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Title: Martha By-the-Day
Author: Lippmann, Julie Mathilde, 1864-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Martha By-the-Day" ***

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                            MARTHA BY-THE-DAY

                           By JULIE M. LIPPMANN

                                  1912



CHAPTER I


If you are one of the favored few, privileged to ride in chaises, you
may find the combination of Broadway during the evening rush-hour, in a
late November storm, stimulating--you may, that is, provided you have a
reliable driver. If, contrariwise, you happen to be of the class whose
fate it is to travel in public conveyances (and lucky if you have the
price!) and the car, say, won't stop for you--why--

Claire Lang had been standing in the drenching wet at the
street-crossing for fully ten minutes. The badgering crowd had been
shouldering her one way, pushing her the other, until, being a stranger
and not very big, she had become so bewildered that she lost her head
completely, and, with the blind impulse of a hen with paresis, darted
straight out, in amidst the crush of traffic, with all the chances
strong in favor of her being instantly trampled under foot, or ground
under wheel, and never a one to know how it had happened.

An instant, and she was back again in her old place upon the curbstone.
Something like the firm iron grip of a steam-derrick had fastened on her
person, hoisted her neatly up, and set her as precisely down, exactly
where she had started from.

It took her a full second to realize what had happened. Then, quick as a
flash, anger flamed up in her pale cheeks, blazed in her tired eyes.
For, of course, this was an instance of "insult" described by "the
family at home" as common to the experience of unprotected girls in New
York City. She groped about in her mind for the formula to be applied in
such cases, as recommended by Aunt Amelia. "Sir, you are no gentleman!
If you were a gentleman, you would not offer an affront to a young,
defenseless girl who--" The rest eluded her; she could not recall it,
try as she would. In desperate resolve to do her duty anyway, she tilted
back her umbrella, whereat a fine stream of water poured from the tip
directly over her upturned face, and trickled cheerily down the bridge
of her short nose.

"Sir--" she shouted resolutely, and then she stopped, for, plainly, her
oration was, in the premises, a misfit--the person beside her--the one
of the mortal effrontery and immortal grip, being a--woman. A woman of
masculine proportions, towering, deep-chested, large-limbed, but with a
face which belied all these, for in it her sex shone forth in a
motherliness unmistakable, as if the world at large were her family, and
it was her business to see that it was generously provided for, along
the pleasantest possible lines for all concerned.

"What car?" the woman trumpeted, gazing down serenely into Claire's
little wet, anxious, upturned face at her elbow.

"Columbus Avenue."

The stranger nodded, peering down the glistening, wet way, as if she
were a skipper sighting a ship.

"My car, too! First's Lexin'ton--next Broadway--then--here's ours!"
Again that derrick-grip, and they stood in the heart of the maelstrom,
but apparently perfectly safe, unassailable.

"They won't stop," Claire wailed plaintively. "I've been waiting for
ages. The car'll go by! You see if it won't!"

It did, indeed, seem on the point of sliding past, as all the rest had
done, but of a sudden the motorman vehemently shut off his power, and
put on his brake. By some hidden, mysterious force that was in her, or
the mere commanding dimensions of her frame, Claire's companion had
brought him to a halt.

She lifted her charge gently up on to the step, pausing herself, before
she should mount the platform, to close the girl's umbrella.

"Step lively! Step lively!" the conductor urged insistently, reaching
for his signal-strap.

The retort came calmly, deliberately, but with perfect good nature. "Not
on your life, young man. I been steppin' lively all day, an' for so
long's it's goin' to take this car to get to One-hundred-an'-sixteenth
Street, my time ain't worth no more'n a settin' hen's."

The conductor grinned in spite of himself. "Well, mine _is_," he
declared, while with an authoritative finger he indicated the box into
which Claire was to drop her fare.

"So all the other roosters think," the woman let fall with a tolerant
smile, while she diligently searched in her shabby purse for five cents.

Claire, in the doorway, lingered.

"Step right along in, my dear! Don't wait for me," her friend advised,
closing her teeth on a dime, as she still pursued an elusive nickel.
"Step right along in, and sit down anywheres, an' if there ain't
nowheres to sit, why, just take a waltz-step or two in the direction o'
some of them elegant gen'lemen's feet, occupyin' the places meant for
ladies, an' if they don't get up for love of _you_, they'll get up for
love of their shins."

Still the girl did not pass on.

"Fare, please!" There was a decided touch of asperity in the
conductor's tone. He glared at Claire almost menacingly.

Her lip trembled, the quick tears sprang to her eyes. She hesitated,
swallowed hard, and then brought it out with a piteous gulp.

"I _had_ my fare--'twas in my glove. It must have slipped out. It's
gone--lost--and--"

A tug at the signal-strap was the conductor's only comment. He was
stopping the car to put her off, but before he could carry out his
purpose the woman had dropped her dime into the box with a sounding
click.

"Fare for two!" she said, "an' if I had time, an' a place to sit, I'd
turn you over acrost my knee, an' give you two, for fair, young man, for
the sake of your mother who didn't learn you better manners when you was
a boy!" With which she laid a kind hand upon Claire's heaving shoulder,
and impelled her gently into the body of the car, already full to
overflowing.

For a few moments the girl had a hard struggle to control her rising
sobs, but happily no one saw her working face and twitching lips, for
her companion had planted herself like a great bulwark between her and
the world, shutting her off, walling her 'round. Then, suddenly, she
found herself placed in a hurriedly vacated seat, from which she could
look up into the benevolent face inclined toward her, and say, without
too much danger of breaking down in the effort:

"I really _did_ have it--the money, you know. Truly, I'm not a--"

"O, pooh! Don't you worry your head over a little thing like that. Such
accidents is liable to occur in the best-reggerlated fam'lies. They do
in mine, shoor!"

"But, you see," quavered the uncertain voice, "I haven't any more.
That's all I had, so I can't pay you back, and--"

It was curious, but just here another passenger hastily rose, vacating
the seat next Claire's, and leaving it free, whereat her companion
compressed her bulky frame into it with a sigh, as of well-earned rest,
and remarked comfortably, "_Now_ we can talk. You was sayin'--what was
it? About that change, you know. It was all you had. You mean _by_ you,
of course."

Claire's pale, pinched face flushed hotly. "No, I don't," she confessed,
without lifting her downcast eyes.

Her companion appeared to ponder this for a moment, then quite abruptly
she let it drop.

"My name's Slawson," she observed. "Martha Slawson. I go out by the day.
Laundry-work, housecleaning, general chores. I got a husband an' four
children, to say nothing of a mother-in-law who lives with us, an' keeps
an eye on things while me an' Sammy (that's Mr. Slawson) is out
workin', an' lucky if it's an eye itself, for it's not a hand, I can
tell you that. What's your name, if I may make so bold?"

"Claire Lang. My people live in Grand Rapids--where the furniture and
carpet-sweepers come from," with a wistful, faint little attempt at a
smile. "My father was judge of the Supreme Court, but he had losses, and
then he died, and there wasn't much of anything left, and so--"

"You come to New York to make your everlastin' fortune, an' you--"

Claire Lang shook her head, completing the unfinished sentence. "No, I
haven't made it, that is, not yet. But I'm not discouraged. I don't mean
to give up. Things look pretty dark just now, but I'm not going to let
that discourage me--No, indeed! I'm going to be brave and courageous,
and never say die, even if--even if--"

"Turn 'round, an' pertend you're lookin' out of the winder," suggested
Mrs. Slawson confidentially. "The way folks stare, you'd think the world
was full of nothin' but laughin' hyeenyas. Dontcher care, my dear! Well
for some of 'em, if they could shed an honest tear or two themselves,
oncet in a while, instead of bein' that brazen; 'twouldn't be water at
all, but Putzes Pomady it'd take to make an impression on 'em, an'
don't you forget it. There! That's right! Now, no one can observe what's
occurrin' in your face, an' I can talk straight into your ear, see? What
I was goin' to say _is_, that bein' a mother myself an' havin' children
of my own to look out for, I couldn't recommend any lady, let alone one
so young an' pretty as you, to take up with strangers, here in New York
City, be they male or be they female. No, certaintly not! But in this
case, you can take it from me, I'm O.K. I can give the highest
references. I worked for the best fam'lies in this town, ever since I
was a child. You needn't be a mite afraid. I'm just a plain mother of a
fam'ly an', believe _me_, you can trust me as you would trust one of
your own relations, though I do say it as shouldn't, knowin' how queer
_own relations_ can be and _is_, when put to it at times. So, if you
happen to be in a hole, my dear, without friends or such things in the
city, you feel free to turn to, or if you seem to stand in need of a
word of advice, or--anything else, why, dontcher hesitate a minute. It'd
be a pretty deep hole Martha Slawson couldn't see over the edge of, be
sure of that, even if she did have to stand on her toes to do it. Holes
is my specialty, havin' been in an' out, as you might say, all my
life--particularly _in_."

Judicious or not, Claire told her story. It was not a long one. Just
the everyday experience of a young girl coming to a strange city,
without influence, friends, or money, expecting to make her way, and
finding that way beset with difficulties, blocked by obstacles.

"I've done everything I could think of, honestly I have," she concluded
apologetically. "I began by trying for big things; art-work in editorial
offices (everybody liked my art-work in Grand Rapids!). But 'twas no
use. Then I took up commercial drawing. I got what looked like a good
job, but the man gave me one week's pay, and that's all I could ever
collect, though I worked for him over a month. Then I tried real estate.
One firm told me about a woman selling for them who cleared, oh, I don't
know how-much-a-week, in commissions. Something queer must be the matter
with me, I guess, for I never got rid of a single lot, though I walked
my feet off. I've tried writing ads., and I've directed envelopes. I've
read the Wants columns, till it seems as if everybody in the world was
looking for a _job_. But I can't get anything to do. I guess God doesn't
mean me to die of starvation, for you wouldn't believe how little I've
had to eat all summer and fall, and yet I'm almost as strong and hearty
as ever. But lately I haven't been able to make any money at all, not
five cents, so I couldn't pay my board, and they--they told me at the
house where I live, that I'd have to square up to-night, or I couldn't
keep my room any longer. They took my trunk a week ago. I haven't had
anything to wear except these clothes I have on, since, and they're
pretty wet now--and--and--I've nowhere to go, and it _is_ pouring so
hard, and I should have been put off the car if you hadn't--"

Mrs. Slawson checked the labored flow with a hand upon the girl's knee.
"Where did you say your boardin'-house is?" she inquired abruptly.

"Ninety-fifth Street--West--Two-hundred-and-eighty-five-and-a-half."

"Good gracious! An' we're only three blocks off there now!"

"But you said," expostulated Claire helplessly, feeling herself
propelled as by the hand of fate through the crowd toward the door. "You
said you live on One-hundred-and-sixteenth Street."

"So I do, my dear, so I do! But I've got some business
to transack with a lady livin' in Ninety-fifth
Street--West--Two-hunderd-an'-eighty-five-an'-a-half. Come along.
'Step lively,' as my friend, _this nice young man out here on the
rear platform_, says."



CHAPTER II


They plodded along the flooded street in silence, Claire following after
Martha Slawson like a small child, almost clutching at her skirts. It
was not easy to keep pace with the long, even strides that covered so
much ground, and Claire fell into a steady pony-trot that made her
breath come short and quick, her heart beat fast. She dimly wondered
what was going to happen, but she did not dare, or care, to ask. It was
comfort enough just to feel this great embodiment of human sympathy and
strength beside her, to know she was no longer alone.

Before the house Martha paused a moment.

"Now, my dear, there ain't goin' to be nothin' for you to do but just
sit tight," she vouchsafed reassuringly. "Don't you start to butt in (if
you'll pardon the liberty), no matter what I say. I'm goin' to be a
perfect lady, never fear. I know my place, an' I know my dooty, an' if
your boardin'-house lady knows hers, there'll be no trouble
whatsomedever, so dontcher worry."

She descended the three steps leading from the street-level down into
the little paved courtyard below, and rang the basement bell. A moment
and an inner door was unlocked, flung open, and a voice from just
within the grating of the closed iron area-gate asked curtly, "Well,
what's wanted?"

"Is this Mrs.----? I should say, is this the lady of the house?" Martha
Slawson's voice was deep, bland, prepossessing.

"I'm Mrs. Daggett, yes, if that's what you mean."

"That's what I mean. My name's Slawson. Mrs. Sammy Slawson, an' I come
to see you on a little matter of business connected with a young lady
who's been lodgin' in your house--Miss Lang."

Mrs. Daggett stepped forward, and unlatched the iron gate. "Come in,"
she said, in a changed voice, endeavoring to infuse into her acrid
manner the grace of a belated hospitality.

Claire, completely hidden from view behind Martha Slawson's heroic
proportions, followed in her wake like a wee, foreshortened shadow as,
at Mrs. Daggett's invitation, Mrs. Slawson passed through the area
gateway into the malodorous basement hall, and so to the dingy
dining-room beyond. Here a group of grimy-clothed tables seemed to have
alighted in sudden confusion, reminding one of a flock of pigeons
huddled together in fear of the vultures soon to descend on them with
greedy, all-devouring appetites.

"We can just as well talk here as anywhere," announced Mrs. Daggett.
"It's quarter of an hour before dinnertime, but if you'd rather go up to
the parlor we can."

"O, dear, no!" said Martha Slawson suavely. "_Any_ place is good enough
for me. Don't trouble yourself. I'm not particular _where_ I am."
Unbidden, she drew out a chair from its place beside one of the
uninviting tables, and sat down on it deliberately. It creaked beneath
her weight.

"O--oh! Miss Lang!" said Mrs. Daggett, surprised, seeing her young
lodger now, for the first time.

Martha nodded. "Yes, it's Miss Lang, an' I brought her with me, through
the turrbl storm, Mrs.--a--?"

"Daggett," supplied the owner of the name promptly.

"That's right, Daggett," repeated Martha. "I brought Miss Lang with me,
Mrs. Daggett, because I couldn't believe my ears when she told me she
was goin' to be--to be _turned out_, if she didn't pay up to-night,
_weather_ or no. I wanted to hear the real truth of it from you, ma'am,
straight, with her by."

Mrs. Daggett coughed. "Well, business is business. I'm not a capitalist.
I'm not keeping a boarding-house for my health, you know. I can't
afford to give credit when I have to pay cash."

"But, of course, you don't mean you'd ackchelly refuse the young lady
shelter a night like this, if she come to you, open an' honest, an' said
she hadn't the price by her just at present, but she would have it
sooner or later, an' then you'd be squared every cent. You wouldn't turn
her down if she said that, would you?"

"Say, Mrs. Slawson, or whatever your name is," broke in Mrs. Daggett
sharply, "I'm not here to be cross-questioned. When you told me you'd
come on business for Miss Lang, I thought 'twas to settle what she owes.
If it ain't--I'm a busy woman. I'm needed in the kitchen this minute, to
see to the dishing-up. Have the goodness to come to the point. Is Miss
Lang going to pay? If she is, well and good. She can keep her room. If
she isn't--" The accompanying gesture was eloquent.

Mrs. Slawson's chair gave forth another whine of reproach as she settled
down on it with a sort of inflexible determination that defied argument.

"So that's your ultomato?" she inquired calmly. "I understand you to say
that if this young lady (who any one with a blind eye can see she's
_quality_), I understand you to say, that if she don't pay down every
cent she owes you, here an' now, you'll put her out, bag an' baggage?"

"No, not bag and baggage, Mrs. Slawson," interposed the boarding-house
keeper with a wry smile, bridling with the sense that she was about to
say something she considered rather neat, "I am, as you might say,
holding her bag and baggage--as security."

"Now what do you think o' that!" ejaculated Martha Slawson.

"It's quite immaterial to me what anybody thinks of it," Mrs. Daggett
snapped. "And now, if that's all you've got to suggest, why, I'm sure
it's all I have, and so, the sooner we end this, the sooner I'll be at
liberty to attend to my dinner."

Still Mrs. Slawson did not stir.

"I suppose you think you're a lady," she observed without the faintest
suggestion of heat. "I suppose you think you're a lady, but you
certainly ain't workin' at it now. What takes my time, though, is the
way you ackchelly seem to be meanin' what you say! Why, I wouldn't turn
a dog out a night like this, an' you'd let a delicate young girl go into
the drivin' storm, a stranger, without a place to lay her head--that is,
for all _you_ know. I could bet my life, without knowin' a thing about
it, that the good Lord never let you have a daughter of your own. He
wouldn't trust the keepin' of a child's body, not to speak of her soul,
to such as you. That is, He wouldn't if He could help Himself. But,
thanks be! Miss Lang ain't dependent. She's well an' able to pay all she
owes. Supposin' she _has_ been kinder strapped for a little while back,
an' had to economize by comin' to such a place as this! I've knowed
others, compelled to economize with three trunks alongside a
hall-bedroom wall, for a while, too, an' by an' by their circumstances
was such that they had money to burn. It's not for the likes of Miss
Lang to try to transack business with your sort. It would soil her lips
to bandy words, so I, an old fam'ly servant, an' proud of it! am
settlin' up her affairs for her. Be kind enough to say how much it is
you are ready to sell your claim to Christian charity for? How much is
it you ain't willin' to lend to the Lord on Miss Lang's account?" She
plucked up her skirts, thrust her hand, unembarrassed, into her
stocking-leg, and brought forth from that safe depository a roll of
well-worn _greenbacks_.

Mrs. Daggett named the amount of Claire's indebtedness, and Martha
Slawson proceeded to count it out in slow, deliberate syllables. She did
not, however, surrender the bills at once.

"I'll take a receipt," she quietly observed, and then sat back with an
air of perfect imperturbability, while the boarding-house keeper
nervously fussed about, searching for a scrap of paper, hunting for a
pen, trying to unearth, from the most impossible hiding-places, a bottle
of ink, her indignation at Martha's _cheek_ escaping her in audible
mumblings.

"Impudence! What right have you to come here, holding me to account?
I've my own way of doing good--"

Mrs. Slawson shrugged. "Your own way? I warrant you have! Nobody else'd
recognize it. I'd like to bet, you don't give a penny to charity oncet
in five years. Come now, do you?"

"God doesn't take into account the amount one gives," announced Mrs.
Daggett authoritatively.

"P'raps not, but you can take it from _me_, He keeps a pretty close
watch on what we have left--or I miss my guess. An' now, Miss Claire
darlin', if you'll go an' get what belongin's you have, that this
generous lady ain't stripped off'n you, to hold for _security_, as she
calls it, we'll be goin'. An expressman will be 'round here the first
thing in the mornin' for Miss Lang's trunk, an' it's up to you, Mrs.
Daggett, to see it's ready for'm when he comes. Good-night to you,
ma'am, an' I wish you luck."

Never after could Claire recall in detail what followed. She had a dim
vision of glistening pavements on which the rain dashed furiously, only
to rebound with resentful force, saturating one to the skin. Of fierce
blasts that seemed to lurk around every corner. Of street-lamps gleaming
meaninglessly out of the murk, curiously suggesting blinking eyes set in
a vacant face, and at last--at last--in blessed contrast--an open door,
the sound of cheery voices, the feel of warmth and welcome, the sight of
a plain, wholesome haven--rest.

Martha Slawson checked her children's vociferous clamor with a word.
Then her orders fell thick and fast, causing feet to run and hands to
fly, causing curiosity to give instant way before the pressure of
busy-ness, and a sense of cooperation to make genial the task of each.

"Hush, everybody! Cora, you go make up the bed in the boarder's room.
Turn the mattress, mind! An' stretch the sheets good an' smooth, like I
learned you to do. Francie, you get the hot-water bottle, quick, so's I
can fill it! Sammy, you go down to the cellar, an' tell Mr. Snyder your
mother will be much obliged if he'll turn on a' extra spark o'
steam-heat. Tell'm, Mrs. Slawson has a lady come to board with her for a
spell, that's fixin' for chills or somethin', onless she can be kep'
warm an' comfortable, an' the radianator in the boarder's room don't
send out much heat to speak of. Talk up polite, Sammy; d'you hear me?
An' be sure you don't let on Snyder might be keepin' a better fire in
his furnace if he didn't begrutch the coal so. It's gospel truth, o'
course, but landlords is _supposed_ to have feelin's, same as the rest
of us, an' a gentle word turneth aside wrath. Sabina, now show what a
big girl you are, an' fetch mother Cora's nicest nightie out o' the
drawer in my beaurer--the nightie Mrs. Granville sent Cora last
Christmas. Mother wants to hang it in front of the kitchen-range, so's
the pretty lady can go by-bye all warm an' comfy, after she's took her
supper off'n the tray, like Sabina did when she had the measles."

Huge Sam Slawson, senior, overtopping his wife by fully half a head,
gazed down upon his little hive, from shaggy-browed, benevolent eyes. He
uttered no complaint because his dinner was delayed, and he, hungry as a
bear, was made to wait till a stranger was served and fed. Instead, he
wandered over to where Martha was supplementing "Ma's" ministrations at
the range, and patted her approvingly on the shoulder.

"Another stray lamb, mother?" he asked casually.

Martha nodded. "Wait till the rush is over, an' the young uns abed an'
asleep, an' I'll tell you all about it. Stray lamb! I should say as
much! A little white corset-lamb, used to eat out o' your hand, with a
blue ribbon round its neck. Goin' to be sent out to her death--or
worse, by a sharp-fangled wolf of a boardin'-house keeper, who'd gnaw
the skin off'n your bones, an' then crack the bones to get at the
marrer, if you give her the chanct. I'll tell you all about it later,
Sammy."



CHAPTER III


For days Claire lay in a state of drowsy quiet.

She hardly realized the fact of her changed condition, that she was
being cared for, ministered to, looked after. She had brief, waking
moments when she seemed to be aware that Martha was bringing in her
breakfast, or sitting beside her while she ate her dinner, but the
intervening spaces, when "Ma" or Cora served, were dim, indistinct
adumbrations of no more substantial quality than the vagrant dreams that
ranged mistily across her relaxed brain.

The thin walls of the cheaply-built flat did not protect her from the
noise of the children's prattling tongues and boisterous laughter, but
the walls of her consciousness closed her about, as in a muffled
security, and she slept on and on, until the exhausted body was
reinforced, the overtaxed nerves infused with new strength.

Then, one evening, when the room in which she lay was dusky with
twilight shadows, she realized that she was awake, that she was alive.
She had gradually groped her way through the dim stretches lying between
the region of visions and that of the actual, but the step into a full
sense of reality was abrupt. She heard the sound of children's voices in
the next room. So clear they were, she could distinguish every syllable.

"Say, now, listen, mother! What do you do when you go out working every
day?" It was Cora speaking.

"I work."

"Pooh, you know what I mean. What kinder work do you do?"

For a moment there was no answer, then Claire recognized Martha's voice,
with what was, undeniably, a chuckle tucked away in its mellow depths,
where no mere, literal child would be apt to discern it.

"Stenography an' typewritin'!"

"Are you a stenographer an' typewriter, mother? Honest?"

"Well, you can take it from me, if I was _it_ at all, I'd be it honest.
What makes you think there's any doubt o' my being one? Don't I have the
appearance of a high-toned young lady stenographer an' typewriter?"

A pause, in which Martha's substantial steps were to be heard busily
passing to and fro, as she went about her work. Her mother's reply
evidently did not carry conviction to Cora's questioning mind, for a
second later she was up and at it afresh.

"Say, now, listen, mother--if you do stenography an' typewritin', what
makes your apron so wet an' dirty, nights when you come home?"

"Don't you s'pose I clean my machine before I leave? What kinder
typewriter d'you think I am? To leave my machine dirty, when a good
scrub-down, with a pail o' hot water, an' a stiff brush, an' Sapolio,
would put it in fine shape for the next mornin'."

"Mother--say, now, listen! I don't _believe_ that's the way they clean
typewriters. Miss Symonds, she's the Principal's seckerterry to our
school, an' she sits in the office, she cleans her machine with oil and
a little fine brush, like you clean your teeth with."

"What you been doin' in the Principal's office, miss, I should like to
know? Been sent up to her for bad behavior, or not knowin' your lessons?
Speak up now! Quick!"

"My teacher, she sends me on errands, an' I got a credit-card last week
an', say, mother, I don't _believe_ you're a young lady stenographer an'
typewriter. You're just trying to fool me."

"Well, Miss Smarty, supposin' I am. So long's I don't succeed you've no
kick comin'."

"Say, now listen, mother."

"Hush! You'll wake the pretty lady. Besides, too many questions before
dinner is apt to spoil the appetite, to say nothin' of the temper. Turn
to, an' lend a hand with them potatoes. Smash 'em good first, an' then
beat 'em with a fork until they're light an' creamy, an' you won't have
so much gimp left for snoopin' into things that don't concern you!"

"Say, now listen, mother!"

"Well?"

"Say, mother, something awful funny happened to me last night?"

"Are you tellin' what it was?"

"Something woke me up in the middle of the night, 'n' I got up out of
bed, an' the clock struck four, 'n' then I knew it was mornin'. 'N' I
heard a noise, 'n' I thought it was robbers, 'n' I went to the door, 'n'
it was open, 'n' I went out into the hall, 'n'--"

"Well?"

"An' there was _you_, mother, on the stairs--kneelin'!"

"Guess you had a dream, didn't you?"

"No, I didn't."

"What'd I be kneelin' on the stairs for, at four o'clock in the mornin',
I should like to know?"

"It looked like you was brushin' 'em down."

"_Me_ brushin' down _Snyder's_ stairs! Well, now what do you think o'
that?" Her tone of amazement, at the mere possibility, struck Cora, and
there was a pause, broken at length by Martha, in a preternaturally
solemn voice. "I s'pose you never tumbled to it I might be _prayin'_."

Cora's eyes grew wide. "Prayin'!" she repeated in an awed whisper. "But,
mother, what'd you want to go out in the hall for, to pray on the
_stairs_, at four o'clock in the mornin'?"

"Prayin' is a godly ack. Wheresomedever, an' _when_somedever you do it."

"But, mother, I don't _believe_ you were prayin'. I heard the knockin'
o' your whis'-broom. You was brushin' down the stairs."

"Well, what if I was? Cleanliness is next to godliness, ain't it?
Prayin' an' cleanin', it amounts to the same thing in the end--it's just
a question of what you clean, outside you or _in_."

"But say, now, listen, mother, you never cleaned down Mr. Snyder's
stairs before. An' you been making shirtwaists for Mrs. Snyder, after
you get home nights. I saw her with one of 'em on."

"Cora, do you know what happened to a little girl oncet who asked too
many questions?"

"No."

"Well, I won't tell you now. It might spoil your appetite for dinner.
But you can take it from me, the end she met with would surprise you."

