Lemuel did not mind all this; he talked through his nose too; and he accepted Mrs. Harmon's smooth characterisation of her guests, as she called them, which she delivered in a slow, unimpassioned voice. "I never have any but the highest class people in my house—the very nicest; and I never have any jangling going on. In the first place I never allow anybody to have anything to complain of, and then if they do complain, I'm right up and down with them; I tell them their rooms are wanted, and they understand what I mean. And I never allow any trouble among the servants; I tell them, if they are not suited, that I don't want them to stay; and if they get to quarrelling among themselves, I send them all away, and get a new lot; I pay the highest wages, and I can always do it. If you want to keep up with the times at all, you have got to set a good table, and I mean to set just as good a table as any in Boston; I don't intend to let any one complain of my house on that score. Well, it's as broad as it's long: if you set a good table, you can ask a good price; and if you don't, you can't, that's all. Pay as you go, is my motto."
Mrs. Harmon sat talking in the little den beside the door which she called the office, when she returned from that absence which she had asked him to say would not be more than fifteen minutes at the outside. It had been something more than two hours, and it had ended almost clandestinely; but knowledge of her return had somehow spread through the house, and several ladies came in while she was talking, to ask when their window-shades were to be put up, or to say that they knew their gas-fixtures must be out of order; or that there were mice in their closets, for they had heard them gnawing; or that they were sure their set-bowls smelt, and that the traps were not working. Mrs. Harmon was prompt in every exigency. She showed the greatest surprise that those shades had not gone up yet; she said she was going to send round for the gasfitter to look at the fixtures all over the house; and that she would get some potash to pour down the bowls, for she knew the drainage was perfect—it was just the pipes down to the traps that smelt; she advised a cat for the mice, and said she would get one. She used the greatest sympathy with the ladies, recognising a real sufferer in each, and not attempting to deny anything. From the dining-room came at times the sound of voices, which blended in a discord loud above the clatter of crockery, but Mrs. Harmon seemed not to hear them. An excited foreigner of some sort finally rushed from this quarter, and thrust his head into the booth where Lemuel and Mrs. Harmon sat, long enough to explode some formula of renunciation upon her, which left her serenity unruffled. She received with the same patience the sarcasm of a boarder who appeared at the office-door with a bag in his hand, and said he would send an express-man for his trunk. He threw down the money for his receipted bill; and when she said she was sorry he was going, he replied that he could not stand the table any longer, and that he believed that French cook of hers had died on the way over; he was tired of the Nova Scotia temporary, who had become permanent. A gentleman waited for the parting guest to be gone, and then said to the tranquil Mrs. Harmon: "So Mellen has kicked, has he?"
"Yes, Mr. Evans," said Mrs. Harmon; "Mr. Mellen has kicked."
"And don't you want to abuse him a little? You can to me, you know," suggested the gentleman.
He had a full beard, parted at the chin; it was almost white, and looked older than the rest of his face; his eyes were at once sad and whimsical. Lemuel tried to think where he had seen him before.
"Thank you; I don't know as it would do any good, Mr. Evans. But if he could have waited one week longer, I should have had that cook."
"Yes, that is what I firmly believe. Do you feel too much broken up to accept a ticket to the Wednesday matinee at the Museum?"
"No, I don't," said Mrs. Harmon. "But I shouldn't want to deprive Mrs. Evans of it."
"Oh, she wouldn't go," said Mr. Evans, with a slight sigh. "You had better take it. Jefferson's going to do Bob Acres."
"Is that so?" asked Mrs. Harmon placidly, taking the ticket. "Well, I'm ever so much obliged to you, Mr. Evans. Mr. Evans, Mr. Barker— our new clerk," she said, introducing them.
Lemuel rose with rustic awkwardness, and shook hands with Mr. Evans, who looked at him with a friendly smile, but said nothing.
"Now Mr. Barker is here, I guess I can get the time." Mr. Evans said, well, he was glad she could, and went out of the street door. "He's just one of the nicest gentlemen I've got," continued Mrs. Harmon, following him with her eye as far as she conveniently could without turning her head, "him and his wife both. Ever heard of the Saturday Afternoon?"
"I don't know as I have," said Lemuel.
"Well, he's one of the editors. It's a kind of a Sunday paper, I guess, for all it don't come out that day. I presume he could go every night in the week to every theatre in town, if he wanted to. I don't know how many tickets he's give me. Some of the ladies seem to think he's always makin' fun of them; but I can't ever feel that way. He used to board with a great friend of mine, him and his wife. They've been with me now ever since Mrs. Hewitt died; she was the one they boarded with before. They say he used to be dreadful easy- going, 'n' 't his wife was all 't saved him. But I guess he's different now. Well, I must go out and see after the lunch. You watch the office, and say just what I told you before."
Sewell chanced to open his door to go out just as Miss Vane put her hand on the bell-pull, the morning after she had dismissed Lemuel. The cheer of his Monday face died out at the unsmiling severity of hers; but he contrived to ask her in, and said he would call Mrs. Sewell, if she would sit down in the reception-room a moment.
"I don't know," she said, with a certain look of inquiry, not unmixed with compassion. "It's about Lemuel."
The minister fetched a deep sigh. "Yes, I know it. But she will have to know it sooner or later." He went to the stairway and called her name, and then returned to Miss Vane in the reception-room.
"Has Lemuel been here?" she asked.
"You said you knew it was about him—"
"It was my bad conscience, I suppose, and your face that told me."
Miss Vane waited for Mrs. Sewell's presence before she unpacked her heart. Then she left nothing in it. She ended by saying, "I have examined and cross-examined Sibyl, but it's like cross-questioning a chameleon; she changed colour with every new light she was put into." Here Miss Vane had got sorrowfully back to something more of her wonted humour, and laughed.
"Poor Sibyl!" said Mrs. Sewell.
"Poor?" retorted Miss Vane. "Not at all! I could get nothing out of either of them; but I feel perfectly sure that Lemuel was not to blame."
"It's very possible," suggested Mrs. Sewell, "that he did say something in his awkward way that she misconstrued into impertinence."
Miss Vane did not seem to believe this. "If Lemuel had given me the slightest satisfaction," she began in self-exculpation. "But no," she broke off. "It had to be!" She rose. "I thought I had better come and tell you at once, Mr. Sewell. I suppose you will want to look him up, and do something more for him. I wish if you find him you would make him take this note." She gave the minister a ten- dollar bill. "I tried to do so, but he would not have it. I don't know what I shall do without him! He is the best and most faithful creature in the world. Even in this little time I had got to relying implicitly upon his sense, his judgment, his goodness, his—Well! good morning!"
She ran out of the door, and left Sewell confronted with his wife.
He did not know whether she had left him to hope or to despair, and he waited for his wife to interpret his emotion, but Mrs. Sewell tacitly refused to do this. After a dreary interval he plucked a random cheerfulness out of space, and said: "Well, if Miss Vane feels in that way about it, I don't see why the whole affair can't be arranged and Barker reinstated."
"David," returned his wife, not vehemently at all, "when you come out with those mannish ideas I don't know what to do."
"Well, my dear," said the minister, "I should be glad to come out with some womanish ideas if I had them. I dare say they would be better. But I do my poor best, under the circumstances. What is the trouble with my ideas, except that the sex is wrong?"
"You think, you men," replied Mrs. Sewell, "that a thing like that can be mended up and smoothed over, and made just the same as ever. You think that because Miss Vane is sorry she sent Barker away and wants him back, she can take him back."
"I don't see why she can't. I've sometimes supposed that the very highest purpose of Christianity was mutual forgiveness—forbearance with one another's errors."
"That's all very well," said Mrs. Sewell. "But you know that whenever I have taken a cook back, after she had shown temper, it's been an entire failure; and this is a far worse case, because there is disappointed good-will mixed up with it. I don't suppose Barker is at all to blame. Whatever has happened, you may be perfectly sure that it has been partly a bit of stage-play in Sibyl and partly a mischievous desire to use her power over him. I foresaw that she would soon be tired of reforming him. But whatever it is, it's something that you can't repair. Suppose Barker went back to them; could they ignore what's happened?"
"Of course not," Sewell admitted.
"Well, and should he ask her pardon, or she his?"
"The Socratic method is irresistible," said the minister sadly. "You have proved that nothing can be done for Barker with the Vanes. And now the question is, what can be done for him?"
"That's something I must leave to you, David," said his wife dispiritedly. She arose, and as she passed out of the room she added, "You will have to find him, in the first place, and you had better go round to the police stations and the tramps' lodging-houses and begin looking."
Sewell sighed heavily under the sarcastic advice, but acted upon it, and set forth upon the useless quest, because he did not know in the least what else to do.
