Then he went softly and reverently from the room and the house of mourning. There stood two others beside that still head when it was pillowed in the coffin—the stricken father and mother. They stood and dropped tears of utter agony on the face of their first-born and only son. Did a vision come to them of the time when they had leaned lovingly over the sleeping baby in the great rocking-chair, standing empty there in the corner? Did they remember how merrily they had laughed, as they assured each other that they had no fear of "Baby Ben" becoming a drunkard? Oh, if they had feared, and prayed, "Lead him not into temptation," and made earnest effort to answer their own prayers, would the end have been as it was?
A DOUBLE CRISIS.
Theodore was at his post in the private office deep in business when his next hasty summons came. Pliny was raving and repeating his name incessantly, and Dr. Arnold had said that he must come immediately or the consequences would be fatal.
"I shall remain all night if I am permitted to do so," Theodore explained to Mr. Stephens while he was putting bills and notes under lock and key. "And in the morning—"
"In the morning get rest if you can," interrupted Mr. Stephens. "At all events, do not worry about the store. Remain with the poor boy just as much as you can while he lives. I will see that all goes right here. McPherson is coming in to help me; he has his new clerk under splendid training."
Theodore looked the thanks that his heart was too heavy to speak. Mr. Hastings glanced up grimly as he entered Pliny's room, twenty minutes afterward, but did not choose to speak. Nobody noticed the omission—for eyes and thoughts were too entirely engrossed with the sufferer. And then commenced a hand-to-hand encounter with death. Day by day he relentlessly pursued his victim, and yet was mercifully kept at bay. The fever burned fiercely, and the faithful, watchful doctors worked constantly and eagerly. Theodore was constantly with his friend. When the delirium ran high this was absolutely necessary, for while Pliny did not seem to recognize him, yet he was calmer in his presence. Mr. Hastings had ceased to demur or grumble—indeed, sharp and persistent anxiety and fear had taken the place of all other feelings. Pliny had disappointed him, had angered him, had disgraced him at times, yet he reigned an idol in his father's heart.
During all these anxious days and nights Dr. Arnold's face had been grave and impassive, and his voice had failed to utter a single encouraging word. But one night he said, peremptorily:
"There are too many people, and there is too much moving around in this room every night. I want every single one of you to go to bed and to sleep, except this young man. You can stay, can you not?" This with a glance toward Theodore, who bowed in answer. "Well, then, you are the only watcher he needs, and the sooner the rest of you retire the better it will be for the patient."
Mr. Hastings rebelled utterly.
"There was no occasion for depending upon strangers," he said, haughtily. "Any or all of the family were ready to sit up; and besides, there were scores of intimate friends who had offered their aid."
And the doctor, quite as accustomed to having his own way as Mr. Hastings could possibly be, answered, testily:
"But the family and the 'scores of intimate friends' are just the beings that I don't want to-night, and this 'stranger' has proved himself a very faithful and efficient nurse during the last few weeks, and he is the one I'm going to leave in charge."
He carried his point, of course. Dr. Arnold always did. When the door was closed on the last departure he came with very quiet tread to Theodore's side, and spoke in subdued tones.
"This night is a matter of life and death with us; he needs the most close and careful watching; above all, he needs absolute quiet and the absence of all nervousness. There will be a change before morning—a very startling one perhaps. It is for this reason I have banished the family. I trust you, you see."
"I don't trust myself," answered Theodore, huskily, yet making a great effort to control his voice.
"It is more to the point that I do just at present; the next eight hours will be likely to determine whether it has all been in vain. I will give you very careful directions, and I will be in twice during the night, although I am absolutely powerless now; can do no more than you will be able to do yourself. Meantime that friend of yours, McPherson I think his name is, will be on guard in the room next to this, ready to answer your lightest call. Indeed, you may open the door between the two rooms, but on no account speak or move unless absolutely necessary. This heavy sleep will grow lighter perhaps. Now, I want your fixed attention." Then followed very close and careful directions—what to do, and, above all, what not to do.
"Doctor, tell me one word more," said Theodore, quivering with suppressed emotion. "How do you think it will end?"
"I have hardly the faintest atom of hope," answered this honest, earnest man. "If, as I said, after midnight this sleep grows heavier, and you fail to catch the regular breathing, you may call the family. I think no human sound will disturb him after that; but if, on the contrary, the breathing grows steadier, and occasionally he moves a little, then I want you fairly to hold your breath, and then we may begin to hope, provided nothing shall occur to startle him; but I will be in by twelve or a little after."
The doctor went away with lightest tread, and Theodore opened the door of communication with the next room, met the kind, sympathetic eyes of Jim resting on him, returned his grave, silent bow, and felt sustained by his presence, then went back to his silent, solemn work. Close by the bedside, and thus, his head resting on one hand, his eyes fixed on the sleepless face, his heart going up to God in such wordless agony of entreaty as he had never felt before, passed the long, long hours. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place." How this watcher blessed God for that promise now! His, then, were not the only watcher's eyes bent on that white face; but He who knew the end from the beginning—aye, who held both beginning and end in the hollow of his hand, was watching too. More than that, the loving Redeemer, who had shed his blood for this poor man's soul, who loved it to-night with a love passing all human knowledge, was the other watcher. So Theodore waited and prayed, and the burden of his prayer was, "Lord, save him." Ten, eleven, twelve o'clock, still that solemn silence, still that wordless prayer. No doctor yet "I would not leave you if it were not absolute necessity," he had said. "Life or death in another family, with more for human knowledge to do than there is here, takes me away; but I will be back as soon after twelve as possible." Would he never come? It was ten minutes after twelve now, still no change—or, was there? Could he catch the breathing as distinctly now? Was the sleep heavier? Ought he to call the family? Oh, compassionate Savior! must they give him up? Had not his been the prayer of faith? And yet the breathing was certainly distinct, the pulse was steady—a half hour more, one or two little sighs had escaped the sleeper; other than that death-like stillness reigned. Was he better or worse? Oh for the doctor's coming! Suddenly Pliny gave a quick restless movement, then lay quiet; and then for the first time in long, long days, spoke in natural yet astonished tones:
"Theodore!" Then with a sudden nervous tremor and a startled tone: "What is it? What is it?"
Theodore knew that great beads of perspiration stood on his forehead, but his voice sounded natural and controlled as he stood with cup and spoon beside the bed.
"Hush, Pliny, you have had the headache, it is night. Swallow that and go to sleep."
Like a weary, submissive child Pliny obeyed; and Theodore, trembling in every limb so that he dropped rather than sat down in his chair, again watched and waited. A shadow fell between him and the light and his raised eyes met the doctor's. He had come in through the room where Jim was waiting. He came with noiseless tread to the bedside, and the instant his practiced eyes fell on the sleeping face they lighted up with a quick, glad look. Moving silently back to the door again he signaled Theodore to come to him, while as silently Jim slipped by and took his place. Rapidly the story of the night was rehearsed.
"Well," said the doctor, with smiling eyes, "I believe we have now to 'thank God and take courage.' Can you follow the rest of my instructions as implicitly as you have these? I would remove this strain on your nerves if I dared, but it is a fearfully important night, and you see I can trust you."
"I can do it," said Theodore, with a curious ring of joy in his softly voice. "I can do anything now."
And the rest of that night was given not only to faithful watching and nursing, but to thankful prayer, and to solemn promises that his spared life should be more than ever his special charge, his constant care, until one of those "many mansions" should be set apart as his.
It was four weeks after this eventful night. Pliny was bolstered back among the pillows in the rocking-chair, resting after a walk half way across his room. It was a clear, sharp winter morning, but there was freshness and sunshine in Pliny's room. Both Theodore and Dr. Vincent were his companions. Theodore was making his morning call, and the young doctor was waiting to see what effect the morning walk would have upon the invalid, who was so slowly and feebly rallying back to life. Mrs. Hastings and Dora had gone to Hastings' Hall, where they were now able to spend a small part of each day. The conversation between the two gentlemen, faintly helped along by Pliny, was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Hastings, and with him a stranger to Theodore, but he was greeted by Pliny as Dr. Armitage, whereupon Theodore made him an object of close scrutiny, and discovered that his face not only bore traces of the frequent use of liquor, but stood near enough to learn from his breath that he had so early in the morning indulged in a glass of brandy. He came forward with an easy, half-swaggering air, bestowed an indifferent glance on Theodore, and a supercilious one on Dr. Vincent, and addressed Pliny.
"Well, young gentleman, you've had a hard pull, they tell me, as well as myself. Fortunately I could consult with myself or I should have died. How is it with you?"
"I had better advisers than myself," answered Pliny, smiling.
"Wants building up," said the doctor, turning abruptly from the son to the father. "Never'll gain strength in this way—ought to have begun tonics three weeks ago. Well, we'll do what we can to repair the mischief. Port wine is as good as anything to begin on. You may order a bottle brought up, if you please."
As Mr. Hastings rang the bell and gave the order, Pliny stole a glance of mingled entreaty and dismay at Theodore and Dr. Vincent. The latter immediately advanced, and respectfully addressed the old doctor.
"I beg your pardon, sir; but if you will study the patient's pulse a moment you will observe that his nerves are not in a condition to bear liquors of any sort."
