Engineer Snell laid papers on the desk. He proceeded to explain.
"If you don't feel you have time to go over it—don't want to keep the Danburg crowd waiting—I can tell you that the plant is pretty nearly all right. So much all right that you can afford to slip 'em a couple of thousand apiece on top of what they have already spent. I don't suppose you want 'em to holler too loud. I can tell you that Davis, Erskine, and Owen—those men out there—are cleaned out. They have put in all their ready money. They were depending on Stone & Adams for the first instalment from the bonds, so as to take up some thirty-day notes and pay bills due on material."
Colonel Dodd meditated, pulling on his wisp of whisker.
"It's one thing to encourage enterprise in this state—it's another thing to be everlastingly paying rake-offs to local promoters who grab a franchise when we're not looking and then hold us up. I don't want to hurt the Danburg men. But my stockholders expect certain things of me and it's about time men in this state understand that we propose to control the water question. Snell, you go and talk to those Danburg men like a father to children. Send them in here smoothed down and we'll do the right thing by them."
He signaled for Briggs and told him to admit Dr. Dohl.
The doctor, chairman of the State Board of Health, was a chubby man with a tow-colored, fan-shaped beard. He sat down and sprung his eye-glasses on his bulgy nose and drew out a package of manuscript.
"Colonel, I have felt it my duty to write a special chapter on the typhoid situation in this state for the report of the State Board of Health."
"Very well, Doctor." The colonel was curt and his tone admitted nothing of his sentiments.
"DO you care to listen to it? It rather vitally concerns the Consolidated Water Company."
"You don't blame us for all these typhoid cases, do you?"
"No, sir—not for all of them."
"Why blame us for any of them? Our analyses show that we're giving clean water. How about dirty milkmen and the sanitary arrangements in these tenement-houses and all such? It's the fashion to blame a corporation for everything bad that happens in this world."
"We have placed blame on milkmen where any blame is due," stated Dr. Dohl. He tapped his manuscript. "But I have spent considerable of my department's money in making a house-to-house canvass, tracing the sources. The man before me guessed. I have made sure! Colonel Dodd, the Consolidated water is pretty poisonous stuff these days."
"What's the matter in this state all of a sudden?" snapped the colonel. "I am told that a lunatic almost broke up our city government meeting the other night, shouting that the Consolidated is trying to poison folks. You're too level-headed a man to get into that class, Dr. Dohl."
"I'll allow you to set me down in any class which seems fitting from your point of view," replied the doctor, stiffly. "But if that lunatic, as you call him, got an angle-worm or a frog's leg out of his tap I don't blame him for breaking up a meeting of the city government which will tolerate the water which is being pumped through the city mains just now."
"We're working on the filtering-plant—it will be all right in a little while. It got out of hand before we realized it," said the colonel, now a bit apologetic.
"In this crisis your filter amounts to about that!" The doctor snapped a pudgy finger into a plump palm. "The river-water in this state has been poisoned. You must go into the hills—to the lakes, Colonel Dodd."
"You don't mean to say that you recommend that in your report, Doctor?"
"Without stopping to think of the millions it will cost my company to build over its plants?"
"It has come to a point where it isn't a question of money, Colonel."
"We can't afford it."
"Then let the cities and towns of the state buy in their water-plants and do it."
"Good Jefferson! Don't you know that every city and town in this state where we have a water-plant has already exceeded its debt limit of five percent?"
"Do I understand you as intimating, Colonel Dodd, that there is no help for this present condition of affairs?"
"Look here—I'm neither a Herod nor a Moloch, even if some of the crack-brained agitators in this state will have it that way," protested the magnate, with heat. "Are you going to print that report before you have given us time to turn around?"
"With one hundred deaths a day from typhoid fever in this state, Colonel, that matter of time becomes mighty important."
"Look here, Dohl, don't you remember that it was my indorsement that gave you your job?"
"I do, Colonel Dodd. But I'm a physician, not a politician."
"I see you're not," retorted the colonel, dryly. "But you're a member of our political party, and you know that the Consolidated and its associate interests are the backbone of that party. There are a lot of soreheads in this state, and we're having a devil of a time to hold 'em in line. Every savings-bank in this state, furthermore, holds bonds of the Consolidated. Do you want to start a panic? You've got to be careful how you touch the first brick standing in a row. Dohl, you leave that report with me. I'll go over it. I'll take the matter up with the directors. We'll move as fast as possible."
The doctor hesitated, stroking the folds of his manuscript.
"You're not doubting my word, are you?" demanded the colonel.
"No, sir!" Even the physician's sense of duty did not embolden him to persist under this scowl of the man of might.
The colonel took the document from Dr. Dohl's relaxing hands and shoved it into a pigeonhole of the big desk.
"You must understand that pipe-lines to lakes cannot be laid in a minute as a child strings straws, Doctor," admonished the magnate.
"Do you propose to lay lines to the lakes, Colonel? I need to throw a little sop to my conscience if my report is delayed."
"Everything right will be done in good time, Dr. Dohl. I will proceed as rapidly as possible, considering that the law, finance, and politics are all concerned. As you are leaving," he added, giving his visitor the blunt hint that the interview was over, "I must draw your attention to the fact that if you bludgeon the Consolidated with a report like this it may be a long time before we can move in the matter. You'll only scare the banks and set the cranks to yapping. Just remember that you're a state officer and have a weighty responsibility to your party and to financial interests."
Dr. Dohl went away. He sourly realized that he was only a cog in the big machine; that for a moment he had threatened to develop a rough edge and start a squeak, but the big file had been used on him. It had been used on many another of the State House cogs, as he well knew. Responsibility as to his party! Safety and sanity in regard to financial interests! He knew that these talismanic words had been used to control even the lords in national politics. He departed from the Presence, muttering his rebellion, but fully conscious that a political Samson in modern days made but a sorry spectacle of himself when he started to pull down the pillars of the party temple.
He continued to mutter when he walked through the anteroom.
Most of the men who waited there had faces as lowering as the visage which Dr. Dohl displayed.
The doctor had not lost all faith in his own fearlessness and rectitude of motive, but he was obliged to acknowledge to himself that just then he was a rather weak champion.
"However, I'd like to lay eyes on the sort of man who can unjoint this devilish combination of politics and law and finance," he informed himself, trying to justify his own retreat.
His eyes, in passing, swept a stranger.
The stranger was a tall young man with wavy hair and brown eyes. He sat patiently, nursing a broad-brimmed black hat on his knees.
"I'd like to see that man!" repeated Dr. Dohl, mentally, sugar-coating his disgust at his own weakness.
If mortal man were gifted with prescience Dr. Dohl would have stared out of countenance the tall young man who sat on a bench in the outer office of the state's overlord and nursed a broad-brimmed hat upon his knees.
THE CODE AND THE GAGE OF BATTLE
"I appreciate zeal in public affairs," mused Colonel Dodd, gazing at the door which Dr. Dohl had closed behind him. "But once there was a retriever dog who chased his master with a stick of dynamite that had a sputtering fuse."
He set his broad hands upon the arms of his chair, derricked himself up, and went over to the mirror. He peered at himself and seemed to rearrange his countenance, much as a woman would smooth the ruffled plumage of her hat.
"We're not murderers," he informed the composed visage which the mirror held forth to him. "But we haven't got to the point where we're letting lunatics who break up city government meetings, or crank doctors, tell us how to spend a million or two of the money we've worked hard to accumulate. There's getting to be too much of this telling business men in this country how to run their business. If we're peddling typhoid fever in spite of what our analyses tell us, then we'll go ahead, of course, and clean up." Colonel Dodd was willing to acknowledge that much to himself, surveying his countenance in the mirror. "But we'll continue to run our own business," he added.
Then he sat down again in his chair and pushed a button. "Briggs," he directed, "send in those three men from Danburg."
He whirled his swivel-chair and sat there at his desk, his rectangular front squared to meet them.
The three men who came in were of the rural businessmen type, and their faces were not amiable. Two of them halted in the middle of the sumptuous apartment and the third stepped a couple of paces ahead of them. He carried a huge roll of engineers' plans under his arm.
"My name is Davis, as I suppose you know, Colonel Dodd," he reported.
"Have seats, gentlemen."
"We are tired of sitting," stated the spokesmen, with sour significance.
"I understand, Mr. David. But mornings are very busy times for me. I was attending to appointments made beforehand. You made no appointment, and I was not expecting you."
There was silence, and the three men glowered on him. It was evident that settled animosity emboldened these country merchants even in the presence of Colonel Symonds Dodd.
"I was not expecting you, I say."
The colonel's demeanor displayed a little uncertainty; he had rather expected suppliants. He knew what a nasty blow had been dealt these men the day before.
"Probably not," assented Davis. "You expected that after Stone & Adams yanked the gangplank out from under us yesterday we would put in at least one day tearing around to other banking firms, trying to place our bonds."
"Why—why—Well, if Stone & Adams—You naturally wouldn't take the verdict of one banking-house on a matter of bonds, would you?"
"Look here, Colonel Dodd, we understand you—clear way down to the ground—and we may as well save wear on our tongues. And first of all we have come right here to save shoe-leather. We have come straight to headquarters. Do you suppose we're going to gallop around this city to bankers after the word has gone out about us? Not much! We are here in the captain's office, and you can't fool us about that."
"I never heard such—" the colonel began to sputter.
"I know you never did—and it's getting your goat," asserted the blunt countryman. "We've got a plain and pertinent question to put to you—do you intend to ram us to the wall in our water deal?"
The head of the state's water trust simulated anger perfectly, even if he didn't feel it. And there was astonishment in his anger.
"What have I to do with your dealings with bankers?" he demanded. "Probably your plant isn't up to pitch."
"That talk doesn't go with us, not for a minute, Colonel Dodd," shouted the undaunted Davis. "You're talking to business men, not to children. We offered to leave the matter of our plan to any three engineers in this state. Why is it that Stone & Adams refuse to take the word of anybody except your man, Snell?"
