"Oh, it's no trouble," groaned the minister. "Then I may depend upon seeing you here any time during the day?"
"I don't know as I'm going away," Lemuel admitted.
"Well, then, good-bye, for the present," said Sewell, and after speaking again to the manager, and gratefully ordering some kindling which he did not presently need, he went out, and took his way homeward. But he stopped half a block short of his own door, and rang at Miss Vane's. To his perturbed and eager spirit, it seemed nothing short of a divine mercy that she should be at home. If he had not been a man bent on repairing his wrong at any cost to others, he would hardly have taken the step he now contemplated without first advising with his wife, who, he felt sure, would have advised against it. His face did not brighten at all when Miss Vane came briskly in, with the "How d'ye do?" which he commonly found so cheering. She pulled up the blind and saw his knotted brow.
"What is the matter? You look as if you had got Lemuel Barker back on your hands."
"I have," said the minister briefly.
Miss Vane gave a wild laugh of delight. "You don't mean it!" she sputtered, sitting down before him, and peering into his face. "What do you mean?"
Sewell was obliged to possess Miss Vane's entire ignorance of all the facts in detail. From point to point he paused; he began really to be afraid she would do herself an injury with her laughing.
She put her hand on his arm and bowed her head forward, with her face buried in her handkerchief. "What—what—do you suppose-pose— they did with the po-po-poem they stole from him?"
"Well, one thing I'm sure they didn't do," said Sewell bitterly. "They didn't read it."
Miss Vane hid her face in her handkerchief, and then plucked it away, and shrieked again. She stopped, with the sudden calm that succeeds such a paroxysm, and, "Does Mrs. Sewell know all about this?" she panted.
"She knows everything, except my finding him in the dish-washing department of the Wayfarer's Lodge," said Sewell gloomily, "and my coming to you."
"Why do you come to me?" asked Miss Vane, her face twitching and her eyes brimming.
"Because," answered Sewell, "I'd rather not go to her till I have done something."
Miss Vane gave way again, and Sewell sat regarding her ruefully.
"What do you expect me to do?" She looked at him over her handkerchief, which she kept pressed against her mouth.
"I haven't the least idea what I expected you to do. I expected you to tell me. You have an inventive mind."
Miss Vane shook her head. Her eyes grew serious, and after a moment she said, "I'm afraid I'm not equal to Lemuel Barker. Besides," she added, with a tinge of trouble, "I have my problem, already."
"Yes," said the minister sympathetically. "How has the flower charity turned out?"
"She went yesterday with one of the ladies, and carried flowers to the city hospital. But she wasn't at all satisfied with the result. She said the patients were mostly disgusting old men that hadn't been shaved. I think that now she wants to try her flowers on criminals. She says she wishes to visit the prisons."
Sewell brightened forlornly. "Why not let her reform Barker?"
This sent Miss Vane off again. "Poor boy!" she sighed, when she had come to herself. "No, there's nothing that I can do for him, except to order some firewood from his benefactors."
"I did that," said Sewell. "But I don't see how it's to help Barker exactly."
"I would gladly join in a public subscription to send him home. But you say he won't go home?"
"He won't go home," sighed the minister. "He's determined to stay. I suspect he would accept employment, if it were offered him in the right spirit."
Miss Vane shook her head. "There's nothing I can think of except shovelling snow. And as yet it's rather warm October weather."
"There's certainly no snow to shovel," admitted Sewell. He rose disconsolately. "Well, there's nothing for it, I suppose, but to put him down at the Christian Union, and explain his checkered career to everybody who proposes to employ him."
Miss Vane could not keep the laughter out of her eyes; she nervously tapped her lips with her handkerchief, to keep it from them. Suddenly she halted Sewell, in his dejected progress toward the door. "I might give him my furnace?"
"Furnace?" echoed Sewell.
"Yes. Jackson has 'struck' for twelve dollars a month, and at present there is a 'lock-out,'—I believe that's what it's called. And I had determined not to yield as long as the fine weather lasted. I knew I should give in at the first frost. I will take Barker now, if you think he can manage the furnace."
"I've no doubt he can. Has Jackson really struck?" Miss Vane nodded. "He hasn't said anything to me about it."
"He probably intends to make special terms to the clergy. But he told me he was putting up the rates on all his 'famblies' this winter."
"If he puts them up on me, I will take Barker too," said the minister boldly. "If he will come," he added, with less courage. "Well, I will go round to the Lodge, and see what he thinks of it. Of course, he can't live upon ten dollars a month, and I must look him up something besides."
"That's the only thing I can think of at present," said Miss Vane.
"Oh, you're indefinitely good to think of so much," said Sewell. "You must excuse me if my reception of your kindness has been qualified by the reticence with which Barker received mine, this morning."
"Oh, do tell me about it!" cried Miss Vane.
"Sometime I will. But I can assure you it was such as to make me shrink from another interview. I don't know but Barker may fling your proffered furnace in my teeth. But I'm sure we both mean well. And I thank you, all the same. Good-bye."
"Poor Mr. Sewell!" said Miss Vane, following him to the door. "May I run down and tell Mrs. Sewell?"
"Not yet," said the minister sadly. He was too insecure of Barker's reception to be able to enjoy the joke.
When he got back to the Wayfarer's Lodge, whither he made himself walk in penance, he found Lemuel with a book in his hand, reading, while the cook stirred about the kitchen, and the broth, which he had well under way for the mid-day meal, lifted the lid of its boiler from time to time and sent out a joyous whiff of steam. The place had really a cosiness of its own, and Sewell began to fear that his victim had been so far corrupted by its comfort as to be unwilling to leave the Refuge. He had often seen the subtly disastrous effect of bounty, and it was one of the things he trembled for in considering the question of public aid to the poor. Before he addressed Barker, he saw him entered upon the dire life of idleness and dependence, partial or entire, which he had known so many Americans even willing to lead since the first great hard times began; and he spoke to him with the asperity of anticipative censure.
"Barker!" he said, and Lemuel lifted his head from the book he was reading. "I have found something for you to do. I still prefer you should go home, and I advise you to do so. But," he added, at the look that came into Lemuel's face, "if you are determined to stay, this is the best I can do for you. It isn't a full support, but it's something, and you must look about for yourself, and not rest till you've found full work, and something better fitted for you. Do you think you can take care of a furnace?"
"Hot air?" asked Lemuel.
"I guess so. I took care of the church furnace, last winter."
"I didn't know you had one," said the minister, brightening in the ray of hope. "Would you be willing to take care of a domestic furnace—a furnace in a private house?"
Lemuel pondered the proposal in silence. Whatever objections there were to it in its difference from the aims of his ambition in coming to the city of Boston, he kept to himself; and his ignorance of city prejudices and sophistications probably suggested nothing against the honest work to his pride. "I guess I should," he said at last. "Well, then, come with me."
Sewell judged it best not to tell him whose furnace he was to take care of; he had an impression that Miss Vane was included in the resentment which Lemuel seemed to cherish toward him. But when he had him at her door, "It's the lady whom you saw at my house the other day," he explained. It was then too late for Lemuel to rebel if he had wished, and they went in.
If there was any such unkindness in Lemuel's breast toward her, it yielded promptly to her tact. She treated him at once, not like a servant, but like a young person, and yet she used a sort of respect for his independence which was soothing to his rustic pride. She put it on the money basis at once; she told him that she should give him ten dollars a month for taking care of the furnace, keeping the sidewalk clear of snow, shovelling the paths in the backyard for the women to get at their clothes-lines, carrying up and down coal and ashes for the grates, and doing errands. She said that this was what she had always paid, and asked him if he understood and were satisfied.
Lemuel answered with one yes to both her questions, and then Miss Vane said that of course till the weather changed they should want no fire in the furnace, but that it might change, any day, and they should begin at once and count October as a full month. She thought he had better go down and look at the furnace and see if it was in order; she had had the pipes cleaned, but perhaps it needed blacking; the cook would show him how it worked. She went with him to the head of the basement stairs, and calling down, "Jane, here is Lemuel, come to look after the furnace," left him and Jane to complete the acquaintance upon coming in sight of each other, and went back to the minister. He had risen to go, and she gave him her hand, while a smile rippled into laughter on her lips.
"Do you think," she asked, struggling with her mirth to keep unheard of those below, "that it is quite the work for a literary man?"
"If he is a man," said Sewell courageously, "the work won't keep him from being literary."
Miss Vane laughed at his sudden recovery of spirit, as she had laughed at his dejection; but he did not care. He hurried home, with a sermon kindling in his mind so obviously, that his wife did not detain him beyond a few vital questions, and let him escape from having foisted his burden upon Miss Vane with the simple comment, "Well, we shall see how that will work."
As once before, Sewell tacitly took a hint from his own experience, and enlarging to more serious facts from it, preached effort in the erring. He denounced mere remorse. Better not feel that at all, he taught; and he declared that what is ordinarily distinguished from remorse as repentance, was equally a mere corrosion of the spirit unless some attempt at reparation went with it. He maintained that though some mischiefs—perhaps most mischiefs—were irreparable so far as restoring the original status was concerned, yet every mischief was reparable in the good-will and the good deed of its perpetrator. Do what you could to retrieve yourself from error, and then, not leave the rest to Providence, but keep doing. The good, however small, must grow if tended and nurtured like a useful plant, as the evil would certainly grow, like a wild and poisonous weed, if left to itself. Sin, he said, was a terrible mystery; one scarcely knew how to deal with it or to attempt to determine its nature; but perhaps—he threw out the thought while warning those who heard him of its danger in some aspects—sin was not wholly an evil. We were so apt in this world of struggle and ambition to become centred solely in ourselves, that possibly the wrong done to another,—the wrong that turned our thoughts from ourselves, and kept them bent in agony and despair upon the suffering we had caused another, and knew not how to mitigate—possibly this wrong, nay, certainly this wrong, was good in disguise. But, returning to his original point, we were to beware how we rested in this despair. In the very extremity of our anguish, our fear, our shame, we were to gird ourselves up to reparation. Strive to do good, he preached; strive most of all to do good to those you have done harm to. His text was "Cease to do evil."