All that week Barker lay, a lurking discomfort, in his soul, though as the days passed the burden grew undeniably lighter; Sewell had a great many things besides Barker to think of. But when Sunday came, and he rose in his pulpit, he could not help casting a glance of guilty fear toward Miss Vane's pew and drawing a long breath of guilty relief not to see Lemuel in it. We are so made, that in the reaction the minister was able to throw himself into the matter of his discourse with uncommon fervour. It was really very good matter, and he felt the literary joy in it which flatters the author even of a happily worded supplication to the Deity. He let his eyes, freed from their bondage to Lemuel's attentive face, roam at large in liberal ease over his whole congregation; and when, toward the close of his sermon, one visage began to grow out upon him from the two or three hundred others, and to concentrate in itself the facial expression of all the rest, and become the only countenance there, it was a perceptible moment before he identified it as that of his inalienable charge. Then he began to preach at it as usual, but defiantly, and with yet a haste to be through and to get speech with it that he felt was ludicrous, and must appear unaccountable to his hearers. It seemed to him that he could not bring his sermon to a close; he ended it in a cloudy burst of rhetoric which he feared would please the nervous, elderly ladies—who sometimes blamed him for a want of emotionality—and knew must grieve the judicious. While the choir was singing the closing hymn, he contrived to beckon the sexton to the pulpit, and described and located Lemuel to him as well as he could without actually pointing him out; he said that he wished to see that young man after church, and asked the sexton to bring him to his room. The sexton did so to the best of his ability, but the young man whom he brought was not Lemuel, and had to be got rid of with apologies.
On three or four successive Sundays Lemuel's face dawned upon the minister from the congregation, and tasked his powers of impersonal appeal and mental concentration to the utmost. It never appeared twice in the same place, and when at last Sewell had tutored the sexton carefully in Lemuel's dress, he was driven to despair one morning when he saw the boy sliding along between the seats in the gallery, and sitting down with an air of satisfaction in an entirely new suit of clothes.
After this defeat the sexton said with humorous sympathy, "Well, there ain't anything for it now, Mr. Sewell, but a detective, or else an advertisement in the Personals."
Sewell laughed with him at his joke, and took what comfort he could from the evidence of prosperity which Lemuel's new clothes offered. He argued that if Barker could afford to buy them he could not be in immediate need, and for some final encounter with him he trusted in Providence, and was not too much cast down when his wife made him recognise that he was trusting in Luck. It was an ordeal to look forward to finding Lemuel sooner or later among his hearers every Sunday; but having prepared his nerves for the shock, as men adjust their sensibilities to the recurrent pain of a disease, he came to bear it with fortitude, especially as he continually reminded himself that he had his fixed purpose to get at Lemuel at last and befriend him in any and every possible way. He tried hard to keep from getting a grudge against him.
At the hotel, Lemuel remained in much of his original belief in the fashion and social grandeur of the ladies who formed the majority of Mrs. Harmon's guests. Our womankind are prone to a sort of helpless intimacy with those who serve them; the ladies had an instinctive perception of Lemuel's trustiness, and readily gave him their confidence and much of their history. He came to know them without being at all able to classify them with reference to society at large, as of that large tribe among us who have revolted from domestic care, and have skilfully unseated the black rider who remains mounted behind the husband of the average lady-boarder. Some of them had never kept house, being young and newly married, though of this sort there were those who had tried it in flats, and had reverted to their natural condition of boarding. They advised Lemuel not to take a flat, whatever he did, unless he wanted to perish at once. Other lady boarders had broken up housekeeping during the first years of the war, and had been boarding round ever since, going from hotels in the city to hotels in the country, and back again with the change of the seasons; these mostly had husbands who had horses, and they talked with equal tenderness of the husbands and the horses, so that you could not always tell which Jim or Bob was; usually they had no children, but occasionally they had a married daughter, or a son who lived West. There were several single ladies: one who seemed to have nothing in this world to do but to come down to her meals, and another a physician who had not been able, in embracing the medical profession, to deny herself the girlish pleasure of her pet name, and was lettered in the list of guests in the entry as Dr. Cissie Bluff. In the attic, which had a north-light favourable to their work, were two girls, who were studying art at the Museum; one of them looked delicate at first sight, and afterwards seemed merely very gentle, with a clear-eyed pallor which was not unhealth. A student in the Law School sat at the table with these girls, and seemed sometimes to go with them to concerts and lectures. From his talk, which was almost the only talk that made itself heard in the dining-room, it appeared that he was from Wyoming Territory; he treated the young ladies as representative of Boston and its prejudices, though apparently they were not Bostonians. There were several serious and retiring couples, of whom one or other was an invalid, and several who were poor, and preferred the plated gentility of Mrs. Harmon's hotel—it was called the St. Albans; Mrs. Harmon liked the name—to the genuine poverty of such housekeeping as they could have set up. About each of these women a home might have clung, with all its loves and cares; they were naturally like other women; but here they were ignoble particles, without attraction for one another, or apparently joy for themselves, impermanent, idle, listless; they had got rid of the trouble of housekeeping, and of its dignity and usefulness. There were a few children in the house, not at all noisy; the boys played on the sidewalk, and the little girls stayed in their rooms with their mothers, and rarely took the air oftener than they.
They came down rather later to breakfast, and they seemed not to go to school; some of them had piano lessons in their rooms. Their mothers did not go out much; sometimes they went to church or the theatre, and they went shopping. But they had apparently no more social than domestic life. Now and then they had a friend to lunch or dinner; if a lady was absent, it was known to Mrs. Harmon, and through her to the other ladies, that she was spending the day with a friend of hers at an hotel in Newton, or Lexington, or Woburn. In a city full of receptions, of dinner-giving, and party-going, Mrs. Harmon's guests led the lives of cloistered nuns, so far as such pleasures were concerned; occasionally a transient had rooms for a week or two, and was continually going, and receiving visits. She became the object of a certain unenvious curiosity with the other ladies, who had not much sociability among themselves; they waited a good while before paying visits at one another's rooms, and then were very punctilious not to go again until their calls had been returned. They were all doctoring themselves; they did not talk gossip or scandal much; they talked of their diseases and physicians, and their married daughters and of Mrs. Harmon, whom they censured for being too easygoing. Certain of them devoured novels, which they carried about clasped to their breasts with their fingers in them at the place where they were reading; they did not often speak of them, and apparently took them as people take opium.
The men were the husbands or fathers of the women, and were wholly without the domestic weight or consequence that belongs to men living in their own houses. There were certain old bachelors, among whom were two or three decayed branches of good Boston families, spendthrifts, or invalided bankrupts. Mr. Evans was practically among the single gentlemen, for his wife never appeared in the parlour or dining-room, and was seen only when she went in or out, heavily veiled, for a walk. Lemuel heard very soon that she had suffered a shock from the death of her son on the cars; the other ladies made much of her inability to get over it, and said nothing would induce them to have a son of theirs go in and out on the cars.
Among these people, such as they were, and far as they might be from a final civilisation, Lemuel began to feel an ambition to move more lightly and quickly than he had yet known how to do, to speak promptly, and to appear well. Our schooling does not train us to graceful or even correct speech; even our colleges often leave that uncouth. Many of Mrs. Harmon's boarders spoke bad grammar through their noses; but the ladies dressed stylishly, and the men were good arithmeticians. Lemuel obeyed a native impulse rather than a good example in cultivating a better address; but the incentive to thrift and fashion was all about him. He had not been ignorant that his clothes were queer in cut and out of date, and during his stay at Miss Vane's he had taken much council with himself as to whether he ought not to get a new suit with his first money instead of sending it home. Now he had solved the question, after sending the money home, by the discovery of a place on a degenerate street, in a neighbourhood of Chinese laundries, with the polite name of Misfit Parlours, where they professed to sell the failures of the leading tailors of Boston, New York, and Chicago. After long study of the window of the Parlours, Lemuel ventured within one day, and was told, when he said he could not afford the suit he fancied, that he might pay for it on the instalment plan, which the proprietor explained to him. In the mirror he was almost startled at the stylishness of his own image. The proprietor of the Parlours complimented him. "You see, you've got a good figure for a suit of clothes—what I call a ready made figure. You can go into a clothing store anywheres and fit you."
He took the first instalment of the price, with Lemuel's name and address, and said he would send the clothes round; but in the evening he brought them himself, and no doubt verified Lemuel's statement by this device. It was a Saturday night, and the next morning Lemuel rose early to put them on. He meant to go to church in them, and in the afternoon he did not know just what he should do. He had hoped that some chance might bring them together again, and then he could see from the way Miss Dudley and 'Manda Grier behaved, just what they thought. He had many minds about the matter himself, and had gone from an extreme of self-abhorrence to one of self-vindication, and between these he had halted at every gradation of blame and exculpation. But perhaps what chiefly kept him away was the uncertainty of his future; till he could give some shape to that he had no courage to face the past. Sometimes he wished never to see either of those girls again; but at other times he had a longing to go and explain, to justify himself, or to give himself up to justice.