"They probably want the word of the best consulting-engineer in the state."
"But he's your man."
"He is our man because he is the best. We hire him for our work. But we do not control his opinions when he is consulted by others. Oh no! And I want to tell you, my men, that I refuse to listen to any more such talk from you."
"Then call in one of your political policemen and have us put out," invited the unterrified Davis.
"Build your plant right and your bonds will sell. Our bonds sell when Mr. Snell reports on our plants."
"We'll save our strength in the matter of building plants and running around trying to place bonds with brokers who have been tipped off by the money trust of this state. We propose to get it straight from you first. You can't fool us for one minute, I repeat! We'll have our last wiggle right here. Will you take your hands off our affairs?"
"I haven't put my hands on your affairs," shouted Colonel Dodd, furious at being baited in this amazing manner. Never before had any visitor dared to raise his voice in that office. "You're crazy."
"You're right—we are—pretty nearly so. Myself and these two neighbors of mine have tied up every dollar we can rake and scrape to build a water-plant for our little village and give our folks clean water from a lake, not the rotten poison you would pump out of our millstream for us. We have tried to do this for our town and make an honest dollar for ourselves. Now you have got us lashed to the mast, financially, so you think, and you propose to step in and gobble our franchise. That's enough to make men crazy."
"Get out of my office!"
"You grabbed the franchise and common stock of Westham that way," declared Davis. "You scooped in Durham and Newry and a lot of others. But I'm here to warn you, Colonel Dodd. Danburg is going to choke you if you try to swallow it. We are only countrymen, and we know it. You have always done all the bossing and threatening in this state up to now. But I tell you, Colonel Dodd, there comes a time when the rabbit will spit in the bulldog's eye. If we three go out of this room in the same spirit in which we came into it something will drop in this state. We shall have a story to tell."
Colonel Dodd swung his chair around and faced his desk.
"Gentlemen, let's not get excited," he appealed. Ostensibly he reached for a pencil. He also pushed a button he had not touched before that day. Then he came around slowly on the swivel of his chair. "You have mentioned certain towns, Davis. Those towns have water systems that are a part of the Consolidated, to be sure. But the men who promoted those plants and were unable to complete them came to us and begged us to step in and take the burden off their hands." While Colonel Dodd talked he kept glancing, but in an extremely unobtrusive manner, at a huge and magnificent Japanese screen that occupied one corner of his office. "It is easy enough to start ventures in this world, Mr. Davis. An inexperienced man can do that. But it most often takes experience and a lot of money to install a successful water plant."
"We want to get down to cases, Colonel Dodd," insisted the spokesman. "We haven't come here without posting ourselves. We know how you have talked to the others. But you can't bluff us. You propose to steal our plant, such of it as we have been able to build to date. One word from you to the money gang takes the hoodoo off us. Now talk business! Do you propose to pot us like you have the rest?"
The heart of the big rose in the center of the screen flashed once with a glow that was imperceptible unless one had been gazing at it, watching for a signal. Colonel Dodd understood that Miss Kate Kilgour had entered through a low door and was behind the screen, ready with note-book and pencil. He leaned back in his deep chair and interlocked his pudgy fingers across his paunch.
"I assure you I have not the least interest in your projects as to the Danburg water system, Mr. Davis, Mr. Erskine, Mr. Owen." He dwelt on the names. "The Consolidated has plenty of its own business to attend to."
"But I say you are trying to run our business, too—no, ruin it!"
"Do you realize, Mr. Davis, that you are accusing me of criminal conspiracy—making a statement that might go hard with you in a court of law? You have accused me of trying to discredit you with banking-houses. Can you produce any proof except your foolish and unjust suspicions? You have been made angry by a refusal to handle your bonds. I don't sell bonds. I build and operate water systems."
"The same old game," sneered Davis. "Your water syndicate, the railroads of this state, the banks, the politics—they're all snarled up together like snakes in winter quarters. I say, if you pass the word our bonds will be taken. If you don't do it, I'm going to trot out of this office and expose your highway-robber system."
"In one breath you threaten me because you say I'm interfering in your affairs. In the next breath you threaten me because I refuse to interfere. You are making dangerous talk, Davis. I may call the courts to pass on that threat. There is only one proposition I can make to you—and that's strictly in the line of my business. If you are tied up financially—are at the end of your resources and must have help—I'll give you my aid in getting the Consolidated to take over the Danburg plant at a fair valuation."
"Is that the best word you've got for us?"
"I have made you an honorable business proposition."
"That your final talk?"
Davis found words inadequate for his boiling emotions just then. He advanced on Dodd, who shrank back into his chair. Davis whipped the long roll of plans out from under his arm, held the roll by one end, and swung it like a bat-stick. But he did not strike at Dodd, as the magnate seemed to apprehend.
He swung over the colonels' head and swept the top of the desk clean of everything; vases, bouquets, objets d'art, all went rolling and smashing to the floor.
Colonel Dodd ducked low and held his square head in his hands as if he feared that the next assault would be on that. But Davis led his associates out of the room through the door which Briggs had flung open, summoned by the crash in his master's holy of holies.
For the first time, perhaps, in the history of that private office the door leading into the anteroom was left open and unguarded. Briggs ran into the room, his coat-tails streaming, his inquisitive beak stretched forward. On his heels followed the tall young man who had been waiting in the anteroom. It was Walker Farr, who closed the door behind him, shutting out the curious anteroom clients who flocked and peered.
When the colonel lifted his head he found himself looking squarely into the eyes of this tall young man whom he in no way remembered.
Briggs went down on his hands and knees and began to pick up the debris.
One of the bouquets had rolled to the colonel's feet, and he stooped with some difficulty, recovered it, and laid it across his knees. He gazed past Farr with a frown—with a significant, dismissing jerk of his head. The young man turned in time to see the capitalist's handsome secretary. The amazing riot in the sanctuary of her employer had brought her from behind the screen. Uncertainty and alarm were in her eyes and excitement had flushed her cheeks. Against the background of the gorgeous screen she seemed a veritable apparition of loveliness, and while Farr stared, frankly admiring her, recognizing her, exchanging that startled recognition with her, she disappeared.
"How do you dare to come into my private office in this fashion?"
"I have waited in that anteroom every day for ten days, trying to get an audience. The door was open just now and I came in."
"It's your own fault if you haven't seen me. I see men who have business with me and who send in an explanation of that business."
"So I have been told by that man," stated Farr, pointing to Briggs, who was groping about on the carpet. "But my business with you couldn't be discussed through a third party."
"Now that you're in here, what is that business?"
"I'll tell you first what it is not, so that there won't be any misunderstanding in your mind about me. I am not here to borrow money, beg money, ask for work, ask for a personal favor of any kind, solicit a political job, nor have I anything to sell to you or to give to you. So, you see, my business is different."
With a quick motion he brought out a parcel which he had held concealed in the broad-brimmed hat.
Briggs straightened up on his knees and remained thus, seemingly paralyzed, staring at the parcel.
The capitalist sank back in his chair, his face growing greenish white.
"Don't you throw that bomb!" he gasped. In his panic he was not able to deduce any other explanation for the presence of this stranger who had so strenuously disclaimed all reasonable motives for his visit. He quailed before this man who seemed to be a dangerous crank—for Farr's attire was out of the ordinary and his eyes were flashing and his poise was that of a man sure of himself.
"What do you think I have here in this package?"
"Dynamite!" mumbled the magnate.
Colonel Dodd rolled his head to and fro on the back of his chair, shutting his eyes in vain attempt to find somebody to whom to appeal for help. He started a furtive hand in the direction of the battery of buttons.
"Keep your hands in your lap," commanded Farr. "I say that what I have here in this package is worse than dynamite." He tore the paper and disclosed a half-dozen faucets that were still dripping with slime. "You know now what I mean, Colonel Dodd. This is the stuff your water company is pumping through the pipes in this state."
The president of the Consolidated straightened in his chair, but he had been thoroughly frightened.
While Farr talked on the colonel seemed to be gathering himself—recovering his voice.
"It's a mighty bold act for me to come in here like this, Colonel Dodd. I understand it. I'm a poor man and a stranger in this city. Just consider me a voice—call me Balaam's ass if you want to. But I've come up from the tenement-house districts where the children are dying."
"What do you want?" The magnate discharged the question explosively.
"Pure water in the city mains."
"Whom do you represent?"
Farr hesitated. Colonel Dodd scented possible political strategy in this visit, and was controlling his ire in order to probe the matter.
"Come, my man. Out with it! Who commissioned you to come here?"
"I'll not claim that I have any powers delegated to me, sir."
"How did you dare to force your way in here?"
"Considering what kind of a man I was a few weeks ago, I'm having pretty hard work to explain to myself what I'm doing, sir."
The colonel knotted bushy brows. This person seemed to be playing with him. "Who told you to come here?"
"The soul of a little girl who was named Rosemarie."
Colonel Dodd came out of his chair, thoroughly angry—and yet he repressed his anger. This person, more than ever, seemed to him to be a crank with vagaries.
Farr put up a protesting palm. His tones trembled, and into them he put all the appeal a human voice can compass.
"I know I astonish you, Colonel," he added. "I astonish myself. I'm not much on self-analysis. I don't know just what has come over me the last few weeks. But they do say the Deity picks out queer instruments when He wants things done. Man to man, now, forgetting you're a mighty man and I'm a small one, won't you say you'll give the people of this state pure water instead of poison?"
"You don't think you can stroll in here and coax me to build over the whole Consolidated system, do you?"
"That isn't the idea at all, sir. Treat me simply as a voice—a jog of your conscience—a reminder. I'll go away and you'll never see me again."
"If you think the cranks in this state can influence me in the least item about running my own business you're the worst lunatic outside the state asylum," declared the colonel, with passion.