He finished his sermon during the afternoon, and in the evening his wife said they would run up to Miss Vane's. Sewell shrank from this a little, with the obscure dread that Lemuel might have turned his back upon good fortune, and abandoned the place offered him, in which case Sewell would have to give a wholly different turn to his sermon; but he consented, as indeed he must. He was as curious as his wife to know how the experiment had resulted.
Miss Vane did not wait to let them ask. "My dear," she said, kissing Mrs. Sewell and giving her hand to the minister in one, "he is a pearl! And I've kept him from mixing his native lustre with Rising Sun Stove Polish by becoming his creditor in the price of a pair of overalls. I had no idea they were so cheap, and you can see that they will fade, with a few washings, to a perfect Millet blue. They were quite his own idea, when he found the furnace needed blacking, and he wanted to use the fifty cents he earned this morning toward the purchase, but I insisted upon advancing the entire dollar myself. Neatness, self-respect, awe-inspiring deference!—he is each and every one of them in person."
Sewell could not forbear a glance of triumph at his wife.
"You leave us very little to ask," said that injured woman.
"But I've left myself a great deal to tell, my dear," retorted Miss Vane, "and I propose to keep the floor; though I don't really know where to begin." "I thought you had got past the necessity of beginning," said Sewell. "We know that the new pearl sweeps clean,"—Miss Vane applauded his mixed metaphor—"and now you might go on from that point."
"Well, you may think I'm rash," said Miss Vane, "but I've thoroughly made up my mind to keep him."
"Dear, dear Miss Vane!" cried the minister. "Mrs. Sewell thinks you're rash, but I don't. What do you mean by keeping him?"
"Keeping him as a fixture—a permanency—a continuosity."
"Oh! A continuosity? I know what that is in the ordinary acceptation of the term, but I'm not sure that I follow your meaning exactly."
"Why, it's simply this," said Miss Vane. "I have long secretly wanted the protection of what Jane calls a man-body in the House, and when I saw how Lemuel had blacked the furnace, I knew I should feel as safe with him as with a whole body of troops."
"Well," sighed the minister, "you have not been rash, perhaps, but you'll allow that you've been rapid."
"No," said Miss Vane, "I won't allow that. I have simply been intuitive—nothing more. His functions are not decided yet, but it is decided that he is to stay; he's to sleep in the little room over the L, and in my tranquillised consciousness he's been there years already."
"And has Sibyl undertaken Barker's reformation?" asked Sewell.
"Don't interrupt! Don't anticipate! I admit nothing till I come to it. But after I had arranged with Lemuel I began to think of Sibyl."
"That was like some ladies I have known of," said Sewell. "You women commit yourselves to a scheme, in order to show your skill in reconciling circumstances to the irretrievable. Well?"
"Don't interrupt, David!" cried his wife.
"Oh, let him go on," said Miss Vane. "It's all very well, taking people into your house on the spur of the moment, and in obedience to a generous impulse, but when you reflect that the object of your good intentions slept in the Wayfarer's Lodge the night before, and in the police-station the night before that, and enjoys a newspaper celebrity in connection with a case of assault and battery with intent to rob,—why, then you do reflect!"
"Yes," said Sewell, "that is just the point where I should begin."
"I thought," continued Miss Vane, "I had better tell Sibyl all about it, so if by any chance the neighbours' kitchens should have heard of the case—they read the police reports very carefully in the kitchens——"
"They do in some drawing-rooms," interrupted Sewell.
"It's well for you they do, David," said his wife. "Your protege would have been in your Refuge still, if they didn't."
"I see!" cried the minister. "I shall have to take the Sunrise another week."
Miss Vane looked from one to the other in sympathetic ignorance, but they did not explain, and she went on.
"And if they should hear Lemuel's name, and put two and two together, and the talk should get to Sibyl—well, I thought it all over, until the whole thing became perfectly lurid, and I wished Lemuel Barker was back in the depths of Willoughby Pastures——"
"I understand," said Sewell. "Go on!"
Miss Vane did so, after stopping to laugh. "It seemed to me I couldn't wait for Sibyl to get home—she spent the night in Brookline, and didn't come till five o'clock—to tell her. I began before she had got her hat or gloves off, and she sat down with them on, and listened like a three-years' child to the Ancient Mariner, but she lost no time when she understood the facts. She went out immediately and stripped the nasturtium bed. If you could have seen it when you came in, there's hardly a blossom left. She took the decorations of Lemuel's room into her own hands at once; and if there is any saving power in nasturtiums, he will be a changed person. She says that now the great object is to keep him from feeling that he has been an outcast, and needs to be reclaimed; she says nothing could be worse for him. I don't know how she knows."
"Barker might feel that he was disgraced," said the minister, "but I don't believe that a whole system of ethics would make him suspect that he needed to be reclaimed."
"He makes me suspect that I need to be reclaimed," said Miss Vane, "when he looks at me with those beautiful honest eyes of his."
Mrs. Sewell asked, "Has he seen the decorations yet?"
"Not at all. They are to steal upon him when he comes in to-night. The gas is to be turned very low, and he is to notice everything gradually, so as not to get the impression that things have been done with a design upon him." She laughed in reporting these ideas, which were plainly those of the young girl. "Sh!" she whispered at the end.
A tall girl, with a slim vase in her hand, drifted in upon their group like an apparition. She had heavy black eyebrows with beautiful blue eyes under them, full of an intensity unrelieved by humour.
"Aunty!" she said severely, "have you been telling?"
"Only Mr. and Mrs. Sewell, Sibyl," said Miss Vane. "Their knowing won't hurt. He'll never know it."
"If he hears you laughing, he'll know it's about him. He's in the kitchen, now. He's come in the back way. Do be quiet." She had given her hand without other greeting in her preoccupation to each of the Sewells in turn, and now she passed out of the room.
"What makes Lemuel such a gift," said Miss Vane, in a talk which she had with Sewell a month later, "is that he is so supplementary."
"Do you mean just in the supplementary sense of the term?"
"Well, not in the fifth-wheel sense. I mean that he supplements us, all and singular—if you will excuse the legal exactness."
"Oh, certainly," said Sewell; "I should like even more exactness."
"Yes; but before I particularise I must express my general satisfaction in him as a man-body. I had no idea that man bodies in a house were so perfectly admirable."
"I've sometimes feared that we were not fully appreciated," said Sewell. "Well?"
"The house is another thing with a man-body in it. I've often gone without little things I wanted, simply because I hated to make Sarah bring them, and because I hated still worse to go after them, knowing we were both weakly and tired. Now I deny myself nothing. I make Lemuel fetch and carry without remorse, from morning till night. I never knew it before, but the man-body seems never to be tired, or ill, or sleepy."
"Yes," said Sewell, "that is often the idea of the woman-body. I'm not sure that it's correct."
"Oh, don't attack it!" implored Miss Vane. "You don't know what a blessing it is. Then, the man-body never complains, and I can't see that he expects anything more in an order than the clear understanding of it. He doesn't expect it to be accounted for in any way; the fact that you say you want a thing is enough. It is very strange. Then the moral support of the presence of a man-body is enormous. I now know that I have never slept soundly since I have kept house alone—that I have never passed a night without hearing burglars or smelling fire."
"And now I shouldn't mind a legion of burglars in the house; I shouldn't mind being burned in my bed every night. I feel that Lemuel is in charge, and that nothing can happen."
"Is he really so satisfactory?" asked Sewell, exhaling a deep relief.
"He is, indeed," said Miss Vane. "I couldn't, exaggerate it."
"Well, well! Don't try. We are finite, after all, you know. Do you think it can last?"
"I have thought of that," answered Miss Vane. "I don't see why it shouldn't last. I have tried to believe that I did a foolish thing in coming to your rescue, but I can't see that I did. I don't see why it shouldn't last as long as Lemuel chooses. And he seems perfectly contented with his lot. He doesn't seem to regard it as domestic service, but as domestication, and he patronises our inefficiency while he spares it. His common-sense is extraordinary— it's exemplary; it almost makes one wish to have common-sense one's- self." They had now got pretty far from the original proposition, and Sewell returned to it with the question, "Well, and how does he supplement you singularly?"
"Oh! oh, yes!" said Miss Vane. "I could hardly tell you without going into too deep a study of character."
"I'm rather fond of that," suggested the minister.
"Yes, and I've no doubt we should all work very nicely into a sermon as illustrations; but I can't more than indicate the different cases. In the first place, Jane's forgetfulness seems to be growing upon her, and since Lemuel came she's abandoned herself to ecstasies of oblivion."
"Yes. She's quite given over remembering anything, because she knows that he will remember everything."
"I see. And you?"
"Well, you have sometimes thought I was a little rash."
"A little? Did I think it was a little?"
"Well, a good deal. But it was all nothing to what I've been since Lemuel came. I used to keep some slight check upon myself for Sibyl's sake; but I don't now. I know that Lemuel is there to temper, to delay, to modify the effect of every impulse, and so I am all impulse now. And I've quite ceased to rule my temper. I know that Lemuel has self-control enough for all the tempers in the house, and so I feel perfectly calm in my wildest transports of fury."
