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Title: The Lawton Girl
Author: Frederic, Harold
Language: English
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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.

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THE LAWTON GIRL

By Harold Frederic

New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons

1890



THE LAWTON GIRL



CHAPTER I.--“AND YET YOU KNEW!”

 “Thessaly! Ten minutes for refreshments!” called out the brisk
young colored porter, advancing up the aisle of the drawing-room
car, whisk-broom in hand. “Change cahs foh Thanksgiving turkey _and_
cranberry sauce,” he added, upon humorous after-thought, smiling broadly
as he spoke, and chuckling to himself.

This friendly remark was addressed in confidence to a group of three
persons at the forward end of the car, who began preparations for the
halt as the clanking of the wheels beneath them grew more measured, and
the carriage trembled and lurched under the pressure of the brakes. But
the cheery grin which went with it was exclusively directed to the two
ladies who rose now from their arm-chairs, and who gently relaxed their
features in amused response.

Whether the porter was moved only by the comeliness of these faces
and their gracious softening, or whether he was aware that they were
patrician countenances, so to speak, and belonged to Mrs. and Miss
Minster, persons of vast wealth and importance and considerable
stockholders in this very railroad, is not clear. But he made a great
bustle over getting their parcels down from the racks overhead, and
helping them to don their outer garments. He smoothed the rich fur
of their sealskin cloaks with almost affectionate strokes of his
coffee-colored palms, and made a pile of their belongings on the next
seat with an exaggerated show of dexterity and zeal. This done, he
turned for a cursory moment to the young man who constituted the third
member of the group, peremptorily pulled up the collar of his overcoat
to the top of his ears, and was back again with his arms full of the
ladies’ bundles as the train came to a stop.

“This way, ladies,” he said, marching jauntily under his burden toward
the door.

“I will bid you good-day, Mr. Boyce,” said the elder of the women,
speaking with somewhat formal politeness, but offering her hand.

“Good-day, sir,” the younger said simply, with a little inclination of
the head, but with no “Mr. Boyce,” and no proffer of her gloved fingers.

The young man murmured “so delighted to have had the privilege” between
low answering bows, and then stood watching the two fur-draped figures
move to the door and disappear, with a certain blankness of expression
on his face which seemed to say that he had hoped for a more cordial
leave-taking. Then he smiled with reassurance, folded up and pocketed
his thin car-cap, adjusted his glossy silk hat carefully, and proceeded
to tug out his own valise. It was a matter of some difficulty to get the
cumbrous bag down off the high icy steps to the ground. It was even more
disagreeable to carry it along when he had got it down, and after a few
paces he let it fall with a grunt of vexation, and looked about him for
assistance. “How much better they do these things in Europe!” was what
he thought as he looked.

All day long he had been journeying over a snowbound country--with
white-capped houses, white-frozen streams, white-tufted firs,
white-mantled fields and roads and hillsides, forever dodging one
another in the dissolving panorama before his window. The train drawn
up for the moment behind him might have come in from the North Pole, so
completely laden with snow was every flat surface--of roof and beam,
of platform and window-frame--presented by the dark line of massive
coaches. Yet it seemed to him that there was more snow, more bleak and
cheerless evidence of winter, here in his native Thessaly, than he had
seen anywhere else. It was characteristic, too, he felt, that nobody
should appear to care how much inconvenience this snow caused. There was
but an indifferently shovelled path leading from where he stood,
across the open expanse of side-tracks to the old and dingy dépôt
beyond--cleared for the use of such favored passengers as might alight
from the drawing-room section of the train. Those who had arrived in
the ordinary cars at the rear were left to flounder through the
smoke-begrimed drifts as best they could.

The foremost of these unconsidered travellers were coming up, red and
angry with the exertion of carrying their own luggage, and plunging
miserably along through the great ridges of discolored snow heaped
between the tracks, when Mr. Boyce’s impatient eye fell upon somebody he
knew.

“Hello there, Lawton!” he shouted. “Come here and help me with this
infernal bag, won’t you!”

The man to whom he called had been gazing down the yard at the advancing
wayfarers. He looked up now, hesitated for a moment, then came forward
slowly, shuffling through the snow to the path. He was a middle-aged,
thin, and round-shouldered man, weak and unkempt as to face and hair and
beard, with shabby clothes and no overcoat. Although he wore mittens,
he still from force of habit had his hands plunged half-way into his
trousers pockets. Even where it would have been easy to step over
the intermittent drifts and mounds at the sides of the tracks, he
shiftlessly pushed his feet through them instead.

“Hello, Hod!” he said slowly, with a kind of melancholy hesitation, “is
that you?”

Young Mr. Boyce ignored the foolish question, and indicated the valise
with a nod of his head.

“I wish you’d get that thing down to the house, Ben. And take these
checks for my trunks, too, will you, and see that they’re brought down.
Where is that expressman, anyway? Why isn’t he here, on hand, attending
to his business?”

“I don’t know as I can, Hod,” said the man without an overcoat, idly
kicking into a heap of mingled cinders and snow with his wet,
patched boots, and glancing uneasily down the yard. “I’m down here
a-waitin’--for--that is to say, I’ve got somethin’ else to do. Prob’ly
you can get some other fellow outside the deepo.”

Mr. Boyce’s answer to this was to add a bright half-dollar to the brass
baggage-checks he already held in his hand. The coin was on the top, and
Ben Lawton could not help looking at it. The temptation was very great.

“I ought to stay here, you know,” he faltered. “Fact is, honest Injun!
I _got_ to stay here! I’m lookin’ for--somebody a-comin’ in on this
train.”

“Well, you can look, can’t you, and do this too? There’s no hurry about
the things. If they’re home two hours hence it will be time enough.”

“Yes, I know, it might be so as I could do it, later on,” said Lawton,
taking one of his hands from his pocket and stretching it tentatively
toward the money. Then a second thought prompted him to waver, and he
drew back the hand, muttering feebly: “Then, again, it might be so as
I couldn’t do it. You _better_ get somebody else. And yet--I don’t
know--p’raps--”

Mr. Boyce settled the question by briskly reaching down for his bag.
“All right! Please yourself,” he said. “I’ve got no more time to waste
with you. I’ll do it myself.”

Before he had fairly lifted the valise from the ground, the irresolute
Lawton made up his mind. “Put her down again, Hod,” he said. “I’ll
manage it somehow.”

He took the half-dollar in his mittened hand, and tossed it gently up
and down on the striped blue and white surface of yarn. “It’s the first
money I’ve earned for over a week,” he remarked, as if in self-defence.

Even as he spoke, a young woman in black who had been wandering about
in the dépôt yard came running excitedly up to him. She gave a little
inarticulate cry of recognition as she drew near. He turned, saw her,
and in a bewildered way opened his arms. She dropped her bundles and
bandbox heedlessly into the snow, and threw herself upon his breast,
hiding her face on his threadbare coat, and sobbing audibly.

Mr. Boyce had been entirely unprepared for this demonstration, and
looked wonderingly upon the couple who stood in the path before him.
After a moment or two of silent inspection he made as if to pass them,
but they did not move. The girl still hid her face, although she had
ceased to weep, and Lawton bent his head down over hers, with tears in
his eyes and his gaze fixed vaguely on the snow beyond her, while
he tenderly patted her shoulder with the hand that did not hold the
half-dollar.

“All right, then, Ben,” Mr. Boyce called out. “If you’ll just let me
pass, I’ll walk on. Have the things there by five.”

At the first sound of this voice, the girl raised her head. She turned
now, her tear-stained face luminous with a deep, wrathful emotion, and
looked at the speaker.

The young man did not for more than an instant try to meet this glance.
His cheek flushed and his eyes sought the ground. He lifted his hand
with a hurried, awkward gesture toward his hat, made a hasty plunge
around them through the snow, and walked swiftly away past the gate into
the dépôt.

The girl’s intent gaze followed the retiring Mr. Boyce until he
disappeared. Then it shifted suddenly and fell upon the face of Ben
Lawton, from whose embrace she had now withdrawn.

The poor man made no effort whatsoever to brave its searching and
reproachful inquiry. He balanced the half-dollar on his mitten’s edge,
watched the exercise with a piteously futile pretence of interest, and
looked as if he was about to cry.

“What ‘things’ were those he spoke of, father?” she asked, after a long
pause.

The passengers who had temporarily left the train for the doubtful
solace of the refreshment counter were beginning now to return. Some of
them jostled past the couple who stood blocking the narrow path; and one
of these, a stout and choleric man in a silk skull-cap and a fur-lined
overcoat, brusquely kicked the big valise out of the way, overturning it
in the snow. Lawton had not found the courage necessary for a complete
explanation. He bent over now, set the bag on its bottom again, and made
partial answer:

“This is one of ’em.”

The heavy train, snow-capped and sombre, began to draw out of the yard.
The two Lawtons stood and silently watched it unfold its length--saw
first the broad, plate-glass panes of the drawing-room and sleeping
cars, with their luxurious shadows and glimpses of well-groomed heads
and costly stuffs behind, glide slowly, sedately by; then, more rapidly,
the closer-set windows of the yellow, common cars, through the steam on
which visions of hats and faces dimly crowded; and last, the diminishing
rear platform, with its solitary brakeman vehemently whirling the
horizontal wheel of the brake--grow small, then indistinct, then vanish
altogether. A sense of desertion, of having been left behind, seemed to
brood over the old clapboarded dépôt like a cloud, darkening the ashen
masses of snow round about and chilling the very air.

The daughter looked once more at her father.

“You are going to carry _his_ things!” she said, with a stern, masterful
inflection in her voice, and with flashing eyes.

“Hope-to-die, Jess, I tried as hard as I could to get out of it--made
all sorts of excuses,” Lawton pleaded, shrinking meantime from her gaze,
and furtively but clumsily slipping the coin into his pocket. “But you
know the kind of fellow Hod is--” he stammered here with confusion, and
made haste to add--“what I mean is--he--well, he just wouldn’t take no
for an answer.”

She went, on coldly, as if she had not heard: “You have got _his_
money--I saw it--there in your hand.”

“Well, I tell you what, Jess,” the father answered, with an accession
of boldness, “half-dollars don’t grow on every bush up this way. I
ain’t seen one afore in a fortnight. And to-morrow’s Thanksgiving, you
know--and then you’ve come home--and what was a fellow to do?”

The girl turned, as if it were fruitless to say more. Then the necessity
for relief mastered her: she faced him again, and ground the words from
between her set teeth with scornful sadness:

“You take _his_ money--_and yet you knew!_”



CHAPTER II.--CONFRONTING THE ORDEAL.

 JESSICA Lawton stood on the sidewalk outside the dépôt, and waited for
the return of her father, who had gone in search of the expressman.

The street up and down which she glanced was in a sense familiar to her,
for she had been born and reared on a hillside road not far away, and
until her eighteenth year had beheld no finer or more important place
than this Thessaly--which once had seemed so big and grand, and now,
despite the obvious march of “improvement,” looked so dwarfed and
countrified in its overlarge, misfitting coat of snow.

She found herself puzzled vaguely by the confusion of objects she
remembered with things which appeared not at all to belong to the scene.
There was the old Dearborn House, for example, on the same old corner,
with its high piazza overhanging both streets, and its seedy brown
clapboard sides that had needed a fresh painting as long as she could
recollect--and had not got it yet. But beside it, where formerly had
been a long, straggling line of decrepit sheds, was reared now a tall,
narrow, flat-roofed brick building--the village fire-engine house;
and through the half-open door, in which a man and a bull-dog stood
surveying her, she could see the brassy brightness of a huge modern
machine within. It seemed only yesterday that the manhood of Thessaly
had rejoiced and perspired over the heavy, unwieldy wheeled pump which
was dragged about with ropes and worked by means of long hand-brakes,
with twelve men on a side, and a ducking from the hose for all shirkers.
And here was a citified brick engine-house, and a “steamer” drawn by
horses!

Everywhere, as she looked, this incongruous jumbling of the familiar and
the novel forced itself upon the girl’s attention. And neither the old
nor the new bore on its face any welcome for her.

In a narrower and more compact street than this main thoroughfare of
Thessaly, the people in view would have constituted almost a crowd. The
stores all seemed to be doing a thriving business, particularly if those
who lounged about looking in the windows might be counted upon presently
to buy something. Both sides of the road were lined with rustic sleighs,
drawn up wherever paths had been cut through the deep snow to the
sidewalks; and farmers in big overcoats, comforters, and mittens were
visible by scores, spreading buffalo-robes over their horses, or getting
out armfuls of turkeys and tubs of butter from the straw in the bottoms
of their sleds, or stamping with their heavy boots on the walks for
warmth, as they discussed prices and the relative badness of the various
snow-blocked roads in the vicinity. Farther down the street a load of
hay had tipped over in the middle of the road, and the driver, an
old man with a faded army-overcoat and long hair, was hurling loud
imprecations at some boys who had snowballed him, and who now, from a
safe distance, yelled back impolite rejoinders.

Among all who passed, Jessica caught sight of no accustomed face. In a
way, indeed, they were all familiar enough: they were types in feature
and voice and dress and manner of the people among whom her whole
earlier life had been spent. But she knew none of them--and was at once
glad of this, and very melancholy.

She had done a rash and daring thing in coming back to Dearborn County.
It had seemed the right thing to do, and she had found the strength
and resolution to do it. But there had been many moments of quaking
trepidation during the long railroad journey from Tecumseh that day, and
she was conscious now, as she looked about her, of a well-nigh complete
collapse of courage. The tears would come, and she had more than once
furtively to lift her handkerchief to her face.

It was not a face with which one, at first glance, would readily
associate tears. The features were regularly, almost firmly cut; and
the eyes--large, fine eyes though they were--had commonly a wide awake,
steady, practical look, which expressed anything rather than weakness.
The effect of the countenance, as a whole, suggested an energetic,
self-contained young woman, who knew her way about, who was likely to
be neither cheated nor flattered out of her rights, and who distinctly
belonged to the managing division of the human race. This conception of
her was aided by the erect, independent carriage of her shoulders, which
made her seem taller than she really was, and by the clever simplicity
of her black tailor-made jacket and dress, and her round, shapely,
turban-like hat.

But if one looked closely into this face, here in the snowlight of the
November afternoon, there would be found sundry lines and shadows
of sensibility and of suffering which were at war with its general
expression. And these, when one caught them, had an air of being new,
and of not yet having had time to lay definite hold upon the face
itself. They were nearer it now, perhaps, as the tears came, than
they had often been before, yet even now both they and the moisture
glistening on the long lashes, appeared foreign to the calm immobility
of the countenance. Tears did not seem to belong there, nor smiles.

Yet a real smile did all at once move to softness the compressed lines
of her lips, and bring color to her cheeks and a pleasant mellowing
of glance into her eyes. She had been striving to occupy her
all-too-introspective mind by reading the signs with which the
house-fronts were thickly covered; and here, on a doorway close beside
her, was one at sight of which her whole face brightened. And it was
a charming face now--a face to remember--with intelligence and fine
feeling and frank happiness in every lineament, yet with the same
curious suggestion, too, of the smile, like the tears, being rare and
unfamiliar.

The sign was a small sheet of tin, painted in yellow letters on a black
ground:

                        REUBEN TRACY,

                   Attorney and Counsellor at Law,

                        Second Floor.

“Oh, he is here, then; he has come back!” she said aloud. She repeated,
with an air of enjoying the sound of the words: “He has come back.”

She walked up to the sign, read it over and over again, and even touched
it, in a meditative way, with the tip of her gloved finger. The smile
came to her face once more as she murmured: “_He_ will know--he will
make it easier for me.”

But even as she spoke the sad look spread over her face again. She
walked back to the place where she had been standing, and looked
resolutely away from the sign--at the tipped-over load of hay, at the
engine-house, at the sleighs passing to and fro--through eyes dimmed
afresh with tears.

Thus she still stood when her father returned. The expressman who halted
his bob-sleigh at the cutting in front of her, and who sat holding the
reins while her father piled her valise and parcels on behind, looked
her over with a half-awed, half-quizzical glance, and seemed a long time
making up his mind to speak. Finally he said:

“How d’do? Want to ride here, on the seat, longside of me?”

There was an indefinable something in his tone, and in the grin that
went with it, which she resented quickly.

“I had no idea of riding at all,” she made answer.

Her father, who had seated himself on a trunk in the centre of the
sleigh, interposed. “Why, Jess, you remember Steve, don’t you?” he
asked, apologetically.

The expressman and the girl looked briefly at one another, and nodded in
a perfunctory manner.

Lawton went on: “He offered himself to give us a lift as far as the
house. He’s goin’ that way--ain’t you, Steve?”

The impulse was strong in Jessica to resist--precisely why she might
have found it difficult to explain--but apparently there was no choice
remaining to her. “Very well, then,” she said, “I will sit beside you,
father.”

She stepped into the sleigh at this, and took her seat on the other end
of the big trunk. The express-man gave a slap of the lines and a cluck
to the horse, which started briskly down the wide street, the bell at
its collar giving forth a sustained, cheery tinkle as they sped through
the snow.

“Well, what do you think--ain’t this better’n walkin’?” remarked Lawton,
after a time, knocking his heels in a satisfied way against the side of
the trunk.

“I felt as if the walk would do me good,” she answered, simply. Her
face was impassivity itself, as she looked straight before her, over the
express-man’s shoulder.

Ben Lawton felt oppressed by the conviction that his daughter was
annoyed. Perhaps it was because he had insisted on riding--instead of
saying that he would walk too, when she had disclosed her preference. He
ventured upon an explanation, stealing wistful glances at her meantime:

“You see, Jess, Dave Rantell’s got a turkey-shoot on to-day, down at
his place, and I kind o’ thought I’d try my luck with this here
half-dollar,'fore it gets dark. The days are shortenin’ so, this season
o’ year, that I couldn’t get there without Steve give me a lift. And if
I should get a turkey--why, we’ll have a regular Thanksgiving dinner;
and with you come home, too!”

To this she did not trust herself to make answer, but kept her face
rigidly set, and her eyes fixed as if engrossed in meditation. They had
passed the great iron-works on the western outskirts of the village now,
and the road leading to the suburb of Burfield ran for a little through
almost open country. The keener wind raised here in resistance to the
rapid transit of the sleigh--no doubt it was this which brought the deep
flush to her cheeks and the glistening moisture to her eyes.

They presently overtook two young men who were trudging along abreast,
each in one of the tracks made by traffic, and who stepped aside to let
the sleigh go by.

“Hello, Hod!” called out the expressman as he passed. “I’ve got your
trunks. Come back for good?”

“Hello, Steve!... I don’t quite know yet,” was the reply which came
back--the latter half of it too late for the expressman’s ears.

Jessica had not seen the pedestrians until the sleigh was close upon
them; then, in the moment’s glimpse of them vouchsafed her, she had
recognized young Mr. Boyce, and, in looking away from him with swift
decision, had gazed full into the eyes of his companion. This other
remembered her too, it was evident, even in that brief instant of
passing, for a smile of greeting was in the glance he returned, and he
lifted his hat as she swept by.

This was Reuben Tracy, then! Despite his beard, he seemed scarcely to
have aged in face during these last five years; but he looked straighter
and stronger, and his bearing had more vigor and firmness than she
remembered of him in the days when she was an irregular pupil at the
little old Burfield-road school-house, and he was the teacher. She was
glad that he looked so hale and healthful. And had her tell-tale face,
she wondered, revealed as she passed him all the deep pleasure she felt
at seeing him again--at knowing he was near? She tried to recall whether
she had smiled, and could not make sure. But _he_ had smiled--of that
there was not a doubt; and he had known her on the instant, and had
taken off his hat, not merely jerked his finger toward it. Ah, what
delight there was in these thoughts!

She turned to her father, and lifting her voice above the jingle of the
bell, spoke with animation:

“Tell me about the second man we just, passed--Mr. Tracy. Has he been in
Thessaly long, and is he doing a good business?” She added hastily,
as if to forestall some possible misconception: “He used to be my
school-teacher, you know.”

“Guess he’s gettin’ on all right,” replied Lawton: “I hain’t heard
nothin’ to the contrary. He must a’ been back from New York along about
a year--maybe two.” To her great annoyance he shouted out to the driver:
“Steve, how long’s Rube Tracy been back in Thessaly? You keep track o’
things better’n I do.”

The expressman replied over his shoulder: “Should say about a year come
Christmas.” Then, after a moment’s pause, he transferred the reins to
his other hand, twisted himself half around on his seat, and looked
into Jessica’s face with his earlier and offensive expression of mingled
familiarity and diffidence. “He appeared to remember you: took off his
hat,” he said. There was an unmistakable leer on his lank countenance as
he added:

“That other fellow was Hod Boyce, the General’s son, you know--just come
back from the old country.”

“Yes, I know!” she made answer curtly, and turned away from him.

During what remained of the journey she preserved silence, keeping her
gaze steadily fixed on the drifted fields beyond the fence in front
of her and thinking about these two young men--at first with infinite
bitterness and loathing of the one, and then, for a longer time, and
with a soft, half-saddened pleasure, of the other.

It was passing strange that she should find herself here at all--here in
this village which for years at a time she had sworn never to see again.
But, when she thought of it, it seemed still more remarkable that at the
very outset she should see, walking together, the two men whom memory
most distinctly associated with her old life here as a girl. She had
supposed them both--her good and her evil genius--to be far away; in all
her inchoate specula-tions about how she should meet various people,
no idea of encountering either of these had risen in her mind. Yet here
they were--and walking together!

Their conjunction disturbed and vaguely troubled her. She tried over and
over again to reassure herself by saying that it was a mere accident; of
course they had been acquainted with each other for years, and they had
happened to meet, and what more natural than that they should walk on
side by side? And yet it somehow seemed wrong.

Reuben Tracy was the best man she had ever known. Poor girl--so grievous
had been her share of life’s lessons that she really thought of him
as the only good man she had ever known. In all the years of her
girlhood--unhappy, wearied, and mutinous, with squalid misery at home,
and no respite from it possible outside which, looked back upon at this
distance, did not seem equally coarse and repellent--there had been but
this solitary gleam of light, the friendship of Reuben Tracy. Striving
now to recall the forms in which this friendship had been manifested,
she was conscious that there was not much to remember. He had simply
impressed her as a wise and unselfish friend--that was all. The example
of kindness, gentleness, of patient industry which he had set before her
in the rude, bare-walled little school-room, and which she felt now had
made a deep and lasting impression on her, had been set for all the rest
as well. If sometimes he had seemed to like her better than the other
girls, his preference was of a silent, delicate, unexpressed sort--as
if prompted solely by acquaintance with her greater need for sympathy.
Without proffers of aid, almost without words, he had made her
comprehend that, if evil fell upon her, the truest and most loyal help
and counsel in all the world could be had from him for the asking.

The evil had fallen, in one massed, cruel, stunning stroke, and she had
staggered blindly away--away anywhere, anyhow, to any fate. Almost her
instincts had persuaded her to go to him; but he was a young man, only a
few years her senior--and she had gone away without seeing him. But
she had carried into the melancholy, bitter exile a strange sense of
gratitude, if so it may be called, to Reuben Tracy for the compassionate
aid he would have extended, had he known; and she said to herself now,
in her heart of hearts, that it was this good feeling which had remained
like a leaven of hope in her nature, and had made it possible for her
at last, by its mysterious and beneficent workings, to come out into the
open air again and turn her face toward the sunlight.

And he had taken off his hat to her!

The very thought newly nerved her for the ordeal which she had proposed
to herself--the task of bearing, here in the daily presence of those
among whom she had been reared, the burden of a hopelessly discredited
life.



CHAPTER III.--YOUNG MR. BOYCE’S MEDITATIONS.

 The changes in Thessaly’s external appearance did not particularly
impress young Mr. Horace Boyce as he walked down the main street in the
direction of his father’s house. For one thing, he had been here for a
fortnight only a few months before, upon his return from Europe, and had
had pointed out to him all of novelty that his native village offered.
And again, nearly four years of acquaintance with the chief capitals
of the Old World had so dulled his vision, so to speak, that it was
no longer alert to detect the presence of new engine-houses and brick
stores in the place of earlier and less imposing structures. To be
accurate, he did not think much about Thessaly, one way or the other. So
long as his walk led him along the busier part of the thoroughfare, his
attention was fully occupied by encounters and the exchange of greetings
with old school-fellows and neighbors, who all seemed glad to see him
home again; and when he had passed the last store on the street, and
had of necessity exchanged the sidewalk for one of the two deep-beaten
tracks in the centre of the drifted road, his thoughts were still upon
a more engrossing subject than the growth and prosperity of any North
American town.

They were pleasant thoughts, though, as any one might read in a glance
at his smooth-shaven, handsome face, with its satisfied half smile and
its bold, confident expression of eyes. He stopped once in his rapid
walk and stood for a minute or two in silent contemplation, just before
he reached the open stretch of country which lay like a wedge between
the two halves of the village. The white surface in front of him was
strewn here with dry boughs and twigs, broken from the elms above by
the weight of the recent snowfall. Beyond the fence some boys with
comforters tied about their ears were skating on a pond in the fields.
Mr. Boyce looked over these to the darkened middle-distance of the
wintry picture, where rose the grimy bulk and tall smoke-belching
chimneys of the Minster iron-works. He seemed to find exhilaration in
his long, intent gaze at these solid evidences of activity and wealth,
for he filled his lungs with a deep, contented draught of the nipping
air when he finally turned and resumed his walk, swinging his shoulders
and lightly tapping the crusted snowbanks at his side with his stick as
he stepped briskly forward.

The Minster iron-works were undoubtedly worth thinking about, and all
the more so because they were not new. During all the dozen or more
years of their existence they had never once been out of blast. At
seasons of extreme depression in the market, when even Pennsylvania
was idle and the poor smelters of St. Louis and Chicago could scarcely
remember when they had been last employed, these chimneys upon which he
had just looked had never ceased for a day to hurl their black clouds
into the face of the sky. They had been built by one of the
cleverest and most daring of all the strong men whom that section had
produced--the late Stephen Minster. It was he who had seen in the hills
close about the choicest combination of ores to be found in the whole
North; it was he who had brought in the capital to erect and operate the
works, who had organized and controlled the enterprise by which a direct
road to the coal-fields was opened, and who, in affording employment
to thousands and good investments to scores, had not failed to himself
amass a colossal fortune. He had been dead now nearly three years, but
the amount of his wealth, left in its entirety to his family, was still
a matter of conjecture. Popular speculation upon this point had but a
solitary clew with which to work. In a contest which arose a year before
his death, over the control of the Northern Union Telegraph Company, he
had sent down proxies representing a clear six hundred thousand dollars’
worth of shares. With this as a basis for calculation, curious people
had arrived at a shrewd estimate of his total fortune as ranging
somewhere between two and three millions of dollars.

Stephen Minster had died very suddenly, and had been sincerely mourned
by a community which owed him nothing but good-will, and could remember
no single lapse from honesty or kindliness in his whole unostentatious,
useful career. It was true that the absence of public-spirited bequests
in his will created for the moment a sense of disappointment; but the
explanation quickly set afoot--that he had not foreseen an early death,
and had postponed to declining years, which, alas! never came, the task
of apportioning a moiety of his millions among deserving charities--was
plausible enough to be received everywhere. By virtue of a testament
executed two years before--immediately after the not altogether edifying
death of his only son--all his vast property devolved upon Mrs.
Minster, and her two daughters, Kate and Ethel. Every unmarried man in
Thessaly--and perhaps, with a certain vague repining, here and there one
of the married men too--remembered all these facts each time he passed
the home of the Minsters on the Seminary road, and looked over the low
wall of masonry at the close-trimmed lawn, the costly fountain, the
gravelled carriage-drive, and the great house standing back and aloof in
stately seclusion among the trees and the rose-bushes.

Most of these facts were familiar as well to Mr. Horace Boyce. As he
strode along, filliping the snow with his cane and humming to himself,
he mentally embellished them with certain deductions drawn from
information gathered during the journey by rail from New York. The Miss
Kate Minster whom he had met was the central figure in his meditations,
as indeed she was the important personage in her family. The mother had
impressed him as an amiable and somewhat limited woman, without much
force of character; the younger daughter, Ethel, he remembered dimly, as
a delicate and under-sized girl who was generally kept home from school
by reason of ill-health, and it was evident from such remarks as the two
ladies dropped that she was still something of an invalid. But it was
clear that Miss Kate lacked neither moral nor bodily strength.

He was quite frank with himself in thinking that, apart from all
questions of money, she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever
seen. It was an added charm that her beauty fitted so perfectly the
idea of great wealth. She might have been the daughter of the millions
themselves, so tall and self-contained and regal a creature was she,
with the firm, dark face of her father reproduced in feminine grace
and delicacy of outline; with a skin as of an Oriental queen, softly
luxuriant in texture and in its melting of creamy and damask and
deepening olive hues; and with large, richly brown, deep-fringed eyes
which looked proudly and steadily on all the world, young men included.
These fine orbs were her most obvious physical inheritance from her
father. The expression “the Minster eyes,” would convey as distinct an
impression to the brain of the average Thessalian as if one had said
“the Minster iron-works.” The great founder of the millions, Stephen
Minster, had had them, and they were the notable feature of even his
impressive face. The son who was dead, Stephen junior, had also had
them, as Horace now recalled to mind; but set in his weak head they had
seemed to lose significance, and had been, in truth, very generally in
his latter years dimmed and opacated by the effects of dissipation. The
pale, sweet-faced little Ethel Minster, as he remembered her, had them
as well, although with her they were almost hazel in color, and produced
a timid, mournful effect. But to no other face in the entire family
gallery did they seem to so wholly belong of right as to the countenance
of Miss Kate.

Young Mr. Boyce’s thoughts wandered easily from the image of the
heiress to the less tangible question of her disposition, and, more
particularly, of her attitude toward him. There were obscurities here
over which a less sanguine young man might have bitten his lips. He had
ventured upon recalling himself to mother and daughter very soon after
the train left New York, and they had not shown any shadow of annoyance
when he took a vacant chair opposite them and began a conversation which
lasted, such as it was, through all the long journey. But now that he
came to think of it, his share in that conversation had been not only
the proverbial lion’s, but more nearly that of a whole zoological
garden. Mrs. Minster had not affected any especial reserve; it was
probable that she was by nature a listener rather than a talker, for she
had asked him numerous questions about himself and about Europe. As for
Miss Minster, he could scarcely recall anything she had said, what time
she was looking at him instead of at her book. And he had not always
been strictly comfortable under this look. There had been nothing
unfriendly in it, it was true, nor could it occur to anybody to suspect
in it a lack of comprehension or of interest. In fact, he said to
himself, it was eloquent with both. The trouble was, as he uneasily
attempted to define it, that she seemed to comprehend too much. Still,
after all, he had said nothing to which she could take the faintest
exception, and, if she was the intelligent woman he took her to be,
there must have been a good deal in his talk to entertain her.

Even a less felicitous phrase-maker than Horace Boyce could have
manufactured pleasant small-talk out of such experiences as his had
been. The only son of a well-to-do and important man in Thessaly, he
had had the further advantage of inheriting some twenty thousand dollars
upon attaining his majority, and after finishing his course at college
had betaken himself to Europe to pursue more recondite studies there,
both in and out of his chosen profession of the law. The fact that he
had devoted most of his attention to the gleaning of knowledge
lying beyond the technical pale of the law did not detract from the
interesting quality of his observations. Besides listening to lectures
at Heidelberg, he had listened to the orchestra swaying in unison under
the baton of Strauss at Vienna, and to a good many other things in Pesth
and Paris and Brussels and London, a large number of which could with
propriety be described in polite conversation. And he flattered himself
that he had discoursed upon these things rather cleverly, skirting
delicate points with neatness, and bringing in effective little
descriptions and humorous characterizations in quite a natural way.

Moreover, he said to himself, it had been his privilege to see America
in perspective--to stand upon a distant eminence, as it were, and look
the whole country over, by and large, at a glance. This had enabled him
on his return to discover the whimsical aspect of a good many things
which the stay-at-home natives took with all seriousness. He had
indicated some of these to the two ladies with a light and amiably
bantering touch, and with a consciousness that he was opening up novel
ground to both his hearers.

Still--he wondered if Miss Minster had really liked it. Could it be
possible that she belonged to that thin-skinned class of Americans who
cannot brook any comment upon anything in or of their country that is
not wholly eulogistic--who resent even the most harmless and obvious
pleasantry pointed at a cis-Atlantic institution? He decided this
promptly in the negative. He had met such people, but he could not
associate them in his mind with the idea of great wealth. And Miss
Minster was rich--incredibly rich. No doubt she was thinking, even while
she listened to him, of the time when she too should go to Europe, and
dazzle its golden youth with her beauty and her millions. Now that he
thought of it, he had seen much that same look before on the face of
an American heiress, on her return from a London “five-o’clock tea,” at
which she had met an eligible marquis.

Could it be that her thoughts ran, instead, upon an eligible somebody
nearer home? He devoted himself at this to canvassing the chances of her
fancy being already fixed. It was of little importance that nothing in
their conversation suggested this, because it was a subject to which
they naturally would not have alluded. Yet he recalled that Mrs. Minster
had spoken of their great seclusion more than once. He had gathered,
moreover, that they knew very few people in New York City, and that
they had little acquaintance with the section of its population which
is colloquially known as “society.” This looked mightily like a clear
field.

Young Mr. Boyce stopped to thrust his cane under a twisted branch which
lay on the snow, and toss it high over the fence, when he reached this
stage of his meditations. His squared, erect shoulders took on a more
buoyant swing than ever as he resumed his walk. A clear field, indeed!

And now as to the problem of proceeding to occupy that field. Where was
there a gap in the wall? Millions were not to be approached and gained
by simple and primitive methods, as one knocks apples off an overhanging
bough with a fence-rail. Strategy and finesse of the first order were
required. Without doubt there was an elaborate system of defences reared
around this girl of girls. Mrs. Minster’s reference to seclusion might
have itself been a warning that they lived inside a fort, and were as
ready to train a gun on him as on anybody else. Battlements of this sort
had been stormed time and time again, no doubt; human history was
full of such instances. But Mr. Boyce’s tastes were not for violent or
desperate adventures. To go over a parapet with one’s sword in one’s
teeth, in deadly peril and tempestuous triumph, might suit his father
the General: for his own part, it seemed more sagacious and indubitably
safer to tunnel under the works, and emerge on the inside at the proper
psychological moment to be welcomed as a friend and adviser.

Adviser! Who was their lawyer? The young man cast up in his mind the
list of Thessaly’s legal practitioners, as far as he could
remember them. It seemed most probable that Benoni Clarke, the
ex-district-attorney, would have the Minster business, if for no other
reason than that he needed it less than the rest did. But Mr. Clarke was
getting old, and was in feeble health as well. Perhaps he would be glad
to have a young, active, and able partner, who had had the advantage of
European study. Or it might be--who could tell?--that the young man
with the European education could go in on his own account, and by sheer
weight of cleverness, energy, and superior social address win over the
Minster business. What unlimited opportunities such a post would afford
him! Not only would he be the only young man in Thessaly who had been
outside of his own country, the best talker, the best-informed man,
the best-mannered man of the place--but he would be able to exhibit
all these excellences from the favored vantage-ground of an intimate,
confidential relation. The very thought was intoxicating.

Mr. Horace Boyce was so pre-occupied with these pleasing meditations
that he overtook a man walking in the other track, and had nearly passed
him, before something familiar in the figure arrested his attention. He
turned, and recognized an old schoolmate whom he had not seen for years,
and had not expected to find in Thessaly.

“Why--Reuben Tracy, as I live!” he exclaimed, cordially. “So you’re back
again, eh? On a visit to your folks?”

The other shook hands with him. “No,” he made answer. “I’ve had an
office here for nearly a year. You are looking well. I’m glad to see you
again. Have you come back for good?”

“Yes. That’s all settled,” replied Mr. Horace, without a moment’s
hesitation.



CHAPTER IV.--REUBEN TRACY.

 The two young men walked along together, separated by the ridge of
snow between the tracks. They had never been more than friendly
acquaintances, and they talked now of indifferent topics--of the grim
climatic freak which had turned late November into mid-winter, of
the results of the recent elections, and then of English weather
and politics as contrasted with ours. It was a desultory enough
conversation, for each had been absorbed in his own mind by thoughts
a thousand leagues away from snowfalls and partisan strife, and the
transition back to amiable commonplaces was not easy.

The music of a sleigh-bell, which for some time had been increasing in
volume behind them, swelled suddenly into a shrill-voiced warning
close at their backs, and they stepped aside into the snow to let the
conveyance pass. It was then that the express-man called out his cheery
greeting, and that Reuben lifted his hat.

As the sleigh grew small in the near distance, Reuben turned to his
companion. “I notice that you told him you weren’t quite sure about
staying here for good,” he remarked. “Perhaps I was mistaken--I
understood you to say a few minutes ago that it was all settled.”

Horace was not to be embarrassed by so slight a discrepancy as
this--although for the instant the reappearance of Jessica had sent his
wits tripping--and he was ready with a glib explanation.

“What I meant was that I am quite settled in my desire to stay here.
But of course there is just a chance that there may be no opening, and I
don’t want to prematurely advertise what may turn out a failure. By the
way, wasn’t that that Lawton girl?”

“Yes--Ben Lawton’s oldest daughter.”

Reuben’s tone had a slow preciseness in it which caused Horace to glance
closely at him, and wonder if it were possible that it masked some
ulterior meaning. Then he reflected that Reuben had always taken serious
views of things, and talked in that grave, measured way, and that this
was probably a mere mannerism. So he continued, with a careless voice:

“I haven’t seen her in years--should scarcely have known her. Isn’t it a
little queer, her coming back?”

Reuben Tracy was a big man, with heavy shoulders, a large, impassive
countenance, and an air which to the stranger suggested lethargy. It was
his turn to look at Horace now, and he did so with a deliberate, steady
gaze, to which the wide space between his eyes and the total absence
of lines at the meeting of his brows lent almost the effect of a stare.
When he had finished this inspection of his companion’s face, he asked
simply:

“Why?”

“Well, of course, I have only heard it from others--but there seems to
be no question about it--that she--”

“That she has been a sadly unfortunate and wretched girl,” interposed
Reuben, finishing the sentence over which the other hesitated. “No, you
are right. There _is_ no question about that--no question whatever.”

“Well, that is why I spoke as I did--why I am surprised at seeing her
here again. Weren’t you yourself surprised?”

“No, I knew that she was coming. I have a letter telling me the train
she would arrive by.”

“Oh!”

The two walked on in silence for a minute or two. Then Horace said, with
a fine assumption of good feeling and honest regret:

“I spoke thoughtlessly, old fellow; of course I couldn’t know that you
were interested in--in the matter. I truly hope I didn’t say anything to
wound your feelings.”

“Not at all,” replied Reuben. “How should you? What you said is what
everybody will say--must say. Besides, my feelings are of no interest
whatever, so far as this affair is concerned. It is her feelings that I
am thinking of; and the more I think--well, the truth is, I am
completely puzzled. I have never in all my experience been so wholly at
sea.”

Manifestly Horace could do nothing at this juncture but look his
sympathy. To ask any question might have been to learn nothing. But his
curiosity was so great that he almost breathed a sigh of relief when
Reuben spoke again, even though the query he put had its disconcerting
side:

“I daresay you never knew much about her before she left Thessaly?”

“I knew her by sight, of course, just as a village boy knows everybody.
I take it you did know her. I can remember that she was a pretty girl.”

If there was an underlying hint in this conjunction of sentences, it
missed Reuben’s perception utterly. He replied in a grave tone:

“She was in my school, up at the Burfield. And if you had asked me in
those days to name the best-hearted girl, the brightest girl, the one
who in all the classes had the making of the best woman in her, I don’t
doubt that I should have pointed to her. That is what makes the thing so
inexpressibly sad to me now; and, what is more, I can’t in the least see
my way.”

“Your way to what?”

“Why, to helping her, of course. She has undertaken something that
frightens me when I think of it. This is the point: She has made up her
mind to come back here, earn her own living decently, face the past out
and live it down here among those who know that past best.”

“That’s a resolution that will last about three weeks.”

“No, I think she is determined enough. But I fear that she cruelly
underestimates the difficulties of her task. To me it looks hopeless,
and I’ve thought it over pretty steadily the last few days.”

“Pardon my asking you,” said Horace, “but you have confided thus far
in me--what the deuce have you got to do with either her success or her
failure?”

“I’ve told you that I was her teacher,” answered Reuben, still with the
slow, grave voice. “That in itself would give me an interest in her. But
there has been a definite claim made on me in her behalf. You remember
Seth Fairchild, don’t you?”

“Perfectly. He edits a paper down in Tecumseh, doesn’t he? He did, I
know, when I went abroad.”

“Yes. Well, his wife--who was his cousin, Annie Fairchild, and who took
the Burfield school after I left it to study law--she happens to be an
angel. She is the sort of woman who, when you know her, enables you
to understand all the exalted and sublime things that have ever been
written about her sex. Well, a year or so after she married Seth and
went to live in Tecumseh, she came to hear about poor Jessica Lawton,
and her woman’s heart prompted her to hunt the girl up and give her a
chance for her life. I don’t know much about what followed--this all
happened a good many months ago--but I get a letter now from Seth,
telling me that the girl is resolved to come home, and that his wife
wants me to do all I can to help her.”

“Well, that’s what I call letting a friend in for a particularly nice
thing.”

“Oh, don’t misunderstand me,” said Reuben; “I shall be only too glad if
I can serve the poor girl. But how to do it--that’s what troubles me.”

“Her project is a crazy one, to begin with. I wonder that sane people
like the Fairchilds should have encouraged it.”

“I don’t think they did. My impression is that they regarded it as
unwise and tried to dissuade her from it. Seth doesn’t write as if he
thought she would succeed.”

“No, I shouldn’t say there was much danger of it. She will be back
again in Tecumseh before Christmas.” After a pause Horace added, in a
confidential way: “It’s none of my business, old fellow; but if I were
you I’d be careful how I acted in this matter. You can’t afford to be
mixed up with her in the eyes of the people here. Of course your motives
are admirable, but you know what an overgrown village is for gossip. You
won’t be credited with good intentions or any disinterestedness, believe
me.”

This seemed to be a new view of the situation to Reuben. He made no
immediate answer, but walked along with his gaze bent on the track
before him and his hands behind his back. At last he said, with an air
of speaking to himself:

“But if one does mean well and is perfectly clear about it in his own
mind, how far ought he to allow his course to be altered by the possible
misconceptions of others? That opens up a big question, doesn’t it?”

“But you have said that you were not clear about it--that you were all
at sea.”

“As to means, yes; but not as to motives.”

“Nobody but you will make the distinction. And you have your practice to
consider--the confidence of your clients. Fancy the effect it will have
on them--your turning up as the chief friend and patron of a--of the
Lawton girl! You can’t afford it.” Reuben looked at his companion again
with the same calm, impassive gaze. Then he said slowly: “I can see how
the matter presents itself to you. I had thought first of going to the
dépôt to meet her; but, on consideration, it seemed better to wait and
have a talk with her after she had seen her family. I am going out to
their place now.”

The tone in which this announcement was made served to change the topic
of conversation. The talk became general again, and Horace turned
it upon the subject of the number of lawyers in town, their relative
prosperity and value, and the local condition of legal business. He
found that he was right in guessing that Mr. Clarke enjoyed Thessaly’s
share of the business arising from the Minster ironworks, and that this
share was more important than formerly, when all important affairs were
in the hands of a New York firm. He was interested, too, in what Reuben
Tracy revealed about his own practice.

“Oh, I have nothing to complain of,” Reuben said, in response to a
question. “It is a good thing to be kept steadily at work--good for a
man’s mind as well as for his pocket. Latterly I have had almost too
much to attend to, since the railroad business on this division was put
in my charge; and I grumble to myself sometimes over getting so little
spare time for reading and for other things I should like to attempt.
I suppose a good many of the young lawyers here would call that an
ungrateful frame of mind. Some of them have a pretty hard time of it, I
am afraid. Occasionally I can put some work in their way; but it isn’t
easy, because clients seem to resent having their business handled by
unsuccessful men. That would be an interesting thing to trace, wouldn’t
it?--the law of the human mind which prompts people to boost a man as
soon as he has shown that he can climb without help, and to pull down
those who could climb well enough with a little assistance.”

“So you think there isn’t much chance for still another young lawyer to
enter the field here?” queried Horace, bringing the discussion back to
concrete matters.

“Oh, that’s another thing,” replied Reuben. “There is no earthly reason
why you shouldn’t try. There are too many lawyers here, it is true, but
then I suppose there are too many lawyers everywhere--except heaven. A
certain limited proportion of them always prosper--the rest don’t. It
depends upon yourself which class you will be in. Go ahead, and if I can
help you in any way I shall be very glad.”

“You’re kind, I’m sure. But, you know, it won’t be as if I came a
stranger to the place,” said Horace. “My father’s social connections
will help me a good deal”--Horace thought he noted a certain incredulous
gesture by his companion here, and wondered at it, but went on--“and
then my having studied in Europe ought to count. I have another
advantage, too, in being on very friendly terms with Mrs. and Miss
Minster. I rode up with them from New York to-day, and we had a long
talk. I don’t want anything said about it yet, but it looks mightily as
if I were to get the whole law business of the ironworks and of their
property in general.”

Young Mr. Boyce did not wince or change color under the meditative gaze
with which Reuben regarded him upon hearing this; but he was conscious
of discomfort, and he said to himself that his companion’s way of
staring like an introspective ox at people was unpleasant.

“That would be a tremendous start for you,” remarked Reuben at last. “I
hope you won’t be disappointed in it.”

“It seems a tolerably safe prospect,” answered Horace, lightly. “You say
that you’re overworked.”

“Not quite that, but I don’t get as much time as I should like for
outside matters. I want to go on the school board here, for example--I
see ever so many features of the system which seem to me to be flaws,
and which I should like to help remedy--but I can’t spare the time. And
then there is the condition of the poor people in the quarter grown up
around the iron-works and the factories, and the lack of a good library,
and the saloon question, and the way in which the young men and boys of
the village spend their evenings, and so on. These are the things I
am really interested in; and instead of them I have to devote all my
energies to deeds and mortgages and specifications for trestle-works.
That’s what I meant.”

“Why don’t you take in a partner? That would relieve you of a good deal
of the routine.”

“Do you know, I’ve thought of that more than once lately. I daresay that
if the right sort of a young man had been at hand, the idea would have
attracted me long ago. But, to tell the truth, there isn’t anybody in
Thessaly who meets precisely my idea of a partner--whom I quite feel
like taking into my office family, so to speak.”

“Perhaps I may want to talk with you again on this point,” said Horace.

To this Reuben made no reply, and the two walked on for a few moments in
silence.

They were approaching a big, ungainly, shabby-looking structure, which
presented a receding roof, a row of windows with small, old-fashioned
panes of glass, and a broad, rickety veranda sprawling the whole width
of its front, to the highway on their left. This had once been a rural
wayside tavern, but now, by the encircling growth of the village, it had
taken on a hybrid character, and managed to combine in a very complete
way the coarse demerits of a town saloon with the evil license of a
suburban dive. Its location rendered it independent of most of the
restrictions which the village authorities were able to enforce
in Thessaly itself, and this freedom from restraint attracted the
dissipated imagination of town and country alike. It was Dave Rantell’s
place, and being known far and wide as the most objectionable resort in
Dearborn County, was in reality much worse than its reputation.

The open sheds at the side of the tavern were filled with horses and
sleighs, and others were ranged along at the several posts by the
roadside in front--these latter including some smart city cutters, and
even a landau on runners. From the farther side of the house came, at
brief intervals, the sharp report of rifle-shots, rising loud above the
indistinct murmuring of a crowd’s conversation.

“It must be a turkey-shoot,” said Reuben. “This man Rantell has them
every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he added, as they came in
view of the scene beyond the tavern. “There! Have you seen anything
in Europe like that?” Let it be stated without delay that there was no
trace of patriotic pride in his tone.

The wide gate of the tavern yard was open, and the path through it
had been trampled smooth by many feet. In the yard just beyond were
clustered some forty or fifty men, standing about in the snow, and with
their backs to the road. Away in the distance, and to the right, were
visible two or three slouching figures of men. Traversing laterally and
leftward the broad, unbroken field of snow, the eye caught a small,
dark object on the great white sheet; if the vision was clear and
far-sighted, a closer study would reveal this to be a bird standing
alone in the waste of whiteness, tied by the leg to a stake near by,
and waiting to be shot at. The attention of every man in the throng was
riveted on this remote and solitary fowl. There was a deep hush for a
fraction of a second after each shot. Then the turkey either hopped to
one side, which meant that the bullet had gone whistling past, or sank
to the ground after a brief wild fluttering of wings. In the former
case, another loaded rifle was handed out, and suspense began again; in
the latter event, there ensued a short intermission devoted to beverages
and badinage, the while a boy started across the fields toward the
throng with the dead turkey, and the distant slouching figures busied
themselves in tying up a new feathered target.

“No, it isn’t what you would call elevating, is it?” said Horace, as
the two stood looking over the fence upon the crowd. “Still, it has its
interest as a national product. I’ve seen dog-fights and cock-mains in
England attended by whole thousands of men, that were ever so much worse
than this. If you think of it, this isn’t particularly brutal, as such
sports go.”

“But what puzzles me is that men should like such sports at all,” said
Reuben.

“At any rate,” replied Horace, “we’re better off in that respect than
the English are. The massacre of rats in a pit is a thing that you can
get an assemblage of nobility, and even royalty, for, over there.
Now, that isn’t even relatively true here. Take this turkey-shoot of
Rantell’s, for example. You won’t find any gentlemen here; that is,
anybody who sets up to be a gentleman in either the English or the
American sense of the word.”

As if in ironical answer, a sharp, strident voice rose above the vague
babble of the throng inside the yard, and its accents reached the two
young men with painful distinctness:

“I’ll bet five dollars that General Boyce kills his six birds in ten
shots--bad cartridges barred!”



CHAPTER V.--THE TURKEY-SHOOT.

 The compassionate Reuben was quick to feel the humiliation with which
this brawling announcement of the General’s presence must cover the
General’s son. It had been apparent to him before that Horace would have
to considerably revise the boyish estimate of his father’s position and
importance which, he brought back with him from Europe. But it was cruel
to have the work of disillusion begun in this rude, blunt form. He tried
to soften the effect of the blow.

“It isn’t as bad as all that,” he said, tacitly ignoring what they had
just heard. “No doubt some rough people do come to these gatherings;
but, on the other hand, if a man is fond of shooting, why, don’t you
see, this furnishes him with the best kind of test of his skill. Really,
there is no reason why he shouldn’t come--and--besides--”

Reuben was not clever at saying things he did not wholly mean, and his
good-natured attempt to gloss over the facts came to an abrupt halt from
sheer lack of ideas.

“I suppose I shall have to learn to be a Thessalian all over again,”
 said Horace. “If you don’t mind, well go in. It’s just as well to see
the thing.”

Suiting the action to the word, he moved toward the gate. Reuben
hesitated for a moment, and then, with an “All right--for a few
minutes”--followed him into the yard. The two young men stood upon the
outskirts of the crowd for a time, and then, as opportunity favored,
edged their way through until they were a part of the inner half-ring
around a table, upon which were rifles, cartridges, cleaning rags, a
bottle and some tumblers. At their feet, under and about the table, lay
several piles of turkeys. The largest of these heaps, containing some
dozen birds, was, as they were furtively informed by a small boy, the
property of the “General.”

This gentleman, who stood well to the front of the table, might be
pardoned for not turning around to note the presence of new-comers,
since he himself had some money wagered on his work. He had on the
instant fired his third shot, and stood with the smoking gun lowered,
and his eyes fixed on the target in concentrated expectancy. The turkey
made a movement and somebody called out “hit!” But the General’s keen
vision told him better. “No, it was a line shot,” he said, “a foot too
high.” He kept his gaze still fixed on the remote object, mechanically
taking the fresh gun which was handed to him, but not immediately
raising it to his shoulder.

General Sylvanus--familiarly called “Vane”--Boyce was now close
upon sixty, of middle height and a thick and portly figure, and with
perfectly white, close-cropped hair and mustache. His face had in its
day boasted both regular, well-cut features and a clear complexion. But
the skin was now of one uniform florid tint, even to the back of his
neck, and the outlines of the profile were blurred and fattened. His
gray eyes, as they swept the field of snow, had still their old, sharp,
commanding glance, but they looked out from red and puffy lids.

Just as he lifted his gun, an interested bystander professed to discover
Horace for the first time, and called out exuberantly: “Why, hello, Hod!
I say, ‘Vane,'here’s your boy Hod!”

“Oh, here, fair play!” shouted some of the General’s backers; “you
mustn’t try that on--spoiling his aim in that way.” Their solicitude was
uncalled for.

“Damn my boy Hod, and you too!” remarked the General calmly, raising his
rifle with an uninterrupted movement, levelling it with deliberation,
firing, and killing his bird.

Amid the hum of conversation which arose at this, the General turned,
laid his gun down, and stepped across the space to where Horace and
Reuben stood.

“Well, my lad,” he said heartily, shaking his son’s hand, “I’m glad to
see you back. I’d have been at the dépôt to meet you, only I had this
match on with Blodgett, and the money was up. I hope you didn’t mind my
damning you just now--I daresay I haven’t enough influence to have it
do you much harm--and it was Grigg’s scheme to rattle my nerve just as
I was going to shoot. How are you, anyway? How de do, Tracy? What’ll
you both drink? This is rye whiskey here, but they’ll bring out anything
else you want.”

“I’ll take a mouthful of this,” said Horace; “hold on, not so much.” He
poured back some of the generous portion which had been given him, and
touched glasses with his father.

“You’re sure you won’t have anything, Tracy?” said the General. “No? You
don’t know what’s good for you. Standing around in the cold here, a man
needs something.”

“But I’m not going to stand around in the cold,” answered Reuben with a
half-smile. “I must be going on in a moment or two.”

“Don’t go yet,” said the General, cheerily, as he put down his glass
and took up the gun. “Wait and see me shoot my score. I’ve got the range
now.”

“You’ve got to kill every bird but one, now, General,” said one of his
friends, in admonition.

“All right; don’t be afraid,” replied the champion, in a confident tone.

But it turned out not to be all right. The seventh shot was a miss, and
so was the tenth, upon which, as the final and conclusive one, great
interest hung. Some of those who had lost money by reason of their
faith in the General seemed to take it to heart, but the General himself
displayed no sign of gloom. He took another drink, and then emptied his
pockets of all the bank-bills they contained, and distributed them among
his creditors with perfect amiability. There was not enough money to go
around, evidently, for he called out in a pleasant voice to his son:

“Come here a minute, Hod. Have you got thirty dollars loose in your
pocket? I’m that much short.” He pushed about the heap of limp turkeys
on the snow under the table with one foot, in amused contemplation, and
added: “These skinny wretches have cost us about nine dollars apiece.
You might at least have fed ’em a trifle better, Dave.”

Horace produced the sum mentioned and handed it over to his father with
a somewhat subdued, not to say rueful, air. He did not quite like the
way in which the little word “us” had been used.

While the General was light-heartedly engaged in apportioning out his
son’s money, and settling his bill, a new man came up, and, taking a
rifle in his hands, inquired the price of a shot. He was told that it
was ten cents, and to this information was added with cold emphasis the
remark that before he fooled with the guns he must put down his money.

“Oh, I’ve got the coin fast enough,” said the newcomer, ringing four
dimes on the table.

“Wait a moment,” said Horace to his father and Reuben, who were about
to quit the yard. “Let’s watch Ben Lawton shoot. I might as well see the
last of my half-dollar. He’s had one drink out of it already.”

Lawton lifted the gun as if he were accustomed to firearms, and after
he had made sure of his footing on the hard-trodden snow, took a long,
careful aim, and fired. It was with evident sorrow that he saw the snow
fly a few feet to one side of the turkey. He decided to have only two
shots more, and one drink, and the drink first--a drink of such full
and notable dimensions that Dave Rantell was half-tempted to intervene
between the cup and the lip. The two shots which followed were very good
shots indeed--one of them even seemed to have cut some feathers into the
air--but they killed no turkey.

Poor Ben looked for a long time after his last bullet, as if in some
vague hope that it might have paused on the way, and would resume its
fatal course in due season. Then he laid the rifle down with a deep
sigh, and walked slowly out, with his hands plunged dejectedly into his
trousers pockets, and his shoulders more rounded than ever. The habitual
expression of helpless melancholy which his meagre, characterless visage
wore was deepened now to despair.

“Well, Ben,” said Horace to him, as he shuffled past them, “you were
right. You might just as well have hung around the dépôt, and let some
one else carry my things. You’ve got no more to show for it now than if
you had.”

The young man spoke in the tone of easy, paternal banter which
prosperous people find it natural to adopt toward their avowedly weak
and foolish brethren, and it did not occur to Lawton to resent it. He
stopped, and lifted his head just high enough to look in a gloomy way
at Horace and his companions for a moment; then he dropped it again
and turned to resume his course without answering. On second thought he
halted, and without again looking up, groaned out:

“There ain’t another such a darned worthless fool as I be in the whole
darned county. I don’t know what I’ll say to her. I’m a good mind not
to go home at all. Here I was, figurin’ on havin’ a real Thanksgiving
dinner for her, to try and make her feel glad she’d come back amongst us
again; and if I’d saved my money and fired all five shots, I’d a got
a bird, sure--and that’s what makes me so blamed mad. It’s always my
darned luck!”

While he spoke a boy came up to them, dragging a hand-sled upon which
General Boyce’s costly collection of poultry was piled. Horace stopped
the lad, and took from the top of the heap two of the best of the fowls.

“Here, Ben,” he said, “take these home with you. We’ve got more than we
know what to do with. We should only give them away to people who didn’t
need them.”

Lawton had been moved almost to tears by the force of his
self-depreciatory emotions. His face brightened now on the instant,
as he grasped the legs of the turkeys and felt their weight. He looked
satisfiedly down at their ruffling circumference of blue-black feathers,
and at their pimply pink heads dragging sidewise on the snow.

“You’re a regular brick, Hod,” he said, with more animation than it was
his wont to display. “They’ll be tickled to death down to the house. I’m
obliged to you, and so she’ll be--”

He stopped short, weighed the birds again in his hand with a saddened
air, and held them out toward Horace. All the joy had gone out of his
countenance and tone.

“No; I’m much obliged to you, Hod, but I can’t take ’em,” he said,
with pathetic reluctance.

“Nonsense!” replied the young man, curtly. “Don’t make a fool of
yourself twice in the same afternoon. Of course you’ll take them. Only
go straight home with them, instead of selling them for drinks.”

Horace turned upon his heel as he spoke and rejoined his father and
Reuben, who had walked on slowly ahead. The General had been telling
his companion some funny story, and his eyes were still twinkling with
merriment as his son came up, and he repeated to him the gist of his
humorous narrative.

Horace did not seem to appreciate the joke, and kept a serious face even
at the most comical part of the anecdote. This haunting recurrence of
the Lawton business, as he termed it in his thoughts, annoyed him; and
still more was he disturbed and vexed by what he had seen of his father.
During his previous visit to Thessaly upon his return from Europe,
some months before, the General had been leading a temperate and almost
monastic life under the combined restraints of rheumatism and hay-fever,
and this present revelation of his tastes and habits came therefore in
the nature of a surprise to Horace. The latter was unable to find
any elements of pleasure in this surprise, and scowled at the snow
accordingly, instead of joining in his father’s laughter. Besides, the
story was not altogether of the kind which sits with most dignity on
paternal lips.

The General noted his son’s solemnity and deferred to it. “I’m glad you
gave that poor devil the turkeys,” he said. “I suppose they’re as poor
as they make ’em. Only--what do you think, Tracy; as long as I’d shot
all the birds, I might have been consulted, eh, about giving them away?”

The query was put in a jocular enough tone, but it grated upon the young
man’s mood. “I don’t think the turkey business is one that either of us
particularly shines in,” he replied, with a snap in his tone. “You say
that your turkeys cost you nine dollars apiece. Apparently I am by way
of paying fifteen dollars each for my two.”

“‘By way of’--that’s an English expression, isn’t it?” put in Reuben,
hastily, to avert the threatened domestic dispute. “I’ve seen it in
novels, but I never heard it used before.”

The talk was fortunately turned at this from poultry to philology; and
the General, though he took no part in the conversation, evinced no
desire to return to the less pleasant subject. Thus the three walked
on to the corner where their ways separated. As they stood here for the
parting moment, Reuben said in an aside to Horace:

“That was a kindly act of yours--to give Lawton the turkeys. I can’t
tell you how much it pleased me. Those little things show the character
of a man. If you like to come down to my office Friday, and are still of
the same mind about a partnership, we will talk it over.”



CHAPTER VI.--THANKSGIVING AT THE MINSTERS’.

 I REMEMBER having years ago been introduced to one of America’s richest
men, as he sat on the broad veranda of a Saratoga hotel in the full
glare of the morning sunlight. It is evident that at such a solemn
moment I should have been filled with valuable and impressive
reflections; yet, such is the perversity and wrong-headedness of the
human mind, I could for the life of me evolve no weightier thought than
this: “Here is a man who can dispose of hundreds of millions of dollars
by a nod of the head, yet cannot with all this countless wealth command
a dye for his whiskers which will not turn violet in the sunshine!”

The sleek and sober-visaged butler who moved noiselessly about the
dining-room of the Minster household may have had some such passing
vision of the vanity of riches, as he served what was styled a
Thanksgiving dinner. Vast as the fortune was, it could not surround
that board with grateful or lighthearted people upon even this selected
festal day.

The room itself must have dampened any but the most indomitably cheerful
spirits. It had a sombre and formal aspect, to which the tall oleanders
and dwarf palms looking through the glass on the conservatory side lent
only an added sense of coldness. The furniture was of dark oak and
even darker leather; the walls were panelled in two shades of the same
serious tint; the massive, carved sideboard and the ponderous mantel
declined to be lifted out of their severe dignity by such trivial
accessories as silver and rare china and vases of flowers. There were
pictures in plenty, and costly lace curtains inside the heavy outer
hangings at the windows, and pretty examples of embroidery here and
there which would have brightened any less resolutely grave environment:
in this room they went for nothing, or next to nothing.

Four women sat at this Thanksgiving dinner, and each, being in her own
heart conscious of distinct weariness, politely took it for granted that
the others were enjoying their meal.

Talk languished, or fitfully flared up around some strictly
uninteresting subject with artificial fervor the while the butler was in
the room. His presence in the house was in the nature of an experiment,
and Mrs. Minster from time to time eyed him in a furtive way, and then
swiftly turned her glance aside on the discovery that he was eying
her. Probably he was as good as other butlers, she reflected; he was
undoubtedly English, and he had come to her well recommended by a friend
in New York. But she was unaccustomed to having a man servant in the
dining-room, and it jarred upon her to call him by his surname, which
was Cozzens, instead of by the more familiar Daniel or Patrick as she
did the gardener and the coachman. Before he came--a fortnight or so
ago--she had vaguely thought of him as in livery; but the idea of
seeing him in anything but what she called a “dress suit,” and he termed
“evening clothes,” had been definitely abandoned. What she chiefly
wished about him now was that he would not look at her all the time.

Mrs. Minster, being occupied in this way, contributed very little to
what conversation there was during the dinner. It was not her wont to
talk much at any time. She was perhaps a trifle below the medium height
of her sex, full-figured rather than stout, and with a dark, capable,
and altogether singular face, in which the most marked features were a
proud, thin-lipped mouth, which in repose closed tight and drew downward
at the corners; small black eyes, that had an air of seeing very
cleverly through things; and a striking arrangement of her prematurely
white hair, which was brushed straight from the forehead over a high
roll. From a more or less careful inspection of this face, even astute
people were in the habit of concluding that Mrs. Minster was a clever
and haughty woman. In truth, she was neither. Her reserve was due in
part to timidity, in part to lack of interest in the matters which
seemed to concern those with whom she was most thrown into contact
outside her own house. Her natural disposition had been the reverse of
unkindly, but it included an element of suspicion, which the short and
painful career of her son, and the burden of responsibility for a great
estate, had tended unduly to develop. She did not like many of the
residents of Thessaly, yet it had never occurred to her to live
elsewhere. If the idea had dawned in her mind, she would undoubtedly
have picked out as an alternative her native village on the Hudson,
where her Dutch ancestors had lived from early colonial times. The
life of a big city had never become even intelligible to her, much less
attractive. She went to the Episcopal church regularly, although she
neither professed nor felt any particular devotion to religious ideals
or tenets. She gave of her substance generously, though not profusely,
to all properly organized and certified charities, but did not look
about for, or often recognize when they came in her way, subjects for
private benefaction. She applied the bulk of her leisure time to the
writing of long and perfectly commonplace letters to female relatives
in various sections of the Republic. She was profoundly fond of her
daughters, but was rarely impelled to demonstrative proofs of this
affection. Very often she grew tired of inaction, mental and physical;
but she accepted this without murmuring as a natural and proper result
of her condition in life, much as one accepts an uncomfortable sense
of repletion after a dinner. When she did not know what else to do, she
ordinarily took a nap.

It must have been by the law of oppositive attraction that her chosen
intimate was Miss Tabitha Wilcox, the spare and angular little lady
who sat across the table from her, the sole guest at the Thanksgiving
dinner. The most vigorous imagination could not conceive _her_ in the
act of dozing for so much as an instant during hours when others kept
awake. Vigilant observation and an unwearying interest in affairs were
written in every line of her face: you could read them in her bright,
sharp eyes; in the alert, almost anxious posture of her figure; in the
very conformation of the little rows of iron-gray curls, which mounted
like circular steps above each ear. She was a kindly soul, was Miss
Tabitha, who could not listen unmoved to any tale of honest suffering,
and who gave of her limited income to the poor with more warmth than
prudence.