"You mean that what I have asked on behalf of women and children hasn't had any effect on you?"
"Not the slightest. Get out!" In his present mood Colonel Dodd would not admit to this interloper that he planned reforms, and in that moment he unwittingly created his Frankenstein's monster.
Farr retreated a couple of steps and bowed. "Colonel Dodd, in my part of the West we fellows had a little code: help a woman, always, everywhere; tote a tired child in our arms; and, in the case of a man who announced himself an enemy, give him fair notice when it came time to pull guns. Better get your weapon loose on your hip."
He bowed again and went out.
Briggs rose from his knees and his master snapped an angry stare from the door that the young man had closed softly behind himself.
"What kind of a resort is my office getting to be? Do you know who that devilish fool is, Briggs?"
"No, sir. He has been hanging around here, that's all I know. I kept at him." He made a little dab of his woodpecker beak. "But I couldn't find out anything from him."
"Well find out from somebody else, then. And get judge Warren on the 'phone for me."
When the bell rang and the colonel heard the voice of the Consolidated's corporation counsel greeting him on the wire he ordered the judge to come over at once.
"Hell has just burned through here in three small patches," stated the colonel, grimly. "The sooner we turn on the Consolidated hose, the better."
In the early dusk of a summer evening Mr. Peter Briggs stood at the edge of the sidewalk of one of the squalid avenues of the district of the tenement-houses of Marion. His hands were behind him, propping out his coat-tails. He kept peering at the gloomy stairway of a house near at hand. Take the gloom, his attitude, and his sooty garb, and he gave a very picturesque impression of a raven doing sentinel duty.
At last a tall young man came down the stairs which Mr. Briggs was watching and strolled off leisurely up the avenue, stopping here and there to chat, nodding to this man, flourishing a hand salute to that man. The young man apparently had nothing whatever on his mind except to enjoy a stroll in the summer evening.
Mr. Briggs watched him out of sight without moving from his tracks. Then he withdrew both hands from under his coat-tails. In one hand was a note-book, in the other hand was a pencil. Mr. Briggs made an entry, closed the book with decision, and snapped an elastic band around the covers. Then he made off toward his home. He lived up-town in a section where there were fewer smells and better scenery. He determined that this should be his last tour of surveillance. He had found his trips into the nooks and crannies of the Eleventh Ward to be very distasteful employment for a man who had served Colonel Dodd for so many years in the sumptuous surroundings of that office in the First National block.
He asked himself what would be the use of hunting for any more information regarding such an inconsequential individual as one Walker Farr? He wondered why this crank had impressed Colonel Symonds Dodd sufficiently to stir up all this trouble for himself, Peter Briggs. The fellow had come from somewhere—nobody in Marion seemed to know. He had been discharged from the employment of the Consolidated. Now he was going about, warning all the people to boil the city water they drew from the faucets. He seemed to be a crank on the water subject, so Peter Brigg's note-book recorded.
The book also recorded that this queer Walker Farr strolled about the streets in the poorer quarters, "currying favor": so Peter Briggs expressed the young man's evening activities in the note-book. That seemed to be all there was to it. At any rate, Peter Briggs decided that he had finished his quest.
Thereupon he had snapped the elastic band with vigor and made up his mind to tell Colonel Dodd the next morning that chasing that worthless fellow around or thinking that such a fellow could do anything to interfere with Colonel Dodd was poppycock. Peter Briggs hoped he would dare to call it "poppycock" in the presence of his master—for he was thoroughly sick of being a sleuth in the ill-smelling Eleventh Ward.
He did dare to call it poppycock. And Colonel Dodd shrugged his shoulders and forgot one Walker Farr. The fellow seemed inconsiderable—and Colonel Dodd found other matters very pressing.
For one thing, those three men from Danburg had brought suit against both Stone & Adams and the Consolidated Water Company and had engaged as counsel no less a personage than the Honorable Archer Converse, the state's most eminent corporation lawyer, a man of such high ideals and such scrupulous conception of legal responsibility that he had never been willing to accept a retainer from the great System which dominated state affairs. Colonel Symonds Dodd feared the Honorable Archer Converse. It was hinted that the Danburg case would involve charges of conspiracy with intent to restrain independents, and would be used to show up what the opponents of the Consolidated insisted was general iniquity in finance and politics.
Colonel Dodd outwardly was not intimidated. He sent no flag of truce. He decided to intrench and fight. He cursed when he remembered the interview with the Danburg triumvirate.
"Under ordinary circumstances I would buy them off in the usual way," he informed Judge Warren. "But that damnation lunatic raved at me with all the insults he could think of—then he up with his dirty bunch of plans and knocked my flowers on to the floor—yes, sir, that was what the mad bull did—he knocked my flowers on to the floor!"
And Colonel Dodd emphasized that as the crime unforgivable.
THE MATTER OF DOING WHAT ONE CAN
It was from Citizen Drew that Walker Farr heard the story of Captain Andrew Kilgour.
Citizen Drew was the elderly man with the earnest face who had been first to commend Farr that evening at City Hall when he and old Etienne had made their pathetically useless foray against bulwarked privilege.
Folks in Marion who knew Citizen Drew had forgotten his given name. In his propaganda of protest he called himself "Citizen." He built carriage-tops in a little shop where there were drawers stuffed with political and economic literature, and he read and pondered during his spare hours.
Farr sought out Citizen Drew and sat at his feet, with open ears.
For Citizen Drew knew the political history of his state, the men concerned, their characters, their aims, their weaknesses, their virtues, their faults—especially did he understand their faults—their affiliations with the Machine, their attitude toward the weak; he had followed their trails as the humble hound follows big game.
Therefore, Farr, a stranger in that land, seeking knowledge with which to arm his resolve, went and sat with Citizen Drew and learned many things.
Sometimes loquacity carried Citizen Drew a bit afield from the highway of politics, and when he touched on the case of Captain Andrew Kilgour Farr's heart thumped and his eyes glistened. For Drew prefaced the bit of a story with this:
"I never knew Symonds Dodd to do anything toward squaring a wrong he had committed except when he gave Kate Kilgour a fine position in his office. And there are those who say that he was only showing more of his selfishness when he hired her; he wanted the prettiest girl in the city to match his office furnishings."
"I have seen her," said Farr, trying to be matter-of-fact. "I—I sort of wondered!"
"Her father was a friend of mine. He was a good man. And the Consolidated money couldn't buy him. His people were Kilgowers in Scotland and he was a man not given to much talk, but he was willing to let me run on, nodding his head now and then while he smoked. He was an honest man and the best engineer in the state, and he kept his own counsel in all things. And he showed me the Kilgower coat of arms—and he didn't show that to many. He was no boaster. He was proud of his people, but he used to say that it made but little difference who the ancestors were unless the descendants copied the virtues and tried to improve over the faults. There was a Kilgower who went down across the border and gave himself as a hostage so that the clan might gain time—and he knew that he would be hung—and he was. But he saved his people. And I wish you would remember that, Mr. Farr, for it explains a bit the state of mind of Andrew Kilgour.
"He wouldn't sell himself for the gang's dirty work—he made honest reports. So they did for him, Mr. Farr. And he couldn't afford to have them do for him, because his wife was vain and a spendthrift and he let her waste and spend because he was a good and simple man when it came to the matter of a woman's domination over him. That's the curse on strong men—they are tender when it comes to a woman. She wasn't worthy of him, his wife. It's the daughter who has his honesty. I think if she knew who had done for her father she would not stay in Symonds Dodd's office. But the gang does for a man most often without leaving the trail open when they run away and hide.
"He would come here and sit with me and smoke and was very silent. I knew there were debts and I knew well enough that the woman wanted him to sell himself.
"He raked and scraped money—he sold everything of his own, his instruments and all. He took out every cent of insurance that money would buy. Then he put prussic acid in a capsule—a shell of salol, I believe they said it was—so that the work of the poison would be delayed, and he swallowed the capsule on the street and went into an office and sat and chatted with friends and joked and laughed much more than was his habit till at last his eyes closed and his face grew white and he fell out of his chair upon the floor stone-dead, and never uttered a groan.
"It was brave work. They called it heart disease, but it's not easy to fool insurance people. They took him out of his grave and proved suicide—and they did not pay a dollar of insurance to his family. They were not obliged to. The policies were new and the suicide clause let the companies out. So he left only debts instead of twenty-five thousand dollars. However, I say it was brave work."
"It would have been braver to stay and face it," blurted Farr.
"But Andrew Kilgour had a code of his own—a state of mind some of us could not understand—the example of an ancestor. We are not all alike. Many cannot stay and face trouble. You might be able to do it—you seem to have a level head!"
Farr grew pale, his hands trembled on the arms of his chair, and then he got up and marched across the little shop to the window, turning his back on Citizen Drew.
"You told them in City Hall that you would stay here and fight," pursued Citizen Drew. "That is brave work."
"I'll be much obliged to you, Citizen Drew, if you'll leave me out of your catalogue of heroes. And I take back what I said about his facing it. I hadn't any right to make any such comment."
"So the girl went to work in Symonds Dodd's office and his nephew is courting her. I hope he doesn't get Andrew Kilgour's daughter. He never went after any other girl honestly. I have looked into this case because I was Andrew's friend. Young Dodd wants to marry her and the mother is helping him. But I know that rapscallion, Mr. Farr. I can't believe that Kate Kilgour will be caught by him."
"He has a fine position, they tell me," said Farr, still gazing out of the window.
"The Machine made old Peleg Johnstone state treasurer, and he doesn't know bonds from biscuit. Colonel Dodd put in his nephew as chief clerk, and old Peleg is a figure-head, smoking his pipe in the back office and resting his wool-tipped boots on his desk. Oh, I know the bunch of 'em, sir. I can tell you the inside of things. Young Dodd takes orders from his uncle and runs the treasury. All the state's money is in the Dodd banks on the checking-account basis—and the gang is letting it out at six percent. Tidy little profit! And nobody to say a word, even to ask how Richard Dodd finds so much money to spend. But that's the principal wonder in the world, Mr. Farr—how your neighbor gets his money to blow. Jones, Smith, Brown, and Robinson—they stand and look at one another and ask the same question. And folks in the Eleventh Ward are even asking me how you get your living," added Citizen Drew, smoothing his curiosity with a bit of jocoseness.