"I understand," said Sewell. "And does Sibyl permit herself a similar excess in her fancies and ambitions?"
"Quite," said Miss Vane. "I don't know that she consciously relies upon Lemuel to supplement her, any more than Jane does; but she must be unconsciously aware that no extravagance of hers can be dangerous while Lemuel is in the house."
"Unconsciously aware is good. She hasn't got tired of reforming him yet?"
"I don't know. I sometimes think she wishes he had gone a little farther in crime. Then his reformation would be more obvious."
"Yes; I can appreciate that. Does she still look after his art and literature?"
"That phase has changed a little. She thinks now that he ought to be stimulated, if anything—that he ought to read George Eliot. She's put Middlemarch and Romola on his shelf. She says that he looks like Tito Malemma."
Sewell rose. "Well, I don't see but what your supplement is a very demoralising element. I shall never dare to tell Mrs. Sewell what you've said."
"Oh, she knows it," cried Miss Vane. "We've agreed that you will counteract any temptation that Lemuel may feel to abuse his advantages by the ferociously self-denying sermons you preach at him every Sunday."
"Do I preach at him? Do you notice it?" asked Sewell nervously.
"Notice it?" laughed Miss Vane. "I should think your whole congregation would notice it. You seem to look at nobody else."
"I know it! Since he began to come, I can't keep my eyes off him. I do deliver my sermons at him. I believe I write them at him! He has an eye of terrible and exacting truth. I feel myself on trial before him. He holds me up to a standard of sincerity that is killing me. Mrs. Sewell was bad enough; I was reasonably bad myself; but this! Couldn't you keep him away? Do you think it's exactly decorous to let your man-servant occupy a seat in your family pew? How do you suppose it looks to the Supreme Being?"
Miss Vane was convulsed. "I had precisely those misgivings! But Lemuel hadn't. He asked me what the number of our pew was, and I hadn't the heart—or else I hadn't the face—to tell him he mustn't sit in it. How could I? Do you think it's so very scandalous?"
"I don't know," said Sewell. "It may lead to great abuses. If we tacitly confess ourselves equal in the sight of God, how much better are we than the Roman Catholics?"
Miss Vane could not suffer these ironies to go on.
"He approves of your preaching. He has talked your sermons over with me. You oughtn't to complain."
"Oh, I don't! Do you think he's really softening a little toward me?"
"Not personally, that I know," said Miss Vane. "But he seems to regard you as a channel of the truth."
"I ought to be glad of so much," said Sewell. "I confess that I hadn't supposed he was at all of our way of thinking. They preached a very appreciable orthodoxy at Willoughby Pastures."
"I don't know about that," said Miss Vane. "I only know that he approves your theology, or your ethics."
"Ethics, I hope. I'm sure they're right." After a thoughtful moment the minister asked, "Have you observed that they have softened him socially at all—broken up that terrible rigidity of attitude, that dismaying retentiveness of speech?"
"I know what you mean!" cried Miss Vane delightedly. "I believe Lemuel is a little more supple, a little less like a granite boulder in one of his meadows. But I can't say that he's glib yet. He isn't apparently going to say more than he thinks."
"I hope he thinks more than he says," sighed the minister. "My interviews with Lemuel have left me not only exhausted but bruised, as if I had been hurling myself against a dead wall. Yes, I manage him better from the pulpit, and I certainly oughtn't to complain. I don't expect him to make any response, and I perceive that I am not quite so sore as after meeting him in private life."
* * * * *
That evening Lemuel was helping to throng the platform of an overcrowded horse-car. It was Saturday night, and he was going to the provision man up toward the South End, whom Miss Vane was dealing with for the time being, in an economical recoil from her expensive Back Bay provision man, to order a forgotten essential of the Sunday's supplies. He had already been at the grocer's, and was carrying home three or four packages to save the cart from going a third time that day to Bolingbroke Street, and he stepped down into the road when two girls came squeezing their way out of the car.
"Well, I'm glad," said one of them in a voice Lemuel knew at once, "'t there's one man's got the politeness to make a little grain o' room for you. Thank you, sir!" she added, with more scorn for the others than gratitude for Lemuel. "You're a gentleman, anyway."
The hardened offenders on the platform laughed, but Lemuel said simply, "You're quite welcome."
"Why, land's sakes!" shouted the girl. "Well, if 'tain't you! S'tira!" she exclaimed to her companion in utter admiration. Then she added to Lemuel, "Why, I didn't s'pose but what you'd a' be'n back home long ago. Well, I am glad. Be'n in Boston ever since? Well, I want to know!"
The conductor had halted his car for the girls to get off, but, as he remarked with a vicious jerk at his bell-strap, he could not keep his car standing there while a woman was asking about the folks, and the horses started up and left Lemuel behind. "Well, there!" said 'Manda Grier. "'F I hain't made you lose your car! I never see folks like some them conductors."
"Oh, I guess I can walk the rest of the way," said Lemuel, his face bright with a pleasure visible in the light of the lamp that brought out Statira Dudley's smiles and the forward thrust of 'Manda Grier's whopper-jaw as they turned toward the pavement together.
"Well, I guess 'f I've spoke about you once, I have a hundred times, in the last six weeks. I always told S'tira you'd be'n sure to turn up b'fore this 'f you'd be'n in Boston all the time; 'n' 't I guessed you'd got a disgust for the place, 'n' 't you wouldn't want to see it again for one while."
Statira did not say anything. She walked on the other side of 'Manda Grier, who thrust her in the side from time to time with a lift of her elbow, in demand of sympathy and corroboration; but though she only spoke to answer yes or no, Lemuel could see that she was always smiling or else biting her lip to keep herself from it. He thought she looked about as pretty as anybody could, and that she was again very fashionably dressed. She had on a short dolman, and a pretty hat that shaded her forehead but fitted close round, and she wore long gloves that came up on her sleeves. She had a book from the library; she walked with a little bridling movement that he found very ladylike. 'Manda Grier tilted along between them, and her tongue ran and ran, so that Lemuel, when they came to Miss Vane's provision man's, could hardly get in a word to say that he guessed he must stop there.
Statira drifted on a few paces, but 'Manda Grier halted abruptly with him. "Well, 'f you're ever up our way we sh'd be much pleased to have you call, Mr. Barker," she said formally.
"I should be much pleased to do so," said Lemuel with equal state.
"'Tain't but just a little ways round here on the Avenue," she added.
Lemuel answered, "I guess I know where it is." He did not mean it for anything of a joke, but both the girls laughed, and though she had been so silent before, Statira laughed the most.
He could not help laughing either when 'Manda Grier said, "I guess if you was likely to forget the number you could go round to the station and inquire. They got your address too."
"'Manda Grier, you be still!" said Statira.
"S'tira said that's the way she knew you was from Willoughby Pastures. Her folks is from up that way, themselves. She says the minute she heard the name she knew it couldn't 'a' be'n you, whoever it was done it."
"'Manda Grier!" cried Statira again.
"I tell her she don't believe 't any harm can come out the town o' Willoughby, anywheres."
"'Manda!" cried Statira.
Lemuel was pleased, but he could not say a word. He could not look at Statira.
"Well, good evening," said Amanda Grier.
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel.
"Well, good evening," said Statira.
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel again.
The next moment they were gone round the corner, and he was left standing before the provision man's, with his packages in his hand. It did not come to him till he had transacted his business within, and was on his way home, that he had been very impolite not to ask if he might not see them home. He did not know but he ought to go back and try to find them, and apologise for his rudeness, and yet he did not see how he could do that, either; he had no excuse for it; he was afraid it would seem queer, and make them laugh. Besides, he had those things for Miss Vane, and the cook wanted some of them at once.
He could hardly get to sleep that night for thinking of his blunder, and at times he cowered under the bedclothes for shame. He decided that the only way for him to do was to keep out of their way after this, and if he ever met them anywhere, to pretend not to see them.
The next morning he went to hear Mr. Sewell preach, as usual, but he found himself wandering far from the sermon, and asking or answering this or that in a talk with those girls that kept going on in his mind. The minister himself seemed to wander, and at times, when Lemuel forced a return to him, he thought he was boggling strangely. For the first time Mr. Sewell's sermon, in his opinion, did not come to much.
While his place in Miss Vane's household was indefinitely ascertained, he had the whole of Sunday, and he always wrote home in the afternoon, or brought up the arrears of the journal he had begun keeping; but the Sunday afternoon that followed, he was too excited to stay in and write. He thought he would go and take a walk, and get away from the things that pestered him. He did not watch where he was going, and after a while he turned a corner, and suddenly found himself in a long street, planted with shade-trees, and looking old-fashioned and fallen from a former dignity. He perceived that it could never have been fashionable, like Bolingbroke Street or Beacon; the houses were narrow, and their doors opened from little, cavernous arches let into the brick fronts, and they stood flush upon the pavement. The sidewalks were full of people, mostly girls walking up and down; at the corners young fellows lounged, and there were groups before the cigar stores and the fruit stalls, which were open. It was not very cold yet, and the children who swarmed upon the low door-steps were bareheaded and often summer- clad. The street was not nearly so well kept as the streets on the Back Bay that Lemuel was more used to, but he could see that it was not a rowdy street either. He looked up at a lamp on the first corner he came to, and read Pleasant Avenue on it; then he said that the witch was in it. He dramatised a scene of meeting those girls, and was very glib in it, and they were rather shy, and Miss Dudley kept behind Amanda Grier, who nudged her with her elbow when Lemuel said he had come round to see if anybody had robbed them of their books on the way home after he left them last night.