The new clothes gave him more heart than he had yet had, but the most he could bring himself to do was to walk towards Pleasant Avenue the next Sunday afternoon, which Mrs. Harmon especially gave him,—and to think about walking up and down before the house. It ended in his walking up and down the block, first on one side of the street and then on the other. He knew the girls' window; Miss Dudley had shown him it was the middle window of the top story when they were looking out of it, and he glanced up at it. Then he hurried away, but he could not leave the street without stopping at the corner, to cast a last look back at the house. There was an apothecary's at that corner, and while he stood wistfully staring and going round the corner a little way, and coming back to look at the things in the apothecary's window, he saw 'Manda Grier come swiftly towards him. He wanted to run away now, but he could not; he felt nailed to the spot, and he felt the colour go out of his face. She pretended not to see him at first; but with a second glance she abandoned the pretence, and at his saying faintly, "Good afternoon," she said, with freezing surprise, "Oh! Good afternoon, Mr. Barker!" and passed into the apothecary's.
He could not go now, since he had spoken, and leave all so inconclusive again; and yet 'Manda Grier had been so repellent, so cutting, in her tone and manner, that he did not know how to face her another time. When she came out he faltered, "I hope there isn't anybody sick at your house, Miss Grier."
"Oh, nobody that you'll care about, Mr. Barker," she answered airily, and began to tilt rapidly away, with her chin thrust out before her.
He made a few paces after her, and then stopped; she seemed to stop too, and he caught up with her.
"I hope," he gasped, "there ain't anything the matter with Miss Dudley?"
"Oh, nothing 't you'll care about," said 'Manda Grier, and she added with terrible irony, "You've b'en round to inquire so much that you hain't allowed time for any great change."
"Has she been sick long?" faltered Lemuel. "I didn't dare to come!" he cried out. "I've been wanting to come, but I didn't suppose you would speak to me—any of you." Now his tongue was unlocked, he ran on: "I don't know as it's any excuse—there ain't any excuse for such a thing! I know she must perfectly despise me, and that I'm not fit for her to look at; but I'd give anything if I could take it all back and be just where I was before. You tell her, won't you, how I feel?"
'Manda Grier, who had listened with a killingly averted face, turned sharply upon him: "You mean about stayin' away so long? I don't know as she cared a great deal, but it's a pretty queer way of showin' you cared for her."
"I didn't mean that!" retorted Lemuel; and he added by an immense effort, "I meant—the way I behaved when I was there; I meant—"
"Oh!" said 'Manda Grier, turning her face away again; she turned it so far away that the back of her head was all that Lemuel could see. "I guess you better speak to Statira about that."
By this time they had reached the door of the boarding-house, and 'Manda Grier let herself in with her latch-key. "Won't you walk in, Mr. Barker?" she said in formal tones of invitation.
"Is she well enough to see—company?" murmured Lemuel. "I shouldn't want to disturb her."
"I don't believe but what she can see you," said 'Manda Grier, for the first time relentingly.
"All right," said Lemuel, gulping the lump in his throat, and he followed 'Manda Grier up the flights of stairs to the door of the girls' room, which she flung open without knocking.
"S'tira," she said, "here's Mr. Barker," and Lemuel, from the dark landing, where he lurked a moment, could see Statira sitting in the rocking-chair in a pretty blue dressing-gown; after a first flush she looked pale, and now and then put up her hand to hide a hoarse little cough.
"Walk right in, Mr. Barker," cried 'Manda Grier, and Lemuel entered, more awkward and sheepish in his new suit from the Misfit Parlours than he had been before in his Willoughby Pastures best clothes. Statira merely said, "Why, Mr. Barker!" and stood at her chair where she rose. "You're quite a stranger. Won't you sit down?"
Lemuel sat down, and 'Manda Grier said politely, "Won't you let me take your hat, Mr. Barker?" and they both treated him with so much ceremony and deference that it seemed impossible he could ever have done such a monstrous thing as kiss a young lady like Miss Dudley; and he felt that he never could approach the subject even to accept a just doom at her hands.
They all talked about the weather for a minute, and then 'Manda Grier said, "Well, I guess I shall have to go down and set this boneset to steep;" and as he rose, and stood to let her pass, she caught his arm, and gave it a clutch. He did not know whether she did it on purpose, or why she did it, but somehow it said to him that she was his friend, and he did not feel so much afraid.
When she was gone, however, he returned to the weather for conversation; but when Statira said it was lucky for her that the winter held off so, he made out to inquire about her sickness, and she told him that she had caught a heavy cold; at first it seemed just to be a head-cold, but afterwards it seemed to settle on the lungs, and it seemed as if she never could throw it off; they had had the doctor twice; but now she was better, and the cough was nearly all gone.
"I guess I took the cold that day, from havin' the window open," she concluded; and she passed her hand across her lap, and looked down demurely, and then up at the ceiling, and her head twitched a little and trembled.
Lemuel knew that his hour had come, if ever it were to come, and he said hoarsely: "I guess if I made you take cold that day, it wasn't all I did. I guess I did worse than that."
She did not look at him and pretend ignorance, as 'Manda Grier would have done; but lifting her moist eyes and then dropping them, she said, "Why, Mr. Barker, what can you mean?"
"You know what I mean," he retorted, with courage astonishing to him. "It was because I liked you so much." He could not say loved; it seemed too bold. "There's nothing else can excuse it, and I don't know as that can."
She put up her hands to her eyes, and began to cry, and he rose and went to her, and said, "Oh, don't cry, don't cry!" and somehow he took hold of her hands, and then her arms went round his neck, and she was crying on his breast.
"You'll think I'm rather of a silly person, crying so much about nothing," she said, when she lifted her head from his shoulder to wipe her eyes. "But I can't seem to help it," and she broke down again. "I presume it's because I've been sick, and I'm kind of weak yet. I know you wouldn't have done that, that day, if you hadn't have cared for me; and I wasn't mad a bit; not half as mad as I ought to have been; but when you stayed away so long, and never seemed to come near any more, I didn't know what to think. But now I can understand just how you felt, and I don't blame you one bit; I should have done just so myself if I'd been a man, I suppose. And now it's all come right, I don't mind being sick or anything; only when Thanksgiving came, we felt sure you'd call, and we'd got the pies nicely warmed. Oh dear!" She gave way again, and then pressed her cheek tight against his to revive herself. "'Manda said she knew it was just because you was kind of ashamed, and I was too sick to eat any of the pies, anyway; and so it all turned out for the best; and I don't want you to believe that I'm one to cry over spilt milk, especially when it's all gathered up again!"
Her happy tongue ran on, revealing, divining everything, and he sat down with her in his arms, hardly speaking a word, till her heart was quite poured out. 'Manda Grier left them a long time together, and before she came back he had told Statira all about himself since their last meeting. She was very angry at the way that girl had behaved at Miss Vane's, but she was glad he had found such a good place now, without being beholden to any one for it, and she showed that she felt a due pride in his being an hotel clerk. He described the hotel, and told what he had to do there, and about Mrs. Harmon and the fashionableness of all the guests. But he said he did not think any of the ladies went ahead of her in dress, if they came up to her; and Statira pressed her lips gratefully against his cheek, and then lifting her head held herself a little away to see him again, and said, "You're splendidly dressed too; I noticed it the first thing when you came in. You look just as if you had always lived in Boston."
"Is that so?" asked Lemuel; and he felt his heart suffused with tender pride and joy. He told her of the Misfit Parlours and the instalment plan, and she said, well, it was just splendid; and she asked him if he knew she wasn't in the store any more; and "No," she added delightedly, upon his confession of ignorance, "I'm going to work in the box-factory, after this, where 'Manda Grier works. It's better pay, and you have more control of your hours, and you can set down while you work, if you've a mind to. I think it's going to be splendid. What should you say if 'Manda Grier and me took some rooms and went to housekeepin'?"
"I don't know," said Lemuel; but in his soul he felt jealous of her keeping house with 'Manda Grier.
"Well, I don't know as we shall do it," said Statira, as if feeling his tacit reluctance.
'Manda Grier came in just then, and cast a glance of friendly satire at them. "Well, I declare!" she said, for all recognition of the situation.
Lemuel made an offer to rise, but Statira would not let him. "I guess 'Manda Grier won't mind it much."
"I guess I can stand it if you can," said 'Manda Grier; and this seemed such a witty speech that they all laughed, till, as Statira said, she thought she should die. They laughed the more when 'Manda Grier added dryly, "I presume you won't want your boneset now." She set the vessel she had brought it up in on the stove, and covered it with a saucer. "I do' know as I should if I was in your place. It's kind o' curious I should bring both remedies home with me at once." At this they all laughed a third time, till 'Manda Grier said, "'Sh! 'sh! Do you want to raise the roof?"
She began to bustle about, and to set out a little table, and cover it with a napkin, and as she worked she talked on. "I guess if you don't want any boneset tea, a little of the other kind won't hurt any of us, and I kinder want a cup myself." She set it to steep on the stove, and it went through Lemuel's mind that she might have steeped the boneset there too, if she had thought of it; but he did not say anything, though it seemed a pretty good joke on 'Manda Grier. She ran on in that way of hers so that you never could tell whether she really meant a thing or not. "I guess if I have to manage many more cases like yours, S'tira Dudley, I shall want to lay in a whole chest of it. What do you think, Mr. Barker?"
"Mr. Barker!" repeated Statira.
"Well, I'm afraid to say Lemuel any more, for fear he'll fly off the handle, and never come again. What do you think, Mr. Barker, of havin' to set at that window every Sunday for the last three weeks, and keep watch of both sidewalks till you get such a crick in your neck, and your eyes so set in your head, you couldn't move either of 'em?"