Her position in Thessaly was a unique one. She belonged, undoubtedly, to
the first families, for her grandfather, Judge Abijah Wilcox, had been
one of the original settlers, in those halcyon years following the close
of the Revolution, when the good people of Massachusetts and Connecticut
swarmed, uninvited, across the Hudson, and industriously divided up
among themselves the territorial patrimony of the slow and lackadaisical
Dutchmen. Miss Tabitha still lived in the roomy old house which the
judge had built; she sat in one of the most prominent pews in the
Episcopal church, and her prescriptive right to be president of the
Dorcas Mite Society had not been questioned now these dozen years.
Although she was far from being wealthy, her place in the very best and
most exclusive society of Thessaly was taken for granted by everybody.
But Miss Tabitha was herself not at all exclusive. She knew most of the
people in the village: only the insuperable limitations of time and
space prevented her knowing them all. And not even these stern barriers
availed to bound her information concerning alike acquaintances and
strangers. There were persons who mistook her eager desire to be of
service in whatever was going forward for meddlesomeness. Some there
were who even resented her activity, and thought of her as a malevolent
old gossip. These latter were deeply in the wrong. Miss Tabitha loved
everybody, and had never consciously done injury to any living soul. As
for gossip, she could no more help talking than the robin up in the elm
boughs of a sunny April morning can withhold the song that is in him.

It has been said that the presence of the butler threw a gloom over the
dinner-party. It did not silence Miss Tabitha, but at least she felt
constrained to discourse upon general and impersonal subjects while he
was in hearing. The two daughters of the house, who faced each other
at the ends of the table, asked her questions or offered comments at
intervals, and once or twice their mother spoke. All ate from the plates
that were set before them, in a perfunctory way, without evidence of
appreciation. There was some red wine in a decanter on the table--I
fancy none of them could have told precisely what it was--and of this
Miss Tabitha drank a little, diluted with water. The two girls had
allowed the butler to fill their glasses as well, and from time to time
they made motions as of sipping from these, merely to keep their guest
in company. Mrs. Minster had no wine-glasses at her plate, and drank
ice-water. Every time that any one of the others lifted the wine to
her lips, a common thought seemed to flash through the minds around the
table--the memory of the son and heir who had died from drink.

When the butler, with an accession of impressiveness in his reserved
demeanor, at last handed around plates containing each its thin layer of
pale meat, Ethel Minster was moved to put into words what all had been
feeling:

“Mamma, this isn’t like Thanksgiving at all!” she said, with the freedom
of a favorite child; “it was ever so much nicer to have the turkey on
the table where we could all see him, and pick out in our minds what
part we would especially like. To have the carving done outside, and
only slices of the breast brought in to us--it is as if we were away
from home somewhere, in a hotel among strangers.”

Mrs. Minster, by way of answer, looked at the butler, the glance being
not so much an inquiry as a reference of the matter to one who was a
professor of this particular sort of thing. Her own inclination jumped
with that of her daughter, but the possession of a butler entailed
certain responsibilities, which must be neither ignored nor evaded.
Happily Cozzens’s mind was not wholly inelastic. He uttered no word,
but, with a slight obeisance which comprehended mistress and daughter
and guest in careful yet gracious gradations of significance, went
out, and presently returned with a huge dish, which he set in front of
Mrs. Minster. He brought the carving instruments, and dignifiedly laid
them in their place, as a chamberlain might invest a queen with her
sceptre. Even when Miss Kate said, “If we need you any more, Cozzens,
we will ring,” he betrayed neither surprise nor elation, but bowed again
gravely, and left the room, closing the door noiselessly behind him.

“I am sure he will turn out a perfect jewel,” said Miss Tabitha. “You
were very fortunate to get him.”

“But there are times,” said Kate, “when one likes to take off one’s
rings, even if the stones are perfection itself.”

This guarded reference to the fact that Mrs. Minster had secured an
admirable servant who was a nuisance at small feminine dinner-parties
sufficed to dismiss the subject. Miss Tabitha assumed on the moment a
more confidential manner and tone:

“I wonder if you’ve heard,” she said, “that young Horace Boyce has come
back. Why, now I think of it, he must have come up in your train.”

“He was in our car,” replied Mrs. Minster. “He sat by us, and talked all
the way up. I never heard a man’s tongue run on so in all my born days.”

“He takes that from his grandmother Beekman,” explained Miss Tabitha,
by way of parenthesis. “She was something dreadful: talking ‘thirteen to
the dozen’ doesn’t begin to express it. You don’t remember her. She
went down to New York when I was a mere slip of a girl, to have a set of
false teeth fitted--they were a novelty in those days--and it was winter
time, and she wouldn’t listen to the dentist’s advice to keep her mouth
shut, and she caught cold, and it turned into lockjaw, and that was the
last of her. It was just after her daughter Julia had been married to
young Sylvanus Boyce. Dear me, how time flies! I can remember her old
bombazine gown and her black Spanish mits, and her lace cap on one side
of her head, as if it were only yesterday. And here Julia’s been dead
twenty years and more, and her grown-up son’s come home from Europe, and
the General--”

The old maid stopped short, because her sentence could not be charitably
finished. “How did _you_ like Horace?” she asked, to shift the subject,
and looking at Kate Minster.

The tall, dark girl with the rich complexion and the beautiful, proud
eyes glanced up at her questioner impatiently, as if disposed to resent
the inquiry. Then she seemed to reflect that no offence could possibly
have been intended, for she answered pleasantly enough:

“He seemed an amiable sort of person; and I should judge he was clever,
too. He always was a smart boy--I think that is the phrase. He talked to
mamma most of the time.”

“How can you say that, Kate? I’m sure it was because you scarcely
answered him at all, and read your book--which was not very polite.”

“I was afraid to venture upon anything more than monosyllables with
him,” said Kate, “or I should have been ruder still. I should have had
to tell him that I did not like Americans who made the accident of their
having been to Europe an excuse for sneering at those who haven’t been
there, and that would have been highly impolite, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t think he sneered,” replied Mrs. Minster. “I thought he tried to
be as affable and interesting as he knew how. Pray what did he say that
was sneering?”

“Oh, dear me, I don’t in the least remember what he said. It was his
tone, I think, more than any special remark. He had an air of condoling
with me because he had seen so many things that I have only read about;
and he patronized the car, and the heating-apparatus, and the conductor,
and the poor little black porter, and all of us.”

“He was a pretty boy. Does he hold his own, now he’s grown up?” asked
Miss Tabitha. “He used to favor the Boyce side a good deal.”

“I should say he favored the Boyce side to the exclusion of everybody
else’s side,” said Kate, with a little smile at her own conceit,
“particularly his own individual section of it. He is rather tall, with
light hair, light eyes, light mustache, light talk, light everything;
and he looks precisely like all the other young men you see in New York
nowadays, with their coats buttoned in just such a way, and their gloves
of just such a shade, and a scarf of just such a shape with the same
kind of pin in it, and their hats laid sidewise in the rack so that you
can observe that they have a London maker’s brand in-side. There! you
have his portrait to a _t_. Do you recognize it?”

“What will poor countrified Thessaly ever do with such a metropolitan
model as this?” asked Ethel. “We shall all be afraid to go out in the
street, for fear he should discover us to be out of the fashion.”

“Oh, he is not going to stay here,” said Mrs. Minster. “He told us that
he had decided to enter some law firm in New York. It seems a number of
very flattering openings have been offered him.”

“I happen to know,” put in Miss Tabitha, “that he _is_ going to stay
here. What is more, he has as good as struck up a partnership with
Reuben Tracy. I had it this morning from a lady whose brother-in-law is
extremely intimate with the General.”

“That is very curious,” mused Mrs. Minster. “He certainly talked
yesterday of settling in New York, and mentioned the offers he had had,
and his doubt as to which to accept.”

“Are you sure, mamma,” commented Kate, “that he wasn’t talking merely to
hear himself talk?”

“I like the looks of that Reuben Tracy,” interposed Ethel. “He always
suggests the idea that he is the kind of man you could tie something to,
and come back hours afterward and find it all there just as you had left
it.”

The girl broke into an amused laugh at the appearance of this metaphor,
when she had finished it, and the others joined in her gayety. Under
the influence of this much-needed enlivenment, Miss Tabitha took another
piece of turkey and drank some of her wine and water. They began talking
about Tracy.

“It will be a good thing for Horace Boyce,” said Miss Tabitha. “He
couldn’t have a steadier or better partner for business. They tell me
that Tracy handles more work, as it is, than any other two lawyers in
town. He’s a very good-hearted man too, and charitable, as everybody
will admit who knows him. What a pity it is that he doesn’t take an
interest in church affairs, and rent a pew, and set an example to young
men in that way.”

“On the contrary, I sometimes think, Tabitha,” said Miss Kate, idly
crumbling the bread on the cloth before her, “that it is worth while to
have an occasional good man or woman altogether outside the Church. They
prevent those on the inside from getting too conceited about their own
virtues. There would be no living with the parsons and the deacons and
the rest if you couldn’t say to them now and then: ‘See, you haven’t a
monopoly of goodness. Here are people just as honest and generous and
straightforward as you are yourselves, who get along without any altar
or ark whatever.’”

Mrs. Minster looked at her daughter with an almost imperceptible lifting
of the brows. Her comment had both apology and mild reproof in it:

“To hear Kate talk, one would think she was a perfect atheist. She is
always defending infidels and such people. I am sure I can’t imagine
where she takes it from.”

“Why, mamma!” protested the girl, “who has said anything about infidels?
We have no earthly right to brand people with that word, simply because
we don’t see them going to church as we do. We none of us know this Mr.
Tracy to even bow to him--at least I don’t--and we know no more about
his religious opinions than we do about--what shall I say?--about the
man in the moon. But I have heard others speak of him frequently, and
always with respect. I wasn’t defending him. Why should I? I merely
said it was worth while to keep in mind that men could be good without
renting a pew in church.”

“I don’t like to hear you speak against religion, that is all,” replied
the mother, placidly. “It isn’t--ladylike.”

“And if you come to inquire,” interposed Miss Tabitha, speaking
with great gentleness, as of one amiably admonishing impetuous and
ill-informed youth, “you will generally find that there is something not
quite as it should be about these people who are so sure that they
need no help to be good. Only last evening Sarah Cheeseborough told me
something about your Mr. Tracy--”

“_My_ Mr. Tracy!”

“Well, about _the_ Mr. Tracy, then, that she saw with her own eyes. I
would scarcely have believed it. It only goes to show what poor worms
the best of us are, if we just rely upon our own strength alone.”

“What was it?” asked Mrs. Minster, with a slight show of interest.

Miss Tabitha by way of answer threw a meaning glance at the two girls,
and discreetly took a sip of her wine and water.

“Oh, don’t mind us, Tabitha!” said Kate. “I am twenty-three, and Ethel
is nearly twenty, and we are allowed to sit up at the table quite as if
we were grown people.”

The sarcasm was framed in pleasantry, and Miss Tabitha took it in
smiling good part, with no further pretence of reservation.

“Well, then, you must know that Ben Lawton--he’s a shiftless sort of
coot who lives out in the hollow, and picks up odd jobs; the sort of
people who were brought up on the canal, and eat woodchucks--Ben Lawton
has a whole tribe of daughters. Some of them work around among the
farmers, and some are in the button factory, and some are at home doing
nothing; and the oldest of the lot, she ran away from here five years
ago or so, and went to Tecumseh. She was a good-looking girl--she worked
one season for my sister near Tyre, and I really liked her looks--but
she went altogether to the dogs, and, as I say, quit these parts,
everybody supposed for good. But, lo and behold! what must she do but
turn up again like a bad penny, after all this time, and, now I think of
it, come back on the very train you travelled by, yesterday, too!”

“There is nothing very remarkable about that,” commented Kate. “So far
as I have seen, one doesn’t have to show a certificate of character to
buy a railway ticket. The man at the window scowls upon the just and the
unjust with impartial incivility.”

“Just wait,” continued Miss Tabitha, impressively, “wait till you have
heard all! This girl--Jess Lawton, they call her--drove home on the
express-sleigh with her father right in broad daylight. And who do you
think followed up there on foot--in plain sight, too--and went into the
house, and stayed there a full half hour? Why, the immaculate Mr. Tracy!
Sarah Cheeseborough saw him pass the place, and watched him go into
their house--you can see across lots from her side windows to where the
Lawtons live--and just for curiosity she kept track of the time. The
girl hadn’t been home an hour before he made his appearance, and Sarah
vows she hasn’t seen him on that road before in years. _Now_ what do you
think?”

“I think Sarah Cheesborough might profitably board up her side windows.
It would help her to concentrate her mind on her own business,” said
Kate. Her sister Ethel carried this sentiment farther by adding: “So do
I! She is a mean, meddlesome old cat. I’ve heard you say so yourself,
Tabitha.”

The two elder ladies took a different view of the episode, and let it be
seen; but Mrs. Minster seized the earliest opportunity of changing
the topic of conversation, and no further mention was made during the
afternoon of either Reuben Tracy or the Lawtons.

The subject was, indeed, brought up later on, when the two girls were
alone together in the little boudoir connecting their apartments.
Pale-faced Ethel sat before the fire, dreamily looking into the coals,
while her sister stood behind her, brushing out and braiding for the
night the younger maiden’s long blonde hair.

“Do you know, Kate,” said Ethel, after a long pause, “it hurt me almost
as if that Mr. Tracy had been a friend of ours, when Tabitha told
about him and--and that woman. It is so hard to have to believe evil of
everybody. You would like to think well of some particular person whom
you have seen--just as a pleasant fancy of the mind--and straightway
they come and tell odious things about him. Didn’t it annoy you? And
did you believe it?” Kate drew the ivory brush slowly over the flowing,
soft-brown ringlets lying across her hand, again and again, but kept
silence until Ethel repeated her latter question. Then she said,
evasively:

“When we get to be old maids, we sha’n’t spend our time in collecting
people’s shortcomings, as boys collect postage-stamps, shall we, dear?”



CHAPTER VII.--THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER’S WELCOME.

 The President of the United States, that year, had publicly professed
himself of the opinion that “the maintenance of pacific relations with
all the world, the fruitful increase of the earth, the rewards accruing
to honest toil throughout the land, and the nation’s happy immunity
from pestilence, famine, and disastrous visitations of the elements,”
 deserved exceptional recognition at the hands of the people on the last
Thursday in November. The Governor of the State went further, both in
rhetorical exuberance and in his conception of benefits received, for he
enumerated “the absence of calamitous strife between capital and labor,”
 “the patriotic spirit which had dominated the toilers of the mine, the
forge, the factory, and the mill, in their judicious efforts to unite
and organize their common interests,” and “the wise and public-spirited
legislation which in the future, like a mighty bulwark, would protect
the great and all-important agricultural community from the debasing
competition of unworthy wares”--as among the other things for which
everybody should be thankful.

There were many, no doubt, who were conscious of a kindly glow as they
read beneath the formal words designating the holiday, and caught the
pleasant and gracious significance of the Thanksgiving itself--strange
and perverted survival as it is of a gloomy and unthankful festival.
There were others, perhaps, who smiled a little at his Excellency’s
shrewd effort to placate the rising and hostile workingmen’s movement
and get credit from the farmers for the recent oleomargarine bill, and
for the rest took the day merely as a welcome breathing spell, with an
additional drink or two in the forenoon, and a more elaborate dinner
than was usual.

In the Lawton household they troubled their heads neither about the text
and tricks of the proclamations nor the sweet and humane meaning of the
day. There were much more serious matters to think of.

The parable of the Prodigal Son has long been justly regarded as a
model of terse and compact narrative; but modern commentators of the
analytical sort have a quarrel with the abruptness of its ending. They
would have liked to learn what the good stay-at-home son said and did
after his father had for a second time explained the situation to him.
Did he, at least outwardly, agree that “it was meet that we should make
merry and be glad”? And if he consented to go into the house, and even
to eat some of the fatted calf, did he do it with a fine, large, hearty
pretence of being glad? Did he deceive the returned Prodigal, for
example, into believing in the fraternal welcome? Or did he lie in wait,
and, when occasion offered, quietly, and with a polite smile, rub gall
and vinegar into the wayfarer’s wounds? Alas, this we can only guess.

Poor Ben Lawton had been left in no doubt as to the attitude of his
family toward the prodigal daughter. A sharp note of dissent had been
raised at the outset, on the receipt of her letter--a note so shrill and
strenuous that for the moment it almost scared him into begging her not
to come. Then his better nature asserted itself, and he contrived to
mollify somewhat the wrath of his wife and daughters by inventing a
tortuous system of lies about Jessica’s intentions and affairs. He first
established the fiction that she meant only to pay them a flying visit.
Upon this he built a rambling edifice of falsehood as to her financial
prosperity, and her desire to do a good deal toward helping the family.
Lastly, as a crowning superstructure of deception, he fabricated a
theory that she was to bring with her a lot of trunks filled with
costly and beautiful dresses, with citified bonnets and parasols and
high-heeled shoes, beyond belief--all to be distributed among her
sisters. Once well started, he lied so luxuriantly and with such a
flowing fancy about these things, that his daughters came to partially
believe him--him whom they had not believed before since they could
remember--and prepared themselves to be civil to their half-sister.

There were five of these girls--the offspring of a second marriage
Lawton contracted a year or so after the death of baby Jessica’s
mother. The eldest, Melissa, was now about twenty, and worked out at the
Fairchild farm-house some four miles from Thessaly--a dull, discontented
young woman, with a heavy yet furtive face and a latent snarl in her
voice. Lucinda was two years younger, and toiled in the Scotch-cap
factory in the village. She also was a commonplace girl, less obviously
bad-tempered than Melissa, but scarcely more engaging in manner. Next
in point of age was Samantha, who deserves some notice by herself, and
after her came the twins, Georgiana and Arabella, two overgrown, coarse,
giggling hoydens of fifteen, who obtained intermittent employment in the
button factory.

Miss Samantha, although but seventeen, had for some time been tacitly
recognized as the natural leader of the family. She did no work either
in factory or on farm, and the local imagination did not easily conceive
a condition of things in which she could find herself reduced to the
strait of manual labor. Her method, baldly stated, was to levy more
or less reluctant contributions upon whatever the rest of the family
brought in. There was a fiction abroad that Samantha stayed at home to
help her mother. The facts were that she was only visible at the Law-ton
domicile at meal-times and during inclement weather, and that her mother
was rather pleased than otherwise at this being the case.

Samantha was of small and slight figure, with a shrewd,
prematurely-sapient face that was interesting rather than pretty, and
with an eye which, when it was not all demure innocence, twinkled coldly
like that of a rodent of prey. She had several qualities of mind and
deportment which marked her as distinct from the mass of village girls;
that which was most noticeable, perhaps, was her ability to invent
and say sharp, comical, and cuttingly sarcastic things without herself
laughing at them. This was felt to be a rare attainment indeed in
Thessaly, and its possession gave her much prestige among the young
people of both sexes, who were conscious of an insufficient command
alike over their tongues and their boisterous tendencies. Samantha could
have counted her friends, in the true, human sense of the word, upon her
thumbs; but of admirers and toadies she swayed a regiment. Her own elder
sisters, Melissa and Lucinda, alternated between sulky fear of her
and clumsy efforts at propitiation; the junior twins had never as
yet emerged from a plastic state of subordination akin to reverence.
Samantha’s attitude toward them all was one of lofty yet observant
criticism, relieved by lapses into half-satirical, half-jocose
amiability as their pay-days approached. On infrequent occasions she
developed a certain softness of demeanor toward her father, but to her
mother she had been uniformly and contemptuously uncivil for years.

Of this mother, the second Mrs. Lawton, there is little enough to say.
She was a pallid, ignorant, helpless slattern, gaunt of frame, narrow of
forehead, and bowed and wrinkled before her time. Like her husband, she
came of an ancestry of lake and canal boatmen; and though twenty odd
years had passed since increasing railroad competition forced her
parents to abandon their over-mortgaged scow and seek a living in the
farm country, and she married the young widower Ben Lawton in preference
to following them, her notions of housekeeping and of existence
generally had never expanded beyond the limits of a canal-boat cabin.
She rose at a certain hour, maundered along wearily through such tasks
of the day as forced themselves upon her, and got to bed again as early
as might be, inertly thankful that the day was done. She rarely went out
upon the street, and still more rarely had any clothes fit to go out
in. She had a vague pride in her daughter Samantha, who seemed to her
to resemble the heroines of the continued stories which she assiduously
followed in the _Fireside Weekly_, and sometimes she harbored a formless
kind of theory that if her baby boy Alonzo had lived, things would have
been different; but her interest in the rest of the family was of the
dimmest and most spasmodic sort. In England she would have taken to
drink, and been beaten for it, and thus at least extracted from life’s
pilgrimage some definite sensations. As it was, she lazily contributed
vile cooking, a foully-kept house, and a grotesque waste of the
pittances which came into her hands, to the general squalor which hung
like an atmosphere over the Lawtons.

The house to which Jessica had come with her father the previous
afternoon was to her a strange abode. At the time of her flight, five
years before, the family had lived on a cross-road some miles away;
at present they were encamped, so to speak, in an old and battered
structure which had been a country house in its time, but was now in the
centre of a new part of Thessaly built up since war. The building, with
its dingy appearance and poverty-stricken character, was an eyesore to
the neighborhood, and everybody looked hopefully forward to the day when
the hollow in which it stood should be filled up, and the house and its
inhabitants cleared away out of sight.

Jessica upon her arrival had been greeted with constrained coolness
by her stepmother, who did not even offer to kiss her, but shook hands
limply instead, and had been ushered up to her room by her father. It
was a low and sprawling chamber, with three sides plastered, and the
fourth presenting a time-worn surface of naked lathing. In it were a
bed, an old chest of drawers, a wooden chair, and a square piece of rag
carpet just large enough to emphasize the bareness of the surrounding
floor. This was the company bedroom; and after Ben had brought up all
her belongings and set them at the foot of the bed, and tiptoed his way
down-stairs again, Jessica threw herself into the chair in the centre of
its cold desolation, and wept vehemently.

There came after a time, while she still sat sobbing in solitude, a
soft rap at her door. When it was repeated, a moment later, she hastily
attempted to dry her eyes, and answered, “Come in.” Then the door
opened, and the figure of Samantha appeared. She was smartly dressed,
and she had a half-smile on her face. She advanced readily toward the
chair.

“Don’t you know me?” she said, as Jessica rose and looked at her
doubtfully in the fading light. “I’m Samantha. Of course, I’ve grown a
good deal; but Lord! I’d have known you anywhere. I’m glad to see you.”

Her tone betrayed no extravagance of heated enthusiasm, but still it
_was_ a welcome in its way; and as the two girls kissed each other,
Jessica choked down the last of her sobs, and was even able to smile a
little.

“Yes, I think I should have known you,” she replied. “Oh, now I look
at you, of course I should. Yes, you’ve grown into a fine girl. I’ve
thought of you very, very often.”

“I’ll bet not half as often as I’ve thought of you,” Samantha made
answer, cheerfully. “You’ve been living in a big city, where there’s
plenty to take up your time; but it gets all-fired slow down here
sometimes, and then there’s nothing to do but to envy them that’s been
able to get out.”

Samantha had been moving the small pieces of luggage at the foot of the
bed with her feet as she spoke. With her eyes still on them she asked,
in a casual way:

“Father gone for the rest of your things? It’s like him to make two jobs
of it.”

“This is all I have brought; there is nothing more,” said Jessica.

“_What!_”

Samantha was eying her sister with open-mouthed incredulity. She
stammered forth, after a prolonged pause of mental confusion:

“You mean to say you ain’t brought any swell dresses, or fancy bonnets,
or silk wrappers, or sealskins, or--or anything? Why, dad swore you was
bringing whole loads of that sort of truck with you!” She added, as if
in angry quest for consolation: “Well, there’s one comfort, he always
_was_ a liar!”

“I’m sorry if you’re disappointed,” said Jessica, stiffly; “but this is
all I’ve brought, and I can’t help it.”

“But you must have had no end of swell things,” retorted the younger
girl. “It stands to reason you must. I know that much. And what have you
done with ’em?” She broke out in loud satire: “Oh, yes! A precious
lot you thought about me and the rest of us! I daresay it kept you awake
nights, thinking about us so much!”

Jessica gazed in painful astonishment at this stripling girl, who had
regarded her melancholy home-coming merely in the light of a chance to
enjoy some cast-off finery. All the answers that came into her head were
too bitter and disagreeable. She did not trust herself to reply, but,
still wearing her hat and jacket, walked to the window and looked out
down the snowy road. The impulse was strong within her to leave the
house on the instant.

Samantha had gone away, slamming the door viciously behind her, and
Jessica stood for a long time at the window, her mind revolving
in irregular and violent sequence a score of conflicting plans and
passionate notions. There were moments in this gloomy struggle of
thought when she was tempted to throw everything to the winds--her
loyalty to pure-souled Annie Fairchild, her own pledges to herself, her
hopes and resolves for the future, everything--and not try any more. And
when she had put these evil promptings behind her, that which remained
was only less sinister.

As she stood thus, frowning down through the unwashed panes at the
white, cheerless prospect, and tearing her heart in the tumultuous
revery of revolt, the form of a man advancing up the road came suddenly
under her view. He stopped when he was in front of the Lawton house, and
looked inquiringly about him. The glance which he directed upwards fell
full upon her at the window. The recognition was mutual, and he turned
abruptly from the road and came toward the house. Jessica hurriedly took
off her hat and cloak. Reuben Tracy had come to see her!

It was her stepmother who climbed the stairs to notify her, looking more
lank and slatternly than ever, holding the bedroom door wide open, and
saying sourly: “There’s a man down-stairs to see you already,” as if the
visit were an offence, and Jessica could not pretend to be surprised.
“Yes, I saw him,” she answered, and hurried past Mrs. Lawton, and down
to the gaunt, dingy front room, with its bare walls, scant furniture,
and stoveless discomfort, which not even Samantha dared call a parlor.

She could remember afterward that Reuben stood waiting for her with his
hat in his left hand, and that he had taken the glove from his right
to shake hands with her; and this she recalled more distinctly than
anything else. He had greeted her with grave kindness, had mentioned
receiving notice from the Fairchilds of her coming, and had said that of
course whatever he could do to help her he desired to do. Then there had
been a pause, during which she vaguely wavered between a wish that he
had not come, and a wild, childish longing to hide her flushed face
against his overcoat, and weep out her misery. What she did do was to
point to a chair, and say, “Won’t you take a seat?”

“It is very kind of you to come,” she went on, “but--” She broke
off suddenly and looked away from him, and through the window at the
snow-banks outside. “How early the winter has closed in,” she added,
with nervous inconsequence.

Reuben did not even glance out at the snow. “I’m bound to say that it
isn’t very clear to me what use I can be to you,” he said. “Of course,
I’m all in the dark as to what you intend to do. Mr. Fairchild did not
mention that you had any definite plans.”

“I had thought some of starting a milliner’s shop, of course very
small, by myself. You know I have been working in one for some months at
Tecumseh, ever since Mrs. Fairchild--ever since she--”

The girl did not finish the sentence, for Reuben nodded gravely, as if
he understood, and that seemed to be all that was needed.

“That might do,” he said, after a moment’s thought, and speaking even
more deliberately than usual. “I suppose I ought to tell you this
doesn’t seem to me a specially wise thing, your coming back here. Don’t
misunderstand me; I wouldn’t say anything to discourage you, for the
world. And since you _have_ come, it wasn’t of much use, perhaps, to say
that. Still, I wanted to be frank with you, and I don’t understand why
you did come. It doesn’t appear that the Fairchilds thought it was wise,
either.”

“_She_ did,” answered Jessica, quickly, “because she understood what I
meant--what I had in mind to do when I got here. But I’m sure he laughed
at it when she explained it to him; she didn’t say so, but I know he
did. He is a man, and men don’t understand.”

Reuben smiled a little, but still compassionately. “Then perhaps I would
better give it up in advance, without having it explained at all,” he
said.

“No; when I saw your name on the sign, down on Main Street, this
afternoon, I knew that you would see what I meant. I felt sure you
would: you are different from the others. You were kind to me when I was
a girl, when nobody else was. You know the miserable childhood I had,
and how everybody was against me--all but you.”

Jessica had begun calmly enough, but she finished with something very
like a sob, and, rising abruptly, went to the window.

Reuben sat still, thinking over his reply. The suggestion that he
differed from the general run of men was not precisely new to his mind,
but it had never been put to him in this form before, and he was at a
loss to see its exact bearings. Perhaps, too, men are more nearly
alike in the presence of a tearful young woman than under most other
conditions. At all events, it took him a long time to resolve his
answer--until, in fact, the silence had grown awkward.

“I’m glad you have a pleasant recollection of me,” he said at last. “I
remember you very well, and I was very sorry when you left the school.”
 He had touched the painful subject rather bluntly, but she did not turn
or stir from her post near the window, and he forced himself forward.
“I was truly much grieved when I heard of it, and I wished that I could
have talked with you, or could have known the circumstances in time,
or--that is to say--that I could have helped you. Nothing in all my
teacher experience pained me more. I--”

“Don’t let us talk of it,” she broke in. Then she turned and came close
beside him, and lifted her hand as if to place it on his shoulder by a
frank gesture of friendship. The hand paused in mid-air, and then sank
to her side. “I know you were always as good as good could be. You don’t
need to tell me that.”

“And I wasn’t telling you that, I hope,” he rejoined, speaking more
freely now. “But you have never answered my question. What is it that
Seth Fairchild failed to understand, yet which you are sure I will
comprehend? Perhaps it is a part of your estimate of me that I should
see without being told; but I don’t.”

“My reason for coming back? I hardly know how to explain it to you.”

Reuben made no comment upon this, and after a moment she went on:

“It sounds unlikely and self-conceited, but for months back I have been
full of the idea. It was her talk that gave me the notion. I want to be
a friend to other girls placed as I was when I went to your school, with
miserable homes and miserable company, and hating the whole thing as I
hated it, and aching to get away from it, no matter how; and I want
to try and keep them from the pitch-hole I fell into. That’s what I
want--only I can’t explain it to you as I could to _her_; and you think
it’s silly, don’t you? And I--begin to think--so--myself.”

Reuben had risen now and stood beside her, and put his hand lightly on
her shoulder as she finished with this doleful confession. He spoke with
grave softness:

“No, not silly: it seems to me a very notable kind of wisdom. I had
been thinking only of you, and that you could live more comfortably and
happily elsewhere. But it seems that you were thinking of matters much
greater than your own. And that surprises me, and pleases me, and makes
me ashamed of my own view. Think you silly? My dear child, I think
you are superb. Only”--he spoke more slowly, and in a less confident
tone--“unfortunately, though it is wisdom to do the right thing, it
doesn’t always follow that it is easy, or successful for that matter.
You will need to be very strong, in order to stand up straight under the
big task you have undertaken--very strong and resolute indeed.”

The touch of his hand upon her shoulder had been more to Jessica than
his words, the line of which, in truth, she had not clearly followed.
And when he ended with his exhortation to robust bravery, she was
conscious of feeling weaker than for months before. The woman’s nature
that was in her softened under the gentle pressure of that strong hand,
and all the nameless feminine yearnings for wardenship and shelter from
life’s battle took voice and pleaded in her heart. Ah, yes! he spoke
of her being strong, and the very sound of his voice unnerved her. She
could not think; there was no answer to be made to his words, for she
had scarcely heard them. No reply of any kind would come to her lips.
In place of a mind, she seemed to have only a single sense--vast,
overpowering, glorious--and that was of his hand upon her shoulder. And
enwrapped, swallowed up in this sense, she stood silent.

Then lo! the hand was gone, and with a start her wits came back. The
lawyer was buttoning his overcoat, and saying that he must be going.

She shook hands with him mechanically, in confused apprehension lest
she should think of nothing more to say to him before he departed. She
followed him to the hall, and opened the front door for him. On the
threshold the words she wanted came to her.

“I will try to be strong,” she said, “and I thank you a thousand times
for coming.”

“Now, you will let me help you; you will come to me freely, won’t you?”
 Reuben said as he lifted his hat.

“Good-by,” answered Jessica, slowly, as she closed the door.



CHAPTER VIII.--THANKSGIVING AT THE LAWTONS’.

 The church-bells rang out next morning through a crisp and frosty air.
A dazzling glare of reflected sunshine lay on the dry snow, but it
gave no suggestion of warmth. The people who passed on their way to
Thanksgiving services walked hurriedly, and looked as if their minds
were concentrated on the hope that the sexton had lighted the fire in
the church furnace the previous day. The milkman who stopped his sleigh
just beyond the house of the Law-tons had to beat off a great rim of
chalk-white ice with the dipper before he could open his can.

The younger members of the Lawton family were not dependent upon
external evidences, however, for their knowledge that it was bitterly
cold. It was nearly noon when they began to gather in the kitchen, and
cluster about the decrepit old cooking-stove where burned the only fire
in the house. A shivering and unkempt group they made, in the bright
daylight, holding their red hands over the cracked stove-lids, and
snarling sulkily at the weather and one another when they spoke at all.

Jessica had slept badly, and, rising early and dressing in self-defence
against the cold, had found her father in the act of lighting the
kitchen fire. An original impulse prompted her to kiss him when she
bade him good-morning; and Ben, rising awkwardly from where he had been
kneeling in front of the grate, looked both surprised and shamefacedly
gratified. It seemed ages since one of his daughters had kissed him
before.

“It’s a regular stinger of a morning, ain’t it?” he said, blowing his
fingers. “The boards in the sidewalk jest riz up and went off under my
feet like pistols last night, when I was coming home.” He added with an
accent of uneasiness: “Suppose you didn’t hear me come in?”

He seemed pleased when she shook her head, and his face visibly
lightened. He winked at her mysteriously, and going over to a recess in
the wall, back of the woodbox, dragged out a lank and dishevelled turkey
of a dingy gray color, not at all resembling the fowls that had been
presented to him the previous day.

“Trouble with me was,” he said, reflectively, “I shot four turkeys. If
I hadn’t been a bang-up shot, and had only killed one, why, I’d been
all right. But no, I couldn’t help hitting ’em, and so I got four. Of
course, I hadn’t any use for so many: so I got to raffling ’em off,
and that’s where my darned luck come in.” He held the bird up, and
turned it slowly around, regarding it with an amused chuckle. “You know
this cuss ain’t one of them I shot, at all. You see, I got to raffling,
and one time I stood to win nine turkeys and a lamp and a jag of
firewood. But then the thing kind o’ turned, and went agin me, and darn
me if I didn’t come out of the little end of the horn, with nothing but
this here. Sh-h!--M’rye’s coming. Don’t say nothing to her. I told her I
earnt it carrying in some coal.”

Mrs. Lawton entered the room as her husband was putting back the
turkey. She offered no remarks beyond a scant “mornin’!” to Jessica, and
directed a scowl toward Lawton, before which he promptly disappeared.
She replied curtly in the negative when Jessica asked if there was
anything she could do; but the novelty of the offer seemed to slowly
impress her mind, for after a time she began to talk of her own accord.
Ben had come home drunk the night before, she said; there wasn’t
anything new in that, but it was decidedly new for him to bring
something to eat with him. He said he’d been carrying in coal, which was
her reason for believing he had been really shaving shingles or breaking
up old barrels. He couldn’t tell the truth if he tried--it wasn’t in
him not to lie. The worst of his getting drunk was he was so pesky
good-natured the next day. Her father used always to have a headache
under similar conditions, and make things peculiarly interesting for
everybody round about, from her mother at the helm of the boat to the
nigger-boy and the mule on the tow-path ahead. That was the way all
other men behaved, too: that is, all who were good for anything. But
Ben, he just grinned and did more chores than usual, and hung around
generally, as if everybody was bound to like him because he had made a
fool of himself.

This monologue of information and philosophy was not delivered
consecutively, but came in disjointed and irrelevant instalments, spread
over a considerable space of time. There was nothing in it all which
suggested a reply, and Jessica did not even take the trouble to
listen very attentively. Her own thoughts were a more than sufficient
occupation.

The failure of the experiment upon which she had ventured was looming
in unpleasant bulk before her. Every glance about her, every word which
fell upon her ears, furnished an added reason why she was not going to
be able to live on the lines she had laid out. Viewed even as a visit,
the experience was hateful. Contemplated as a career, it was simply
impossible. Rather than bear it, she would go back to Tecumseh or New
York; and rather than do this, she would kill herself.

Too depressed to control her thoughts, much less to bend them definitely
upon consideration of some possible middle course between suicide and
existence in this house, Jessica sat silent at the back of the stove,
and suffered. Her evening here with her sisters seemed to blend in
retrospect with the sleepless night into one long, confused, intolerable
nightmare. They had scarcely spoken to her, and she had not known what
to say to them. For some reason they had chosen to stay indoors after
supper--although this was plainly not their habit--and under Samantha’s
lead had entered into a clumsy conspiracy to make her unhappy by
meaning looks, and causeless giggles, and more or less ingenious remarks
directed at her, but to one another. Lucinda had indeed seemed to shrink
from full communion with this cabal, but she had shown no overt act of
friendship, and the three younger girls had been openly hostile. Even
after she had taken refuge in her cold room, at an abnormally early
hour, her sense of their enmity and her isolation had been kept
painfully acute by their loud talk in the hall, and in the chamber
adjoining hers. Oh, no!--she was not even going to try to live with
them, she said resolutely and with set teeth to herself.

They straggled into the kitchen now, and Lucinda was the only one of
them who said “good-morning” to her. Jessica answered her greeting
almost with effusion, but she would have had her tongue torn out rather
than allow it to utter a solitary first word to the others. They stood
about the stove for a time, and then sat down to the bare kitchen table
upon which the maternal slattern had spread a kind of breakfast. Jessica
took her place silently, and managed to eat a little of the bread,
dipped in pork fat. The coffee, a strange, greasy, light-brown fluid
without milk, she could not bring herself to touch. There was no butter.

After this odious meal was over Samantha brought down a cheap novel, and
ensconced herself at the side of the stove, with her feet on a stick of
wood in the oven. The twins, after some protest, entered lazily upon
the task of plucking the turkey. Lucinda drew a chair to the window, and
began some repairs on her bonnet. For sheer want of other employment,
Jessica stood by the window for a time, looking down upon this crude
millinery. Then she diffidently asked to be allowed to suggest some
changes, and Lucinda yielded the chair to her; and her deft fingers
speedily wrought such a transformation in the work that the owner made
an exclamation of delight. At this the twins left their turkey to come
over and look, and even Samantha at last quitted the stove and sauntered
to the window with an exaggerated show of indifference. She looked on
for a moment, and then returned with a supercilious sniff, which scared
the twins also away. When the hat was finished, and Lucinda had tried it
on with obvious satisfaction, Jessica asked her to go for a little walk,
and the two went out together.

There was a certain physical relief in escaping from the close and
evil-smelling kitchen into the keen, clear cold, but of mental comfort
there was little. The sister had nothing beyond a few commonplaces to
offer in the way of conversation, and Jessica was in no mood to create
small-talk. She walked vigorously forward as far as the sidewalks were
shovelled, indifferent to direction and to surroundings, and intent only
upon the angry and distracting thoughts which tore one another in her
mind. It was not until the drifts forced them to turn that she spoke.

“I always dread to get downright mad: it makes me sick,” she exclaimed,
in defiant explanation to the dull Lucinda, who did not seem to have
enjoyed her walk.

“If I was you, I wouldn’t mind ’em,” said the sister.

“You just keep a stiff upper lip and tend to your own knitting, and
they’ll be coming around in no time to get you to fix their bonnets for
’em. I bet you Samanthy’ll have her brown plush hat to pieces, and be
bringing it to you before Sunday.”

“She’ll have to bring it to me somewhere else, then. To-day’s my last
day in _that_ house, and don’t you forget it!”

Jessica spoke with such vehemence that Lucinda could only stare at her
in surprise, and the town girl went excitedly on: “When I saw father
yesterday, I was almost glad I’d come back; and you--well, you’ve been
decent to me, too. But the rest--ah-h!--I’ve been swearing in my mind
every second since they came into the kitchen this morning. I was all
for tears yesterday. I started out crying at the dépôt, and I cried
the best part of last night; but I’ve got all through. Do you mind? I’m
through! If there’s got to be any more weeping, they’re the ones that’ll
do it!”

She ground her teeth together as she spoke, as if to prevent a further
outpouring of angry words. All at once she stopped, on some sudden
impulse, and looked her half-sister in the face. It was a long, intent
scrutiny, under which Lucinda flushed and fidgeted, but its result was
to soften Jessica’s mood. She resumed the walk again, but with a less
energetic step, and the hard, wrathful lines in her face had begun to
melt.

“Probably there will be no need for any one else to weep,” she said,
ashamed of her recent outburst. “God knows, _I_ oughtn’t to want to make
anybody unhappy!” Then after a moment’s silence she asked: “Do you work
anywhere?”

“I’ve got a job at the Scotch-cap factory as long as it’s running.”

“How much can you earn there?”

“Three dollars a week is what I’m getting, but they’re liable to shut
down any time now.”

Jessica pondered upon this information for a little. Then she put
another question, with increased interest. “And do you like it at home,
with the rest of them, there?”

“Like it? Yes, about as much as a cat likes hot soap. It’s worse now a
hundred times than it was when you lit out. If there was any place to go
to, I’d be off like a shot.”

“Well, then, here’s what I wanted to ask you. When I leave it, what’s
the matter with your coming with me? I mean it. And I’ll look after
you.” The girl’s revolt against her new and odious environment had
insensibly carried her back into the free phraseology of her former
life. As this was equally familiar to Lucinda’s factory-attuned ear, it
could not have been the slang expression at which she halted. But she
did stop, and in turn looked sharply into Jessica’s face. Her own cheeks,
red with exposure to the biting air, flushed to a deeper tint. “You
better ask Samantha, if that’s your game,” she said. “She’s more in your
line. I ain’t on that lay myself.”

Before Jessica had fairly comprehended the purport of this remark,
her sister had started briskly off by herself. The town girl stood
bewildered for a moment, with a little inarticulate moan of pained
astonishment trembling on her lips. Then she turned and ran after
Lucinda.

“Wait a minute!” she panted out as she overtook her. “You didn’t
understand me. I wouldn’t for a million dollars have you think _that_ of
me. Please wait, and let me tell you what I really meant. You’ll break
my heart if you don’t!”

Thus adjured, Lucinda stopped, and consented to fall in with the other’s
slower step. She let it be seen plainly enough that she was a hostile
auditor, but still she listened. As Jessica, with a readier tongue than
she had found in Reuben Tracy’s presence the day before, outlined her
plan, the factory-girl heard her, first with incredulity, then with
inter-est, and soon with enthusiasm.

“Go with you? You just bet I will!” was the form of her adhesion to the
plan, when it had been presented to her.

The two young women extended their walk by tacit consent far beyond the
original intention, and it was past the hour set for the dinner when
they at last reluctantly entered the inhospitable-looking domicile. Its
shabby aspect and the meanness of its poverty-stricken belongings had
never seemed so apparent before to either of them, as they drew near to
it, but it was even less inviting within.

They were warned that it would be so by their father, whom they
encountered just outside the kitchen door, chopping up an old plank for
firewood. Ben had put on a glaringly white paper collar, to mark his
sense of the importance of the festival, and the effect seemed to
heighten the gloom on his countenance.

“There’s the old Harry to pay in there,” he said, nodding his head
toward the door. “Melissa’s come in from the farm to spend the day,
because she heard you was here, Jess, and somehow she got the idee you’d
bring a lot of dresses and fixings, and she wanted her share, and got
mad because there wasn’t any; and Samantha she pitched into her about
coming to eat up our dinner, and M’rye she took Melissa’s part, and so I
kind o’ sashayed out. They don’t need this wood any more’n a frog needs
a tail, but I’m going to whack ’er all up.”

The Thanksgiving dinner which shortly ensued had a solitary merit: it
did not last very long. But hurried as it was, Jessica did not sit
it out. The three sisters with whom she was not friendly had been
quarrelling, it seemed, with Melissa, the heavy-browed and surly girl
who worked out at the Fair-child farm, but all four combined in an
instant against the new-comers. Lucinda had never shone in repartee,
and, though she did not shrink from bearing a part in the conflict to
which she suddenly found herself a party, what she was able to say
only made matters worse. As for Jessica, she bit her lips in fierce
restraint, and for a long time said nothing at all. Melissa had formally
shaken hands with her, and had not spoken a word.

When the thin turkey was put upon the table, and Mrs. Lawton had with
some difficulty mangled it into eight approximately equal portions, a
period of silence fell on the party--silence broken only by sounds of
the carnivora which are not expected at the banquets of the polite.
Even this measly fowl, badly cooked and defiled by worse than tasteless
dressing though it was, represented a treat in the Lawton household, and
the resident members fell upon it with eager teeth. Melissa sniffed a
trifle at her portion, to let it be seen that they were better fed out
on the farm, but she ate vigorously none the less. It was only Jessica
who could summon no appetite, and who sat silent and sick at heart,
wearily striving at the pretence of eating in order not to attract
attention. She was conscious of hostile glances being cast upon her from
either side, but she kept her eyes as steadily as she could upon
her plate or on her father, who sat opposite and who smiled at her
encouragingly from time to time.

It was one of the ungracious twins who first attained the leisure in
which to note Jessica’s failure to eat, and commented audibly upon the
difficulty of catering to the palates of “fine ladies.” The phrase was
instantly repeated with a sneering emphasis by Samantha, which was the
signal for a burst of giggling, in which Melissa joined. Then
Samantha, speaking very distinctly and with an ostentatious parade of
significance, informed Melissa that young Horace Boyce had returned to
Thessaly only the previous day, “on the very train which father
went down to meet.” This treatment of Melissa as a vehicle for the
introduction of disagreeable topics impressed the twins as a shrewd
invention, and one of them promptly added:

“Yes, M’liss’, and who do you think called here yesterday? Reuben Tracy
the lawyer. He was there in the parlor for half an hour--pretty cold he
must have found it--but he wasn’t alone.”

“Oh, yes, we’re getting quite fashionable,” put in Samantha. “Father
ought to set out a hitching-post and a carriage-block, so that we can
receive our callers in style. I hope it will be a stone one, dad.”

“And so do I,” broke in Lucinda, angrily, “and then I’d like to see your
head pounded on it, for all it was worth.”

“Well, if it was,” retorted Samantha, “it would make a noise. And that’s
more than yours would.”

“You shut up!” shouted Ben Lawton, with the over-vehemence of a weak
nature in excitement. “Hain’t you got no decency nor compassion in ye?
Has she done any harm to you? Can’t you give her a chance--to--to live
it down?”

While the echoes of this loud, indignant voice were still on the air,
Jessica had pushed her chair back, risen, and walked straight to the
door leading up-stairs. She looked at nobody as she passed, but held her
pale face proudly erect, though her lips were quivering.

After she had opened the door, some words seemed to come to her, and she
turned.

“Live it down!” she said, speaking more loudly than was her wont, to
keep her faltering voice from breaking. “Live it down! Why, father,
these people don’t want me to live at all!”

Then she closed the door and was seen no more that day.



CHAPTER IX.--THE PARTNERSHIP.

 Either through the softening influence of the Thanksgiving festival
upon litigious natures, or by reason of the relaxing reaction from
over-feasting, it happened that no clients of any kind visited Reuben
Tracy’s law office next day. He came down early enough to light his own
fires in both the inner and outer rooms--an experience for which he had
been prepared by long observation of the effect produced by holidays
upon his clerk--and he sat for a couple of hours by the stove, with his
feet on the table and a book in his lap, waiting for Horace Boyce
to keep the appointment. The book was an old collection of Carlyle’s
earlier essays, and Reuben liked it better, perhaps, than any other
member of his library family. He had not read it through, and there was
a good deal in it which he seemed likely never to read. But there were
other portions, long since very familiar to his mind and eye, which it
was his habit to go over again whenever he had nothing else to do. The
rough, thought-compelling diction rested his brain, by some curious rule
of paradox. In the front of the volume he had written, “Not new books,
but good books,” an apothegm adapted from a preface of an old English
play which had pleased him.

He was indolently ruminating on the wealth of epithet with which the
portrait of Cagliostro is painted, when his expected visitor arrived. He
laughed aloud at some whimsical conceit that this association of people
suggested, and tossed the book aside as he rose.

“I’ve been killing time,” he said, still smiling, “by reading about the
prize impostor of the eighteenth century. You know it?--_The Diamond
Necklace_. I like to read it. For good, downright swindling and
effrontery there’s nothing anywhere like that fellow.”

Horace glanced at the book as he shook hands and took off his overcoat.
He said nothing, but made a mental note that Reuben had come to know
about Carlyle after everybody else had ceased reading him.

The two young men sat down together, and their talk for the first hour
or so was of business matters. Reuben made clear what his practice was
like, its dimensions, its profits, and its claims upon his time. The
railroad business had come to him through the influence of his old
friend Congressman Ansdell, of Tecumseh, and was very important.
The farmers in the vicinity, too, had brought him the bulk of their
patronage in the matter of drawing deeds and mortgages--most frequently
the latter, he was sorry to say--because he was a farmer’s son. This
conveyancing work had grown to such proportions, and entailed such an
amount of consultation, that he had been more and more crowded out from
active court practice, which he was reluctant to abandon. This was his
reason for thinking of a partner. Then the conversation drifted into
discussion of Horace’s fitness for the place, and his proper share in
the earnings of the firm. They went over for dinner to the Dearborn
House, where Reuben lived, before this branch of the talk was concluded.
Upon their return, over some cigars which Horace thought very bad, they
made more headway, and arrived at an understanding satisfactory to both.
Reuben printed the firm name of “Tracy & Boyce” on a blotter, to see how
it would look, and Horace talked confidently of the new business which
the long connection of his family with Thessaly would bring to them.

“You know, they’ve been here from the very beginning. My
great-grandfather was county judge here as far back as 1796, almost the
first one after the county was created. And his son, my great-uncle, was
congressman one term, and assemblyman for years; and another brother
was the president of the bank; and my grandfather was the rector of St.
Matthew’s; and then my father being the best-known soldier Dearborn sent
out during the war--what I mean is, all this ought to help a good deal.
It’s something to have a name that is as much a part of the place as
Thessaly itself. You see what I mean?”

Horace finished with an almost nervous query, for it had dawned upon him
that his companion might not share this high opinion of the value of an
old name and pedigree. Come to think of it, the Tracys were nobody in
particular, and he glanced apprehensively at Reuben’s large, placid face
for signs of pique. But there was none visible to the naked eye, and
Horace lighted a fresh cigar, and put his feet up on the table beside
those of his new partner.

“I daresay there’s something in that,” Reuben remarked after a time. “Of
course there must be, and for that matter I guess a name goes for more
in our profession than it does anywhere else. I suppose it’s natural for
people to assume that jurisprudence runs in families, like snub-noses
and drink.” As soon as he had uttered this last word, it occurred to him
that possibly Horace might construe it with reference to his father, and
he made haste to add:

“I never told you, I think, about my own career. I don’t talk about
it often, for it makes a fellow sound like Mr. Bounderby in _Hard
Times_--the chap who was always bragging about being a self-made man.”

“No; I’d like to hear about it,” said Horace. “The first I remember of
you was at the seminary here.”

“Well, I was only fifteen years old then, and all the story I’ve got
dates before that. I can just remember when we moved into this part of
the world--coming from Orange County. My father had bought a small farm
some fifteen miles from here, over near Tyre, and we moved onto it in
the spring. I was about five. I had an older brother, Ezra, and two
younger ones. There was a good deal of hard work to do, and father tried
to do it all himself, and so by harvest time he was laid up; and the men
who came and got in the crops on shares robbed us down to the ground.
When winter came, father had to get up, whether he was well enough
or not, and chop wood for the market, to make up for the loss on
harvesting. One evening he didn’t come home, and the team was away
all night, too, with mother never going to bed at all, and then before
daybreak taking Ezra to carry a lantern, and starting through the drifts
for our patch of woods. They found my father dead in the forest, crushed
under a falling tree.

“I suppose it was a terrible winter. I only dimly remember it, or the
summer that followed. When another winter was coming on, my mother grew
frightened. Try the best she knew how, she was worse off every month
than she had been the month before. To pay interest on the mortgage, she
had to sell what produce we had managed to get in, keeping only a bare
moiety for ourselves, and to give up the woodland altogether. Soon the
roads would be blocked; there was not enough fodder for what stock we
had, nor even food enough for us. We had no store of fuel, and no means
of staving off starvation. Under stern compulsion, solely to secure
a home for her boys, my mother married a well-to-do farmer in the
neighborhood--a man much older than herself, and the owner of a
hundred-acre farm and of the mortgages on our own little thirty acres.

“I suppose he meant to be a just man, but he was as hard as a steel
bloom. He was a prodigious worker, and he made us all work, without
rest or reward. When I was nine years old, narrow-chested and physically
delicate, I had to get up before sunrise for the milking, and then work
all day in the hay-field, making and cocking, and obliged to keep ahead
of the wagon under pain of a flogging. Three years of this I had, and
I recall them as you might a frightful nightmare. I had some stray
schooling--my mother insisted upon that--but it wasn’t much; and I
remember that the weekly paper was stopped after that because Ezra and I
wasted too much time in reading it.

“Finally my health gave out. My mother feared that I would die, and at
last gained the point of my being allowed to go to Tyre to school, if I
could earn my board and clothes there. I went through the long village
street there, stopping at every house to ask if they wanted a little
boy to do chores for his board and go to school. I said nothing about
clothes after the first few inquiries. It took me almost all day to
find a place. It was nearly the last house in the village. The people
happened to want a boy, and agreed to take me. I had only to take
care of two horses, milk four cows, saw wood for three stoves, and run
errands. When I lay awake in my new bed that night, it was with joy that
I had found such a kind family and such an easy place!

“I went to school for a year, and learned something--not much, I
daresay, but something. Then I went back to the farm, alternating
between that and other places in Tyre, some better, some worse, until
finally I had saved eight dollars. Then I told my mother that I was
going to Thessaly seminary. She laughed at me--they all laughed--but in
the end I had my way. They fitted me out with some clothes--a vest of
Ezra’s, an old hat, trousers cut perfectly straight and much too short,
and clumsy boots two sizes too big for me, which had been bought by my
stepfather in wrath at our continual trouble in the winter to get on our
stiffened and shrunken boots.

“I walked the first ten miles with a light heart. Then I began to grow
frightened. I had never been to Thessaly, and though I knew pretty well
from others that I should be well received, and even helped to find work
to maintain myself, the prospect of the new life, now so close at hand,
unnerved me. I remember once sitting down by the roadside, wavering
whether to go on or not. At last I stood on the brow of the hill, and
saw Thessaly lying in the valley before me. If I were to live a thousand
years, I couldn’t forget that sight--the great elms, the white buildings
of the seminary, the air of peace and learning and plenty which it all
wore. I tell you, tears came to my eyes as I looked, and more than once
they’ve come again, when I’ve recalled the picture. I remember, too,
that later on in the day old Dr. Burdick turned me loose in the library,
as it were There were four thousand books there, and the sight of them
took my breath away. I looked at them for a long time, I know, with my
mouth wide open. It was clear to me that I should never be able to read
them all--nobody, I thought, could do that--but at last I picked out a
set of the encyclopaedia at the end of the shelf nearest the door, and
decided to begin there, and at least read as far through the room as I
could.”

Reuben stopped here, and relighted his cigar. “That’s my story,” he said
after a pause, as if he had brought the recital up to date.

“I should call that only the preface--or rather, the prologue,” said
Horace.

“No; the rest is nothing out of the ordinary. I managed to live
through the four years here--peddling a little, then travelling for
a photographer in Tecumseh who made enlarged copies of old pictures
collected from the farm-houses, then teaching school. I studied law
first by myself, then with Ansdell at Tecumseh, and then one year in New
York at the Columbia Law School. I was admitted down there, and had a
fair prospect of remaining there, but I couldn’t make myself like New
York. It is too big; a fellow has no chance to be himself there. And so
I came back here; and I haven’t done so badly, all things considered.”

“No, indeed; I should think not!” was Horace’s hearty comment.

“But I see the way now, I think,” continued Reuben, meditatively, “to
doing much better still. I see a good many ways in which you can help me
greatly.”

“I should hope so,” smiled young Mr. Boyce. “That’s what I’m coming in
for.”

“I’m not thinking so much of the business,” answered Reuben; “there need
be no borrowing-of trouble about that. But there are things outside that
I want to do. I spoke a little about this the other day, I think.”

“You said something about going into politics,” replied Horace, not
so heartily. The notion had already risen in his mind that the junior
member of the new partnership might be best calculated to shine in the
arena of the public service, if the firm was to go in for that sort of
thing.

“Oh, no! not ‘politics’ in the sense you mean,” explained Reuben. “My
ambition doesn’t extend beyond this village that we’re in. I’m not
satisfied with it; there are a thousand things that we ought to be doing
better than we are, and I’ve got a great longing to help improve them.
That was what I referred to. That is what has been in my mind ever
since my return. You spoke about politics just now. Strictly speaking,
‘politics’ ought to embrace in its meaning all the ways by which the
general good is served, and nothing else. But, as a matter of fact, it
has come to mean first of all the individual good, and quite often the
sacrifice of everything else. This is natural enough, I suppose. Unless
a man watches himself very closely, it is easy for him to grow to attach
importance to the honor and the profit of the place he holds, and
to forget its responsibilities. In that way you come to have a whole
community regarding an office as a prize, as a place to be fought for,
and not as a place to do more work in than the rest perform. This notion
once established, why, politics comes naturally enough to mean--well,
what it does mean. The politicians are not so much to blame. They merely
reflect the ideas of the public. If they didn’t, they couldn’t stand up
a minute by their own strength. You catch my idea?”

“Perfectly,” said Horace, politely dissembling a slight yawn.

“Well, then, the thing to do is to get at the public mind--to get the
people into the right, way of regarding these things. It is no good
effecting temporary reforms in certain limited directions by outbursts
of popular feeling; for just as soon as the public indignation cools
down, back come the abuses. And so they will do inevitably until the
people get up to a calm, high level of intelligence about the management
of such affairs as they have in common.”

“Quite so,” remarked Horace.

“Of course all this is trite commonplace,” continued Reuben. “You can
read it in any newspaper any day. My point is in the application of it.
It’s all well enough to say these things in a general way. Everybody
knows they are true; nobody disputes them any more than the
multiplication-table. But the exhortation does no good for that very
reason. Each reader says: ‘Yes, it’s too bad that my neighbors don’t
comprehend these things better;’ and there’s an end to the matter.
Nothing is effected, because no particular person is addressed. Now, my
notion is that the way to do is to take a single small community, and go
at it systematically--a house-to-house canvass, so to speak--and labor
to improve its intelligence, its good taste, its general public attitude
toward its own public affairs. One can fairly count on at least some
results, going at it in that way.”

“No doubt,” said the junior partner, smiling faintly.

“Well, then, I’ve got a scheme for a sort of society here--perhaps in
the nature of a club--made up of men who have an interest in the town
and who want to do good. I’ve spoken to two or three about it. Perhaps
it is your coming--I daresay it is--but all at once I feel that it is
time to start it. My notion is it ought to establish as a fundamental
principle that it has nothing to do with anything outside Thessaly and
the district roundabout. That is what we need in this country as much
as anything else--the habit of minding our own immediate business. The
newspapers have taught us to attend every day to what is going on in New
York and Chicago and London and Paris, and every other place under the
sun except our own. That is an evil. We have become like a gossiping
woman who spends all her time in learning what her neighbors are doing,
and lets the fire go out at home. Now, I like to think this can be
altered a good deal, if we only set to work at it. You have been abroad;
you have seen how other people do things, and have wider notions than
the rest of us, no doubt, as to what should be done. What do you say?
Does the idea attract you?”

Horace’s manner confessed to some surprise. “It’s a pretty large order,”
 he said at last, smilingly. “I’ve never regarded myself as specially
cut out for a reformer. Still, there’s a good deal in what you say. I
suppose it is practicable enough, when you come really to examine it.”

“At all events, we can try,” answered Reuben, with the glow of
earnestness shining on his face. “John Fairchild is almost as fond of
the notion as I am, and his paper will be of all sorts of use. Then,
there’s Father Chance, the Catholic priest, a splendid fellow, and Dr.
Lester, and the Rev. Mr. Turner, and a number of others more or less
friendly to the scheme. I’m sure they will all feel the importance of
having you in it. Your having lived in Europe makes such a difference.
You can see things with a new eye.”

Horace gave a little laugh. “What my new eye has seen principally so
far,” he said, with an amused smile running through his words, “is the
prevalence of tobacco juice. But of course there are hundreds of things
our provincial people could learn with profit from Europe. There,
for example, is the hideous cooking done at all the small places. In
England, for instance, it is a delight to travel in the country, simply
because the food is so good in the little rural inns; our country hotel
here is a horror. Then the roads are so bad here, when they might
be made so good. The farmer works out his road tax by going out and
ploughing up the highway, and you break your carriage-wheels in the task
of smoothing it down again. Porters to carry one’s luggage at railway
stations--that’s something we need, too. And the drinking of light beers
and thin, wholesome wines instead of whiskey--that would do a great
deal. Then men shouldn’t be allowed to build those ugly flat-topped
wooden houses, with tin eaves-troughs. No people can grow up to be
civilized who have these abominations thrust upon their sight daily.
And--oh, I had forgotten!--there ought to be a penal law against those
beastly sulphur matches with black heads. I lit one by accident the
other night, and I haven’t got the smell of it out of my nostrils yet.”

Horace ended, as he had begun, with a cheerful chuckle; but his
companion, who sat looking abstractedly at the snow line of the roofs
opposite, did not smile.

“Those are the minor things--the graces of life,” he said, speaking
slowly. “No doubt they have their place, their importance. But I am sick
at heart over bigger matters--over the greed for money, the drunkenness,
the indifference to real education, the neglect of health, the immodesty
and commonness of our young folks’ thought and intercourse, the
narrowness and mental squalor of the life people live all about me--”

“It is so everywhere, my dear fellow,” broke in Horace. “You are making
us worse by comparison than we are.”

“But we ought to be so infinitely better by comparison! And we have it
really in us to be better. Only nobody is concerned about the others;
there is no one to check the drift, to organize public feeling for its
own improvement. And that”--Reuben suddenly checked himself, and looked
at his new partner with a smile of wonderful sweetness--“that is what I
dream of trying to do. And you are going to help me!”

He rose as he spoke, and Horace, feeling his good impulses fired in a
vague way by his companion’s earnestness and confidence, rose also, and
stretched out his hand.

“Be sure I shall do all I can,” he said, warmly, as the two shook hands.

And when young Mr. Boyce went down the narrow stairway by himself, a few
minutes later, having arranged that the partnership was to begin on
the approaching 1st of December, he really fancied himself as a
public-spirited reformer, whose life was to be consecrated to noble
deeds. He was conscious of an added expansion of breast as he buttoned
his fur coat across it, and he walked down the village street in a maze
of proud and pleasant reflections upon his own admirable qualities.



CHAPTER X.--MR. SCHUYLER TENNEY.

Two or three weeks after the new sign of “Tracy & Boyce” had been hung
upon the outer walls of Thessaly it happened that the senior partner was
out of town for the day, and that during his absence the junior partner
received an important visit from Mr. Schuyler Tenney. Although this
gentleman was not a client, his talk with Horace was so long and
interesting that the young lawyer felt justified in denying himself to
several callers who were clients.

Mr. Schuyler Tenney, who has a considerable part to play in this story,
did not upon first observations reveal any special title to prominence.
To the cursory glance, he looked like any other of ten hundred hundreds
of young Americans who are engaged in making more money than they need.
I speak of him as young because, though there was a thick sprinkling of
gray in his closely cut hair, and his age in years must have been above
rather than below forty, there was nothing in his face or dress or
bearing to indicate that he felt himself to be a day older than his
companion. He was a slender man, with a thin, serious face, cold gray
eyes, and a trim drab mustache. Under his creaseless overcoat he wore
neat gray clothes, of uniform pattern and strictly commercial aspect.
He spoke with a quiet abruptness of speech as a rule, and both his rare
smiles and his occasional simulations of vivacity were rather obviously
artificial. Meeting Mr. Schuyler Tenney for even the first time, and
looking him over, you would not, it is true, have been surprised to hear
that he had just planted a dubious gold mine on the confiding
English capitalists, or made a million dollars out of a three-jointed
collar-button, or calmly cut out and carried off a railroad from under
the very guns of the Stock Exchange. If his appearance did not suggest
great exploits of this kind, it did not deny them once they were
hinted by others. But the chance statement that he had privately helped
somebody at his own cost without hope of reward would have given you a
distinct shock.

At the present moment, Mr. Tenney was publicly known as one of the
smartest and most “go-ahead” young business men of Thessaly. Dim rumors
were upon the air that he was really something more than this; but as
the commercial agencies had long ago given him their feeble “A 1” of
superlative rating, and nothing definite was known about his outside
investments, these reports only added vaguely to his respectability. He
was the visible and actual head of the large wholesale hardware house of
“S. Tenney & Co.”

This establishment had before the war borne another name on the big sign
over its portals, that of “Sylvanus Boyce.” A year or two after the war
closed a new legend--“Boyce & Co.”--was painted in. Thus it remained
until the panic of 1873, when it underwent a transformation into “Boyce
& Tenney.” And now for some years the name of Boyce had disappeared
altogether, and the portly, redfaced, dignified General had dwindled
more and more into a position somewhere between the head book-keeper and
the shipping-clerks. He was still a member of the firm, however, and it
was apparently about this fact that Mr. Tenney had come to talk.

He took a seat beside Horace’s desk, after shaking hands coldly with the
young man, and said without ceremony:

“I haven’t had a chance before to see you alone. It wouldn’t do to talk
over at the store--your father’s in and out all the while, more out than
in, by the way--and Tracy’s been here every day since you joined him.”

“He’s out of town to-day,” remarked Horace.

