But the situation did not improve for the two little unfortunates when Mrs. Petersen, uneasy that they had not appeared at her rooms for the usual change of clothing, came bustling up to know if her husband could tell her any thing of them; and, not a little astonished to find Matty at her post and Tony also at his, plied them anew with questions in English rather better than her husband's, and to which it was more difficult to avoid giving straightforward replies. But she gained as little as he had done, and she, too, took it for granted that either the father or mother had deprived the little hunchback of her hair.
The truth was, that the children had not cared to face her with the change in Matty's appearance, and hence had concluded to come to the day's business in their old clothes.
But Mrs. Petersen, energetic and stirring, was not going to let the matter rest thus, but was determined to probe it to the bottom if possible, and declared that she was going at once to see the mother, and call her to account. Whether she had some vague idea of bringing the supposed offenders to justice, or of restoring the lost locks to Matty, I cannot tell; but just as she was leaving, Milly, Bessie, and I, bound for an early trip to spend the day with a friend in the country, whose birthday it was, came into the shop to purchase some flowers.
The morning was damp and chilly, although there was the promise of a fair day later on; and Matty's stand was placed inside when we entered the shop, and the first thing our eyes rested upon was Matty's shorn head. We all three leaped at once to the same conclusion with the Petersens. But whether it was that I was more forcibly struck than the others with the cruelty of the thing, from having something of a fellow-feeling for Matty in the possession of a profuse quantity of hair somewhat like her own, although, as she had said, hers had been "purtier" than mine, despite the lack of the care which mine had always received, or that I had less self-control over my emotions; certain it is that I burst into a passion of tears and sobs, which astonished not only the good florist and his wife, but also my own sister and friend. I was ashamed of them, but could not control them; and perhaps it was as well that I could not do so immediately, for those tears made their way where all else had failed to effect an entrance; and, to my great astonishment, Matty seized with both her hands upon mine, which in my great pity and sympathy I had laid upon her shoulder, and, carrying it to her face, laid her cheek upon it. The next instant she dropped it, and sat looking down with the same stolid expression that she ordinarily wore. Indeed, it had hardly changed even at the moment of that most unusual demonstration, for no trace of any emotion had been visible on the worn, old little face.
Tony was delighted, as pleased as though his sister had given evidence of some wonderful talent, or performed some heroic action.
"She likes ye, miss," he exclaimed, "an' I allus knowed she did, though she wouldn't let on. She likes ye fust rate, though she wor kinder back'ard 'bout lettin' on. Now don't ye like the lady, Matty? If she hadn't liked ye lots, miss, she wouldn't er——" Here he checked himself with a frightened, embarrassed look, and rushing out of the little store, applied himself vigorously to the turning of his empty, tireless peanut-roaster.
But not a word, and not another token of any thing like feeling, was to be drawn from Matty. The rock had hardened again, and to all appearances no softening influences could be brought to bear upon it. It was not until Mrs. Petersen again expressed her positive intention of going to call the elder Blairs to account, and was about to start off for that purpose, that the child roused herself again, and turned, with something of apprehension in her expression, to look for Tony, who, having discovered that he was working aimlessly, was making ready to kindle his charcoal and fill his roaster.
"I go to dat mutter an' fader; I gif dem some pieces of my mi-int," said Mrs. Petersen, as she turned toward the door; but Milly stopped her.
"Do not, please, Mrs. Petersen," she said, in a tone too low to reach Matty's ear. "It will only make trouble for yourself and us. We cannot give poor Matty back her beautiful hair; and if you vex those dreadful people, it will only put fresh difficulties in the way of persuading them to give up the children."
"I tell dem my mi-int," persisted Mrs. Petersen; but finally she was persuaded to listen to reason and to satisfy herself with relieving her "mi-int."
My idea had been to induce Mrs. Petersen and Johnny—or Mrs. Petersen rather, for Johnny was sure to follow her lead, to take Matty and Tony under their care, and give them a home. Cousin Serena had offered to furnish the means for Tony's support, and I to do the same for Matty. But the florist and his wife had been unwilling to undertake the charge, even if the parents could be bribed to give up the children, lest they should be exposed to trouble in the future; therefore the Blairs had not yet been approached on the subject. I was for taking high-handed measures, and having the children separated from them on the ground of neglect and cruelty; but wiser and less impulsive heads than mine had decided that there was hardly sufficient reason for this, and I had been obliged to restrain my impatience and content myself with such alleviations of their lot as I could compass at present. I am not patient by nature, and could not bear to have any delay or hinderances put in the way of my schemes for the benefit of those children, and in secret I chafed a little over this.
It will readily be surmised what had become of Matty's hair.
Doubting the truth of Theodore's story, and yet fearing that there might be some foundation for it, Tony had confided to his sister that he meant to ask Jim about it, notwithstanding Theodore's warning to beware how he did so. Jim's anger at the questions he had put, especially at that regarding the "poisoning," had been enough to convince him that it was all true. Jim had a secret which he was afraid to have known; and that secret could be nothing more nor less than the alleged poisoning, which he plainly could not or would not deny; and which, according to ignorant little Tony's ideas, he was afraid to have come to the ears of the police. Theodore had learned of that unfortunate occurrence—as we heard later when all this came to light—through the medium of a stray copy of the objectionable paper containing the paragraph before referred to. This he had happened to read to his grandfather and grandmother, who, proud of his ability to do this far better than they could do it for themselves—for reading with Captain and Mrs. Yorke was a work of time and difficulty, involving more pains-taking than pleasure—often set him to amuse them in this way in the evening.
"Madison Avenue" to Captain Yorke was comprised in the block on which our house was situated; and the curiosity of the old man being insatiable, he had never rested until he had located the house. By dint of questioning Thomas and the other servants, he soon learned all there was to know, and was greatly excited and very wrathy when he heard the truth. He repeated this to his wife and grandson, bidding them never to say a word about it, as the family had been much annoyed and displeased. Theodore, however, had once ventured to ask Jim about the matter, and had been met by such a burst of fury that he had never ventured to speak of it again to him. Not for fear of offending Jim, however, but because he dreaded the anger of his grandfather, should Jim complain, as he threatened to do, to the old man; for Jim would have told in this case on my account.
But it answered Theodore's purpose when he set himself to work to devise means to obtain the five dollars he coveted. He had aroused the fears of these ignorant children for those who had been kind to them, and having been convinced by Jim's behavior that it was all true, Tony had proposed what indeed had been in Matty's mind before, that she should sell her hair, and so buy Theodore's silence. Matty had agreed; and that morning, before they had made their appearance at the florist's, they had gone to a barber's, and, with small worldly wisdom, Tony had demanded if he would give five dollars for Matty's hair.
Gazing with astonishment and delight at the mine of wealth displayed for his approbation, the barber drew the long silky tresses through his fingers, and closed the bargain at once, as well he might, supposing him to be possessed of neither heart nor conscience. Matty's head was expeditiously shorn, and the proceeds of the unrighteous sale were put into Tony's hands; for he had appeared as the speaking partner throughout the transaction, Matty maintaining the usual impassive, sullen silence, so seldom broken save for her brother and the Petersens.
The next thing to do was to see Theodore and to hand him the money; and being in haste to do this before he should have time to give the dreaded information to the police, Tony went to the boarding-place which was his home at present, Matty waiting for her brother on the neighboring corner, and asked for Theodore.