Shortly after, Claire's door quietly opened, and Cora, with a lighted
taper in her hand, tiptoed cautiously in, like a young torch-bearing
_avant-courrière,_ behind whom Mrs. Slawson, laden with a wonderful
tray, advanced processionally.

"Light the changelier, an' then turn it low," Martha whispered. "An'
then you, yourself, light out, so's the pretty lady can eat in comfort."

The pretty lady, sitting up among her pillows, awake and alert, almost
brought disaster upon the taper, and the tray, by exclaiming brightly,
"Good-evening! I'm wide awake for good! You needn't tiptoe or hush any
more. O, I feel like new! All rested and well and--_ready_ again. And I
owe it, every bit, to you! You've been so _good_ to me!"

It was hard on Cora to have to obey her mother's injunction to "clear
out," just when the pretty lady was beginning to demonstrate her right
to the title. But Martha's word in her little household was not to be
disputed with impunity, and Cora slipped away reluctantly, carrying with
her a dazzling vision of soft, dark hair, starry blue-gray eyes,
wonderful changing expressions, and, in and over all, a smile that was
like a key to unlock hearts.

"My, but it's good to see you so!" said Mrs. Slawson heartily. "I was
glad to have you sleep, for goodness knows you needed it, but if you'd
'a' kep' it up a day or so longer, I'd 'a' called in a doctor--shoor!
Just as a kind of nacherl percaution, against your settlin' down to a
permanent sleepin'-beauty ack, for, you can take it from me, I haven't
the business address of any Beast, here in New York City, could be
counted on to do the Prince-turn, when needed. There's plenty of
beasts, worse luck! but they're on the job, for fair. No magic,
lightenin'-change about _them_. They stay beasts straight through the
performance."

Claire laughed.

"But, as it happened, I didn't need a Prince, did I? I didn't need a
Prince or any one else, for I had a good fairy godmother who--O, Mrs.
Slawson, I--I--can't--"

"You don't have to. An' I'm not Mrs. Slawson to you. I'm just Martha,
for I feel like you was my own young lady, an' if you call me Mrs.
Slawson, I won't feel so, an' here--now--see if you can clear up this
tray so clean it'll seem silly to wash the dishes."

For a moment there was silence in the little room, while Claire tried to
compose herself, and Martha pretended to be busy with the tray. Then
Claire said, "I'll be very glad to call you Martha if you'll let me, and
there's something I'd like to say right off, because I've been lying
here quite a while thinking about it, and it's very important, indeed.
It's about my future, and--"

"You'll excuse my interruckting, but before you reely get your steam
up, let me have a word on my own account, an' then, if you want to, you
can fire away--the gun's your own. What I mean _is_--I don't believe in
lyin' awake, thinkin' about the future, when a body can put in good
licks o' sleep, restin' from the past. It's against my principles. I'm
by the day. I work by the day, an' I live by the day. I reasoned it out
so-fashion: the past is over an' done with, whatever it may be, an' you
can't change it, for all you can do, so what's the use? You can bet on
one thing, shoor, whatever ain't dead waste in your past is, somehow,
goin' to get dished up to you in your present, or your future. You ain't
goin' to get rid of it, till you've worked it into your system _for
health_, as our dear old friend, Lydia Pinkham, says. As to the future,
the future's like a flea--when you can put your finger on the future,
it's time enough to think what you'll do with it. Folkes futures'd be
all right, if they'd just pin down a little tighter to _to-day_, an'
make that square up, the best they can, with what they'd oughter do.
Now, as to _your_ future, there's nothin' to fret about for a minute in
it. Jus' now, you're here, safe an' sound, an' here you're goin' to stay
until you're well an' strong an' fed up, an' the chill o' Mrs. Daggett
is out o' your body an' soul. You can take it from me, that woman is
worse than any line-storm _I_ ever struck for dampenin'-down purposes,
an' freeze-out, an' generl cussedness. Your business to-day--now--is to
get well an' strong. Then the future'll take care of itself."

"But meanwhile," Claire persisted, "I'm living on you. Eating food for
which I haven't the money to pay, having loving care for which I
couldn't pay, if I had all the money in the world. I guess I know how
you settled my account with Mrs. Daggett. You gave her money you had
been saving for the rent, and now you are working, slaving overtime, at
four o'clock mornings, sweeping down the stairs, and late nights, making
shirtwaists for Mrs. Snyder, to help supply what's lacking."

"Just you wait till I see that Cora," observed Mrs. Slawson
irrelevantly. "That's the time _her_ past will have slopped over on her
present, so's she can't tell which is which. Just you wait till I see
that Cora!"

"No, no--_please_! Martha _dear_! It wasn't Cora! She's not to blame.
I'd have known sooner or later anyway. I always reason things out for
myself. Please promise not to scold Cora."

"Scold Cora? Not on your life, my dear; I won't scold Cora. I'm
old-fashioned in my ways with childern. I don't believe in scoldin'. It
spoils their tempers, but a good _lickin'_ oncet in a while, helps 'em
to remember, besides bein' good for the circulation."

Claire was ready to cry. "It's all my fault," she lamented. "I was
clumsy. I was tactless. And now Cora will be punished for it, and--I
make nothing but trouble for you all."

"There, there! For mercy sake, don't take on like that. I promise I'll
let Cora go free, if you'll sit back quiet an' eat your dinner in peace.
So now! That's better!"

"What I was going to say, Martha dear, is, I'm quite well and strong
now, and I want to set about immediately looking for something to do. I
ought to be able to support myself, you know, for I'm able-bodied, and
not so stupid but that I managed to graduate from college. Once, two
summers ago, I tutored--I taught a young girl who was studying to take
the Wellesley entrance exams. And I coached her so well she went through
without a condition, and she wasn't very quick, either. I wonder if I
couldn't teach?"

"Shoor, you could!"

"If I could get a position to teach in some school or some family, I
could, maybe, live here with you--rent this room--unless you have some
other use for it."

"Lord, no! I _call_ it the boarder's room because this flat is really
too rich for my blood, but you see I don't want the childern brought up
in a bad neighborhood with low companions. Well, Sammy argued the rent
was too high, till I told'm we'd let a room an' make it up that way,
but what with this, an' what with that, we ain't had any boarders
exceptin' now an' then some friend of himself out of a job, or one o'
the girls, livin' out in the houses where I work, gettin' bounced
suddent, an' in want of a bed, an' none of 'em ever paid us a cent or
was asked for it."

"Well, if I could get a position as teacher or governess, I'd soon be
able to pay back what you've laid out for me, and more besides, and--In
the houses where you work, are there any children who need a governess?
Any young girls who need a tutor? That's what I wanted to ask you,
Martha."

Mrs. Slawson deliberated in silence for a moment.

"There's the Livingstons," she mused, "but they ain't any childern. Only
a childish brother-in-law. He's not quite _all there,_ as you might say.
It'd be no use tryin' to learn him nothin', seein' he's so
odd--seventy-odd--an' his habits like to be fixed. Then, there's the
Farrands. But the girls goes to Miss Spenny's school, an' the son's at
Columbia. It might upset their plans, if I was to suggest their givin'
up where they're at, an' havin' you. Then there's the Grays, an' the
Granvilles, an' the Thornes. Addin' 'em all together for childern,
they'd come to about half a child a pair. Talk about your race suicide!
They say they 'can't afford to have childern.' You can take it from me,
it's the poor people are rich nowadays. _We_ can afford to have
childern, all right, all right. Then there's Mrs. Sherman--She's got one
boy, but he--Radcliffe Sherman--well, he's a limb! A reg'lar young
villain. You couldn't manage _him_. Only Lord Ronald can manage
Radcliffe Sherman, an' he--"

"Lord Ronald?" questioned Claire, when Mrs. Slawson's meditation
threatened to become static.

"Why, he's Mrs. Sherman's brother, Mr. Frank Ronald, an' no real lord
could be handsomer-lookin', or grander-behavin', or richer than him.
Mrs. Sherman is a widder, or a divorcy, or somethin' stylish like that.
Anyhow, I worked for her this eight years an' more--almost ever since
Radcliffe was born, an' I ain't seen hide nor hair o' any Mr. Sherman
yet, an' they never speak o' him, so I guess he was either too good or
too bad to mention. Mr. Frank an' his mother lives with Mrs. Sherman,
an' what Mr. Frank says _goes_. His word is law. She thinks the world
of'm, an' well she may, for he's a thorerbred. The way he treats me, for
instants. You'd think I was the grandest lady in the land. He never sees
me but it's, 'How d'do, Martha?' or, 'How's the childern an' Mr. Slawson
these days?' He certainly has got grand ways with'm, Mr. Frank has. An'
yet, he's never free. You wouldn't dare make bold with'm. His eyes has
a sort o' _keep-off-the-grass_ look gener'ly, but when he smiles down at
you, friendly-like, why, you wouldn't call the queen your cousin.
Radcliffe knows he can't monkey with his uncle Frank, an' when he's by,
butter wouldn't melt in that young un's mouth. But other times--my! You
see, Mrs. Sherman is dead easy. She told me oncet, childern ought to be
brought up 'scientifically.' Lord! She said they'd ought to be let
_express their souls_, whatever she means by that. I told her I thought
it was safer not to trust too much to the childern's souls, but to help
along some occasional with your own--the sole of your slipper. It was
then she said she 'abserlootly forbid' any one to touch Radcliffe. She
wanted him 'guided by love alone.' Well, that's what he's been guided
with, an', you can take it from me, love's made a hash of it, as it
ushally does when it ain't mixed with a little common sense. You'd
oughta see that fella's anticks when his mother, an' Lord Ronald, ain't
by. He'd raise the hair offn your head, if you hadn't a spear of it
there to begin with. He speaks to the help as if they was dirt under his
feet, an' he'd as lief lie as look at you, an' always up to some new
devilment. It'd take your time to think fast enough to keep up with'm.
But he ain't all bad--I don't believe no child _is_, not on your life,
an' my idea is, he'd turn out O.K. if only he'd the right sort o'
handlin'. Mr. Frank could do it--but when Lord Ronald is by, Radcliffe
is a pet lamb--a little woolly wonder. You ast me why I call Mr. Frank
Lord Ronald. I never thought of it till one time when Cora said a piece
at a Sund'-School ent'tainment. I can't tell you what the piece was,
for, to be perfectly honest, I was too took up, at the time, watchin'
Cora's stockin', which was comin' down, right before the whole
churchful. It reely didn't, but I seen the garter hangin', an' I thought
it would, any minute. I remember it was somethin' about a fella called
Lord Ronald, who was a reel thorerbred, just like Mr. Frank is. I
recklect one of the verses went:

"'Lord Ronald had the lily-white dough--'

(to my way o' thinkin' it's no matter about the color, white or gold or
just plain, green paper-money, so long's you've _got_ it), anyhow,
that's what it said in the piece--

"'Lord Ronald had the lily-white dough,
Which he gave to his cousin, Lady Clare.'

Say, wasn't he generous?--'give to his cousin--Lady Clare'--an'--good
gracious! O, excuse me! I didn't mean to jolt your tray like that, but I
just couldn't help flyin' up, for I got an idea! True as you live, I got
an idea!"



CHAPTER IV


It did not take long, once Claire was fairly on her feet again, to
adjust herself to her new surroundings, to find her place and part in
the social economy of the little family-group where she was never for a
moment made to feel an alien. She appropriated a share in the work of
the household at once, insisting, to Martha's dismay, upon lending a
hand mornings with the older children, who were to be got off to school,
and with the three-year-old Sabina, who was to stay at home. She
assisted with the breakfast preparations, and then, when the busy swarm
had flown for the day, she "turned to," to Ma's delight, and got the
place "rid up" so it was "clean as a whistle an' neat as a pin."

Ma was not what Martha approvingly called "a hustler."

"Ma ain't thorer," her daughter-in-law confided to Claire, without
reproach. "She means well, but, as she says, her mind ain't fixed on
things below, an' when that's the case, the dirt is bound to settle. Ma
thinks you can run a fam'ly, readin' the Bible an' singin' hymns. Well,
p'raps you can, only I ain't never dared try. When I married Sammy he
looked dretful peaky, the fack bein' he hadn't never been properly fed,
an' it's took me all of the goin'-on fifteen years now, we been livin'
together, to get'm filled up accordin' to his appetite, which is heavy.
You see, Ma never had any time to attend to such earthly matters as
cookin' a square meal--but she's settin' out to have a lot of leisure
with the Lord."

As for Ma, she found it pleasant to watch, from a comfortable distance,
the work progressing satisfactorily, without any draft on her own
energies.

"Martha's a good woman, miss," she observed judicially, in her detached
manner, "but she is like the lady of her name we read about in the
blessed Book. When _I_ set out in life, I chose the betther part, an'
now I'm old, I have the faith to believe I'll have a front seat in
heaven. I've knew throuble in me day. I raised ten childern, an' I had
three felons, an' God knows I think I earned a front seat in heaven."

Claire's pause, before she spoke, seemed to Ma to indicate she was
giving the subject the weighty consideration it deserved.

"According to that, it would certainly seem so. You have rheumatism,
too, haven't you?" as if that might be regarded as an added guarantee of
special celestial reservation.

Ma paled visibly. "No, miss. I don't never have the rheumatiz now--not
so you'd notice it," she said plaintively. "Oncet I'd it thurrbl, an' me
son Sammy had it, too, loikewoise, fierce. I'd uster lay in bed moanin'
an' cryin' till you'd be surprised, an' me son Sammy, he was a'most as
bad. Well, for a week or two, Martha, she done for us the best she cud,
I s'pose, but she didn't make for to stop the pain, an' at last one
night, when me son Sammy was gruntin', an' I was groanin' to beat the
band, Martha, she up, all of a suddint, an' says she, she was goin' for
to cure us of the rheumatiz, or know the reason why. An' she went, an'
got the karrysene-can, an' she poured out two thurrbl big doses, an' she
stood over me son Sammy an' I, till we swalleyed it down, an' since ever
we tuk it, me an' Sammy ain't never had a retur-rn. Sometimes I have a
sharp twinge o' somethin' in me leg or me arrm, but it ain't rheumatiz,
an' I wouldn't like for me son Sammy's wife to be knowin' it, for the
very sight of her startin' for the karrysene--if it's only to fill the
lamp, is enough to make me gullup, an' I know it's the same wit' me son
Sammy, though we never mention the subjeck between us."

"But if your son didn't want to take the stuff," Claire said, trying to
hide her amusement, "why didn't he stand up and say so? He's a man. He's
much bigger and stronger than his wife. How could she make him do what
he didn't want to?"

The question was evidently not a new one to Ma.

"That's what annywan'd naturrly think," she returned promptly. "But
that's because they wouldn't be knowin' me son Sammy's wife. It ain't
size, an' it ain't stren'th--it's just, well, _Martha_. There's that
about her you wouldn't like to take any chances wit'. Perhaps it's the
thing manny does be talkin' of these days. Perhaps it's _that_ got a
holt of her. Annyhow, she says she's _in_ for't. They does be callin' it
Woman Sufferrich, I'm told. In my day a dacint body'd have thought shame
to be discoursin' in public to the men. They held their tongues, an' let
their betthers do the colloguein', but Martha says some of the ladies
she works for says, if they talk about it enough the men will give them
their rights, an' let 'em vote. I'm an old woman, an' I never had much
book-learnin', but I'm thinkin' one like me son Sammy's wife has all the
rights she needs wit'out the votin'. She goes out worrkin', same's me
son Sammy, day in, day out. She says Sammy could support _her_ good
enough, but she won't raise her childern in a teniment, along wit' th'
low companions. Me son Sammy, he has it harrd these days. He'd not be
able to pay for such a grrand flat as this, in a dacint, quiet
neighborhood, an' so Martha turrns to, an' lends a hand. An' wance, when
me son Sammy was sick, an' out av a job entirely, Martha, she run the
whole concern herself. She wouldn't let me son Sammy give up, or get
down-hearted, like he mighta done. She said it was her _right_ to care
for us all, an' him, too, bein' he was down an' out, like he was. It
seems to me that's fairrly all the rights anny woman'd want--to look out
for four childern, an' a man, an' a mother-in-law. But if Martha wants
to vote, too, why, I'm thinkin' she will."

It was particularly encouraging to Claire, just at this time, to view
Martha in the light of one who did not know the meaning of the word
fail, for Mrs. Slawson had assured her that if she would give up all
attempt to find employment on her own account, she, Mrs. Slawson, felt
she could safely promise to get her "a job that would be satisfacktry
all round, only one must be a little pationate."

But a week, ten days, had gone by, since Martha announced she had _an
idea_, and still the idea had not materialized. Meanwhile, Claire had
ample time to unpack her trunk and settle her belongings about her, so
"the pretty lady's room" took on a look of real comfort, and the
children never passed the door without pausing before the threshold,
waiting with bated breath for some wonderful chance that would give
them a "peek" into the enchanted chamber. As a matter of fact, the
transformation was effected with singularly few "properties." Some good
photographs tastefully framed in plain, dark wood. A Baghdad rug left
over from her college days, some scraps of charming old textiles, and
such few of the precious home trifles as could be safely packed in her
trunk. There was a daguerreotype of her mother, done when she was a
girl. "As old-fashioned as your grandmother's hoopskirt," Martha called
it. A sampler wrought by some ancient great-aunt, both aunt and sampler
long since yellowed and mellowed by the years. A della Robbia plaque,
with its exquisite swaddled baby holding out eager arms, as if to be
taken. A lacquer casket, a string of Egyptian mummy-beads--what seemed
to the children an inexhaustible stock of wonderful, mysterious
treasures.

But the object that appeared to interest their mother more than anything
else in the whole collection, was a book of unmounted photographs,
snap-shots taken by Claire at college, during her travels abroad, some
few, even, here in the city during those first days when she had dreamed
it was easy to walk straight into an art-editorship, and no questions
asked.

Mrs. Slawson scrutinized the prints with an earnestness so eager that
Claire was fairly touched, until she discovered that here was no aching
hunger for knowledge, no ungratified yearning "for to admire and for to
see, for to be'old this world so wide," but just what looked like a
perfectly feminine curiosity, and nothing more.

"Say, ain't it a pity you ain't any real good likeness of you?" Martha
deplored. "These is so aggeravatin'. They don't show you up at all. Just
a taste-like, an' then nothin' to squench the appetite."

"That sounds as if I were an entrée or something," laughed Claire. "But,
you see, I don't want to be _shown up_, Martha. I couldn't abear it, as
my friend, Sairy Gamp, would say. When I was little, my naughty big
brother used to tease me dreadfully about my looks. He invented the most
embarrassing nicknames for me; he alluded to my features with every sort
of disrespect. It made me horribly conscious of myself, a thing no
properly-constituted kiddie ought ever to be, of course. And I've never
really got over the feeling that I am a 'sawed-off,' that my nose is
'curly,' and my hair's a wig, and that the least said about the rest of
me, the better. But if you'd actually like to see something my people at
home consider rather good, why, here's a little tinted photograph I had
done for my dear Daddy, the last Christmas he was with us. He liked it,
and that's the reason I carry it about with me--because he wore it on
his old-fashioned watch-chain."

She put into Martha's hand a thin, flat, dull-gold locket.

Mrs. Slawson opened it, and gave a quick gasp of delight--the sound of
triumph escaping one who, having diligently sought, has satisfactorily
found. "Like it!" Martha ejaculated.

Claire deliberated a moment, watching the play of expression on Martha's
mobile face. "If you like it as much as all that," she said at last, "I
wish you'd take it and keep it. It seems conceited--priggish--to suppose
you'd care to own it, but if you really _would_ care to--"

Mrs. Slawson closed one great, finely-formed, work-hardened fist over
the delicate treasure, with a sort of ecstatic grab of appropriation.
"Care to own it! You betcher life! There's nothin' you could give me I'd
care to own better," she said with honest feeling, then and there tying
its slender ribbon about her neck, and slipping the locket inside her
dress, as if it had been a precious amulet.

The day following saw her started bright and early for work at the
Shermans'. When she arrived at the area-gate and rang, there was no
response, and though she waited a reasonable time, and then rang and
rang again, nobody answered the bell.

"They must be up," she said, settling down to business with a steady
thumb on the electric button. "What ails the bunch o' them in the
kitchen, I should like to know. It'd be a pity to disturb Eliza. She
might be busy, gettin' herself an extry cup o' coffee, an' couple o'
fried hams-an'-eggs, to break her fast before breakfast. But that gay
young sprig of a kitchen-maid, _she_ might answer the bell an' open the
door to an honest woman."

The _gay young sprig_ still failing of her duty, and Martha's patience
giving out at last, the _honest woman_ began to tamper with the
spring-lock of the iron gate. For any one else, it would never have
yielded, but it opened to Martha's hand, as with the dull submission of
the conquered.

Mrs. Slawson closed the gate after her with care. "I'll just step
light," she said to herself, "an' steal in on 'em unbeknownst, an' give
'em as good a scare as ever they had in their lives--the whole lazy lot
of 'em."

But, like Mother Hubbard's cupboard, the kitchen was bare, and no soul
was to be found in the laundry, the pantry or, in fact, anywhere
throughout the basement region. Softly, and with some real misgiving
now, Martha made her way upstairs. Here, for the first time, she
distinguished the sound of a human voice breaking the early morning hush
of the silent house. It was Radcliffe's voice issuing, evidently, from
the dining-room, in which imposing apartment he chose to have his
breakfast served in solitary grandeur every morning, what time the rest
of his family still slept.

Martha, pausing on her way up, peeped around the edge of the half-closed
door, and then stopped short.

Along the wall, ranged up in line, like soldiers facing their captain,
or victims of a hold-up their captor, stood the household
servants--portly Shaw the butler, Beatrice the parlor-maid, Eliza the
"chef-cook"--all, down to the gay young sprig, aforesaid, who, as Martha
had explained to her family in strong disapproval, "was engaged to do
scullerywork, an' then didn't even know how to scull." Before them, in
an attitude of command, not to say menace, stood Radcliffe, brandishing
a carving-knife which, in his cruelly mischievous little hand, became a
weapon full of dangerous possibilities.

"Don't dare to budge, any one of you," he breathed masterfully to his
cowed regiment. "Get back there, you Shaw! An', Beetrice, if you don't
mind me, I'll carve your ear off. You better be afraid of me, all of
you, an' mind what I say, or I'll take this dagger, an' dag the life
out of you! You're all my servants--you're all my slaves! D'you hear
me!"

Evidently they did, and not one of them cared or dared to stir.

For a second Radcliffe faced them in silence, before beginning to march
Napoleonically back and forth, his savage young eye alert, his naughty
hand brandishing the knife threateningly. A second, and then, suddenly,
without warning, the scene changed, and Radcliffe was a squirming,
wriggling little boy, shorn of his power, grasped firmly in a grip from
which there was no chance of escape.

"Shame on you!" exclaimed Martha indignantly, addressing the spellbound
line, staring at her blankly. "Shame on you! To stand there gawkin', an'
never raisin' a finger to this poor little fella, an' him just perishin'
for the touch of a real mother's hand. Get out of this--the whole crowd
o' you," and before the force of her righteous wrath they fled as chaff
before the wind. Then, quick as the automatic click of a monstrous
spring, the hitherto unknown--the supposed-to-be-impossible--befell
Radcliffe Sherman. He was treated as if he had been an iron girder on
which the massive clutch of a steam-lift had fastened. He was raised,
lowered, laid across what seemed to be two moveless iron trestles, and
then the weight as of a mighty, relentless paddle, beat down upon him
once, twice, thrice--and he knew what it was to suffer.

The whole thing was so utterly novel, so absolutely unexpected, that for
the first instant he was positively stunned with surprise. Then the
knowledge that he was being spanked, that an unspeakable indignity was
happening him, made him clinch his teeth against the sobs that rose in
his throat, and he bore his punishment in white-faced, shivering
silence.

When it was over, Martha stood him down in front of her, holding him
firmly against her knees, and looked him squarely in the eyes. His
colorless, quivering lips gave out no sound.

"You've got off easy," observed Mrs. Slawson benevolently. "If you'd
been my boy Sammy, you'd a got about twict as much an' three times as
thora. As it is, I just kinder favored you--give you a lick an' a
promise, as you might say, seein' it's you and you ain't used to
it--_yet_. Besides, I reely like you, an' want you to be a good boy.
But, if you should need any more at any other time, why, you can take it
from me, I keep my hand in on Sammy, an' practice makes perfect."

She released the two small, trembling hands, rose to her feet, and made
as if to leave the room. Then for the first time Radcliffe spoke.

"S-say," he breathed with difficulty, "s-say--are you--are you goin' to
_t-tell?_"

Martha paused, regarding him and his question with due concern. "Tell?"

"Are y-you going to--t-tell on me, t-to ev-everybody? Are y-you going to
t-tell--S-Sammy?"

"Shoor I'm not! I'm a perfect lady! I always keep such little affairs
with my gen'lemen friends strickly confidential. Besides--Sammy has
troubles of his own."



CHAPTER V


All that day, Martha held herself in readiness to answer at headquarters
for what she had done.

"He'll shoor tell his mother, the young villyan," said Eliza. "An' then
it'll be Mrs. Slawson for the grand bounce."

But Mrs. Slawson did not worry. She went about her work as usual, and
when, in the course of her travels, she met Radcliffe, she greeted him
as if nothing had happened.

"Say, did you know that Sammy has a dog?"

No answer.

"It's a funny kind o' dog. If you begged your head off, I'd never tell
you where he come from."

"Where did he come from?"

"Didn't you hear me say I'd never tell you? I do' know. He just picked
Sammy's father up on the street, an' follered him home, for all the
world the same's he'd been a Christian."

"What kind of dog is he?"

"Cur-dog."

"What kind's that?"

"Well, a full-blooded cur-dog is somethin' rare in these parts. You
wouldn't find him at an ordinary dog-show, like your mother goes to.
Now, Sammy's dog is full-blooded--leastways, he will be, when he's fed
up."

"My mother's dog is a _pedigree-dog_. Is Sammy's that kind?"

"I ain't ast him, but I shouldn't wonder."

"My mother's got a paper tells all about where Fifi came from. It's in a
frame."

"Fifi is?"

"No, the paper is. The paper says Fifi is out of a deller, sired by
Star. I heard her read it off to a lady that came to see her one day.
Say, Martha, what's a _deller?_"

"I do' know."

"Fifi has awful long ears. What kind of ears has Sammy's dog got?"