“So I heard. That’s why I came over. Do you know that your father has
overdrawn his income account by nearly eleven thousand dollars, and that
the wrong side of his book hasn’t got room for more than another year
or so of that sort of thing? In fact, it wouldn’t last that long if I
wanted to be sharp with him.”

The words were spoken very calmly, but they took the color as by a flash
from Horace’s face. He swung his chair round, and, looking Tenney in the
eyes, seemed spell-bound by what he saw there. The gaze was sustained
between the two men until it grew to be like the experiment of two
school-children who try to stare each other down, and under its strain
the young lawyer felt himself putting forth more and more exertion to
hold his own.

“I thought I would tell you,” added the hardware merchant, settling
himself back in the chair and crossing his thin legs, and seemingly
finding it no effort to continue looking his companion out of
countenance. “Yes, I thought you ought to know. I suppose he hasn’t said
anything to you about it.”

“Not a word,” answered Horace, shifting his glance to the desk before
him, and striving with all his might to get his wits under control.

“That’s like him. The last thing he ever wants to talk about is
business, least of all his own. They tell a story about a man who used
to say, ‘Thank God, that’s settled!’ whenever he got a note renewed. He
must have been a relation of the General’s.”

“It’s Sheridan that that’s ascribed to,” said Horace, for the sake of
saying something.

“What, ‘Little Phil’? I thought he had more sense.”

There was something in this display of ignorance which gave Horace
the courage to face his visitor once more. He turned resolutely toward
Tenney.

“Nobody knows better than you do,” he said, finding increased
self-control with every word, now that the first excitement was over,
“that a great deal of money has been made in that firm of yours. I
shall be glad to investigate the conditions under which the business has
contrived to make you rich and your partner poor.”

Mr. Tenney seemed disagreeably surprised at this tone. “Don’t talk
nonsense,” he said with passing asperity. “Of course you’re welcome. The
books are open to you. If a man makes four thousand dollars and spends
seven thousand dollars, what on earth has his partner’s affairs to
do with it? I live within my income and attend to my business, and he
doesn’t do either. That’s the long and short of it.”

The two men talked together on this subject for a considerable time,
Horace alternating between expressions of indignation at the fact that
his father had become the unedifying tail of a concern of which he once
was everything, and more or less ingenious efforts to discover what way
out of the difficulty, if any, was offered. Mr. Tenney remained unmoved
under both, and at last coolly quitted the topic altogether.

“You ought to do well here,” he said, ignoring a point-blank question
about how General Boyce’s remaining interest could be protected.
“Thessaly’s going to have a regular boom before long. You’ll see this
place a city in another year or two. We’ve got population enough now,
for that matter, only it’s spread out so. How did you come to go in with
Tracy?”

“Why shouldn’t I? He’s the best man here, and starting alone is the
slowest kind of slow work.”

Mr. Tenney smiled a little, and put the tips of his fingers together
gently.

“Tracy and I don’t hitch very well, you know,” he said. “I took a
downright fancy to him when I first came in from Sidon Hill, but he’s
such a curious, touchy sort of fellow. I asked him one day what church
he’d recommend me to join; of course I was a stranger, and explained to
him that what I wanted was not to make any mistake, but to get into the
church where there were the most respectable people who would be of use
to me; and what do you think he said? He was huffed about it--actually
mad! He said he’d rather have given me a hundred dollars than had me ask
him that question; and after that he was cool, and so was I, and we’ve
never had much to say to each other since then. Of course, there’s no
quarrel, you know. Only it strikes me he’ll be a queer sort of man to
get along with. A lawyer with cranks like that--why, you never know what
he’ll do next.”

“He’s one of the best fellows alive,” said Horace, with sharp emphasis.

“Why, of course he is,” replied Mr. Tenney. “But that isn’t business.
Take the General, for instance; he’s a good fellow, too--in a different
kind of way, of course--and see where it’s landed him. The best fellow
is No. 1. Look out for him and you are all right. Tracy might be making
five or six times as much as he is, if he went the right way to work. He
does more business and gets less for it than any other lawyer in town.
There’s no sense in that.”

“Upon my word, Mr. Tenney,” said Horace, after a moment’s pause, in
which he deliberately framed what he was going to say, “I find it
difficult to understand why you thought it worth while to come here at
all to-day: it surely wasn’t to talk about Tracy; and the things I want
to know about my father you won’t discuss. What _do_ you want, anyway?
Wait a moment, let me finish. What I see is this: that you were a
private in the regiment my father was colonel of; that he made you a
sort of adjutant, or something in the nature of a clerk, and so lifted
you out of the ranks; that during the war, when your health failed, he
gave you a place in his business here at home, which lifted you out of
the farm; that a while later he made you a partner; and that gradually
the tables have been completely turned, until you are the colonel and
he is the private, you are rich and he is nearly insolvent. That is what
the thing sums up to in my mind. What is _your_ view of it? He was good
to you. Have you come to tell me that now you are going to be good to
him?”

“Good God! Haven’t I been good to him?” said Tenney, with real
indignation. “Couldn’t I have frozen him out eighteen months ago instead
of taking up his overdrafts at only ten per cent, charge so as to keep
him along? There isn’t one man in a hundred who would have done for him
what I have.”

“I am glad to hear it,” replied the young man.

“If the proportion was much larger, I am afraid this would be a very
unhappy world to live in.”

Mr. Tenney eyed the lawyer doubtfully. He had not clearly grasped the
meaning of this remark, but instinct told him that it was hostile.

“All right! You may take it that way, if you like.” He rose as he spoke
and began buttoning his overcoat. “Only let me say this: when the smash
comes, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. If you won’t listen to me,
that’s _your_ lookout.”

“But I haven’t done anything but listen to you for the last two hours,”
 said Horace, who longed to tell his visitor to go to the devil, and yet
was betrayed into signs of anxiety at the prospect of his departure. “If
you’ll remember, you haven’t told me anything that I asked for. Heaven
knows, I should be only too glad to listen, if you’ve got anything to
say.”

Mr. Tenney made a smiling movement with his thin lips and sat down
again.

“I thought you would change your tune,” he said, calmly. Horace offered
a gesture of dissent, to which the hardware merchant paid no attention.
He had measured his man, and decided upon a system of treatment. “What
I really wanted,” he continued, “was to look you over and hear you talk,
and kind of walk around you and size you up, so to speak. You see I’ve
only known you as a youngster--better at spending money than at making
it. Now that you’ve started as a lawyer, I thought I’d take stock of you
again, don’t you see; and the best way to sound you all around was to
talk about your father’s affairs.”

Horace was conscious of a temptation to be angry at this cool statement,
but he did not yield to it. “Then it isn’t true--what you have told me?”
 he asked.

“Well, yes, it is, mostly,” answered Mr. Tenney, again contemplating his
joined finger-tips. “But it isn’t of so much importance compared with
some other things. There’s bigger game afoot than partnerships in
hardware stores.”

Horace gave a little laugh of mingled irritation and curiosity. “What
the devil _are_ you driving at, Tenney?” he said, and swung his chair
once more to face his visitor.

This time the two men eyed each other more sympathetically, and the
tones of the two voices lost something of their previous reserve. Mr.
Tenney himself resumed the conversation with an air of direct candor:

“I heard somebody say you rather counted on getting some of the Minster
iron-works business.”

“Well, the fact is, I may have said I hoped to, but nothing definite has
been settled. The ladies are friends of mine: we came up from New York
together last month; but nothing was decided.”

“I see,” said Mr. Tenney, and Horace felt uneasily, as he looked into
those sharp gray eyes, that no doubt they did see very clearly. “You
were just gassing. I thought as much. There’s no harm in that, only
it’s no good to gas with me, for there’s some solid business to be
done--something mighty promising for both of us.”

“Of course I’ve no notion what you mean,” said Horace. “But it’s just
as well to clear up the ground as we go along. The first experiment of
yoking up Boyces and Tenneys together hasn’t turned out so admirably as
to warrant me--What shall I say?”

“As to warrant you going in with your eyes shut.” Mr. Tenney supplied
the lacking phrase with evident enjoyment. “Not at all, Mr. Boyce.
On the contrary, what I want of you is to have your eyes peeled
particularly wide open. But, first of all, Tracy mustn’t hear a breath
of this whole thing.”

“Then go no further, I beg of you. I sha’n’t touch it.”

“Oh, yes, you will,” said Mr. Tenney, briskly and with confidence. “He
has his own private business. Why shouldn’t you? The railroad work, for
example: you don’t share in that. That is his own, and quite right, too.
But that very fact leaves you free, doesn’t it, to go into speculations
on your own account?”

“Speculations--yes, perhaps.”

“No ‘perhaps’ about it; of course it does. At least, you can hear what
I have to say without telling him, whether you go into the thing or not;
do you promise me that?”

“I don’t think I wish to promise anything,” said Horace, doubtingly.

“All right! If you won’t deal, you won’t; and I must protect myself my
own way.” Mr. Tenney did not rise and again begin buttoning his coat,
nor was it, indeed, necessary. There had been menace enough in his tone
to effect his purpose.

“Very well, then,” answered Horace, in a low voice; “if you insist, I
promise.”

“I shall know within half an hour if you do tell him,” said Mr. Tenney,
in his most affable manner; “but of course you won’t.”

“Of course I won’t!” snapped Horace, testily.

“All right, then. So far, so good. The first thing, then, is to put the
affairs of the Minster women into your hands.”

Horace took his feet off the table, and looked in fixed surprise at
his father’s partner. “How--what do you mean?” he stammered at last,
realizing, even as he spoke, that there were certain strange depths in
Mr. Tenney’s eyes which had been dimly apparent at the outset, and then
had been for a long time veiled, and were now once more discernible.
“How do you mean?”

“It can be fixed, as easy as rolling off a log. Old Clarke has gone to
Florida for his health, and there’s going to be a change made. A word
from me can turn the whole thing over to you.”

“A word from you!” Horace spoke with incredulity, but he did not really
doubt. There was a revelation of reserve power in the man’s glance that
fascinated him.

“That’s what I said. The question is whether I shall speak it or not.”

“To be frank with you”--Horace smiled a little--“I hope very much that
you will.”

“I daresay. But have you got the nerve for it?--that’s the point. Can
you keep your mouth shut, and your head clear, and will you follow me
without kicking or blabbing? That’s what I want to know.”

“And that’s just what I can’t tell you. I’m not going to bind myself
to do unknown things.” Horace said this bravely enough, but the shrewd,
listening ear understood very well the lurking accent of assent.

“You needn’t bind yourself to anything, except to tell Tracy nothing
till I give you the word, and then only what we shall agree upon. Of
course, later on he will have to know something about it. But leave that
to me. And mind, mum’s the word.” Mr. Tenney rose now, not tentatively,
but as one who is really going. Horace sprang to his feet as well, and
despite the other’s declaration that he was pressed for time, and had
already stayed too long, insisted on detaining him.

“What I don’t understand in all this,” he said, hurriedly--“for that
matter the whole thing is a mystery--but what I particularly fail to see
is your object in benefiting me. The two things don’t hitch. You tell me
that you have got my father in a hole, and then you offer me a great and
substantial prize. I don’t catch the sequence. You are not the man to
do things for nothing. What you haven’t told me is what there is in this
affair for you.”

Mr. Tenney seemed complimented by this tribute to his commercial sense
and single-mindedness. “No, I haven’t told you,” he said, buttoning his
coat. “That’ll come in due time. All you’ve got to do meanwhile is to
keep still, and to take the thing when it comes to you. Let me know
at once, and say nothing to any living soul--least of all Tracy--until
you’ve talked with me. That oughtn’t to be hard.”

“And suppose I don’t like the conditions?”

“Then you may lump them,” said Schuyler Ten, ney, disclosing his small
teeth again in a half-smile, as he made his way out.



CHAPTER XI.--MRS. MINSTER’S NEW LEGAL ADVISER.

 Some two weeks later Mr. Horace Boyce, on returning home one evening,
found on his table a note which had been delivered during the day by
a servant. It was from Mrs. Minster--“Desideria Minster” she signed
herself--asking him to call upon her the following afternoon. The young
man read the missive over and over again by the lamplight, and if it
had been a love-letter from the daughter instead of the polite business
appointment by the mother, his eyes couldn’t have flashed more eagerly
as he took in the meaning of its words.

The meaning of its words! He thought long upon that, ruminating in his
easy-chair before the fire until far past midnight, until the dainty
little Japanese saucer at his side was heaped up with cigar ashes, and
the air was heavy with smoke.

Evidently this summons was directly connected with the remarks made by
Tenney a fortnight before. He had said the Minster business should come
to him, and here it was. The fact that Mrs. Minster wrote to him at his
residence, rather than at his office, was proof that she too wished to
have him alone, and not the firm of Tracy & Boyce, as her adviser. That
there should be this prejudice against Reuben, momentarily disturbed the
young man; but, upon examination, he found it easy to account for it.
Reuben was very nice--his partner even paused for a moment to reflect
how decent a fellow Reuben really was--but then, he scarcely belonged to
the class of society in which people like the Boyces and Minsters moved.
Naturally the millionnaire widow, belonging as she did to an ancient
family in the Hudson River valley, and bearing the queer name of a
grandmother who had been a colonial beauty, would prefer to have as her
family lawyer somebody who also had ancestors.

The invitation had its notable social side, too. There was no good
in blinking the fact that his father the General--who had effected a
somewhat noisy entrance to the house a half-hour ago, and the sound
of whose burdened breathing now intermittently came to his ears in the
silence of the night--had allowed the family status to lapse. The Boyces
were not what they had been. In the course of such few calls as he had
made since his return, it had been impossible for him not to detect
the existence of a certain surprise that he should have called at all.
Everybody, too, had taken pains to avoid reference to his father, even
when the course of talk made such allusion natural. This had for the
moment angered the young man, and later had not a little discouraged
him. As a boy he had felt it a great thing to be the son of a general,
and to find it now to be a distinct detriment was disheartening indeed.
But this black-bordered, perfumed note from Mrs. Minster put all, as
by the sweep of a hand, into the background. Once he visited that
proud household as a friend, once he looked Thessaly in the face as
the confidential adviser of the Minster family, the Boyces were
rehabilitated.

To dwell upon the thought was very pleasant, for it led the way by
sweetly vagrant paths to dreams of the dark-eyed, beautiful Kate.
During the past month these visions had lost color and form under the
disconcerting influences just spoken of, but now they became, as if by
magic, all rosy-hued and definite again. He had planned to himself on
that first November day a career which should be crowned by marriage
with the lovely daughter of the millions, and had made a mental march
around the walls encompassing her to spy out their least defended point.
Now, all at once, marvellous as it seemed, he found himself transported
within the battlements. He was to be her mother’s lawyer--nay, _her_
lawyer as well, and to his sanguine fancy this meant everything.

Everything? The word seemed feeble. It meant one of the most beautiful
women he had ever seen as his wife--a lady well-born, delicately
nurtured, clever, and good; it meant vast wealth, untold wealth, with
which to be not only the principal personage of these provincial parts,
but a great figure in New York or Washington or Europe. He might be
senator in Congress, minister to Paris, or even aspire to the towering,
solitary eminence of the Presidency itself with the backing of these
millions. It meant a yacht, the very dream of sea-going luxury and
speed, in which to bask under Hawaiian skies, to loiter lazily along the
topaz shores of far Cathay, to flit to and fro between spice lands and
cold northern seas, the whole watery globe subject to her keel. Why,
there could be a castle on the Moselle, a country house in Devonshire,
a flat in Paris, a villa at Mentone, a summer island home on the St.
Lawrence, a mansion in New York--all together, if he liked, or as many
as pleased his whim. It might be worth the while to lease a shooting in
Scotland, only the mischief was that badly bred Americans, the odious
_nouveaux riches_, had rather discredited the national name in the
Highlands.

So the young man’s fancies floated on the wreaths of scented smoke till
at last he yawned in spite of himself, sated with the contemplation of
the gifts the gods had brought him. He read Mrs. Minster’s note once
again before he went to bed, and sleep overtook his brain while it was
still pleasantly musing on the choicest methods of expending the income
of her millions.

Curiously enough, during all these hours of happy castle-building, the
question of why Schuyler Tenney had interested himself in the young
man’s fortunes never once crossed that young man’s mind. To be frank,
the pictures he painted were all of “gentlemen” and “ladies,” and his
father’s partner, though his help might be of great assistance at
the outset, could scarcely expect to mingle in such company, even in
Horace’s tobacco reveries.

Neither to his father at the breakfast-table, nor to Reuben Tracy at
the office, did young Mr. Boyce next day mention the fact that he was to
call on Mrs. Minster. This enforced silence was not much to his liking,
primarily because his temperament was the reverse of secretive. When
he had done anything or thought of doing something, the impulse to tell
about it was always strong upon him. The fact that the desire to talk
was not rigorously balanced by regard for the exact and prosaic truth
may not have been an essential part of the trait when we come to
analysis, but garrulity and exaggeration ran together in Horace’s
nature. To repress them now, just at the time when the most important
event of his life impended, required a good deal of effort.

He had some qualms of conscience, too, so far as Reuben was concerned.
Two or three things had happened within the past week which had laid
him under special obligation to the courtesy and good feeling of his
partner. They were not important, perhaps, but still the memory of them
weighed upon _his_ mind when, at three o’clock, he put on his coat and
explained that he might not be back again that afternoon. Reuben nodded,
and said, “All right: I shall be here. If so-and-so comes, I’ll go over
the matter and make notes for you.” Then Horace longed very much to tell
all about the Minster summons and the rest, and this longing arose as
much from a wish to be frank and fair as from a craving to confide his
secret to somebody; but he only hesitated for a second, and then went
out.

Mrs. Minster received him in the chamber which had been her husband’s
working room, and which still contained his desk, although it had since
been furnished with book-shelves and was called the library. Horace
noted, as the widow rose to greet him, that, though the desk was open,
its pigeon-holes did not seem to contain many papers.

After his hostess had bidden him to be seated, and had spoken in mildly
deprecating tones about the weather, she closed her resolutely lined
lips, folded her hands in her lap, and looked at him in amiable
suspense. As has been said before, Mrs. Minster’s dark face, with its
high frame of white hair and its bright black eyes, habitually produced
an impression of great cleverness and alert insight, and Horace was
conscious of embarrassment in finding the task of conversation devolved
upon himself. He took up the burden, however, and carried it along from
subject to subject until at last it seemed fitting to broach the great
topic.

“I didn’t get your note until evening,” he said, with a polite inquiring
smile.

“No, I didn’t send it until after dinner,” she replied, and a pause
ensued.

It fortunately occurred to Horace to say he was very glad to have her
call upon him always, if in any way she saw how he could serve her. As
he spoke these words, he felt that they were discreet and noncommittal,
and yet must force her to come to the point. And they did, after a
fashion.

“It is very kind of you, I’m sure,” she said, graciously, and came to a
full stop.

“If there is anything I can do now,” Horace remarked tentatively.

“Well--oh yes! What I wanted to ask you was, do you know the Wendovers?”

“I don’t think I do.” murmured the young man, with a great sinking of
the heart.

“They’re New York people,” the lady explained.

“I know almost nobody in New York,” answered Horace gloomily. “Wendover?
No, I am quite sure the name is new to me.”

“That is curious,” said Mrs. Minster. She took a letter up from the
desk. “This is from Judge Wendover, and it mentions you. I gathered from
it that he knew you quite well.”

Oh, shades of the lies that might have been told, if one had only known!

Horace swiftly ransacked his brain for a way out of this dilemma.
Evidently this letter bore upon his selection as her lawyer. He guessed
rightly that it had been written at Tenney’s suggestion and by some one
who had Mrs. Minster’s confidence. Obviously this some one was of the
legal profession. That was his cue.

“The name does sound familiar, on second thought,” he said. “I daresay
it is, if I could only place it. You see, I had a number of offers to
enter legal firms in New York, and in that way I saw a good many people
for a few minutes, you know, and quite probably I’ve forgotten some of
their names. They would remember me, of course, but I might confuse them
one with another, don’t you see? Strange, I don’t fix the man you mean.
Was he a middle-aged man, grayish hair, well dressed?”

“Yes, that describes him.” She did not add that it would equally
describe seven out of every ten other men called “judge” throughout the
United States.

“Now I place him,” said Horace triumphantly. “There was some talk of
my going into his office as a junior partner. Mutual friends of ours
proposed it, I remember. But it didn’t attract me. Curious that I should
have forgotten his name. One’s memory plays such whimsical tricks,
though.”

“I didn’t know Judge Wendover was practising law,” said Mrs. Minster.
“He never was much of a lawyer. He was county judge once down in
Peekskill, about the time I was married, but he didn’t get reelected;
and I thought he gave it all up when he went to New York.”

“If it’s the man I mean,” put in Horace, groping his way despairingly,
“there wasn’t much business in his office. That is why I didn’t go in, I
daresay: it wouldn’t be worth my while unless he himself was devoted to
the law, and carried on a big practice.”

“I daresay it’s the same man,” remarked Mrs. Minster. “He probably
_would_ have a kind of law office. They generally do.”

“Well, may I ask,” Horace ventured after another pause, “in what
connection he mentions my name?”

“He recommends me to consult you about affairs--to--well, how shall I
say it?--to make you my lawyer?”

Eureka! The words were out, and the difficult passage about Judge
What’s-his-name was left safely behind. Horace felt his brain swimming
on a sea of exaltation, but he kept his face immobile, and bowed his
head with gravity.

“I am very young for so serious a responsibility, I’m afraid,” he said
modestly.

The widow reassured him with a smile. “There isn’t really much to do,”
 she answered. “And somebody would have to learn what there is; and
you can do that as well as any one else, better than a stranger. The
difficulty is,” she spoke more slowly, and Horace listened with all his
ears: “you have a partner, I’m told.”

The young man did not hesitate for an instant. “Only in a limited way,”
 he replied. “Mr. Tracy and I have combined on certain lines of work
where two heads are better than one, but we each keep distinct our own
private practice. It is much better.”

“I certainly prefer it,” said Mrs. Minster. “I am glad to hear you keep
separate. I do not know Mr. Tracy, and, indeed, he is very highly spoken
of as a _lawyer_; but certain things I have heard--social matters, I
mean--”

The lady broke off discreetly. She could not tell this young man what
she had heard about that visit to the Lawton house. Horace listened to
her without the remotest notion of her meaning, and so could only smile
faintly and give the least suggestion of a sigh. Clearly he must throw
Reuben overboard.

“We can’t have everything in this world just to our minds,” he said
judicially, and it seemed to him to cover the case with prudent
vagueness.

“I suppose you thought the partnership would be a good thing?” she
asked.

“At the time--_yes_,” answered Horace. “And, to be fair, it really has
some advantages. Mr. Tracy is a prodigious worker, for one thing, and
he is very even-tempered and willing; so that the burden of details
is taken off my shoulders to a great extent, and that disposes one to
overlook a good many things, you know.”

Mrs. Minster nodded appreciation. She also knew what it was to delight
in relief from the burden of details, and she said to herself that
fortunately Mr. Boyce would thus have the more leisure to devote the
affairs of the Minsters.

Into their further talk it is not needful to pursue the lady and her
lawyer. She spoke only in general terms, outlining her interests and
investments which required attention, and vaguely defining what she
expected him to do. Horace listened very closely, but beyond a nebulous
comprehension of the existence of a big company and a little company,
which together controlled the iron-works and its appurtenances, he
learned next to nothing. One of the first things which she desired of
Horace was, however, that he should go to Florida and talk the whole
subject over with Mr. Clarke, and to this he gladly assented.

“I will write to him that you are coming,” she said, as she rose. “I may
tell you that he personally preferred Mr. Tracy as his successor; but,
as I have told you--well, there were reasons why--”

Horace made haste to bow and say “quite so,” and thus spare Mrs. Minster
the trouble of explanations. “Perhaps it will be better to say nothing
to any one until I have returned from Florida,” he added, as a parting
suggestion, and it had her assent.

The young man walked buoyantly down the gravel path and along the
streets, his veins fairly tingling with excitement and joy. The great
prize had come to him--wealth, honor, fame, were all within his grasp.
He thought proudly, as he strode along, of what he would do after his
marriage. Even the idea of hyphenating the two names in the English
fashion, Minster-Boyce, came into his mind, and was made welcome.
Perhaps, though, it couldn’t well be done until his father was dead; and
that reminded him--he really must speak to the General about his loose
behavior.

Thus Horace exultantly communed with his happy self, and formed
resolutions, dreamed dreams, discussed radiant probabilities as he
walked, until his abstracted eye was suddenly, insensibly arrested by
the sight of a familiar sign across the street--“S. Tenney & Co.” Then
for the first time he remembered his promise, and the air grew colder
about him as he recalled it. He crossed the road after a moment’s
hesitation, and entered the hardware store.

Mr. Tenney was alone in the little office partitioned off by wood and
glass from the open store. He received the account given by Horace of
his visit to the Minster mansion with no indication of surprise, and
with no outward sign of satisfaction.

“So far, so good,” he said, briefly. Then, after a moment’s meditation,
he looked up sharply in the face of the young man, who was still
standing: “Did you say anything about your terms?”

“Of course not. How could I? You don’t show price-lists like a
storekeeper, in the _law!_”

Mr. Tenney smiled just a little at Horace’s haughty tone--a smile of
furtive amusement. “It’s just as well,” he said. “I’ll talk with you
about that later. The old lady’s rather close-fisted. We may make a
point there--by sending in bills much smaller than old Clarke’s used to
be. I ought to have told you about that. Luckily it wasn’t needed.”

The matter-of-fact way in which Mr. Tenney used this “we” grated
disagreeably on the young man’s ear, suggesting as it did a new
partnership uncomfortably vague in form; but he deemed it wise not to
touch upon the subject. His next question, as to the identity of Judge
Wendover, brought upon the stage, however, still a third partner in the
shadowy firm to which he had committed himself.

“Oh, Wendover’s in with us. He’s all right,” replied Schuyler Tenney,
lightly. “Never heard of him, eh? He’s the president of the Thessaly
Manufacturing Company. You’ll hear a good deal about _that_ later on.”
 The speaker showed his teeth again by a smiling movement of the lips at
this assurance, and Horace somehow felt his uneasiness growing.

“She wants me to go to Florida to see Clarke, and talk things over,” he
said.

“Just so. That’s important. We must consider all that very carefully
before you go. Clarke requires handling. Leave that to me. I’ll think
out what you are to tell him.”

Horace was momentarily shrinking in importance before his own mental
vision; and, though he resented it, he could not but submit. “I suppose
I’d better make some other excuse to Tracy about the Florida trip,” he
said, almost deferentially; “what do you think?”

“Oh, you think so, do you?” Mr. Tenney was interested, and made a
renewed scrutiny of the young man’s face. “Perhaps. I’ll think about
it, and let you know to-morrow. Look in about this time, and don’t say
anything till then. So long!”

Thus dismissed, Horace took his leave, and it was not until he had
nearly reached his home that the thoughts chasing each other in his mind
began to take on once more roseate hues and hopeful outlines.

Mr. Tenney watched his partner’s son through the partition until he was
out of sight, and then smiled at the papers on his desk in confidence.
“He’s ready to lie at a minute’s notice,” he mused; “offered on his own
hook to lie to Tracy. That’s all right--only he mustn’t try it on with
me!”



CHAPTER XII.--THE THESSALY CITIZENS’ CLUB.

 The village of Thessaly took no pains to conceal the fact that it was
very proud of itself. What is perhaps more unique is that the farming
people round about, and even the smaller and rival hamlets scattered
through the section, cordially recognized Thessaly’s right to be proud,
and had a certain satisfaction in themselves sharing that pride.

Lest this should breed misconception and paint a more halcyon picture of
these minor communities than is deserved, let it be explained that they
were not without their vehement jealousies and bickerings among one
another. Often there arose between them sore contentions over questions
of tax equalization and over political neglects and intrigues; and
here, too, there existed, in generous measure, those queer parochial
prejudices--based upon no question whatever, and defying alike inquiry
and explanation--which are so curious a heritage from the childhood days
of the race. No long-toed brachycephalous cave-dweller of the stone
age could have disliked the stranger who hibernated in the holes on
the other side of the river more heartily than the people of Octavius
disliked those of Sidon. In the hop-picking season the young men of
these two townships always fell to fighting when they met, and their
pitched conflicts in and around the Half-way House near Tyre, when
dances were given there in the winter, were things to talk about
straight through until hoeing had begun in the spring. There were many
other of these odd and inexplicable aversions--as, for instance, that
which had for many years impelled every farmer along the whole length of
the Nedahma Creek road to vote against any and all candidates nominated
from Juno Mills, a place which they scarcely knew and had no earthly
reason for disliking. But in such cases no one asked for reasons.
Matters simply stood that way, and there was nothing more to be said.

But everybody was proud of Thessaly. Neighbors took almost as much
pleasure in boasting of its wealth and activity, and prophesying its
future greatness, as did its own sons. The farmers when they came in
gazed with gratified amazement at the new warehouses, the new chimneys,
the new factory walls that were rising everywhere about them, and
returned more satisfied than ever that “Thessaly was just a-humming
along.” Dearborn County had always heretofore been a strictly
agricultural district, full of rich farm-lands and well-to-do
farm-owners, and celebrated in the markets of New York for the
excellence of its dairy products. Now it seemed certain that Thessaly
would soon be a city, and it was already a subject for congratulation
that the industries which were rooting, sprouting, or bearing fruit
there had given Dearborn County a place among the dozen foremost
manufacturing shires in the State.

The farmers were as pleased over this as any one else. It was true that
they were growing poorer year by year; that their lands were gradually
becoming covered with a parchment film of mortgages, more deadly than
sorrel or the dreaded black-moss; that the prices of produce had gone
down on the one hand as much as the cost of living and of labor had
risen on the other; that a rich farmer had become a rarity in a district
which once was controlled by the princes of herds and waving fields:
but all the same the agriculturists of Dearborn County were proud of
Thessaly, of its crowds of foreign-born operatives, its smoke-capped
chimneys, and its noisy bustle. They marched almost solidly to the polls
to vote for the laws which were supposed to protect its industries, and
they consoled themselves for falling incomes and increased expenditure
by roseate pictures of the great “home market” which Thessaly was to
create for them when it became a city.

The village had once been very slow indeed. For many years it had been
scarcely known to the outside world save as the seat of a seminary of
something more than local repute. This institution still nestled under
the brow of the hill whence the boy Reuben Tracy had looked with fondly
wistful vision down upon it, but it was no longer of much importance. It
was yet possible to discern in the quiet streets immediately adjoining
the seminary enclosure, with their tall arched canopies of elm-boughs,
and old-fashioned white houses with verandas and antique gardens, some
remains of the academic character that this institution had formerly
imparted to the whole village. But the centre of activity and of
population had long since moved southward, and around this had grown up
a new Thessaly, which needed neither elms nor gardens, which had use for
its children at the loom or the lathe when the rudiments of the common
school were finished, and which alike in its hours of toil and of
leisure was anything rather than academie.

I suppose that in this modern Thessaly, with its factories and mills,
its semi-foreign saloons, and its long streets of uniformly ugly cottage
dwellings, there were many hundreds of adults who had no idea whether
the once-famous Thessaly seminary was still open or not.

If Thessaly had had the time and inclination for a serious study of
itself, this decadence of the object of its former pride might have
awakened some regret. The seminary, which had been one of the first in
the land to open its doors to both sexes, had borne an honorable part in
the great agitation against slavery that preceded the war. Some of its
professors had been distinguished abolitionists--of the kind who strove,
suffered, and made sacrifices when the cause was still unpopular,
yet somehow fell or were edged out of public view once the cause had
triumphed and there were rewards to be distributed, and they had taken
the sentiment of the village with them in those old days. Then there
was a steady demand upon the seminary library, which was open to
householders of the village, for good books. Then there was maintained
each winter a lecture course, which was able, not so much by money as by
the weight and character of its habitual patrons, to enrich its annual
lists with such names as Emerson, Burritt, Phillips, Curtis, and
Beecher. At this time had occurred the most sensational episode in the
history of the village--when the rumor spread that a runaway negro was
secreted somewhere about the seminary buildings, and a pro-slavery crowd
came over from Tyre to have him out and to vindicate upon the persons of
his protectors the outraged majesty of the Fugitive Slave law, and the
citizens of Thessaly rose and chased back the invaders with celerity and
emphasis.

But all this had happened so long ago that it was only vaguely
remembered now. There were those who still liked to recall those
days and to tell stories about them, but they had only themselves for
listeners. The new Thessaly was not precisely intolerant of the history
of this ante-bellum period, but it had fresher and more important
matters to think of; and its customary comment upon these legends of the
slow, one-horse past was, “Things have changed a good deal since then,”
 offered with a smile of distinct satisfaction.

Yes, things had changed. Stephen Minster’s enterprise in opening up the
iron fields out at Juno, and in building the big smelting-works on the
outskirts of Thessaly, had altered everything. The branch road to the
coal district which he called into existence lifted the village at once
into prominence as a manufacturing site. Other factories were erected
for the making of buttons, shoes, Scotch-caps, pasteboard boxes,
matches, and a number of varieties of cotton cloths. When this last
industry appeared in the midst of them, the people of Thessaly found
their heads fairly turned. To be lords of iron and cotton both!

This period of industrial progress, of which I speak with, I hope,
becoming respect and pride, had now lasted some dozen years, and, so far
from showing signs of interruption, there were under discussion four or
five new projects for additional trades to be started in the village,
which would be decided upon by the time the snow was off the ground.
During these years, Thessaly had more than quadrupled its population,
which was now supposed to approximate thirteen thousand, and might be
even more. There had been considerable talk for the past year or two
about getting a charter as a city from the legislature, and undoubtedly
this would soon be done. About this step there were, however, certain
difficulties, more clearly felt than expressed. Not even those who were
most exultant over Thessaly’s splendid advance in wealth and activity
were blind to sundry facts written on the other side of the ledger.

Thessaly had now some two thousand voters, of whom perhaps two-fifths
had been born in Europe. It had a saloon for every three hundred and
fifty inhabitants, and there was an uneasy sense of connection between
these two facts which gave rise to awkward thoughts. The village was
fairly well managed by its trustees; the electorate insisted upon
nothing save that they should grant licenses liberally, and, this apart,
their government did not leave much to be desired. But how would it be
when the municipal honors were taken on, when mayor, aider-men and all
the other officers of the new city, with enlarged powers of expenditure
and legislation, should be voted for? Whenever the responsible business
men of Thessaly allowed their minds to dwell upon a forecast of what
this board of aldermen would probably be like, they frankly owned to
themselves that the prospect was not inviting. But as a rule they did
not say so, and the village was drifting citywards on a flowing tide.

*****

It was just before Christmas that Reuben Tracy took the first step
toward realizing his dream of making this Thessaly a better place than
it was. Fourteen citizens, all more or less intimate friends of his,
assembled at his office one evening, and devoted some hours to listening
to and discussing his plans.

An embarrassment arose almost at the outset through the discovery that
five or six of the men present thought Thessaly was getting on very well
as it was, and had assumed that the meeting was called for the purpose
of arranging a citizens’ movement to run the coming spring elections
for trustees in the interest of good government--by which they of course
understood that they were to be asked to take office. The exposure of
this mistake threatened for a little time to wreck the purpose of the
gathering. Mr. Jones, a gentleman who made matches, or rather had just
taken a handsome sum from the great Ruby Loco-foco Trust as his reward
for ceasing to manufacture them, was especially disposed to resent
what Reuben said about the moral and material state of the village. He
insisted that it was the busiest and most progressive town in that whole
section of the State; it had six streets well paved, was lighted with
gas, had no disorderly houses to speak of, and turned out an annual
production of manufactures worth two and a half times as much as the
industrial output of any other place of its size in the State. He had
the figures at his tongue’s end, and when he finished with a spirited
sentence about being proud of his native town, and about birds fouling
their own nests, it looked as if he had the sense of the little
assemblage with him.

Reuben Tracy found it somewhat difficult to reply to an unexpected
attack of this nature. He was forced to admit the truth of everything
his critic had said, and then to attempt once more to show why
these things were not enough. Father Chance, the Catholic priest, a
broad-shouldered, athletic young man, who preached very commonplace
sermons but did an enormous amount of pastoral work, took up the
speaking, and showed that his mind ran mainly upon the importance of
promoting total abstinence. John Fairchild, the editor and owner of
Thessaly’s solitary daily paper, a candid and warmhearted man, whose
heterodoxy on the tariff question gave concern to the business men of
the place, but whose journal was honest and popular, next explained what
his views were, and succeeded in precipitating, by some chance remark,
a long, rambling, and irrelevant debate on the merits of protection
and the proper relations between capital and labor. To illustrate his
position on these subjects, and on the general question of Thessaly’s
condition, Mr. Burdick, the cashier of the Dearborn County Bank, next
related how he was originally opposed to the Bland Silver bill, and
detailed the mental processes by which his opinion had finally become
reversed. The Rev. Dr. Turner, the rector of St. Matthew’s, a mildly
paternal gentleman, who seemed chiefly occupied by the thought that he
was in the same room with a Catholic priest, tentatively suggested a
bazaar, with ladies and the wives of workingmen mingled together on the
committee, and smiled and coughed confusedly when this idea was received
in absolute silence.

It was Dr. Lester, a young physician who had moved into the village only
a few years before, but was already its leading medical authority, who
broke this silence by saying, with a glance which, slowly circling the
room, finally rested on Reuben Tracy: “All this does not help us. Our
views on all sorts of matters are interesting, no doubt, but they
are not vital just now. The question is not so much why you propose
something, but what do you propose?”

The answer came before the person addressed had arranged his words,
and it came from Horace Boyce. This young gentleman had, with a
self-restraint which he himself was most surprised at, taken no part in
the previous conversation.

“I think this is the idea,” he said now, pulling his chair forward
into the edge of the open space under the light, and speaking with easy
distinctness and fluency. “It will be time enough to determine just what
we will do when we have put ourselves in the position to act together
upon what we may decide to do. We are all proud and fond of our village;
we are at one in our desire to serve and advance its interests. That is
a platform broad enough, and yet specific enough, for us to start
upon. Let us accept it as a beginning, and form an association, club,
society--whatever it may be called--with this primary purpose in view:
to get together in one body the gentlemen who represent what is most
enlightened, most public-spirited, and at once most progressive and most
conservative in Thessaly. All that we need at first is the skeleton
of an organization, the most important feature of which would be the
committee on membership. Much depends upon getting the right kind of men
interested in the matter. Let the objects and work of this organization
unfold and develop naturally and by degrees. It may take the form of
a mechanics’ institute, a library, a gymnasium, a system of
coffee-taverns, a lecture course With elevating popular exhibitions;
and so I might go on, enumerating all the admirable things which similar
bodies have inaugurated in other villages, both here and in Europe.
I have made these matters, both at home and abroad, a subject of
considerable observation; I am enthusiastic over the idea of setting
some such machinery in motion here, and I am perfectly confident, once
it is started, that the leading men of Thessaly will know how to make
it produce results second to none in the whole worldwide field of
philanthropic endeavor.”

When young Mr. Boyce had finished, there was a moment’s hush. Then
Reuben Tracy began to say that this expressed what he had in mind; but,
before he had the words out, the match manufacturer exclaimed:

“Whatever kind of organization we have, it will need a president, and I
move that Mr. Horace Boyce be elected to that place.”

Two or three people in the shadows behind clapped their hands. Horace
protested that it was premature, irregular, that he was too young,
etc.; but the match-maker was persistent, and on a vote there was no
opposition. The Rev. Dr. Turner ceased smiling for a moment or two while
this was going on, and twirled his thumbs nervously; but nobody paid
any attention to him, and soon his face lightened again as his name was
placed just before that of Father Chance on the general committee.

Once started, the work of organization went forward briskly. It was
decided at first to call the organization the “Thessaly Reform Club,”
 but two manufacturers suggested that this was only one remove from
styling it a Cobden Club outright, and so the name was altered to
“Thessaly Citizens’ Club,” and all professed themselves pleased. When
the question of a treasurer came up, Reuben Tracy’s name was mentioned,
but some one asked if it would look just the thing to have the two
principal officers in one firm, and so the match-maker consented to take
the office instead. Even the committee on by-laws would have been made
up without Reuben had not Horace interfered; then, upon John Fairchild’s
motion, he was made the chairman of that committee, while Fairchild
himself was appointed secretary.

When the meeting had broken up, and the men were putting on their
overcoats and lighting fresh cigars, Dr. Lester took the opportunity of
saying in an undertone to Reuben; “Well, what do you think of it?”

“It seems to have taken shape very nicely. Don’t you think so?”

“Hm-m! There’s a good deal of Boyce in it so far, and damned little
Tracy!”

Reuben laughed. “Oh, don’t be disturbed about that. He’s the best man
for the place. He’s studied all these things in Europe--the cooperative
institutes in the English industrial towns, and so on; and he’ll put his
whole soul into making this a success.”

The doctor sniffed audibly at this, but offered no further remark. Later
on, however, when he was walking along in the crisp moonlight with John
Fairchild, he unburdened his mind.

“It was positively sickening,” he growled, biting his cigar angrily, “to
see the way that young cub of a Boyce foisted himself upon the concern.
I’d bet any money he put up the whole thing with Jones. They nominated
each other for president and treasurer--didn’t you notice that?”

“Yes, I noticed it,” replied Fairchild, with something between a sigh
and a groan. After a moment he added: “Do you know, I’m afraid Rube will
find himself in a hole with that young man, before he gets through with
him. It may sound funny to you, but I’m deucedly nervous about it. I’d
rather see a hundred Boyces broiled alive than have harm come to so much
as Tracy’s little finger.”

“What could have ailed him to go in blindfold like that into the
partnership? He knew absolutely nothing of the fellow.”

“I’ve told him a hundred times, he’s got no more notion of reading
characters than a mulley cow. Anybody can go up to him and wheedle his
coat off his back, if he knows the first rudiments of the confidence
game. It seems, in this special instance, that he took a fancy to Boyce
because he saw him give two turkeys to old Ben Lawton, who’d lost his
money at a turkey-shoot and got no birds. He thought it was generous and
noble and all that. So far as I can make out, that was his only reason.”

Dr. Lester stopped short and looked at his companion. Then he burst out
in a loud, shrill laugh, which renewed itself in intermittent gurgles
of merriment so many times that Fairchild finally found them monotonous,
and interposed a question:

“There’s something besides fun in all this, Lester. What is it?”

“It isn’t professional to tell, my dear fellow, but there _is_
something--you’re right--and we are Reuben’s friends against all the
world; and this is what I laughed at.”

Then in a low tone, as if even the white flaring moon and the jewelled
stars in the cold sky had ears, he told his secret to his friend--a
secret involving one small human being of whose very existence Mr.
Horace Boyce had no knowledge.

“The girl has come back here to Thessaly, you know,” concluded the
doctor.

Fairchild nodded assent. Then after a moment’s thought he said:

“It’s too bad we changed the name of the organization. That cuss _ought_
to be the president of a Reform Club!”



CHAPTER XIII.-- THE DAUGHTER OF THE MILLIONS.

 A YOUNG woman who is in her twenty-third year, who is possessed of
bright wits, perfect health, great personal beauty, and a fortune
of nearly a million of dollars in her own right, and who moreover is
untroubled by a disquieting preference for any single individual in the
whole army of males, ought not, by all the rules, to be unhappy.

Kate Minster defied the rules, and moped. Not infrequently she found
herself in the mood to think, “Now I realize how rich girls must feel
when they commit themselves to entering a convent.” Oftener still,
perhaps, she caught her tongue framing impatient or even petulant
answers to her mother, to her mother’s friends, to everybody, in truth,
save her sister Ethel. The conviction that she was bad-tempered had
begun to enter her mind as it were without rapping, and with the air of
a familiar. By dint of repeated searchings in the mirror, she had almost
discovered a shadow between her brows which would presently develop into
a wrinkle, and notify to the whole world her innate vixenish tendencies.
And indeed, with all this brooding which grew upon her, it was something
of a triumph for youth that the wrinkle had still failed to come.

It is said that even queens yawn sometimes, when nobody is looking. But
at least they have work to do, such as it is, and grow tired. Miss
Kate had no work of any sort, and was utterly wearied. The vacuity of
existence oppressed her with formless fatigue, like a nightmare.

The mischief was that all of his own tremendous energy which Stephen
Minster had transmitted to the generation following him was concentrated
in this eldest child of his. The son had been a lightheaded weakling.
The other daughter, Ethel, was as fragile and tenderly delicate as a
Christmas rose. But Kate had always been the strong one of the family,
physically vigorous, restive under unintelligent discipline, rebellious
to teachers she disliked, and proudly confident of her position, her
ability, and the value of her plans and actions. She had loved her
father passionately, and never ceased to mourn that, favorite of his
though she was, business cares had robbed her of so much of his company
for years before his death. As a girl she had dreamed her dreams--bold,
sweepingly ambitious visions they were; but this father of whom she was
so proud, this powerful father who had so manfully subdued things under
his feet, was always the one who was to encompass their fulfilment.
When he died, her aêrial castles at a stroke tumbled into chaos. All her
plans and aspirations had turned upon him as their pivot. Without him
all was disorganized, shapeless, incomprehensible.

Nearly three years had gone by, and still matters about her and
possibilities before her alike refused to take on definite outlines.
She still did not do today the things she wanted to do, yet felt as
powerless as ever to tell what her purposes for to-morrow clearly were.
All the conditions for achievement were hers to command, and there was
nothing to achieve.

There was something alike grotesque and pathetic in the record of her
attempts to find work. She had gathered at considerable expense all
the books and data she could learn about relating to the life and
surroundings of Lady Arabella Stuart, and had started to write what
should be the authoritative work on the subject, only to discover that
she did not know how to make a book, and would not want to make that
kind of a book if she had known how. She had begun collections of
orchids, of coins, of engraved portraits, of cameos, and, at varying
times, of kindred other trifles, and then on some gray and rainy morning
had found herself impelled to turn upon each of these in its order with
disgust and wrath. For music she unluckily had no talent, and a very
exhaustive and costly outfit of materials for a painter’s studio amused
her for less than one short month. She had a considerable feeling for
color, but was too impatient to work laboriously at the effort to learn
to draw; and so she hated her pictures while they were being painted,
and laughed scornfully at them afterward. She wrote three or four short
stories, full of the passions she had read about, and was chagrined
to get them back from a whole group of polite but implacable editors.
Embroidery she detested, and gardening makes one’s back ache.

Miss Minster was perfectly aware that other young ladies, similarly
situated, got on very well indeed, without ever fluttering so much as
a feather for a flight toward the ether beyond their own personal
atmosphere; but she did not clearly comprehend what it was that they did
like. She had seen something of their daily life--perhaps more of their
amusements than of their occupations--and it was not wholly intelligible
to her. They seemed able to extract entertainment from a host of things
which were to her almost uninteresting. During her few visits to New
York, Newport, and Saratoga, for the most part made during her father’s
lifetime, people had been extremely kind to her, and had done their best
to make her feel that there existed for her, ready made, a very notable
social position. She had been invited to more dinners than there were
days at her disposal in which to eat them; she had been called with
something like public acclamation the belle of sundry theatre parties;
her appearance and her clothes had been canvassed with distinctly
overfree flattery in one or two newspapers; she had danced a little,
made a number of calls, suffered more than was usual from headaches, and
yawned a great deal. The women whom she met all seemed to take it for
granted that she was in the seventh heaven of enjoyment; and the young
men with huge expanses of shirt front, who sprang up everywhere
in indefinite profusion about her, like the clumps of white
double-hollyhocks in her garden at home, were evidently altogether
sincere in their desire to please her. But the women all received the
next comer with precisely the smile they gave her; and the young men,
aside from their eagerness to devise and provide diversions for her, and
the obvious honesty of their liking for her, were deadly commonplace.
She was always glad when it was time to return to Thessaly.

Yet in this same village she was practically secluded from the society
of her own generation. There were not a few excellent families in
Thessaly who were on calling and even dining terms with the Minsters,
but there had never been many children in these purely native
households, and now most of the grown-up sons had gone to seek fortune
in the great cities, and most of the girls had married either men who
lived elsewhere or men who did not quite come within the Minsters’
social pale.

It was a wearisome and vexatious thing, she said to herself very often,
this barrier of the millions beyond which she must not even let her
fancy float, and which encompassed her solitude like a prison wall.
Often, too, she approached the point of meditating revolt, but only to
realize with a fresh sigh that the thought was hopeless. What could she
do? If the people of her own class, even with the advantages of amiable
manners, cleanliness, sophisticated speech, and refined surroundings,
failed to interest her, it was certain enough that the others would be
even less tolerable. And she for whose own protection these impalpable
defences against unpleasant people, adventurers, fortune-hunters, and
the like, had all been reared, surely she ought to be the last in the
world to wish them levelled. And then she would see, of course, that she
did not wish this; yet, all the same, it was very, very dull!

There must be whole troops of good folk somewhere whom she could know
with pleasure and gain--nice women who would like her for herself, and
clever men who would think it worth their while to be genuine with her,
and would compliment her intelligence by revealing to it those high
thoughts, phrased in glowing language, of which the master sex at its
best is reputed to be capable--if only they would come in her way. But
there were no signs betokening their advent, and she did not know where
to look for them, and could not have sallied forth in the quest if she
had known; and oh, but this was a weary world, and riches were mere
useless rubbish, and life was a mistake!

Patient, soft-eyed Ethel was the one to whom such of these repinings
against existence as found their way into speech were customarily
addressed. She was sympathetic enough, but hers was a temperament placid
as it was tender, and Kate could do everything else save strike out
sparks from it when her mood was for a conflagration. As for the mother,
she knew in a general way that Kate had a complaining and unsatisfied
disposition, and had always had it, and accepted the fact much as she
did that of Ethel’s poor health--as something which could not be helped,
and therefore need not be worried about. Hence, she was but rarely made
the confidante of her elder daughter’s feelings, but Kate occasionally
railed at destiny in the hearing of Miss Tabitha Wilcox, whom she liked
sometimes much more than at others, but always enough to have a certain
satisfaction in mildly bullying her.

“You know as well as I do, Tabitha,” said Miss Kate one afternoon in
January, rising from the couch where she had been lounging in sheer
idleness, and walking over to the window with slow indolence of gait,
“that our whole life here is simply ridiculous. We girls have lived here
in Thessaly ever since we were little children, and if we left the place
for good to-morrow, positively there would not be a single personal tie
to be broken. So far as making friends go, we might as well have lived
in the moon, where I believe it is settled that there are no people at
all. And pray what is there in life worth having but friends--I mean
real friends?”

“I had supposed,” began the little lady with the iron-gray curls, who
sat primly beside the window at one corner of the great drawing-room--“I
had supposed that _I_ would be reckoned among--”

“Oh, don’t take me up in that way, Tabitha! Of course, I reckoned
you--you know that well enough--that is, you count and you don’t count,
for you are like one of us. Besides, I was thinking of people of my own
age. There are some few nice girls here, but they are never frank with
me as they are among themselves; I suppose because they are always
thinking that I am rich. And how many young men do I know? Say ten, and
I always think I can see dollar-marks shining in their eyes whenever I
look at them. Certainly they have nothing else inside their heads that
would shine.”

“I am sure you exaggerate their--”

“Oh, no, Tabitha! Don’t be sure of any such thing. They couldn’t be
exaggerated; they wouldn’t bear it. Candidly now, can you think of
a single man in the place whom you would like to hear mentioned as
entertaining the shadow of a hope that some time he might be--what
shall I say?--allowed to cherish the possibility of becoming the--the
son-in-law of my mother?”

“I didn’t think your mind ran on such--”

“And it doesn’t,” broke in the girl, “not in the least, I assure you. I
put it in that way merely to show you what I mean. You can’t associate
on terms of equality with people who would almost be put out of the
house if they ventured to dream of asking you to marry them. Both
sides are at a disadvantage. Don’t you see what I mean? There is a wall
between them. That is why I say we have no friends here; money brings us
nothing that is of value; this isn’t like a home at all.”

“Why, and everybody is talking of how much Thessaly has improved of late
years. And quite nice people coming in, too! They say the Bidwells,
who already talk of building a second factory for their button
business--they say they moved in very good society indeed at Troy. I’ve
met Mrs. Bid-well twice at church sociables--the stout lady, you know,
with the false front. They seem quite a knowable family.”

Kate did not reply, but drummed on the window-pane and watched the
fierce quarrels of some English sparrows flitting about on the frozen
snow outside. Miss Tabitha went on with more animation than sequence:

“Of course you’ve heard of the club they’re going to start, or have
started; they call it the Thessaly Citizens’ Club.”

“Who? the Bidwells?”

“Oh, dear, no! The young men of the village--or I suppose it will soon
be a city now. They tell all sorts of stories about what this club
is going to do; reform the whole town, if you believe them. I always
understood a club was for men to drink and play cards and sit up to all
hours in, but it seems this is to be different. At any rate, several
clergymen, Dr. Turner among them, have joined it, and Horace Boyce was
elected president.”

The sparrows had disappeared, but Kate made no answer, and musingly kept
her eyes fastened on the snow where the disagreeable birds had been.

“Now, _there’s_ a young man,” said Miss Tabitha, after a pause. Still no
comment came from the window, and so the elder maiden drifted forward:

“It’s all Horace Boyce now. You don’t hear anything else. Everybody
is saying he will soon be our leading man. They tell me that he speaks
beautifully--in public, I mean--and he is so good-looking and so bright;
they all expect he’ll make quite a mark when court sits next month. I
suppose hell throw his partner altogether into the shade; everybody at
least seems to think so. And Reuben Tracy had _such_ a chance--once.”

The tall, dark girl at the window still did not turn, but she took up
the conversation with an accent of interest.

“_Had_ a chance--what do you mean? I’ve never heard a word against him,
except that idle story you told here once.”

“Idle or not, Kate, you can’t deny that the girl is here.”

Kate laughed, in scornful amusement. “No; and so winter is here, and you
are here, and the snowbirds are here, and all the rest of it. But what
does that go to show?”

“And that reminds me,” exclaimed Tabitha, leaning forward in her chair
with added eagerness--“now, what _do_ you think?”

“The processes by which you are reminded of things, Tabitha, are not fit
subjects for light and frivolous brains like mine.”

“You laugh; but you really never _could_ guess it in all your born days.
That Lawton girl--she’s actually a tenant of mine; or, that is, she
rented from another party, but she’s in _my house!_ You can just fancy
what a state I was in when I heard of it.”

“How do you mean? What house?”

“You know those places of mine on Bridge Street--rickety old houses
they’re getting to be now, though I must say they’ve stood much better
than some built years and years after my father put them up, for he was
the most thorough man about such things you ever saw, and as old Major
Schoonmaker once said of him, he--”

“Yes, but what about that--that girl?”

Tabitha returned to her subject without impatience. All her life she had
been accustomed to being pulled up and warned from rambling, and if her
hearers neglected to do this the responsibility for the omission was
their own.

“Well, you know the one-story-and-attic place, painted brown, and
flat-roofed, just beyond where the Truemans live. It seems as if I had
had more than forty tenants for that place. Everybody that can’t keep
a store anywhere, and make a living, seems to hit upon that identical
building to fail in. Old Ikey Peters was the last; he started a sort of
fish store, along with peanuts and toys and root beer, and he came to me
a month or two back and said it was no go; he couldn’t pay the rent
any more, and he’d got a job as night watchman: so if he found another
tenant, might he turn it over to him until the first of May, when his
year would be up? and I said, ‘Yes, if it isn’t for a saloon.’ And next
I heard he had rented the place to a woman who had come from Tecumseh to
start a milliner’s shop. I went past there a few days afterward, and
I saw Ben Lawton fooling around inside with a jack-plane, fixing up a
table; but even then I hadn’t a suspicion in the world. It must have
been a week later that I went by again, and there I saw the sign over
the door, ‘J. Lawton--Millinery;’ and would you believe it, even _then_
I didn’t dream of what was up! So in walks I, to say ‘how do you do,’
and lo and behold! there was Ben Lawton’s eldest girl running the place,
and quite as much at home as I was. You could have knocked me over with
a feather!”

“Quite appropriately, in a milliner’s shop, too,” said Kate, who had
taken a chair opposite to Tabitha’s and seemed really interested in her
narrative.

“Well, there she was, anyway.”

“And what happened next? Did you faint or run away, or what?”

“Oh, she was quite civil, I must say. She recognized me--she used to see
me at my sister’s when she worked there--and asked me to sit down, and
explained that she hadn’t got entirely settled yet. Yes, I must admit
that she was polite enough.”

“How tiresome of her! Now, if she had thrown boiling water on you, or
even made faces at you, it would have been something like. But to ask
you to sit down! And _did_ you sit down, Tabitha?”

“I don’t see how I could have done otherwise. And she really has a great
deal of taste in her work. She saw in a minute what’s been the trouble
with my bonnets--you know I always told you there was something--they
were not high enough in front. Don’t you think yourself, now, that this
is an improvement?”

Miss Wilcox lifted her chin, and turned her head slowly around for
inspection; but, instead of the praise which was expected, there came a
merry outburst of laughter.

“And you really bought a bonnet of her!” Kate laughed again at the
thought, and then, with a sudden impulse, rose from her chair, glided
swiftly to where Tabitha sat, and kissed her. “You softhearted,
ridiculous, sweet old thing!” she said, beaming at her, and smoothing
the old maid’s cheek in affectionate patronage.

Tabitha smiled with pleasure at this rare caress, and preened her head
and thin shoulders with a bird-like motion. But then the serious side
of her experience loomed once more before her, and the smile vanished as
swiftly as it had come.

“She’s not living with her father, you know. She and one of her
half-sisters have had the back rooms rigged up to live in, and there
they are by themselves. I guess she saw by my face that I didn’t think
much of _that_ part of the business. Still, thank goodness, it’s only
till the first of May!”

“Shall you turn them out then, Tabitha?” Kate spoke seriously now.

“The place has always been respectable, Kate, even if it is tumble-down.
To be sure, I did hear certain stories about the family of the man who
sold non-explosive oil there two years ago, and his wife frizzed her
hair in a way that went against my grain, I must admit; but it would
never do to have a scandal about one of my houses, not even _that_ one!”

“I know nothing about these people, of course,” said Kate, slowly and
thoughtfully; “but it seems to me, to speak candidly, Tabitha, that you
are the only one who is making what you call a scandal. No--wait; let me
finish. In some curious way the thought of this girl has kept itself
in my head--perhaps it was because she came back here on the same train
with me, or something else equally trivial. Perhaps she is as bad a
character as you seem to think, but it may also be that she only wants a
little help to be a good girl and to make an honest living for herself.
To me, her starting a shop like that here in her native village seems to
show that she wants to work.”

“Why, Kate, everybody knows her character. There’s no secret in the
world about _that_.”

“But suppose I am right about her present wish. Suppose that she does
truly want to rehabilitate herself. Would you like to have it on your
conscience that you put so much as a straw in her way, let alone turned
her out of the little home she has made for herself? I know you better
than that, Tabitha: you couldn’t bring yourself to do it. But there is
this other thing. You may do her a great deal of injury by talking about
her, as, for example, you have been talking to me here to-day. I am
going to ask you a favor, a real personal favor. I want you to promise
me not to mention that girl’s name again to a living soul until--when
shall I say?--until the first of May; and if anybody else mentions it,
to say nothing at all. Now, will you promise that?”

“Of course, if you wish it, but I assure you there wasn’t the slightest
doubt in the world.”

“That I don’t care about. Why should we women be so brutal to each
other? You and I had good homes, good fathers, and never knew what it
was to want for anything, or to fight single-handed against the world.
How can we tell what might have crushed and overwhelmed us if we had
been really down in the thick of the battle, instead of watching it from
a private box up here? No: give the girl a chance, and remember your
promise.”

“Come to think of it, she has been to church twice now, two Sundays
running. And Mrs. Turner spoke to her in the vestibule, seeing that she
was a stranger and neatly dressed, and didn’t dream who she was; and
she told me she was never so mortified in her life as when she found out
afterward. A clergyman’s wife has to be so particular, you know.”

“Yes,” Kate answered, absently. Her heart was full of bitter and
sardonic things to say about Mrs. Turner and her conceptions of the
duties of a pastor’s helpmeet, but she withheld them because they might
grieve Tabitha, and then was amazed at herself for being so considerate,
and then fell to wondering whether she, too, was bitten by this
Pharisaical spirit, and so started as out of a dream when Tabitha rose
and said she must go and see Mrs. Minster before she took her departure.

“Remember your promise,” Kate said, with a little smile and another
caress. She had not been so affectionate before in a long, long time,
and the old maid mused flightily on this unwonted softness as she found
her way up-stairs.

The girl returned to the window and looked out once more upon the smooth
white crust which, broken only by half-buried dwarf firs, stretched
across the wide lawn. When at last she wearied of the prospect and her
thoughts, and turned to join the family on the floor above, she confided
these words aloud to the solitude of the big room:

“I almost wish I could start a milliner’s shop myself.”

The depreciatory reflection that she had never discovered in all these
years what was wrong with Tabitha’s bonnets rose with comical suddenness
in her mind, and she laughed as she opened the door.



CHAPTER XIV.--HORACE EMBARKS UPON THE ADVENTURE.

 Young Mr. Boyce was spared the trouble of going to Florida, and
relieved from the embarrassment of inventing lies to his partner
about the trip, which was even more welcome. Only a few days after the
interview with Mrs. Minster, news came of the unexpected death of Lawyer
Clarke, caused by one of those sudden changes of temperature at sunset
which have filled so many churchyards in that sunny clime. His executors
were both resident in Thessaly, and at a word from Mrs. Minster they
turned over to Horace the box containing the documents relating to her
affairs. Only one of these executors, old ’Squire Gedney, expressed
any comment upon Mrs. Minster’s selection, at least in Horace’s hearing.

This Gedney was a slovenly and mumbling old man, the leading
characteristics of whose appearance were an unshaven jaw, a general
shininess and disorder of apparel, and a great deal of tobacco-juice.
It was still remembered that in his youth he had promised to be an
important figure at the bar and in politics. His failure had been
exceptionally obvious and complete, but for some occult reason Thessaly
had a soft corner in its heart for him, even when his estate bordered
upon the disreputable, and for many years had been in the habit of
electing him to be one of its justices of the peace. The functions of
this office he avowedly employed in the manner best calculated to insure
the livelihood which his fellow-citizens expected him to get out of it.
His principal judicial maxim was never to find a verdict against the
party to a suit who was least liable to pay him his costs. If justice
could be made to fit with this rule, so much the better for justice.
But, in any event, the ’squire must look out primarily for his costs.
He made no concealment of this theory and practice; and while some
citizens who took matters seriously were indignant about it, the great
majority merely laughed and said the old man had got to live somehow,
and voted good-naturedly for him next time.

If Calvin Gedney owed much to the amiability and friendly feeling of his
fellow-townsmen, he repaid the debt but poorly in kind. No bitterer or
more caustic tongue than his wagged in all Dearborn County. When he was
in a companiable mood, and stood around in the cigar store and talked
for the delectation of the boys of an evening, the range and scope of
his personal sneers and sarcasms would expand under the influence of
applauding laughter, until no name, be it never so honored, was sacred
from his attack, save always one--that of Minster. There was a popular
understanding that Stephen Minster had once befriended Gedney, and that
that accounted for the exception; but this was rendered difficult of
credence by the fact that so many other men had befriended Gedney, and
yet now served as targets for his most rancorous jeers. Whatever the
reason may have been, however, the ’squire’s affection for the memory
of Stephen Minster, and his almost defiant reverence for the family he
had left behind, were known to all men, and regarded as creditable to
him.

Perhaps this was in some way accountable for the fact that the ’squire
remained year after year in old Mr. Clarke’s will as an executor,
long after he had ceased to be regarded as a responsible person by the
village at large, for Mr. Clarke also was devoted to the Minsters. At
all events, he was so named in the will, in conjunction with a non-legal
brother of the deceased, and it was in this capacity that he addressed
some remarks to Mr. Horace Boyce when he handed over to him the Minster
papers. The scene was a small and extremely dirty chamber off the
justice’s court-room, furnished mainly by a squalid sofa-bed, a number
of empty bottles on the bare floor, and a thick overhanging canopy of
cobwebs.

“Here they are,” said the ’squire, expectorating indefinitely among
the bottles, “and God help ’em! What it all means beats me.”

“I guess you needn’t worry, Cal,” answered Horace lightly, in the easily
familiar tone which Thessaly always adopted toward its unrespected
magistrate. “You’d better come out and have a drink; then you’ll see
things brighter.”

“Damn your impudence, you young cub!” shouted the ’squire, flaming up
into sudden and inexplicable wrath. “Who are you calling ‘Cal’? By the
Eternal, when I was your age, I’d have as soon bitten off my tongue as
dared call a man of my years by his Christian name! I can remember your
great-grandfather, the judge, sir. I was admitted before he died; and I
tell you, sir, that if it had been possible for me to venture upon such
a piece of cheek with him, he’d have taken me over his knee, by Gawd!
and walloped me before the whole assembled bar of Dearborn County!”

The old man had worked himself up into a feverish reminiscence of his
early stump-speaking days, and he trembled and spluttered over his
concluding words with unwonted excitement.

Horace felt disposed to laugh. People always did laugh at “Cal” Gedney,
and laugh most when he grew strenuous.

“You’d better get the drink first,” he said, putting the box under his
arm, “and _then_ free your mind.”

“I’ll see you food for worms, first!” shouted the ’squire, still
furiously. “You’ve got your papers, and I’ve got my opinion, and that’s
all there is ’twixt you and me. There’s the door that the carpenters
made, and I guess they were thinking of you when they made it.”

“Upon my word, you’re amusing this morning, ’squire,” said Horace,
looking with aroused interest at the vehement justice. “What’s the
matter with you? Don’t your clothes fit you? Come around to the house
and I’ll rig you up in some new ones.”

