"Wal," he said, gazing around and above him, up at the lofty frescoed ceiling, the sparkling crystal chandelier, the rich curtains, and other adornments of the house,—"wal, it does beat all! It goes ahead of any meetin'-house I ever see; an', I say, 'tain't fair on the Almighty to be makin' a better place for to be pleasurin' in, than what we makes for him to be praised in. Yes, sir; an' them's my opinions, an' I stands by 'em. What's them folks up in them little cubby-holes fur?" pointing to the boxes. "Oh," as Douglas explained, "they's high an' mighty, be they? can't set along of the multitude? Wal, every man, an' woman too, to her own likin'; I'd as lief be here. Seems kinder conspicuous like, settin' up thar, an' whiles I ain't ashamed to show my face afore no man, I don't hanker after settin' up to be stared at."
Happily the occupants of the boxes were beyond the reach of his voice, or at least of the tenor of his remarks; but the boys were on tenterhooks lest their garrulous companion should give offence. But from the moment that the curtain went up, and the mimic scene presented itself to his gaze, he sat spell-bound and silent, perfectly absorbed in the vivid portrayal of the chief character in the drama.
The great actor appeared first in the role of a celebrated man of his own profession, an actor of bygone days, whose name will always be famous; and from the moment that he stepped upon the stage, it was all reality to Captain Yorke. There was no "pretendin' he was other folks," to him, as it had been when he had witnessed the amateur theatricals and tableaux at the Point; and with a hand upon either knee, he leaned eagerly forward, his eyes fixed upon the scene before him, and absolutely speechless in his breathless interest. But when the curtain came down after the first act, he broke forth again to the edification and delight of those within hearing. Ladies listened and smiled at the simple-hearted old man; and gentlemen, who were near enough, encouraged him to ramble on, evidently considering him a novel species of entertainment, second only to that which was passing upon the stage. He was a character as good as any there.
Norman, enchanted with the sensation his charge was making, would put no check upon him; but the more shrinking Douglas was not so well pleased. Still, seeing that no offence was given, but rather the contrary, he possessed his soul in patience, devoutly wishing, however, that it was time for the close of the performance, which, under these circumstances, afforded him no pleasure. And as the captain's excitement grew with each succeeding act, and the encouragement of those about him, and he grew more and more superior to considerations of time and place, Douglas would fain have quitted his seat and the theatre; and was only restrained from doing so, because he thought it would be mean to leave Norman in the lurch.
At length came the farce "Dundreary Married;" and the captain, who, it afterwards appeared, had in former years suffered divers things at the hand of an obnoxious mother-in-law, grew more excited than ever, and became furiously indignant, not only at the all-assuming lady, but also at the supine Dundreary, who allowed himself to be thus imposed upon. He grumbled and muttered, and really seemed as if he would make for the stage, as he said, "to give the old creetur a piece of his mind." Even Norman was now uneasy lest he should make more demonstration than was meet, while Douglas did his best to induce both his companions to come out; but the captain was immovable, and not to be persuaded. Indeed, he scarcely seemed to heed Douglas's arguments, so intent was he on the fortunes of the persecuted husband. His delight when that hero showed symptoms of some spirit was unbounded; and when at last he roused himself altogether from the laisser aller which had suffered so long and patiently, and fairly bade the lady leave his house and his wife to his own authority and protection, the old man sprang to his feet, and, waving his hat in the air, exclaimed in a voice which rang in stentorian tones through the house,—
"Pitch into her, my lad! Give it to her! That's right. Pitch into the mother-in-law!"
The effect, as may be imagined, was electric. There was a moment's pause, then a laugh; then, as Norman and Douglas fairly dragged and hustled the captain into his seat, the inimitable actor bowed and waved his hand to the old man, who had, as it were, paid such an involuntary tribute to his powers; and the next moment a storm of applause broke forth, in compliment to both, it would appear,—to the gratified actor, who had thrown his spell over the guileless old sailor to such an extent as to render him insensible to aught else, and to the innocent spectator who had been thus impressed by his matchless impersonations. As the performance came to a close, and the audience were leaving the house, the captain the centre of all eyes around him, an usher made his way to him, bearing a request from the star that he would step behind the scenes and shake hands with him.
Nothing loath, the captain readily consented, inviting the boys to go with him; but this Douglas, much disturbed by the notoriety of the evening, flatly refused, while bold Norman, who had no fear of man before his eyes, agreed to accompany him. Indeed, it was not safe to lose sight of him; there was no knowing of what vagaries the captain might be guilty if he were left entirely to his own devices. Norman felt that he was capable of any thing, and that he must keep a secure hold upon him. Moreover, the old man was not at all familiar with the city streets, and he must be guided safely to his boarding-house.
When they arrived behind the scenes, the great actor shook hands heartily with the old seaman, thanking him for the tribute which he had paid him. But here the captain's enthusiasm fell flat. Meeting the object of his sympathy face to face, and as man to man, and finding that the interesting scenes he had just witnessed were but an inimitable mimicry, was a great disappointment; and he seemed to feel wronged and defrauded in some way.
"There warn't nothin' real about it," he said indignantly and in a hurt tone to the boys, as they took their way homeward. "There warn't nothin' true at all. There bean't no mother-in-law, nor wife, nor nothin'; there warn't even any chap with the long whiskers, for it warn't hisself at all, though he said it was—that t'other one shook han's with me, and said I'd give him a big compliment. 'Twas all purtendin' an' makin' b'lieve. It's a shame an' a sin for to go makin' out so life-like ye are what ye ain't, an' takin' folks in so. It's kinder cheatin' play, I think; an' Mis' Yorke, she wurn't jes' so easy in her min' 'bout me goin' to the theayter, an' I reckon I've come to her way of thinkin'; an' thank ye kindly, boys, but there'll be no more theayter-goin' fur me. The Scriptur says, 'A fool an' his money is soon parted,' an'—meanin' no ungratefulness to you, boys—I've faith to b'lieve it; for it's not good manners, neither good deeds, to make out that way, an' take folks in. An' them's my opinions, an' I'll stan' by 'em!"
The last thing the boys heard, as the door of his temporary home closed upon him, was, "No more theayters for me; they're clean agin' Scriptur."
This, of course, was great fun for our frolicsome Norman, always ready for a joke or a good story; and although Douglas had not taken unalloyed pleasure in the events of the evening, he, too, could see the droll side of them now that they were over. They were rehearsed with great glee at the breakfast-table the next morning; and it occurred to me that here, if he chose to use it, was the opportunity for Jim to revenge himself for some of the sneers cast upon him by Theodore Yorke. I was wicked enough, however, not to suggest the idea to any one else, lest a word of warning or counsel should restrain him; and in the sequel Jim proved himself far the better Christian of the two, in spite of the superior advantages which had always been mine.
This happened to be Friday, when he brought home from school his weekly report, which he always took at once to Milly. The record for this week proved an unusually favorable one; but he had more to add to this.
"Miss Milly," he said, after she had expressed her pleasure at the progress he was making and at his standing in "conduct,"—"Miss Milly, I was real forgivin' an' like livin' up to the mark you sot us for doin' unto others, in school to-day. But it does come awful hard, when you get the chance to pay off a feller, to let it slip; an' I don't know as I could have done it if it hadn't been for thinkin' of the old captain himself, an' how good he'd been to me, an' that I wouldn't like to go back on him."
Light flashed upon Milly. The boy had been tempted to make use of the occurrences of the preceding evening to revenge himself upon Theodore Yorke for his previous slights and insults; and had refrained, chiefly from loyalty to his old friend, it is true, but, perhaps, partly prompted by the wish to do right.
It had so happened, that two boys in the class had been at the theatre also, and had been witnesses of the captain's antics, but without knowing who he was, or of his connection with Theodore. In recess they told the story, doubtless with more or less of exaggeration, of the old countryman who had made himself so conspicuous and—according to their showing—so ridiculous at last night's entertainment.
Of course Jim at once recognized the hero of the tale; but not so Theodore, his grandfather having, for a wonder, preserved a discreet silence on the subject, being totally unaware that he had exhibited himself in an unusual way on the occasion. Perhaps the poor captain had felt a little mortified that he had been so carried away by that which was, after all, "on'y pretendin'," and did not care to rehearse his experience.
However that may be, Theodore had heard nothing of it, and laughed and jeered with the other boys at the more than graphic relation of his two schoolmates.
Strong was the temptation to Jim to expose him, and to draw upon his enemy the laugh which must follow; but, to his credit be it said, he refrained, except in so far as to give him a knowing look which conveyed to that amiable youth the conviction that it was no other than his grandfather who was furnishing food for merriment to half the school, and that Jim was aware of it and held this rod over him. The knowledge that this was so was not calculated to soften Theodore's animosity toward Jim. Disposed as he was to raise a laugh or a sneer at the expense of another, he could not endure them himself; and to feel that he was thus in the power of the boy whom he hated, was intolerable to him. From this time, however, it gave him a wholesome awe of Jim, and proved a check upon him; and "Jim Grant Garfield Rutherford Livingstone Washington" rang less often over the playground, now that he ceased to lead in the cry upon the claimant of so many names.
"Amy, what are you pondering?"
"Men and things in general and their iniquities in particular; my own not being included, they being nothing worth speaking of," I answered, rather evasively, not being disposed at present to make public the nature of my cogitations, which really had to do with my own shortcomings.