"I didn't notice partic'lar, I must say. But he's got two of 'em, an'
they can stand up, an' lay down, real natural-like, accordin' to
taste--the dog's taste, which wouldn't be noways remarkable, if it was
his tongue, but is what _I_ call extraordinary, seein' it's his _ears_.
An' his tail's the same, exceptin' it has even more education still. It
can wag, besides standin' up an' layin' down. Ain't that pretty smart
for a pup, that prob'ly didn't have no raisin' to speak of, 'less you
count raisin' on the toe of somebody's boot?"

"D'you mean anybody kicked him?"

"Well, he ain't said so, in so many words, but I draw my own
conclusions. He's an honorable, gentlemanlike dog. He keeps his own
counsel. If it so happened that he'd needed to be punished at any time,
he'd bear it like a little man, an' hold his tongue. You don't catch a
reel thorerbred whinin'."

"I wish I could see Sammy's dog."

"Well, p'raps you can. But I'll tell you confidential, I wouldn't like
Flicker to 'sociate with none but the best class o' boys. I'm goin' to
see he has a fine line of friends from this time on, an' if Sammy ain't
what he'd oughter be, why, he just can't mix with Flicker, that's all
there is _to_ it!"

"Who gave him that name?"

"'His sponsers in baptism--' Ho! Hear me! Recitin' the Catechism! I'm
such a good 'Piscopalian I just can't help it! A little lady-friend of
mine gave him that name, 'cause he flickers round so--so like a little
yeller flame. Did I mention his color was yeller? That alone would show
he's a true-breed cur-dog."

"Say, I forgot--my mother she--she sent me down to tell you she wants to
see you right away up in her sittin'-room. I guess you better go quick."

Mrs. Slawson ceased plying her polishing-cloth upon the hardwood floor,
sat back upon her heels, and calmly gathered her utensils together.

"Say, my mother she said tell you she wanted to see you right off, for
something particular. Ain't you goin' to hurry?"

"Shoor I am. Certaintly."

"You don't look as if you was hurrying."

"When you get to be a big boy, and have a teacher to learn you
knowledge, you'll find that large bodies moves slowly. I didn't have as
much schoolin' as I'd like, but what I learned I remember, an' I put it
into practice. That's where the use of books comes in--to be put in
practice. Now, I'm a large body, an' if I tried to move fast I'd be
goin' against what's printed in the books, which would be wrong. Still,
if a lady sends for me post-haste, why, of course, I makes an exception
an' answers in the same spirit. So long! See you later!"

Radcliffe had no mind to remain behind. Something subtly fascinating in
Martha seemed to draw him after her, and he followed on upstairs,
swinging himself athletically along, hand over hand, upon the
baluster-rail, almost at her heels.

"Say, don't you wonder what it is my mother's goin' to say to you?" he
demanded disingenuously.

Mrs. Slawson shook her head. "Wonderin' is a habit I broke myself off
of, when I wasn't knee-high to a grasshopper," she replied. "I take
things as they come, not to mention as they go. Either way suits me,
an' annyhow I don't wonder about 'em. If it's somethin' good, why, it'll
keep. An' if it's somethin' bad, wonderin' won't make it any better. So
what's the use?"

"Guess I'll go on up, an' see my grandmother in her room," observed
Radcliffe casually, as they reached Mrs. Sherman's door. "I won't go in
here with you."

"Dear me, how sorry I am!" Martha returned with feeling. "I'd kinder
counted on you for--for what they calls moral support, that bein' the
kind the male gender is mainly good for, these days. But, of course, if
you ain't been invited, it wouldn't be genteel for you to press
yourself. I can understand your feelin's. They does credit to your head
an' to your heart. As I said before--so long! See you later."

The door having closed her in, Radcliffe lingered aimlessly about,
outside. Without, of course, being able to analyze it, he felt as if
some rare source of entertainment had been withdrawn from him, leaving
life flat and tasteless. He felt like being, what his mother called,
"fractious," but--he remembered, as in a flash, "you never catch a
thorerbred whinin'," and he snapped his jaws together with manly
determination.

At Martha's entrance, Mrs. Sherman glanced up languidly from the book
she was reading, and inquired with pointed irony, "You didn't find it
convenient to come to me directly I sent for you, did you, Martha?"

Mrs. Slawson closed the door behind her gently, then stood planted like
some massive caryatid supporting the frame. Something monumental in the
effect of her presence made the question just flung at her seem petty,
impudent, and Mrs. Sherman hastened to add more considerately, "But I
sent Radcliffe with my message. No doubt he delayed."

"No'm," admitted Martha, "he told me all right enough, but I was in the
middle o' polishin'. It took me a minute or two to get my things
collected, an' then it took me a couple more to get _me_ collected,
but--better late than never, as the sayin' goes, which, by the same
token, I don't believe it's always true."

There was not the faintest trace of apology or extenuation in her tone
or manner. If she had any misgivings as to the possibility of
Radcliffe's having complained, she gave no evidence of it.

"What I want to say is this," announced Mrs. Sherman autocratically,
making straight for the point. "I absolutely forbid any one in my
household to touch--"

Martha settled herself more firmly on her feet and crossed her arms with
unconscious dignity upon her bosom, bracing herself against the coming
blow.

"I absolutely forbid any one in my household to touch the new marble
slabs and nickel fittings in my dressing-rooms with cleaning stuffs
containing acids, after this. I have gone to great expense to have the
house remodeled this summer, and the bathrooms have all been tiled and
fitted up afresh, from beginning to end. I know that, in the past, you
have used acid, gritty soaps on the basins and tubs, Martha, and my
plumber tells me you mustn't do it. He says it's ruinous. He recommends
kerosene oil for the bath-tubs and marble slabs. He says it will take
any stain out, and is much safer than the soaps. So please use kerosene
to remove the stains--"

Mrs. Slawson relaxed. Without the slightest hint of incivility she
interrupted cheerfully, "An' does your plumber mention what'll remove
the stink--I _should_ say, _odor_, of the karrysene?"

Mrs. Sherman laughed. "Dear me, no. I'm afraid that's _up to_ you, as
Radcliffe says."

"O, I ain't no doubt it can be done, an' even if it can't, the smell o'
karrysene is healthy, an' you wouldn't mind a faint whifft of it now an'
then, clingin' to you, comin' outer your bath, would you? Or if you did,
you might set over against the oil-smell one o' them strong bath-powders
that's like the perfumery-counter in a department-store broke loose,
an' let 'em fight it out between 'em. To my way o' thinkin', it'd be a
_tie_, an' no thanks to your nose."

"Well, I only follow the plumber's directions. He guarantees his work
and materials, but he says acids will roughen the surface of
anything--enamel or marble or whatever it may be. I'm sure you'll be
careful in the future, now I have spoken, and--er--how are you getting
on these days? How are you and your husband and the children?"

"Tolerable, thank you. Sammy, my husband, he ain't been earnin' as much
as usual lately, but I says to him, when he's downhearted-like because
he can't hand out the price o' the rent, 'Say, you ain't fished up much
of anythin' certaintly, but count your blessin's. You ain't fell in the
river either.' An' be this an' be that, we make out to get along. We
never died a winter yet."

"Dear me, I should think a great, strapping man ought to be able to
support his family without having to depend on his wife to go out by the
day."

"My husband does his best," said Martha with simple dignity. "He does
his best, but things goes contrairy with some, no doubt o' that."

"O, the thought of the day would not bear you out there, I assure you!"
Mrs. Sherman took her up quickly. "Science teaches us that our
condition in life reflects our character. We get the results of what we
are in our environment. You understand? In other words, each receives
his desert. I hope I am clear? I mean, what he deserves."

Martha smiled, a slow, calm, tolerant smile. "You are perfeckly clear,"
she said reassuringly. "Only I ain't been educated up to seein' things
that way. Seems to me, if everybody got their dessert, as you calls it,
some o' them that's feedin' so expensive now at the grand hotels
wouldn't have a square meal. It's the ones that ain't _earned_ 'em,
_havin'_ the square meal _and_ the dessert, that puts a good man, like
my Sammy, out o' a job. But that's neither here nor there. It's all
bound to come right some day--only meanwhiles, I wish livin' wasn't so
high. What with good steak twenty-eight cents a pound, an' its bein' as
much as your life is worth to even ast the price o' fresh vegetables, it
takes some contrivin' to get along. Not to speak o' potatas twenty-five
cents the half-peck, an' every last one o' my fam'ly as fond of 'em as
if they was fresh from Ireland, instead o' skippin' a generation on both
sides."

"But, my good woman!" exclaimed Mrs. Sherman, shocked, "what _do_ you
mean by talking of porterhouse steak and fresh vegetables this time of
year? Oughtn't you to economize? Isn't it extravagant for you to use
such expensive cuts of meat? I'm sure there are others that are
cheaper--more suited to your--your income."

"Certaintly there is. Chuck steak is cheap. Chuck steak's so cheap that
about all it costs you is a few cents to the butcher, an' the price of
the store teeth you need, after you've broke your own tryin' to chew it.
But, you see, my notion is, to try to give my fam'ly the sort o' stuff
that's nourishin'. Not just somethin' to _eat_, but _food_. I don't
believe their stummicks realize they belong to poor folks. I'm not
envyin' the rich, mind you. Dear no! I wouldn't be hired to clutter up
my insides with the messes I see goin' up to the tables of some I work
for. Cocktails, an' entrys, an' foody-de-gra-gra, an' suchlike. No! I
believe in reel, straight nourishment. The things that builds up your
bones, an' gives you red blood, an' good muscle, so's you can hold down
your job, an' hold up your head. I believe in payin' for that kind o'
food, if I _do_ have to work for it."

Mrs. Sherman took up the book she had dropped at Martha's entrance.

"You certainly are a character," she observed.

"Thank you, 'm," said Martha.

"O, and by the way, before you go--I want you to see that Mr. Ronald's
rooms are put in perfect order to-day. I don't care to trust it to the
girls, but you can have one of them to help you, if you like, provided
you are sure to oversee her. You know how particular I am about my
brother Frank's rooms. Be sure nothing is neglected."

"Yes'm," said Martha.



CHAPTER VI


The next morning Eliza met her at the area-gate, showing a face of
ominous sympathy, wagging a doleful head.

"What'd I tell you?" she exclaimed before she had even unlatched the
spring-lock. "That young villyan has a head on him old enough to be his
father's, if so be he ever had one. He's deep as a well. He didn't tell
his mother on ye yesterday mornin', but he done worse--the little fox!
He told his uncle Frank when he got home last night. Leastways, Mr. Shaw
got a message late in the evenin' from upstairs, which was, to tell Mrs.
Slawson, Mr. Ronald wanted to see her after his breakfast this mornin',
an' be sure she didn't forget."

Mrs. Slawson received the news with a smile as of such actual welcome,
that Eliza, who flattered herself she knew a thing or two about human
nature, was rather upset in her calculations.

"You look like you _relish_ bein' bounced," she observed tartly.

"Well, if I'm goin' to get my walkin'-papers, I'd rather get 'em from
Mr. Frank than from anybody else. There's never any great loss without
some small gain. At least, if Mr. Frank is dischargin' me, he's noticin'
I'm alive, an' that's somethin' to be thankful for."

"That's _as_ you look at it!" snapped Eliza. "Mr. Frank is all right
enough, but I must say I'd rather keep my place than have even him kick
me out. An' you look as if his sendin' for you was to say you'd come in
for a fortune."

"P'raps it is," said Martha. "You never can tell."

"Well, if _I_ was makin' tracks for fortunes, I wouldn't start in on Mr.
Frank Ronald," Eliza observed cuttingly.

"Which might be exackly where you'd slip up on it," Martha returned with
a bland smile.

And yet, in reality, she was by no means so composed as she appeared.
She felt as might one who, moved by a great purpose, had rashly usurped
the prerogative of fate and set in motion mighty forces that, if they
did not make for success, might easily make for disaster. She had very
definitely stuck her thumb into somebody else's pie, and if her laudable
intention was to draw forth a plum, not for herself but for the other,
why, that was no proof that, in the end, she might not get smartly
scorched for her pains.

When the summons to the dining-room actually came, Martha felt such an
unsubstantiality in the region of her knee-joints, that for a moment she
almost believed the bones had turned into breadcrumbs. Then
energetically she shook herself into shape, spurning her momentary
weakness from her, with an almost visible gesture, and marched forward
to meet what awaited her.

Shaw had removed the breakfast dishes from the table beside which "Lord
Ronald" sat alone. It was all very imposing, the place, the particular
purpose for which she had been summoned, and which was, as yet,
unrevealed to her, the _person_, most of all.

Martha thought that perhaps she had been a little hard on Cora, "the
time she give her the tongue-lashin' for stumblin' over the first lines
of her piece, that evenin' of the Sund'-School ent'tainment. It wasn't
so dead easy as a body might think, to stand up to a whole churchful o'
people, or even one person, when he was the kind that's as good (or as
bad) as a whole churchful."

Martha could see her now, as she stood then, announcing to the assembled
multitude in a high, unmodulated treble:

_"It was the t-time when l-lilies bub-blow"_

"an' her stockin' fixin' to come down any min'ute!"

"Ah, Martha, good-morning!"

At the first sound of his voice Mrs. Slawson recovered her poise. That
_wouldn't-call-the-queen-your-cousin_ feeling came over her again, and
she was ready to face the music, whatever tune it might play. So
susceptible is the foolish spirit of mortal to those subtle, impalpable
influences of atmosphere that we try to describe, in terms of inexact
science, as personality, vibration, aura, magnetism.

"I asked to see you, Martha, because Radcliffe tells me--"

Martha's heart sank within her. So it was Radcliffe and the _grand
bounce_ after all, and not--Well, it was a pity! After all her thinkin'
it out, an' connivin', an' contrivin', to have nothin' come of it! To be
sent off before she had time to see the thing through!

"Radcliffe tells me," continued the clear, mellow voice, penetrating the
mist of her meditations, "that you own a very rare, a very unusual breed
of dog. I couldn't make out much from Radcliffe's description, but
apparently the dog is a pedigree animal."

Mrs. Slawson's shoulders, in her sudden revulsion of feeling, shook with
soundless mirth.

"Pedigree animal!" she repeated. "Certaintly! Shoor, he's a pedigree
animal. He's had auntsisters as far back as any other dog, an' that's a
fack. What's the way they put it? 'Out of' the gutter, 'sired by'
Kicks. You never see a little yeller, mongol, cur-dog, sir, that's
yellerer or cur-er than him. I'd bet my life his line ain't never been
crossed by anythin' different, since the first pup o' them all set out
to run his legs off tryin' to get rid o' the tin-can tied to his tail.
But Flicker's a winner, for all that, an' he's goin' to keep my boy
Sammy in order, better'n I could ever do it. You see, I just has to hint
to Sammy that if he ain't proper-behaved I won't let Flicker 'sociate
with'm, an' he's as good as pie. I wouldn't be without that dog, sir,
now I got intimately acquainted with him, for--"

"That touches the question I was intending to raise," interposed Mr.
Ronald. "You managed to get Radcliffe's imagination considerably stirred
about Flicker, and the result is, he has asked me to see if I can't come
to an understanding with you. He wants me to buy Flicker."

Martha's genial smile faded. "Why, goodness gracious, Lor--I _should_
say, _Mr._ Ronald, the poor little rascal, dog rather, ain't worth two
cents. He's just a young flagrant pup, you wouldn't be bothered to
notice, 'less you had the particular likin' for such things we got."

"Radcliffe wants Flicker. I'll give you ten dollars for him."

"I--I couldn't take it, Mr. Ronald, sir. It wouldn't be fair to you!"

"Fifteen dollars."

"It ain't the money--"

"Twenty!"

"I--I can't!"

"Twenty-five dollars, Martha. Radcliffe's heart is set on the dog."

A quick observer, looking attentively at Mrs. Slawson's face, could have
seen something like a faint quiver disturb the firm lines of her lips
and chin for a moment. A flash, and it was gone.

"I'd _give_ you the dog, an' welcome, Mr. Ronald," she said presently,
"but I just can't do it. The little feller, he never had a square deal
before, an' because my husband an' the rest of us give it to him, he
loves us to death, an' you'd think he'd bark his head off for joy when
the raft o' them gets home after school. An' then, nights--(I ben
workin' overtime lately, doin' outside jobs that bring me home
late)--nights, when I come back, an' all in the place is abed an'
asleep, an' I let myself in, in the black an' the cold, the only livin'
creature to welcome me is Flicker. An' there he stands, up an' ready for
me, the minute he hears my key in the lock, an' when I open the door,
an' light the changelier (he don't dare let a bark out of'm, he knows
better, the smart little fella!), there he stands, a-waggin' his stump
of a tail like a Christian, an'--Mr. Ronald, sir--that wag ain't for
sale!"

For a moment something akin in both held them silent. Then Mr. Ronald
slowly inclined his head. "You are quite right, Martha. I understand
your feeling."

Martha turned to go. She had, in fact, reached the door when she was
recalled.

"O--one moment, please."

She came back.

"My sister tells me you worked in my rooms yesterday. Was any one there
with you at the time?"

"No, sir. Mrs. Sherman said I might have one of the girls, but I perfer
to see to your things myself."

"Then you were quite alone?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you know if any one else in the household had occasion to go into my
rooms during the day?"

"Of course I can't be pos'tive. But I don't think so, sir."

"Then I wonder if this belongs to you?" He extended his hand toward her.
In his palm lay a small, flat, gold locket.

Something like the faintest possible electric shock passed up Mrs.
Slawson's spine, and contracted the muscles about her mouth. For a
second she positively grinned, then quickly her face regained its
customary calm. With a clever, if slightly tardy, movement, her hand
went up to her throat.

"Yes, sir--shoor, it's mine! Now what do you think of that! Me losin'
somethin' I think the world an' all of, an' have wore for, I do' know
how long, an' never missin' it!"

Mr. Ronald's eyes shot out a quick, quizzical gleam.

"O, you have been accustomed to wear it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Mrs. Sherman tells me she never remembers to have seen you with any
sort of ornament, even a gold pin. She thought the locket could not
possibly belong to you."

"Well, it does. An' the reason she hasn't noticed me wearin' it is, I
wear it under my waist, see?"

Again Mr. Ronald fixed her with his keen eyes. "I see. You wear it under
your waist. Of course, that explains why she hasn't noticed it. Yet,
_if_ you wear it under your waist, how came it to get out from under and
be on my desk?"

Martha's face did not change beneath his scrutiny. During a rather long
moment she was silent, then her answer came glibly enough.

"When I'm workin' I'm ap' to get het-up, an' then I sometimes undoes the
neck o' my waist, an' turns it back to give me breathin'-room."

Mr. Ronald accepted it gravely. "Well, it is a very pretty locket,
Martha--and a very pretty face inside it. Of course, as the trinket was
in my room, and as there was no name or sign on the outside to identify
it, I opened it. I hope you don't mind."

"Certainly not," Martha assured him. "Certainly not!"

"The inscription on the inside puzzles me. 'Dear Daddy, from Claire.'
Now, assuredly, you're not _dear Daddy,_ Martha."

Mrs. Slawson laughed. "Not on your life, I ain't _Dear Daddy,_ sir. Dear
Daddy was Judge Lang of Grand Rapids--you know, where the furnitur' an'
the carpet-sweepers comes from--He died about a year ago, an' Miss
Claire, knowin' how much store I set by her, an' how I'd prize her
picture, she give me the locket, as you see it."

"You say Grand Rapids?--the young lady, Miss Claire, as you call her,
lives in Grand Rapids?"

"Yes, sir."

"I suppose you think I am very inquisitive, asking so many questions,
but the fact is, I am extremely interested. You will see why, when I
explain that several weeks ago, one day downtown, I saw a little girl--a
young lady--who might have been the original of this very picture, the
resemblance is so marked. But, of course, if your young lady lives in
Grand Rapids, she can't be my little girl--I should say, the young woman
I saw here in New York City. But if they were one and the same, they
couldn't look more alike. The only difference I can see, is that the
original of your picture is evidently a prosperous 'little sister of the
rich,' and the original of mine--the one I've carried in my mind--is a
breadwinner. She was employed in an office where I had occasion to go
one day on business. The next time I happened to drop in there--a few
days later--she was gone. I was sorry. That office was no place for her,
but I would have been glad to find her there, that I might have placed
her somewhere else, in a safer, better position. I hope she has come to
no harm."

Martha hung fire a moment. Then, suddenly, her chin went up, as with the
impulse of a new resolve.

"I'll be open an' aboveboard with you, sir," she said candidly. "The
world is certaintly small, an' the way things happen is a caution. Now,
who'd ever have thought that you'd 'a' seen my Miss Claire, but I truly
believe you have. For after her father died she come to New York, the
poor lamb! for to seek her fortune, an' her as innercent an'
unsuspectin' as my Sabina, who's only three this minit. She tried her
hand at a lot o' things, an' thank God an' her garden-angel for keepin'
her from harm, for as delicate an' pretty as she is, she can't _help_
attractin' attention, an' you know what notions some as calls themselves
gen'lemen has, in this town. Well, Miss Claire is livin' under my roof,
an' you can betcher life I'm on the job--relievin' her garden-angel o'
the pertectin' end o' the business. But Miss Claire's that proud an'
inderpendent-like she ain't contented to be idle. She's bound to make
her own livin', which, she says, it's everybody's dooty to do, some ways
or other. So my eye's out, as you might say, for a place where she can
teach, like she's qualified to do. Did I tell you, she's a college lady,
an' has what she calls a 'degree,' which I didn't know before anythin'
but Masons like himself had 'em.

"You oughter see how my boy Sammy gets his lessons, after she's learned
'em to him. She's a wizard at managin' boys. My Sammy useter to be up to
all sorts o' mischief. They was a time he took to playin' hookey. He'd
march off mornin's with his sisters, bold as brass, an' when lunchtime
come, in he'd prance, same as them, an' nobody ever doubtin' he hadn't
been to his school. An' all the time, there he was playin' in the open
lots with a gang o' poor little neglected dagos. I noticed him comin' in
evenin's kinder dissipated-lookin', but I hadn't my wits about me enough
to be onto'm, till his teacher sent me a note one day, by his sister
Cora, askin' what was ailin' Sammy. That night somethin' ailed Sammy for
fair. He stood up to his dinner, an' he wouldn't 'a' had a cravin' to
set down to his breakfast next mornin', only Francie put a pilla in his
chair. But Miss Claire, she's got him so bewitched, he'd break his heart
before he'd do what she wouldn't like. The thought of her goin' away
makes him sick to his stummick, the poor fella! Yet, it ain't to be
supposed anybody so smart, an' so good-lookin' as her, but would be
snapped up quick by them as has the sense to see the worth of her.
There's no question about her gettin' a job, the only worry _I_ have is
her gettin' one that will take her away from this, out of New York City,
where I can't see her oncet in a while. She's the kind you'd miss, like
you would a front tooth. You feel you can't get on without her, an' true
for you, you can't. But, beggin' your pardon, sir, for keepin' you so
long with my talkin'. If that's all, I'll get to my work."

"That is all," said Mr. Ronald, "except--" He rose and handed her the
locket.

She took it from him with a smile of perfect good-fellowship, and passed
from the room. Once outside the threshold, with the door closed upon
her, she drew a long, deep breath of relief.

"Well, I'm glad _that's_ over, an' I got out of it with a whole skin,"
she ruminated. "Lord, but I thought he had me shoor, when he took me up
about how the thing got out o' me dress, with his gimlet eyes never
stirrin' from my face, an' me tremblin' like an ashpan. If I hadn't 'a'
had my wits about me, I do' know where I'd 'a' come out. But all's well
that ends swell, as Miss Claire says, an' bless her heart, it's her
as'll end swell, if what I done this day takes root, an' I believe it
will."



CHAPTER VII


When Martha let herself into her flat that night, she was welcomed by
another beside Flicker.

"You _naughty_ Martha!" whispered Claire. "What do you mean by coming
home so late, all tired out and worked to death! It is shameful! But
here's a good cup of hot chocolate, and some big plummy buns to cheer
you up. And I've got some good news for you besides. I didn't mean to
tell right off, but I just can't keep in for another minute. _I've got a
job!_ A fine, three-hundred-dollars-a-year-and-home-and-laundry job! And
a raise, as soon as I show I'm worth it! Now, what do you think of that?
Isn't it splendid? Isn't it--_bully_?"

She had noiselessly guided Martha into her own room, got her things off,
and seated her in a comfortable Morris chair before the lighted
oil-stove, from whose pierced iron top a golden light gleamed cheerily,
reflecting on the ceiling above in a curious pattern.

"Be careful of the chocolate, it's burning hot. I kept it simmering till
I heard you shut the vestibule door. And--O, yes! No danger in sipping
it that way! But you haven't asked a single thing about my job. How I
came to know of it in the first place, and how I was clever enough to
get it after I'd applied! You don't look a bit pleased and excited over
it, you bad Martha! And you ought to be so glad, because I won't need to
spend anything _like_ all the money I'll get. I'm to have my home and
laundry free, and one can't make many outside expenses in a
boarding-school 'way off in Schoharie--and so I can send you a lot and a
lot of dollars, till we're all squared up and smoothed out, and you
won't have to work so hard any more, and--"

"Say now, Miss Claire, you certaintly are the fastest thing on record.
If you'd been born a train, you'd been an express, shoor-pop an' no
mistake. Didn't I tell you to hold on, pationate an' uncomplainin', till
I giv' you the sign? Didn't I say I had my eye on a job for you that was
a job worth talkin' about? One that'd be satisfactry all around. Well,
then! An' here you are, tellin' me about you goin' to the old Harry, or
some such, with home an' laundry thrown in. Not on your life you ain't,
Miss Claire, an' that (beggin' your pardon!) is all there is _to_ it!"

"But, Martha--"

"Don't let's waste no more words. The thing ain't to be thought of."