"I have been working in this city—doing good, hard work," stated Farr, moving toward the door.
"Yes, but you have been discharged."
"I understand how it is you know so much stuff to tell me," returned the young man, smiling. "Well, Citizen Drew, I'm going to take the first job that offers itself. Tell 'em that!"
"I'm glad of it," said Citizen Drew, with blunt heartiness. "If you have set out to do anything among the plain folks you've got to be at work in the open, earning honest wages, or they'll suspect you. They have been fooled too often by fakes and loafers. But since you advertised yourself in City Hall you may find jobs a little hard to land. It's pretty much of an air-tight proposition, Consolidated influence."
"I have somebody looking after my interests in that line, Citizen Drew. I'm not worrying." He opened the door. "In fact, there are two mighty helpful chaps whom I'm going to associate with more or less from now on."
"Bring 'em with you and let me know 'em. Can't have too many in a good cause."
"I'll bring them—but they are pretty hard to understand—rather slow getting acquainted—lots of folks have no use for them," said Farr, starting down-stairs.
"What are their names?" asked the inquisitive citizen, eager for more additions to his general stock of information.
"I'll tell you later."
But Farr named them to himself when he was on the street.
"Chance and Humility—I hope you are going to stick by me from now on," he muttered. "Chance, you have led me into a queer position and into a strange state of mind. Humility, you are helping me to understand. Now, Chance, what have you to say to me?"
It was more of the fantastic whimsy with which Walker Farr played.
His eyes, searching the street after this challenge to Chance, beheld an ice-wagon rumbling past. It was a neat-looking cart, painted white, and bore the advertisement, "Crystal Pure Independent Ice Company."
Another wagon, painted dirty yellow, followed. It was a Consolidated ice-cart; Farr knew those carts with their loads of river-ice.
The spectacle of something which promised rivalry to that yellow cart piqued his interest. His mood welcomed the first adventure which Chance presented. He had found Chance playing peculiar pranks with his affairs in the days just past.
He hurried in pursuit of the white cart and accosted the driver.
"Where can I find the manager of this company?"
"He's up at Coosett Lake this afternoon, sir." The man was respectful. The stranger's garb and demeanor impressed him. "The trolley will take you pretty near it. Take a car in the square—a Halcyon Park car."
Without canvassing the matter further Farr took the car.
He decided that it was a most comforting sensation, this abandoning his problems to Chance! It saved so much fuss and worry.
He found the little lake at the limits of the park area—a hollow among the hills.
Men were busy at the foot of the slope over whose crest he marched. He saw several rough buildings at the edge of the lake, plainly makeshift ice-houses. One was a new structure and the other two were old barns which had been "darned" here and there with new material, and their yawed sides were propped with joists. Men were loading ice upon carts; the translucent cubes flashed in the rays of the sun.
During the process of his little crusade he had become acquainted with the conditions in the city of Marion and he knew that the Consolidated folks controlled the ice-supply as well as the water. They held an iron grip by legislative charter on all the riparian rights along the river and allowed no one else to operate an ice-field. He had seen and sniffed the unwholesome slime which a melted cake of Consolidated ice deposited.
When he found opportunity he accosted a man in corduroy. He was a big chap, bronzed by the sun, and Farr singled him out as the manager because he had been directing the other workers while he toiled himself.
"It's a little business of my own," said the man. "I have started in independent."
"I had thought the Consolidated had control of everything."
"They would control everything if they could. They wouldn't let me run my carts through the city streets if they knew how to stop me. I worked for them fifteen years, lugging their dirty ice on my back, up stairs and down, and I know that crowd. I don't understand much of anything but the ice business, mister, whoever you are. But I wouldn't lug any more of that ice into homes. I put my savings in here, every cent, hired these barns and a shore privilege, and I'm selling clean ice. But I'm going to lose every blamed cent! It's no use. I can't buck 'em. Excuse me! It's no interest to you. My mouth runs away with me when I get talking about that gang."
He went back to the barn to help his men shift a runway.
Farr waited patiently until he was able to speak to the busy man again.
"I don't mean to bother you, sir," he said, humbly. "But I am interested in this proposition of yours. I have worked for the Consolidated, myself. I was discharged because I stood up and damned their water before the mayor and aldermen."
"Say, I heard something about that!" cried the iceman, displaying prompt interest and admiration. "The boys said it was good work."
"I mention it merely to put myself right with you."
"Then say on ahead, my friend!"
"Do you tell me you can't make a go of this?"
"I'm afraid I can't. It's a half-mile haul for me to the nearest siding. The railroad folks don't give me any better rate than they're obliged to—and you know why that is! And I have to have another set of carts for the city delivery. And no capital to work with! I'm up against a crowd that has all the money, plenty of equipment, and has its supply right at the back door of the city—and it belongs at the back door! But you know what the buying public is! The only reason why I have lasted is because my old customers gave me their business and are sticking pretty well."
"My friend," declared Farr, putting his hand on the shoulder bent and ridged by many years of ice-toting, "lots of men who are making money as missionaries are not doing half the good in the world you're doing. You're certainly showing some of the citizens of Marion the difference between good ice and frozen gobs of pestilence."
"A fellow needs grit, grace, gumption, and a lot of missionary spirit to fight what I'm fighting, mister. I ain't going to say anything about a lot of obstacles the syndicate has put in my way. Those were to be expected in the way of regular business competition. But you can see I have only got limited resources here, and I can't afford a big outfit in the city. Sometimes I have run short, the best I could do—and it's mighty little sleep I have. And the Consolidated drivers have refused to sell ice to anybody who has been buying of me even when mothers have pleaded so as to keep milk for sick babies from souring. That's orders from headquarters! You wouldn't think that the same big chaps who boss the governor of the state would get down to such nubbins as that, eh? But they do—that's their system. They used to tell me that it's the only way a big syndicate can keep its grip—never leave a bar down! Yes, sir, they have blacklisted my customers until they'll be good and give the Consolidated a yearly contract. More than that, they pass word along that I'll be out of business by another season and that folks who have bought of me this year will be given the go-by next! Can you beat it?"
"Are you going to see out to them?"
"No," said the iceman, grimly. "There are two good reasons: I won't sell and they won't buy. They will kill me out so that nobody else will be encouraged to try the scheme again."
"I want a job," stated Farr, curtly. "I want to work for you. Give me a place on one of your carts in the city."
"Say, look here," blurted the other man, frankly astonished, "you look more like a gent than an iceman!"
"No matter what I look like. The main question is, can I lug ice? Feel of my muscle!"
"It may be a poor outlook for your pay—working for me," warned the proprietor. "And if you ever want another job in Marion you may be blacklisted. I don't want to get you into a scrape."
"I can't be in any worse scrape than the one I am in now. Haven't I just told you who I am?"
"Oh, I know that! I reckon you're the same fellow. But, see here, mister, I'm one of those simple kind of galoots—and the less a man knows the more suspicious he is. You ain't wanting to work for me just because you need a job!"
"I do need a job! I have spent the little money I had by me after I was fired by the Consolidated. I had some special expenses—the funeral of a—a friend," he added, wistfulness in his tones. He drove his hand into his pockets and exhibited a few small coins in his palm when he pulled his hand out. "That's my cash—every cent of it!"
"Sure! I see it. But money's easy enough to come at by a fellow like you when he needs it. You haven't come across all square with me yet!" It was not mere inquisitiveness; it was the insistence of a plain man who wanted a definite peg on which to hitch the first warp of association. "You've got to handle money of mine," he went on. "I'm in a tight place and I have got to have the right men tied up with me. I wouldn't have to ask one of those boys yonder why he wanted to lug ice. But you ain't no ordinary slouch, mister. You don't do things—not many of 'em—unless you've got a good reason for same." It was the instinct of ingenuousness. "Keep it all to yourself if you want to. But in that case you'll have to excuse me!"
Farr did not hesitate. He smiled.
"You're a down-on-the-ground fellow who may be able to understand the thing better than I do myself," he declared. Again he put his hand on the bent shoulder.
"You didn't break loose from a good job and start this ice business here simply to make more money, did you?"
"Well, I've got a family to support and I wanted to make some money, of course, but I thought it was about time to have less relics, germs, curiosities, microbes, and general knickknacks left in ice-boxes after the ice had melted. So I went out of the frozen museum business, mister." His voice softened suddenly. "We lost a little girl a year ago last summer. Typhoid!"
"I lost a little girl—a friend," said Farr, patting the shoulder. "It's this way with me—What is your name?"
"Mr. Nowell, I have poked more or less fun in my life at men who claimed to have missions. Perhaps that was because those men drew my attention by advertising their missions loudly—and, therefore, I concluded that all men with licenses to cure this and fix that and regulate the other were fooling themselves or else were bluffs. But all of a sudden I have waked up to something. I believe that any human being who isn't doing a little something on the side to help somebody else in this life is mighty miserable. I believe that the average sort of folks are doing it—keeping it quiet, in most cases, perhaps. I thought I had a mission and I stood up in your city government and advertised it and made considerable of an ass of myself."
"Well, it was all right one way you look at it," said Nowell, with the caution of the honest citizen. "But, of course, you got the stigmy put onto you of being a crank and a disturber and you don't get nowhere! It ain't gab and holler that does it! If talk sets folks to thinking—that's all right, so far as it goes. But a lot of these chaps set their mouths to going and let their hands lay crossed in their laps and then wonder why the world doesn't get better because they have asked it to be good."
It was sagacity from the humble observer.