The ’squire began with a torrent of explosive profanity, framed in
gestures which almost threatened personal violence. All at once he
stopped short, looked vacantly at the floor, and then sat down on his
bed, burying his face in his hands. From the convulsive clinching of his
fingers among the grizzled, unkempt locks of hair, and the heaving of
his chest, Horace feared he was going to have a fit, and, advancing, put
a hand on his shoulder.

The ’squire shook it off roughly, and raised his haggard,
deeply-furrowed face. It was a strong-featured countenance still, and
had once been handsome as well, but what it chiefly said to Horace now
was that the old man couldn’t stand many more such nights of it as this
last had evidently been.

“Come, ’squire, I didn’t want to annoy you. I’m sorry if I did.”

“You insulted me,” said the old man, with a dignity which quavered into
pathos as he added: “I’ve got so low now, by Gawd, that even you can
insult me!”

Horace smiled at the impracticability of all this. “What the deuce is it
all about, anyway?” he asked. “What have you got against me? I’ve always
been civil to you, haven’t I?”

“You’re no good,” was the justice’s concise explanation.

The young man laughed outright. “I daresay you’re right,” he said,
pleasantly, as one humors a child. “_Now_ will you come out and have a
drink?”

“I’ve not been forty-four years at the bar for nothing--”

“I should think not! Whole generations of barkeepers can testify to
that.”

“I can tell,” went on the old man, ignoring the jest, and rising from
the bed as he spoke; “I can tell when a man’s got an honest face. I
can tell when he means to play fair. And I wouldn’t trust you one inch
farther, Mr. Horace Boyce, than I could throw a bull by the tail. I tell
you that, sir, straight to your teeth.”

Horace, still with the box snugly under his arm, had sauntered out into
the dark and silent courtroom. He turned now, half smiling, and said:

“Third and last call--_do_ you want a drink?”

The old man’s answer was to slam the door in his face with a noise
which rang in reverberating echoes through the desolate hall of justice.
Horace, still smiling, went away.

*****

The morning had lapsed into afternoon, and succeeding hours had brought
the first ashen tints of dusk into the winter sky, before the young man
completed his examination of the Minster papers. He had taken them to
his own room in his father’s house, sending word to the office that he
had a cold and would not come down that day; and it was behind a locked
door that he had studied the documents which stood for millions. On a
sheet of paper he made certain memoranda from time to time, and now that
the search was ended, he lighted a fresh cigar, and neatly reduced these
to a little tabular statement:

[Illustration: 0196]

When Horace had finished this he felt justified in helping himself
to some brandy and soda. It was the most interesting and important
computation upon which he had ever engaged, and its noble proportions
grew upon him momentarily as he pondered them and sipped his drink. More
than two and a quarter millions lay before his eyes, within reach of his
hand. Was it not almost as if they were his? And of course this did not
represent everything. There was sundry village property that he knew
about; there would be bank accounts, minor investments and so on, quite
probably raising the total to nearly or quite two millions and a half.
Oh, to think of it!

And he had only put things down at par values. The telegraph stock was
quoted at a trifle less, just now, but if there had been any Minster
Iron-works stock for sale, it would command a heavy premium. The
scattering investments, too, which yielded an average of five per cent.,
must be worth a good deal more than their face. What he didn’t like
about the thing was that big block of Thessaly Manufacturing Company
stock. That seemed to be earning nothing at all; he could find no record
of dividends, or, in truth, any information whatever about it. Where had
he heard about that company before? The name was curiously familiar to
his mind; he had been told something about it--by whom?

All at once it flashed upon him. That was the company of which the
mysterious Judge Wendover was president. Tenney had talked about it;
Tenney had told him that he would hear a good deal about it before long.

As these reflections rose in the young man’s mind, the figures which
he had written down on the paper seemed to diminish in size and
significance. It was a queer notion, but he couldn’t help feeling that
the millions had somehow moved themselves farther back, out of his
reach. The thought of these two men--of the gray-eyed, thin-lipped,
abnormally smart Tenney, and of that shadowy New York financier who
shared his secrets--made him nervous. They had a purpose, and he was
more or less linked to it and to them, and Heaven only knew where he
might be dragged in the dark. He finished his glass and resolved that
he would no longer remain in the dark. To-morrow he would see Tenney and
Mrs. Minster and Reuben, and have a clear understanding all around.

There came sharp and loud upon his door a peremptory knocking, and
Horace with a swift movement slipped the paper on which he had made the
figures into the box, and noiselessly closed the cover. Then he opened
the door, and discovered before him a man whom for the instant, in the
dim light of the hall, he did not recognize. The man advanced a
step, and then Horace saw that it was--strangely changed and unlike
himself--his father!

“I didn’t hear you come in,” said the young man, vaguely confused by the
altered appearance of the General, and trying in some agitation of mind
to define the change and to guess what it portended.

“They told me you were here,” said the father, moving lumpishly forward
into the room, and sinking into a chair. “I’m glad of it. I want to talk
to you.”

His voice had suddenly grown muffled, as if with age or utter weariness.
His hands lay palm upward and inert on his fat knees, and he buried his
chin in his collar helplessly. The gaze which he fastened opaquely upon
the waste-paper basket, and the posture of his relaxed body, suggested
to Horace a simple explanation. Evidently this was the way his
delightful progenitor looked when he was drunk. It was not a nice sight.

“Wouldn’t it be better to go to bed now, and talk afterward?” said the
young man, with asperity.

The General looked up at his son. He clearly understood the purport of
the question, and gathered his brows at first in a half-scowl. Then the
humor of the position appealed to him, and he smiled instead--a grim
and terrifying smile which seemed to darken rather than illumine his
purplish face.

“Did you think I was drunk, that you should say that?” he asked, with
the ominous smile still on his lips. He added, more slowly, and with
something of his old dignity: “No--I’m merely ruined!”

“It has come, has it?” The young man heard himself saying these words,
but they sounded as if they had issued from other lips than his. He had
schooled himself for a fortnight to realize that his father was actually
insolvent, yet the shock seemed to find him all unprepared.

“Then you expected it? You knew about it?”

“Tenney told me last month that it must come, sooner or later.”

The General offered an invocation as to Mr. Tenney’s present existence
and future state which, solemnly impressive though it was, may not be
set down here.

“So I say, too, if you like,” answered Horace, beginning to pace the
room. “But that will hardly help us just now. Tell me just what has
happened.”

“Sit down, then: you make me nervous, tramping about like that. The
villain simply asked me to step into the office for a minute, and then
took out his note-book, cool as a cucumber. ‘I thought I’d call your
attention to how things stand between us.’ he said, as if I’d been a
country customer who was behindhand with his paper. Then the scoundrel
calmly went on to say that my interest in the partnership was worth less
than nothing; that I already owed him more than the interest would come
to, if the business were sold out, and that he would like to know what I
proposed to do about it. By Heaven! that’s what he said to me, and I sat
there and listened to him.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him what I thought of him. He hasn’t heard so much straight,
solid truth about himself before since he was weaned, I’ll bet!”

“But what good was that? He isn’t the sort who minds that kind of thing.
What did you tell him you would do?”

“Break his infernal skull for him if he ever spoke to me again!”

Horace almost smiled, as he felt how much older he was than this
red-faced, white-haired boy, who could fight and drink and tell funny
stories, world without end, but was powerless to understand business
even to the extent of protecting his interest in a hardware store. But
the tendency to smile was painfully short-lived; the subject was too
serious.

“Well, tell _me_, then, what you are going to do!”

“Good God!” broke forth the General, raising his head again. “What _can_
I do! Crawl into a hole and die somewhere, I should think. I don’t see
anything else. But before I do, mark me, I’ll have a few minutes alone
with that scoundrel, in his office, in the street, wherever I can find
him; and if I don’t fix him up so that his own mother won’t know him,
then my name isn’t ‘Vane’ Boyce!”

“Tut-tut,” said the prudent lawyer of the family. “Men don’t die because
they fail in the hardware business, and this isn’t Kentucky. We don’t
thrash our enemies up here in the North. Do you want me to see Tenney?”

“I suppose so--if you can stomach a talk with the whelp. He said
something, too, about talking it over with you, but I was too raving mad
to listen. Have you had any dealings with him?”

“Nothing definite. We’ve discussed one or two little things--in the
air--that is all.”

The General rose and helped himself to some neat brandy from his son’s
_liqueur_-stand. “Well, if you do--you hear me--he’ll singe you clean as
a whistle. By God, he won’t leave so much as a pin-feather on you!”

Horace smiled incredulously. “I rather think I can take care of Mr.
Schuyler Tenney,” said he, with a confident front. “I’ll go down and see
him now, if you like, and don’t you worry yourself about it. I daresay
I can straighten it out all right. The best thing you can do is to
say nothing at all about your affairs to anybody. It might complicate
matters if he heard that you had been publicly proclaiming your
intention of beating him into a jelly. I don’t know, but I can fancy
that he might not altogether like that. And, above all things, don’t get
down on your luck. I guess we can keep our heads above water, Tenney or
no Tenney.”

The young man felt that it was distinctly decent of him to thus assume
responsibility for the family, and did not look to see the General take
it so much as a matter of course. But that distinguished soldier had
quite regained his spirits, and smacked his lips over a second glass of
brandy with smiling satisfaction, as if Tenney had already been turned
out of the hardware store, neck and crop.

“All right! You go ahead, and let him have it from the shoulder. Give
him one for me, while you’re about it,” he said, with his old robust
voice and hearty manner all come back again. The elasticity of this
stout man’s temperament was a source of perpetual wonderment to his
slender son.

Yet Horace, too, had much the same singular capacity for shaking off
trouble, and he saw matters in quite a hopeful light as he strode along
down toward Main Street. Clearly Tenney had only meant to frighten the
General.

He found his father’s partner in the little office boxed off the store,
and had a long talk with him--a talk prolonged, in fact, until after
business hours. When he reflected upon this conversation during his
homeward journey, he could recall most distinctly that he had told
Tenney everything about the Minsters which the search of the papers
revealed. Somehow, the rest of the talk had not seemed to be very
important. Tenney had laughed lightly when the question of the General
came up, and said: “Oh, you needn’t bother about that. I only wanted him
to know how things stood. He can go on as long as he likes; that is,
of course, if you and I continue to work together.” And Horace had said
that he was much obliged, and would be glad to work with Mr. Tenney--and
really that had been the sum of the whole conversation.

Or yes, there had been one other thing. Tenney had said that it would
be best now to tell Reuben Tracy that Mrs. Minster had turned over her
affairs to him--temporarily, at least--but not to discuss them with him
at all, and not to act as if he thought they were of special importance.

Horace felt that this could easily be done. Reuben was the least
suspicious man in the world, and the matter might be so stated to him
that he would never give it a second thought.

The General received over the supper-table the tidings that no evil
was intended to him, much as his son had expected him to; that is, with
perfectly restored equanimity. He even admitted that Tenney was within
his rights to speak as he did, and that there should be no friction
provoked by any word or act of his.

“I don’t like the man, you know,” he said, between mouthfuls, “but it’s
just as well that I should stick by him. He’s skinned me dry, and my
only chance is now to keep friendly with him, in the hope that when he
begins skinning other people he’ll let me make myself good out of the
proceeds.”

This worldly wisdom, emanating from such an unlikely source, surprised
the young man, and he looked up with interest to his father’s face,
red-shining under the lamplight.

“I mean what I say,” continued the General, who ate with unfailing gusto
as he talked. “Tenney as much as said that to me himself, awhile ago.”

Horace nodded with comprehension. He had thought the aphorism too
concise and strong for his father’s invention.

“And I could guess with my eyes shut how he’s going to do it,” the
elder Boyce went on. “He’s got a lot of the stock of the Thessaly
Manufacturing Company, the one that’s built the rolling mills in
connection with the Minster iron-works, and the rest of the stock is
held in New York; and some fine day the New Yorkers will wake up and
find themselves cleaned out. Oh, I know Mr. Tenney’s little ways!”

The General wagged his round head upon its thick neck with complacency
at his superior insight, but Horace finished his supper in silence. He
did not see very far into the millstone yet, but already he guessed that
the stockholders who were to be despoiled lived in Thessaly and not New
York. A strange, amorphous vision of the looting of the millions arose
like a mirage between him and the shaded lamplight, and he looked into
its convolving vortex half in terror, half in trembling fascination.

Suddenly he felt himself impelled to say--why he could not tell--“I
might as well speak to you about it. It is my ambition to marry Miss
Kate Minster. I think I shall succeed.”

The General almost upset his chair in his eagerness to rise, lean over
the table, and shake hands with his son.



CHAPTER XV.--THE LAWTON GIRL’S WORK.

 FORTUNATELY Jessica Lawton’s humble little business enterprise began to
bring in returns before her slender store of money was quite exhausted.
Even more fortunate, at least in her estimation, was the fact that the
lion’s share of this welcome patronage came from the poor working-girls
of the village. When the venture was a month old, there was nearly
enough work to occupy all her time, and, taking into account the season,
this warranted her in believing that she had succeeded.

The result had not come without many anxious days, made bitter alike by
despairing tremors for the future and burning indignation at the insults
and injuries of the present. Now that these had in a measure abated, she
felt, in looking back upon them, that the fear of failure was always
the least of her troubles. At the worst, the stock which, through
Mrs. Fairchild’s practical kindness, she had been able to bring from
Tecumseh, could be sold for something like its cost. Her father’s help
had sufficed for nearly all the changes needed in the small tenement,
and she had money enough to pay the rent until May.

The taking over of Lucinda was a more serious matter, for the girl had
been a wage-earner, and would be entitled to complain if it turned out
that she had been decoyed away from the factory on an empty promise. But
Lucinda, so far from complaining, seemed exceptionally contented. It was
true that she gave no promise of ever acquiring skill as a milliner, and
she was not infrequently restless under the discipline which Jessica,
with perhaps exaggerated caution, strove to impose, but she worked with
great diligence in their tiny kitchen, and served customers in the store
with enthusiasm if not _finesse_. The task of drilling her into that
habit of mind which considers finger-nails and is mindful of soap was
distinctly onerous, and even now had reached only a stage in which
progress might be reported; but much could be forgiven a girl who was so
cheerful and who really tried so hard to do her share.

As for the disagreeable experiences, which had once or twice been
literally terrifying, the girl still grew sick at heart with rage and
shame and fear that they might jeopardize her plans, when she thought
of them. In their ruder aspects they were divisible into two classes.
A number of young men, sometimes in groups of twos or threes, but more
often furtively and alone, had offensively sought to make themselves at
home in the store, and had even pounded on the door in the evening after
it was shut and bolted; a somewhat larger number of rough factory-girls,
or idlers of the factory-girl class, had come from time to time with
the obvious intention of insulting her. These latter always appeared
in gangs, and supported one another in cruel giggling and in coarse
inquiries and remarks.

After a few painfully futile attempts to meet and rebuff these hostile
waves, Jessica gave up the effort, and arranged matters so that she
could work in the living-room beyond, within call if she were needed,
but out of the visual range of her persecutors. Lucinda encountered them
instead, and gave homely but vigorous Rolands for their Olivers. It
was in the interchange of these remarks that the chief danger, to the
struggling little business lay, for if genuine customers heard them,
why, there was an end to everything. It is not easy to portray the
girl’s relief as week after week went by, and time brought not only no
open scandal, but a marked diminution of annoyance. When Jessica was
no longer visible, interest in the sport lagged. To come merely for
the sake of baiting Lucinda was not worth the while. And when these
unfriendly visits slackened, and then fell off almost altogether,
Jessica hugged to her breast the notion that it was because these rough
young people had softened toward and begun to understand and sympathize
with her.

It was the easier to credit this kindly hypothesis in that she had
already won the suffrages of a considerable circle of working-girls.
To explain how this came about would be to analyze many curious and
apparently contradictory phases of untutored human nature, and to
recount many harmless little stratagems and well-meant devices, and many
other frankly generous words and actions which came from hearts not the
less warm because they beat amid the busy whir of the looms, or throbbed
to the time of the seamstress’s needle.

Jessica’s own heart was uplifted with exultation, sometimes, when she
thought upon the friendliness of these girls. So far as she knew and
believed, every one of them was informed as to her past, and there was
no reason beyond their own inclination why they should take stock in
her intentions for the future. To a slender few, originally suggested
by Lucinda, and then confirmed by her own careful scrutiny, she had
confided the crude outlines of her scheme--that is, to build up a
following among the toilers of her own sex, to ask from this following
no more than a decent living for work done, and to make this work
include not merely the details of millinery and hints about dress, but a
general mental and material helpfulness, to take practical form step by
step as the means came to hand and the girls themselves were ready for
the development. Whenever she had tried to put this into words, its
melancholy vagueness had been freshly apparent to her, but the girls had
believed in her! That was the great thing.

And they had brought others, and spread the favorable report about,
until even now, in the dead season, lying half way between Christmas and
the beginning of Lent, she was kept quite busy. To be sure, her patrons
were not governed much by these holiday dates at any time, and she was
undoubtedly doing their work better and more cheaply than it could ever
have been done for them before, but their good spirit in bringing it was
none the less evident for that.

And out of the contact with this good spirit, Jessica began to be dimly
conscious of getting great stores of strength for herself. If it could
be all like this, she felt that her life would be ideally happy. She had
not the skill of mind to separate her feelings, and contrast and weigh
them one against the other, but she knew clearly enough that she was
doing what afforded her keen enjoyment, and it began to be apparent that
merely by doing it she would come to see more clearly, day by day, how
to expand and ennoble her work. The mission which Annie Fairchild had
urged upon her and labored to fit her for, and which she had embraced
and embarked upon with only the vaguest ideas as to means or details or
specific aims, was unfolding itself inspiringly before her.

During this period she wrote daily to the good woman who had sent her
upon this work--short letters setting forth tersely the events and
outcome of the day--and the answers which came twice a week helped
greatly to strengthen her.

And do not doubt that often she stood in grave need of strength! The
mere matter of regular employment itself was still more or less of a
novelty to her; regular hours still found her physically rebellious.
The restraints of a shop, of studied demeanor, of frugal meals, of no
intimate society save that of one dull girl,--these still wore gratingly
upon her nerves, and produced periodical spasms of depression and gloom,
in which she was much tortured by doubts about herself and the utility
of what she was doing.

Sometimes, too, these doubts took the positive form of temptation--of a
wild kind of longing to get back again into the atmosphere where bright
lights shone on beautiful dresses, and the hours went swiftly, gayly by
with jest, and song, and the sparkle of the amber air-beads rising in
the tall wine-glasses. There came always afterward the memory of those
other hours which dragged most gruesomely, when the daylight made all
tawdry and hateful once more, and heartaches ruled where smiles had
been. Yet still these unbidden yearnings would come, and then the girl
would set her teeth tight together, and thrust her needle through the
mutinous tears till they were exorcised.

It had been in her unshaped original plan to do a good deal for her
father, but this proved to be more easily contemplated than done. Once
the little rooms had been made habitable for her and Lucinda, there
remained next to nothing for him to do. He came around every morning,
when some extraordinary event, such as a job of work or a fire, did not
interfere, and offered his services, but he knew as well as they did
that this was a mere amiable formality. He developed a great fondness
for sitting by the stove in Jessica’s small working room, and either
watching her industrious fingers or sleeping calmly in his chair.
Perhaps the filial instinct was not strong in Lucinda’s composition;
perhaps it had been satiated by over-close contact during those five
years of Jessica’s absence. At any rate, the younger girl did not
enjoy Ben’s presence as much as her sister seemed to, and almost daily
detracted from his comfort by suggestions that the apartments were very
small, and that a man hanging around all day took up a deplorable amount
of room.

It had been Jessica’s notion, too, that she and her sister would walk
out in the evenings under the escort of their father, and thus secure
themselves from misapprehension. But Lucinda rebelled flatly against
this, at least until Ben had some new clothes, and the money for these
was not forthcoming. Jessica did find it possible to spare a dollar or
so to her father weekly, and there had been a nebulous understanding
that this was to be applied to raiment; but the only change in his
appearance effected by this so far had been a sporadic accession of
startlingly white paper collars.

There were other minor disappointments--portions of her plan, so to
speak, which had failed to materialize--but the net result of a month’s
trial was distinctly hopeful. Although most of such work as had come to
her was from the factory-girls, not a few ladies had visited the little
store, and made purchases or given orders. Among these she liked best
of all the one who owned the house; a very friendly old person, with
corkscrew curls and an endless tongue--Miss Tabitha Wilcox. She had
already made two bonnets for her, and the elderly lady had been so
pleasant and talkative that she had half resolved, when next she came
in, to unfold to her the scheme which now lay nearest to her heart.

This was nothing less than securing permission to use a long-deserted
and roomy building which stood in the yard, at the back of the one she
occupied, as a sort of evening club for the working-girls of the town.
Jessica had never been in this building, but so far as she could see
through the stained and dismantled windows, where the drifts did not
render approach impossible, it had formerly been a dwelling-house, and
later had been used in part as a carpenter’s shop.

To get this, and to fit it up simply but comfortably as a place where
the tired factory and sewing girls could come in the evening, to read or
talk or play games if they liked, to merely sit still and rest if they
chose, but in either case to be warm and contented and sheltered from
the streets and the deadly boredom of squalid lodgings, became little by
little her abiding ambition. She had spoken tentatively to some of the
girls about it, and they were all profoundly enthusiastic over the plan.

It remained to enlist the more fortunate women whose assistance could
alone make the plan feasible. Jessica had essayed to get at the parson’s
wife, Mrs. Turner; but that lady, after having been extremely cordial,
had unaccountably all at once turned icy cold, and cut the girl dead in
the street. I said “unaccountably,” but Jessica was not at all at a loss
to comprehend the change, and the bitterness of the revelation had
thrown her into an unusually deep fit of depression. For a time it had
seemed to her hopeless to try to find another confidante in that class
which despised and shrank from her. Then Miss Tabitha’s pleasant words
and transparent good-heartedness had lifted her out of her despondency,
and she was almost resolved now to approach her on the subject of the
house iii the back yard.



CHAPTER XVI.--A GRACIOUS FRIEND RAISED UP.

 The opportunity which Jessica sought came with unlooked-for
promptness--in fact, before she had quite resolved what to ask for, and
how best to prefer her request.

It was a warm, sunny winter morning, with an atmosphere which suggested
the languor of May rather than the eagerness of early spring, and
which was already in these few matutinal hours playing havoc with the
snowbanks. The effects of the thaw were unpleasantly visible on the
sidewalks, where deep puddles were forming as the drifts melted away,
and the back yard was one large expanse of treacherous slush. Jessica
had hoped that her father would come, in order that he might cut away
the ice and snow in front, and thus drain the walk for passers-by. But
as the mild morning air rendered it unnecessary to seek the comfort of a
seat by the stove, Ben preferred to lounge about on the outskirts of the
hay-market, exchanging indolent jokes with kindred idlers, and vaguely
enjoying the sunshine.

Samantha, however, chose this forenoon for her first visit to the
milliner’s shop, and showed a disposition to make herself very much at
home. The fact that encouragement was plainly wanting did not in any way
abash her. Lucinda told her flatly that she had only come to see what
she could pick up, and charged her to her face with having instigated
her friends to offer them annoyance and affront. Samantha denied both
imputations with fervor, the while she tried on before the mirror a
bronze-velvet toque with sage-green feathers.

“I don’t know that I ever quite believed that of you, Samantha,” said
Jessica, turning from her dismayed contemplation of the water on the
sidewalk. “And if you really want to be friendly, why, you are welcome
to come here. But I have heard of things you have said that were not at
all nice.”

“All lies!” remarked Samantha, studying the effect of the hat as nearly
in a profile view as she could manage with a single glass. “You can’t
believe a word you hear here in Thessaly. Wouldn’t this go better if
there was some yellow put in there, close by the feathers?”

“I didn’t want to believe it,” said Jessica. “I’ve never done you any
harm, and never wished anything but well by you, and I couldn’t see why
you should want to injure me.”

“Don’t I tell you they lied?” responded Samantha, affably. “‘Cindy,
here, is always blackguarding me. You know you always did,” she added,
in passing comment upon Lucinda’s indignant snort, “but I don’t bear no
malice. It ain’t my nature to. I suppose a hat like this comes pretty
high, don’t it?”

As she spoke, a sleigh was driven up with some difficulty through the
yielding snowbanks, and stopped close to the sidewalk in front of the
shop. It was by far the most distinguished-looking sleigh Jessica had
seen in Thessaly. The driver on the front seat bore a cockade proudly
in his high hat, and the horses he controlled were superbly matched
creatures, with glossy silver-mounted harness, and with tails neatly
braided and tied up in ribbons for protection from the slush. A costly
silver-fox wrap depended over the back of the cutter, and a robe of some
darker but equally sumptuous fur enfolded the two ladies who sat in the
second seat.

Jessica was glad that so splendid an equipage should have drawn up
at her door, with a new-born commercial instinct, even before she
recognized either occupant of the sleigh.

“That’s Kate Minster,” said Samantha, still with the hat of her dreams
on her head, “the handsomest girl in Thessaly, and the richest, and the
stuck-up-edest. Cracky! but you’re in luck!”

Jessica did not know much about the Minsters, but she now saw that the
other lady, who was already preparing to descend, and stood poised on
the rail of the cutter looking timorously at the water on the walk, was
no other than Miss Tabitha Wilcox.

She turned with quick decision to Samantha.

“I will give you that hat you’ve got on,” she said in a hurried tone,
“if you’ll go with Lucinda clear back into the kitchen and shut both
doors tight after you, and stay there till I call you.”

At this considerable sacrifice the store was cleared for the reception
of these visitors--the most important who had as yet crossed its
threshold.

Miss Tabitha did not offer to introduce her companion--whom Jessica
noted furtively as a tall, stately, dark girl, with a wonderfully
handsome face, who stood silently by the little showcase and was wrapped
in furs worth the whole stock of millinery she confronted--but bustled
about the store, while she plunged into the middle of an explanation
about hats she had had, hats she thought of having, and hats she might
have had, of which the milliner understood not a word. It was not,
indeed, essential that she should, for presently Tabitha stopped short,
looked about her triumphantly, and asked:

“Now, wasn’t I right? Aren’t they the nicest in town?”

The tall girl smiled, and inclined her dignified head.

“They are very pretty, indeed,” she answered, and Jessica remarked to
herself what a soft, rich voice it was, that made even those commonplace
words so delightful to the ear.

“I don’t know that we wanted to look at anything in particular,” rattled
on Miss Tabitha. “We were driving by” (O Tabitha! as if Miss Kate had
not commanded this excursion for no other purpose than this visit!) “and
I just thought we’d drop in, for I’ve been telling Miss Minster about
what excellent taste you had.”

A momentary pause ensued, and then Jessica, conscious of blushes and
confusion, made bold to unburden her mind of its plan.

“I wanted to speak to you,” she said, falteringly at first, but with a
resolution to have it all out, “about that vacant house in the back yard
here. It looks as if it had been a carpenter’s shop last, and it seems
in very bad repair.”

“I suppose it might as well come down,” broke in Miss Wilcox. “Still,
I--”

“Oh, no! that wasn’t what I meant!” protested Jessica. “I--I wanted
to propose something about it to you. If--if you will be seated, I can
explain what I meant.”

The two ladies took chairs, but with a palpable accession of reserve on
their countenances. The girl went on to explain:

“To begin with, the factory-girls and sewing-girls here spend too much
time on the streets--I suppose it is so everywhere--the girls who were
thrown out when the match factory shut down, particularly. What else can
they do? There is no other place. Then they get into trouble, or at any
rate they learn slangy talk and coarse ways. But you can’t blame them,
for their homes, when they have any, are not pleasant places, and where
they hire rooms it is almost worse still. Now, I’ve been thinking of
something--or, rather, it isn’t my own idea, but I’ll speak about that
later on. This is the idea: I have come to know a good many of the best
of these girls--perhaps you would think they were the worst, too, but
they’re not--and I know they would be glad of some good place where they
could spend their evenings, especially in the winter, where it would be
cosey and warm, and they could read or talk, or bring their own sewing
for themselves, and amuse themselves as they liked. And I had thought
that perhaps that old house could be fixed up so as to serve, and they
could come through the shop here after tea, and so I could keep track of
them, don’t you see?”

“I don’t quite think I do,” said Miss Tabitha, with distinct
disapprobation. The other lady said nothing.

Jessica felt her heart sink. The plan had seemed so excellent to her,
and yet it was to be frowned down.

“Perhaps I haven’t made it clear to you,” she ventured to say.

“Oh, yes, you have,” replied Miss Tabitha. “I don’t mind pulling the
house down, but to make it a rendezvous for all the tag-rag and bob-tail
in town--I simply couldn’t think of it! These houses along here have
seen their best days, perhaps, but they’ve all been respectable,
always!”

“I don’t think myself that you have quite grasped Miss Lawton’s
meaning.”

It was the low, full, quiet voice of the beautiful fur-clad lady that
spoke, and Jessica looked at her with tears of anxious gratitude in her
eyes.

Miss Minster seemed to avoid returning the glance, but went on in the
same even, musical tone:

“It appears to me that there might be a great deal of much-needed
good done in just that way, Tabitha. The young lady says--I think I
understood her to say--that she had talked with some of these girls, and
that that is what they would like. It seems to me only common-sense, if
you want to help people, to help them in their own way, and not insist,
instead, that it shall be in your way--which really is no help at all!”

“Nobody can say, I hope, that I have ever declined to extend a helping
hand to anybody who showed a proper spirit,” said Miss Wilcox, with
dignity, putting up her chin.

“I know that, ma’am,” pleaded Jessica. “That is why I felt sure you
would like my plan. I ought to tell you--it isn’t quite my plan. It was
Mrs. Fairchild, at Tecumseh, who used to teach the Burfield school, who
suggested it. She is a very, very good woman.”

“And I think it is a very, very good idea,” said Miss Kate, speaking for
the first time directly to Jessica. “Of course, there would have to be
safeguards.”

“You have no conception what a rough lot they are,” said Miss Tabitha,
in more subdued protest. “There is no telling who they would bring here,
or what they wouldn’t do.”

“Indeed, I am sure all that could be taken care of,” urged Jessica,
taking fresh courage, and speaking now to both her visitors. “Only those
whom I knew to mean well by the undertaking should be made members, and
they would agree to very strict rules, I feel certain.”

“Why, child alive! where would you get the money for it, even if it
could be done otherwise?” Miss Tabitha wagged her curls conclusively,
but her smile was not unkind.

It would not be exact to say that Jessica had not considered this, but,
as it was now presented, it seemed like a new proposition. She was not
ready to answer it.

Miss Wilcox did not wait over long for a reply, but proceeded to point
out, in a large and exhaustive way, the financial impossibilities of the
plan. Jessica had neither heart nor words for an interruption, and Miss
Kate listened in an absent-minded manner, her eyes on the plumes and
velvets in the showcase.

The interruption did come in a curiously unexpected fashion. A loud
stamping of wet feet was heard on the step outside; then the door from
the street was opened. The vehemence of the call-bell’s clamor seemed to
dismay the visitor, or perhaps it was the presence of the ladies. At
all events, he took off his hat, as if it had been a parlor instead of a
shop, and made an awkward inclusive bow, reaching one hand back for the
latch, as if minded to beat a retreat.

“Why, Mr. Tracy!” exclaimed Tabitha, rising from her chair.

Reuben advanced now and shook hands with both her and Jessica. For an
instant the silence threatened to be embarrassing, and it was not wholly
relieved when Tabitha presented him to Miss Minster, and that young lady
bowed formally without moving in her chair. But the lawyer could not
suspect the disagreeable thoughts which were chasing one another behind
these two unruffled and ladylike fronts, and it was evident enough that
his coming was welcome to the mistress of the little shop.

“I have wanted to look in upon you before,” he said to Jessica, “and
I am ashamed to think that I haven’t done so. I have been very much
occupied with other matters. It doesn’t excuse me to myself, but it may
to you.”

“Oh, certainly, Mr. Tracy,” Jessica answered, and then realized how
miserably inadequate the words were. “It’s very kind of you to come at
all,” she added.

Tabitha shot a swift glance at her companion, and the two ladies rose,
as by some automatic mechanical device, absolutely together.

“We must be going, Miss Lawton,” said the old maid, primly.

A woman’s intuition told Jessica that something had gone wrong. If she
did not entirely guess the nature of the trouble, it became clear enough
on the instant to her that these ladies misinterpreted Reuben’s visit.
Perhaps they did not like him--or perhaps--She stepped toward them and
spoke eagerly, before she had followed out this second hypothesis in her
mind.

“If you have a moment’s time to spare,” she pleaded, “I _wish_ you would
let me explain to Mr. Tracy the plan I have talked over with you. He was
my school-teacher; he is my oldest friend--the only friend I had when
I was--a--a girl, and I haven’t seen him before since the day I arrived
home here. I should _so_ much like to have you hear his opinion. The
lady I spoke of--Mrs. Fairchild--wrote to him about me. Perhaps he knows
of the plan already from her.”

Reuben did not know of the plan, and the two ladies consented to take
seats again while it should be explained to him. Tabitha assumed a
distant and uneasy expression of countenance, and looked straight ahead
of her out through the glass door until the necessity for relief by
conversation swelled up within her to bursting point; for Kate had
rather flippantly deserted her, and so far from listening with haughty
reserve under protest, had actually joined in the talk, and taken up the
thread of Jessica’s stumbling explanation.

The three young people seemed to get on extremely well together. Reuben
fired up with enthusiasm at the first mention of the plan, and showed
so plainly the sincerity of his liking for it that Miss Minster felt
herself, too, all aglow with zeal. Thus taken up by friendly hands, the
project grew apace, and took on form and shape like Aladdin’s palace.

Tabitha listened with a swiftly mounting impatience of her speechless
condition, and a great sickening of the task of watching the cockade of
the coachman outside, which she had imposed upon herself, as the talk
went on. She heard Reuben say that he would gladly raise a subscription
for the work; she heard Kate ask to be allowed to head the list with
whatever sum he thought best, and then to close the list with whatever
additional sum was needed to make good the total amount required;
she heard Jessica, overcome with delight, stammer out thanks for this
unlooked-for adoption and endowment of her poor little plan, and then
she could stand it no longer.

“Have you quite settled what you will do with my house?” she asked,
still keeping her face toward the door. “There are some other places
along here belonging to me--that is, they always have up to now--but of
course if you have plans about them, too, just tell me, and--”

“Don’t be absurd, Tabitha,” said Miss Minster, rising from her chair as
she spoke. “Of course we took your assent for granted from the start. I
believe, candidly, that you are more enthusiastic about it this moment
than even we are.”

Reuben thought that the old lady dissembled her enthusiasm skilfully,
but at least she offered no dissent. A few words more were exchanged,
the lawyer promising again his aid, and Miss Minster insisting that she
herself wanted the task of drawing up, in all its details, the working
plan for the new institution, and, on second thoughts, would prefer to
pay for it all herself.

“I have been simply famishing for something to do all these years,”
 she said, in smiling confidence, to Tracy, “and here it is at last. You
can’t guess how happy I shall be in mapping out the whole thing--rules
and amusements and the arrangements of the rooms and the furnishing,
and--everything.”

Perhaps Jessicas face expressed too plainly the thought that this
bantling of hers, which had been so munificently adopted, bade fair to
be taken away from her altogether, for Miss Minster added: “Of course,
when the sketch is fairly well completed, I will show it to _you_, and
we will advise together,” and Jessica smiled again.

When the two ladies were seated again in the sleigh, and the horses had
pranced their way through the wet snow up to the beaten track once more,
Miss Tabitha said:

“I never knew a girl to run on so in all my born days. Here you are,
seeing these two people for the very first time half an hour ago, and
you’ve tied yourself up to goodness only knows what. One would think
you’d known them all your life, the way you said ditto to every random
thing that popped into their heads. And a pretty penny they’ll make
it cost you, too! And what will your mother say?” Miss Minster smiled
good-naturedly, and patted her companion’s gloved hand with her own.
“Never you worry, Tabitha,” she said, softly. “Don’t talk, please, for a
minute. I want to think.”

It was a very long minute. The young heiress spent it in gazing
abstractedly at the buttons on the coachman’s back, and the rapt
expression on her face seemed to tell more of a pleasant day-dream than
of serious mental travail. Miss Wilcox was accustomed to these moods
which called for silence, and offered no protest.

At last Kate spoke, with a tone of affectionate command. “When we get to
the house I will give you a book to read, and I want you to finish every
word of it before you begin anything else. It is called ‘All Sorts and
Conditions of Men,’ and it tells how a lovely girl with whole millions
of pounds did good in England, and I was thinking of it all the while we
sat there in the shop. Only the mortification of it is, that in the
book the rich girl originated the idea herself, whereas I had to have
it hammered into my head by--by others. But you must read the book, and
hurry with it, because--or no: I will get another copy to read again
myself. And I will buy other copies; one for _her_ and one _for him_,
and one--”

She lapsed suddenly into silence again. The disparity between the
stupendous dream out of which the People’s Palace for East London’s
mighty hive of millions has been evolved, and the humble project of a
sitting-room or two for the factory-girls of a village, rose before her
vision, and had the effect of making her momentarily ridiculous in her
own eyes. The familiarity, too, with which she had labelled these two
strangers, this lawyer and this milliner, in her own thoughts, as “him”
 and “her,” jarred just a little upon her maidenly consciousness. Perhaps
she had rushed to embrace their scheme with too much avidity. It was
generally her fault to be over-impetuous. Had she been so in this case?

“Of course, what we can do here”--she began with less eagerness of tone,
thinking aloud rather than addressing Tabitha--“must at best be on
a very small scale. You must not be frightened by the book, where
everything is done with fairy prodigality, and the lowest figures dealt
with are hundreds of thousands. I only want you to read it that you may
catch the spirit of it, and so understand how I feel. And you needn’t
worry about my wasting money, or doing anything foolish, you dear, timid
old soul!”

Miss Wilcox, in her revolving mental processes, had somehow veered
around to an attitude of moderate sympathy with the project, the while
she listened to these words. “I’m sure you won’t, my dear,” she replied,
quite sweetly. “And I daresay there can really be a great deal of good
done, only, of course, it will have to be gone at cautiously and by
degrees. And we must let old Runkle do the papering and whitewashing;
don’t forget that. He’s had ever so much sickness in his family all the
winter, and work is so slack.”

“Do you know, I like your Mr. Tracy!” was Kate’s irrelevant reply. She
made it musingly, as if the idea were new to her mind.

“You can see for yourself there couldn’t have been anything at all
in that spiteful Sarah Cheese-borough’s talk about him and her,” said
Tabitha, who now felt herself to have been all along the champion of
this injured couple. “How on earth a respectable woman can invent such
slanders beats my comprehension.”

Kate Minster laughed merrily aloud. “It’s lucky you weren’t made of
pancake batter, Tabitha,” she said with mock gravity; “for, if you had
been, you never could have stood this being stirred both ways. You would
have turned heavy and been spoiled.”

“Instead of which I live to spoil other people, eh?” purred the
gratified old lady, shaking her curls with affectionate pride.

“If we weren’t out in the street, I believe I should kiss you, Tabitha,”
 said the girl. “You can’t begin to imagine how delightfully you have
behaved today!”



CHAPTER XVII.--TRACY HEARS STRANGE THINGS.

 REUBEN’S first impulse, when he found himself alone in the little shop
with his former pupil, was to say good-by and get out as soon as he
could. To the best of his recollection, he had never before been in a
store consecrated entirely to the fashions and finery of the opposite
sex, and he was oppressed by a sense of being an intruder upon an
exclusively feminine domain. The young girl, too, whom he had been
thinking of all this while as an unfortunate child whom he must watch
over and be good to, stood revealed before him as a self-controlled and
sophisticated woman, only a few years younger than himself in actual
age, and much wiser than himself in the matters of head-gear and
textures and colors which belonged to this place. He could have talked
freely to her in his law-office, with his familiar accessories of papers
and books about him. A background of bonnets was disconcerting.

“How beautiful she is!” were Jessica’s first words, and they pleasurably
startled the lawyer from his embarrassed revery.

“She is, indeed,” he answered, and somehow found himself hoping that the
conversation would cling to this subject a good while. “I had never met
her before, as you saw, but of course I have known her by sight a long
time.”

“I don’t think I ever saw her before to-day,” said Jessica. “How
wonderful it seems that she should have come, and then that you came,
too, and that you both should like the plan, and take it up so, and make
a success of it right at the start.”

Reuben smiled. “In your eagerness to keep up with the procession I fear
you are getting ahead of the band,” he said. “I wouldn’t quite call it
a success, at present. But, no doubt, it’s a great thing to have her
enlisted in it. I’m glad she likes you; her friendship will make all the
difference in the world to you, here in Thessaly.”

The girl did not immediately answer, and Tracy, looking at her as she
walked across to the showcase, was surprised to catch the glisten of
tears on her eyelashes. He had no idea what to say, but waited in pained
puzzlement for her to speak.

“‘Friendship’ is not quite the word,” she said at last, looking up at
him and smiling with mournful softness through her tears. “I shall be
glad if she likes me--as you say, it will be a great thing if she helps
me--but we shall hardly be ‘friends,’ you know. _She_ would never call
it that. Oh, no! oh, no!”

Her voice trembled audibly over these last words, and she began
hurriedly to re-arrange some of the articles in the showcase, with the
obvious design of masking her emotion.

“You can do yourself no greater harm than by exaggerating that kind of
notion, my girl,” said Reuben Tracy, in his old gravely kind voice. “You
would put thoughts into her head that way which she had never dreamt of
otherwise; that is, if she weren’t a good and sensible person. Why, she
is a woman like yourself--”

“Oh, no, no! _Not_ like _me!_”

Tracy was infinitely touched by the pathos of this deprecating wail,
but he went on as if he had not heard it: “A woman like yourself, with
a heart turned in mercy and charity toward other women who are not so
strong to help themselves. Why on earth should you vex your soul with
fears that she will be unkind to you, when she showed you as plain
as the noonday sun her desire _to_ be kind? You mustn’t yield to such
fancies.”

“Kind, yes! But you don’t understand--you _can’t_ understand. I
shouldn’t have spoken as I did. It was a mere question of a word,
anyway.”

Jessica smiled again, to show that, though the tears were still there,
the grief behind them was to be regarded as gone, and added, “Yes, she
was kindness itself.”

“She is very rich in her own right, I believe, and if her interest
in your project is genuine--that is, of the kind that lasts--you will
hardly need any other assistance. Of course you must allow for the
chance of her dropping the idea as suddenly as she picked it up. Rich
women--rich people generally, for that matter--are often flighty about
such things. ‘Put not your trust in princes,’ serves as a warning about
millionnaires as well as monarchs. The rest of us are forced to be
more or less continuous in what we think and do. We have to keep at the
things we’ve started, because a waste of time would be serious to us.
We have to keep the friends and associates we’ve got, because others
are not to be had for the asking. But these favored people are more
free--their time doesn’t matter, and they can find new sets of friends
ready made whenever they weary of the others. Still, let us hope she
will be steadfast. She has a strong face, at all events.”

The girl had listened to this substantial dissertation with more or less
comprehension, but with unbounded respect. Anything that Reuben Tracy
said she felt must be good. Besides, his conclusion jumped with her
hopes.

“I’m not afraid of her losing interest in the thing itself,” she
answered. “What worries me is--or, no--” She stopped herself with a
smile, and made haste to add, “I forgot. I mustn’t be worried. But who
is our Miss Minster? Does she own the ironworks? Tell me about her.”

“She owns a share of the works, I think. I don’t know how big a share,
or, in fact, much else about her. I’ve heard my partner, Horace Boyce,
talk lately a good deal--”

Tracy did not finish his sentence, for Jessica had sunk suddenly into
the chair behind the case, and was staring at him over the glass-bound
row of bonnets with wide-open, startled eyes.

“_Your partner!_ Yours, did you say? That man?”

Her tone and manner very much surprised Reuben. “Why, yes, he’s my
partner,” he said, slowly and in wonderment. “Didn’t you know that?
We’ve been together since December.”

She shook her head, and murmured something hastily about having been
very busy, and being cooped up on a back street.

This did not explain her agitation, which more and more puzzled Reuben
as he thought upon it. He stood looking down upon her where she sat, and
noted that her face, though it was turned away from him now, was both
pale and excited.

“Do you know him?” he asked finally.

She shook her head again, and the lawyer fancied she was biting her
lips. He did not know well what else to say, and was speculating whether
it would not be best to say nothing, when all at once she burst forth
vehemently.

“I _won’t_ lie to you!” she exclaimed. “I _did_ know him, very much to
my cost. And, oh! don’t you trust him! Don’t you trust him, I say! He’s
not fit to be with you. Oh, my God!--_don’t_ I know Horace Boyce!”

Reuben stood silent, still looking down gravely into the girl’s flashing
eyes. What she had said annoyed and disturbed him, but what he thought
chiefly about was how to avoid bringing on an explanation which must
wound and humiliate her feelings. It was clear enough what she meant,
and he compassionately hoped she would not feel it necessary to add
anything. Above all things he felt that he wanted to spare her pain.

“I understand,” he said at last, as the frankest way out of the dilemma.
“Don’t say any more.” He pondered for a minute or so upon the propriety
of not saying anything more himself, and then with decision offered her
his hand across the showcase, and held hers in his expansive clasp with
what he took to be fatherly sympathy, as he said:

“I must go now. Good-by. And I shall hear from you soon about the
project?” He smiled to reassure her, and added, still holding her hand,
“Now, don’t you let worry come inside these doors at all. You have made
a famous start, and everything will go well, believe me.”

Then he went out, and the shrill clamor of the bell hung to jangle
when the door was opened woke Jessica from her day-dream, just as the
sunbeams had begun to drive away the night.

She rose with a start, and walked to the door to follow his
retiring figure through the glass. She stood there, lost in another
revery--vague, languorous, half-bright, half-hideous--until the door
from the back room was opened, and Samantha’s sharp voice fell on the
silence of the little shop.

“I ain’t going to set in that poky old kitchen any longer for all
the bonnets in your whole place,” she remarked, with determination,
advancing to the mirror with the toque on her truculently poised head.

“Besides, you said you’d call us when they were all gone.”

Lucinda stole up to her sister-employer, and murmured in a side-long
whisper: “I couldn’t keep her from listening a little. You talked too
loud. She heard what you said about that Boyce chap.”

The tidings angered Jessica even more than they alarmed her. With an
impulse equally illogical and natural, she frowned at Samantha, and
stiffened her fingers claw-wise, with a distinct itching to tear that
arrangement of bronze velvet and sage-green feathers from her perfidious
sister’s head.

Curiously enough, it was the usually aggressive Lucinda who counselled
prudence. “If I was you, I’d ask her to stay to dinner,” she said,
in the same furtive undertone. “I’ve been talking to her, and I guess
she’ll be all right if we make it kind o’ pleasant for her when she
comes. But if you rub her the wrong way, she’ll scratch.”

Samantha was asked to dinner, and stayed, and later, being offered her
choice of three hat-pins with heads of ornamented jet, took two.

*****

Reuben walked slowly back to the office, and then sat through a solitary
meal at a side-table in the Dearborn House dining-room, although his
customary seat was at the long table down the centre, in order that he
might think over what he had heard.

It is not clear that the isolated fact disclosed to him in the
milliner’s shop would, in itself, have been sufficient to awaken in his
mind any serious distrust of his partner. As the sexes have different
trainings and different spheres, so they have different standards. Men
set up the bars, for instance, against a brother who cheats at cards, or
divulges what he has heard in his club, or borrows money which he cannot
repay, or pockets cigars at feasts when he does not himself smoke. But
their courts of ethics do not exercise jurisdiction over sentimental or
sexual offences, as a rule. These the male instinct vaguely refers to
some other tribunal, which may or may not be in session somewhere else.
And this male instinct is not necessarily co-existent with immoral
tendencies, or blunted sensibilities, or even indifference: it is the
man’s way of looking at it--just as it is his way to cross a muddy
street on his toes, while his sisters perform the same feat on their
heels.

Reuben Tracy was a good man, and one with keen aspirations toward
honorable and ennobling things; but still he was a man, and it may
be that this discovery, standing by itself, would not seriously have
affected his opinion of Horace. But it did not stand by itself.

In an indefinite kind of way, he was conscious of being less attracted
by the wit and sparkling smalltalk of Horace than he had been at first.
Somehow, the young man seemed to have exhausted his store; he began to
repeat himself, as if he had already made the circuit of the small ring
around which his mind travelled. Reuben confronted a suspicion that the
Boyce soil was shallow.

This might not be necessarily an evil thing, he said to himself. Lawyers
quite often achieved notable successes before juries, who were not
deep or well-grounded men. Horace was versatile, and versatility was
a quality which Reuben distinctly lacked. From that point of view the
combination ought, therefore, to be of value.

But, then, Horace told lies. Versatility of that variety was not so
admirable. There could be no doubt on this point. Reuben could count
on his fingers now six separate falsehoods that his partner had already
told him. They happened not to be upon vital or even important subjects,
but that did not render them the more palatable.

And then there was the Minster business. He knew from other sources
that Horace had been intrusted with the papers left to Mr. Clarke’s
executors. The young man had taken them to his father’s house, and had
never mentioned so much as a syllable about them to his partner. No
doubt, Horace felt that he ought to have this as his personal business,
and upon the precedent Reuben himself had set with the railroad work,
this was fair enough. But there was something underhanded in his secrecy
about the matter. He should have spoken of it.

Reuben’s thoughts from this drifted to the Minsters themselves, and
centred reverently upon the luminous figure of that elder daughter
whom he had met an hour before. He did not dwell much upon her
beauty--perhaps he was a trifle dull about such things--but her
graciousness, her sweet interest in the charity, her womanly commingling
of softness and enthusiasm, seemed to shine about him as he mused.
Thessaly unconsciously assumed a brighter and more wholesome aspect,
with much less need of reform than before, in his mind’s eye, now that
he thought of it as her home.

Her home! The prosperous and respected lawyer was still a country boy
in his unformed speculations as to what that home might be like. The
Minster house was the most splendid mansion in Dearborn County, it was
said, but his experience with mansions was small. A hundred times it had
been said to him that he could go anywhere if he liked, and he gave the
statement credence enough. But somehow it happened that he had not gone.
To “be in society,” as the phrase went, had not seemed important to him.
Now, almost for the first time, he found himself regretting this. Then
he smiled somewhat scowlingly at his plate as the vagrant reflection
came up that his partner contributed social status as well as
versatility and mendacity to the outfit of the firm. Horace Boyce had a
swallowtail coat, and visited at the Minsters’. The reflection was not
altogether grateful to him.

Reuben rose from the table, and stood for a few moments by the window
overlooking the veranda and the side street. The sunny warmth of the
thawing noon-day had made it possible to have the window open, and the
sound of voices close at hand showed that there were people already
anticipating pneumonia and the springtime by sitting on the porch
outside.

These voices conveyed no distinct impression at first to Reuben’s mind,
busy as he was with his own reflections. But all at once there was a
scraping of feet and chair-legs on the floor, signifying that the party
had risen, and then he heard two remarks which made a sharp appeal to
his attention and interest.

The first voice said: “Mind, I’m not going to let you put me into a
hole. What I do, I do only when it has been proved to me to be to my
own interest, and not at all because I’m afraid of you. Understand that
clearly!”

The other voice replied: “All that you need be afraid of is that you
will kick over your own bucket of milk. You’ve got the whole game in
your hands, if you only listen to me and don’t play it like a fool. What
do you say? Shall we go up to your house and put the thing into shape?
We can be alone there.”

The voices ceased, and there was a sound of footsteps descending from
the porch to the sidewalk. The two men passed before the window,
ducking their heads for protection against the water dripping from the
overflowed eaves on the roof of the veranda, and thus missing sight of
the man who had overheard them.

Reuben had known at once by the sound of the voice that the first
speaker was Horace Boyce. He recognized his companion now as Schuyler
Tenney, and the sight startled him.

Just why it should have done so, he could not have explained. He had
seen this Schuyler Tenney almost every day for a good many years,
putting them all together, and had never before been troubled, much less
alarmed, by the spectacle. But coming now upon what Jessica had
told him, and what his own thoughts had evolved, and what he had
inadvertently overheard, the figure of the rising hardware merchant
loomed darkly in his perturbed fancy as an evil and threatening thing.

A rustic client with a grievance sought Tracy out in the seclusion
of the dining-room, and dragged him back to his office and into the
intricacies of the law of trespass; but though he did his best to listen
and understand, the farmer went away feeling that his lawyer was a
considerably overrated man.

For, strive as he might, Reuben could not get the sound of those words,
“you’ve got the whole game in your hands,” out of his ears, or restrain
his mind from wearying itself with the anxious puzzle of guessing what
that game could be.



CHAPTER XVIII.--A SIMPLE BUSINESS TRANSACTION.

 Mr. Schuyler Tenney had never before been afforded an opportunity of
studying a young gentleman of fashion and culture in the intimacy of
his private apartments, and he looked about Horace’s room with lively
curiosity and interest, when the two conspirators had entered the
General’s house, gone up-stairs, and shut doors behind them.

“It looks like a ninety-nine-cent store, for all the world,” was his
comment when he had examined the bric-à-brac on the walls and mantels,
“hefted” a bronze trifle or two on the table, and taken a comprehensive
survey of the furniture and hangings.

“It’s rather bare than otherwise,” said Horace, carelessly. “I got
a tolerably decent lot of traps together when I had rooms in Jermyn
Street, but I had to let most of them go when I pulled up stakes to come
home.”

“German Street? I suppose that is in Germany?”

“No--London.”

“Oh! Sold ’em because you got hard up?”

“Not at all. But this damned tariff of yours--or ours--makes it cost too
much to bring decent things over here.”

“Protection to American industry, my boy,” said Mr. Tenney, affably. “We
couldn’t get on a fortnight without it. Just think what--”

“Oh, hang it all, man! We didn’t come here to talk tariff!” Horace broke
in, with a smile which was half annoyance.

“No, that’s so,” assented Mr. Tenney, settling himself in the low,
deep-backed easy-chair, and putting the tips of his lean fingers
together. “No, we didn’t, for a fact.” He added, after a moment’s pause:
“I guess I’ll have to rig up a room like this myself, when the thing
comes off.” He smiled icily to himself at the thought.

“Meanwhile, let us talk about the ‘thing,’ as you call it. Will you have
a drink?”

“Never touch it,” said Mr. Tenney, and he looked curiously on while
Horace poured out some brandy, and then opened a bottle of soda-water to
go with it. He was particularly impressed by the little wire frame-work
stand made to hold the round-bottomed bottle, and asked its cost, and
wondered if they wouldn’t be a good thing to keep in the store.

“Now to business!” said Horace, dragging out from under a sofa the black
tin box which held the Minster papers, and throwing back its cover.
“I’ve told you pretty well what there is in here.”

Mr. Tenney took from his pocket-book the tabular statement Horace had
made of the Minster property, and smoothed it out over his pointed knee.

“It’s a very pretty table,” he said; “no bookkeeper could have done it
better. I know it by heart, but we’ll keep it here in sight while you
proceed.”

“There’s nothing for me to proceed with,” said Horace, lolling back
in his chair in turn. “I want to hear _you!_ Don’t let us waste time.
Broadly, what do you propose?”

“Broadly, what does everybody propose? To get for himself what somebody
else has got. That’s human nature. It’s every kind of nature, down to
the little chickens just hatched who start to chase the chap with the
worm in his mouth before they’ve fairly got their tails out of the
shell.”

“You ought to write a book, Schuyler,” said Horace, using this
familiar name for the first time: “‘Tenney on Dynamic Sociology’! But I
interrupted your application. What particular worm have you got in your
bill’s eye?”

“We are all worms, so the Bible says. I suppose even those scrumptious
ladies there come under that head, like we ordinary mortals.” Mr. Tenney
pointed his agreeable metaphor by touching the paper on his knee with
his joined finger-tips, and showed his small, sharpened teeth in a
momentary smile.

“I follow you,” said Horace, tentatively. “Go on!”

“That’s a heap of money that you’ve ciphered out there, on that paper.”

“Yes. True, it isn’t ours, and we’ve got nothing to do with it. But
that’s a detail. Go on!”

“A good deal of it can be ours, if you’ve got the pluck to go in with
me.”

Horace frowned. “Upon my word, Tenney,” he said, impatiently, “what do
you mean?”

“Jest what I said,” was the sententious and collected response.

The younger man laughed with an uneasy assumption of scorn. “Is it
a burglary you do me the honor to propose, or only common or garden
robbery? Ought we to manage a little murder in the thing, or what do you
say to arson? Upon my word, man, I believe that you don’t realize that
what you’ve said is an insult!”

“No, I don’t. You’re right there,” said the hardware merchant, in no
wise ruffled. “But I do realize that you come pretty near being the
dod-blamedest fool in Dearborn County.”

“Much obliged for the qualification, I’m sure,” retorted Horace, who
felt the mists of his half-simulated, half-instinctive anger fading away
before the steady breath of the other man’s purpose. “But I interrupt
you. Pray go on.”

“There ain’t no question of dishonesty about the thing, not the
slightest. I ain’t that kind of a man!” Horace permitted himself a
shadowy smile, emphasized by a subdued little sniff, which Tenney caught
and was pleased to appear to resent, “Thessaly knows me!” he said, with
an air of pride. “They ain’t a living man--nor a dead one nuther--can
put his finger on me. I’ve lived aboveboard, sir, and owe no man a red
cent, and I defy anybody to so much as whisper a word about my
character.”

“‘Tenney on Faith Justified by Works,’” commented Horace, softly,
smiling as much as he dared, but in a less aggressive manner.

“Works--yes!” said the hardware merchant, “the Minster iron-works, in
particular.” He seemed pleased with his little joke, and paused to dwell
upon it in his mind for an instant. Then he went on, sitting upright in
his chair now, and displaying a new earnestness:

“Dishonesty is wrong, and it is foolish. It gets a man disgraced, and
it gets him in jail. But commercial acumen is another thing. A smart
man can get money in a good many ways without giving anybody a chance
to call him dishonest. I have thought out several plans--some of
them strong at one point, others at another, but all pretty middlin’
good--how to feather our own nests out of this thing.”

“Well?” said Horace, interrogatively.

Mr. Tenney did not smile any more, and he had done with digressions.
“First of all,” he said, with his intent gray eyes fixed on the young
man’s face, “what guarantee have I that you won’t give me away?”

“What guarantee _can_ I give you?” replied Horace, also sitting up.

“Perhaps you are right,” said Tenney, thinking in his own swift-working
mind that it would be easy enough to take care of this poor creature
later on. “Well, then, you’ve been appointed Mrs. Minster’s lawyer in
the interest of the Thessaly Manufacturing Company--this company
here marked ‘D,’ in which the family has one hundred and seventy-five
thousand dollars.”

“I gathered as much. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind telling me what it is all
about.”

“I’m as transparent as plate-glass when I think a man is acting square
with me,” said the hardware merchant. “This is how it is. Wendover and
me got hold of a little rolling-mill and nail-works at Cadmus, down on
the Southern Tier, a few years ago. Some silly people had put up the
money for it, and there was a sort of half-crazy inventor fellow running
it. They were making ducks and drakes of the whole thing, and I saw
a chance of getting into the concern--I used to buy a good deal of
hardware from them, and knew how they stood--and I spoke to Wendover,
and so we went in.”

“That means that the other people were put out, I suppose,” commented
Horace.

“Well, no; but they kind o’ faded away like. I wouldn’t exactly say they
were put out, but after a while they didn’t seem to be able to stay in.
But never mind them. Well, Cadmus was a bad location. The iron fields
around there had pretty well petered out, and we were way off the main
line of transportation. Business was fair enough; we made a straight ten
per cent, year in and year out, because the thing was managed carefully;
but that was in spite of a lot of drawbacks. So I got a scheme in my
head to move the whole concern up here to Thessaly, and hitch it up with
the Minster iron-works. We could save one dollar a ton, or forty-five
thousand dollars in all, in the mere matter of freight alone, if we
could use up their entire output. I may tell you, I didn’t appear in the
business at all. I daresay Mrs. Minster don’t know to this day that I’m
a kind of partner of hers. It happened that Wendover used to know her
when she was a girl--they both come from down the Hudson somewhere--and
so he worked the thing with her, and we moved over from Cadmus, hook,
line, bob, and sinker, and we’re the Thessaly Manufacturing Company. Do
you see?”

“So far, yes. She and her daughters have one hundred and seventy-five
thousand dollars cash in it. What is the rest of the company like?”

“It’s stocked at four hundred thousand dollars. We put in all our plant
and machinery and business and good-will and so on at one hundred and
fifty thousand dollars, and then we furnished seventy-five thousand
dollars cash. So we hold two hundred and twenty-five shares to their one
hundred and seventy-five.”

“Who are the ‘we’?”

“Well, Pete Wendover and me are about the only people you’re liable to
meet around the premises, I guess. There are some other names on the
books, but they don’t amount to much. We can wipe them off whenever we
like.”

“I notice that this company has paid no dividends since it was formed.”

“That’s because of the expense of building. And we ain’t got what you
may call fairly to work yet. But it’s all right. There is big money in
it.”

“I daresay,” observed Horace. “But, if you will excuse the remark, I
seem to have missed that part of your statement which referred to _my_
making something out of the company.”

The hardware merchant allowed his cold eyes to twinkle for an instant.
“You’ll be taken care of,” he said, confidentially. “Don’t fret your
gizzard about _that!_”

Horace smiled. It seemed to be easier to get on with Tenney than he had
thought. “But what am I to do; that is, if I decide to do anything?” he
asked. “I confess I don’t see your scheme.”

“Why, that’s curious,” said the other, with an air of candor. “And you
lawyers have the name of being so ’cute, too!”

“I don’t suppose we see through a stone wall much farther than other
people. Our chief advantage is in being able to recognize that it is a
wall. And this one of yours seems to be as thick and opaque as most, I’m
bound to say.”

“We don’t want you to do anything, just now,” Mr. Tenney explained.
“Things may turn up in which you can be of assistance, and then we want
to count on you, that’s all.”

This was a far less lucid explanation than Horace had looked for. Tenney
had been so anxious for a confidential talk, and had hinted of such
dazzling secrets, that this was a distinct disappointment.

“What did you mean by saying that I had the whole game in my hands?”
 he demanded, not dissembling his annoyance. “Thus far, you haven’t even
dealt me any cards!”

Mr. Tenney lay back in his chair again, and surveyed Horace over his
finger-tips. “There is to be a game, young man, and you’ve been put in
a position to play in it when the time comes. But I should be a
particularly simple kind of goose to tell you about it beforehand; now,
wouldn’t I?”

Thus candidly appealed to, Horace could not but admit that his
companion’s caution was defensible.

“Please yourself,” he said. “I daresay you’re right enough. I’ve got the
position, as you say. Perhaps it is through you that it came to me; I’ll
concede that, for argument’s sake. You are not a man who expects people
to act from gratitude alone. Therefore you don’t count upon my doing
things for you in this position, even though you put me there, unless
you first convince me that they will also benefit me. That is clear
enough, isn’t it? Very well; thus the matter stands. When the occasion
arises that you need me, you can tell me what it is, and what I am to
get out of it, and then we’ll talk business.”

Mr. Tenney had not lifted his eyes for a moment from his companion’s
face. Had his own countenance been one on which inner feelings were
easily reflected, it would just now have worn an expression of amused
contempt.

“Well, this much I might as well tell you straight off,” he said. “A
part of my notion, if everything goes smoothly, is to have Mrs. Minster
put you into the Thessaly Manufacturing Company as her representative
and to pay you five thousand dollars a year for it, which might be fixed
so as to stand separate from the other work you do for her. Wendover
can arrange that with her. And then I am counting now on declaring
myself up at the Minster works, and putting in my time up there; so that
your father will be needed again in the store, and it might be so that
I could double his salary, and let him have back say a half interest
in the business, and put him on his feet. I say these things _might_ be
done. I don’t say I’ve settled on them, mind!”

“And you still think it best to keep me in the dark; not to tell me what
it is I’m to do?” Horace leant forward, and asked this question eagerly.

“No-o--I’ll tell you this much. Your business will be to say ditto to
whatever me and Wendover say.”

A full minute’s pause ensued, during which Mr. Tenney gravely watched
Horace sip what remained of his drink.

“Well, what shall it be? Do you go in with us?” he asked, at last.

“I’d better think it over,” said Horace. “Give me, say, till
Monday--that’s five days. And of course, if I do say yes, it will
be understood that I am not to be bound to do anything of a shady
character.”

“Certainly; but you needn’t worry about that,” answered Tenney.
“Everything will be as straight as a die. There will be nothing but a
simple business transaction.”

“What did you mean by saying that we should take some of the Minster
money away? That had a queer sound.”

“All business consists in getting other people’s money,” said the
hardware merchant, sententiously. “Where do you suppose Steve Minster
got his millions? Did you think he minted them? Didn’t every dollar
pass through some other fellow’s pocket before it reached his? The
only difference was that when it got into his pocket it stuck there.
Everybody is looking out to get rich; and when a man succeeds, it only
means that somebody else has got poor. That’s plain common-sense!”

The conversation practically ended here. Mr. Tenney devoted some quarter
of an hour to going severally over all the papers in the Minster box,
but glancing through only those few which referred to the Thessaly
Manufacturing Company. The proceeding seemed to Horace to be irregular,
but he could not well refuse, and Tenney was not interrupted. When
he had finished his task he shook hands with Horace with a novel
cordiality, and it was not difficult to guess that the result of his
search had pleased him.

“You are sure those are all the papers Clarke left to be turned over?”
 he asked. Upon being assured in the affirmative his eyes emitted a
glance which was like a flash of light, and his lip lifted in a smile of
obvious elation.

“There’s a fortune for both of us,” he said, jubilantly, as he unlocked
the door, and shook hands again.

When he had gone, Horace poured out another drink and sat down to
meditate.