"But, Martha, it's over two weeks since you said that, about having an
idea about a certain job for me that was going to be so splendid. Don't
you know it is? And I thought it had fallen through. I didn't like to
speak about it, for fear you'd think I was hurrying you, but two weeks
are two weeks, and I can't go on indefinitely staying here, and getting
so deep in debt I'll never be able to get out again. And I saw this
advertisement in _The Outlook._ 'Twas for a college graduate to teach
High School English in a girls' boarding-school, and I went to the
agency, and they were very nice, and told me to write to the Principal,
and I did--told her all about myself, my experience tutoring, and all
that, and this morning came the letter saying she'd engage me. I can
tell you all about Schoharie, Martha. It's 'up-state' and--"

"Miss Claire, child, no! It won't do. I can't consent. I can't have you
throwin' away golden opportoonities to work like a toojan for them as'll
stint you in the wash, an' prob'ly give you oleo-margerine instead of
butter, an' cold-storage eggs that had forgot there was such a thing as
a hen, long before they ever was laid away. I wasn't born yesterday,
myself, an' I know how they treat the teachers in some o' them schools.
The young-lady scholars, so stylish an' rich, as full of airs as a
music-box, snubbin' the teacher because they're too ignorant to know how
smart _she_ has to be, to get any knowledge into their stupid heads,
an' the Principal always eyein' you like a minx, 'less you might be
wastin' her precious time an' not earnin' the elegant sal'ry she gives
you, includin' your home an' laundry. O my! I know a thing or two about
them schools, an' a few other places. No, Miss Claire, dear, it won't
do. An' besides, I have you bespoke for Mrs. Sherman. The last thing
before I come away from the house this night, she sent for me upstairs,
an' ast me didn't I know some one could engage with her for
Radcliffe--to learn him his lessons, an' how to be a little lady, an'
suchlike. She wants, as you might say, a trained mother for'm, while his
own untrained one is out gallivantin' the streets, shoppin', an' playin'
bridge, an' attendin' the horse-show.

"I hemmed an' hawed an' scratched my head to see if, happen, I did know
anybody suitable, an' after a while (not to seem to make you too cheap,
or not to look like I was jumpin' down her throat) I told her: 'Curious
enough, I do know just the one I think will please you--_if_ you can get
her.'

"Then she ast me a lot about you, an' I told her what I know, an' for
the rest I trusted to Providence, an' in the end we made a sorter
deal--so's it's all fixed you're to go there day after to-morrer, to
talk to her, an' let her look you over. An' if you're the kind o' stuff
she wants, she'll take a half-a-dozen yards o' you, which is the kind o'
way those folks has with people they pay money to. I promised Mrs.
Sherman you'd come, an' I couldn't break my word to her, now could I?
I'd be like to lose my own job if I did, an' I'm sure you wouldn't ast
that o' me!"

"But," said Claire, troubled, "you told me Radcliffe is so
unmanageable."

Mrs. Slawson devoted herself to her chocolate and buns for a moment or
two. "O, never you fear about Radcliffe," she announced at length. "He's
a good little fella enough, as little fellas goes. When you know how to
handle'm--which is _right side up_ with care. Him an' me come to an
understandin' yesterday mornin', an' he's as meek an' gentle as a
baa-lamb ever since. I'll undertake you'll have no trouble with
Radcliffe."

"Is this the wonderful plan you spoke of? Is _this_ the job you said was
going to be so satisfactory all 'round?" inquired Claire, her
misgivings, in connection with her prospective pupil, by no means
allayed.

"Well, not eggsackly. I can't say it is. _That_ job will come later. But
we got to be pationate, an' not spoil it by upsettin' our kettles o'
fish with boardin'-schools, an' such nonsense. Meanwhile we can put in
time with Mrs. Sherman, who'll pay you well, an' won't be too skittish
if you just keep a firm hand on her. This mornin' she got discoursin'
about everythin' under the canopy, from nickel-plated bathroom fixin's,
an' marble slobs, to that state o' life unto which it has pleased God to
call me. She told me just what I'd oughter give my fam'ly to eat, an'
how much I'd oughter pay for it, an'--I say, but wasn't she grand to
have give me all that good advice free?"

Claire laughed. "She certainly was, and now you've just _got_ to go to
bed. I don't dare look at the clock, it's so late. Good-night, you
_good_ Martha! And thank you, from way deep down, for all you've done
for me."

But long after Mrs. Slawson had disappeared, the girl sat in the
solitude of her shadowy room thinking--thinking--thinking. Unable to get
away from her thoughts. There was something about this plan, to which
Martha had committed her, that frightened, overawed her. She felt a
strange impulse to resist it, to follow her own leading, and go to the
school instead. She knew her feeling was childish. Suppose Radcliffe
were to be unruly, why, how could she tell that the girls in the
Schoharie school might not prove even more so? The fact was, she argued,
she had unconsciously allowed herself to be prejudiced against Mrs.
Sherman and the boy, by Martha's whimsical accounts of them,
good-natured as they were. And this strange, premonitory instinct was
no premonitory instinct at all, it was just the natural reluctance of a
shy nature to face a new and uncongenial situation. And yet--and
yet--and yet, try as she would, she could not shake off the impression
that, beyond it all, there loomed something a hidden inner sense made
her hesitate to approach.

Just that moment, a dim, untraceable association of ideas drew her back
until she was face-to-face with a long-forgotten incident in her
very-little girlhood. Once upon a time, there had been a moment when she
had experienced much the same sort of feeling she had now--the feeling
of wanting to cry out and run away. As a matter of fact, she _had_ cried
out and run away. Why, and from what? As it came back to her, not from
anything altogether terrible. On the contrary, something rather
alluring, but so unfamiliar that she had shrunk back from it,
protesting, resisting. What was it? Claire suddenly broke into a
smothered little laugh and covered her face with her hands, before the
vision of herself, squawking madly, like a startled chicken, and running
away from "big" handsome, twelve-year-old Bobby Van Brandt, who had just
announced to the world at large, that "he liked Claire Lang a lot, 'n'
she was his best girl, 'n' he was goin' to kiss her." She had been
mortally frightened, had screamed, and run away, but (so unaccountable
is the heart of woman) she had never liked Bobby quite so well after
that, because he had shown the white feather and hadn't carried out his
purpose, in spite of her.

But if she should scream and run away now, there would be none to
pursue. Her foolish outburst would disturb no one. She could cry and
cry, and run and run, and there would be no big Bobby Van Brandt, or any
one else to hear and follow.

An actual echo of the cries she had not uttered seemed to mock her
foolish musing. She paused and listened. Again and again came the
muffled sounds, and, at last, so distinct they seemed, she went to her
door, unlatched it, and stood, listening, on the threshold.

From Martha's room rose a deep rumble, as of a distant murmurous sea.

"Mr. Slawson. He's awake. He must have heard the crying, too. O, it's
begun again! How awful! Martha, what is it, O, what is it?" for Mrs.
Slawson had appeared in her own doorway, and was standing, night-robed
and ghostly, listening attentively to the intermittent signs of
distress.

"It's that bloomin' Dutchman, Langbein, acrost the hall. Every time he
goes on a toot, he comes back an' wallops his wife for it. Go to bed,
Miss Claire, child, an' don't let it worry you. It ain't _your_
funeral."

Came the voice of big Sam Slawson from within his chamber:

"Just what I say to _you_, my dear. It ain't your funeral. Come back,
Martha, an' go to bed."

"Well, that's another pair o' shoes, entirely, Sammy," whispered Martha.
"This business has been goin' on long enough, an' I ain't proposin' to
put up with it no longer. Such a state o' things has nothin' to
recommend it. If it'd help such a poor ninny as Mrs. Langbein any to
beat her, I'd say, 'Go ahead! Never mind _us!_' But you couldn't pound
sense inter a softy like her, no matter what you done. In the first
place, she lets that fella get away from her evenin's when, if she'd an
ounce o' sense, she could keep him stickin' so close at home, a capcine
plaster wouldn't be in it. Then, when he comes home, a little the worse
for wear, she ups an' reproaches 'm, which, God knows, that ain't no
time to argue with a man. You don't want to _argue_ with a fella when
he's so. You just want to _tell_m'. Tell'm with the help of a broomstick
if you want to, but _tell'_m, or leave'm alone. An' it's bad for the
childern--all this is--it's bad for Cora an' Francie. What idea'll they
get o' the holy estate o' matrimony, I should like to know? That the
_man_ has the upper hand? That's a _nice_ notion for a girl to grow up
with, nowadays. Hark! My, but he's givin' it to her good an' plenty this
time! Sammy Slawson, shame on ye, man! to let a poor woman be beat like
that, an' never raise a hand to save your own childern from bein' old
maids. Another scream outer her, an' I'll go in myself, in the face of
you."

"Now, Martha, be sensible!" pleaded Sam Slawson. "You can't break into a
man's house without his consent."

"Can't I? Well, just you watch me close, an' you'll see if I can't."

"You'll make yourself liable to the law. He's her husband, you know. She
can complain to the courts, if she's got any kick comin'. But it's not
_my_ business to go interferin' between husband and wife. 'What God hath
joined together, let no man put asunder.'"

Martha wagged an energetic assent.

"Shoor! That certaintly lets _you_ out. But there ain't no mention made
o' _woman_ not bein' on the job, is there?"

She covered the narrow width of the hall in a couple of strides, and
beat her knuckles smartly against the panel of the opposite door.

By this time the baluster-railing, all the way up, was festooned with
white-clad tenants, bending over, looking down.

"Martha," protested Sam Slawson, "you're in your nightgown! You can't
go round like that! Everybody's lookin' at you!"

"Say, you--Mr. Langbein in there! Open the door. It's me! Mrs. Slawson!
Let me in!" was Martha's only reply. Her keen ear, pressed against the
panel, heard nothing in response but an oath, following another even
more ungodly sound, and then the choking misery of a woman's convulsive
sobs.

Mrs. Slawson set her shoulder against the door, braced herself for a
mighty effort, and--

"Did you ever see the like of her?" muttered Sam, as, still busy
fastening the garments he had hurriedly pulled on, he followed his wife
into the Langbeins' flat, into the Langbeins' bedroom. There he saw her
resolutely march up to the irate German, swing him suddenly about, and
send him crashing, surprised, unresisting, to the opposite side of the
room. For a second she stood regarding him scornfully.

"You poor, low-lived Dutchman, you!" she brought out with deliberation.
"What d'you mean layin' your hand to a woman who hasn't the stren'th or
the spirit to turn to, an' lick you back? Why don't you fight a fella
your own size an' sect? That's fair play! A fine man _you_ are! A fine
neighbor _you_ are! Just let me hear a peep out of you, an' I'll thrash
you this minit to within a inch of your life. _I_ don't need no law nor
no policeman to keep the peace in any house where I live. I can keep the
peace myself, if I have to lick every tenant in the place! I'm the law
an' the policeman on my own account, an' if you budge from that floor
till I tell you get up, I'll come over there an' set down on ye so hard,
your wife won't know you from a pancake in the mornin'. I'll show you
the power o' the _press!"_

Sam Slawson was no coward, but his face was pallid with consternation at
Martha's hardihood. His mighty bulk, however, seeming to supplement
hers, had its effect on the sobered German. He did not attempt to rise.

"As to you, you poor weak sister," said Mrs. Slawson, turning to the
wife, "you've had your last lickin' so long as you live in this house.
Believe _me!_ I'm a hard-workin' woman, but I'm never too tired or too
busy to come in an' take a round out of your old man, if he should ever
dare lay finger to you again. _I_ don't mind a friendly scrap oncet in a
while with a neighbor. My muscles is good for more than your fat,
beer-drinkin' Dutchman's any day. Let him up an' try 'em oncet, an'
he'll see. Why don't you have some style about you an' land him one,
where it'll do the most good, or else--_leave_ him? But no, you wouldn't
do that--I _know_ you wouldn't! Some women has to cling to somethin',
no matter if they have to support it themselves."

Mrs. Langbein's inarticulate sobbing had passed into a spasmodic
struggle for breathless utterance.

"He--don't mean--no harm, Mis' Slawson. He's all right--ven he's soper.
Only--it preaks my heart ven he vips me, und I don't deserve it."

"Breaks your heart? It ain't your _heart I'm_ worryin' about. If he
don't break your bones you're in luck!"

"Und I try to pe a goot vife to him. I tend him hand und foot."

"Ye-es, I know you do," returned Martha dryly. "But suppose you just try
the _foot_ in the future. See how it works."

"I to my pest mit dryin' to pe a goot cook. I geep his house so glean as
a bin. Vat I _don't_ do, Gott weiss, I don't know it. I ain't esk him
for ein tcent already. I ain't drouble him mit pills off of de grocer
oder de putcher, oder anny-von. I makes launtry efery veek for some
liddle peoples, und mit mine own money I bays my pills. Ven you dell me
how it iss I could make eferyting more smoother for him, I do it!"

"That's eggsackly the trouble," proclaimed Mrs. Slawson conclusively.
"You make 'em too smooth. You make 'em so smooth, they're ackchelly
slippery. No wonder the poor fella falls down. No man wants to spend
all his life skatin' round, doin' fancy-figger stunts, because his
wife's a dummy. Let'm get down to hard earth, an' if he kicks, heave a
rock at'm. He'll soon stand up, an' walk straight like a little man. Let
_him_ lend a hand with the dooty-business, for a change. It'll take his
attention off'n himself, give'm a rest from thinkin' he's an angel, an'
that you hired out, when you married'm, to shout 'Glory!' every time he
flaps a wing! That sort o' thing ain't healthy for men. It don't agree
with their constitutions--An' now, good-night to you, an' may you have
sweet dreams! Mr. Langbein, I ain't the slightest objeckshun to your
gettin' up, if you want to. You know me now. I'm by the day, as you may
have heard. But I can turn my hand to an odd job like this now an' then
by the night, if it's necess'ry, so let me hear no more from you, sir,
an' then we'll all be good friends, like we're partin' now. Good-night!"



CHAPTER VIII


Before setting out for his work the next morning, Sam Slawson tried to
prepare Ma and Miss Lang for the more than probable appearance, during
the day, of the officer of the law, he predicted Friedrich Langbein
would have engaged to prosecute Martha.

"He has a clear case against you, mother, no doubt o' that. You'd no
business in his place at all, let alone that you assaulted an' battered
him. He can make it hot for us, an' I don't doubt he will."

Mrs. Slawson attended with undivided care to the breakfast needs of such
of her flock as still remained to be fed. The youngsters had all
vanished.

"If he wants to persecute me, let him persecute me. I guess I
got a tongue in my head. I can tell the judge a thing or two which,
bein' prob'ly a mother himself, he'll see the sense of. Do you think
I want Sammy growin' up under my very eyes, a beer-drinkin'
wife-beater?--because he seen the eggsample of it set before'm by a
Dutchman, when he was a boy? Such things makes an impression on the
young--which they ain't sense enough to know the difference between a
eggsample an' a warnin'. An' the girls, too! As I told you las' night,
it's bad for the country when matrimony ain't made to look like a
prize-package, no matter what it _reely_ is. What's goin' to become o'
the population, I should like to know? Here's Cora now, wantin' to be a
telefoam-girl when she grows up, an' there's no knowin' what Francie'll
choose. But you can take it from me, they'll both of 'em drop their
votes for the single life. They'll perfer to thump a machine o' their
own, with twelve or fifteen _per_, comin' to 'em, rather than be the
machine that's thumped, an' pay for the privilege out'n their own
pockets besides."

As fate would have it, the day went placidly by, in spite of Mr.
Slawson's somber prognostications. No one came to disturb the even tenor
of its way. Then, at eveningfall, while Martha was still absent, there
was a gentle rap upon the door, and Claire, anxious to anticipate Ma,
made haste to answer it, and saw a stranger standing on the threshold.
It was difficult, at first, to distinguish details in the dusk of the
dim hallway, but after a moment she made out the rotund figure of Mr.
Langbein. She could not see his face, but his voice was more than
conciliatory.

"Eggscoose me, lady!" he began apologetically. "I haf for Mis' Slawson a
liddle bresent here. I tink she like it. She look so goot-netchered, und
I know she iss kind to bum animals. My vife, her Maltee cat vas having
some liddle kittens already, a mont' ago. I tink Mis' Slawson, she lige
to hef von off dem pussies, ja? Annyhow, I bring her von here, und I esk
you vill gif it to her mit my tanks, und my kint regarts, und pest
vishes und annyting else you tink I could do for her. You tell Mis'
Slawson I lige her to esk me to do someting whenefer she needs it--yes?"

"Now what do you think of that?" was Martha's only comment, when Claire
related the incident, and great Sam Slawson shook with laughter till his
sides ached, and a fit of coughing set in, and said it was "a caution,
but Mother always did have a winning way about her with the men."

"It's well I have, or I wouldn't 'a' drew you, Sammy--an' you shoor are
a trump--only I wisht you'd get rid o' that cough--You had it just about
long enough," Martha responded, half in mockery, half in affectionate
earnest.

"An' now, me lad, leave us be, me an' Miss Claire. We has things of
importance to talk over. It's to-morrow at ten she's to go see Mrs.
Sherman. Miss Claire, you must be lookin' your best, for the first minit
the madam claps eyes to you, that'll be the decidin' minit for _you_.
Have you everything you need, ready to your hand? Is all your little
laces an' frills done up fresh an' tidy, so's you can choose the
becomingest? Where's that lace butterfly for your neck, I like so much?
I washed it as careful as could be, a couple o' weeks ago, but have you
wore it since?"

Claire hesitated. "I think I'll put on the simplest things I've got,
Martha," she replied evasively. "Just one of my linen shirtwaists, with
the stiff collar and cuffs. No fluffy ruffles at all."

"But that scrap o' lace at your throat, ain't fluffy ruffles. An' stiff,
starched things don't kinder become you, Miss Claire. They ain't your
style. You don't wanter look like you been dressed by your worst enemy,
do you? You're so little an' dainty, you got to have delicate things to
go _with_ you. Say, just try that butterfly on you now. I want to see if
it'll do, all right."

By this time Claire knew Martha well enough to realize it was useless to
attempt to temporize or evade.

"I can't wear the butterfly, Martha dear," she said.

"Why can't you?"

"Well, now please, _please_ don't worry, but I can't wear it, because I
can't find it. I dare say it'll turn up some day when I least expect,
but just now, it seems to be lost."

Martha looked grave. "It come out o' the wash all right, didn't it?" she
inquired anxiously. "I remember distinkly leavin' it soak in the suds,
so's there wouldn't be no strain-like, rubbin' it, an' the dust'd just
drop out natural. But now I come to think of it, I don't recklect
ironin' it. Now honest, did it come outer the wash, Miss Claire?"

"No, Martha--but--"

"There ain't no _but_ about it. I musta gone an' lost your pretty lace
for you, an' it was reel at that!"

"Never mind! It's of no consequence. Truly, please don't--"

"Worry? Shoor I won't worry. What's the use worryin'? But I'll make it
right, you betcher life, which is much more to the purpose. Say, I
shouldn't wonder but it got into the tub someways, an' then, when I let
the water out, the suckage drew it down the pipe. Believe _me,_ that's
the very thing that happened, and--'I'll never see sweet Annie any
more!'"

"It doesn't make a particle of difference, Martha. I never liked that
butterfly as much as you did, you know."

"Perhaps you did an' perhaps you didn't, but all the same you're _out_ a
neck-fixin', an' it's _my_ fault, an' so you're bound to let me get
square, to save my face, Miss Claire. You see how it is, don't you?
Well, last Christmas, Mrs. Granville she give me a lace jabbow--reel
Irish mull an' Carrickmacross (that's lace from the old country, as you
know as well as me). She told me all about it. Fine? It'd break your
heart to think o' one o' them poor innercent colleens over there
pricklin' her eyes out, makin' such grandjer for the like o' me, when no
doubt she thought she was doin' it for some great dame, would be
sportin' it out loud, in her auta on Fifth Avenoo. What use have I, in
my business, for that kinder decoration, I should like to know! It'd
only be distractin' me, gettin' in me pails when I'm scrubbin'. An' by
the time Cora an' Francie is grown up, jabbows will be _out_. I'd much
more use for the five-dollar-bill was folded up in the box alongside.
_That_, now, was becomin' to my peculiar style o' beauty. But the
jabbow! There ain't no use talkin', Miss Claire, you'll have to take it
off'n my hands, I mean my chest, an' then we'll be quits on the
butterfly business, an' no thanks to your nose on either side."

It was useless to protest.

The next morning when Claire started forth to beard the lioness in her
den, she was tricked out in all the bravery of Martha's really beautiful
"jabbow," and looked "as pretty as a picture, an' then some," as Mrs.
Slawson confidentially assured Sam.

But the heart beneath the frilly lace and mull was anything but brave.
It felt, in fact, quite as white and fluttery as the _jabbow_ looked,
and when Claire found herself being actually ushered into the boudoir of
the august _presence_, and told to "wait please," she thought it would
stop altogether for very abject fright.

Martha had tried, in a sort of casual, matter-of-course way, to prepare
her little lady for the trial, by dropping hints every now and then, as
to the best methods of dealing with employers--the proper way to carry
oneself, when one "went to live out in private fam'lies."

"You see, you always been the private fam'ly yourself, Miss Claire, so
it'll come kinder strange to you first-off, to look at things the other
way. But it won't be so bad after you oncet get used to it. There's one
thing it's good to remember. Them high-toned folks has somehow got it
fixed in their minds that _the rich must not be annoyed,_ so it'll be
money in your pocket, as the sayin' is, if you can do your little stunt
without makin' any fuss about it, or drawin' their attention. Just saw
wood an' say nothin', as my husband says.

"Mrs. Sherman she told me, when I first went there, an' Radcliffe was a
little baby, she 'strickly forbid anybody to touch'm.' It was on account
o' what she called _germs_ or somethin'. Well, I never had no particular
yearnin' to inflect him with none o' my germs, but when she was off
gallivantin', an' that poor little lonesome fella used to cry, an' put
out his arms to be took, I'd take'm, an' give'm the only reel
mother-huggin' he ever had in his life, an' no harm to any of us--to me
that give it, or him that got it, or her that was no wiser. Then, later,
when he was four or five, an' around that, she got a notion he was a
angel-child, an' she'd useter go about tellin' the help, an' other
folks, 'he must be guided by love alone.' I remember she said oncet he'd
be 'as good as a kitten for hours at a time if you only give'm a ball of
twine to play with.' Well, his nurse, she give'm the ball of twine one
day when she had somethin' doin' that took up all her time an' attention
on her own account, an' when she come back from her outin', you couldn't
walk a step in the house without breakin' your leg (the nurse she did
sprain her ankle), on account o' the cat's-cradle effect the young
villain had strung acrost the halls, an' from one doorknob to the other,
so there wasn't an inch o' the place free. An' he'd got the tooth-paste
toobs, an' squoze out the insides, an' painted over every bit o'
mahogany he could find--doors, an' furnitur', an' all. You can take it
from me, that house was a sight after the angel-child got through with
it. The girls an' me--the whole push--was workin' like mad clearin' up
after'm before the madam'd come home, an' the nurse cryin' her eyes out
for the pain, an' scared stiff 'less she'd be sent packin'. Also, 'if
Radcliffe asked questions, we was to answer them truthful,' was another
rule. An' the puzzles he'd put to you! One day, I remember, he got me
cornered with a bunch that was such fierce propositions, Solomon in all
his glory couldn't 'a' give him their truthful answers. Says
he--Radcliffe, not Solomon--says he: 'I want another leg.'

"'You can't have it,' says I.

"'Why?' says he.

"'They ain't pervided,' I says. 'Little boys that's well-reggerlated,
don't have but two legs.'

"'Why don't they?'

"'Because God thought two was enough for'm.'

"'Why did God think tho?'

"'You ask too many questions.'

"'Well, but--juth lithen--I want to know--now lithen--doth puthy-caths
lay eggth?'

"'No!'

"'Why don't puthy-caths lay eggth?'

"'Because hens has a corner on the egg business.'

"'Why have they?'

"'Because they're born lucky, like Mr. Carnegie an' Mr. Rockefella.'

"'Doth Mr. Carnegie an' Mr. Rockefella--'

_"'No!'_

"'Why don't they?'

"'Say, Radcliffe, I ain't had a hard day,' says I. 'But _you_ make me
tired.'

"'Why do I? Now--juth wonth more--now--now lithen wonth more--ith God a
lady?'"

As Claire sat waiting for Mrs. Sherman, stray scraps of recollection,
such as these, flitted through her mind and helped to while the time
away. Then, as she still waited, she grew gradually more composed, less
unfamiliar with her surroundings, and the strange predicament in which
she found herself. She could, at length, look at the door she supposed
led into Mrs. Sherman's room, without such a quick contraction of the
heart as caused her breath to come in labored gasps, could make some
sort of sketchy outline of the part she was foreordained to take in the
coming interview, and not find herself barren of resource, even if Mrs.
Sherman _should_ say so-and-so, instead of so-and-so.

She had waited so long, had had such ample time to get herself well in
hand, that when, at last, a door opened (not Mrs. Sherman's door at all,
but another), and a tall, upright masculine figure appeared in the
doorway, she at once jumped to the conclusion it was Shaw, the butler,
come to summon her into _the presence,_ and rose to follow, without too
much inner perturbation.

"Mrs. Sherman is prevented from keeping her appointment with you this
morning," descended to her from an altitude far above her own. "She
hopes you will excuse her. She has asked me to talk with you in her
stead. You are Miss Lang, I believe? I am Mrs. Sherman's brother. My
name is Ronald."



CHAPTER IX


It is hard to readjust all one's prearranged plans in the twinkling of
an eye. Claire felt as if she had received a sudden dash of cold water
square in the face. She quite gulped from the shock of it. How in the
world was she to adapt herself to this brand-new set of conditions on
such short notice--on no notice at all? How was she to be anything but
awkwardly monosyllabic?

"Sit down, please."

Obediently she sat.

"Martha--Mrs. Slawson--tells me, your father was Judge Lang of
Michigan?"

"Yes--Grand Rapids."

"You are a college graduate?"

"Wellesley."

"You have taught before?"

"I tutored a girl throughout a whole summer. Prepared her for her
college entrance exams."

"She passed creditably?"

"She wasn't conditioned in anything."

"How are you on discipline?"

"I don't know."

"You have had no experience? Never tried your hand at training a boy,
for example?"

Claire's blue-gray eyes grew suddenly audacious, and the bridge of her
short nose wrinkled up delightfully in a roguish smile.

"I trained my father. He was a dear old boy--the dearest in the world.
He used to say he had never been brought up, until I came along. He used
to say I ruled him with a rod of iron. But he was very well-behaved
before I got through with him. He was quite a model boy, really."

Glancing quickly up into the steadfast eyes that had, at first, seemed
to her so stern as to be almost forbidding, she met an expression so
mild, so full of winning kindness, that she suddenly remembered and
understood what Martha had meant when she said once: "A body wouldn't
call the queen her cousin when he looks at you like that!"

"Your father was a credit to your bringing-up, certainly. I never had
the honor of meeting Judge Lang, but I knew him by reputation. I
remember to have heard some one say of him once--'He was a judge after
Socrates' own heart. He heard courteously, he answered wisely, he
considered soberly, he decided impartially. Added to this, he was one
whom kings could not corrupt.' That is an enviable record."

Claire's eyes filled with grateful moisture, but she did not allow them
to overflow. She nodded rapidly once or twice in a quaint,
characteristic little fashion, and then sat silent, examining the links
in her silver-meshed purse, with elaborate attention.