"Mr. Nowell, I don't want to be quite as lonesome in this world as I have been," said Farr, with earnestness. "It's an awful feeling, that! A man can be lonely for a time and crowd down the hankering to be in the march of honest men where he can touch elbows and be a part of things. I see you look at me! That's right—it's queer stuff to be talking to you." He pondered for a moment and went on. "Queer thing, eh, for a fellow to wake up all of a sudden—a fellow of my stamp—and want to do some real good in the world? Well, it surprises me, and it would surprise you a whole lot more if you knew me better. We won't try to analyze the feeling. I've given up trying to do it." He paused and his brown eyes surveyed the blinking iceman with a quizzical appeal in them. "That's a pretty long preface, Mr. Nowell. It ought to lead up to some very important request. But it doesn't. I simply want a job on your ice-cart. It will give me the best opportunity I know of to go into homes and tell mothers to boil the water which comes out of those dirty taps; after I unscrew the faucets I won't have to argue much. I told Colonel Dodd in his office to look out for me! That may have been bluster. I am a nobody. But I'm on his trail, and there is one thing I can do to start with! I can help save the lives of a few children. That's all! I'll be following my new motto. Will you give me the job?"
"I sure will," declared Nowell, heartily. "If I don't know when a man is talking rock-bottom to me, then it's my own fault. When do you want to go to work?"
Nowell gave the new man's garments a disparaging side glance.
"You look more as if you was going out to preach instead of deliver ice. But I can fix that if you're busted, my friend. You slip off that coat and help here till we're loaded. Then ride into the city on the freight-car and tell any one of my men to give you the overalls and jumper I left hanging in my stable office."
In this fashion it came about that Farr that day was riding on an ice-wagon in Marion, learning his route. A red-headed youth who was nursing an ice-pick wound in a bundled-up foot served as guide and driver and spotted the "Crystal Pure" cards propped here and there in windows, mutely signaling the household needs. With zestful complacency, and with secret enjoyment in being allowed to "team" this chap who looked and talked like a "nob," the youth allowed Farr to do all the work.
The route took in many apartment-houses of the city.
The labor was muscle-racking. In most cases there were stairs to climb. He stood, sagging under his burden, till chests were cleared by the housewives or sluggish maids. He discovered that the iceman was considered a fair and logical butt for all the forenoon grouches of the kitchen. Women complained querulously that the ice dripped on the clean floor, or that the piece was not up to the twenty-cent piece delivered by the other company, or that he was late, or he had not had his eyes about him the day before or else he would have seen the card.
On numerous occasions he was obliged to carry a piece of ice back down-stairs to his cart and exchange it for a piece of another size and price. He received no apology in such cases; he was tartly informed that he ought to have common sense enough to know what was wanted in that house. In other cases, the mistress of the apartments turned him from the door and explained with entire lack of interest in his long climb that the card had been left up by oversight—the chest had been filled the day before.
And at two places sharp-tongued women would not allow him to enter, frankly stating that icemen were too dirty creatures to allow inside the door of a respectable house; the women received their ten-cent cubes in pans and slammed the door in his face.
And through all this Farr preserved his smile.
In this slavery, tongue-lashed by fretful women, sweating under his burden, he was happy; he could not account for it and did not attempt to, but he knew it. He accepted the situation.
He received rewards enough to fortify his resolution.
A motherly woman asked him to wait a moment and she mixed for him a glass of lemonade. That gave him an opportunity to say a few words to her about drinking-water, modestly and deferentially. She was interested, and he showed her what the guilty faucet of her tap held in concealment.
And he saw that she was shocked and after he had warned her he asked her to tell all the other women whom she knew. She promised to bring the matter up in her sewing-club.
"And even the fussy women," he told himself, as he plodded back to his cart, encouraged by his first experiment, "if I keep calm, if I keep smiling—I shall find my chance to say something to them after a time."
A fresh doughnut was given to him by a maid who smiled up at his manly good looks approvingly, and he was very grateful, for his breakfast had been a meager one because he had barely enough small coins to make a jingle in his pocket.
The maid gasped affrightedly when he showed her what was in the faucet, and immediately set on water to boil to supply the bottles in the ice-chest.
Furthermore, the maid stated that she knew many other maids who would be glad to know about such a dreadful thing, and that she would have a word to say to them on the way to Sunday mass and back.
Farr began to understand more clearly what can be accomplished by a lone voice, carrying a gospel which can be backed and illustrated by signs and wonders.
"I'll have them listening to me yet," he pondered. "I'll never say another unkind word about a woman's tongue."
Colonel Symonds Dodd flashed past the ice-cart that afternoon in his limousine.
Farr laughed aloud at the humor of a thought which occurred to him: he reflected that he would like to behold Colonel Dodd's face and hear Colonel Dodd's remarks if somebody told that gentleman that the man before whom he had quailed and grown pale was now starting what the man believed was a more effective assault on the dynasty than even a whole car-load of dynamite bombs could make, even if they were exploded in all the Consolidated reservoirs. The remarks which would entertain, so Farr pondered, would come when the colonel was informed that the assault consisted of a lone iceman making talk to women in kitchens.
"However," said the iceman to himself, as he checked a nick in a ten-cent cube at the back of his cart. "I hold that my new motto is all right, and old Etienne will indorse it, and he knows what self-sacrifice consists of. It isn't rolling up your eyes and folding your hands and saying, 'What can I do?' It's saying, 'I'll do what I can!'—and then keeping your hands busy!"
WHEN A MAID IS COY
Mr. Richard Dodd came wooing.
He waited in his gray car at the curb in front of the First National Bank block until Kate Kilgour issued forth into the afternoon sunshine.
He called to her, holding open the side door.
"I just had to see you," he told her. "I have come down from the capital, doing forty miles an hour. You're more precious than all the money I have locked up in the vaults."
He did not find in her eyes any of that acclaimed glad love-light which eager lovers seek. On the contrary, Miss Kilgour made just a bit of a face at him and was distinctly petulant.
"I do not want to ride, Richard. I enjoy my walk. I need it after a day at my desk."
"But I'm going to take you on a long ride into the country. We'll have dinner at Hillcrest Inn and we'll—"
"I'll go straight home, if you please."
"Then come in here with me."
"Oh, if you insist!" She said it with weary impatience.
"Are you tired?"
He drove slowly. "I don't want you to work any more. You know I don't. You know how I feel. Kate, I have published our intentions of marriage."
Her demeanor till then had been marked by tolerance, a bit pettish. Now she turned on him the indignant stare of offended womanhood.
"Richard, I have not given you permission to do that."
"But you are going to marry me!"
"Some day. I will tell you when. I am not ready."
"You are playing with me."
"I am not so frivolous."
"But why do you keep putting it off?"
"A woman who gives herself has the right to say when it shall be."
"My God!" he raged. "I wish you would wake up."
She did not answer.
"You don't know what love is. You won't let me touch you."
"I suppose that your experience has qualified you, Richard," she returned, half humorously, half scornfully.
"We are going to be married. Your mother is anxious for you to marry. I am going to tell my uncle to hunt for another secretary."
"Be careful how you take liberties with my private business," she warned him, sharply.
"You need somebody to take care of it for you. You have promised to be my wife. You can't give me a single good reason for waiting any longer."
"But I intend to wait."
He drove along in angry silence and they left the car together at the Trelawny Apartments. The car had made a detour in reaching the curb—avoiding a white wagon at the rear of which an iceman was briskly pecking in twain a cake of ice.
The girl glanced sharply at the man and turned her head when she reached the sidewalk in order to survey him more closely. The iceman, peering up at the windows to locate such signal-cards as might be visible, lowered his gaze and intercepted the girl's scrutiny. Color came into her cheeks, but she frowned as if resenting his stare and hurried into the vestibule, her lover at her heels.
"Look here, Friend Myself," reflected Walker Farr, "it's time you woke up!" He sighed and swung a chunk of ice upon his shoulder. "But what else can I expect? Come on, Humility, and give me a soft word or two. I was hoping I'd never see her again."
"Youse take those two front numbers—ten and twelve—Mrs. Kilgour and Mr. Knowles," advised his helper. "Package-entrance is around behind."
Farr toiled up the stairs, carrying one ice cube on his shoulder, with another swinging from tongs. There was but one door to the Kilgour apartment and the girl and Dodd stood in front of it; they had evidently waited in the corridor after emerging from the elevator, and the young man was detaining her, talking earnestly.
The girl opened the door with her latch-key, and with an apology he stepped in front of the pair and entered.
"Well, I'll be—" blurted Dodd. "So that's what he is—a cheap, low-lived iceman!"
Mrs. Kilgour came into her vestibule and led the way to the kitchen, for Farr stood irresolutely in the doorway, awaiting directions as to his burden. Following her, the young man noted her house-dress, beribboned over-much, her rouged face, her bleached hair, and wondered how such a woman could have beguiled Andrew Kilgour, as he felt he knew that sacrificing hero from what Citizen Drew had said.
"Say, that's the plug-ugly who insulted us in the woods. I'll never forget that face," stormed Dodd, making no effort by lowered tones to conceal his sentiments from the iceman. "Where else am I going to run across him? He needs a horse-whipping. If there weren't ladies present I'd give him one."
"The man seems to be minding his own business," said the girl, coldly.
Farr heard her. There was a hint of contempt in her tones, and the young man humbly accepted the scorn as directed toward him. He lifted the ice into the box and received his coin from the languid woman, who seemed to pay as little heed to his presence as she did to Dodd's threats.
She seemed to be more especially interested in herself, and when Farr departed was fondling into place the masses of her hair before a mirror in the vestibule. Through the space formed by the portieres he saw Dodd reaching eager hands to the girl, her presence having apparently charmed away his thoughts of vengeance.
The iceman went humbly on his way.