CHAPTER XIX.--NO MESSAGE FOR MAMMA.

 Four days of anxious meditation did not help Horace Boyce to clear his
mind, and on the fifth he determined upon a somewhat desperate step, in
the hope that its issue would assist decision.

His dilemma was simple enough in character. Two ways of acquiring a
fortune lay before him. One was to marry Kate Minster; the other was
to join the plot against her property and that of her family, which the
subtile Tenney was darkly shaping.

The misery of the situation was that he must decide at once which of
the ways he would choose. In his elation at being selected as the legal
adviser and agent of these millionnaire women, no such contingency as
this had been foreseen. He had assumed that abundant time would be at
his disposal, and he had said to himself that with time all things may
be accomplished with all women.

But this precious element of time had been harshly cut out of his plans,
here at the very start. The few days reluctantly granted him had gone
by, one by one, with cruel swiftness, and to-morrow would be Monday--and
still his mind was not made up.

If he could be assured that Miss Minster would marry him, or at least
admit him to the vantage-ground of _quasi-recognition_ as a suitor, the
difficulty would be solved at once. He would turn around and defend
her and her people against the machinations of Tenney. Just what the
machinations were he could not for the life of him puzzle out, but he
felt sure that, whatever their nature, he could defeat them, if only
he were given the right to do battle in the name of the family, as a
prospective member of it.

On the other hand, it might be that he had no present chance with Miss
Minster as an eligible husband. What would happen if he relied on a
prospect which turned out not to exist? His own opportunity to share
in the profits of Tenney’s plan would be abruptly extinguished, and his
father would be thrown upon the world as a discredited bankrupt. About
that there was no doubt.

Sometimes the distracted young man thought he caught glimpses of a safe
middle course. In these sanguine moments it seemed feasible to give in
his adhesion to Tenney’s scheme, and go along with him for a certain
time, say until the intentions of the conspirators were revealed. Then
he might suddenly revolt, throw himself into a virtuous attitude, and
win credit and gratitude at the hands of the family by protecting them
from their enemies. Then the game would be in his own hands, and no
mistake!

But there were other times when this course did not present so many
attractions to his mind--when it was borne in upon him that Tenney would
be a dangerous kind of man to betray. He had seen merciless and terrible
depths in the gray eyes of the hardware merchant--depths which somehow
suggested bones stripped clean of their flesh, sucked bare of their
marrow, at the bottom of a gloomy sea. In these seasons of doubt, which
came mostly in the early morning when he first awoke, the mere thought
of Tenney’s hatred made him shudder. It was as if Hugo’s devil-fish had
crawled into his dreams.

So Sunday afternoon came and found the young man still perplexed and
harassed. To do him justice, he had once or twice dwelt momentarily on
the plan of simply defying Tenney and doing his duty by the Minsters,
and taking his chances. But these impulses were as quickly put down. The
case was too complicated for mere honesty. The days of martyrdom were
long since past. One needed to be smarter than one’s neighbors in these
later times. To eat others was the rule now, if one would save himself
from being devoured. It was at least clear to his mind that he must be
smart, and play his hand so as to get the odd trick even if honors were
held against him.

Horace decided finally that the wisest thing he could do would be to
call upon the Minsters before nightfall, and trust to luck for some
opportunity of discovering Miss Kate’s state of mind toward him. He
was troubled more or less by fears that Sunday might not be regarded
in Thessaly as a proper day for calls, as he dressed himself for
the adventure. But when he got upon the street, the fresh air and
exhilaration oc exercise helped to reassure him. Before he reached the
Minster gate he had even grown to feel that the ladies had probably had
a dull day of it, and would welcome his advent as a diversion.

He was shown into the stately parlor to the left of the wide hall--a
room he had not seen before--and left to sit there in solitude for some
minutes. This term of waiting he employed in looking over the portraits
on the wall and the photographs on the mantels and tables. Aside from
several pictures of the dissipated Minster boy who had died, he could
see no faces of young men anywhere, and he felt this to be a good sign
as he tiptoed his way back to his seat by the window.

Fortune smiled at least upon the opening of his enterprise. It was Miss
Kate who came at last to receive him, and she came alone. The young
man’s cultured sense of beauty and breeding was caressed and captivated
as it had never been before--at least in America, he made mental
reservation--as she came across the room toward him, and held out her
hand. He felt himself unexpectedly at ease, as he returned her greeting
and looked with smiling warmth into her splendid eyes.

His talk was facile and pleasant. He touched lightly upon his doubts
as to making calls on Sunday, and how they were overborne by the
unspeakable tedium of his own rooms. Then he spoke of the way the more
unconventional circles of London utilize the day, and of the contrasting
features of the Continental Sunday. Miss Kate seemed interested, and
besides explaining that her mother was writing letters and that her
sister was not very well, bore a courteous and affable part in the
exchange of small-talk.

For a long time nothing was said which enabled Horace to feel that the
purpose of his visit had been or was likely to be served. Then, all at
once, through a most unlikely channel, the needed personal element was
introduced.

“Mamma tells me,” she said, when a moment’s pause had sufficed to
dismiss some other subject, “that she has turned over to you such of
her business as poor old Mr. Clarke used to take care of, and that your
partner, Mr. Tracy, has nothing to do with that particular branch
of your work. Isn’t that unusual? I thought partners always shared
everything.”

“Oh, not at all,” replied Horace. “Mr. Tracy, for example, has railroad
business which he keeps to himself. He is the attorney for this section
of the road, and of course that is a personal appointment. He couldn’t
share it with me, any more than the man in the story could make his wife
and children corporals because he had been made one himself. Besides,
Mr. Tracy was expressly mentioned by your mother as not to be included
in the transfer of business. It was her notion.”

“Ah, indeed!” said that young woman, with a slight instantaneous lifting
of the black brows which Horace did not catch. “Why? Isn’t he nice?”

“Well, yes; he’s an extremely good fellow, in his way,” the partner
admitted, looking down at his glossy boots in well-simulated hesitation.
“That little word ‘nice’ means so many things upon feminine lips,
you know,” he added with a smile. “Perhaps he wouldn’t answer your
definition of it all around. He’s very honest, and he is a prodigious
worker, but--well, to be frank, he’s farm bred, and I daresay your
mother suspected the existence of--what shall I say?--an uncouth side?
Really, I don’t think that there was anything more than that in it.”

“So you furnish the polish, and he the honesty and industry? Is that
it?”

The words were distinctly unpleasant, and Horace looked up swiftly to
the speaker’s face, feeling that his own was flushed. But Miss Kate was
smiling at him, with a quizzical light dancing in her eyes, and this
reassured him on the instant. Evidently she felt herself on easy terms
with him, and this was merely a bit of playful chaff.

“We don’t put it quite in that way,” he said, with an answering laugh.
“It would be rather egotistical, on both sides.”

“Nowadays everybody resents that imputation as if it were a cardinal
sin. There was a time when self-esteem was taken for granted. I suppose
it went out with chain-armor and farthingales.” She spoke in a musing
tone, and added after a tiny pause, “That must have been a happy time,
at least for those who wore the armor and the brocades.”

Horace leaped with avidity at the opening. “Those were the days of
romance,” he said, with an effort at the cooing effect in his voice.
“Perhaps they were not so altogether lovely as our fancy paints them;
but, all the same, it is very sweet to have the fancy. Whether it be
historically true or not, those who possess it are rich in their own
mind’s right. They can always escape from the grimy and commercial
conditions of this present work-a-day life. All one’s finer senses can
feed, for example, on a glowing account of an old-time tournament--with
the sun shining on the armor and burnished shields, and the waving
plumes and iron-clad horses and the heralds in tabards, and the rows of
fair ladies clustered about the throne--as it is impossible to do on the
report of a meeting of a board of directors, even when they declare you
an exceptionally large dividend.”

The young man kept a close watch upon this flow of words as it
proceeded, and felt satisfied with it. The young woman seemed to like it
too, for she had sunk back into her chair with an added air of ease, and
looked at him now with what he took to be a more sympathetic glance, as
she made answer:

“Why, you are positively romantic, Mr. Boyce!”

“Me? My dear Miss Minster, I am the most sentimental person alive,”
 Horace protested gayly.

“Don’t you find that it interferes with your profession?” she asked,
with that sparkle of banter in her dark eyes which he began to find so
delicious. “I thought lawyers had to eschew sentiment. Or perhaps you
supply _that_, too, in this famous partnership of yours!”

Horace laughed with pleasure. “Would you like me the less if I admitted
it?” he queried.

“How could I?” she replied on the instant, still with the smile which
kept him from shaping a harsh interpretation of her words. “But isn’t
Thessaly a rather incongruous place for sentimental people? We have no
tourney-field--only rolling-mills and button-factories and furnaces; and
there isn’t a knight, much less a herald in a tabard, left in the whole
village. Their places have been taken by moulders and puddlers. So what
will the minstrel do then, poor thing?”

“Let him come here sometimes,” said the young man, in the gravely ardent
tone which this sort of situation demanded. “Let him come here, and
forget that this is the nineteenth century; forget time and Thessaly
altogether.”

“Oh, but mamma wouldn’t like that at all; I mean about your forgetting
so much. She expects you particularly to remember both time _and_
Thessaly. No, decidedly; that would never do!”

The smile and the glance were intoxicating. The young man made his
plunge.

“But _may_ I come?” His voice had become low and vibrant, and it went on
eagerly: “May I come if I promise to remember everything; if I swear
to remember nothing else save what you--and your mother--would have me
charge my memory with?”

“We are always glad to see our friends on Tuesdays, from two to five.”

“But I am not in the plural,” he urged, gently.

“We are,” she made answer, still watching him with a smile, from where
she half-reclined in the easy-chair. Her face was in the shadow of the
heavier under-curtains; the mellow light gave it a uniform tint of ivory
washed with rose, and enriched the wonder of her eyes, and softened into
melting witchery the lines of lips and brows and of the raven diadem of
curls upon her forehead.

“Yes; in that the graces and charms of a thousand perfect women are
centred here in one,” murmured Horace. It was in his heart as well as
his head to say more, but now she rose abruptly at this, with a laugh
which for the instant disconcerted him.

“Oh, I foresee _such_ a future for this firm of yours,” she cried, with
high merriment alike in voice and face.

As they both stood in the full light of the window, the young man
somehow seemed to miss that yielding softness in her face which had
lulled his sense and fired his senses in the misleading shadows of the
curtain. It was still a very beautiful face, but there was a great deal
of self-possession in it. Perhaps it would be as well just now to go no
further.

“We must try to live up to your good opinion, and your kindly forecast,”
 he said, as he momentarily touched the hand she offered him. “You cannot
possibly imagine how glad I am to have braved the conventionalities in
calling, and to have found you at home. It has transformed the rural
Sunday from a burden into a beatitude.”

“How pretty, Mr. Boyce! Is there any message for mamma?”

“Oh, why did you say that?” He ventured upon a tone of mock vexation.
“I wanted so much to go away with the fancy that this was an enchanted
palace, and that you were shut up alone in it, waiting for--”

“Tuesdays, from two till five,” she broke in, with a bow, in the same
spirit of amiable raillery, and so he said good-by and made his way out.

Had he succeeded? Was there a promise of success? Horace took a long
walk before he finally turned his steps homeward, and pondered these
problems excitedly in his mind. On the whole, he concluded that he could
win her. That she was for herself better worth the winning than even for
her million, he said to himself over and over again with rapture.

*****

Miss Kate went up-stairs and into the sitting-room common to the
sisters, in which Ethel lay on the sofa in front of the fire-place. She
knelt beside this sofa, and held her hands over the subdued flame of the
maple sticks on the hearth.

“It is so cold down in the parlor,” she remarked, by way of explanation.

“He stayed an unconscionable while,” said Ethel. “What could he have
talked about? I had almost a mind to waive my headache and come down to
find out. It was a full hour.”

“He wouldn’t have thanked you if you had, my little girl,” replied Kate
with a smile.

“Does he dislike little girls of nineteen so much? How unique!”

“No; but he came to make love to the big girl; that is why.”

Ethel sat bolt upright. “You don’t mean it!” she said, with her hazel
eyes wide open.

“_He_ did,” was the sententious reply. Kate was busy warming the backs
of her hands now.

“Goodness me! And I lay here all the while, and never had so much as a
premonition. Oh, what was it like? Did he get on his knees? Was it very,
_very_ funny? Make haste and tell me.”

“Well, it _was_ funny, after a fashion. At least, we both laughed a good
deal.”

“How touching! Well?”

“That is all. I laughed at him, and he laughed--I suppose it must have
been at me--and he paid me some quite thrilling compliments, and
I replied, ‘Tuesdays, from two to five,’ like an educated
jackdaw--and--that was all.”

“What a romance! How could you think of such a clever answer, right on
the spur of the moment, too? But I always said you were the bright
one of the family, Kate. Perhaps one’s mind works better in the cold,
anyway. But I think he _might_ have knelt down. You should have put him
close to the register. I daresay the cold stiffened his joints.”

“Will you ever be serious, child?”

Ethel took her sister’s head in her hands and turned it gently, so that
she might look into the other’s face.

“Is it possible that _you_ are serious, Kate?” she asked, in tender
wonderment.

The elder girl laughed, and lifted herself to sit on the sofa beside
Ethel.

“No, no; of course it isn’t possible,” she said, and put her arm about
the invalid’s slender waist. “But he’s great fun to talk to. I chaffed
him to my heart’s content, and he saw what I meant, every time, and
didn’t mind in the least, and gave me as good as I sent. It’s such a
relief to find somebody you can say saucy things to, and be quite sure
they understand them. I began by disliking him--and he _is_ as conceited
as a popinjay--but then he comprehended everything so perfectly, and
talked so well, that positively I found myself enjoying it. And he knew
his own mind, too, and was resolved to say nice things to me, and said
them, whether I liked or not.”

“But _did_ you ‘like,’ Kate?”

“No-o, I think not,” the girl replied, musingly. “But, all the same,
there was a kind of satisfaction in hearing them, don’t you know.”

The younger girl drew her sister’s head down to her shoulder, and
caressed it with her thin, white fingers.

“You are not going to let your mind drift into anything foolish, Kate?”
 she said, with a quaver of anxiety in her tone. “You don’t know the man.
You don’t even like him. You told me so, even from what you saw of him
on the train coming from New York. You said he patronized everybody and
everything, and didn’t have a good word to say for any one. Don’t you
know you did? And those first impressions are always nearest the truth.”

This recalled something to Kate’s mind. “You are right, puss,” she said.
“It _is_ a failing of his. He spoke to-day almost contemptuously of
his partner--that Mr. Tracy whom I met in the milliner’s shop; and that
annoyed me at the time, for I liked Mr. Tracy’s looks and talk very much
indeed, _I_ shouldn’t call him uncouth, at all.”

“That was that Boyce man’s word, was it?” commented Ethel. “Well, then,
I think that beside his partner, he is a pretentious, disagreeable
monkey--there!”

Kate smiled at her sister’s vehemence. “At least it is an unprejudiced
judgment,” she said. “You don’t know either of them.”

“But I’ve seen them both,” replied Ethel, conclusively.



CHAPTER XX.--THE MAN FROM NEW YORK.

 In the great field of armed politics in Europe, every now and again
there arises a situation which everybody agrees must inevitably result
in war. Yet just when the newspapers have reached their highest state
of excitement, and “sensational incidents” and “significant occurrences”
 are crowding one another in the hurly-burly of alarmist despatches with
utmost impressiveness, somehow the cloud passes away, and the sun comes
out again--and nothing has happened.

The sun did not precisely shine for Horace Boyce in the weeks which now
ensued, but at least the crisis that had threatened to engulf him was
curiously delayed. Mr. Tenney did not even ask him, on that dreaded
Monday, what decision he had arrived at. A number of other Mondays went
by, and still no demand was made upon him to announce his choice. On the
few occasions when he met his father’s partner, it was the pleasure of
that gentleman to talk on other subjects.

The young man began to regain his equanimity. The February term of Oyer
and Terminer had come and gone, and Horace was reasonably satisfied with
the forensic display he had made. It would have been much better, he
knew, if he had not been worried about the other thing; but, as it was,
he had won two of the four cases in which he appeared, had got on well
with the judge, who invited him to dinner at the Dearborn House, and
had been congratulated on his speeches by quite a number of lawyers. His
foothold in Thessaly was established.

Matters about the office had not gone altogether to his liking, it was
true. For some reason, Reuben seemed all at once to have become more
distant and formal with him. Horace could not dream that this arose from
the discoveries his partner had made at the milliner’s shop, and so put
the changed demeanor down vaguely to Reuben’s jealousy of his success
in court. He was sorry that this was so, because he liked Reuben
personally, and the silly fellow ought to be glad that he had such a
showy and clever partner, instead of sulking. Horace began to harbor the
notion that a year of this partnership would probably be enough for him.

The Citizens’ Club had held two meetings, and Horace felt that the
manner in which he had presided and directed the course of action at
these gatherings had increased his hold upon the town. Nearly fifty
men had now joined the club, and next month they were to discuss the
question of a permanent habitation. They all seemed to like him
as president, and nebulous thoughts about being the first mayor of
Thessaly, when the village should get its charter, now occasionally
floated across the young man’s mind.

He had called at the Minster house on each Tuesday since that
conversation with Miss Kate, and now felt himself to be on terms almost
intimate with the whole household. He could not say, even to himself,
that his suit had progressed much; but Miss Kate seemed to like him, and
her mother, whom he also had seen at other times on matters of business,
was very friendly indeed.

Thus affairs stood with the rising young lawyer at the beginning of
March, when he one day received a note sent across by hand from Mr.
Tenney, asking him to come over at once to the Dearborn House, and meet
him in a certain room designated by number.

Horace was conscious of some passing surprise that Tenney should make
appointments in private rooms of the local hotel, but as he crossed the
street to the old tavern and climbed the stairs to the apartment named,
it did not occur to him that the summons might signify that the crisis
which had darkened the first weeks of February was come again.

He found Tenney awaiting him at the door, and after he had perfunctorily
shaken hands with him, discovered that there was another man inside,
seated at the table in the centre of the parlor, under the chandelier.
This man was past middle-age, and both his hair and the thick, short
beard which covered his chin and throat were nearly white. Horace noted
first that his long upper lip was shaven, and this grated upon him
afresh as one of the least lovely of provincial American customs. Then
he observed that this man had eyes like Tenney’s in expression, though
they were blue instead of gray; and as this resemblance came to him,
Tenney spoke:

“Judge Wendover, this is the young man we’ve been talking about--Mr.
Horace Boyce, son of my partner, the General, you know.”

The mysterious New Yorker had at last appeared on the scene, then. He
did not look very mysterious, or very metropolitan either, as he rose
slowly and reached his hand across the table for Horace to shake. It was
a fat and inert hand, and the Judge himself, now that he stood up, was
seen to be also fat and dumpy in figure, with a bald head, noticeably
high at the back of the skull, and a loose, badly fitted suit of
clothes.

“Sit down,” he said to Horace, much as if that young man had been a
stenographer called in to report a conversation. Horace took the chair
indicated, not over pleased.

“I haven’t got much time,” the Judge continued, speaking apparently to
the papers in front of him. “There’s a good deal to do, and I’ve got to
catch that 5.22 train.”

“New Yorkers generally do have to catch trains,” remarked Horace. “So
far as I could see, the few times I’ve been there of late years, that is
always the chief thing on their minds.”

Judge Wendover looked at the young man for the space of a second, and
then turned to Tenney and said abruptly:

“I suppose he knows how the Thessaly Mfg. Company stands? How it’s
stocked?” He pronounced the three letters with a slurring swiftness,
as if to indicate that there was not time enough for the full word
“manufacturing.”

Horace himself answered the question: “Yes, I know. You represent two
hundred and twenty-five to my clients’ one hundred and seventy-five.”
 The young man held himself erect and alert in his chair, and spoke
curtly.

“Just so. The capital is four hundred thousand dollars--all paid up.
Well, we need that much more to go on.”

“How ‘go on’? What do you mean?”

“There’s a new nail machine just out which makes our plant worthless. To
buy that, and make the changes, will cost a round four hundred thousand
dollars. Get hold of that machine, and we control the whole United
States market; fail to get it, we go under. That’s the long and short of
it. That’s why we sent for you.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Horace, “but I don’t happen to have four hundred
thousand dollars with me just at the moment. If you’d let me known
earlier, now.”

The Judge looked at him again, with the impersonal point-blank stare
of a very rich and pre-occupied old man. Evidently this young fellow
thought himself a joker.

“Don’t fool,” he said, testily. “Business is business, time is money.
We can’t increase our capital by law, but we can borrow. You haven’t got
any money, but the Minster women have. It’s to their interest to stand
by us. They’ve got almost as much in the concern as we have. I’ve seen
the widow and explained the situation to her. She understands it. But
she won’t back our paper, because her husband on his death-bed made her
promise never to do that for anybody. Curious prejudice these countrymen
have about indorsing notes. Business would stagnate in a day without
indorsing. However, I had another plan. Let her issue four hundred
thousand dollars in bonds on the iron-works. That’s about a third what
they are worth. She’ll consent to that if you talk to her.”

“Oh, _that’s_ where I come in, is it?” said Horace.

“Where else did you suppose?” asked the Judge, puffing for breath, as he
eyed the young man.

No answer was forthcoming, and the New Yorker went on:

“The interest on those bonds will cost her twenty-four thousand dollars
per year for a year or two, but it will make her shares in the Mfg.
Company a real property instead of a paper asset. Besides, I’ve shown
her a way to-day, by going into the big pig-iron trust that is being
formed, of making twice that amount in half the time. Now, she’s going
to talk with you about both these things. Your play is to advise her to
do what I’ve suggested.”

“Why should I?” Horace put the question bluntly.

“I’ll tell you,” answered the Judge, who seemed to like this direct
way of dealing. “You can make a pot of money by it. And that isn’t all.
Tenney and I are not fishing with pin-hooks and thread. We’ve got nets,
young man. You tie up to us, and we’ll take care of you. When you see a
big thing like this travelling your way, hitch on to it. That’s the way
fortunes are made. And you’ve got a chance that don’t come to one young
fellow in ten thousand.”

“I should think he had,” put in Mr. Tenney, who had been a silent but
attentive auditor.

“What will happen if I decline?” asked Horace.

“She will lose her one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars and
a good deal more, and you will lose your business with her and with
everybody else.”

“And your father will lose the precious little he’s got left,” put in
Mr. Tenney.

Horace tried to smile. “Upon my word, you are frank,” he said.

“There’s no time to be anything else,” replied the Judge. “And why
shouldn’t we be? We simply state facts to you. A great commercial
transaction, involving profits to everybody, is outlined before you.
It happens that by my recommendation you are in a place where you can
embarrass its success, for a minute or two, if you have a mind to. But
why in God’s name you should have a mind to, or why you take up time by
pretending to be offish about it, is more than I can make out. Damn it,
sir, you’re not a woman, who wants to be asked a dozen times! You’re a
man, lucky enough to be associated with other men who have their heads
screwed on the right way, and so don’t waste any more time.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” said Horace, “I haven’t thanked you for
recommending me.”

“You needn’t,” replied the Judge, bluntly. “It was Tenney’s doing. I
didn’t know you from a side of sole-leather. But _he_ thought you were
the right man for the place.”

“I hope you are not disappointed,” Horace remarked, with a questioning
smile.

“A minute will tell me whether I am or not,” the New York man exclaimed,
letting his fat hand fall upon the table. “Come, what is your answer?
Are you with us, or against us?”

“At all events not against you, I should hope.”

“Damn the man! Hasn’t he got a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in him?--Tenney, you’re to
blame for this,” snapped Wendover, pulling his watch from the fob in his
tightened waistband, and scowling at the dial. “I’ll have to run, as it
is.”

He rose again from his chair, and bent a sharp gaze upon Horace’s face.

“Well, young man,” he demanded, “what is your answer?”

“I think I can see my way to obliging you,” said Horace, hesitatingly.
“But, of course, I want to know just how I am to stand in the--”

“That Tenney will see to,” said the Judge, swiftly. He gathered up the
papers on the table, thrust them into a portfolio with a lock on it,
which he gave to Tenney, snatched his hat, and was gone, without a word
of adieu to anybody.

“Great man of business, that!” remarked the hardware merchant, after a
moment of silence.

Horace nodded assent, but his mind had not followed the waddling figure
of the financier. It was dwelling perplexedly upon the outcome of this
adventure upon which he seemed to be fully embarked, and trying to
establish a conviction that it would be easy to withdraw from it at
will, later on.

“He can make millions where other men only see thousands, and they
beyond their reach,” pursued Tenney, in an abstracted voice. “When he’s
your friend, there isn’t anything you can’t do; and he’s as straight
as a string, too, so long as he likes a man. But he’s a terror to have
ag’in you.”

Horace sat closeted with Tenney for a long time, learning the details of
the two plans which had been presented to Mrs. Minster, and which he
was expected to support. The sharpest scrutiny could detect nothing
dishonest in them. Both involved mere questions of expediency--to loan
money in support of one’s stock, and to enter a trust which was to raise
the price of one’s wares--and it was not difficult for Horace to argue
himself into the belief that both promised to be beneficial to his
client.

At the close of the interview Horace said plainly to his companion that
he saw no reason why he should not advise Mrs. Minster to adopt both of
the Judge’s recommendations. “They seem perfectly straightforward,” he
added.

“Did you expect anything else, knowing me all this while?” asked Tenney,
reproachfully.



CHAPTER XXI.--REUBEN’S MOMENTOUS FIRST VISIT.

 SOME ten days later, Reuben Tracy was vastly surprised one afternoon to
receive a note from Miss Minster. The office-boy said that the messenger
was waiting for an answer, and had been warned to hand the missive to no
one except him. The note ran thus:

Dear Sir: I hope very much that you can find time to call here at our
house during the afternoon. Pray ask for me, and do not mention_ to any
one_ that you are coming.

_It will not seem to you, I am sure, that I have taken a liberty either
in my request or my injunction, after you have heard the explanation.
Sincerely yours,_

Kate Minster.

Reuben sent back a written line to say that he would come within
an hour, and then tried to devote himself to the labor of finishing
promptly the task he had in hand. It was a very simple piece of
conveyancing--work he generally performed with facility--but to-day
he found himself spoiling sheet after sheet of “legal cap,” by stupid
omissions and unconscious inversions of the quaint legal phraseology.
His thoughts would not be enticed away from the subject of the note--the
perfume of which was apparent upon the musty air of the office, even as
it lay in its envelope before him. There was nothing remarkable in
the fact that Miss Minster wanted to see him--of course, it was with
reference to Jessica’s plan for the factory-girls--but the admonition
to secrecy puzzled him a good deal. The word “explanation,” too, had a
portentous look. What could it mean?

*****

Mrs. Minster had been closeted in the library with her lawyer, Mr.
Horace Boyce, for fully two hours that forenoon, and afterward, in the
hearing of her daughters, had invited him to stay for luncheon. He
had pleaded pressure of business as an excuse for not accepting the
invitation, and had taken a hurried departure forthwith.

The two girls exchanged glances at all this. Mr. Boyce had never been
asked before to the family table, and there was something pre-occupied,
almost brusque, in his manner of declining the exceptional honor and
hurrying off as he did. They noted, too, that their mother seemed
unwontedly excited about something, and experience told them that her
calm Knickerbocker nature was not to be stirred by trivial matters.

So, while they lingered over the jellied dainties of the light noonday
meal, Kate made bold to put the question:

“Something is worrying you, mamma,” she said. “Is it anything that we
know about?”

“Mercy, no!” Mrs. Minster replied. “It is nothing at all. Of course, I’m
not worried. What an idea!”

“I thought you acted as if there was something on your mind,” said Kate.

“Well, you would act so, too, if--” There Mrs. Minster stopped short,
and sighed.

“If what, mamma?” put in Ethel. “_We knew_ there was something.”

“He sticks to it that issuing bonds is not mortgaging, and, of course,
he ought to know; but I remember that when they bonded our town for the
Harlem road, father said it _was_ a mortgage,” answered the mother, not
over luminously.

“What bonds? What mortgage?” Kate spoke with emphasis. “We have a right
to know, surely!”

“However, you can see for yourself,” pursued Mrs. Minster, “that the
interest must be more than made up by the extra price iron will bring
when the trust puts up prices. That is what trusts are for--to put up
prices. You can read that in the papers every day.”

“Mother, what have you done?”

Kate had pushed back her plate, and leaned over the table now, flashing
sharp inquiry into her mother’s face.

“What have you done?” she repeated. “I insist upon knowing, and so does
Ethel.”

Mrs. Minster’s wise and resolute countenance never more thoroughly
belied the condition of her mind than at this moment. She felt that
she did not rightly know just what she had done, and vague fears as to
consequences rose to possess her soul.

“If I had spoken to my mother in that way when I was your age, I should
have been sent from the room--big girl though I was. I’m sure I can’t
guess where you take your temper from. The Mauverensens were always----”

This was not satisfactory, and Kate broke into the discourse about her
maternal ancestors peremptorily:

“I don’t care about all that. But some business step has been taken, and
it must concern Ethel and me, and I wish you would tell us plainly what
it is.”

“The Thessaly Company found it necessary to buy the right of a new nail
machine, and they had to have money to do it with, and so some bonds are
to be issued to provide it. It is quite the customary thing, I assure
you, in business affairs. Only, what I maintained was that it _was_
the same as a mortgage, but Judge Wendover and Mr. Boyce insisted it
wasn’t.”

It is, perhaps, an interesting commentary upon the commercial education
of these two wealthy young ladies, that they themselves were unable to
form an opinion upon this debated point.

“Bonds are something like stocks,” Ethel explained. “They are always
mentioned together. But mortgages must be different, for they are kept
in the county clerk’s office. I know that, because Ella Dupont’s father
used to get paid fifty cents apiece for searching after them there. She
told me so. They must have been very careless to lose them so often.”

Mrs. Minster in some way regarded this as a defence of her action, and
took heart. “Well, then, I also signed an agreement which puts us into
the great combination they’re getting up--all the iron manufacturers
of Pennsylvania and Ohio and New York--called the Amalgamated Pig-Iron
Trust. I was very strongly advised to do that; and it stands to reason
that prices will go up, because trusts limit production. Surely, that is
plain enough.”

“You ought to have consulted us,” said Kate, not the less firmly because
her advice, she knew, would have been of no earthly value. “You have a
power-of-attorney to sign for us, but it was really for routine matters,
so that the property might act as a whole. In a great matter like this,
I think we should have known about it first.”

“But you don’t know anything about it now, even when I _have_ told you!”
 Mrs. Minster pointed out, not without justification for her triumphant
tone. “It is perfectly useless for us women to try and understand these
things. Our only safety is in being advised by men who do know, and in
whom we have perfect confidence.”

“But Mr. Boyce is a very young man, and you scarcely know him,” objected
Ethel.

“He was strongly recommended to me by Judge Wendover,” replied the
mother.

“And pray who recommended Judge Wendover?” asked Kate, with latent
sarcasm.

“Why, he was bom in the same town with me!” said Mrs. Minster, as if
no answer could be more sufficient. “My grandfather Douw Mauverensen’s
sister married a Wendover.”

“But about the bonds,” pursued the eldest daughter. “What amount of
money do they represent?”

“Four hundred thousand dollars.”

The girls opened their eyes at this, and their mother hastened to add:
“But it really isn’t very important, when you come to look at it. It is
only what Judge Wendover calls making one hand wash the other. The money
raised on the bonds will put the Thessaly Company on its feet, and so
then that will pay dividends, and so we will get back the interest,
and more too. The bonds we can buy back whenever we choose. _I_ managed
that, because when Judge Wendover said the bonds would be perfectly
good, I said, ‘If they are so good, why don’t you take them yourself?’
And he seemed struck with that and said he would. They didn’t get much
the best of me there!”

Somehow this did not seem very clear to Kate. “If he had the money to
take the bonds, what was the need of any bonds at all?” she asked. “Why
didn’t he buy this machinery himself?”

“It wouldn’t have been regular; there was some legal obstacle in the
way,” the mother replied. “He explained it to me, but I didn’t quite
catch it. At all events, there _had_ to be bonds. Even _he_ couldn’t see
any way ont of _that_.”

“Well, I hope it is all right,” said Kate, and the conversation lapsed.

But upon reflection, in her own room, the matter seemed less and less
all right, and finally, after a long and not very helpful consultation
with her sister, Kate suddenly thought of Reuben Tracy. A second later
she had fully decided to ask his advice, and swift upon this rose the
resolve to summon him immediately.

Thus it was that the perfumed note came to be sent.

*****

Reuben took the seat in the drawing-room of the Minsters indicated by
the servant who had admitted him, and it did not occur to this member of
the firm of Tracy & Boyce to walk about and look at the pictures, much
less to wonder how many of them were of young men.

Even in this dull light he could recognize, on the opposite wall, a
boyhood portrait of the Stephen Minster, Junior, whose early death had
dashed so many hopes, and pointed so many morals to the profit of godly
villagers. He thought about this worthless, brief career, as his eyes
rested on the bright, boyish face of the portrait, with the clear dark
eyes and the fresh-tinted cheeks, and his serious mind filled itself
with protests against the conditions which had made of this heir to
millions a rake and a fool. There was no visible reason why Stephen
Minster’s son should not have been clever and strong, a fit master of
the great part created for him by his father. There must be some blight,
some mysterious curse upon hereditary riches here in America, thought
Reuben, for all at once he found himself persuaded that this was the
rule with most rich men’s sons. Therein lay a terrible menace to the
Republic, he said to himself. Vague musings upon the possibility of
remedying this were beginning to float in his brain--the man could never
contemplate injustices, great or small, without longing to set them
right--when the door opened and the tall young elder daughter of the
Minsters entered.

Reuben rose and felt himself making some such obeisance before her in
spirit as one lays at the feet of a queen. What he did in reality or
what he said, left no record on his memory.

He had been seated again for some minutes, and had listened with the
professional side of his mind to most of what story she had to tell,
before he regained control of his perceptions and began to realize
that the most beautiful woman he had ever seen was confiding to him her
anxieties, as a friend even more than as a lawyer. The situation was so
wonderful that it needed all the control he had over his faculties to
grasp and hold it. Always afterward he thought of the moment in which
his confusion of mind vanished, and he, sitting on the sofa facing her
chair, was able to lean back a little and talk as if he had known her a
long time, as the turning-point in his whole life.

What it was in her power to tell him about the transaction which had
frightened her did not convey a very clear idea to his mind. A mortgage
of four hundred thousand dollars had been placed upon the Minsters’
property to meet the alleged necessities of a company in which they were
large owners, and their own furnaces had been put under the control of
a big trust formed by other manufacturers, presumably for the benefit of
all its members. This was what he made out of her story.

“On their face,” he said, “these things seem regular enough. The
doubtful point, of course, would be whether, in both transactions, your
interests and those of your family were perfectly safe-guarded. This is
something I can form no opinion about. But Mr. Boyce must have looked
out for that and seen that you got ‘value received.’”

“Ah, Mr. Boyce! That is just the question,” Kate answered, swiftly.
“_Has_ he looked out for it?”

“Curiously enough he has never spoken with me, even indirectly, about
having taken charge of your mother’s business,” replied Reuben, slowly.
“But he is a competent man, with a considerable talent for detail, and a
good knowledge of business, as well as of legal forms. I should say you
might be perfectly easy about his capacity to guard your interests; oh,
yes, entirely easy.”

“It isn’t his capacity that I was thinking about,” said the young woman,
hesitatingly. “I wanted to ask you about him himself--about the _man_.”

Reuben smiled in an involuntary effort to conceal his uneasiness. “They
say that no man is a hero to his valet, you know,” he made answer. “In
the same way business men ought not to be cross-examined on the opinions
which the community at large may have concerning their partners. Boyce
and I occupy, in a remote kind of way, the relations of husband and
wife. We maintain a public attitude toward each other of great respect
and admiration, and are bound to do so by the same rules which govern
the heads of a family. And we mustn’t talk about each other. You never
would go to one of a married couple for an opinion about the other. If
the opinion were all praise, you would set it down to prejudice; if it
were censure, the fact of its source would shock you. Oh, no, partners
mustn’t discuss each other. That would be letting all the bars down with
a vengeance.”

He had said all this with an effort at lightness, and ended, as he had
begun, with a smile. Kate, looking intently into his face, did not smile
in response. He thought her expression was one of disappointment.

“Perhaps I was wrong to ask you,” she answered, after a little pause,
and in a colder tone. “You men do stand by each other so splendidly. It
is the secret of your strength. It is why your sex possesses the earth,
and the fulness thereof.”

It was easier for Reuben to smile naturally this time. “But I
illustrated my position by an example of a still finer reticence,” he
said; “the finest one can imagine--that of husband and wife.”

“You are not married, I believe, Mr. Tracy,” was her comment, and its
edge was apparent.

“No,” he said, and stopped short. No other words came to his tongue, and
his thoughts seemed to have gone away into somebody else’s mind, leaving
only a formless blank, over which hung, like a canopy of cloud, a
depressing uneasiness lest his visit should not, after all, turn out a
success.

“Then you think I have needlessly worried myself,” she was saying when
he came back into mental life again.

“Not altogether that, either,” he replied, moving in his seat, and
sitting upright like a man who has shaken himself out of a disposition
to doze. “So far as you have described them, the transactions may easily
be all right. Everything depends upon details which you cannot give.
The sum seems a large one to raise for the purchase of machinery, and
it might be well to inquire into the exact nature and validity of the
purchase. As for the terms upon which you lend the money to the company,
of course Mr. Boyce has secured those. In the matter of the trust, I
cannot speak at all. The idea is hateful to me, personally. All such
combinations excite my anger. But as a business operation it may
improve your property; always assuming that you are capably and fairly
represented in the control of the trust. I suppose Mr. Boyce has
attended to that.”

“But don’t you see,” broke in the girl, “it is all Mr. Boyce! It is
to be assumed that he will do this, to be taken for granted he will
do that, to be hoped that he has done the other. _That_ is what I am
anxious about. _Has_ he done these things? _Will_ he do them?”

“And that, of course, is what I cannot tell you,” said Reuben. “How can
I know?”

“But you can find out.”

The lawyer knitted his ordinarily placid brows for a moment in thought.
Then he slowly shook his head. “I am afraid not,” he said, slowly. “I
should be very angry if the railroad people, for example, set him to
examining what I had done for them; angry with him, especially, for
accepting such a commission.”

“I am sorry, Mr. Tracy, if I seem to have proposed anything dishonorable
to you,” Miss Kate responded, with added formality in voice and manner.
“I did not mean to.”

“How could I imagine such a thing?” said Reuben, more readily than was
his wont. “I only sought to make a peculiar situation clear to you, who
are not familiar with such things. If I asked him questions, or meddled
in the matter at all, he would resent it; and by usage he would be
justified in resenting it. That is how it stands.”

“Then you cannot help me, after all!” She spoke despondingly now, with
the low, rich vibration in her tone which Reuben had dwelt so often on
in memory since he first heard it. “And I had counted so much upon your
aid,” she added, with a sigh.

“I would do a great deal to be of use to you,” the young man said,
earnestly, and looked her in the face with calm frankness; “a great
deal, Miss Minster, but--”

“Yes, but that ‘but’ means everything. I repeat, in this situation you
can do nothing.”

“I cannot take a brief against my partner.”

“I should not suggest that again, Mr. Tracy,” she interposed. “I can see
that I was wrong there, and you were right.”

“Don’t put it in that way. There was no question of wrong or right.
I merely pointed out a condition of business relations which had not
occurred to you.”

“And there is no other way?”

Another way had dawned on Reuben’s mind, but it was so bold and
precipitous that he hesitated to consider it seriously at first. When
it did take form and force itself upon him, he said, half quaking at his
own audacity:

“No other way--while--he remains my partner.” Bright women discover many
obscure things by the use of that marvellous faculty we call intuition,
but they have by no means reduced its employment to an exact science.
Sometimes their failure to discover more obvious things is equally
remarkable. At this moment, for example, Kate’s feminine wits did not
in the least help her to read the mind of the man before her, or the
meaning in his words. In truth, they misled her, for she heard only
an obstinate reiteration of an unpleasant statement, and set her teeth
together with impatience as she heard it.

And had she even kept these teeth tight clinched, and said nothing, the
man might have gone on in self-explanation, and made clear to her her
mistake. But her vexation was too imperative for silence.

“I am very sorry to have taken up your time, Mr. Tracy,” she said,
stiffly, and rose from her chair. “I am so little informed about these
matters, I really imagined you could help us. Pray forgive me.”

If Reuben could have realized, as he stood in momentary embarrassment,
that this beautiful lady before him had fairly bitten her tongue to
restrain it from adding that he might treat this as a professional call,
or in some other way suggesting that he would be paid for his time, he
might have been more embarrassed still, and angry as well.

But it did not occur to him to feel annoyance--at least, toward her. He
really was sorry that no way of being of help to her seemed immediately
available, and he thought of this more in fact than he did of the
personal aspects of his failure to justify her invitation. He noted that
the faint perfume which her dress exhaled as she rose was identical with
that of the letter of invitation, and thought to himself that he would
preserve that letter, and then that it would not be quite warranted by
the circumstances, and so found himself standing silent before
her, sorely reluctant to go away, and conscious that there must be a
sympathetic light in his eyes which hers did not reflect.

“I am truly grieved if you are disappointed,” he managed to say at last.

“Oh, it is nothing, Mr. Tracy,” she said, politely, and moved toward
the door. “It was my ignorance of business rules. I am so sorry to have
troubled you.”

Reuben followed her through the hall to the outer door, wondering if she
would offer to shake hands with him, and putting both his stick and hat
in his left hand to free the other in case she did.

On the doorstep she did give him her hand, and in that moment, ruled by
a flash of impulse, he heard himself saying to her:

“If anything happens, if you learn anything, if you need me, you _won’t_
fail to call me, will you?”

Then the door closed, and as Reuben walked away he did not seem able to
recall whether she had answered his appeal or not. In sober fact, it
had scarcely sounded like his appeal at all. The voice was certainly one
which had never been heard in the law-office down on Main Street or in
the trial-chamber of the Dearborn County Court-House over the way. It
had sounded more like the voice of an actor in the theatre--like a Romeo
murmuring up to the sweet girl in the balcony.

Reuben walked straight to his office, and straight through to the little
inner apartment appropriated to his private uses. There were some people
in the large room talking with his partner, but he scarcely observed
their presence as he passed. He unlocked a tiny drawer in the top of
his desk, cleared out its contents brusquely, dusted the inside with his
hand kerchief, and then placed within it a perfumed note which he took
from his pocket.

When he had turned the key upon this souvenir, he drew a long breath,
lighted a cigar, and sat down, with his feet on the table and his
thoughts among the stars.



CHAPTER XXII.--“SAY THAT THERE IS NO ANSWER.”

 Reuben allowed his mind to drift at will in this novel, enchanted
channel for a long time, until the clients outside had taken their
departure, and his cigar had burned out, and his partner had sauntered
in to mark by some casual talk the fact that the day was done.

What this mind shaped into dreams and desires and pictures in its
musings, it would not be an easy matter to detail. The sum of the
revery--or, rather, the central goal up to which every differing train
of thought somehow managed to lead him--was that Kate Minster was the
most beautiful, the cleverest, the dearest, the loveliest, the most to
be adored and longed for, of all mortal women.

If he did not say to himself, in so many words, “I love her,” it was
because the phraseology was unfamiliar to him. That eternal triplet
of tender verb and soulful pronouns, which sings itself in our more
accustomed hearts to music set by the stress of our present senses--now
the gay carol of springtime, sure and confident; now the soft twilight
song, wherein the very weariness of bliss sighs forth a blessing;
now the vibrant, wooing ballad of a graver passion, with tears close
underlying rapture; now, alas! the dirge of hopeless loss, with wailing
chords which overwhelm like curses, smitten upon heartstrings strained
to the breaking--these three little words did not occur to him. But no
lover self-confessed could have dreamed more deliciously.

He had spoken with her twice now--once when she was wrapped in furs and
wore a bonnet, and once in her own house, where she was dressed in
a creamy white gown, with a cord and tassels about the waist. These
details were tangible possessions in the treasure-house of his memory.
The first time she had charmed and gratified his vague notions of what a
beautiful and generous woman should be; he had been unspeakably pleased
by the enthusiasm with which she threw herself into the plan for helping
the poor work-girls of the town. On this second occasion she had been
concerned only about the safety of her own money, and that of her
family, and yet his liking for her had flared up into something very
like a consuming flame. If there was a paradox here, the lawyer did not
see it.

There floated across his mind now and again stray black motes of
recollection that she had not seemed altogether pleased with him on this
later occasion, but they passed away without staining the bright colors
of his meditation. It did not matter what she had thought or said. The
fact of his having been there with her, the existence of that little
perfumed letter tenderly locked up in the desk before him, the
breathing, smiling, dark-eyed picture of her which glowed in his
brain--these were enough.

Once before--once only in his life--the personality of a woman had
seized command of his thoughts. Years ago, when he was still the
schoolteacher at the Burfield, he had felt himself in love with Annie
Fairchild, surely the sweetest flower that all the farm-lands of
Dearborn had ever produced. He had come very near revealing his
heart--doubtless the girl did know well enough of his devotion--but she
was in love with her cousin Seth, and Reuben had come to realize this,
and so had never spoken, but had gone away to New York instead.

He could remember that for a time he was unhappy, and even so late as
last autumn, after nearly four years had gone by, the mere thought
that she commended her protégée, Jessica Lawton, to his kindness, had
thrilled him with something of the old feeling. But now she seemed all
at once to have faded away into indistinct remoteness, like the figure
of some little girl he had known in his boyhood and had never seen
since.

Curiously enough, the apparition of Jessica Law-ton rose and took form
in his thoughts, as that of Annie Fairchild passed into the shadows of
long ago. She, at least, was not a schoolgirl any more, but a full-grown
woman. He could remember that the glance in her eyes when she looked at
him was maturely grave and searching. She had seemed very grateful
to him for calling upon her, and he liked to recall the delightful
expression of surprised satisfaction which lighted up her face when she
found that both Miss Minster and he would help her.

Miss Minster and himself! They two were to work together to further and
fulfil this plan of Jessica’s! Oh, the charm of the thought!

Now he came to think of it, the young lady had never said a word to-day
about Jessica and the plan--and, oddly enough, too, he had never once
remembered it either. But then Miss Minster had other matters on her
mind. She was frightened about the mortgages and the trust, and anxious
to have his help to set her fears at rest.

Reuben began to wonder once more what there was really in those fears.
As he pondered on this, all the latent distrust of his partner which
had been growing up for weeks in his mind suddenly swelled into a great
dislike. There came to him, all at once, the recollection of those
mysterious and sinister words he had overheard exchanged between his
partner and Tenney, and it dawned upon his slow-working consciousness
that that strange talk about a “game in his own hands” had never been
explained by events. Then, in an instant, he realized instinctively that
here _was_ the game.

It was at this juncture that Horace strolled into the presence of his
partner. He had his hands in his trousers pockets, and a cigar between
his teeth. This latter he now proceeded to light.

“Ferguson has been here again,” he said, nonchalantly, “and brought his
brother with him. He can’t make up his mind whether to appeal the case
or not. He’d like to try it, but the expense scares him. I told him at
last that I was tired of hearing about the thing, and didn’t give a damn
what he did, as long as he only shut up and gave me a rest.”

Reuben did not feel interested in the Fergusons. He looked his partner
keenly, almost sternly, in the eye, and said:

“You have never mentioned to me that Mrs. Minster had put her business
in your hands.”

Horace flushed a little, and returned the other’s gaze with one equally
truculent.

“It didn’t seem to be necessary,” he replied, curtly. “It is private
business.”

“Nothing was said about your having private business when the firm was
established,” commented Reuben.

“That may be,” retorted Horace. “But you have your railroad affairs--a
purely personal matter. Why shouldn’t I have an equal right?”

“I don’t say you haven’t. What I am thinking of is your secrecy in
the matter. I hate to have people act in that way, as if I couldn’t be
trusted.”

Horace had never heard Reuben speak in this tone before. The whole
Minster business had perplexed and harassed him into a state of nervous
irritability these last few weeks, and it was easy for him now to snap
at provocation.

“At least _I_ may be trusted to mind my own affairs,” he said, with
cutting niceness of enunciation and a lowering scowl of the brows.

There came a little pause, for Reuben saw himself face to face with
a quarrel, and shrank from precipitating it needlessly. Perhaps the
rupture would be necessary, but he would do nothing to hasten it out of
mere ill-temper.

“That isn’t the point,” he said at last, looking up with more calmness
into the other’s face. “I simply commented on your having taken such
pains to keep the whole thing from me. Why on earth should you have
thought that essential?”

Horace answered with a question. “Who told you about it?” he asked, in a
surly tone.

“Old ’Squire Gedney mentioned it first. Others have spoken of it
since.”

“Well, what am I to understand? Do you intend to object to my keeping
the business? I may tell you that it was by the special request of my
clients that I undertook it alone, and, as they laid so much stress on
that, it seemed to me best not to speak of it at all to you.”

“Why?”

“To be frank,” said Horace, with a cold gleam in his eye, “I didn’t
imagine that it would be particularly pleasant to you to learn that the
Minster ladies desired not to have you associated with their affairs. It
seemed one of those things best left unsaid. However, you have it now.”

Reuben felt the disagreeable intention of his partner’s words even
more than he did their bearing upon the dreams from which he had been
awakened. He had by this time perfectly made up his mind about Horace,
and realized that a break-up was inevitable. The conviction that this
young man was dishonest carried with it, however, the suggestion that it
would be wise to probe him and try to learn what he was at.

“I wish you would sit down a minute or two,” he said. “I want to talk to
you.”

Horace took a chair, and turned the cigar restlessly around in his
teeth. He was conscious that his nerves were not quite what they should
be.

“It seems to me,” pursued Reuben--“I’m speaking as an older lawyer
than you, and an older man--it seems to me that to put a four hundred
thousand dollar mortgage on the Minster property is a pretty big
undertaking for a young man to go into on his own hook, without
consulting anybody. Don’t misunderstand me. Don’t think I wish to
meddle. Only it seems to me, if I had been in your place, I should have
moved very cautiously and taken advice.

“I did take advice,” said Horace. The discovery that Reuben knew of this
mortgage filled him with uneasiness.

“Of whom? Schuyler Tenney?” asked Reuben, speaking calmly enough, but
watching with all his eyes.

The chance shot went straight to the mark. Horace visibly flushed, and
then turned pale.

“I decline to be catechised in this way,” he said, nervously shifting
his position on the chair, and then suddenly rising. “Gedney is a
damned, meddlesome, drunken old fool,” he added, with irrelevant
vehemence.

“Yes, I’m afraid ‘Cal’ does drink too much,” answered Reuben, with
perfect amiability of tone. He evinced no desire to continue the
conversation, and Horace, after standing for an uncertain moment or
two in the doorway, went out and put on his overcoat. Then he came back
again.

“Am I to take it that you object to my continuing to act as attorney for
these ladies?” he asked from the threshold of the outer room, his voice
shaking a little in spite of itself.

“I don’t think I have said that,” replied Reuben.

“No, you haven’t _said_ it,” commented the other.

“To tell the truth, I haven’t quite cleared up in my own mind just what
I do object to, or how much,” said Reuben, relighting his cigar, and
contemplating his boots crossed on the desk-top. “We’ll talk of this
again.”

“As you like,” muttered young Mr. Boyce. Then he turned, and went away
without saying good-night. The outer door slammed behind him.

Twilight began to close in upon the winter’s day, but Reuben still sat
in meditation. He had parted with his colleague in anger, and it was
evident enough that the office family was to be broken up; but he
gave scarcely a thought to these things. His mind, in fact, seemed by
preference to dwell chiefly upon the large twisted silken cord which
girdled the waist of that wonderful young woman, and the tasselled ends
of which hung against the white front of her gown like the beads of a
nun. Many variant thoughts about her affairs, about her future, rose in
his mind and pleasantly excited it, but they all in turn merged vaguely
into fancies circling around that glossy rope and weaving themselves
into its strands.

It was very near tea-time, and darkness had established itself for the
night in the offices, before Reuben’s vagrant musings prompted him to
action. Upon the spur of the moment, he all at once put down his feet,
lighted the gas over his desk, took out the perfumed letter from its
consecrated resting-place, and began hurriedly to write a reply to it.
He had suddenly realized that the memorable interview that afternoon had
been, from her point of view, inconclusive.

Five times he worked his way down nearly to the bottom of the page,
and then tore up the sheet. At first he was too expansive; then
the contrasted fault of over-reticence jarred upon him. At last he
constructed this letter, which obtained a reluctant approval from his
critical sense, though it seemed to his heart a pitifully gagged and
blindfolded missive:

Dear Miss Minster: Unfortunately, I was unable this afternoon to see my
way to helping you upon the lines which you suggested. I am afraid that
this disappointed you.

Matters have assumed a somewhat different aspect since our talk. By the
time that you have mastered the details of what you had on your mind, I
may be in a position to consult with you freely upon the whole subject.

I want you to believe that I am very anxious to be of assistance to you,
in this as in all other things.

Faithfully yours,

Reuben TRacy.

Reuben locked up the keepsake note again, fondly entertaining the idea
as he did so that soon there might be others to bear it company. Then he
closed the offices, went down upon the street, and told the first idle
boy he met that he could earn fifty cents by carrying a letter at once
to the home of the Minsters. The money would be his when he returned to
the Dearborn House.

“Will there be any answer?” asked the boy.

This opened up a new idea to the lawyer. “You might wait and see,” he
said.

But the messenger came back in a depressingly short space of time, with
the word that no answer was required.

He had hurried both ways with a stem concentration of purpose, and now
he dashed off once more in an even more strenuous face against time
with the half-dollar clutched securely inside his mitten. The Great
Occidental Minstrel Combination was in town, and the boy leaped over
snowbanks, and slid furiously across slippery places, in the earnestness
of his intention not to miss one single joke.

The big man whom he left went wearily up the stairs to his room, and
walked therein for aimless hours, and almost scowled as he shook his
head at the waitress who came up to remind him that he had had no
supper.

*****

The two Minster sisters had read Reuben’s note together, in the
seclusion of their own sitting-room. They had previously discussed
the fact of his refusal to assist them--for so it translated itself
in Kate’s account of the interview--and had viewed it with almost
displeasure.

Ethel was, however, disposed to relent when the letter came.

“At least it might be well to write him a polite note,” she said,
“thanking him, and saying that circumstances might arise under which you
would be glad to--to avail yourself, and so on.”

“I don’t think I shall write at all,” Kate replied, glancing over the
lawyer’s missive again. “He took no interest in the thing whatever.
And you see how even now he infers that ‘the lines I suggested’ were
dishonorable.”

“I didn’t see that, Kate.”

“Here it is. ‘He was unable to see his way,’ and that sort of thing. And
he _said_ himself that the business all seemed regular enough, so far
as he could see.--Say that there is no answer,” she added to the maid at
the door.

The two girls sat in silence for a moment in the soft, cosey light
between the fire-place and the lace-shaded lamp. Then Ethel spoke again:

“And you really didn’t like him, Kate? You know you were so enthusiastic
about him, that day you came back from the milliner’s shop. I never
heard you have so much to say about any other man before.”

“That was different,” mused the other. Her voice grew even less kindly,
and the words came swifter as she went on. “_Then_ it was a question of
helping the Lawton girl. He was quite excited about _that_. He didn’t
hum and haw, and talk about ‘the lines suggested’ to him, then. He could
‘see his way’ very clearly indeed. Oh, yes, with entire clearness! And
I was childish enough to be taken in by it all. I am vexed with myself
when I think of it.”

“Are you sure you are being quite fair, Kate?” pale Ethel asked, putting
her hand caressingly on the sister’s knee. “Read the letter again, dear.
He _says_ he wants to help you; and he hints, too, that something has
happened, or is going to happen, to make him free in the matter. How can
we tell what that something is, or how he felt himself bound before?
It seems to me that we oughtn’t to leap at the idea of his being
unfriendly. I am sure that you believed him to be a wholly good man
before. Why assume all at once now that he is not, just because--Men
don’t change from good to bad like that.”

“Ah, but _was_ he good before, or did we only think so?”

Ethel went on: “Surely, he knows more about business than we do. And if
he was unable to help you, it must have been for some real reason.”

“That is _it!_ I should like to be helped first, and let reasons come
afterward.” The girl’s dark eyes flashed with an imperious light. “What
kind of a hero is it who, when you cry for assistance, calmly says:
‘Upon the lines you suggest I do not see my way’? It is high time the
books about chivalry were burned, if ‘that’ is the modern man.”

“But you did not cry to a hero for assistance. You merely asked the
advice of a lawyer about a mortgage---if mamma is right about its being
a mortgage.”

“It is the same thing,” said Kate, pushing the hassock impatiently with
her foot.. “Whether the distressed maiden falls into the water or into
debt, the principle is precisely the same.”

“He couldn’t do what you asked, because it would be unfair to his
partner. Now, isn’t that it exactly? And wasn’t that honorable? Now,
_be_ frank, Kate.”

“The partner would have gone into anything headlong, asking no
questions, raising no objections, if I had so much ais lifted my finger.
He never would have given, partner a thought.”

Kate, confided this answer to the firelight. She was conscious of a
desire just now not to meet her sister’s glance.

“And you like the man without scruples better than the man with them?”

“At least, he is more interesting,” the elder girl said, still with her
eyes on the burning logs.

Ethel waited a little for some additional hint as to her sister’s state
of mind. When the silence had begun to make itself felt, she said:

“Kate Minster, you don’t mean one word of what you are saying.”

“Ah, but I do.”

“No; listen to me. You really in your heart respect Mr. Tracy very much
for his action to-day.”

“For being so much less eager to help me than he was to help the
milliner?”

“No; for not being willing to help even you by doing an unfair thing.”

“Well--if you like--respect, yes. But so one respects John Knox, and
Increase Mather, and St. Simon What’s-his-name on top of the pillar--all
the disagreeable people, in fact. But it isn’t respect that makes the
world go round. There is such a thing as caring too much for respect,
and too little for warmth of feeling, and generous impulses, and--and so
on.”

“You’re a queer girl, Kate,” was all Ethel could think to say.

This time the silence maintained itself so long that the snapping
of sparks on the hearth, and even the rushing suction of air in the
lamp-flame, grew to be obvious noises. At last Ethel slid softly from
the couch to the carpet, and nestled her head against her sister’s
waist. Kate put her arm tenderly over the girl’s shoulder, and drew
her closer to her, and the silence had become vocal with affectionate
mur-murings to them both. It was the younger sister who finally spoke:

“You _won’t_ do anything rash, Kate? Nothing without talking it over
with me?” she pleaded, almost sadly.

Kate bent over and kissed her twice, thrice, on the forehead, and
stroked the silken hair upon this forehead caressingly. Her own eyes
glistened with the beginnings of tears before she made answer, rising as
she spoke, and striving to import into her voice the accent of gayety:

“As if I ever dreamed of doing anything at all without asking you! And
please, puss, may I go to bed now?”



CHAPTER XXIII.--HORACE’S PATH BECOMES TORTUOUS.

“Tracy has found out that I’m doing the Minster business, and he’s cut
up rough about it. I shouldn’t be surprised if the firm came a cropper
over the thing.”

Horace Boyce confided this information to Mr. Schuyler Tenney on the
forenoon following his scene with Reuben, and though the language in
which it was couched was in part unfamiliar, the hardware merchant had
no difficulty in grasping its meaning. He stopped his task of going
through the morning’s batch of business letters, and looked up keenly at
the young man.

“Found out--how do you mean? I told you to tell him--told you the day
you came here to talk about the General’s affairs.”

“Well, I didn’t tell him.”

“And why?” Tenney demanded, sharply. “I should like to know why?”

“Because it didn’t suit me to do so,” replied the young man; “just as it
doesn’t suit me now to be bullied about it.”

Mr. Tenney looked for just a fleeting instant as if he were going to
respond in kind. Then he thought better of it, and began toying with one
of the envelopes before him.

“You must have got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning,” he
said, smilingly. “Why, man alive, nobody dreamed of bullying you. Only,
of course, it would have been better if you’d told Tracy. And you say he
is mad about it?”

“Yes, he was deucedly offensive. I daresay it will come to an open row.
I haven’t seen him yet to-day, but things looked very dickey indeed for
the partnership last night.”

“Then the firm hasn’t got any specified term to run?”

“No, it is terminable at pleasure of both parties, which of course means
either party.”

“Well, there, you can tell him to go to the old Harry, if you like.”

“Precisely what I mean to do--if--”

“If what?”

“If there is going to be enough in this Minster business to keep me
going in the mean while. I don’t think I could take much of his regular
office business away. I haven’t been there long enough, you know.”

“Enough? I Should think there _would_ be enough! You will have five
thousand dollars as her representative in the Thessaly Manufacturing
Company. I daresay you might charge something for acting as her agent in
the pig-iron trust, too, though I’d draw it pretty mild if I were you.
Women get scared at bills for that sort of thing. A young fellow like
you ought to save money on half of five thousand dollars. It never cost
me fifteen hundred dollars yet to live, and live well, too.”

Horace smiled in turn, and the smile was felt by both to suffice,
without words. There was no need to express in terms the fact that
in matters of necessary expense a Boyce and a Tenney, were two widely
differentiated persons. Only perhaps. Horace had more satisfaction out
of the thought than did his companion.

“Oh, by the way,” he added, “I ought to tell you, Tracy knows in
some way that you are mixed up with me in the thing. He mentioned your
name--in that slow, ox-like way of his so that I couldn’t tell how much
he knew or suspected.”

Mr. Tenney was interested in this; and showed his concern by separating
the letters on his desk into little piles, as if he were preparing to
perform a card tricks:

“I guess it won’t matter, much,” he said at last. “Everybody’s going
to know it pretty soon, now.” He thought again for a little, and then
added: “Only, on second thought, you’d better stick in with him a while
longer, if you can. Make some sort of apology to him, if he needs one,
and keep in the firm. It will be better so.”

“Why should I, pray?” demanded the young man, curtly.

Mr. Tenney again looked momentarily as if he were tempted to reply with
acerbity, and again the look vanished as swiftly as it came. He answered
in all mildness:

“Because I don’t want Tracy to be sniffing around, inquiring into
things, until we are fairly in the saddle. He might spoil everything.”

“But how will my remaining with him prevent that?”

“You don’t know your man,” replied Tenney. “He’s one of those fellows
who would feel in honor bound to keep his hands off, simply because you
_were_ with him. That’s the beauty of that kind of chap.”

This tribute to the moral value of his partner impressed Horace but
faintly. “Well, I’ll see how he talks to-day,” he said, doubtfully.
“Perhaps we can manage to hit it off together a while longer.” Then a
thought crossed his mind, and he asked with abruptness:

“What are you afraid of his finding out, if he does ‘sniff around’ as
you call it? What is there to find out? Everything is above board, isn’t
it?”

“Why, you know it is. Who should know it better than you?” Mr. Tenney
responded.

Horace reasoned to himself as he walked away that there really was no
cause for apprehension. Tenney was smart, and evidently Wendover was
smart too, but if they tried to pull the wool over his eyes they would
find that he himself had not been born yesterday. He had done everything
they had suggested to him, but he felt that the independent and even
captious manner in which he had done it all must have shown the schemers
that he was not a man to be trifled with. Thus far he could see no
dishonesty in their plans. He had been very nervous about the first
steps, but his mind was almost easy now. He was in a position where he
could protect the Minsters if any harm threatened them. And very
soon now, he said confidently to himself, he would be in an even more
enviable position--that of a member of the family council, a prospective
son-in-law. It was clear to his perceptions that Kate liked him, and
that he had no rivals.

It happened that Reuben did not refer again to the subject of
yesterday’s dispute, and while Horace acquiesced in the silence, he was
conscious of some disappointment over it. It annoyed him to even look at
his partner this morning, and he was sick and tired of the partnership.
It required an effort to be passing civil with Reuben, and he said to
himself a hundred times during the day that he should be heartily glad
when the Thessaly Manufacturing Company got its new machinery in, and
began real operations, so that he could take up his position there
as the visible agent of the millions, and pitch his partner and the
pettifogging law business overboard altogether.

In the course of the afternoon he went to the residence of the Minsters.
The day was not Tuesday, but Horace regarded himself as emancipated from
formal conditions, and at the door asked for the ladies, and then made
his own way into the drawing-room, with entire self-possession.

When Mrs. Minster came down, he had some trivial matter of business
ready as a pretext for his visit, but her manner was so gracious that
he felt pleasantly conscious of the futility of pretexts. He was on such
a footing in the Minster household that he would never need excuses any
more.

The lady herself mentioned the plan of his attending the forthcoming
meeting of the directors of the pig-iron trust at Pittsburg, and told
him that she had instructed her bankers to deposit with his bankers a
lump sum for expenses chargeable against the estate, which he could
use at discretion. “You mustn’t be asked to use your own money on our
business,” she said, smilingly.

It is only natural to warm toward people who have such nice things as
this to say, and Horace found himself assuming a very confidential,
almost filial, attitude toward Mrs. Minster. Her kindness to him was so
marked that he felt really moved by it, and in a gracefully indirect
way said so. He managed this by alluding to his own mother, who had died
when he was a little boy, and then dwelling, with a tender inflection
in his voice, upon the painful loneliness which young men feel who are
brought up in motherless homes. “It seems as if I had never known a home
at all,” he said, and sighed.

“She was one of the Beekmans from Tyre, wasn’t she? I’ve heard Tabitha
speak of her often,” said Mrs. Minster. The words were not important,
but the look which accompanied them was distinctly sympathetic.

Perhaps it was this glance that affected Horace. He made a little
gulping sound in his throat, clinched his hands together, and looked
fixedly down upon the pattern of the carpet.