"We will pass over the modesty of the remark," said Bessie Sanford, "but we insist upon knowing—do we not, Milly?—the tenor of the meditations which have actually kept you quiet for—let me see—I think it must be full two minutes by the clock."
"That inquisitive spirit of yours needs repression, Elizabeth," I said: "therefore I shall not yield to your demands."
"Then bid farewell to peace," was the rejoinder. And knowing Elizabeth Sanford well, I meditated a precipitate flight; but she divined my intention, and, seizing upon me, held me prisoner, and made good her threat until I succumbed, first freeing my mind of my opinion as to the conduct of my captor.
"Never mind. We will leave the results of that case to the future," she said; "the present question has only to do with yourself, and the unburdening of your secrets. Your inward communings are of such rare occurrence, that when you do indulge in them, your friends are entitled to benefit by them.—Is it not so, Milly?"
"Reap what benefit you may, then," I answered. "I was thinking how I was going to waste."
"H'm'm," said Bessie, releasing her grasp upon my shoulders, and gazing with an air of deep meditation out of the window near which we sat. "Fred Winston would doubtless feel complimented by that sage conclusion; but if you feel so decidedly that you are throwing yourself away, it is not yet too late for you to draw back, and——"
"Your remarks are too frivolous to bear the consideration of a well-balanced mind, Elizabeth," I interrupted, "and therefore I decline to notice them further than to say that you are entirely wide of the mark. Perhaps I did not express myself in language as choice as I might have used; but what I meant to say was—to quote the copy-books—that 'opportunities imply obligations,' and that, while my opportunities are many, the obligations arising therefrom have not been fulfilled."
I had spoken jokingly, almost mockingly, nevertheless I really meant what I said; but any thing like a sober reflection or solemn view of life's duties was so new from me, that for a moment my sister and friend were struck dumb with astonishment.
Then Bessie gave vent to a smothered groan.
"Listen to the words of wisdom!" she ejaculated. "The depth of her! And whence and since when, may I inquire, arises thus suddenly so solemn a view of your responsibilities? They are not wont to weigh upon your mind."
"That is just it," I said. "I am in earnest, not in joke, whatever you may think. It has, rather suddenly I allow, dawned upon me, that I am a perfectly useless member of society; or rather, the conviction has been forced upon me by the words of Allie, whom I overheard informing Daisy that I was very nice and lovely, but the uselessest person in the house. Loyal Daisy was indignant, and questioned the justice of the remark; but it opened up a field of reflection to me, and I am obliged to admit its truth. Since I left school last spring, what have I done but amuse myself, and attend readings and lectures, which amounts to the same thing, as the motive is purely selfish?"
"You have made 'food for the gods,'" said Bessie demurely.
I turned upon her.
"For that remark you shall have cause to regret that you ever were born," I retorted, "and I would not have believed it of you, Bessie. But seriously, girls, I am longing for an object in life on which I can expend some of the capabilities of which I feel myself possessed."
"I thought you had been supplied with one since the 15th of last November," said Bessie, "but——"
"Will you leave that subject out of the question?" I again interrupted. "If not, there will be trouble between the houses of Sanford and Livingstone."
"Why can't you two be what Daisy calls 'common-sensible,' and tell what is at the bottom of all this?" said Milly, joining for the first time in the conversation.
"I am sure that I am showing an unusual amount of common-sense," I rejoined, "for I have in all seriousness just awakened to a sense of my shortcomings towards humanity in general, and am longing for an object on which to expend my superfluous energies. You, Milly, have your charges, Bill and Jim, whom you have rescued from lives of shame and crime, and who are standing monuments of the efficacy of your zeal, self-sacrifice, and good sense in their behalf (no, you need not courtesy); and Bessie has her old ladies to whom she so religiously devotes one afternoon in every week, no matter what temptations assail her in other directions, and who simply adore her, and for whom she does many a little kind office at divers other times. But who, outside of our family, to whose happiness I add, of course, because I am their own Amy; and—and Fred; yes, and you, dear Bessie," as a soft little reminding hand was laid upon my arm,—"who except these is any the better or happier for my existence?"
"Lots of friends and relations, you foolish child," said Bessie, while Milly dropped a re-assuring kiss upon my forehead. "What nonsense, Amy! I do not know any one who is a more general favorite."
"Well, allowing that it is so," I said, "is it not only because I am merry and full of life, and make things a little cheerful around me? Point to one thing useful or of real lasting benefit that I have ever done, and I will thank you. I have loved Aunt Emily's hospital cottage by the sea, for her sake and for dear little Amy's, and have worked a little for that; but it has been a real pleasure and enjoyment to me, and has never involved one moment's self-sacrifice."
Modesty will not allow me to put down here all that Milly and Bessie in their partial affection said to persuade me that I was not altogether a useless member of society at large. Delightful as it was to hear, it did not succeed in quieting my newly awakened conscience or sense of responsibility; and perhaps Milly on her part did not intend that it should do so.
"She evidently must be furnished with an object," said Bessie; "nothing else will satisfy her; and as she seems to have something of the feeling of the monks and nuns of old, that the more disagreeable the duty the greater the credit, let us satisfy her by finding her a most unpleasant one. Oh, charming! I have thought of just the thing.—Why not adopt as your particular charge, Amy, that most unattractive young cripple, Matty Blair? She will probably satisfy all your longings for self-sacrifice, in a way which can leave nothing to be desired."
"The very thing," I answered, delighted to have found so soon an "object" on which to expend the benevolent yearnings with which I had been seized,—not so suddenly as Milly and Bessie believed; for, for some time past, I had had a secret and rather unwelcome consciousness that I was not doing my share toward mitigating the general load of human misery and ignorance,—a consciousness which Allie's words had only quickened into more active life. "But, girls, I assure you that I am not at all moved by the ascetic notion of taking up the most disagreeable work I can find, as a penance for former shortcomings. I wish from my heart that Matty Blair was pretty and straight and sweet, a typical little story-book pauper, whom it would be a pleasure to befriend, and who would respond amicably to my advances. Matty, from what I know of her, will be far from being all that; nevertheless I shall take her up, and see what can be done for her."
"Consult mother first, dear," said Milly. "She may see objections: they say that Matty's parents are dreadful people, and they may choose to make trouble for you. There are cases, you know, where people expect you to pay for being allowed to confer benefits upon them."
"I wish that we could remove the child, or both the children, entirely from the father and mother," I said.
"They will never allow that while the poor little things continue to be profitable to them," said Milly.
"You have taken up something of a task, truly," said Bessie. "First you will have those wretched parents to win over, and then that unattractive little creature. And, Amy, although I would not wish to throw cold water upon your enthusiasm, I feel sure that your father and mother will never let you go to such a place as the home of the child must be. Milly's mission came to her, as it were, heaven-sent, it seems to me," she added in a reverent tone; "but you must seek this out to do Matty any good, and face those dreadful relations of hers. Your father and mother will never listen to it, and they will be right. Do not try to run a tilt against windmills, dear."
"No, neither will I make mountains out of mole-hills," I answered lightly, although I did feel the force, yes, and the truth too, of Bessie's reasoning, and had my own doubts; "and certainly I shall not have more unpromising material to deal with than Milly had when she undertook to bring up her charges in the way they should go. Moreover, I shall not attempt to beard the lions in their den; but I suppose I have to win my way into Matty's affections or confidence, or whatever it may be that proves assailable, and if I find any way to help her, I shall ask cousin Serena to go into partnership with me. She will be protection enough anywhere, for no one could think of troubling or annoying her in any way."
"Well, I'm not so sure of that, either," said Bessie; "but I'm not going to discourage you further, and time will show. But how do you mean to set to work, Amy?"
"I do not know yet; how can I?" I answered. "I have only just thought of this, and of course I have not had time to make any plans or to think of what I shall do. I shall firstly go this very afternoon to cousin Serena; and if she thinks me, as she doubtless will, a prodigy of benevolence, self-sacrifice, and generosity, and agrees to all I ask of her, I shall attack father and mother to-night. I mean to act while the frenzy is on me, lest my ardor cool, and I see the many lions in the way which you bad girls are trying to conjure up."
Knowing myself in this respect pretty well, I was really afraid that if I gave myself too much time for consideration of my new scheme, I might become appalled by the difficulty and disagreeableness which were prophesied; and I was determined to place myself in a position where—unless a higher authority interfered—I could not in pride or conscience draw back.
Milly had taken almost no part in the little discussion between Bessie and me, generally speaking only when she was appealed to; and I knew by this that she did not altogether approve. But I was a little self-willed, a state of mind not altogether of rare occurrence with me, I am afraid; and I chose to ignore the disapprobation which was implied by this silence, and asked her no questions.
And now for cousin Serena, to whom I bent my steps at once, accompanied by Bessie, who volunteered to go with me; though, to tell the truth, I could have dispensed with her society for this occasion, being afraid of the discouraging objections and criticisms she might raise. But she ventured none; on the contrary, she seemed rather inclined to aid and abet me when I broached the subject to cousin Serena, in whom I was not disappointed. She proved herself—the blessed soul—the most willing co-adjutor, even more so than I desired; for, running to a closet where she kept a bountiful provision of such articles, she began to bring forth flannel, calico, and stout muslin suitable to make clothes for poor people; whereupon my spirit shrank appalled, for, if there was one occupation which I hated more than another, it was plain sewing, especially upon coarse material.