"Perhaps Mrs. Slawson has told you that my young nephew is something of
a pickle."

The question restored Claire at once. "I'm fond of pickles."

"Good! I believe there are said to be fifty-eight varieties. Are you
prepared to smack your lips over him, whichever he may be?"

"Well, if I can't smack my lips, there's always the alternative of
smacking _him_."

Mr. Ronald laughed. "Not allowed," he announced regretfully. "My sister
won't have it. Radcliffe is to be guided 'by love alone.'"

"Whose love, please? His or mine?"

Again Mr. Ronald laughed. "Now you've got me!" he admitted. "Perhaps a
little of both. Do you think you could supply your share? I have no
doubt of your being able to secure his."

"I like children. We've always managed to hit it off pretty well, the
kiddies and I, but, of course, I can't guarantee anything definite in
connection with your little boy, because, you see, I've never been a
governess before. I've only had to do with youngsters who've come
a-visiting, or else the small, lower East-siders at the Settlement. But
I'll promise to do my best."

"'Who does the best his circumstance allows, does well, acts nobly.
_Angles_ could no more,' as I wrote in my sister's autograph-album when
I was a boy," announced Mr. Ronald gravely.

Claire smiled over at him with appreciation. "I'd love to come and try,"
she said heartily.

She did not realize she had lost all sensation of alarm, had forgotten
her altered position, that she was no longer one whom these people would
regard as their social equal. She was talking as one talks to a friend.

"And if Radcliffe doesn't get on--if he doesn't improve, I should
say--if you don't _like_ me, you can always send me away, you know."

For a very long moment Mr. Ronald sat silent. So long a moment, indeed,
that Claire, waiting in growing suspense for his answer, suddenly
remembered all those things she had forgotten, and her earlier
embarrassment returned with a wave of bitter self-reproach. She accused
herself of having been too free. She had overstepped her privilege. It
was not apparent to her that he was trying to visualize the picture she
had drawn, the possibility of his _not liking her and sending her away,
you know,_ and that, to his utter consternation, he found it was
something he could not in the least conceive of himself as doing. That,
on the contrary, the vision of her going away for any reason, of her
passing out of his life, now she had once stepped into it, left him with
a chill sensation in the cardiac region that was as unexpected as it was
disturbing. When he spoke at last, it was with a quick, authoritative
brevity that seemed to Claire to bear out her apprehension, and prove he
thought she had forgotten her place, her new place as "hired help," and
must be checked lest she presume on good nature and take a tone to her
employers that was not to be tolerated.

"You will come without fail on Monday morning."

"Very well."

Her manner was so studiously cold and ceremonious, so sharply in
contrast with her former piquant friendliness, that Mr. Ronald looked up
in surprise.

"It is convenient for you to come on Monday, I hope?"

"Perfectly."

"I presume my sister, Mrs. Sherman, will take up with you the question
of--er--compensation."

"O--" quickly, with a little shudder, "that's all right!"

"If it isn't all right, it shall be made so," said Mr. Ronald cordially.

Claire winced. "It is quite, it is perfectly all right!" she repeated
hurriedly, anxious to escape the distasteful subject, still smarting
under the lash of her own self-condemnation--her own wounded pride.

How could she have forgotten, even for a moment, that she was no longer
in a position to deal with these people on equal terms? That now,
kindness on their part meant patronage, on hers presumption. Of course,
she deserved the snub she had received. But, all the same, it hurt! O,
but it hurt! She knew her George Eliot well. It was a pity she did not
recall and apply a certain passage in Maggie Tulliver's experience.

"It did not occur to her that her irritation was due to the pleasanter
emotion which preceded it, just as when we are satisfied with a sense of
glowing warmth, an innocent drop of cold water may fall upon us with a
sudden smart."

Mr. Ronald, searching her face for some clue to the abrupt change in her
voice and manner, saw her cheeks grow white, her lips and chin quiver
painfully.

"You are not well?" he asked, after a second of troubled groping in the
dark.

"O, perfectly." She recollected Martha's injunction, "Never you let on
to 'em, any of your worries. The rich must not be annoyed," and pulled
herself together with a determined mental grip.

"It is good that, being so far away from home, you can be under the
care of your old nurse," observed Mr. Ronald thoughtfully.

"My old nurse," Claire mechanically repeated, preoccupied with her own
painful meditations.

"Martha. It is good, it certainly must be comforting to those who care
for you, to know you are being looked after by so old and trusted a
family servant."

Claire did not reply. She was hardly conscious he was speaking.

"When Martha first mentioned you to me--to Mrs. Sherman, rather--she
described you as her young lady. She has a very warm feeling for you. I
think she considers you in the light of personal property, like a child
of her own. That's excusable--it's commendable, even, in such a case as
this. I believe she said she nursed you till you were able to walk."

With a shock of sudden realization, Claire waked to the fact that
something was wrong somewhere--something that it was _up to_ her to make
right at once. And yet, it was all so cloudy, so confused in her mind
with her duty to Martha, her duty to herself, and to these people--her
fear of being again kindly but firmly put back in her _place_ if she
ventured the merest fraction of an inch beyond the boundary prescribed
by this grandee of the autocratic bearing and "keep-off-the-grass
expression," that she hesitated, and her opportunity was lost.

"I think I must go now," she announced abruptly, and rose, got past him
somehow, and made blindly for the door. Then there was the dim vista of
the long hall stretching before her, like a path of escape, and she fled
its length, and down that of the staircase. Then out at the street-door,
and into the chill of the cold December noonday.

When she had vanished, Francis Ronald stood a moment with eyes fixed in
the direction she had taken. Then, abruptly, he seized the telephone
that stood upon the table beside him, switched it to connect with the
basement region, and called for Mrs. Slawson.

"This is Mr. Ronald speaking. Is Martha there?"

"Yes, sir. Please hold the wire, and I'll call her."

"Be quick!"

"Yes, sir!"

A second, and Martha's voice repeated his name. "Mr. Ronald, this is
Martha!"

"Good! I want you to put on your things at once, and follow Miss Lang,"
he directed briefly. "I do not think she's sick, but as she was talking
to me, I noticed she grew suddenly quite pale, and seemed troubled and
anxious. Waste no time! Go at once!"

The only answer was a sharp click over the wire, as Mrs. Slawson snapped
the receiver into its crotch.

But though Claire was not five minutes in advance of her, Martha was
unable to make up the distance between them, and by the time she had
mounted the stairs leading to the Elevated, and stood panting for breath
on the platform, the train she had hoped to catch was to be seen
disappearing around the curve at Fifty-third Street.

All the way uptown she speculated as to the why and wherefore of Mr.
Ronald's immediate concern about Claire.

"It's kinder previous, his gettin' so stirred up over her at this stage
o' the game," she pondered. "It ain't natural, or it ain't lucky. I'd
much liefer have it go slower, an' be more thora. A thing like this
affair I'm tryin' to menoover, is like some o' the things you cook. You
want to leave 'em get good an' het-up before the stirrin' begins. If
they're stirred up too soon, they're ap' to cruddle on you, an' never
get that nice, smooth, thick, _gooey_ look you like to see in rich
custuds, same as love-affairs. I hope she didn't go an' have a scare on,
an' give 'em to think she ain't healthy. She's as sound as a nut, but if
Mis' Sherman once is fixed with the notion she's subjeck to
faint-spells, nothin' on earth will change her mind, an' then it'll be
nit, not, nohow for Martha's little scheme. I must caution Miss Claire
about showin' the white feather. No matter how weak-kneed she feels,
she's just _got_ to buck up an' ack like she's a soldier. That's how--"

Martha had reached her own street, and was turning the corner, when she
stopped with a sensation as of a quick, fierce clutching at her heart.
Evidently there had been some sort of accident, for a great crowd was
gathered on the sidewalk, and beside the gutter-curbstone, just ahead of
her, stood waiting an ambulance. Her healthy, normal mind did not easily
jump at tragic conclusions. She did not, as a general thing, fear the
worst, did not even accept it when it came, but now, somehow, a close
association of ideas suggested Claire in an instant, and before ever she
had stirred a step, she saw in her mind's eye the delicate little form
she loved, lying injured, maybe mangled, stretched out upon the asphalt,
in the midst of the curious throng.

She hurried, hurried faster than any of the others who were also
hurrying, and pushed her way on through the press to the very edge of
the crowd. A crying woman caught wildly at her arm, as she stood for a
second struggling to advance.

"It's a child!--A little girl--run over by an automobile! O God help
the poor mother!" the stranger sobbed hysterically.

Martha freed herself from the clinging fingers and pressed forward. "A
child--Miss Claire's such a little thing, no wonder they think she's a
child," she murmured. "True for you, my good woman, God help the poor
mother!"

"You know her?"

"I know Miss Claire."

For some reason the crowd made way, and let her through to the very
heart of it, and there--sure enough, there was Claire, but Claire crying
and kneeling over an outstretched little form, lying unconscious on the
pavement.

"Why, it's--my Francie!" said Martha quietly.



CHAPTER X


Through all the days of suspense and doubt, Claire swung like a faithful
little pendulum between home, the Shermans, and the hospital.

Then, as hope strengthened, she was the bearer of gifts, flowers, fruit,
toys from Mr. Ronald and his sister, which Martha acknowledged in her
own characteristic fashion.

"Tell'm the Slawson fam'ly is bound to be _in it._ It seems it's the
whole style for ladies to go under a operation, an' as I ain't eggsackly
got the time, Francie, she's keepin' up the tone for us. If you wanter
folla the fashions these days, you got to gather your skirts about you,
tight as they are, an' run. But what's a little inconvenience, compared
with knowin' you're cuttin' a dash!

"Tell'm I thank'm, an' tell Lor'--Mister Ronald, it's good of'm to be
tryin' to get damages for Francie out o' the auta that run her down, an'
if there was somethin' comin' to us to pay the doctors an' suchlike,
it'd be welcome. But, somehow, I always was shy o' monkeyin' with the
law. It's like to catch a body in such queer places, where you'd least
expect. Before a fella knows it, he's _up_ for liable, or breaches o'
promise, an' his private letters to the bosom of his fam'ly (which
nowadays they're mostly ruffles), his letters to the bosom of his fam'ly
is read out loud in court, an' then printed in the papers next mornin',
an' everybody's laughin' at'm, because he called his wife 'My darlin'
Tootsie,' which she never been accustomed to answer to anythin' but the
name o' Sarah. An' it's up to him to pay the costs, when ten to one it's
the other party's to blame. I guess p'raps we better leave good enough
alone. If we begin to get the l'yers after us, no tellin' where we'll
end. Who knows but they might find the accident injured the auto, 'stead
o' Francie. If we work hard, an' they give us time, me an' Sammy can,
maybe, make out to pay the doctors. But add to that, to have to buy a
brand-new machine for the fella that run over Francie--that'd be sorter
discouragin'."

She paused, and Claire began to pull on her gloves.

"By the way," said Martha, "how's things down to the Shermans'? Seems
like a hunderd years since I was there. The las' time I laid eyes on
Eliza, she was in excellent spirits--I seen the bottle. I wonder if
she's still--very still, takin' a sly nip on the side, as she calls it,
which means a sly nip off the sideboard. You can take it from me, if she
don't let up, before she knows it she'll be a teetotal wrack."

"I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Eliza," observed Claire, smiling.

"Why, of course, you haven't, which it wouldn't be a pleasure, anyhow.
But what I reely want to know is, how you makin' out with Radcliffe? I
been so took up with Francie all this while, I clean forgot to ask
before. Is he behavin' all right? Does he mind what you say? Does he do
his lessons good?"

Claire's brows drew together in a troubled little frown, as she labored
over the clasp of her glove.

"O, Radcliffe," she let fall carelessly. "Radcliffe's an unruly little
Hessian, of course, but I suppose all boys are mischievous at times."

Martha pondered. "Well, not all boys are mischievous in just the same
way, thank God! This trouble o' Francie's has threw me all out in more
ways than one. If everything had 'a' went as I'd expected, I'd been
workin' at the Shermans' straight along these days, an' you wouldn't 'a'
had a mite o' trouble with the little fella. Him an' I understands each
other perfeckly, an' with me a loomin' up on the landscape, he kinder
sees the sense o' walkin' a chalk-line, not kickin' up his heels too
frisky. I'd calculated on being there, to sorter back you up, till you'd
got uster the place, an' made 'em understand you mean business."

Claire laughed, a quick, sharp little laugh.

"O, I think I'm gradually making them understand I mean business," she
said. "And I'm sure it is better, since I have to be there at all, that
I should be there without you, independent of any help. I couldn't make
Radcliffe respect my authority, if I depended on some one else to
enforce it. It's just one of those cases where one has to fight one's
own battle alone."

"Then it _is_ a battle?" Martha inquired quietly.

"O, it's a battle, 'all right,'" laughed Claire mirthlessly, and before
Mrs. Slawson could probe her further, she managed to make her escape.

She did not wish to burden Martha with her vexations. Martha had
troubles of her own. Moreover, those that were most worrisome to Claire,
Martha, in the very nature of things, would not understand.

Claire's first few weeks at the Shermans' had been uneventful enough.
Radcliffe had found amusement in the novelty of the situation, had
deigned to play school with her, and permitted her to "make believe" she
was "the teacher." He was willing to "pretend" to be her "scholar," just
as he would have been willing to pretend to be the horse, if he and
another boy had been playing, and the other boy had chosen to be driver
for a while. But turn about is fair play, and when the days passed, and
Claire showed no sign of relinquishing her claim, he grew restless,
mutinous, and she had all she could do to keep him in order.

Gradually it began to dawn upon him that this very little person, kind
and companionable as she seemed, suffered under the delusion that he was
going to obey her--that, somehow, she was going to constrain him to obey
her. Of course, this was the sheerest nonsense. How could she make him
do anything he didn't want to do, since his mother had told her, in his
presence, that he was to be governed by love alone, and, fortunately,
her lack of superior size and strength forbade her _love_ from
expressing itself as, he shudderingly remembered, Martha's had done on
one occasion. No, plainly he had the advantage of Miss Lang, but until
she clearly understood it, there were apt to be annoyances. So, without
taking the trouble to make the punishment fit the crime, he casually
locked her in the sitting-room closet one morning. She had stepped
inside to hang up her hat and coat as usual, and it was quite easy,
swiftly, noiselessly, to close the door upon her, and turn the key.

He paused a moment, choking back his nervous laughter, waiting to hear
her bang on the panel, and clamor to be let out. But when she made no
outcry, when, beyond one or two futile turnings of the knob, there was
no further attempt on her part to free herself, he stole upstairs to
the schoolroom, and made merry over his clever exploit.

For a full minute after she found herself in darkness, Claire did not
realize she was a prisoner. The door had swung to after her, she
thought, that was all. But, when she turned the knob, and still it did
not open, she began to suspect the truth. Her first impulse was to call
out, but her better judgment told her it would be better to wait with
what dignity she might until Radcliffe tired of his trick, or some one
else came and released her. Radcliffe would tire the more quickly, she
reasoned, if she did not raise a disturbance. When he saw she was not to
be teased, he would come and let her out. She stood with her hot cheek
pressed against the cool wood of the closet-door, waiting for him to
come. And listening for his steps, she heard other steps--other steps
which approached, and entered the sitting-room. She heard the voices of
Mrs. Sherman and Mr. Ronald in earnest conversation.

"If I thought such a thing were possible I'd send her away to-morrow,"
Mrs. Sherman was saying in a high-pitched, excited voice.

"Why such delay? Why not to-day?" inquired Mr. Ronald ironically.

"But, of course," continued his sister, ignoring his interruption, "I
know there's nothing to be really afraid of."

"Well, then, if you know there's nothing to be afraid of, what _are_ you
afraid of?"

"I'm not really afraid. I'm just talking things over. You see, she's so
uncommonly pretty, and--men are men, and you're no exception."

"I hope not. I don't want to be an exception."

"Don't you think she's uncommonly pretty?"

"No, I don't think I should call her--_pretty_," said Mr. Ronald with an
emphasis his sister might well have challenged, if she had not been so
preoccupied with her own thoughts that she missed its point.

"Well, _I_ do. I think she's quite pretty enough to excuse, I mean,
_explain_ your having a passing fancy for her."

"I haven't a passing fancy for her."

"Well, I'm much relieved to hear you say so, for even if it were only a
passing fancy, I'd feel I ought to send her away. You never can tell how
such things will develop."

"You certainly can't."

"And you may rest assured mother and I don't want you to ruin your life
by throwing yourself away on a penniless, unknown little governess, when
you might have your choice from among the best-born, wealthiest girls
in town."

"Miss Lang is as well-born as any one we know."

"We have only her word for it."

"No, her nurse, an old family servant, Martha Slawson, corroborates
her--if you require corroboration."

"Don't you? Would you be satisfied to pick some one off the street, as
it were, and take her into your house and give her your innocent child
to train?"

"My innocent children being so extremely vague, I am not concerning
myself as to their education. But I certainly accept Miss Lang's word,
and I accept Martha's."

"You're easily satisfied. Positively, Frank, I believe you _have_ a
fancy for the girl, in spite of what you say. And for all our sakes, for
mother's and mine and yours and--yes--even hers, it will be best for me
to tell her to go."

"I rather like the way you rank us. Mother and you first--then I come,
and last--_even_ the poor little girl!"

"Well, you may laugh if you want to, but when a child like Radcliffe
notices that you're not indifferent to her, there must be some truth in
it. He confided to me last night, 'Uncle Frank likes Miss Lang a lot. I
guess she's his best girl! Isn't she his best girl?' I told him
_certainly not_. But I lay awake most of the night, worrying about it."

Mr. Ronald had evidently had enough of the interview. Claire could hear
his firm steps, as he strode across the floor to the door.

"I advise you to quit worrying, Catherine," he said. "It doesn't pay.
Moreover, I assure you I've no _passing fancy_ (I quote your words) for
Miss Lang. I hope you won't be so foolish as to dismiss her on my
account. She's an excellent teacher, a good disciplinarian. It would be
difficult to find another as capable as she, one who, at the same time,
would put up with Radcliffe's waywardness, and your--_our_--(I'll put it
picturesquely, after the manner of Martha) our indiosincrazies. Take my
advice. Don't part with Miss Lang. She's the right person in the right
place. Good-morning!"

"Frank, Frank! Don't leave me like that. I know I've terribly annoyed
you. I can't bear to feel you're provoked with me, and yet I'm only
acting for your good. Please kiss me good-by. I'm going away. I won't
see you for two whole days. I'm going to Tuxedo this morning to stay
over night with Amy Pelham. There's a man she's terribly interested in,
and she wants me to meet him, and tell her what I think of him. He's
been attentive to her for ever so long, and yet he doesn't--his name is
Mr. Robert--" Her words frayed off in the distance, as she hurriedly
followed her brother out into the hall and downstairs.

How long Claire stood huddled against the closet-door she never knew.
The first thing of which she was clearly conscious was the feel of a key
stealthily moved in the lock beneath her hand. Then the sounds of
footsteps lightly tiptoeing away. Mechanically she turned the knob, the
door yielded, and she staggered blindly out from the darkness into the
sunlit room. It was deserted.

If Mrs. Sherman had been there, Claire would have given way at once,
letting her sense of outraged pride escape her in a torrent of tears, a
storm of indignant protest. Happily, there being no one to cry to, she
had time to gather herself together before going up to face Radcliffe.
When she entered the schoolroom, he pretended to be studiously busied
with his books, and so did not notice that she was rather a long time
closing the door after her, and that she also had business with the lock
of the door opposite. He really only looked up when she stationed
herself behind her desk, and summoned him to recite.

"I do' want to!" announced Radcliffe resolutely.

"Very well," said Claire, "then we'll sit here until you do."

Radcliffe grinned. It seemed to him things were all going his way, this
clear, sunny morning. He began to whistle, in a breathy undertone.

Claire made no protest. She simply sat and waited.

Radcliffe took up his pencil, and began scrawling pictures over both
sides of his slate, exulting in the squeaking sounds he produced. Still
_the teacher_ did not interfere. But when, tired of his scratching, he
concluded the time had arrived for his grand demonstration, his crowning
declaration of independence, he rose, carelessly shoved his books aside,
strode to the door, intending masterfully to leave the room,
and--discovered he was securely locked and bolted in. In a flash he was
across the room, tearing at the lock of the second door with frantic
fingers. That, too, had been made fast. He turned upon Claire like a
little fiend, his eyes flashing, his hands clenched.

"You--you--you two-cent Willie!" he screamed.

Claire pretended not to see or hear. In reality she was acutely
conscious of every move he made, for, small as he was, his pent-in rage
gave him a strength she might well fear to put to the test. It was the
tug of war. The question was, who would be conqueror?

Through the short hours of the winter forenoon, hours that seemed as
interminable to Claire as they did to Radcliffe, the battle raged. There
was no sign of capitulation on either side.

In the course of the morning, and during one of Radcliffe's fiercest
outbreaks, Claire took up the telephone instrument and quietly
instructed Shaw to bring no luncheon-trays to the schoolroom at
mid-day.

"Two glasses of hot milk will be all we need," she said, whereupon
Radcliffe leaped upon her, trying to wrest the transmitter from her
hand, beating her with his hard little fists.

"I won't drink milk! I won't! I won't!" he shouted madly. "An' I'll
_kill_ you, if you won't let me have my lunch, you--you--you
_mizzer'ble_ two-cent Willie!"

As the day drew on, his white face grew flushed, her fevered one white,
and both were haggard and lined from the struggle. Then, at about three
o'clock, Mr. Ronald telephoned up to say he wished Radcliffe to go for a
drive with him.

Claire replied it was impossible.

"Why?" came back to her over the wire.

"Because he needs punishment, and I am going to see that he gets it."

"And if I interfere?"

"I resign at once. Even as it is--"

"Do you think you are strong enough--strong enough _physically_, to
fight to the finish?"

"I am strong enough for anything."

"I believe you. But if you should find him one too many for you, I shall
be close at hand, and at a word from you I will come to the rescue."

"No fear of my needing help. Good-by!"

She hung up the receiver with a click of finality.

Outside, the sky grew gray and threatening. Inside, the evening shadows
began to gather. First they thickened in the corners of the room; then
spread and spread until the whole place turned vague and dusky.

The first violence of his rage was spent, but Radcliffe, sullen and
unconquered still, kept up the conflict in silent rebellion. He had not
drunk his milk, so neither had Claire hers. The two glasses stood
untouched upon her desk, where she had placed them at noon. It was so
still in the room Claire would have thought the boy had fallen asleep,
worn out with his struggles, but for the quick, catching breaths that,
like soundless sobs, escaped him every now and then. It had been dark a
long, long time when, suddenly, a shaft of light from a just lit window
opposite, struck over across to them, reflecting into the shadow, and
making visible Radcliffe's little figure cowering back in the shelter
of a huge leather armchair. He looked so pitifully small and appealing,
that Claire longed to gather him up in her arms, but she forebore and
sat still and waited.

Then, at last, just as the clock of a nearby church most solemnly boomed
forth eight reverberating strokes, a chastened little figure slid out of
the great chair, and groped its way slowly, painfully along until it
reached Claire's side.

"I will--be--good!" Radcliffe whispered chokingly, so low she had to
bend her head to hear.

Claire laid her arms about him and he clung to her neck, trembling.



CHAPTER XI


It was almost ten o'clock when Claire left the house. She waited to see
Radcliffe properly fed, and put to bed, before she went. She covered him
up, and tucked him in as, in all his life, he had never been covered up,
and tucked in, before. Then, dinnerless and faint, she slipped out into
the bleak night.

She was too exhausted to feel triumphant over her conquest. The only
sensations she realized were a dead weariness that hung on her spirit
and body like a palpable weight, and, far down in her heart, something
that smouldered and burned like a live ember, ready to burst forth and
blaze at a touch.

She had walked but a block or two when, through her numbness, crept a
dim little shadow of dread. At first it was nothing more than an inner
suggestion to hasten her steps, but gradually it became a conscious
impulse to outstrip something or some one behind her--some one or
something whose footfalls, resounding faintly through the deserted
street, kept such accurate pace with her own, that they sounded like
their echo.

It was not until she had quickened her steps, and found that the
other's steps had quickened, too, not until she had slowed down to
almost a saunter, only to discover that the one behind was lagging also,
that she acknowledged to herself she was being followed.

Then, from out the far reaches of her memory, came the words of Aunt
Amelia's formula: "Sir, you are no gentleman. If you were a gentleman--"
But straightway followed Martha's trenchant criticism.

"Believe _me_, that's rot! It might go all right on the stage, for a
girl to stop, an' let off some elercution while the villain still
pursued her, but here in New York City it wouldn't work. Not on your
life it wouldn't. Villains ain't pausin' these busy days, in their mad
careers, for no recitation-stunts, I don't care how genteel you get 'em
off. If they're on the job, you got to step lively, an' not linger
'round for no sweet farewells. Now, you got your little temper with you,
all right, all right! If you also got a umbrella, why, just you make a
_com_bine o' the two an'--aim for the bull's eye, though his nose will
do just as good, specially if it's the bleedin' v'riety. No! P'licemen
ain't what I'd reckmend, for bein' called to the resquer. In the first
place, they ain't ap' to be there. An', besides, they wouldn't know what
to do if they was. P'licemen is funny that way.

"They mean well, but they get upset if anythin' 's doin' on their beat.
They like things quiet. An' they don't like to _run in_ their friends,
an' so, by the time you think you made 'em understand what you're
drivin' at, _the villain_ has got away, an' you're like to be hauled up
before the magistrate for disturbin' the peace, which, bein' so shy an'
bashful before high officials, p'licemen don't like to blow in at court
without somethin' to show for the way they been workin'."

It all flashed across Claire's mind in an instant, like a picture thrown
across a screen. Then, without pausing to consider what she meant to do,
she halted, turned, and--was face to face with Francis Ronald.

Before he could speak, she flashed upon him two angry eyes.

"What do you mean by following me?"

"It is late--too late for you to be out in the streets alone," he
answered quietly.

Claire laughed. "You forget I'm not a society girl. I'm a girl who works
for her living. I can't carry a chaperon about with me wherever I go. I
must take care of myself, and--I know how to do it. I'm not afraid."

"I believe you."

"Then--good-night!"

"I intend to see you home."

"I don't need you."

"Nevertheless, I intend to see you home."

"I don't--_want_ you."

"Notwithstanding which--"

He hailed a passing motor-taxi, gave the chauffeur Martha's street and
number, after he had succeeded in extracting them from Claire, and then,
in spite of protests, helped her in.