But all the time, as he hurried along to the next corner, he looked fearfully to the right and left. Presently he began to steal guilty glances at the numbers of the houses. He said to himself that he would see what kind of a looking house they did live in, any way. It was only No. 900 odd when he began, and he could turn off if he wished long before he reached 1334. As he drew nearer he said he would just give a look at it, and then rush by. But 1334 was a house so much larger and nicer than he had expected that he stopped to collect his slow rustic thoughts, and decide whether she really lived there or whether she had just given that number for a blind. He did not know why he should think that, though; she was dressed well enough to come out of any house.
While he lingered before the house an old man with a cane in his hand and his mouth hanging open stopped and peered through his spectacles, whose glare he fixed upon Lemuel, till he began to feel himself a suspicious character. The old man did not say anything, but stood faltering upon his stick and now and then gathering up his lower lip as if he were going to speak, but not speaking. Lemuel cleared his throat. "Hmmn! Is this a boarding-house?"
"I don't know," crowed the old man, in a high senile note. "You want table board or rooms?"
"I don't want board at all," began Lemuel again.
"What?" crowed the old man; and he put up his hand to his ear.
People were beginning to put their heads out of the neighbouring windows, and to walk slowly as they went by, so as to hear what he and the old man were saying. He could not run away now, and he went boldly up to the door of the large house and rang.
A girl came, and he asked her, with a flushed face, if Miss Amanda Grier boarded there; somehow he could not bear to ask for Miss Dudley.
"Well," the girl said, "she rooms here," as if that might be a different thing to Lemuel altogether.
"Oh!" he said. "Is she in?"
"Well, you can walk in," said the girl, "and I'll see." She came back to ask, "Who shall I say called?"
"Mr. Barker," said Lemuel, and then glowed with shame because he had called himself Mister. The girl did not come back, but she hardly seemed gone before 'Manda Grier came into the room. He did not know whether she would speak to him, but she was as pleasant as could be, and said he must come right up to her and S'tira's room. It was pretty high up, but he did not notice the stairs, 'Manda Grier kept talking so; and when he got to it, and 'Manda Grier dashed the door open, and told him to walk right in, he would not have known but he was in somebody's sitting-room. A curtained alcove hid the bed, and the room was heated by a cheerful little kerosene stove; there were bright folding carpet-chairs, and the lid of the washstand had a cloth on it that came down to the floor, and there were plants in the window. There was a mirror on the wall, framed in black walnut with gilt moulding inside, and a family-group photograph in the same kind of frame, and two chromes, and a clock on a bracket.
Statira seemed surprised to see him; the room was pretty warm, and her face was flushed. He said it was quite mild out, and she said, "Was it?" Then she ran and flung up the window, and said, "Why, so it was," and that she had been in the house all day, and had not noticed the weather.
She excused herself and the room for being in such a state; she said she was ashamed to be caught in such a looking dress, but they were not expecting company, and she did suppose 'Manda Grier would have given her time to put the room to rights a little. He could not understand why she said all this, for the whole room was clean, and Statira herself was beautifully dressed in the same dress that she had worn the night before, or one just like it; and after she had put up the window, 'Manda Grier said, "S'tira Dudley, do you want to kill yourself?" and ran and pulled aside the curtain in the corner, and took down the dolman from among other clothes that hung there, and threw it on Statira's shoulders, who looked as pretty as a pink in it. But she pretended to be too hot, and wanted to shrug it off, and 'Manda Grier called out, "Mr. Barker! will you make her keep it on?" and Lemuel sat dumb and motionless, but filled through with a sweet pleasure.
He tried several times to ask them if they had been robbed on the way home last night, as he had done in the scene he had dramatised; but he could not get out a word except that it had been pretty warm all day.
Statira said, "I think it's been a very warm fall," and 'Manda Grier said, "I think the summer's goin' to spend the winter with us," and they all three laughed.
"What speeches you do make, 'Manda Grier," said Statira.
"Well, anything better than Quaker meetin', I say," retorted 'Manda Grier; and then they were all three silent, and Lemuel thought of his clothes, and how fashionably both of the girls were dressed.
"I guess," said Statira, "it'll be a pretty sickly winter, if it keeps along this way. They say a green Christmas makes a fat grave- yard."
"I guess you'll see the snow fly long before Christmas," said 'Manda Grier, "or Thanksgiving either."
"I guess so too," said Lemuel, though he did not like to seem to take sides against Statira.
She laughed as if it were a good joke, and said, "'Tain't but about a fortnight now till Thanksgiving anyway."
"If it comes a good fall of snow before Thanksgivin', won't you come round and give us a sleigh-ride, Mr. Barker?" asked 'Manda Grier.
They all laughed at her audacity, and Lemuel said, Yes, he would; and she said, "We'll give you a piece of real Willoughby Centre Mince-pie, if you will."
They all laughed again.
"'Manda Grier!" said Statira, in protest.
"Her folks sent her half a dozen last Thanksgivin'," persisted 'Manda Grier.
"'Manda!" pleaded Statira.
'Manda Grier sprang up and got Lemuel a folding-chair. "You ain't a bit comfortable in that stiff old thing, Mr. Barker."
Lemuel declared that he was perfectly comfortable, but she would not be contented till he had changed, and then she said, "Why don't you look after your company, S'tira Dudley? I should think you'd be ashamed."
Lemuel's face burned with happy shame, and Statira, who was as red as he was, stole a look at him, that seemed to say that there was no use trying to stop 'Manda Grier. But when she went on, "I don't know but it's the fashion to Willoughby Centre," they both gave way again, and laughed more than ever, and Statira said, "Well, 'Manda Grier, what do you s'pose Mr. Barker 'll think?"
She tried to be sober, but the wild girl set her and Lemuel off laughing when she retorted, "Guess he'll think what he did when he was brought up in court for highway robbery."
'Manda Grier sat upright in her chair, and acted as if she had merely spoken about the weather. He knew that she was talking that way just to break the ice, and though he would have given anything to be able to second her, he could not.
"How you do carry on, 'Manda Grier," said Statira, as helpless as he was.
"Guess I got a pretty good load to carry!" said 'Manda Grier.
They all now began to find their tongues a little, and Statira told how one season when her mother took boarders she had gone over to the Pastures with a party of summer-folks on a straw-ride and picked blueberries. She said she never saw the berries as thick as they were there.
Lemuel said he guessed he knew where the place was; but the fire had got into it last year, and there had not been a berry there this summer.
Statira said, "What a shame!" She said there were some Barkers over East Willoughby way; and she confessed that when he said his name was Barker, and he was from Willoughby Pastures, that night in the station, she thought she should have gone through the floor.
Then they talked a little about how they had both felt, but not very much, and they each took all the blame, and would not allow that the other was the least to blame. Statira said she had behaved like a perfect coot all the way through, and Lemuel said that he guessed he had been the coot, if there was any.
"I guess there was a pair of you," said 'Manda Grier; and at this association of them in 'Manda Grier's condemnation, he could see that Statira was blushing, though she hid her face in her hands, for her ears were all red.
He now rose and said he guessed he would have to be going; but when 'Manda Grier interposed and asked, "Why, what's your hurry?" he said he guessed he had not had any, and Statira laughed at the wit of this till it seemed to him she would perish.
"Well, then, you set right straight down again," said 'Manda Grier, with mock severity, as if he were an obstinate little boy; and he obeyed, though he wished that Statira had asked him to stay too.
"Why, the land sakes!" exclaimed 'Manda Grier, "have you been lettin' him keep his hat all this while, S'tira Dudley? You take it right away from him!" And Statira rose, all smiling and blushing, and said—
"Will you let me take your hat, Mr. Barker?" as if he had just come in, and made him feel as if she had pressed him to stay. She took it and went and laid it on a stand across the room, and Lemuel thought he had never seen a much more graceful person. She wore a full Breton skirt, which was gathered thickly at the hips, and swung loose and free as she stepped. When she came back and sat down, letting the back of one pretty hand fall into the palm of the other in her lap, it seemed to him impossible that such an elegant young lady should be tolerating a person dressed as he was.
"There!" began 'Manda Grier. "I guess Mr. Barker won't object a great deal to our going on, if it is Sunday. 'S kind of a Sunday game, anyways. You 'posed to games on Sunday?"
"I don't know as I am," said Lemuel.
"Now, 'Manda Grier, don't you!" pleaded Statira.
"Shall, too," persisted 'Manda. "I guess if there's any harm in the key, there ain't any harm in the Bible, and so it comes out even. D'you ever try your fate with a key and a Bible?" she asked Lemuel.
"I don't know as I did," he answered.
"Well, it's real fun, 'n' its curious how it comes out, oftentimes. Well, I don't s'pose there's anything in it, but it is curious."
"I guess we hadn't better," said Statira. "I don't believe Mr. Barker 'll care for it."
Lemuel said he would like to see how it was done, anyway.
'Manda Grier took the key out of the door, and looked at it. "That key 'll cut the leaves all to pieces."
"Can't you find some other?" suggested Statira.
"I don't know but may be I could," said 'Manda Grier. "You just wait a half a second."
Before Lemuel knew what she was doing, she flew out of the door, and he could hear her flying down the stairs.
"Well, I must say!" said Statira, and then neither she nor Lemuel said anything for a little while. At last she asked, "That window trouble you any?"
Lemuel said, "Not at all," and he added, "Perhaps it's too cold for you?"
"Oh no," said the girl, "I can't seem to get anything too cold for me. I'm the greatest person for cold weather! I'm real glad it's comin' winter. We had the greatest time, last winter," continued Statira, "with those English sparrows. Used to feed 'em crumbs, there on the window-sill, and it seemed as if they got to know we girls, and they'd hop right inside, if you'd let 'em. Used to make me feel kind of creepy to have 'em. They say it's a sign of death to have a bird come into your room, and I was always for drivin' 'em out, but 'Manda, she said she guessed the Lord didn't take the trouble to send birds round to every one, and if the rule didn't work one way it didn't work the other. You believe in signs?"