"O cousin Serena!" I said, "I am not going to sew and make clothes for Matty. It is so much easier and more convenient to buy them ready-made."
This speech, I was sorry to see, damped cousin Serena's ardor; for this working by proxy, as it were, did not at all coincide with her old-fashioned notions; and "ready-made garments" were to her a delusion and a snare, giving opportunity to Satan to find mischief for idle hands to do. I hated to disappoint her when she was so enthusiastically preparing to cut put work for both Bessie and me; but I hated still more to sew, and held my ground, being borne out by Bessie, who was not any more partial to such work than I was. Cousin Serena shook her head, and sighed over the degeneracy of the age which could content itself with other than such exquisite "hand-sewing" as she did herself.
Having gained my point, and made her promise all that I wished, I insisted that she should go home with us to dinner, taking the little bower of Dutch Johnny, the florist, by the way for a glimpse of Matty. Cousin Serena had never seen her; but I was not afraid to have her do so, unpromising object for one's charitable sympathies though she certainly was, for, the more helpless and repulsive-looking, the more would cousin Serena's tender heart warm toward her.
Our errand to Johnny's was nominally to purchase flowers, and, of course, we did invest therein, and came out bearing some of his choicest blossoms; but cousin Serena made use of the opportunity to take a close observation of Matty as she sat at her little peanut-stand in the corner, sullen and lowering, the picture of discontent and misery, as usual.
But cousin Serena did more than this; for, with the tact which she always showed in dealing with people of this class, she succeeded in arousing a slight feeling of interest in the sullen, disagreeable little cripple.
The one gift which had been granted to Matty was a profusion of beautiful hair, which, however, was never seen to perfection, as it was always braided tightly and wound in a close coil about her head, giving to the wizened, shrunken face an even older look than was natural to it. If she had any pride in any thing, it must have been in this hair,—indeed, she had little else to be proud of,—for it was always fairly tidy. Johnny, it seemed, always exacted a certain amount of cleanliness and decency as the price of her admission into his shop; not, perhaps, that he had any inherent love for this virtue, as such, or that his own comfort and happiness depended upon them, but because he feared that his trade might be injured if his customers found there such a dirty, ragged little object as Matty had formerly been. Clean hands and faces, well-brushed hair, and as much patching of ragged clothes as the neglected, worse than motherless creatures could compass, were required from Matty and Tony. His good-natured wife sometimes befriended them in this way, and put in a few stitches for them; the result being profitable in more ways than one. It was she, and not the miserable, intemperate mother, who plaited Matty's glossy locks in the heavy braid which she then wound round her head.
Cousin Serena went up to the peanut-stand, invested in Matty's wares, the child serving her in the dull, mechanical way usual with her, and smiled kindly down at her, eliciting, however, no response.
"What pretty hair you have, Matty!" was Miss Craven's next advance; and, as she spoke, she lightly touched with her gloved finger the shining coil which many a society belle might have envied.
A gleam lighted up the dull, heavy eyes, and Matty raised them to the dear old lady's face.
"It is almost a pity to wear it so closely bound up," continued cousin Serena; while Bessie and I, apparently making an inspection of Johnny's stock while he was engaged with another customer, lent attentive ears to what passed, I feeling rather that my intended mission work had been taken up by other hands; "it would show so nicely if you wore it loose and flowing as most little girls do now. I would like to see it when it is down."
With a motion marvellously quick in one so crippled, the child raised her hands, unbound the coil from about her head, and drawing her fingers through the plait, let the rippling, waving masses fall flowing over her poor, twisted, mis-shapen shoulders.
"Amy and Bessie," said cousin Serena, pursuing her advantage of playing upon the only vanity in poor Matty's nature, "Amy and Bessie, come here and see what beautiful hair this child has. It is a good deal like yours, Amy, both in color and quantity."
With another sudden motion, Matty drew the shining waves in front of her, glanced at them lovingly, and then raising her eyes to me with the first appearance of any thing like interest in them which I had ever seen, scanned my locks, and said with something of malicious triumph in her tone and look,—
"It's prettier nor her'n."
"So it is, Matty," I said, ignoring what Daisy would have called the "discompliment" to myself, and determined to strike while the iron was hot, or at least approaching an unusual degree of warmth,—"so it is; you have the very prettiest hair I ever saw."
Matty did not smile,—I never but once saw the light of a smile on her face,—but she gave a low chuckle. Evidently we had touched a chord that would respond; an ignoble one it might be, but it was something to have gained even this.
Having dismissed his customer, Johnny now came to the front.
"'Tis goot," he said, pointing to the beautiful locks; "'tis goot. Mine wife she say 'tis pest cut off dat head; bud Maddy she so moosh lofe dat head, an' 'tis so goot, I say, leaf her keep her head. So mine wife, she say, 'yes, 'tis too pad to cut dat nice head,' an' she leafs it on her, an' mine wife she comb an' prush it for Maddy. But I tells Maddy she shall sell dat head for so moosh as fife tollars if she schuse."
"Don't ye be after tellin' me mother that," said Matty, with a sudden look of angry alarm, which was really pathetic, as one gathered from it that the child felt she would no longer be allowed to keep her one cherished possession, if any idea of its pecuniary value were suggested to her mother.
"Nein, nein," answered Johnny, shaking his head and speaking with emphasis, as if to say that this was a secret he would carefully guard from the unnatural parent. "Nein, nein," he repeated. "If I tells dat mutter any tings, 'tis as dat head is so pad as is not vort notings."
"But you would not say what is not true, even to save Matty's hair, would you?" said Miss Craven, unable to allow this more than doubtful morality to pass.
Again Johnny wagged his head, this time as one quite convinced that he was in the right, and answered: "If I tells shust one nice, leetle pit of a lie" (Johnny did not mince matters, even to his own conscience), "'tis for to keep away a great pig wrong; for if I tells dat mutter de shild's head is vort so moosh, she put dat head in de scissors de negst minit."
The kindly old Dutchman was plainly convinced that the end justified the means, and cousin Serena felt that any further discussion of the question was useless, and that it would not tend to improve Matty's moral views or those of her brother Tony, who had just come in, as both were sure to side with their friend and benefactor.
"We will hope that no one will ever touch Matty's pretty hair," she said; and I, seized with a sudden inspiration, and still appealing to Matty's vanity, said,—
"I would like to see Matty's hair flowing over a dark-blue dress. How it would set it off! Would you like a blue dress, Matty? Your hair will look so pretty over it if you wear it down."
Matty looked rather askance at me. She evidently regarded me as a rival in the matter of hair, and was not inclined to accept any advances on my part; but friendly, jolly little Tony answered for her; while she hesitated, evidently meditating some ungracious answer.
"Oh, wouldn't she though, miss! I guess she would like it, an' her hair would look awful pooty on it, an' when we goes to the Sunday-school festival,—when it's Easter, ye know,—Matty'll wear the blue dress, an' her hair down on it, an' she'll look as good as any of the girls there, an' better, 'cause there isn't one of 'em has hair like Matty's.—An' I'll tell ye, Matty, if the lady,—she's one of Jim's young ladies,—if she gives ye the blue dress, we'll keep it to Mrs. Petersen's if she'll let us, so ma can't get it for the drink.—Are ye goin' to give it to her, miss?"
"Indeed I am," I answered to the eager question. "Come now, Matty, stand up, and we'll measure you for the dress. Perhaps I can find one ready-made, and you shall have it to-morrow.—Johnny, can you lend me a yard-measure?"
Johnny produced one; and Matty, still half doubtful whether or no to be gracious, and eying me with a gaze which had some lingering viciousness in it, rose half reluctantly to her feet. Standing so, her deformity was even more visible than it was when she was seated; and it took all my nerve and power of will to take the measure of the mis-shapen shoulders without shrinking from the touch. And then I saw the improbability, I might say the impossibility, of finding in any ready-made-clothing store, a dress which would fit the twisted form. One must be made on purpose; one which would set at defiance all rules of symmetry; and how to have it completed to-morrow, even late in the day to-morrow? Where should I go to have such an order filled by the time I desired it? And I believed from what I had seen of Matty that the non-fulfilment or postponement of my hasty, ill-considered promise would be enough to excite all her enmity again. However, I said nothing until we were out of the little shop, when I exclaimed at my own want of fore-thought, and asked where I could go to have my order fulfilled without delay.
"You can't do it," said Bessie. "Even at the stores where they profess to furnish costumes at twenty-four hours' notice, they would not agree to give you, in so short a time, a dress for which they can use no ordinary pattern. Amy,"—with what seemed to be a most irrelevant change of subject,—"is any one coming to your house to dinner to-night?"
"Cousin Serena, and yourself if you will," I answered.
"Yes, I intended to suggest that you should invite me," answered Bessie, "and, had you proved obdurate, should have appealed to Milly or your mother. Well, there will be four of us: yourself, cousin Serena, Milly, and myself; and we will press the mother and Mrs. Rutherford into the service. Let us go to Arnold's, buy some suitable material,—and we all know what cousin Serena is with scissors and thimble,—coax her to cut out a dress for Matty, and we will all devote the evening, perhaps the whole night, to it. By our united exertions, I think that we can surely accomplish it in time for you to take it to her to-morrow, and your credit will be saved."