He was meditating on the sacrifice of Captain Andrew Kilgour; he remembered that stalwart men are willing slaves of the weakest women. He wondered how much of the honesty of the father was in the daughter. He tried to console himself by insisting that it was not there. He had had only a limited opportunity to study Richard Dodd. However, he was convinced that his unflattering estimate of that young man was surely justified; and so certain was he that the character of Dodd must be patent to all he went back to his tasks with a lowered estimate of the girl who would select such a man as husband. And yet out of the dust of the highway the profile of her face had touched him as his heart never had been touched before; he had plucked the rose and had plodded on behind the little sister of the rose. He wondered what strange impulse had touched him. She must be merely like all the rest. Her graciousness in that first meeting had tempted him to believe that she was different. Now some consciousness, equally as intangible, suggested to him that she was selfishly selling herself for ease. His thoughts were pretty much mixed, he acknowledged. But as he went on, bearing his burdens, listening to the petty tyrants who may ruthlessly taunt the man who comes in by the back door, he was aware that he had full need of much ministration from his new friend, Humility.
In the sitting-room of the Kilgour flat Richard Dodd was telling the mother that he had made application for a marriage license.
"And I have waited long enough," he declared. "Mother Kilgour, you must convince Kate that we are to be married within a week."
And he gave the mother a look which made her turn pale and twist her ringed fingers nervously.
"Kate, what is the use?" she pleaded. "You are acting like a child. You love Richard. You know you love him. You tell me often that you love him! Richard is such a dear boy!" She said this fawningly, with evident intent to placate the sullen young man. Her tone, her air suggested the nervous embarrassment of a debtor who seeks to put off a creditor with flattery and fresh promises. "Now be a darling child and say that we'll have the wedding next week without any fuss or feathers."
"I am not ready to get married, and I simply will not be married just yet," declared the girl, her red lips compressed.
"You don't love me!" complained Dodd.
"I like you, Richard," admitted the girl, frankly, without any coquettishness. "I have never cared for anybody else. You have been good to me, except when you were foolish."
"Foolishness—that's what she calls being so much in love with her that I can't keep my hands off her," said Dodd to the mother. "Mother Kilgour, you haven't talked to Kate as you should. She doesn't know what love is."
"Oh, I'll find out all about it, and then we'll be married—when I'm ready to become a wife," said the girl, with an indulgent smile. "All at once I'll wake up, just as you have been begging me to do, and then we'll simply run away and be married and live happily for ever after."
"I don't like this stalling," growled Dodd, brutally.
"I'll leave you two children together," said the mother. "I'm sure you'll come to an understanding." She went away, showing relief.
"Sit down here on the divan with me, sweetheart," pleaded the young man.
But without removing her hat she went to the piano and began to play.
"Please come!" he entreated.
She smiled at him over her shoulder and made a pretty moue.
Muttering an oath of passion he leaped up, hurried across the room, and began to kiss her fiercely.
He crushed back with his lips all her protests; standing over her, he held her upon the piano-bench until by main strength and with all the force of her resentment she tore away from him.
"And now you are going to blame me because I can't help it," he gasped.
"I don't in the least understand why normal persons can find any pleasure in that kind of folly."
"Is your idea of loving anybody rubbing noses like Eskimos?"
"I'd endure that kind of loving in preference to that kind of kissing, Richard. That isn't love which you're offering—not the kind of love I want. I am going out for my walk—you filched it from me. No, I'm going alone. Go and talk with mamma, if you like."
She escaped the clutch he made and hurried out and to the elevator.
Flushed and angry, Dodd made his way to an inner room where Mrs. Kilgour was reading a novel, sunning herself with feline indolence. She put the book by with evident regret.
"Oh, Kate, has so much poise!" she lamented, breaking in on the young man's complaints. "She is so like her father. No one except myself could do anything with him at all. Sometime it was very hard for me! He would set his mind and his teeth! But I always won in the end."
"Well, go ahead and win now," commanded the surly lover. "You are simply letting this thing run along."
"I know Kate's nature, Richard. It's only a matter of the right time."
He sat down at her feet on the end of the couch.
"The time is here—now!" he told her. "I insist that you make Kate understand. I have been patient and reasonable for a year. You have promised me that you will bring everything around all right. Why don't you do it?"
"But delivering a daughter into marriage isn't like delivering groceries on order!" Her tone showed a bit of impatience. "Be reasonable!"
"I don't want to say anything to hurt your feelings, but we must get down to cases. I'm not asking you to deliver anything to me except what was promised long ago—promised by Kate herself. And you know what you said when I loaned you five thousand dollars to help you save those stocks. Excuse me, Mother Kilgour, but I can't always control my nature; I've been in the game with the bunch for a long time and I'm naturally suspicious—I have seen a good many chaps trimmed, and I don't propose to have anything put over on me."
"You are insolent and cruel," she cried, her cheeks pale.
"I don't mean you—I believe you want to help me. But it's time to be up and doing. She doesn't give me one good reason why she will not be married right away. It's only jolly and putting it off."
"But you are twitting me about the service you have done me! I am not selling my daughter!"
"That isn't it at all! But you must agree that I have been good to you. I want you to be a friend to me. But I don't get anything that's definite. If this thing drags on and on the first thing I know some fellow will come along and she'll fall for him. That's the girl nature!"
"You are talking about my daughter, Richard! She has her father's disposition and she is true blue. She has given her promise and she will keep it."
"When?" he demanded, curtly.
"I can't drive her."
"You said you could," he insisted. "You said a year ago when I advanced that money that you knew just how to handle her."
"Are you going to keep twitting me about that money?"
"No; only I'm going to say that you haven't even told me about what stocks you were protecting. You haven't said anything about repaying the loan, Mother Kilgour. It has been a sort of general stand-off all around for me. Hold on! I'm not making a holler! But I like to be taken in right. I'm a Dodd, and I can't help playing to protect myself."
"It will come around all right, Richard. You don't know Kate as I do. I understand her because I understood her father. She is rather self-centered. But she is romantic underneath! But you know you're so sort—sort of—well, just a business man—so matter-of-fact. A girl like Kate needs to be stirred—her poise shaken—something like that!"
"Lochinvar business, eh?" he sneered.
"It must be something a little bit out of the ordinary to hurry her, Richard. Go away, please. Let me think. I have an idea. I must spend a little time on it."
"How much time?"
"Oh, I don't know just how much. Be patient."
"Mrs. Kilgour, if this thing cannot be put through by you I want you to say so. I'm at the end of that patience you're appealing to. I won't be fooled."
"You don't need to say that you're Colonel Dodd's nephew," she retorted. "You have all the family traits."
"Well, there's one I haven't got: I loaned you five thousand dollars without taking security—and that's the act of a good friend. Excuse me, but I've got to speak of it—you need a little reminder. Four days from now I'll have my marriage license from the city clerk. And when I have it in my hands I shall come to you and shall expect that you'll do your part."
"I will," she said.
"How? I want plain statements from now on."
"I will write you a letter to-morrow," she faltered. "I will give you directions what to do. You'd better not come here till—till I have it all arranged. You know what they say about absence!"
"I know what they say about a good many things. But I want something besides say-so."
"I will tell you in my letter what to do. Then you follow instructions."
"I don't like to go into a thing blind. What is the plan?"
"Oh, if I tell you all about it you'll go and do something to spoil it," she protested, impatiently. "A woman knows about such matters better than a man does. I will write to you at the State House. Now be patient!"
"I'll be going before you preach any more patience to me," he said, sourly. "I might be provoked into saying something you won't like."
After he had gone she rose and touched up her cheeks.
"The fool! They are all alike," she muttered, viciously. "They pay. They never forget they have paid. Then they stand with their hand out—and just remember that they have paid. I am glad I bought this novel," she added, taking the book from the couch and settling herself to read. "The woman who wrote it must have known human nature. If the plan worked in the case of the girl she writes about it ought to work in the case of Kate. If it doesn't it will be his fault because he has hurried me so. A poor, persecuted woman can't do everything."
And she applied herself to her recently discovered manual of procedure in the case of stubbornness in a maid.
FARR HAS A VISION AND CLOSES HIS LIPS
Walker Farr put aside papers upon which he had been working since he had eaten his modest supper, and pulled on his coat and went forth into the evening. He strolled up one of the streets in the Eleventh Ward of Marion, manifestly glad to be out among the people.
He stopped at the curb and hailed the driver of a truck-wagon which was loaded down with kegs and jugs.
"Marston," he said, when the driver halted, "it's good to see the noble work going on."
"Yes, and now that the babies aren't dying off so fast old Dodd's newspapers are claiming that the new filtering-plant is doing all the good, sir."
"Well, it shows that our work is worth while if they're claiming it, Marston. But we'll wake up the folks all in good time. Do what we can for first aid, that's the idea! The people are waking up to what we're doing. And they are waking up in other places. I took a little run up state last week. Five other cities are going to try this co-operative scheme of getting good water to the poor folks until something better can be done."
"You've got a head on you," commended the driver. "It's a little tough on tired horses to work at this after a day's trudging on regular business, but my nags seem to understand what it's all about—honest they do. I have hauled five hundred gallons this week. But I'd like to haul old Dodd up to Coosett Lake and drown him, if it wasn't for spoiling water that the poor folks are drinking."
Farr shook his head and walked on.
He was a rather striking figure for a New England city as he strolled along. It did not seem to be affectation for this man to wear a frock-coat without a waistcoat, a flowing black tie setting off his snowy linen. The attire seemed to belong to his physique and manner.
Women smiled at him in friendly fashion; men gave respectful and affectionate salutation.
Soon he stepped off the street into a room where a group of men were waiting for him, so it appeared, because they all rose when he entered.
He called the little meeting to order promptly, informing them that he would detain them only a short time.
"I rise to make a motion," said a man at one stage of the proceedings. "There have been so many volunteers in the work and the folks have been so ready to pay for real water in place of that stuff we get from the taps, that three hundred dollars have accumulated in the treasury. We all know that there is just one man who had been responsible for this whole plan and has given his time and has run about our state and hasn't charged anything but expenses for doing it all. I move we give that sum to Mr. Farr—wishing it was more."