"I don't know as I do, much. Mother likes to see the new moon over her right shoulder, pretty well," said Lemuel.
"Well, I declare," said Statira, "that's just the way with my aunt. Now you're up here," she said, springing suddenly to her feet, "I want you should see what a nice view we got from our window."
Lemuel had it on his tongue to say that he hoped it was not going to be his last chance; he believed he would have said it if 'Manda Grier had been there; but now he only joined Statira at the window, and looked out. They had to stoop over, and get pretty close together, to see the things she wished to show him, and she kept shrugging her sack on, and once she touched him with her shoulder. He said yes to everything she asked him about the view, but he saw very little of it. He saw that her hair had a shade of gold in its brown, and that it curled in tight little rings where it was cut on her neck, and that her skin was very white under it. When she touched him, that time, it made him feel very strange; and when she glanced at him out of her blue eyes, he did not know what he was doing. He did not laugh as he did when 'Manda Grier was there.
Statira said, "Oh, excuse me!" when she touched him, and he answered, "Perfectly excusable," but he said hardly anything else. He liked to hear her talk, and he watched the play of her lips as she spoke. Once her breath came across his cheek, when she turned quickly to see if he was looking where she was pointing.
They sat down and talked, and all at once Statira exclaimed, "Well! I should think 'Manda Grier was makin' that key!"
Now, whatever happened, Lemuel was bound to say, "I don't think she's been gone very long."
"Well, you're pretty patient, I must say," said Statira, and he did not know whether she was making fun of him or not. He tried to think of something to say, but could not. "I hope she'll fetch a lamp, too, when she comes," Statira went on, and now he saw that it was beginning to be a little darker. Perhaps that about the lamp was a hint for him to go; but he did not see exactly how he could go till 'Manda Grier came back; he felt that it would not be polite.
"Well, there!" said Statira, as if she divined his feeling. I shall give 'Manda Grier a good talking-to. I'm awfully afraid we're keeping you, Mr. Barker."
"Not at all," said Lemuel; "I'm afraid I'm keeping you."
"Oh, not at all," said Statira. She became rather quieter, till 'Manda Grier came back.
'Manda Grier burst into the room, with a key in one hand and a lamp in the other. "Well, I knew you two'd be holdin' Quaker's meetin'."
"We hain't at all! How d'you know we have? Have we, Mr. Barker?" returned Statira, in simultaneous admission and denial.
"Well, if you want to know, I listened outside the door," said 'Manda Grier, "and you wa'n't sayin' a word, either of you. I guess I got a key now that'll do," she added, setting down her lamp, "and I borrowed an old Bible 't I guess 'tain't go'n' to hurt a great deal."
"I don't know as I want to play it much," said Statira.
"Well, I guess you got to, now," said 'Manda Grier, "after all my trouble. Hain't she, Mr. Barker?"
It flattered Lemuel through and through to be appealed to, but he could not say anything.
"Well," said Statira, "if I got to, I got to. But you got to hold the Bible."
"You got to put the key in!" cried 'Manda Grier. She sat holding the Bible open toward Statira.
She offered to put the key in, and then she stopped. "Well! I'm great! Who are we going to find it for first?"
"Oh, company first," said 'Manda Grier.
"You company, Mr. Barker?" asked Statira, looking at Lemuel over her shoulder.
"I hope not," said Lemuel gallantly, at last.
"Well, I declare!" said Statira.
"Quite one the family," said 'Manda Grier, and that made Statira say, "'Manda!" and Lemuel blush to his hair. "Well, anyway," continued 'Manda Grier, "you're company enough to have your fate found first. Put in the key, S'tira."
"No, I sha'n't do it."
"Well, I shall, then!" She took the key from Statira, and shut the book upon it at the Song of Solomon, and bound it tightly in with a ribbon. Lemuel watched breathlessly; he was not sure that he knew what kind of fate she meant, but he thought he knew, and it made his heart beat quick. 'Manda Grier had passed the ribbon through the ring of the key, which was left outside of the leaves, and now she took hold of the key with her two forefingers. "You got to be careful not to touch the Bible with your fingers," she explained, "or the charm won't work. Now I'll say over two verses, 't where the key's put in, and Mr. Barker, you got to repeat the alphabet at the same time; and when it comes to the first letter of the right name, the Bible will drop out of my fingers, all I can do. Now then! Set me as a seal on thine heart—"
"A, B, C, D." began Lemuel. "Pshaw, now, 'Manda Grier, you stop!" pleaded Statira.
"You be still! Go on, Mr. Barker!—As a seal upon thine arm; for love is as strong as death—don't say the letters so fast— jealousy as cruel as the grave—don't look at S'tira; look at me!—the coals thereof are coals of fire—you're sayin' it too slow now—which hath a most vehement flame. I declare, S'tira Dudley, if you joggle me!—Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it—you must put just so much time between every letter; if you stop on every particular one, it ain't fair—if a man would give all the substance of his house for love—you stop laughin', you two!—it would be utterly consumed. Well, there! Now we got to go it all over again, and my arm's most broke now."
"I don't believe Mr. Barker wants to do it again," said Statira, looking demurely at him; but Lemuel protested that he did, and the game began again. This time the Bible began to shake at the letter D, and Statira cried out, "Now, 'Manda Grier, you're making it," and 'Manda Grier laughed so that she could scarcely hold the book. Lemuel laughed too; but he kept on repeating the letters. At S the book fell to the floor, and Statira caught it up, and softly beat 'Manda Grier on the back with it. "Oh you mean thing!" she cried out. "You did it on purpose."
'Manda Grier was almost choked with laughing.
"Do you know anybody of the name of Sarah, Mr. Barker?" she gasped, and then they all laughed together till Statira said, "Well, I shall surely die! Now, 'Manda Grier, it's your turn. And you see if I don't pay you up."
"I guess I ain't afraid any," retorted 'Manda Grier. "The book 'll do what it pleases, in spite of you."
They began again, Statira holding the book this time, and Lemuel repeating as before, and he went quite through the alphabet without anything happening. "Well, I declare!" said Statira, looking grave. "Let's try it over again."
"You may try, and you may try, and you may try," said 'Manda Grier. "It won't do you any good. I hain't got any fate in that line."
"Well, that's what we're goin' to find out," said Statira; but again the verses and alphabet were repeated without effect.
"Now you satisfied?" asked 'Manda Grier.
"No, not yet. Begin again, Mr. Barker!"
He did so, and at the second letter the book dropped. Statira jumped up, and 'Manda Grier began to chase her round the room, to box her ears for her, she said. Lemuel sat looking on. He did not feel at all severe toward them, as he usually did toward girls that cut up; he did not feel that this was cutting up, in fact.
"Stop, stop!" implored Statira, "and I'll let you try it over again."
"No, it's your turn now!"
"No, I ain't going to have any," said Statira, folding her arms.
"You got to," said 'Manda Grier. "The rest of us has, and now you've got to. Hain't she got to, Mr. Barker?"
"Yes," said Lemuel delightedly; "you've got to, Miss Dudley."
"Miss Dudley!" repeated 'Manda Grier. "How that does sound."
"I don't know as it sounds any worse than Mr. Barker," said Lemuel.
"Well," said 'Manda Grier judicially, "I she'd think it was 'bout time they was both of 'em dropped, 'T any rate, I don't want you should call me Miss Grier—Lemuel."
"Oh!" cried Statira. "Well, you are getting along, 'Manda Grier!"
"Well, don't you let yourself be outdone then, S'tira."
"I guess Mr. Barker's good enough for me a while yet," said Statira, and she hastened to add, "The name, I mean," and at this they all laughed till Statira said, "I shall certainly die!" She suddenly recovered herself—those girls seemed to do everything like lightning, Lemuel observed—and said, "No, I ain't goin' to have mine told at all. I don't like it. Seems kind of wicked. I ruther talk. I never could make it just right to act so with the Bible."
Lemuel was pleased at that. Statira seemed prettier than ever in this mood of reverence.
"Well, don't talk too much when I'm gone," said 'Manda Grier, and before anybody could stop her, she ran out of the room. But she put her head in again to say, "I'll be back as soon's I can take this key home."
Lemuel did not know what to do. The thought of being alone with Statira again was full of rapture and terror. He was glad when she seized the door and tried to keep 'Manda Grier.
"I—I—guess I better be going," he said.
"You sha'n't go till I get back, anyway," said 'Manda Grier hospitably. "You keep him, S'tira!"
She gave Statira a little push, and ran down the stairs.
Statira tottered against Lemuel, with that round, soft shoulder which had touched him before. He put out his arms to save her from falling, and they seemed to close round her of themselves. She threw up her face, and in a moment he had kissed her. He released her and fell back from her aghast.
She looked at him.
"I—I didn't mean to," he panted. His heart was thundering in his ears.
She put up her hands to her face, and began to cry.
"Oh, my goodness!" he gasped. He wavered a moment, then he ran out of the room.
On the stairs he met 'Manda Grier coming up. "Now, Mr. Barker, you're real mean to go!" she pouted.
"I guess I better be going," Lemuel called back, in a voice so husky that he hardly knew it for his own.