For a long time she sat beside him in silence, trying to quell in
herself a weak inclination to shed tears, because--because he had
compelled her to do something against her will.

He did not attempt any conversation, and when, at last, she spoke, it
was of her own accord.

"I've decided to resign my position."

"Is it permitted me to know why?"

"I can't stay."

"That is no explanation."

"I don't feel I can manage Radcliffe."

"Pardon me, you know you can. You have proved it. He is your bond-slave,
from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer."

Claire laughed, a sharp, cutting little laugh that was like a keen knife
turned on herself.

"O, it would have to be for poorer--'all right, all right,' as Martha
says," she cried scornfully. "But it has been too hard--to-day. I can't
endure any more."

"You won't have to. Radcliffe is conquered, so far as you are concerned.
'Twill be plain sailing, after this."

"I'd rather do something else. I'd like something different."

"I did not think you were a quitter."

"I'm not."

"O, yes, you are, if you give up before the game is done. No good sport
does that."

"I've no ambition to be a good sport."

"Perhaps not. But you _are_ a good sport. A thorough good sport. _And
you won't give up till you've seen this thing through_."

"Is that a prediction, or a--command? It sounds like a command."

"It is whatever will hold you to the business you've undertaken. I want
you to conquer the rest, as you've conquered Radcliffe."

"The rest?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean by the rest?"

"I mean circumstances. I mean obstacles. I mean, my mother--my sister."

"I don't--understand."

"Perhaps not."

"And suppose (forgive me if I seem rude), suppose I don't consider _the
rest_ worth conquering? Why should I? What one has to strive so for--"

"Is worth the most. One has to strive for everything in this world,
everything that is really worth while. One has to strive to get it, one
has to strive to keep it."

"Well, I don't think I care very much to-night, if I never get anything
ever again in all my life to come."

"Poor little tired girl!"

Claire's chin went up with a jerk. "I don't need your pity, I won't have
it. I am a stranger to you and to your friends. I am--" The defiant chin
began to quiver.

"If you were not so tired," Francis Ronald said gravely, "I'd have this
thing out with you, here and now. I'd _make_ you tell me why you so
wilfully misunderstand. Why you seem to take pleasure in saying things
that are meant to hurt me, and must hurt you. As it is--"

Claire turned on him impetuously. "I don't ask you to make allowances
for me. If I do what displeases you, I give you perfect liberty to find
fault. I'm not too tired to listen. But as to your _making_ me do or say
anything I don't choose, why--"

He shook his head. "I'm afraid you are a hopeless proposition, at least
for the present. Perhaps, some time I may be able to make you
understand--Forgive me! I should say, perhaps, some time you may be
willing to understand."

Their chauffeur drew up beside the curbstone in front of Martha's door,
then sprang down from his seat to prove to his lordly-looking "fare"
that he knew his business, and was deserving of as large a tip as a
correct estimate of his merit might suggest.

Francis Ronald took Claire's key from her, fitted it into the lock of
the outer door, and opened it for her.

"And you will stand by Radcliffe? You won't desert him?" he asked, as
she was about to pass into the house.

"I'll show you that, at least, I'm not a quitter, even if I _am_ a
hopeless proposition, as you say."

A faint shadow of a smile flitted across his face as, with head held
proudly erect, she turned and left him.

"No, you're not a quitter," he muttered to himself, "but--neither am I!"

The determined set of his jaw would have rekindled that inner rebellious
fire in Claire, if she had seen it. But she was seeing nothing just at
that moment, save Martha, who, to her amazement, stood ready to receive
her in the inner hall.

"Ain't it just grand?" inquired Mrs. Slawson. "They told me yesterday,
'all things bein' equal,' they'd maybe leave us back soon, but I didn't
put no stock in it, knowin' they never _is_ equal. So I just held me
tongue an' waited, an' this mornin', like a bolster outer a blue sky,
come the word that at noon we could go. Believe _me_, I didn't wait for
no old shoes or rice to be threw after me. I got into their old
amberlance-carriage, as happy as a blushin' bride bein' led to the
halter, an' Francie an' me come away reji'cin'. Say, but what ails
_you?_ You look sorter--sorter like a--strained relation or somethin'.
What you been doin' to yourself to get so white an' holler-eyed? What
kep' you so late?"

"I had a tussle with Radcliffe."

"Who won out?"

"I did, but it took me all day."

"Never mind. It'd been cheap at the price, if it had 'a' took you all
week. How come the madam to give you a free hand?"

"She was away."

"Anybody else know what was goin' on? Any of the fam'ly?"

"Yes, Mr. Ronald. He brought me home. I didn't want him to, but he did.
He just _made_ me let him, and--O, Martha--I can't bear--I can't bear--"

"You mean you can't bear _him?"_

Claire nodded, choking back her tears.

"Now, what do you think o' that!" ejaculated Mrs. Slawson pensively.
"An' he so _pop'lar_ with the ladies! Why, you'd oughter hear them
stylish lady-friends o' Mrs. Sherman praisin' 'm to her face. It'd make
you blush for their modesty, which they don't seem to have none, an'
that's a fac'. You can take it from me, you're the only one he ever come
in contract with, has such a hate on'm. I wouldn't 'a' believed it,
unless I'd 'a' had it from off of your own lips. But there's no use
tryin' to argue such things. Taste is different. What pleases one,
pizens another. In the mean time--an' it _is_ a mean time for you, you
poor, wore-out child--I've some things here, hot an' tasty, that'll
encourage your stummick, no matter how it's turned on some other things.
As I says to Sammy, it's a poor stummick won't warm its own bit, but all
the same, there's times when somethin' steamin' does your heart as much
good as it does your stummick, which, the two o' them bein' such near
neighbors, no wonder we get 'em mixed up sometimes, an' think the one is
starved when it's only the other."



CHAPTER XII


It proved altogether easier for Martha, now Francie was at home again.

"You see, I can tend her an' sandwich in some work besides," Mrs.
Slawson explained cheerfully. "An' Ma's a whizz at settin' by bedsides
helpin' patients get up their appetites. Says she, 'Now drink this nice
glass o' egg-nog, Francie, me child,' she says. 'An' if you'll drink it,
I'll take one just like it meself.' An' true for you, she does. The
goodness o' Ma is astonishin'."

Then one day Sam Slawson came home with a tragic face.

"I've lost my job, Martha!" he stated baldly.

For a moment his wife stood silent under the blow, and all it entailed.
Then, with an almost imperceptible squaring of her broad shoulders, she
braced herself to meet it, as she herself would say, like a soldier.
"Well, it's kinder hard on _you_, lad," she answered. "But there's no
use grievin'. If it had to happen, it couldn't 'a' happened at a better
time, for you bein' home, an' able to look after Francie, will give me a
chance to go out reg'lar to my work again. An' before you know it,
Francie, she'll be running about as good as new, an' you'll have
another job, an' we'll be on the top o' the wave. Here's Miss Claire,
bless her, payin' me seven dollars a week board, which she doesn't eat
no more than a bird, an' Sammy singin' in the surplus choir, an' gettin'
fifty cents a week for it, an' extra for funer'ls (it'd take your time
to hear'm lamentin' because business ain't brisker in the funer'l
line!). Why, _we_ ain't no call to be discouraged. You can take it from
me, Sammy Slawson, when things seem to be kinder shuttin' down on ye,
an' gettin' black-like, same's they lately been doin' on us, that ain't
no time to be chicken-hearted. Anybody could fall down when they're
knocked. That's too dead-easy! No, what we want, is buck up an' have
some style about us. When things shuts down an' gets dark at the
movin'-picture show, then it's time to sit up an' take notice. That
means somethin's doin'--you're goin' to be showed somethin' interestin'.
Well, it's the same with us. But if you lose your sand at the first
go-off, an' sag down an' hide your face in your hands, well, you'll miss
the show. You won't see a bloomin' thing."

And Martha, sleeves rolled up, enveloped in an enormous blue-checked
apron, returned to her assault on the dough she was kneading, with
redoubled zeal.

"Bread, mother?" asked Sam dully, letting himself down wearily into a
chair by the drop-table, staring indifferently before him out of blank
eyes.

"Shoor! An' I put some currants in, to please the little fella. I give
in, my bread is what you might call a holy terror. Ain't it the caution
how I can't ever make bread fit to be eat, the best I can do? An' yet, I
can't quit tryin'. You see, home-made bread, _if it's good_, is cheaper
than store. Perhaps some day I'll be hittin' it right, so's when you ask
me for bread I won't be givin' you a stone."

She broke off abruptly, gazed a moment at her husband, then stepped to
his side, and put a floury hand on his shoulder. "Say, Sam, what you
lookin' so for? You ain't lost your sand just because they fired you?
What's come to you, lad? Tell Martha."

For a second there was no sound in the room, then the man looked up,
gulped, choked down a mighty sob, and laid his head against her breast.

"Martha--there's somethin' wrong with my lung. That's why they thrown me
down. They had their doctor from the main office examine me--they'd
noticed me coughin'--and he said I'd a spot on my lung or--something. I
shouldn't stay here in the city, he said. I must go up in the mountains,
away from this, where there's the good air and a chance for my lung to
heal, otherwise--"

Martha stroked the damp hair away from his temples with her powdery
hand.

"Well, well!" she said reflectively. "Now, what do you think o' that!"

"O, Martha--I can't stand it! You an' the children! It's more than I can
bear!"

Mrs. Slawson gave the head against her breast a final pat that, to
another than her husband, might have felt like a blow.

"More'n you can bear? Don't flatter yourself, Sammy my lad! Not by no
means it ain't. I wouldn't like to have to stand up to all I could
ackchelly bear. It's God, not us, knows how much we can stand, an' when
He gets in the good licks on us, He always leaves us with a little
stren'th to spare--to last over for the next time. Now, I'm not a bit
broke down by what you've told me. I s'pose you thought you'd have me
sobbin' on your shoulder--to give you a chanct to play up, an' do the
strong-husband act, comfortin' his little tremblin' wife. Well, my lad,
if you ain't got on to it by now, that I'm no little, tremblin' wife,
you never will. Those kind has nerves. I only got nerve. That's where
I'm _singular_, see? A joke, Sammy! I made it up myself. Out of my own
head, just now. But to go back to what I was sayin'--why should I sob on
your shoulder? There ain't no reason for't. In the first place, even if
you _have_ got a spot on your lung, what's a spot! It ain't the whole
lung! An' _one_ lung ain't _both_ lungs, an' there you are! As I make it
out, even grantin' the worst, you're a lung-an'-then-some to the good,
so where's the use gettin' blue? There's always a way out, somehow. If
we can't do one way, we'll do another. Now you just cheer up, an' don't
let Ma an' the childern see you kinder got a knock-outer in the solar
plexus, like Jeffries, an' before you know it, there'll be a suddent
turn, an' we'll be atop o' our worries, 'stead o' their bein' atop o'
us. See! Say, just you cast your eye on them loaves! Ain't they grand?
Appearances may be deceitful, but if I do say it as shouldn't, my bread
certainly looks elegant this time. Now, Sammy, get busy like a good
fella! Go in an' amuse Francie. The poor child is perishin' for
somethin' to distrack her. What with Cora an' Sammy at school, an' Miss
Claire havin' the Shermans so bewitched, they keep her there all day,
an' lucky for us if they leave her come home nights at all, the house is
too still for a sick person. Give Francie a drink o' Hygee water to cool
her lips, an' tell her a yarn-like. An', Sammy, I wisht you'd be good to
yourself, an' have a shave. Them prickles o' beard reminds me o' the
insides o' Mrs. Sherman's big music-box. I wonder what tune you'd play
if I run your chin in. Go on, now, an' attend to Francie, like I told
you to. She needs to have her mind took off'n herself."

When he was gone, Martha set her loaves aside under cover to rise, never
pausing a moment to take breath, before giving the kitchen a
"scrub-down" that left no corner or cranny harboring a particle of dust.
It was twilight when she finished, and "time to turn to an' get the
dinner."

Cora and Sammy had long since returned from school. Sammy had gone out
again to play, and had just come back to find his mother taking her
bread-pans from the oven. She regarded them with doleful gaze.

"I fairly broke my own record this time for a bum bread-maker!" she
muttered beneath her breath. "This batch is the worst yet."

"Say--mother!" said Sammy.

"Well?"

"Say, mother, may I have a slice of bread? I'm awfully hungry."

"Shoor you may! This here's just fresh from the oven, an' it has
currants in it."

"Say, mother, a feller I play with, Joe Eagan, _his_ mother's hands
ain't clean. Would you think he'd like to eat the bread she makes?"

"Can she make _good_ bread?"

"I dunno. She give me a piece oncet, but I couldn't eat it, 'count o'
seein' her fingers. I'm glad your hands are so clean, mother. Say, this
bread tastes awful good!"

Martha chuckled. "Well, I'm glad you like it. It might be worse, if I do
say it! Only," she added to herself, "it'd have a tough time managin'
it."

"Say, mother, may I have another slice with butter on, an' sugar
sprinkled on top, like this is, to give it to Joe Eagan? He's
downstairs. I want to show him how _my_ mother can make the boss bread!"

"Certainly," said Martha heartily. "By all means, give Joe Eagan a
slice. I like to see you thoughtful an' generous, my son. Willin' to
share your good things with your friends," and as Sammy bounded out,
clutching his treasures, she winked solemnly across at her husband, who
had just re-entered.

"Now do you know what'll happen?" she inquired. "Sammy'll always have
the notion I make the best bread ever. An' when he grows up an' marries,
if his wife is a chef-cook straight out of the toniest kitchen in town,
at fifty dollars a month, he'll tell her she ain't a patch on me. An'
he'll say to her: 'Susan, or whatever-her-name-is, them biscuits is all
right in their way, but I wisht I had a mouthful o' bread like mother
used to make.' An' the poor creature'll wear the life out o' her, tryin'
to please'm, an' reach my top-notch, an' never succeed, an' all the
time--Say, Sammy, gather up the rest o' the stuff, like a good fella,
an' shove it onto the dumb-waiter, so's it can go down with the
sw--There's the whistle now! That's him callin' for the garbage."



CHAPTER XIII


"Hullo, Martha!" said Radcliffe.

Mrs. Slawson bowed profoundly. "Hullo yourself! I ain't had the pleasure
of meetin' you for quite some time past, an' yet I notice my absents
ain't made no serious alteration for the worst in your appearance. You
ain't fell away none, on account of my not bein' here."

"Fell away from what?" asked Radcliffe.

"Fell away from nothin'. That's what they call a figger o' speech. Means
you ain't got thin."

"Well, _you've_ got thin, haven't you, Martha? I don't 'member your
cheeks had those two long lines in 'em before."

"Lines?" repeated Martha, regarding herself in the mirror of an étagère
she was polishing. "Them ain't _lines_. Them's dimples."

Radcliffe scrutinized her critically for a moment. "They're not like
Miss Lang's dimples," he observed at last. "Miss Lang's dimples look
like when you blow in your milk to cool it--they're there, an' then they
ain't there. She vanishes 'em in, an' she vanishes 'em out, but those
lines in your face, they just stay. Only they weren't there before,
when you were here."

"The secret is, my dimples is the kind that takes longer to vanish 'em
out when you once vanished 'em in. Mine's way-train dimples. Miss Lang's
is express. But you can take it from me, dimples is faskinatin',
whatever specie they are."

"What's _faskinatin'?"_

"It's the thing in some things that, when it ain't in other things, you
don't care a thing about 'em."

"Are _you_ faskinatin'?"

"That's not for me to say," said Martha, feigning coyness. "But this
much I will confess, that some folks which shall be nameless, considers
me so. An' they'd oughter know."

"Is Miss Lang faskinatin'?"

"Ask your Uncle Frank."

"Why must I ask him?"

"If you wanter know."

"Does he know?"

"Prob'ly. He's a very well-informed gen'l-man on most subjecks."

"I do' want to ask my Uncle Frank anything about Miss Lang. Once I asked
him somethin' about her, an' he didn't like it."

"What'd you ask him?"

"I asked him if she wasn't his best girl."

"What'd he say?"

"He said 'No!' quick, just like that--'No!' I guess he was cross with
me, an' I know he didn't like it. When I asked my mother why he didn't
like it, she said because Miss Lang's only my governess. An' when I told
Miss Lang what my mother, she told me, Miss Lang, she didn't like it
either."

"Now, what do you think o' that?" ejaculated Martha. "Nobody didn't seem
to like nothin' in that combination, did they? You was the only one in
the whole outfit that showed any tack."

"What means that--_tack?"_

"It's a little thing that you use when you want to keep things in
place--keep 'em from fallin' down. There's two kinds. One you must
hammer in, an' the other you mustn't."

"I wisht Miss Lang _was_ my Uncle Frank's best girl. But I guess she's
somebody else's."

"Eh?" said Martha sharply, sitting back on her heels and twisting her
polishing-cloth into a rope, as if she were wringing it out. "Now, whose
best girl do you think she is, if I may make so bold?"

Radcliffe settled down to business.

"Yesterday Miss Lang an' me was comin' home from the Tippydrome, an' my
mother she had comp'ny in the drawin'-room. An' I didn't know there was
comp'ny first-off, coz Shaw he didn't tell us, an' I guess I talked
kinder loud in the hall, an' my mother she heard me, an' she wasn't
cross or anythin', she just called to me to come along in, an' see the
comp'ny. An' I said, 'No, I won't! Not less Miss Lang comes too.' An' my
mother, she said, 'Miss Lang, come too.' An' Miss Lang, she didn't
wanter, but she hadter. An' the comp'ny was a gen'l'man an' a lady, an'
the minit the gen'l'man, he saw Miss Lang, he jumped up outer his chair
like a jumpin'-jack, an' his eyes got all kinder sparkly, an' he held
out both of his hands to her, an' sorter shook her hands, till you'd
think he'd shake 'em off. An' my mother, she said, 'I see you an' Miss
Lang are already 'quainted, Mr. Van Brandt.' An' he laughed a lot, the
way you do when you're just tickled to death, an' he said, ''Quainted?
Well, I should say so! Miss Lang an' I are old, old friends!' An' he
kep' lookin' at her, an' lookin' at her, the way you feel when there's
somethin' on the table you like, an' you're fearful 'fraid it will be
gone before it's passed to you. An' my mother she said to the other
comp'ny, 'Miss Pelham, this is Radcliffe.' An' Miss Pelham, she was
lookin' sideways at Miss Lang an' Mr. What's-his-name, but she pertended
she was lookin' at me, an' she said (she's a Smarty-Smarty-gave-a-party,
Miss Pelham is), she said, 'Radcliffe, Radcliffe? I wonder if you're
any relation to Radcliffe College?' An' I said, 'No. I wonder if you are
any relation to Pelham Manor?' An' while they was laughin', an' my
mother she was tellin' how percoshus I am, my Uncle Frank he came in. He
came in kinder quiet, like he always does, an' he stood in the door, an'
Mr. What's-his-name was talkin' to Miss Lang so fast, an' lookin' at her
so hard, they didn't neither of 'em notice. An' when my Uncle Frank, he
noticed they didn't notice, coz they was havin' such fun by themselves,
he put his mouth together like this--like when your tooth hurts, an' you
bite on it to make it hurt some more, an' then he talked a lot to Miss
Pelham, an' didn't smile pleasant an' happy at Mr. What's-his-name an'
Miss Lang, when my mother, she interdooced 'em. An' soon Miss Lang, she
took me upstairs an' she didn't look near so tickled to death as Mr. Van
Brandt, he looked. An' when I asked her if she wasn't, she said: 'O'
course I am. Mr. Van Brandt was a friend o' mine when I was a little
girl. An' when you're a stranger in a strange land, anybody you knew
when you was at home seems dear to you.' But she didn't look near so
pleased as he did. She looked more like my Uncle Frank, he did before he
got talkin' so much to Miss Pelham. An' now I guess the way of it is,
Miss Pelham's my Uncle Frank's best girl an' Miss Lang's Mr.
What's-his-name's."

"Well, now! Who'd believed you could 'a' seen so much? Why, you're a
reg'ler Old Sleuth the Detective, or Sherlock Holmes, or somebody like
that, for discoverin' things, ain't you?"

"I don't want Miss Pelham to be my Uncle Frank's best girl, an' I don't
see why that other man he don't have her for his, like she was
first-off, an' leave my Miss Lang alone."

"It all is certainly very dark an' mysterious," said Mrs. Slawson,
shaking her head. "You don't know where you're at, at all. Like when you
wake up in the black night, an' hear the clock give one strike. You
couldn't tell, if your life hung in the ballast, if it's half-past
twelve, or one, or half-past."

Radcliffe pondered this for a space, but was evidently unable to fathom
its depth, for presently he let it go with a sigh, and swung off to
another topic.

"Say, do you know our cook, 'Liza--the one we uster have--has gone
away?"

"So I gathered from not havin' saw her fairy-figger hoverin' round the
kitchen as I come in, an' meetin' another lady in her place--name of
Augusta, Beetrice said."

"Yes, sir! Augusta's the new one. I guess Augusta don't drink."

"Which, you are suggesting 'Liza does?"

"Well, my mother, she don't know I know, but I do. I heard Shaw tellin'
'bout it. It was 'Liza's day out, an' she went an' got 'toxicated, an' a
p'liceman he took her up, an' nex' mornin' my Uncle Frank, they sent to
him out of the station-house to have him _bail her out_."

"My, my! She was as full as that?"

"What's bail her out?" inquired Radcliffe.

Mrs. Slawson considered. "When a boat gets full of water, because o'
leakin' sides or heavy rains or shippin' seas, or whatever they calls
it, you bail her out with a tin can or a sponge or anythin' you have by
you."

"Was Liza full of water?"

"I was describin' _boats_," said Martha. "An' talkin' o' boats, did I
tell you we got a new kitten to our house? He's a gray Maltee. His name
is Nixcomeraus."

"Why is his name Nix--why is his name _that_?"

"Nixcomeraus? His name's Nixcomeraus because he's from the Dutchman's
house. If you listen good, you'll see that's poetry--

"'Nixcomeraus from the Dutchman's house!'

"I didn't make it up, but it's poetry all the same. A Dutchman gen'l'man
who lives nex' door to me, made him a present to our fam'ly."

"Do you like him?"

"The Dutchman gen'l'man?"

"No, the--the Nix--the _cat_?"

"Certaintly we like him. He's a decent, self-respectin' little fella
that 'tends to his own business, an' keeps good hours. An' you'd oughter
see how grand him an' Flicker gets along! Talk o' a cat-and-dog
existence! Why, if all the married parties I know, not to speak o' some
others that ain't, hit it off as good as Flicker an' Nixcomeraus, there
wouldn't be no occasion for so many ladies takin' the rest-cure at
Reno."

"What's Reno?"

"Reno? Why, Reno's short for merino. Like I'd say, Nix for Nixcomeraus,
which is a kinder woolen goods you make dresses out of. There! Did you
hear the schoolroom bell? I thought I heard it ringin' a while ago, but
I wasn't sure. Hurry now, an' don't keep Miss Lang waitin'. She wants
you to come straight along up, so's she can learn you to be a big an'
handsome gen'l'man like your Uncle Frank."

When Radcliffe had left her, Martha went over in her mind the items he
had guilelessly contributed to her general fund of information. Take it
all in all, she was not displeased with what they seemed to indicate.

"Confidence is a good thing to have, but a little wholesome doubt don't
hurt the masculine gender none. I guess, if I was put to it, I could
count on one hand with no fingers, the number o' gen'l'men, no matter
how plain, have died because 'way down in their hearts they believed
they wasn't reel _A-1 Winners._ That's one thing it takes a lot o' hard
usage to convince the sect of. They may feel they ain't gettin' their
doos, that they're misunderstood, an' bein' sold below cost. But that
they're ackchelly shopworn, or what's called 'seconds,' or put on the
_As Is_ counter because they're cracked, or broke, or otherwise slightly
disfigured, but still in the ring--why, _that_ never seems to percolate
through their brains, like those coffee-pots they use nowadays, that
don't make no better coffee than the old kind, if you know how to do it
good, in the first place.

"On the other hand, ladies is dretful tryin'! They act like they're the
discoverers of perpetchal emotion, an' is _on the job_ demonstratin'.
You can't count on 'em for one minit to the next, which they certaintly
was never born to be aromatic cash-registers. An' p'raps that's the
reason, bein' natchelly so poor at figgers, they got to rely to such a
extent on corsets. I'm all for women myself. I believe they're the
comin' man, but I must confess, if I'm to speak the truth, it ain't for
the simple, uninfected, childlike mind o' the male persuasion to foller
their figaries, unless he's some of a trained acrobat.

"Now, the harsh way Miss Claire has toward Mr. Ronald! You'd think he
had give himself dead away to her, an' was down on his knee-pans humble
as a 'Piscerpalian sayin' the Literny in Lent, grubbin' about among the
dust she treads on, to touch the hem o' her garment. Whereas, in some
way unbeknownst to me, an' prob'ly unbeknownst to him, he's touched her
pride, which is why she's so up in arms, not meanin' his--worse luck!
An' it would have all worked out right in the end, an' will yet, _if_
this new party that Radcliffe mentioned ain't Mr. Buttinsky, an' she
don't foller the dictates of her _art_ an' flirt with him too
outrageous, or else marry him to spite herself, which is what I mean to
pervent if I can, but which, of course, it may be I can't."



CHAPTER XIV


"Frank," said Mrs. Sherman one Sunday morning, some weeks later,
stopping her brother on his way to the door, "can you spare me a few
moments? I've something very important I want to discuss with you. I
want you to help me with suggestions and advice in a matter that very
closely concerns some one in whom I'm greatly interested."

Mr. Ronald paused. "Meaning?" he suggested.

"I don't know that I ought to tell you. You see, it's--it's
confidential."

"Suggestions and advice are foolish things to give, Catherine. They are
seldom taken, never thanked for."

"Well, in this case mine have been actually solicited. And I feel I
ought to do something, because, in a way, I'm more or less responsible
for the--the imbroglio."

Slipping her hand through his arm, she led him back into the library.

"You see, it's this way. Perhaps, after all, it will be better, simpler,
if I don't try to beat about the bush. Amy Pelham has been terribly
devoted to Mr. Van Brandt for ever so long--oh, quite six months. And
he has been rather attentive, though I can't say he struck me as very
much in love. You know she asked me out to Tuxedo not long ago. She
wanted me to watch him and tell her if I thought he was _serious._ Well,
I watched him, but I couldn't say I thought he was _serious._ However,
you never can tell. Men are so extraordinary! They sometimes masquerade
so, their own mothers wouldn't know them."