"Now, 'Manda Grier!" said Statira from Lemuel's shoulder.
"Well, I don't say I had to do it, and I don't say who the young man was that I was put to look out for——"
"But I do say it's pretty hard to wait on a sick person one side the room, and keep watch for a young man the other side, both at once."
"'Manda Grier, you're too bad!" pouted Statira. "Don't you believe a word she says, Mr. Barker."
"Mr. Barker!" repeated 'Manda Grier.
"Well, I don't care!" said Statira, "I know who I mean."
"I don't," said 'Manda Grier. "And I didn't know who you meant this afternoon when you was standin' watch 't the window, and says you, 'There! there he is!' and I had to run so quick with the dipper of water I had in my hand to water the plants that I poured it all over the front of my dress."
"Do you believe her?" asked Statira.
"And I didn't know who you meant," proceeded 'Manda Grier, busy with the cups and saucers, "when you kept hurryin' me up to change it; 'Oh, quick, quick! How long you are! I know he'll get away; I know he will!' and I had to just sling on a shawl and rush out after this boneset."
"There! Now that shows she's makin' it all up!" cried Statira. "She put on a sack, and I helped her on with it myself. So there!"
"Well, if it was a sack! And after all, the young man was gone when I got down int' the street," concluded 'Manda Grier solemnly.
Lemuel had thought she was talking about him; but now a pang of jealousy went through him, and showed at the eyes he fixed on her.
"I don't know what I sh'd 'a' done," she resumed demurely, "if I hadn't have found Mr. Barker at the apothecary's and got him to come home 'th me; but of course, 'twan't the same as if it was the young man!"
Lemuel's arm fell from Statira's waist in his torment.
"Why, Lemuel!" she said in tender reproach.
"Why, you coot!" cried 'Manda Grier in utter amazement at his single-mindedness; and burst into a scream of laughter. She took the teapot from the stove, and set it on the table. "There, young man— if you are the young man—you better pull up to the table, and have something to start your ideas. S'tira! Let him come!" and Lemuel, blushing for shame at his stupidity, did as he was bid.
"I've got the greatest mind in the world to set next to S'tira myself," said 'Manda Grier, "for fear she should miss that young man!" and now they both laughed together at Lemuel; but the girls let him sit between them, and Statira let him keep one of her hands under the table, as much as she could. "I never saw such a jealous piece! Why, I shall begin to be afraid for myself. What should you think of S'tira's going to housekeeping with me?"
"I don't believe he likes the idea one bit," Statira answered for him.
"Oh yes, I do!" Lemuel protested.
"'D you tell him?" 'Manda Grier demanded of her. She nodded with saucy defiance. "Well, you have got along! And about the box- factory?" Statira nodded again, with a look of joyous intelligence at Lemuel. "Well, what hain't you told, I wonder!" 'Manda Grier added seriously to Lemuel, "I think it'll be about the best thing in the world for S'tira. I see for the last six months she's been killin' herself in that store. She can't ever get a chance to set down a minute; and she's on her feet from mornin' till night; and I think it's more 'n half that that's made her sick; I don't say what the other four-fifths was!
"Now, 'Manda Grier, stop!"
"Well, that's over with now, and now we want to keep you out that store. I been lookin' out for this place for S'tira a good while. She can go onto the small boxes, if she wants to, and she can set down all the time; and she'll have a whole hour for her dinner; and she can work by the piece, and do as much or as little as she's a mind to; but if she's a mind to work she can make her five and six dollars a week, easy. Mr. Stevens's real nice and kind, and he looks out for the girls that ain't exactly strong—not but what S'tira's as strong as anybody, when she's well—and he don't put 'em on the green paper work, because it's got arsenic in it, and it makes your head ache, and you're liable to blood poisonin'. One the girls fainted and had spasms, and as soon as he found it out he took her right off; and he's just like clockwork to pay. I think it'll do everything for S'tira to be along 'th me there, where I can look after her."
Lemuel said he thought so too; he did not really think at all, he was so flattered at being advised with about Statira, as if she were in his keeping and it was for him to say what was best for her; and when she seemed uncertain about his real opinion, and said she was not going to do anything he did not approve of, he could scarcely speak for rapture, but he protested that he did approve of the scheme entirely.
"But you shouldn't want we girls to set up housekeeping in rooms?" she suggested; and he said that he should, and that he thought it would be more independent and home-like.
"We're half doin' it now," said 'Manda Grier, "and I know some rooms—two of 'em—where we could get along first rate, and not cost us much more 'n half what it does here."
After she cleared up the tea-things she made another errand downstairs, and Lemuel and Statira went back to their rocking-chair. It still amazed him that she seemed not even to make it a favour to him; she seemed to think it was favour to her. What was stranger yet was that he could not feel that there was anything wrong or foolish about it; he thought of his mother's severity about young folks' sickishness, as she called it, and he could not understand it. He knew that he had never had such right and noble thoughts about girls before; perhaps Statira was better than other girls; she must be; she was just like a child; and he must be very good himself to be anyways fit for her; if she cared so much for him, it must be a sign that he was not so bad as he had sometimes thought. A great many things went through his mind, the silent comment and suggestion of their talk, and all the time while he was saying something or listening to her, he was aware of the overwhelming wonder of her being so frank with him, and not too proud or ashamed to have him know how anxious she had been, ever since they first met, for fear he did not care for her. She had always appeared so stylish and reserved, and now she was not proud at all. He tried to tell her how it had been with him the last three weeks; all that he could say was that he had been afraid to come. She laughed, and said, the idea of his being afraid of her! She said that she was glad of everything she had gone through. At times she lifted herself from his shoulder and coughed; but that was when she had been laughing or crying a little. They told each other about their families; Statira said she had not really any folks of her own; she was just brought up by her aunt; and Lemuel had to tell her that his mother wore bloomers. Statira said she guessed she should not care much for the bloomers; and in everything she tried to make out that he was much better than she was, and just exactly right. She already spoke of his sister by her first name, and she entered into his whole life, as if she had always known him. He said she must come with him to hear Mr. Sewell preach, sometime; but she declared that she did not think much of a minister who could behave the way he had done to Lemuel. He defended Sewell, and maintained that if it had not been for him he might not have come to Boston, and so might never have seen her; but she held out that she could not bear Mr. Sewell, and that she knew he was double-faced, and everything. Lemuel said well, he did not know that he should ever have anything more to do with him; but he liked to hear him preach, and he guessed he tried to do what was about right. Statira made him promise that if ever he met Mr. Sewell again, he would not make up to him, any way; and she would not tolerate the thought of Miss Vane.
"What you two quar'lin' about?" demanded 'Manda Grier, coming suddenly into the room; and that turned their retrospective griefs into joy again.
"I'm scoldin' him because he don't think enough of himself," cried Statira.
"Well, he seems to take it pretty meekly," said 'Manda Grier. "I guess you didn't scold very hard. Now, young man," she added to Lemuel, "I guess you better be goin'. It's five o'clock, and if you should be out after dark, and the bears should get you, I don't know what S'tira would do."
"'Tain't five yet!" pleaded Statira. "That old watch of yours is always tryin' to beat the town clock."
"Well, it's the clock that's ahead this time," said 'Manda Grier. "My watch says quarter of. Come, now, S'tira, you let him go, or he sha'n't come back any more."
They had a parting that Lemuel's mother would have called sickish without question; but it all seemed heavenly sweet and right. Statira said now he had got to kiss 'Manda Grier too; and when he insisted, her chin knocked against his, and saved her lips, and she gave him a good box on the ear.
"There, I guess that 'll do for one while," she said, arranging her tumbled hair; "but there's more kisses where that came from, for both of you if you want 'em. Coots!"
Once, when Lemuel was little, he had a fever, and he was always seeming to glide down the school-house stairs without touching the steps with his feet. He remembered this dream now, when he reached the street; he felt as if he had floated down on the air; and presently he was back in his little den at the hotel, he did not know how. He ran the elevator up and down for the ladies who called him from the different floors, and he took note of the Sunday difference in their toilet as they passed in to tea; but in the same dreamy way.
After the boarders had supped, he went in as usual with Mrs. Harmon's nephew, less cindery than on week-days, from the cellar, and Mrs. Harmon, silken smooth for her evening worship at the shrine of a popular preacher from New York. The Sunday evening before, she had heard an agnostic lecture in the Boston Theatre, and she said she wished to compare notes. Her tranquillity was unruffled by the fact that the head-waitress had left, just before tea; she presumed they could get along just as well without her as with her: the boarders had spoiled her, anyway. She looked round at Lemuel's face, which beamed with his happiness, and said she guessed she should have to get him to open the dining-room doors, and seat the transients the next few days, till she could get another head- waitress. It did not seem to be so much a request as a resolution; but Lemuel willingly assented. Mrs. Harmon's nephew said that so long as they did not want him to do it he did not care who did it; and if a few of them had his furnace to look after they would not be so anxious to kick.