Now, this proceeding, as it proved, brought swift detection and punishment upon the young blackmailer.
Theodore had not remembered to guard against the children coming to the house; indeed, he had not thought of his rascally scheme bearing fruit at all so soon.
Happily for the frustration of that scheme, Theodore was out, having been sent on an errand by his grandfather; and the old captain himself, who was lounging on the front steps, was the one who first met the lame boy. Tony, who was not able to read numbers, had not been quite sure of his ground in the row of houses all so much alike; but he had no further doubt when he saw Captain Yorke.
At first he drew back, uncertain whether to make it known that his business was with Theodore; but his fear that his tormentor would "tell the perlice" before he had the opportunity to quiet him was too strong for his caution, and he asked the captain if Theodore was "to home."
"No, he ain't; an' what ye want with Theodore, sonny?" asked the captain.
Tony hesitated and fidgeted; and the old man asked sharply and quickly, "He ain't been hookin' your peanuts agin?"
"No—o," stammered Tony; and the captain, coming down the steps to where the boy stood, laid his hand upon his shoulder, and said sternly,—although the sternness was not for the cripple,—
"Ef he's touched another peanut, or been a-wrongin' of ye any way, tell me,—tell me right off. What is it?"
But Tony dared not tell; and the honest old seaman, whose confidence in his grandson had never been fully restored, was convinced that he had been about some of his evil ways again. He could do nothing with Tony, however; no persuasions could avail to draw any explanation from him; and he presently made his escape, hobbling down the street with the marvellous celerity with which he used his crutches, leaving the captain a prey to disquietude and apprehension.
Nor had he hope of obtaining any thing like the truth from Theodore himself: so he asked him no questions when he returned, nor did he tell him that Tony had come to ask for him, but, after taking counsel with himself, resolved to see Johnny Petersen, and tell him to be on the watch; and soon after we had left the florist's, he appeared there.
Tony saw the old Brutus coming down the street, stern and determined of aspect, trouble in every line of his weather-beaten countenance, and supposed himself to be his objective point. Dreading further catechism, and not being willing to encounter it, he dropped the crank of the peanut-roaster, and was off again before the captain was near enough to speak. Johnny could tell nothing, he thought, save that Matty's hair was gone, which the old man could not fail to see for himself; and his sister, he well knew, would not speak. For a moment he thought he would seize his opportunity, and hasten back to the house while Captain Yorke was away, and hand Theodore the five dollars; but he recollected that the oppressor would be at school, and so this would be useless. From a safe distance he watched for the captain's departure, and did not venture near his post till he saw him come out and walk away.
As he had foreseen, not a word could either Captain Yorke or the florist draw from Matty, when the former had made known the purpose of his coming; and they both questioned her closely. One might have thought that she was utterly deaf and dumb as she sat opposing that stolid, determined silence to all they said. Johnny knew nothing which could throw any light on the subject; and after telling him of Tony's embarrassment, and bidding him be on the watch, the heavy-hearted old man left the little shop.
Johnny did keep on the watch, but refrained from asking Tony any questions, keeping his eye upon him, however; but no further developments appeared until later in the day, when he saw Theodore coming down the other side of the avenue, and observed that Tony raised a warning finger to him as if to bid him keep his distance. Theodore paused on the opposite corner, and Tony went over to meet him.
Considerations of delicacy did not withhold Johnny from intruding upon what was evidently meant to be a private interview; and when, after a moment's converse, Tony put his hand in his pocket, and drew forth something which he gave to Theodore, the florist darted from his shop, and rushed across the street with an agility which was hardly to be expected from one of his years and girth.
Theodore saw him coming, and his guilty conscience leaped to the truth; Johnny suspected something wrong, and was coming to accuse him.
Closing his hand tightly on the prize which he had just received from his victim, he turned, and started to run. But an avenging Nemesis, in the shape of a piece of orange-peel, was behind him; his foot slipped upon it, and he came heavily to the ground. Before he could rise, the florist precipitated himself upon him with so much momentum, that he too lost his balance, and fell flat upon the boy. Not one whit disturbed was Johnny, however, by the fear that he might have injured his prisoner, although he had half knocked the breath from the boy's body; on the contrary, he would, I think, have been quite pleased to know that Theodore was seriously bruised.
Rising with some difficulty, and not without assistance from a passer-by who had seen the catastrophe, puffing and panting, but still retaining the hold he had taken of Theodore's collar, he hauled the boy to his feet, and, regardless of the punishment he had already inflicted, gave him a hard cuff upon the ear, saying,—
"You runs away from me, will you? I learns you, my poy, you shtays ven I vants to shpeak mit you."
Supposing from this authoritative address that he was the father of the boy who had been guilty of some wrong, the man who had helped him passed on his way, leaving him to deal with the culprit as he saw fit. And Johnny saw fit to handle him with any thing but gentleness, pushing him before him across the street, and into the shop, giving him now and then a vicious shake, diversifying this with an occasional punch in the back with the fist of the disengaged hand. Had they had any distance to go, they would probably have drawn a crowd after them; as it was, they reached Johnny's quarters without attracting any special attention.
"Now," said the breathless florist when he had his captive safely within the shelter of the shop, "now, vat is your pusiness mit Tony? Tony is my scharge, an' I don' let him talks mit poys what shteals what don' pelongs to dem. Vat you got here?"
And he seized the tightly closed hand containing the five dollars, which Theodore had not yet found opportunity to conceal in a safer place. Theodore resisted; but he was no match for Petersen, who tripped him up again without compunction, and, regardless of consequences to the surrounding plants,—which happily came to no harm in the struggle,—sat upon him, and opened his hand with both his own.
Johnny was not a particularly brilliant Dutchman, and his mind was generally slow in arriving at any conclusion; but the two and two which were to be put together here were not difficult to compute; and as he looked from the five-dollar bill to Matty's shorn head, and back again, he was not long in deciding that they made four. Matty for once showed some sign of emotion as she sat rubbing her hand over her poor little head in a nervous manner; although beyond this, and the stare with which she regarded the combatants, she showed no trace of interest in the affair, never once opening her lips.
"So!" said the florist, holding out the bill at arm's length,—"so! How is dis? You put Matty's head to de schissors, an' take him all off, und you shteal den her monish. De peanuts is a pad pisness; but dis is so much vorse as it goes to de prison. Tell me, Tony, how is dis?"
"I didn't steal it, he gave it to me; and I didn't touch Matty's hair," panted the prostrate Theodore. "He—he—he wanted me to do something for him, and he said he would give me that if I did it. Oh! let me up!"
"Hole your mout, and shpeak ven you is shpoken mit," said Johnny. "Tony, shpeak an' tell me. How vas it? You is cut off Matty's head; you is got de monish, five tollars, vat I tells you he is vort; now tell me what for you gifs dis five tollars to dis pad poy, a poy so vorse as I do not know. I vill haf you tell me; if no, I calls de police."
There was no escape; on all hands Tony saw visions of the police, who would soon ferret out the whole matter, away back to Miss Amy and Jim (so Tony thought); and he found it best to throw himself and all concerned on the mercy of his old friend, and make a full confession.