"If we were not in the street, I should fall upon you with kisses and tears of gratitude," I answered ecstatically; "as it is, consider yourself embraced.—Cousin Serena, will you help us?"
There was no question of that: cousin Serena was only too glad to give us her services; and although, as I have said, she needed to be guided and tyrannized over in the matter of style and fashion where her own dress was concerned, she was an expert in fashioning garments for the poor.
Bessie's idea was acted upon forthwith. We took our way down to Arnold's, purchased the necessary material, and, lest it should not be sent home in time, bid pride hide its head, and carried the parcels ourselves.
Jim beamed upon us when he gathered, from the conversation around the dinner-table, to what the evening was to be devoted, and became quite an overpowering nuisance with his pressing attentions to the young ladies.
The dress was so nearly completed that night that Milly and I had but little difficulty in finishing it for the next afternoon.
Father and mother gave consent to my pursuing my benevolent intentions with regard to Matty, so far as I could do it without venturing into the abode of her wretched parents, but positively forbade my going there even under the guidance and protection of cousin Serena. Indeed, the fear of them which Tony and Matty showed augured little good or encouragement for those who would benefit these children, unless some profit therefrom, was to accrue to the elder Blairs themselves.
The dress was ready in good time, and supplemented by the addition of a warm sack of the same color from mother and a little cloth cap from aunt Emily. A hood had been in the thoughts of the latter, as warmer and more suitable; but I had begged for the cap as affording better opportunity for the display of Matty's hair. "Poor little object!" I pleaded: "why not allow her the gratification of this small vanity?" and aunt Emily yielded, as she was sure to do when any one's small whims and fancies were to be satisfied.
Maria made the garments into a neat parcel for me; and I, thinking to give Jim a pleasure, summoned him on his return from school to be the bearer thereof, and to accompany me to Johnny's. That Jim was pleased, was an assured fact; and his tongue wagged incessantly though respectfully all the way until we arrived at our destination. Then while I opened the parcel, and presented Matty with the dress and other articles, he stood by in delighted contemplation, looking from me to Matty as if he would say to her, "This is my young mistress;" to me, "This is my protegee."
As for Matty, she appeared, so far as she showed any feeling at all, to consider that the gifts were altogether due to him; and she vouchsafed no word of thanks to me. Not that I cared for expressions of gratitude; but I felt a little hopeless as I saw how entirely I had failed to make any impression on her.
Tony, however, who was present again, was profuse in his thanks, and really seemed to feel all that he said.
The shining hair fell like a shielding veil over Matty's deformity again to-day; and after this it became her practice to wear it so when she was away from home. There she wore it tightly bound up, and kept it as much out of sight as possible; fearing, poor little creature, that she might be bereft of it, should any idea of its pecuniary value enter her mother's mind.
A COLD BATH.
"Well, Jim," I said, as I returned home in the fast-gathering twilight, with my escort trotting beside me, "how are you getting on now at school? I have not heard lately."
"I'm havin' an awful hard time just now, Miss Amy," he answered, coming nearer,—"an awful hard time."
"How is that?" I asked. "Are they pressing you too much? Have they given you too many lessons, or are those you had before becoming harder?"
"Neither, miss," he answered. "'Tain't the lessons; I don't mind them. Lessons ain't nothin'—I mean lessons ain't anything"—Jim was growing more choice in language, and taking infinite pains with his parts of speech—"when a feller has such good help as Miss Milly or Mr. Edward. If they're too hard for me, one of 'em always helps me an' makes 'em plain, an' I keep along good enough in the classes. But it's the keepin' cool, an' not flyin' out when I get provoked, 'specially with that Theodore Yorke. Miss Amy, you never saw the like of him. He's just the meanest chap ever breathed; and the way he finds out things you don't want him to know, an' keeps bringin' 'em up an' naggin' about 'em, is the worst."
"All the more credit to you, then, Jim, if you keep your temper under such provocation," I answered soothingly, "and you show yourself by far the better man of the two. You know the Bible says, 'Greater is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.'"
"Well, Miss Amy," he said, "I guess it ain't no such rememberin' nor Bible texes that keeps me cool. It's lots of other things. First, I do want awful bad to do credit to Miss Milly; then I don't want to fight Theodore, nor have a real sharp fallin' out, on account of the captain an' Mrs. Yorke; then I'm thinkin', if I don't learn to hold my temper now, how will it be if I come to be President of these States? I s'pose there's lots of things that'll be provokin', an' hard to stand, when you're President; and if Congress don't want to mind you right spang off when you tell 'em to do a thing, an' goes to foolin' round about it, I s'pose it don't do to be flyin' out, 'cause then folks would think you wasn't fit to be President. Besides, when one's mad he can't think about the best way to do things, an' I might make foolish laws they wouldn't like. But most of all it will be a great deal better way to get even with Theodore if I come out first with Mr.——"
Here he suddenly checked himself, and even in the dim twilight I could see the color mounting to the roots of his carroty hair. He had evidently been on the verge of some disclosure which he would have regretted, and no questions succeeded in drawing forth any thing further from him.
He had been sufficiently candid, however, in admitting that he was not influenced, in the struggle with himself, by any abstract notions of right and wrong, or by any special desire to please a higher power. But that he had some motive still undeclared, and of greater weight with him than any of those he had mentioned, I was convinced; and why should he wish to keep it back?
However, my cogitations on the subject, and Jim's confidences, were now cut short by the appearance at the corner, of another escort, who took charge of me at once with a very decided remonstrance against my remaining out till this hour "with only the protection of that boy."
This was a slight which would have wounded Jim to the quick had he heard it, which he fortunately did not, as it was spoken in an undertone; and he was evidently pleased to be freed from an attendance which had become embarrassing to him by his own indiscretion.
"What do you suppose he could have meant?" I asked of Milly that night, after I had rehearsed to her, in the privacy of our own room, my conversation with Jim.
"I am sure I do not know," said my sister. "If it were possible, I should think he meant uncle Rutherford's prize; but as he does not and can not know of that, of course it cannot be. And while we must all wish that he were acting from a higher motive than any of these, still it is a great point gained, that he is so learning to control himself; the habit will be formed, and he will learn to be his own master. But I fear that Theodore Yorke is not a truthful or upright boy. Even our own boys, who see so little of him, call him a sneak; and although he has a bold, self-assertive manner, it has none of Jim's frankness. Oh, uncle Rutherford, I wish that you could have seen things differently!"
But as uncle Rutherford had not only seen things in his own light, but had acted thereon, there was nothing for us to do beyond giving Jim what help we could. There was little, however, a lady could do to help a boy in a public school in his struggle with adverse circumstances, save by advice and encouragement; and Milly did not fail him in these.
Taking a hint from what I had seen of Jim's influence over Matty, I now based my plans for her benefit and regeneration upon that, in addition to the play upon her vanity by means of that wonderful and much-prized hair. Jim, too, I knew would paint me and all my doings in glowing colors, making much of any little kindness I might do for her.
The blue dress and other decent clothes were kept at kind Mrs. Petersen's "for fear of the drink," and Matty donned them there when she found occasion to wear them; and this led me to carry out the idea of rescuing the children, Matty and Tony, entirely from the intemperate wretches who dishonored the names of father and mother, and placing them under the care of Mrs. Petersen. So long as the two little cripples brought home such portion of their weekly earnings as Jim had agreed should be allowed to Blair and his wife, the latter cared little where or how the neglected children spent their time, especially as they were now provided with their dinner as a part of the price of their services at the peanut-stand.
The disapprobation in Milly's manner, which I had noticed and wondered at, when my new enterprise was under consideration, had altogether vanished after that first afternoon; and she had not only helped with all her might in the making of the blue dress, but she had ever since been interested and full of thoughtful suggestion.
"Milly," I said to her one day soon after, "why did you seem so unwilling to have me undertake to care for that little cripple? You surely had formed a precedent for such things in our family. I never could understand your objections; for, that you had objections, I could not help seeing."
"I find that such objections as I entertained were not well founded," she answered.
"Perhaps so, but that does not tell me what they were," I insisted.
"Well," she said, "I was a little afraid that Jim might feel that you were trespassing on his preserves; and your field for charity is so large, and his so small, that I did not wish him to imagine that he was interfered with."
"Well, that is disposed of, for he is delighted with my co-operation," I said. "Now, what else was it?"
Milly was reluctant to say; but I persisted, and at last she answered,—
"I feared that it was only—that you would soon tire of it, Amy, and that the experiment would then prove good neither for you nor for Matty; but in that too I hope I was wrong."
After events left no room to prove whether or no I should have been long steadfast to my purpose of caring for poor Matty; that was taken out of my hands.
Jim's report from school had been one of unbroken credit for weeks now,—in conduct, that is; and to those who knew the boy's fiery, impulsive, and, until he fell under Milly's care, untrained, nature, the record was a remarkable one. In his classes, he was doing fairly well, and making progress of which he had no need to be ashamed, but his lessons were by no means always perfect; and, happily, it was not so much to them that we looked, as the chief means for his gaining uncle Rutherford's prize, for Theodore's standing in this respect was generally a better one than his own.