Lemuel had to be up early in the morning to get the bills of fare, which Mrs. Harmon called the Meanyous, written in time for the seven o'clock breakfasters; and after opening the dining-room doors with fit ceremony, he had to run backward and forward to answer the rings at the elevator, and to pull out the chairs for the ladies at the table, and slip them back under them as they sat down. The ladies at the St. Albans expected to get their money's worth; but their exactions in most things were of use to Lemuel. He grew constantly nimbler of hand and foot under them, and he grew quicker-witted; he ceased to hulk in mind and body. He did not employ this new mental agility in devising excuses and delays; he left that to Mrs. Harmon, whose conscience was easy in it; but from seven o'clock in the morning till eleven at night, when the ladies came in from the theatre, he was so promptly, so comfortingly at their service, that they all said they did not see how they had ever got along without him.
His activities took the form of interruptions rather than constant occupation, and he found a good deal of broken-up time on his hands, which he passed in reading, and in reveries of Statira. At the hours when the elevator was mostly in use he kept a book in it with him, and at other times he had it in the office, as Mrs. Harmon called his little booth. He remained there reading every night after the house quieted down after dinner, until it was time to lock up for the night; and several times Mr. Evans stopped and looked in at him where he sat in the bad combustion of the gas that was taking the country tan out of his cheeks. One night when he came in late, and Lemuel put his book down to take him up in the elevator, he said, "Don't disturb yourself; I'm going to walk up," but he lingered at the door looking in with the queer smile that always roused the ladies' fears of tacit ridicule. "I suppose you don't find it necessary," he said finally, "to chase a horse-car now, when you want to find your way to a given point?"
Lemuel reddened and dropped his head; he had already recognised in Mr. Evans the gentleman from whose kindly curiosity he had turned, that first day, in the suspicion that he might be a beat. "No," he said, "I guess I can go pretty near everywhere in Boston now."
"Well," said Mr. Evans, "it was an ingenious system. How do you like Boston?"
"I like it first-rate, but I've not seen many other places," answered Lemuel cautiously.
"Well, if you live here long enough you won't care to see any other places; you'll know they're not worth seeing." Lemuel looked up as if he did not understand exactly, and Mr. Evans stepped in and lifted the book he had been reading. It was one he had bought at second hand while he was with Miss Vane: a tough little epitome of the philosophies in all times, the crabbed English version of a dry German original. Mr. Evans turned its leaves over. "Do you find it a very exciting story?" he asked.
"Why, it isn't a story," said Lemuel, in simple surprise.
"No?" asked Mr. Evans. "I thought it must be. Most of the young gentlemen who run the elevators I travel in read stories. Do you like this kind of reading?"
Lemuel reflected, and then he said he thought you ought to find out about such things if you got a chance.
"Yes," said the editor musingly, "I suppose one oughtn't to throw any sort of chance away. But you're sure you don't prefer the novels? You'll excuse my asking you?"
"Oh, perfectly excusable," said Lemuel. He added that he liked a good novel too, when he could get hold of it.
"You must come to my room some day, and see if you can't get hold of one there. Or if you prefer metaphysics, I've got shelves full that you're welcome to. I suppose," he added, "you hadn't been in Boston a great while when I met you that day?"
"No," said Lemuel, dropping his head again, "I had just come."
As if he saw that something painful lurked under the remembrance of the time for Lemuel the editor desisted.
The next morning he stopped on his way to breakfast with some books which he handed to Lemuel. "Don't feel at all obliged to read them," he said, "because I lend them to you. They won't be of the least use to you, if you do so."
"I guess that anything you like will be worth reading," said Lemuel, flattered by the trouble so chief a boarder as Mr. Evans had taken with him.
"Not if they supplied a want you didn't feel. You seem to be fond of books, and after a while you'll be wanting to lend them yourself. I'll give you a little hint that I'm too old to profit by: remember that you can lend a person more books in a day than he can read in a week."
His laugh kept Lemuel shy of him still, in spite of a willingness that the editor showed for their better acquaintance. He seemed to wish to know about Lemuel, particularly since he had recognised the pursuer of the horse-car in him, and this made Lemuel close up the more. He would have liked to talk with him about the books Evans had lent him. But when the editor stopped at the office door, where Lemuel sat reading one of them, and asked him what he thought of it, the boy felt that somehow it was not exactly his opinion that Mr. Evans was getting at; and this sense of being inspected and arranged in another's mind, though he could not formulate the operation in his own, somehow wounded and repelled him. It was not that the editor ever said anything that was not kind and friendly; he was always doing kind and friendly things, and he appeared to take a real interest in Lemuel. At the end of the first week after Lemuel had added the head waitership to his other duties, Evans stopped in going out of the dining-room and put a dollar in his hand.
"What is it for?" asked Lemuel.
"For? Really, I don't know. It must be tribute-money," said the editor in surprise, but with a rising curiosity. "I never know what it's for."
Lemuel turned red, and handed it back. "I don't know as I want any money I haven't earned."
That night, after dinner, when Evans was passing the office door on his way out of the hotel, Lemuel stopped him and said with embarrassment, "Mr. Evans, I don't want you should think I didn't appreciate your kindness this morning."
"Ah, I'm not sure it was kindness," said Evans with immediate interest. "Why didn't you take the money?"
"Well, I told you why," said Lemuel, overcoming the obscure reluctance he felt at Evans's manner as best he could. "I've been thinking it over, and I guess I was right; but I didn't know whether I had expressed it the best way."
"The way couldn't be improved. But why did you think you hadn't earned my dollar?"
"I don't do anything but open the doors, and show people to their places; I don't call that anything."
"But if you were a waiter and served at table?"
"I wouldn't be one," said Lemuel, with a touch of indignation; "and I shouldn't take presents, anyway."
Evans leaned against the door-jamb.
"Have you heard of the college students who wait at the mountain hotels in vacation? They all take fees. Do you think yourself better than they are?"
"Yes, I do!" cried Lemuel.
"Well, I don't know but you are," said the editor thoughtfully. "But I think I should distinguish. Perhaps there's no shame in waiting at table, but there is in taking fees."
"Yes; that's what I meant," said Lemuel, a little sorry for his heat. "I shouldn't be ashamed to do any kind of work, and to take my pay for it; but I shouldn't want to have folks giving me money over and above, as if I was a beggar."
The editor stood looking him absently in the face. After a moment he asked, "What part of New England did you come from, Mr. Barker?"
"I came from the middle part of the State—from Willoughby Pastures."
"Do those ideas—those principles—of yours prevail there?"
"I don't know whether they do or not," said Lemuel.
"If you were sure they did, I should like to engage board there for next summer," said the editor, going out.
It was Monday night, a leisure time with him, and he was going out to see a friend, a minister, with whom Monday night was also leisure time.
After he was gone, some of the other boarders began to drop in from the lectures and concerts which they frequented in the evening. The ladies had all some favour to ask of Lemuel, some real or fancied need of his help; in return for his promise or performance, they each gave him advice. What they expressed collectively was that they should think that he would put his eyes out reading by that gas, and that he had better look out, or he would ruin his health anyway, reading so much. They asked him how much time he got for sleep; and they said that from twelve till six was not enough, and that he was just killing himself. They had all offered to lend him books; the least literary among them had a sort of house pride in his fondness for books; their sympathy with this taste of his amused their husbands, who tolerated it, but in their hearts regarded it as a womanish weakness, indicating a want of fibre in Lemuel. Mrs. Harmon as a business woman, and therefore occupying a middle ground between the sexes, did not exactly know herself what to make of her clerk's studiousness; all that she could say was that he kept up with his work. She assumed that before Lemuel's coming she had been the sole motive power of the house; but it was really a sort of democracy, and was managed by the majority of its inmates. An element of demagoguery tampered with the Irish vote in the person of Jerry, nominally porter, but actually factotum, who had hitherto, pending the strikes of the different functionaries, filled the offices now united in Lemuel. He had never been clerk, because his literature went no further than the ability to write his name, and to read a passage of the constitution in qualifying for the suffrage. He did not like the new order of things, but he was without a party, and helpless to do more than neglect the gong-bell when he had reason to think Lemuel had sounded it.
About eleven o'clock the law-student came in with the two girl art- students, fresh from the outside air, and gay from the opera they had been hearing. The young man told Lemuel he ought to go to see it. After the girls had opened their door, one of them came running back to the elevator, and called down to Lemuel that there was no ice-water, and would he please send some up.
Lemuel brought it up himself, and when he knocked at the door, the same girl opened it and made a pretty outcry over the trouble she had given him. "I supposed, of course, Jerry would bring it," she said contritely; and as if for some atonement, she added, "Won't you come in, Mr. Barker, and see my picture?"
Lemuel stood in the gush of the gas-light hesitating, and the law- student called out to him, jollily, "Come in, Mr. Barker, and help me play art-critic." He was standing before the picture, with his overcoat on and his hat in his hand. "First appearance on any stage," he added; and as Lemuel entered, "If I were you," he said, "I'd fire that porter out of the hotel. He's outlived his usefulness."
"It's a shame, your having to bring the water," said Miss Swan; she was the girl who had spoken before.