“We should both have been better men if she had lived’,” he murmured,
in a low voice.

As no answer came, he was forced to look up after a time, and then
upon the instant he realized that his pathos had been wasted, for Mrs.
Minster’s face did not betray the emotion he had anticipated. She seemed
to have been thinking of something else.

“Have you seen any Bermuda potatoes in the market yet?” she asked. “It’s
about time for them, isn’t it?”

“I’ll ask my father,” Horace replied, determined not to be thrown off
the trail. “He has been in the West Indies a good deal, and he knows all
about their vegetables, and the seasons, and so on. It is about him that
I wish to speak, Mrs. Minster.”

The lady nodded her head, and drew down the comers of her mouth a
little.

“I feel the homeless condition of the General very much,” Horace went
on. “The death of my mother was a terrible blow to him, one he has never
recovered from.”

Mrs. Minster had heard differently, but she nodded her head again in
sympathy with this new view. Horace had not been mistaken in believing
that filial affection was good in her eyes.

“So he has lived all these years almost alone in the big house,” the son
proceeded, “and the solitary life has affected his spirits, weakened
his ambition, relaxed his regard for the part he ought to play in the
community. Since I have been back, he has brightened up a good deal. He
has been a most loving father to me always, and I would do anything in
the world to contribute to his happiness. It is borne in upon me more
and more that if I had a cheerful home to which he could turn for warmth
and sunshine, if I had a wife whom he could reverence and be fond of, if
there were grandchildren to greet him when he came and to play upon his
knee--he would feel once more as if there was something in life worth
living for.”

Horace awaited with deep anxiety the answer to this. The General was the
worst card in his hand, one which he was glad to be rid of at any risk.
If it should turn out that it had actually taken a trick in the game,
then he would indeed be lucky.

“If it is no offence, how old are you, Mr. Boyce?” the lady asked.

“I shall be twenty-eight in April.”

Mrs. Minster seemed to approve the figures. “I never have believed in
early marriages,” she said. “They make more than half the trouble there
is. The Mauverensens were never great hands for marrying early. My
grandfather, Major Douw, was almost thirty, and my father was past
that age. And, of course, people married then much earlier than they do
nowadays.”

“I hope you do not think twenty-eight too young,” Horace pleaded, with
alert eyes resting on her face. He paused only for an instant, and then,
just as the tremor arising in his heart had reached his tongue, added
earnestly, “For it is a Mauverensen I wish to marry.”

Mrs. Minster looked at him with no light of comprehension in her glance.
“It can’t be our people,” she said, composedly, “for Anthony has no
daughters. It must be some of the Schenectady lot. We’re not related at
all. They try to make out that they are, but they’re not.”

“You are very closely and tenderly related to the young lady I have
learned to adore,” the young man said, leaning forward on his low chair
until one knee almost touched the carpet. “I called her a Mauverensen
because she is worthy of that historic blood, but it was her mother’s,
not her father’s name. Mrs. Minster, I love your daughter Kate!”

“Goodness me!” was the astonished lady’s comment.

She stared at the young man in suppliant attitude before her, in
very considerable confusion of thought, and for what seemed to him an
intolerable time.

“I am afraid it wouldn’t do at all,” she said first, doubtingly. Then
she added, as if thinking aloud: “I might have known Kate was keeping
something from me. She hasn’t been herself at all these last few weeks.”

“But she has not been keeping _this_ from you, Mrs. Minster,” urged the
young man, in his softest voice. “It is my own secret--all my own--kept
locked in the inner tabernacle of my heart until this very moment, when
I revealed it to you.”

“You mean that Kate--my daughter--does not know of this?”

“She must know that I worship the ground she treads on--she would be
blind not to realize that--but I have never said a word to her about it.
No, not a word!”

Mrs. Minster uttered the little monosyllable “oh!” with a hesitating,
long-drawn-out sound. It was evident that this revelation altered
matters in her mind, and Horace hurried on:

“No,” he said; “the relation between mother and child has always seemed
to pie the most sacred thing on earth--perhaps because my own mother
died so many, many years ago. I would rather stifle my own feelings than
let an act of mine desecrate or imperil that relation. It may be that
I am old-fashioned, Mrs. Minster,” the young man continued, with a
deprecatory smile, “but I like the old habit of the good families--that
of deferring to the parents. I say that to them the chief courtesy and
deference are due. I know it is out of date, but I have always felt that
way. So I speak to you first. I say to you with profound respect that
you have reared the loveliest and best of all the daughters of the sons
of men, and that if you will only entertain the idea of permitting me to
strive to win her love, I shall be the proudest and happiest mortal on
earth.”

Whatever might betide with the daughter, the conquest of the mother was
easy and complete.

“I like your sentiments very much indeed,” she said, with evident
sincerity. “And I like you too. I may as well tell you so. Of course I
haven’t the least idea what Kate will say.”

“Oh, leave that to me!” said Horace, with ardent confidence. Then, after
this rapturous outburst, he went on more quietly: “I would beg of you
not to mention the subject to her. I think that would be best.
Your favor has allowed me to come and go here on pleasant terms of
friendship. Let these terms not be altered. I will not ask your daughter
to commit herself until she has had time and chance to know me through
and through. It would not be fair to her otherwise. To pick a husband
is the one grand, irrevocable step in a young girl’s life. Its success
means bliss, content, sunshine; its failure means all that is the
reverse. Therefore, I say, she cannot have too much information, too
many advantages, to help her in her choice.”

Thus it came to be understood that Mrs. Minster was to say nothing, and
was not to seem to make more of Horace than she had previously done.

Then he bowed over her hand and lightly kissed it, in a fashion which
the good lady fondly assumed to be European, and was gone.

Mrs. Minster spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in a semi-dazed
abstraction of mental power, from time to time fitfully remembering
some wealthy young man whom she had vaguely considered as a
possible son-in-law, and sighing impartially over each mustached
and shirt-fronted figure as she pushed it out into the limbo of the
might-have-been. She almost groaned once when she recalled that this
secret must be kept even from her friend Tabitha.

As for Horace, he walked on air. The marvel of his great success
surrounded and lifted him, as angels bear the souls of the blessed
fleeting from earth in the artist’s dream. The young Bonaparte, home
from Italy and the reproduction of Hannibal’s storied feat, with Paris
on its knees before him and France resounding with his name, could not
have swung his shoulders more proudly, or gazed upon unfolding destiny
with a more exultant confidence.

On his way homeward an instinctive desire to be alone with his joy led
him to choose unfrequented streets, and on one of these he passed a
milliner’s shop which he had never seen before. He would not have noted
it now, save that his eye was unconsciously caught by some stray
freak of color in the window where bonnets were displayed. Then, still
unconsciously, his vision embraced the glass door beside this window,
and there suddenly it was arrested and turned to a bewildered stare.

In the dusk of the little shop nothing could be distinguished but two
figures which stood close by the door. The dying light from the western
sky, ruddily brilliant and penetrating in its final glow, fell full upon
the faces of these two as they were framed in profile by the door.

One was the face of Kate Minster, the woman he was to wed. The other was
the face of Jessica Law-ton, the woman whose life he had despoiled.

Horace realized nothing else so swiftly as that he had not been seen,
and, with an instinctive lowering of the head and a quickened step, he
passed on. It was not until he had got out of the street altogether that
he breathed a long breath and was able to think. Then he found himself
trembling with excitement, as if he had been through a battle or a
burning house.

Reflection soon helped his nerves to quietude again. Evidently the girl
had opened a millinery shop, and evidently Miss Minster was buying a
bonnet of her. That was all there was of it, and surely there was no
earthly cause for perturbation in that. The young man had thought so
lightly of the Law-ton incident at Thanksgiving time that it had never
since occurred to him to ask Tracy about its sequel.

It came to his mind now that Tracy had probably helped her to start the
shop. “Damn Tracy!” he said to himself.

No, there was nothing to be uneasy about in the casual, commercial
meeting of these two women. He became quite clear on this point as he
strode along toward home. At his next meeting with Kate it might do no
harm to mention having seen her there in passing, and to drop a hint as
to the character of the girl whom she was dealing with. He would see
how the talk shaped itself, after the Law-ton woman’s name had been
mentioned. It was a great nuisance, her coming to Thessaly, anyway. He
didn’t wish her any special harm, but if she got in his way here she
should be crushed like an insect. But, pshaw! it was silly to conceive
injury or embarrassment coming from her.

So with a laugh he dismissed the subject from his thoughts, and went
home to dine with his father, and gladdened the General’s heart by
a more or less elaborated account of the day’s momentous event, in
complete forgetfulness of the shock he had had.

In the dead of the night, however, he did think of it again with a
vengeance. He awoke screaming, and cold with frightened quakings, under
the spell of some hideous nightmare. When he thought upon them, the
terrors of his dream were purely fantastic and could not be shaped into
any kind of coherent form. But the profile of the Lawton girl seemed to
be a part of all these terrors, a twisted and elongated side-face, with
staring, empty eyes and lips down-drawn like those of the Medusa’s head,
and yet, strangely enough, with a certain shifting effect of beauty upon
it all under the warm light of a winter sunset.

Horace lay a long time awake, deliberately striving to exorcise this
repellent countenance by fixing his thoughts upon the other face--the
strong, beautiful, queenly face of the girl who was to be his wife. But
he could not bring up before his mind’s eye this picture that he wanted,
and he could not drive the other away.

Sleep came again somehow, and there were no more bad dreams to be
remembered. In the morning Horace did not even recall very distinctly
the episode of the nightmare, but he discovered some novel threads of
gray at his temple as he brushed his hair, and for the first time in his
life, too, he took a drink of spirits before breakfast.



CHAPTER XXIV.--A VEHEMENT RESOLVE.

 The sloppy snow went away at last, and the reluctant frost was forced
to follow, yet not before it had wreaked its spite by softening all
the country roads into dismal swamps of mud, and heaving into painful
confusion of holes and hummocks the pavements on Thessaly’s main
streets. But in compensation the birds came back, and the crocus and
hyacinth showed themselves, and buds warmed to life again along the
tender silk-brown boughs and melted into the pale bright green of a
springs new foliage. Overcoats disappeared, and bare-legged boys with
poles and strings of fish dawned upon the vision. The air was laden with
the perfume of lilacs and talk about baseball.

From this to midsummer seemed but a step. The factory workmen walked
more wearily up the hill in the heat to their noonday dinners;
lager-beer kegs advanced all at once to be the chief staple of freight
traffic at the railway dépôt. People who could afford to take travelling
vacations began to make their plans or to fulfil them, and those who
could not began musing pleasantly upon the charms of hop-picking in
September. And then, lo! it was autumn, and young men added with pride
another unit to the sum of their age, and their mothers and sisters
secretly subtracted such groups or fractions of units as were needful,
and felt no more compunction at thus hoodwinking Time than if he had
been a customs-officer.

The village of Thessaly, which like a horizon encompassed most of the
individuals whom we know, could tell little more than this of the months
that had passed since Thanksgiving Day, now once again the holiday
closest at hand. The seasons of rest and open-air amusement lay behind
it, and in front was a vista made of toil. There had been many deaths,
and still more numerous births, and none in either class mattered much
save under the roof-tree actually blessed or afflicted. The year had
been fairly prosperous, and the legislature had passed the bill which at
New Year’s would enable the village to call itself a city.

Of the people with whom this story is concerned, there is scarcely more
to record during this lapse of time.

Jessica Lawton was perhaps the one most conscious of change. At the
very beginning of spring, indeed on the very day when Horace had his
momentary fright in passing the shop, Miss Minster had visited her, had
brought a reasonably comprehensive plan for the Girls’ Resting House, as
she wanted it called, and had given her a considerable sum of money to
carry out this plan. For a long time it puzzled Jessica a good deal that
Miss Minster never came again. The scheme took on tangible form; some
score of work-girls availed themselves of its privileges, and the
result thus far involved less friction and more substantial success
than Jessica had dared to expect. It seemed passing strange that Miss
Minster, who had been so deeply enthusiastic at first, should never have
cared to come and see the enterprise, now that it was in working order.
Once or twice Miss Tabitha had dropped in, and professed to be greatly
pleased with everything, but even in her manner there was an indefinable
alteration which forbade questions about the younger lady.

There were rumors about in the town which might have helped Jessica to
an explanation had they reached her. The village gossips did not fail
to note that the Minster family made a much longer sojourn this year at
Newport, and then at Brick Church, New Jersey, than they had ever done
before; and gradually the intelligence sifted about that young Horace
Boyce had spent a considerable portion of his summer vacation with them.
Thessaly could put two and two together as well as any other community.
The understanding little by little spread its way that Horace was going
to marry into the Minster millions.

If there were repinings over this foreseen event, they were carefully
dissembled. People who knew the young man liked him well enough. His
professional record was good, and he had made a speech on the Fourth
of July which pleased everybody except ’Squire Gedney; but then, the
spiteful old “Cal” never liked anybody’s speeches save his own. Even
more satisfaction was felt, however, on the score of the General. His
son was a showy young fellow, smart and well-dressed, no doubt, but
perhaps a trifle too much given to patronizing folks who had not been to
Europe, and did not scrub themselves all over with cold water, and put
on a clean shirt with both collar and cuffs attached, every morning. But
for the General there was a genuine affection. It pleased Thessaly to
note that, since he had begun to visit at the home of the Minsters,
other signs of social rehabilitation had followed, and that he himself
drank less and led a more orderly life than of yore. When his intimates
jokingly congratulated him on the rumors of his son’s good fortune, the
General tacitly gave them confirmation by his smile.

If Jessica had heard these reports, she might have traced at once to
its source Miss Minster’s sudden and inexplicable coolness. Not hearing
them, she felt grieved and perplexed for a time, and then schooled
herself into resignation as she recalled Reuben Tracy’s warning about
the way rich people took up whims and dropped them again, just as fancy
dictated.

It was on the first day of November that the popular rumor as to
Horace’s prospects reached her, and this was a day memorable for vastly
more important occurrences in the history of industrial Thessaly.

The return of cold weather had been marked, among other signs of the
season, by a renewed disposition on the part of Ben Lawton to drop in
to the millinery shop, and sit around by the fire in the inner room. Ben
came this day somewhat earlier than usual--the midday meal was in its
preliminary stages of preparation under Lucinda’s red hands--and it was
immediately evident that he was more excited over something that had
happened outside than by his expectation of getting a dinner.

“There’s the very old Nick to pay down in the village!” he said, as he
put his feet on the stove-hearth. “Heard about it, any of you?”

Ben had scarcely ascended in the social scale during the scant year that
had passed, though the general average of whiteness in his paper collars
had somewhat risen, and his hair and straggling dry-mud-colored beard
were kept more duly under the subjection of shears. His clothes,
too, were whole and unworn, but they hung upon his slouching and
round-shouldered figure with “poor white” written in every misfitting
fold and on every bagging projection. Jessica had resigned all hope that
he would ever be anything but a canal boatman in mien or ambition, but
her affection for him had grown rather than diminished; and she was glad
that Lucinda, in whom there had been more marked personal improvements,
seemed also to like him better.

No, Jessica said, she had heard nothing.

“Well, the Minster furnaces was all shut down this morning, and so was
the work out at the ore-beds at Juno, and the men, boys, and girls in
the Thessaly Company’s mills all got word that wages was going to be
cut down. You can bet there’s a buzz around town, with them three things
coming all together, smack!”

“I suppose so,” answered Jessica, still bending over her work of
cleaning and picking out some plumes. “That looks bad for business this
winter, doesn’t it?”

Ben’s relations with business, or with industry generally, were of the
most remote and casual sort, but he had a lively objective interest in
the topic.

“Why, it’s the worst thing that ever happened,” he said, with
conviction. “There’s seven hundred men thrown out already” (the figure
was really two hundred and twelve), “and more than a thousand more got
to git unless they’ll work for starvation wages.”

“It seems very hard,” the girl made reply. The idea came to her that
very possibly this would put an extra strain upon the facilities and
financial strength of the Resting House.

“Hard!” her father exclaimed, stretching his hands over the stove-top;
“them rich people are harder than Pharaoh’s heart. What do them Minsters
care about poor folks, whether they starve or freeze to death, or
anything?”

“Oh, it is the Minsters, you say!” Jessica looked up now, with a new
interest. “Sure enough, they own the furnaces. How could they have done
such a thing, with winter right ahead of us?”

“It’s all to make more money,” put in Lucinda. “Them that don’t need
it’ll do anything to get it. What do they care? That Kate Minster of
yours, for instance, she’ll wear her sealskin and eat pie just the same.
What does it matter to her?”

“No; she has a good heart. I know she has,” said Jessica. “She wouldn’t
willingly do harm to any one. But perhaps she has nothing to do with
managing such things. Yes, that must be it.”

“I guess Schuyler Tenney and Hod Boyce about run the thing, from what I
hear,” commented the father. “Tenney’s been bossing around since summer
begun, and Boyce is the lawyer, so they say.”

Ben suddenly stopped, and looked first at Jessica, then at Lucinda.
Catching the latter’s eye, he made furtive motions to her to leave the
room; but she either did not or would not understand them, and continued
stolidly at her work.

“That Kate you spoke about,” he went on stum-blingly, nodding hints at
Lucinda to go away as he spoke, “she’s the tall girl, with the black
eyes and her chin up in the air, ain’t she?”

“Yes,” the two sisters answered, speaking together.

“Well, as I was saying about Hod Boyce,” Ben said, and then stopped in
evident embarrassment. Finally he added, confusedly avoiding Jessica’s
glance, “‘Cindy, won’t you jest step outside for a minute? I want to
tell your sister something--something you don’t know about.”

“She knows about Horace Boyce, father,” said Jessica, flushing, but
speaking calmly. “There is no need of her going.”

Lucinda, however, wiped her hands on her apron, and went out into the
store, shutting the door behind her. Then Ben, ostentatiously regarding
the hands he held out over the stove, and turning them as if they
had been fowls on a spit, sought hesitatingly for words with which to
unbosom himself.

“You see,” he began, “as I was a-saying, Hod Boyce is the lawyer, and
he’s pretty thick with Schuyler Tenney, his father’s partner, which,
of course, is only natural; and Tenney he kind of runs the whole
thing--and--and that’s it, don’t you see!”

“You didn’t send Lucinda out in order to tell me _that_, surely?”

“Well, no. But Hod being the lawyer, as I said, why, don’t you see, he
has a good deal to say for himself with the women-folks, and he’s been
off with them down to the sea-side, and so it’s come about that they
say--”

“They say what?” The girl had laid down her work altogether.

“They say he’s going to marry the girl you call Kate--the big one with
the black eyes.”

The story was out. Jessica sat still under the revelation for a moment,
and held up a restraining hand when her father offered to speak further.
Then she rose and walked to and fro across the little room, in front
of the stove where Ben sat, her hands hanging at her side and her brows
bent with thought. At last she stopped before him and said:

“Tell me all over again about the stopping of the works--all you know
about it.”

Ben Lawton complied, and re-stated, with as much detail as he could
command, the facts already exposed.

The girl listened carefully, but with growing disappointment.

Somehow the notion had arisen in her mind that there would be something
important in this story--something which it would be of use to
understand. But her brain could make nothing significant out of this
commonplace narrative of a lockout and a threatened dispute about wages.
Gradually, as she thought, two things rose as certainties upon the
surface of her reflections.

“That scoundrel is to blame for both things. He advised her to avoid me,
and he advised her to do this other mischief.”

“I thought you’d like to know,” Ben put in, deferentially. He felt a
very humble individual indeed when his eldest daughter paced up and down
and spoke in that tone.

“Yes, I’m glad I know,” she said, swiftly. She eyed her father in an
abstracted way for an instant, and then added, as if thinking aloud:
“Well, then, my fine gentleman, you--simply--shall--_not_--marry Miss
Minster!”

Ben moved uneasily in his seat, as if this warning had been personally
addressed to him. “It _would_ be pretty rough, for a fact, wouldn’t it?”
 he said.

“Well, it won’t _be_ at all!” she made emphatic answer.

“I don’t know as you can do much to pervent it, Jess,” he ventured to
say.

“Can’t I? _Cant_ I!” she exclaimed, with grim earnestness. “Wait and
see.”

Ben had waited all his life, and he proceeded now to take her at her
word, sitting very still, and fixing a ruminative gaze on the side
of the little stove. “All right,” he said, wrapped in silence and the
placidity of contented suspense.

But Jessica was now all eagerness and energy. She opened the store door,
and called out to Lucinda with business-like decision of tone: “Come in
now, and hurry dinner up as fast as you can. I want to catch the 1.20
train for Tecumseh.”

The other two made no comment on this hasty resolve, but during the
brief and not over-inviting meal which followed, watched their kinswoman
with side-glances of uneasy surprise. The girl herself hastened through
her dinner without a word of conversation, and then disappeared within
the little chamber where she and Lucinda slept together.

It was only when she came out again, with her hat and cloak on and a
little travelling-bag in her hand, that she felt impelled to throw some
light on her intention. She took from her purse a bank-note and gave it
to her sister.

“Shut up the store at half-past four or five today,” she said; “and
there are two things I want you to do for me outside. Go around the
furniture stores, and get some kind of small sofa that will turn into a
bed at night, and whatever extra bed-clothes we need for it--as cheap as
you can. We’ve got a pillow to spare, haven’t we? You can put those two
chairs out in the Resting House; that will make a place for the bed in
this room. You must have it all ready when I get back to-morrow night.
You needn’t say anything to the girls, except that I am away for a day.
And then--or no: _you_ can do it better, father.”

The girl had spoken swiftly, but with ready precision. As she turned now
to the wondering Ben, she lost something of her collected demeanor, and
hesitated for a moment.

“I want you--I want you to see Reuben Tracy, and ask him to come here at
six to-morrow,” she said. She deliberated upon this for an instant, and
held out her hand as if she had changed her mind. Then she nodded, and
said: “Or no: tell him I will come to his office, and at six sharp. It
will be better that way.”

When she had perfunctorily kissed them both, and gone, silence fell
upon the room. Ben took his pipe out of his pocket and looked at it with
tentative longing, and then at the stove.

“You can go out in the yard and smoke, if you want to, but not in here,”
 said Lucinda, promptly. “You wouldn’t dare think of such a thing if she
were here,” she added, with reproach.

Ben put back his pipe and seated himself again by the fire. “Mighty
queer girl, that, eh?” he said. “When she gets stirred up, she’s a
hustler, eh?”

“It must be she takes it from you,” said Lucinda, with a modified grin
of irony.

The sarcasm fell short of its mark. “No,” said Ben, with quiet candor,
“she gets it from my father. He used to count on licking a lock-tender
somewhere along the canal every time he made a trip. I remember there
was one particular fellow on the Montezuma Ma’ash that he used to
whale for choice, but any of ’em would do on a pinch. He was jest
blue-mouldy for a fight all the while, your grandfather was. He was
Benjamin Franklin Lawton, the same as me, but somehow I never took
much to rassling round or fighting. It’s more in my line to take things
easy.”

Lucinda bore an armful of dishes out into the kitchen, without making
any reply, and Ben, presently wearying of solitude, followed to where
she bent over the sink, enveloped in soap-suds and steam.

“I suppose you’ve got an idea what she’s gone for?” he propounded, with
caution.

“It’s a ‘_who_’ she’s gone for,” said Lucinda.

Pronouns were not Ben’s strong point, and he said, “Yes, I suppose it
is,” rather helplessly. He waited in patience for more information, and
by and by it came.

“If I was her, I wouldn’t do it,” said Lucinda, slapping a plate
impatiently with the wet cloth.

“No, I don’t suppose you would. In some ways you always had more sense
than people give you credit for, ‘Cindy,” remarked the father, with
guarded flattery. “Jess, now, she’s one of your hoity-toity kind--flare
up and whirl around like a wheel on a tree in the Fourth of July
fireworks.”

“She’s head and shoulders above all the other Lawtons there ever was or
ever will be, and don’t you forget it!” declared the loyal Lucinda, with
fervor.

“That’s what I say always,” assented Ben. “Only--I thought you said you
didn’t think she was quite right in doing what she’s going to do.”

“It’s right enough; only she was happy here, and this’ll make her
miserable again--though, of course, she was always letting her mind run
on it, and perhaps she’ll enjoy having it with her--only the girls may
talk--and--”

Lucinda let her sentence die off unfinished in a rattle of knives and
spoons in the dish-pan. Her mind was sorely perplexed.

“Well, Cindy,” said Ben, in the frankness of despair, “I’m dot-rotted if
I know what you are talking about.” He grew pathetic as he went on: “I’m
your father and I’m her father, and there ain’t neither of you got a
better friend on earth than I be; but you never tell me anything, any
more’n as if I was a last year’s bird’s-nest.”

Lucinda’s reserve yielded to this appeal. “Well, dad,” she said, with
unwonted graciousness of tone, “Jess has gone to Tecumseh to bring
back--to bring her little boy. She hasn’t told me so, but I know it.”

The father nodded his head in comprehension, and said nothing. He had
vaguely known of the existence of the child, and he saw more or less
clearly the reason for this present step. The shame and sorrow which
were fastened upon his family through this grandson whom he had never
seen, and never spoken of above a whisper, seemed to rankle in his heart
with a new pain of mingled bitterness and compassion.

He mechanically took out his pipe, filled it from loose tobacco in his
pocket, and struck a match to light it. Then he recalled that the absent
daughter! objected to his smoking in the house, on account of the wares
in her shop, and let the flame burn itself out in the coal-scuttle. A
whimsical query as to whether this calamitous boy had also been named
Benjamin Franklin crossed his confused mind, and then it perversely
raised the question whether the child, if so named, would be a “hustler”
 or not. Ben leaned heavily against the door-sill, and surrendered
himself to humiliation.

“What I don’t understand,” he heard Lucinda saying after a time, “is why
she took this spurt all of a sudden.”

“It’s all on account of that Gawd-damned Hod Boyce!” groaned Ben.

“Yes; you told her something about him. What was it?”

“Only that they all say that he’s going to marry that big Minster
girl--the black-eyed one.”

Lucinda turned away from the sink, threw down her dish-cloth with a
thud, and put her arms akimbo and her shoulders well back. Watching her,
Ben felt that somehow this girl, too, took after her grandfather rather
than him.

“Oh, _is_ he!” she said, her voice high-pitched and vehement. “I guess
_we’ll_ have something to say about _that_!”



CHAPTER XXV.--A VISITATION OF ANGELS.

 REUBEN Tracy waited in his office next day for the visit of the
milliner, but, to tell the truth, devoted very little thought to
wondering about her errand.

The whole summer and autumn, as he sat now and smoked in meditation upon
them, seemed to have been an utterly wasted period in his life. He had
done nothing worth recalling. His mind had not even evolved good ideas.
Through all the interval which lay between this November day and that
afternoon in March, when he had been for the only time inside the
Minster house, one solitary set thought had possessed his mind. Long
ago it had formulated itself in his brain; found its way to the silent,
spiritual tongue with which we speak to ourselves. He loved Kate
Minster, and had had room for no other feeling all these months.

At first, when this thought was still new to him, he had hugged it to
his heart with delight. Now the melancholy days indeed were come, and he
had only suffering and disquiet from it. She had never even answered his
letter proffering assistance. She was as far away from him, as coldly
unattainable, as the north star. It made him wretched to muse upon her
beauty and charm; his heart was weary with hopeless longing for her
friendship--yet he was powerless to command either mind or heart. They
clung to her with painful persistency; they kept her image before him,
whispered her name in his ear, filled all his dreams with her fair
presence, to make each wakening a fresh grief.

In his revolt against this weakness, Reuben had burned the little
scented note for which so reverential a treasure-box had been made in
his desk. But this was of no avail. He could never enter that small
inner room where he now sat without glancing at the drawer which had
once been consecrated to the letter.

It was humiliating that he should prove to have so little sense and
strength. He bit his cigar fiercely with annoyance when this aspect
of the case rose before him. If love meant anything, it meant a mutual
sentiment. By all the lights of philosophy, it was not possible to love
a person who did not return that love. This he said to himself over and
over again, but the argument was not helpful. Still his mind remained
perversely full of Kate Minster.

During all this time he had taken no step to probe the business which
had formed the topic of that single disagreeable talk with his partner
in the preceding March. Miss Minster’s failure to answer his letter had
deeply wounded his pride, and had put it out of the question that he
should seem to meddle in her affairs. He had never mentioned the subject
again to Horace. The two young men had gone through the summer and
autumn under the same office roof, engaged very often upon the same
business, but with mutual formality and personal reserve. No controversy
had arisen between them, but Reuben was conscious now that they had
ceased to be friends, as men understand the term, for a long time.

For his own part, his dislike for his partner had grown so deep and
strong that he felt doubly bound to guard himself against showing it. It
was apparent to the most superficial introspection that a good deal of
his aversion to Horace arose from the fact that he was on friendly terms
with the Minsters, and could see Miss Kate every day. He never looked
at his partner without remembering this, and extracting unhappiness from
the thought. But he realized that this was all the more reason why
he should not yield to his feelings. Both his pride and his sense of
fairness restrained him from quarrelling with Horace on grounds of that
sort.

But the events of the last day or two had opened afresh the former
dilemma about a rupture over the Minster works business. Since Schuyler
Tenney had blossomed forth as the visible head of the rolling-mills,
Reuben had, in spite of his pique and of his resolution not to be
betrayed into meddling, kept a close watch upon events connected with
the two great iron manufacturing establishments. He had practically
learned next to nothing, but he was none the less convinced that a
swindle underlay what was going on.

It was with this same conviction that he now strove to understand the
shutting-down of the furnaces and ore-fields owned by the Minsters, and
the threatened lockout in the Thessaly Manufacturing Company’s mills.
But it was very difficult to see where dishonesty could come in. The
furnaces and ore-supply had been stopped by an order of the pig-iron
trust, but of course the owners would be amply compensated for that.
The other company’s resolve to reduce wages meant, equally of course,
a desire to make up on the pay-list the loss entailed by the closing of
the furnaces, which compelled it to secure its raw material elsewhere.
Taken by themselves, each transaction was intelligible. But considered
together, and as both advised by the same men, they seemed strangely in
conflict. What possible reason could the Thessaly Company, for example,
have for urging Mrs. Minster to enter a trust, the chief purpose of
which was to raise the price of pig-iron which they themselves bought
almost entirely? The problem puzzled Reuben. He racked his brain in
futile search for the missing clew to this financial paradox. Evidently
there was such a clew somewhere; an initial fact which would explain
the whole mystery, if only it could be got at. He had for his own
satisfaction collected some figures about the Minster business, partly
exact, partly estimated, and he had worked laboriously over these in the
effort to discover the false quantity which he felt sure was somewhere
concealed. But thus far his work had been in vain.

Just now a strange idea for the moment fascinated his inclination. It
was nothing else than the thought of putting his pride in his pocket--of
going to Miss Minster and saying frankly: “I believe you are being
robbed. In Heaven’s name, give me a chance to find out, and to protect
you if I am right! I shall ask no reward. I shall not even ask ever to
see you again, once the rescue is achieved. But oh! do not send me away
until then--I pray you that!”

While the wild project urged itself upon his mind the man himself
seemed able to stand apart and watch this battle of his own thoughts and
longings, like an outside observer. He realized that the passion he
had nursed so long in silence had affected his mental balance. He was
conscious of surprise, almost of a hysterical kind of amusement,
that Reuben Tracy should be so altered as to think twice about such a
proceeding. Then he fell to deploring and angrily reviling the change
that had come over him; and lo! all at once he found himself strangely
glad of the change, and was stretching forth his arms in a fantasy of
yearning toward a dream figure in creamy-white robes, girdled with a
silken cord, and was crying out in his soul, “I love you!”

The vision faded away in an instant as there came the sound of rapping
at the outer door. Reuben rose to his feet, his brain still bewildered
by the sun-like brilliancy of the picture which had been burned into
it, and confusedly collected his thoughts as he walked across the larger
room. His partner had been out of town some days, and he had sent the
office-boy home, in order that the Lawton girl might be able to talk
in freedom. The knocking; was that of a woman’s hand. Evidently it was
Jessica, who had come an hour or so earlier than she had appointed. He
wondered vaguely what her errand might be, as he opened the door.

In the dingy hallway stood two figures instead of one, both thickly clad
and half veiled. The waning light of late afternoon did not enable him
to recognize his visitors with any certainty. The smaller lady of the
two might be Jessica--the the who stood farthest away. He had almost
resolved that it was, in this moment of mental dubiety, when the other,
putting out her gloved hand, said to him:

“I am afraid you don’t remember me, it is so long since we met. This is
my sister, Mr. Tracy--Miss Ethel Minster.”

The door-knob creaked in Reuben’s hand as he pressed upon it for
support, and there were eccentric flashes of light before his eyes.

“Oh, I am _so_ glad!” was what he said. “Do come in--do come in.” He
led the way into the office with a dazed sense of heading a triumphal
procession, and then stopped in the centre of the room, suddenly
remembering that he had not shaken hands. Was it too late now? To give
himself time to think, he lighted the gas in both offices and closed all
the shutters.

“Oh, I am _so_ glad!” he repeated, as he turned to the two ladies. The
radiant smile on his face bore out his words. “I am afraid the little
room--my own place--is full of cigar-smoke. Let me see about the fire
here.” He shook the grate vehemently, and poked down the coals through
one of the upper windows. “Perhaps it will be warm enough here. Let me
bring some chairs.” He bustled into the inner room, and pushed out his
own revolving desk-chair, and drew up two others from different ends of
the office. The easiest chair of all, which was at Horace’s table, he
did not touch. Then, when his two visitors had taken seats, he beamed
down upon them once more, and said for the third time:

“I really _am_ delighted!”

Miss Kate put up her short veil with a frank gesture. The unaffected
pleasure which shone in Reuben’s face and radiated from his manner was
something more exuberant than she had expected, but it was grateful to
her, and she and her sister both smiled in response.

“I have an apology to make first of all, Mr. Tracy,” she said, and her
voice was the music of the seraphim to his senses. “I don’t think--I am
afraid I never answered your kind letter last spring. It is a bad habit
of mine; I am the worst correspondent in the world. And then we went
away so soon afterward.”

“I beg that you won’t mention it,” said Reuben; and indeed it seemed to
him to be a trivial thing now--not worth a thought, much less a word. He
had taken a chair also, and was at once intoxicated with the rapture of
looking Kate in the face thus again, and nervous lest the room was not
warm enough.

“Won’t you loosen your wraps?” he asked, with solicitude. “I am afraid
you won’t feel them when you go out.” It was an old formula which he had
heard his mother use with callers at the farm, but which he himself
had never uttered before in his life. But then he had never before been
pervaded with such a tender anxiety for the small comforts of visitors.

Miss Kate opened the throat of her fur coat. “We sha’n’t stay long,”
 she said. “We must be home to dinner.” She paused for a moment and then
asked: “Is there any likelihood of our seeing your partner, Mr. Boyce,
here to-day?”

Reuben’s face fell on the instant. Alas, poor fool, he thought, to
imagine there were angels’ visits for you!

“No,” he answered, gloomily. “I am afraid not. He is out of town.”

“Oh, we didn’t want to see him,” put in Miss Ethel. “Quite the
contrary.”

Reuben’s countenance recovered all its luminous radiance. He stole a
glance at this younger girl’s face, and felt that he almost loved her
too.

“No,” Miss Kate went on, “in fact, we took the opportunity of his being
away to come and try to see you alone. We are dreadfully anxious, Mr.
Tracy, about the way things are going on.”

The lawyer could not restrain a comprehending nod of the head, but he
did not speak.

“We do not understand at all what is being done,” proceeded Kate. “There
is nobody to explain things to us except the men who are doing those
things, and it seems to us that they tell us just what they like. We
maybe doing them an injustice, but we are very nervous about a good many
matters. That is why we came to you.”

Reuben bowed again. There was an instant’s pause, and then he opened one
of the little mica doors in the stove. “I’m afraid this isn’t going
to burn up,” he said. “If you don’t mind smoke, the other room is much
warmer.”

It was not until he had safely bestowed his precious visitors in the
cosier room, and persuaded them to loosen all their furs, that his mind
was really at ease. “Now,” he remarked, with a smile of relief, “now go
ahead. Tell me everything.”

“We have this difficulty,” said Kate, hesitatingly; “when I spoke to you
before, you felt that you couldn’t act in the matter, or learn
things, or advise us, on account of the partnership. And as that still
exists--why--” She broke off with an inquiring sigh.

“My dear Miss Minster,” Reuben answered, in a voice so firm and full
of force that it bore away in front of it all possibility of suspecting
that he was too bold, “when I left you I wanted to tell you, when I
wrote to you I tried to have you understand, that if there arose a
question of honestly helping you, of protecting you, and the partnership
stood between me and that act of honorable service, I would crush the
partnership like an eggshell, and put all my powers at your disposal.
But I am afraid you did not understand.”

The two girls looked at each other, and then at the strong face before
them, with the focussed light of the argand burner upon it.

“No,” said Kate, “I am afraid we didn’t.”

“And so I say to you now,” pursued Reuben, with a sense of exultation
in the resolute words as they sounded on his ear, “I will not allow any
professional chimeras to bind me to inactivity, to acquiescence, if
a wrong is being done to you. And more, I will do all that lies in my
power to help you understand the whole situation. And if, when it is
all mapped out before us, you need my assistance to set crooked things
straight, why, with all my heart you shall have it, and the partnership
shall go out of the window.”

“If you had said that at the beginning,” sighed Kate.

“Ah, then I did not know what I know now!” answered Reuben, holding her
eyes with his, while the light on his face grew ruddier.

“Well, then, this is what I can tell you,” said the elder girl, “and I
am to tell it to you as our lawyer, am I not--our lawyer in the sense
that Mr. Boyce is mamma’s lawyer?”

Reuben bowed, and settled himself in his chair to listen. It was a long
recital, broken now by suggestions from Ethel, now by questions from the
lawyer. From time to time he made notes on the blotter before him, and
when the narrative was finished he spent some moments in consulting
these, and combining them with figures from another paper, in new
columns. Then he said, speaking slowly and with deliberation:

“This I take to be the situation: You are millionnaires, and are in a
strait for money. When I say ‘you’ I speak of your mother and yourselves
as one. Your income, which formerly gave you a surplus of sixty thousand
or seventy thousand dollars a year for new investments, is all at once
not large enough to pay the interest on your debts, let alone your
household and personal expenses. First, what has become of this income?
It came from three sources--the furnaces, the telegraph stock, and a
group of minor properties. These furnaces and iron-mines, which were all
your own until you were persuaded to put a mortgage on them, have
been closed by the orders of outsiders with whom you were persuaded to
combine. Exit your income from _that_ source. Telegraph competition has
cut down your earnings from the Northern Union stock to next to nothing.
No doubt we shall find that your income from the other properties has
been absorbed in salaries voted to themselves by the men into whose
hands you have fallen. That is a very old trick, and I shall be
surprised if it does not turn up here. In the second place, you are
heavily in debt. On the 1st of January next, you must borrow money,
apparently, to pay the interest on this debt. What makes it the harder
is that you have not, as far as I can discover, had any value received
whatever for this debt. In other words, you are being swindled out of
something like one hundred thousand dollars per year, and not even such
a property as your father left can stand _that_ very long. I should say
it was high time you came to somebody for advice.”

Before this terribly lucid statement the two girls sat aghast.

It was Ethel who first found something to say. “We never dreamed of
this, Mr. Tracy,” she said, breathlessly. “Our idea in coming, what we
thought of most, was the poor people being thrown out of work in the
winter, like this, and it being in some way, _our_ fault!”

“People _think_ it is our fault,” interposed Kate. “Only to-day, as we
were driving here, there were some men standing on the corner, and one
of them called out a very cruel thing about us, as if we had personally
injured him. But what you tell me--is it really as bad as that?”

“I am afraid it is quite as bad as I have pictured it.”

“And what is to be done? There must be some way to stop it,” said Kate.

“You will put these men in prison the first thing, won’t you, Mr.
Tracy?” asked Ethel. “And oh, I forgot! Who are the men who are robbing
us?”

Reuben smiled gravely, and ignored the latter question. “There are a
good many first things to do,” he said. “I must think it all over very
carefully before any step is taken. But the very beginning will be, I
think, for you both to revoke the power of attorney your mother holds
for you, and to obtain a statement of her management of the trusteeship
over your property.”

“She will refuse it plump! You don’t know mamma,” said Ethel.

“She couldn’t refuse if the demand were made regularly, could she, Mr.
Tracy?” asked Kate. He shook his head, and she went on: “But it seems
dreadful not to act _with_ mamma in the matter. Just think what a
situation it will be, to bring our lawyer up to fight her lawyer! It
sounds unnatural, doesn’t it? Don’t you think, Mr. Tracy, if you were to
speak to her now--”

“No, that could hardly be, unless she asked me,” returned the lawyer.

“Well, then, if I told her all you said, or you wrote it out for me to
show her.”

“No, nor that either,” said Reuben. “To speak frankly, Miss Minster,
your mother is perhaps the most difficult and dangerous element in the
whole problem. I hope you won’t be offended--but that any woman in
her senses could have done what she seems to have done, is almost
incredible.”

“Poor mamma!” commented Ethel. “She never would listen to advice.”

“Unfortunately, that is just what she has done,” broke in Kate. “Mr.
Tracy, tell me candidly, is it possible that the man who advised her
to do these things--or rather the two men, both lawyers, who advised
her--could have done so honestly?”

“I should say it was impossible,” answered Reuben, after a pause.

Again the two girls exchanged glances, and then Kate, looking at her
watch, rose to her feet. “We are already late, Mr. Tracy,” she said,
offering him her hand, and unconsciously allowing him to hold it in
his own as she went on: “We are both deeply indebted to you. We want
you--oh, so much!--to help us. We will do everything you say; we will
put ourselves completely in your hands, won’t we, Ethel?”

The younger sister said “Yes, indeed!” and then smiled as she furtively
glanced up into Kate’s face and thence downward to her hand. Kate
herself with a flush and murmur of confusion withdrew the fingers which
the lawyer still held.

“Then you must begin,” he said, not striving very hard to conceal the
delight he had had from that stolen custody of the gloved hand,
“by resolving not to say a word to anybody--least of all to your
mother--about having consulted me. You must realize that we have to
deal with criminals--it is a harsh word, I know, but there can be no
other--and that to give them warning before our plans are laid would be
a folly almost amounting to crime itself. If I may, Miss Kate”--there
was a little gulp in his throat as he safely passed this perilous first
use of the familiar name--“I will write to you to-morrow, outlining my
suggestions in detail, telling you what to do, perhaps something of
what I am going to do, and naming a time--subject, of course, to your
convenience--when we would better meet again.”

Thus, after some further words on the same lines, the interview ended.
Reuben went to the door with them, and would have descended to the
street to bear them company, but they begged him not to expose himself
to the cold, and so, with gracious adieus, left him in his office and
went down, the narrow, unlighted staircase, picking their way.

On the landing, where some faint reflection of the starlight and
gas-light outside filtered through the musty atmosphere, Kate paused
a moment to gather the weaker form of her sister protectingly close to
her.

“Are you utterly tired out, pet?” she asked. “I’m afraid it’s been too
much for you.”

“Oh, no,” said Ethel. “Only--yes, I am tired of one thing--of your
slowness of perception. Why, child alive, Mr. Tracy has been just
burning to take up our cause ever since he first saw you. You thought
he was indifferent, and all the while he was over head and ears in love
with you! I watched him every moment, and it was written all over his
face; and you never saw it!”

The answering voice fell with a caressing imitation of reproof upon the
darkness: “You silly puss, you think everybody is in love with me!” it
said.

Then the two young ladies, furred and tippeted, emerged upon the
sidewalk, stepped into their carriage, and were whirled off homeward
under the starlight.

A few seconds later, two other figures, a woman and a child, also
emerged from this same stairway, and, there being no coachman in waiting
for them, started on foot down the street. The woman was Jessica Lawton,
and she walked wearily with drooping head and shoulders, never once
looking at the little boy whose hand she held, and who followed her in
wondering patience.

She had stood in the stairway, drawn up against the wall to let these
descending ladies pass. She had heard all they said, and had on the
instant recognized Kate Minster’s voice. For a moment, in this darkness
suddenly illumined by Ethel’s words, she had reflected. Then she, too,
had turned and come down the stairs again. It seemed best, under these
new circumstances, not to see Reuben Tracy just now. And as she slowly
walked home, she almost forgot the existence of the little boy, so
deeply was her mind engaged with what she had heard.

As for Reuben, the roseate dreams had all come back. From the drear
mournfulness of chill November his heart had leaped, by a fairy
transition, straight into the bowers of June, where birds sang and
fountains plashed, and beauty and happiness were the only law. It would
be time enough to-morrow to think about this great struggle with cunning
scoundrels for the rescue of a princely fortune, which opened before
him. This evening his mind should dwell upon nothing but thoughts of
_her!_

And so it happened that an hour later, when he decided to lock up the
office and go over to supper, he had never once remembered that the
Lawton girl’s appointment remained unkept.



CHAPTER XXVI.--OVERWHELMING DISCOMFITURE.

 Mr. Horace Boyce returned to Thessaly the next morning and drove at
once to his father’s house. There, after a longer and more luxurious
bath than usual, he breakfasted at his leisure, and then shaved and
dressed himself with great care. He had brought some new clothes from
New York, and as he put them on he did not regret the long detour to the
metropolis, both in going to and coming from Pittsburg, which had been
made in order to secure them. The frock coat was peculiarly to his
liking. No noble dandy in all the West End of London owed his tailor for
a more perfectly fitting garment. It was not easy to decide as to the
neckwear which should best set off the admirable upper lines of this
coat, but at last he settled on a lustreless, fine-ribbed tie of white
silk, into which he set a beautiful moonstone pin that Miss Kate had
once praised. Decidedly, the _ensemble_ left nothing to be desired.

Horace, having completely satisfied himself, took off the coat again,
went down-stairs in his velveteen lounging-jacket, and sought out his
father in the library, which served as a smoking-room for the two men.

The General sat in one chair, with his feet comfortably disposed on
another, and with a cup of coffee on still a third at his side. He was
reading that morning’s Thessaly _Banner_, through passing clouds of
cigar-smoke. His brow was troubled.

“Hello, you’re back, are you?” was his greeting to his son. “I see the
whole crowd of workmen in your rolling-mills decided last night not to
submit to the new scale; unanimous, the paper says. Seen it?”

“No, but I guessed they would,” said Horace, nonchalantly. “They can all
be damned.”

The General turned over his paper. “There’s an editorial,” he went on,
“taking the workmen’s side, out and out. Says there’s something very
mysterious about the whole business. Winds up with a hint that
steps will be taken to test the legality of the trust, and probe
the conspiracy that underlies it. Those are the words--‘probe the
conspiracy.’ Evidently, you’re going to have John Fairchild in your
wool. He’s a good fighter, once you get him stirred up.”

“He can be damned, too,” said Horace, taking a chair and lighting a
cigar. “These free-trade editors make a lot of noise, but they don’t
do anything else. They’re merely blue-bottle flies on a window-pane--a
deuce of a nuisance to nervous people, that’s all. I’m not nervous,
myself.”

The General smiled with good-humored sarcasm at his offspring. “Seems
to me it wasn’t so long ago that you were tarred with the same brush
yourself,” he commented.

“Most fellows are free-traders until it touches their own pockets, or
rather until they get something in their pockets to be touched. Then
they learn sense,” replied Horace.

“You can count them by thousands,” said the General. “But what of the
other poor devils--the millions of consumers who pay through the nose,
in order to keep those pockets full, eh? They never seem to learn
sense.”

Horace smiled a little, and then stretched out his limbs in a
comprehensive yawn. “I can’t sleep on the cars as well as I used to,”
 he said, in explanation. “I almost wish now I’d gone to bed when I got
home. I don’t want to be sleepy _this_ afternoon, of all times.”

The General had returned to his paper. “I see there’s a story afloat
that you chaps mean to bring in French Canadian workmen, when the other
fellows are locked out. I thought there was a contract labor law against
that.”

Horace yawned again, and then, rising, poured out a little glassful of
spirits from a bottle on the mantel, and tossed it off. “No,” he said,
“it’s easy enough to get around that. Wendover is up to all those
dodges. Besides, I think they are already domiciled in Massachusetts.”

“Vane” Boyce laid down the paper and took off his eye-glasses. “I hope
these fellows haven’t got you into a scrape,” he remarked, eyeing his
son. “I don’t more than half like this whole business.”

“Don’t you worry,” was Horace’s easy response.

“I’ll take good care of myself. If it comes to ‘dog eat dog,’ they’ll
find my teeth are filed down to a point quite as sharp as theirs are.”

“Maybe so,” said the father, doubtfully. “But that Tenney--he’s got eyes
in the back of his head.”

“My dear fellow,” said Horace, with a pleasant air of patronage, “he’s a
mere child compared with Wendover. But I’m not afraid of them both. I’m
going to play a card this afternoon that will take the wind out of both
their sails. When that is done, I’ll be in a position to lay down the
law to them, and read the riot act too, if necessary.”

The General looked inquiry, and Horace went on: “I want you to call for
me at the office at three, and then we’ll go together to the Minsters.
I wouldn’t smoke after luncheon, if I were you. I’m not going down until
afternoon. I’ll explain to you what my idea is as we walk out there.
You’ve got some ‘heavy father’ business to do.”

Horace lay at his ease for a couple of hours in the big chair his father
had vacated, and mused upon the splendor of his position. This afternoon
he was to ask Kate Minster to be his wife, and of the answer he had
no earthly doubt. His place thus made secure, he had some highly
interesting things to say to Wendover and Tenney. He had fathomed
their plans, he thought, and could at the right moment turn them to his
advantage. He had not paid this latest visit to the iron magnates of
Pennsylvania for nothing. He saw that Wendover had counted upon their
postponing all discussion of the compensation to be given the Minsters
for the closing of their furnaces until after January 1, in order that
when that date came, and Mrs. Minster had not the money to pay the
half-yearly twelve thousand dollars interest on the bonds, she would be
compelled to borrow still more from him, and thus tighten the hold which
he and Tenney had on the Minster property. It was a pretty scheme, but
Horace felt that he could block it. For one thing, he was certain that
he could induce the outside trust directors to pass upon the question
of compensation long before January. And even if this failed, he could
himself raise the money which Mrs. Minster would need. This he would do.
Then he would turn around and demand an accounting from these scoundrels
of the four hundred thousand dollars employed in buying the machinery
rights, and levy upon the plant of the Thessaly Manufacturing Company,
if necessary, to secure Mrs. Minster’s interests. It became all very
clear to his mind, now he thought it over, and he metaphorically snapped
his fingers at Wendover and Tenney as he went up-stairs and once more
carefully dressed himself.

The young man stopped in the hall-way as he came down and enjoyed a
comprehensive view of himself in the large mirror which was framed
by the hat-rack. The frock coat and the white effect at the neck were
excellent. The heavy fur collar of the outer coat only heightened their
beauty, and the soft, fawn-tinted suède gloves were quite as charming
in the contrast they afforded under the cuffs of the same costly fur.
Horace put his glossy hat just a trifle to one side, and was too happy
even to curse the climate which made rubbers over his patent-leather
shoes a necessity.

He remembered that minute before the looking-glass, in the after-time,
as the culmination of his upward career. It was the proudest, most
perfectly contented moment of his adult life.

*****

“There is something I want to say to you before you go.”

Reuben Tracy stood at the door of a small inner office, and looked
steadily at his partner as he uttered these words.

There was little doing in the law in these few dead-and-alive weeks
between terms, and the exquisitely dressed Horace, having gone through
his letters and signed some few papers, still with one of his gloves
on, had decided not to wait for his father, but to call instead at the
hardware store.

“I am in a bit of a hurry just now.” he said, drawing on the other
glove. “I may look in again before dinner. Won’t it keep till then?”

“It isn’t very long,” answered Reuben. “I’ve concluded that the
partnership was a mistake. It is open to either of us to terminate it at
will. I wish you would look around, and let me know as soon as you see
your way to--to--”

“To getting out,” interposed Horace. In his present mood the idea rather
pleased him than otherwise. “With the greatest pleasure in the world.
You have not been alone in thinking that the partnership was a mistake,
I can assure you.”

“Then we understand each other?”

“Perfectly.”

“And you will be back, say at--”

“Say at half-past five.”

“Half-past five be it,” said Reuben, turning back again to his desk.

Horace made his way across the muddy high street and found his father,
who smelt rather more of tobacco than could have been wished, but
otherwise was in complete readiness.

“By the way,” remarked the young man, as the two walked briskly along,
“I’ve given Tracy notice that I’m going to leave the firm. I daresay we
shall separate almost immediately. The business hasn’t been by any means
up to my expectations, and, besides, I have too much already to do for
the Minster estate, and am by way, now, of having a good deal more.”

“I’m sorry, for all that,” said the General. “Tracy is a first-rate,
honest, straightforward fellow. It always did me good to feel that you
were with him. To tell you the truth, my boy,” he went on after a pause,
“I’m damnably uneasy about your being so thick with Tenney and that
gang, and separating yourself from Tracy. It has an unsafe look.”

“Tracy is a tiresome prig,” was Horace’s comment. “I’ve stood him quite
long enough.”

The conversation turned now upon the object of their expedition,
and when this had been explained to the General, and his part in it
outlined, he had forgotten his forebodings about his son’s future.

That son himself, as he strode along, with his head well up and his
shoulders squared, was physically an object upon which the paternal eye
could look with entire pride. The General said to himself that he
was not only the best-dressed, but the handsomest young fellow in
all Dearborn County; and from this it was but a mental flash to the
recollection that the Boyces had always been handsome fellows, and the
old soldier recalled with satisfaction how well he himself had felt that
he looked when he rode away from Thessaly at the head of his regiment
after the firing on Fort Sumter.

Mrs. Minster came down alone to the drawingroom to receive her visitors,
and showed by her manner some surprise that the General accompanied his
son.

“I rather wanted to talk with you about what you learned at Pittsburg,”
 she said, somewhat bluntly, to Horace, after conversation on ordinary
topics had begun to flag.

The General rose at this. “Pray let me go into the library for a time,
I beg of you,” he said, in his courtly, cheery manner. “I know the way,
and I can amuse myself there till you want me; that is,” he added, with
a twinkle in his eye, “if you decide that you want me at all.”

Mrs. Minster bowed as the General went off. She did not quite understand
what this stout, red-faced man meant by being wanted, and she was
extremely anxious to know all that her lawyer had to tell her about the
trust.

What he had to tell her was eminently satisfactory. The directors
had postponed the question of how much money should be paid for the
shutting-down of the Minster furnaces, simply because it was taken
for granted that so opulent a concern could not be in a hurry about
a settlement. He was sure that he could have the affair all arranged
before December. As to other matters, he was equally confident. A year
hence she would be in vastly better condition, financially, than she
had ever been before. Under these assurances Mrs. Minster purred visible
content.

Then Horace began to introduce the subject nearest his heart. The family
had been excessively kind to him during the summer, he said. He had
been privileged to meet them on terms of almost intimacy, both here and
elsewhere. Every day of this delightful intercourse had but strengthened
his original desire. True to his word, he had never uttered a syllable
of what lay on his heart to Miss Kate, but he was not without confidence
that she looked upon him favorably. They had seemed always the best
of friends, and she had accepted from him attentions which must have
shadowed forth to her, at least vaguely, the state of his mind. He had
brought his father--in accordance with what he felt to be the courtesy
due from one old family to another--to formally speak with her upon the
subject, if she desired it, and then he himself, if she thought it best,
would beg for an interview with Miss Kate. Or did Mrs. Minster think it
preferable to leave this latter to the sweet arbitrament of chance?

Horace looked so well in his new clothes, and talked with such fluency
of feeling, and moreover had brought such comforting intelligence
about the business troubles, that Mrs. Minster found herself at the end
smiling on him maternally, and murmuring some sort of acquiescence to
his remarks in general.

“Then shall I bring in my father?” He asked the question eagerly, and
rising before she could reply, went swiftly to the door of the hall and
opened it.

Then he stopped with abruptness, and held the door open with a hand that
began to tremble as the color left his face.

A voice in the hall was speaking, and with such sharply defined
distinctness and high volume that each word reached even the mother
where she sat.

“_You may tell your son, General Boyce,”_ said this voice, _“that I will
not see him. I am sorry to have to say it to you, who have always been
polite to me, but your son is not a good man or an honest man, and I
wish never to see him again. With all my heart I wish, too, that we
never had seen him, any of us._”

An indistinct sound of pained remonstrance arose outside as the echoes
of this first voice died away. Then followed a noise of footsteps
ascending the carpeted stairs, and Horace’s empty, staring eyes had a
momentary vision of a woman’s form passing rapidly upward, away from
him.

Then he stood face to face with his father--a bleared, swollen,
indignant countenance it was that thrust itself close to his--and he
heard his father say, huskily:

“I am going. Let us get out of this house.”

Horace mechanically started to follow. Then he remembered that he had
left his hat behind, and went back into the drawing-room where Mrs.
Minster sat. The absence of deep emotion on her statuesque face
momentarily restored his own presence of mind.

“You have heard your daughter?” he said, his head hanging in spite of
himself, but his eyes keeping a strenuous scrutiny upon her face.

“Yes: I don’t know what has come over Kate, lately,” remarked Mrs.
Minster; “she always was the most curious girl.”

“Curious, indeed!” He choked down the sneer which tempted him, and went
on slowly: “You heard what she said--that I was dishonest, wicked. Where
she has suddenly got this new view of me, doesn’t matter--at least, just
at this moment. But I surely ought to ask if you--if you share it. Of
course, if I haven’t your confidence, why, I must lay down everything.”

“Oh, mercy, no! You mustn’t think of it,” the lady said, with animation.
“I’m sure I don’t know in the least what it all means. I never do know
with my daughters. They get all sorts of crazy notions. It makes my head
ache sometimes wondering what they will do next--Kate, especially. No,
you mustn’t mind her. You really mustn’t.”

The young man’s manner had gradually taken on firmness, as if under
a coat of ice. The glance which he still bent upon Mrs. Minster had a
novel glitter in it now.

“Then I am to remain your lawyer, in spite of this, as if it hadn’t
happened?”

“Why, bless me, yes! Why not? Girls will be girls, I suppose. At least,
that is the saying. But--oh, by all means! You must see me through this
dreadful trust business, though, as you say, it must all be better in
the end than ever before.”

“Good-day, Mrs. Minster. I shall continue, then, to hold myself at your
service.”

He spoke with the same grave slowness, and bowed formally, as if to go.

The lady rose, and of her own volition offered him her hand. “Perhaps
things will alter in her mind. I am so sorry!” she said.

The young man permitted himself a ghostly half-smile. “It is only when I
have thought it all over that I shall know whether I am sorry or not,”
 he said, and bowing again he left her.

Out by the gate, standing on the gravel-path wet with November rain and
strewn with damp, fallen leaves, the General waited for him. The air had
grown chill, and the sky was spreading a canopy for the night of gloomy
gray clouds. The two men, without a word, fell into step, and walked
down the street together. What was there to say?

Horace, striding silently along with his teeth tight set, his head bowed
and full of fierce confusion of thought, and his eyes angrily fixed
on the nothing straight ahead, became, all at once, aware that his
office-boy was approaching on the sidewalk, whistling dolefully to suit
the weather, and carrying his hands in his pockets.

“Where are you going, Robert?” the lawyer demanded, stopping the lad,
and speaking with the aggressive abruptness of a man longing to affront
all about him.

“To Mrs. Minster’s,” answered the boy, wondering what was up, and
confusedly taking his hands out of his pockets.

“What for?” This second question was even more sharply put.

“This letter from Mr. Tracy.” The boy took a letter from the inside of
his coat, and then added: “I said Mrs. Minster, but the letter is for
her daughter. I’m to give it to her herself.”

“I’ll take charge of it myself,” said Horace, with swift decision,
stretching out his hand.

But another hand was reached forth also, and grasped the young man’s
extended wrist with a vehement grip.

“No, by God! you won’t!” swore the General, his face purpling with the
rush of angry blood, and his little gray eyes flashing. “No, sir, you
won’t!” he repeated; and then, bending a momentary glance upon the boy,
he snapped out: “Well, you! don’t stand staring here! Go and do your
errand as you were told!”

The office-boy started with a run to obey his command, and did not
slacken his pace until he had turned a corner. He had never encountered
a real general in action before, and the experience impressed him.

Father and son looked in silence into each other’s faces for an instant.
Then the father said, with something between a curse and a groan:

“My God! the girl was right! You _are_ a damned scoundrel!”

“Well, however that may be,” replied Horace, frowning, “I’m not in the
mood just now to take any cheek, least of all from you!”

As the General stared at him with swelling rage in his fat face, and
quivering, inarticulate lips, his son went on in a bitter voice, from
between clinched teeth:

“I owe this to you! to nobody else but you! Everything I did was done to
lift you out of the gutter, to try and make a man of you again, to put
you back into decent society--to have the name of Boyce something else
once more besides a butt for bar-keepers and factory-girls. I had you
around my neck like a mill-stone, and you’ve pulled me down. I hope
you’re satisfied!”

For a moment it seemed as if the General would fall. His thick neck grew
scarlet, his eyes turned opaque and filled with tears, and he trembled
and almost tottered on his legs. Then the fit passed as suddenly as
it had come. He threw a sweeping glance up and down the figure of his
son--taking in the elegant line of the trousers, the costly fur, the
delicate, spotless gloves, the white jewelled neckwear, the shining
hat, the hardened and angry face beneath it--and then broke boisterously
forth into a loud guffaw of contemptuous laughter.

When he had laughed his fill, he turned upon his heel without a word
and walked away, carrying himself with proud erectness, and thumping his
umbrella on the sidewalk with each step as he went.



CHAPTER XXVII.--THE LOCKOUT.

 When Thessaly awoke one morning some fortnight later, and rubbed its
eyes, and, looking again, discovered in truth that everything outside
was white, the recognition of the familiar visitor was followed by a
sigh. The children still had a noisy friendliness of greeting for the
snow, and got out their sleds and bored anticipatory holes in their
boot-heels with a thrill of old-time enthusiasm; but even their delight
became subdued in its manifestations before noon had arrived--their
elders seemed to take the advent of winter so seriously. Villagers,
when they spoke to one another that morning, noted that the voice of
the community had suddenly grown graver in tone and lower in pitch. The
threat of the approaching season weighed with novel heaviness on the
general mind.

For the first time since the place had begun its manufacturing career,
Thessaly was idle. The Minster furnaces had been closed for more than
two weeks; the mills of the Thessaly Manufacturing Company, for nearly
that length of time. Half the bread-winners in the town were out of work
and saw no prospect of present employment.

Usage is most of all advantageous _in_ adversity; These artisans of
Thessaly lacked experience in enforced idleness and the trick of making
bricks without straw. Employment, regular and well requited, had become
so much a matter of course that its sudden cessation now bewildered
and angered them. Each day brought to their minds its fresh train of
calamitous consequences. Children needed shoes; the flour-barrel was
nearly empty; to lay in a pig for the winter might now be impossible.
The question of rent quarter loomed black and menacing like a
thunder-cloud on the horizon; and there were those with mortgages
on their little homes, who already saw this cloud streaked with the
lightning of impending tempest. Anxious housewives began to retrench at
the grocer’s and butcher’s; but the saloons and tobacco shops had almost
doubled their average of receipts.

Even on ordinary holidays the American workman, bitten as he is with the
eager habitude of labor, more often than not some time during the day
finds himself close to the place where at other times he is employed.
There his thoughts are: thither his steps all unconsciously bend
themselves. So now, in this melancholy, indefinite holiday which
November had brought to Thessaly, the idlers instinctively hung about
the deserted works. The tall, smokeless chimneys, the locked gates,
the grimy windows--through which the huge dark forms of the motionless
machines showed dimly, like the fossils of extinct monsters in a
museum--the dreary stretches of cinder heaps and blackened waste
which surrounded the silent buildings--all these had a cruel kind of
fascination for the dispossessed toilers.

They came each day and stood lazily about in groups: they smoked in
taciturnity, told sardonic stories, or discussed their grievance, each
according to his mood; but they kept their eyes on the furnaces and
mills whence wages came no more and where all was still. There was
something in it akin in pathos to the visits a mother pays to the
graveyard where her child lies hidden from sight under the grass and the
flowers. It was the tomb of their daily avocation that these men came to
look at.

But, as time went on, there grew to be less and less of the pathetic
in what these men thought and said. The sense of having been wronged
swelled within them until there was room for nothing but wrath. In a
general way they understood that a trust had done this thing to them.
But that was too vague and far-off an object for specific cursing. The
Minster women were nearer home, and it was quite clear that they were
the beneficiaries of the trust’s action. There were various stories told
about the vast sum which these greedy women had been paid by the trust
for shutting down their furnaces and stopping the output of iron ore
from their fields, and as days succeeded one another this sum steadily
magnified itself.

The Thessaly Manufacturing Company, which concerned a much larger number
of workmen, stood on a somewhat different footing. Mechanics who knew
men who were friendly with Schuyler Tenney learned in a roundabout
fashion that he really had been forced into closing the mills by the
action of the Minster women. When you came to think of it, this seemed
very plausible. Then the understanding sifted about among the men that
the Minsters were, in reality, the chief owners of the Manufacturing
Company, and that Tenney was only a business manager and minor partner,
who had been overruled by these heartless women. All this did not make
friends for Tenney. The lounging workmen on the street comers eyed him
scowlingly when he went by, but their active hatred passed him over and
concentrated itself upon the widow and daughters of Stephen Minster. On
occasion now, when fresh rumors of the coming of French Canadian workmen
were in the air, very sinister things were muttered about these women.