I had noticed, and Milly at length came to do so, that if the record was an unusually good one, and he received an extra amount of praise, he still always appeared sheepish and ill at ease, and as though he had something on his mind which he was half-inclined to make known. But he never came to the point of doing so, and Milly had ceased to ask him.
We were kept pretty well informed, too, of the progress and standing of Theodore Yorke; partly by uncle Rutherford's interest in the matter and the inquiries he made of the teachers every week, and also by the captain's pride in his grandson, whom he considered a prodigy of learning. The boy was certainly bright and clever, as was Jim; and the two kept fairly even in their record, both for lessons and conduct.
But while Jim continued to grow in popularity with both teachers and scholars, it was not so with Theodore, and there was a strong prejudice against him, especially among the boys. There seemed to be no particular cause of offence or instance of wrong-doing to be brought against him, but there it was; and neither masters nor schoolmates seemed to place any confidence in him.
As far as trade went, Jim was certainly making a good thing out of the school; for, owing to his persuasions, to say nothing of that leaning toward peanuts which is a marked feature of every boyish mind, the calls at Matty's stand on the way to and from the school were very frequent; and while pennies and nickels flowed in upon the small vender, peanut-shells were scattered all over the building and playground, until at last they called forth a remonstrance from the janitor. Finding this of no avail, he threatened an appeal to the higher authorities; but, as he was a good-natured old soul, he hesitated to draw reproof upon the boys, when about this time an incident occurred which made complaint unnecessary, as peanuts became prohibited altogether within school bounds.
"Jim," said a boy, coming to him one morning before the school-bell rang, "do you see the lot of peanuts Theodore Yorke has?"
"I don't pay much heed to Theodore Yorke or his havin's," answered Jim scornfully. "It's no odds to me if he has bushels of peanuts or nary a one."
"But maybe it is odds to you," answered the other boy. "I ain't a telltale; but Theodore Yorke's always buyin' peanuts off of your stand, an' you can bet he comes away from that stand with a lot more peanuts for two cents or five cents than any one of the rest of us does."
Jim turned sharply upon him.
"You don't mean Matty gives him over measure, Rob?" he said.
"She don't give him over measure, but he gets over measure," replied Rob; "an' I tell you 'cause I think it's a shame to be cheatin' you an' the girl."
"What is it, then? Out with it!" exclaimed Jim. "I can see how she can cheat him givin' him short measure if she likes, but I can't see how he can cheat her gettin' over measure."
"S'pose when she's measurin' out what he's asked for, he puts his hand into the big basket on her other side, maybe more than once, too; how'll that do for helping himself to long measure, hey?" said Robert.
"How do you know?" asked Jim, trying to control his rising fury until he had all the facts.
"I've seen him do it more than once, an' more than twice," replied Rob. "You know we live in the same house, and mostly come on to school together, an' both him an' me is apt to stop for peanuts. And the first time I saw him do that, taking out a handful extra for himself, was one morning when I hadn't any money to buy; but he stopped in, and I staid out, 'cause it was too kind of tantalizing to go in and smell 'em all freshly roasted, and not get any; and I was looking in between the posies and plants in the shop, and when Matty was filling up her measure for him—only the two-center one—I saw him do that mean trick; on a girl, too, and she a hunchback! He slipped his hand into the basket, and carried it full to his dinner-basket. So after that I watched, whether I went in or staid out; and he never lets a time go by that he don't hook a handful, maybe two, if he gets the chance. You see, that girl's got such a lot of thick hair hanging round her, it's most like a thick veil, and would keep her from seeing what goes on behind or by the side of her. I tell you, Jim, I guess with one time and another he must have bagged two or three quarts of peanuts off of you and the hunchback, and I couldn't let it go on any longer. This very morning he bought two cents worth, and hooked as much as five."
Jim's indignation had grown higher and fiercer with every succeeding word of this story; and, unfortunately, at this moment Theodore came around a corner of the school-building upon the playground, and, as a combination of ill luck would have it, he was eating peanuts, which he extracted from a pocket whose bulging proportions showed that the stock from which he was drawing was a large one.
The sight inflamed Jim's passion beyond all bounds; and he immediately advanced upon Theodore in a manner and with a look which left no doubt as to his purpose. The culprit dodged the first blow aimed at him; but in another instant Jim's hand was upon his collar, while, with language which was neither choice nor mild, he struck him several times, and would have continued the blows had he not in his turn been seized upon by one of the masters, who had seen the whole thing, to whom it appeared to be the most unprovoked attack.
Jim's fury had so passed beyond restraint, that for a moment neither the sight of the teacher nor his stern voice calling him to order had the effect of bringing him to his senses; and he even turned upon the gentleman himself, probably believing for the moment that it was one of the other boys. His crestfallen, mortified look when he was recalled to himself did not help him in the estimation of the teacher, who took it as a sign of guilt; while Theodore, once freed from his assailant, stood by as the martyr and peaceable boy who would not strike a blow, even in self-defence. Rob, meanwhile, frightened by the consequences of his disclosures to Jim, slunk off without waiting to bear testimony to the provocation which Jim believed himself to have received.
Jim was "reported," of course, and punished; and the knowledge that this must come to the ears of Miss Milly and Mr. Rutherford did not tend to soothe his anger, nor did he feel that his desire for vengeance was yet satisfied. As he had been deprived of his recess, however, he had no immediate opportunity of gratifying it; and when school was over, the principal, who was a just though strict man, and who was particularly interested in uncle Rutherford's scheme and the two rivals for his prize, called both Jim and Theodore before him, and inquired into the cause of the disturbance.
Now, Theodore was perfectly well aware of this, for Jim had not failed to make use of his tongue as well as his fists, and he knew that in some way his petty and oft-repeated thefts had come to light; but he was not going to confess his own iniquities, and Jim was what Rob Stevens, with less reason, had asserted himself to be,—"no telltale."
He rather sulkily replied, to the questions of the principal, that "Theodore knew, and could tell if he liked;" but Theodore doggedly declared that he had given and knew of no cause of offence, and that the attack had been entirely without reason.
As Jim could not be persuaded to bring any accusation other than the scornful, ferocious looks with which he regarded Theodore; while Theodore himself was evidently uneasy and fearful lest his antagonist should speak the truth,—Mr. Rollins was convinced that the latter was really, in some way, to blame. But of course he could not punish him without reason; while Jim had been caught red-handed, and must, at least, be reprimanded and warned. The gentleman told him that he forfeited his recess for a week, and that, if he trespassed again in this manner, he would be degraded to a lower class.
Jim received his sentence in silence; but when Mr. Rollins spoke of the penalty to follow future offending, his ruddy face blanched. That meant not only disgrace in the school, but, what was far worse to him, before Miss Milly and Mr. Rutherford, and the lessening of his "chance" with the latter, and Theodore's preferment above him.
As the boys were dismissed from the tribunal of justice, and turned away, Mr. Rollins caught a glance of gratified malice which Theodore cast at the other boy; and he was more than ever persuaded that there was something behind all this, and that Theodore was, perhaps, the one who was the most to blame.
They had reached the door, when Jim turned, and, coming back to the desk of the principal, said in a low tone, "Thank you, sir, for not puttin' any thing more on me than the recess. I don't mind that so much, an' I'll try hard not to break rules again; but you can't tell how hard it is not to get mad when the mad lies so near the top, an' you're gettin'"—"cheated" would have been the next word, but Jim checked himself ere it was spoken.
"Do I not, my boy?" answered the gentleman: then seeing that Theodore was lingering at the door as if anxious to hear what passed, he said to him, with something of sternness in his voice, born of the doubt as to which of the two boys was the greater culprit, "Go on, sir, you have no need to wait;" adding to himself, "That boy has a guilty conscience." Then, when Theodore had closed the door behind him, he turned again to Jim, and continued, "You are mistaken, Jim, if you think I do not know what it is to struggle with a quick temper."
"You, sir?" said Jim.
"Yes, I," answered Mr. Rollins; and then he followed with the story of his own struggles with a passionate temper, and the final victory over himself, with much good advice and encouragement to Jim. Encouraged the boy certainly did feel, as he left the presence of the master, fortified with new resolutions for the future.
But master Theodore was not to escape without his share of punishment.
As his own ill luck would have it,—perhaps it would be better to say, as a righteous retribution would have it,—as he was on his way home from school, and was crossing the park on which our house fronted, he fell in with three or four of his classmates, among them Rob Stevens, the witness of his thefts.
"What have you done with Jim?" asked one of the boys.
"He's getting it from the commander-in-chief," said Theodore exultantly. "He's lost his recess for a week, and is to be put down to class four if he gets into another of his rages, as he's sure to do; and now he's taking no end of a blowing-up. The commander sent me out so I wouldn't hear it. Good enough for him. I hope he'll get it hot and heavy."
"What did you get?" asked Rob.
"What did I get? Nothing; why should I?" responded Theodore, who had not the slightest idea of the way by which Jim had learned of his thefts, or that here was his accuser.
"Didn't you tell why Jim pitched into you when you saw he was gettin' held up for it?" asked Rob.
"No!" roared Theodore, partly in fear, partly in anger, for he now could not fail to see that Rob knew something, but how much he could not tell. "I hadn't any thing to tell, and hadn't done any thing to Jim,—to his high-mightiness Jim Grant Garfield Rutherford Livingstone Washington, the fellow with a whole dictionary-full of names, and not a right to one of them but the Jim. I just wish he would get into a dozen tantrums, till he gets expelled from the school."