Lemuel let himself into Miss Vane's house with his key to the back gate, and sat down, still throbbing, in his room over the L, and tried to get the nature of his deed, or misdeed, before his mind. He had grown up to manhood in an austere reverence for himself as regarded the other sex, and in a secret fear, as exacting for them as it was worshipful of women. His mother had held all show of love- sickness between young people in scorn; she said they were silly things, when she saw them soft upon one another; and Lemuel had imbibed from her a sense of unlawfulness, of shame, in the love- making he had seen around him all his life. These things are very open in the country. Even in large villages they have kissing-games at the children's parties, in the church vestries and refectories; and as a little boy Lemuel had taken part in such games. But as he grew older, his reverence and his fear would not let him touch a girl. Once a big girl, much older than he, came up behind him in the play-ground and kissed him; he rubbed the kiss off with his hand, and scoured the place with sand and gravel. One winter all the big boys and girls at school began courting whenever the teacher was out of sight a moment; at the noon-spell some of them sat with their arms round one another. Lemuel wandered off by himself in the snows of the deep woods; the sight of such things, the thought of them put him to shame for those fools, as he tacitly called them; and now what had he done himself? He could not tell. At times he was even proud and glad of it; and then he did not know what would become of him. But mostly it seemed to him that he had been guilty of an enormity that nothing could ever excuse. He must have been crazy to do such a thing to a young lady like that; her tear-stained face looked her wonder at him still.
By this time she had told 'Manda Grier all about it; and he dared not think what their thoughts of him must be. It seemed to him that he ought to put such a monster as he was out of the world. But all the time there was a sweetness, a joy in his heart, that made him half frantic with fear of himself.
He started up at the sound of Sibyl Vane's voice calling to him from the dining-room which opened into the L.
"Yes, ma'am," he answered tremulously, going to his door. Miss Vane had been obliged to instruct him to say ma'am to her niece, whom he had at first spoken of by her Christian name.
"Was that you came in a little while ago?"
"Yes, ma'am, I came in."
"Oh! And have you had your supper?"
"I—I guess I don't want any supper."
"Don't want any supper? You will be ill. Why don't you?"
"I don't know as I feel just like eating anything."
"Well, it won't do. Will you see, please, if Jane is in the kitchen?"
Lemuel came forward, full of his unfitness for the sight of men, but gathering a little courage when he found the dining-room so dark. He descended to the basement and opened the door of the kitchen, looked in, and shut it again. "Yes, ma'am, she's there."
"Oh!" Sibyl seemed to hesitate. Then she said: "Light the gas down there, hadn't you better?"
"I don't know but I had," Lemuel assented.
But before he could obey, "And Lemuel!" she called down again, "come and light it up here too, please."
"I will as soon as I've lit it here," said Lemuel.
An imperious order came back. "You will light it here now, please."
"All right," assented Lemuel. When he appeared in the upper entry and flashed the gas up, he saw Sibyl standing at the reception-room door, with her finger closed into a book which she had been reading.
"You're not to say that you will do one thing when you're told to do another."
Lemuel whitened a little round the lips. "I'm not to do two things at once, either, I suppose."
Sibyl ignored this reply. "Please go and get your supper, and when you've had it come up here again. I've some things for you to do."
"I'll do them now," said Lemuel fiercely. "I don't want any supper, and I sha'n't eat any."
"Why, Lemuel, what is the matter with you?" asked the girl, in the sudden effect of motherly solicitude. "You look very strange, you seem so excited."
"I'm not hungry, that's all," said the boy doggedly. "What is it you want done?"
"Won't you please go up to the third floor," said Sibyl, in a phase of timorous dependence, "and see if everything is right there? I thought I heard a noise. See if the windows are fast, won't you?"
Lemuel turned and she followed with her finger in her book, and her book pressed to her heart, talking. "It seemed to me that I heard steps and voices. It's very mysterious. I suppose any one could plant a ladder on the roof of the L part, and get into the windows if they were not fastened."
"Have to be a pretty long ladder," grumbled Lemuel.
"Yes," Sibyl assented, "it would. And it didn't sound exactly like burglars."
She followed him half-way up the second flight of stairs, and stood there while he explored the third story throughout.
"There ain't anything there," he reported without looking at her, and was about to pass her on the stairs in going down.
"Oh, thank you very much, Lemuel," she said, with fervent gratitude in her voice. She fetched a tremulous sigh. "I suppose it was nothing. Yes," she added hoarsely, "it must have been nothing. Oh, let me go down first!" she cried, putting out her hand to stop him from passing her. She resumed when they reached the ground floor again. "Aunty has gone out, and Jane was in the kitchen, and it began to grow dark while I sat reading in the drawing-room, and all at once I heard the strangest noise." Her voice dropped deeply on the last word. "Yes, it was very strange indeed! Thank you, Lemuel," she concluded.
"Quite welcome," said Lemuel dryly, pushing on towards the basement stairs.
"Oh! And Lemuel! will you let Jane give you your supper in the dining-room, so that you could be here if I heard anything else?"
"I don't want any supper," said Lemuel.
The girl scrutinised him with an expression of misgiving. Then, with a little sigh, as of one who will not explore a painful mystery, she asked: "Would you mind sitting in the dining-room, then, till aunty gets back?"
"I'd just as lives sit there," said Lemuel, walking into the dark dining-room and sitting down.
"Oh, thank you very much. Aunty will be back very soon, I suppose. She's just gone to the Sewells' to tea."
She followed him to the threshold. "You must—I must—light the gas in here for you."
"Guess I can light the gas," said Lemuel, getting up to intercept her in this service. She had run into the reception-room for a match, and she would not suffer him to prevent her.
"No, no! I insist! And Lemuel," she said, turning upon him, "I must ask you to excuse my speaking harshly to you. I was—agitated."
"Perfectly excusable," said Lemuel.
"I am afraid," said the girl, fixing him with her eyes, "that you are not well."
"Oh yes, I'm well. I'm—pretty tired; that's all."
"Have you been walking far?"
"The walking ought to do you good," said Sibyl, with serious thoughtfulness. "I think," she continued, "you had better have some bryonia. Don't you think you had?"
"No, no! I don't want anything," protested Lemuel.
She looked at him with a feeling of baffled anxiety painted on her face; and as she turned away, she beamed with a fresh inspiration. "I will get you a book." She flew into the reception-room and back again, but she only had the book that she had herself been reading.
"Perhaps you would like to read this? I've finished it. I was just looking back through it."
"Thank you; I guess I don't want to read any, just now."
She leaned against the side of the dining-table, beyond which Lemuel sat, and searched his fallen countenance with a glance contrived to be at once piercing and reproachful. "I see," she said, "you have not forgiven me."
"Forgiven you?" repeated Lemuel blankly.
"Yes—for giving way to my agitation in speaking to you."
"I don't know," said Lemuel, with a sigh of deep inward trouble, "as I noticed anything."
"I told you to light the gas in the basement," suggested Sibyl, "and then I told you to light it up here, and then—I scolded you."
"Oh yes," admitted Lemuel: "that." He dropped his head again.
Sibyl sank upon the edge of a chair. "Lemuel! you have something on your mind?"
The boy looked up with a startled face.
"Yes! I can see that you have," pursued Sibyl. "What have you been doing?" she demanded sternly.
Lemuel was so full of the truth that it came first to his lips in all cases. He could scarcely force it aside now with the evasion that availed him nothing. "I don't know as I've been doing anything in particular."
"I see that you don't wish to tell me!" cried the girl. "But you might have trusted me. I would have defended you, no matter what you had done—the worse the better."
Lemuel hung his head without answering.
After a while she continued: "If I had been that girl who had you arrested, and I had been the cause of so much suffering to an innocent person, I should never have forgiven myself. I should have devoted my life to expiation. I should have spent my life in going about the prisons, and finding out persons who were unjustly accused. I should have done it as a penance. Yes! even if he had been guilty!"
Lemuel remained insensible to this extreme of self-sacrifice, and she went on: "This book—it is a story—is all one picture of such a nature. There is a girl who's been brought up as the ward of a young man. He educates her, and she expects to be his wife, and he turns out to be perfectly false and unworthy in every way; but she marries him all the same, although she likes some one else, because she feels that she ought to punish herself for thinking of another, and because she hopes that she will die soon, and when her guardian finds out what she's done for him, it will reform him. It's perfectly sublime. It's—ennobling! If every one could read this book, they would be very different."
"I don't see much sense in it," said Lemuel, goaded to this comment.
"You would if you read it. When she dies—she is killed by a fall from her horse in hunting, and has just time to join the hands of her husband and the man she liked first, and tell them everything— it is wrought up so that you hold your breath. I suppose it was reading that that made me think there were burglars getting in. But perhaps you're right not to read it now, if you're excited already. I'll get you something cheerful." She whirled out of the room and back in a series of those swift, nervous movements peculiar to her. "There! that will amuse you, I know." She put the book down on the table before Lemuel, who silently submitted to have it left there. "It will distract your thoughts, if anything will. And I shall ask you to let me sit just here in the reception-room, so that I can call you if I feel alarmed."
"All right," said Lemuel, lapsing absently to his own troubled thoughts.
"Thank you very much," said Sibyl. She went away, and came back directly. "Don't you think," she asked, "that it's very strange you should never have seen or heard anything of her?"
"Heard of who?" he asked, dragging himself painfully up from the depths of his thoughts.
"That heartless girl who had you arrested."
"She wasn't heartless!" retorted Lemuel indignantly.
"You think so because you are generous, and can't imagine such heartlessness. Perhaps," added Sibyl, with the air of being illumined by a happy thought, "she is dead. That would account for everything. She may have died of remorse. It probably preyed upon her till she couldn't bear it any longer, and then she killed herself."
Lemuel began to grow red at the first apprehension of her meaning. As she went on, he changed colour more and more.