Dr. Armitage answered him first by a prolonged stare before he said:
"I studied pulse and nerves, and things of that sort, before you were born, young man."
"That may be," answered Dr. Vincent, firmly, "but Dr. Arnold and myself have been studying this gentleman's for the past six weeks, and in a fearful state they have been, I assure you. You must remember that you have hardly seen him as yet, and have not examined the case."
By this time the wine had arrived, and Dr. Armitage, while he busied himself in pouring out a glassful, assumed an air of jocoseness and said:
"Perhaps you would not object to opening a private class instruction in nerves and the like, by which means I might gain some information, and you prove a benefactor to your race." Then to Pliny: "Now, sir, drink that, and it will put new life into you." And the tempting glass was held exasperatingly near poor Pliny's weak and fearfully-tempted hand. Theodore, standing close beside him, saw the great beads of perspiration gathering on his white forehead, and fairly felt the quiver of excitement that shook his frame. To save Pliny from taking the glass, and entirely uncertain as to what he should do next, he mechanically reached out his hand for it. Dr. Armitage evidently regarded him as an ally, and at once resigned it, saying, with his eyes still fixed on Pliny: "Drink it slowly and enjoy it. I'm sure I don't wonder that you are wasted to a skeleton."
Pliny's pleading eyes sought Theodore's, and he spoke in a low, husky whisper:
"Finish this business quick in some way, or I shall drink it—I know I shall."
Dr. Vincent had drawn near and caught the import of the whisper. With a very quiet manner, but also with exceeding quickness, he took the glass and deliberately poured it into the marble basin near which he stood, and the fragrant old wine instantly gurgled down innumerable pipes, and was harmless forever. Dr. Armitage's red face took a purplish tint, and he turned fiercely to the man who dared to meddle with his orders.
"Do you know what you are about?" he shouted rather than said. "Are you aware that I am the family physician at Hastings' Hall?"
"I am aware of it," was Dr. Vincent's quiet and composed reply. "And it makes no sort of difference to me, so long as I remember that Dr. Arnold has had this particular case in charge from the first, and his orders are distinct and explicit, and I am here to see that they are obeyed, which thing I shall do even if I have to send the entire contents of that bottle in the same direction that part of it has traveled. At the same time I am sorry to be compelled to lay aside the courtesy due from one physician to another."
At this most opportune moment the door opened quietly and Dr. Arnold entered. He went at once to Pliny's side, and placed his finger on the throbbing wrist, as he said with an inquiring glance about the room:
"It strikes me you are all forgetting the need of quiet and freedom from excitement. This pulse is racing." Then for the first time noticing Dr. Armitage, he addressed him courteously. "Good morning, Doctor, you are on your feet again, are you? I congratulate you. Meantime Dr. Vincent and myself have been doing your work here for you to the best of our abilities."
In answer to which Dr. Armitage drew himself up with an air of extreme hauteur, and said, addressing Mr. Hastings:
"The time has come, sir, for you to choose between this gentleman and myself. If you desire any further service of him then I will consider your name withdrawn from my list."
Dr. Arnold elevated his eyebrows, evidently astonished that even Dr. Armitage should be guilty of so gross a violation of propriety, while Dr. Vincent drew near and in rapid undertone related the cause of the disturbance. Dr. Arnold at first frowned, and then as the story progressed nodded approvingly.
"Quite right, quite right; he should not have touched the stimulus under any circumstances whatever. Dr. Armitage, I am persuaded that even you would have frowned on the idea had you watched this case through in all its details."
Dr. Armitage did not so much as vouchsafe him a glance, but kept his angry eyes still fixed on Mr. Hastings as he said:
"I repeat my statement. This matter must be decided at once. You have but to choose between us."
Now this really placed Mr. Hastings in an extremely awkward dilemma. Dr. Armitage was not only his family physician, but the two had had all sorts of business dealings together of which only they two knew the nature; but then, on the other hand, Mr. Hastings believed that Dr. Arnold had saved the life of his son. He knew that life was in a very feeble, dangerous state even now, and he actually feared that Dr. Armitage occasionally drank brandy enough to bewilder his brain, and at such times perhaps was hardly to be trusted, and yet he could not dismiss him.
"Really," he stammered, "I—we—this is a very disagreeable matter. I regret exceedingly—" And just here relief came to him from an unexpected quarter. Pliny roused himself to speak with something of his old spirit.
"You two gentlemen seem to ignore my existence or overlook it somewhat. I believe I am the unfortunate individual who requires the service of a physician. Dr. Armitage, I have no doubt that my father will continue to look upon you as his guardian angel, physically speaking; but as for me, I'm inclined to continue at present under charge of the pilot who has steered me safely thus far."
"That being the case," said Dr. Arnold, briskly, "I will resume command at once, and order every single one of you from the room, except you, Dr. Vincent, if you have time to remain and administer an anodyne, and you, young man, must go directly back to bed."
Mr. Hastings promptly opened a side door and invited Dr. Armitage to a few moments' private conversation, and Theodore departed, jubilant over the turn affairs had taken, and fully determined that Dr. Vincent should be his family physician.
"Can you take another boarder, grandma?"
This was the question with which Theodore startled the dear old lady, while she and Winny still lingered with him at the breakfast table. Jim had eaten in haste, and hurried away to his daily-increasing business. But Theodore had seemed lost in thought, and for some little time had occupied himself with trying to balance his spoon on the edge of his cup, instead of eating his breakfast. At last he let the spoon pitch into the cup with a decisive click, and asked the aforesaid question. Grandma McPherson, looking a little older, it is true, than on the blessed day in which "Tode Mall" first sought her out, but still having the look of a wonderfully well preserved old lady, in an immaculate cap frill, a trifle finer than in the days of yore, and a neat black dress, presided still at the head of her table. She dropped her knife, at Theodore's question, and gave vent to her old-time exclamation: "Deary me, what notion has the dear boy got now?"
"He has an Inebriate Asylum in view, mother, and wants to engage you for physician, and your daughter for matron."
This was Winny's grave explanation. Theodore did not even smile. She had unwittingly touched too near the subject of his thoughts.
"Don't tease the boy, Winny dear," said the little gentle mother; then she turned her kind, interested eyes on him, and waited for his explanation.
"The fact is, I want to get Pliny away from home," he said, anxiously. "You have no idea of the temptations that constantly beset him there. I don't think it is possible for him to sit down to his father's table at any time without being beset by what the poor fellow calls his imps."
"What a world it is, to be sure," sighed Grandma McPherson, "when a boy's worst enemy is his own father. Well, deary, I'm ready to help you fight the old serpent to the very last, and so I am sure is Winny. What is your plan?"
"He thinks of coming into the store—he can have poor Winter's place for the present. At least, Mr. Stephens has made him that offer. He seems to feel the necessity of doing something, if for no other purpose than to use up his time."
Winny glanced up quickly. "Is that all his splendid collegiate education is going to amount to?" she asked, wonderingly, and possibly with a little touch of scorn in her voice. "A clerk in Mr. Stephens' store! I thought he was going to study law?"
"He has used up his brain-power too thoroughly to have any hope of carrying out these plans—at least at present," answered Theodore, sadly. "But, after all, I think we may consider his life not quite a failure, if he should become such a man as Mr. Stephens. Well, grandma, my plan is, that he could room with me, and so make you no extra work in that direction, and, if you could manage the other part, I believe it would be a blessed thing for Pliny."
"Oh, we can manage that all nicely! Can't we, Winny dear? You are willing to try it, I know!"
"Oh, certainly, mother—anything to be on the popular side—only I think we might hang out a sign, and have the advantage of a little notoriety in the matter."
There was this alleviating circumstance connected with Winny: She didn't mean a single one of the sharp and rather unsympathetic things that she said—and those that met her daily had come to understand this and interpret her accordingly. So Theodore arose from the table, greatly relieved in mind, and not a little gratified, that daughter, as well as mother, was willing to co-operate with him. Thus it was that Pliny found himself domiciled that very evening in Theodore's gem of a room—his favorite books piled with Theodore's on the table, his dressing-case standing beside Theodore's on the toilet-table opposite.
"This is jolly!" he said, eagerly, surveying with satisfied eye all the neat appointments of the room, when at last everything had been arranged in accordance with his fastidious taste.
"I declare I feel as if I had been made over new, or was somebody else altogether—ready to begin life in decent, respectable earnest!"
And then he suddenly dropped into the arm-chair at his side, and buried his face in his hands.
"Well now!" said Theodore, cheerily. "That's rather an April change, when one considers that it is only January. My dear fellow, what spell has come over you?"
"I was reminded of Ben—I don't know how or why just then—except that thoughts of him are constantly coming to haunt, and sometimes almost madden me. Oh, Mallery! that is a past that can never, never be undone!" He spoke in a hollow, dreary tone, and his slight form, enfeebled by disease, was quivering with emotion; yet what could his friend say? How try to administer comfort for such a grief as that? He remained entirely silent for a few moments, then offered the only consolation that he could bear.
"The past is not yours, Pliny, but in a sense the present and future are. Let us have it such a future that it can be looked back upon with joy, when you and I have become gray-haired men. Now, Pliny, it is late. Will you join me in my Bible reading—since you and I are a family, can not we have family worship?"
