaze was on one of the bouquets.
She brought a portfolio and packets of letters all neatly docketed.
His salutation was merely, "Miss Kilgour." Colonel Dodd did not deal in many "Good-mornings." It was also reported in Marion and the state that his stock of urbanity was so small he was compelled to expend it very thriftily. He certainly did not waste any of it on his office help. He might have afforded at least one glance at the girl, for she was extremely pretty. Still another report in Marion was to the effect that he had selected Kate Kilgour as his secretary as the final artistic touch to the beauty of his private office in order that he might have a perfect ensemble. She did seem, so far as his interest in her went, to be only a part of that ensemble which he occasionally swept carelessly with his gaze—he reserved all his intimate admiration for the bouquets.
She laid his "Strictly Personal" letters on his fresh blotter.
She sat down and began to read the business letters aloud, not waiting for his orders to begin. It was her daily routine, business transacted as Colonel Dodd wished it to be transacted—crisply, promptly, directly.
He dictated replies, usually laconic, even curt, as soon as she had finished each letter. His eyes were on the flowers as he talked.
When the letters were finished she retired with her portfolio and her notes, the thick carpet muffling the sound of her withdrawal.
After he had slit the envelopes of his personal correspondence and had read the contents the colonel pushed another button. The little man who had been waiting in the corridor slipped edgewise in at the door. He was thin and elderly and his knob of a head, set well down on his pinched shoulders, had peering eyes on each side of that beak of a nose. When he walked across the room his long arms were behind him under his coat-tails and held them extended, and he bore some resemblance to a bird. In fact, one did not require much imagination to note resemblance to a bird in Peter Briggs—many folks likened him to a woodpecker—for he flitted to and fro in Colonel Dodd's anteroom, among those awaiting audience, tapping here and rapping there with the metaphorical beak of questions, starting up the moths and grubs of business which men who came and waited hid under the bark of their demeanor.
"Seventeen, Colonel Dodd. Five for real business; twelve of them are sponges."
"Chief Engineer Snell of the Consolidated, Dr. Dohl of the State Board of Health, the three promoters of the Danburg Village Water system."
"Send in Snell."
Engineer Snell did not sit in the presence of his president, nor did the president ask him to sit.
"Briggs tells me the Danburg men are here."
"They're waiting out there, Colonel Dodd."
"I don't think so—just yet. They look too mad. I gave 'em the harpoon in good shape, as is usual, but I didn't expect they'd run here so soon. Thought they would flop a little longer."
"They got their poke from Stone & Adams yesterday afternoon, did they?"
"Yes, Colonel. My report to Stone & Adams showed that the Danburg plan of levels is faulty, that their unions are not up to contract, that their station and pumps are inefficient for the demands. So Stone & Adams had to tell 'em that their bonds were turned down."
"Do you know whether they have tried another banking-house yet?"
"I don't believe they have had time, Colonel."
"But such fellows always do try. Their banging in here on me so quickly looks a little irregular. In business, you know, Snell, if you tie a tin can to a dog and he runs and ki-yi's, that's perfectly natural and you can sit back and wait for nature to take its course. If the dog doesn't run, but sits down and gnaws the string in two—then look out for the dog."
"I must admit they're coming here sudden after their jolt. They look mad. But I figure they must have quit. The jolt was a hard one, for Stone & Adams had been leading 'em on—according to orders."
The colonel stared at a bouquet.
"Have you got your other report—the side report—in shape for me to get a hasty idea? If they have come here with a proposition—want to quit and cover themselves, I need information right now."