"She is alive!" cried Sibyl. "She's alive, and you have seen her! You needn't deny it! You've seen her to-day!" Lemuel rose in clumsy indignation. "I don't know as anybody's got any right to say what I've done, or haven't done."
"O Lemuel!" cried Sibyl. "Do you think anyone in this house would intrude in your affairs? But if you need a friend—a sister——"
"I don't need any sister. I want you should let me alone."
At these words, so little appreciative of her condescension, her romantic beneficence, her unselfish interest, Sibyl suddenly rebounded to her former level, which she was sensible was far above that of this unworthy object of her kindness. She rose from her chair, and pursued—
"If you need a friend—a sister—I'm sure that you can safely confide in—the cook." She looked at him a moment, and broke into a malicious laugh very unlike that of a social reformer, which rang shriller at the bovine fury which mounted to Lemuel's eyes. The rattle of a night-latch made itself heard in the outer door. Sibyl's voice began to break, as it rose: "I never expected to be treated in my own aunt's house with such perfect ingratitude and impudence— yes, impudence!—by one of her servants!"
She swept out of the room, and her aunt, who entered it, after calling to her in vain, stood with Lemuel, and heard her mount the stairs, sobbing, to her own room, and lock herself in.
"What is the matter, Lemuel?" asked Miss Vane, breathing quickly. She looked at him with the air of a judge who would not condemn him unheard, but would certainly do so after hearing him. Whether it was Lemuel's perception of this that kept him silent, or his confusion of spirit from all the late rapidly successive events, or a wish not to inculpate the girl who had insulted him, he remained silent.
"Answer me!" said Miss Vane sharply.
Lemuel cleared his throat. "I don't know as I've got anything to say," he answered finally.
"But I insist upon your saying something," said Miss Vane. "What is this impudence?"
"There hasn't been any impudence," replied Lemuel, hanging his head.
"Very well, then, you can tell me what Sibyl means," persisted Miss Vane.
Lemuel seemed to reflect upon it. "No, I can't tell you," he said at last, slowly and gently.
"You refuse to make any explanation whatever?"
Miss Vane rose from the chair which she had mechanically sunk into while waiting for him to speak, and ceased to be the kindly, generous soul she was, in asserting herself as a gentlewoman who had a contumacious servant to treat with. "You will wait here a moment, please."
"All right," said Lemuel. She had asked him not to receive instructions from her with that particular answer, but he could not always remember.
She went upstairs, and returned with some banknotes that rustled in her trembling hand. "It is two months since you came, and I've paid you one month," she said, and she set her lips, and tried to govern her head, which nevertheless shook with the vehemence she was struggling to repress. She laid two ten-dollar notes upon the table, and then added a five, a little apart. "This second month was to be twenty instead of ten. I shall not want you any longer, and should be glad to have you go now—at once—to-night! But I had intended to offer you a little present at Christmas, and I will give it you now."
Lemuel took up the two ten-dollar notes without saying anything, and then after a moment laid one of them down. "It's only half a month," he said. "I don't want to be paid for any more than I've done."
"Lemuel!" cried Miss Vane. "I insist upon your taking it. I employed you by the month."
"It don't make any difference about that; I've only been here a month and a half."
He folded the notes, and turned to go out of the room. Miss Vane caught the five-dollar note from the table and intercepted him with it. "Well, then, you shall take it as a present."
"I don't want any present," said Lemuel, patiently waiting her pleasure to release him, but keeping his hands in his pockets.
"You would have taken it at Christmas," said Miss Vane. "You shall take it now."
"I shouldn't take a present any time," returned Lemuel steadily.
"You are a foolish boy!" cried Miss Vane. "You need it, and I tell you to take it."
He made no reply whatever.
"You are behaving very stubbornly—ungratefully," said Miss Vane.
Lemuel lifted his head; his lip quivered a little. "I don't think you've got any right to say I'm ungrateful."
"I don't mean ungrateful," said Miss Vane. "I mean unkind—very silly, indeed. And I wish you to take this money. You are behaving resentfully—wickedly. I am much older than you, and I tell you that you are not behaving rightly. Why don't you do what I wish?"
"I don't want any money I haven't earned."
"I don't mean the money. Why don't you tell me the meaning of what I heard? My niece said you had been impudent to her. Perhaps she didn't understand."
She looked wistfully into the boy's face.
After a long time he said, "I don't know as I've got anything to say about it."
"Very well, then, you may go," said Miss Vane, with all her hauteur.
"Well, good evening," said Lemuel passively, but the eyes that he looked at her with were moist, and conveyed a pathetic reproach. To her unmeasured astonishment, he offered her his hand; her amaze was even greater—more infinite, as she afterwards told Sewell— when she found herself shaking it.
He went out of the room, and she heard him walking about his room in the L, putting together his few belongings. Then she heard him go down and open the furnace door, and she knew he was giving a final conscientious look at the fire. He closed it, and she heard him close the basement door behind him, and knew that he was gone.
She explored the L, and then she descended to the basement and mechanically looked it over. Everything that could be counted hers by the most fastidious sense of property had been left behind him in the utmost neatness. On their accustomed nail, just inside the furnace-room, hung the blue overalls. They looked like a suicidal Lemuel hanging there.
Miss Vane went upstairs slowly, with a heavy heart. Under the hall light stood Sibyl, picturesque in the deep shadow it flung upon her face.
"Aunt Hope," she began in a tragic voice.
"Don't speak to me, you wicked girl!" cried her aunt, venting her self-reproach upon this victim. "It is your doing."
Sibyl turned with the meekness of an ostentatious scape-goat, unjustly bearing the sins of her tribe, and went upstairs into the wilderness of her own thoughts again.
The sense of outrage with which Lemuel was boiling when Miss Vane came in upon Sibyl and himself had wholly passed away, and he now saw his dismissal, unjust as between that girl and him, unimpeachably righteous as between him and the moral frame of things. If he had been punished for being ready to take advantage of that fellow's necessity, and charge him fifty cents for changing ten dollars, he must now be no less obviously suffering for having abused that young lady's trust and defencelessness; only he was not suffering one-tenth as much. When he recurred to that wrong, in fact, and tried to feel sorry for it and ashamed, his heart thrilled in a curious way; he found himself smiling and exulting, and Miss Vane and her niece went out of his mind, and he could not think of anything but of being with that girl, of hearing her talk and laugh, of touching her. He sighed; he did not know what his mother would say if she knew; he did not know where he was going; it seemed a hundred years since the beginning of the afternoon.
A horse-car came by, and Lemuel stopped it. He set his bag down on the platform, and stood there near the conductor, without trying to go inside, for the bag was pretty large, and he did not believe the conductor would let him take it in.
The conductor said politely after a while, "See, 'd I get your fare?"
"No," said Lemuel. He paid, and the conductor went inside and collected the other fares.
When he came back he took advantage of Lemuel's continued presence to have a little chat. He was a short, plump, stubby-moustached man, and he looked strong and well, but he said, with an introductory sigh, "Well, sir, I get sore all over at this business. There ain't a bone in me that hain't got an ache in it. Sometimes I can't tell but what it's the ache got a bone in it, ache seems the biggest."
"Why, what makes it?" asked Lemuel absently.
"Oh, it's this standin'; it's the hours, and changin' the hours so much. You hain't got a chance to get used to one set o' hours before they get 'em all shifted round again. Last week I was on from eight to eight; this week it's from twelve to twelve. Lord knows what it's going to be next week. And this is one o' the best lines in town, too."
"I presume they pay you pretty well," said Lemuel, with awakening interest.
"Well, they pay a dollar 'n' half a day," said the conductor.
"Why, it's more than forty dollars a month," said Lemuel.
"Well, it is," said the conductor scornfully, "if you work every day in the week. But I can't stand it more than six days out o' seven; and if you miss a day, or if you miss a trip, they dock you. No, sir. It's about the meanest business I ever struck. If I wa'n't a married man, 'n' if I didn't like to be regular about my meals and get 'em at home 'th my wife, I wouldn't stand it a minute. But that's where it is. It's regular."
A lady from within signalled the conductor. He stopped the car, and the lady, who had risen with her escort, remained chatting with a friend before she got out. The conductor snapped his bell for starting, with a look of patient sarcasm. "See that?" he asked Lemuel. "Some these women act as if the cars was their private carriage; and you got to act so too, or the lady complains of you, and the company bounces you in a minute. Stock's owned along the line, and they think they own you too. You can't get 'em to set more than ten on a side; they'll leave the car first. I'd like to catch 'em on some the South End or Cambridge cars. I'd show 'em how to pack live stock once, anyway. Yes, sir, these ladies that ride on this line think they can keep the car standin' while they talk about the opera. But you'd ought to see how they all look if a poor woman tries their little game. Oh, I tell you, rich people are hard."
Lemuel reflected upon the generalisation. He regarded Miss Vane as a rich person; but though she had blamed him unjustly, and had used him impatiently, even cruelly, in this last affair, he remembered other things, and he said—
"Well, I don't know as I should say all of them were hard."
"Well, may be not," admitted the conductor. "But I don't envy 'em. The way I look at it, and the way I tell my wife, I wouldn't want their money 'f I had to have the rest of it. Ain't any of 'em happy. I saw that when I lived out. No, sir; what me and my wife want to do is to find us a nice little place in the country."
At the words a vision of Willoughby Pastures rose upon Lemuel, and a lump of home-sickness came into his throat. He saw the old wood- coloured house, crouching black within its walls under the cold November stars. If his mother had not gone to bed yet, she was sitting beside the cooking-stove in the kitchen, and perhaps his sister was brewing something on it, potion or lotion, for her husband's rheumatism. Miss Vane had talked to him about his mother; she had said he might have her down to visit him, if everything went on right; but of course he knew that Miss Vane did not understand that his mother wore bloomers, and he made up his mind that her invitation was never to be accepted. At the same time he had determined to ask Miss Vane to let him go up and see his mother some Sunday.