As he told the shameful story of how Theodore had threatened to tell Jim's "secret," and to let the police know of the "poisoning" unless somebody paid him five dollars to keep it quiet; of the confirmation he had himself received from Jim's manner and words when he asked him about it; of how he and Matty had resolved to save their friends by the sacrifice of the hair which Johnny himself had often told them was worth so much money; of how they had gone to the barber's, and sold the hair; and lastly, how he, seeing Theodore on the opposite side of the street, had hurried over to bribe him with the five dollars to hold his peace, and how Theodore had accepted the price,—the kind-hearted florist waxed more and more angry; and when he rose, and once more hauled the boy to his feet, it was only to seize a cane, and administer such a chastisement as the culprit had seldom or never received.
Theodore made little or no outcry, however, for he was afraid of attracting attention from without, and perhaps himself falling into the hands of the law; for he did not know, if his deeds were once made public, how far he might be under the ban of that authority.
"Now you go," said Johnny, when at last he paused, breathless from all his exertions, and with one final shake released his captive; "go und tell de gran'fader I fin' vat is de matter out, und I gifs de vorst vips as I could gif to de vorst poy in all de down, und so I safes him some droubles. But if he dinks to gif you some more of de same veesic, I dink it not too moosh. For dat gran'fader, I says notings to de police for dis time; bud if you says one leetle more vord apout de young lady or dat goot poy Jim, or makes afrait any more dese schillens, den you see some dings to make you shtare. Go, go!"
And Theodore stood not upon the order of his going.
The pleasure of the day with our friends had been much marred for me by the recollection of the shorn head of my forlorn little protegee and the repulsive appearance she now presented; and I was more than ever anxious to remove her from the father and mother, who, I thought, had treated her so unjustly and cruelly; and I could not reconcile myself to the idea that this afforded no grounds for my taking them away.
But that difficulty was presently to be solved in the most satisfactory way to those who had at heart the welfare of the crippled children.
Mother had occasion to send Jim upon an errand shortly after his return from school that afternoon; and he found it convenient, according to his usual custom, to return by a roundabout way, and stop at the peanut-stand. The excitement in Johnny's small establishment had hardly subsided when he made his appearance, and it was little wonder that he tarried long on his errand; so long, indeed, that mother rather lost patience, and said that she should forbid his stopping at his favorite haunt, except by express permission, if this occurred again. But his want of punctuality was quite forgiven when he came in with the tidings which he bore.
As usual, however, when any question arose of Theodore's want of principle, or any instance of it was shown, there was something in Jim's manner which excited the attention of those of the household under whose immediate observation he most came; and again Milly was surprised to see how wistful, uneasy, and absolutely nervous he was, appearing, as he often had before, as if there were something on his mind which he wished to tell her, but which he could not muster courage to confess.
MATTY IS PROVIDED FOR.
"Of course," said Uncle Rutherford, that evening in family conclave, "this business settles the question of that scholarship for Theodore Yorke. He has proved himself more utterly without principle or common honesty, than I could have believed possible; and while, for poor old Yorke's sake, I should be glad to give him another chance of redeeming his character, I do not feel that the boy himself is worthy of it. He is radically bad and vicious, with a natural leaning toward deceit and dishonesty, and a capacity for crime that is absolutely startling, or he never could have arranged so deliberate a plan to obtain money from these poor little cripples. It was absolute blackmailing; and the Yorkes, I fear, have sad trouble in store for them with the boy. All the better for your protege, Milly, if he continues to do as well as he has done lately. That fellow is in earnest, whatever may be the aims and influences which control him."
"I think," said aunt Emily, "that Mrs. Yorke is right, and that it would be best both for the captain and for Theodore to go home. The old man keeps her in a constant worry, by his very innocence and simplicity, which are so easily imposed upon; and it will be far better for that boy to be where he is not surrounded by so many temptations. Do you not think so, Nicholas? Better for him to be in his quiet, out-of-the-way home, than here, where there are so many inducements to evil for a boy without principle, such as has certainly proved himself."
Before Uncle Rutherford had time either to agree or dissent, Thomas announced that Captain Yorke wished to see Mr. Rutherford and Mr. Livingstone, and was told to show the old man into the adjoining library, whither papa and Uncle Rutherford adjourned to see him.
But through the half-drawn portieres, the rest of us heard all that passed; and, indeed, the captain was not reticent,—it was not in his nature to be,—and he would have been quite as garrulous in the presence of an audience of any size, provided he knew all his hearers to be friends. And not even the gravity of his errand, or the subject on which he held forth, could restrain him from the various deviations and wanderings to which he was prone when talking. It will not be necessary to repeat all these here.
The old man had gone back to Johnny Petersen's just as the florist was closing his shop for the night, timing his second visit after the hour at which he knew the cripples would have left, and asked Johnny if he had any further information for him. Johnny was not inclined to talk, he found, and tried to evade his questions; but he was obliged to allow that Theodore had appeared again; and finally, so determined was the captain, that he asked him to come with him to his home, where he would tell him all.
Seated in Mrs. Petersen's cosey room, the poor old seaman heard the story in all its details, half bewildered by the good Dutchman's broken English, but fully able to extract from it all the painful and shameful particulars of his grandson's rascality. Once launched into his narration, Johnny spared nothing, and, at the end, rather glorified himself for having taken matters into his own hands, and administered condign punishment to the culprit upon the spot; nor did he deem it necessary to apologize to the grandfather for having done so, neither did Captain Yorke seem to expect this, or to think that he was not perfectly justified in all that he had done.
Theodore had gone home, after his encounter with Johnny, evidently suffering and much crestfallen; but when his grandfather had questioned him, he had added to his sins, and accounted for this, by saying that he had had a fight in school; he being quite unaware of the captain's suspicions, and of his interviews with Tony and the florist in the morning. His grandfather had not yet confronted him with the discovery of his sin; for he had come directly from the Petersens to our house, deeming it best to take counsel with those whom he considered wiser and less interested than himself.
"I thought I had done with all sich work when I heered Tom was took," said the old man pathetically; "but here it's broke out agin, an' me an' Mis' Yorke not so young as we was by a long shot, an' can't stan' it so well. The Scriptur says, 'Like father, like son;' an' I've faith to b'lieve it, seein' I'm provin' it in my own fam'ly."
"No, no, captain," said uncle Rutherford, holding out his hand kindly to the veteran, "you must not say that, for if Tom had been like his father, he would have been a man in whom all who knew him placed confidence. And"—contradicting his own words spoken some time since—"we will not despair of your grandson yet. He is young, and under good influences now."
"It's all the wus, Gov'nor," said the captain, shaking his head, "all the wus to see him so young and so wicked. The Scriptur' says, 'The ways of transgressors is hard;' but I b'lieve the ways of them what has to do with the transgressors, an' foller them up, is harder, an' them's my opinions."
Father and uncle Rutherford each offered a few words of sympathy, and endeavored to comfort him; but he was not yet to be consoled, and could see no hope for the future. He was terribly distressed over the necessity of telling Mrs. Yorke, and said that he meant to "sleep over it," and think of the best way of breaking it to her. But we all knew how much probability there was of that. No sooner would he see his wife, than his full heart would overleap all restraint he might have intended to put upon it, and she would be put in possession of all the facts, down to the smallest details.
In the midst of his own perplexities, however, the captain did not forget a piece of news he had brought with him, and which especially interested me, and speedily drew me into the library.