The other one came forward and said, "Won't you sit down?"
She spoke to Lemuel; the law-student answered, "Thank you; I don't care if I do."
Lemuel did not know whether to stay, nor what to say of Miss Swan's picture, and he thanked the young lady and remained standing.
"O Jessie, Jessie, Jessie!" cried Miss Swan.
The other went to her, tranquilly, as if used to such vehement appeals.
"Just see how my poor cow looks since I painted out that grass! She hasn't got a leg to stand on!"
The law-student did nothing but make jokes about the picture. "I think she looks pretty well for a cow that you must have had to study from a milk-can—nearest you could come to a cow in Boston."
Miss Carver, the other young lady, ignored his joking, and after some criticisms on the picture, left him and Miss Swan to talk it over. She talked to Lemuel, and asked him if he had read a book he glanced at on the table, and seemed willing to make him feel at ease. But she did not. He thought she was very proud, and he believed she wanted him to go, but he did not know how to go. Her eyes were so still and pure; but they dwelt very coldly upon him. Her voice was like that look put into sound; it was rather high- pitched but very sweet and pure, and cold. He hardly knew what he said; he felt hot, and he waited for some chance to get away.
At last he heard Miss Swan saying, "Must you go, Mr. Berry? So soon!" and saw her giving the student her hand, with a bow of burlesque desolation.
Lemuel prepared to go too. All his rusticity came back upon him, and he said, "Well, I wish you good evening."
It seemed to him that Miss Carver's still eyes looked a sort of starry scorn after him. He found that he had brought away the book they had been talking about, and he was a long time in question whether he had better take it back at once, or give it to her when she came to breakfast.
He went to bed in the same trouble of mind. Every night he had fallen asleep with Statira in his thoughts, but now it was Miss Carver that he thought of, and more and more uncomfortably. He asked himself what she would say if she saw his mother in the bloomers. She was herself not dressed so fashionably as Statira, but very nicely.
At Sewell's house the maid told Evans to walk up into the study, without seating him first in the reception-room, as if that were needless with so intimate a friend of the family. He found Sewell at his desk, and he began at once, without the forms of greeting:
"If you don't like that other subject, I've got a new one for you, and you could write a sermon on it that would make talk."
"You look at it from the newspaper point of view," returned Sewell, in the same humour. "I'm not an 'enterprise,' and I don't want to make talk in your sense. I don't know that I want to make talk at all; I should prefer to make thought, to make feeling."
"Well," said the editor, "this would do all three."
"Would you come to hear me, if I wrote the sermon?"
"Ah, that's asking a good deal."
"Why don't you develop your idea in an article? You're always bragging that you preach to a larger congregation than I."
"I propose to let you preach to my congregation too, if you'll write this sermon. I've talked to you before about reporting your sermons in Saturday Afternoon. They would be a feature; and if we could open with this one, and have a good 'incisive' editorial on it, disputing some of your positions, and treating certain others with a little satire, at the same time maintaining a very respectful attitude towards you on the whole, and calling attention to the fact that there was a strong and increasing interest in your 'utterances,' which we were the first to recognise,—it would be a card. We might agree beforehand on the points the editorial was to touch, and so make one hand wash another. See?"
"I see that journalism has eaten into your soul. What is your subject?"
"Well, in general terms, and in a single word, Complicity. Don't you think that would be rather taking? 'Mr. Sewell, in his striking sermon on Complicity,' and so forth. It would be a great hit, and it would stand a chance of sticking, like Emerson's 'Compensation.'"
"Delightful! The most amusing part is that you've really a grain of business in your bushel of chaff." Sewell wheeled about in his swivel-chair, and sat facing his guest, deeply sunken in the low easy seat he always took. "When did this famous idea occur to you?" he pursued, swinging his glasses by their cord.
"About three weeks ago, at the theatre. There was one of those pieces on that make you despair of the stage, and ashamed of writing a play even to be rejected by it—a farrago of indecently amusing innuendoes and laughably vile situations, such as, if they were put into a book, would prevent its being sent through the mail. The theatre apparently can still be as filthy in suggestion as it was at the Restoration, and not shock its audiences. There were all sorts of people there that night: young girls who had come with young men for an evening's polite amusement; families; middle-aged husbands and wives; respectable-looking single women; and average bachelors. I don't think the ordinary theatrical audience is of a high grade intellectually; it's third or fourth rate; but morally it seems quite as good as other public assemblages. All the people were nicely dressed, and they sat there before that nasty mess—it was an English comedy where all the jokes turn upon the belief of the characters that their wives and husbands are the parents of illegitimate offspring—and listened with as smooth self- satisfaction as if they were not responsible for it. But all at once it occurred to me that they were responsible, every one of them—as responsible as the players, as the author himself."
"Did you come out of the theatre at that point?" asked Sewell.
"Oh, I was responsible too; but I seemed to be the only one ashamed of my share in the business."
"If you were the only one conscious of it, your merit wasn't very great," suggested the minister.
"Well, I should like the others to be conscious of it too. That's why I want you to preach my sermon. I want you to tell your people and my people that the one who buys sin or shame, or corruption of any sort, is as guilty as the one who sells it."
"It isn't a new theory," said Sewell, still refusing to give up his ironical tone. "It was discovered some time ago that this was so before God."
"Well, I've just discovered that it ought to be so before man," said Evans.
"Still you're not the first," said Sewell.
"Yes," said the editor, "I think I am, from my peculiar standpoint. The other day a friend of mine—an upright, just, worthy man, no one more so—was telling me of a shocking instance of our national corruption. He had just got home from Europe, and he had brought a lot of dutiable things, that a customs inspector passed for a trifling sum. That was all very well, but the inspector afterwards came round with a confidential claim for a hundred dollars, and the figures to show that the legal duties would have been eight or ten times as much. My friend was glad to pay the hundred dollars; but he defied me to name any country in Europe where such a piece of official rascality was possible. He said it made him ashamed of America!" Evans leaned his head back against his chair and laughed.
"Yes," said Sewell with a sigh, and no longer feigning lightness. "That's awful."
"Well, now," said Evans, "don't you think it your duty to help people realise that they can't regard such transactions de haut en bas, if they happen to have taken part in them? I have heard of the shameful condition of things down in Maine, where I'm told the French Canadians who've come in regularly expect to sell their votes to the highest bidder at every election. Since my new system of ethics occurred to me, I've fancied that there must have always been a shameful state of things there, if Americans could grow up in the willingness to buy votes. I want to have people recognise that there is no superiority for them in such an affair; that there's nothing but inferiority; that the man who has the money and the wit to corrupt is a far baser rascal than the man who has the ignorance and the poverty to be corrupted. I would make this principle seek out every weak spot, every sore spot in the whole social constitution. I'm sick to death of the frauds that we practise upon ourselves in order to be able to injure others. Just consider the infernal ease of mind in which men remain concerning men's share in the social evil——"
"Ah, my dear friend, you can't expect me to consider that in my pulpit!" cried the minister.
"No; I couldn't consider it in my paper. I suppose we must leave that where it is, unless we can affect it by analogy, and show that there is infamy for both parties to any sin committed in common. You must select your instances in other directions, but you can find plenty of them—enough and to spare. It would give the series a tremendous send-off," said Evans, relapsing into his habitual tone, "if you would tackle this subject in your first sermon for publication. There would be money in it. The thing would make a success in the paper, and you could get somebody to reprint it in pamphlet form. Come, what do you say?"
"I should say that you had just been doing something you were ashamed of," answered Sewell. "People don't have these tremendous moral awakenings for nothing."
"And you don't think my present state of mind is a gradual outgrowth of my first consciousness of the common responsibility of actors and audience in the representation of a shameless comedy?"
"No, I shouldn't think it was," said the minister securely.
"Well you're right." Evans twisted himself about in his chair, and hung his legs over one of the arms.
"The real reason why I wish you to preach this sermon is because I have just been offering a fee to the head-waiter at our hotel."
"And you feel degraded with him by his acceptance? For it is a degradation."
"No, that's the strangest thing about it. I have a monopoly of the degradation, for he didn't take my dollar."
"Ah, then a sermon won't help you! Why wouldn't he take it?"
"He said he didn't know as he wanted any money he hadn't earned," said Evans, with a touch of mimicry.
The minister started up from his lounging attitude. "Is his name— Barker?" he asked, with unerring prescience.
"Yes," said Evans with a little surprise. "Do you know him?"
"Yes," returned the minister, falling back in his chair helplessly, not luxuriously. "So well that I knew it was he almost as soon as you came into the room to-night."
"What harm have you been doing him?" demanded the editor, in parody of the minister's acuteness in guessing the guilty operation of his own mind.
"The greatest. I'm the cause of his being in Boston."
"This is very interesting," said Evans. "We are companions in crime—pals. It's a great honour. But what strikes me as being so interesting is that we appear to feel remorse for our misdeeds; and I was almost persuaded the other day by an observer of our species, that remorse had gone out, or rather had never existed, except in the fancy of innocent people; that real criminals like ourselves were afraid of being found out, but weren't in the least sorry. Perhaps, if we are sorry, it proves that we needn't be. Let's judge each other. I've told you what my sin against Barker is, and I know yours in general terms. It's a fearful thing to be the cause of a human soul's presence in Boston; but what did you do to bring it about? Who is Barker? Where did he come from? What was his previous condition of servitude? He puzzles me a good deal."