Pliny arose quickly. "I will not disturb your meditations," he said, a little nervously. "But you know my taste don't run in that line."
Then he began a slow, monotonous walk up and down the room. Theodore opened his Bible without further entreaty or comment; but as Pliny watched the grave face, he could not fail to notice the disappointed droop of his friend's features, and the line of sadness that gathered about his sensitive mouth. Suddenly Pliny came to a stand-still, and finally went abruptly to Theodore's side.
"Dear old fellow!" he said, impulsively—laying his hand with a familiar, almost caressing, movement on the arm of the other—"Would it afford you an unparalleled satisfaction if I should settle quietly down there, and read in that big book with you?"
Theodore looked up with a faint smile, and returned steadily the look from those handsome blue eyes as he said—
"More than I can tell you."
"Then hang me if I don't do it! Mind, I don't see in what the satisfaction consists, but that is not necessary, I suppose, in order to make my act meritorious. Now, here goes!" Down he dropped into a chair, and resolutely took hold of one side of the large handsome Bible. Theodore reveled in Bibles; he had them of numerous sizes and of great beauty; he had not forgotten the time when he had none at all, and after that how precious two leaves of the Sacred Book became to him. After the reading, he linked his arm in Pliny's, and said in so winning and withal so natural and matter-of-course a tone, "It will be very pleasant to have a companion to kneel with me—I have always felt a desire for one," that Pliny did not choose to decline. So the young man, reared in a Christian city, surrounded by hundreds of Christian men and women, felt himself personally prayed for, for the first time in his life.
The rest of that winter was a busy one—full of many and bewildering cares. Besides his pressing duties at the store—and they daily grew more pressing, as the responsibilities of the business were thrown more and more upon him—Theodore had undertaken to be a constant shield and guard to the constantly tempted young man.
No one who has not tried it knows or can know how heavy is such a weight. Daily the sense of it grew upon Theodore; not for an hour did he dare relax his vigilance; he was perfectly overwhelmed with the countless snares that lay in wait everywhere to tempt to ruin. Not a journey to or from the store, not a trip to any part of the city or any errand whatever, but was fraught with danger, and evening parties and receptions and concerts were absolute terrors to Theodore; nor was it a light task to arrange his affairs in such a manner as to be always ready for any whim that chanced to possess Pliny's brain—and when that was arranged, it was sometimes equally difficult to discover a pretext for his constant attendance, in order that Pliny's sensitive blood might not arise in opposition to this surveillance. However, the plans, most carefully and prayerfully formed, were not to be lightly resigned, and with one new excuse after another, and with Mr. Stephens always for his aid, Theodore managed to get successfully through the winter—or, if not successfully, at least with but few drawbacks. And of these—oh, strange and bitter thought!—the Hastings family were the worst.
On his visits to his father's house, Pliny had to go alone. Mr. Hastings had been sore opposed to the new arrangements, both as regarded business and boarding, from the very first, and, though he could not conquer Pliny's determination, had managed to make it very uncomfortable for him; had chosen also to lay the principal blame of the entire arrangement—where, indeed, it belonged—on Theodore, and glowered on him accordingly. So Theodore staid away from the great house altogether, and struggled between his desire to keep Pliny away from that direst of all temptations, and his desire not to interfere with the filial duties which Pliny ought to have had, even though no such ideas possessed him. Twice during the winter Pliny took from his father's hand the glass of sparkling wine, and thereby roused afresh the demon who was only slumbering within him—he came out from the grand mansion disgusted, frightened at his broken resolves, and yet, towering above every other feeling, was the awful desire to have more of the poison; and what would have been the closing scene of that visit home, but for one thing, Pliny in his sane moments next day shuddered to think. The one thing was, that Theodore, first worried, and then alarmed at his friend's long stay, finally started in search of him, and took care that their ride down town should be in the same car, and by coaxings and beguilings, and also by force of a stronger will, enticed him home, and petted him tenderly through the fiery headache which the one glass and the tremendous excitement had induced.
The second visit was the more dangerous, and fraught with direr consequences. Theodore was unexpectedly detained by pressing business, and Pliny seized upon that unfortunate evening in which to go home; and he reeled back to his room at midnight, just sense enough left to find his way home, with the aid of a policeman.
Theodore sat up during the rest of that long, weary night, and bathed the throbbing temples, and soothed as best he could the crazed brain, and groaned in spirit, and prayed in almost hopeless agony; yet, while he prayed, his faith arose once more, and once more the assurance seemed to come to him that Christ had not died for this soul in vain.
There was one important matter that occurred during the winter. Over the doors of Mr. Stephens' dry-goods establishment had hung for a dozen years the sign: "Stephens & Co.," the "Co." standing for a branch house in Chicago. It was a glowing April morning in which Theodore and Pliny, both a little belated by a business entanglement of bills and figures that had taken half the night to set straight, were rushing along with rapid strides. They had left the street-car at the corner, and the hight of their present ambition was to reach the store before the city clock struck again, which thing it seemed on the point of doing, when suddenly both came to a halt and stared first at the store opposite, and then at each other in speechless amazement. The familiar sign was gone, and in its place there glittered and sparkled in the crisp air and early sunshine a new one—
"STEPHENS, MALLERY & CO."
Theodore rubbed his eyes, and stared in speechless wonder, while Pliny gave vent to his emotions in lucid ejaculatory sentences:
"Well! upon my word and honor!—As sure as I'm alive!—If that don't beat me!"
Meantime Theodore dashed abruptly across the road and entered the store, Pliny following more leisurely, still staring at the magic sign. The clerks all bowed and smiled most broadly as the junior partner passed down the store; but that gentleman was too excited to notice them closely, and hurried into the private office. Mr. Stephens came forward on his entrance, his face all aglow with smiles, and cordially held out his hand.
"Mr. Stephens!" gasped Theodore, "how—what?" and then, utterly overcome, sank into one of the office-chairs, and covered his face with his hands.
"My dear boy," said Mr. Stephens, with an outward calmness and an inward chuckle, "what is the matter with you this morning?"
"What does it mean, sir? How came you to? How could you?"
"Lucid questions, my boy! I stand for one pronoun, but who is it?"
"You know, Mr. Stephens. The sign! The name!"
"As for the sign, my dear fellow, it announces the name of the firm, as heretofore. I hope my partner will pardon me for keeping my name first. The new name means a great deal to me. It has meant a great deal in past days, and I mean it shall mean a great deal more in many ways. Are you answered, my friend?"
Then followed a long, long talk—eager and excited on Theodore's part; earnest and serious on Mr. Stephens'—the substance of which was that the young clerk had been entered as full partner in the extensive and ever-increasing business, or at least was to be so entered as soon as what Mr. Stephens called the trivialities of the law had been attended to.
"You told me a few days ago that you had fully decided to make the mercantile business yours for life, and as I thought I could offer you as good advantages as you could find elsewhere, I couldn't resist the temptation to give you a bit of a surprise," explained Mr. Stephens, as Theodore still looked bewildered. "I hope you are not offended at my rudeness?" This he added gravely, but with a little roguish twinkle in his eyes.
"But, Mr. Stephens, how can it be? Why I I haven't a cent of money in the world to put in the firm. It is utterly unjust to yourself," explained Theodore, in distressed tones.
"I am not so sure of that first statement, my boy;" and now both eyes and face expressed a business-like gravity. "I remember, if you do not, that I am twenty thousand dollars better off to-day than I should have been but for your courage and unparalleled presence of mind. Moreover, you have more funds than you seem to be aware of. Do you remember a certain ten-dollar bill which you brought to me one midnight? Well, I held that bill in my hand, intending to present it to you to assist you in setting up business for yourself; but on learning that your intentions were to open a hotel, I concluded to await the development of affairs and invest otherwise. After I became conversant with your peculiar ideas concerning hotels, I discovered that you needed no assistance from me. But that ten dollars I invested sacredly for you, and a more remarkable ten dollars never came into my hands. Everything that I have touched through it has turned to gold. Your bank-book is in the left hand private drawer of my secretary. So, young man, you can investigate the state of your funds whenever you choose, and bestow whatever portion of them upon the new firm that your wisdom suggests."
Theodore still remained with his elbow leaning on the table, and his face shaded with his hand. After a little silence Mr. Stephens came around to him and placed two hands trembling with earnestness on his slightly bowed head, and spoke in gentler tones than he had used heretofore.
"Above and beyond all these things, my dear boy, you are the only son I ever had, and you have well and faithfully filled a son's place to me. May I not do what I will for my own?"
"New York postmark—that's from Ingolds & Ferry, I suppose. Chicago, that must be from Southy, and this is Ned's scrawling hand; now for the fourth—Albany. Who the mischief writes me from Albany?"
This was Mr. Stephens' running commentary on his letters. He broke the seal of the Albany one, and glanced at its contents.
"Um," he said, meditatively, leaning his elbow on the table and his chin on his hand. "Now to whom shall I send this appeal? I don't know of any one. Mallery?"
"Yes, sir," answered Theodore from behind the screen.
"Do you know of any one who could go to Albany in December and give—stop, I know myself. Yes, that's an idea."
"You certainly know more than I do then," answered Theodore, laughing. "What do you happen to be talking about, sir?"