While he was still with the Petersens, but on the point of taking his leave, the sound of crutches had been heard on the stairs; and Johnny, turning to listen, said,—
"Dems is Tony mit his crushes. Vat is upper now?" and opened the door to admit not only Tony, but also his sister. Tony was flustered and frightened, with eyes half starting from his head; but Matty was impassive as usual, and showed neither terror nor excitement.
"They've gone!" exclaimed the lame boy.
"Who are gone? Vat is de madder?" asked Johnny; then added, before Tony could answer, "Poor leetle poy, he is all upside down mit dis day. Shpeak, Tony."
"They've gone," repeated Tony; "an' what is wus, the furnitur' is gone too, an' there ain't no beds nor nuthin'."
"Vat is gone?" asked Mrs. Petersen in her turn; then, jumping at her own conclusions, added, "De vater an' de mutter?"
"Yes, and good riddance, too; on'y we ain't got any place to sleep," said Tony; which filial sentiment found an echo in the hearts of all present.
It was all true, as Johnny found on investigation. When Tony and Matty had gone home that evening, they found the wretched room on the top floor of a tenement-house, which they had inhabited with their father and mother, empty and tenantless; the few articles of worthless furniture (if furniture it could be called) which it had formerly held, taken away. But if there was no one there to welcome them, neither did there await them the abusive language and hard blows they too frequently encountered. They were not in the slightest degree troubled by the loss; their only feeling seemed to be, as Tony expressed it, that it was a "good riddance," save that they had no other resting-place for the night. A pitying neighbor had given them their supper; and they were told that their mother had gone out early in the morning, soon after they had gone to business, and, re-appearing with a carter, had had her few possessions carried away, leaving no word whither she was bound, or message for the helpless children. The mystery was solved in a degree, when two police-officers appeared a few hours later, saying that Blair was "wanted" for a grave offence against the law; but the bird had flown, and so far left no trace.
I was delighted, and could almost have thanked Blair for committing a crime which rendered flight necessary, and seemed to leave the way open for a decent provision for the destitute children.
Captain Yorke told us that Mrs. Petersen was going to keep them for the night, and that they were already quite at home and comfortable, and Tony excitedly happy,—happiness and Matty could not be associated,—with the motherly German woman and her husband.
But our two gentlemen and Captain Yorke had not yet come to any conclusion as to what was to be done with Theodore; and it was an embarrassing question to decide. To take the boy, a boy who was making fair progress in his studies, and who was pains-taking and ambitious, from school, and bury him in the quiet sea-side home, where, save for three or four months of the year, he would be almost altogether cut off from association with any but the few still primitive inhabitants of the Point, and where he would be entirely deprived of any advantages of education, seemed almost too much punishment even for the grave offences which those three honorable, high-minded men found it hard to condone. But, again, it was not to be thought of, that, devoid of conscience and right feeling as he was, he should be left alone exposed to the temptations of the great city. For Captain and Mrs. Yorke must shortly return home, Mrs. Yorke's physician having pronounced her sufficiently cured to be allowed to do so in the course of a few weeks; and, even as it was, the nominal protection of Theodore's grandparents had formed no safeguard against evil. The evil was in his own heart, but he might be placed where there would be fewer opportunities for its development.
It was a grave matter for consideration, and could not be hastily decided.
"Of course," said uncle Rutherford, as he bid the captain good-night, "of course it is out of the question for Theodore to remain in the city after you and Mrs. Yorke leave, even under the care of the kind woman with whom you now board; he would not recognize her authority, and would consider himself free to go any lengths. No, that is not to be thought of; but we may devise some other plan by which he may have some schooling and be kept in proper restraint; and he may yet in time prove a help and comfort to you, Yorke. For your sake I would do much to set him in the right way; and his teachers think that he has the making of a clever man in him, if we can but instil something like principle into his character. Take heart, man."
But the captain went out sadly and hopelessly shaking his gray head, over which twenty years seemed to have passed since the morning of that day.
It was not, perhaps, that his affection for his grandson had been so deeply grieved; for the boy had, until less than a year since, been quite a stranger to his grandparents, and Theodore was not an attractive boy even to his own family; and, had the choice been given to the captain, he would undoubtedly have much preferred to claim Jim as his own, his open, sunny, joyous nature responding much more readily to the old man's than did that of the far less amiable Theodore. But he felt ashamed and disgraced, and as if he could not bear to look any one of the name of Rutherford or Livingstone in the face, while he still felt that to our family alone could he turn for help and advice in this sad business.
"Ye see, you and Mr. Livingstone knows a heap more 'bout wicked ways an' doin's than me an' Miss Yorke does, Gov'nor," he said to uncle Rutherford, altogether innocent of any uncomplimentary inference which might be drawn, "an' so ye'd know the best ways out of 'em. Yes, I says to myself, says I, if there's enny one knows the ways out of a bad scrape, it'll be them city born and bred gentlemen; so I come along to tell ye afore I tole Miss Yorke or nothin'. Mebbe ye could tell me how to make it a little lighter for her," he added wistfully.
Alas! beyond the promise to think the matter over, and to consider what was best to be done, his two friends could give him little consolation to convey to the poor grandmother, who had built so much on the opportunities offered to the boy who she had hoped and believed would prove a credit and support to the declining years of herself and her husband.
The next morning, directly after breakfast, I announced my intention of going immediately round to see cousin Serena, and asking her to go with me to Mrs. Petersen's, to ascertain if there were any hope that she would take Tony and Matty, now that their father and mother had apparently deserted them. I would provide for Matty, and cousin Serena wished to do the same for the boy. I was very eager now to carry out my plans, believing that the lions in the way were entirely removed, and that no one could have any further objection to my doing so.
But, to my great disgust, again there were dissenting voices; for father and mother, aunt Emily, yes, and even impulsive, push-a-thing-ahead uncle Rutherford, said that it would not do to take it for granted that the elder Blairs would not return and claim the children. It was not probable, they agreed, but it was more than possible; and all my elders were quite positive that the Petersens would not undertake the care of Tony and Matty until they felt assured that the parents were not likely to meddle with them, or to make trouble for those who had them in charge.
"But I want to go and see," I said, determined, if possible, to carry my point at once, "if the Petersens will do it—and they may. There is no use in leaving Matty unprovided for. What will she and Tony do if Mrs. Petersen will not keep them while it is uncertain whether that man and woman return or not?"
I spoke in rather an aggrieved tone, feeling somewhat inclined to think my relatives hard-hearted.
"Interview Mrs. Petersen, if you choose, my daughter," said papa; "only be prepared for disappointment."
"I only want to see Matty provided for, papa," I answered, a little ashamed of my former pettishness.
"And Matty, and Tony also, shall not be allowed to suffer, Amy," said uncle Rutherford sympathetically; mindful, perhaps, of his own propensity for forcing things to a wished-for conclusion at once.
"I'll see cousin Serena, and take her views, anyway," I said, my good humor restored; and I lost little time in carrying out my purpose.
Miss Craven herself was so eager and earnest when in pursuit of any plan, especially when it was for the benefit or pleasure of others, that I built much on her co-operation in the work of persuading the Petersens to take the cripples under their protection at once; and I was proportionately crestfallen when I found that she took the same view of the case as my own family, saying also that she did not believe that Johnny and his wife would agree to my proposal, and that she did not think it advisable that they should. However, she willingly consented to go with me to the Petersens.