"Oh, I'll tell you," said Sewell; and he gave his personal chapter in Lemuel's history.
Evans interrupted him at one point. "And what became of the poem he brought down with him?"
"It was stolen out of his pocket, one night when he slept in the common."
"Ah, then he can't offer it to me! And he seems very far from writing any more. I can still keep his acquaintance. Go on."
Sewell told, in amusing detail, of the Wayfarer's Lodge, where he had found Barker after supposing he had gone home. Evans seemed more interested in the place than in the minister's meeting with Lemuel there, which Sewell fancied he had painted rather well, describing Lemuel's severity and his own anxiety.
"There!" said the editor. "There you have it—a practical illustration! Our civilisation has had to come to it!"
"Come to what?"
Sewell made an impatient gesture.
"Don't sacrifice the consideration of a great principle," cried Evans, "to the petty effect of a good story on an appreciative listener. I realise your predicament. But don't you see that in establishing and regulating a place like that the city of Boston has instinctively sanctioned my idea? You may say that it is aiding and abetting the tramp-nuisance by giving vagrants food and shelter, but other philosophers will contend that it is—blindly perhaps— fulfilling the destiny of the future State, which will at once employ and support all its citizens; that it is prophetically recognising my new principle of Complicity?"
"Your new principle!" cried Sewell. "You have merely given a new name to one of the oldest principles in the moral world."
"And that is a good deal to do, I can tell you," said Evans. "All the principles are pretty old now. But don't give way to an ignoble resentment of my interruption. Go on about Barker."
After some feints that there was nothing more important to tell, Sewell went on to the end; and when he had come to it, Evans shook his head. "It looks pretty black for you, but it's a beautifully perfect case of Complicity. What do you propose to do, now you've rediscovered him?"
"Oh, I don't know! I hope no more mischief. If I could only get him back on his farm!"
"Yes, I suppose that would be the best thing. But I dare say he wouldn't go back!"
"That's been my experience with him."
They talked this aspect of the case over more fully, and Evans said: "Well, I wouldn't go back to such a place myself after I'd once had a glimpse of Boston, but I suppose it's right to wish that Barker would. I hope his mother will come to visit him while he's in the hotel. I would give a good deal to see her. Fancy her coming down in her bloomers, and the poor fellow being ashamed of her? It would be a very good subject for a play. Does she wear a hat or a bonnet? What sort of head-gear goes with that 'sleek odalisque' style of dress? A turban, I suppose."
"Mrs. Barker," said the minister, unable to deny himself the fleeting comfort of the editor's humorous view of the situation, "is as far from a 'sleek odalisque' as any lady I've ever seen, in spite of her oriental costume. If I remember, her yashmak was not gathered at the ankles, but hung loose like occidental trousers; and the day we met she wore simply her own hair. There was not much of it on top, and she had it cut short in the neck. She was rather a terrible figure. Her having ever been married would have been inconceivable, except for her son."
"I should like to have seen her," said Evans, laughing back in his chair.
"She was worth seeing as a survival of the superficial fermentation of the period of our social history when it was believed that women could be like men if they chose, and ought to be if they ever meant to show their natural superiority. But she was not picturesque."
"The son's very handsome. I can see that the lady boarders think him so."
"Do you find him at all remarkable otherwise? What dismayed me more than his poetry even was that when he gave that up he seemed to have no particular direction."
"Oh, he reads a good deal, and pretty serious books; and he goes to hear all the sermons and lectures in town."
"I thought he came to mine only," sighed the minister, with, a retrospective suffering. "Well, what can be done for him now? I feel my complicity with Barker as poignantly as you could wish."
"Ah, you see how the principle applies everywhere!" cried the editor joyously. He added: "But I really think that for the present you can't do better than let Barker alone. He's getting on very well at Mrs. Harmon's, and although the conditions at the St. Albans are more transitory than most sublunary things, Barker appears to be a fixture. Our little system has begun to revolve round him unconsciously; he keeps us going."
"Well," said Sewell, consenting to be a little comforted. He was about to go more particularly into the facts; but Mrs. Sewell came in just then, and he obviously left the subject.
Evans did not sit down again after rising to greet her; and presently he said good night.
She turned to her husband: "What were you talking about when I came in?"
"When you came in?"
"Yes. You both had that look—I can always tell it—of having suddenly stopped."
"Oh!" said Sewell, pretending to arrange the things on his desk. "Evans had been suggesting the subject for a sermon." He paused a moment, and then he continued hardily, "And he'd been telling me about—Barker. He's turned up again."
"Of course!" said Mrs. Sewell. "What's happened to him now?"
"Nothing, apparently, but some repeated strokes of prosperity. He has become clerk, elevator-boy, and head-waiter at the St. Albans."
"And what are you going to do about him?"
"Evans advises me to do nothing."
"Well, that's sensible, at any rate," said Mrs. Sewell. "I really think you've done quite enough, David, and now he can be left to manage for himself, especially as he seems to be doing well."
"Oh, he's doing as well as I could hope, and better. But I'm not sure that I shouldn't have personally preferred a continued course of calamity for him. I shall never be quite at peace about him till I get him back on his farm at Willoughby Pastures."
"Well, that you will never do; and you may as well rest easy about it."
"I don't know as to never doing it," said Sewell. "All prosperity, especially the prosperity connected with Mrs. Harmon's hotel, is transitory; and I may succeed yet."
"Does everything go on there in the old way, does Mr. Evans say?" Mrs. Sewell did not refer to any former knowledge of the St. Albans, but to a remote acquaintance with the character and methods of Mrs. Harmon, with whom the Sewells had once boarded. She was then freshly widowed by the loss of her first husband, and had launched her earliest boarding-house on that sea of disaster, where she had buoyantly outridden every storm and had floated triumphantly on the top of every ingulfing wave. They recalled the difficult navigation of that primitive craft, in which each of the boarders had taken a hand at the helm, and their reminiscences of her financial embarrassments were mixed with those of the unfailing serenity that seemed not to know defeat, and with fond memories of her goodness of heart, and her ideal devotion in any case of sickness or trouble.
"I should think the prosperity of Mrs. Harmon would convince the most negative of agnostics that there was an overruling Providence, if nothing else did," said Sewell. "It's so defiant of all law, so delightfully independent of causation."
"Well, let Barker alone with her, then," said his wife, rising to leave him to the hours of late reading which she had never been able to break up.
After agreeing with his wife that he had better leave Barker alone, Sewell did not feel easy in doing so. He had that ten-dollar note which Miss Vane had given him, and though he did not believe, since Evans had reported Barker's refusal of his fee, that the boy would take it, he was still constrained to do something with it. Before giving it back to her, he decided at least to see Barker and learn about his prospects and expectations. He might find some way of making himself useful to him.
In a state of independence he found Lemuel much more accessible than formerly, and their interview was more nearly amicable. Sewell said that he had been delighted to hear of Lemuel's whereabouts from his old friend Evans, and to know that they were housed together. He said that he used to know Mrs. Harmon long ago, and that she was a good-hearted, well-meaning woman, though without much forecast. He even assented to Lemuel's hasty generalisation of her as a perfect lady, though they both felt a certain inaccuracy in this, and Sewell repeated that she was a woman of excellent heart and turned to a more intimate inquest of Lemuel's life.
He tried to find out how he employed his leisure time, saying that he always sympathised with young men away from home, and suggesting the reading-room and the frequent lectures at the Young Men's Christian Union for his odd moments. He learned that Lemuel had not many of these during the week, and that on Sundays he spent all the time he could get in hearing the different noted ministers. For the rest, he learned that Lemuel was very much interested in the city, and appeared to be rapidly absorbing both its present civilisation and its past history. He was unsmilingly amused at the comments of mixed shrewdness and crudity which Lemuel was betrayed into at times beyond certain limits of diffidence that he had apparently set himself; at his blunders and misconceptions, at the truth divined by the very innocence of his youth and inexperience. He found out that Lemuel had not been at home since he came to Boston; he had expected to go at Thanksgiving, but it came so soon after he had got his place that he hated to ask; the folks were all well, and he would send the kind remembrances which the minister asked him to give his mother. Sewell tried to find out, in saying that Mrs. Sewell and himself would always be glad to see him, whether Lemuel had any social life outside of the St. Albans, but here he was sensible that a door was shut against him; and finally he had not the courage to do more about that money from Miss Vane than to say that from time to time he had sums intrusted him, and that if Lemuel had any pressing need of money he must borrow of him. He fancied he had managed that rather delicately, for Lemuel thanked him without severity, and said he should get along now, he guessed, but he was much obliged. Neither of them mentioned Miss Vane, and upon the whole the minister was not sure that he had got much nearer the boy, after all.