"Or their sisters."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing worth repeating. Go on with your story."

"Well, then, one evening she brought him here, you remember. I'd asked
him to come, when I was in Tuxedo, and he evidently wanted to do so, for
he proposed to Amy that she bring him. Of course, I'd no idea he and
Miss Lang had ever met before, and when I innocently ordered her in, I
did it simply because Radcliffe was refractory and refused to come
without her, and I couldn't have a scene before guests."

"Well?"

"I didn't know Mr. Van Brandt came from Grand Rapids. How should I? One
never thinks of those little, provincial towns as having any _society_."

"You dear insular, insolent New Yorker."

"Well, you may jeer as much as you like, but that's the way one feels. I
didn't know that, as Martha says, he was 'formerly born' in Michigan. I
just took him for granted, as one does people one meets in our best
houses. He's evidently of good stock, he has money (not a fortune,
perhaps, but enough), he's handsome, and he's seen everywhere with the
smartest people in town."

"Well?"

"Well, naturally Amy doesn't want to lose him, especially as she's
really awfully fond of him and he _is_ uncommonly attractive, you know."

"Well?"

"It looks as if that one glimpse of Miss Lang had been enough to upset
everything for Amy. He's hardly been there since."

"And what does she propose to do about it?"

"She doesn't know what to do about it. That's where my suggestions and
advice are to come in."

"I see."

"Of course, we can't be certain, but from what Bob Van Brandt has
dropped and from what Amy has been able to gather from other sources,
from people who knew Miss Lang and him in their native burg, he was
attached to her when she was no more than a kiddie. Then, when they grew
up, he came East and she went abroad, and they lost sight of each
other. But, as I say, that one glimpse of her was enough to ignite the
old flame. You must have seen yourself how frankly, openly he showed his
feeling that night."

"Well?"

"What is one to do about it?"

"Do about what?"

"Why--the whole thing! Don't you see, I'm responsible in a way. If I
hadn't called Miss Lang in, Bob Van Brandt wouldn't have known she was
here, and then he would have kept on with Amy. Now he's dropped her it's
up to me to make it up to her somehow."

"It's up to you to make _what_ up to Amy?"

"How dense you are! Why, the loss of Bob Van Brandt."

"But if she didn't have him, how could she lose him?"

"She didn't exactly have him, but she had a fighting chance."

"And she wants to fight?"

"I think she'd be willing to fight, if she saw her way to winning out."

"Winning out against Miss Lang?"

"Yes, if you want to put it so brutally."

"I see you are assuming that Miss Lang is keen about Van Brandt."

"Would you wonder if she were? It would be her salvation. Of course, I
don't feel about her any longer as I did once. I know _now_ she's a
lady, but the fact of her poverty remains. If she married Bob Van
Brandt, she'd be comfortably settled. She'd have ease and position and,
oh, of course she'll marry him if he asks her."

"So the whole thing resolves itself down to--"

"To this--if one could only devise a way to prevent his asking her."

"Am I mistaken, or did I hear you say something about putting it
brutally, a few moments ago."

"Well, I know it sounds rather horrid, but a desperate case needs
desperate medicine."

"Catherine, you have asked for suggestions and advice. My suggestion to
Miss Pelham is that she gracefully step down and out. My advice to you
is that you resist the temptation to meddle. If Mr. Van Brandt wishes to
ask Miss Lang to marry him, he has a man's right to do so. If Miss Lang
wishes to marry Mr. Van Brandt after he has asked her, she has a woman's
right to do so. Any interference whatsoever would be intolerable. You
can take my advice or leave it. But _if_ you leave it, if you attempt to
mix in, you will regret it, for you will not be honorably playing the
game."

Mrs. Sherman's lips tightened. "That's all very well," she broke out
impatiently. "That's the sort of advice men always give to women, and
never act on themselves. It's not the masculine way to sit calmly by and
let another carry off what one wants. If a man _cares,_ he fights for
his rights. It's only when he isn't interested that he's passive and
speaks of _honorably playing the game_. All's fair in love and war! If
you were in Amy's place--if the cases were reversed--and you saw
something you'd set your heart on being deliberately taken away from
you, I fancy _you_ wouldn't gracefully step down and out. At least I
don't see you doing it, in my mind's eye, Horatio!"

"Ah, but you miss the point! There's a great difference between claiming
one's own and struggling to get possession of something that is lawfully
another's. If I were in Miss Pelham's place, and were _sure_ the one I
loved belonged to me by divine right, I'd have her--I'd have her in
spite of the devil and all his works. But the thing would be to be
_sure_. And one couldn't be sure so long as another claimant hadn't had
his chance to be thrown down. When he'd had his chance, and the decks
were cleared--_then_--!"

"Goodness, Frank! I'd no idea you could be so intense. And I'll confess
I've never given you credit for so much imagination. You've been talking
of what you'd do in Amy's place quite as if you actually felt it. Your
performance of the determined lover is really most convincing."

Francis Ronald smiled. "A man who's succeeded in _convincing_ a woman
has not lived in vain," he said. "Well, I must be off, Catherine. Good
luck to you and to Miss Pelham--but bad luck if either of you dares
stick her mischievous finger in other people's pies."

He strode out of the room and the house.

Meanwhile, Martha, industriously engaged in brushing Miss Lang's hair,
was gradually, delicately feeling her way toward what was, in reality,
the same subject.

"Well, of course, you can have Cora if you want her. She'll be only too
glad o' the ride, but _do_ you think--now do you _reelly_ think it's
advisable to lug a third party along when it's clear as dish-water he
wants you alone by himself an' _yourself_? It's this way with men. If
they set out to do a thing, they gener'ly do it. But believe _me_, if
you put impederments in their way, they'll shoor do it, an' then some.
Now all them flowers an' candy that's been comin' here lately so
reg'ler, they means business on Mr. Van Brandt's part _if_ pleasure on
yours. He's strewin' your path with roses an' pavin' it with Huyler's
chocolates, so's some day in the near future he can come marchin' along
it, an' walk straight up to the captain's office an' hand in his
applercation for the vacancy. Now, the question is as plain as the nose
on your face. Do you want him to do it first or do you want him to do it
last? It's up to you to decide the time, but you can betcher life it's
goin' to be some time, Cora or no Cora, _ohne oder mit_ as our Dutch
friend acrost the hall says."

Claire's reflection in the mirror she sat facing, showed a pair of sadly
troubled eyes.

"O, it's very puzzling, Martha," she said. "Somehow, life seems all
topsy-turvy to me lately. So many things going wrong, so few right."

"Now what, if I may make so bold, is wrong with your gettin' a
first-class offer from a well-off, good-lookin' gen'l'man-friend, that's
been keepin' comp'ny with you, off an' on, as you might say, ever since
you was a child, which shows that his heart's in the right place an' his
intentions is honorable. You know, you mustn't let the percession get by
you. Life's like standin' on the curbstone watching the parade--at
least, that's how it seems to young folks. They hear the music an' they
see the banners an' the floats an' they think it's goin' to be a
continuous performance. After a while they've got so used to the band
a-playin' an' the flags a-wavin' that it gets to be an old story, an'
they think that's what it'll be right along, so they don't trouble to
keep their eye peeled for the fella with the water-can, which he asked
'em to watch out for him. No, they argue he's good enough in his way,
but--'_Think_ o' the fella with the drum!' Or even, it might be, who
knows?--the grand one with his mother's big black muff on his head,
doin' stunts with his grandfather's gold-topped club, his grandpa havin'
been a p'liceman with a pull in the ward. An' while they stand a-waitin'
for all the grandjer they're expectin', suddenly it all goes past, an'
they don't see nothin' but p'raps a milk-wagon bringin' up the rear, an'
the ashfalt all strewed with rag-tag-an'-bobtail, an' there's nothin'
doin' in their direction, except turn around an' go home. Now, what's
the matter with Mr. Van Brandt? If you marry him you'll be all to the
good. No worry about the rent, no pinchin' here an' plottin' there to
keep the bills down. No goin' out by the day, rain or shine, traipsin'
the street on your two feet when you're so dead tired you could lay down
an' let the rest walk over you. Why, lookin' at it from any
standpoint-of-view I can't see but it's a grand oppertoonity. An' you're
fond of him, ain't you?"

"O, yes, I'm very fond of Mr. Van Brandt. But I'm fond of him as a
friend. I couldn't--couldn't--couldn't ever marry him."

"What for you couldn't? It ain't as if you liked some other fella
better! If you liked some other fella better, no matter how little you
might think you'd ever get the refusal of'm, I'd say, _stick to the reel
article: don't be put of with substitoots_. It ain't no use tryin' to
fool your heart. You can monkey with your brain, an' make it believe all
sorts of tommyrot, but your heart is dead on to you, an' when it once
sets in hankerin' it means business."

Claire nodded unseeingly to her own reflection in the glass.

"Now _my_ idea is," Martha continued, "my idea is, if you got somethin'
loomin', why, don't hide your face an' play it isn't there. There ain't
no use standin' on the ragged edge till every tooth in your head
chatters with cold an' fright. You don't make nothin' _by_ it. If you
love a man like a friend or if you love a friend like a man, my advice
is, take your seat in the chair, grip a-holt o' the arms, brace your
feet, an'--let'er go, Gallagher! It'll be over in a minit, as the
dentists say."

"But suppose you had something else on your heart. Something that had
nothing to do with--with that sort of thing?" Claire asked.

"What sorter thing?"

"Why--love. Suppose you'd done something unworthy of you. Suppose the
sense of having done it made you wretched, made you want to make others
wretched? What would you do--then?"

"Now, my dear, don't you make no mistake. I ain't goin' to be drew into
no blindman's grab-bag little game, not on your sweet life. I ain'ter
goin' to risk havin' you hate me all the rest o' your nacherl life
becoz, to be obligin' an' also to show what a smart boy am I, I give a
verdick without all the everdence in. If you wanter tell me plain out
what's frettin' you, I'll do my best accordin' to my lights, but
otherwise--"

"Well--" began Claire, and then followed, haltingly, stumblingly, the
story of her adventure in the closet.

"At first I felt nothing but the wound to my pride, the sting of what
he--of what _they_ said," she concluded. "But, after a little, I began
to realize there was something else. I began to see what _I_ had done.
For, you know, I had deliberately listened. I needn't have listened. If
I had put my hands over my ears, if I had crouched back, away from the
door, and covered my head, I need not have overheard. But I pressed as
close as I could to the panel, and hardly breathed, because I wanted not
to miss a word. And I didn't miss a word. I heard what it was never
meant I should hear, and--I'm nothing but a common--_eavesdropper_!"

"Now, what do you think of that?" observed Mrs. Slawson. "Now, what do
you think of that?"

"I've tried once or twice to tell him--" continued Claire.

"Tell who? Tell Mr. Van Brandt?"

"No, Mr. Ronald."

"O! You see, when you speak o' _he_ an' _him_ it might mean almost any
gen'l'man. But I'll try to remember you're always referrin' to Mr.
Ronald."

"I've tried once or twice to tell him, for I can't bear to be
untruthful. But, then, I remember I'm 'only the governess'--'the right
person in the right place'--of so little account that--that he doesn't
even know whether I'm pretty or not! And the words choke in my throat. I
realize it wouldn't mean anything to him. He'd only probably gaze down
at me, or he'd be kind in that lofty way he has--and put me in my place,
as he did the first time I ever saw him. And so, I've never told him. I
couldn't. But sometimes I think if I did--if I just _made_ myself do it,
I could hold up my head again and not feel myself growing bitter and
sharp, because something is hurting me in my conscience."

"That's it!" said Martha confidently. "It's your conscience. Believe
_me_, consciences is the dickens an' all for makin' a mess o' things,
when they get right down to business. Now, if I was you, I wouldn't
bother Mr. Ronald with my squalms o' conscience. Very prob'ly when it
comes to consciences he has troubles of his own--at least, if he ain't,
he's an exception an' a rare curiosity, an' Mr. Pierpont Morgan oughter
buy him for the Museum. When your conscience tells you you'd oughter
tell, ten to one you'd oughtn't. Give other folks a chance. What they
don't know can't worry 'em. Besides, your just _tellin_' a thing don't
let you out. You can't get clear so easy as that. It's up to you to work
it out, so what's wrong is made _right_, an' do it _yourself_--not trust
to nobody else. You can't square up by heavin' your load offn your own
shoulders onto another fella's. You think you feel light coz you done
your dooty, when ten to one you _done_ your friend. No! I wouldn't
advise turnin' state's everdence on yourself unless it was to save
another from the gallus. As it is, you can take it from me, the best
thing you can do for that--conscience o' yours, is get busy in another
direction. Dress yourself up as fetchin' as you can, go out motorin'
with your gen'l'man friend like he ast you to, let him get his perposal
offn his chest, an' then tell'm--you'll be a sister to'm."



CHAPTER XV


Sam Slawson had gone to the Adirondacks in January, personally conducted
by Mr. Blennerhasset, Mr. Ronald's secretary, Mr. Ronald, in the most
unemotional and business-like manner, having assumed all the
responsibilities connected with the trip and Sam's stay at the
Sanatorium.

It was Claire who told Mr. Ronald of the Slawsons' difficulty. How
Martha saw no way out, and still was struggling gallantly on, trying
single-handed to meet all obligations at home and, in addition, send her
husband away.

"That's too much--even for Martha," he observed.

"If I only knew how to get Sam to the mountains," Claire said in a sort
of desperation.

"You have just paved the way."

"How?"

"You have told me."

"You are going to help?"

"Yes."

"O, how beautiful!"

"I am glad that, for once, I have the good fortune to please you."

Claire's happy smile faded. She turned her face away, pretending to
busy herself with Radcliffe's books.

"I see I have offended once more."

She hesitated a moment, then faced him squarely.

"There can be no question of your either pleasing or offending me, Mr.
Ronald. What you are doing for Martha makes me glad, of course, but that
is only because I rejoice in any good that may come to her. I would not
take it upon myself to praise you for doing a generous act, or to blame
you if you didn't do it."

"'Cr-r-rushed again!'" observed Francis Ronald gravely, but with a
lurking, quizzical light of laughter in his eyes.

For an instant Claire was inclined to be resentful. Then, her sense of
humor coming to the rescue, she dropped her heroics and laughed out
blithely.

"How jolly it must be to have a lot of money and be able to do all sorts
of helpful, generous things!" she said lightly.

"You think money the universal solvent?"

"I think the lack of it the universal _in_solvent."

"I hope you don't lay too much emphasis on it."

"Why?"

"Because it might lead you to do violence to your better impulses, your
higher instincts."

"Why should a man think he has the right to say that sort of thing to a
woman? Would you consider it a compliment if I suggested that your
principles were hollow--negotiable? That they were For Sale or To Let,
like an empty house?"

"I suppose most men would tell you they have no use for principle in
their business--only principal."

"And you think women--"

"Generally women have both principle and interest in the business of
life. That's why we look to them to keep up the moral standard. That's
why we feel it to be unworthy of her when a girl makes a mercenary
marriage."

The indignant blood sprang to Claire's cheeks. What business had he to
interfere in her affairs, to warn her against marrying Bob Van Brandt,
assuming that, if she did marry him, it would be only for money. She was
glad that Radcliffe bounded in just then, throwing himself upon her in
his eagerness to tell her all that had befallen him during their long
separation of two hours, when he had been playing on the Mall under
Beetrice's unwatchful eye.

In spite of Martha, Claire had just been on the point of confessing to
Mr. Ronald. He had seemed so friendly, so much less formidable than at
any time since that first morning. But she must have been mistaken, for
here were all the old barriers up in an instant, and with them the
resentful fire in her heart.

Perhaps it was the memory of this conversation that made her feel so ill
at ease with Robert Van Brandt. She could not understand herself. Why
should she feel so uncomfortable with her old friend? She could not help
being aware that he cared for her, but why did the thought of his
telling her so make her feel like a culprit? Why should he not tell her?
Why should she not listen? One thing she felt she knew--if he did tell
her, and she refused to listen, he would give it up. He would not
persist.

She remembered how, as a little girl, she had looked up to him
reverentially as "big Robby Van Brandt." He was a hero to her in those
days, until--he had let himself be balked of what he had started out to
get. If he had only persisted, _in_sisted, who knows--maybe--.

She was sure that if he offered her his love and she refused to accept
it, he would not, like the nursery-rhyme model, try, try again. He would
give up and go away--and in her loneliness she did not want him to go
away. Was she selfish? she wondered. Selfish or no, she could not bring
herself to follow Martha's advice and "let'm get his perposal offn his
chest."

It was early in April before he managed to do it.

She and Radcliffe had gone to the Park. Radcliffe was frisking about in
the warm sunshine, while Claire watched him from a nearby bench, when,
suddenly, Mr. Van Brandt dropped into the seat beside her.

He did not approach his subject gradually. He plunged in desperately,
headlong, heartlong, seeming oblivious to everything and every one save
her.

When, at last, he left her, she, knowing it was for always, was sorely
tempted to call him back. She did care for him, in a way, and the life
his love opened up to her would be very different from this. And yet--

She closed her cold fingers about Radcliffe's little warm ones, and rose
to lead him across the Plaza. She did not wonder at his being so
conveniently close at hand, nor at his unwonted silence all the way
home. She had not realized, until now that it was snapped, how much the
link between this and her old home-life had meant to her. It meant so
much that tears were very near the surface all that day, and even at
night, when Martha was holding forth to her brood, they were not
altogether to be suppressed.

"Easter comes early this year," Mrs. Slawson observed.

"'M I going to have a new hat?" inquired Cora.

"What for do you need a new hat, I should like to know? I s'pose you
think you'll walk up Fifth Avenoo in the church parade, an' folks'll
stare at you, an' nudge each other an' whisper--'Looka there! That's
Miss Cora Slawson that you read so much about in the papers. That one on
the right-hand side, wearin' the French _shappo_, with the white ribbon,
an' the grand vinaigrette onto it. Ain't she han'some?'"

"I think you're real mean to make fun of me!" pouted Cora.

"I got a dollar an' a half for the Easter singin'," announced Sammy.
"Coz I'm permoted an' I'm goin' to sing a solo!"

"Careful you don't get your head so turned you sing outer the other side
o' your mouth," cautioned Martha. "'Stead o' crowin' so much, you better
make sure you know your colic."

"What you goin' to do with your money?" inquired Francie, unable to
conceive of possessing such vast riches.

"I do' know."

"Come here an' I'll tell you," said his mother. "Whisper!"

At first Sammy's face did not reveal any great amount of satisfaction at
the words breathed into his ear, but after a moment it fairly glowed.

"Ain't that grand?" asked Martha.

Sammy beamed, then went off whistling.

"He's goin' to invest it in a hat for Cora as a s'prise, me addin' my
mite to the fun' an' not lettin' him be any the wiser. An' Cora, she's
goin' to get _him_ a pair o' shoes with her bank pennies, an' be this
an' be that, the one thinks he's clothin' the other, an' is proud as
Punch of it, which they're learnin' manners the same time they're bein'
dressed," Martha explained to Claire later.

"I wish you'd tell that to Radcliffe," Claire said. "He loves to hear
about the children, and he can learn so much from listening to what is
told of other kiddies' generosities and self-denials."

Martha shook her head. "There's nothin' worth tellin'," she said. "An'
besides, if I told'm, he might go an' tell his mother or his Uncle
Frank, an' they might think I was puttin' in a bid for a Easter-egg on
my own account. Radcliffe is a smart little fella! He knows a thing or
two--an' sometimes three, an' don't you forget it."

That Radcliffe "knew a thing or two--an' sometimes three," he proved
beyond a doubt to Martha next day when, as she was busy cleaning his
Uncle Frank's closet, he meandered up to her and casually observed:

"Say, you know what I told you once 'bout Miss Lang bein' Mr. Van
Brandt's best girl?"

"Yes."

"Well, she ain't!"

"Why ain't she?"

"I was lookin' out o' the window in my mother's sittin'-room yesterday
mornin', an' when my mother an' my Uncle Frank they came up from
breakfast, they didn't see me coz I was back o' the curtains. My mother
she had a letter Shaw, he just gave her, and when she read it she
clapped her hands together an' laughed, an' my Uncle Frank he said, 'Why
such joy?' an' she said, 'The greatest news! Amy Pelham is engaged to
Mr. Van Brandt!' An' my Uncle Frank, his face got dark red all at once,
an' he said to my mother, 'Catherine, are you 'sponsible for that?' an'
she said, 'I never lifted a finger. I give you my word of honor, Frank!'
An' then my Uncle Frank he looked better. An' my mother she said, 'You
see, he couldn't have cared for Miss Lang, after all--I mean, the way we
thought.' An' he said, 'Why not?' An' she said, 'Coz if he had asked
her, she would have taken him, for no poor little governess is going to
throw away a chance like that. No sensible girl would say _no_ to Bob
Van Brandt with all his 'vantages. She'd jump at him, an' you couldn't
blame her.'

"An' then my mother an' my Uncle Frank _they_ jumped, for I came out
from behind the curtains where I'd been lookin' out, an' I said, 'She
would too say _no_! My Miss Lang, she's sensible, an' one time in the
Park, when Mr. Van Brandt he asked her to take him an' everything he had
(that's what he said! "Take me an' everything I have, an' do what you
want with me!"), Miss Lang she said, "No, Bob, I can't! I wish I could,
for your sake, if you want me so--but--I can't." An' Mr. Van Brandt he
felt so bad, I was sorry. When I thought Miss Lang was his best girl, I
didn't like him, but I didn't want him to feel as bad as that. An' he
went off all alone by himself, an' Miss Lang--'Only I couldn't tell any
more, for my Uncle Frank, he said reel sharp, 'That's enough,
Radcliffe!' But last night he brought me home a dandy boat I can sail on
the Lake, with riggin' an' a center-board, an', O, lots o' things! An'
so I guess he wasn't so very mad, after all."



CHAPTER XVI


"Most like it's the Spring," said Martha. It was Memorial Day. She and
Miss Lang were at home, sitting together in Claire's pretty room,
through the closed blinds of which the hot May sun sent tempered shafts
of light.

Claire regarded Mrs. Slawson steadily for a moment, seeming to make some
sort of mental calculation meanwhile.

"Well, if it _is_ the Spring," she observed at length with a whimsical
little frown knitting her brows, "it's mighty forehanded, for it began
to get in its fine work as far back as January. Ever since the time Sam
went to the Sanatorium you've been losing flesh and color, Martha,
and--I don't know what to do about it!"

"Do about it!" repeated Mrs. Slawson. "Why, there ain't nothin' _to_ do
about it, but let the good work go on. I'm in luck, if it's true what
you say. Believe _me_, there's lots o' ladies in this town, is starvin'
their stummicks an' everythin' else about 'em, an' payin' the doctors
high besides, just to get delicate-complected, an' airy-fairy figgers,
same's I'm doin' without turnin' a hand. Did you never hear o' bantin'?
It's what the high-toned doctors recommend to thin down ladies who have
it so comfortable they're uncomfortable. The doctors prescribes exercise
for'm, an' they take it, willin' as doves, whereas if their husbands
said, 'Say, old woman, while you're restin', just scrub down the
cellar-stairs good--that'll take the flesh off'n you quicker'n anythin'
else _I_ know!' they'd get a divorce from him so quick you couldn't see
'em for dust. No, they'd not do anythin' so low as cellar-stairs, to
save their lives. You couldn't please 'em better'n to see another woman
down on her marra-bones workin' for 'em, but get down themselves? Not on
your sweet life, they wouldn't. They'd rather _bant_. Bantin' sounds so
much more stylisher than scrubbin'."

Claire smiled, but her eyes were very serious as she said, "All the
same, Martha, I believe you are grieving your heart out for Sam. I've
been watching you when you didn't know it, and I've seen the signs and
the tokens. Your heart has the hunger-ache in it!"

"Now, what do you think o' that!" exclaimed Mrs. Slawson. "What do _you_
know about hearts an' hunger-aches, I should like to know. You, an
unmarried maiden-girl, without so much as the shadder or the skelegan of
a beau, as far as _I_ can see. What do _you_ know about a woman
hungerin' an' cravin' for her own man? You have to have reelly felt them
things yourself, to know the signs of 'em in other folks."

Claire's lip trembled, but she did not reply.

When Martha spoke again it was as if she had replied.

"O, go 'way! _You_ ain't never had a leanin' in any gen'l'man's
direction, I'd be willin' to wager. An' yet, I may as well tell you, you
been gettin' kinder white an' scrawny yourself lately, beggin' your
pardon for bein' so bold as notice it. Mind, I ain't the faintest notion
of holdin' it against you! I know better than think you been settin'
your affections on anybody. There's other things _besides_ love gives
you that tired feelin'. What you need is somethin' to brace you up, an'
clear your blood, like Hoodses Sassperilla. Everybody feels the way you
do, this time o' year. I heard a young saleslady (she wasn't a woman,
mind you, she was a sales_lady_), I heard a young saleslady in the car
the other mornin' complain--she was the reel dressy kind, you know, with
more'n a month's pay of hair, boilin' over on the back of her head in
puffs an' things--the gallus sort that, if you want to buy a yard o'
good flannen off her, will sass you up an' down to your face, as fresh
as if she was your own daughter--she was complainin' 'the Spring always
made her feel so sorter, kinder, so awful la-anguid.'"

"Martha, dear," broke in Claire irrelevantly, "I wonder if you'd mind
very much if I told Mr. Ronald the truth. He thinks you were an old
family servant. He thinks you nursed me till I was able to walk."

Martha considered. "Well, ain't that the truth?" she asked blandly. "I
lived out from the time I was twelve years old. That was in Mrs.
Granville's mother's house. When I was sixteen I went to Mrs.
Granville's. I was kitchen-maid there first-off, an' gradjelly she
promoted me till I was first housemaid. I never left her till I got
married. If that don't make me an old family servant, I'd like to know."

"But he thinks you were an old family servant in _our_ house."

"Well, bless your heart, that's _his_ business, not mine. How can I help
what he thinks?"

"Didn't you tell him, Martha dear, that you nursed me till I was able to
walk?"

"Shoor I did! An' it's the livin' truth. What's the matter with that?
Believe _me_, you wasn't good for more than a minit or two more on your
legs, when I got you into your bed that blessed night. You was clean
bowled over, an' you couldn't 'a' walked another step if you'd been
killed for it. Didn't I nurse you them days you was in bed, helplesslike
as a baby? Didn't I nurse you till you could walk?"