And, lo! I returned triumphant; for Mrs. Petersen, moved probably more by the utter desolation of the children than by any arguments or persuasions of mine, had consented without difficulty to take them for the present, and to retain them so long as the parent Blairs did not return or claim them.
And whatever his wife decided, that was sure to be the best in Johnny's eyes; so, her consent being gained, there was no fear of a dissenting voice from him. Moreover, recollections of his own youth inclined Johnny's heart to be merciful.
"Und why for no," he said, when appealed to on behalf of the deserted children, "why for no? Sometime ven mine fader und mutter die mit me, und dere vas nopody to gif leetle Johnny notings, vat should he do, if did not come some goot peoples vat take und eat him und sleep him? I don' forget; und how I vas done py, I do mit der oders. Mine wife she vas so goot as a mutter for dem."
The arrangement was concluded to the mutual satisfaction of the Petersens and myself, to say nothing of that of Tony,—Matty, as usual, showing no sign either of pleasure or the contrary. There was no time lost in settling the cripples in their new quarters, so superior in all respects to any they had ever enjoyed before. There was nothing to be moved from those they had occupied with their father and mother; not a splinter, not a shred, beyond the clothes they had on and those kept at Mrs. Petersen's, was left to them; indeed, had there been, we never should have allowed them to claim it, nor would Mrs. Petersen have allowed it to come into her tidy apartments.
My day was occupied in a fever of energy, running from one place to another, providing beds and clothing and other articles,—many of which, had I not been checked by wiser counsels, would have been unnecessary and unfit,—dragging cousin Serena with me; begging from mother, aunt Emily, and Mrs. Sanford, and drawing somewhat heavily on my own resources. At last every thing was ready, to the serene content of Mrs. Petersen, who now seemed to feel as if she had really adopted the children; and when evening came, I rested in the happy consciousness that Matty was at last well provided for, as I would have her, and that I had carried my point with comparatively little trouble.
Jim beamed upon me every time he came near me, and he appeared to have a sense of partnership which was not a little amusing.
Amy had "taken it awfully hard," my brothers, Norman and Douglas, said as they ran me on my new burst of philanthropy; but I was too complacent and well satisfied to be at all disturbed by their comments.
Little did I dream, while dwelling on the future I had planned for the little hunchback, that a higher hand than mine was so soon to take all provision for her into its own keeping.
On the afternoon of the next day, as Milly and I, just dressed for a very different scene from that to which we were suddenly called, were passing down the stairs to the carriage which was awaiting us, Jim came rushing up in a state of terrible excitement, with distressed, frightened eyes looking out of a deadly white face.
"Miss Milly! Miss Milly!" he gasped, all out of breath as he was with rapid running, and addressing first the one to whom he was accustomed to turn in all emergencies or need for help, "Miss Milly, oh, come quick! No, no—it's Miss Amy I mean. Miss Amy, come quick; she wants you!"
"Who wants me? what is the matter?" asked both Milly and I in one breath, and very much alarmed as we saw that there was really some serious trouble.
"Matty! She'll be gone, miss. Oh, come quick!" he answered, still in the same breathless manner.
Visions of the drunken mother returning for the child, and striving to take her away against her will, at once presented themselves to my imagination; and now, indeed, my boasted interest in Matty was tried. Was I expected to face this worthless, angry woman, and rescue my poor little protegee? I could not do it; this was my first thought. Then, again, was I to abandon the poor child without one struggle, without one effort to prevail on the woman to leave the helpless child in the better hands into which she had fallen? Like a flash of lightning all this passed through my brain; then I said to Jim faintly and with a faltering heart,—
"Is there any one there to help?"
"Yes, miss," answered Jim; "there's Johnny, an' Mrs. Petersen, an' the policeman brought her in, an' the doctor. But, O Miss Amy, do make haste! she wants you so bad, an' the doctor said to bring you quick."
The doctor? Then was Matty ill, in danger?
"What is it, Jim? Do speak," said Milly. "What is the trouble? Is Matty ill? do you mean she is dying?"
"The doctor said so, Miss Milly. 'Twas the fire-engine. But do be quick!"
A sickening horror came over me, and Milly turned as white as a sheet; but no more time was lost. We hurried into the carriage, bade Jim mount beside the coachman, and, not even knowing whither we were bound, left the directions to him.
But the drive to our unknown destination was not a long one; and in two minutes we drew up at Dutch Johnny's little flower-store, around which a crowd had gathered, through which we had to push our way; or rather the policeman, who stood by the door, opened a way for us.
Stretched upon the floor, in the midst of all the delicate verdure and brilliant color in the florist's small store, lay Matty, her little shorn head supported upon the breast of Mrs. Petersen, who was bending over her with the tears running down her cheeks. At Mrs. Petersen's side was Tony, leaning his head against her other shoulder, his face a mixture of terror, grief, and bewilderment, both his hands clasping those of Matty; around were grouped Johnny, a doctor, and a second officer.
Matty's eyes were fixed upon the door; and as we entered, a sudden gleam of intelligence and pleasure lighted them. She drew one of her hands from Tony's clasp, and stretched it out to me.
Regardless of my light spring costume as it came in contact with the damp floor of the greenhouse, I knelt in front of Mrs. Petersen, and bent over the poor little creature. Only once in my life had I seen death; and then neither my affections nor my sympathies had been enlisted, and my sensations, from the nature of the circumstances, had been only those of horror and repulsion, and I had fled from the sight, while now the recollection of it was as some dreadful dream. Never before had I seen a soul pass from the one life to the other; but countless experiences could not have told me the truth more forcibly than did the look upon the face so small, so pitifully old and care-worn. The hand of God's angel had already written it too plainly there.
A merciful angel, blotting out the traces of suffering and weariness and oppression such as, happily, few of God's little ones are called upon to bear; and imprinting in their place rest and peace unspeakable.
For Matty was passing away without pain; the injuries she had received had dulled sensation, while they were destroying life.
She motioned for me to bend down, for she was almost past speech; then raising both hands she tried to push back my hat. I flung it aside, and she passed her hands over my hair again and again, and drew her thin fingers, from whose touch I did not shrink now, through the curling rings about my forehead and temples; then her lips moved, and Tony stooped to listen.
"She says hers 'more purtier,'" said the poor little brother, half choking.
"Yes, Matty," I said, "much prettier. You had the prettiest hair I ever saw." Then, as a sudden inspiration flashed upon me, "I am going to that barber to buy back your hair, Matty; and Tony shall have it for his own to keep all his life."
Her face brightened, and a smile, the first, the only smile I ever saw upon it, lightened it and almost transfigured it; then she turned her eyes from me, and looked around the little store till they rested upon a beautiful pink azalea which stood at a little distance,—beautiful in itself, but not for the purpose for which Matty wanted it.
Taking one hand from my hair, while the fingers of the other still lingered among my curls, she pointed to the plant, and looked wistfully at Johnny. The good German was not usually quick of comprehension; but he understood the mute appeal now, and he asked in a voice even more husky than his usual guttural tones,—
"Vat you vants, Maddy? Some dem vlowers?"