"Nothin' mean about you, is there?" said one of the other boys indignantly, although he was still ignorant of the cause of Jim's provocation.
But this was too much for Rob.
The boys had neared the fountain in the centre of the park. At this season, it was never or seldom playing; but some repairs had been found necessary, and the workmen had had the jet in action for some hours, and the large basin around it was full of water. The boys stopped beside it, not noticing a tall figure which sat upon one of the park benches near.
"Nothing mean about him!" repeated Rob in a loud voice, which might easily be heard on the other side of the fountain, "nothing mean about Theodore Yorke! He's the meanest sneak in our school, or out of it, either! I'll tell you why Jim pitched into him. He's been stealing peanuts off of Jim's stand when the little hunchback's head was turned. I saw him, more than once, and I wasn't going to have it any longer; so I told Jim, and I'd just told him of it when Theodore came on eating peanuts, the very ones, for all I know, that I saw him steal this morning; and no wonder Jim's spirit was up, and he pitched into him. I wish he'd had it out with him, too, before Mr. Leeds came up. If he was going to be punished, he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. And Jim's never said a word, I s'pose, or let on what he did it for; and you let him take all the blame. Bah! I wouldn't be you, for a cart-load of peanuts!"
"You didn't see me, either. I don't know what you're talking about!" stammered Theodore, so taken aback by the damaging testimony of this unexpected witness of his sin, that he lost all self-possession, and his looks proclaimed him guilty of the offence with which he was charged.
Uprose from the bench beyond the group the figure sitting there, and, striding towards the still unobservant boys, laid one hand upon Theodore's collar, the other on that of Rob; and the startled Theodore looked up into the stern, set face of his grandfather.
"Have I heerd aright?" said the old man in his righteous wrath. "Have I heerd my gran'son called a thief, an' a sneak, what let a boy like Jim be blamed for doin' what he had a right to do, if what this 'ere feller says is true?—Kin ye prove it?" turning to Rob, while he still kept a tight hold on either boy.
"Yes, I can," said Rob, maintaining his ground, although he was a little frightened by the captain's looks and tones; and once more he rehearsed the story in all its details.
By this time several persons, attracted by the somewhat unusual spectacle of an old man holding two boys by their collars, had stopped to hear what was going on; and there were symptoms of a crowd. Seeing this from afar, a policeman bore down upon the scene,—the very one who had had the dispute with the captain as to the propriety of Daisy playing peanut-vender on the street-corner.
As he came near, Captain Yorke released his hold upon Rob's collar; then tightening that upon Theodore's, the still stalwart old seaman lifted the boy from his feet, and, stepping close to the basin of the fountain, plunged him over his head in the icy water. The day had been a mild one, sunny and bright, for spring was in the air; but the water was still sufficiently cold to make such a sudden plunge any thing but pleasant, and this summary method of punishment, well deserved though most of the spectators knew it to be, was not to be tolerated in such a public place. So thought the policeman who now came running up, as the captain, having given his grandson three good dips, lifted him dripping and shivering from the basin, and placed him upon his feet.
"What's this?" asked the officer, who had long since made his peace with the old man, who was wont to hang about the park, and in the vicinity of our house, and who amused him vastly with his comments upon men and things in the city. "What are you up to now, captain?"
"Givin' this boy a duckin'; an' if I told ye what for, I donno but ye'd be for takin' of him up," answered the captain, disregarding all considerations of parental or family pride. "If ye fin' me a meaner one nor he is in this big town, I'll duck him, too, an' keep him under till he begs an' swears he'll mend his ways.—Now, git along home, sir," to the shaking Theodore. "I'd willin' pay for two suits of clo's to have the satisfaction of givin' ye yer desarvins, though I don't know as ye've got 'em yet. Git!"
Theodore, only too glad to obey, sped away like the wind; while the captain, as the policeman was about to interfere further, turned to the officer, and, taking him by the arm, as if he were going to arrest him, repeated in a friendly tone, "He's had no more than his desarvin's,—young scamp; an' them's my opinions. I'll tell ye."
"But what are you about, ducking that boy in a public fountain?" asked the officer, doubtful what course to pursue with the old original. "Don't you know such a thing is a breach of the public peace?"
"I don't know nothin' about your breaches," said the old veteran, no whit disturbed; "but I knows I got a right to duck that boy where'er I've a min' to. He's my gran'son,—more shame to me,—an' a little water ain't goin' to hurt him. His fam'ly's used to water,—good salt water, too," with a contemptuous look at the fluid in the fountain basin, "an' if I could wash the meanness outer him, I'd duck him a dozen times a day. Come along."
And still with his hand upon the policeman's arm, the captain turned away with him, soon satisfying the guardian of the peace that this was no case for arrest. Barney agreed that he had the right to take the law into his own hands, although this was hardly the place for him to do so.
Of course Theodore's thefts, and the story of the grandfather's summary punishment, went the rounds of the school the next morning, and it soon reached the ears of the teachers and principal; and Theodore was called up again before the latter, this time to receive a far sterner reprimand than had been bestowed upon Jim. As the offence had been committed out of school bounds and school hours, the punishment for it did not lie within the jurisdiction of Mr. Rollins; but, in addition to that which he had received from his grandfather, it was meted out to him on the school premises. From that time he acquired the sobriquet of "Peanuts,"—a name which, short as it was, attracted far more derision and notice than that of Jim Grant Garfield Rutherford Livingstone Washington.
And Jim, for his silence before the principal, his heroic determination to "tell no tales," was more of a favorite than ever.
Whether this tended to lessen Theodore's animosity toward him, or to soften the standing feud between them, may be judged.
The contempt and dislike which the school generally entertained for Theodore were brought to their height, when the edict was promulgated that peanuts should be no longer brought within bounds. Being a forbidden fruit, they at once acquired a value and desirableness even beyond that which they had possessed before. By some unexplained process of reasoning, the authorities had arrived at the conclusion that they were the cause of the late disturbance; and so they were tabooed, much to the displeasure of the boys, who, beside the deprivation to themselves, considered Jim a victim, as the order, of necessity, in a measure lessened his sales.
Dear old Mrs. Yorke had improved rapidly under the care of the specialist who was treating her case; but she was ill at ease in her city quarters, partly because she was unaccustomed to her surroundings, partly because she was never certain, when the captain was away from her, that he was not doing some unheard-of thing which might bring him into a serious predicament. And now here was this trouble between Jim, of whom she and the captain were so proud and so fond, and her grandson, and the disgrace of the latter; so that just now her bed was not one of roses, and she longed for the quiet and peace of her simple seaside home.
"If Adam would but go home, and take the boy with him," she sighed to Mammy one day, "I could be easy in my mind, for I know that Jabez and Matilda Jane and Mary would look after him well, and he would be out of harm's way; but now I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some day he turned up in the police-court, just for doin' something he thought was no harm, but that is against city rules. His ways and city folks' ways ain't alike. An' there's the boy, an' what he's done; all the school learnin' in the world ain't goin' to pay for such a shame. No, you needn't say it was on'y a boyish trick; you on'y say that to make me more easy like; an' with thanks all the same to Governor Rutherford, I'd a sight rather he'd left Theodore down to the Point, an' out of the way of such temptations as he gets here. An' when they once begin that way as boys, you never know where they'll end. No, no; I wish Adam and the boy were home."
Poor Mrs. Yorke! She had, indeed, too much reason to dread the after results of "once beginning that way;" for Theodore seemed likely to follow in the footsteps of his good-for-nothing father.
Uncle Rutherford, of course, heard of the peanut episode, and expressed a fitting censure on Theodore's conduct, both to our family and to the boy himself; but we said among ourselves, that he not only appeared to endorse, but to enjoy, Jim's swift, passionate punishment of Theodore, and he escaped with a very slight reproof, if, indeed, the few words he said to him concerning the matter could be called reproof; and Milly felt no fear that he had lost ground with uncle Rutherford.
Fortunately the captain, knowing little or nothing of the streets, was given, when by himself, to haunting our neighborhood and the park opposite; so that he came much under the notice and patronage of the friendly policeman, whose daily beat was in that quarter, and who kept him on many an occasion from going astray, or making a spectacle of himself.
The captain had sought out Rob Stevens, insisted that he should tell him just how many times he had seen Theodore steal peanuts from Matty, and, so far as he could judge, to what amount each time; then counting up what he supposed them to be worth, which he put at an enormously high valuation—the honest old man!—that he might be sure to err on the right side, he forced Theodore to go with him to the stand, and pay Matty for the stolen fruit. He endeavored, too, to make him apologize to Jim, both for the theft of his property, and also for his contemptible meanness in keeping silent on the occasion of Jim's attack on the playground. But here he was powerless: Theodore absolutely and doggedly refused to do it; and his grandfather was obliged to content himself with relieving his own feelings, and further expressing his sentiments on the boy's conduct, by giving him a severe flogging.
Spring was upon us now; an early, mild, and beautiful spring. Day after day of sunny delicious weather succeeded one another; the children came home from their walks or drives in the Central Park, in ecstasies over the robins, blue-birds, and squirrels they had seen. In the woods at Oaklands,—whither father went once or twice a week to have an eye upon his improvements and preparations for the summer,—spring-beauties, hepaticas, and anemones, and even a few early violets, were showing their lovely faces; and all young things—ah, and the older ones too—were rejoicing that the "winter was past and gone."