Before the lockout had been two days old, one of the State officers of a
labor association had visited Thessaly, had addressed a hastily convened
meeting of the ejected workmen, and had promised liberal assistance
from the central organization. He had gone away again, but two or three
subordinate officials of the body had appeared in town and were still
there. They professed to be preparing detailed information upon which
their chiefs could act intelligently. They had money in their pockets,
and displayed a quite metropolitan freedom about spending it over
the various bars. Some of the more conservative workmen thought these
emissaries put in altogether too much time at these bars, but they were
evidently popular with the great bulk of the men. They had a large fund
of encouraging reminiscence about the way bloated capitalists had been
beaten and humbled and brought down to their knees elsewhere in the
country, and they were evidently quite confident that the workers would
win this fight, too. Just how it was to be won no one mentioned, but
when the financial aid began to come in it would be time to talk about
that. And when the French Canadians came, too, it would be time--The
rest of this familiar sentence was always left unspoken, but lowering
brows and significant nods told how it should be finished.

So completely did this great paralytic stroke to industry monopolize
attention, that events in the village, not immediately connected with
it, passed almost unnoticed. Nobody gave a second thought, for example,
to the dissolution of the law firm of Tracy & Boyce, much less dreamed
of linking it in any way with the grand industrial drama which engaged
public interest.

Horace, at the same time, took rooms at the new brick hotel, the
Central, which had been built near the railroad depot, and opened an
office of his own a block or two lower down Main Street than the one he
had vacated. This did not attract any special comment, and when, on the
evening of the 16th of November, a meeting of the Thessaly Citizens’
Club was convened, fully half those who attended learned there for the
first time that the two young lawyers had separated.

The club at last had secured a building for itself--or rather the
refusal of one--and this meeting was called to decide upon ratifying
the purchase. It was held in a large upper room of the building under
discussion, which had been the gymnasium of a German Turn Verein, and
still had stowed away in its comers some of the apparatus that the
athletes had used.

When Horace, as president, called the gathering to order, there were
some forty men present, representing very fairly the business and
professional classes of the village. Schuyler Tenney was there as one
of the newer members; and Reuben Tracy, with John Fairchild, Dr. Lester,
Father Chance, and others of the founders, sat near one another farther
back in the hall.

The president, with ready facility, laid before the meeting the business
at hand. The building they were in could be purchased, or rented on a
reasonably extended lease. It seemed to the committee better to take it
than to think of erecting one for themselves--at least for the present.
So much money would be needed: so much for furniture, so much for
repairs, etc.; so much for heating and lighting, so much for service,
and so on--a very compact and lucid statement, indeed.

A half hour was passed in more or less inconclusive discussion before
Reuben Tracy rose to his feet and began to speak. The story that he and
Boyce were no longer friends had gone the round of the room, and some
men turned their chairs to give him the closer attention with eye and
ear. Before long all were listening with deep interest to every word.

Reuben started by saying that there was something even more important
than the question of the new building, and that was the question of what
the club itself meant. In its inception, the idea of creating machinery
for municipal improvement had been foremost. Certainly he and those
associated with him in projecting the original meeting had taken that
view of their work. That meeting had contented itself with an indefinite
expression of good intentions, but still had not dissented from the idea
that the club was to mean something and to do something. Now it became
necessary, before final steps were taken, to ask what that something
was to be. So far as he gathered, much thought had been given as to
the probable receipts and expenditure, as to where the card-room, the
billiard-room, the lunch-room, and so forth should be located, and as to
the adoption of all modern facilities for making themselves comfortable
in their new club-house. But about the original objects of the club
he had not heard a syllable. To him this attitude was profoundly
unsatisfactory. At the present moment, the village was laboring under
a heavy load of trouble and anxiety. Nearly if not quite a thousand
families were painfully affected by the abrupt stoppage of the
two largest works in the section. If actual want was not already
experienced, at least the vivid threat of it hung over their poorer
neighbors all about them. This fact, it seemed to him, must appeal to
them all much more than any conceivable suggestion about furnishing a
place in which they might sit about at their ease in leisure hours. He
put it to the citizens before him, that their way was made exceptionally
clear for them by this calamity which had overtaken their village. If
the club meant anything, it must mean an organization to help these poor
people who were suddenly, through no fault of their own, deprived of
incomes and employment. That was something vital, pressing, urgent;
easy-chairs and billiard-tables could wait, but the unemployed artisans
of Thessaly and their families could not.

This in substance was what Reuben said; and when he had finished there
succeeded a curious instant of dead silence, and then a loud confusion
of comment. Half a dozen men were on their feet now, among them both
Tenney and John Fairchild.

The hardware merchant spoke first, and what he said was not so prudent
as those who knew him best might have expected. The novel excitement of
speaking in public got into his head, and he not only used language
like a more illiterate man than he really was, but he attacked Tracy
personally for striving to foment trouble between capital and labor,
and thereby created an unfavorable impression upon the minds of his
listeners.

Editor Fairchild had ready a motion that the building be taken on a
lease, but that a special committee be appointed by the meeting to
devise means for using it to assist the men of Thessaly now out of
employment, and that until the present labor crisis was over, all
questions of furnishing a club-house proper be laid on the table. He
spoke vigorously in support of this measure, and when he had finished
there was a significant round of applause.

Horace rose when order had been restored, and speaking with some
hesitation, said that he would put the motion, and that if it were
carried he would appoint such a committee, but----

“I said ‘to be appointed by the meeting’!” called out John Fairchild,
sharply.

The president did not finish his sentence, but sat down again, and
Tenney pushed forward and whispered in his ear. Two or three others
gathered sympathetically about, and then still others joined the group
formed about the president, and discussed eagerly in undertones this new
situation.

“I must decline to put the motion. It does not arise out of the report.
It is out of order,” answered Horace at last, as a result of this
faction conference.

“Then I will put it myself,” cried Fairchild, rising. “But I beg
first to move that you leave the chair!” Horace looked with angered
uncertainty down upon the men who remained seated about Fairchild. They
were as thirty to his ten, or thereabouts. He could not stand up against
this majority. For a moment he had a fleeting notion of trying to
conciliate it, and steer a middle course, but Tenney’s presence had made
that impossible. He laid down his gavel, and, gathering up his hat and
coat, stepped off the platform to the floor.

“There is no need of moving that,” he said. “I’ll go without it. So far
as I am concerned, the meeting is over, and the club doesn’t exist.”

He led the way out, followed by Tenney, Jones the match-manufacturer,
the Rev. Dr. Turner, and five or six others. One or two gentlemen rose
as if to join the procession, and then thinking better of it sat down
again.

By general suggestion, John Fairchild took the chair thus vacated, but
beyond approving the outlines of his plan, and appointing a committee
with Tracy at its head to see what could be done to carry it out, the
meeting found very little to do. It was agreed that this committee
should also consider the question of funds, and should call a meeting
when it was ready to report, which should be at the earliest possible
date.

Then the meeting broke up, and its members dispersed, not without
well-founded apprehensions that they had heard the last of the Thessaly
Citizens’ Club.



CHAPTER XXVIII.--IN THE ROBBER’S CAVE.

 HORACE Boyce was too enraged to preserve a polite demeanor toward the
sympathizers who had followed him out of the hall, and who showed
a disposition to discuss the situation with him now the street was
reached. After a muttered word or two to Tenney, the young man abruptly
turned his back on the group, and walked with a hurried step down the
street toward his hotel.

Entering the building, he made his way direct to the bar-room back of
the office--a place where he had rarely been before--and poured out for
himself a heavy portion of whiskey, which he drank off without noticing
the glass of iced water placed for him beside the bottle. He turned to
go, but came back again to the bar after he had reached the swinging
screen-doors, and said he would take a bottle of the liquor up to his
room. “I haven’t been sleeping well these last few nights,” he explained
to the bar-keeper.

Once in his room, Horace put off his boots, got into easy coat and
slippers, raked down the fire, looked for an aimless minute or two at
the row of books on his shelf, and then threw himself into the arm-chair
beside the stove. The earlier suggestion of gray in his hair at the
temples had grown more marked these last few weeks, and there were new
lines of care on his clear-cut face, which gave it a haggard look now as
he bent his brows in rumination.

An important interview with Tenney and Wendover was to take place in
this room a half hour later; but, besides a certain hard-drawn notion
that he would briskly hold his own with them, Horace did not try to form
plans for this or even to fasten his mind upon it.

The fortnight or more that had passed since that terrible momentary
vision of Kate Minster running up the stairs to avoid him, had been to
the young man a period of unexampled gloominess and unrest, full of
deep wrath at the fate which had played upon him such a group of scurvy
tricks all at once, yet having room for sustained exasperation over the
minor discomforts of his new condition.

The quarrel with his father had forced him to change his residence, and
this was a peculiarly annoying circumstance coming at just such a time.
He realized now that he had been very comfortable in the paternal house,
and that his was a temperament extremely dependent upon well-ordered and
satisfactory surroundings. These new rooms of his, though they cost a
good deal of money, were not at all to his liking, and the service was
execrable. The sense of being at home was wholly lacking; he felt as
disconnected and out of touch with the life about him as if he had been
travelling in a foreign country which he did not like.

The great humiliation and wrong--the fact that he had been rejected with
open contumely by the rich girl he had planned to marry--lay steadily
day and night upon the confines of his consciousness, like a huge black
morass with danger signals hung upon all its borders. His perverse mind
kept returning to view these menacing signals, and torturing him with
threats to disregard them and plunge into the forbidden darkness. The
constant strain to hold his thoughts back from this hateful abyss wore
upon him like an unremitting physical pain.

The resolve which had chilled and stiffened him into self-possession
that afternoon in the drawingroom, and had even enabled him to speak
with cold distinctness to Mrs. Minster and to leave the house of insult
and defeat with dignity, had been as formless and unshaped as poor,
heart-torn, trembling Lear’s threat to his daughters before Gloster’s
gate. Revenge he would have--sweeping, complete, merciless, but by what
means he knew not. That would come later.

Two weeks were gone, and the revenge seemed measurably nearer, though
still its paths were all unmapped. It was clear enough to the young
man’s mind now that Tenney and Wendover were intent on nothing less than
plundering the whole Minster estate. Until that fatal afternoon in the
drawingroom, he had kept himself surrounded with an elaborate system of
self-deception. He had pretended to himself that the designs of these
associates of his were merely smart commercial plans, which needed only
to be watched with equal smartness. Now the pretence was put aside.
He knew the men to be villains, and openly rated them as such in his
thoughts.

He had a stem satisfaction in the thought that their schemes were in
his hands. He would join them now, frankly and with all his heart,
only providing the condition that his share of the proceeds should
be safe-guarded. They should have his help to wreck this insolent,
purse-proud, newly rich family, to strip them remorselessly of their
wealth. His fellow brigands might keep the furnaces, might keep
everything in and about this stupid Thessaly. He would take his share in
hard coin, and shake the mud and slush of Dearborn County from off his
feet. He was only in the prime of his youth. Romance beckoned to him
from a hundred centres of summer civilization, where men knew how to
live, and girls added culture and dowries to beauty and artistic dress.
Oh, yes! he would take his money and go.

The dream of a career in his native village had brought him delight only
so long as Kate Minster was its central figure. That vision now seemed
so clumsy and foolish that he laughed at it. He realized that he had
never liked the people here about him. Even the Minsters had been
provincial, only a gilded variation upon the rustic character of the
section. Nothing but the over-sanguine folly of youth could ever have
prompted him to think that he wanted to be mayor of Thessaly, or that it
would be good to link his fortunes with the dull, under-bred place. Oh,
no! he would take his money and go.

The two men for whom he had been waiting broke abruptly in upon his
revery by entering the room. They came in without even a show of
knocking on the door, and Horace frowned a little at their rudeness.

Stout Judge Wendover panted heavily with the exertion of ascending the
stairs, and it seemed to have put him out of temper as well as breath.
He threw off his overcoat with an impatient jerk, took a chair, and
gruffly grunted “How-de-do!” in the direction of his host, without
taking the trouble to even nod a salutation. Tenney also seated himself,
but he did not remove his overcoat. Even in the coldest seasons he
seemed to wear the same light, autumnal clothes, creaseless and gray,
and mouselike in effect. The two men looked silently at Horace, and he
felt that they disapproved his velveteen coat.

“Well?” he asked, at last, leaning back in his chair and trying to equal
them in indifference. “What is new in New York, Judge?”

“Never mind New York! Thessaly is more in our line just now,” said
Wendover, sternly.

The young man simulated a slight yawn. “You’re welcome to my share
of the town, I’m sure,” he said; “I’m not very enthusiastic about it
myself.”

“How much has Reuben Tracy got to work on? How much have you blabbed
about our business to him?” asked the New Yorker.

“I neither know nor care anything about Mr. Tracy,” said Horace, coldly.
“As for what you elegantly describe as my ‘blabbing’ to him, I daresay
you understand what it means. I don’t.”

“It means that you have made a fool of us; got us into trouble; perhaps
ruined the whole business, by your God A’mighty stupidity! That’s
what it means!” said Wendover, with his little blue-bead eyes snapping
angrily in the lamplight.

“I hope it won’t strike you as irrelevant if I suggest that this is my
room,” drawled Horace, “and that I have a distinct preference for civil
conversation in it. If you have any criticisms to offer upon my conduct,
as you seem to think that you have, I must beg that you couch them in
the language which gentlemen--”

“Gentlemen be damned!” broke in the Judge, sharply. “We’ve had too much
‘gentleman’ in this whole business! Answer me a plain question. What
does Tracy mean by his applications?”

“I haven’t the remotest idea what you are talking about. I’ve already
told you that I know nothing of Mr. Tracy or his doings.”

Schuyler Tenney interposed, impassively: “He may not have heard of the
application, Judge. You must remember that, for the sake of appearances,
he then being in partnership, you were made Mrs. Minster’s attorney, in
both the agreements. That is how notices came to be served on you.”

The Judge had not taken his eyes off the young man in the velveteen
jacket. “Do you mean to tell me that you haven’t learned from Mrs.
Minster that this man Tracy has made applications on behalf of the
daughters to upset the trust agreement, and to have a receiver appointed
to overhaul the books of the Mfg. Company?”

Horace sat up straight. “Good God, no!” he stammered. “I’ve heard
nothing of that.”

“You never do seem to hear about things. What did you suppose you were
here for, except to watch Mrs. Minster, and keep track of what was going
on?” demanded Wendover.

“I may tell you,” answered Horace, speaking hesitatingly, “that
circumstances have arisen which render it somewhat difficult for me
to call upon Mrs. Minster at her house--for that matter, out of the
question. She has only been to my office office within the--the last
fortnight.”

Schuyler Tenney spoke again. “The ‘circumstances’ means, Judge, that
he--”

“Pardon me, Mr. Tenney,” said Horace, with decision: “what the
circumstances mean is neither your business nor that of your friend.
That is something that we will not discuss, if you please.”

“Won’t we, though!” burst in Wendover, peremptorily. “You make a fool of
us. You go sneaking around one of the girls up there. You think you’ll
set yourself in a tub of butter, and let our schemes go to the devil.
You try to play this behind our backs. You get kicked out of the house
for your impudence. And then you sit here, dressed like an Italian
organ-grinder, by God, and tell me that we won’t discuss the subject!”

Horace rose to his feet, with all his veins tingling. “You may leave
this room, both of you,” he said, in a voice which he with difficulty
kept down. His face was pale with rage.

Judge Wendover rose, also, but it was not to obey Horace’s command.
Instead, he pointed imperiously to the chair which the young man had
vacated.

“Sit down there,” he shouted. “Sit down, I tell you! I warn you, I’m in
no mood to be fooled with. You deserve to have your neck wrung for what
you’ve done already. If I have another word of cheek from you, by God,
it _shall_ be wrung! We’ll throw you on the dungheap as we would a dead
rat.”

Horace had begun to listen to these staccato sentences with his arms
folded, and lofty defiance in his glance. Somehow, as he looked into his
antagonist’s blazing eyes, his courage melted before their hot menace.
The pudgy figure of the Judge visibly magnified itself under his gaze,
and the threat in that dry, husky voice set his nerves to quaking. He
sank into his seat again.

“All right,” he said, in an altered voice. “I’m willing enough to talk,
only a man doesn’t like to be bullied in that way in his own house.”

“It’s a tarnation sight better than being bullied by a warder in Auburn
State’s prison,” said the Judge, as he too resumed his chair. “Take my
word for that.”

Schuyler Tenney crossed his legs nervously at this, and coughed. Horace
looked at them both in a mystified but uneasy silence.

“You heard what I said?” queried Wendover, brusquely, after a moment’s
pause.

“Undoubtedly I did,” answered Horace. “But--but its application escaped
me.”

“What I mean is”--the Judge hesitated for a moment to note Tenney’s mute
signal of dissuasion, and then went on: “We might as well not beat about
the bush--what I mean is that there’s a penitentiary job in this thing
for somebody, unless we all keep our heads, and have good luck to boot.
You’ve done your best to get us all into a hole, with your confounded
airs and general foolishness. If worse comes to worst, perhaps we can
save ourselves, but there won’t be a ghost of a chance for you. I’ll see
to that myself. If we come to grief, you shall pay for it.”

“What do you mean?” asked Horace, in a subdued tone, after a period of
silent reflection. “Where does the penitentiary part come in?”

“I don’t agree with the Judge at all,” interposed Tenney, eagerly. “I
don’t think there’s any need of looking on the dark side of the thing.
We don’t _know_ that Tracy knows anything. And then, why shouldn’t we be
able to get our own man appointed receiver?”

“This is the situation,” said Wendover, speaking deliberately. “You
advised Mrs. Minster to borrow four hundred thousand dollars for the
purchase of certain machinery patents, and you drew up the papers for
the operation. It happens that she already owned--or rather that the
Mfg. Company already owned--these identical rights and patents. They
were a part of the plant and business we put into the company at one
hundred and fifty thousand dollars when we moved over from Cadmus. But
nobody on her side, except old Clarke, knew just what it was that we put
in. He died in Florida, and it was arranged that his papers should
pass to you. There was no record that we had sold the right of the nail
machine.”

Horace gazed with bewilderment into the hard-drawn, serious faces of
the two men who sat across the little table from him. In the yellow
lamplight these countenances looked like masks, and he searched them in
vain for any sign of astonishment or emotion. The thing which was now
for the first time being put into words was strange, but as it shaped
itself in his mind he did not find himself startled. It was as if he had
always known about it, but had allowed it to lapse in his memory. These
men were thieves--and he was their associate! The room with its central
point of light where the three knaves were gathered, and its deepening
shadows round about, suggested vaguely to him a robber’s cave. Primary
instincts arose strong within him. Terror lest discovery should come
yielded precedence to a fierce resolve to have a share of the booty. It
seemed minutes to him before he spoke again.

“Then she was persuaded to mortgage her property, to buy over again at
four times its value what she had already purchased?” he asked, with an
assumption of calmness.

“That seems to be about what you managed to induce her to do,” said the
Judge, dryly.

“Then you admit that it was I who did it--that you owe the success of
the thing to me!” The young man could not restrain his eagerness to
establish this point. He leaned over the table, and his eyes sparkled
with premature triumph.

“No: I said ‘_seems_,’” answered Wendover. “_We_ know better. _We_
know that from the start you have done nothing but swell around at our
expense, and create as many difficulties for us and our business
as possible. But the courts and the newspapers would look at it
differently. _They_ would be sure to regard you as the one chiefly
responsible.”

“I should think we were pretty much in the same boat, my friend,” said
Horace, coldly.

“I daresay,” replied the New Yorker, “only with this difference: we can
swim, and you can’t. By that I mean, we’ve got money, and you haven’t.
See the point?”

Horace saw the point, and felt himself revolted at the naked selfishness
and brutality with which it was exposed. The disheartening fact that
these men would not hesitate for an instant to sacrifice him--that they
did not like him, and would not lift a finger to help him unless it was
necessary for their own salvation--rose gloomily before his mind.

“Still, it would be better for all of us that the boat shouldn’t be
capsized at all,” he remarked.

“That’s it--that’s the point,” put in Tenney, with animation; “that’s
what I said to the Judge.”

“This Tracy of yours,” said Wendover, “has got hold of the Minster
girls. He’s acting for them. He has been before Judge Waller with a
whole batch of applications. First, in chambers, he’s brought an action
to dissolve the trust, and asked for an order returnable at Supreme
Court chambers to show cause why, in the mean time, the furnaces
shouldn’t be opened. His grounds are, first, that the woman was
deceived; and second, that the trust is against public policy. Now,
it seems to me that our State courts can’t issue an order binding on
a board of directors at Pittsburg. Isn’t it a thing that belongs to a
United States court? How is that?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” answered Horace. “It’s a new question to me.”

“Tenney told me you knew something as a lawyer,” was Wendover’s angry
comment. “I’d like to know where it comes in.”

The hardware merchant hastened to avert the threatened return to
personalities. “Tell him about the receiver motion,” he said.

“Then Tracy, before the same judge, but in special term, has applied for
a receiver for the Thessaly Mfg. Company, on the ground of fraud.”

“That’s the meanest thing about the whole business,” commented Tenney.

“Well, what do you advise doing?” asked Horace, despondently.

“There are two things,” said Wendover. “First, to delay everything until
after New Year, when Mrs. Minster’s interest becomes due and can’t be
paid. That can be done by denying jurisdiction of the State court in the
trust business, and by asking for particulars in the receiver matter.
The next thing is to make Thessaly too hot for those women, and for
Tracy, too, before New Year. If a mob should smash all the widow’s
windows for her, for instance, perhaps burn her stable, she’d be mighty
glad to get out of town, and out of the iron business, too.”

“But that wouldn’t shut Tracy up,” observed Tenney. “He sticks at things
like a bull-dog, once he gets a good hold.”

“I’m thinking about Tracy,” mused the Judge.

Horace found himself regarding these two visitors of his with something
like admiration. The resourcefulness and resolution of their villainy
were really wonderful. He felt his courage coming back to him. Such
men would be sure to win, if victory were not absolutely impossible. At
least, there was nothing for it but to cordially throw in his lot with
them.

“Whatever is decided upon, I’ll do my share,” he said, with decision.
Upon reflection, he added: “But if I share the risks, I must be clearly
understood to also share the profits.”

Judge Wendover looked at the young man sternly, and breathed hard as he
looked. “Upon my word,” he growled at last, “you’re the cheekiest young
cub I’ve seen since before the war!”

Horace stood to his guns. “However that may be,” he said, “you see what
I mean. This is a highly opportune time, it strikes me, to discover just
how I stand in this matter.”

“You’ll stand where you’re put, or it will be the worse for you!”

“Surely,” Schuyler Tenney interposed, “you ought to have confidence that
we will do the fair thing.”

“My bosom may be simply overflowing with confidence in you both”--Horace
ventured upon a suggestion of irony in his intonation--“but experience
seems to indicate the additional desirability of an understanding.
If you will think it over, I daresay you will gather the force of my
remark.”

The New Yorker seemed not to have heard the remark, much less to have
understood it. He addressed the middle space between Horace and Tenney
in a meditative way: “Those two speech-making fellows who are here from
the Amalgamated Confederation of Labor, or whatever it is, can both be
had to kick up a row whenever we like. I know them both of old. They
notified me that they were coming here ten days ago. We can tell them
to keep their hands off the Canadians when they come next week, and
lead their crowd instead up to the Minster house. We’ll go over that
together, Tenney, later on. But about Tracy--perhaps these fellows
might--”

Wendover followed up the train of this thought in silence, with a
ruminative eye on vacancy.

“What I was saying,” insisted Horace, “was that I wanted to know just
how I stand.”

“I suppose it’s out of the question to square Tracy,” pursued Wendover,
thinking aloud, “and that Judge Waller that he’s applied to, he’s just
another such an impracticable cuss. There’s no security for business at
all, when such fellows have the power to muddle and interfere with it.
Tenney, _you_ know this Tracy. Why can’t you think of something?”

“As I remarked before,” Horace interposed once more, “what am I to get
out of this thing?”

This time the New Yorker heard him. He slowly turned his round,
white-framed face toward the speaker, and fixed upon him a penetrating
glance of wrath, suspicion, and dislike.

“Oh, _that_ is what you want to know, is it?” he said, abruptly, after a
momentary silence. “Well, sir, if you had your deserts, you’d get
about seven years’ hard labor. As it is, you’ve had over seven thousand
dollars out of the concern, and you’ve done seven hundred thousand
dollars’ worth of damage. If you can make a speech before Judge Waller
this week that will stave off all these things until after New Year’s,
perhaps I may forgive you some of the annoyance and loss your infernal
idiocy and self-conceit have caused us. When you’ve done that, it will
be time enough to talk to me about giving you another chance to keep
your salary. But understand this, sir! You never made a bigger mistake
in your life than in thinking you could dictate terms to Peter Wendover,
now or any other time! Why, you poor empty-headed creature, who do you
suppose _you_ could frighten? You’re as helpless as a June-bug in a
cistern with the curb shut down.”

The Judge had risen while speaking, and put on his overcoat. He took his
hat now, and glanced to note that Tenney was also on his feet. Then he
added these further words to the young man, whose head was drooping in
spite of himself, and whose figure had sunk into a crouching posture in
the easy-chair:

“Let me give you some advice. Take precious good care not to annoy me
any more while this business is on. I never did take much stock in you.
It was Tenney who picked you out, and who thought you could be useful.
I didn’t believe in you from the start. Now that I’ve summered and
wintered you, I stand amazed, by God! that I could ever have let you get
mixed up in my affairs. But here you are, and it will be easier for us
to put up with you, and carry you along, than throw you out. Besides,
you may be able to do some good, if what I’ve said puts any sense into
your head. But don’t run away with the idea that you are necessary to
us, or that you are going to share anything, as you call it, or that you
can so much as lift your finger against us without first of all crushing
yourself. This is plain talk, and it may help you to size yourself up as
you really are. According to your own notion of yourself, God Almighty’s
overcoat would have about made you a vest. My idee of you is different,
you see, and I’m a good deal nearer right than you are. I’ll send the
papers over to you to-morrow, and let us see what you will do with
them.”

The New York magnate turned on his heel at this, and, without any word
of adieu, he and Tenney left the room.

Horace sat until long after midnight in his chair, with the bottle
before him, half-dazed and overwhelmed amidst the shapeless ruins of his
ambition.



CHAPTER XXIX.--THE MISTS CLEARING AWAY.

 REUBEN Tracy rose at an unwontedly early hour next morning, under the
spur of consciousness that he had a very busy day before him. While he
was still at his breakfast in the hotel dining-room, John Fairchild came
to keep an appointment made the previous evening, and the two men were
out on the streets together before Thessaly seemed wholly awake.

Their first visit was to the owner of the building which the Citizens’
Club had thought of hiring, and their business here was promptly
despatched; thence they made their way to the house of a boss-carpenter,
and within the hour they had called upon a plumber, a painter, and one
or two other master artisans. By ten o’clock those of this number with
whom arrangements had been made had put in an appearance at the building
in question, and Tracy and Fairchild explained to them the plans which
they were to carry out. The discussion and settlement of these consumed
the time until noon, when the lawyer and the editor separated, and
Reuben went to his office.

Here, as had been arranged, he found old ’Squire Gedney waiting
for him. A long interview behind the closed door of the inner office
followed, and when the two men came out the justice of the peace was
putting a roll of bills into his pocket.

“This is Tuesday,” he said to Tracy. “I daresay I can be back by
Thursday. The bother about it is that Cadmus is such an out-of-the-way
place to get at.”

“At all events, I’ll count on seeing you Friday morning,” answered
Reuben. “Then, if you’ve got what I expect, we can go before the county
judge and get our warrants by Saturday, and that will be in plenty of
time for the grand jury next week.”

“If they don’t all eat their Christmas dinner in Auburn prison, call me
a Dutchman!” was Gedney’s confident remark, as he took his departure.

Reuben, thus left alone, walked up and down the larger room in
pleased excitement, his hands in his pockets and his eyes aglow with
satisfaction. So all-pervasive was his delight that it impelled him
to song, and he hummed to himself as he paced the floor a faulty
recollection of a tune his mother had been fond of, many years before.
Reuben had no memory for music, and knew neither the words nor the air,
but no winged outburst of exultation from a triumphant Viking in the
opera could have reflected a more jubilant mood.

He had unearthed the conspiracy, seized upon its avenues of escape,
laboriously traced all its subterranean burrowings. Even without the
proof which it was to be hoped that Gedney could bring from Cadmus,
Reuben believed he had information enough to justify criminal
proceedings. Nothing could be clearer than guilty collusion between this
New Yorker, Wendover, and some of the heads of the pig-iron trust to rob
Mrs. Minster and her daughters. At almost every turn and corner in the
ramification of the huge swindle, Tenney and Boyce also appeared. They
too should not escape. Reuben Tracy was the softest-hearted of men, but
it did not occur to him to relent when he thought of his late partner.
To the contrary, there was a decided pleasure in the reflection that
nothing could avert well-merited punishment from this particular young
man.

The triumph had its splendid public side, moreover. Great and lasting
good must follow such an exposure as he would make of the economic and
social evils underlying the system of trusts. A staggering blow would be
dealt to the system, and to the sentiment back of it that rich men might
do what they liked in America. With pardonable pride he thrilled at the
thought that his arm was to strike this blow. The effect would be felt
all over the country. It could not but affect public opinion, too, on
the subject of the tariff--that bomb-proof cover under which these
men had conducted their knavish operations. Reuben sang with increased
fervor as this passed through his mind.

On his way back from luncheon--which he still thought of as
dinner--Reuben Tracy stopped for a few moments at the building he and
Fairchild had rented. The carpenters were already at work, ripping down
the partitions on the ground floor, in a choking and clamorous confusion
of dust and sound of hammering. The visible energy of these workmen and
the noise they made were like a sympathetic continuation of his song of
success. He would have enjoyed staying for hours, watching and listening
to these proofs that he at last was doing something to help move the
world around.

When he came out upon the street again, it was to turn his steps to the
house of the Minsters. He had not been there since his visit in March,
and there was a certain embarrassment about his going now. It was really
Mrs. Minster’s house, and he had been put in the position of acting
against her, as counsel for her daughters. It was therefore a somewhat
delicate business. But Miss Kate had asked him to come, and he would
be sincerely glad of the opportunity of telling Mrs. Minster the whole
truth, if she would listen to it. Just what form this opportunity might
take he could not foresee; but his duty was so clear, and his arguments
must carry such absolute conviction, that he approached the ordeal with
a light heart.

Miss Kate came down into the drawing-room to receive him, and Reuben
noted with a deep joy that she again wore the loose robe of creamy
cloth, girdled by that same enchanted rope of shining white silk.
Something made him feel, too, that she observed the pleased glance of
recognition he bestowed upon her garments, and understood it, and
was not vexed. Their relations had been distinctly cordial--even
confidential--for the past fortnight; but the reappearance of this
sanctified and symbolical gown--this mystical robe which he had
enshrined in his heart with incense and candles and solemn veneration,
as does the Latin devotee with the jewelled dress of the Bambino--seemed
of itself to establish a far more tender intimacy between them. He
became conscious, all at once, that she knew of his love.

“I have asked mamma to see you,” she said, when they were seated, “and
I think she will. Since it was first suggested to her, she has wavered a
good deal, sometimes consenting, sometimes not. The poor lady is almost
distracted with the trouble in which we have all become involved, and
that makes it all the more difficult for her to see things in their
proper connection. I hope you may be able to show her just how matters
stand, and who her real friends are.”

The girl left at this, and in a few moments reappeared with her mother,
to whom she formally presented Mr. Tracy.

If Mrs. Minster had suffered great mental anguish since the troubles
came on, her countenance gave no hint of the fact. It was as regular and
imperturbable and deceptively impressive as ever, and she bore herself
with perfect self-possession, bowing with frosty precision, and seating
herself in silence.

Reuben himself began the talk by explaining that the steps which he had
felt himself compelled to take in the interest of the daughters implied
not the slightest hostility to the mother. They had had, in fact, the
ultimate aim of helping her as well. He had satisfied himself that she
was in the clutch of a criminal conspiracy to despoil her estate
and that of her daughters. It was absolutely necessary to act
with promptness, and, as he was not her lawyer, to temporarily and
technically separate the interest of her daughters from her own, for
legal purposes. All that had been done was, however, quite as much to
her advantage as to that of her daughters, and when he had explained to
her the entire situation he felt sure she would be willing to allow him
to represent her as well as her daughters in the effort to protect the
property and defeat the conspiracy.

Mrs. Minster offered no comment upon this expression of confidence, and
Reuben went on to lay before her the whole history of the case. He
did this with great clearness--as if he had been talking to a
child--pointing out to her how the scheme of plunder originated, where
its first operations revealed themselves, and what part in turn each of
the three conspirators had played.

She listened to it all with an expressionless face, and though she must
have been startled and shocked by a good deal of it, Reuben could gather
no indication from her manner of her feelings or her opinions. When he
had finished, and his continued silence rendered it clear that he was
not going to say any more, she made her first remark.

“I’m much obliged to you, I’m sure,” she said, with no sign of emotion.
“It was very kind of you to explain it to me. But of course _they_
explain it quite differently.”

“No doubt,” answered Reuben. “That is just what they would do. The
difference is that they have lied to you, and that I have told you what
the books, what the proofs, really show.”

“I have known Peter Wendover since we were children together,” she said,
after a momentary pause, “and _he_ never would have advised my daughters
to sue their own mother!”

Reuben suppressed a groan. “Nobody has sued you, Mrs. Minster; least
of all, your daughters,” he tried to explain. “The actions I have
brought--that is, including the applications--are directed against the
men who have combined to swindle you, not at all against you. They might
just as well have been brought in your name also, only that I had no
power to act for you.”

“It is the same as suing me. Judge Wendover said so,” was her reply.

“What I seek to have you realize is that Judge Wendover purposely
misleads you. He is the head and front of the conspiracy to rob you.
I am going to have him indicted for it. The proofs are as plain as a
pikestaff. How, then, can you continue to believe what he tells you?”

“I quite believe that you mean well, Mr. Tracy,” said Mrs. Minster. “But
lawyers, you know, always take opposite sides. One lawyer tells you one
thing; then the other swears to precisely the contrary. Don’t think I
blame them. Of course they have to do it. But you know what I mean.”

A little more of this hopeless conversation ensued, and then Mrs.
Minster rose. “Don’t let me drive you away, Mr. Tracy,” she said, as
he too got upon his feet. “But if you will excuse me--I’ve had so much
worry lately--and these headaches come on every afternoon now.”

As Reuben walked beside her to open the door, he ventured to say: “It
is a very dear wish of mine, Mrs. Minster, to remove all this cause for
worry, and to get you back control over your property, and to rid you
of these scoundrels, root and branch. For your own sake and that of your
daughters, let me beg of you to take no step that will embarrass me in
the fight. There is nothing that you could do now to specially help me,
except to do nothing at all.”

“If you mean for me not to sue my daughters,” she said, as he opened the
door, “you may rest easy. Nothing would tempt me to do _that!_ The very
idea of such a thing is too dreadful. Good-day, sir.”

Reuben this time did not repress the groan, after he had closed the door
upon Mrs. Minster. He realized that he had made no more impression on
her mind than ordnance practice makes on a sandbank. He did not attempt
to conceal his dejection as he returned to where Kate sat, and resumed
his chair in front of her. The daughter’s smiling face, however,
partially reassured him, “That’s mamma all over,” she said. “Isn’t it
wonderful how those old race types reappear, even in our day? She is
as Dutch as any lady of Haarlem that Franz Hals ever painted. Her mind
works sidewise, like a crab. I’m _so_ glad you told her everything!”

“If I could only feel that it had had any result,” said Reuben.

“Oh, but it will have!” the girl insisted confidently. “I’m sure she
liked you very much.”

“That reminds me--” the lawyer spoke musingly--“I think I was told
once that she didn’t like me; that she stipulated that I was not to be
consulted about her business by--by my then partner. I wonder why that
was. Do you know?”

“I have an idea,” said Kate. Then she stopped, and a delicate shadowy
flush passed over her face. “But it was nothing,” she added, hastily,
after a long pause. She could not bring herself to mention that year-old
foolish gossip about the Lawton girl.

Reuben did not press for an answer, but began telling her about the work
he and Fairchild had inaugurated that morning. “We are not going to wait
for the committee,” he said. “The place can be in some sort of
shape within a week, I hope, and then we are going to open it as a
reading-room first of all, where every man of the village who behaves
himself can be free to come. There will be tea and coffee at low prices;
and if the lockout continues, I’ve got plans for something else--a kind
of soup-kitchen. We sha’n’t attempt to put the thing on a business basis
at all until the men have got to work again. Then we will leave it to
them, as to how they will support it, and what shall be done with the
other rooms. By the way, I haven’t seen much lately of the Lawton girl’s
project. I’ve heard vaguely that a start had been made, and that it
seemed to work well. Are you pleased with it?”

Kate answered in a low voice: “I have never been there but once since we
met there last winter. I did what I promised, in the way of assistance,
but I did not go again. I too have heard vaguely that it was a success.”

Reuben looked such obvious inquiry that that young lady felt impelled to
explain: “The very next day after I went there last with the money and
the plan, I heard some very painful things about the girl--about her
present life, I mean--from a friend, or rather from one whom I took then
to be a friend; and what he said prejudiced me, I suppose--”

A swift intuition helped Reuben to say: “By a friend’ you mean Horace
Boyce!”

Kate nodded her head in assent. As for Reuben, he rose abruptly from his
seat, motioning to his companion to keep her chair. He thrust his hands
into his pockets, and began pacing up and down along the edge of the
sofa at her side, frowning at the carpet.

“Miss Kate,” he said at last, in a voice full of strong feeling, “there
is no possibility of my telling you what an infernal blackguard that man
is.”

“Yes, he has behaved very badly,” she said. “I suppose I am to blame for
having listened to him at all. But he had seen me there at her place,
through the glass door, and he seemed so anxious to keep me from being
imposed upon, and possibly compromised, that--”

“My dear young lady,” broke in Reuben, “you have no earthly idea of the
cruelty and meanness of what he did by saying that to you. I can’t--or
yes, why shouldn’t I? The fact is that that poor girl--and when she was
at my school she was as honest and good and clever a child as I ever saw
in my life--owed her whole misery and wretchedness to Horace Boyce. I
never dreamed of it, either at the time or later; in fact, until the
very day I met you at the milliner’s shop. Somehow I mentioned that he
was my partner, and then she told me. And then, knowing that, I had
to sit still all summer and see him coming here every day, on intimate
terms with you and your sister and mother.” Reuben stopped himself with
the timely recollection that this was an unauthorized emotion, and
added hurriedly: “But I never could have imagined such baseness, to
deliberately slander her to you!”

Kate did not at once reply, and when she did speak it was to turn the
talk away from Horace Boyce. “I will go and see her to-morrow,” she
said.

“I am very glad to hear you say that,” was Reuben’s comment. “It is like
you to say it,” he went on, with brightening eyes. “It is a benediction
to be the friend of a young woman like you, who has no impulses that are
not generous, and whose only notion of power is to help others.”

“I shall not like you if you begin to flatter,” she replied, with mock
austerity, and an answering light in her eyes. “I am really a very
perverse and wrong-headed girl, distinguished only for having never done
any good at all. And anybody who says otherwise is not a friend, but a
flatterer, and I am weary of false tongues.”

Miss Ethel came in while Reuben was still turning over in his mind the
unexpressed meanings of these words, and with her entrance the talk
became general once more.

The lawyer described to the two sisters the legal steps he had taken,
and their respective significance, and then spoke of his intention to
make a criminal complaint as soon as some additional proof, now being
sought, should come to hand.

Ethel clapped her hands. “And Horace Boyce will go to prison, then?” she
asked, eagerly.

“There is a strong case against him,” answered Reuben.

The graveness of his tone affected the girl’s spirits, and led her to
say in an altered voice: “I don’t want to be unkind, and I daresay I
shall be silly enough to cry in private if the thing really happens; but
when I think of the trouble and wickedness he has been responsible for,
and of the far more terrible mischief he might have wrought in this
family if I--that is, if we had not come to you as we did, I simply
_hate_ him.”

“Don’t let us talk about him any more, puss,” said Kate, soberly, rising
as she spoke.



CHAPTER XXX.--JESSICA’S GREAT DESPAIR.

 It was on the following day that a less important member of society
than Miss Minster resolved to also pay a visit to the milliner’s shop.

Ben Lawton’s second wife--for she herself scarcely thought of “Mrs.
Lawton” as a title appertaining to her condition of ill-requited
servitude--had become possessed of some new clothes. Their monetary
value was not large, but they were warm and respectable, with bugle
trimming on the cloak, and a feather rising out of real velvet on the
bonnet; and they were new all together at the same time, a fact which
impressed her mind by its novelty even more than did the inherent charm
of acquisition.

To go out in this splendid apparel was an obvious duty. Where to go was
less clear. The notion of going shopping loomed in the background of
Mrs. Lawton’s thoughts for a while, but in a formless and indistinct
way, and then disappeared again. Her mind was not civilized enough to
assimilate the idea of loitering around among the stores when she had no
money with which to buy anything.

Gradually the conception of a visit to her step-Jessica took shape in
her imagination.

Perhaps the fact that she owed her new clothes to the bounty of this
girl helped forward this decision. There was also a certain curiosity to
see the child who was Ben’s grandson, and so indirectly related to her,
and for whose anomalous existence there was more than one precedent in
her own family, and who might turn out to resemble her own little lost
Alonzo. But the consideration which primarily dictated her choice was
that there was no other place to go to.

Her reception by Jessica, when she finally found her way by Samantha’s
complicated directions to the shop, was satisfactorily cordial. She was
allowed to linger for a time in the show-room, and satiate bewilderment
over the rich plumes, and multi-colored velvets and ribbons there
displayed; then she was taken into the domestic part of the building,
where she was asked like a real visitor to take off her cloak and
bonnet, and sat down to enjoy the unheard-of luxury of seeing somebody
else getting a “meal of victuals” ready. The child was playing by
himself back of the stove with some blocks. He seemed to take no
interest in his new relation, and Mrs. Lawton saw that if Alonzo
had lived he would not have looked like this boy, who was blonde
and delicate, with serious eyes and flaxen curls, and a high, rather
protuberant forehead.

The brevet grandmother heard with surprise from Lucinda that this
five-year-old child already knew most of his letters. She stole furtive
glances at him after this, from time to time, and as soon as Jessica had
gone out into the store and closed the door she asked:

“Don’t his head look to you like water on the brain?”

Lucinda shook her head emphatically: “He’s healthy enough,” she said.

“And his name’s Horace, you say?”

“Yes, that’s what I said,” replied the girl.

Mrs. Lawton burned to ask what other name the lad bore, but the
peremptory tones of her daughter warned her off. Instead she remarked:
“And so he’s been livin’ in Tecumseh all this while? They seem to have
brung him up pretty good--teachin’ him his A B C’s and curlin’ his
hair.”

“He had a good home. Jess paid high, and the people took a liking to
him,” said Lucinda.

“I s’pose they died or broke up housekeepin’,” tentatively suggested
Mrs. Lawton.

“No: Jess wanted him here, or thought she did.” Lucinda’s loyalty to her
sister prompted her to stop the explanation at this. But she herself
had been sorely puzzled and tried by the change which had come over
the little household since the night of the boy’s arrival, and the
temptation to put something of this into words was too strong to be
mastered.

“I wish myself he hadn’t come at all,” she continued from the table
where she was at work. “Not but that he’s a good enough young-one, and
lots of company for us both, but Jess ain’t been herself at all since
she brought him here. It ain’t his fault--poor little chap--but she
fetched him from Tecumseh on account of something special; and then
that something didn’t seem to come off, and she’s as blue as a whetstone
about it, and that makes everything blue. And there we are!”

Lucinda finished in a sigh, and proceeded to rub grease on the inside of
her cake tins with a gloomy air.

*****

In the outer shop, Jessica found herself standing surprised and silent
before the sudden apparition of a visitor whom she had least of all
expected--Miss Kate Minster.

The bell which formerly jangled when the street door opened had been
taken off because it interfered with the child’s mid-day sleep, and
Jessica herself had been so deeply lost in a brown study where she sat
sewing behind the counter that she had not noted the entrance of the
young lady until she stood almost within touch. Then she rose hurriedly,
and stood confused and tongue-tied, her work in hand. She dropped this
impediment when Miss Minster offered to shake hands with her, but even
this friendly greeting did not serve to restore her self-command or
induce a smile.

“I have a thousand apologies to make for leaving you alone all this
while,” said Kate. “But--we have been so troubled of late--and, selfish
like, I have forgotten everything else. Or no--I won’t say that--for I
have thought a great deal about you and your work. And now you must tell
me all about both.”

Miss Minster had seated herself as she spoke, and loosened the boa
about her throat, but Jessica remained standing. She idly noted that no
equipage and coachman were in waiting outside, and let the comment drift
to her tongue. “You walked, I see,” she said.

“Yes,” replied Kate. “It isn’t pleasant to take out the horses now. The
streets are full of men out of work, and they blame us for it, and to
see us drive about seems to make them angry. I suppose it’s a natural
enough feeling; but the boys pelted our coachman with snowballs the
other day, while my sister and I were driving, and the men on the corner
all laughed and encouraged them. But if I walk nobody molests me.”

The young lady, as she said this with an air of modest courage, had
never looked so beautiful before in Jessica’s eyes, or appealed so
powerfully to her liking and admiration. But the milliner was conscious
of an invasion of other and rival feelings which kept her face smileless
and hardened the tone of her voice.

“Yes, the men feel very bitterly,” she said. “I know that from the
girls. A good many of them--pretty nearly all, for that matter--have
stopped coming here, since the lockout, because _your_ money furnished
the Resting House. That shows how strong the feeling is.”

“You amaze me!”

There was no pretence in Miss Kate’s emotion. She looked at Jessica with
wide-open eyes, and the astonishment in the gaze visibly softened and
saddened into genuine pain. “Oh, I _am_ so sorry!” she said. “I never
thought of _that_. Tell me--what can be done? How can we get that cruel
notion out of their heads? I did so _truly_ want to help the girls.
Surely there must be some way of making them realize this. The closing
of the works, that is a business matter with which I had nothing to do,
and which I didn’t approve; but this plan of yours, _that_ was really
a pet of mine. It is only by a stupid accident that I did not come here
often, and get to know the girls, and show them how interested I was in
everything. When Mr. Tracy spoke of you yesterday, I resolved to come at
once, and tell you how ashamed I was.”

Jessica’s heart was deeply stirred by this speech, and filled with
yearnings of tenderness toward the beautiful and good patrician. But
some strange, undefined force in her mind held all this softness in
subjection.

“The girls are gone,” she said, almost coldly. “They will not come
back--at least for a long time, until all this trouble is forgotten.”

“They hate me too much,” groaned Kate, in grieved self-abasement.

“They don’t know _you!_ What they think of is that it is the Minster
money; that is what they hate. To take away from the men with a shovel,
and give back to the girls with a spoon--they won’t stand that!” The
latent class-feeling of a factory town flamed up in Jessica’s bosom,
intolerant and vengeful, as she listened to her own words. “I would
feel like that myself, if I were in their place,” she said, in curt
conclusion.

The daughter of the millions sat for a little in pained irresolution.
She was conscious of impulses toward anger at the coldness, almost the
rudeness, of this girl whom she had gone far out of and beneath her way
to assist. Her own class-feeling, too, subtly prompted her to dismiss
with contempt the thought of these thick-fingered, uncouth factory-girls
who were rejecting her well-meant bounty. But kindlier feelings strove
within her mind, too, and kept her for the moment undecided.

She looked up at Jessica, as if in search for help, and her woman’s
heart suddenly told her that the changes in the girl’s face, vaguely
apparent to her before, were the badges of grief and unrest. All the
annoyance she had been nursing fled on the instant. Her eyes moistened,
and she laid her hand softly on the other’s arm.

“_You_ at least mustn’t think harshly of me,” she said with a smile.
“That would be _too_ sad. I would give a great deal if the furnaces
could be opened to-morrow--if they had never been shut. Not even the
girls whose people are out of work feel more deeply about the thing
than I do. But--after all, time must soon set that right. Tell me about
yourself. You are not looking well. Is there nothing I can do for you?”

An answering moisture came into Jessica’s eyes as she met the other’s
look. She shook her head, and withdrew her wrist from the kindly
pressure of Kate’s hand.

“I spoke of you at length with Mr. Tracy,” Kate went on, gently. “_Do_
believe that we are both anxious to do all we can for you, in whatever
form you like. You have never spoken about more money for the Resting
House. Isn’t your store about exhausted? If it is, don’t hesitate for a
moment to let me know. And mayn’t I go and see the house, now that I am
here? You know I have never been inside it once since you took it.”

For a second or two Jessica hesitated. It cost her a great deal
to maintain the unfriendly attitude she had taken up, and she was
hopelessly at sea as to why she was paying this price for unalloyed
unhappiness. Yet still she persisted doggedly, and as it were in spite
of herself.

“It’s a good deal run down just now,” she said. “Since the trouble came,
Lucinda and I haven’t kept it up. You’d like better to see it some time
when it was in order; that is, if I--if it isn’t given up altogether!”

The despairing intonation of these closing words was not lost upon Kate.
She looked up quickly.

“Why do you speak like that?” she said. “Are you discouraged, Jessica?
Oh, I hope it isn’t as bad as that!”

“I’m thinking a good deal of going away. You and Miss Wilcox can put
somebody else here, and keep open the house. It doesn’t need me. My
heart isn’t in it any more.”

The girl forced herself through these words with a mournful effort. The
hot tears came to her eyes before she had finished, and she turned away
abruptly, walking behind the counter to the front of the shop.

Miss Minster rose and went to her. “There is something you are not
telling me, my child,” she urged with tender earnestness. “What is it?
Are you in trouble? Tell me. _Let_ me help you!”

“There is nothing--nothing at all,” Jessica made answer. “Only I am not
happy here. It was a mistake to come. And there are--other things--that
were a mistake, too.”

“Why not confide in me, dear? Why not let me help you?”

“How could _you_ help me?” The girl spoke with momentary impatience.
“There are things that _money_ can’t help.”

The rich young lady drew herself up instinctively, and tightened the fur
about her neck. The words affected her almost like an affront.

“I’m very sorry,” she said, with an obvious cooling of manner. “I did
not mean money alone. I had hoped you felt I was your friend. And I
still want to be, if occasion arises. I shall be very much grieved,
indeed, if you do not let me know, at any and all times, when I can be
of use to you.”

She held out her hand, evidently as an indication that she was going.
Jessica saw the hand through a mist of smarting tears, and took it, not
daring to look up. She was filled with longings to kiss this hand, to
cry out for forgiveness, to cast herself upon the soft shelter of this
sweet friendship, so sweetly proffered. But there was some strange spell
which held her back, and, still through the aching film of tears, she
saw the gloved hand withdrawn. A soft “good-by” spread its pathos upon
the silence about her, and then Miss Minster was gone.

Jessica stood for a time, looking blankly into the street. Then she
turned and walked with unconscious directness, as in a dream, through
the back rooms and across the yard to the Resting House. She had passed
her stepmother, her sister, and her child without bestowing a glance
upon them, and she wandered now through the silent building aimlessly,
without power to think of what she saw. Although the furniture was
still of the most primitive and unpretentious sort, there were many
little appliances for the comfort of the girls, in which she had had
much innocent delight. The bath-rooms on the upper floor, the willow
rocking-chairs in the sitting-room, the neat row of cups and saucers
in the glassfaced cupboard, the magazines and pattern books on the
table--all these it had given her pleasure to contemplate only a
fortnight ago. Now they were nothing to her. She noted that the fire in
the base-burner had gone out, though the reservoir still seemed full of
coal. She was conscious of a vague sense of fitness in its having gone
out. The fire that had burned within her heart was in ashes, too. She
put her apron to her eyes and wept vehemently, here in solitude.

Lucinda came out, nearly an hour later, to find her sister sitting
disconsolate by the fireless stove, shivering with the cold, and staring
into vacancy.

She put her broad arm with maternal kindness around Jessica’s waist, and
led her unresisting toward the door. “Never mind, sis,” she murmured,
with clumsy sympathy. “Come in and play with Horace.”

Jessica, shuddering again with the chill, buried her face on her
sister’s shoulder, and wept supinely. There was not an atom of courage
remaining in her heart.

“You are low down and miserable,” pursued Lucinda, compassionately.
“I’ll make you up some boneset tea. It’ll be lucky if you haven’t caught
your death a-cold out here so long.” She had taken a shawl, which hung
in the hallway, and wrapped it about her sister’s shoulders.

“I half wish I had,” sobbed Jessica. “There’s no fight left in me any
more.”

“What’s the matter, anyway?”

“If I knew myself,” the girl groaned in answer, “perhaps I could do
something; but I don’t. I can’t think, I can’t eat or sleep or work. O
God! what is the matter with me?”



CHAPTER XXXI.--A STRANGE ENCOUNTER.

 A SOMBRE excitement reigned in Thessaly next day, when it became known
that the French-Cana-dian workmen whom the rolling-mill people were
importing would arrive in the village within the next few hours. They
were coming through from Massachusetts, and watchful eyes at Troy had
noted their temporary halt there and the time of the train they took
westward. The telegraph sped forward the warning, and fully a thousand
idle men in Thessaly gathered about the dépôt, both inside and on the
street without, to witness the unwelcome advent.

Some indefinite rumors of the sensation reached the secluded milliner’s
shop on the back street, during the day. Ben Lawton drifted in to warm
himself during the late forenoon, and told of the stirring scenes that
were expected. He was quick to observe that Jessica was not looking
well, and adjured her to be careful about the heavy cold which she said
she had taken. The claims upon him of the excitement outside were too
strong to be resisted, but he promised to look in during the afternoon
and tell them the news.

The daylight of the November afternoon was beginning imperceptibly
to wane before any further tidings of the one topic of great public
interest reached the sisters. One of the better class of factory-girls
came in to gossip with Lucinda, and she brought with her a veritable
budget of information. The French Canadians had arrived, and with them
came some Pinkerton detectives, or whatever they were called, who were
said to be armed to the teeth. The crowd had fiercely hooted these
newcomers and their guards, and there had been a good deal of angry
hustling. For awhile it looked as if a fight must ensue; but, somehow,
it did not come off. The Canadians, in a body, had gone with their
escort to the row of new cottages which the company had hired for them,
followed by a diminishing throng of hostile men and boys. There were
numerous personal incidents to relate, and the two sisters listened with
deep interest to the whole recital.

When it was finished the girl still sat about, evidently with something
on her mind. At last, with a blunt “Can I speak to you for a moment?”
 she led Jessica out into the shop. There, in a whisper, with repeated
affirmations and much detail, she imparted the confidential portion of
her intelligence.

The effect of this information upon Jessica was marked and immediate.
As soon as the girl had gone she hastened to the living-room, and began
hurriedly putting on her boots. The effort of stooping to button them
made her feverish head ache, and she was forced to call the amazed
Lucinda to her assistance.

“You’re crazy to think of going out such a day as this,” protested the
girl, “and you with such a cold, too.”

“It’s got to be done,” said Jessica, her eyes burning with eagerness,
and her cheeks flushed. “If it killed me, it would have to be done. But
I’ll bundle up warm. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.” Refusing
to listen to further dissuasion she hastily put on her hat and cloak,
and then with nervous rapidity wrote a note, sealed it up tightly with
an envelope, and marked on it, with great plainness, the address: “Miss
Kate Minster.”

“Give this to father when he comes,” she cried, “and tell him--”

Ben Lawton’s appearance at the door interrupted the directions. He was
too excited about the events of the day to be surprised at seeing the
daughter he had left an invalid now dressed for the street; but she
curtly stopped the narrative which he began.

“We’ve heard all about it,” she said. “I want you to come with me now.”

Lucinda watched the dominant sister drag on and button her gloves with
apprehension and solicitude written all over her honest face. “Now, do
be careful,” she repeated more than once.

As Jessica said “I’m ready now,” and turned to join her father, the
little boy came into the shop through the open door of the living-room.
A swift instinct prompted the mother to go to him and stoop to kiss him
on the forehead. The child smiled at her; and when she was out in
the street, walking so hurriedly that her father found the gait
unprecedented in his languid experience, she still dwelt curiously in
her mind upon the sweetness of that infantile smile.

And this, by some strange process, suddenly brought clearness and order
to her thoughts. Under the stress of this nervous tension, perhaps
because of the illness which she felt in every bone, yet which seemed to
clarify her senses, her mind was all at once working without confusion.

She saw now that what had depressed her, overthrown her self-control,
impelled her to reject the kindness of Miss Minster, had been the
humanization, so to speak, of her ideal, Reuben Tracy. The bare thought
of his marrying and giving in marriage--of his being in love with the
rich girl--this it was that had so strangely disturbed her. Looking at
it now, it was the most foolish thing in the world. What on earth had
she to do with Reuben Tracy? There could never conceivably have entered
her head even the most vagrant and transient notion that he--no, she
would not put _that_ thought into form, even in her own mind. And were
there two young people in all the world who had more claim to her good
wishes than Reuben and Kate? She answered this heartily in the negative,
and said to herself that she truly was glad that they loved each other.
Yes, she was glad! She bit her lips, and insisted on repeating this to
her own thoughts.

But why, then, had the discovery of this so unnerved her? She answered
the question only vaguely. It must have been because the idea of their
happiness made the isolation of her own life so miserably clear; because
she felt that they had forgotten her and her work in their new-found
concern for each other. Yes, that would be the reason. She was all over
that weak folly now. She had it in her power to help them, and dim,
half-formed wishes that she might give life itself to their service
flitted across her mind.

She had spoken never a word to her father all this while, and had seemed
to take no note either of direction or of what and whom she passed; but
she stopped now in front of the doorway in Main Street which bore the
law-sign of Reuben Tracy. “Wait for me here,” she said to Ben, and
disappeared up the staircase.

Jessica made her way with some difficulty up the second flight. Her head
burned with the exertion, and there was a novel numbness in her limbs;
but she gave this only a passing thought.

The door of the office was locked. On the panel was tacked a white
half-sheet of paper. It was not easy to decipher the inscription in the
failing light, but she finally made it out to be:

“_Called away until noon to-morrow (Friday)_.”

The girl leaned against the door-sill for support. In the first moment
or two it seemed to her that she was going to swoon. Then resolution
came back to her, and with it a new store of strength, and she went down
the stairs again slowly and in terrible doubt as to what should now be
done.

The memory suddenly came to her of the one other time she had been in
this stairway, when she had stood in the darkness with her little boy,
gathered up against the wall to allow the two Minster ladies to pass.
Upon the heels of this chased the recollection--with such lack of
sequence do our thoughts follow one another--of the singularly sweet
smile her little boy had bestowed upon her, half an hour since, when she
kissed him.

The smile had lingered in her mind as a beautiful picture. Walking down
the stairs now, in the deepening shadows, the revelation dawned upon her
all at once--it was his father’s smile! Yes, yes--hurriedly the fancy
reared itself in her thoughts--thus the lover of her young girlhood had
looked upon her. The delicate, clever face; the prettily arched lips;
the soft, light curls upon the forehead; the tenderly beaming blue
eyes--all were the same.

Often--alas! very often--this resemblance had forced itself upon her
consciousness before. But now, lighted up by that chance babyish smile,
it came to her in the guise of a novelty, and with a certain fascination
in it. Her head seemed to have ceased to ache, now that this almost
pleasant thought had entered it. It was passing strange, she felt, that
any sense of comfort should exist for her in memories which had fed
her soul upon bitterness for so long a time. Yet it was already on the
instant apparent to her that when she should next have time to think,
that old episode would assume less hateful aspects than it had always
presented before.

But now there was no time to think.

At the street door she found her father leaning against a shutter and
discussing the events of the day with the village lamplighter, who
carried a ladder on his shoulder, and reported great popular agitation
to exist.

Jessica beckoned Ben summarily aside, and put into his hands the letter
she had written at the shop. “I want you to take this at once to Miss
Minster, at her house,” she said, hurriedly. “See to it that she gets it
herself. Be sure you wait for an answer. Don’t say a word to any living
soul. Do just what she tells you to do. I’ve said you can be depended
upon. If you show yourself a man, it may make your fortune. Now, hurry;
and I do hope you will do me credit!”

Under the spur of this surprising exhortation, Ben walked away with
unexampled rapidity, until he had overtaken the lamplighter, from whom
he borrowed some chewing tobacco.

The girl, left to herself, began walking irresolutely down Main Street.
The flaring lights in the store windows seemed to add to the confusion
of her mind. It had appeared to be important to send her father away at
once, but now she began to regret that she had not kept him to help her
in her search. For Reuben Tracy must be found at all hazards.

How to go to work to trace him she did not know. She had no notion
whatever as to who his intimate friends were. The best device she could
think of would be to ask about him at the various law-offices; for she
had heard that however much lawyers might pretend to fight one another
in court, they were all on very good terms outside.

Some little distance down the street she came upon the door of another
stairway which bore a number of lawyers’ signs. The windows all up the
front of this building were lighted, and without further examination she
ascended the first flight of stairs. The landing was almost completely
dark, but an obscured gleam came from the dusty transoms over three or
four doors close about her. She knocked on one of these at random, and
in response to an inarticulate vocal sound from within, opened the door
and entered.

It was a square, medium-sized room in which she found herself, with
a long, paper-littered table in the centre, and tall columns of light
leather-covered books rising along the walls. At the opposite end of the
chamber a man sat at a desk, his back turned to her, his elbows on the
desk, and his head in his hands. The shaded light in front of him made a
mellow golden fringe around the outline of his hair.

A sudden bewildering tumult burst forth in the girl’s breast as she
looked at this figure. Then, as suddenly, the recurring mental echoes of
the voice which had bidden her enter rose above this tumult and stilled
it. A gentle and comforting warmth stole through her veins. This was
Horace Boyce who sat there before her--and she did not hate him!

During that instant in which she stood by the door, a whole flood of
self-illumination flashed its rays into every recess of her mind. This,
then, was the strange, formless opposing impulse which had warred with
the other in her heart for this last miserable fortnight, and dragged
her nearly to distraction. She recognized it now, and welcomed it.

The bringing home of her boy had revived for her, by occult and subtle
processes, the old romance in which his father had been framed, as might
a hero be by sunlit clouds. She hugged the thought to her heart, and
stood looking at’ him motionless and mute.

“Well, who is it? What is wanted?” he called out, querulously, without
changing his posture.

Jessica moved slowly toward him. It was as if a magic voice drew her
forward in a dream--herself all rapt and dumb.

Irritably impressed by the continued silence, Horace lifted his head,
and swung abruptly around in his chair. His own shadow obscured the
features of his visitor. He saw only that it was a lady, and rose
hesitatingly to his feet.

“Excuse me,” he mumbled, “I was busy with my thoughts, and did not know
who it was.”

“Do you know now?” Jessica heard herself ask, as in a trance. The balmy
warmth in her own heart told her that she was smiling.

Horace took a step or two obliquely forward, so that the light fell on
her face. He peered with a confounded gaze at her for a moment, then let
his arms fall limp at his sides.

“In the name of the dev--” he began, confusedly, and then bit the word
short, and stared at her again. “Is it really you?” he asked at last,
reassured in part by her smile.

“Are you sorry to see me?” she asked in turn. Her mind could frame
nothing but these soft little meaningless queries.

The young man seemed in doubt how best to answer this question. He
turned around and looked abstractedly at his desk; then with a slight
detour he walked past her, opened the door, and glanced up and down the
dark stairway. When he had closed the door once more, he turned the key
in the lock, and then, after momentary reflection, concluded to unlock
it again.

“Why, no; why should I be?” he said in a more natural voice, as he
returned and stood beside her. Evidently her amiability was a more
difficult surprise for him to master than her original advent, and he
studied her face with increasing directness of gaze to make sure of it.

“Come and sit down here,” he said, after a few moments of this puzzled
inspection, and resumed his own chair. “I want a good look at you,” he
explained, as he lifted the shade from the lamp.

Jessica felt that she was blushing under this new radiance, and it
required an effort to return his glance. But, when she did so, the
changes in his face and expression which it revealed drove everything
else from her mind. She rose from her chair upon a sudden impulse,
and bent over him at a diffident distance. As she did so, she had the
feeling that this bitterness in which she had encased herself for years
had dropped from her on the instant like a discarded garment.

“Why, Horace, your hair is quite gray!” she said, as if the fact
contained the sublimation of pathos.

“There’s been trouble enough to turn it white twenty times over! You
don’t know what I’ve been through, my girl,” he said, sadly. The
novel sensation of being sympathized with, welcome as it was, greatly
accentuated his sense of deserving compassion.

“I am very sorry,” she said, softly. She had seated herself again, and
was gradually recovering her self-possession. The whole situation was
so remarkable, not to say startling, that she found herself regarding it
from the outside, as if she were not a component part of it. Her pulses
were no longer strongly stirred by its personal phases. Most clear of
all things in her mind was that she was now perfectly independent of
this or any other man. She was her own master, and need ask favors from
nobody. Therefore, if it pleased her to call bygones bygones and make a
friend of Horace--or even to put a bandage across her eyes and cull from
those bygones only the rose leaves and violet blossoms, and make for her
weary soul a bed of these--what or who was to prevent her?

Some inexplicable, unforeseen revulsion of feeling had made him pleasant
in her sight again. There was no doubt about it--she had genuine
satisfaction in sitting here opposite him and looking at him. Had she
so many pleasures, then, that she should throw this unlooked-for boon
deliberately away?

Moreover--and here the new voices called most loudly in her heart--he
was worn and unhappy. The iron had palpably entered his soul too. He
looked years older than he had any chronological right to look. There
were heavy lines of anxiety on his face, and his blonde hair was
powdered thick with silver.

“Yes, I am truly sorry,” she said again. “Is it business that has gone
wrong with you?”

“Business--family--health--sleep--everything!” he groaned, bitterly. “It
is literally a hell that I have been living in this last--these last few
months!”

“I had no idea of that,” she said, simply. Of course it would be
ridiculous to ask if there was anything she could do, but she had
comfort from the thought that he must realize what was in her mind.