She nodded assent, and the florist hastily cut a cluster, and put it in her hand. With fast-failing strength she tried to place it in my hair; but the effort was too much; and Milly, who stood behind me, assisted her to arrange the blossoms as she would have them. A look of intense satisfaction passed over the pallid face, as though to her untutored taste this glaring adornment was all that could be desired; then the hands fell, and the lips moved.
Both Tony and I tried to hear; but the only word I could hear was, "suffer."
"Do you suffer so, poor little Matty?" I asked, for the doctor had assured us that she did not.
She shook her head feebly, and I heard the word "children."
"What children? Do you mean you want to see my little sisters, Matty?" I asked.
"No, miss," interposed Tony. "I knows what she means. It is a teks was hung up in the Sunday-school room right forninst where she sat, an' she used to sit starin' at it like she hadn't nothin' else to think on; an' the lady what run the class teached it to her one day, 'cause it was the Golden Teks for that day, an' she's made me be a-hearin' ov it a many times since. She did set sich a heap by that teks as I niver saw, an' I'm thinkin' she wants yer to be a-repeatin' of it to her, miss.—Does yer, Matty?"
Again she nodded; and I said as well as my sobs would let me, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
"More, more," she whispered faintly; and I repeated over and over again the sweet, gracious invitation which has lasted and shall last through all time, gathering into those loving arms the little ones of every degree, the beautiful and the uncouth, the happy and the oppressed; until to the echo of that golden text poor Matty's soul floated away peacefully and quietly.
Unsightly, unhappy, and unloved, save for the faithful young brother to whom she was all in all,—to her, little had been given; and we may surely believe that from her little would be required.
So was Matty provided for, and the care of her taken from my hands and those of generous Jim, who really seemed to mourn for her as though she had been his own sister.
The particulars of the circumstances which led to her death, as related by Johnny Petersen, Tony, and the policeman who had witnessed the accident,—for accident it was,—were these.
Matty had had the most unbounded terror of the fire-engines,—perhaps owing to the fact, stated by Tony, that her deformity had been occasioned by her being thrown from a window during a fire when she was a very young child; and she probably associated the engines with all the misery, both mental and physical, which she had ever since suffered. However that may be, the sight or sound of them was sufficient to rouse her from the state of dull apathy usual to her, into a paroxysm of alarm and nervousness; and if Tony were anywhere within reach she always sought his side with some fancied idea of protection, until the terror was beyond her vision and hearing.
Tony had been sent by Johnny on some errand, and was returning, and had nearly reached the opposite corner of the avenue, when the sound of the galloping hoofs and rattling wheels of a fire-engine were heard.
Matty at her stand without the florist's shop was out of harm's way; but no sooner did the clatter of the approaching steamer strike her ear, than she hastily rose from her seat, and started to meet Tony, who, pausing with boyish interest to watch the engine as it came up the cross street, did not see or heed his sister until it was too late. Johnny saw from within the shop, and started to hold back the child: but fear lent wings to Matty's usually slow and faltering footsteps; she heeded not or heard not his calls; and, before he could reach her, the engine swung around the corner into the avenue, and the already so sadly disfigured little form lay among the trampling hoofs and crushing wheels.
Johnny himself had raised her, and carried her tenderly into his little bower, where he laid her down among the flowers to breathe away the few short moments of her waning life. Seeming to be conscious at once of what was before her, she had made Tony understand by signs and one or two faintly gasped words that she wanted me; and Jim, who had as usual stopped in on his way from school, had hastened to bring me.
Sobered and sadly impressed, and yet with a feeling that Matty's release was a blessing beyond all expression, Milly and I returned home, with no heart, as may be supposed, for the entertainment for which we had been bound when we were called to her.
Two days had passed, and poor little Matty had been laid to the rest which knows no breaking; and all about Mrs. Petersen's rooms and the little flower-shop had settled to its usual routine, save that Tony still abode with the kind Germans, and that he tended alone both the peanut-stand and his roaster. His parents had not yet returned, nor have we to this day obtained, or indeed sought, any trace of them; all concerned being only too glad that they have made no claim upon the little lame boy. Tony, now no longer a peanut-vender, has been promoted to the post of assistant and errand-boy to Johnny Petersen, who, with his wife, treat the lad as if he were their own son, instead of a little deserted waif cast by a merciful Providence into their kind hands.
I had, happily,—or rather Edward had for me,—been able to rescue Matty's beautiful tresses from the hands of the conscienceless barber, who, when approached on the subject, demanded the most exorbitant price for them; but finding that the circumstances of the first sale were known to the gentleman, and being confronted with Tony, whom my brother had taken with him and left outside till he should ascertain what advance in price would be asked, he came down in his demands, and parted with them at exactly three times the sum he had paid for them, and which probably, in righteousness, he should have given to Matty.
They were at once given to Tony, whose pride in them had been only less than that of his sister, and who, with a show of tender sentiment scarcely to be expected from one of his surroundings and antecedents, received them as a gift from the dead. Cheery, jolly little Tony! but for this and other similar tokens of an affectionate heart, it might have been thought that he was wanting in feeling, so easily did his elastic, joyous spirit throw off trouble; so completely did he extract all the sweet, and throw aside all the bitter, offered to him by a lot in life which most of us would not have envied.
In the trouble and excitement over the sudden fate of the little "deform," as Allie and Daisy had called her, we had for the moment put aside the question of what was to be done with Theodore Yorke; but now it was to be decided.
That the boy could be touched; that he was not lost to all trace of human or decent feeling,—was shown by the trouble, and, his grandparents thought, remorse, which he testified on hearing of Matty's tragical death; and he would even have tried to make some amends to Tony, had not the lame boy absolutely refused to let him come near him; while the florist, seeing him from within the shop, rushed out upon him, and threatened him with some more of the same "veesic" as he had administered before, seeming inclined to do so whether or no; and Theodore, plainly thinking discretion the better part of valor, had lost no time in putting a safe distance between himself and the pugilistic old German.
Not wishing to discuss the subject in the presence of the culprit or his distressed and anxious grandmother, uncle Rutherford had told Captain Yorke to come again to our house in the evening of the day on which Matty was buried; having first taken counsel with father and mother and aunt Emily as to the best course to be pursued for all interested. The captain seemed quite to have lost his usual independence and courage, and had put himself and his family into the hands of those who he knew were good friends to him and his.
"I didn't let on to the boy, Gov'nor an' Mr. Livingstone," he said, rubbing up his grizzled locks as was his wont when talking, "I didn't let on to the boy as we was thinkin' he was to be took from school; but I'm glad to say he was consid'able cut up along of that poor little hunchback, an' his bein' so mean to her jes' afore she was took; an' I'm thinkin' he has some kind of feelin's in respecks of her, all the more mebbe as he thinks he's goin' to get off 'thout any more punishment than what he got; an' I don't bear no grudge agin that Dutch flower-man for what he done to him,—an' isn't he a Dutchy though! 'Pears like he ain't never studied no grammar nor good English, nor nothin', an' them's my opinions. He do talk the funniest, an' mos' times I don't hardly make no sense of it. But," with a heavy, long-drawn sigh, "what was yer both of ye thinkin' it was bes' to do?"
"We have thought, captain," answered uncle Rutherford, to whom father left all explanations, "we have thought it would be best and wisest, if you and his grandmother and mother agree, to send Theodore to a boarding-school on Long Island, where he will be kept under very strict discipline and supervision."