With the advent of the mild weather, Matty's stand had been removed out of doors and beneath the shelter of Johnny Petersen's shop; and this situation proved more profitable than it had been within, as many a charitable passer-by, seeing the pitiful figure and pinched face of the poor child, would stop to purchase. During the hours of the day when the sun was warm and bright, her surroundings were not much less attractive than they had been within; for the glass sashes of the little flower-store were generally wide open behind her, while Johnny frequently brought forth some of his plants for an airing upon the sidewalk.
As his custom increased with the warm weather, and people came for potted plants and so forth for their gardens and windows, Johnny occasionally found it necessary to be away for a few hours buying new stock at the larger greenhouses and markets; and when Mrs. Petersen did not find it convenient to take his place in the shop, he depended upon Tony to keep watch, and make small sales for him. The lame boy was bright and apt; and Johnny had drilled him well as to prices and so forth, and found him a tolerably satisfactory substitute during his own times of absence.
One would have thought that Theodore Yorke would have avoided the neighborhood of the peanut-stand after his exposure and disgrace; but it was not so. His grandfather had cut short the small amount of pocket-money which he had occasionally given him, and he was now left penniless, and so no more visited the place as a customer; but he seemed to take a delight in hanging around it, and annoying Matty and Tony, who were now on their guard, and watched him unceasingly. Tony and he frequently exchanged sundry compliments not suited to ears polite; and Johnny, if he saw him, would come out and drive him away. The shop was absolutely forbidden ground to him; within it he was not suffered to set a foot.
One bright afternoon when Johnny Petersen happened to be away, and Tony was in charge, Theodore came sauntering up to the stand, to the great dissatisfaction of the children. Matty was in her usual seat behind her table; Tony seated on the low door-step of the store, his crutches lying on the ground beside him and within reach of his hand.
Theodore came up, glanced into the store, and, seeing that the master was absent, addressed himself to the amiable amusement of teasing and worrying those who were too helpless to defend themselves.
"Me an' Matty's lookin' out for ye, an' ye needn't come roun' to be stealin' no more peanuts," said Tony at length, "an' I'll call the M. P. if you comes too close to the stand. We ain't goin' to stan' no foolin', we ain't; an' Jim told us you don't have a cent of money now, so you ain't come to buy with one hand an' help yourself with t'other. It'd be helpin' yourself with both; so clear out!"
"I ain't comin' near your old peanuts," said Theodore; "an' they ain't yours, anyway."
This style of converse continued for some minutes, growing more and more personal each instant; till at last Theodore said to Matty, who, according to her usual custom, had remained perfectly silent,—
"If I had such a cushion on my back as yours, I wouldn't make it bigger piling such a heap of hair on it. You look like a barber's-shop show figger. I wonder you don't sell yourself for a show figger. You'd look so pretty an' smart."
Matty only gave him one of her most vicious looks, and clinched her small claw-like hands as though they longed to be at him; but Tony answered for her.
"They don't get no such hair to the barbers' shops without payin' lots for it," he shouted; "an' she ain't no need to make a figger of herself. She can sell it for a heap of money,—five dollars, if she chooses,—Mr. Petersen says so, an' Jim says so, too. But she ain't a-goin' to have it cut off; she likes it too much, an' the ladies likes it, Jim's ladies do, an' they telled her to leave it hang down, an' one on 'em give her a blue dress to make it look purtier on it; an' she's give her lots of things more. An' they've give me lots of things, too; the ole un she give me a whole suit for Easter, an' me an' Matty looked as good as any of 'em. An' Jim says—now you keep off," as Theodore drew nearer, "you keep off, or I'll call the M.P. He ain't so fur."
"Oh, you will, will you?" said Theodore; "you've got to catch him first, and me, too, old Hippity-hop," and with a kick he sent both crutches far beyond the reach of the lame boy, then, with a derisive laugh, ran off. And there Tony sat, helpless and unable to pursue, till a compassionate passer-by brought him the crutches; for Matty could not stoop for them. Had the old captain seen this cowardly, contemptible deed, he would probably have thought that all the waters of all the oceans could not "wash the meanness" from the soul of his grandson.
For the rest of that day and for the next, and for two or three succeeding ones, Theodore's thoughts dwelt much upon this last interview with the two cripples; but do not let it be thought, with any disquieting reproaches from his conscience, or any feeling of remorse. To him, all that had passed was a mere nothing, not worth a second thought, save for the one idea which had made a deep impression on him.
That hair of Matty's, that mass of beautiful, shining hair, which even his boyish, unpractised eye could see was something uncommon,—worth five dollars; it was impossible! And yet could it be? If "Jim's ladies" thought it so beautiful, it might be that it was worth a good deal of money. What fools, then, were Matty and Tony, the one for keeping it upon her head, the other for not persuading her to part with it, and taking a share of the money for himself! In all his life Theodore had never had so much money; and his mean, selfish soul at once set itself to devise means by which one—he did not yet, even to his own thoughts, say himself—could gain possession of the girl's hair.
He had heard of girls being robbed, in the street, of their hair; but that would never do here with Matty, no, not even though he had an accomplice to help him. And he knew of no one to whom he could even suggest such a thing; for he had no acquaintances in the city save the boys in his school; and to no one of them could he or would he dare to propose it, although he knew that there were among them some who were none too scrupulous to do a shabby thing if they thought they could gain any advantage by it.
All this time I had vainly, as I thought, tried to gain any influence over Matty. She took my gifts, it is true, and wore or otherwise made use of them; but she never showed the slightest token of pleasure in them, or uttered one word of acknowledgment, and she was still entirely unresponsive to any other advances on my part. It was Tony, bright, jolly little Tony, who thanked me with real Irish effusion, always greeted me with the broadest of smiles, and testified his gratitude and appreciation of my efforts for Matty's welfare by various small offerings, till I really wished I had chosen him to befriend instead of that hopeless subject, his sister. It became quite a little family joke, as almost every evening when he and Matty came to deliver the day's earnings to Jim—for it was not considered safe for them to carry the money to their own home—he brought also some small token for "Jim's second young lady," whereby I was understood; now a couple of daisies, a rose, or two or three violets, or a few sprigs of mignonnette, begged from Dutch Johnny; now a bird's nest, manufactured by himself out of twine and a few twigs; and once a huge turnip which he had seen fall from a market-cart as it passed on its way down the avenue, and picking it up, after vainly trying to make the carter hear, had laid it aside as a suitable gift for me; and another time he brought for my acceptance a hideous, miserable, half-starved kitten, which, as I was known by the servants to have a horror of cats, was declined for me both by Jim and Thomas, greatly to Tony's mortification and disappointment.
At the Easter festival, when he and Matty had "looked as good as anybody," to his mind, each child in the Sunday school had been presented with a small pot of pansies; and Tony, instead of taking his home, had come from the church to our house, and, asking for me by his usual title of "Jim's second young lady," had shyly presented his Easter token.
Yes, I would fain have made an exchange, and taken Tony as my charge; but pride, and the recollection of Milly's fear that I would not persevere with Matty, forbade.
I had thought over all manner of plans for removing both children from the influence of their wretched home and drunken parents; but most of these were pronounced by the more experienced to be visionary and not feasible. So they still continued to return to them at night, although, "weather fair or weather foul, weather wet or weather dry," they never failed to be present at their post as early as possible in the morning.
Miss Craven and I had taken from Jim the charge of providing the cripples' dinner; and for a trifling sum Mrs. Petersen, who had no children of her own, gave them that meal and their supper in her room, so that in many respects they were far better off than they had been.
But still there seemed no loop-hole where I could insert a wedge for Matty's moral regeneration; she appeared to remain hard, impenetrable, and suspicious.
The story of the "ducking" had, of course, been graphically rehearsed by those of the schoolboys who had witnessed it, to those who had not; and there were but few, if any, who did not enjoy the recital of Theodore's punishment and disgrace. And from that time Captain Yorke had become a marked figure with the boys. Before this, he had not been known to many of them; but now he was pointed out by the few who had been present at the scene at the fountain, as the Spartan grandfather who had not hesitated to deal out punishment to his own flesh and blood, when it seemed to him that justice demanded it. He was often to be seen now in the park, the centre of an admiring and appreciative group, to whom he related thrilling adventures which were his own experience as a sailor and a surfman, holding his audience spell-bound, not only by their interest in the subject, but also by his quaint and simple manner of telling.
Among this audience one day, were the two boys who had been present at the theatre on the night when the captain had made such an exhibition of himself; and they recognized him at once. Of course, it was soon spread about that he was the hero of that adventure; and the next morning at school, Jim was asked if he had not known it. Acknowledging this, it was then inquired why he had not "got even with Theodore," by turning the laugh on him, and telling that it was his grandfather who had made himself a laughingstock.
"'Cause I wasn't goin' back on the old captain," answered sturdy, loyal Jim. "He's stood up for me, an' been a good friend; an' I ain't goin' to point him out for to be laughed at, not if he is Theodore's grandfather."
He expected to be laughed at in his turn, and stood with defiance and "laugh if you choose" in his air.