“So help me God, Jess!” he burst out vehemently, under the incentive of
her sympathy, “I’m coming to believe that every man is a scoundrel, and
every woman a fool!”

“There was a long time when _I_ thought that,” she said with a sigh.

He looked quickly at her from under his brows, and then as swiftly
turned his glance away. “Yes, I know,” he answered uneasily, tapping
with his fingers on the desk.

“But we won’t talk of that,” she urged, with a little tremor of anxiety
in her tone. “We needn’t talk of that at all. It was merely by accident
that I came here, Horace. I wanted to ask a question, and nothing was
further from my head than finding you here.”

“Let’s see--Mart Jocelyn had this place up to a couple of months ago.
Was it he you came to see? I didn’t know you knew him.”

“No, you foolish boy!” she said, with a smile which had a ground tone
of sadness. “I never heard of him before. It was simply any lawyer I was
looking for. But what I wanted to say was that I am not angry with you
any more. I’ve learned a host of bitter lessons since we were--young
together, and I’m too much alone in the world to want to keep you an
enemy. You don’t seem so very happy yourself, Horace. Why shouldn’t
we two be friends again? I’m not talking of anything else,
Horace--understand me. But it appeals to me very strongly, this idea of
our being friends again.”

Horace looked meditatively at her, with softening eyes. “You’re the best
of the lot, dear old Jess,” he said at last, smiling candidly. “Truly
I’m glad you came--gladder than I can tell you. I was in the very slough
of despond when you entered; and now--well, at least I’m going to play
that I am out of it.”

Jessica rose with a beaming countenance, and laid her hand frankly on
his shoulder. “I’m glad I came, too,” she said. “And very soon I want to
see you again--when you are quite free--and have a long, quiet talk.”

“All right, my girl,” he answered, rising as well. The prospect seemed
entirely attractive to him. He took her hand in his, and said again:
“All right. And must you go now?”

“Oh, mercy, yes!” she exclaimed, with sudden recollection. “I had no
business to stay so long! Perhaps you can tell me--or no--” She vaguely
put together in her mind the facts that Tracy and Horace had been
partners, and seemed to be so no longer. “No, you wouldn’t know.”

“Have I so poor a legal reputation as all that?” he said, lightly
smiling. “Hang it all! One’s friends, at least, ought to dissemble their
bad opinions.”

“No, it wasn’t about law,” she explained, stum-blingly. “It’s of no
importance. I must hurry now. Good-by for the time.”

He would have drawn her to him and kissed her at this, but she gently
prevented the caress, and released herself from his hands.

“Not that,” she said, with a smile in which still some sadness lingered.
“I would rather not that. It is better so. And--good-by, Horace, for the
time.”

He went with her to the door, lighting the hall gas that she might
see her way down the stairs. When she had disappeared, he walked for
a little up and down the room, whistling softly to himself. It was
undeniable that the world seemed vastly brighter to him than it had only
a half-hour before. Mere contact with somebody who liked him for himself
was a refreshing novelty.

“A damned decent sort of girl--considering everything!” he mused aloud,
as he locked up his desk for the day.



CHAPTER XXXII.--THE ALARM AT THE FARMHOUSE.

 To come upon the street again was like the confused awakening from a
dream. With the first few steps Jessica found herself shivering in an
extremity of cold, yet still uncomfortably warm. A sudden passing spasm
of giddiness, too, made her head swim so that for the instant she feared
to fall. Then, with an added sense of weakness, she went on, wearily and
desponding.

The recollection of this novel and curious happiness upon which she
had stumbled only a few moments before took on now the character of
self-reproach. The burning headache had returned, and with it came a
pained consciousness that it had been little less than criminal in
her to weakly dally in Horace’s office when such urgent responsibility
rested upon her outside. If the burden of this responsibility appeared
too great for her to bear, now that her strength seemed to be so
strangely leaving her, there was all the more reason for her to set her
teeth together, and press forward, even if she staggered as she went.

Only--where to find Reuben Tracy! The search had been made cruelly
hopeless by that shameful delay; and she blamed herself with fierceness
for it, as she racked her brain for some new plan, wondering whether she
ought to have asked Horace or gone into some of the other offices.

There were groups of men standing here and there on the comers--a little
away from the full light of the street-lamps, as if unwilling to court
observation. These knots of workmen had a sinister significance to her
feverish mind. She had the clew to the terrible mischief which some of
them intended--which no doubt even now they were canvassing in furtive
whispers--and only Tracy could stop it, and she was powerless to find
him!

There came slouching along the sidewalk, as she grappled with this
anguish of irresolution, a slight and shabby figure which somehow
arrested her attention. It was a familiar enough figure--that of old
“Cal” Gedney; and there was nothing unusual or worthy of comment in
the fact that he was walking unsteadily by himself, with his gaze fixed
intently on the sidewalk. He had passed again out of the range of her
cursory glance before she suddenly remembered that he was a lawyer, and
even some kind of a judge.

She turned swiftly and almost ran after him, clutching his sleeve as she
came up to him, and breathing so hard with weakness and excitement that
for the moment she could not speak.

The ’squire looked up, and angrily shook his arm out of her grasp.
“Leave me alone, you hussy,” he snarled, “or I’ll lock you up!”

His misconstruction of her purpose cleared her mind. “Don’t be foolish,”
 she said, hurriedly. “It’s a question of perhaps life and death! Do you
know where Reuben Tracy is? Or can you tell me where I can find out?”

“He don’t want to be bothered with _you_, wherever he is,” was the surly
response. “Be off with you!”

“I told you it was a matter of life and death,” she insisted, earnestly.
“He’ll never forgive you--you’ll never forgive yourself--if you know and
won’t tell me.”

The sincerity of the girl’s tone impressed the old man. It was not easy
for him to stand erect and unaided without swaying, but his mind was
evidently clear enough.

“What do you want with him?” he asked, in a less unfriendly voice. Then
he added, in a reflective undertone: “Cur’ous’t I sh’d want see Tracy,
too.”

“Then you do know where he is?”

“He’s drove out to ’s mother’s farm. Seems word come old woman’s sick.
You’re one of that Lawton tribe, aren’t you?”

“If I get a cutter, will you drive out there with me?” She asked the
question with swift directness. She added in explanation, as he stared
vacantly at her: “I ask that because you said you wanted to see him,
that’s all. I shall go alone if you won’t come. He’s _got_ to be back
here this evening, or God only knows what’ll happen! I mean what I say!”

“Do you know the road?” the ’squire asked, catching something of her
own eager spirit.

“Every inch of it! I was bom half a mile from where his mother lives.”

“But you won’t tell me what your business is?”

“I’ll tell you this much,” she whispered, hastily. “There is going to
be a mob at the Minster house to-night. A girl who knows one of the men
told--”

The old ’squire cut short the revelation by grasping her arm with
fierce energy.

“Come on--come on!” he said, hoarsely. “Don’t waste a minute. By
God! We’ll gallop the horses both ways.” He muttered to himself with
excitement as he dragged her along.

Jessica waited outside the livery stable for what seemed an interminable
period, while old “Cal” was getting the horses--walking up and down the
path in a state of mental torment which precluded all sense of bodily
suffering. When she conjured up before her frightened mind the
terrible consequences which delay might entail, every minute became an
intolerable hour of torture. There was even the evil chance that the old
man had been refused the horses because he had been drinking.

Finally, however, there came the welcome sound of mailed hoofs on the
plank roadway inside, and the reverberating jingle of bells; and then
the ’squire, with a spacious double-seated sleigh containing plenty of
robes, drew up in front of a cutting in the snow.

She took the front seat without hesitation, and gathered the lines into
her own hands. “Let me drive,” she said, clucking the horses into a
rapid trot. “I _should_ be home in bed. I’m too ill to sit up, unless
I’m doing something that keeps me from giving up.”

*****

Reuben Tracy felt the evening in the sitting-room of the old farmhouse
to be the most trying ordeal of his adult life.

Ordinarily he rather enjoyed than otherwise the company of his brother
Ezra--a large, powerfully built, heavily bearded man, who sat now beside
him in a rocking-chair in front of the wood stove, his stockinged feet
on the hearth, and a last week’s agricultural paper on his knee. Ezra
was a worthy and hard-working citizen, with an original way of looking
at things, and considerable powers of expression. As a rule, the
lawyer liked to talk with him, and felt that he profited in ideas and
suggestions from the talk.

But to-night he found his brother insufferably dull, and the task of
keeping down the “fidgets” one of incredible difficulty. His mother--on
whose account he had been summoned--was so much better that Ezra’s wife
had felt warranted in herself going off to bed, to get some much-needed
rest. Ezra had argued for a while, rather perversely, about the tariff
duty on wool, and now was nodding in his chair, although the dim-faced
old wooden clock showed it to be barely eight o’clock. The kerosene lamp
on the table gave forth only a feeble, reddened light through its smoky
chimney, but diffused a most powerful odor upon the stuffy air of the
over-heated room. A ragged and strong-smelling old farm dog groaned
offensively from time to time in his sleep behind the stove. Even the
draught which roared through the lower apertures in front of the stove
and up the pipe toward the chimney was irritating by the very futility
of its vehemence, for the place was too hot already.

Reuben mused in silence upon the chances which had led him so far
away from this drowsy, unfruitful life, and smiled as he found himself
wondering if it would be in the least possible for him to return to it.
No--no one ever did return. The bright boys, the restless boys, the boys
of energy, of ambition, of yearning for culture or conquest or the mere
sensation of living where it was really life--all went away, leaving
none but the Ezras behind. Some succeeded; some failed; but none of them
ever came back. And the Ezras who remained on the farms--they seemed to
shut and bolt the doors of their minds against all idea of making their
own lot less sterile and barren and uninviting.

The mere mental necessity for a great contrast brought up suddenly
in Reuben’s thoughts a picture of the drawing-room in the home of the
Minsters. It seemed as if the whole vast swing of the mind’s pendulum
separated that luxurious abode of cultured wealth from this dingy and
barren farmhouse room. And he, who had been born and reared in this
latter, now found himself at a loss how to spend so much as a single
evening in its environment, so completely had familiarity with the other
remoulded and changed his habits, his point of view, his very character.
Curious slaves of habit--creatures of their surroundings--men were!

A loud, peremptory knocking at the door aroused Reuben abruptly from his
revery, and Ezra, too, opened his eyes with a start, and sitting upright
rubbed them confusedly.

“Now I think of it, I heard a sleigh stop,” said Reuben, rising. “It
can’t be the doctor this time of night, can it?”

“It ’ud be jest like him,” commented Ezra, captiously. “He’s a great
hand to keep dropping in, sort of casual-like, when there’s sickness in
the house. It all goes down in his bill.”

The farmer brother had also risen, and now, lamp in hand, walked
heavily in his stocking feet to the door, and opened it half way. Some
indistinct words passed, and then, shading the flickering flame with his
huge hairy hand, Ezra turned his head.

“Somebody to see you, Rube,” he said. On second thought he added to the
visitor in a tone of formal politeness: “Won’t you step in, ma’am?”

Jessica Lawton almost pushed her host aside in her impulsive response to
his invitation. But when she had crossed the threshold the sudden change
into a heated atmosphere seemed to go to her brain like chloroform. She
stood silent, staring at Reuben, with parted lips and hands nervously
twitching. Even as he, in his complete surprise, recognized his visitor,
she trembled violently from head to foot, made a forward step, tottered,
and fell inertly into Ezra’s big, protecting arm.

“I guessed she was going to do it,” said the farmer, not dissembling his
pride at the alert way in which the strange woman had been caught, and
holding up the lamp with his other hand in triumph. “Hannah keeled over
in that same identical way when Suky run her finger through the cogs of
the wringing-machine, and I ketched her, too!”

Reuben had hurriedly come to his brother’s assistance. The two men
placed the fainting girl in the rocking-chair, and the lawyer began
with anxious fumbling to loosen the neck of her cloak and draw off her
gloves. Her fingers were like ice, and her brow, though it felt now
almost equally cold, was covered with perspiration. Reuben rubbed her
hands between his broad palms in a crudely informed belief that it was
the right thing to do, while Ezra rummaged in the adjoining pantry for
the household bottle of brandy.

Jessica came out of her swoon with the first touch of the pungent spirit
upon her whitened lips. She looked with weak blankness at the unfamiliar
scene about her, until her gaze fell upon the face of the lawyer. Then
she smiled faintly and closed her eyes again.

“She is an old friend of mine,” whispered Reuben to his brother, as he
pressed the brandy once more upon her. “She’ll come to in a minute. It
must be something serious that brought her out here.”

The girl languidly opened her eyes. “‘Cal’ Ged-ney’s asleep in the
sleigh,” she murmured. “You’d better bring him in. He’ll tell you.”

It was with an obvious effort that she said this much; and now, while
Ezra hastily pulled on his boots, her eyes closed again, and her
head sank with utter weariness sideways upon the high back of the
old-fashioned chair.

Reuben stood looking at her in pained anxiety--once or twice holding
the lamp close to her pale face, in dread of he knew not what--until
his brother returned. Ezra had brought the horses up into the yard, and
remained outside now to blanket them, while the old ’squire, benumbed
and drowsy, found his way into the house. It was evident enough to the
young lawyer’s first glance that Gedney had been drinking heavily.

“Well, what does this all mean?” he demanded, with vexed asperity.

“You’ve got to get on your things and race back with us, helly-to-hoot!”
 said the ’squire. “Quick--there ain’t a minute to lose!” The old man
almost gasped in his eagerness.

“In Heaven’s name, what’s up? Have you been to Cadmus?”

“Yes, and got my pocket full of affidavits. We can send all three of
them to prison fast enough. But that’ll do to-morrow; for to-night
there’s a mob up at the Minster place. _Look there!_”

The old man had gone to the window and swept the stiff curtain aside. He
held it now with a trembling hand, so that Reuben could look out.

The whole southern sky overhanging Thessaly was crimson with the
reflection of a fire.

“Great God! it’s the rolling mill,” ejaculated Reuben, breathlessly.

“Quite as likely it’s the Minster house; it’s the same direction, only
farther off, and fires are deceptive,” said Gedney, his excitement
rising under the stimulus of the spectacle.

Reuben had kicked off his slippers, and was now dragging on his shoes.
“Tell me about it,” he said, working furiously at the laces.

’Squire Gedney helped himself generously to the brandy on the table as
he unfolded, in somewhat incoherent fashion, his narrative. The Lawton
girl had somehow found out that a hostile demonstration against the
Minsters was intended for the evening, and had started out to find
Tracy. By accident she had met him (Gedney), and they had come off in
the sleigh together. She had insisted upon driving, and as his long
journey from Cadmus had greatly fatigued him, he had got over into the
back seat and gone to sleep under the buffalo robes. He knew nothing
more until Ezra had roused him from his slumber in the sled, now at a
standstill on the road outside, and he had awakened to discover Jessica
gone, the horses wet and shivering in a cloud of steam, and the sky
behind them all ablaze.

“Jee-Whitaker! Looks as if the whole town was burning,” said Ezra,
coming in as this recital was concluded. “Them horses would a-got their
death out there in another ten minutes. Guess I’d better put ’em in
the barn, eh?”

“No, no! Just turn them around. I’ve got to drive them back faster than
they came,” said Reuben, who had on his overcoat and hat. “Hurry, and
get me some thick gloves to drive in. I’ll leave my things here. We
won’t wake mother up. I’ll get you to run in to-morrow, if you will, and
let me know how she is. Tell her I _had_ to go.”

When Ezra had found the gloves and brought them, the two men for the
first time bent an instinctive joint glance at the recumbent figure of
the girl in the rocking-chair.

“I’ll get Hannah up,” said the farmer, “and she can have your room. I
guess she’s too sick to try to go back with you. If she’s well enough,
I’ll bring her in in the morning. I was going to take in some apples,
anyway.”

To their surprise Jessica opened her eyes and even lifted her head at
these words.

“No,” she said; “I feel better now--much better. I must go back with Mr.
Tracy. I really must.” She rose to her feet as she spoke, and, though
she was conscious of great dizziness and languor, succeeded by her smile
in imposing upon her unskilled companions. Perhaps if Hannah had been
“got up” she would have seen through the weak pretence of strength, and
insisted on having matters ordered otherwise. But the men offered no
dissent. Jessica was persuaded to drink another glass of brandy, and
’Squire Gedney took one without being specially urged; and then Reuben
impatiently led the way out to the sleigh, which Ezra had turned around.

“No; I’d rather be in front with you,” the girl said, when Reuben had
spread the robes for her to sit in the back seat. “Let the Judge sit
there; he wants to sleep. I’m not tired now, and I want to keep awake.”

Thus it was arranged, and Reuben, with a strong hand on the tight reins,
started the horses on their homeward rush toward the flaming horizon.



CHAPTER XXXIII.--PACING TOWARD THE REDDENED SKY.

 For some time there was no conversation in the sleigh. The horses sped
evenly forward, with their heads well in the air, as if they too were
excited by the unnatural glare in the sky ahead. Before long there was
added to the hurried regular beating of their hoofs upon the hard-packed
track another sound--the snoring of the ’squire on the seat behind.

There was a sense of melting in the air. Save where the intense glow
of the conflagration lit up the sky with a fan-like spread of ruddy
luminance--fierce orange at the central base, and then through an
expanse of vermilion, rose, and cherry to deepening crimsons and dull
reddish purples--the heavens hung black with snow-laden clouds. A
pleasant, moist night-breeze came softly across the valley, bearing ever
and again a solitary flake of snow. The effect of this mild wind was so
grateful to Jessica’s face, now once more burning with an inner heat,
that she gave no thought to a curious difficulty in breathing which was
growing upon her.

“The scoundrels shall pay dear for this,” Reuben said to her, between
set teeth, when there came a place in the road where the horses must be
allowed to walk up hill.

“I’m sure I hope so,” she said, quite in his spirit.

The husky note in her voice caught his attention. “Are you sure you
are bundled up warm enough?” he asked with solicitude, pulling the robe
higher about her.

“Oh, yes. I’m not very well. I caught a heavy cold yesterday,” she
answered. “But it will be nothing, if only we can get there in time.”

It struck her as strange when Reuben presently replied, putting the whip
once more to the horses: “God only knows what can be done when I do
get there!” It had seemed to her a matter of course that Tracy would be
equal to any emergency--even an armed riot. There was something almost
disheartening in this confession of self-doubt.

“But at any rate they shall pay for it to-morrow,” he broke out,
angrily, a moment later. “Down to the last pennyweight we will have our
pound of flesh! My girl,” he added, turning to look into her face, and
speaking with deep earnestness, “I never knew what it was before to feel
wholly merciless--absolutely without bowels of compassion. But I will
not abate so much as the fraction of a hair with these villains. I swear
that!”

By an odd contradiction, his words raised a vague spirit of compunction
within her. “They feel very bitterly,” she ventured to suggest. “It is
terrible to be turned out of work in the winter, and with families
dependent on that work for bare existence. And then the bringing in of
these strange workmen. I suppose that is what--”

Reuben interrupted her with an abrupt laugh. “I’m not thinking of them,”
 he said. “Poor foolish fellows, I don’t wish them any harm. I only
pray God they haven’t done too much harm to themselves. No: it’s the
swindling scoundrels who are responsible for the mischief--_they_ are
the ones I’ll put the clamps onto to-morrow.”

The words conveyed no meaning to her, and she kept silent until he spoke
further: “I don’t know whether he told you, but Gedney has brought me
to-night the last links needed for a chain of proof which must send all
three of these ruffians to State prison. I haven’t had time to
examine the papers yet, but he says he’s got them in his pocket
there--affidavits from the original inventor of certain machinery, about
its original sale, and from others who were a party to it--which makes
the whole fraud absolutely clear. I’ll go over them to-night, when we’ve
seen this thing through”--pointing vaguely with his whip toward the
reddened sky--“and if tomorrow I don’t lay all three of them by the
heels, you can have my head for a foot-ball!”

“I don’t understand these things very well,” said Jessica. “Who is it
you mean?” It was growing still harder for her to breathe, and sharp
pain came in her breast now with almost every respiration. Her head
ached, too, so violently that she cared very little indeed who it was
that should go to prison tomorrow.

“There are three of them in the scheme,” said the lawyer; “as
cold-blooded and deliberate a piece of robbery as ever was planned.
First, there’s a New York man named Wendover--they call him a Judge--a
smart, subtle, slippery scoundrel if ever there was one. Then there’s
Schuyler Tenney--perhaps you know who he is--he’s a big hardware
merchant here; and with him in the swindle was--Good heavens! Why, I
never thought of it before!”

Reuben had stopped short in his surprise. He began whipping the horses
now with a seeming air of exultation, and stole a momentary smile-lit
glance toward his companion.

“It’s just occurred to me,” he said. “Curious--I hadn’t given it a
thought. Why, my girl, it’s like a special providence. You, too, will
have your full revenge--such revenge as you never dreamt of. The third
man is Horace Boyce!”

A great wave of cold stupor engulfed the girl’s reason as she took in
these words, and her head swam and roared as if in truth she had been
plunged headlong into unknown depths of icy water.

When she came to the surface of consciousness again, the horses were
still rhythmically racing along the hill-side road overlooking the
village. The firelight in the sky had faded down now to a dull pinkish
effect like the northern lights. Reuben was chewing an unlighted cigar,
and the ’squire was steadily snoring behind them. It had begun to
snow.

“You will send them all to prison--surely?” she was able to ask.

“As surely as God made little apples!” was the sententious response.

The girl was cowering under the buffalo-robe in an anguish of mind so
terribly intense that her physical pains were all forgotten. Only her
throbbing head seemed full of thick blood, and there was such an
awful need that she should think clearly! She bit her lips in tortured
silence, striving through a myriad of wandering, crowding ideas to lay
hold upon something which should be of help.

They had begun to descend the hill--a steep, uneven road full of drifts,
beyond which stretched a level mile of highway leading into the village
itself--when suddenly a bold thought came to her, which on the instant
had shot up, powerful and commanding, into a very tower of resolution.
She laid her hand on Reuben’s arm.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll change into the back seat,” she said, in a
voice which all her efforts could not keep from shaking. “I’m feeling
very ill. It’ll be easier for me there.”

Reuben at once drew up the horses, and the girl, summoning all her
strength, managed without his help to get around the side of the sleigh,
and under the robe, into the rear seat. The ’squire was sunk in such a
profound sleep that she had to push him bodily over into his own half of
the space, and the discovery that this did not waken him filled her
with so great a delight that all her strength and self-control seemed
miraculously to have returned to her.

She had need of them both for the task which she had imposed upon
herself, and which now, with infinite caution and trepidation, she set
herself about. This was nothing less than to secure the papers which
the old ’squire had brought from Cadmus, and which, from something she
remembered his having said, must be in the inner pocket of one of his
coats. Slowly and deftly she opened button after button of his overcoat,
and gently pushed aside the cloth until her hand might have free
passage to and from the pocket, where, after careful soundings, she had
discovered a bundle of thick papers to be resting. Then whole minutes
seemed to pass before, having taken off her glove, she was able to draw
this packet out. Once during this operation Reuben half turned to speak
to her, and her fright was very great. But she had had the presence of
mind to draw the robe high about her, and answer collectedly, and he had
palpably suspected nothing. As for Gedney, he never once stirred in his
drunken sleep.

The larceny was complete, and Jessica had been able to wrap the old man
up again, to button the parcel of papers under her own cloak, and to
draw on and fasten her glove once more, before the panting horses had
gained the outskirts of the village. She herself was breathing almost
as heavily as the animals after their gallop, and, now that the deed was
done, lay back wearily in her seat, with pain racking her every joint
and muscle, and a sickening dread in her mind lest there should be
neither strength nor courage forthcoming for what remained to do.

For a considerable distance down the street no person was visible from
whom the eager Tracy could get news of what had happened. At last,
however, when the sleigh was within a couple of blocks of what seemed
in the distance to be a centre of interest, a man came along who shouted
from the sidewalk, in response to Reuben’s questions, sundry leading
facts of importance.

A fire had started--probably incendiary--in the basement of the office
of the Minster furnaces, some hour or so ago, and had pretty well gutted
the building. The firemen were still playing on the ruins. An immense
crowd had witnessed the fire, and it was the drunkenest crowd he had
ever seen in Thessaly. Where the money came from to buy so much drink,
was what puzzled him. The crowd had pretty well cleared off now; some
said they had gone up to the Minster house to give its occupants a
“horning.” He himself had got his feet wet, and was afraid of the
rheumatics if he stayed out any longer. Probably he would get them, as
it was. Everybody said that the building was insured, and some folks
hinted that the company had it set on fire themselves.

Reuben impatiently whipped up the jaded team at this, with a curt “Much
obliged,” and drove at a spanking pace down the street to the scene of
the conflagration. There was not much remaining to see. The outer walls
of the office building were still gloomily erect, but within nothing
was left but a glowing mass of embers about level with the ground.
Some firemen were inside the yard, but more were congregated about the
water-soaked space where the engine still noisily throbbed, and where
hot coffee was being passed around to them. Here, too, there was a
report that the crowd had gone up to the Minster house.

The horses tugged vehemently to drag the sleigh over the impedimenta of
hose stretched along the street, and over the considerable area of bare
stones where the snow had been melted by the heat or washed away by the
streams from the hydrants. Then Reuben half rose in his seat to lash
them into a last furious gallop, and, snorting with rebellion, they tore
onward toward the seminary road.

At the corner, three doors from the home of the Minster ladies, Reuben
deemed it prudent to draw up. There was evidently a considerable throng
in the road in front of the house, and that still others were on the
lawn within the gates was obvious from the confused murmur which came
therefrom. Some boys were blowing spasmodically on fish-horns, and
rough jeers and loud boisterous talk rose and fell throughout the dimly
visible assemblage. The air had become thick with large wet snowflakes.

Reuben sprang from the sleigh, and, stepping backward, vigorously shook
old Gedney into a state of semi-wakefulness.

“Hold these lines,” he said, “and wait here for me.--Or,” he turned to
Jessica with the sudden thought, “would you rather he drove you home?”

The girl had been in a half-insensible condition of mind and body. At
the question she roused herself and shook her head. “No: let me stay
here,” she said, wearily.

But when Reuben, squaring his broad shoulders and shaking himself to
free his muscles after the long ride, had disappeared with an energetic
stride in the direction of the crowd, Jessica forced herself to sit
upright, and then to rise to her feet.

“You’d better put the blankets on the horses, if he doesn’t come back
right off,” she said to the ’squire.

“Where are you going?” Gedney asked, still stupid with sleep.

“I’ll walk up and down,” she answered, clambering with difficulty out of
the sleigh. “I’m tired of sitting still.”

Once on the sidewalk, she grew suddenly faint, and grasped a
fence-picket for support. The hand which she instinctively raised to her
heart touched the hard surface of the packet of papers, and the thought
which this inspired put new courage into her veins.

With bowed head and a hurried, faltering step, she turned her back upon
the Minster house and stole off into the snowy darkness.



CHAPTER XXXIV.--THE CONQUEST OF THE MOB.

 Even before he reached the gates of the carriage-drive opening upon
the Minster lawn, Reuben Tracy encountered some men whom he knew, and
gathered that the people in the street outside were in the main peaceful
on-lookers, who did not understand very clearly what was going on, and
disapproved of the proceedings as far as they comprehended them. There
was a crowd inside the grounds, he was told, made up in part of men who
were out of work, but composed still more largely, it seemed, of boys
and young hoodlums generally, who were improving the pretext to indulge
in horseplay. There was a report that some sort of deputation had gone
up on the doorstep and rung the bell, with a view to making some remarks
to the occupants of the house; but that they had failed to get any
answer, and certainly the whole front of the residence was black as
night.

Reuben easily obtained the consent of several of these citizens to
follow him, and, as they went on, the number swelled to ten or a dozen.
Doubtless many more could have been incorporated in the impromptu
procession had it not been so hopelessly dark.

The lawyer led his friends through the gate, and began pushing his
way up the gravelled path through the crowd. No special opposition was
offered to his progress, for the air was so full of snow now that only
those immediately affected knew anything about it. Although the path
was fairly thronged, nobody seemed to have any idea why he was standing
there. Those who spoke appeared in the main to regard the matter as a
joke, the point of which was growing more and more obscure. Except for
some sporadic horn-blowing and hooting nearer to the house, the activity
of the assemblage was confined to a handful of boys, who mustered
among them two or three kerosene oil torches treasured from the last
Presidential campaign, and a grotesque jack-o’-lantem made of a pumpkin
and elevated on a broom-stick. These urchins were running about among
the little groups of bystanders, knocking off one another’s caps,
shouting prodigiously, and having a good time.

As Reuben and those accompanying him approached the house, some of
these lads raised the cry of “Here’s the coppers!” and the crowd at
this seemed to close up with a simultaneous movement, while a murmur ran
across its surface like the wind over a field of corn. This sound was
one less of menace or even excitement than of gratification that at last
something was going to happen.

One of the boys with a torch, in the true spirit of his generation,
placed himself in front of Reuben and marched with mock gravity at the
head of the advancing group. This, drolly enough, lent the movement a
semblance of authority, or at least of significance, before which the
men more readily than ever gave way. At this the other boys with
the torches and jack-o’-lantem fell into line at the rear of Tracy’s
immediate supporters, and they in turn were followed by the throng
generally. Thus whimsically escorted, Reuben reached the front steps of
the mansion.

A more compact and apparently homogeneous cluster of men stood here,
some of them even on the steps, and dark and indistinct as everything
was, Reuben leaped to the conclusion that these were the men at least
visibly responsible for this strange gathering. Presumably they were
taken by surprise at his appearance with such a following. At any
rate, they, too, offered no concerted resistance, and he mounted to the
platform of the steps without difficulty. Then he turned and whispered
to a friend to have the boys with the torches also come up. This was
a suggestion gladly obeyed, not least of all by the boy with the
low-comedy pumpkin, whose illumination created a good-natured laugh.

Tracy stood now, bareheaded in the falling snow, facing the throng. The
gathering of the lights about him indicated to everybody in the grounds
that the aimless demonstration had finally assumed some kind of form.
A general forward movement was the first result. Then there were
admonitory shouts here and there, under the influence of which the
horn-blowing gradually ceased, and Tracy’s name was passed from mouth to
mouth until its mention took on almost the character of a personal cheer
on the outskirts of the crowd. In answer to this two or three hostile
interrogations or comments were bawled out, but the throng did not favor
these, and so there fell a silence which invited Reuben to speak.

“My friends,” he began, and then stopped because he had not pitched his
voice high enough, and a whole semicircle of cries of “louder!” rose
from the darkness of the central lawn.

“He’s afraid of waking the fine ladies,” called out an anonymous voice.

“Shut up, Tracy, and let the pumpkin talk,” was another shout.

“Begorrah, it’s the pumpkin that _is_ talkin’ now!” cried a shrill third
voice, and at this there was a ripple of laughter.

“My friends,” began Reuben, in a louder tone, this time without
immediate interruption, “although I don’t know precisely why you have
gathered here at so much discomfort to yourselves, I have some things to
say to you which I think you will regard as important. I have not seen
the persons who live in this house since Tuesday, but while I can easily
understand that your coming here to-night might otherwise cause them
some anxiety, I am sure that they, when they come to understand it,
will be as glad as I am that you _are_ here, and that I am given this
opportunity of speaking for them to you. If you had not taken this
notion of coming here tonight, I should have, in a day or two, asked you
to meet me somewhere else, in a more convenient place, to talk matters
over.

“First of all let me tell you that the works are going to be opened
promptly, certainly the furnaces, and unless I am very much mistaken
about the law, the rolling mills too. I give you my word for that, as
the legal representative of two of these women.”

“Yes; they’ll be opened with the Frenchmen!” came a swift answering
shout.

“Or will you get Chinamen?” cried another, amid derisive laughter.

Reuben responded in his clearest tones: “No man who belongs to Thessaly
shall be crowded out by a newcomer. I give you my word for that, too.”

Some scattered cheers broke out at this announcement, which promised
for the instant to become general, and then were hushed down by the
prevalent anxiety to hear more. In this momentary interval Reuben caught
the sound of a window being cautiously raised immediately above the
front door, and guessed with a little flutter of the heart who this new
auditor might be.

“Secondly,” he went on, “you ought to be told the truth about the
shutting down of the furnaces and the lockout. These women were not at
all responsible for either action. I know of my own knowledge that both
things caused them genuine grief, and that they were shocked beyond
measure at the proposal to bring outside workmen into the town to
undersell and drive away their own neighbors and fellow-townsmen. I
want you to realize this, because otherwise you would do a wrong in your
minds to these good women who belong to Thessaly, who are as fond of our
village and its people as any other soul within its borders, and who,
for their own sake as well as that of Stephen Minster’s memory, deserve
respect and liking at your hands.

“I may tell you frankly that they were misled and deceived by agents, in
whom, mistakenly enough, they trusted, into temporarily giving power
to these unworthy men. The result was a series of steps which they
deplored, but did not know how to stop. A few days ago I was called
into the case to see what could be done toward undoing the mischief from
which they, and you, and the townspeople generally, suffer. Since then I
have been hard at work both in court and out of it, and I believe I can
say with authority that the attempt to plunder the Minster estate and to
impoverish you will be beaten all along the line.”

This time the outburst of cheering was spontaneous and prolonged. When
it died away, some voice called out, “Three cheers for the ladies!” and
these were given, too, not without laughter at the jack-o’-lantem boy,
who waved his pumpkin vigorously.

“One word more,” called out Tracy, “and I hope you will take in good
part what I am going to say. When I made my way up through the grounds,
I was struck by the fact that nobody seemed to know just why he had come
here. I gather now that word was passed around during the day that there
would be a crowd here, and that something, nobody understood just what,
would be done after they got here. I do not know who started the idea,
or who circulated the word. It might be worth your while to find out.
Meanwhile, don’t you agree with me that it is an unsatisfactory and
uncivil way of going at the thing? This is a free country, but just
because it _is_ free, we ought to feel the more bound to respect one
another’s rights. There are countries in which, I dare say, if I were a
citizen, or rather a subject, I might feel it my duty to head a mob or
join a riot. But here there ought to be no mob; there should be no room
for even thought of a riot. Our very strength lies in the idea that we
are our own policemen--our own soldiery. I say this not because one in
a hundred of you meant any special harm in coming here, but because the
notion of coming itself was not American. Beware of men who suggest that
kind of thing. Beware of men who preach the theory that because you are
puddlers or moulders or firemen, therefore you are different from the
rest of your fellow-citizens. I, for one, resent the idea that because I
am a lawyer, and you, for example, are a blacksmith, therefore we belong
to different classes. I wish with all my heart that everybody resented
it, and that that abominable word ‘classes’ could be wiped out of the
English language as it is spoken in America. That is all. I am glad if
you feel easier in your minds than you did when you came. If you do,
I guess there’s been no harm done by your coming which isn’t more than
balanced by the good that has come out of it. Only next time, if you
don’t mind, we’ll have our meeting somewhere else, where it will be
easier to speak than it is in a snowstorm, and where we won’t keep our
neighbors awake. And now good-night, everybody.”

Out of the satisfied and amiable murmur which spread through the crowd
at this, there rose a sharp, querulous voice:

“Give us the names of the men who, you say, _were_ responsible.”

“No, I can’t do that to-night. But if you read the next list of
indictments found by the grand jury of Dearborn County, my word as a
lawyer you’ll find them all there.”

The loudest cheer of the evening burst upon the air at this, and there
was a sustained roar when Tracy’s name was shouted out above the tumult.
Some few men crowded up to the steps to shake hands with him, and many
others called out to him a personal “good-night.” The last of those to
shake the accumulated snow from their collars and hats, and turn their
steps homeward, noted that the whole front of the Minster house had
suddenly become illuminated.

Thus Reuben’s simple and highly fortuitous conquest of what had been
planned to be a mob was accomplished. It is remembered to this day as
the best thing any man ever did single-handed in Thessaly, and it is
always spoken of as the foundation of his present political eminence.
But he himself would say now, upon reflection, that he succeeded
because the better sense of his auditors, from the outset, wanted him
to succeed, and because he was lucky enough to impress a very decent and
bright-witted lot of men with the idea that he wasn’t a humbug.

*****

At the moment he was in no mood to analyze his success. His hair was
streaming with melted snow, his throat was painfully hoarse and sore,
and the fatigue from speaking so loud, and the reaction from his great
excitement, combined to make him feel a very weak brother indeed.

So utterly wearied was he that when the door of the now lighted hallway
opened behind him, and Miss Kate herself, standing in front of the
servant on the threshold, said: “We want you to come in, Mr. Tracy,” he
turned mechanically and went in, thinking more of a drink of some sort
and a chance to sit down beside her, than of all the possible results of
his speech to the crowd.

The effect of warmth and welcome inside the mansion was grateful to
all his senses. He parted with his hat and overcoat, took the glass of
claret which was offered him, and allowed himself to be led into the
drawing-room and given a seat, all in a happy daze, which was, in truth,
so very happy, that he was dimly conscious of the beginnings of tears
in his eyes. It seemed now that the strain upon his mind and heart--the
anger, and fright, and terrible anxiety--had lasted for whole weary
years. Trial by soul-torture was new to him, and this ordeal through
which he had passed left him curiously flabby and tremulous.

He lay back in the easy-chair in an ecstasy of physical lassitude and
mental content, surrendering himself to the delight of watching the
beautiful girl before him, and of listening to the music of her voice.
The liquid depths of brown eyes into which he looked, and the soft tones
which wooed his hearing, produced upon him vaguely the sensation of
shining white robes and celestial harps--an indefinitely glorious
recompense for the travail that lay behind in the valley of the shadow
of death.

Nothing was further from him than the temptation to break this bright
spell by speech.

“We heard almost every word of what you said,” Kate was saying. “When
you began we were in this room, crouched there by the window--that is,
Ethel and I were, for mamma refused to even pretend to listen--and at
first we thought it was one of the mob, and then Ethel recognized your
voice. That almost annoyed me, for it seemed as if _I_ should have
been---at least, equally quick to know it--that is, I mean, I’ve heard
you speak so much more than she has. And then we both hurried up-stairs,
and lifted the window--and oh! but we listened!

“And from the moment we knew it was you--that you were here--we felt
perfectly safe. It doesn’t seem now that we were very much afraid, even
before that, although probably we were. There was a lot of hooting, and
that dreadful blowing on horns, and all that, and once somebody rang the
door-bell; but, beyond throwing snowballs, nothing else was done. So
I daresay they only wanted to scare us. Of course it was the fire that
made us really nervous. We got that brave girl’s warning about the mob’s
coming here just a little while before the sky began to redden with the
blaze; and that sight, coming on the heels of her letter--”

“What girl? What letter?” asked Reuben.

“Here it is,” answered Kate, drawing a crumpled sheet of paper from her
bosom, and reading aloud:

“Dear Miss Minster:

“I have just heard that a crowd of men are coming to your house to-night
to do violent things. I am starting out to try and bring you help.
Meanwhile, I send you my father, who will do whatever you tell him to
do.

“Gratefully yours,

“Jessica Lawton.”

Reuben had risen abruptly to his feet before the signature was reached.

“I am ashamed of myself,” he said; “I’ve left her out there all this
while. And she was ill, too! There was so much else that really she
escaped my memory altogether.”

He had made his way out into the hall and taken up his hat and coat.

“You will come back, won’t you?” Kate asked. “There are so many things
to talk over, with all of us. And--and bring her too, if--if she will
come.”

With a sign of acquiescence and comprehension. Reuben darted down the
steps and into the darkness. In a very few minutes he returned,
disappointment written all over his face.

“She’s gone. Gedney, the man I left with the sleigh, says she went off
as soon as I had got out of sight. I had offered to have him drive her
home, but she refused. She’s a curiously independent girl.”

“I am very sorry,” said Kate. “But I will go over the first thing in the
morning and thank her.”

“You don’t as yet know the half of what you have to thank her for,”
 put in the lawyer. “I don’t mean that it was so great a thing--my
coming--but she drove all the way out to my mother’s farm to bring me
here to-night, and fainted when she got there. She was really ill. If
her father is still here, I think he’d better go at once to her place,
and see about her.”

The suggestion seemed a good one, and was instantly acted upon. Ben
Lawton had been in the kitchen, immensely proud of his position as
the responsible garrison of a beleaguered house, and came out into the
hallway now with a full stomach and a satisfied expression on his lank
face.

He assented with readiness to Reuben’s idea, when it was explained to
him.

“So she druv out to your mother’s place for you, did she?” he commented,
admiringly. “That girl’s a genuwine chip of the old block. I mean,” he
added, with an apologetic smile, “of the old, old block. I ain’t got so
much git-up-and-git about me, that I know of, but her grandfather was a
regular snorter!”

“We shall not forget how much we are obliged to you, Mr. Lawton,” said
Kate, pleasantly, offering him her hand. “Be sure that you tell your
daughter, too, how grateful we all are.”

Ben took the delicate hand thus amazingly extended to him, and shook it
with formal awkwardness.

“I didn’t seem to do much,” he said, deprecatingly, “and perhaps I
wouldn’t have amounted to much, neether, if it had a-come to fightin’
and gougin’ and wras’lin’ round generally. But you can bet your boots,
ma’am, that I’d a-done what I could!”

With this chivalrous assurance Ben withdrew, and marched down the steps
with a carriage more nearly erect than Thessaly had ever seen him assume
before.

The heavy front door swung to, and Reuben realized, with a new rush of
charmed emotion, that heaven had opened for him once more.

A servant came and whispered something to Miss Kate. The latter nodded,
and then turned to Reuben with a smile full of light and softness.

“If you will give me your arm,” she said, in a delicious murmur, “we
will go into the dining-room. My mother and sister are waiting for us
there. We are not supper-people as a rule, but it seemed right to have
one to-night.”



CHAPTER XXXV.--THE SHINING REWARD.

 The scene which opened upon Reuben’s eyes was like a vista of
fairyland. The dark panelled room, with its dim suggestions of gold
frames and heavy curtains, and its background of palms and oleanders,
contributed with the reticence of richness to the glowing splendor of
the table in its centre. Here all light was concentrated--light which
fell from beneath ruby shades at the summits of tall candles, and
softened the dazzling whiteness of the linen, mellowed the burnished
gleam of the silver plate, reflected itself in tender, prismatic hues
from the facets of the cut-glass decanters. There were flowers here
which gave forth still the blended fragrance of their hot-house home,
and fragile, painted china, and all the nameless things of luxury which
can make the breaking of bread a poem.

Reuben had seen something dimly resembling this in New York once or
twice at semi-public dinners. The thought that this higher marvel was
in his honor intoxicated his reason. The other thought--that conceivably
his future might lie all in this flower-strewn, daintily lighted
path--was too heady, too full of threatened delirium, to be even
entertained. With an anxious hold upon himself, he felt his way forward
to self-possession. It came sooner than he had imagined it would, and
thereafter everything belonged to a dream of delight.

The ladies were all dressed more elaborately than he had observed them
to be on any previous occasion, and, at the outset, there was something
disconcerting in this. Speedily enough, though, there came the
reflection that his clothes were those in which he had raced
breathlessly from the farm, in which he had faced and won the crowd
outside, and then, all at once, he was at perfect ease.

He told them--addressing his talk chiefly to Mrs. Minster, who sat at
the head of the table, to his left--the story of Jessica’s ride, of her
fainting on her arrival, and of the furious homeward drive. From this
he drifted to the final proofs which had been procured at Cadmus--he
had sent Gedney home with the horses, and was to see him early in the
morning--and then to the steps toward a criminal prosecution which he
would summarily take.

“So far as I can see, Mrs. Minster,” he concluded, when the servant
had again left the room, “no real loss will result from this whole
imbroglio. It may even show a net gain, when everything is cleared
up; for your big loan must really give you control of the Thessaly
Manufacturing Company, in law. These fellows staked their majority
interest in that concern to win your whole property in the game.
They have lost, and the proceeds must go to you. Of course, it is not
entirely clear how the matter will shape itself; but my notion is that
you will come out winner.”

Mrs. Minster smiled complacently. “My daughters thought that I knew
nothing about business!” she said, with an air of easy triumph.

The daughters displayed great eagerness to leave this branch of the
matter undiscussed.

“And will it really be necessary to prosecute these men?” asked Ethel,
from Reuben’s right.

The lawyer realized, even before he spoke, that not a little of his
bitterness had evaporated. “Men ought to be punished for such a crime as
they committed,” he said. “If only as a duty to the public, they should
be prosecuted.”

He was looking at Kate as he spoke, and in her glance, as their eyes
met, he read something which prompted him hastily to add:

“Of course, I am in your hands in the matter. I have committed myself
with the crowd outside to the statement that they should be punished. I
was full, then, of angry feelings; and I still think that they ought to
be punished. But it is really your question, not mine. And I may even
tell you that there would probably be a considerable financial advantage
in settling the thing with them, instead of taking it before the grand
jury.”

“That is a consideration which we won’t discuss,” said Kate. “If my mind
were clear as to the necessity of a prosecution, I would not alter the
decision for any amount of money. But my sister and I have been talking
a great deal about this matter, and we feel--You know that Mr. Boyce
was, for a time, on quite a friendly footing in this house.”

“Yes; I know.” Reuben bowed his head gravely.

“Well, you yourself said that if one was prosecuted, they all must be.”

“No doubt. Wendover and Tenney were smart enough to put the credulous
youngster in the very forefront of everything. Until these affidavits
came to hand to-day, it would have been far easier to convict him than
them.”

“Precisely,” urged Kate. “Credulous is just the word. He was weak,
foolish, vain--whatever you like. They led him into the thing. But I
don’t believe that at the outset, or, indeed, till very recently, he had
any idea of being a party to a plan to plunder us. There are reasons,”
 the girl blushed a little, and hesitated, “to be frank, there are
reasons for my thinking so.”

Reuben, noting the faint flush of embarrassment, catching the doubtful
inflection of the words, felt that he comprehended everything, and
mirrored that feeling in his glance.

“I quite follow you,” he said. “It is my notion that he was deceived, at
the beginning.”

“Others deceived him, and still more he deceived himself,” responded
Kate.

“And that is why,” put in Ethel, “we feel like asking you not to take
the matter into the courts--I mean so as to put him in prison. It would
be too dreadful to think of--to take a man who had dined at your house,
and been boating with you, and had driven with you all over the Orange
Mountains, picking wild-flowers for you and all that, and put him into
prison, where he would have his hair shaved off, and tramp up and down
on a treadmill. No; we mustn’t do that, Mr. Tracy.”

Kate added musingly: “He has lost so much, we can afford to be generous,
can we not?”

Then Reuben felt that there could be no answer possible except “yes.”
 His heart pleaded with his brain for a lover’s interpretation of this
speech; and his tongue, to evade the issue, framed some halting words
about allowing him to go over the whole case to-morrow, and postponing a
final decision until that had been done.

The consent of silence was accorded to this, and everybody at the
table knew that there would be no prosecutions. Upon the instant the
atmosphere grew lighter.

“And now for the real thing,” said Kate, gayly. “I am commissioned on
behalf of the entire family to formally thank you for coming to our
rescue tonight. Mamma did not hear your speech--she resolutely sat in
the library, pretending to read, during the whole rumpus, and we were
in such a hurry to get up-stairs that we didn’t tell her when you
began--but she couldn’t help hearing the horns, and she is as much
obliged to you as we are; and that is very, very, very much indeed!”

“Yes, indeed,” assented Mrs. Minster. “I don’t know where the police
were, at all.”

“The police could have done next to nothing, if they had been
here,” said Reuben. “The visit of the crowd was annoying enough, and
discreditable in its way, but I don’t really imagine there was ever any
actual danger. The men felt disagreeable about the closing of the works
and the importation of the French Canadians, and I don’t blame them;
but as a body they never had any idea of molesting you. My own notion is
that the mob was organized by outsiders--by men who had an end to serve
in frightening you--and that after the crowd got here it didn’t know
what to do with itself. The truth is, that the mob isn’t an American
institution. Its component parts are too civilized, too open to appeals
to reason. As soon as I told these people the facts in the case, they
were quite ready to go, and they even cheered for you before they went.”

“Ethel tells me that you promised them the furnaces should be opened
promptly,” said the mother, with her calm, inquiring glance, which might
mean sarcasm, anger, approval, or nothing at all.

Reuben answered resolutely: “Yes, Mrs. Minster, I did. And so they must
be opened, on Monday. Let us be frank about the matter. It is my dearest
wish that I should be able to act for you all in this whole business.
But I have gone too far now, the interests involved are too great, to
make a pause here possible. The very essence of the situation is that we
should defy the trust, and throw upon it the _onus_ of stopping us if it
can. We have such a grip upon the men who led you into that trust, and
who can influence the decisions of its directors, that they will not
dare to show fight. The force of circumstances has made me the custodian
of your interests quite as much as of your daughters’. I am very proud
and happy that it is so. It is true that I have not your warrant for
acting in your behalf; but if you will permit me to say so, that cannot
now be allowed to make the slightest difference in my action.”

“Yes, mamma, you are to be rescued in spite of yourself,” said Ethel,
merrily.

The young people were all smiling at one another, and to their
considerable relief Mrs. Minster concluded to smile also.

Nobody attempted to analyze the mental processes by which she had been
brought around. It was enough that she had come to accept the situation.
The black shadow of discord, which had overhung the household so long,
was gone, and mother and daughters joined in a sigh of grateful relief.

It must have been nearly midnight when Reuben rose finally to go. There
had been so much to talk about, and time had flown so softly, buoyantly
along, that the evening seemed to him only to have begun, and he felt
that he fain would have had it go on forever. These delicious hours that
were past had been one sweet sustained conspiracy to do him honor, to
minister to his pleasure. No word or smile or deferential glance of
attention had been wanting to make complete the homage with which the
family had chosen to envelop him. The sense of tender domestic intimacy
had surcharged the very air he breathed. It had not even been necessary
to keep the ball of talk in motion: so well and truly did they know one
another, that silences had come as natural rests--silences more eloquent
than spoken words could be of mutual liking and trust. The outside world
had shrunk to nothingness. Here within this charmed circle of softened
light was home. All that the whole universe contained for him of beauty,
of romance, of reverential desire, of happiness, here within touch it
was centred. And it was all, all his!

The farewells that found their way into phrases left scarcely a mark
upon his memory. There had been cordial, softly significant words of
smiling leave-taking with Ethel and her mother, and then, divinely
prompted by the spirit which ruled this blessed hour, they had gone
away, and he stood alone in the hallway with the woman he worshipped. He
held her hand in his, and there was no need for speech.

Slowly, devoutly, he bowed his head over this white hand, and pressed
his lips upon it. There were tears in his eyes when he stood erect
again, and through them he saw with dim rapture the marvel of an angel’s
face, pale, yet glowing in the half light, lovely beyond all mortal
dreams; and on this face there shone a smile, tender, languorous,
trembling with the supreme ecstasy of a soul.

Were words spoken? Reuben could hardly have told as he walked away down
the path to the street. “Bless you! bless you!” was what the song-birds
carolled in his brain; but whether the music was an echo of what he had
said, did not make itself clear.

He was scarcely conscious of the physical element of walking in his
progress. Rather it seemed to him that his whole being was afloat in the
ether, wafted forward by the halcyon winds of a beneficent destiny. Was
there ever such unthinkable bliss before in all the vast span of the
universe?

The snowfall had long since ceased, and the clouds were gone. The air
was colder, and the broad sky was brilliant with the clear starlight of
winter. To the lover’s eyes, the great planets were nearer, strangely
nearer, than they had ever been before, and the undying fire with which
they burned was the same that glowed in his own heart. His senses linked
themselves to the grand procession of the skies. The triumphant onward
glide of the earth itself within this colossal scheme of movement was
apparent to him, and seemed but a part of his own resistless, glorified
onward sweep. Oh, this--_this_ was life!

*****

At the same hour a heavy and lumpish man made his way homeward by a
neighboring street, tramping with difficulty through the hardening snow
which lay thick upon the walks. There was nothing buoyant in his stride,
and he never once lifted his eyes to observe the luminous panorama
spread overhead. With his hands plunged deep into his pockets, and his
cane under his arm, he trudged moodily along, his shoulders rounded and
his brows bent in a frown.

An acquaintance going in the other direction called out cheerily as he
passed, “Hello, General! Pretty tough walking, isn’t it?” and had only
an inarticulate grunt for an answer.

There were evil hints abroad in the village below, this night--stories
of impending revelations of fraud, hints of coming prosecutions--and
General Boyce had heard enough of these to grow sick at heart. That
Horace had been deeply mixed up in something scoundrelly, seemed only
too evident. Since this foolish, ungrateful boy had left the paternal
roof, his father had surrendered himself more than ever to drink; but
indulgence now, instead of the old brightening merriment of song and
quip and pleasantly reminiscent camp-fire sparkle, seemed to swing him
like a pendulum between the extremes of sullen wrath and almost tearful
weakness. Something of both these moods weighted his mind to-night, and
to their burden was added a crushingly gloomy apprehension that naked
disgrace was coming as well. Precisely what it was, he knew not; but
winks and nods and unnatural efforts to shift the conversation when
he came in had been in the air about him all the evening. The very
vagueness of the fear lent it fresh terror.

His own gate was reached at last, and he turned wearily into the path
which encircled the small yard to reach the front door. He cursorily
noted the existence of some partially obliterated footprints in the
snow, and took it for granted that one of the servants had been out
late.

He had begun fumbling in his pocket for the key, and had his foot on the
lower step, before he discovered in the dim light something which
gave even his martial nerves a start. The dark-clad figure of a woman,
obviously well dressed, apparently young, lay before him, the head and
arms bent under against his very door.

The General was a man of swift decision and ready resource. In an
instant he had lifted the figure up out of the snow which half enveloped
it, and sustained it in one arm, while with the other he sent the
reverberating clamor of the door-bell pealing through the house. Then,
unlocking the door, he bore his burden lightly into the hall, turned up
the gas, and disposed the inanimate form on a chair.

He did not know the woman, but it was evident that she was very
ill--perhaps dying.

When the servant came down, he bade her run with all possible haste for
Dr. Lester, who lived only a block or so away.



CHAPTER XXXVI.--“I TELL YOU I HAVE LIVED IT DOWN!”

 Instead of snow and cold and the black terror of being overwhelmed
by stormy night, here were light and warmth and a curiously sleepy yet
volatile sense of comfort.

Jessica’s eyes for a long time rested tranquilly upon what seemed a
gigantic rose hanging directly over her head. Her brain received no
impression whatever as to why it was there, and there was not the
slightest impulse to wonder or to think about it at all. Even when it
finally began to descend nearer, and to expand and unfold pale pink
leaves, still it was satisfying not to have to make any effort toward
understanding it. The transformation went on with infinite slowness
before her vacantly contented vision. Upon all sides the outer leaves
gradually, little by little, stretched themselves downward, still
downward, until they enveloped her as in the bell of some huge inverted
lily. Indefinite spaces of time intervened, and then it became vaguely
apparent that faint designs of other, smaller flowers were scattered
over these large environing leaves, and that a soft, ruddy light came
through them. With measured deliberation, as if all eternity were at
its disposal, this vast floral cone revealed itself at last to her
dim consciousness as being made of some thin, figured cloth. It seemed
weeks--months--before she further comprehended that the rose above her
was the embroidered centre of a canopy, and that the leaves depending
from it in long, graceful curves about her were bed-curtains.

After a time she found herself lifting her hand upright and looking at
it. It was wan and white like wax, as if it did not belong to her at
all. From the wrist there was turned back the delicately quilted cuff of
a man’s silk night-shirt. She raised the arm in its novel silken sleeve,
and thrust it forward with some unformed notion that it would prove not
to be hers. The action pushed aside the curtains, and a glare of light
flashed in, under which she shut her eyes and gasped.

When she looked again, an elderly, broad-figured man with a florid face
was standing close beside the bed, gazing with anxiety upon her. She
knew that it was General Boyce, and for a long time was not surprised
that he should be there. The capacity for wondering, for thinking about
things, seemed not to exist in her brain. She looked at him calmly and
did not dream of speaking.

“Are you better?” she heard him eagerly whisper. “Are you in pain?”

The complex difficulty of two questions which required separate answers
troubled her remotely. She made some faint nodding motion of her head
and eyes, and then lay perfectly still again. She could hear the sound
of her own breathing--a hoarse, sighing sound, as if of blowing through
a comb--and, now that it was suggested to her, there was a deadened
heavy ache in her breast.

Still placidly surveying the General, she began to be conscious of
remembering things. The pictures came slowly, taking form with a
fantastic absence of consecutive meaning, but they gradually produced
the effect of a recollection upon her mind. The starting point--and
everything else that went before that terrible sinking, despairing
struggle through the wet snow--was missing. She recalled most vividly
of all being seized with a sudden crisis of swimming giddiness
and choking--her throat and chest all afire with the tortures of
suffocation. It was under a lamp-post, she remembered; and when the
vehement coughing was over, her mouth was full of blood, and there were
terrifying crimson spatters on the snow. She had stood aghast at this,
and then fallen to weeping piteously to herself with fright. How strange
it was--in the anguish of that moment she had moaned out, “O mother,
mother!” and yet she had never seen that parent, and had scarcely
thought of her memory even for many, many years.

Then she had blindly staggered on, sinking more than once from sheer
exhaustion, but still forcing herself forward, her wet feet weighing
like leaden balls, and fierce agonies clutching her very heart. She had
fallen in the snow at the very end of her journey; had dragged herself
laboriously, painfully, up on to the steps, and had beaten feebly on the
panels of the door with her numbed hands, making an inarticulate moan
which not all her desperate last effort could lift into a cry; and then
there had come, with a great downward swoop of skies and storm, utter
blackness and collapse.

She closed her eyes now in the weariness which this effort at
recollection had caused. Her senses wandered off, unbidden, unguided,
to a dream of the buzzing of a bee upon a window-pane, which was somehow
like the stertorous sound of her own breathing.

The bee--a big, loud, foolish fellow, with yellow fur upon his broad
back and thighs--had flown into the schoolroom, and had not wit enough
to go out again. Some of the children were giggling over this, but
she would not join them because Mr. Tracy, the schoolmaster upon the
platform, did not wish it. She wanted very much to please him. Already
she delighted in the hope that he liked her better than he did some of
the other girls--scornful girls who came from wealthy homes, and wore
better dresses than any of the despised Lawton brood could ever hope to
have.

Silk dresses, opened boldly at the throat, and with long trains
tricked out with imitation garlands. They were worn now by older
girls--hard-faced, jealous, cruel creatures--and these sat in a room
with lace curtains and luxurious furniture. And some laughed with a ring
like brass in their voices, and some wept furtively in comers, and some
cursed their God and all living things; and there was the odor of wine
and the uproar of the piano, and over all a great, ceaseless shame and
terror.

Escape from this should be made at all hazards; and the long, incredibly
fearful flight, with pursuit always pressing hot upon her, the evil
fangs of the wolf-pack snapping in the air all about her frightened
ears, led to a peaceful, soft-carpeted forest, where the low setting
sun spread a red light among the big tree-trunks. Against this deep,
far-distant sky there was the figure of a man coming. For him she waited
with a song in her heart. Did she not know him? It was Reuben Tracy, and
he was too gentle and good not to see her when he passed. She would call
out to him--and lo! she could not.

Horace was with her, and held her hand; and they both gazed with
terrified longing after Tracy, and could not cry out to him for the
awful dumbness that was on them. And when he, refusing to see them,
spread out his arms in anger, the whole great forest began to sway and
circle dizzily, and huge trees toppled, rocks crashed downward, gaunt
giant reptiles rose from yawning caves with hideous slimy eyes in a
lurid ring about her. And she would save Horace with her life, and
fought like mad, bleeding and maimed and frenzied, until the weight
of mountains piled upon her breast held her down in helpless, choking
horror. Then only came the power to scream, and--

Out of the roar of confusion and darkness came suddenly a hush and the
return of light. She was lying in the curtained bed, and a tender hand
was pressing soft cool linen to her lips.

Opening her eyes in tranquil weakness, she saw two men standing at her
bedside. He who held the cloth in his hand was Dr. Lester, whom she
remembered very well. The other--he whose head was bowed, and whose eyes
were fastened upon hers with a pained and affrighted gaze--was Horace
Boyce.

In her soul she smiled at him, but no answering softness came to his
harrowed face.

“I told your father everything,” she heard the doctor say in a low tone.
“I recognized her on the instant. I happened to have attended her, by
the merest chance, when her child was born.”

“Her child?” the other asked, in the same low, far-away voice.

“Yes--and your child. He is in Thessaly now, a boy nearly six years
old.”

“Good God! I never knew--”

“You seem to have taken precious good care not to know,” said the
doctor, with grave dislike. “This is the time and place to speak plainly
to you, Boyce. This poor girl has come to her death through the effort
to save you from disgrace. She supposed you lived here, and dragged
herself here to help you.” Jessica heard the sentence of doom without
even a passing thought. Every energy left in her feebly fluttering
brain was concentrated upon the question, _Is_ he saved? Vaguely the
circumstances of the papers, of the threats against Horace, of her
desires and actions, seemed to come back to her memory. She waited in
dazed suspense to hear what Horace would say; but he only hung his head
the lower, and left the doctor to go on.

“She raved for hours last night,” he said, “after the women had got her
to bed, and we had raised her out of the comatose state, about saving
you from State prison. First she would plead with Tracy, then she would
appeal to you to fly, and so backwards and forwards, until she wore
herself out. The papers she had got hold of--they must have slipped out
of Gedney’s pocket into the sleigh. I suppose you know that I took them
back to Tracy this morning?”

Still Horace made no answer, but bent that crushed and vacant gaze
upon her face. She marvelled that he could not see she was awake and
conscious, and still more that the strength and will to speak were
withheld from her. The dreadful pressure upon her breast was making
itself felt again, and the painful sound of the labored breathing took
on the sombre rhythm of a distant death-chant. Oh, would he never speak!
No: still the doctor went on:

“Tracy will be here in a few minutes. He’s terribly upset by the thing,
and has gone first to tell the news at the Minsters’. Do you want to see
him when he comes?”

“I don’t know what I want,” said Horace, gloomily.

“If I were you, I would go straight to him and say frankly, ‘I have been
a damned fool, and a still damneder hypocrite, and I throw myself on
your mercy.’ He’s the tenderest-hearted man alive, and this sight here
will move him. Upon my word, I can hardly keep the tears out of my eyes
myself.”

Jessica saw as through a mist that these two men’s faces, turned upon
her, were softened with a deep compassion. Then suddenly the power to
speak came to her. It was a puny and unnatural voice which fell upon her
ears--low and hoarsely grating, and the product of much pain.

“Go away--doctor,” she murmured. “Leave him here.”

Horace sat softly upon the edge of the bed, and gathered her two hands
tenderly in his. He did not attempt to keep back the tears which welled
to his eyes, nor did he try to talk. Thus they were together for what
seemed a long time, surrounded by a silence which was full of voices
to them both. A wan smile settled upon her face as she held him in her
intent gaze.

“Take the boy,” she whispered at last; “he is Horace, too. Don’t let him
lie--ever--to any girl.”

The young man groaned in spite of himself, and for answer gently pressed
her hands. “I promise you that, Jess,” he said, after a time, in a
broken voice. He bent over and kissed her on the forehead. The damp
roughness of the skin chilled and terrified him, but the radiance on her
face deepened.

“It hurts--to breathe,” she said, after a time with a glance of
affectionate apology in her smile.

Subdued noises were faintly heard now in the hallway outside, and
presently the door was opened cautiously, and a tall new figure entered
the room. After a moment’s hesitation Reuben Tracy tiptoed his way to
the bedside, and stood gravely behind and above his former partner.

“Is she conscious?” he asked of Boyce, in a tremulous whisper; and
Horace, bending his head still lower, murmured between choking sobs: “It
is Mr. Tracy, Jess, come to say--to see you.”

Her eyes brightened with intelligence. “Good--good,” she said, slowly,
as if musing to herself. The gaze which she fastened upon Reuben’s face
was strangely full of intense meaning, and he felt it piercing his
very heart. Minutes went by under the strain of this deep, half-wild,
appealing look. At last she spoke, with a greater effort at distinctness
than before, and in a momentarily clearer tone.

“You were always kind,” she said. “Don’t hurt--my boy. Shake hands with
him--for my sake.”

The two young men obeyed mechanically, after an instant’s pause, and
without looking at each other. Neither had eyes save for the white face
on the pillows in front of them, and for the gladdened, restful light
which spread softly over it as their hands touched in amity before her
vision.

Now she seemed no longer to see them.

In the languor of peace which had come to possess her, even the sense of
pain in breathing was gone. There were shadowy figures on the retina of
her brain, but they conveyed no idea save of general beatitude to her
mind. The space in which her senses floated was radiant and warm and
full of formless beauty. Various individuals--types of her loosening
ties to life--came and went almost unheeded in this daze.

Lucinda, vehemently weeping, and holding the little fair-haired,
wondering boy over the bed for her final kiss, passed away like a
dissolving mist. Her father’s face, too, dawned upon this dream,
tear-stained and woful, and faded again into nothingness. Other flitting
apparitions there were, even more vague and brief, melting noiselessly
into the darkened hush.

The unclouded calm of this lethargy grew troubled presently when there
fell upon her dulled ear the low tones of a remembered woman’s voice.
Enough of consciousness flickered up to tell her whose it was. She
strained her eyes in the gathering shadows to see Kate Minster, and
began restlessly to roll her head upon the pillow.

“Where--where--_her?_” she moaned, striving to stretch forth her hand.

It was lifted and held softly in a tender grasp, and she felt as well
a compassionate stroking touch laid upon her forehead. The gentle
magnetism of these helped the dying girl to bring into momentary being
the image of a countenance close above hers--a dark, beautiful face, all
melting now with affection and grief. She smiled faintly into this face,
and lay still again for a long time. The breathing grew terribly shorter
and more labored, the light faded.





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