"How soon can you give me ten minutes of your valuable time?"
"At once, if you so desire," and the young man emerged into the main office, and came forward to the desk.
"Read that, then," answered Mr. Stephens, tossing him the Albany letter.
"A temperance lecture, eh, before the Association; that's good," said Theodore, running his eye rapidly over the few lines of writing. "Mr. Ryan would be a capital man to send them. Don't you think so, sir? But then it's in December. Ryan will not have returned from Chicago by that time, I fear; but then there's Mr. Williams, he is a fine speaker and—"
"I tell you I've found a man," interrupted Mr. Stephens; "the very man. Theodore, you must deliver that temperance lecture yourself."
"What a preposterous idea!" And before Theodore proceeded further he gave himself up to a burst of merriment; then he added: "I thought you a wiser man than that, sir. Why, I have never peeped in public."
"Don't you take part in the Wednesday meetings every evening, and lead three out of four of the Saturday evening ones, and speak in the Young Men's Association meetings every month?"
"Yes, sir, certainly; but those are religious meetings, entirely different matters, and I—why, Mr. Stephens, I never thought of such a thing!"
"I have often. I tell you, Theodore, you have talents in that direction. You think and feel deeply on this matter of intemperance. If you don't understand it thoroughly in all its bearings, I'm sure I don't know who does, and you speak fluently and logically on any subject. Of course there must be a first time, and Albany is as good a place as any. This old friend of mine who has written for a speaker, will treat you like a prince, and there is plenty of time for preparation; the meeting is not until the 22d of December, and this is only October. My heart is very much set on this, my boy."
But Theodore could not do much besides laugh; he burst into another merry peal as he said:
"My dear sir, I can't jump into the person of a full-fledged orator in a month, not even to please you."
"I'll send in your name and acceptance," was Mr. Stephens' positive answer. "There is no reason why you should grow into the character of a quiet, rusty merchant like myself. I mean to send you adrift now and then. Besides, you owe it to the cause, I tell you; you could do incalculable good in that way."
But Theodore was not to be persuaded. The most that Mr. Stephens could win from him was permission to delay answering the letter a few days, and the promise that meantime he would make the matter a subject of prayerful consideration.
"Meantime there is another matter on hand," said Mr. Stephens, turning promptly, as was his custom, from one item of business to another. "Information derived from Hoyt demands either your or my immediate presence in their establishment. You understand the state of their affairs, do you not?"
"Perfectly. Am I to attend to that business?"
"Well, it would be a great relief to me if you could. I hate the cars."
"Very well, sir; I can go of course. What time shall I start?"
"What time can you start?"
Theodore glanced at his watch.
"The Express goes up in forty minutes. Shall I take that train?"
Mr. Stephens smiled, and made what sounded like an irrelevant reply:
"Your executive ability is perfectly refreshing, Theodore, to a man of my gray hairs and crushing weight of business."
Theodore seemed to consider the reply sufficiently explicit, and in forty minutes afterward, valise in hand, swung himself on the Express train just as it was leaving the depot. Mr. Stephens' last remark to him had been, "Remember, my boy, to think of that matter carefully, and be prepared to give me a favorable answer; my heart is set on it." And Theodore had laughed and responded, "If I have an inspiration during my absence I may conclude to gratify you."
* * * * *
This all happened on an October day. The rest of the winter that was in progress during that last chapter, and the long, bright summer, had rolled away, and now another winter was almost ready to begin its work. The summer had been a quiet one aside from business cares and excitements. Pliny still retained his boarding place in the quiet asylum that had opened to him when his own home had proved so dangerous a place. Dora Hastings had spent the most of the summer with her parents, traveling East and North, but Pliny had remained bravely at his post struggling still with his enemy, but still persisting in carrying on the warfare alone. This one matter was a sharp trial to Theodore's faith; indeed he felt himself growing almost impatient.
"Why must it be that he should halt and hesitate so long!" he exclaimed in a nervous and almost a petulant tone, as he paced up and down the back parlor one evening, after having had a talk with the little mother. "I am sure if ever I had faith for any one in the world I had for him."
"Have you got it now?" she asked him, gently. "It appears to me as if you were pretty impatient—kind as if you thought you had prayed prayers enough, and it was high time they were answered."
Theodore looked surprised and disturbed, and continued his walk up and down the room for a few moments in silence; then he came over to the arm-chair where she sat, and resting his hand on her arm, spoke low and gently:
"You probe to the very depth, dear friend. Thank you for your faithfulness. I see I must commence anew, and pray, 'Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.'"
* * * * *
Well, the Express train whizzed past half a dozen minor stations, and halted at last at the place of Theodore's destination. Circumstances favored him, and the business that brought him thither was promptly dispatched. Then a consultation with his time-table and watch showed him a full hour of unoccupied time. He cast about him for some way of occupying it agreeably. Just across the street was a pleasant building, and a pleasant sign, "General News Depot and Reading Room." Thither he went. The collection of books was unusually large and choice, Theodore selected a book of reference that he had long been desiring to see and took a seat. Several gentlemen were present, engaged in reading.
Presently the quiet was interrupted by the entrance of a middle-aged gentleman, to whom the courteous librarian immediately addressed himself.
"Good-afternoon, Mr. Cranmer. Can I serve you to a book?"
"No, sir," responded the new-comer, promptly. "I don't patronize this institution, you know, sir."
Theodore glanced up to see what sort of a personage this could be who was so indifferent to his privileges. He looked the gentleman in every sense, refined, cultivated and intellectual. At the same moment one of the other readers addressed him.
"Why the mischief don't you, Cranmer? Have you read every book there is in the world, and feel no need of further information?"
"Not by any manner of means; but I'm a temperance man myself."
"What on earth has that to do with it?"
And Theodore found himself wondering and listening intently for the answer.
"A great deal in this establishment. The truth is, if we had no drunkards we'd have no books."
"What's the meaning of your riddle, Cranmer?" queried an older and graver gentleman, who had been intently poring over a ponderous volume.
"Don't you know how the thing is done?" said Cranmer, turning briskly around toward the new speaker. "They use the license money of this honorable and respectable old town to replenish the library!"
"I don't see what that has to do with temperance," promptly retorted the young man who had begun the conversation. "Using the money for a good purpose doesn't make drunkards. To what wicked use would you have the funds put?"
"I would keep the potter's field in decent order, and defray the funeral expenses of murderers and paupers. That would be putting liquor money to a legitimate use, making it defray its own expenses," returned Mr. Cranmer, composedly.
"Well but, Cranmer," interposed the old gentleman, "explain your position. It isn't the money belonging to the poor drunken wretches that we use for the library, it's only what we make the scamps pay for the privilege of doing business."
"For the privilege of making drunkards," retorted Mr. Cranmer. "Here, I'll explain my position by illustrating. As I was coming up just now I met old Connor's boy; he was coming up here, too. The poor fellow is hungering and thirsting after books. He has been at work over hours to my certain knowledge, for six weeks, to earn his dollar with which to join this Library Association. He just accomplished the feat last night, and was rushing over here, dollar in hand, and joy in his face. Just as he reached the door old Connor stumbled and staggered along with his jug in his hand, of course. 'Here you,' he said to the boy, 'what you hiding under your arm? And what you about, anyhow? Mischief, I'll be bound. Here give it to me whatever 'tis.' Now, gentlemen, I stood there, more shame to me, and saw that poor wretch of a father deliberately take that hard-earned dollar away from his boy. I saw the boy go crying off, and the father stagger to that rum hole across the street, get his jug filled, and pay that dollar! Now when that respectable rum-seller comes to pay his license money, he is as likely to bring that stolen dollar as any other—and they are all stolen in the first place from wives and children; and when this splendid Library Association, which is an honor to the town, buys its next books, it buys them with money stolen from the Jimmy Connors of the world. That's my opinion in plain English, and I don't propose to pay my dollar in supporting any such anti-temperance institution."
Theodore had listened attentively to this conversation, and his blood was roused and boiling. He turned quickly away from the long line of splendid books, and addressed Mr. Cranmer.
"I entirely agree with your position, sir," he said, earnestly. "And I do not see how it is possible for any strictly temperance man to feel otherwise."
"Good for you, young man," responded Mr. Cranmer, warmly. "I like especially to see a young man sound and square on this subject."
"Well, now, I call that straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel," remarked a gentleman who had heretofore taken no part in the conversation. "I'm a temperance man myself, always have been, but I consider that carrying the thing to a ridiculous extreme."
At this point Theodore, much to his regret, heard the train whistle, and was obliged to leave the question unsettled; but the first remark he made to Mr. Stephens on his return, after business was disposed of, was:
"Well, sir, I found my inspiration."
"Ah, ha!" said Mr. Stephens. "Glad of that. What is your text?"
"The amazing consistency of the so-called temperance world," answered Theodore, dryly.