"Indeed you did. And that's precisely the point!" said Claire. "If Mr.
Ronald--if Mrs. Sherman knew the truth, that I was poor, homeless,
without a friend in New York the night you picked me up on the street,
and carried me home and cared for me without knowing a thing about me,
they mightn't--they _wouldn't_ have taken me into their house and given
me their little boy to train. And because they wouldn't, I want to tell
them. I want to square myself. I ought to have told them long ago. I
want--"

"You want 'em to bounce you," observed Mrs. Slawson calmly. "Well,
there's always more'n one way of lookin' at things. For instance
any good chambermaid, _with experience_, will tell you there's three
ways of dustin'. The first is, do it thora, wipin' the rungs o' the
chairs, an' the backs o' the pictures, an' under the books on the
table like. The second is, just sorter flashin' your rag over the places
that shows, an' the third is--pull down the shades. They're all good
enough ways in their own time an' place, an' you foller them accordin'
to your disposition or, if you're nacherelly particular, accordin' to
the other things you got to do, in the time you got to do 'em _in_.
Now, _I'm_ particular. I'm the nacherelly thora kind, but if I'm
pressed, an' there's more important things up to me than the dustin',
I give it a lick an' a promise, same as the next one, an' let it go at
that, till the time comes I can do better. Life's too short to fuss an'
fidget your soul out over trifles. It ain't always what you _want_, but
what you _must_. You sometimes got to cut short at one end so's you can
piece out at another, an' you can take it from me, you only pester folks
by gettin' 'm down where they can't resist you, an' forcin' a lot of
hard facks down their throats, which ain't the _truth_ anyhow, an' which
they don't want to swaller on no account. What do they care about the
machinery, so long as it turns out the thing they want? Believe _me_,
it's foolishness to try to get 'em back into the works, pokin' about
among the inside wheels an' springs, an' so forth. You likely get
knocked senseless by some big thing-um-bob you didn't know was there.
Now I know just eggsackly what's in your mind, but you're wrong. You
think I told Mr. Ronald fibs. I didn't tell'm fibs. I just give'm the
truth the way he'd take it, like you give people castor-oil that's too
dainty to gullup it down straight. Some likes it in lemon, an' some
in grobyules, but it's castor-oil all the same. He wanted to know the
truth about you, an' I let him have it, the truth bein' you're as fine
a lady as any in the land. If I'd happened to live in Grand Rapids at
the time, I'd most likely of lived out with your grandmother, an' been
an old family servant in your house like I was at Mrs. Granville's,
an' I certainly would of nursed you if I'd had the chanct. It was just
a case o' happenso, my _not_ havin' it. The right kind o' folks here
in New York is mighty squeamish about strangers. They want
recommendations--they want 'em because they want to be sure the ones
they engage is O.K. That's all recommendations is for, ain't it? Now I
knew the minit I clapped eye to you, that, as I say, you was as grand a
lady as any in the land, an' that bein' the case, what was the use o'
frettin' because I hadn't more than your sayso to prove it. But if I'd
pulled a long face to Mrs. Sherman, an' told her, hesitatin'-like an'
nervous, about--well, about what took place that night, she, not havin'
much experience of human nature (only the other kind that's more common
here in New York City), she'd have hemmed, an' hawed, an' thought she'd
better not try it, seein' Radcliffe is such an angel-child an' not to be
trained except by a A-I Lady."

"But the truth," persisted Claire.

"I tell the truth," Mrs. Slawson returned with quiet dignity. "I only
don't waste time on trifles."

"It is not wasting time on trifles to be exact and accurate. An
architect planning a house must make every little detail _true_, else
when the house goes up, it won't stand."

"Don't he have to reckon nothin' on the _give_ or _not-give_ of the
things he's dealin' with?" demanded Martha. "I'm only a ignorant woman,
an' I ask for information. When you're dress-makin' you have to allow
for the seams, an' when you're makin'--well, other things, you have to
do the same thing, only spelled a little different--you have to allow
for the _seems_. Most folks don't do it, an' that's where a lot o'
trouble comes in, or so it appears to me."

Claire twisted her ring in silence, gazing down at it the while as if
the operation was, of all others, the most important and absorbing.

"We may not agree, Martha dear," she said at last, "but anyway I know
you're good, good, _good_, and I wouldn't hurt your feelings for the
world."

"Shoor! I know you wouldn't! An' they ain't hurt. Not in the least. You
got one kinder conscience an' I got another, that's all. Consciences is
like hats. One that suits one party would make another look like a guy.
You got to have your own style. You got to know what's best for you, an'
then _stick to it_!"

"And you won't object if I tell Mr. Ronald?"

"Objeck? Certainly not! Tell'm anything you like. _I_ always was fond o'
Mr. Ronald myself. I never thought he was as hard an' stern with a body
as some thinks. Some thinks he's as hard as nails, but--"

"O, I'm _sure_ he's not," cried Claire with unexpected loyalty. "His
manner may seem a little cold and proud sometimes, but I know he's very
kind and generous."

"Certaintly. So do I know it," said Mrs. Slawson. "I don't say I mayn't
be mistaken, but I have the highest opinion o' Lor--Mr. Ronald. I think
you could trust'm do the square thing, no matter what, an' if he was
kinder harsh doin' it, it's only because he expects a body to be perfect
like he is himself."

In the next room Sabina was shouting at the top of her lungs--"Come back
to ear-ring, my voornean, my voornean!"

"Ain't it a caution what lungs that child has--considerin'?" Martha
reflected. "Just hear her holler! She'd wake the dead. I wonder if she's
tryin' to beat that auta whoopin' it up outside. Have you ever noticed
them autas nowadays? Some of them has such croupy coughs, before I know
it I'm huntin' for a flannen an' a embrercation. 'Xcuse me a minit while
I go answer the bell."

A second later she returned. A step in advance of her was Mr. Ronald.

"I am lucky to find you at home, Martha," were the first words Claire
heard him say.

Martha, by dint of a little unobservable maneuvering, managed to
superimpose her substantial shadow upon Claire's frail one.

"Yes, sir. When I get a day to lay off in, you couldn't move me outer
the house with a derrick," she announced. "Miss Lang's here, too. Bein'
so dim, an' comin' in outer the sunlight, perhaps you don't make out to
see her."

"She ain't had time yet to pull herself together," Mrs. Slawson inwardly
noted. "But, Lord! I couldn't stand in front of her forever, an' even if
a girl _is_ dead in love with a man (more power to her!), that's no
reason she should go to the other extreme to hide it, an' pertend she's
a cold storage, warranted to freeze'm stiff, like the artificial ice
they're makin' these days, in the good old summertime."

The first cold greetings over, Claire started to retreat in the
direction of the door.

"Excuse me, please--I promised Francie--She's expecting me--she's
waiting--"

"Pshaw now, let her wait!" said Martha.

"Don't let me detain Miss Lang if she wishes to go," interposed Mr.
Ronald. "My business is really with you, Martha."

"Thank you, sir. But I'd like Miss Lang to stay by, all the same--that
is, if you don't objeck."

"As a witness? You think I need watching, eh?"

"I think it does a body good to watch you, sir!"

"I didn't know before, you were a flatterer, Martha. But I see you're a
lineal descendant of the Blarney Stone."

Claire felt herself utterly ignored. She tried again to slip away, but
Martha's strong hand detained her, bore her down into the place she had
just vacated.

"How is Francie?" inquired Mr. Ronald, taking the chair Mrs. Slawson
placed for him.

"_Fine_--thank you, sir. The doctors says they never see a child get
well so fast. She's grown so fat an' big, there ain't a thing belongs to
her will fit her any longer, they're all shorter, an' she has to go
whacks with Cora on her clo'es."

"Perhaps she'd enjoy a little run out into the country this afternoon in
my car. The other children, too? And--possibly--Miss Lang."

"I'm sure they'd all thank you kindly, sir," began Martha, when--"I'm
sorry," said Claire coldly, "I can't go."

Mr. Ronald did not urge her. "It is early. We have plenty of time to
discuss the ride later," he observed quietly. "Meanwhile, what I have in
mind, Martha, is this: Mr. Slawson has been at the Sanatorium now
for--?"

"Goin' on five months," said Martha.

"And the doctors think him improved?"

"Well, on the whole, yes, sir. His one lung (sounds kinder Chineesy,
don't it?), his one lung ain't no worse--it's better some--only he keeps
losin' flesh an' that puzzles'm."

"Do you think he is contented there?"

"He says he is. He says it's the grand place, an' they're all as good
to'm as if he was the king o' Harlem. _You_ seen to that, sir--he says.
An' Sam, he's always pationate, no matter what comes, but--"

"Well--_but_?"

"But--only just, it ain't _home_, you know, sir!"

"I see. And the doctors think he ought to stay up there? Not return
home--_here_, I mean?"

"That's what they say."

"Have you--the means to keep him at the Sanatorium over the five months
we settled for in January?"

"No, sir. That is, not--not _yet_."

"Would you like to borrow enough money to see him through the rest of
the year?"

Martha deliberated. "I may _have_ to, sir," she said at last with a
visible effort. "But I don't like to borrer. I notice when folks gets
the borrerin'-habit they're slow payin' back, an' then you don't get
thanks for a gift or you don't get credit for a loan."

This time it was Mr. Ronald who seemed to be considering. "Right!" he
announced presently. "I notice you go into things rather deep, Martha."

Mrs. Slawson smiled. "Well, when things _is_ deep, that's the way you
got to go into them. What's on your plate you got to chew, an' if you
don't like it, you can lump it, an' if you don't like to lump it, you
can cut it up finer. But there it _is_, an' there it stays, till you
swaller it, somehow."

"Do you enjoy or resent the good things that are, or seem to be, heaped
on other people's plates?"

"Why, yes. Certaintly I enjoy 'em. But, after all, the things taste best
that we're eatin' ourselves, don't they? An' if I had money enough like
some, so's I didn't have to borrer to see my man through, why, I don't
go behind the door to say I'd be glad an' grateful."

"Would you take the money as a gift, Martha?"

"You done far more than your share already, sir."

"Then, if you won't _take_, and you'd rather not borrow, we must find
another way. A rather good idea occurred to me last night. I've an
uncommonly nice old place up in New Hampshire--in the mountains. It was
my father's--and my grandfather's. It's been closed for many years, and
I haven't given it a thought, except when the tax-bills came due, or the
caretaker sent in his account. It's so far away my sister won't live
there, and--it's too big and formidable for one lone man to summer in by
himself. Now, why wouldn't it be a capital idea for you to pack up your
goods and chattels here, and take your family right up there--make that
your home? The lodge is comfortable and roomy, and I don't see why Mr.
Slawson couldn't recover there as well, if not better, than where he is.
I'd like to put the place in order--make some improvements, do a little
remodeling. I need a trusty man to oversee the laborers, and keep an eye
and close tab on the workmen I send up from town. If Mr. Slawson would
act as superintendent for me, I'd pay him what such a position is worth,
and you would have your house, fuel, and vegetables free. Don't try to
answer now. You'd be foolish to make a decision in a hurry that you
might regret later. Write to your husband. Talk it over with him. He
might prefer to choose a job for himself. And remember--it's 'way out in
the country. The children would have to walk some distance to school."

"Give 'em exercise, along of their exercises," said Martha.

"The church in the village is certainly three miles off."

"My husband don't go to church as reg'lar as I might wish," Mrs. Slawson
observed. "I tell'm, the reason men don't be going to church so much
these days, is for fear they might hear something they believe."

"You would find country life tame, perhaps, after the city."

"Well, the city life ain't been that _wild_ for me that I'd miss the
dizzy whirl. An' anyhow--we'd be _together_!" Martha said. "We'd be
together, maybe, come our weddin'-day. The fourth o' July. We never been
parted oncet, on that day, all the fifteen years we been married," she
mused, "but--"

"Well?"

"But, come winter, an' Mis' Sherman opens the house again, an' wants
Miss Claire back, who's goin' to look out for _her_?"

"Why--a--as to _that_--" said Mr. Ronald, so vaguely it sounded almost
supercilious to Claire.

In an instant her pride rose in revolt, rebelling against the notion he
might have, that she could possibly put forth any claim upon his
consideration.

"O, please, _please_ don't think of me, Martha," she cried vehemently.
"I have entirely other plans. You mustn't give me, or my affairs, a
thought, in settling your own. You must do what's best for _you_. You
mustn't count for, or _on_, me in the least. I have not told you before,
but I've made up my mind I must resign my position at Mrs. Sherman's,
anyway. I'll write her at once. I'll tell her myself, of course, but I
tell you now to show that you mustn't have me in mind, at all, in making
your plans."

Martha's low-pitched voice fell upon Claire's tense, nervous one with
soothing calmness.

"Certaintly not, Miss Claire," she said.

"And you'll write to your husband and report to him what I propose,"
suggested Mr. Ronald, as if over Claire's head.

"Shoor I will, sir!"

"And if he likes the idea, my secretary will discuss the details with
him later. Wages, duties--all the details."

"Yes, sir."

"And you may tell the children I'll leave orders that the car be sent
for them some other day. I find it's not convenient, after all, for me
to take them myself this afternoon. I spoke too fast in proposing it.
But they'll not be disappointed. Mr. Blennerhasset will see to that. I
leave town to-night to be gone--well, indefinitely. In any case, until
well on into the autumn or winter. Any letter you may direct to me, care
of Mr. Blennerhasset at the office, will be attended to at once.
Good-by, Martha!--Miss Lang--" He was gone.

When the car had shot out of sound and sight, Martha withdrew from the
window, from behind the blinds of which she had been peering eagerly.

"He certainly _is_ a little woolly wonder, meaning no offense," she
observed with a deep-drawn sigh. "Yes, Mr. Ronald is as good as they
make 'em, an' dontcher forget it!"

She seated herself opposite Claire, drawing her chair quite close.

"Pity you an' him is so on the outs. I'm not speakin' o' _him_, s'much,
but anybody with half an eye can see _you_ got a reg'lar hate on'm. _Any
one_ can see that!"

A moment of silence, and then Claire flung herself, sobbing and
quivering, across Martha's lap, ready to receive her.

"O, _Martha_!" she choked.



CHAPTER XVII


"Well now, what do you think o' that! Ain't it the end o' the law? The
high-handed way he has o' doin' things! Think o' the likes o' _me_
closin' up my '_town-house' _an' takin' my fam'ly (includin' Flicker an'
Nixcomeraus) 'to the country-place'--for all the world like I was a
lady, born an' bred.--Sammy, you sit still in your seat, an' eat the
candy Mr. Blennerhasset brought you, an' quit your rubberin', or the
train'll start suddently, an' give you a twist in your neck you won't
get over in a hurry.... Ma, you comfortable?.... Cora an' Francie, see
you behave like little ladies, or I'll attend to you later. See how
quiet Sabina is--Say, Sabina, what you doin'? Now, what do you think o'
that! If that child ain't droppin' off to sleep, suckin' the red plush
o' the seat! For all the world like she didn't have a wink o' rest last
night, or a bite or a sup this mornin'--an' she slep' the clock 'round,
an' et a breakfast fit for a trooper. Say, Sabina--here, wake up! An'
take your tongue off'n that beautiful cotton-backed plush, d'you hear?
In the first place, the gen'l'men that owns this railroad don't want
their upholsterry et by little girls, an', besides, it's makin' your
mouth all red--an', second-place, the cars isn't the time to
sleep--leastwise, not so early in the mornin'. Miss Claire, child, don't
look so scared! You ain't committin' no crime goin' along with us, an'
_he_'ll never suspicion anyhow. He's prob'ly on the boundin' biller by
this time, an' Mr. Blennerhasset he don't know you from a hole in the
ground. Besides, whose business is it, anyway? You ain't goin' as _his_
guest, as I told you before. You're _my_ boarder, same's you've always
been, an' it's nobody's concern if you board down here or up there...

"Say, ain't these flowers just grand? The box looks kinder like a young
coffin, but never mind that...

"A body would think all that fruit an' stuff was enough of a send-off,
but Lor--_Mr_. Ronald, he don't do things by halves, does he? It
wouldn't seem so surprisin' now, if he'd 'a' knew you was comin' along
an' all this (Mr. Blennerhasset himself helpin' look after us, an' see
us off--as if I was a little tender flower that didn't know a railroad
ticket from a trunk-check), I say, it wouldn't seem so surprisin' if
he'd 'a' knew _you_ was comin' along. I'd think it was on your account.
What they calls _delicate attentions_. The sorter thing a gen'l'man does
when he's got his eye on a young lady for his wife, an' is sorter
breakin' it to her gently--kinder beckonin' with a barn-door, as the
sayin' is.

"But Mr. Ronald ain't the faintest notion but you've gone back to your
folks in Grand Rapids, an' so all these favors is for _me_, of course.
Well, I certainly take to luckshurry like a duck takes to water. I never
knew it was so easy to feel comfortable. I guess I been a little hard on
the wealthy in the past. Now, if _you_ should marry a rich man, I don't
believe--"

Claire sighed wearily. "I'll never marry anybody, Martha. And besides, a
rich man wouldn't be likely to go to a cheap boarding-house for a wife,
and next winter I--O, isn't it warm? Don't you _wish_ the train would
start?"

At last the train did start, and they were whirled out of the steaming
city, over the hills and far away, through endless stretches of sunlit
country, and the long, long hours of the hot summer day, until, at
night, they reached their destination, and found Sam Slawson waiting
there in the cool twilight to welcome them.

Followed days of rarest bliss for Martha, when she could marshal out her
small forces, setting each his particular task, and seeing it was done
with thoroughness and despatch, so that in an inconceivably short time
her new home shone with all the spotless cleanliness of the old, and
added comeliness beside.

"Ain't it the little palace?" she inquired, when all was finished. "I
wouldn't change my lodge for the great house, grand as it is, not for
anything you could offer me! Nor I wouldn't call the queen my cousin now
we're all in it together. I'm feelin' that joyful I'd like to have what
they calls a house-swarmin', only there ain't, by the looks of it, any
neighbors much, to swarm."

"No," said Ma regretfully, "I noticed there ain't no neighbors--to speak
of."

"Well, then, we can't speak o' them," returned Martha. "Which will save
us from fallin' under God's wrath as gossips. There's never any great
loss without some small gain."

"But we must have some sort of jollification," Claire insisted. "Doesn't
your wedding-day--the anniversary of it, I mean--come 'round about this
time? You said the Fourth, didn't you?"

Martha nodded. "Sam Slawson an' me'll be fifteen years married come
Fourth of July," she announced. "We chose that day, because we was so
poor we knew we couldn't do nothin' great in the line o' celebration
ourselves, so we just kinder managed it, so's without inconveniencin'
the nation any or addin' undooly to its expenses, it would do our
celebratin' for us. You ain't no notion how grand it makes a body feel
to be woke up at the crack o' dawn on one's weddin' mornin' with the
noise o' the bombardin' in honor o' the day! I'm like to miss it this
year, with only my own four young Yankees spoilin' my sleep settin' off
torpeders under my nose."

"You won't miss anything," said Claire reassuringly, "but you mustn't
say a word to Sam. And you mustn't ask any questions yourself, for what
is going to happen is to be a _wonderful_ surprise!"

"You betcher life it is!" murmured Martha complacently to herself, after
Claire had hastened off to confer with the children and plan a program
for the great day.

Ma to make the wedding-cake! Cora to recite her "piece." Francie and
Sammy to be dressed as pages and bear, each, a tray spread with the
gifts it was to be her own task and privilege to contrive. Sabina to
hover over all as a sort of Cupid, who, if somewhat "hefty" as to
avoirdupois, was in all other respects a perfect little Love.

It seemed as if the intervening days were winged, so fast they flew.
Claire never could have believed there was so much to be done for such a
simple festival, and, of course, the entire weight fell on her
shoulders, for Ma was as much of a child in such matters as any, and
Martha could not be appealed to, being the _bride_, and, moreover, being
away at the great house, where tremendous changes were in progress.

But at last came the wonderful day, and everything was in readiness.

First, a forenoon of small explosive delights for the children--then, as
the day waned, a dinner eaten outdoors, picnic-fashion on the grass,
under the spreading trees, beneath the shadows of the mighty
mountain-tops.

What difference if Ma's cake, crowning a perfect feast, had suffered a
little in the frosting and its touching sentiment, traced in snowy
lettering upon a bridal-white ground, _did_ read

FIFTEEN YEARS OF MARRED LIFE.

It is sometimes one's ill-luck to misspell a word, and though a
wedding-cake is usually large and this was no exception, the space was
limited, and, besides, no one but Sam senior and Miss Lang noticed it
anyhow.

A quizzical light in his eye, Mr. Slawson scrawled on a scrap of paper
which he passed to Claire (with apologies for the liberty) the words:

"She'd been nearer the truth if she'd left out the two _rr_s while she
was about it, and had it:

FIFTEEN YEARS OF MA'D LIFE."

Then came Cora's _piece_.

Her courtesy, right foot back, knees suddenly bent, right hand on left
side (presumably over heart, actually over stomach), chin diving into
the bony hollow of her neck--Cora's courtesy was a thing to be
remembered.

LADY CLARE

She announced it with ceremony, and this time, Martha noticed, the
recalcitrant garter held fast to its moorings.

"''Twas the time when lilies blow
And clouds are highest up in air,
Lord Ronald brought a lily-white doe--'"

_"His!"_ prompted Martha in a loud stage-whisper. _"His_--not 'a'--"

Cora accepted the correction obediently, but her self-confidence was
shaken. She managed to stammer,

"'Give t-to--his c-cousin, L-Lady C-Clare,'"

and then a storm of tears set in, drowning her utterance.

"Well, what do you think o' _that_?" exclaimed Martha, amazed at the
undue sensitiveness of her offspring. "Never mind, Cora! You done it
grand!--as far as you went."

To cover this slight mishap, Claire gave a hurried signal to the pages,
who appeared forthwith in splendid form, if a little overweighted by the
burdens they bore. In some strange way Claire's simple gifts had been
secretly augmented until they piled up upon the trays, twin-mountains of
treasure.

When the first surprise was past, and the wonders examined and exclaimed
over, Martha bent toward Claire, from her seat of honor on the grass.

"Didn't I think to tell you Mr. Blennerhasset come up on the early
train? Sammy, he drove down to the station himself to meet'm. Mr.
Blennerhasset brought up all them grand things--for Mr. Ronald. Ain't
he--I mean Mr. Ronald--a caution to 've remembered the day? I been so
took up with things over there to the great house, I musta forgot to
tell you about Mr. Blennerhasset. Ain't everything just elegant?--

"It's pretty, the way the night comes down up here. With the sharp
pin-heads o' stars prickin' through, one by one. They don't seem like
that in the city, do they? An' the moon's comin' up _great_!"

Claire's eyes were fixed on the grassy slope ahead.

"Who are those three men over there?" she asked. "What are they doing? I
can't make out in the dusk anything but shadow-forms."

"Sam, an' Mr. Blennerhasset, an'--an'--another fella from the
neighborhood. Mr. Blennerhasset he brought up some fire-works to
surprise the young uns, an' they're goin' to set 'em off. It's early
yet, but the sooner it's over the sooner to sleep. An' the kids has had
a excitin' day."

Up shot a rocket, drawing the children's breaths skyward with it in
long-drawn "A-ahs!" of perfect ecstasy.

Then pin-wheels, some of which, not to belie their nature, balked
obstinately, refusing to be coerced or wheedled into doing their duty.

"Say, now, mother," cried Francie excitedly--"that pin-wheel--in the
middle of it was a cork. When it got over spinning fast, I saw the
cork."

"Don't you never do that no more," cautioned Martha. "Never you see the
cork. It's the _light_ you want to keep your eye on!" which, as Claire
thought it over, seemed to her advice of a particularly shrewd and
timely nature.

She was still pondering this, and some other things, when she felt Mrs.
Slawson's hand on her shoulder.

"It's over now, an' I'm goin' to take the young 'uns in, an' put 'em to
bed. But don't you stir. Just you sit here a while in the moonlight, an'
enjoy the quiet in peace by yourself. You done a hard day's work, an'
you give me an' Sammy what we won't forget in a hurry. So you just stay
out here a few minits--or as long as you wanter--away from the
childern's clatter, an'--God bless you!"

Claire's gaze, following the great form affectionately, saw it pass into
the darker shadows, then forth--out into the light that shone from the
open door of the lodge.

"She's _home_--and they're _together_!" Unconsciously, she spoke her
grateful thought aloud.

"Yes, she's _home_--and they're _together_!"

The words were repeated very quietly, but there was that in the
well-known voice, so close at hand, that seemed to Claire to shake the
world. In an instant she was upon her feet, gazing up speechless, into
Francis Ronald's baffling eyes.

"You are kind to every one," he said, "but for me you have only a sting,
and yet--I love you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Martha was still busy wrestling with the pyramid of dishes left over
from the feast, when at last Claire came in alone.

"Did you get a chance to compose yourself, an' quiet down some under the
stars?" inquired Mrs. Slawson. "It's been a noisy day, with lots doin'.
I don't wonder you're so tired--your cheeks is fairly blazin' with it,
an' your eyes are shinin' like lit lamps."

"You knew--you knew he was here!" said Claire accusingly.

"_He?_ Who? O, you mean Mr. Ronald? Didn't I think to tell you, he come
up along with Mr. Blennerhasset? I been so flustrated with all the
unexpected surprises of the day, it musta slipped my mind."

"I've seen Mr. Ronald!" Claire said." I've spoken with him!"

"Now, what do you think o' that! Wonders never cease!"

"Do you know what I did?"

"Search me!"

"I told him--the _truth_."

"We-ell?"

"And--_I'm going to marry him!"_

Mrs. Slawson sat down hard upon the nearest chair, as if the happy shock
had deprived her of strength to support her own weight.

"No!" she fairly shouted.

"_Yes!" _cried Claire. "And, O, Martha! I'm _so_ happy! And--did you ever
_dream_ such a thing could possibly happen?"

"Well, you certaintly have give me a start. I often thought how I'd
_like_ to see Mr. Ronald your _financiay_ or your _trosso_, or whatever
they call it. But, that it would really come to pass--" She paused.

"O, you don't know how I dreaded next winter," Claire said, as if she
were thinking aloud. "I went over it--and I went over it, in my
mind--what I'd do--where I'd go--and now--_Now!_... I couldn't take that
fine job you had your eye on for me, not even if it had come to
something. Don't you remember? I mean, the splendid job you had the idea
about, that first night I was sick. I shan't need it now, shall I,
Martha?"

"You got it!" said Martha.

Claire's wide eyes opened wider in wonderment. She stared silently at
Mrs. Slawson for a moment. Then the light began to break in upon her
slowly, but with unmistakable illumination.

"You--don't--mean?" she stammered.

"Certaintly!" said Martha.


THE END





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