"'S fur's we go," said the conductor. "'F you're goin' on, you want to take another car here."
"I guess I'll go back with you a little ways," said Lemuel. "I want to ask you—"
"Guess we'll have to take a back seat, then," said the conductor, leading the way through the car to the other platform; "or a standee," he added, snapping the bell. "What is it you want to ask?"
"Oh, nothing. How do you fellows learn to be conductors? How long does it take you?"
Till other passengers should come the conductor lounged against the guard of the platform in a conversational posture.
"Well, generally it takes you four or five days. You got to learn all the cross streets, and the principal places on all the lines."
"It didn't take me more'n two. Boston boy."
"Yes," said Lemuel, with a fine discouragement. "I presume the conductors are mostly from Boston."
"They're from everywhere. And some of 'em are pretty streaked, I can tell you; and then the rest of us has got to suffer; throws suspicion on all of us. One fellow gets to stealin' fares, and then everybody's got to wear a bell-punch. I never hear mine go without thinkin' it says, 'Stop thief!' Makes me sick, I can tell you."
After a while Lemuel asked, "How do you get such a position?"
The conductor seemed to be thinking about some thing else. "It's a pretty queer kind of a world, anyway, the way everybody's mixed up with everybody else. What's the reason, if a man wants to steal, he can't steal and suffer for it himself, without throwin' the shame and the blame on a lot more people that never thought o' stealin'? I don't notice much when a fellow sets out to do right that folks think everybody else is on the square. No, sir, they don't seem to consider that kind of complaint so catching. Now, you take another thing: A woman goes round with the scarlet fever in her clothes, and a whole carful of people take it home to their children; but let a nice young girl get in, fresh as an apple, and a perfect daisy for wholesomeness every way, and she don't give it to a single soul on board. No, sir; it's a world I can't see through, nor begin to."
"I never thought of it that way," said Lemuel, darkened by this black pessimism of the conductor. He had not, practically, found the world so unjust as the conductor implied, but he could not controvert his argument. He only said, "May be the right thing makes us feel good in some way we don't know of."
"Well, I don't want to feel good in some way I don't know of, myself," said the conductor very scornfully.
"No, that's so," Lemuel admitted. He remained silent, with a vague wonder flitting through his mind whether Mr. Sewell could make anything better of the case, and then settled back to his thoughts of Statira, pierced and confused as they were now with his pain from that trouble with Miss Vane.
"What was that you asked me just now?" said the conductor.
"That I asked you?" Lemuel echoed. "Oh yes! I asked you how you got your place on the cars."
"Well, sir, you have to have recommendations—they won't touch you without 'em; and then you have to have about seventy-five dollars capital to start with. You got to get your coat, and your cap, and your badge, and you got to have about twenty dollars of your own to make change with, first off; company don't start you with a cent."
Lemuel made no reply. After a while he asked, "Do you know any good hotel, around here, where I could go for the night?"
"Well, there's the Brunswick, and there's the Van-dome," said the conductor. "They're both pretty fair houses." Lemuel looked round at the mention of the aristocratic hostelries to see if the conductor was joking. He owned to something of the kind by adding, "There's a little hotel, if you want something quieter, that ain't a great ways from here." He gave the name of the hotel, and told Lemuel how to find it.
"Thank you," said Lemuel. "I guess I'll get off here, then. Well, good evening."
"Guess I'll have to get another nickel from you," said the conductor, snapping his bell. "New trip," he explained.
"Oh," said Lemuel, paying. It seemed to him a short ride for five cents.
He got off, and as the conductor started up the car, he called forward through it to the driver, "Wanted to try for conductor, I guess. But I guess the seventy-five dollars capital settled that little point for him."
Lemuel heard the voice but not the words. He felt his bag heavy in his hand as he walked away in the direction the conductor had given him, and he did not set it down when he stood hesitating in front of the hotel; it looked like too expensive a place for him, with its stained-glass door, and its bulk hoisted high into the air. He walked by the hotel, and then he came back to it, and mustered courage to go in. His bag, if not superb, looked a great deal more like baggage than the lank sack which he had come to Boston with; he had bought it only a few days before, in hopes of going home before long; he set it down with some confidence on the tesselated floor of cheap marble, and when a shirt-sleeved, drowsy-eyed, young man came out of a little room or booth near the door, where there was a desk, and a row of bells, and a board with keys, hanging from the wall above it, Lemuel said quite boldly that he would like a room. The man said, well, they did not much expect transients; it was more of a family-hotel, like; but he guessed they had a vacancy, and they could put him up. He brushed his shirt sleeves down with his hands, and looked apologetically at some ashes on his trousers, and said, well, it was not much use trying to put on style, anyway, when you were taking care of a furnace and had to run the elevator yourself, and look after the whole concern. He said his aunt mostly looked after letting the rooms, but she was at church, and he guessed he should have to see about it himself. He bade Lemuel just get right into the elevator, and he put his bag into a cage that hung in one corner of the hallway, and pulled at the wire rope, and they mounted together. On the way up he had time to explain that the clerk, who usually ran the elevator when they had no elevator-boy, had kicked, and they were just between hay and grass, as you might say. He showed Lemuel into a grandiose parlour or drawing-room, enormously draped and upholstered, and furnished in a composite application of yellow jute and red plush to the ashen easy-chairs and sofa. A folding-bed in the figure of a chiffonier attempted to occupy the whole side of the wall and failed.
"I'm afraid it's more than I can pay," said Lemuel. "I guess I better see some other room." But the man said the room belonged to a boarder that had just gone, and he guessed they would not charge him very much for it; he guessed Lemuel had better stay. He pulled the bed down, and showed him how it worked, and he lighted two bulbous gas-burners, contrived to burn the gas at such a low pressure that they were like two unsnuffed candles for brilliancy. He backed round over the spacious floor and looked about him with an unfamiliar, marauding air, which had a certain boldness, but failed to impart courage to Lemuel, who trembled for fear of the unknown expense. But he was ashamed to go away, and when the man left him he went to bed, after some suspicious investigation of the machine he was to sleep in. He found its comfort unmistakable. He was tired out with what had been happening, and the events of the day recurred in a turmoil that helped rather than hindered slumber; none evolved itself distinctly enough from the mass to pursue him; what he was mainly aware of was the daring question whether he could not get the place of that clerk who had kicked.
In the morning he saw the landlady, who was called Mrs. Harmon, and who took the pay for his lodging, and said he might leave his bag a while there in the office. She was a large, smooth, tranquil person, who seemed ready for any sort of consent; she entered into an easy conversation with Lemuel, and was so sympathetic in regard to the difficulties of getting along in the city, that he had proposed himself as clerk and been accepted almost before he believed the thing had happened. He was getting a little used to the rapidity of urban transactions, but his mind had still a rustic difficulty in keeping up with his experiences.
"I suppose," said Mrs. Harmon, "it ain't very usual to take anybody without a reference; I never do it; but so long as you haven't been a great while in the city—You ever had a place in Boston before?"
"Well, not exactly what you may call a place," said Lemuel, with a conscience against describing in that way his position at Miss Vane's. "It was only part work." He added, "I wasn't there but a little while."
"Know anybody in the city?"
"Yes," said Lemuel reluctantly; "I know Rev. David L. Sewell, some."
"Oh, all right," said Mrs. Harmon, with eager satisfaction. "I have to be pretty particular who I have in the house. The boarders are all high-class, and I have to have all the departments accordingly. I'll see Mr. Sewell about you as soon as I get time, and I guess you can take right hold now, if you want to."
Mrs. Harmon showed him in half a minute how to manage the elevator, and then left him with general instructions to tell everybody who came upon any errand he did not understand, that she would be back in a very short time. He found pen and paper in the office, and she said he might write the letter that he asked leave to send his mother; when he mentioned his mother, she said, yes, indeed, with a burst of maternal sympathy which was imagined in her case, for she had already told Lemuel that if she had ever had any children she would not have gone into the hotel business, which she believed unfriendly to their right nurture; she said she never liked to take ladies with children.
He enclosed some money to his mother which he had intended to send, but which, before the occurrence of the good fortune that now seemed opening upon him, he thought he must withhold. He made as little as he could of his parting with Miss Vane, whom he had celebrated in earlier letters to his mother; he did not wish to afflict her on his own account, or incense her against Miss Vane, who, he felt, could not help her part in it; but his heart burned anew against Miss Sibyl while he wrote. He dwelt upon his good luck in getting this new position at once, and he let his mother see that he considered it a rise in life. He said he was going to try to get Mrs. Harmon to let him go home for Thanksgiving, though he presumed he might have to come back the same night.
His letter was short, but he was several times interrupted by the lady boarders, many of whom stopped to ask Mrs. Harmon something on their way to their rooms from breakfast. They did not really want anything, in most cases; but they were strict with Lemuel in wanting to know just when they could see Mrs. Harmon; and they delayed somewhat to satisfy a natural curiosity in regard to him. They made talk with him as he took them up in the elevator, and did what they could to find out about him. Most of them had their door-keys in their hands, and dangled them by the triangular pieces of brass which the keys were chained to; they affected some sort of negligee breakfast costume, and Lemuel thought them very fashionable. They nearly all snuffled and whined as they spoke; some had a soft, lazy nasal; others broke abruptly from silence to silence, in voices of nervous sharpness, like the cry or the bleat of an animal; one young girl, who was quite pretty, had a high, hoarse voice, like a gander.