It was this combination of circumstances that led him to take his seat one wintry morning in a Buffalo train, himself ticketed through to Albany. There was still five minutes before the train would start; and while he chatted with Jim who had come to see him off, the opening door revealed the portly form of Mr. Hastings, muffled to the throat in furs, and with the identical "Wolfie" thrown over his arm—newly lined indeed in brilliant red, but recognized in an instant by its soft peculiar fur, and familiar to Theodore as the face of an old friend. Instantly his memory traveled back to the scenes connected with that long-ago and well-remembered journey when "Wolfie" proved such a faithful friend to him. His face flushed at the thought of it, and yet the corners of his mouth quivered with laughter. He flushed at the memory of the wretched little vagrant that he was at that time, and he laughed at the recollection of "Wolfie's" protecting folds and the new and delicious sense of warmth that they imparted to him. What a curious world it was. There sat Mr. Hastings in front of him now, as he had sat then, a trifle older, more portly, but in all essential respects the same haughty, handsome gentleman. But what mortal could recognize in himself the little wretched vagabond known familiarly as "Tode Mall!" He tried to travel backward and imagine himself that young scamp who stole his passage from Albany to Buffalo, at which thought the blood rolled again into his face, and he felt an instinctive desire to go at once and seek out the proper authorities and pay for that surreptitious ride. Moreover, he resolved that being an honest man now it was his duty so to do, and that it should be the first item of business to which he would attend after leaving the cars. Then he glanced about him to see if he could establish his identity with the little ragged boy. A gentleman with gray hair and gold spectacles bowed and addressed him.
"Good-morning, Mr. Mallery. Going East far?"
This was the merchant whose store joined their own. He knew nothing about "Tode Mall," but he held intimate business relations with the junior partner of the great firm. Even Mr. Hastings bowed stiffly. Mr. Stephens' partner and the small boy who traveled in his company years before were two different persons even to him. At one of the branch stations that gentleman left the train, much to Theodore's regret, as he had a curious desire to follow him once more in his journeyings and note the contrasts time had made. Arrived in Albany, he looked with curious eyes on the familiar and yet unfamiliar streets. Every five minutes he met men whom he had known well in his boyhood. He recognized them instantly now. They did not look greatly changed to him, yet not a living soul knew him. He went into establishments from which he had been unceremoniously ordered, not to say kicked, years before, and presented their business card, "Stephens, Mallery & Co.," and was treated by those same business men with the utmost courtesy and cordiality. He went down some of the old familiar haunts, and could not feel that they had much improved. He met a bloated, disfigured, wretched looking man, and something in the peculiar slouching gate seemed familiar to him. He made inquiries, and found him to be the person whom he had half surmised, the old-time friend of his boyhood, Jerry, the only one who had had a word of half comfort to bestow on him when he landed in Albany that eventful night after his trip with Mr. Hastings, homeless and desolate. Jerry stared at him now, a drunken, sleepy stare, and then instinctively stood aside to let the gentleman pass, never dreaming that they had rolled in the same gutter many a time. Does it seem strange to you that during all these years Theodore had not long ere this returned to this old home of his and sought out that wretched father? Sometimes it seemed very strange to him. Don't imagine that he had not given it long and serious thought, but he had shrunken from it with unutterable terror and dismay; he had no loving, tender memories of his father—nothing but cruelty and drunkenness and sin by which to remember him. Still oftentimes during these later years he had told himself that he ought to seek out his father; he ought to make some effort to reclaim him. He had prayed for him constantly, fervently, had poured out his whole soul in that one great desire; still he knew and remembered that "faith without works is dead." He had made some effort, had written earnest appeals hot from his heart, to which he had received no sort of a reply. He had written to one and another in Albany, prominent names that he remembered, clergymen of the city as he learned their addresses, begging for some assistance in the search after his father. Each and all of these attempts had proved failures. To some of his letters he had received answers, courteous, Christian answers, and the gentlemen had lent him their time and aid, but to no purpose. Apparently the name and place of the poor, low rum-seller had faded from the memory of the Albanians. He had disappeared one night after a more tremendous drunken row than usual, and had never been seen or heard of since. This was all. And Theodore, baffled and discouraged, had yet constantly meant to come to the search in person, and as constantly had shrunken from setting out, and delayed and excused himself until the present time. Now, however, he intended to set about it with vigor. "No matter what he is, nor how low he has sunken, he is my father, and as such I owe him a duty; and I must constantly remember that it is not he of whom I have bitter memories, but rum, rum! rum!!" This he told himself with firmly set lips, and a white, determined face.
DAWN AND DARKNESS.
Tweddle Hall was reasonably full. The citizens of Albany had turned out well to do their townsman honor, howbeit they did not know that he had tumbled about in their gutters and straggled about their streets up almost to the verge of young manhood. Theodore had felt many misgivings since that day when he suddenly and almost unexpectedly to himself pledged his word to address an Albany audience on this evening; but he had three things to assist him. First, he was thoroughly and terribly in earnest; secondly, he was entirely posted on all the arguments for and against this mammoth subject of temperance—he had studied it carefully and diligently; and, finally, he always grew so tremendously indignant and sarcastic over the monstrous wrong, and the ridiculous and inconsistent opinions held by the masses, that in ten minutes after he commenced talking about it he would have forgotten his audience in his massive subject, even though the President and his Cabinet had been among them. So on this particular evening, his blood roused to the boiling point through brooding over the wrongs that had come to him by the help of this fiend, he spoke as he had no idea that he could speak. Had Mr. Stephens been one of his auditors his face might have glowed with pride over his protege. Had Mr. Birge been present to listen to the eloquent appeal his heart might have thanked God that the little yellow-haired boy who stood in solemn awe and took in the meaning of his mother's only prayer, had lived to answer it so fully and grandly in the city of his birth.
After the address there was a pledge circulated. Theodore was the first to write his name in bold, firm letters, and he remarked to the chairman as he wrote: "This is the fifteenth pledge that I have signed. I am prouder every time I write my name in one." There were many signers that evening, among them several whose tottering steps had to be steadied as they came forward. Then presently there came a pretty girl, leading with gentle hand the trembling form of an old man; both faces looked somewhat familiar to Theodore, yet he could not locate them.
"Who are those two?" he said, as the little girlish white hand steadied the feeble fingers of the old man.
"That is an interesting case. The girl has been the salvation of the old man; he is her grandfather. They belonged to a miserable set, the lowest of the low, but there seemed to be something more than human about the child. Her father was killed in a drunken broil, and her mother lay drunk at the time, and died soon after; but she clung to this old man, followed him everywhere, even to rum holes. She got mixed in with a mission Sabbath-school about that time, started down in that vile region where she lived; that was a great thing, too; it was sustained principally by an earnest young man by the name of Birge—and, by the way, I have heard that he has since become a minister and is preaching in Cleveland."
"He is my pastor," answered Theodore, while his eyes sparkled.
"Is it possible! Well, now, if that isn't a remarkable coincidence!"
Theodore knew of some more coincidences quite as remarkable, but he only said:
"And what further about this child?"
"Why, I really think she became a Christian, then and there, young as she was—not more than five or six. After that she followed up her grandfather more closely than ever. People have seen her kneel right down in the street, and ask God to 'make grandpa come home with her right away.' The old man gave up his rum after a time, though no one ever thought he would. He has since been converted, and they two are the most active temperance reformers that we have in the city. They are at every meeting, and are constantly signing pledges and leading up others to do so."
"What are their names?"
"He is Grandfather Potter—used to be known as 'old Toper Potter;' and she is known throughout the city as 'Little Kitty McKay.'"
"Why! she lived—" exclaimed Theodore; then he stopped. What possible use could there be in telling the chairman of this great meeting that "little Kitty McKay" lived in the attic of a certain house on Rensselaer Street at the same time that he lived in the basement; that her father was killed on the same night in which his mother died, and that in consequence of the fight and the murder, both of which took place in his father's rum cellar, he and his father had hurriedly decamped in the night, and wandered aimlessly for two years, thereby missing Mr. Birge's little mission school?
"What did you say, sir?" said the chairman, bending deferentially toward the distinguished orator of the evening.
"She lived in Albany during this time, did you say?"
"Oh yes, sir; she has never been out of this city."
And then, leaving the chairman to wonder what that could possibly have to do with the subject, Theodore bent eagerly forward. Two men were taking slow steps down the central aisle, trying to urge on the irresolute steps of the third—and the third one was Jerry! They were trying to get him forward to the pledge table. Would they succeed? It looked extremely doubtful. Jerry was shaking his head in answer to their low entreaties, and trying to turn back. Theodore arose suddenly, ran lightly down the steps, and advanced to his side.
"Jerry," he said, in distinct, low tones, "come; you used to be a good friend of mine, and I want you to do a good turn for me now, and sign this pledge."
Jerry turned bleared, rum-weakened eyes on him, and said in a thick, wondering voice:
"Who the dickens be you?"
"I'm an old friend of yours. Don't you know me? I used to be Tode Mall. Don't you remember? Come, take my arm; you and I have walked arm in arm down Broadway many a time; let us walk together now down this aisle and sign the pledge together."
For all answer Jerry turned astounded eyes upon the speaker, and muttered in an under tone:
"You be hanged! 'Tain't no such—yes, 'tis—no 'tain't—'tis, too—them's his eyes and his nose! I'll be shot if it ain't Tode Mall himself!"
"Yes," said Theodore, "I'm myself positively, and I want you to come with me and sign that pledge. I signed it years ago, and with God's help it has made a man of me. It will help you, Jerry. Come."