"Supervision! an' what may that be, Gov'nor, askin' yer pardon?" said the old man, as uncle Rutherford paused for a moment to see how he would take his proposal.
Uncle Rutherford explained, and, seeing that he must confine himself to simple words, went on,—
"We know the gentleman in charge, and believe that he will have an especial eye to Theodore if we ask him to do so; and he is an excellent teacher, and will bring him on in his studies. If Theodore does well there for a year or two, and shows himself fit to be trusted, we may then remove him to a different and higher school, where he may still fit himself to be a man, and a help and comfort to you. He has his future in his own hands; let him do well, and Mr. Livingstone and I will see that he is provided for till he is fitted to take care of himself; but an opportunity which might have been his"—O, dear uncle Rutherford, why need you have told this?—"must pass to another who has better deserved it. Do you feel that you can part with the boy, and let him go to boarding-school?"
"I reckon I ain't goin' to have much feelin's agin it," answered the captain, whose face had assumed an expression of intense relief as uncle Rutherford unfolded his plans. "I don't set such a heap by the boy as to set my face against his goin' to the boardin'-school, if it do be stric'; it'll do him good; an' he ain't got roun' me so's the other gran'children have, an' I'd a sight rather we had Jim for a gran'boy than this one, if he is my own flesh an' blood, as they say. I ain't never took no stock in him sence the first day he come, when I see him take his little sister's bigger cake unbeknownst to the little one, an' put his'n what was not so big in its place."
There were no family secrets or shortcomings which would not come to light when the captain was on the high-road to such disclosures; for a wise and discreet reticence was not his distinguishing characteristic, as we know.
"I hope he'll do well, an' turn out a credit to ye, Gov'nor an' Mr. Livingstone," he continued, as though washing his hands of the boy, though all the while the trouble dwelt upon his weather-beaten old face; "but I bet on Jim, an' I wish it was him had the chance ye speak of. Mebbe it is, now; an' if it was, it'd be 'most a set-off agin the other not havin' it. I set a lot on Jim!"
And the old man looked inquiringly at uncle Rutherford, who was not, however, quite so indiscreet as his interlocutor, and kept his own counsel so far as this.
So it was settled, then. Theodore was to be removed from the school he was attending at present, and sent to the boarding-school, where he would be under far closer restraint than he could be in the city, or even at home with his grandparents; and there could be no question that the old man felt that a great responsibility was taken from his shoulders.
"I wish it was time to go home. I mean, I wish Miss Yorke was cured up so's we could go home," he said. "I reckon I've seen about all there is to see in this town; an' it's my opinions I might 'bout as well be thinkin' of the seines an' poles, an' lobster-pots, an' so on. Course they wants lookin' arter 'cordin' to custom this time o' year; an' Jabez he's took so to carpenterin' an' what he calls cabiny-makin', he's goin' to let 'em slip, Jabez is; an' come time for settin' 'em they ain't goin' to be ready, an' I reckon I oughter to be there; but the doctor, he says four weeks more for Miss Yorke, an' he'll let her go cured. She's pretty first-rate now, an' she don't walk no more with a cane, on'y comin' up an' down the stairs. I never did see such folks to have long ladders of stairs as York folks is; when I fust come, I used to think I wouldn't never get to the top of 'em; an' even the poor folks here has to go a-pilin' theirselves up atop of stairs as high as a mast, one lot atop of another. Ye get up near the sky there; not that folks is so good an' heavenly; no, no; there's on'y a few of 'em that way;" with an approving nod at father and uncle Rutherford, and a comprehensive wave of his hand, as if to say that he excepted from his adverse criticism both of his present companions, and all who belonged to them; "on'y a few; but they're pintin' straight for the New Jerusylem,"—another nod pointed the compliment. "Where was I? Oh, them stairs. Wa'l, as I was a-sayin', I reckon I've had 'bout enuf of 'em, an' I'd like to be home where I can be down onto the flat groun' an' not like to what's his name's coffin, what I heerd the boys speakin' about, what got hitched half way up to heaven an' stuck there. He's a fable feller, ov course; Mahomet, that's his name; there ain't never been no such doin's sence miracle days 'cept in the theayters an' them places. An' t'other night Miss Dodge, she asked me would I go to the opery, an' I says 'yes.' I was boun' to see all there was to see, an' we went; an' such a goin' up stairs as there was there, up an' up an' up, an' when we got there I thought we might ha' stopped sooner; for down below there was lots of folks sittin' an' standin', an' I asked Miss Dodge why she didn't stop onto some of them floors, three or four of 'em below, an' she kinder smirked, an' says it costs lots to go in there. Wa'l, I couldn't make out what they was at on the platform,—the play actors; it wasn't half so nice as the mother-in-law actin'; they did all their talkin' to singin', an' they died singin', an' all sorts of things; an' there was a old man got young an' fell spooney on a girl; an' they all got foolisher an' foolisher, an' the devil was there, an' such a mix-up; an' bimeby the girl, she died in a prison, an' angel actin' folks come down an' took her up,—leastways was takin' her up to heaven,—an' there come a hitch, an' there they stuck, half up, half down. Miss Dodge said there must ha' been somethin' wrong with the machinery what h'isted 'em; an' it made me think of that feller's coffin, so I sung out, 'Mahomet's coffin!' an' the folks, some larfed, they was mostly boys an' young fellers, an' some few below looked up; an' Miss Dodge, she was awful affronted, an' she says she was glad enough we wasn't below, she would ha' been too mortified. W'al, that ain't nothin' to do with Miss Yorke, for she wasn't along; she couldn't ha' clumb so high; an' I never was a man of many words, so I'll get to my p'int. As I was a-sayin', Miss Yorke, she can't go home yet, an' she can't be left alone, so I've got to stay on."
Here mamma went to the rescue; for, as before, the rest of the family were gathered in the next room, and heard all that had passed. The two gentlemen had allowed the captain to ramble on, partly because he amused them and us, partly because they knew it was of little use to try to stop him after he had once started to expound his views on men and things.
"Captain," said mamma, joining the two in the library, "Mrs. Rutherford and I thought you were growing weary of the city, and wanted to go back home; so we have arranged a little plan which may suit you both, and will certainly suit me well. I have a great deal of sewing to be done now, which I should like to have done in the house, and Mrs. Yorke is such a beautiful seamstress that I should be glad of her assistance. Suppose that she comes here. I can give her accommodation on the basement floor, so that she need not go up and down stairs; and Mammy and my own seamstress will gladly do all that is needful for her. Then you can go home as soon as you choose. Will you ask her?"
The captain gazed for a minute into mother's face, then looked from her to father, from him to uncle Rutherford, and drew a long breath.
"Wa'l!" he ejaculated, "when you folks gets histed to heaven, I reckon there ain't goin' to be no hitch in the histin'. An' them's my opinions."
Having delivered himself of these "opinions," he rose, shook hands with mother, father, and uncle Rutherford, a long hard shake, expressive of his feelings; came into the room where the rest of us were gathered, and went through the same ceremony all round; returned to the library and repeated it, then once more back to the drawing-room for a second pumping of each arm, and finally managed to convey himself away; the last words which father heard as he closed the door behind him being, "No hitch in that histin'."
Two days after, Mrs. Yorke was comfortably settled in our basement, and industriously plying her needle; the captain was on his way home by water, where he would not be apt to go astray; while at a very few hours' notice Theodore had been removed from the one school, and sent to the other.