But no one laughed or jeered: somehow his steadfastness struck a chord in most of those boyish hearts; and Rob Stevens, clapping him on the shoulder, exclaimed,—
"And 'tain't the first time he's held his tongue, either, is it, Peanuts? We'll all vote for the feller that stan's by his friends an' don't go back on 'em. Three cheers for President Jim Washington!"
And if a voice there was silent, save Theodore Yorke's, it was not noticed in the number which responded.
School-life having by this time rubbed off some of his freshness, Jim had learned that it would be to his own advantage to discard several from the string of names which he had seen fit to adopt on his entrance; and he now contented himself with signing his name James R. L. Washington, which appeared upon all his books and any thing else to which he could lay claim.
After the manner of those who have fixed their minds upon that to which they have no right, the more the unprincipled Theodore thought of the mint of money, as he called it, upon Matty's head, the more he wished that he could find the means to possess himself of the material to be so easily turned into that money; and he finally arranged a plan which he thought both practicable and safe.
"Matildy Jane," whose theory it was that there were no articles of diet in New York "fit for plain folks to eat," and who believed that her father and mother would return home only to die victims to indigestion brought on by high living, had sent, by the hands of a friend who came to the city, a large basket of apple turnovers and ginger cookies, in order that her parents might have "a taste of home cookin'."
Slyly possessing himself of two of these turnovers and sundry cookies, Theodore thought to make his peace with Tony and Matty by bestowing them upon them, as an equivalent for the stolen peanuts; and having ascertained when Dutch Johnny was off on another purchasing expedition, and Tony left in charge, he hurried home, and came back to the florist's shop with these delectable viands.
No sooner did Tony see him than he warned him off, threatening to call the police if Theodore came any nearer; but the latter hastened to propitiate him by holding up the turnovers and saying,—
"Oh, I came to make up. Don't make a row."
Now, if there was any thing in which the soul of Tony delighted, it was an apple pasty of any shape or dimensions; and the tempter had unwittingly chosen his bait well.
Tony's threats and denunciations ceased, and he sat staring at the proffered treat; while Theodore, seeing it was taking effect, drew a few steps nearer.
"Don't you want 'em?" he said. "I've got one for you, and one for Matty; and I've got some ginger-cakes, too."
Warned by past experience, Tony grasped his crutches, and, still expecting some trick, sat dubious, with his eyes fixed as if fascinated upon the coveted dainties, but still more than half inclined to call to the policeman, whom he saw upon the upper corner.
"Oh, come now!" repeated Theodore; "make up. Don't you want 'em? They're first-rate."
The temptation proved irresistible; and, rising to his feet, Tony went toward his whilom antagonist in order to prevent him from coming too near the stand, accepted one of the turnovers, looked at it on all sides, smelled of it, and finally set his teeth deliberately but with caution into it; then turned, and looked inquiringly at Matty.
"Pisen!" uttered that little sceptic, still unconvinced that treachery did not lurk behind these demonstrations of friendship.
Ay, poison indeed! but not in the sense poor Matty meant. Nor would she accept the other turnover or the ginger-cakes, or look at or speak to Theodore; but sat gazing afar off as if into vacancy, her face perfectly expressionless, although Tony, now completely won over, sat eating his with the utmost gusto.
Meanwhile Theodore, having turned over the whole contents of his pockets, talked in a friendly way, leading gradually up to the matter in his mind; although he was afraid to linger long, lest Johnny should return, or some one come by who would wonder at seeing amicable relations established between himself and Tony.
"Been makin' good sales to-day?" he asked at length; but this put Tony on his guard again at once.
"Now you let peanuts alone; they ain't none of your business," he said, his mouth full of ginger-cake.
"I ain't goin' to touch your peanuts," said the older boy. "I just asked. Jim's makin' an uncommon good thing out of this peanut-stand with you and Matty to run it for him, an' I hear you're doin' first-rate. But—don't I know something about Jim!"
"So do I, lots," answered Tony, as well as he could speak.
"You don't know what I know; and Jim wouldn't want you to," said the bad boy. "It's his secret, and a monstrous one, too; but I know it, and I'm goin' to tell it, too."
"I sha'n't listen to it," said Tony.
"Ho! I don't want you to. It's not you I mean to tell," said Theodore. "It's the police."
"Jim ain't done nothin' for the perlice," said Tony furiously. "The perlice likes him, an' wouldn't do nothin' to him."
"Ha! You wait and see," said Theodore; "they've got to when I tell 'em. It's a secret on Jim an' one of his young ladies, Miss Amy there, that gives Matty her clo's an' things. He'll feel awful to have himself an' Miss Amy told on, and the police will go for 'em when they know it; but nothin' ain't goin' to put me off talkin' without I was paid for it, as much as five dollars, too."
"What they done?" asked Tony, curiosity and alarm for his friends getting the better of his aversion to discuss the subject with Theodore.
Theodore came nearer, and making Tony promise with the most solemn asseverations that he would not repeat, and would not suffer Matty to repeat, to any one, what he told him, said,—
"They had some poisoning done, round to Mr. Livingstone's, an' Jim and Miss Amy was mixed up in it. They did the poisoning; but 'twas found out in time, an' their folks hushed it up. But I know it, an' I'm goin' to set the police on them unless some one would make it worth my while not to. Five dollars would buy me off; but there's no one I know of, would give me five dollars, so I'm goin' to tell."
Street Arab though he was, with his wits sharpened into preternatural acuteness in some respects, in others Tony was guileless and easily imposed upon; and for a moment he stared at Theodore in dismay, but presently doubt and suspicion again obtained the upper hand.
"I don't take no stock in that," he said; "it's a lie, I know. I'll ask Jim himself."
"If you let on to him what I've told you, I'll tell the police for certain, whether or no," said Theodore; "but if anybody was to say they'd give me five dollars, an' you don't tell Jim, I'll never say a word."
And he walked away, leaving his words to take what effect they might. That they had already taken effect, he saw, as Matty, who had not spoken a word all this time, drew the beautiful, shining tresses in front of her, and passed her skinny little hands lovingly over them. Tony stood staring stupidly after him for a moment, then burst out at him with a torrent of abuse and threats which Theodore did not deign to answer.
That evening about dusk, when Tony and Matty came to our house to render up the day's account to Jim, after they had settled business, Tony asked in a mysterious whisper, and half as if he feared to put the question,—
"Jim, tell us; has you got a secret you don't want any one to know?"
By the light of the gas-jet, beneath which they stood, in the basement hall, Tony saw the color rush in a flood to Jim's face, and an angry light came into his eye, as he answered roughly,—
"'Tain't none of your business if I have; you let my secrets alone."
Tony was a little frightened, but he persisted,—
"But tell us; did you and yer young lady, her what's good to us, did you once get mixed up wid pisenin' some folks, an' it was kept dark so's the——"
"Now you shut up an' clear out quick, you little rascal!" shouted Jim furiously. "If you come Paul Pryin' round here, a-tryin' to find out my secrets, me an' you will fall out, an' you'll get no more help from Miss Amy nor me. Clear!"
But Tony, alas! was answered; and the crestfallen little cripple shuffled out from the presence of the offended head of the peanut firm as fast as possible; Jim putting his head out of the door, and shouting after them, still in the most irate tones,—
"Now you let me an' Miss Amy an' all my folks alone, or there'll be trouble, sure!" then slammed the door after them.
In silence they went up the street, but not immediately home: they had other business to attend to first.
CAUGHT IN THE ACT.
Johnny Petersen looked in surprise, consternation, and wrath when the two little cripples entered his shop the next morning, shamefaced and sheepish, as if they expected to be called to account for something.
And he did not lose time in making known the cause of his displeasure, could they, indeed, have had any doubt on that question.
Matty's hair was gone, cut close to her head, almost shaved off; and the loss of it gave the poor little face a more wizened, pinched, and unnatural expression than ever. The effect was perfectly startling, and repulsive in the extreme; and after staring at the child for a moment, and all but dropping the flower-pot he held in his hands, he broke forth into a torrent of words, mingling German and broken English in a manner which made them all but incomprehensible to the poor little ones. But they knew well enough what brought them forth, and they had no explanation to offer. It was their secret, and must remain a secret, so they thought, if the sacrifice were to be worth any thing.
Naturally, Johnny laid the blame of the transformation on the debased parents, whom he knew to be capable of any deed, no matter how shameful or cruel, if thereby they could obtain the means to procure liquor. Tony and Matty gathered, from the jargon which he sputtered forth, that this was his idea; and they were quite satisfied to have it so, for no sentiments of filial affection moved them to enlighten him.
And it was not only the loss of that wealth of hair which made Matty look far worse than she had ever done before. She had not on the decent garments she had worn for some time past, but was in the ragged and soiled clothes which she had of late worn only when she went home at night, discarding them in the morning when she stopped at Mrs. Petersen's and put on the better ones which had been given to her. To all Petersen's questions she opposed a sullen silence; although she hung her head, and appeared embarrassed, which she was not apt to be.
But Tony, with his jolly little face clouded over, appeared really distressed, and looked from his sister to the florist and back again in a distraught, helpless sort of way, which quite touched the heart of the kind old Dutchman; but neither from him could Johnny's rather incoherent questions draw forth any satisfaction, and the children both were glad when the entrance of a customer drew Johnny's attention for the time from themselves.