Great was the rustle of excitement in the hall as the notorious Jerry presently moved down the aisle leaning on the arm of the orator, and it began to be whispered through the crowd that he was once a resident of Albany, and actually a friend of that "dreadful Jerry Collins!" Many and wild were the surmises concerning him; but Theodore, all unconscious and indifferent, glowed with thankful pride as he steadied the pen in the trembling hand, and saw poor Jerry's name fairly written under the solemn pledge. On the morrow the eager search for the missing father was continued, aided by Jerry and by several others as it gradually began to dawn upon their minds who the father was, and who and what the son had become. Utterly in vain! Had the earth on some dark night opened suddenly and silently and swallowed him, he could not, it would seem, have passed more utterly from mortal knowledge than he had. As the search grew more fruitless Theodore's anxiety deepened. He prayed and mourned over that lost father, and it was with an unutterably sad heart that he finally dropped as a worthless straw the last seeming clew and gave him up.
There was one other sacred duty to perform. When the orphan son left Albany one winter morning there stood in one of the marble shops of the city, ready to be set up with the first breath of spring, a plain and simple tombstone bearing for record only these two words, "Dear Mother," and underneath this seemingly inappropriate inscription, understood only by himself, "Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear." The day was unusually cold in which Theodore, on his homeward journey, was delayed at a quiet little town. The Express train, due at three o'clock, had been telegraphed three hours behind time, and he took his way somewhat disconsolately to a dingy little hotel to pass the intervening hours as best he might. "Strange!" he muttered drearily, "that I should have been delayed just here, only forty miles from home, with not a single earthly object of interest to help pass the hours away." He went forward to the forlorn little parlor, where a few sticks of wet wood were sizzling and smoking, and vainly trying to burn in a little monster of a stove over in one corner. Theodore flung himself into a seat in front of this attempt at a fire, kept his overcoat on for the sake of warmth, and looked about him for some entertainment. He found it promptly. Thrown over the back of a chair in the opposite corner was a great fur overcoat, with a brilliant red lining, and an unmistakable something about it that distinguished it from all other overcoats in the world. Theodore knew at a glance that it belonged to Mr. Hastings. He started up and went toward it, smiling and saying within himself: "Is this furry creature my good or evil genius, this time, I wonder?" Then he went out to the horrible bar-room to make inquiries. The clerk knew nothing about Mr. Hastings; had never heard his name as he knew of. There was a man there, a stranger—had been for two days; he was sick, and they had put him to bed, and they were doing what they could for him. He had seemed unable to give his name or his residence. Paralysis, or something of that sort, he believed the doctor called it. It had begun with a kind of a fit. Yes, that fur overcoat belonged to him. Theodore requested to be shown immediately to the stranger's room. Alone, helpless, speechless, in the dingiest and most comfortless of rooms, he found Mr. Hastings! He went forward with eager, pitying haste, and spoke to the poor man—no answer, only a pitiful contortion of the face, and a hopeless attempt to raise the useless hand. Clearly there was work enough for the next three hours! With the promptness, not only natural in him, but added to by long habit, Theodore went to work. Under his orders the room assumed very speedily a different aspect; the attending physician was sent for and consulted with; he was a dull little man, but appeared to know enough to say that he didn't know what to do for the sick man. "It was a curious case; he had never seen its like before."
"Then why haven't you telegraphed for his own physician and friends?" questioned Theodore, indignantly.
"Why, bless your heart, sir!" exclaimed the proprietor of the hotel, "where would you have us telegraph, and to whom? He came here and fell down in a fit, and hasn't spoken since; and he had no baggage nor papers about him, so far as I can find, for it was precious little he would let me look. I assure you we have done our best," he added, in an injured tone.
Theodore apologised for his suspicious words; and failing to get even a nod from the sick man, to show that he understood his eager questions, acted on his own responsibility, and made all haste to the telegraph office. There he dispatched separate messages to Mrs. Hastings and Pliny, adding to Pliny's the words, "Bring a doctor." To Mr. Stephens he said, "Unavoidably detained." Then one, utterly on his own private responsibility, to Dr. Arnold, "Will you come to C—— by first train? A case of life and death." After that there was nothing to do but wait. Another sick-bed! Theodore sat down beside it in solemn wonderment over the incidents, many and varied, that were constantly bringing him in contact with this man and his family. The great troubled eyes of the sick man followed his every movement, and he could not resist the impression that at last they seemed to recognize him and take in some thought of hope. It seemed terrible, this living death, this unutterable silence, and yet those staring eyes, he did not know whether it was a hopeful indication or otherwise, but at last they closed and the sufferer seemed to sleep heavily. Wearily passed the hours; he chose not to leave his charge to meet the two o'clock train, but sent a carriage and waited in nervous torture for the whistle of the train. At last there was a sound of arrival, and eager voices of inquiry below. He left in charge the stupid little doctor, who was doing his utmost to keep awake, and went down stairs. They were all there, frightened and inquiring—Mrs. Hastings, Dora, Pliny, and, oh joy! Dr. Arnold himself! Theodore threw open the door of the dingy parlor.
"Come in, please all of you," he said, in a tone of gentle authority; "and be as quiet as possible." Nevertheless they all talked at once.
"Is it a fever?" Mrs. Hastings asked, shivering and cowering in a frightened way over the wretch of a stove.
"What is it, Mallery?" Pliny asked in the same breath; while even the taciturn doctor questioned, "What is the meaning of my imperative summons?"
For them all Theodore had prompt answers.
"No, madam"—to Mrs. Hastings—"Not a fever, I think. Pliny, I hardly know what it is—the doctor in attendance seems equally ignorant. Dr. Arnold, if you will come with me, and these friends will wait a few moments, perhaps I can bring them an encouraging report."
In this commotion only Dora kept white, silent lips, nerved herself as best she could for whatever this night was to bring forth, and waited. Theodore could not resist going over to her for an instant. She turned quickly to him, and laid a small quivering hand on his arm—
"Mr. Mallery, I know you will tell me the truth!"
"The entire truth, Miss Dora, just as soon as I know it. I do not know how much the danger is; yet, meantime, flee to the Strong for strength. Will you come, Dr. Arnold?"
Pliny followed, and the three moved silently up to the quiet chamber. Dr. Arnold stood quietly before the sleeper—felt his pulse, bent his head and listened to the beating heart, touched with practiced fingers the swollen veins in his temples, then stood up and turned toward the waiting gentlemen.
"Well, doctor?" said Theodore, with nervous impatience, while Pliny fairly held his breath to hear the answer; it came distinct and firm from the doctor's lips—not harshly, but with terrible truthfulness:
"He is entirely beyond human aid, Mr. Mallery!"
Then the room seemed to Pliny suddenly to reel and pitch forward, and both doctors were busy, not with the father, but the son.
What a fearful night it was! Pliny's shattered nervous system was not strong enough to endure the shock. Mrs. Hastings went from one fainting fit to another, with wild shrieks of anguish between—but all sound that escaped Dora, when Theodore gently and tenderly told her "the truth," was, "Oh, God, have mercy!" and the rest of that night she spent at her father's bedside, on her knees.
It was high noon before his heavy slumber changed to that unending sleep, but the change came—without word or sound or the quiver of a muscle—suddenly, touched by its Maker's hand, the busy heart stopped.
"Can you get through the rest of this fearful scene without me?" Dr. Arnold asked in the afternoon when all was over. "I must go home. I have had three telegrams this morning. Dr. Armitage is ill again, and his wife has sent for me. I will try to make all arrangements for you in the city, if you think you can get along."
"Yes," said Theodore, "I can manage. Pliny is up again, you know. But, doctor, tell me what this sickness was. What was the cause of the sudden death?"
"Rum!" said the doctor, in short, stern tones. "That is, an over-dose of brandy was the immediate cause of the fit, and the continued use of stimulants through many years the cause of the paralysis. It is just another instance of a rum murder—that's hard language, but it's true—and the son is fearfully predisposed to follow in his father's footsteps. I fear for him."
"Pliny has overcome that predisposition at last, I hope and trust. I think he is safe now."
"They are never safe, I think sometimes, until they are in their graves," answered the doctor, moodily.
"Or in the 'Everlasting Arms,'" returned Theodore, reverently. But while this conversation was in progress, there was a more dangerous one going on up-stairs. Mrs. Hastings had recovered from her swoons, but was lying in a state of semi-exhaustion in her room. She raised her head languidly as she heard Pliny's step, and gave her orders for the night.
"Pliny, you will have to take the room that opens into this, for the night. I am too nervous to be left alone. Dora is going to have the room on the other side of the hall. She doesn't mind it in the least, she says. I wish I had her nerves; and, Pliny, I feel that distressing faintness every few minutes. You may order a bottle of wine brought up, then pour out a glass and set it on that light stand by my bedside; then do try to have the house quiet—the utter inconsiderateness of some people is surprising!"
Had Theodore been less occupied, or been at that moment within hearing, he would have contrived to have these orders countermanded, or at least carried out by some one besides Pliny; but he was making final arrangements with the doctor in regard to meeting him on the next morning's train, so he knew nothing about that fatal bottle of wine.
"There is barely time for us to reach the cars," said Theodore, hurriedly, the next morning, not turning his head from his valise to look at the new-comer, but knowing by the step that it was Pliny.