The speaker was loudly applauded.
Farr was so quickly on his feet and spoke so promptly that he clipped the man's last words.
"A moment, my friends, before that motion is seconded." He held up his hand and checked their protests against what his air told them. "Because my little plan has succeeded better than I hoped is not due to me, but to the generous co-operation of good men who have given their time. We are saving the babies, thank God! But do you know what else we have done by our hard toil and our devotion? We are propping up the Consolidated Water Company in this state. Understand me! I am not attacking that company because it is a corporation. If it were now making preparations to pipe down to us clean water from the hills I would gladly go on giving my time to this cause in order to help the case of the Consolidated. But the men in control are deliberately shutting their eyes to the real situation. Now that folks aren't dying, they claim all the credit—when we know the credit is due to weary men who go on working after their day's toil is over. It isn't right—it isn't just! My friends, I have got hold of a bigger thing than I reckoned on when I started out to wake those poison-peddlers up. Now that we are cleaning up the typhoid, the Consolidated is simply riding on our backs—refusing to see the real truth. If they give Marion pure water it will be only at more exorbitant rates, because the nearest lake is twenty miles away. I'm not an anarchist—I want to see capital get its just reward. But when a syndicate takes a franchise from citizens and makes them pay over and over for what was their own the citizens have a right to rise in self-defense. When we force the Consolidated to give us what we're paying for—pure water—they evidently propose to make us pay for what they call our cheek in asking." He paused for a moment, and his smile succeeded his earnestness. "I beg your pardon for saying 'we.' I must remember that I'm still a stranger in this city."
"I'll have to dispute you there," interposed a man. "You're one of us. And we're going to prove it to you a little later."
"My friends," went on Farr, "until the cities and towns of this state own their own water-plants and take their own profits they will be paying double tribute to a merciless crowd."
"But we can't own our plants till the millennium, sir. There's that five-percent-debt-limit clause in the constitution."
Farr smiled—this time wistfully. "I've—I've had a sort of vision in regard to that," he said. "I don't dare to explain myself just now, friends. It may be only a vision—but I think not. I'll not say any more at present. I did not intend to say as much. What was on my mind when I got up was this: I will not accept that money in the treasury—on no account will I take it. Because I believe that strange days are coming upon us soon in this state—days when we shall need money. Keep that nest-egg and guard it." He picked up his hat and started for the door. "The meeting is adjourned," he informed them. He smiled at them over his shoulder in such a manner that they wondered whether he joked or was in earnest. "Guard well that money—for the only way my vision can be realized, I fear, is by turning this state's politics upside down, and that will be quite a job for a rank outsider fighting Colonel Symonds Dodd—and fighting without money. Good night!"
Men whom Walker Farr met as he strolled ducked amiable greetings. They grinned admiringly after him as he passed on.
If a woman asked in regard to him or a stranger in the ward questioned a native they were informed with gusto that he was "the boy who stood in City Hall and talked turkey to the mayor and all the bunch, and said a good word for the poor people, and twisted the tail of the Consolidated and lost a good job doing it—and that's more than any alderman would do for those who elected him."
At a street corner children of the poor were dancing around a hurdy-gurdy. Farr gave the man at the crank a handful of change and told him to stay there and keep the kiddies happy. Shrill juvenile voices promptly proclaimed his praises to all the neighborhood, and mothers and fathers beamed benedictions on him from windows.
He stopped at another street corner where a dozen youths were congregated. They were heavy-eyed, leering cubs, their hats were tipped back, and frowzled fore-tops stuck out over their pimply faces—types of youths whom modest girls avoid hurriedly by detours.
"Boys, folks are writing to the newspapers complaining that young chaps are insulting girls on the street corners of Marion. But it must be those high-toned loafers up-town. You're not up to any of that business down here, of course."
"None of us would ever as much as say 'shoo' to a chicken," protested one of the group.
"You're Dave Joyce's boy, aren't you?"
"The fifty men he bosses at the ice-house like him because he's square. Here's a good motto: 'Square with the boys and nice to the girls.' But keep off the street corners, fellows, or they'll get you mixed up with some of that masher gang."
The Joyce boy pulled his hat forward and marshaled the retreat from the loafing-place.
"Naw, he ain't no candidate, nuther," he informed his associates when they were out of hearing. "He ain't canvassing for no votes. My old man says he ain't. He ain't a four-flusher. He's the guy that stood for the poor folks up at City Hall and doped out the spring-water stuff."
At the side of a street where traffic raged to and from the city's Union Station Farr came upon two shriveled old ladies who were teetering on the curbstones, waiting tremulously for an opportunity to cross. They put down into the roaring street first one apprehensive foot and then another, like children trying chilly water. The big fellow offered an arm to each and led them safely across.
"You're a real knight-errant, sir," squeaked one of the two, looking up into the kindly face.
He laughed, doffed the broad-brimmed hat with a low bow, and strolled on his way.
"Knight-errant," he muttered, still smiling. "Guess not. They don't have 'em these days. The stories about 'em read well. Wonder what kind of a feeling it was that started those boys off on the hike! Perhaps there wasn't enough doing in politics. It must have been a fine game, though, rescuing distressed damsels. And all for love and not for pay!"
A poster in the window of an empty store caught his eye just then. It advertised a woman's-suffrage rally.
"The girls would paint rally signs on a knight's tin suit these days and send him off on an advertising trip," was his whimsical reflection.
At that moment, with this thought of knight in armor in his mind, he was attracted by a flare of red fire in a blacksmith shop located just off the street. The one worker in the place was revealed by the forge fire. The glow lighted the features of the man. There was no mistaking him—it was Friend Jared Chick. And Farr turned off the street and went into the shop and greeted his one-time traveling companion.
"How does thee do?" replied Jared Chick, quietly, his Quaker calm undisturbed. He drew forth a white-hot iron and deftly hammered it into a circle around the snout of the anvil.
"So you have given up knight-errantry and have gone back to the old job, have you, Friend Chick?"
"No. This is a part of my service. The man who owns this shop is a good man who works hard here all day. And after he has gone home he allows me to work here in the evening."
He pounded away industriously and Farr walked up to the anvil to inspect the nature of the work, for the iron rod was assuming queer shapes.
"A new kind of armor, Friend Chick?"
If there was a bit of sarcasm in Farr's tone the Quaker paid no apparent heed.
"No," he said, quietly and meekly, "this is a brace for the leg of a little lame boy. I have found many children in this city who cannot walk. Their parents are too poor to buy braces. So I come here nights, when the good man is away from the forge, and I make braces and carry them with my blessing. I have some knack with the hammer. I hope to find other ways of doing my bit of good."
"I beg your pardon, Friend Chick," said Farr, a catch in his voice. "I will not bother you in your work. Good night!"
"Good night to thee!" said the Quaker, swinging at the bellows arm.
Farr went back upon the street, his head bowed. "We all have our own way of doing it," he pondered, contritely.
He met a man and greeted him with a friendly handclasp. It was Citizen Drew, that elderly man with the earnest face.
And as he had in the past, he turned, caught step with Farr, and they walked together.
Their stroll took them into the broader avenues of up-town.
As they talked, Farr caught side glances from his companion. The glances were a bit inquisitive.
"Well, Citizen Drew," asked the young man, "what is on your mind this evening?"
"Since I have known you and studied you I have been thinking that you have the spirit of knight-errantry in you," stated Citizen Drew.
Farr laughed boyishly.
"Two very nice old ladies have just got ahead of you with that accusation, my friend."
"Laugh if you feel like it. But there are so few men who can do anything unselfishly in these days that when a chap like you does come along he gets noticed—at any rate, I notice him." He stopped dealing in side glances and stared at Farr fully and frankly. "Other men who would do the things you are doing so quietly in this state have been playing politics—and I have made it my business to watch politicians. And as soon as men have been elected to office by fooling the people—well, those men have simply been set into the Big Machine as new cogs. Are you like the rest, Mr. Farr? Nobody knows where you came from. Everybody who sees you knows you're above the jobs you have been working at. They're talking you up for alderman in our ward. But we have been fooled so many times!"
Farr replied to this wistful inquisition in a way there was no misunderstanding.
"I am not a candidate for anything, Citizen Drew. And I'll tell you how I can prove I am not. I am not a voter here. I have intentionally failed to have myself registered. Whenever you hear another man talking me up for office you tell him that. Therefore, it makes no difference to anybody where I came from or what job I work at."
Citizen Drew accepted the rebuke humbly and walked on in silence.
"You have always been fooled, you say, when you have elected men to office. Haven't you any men in this state whom you can elect to high office, knowing for sure that they'll stay straight?"
"No," returned Citizen Drew.
"I'm a stranger—I don't know your big men—you do know them, and I suppose I ought to take your word. But I don't believe you, Citizen Drew."
"But I told you the truth. We have big men who are honest men. But they won't go into politics. They feel too far above the game. Therefore, how can we elect them to office? I say I told you the truth. The men who go out and hunt for office are the ones who work the thing for their own profit—and that means they stand in with the bunch and the head boss."
It was the same old lament which is everlastingly on the lips of the voters of America! Citizen Drew had again epitomized the average politics of the great Republic!
Walker Farr smiled—and he could express in a smile more than most men can express in speech.