"Miss Milly," said Jim, meeting my sister in the hall on the afternoon of the day on which he had learned that his rival had been taken from the school they had both attended, and speaking in evident but repressed excitement, "Miss Milly, they say Theodore Yorke has left school for good. Has he, Miss Milly?"
"He has left your school, and been sent to another, Jim, where you will not be likely to meet him soon again," answered Milly.
"And they say it's an awful strict school, Miss Milly, a kind of a bad-boy school, where a feller don't get half so much chance as he does in ours."
"I think the discipline is very strict, Jim," replied his young mistress.
"And," wistfully, "he was sent there because of what he done—I mean, did—to Matty?"
Even in the midst of excitement, Jim was becoming careful to correct himself when he lapsed inadvertently into any inaccuracies of speech.
Milly hesitated for a moment, but she thought that the lesson might possibly point a moral, and she answered,—
"Yes, for that especially, Jim. It was his crowning offence; but Theodore is not a good, upright boy, and it was thought better to remove him to another and a stricter school."
"Thank you'm," said the lad as he walked away with a crestfallen air which much surprised Milly. Was he going to take so much to heart the absence of the boy between whom and himself there had waged a constant state of warfare ever since they had first met? Amy must be right, thought Milly, and there must be something behind these singular moods of Jim's. Was it possible that he, too, had fallen into temptation and sin, and, seeing with what consequences these had been fraught for Theodore, was now trembling for himself? She could hardly believe this, Jim had proved himself so frank and upright; but there must be something which he was hiding, and this was the only solution at which she could arrive.
But she was not kept much longer in doubt.
Jim slept over the matter upon his mind and conscience, and the next morning, which happened to be Saturday, and therefore a holiday, came to her, and requested a private interview.
The request was readily granted; and, taking him aside, Milly waited with more anxiety than can well be appreciated by those who did not know her interest in the boy.
"Miss Milly," he said, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, and twisting his hands nervously together as he stood before her, "Miss Milly, I've got something I ought to tell you."
"Well, Jim?" said Milly encouragingly.
"I don' know what you're goin' to think of me, miss," he answered with a very shamed face.
"If you have done wrong, Jim, and are ready to confess it now, I shall not be very severe with you,—you know that, Jim," said Milly. "You are in some trouble. I have seen for a long time that you had something on your mind; if you tell me, I may be able to help you out of it."
"I ain't in no scrape, Miss Milly, if that's what you mean," said the boy; "only—only—it's a mean kind of a thing, an' I've got to tell. 'Tain't fair for me to keep it to myself any longer. Bill's the only other feller knows. It's going to take my chance, for sure; but all the same, I've got to tell. I ain't so afraid of you as of—some others." He paused again, and again Milly had to re-assure and encourage him, bidding him remember that others as well as herself had his good and interest at heart, and that he had already tested these and not found them wanting.
"I know, Miss Milly," he answered, "but I can't bear for you or none of the family to think me a sneak, an' that's what I feel I've been now. 'Twasn't fair, an' now I know it. I did know it all along, on'y I wouldn't let on."
"Well, come, Jim," said Milly, determined to bring him to the point without any more of this shilly-shallying which was exceedingly unlike Jim; "you must tell me at once if you wish to do so, for I have an engagement, and shall have to leave you very soon."
"Well, miss," he replied, thus urged, "I found out—don't you be ashamed of me, Miss Milly—I found out about how Mr. Rutherford was goin' to give a big thing, some kind of a thing in the way of eddication, to me or Theodore Yorke, whichever turned out best this year at school, an' how he thought Theodore was a sneak, an' me too hot-tempered, an' always ready for a fight,—an' how he was goin' to see which did the best, not on'y in his learnin', but in his conduck, quite without us knowin' about what was afore us, an' then give that one this big thing. And, Miss Milly, you an' Mr. Rutherford, an' the rest of the fam'ly, maybe, thought me doin' well, an' takin' care of my temper. An' maybe so I was; but it was 'cause I was bound to beat Theodore, an' not let him get that prize. I felt awful mean all along; but now Theodore's cut up so, an' got sent off, an' he never knew nothin' about it, or maybe he'd done better, an' I don't feel it's fair in me. I knew, an' he didn't. I stood a lot from Theodore, an' didn't fly out at him on'y once or twice that you know about; but I wouldn't ha' stood it, an' there's many a time I would ha' fought him an' the other boys, too, on'y for thinkin' of that. So, you see, I did get more chance at the beginning than him, an' 'tain't fair in me. An' I thought to myself, If you're goin' to do a mean thing like this to get a hitch in life, how you goin' to get fit to be President? If you see somebody doin' a sneaky or dishonest thing, you can't have the face to pull him up an' send him to prison,"—as may be seen, Jim's ideas of the Presidential authority were that it was unlimited and autocratic,—"when you know you got there yourself on the sly; an' I wouldn't feel fit for it. So there wasn't no comfort in it one way or another; an' I made up my mind I'd tell you, an' you can tell Mr. Rutherford; an' anyhow I'll come out fair an' even chances with Theodore. Mr. Rutherford will maybe think this is worse than fightin' an' blowin' out?" interrogatively and wistfully.
Milly had let him go on without interruption when she had once succeeded in starting him, and had asked no questions; now she said,—
"I think, Jim, that Mr. Rutherford will be pleased that you had so far the mastery over yourself that you would not take what you considered an unfair advantage over Theodore. I am glad, truly glad that you have succeeded in learning to control your temper; but still more glad that your sense of honor and right led you to tell of this. But how did you learn of Mr. Rutherford's plan?"
Jim related how Bill, overhearing the conversation, or at least a part of it, on the evening on which the matter had been discussed by the family, had been the medium of communication, and how they had both resolutely guarded their knowledge of it until now; when Jim had told his comrade that he must make confession, and put himself, as he thought, on equal ground with his antagonist and unconscious rival.
"I didn't do it for no good feelin' to Theodore, Miss Milly," he added, "for I b'lieve I just hate Theodore. I didn't feel none too good to him ever since first I seen him, an' the more I saw him the worse I got to like him; but all the same, I'd got to be fair to him when it come—came—to his chance bein' lost. If I couldn't take care of myself that way, I ain't goin' to be fit to take care of these United States. Miss Milly, you'll tell Mr. Rutherford? I could tell you, but I couldn't tell him."
Milly answered him that she would be the bearer of his confession; and left him, much relieved herself to find that he had been guilty of nothing more serious, and thankful from her very heart to see that her teachings and his newly-awakened sense of justice would not allow him to take unfair advantage of another, even though that other might be one whom he considered an enemy. She lost no time in seeking uncle Rutherford, and telling him all, so that the boy might not be in suspense longer than was necessary; for she well knew that he would find a lenient judge in our uncle.
Nor was she wrong. Uncle Rutherford sent for Jim, and taking the boy's hand, shook it heartily, as he said, "My boy, you have gained the mastery over yourself, and no man can achieve a greater victory. I could wish that you had tried to keep control over your temper from a better and higher motive than the wish to outstrip Theodore; but we may trust that you will set that before yourself now. Go on as you have begun, and the scholarship is yours in good time. My best wishes go with you, and I sincerely trust that you may win the prize."