"I am sorry that we shall have to hurry your mother and sister so. How are you feeling? Did you get any rest last night, my poor fellow?"
"Feeling like a spinning-wheel going round backward and tipping over every now and then," Pliny answered, in a thick, unnatural voice, and then Theodore let valise and bundle and keys drop to the floor together, and turned a face blanched with horror and dismay upon his friend. There was no disguising the fearful fact—Pliny had been drinking, and even then did not know in the least what he was about, or what was expected from him. Removed by just a flight of stairs from his father's corpse, having the charge of his mother on one side, and his young sister on the other, he yet had forgotten it all, and lost himself in rum. Poor, wretched Pliny! Poor Theodore as well! Which way should he turn? What do or say next? How could he help yielding to utter despair? There were circumstances about it that he did not know of; he knew nothing yet about that bottle of wine, nor how Pliny had trembled before it; how he had walked his floor and struggled with the evil spirit; how he had even dropped upon his knees and tried to pray for strength; how he had even lain down at last, considering the tempter vanquished; how it was not until he was called toward morning to minister to his mother's needs, and she had said, as she set down the wine-glass:
"How deathly pale you look, Pliny! Take a swallow of wine; it will strengthen you, and we all need to keep up our strength for this fearful day. Just try it, dear—I know it will help you!"
Then, indeed, had Pliny's courage failed him; he took the glass from his mother's offering hand, and drained its contents. After that you might as soon have tried to chain a tiger with a silken thread as to save Pliny when once that awful appetite had been again aroused. Wine was as nothing to him, but he was in a regularly licensed hotel, and there was plenty of liquid fire displayed in a respectable and proper manner in the bar-room. Thither he went, and speedily put himself in such a state that he whistled and yelled and sang while his father's coffin was being carried down stairs.
Now, what was Theodore to do? He flung himself into a chair opposite his bed, where Pliny had just sense enough left to throw himself, and tried to think. Dora first—this knowledge, or if that were not possible, at least this sight, must be spared her. But there was no time to spare—he resolutely put down the heavy bitter feelings at his heart, and thought hard and fast. Then he hastened down stairs. "I want two carriages instead of one," he said to the landlord, who long ere this had felt a dawning of the importance and wealth of this company that he was entertaining, and was all attention.
The second carriage was obtained, and Pliny, with the aid of the little doctor, who had proved himself kind-hearted and discreet, was gotten into it.
"Where is Pliny?" queried Mrs. Hastings, as, after much trouble and delay, she stood ready for Theodore's offered arm.
"He has gone ahead with the baggage," was Theodore's brief explanation. Then he hurried them so that there was no time for further questioning, though Mrs. Hastings found chance to say that, "It was a very singular arrangement—that she should suppose his mother and sister were of more importance than the baggage." The train was in when they reached the depot; but the faithful little doctor had obeyed Theodore's instructions to the very letter—seating Pliny in the rear car, and checking baggage and purchasing tickets for the entire party. When they were seated and moving, Theodore left the ladies and sought out Pliny. He occupied a full seat, and was asleep. With a relieved sigh, Theodore returned to the mother and daughter—evaded the questions of the former as best he could, speaking of headache and faintness, both of which troubles Pliny undoubtedly had—but the great truthful eyes of Dora sought for, and found the truth in his.
"Don't despair," he said to her, gently, even while his own heart was heavy with something very like that feeling. "The Lord knows all about it. He will not forsake us."
It was not to be supposed that a car ride of scarcely two hours would steady poor Pliny's brain. Theodore had thought of that, and prepared for saving him any unnecessary disgrace. McPherson, sitting in the little office back of his "Temperance House" that morning, saw a boy approaching with a telegram for him. It read:
"Meet the 10.20 Express with a close carriage.
So, when the train steamed into the depot, the first person whom Theodore saw was the faithful Jim. A few hurried words between them explained matters, and Pliny was quietly helped by Jim and Mr. Stephens into the close carriage and whirled away before Theodore had possessed himself of all of Mrs. Hastings' extra shawls and wraps.
DEATH AND LIFE.
There had been a grand and solemn funeral. A long line of splendid coaches had followed the millionaire to his last resting-place. Rosewood and silver and velvet and crape had united to do him honor. Many stores in the city were closed because Mr. Hastings had extensive business connections with them. The hotels were closed because Mr. Hastings owned three of the largest; the Euclid House was shuttered and bolted, and long lines of heavy crape floated from the numerous doors. Many hats had been uplifted, many gray heads bared, while the closing words of the solemn burial service were once more repeated, and then the mourners had returned to their places, and the long line of carriages had swept back, and the city had taken down its shutters and opened its doors again, and the world had rushed onward as before. Only in that one home—there the desolation tarried. Through all the trouble and the pain Theodore had been with them constantly. That first day he had accompanied them home of necessity, their rightful protector being still in his drunken sleep. Arrived there, they needed help and comfort even more than they had before. There were friends by the hundreds, but Theodore could not fail to see that while Mrs. Hastings appeared incapable of directing, and indeed very indifferent as to what was done, Dora turned steadily and constantly to him for advice and assistance. Pliny was prevailed upon to go at once to his room, and was very soon asleep. When the wretched stupor of sleep had worn itself out upon him, and left the fearful headache to throb in his temples, Theodore was at his side, grave and sad and silent, but patient still, and gentle as a woman. Only a few words passed between them, Pliny speaking first in a cold, hard tone.
"Go away, Mallery, and let me alone—everything is over. All I ask of you is to send me a bottle of brandy, and never let me see your face again."
Theodore's only answer was to dip his hand again into cool water, and pass it gently over the burning temples; then he said:
"I think it would be well to lie still, Pliny. They do not need you below at present, and your head is very hot."
Pliny pushed feebly with his hand.
"Go away, Mallery, I can not endure the sight of you. It is all over, I say. I will never try again."
Very quietly and steadily went the firm, cool hand across his forehead, and the voice that answered him was quiet and firm.
"No, I shall not leave you, dear friend, and all is not over. You are going to try harder than ever before, and I am never going to give you up—NEVER!"
Silence for a little, then Pliny said:
"Then don't leave me, Theodore, not for an instant, day or night—promise."
And Theodore, ignoring all the strangeness of his position, promised, and remained in the house, the watcher-guard and helper of more than Pliny.
Not for an instant did he lose sight of his friend; through all the trying ordeal of the following days he was constantly present. Even in Pliny's private interviews with his mother, Theodore hovered near, and his was the first face that Pliny met when he came to the door to issue any orders. It was Theodore's hand that held open the carriage door when the son came to follow his father to his final resting-place, and it was Theodore's arm that was linked in his when he walked down the hall on his return.
These were sad things to Theodore in another way. Despite all Mr. Hastings' coldness to him, he had never been able to lose sight of the memory of those days, now long gone by, in which the rich man had in a sense been his protector and friend. He could not forget that it was through him that his first step upward had been taken. Aside from his mother, Mr. Hastings was perhaps the first person for whom he felt a touch of love. He could not forget him—could not cease to mourn for him.
There was, only a week after this, another funeral. There was no long line of coaches, and no display of magnificence this time—only a quiet, slow-moving procession following the unplumed hearse. Only one store in the city was closed, and not a hundred people knew for whom the bell tolled that day; but did ever truer mourners or more bleeding hearts follow a coffin to its final resting-place than were those who gathered around that open grave, and saw the body of Grandma McPherson laid to rest for awhile, awaiting the call of the great Maker, when he should bid it come up to meet its glorified spirit, and dwell in that wonderful Forever!
The messenger came suddenly to her, in the quiet of a moonlight night, when all the household were asleep; and none who saw her in the morning, with that blessed look upon her face, that told of earth receding and heaven coming in, could doubt but that when in the silent night she heard the Master whisper, "Come up higher," she made answer, "Even so, Lord Jesus."
So they laid her in the silent city on the hill, very near the spot where, by and by, there towered and blazed Mr. Hastings' monument; but when they set up her white headstone they marked on it the blessed words: "So he giveth his beloved sleep."
But oh, that home left without a mother—the dear, loving, toiling, patient, self-sacrificing mother!
"Dear old lady," were the words in which Theodore had most often thought of her, and I find on thinking back that I have constantly spoken of her thus, but in reality she was not old at all; her early life of toil and privation and sorrow had whitened her hair and marked heavy lines as of age on her face. Her quaint dress gave added strength to this impression, and Theodore when he first met her was at that age when all women in caps and spectacles are old, so "Grandma" she had always been to him, but they only wrote "sixty-three" on her coffin.
They were sitting together, Theodore and Pliny, the first evening they had spent alone since the changes had come to them. They were in their pleasant room which must soon be vacated, for the guiding presence that had made of them a family was wanting now. They had not been talking, only the quietest common-places—neither of them seemed to have words that they chose to utter. They were sitting in listless attitudes, each occupying a great arm-chair, which they called "study-chairs." Theodore with his hands clasped at the back of his head, and Pliny with his face half hidden in his hands. The latter was the first to break the silence.