"An original idea has just occurred to me, Citizen Drew," he said, with humorous drawl in his tones. "I'm sure nothing like it has ever been thought of before. There ought to be a new party formed in this country—a party outside all the others. No, not a party, exactly! What should I call it? You see, the idea has just come to me, and I'm floundering a little." His tone was still jocular. "You're right about most of the able and big men staying out of politics except when the highest offices are passed around. Now, how's this for a scheme? Organize a loyal band and call it—well, say the Purified Political Privateers, the Sanctified Kidnappers, the People's Progressive and Public-spirited Press Gang. Go around and grab the Great and the Good who insist on minding their private business and who are letting the country be gobbled up—just go and grab 'em right up by the scruff of the neck and fling them into politics head over heels. They would sputter and froth and flop for a little while—and then they'd strike out and swim. They couldn't help swimming! They'd know that the folks were looking on. And then a lot of the sinking and drowning poor devils, like you and me and the folks in the tenements, could grab onto the Great and the Good and ask 'em to tow us safely ashore; and by that time their pride and their dander would be up and they'd swim all the harder—with the other folks looking on. Hah! An idea, eh? You see, I feel rather imaginative and on the high pressure and in a mood for adventure this evening! Probably because the nice old ladies called me a knight-errant."
Citizen Drew was not ready with comment on this amazing suggestion. He clawed his hand into his sparse hair and wrinkled his forehead in attempt to decide whether or not he ought to resent this playful retort to his lament. The next moment he dealt Farr a swift jab in the ribs with his elbow.
"Take a good look at this man coming," he mumbled.
The oncomer was close upon them, and in spite of the dusk Farr's sharp gaze took him all in.
In garb and mien he was a fine type of the American gentleman who is marked by a touch of the old school. There was a clean-cut crispness about him; the white mustache and the hair which matched it looked as if they would crackle if rubbed. His eyes were steely blue, and he held himself very erect as he walked, and he tapped the pavement briskly with his cane.
He passed them, marched up the steps of a large building, and disappeared through a door which a boy in club uniform held open for him.
"That man," explained Citizen Drew, complacently displaying his boasted knowledge of public men in minute detail, "is the Honorable Archer Converse, whose father was General Aaron Converse, the war governor of this state. Lawyer, old bach, rich, just as crisp in talk as he is in looks, just as straight in his manners and morals and honesty as he is in his back, arrives every night at the Mellicite Club for his dinner on the dot of eight"—Citizen Drew waved his hand at the illuminated circle of the First National clock—"leaves the club exactly at nine for a walk through the park, then marches home, plays three games of solitaire, and goes to bed."
"I know him!" stated Farr.
Citizen Drew's air betrayed a bit of a showman's disappointment.
"I never saw him before—never heard of him. But I mean I know him now after your description—know his nature, his thoughts. You have a fine touch in your size-ups, Citizen Drew."
"I've studied 'em all."
"What has he done in politics?"
"Never a thing. He is one of the kind I was complaining about. Too high-minded."
"But, ho, how a man like that would swim if he were once thrown in!" declared Farr.
"He never even tended out on a caucus."
"I know the style when I see it," pursued Farr. He did not look at Citizen Drew. He was talking as much to himself as to his companion. "Spirit of a crusader harnessed by every-day habit! Righteousness in a rut! Achievement timed to the tick of the clock. But, once in, how he would swim!"
"Think how our affairs would swing along with a man like that at the head of the state!"
"Why hasn't he been put at the head?"
"I have been in delegations that have gone to him"—he waved his hand—"he said he couldn't think of being mixed into political messes."
"He looked on you wallowing in muddy water and you invited him in. I don't blame him for not jumping."
"He's a good man," insisted Citizen Drew. "He gives more money to the poor than any other man in town. The only way I found that out is by having a natural nose for finding out things. He doesn't say anything about it."
"How he would swim!" repeated Farr. "Steady and strong and straight toward the shore, Citizen Drew, and he wouldn't kick away the poor drowning devils, either."
"He probably thinks he has paid his debt to the world when he hands out his money," stated Drew. "When he looks around and sees so many other men holding the poor chaps upside down and shaking the dollars out of their pockets he must think he is doing a mighty sight more than is required of him. But sticking plasters of dollar bills onto sore places in this state ain't curing anything." He stopped. "I've walked with you farther than I intended to, Mr. Farr. But somehow I wanted to talk with you. There's a meeting of the Square Deal Club this evening at Union Hall. I didn't know but in some way we might—It was thought you might be going to run for office."
"The registration-office will prove that I'm not. Pass that word!"
"I'll go back—to the meeting. It doesn't seem to be much use in holding the meetings," said the man. "We hear one another talk—we know we are talking the truth. But nobody listens who can help us poor folks. Well, I'll admit that the politicians come in and listen and promise to help us and we give our votes; but that's all: they give nothing back to us."
Farr broke out with a remark which seemed to have no bearing on what Citizen Drew was saying.
"He comes out at nine o'clock, eh?"
"The Honorable Archer Converse. Leaves that clubhouse then, does he?"
"Regular to the tick of the clock."
"Citizen Drew, hold your club in session until half past nine or a little later. My experience with those meetings is that you always have troubles enough to keep you talking for at least two hours."
Citizen Drew glanced at the face of Farr and then at the big door of the Mellicite Club.
"You don't mean to say—"
"I don't say anything. I seem to be in a queer state of mind to-night, Citizen Drew." Again there was an odd note of raillery in his voice. "A lot of odd ideas keep coming to me. Another one had just popped into my head. That's all! Keep your boys at the hall."
He swung off up the street.
He turned after a few steps and saw the elderly man standing where he had left him. Drew was a rather pathetic figure there in the brilliantly lighted main thoroughfare, a poor, plain man from the Eleventh Ward of the tenement-houses—this man who had been striving and struggling, reading and studying, endeavoring to find some way out for the poor people; some relief—something that would help. Farr knew what sort of men were waiting in the little hall. He had attended their meetings. It was the only resource they understood—a public meeting. They knew that the important folks up-town held public meetings of various sorts, and the poor folks had decided that there must be virtue in assemblages. But nothing had seemed to come out of their efforts in the tenement districts.
Farr stepped back to where Citizen Drew stood.
"I think I will say something to you, after all. Tell the boys in Union Hall to be patient and I'll bring the Honorable Archer Converse around this evening."
He smiled into the stare of blank amazement on the man's face, flung up a hand to check the stammering questions, and went off up the street.
"A decent man's conscience will make him keep a promise he has made to a child or to the simple or to the helpless," Farr told himself. "I have undertaken a big contract, I reckon, but now that I have put myself on record I've got to go ahead and deliver the goods. At any rate, I feel on my mettle." Then he smiled at what seemed to be his sudden folly. "I think I'll have to lay it all to those nice old ladies who were foolish enough to put that knight-errant idea into my head," he said.
THE MADNESS OF A MIDSUMMER NIGHT
Farr glanced again at the big clock in the First National block.
He had less than one hour to wait, according to the schedule Citizen Drew had promulgated in regard to the unvarying movements of the Honorable Archer Converse. As to how this first coup in the operations of that nascent organization, the Public-spirited Press Gang, was to be managed Farr had little idea at that moment.
He decided to devote that hour to devising a plan, deciding to attempt nothing until he saw the honorable gentleman march down the club steps. A club must be sanctuary—but the streets belonged to the people.
Therefore, Farr took a walk. He went back into that quarter of the city from which he had emerged during his stroll with Citizen Drew; he felt his courage deserting him in those more imposing surroundings of up-town; he went back to the purlieus of the poor, hoping for contact that might charge him afresh with determination. He realized that he needed all the dynamics of courage in the preposterous task he had set himself.
He knew he would find old Etienne sitting on the stoop of Mother Maillet's house where the old man posted himself on pleasant summer evenings and whittled whirligigs for the crowding children—just as his peasant ancestors whittled the same sort of toys in old Normandy.
Mother Maillet's house had a yard. It was narrow and dusty, because the feet of the children had worn away all the grass. Some of the palings were off the fence, and through the spaces the little folks came and went as they liked. It was not much of a yard to boast of, but there were few open spaces in that part of the city where the big land corporation hogged all the available feet of earth in order to stick the tenement-houses closely together. Therefore, because Mother Maillet was kind, the yard was a godsend so far as the little folks were concerned. The high fence kept children off the greensward where the canal flowed. Householders who had managed to save their yards down that way were, in most cases, fussy old people who were hanging on to the ancient cottage homes in spite of the city's growth, and they shooed the children out of their yards where the flower-beds struggled under the coal-dust from the high chimneys.
But Mother Maillet did not mind because she had no flower-beds and because the palings were off and the youngsters made merry in her yard. She had two geraniums and a begonia and a rubber-plant on the window-sill in order to give the canary-bird a comfortable sense of arboreal surroundings; so why have homesick flowers out in a front yard where they must all the time keep begging the breeze to come and dust the grime off their petals? It should be understood that Mother Maillet had known what real flower-beds were when she was a girl in the Tadousac country.
Furthermore, Etienne Provancher always came to the yard o' fine evenings and it served as his little realm; and the door-step of the good woman's house was his throne where he sat in state among his little subjects. However, on second thought, this metaphor is not happy description; old Etienne did not rule—he obeyed.
He did not resent familiarity—he welcomed the comradeship of the children. When they called him "Pickaroon" it seemed to him that they were making a play-fellow of him.
He sat and whittled toys for them out of the pine-wood scraps which the yard foreman gave him. There were grotesque heads for rag dolls, and the good woman seemed to have unlimited rags and an excellent taste in doll-dressmaking; there were chunky automobiles with spools for wheels; there were funny little wooden men who jumped in most amusing fashion at the end of wires which were stuck into their backs. Old Etienne was always ready to sit and whittle until the evening settled down and he could see no longer, even though he held the wood and busy knife close to his eyes.
So on that evening he whittled as usual.
Walker Farr came to the yard and sat beside the old man on the door-step and was plainly thinking no agreeable thoughts while he listened to the chatter of the children.
After the darkness had come and the larger boys and girls, custodians of their tiny kin, had dragged away the protesting and whimpering little folks because it was bedtime, Zelie Dionne laid down her needlework over which she had been straining her eyes. The good woman protested often because the girl toiled so steadily with her needle after her day at the mill was ended. And on that summer evening she voiced complaint again.