Certainly he formed no adequate idea of the avidity and thoroughness with which Lemuel was learning his Boston. It was wholly a Public Boston which unfolded itself during the winter to his eager curiosity, and he knew nothing of the social intricacies of which it seems solely to consist for so many of us. To him Boston society was represented by the coteries of homeless sojourners in the St. Albans; Boston life was transacted by the ministers, the lecturers, the public meetings, the concerts, the horse-cars, the policemen, the shop-windows, the newspapers, the theatres, the ships at the docks, the historical landmarks, the charity apparatus.
The effect was a ferment in his mind in which there was nothing clear. It seemed to him that he had to change his opinions every day. He was whirled round and round; he never saw the same object twice the same. He did not know whether he learned or unlearned most. With the pride that comes to youth from the mere novelty of its experiences was mixed a shame for his former ignorance, an exasperation at his inability to grasp their whole meaning.
His activities in acquainting himself with Boston interested Evans, who tried to learn just what his impression was; but this was the last thing that Lemuel could have distinctly imparted.
"Well, upon the whole," he asked, one day, "what do you think? From what you've seen of it, which is the better place, Boston or Willoughby Pastures? If you were friendless and homeless, would you rather be cast away in the city or in the country?"
Lemuel did not hesitate about this. "In the city! They haven't got any idea in the country what's done to help folks along in the city!"
"Is that so?" asked Evans. "It's against tradition," he suggested.
"Yes, I know that," Lemuel assented. "And in the country they think the city is a place where nobody cares for you, and everybody is against you, and wants to impose upon you. Well, when I first came to Boston," he continued with a consciousness of things that Evans did not betray his own knowledge of, "I thought so too, and I had a pretty hard time for a while. It don't seem as if people did care for you, except to make something out of you; but if any one happens to find out that you're in trouble, there's ten times as much done for you in the city as there is in the country."
"Perhaps that's because there are ten times as many to do it," said Evans, in the hope of provoking this impartial spirit further.
"No, it isn't that altogether. It's because they've seen ten times as much trouble, and know how to take hold of it better. I think our folks in the country have been flattered up too much. If some of them could come down here and see how things are carried on, they would be surprised. They wouldn't believe it if you told them."
"I didn't know we were so exemplary," said Evans.
"Oh, city folks have their faults too," said Lemuel, smiling in recognition of the irony.
Lemuel seemed uncertain whether to say it. "Well, they're too aristocratic."
Evans enjoyed this frank simplicity. He professed not to understand, and begged Lemuel to explain.
"Well, at home, in the country, they mightn't want to do so much for you, or be so polite about it, but they wouldn't feel themselves so much above you. They're more on an equality. If I needed help, I'd rather be in town; but if I could help myself, I'd just as soon be in the country. Only," he added, "there are more chances here."
"Yes, there are more chances. And do you think it's better not to be quite so kind, and to be more on an equality?"
"Why, don't you?" demanded Lemuel.
"Well, I don't know," said Evans, with a whimsical affection of seriousness. "Shouldn't you like an aristocracy if you could be one of the aristocrats? Don't you think you're opposed to aristocracy because you don't want to be under? I have spoken to be a duke when we get an order of nobility, and I find that it's a great relief. I don't feel obliged to go in for equality nearly as much as I used."
Lemuel shyly dropped the subject, not feeling himself able to cope with his elder in these railleries. He always felt his heaviness and clumsiness in talking with the editor, who fascinated him. He did not know but he had said too much about city people being aristocratic. It was not quite what he meant; he had really been thinking of Miss Carver, and how proud she was, when he said it.
Lately he had seemed to see a difference between himself and other people, and he had begun to look for it everywhere, though when he spoke to Evans he was not aware how strongly the poison was working in him. It was as if the girl had made that difference; she made it again, whatever it was, between herself and the black man who once brought her a note and a bunch of flowers from one of her young lady pupils. She was very polite to him, trying to put him at ease, just as she had been with Lemuel that night. If he came into the dining- room to seat a transient when Miss Carver was there, he knew that she was mentally making a difference between him and the boarders. The ladies all had the custom of bidding him good morning when they came in to breakfast, and they all smiled upon him except Miss Carver; she seemed every morning as if more surprised to see him standing there at the door and showing people to their places: she looked puzzled, and sometimes she blushed, as if she were ashamed for him.
He had discovered, in fine, that there were sorts of honest work in the world which one must not do if he would keep his self-respect through the consideration of others. Once all work had been work, but now he had found that there was work which was service, and that service was dishonour. He had learned that the people who did this work were as a class apart, and were spoken of as servants, with slight that was unconscious or conscious, but never absent.
Some of the ladies at the St. Albans had tried to argue with Lemuel about his not taking the fees he refused, and he knew that they talked him over. One day, when he was showing a room to a transient, he heard one of them say to another in the next apartment, "Well, I did hate to offer it to him, just as if he was a common servant;" and the other said, "Well, I don't see what he can expect if he puts himself in the place of a servant." And then they debated together whether his quality of clerk was sufficient to redeem him from the reproach of servitude; they did not call his running the elevator anything, because a clerk might do that in a casual way without loss of dignity; they alleged other cases of the kind.
His inner life became a turmoil of suspicions, that attached themselves to every word spoken to him by those who must think themselves above him. He could see now how far behind in everything Willoughby Pastures was, and how the summer folks could not help despising the people that took them to board, and waited on them like servants in cities. He esteemed the boarders at the St. Albans in the degree that he thought them enlightened enough to contemn him for his station; and he had his own ideas of how such a person as Mr. Evans really felt toward him. He felt toward him and was interested in his reading as a person might feel toward and be interested in the attainments of some anomalous animal, a learned pig, or something of that kind.
He could look back, now, on his life at Miss Vane's, and see that he was treated as a servant there,—a petted servant, but still a servant,—and that was what made that girl behave so to him; he always thought of Sibyl as that girl.
He would have thrown up his place at once, though he knew of nothing else he could do; he would have risked starving rather than keep it; but he felt that it was of no use; that the stain of servitude was indelible; that if he were lifted to the highest station, it would not redeem him in Miss Carver's eyes. All this time he had scarcely more than spoken with her, to return her good mornings at the dining-room door, or to exchange greetings with her on the stairs, or to receive some charge from her in going out, or to answer some question of hers in coming in, as to whether any of the pupils who had lessons of her had been there in her absence. He made these interviews as brief as possible; he was as stiff and cold as she.
The law-student, whose full name was Alonzo W. Berry, had one joking manner for all manner of men and women, and Lemuel's suspicion could not find any offensive distinction in it toward himself; but he disabled Berry's own gentility for that reason, and easily learning much of the law-student's wild past in the West from so eager an autobiographer, he could not comfort himself with his friendship. While the student poured out his autobiography without stint upon Lemuel, his shyness only deepened upon the boy. There were things in his life for which he was in equal fear of discovery: his arrest and trial in the police court, his mother's queerness, and his servile condition at Miss Vane's. The thought that Mr. Sewell knew about them all made him sometimes hate the minister, till he reflected that he had evidently told no one of them. But he was always trembling lest they should somehow become known at the St. Albans; and when Berry was going on about himself, his exploits, his escapes, his loves,—chiefly his loves,—Lemuel's soul was sealed within him; a vision of his disgraces filled him with horror.
But in the delight of talking about himself, Berry was apparently unaware that Lemuel had not reciprocated his confidences. He celebrated his familiarity with Miss Swan and her friend, though no doubt he had the greater share of the acquaintance,—that was apt to be the case with him,—and from time to time he urged Lemuel to come up and call on them with him.
"I guess they don't want me to call," said Lemuel with feeble bitterness at last, one evening after an elaborate argument from Berry to prove that Lemuel had the time, and that he just knew they would be glad to see him.
"Why?" demanded Berry, and he tried to get Lemuel's reason; but when Lemuel had stated that belief, he could not have given the reason for it on his death-bed. Berry gave the conundrum up for the time, but he did not give Lemuel up; he had an increasing need of him as he advanced in a passion for Miss Swan, which, as he frankly prophesied, was bound to bring him to the popping-point sooner or later; he debated with himself in Lemuel's presence all the best form's of popping, and he said that it was simply worth a ranch to be able to sing to him,
"She's a darling, She's a daisy, She's a dumpling, She's a lamb,"
and to feel that he knew who she was. He usually sang this refrain to Lemuel when he came in late at night after a little supper with some of the fellows that had left traces of its cheer on his bated breath. Once he came downstairs alone in the elevator, in his shirt-sleeves and stocking-feet, for the purpose of singing it after Lemuel had thought him in bed.
Every Sunday afternoon during the winter Lemuel went to see Statira, and sometimes in the evening he took her to church. But she could not understand why he always wanted to go to a different church; she did not see why he should not pick out one church and stick to it: the ministers seemed to be all alike, and she guessed one was pretty near as good as another. 'Manda Grier said she guessed they were all Lemuel to her; and Statira said well, she guessed that was pretty much so. She no longer pretended that he was not the whole world to her, either with him or with 'Manda Grier; she was so happy from morning till night, day in and day out, that 'Manda Grier said if she were in her place she should be afraid something would happen.