"Mallery, you are such a wonderment to me! What is there about me that makes you cling so? I thought it was all over during that awful time. I don't know how you can help despising me, but you don't know how it was. Oh, Theodore, I tried, I struggled, I meant to keep my promise, and even at such a time as that the sight of my enemy conquered me. Now, what am I to do? There is no hope for me at all. I have no trust, no confidence in myself."
"That at least would be hopeful if it were strictly true," Theodore answered, earnestly. "But, Pliny, it is not quite true. If you utterly distrusted yourself, so utterly that you would stop trying to save yourself alone, and accept the All-powerful Helper's aid, I should be at rest about you forever."
Contrary to his usual custom, Pliny had no answer ready, seemed not in the least inclined to argue, and so Theodore only dropped a little sigh and waited. It was not despair with him during these days—his faith had reached high ground. "Ask, and ye shall receive," had come home to him with wonderful force just lately, while he waited on his knees; he felt that he should never let go again for a moment. Still there seemed nothing now for him to do, nothing but that constant watching and constant praying; and he had only lately come to realize how much these two things meant. Presently, sitting there in the silence, he bethought himself of Winny in her desolation.
"Pliny," he said, suddenly, "shall not you and I go down and try to help poor Winny endure her loneliness? Do you know she is utterly alone? Rick's wife is in her room with the child, and Rick and Jim just went down the walk together."
Pliny seemed nothing loth, and the two descended to the dear little parlor where so many happy hours had been passed. Winny had turned down the gas to its lowest ebb, and was curled into a corner of the sofa, giving up to the form of grief in which she most indulged—utter, white silence. She sat erect as the two young men entered, and Theodore turned on the gas; Pliny took the other corner of the sofa, and Theodore the chair opposite them. He looked from one to the other of the white worn faces. What utter misery was expressed on both! A great longing came over him to comfort them. But what comfort could he offer for such troubles as theirs, save the one thing that both rejected? He gave voice to his thoughts almost without intending it, with no other feeling than that his great pity and desire for them were beyond his control.
"How much, how very much, you two people need the same help! What utter nothingness any other aid is. I have not the heart to offer either of you the mockery of human sympathy," he spoke in gentle, sad tones, and straight way was startled with himself for speaking at all. Winny turned her great gray solemn eyes on her companion in the other corner.
"Do you feel the need of help?" she asked, gravely. "Heaven knows I do feel the need of something I don't possess. I am utterly shipwrecked. I don't know which way to turn. I do, if I only would turn that way. Mother had help all her life long—help that you and I know nothing about. Do you doubt that?"
"No, I don't," answered Pliny, solemnly.
"Then why can't we have it if we both need it, and can get it for the asking? Mother prayed for you as well as for me. The very last night of her life I heard her. I know what she prayed for is so. I'm tired of struggling. I've been at it, Theodore knows, for a great many years. If mother were here to-night I would say to her: 'Mother, I'm not going to struggle any more; I'm going to give myself up,' and that would make her happy—oh, too happy for earth. Well, I'm going to, anyway. I'm sick of myself; I want to get away from myself; I need help. You've struggled, too; I know by myself. Suppose we both give up. Suppose we both kneel down here this minute, and say that we are tired of ourselves, and ashamed of ourselves and we want Christ. Theodore will say it for us. Will you do it, Mr. Hastings?"
She had spoken rapidly and with the same energy that characterized all her words, but with solemn earnestness. Pliny bowed his head on his two hands, while utter silence reigned; and Theodore, wonder-struck over the turn that the conversation had taken, yet had breath enough left to say
"Lord Jesus, help them, help them. Oh, remember Calvary and the 'many mansions,' and help them both. Let the decision be now." This prayer he repeated and re-repeated. Then suddenly Pliny arose.
"If ever any one on earth needed help and strength it is I," he said, hoarsely. "Yes, I want to give up if I can," and he dropped upon his knees.
In an instant Winny was kneeling, and Theodore's whole soul was being poured out in prayer for those two. A moment and then Pliny, in low, hoarse voice said:
"Lord, help me; I am sinking in deep waters." And Winny added: "Savior of my mother, I am sick of sin; take me out of myself and into thee."
When they arose Theodore stole quietly from the room and left them alone. He went up to his own closet and prayed such prayer of thanksgiving as was recorded in heaven that night, and the angels around the throne had great joy.
* * * * *
Not yet were the shocks and changes coming to these households over. Not two weeks had the millionaire been sleeping his last sleep, when there burst like a bombshell on the business world the startling news that his millions had vanished into vapor, or perhaps it would be speaking more properly to say into poison. Strange, wild speculations, that the acute, far-sighted business man would never have touched for a moment had he been himself, had been entered into while his brain was struggling with the fumes of brandy. Notes had been signed, sales had been made and debts contracted upon an enormous scale; in short, the whole business was in a bewildering entanglement.
"There won't be five thousand dollars left out of the whole immense property," said Edgar Ryan, one of the lawyers in charge, at the close of a confidential conversation with Theodore, and Theodore, like the rest of the world, stood for a little stunned and aghast over this new calamity.
"I never saw such a tangle in all my days," continued Ryan, earnestly. "The amount of property shipwrecked is almost incredible. The man was never intoxicated in his life, and yet it may be truthfully said of him that he has let rum swallow all his millions. I tell you, Mallery, you and Habakkuk were undoubtedly correct."
Theodore turned and walked soberly and wearily away. He had not the heart just then to smile over the memory of anything. There followed weary, anxious, harassing days—days in which Pliny remained doggedly behind the counter, and Theodore almost entirely ignored the store, and gave himself up to following the footsteps of appraisers and auctioneers and policemen, and in trying to shield Mrs. Hastings and Dora, for the red flag floated out from the grand mansion proudly known for years as Hastings' Hall. Oh change! Can anything in all time be compared in swiftness and sharpness and terror to that monster who swoops down upon our hearts and homes, and almost in the twinkling of an eye leaves them desolate? Oh heaven! With all its glories and its joys, can anything in all the bright description equal in peace and rest and comfort that one precious sentence which admits of no thought of change: "And they shall reign forever and ever?"
There were plans innumerable to be made and acted upon. Rick and his wife had gone back ere this to their Western home. Winny had steadily refused their urgent petitions to accompany them, and worked faithfully on in her honored position in one of the great graded schools. She and Jim had taken board together in a quiet house as far removed from the dear old home as possible. Mrs. Hastings had promptly accepted the invitation of her husband's brother in Chicago. The invitation had also been extended to Dora, and she had as promptly declined it. Her strong, independent nature asserted itself here. She would not go to live a dependent in her uncle's home. She would not teach music, for which she pronounced herself unfitted by nature and education; but she would take the boys' room next to Winny's in the aforesaid graded school, and share the quiet little room in the boarding house, whither Winny had carried many of her household treasures.
* * * * *
It was all settled at last, and when Mrs. Hastings was ticketed and checked for Chicago under the escort of one of the firm who was going thither, and the young ladies were quietly domiciled in their new and pleasant room, Pliny and Theodore came to the first breathing place they had found for many a day, and felt absolutely forlorn and disconsolate. They were together in the store, the last clerk had departed, and their loneliness only served to add to their sense of gloom.
"Well," said Pliny, closing the ledger with a heavy sigh, "if we had a local habitation we'd go to it now, wouldn't we?"
"Probably," answered Theodore, drumming on the counter with his fingers. "Where are we going to live, Pliny, anyway?"
"More than I know," was Pliny's gloomy answer. "In the street for all I seem to care just at present."
And then the office door clicked behind them, and Mr. Stephens appeared.
"I thought you were gone, sir," said Pliny, rising in surprise.
"No, I was waiting your movements. Come, young gentlemen, I want you both to come home with me. There is no use in remonstrating, my boy," he added, laying his hand on Theodore's shoulder, as the latter would have spoken. "I have had your and Pliny's rooms ready for you this week past, and have only waited until you were at leisure to take possession. I keep bachelor's hall, you know, and if ever a man needed something new and fresh about him I do. So do as I want you to for once, just to see how it will seem."
There was much talk about the matter, argument and counter argument; but in the end Mr. Stephens prevailed, as in reality he generally did, when he set his heart upon a thing, despite his statements that Theodore kept him under complete control. Before another week closed the two young men were cozily settled in their new quarters, and really feeling as much at home as though half their lives had been spent there.
There was one other matter which came to Theodore as a source of great satisfaction.
"Mallery," Mr. Stephens had said to him one morning when they were quite alone in the private office, "have you any special interest in the Hastings' place?"
Theodore hesitated a little, and then answered frankly enough:
"Yes, sir, I certainly have. There are many associations connected with that house that will always endear it to me."
"Then you may be interested to know that I have become the purchaser of it; and if at any time, for any reason, you should wish to make special disposition of it, it shall always be in a state to await your orders. Real estate is valuable property, and as good a way as any in which to dispose of surplus funds."
Theodore came out from behind the screen to try to offer some word of thanks, but Mr. Stephens had pushed open the green baize door and vanished.
SOME MORE BABIES.
Mrs. Jenkins' Tommy stood on the sidewalk in front of the store, in a nicely fitting new suit, white vest and kid gloves. It was not yet the middle of the afternoon, but the great store was closed and shuttered and barred. A gentleman came briskly down the street and halted before the young man, with a surprised look on his face as he questioned: