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Title: A New Aristocracy
Author: Arnold, Birch
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A New Aristocracy" ***


[Illustration]



                                 A NEW
                              ARISTOCRACY.


                                   BY
                            “BIRCH ARNOLD,”
                    Author of “Until the Daybreak.”


                      BARTLETT PUBLISHING COMPANY.
                NEW YORK: 30 AND 32 WEST THIRTEENTH ST.
                   DETROIT, MICH.: 44 WEST LARNED ST.

                                 1891.



                          COPYRIGHT BY AUTHOR.


                      ELECTROTYPED AND PRINTED BY
                    THE PUBLISHERS’ PRINTING COMPANY
                        30 & 32 WEST 13TH STREET
                                NEW YORK



“Talk about questions of the day. There is but one question and that is
the Gospel. It can and will correct everything that needs correction....
My only hope for the world is in bringing the human mind into contact
with Divine Revelation.

                                                     “WM. E. GLADSTONE.”



                             INTRODUCTION.


               “Write ye for art,” the critics cry,
                 “And give your best endeavor,
               That down the aisles of length’ning time
                 Your fame may speed forever!”

               “Write ye for truth,” my heart replies,
                 “And prove that generous giving,
               May help some blinded eyes to find
                 The noblest way of living.”

               The simple story, plainly told,
                 May bear its own conviction,
               And words alive with buoyant hope
                 May supersede their diction.

               Give me the horny-handed clasp
                 Of some good honest neighbor,
               Who finds within the words I speak
                 A strength for earnest labor.

               Give me the lifted, grateful smile
                 Of some poor fainting woman,
               Who knows that I regard her soul
                 As something dear and human.

               Give me the fervent, heartfelt prayer
                 Of just the toiling masses;
               To be remembered with their love
                 Your boasted art surpasses.

               And this be mine, whate’er the fault
                 Of manner, not of matter,
               Along the rocky ways of life
                 Some living truths to scatter.
                                           BIRCH ARNOLD.



                           A NEW ARISTOCRACY.



                               CHAPTER I.


Mr. Murchison was dead. The villagers announced the fact to each other
with bated breath as they gazed with reverent awe at the crape on the
door.

“Poor man,” they sighed, vaguely sympathetic; “it’s well enough with him
now, but there’s the children.”

“Ay, there’s the children,” more than one responded feelingly.

Mr. Murchison had been the rector of the small parish of Barnley,
distant perhaps a hundred miles from the city of C——, the great
commercial center of the West, and having attended faithfully to his
duties for a series of years, had been stricken at last with the dread
pangs of consumption. Two years of painful waiting had passed away, and
now the release had come. Devout, patient, and faithful, who could doubt
that it was well with him?

“God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” tremblingly spoke the
clergyman who had been summoned to conduct the burial service. “Surely
He will so influence the hearts of His people that these bereft ones,
these fatherless and motherless children, shall not suffer from contact
with the cold and bitter side of life.”

Comforting words truly; words that fell, as rain falls on parched
fields, upon the benumbed senses of those who wept for their dead; words
that touched the hearts of the little band of parishioners, and made
each one wonder for the time being what he could do for them; words that
resulted in offerings of flowers and fruit for one week and—so soon do
good impulses die—in comment and unsought advice for another.

It was a well-known fact that aside from his library and household
belongings Mr. Murchison had left nothing. A student and a biblist of
rare discernment, he was happiest when deep in abstruse research, and
many a dollar of his meagre salary had gone for volumes whose undoubted
antiquity might help him to the completion of some vexed problem.
Sometimes, looking up from his treatise or his sermon, he would glance
at Margaret, his eldest daughter and careful housekeeper for the last
five lonely years of his life, and think painfully of the time, the
dread sometime, that was sure to leave his darlings unprotected. He
wished, good man, that he might have money; not that he coveted the
dross of earth, but that it might be the Lord’s will to shield his loved
ones from contact with bleak and bitter poverty. Many a prayer was
rounded with that earnest supplication, to which he supplemented, always
in complete resignation, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” But he never saw
the earthly realization of his hopes. He always grew poorer; his
clothing just a trifle shabbier, the table a little plainer, and
Margaret daily more and more put to her wit’s ends in the difficult
problem of making something out of nothing. But who shall say the faith
of a life-time met with no recompense? Who can declare, with certainty,
the blinded eyes saw not afterward with clearer vision that he had left
each of his darlings God’s highest riches, a brave human intelligence?

Margaret Murchison, the eldest of the three children, was too strongly
built, physically and mentally, to be beautiful. It is indisputably true
that where nature puts strength she also puts hard lines, and every
feature of Margaret’s face bespoke the positive nature; quick to
comprehend and fearless to execute. Yet hers was by no means a masculine
or an ugly face. Though strongly marked, there was still an indefinable
attraction in the warm depths of her blue eyes and the smile of her
mobile and sympathetic mouth. She was, withal, strangely wholesome to
look upon; one of those rare beings, as it came afterward to be said of
her, whose faces rest you as calm waters and green fields rest eyes that
are blinded with the dust and turmoil of the city’s streets. In figure
she was tall, with that breadth of shoulder and hip which indicates
endurance, free and graceful in her movements, apt in her utterances,
and unusually keen in her intuitions. At the time of her father’s death
she was twenty-four years of age, thoughtful even beyond her years. Hers
had been a hard school. Poverty prematurely sharpens wits and generates
ambition, and ever since her earliest recollection she had witnessed the
daily pinchings and privations of stern necessity. Questioning often
with wondering eyes and grave thought, she had early learned to strive
against this oppressor of her household; but the best of effort had only
kept the lean wolf of hunger from the door. The father, wedded to
abstruse speculation and erudite research, had not that talent for
money-getting which is expected of the “working parsons” of country
villages; and though the mother had been possessed of uncommon tact,
meagreness in every detail of Margaret’s physical growth had always
confronted her. Not so intellectually, however. The bond of sympathy
between parents and children had always been strong, and in the
communion of thought the barren home life was lifted into realms of
peace and plenty. Nobody remembered how Margaret learned to read. The
faculty seemed to come with her growth, like her teeth, and almost as
soon as she had mastered the rudiments of reading, her father delighted
to feed the grave little head with as much of the mental pabulum upon
which he feasted as the infantile brain could digest. Her capacity
proved something like that of the sponge, growing receptive in
proportion as it was fed, and when at eighteen she was vouchsafed a year
of school life at a church institution, she astonished both faculty and
pupils by disclosing such an odd mixture of knowledge as no other pupil
had ever brought to the school. Latin and Greek were far more familiar
to her than fractions, and the geography of the Holy Land an open page
beside the study of her own state and its form of government. Her
aptitude for language was wonderful, and her ability for philosophical
reasoning much beyond her years. She achieved marvels of learning in the
one short year, only at its expiration to be called away by the sad
announcement of her mother’s mortal sickness. She reached home in time
to comfort the anxious heart with the promise to keep always a home for
the loved ones left behind. For five years she had faithfully fulfilled
this promise, and now death had come again to take her last and only
support. In the moment of her bereavement she did not realize how
largely she had been not only self-dependent, but had been the mainstay
of the little household. Love makes even the strongest natures yield to
its silken leading-strings, and the tie between father and daughter had
been no common one. But it was she who had been the prop that upheld the
fabric of his life in these weary later years. It was on her brave heart
he had leaned more and more; but she had no thought of what she had
given. She had received, ah! who shall count the memories and pledges
that loyal love has in its keeping?

But the prosaic side of life confronted Margaret one morning a week
after she had laid her dead away, and roused her from the apathy of
grief that follows even the wildest tempest of tears.

“Not even time to mourn,” she said wearily. “Death comes; but life goes
on, and it must be fed and comforted. I must work to drive the cobwebs
from my brain and this strange inertia from my limbs. Something to do,
some duty that must not be evaded, will heal and strengthen anew.”

These reflections had been induced by a visit Margaret had just received
from one of the vestrymen of the church at Barnley, who had called with
words of condolence and inquiry. He desired to know, if it was not
impertinent, what course Miss Murchison had decided upon relative to her
future and her family.

“I have made no decision as yet,” answered Margaret wearily; “I have
been too absorbed in other things. Why do you ask, Mr. Dempster?”

“Well—ahem!—my wife and I had a talk about your—your prospects, and we
thought that if—if—that is, we would like to help you, seein’ as you’re
one of our pastor’s family.”

“You are very kind,” said Margaret gently.

“Well, you see,” began Mr. Dempster hurriedly, “we’ve always kind o’
liked your folks, and my wife and I was sayin’ that seein’ as you’d be
pretty likely to have a hard time, we’d like to help you out a bit. Now,
there’s Elsie: she’s young, you know, and real bright and smart, and we
thought maybe you’d be willin’ we should take her and bring her up.
She’d have a fust-rate home, you know.”

“Mr. Dempster,” said Margaret, ignoring the half-boastful tone in which
the last assertion had been made, “do you think I could give away one of
these children over whom I’ve watched for five years, and whom I
promised never to leave as long as they needed a home? No, sir. My life
has been hard, as you say; it may be harder yet; but as long as I have
life and health I shall keep my promise. Besides, you forget that Elsie
has not yet finished school.”

“I know; but they was a-talkin’ it over in the vestry last evenin’, and
they said they didn’t see as you could afford to keep the children in
school any more, as your father’s salary is, of course, discontinued.
You see, it takes money for clothes and incidentals.”

“I am fully aware of that fact, but I have strong hands and a stout
heart; because we are poor and cast down now, I see no reason why we
should always be so. Do you, Mr. Dempster?”

“No, no, of course not,” hastily assented Mr. Dempster.

“Is it the opinion of the vestry that Elsie and Gilbert need no further
education?”

“Oh, no. They was only a-sayin’, as they was talkin’ about ways and
means, that if you couldn’t take care of ’em we—that’s Mr. Dodd and
me—would take ’em off your hands.”

“I’ve no doubt that you meant kindly; but I intend to teach them to take
care of themselves, and there is no care equal to that. The parish of
Barnley has been very kind; but I assure you, sir, there is no happiness
like being independent, and that, with God’s help, I mean to teach my
brother and sister to be.”

“Then you mean to say you refuse our offers of help, Miss Murchison?”
said Mr. Dempster, bristling a little.

“Not at all. Indeed, I shall be glad of any assistance you can give me
in the way of work. You know before my father’s health failed I used to
make your wife’s dresses. I’m a little out of practice now, but I think
I could soon get back the old deftness.”

“Why—yes—but Mrs. Dempster sends to C—— now for her work. She says she
gets better styles, and takin’ all things into consideration, it don’t
cost such a dreadful sight more.”

Margaret smiled involuntarily. She knew how the Dempsters, from greatest
to least, counted the cost of everything, and she knew the offer to take
Elsie—dear, sunny-hearted Elsie—off her hands had not been so much a
question of philanthropy as gain. Could she so have disposed her heart
as to give Elsie away, the bare thought of the drudgery which would have
been her portion as maid-of-all-work in that household would have been
sufficient to deter her.

“Well, I must be goin’,” said Mr. Dempster as Margaret remained silent.
“You know they’ve hired a new parson and he will be here this week,” he
added from the doorway.

“So soon!” exclaimed Margaret with a start. “And—and—you will want the
parsonage right away?”

“Well, there ain’t no particular hurry, I suppose; but the folks thought
it best to give you a week’s notice to quit,” and having delivered this
parting shot, Mr. Dempster said “good-day” hastily and walked out of the
gate.

So soon! so soon! to leave the dear home that spoke so tenderly of those
who had gone away! To leave the cozy corner where stood her mother’s
armchair, as it had stood for years, often bringing its memories of the
sweet face and gentle hands which had presided over the hearthstone so
long ago. To leave the sacred room where stood her father’s desk, from
which not a paper had been removed since the nerveless hand had dropped
the pen in the midst of a sentence of his last sermon; the room where
stood his well-filled book-cases and his shabby furniture, and
go—where—oh, where? asked Margaret’s heart in utter anguish. She grew
suddenly weak with the rush of memory and regret, and slipped down upon
the floor in an abandon of grief.

The outer door swept open and a young girl, entering hastily, cried
sharply as she knelt beside the prostrate form: “O Meg! dear, brave Meg!
what has happened?”

“Nothing, Elsie dear. I have only been bewildered of late, and had
forgotten that this is no longer home.”

“Must we leave soon?”

“Within a week.”

“It is sudden; but I knew it must come sooner or later. I am not sorry,
either, Meg; for we will go out into the world to work for each other
and make a new home.”

Meg shook her head. “You are brave, Elsie, with the ignorance of youth.
You do not know what gulfs lie between your hope and its accomplishment.
While I——”

“You, Meg,” interrupted Elsie, “are wearied with the weight of your
burdens, and I must take them off your shoulders and rest you good and
long.”

“Oh, confident youth! What a sweet comfort this little rose is to me,”
and Margaret took the bright face between her hands and kissed it
fondly. It was a rose indeed that Margaret raised to her lips. Brilliant
with the rich coloring of the brunette, lit up by a pair of dark velvety
eyes, a full, red-lipped, delicately-curved mouth, and framed in a mass
of black, lustrous, curling hair, Elsie’s face was undeniably beautiful.
Somewhat petite in form, she was the embodiment of grace in every
movement. Naturally hopeful and sweet-tempered, she had been all her
life a source of comfort to Margaret. If she felt that she had greater
patience, she found encouragement in Elsie’s greater hopefulness. If she
felt in herself greater power to conquer adverse circumstances, she
relied equally upon Elsie’s faculty of throwing the best light upon
everything, and taking trouble as little to heart as possible. Unlike,
yet like. Margaret’s strength was born of conviction and experience, and
duty, her imperial mistress, held her firmly to her course. Elsie’s
courage and cheerfulness were as inherent a part of herself as her
rippling black hair or her daintily-fashioned foot, and love was the
governing impulse of her life. She would do for love’s sake what no
amount of cogent reasoning could convince her ought to be done for
duty’s. She “hated the name of duty,” she had been heard to declare with
an imperious stamp of her little foot.

“If one was good, because love prompted her to do all these nice things
for other people, wasn’t that enough? And as for ‘doing good to those
who despitefully use you,’ she believed the Lord wasn’t very angry if
you only just didn’t do them any harm! And she felt sure that He would
forgive her if she _couldn’t_ and _wouldn’t_ like the Dempsters.”

All this had happened long ago, and now it came back to them as Meg told
Elsie of Mr. Dempster’s offer.

“The old—gentleman!” exclaimed Elsie as Margaret glanced up
apprehensively. “I was only going to say ‘heathen,’ anyway,” she added
mischievously. “Do you think it is my duty, Meg, to accept the offer,
and learn under their guidance to be a meek and quiet Christian?”

“My poor Elsie, you will never be a meek Christian, I am sure. Let us
hope Mr. Dempster meant well, and so forget all about it.”

“With all my heart, since I am not going to him. So long as my dear old
Meg commands I obey. He needn’t have troubled himself about the school,
for I don’t intend to go back.”

“Indeed you must. I shall write to Dr. Ely to-day and ask a place for
you and Gilbert. You know what our prospects are, dear, that it must be
head and hands for each of us, and it behooves us to put as much into
our heads as time and circumstance will allow.”

“And you, dear?” asked Elsie wistfully.

“I shall find something for my hands to do. They are good strong hands,
and they must put bread into that little mouth.”

“What can your hands find to do here? There is nothing better than
sewing or dish-washing. You are fitted for better work.”

“I hope I am; but it does not follow that I must refuse to do what I can
find to do, because I cannot find what I want. If nothing better offers
I shall even try the dish-washing.”

“O Meg! I couldn’t bear to see you so lowered.”

“You misuse the word, Elsie. I should feel that I lowered myself more in
refusing the work at hand, in the vain hope of finding something
pleasing and genteel. Dear little girl, your solemn old Meg wants to
disclose to you the prosaic rule by which she means to measure her life.
It will seem dry and hard to you in your youth and bloom; but you must
learn some time, and if the bitter tonic is taken early nothing seems
quite so bitter afterward. Shall I tell you?”

“Y-yes,” answered Elsie hesitatingly, “only—only——”

“I know. You dislike even to be told that life is uncompromising. Well,
then, we’ll say no more about it. I see I cannot learn for you.”

“It is not that,” exclaimed Elsie. “I am only just beginning to see how
you had to forego your youth and bloom to learn for all of us. Tell me
all about it, and teach me to be your helper. I am such a lover of
pleasure, I never can be strong like you. Tell me how you learned it,
Meg.”

“I did not learn to be less than happy. I only learned to do well what
lay nearest me, and in that there is happiness. There is the whole dread
secret, Rosebud, and if you want me to be epigrammatic and terse here is
the formula: Aim high; mind is the greatest of God’s forces. Be honest;
a clean conscience is the best bed-fellow at night. Do cheerfully what
lies nearest you; fortune surprises the faithful.”

“Diogenes in petticoats!” exclaimed Elsie, all her cheerfulness
returning. “Make a dictionary, Meg, on the plan that A stands for Apple,
and Gilbert and I will not need to go to school.”

“No, I’ve tried philosophy enough on you; you laugh at it.”

“Not for worlds! Trust me, Meg, to learn it all somewhere on the road to
threescore and ten. It is a ‘sair’ lesson for one of my temperament; but
if it ‘maun be’ it ‘maun be.’”

“I hope your prosy Meg may live long enough to see you safely conning
it; for I feel as if I were born to keep your wings from singeing.”

“What a heroine you are, Margaret Murchison! I am fain to fall at your
feet and worship you.”

“That would be foolish. Wait to see at least how I bear the burden and
heat of the day. You may have to reverse your opinion.”

“Never! Even if you sit with idle hands the rest of your days. But to go
back to our muttons. What are we to do?”

“Write to Dr. Ely,” answered Meg, rising to her feet. “Bring me my
writing-desk, Elsie.”

“On one condition,” said Elsie, placing a hand on either side of Meg’s
face and looking pleadingly up into her eyes: “write please for Gilbert.
Let me stay with you.”

“No, Elsie. Education will be worth everything to you. You cannot be
successful without it.”

“Then teach me yourself. Dr. Ely said you had a wonderful mind.”

“Good friable soil for seed; nothing more. I have but a handful of
knowledge and that would soon be exhausted. I cannot consent to your
leaving school.”

“I’ll not _leave_—I’ll never go back,” said stubborn Elsie. “Don’t look
so reproachful! This much I am decided upon: while you drudge I drudge,
so that’s said, and I isn’t a-gwine to unsaid it, nuther,” she added
roguishly, imitating the negro dialect and attitude.

“Obstinate little girl! I perceive I must bring my desk myself.”

“No, no, Meg,” and Elsie sprang to the door. “Only promise!”

“It is your good I seek, child.”

“I know it; but let me be unselfish this once. It may be my only chance
of redemption.”

“You shall have your way,” said Margaret with eyes suffused with tears.

“Dear, good Meg,” exclaimed impulsive Elsie, throwing her arms round her
sister’s neck. “We’ll cling together. You shall be the oak to hold me
up, and I’ll be the ivy to keep you warm—and green!”



                              CHAPTER II.


“Meg, I’ve an idea!” exclaimed Elsie several mornings later, as Margaret
returned from an unsuccessful search for a house, as well as work at the
hands of Mrs. Dempster and several other ladies of the parish.

“I’m glad to hear it. Ideas are good things to have,” said Margaret,
wearily dropping into a chair.

“Of course you haven’t found work, or anything else but advice, have
you? Well, this is my idea: let us go away from Barnley.”

“O Elsie!”

“I know it’s hard; but we’ll starve on advice. It’s cheaper than
beefsteak, of course; but it is somewhat weakening after one has
breakfasted, dined, and supped on it. Let’s go away and dig for a
living. See what I found this morning,” and Elsie drew from her pocket a
newspaper clipping of late date, and read aloud an advertisement:


“For Rent: A small house at Idlewild, with three acres of ground well
supplied with small fruits. Only thirty minutes’ ride on dummy to city
market. Rent cheap, or will sell at reasonable price. Call at Harris &
Smith’s, cor. Vine and Tenth Sts., C——.”


“Meg, let’s go and see it.”

“Why, Elsie, child, how is it possible?”

“This way. Maybe I’m visionary, but I’ve an idea that we can make enough
money out of the place to pay the rent and keep us. See here: ‘only
thirty minutes’ ride on dummy to city market.’ Now, three acres of
ground, if good for anything, ought to raise potatoes.”

“Admitted. Go on with your proposition.”

“Potatoes _with_ salt constitute a very fair living for a hungry man;
_without_ salt they keep starve to death away—ergo, let’s plant
potatoes! To be serious—I’ve thought of this. It is now February, and
we’ll need to make haste. We’ve raised our own potatoes in the parsonage
garden for years, and good ones, too. Why not raise double the quantity
somewhere else and sell the surplus? The small fruits advertised may be
worth cultivating, too. You are a splendid amateur gardener—everybody
says so; and there’s Gilbert—to be sure, only a boy; but a boy is good
for some things sometimes—and I consider myself capable of being taught.
Now, I’ve sketched the outlines of Eutopia, and you must fill in the
shading.”

“Outlines are easily drawn; the skill lies in the filling in.”

“Therefore I left it for you. I feel as if we might dig our living out
of the soil easier than out of the oftentimes ungracious favor of
humanity. Suppose we look this place up to-morrow?”

“I cannot see my way clear yet. Where is all the money to come from to
start us in this venture? It takes money for spades, you know.”

“I realize it. Can’t we sell something?”

“What—our old clothes?”

“To the rag-man perhaps. Seriously, have we nothing of value we can
spare?”

“I can think of nothing.”

“I can. O Meg, the hardest part of my suggestion is yet to come. Dr. Ely
said when I named some of the books in poor father’s library that they
were of undoubted value, as many were out of print. He spoke especially
of the two Caxton copies, Plantin’s ‘Biblia Polyglotta,’ and Sparks’
‘Life of Washington.’ Dear Meg, the question is: Shall we keep our
treasures and starve, or in letting them go find a chance of outgrowing
our poverty? I am tired of this grinding life that takes the color out
of your cheeks and puts wrinkles where dimples ought to be. Much as I
love the dear old books, I love hope for you and for all of us better. O
Meg! it is no sacrilege to say that if our father could speak to us he
would tell us to sell them. The heritage is precious; how precious to us
few can guess. But, my sweet sister, your hopes and happiness are dearer
to him, I know. Don’t sob so, Meg; you will break my heart. Forgive me
for suggesting it. It really seems best.”

“I know it, Rosebud,” said Margaret after a long silence. “I must think
about it. I cannot decide yet.”

As Margaret spoke she raised Elsie’s tearful face and kissed it
tenderly. It was more difficult for Margaret to give up the books than
Elsie had dreamed. They were not to her, as to Margaret, the great mine
of wealth from which she had drawn the intellectual riches that were
already hers, and from which she had hoped to glean a far greater
abundance. Dear as they were for the associations’ sake, many of them
having been successively her grandfather’s and father’s, and hallowed as
they were by the thought of the dear eyes which had once delighted in
their pages, this relinquishment of her ambitions seemed the most cruel
hurt of all. She knew that Elsie’s suggestion was practicable; that it
opened a way out of their present difficulties; but it was the slipping
of the cable that bound her to the old life which, despite its
hardships, had seemed so idyllic in its visions and mental attainments.
If she gave up her books, what could she hope for beyond the barren
drudgery of mere existence? With her books she could revel in an ideal
world where the hard facts of her daily struggles could not intrude.
They were indeed a heaven of remembrance and a heaven of hope to her.
Where, oh, where else could she find the oasis of rest, the one little
gleam of personal happiness which she had hoped might be allowed her?
And yet duty, even from the mouth of Elsie, whom she had hitherto
regarded as a mere child, said all too plainly that the cherished books
must go. There seemed to be no other solution of the vexed question of
subsistence. It was a very pale face that Margaret raised to Elsie’s
anxious glance several moments later; but it was determined and calm.

“You are right, Elsie; you excel me in practicability even now. I will
write at once to Dr. Ely.”

“Meg, I was cruel to you.”

“As facts are sometimes cruel. Now let us catalogue the books, that Dr.
Ely may judge of them. Not another tear, Rosebud, but forward.”

A reassuring smile and a fond kiss calmed the rising storm of regret in
Elsie’s heart. With protean quickness the smile so natural to her face
came back, and hastily mounting the small step-ladder, she took down the
books and gave title, name of author, and date of issue to Margaret to
jot down. There were perhaps some eight hundred books, of which only a
small portion would in these days of reprints possess an unusual
interest for the bibliophilist. Among the latter were: Smellie’s
“Philosophy;” Plantin’s “Biblia Polyglotta” in eight folio volumes,
published in the sixteenth century; Dunton’s “Life and Errors,”
1659–1733; Caxton’s books, mostly translations from the French;
Nicholl’s “Literary Anecdotes;” Sotheby’s “Handwriting of Melancthon and
Luther;” Davy’s “System of Divinity,” twenty-six volumes; Dolby’s
“Shakespearean Dictionary;” Ainsworth’s “Historical Novels;” Hone’s
“Early Life and Conversion;” Timperly’s “Encyclopedia of Literary
Anecdote;” “The Bay Psalm Book;” Adelung’s “Historical Sketch of
Sanscrit Literature,” translated by Talboys; Krummacher’s “Elisha.”
Aside from these somewhat rare books, the library took a wide range in
history, poetry, fiction, and travels. Margaret could scarcely repress
the desire to cry out once more against the sacrilege. Here was
information for a life-time; here forgetfulness of the past, elysium for
the future! Why must this grief be superadded to all she had borne? But
with heroic effort she choked back the tears and went calmly on with her
work. By the time she had finished the list and written a letter to Dr.
Ely, of the Episcopal school at A——, she had put aside regret and was
once more ready to look facts squarely in the face. “The first step that
costs” had been taken, and never afterward to Margaret did any sorrow
seem like the wrench of this one. It was with alacrity, amounting almost
to cheerfulness, that she went about her task of packing the household
goods, and though sometimes tears would for a moment dim her eyes and
tender memories paralyze her hands, yet the serene conviction that her
decision had been wisely taken seemed to hover like a nimbus of light
above the sadness of the slowly-moving hours.

One morning as Margaret, with her brown locks shrouded in a wide-frilled
sweeping cap, her dress hidden by a high-necked calico apron of
nondescript make, stood upon a step-ladder, engaged in removing the
dimity curtains from the sitting-room windows, a peremptory knock at the
open door behind her caused her to turn so suddenly that the ladder
tipped and threw her, with unexpected suddenness, into the arms of a
dignified gentleman who stood upon the threshold. Quickly disengaging
herself, she exclaimed with a laugh:

“My greeting is unusually fervent, Dr. Ely; but you perceive that
circumstances——”

“Were too many for you,” he interrupted; as Margaret paused for breath.
“I hope you were not hurt?”

“Not in the least; but a trifle confused. Will you walk in and be
seated? I did not look for a personal answer to my letter, otherwise I
should have deferred my packing.”

“I decided to come only at the last moment, and so could not write you.
I am not at all sorry that I surprised you; in fact, I found it rather
pleasant.”

Margaret glanced up apprehensively, a new wonder growing in her eyes,
which the doctor was quick to note and interpret. “I felt that it would
be much easier to adjust the prices of the books and come to a
satisfactory arrangement of matters through a personal interview.
Therefore I am here.”

“And quite welcome; but you must pardon the incoherent state of things.”

“With all my heart, so long as you remain rational. And now I wish you
would tell me what you propose doing.”

“I? Working for a living.”

“At what?”

“Anything I can find. Just now Elsie has me under control. She is bent
on making a market gardener of me. Please look at this advertisement. We
have already made appointment to visit the place, and if satisfactory
and the books are disposed of, to take immediate possession. What do you
think of the plan?”

“H-m. It might be good, but how about the children’s education?”

“That was what worried me greatly at first; but both of them say so long
as I work for a living they shall help too. We have decided to give an
hour each evening, after it is too dark to work, to a little home
culture. After all, it is the practical application of knowledge that
makes one educated.”

“Quite true, Miss Margaret,” answered the doctor as he gravely regarded
her. “Give me a few more details of your plan, and let me see how
practicable it is.”

As Margaret proceeded with an animated recital of the schemes which she
and Elsie had lain awake nights to concoct, Dr. Ely sat so intently
watching her that she flushed and grew uneasy under his scrutiny. He,
however, was not aware of it; for his mind was borne in upon itself, and
he was tracing step by step the years of his life that had brought him
to this present moment. He was a dignified man nearing the forties, with
a grave manner that was often thought austere, but which was only the
outward covering of a nature too keenly sympathetic and appreciative to
risk the disapproval of an obtuse world. Like all delicate and sensitive
things in nature, he wrapped himself in a husk, and only those who
penetrated the outward covering knew how beautiful was the inner temple
of his soul, how genial its warmth, and how playful the fancy that
tended the altar of his imaginings. His sudden encounter with Margaret
this morning had brought to the surface a slight hint of its existence,
but the quick wonder of her eyes had sent it again into hiding. He had
been for some ten years the president of the school at A——, and stood
entirely alone in the world. For twenty years he had cherished the
memory of a fair girl wife who had been companion and helpmeet but three
short months, when death claimed her. In her grave he had thought to
bury love, and live henceforth a solitary worker, with no dreams to
entice again beyond the prosaic outlines of his daily duties. But
Margaret Murchison’s year at the school had affected him strangely. He
had watched the girl’s development with uncommon interest; had been
touched more than once by the clearness and unusual candor of her
nature, and grew to have a profound admiration for the strength and
purpose which upheld her. When she had been so suddenly called home by
her mother’s death, he had missed her more than he liked to own even to
himself. Despite the disparity in their years, he felt that hers was a
nature to draw from its obscurity all that was highest of attainment in
his own. He was but too conscious that, struggle as he might, he somehow
fell short of his desires. His most earnest efforts seemed to fall
half-heartedly upon those around him. The fault must be his; the long
loneliness of his life—with neither father, mother, sister, brother,
wife, to share a single aspiration or make vivid a single heart-glow—had
unwittingly isolated him from mankind. When the light of this love fully
dawned upon him, his soul felt the glow of a new purpose, and it became
to him the symbol of a wider sympathy and charity, because of which
Divinity long ago found need to send a sign to all mankind. His school
was not slow to feel the change, and when the time became ripe for him
to speak, he felt that he was no longer offering Margaret, in all her
freshness, the remnant of a heart and life, but the first fruits of a
living soul. He hastened to Barnley, strong in his purpose to lift her
at once from the toil and privation of poverty. He had watched her
career as best he could, in the occasional letters received from her
father, who never failed to comment upon her strength and growth of
character, and his love had grown with the subtileness of fancy until he
had never stopped to consider the effect it might have upon Margaret.
Surely to be sheltered and loved—ah! how he would prove his love to
her—ought to be reason enough for any woman so bereft and friendless. So
he had reasoned until he caught the apprehensive glance of Margaret’s
eyes, and then he knew that his dream had not been hers, and that love
with her would not be made at once answerable even to the most
passionate appeals. All these musings ran swiftly through his mind, the
while his intent glance remained upon Margaret’s face, unconsciously
drinking in its variable play of expression. At last she ceased her
recital, and said in a slightly constrained voice: “I think I have told
you all our plans for the present, Dr. Ely.”

But the intent eyes never left her face as the doctor asked wistfully:
“Are you sure you’ve strength for so much?”

“I have faith that it will be given me.”

“Yes, yes, it will,” he replied fervently, as he roused himself with an
effort. “And now let us take a look at the books.”

He followed Margaret into the study and stood long in silent
contemplation before the shelves. He was evidently making a careful
computation of the value of the books. “How much money will you need for
this undertaking?” he asked, suddenly turning to Margaret.

“I have very little idea. I can scarcely tell until we have seen the
place.”

“Ah, yes, I had forgotten. Of course you are not sure of anything as
yet. When did you say you had appointed an interview with the agent?”

“We had expected to go this afternoon, if we had a satisfactory letter
from you in time. If not, the interview was to be postponed until
to-morrow.”

“And you have not had that satisfactory letter yet. Well, you shall have
it now. The books are even more valuable than I thought. They number, I
think you said, some eight hundred volumes. Now, I wish to propose a
plan of my own. Suppose I advance you the sum of four hundred dollars on
the books to begin with, allowing you to select such as in your home
culture club you will doubtless need, and reserve the balance—I will not
place an exact price on them now—to be drawn upon in case of further
demand for money. Then, when you have made your fortune, you are to have
the books back at the price I paid for them.”

The doctor waited some time for Margaret’s answer; but she stood with
head slightly averted and was silent. At last he could wait no longer,
but bending forward, glanced down at her face. Tears stood on the long
lashes and trembled on her cheeks. “Margaret,” he cried sharply, “what
have I said that is wrong?”

“Nothing!” she exclaimed, suddenly extending both hands to him. “Your
goodness is so unexpected that I am not strong enough for it.”

He caught her hands in his own as he said impulsively: “Listen,
Margaret. It is not goodness—it is rather pure selfishness. I came here
this morning intent on offering you not the worth of the books, but
something I was foolish enough to fancy of more value—myself. No, don’t
start; but hear me out. Manlike, I fancied that I had but to speak and
you would let me take you away from all the toil and privation; but now
I know you——”

Margaret gently drew her hands away, and interrupted him: “I never
dreamed of such a thing. It is impossible.”

“If I loved you, Margaret, had loved you for years—don’t look so
incredulous—ever since you were a school-girl, and had waited patiently
until the time was right, hoping that my love might win its response
even as the flowers respond to the warmth and light of the sun—if I
offered all this and a life-long devotion, would it then be impossible?”

Margaret glanced up wonderingly, appealingly, into the eager face above
her.

“It is all so strange, so confusing; but I cannot—it would indeed be
impossible; for—forgive me, I do not want to hurt you—I do not love you,
Dr. Ely, and I——”

“Say no more,” he said gently, “I knew it even before I spoke; but I am
glad you understand me. I have been a lonely man all my life, and you
can perhaps imagine how, even old as I am, I find delight in the
companionship of one who is quick to understand and appreciate all that
interests me. I love you, dear child, with the one love of my life; but
I shall never again obtrude it upon you. I must, however, claim one
favor. I am willing to sink all that I had hoped to the calm basis of
friendship; do not deny me that. Let me help you, even as I had meant to
before I spoke, and I promise faithfully never to claim anything more at
your hands than the just consideration of one friend for another. You
stand alone and inexperienced—put aside what has passed and let my age
and experience help you.”

Margaret, watching him as he spoke, could not fail to be touched by the
sincerity and unselfishness of his words. For reply she placed her hand
in his and said softly, “I will.”

“One word more. If the time ever comes—mind, I do not expect it, I do
not even beg it—but if the time does come when your heart can respond
fully to the love that shall be yours as long as life lasts, you have
only to say ‘come,’ and I will obey you though it be to the uttermost
parts of the earth. May I ask this too?”

“It is not much to promise,” said Margaret gently, “but it may be too
much to hope for. I have never had time for anything but immediate
duties, and I am afraid I shall never find time for anything else. I
have always felt that I belonged to these children. If, however—and I
can discern but the faintest hope—if such a time _should_ come, you may
be sure that the word will not be uttered half-heartedly.”

A blush stole up to Margaret’s cheek as she spoke, making her whole face
glow and soften with an unwonted beauty that the doctor’s observant eyes
did not fail to note. They were suspiciously misty as he raised her hand
to his lips and said fervently:

“Amen. Now let’s to business.”



                              CHAPTER III.


“Oh, I think it is delightful,” exclaimed Elsie as she, Margaret, and
Dr. Ely stopped in the late glow of the afternoon sun before the gate of
the place at Idlewild. “Such a charming tangle of briers to get
scratched on while hunting for very stray berries.”

“There is something to be done here before one could hope for returns,”
assented the doctor. “But let us explore the house, and see whether it
is possible to exist in it.”

The house, by courtesy a cottage, had four rooms, so called. Elsie
suggested boxes as a better name, but found consolation in the fact that
four rooms for three people left a breathing-room that each could occupy
in turn. The rooms were black with smoke and slippery with filth, and
even Margaret felt something very like despair as she exclaimed
piteously: “The muscle and soap it will take to cleanse it.”

“Is it habitable otherwise?” asked the doctor as he rattled windows,
examined hinges and locks, and poked into chimneys and cupboards.
“Fairly good. Whitewash, paint, soap, and muscle, and you won’t know it,
Miss Margaret. Now let us see what the garden is like. Wants
underdraining badly. Soil clayey and cold, but admirably situated for
outlet of drain. A few muck-heaps and this garden will blossom like the
rose.”

“But you frighten me,” exclaimed Margaret aghast. “I haven’t the
slightest idea how to drain it, and I am sure it will cost more than we
can afford.”

“We are only examining possibilities. ‘Small fruits,’ a dozen ragged
currant bushes, some straggling strawberry vines, grapes that have run
riot, and a ‘delightful tangle,’ as Elsie says, of raspberry bushes.
Common, too—no, Gregg if I am not mistaken. Ah! that is better. ‘Three
acres of land’—not more than two and one-half that can yield anything.
Now, Miss Margaret, if you and Elsie are ready we’ll interview the
agent.”

“The place will not pay for the outlay upon it, I am afraid,” said
Margaret despondently, as they went out of the gate.

“Not this season, certainly; but we can tell better when we have seen
the agent and found out what we can do with him.”

“Well, if you had not insisted on coming with us I should have turned
back in dismay. Somehow, when I can see a way through I am ready enough
to act; but I become frightened when the wall is so high I cannot see
over.”

“That is natural enough. Very few women have the courage to scale
precipices; but those who undertake the problem of self-support must
encounter all of a man’s difficulties. We are a chivalrous people here
in America, but that chivalry usually consists in giving a woman a fair
field and no quarter. If you seek to be one with us in opportunities,
you must be one with us in conditions.”

“If I might always be sure of such fair consideration I shall not
complain. A woman, however, cannot insure her own incompetency against
the greed of those who are chivalrous enough to take advantage of it.
She must always be more or less a victim.”

“So long as she remains incompetent. Experience, however, is the great
moulder in her case as well as that of her brother. She demonstrates her
capacity in proportion as she learns the same hard lessons. One of the
first of these lessons is not to ask any more of the world because of
her sex. When women cease clamoring for a man’s rights and a woman’s
pre-eminence at one and the same time, then will the dogged opposition
of those to whom she appeals be less noticeable.”

“Yet it is quite natural for the weak to ask a little extra
standing-room of their more fortunate brothers.”

“It is one thing to ask by virtue of a common sympathy, and another to
demand as a right. Mankind is a good deal like the pig that Paddy tried
to drive to market. ‘Shure if ye iver git ’im there, ye must head ’im
t’other way.’ It might be well to try the scheme on the agent of this
place.”

As Margaret glanced up and caught the humorous twinkle of the doctor’s
eyes, she said quietly: “I leave the settlement of the matter in your
hands, while I watch your effort in getting the pig to market. I shall
have need to learn all I can.”

Mr. Smith, of the real estate firm of Harris & Smith, was a portly,
self-satisfied man, who regarded the applicants for the little place at
Idlewild with a somewhat lofty stare over the rim of his gold
eye-glasses. It was quite evident from his manner that so small a
transaction as this was not considered worth any extra amount of
civility. But the pompous manner neither abashed nor diverted Dr. Ely
from his purpose. With a man’s decision and firmness he stated his
wishes, met objections, overcame difficulties, and obtained satisfactory
results, with such facility that Margaret felt herself well-nigh
overwhelmed in the dismal swamp of her own incapacity.

When the contract for the specific performance of each had been duly
drawn and signed, and Dr. Ely, Margaret, and Elsie had once more
regained the sidewalk, the doctor asked: “Well, Miss Margaret, did I get
my pig to market?”

“As I should never have dared to do.”

“I knew it,” and the doctor’s face grew suddenly grave. “It is a big
undertaking for a slender untried woman.”

“No,” said Margaret gently, “not when I have such an adviser.”

“Well, I intend to see you safely settled before I leave. There is a
great deal in getting started right.”

“I haven’t a demur to make—not even an expostulation as to the trouble
you are making yourself. The time to assert my independence will be when
I am monarch of all I survey.”

“You’ll have nothing to do now for three years to come but develop your
skill as a gardener. I fancy you will not find altogether easy work or
satisfactory returns.”

“I do not expect to. I have my apprenticeship yet to learn; but it seems
to promise more than any other available thing. Besides, I shall count
even mistakes as so much marketable goods in the future, if I am only
wise enough to profit by them.”

“He is wise indeed who always succeeds in doing it.”

The doctor at once set himself to supervising the laying in of the
drain, the painting and papering of the little house, and the trimming
and pruning of the tangle of vines and bushes in the garden. With the
aid of Gilbert, a bright lad of sixteen, the untidy place soon came to
assume an air of neatness and thrift which at once impressed Mr. Smith
with the idea that his tenants were people on whom it might be worth
while to expend a little civility.

It was the first of March, raw, cold, and inhospitable, when, with their
household belongings, the little party was set down at the door of the
new home. It was late in the afternoon and all were cold, tired, and
somewhat dispirited. Even the doctor’s equanimity was beginning to give
way before the settled obstinacy of a refractory stove-pipe, when a
brisk knock at the door of the sitting-room interrupted operations for a
moment. Margaret opened the door, to be greeted with the cheery voice of
a little black-eyed woman who stepped in without waiting for an
invitation. “Good-efening to you all,” she cried. “I am Lizzette Minaud.
I lif ze next door, and I haf prepared ze souper for you. Do not say
‘Non!’ I take it so amiss. You look so blue, so tired, so ready to cry,
pauvre child,” and she laid her hand warmly upon Margaret’s arm as she
spoke.

“You are very kind, but——” and Margaret glanced apprehensively at the
doctor.

“Oh, your—your—ze gentilhomme will go, I am sure. I haf known how ze
tired comes in mofing, and you sall work so mooch ze better when you haf
supped. I keep you only so long as you sall need ze rest and
refreshment.”

“A thousand thanks,” said the doctor heartily. “To be sure we will go.
Gilbert, you and I can have a good deal more patience with this unruly
stove-pipe after we have partaken of this lady’s supper, eh?”

“I can’t answer for you, sir, but I know I am hungry as a wolf.”

“So mooch ze better. Hunger ees ze sauce piquante to black bread.”

“Did you ever feed a boy?” interposed Elsie, glancing roguishly at
Gilbert. “If not, I warn you beforehand.”

“Non, non. I do not need ze warning. Lizzette Minaud’s table ees nefer
empty.”

“We are taxing your kindness, I fear,” said Margaret, as they prepared
for the visit.

“Non, eet ees ze plaisir. I—I like your face,” and the impulsive little
woman again grasped Margaret’s hand. “We must be friends, and friends
take no thought of ze trouble of serving each ozair.”

“You have given the true meaning of friendship,” replied Margaret
earnestly.

Lizzette Minaud’s house was a “box” indeed, not even as large as the one
which seemed so small to Margaret and Elsie; but it was a marvel of
neatness and taste. The oak floor of the salon, as in grandiose style
Lizzette designated her sitting-room, was like a mirror in its capacity
to reflect objects, and nearly as dangerous to walk upon. Here and there
bright-colored rugs, knit by the expert fingers of the mistress, lay
before couch, stove, and tables. The walls were a delicate cream tint,
with dado and frieze composed of crimson, brown, and golden maple leaves
delicately veined and shaded, each one the particular work of Lizzette.
In response to the delighted exclamation of her visitors, she explained
in perfect frankness that having little money and some skill, she had
determined to decorate her home—bought with the savings of years—in as
tasteful a design as she could achieve. She was rewarded with gratifying
success, for the grouping of the leaves was so artistic and the coloring
so perfect that nature seemed to be rivalled in the reproduction.

“You are an artist!” enthusiastically exclaimed Margaret.

“Non, non—only a Frenchwoman and a cook,” she answered with a
characteristic shrug. “I haf all my life been cook for ze great
families. In France first, in America many year since. I marry twelve
year since, and my husband he go away when my Antoine but two year old.
He ees here in zis room, and he will be so charmed to meet you.” As she
finished speaking, she turned toward a little alcove and presented to
view, what at first seemed a little child propped up on a couch. A
second look, and it was at once discovered that the child was a
hunch-backed lad of some ten years, with dwarfed and misshapen limbs
that refused to support him. With that appealing gaze so often noted in
the suffering and unfortunate, his dark eyes looked out from beneath a
brow broad, smooth, and white. Rings of jet-black curls, a straight,
delicate nose, and a mouth with lips thin and bloodless and downward
curved, completed the cast of his features. But it would be impossible
to reproduce in words the innate beauty of the smile that lit up his
face or the sublimity of spirit which looked out of the dark eyes.
Impulsive Elsie was on her knees beside him in a moment.

“You dear angel!” she exclaimed, picking up one of the thin, white hands
and kissing it. “I shall love you, I know.”

“Everybody does. Everybody is so good,” said the lad simply. “You are
good to come. I wanted to see you.”

“Eet ees true,” said Lizzette, “he would not rest until I had tried to
make ze welcome. He ees sometimes lonesome when I go about ze work, but
he ees always patient and always so kind. He ees un grand scholair, too.
See, he read zis,” and Lizzette held up in triumph a well-thumbed copy
of Shakespeare. “It is ze Anglais. He learn so fast, and he read Santine
et Racine très bien. I go to school to mon enfant soon,” and the little
mother patted the boy’s pale cheek in an effusion of pride and fondness.
The lad glanced up lovingly and said quickly:

“Non, non. Ma mère has quicker eyes and more wisdom than Antoine. Is the
supper ready? I am very hungry and want my wheel chair.”

The mother turned to get it, but Gilbert was before her, and gently
lifting the lad into it, he started it toward the little kitchen where
stood the supper-table.

“Ma mère is a famous cook,” said the lad with a bright smile. “She makes
appetite when it has forgotten to grow.”

“So he say,” said Lizzette with a shrug. “I only follow ze way of my
art.”

The doctor, who had long been silent, glanced up as they seated
themselves at the table, and asked: “Do you indeed think cookery an
art?”

“Oui, oui, sir. Ze grand art, sir. Ze grain of ze man ees as ze food he
eat; if it be coarse, he coarse too. Strong, may be, but not ze fine
gentilhomme who eferywhere see ze leetle beauties of life, and so rest
you wiz ze gracefulness of his way.”

“Perhaps you are right, madam,” said the doctor gravely, “although I
confess I had never looked at it in that light.”

“Eet ees like ze art of ozair sings. Ze leetle touch zat makes ze
picture, and as Antoine say, ze poetry of Shakespeare. Will it please
you to speak ze grace?”

Lizzette’s supper-table was a sight to tempt less weary and hungry
wayfarers than our dispirited quartette. It was simplicity itself, the
principal dish being a salad so crisp in its delicate ravigote of
finely-flavored herbs that Elsie declared it “a mortgage on the summer,
since it had stolen all its sweetest flavors.”

Lobster rissoles, a mushroom omelette, with cold bread, a soupçon of
preserved plums, black coffee, and tea served from the depths of a
Japanese cosey, completed the menu.

“The salad, Miss Elsie, ees made of ze weeds of ze wayside,” said
Lizzette. “Vous Anglais despise ze sings ze French live by. I make zis
salad of ze herb you call dandelion; I find it growing eferywhere. I mix
it wiz ze cressom—you call it water-cress—growing by ze brooks, toss it
up wiz ze ravigote of tarragon, chervil et bumet, and behold you have,
as you say, ‘ze summer in mortgage to ze winter.’”

“Count me a pupil to the economy of these versatile French,” exclaimed
Elsie rapturously. “I know now what I was born for. Madam Minaud shall
make an artist of me. I am positively inspired with ambition.”

“Or Madam Minaud’s supper,” observed Gilbert.

“We Americans long ago accepted the gospel of plain ‘boiled and fried,’
and your dispensation is only just beginning to be felt among those who
have lived abroad. It is certainly a much-needed lesson,” said the
doctor as he complacently accepted Lizzette’s offer of a second
omelette.

“Ze French nevaire trow away like ze Anglais. Zey save ze leetle sings,
and so zey grow reech where ze Anglais—il a de quoi vivre mais bien
maigrement.”

“Our lines have fallen in pleasant places,” cried Elsie
enthusiastically. “Antoine shall teach me French, and Madam Minaud shall
bestow upon me the art of converting wayside weeds into meat and drink
for the fleshly tabernacle.”

“You are making the bargain all for yourself, Elsie. What compensation
do you propose in return?” asked Margaret with an amused glance at the
girl’s flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.

“Compensation?” exclaimed Antoine quickly. “Everything! herself,
love—ah, we shall be more than paid. I shall have the companion I have
longed for, and ma mère will see the rose come back to my cheeks and be
glad. Is it not so?” and the child’s hand sought Elsie’s as it rested on
the back of his chair.

“Yes, yes,” said Elsie eagerly. “You shall have all the comfort I can
give you, dear child.”

As she spoke she pushed back the jetty curls and left the warm touch of
her lips upon the lad’s white forehead. In an instant the thin arms were
around her neck, and he cried excitedly: “I love you so, and I shall
never be unhappy again.”

Grave Dr. Ely turned away from this scene with quivering lip, and his
voice was not altogether steady as he said: “Well, Gilbert, that
stove-pipe does not look half so formidable as it did before Madam
Minaud’s delicious supper.”

“Indeed, no, sir. I feel like a Hercules.”

“All right. Let us see how soon we can slay the giant disorder. In view
of the circumstances, madam will excuse a hasty departure.”

“Certainment. Work ees master in our leetle world.”

“Work and love, ma mère,” exclaimed Antoine.

“Antoine is right,” said Margaret. “These are the soul and body of
existence; to toil is the Divine command—to love the Divine purpose.”

“We must perforce obey the command,” exclaimed Elsie, patting Antoine’s
cheek. “The purpose we will leave to its own solution.”

“I’ve already solved it,” answered Antoine with a ripple of laughter
that brought a happy light to Lizzette’s eyes as she answered the
“good-nights” of the little party.



                              CHAPTER IV.


It did not take long to settle the little four-roomed house, for Dr. Ely
proved himself an every-day worker. The week that had passed since he
had left his school had been full of business. The purpose which he saw
in Margaret and Elsie had awakened a new interest in his life, and to
see that their feet were firmly fixed in the way they had marked out for
themselves seemed to him the task, as well as the pleasure, of an elder
brother. Looking upon life as the vast field from which should spring
all that is highest of development and achievement in humanity, he was
touched with the hope of being a factor in the ambitious purposes of
these inexperienced and well-nigh friendless girls. He believed fully in
allowing to each individual soul the opportunities for measuring its own
power, and while a certain sense of loss came upon him when he realized
that the expectation of taking Margaret into his own life could not be
fulfilled, he felt ennobled and strengthened by the desire to be one
with her in her efforts of self-advancement. “Not now, not now; but some
time, perhaps,” he said to his heart, and during his week of early and
late work not one word or look of his had disturbed the serenity of
Margaret’s mind. He had been solely and simply the elder brother on
whose experience and friendly aid she could rely. Now, however, the
little home was in order; the tiny sitting-room with its painted and
polished floor, its bright rugs, its gayly-cushioned Boston rockers, its
hassocks that served the double duty of seats and boot-boxes, and last,
but not least, its revolving book-case with the few of the well-known
volumes which Margaret had selected from her father’s library and which
Dr. Ely had supplemented with some contributions of his own. These were
principally works on art and the intellect, by Ruskin, Hammerton, and
others, and a few books of poetry by Dante Rossetti, Keats, Tennyson,
and a superb _édition de luxe_ of “Aurora Leigh.” They were all seated
in this room surveying its finishing touches the evening previous to Dr.
Ely’s departure for A—.

“Well, it is pleasant,” he exclaimed. “I shall carry its memory with me
when I go, and in imagination behold you seated every evening around the
open stove, feasting on the contents of this handy little book-case. I
shall remember how white the curtains are, how dainty the table scarfs
and the head-rests of the chairs, and how really fine those oleographs
and photogravures on the wall appear in the glow of the fire-light, and
I shall fancy you are all taking on flesh and good spirits under the
inspiration of Elsie’s cooking.”

“You are very kind not to insinuate one word about dyspepsia,” answered
Elsie demurely. “But I am really enthusiastic over my promised lessons
in that grand art, as madam so grandiloquently calls it. You know some
people are born great, and I really feel that I am destined to achieve
my highest expression in an apostleship to the pots and pans of the
kitchen. Like the starveling poet of the story-books, I shall doubtless
astonish the world when the flame of my soul has burst into a dish fit
to set before a king.”

“You are somewhat mixed as to metaphor,” exclaimed Margaret with a
laugh.

“Well, I hope to mix more than metaphors by-and-by. But tell me, Dr.
Ely, are you conscious of either an aching void or an aching fulness,
whichever dyspepsia happens to be, since you sat under my dispensation?”

“I haven’t had such an appetite in years. I don’t in the least question
your genius for cookery, and when you have learned to make something out
of nothing with a ravishing French name and taste, you can count on
achieving a world-wide fame.”

“Fame? a bauble! I look only to the expression of my art,” and Elsie
rolled up her eyes and shrugged her shapely shoulders with an abandon of
French mannerism that was as startling as it was amusing. Something in
Margaret’s apprehensive glance caught the doctor’s quick eye. What
wonderful fire and keenness lay in the little girl’s mobile face. Ah,
well, Margaret was right; there was work for her here. With an
abruptness that seemed almost harsh he spoke:

“He ‘jests at scars that never felt a wound.’ Art, Miss Elsie, in its
entirety is deep, and high, and long, and men have sought it, and with
palsied finger on the pulse of time have died unanswered.”

The laughing eyes of Elsie grew suddenly grave. “Dear me, one can’t be
enthusiastic nowadays without finding a wet blanket thrown over her at
the first step. Nevertheless I don’t intend to wear cap and spectacles
until long after my humble divinity has crowned me mistress. My ambition
is such a simple one—just to tickle the palates of my little world. Now,
doctor, don’t discourage me.”

“Not for the world. Epicurus, if he were here, would doubtless pronounce
a benediction on your ambition, and I am not sure that your purpose does
not already deserve a laurel leaf, for it has been more than once
reiterated that the crying need of the day is good cookery.”

“Thanks. I am glad that my mission has the support of the public mind,
or palate. Either will do, I suppose. But how is it with you, Meg? I
haven’t heard you declare as yet for any reform.”

“I am not so sure of my mission as you are of yours, nor so confident of
being born to greatness.”

“That’s bad. One surely ought to believe in herself if she expects to
get on. Perhaps the doctor can help your indecision.”

There was a mischievous twinkle in Elsie’s eyes that was not lost on the
doctor, but with the utmost gravity he replied: “Well, yes, I think I
can. It will be a mission worth while to learn the problem of
self-support and self-education under adverse circumstances. It will
need something more than enthusiasm.”

“A patience and a finesse of which I am not sure I am master. I am only
mutely feeling my way now. Indeed, the doctor has lifted so much
responsibility from my shoulders in this new venture that I hardly know
what I can do.”

“You will know when the opportunity comes to act. Just now you needed
the little friendly direction I am very glad I was able to offer. There
are times when even the strongest are not wholly self-reliant.”

Tears stood in Margaret’s eyes as she answered: “How unblessed is he who
can make no claim on loyal friendship. May I always prove myself worthy
of it.”

“We’ll not question that now, nor in the future,” said the doctor, a
glow of light in his eyes that watching Elsie did not fail to note.
“Now, tell me your plan for making use of this mine,” he added, touching
the book-case at his right hand.

“I’ve been thinking we must get at the nuggets with as little delay as
possible, for we haven’t time to bore through worthless drifts of
scoria, even though at the bottom may be a mine of wealth. We must make
practical and immediate use of what we learn.”

“True,” interposed the doctor as Margaret looked up interrogatively. “I
am deeply interested.”

“This, then, is what I’ve been thinking: every thought of other minds
from which we can draw sustenance must be drained of its nutriment
before we seek another, and that thought must be made to bear relatively
upon our own. In other words, it must father a new growth in our own
minds, for in that way only can education have any practical bearing
upon life and action.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed the doctor warmly. “Go on, please.”

Margaret’s cheek flushed as she complied. “It is my purpose, then, in
this home symposium to bring no thought that we cannot healthfully
digest. Occult research is only for the man of leisure. This is the
first principle that shall govern our intellectual feast. The second
shall be the democracy of our purpose, or, in other words, the
hand-to-hand start we shall make in our race for knowledge. No one shall
be debarred because he has not learned the alphabet of reason; we will
give him the chance to learn it. The third requirement will be only good
moral character,” and Margaret finished with a laugh.

“Regardless of social position, remember, doctor,” exclaimed Elsie. “In
short, Margaret has sketched the outlines of a new aristocracy, wherein
moral worth and purpose count first, with brain and healthy digestion a
good second, and where wealth doesn’t stand any show at all.”

“You forget that is the goal toward which the first two tend,” said
Margaret eagerly. “An aristocracy founded on those principles could not
be an insecure one—could it, doctor?”

“It is admirable as a dream, and as a dream impracticable, I fear.”

“By no means,” said Elsie as she noticed the shadow that crossed
Margaret’s face at the doctor’s words. “You forget that it concerns only
three people. We shall reform the world chiefly by beginning to reform
ourselves. Nothing could so suit our Eutopian ideas as to call it ‘A New
Aristocracy.’”

“An aristocracy of potato diggers!” exclaimed Gilbert, looking up from
his book.

“Exactly. We have a right to a kingdom of our own within these walls.
Our fame and our pride need not go beyond them.”

“Safe enough on that score,” said Gilbert ironically.

“Well,” said the doctor merrily, “I shall count myself one of the
aristocrats even when miles away.”

“But I haven’t told you all my plan yet,” said Margaret. “It concerns
this very potato-digging that to Gilbert seems so incongruous with our
high purposes. On the principle that everything we have is the product
of the earth, there is nothing out of proportion in even potato diggers
striving for the highest development, and as our impressions all come to
us from our contact with every-day things, we shall find an astonishing
philosophy grow out of potato-digging if we look for it. In my endeavors
to carry out the behests underlying the propagation of plants, I expect
to find questions that will lead me into as yet unexplored paths, and I
shall endeavor to treasure up these questions and their answers if they
can be found. I shall exact the same process of reasoning from all the
members of our circle, and shall expect every evening to be regaled by
Elsie with a philosophical monologue on the amount of nutriment there is
in an egg or the exhilaration to be derived from the dish-pan.”

“Then you will be disappointed. My ideas are not perennial; but if I
chance to evolve some flavor that a Frenchman would doubtless call
‘heavenly,’ you may look for a harangue.”

“A practical school of philosophy it seems to shadow forth; but the
proof of the pudding is in the eating, you know,” said the doctor with a
smile.

“I don’t underrate the difficulties in the way; but I think we three
ought to be able to do something with ourselves on that basis,” said
Margaret.

“Certainly,” replied the doctor. “And I shall endeavor to remodel my own
work from the same standpoint. I have been a dreamer and an enthusiast,
and it has remained for an untried girl to show the practical
application of my dreams. I shall go home a wiser man.”

“You frighten me, doctor, with the seriousness of that statement. It is
all untried as yet,” exclaimed Margaret in evident distress.

“True; but I can see its first steps. After these the way may open wider
and clearer. It is certainly worth trying.”

With this indorsement Margaret felt satisfied, and there was color in
her cheeks and brilliancy in her eyes as she and the doctor talked long
and animatedly until late in the evening. Gilbert had stolen away to bed
and Elsie was deep in a novel of Antoine’s.

“I shall have to shake myself well together when I get home,” said the
doctor, when they discovered the lateness of the hour. “I’ve been living
a new life and the old one will seem strange.”

It was hard for Margaret to acknowledge even to herself after the
doctor’s departure that she felt lonely and uneasy; but somehow she
missed the careful forethought that had been as new as it had been
unexpected. It was a strange experience in her barren life, and scold
herself as she might, she could not find it unpleasant. But for the
present she would not, she might not indulge in dreams. A work that
might stretch into years lay before her. That done—well, how strong is
faith? A new beauty, however, stole into her face; its somewhat stern
lines relaxed, and tender, almost pathetic, little curves grew about the
corners of the firmly-set lips. It was quite apparent to those who knew
her that the calm reliance of her nature had been disturbed by something
strange and sweet, yet not even Elsie guessed its full meaning.



                               CHAPTER V.


It was the middle of April. Already in sheltered corners the thin blades
of grass were fringing the walks and telling mutely of the stir at their
roots. The sky had an unwonted tint of blue, and occasional breezes came
up from the Southland laden with the balm and spice of the new-born
earth. Hooded in their green cloaks, the dandelions lifted their yellow
heads and took a sly peep from their enveloping fringes. The crocuses
were just ready to laugh, and the purple bells of the wild hyacinth were
tinkling unheard in the soft air. The robins were hilarious in the
intoxication of hope, and Elsie and Antoine were endeavoring to rival
them in the ever-recurring joy and promise of the spring. They were in
the garden at Idlewild; Antoine in his wheel chair, and Elsie pretending
to wield a trowel around the roots of a few straggling rose bushes. She
was an indifferent worker, however, for every now and then Antoine would
catch the bursting refrain of some over-joyous robin, and throwing back
his handsome head, would imitate it so closely as to call forth
rapturous applause from Elsie and a chorus of answers from neighboring
trees. Presently Elsie began to purse her red lips in a wild attempt to
rival Antoine and the birds. Each attempt was followed by gay bursts of
laughter such as can issue only from the lips of children and the
utterly care-free.

“It is no use,” said Elsie after awhile. “I never can be a bird.”

“Then you can’t fly away from me,” said Antoine gravely, laying a thin
hand upon Elsie’s cotton-gloved ones.

“Would it grieve you if I should?”

“It has been heaven since you came,” said the lad simply.

“I don’t believe you know what heaven is, if a madcap girl like me can
make it for you.”

“I’ve read somewhere that ‘heaven lies in a woman’s eyes;’ but I suppose
that was meant for full-grown men, not for little chaps like me. It is
heaven all the same to find a companion—one who can laugh before I do.
Ma mère always laughs _after_.”

“Did you laugh a great deal before I came?”

“No, I only laughed when ma mère was looking. I had to do it to keep the
tears out of her voice. Oh, I’ve been so lonely, always thinking,
thinking, and I wanted not to think.”

“Dear child, don’t let us begin now. At least we’ll put sad thoughts
away. Have you found your blossom for the home circle to-night?”

“Not yet. Miss Margaret said it must grow from the soil of our daily
life, and nothing seems to grow in my soil.”

“Listen, Antoine. You say I make heaven for you because I can bring you
laughter. Has not that thought grown in the barren soil you complain of?
Now make a blossom out of the root and stalk.”

“I am too dull. You will not let me enter the circle if I show you how
little I can make a thought. I only live when I forget myself and
everything around me in somebody else. I am such a useless lad.”

“No, no, you must not allow yourself to think such things. See what a
comfort you are to your mother; and how I delight in that odd little
head of yours. I neglect my work to talk to you, and shall have Margaret
scolding presently,” answered Elsie, picking up her trowel and giving
one or two energetic digs at the sod about a rose bush.

“Miss Margaret never scolds, I am sure,” said Antoine emphatically. “But
oh, if I could run and leap and work!” The words ended in a half-sob.

“We all have our appointed tasks, Antoine,” said Elsie softly. “Some are
made to do and some are made to bear.”

“Mine always to bear!” exclaimed the lad bitterly. “Never to be a man
with a man’s hopes and ambitions. Just a little dried-up mummy——”

“There, there!” interrupted Elsie, taking the flushed face between her
hands and kissing it. “Not very much of a mummy with such a vehement
tongue as that. Dear child, let us put the inevitable away. Heavy as the
cross is, love lightens it, and love will always be yours. No one can
look at you without loving you.”

“For what?” asked the lad eagerly. “For my misfortune, or what other
reason?”

“For the spirit in those dark eyes and the atmosphere of love that
radiates from you. The spirit is greater than the body, and life need
not be useless to you nor you to life.”

“And is there more to hope for than the pity that says ‘poor child’ when
it looks at me?”

Breathlessly Antoine asked the question, and as breathlessly seemed to
hang on Elsie’s words: “Men crippled like you, Antoine, have made the
world pause to wonder at their powers, and hail in reverent acclaim the
genius that is immeasurably above mere physical perfection.”

“But I haven’t any genius,” said Antoine with a disappointed sigh. “I
have only one intense longing.”

“For what? Tell me.”

“You will laugh at me.”

“Not for the world.”

“Well, then,” and Antoine’s pale face flushed with the energy of desire,
“for music. To pour out my soul in wordless utterances like the birds;
to rise, to float on waves of song, away above everybody.”

The little thin hands were clasped together in an ecstasy of feeling,
and the bent body was restlessly swaying back and forth among the
cushions.

“Have you ever tried?” asked Elsie simply.

“No; ma mère doesn’t even know it. She says I whistle like a bird, and
that is all she knows. She is too poor to buy me anything to make music
with.”

“What would you like?”

“I think I could play the violin best, for that doesn’t need anything
but arms to bring out the expression. Ah, what joy it would be to make
something talk for me, to me. I _know_, Elsie, I could teach it to say
the things in here that are so dumb now because they have no way to
speak,” and the restless hands clutched his breast as he spoke.

“Wait a moment,” exclaimed Elsie, jumping up quickly and running into
the house. She was back in less than a moment with an old violin case in
her hand.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, seeing the light of eager expectancy spring into
Antoine’s eyes. “Don’t be too sure of anything. I found this in the
rubbish when we moved. I don’t think it was poor father’s. I never heard
him play it. By the way, I believe it was left at our house by some
stranger. Indeed, Antoine, we never had any gayety in our home. It was
only just the serenity of well-performed duty, unless I whirled into a
storm for a change. But now, Antoine, if this fiddle can sing, we’ll
have a little gayety, won’t we?”

“Oh, won’t we!” echoed Antoine, as Elsie busied herself with removing
the sack in which the violin had been carefully tied. Alas! the violin
had but one string, and not a shadow of any other to be found in sack or
case.

“Well, it’s evidently whole,” said Elsie, thumping the back, “and
strings can be bought. Take the bow, Antoine, and wake the echoes with
one string. We’ll make a noise, at any rate.”

Antoine took the old violin and examined it carefully, thumping the one
bass string with the gravity of discovery. Once or twice he adjusted it
under his chin, and made a motion as if to draw the bow across the
string. Suddenly he stopped.

“No,” he said decidedly, “until there is a voice I cannot speak, and
even then, Elsie, how do I know I shall not fail? I know I shall with
you watching me. Some time when the strings are on the violin and I am
all alone, and I feel the song bird here in my breast, I will try.
Something tells me I shall succeed—that it is my life, my hope; but I do
not know, after all,” and over the dark eyes stole the cloud of despair
that so often makes the bravest genius fearful of its own weakness.

“We will make it hope for you because we will work for it, dear,”
answered Elsie. “Even genius is nothing without work.”

Antoine did not answer, and Elsie, noticing the cloud still hovering
over the lad’s face, pushed his chair to the other end of the garden,
where Margaret, Lizzette, and Gilbert were busied over cold frames and
garden beds. Looking over the low paling that separated Margaret’s
garden from that of Lizzette, they could already see the tender green of
early vegetables showing through the glass plates of the hot beds.
Lizzete eyed them approvingly.

“Next year you sall rival me,” she said, laying a brown hand on
Margaret’s shoulder. “But nefer fear—zere ees room for bof in zis world.
We nezair of us grow reech, c’est vrai; but we lif and zat ees somesing.
Ah, Gilbeart, you lose von goot foot zere. Now put it zis way and see
your frame couvair so mooch more ground. Eet ees ze inch saved zat makes
ze foot gained in ze market garden. See! Can you find von inch to spare
in zat leetle space of mine? Eet all yields, and yet Lizzette Minaud ees
une très pauvre femme.”

“Poverty is a relative term, you know. Enough to eat, to wear, and to
grow on are all that any one needs. It is in the enough, however, that
lies the division of opinion,” said Margaret as she helped Gilbert
adjust the frame to Lizzette’s satisfaction.

“Zat ees true; but as ze world look at us we haf very leetle.”

“But if we have contentment therewith, we have everything,” answered
Margaret. At this juncture Elsie, who had wheeled Antoine into the path
beside her sister, broke out impetuously:

“Margaret Murchison, do you mean to say that you are perfectly
contented? I don’t believe one word of it. You are not contented, for if
you were you wouldn’t be striving with might and main to earn the
wherewithal to make a gentleman of Gilbert and a lady of me. You’d let
us remain clodhoppers to the end of our days. It is all nonsense to
preach contentment when your actions give the lie to your words.”

Margaret glanced up quickly at the vehement assertion.

“There is a difference between the contentment that has only stagnation
in it, and that which is satisfied to grow under the conditions which
environ it until the time ripens for wider growth and leafage. If I am
contented it is because I am willing to work step by step and inch by
inch as the way unfolds. There is only disaster in trying to reach the
height at a single bound. Order is subverted and reason impeded in such
attempts.”

“My wise sister, put on my harness and teach me to trot soberly by your
side. I do so want to jump the gates for a wild run, and forget harness,
duty, and all the unpleasant things of life. Antoine and I have been
trying to be birds this morning.”

“You didn’t succeed, I conclude.”

“Well, no; at least I didn’t. Wings will never grow for me, but Antoine
is going to rival the birds some day. See here! I found this among the
rubbish in father’s study, and Gilbert when next he goes to the city
shall get the strings, and when Antoine has learned to mirror his soul
in music I’ll——”

“What will you do?” asked Margaret soberly, as Elsie paused for breath.

“Dance my way into fame! Now don’t look so horrified, or I shall think
you are going to be a ‘Miss Prunes and Prisms’ instead of the good
wholesome ‘sister’ Dr. Ely thinks you are.”

Elsie watched with sparkling eyes the pink flush on Margaret’s cheek,
and a moment later mischievously intensified it by saying: “I wonder how
the staid Dr. Ely would relish hearing the world say that the sister
of——”

“Elsie!” exclaimed Margaret apprehensively.

“I was merely going to say—of the lady he admires so much was premier
danseuse at the Standard?”

Elsie was half-way to the house by the time she had explained herself.

“Oh, cet Elsie!” exclaimed Lizzette with a laugh. “What fire, what verve
zere ees under zat pretty head.”

“She’s a great puzzle to me,” said Margaret somewhat sadly. “I really
fear she’ll burn her wings yet. I hope I can keep her out of the
candle.”

“She’ll keep herself out,” exclaimed Antoine energetically. “She’s got a
heap of good sense; but she’s just like some wild bird, made to be gay
and beautiful all her life.”

“She’s been dropped in a sorry corner of the world, if that is her
destiny. There is little hope of anything but the daily drill of duty in
this household,” answered Margaret.

“She’ll never drill under any other captain than love,” said Antoine
with a smile up into Margaret’s grave face.

“And he’ll have to be a pretty lively fellow to keep up with her antics,
too,” said Gilbert as he leaned his hoe against the fence and took up
the fiddle to examine it.

Margaret’s face grew thoughtful as she heaped the earth about the frame.
“Love, love,” said she to herself. “After all, it is like the sun, the
vivifying influence of the world, and duty sounds cold beside it. I must
find out what it is that is trying to burst its bonds in my little
girl’s bosom. It may be I am too slow and dull for the gay spring-time
that is budding there.”

“Antoine,” she exclaimed presently, “Gilbert shall fix up the old fiddle
and you shall learn to wake us up. I believe we’ve been too sleepy for
Elsie.”

“O Miss Margaret! she is so lovely and so are you,” he added naïvely.

“The old fiddle, Antoine,” said Margaret, responsively patting the boy’s
hand, “the old fiddle has a history. Some eight or nine years ago my
father took into his house a sick man, who came apparently from nowhere
and was apparently journeying to the same place. He was very ill when he
came to the house, and begged for a night’s lodging and supper. My
father never turned any one who was hungry from his door, and so he came
among us, and sat all the evening a silent figure in the chimney corner
until bedtime. He had nothing with him but a bundle tied up in a red
handkerchief and the fiddle. My father, with a delicacy which was
characteristic of him, did not even ask the man his name, and so we
never knew who he was, nor where his friends were, if he had any. About
midnight we were all awakened by strains of the weirdest music;
sometimes so sad and wailing that it seemed like a human being in
agonies of pain, again as gay and glad as any chansonette, with here and
there bird notes so sweet and clear one could almost hear the forest
echoes, and then the maddest, wildest, most rollicking melodies breaking
in upon it all. At last it stopped with a discordant crash of the bow
across the strings, and father stepped to the door of the sick man’s
chamber, to find him lying across the bed raving in delirium. We nursed
him through a two-days’ illness, and then he died without having told us
a word of himself. There was nothing to indicate who or what he was in
his little bundle, and so that and the violin were put away and nearly
forgotten until we came across them in moving. I am glad Antoine is
going to have the violin. My grave father had no use for it.”

During the recital of Margaret’s story, Lizzette Minaud had stood a rapt
listener, her brown face working with some unwonted emotion. When
Margaret had finished she said huskily, “Ze violin for Antoine, Miss
Margaret? C’est très-bon. I tank you so mooch. Now Antoine will pour out
his soul; he ees so like son père, mon pauvre Jacques—ah Dieu! où
est-il?”

“Is he not dead?” asked Margaret in surprise.

“Non. When Antoine two year old, he go look for work. He promise me to
come back soon; mais le temps—c’est long, long. I nevair hear von word.
I know notings if he be living or dead. But ze violin eet bring back ze
memories. Mon Jacques he love eet so, and play très-bien.”

“Ma mère! ma mère!” cried Antoine, throwing up his arms at sight of
Lizzette’s agitated face.

“Chut! chut!” answered Lizzette, bending down to kiss him. “C’est passé,
mon garçon. Now we will be gay like ze birds, and happy ze livelong
day.”

Margaret had slipped away during the little colloquy between Lizzette
and Antoine, and presently returned with a small bundle carefully tied
up in an old bandana handkerchief. Untying the knot, she spread its
contents open to view.

“Mon Dieu! mon Dieu!” cried the voluble Frenchwoman, clutching the
handkerchief and falling in a paroxysm of weeping at Margaret’s feet.
“Ze cushion I made for him; ze hair comb; ze neccessaire—I know all,
all. Mon pauvre Jacques! And you, Miss Margaret, ze angel, ze comforter
of his last hours? Plut à Dieu! cet I too might have been wiz him. Ze
violin, celui de votre père, Antoine. Le bon Dieu! Zese friends, ze
violin, ze kind care de mon pauvre Jacques, votre père—ah! my heart ees
bursting wiv ze—ze—gratefulness. I weep my eyes away,” and the
affectionate creature clung to Margaret’s skirts in a bewilderment of
grief, wonder, and joy.

“It seems like a miracle,” said Margaret, stooping to raise Lizzette
from the ground. “But it only shows how small the world is and how
interdependent we are. We shall be still warmer friends after this.”

Antoine, a mute but agitated witness of the scene, reached out a hand to
Elsie, who had stolen quietly beside his chair.

“How strange, how dear, how beautiful it all is!” he exclaimed.



                              CHAPTER VI.


That evening, gathered in the little sitting-room at Idlewild, were the
five people who made up the Home Circle Club which Margaret had
organized, and who, Elsie laughingly said, “represented the bone and
sinew of the ‘new aristocracy’ which was to revolutionize the world.”

“Only think,” she exclaimed before Margaret had gravely called the
meeting to order. “Only think of the greatness concentrated here! In my
grave sister I recognize the ‘Morning Star’ of the new reformation; a
second Wickliffe with the mantle of peace and gentleness bravely wrapped
about her slight form. In Gilbert another Sir Isaac Newton, who shall
discover a new law of gravitation, which shall make the gold of the
miser fall of its own volition into the outstretched hands of the
philanthropist. In Antoine a later Corelli, who shall render all these
aspirations into a new classic for the benefit of future generations;
and in ma mère an Archestratus, who shall, in verifying Voltaire’s
enthusiasm, ‘qu’un cuisinier est un mortel divin,’ solidify this band of
enthusiasts with the material offering of something good to eat.”

“And you?” asked Margaret.

“The unfortunate mortal upon whom you will all practice.”

“I should like to begin by subjecting you to the law of _gravity_,”
exclaimed Gilbert.

“Never fear,” said Margaret. “Time will bring gravity soon enough, and
Elsie can’t throw stones at us without endangering her own enthusiasms.
Her next new dish will be our opportunity, Gilbert.”

“Unless I put a guard over it.”

“Will the meeting please come to order?” said Margaret soberly. Elsie
subsided into her corner and Antoine lay back among his cushions, and
listened with interest to Margaret’s statement of the purposes of the
little home club. “The first part of our plan is to develop thought, and
we have decided that such thought must come to us in response to our
daily needs or grow out of our daily work. We therefore expect each
member to bring what we will call a blossom for the wreath of every-day
living; this blossom may be perhaps a wayside weed or a cherished bloom
of some inner chamber of the heart. Nothing is too small or simple for
this wreath, so that out of it we may extract some consolation, hope, or
purpose. Upon these thoughts that are thrown together, and which shall
be kept in a record book, will depend the evening’s reading. In this way
we think the demands of our mental and moral needs will be best
satisfied. Elsie, what have you to offer?”

The mischief had apparently died out of Elsie’s face as she answered: “A
good many things have come to me to-day; but the most pronounced thought
has been the despair of enthusiasm and the futility of the most earnest
effort. I burned with the desire of a Francatelli to achieve an
omelette; but having no eggs the earnestness of purpose failed me.”

A ripple of laughter greeted Elsie’s announcement.

“Wanted,” exclaimed Gilbert, “a new invention for making hens lay;
otherwise the foundation of our castle in Spain will not be equal to its
walls.”

“Now, Antoine,” said Margaret, “let us hear from you.”

“The day has been good to me,” replied the lad, “for in it I have
learned how sweet it is to hope.”

“And I,” said Lizzette, “haf found zat friendship haf no price.”

“While I,” asserted Gilbert, “have found a boy’s back can ache a great
deal harder at work than at play.”

“Now, Margaret,” asked Elsie, “how are you going to philosophize over
the want of eggs and a boy’s back? These incorrigible facts take the
poetry out of our plan, I am afraid.”

“Not in the least. It is the very thing we are endeavoring to do, make
our philosophy fit our material wants. It may be that the world wouldn’t
call our reasoning by so dignified a name; but we don’t care for that.
This is our world, and into it we are striving to bring as much of both
earthly and divine sustenance as will best fit us to receive the
greatest amount of happiness. Therefore, since eggs will contribute to
the mental balance and physical well-being of Elsie, to say nothing of
the rest of us, we must look up some information regarding henneries.
The garden planted, Gilbert must exercise his ingenuity in building one,
while the rest of us——”

“Devise some means of making a hen lay two eggs a day,” interposed
Elsie.

“Elsie, I am ashamed of you,” exclaimed Margaret with forced severity.
“To think that already you develop the greed of a monopolist.”

“Well, what is Eutopia good for, if it doesn’t make all doors swing back
with the ‘open sesame’ of good wishes?”

“Good to hope for,” said Gilbert dryly.

“And to work for,” added Margaret quietly.

“And ze hope and ze work keep ze world moving. But ze boy’s back, Mees
Margaret, zat is a question not yet answered.”

“A good game of base-ball would cure that, eh, Gilbert?”

“I protest,” exclaimed Elsie, “against any more nonsense this evening.
On our first grand opening to be found on such a lamentably low plane is
belittling to our great aims. There has not been a word said yet about
the crying need of our country, the deplorable condition of labor, the
injustice of our government, etc., etc. Will not our serene presidentess
inform her breathless audience how we are to strike at the roots of
these evils at once?”

“Chiefly by attending to our own business. In the breast of each
individual lies the power of bettering himself, and as we better
ourselves intellectually and morally, as well as materially, by so much
we better the world.”

“It sounds easy,” said Elsie dubiously.

“It _is_ easy,” said Margaret firmly. “Grind out of our hearts the
selfish love of ease that creates the unholy desire to build up
ourselves by pulling others down, and bravely resolve to shirk no plain
duty, and the battle is half-won. Now let us turn to the real business
of the evening. I have laid out a line of history work for the first
half-hour; for the second, belles-lettres and poetry; for the third,
discussion; and for the last, music.”

“From Antoine’s violin?”

“Yes, and from an organ to accompany him.”

“Has the organ materialized?” asked Elsie, gazing incredulously around
the room.

“It shall to-morrow. We can obtain one by monthly payments, and only a
little plainer living, fewer clothes, and the thing can be managed. I’ll
agree to wear calico all the time, even Sundays if need be.”

“And I won’t even _think_ of a ribbon,” exclaimed Elsie, with a
mischievous twinkle shining through eyes that were suspiciously misty.

“Amen,” said Gilbert. “I’ll wear patches and play ‘bones.’”

Lizzette and Antoine said nothing; but a look of intelligence passed
between them, which told of a purpose they did not care to mention just
then. And so the little Home Circle Club was arranged. Three evenings in
the week the programme came to be successfully carried out. Margaret
kept a record of all the proceedings, carefully noting down the doubts
and difficulties that beset them, and as carefully adding all truths
that came to help them. The music of the violin and organ was not a
startling success at first, for the empty purse prevented all thought of
tuition except that furnished by self-teaching manuals; but as
exceptional genius lay beneath Antoine’s curly locks, and Elsie was an
uncommonly bright scholar, it was not long before the two young heads
had solved the puzzling rudiments of music, and were on their way toward
a tolerable amount of proficiency. Antoine was a new being. His mother
affirmed that the music would cure him. A faint color tinged the
hitherto pale cheeks, and an unusual sparkle lit up the dark eyes. It
would have been hard to find a happier group of people than the five at
Idlewild. They were like one family in their interests and efforts.
Lizzette flitted in and out of both domiciles, intent now on Elsie’s
cooking, now on Antoine’s music, which came to her ears at all hours of
the day and night—for the violin had grown to be like a living companion
to the crippled lad—now helping Gilbert and Margaret in the garden or
gravely puzzling over some of the English books on Margaret’s table.
They were all busy, cheerful, and conscious that they were making
progress, intellectually and materially. Lizzette’s experience had been
the safeguard over Margaret’s efforts in the garden. It was prospering
finely, and already Lizzette had sold at her stall in the market at C——
enough to make Margaret feel that her hard days of work with hoe and
spade were sometimes sure to be well rewarded. As the season progressed
the work in the garden required additional help. In an old negro woman,
known to everybody in the neighborhood as “Aunt Liza,” together with her
son Eph, Margaret found the needed assistance. Often she worked beside
them, finding as acquaintance progressed a perpetual source of annoyance
in the aimless and half-hearted way in which they worked.
Irresponsibility seemed to be with them the predominating
characteristic, and strive as she would against it, she frequently found
her efforts not much more successful than so much writing in water. They
would both listen to her instructions with serious but blank faces, and
relapse at once into that indolent method which was a continual thorn in
Margaret’s New England thrift. It was her first serious stumbling-block
on the way to that high plane of achievement whereon she had made no
allowance for the thriftless, the ignorant, and the irresponsible. To
her well-regulated mind, all people _ought_ to be industrious, patient,
and ambitious, and it was a keen thrust against her composure to be
brought into contact with the unpromising side of human nature. It was
not so much that the two did not earn the wages she paid them, as that
she saw failure, suffering, misfortune before the two unthinking
mortals. She felt a moral responsibility in endeavoring to set their
feet aright, and so tried in numberless little ways to impress upon them
a faint idea of the requirements of life. She found in the little hut
where they lived a deplorable poverty, and undertook to question Liza,
who in the summer, together with Eph, earned fairly good wages, how it
happened that they were so poor.

“Dunno, Miss Margaret,” answered Liza with a grin. “Spec somehow me an’
Eph ain’t got no way of sabin’. In the summertime we has ’nough ter eat,
and we firgits about de cold, and so when de winter comes, folks ’bout
here is mighty good, and don’t let us go hungry, and that’s jes’ de way
we gits thru.”

“But wouldn’t you rather save a part of your wages in the summer and fix
up the cabin good and warm, and be able to feed yourself and have people
respect you?”

“Spec ’twould seem better to have de old cabin fixed up; but as for
folks ’spectin’ ole Aunt Liza and nigger Eph—yah! yah! I reckon, Miss
Margaret, yer ain’t lived long o’ niggers much.”

Liza’s fat sides shook with unctuous laughter as she looked up into
Margaret’s face.

“No,” said Margaret, “but I think every one is entitled to respect who
earns it, whether he is black or white.”

“P’raps that’s so,” assented Liza, “but niggers ain’t white folks,
nohow. They’s a pore down-trodden race fo’ suah,” she added, catching
the whine of some claptrap orator. “Dey jes’ don’t know how to be any
better.”

“They can learn.”

“Mighty hard work teach a nigger; dey’s got dreffel thick skulls.
Niggers is the comicalest folks too; jes’ gib ’em a chicken bone and a
watermillion and dey don’t care fo’ nuffin’ else,” and Aunt Liza stopped
work long enough to chuckle over her own wit.

“But they ought to; because chicken bones and watermelons don’t grow on
every bush. They ought to learn how to take care of their money, and buy
little homes of their own, and grow into citizens that are honest and
self-respecting.”

“Specs it take mighty long while to do dat, Miss Margaret. Niggers don’t
have nuffin’ mo’n a few pennies at a time, and dey’s sartin suah to git
away jes’ soon as dey turns roun’.”

“Did you ever count up how much money there would be in saving five
cents a day for a year, or even a summer?”

“No, don’t know ’nuff; but Eph hyah’s been to school. Eph, you jes’
count ’em up.”

“Cain’t do it. Hain’t got that fur. Ye see,” said he, glad of a chance
to rise from his cramped position, with the ostensible object of
explaining himself, “I’s only jes’ larned de A B abs and hain’t got no
time to go no mo’. I’s got to hire out all de time.”

“Well, five cents a day for six days in a week make thirty cents; that
sum for fifty-two weeks in a year makes the sum of $15.60.”

“Ooeeh!” exclaimed Eph. “Dat’s mo’ money ’n I ever seed at a time. Jes’
five cents’ yer say? How much ef it’s only thru de summer dat we sabes
it?”

“That depends upon how many months you work. If you work from April to
November, say a period of twenty-six weeks, there will be seven dollars
and eighty cents. Would not that go a good way in helping to clothe and
feed you in the winter?”

“Golly, yes,” exclaimed Eph. “I never has no clothes when the col’
spells come on. I’s allus shiverin’ ’roun’ in de winter and hopin’ fo’
spring.”

“Eph,” said Aunt Liza, roused by Margaret’s arithmetic into an unusual
interest, “jes’ s’posin’ we ’uns tries dat little speculation. Five
cents hain’t a drefful sight ter sabe a day, but it do heap up ’mazin’
fast, dat’s so. Jes’ let’s make Miss Margaret hold de money fo’ us; fo’
dar ain’t no use o’ us tryin’ ter sabe it. It jes’ burn holes in our
pockets fo’ shuah.”

“I’s agreed,” answered Eph, getting up again and making an elaborate bow
to Margaret. “Specs Miss Margaret tryin’ a little mission on us; but
lawsee! reckon dar’s need ’nuff of it, and I’s putty shuah dar ain’t
nobody nicerer to be banker fo’ us.”

Having delivered this speech, Eph leaned up against the fence with the
air of having supplied a long-felt want. Margaret smiled and began, “I
am afraid——”

“Heah, you Eph!” interrupted Aunt Liza, picking up a clod and hurling it
at Eph’s head, “you lazy nigger! go to work, or yer don’t git no five
cents to sabe.”

Eph cleverly dodged the clod and leisurely sank to his knees. “Specs
Miss Margaret hain’t no ’bjections ter actin’ as ouah banker,” he
resumed with the utmost complacency.

“I don’t believe that’s the best plan. Can’t you lay it up yourselves,
and resolve not to touch it till cold weather comes?”

“Shuah fo’ sartin, Miss Margaret, a nigger don’t know how to sabe a
cent. It jes’ gits away, dat’s all. Onless you’s our banker, like Eph
say, we don’t git rich by time col’ weather’s settlin’ down.”

Aunt Liza, unmindful of the reproof she had just administered to Eph,
sat up in the path, and with numerous gesticulations proceeded to
emphasize her statement. “It’s mighty good o’ yer, Miss Margaret, to
take a likin’ to us no-’count niggers, and I’s jes’ goin’ to try and see
ef dar ain’t some good in ouah ole bones aftah all. Ef you’ll jes’ keep
ouah sabin’s I’ll make dat Eph work every day in de week and go huntin’
Sundays.”

“Well,” said Margaret, with difficulty repressing a smile, “I’ll try it.
Now let’s see if these two rows can’t be finished by noon.”

“Meg,” said Elsie, as Margaret came wearily into the house at the noon
hour, “what have you been trying to do with those good-for-nothing
‘cullud pussons’ out there?”

“Teach them a little responsibility, that is all.”

“My sweet sister,” said Elsie, rapturously kissing the pale face as she
drew Margaret down into a rocking-chair, “you will kill yourself with
trying to be the world’s keeper.”

“It is only a little thing, Elsie; the cup of cold water and no more.”



                              CHAPTER VII.


It was June before the little Frenchwoman would hear to Margaret’s
making any effort to dispose of her produce in her own way. Regularly
every morning Lizzette boarded the four-o’clock train for the city with
her boxes of produce, which she pushed to the train in the hand-cart and
wheeled from the train to her stall in the market. Until now the amount
yielded by Margaret’s garden had been small in bulk, but so well had it
thrived under Lizzette’s management and the comparatively good season,
that the more bulky vegetables, such as spinach, peas, beans, etc., were
coming on, and Lizzette found the yield of the two gardens more than she
could well manage in her small way. Margaret, appalled somewhat, for all
her courage, at having to face the multitude in a stall at the market,
was for disposing of her produce to the commission merchants on South
M—— Street.

“Non,” said Lizzette emphatically. “Zere ees no money in zat. You make
consignment and more likely zan not get back ze whole stuff wilted and
good for nosing. I tried zat to my sorrow. In ze stall you sell all at
some price. You no carry home ze stuff again.”

“I know,” said Margaret doubtfully, “but truly I dread my ignorance and
the contact with things wholly unfamiliar.”

“Ah, ze little brown Frenchwoman haf no such fear, and she forget ze
girlhood so long temps! Zare ees Gilbert—ees he not old enough? I take
him under my wing, and he sall learn ze tricks of trade. N’est-ce pas?”

“I will go with you to-morrow,” said Margaret, “for I must conquer my
dread. Perhaps some time Gilbert shall take my place.”

Nothing in the line of work had ever seemed so distasteful to Margaret
as wheeling the little hand-cart through the streets of the city, and
taking her place within the stall next to Lizzette’s. It was early when
they reached the market, and the buyers were not out in full force;
nevertheless Margaret fancied she saw in every eye that lingered on her
an impertinent curiosity. Self-consciousness was the least of her
failings; but there was an almost unacknowledged protest at being
compelled to stand up before the gaze of hundreds and volubly offer her
small wares for sale. Duty certainly wore her most uninviting aspect
that morning, and came nearer finding Margaret a coward than ever
before. She had never as yet shrunk from any work, however menial; but
there was a vast difference between performing that work within the
seclusion of home, cheered and upheld by an atmosphere of love and
appreciation that made “the dignity of labor” something more than the
radiant utterance of some visionary pedant, and standing in the full
gaze of the public, subjected to the whims, avarice, snobbishness, and
impertinence of the pushing, merciless multitude. Oh, how she shrank
from it all! How had she ever thought it possible to have strength for
such work? Lizzette’s quick eyes noticed the constraint of Margaret’s
manner, and she undertook, by a display of more than ordinary volubility
and gayety, to dispel the gloom that wrapped her. She bustled about,
changing the position of that bunch of onions or radishes, this head of
lettuce, or endeavoring to display more temptingly the measures of
spinach, peas, beans, etc. More than one would-be buyer halted, gazed at
the silent figure and white face, and passed on.

“Zis will nevair do,” interposed Lizzette in a whisper. “You look truly
seek; sit down here behind ze cart, and I sell for bof of us. Vous avez
ze paleness I no like to see. Ze work ees too hard.”

Margaret shook herself together with an effort. No, she would not be
beaten back at the first step; it would be degrading. The mutiny in her
breast, whatever it was, whether a hitherto unknown undercurrent of
false pride or a new and abnormal sensitiveness, _must_ be conquered.
With a smile that was almost pitiful in its attempted bravery she said:
“No, Lizzette; it is now or never. You will soon see what a brave
market-woman I will make. I shall make a sale to the next comer.
Good-morning, madam! How can I serve you?” she asked, as a woman who
wore diamonds and silk approached and sniffed contemptuously above the
little display of greenery.

“Dear me! You don’t seem to have anything fit for a pig to eat,” said
the woman as with ungloved hand flashing with diamonds she deliberately
reached for a measure of spinach, and turned it bottom side up on the
little counter.

“I presume not,” said Margaret, quietly picking up the spinach and
restoring it to its place. “We don’t sell to pigs here.”

“H’m! impertinent!” and with a haughty stare into Margaret’s face, the
diamonds and silk passed on. Lizzette was convulsed with laughter.
Margaret stole a quick glance at her, and the white scorn of her face
lit up with a smile.

“That was a tonic, Lizzette,” she said. “I shall do better next time.”

A second later a sweet-faced little matron stopped at the counter, asked
for prices, made her selection, and looking earnestly at Margaret, said:
“You are a newcomer here. I know all the old faces.”

“It is my first effort.”

“And you find it hard?”

“A little. I shall get used to it.”

“Ah, yes, we get used to almost everything in this world. I shall
remember you and look for you to-morrow. Good morning.” And with a
slight bow the little matron took up her purchases and went on her way.

Margaret’s face softened as she glanced at Lizzette. “Eet ees not all
bad,” Lizzette found time to whisper.

“No,” said Margaret, “a little smile lightens the whole world.”

When the market hours were over, Margaret, to her surprise, found that
she had sold out her little stock, and Lizzette was voluble in praise of
her ability as a saleswoman. The generous hearted little Frenchwoman had
nothing to say of the numberless ways in which she had contrived to
bring Margaret’s supplies within the notice of purchasers. Margaret went
home with a lighter heart. After all, nothing was ever quite so hard
when once the shoulder had been put to the wheel. Yet it was a white,
tired face that greeted the three who at Idlewild were anxiously
awaiting the result of the experiment.

“O Meg!” cried Elsie apprehensively. “You have gone beyond your
strength, and I am to blame for coaxing you into this move. I am going
to take your place.”

“No, indeed,” said Margaret decisively; “I’ll not hear one word to it.
This is my work until I have mastered it and am ready to give it up to
Gilbert.”

They knew persuasions were useless, and so she was left to work out the
problem upon which she was just entering. It did not grow any easier as
the weeks and months progressed. She never could quite put down the mute
protest that arose within her against a conscious unsuitability for such
work. It was always distasteful to her to mingle with the jostling crowd
and urge upon fault-finding buyers the excellence of her wares; but she
resolutely choked back revolt, and finding that she was gaining
customers who grew to like the simple earnestness of her manner and to
rely upon the exactness of her word and measure, and that there was at
least a living profit in her calling, she learned to endure all its
unpleasantness with no word of complaint. How bravely she bore it all no
one guessed except Lizzette, who witnessed daily the struggle going on
in the girl’s breast.

“Ze instinct of ze lady rebelled, but ze heart of ze woman bear,” she
said sententiously.

The summer passed away quickly and uneventfully; the daily round of
duties, of self-improvement, of little moments of relaxation over
Elsie’s organ or Antoine’s violin, making the days bright with widening
hope and prospects.

One late October evening, while Elsie and Antoine were filling the
little house with music and Gilbert was buried in a book, Margaret
seated herself before her father’s desk and began a letter to Dr. Ely.


“In fulfilment of my promise, I inclose a summary of our summer’s work.
You will see that financially we are a trifle ahead. This is due to the
wise forethought of our good friend Dr. Ely and the management of our
wonderful little Frenchwoman. When I look at my own work, I realize that
I have been but the obedient machine of wiser calculation than I could
possibly have evinced, and I take no credit to myself for this happy
state of our affairs. Much as I believe in and preach the independence
of the individual, I realize more and more the absolute need of
interdependent friendship. It is impossible to find healthy life in the
isolation of self; and yet it is in the development of self that we
reach the highest capability for perfect friendship. The wisdom of
others has benefited me largely this summer. Through others’ eyes I have
seen with clearer vision many things which my own inexperience would
have shown me but dimly. I feel that I have grown stronger and more
steadfast by reason of this friendship that came like a waft of summer
wind across my barren pathway; and that I may properly render unto
Cæsar, I hereby make my acknowledgments for numberless good offices at
your hands.

“As regards the garden, the hot-beds are made ready for the winter’s
sowing, and we have built a substantial hen-house and a miniature
duck-pond at the foot of the raspberry patch. The yield of berries this
summer was inconsiderable, owing to the vigorous pruning given to the
bushes, but the growth has been fine. The trellises are all in good
shape and we hope for a substantial return next summer.

“My experiment with Aunt Liza and Eph, about which I wrote you, has not
been highly successful. Between the two they have managed to save about
five dollars, and I’ve no doubt the community will be called upon as
usual to keep the breath of life in their poor bodies until spring. For
my part, since they are both able-bodied I shall _give_ nothing.
Whatever help I offer they must be made to pay for in some shape, since
in that way only can they be taught independence and responsibility, and
something like a solution be made of this problem of the poor whom we
have always with us.

“As regards my market business, I do not think I am calculated for
trade. The peculiar isolation of my life has unfitted me for contact
with many-sided humanity, and for that reason I tie myself to it with a
self-immolation of an Indian devotee. With not only my own way to make
in the world, but that of Elsie and Gilbert, I can afford no mawkish
shrinking from unpleasant things. It will never be a pleasant business
for me, but as I find the newness wearing off, it grows more bearable. I
have established a regular line of good customers who seem always well
suited; have quite a trade in butter, which I buy from the farmers’
wives hereabout, and a slight output of eggs and chickens from our own
hennery. Eph has promised to keep me supplied for the winter with game,
and Lizzette and I will make our trips at six o’clock instead of four as
the weather grows colder. So much for material matters.

“In our Home Club we have done fairly well. We have finished United
States history, taken up the first principles of political economy, made
some studies in Shakespeare and ‘Ivanhoe’ and ‘Adventures of Philip,’
_tried_ Browning and discarded him—our practical life is too short to
spend in solving enigmas that, however charming they may be as poetical
conceptions, have nothing perceptible to teach us—and by way of dessert,
with Ruskin to fall back on, have taken up some slight studies in
æstheticism, the material result of which has been innumerable ‘love
bags,’ impossible ‘head-rests,’ and indescribable nothings on Elsie’s
part. The best part of our efforts, however, has been the practical
value of our discussions following the presentation of a ‘blossom’ or
thought by each member. You will recall my previous letter regarding
this. Out of this discussion has come wisdom, even beyond our hopes, and
strength greater than our own. We scorn nothing here, not the simplest
wayside weed, and we have learned much from each other and research.
Antoine is making marvellous progress in his music. Already he is
interpreting Bach and Handel, and even venturing into snatches of
original composition. The lad’s soul seems to have been lit at the altar
of music; for on no ordinary presumption can one compute his wonderful
development. Strength and a greater degree of comeliness seems to have
come into his long thin arms and bent shoulders, while there is a
constant glow in his dark eyes and an unusual gayety in his laugh.
Lizzette is in a fervor of happiness and pride, and seems not to be able
to do enough for us. Elsie has caught Antoine’s faculty for whistling,
and often makes a good second to the bird-like notes with which he
accompanies his violin. It is a rare treat to listen to them as I am
listening now—Elsie at the organ, Antoine with his violin nestled
lovingly under his chin, and his deft bow bringing out with marvellous
power its almost human tones, and both whistling! Elsie grows daily more
charming and more expansive, and music seems to be with her, as with
Antoine, the expression of much that is restless, wayward, and beautiful
in her soul. Gilbert is docile and patient; but I notice a growing
uneasiness and distaste for his work that must be met and overcome in
some way. I have been thinking of putting him in the manual-training
school in the city, but have not yet solved the problem of ways and
means. I think you may perhaps be pained to find that we do not attend
church. In the first place, the purchase of the organ rendered necessary
the most rigid economy in dress—in fact, Elsie and I wear nothing but
calico, and Gilbert’s clothes are growing decidedly seedy. In the second
place, we went once to St. Paul’s, in the city, and have had no heart to
go since. My poor father long before his death used to declaim against
the growing tendency to exclusiveness in the churches. In the simplicity
of my country living, I thought him unnecessarily apprehensive. The
house of God was indeed to me so much a sanctuary I thought worldliness
was left at the outer door; but I found my mistake upon entering the
door of St. Paul’s. The free seats, high-backed and uncushioned, were
portioned off from the others with a wide aisle. In them were gathered a
little handful of people like ourselves, evidently the world’s toilers
and God’s poor. The cushioned seats were filled with a richly-dressed
congregation. The altar was superbly decorated in white and gold, and
the clergyman, as white and high-bred-looking as his æsthetic
surroundings, preached a sermon on the ‘Beauty of the ideal.’ He found
his text in the Bible, but he found nothing else there. The Bread of
Life was not in it. I glanced around the congregation; those in the free
seats sat with blankly staring countenances, evidently victims to a
sense of duty. The occupants of the cushioned seats leaned luxuriously
back and listened with a well-bred air of interest; but as far as I
could see not one face glowed with an intensity of feeling or asked for
anything more than the rhetorical flourish. We remained through the
communion service, but did not partake of it. I think the divine symbols
would have choked me, my heart was so hot and bitter within me. Clearly
my father was right. The church of to-day is not for the masses, nor of
the masses, and yet I feel sure that there is a great heart of humanity
underlying all this worldliness, and perhaps waiting patiently for the
time to ripen when the crust of wealth-worship, caste, and place-hunting
shall be burned through with the white heat of its fires. God loves his
chosen, and they are of all the earth; some day he shall call them
together! We spend our Sundays at home. Elsie and Antoine render
beautifully those old arks of safety, ‘Come! Ye Disconsolate’ and
‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul.’ We read, talk, study, and open our hearts to
the sweet graces of love and charity, and so we forget that outside
there is a world which scorns our poverty and our calloused hands. Once
in a while, drawn by the music, old Aunt Liza and Eph—who by the way
begrudges the Sunday that takes him away from his hunting—make an
addition to our number. I don’t try to do any so-called missionary work
with them, although Eph says suspiciously he ‘specs dat’s what it all
means, anyhow!’ On the whole, life is very pleasant with us. I am
growing so accustomed to its methodical rounds that I have no time for
anything like regret or vain aspirations.

“With the best wishes for the prosperity of the school and the welfare
of our good friend Dr. Ely, I am

                                               Sincerely your friend,
                                                   “MARGARET MURCHISON.”



                             CHAPTER VIII.


The ground was covered with snow, and with the thermometer registering
ten degrees below zero everything creaked, tingled, and snapped in the
frosty air. A keen, cutting wind whistled down from the North and made
the comfortably-housed mortal shiver with dread at thought of being
exposed to its rude blast. In the little house at Idlewild the three
drew around the stove and discussed, gravely apprehensive, Margaret’s
dread trip to market in the morning.

“Don’t go!” exclaimed Elsie. “It will be so bitter cold that precious
few will venture out to buy.”

“I wouldn’t if it were not so near Christmas, and I shall have no money
for remembrance if I do not sell off the little produce we have.”

“Well, I’d rather forego a remembrance than have you frozen stiff in the
act of presenting a cabbage-head to an indifferent public, while your
very utterances crystallized on the frosty air and left you a touching
monument to the ills of labor.”

“Let me go, sister,” exclaimed Gilbert. “I think it is time you let me
bear a little hardship.”

“Indeed it is,” interposed Elsie. “You are spoiling the lad by
forgetting that if he lives long enough he will be a man some time.”

“Never fear! He will live long enough to see you a sharp-tongued old
maid,” ejaculated Gilbert, who occasionally winced under Elsie’s
raillery.

“That doesn’t frighten me a bit! I never saw a sharp tongued old maid
who didn’t have the right of way everywhere she went. Try again,
Gilbert. Your picture is not half dismal enough.”

“Hush, children!” interferred Margaret, laying a hand on the hand of
each. “Suppose I accept your proposition and let Gilbert take my place
to-morrow!”

“Yes, and the rest of the winter,” said Gilbert earnestly. “It is too
hard for you. I’ve noticed you were growing thin under it.”

“And I too,” added Elsie. “I should have said so before, but you have
such a desperately calm heroism about you that it takes more than usual
bravery to remonstrate with you.”

“Desperately calm is an admirable expression, Elsie,” said Margaret with
a smile, “and now that you have exhibited so much bravery, I suppose
there is nothing left for me but to succumb.”

“Exactly. It is refreshing to find you so docile.”

“I suspect it is because I am a coward physically. I have not much
desire to stand in the front; in fact, I’d like to desert from the army
of workers.”

“Margaret, I’m afraid you are going to be sick,” exclaimed Elsie, all
the mischief dying out of her face.

“Nonsense, Rosebud. I never was sick in my life.”

“Everybody finds his Waterloo some time, and now, Margaret Murchison,
I’m going to exert my long-reserved authority and insist that you put up
that book—somehow I never see you of late without a book or a cabbage in
your hand—and go to bed. You are completely tired out, I know, and there
is no use in trying to make a martyr of yourself any longer.”

With gentle insistence Elsie took the book from her sister’s hand and
dragged her off to bed, hovering over her with ostentatious airs of
stern command that were as grateful to Margaret’s tired senses as they
were amusing in the blithe-hearted girl.

Some moments later, though it was still early in the evening, the little
household was wrapped in profound slumber.

Fire! Fire! shouted a belated passer-by as he ran hurriedly toward the
Idlewild cottage.

Fire! Fire! first took up one voice and another, and Fire! Fire! they
cried almost under the windows of the little house. No response came
from the inside. “Pound on the doors!” shouted a voice.

“Maybe they are not at home,” responded another. “Pound away! wake them
up! break in the door!”

Terrific blows were applied on the door, which yielded to the pressure
and fell back splintered from top to bottom. Fire! Fire! yelled the
foremost man of the party. Still no response from the inmates. By this
time half a dozen men had gathered in the room, and were busily engaged
in throwing out articles of furniture, hunting for water, and
endeavoring to put out the fire, which, with the draft of the open door,
was already encircling the room.

“Good God!” cried one of the men, opening a bedroom door and discovering
Elsie and Margaret asleep. “Here are two women! Wake up! Wake up! The
house is on fire!”

Elsie sprang up dazed and bewildered.

“On fire?” she cried as if dimly understanding. “O Meg! O Meg! wake up!
We’ll burn!” and seizing Margaret by the shoulder she undertook to wake
her. There was no response from Margaret, who lay like one dead.

“There ain’t no time to waste,” called the man. “Come, get up out of
here,” and he shook her vigorously. So heavy a stupor was upon her she
could make no reply, and the man finally lifted her by main force and
called to Elsie, “Come on, girl—there ain’t no time to fool away.”

Just then arose the cry, “We can’t get a drop of water! Everything is
frozen solid!”

“Let her go, boys! Throw out the things! No use trying to save her!”

At that moment Elsie appeared in the doorway. “My brother! My brother
Gilbert! He’s in there!” pointing to a door that seemed barred by the
flames. “Let me wake him,” and she was about to rush through the flames,
clad only in her night-dress and with bare feet, when the little knot of
men threw themselves in her way. One of them, axe in hand, dashed
through the flames, and a moment later they heard the sound of shivering
glass, while Gilbert awoke from a boy’s sound slumber on the snow
outside of his room. The man with the axe followed the boy’s exit
through the window, and appeared at the outer doorway a moment later.
“Any one else in the house?” he asked.

“No,” said Elsie growing cooler as she realized the safety of Margaret
and Gilbert. “Save the books, the organ, and the desk if everything else
goes.”

“All right, but you better put for the neighbor’s. We’ll bring you some
clothes and save the furniture too. Now, boys, pitch in!”

Elsie started out of the door at the word of command, and almost
stumbled over Antoine on his knees in the snow. “O Elsie! O Elsie!” he
cried. “I couldn’t stay in. I was so frightened. Thank God, you’re not
burned!”

Elsie picked up the helpless lad in her arms and started as fast as the
burden would permit her for the lad’s home. At the corner of the house
she met Gilbert in his night clothes, dazed and stupid. “Come, Gilbert!”
she cried, “help me take Antoine home. I can hardly carry him.”

“I want my clothes,” he shivered; “let me get my clothes.” He was just
dodging into the door, when a hand seized him roughly by the shoulders
and sent him flying into the snow again.

“Are you mad? The walls are just ready to fall. Get to the neighbor’s!
Here, take this blanket!” and the fireman tossed the shivering boy a
blanket. Elsie was barely half-way up the path leading to Antoine’s
home, when she encountered Lizzette frantic with fear for Gilbert and
Elsie. When she saw Elsie’s burden she snatched the lad up with a
startled exclamation.

“Mon Dieu, Antoine! Que fait il? Ou va-t-il? I nevair know he leaves ze
house, Elsie. Run, Elsie! Margaret ees in a faint. I no wake her!
Gilbert, mon pauvre garçon! Que dire? que faire?”

Hastily along the icy way the three ran, Lizzette having taken Antoine
from Elsie’s arms. They burst open the door of the little sitting-room,
to find Margaret still and white on the lounge.

“Meg, darling,” cried Elsie, sinking on her knees beside her. “Oh, look
up! Speak to me! What is it? Oh, somebody tell me what is the matter!
She breathes—see! she moves a little! Meg, Meg, speak to me!”

Her wild importunities only caused a little tremor to run through
Margaret’s frame. By this time Lizzette was at Elsie’s side with a glass
of brandy. “Here, drink zis, Margaret! Non? A teaspoon, Elsie! Now zen,
open her teeth! Zay are not set! C’est très-bon! She swallow? Oui! Her
hands, zey are so cold! Ce n’est pas bien! Some hot cloths, Elsie. I go
send for ze docteur!”

As Lizzette turned away there came a loud knocking at the door. Several
men stood outside with clothing and furniture. “We have saved what we
could. Where shall we store the things?”

“Oh, come in,” cried Lizzette. “I know not. I only know ze young lady
ees seek. Vill not some one be so kind to get ze docteur? She faint all
ze time.”

“Certainly,” exclaimed one of their number. “I’ll go at once.”

“Ze furniture!” exclaimed Lizzette, suddenly recollecting herself. “In
ze little room in ze back zare, vot you can find ze place for. Ze rest
in ze hennery—anywhere. I tank you, gentlemen! Zese young people so like
my own eet break my heart,” and sobbing bitterly Lizzette sank into a
chair.

Elsie and Gilbert, wrapped in blankets, still cowered, dumb with
anguish, at Margaret’s side. Antoine lay back in his wheel chair as
white as his pillows, but with eyes that glowed like caverns of light in
his white face.

“It’s hard, mum,” said one of the men, as with quick glances he took in
the scene, “but we’ve saved most of the stuff, and I guess the young
lady will come to after a while. Pretty nearly frightened to death, I
reckon.”

“This is not a faint from fright,” said the doctor half an hour later.
“It is the lethargy of typhoid fever. Has she not seemed tired and
languid for several days? Ah, I thought so! You could not wake her? No;
it will be some time yet before she realizes her surroundings. A
critical case; but not beyond cure. Now, my good madam, can you put her
to bed?”

“Oui—oui, at vonce.”

Elsie and Gilbert, by this time aroused from the vague horror and
stupefaction which had overtaken them, had managed to equip themselves
in the various odds and ends of clothing which the men had dropped on
the floor, and now sprang quickly to the aid of Lizzette. In a few
moments Margaret was safely bestowed in Lizzette’s bed, and the doctor
was pouring directions in Elsie’s ears.

“You are sure you are calm enough to remember instructions?” asked the
doctor, intently observing her white face and darkly-circled eyes.

“I am perfectly calm, now that I have hope for my sister. She shall not
suffer for want of attention.”

“Non, non,” said Lizzette excitedly. “She ees ze angel of our lives. We
sall nevair leave her von moment.”

“It will be hard for you,” said the doctor sympathetically, “but her
case is urgent, and depends largely upon care. I will call again
to-morrow. Good-night!”

“Now for some beds,” said Lizzette, all her energy returning. “Antoine,
mon garçon, venez avec moi! You sall sleep now, for ze great fear ees
ovair. La fievre, eet sall be easy cure.”

With tenderest ejaculations Lizzette picked up Antoine and carried him
to bed. “Le bon Dieu!” exclaimed the lad fervently as he clasped his
arms around his mother’s neck.

“Oui,” said Lizzette, kissing him. “He make all sings even.”

For three weeks there was but one thought, one hope, one fear in
Lizzette’s little home. Margaret’s fever was of that low, obstinate type
which is all the more difficult of cure by reason of its seeming lack of
violence. Day slipped into night and night into day again all unheeded
by the quiet figure on the bed. She seemed neither to hear nor to see,
and only responded to the care bestowed upon her as a new-born infant
responds to the fulfilment of its needs. She lay like one sleeping
peacefully, and seldom evinced restlessness unless this lethargy was
broken by demands upon her attention. At the end of the twenty-first day
there came a visible change. Her features grew drawn and sunken; her
hands became more restless, now idly picking at the bedclothes and anon
clutching vaguely at the air. Her breath grew hourly and hourly more
irregular; now sinking almost away, and again growing labored and
painful.

“Now,” said the doctor, “is the hour of trial. Keep her strength up and
we shall save her. She has a magnificent physique to aid us.”

Heavily dragged the hours as the four—Lizzette, Elsie, Gilbert, and the
doctor—watched Margaret’s painful struggle for life. There seemed to be
so little to do to save her. It was like barbarism to sit there and
watch the regular administering of the necessary stimulant, and realize
that upon it, and the recuperative power in the frail body, depended
hope and life. Elsie, worn as she was with watching, was nearly mad with
the desire to do something worth while, to be active in rousing Margaret
to recognition, and not to feel almost guilty in the passiveness with
which she watched the approach of the dread crisis.

“I shall go wild with waiting, doctor. Is there nothing more I can do?”
she moaned.

“Nothing, child,” he answered sympathetically. “We are doing all that
can be done.”

“Waiting is such hard work.”

“For youth, yes; for old age, its time of greatest cheer. When you are
silver-haired, as I am, you will have learned to wait patiently.”

“I never was patient; but God means to teach me, I see. It was Margaret
who was always patient, always kind, always helpful. Dear God, we cannot
live without her.”

Down upon her knees beside the doctor’s chair slipped broken-hearted
Elsie, and grasping his hand she cried desolately: “Oh, may the good God
strengthen you to save her, doctor! You don’t know all she has been to
us, to everybody with whom she came in contact. She has been one of
God’s good angels, sent by Him to make this selfish world more mindful
of divine truth! He cannot mean to take her now with her work just
begun. I know He will give you power to save her, and you will, you
will, won’t you?”

With all of a childlike innocence and pleading she raised her
tear-stained face to his.

“My dear child,” he replied, “all that I know I have so far applied to
the case, and I am deeply interested in saving her. I have faith that I
shall do it. Now, my little girl, it is not wise to give way to tears.
You must keep up your strength to help me. The battle is only half-won
when the crisis is passed.”

At that instant there was a timid knock at the middle door, which
speedily opened to show Eph’s black face, as he whispered
half-apologetically: “I don fotched some game, and reckon maybe I’s
gwine ter heah some good news. Mammy’s out’n heah and we’s come ober ter
help take cah of you’uns fo’ ter-night. Mammy says as how yer oughter
hab some good strong coffee, an’ she don tol’ me ter ax yer should she
make some ter hearten yer up a bit?”

“That’s right, Eph,” said the doctor, who knew Eph well. “Just tell Aunt
Liza to go ahead; for that’s the very thing we need.”

“The world is full of kindness,” said the doctor when Eph’s black face
had been withdrawn, “if one only knows how to strike the key-note.”

The interruption had been in the nature of a tonic; for the wave of
intensified feeling subsided before the simple offer of the good-natured
African. Elsie bent over Margaret’s bed with renewed faith and strength,
and as the midnight hours grew slowly into early morning, she was as
quick as the doctor to notice the least change in the symptoms.

“I think she is better, doctor,” she whispered half-questioningly.

“You are right,” was the answer. “She will live.”

Swiftly as an electric message went the glad news from eye to eye, and
“Thank God!” welled up from anxious hearts and lifted eyes overflowing
with tears.

Margaret had been convalescent two weeks before she was permitted an
answer to the wonder in her eyes. It was a disjointed answer at best. No
one knew how the fire had originated, why it had been impossible to make
connections with the water-mains, or why they had been so deplorably
incapable of action. One fact alone stood out distinct and clear:
Margaret’s insensibility and the subsequent hard fight for life. Now
that Margaret was recovering, the misfortune seemed to lighten. In fact,
the old sunshine had come back to their faces, albeit the unpicturesque
side of poverty stared them in the face. They had not as yet gone
hungry, for Eph with the generosity and sympathy of his race had kept
the table supplied with game; but Lizzette’s slender resources were
being daily lessened. Of this, however, she gave no intimation, but
cheerfully bore her increased expense and labor, thankful above all else
for the boon of Margaret’s life, and the opportunity to repay a debt
which it had seemed to her a life’s devotion could never obliterate.
Elsie was quick to see how the slender means were being strained to
their utmost, but while Margaret was still so weak and needing such
careful nursing she could make no effort to earn anything to help out
the scanty purse. She could only bide her time until Margaret was able
to wait upon herself, and then something must be done. She and Gilbert
must be bread-winners now. Gilbert, in the mean time, had gone from door
to door, shovelling coal here, sweeping walks there, running occasional
errands, and doing odd jobs of tinkering, in the hopeful effort to eke
out the scanty income. It was a miserable pittance at best that he
earned, but it bought the beef for Margaret’s tea and occasional bits of
fruit to tempt the tardy appetite. If Margaret surmised the severity of
the struggle, she saw no evidence of it in the serene faces about her.
If the old gayety of Elsie’s laugh was a trifle subdued and Antoine’s
violin had a more than usual plaintiveness, there had come a tenderer
sympathy, a sweeter note of love, and a closer bond of union that were
even more grateful. By tacit consent the old evenings had been resumed
as Margaret’s convalescence progressed, Elsie “serene presidentess pro
tem.,” as she styled herself, and Margaret an honorary member, from whom
nothing was permitted except smiles and occasional applause. It was a
great delight to Margaret to watch her Protean sister. How admirably the
versatile little witch fitted into every niche! How beautiful she was in
face and form, and more than beautiful in character! “God shield her!”
was Margaret’s inward prayer. “The world is full of danger for such as
she, and I must hasten to get well, rebuild the home nest, and keep the
home ties strong.”

But Margaret’s recovery was very slow. It seemed as if the red blood of
renewed strength would never come, and it was with a bitter heart-pang
that she listened to the doctor’s statement that she would not be fitted
to resume work of any kind before spring. The golden cord had been
well-nigh snapped in the indomitable determination to conquer self and
circumstances, and nature was taking her revenge. Gradually, sitting
helpless and empty-handed in her chair, she began to notice the little
evidences of desperate need which the others tried in vain to keep from
her, and one morning, determined to try her strength, she crawled feebly
into the kitchen to surprise them at breakfast with nothing on the table
but potatoes and salt!

“We are waiting for the cook to bring in breakfast,” exclaimed Elsie,
noticing the pain in Margaret’s eyes.

“O Margaret!” cried Lizzette, “zis ees too much. Here, sit down, and see
what good appetite we haf. Ze pomme de terre, ze sel, bof of a superieur
kind and so well served we eat and eat like ze epicure.”

The humorous twinkle in Lizzette’s eyes was lost on Margaret, for weak
and disheartened she sank into a seat, bowed her head on the table, and
sobbed like a child. In a second Antoine was out of his chair and his
arms were around her neck.

“Don’t,” he whispered. “The potatoes are done to a turn and you will
spoil them.”

The lad’s keenness had touched the right chord. To stand in the way of
another’s need or pleasure, even in little things, was an ingrained
abhorrence of Margaret’s nature. Instantly she raised a half-smiling
face. “It is a good deal better than starving, after all,” she said.

“Vastly,” responded Elsie. “Just watch Gilbert stow ’em away! I’m not
going to tell the result of my tally this morning, for fear he’ll take
revenge on me. We are growing to be experts on potatoes, and can tell
how they taste with our eyes shut.”

The ripple of laughter that greeted this statement chased the last tear
from Margaret’s eyes.

“Hereafter,” she said resolutely, “there shall be no beef, fruit, and
creams for me. I intend to become an expert too.”

Lizzette threw up her hands in protest. “Non, non, Margaret. Ze strength
fail unless ze diet ees generous for you. Ze waste tissue must be
repaired first. Non, non, cherie. Trust Lizzette to know ze best.”

“Well, I submit on one condition,” and Margaret threw a quick glance at
Antoine’s pale face. “I must share with Antoine. He needs rebuilding as
much as I do.”

“C’est vrai,” said Lizzette in a choked voice. “Il est très souffrant;
but aujourdhui I make some famous potage de lapin for all, and we dine
like ze empereur. Eph he bring ze lapin and say, ‘Game mighty shy
somehow, Missis Minaud, but I don’t fergit Miss Margaret, nohow.’”

“Poor fellow! I am afraid he robs himself,” said Margaret
sympathetically.

“If he does, other people make it up to him,” replied Elsie. “The
community has had its usual call to feed him and his mother. I asked him
one day when he was here with a brace of partridges if he shot enough
game to support them. ‘Lawzee, missy!’ said he with a laugh that showed
the whites of his eyes and the internal anatomy of a cavernous mouth,
‘not by a jugful. Dis yere game law jest doin’ a heep o’ mischuf to po’
men. I hez ter be mighty cahful.’ So, Miss Murchison, on the principle
that the receiver is as bad as the thief, I mistrust you’ve been
cheating your beloved country of its just dues whenever you have smacked
your lips over a bit of partridge breast!”

“Let us be thankful that rabbits are not interdicted, and that Eph’s
sense of kindness exceeds his respect for law.”

“‘How are the mighty fallen,’” quoted Elsie tragically. “I fully
expected to see you rise in the might and majesty of insulted justice,
and visit condign punishment upon poor Eph by refusing to be any longer
a party to his crime.”

“Hunger is said to know no law, and while I feel inclined to forgive Eph
for past sins, I shall have to try to impress upon him a fuller sense of
his obligations as a law-abiding citizen.”

“A useless task, I fancy. Too many generations of dependent blood run in
his veins. His liveliest sense seems to be gratitude for some little
acts of kindness on your part.”

“I wonder what he did with the money he and his mother saved last
summer,” said Margaret reflectively.

Elsie laughed. “I asked him one day, and he hung his head as sheepishly
as a boy who is caught stealing apples. Finally after much coaxing I got
the information—’Deed, missy, specs you think I’s nuffin but a po’ fool
niggah; but I’s listened to you’uns playin’ music till I’s most dead,
and I buyed a ’cawdion wid my part ob de cash and mammy she buyed a hat
fur meetin’. I’s larned to play on it too, Missy Elsie!’ You see,
Margaret, your idea of ‘culchah’ has taken deep root in unexpected
soil.”

“Is Aunt Liza’s hat an outgrowth?”

“As an artistic idea I imagine it is; for more intensified reds and
yellows never gleamed above a smiling black face. The poor old creature
was so delighted with her ‘speriment,’ as she called it, in saving money
for such an artistic triumph, that I hadn’t the heart to do more than
enjoy it with her.”

“After all,” said Margaret thoughtfully, “my ‘speriment’ was not a
failure, even if it missed its objective point. I have aroused ambition
in their apathetic breasts. See if it does not bear good fruit.”



                              CHAPTER IX.


One afternoon as Elsie and Antoine were filling the little house with
the notes of a Hungarian battle song, in which violin, organ, voice, and
whistle played prominent parts, Margaret was startled by the sudden
opening of the outer door, and the appearance on the threshold of a
richly-dressed lady, who with a deprecating gesture which the carnival
of sound alone permitted, undertook to explain her unannounced presence.
Margaret stepped feebly across the room and hushed the players as the
lady said laughingly:

“I rapped several times, but was unable to make myself heard, and
venturing upon the freedom of long acquaintance, I opened the door. I
think I must have made a mistake. I thought I was in the house of
Lizzette Minaud.”

“You are,” said Margaret. “Be seated and we will call her.”

The moment Lizzette saw her caller she cried in the freedom of her
native tongue: “Madam Mason! Comment cela va-t-il, aujourdhui?”

“Assez bien. Et-vous?” was the answer in the same tongue.

Lizzette hesitated a moment and then said by way of explanation: “Zese
friends of mine zay speak ze French wiz me.”

“Ah!” and the lady glanced somewhat superciliously at Margaret and
Elsie. “It is immaterial to me which tongue we use. I have only a few
moments to spare at best. I was not aware, Lizzette, that you were
musical.”

“Eh bien, eet ees only Miss Elsie and Antoine. I haf not ze time.”

“I should suppose not,” said the lady, still using the French tongue, in
the evident belief that it might cover some slight impertinences of
question and manner.

“Where did they learn that battle song they were playing as I came in?”

“Zey learn zemselves,” answered Lizzette. “Zey haf un grand penchant for
music, and eet ees bread and meat to Antoine.”

“Humph! Who are these girls?”

The blood mounted to Lizzette’s face, but restraining herself she said
with a quiet dignity, that in the little market woman was evidently
vastly amusing to Mrs. Mason, “Zey are my guests.”

Mrs. Mason laughed. “Come, Lizzette——” she began, but her words were
interrupted by a simultaneous movement on the part of Margaret and
Elsie. Margaret arose from her chair, and Elsie as quickly offered her
arm, and the two were on the point of leaving the room when they were
arrested by a whisper from Antoine, “Take me too. I can’t stay here.”

Elsie put her hand to Antoine’s chair, and in a profound silence the
“funeral procession,” as Elsie called it, marched out of the room.

“Come, come, Lizzette,” exclaimed Mrs. Mason in English, when the door
had closed. “I meant no offence, of course. You seem to have acquired an
unusual dignity since I last saw you.”

“For zose who deserve it, oui; for Lizzette Minaud, non. I know ze
ladies when I see zem, if so be zey are in calico or silk.”

“Oh, of course, of course,” replied Mrs. Mason somewhat impatiently.
“Tell me who they are, anyway, and how they happen to be with you.”

“Helen Mason,” said Lizzette a little sternly, “if so be I did not know
you nearly ze whole of your life, I nevair tell you von leetle word. But
since I think vous avez ze heart under zat spoiled exterieur, I vill
tell you ze story.”

Mrs. Mason laughed.

“The privilege of an old friend, Lizzette, is sometimes terribly abused;
but I forgive you because of my impatience to hear this wonderful story.
You’ve really aroused my curiosity.”

With all the eloquence of eye, voice, and gesture so characteristic of
the French, Lizzette gave the details of Margaret’s struggles and
misfortunes. The barren story lost nothing under the glow of Lizzette’s
imagination and fertile tongue, and when she finished with a glowing
peroration on the virtues of the little family, Mrs. Mason’s eyes
required several applications of a dainty bit of embroidered gauze
before they were restored to their pristine brightness.

“Very affecting indeed,” she declared. “It is singular how hard some
people’s lives have to be, but it is fate, I suppose.” Mrs. Mason was
evidently quite resigned to fate. “I declare,” she exclaimed, “listening
to the story of the trials of these people, I had nearly forgotten my
own. I am in the deepest trouble, Lizzette, and of course I had to come
to you for help just as I used to do.”

“Tu as l’air triste,” laughed Lizzette.

“Why, I am in despair. You remember that expensive Frenchman I took such
pains to import for my kitchen a year ago, and who was such a splendid
cook? Not quite equal to you, of course, Lizzette—nobody ever has been.
Well, what did the beast do but get so drunk yesterday that he hasn’t
prepared a meal since and we are nearly starved!”

“Wiz all zose servants in ze house?” asked Lizzette incredulously.

“Oh, as for that, the maids have succeeded in sending up something, but
then you know how exasperating it is to have meals so poorly served.
Dear me! he was such a model on sauces!” And a sigh that was evidently
drawn from the depths of her heart followed the plaintive ejaculation.

“Was? Ou est il?”

“Oh, Mr. Mason discharged him this morning. You know how rigid he is
about drunkenness. I begged Mr. Mason on my knees to let me keep Joseph
another month, anyway; for Herbert—your Herbert, you know, Lizzette—is
coming home from Europe, and I’ve no end of dinners planned for him, and
no cook in the house. What am I to do, Lizzette? Can’t you come to me
just for a month, Lizzette? I will pay you well if you will, and Antoine
can stay here with these girls. Oh, do come, there’s a dear, good
Lizzette.”

Mrs. Mason was gently patting Lizzette’s brown hand with one of her own
daintily gloved ones. Lizzette pondered a moment. “Vot you pay Joseph?”

“An enormous sum,” answered Mrs. Mason, coloring. “He had such a
reputation, you know, and one always has to pay for reputation!”

“Ah!”

The ejaculation was so dry that Mrs. Mason hastened to add: “But of
course I shall not let money stand between us.”

Lizzette ruminated a little: “Ees eet worth to you ze twenty dollars a
week?”

“It is truly,” she answered, feeling a sense of relief that it was not
Joseph’s usual weekly stipend of one hundred dollars.

“Eh bien!” said Lizzette, “I cannot go.”

“Lizzette, you break my heart. Why not, pray?”

“Because everysing go to ze waste here; mais, I haf ze plan for you. I
find you une cuisinière a cet prix.”

“But ordinary cooks, you know, Lizzette, cannot earn more than five or
six dollars a week.”

“I know; mais, zis von ees so très-bonne, I myself teach her. She lack
ze experience, zat ees all. Elle à le genie sublime!”

“That may be; but such wages are too large to pay inexperience. I think
you ought to get her cheaper.”

“Ees eet not,” asked Lizzette with a sly twinkle in her eyes, “zat le
prix ees much sheaper zan you obtain Joseph?”

“Oh, of course; but Joseph was a noted chef.”

“Haf you not ze grand need of a cook?”

“Certainly.”

“Zen if I take l’avantage de votre need to obtain le bon prix for ze
work zat ees very good _wizout_ ze reputation, I only follow ze well
known business principle: one zat Monsieur Mason take l’avantage of
every day.”

“Lizzette, you are too much for me. Where is your paragon?”

“Here. C’est Elsie.”

“What, that young girl? You astonish me. She cannot be capable; besides,
I thought you considered her a lady.”

“Bah! Ze work ees not ze lady any more zan your robe de soie ees ze
lady. Ven I say ‘lady’ I mean ze instinct, ze character, ze soul, ze
nature. She cannot harm zat by working dans le cuisine. My word for it,
you will nevair find Elsie Murchison ze trespasser of her place, if so
be it ees in your kitchen or in your salon.”

“Small likelihood of the latter! Go on, Lizzette—you are really
eloquent.”

“Mais, I feel ze indignation at ze misapprehension of your world ofer ze
name of lady. In my leetle world eet means somesing besides ze airs and
ze graces et l’argent.”

“Your world and mine won’t quarrel over it much, I fancy,” said Mrs.
Mason composedly. “It seems to me you’ve grown into a fierce little
radical since you compounded such delectable dishes in mamma’s kitchen;
but as to the capability of that young thing, I doubt it much.”

“I do not, for she learn so fast; and ven I haf vonce taken her through
ze maison and she know ze duties, you vill be surprised at ze ease she
do zem. Besides, ze grand sing ees ze buying, and I vill do zat until
she sall haf learned. Je vous le promets a treasure in Elsie, and you
vill nevair be sorry zat Lizzette Minaud say so.”

“I never have been sorry that I took any advice of yours. But how do you
know your marvel will accept?”

“Nous verrons! Elsie!” called Lizzette, stepping to the kitchen door.
“Sit down,” she added, as Elsie presented herself. “Madam Mason haf ze
offer to make to you,” and thereupon Lizzette detailed the proposition
that had just been under discussion.

Elsie’s eyes grew big with wonder as she listened to Lizzette. “I am
afraid I am not equal to it,” she faltered.

“Lizzette vouches for you,” said Mrs. Mason. “I have always found her
advice good.”

Elsie did not answer at once. A tide of thought was sweeping over her.
The opportunity was like a tale from fairy land in the riches it seemed
to offer; but how could she live under the domination of that
supercilious woman she _knew_ she should hate? But Margaret, Gilbert,
Antoine—how much she could do for all of them! Courage! Now was the time
to prove herself. The way had been opened; there could not be, must not
be any shrinking back.

“Very well,” she answered simply. “I am willing to make the trial.”

“To-morrow, then,” said Mrs. Mason, rising, “you will begin under
Lizzette’s management. She knows my house as well as her own. At ten
o’clock in the morning I shall be prepared to receive you. Good-evening,
Lizzette and—Elsie.”

With a scarcely perceptible nod Mrs. Mason hastened out to her carriage.
When the door had closed Lizzette grasped Elsie by the shoulders and
began an impromptu chaussée up and down the room.

“C’est très-bon! C’est très-bon!” she cried. “I prove ze sharper zat
time; mais, le defaut ees in ze grand cause of humanity.”

“I am frightened to death, Lizzette,” said Elsie.

“Chut! Helen Mason ees only la femme ordinaire, and reech! Helas!
l’argent zat petite femme frow to ze winds. Lizzette haf catch some for
you, anyway.”

Margaret opened the door just then and the three sat down to discuss the
important move.

“Honestly, Lizzette, now, do you think I can manage their great dinners?
Why, I haven’t the least idea how to plan any work beyond my own little
kitchen.”

“Vraiment, c’est une bagatelle ven you haf got ze hang of sings. Nefer
you fear. I take you under my wing for three, four days and zen we vill
see! Ze chance was so très-bon to help Margaret——”

“And all of us,” interrupted Elsie softly.

“Oui; ze pomme de terre and ze sel go by ze board now, eh, Elsie?”

“O Lizzette, what a good friend you have been!” exclaimed Margaret.

“Bah! eet ees only selfishness. I want myself some good sings to eat.
Now, Elsie, I gif you my recipes; vous savez zat you read zem wiz care
and learn zem by heart. Sans doubte, you exercise your skill to ze charm
of madam.”

“Tell us about her.”

“Zare ees but leetle to tell. I vork in ze kitchen de sa mère zese many
year. I make ze good friends of Helen and Herbeart—ah, Herbeart, mon
cher ami, il est un galant homme, and I knows ze folly of Helen like ze
book. She ees vain and haughty; mais, her heart ees not mèchante. You
vill grow into ze good friends some time.”

“I don’t expect that,” said Elsie. “All I ask is not to be tyrannized
over. I am conservative enough to recognize the gulf society places
between us, and I shall endeavor to keep to my side of the fence.”

“Vous avez raison. Still, I make ze meestake eef Helen Mason do not
herself some time break down ze barrier. Zare are some sings zat vill
not be made to see de fausses idées de grandeur.”

“It is not wise ever to hope for such a thing,” said Margaret, fearful
that Elsie might be carried away by Lizzette’s volatile spirits. “We
have our work to do in our own sphere, and we know that we can achieve
all that is in us by working faithfully within our own lines. If we hope
for recognition outside of these lines, it will but breed disappointment
and discontent.”

“Have no fear for me, my sweet sister,” replied Elsie with sparkling
eyes. “I shall never yearn for a world greater than that of our own
little quintette, wherein Lizzette, Gilbert, and I furnish the brawn and
_capital_—I feel like a bloated bondholder already—and Antoine and
Margaret represent the culture. But to stop nonsense and come down to
practical things. Since I am to represent the capital of our community,
I must have the chief direction of affairs, otherwise behold in me ‘the
iron hand,’ etc. What are we to do with our three-years’ lease of our
desolate home?”

“Eef ze agents vill not rebuild, Margaret and Gilbeart sall stay wiz me
and so still work ze land.”

“No,” said Margaret decisively. “The hardest part of this apparent good
fortune that has befallen Elsie is that it takes her from home. I cannot
endure it long, and if Elsie remains with Mrs. Mason I shall take rooms
in the city as near as I can find them, and Gilbert must bring her to us
every evening. We must not break the home ties.”

“That will be glorious,” exclaimed Elsie.

“Non,” said Lizzette, tears springing to her eyes. “Eet vill bring ze
heart break to Antoine and Lizzette Minaud.”

“No, no,” said Margaret and Elsie together, “you shall come to us every
day after market hours, and Antoine can be with us two-thirds of the
time.”

“I know zat vill be ze best for Elsie; but ees eet possible? Ze docteur,
he say zat you vork not till ze spring. You must obey ze command, if
strength sall come back to you.”

“I know,” replied Margaret. “How would it suit you to take a sub-lease
of the land, if satisfactory arrangements can be made with the agents?”

“Eet vill be ze very sing.”

“In that event the manual-training school for Gilbert is the next move,
and I shall be compelled to ask Dr. Ely for a further advance on the
books.”

“And be sure to add that I can very soon repay it out of my independent
income,” laughed Elsie.



                               CHAPTER X.


The mansion of Helen Mason was a treasure house of art in pictures,
draperies, furniture, bric-à-brac, and all those distinguishing
characteristics of wealth and culture. In one particular it was somewhat
unique; everything was genuine, from the old masters to the spoons. The
fair mistress of the house hated pretence, and although an ardent
believer in the divine right of kings, she recognized none of them in a
tinsel crown. The child of wealthy and aristocratic parents, in whom the
old noblesse oblige had taken deep root, she had grown to look upon her
station in life as the outgrowth of a certain fixed law which bestows
upon men the positions for which they are best fitted. If there were
suffering, struggling mortals on planes far below hers in social
advantages, no doubt the sufferings arose principally from their efforts
to fit themselves into niches for which they were not made. It seemed
singular to her undisturbed mind that there should be such a seething
discontent among the masses. Why couldn’t people be satisfied to go the
way they were called? Why were they trying all the time to subvert
society and make one fairly afraid of her life with these horrible
physical force movements and plots and counterplots of all kinds? It was
so much better every way for people to learn contentment. She believed
the doctrine was too little preached, and she meant to speak to her
pastor, the white high-bred rector of St. Paul’s, about it. He must
really exert his influence over these misguided people who were so
clamorous for places for which they were not destined. Believing as she
did in the doctrine of every man to his place, she strove with a zeal of
a prophet in her own little domain to make that place the best of its
kind. Her servants were accordingly well lodged, fed, and paid, albeit
they were trained to their duties with the precision of a martinet.
Haughty, imperious in some things, while childishly dependent in others,
she was at the same time a good mistress, and by no means unfriendly to
her dependents. She intended to accord them the rights of their class,
as she exacted a reverent homage for the privileges of her own; but she
was far from admitting that those rights could in any way transcend the
limits of a certain material consideration. The finer qualities of the
soul, such as innate delicacy of perception and the instinctive
appreciation of true refinement, could not be theirs by reason of the
stamp of poverty and the millstone of low association which precluded
cultivation. It was a theory of hers that only generations of wealth and
leisure could produce the highest types, and she had consequently a
great scorn for the nouveaux riches of modern society and their
blundering attempts to imitate English customs and cockney “fads.” As a
rule her servants were loyal and obedient, and she was wise enough to
see that her little investment in humanity yielded usurious interest
which she was by no means disposed to undervalue. She had been proud of
having the best-equipped home, the most perfectly-trained servants, and
the most noted chef in the city. It was, therefore, with no little
trepidation that she awaited the coming of Lizzette and Elsie, and
contemplated yielding the dominion of her kitchen to “that young thing.”
Mr. Mason had laughed at her when she recounted the result of her
attempt to secure Lizzette, and had said, by way of administering
comfort to her perturbed spirit: “That is just about as quixotic as
women’s schemes usually are. My word for it, she will not have been
three days in the house before the present discomfort will be
intensified, and we shall end by having to order our meals from the
caterer.”

It was now nearing the hour of ten, and she was impatient to settle
details with Lizzette and feel the troublesome experiment partially off
her hands. As she sat idly tapping one foot against the brass fender of
the blue-tiled grate in her morning-room, she was a fair type of the
cultured, self-poised, well-dressed woman of society. Her face was
chiefly remarkable for a pair of keen gray eyes, with heavy black lashes
and straight brows. The remaining features were nondescript, with a
colorless skin and dark brown hair handsomely coiffured, for setting. A
keen, cold, somewhat intellectual face had been Elsie’s thought on first
seeing her, and she felt sure that she should hate her. She felt the
same conviction sweep over her now as she and Lizzette stood in the
presence of the mistress of the magnificent home.

“Be seated,” she said, motioning them to seats. “I presume Lizzette has
informed you that I am a strict disciplinarian and require the most
perfect obedience. If that is rendered you will not find me a hard
mistress.”

“I should not have come if I had not expected to obey orders,” replied
Elsie. “My only fear is that my inexperience may try your patience.”

“As to that I shall hold Lizzette responsible; and now, while Lizzette
will at once post you in regard to matters below stairs, I will give you
our hours for meals, and shall expect you to report to me promptly every
morning at ten o’clock to receive orders for the day. Lizzette will at
present do my buying; but you must of course go with her until you have
familiarized yourself with prices and materials. Here is to-day’s menu,
which by the way, as to the main dishes, I always prepare myself. You
may have noticed as you came through the house that the maids are in
uniform. I shall expect you to wear one, and you will find your
allotment of white aprons, caps, and kerchiefs in this basket. Here,
Lizzette, you may as well invest yourself in one, too.”

“Helas! zese new idées vill do for la jeune fille like Elsie. Mais, ze
brown face of Lizzette Minaud look not so well from under ze white cap.
Still I obey ze mistress!”

“Just as you always did,” laughed Mrs. Mason, pressing an electric
button, which almost immediately brought a maid to the door.

“Show Elsie, our new cook, to her room. Stay with me, Lizzette. I wish
to speak with you.” Elsie picked up her satchel and basket and followed
the maid, who eyed her curiously, but vouchsafed no word. “Here,” she
said sententiously, opening a door of a roomy, comfortable bedroom on
the third floor.

Elsie hastily entered and closed the door behind her. Then dropping
satchel and basket, she threw herself on the floor beside them and cried
out: “O Meg, Meg, Meg, how hard life is away from you and your serene
courage! How lovely all our theories are until we have to put them into
practice. I shall hate that woman, I know. Dear me! this won’t do. I
shall have a red nose. Now let’s see how I look in the new prison garb,”
and volatile Elsie bounded to her feet, and speedily invested herself in
the white muslin cap with its narrow frill and the accompanying kerchief
and apron.

“Not so bad, after all,” she said, as she eyed herself in the glass, and
a roguish dimple nestled in her cheek as she viewed the picture. It was
pretty enough to tempt the vanity of the Quaker maiden she resembled.
The dainty frill above the black rings of hair, the fichu folded
smoothly across her breast, and the long apron with its big pockets,
seemed exactly fitted to the piquant face and slender form. “Well,
there’s some satisfaction in not looking like a fright,” she said as she
descended the stairs.

The morning-room door stood open and Mrs. Mason and Lizzette could
scarcely repress a start of surprise as the dainty maiden stepped upon
the threshold. “She look like ze picture of ze old time,” exclaimed
Lizzette. Mrs. Mason made no reply as she handed Elsie a memorandum-book
and pencil, which with keys to pantry and store-room were to be
suspended at her belt.

“Now you are equipped, I believe, and Lizzette will take you in charge.
I wish you the best of success.”

When the two had departed, Mrs. Mason stood where they had left her with
downcast eyes gazing into the grate. “What a lovely face,” she mused.
“So full of fire and strength and—well, yes, I suppose I must admit
it—refinement! She looked like a queen in masquerade as she stood in the
doorway. But then nature indulges in freaks of that kind sometimes.
Lizzette tells me they were always as poor as church mice. What an
absurdity I am perpetrating in putting her in my kitchen; but my old
brown Lizzette is always as good as her word, and we shall see what will
come of it.”

The force of servants in the Mason household consisted of James, the
English-looking butler, of whom Elsie was secretly afraid, because his
gaze of admiration was so open; William, the coachman; Martha and Mary,
the two house-maids; and Jenie, the little kitchen-maid of twelve years.
They all knew Lizzette, who, being a privileged character about the
Mason mansion, was free to do pretty much as she liked, and when, in
response to her call, they gathered in the below-stairs parlor, which
also served them for dining-room, they received Elsie with unction.

“It hain’t a bad place, miss,” said James patronizingly. “I’ve been with
the family five years, and I can’t say as I’ve ’ad a ’ard time by no
means.”

“I should say not,” laughed Martha. “James thinks as he owns the hull
place.”

“Ceptin’ you,” added Mary.

“I wouldn’t own such poor property, no’ow,” said James with offended
dignity.

“That ain’t me,” exclaimed William with a sly chuckle. “I’ve just been
a-dyin’ to own both on you girls for months.”

“Oh, you horrid Mormon,” chorused the girls; “you’ll be wanting the new
cook too, next.” The blood flamed into Elsie’s cheeks and an ominous
sparkle gleamed for a moment beneath the downcast lids; but, with a
struggle that was only noticed by Lizzette, she raised her eyes to
William’s round, honest face.

“I think we shall all grow to be good friends; but you must be very
patient with me until I have learned the ways here.”

The sweet face, the timid, deprecating manner, the ladylike voice, awoke
varying emotions in the breasts of Elsie’s little audience. “You bet,”
exclaimed William hastily.

“Oh, of course,” said James, and then stopped confusedly as he
recollected how near he had been to saying “Madam!”

Martha and Mary looked at each other and sniffed. “Stuck up,” they
whispered as they passed out to their various duties; but little Jenie
slipped her hand into Elsie’s and said simply, “I like you.”

“Courage, ma chere,” whispered Lizzette; “now we haf nosing but ze
dinner to sink of.”

In recounting the day’s experience afterward to Margaret, Elsie always
alluded to Lizzette as her “colossal spinal column;” for in reality
Lizzette was the main director and executor of the day’s work. Elsie
obediently followed directions; but her native force and ingenuity
seemed to have deserted her, which made even Lizzette a trifle doubtful
of the wisdom of her experiment. But when everything was finally made
snug for the night, and Lizzette was leaving for home, Elsie said
bravely, though tears stood under the curved lashes, “I shall do much
better to-morrow. Tell Margaret I’ve got the ‘hang’ of the ship’s
tackle, and to-morrow she’ll sail.”

“Nevair fear,” said Lizzette lightly, as she imprinted a kiss on either
rosy cheek, and steadily ignored the trembling drops in the dark eyes.
“Eet sall be ze brave capitaine on ze deck, too.”

The next morning, with the edge of strangeness somewhat blunted, Elsie
was able to send up the breakfast in excellent style, and Mrs. Mason was
therefore prepared to receive her with a manner a trifle less severe
than that of the day before.

“Your breakfast was well prepared,” she said as Elsie stood before her,
note-book and pencil in hand, to receive orders. “If the dinner is as
satisfactory I shall feel no further uneasiness.”

“I shall endeavor to improve as I become accustomed to things, and I
shall hope to satisfy you in every way. I love to cook, and the kitchen
is so admirably appointed that what has hitherto been a mere passion I
may be able to elevate into the great art that Lizzette calls it.”

“Lizzette is an enthusiast.”

“It takes enthusiasm to succeed in anything, and it is because I love my
work that I expect to please you.”

Mrs. Mason looked at Elsie curiously. How quietly, yet with what
seemingly unconscious dignity, she uttered those few well-chosen words.
If she had been mistress instead of servant they could not have been
better expressed or more charmingly enunciated. There could be no
question of efficiency with such intelligence; but oh, there was the
fear, always oppressing one so with these “lady helps,” that she would
get above her business. So to Elsie’s little burst of confidence she
said coldly, “As long as you keep strictly to your line of duty I shall
be satisfied.”

“You have nothing to fear on that score, Mrs. Mason. I know my place as
‘Elsie the cook.’ Have you any further orders?”

“Nothing more to-day.”

Mrs. Mason smiled triumphantly as she watched the blood deepen in
Elsie’s cheeks as she left the room. “The girl is as proud as Lucifer;
but it is not a usual pride, I must confess.”

At the close of the week Elsie found that her end of the domestic
machinery was running quietly and smoothly. She had already made friends
with the other servants, who, while recognizing the air of
self-respecting womanhood that would neither give nor permit low jests
or rude actions, could not fail to be drawn by the simplicity of her
manner and her frank, straightforward way of looking at things.
Insensibly the loud-voiced talk and rude horse-play formerly in vogue
among them began to disappear. James’ ostentatious display of knowledge
gradually weakened before Elsie’s clear eyes and plain questions;
William left his stable-talk at the door, together with his coat and
boots, and came to his meals in patent-leather pumps, velveteen
roundabout, and hair saturated with patchouli. The house-maids had less
gossip of the upper regions to retail, and Jenie’s smutty frock was
invariably replaced by a clean one at meal-time.

“Ze leetle witch,” exclaimed Lizzette to Margaret. “She haf got zere
necks under her heel so quick! And ze funny part ees zey know eet not at
all.”

“I doubt if Elsie does,” replied Margaret. “For after all it is only the
power of judiciously exhibited self-respect.”



                              CHAPTER XI.


There was a subdued bustle in the Mason mansion which betokened an
unusual event. Covers were removed from unused furniture, long-closed
rooms were newly aired and decorated, windows were opened to the
sunlight, and hot-houses were ransacked for potted plants and cut
flowers. In the store-rooms of Elsie’s department tables and shelves
were piled high with viands of every sort, the combined result of
Lizzette’s and Elsie’s skill; for Elsie had been afraid on so momentous
an occasion to trust entirely to herself.

“And all this fuss is over one small man,” whispered Elsie to Lizzette
as they stood admiring the aggregation of eatables. “Has he been
starving among the Hottentots all these years, or is he a great
gourmand?”

“Nezair,” laughed Lizzette. “Il est ze apple of ze eye of Helen Mason.
Zay are alone togezzer in ze world, and ze one sweet sing in Helen Mason
ees her love for Herbeart. Mais, he ees très cher efen to me. So vot you
call warm-hearted, wiz ze bonhomie zat make ze world bright. He travel
in Europe zese several year, and like Helen il à l’argent in heaps I
know not.”

“What has he made of himself?”

“Eh bien. Vraiment, le galant homme!”

“A gentleman! A noble profession. How does he do it?”

“Ze witch ees laughing! I no explain to zose mocking eyes.”

“Never mind, Lizzette. There is something so charmingly indefinite about
the term ‘gentleman’ that I was only trying to discover what particular
form this rara avis took.”

“He choose no profession zat I know. He no haf to work.”

“Unlucky mortal! How he will envy us, Lizzette! But tell me about him.
Does he resemble his sister?”

“Not ze leetle bit. Il a les eyes like ze summer sky, zay are so blue.
Il est so tall like ze young tree. His hair ees ze sunshine of ze
autumn, and his smile like ze warmth of ze summer sun.”

“Scorching,” exclaimed Elsie. “How glad I am I shall not come under its
gleams; for I would rather cook his dinner than be cooked by that
smile!”

“Ze mauvaise Elsie! She make ze fun of eferysing, efen my heart. I haf
loved him since many year he climb my knee, and I only speak ze figures
de la poesie.”

“My dear Lizzette,” exclaimed Elsie contritely, “I do not make fun of
your love, nor of your similes, which really are quite wonderful.
Indeed, I never knew you so eloquent before; but this worship of yours
for the fair god is so new to me, I did not know that men were entitled
to so much.”

“Ze time vill come, ma petite Elsie, ze time vill come ven zat mocking
heart sall take back zose idle words.”

“How solemn you are, Lizzette. You frighten me.”

“Non, non, mais, zere ees no love like ze true love in ze heart of ze
good woman.”

“It may be,” said Elsie lightly, “but like the old Scotchwoman’s white
linen, ‘it taks a sair bit o’ achin’ ta get it,’ and I’ve no desire to
prove it.”

“Eet vill prove itself in ze heart, and no ask desire.”

“Dear me! how far we have wandered from our muttons. I suppose your
paragon dines here to-night?”

“Oui, and to-morrow I sall go shake ze hand de mon Herbeart, and find
him still ze same.”

“Perhaps not.”

“I know,” said Lizzette positively. “My lad ees not made of ze sheap
stuff zat wear out memory.”

The next morning as Elsie, in response to Mrs. Mason’s invitation,
entered the morning-room, she became at once aware that its fair
mistress was not its only occupant. Partially concealed behind a
newspaper she saw a blonde head, out of which a pair of blue eyes gave
her a quick glance, and she noticed with an odd sense of detail that
their owner wore a dark blue smoking-jacket with facings of pale blue
satin. There was also a running accompaniment of observation as to a
slim white hand, the curling ends of a blonde mustache, and an air of
indolent grace in the long lithe figure. Venturing but one glance, she
stood with book and pencil in hand, quietly awaiting Mrs. Mason’s
orders. It had been one of the results of Elsie Murchison’s secluded
life and country rearing that no one had ever told her how beautiful she
was, and if she could but read the pleasing tale in her mirror she
accepted it in as humble and thankful a spirit as she accepted the
sunshine and the flowers, and there was always a refreshing
unconsciousness about her that reminded one of the innocence of a child.
If she ever knew how charming a picture she made as she stood before her
mistress with downcast eyes and flushed cheeks and the quaint cap and
kerchief only intensifying her girlish simplicity, it was not till long
after. The natural flush of youthful expectancy at coming in contact
with the young and handsome man before her was crushed back under the
self-scorn with which she regarded any vague desire, as she expressed
it, to “look over the fence.” Not for one moment would she allow herself
to forget that she was “Elsie the cook,” and a little defiant curve
settled around the dimpled mouth as she became aware of the intent gaze
of those blue eyes over the top of the newspaper. It was with haste
amounting almost to curtness that she received her orders and betook
herself out of the room.

There were two or three moments of silence after Elsie’s departure, and
then Mrs. Mason’s guest threw down his paper with the question: “Where
in the name of all the graces, Helen, did you find such a Hebe as that?”

There was a steely flash in Mrs. Mason’s eyes as she answered: “Have you
been half the world over, Herbert Lynn, only to come home and rave over
the beauty of my cook?”

“Cook? I thought Lizzette was responsible for that superb dinner last
evening.”

“So she was in part; but this girl, Elsie Murchison, is a protégé of
hers whom I have engaged for a short time until I can do better.”

“Well, if her cooking corresponds to her beauty she must be a treasure.”

“That is what James and William both declare her to be,” replied Mrs.
Mason calmly.

“Oh, of course, just their style of girl,” and Mr. Lynn resumed the
reading of his newspaper, as if the subject had no further interest for
him.

“Singular,” he mused, while his eyes roamed over an editorial résumé of
the Parnell inquiry, “what surprises nature does love to work, putting
the face of an houri over a mind that doubtless shames a Nancy Sykes.
Helen’s cook, indeed! but, by Jove! I never saw so lovely a face
before.”

After this, despite the black looks of his sister, Herbert took especial
delight in haunting the morning-room at the usual hour of her conference
with her cook. He was seldom rewarded by hearing the Hebe speak, and
then only in monosyllables; but he noticed she had “that excellent thing
in woman,” a well-modulated voice, as well as a quiet and reserved
manner.

“Herbert,” exclaimed Mrs. Mason with an angry flash in her gray eyes,
after he had been present at the third or fourth of these conferences,
“I’ll not have you watching that girl so, and I warn you that my house
is not the place for any old-world gallantries.”

The mild blue eyes met her own for an instant with an equally angry
glance, which, however, speedily died away by the time the nonchalant
lips had framed an answer. “I believe I’ve been doing nothing unbecoming
a gentleman.”

“Well, I only drop you a warning. I know what the views of young men
usually are after they have spent a season in Paris.”

“You are wise in your generation,” he said with a slight touch of scorn.
“When did you learn of the all-pervading blight of that modern
Gomorrah?”

“Don’t try to be lofty with me,” pettishly exclaimed his sister. “You
know as well as I do that no good can come of your admiring that girl.”

“And what possible harm can come of it? I have done nothing
reprehensible, except to bestow a few quick glances upon a fair and
youthful face. If she is not to be looked at, you must veil her like the
prophet of Khorassan. As for your insinuations—well, if men go to the
devil as regularly and deliberately as you seem to think, it is often
because they are driven there by the cool assumptions of women like
yourself. Now, my dear sister, let me disabuse your mind once for all of
the fear that I have imbibed nothing but old-world vices in my
continental trip. I always did respect virtuous womanhood and always
shall. I shall not in the least harm your Hebe of the pots and pans, but
to relieve your mind I’ll read the papers hereafter in the
billiard-room.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Mason, after Herbert had somewhat ostentatiously
departed, and she was left to ruminate on not over-sweet fancies, “I
fancy I’ve forestalled any absurd ideas that might get into Elsie’s
head, and although I am growing to like her better every day, just let
me catch her making eyes at Herbert!”

“Elsie,” said Mrs. Mason the next morning, “we are all going out for the
day, and you may have your time to yourself. I’ve given the maids a
half-holiday and there’ll be nobody at home but James.”

Elsie stood for a moment irresolute. A swift desire had all but leaped
to her lips—but dare she make it known?

“What is it, Elsie?” asked her mistress, evidently more graciously
disposed than usual.

“I would like to ask a great favor. If there is to be no one in the
house may I try the piano?”

“I was not aware that you played the piano,” said Mrs. Mason a trifle
coldly. Elsie’s face flushed.

“I do not. I never touched one in my life; but I have a longing to see
what I can do. There isn’t volume and scope enough in our little cottage
organ, and I promised Antoine to ask permission to try the piano. He is
so much interested in music and finds so much pleasure in learning that
I love to help him even in little things.”

“I see no objection in the present instance; but you of course
understand that I regard the request as an unusual one for a servant to
make?”

“I do,” said Elsie hotly as she turned away, “and I will not——”

Back swept the red blood from Elsie’s face, and a white, dull patience
overspread it as she took up the broken thread of her speech.

“Mrs. Mason, I was going to say that I would not touch your piano for
worlds! You seem to be afraid all the time that I will forget the
difference in our station and presume upon it. Have I done so? Have I
been less than obedient, or indicated by word or look that I thought
myself anything more than a servant? But even servants have the common
right of humanity, and I asked a favor, knowing it to be a favor,
because of the crippled boy I love and the sick sister who taught me to
love and do for all things helpless and dependent. If it were not for
them no money would tempt me to stay where I am not trusted; but they
are helpless and in need. I shall never ask any further favors of you,
Mrs. Mason; but if you still wish to keep me I shall try, as I have
tried, to be obedient and faithful to your interests.”

Mrs. Mason sat for a moment without speaking, and then suddenly reached
out her hand to Elsie. “Come back, child,” she said, “and sit down. I
want to talk with you.”

Elsie came back from the door and stood before her mistress. “Sit down,”
reiterated Mrs. Mason.

“It is expected that servants will stand in the presence of their
superiors,” answered Elsie with the old mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

Mrs. Mason laughed. “I like your spirit, anyway. I really haven’t any
objection to your using the piano when we are away. I’m glad you are
ambitious to cultivate yourself; but you mustn’t make the mistake of
regarding a little superficial finish as cultivation. Genuine
cultivation strikes deep in the soil and takes hold of every fibre of
the being.”

“Mrs. Mason,” said Elsie, “you make a mistake if you think I have any
longing for the mere name of lady. I believe I could be your cook all my
days and yet make myself worthy of the character and appellation. It is
not what one does so much as in the manner of doing it that lies the
distinction, and I have as natural a longing for all things noble and
beautiful as the flowers have for the sun, and just as good a right to
reach for them.”

“Certainly,” assented Mrs. Mason; “but with such surroundings you
haven’t a very hopeful chance of obtaining them. Your life is not a very
happy one.”

“Yes, it is,” replied Elsie stoutly, “because I make it so. I wouldn’t
change places with the richest woman in this city, if by so doing I had
to lose the dear hopes and sympathies for every day living that make
even our misfortunes bearable. O Mrs. Mason, before the fire and
Margaret’s sickness, nothing could have exceeded the daily delight of
our lives, even with all their hard work and privation. Something to
believe in, some hope for humanity, some trifle in word or deed for each
other—why, it seemed like a foretaste of heaven. And now—well—” she went
on, choking back the sobs, “it is a delight to me to know that my
earnings have placed my brother Gilbert in the manual-training school,
and are helping Margaret, Lizzette, and Antoine in numerous ways. I
don’t want anything in this world, but just to grow into light and life
with the dear ones I love and who love me.”

Mrs. Mason did an unprecedented thing for her. She clasped one of
Elsie’s hands in her own, and said with a little break in her voice: “My
dear child, you must promise to forget my severity, and take me at my
word when I tell you to use the piano as often as you find the coast
clear, and also to help yourself to what books you like in the library.
I shall never speak a harsh word to you again.”

“Don’t say that,” exclaimed Elsie quickly. “I may need a good many.”

“Well, the compact stands until you do need them.”

Two hours later, having seen the carriage drive from the door, and
supposing the house empty with the exception of James, who was dozing in
his pantry off the dining-room, Elsie came softly down the stairs to the
front drawing-room. She had taken off cap, kerchief, and apron, and wore
only a dark cloth dress with a little knot of bright red silk at the
throat. With childish curiosity she investigated everything in the
handsome room, pausing longest before a Carrara marble statuette of
Cupid and Psyche and talking aloud with all the abandon of a child.

“So that face of Psyche’s was the best the sculptor could do to
represent the soul. I should call it rather the absence of soul; but
then I’m a Philistine, and lack culture; and as for Cupid, if the blind
god is no fairer than he is painted—I should say carved—he wouldn’t
stand much chance of awaking immortality in me. I don’t believe I’ve got
a bit of poetry in me, anyhow; I’m so inclined to laugh at sentiment, or
sentimentality—it all amounts to the same thing. In either event, I
suppose it shows that ‘Elsie the cook’ is made of coarser clay than
those who find beauty in unmeaning faces. But I forget. ‘Elsie the cook’
has gone away, and Elsie the lady has come to stay.”

A low ripple of laughter broke from her lips over the unintentional
couplet. “A poet, after all! I guess, as they say below stairs, I’ll
throw up my job and get a quill and ink-stand.”

At this juncture, a gentleman who had been stretched at full length upon
a couch within a curtained alcove at the further end of the library,
closed the book he had been reading, and shoving the curtain aside for
an inch or two, gazed into the drawing-room through the half-open door.
It chanced that the wide pier-glass was so situated that nearly the
whole interior of the drawing-room was visible to the occupant of the
alcove, and a half-smile gleamed beneath the curled blonde mustache as
he listened to Elsie’s amusing comments.

“Elsie the lady has come to stay,” she repeated, “and now I’ll see if I
can play it as well as madam herself. I wonder if I look like one,” and
half-dancing up to the glass, Elsie stood for a moment looking
critically at herself. “No, I won’t do. My hair ought to be so,” and she
gathered it up on the top of her head, from which the riotous ends
speedily escaped in a curling mass. “There! that’s better; looks quite
fashionable; gown is very plain, but then we’ll suppose I go in for
asceticism. No rings, but no pot black on my hands. Nails well manicured
and tolerably aristocratic-looking. That is, there’s quite a taper to
the fingers, which I suppose puts the proper stamp on. Now that my lady
has come to her own, let’s see how she receives her guests. We’ll try
her cook first, so as to get the proper air of dignified severity. No,
I’ll not do it,” she said thoughtfully, as she stood for a moment with
downcast eyes. “She was kind to me after all, and I’ll not repay it with
mockery even to myself. It is quite evident that there is a great deal
due to station in this world, and Elsie the cook must cultivate a little
appreciation. Come, my Lord Snubbem, and teach me to be a Brahmin.”

With a mock courtesy Elsie stood before a great sleepy hollow chair of
blue velvet and went on with her soliloquy:

“You will no doubt understand, my lord, that this is my first appearance
in society, and lacking the _savoir faire_ of long acquaintance, I
shall, I presume, shock you with some of my ‘wild woolly western’ ideas.
Nevertheless, having seen that my brother, Mr. High-and-Mighty, just
returned from ‘the continent’—that is the way even Americans put it, as
if there were but one continent—is paying his proper devoirs to Miss
Bullion, and will probably fall in love with her, or rather with her
money, which, entre nous, is all ‘we’ ask nowadays, I suppose I’ll have
to permit you, my Lord Snubbem, after a great deal of coaxing, to induce
me to play for you. Of course you know all the time I’m dying to show
off; at least that’s the way they say it is in society, and so you offer
me your arm and lead me to the piano, and I prepare to display my
diamond rings—dear me, it’s too bad I haven’t any!—and my precious
little knowledge of music. Let me see, how shall I begin? With a grand
flourish, of course; now for that Hungarian battle song!” And almost
forgetful of the character she was supposed to represent, Elsie struck
the heavy chords of the overture, and became at once absorbed in the
melody she was evoking. “Ah, that is grand,” she sighed tremulously.
“There is power, adaptability, volume in a piano that you can’t find in
a cottage organ if you smother your soul in it. Now good-by, Lord
Snubbem. Elsie the cook and Antoine the cripple have come back and are
going to forget all about you.”

Presently, after a few drum-beats of the piano, arose the shrill, sweet
notes of a trumpet-call. Again it came, louder, sweeter than ever, then
the answering tones of the piano, until trumpet-call and drum-beat were
blended in one brilliant clash of melody. Then the piano ceased and
Elsie’s whistle took up the plaintive solo of the violin, which is
supposed to represent the pathetic heroism of the Hungarian mother in
sending her loved ones to battle. Softly, yet clearly, and with such
underlying feeling rang the bird notes through the room that the
listener felt tears gathering beneath his eyelids. Scarcely had the
sweet notes ended when louder and faster came the crash of battle, to be
followed by the low dirge and moaning cries rendered by the resonant
whistle. “Oh, dear,” sighed Elsie, “if Antoine had only been here, it
might have been worth while. What a grand thing the piano is! Poverty
wouldn’t be so bad if it did not exclude so much of the heaven of music
and art, etc., etc., etc. Now, Elsie the cook, stop that vain longing!
Maybe you’ll earn a piano yet with your immense riches. Just one more
try, and Elsie the cook must go into the lower regions again; but it’s
been glorious to know what such a life might mean. Come, old comforter,
and compose my soul,” and she struck the accompaniment to the old, old
song, “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.” The fresh young voice, gaining
confidence as the feeling pervading the melody swept over her, seemed to
fill every nook and corner of the room and rise upward and outward until
it was lost on the shining pathway to the stars. It was dusk when Elsie
closed the piano, and with a sudden fervor she bent down and kissed it.
“The only friend I have in the house,” she sighed aloud. A moment later
she passed out into the hall humming softly to herself:

                   “Hide me! Oh, my Saviour, hide,
                   Till the storm of life be passed!”

When the last notes had died away in the distance Herbert Lynn sprang
from his couch, and striking a match, looked at his watch.

“Six o’clock!” he exclaimed. “Helen will be furious because I’ve not
kept my engagement; but I wouldn’t have missed that scene for all the
dinners in Christendom. Heavens! what a nature there is in that little
girl!”



                              CHAPTER XII.


Margaret sat reading a letter from Dr. Ely. The faint blood of returning
health was deepening in her cheeks, and the glad light of her eyes
intensified by emotions which the letter evidently called forth. With
the freedom of the invisible biographer we will glance over her shoulder
as she reads:


“I have carried for months the picture of the cosey sitting-room at
Idlewild set like a gem in the silver circle of memory. It is hard, very
hard, now to feel that it must be only a memory; that I shall never see
it again, and never be able to picture the little feasts of reason which
your letters have so charmingly described. Still, home is where the
heart is, and I regard this misfortune as only a temporary interruption
of your plans. I know so well the motive springs of action in your
nature, that I feel sure as soon as your strength comes back on perhaps
a firmer basis, the old progress will be re-established.

“I heartily indorse your move in placing Gilbert in the manual-training
school, and inclose a draft for one hundred dollars to advance your
efforts. You need have no hesitancy in accepting it, as I find the books
are regarded by bibliophilists generally as possessing all the value I
placed upon them.

“As regards Elsie’s experiment in going as a cook, there is much to be
said for and against. She will be subjected in such a position to much
that will tax her high spirit; but if she is equal to it she will be the
gainer in conscious strength and purpose. As a financial move, even at
the average wages, it is undoubtedly the best thing that could be done;
for even had the way been opened, there is no such money in teaching
school or standing behind the counter. It is also a safer life for a
girl of her beauty, because the seclusion of the kitchen has no such
temptations as beset the workers in public shops and factories. The
question of caste has evidently not entered into her calculations,
because she looks upon life as it is developed from the standpoint of
moral worth, and she is a charming example of the revival of primitive
ideas. I shall watch the outcome of the experiment with a good deal of
interest, not alone because I admire the fair experimenter, but because
I also look upon the move as an incipient factor in social progress. The
housekeeping and homekeeping questions lie at the roots of all
philosophy; for man is by no means a sublimated mortal who can exist and
theorize with no provision for his material needs. Still, if I could
have had my way, I should have preferred that Elsie develop her
character and fitness for the world’s work under less trying
circumstances. It does not seem fitting to me that women should bear the
brunt of bread-winning; there is other and better work for them to do.

“As for my school and myself, I think we are both growing in strength. I
should indeed be faint-hearted if I did not feel nerved for the battle
when I remember the fearful odds against which you and Elsie have set
yourselves. I do not prophesy much in the way of harvest for you, for I
know the world better than you do. Yet I know that with you a slender
sheaf of the gleanings will be as so much saved for the All Father’s
granary, and I can only bid you God-speed in all you do. I know those
who come within the radius of your presence are lifted, albeit
unconsciously, in aspiration, and I have no wonder at all at Eph’s
devotion. I look upon it as a natural result of natural conditions, and
I predict that in your home in the city you will find the question of
how to find room for all the demands upon your sympathies and interests
a much more serious one than it is now. I shall hope to have in the
future, as in the past, a full account of the progress made by all of
you, and trust that in trying to fulfil the purposes that actuate you,
you will not forget what is due your health.

                                       “Sincerely your friend,
                                                       “CHARLES J. ELY.”


Margaret read the letter very slowly, evidently finding much food for
thought in the lines. That it was happy thought the demure smiles that
almost brought dimples in her cheeks testified.

“It wouldn’t be difficult to turn back now,” she mused, “but it would be
cowardly. It will be easier too to go ahead, knowing as I do that all my
efforts are watched by sympathetic eyes. The determination to stand by
Elsie and Gilbert, until character shall have been formed and purposes
achieved, grows heroic as I progress; for in it I already discern,
thanks to Dr. Ely’s eyes, a lever for the good of others besides
ourselves. Duty has always seemed so simple and necessary a thing to me,
that I don’t believe I have properly appreciated Elsie’s heroism. Poor
little girl! I wonder how she bears the brunt of the battle, and if that
tempestuous heart of hers is in daily rebellion. Antoine!” she exclaimed
aloud, “we are glad this is Sunday and that Elsie is coming home to-day,
aren’t we?”

“So glad that I can’t half read,” said the boy, tossing aside his book
and looking up with a smile.

“It seems to me, Antoine, the violin has leaned more to elegies and
dirges than formerly. That won’t do, for I notice you are not looking as
well as you were, and I fancy you are missing Elsie too much. I’ll tell
you what we’re going to do. Next week I shall look up rooms in the city,
near Elsie, and we will have her home every night, and you—now don’t
look so disconsolate—you shall remain with us and take lessons at the
conservatory. I’ve arranged it all with ma mère, and I shall see almost,
if not quite, as much of you as I do now.”

Antoine did not answer until he had choked back one or two obtrusive
sobs. “And ma mère?” he asked.

“She will be back and forth every day, with two homes instead of one.”

“And am I really to have lessons?”

“Really and truly,” answered Margaret.

“I don’t know how to be thankful enough,” said the lad. “But who pays
for them?”

“Never mind asking questions,” said Margaret, smiling. “It is your
business to accept propositions.”

“I know—it is Elsie!” he exclaimed gleefully. “She said she should
dispense charity like a millionaire.”

Margaret laughed as she replied: “I don’t think Elsie’s princely income,
as she calls it, will be equal to all the schemes she has in her bright
head; but I know I am very glad of the prospect of having her with us
once again. It’s a dull house without her.”

“And shall we have the old ‘evenings’ over again?”

“Indeed we shall, please God. We’ll take up the thread where it snapped
on that awful night of the fire, only a little wiser and tenderer
perhaps in our judgments.”

“How would it be possible for you to be any tenderer than you always
have been?” asked Antoine.

“Because experience widens and deepens our natures, and

               “‘Hearts, like apples, are hard and sour,
               Till crushed by pain’s resistless power.’”

“God mellowed yours, then, in long-gone ages, for nobody ever found a
hard spot in your heart.”

“A royal flatterer!” exclaimed Margaret gayly. “I shall have to kiss you
for that,” and Margaret sank on her knees beside the wheel chair and
printed a resounding smack upon the lad’s pale cheek.

“I’m jealous!” cried a gay voice at the door, and the next instant Elsie
was on the other side of the chair and Antoine’s arms were around her
neck.

“Home again! Home again!” he cried with a little break in his voice.

“For just about six hours, so tongues must fly at a mile a minute. I
have heaps and heaps to tell,” and breathless Elsie sank into a chair
and said nothing.

“Why don’t you tell it?” asked Antoine.

“It dwindles so when I stop to think of it. I guess it is all summed up
in the statement that ‘Elsie the cook’ is very well satisfied with her
place, and a good deal prouder of her two-weeks’ wages than if somebody
had earned the money for her. Just see!” and emptying the contents of
her purse in Margaret’s lap, she went on: “Now, I’ve come home for some
music and to hear the rest of you talk. Where’s the fiddle, Antoine?
Let’s wake the echoes and forget the frying-pan.”

“O Elsie, life has come back with you,” exclaimed Antoine fervently as
he tuned his fiddle.

“To stay, I hope; for I don’t want to be guilty of taking life when I go
again.”

An hour later everything had been forgotten in the rendering of the old
hymns and psalms with which it had been their wont to delight themselves
on Sunday afternoons. Margaret and Gilbert were joining in the chorus,
and Lizzette was softly humming to herself in her work about the
kitchen, when there came a gentle rap at the outer door. Lizzette opened
it and with difficulty repressed an exclamation at sight of Herbert Lynn
on the threshold. With a warning gesture he put his fingers to his lips
and said in a low voice: “I did not want to interrupt the music or I
should have rapped at the front door. Who is it plays and sings so
charmingly?”

“Antoine and Elsie,” said Lizzette proudly.

“Elsie? I did not know she was here. I had a little leisure and
concluded I couldn’t better employ it than in coming to see my old
Lizzette.”

“Vous avez ze welcome, just as in ze old days. Let me get ze leetle
rocker, and you sall sit by me and talk,” and Lizzette made a move to
enter the little sitting-room. Herbert’s hand was on her arm in an
instant.

“No, no,” he said in a whisper. “Let me sit here and listen. It will
disturb them to know I am here.”

Softly and sweetly from the other room came the strain, “’Tis midnight,
and on Olive’s brow,” and Herbert Lynn reverently dropped his head in
his hands and listened. If there was to his critical ear a lack of
technical skill, there was no lack of sympathy or feeling in every touch
and tone. Neither was there lack of genius, although it was easily
discernible that it was an untrained genius.

“What power Antoine gets out of the violin,” he whispered to Lizzette,
who nodded and smiled in proud acknowledgment of his appreciation.

“Il a——” she began, but the music had ceased and there was a rustle of
turning leaves as Margaret took up the Bible.

“On second thought,” she said, “I will ask for a subject. What shall it
be, Elsie? You have been out in the world—what need has seemed greatest
to you?”

“The strength to bear,” answered Elsie soberly. “It seemed easy to be
patient and properly humble in this home of love and appreciation, but
in this other world of place-hunting and time-serving the quick retort
quite too often besieges my lips. You know, Margaret, it is only the old
enemy, and as the horizon widens and I see what life might mean to me if
fortune had been kinder, and I realize that I have a nature capable of
profiting by the beautiful things of the world, I grow rebellious and
dissatisfied. I try every now and then to imagine I am perfectly
contented; but all the time I know I am deceiving myself. Help me,
Margaret dear, with all your sublime patience and courage, to bear it,
and not yearn after the vain things of the world.”

There was a sound of tears in Margaret’s voice as she answered:
“Strength must come from within, Elsie. ‘They that dwell in His house’
know where the well of strength is, and ‘the pools are filled with
water.’ As for the vain things of this world for which you sigh, the sin
of it depends upon what those things are. I think I know your heart well
enough to believe they are not selfish follies, but only healthy
aspirations for broader fields of culture. I don’t believe in repressing
such aspirations. They are as natural to natures like yours as sunshine
to flowers. Aside from my unchanging faith in the beneficence of God, I
have always found the thought that the duty of to-day may be the
pleasure of to-morrow my greatest source of comfort. Let us work
faithfully, cheerfully to-day; the way may be a little rough, but after
all we shall find many things to gladden it. A note from Antoine’s
fiddle, a bit of Elsie’s nonsense, have often made me smile in the midst
of the moodiest repinings. Our work now, Elsie, is like the hard digging
around the roots of a rose-bush; by and by we shall look up and see its
crown of beauty and fragrance, and the roses will be all the sweeter
because our hands have sent the thrill along their stems that roused
them to life. I haven’t the least fear for my little girl when we
re-establish the old home life. Discontent will be left at the door, and
aspiration will find wings in Antoine’s fiddle and at the ends of her
deft fingers.”

“The first day I ever saw you,” said Antoine to Elsie, “you said your
ambition lay all in learning to cook like ma mère. What is the matter
with it that it does not satisfy you? Is the grand art of ma mère no art
after all?”

“Don’t ask such heretical questions, Antoine! Just ask ma mère if I
don’t put heaps of enthusiasm in my work, and make perfect poems in
pastry and sonnets in salads, whose proof is in the eating! But one may
have a thousand ambitions in the course of a life-time, and to confess
the honest truth—Margaret, hide your face!—I’ve just now an absorbing
ambition to have a new gown in the very latest style, with velvet all
over it and some genuine lace at the throat, and all those refined
ladylike things that make you feel so—so satisfied with yourself! See, I
bow my head and meekly await the avalanche of reproaches from this
virtuous and austere household!”

“Well,” said Gilbert from his corner, “I haven’t any for you; for the
threadbare appearance of my knees has filled me with a similar ambition.
The fellows at the training school are mostly sons of well-to-do men,
and they eye me in a way that doesn’t make me feel so—so satisfied with
myself.”

In an instant Elsie jumped from her chair, and patronizingly patting
Gilbert’s head exclaimed: “My dear brother, how glad I am to know I’m
not the only black sheep of the family! Meg, you see what comes of
letting the lambs out in the world’s pastures!”

Just then Elsie, glancing out into the kitchen, caught sight of the
amused faces of Lizzette and Herbert Lynn, and consternation, fright,
and astonishment so overcame her that she could only stand still and
scream.

This at once brought Lizzette and Herbert to the door. “Margaret,”
exclaimed Lizzette, “zis ees my old friend, mon garçon Herbeart Lynn,
who coming to see his old Lizzette haf ze desire also to know her
friends. He haf zair welcome, I believe?”

Lizzette looked appealingly from the white scorn of Elsie’s face to the
surprise of Margaret’s; but before either had time to speak Herbert said
eagerly and with flushing cheek as he glanced at Elsie: “I can explain
my presence here as an involuntary listener in this way. Lizzette, as
you probably know, has been more than half-mother to me. Taking
advantage of a day when I felt sure of finding her at home, I came out
for a little visit. As I neared the door I heard such charming music I
hesitated to interrupt it, and so I crept like a culprit to the back
door and listened—very reprehensibly, I know—to a discussion which was
so full of strength and interest to me I had not the courage to
interrupt it. Lizzette, can you not help me to be forgiven?”

“Helas,” said Lizzette. “I am ze grand culprit. I take ze pride in vat
you list.”

“Lizzette’s friends are of course welcome to us, since we are
trespassers upon her kindness,” said Margaret brightly. “And as we have
no state secrets, I think we can forgive an unintentional listening.
This is my sister, Elsie Murchison, whom perhaps you know serves your
sister, Mrs. Mason, as cook.”

Margaret’s countenance hardened a trifle as she looked at the young
man’s handsome face and again at Elsie’s, coldly repellant, and she laid
a stress upon the last word that brought an involuntary smile to Elsie’s
lips. The nod which she bestowed upon Herbert was, however, so
ostentatiously distant that the pleasant augury of the smile was
speedily dispelled.

“An’ zis ees my good lad Gilbeart Murchison, et zis mon garçon Antoine,”
said Lizzette hastily, in an endeavor to smooth over the awkwardness of
the situation.

Herbert turned quickly to the boys, and taking the proffered seat
eagerly clasped Antoine’s hand in his own. “You’ve changed a good deal,
my boy, since I saw you, and you are growing to be quite a musician.
Your genius must be cultivated.”

“It is going to be,” answered Antoine, “thanks to my Elsie.”

Herbert glanced up as Antoine spoke, in time to see Elsie slip into the
kitchen.

“Eet ees ze dinner hour,” said Lizzette, looking after her. “I sall
leave you, Herbeart, in ze good care of Miss Margaret and ze boys.”

“I shall be well cared for, no doubt. I always have been in your house.”

“You have but recently returned from Europe, I understand,” said
Margaret as Lizzette left the room. “Were you there long?”

“Some three years,” replied Herbert.

“Long enough, then, to become somewhat imbued with old-world ideas and
customs.”

“To the extent of finding democratic America the most delightful place
on earth to live.”

The air of constraint, so foreign to Herbert’s usual suavity of address,
dropped off under the stimulant of Margaret’s calm eyes and interested
face, and he presently found himself talking and laughing with her and
the boys with the freedom of long acquaintance. In the mean time
Lizzette had been bustling about the kitchen on hospitable thoughts
intent, and wondering vaguely where Elsie had gone. In honor of her
home-coming she had sacrificed a couple of plump chickens which she had
stuffed with truffles grown in the darkness of her cellar. On the case
of wooden shelves which, with the romanticism of her race, she loved to
dignify with the name of “beaufet,” stood a glass bowl of snow cream
flanked by a basket piled high with yellow sponge-cakes.

“Zere ees ze pineapple jelly, ze salade de cresson, ze cold sliced ham,
ze duchesse potatoes, et ze cream chocolate—ah, well, Lizzette’s table
ees not so empty after all.”

She was bending over the oven door, watching the browning of the
chickens and letting a flood of savory steam into the kitchen, when she
felt a warm kiss on her cheek. Glancing up in surprise she saw Elsie,
cloaked and bonneted, before her. “Fie, fie, Elsie,” exclaimed Lizzette.
“Zis vill not do. You no leave before ze dinner.”

“I must,” said Elsie, putting her hands on Lizzette’s shoulders and
looking into her face with her eyes full of tears. “Don’t you see how
the case stands? This ‘petit curieux’—there, don’t be angry, I can’t
call him anything else—has followed me here, and if Mrs. Mason hears of
it I shall lose my place. Don’t you see I could not sit at the table
with him and defend myself against her attacks?”

“Oh-h!” It was a very long and expressive “oh” on Lizzette’s part, and
her eyes grew round with wonder and amusement as she glanced at Elsie’s
perturbed face. “I nevair vas so big dunce in my life. Haf Herbeart efer
speak to you?”

“No,” said Elsie, crimsoning, “only—only looked at me!”

Lizzette burst into a laugh so resounding that it penetrated the room
beyond; but Elsie’s distressed face was too much for her tender
sympathies. “Ma petite fille,” she exclaimed, “how stupid ees your old
Lizzette. Eh bien, I vill explain. Herbeart know not you live here; he
tell me so, and I nevair know Herbeart Lynn to lie. So you see eet ees
not ma petite Elsie zat bring him——”

“Lizzette! Lizzette!” cried Elsie, beside herself with mortification. “I
did not mean it that way! I’m not so vain as you think; but to tell the
truth he has always eyed me so, when I went to confer with Mrs. Mason,
that I have noticed she was uneasy and cross when he was in the room.
That is all in the world there is in it, except that as ‘Elsie the cook’
I decline to sit at table with his high mightiness. Honestly, I do not
want ever to speak to him.”

“Herbeart haf ze good heart zat harm nobody.”

“That may be true; but the gulf between us is considered too wide by his
circle ever to be bridged over by the commonplaces of even the simplest
association. You know I am right, Lizzette, and no false vanity prompts
what I say. I do want to keep my place, and Mrs. Mason would be furious
if she knew I broke bread at the same table with her brother.”

“Ah, zat Helen! Oui, Elsie, vous avez raison. Zis ees too bad. Mais you
sall not go hungry; here in ze pantry I set you some dinner.”

“No, Lizzette, I can’t eat,” said Elsie disconsolately. “I’ll just go
down to Aunt Liza’s and stay till the six-o’clock train. Tell Meg how
the case stands. I know she’ll approve my view of it.”

“Helas,” said Lizzette sorrowfully. “Ze dinner vill be spoiled for
Margaret and ze rest of us; but maybe zat vill be ze best way out of
trouble.”

It was growing dusk when Elsie took her seat in the car on her way back
to the city. She was tired, faint, and overwrought. A disturbing
influence had set again at work all those little discontents which
Margaret’s calm reasoning had well-nigh dispelled, and she fairly gasped
with horror when she saw Herbert Lynn enter the car and deliberately
take the vacant seat beside her.

“Miss Elsie,” he coolly asked, “will you be kind enough to tell me why I
am an object of such aversion to you?”

“I—I—don’t know what you mean,” she stammered helplessly.

“Aversion, Miss Elsie, is said by Webster to mean dislike, disapproval,
detestation, repugnance, antipathy, abhorrence, loathing, etc., and so
on. I trust you understand me now,” and he looked down on the flushing
face with a marked little smile of triumph.

“The definitions are all a blank to me, and relate to nothing with which
I am familiar.”

“Let me enlighten you, then. Do you think I am not aware that I drove
you from the house this afternoon, and Lizzette’s delicious dinner? I am
truly sorry that my mere unexpected presence in that little house should
have been productive of so much mischief. I assure you I am not half as
bad as I look, and I feel as penitent as a small boy who is caught
stealing apples, and just about as guilty.”

Elsie sat with her face turned toward the window and made no reply. Not
to be balked, Herbert went on:

“I never enjoyed—or would have enjoyed but for the unlucky fact of your
displeasure—anything so much as acquaintance with your sister and the
atmosphere of Lizzette’s little home. It is something new to me, and I
am not so case-hardened as to be wholly insensible to it.” Still Elsie
vouchsafed no word as he paused in evident expectation.

“Well, if I am to have all this conversation to myself, I shall take the
liberty of saying just what I think. I think a certain Miss Elsie
Murchison is decidedly unreasonable, and is determined that the
culprit’s sentence shall be a severer one than he deserves. She will not
even permit him to plead his cause. Nevertheless, as he is satisfied of
its justice he proposes to go on. The brother of Mrs. Helen Mason, an
acknowledged leader of the haut ton, is neither a knave nor a fool; at
least he is not prepared to so view himself just yet, and because his
well-beloved sister has certain views in accordance with the creed of
her set, it does not follow that he must blindly indorse all those
views. He may have sufficient independence to recognize worth when he
sees it, regardless of its environment.”

Still no response from stubborn Elsie. The hot blood mounted to
Herbert’s brow. Bending forward so that he might get a good view of her
face, he exclaimed impetuously:

“Miss Murchison, if this is really a matter of personal dislike I have
nothing further to say. Until I am satisfied that it is, however, I feel
that I have a right to understand the meaning of your persistent
silence.”

Thus brought to bay Elsie raised her eyes, and Herbert saw that they
were full of unshed tears.

“Mr. Lynn,” she began tremulously, “it seems almost cruel in you to
press me for an answer; but since you force it you shall have the plain
truth. There is no personal feeling at all in the matter. I neither like
nor dislike you, and simply ask to be let alone. I am your sister’s
cook, between whom and Mr. Lynn there cannot be even common
acquaintance.”

“My sister’s cook!” repeated Herbert. “It is as I suspected, a mere
matter of pride on your part.”

“No,” said Elsie desperately. “It is a matter of bread and butter. As
your sister’s cook I am earning good wages, that are of incalculable
value to those I love and for whom I work. If I lose my place, it means
deprivation and distress. Can you not see my reason and be generous?”

“Generous, most certainly; but not for any reason you advance. I am not
under my sister’s dominion.”

“But I am; and if I in any way incur her displeasure, I shall suffer for
it.”

“Not through me,” said Herbert stoutly. “I shall take good care of
that.”

“You can only do it by refusing to notice me any further; a favor which
I particularly request.”

“I do not know that I ever before flatly refused a lady’s request; but
this time I am compelled to do so by circumstances beyond my control.”

The mischief in Herbert’s eyes was too much for Elsie’s volatile nature,
and she greeted his audacious statement with a ripple of laughter which
she bitterly regretted a second later.

“There!” he exclaimed. “I am glad the statuesque repose of the De Veres
has been broken. I think we shall understand each other soon.”

“We do now,” said Elsie hastily. “I cannot speak any plainer.”

“Well, I can; but here we are, and while we walk the rest of the way
home I’ll endeavor to be explicit. Please take my arm.”

There was no help for it. Eight or ten blocks intervened between them
and the Mason mansion; it was dark and physical fear prevented Elsie’s
refusal of the proffered escort.

“Now,” said Herbert as she meekly placed her hand on his arm, “things
are just to my satisfaction. As regards your place, it shall be yours
indefinitely so far as I am concerned. I promise not to annoy you in any
way—that is, whenever I think that way is consistent with my way. I
admire your sister very much, and she has already accepted my offer of
comradeship, which, by the way, shows her good sense. As for her
rebellious little sister, I shall be just as much her good friend as if
she were forty times a queen in her own right, which she undoubtedly is.
She cannot prevent my admiration of her independence and heroism if she
snubs me twenty times a day, as, judging from the past, I presume she
will. That, however, will be the least of my distress, so I succeed in
making her believe I am not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I assure you,
upon the honor of a gentleman, that I shall be guilty of no more
reprehensible act than to claim the kindly consideration of one friend
for another.”

Elsie found it difficult to frame a reply. Animosity was fast breaking
down before the simple, candid words, and in its place had come a not
wholly definable sense of companionship that was strangely sweet.

“But the social gulf——” she began feebly.

“A fig for it! Are you not of that heretical sect which believes only in
an aristocracy of moral worth and cultivated brains? Are you going to
deny me the privilege of proving my claim to distinction among you? Your
sister has already outlined your little evenings to me, and I am
going——”

“To do what?” asked Elsie quickly.

“Look in upon you occasionally, that is all. You fancied I was going to
apply for a membership. I am afraid if I should, one of its brightest
members would stay away. But we are almost home, and you haven’t told me
yet that you have forgiven my unintentional transgression of the
conventionalities this afternoon; nor have you promised to believe in my
integrity and good-will.”

“I promise on one condition,” said Elsie, stopping suddenly. “There is
only half a block further; let me go alone. It would be so unfortunate
for me if—if any one saw us together.”

“Certainly, if you wish it. I suppose there is no law to prevent my
walking a few steps behind you.”

“I don’t think there is any law anywhere for you. Good-night,” and with
Herbert’s laugh ringing in her ears Elsie hastened down the area steps
and swung open the kitchen door.



                             CHAPTER XIII.


“Elsie,” said Mrs. Mason the following morning, “I am going to give a
reception in my brother’s honor to-morrow evening, and I shall put the
dining-room and kitchen in the hands of the caterer. If you like you may
assist Mary and Martha in the toilet-rooms during the evening.”

“Very well,” answered Elsie soberly; but there was a light in her eyes
which made Mrs. Mason say interrogatively, “You are pleased at the
change?”

“Indeed I am! I shall see a little of the pageantry of life, and I love
to look at beautiful things, fair ladies, and brave men. The whole thing
will be a living picture, and while I hand a pin to this one, or a fan
to that, I shall be stealing something that will be neither coats nor
diamonds.”

“Something less tangible, but more valuable, perhaps.”

“I am not so sure of its value as I am of its pleasure.”

“Pleasure in what way?”

“In the way that a rose is just as beautiful to my eyes as to those of a
princess; in the way that this reception will be just as much for me as
if I wore satins instead of a house-maid’s cap and apron.”

Elsie had been for the nonce aroused from her usual reserve, and as she
caught the coldly critical glance which Mrs. Mason bestowed upon her,
she exclaimed eagerly: “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Mason. I did not mean to
inflict my small enthusiasms upon you.”

“I was only thinking,” replied Mrs. Mason, “that the world seems to open
a vista of enjoyment for you which many apparently more fortunate would
give half their years to possess. What is the secret of your happiness?”

“‘Secret?’ I have none, unless it is that I am still a child, in heart
at least, and accept life as unquestioningly.”

“But by and by the heart of the child will have grown old, and you will
be like the rest of us, tired, disappointed, doubting.”

There was a note of sadness in Mrs. Mason’s voice that appealed at once
to Elsie’s tender sympathies. Involuntarily she reached out a hand as if
to lay it upon the white jewelled one of her mistress; but with a sudden
start of recollection she drew back and said simply: “There is so much
in this world to hope for, so much that may be had even by the poorest,
that disappointment and doubt need affect one only as externals. I hope
I may never grow wise if wisdom brings only bitterness of spirit.”

Mrs. Mason made no reply; she was watching the fine mobile face before
her, with its blending of pride and guilelessness. “The girl gains on
one so,” she mused, “that I could almost make her friend instead of
servant, if it were not for——”

At this juncture Elsie, uneasy under the prolonged scrutiny of the gray
eyes, asked hesitatingly: “Do you wish anything further, Mrs. Mason? May
I go now?”

“You might have gone some time since,” was the calm reply, given with
all the iciness of manner she knew so well how to apply to the impulsive
girl.

Elsie’s face flushed painfully as she left the room. Mrs. Mason smiled
grimly as she saw it. “I treat that girl horribly sometimes; but it is
the only way I can preserve the proprieties.”

The next evening, when everything had been put to rights in the kitchen,
Elsie and Jenie, the little maid of the scullery, climbed the back
stairs with many a ripple of laughter. They were deeply engaged in the
all-important subject of dress, and were as keen in their enjoyment of
the good points of attire as many a society belle who would grace the
Mason parlors.

“Oh, but you are just lovely,” exclaimed enraptured Jenie as Elsie
invested herself in a cheap lawn of rose pink, and fastened a coquettish
lace cap above her curls in place of the frilled muslin of every day.
The dress was as straight and plain as that of a Puritan maid; but the
soft lace of a Martha Washington fichu and a jaunty lace-trimmed apron
with pink bows on the pockets, created a costume that only needed the
dark eyes and tinted cheeks of the wearer to complete it.

“I lack one thing,” said Elsie, critically surveying herself in the
glass. “I wish I had one of those Bonsilene roses that the florist has
massed in the parlors. I’m going to ask Mrs. Mason for one.”

“I wouldn’t,” said Jenie. “I’d just take one. It would never be missed.”

“Jenie,” laughed Elsie as she placed a hand under the little maid’s
chin, “I should miss it, and that would be the worst miss of all. I like
to keep my fingers clean, you know.”

“Well, it ain’t like takin’ clothes and such like.”

“Not exactly; but all the same it _is_ taking what doesn’t belong to
me.”

“It’s such a little thing I wouldn’t have minded it.”

“It is the ‘littles’ that make us, Jenie. Lookout for the little foxes
and the lions will keep away. Now, let me see how you look. As sweet and
clean as a whistle. Let me straighten your cap. Dear me, there’s a
button off your shoe. I must sew that on right away. It doesn’t look
ladylike, you know, to go with the buttons off.”

Jenie laughed. “Me a lady!” she exclaimed as if the idea were
preposterous.

“To be sure,” said Elsie seriously. “You can be just as much a lady in
your work as Mrs. Mason in hers.”

“Humph! She’d laugh at me.”

“That wouldn’t affect the fact, and nobody will laugh at you for
respecting yourself. Only you must lookout that you don’t think so much
of yourself that you neglect your duty. People would have a right to
laugh at you then. Now I’m going for the rose;” and having seen that
Jenie’s belongings were in order, she opened the door and started for
the lower hall, humming a gay chansonette and emphasizing its tune with
a step as graceful as if art, not nature, had prompted it. Herbert
Lynn’s door stood open, and unseen by Elsie, he watched the lively
patter of a pair of bronze slippers along the hall with a light that was
somewhat deeper than amusement in his eyes.

“Good-evening!” he exclaimed as Elsie neared his door. “These buttons on
my glove are a trifle refractory. May I beg you to fasten them?”

The song on her lips met instant suppression as she glanced up with
heightened color into the blue eyes that were smiling down at her. It
seemed to Elsie that it was rare good fortune which sent James at that
moment across the hall.

“James,” she called, “Mr. Lynn would like to have you button his glove,”
and without pausing a second Elsie walked soberly along the hall to Mrs.
Mason’s room. Herbert bit his lips in vexation, and re-entering his
room, he slammed the door in no very amiable frame of mind.

“The witch!” he exclaimed, throwing himself into a chair and scowling
like a thunder-cloud. “How cavalierly she does treat me! Jove! isn’t she
lovely in that cheap finery! She ought to ‘walk in silk attire and
siller hae to spare’ instead of being doomed to the round of Helen’s
pots and pans. How unequally the good things of life seem to be
distributed, and how singular it is to find such pride of character in a
girl occupying her position in life. Well, I’d give ‘Jupiter and his
power to thunder’ to break that stubborn pride of hers, and I’ll do it
or die in the attempt.”

A look of resolute will settled over the bright, almost boyish, face and
gave it an added strength and beauty, which struck Elsie wonderingly as
a moment later she encountered him in the hall with her hands full of
roses. He bestowed upon her only the slightest nod as he passed rapidly
down the stairs, and Elsie climbed to her room and pinned the roses at
throat and belt with a feeling that something had taken the glamor from
the evening’s enjoyment.

“I don’t care,” said she defiantly. “I knew my hands would tremble if I
tried to fasten those buttons; besides, I don’t thank him for noticing
me in the least. I’m only ‘Elsie the cook’ and he knows it, for all of
his pleadings to the contrary. I just want him to let me alone, and
there’s all there is of it.”

This stalwart enunciation of wishes was not wholly borne out by the
misty eyes that greeted her from the glass, and it required several
little pattings of her handkerchief to clear them so that she dare trust
herself in the waiting-room below. The guests were already arriving as
Elsie entered the dressing-rooms, and her services were at once called
into requisition in undoing trains, buttoning gloves and slippers,
making up faces and arms, and arranging dishevelled coiffures. More than
one quick glance was bestowed by the guests upon the pretty maid in pink
who so deftly ministered to their various needs, and one tall,
statuesque girl of superb grace and unusual elegance of costume
attempted to slip a dollar into Elsie’s hands as she was about to leave
the room.

“I beg your pardon,” said Elsie, flushing. “I—I cannot accept the money.
Mrs. Mason pays me for my work.”

The lady laughed as she tapped Elsie’s cheek with her fan. “You must be
a new acquisition of Helen’s. I do not remember to have seen you before,
and as for the money, my dear child, I always bestow it upon those who
serve and please me.”

“It doesn’t seem right for me to take it,” replied Elsie; “and I hope
you won’t think me ungrateful if I refuse.”

“Why, if you will be so quixotic I will not urge it upon you, of course;
but you are the first of your class I ever remember to refuse a gift. I
must congratulate Helen on her rare good fortune. Your action is quite
unusual, I assure you.”

At the first opportunity Elsie turned to Martha and Mary, who had smiled
audibly behind their handkerchiefs at witnessing the little scene. “Did
I do anything wrong?” she asked pitifully.

“Don’t know as it’s very wrong,” answered Martha, “but it’s awful silly,
and you’ll find out that the tips the rich folks give you’ll buy lots o’
nice things.”

“If that’s all I don’t care,” said Elsie. “I don’t want to be rude.”

“Why didn’t you want it?” asked Mary curiously.

“Because I am paid by Mrs. Mason for my work, and because somehow it
touched my pride to be offered money for nothing.”

Martha and Mary laughed. “That’s a queer pride of your’n, Elsie. I never
seen none like it before,” exclaimed Martha.

“It is a pride I hope that harms no one; not even myself.”

“I don’t know about that! You’ll always get left if you stand too much
on your dignity.”

“Not if I am faithful in my work, and that I mean to be.”

The evening was after all a great delight to Elsie, who never allowed
any misgiving to long cloud her skies. The beautiful costumes, the light
laughter, the gay banter, the strains of music that floated up-stairs
from the mandolin orchestra stationed in the library behind banks of
ferns and roses, all seemed a dream from the fairyland of the
imagination. She hovered over the balusters in the hall, and watched the
moving panorama below with all the intoxication of youth in bright and
beautiful things. Later in the evening she crept down-stairs with the
other maids, and hiding herself behind a screen of palms in the hall,
could see in the drawing-room beyond the bevy of belles and beaux in the
exercise of all the graces of refined intercourse. She could see that
Herbert Lynn was everywhere welcomed by bright eyes and cordial words,
and a little pang of regret shot through her heart at the injustice of
fate. But it was only for a moment, and then, with an effort of will so
strong that it sent the blood out of her face, she trampled the rising
regret to death.

“I will not, I will not,” she said between set teeth, as she walked
wearily along the hall to her room when the last guest had departed.

“You’ve dropped your roses,” said Herbert’s voice behind her just as she
reached the foot of the stairs.

“No matter,” she said, half-turning. “A withered rose is valueless.”

“Not to me,” he replied emphatically, as he gathered them up and
deliberately placed them inside his vest.

A look of innocent wonder swept over Elsie’s face, that was not
altogether successful in its effort to appear natural. “A wilted rose, I
suppose, will answer for a rose-jar! There are oceans in the parlors,
and I can bring you a panful if you wish.”

Herbert took a quick step that brought him to Elsie’s side. “Elsie
Murchison,” he exclaimed half-savagely, “do you know I never was baffled
in my life?”

“First times have come to a good many of the world’s conquerors. Mr.
Lynn would be a most notable exception if he continued an unbroken line
of victories.”

“You may mock me as you choose. I have been candid to the verge of
bluntness with you, and you know very well I am desirous of obtaining
your friendship.”

“And you know very well,” answered Elsie, all the brightness dying out
of her face and leaving it gray and cold, “that there is no friendship
possible between us. I resolutely refuse to consider the slightest
chance of such a thing.”

Stung to the quick, Herbert turned on his heel, saying vehemently, “Very
well. So emphatic a statement as that must be heeded; but I am very much
mistaken if you do not some day regret it.”

Elsie had never known such a weariness of body as she carried up the
long flight of stairs to her room, and it was with a feeling of having
been hunted and driven to bay that she threw herself across the bed and
burst into tears. All the pent-up feeling of years seemed to burst its
bonds as sob after sob shook the slight frame and floods of tears rolled
their tempestuous way over her cheeks. At last the force of the storm
was spent and she sat up in bed, weak but relieved.

“I couldn’t have been fiercer if I’d been Vesuvius in action,” she said
ruefully as she tried to collect her scattered senses. “But I’ve done
one virtuous act, anyway! ‘Regret it!’ Ah, if he only knew the silly
little heart I carry here, and how heavy it is and always will be! Meg,
dear, duty didn’t find your little Elsie on the coward’s side, after
all, and yet how I should have enjoyed saying ‘Thank you, sir,’ after
the regulation order. He’ll forget all about me in a day or two, and it
is a good deal better than if I had tried the miserable farce of
friendship only to have it surely end in trouble. Now I’m the only one
to suffer, and henceforth I shall look upon myself as quite a heroine. I
don’t think there’s much fun in being one, though,” and with this
doleful reflection Elsie, like a sensible girl, turned off the gas and
went to bed. If her sleep had not the peace of the care-free, it was yet
sufficiently healthy to bring back the color to her cheeks and the
lustre to her eyes, and no one dreamed of the tempest of pain that had
swept over her the night before.



                              CHAPTER XIV.


The week following Elsie’s memorable visit to Idlewild found Margaret
and Gilbert domiciled in rooms some ten blocks removed from the Mason
mansion; that being the nearest approach of cheap rents to the
aristocratic thoroughfare. The rooms were situated in an
apartment-house, as such are nowadays called under the approved
nomenclature of progressive ideas; but the building was some decades
behind its imposing name. It was indeed a type of the old
shabbily-built, inconvenient, and miasma-breeding tenement-house. It was
a long, narrow, five-storied structure, poorly lighted and equally as
poorly ventilated; but it was in fact the only house with a reasonable
rent which could be found near enough to Elsie to warrant a nightly
visit from her. Margaret chose, out of several vacant rooms, four in the
fifth story, because in these she had both light and air, and she felt
she could better endure the inconvenience of the four long flights of
stairs than the absence of two such essentials to health and comfort.
The condition of the halls, which the majority of the tenants seemed to
consider a lodging-place for refuse of various kinds, was a terrible
eyesore to her housewifely instincts, and she had not been many days in
her new quarters before she put her wits to work to effect a change in
their untidy aspect. So far as her own flight of stairs and its
contiguous hallways were concerned, the solution was simply a compound
of soap, water, and muscle; but when it came to the consideration of
those below her, something like generalship was needed to induce the
desired cleanliness. To perform an undue share of the public work did
not by any means enter into her scheme of the general good. The
responsibility of the individual was the one hobby, if such it could be
called, which Margaret permitted herself. To arouse the latent instinct
of self-dependence and development was an almost unconscious exhalation
of the sturdy faith which had always made circumstances only a means
unto an end, and that end the uplifting of the better elements of
character. To be her brother’s keeper in so far as that keeping could
induce a heartfelt aspiration or a simple kindness, had been but an
outgrowth of the unselfishness of her aims. Few people looked with as
lenient an eye upon the shortcomings of humanity, or were actuated by as
sincere a desire to lend a hand to retrieve a false step, as Margaret
Murchison. Yet it was with a good deal of delicacy that she reviewed the
means whereby she might bring an air of greater thrift and cleanliness
into the desolate halls below. Like all refined and sensitive people,
she felt a hesitancy about bringing even an inferential reflection of
uncleanliness upon those whose co-operation she desired.

“It will be impossible to do it,” she sighed, “until I have made their
acquaintance, and won their confidence. They will be distrustful and
think in their vernacular that I am putting on airs if I broach the
subject before.”

If the condition of the halls dismayed Margaret, the condition of the
living-rooms of the inmates of the building was much more disheartening.
Not that poverty in its severest aspect was present, for in nearly all
cases the rooms were occupied by the families of porters, office clerks,
and under salesmen, and although a decent amount of food and clothing
was to be had by the closest economy, there was such a lack of homeness
that it turned Margaret heart-sick. The women were, for the most part,
good-natured, well-intentioned souls, but tried beyond endurance in the
almost hopeless task of making both ends meet on the scanty dole of the
one wage-earner. Children were everywhere; for whatever other blessings
may be denied the toiler, the children always come to lighten his heart
and empty his pocket. Ambition was well-nigh dead in their bosoms; for
the daily grind of hard work, the lowering cloud of capitalistic
oppression, and the constantly-increasing tide of mongrel, half-starved
immigrants, who stood ever ready to snatch the crust from their lips,
had left very little opportunity for the better classes of American
workingmen to look forward with any degree of hope.

There was a wholesomeness about Margaret that made both men and women
trust her, and with the natural volubility of their class, the women had
poured the whole story of their daily struggles into her willing ears
before she had been ten days in the house. There were twelve families in
the building, a number of rooms being unoccupied; and barren as had been
Margaret’s own life in the little parsonage at Barnley, and later at
Idlewild, she felt that it had been a broad way of peace and plenty
beside the narrow line of these toilers. With her, above meagre outlines
and practical details had been the wide field of growth, the plenitude
of hope, and the infinite realm of thought. With these people, cabined
and confined year in and year out within smoke-begrimed walls, life had
become a sordid round of ministering to material needs, with no blue
skies to call their eyes upward or song of birds to awaken benumbed
hearts.

“I would not have thought poverty could wear so pitiless an aspect,” she
mused. “Something must be done to bring back the revivifying influence
of hope to these people. But what can I do, burdened with a like
poverty, against the greed and extortion of these capitalists? Just
think of men with families compelled to live and pay rent on six, seven,
and nine dollars a week, working twelve and fourteen hours a day, and
Sundays too, if the ‘boss’ so wills, without a penny’s extra pay! Oh, it
makes my blood boil when I see such injustice! Is there no relief for
all this? Are there no thunderbolts of heaven to strike these
slave-drivers who compel their men to this life, by telling them the
market is overstocked with unorganized workers, and that a body of lean
and hungry wolves stands ever ready to snatch their scanty crusts? Small
wonder that ambition dies, and that there are only mutterings of
discontent and savage envy and malignant plottings against the mighty
magnates who instigate and abet this monstrous cruelty. What can I do
for these overworked and disheartened mothers, these joyless children
and sullen fathers? How can I help them to smile, to look for sunshine
instead of clouds? Out of the abundance with which I am blessed I must
devise some way.”

Margaret’s abundance was certainly not that of money, for she had been
forced into taking “slop-work” from the factories, at forty-five cents
per dozen for men’s hickory shirts and fifty cents per dozen pairs for
men’s overalls. The winter’s indebtedness was draining the greater share
of Elsie’s abundant wages, and Gilbert’s expenses at the training school
were already eating into the carefully-guarded one hundred dollars that
had been sent by Dr. Ely. It was evident that what help Margaret gave
could only be that of interest and suggestion. But how to make
suggestion inoffensive, and how to stimulate ambition without arousing
antagonism, were questions which puzzled her not a little.

One Saturday morning, returning from the factory with her arms laden
with work, she stopped at the doors of the various rooms on her way
up-stairs and asked that all the children who were large enough to climb
the stairs be sent to her rooms in half an hour.

How joyfully they swarmed the halls long before the appointed time, and
what a time Margaret had counting them! Forty-eight above five years and
the eldest not above nine. “How many go to school?” she asked as she
ranged them along the wall.

Fourteen little hands were raised; of these eight were boys.

“Now, boys,” she exclaimed, “I’m going to begin with you. What do you
like best, or would like best, if you could have your wish?”

The answers varied from peg-tops to balloons and locomotives.

“How many hours do you have out of school?”

“School’s out at four.”

“Till half-after six, then—two good hours. Now, how many are willing to
work to earn money?” Every hand went up. “Well, after four o’clock
to-night I want you to come up again to see my brother Gilbert. He has
fitted up a work-bench in one of the rooms, and those of you who are
willing to work, and work hard, for two straight hours a day, can earn
some money by and by. It will not be so much fun, perhaps, as racing
through the halls, sliding down the stairs, or playing out in the
street; but it will buy the peg-tops and locomotives one of these days,
and there isn’t much in this world we can have without paying for it in
one way or another. Are you all agreed?”

“You bet!” came the unanimous response. Margaret smiled as she turned to
the girls.

“How many know how to sew?” Not a single hand was raised. “How many are
willing to learn?” Every hand in the room went up. “Boys and all,”
exclaimed Margaret. “Now let’s make a test. Who has a button off his
shoe?”

“Jimmy! Johnnie! Nell! Sue! Mary! Jane! Jack!” sang out the noisy
chorus.

“Down on the floor, every one of you. Now, I’ll furnish needles, thread,
and buttons, and I want every one who has a button off to sew it on, and
sew it strongly, too. Now, the one who sews a button on the best and
quickest shall have that card,” and Margaret pointed to a brilliant
chromo-lithograph of angels with impossible wings and beatific smiles.

“Oh, my!” chorused the girls.

“Jiminy crickets!” ejaculated the boys, with now and then a more
forcible expletive thrown in. It took some time for the clumsy little
fingers to get to work; but Margaret, noting down time and names, kept
close tally, and at last pronounced every button in its place, and
proclaimed the name of the winner of the prize.

“Now,” said Margaret, “this is not all. If every little child here will
agree to keep the buttons on his shoes, I’ll give every one, at the end
of a month, a still handsomer card, and by that time perhaps the boys
will have learned how to make frames for them.”

“All right!” “Betcher sweet life!” “You’re a trump!” “Bully for you!”
were the expressive answers with which this proposition was met.

“I want to get up a little club among ourselves and call it the ‘Busy
Fingers Club,’” Margaret went on, “and I want to see how much real good
work this little club can do. I expect to be mistress of the club, and
the first thing I shall ask will be to see how neat and clean you can
keep yourselves. Now, take this hand-glass and begin at the head, and
tell me how many are sure that their faces are as clean as soap and
water can make them.”

It was a shamefaced little group as the glass was passed from hand to
hand, and hitherto unnoticed and unthought-of streaks and specks came
into view. The girls eyed each other askance and surreptitiously applied
their aprons to several more obtrusive marks, but the boys made no
attempt at self-improvement and shouted their approval when one of the
older ones exclaimed: “Boys and dirt go together. ’Tain’t no use to try
to keep clean.”

“Trying does a great deal in this world, and I suspect it is equal to
making a boy declare war upon dirt. We’ll hope it is, anyway.”

Thereupon Margaret proceeded to state the plan and laws governing the
Busy Fingers Club, whereby every member was to become an important
factor in the great work of self-government and improvement. When all
the details had been submitted, the children gathered around her
enthusiastically. “It’s just the jolliest thing,” they cried. “We’ll
work like tigers so long’s you’re our captain.”

And they did. Under Gilbert’s tutelage the boys developed skill and
industry in wood-carving and amateur cabinet work, while the girls from
big to little grew deft in the use of the needle, and lifted many a
burden from the shoulders of tired mothers in timely patching and
darning. Elsie became deeply interested in Margaret’s efforts, and
begged silks and velvets from Mrs. Mason for the girls’ fancy work,
which was one day supplemented by a huge bundle containing everything in
the line of material for such work. The bundle was sent anonymously, and
great was the wonder of the girls and Margaret as to its source. If
Elsie guessed she was discreetly silent about it, although she was
possessed of no small curiosity to know how the scheme had become so
well advertised. Her wonder would have been greater, if her curiosity
had been less, could she have seen the companion of Lizzette in her
daily walks between market and station, and some times to the very door
of Margaret’s hive of industry. Since the evening she had so resolutely
refused to consider the possibility of association between them, Elsie
had not encountered Herbert Lynn. Once or twice she had caught a glimpse
of him in library or dining-room as she passed up-stairs to her daily
interview with Mrs. Mason, but he had always seemed entirely unconscious
of her proximity. Evidently the whim which had seized him had passed,
and Elsie assured herself, with somewhat remarkable frequency, that she
was glad the young man’s reason had returned, and that having been
“baffled” at last, she hoped he would not be so boastful in the future.

One morning, some three weeks after Margaret’s removal to the city,
Lizzette left Antoine at Margaret’s door with a hurried exclamation.

“I haf not ze moment to spare. I haf ze business engagement zis morning.
I no return perhaps zese several hour. Delay not ze dinner for me,” and
with a kiss upon Antoine’s cheek, she hastened down the stairs. Half-way
up the block she gave a signal to a gentleman driving leisurely along on
the opposite side of the street. A second later he drew rein at the
curbstone, and alighting, assisted Lizzette to the seat beside him.

“O Herbeart!” she exclaimed, “I know not how to tank you. You haf given
me ze hope once more. Mon Dieu! Eef eet be true ze light of my life vill
shine again.”

“It is only a hope as yet,” he answered, “for I was not sufficiently
posted about his case to enter into particulars. However, this morning’s
interview will probably determine it.”

“And ze docteur assure you he tink Antoine can be made to walk?”

“There is a chance for him, he thinks, but it will be months of pain and
tedium for the poor boy.”

“And after zat zen his music vill make him ze grand maestro, and I need
not to toil till my hands—see!” and she drew off a shabby cotton glove,
“be so like ze iron. Antoine ze grand maestro, and Lizzette ze—ze—lady,”
and she gave an arch glance, half-smile and half-tear, up at Herbert’s
sympathetic face. “Ah, eet ees ze dream of fairy land!”

Herbert smiled down at the wrinkled brown face with the affectionate
sympathy of the old boyish days, and Lizzette grasped his hand and
patted it softly. “Eet ees all so dear zat I haf mon garçon Herbeart to
do zis for me in my old age. I could take ze loan—Antoine sall
repay—from no one so easy as my Herbeart. Eet ees no offence zat I say
eet seems like von of ze family?”

“Offence! No,” laughed Herbert. “I don’t hedge myself around with any
absurd notions of caste, although E— By the way, what a peculiar little
body your friend Elsie Murchison is!”

Lizzette’s eyes twinkled, but she was resolutely obtuse. “Je ne vous
comprend pas! Please explain.”

“Oh, well, she is so—so—proud.”

Lizzette laughed. “Elsie! ze cook de votre sœur Madam Mason!”

“Yes, cook, cook, cook!” exclaimed Herbert vehemently. “She’s thrown
that in my face a half-dozen times, and now you do the same. What’s the
matter with all of you?”

“Ze matter ees wiz you, Herbeart. Vot do you care to know ma petite
Elsie?”

“Because she is the most charming person I ever met. You needn’t look so
incredulous. There’s an originality and a sweet womanliness about her
that is exceedingly rare in these days. I suppose I may as well tell you
the whole story of what first attracted me, although I shall enjoin
secrecy upon you,” and thereupon Herbert proceeded to relate the scene
in the parlor which he had witnessed several weeks before. Lizzette’s
enjoyment of the recital was keenly portrayed in her sparkling eyes and
expressive features.

“Oh, zat Elsie!” she exclaimed. “She ees such a witch!”

“A most unapproachable one, too,” answered Herbert. “I had a strong
desire to make her acquaintance after the unconscious revelation I
witnessed, for I felt that it would not hurt a certain conscious
complacency of mine to brush it against the rugged sense and keen satire
of such a nature, and you know, Lizzette, that I don’t care a fig for
the creeds of society. I can recognize a gentleman in the man who drives
my coach, if he exhibits the qualities of one. But your Miss Elsie is
decidedly averse to any advances in that direction. In fact, she has
snubbed me so emphatically that I can’t help thinking she has a personal
dislike for me.”

“Ah, Herbeart, you reason like ze boy. I know Elsie haf ze desire to
please your sister, and Helen! ze hurricane ees no comparison to her
anger eef her only brother should disgrace——”

“Take back that word, Lizzette!” exclaimed Herbert hotly. “Disgrace and
Herbert Lynn never went together, and never will, please God. It is no
disgrace to love—what is beautiful and right.”

Lizzette caught at his words quickly. “Tell me, Herbeart, ees eet only
ze passing fancy, or ze strong man’s love?”

The blood flamed into Herbert’s face as he answered passionately: “Would
to heaven it _was_ only a passing fancy; but I am afraid the ugly truth
is that I’m in love, as it is called, for the first time in my life.”

“C’est triste! C’est triste!” murmured Lizzette. “Helen vill be zo
angry, and eet ees so—so—out of ze right vay.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Herbert. “The right way doesn’t depend upon any
old-world ideas of aristocracy. Were I ten times a King Cophetua, I
should sue my little maid right royally, if there were only a little
less scorn in her eyes. I tell you, Lizzette, there is so much
unhappiness bred in this world by false ideas as to what is due to
position, and there are so many mercenary and loveless marriages, that I
am sick of the whole empty pageant. I cannot see that I am to blame
because I happened to be the only son of a millionaire, nor do I feel
bound to render myself miserable for life to please the whims of those
who enjoin certain obligations upon the possessor of a little inflated
position. As regards Elsie, I’d give a good deal to be able to lift her
out of that drudgery, even if—yes, I’m so far gone as that—I never saw
her again. Can’t you help me to help her, Lizzette?”

“Eet ees all ze grave meestake, Herbeart. Elsie ees so—so vot you call
independent zat she no take von sou in charity. I can see no vay except
you forget her and leave her to her own place. Eet ees often so mooch
meestake to marry beneath von too.”

“That isn’t the question, at least not now. Such gifts as Elsie’s ought
to be put to better use than the making of sauces and salads in Helen’s
kitchen——”

“I take eet you vould not mind eef ze talent vas changed to Herbeart’s
kitchen,” interrupted Lizzette. “Zat ees just like ze man; he want
eferysing to himself.”

“You wouldn’t have found me quite so selfish if you had waited a moment.
I only desire a chance for the best development of Elsie’s gifts. Now I
needn’t appear in this matter, and a few thousand dollars, I’m sure,
couldn’t be more worthily bestowed.”

“Non, non,” said Lizzette with a sober shake of her head. “Elsie guess
in no time, and ze cake be all dough. Not von sou vill she take if she
earn it not. I haf tried her and I know. Zare ees only zis to hope for,
if so be you not forget her: leave her to her place—eet would be von
bitter blow to her to lose it—and trust to ze change in time and
circumstance. Eef some time I sall find zat ze tangle may be made
straight and no hearts break, I vill tell my Herbeart.”

“A dubious promise, considering the view you take of the situation; but
there is one thing you can do. Antoine tells me Elsie is to pay for his
music lessons; let me pay for them, while you put the sum, small as it
is, in the dime savings bank to her account. That will not be charity.”

“Merely a loan zat Antoine sall repay!”

“Oh, certainly! What strict constructionists you and your little circle
are!”

“Eet ees ze old-time construction of self-dependence and respect zat I
haf learned of Margaret and Elsie. Ze self-pride ees wiz zem ze grande
idée.”

“Good doctrine, I’ll admit; but there are times when it is excessively
inconvenient.”

“Such times as mon Herbeart like to play ze philanthropist, eh? Neffer
mind, I feel ze day come ven ze vay vill open for ze help you like to
gif to humanity.”

“But I am decidedly indifferent to humanity in general. My philanthropy
is specific.”

“And goes no more beyond ze rosy cheeks and bright eyes of a pretty
girl! Fie! fie! Herbeart, zose bright eyes transfix you wiz zere scorn
if she know zat. So often I sees zem dimmed wiz tears ovair ze pain, ze
loss, ze trial of ze vide strange vorld. So often she vish for money zat
she might build up ze strength of independence for ze suffering. Ah, you
tink you know ma petite Elsie. Je vous dis, zat she haf ze heart of ze
angel in her breast. L’homme zat vin ze love of ma petite sall take
heaven to his home.”

“Amen,” said Herbert reverently.

“But eet will not be ze selfish heaven; eet sall be so vide as ze earth,
so long as ze life!”

“Lizzette!” exclaimed Herbert with a start. “All this shames me, for I
realize the selfishness of my aims. But let me once win Elsie, and by
all that is sacred I promise to be as wax in her hands.”

Lizzette regarded Herbert’s flushed face with grave eyes. “I tink you
meestake her still. To vin ze spurs and vear zem make ze knight in her
eyes, I fancy.”

“Ah, well, I see you are bound to convince me that the way is difficult;
but I do not despair yet. To tell the truth, it is a new and somewhat
depressing knowledge to learn of how little value Herbert Lynn is in
this world. He always fancied himself quite a personage until he chanced
on your quixotic circle.”

Lizzette’s eyes twinkled. “Eet ees good sometimes to see ourselves in ze
truthful mirror of unflattering eyes. Still I do not tink mon Herbeart
ees all so bad. I haf some fond hope for him yet.”

“It is fortunate that you have; for with the unpleasant truths I’ve been
hearing lately, there is great danger in my finding this world a hollow
mockery and betaking myself to a monastery. But here we are! Now for a
consultation with Dr. M——. We shall know the truth about Antoine’s case
soon, and then, if favorable, we can tell the lad what the future has in
store for him.”

Glancing up, Lizzette saw before her the façade of a large hospital,
into which they were speedily ushered. It did not take long to establish
the fact that so far as could be determined without actual examination
there was hope for Antoine, and it was safe enough to arouse the lad’s
anticipations; a thing which Lizzette had hesitated about doing without
strong presumption of success. A personal examination the following day
gave still greater color to hope, and with glowing anticipations for the
future, it was settled that within two weeks Antoine should take up his
abode for six months at the hospital.

That night Elsie and Antoine held high carnival, and between them there
was a wild commingling of laughter, tears, kisses, and music. Every now
and then Elsie would turn from the organ to print a kiss on the lad’s
pale cheek, and Antoine would throw down fiddle and bow to clasp his
arms around her neck and whisper:

“Only think, Elsie, if it hadn’t been for Herbert all this would never
have happened. Isn’t he good!”



                              CHAPTER XV.


It was the night before Antoine’s departure for the hospital, and
already April breaths were balmy with Southland odors. Through the open
windows of Margaret’s room there floated down to passers-by the
vanishing strains of a deftly-handled violin. Antoine and Elsie were
giving a farewell concert to Margaret’s Busy Fingers Club, and the
strains of music had drawn first one inmate of the house and then
another up the long flights of stairs until the rooms were full. It was
a treat to which the children had long been looking forward, and their
elders found a short surcease of care in the delight and abandon of the
two untrained musicians. Elsie and Antoine were in their gayest mood,
and violin and organ seemed to laugh with them. Like the birds they had
tried to imitate a year ago, music seemed to be innate in their breasts,
and they flung off gay quicksteps, ariettas, and rondos until hands,
feet, and heads of the little audience kept almost unconscious time, and
smiles flitted from face to face in self-forgetfulness.

The music came in fitful gusts through the open windows, and passers-by
paused to listen, seemingly loth to lose a note of the gladness
trembling on the air. Across the street in the shadow of a portico a man
had stood for some time in a listening attitude, and as the music seemed
to grow madder and merrier, a certain restlessness became apparent in
shifting feet, and an uneasy tapping of fingers on the wooden column
against which he leaned.

“Antoine is gay to-night,” he thought. “Hope has been awakened in his
breast, and if it were not that I might seem to be seeking his thanks I
should climb the stairs and make myself known to them. I wonder if my
Lady Scornful would be as unbending to-night as she is within my
sister’s walls! I’m strongly tempted to try her—yet I’m afraid it would
be an unwise thing to do; for as Lizzette counsels, it is best to await
developments. What an extraordinary position this is for me, anyway!
I’ve tried my best to reason it out on one of Helen’s hypotheses, but it
all comes point-blank against the fact that life isn’t worth living
without that little bunch of spitefulness. And, after all, she moves in
an orbit that is distinctly outside of mine and with which, to tell the
truth, I have very little sympathy. She and her sister are charming
types of self-cultured women, and worthy of any man’s or society’s
recognition; but their quixotic notions regarding a regenerated humanity
seem the veriest nonsense to me. Every man for himself—et sauve qui peut
is, as the world makes it, a fairly good doctrine. What is the use of
being burdened with the sins and sorrows of the world? I don’t consider
myself responsible for them or that they would be materially lessened if
I threw away my money in clothing the sans culottes. Such people are as
ragged as ever the next day after your philanthropy, and you are
certainly none the better for it. Indeed, the leaven of generosity, like
that of love, ought to have a narrow circle; it grows too pale if you
widen it. And yet those two slender girls would build up a social
paradise in which the ignoble qualities of humanity have no part. Greed,
avarice, jealousy, insincerity, are entirely eliminated from their
scheme of life. Surely in their position they must have encountered all
these evils, and still they ignore them! They look upon others as
themselves in replica, at least in motive. A natural conclusion, no
doubt, but one the facts do not bear out. One may safely prophesy
regarding the outcome of these Eutopian ideas. There never can be, never
will be, anything but the survival of the fittest. I suppose if Elsie
heard me she would say that the fittest ought to include the majority at
least, and that it is in the hands of the fittest to help the unfit to
become fit. But that is what Christianity has been trying to do all
these years, and still the cry is, ‘save us or we perish.’ These slender
girls, hearing this cry, have offered their empty hands to the
multitude. And the result? Well, from what Lizzette tells me of that
little club of Margaret’s, the outlook is by no means disheartening; but
how will it be as the circle widens? How much of heart and hope—for it
is all they have—will they be able to bring into the work? I rather
imagine that unknown quantity is beyond my arithmetic at present. How
long am I going to be content to let this pathetic little drama go on?
Elsie seems to have locked the door against me in that pitiful plea of
hers not to jeopardize her standing with my sister, and I am more
completely shut out of her sympathies than if I were the beggar at her
door. Even Lizzette shakes that sage head of hers and says it is not
right. Right! what’s wrong about it? If I had a perverted taste and
Elsie was coarse and ignorant, and the chances were all against the
ultimate happiness of such a union, perhaps I might be induced to see my
error. But when did reason ever lend her balances to a man in love? I
always supposed I was sane enough until a certain Miss Elsie Murchison
took to snubbing me; yet here I am, a love-sick boy, mooning outside of
her window, and like Benedick, ‘a college of wit-crackers cannot flout
me out of my humor.’ Dear Lady Disdain, good-night! I’m going home to
read my Shakespeare once more and learn of my prototype how to rail at
and forget you—if I can!”

It was late in the afternoon of the next day, and Margaret sat alone in
her room thinking wistfully of Antoine and the long six months of his
stay at the hospital. The lad had gone cheerfully to the loneliness and
pain before him, never doubting that the glad promise of walking like
other men and awaking to the joy of vigorous life would be fulfilled.
Indeed, his faith was so absolute that it took away much of the pang of
separation, and Margaret and Elsie had choked back unbidden tears and
promised him a weekly visit of long talks and merry times. Books,
violin, and a mandolin, the gift of Herbert, had been sent with his
other belongings, and a daily order for flowers had been left by Herbert
at the florist’s. All that loving hands could do to smooth the painful
path had been done, and now there was nothing left but to hope and wait.
But how they all missed him! The pale quiet face, the great dark eyes,
the loving smile, and the sweet strains of his violin had so entwined
themselves around their hearts that not to find them daily ministers to
their need seemed a sore deprivation. “Elsie’s smile will be more
infrequent now that Antoine is no longer with us,” sighed Margaret. “I
am afraid our loved evenings will be doleful enough without our laddie.
Still there must be the same adherence to duty wherever the lines fall,
and perhaps our progress will be all the more substantial when we
realize that hard work is our only master.”

There was a sudden scurrying of feet up the stairs and several children
burst breathlessly into the room. “O Miss Margaret!” they cried, “just
come and see what some men have done to the new tenant—the one that only
moved in a week ago! They’ve just come and took every bit of furniture,
and the woman is sick, and they took the bed from under her and left her
only a straw tick and a quilt, and she’s crying awful, and the two
little babies are squalling, and—oh! it’s dreadful!”

Margaret quickly followed the children down two flights of stairs, to
find the scene even more pitiable than the children had described. Upon
a thin straw mattress in the corner lay a woman with her face hidden in
her arms, while heart-rending sobs shook her frame from head to feet,
and two little children, as yet only prattling babes, crouched beside
her crying: “Mamma, mamma, look up. Talk to baby. Don’t cry! Mamma!
Mamma!”

Margaret knelt beside the agonized form and softly stroked back the hair
from the face that remained persistently hidden, and then, taking both
of the wondering babies in her lap, said softly to the group of children
at the door: “Now run away, dears, and shut the door.”

The children obeyed instantly, and Margaret remained softly stroking the
woman’s hair and hugging the now quiet babies to her bosom. Under the
soothing influence of Margaret’s touch and presence the violent sobbing
soon ceased, and a tear-stained face, lit up by a pair of hollow eyes,
glanced up at Margaret. One glance caused a sudden transformation in the
convulsed and agonized face, and a thin hand crept out toward Margaret
as the woman said brokenly, but in the unmistakable voice and language
of refinement: “You are good not to pass by on the other side. What made
you come here?”

“Love,” said Margaret simply.

“Love?” repeated the woman interrogatively. “Love died long ago, and the
devils of greed and pride danced at his funeral.”

“Not in all hearts, I trust. Love lives to help and strengthen sufferers
like you. Can you tell me any way to help you?”

“Yes—kill me!” The hollow eyes gleamed with sullen despair.

“And the babies?” asked Margaret as she stroked back the rings of flaxen
hair above the fair little brows.

“Oh, God forgive me! I am so wretched, so desperate.”

“I know it, and I do not blame you; but let us see if there is not some
way toward the sunshine. Tell me all about it.”

“It is only a little to tell. The marriage of a petted, only daughter,
with a head full of romantic notions, to a man whose only fortune was
head and hands; but who held, at the time of my marriage, a salaried
position as manager of a prosperous business firm. A panic, a failure,
and consequent loss of employment, followed by unsuccessful attempts at
re-establishment in the old line, the yielding of health at the shrine
of motherhood, the gradual settling into bare and bitter poverty, the
disposal of every article of value, and that, last resort of the
impecunious, the buying of needed furniture on the instalment plan,
followed by the forcible taking back of the furniture just before the
last payment could be made.”

“And your husband?”

“He went out again this morning in the old, well-nigh hopeless search
for work.”

“Your parents?”

“They live in a distant city and know nothing of this. I married against
their wishes. There were just five dollars more due on the furniture,
but the chattel-mortgage shark exacted immediate payment, and of course
I could not meet it. He was kind enough to leave me this,” and the thin
hands pulled at the tattered quilt.

“Oh, it is pitiful! Shameful!” exclaimed Margaret. “You must not be left
to lie here. Can you walk?”

“I haven’t walked a step in three months. Edward, my husband, has lifted
me in his arms and managed to care for me and the babies. Oh, it is
terrible, the way we have been compelled to live.” And sobs again shook
the slight frame.

“Never mind,” said Margaret soothingly. “It will be better soon. My
rooms are two flights above, so it will be impossible to take you there,
but you shall have a comfortable bedroom and kind friends to look after
you. I shall be compelled to leave you for a few moments, until I can
ask some of these friends to make room for you.”

“Oh, don’t trouble anybody! I can’t bear to be thrown upon charity. It
hurts my pride so.”

“We won’t call it charity; we’ll call it love. The love that prompted
the Samaritan and a greater than he to moisten parched lips with cooling
waters and taught mankind the constant need they have of each other.”

“And do you believe in Him?”

“With an everlasting faith,” answered Margaret.

“I did once until the inhumanity of the world made me doubt.”

“Doubt no longer,” said Margaret, smiling, “for He has raised up succor
for you.” With these reassuring words Margaret sought the rooms of
several good women of the house, to hold counsel with them and determine
the best course to pursue. Margaret’s story evoked such a storm of
indignation and invective against the mortgage shark that, if it could
have gathered sufficient volume, would have swept the whole guild from
the face of the earth. And yet, one and all counselled Margaret not to
meddle with the matter.

“You can’t do nothin’ with ’em. They’ve got the power and they know it,”
was the unanimous conclusion of the little circle.

“But the injustice of it,” exclaimed Margaret. “I can’t stand tamely by
and see a helpless being robbed.”

“No more could we if there was any chance, but you’ll find, the longer
you live, that the poor don’t have no justice in this world. The laws is
all made for the rich.”

“Then it is the fault of the poor man if he has no justice, for he is a
recognized factor in the vote that sends men to make those laws, and if
he knows his rights he can have them maintained.”

“Well, I don’t know how it is, but my man has to vote as the boss tells
him or lose his place.”

“Shame! Shame!” said Margaret indignantly, “and this is America’s
boasted freedom of life and thought! But we are forgetting that poor
woman. Who among you will take her in until something can be done?”

“I,” exclaimed Mrs. Smith, a motherly woman whose rooms were on the same
floor. “We’re a good deal crowded now, but she shan’t lay there and
suffer so long as I have a crust.”

“Let us hope it will be only a temporary inconvenience. I am going to
find some way to unravel this web of injustice and regain possession of
those goods.”

“You’ll have your trouble for your pains,” said Mrs. Smith dubiously as
they walked along the hall.

“It may be, but there will be some satisfaction in trying. Here we are!”
Margaret exclaimed as they entered the sick woman’s room “Now we’ll make
a chair of our hands and between us carry you to Mrs. Smith’s room,
whose heart is as large as her back is broad.”

“You’re making it pretty big,” laughed Mrs. Smith as she presented her
ample form to the sick woman’s view. A faint smile at the pleasantry
played over the wan face, as she allowed them to lift her to the
improvised seat and carry her to a bed.

“Now,” said Margaret, when their charge was safely bestowed between
clean sheets, and the babies were softly cooing on either side of her,
“I want all the information you can give me, and all the papers you have
relative to this furniture. I am going to make an effort to get it
back.”

“You will find an old portfolio in the tick I was lying on. All the
receipts for money paid and the contract are in it.”

As Margaret returned with the portfolio, a sheet of paper fell from it
and fluttered to the floor. She picked it up and was about to restore
it, when the sick woman said: “Read it. It will verify the statement I
made a few moments ago.”

Margaret glanced along the page and saw that it was poetry written in a
free-flowing hand. Seating herself beside the bed she read:

                 “O Soul, I am tired of you, tired!
                   You do nothing but think and feel,
                     And often you weep,
                     In some sensitive deep,
                   O’er wounds that you cannot heal.

                 “O Soul, I am tired of you, tired!
                   You have threaded the paths of life,
                     And found the sweet,
                     Too incomplete
                   To answer the pain and strife.

                 “O Soul, I am tired of you, tired!
                   You give me no peace or rest;
                     The blinding steep,
                     Or lonely deep
                   I walk at your stern behest.

                 “O Soul, I am tired of you, tired!
                   You have only your faith and prayer;
                     For every ill,
                     Their utterance still
                   Comes back on the empty air.

                 “O Soul, I am tired of you, tired!
                   How often with faith and you,
                     I have tried to soar
                     Where doubt is no more,
                   And humanity’s sometimes true.

                 “O Soul, I am tired of you, tired;
                   Why ask for an endless day?
                     I am tired of the light,
                     And long for the night,
                   To rest forever and aye!

                 “O Soul, I am tired of you, tired!
                   Go ask of Time, and find
                     Some quiet spot,
                     Where feeling is not,
                   And oblivion conquers mind!”

As Margaret finished reading she bent over and kissed the white face.
“Is this yours?” she asked.

“Yes, and dozens of others. They have been my safeguard against
insanity. Only when I could go outside of myself, could I find anything
to make the barren life endurable.”

“Have you offered any for publication?”

“No; I have neither stamps nor courage.”

“May I keep this?” asked Margaret, referring to the one she had just
read.

“Certainly, if you like it.”

“I do, very much; and now let me see the contract and receipts.”

Margaret found that the original bill and contract called for one
hundred and fifty dollars, but that the expense of making mortgage and
the interest had been compounded until, although one hundred and
seventy-five dollars had been paid, it still called for a balance of
five dollars, which remaining unpaid, permitted foreclosure and forcible
seizure of the furniture.

“A Shylock’s bond!” exclaimed Margaret indignantly. “It is so manifestly
unjust that I feel sure there is a law somewhere to cover it.”

“We knew at the time the goods were bought that it was an unjust
contract, but we had no money to pay down, and what could we do? It is
just the way the world takes advantage of necessity. The trite maxim
that ‘sentiment and business have nothing in common’ you’ll hear on the
lips of every man in trade.”

“We shall hear how justice agrees with business, then,” said Margaret,
rising. “I should like to put the bitter dose of equitable payment for
these crimes against common humanity, between the teeth of these sharks.
At any rate, if there is no justice for such despicable creatures it is
time it was known.”

“Humanity has a grand defender in you,” said the sick woman, looking
admiringly at Margaret’s flushed cheeks and flashing eyes.

“Not so,” she replied, shaking her head. “I know my weakness and
ignorance too well. I only recognize the truth that the primitive idea
of equal rights seems to have been utterly lost in this avaricious
world. But so long as I have voice I shall speak for it. The good such
speaking may do remains to be seen.”

Margaret went up to her rooms and opened her purse to see how much money
she had at her command. Of the money Dr. Ely had sent, but five dollars
remained. “If worst comes, and I cannot regain the furniture, this will
at least buy them something to eat, and I can loan them Gilbert’s bed
while he takes the lounge, until the way is opened for something better.
Now to find a lawyer in whose hands to put the case.”

Once on the street, Margaret realized that in all the great city she
knew no one to whom she might apply for advice. She wandered down toward
the business part of the city, intently scanning signs and inwardly
praying that she might be directed to some one who, with the profession
of lawyer, combined the outlawed sentiment of humanity. “J. Brown,
Attorney,” glittered in gilt letters before her, and up the two tall
flights of stairs she followed the beckoning sign. A gentle rap,
answered by a gruff “Come in!” and the room of J. Brown, Attorney,
opened to her view.

“Is Mr. Brown in?”

“I am he. What can I do for you, madam?”

“I desire advice on a matter of business.”

“Ah, be seated, please. You may state your case.”

Margaret lost no time in doing so, relating the pitiful story with such
succinct detail that the lawyer beamed at her with evident admiration.

“Very well stated, madam—very well, indeed. Are these people in any way
related to you?”

“They are entire strangers.”

“And you have taken up their case from pure charity?”

“From pure humanity, rather; as, indeed, I would that another should do
for me.”

“Very admirable of you, indeed; but you are doubtless aware that it
takes money even to champion the cause of humanity.”

“I am,” said Margaret briefly, though with sinking heart.

“Then you will readily see that I can give you no advice on this matter
without cash in hand.”

“How much does it require?”

“In consideration of circumstances, I’ll make it merely nominal. Say
five dollars!”

Margaret arose to her feet somewhat unsteadily. “I have but five dollars
in my purse, sir,” she explained, “and I shall need it to buy food for
the sick woman. I shall be compelled to look further.”

“As you like,” and J. Brown, Attorney, stiffly turned his back on
Margaret and returned only a slight acknowledgment of her faint
“Good-afternoon.” Somewhat depressed by this encounter, Margaret
wandered on and entered no less than six offices, to be met with very
nearly the same treatment in every case, and the identical result in
all. “The cause of humanity cannot be championed without money!”

These words seemed burned in on Margaret’s brain as she left the last of
these offices and stood irresolute and disheartened upon the sidewalk.
How could she take the story of failure back to that suffering woman?
How could she bear to tell her that the promised succor was only a
chimera of her own quixotic brain? “I’ll not do it,” she said
resolutely. “I’ll go tell that little sister of mine, and though I know
her purse is always low, perhaps her fertile brain may suggest what my
own stupefied one fails to apprehend.”

Margaret was coming up the area steps of the Mason mansion with her
purse reinforced by two dollars, the entire contents of Elsie’s
pocketbook, when she encountered Herbert Lynn just descending from his
buggy.

“Miss Murchison, I’m delighted to meet you once again,” he exclaimed as
with smiling face he advanced to greet her. There were tears on
Margaret’s cheeks and trembling on the heavily-fringed lids of the blue
eyes. “Pardon me,” he cried solicitously. “You are in trouble.” Margaret
hastily brushed the tears away as she answered:

“Only a little overwrought. I’ve been passing through some trying scenes
to-day.”

“You were going home? Let me take you there. Fortunately my buggy is
just at hand.”

“Thank you! I’m not going home at present. I have some purchases to
make, and I do not like to detain you.”

“I have ample leisure, and it will be a new sensation to be of some use.
I beg you to command my services.”

Margaret glanced up curiously at the eager, almost boyish, face.
“Perhaps if I were to tell you my errand you would not be so ready to
offer your services. It is not pleasant to one who cares for his own
peace of mind.”

Herbert laughed. “I shall insist now where before I begged. Perhaps my
own peace of mind will be all the dearer by contrast.”

“If you insist I accept gratefully; for the truth is, my self-reliance
is a good deal shaken.”

When they were seated in the buggy and driving leisurely along the
boulevard, Margaret said: “I am glad I have met you, for I have a story
to tell and advice to ask.” Without further prelude she detailed the
events of the day. Herbert listened attentively until the whole story
had been told, and then, with a new look of earnestness on his face, he
exclaimed emphatically:

“Miss Murchison, if there are brains enough in C——, this dastardly
outrage shall be probed to the bottom. It is enough to make a man’s
blood boil to think of the injuries inflicted on suffering women and
children by such overpowering greed. But,” he added, glancing at his
watch, “it is five o’clock and already past office hours. Nothing can be
done until to-morrow. If you will trust me with these papers, I will
make an early effort to-morrow to regain the furniture. In the mean
time, allow me to supply a bed and immediate necessaries for the
sufferers.”

“That will not be needed,” interposed Margaret. “I have a bed of
Gilbert’s which I can loan them——”

“And turn the poor fellow onto the floor!” interrupted Herbert. “That is
philanthropy gone mad, Miss Murchison. I shall insist upon supplying the
bed.”

“I am perfectly sane, Mr. Lynn,” laughed Margaret, “and contemplate
nothing worse than asking Gilbert to occupy a lounge.”

“We’ll forestall that by the purchase of a bed. Now that you’ve taken me
into partnership, you must not deny me my rights.”

“Not if you look upon it in that light,” said Margaret seriously. “Still
I should regret it, if it seemed a charity that was forced upon you.”

“You would rather inconvenience yourself than ask a favor of one whom
you knew to be perfectly able to grant it?”

“I should, if I thought the favor would be bestowed as a mere matter of
form, without the promptings of a generous spirit.”

“‘The gift without the giver is vain,’” quoted Herbert musingly. “You
can trust the spirit this time, Miss Murchison,” he added, with a half
smile. “It has lighted its torch at your altar.”

“Thank you,” replied Margaret gratefully, “but only for the time being,
I am sure. The embers are glowing on the home shrine.”

“Belief from such a source is most highly treasured,” commented Herbert
smilingly. “Now that you have complimented me so generously, perhaps you
will tell me what I must do to deserve it.”

“Buy the bedstead,” said Margaret dryly.

“To hear is to obey,” and putting whip to his horse, Herbert soon drew
up before a down-town furniture store, where bedstead and clothing were
purchased and dispatched on their way. A huge basket of provisions was
next procured and stowed away in the buggy, while Margaret carried a
smaller one of fruit.

“Let me carry these to your room,” said Herbert as they drew up before
Margaret’s home. “You are to be sole almoner, for I beg you not to let
my name appear in the transaction.”

“I shall be compelled to,” said Margaret, “if only as the mythical great
and good man of all such works of charity. I could not truthfully bear
the burden of so much generosity.”

“Paint me as glowingly as you please, if only you give me no local
habitation or name.”

“Your wish shall be respected. Will my presence be necessary to-morrow?”

“No, I can save you all further trouble. And now good-night, and thank
you for having given me a few genuinely happy hours.”



                              CHAPTER XVI.


“Well, we’ve won!” exclaimed Herbert the next day as, having mounted the
stairs two at a time, he thrust his head into Margaret’s open door. “The
men are putting the furniture into the room, and I’ve a little sop in
the way of damages,” and he drew from his pocketbook a bank-note for ten
dollars and laid it in Margaret’s lap.

She looked at it dubiously. “Oh, it is honest,” he laughed; “there’s no
taint of charity about it. Such high-handed crimes against justice must
be made to suffer the penalty. It has set me to thinking, too, that it
is time something was done toward establishing justice for these
helpless poor. Why, the case would never have been won if I had not
employed some of the best talent in the city.”

“And that, of course, is costly.”

“Of course; often more than the little sum in question. By the way, have
you seen the head of this distressed family down-stairs?”

“I saw him for a few moments last night. He seems to be a gentleman in
bearing and acquirements, but he wears a depressed, hopeless expression
and a listless, half-hearted manner, that I can see are a constant thorn
in the side of his more energetic, if enfeebled, wife.”

“Well, no wonder, if half the story she tells is true. This seems to me
a case of genuine humanity; one that appeals directly to a man’s soul if
he has one. That man ought to be given work.”

“True, but he says he has sought for it far and wide.”

“I don’t think he need seek any further. I have a friend who is a
wholesale grocer down on S—— W—— Street, and in relating the story to
him, he offered the position of porter at eight dollars a week. Not a
munificent salary, certainly, but a good deal better than nothing.”

“Oh, I am so glad!” exclaimed Margaret. “And how happy that poor wife
will be. I’ve grown very much interested in her, for the reason that
such an ambitious spirit seems to dwell within the enfeebled body. How
terrible it is when body and spirit are so at odds!”

“Terrible indeed! I really hope the good news of a place for her husband
will act as a tonic. I leave the matter entirely in your hands and
empower you to deliver the message.”

“I will go now, if you will excuse me. I am in a hurry to tell the good
news.”

“Oh, certainly! Never mind me.”

Margaret returned with a dismayed and crestfallen countenance. “He
refuses it!” she exclaimed breathlessly as she sank into a chair.
Herbert gave a long low whistle, and elevated his eyebrows in a cynical
grimace that was not at all becoming.

“I am ashamed to tell you his reason,” Margaret went on. “It seems so
trivial under the circumstances. He says he is fitted for higher work,
and, in short, cannot accept such ungenteel employment.”

“Well, that settles the Hon. Edward Carson, Esq.,” said Herbert briskly.
“I shall waste no more sympathy on him.”

“But the poor wife,” said Margaret, the tears standing in her eyes. “It
was pitiful to see the look she gave him and hear her voice as she urged
his acceptance of the place. ‘Anything is better than starving,’ she
cried. ‘And perhaps you can work up to a better place; I am sure you can
when your employers learn your fidelity and trustworthiness;’ but her
entreaties were useless. He was stubborn with that white determination
of an iron will. Neither the poor woman’s tears nor prayers had any
visible effect upon him.”

“What does the fellow intend to do?”

“Oh, he has some little peddling devices, out of which, I believe, he
expects to realize the fortune of a Vanderbilt in a short time. In fact,
he informed me that he considered himself fully equal to managing his
own affairs.”

“He has proved it. Well, Miss Margaret, this only strengthens my belief
in the folly of attempting to help such incapables.”

“But think how the innocent suffer with the guilty! Think of the sick
wife and the helpless babies! Because the man is stubborn and
ill-natured, must those who are dependent on him be left to starve?”

“It seems a hard doctrine, born of that old pagan idea of brute force;
but I sometimes question if it would not be the shortest way of ridding
the world of its great army of incapables. Don’t look so horrified, at
least until I have finished. Take this unfortunate woman, delicately
reared, educated, refined, sensitive; charity is, no doubt, nearly as
offensive to her as starvation. Such people are proud of their
independence of character, and what can she hope for in a future that
sees only the hand of charity between her and the grave? The helping
hand in an extremity like this is different from a bounty that must be a
continued obligation.”

“Looking at the question from her standpoint, perhaps you are right; but
in looking at it from ours, I think you are wrong.”

“There’s the rub! These ethical questions demand some other solution
than expediency.”

“Christianity alone can solve them, as indeed it is the only true
solution of all the great questions of the world. The simple truth that
we are our brother’s keeper acknowledged by mankind would be an easy
method of settling this omnipresent and embittering war between labor
and capital.”

“A method the world has been slow to accept.”

“In one sense, perhaps, but as we view the long night of darkness and
degradation before the coming of Christ, we can only marvel at the
progress that has been made in less than two thousand years. Some day in
God’s great harmonies we shall hear the rhythmic heart-beats of an
altruistic faith, binding the whole world together in a common
brotherhood.”

“And you are doing your best to strike a note in that great harmony?”

“With Mr. Lynn’s help,” laughed Margaret. “He is going to advise me how
to assist that suffering and unfortunate woman down-stairs.”

“Impossible! He can only be the humble tool in your wiser hands.
However, I’ve been wise enough to think she ought to be put under the
care of a physician. That can be safely managed through you, as indeed
can all delicate commissions.”

“Thanks,” said Margaret. “I always try to put myself in the sufferer’s
place, as I have known what it was to need help, and be grateful for
it.”

“When my hour of tribulation comes, may I have just such a ministering
angel!” exclaimed Herbert warmly.

“Tribulation and the prosperous Mr. Lynn are a singular and almost
unlooked-for conjunction.”

“A man may have a great deal and yet want more. In fact, if he owns the
earth he usually wants the moon, or something equally impossible.”

“Is that one of your longings?”

“No; mine is more sublunary, if you will permit a pun so atrocious. The
truth is there’s another Galatea in whose marble veins I should like to
see the warm blood of feeling run. My presence always seems to congeal
the red current that glows for others.”

“You speak in enigmas.”

“Just now, perhaps; but by-and-by you will understand. By the way, there
is one intense longing you can gratify. May I drop in some time to one
of those charming ‘evenings’ Lizzette and Antoine have described to me?
I have a sincere desire to consider myself a beneficiary.”

“I am afraid I should say ‘no,’ if I did not begin to realize a little
the earnestness of your nature. We are sensitive to our shortcomings.”

“An equal sensitiveness inspires me with the desire to find a motive as
admirable as that which actuates your little coterie. Besides—I suppose
I may as well be honest, since you will be sure to find me out—I play
the violin a little myself, and would be most happy occasionally to
supply Antoine’s vacant niche, provided your sister could be prevailed
upon to accompany me.”

A new light dawned upon Margaret as she watched the boyish blush that
mounted to Herbert’s brow. “And so you have already found out what an
uncertain quantity my little sister is?”

“As regards your humble servant, she has been a profound certainty. A
block of ice could not have been a colder reality,” answered Herbert
with a rueful smile.

Margaret’s face grew suddenly thoughtful, but after a moment’s
hesitation she said bravely:

“I believe there are times when only the truth should be spoken
regardless of conventionality. For my own part, Mr. Lynn, I like you
exceedingly, and should gladly welcome you to our little circle; but my
little sister is young, beautiful as you know, imaginative, sensitive,
and—well, is it not best under the circumstances, which you so well
understand, that she should continue a cold reality to you?”

“No!” exclaimed Herbert emphatically, as he sprang to his feet and
placed a hand on the back of Margaret’s chair. “I am no cowardly
trifler, and I have an honest admiration for Elsie that has a right to
crave its legitimate outlet. I ask only a fair field.”

Glancing up at the earnest, flushed face, Margaret smiled as she rose
and laid her hand on his. “You shall have it,” she said. “Bring your
violin and be your own propitiation. I never interfere in matters of
this kind.”

Herbert raised Margaret’s hand to his lips, and murmuring something
wholly unintelligible, he snatched his hat and left the room. Margaret
sat long buried in thought after he had left her. Elsie’s doubts and
misgivings in no way troubled her. Love in her eyes was too sacred and
too rare to hamper it with the chains of caste or clothe it in false
conventionality. But until now the thought of love and Elsie had not
come to her except in the vague sometime that comes to all women. Elsie
was so young, so inexperienced, yet, strange as it seemed, so wise. She
had looked apprehensively upon the volatile nature, fearful that its
buoyant wings would be sadly singed in the candle of life. Yet by
Herbert’s own confession the little maid had been as wise in her
demeanor as if whole generations of elder sisters had stood sponsor for
every utterance. “I am glad,” she sighed tremulously, with that sweet
enjoyment of love which all women have. “I could not be better pleased
if the selection had been my own; but I mistrust that little sister of
mine will lead him a wild dance before she surrenders, if she ever does.
There are graver thoughts in that young head than I ever dreamed of. But
all I can say is, God speed an honest love!”

An hour later Margaret was on the street, intent upon a purpose which
had been gaining strength ever since the invalid, Mrs. Carson, had given
her the poem she had read at her bedside. There seemed to Margaret to be
too much merit in the poem to forego the effort to find for it, not only
publication, but pay. Margaret had become strongly possessed of the
primitive idea that the laborer is worthy of his hire, and that merit
had the right to demand recognition. Her contact with life had so far
been so simple and direct that the complexities governing man’s progress
had only just begun to confront her. It was, therefore, with the bravery
born of ignorance that she entered several editorial sanctums connected
with the various leading papers and periodicals of the great city and
offered the poem for inspection. The contemptuous glances, and decided
snubs she received, disturbed her equanimity rather than her purpose;
although if the matter had been a purely personal one, literary ambition
would have met instant death in these encounters. But Margaret’s
strength was always greater for others than for herself, and not until
she had exhausted all avenues did she intend to turn back. Finally in
the eleventh venture she encountered an editor who, listening to her
story and becoming interested, volunteered the information that the poem
had merit and was worthy of remuneration. A check for five dollars
gladdened Margaret’s heart, and her smiles and expressions of gratitude
must have made a bit of sunshine in the soul of a just man. Margaret
hurried home, her face glowing with happiness, and hastening into the
invalid’s room, produced the check with infinite satisfaction. There was
no answer, but a pair of thin arms reached up and clasped Margaret’s
neck, while sobs and tears contended for the mastery. Margaret waited
until the storm had subsided and then said gently: “You will have a
chance now to turn your talent to account.”

“What an angel you are! Sent by the God whom I doubted! How can I ever
repay it all?”

“By reawakening a slumbering faith, getting well, and working
cheerfully,” and with a kiss upon the invalid’s agitated lips, Margaret
went up to her rooms.



                             CHAPTER XVII.


One evening, a week after Antoine’s departure for the hospital, Elsie
sat at the organ, idly picking out the melody of several of his favorite
airs and dreamily wishing the lad could be with them once again.
Margaret was busied over her books, and Lizzette, who was with them for
the night, was knitting the stocking that always grew but never seemed
finished, and Gilbert was putting some decorative touches upon a small
medicine cabinet. Suddenly Herbert Lynn appeared in the open doorway,
his arms filled with books and a violin case in one hand.

Elsie arose from her seat as the others greeted him, and stood with her
slight figure as erect and indignant as her mutinous spirit could make
it. Herbert turned toward her. “I am here by permission of high
authority,” he laughed, glancing at Margaret. “I have no apology to make
this time.”

“My sister’s guests are always welcome,” said Elsie icily, as she sank
upon the piano stool and industriously undertook to rearrange several
sheets of disordered music.

Herbert made no reply, but stood composedly watching the trembling
fingers and the swiftly-mounting blushes on the fair face.

“You are nervous,” he said at last. “Let me do that for you. I am
delightfully calm.”

Something in the exasperatingly cool tones made Elsie glance up, and
then as quickly glance down again.

“It is useless to keep on the defensive any longer,” Herbert resumed as
he coolly took the sheets of music from her. “I’ve come to beg a truce.”

“And have you forgotten all I said?”

“Not altogether; but I am of a forgiving disposition.”

“You forgive very easily, it seems to me,” said Elsie haughtily.

“Sometimes, and one of these times is when a spiteful little girl says
things she doesn’t mean.”

Elsie tried hard to keep a sober face, but Herbert’s good-nature was
irresistible, and the corners of her mouth relaxed in a smile as she
looked up and asked: “What occult wisdom taught you she didn’t mean
them?”

“The science of physiognomy, if there is such a science. A face that is
all sunshine for others cannot surely mean to keep all its
thunder-clouds for an inoffensive young man like me.”

“Some people attract lightning,” exclaimed Elsie mischievously.

“By reason of superior magnetism, it is to be presumed. Thanks!”

At this juncture Lizzette came up with the violin case in her hand.
“Herbeart, zis ees ze reminder de mon petit Antoine. Let me hear ze
fiddle speak again.”

“Willingly, if Miss Elsie will accompany me.”

Elsie looked up, mutinous still; but meeting Herbert’s eyes, defiance
gave its last gasp as she said under her breath: “You are an arch
conspirator. I suppose there is nothing left for me but submissiveness.”

Herbert’s blonde head bent low over the pile of music he was ostensibly
examining as he whispered: “You shall see how generously I can conspire.
Trust me to be magnanimous.”

Elsie’s nimble tongue was silent, and a sudden wave of intoxication
seemed to sway her back and forth in a rarefied atmosphere where
breathing was impossible. When at last she dared to glance again at
Herbert, he was tuning his violin with such a look of beatific
contentment on his face that pent-up feeling, on the perilous edge of a
tear, seized the other alternative and burst into laughter. With
instinctive quickness she dashed into a noisy jig on the organ, and by
the time she dared to glance apprehensively around, Herbert had selected
the piece of music and was striking its key-note on the violin. Elsie
played very badly that night, and Herbert was several times obliged to
point out little mistakes and make corrections with all the gravity of a
professional music master. But the tumult in her veins rose higher and
higher, and with a sudden crash on the keys the music came to a stop.
Glancing down at the perturbed face, Herbert turned to the others:

“My violin is evidently not Antoine’s and Miss Elsie looks tired. Have
you examined the new books, Miss Murchison? There is one on sociology,
by Sir Lyon Playfair, I thought might interest you. And there is
Henderson’s ‘History of Music,’ the ‘Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff,’
‘The Three Germanies,’ and two or three newly-issued volumes of poetry
by Meredith, Lover, and others. I thought before I dipped into them I
should like your opinion.”

While Margaret, Lizzette, Gilbert, and Herbert were discussing the new
books, Elsie slipped away, too perturbed to do anything but throw
herself on the bed and cry. Just why she cried it would have been
difficult for her to tell. But she did not try to tell; she only knew,
like all volcanic natures, that safety and reason lay in a copious burst
of tears. Half an hour later she presented herself in the sitting-room,
her old, calm, smiling self.

“Now that the ice is broken I shall hope I may come often,” said Herbert
as he bade them good-night. And saucy Elsie had no retort ready.

The summer wore into early autumn with busy days and brightening
prospects for our little circle. Antoine was making slow but evidently
sure progress at the hospital, and was hopeful and happy at the Sunday
receptions of the friends who clustered around him. Lizzette beamed with
joy and gratitude and seemed to have thrown discretion to the winds in
the praises of Herbert which she constantly chanted in Elsie’s ears. The
treaty of peace to which Elsie had so unwillingly committed herself had,
after all, been a very simple affair. Herbert had been generous, as he
promised, and beyond occasional evenings together over violin and organ,
at which Elsie was learning to acquit herself with greater credit than
on their first venture, they did not often meet. Contrary to her usual
custom, Helen Mason had not closed her city home for the summer.
Herbert, much to her chagrin, refused to seek the seashore, and with
wise forethought, as she fancied, she filled her house with gay company.
Among the guests was a certain Miss Alice Houghton, who, an orphan and
the sole possessor of great wealth, lived, together with a duenna aunt,
at one of the great family hotels in the city. She was a tall,
fine-looking, well-bred girl of twenty-three or twenty-four. Her
distinguishing characteristic was an air of pronounced weariness, that
reminded one vividly of Young’s “Languid Lady.” It was a difficult
matter to interest her in anything, yet her attention once caught, her
face would light up with unusual intelligence and animation. Herbert at
first regarded her simply as an exponent of the system of purposeless
education which is bestowed upon the average society girl; but after
several weeks of acquaintance he became convinced that a secret grief
was preying upon her. He was consequently not greatly surprised when he
found her one morning in late summer in the drawing-room, with a ghastly
look of horror on her face as she clutched a newspaper and read the
head-lines concerning a sensational suicide of a fast young man about
town in one of the gambling hells of the city.

“My husband!” she gasped, pointing to the head-lines and then lapsed
into insensibility.

Elsie was on her way to her morning conference with her mistress when
she encountered Herbert, pale and distracted, with the limp burden in
his arms, calling wildly for Helen. There was no time for explanations
as Helen Mason ran quickly down the stairs, and Elsie returned to her
work with a clouded face and defiant air that did not escape Herbert’s
notice. The story of Alice Houghton’s life was soon told to the two
sympathetic friends. A marriage, secret at first from mere caprice, but
afterward guarded because of shame, to a handsome but dissipated and
entirely characterless man of fashion, who, having spent his own and a
considerable portion of his wife’s fortune at the gambling table, had
deliberately shot himself rather than face the consequences of his evil
deeds. The story never became known beyond the three or four
sympathizers within the Mason household, and the death of a relative
furnished ample excuse for the deep mourning and grief-stricken air with
which the young widow again faced the world. Herbert was very kind and
attentive to her in the early days of her grief, and in consequence his
sister drew some exceedingly flattering pictures as to his future.

With Margaret the summer had been productive of much good. The little
leaven of her kindly nature and generous deeds had permeated the whole
tenement-house and extended even beyond it in sundry additions to her
Busy Fingers Club. She was idolized by the children of the neighborhood,
who hailed her as the patron saint of all their little schemes and
ambitions. Under her fostering care and that of the physician which
Herbert had ordered, the invalid, Mrs. Carson, was slowly gaining her
health and some slight encouragement in her literary ventures. There was
a cloud, however, hovering in Margaret’s sky. Gilbert, who had already
reached a man’s stature, had acquired as well a man’s independence, and
had taken to absenting himself from home evenings, much to the annoyance
of both sisters. It had been his custom during the spring and summer to
go for Elsie and bring her home for the night, and there had been a
substantial progress made in their studies in consequence. Of late,
however, Elsie had found herself dependent for escort upon the
good-natured William, who had shown himself only too happy to be of use
to her, and had grown alarmingly confidential as a result. This state of
William’s mind being duly imparted to Margaret, she had resolved to
forestall trouble by insisting upon Gilbert’s usual attendance on his
sister. But the lad was sullen and unresponsive when she broached the
subject, and when night came he put on his hat and went away without a
word. Margaret brooded for some time over Gilbert’s changed demeanor,
and with a feeling of impending trouble which it is so often impossible
to resist, she dressed herself for the street and went out, resolved to
discover the places he frequented most. Fortune favored her, for at Mrs.
Carson’s door she learned that Gilbert and Mr. Carson had held a
discussion about a meeting of some kind which they were to attend that
evening at Harmonie Hall. The nature of the meeting the invalid did not
know, but she imagined it was semi-political in character, as she had
found that her husband had become interested of late in municipal
politics. There had been strange mutterings in the air for some time
among the inmates of the tenement-house, and Margaret’s heart instantly
took the alarm. What had Gilbert, a minor, to do with municipal politics
and this spirit of discontent that she could but notice among the
laborers with whom she lived? The great strife between labor and capital
had never come actively home to Margaret. Indeed, so simple had seemed
its solution to her upon the broad basis of brotherly love and active
Christianity, that she had worked on quietly, hopefully, in the firm
faith that she was only one of millions of like factors in once more
establishing the kingdom of Christ. Like one who watches the battle from
the hill-top, she believed the contending forces were only seeking their
way up to the clear sunshine. It was, therefore, with something like
consternation that she found herself among the disorderly crowd in the
hall. Here and there little groups of men and women were noisily
discussing various topics and paying only occasional attention to the
speaker, a swarthy, wild-eyed woman, who was shouting in a shrill,
rasping voice the most astounding ideas that had ever greeted Margaret’s
ears. Drawn by curiosity as well as interest, she quietly worked her way
up to a position near the platform and sank into a seat to listen.

“Talk about freedom,” yelled the speaker, waving her long thin arms like
a revolving windmill. “I tell you we are slaves—handcuffed, manacled,
abject slaves.” This assertion brought a round of applause. “Talk about
the great American eagle—it is only a superannuated old crow that lets
its blind followers go where the witches dance on the point of a
needle.” This witticism provoked a loud guffaw of approval from the
crowd. “I tell you, men, what we want is to preach the gospel of
discontent. We want every one of you, all thinking people, to be
anarchists. We don’t believe in statutory law; we don’t want any law but
natural law.”

“Hear! Hear!” came in shrill calls from various parts of the room.

“But you say,” resumed the speaker, “that anarchy is disreputable. That
is just what we want it to be. We want to find the gospel of discontent
in the gutters. We don’t want to be reputable, and I thank God that I am
absolutely disreputable. We leave respectability for the Christian
capitalist, the slave-driver, the monopolist. Why, a man cannot be a
Christian anarchist, because anarchy is only of the earth. The only
class of people who can regulate this dismal condition of society, at
which so many are just now trying their hands, are the anarchists. Think
of it: the telegraphs in this country are owned by one man, the
railroads by sixty families, and into the hands of the few is fast being
gathered the country’s wealth. Impracticable dreamers propose to remedy
this evil by making the state or nation responsible, but the anarchist
says no, he doesn’t want any interference, for he has had too much of
it. The state resorts to armed force. If we want liberty, there is no
other way to get it but to do as the state does and resort to armed
force.”

The speaker sat down amid a great wave of applause, and Margaret shrank
back in her seat with her cheeks burning and eyes flashing with
indignation. A man with long black hair and ragged beard next occupied
the platform, and held forth on the cruelty of the bloated capitalists
and a monopolistic press.

“Why, all attempts at pacification,” he cried, “are dead failures.
Monopolists are more arrogant, trades unions more bitter than ever.
‘Give us more wages,’ we cry; ‘We’ll give you less,’ they say. ‘We don’t
want to work so many hours a day,’ we respond; ‘You shall have more,’
they answer. ‘We won’t work under such conditions,’ we declare; ‘Then
starve,’ they hiss. Do you know there are over three millions of
workingmen who are crying all this? And the capitalists ask: ‘What are
you going to do about it?’ We’ll show them what we’ll do about it. Let
them beware! Let them remember the dark days of the French Revolution,
and note how many patrician heads went under the axe because the rabble
like us—the sans culottes like us, if you please—went crying for bread,
and when they couldn’t have bread they cried for blood and had it. Why,
men, this is the greatest war of history. It is a war not of countries,
but of the globe, and the two great forces, the very rich and the very
poor, those bonded slaves of an arrogant aristocracy, are closing in
upon each other. As yet it is a bloodless strife; but let them beware, I
say, let them beware! This trouble will never cry itself to sleep. There
are too many mighty passions surging through the bosoms of outraged and
insulted beings. There are too many hungry wives and freezing children.
From the Bastile to the portals of this hall stalks a long line of
menacing ghosts, who with pointing fingers demand that the cause for
which they died shall yet be made triumphant. Blind is he who cannot see
that the edicts of society are crushing to the wall the helpless
toilers, the unfortunate women and innocent children of this world.
Blind is he who looks upon the cruelties indorsed by capital without
rising in righteous indignation to echo the cry that rings along the
line, ‘Down with the aristocracy!’ It is a lie that all men have an
equal chance in this world; I tell you the competition is unequal and
capital forces the issue. Success! success! is the Moloch of the world’s
worship, and into its ravenous maw you and I and every one of the
toilers feed daily the writhing bodies of wives and children. It is
feasting on the putrid carcasses that are crushed under its triumphal
car. And all the while there is wealth enough in this world for every
man to have and to spare. I tell you, fellow-mortals, the torch and the
shotgun, the bomb and the bludgeon, are as much for the toiler as the
blue-coated minions of the law.”

The man took his seat on the rear of the platform amid the wildest
cheers, and Margaret watched the eagle-like face and the trembling,
attenuated form with more than usual interest. There had been many
grains of truth in his wild harangue, and they had inspired her
conservative breast with an enthusiastic desire to behold the wide gulf,
between the two great opposing forces of the world, narrowed down to the
line of arbitration and adjustment, to which all such questions must
finally come. But she shuddered with horror at the sanguinary battle
which the speaker’s inflammatory words had conjured. A second French
revolution, intolerably bitterer, bloodier, more wide-spread than its
prototype! God forbid! There was just then a call from the chairman for
volunteer speakers, and Margaret’s eyes became stony in their wonder and
terror, as she saw Gilbert rise from his seat and advance to the front
of the platform. Tall, lithe, like a young sapling, with a wealth of
dark hair pushed back from a high, straight brow, piercing dark eyes, a
square, firmly-set mouth and chin, and fine thin nostrils expanding with
the fire of enthusiasm, he stood before them all. For the first time in
her life Margaret realized the singular beauty and magnetism of the
boy’s presence. To her he had been always only Gilbert, to be watched
over and taken care of with a mother’s unfailing forethought. Now she
saw, with a bitter wrenching of her heart-strings, that the chrysalis
had burst and her lad had gone away forever. Before her stood the man
Gilbert, on whose utterances she hung in breathless apprehension. There
was something almost wonderful in the boy’s self-possession as he stood
and gazed the noisy crowd into curious silence.

“Friends and brother toilers,” he began in a rich, sonorous voice that
filled the hall. “You have called for volunteer talks, and although I am
not yet fully come to man’s estate, the impulse to speak is too strong
to be resisted. It is time that something was done to lift this burden
under which we are groaning, and yet it is the old, old question that
for thousands of years before Christ oppressed the bondsmen of the
earth. How long, O Lord, how long, before this world shall see the
fruition of the mighty labors of the millions who have gone down to
death for the good of their brothers? How long before vengeance shall
overtake the insatiable greed of capital, which has no more care for the
toiler in its grasp than the tiger in the jungle for the man he has
smitten with his paw? What is it to capital that labor goes unshod, to
the well-fed gourmand that the slave who serves him is starving for the
crust he despises? What does the capitalist care for the wails of woe
that go up from thousands of infantile throats, for the shiverings of
the naked wretches at his door, so that piled higher and higher in his
safes he sees the gold these wretched toilers have wrested from the
mighty bowels of the earth? Who cares for the wretched twenty-four
thousand souls that live in one precinct in this great and
wealth-rolling city, within a compass of two small blocks? Who cares for
the nobodies that live in hovels where the water from the street pours
in on the floors, and where sixty or seventy people live in eight or ten
rooms and exhibit the morality of the dogs they represent? What
millionaire philanthropist goes down into his pocket to pay his men
living wages, so that the poverty which shames old-country degradation
need not be re-enacted here? Where is the churchman who, giving largely
to conspicuous charities, would be willing to turn that charity into
specific help in business to the man or men who do his bidding? It is
only a few years back that the ‘boss’ worked at the same bench with his
men. Now this is all changed. Now he has his elegant office, his
carriage, his fine attire; but the workmen show no such advance in
prosperity. They work for even less wages, wear the same cheap clothing,
and toil just as many hours as when they and the ‘boss’ were co-workers.
What has wrought this change? What has made these conditions possible? I
will tell you. It is governmental aid. It is because the government has
fostered the schemes of the rich man and made him a ward of the nation.
But it is unjust, and a relic of the old feudality that the government
should recognize one son to the exclusion of the others equally
well-born, and equally deserving. On this principle, therefore, we
demand that we be made wards of the nation. We demand a distributive
justice, by pacific means if possible, and if not, then by a retributive
justice, by force of arms——”

“Gilbert! Gilbert!”

A hand laid on the lad’s shoulder caused him to turn in wonder and
confusion to meet Margaret’s pleading face and terror-stricken eyes.

“You are wrong, Gilbert,” she cried earnestly. “Wrong! wrong! You must
not incite to violence. Just see what turbulent elements are before
you!”

There had come an instant hush with her appearance on the platform; men
and women had risen to their feet and were peering curiously at the two.
Flushed, trembling, intoxicated with enthusiasm, Gilbert cried: “But the
terrible wrongs of the poor! You know what they are—you who toil for a
daily pittance! They must be avenged!”

“But not in the way you indicate. Not by bloodshed or violence. See! we
are attracting attention! Will you let me speak for you?”

For a moment resentment gleamed in Gilbert’s eyes, and then, as he
glanced at Margaret’s uplifted earnest face, he answered: “Yes, correct
me if I am wrong. God speed you!”

Gilbert sank back into a chair, his eyes intently fixed upon his
sister’s face as she advanced to the front of the platform and stood
looking out upon the sea of wondering faces.

“Friends,” she began in a low voice, “I have a story to tell you. The
lad who has just addressed you is my brother. For seven years I have
been mother, counsellor, friend to him. I promised his dying father to
watch over him with unremitting vigilance until his feet should be
firmly set in the paths of upright manhood. That father was a man who
believed in and practiced the doctrine of the universal brotherhood of
man. He recognized not that all men are created equal mentally and
physically, for that is a manifest absurdity, but that there is a
principle underneath all conditions of society calling for the respect,
veneration, and love of man as man. We must respect humanity in all its
phases, and there is no right, divine or earthly, that permits us to
cripple it, enslave it, or destroy it. This idea was one of his ardent
beliefs; but it would have cut his gentle heart to the quick to know
that his son would ever be misled into uttering words that could in any
way incite to violence or wrong-doing. I have listened to-night to words
that made my heart bleed; not only for the evils afflicting labor, not
only for the misguided ideas of the so-called upper classes, but for the
deeper wrongs you are inflicting on yourselves.”

A stir among the audience and a few hisses for a moment disturbed
Margaret’s equanimity, but gathering heart again she went on in a voice
of deep and commanding earnestness: “Nay! hear me out. I premise here
that I am not against you; indeed, I am one of you. I toil for my daily
bread, and I receive but a pittance for my work. I take slop-work from
the factories, and make men’s shirts for forty-five cents per dozen, and
men’s overalls for fifty cents per dozen pairs. So you see I know what
labor has to contend with.”

Shouts of “You’re a good one!” “Go on!” encouraged the increasing tide
of thought that surged to her lips. She stood before them pale, earnest,
like a prophet, and forgetting time, self, place, she swept the now
listening throng with the full force of the unselfish convictions which
had made her mistress of herself and untoward circumstance.

“Once more I say to you, O my brothers and sisters, you are wrong, and I
repeat it with the facts of history as a bulwark of defence. Let us go
back a little to the dim days of which we catch but faint shadows, two
thousand years and more before the Christian era, when there were but
two classes of men, feudal lords and bondsmen. Let us trace up through
the freedom given the slaves under Moses, fourteen hundred years before
Christ, and through all the struggles of the toiler up to the present
day, the results of violent uprisings of brute force. History gives but
two evidences where such uprisings on the part of labor’s slaves were
not terribly disastrous to the insurgents. Thousands of years have
passed away, men have fought with the desperation of tigers for their
rights, and still these rights are in a measure denied, and the
millennium of labor is not yet in sight. You may strike the torch to the
factory, aim the shotgun at your fellow-workman because he refuses to
listen to your dictation, put your bombs on railroad tracks before the
midnight express, leave the ship without sailors or the printing press
without workers, because any or all of these are not conducted with a
true regard for mutual welfare, and you will only find yourselves still
deeper in the mire of dissatisfaction and wrong. You cripple your own
resources and injure your own prospects when you preach the doctrine of
physical force. Leave the development of that doctrine to the brute
whose only resource it is, and lift yourselves up to the higher plane
where exists the reason of man. But you are no doubt asking where that
reason must begin. Back of all sophistries, back of all calculation, on
that primitive plane of the newly awakened—the conscience! This, in the
age of intricate reasoning and perplexing sophistries, may seem to you
but the utterance of a simple-minded woman; but history proves, through
experience, that the great and seemingly complex problems of the day
never can be and never will be solved on any other basis. It was not
indeed until the gentle Nazarene walked the earth that its toilers began
to grope upward toward the light of reason and conscience. He it was who
first took the taint from the grimy hand of the worker; He it is who
ought to-day to be the sole advocate and mediator in all your wrongs and
suffering. I am not talking to you of the religion that the occupants of
velvet pulpits preach to the occupants of velvet pews, nor of the
Christianity, so called, that is reserved for the rich man who builds
churches where he and his class may worship in unsullied seclusion; but
of that fundamental principle which led the Carpenter of Nazareth to
render absolute justice to all men and which prompted the good Samaritan
to do a generous deed to his fallen neighbor. Yes, you say all this
would do very well if men could be made over on a higher basis; but they
are greedy, avaricious, and prompted more by self-interest than
brotherly love. True; but there is always the acorn before there is the
oak. Social reforms must begin with the individual. In order to have an
upright community it must be largely composed of upright individuals,
and if every man reformed himself the proposition of a reformed society
would be of very simple solution. It is wonderful indeed how the little
leaven leavens the whole lump. Wonderful how the gulf between classes is
already being widened by these injudicious threats of violence. Let us
beware, then, of incendiary words! We are all of us, Dives and Lazarus
alike, striving for the same goal; we would all be rich, prosperous,
happy if we could. We are indignant because Dives gets in our way and
hinders our advancement, when he ought, by all the laws of
good-fellowship, to give us fair play and equal chances. But when we as
Lazarus, by a fortunate conjunction of circumstances, come at last to
Dives’ importance, how is it that we take the same mean advantage of
some less capable or lucky mortal? Ah, my friends, until we learn that
all these great problems lie partially at least within ourselves, and,
like Atlas, are willing to bear the world on our shoulders, we shall
never gain the object we are seeking. In the conscience of every
individual lies the hope of the world’s progress. Let us seek,
therefore, to cultivate that light within our own breasts, so that,
feeble ray though it may be, it shall illumine the pathway of some
weaker brother and help him toward the diviner light of the gentle
Nazarene. I protest against the indiscriminate and wordy assaults upon
rich men. Not alone in the poor man’s breast are all the virtues. Much
of the poverty of the world is the fault of the individual. Natural
thrift and industry have their reward even in the present untoward
industrial conditions. You cannot smoke away, and drink up your income,
and justly blame the bloated capitalist who employs you if your children
are shoeless and the table stands empty. But you can use your reason,
you can be thrifty, careful, and educate yourselves on the side of
conscience and humanity. I look upon this talk of reform which is in the
air as excellent for the great cause of universal brotherhood. This is
the tendency of the times; the cardinal truth underlying the welfare of
the world. Capital is identical in interest with us, and must recognize
sooner or later the trite truth that we are only the fulfilment and
complement of each other. Let us beware, then, my friends, how we
antagonize those whose help we need. Let us make capital feel, by reason
of our foresight, our fidelity, our judgment, our generosity, that it
cannot afford to ignore our rights and must open wide the doors to human
progress or fall a victim to its own inertia. With you I believe in
organization; organization upheld by, and upholding, the rights of the
people, irrespective of class; organization prompted by the still small
voice of conscience, which abridges no man’s freedom while seeking its
own. In this way only can your wrongs and mine be righted. But before we
mend the steps of those who oppress us, let us as individuals sweep the
inner chambers of the heart, and garnish them anew for the long-waited
guest of universal justice.”



                             CHAPTER XVIII.


The night of Margaret’s meeting with the anarchists was an eventful one
for the three members of the Murchison family. Elsie, tired of waiting
for Gilbert’s appearance, and strenuous in her desire to spend her
nights at home, had been again compelled to ask William’s escort, a fact
which raised the spirits of the mercurial young Irishman to a point of
emphatic self-gratulation. He felt sure, to use his own phraseology,
that “Elsie was getting soft on him,” and while preparing himself for
the walk he resolved to put into definite shape his growing fondness for
her. It so happened that when he and Elsie left the area door, Herbert
Lynn, violin case in hand, walked down the front steps of the Mason
mansion and leisurely followed them up the street. As William possessed
the native wit of his race, together with an abundant fund of
good-humor, Elsie’s laugh was frequent at the droll remarks and
anecdotes he poured into her ear. This only increased the self-elation
with which he viewed his prospects, but lacking the finesse of language
wherewith to proclaim his passion, he allowed the precious moments to
slip by, until, having reached the dimly-lighted entrance to Elsie’s
home, he felt that decisive action alone could serve his purpose.

“Good-night, and thank you,” said Elsie as they stepped within the
narrow hall.

“Not so fast,” he cried, clutching at Elsie’s dress and detaining her.
“I must be better paid.”

“To be sure,” answered Elsie, reaching into the depths of a woman’s long
pocket and bringing her purse to view. “How careless I am.”

“No, you don’t! Put that pocketbook up. Sure an’ this is what I mean,”
and grasping Elsie round the waist he strove to imprint a kiss upon her
lips.

“Let me go! Let me go!” cried frightened and struggling Elsie.

“Sure an’ I’ll not, then! I’ll jest have a kiss and maybe more from the
swate girl of my heart,” and his strong arms were just about to bring
the flushed and frightened face within range of his lips, when a firm
hand clutched his coat collar and sent him spinning into the street.
Glancing up he met the indignant eyes of Herbert Lynn.

“It isn’t a very safe thing, young man, for you to insult ladies in this
manner, and you may congratulate yourself on getting off with scant
justice. The best thing you can do is to go home and reform some of your
free-and-easy habits.”

William shuffled off maddened and revengeful. “Ah, but I’ll fix him and
the girl too. Sure and the high hand isn’t always for the mighty
millionaire. And it’s him, is it, that’s stealing my girl’s heart away?
Well, then, an’ I’ll ’umble ’em, sure. I’m after thinking the mistress
with her fine airs will not be as swate as the summer when she finds her
brother is comin’ it asy over the purty cook.”

Elsie, released from William’s grasp, darted up the stairs, but half-way
up the first flight she sank down in fright and exhaustion. Springing up
two steps at a time, Herbert followed and bent over her. “Elsie! Elsie!”
he cried, “what is it? Are you faint? Here, let me steady you,” and with
the same audacity which he had indignantly rebuked in William, he
slipped an arm round Elsie’s waist and endeavored to lift her up.

“I don’t need any help,” she said, struggling to her feet and making
frantic efforts to free herself from the detaining arm. “I can go alone
a good deal better. Please take your arm away.”

“No, thank you; it is quite too comfortable,” replied Herbert
composedly.

“And succeeds in making me very uncomfortable. I entreat you to release
me.” Elsie glanced up into a pair of blue eyes, in whose depths lay a
light so warm and tender, that she staggered dizzily against the wall
when Herbert’s encircling arm was removed.

“There, I knew you couldn’t go alone. Now I insist upon being permitted
to help you up the stairs. I therefore offer you, in the most decorous
manner possible, the despised and rejected arm.”

Herbert stood before her with crooked elbow and attitude so ludicrously
stiff, that in the laugh which rose to her lips the constraint of the
situation passed away, and she not only accepted the arm, but made no
remonstrance when, before the third flight had been reached, the
despised member, by some legerdermain best known to lovers perhaps, had
been restored to its original offensive position. It still lay supine
and satisfied around the slender waist when the two reached Margaret’s
door and found it locked.

“Here’s a go!” exclaimed Herbert slangily.

“No,” said Elsie, attempting to remove his arm, “it seems to be a stay!”

Herbert caught at the word instantly, even while his laugh echoed along
the corridor. “A stay!” he echoed, tightening his grasp. “Elsie,
darling——”

No one will know quite just how it happened, but drawn by an
overmastering impulse, he drew the dark head to his breast and pressed a
fervent kiss upon, I grieve to state, a pair of unresisting lips.

“For shame!” cried Elsie when she found breath. “A second William. Young
man, go and reform some of your free-and-easy habits! You’re infinitely
more cruel than he, because you know better. I am ashamed, indignant,
heart-broken,” and Elsie burst into tears.

“My darling,” cried Herbert for the second time, as he prepared to do
penance by repeating the crime of which he was accused, “you may be just
as indignant as you choose so that indignation does not take you away
from me. Here, take your kiss back again! I am perfectly willing to
return the jewel I stole,” and grasping the flushed face in both hands,
he held it in a vise-like grip while he bestowed upon the ripe lips the
principal with usurious interest. There was no time for protest or
further explanation. There was some one coming up the stairs, and it was
a hurried assumption of composure that greeted Margaret and Gilbert as
they reached their door.

“We have been waiting for you,” cried Herbert, adding audaciously, “It
seemed to Miss Elsie, I’ve no doubt, as if you never would come.”

“Margaret, dear,” exclaimed Elsie, “how pale you are! What has
happened?”

“Come in and I will tell you,” wearily answered Margaret as she unlocked
the door.

“As it is late,” said Herbert hesitatingly, “with your permission I will
leave my violin here and come for our music to-morrow evening.
Good-night.”

Elsie could not raise her eyes to his, such a tumult of wounded feeling,
love, shame, and regret surged through her breast, and Herbert was
obliged to depart without the glance he coveted. Elsie listened to his
merry whistle as he ran down the stairs, and cowered, shamefaced and
despairing, in the shadow of the window curtain. How weak she had been!
She had struggled so hard not to notice him, not to think of him, and
all the time the victim of a relentless fate, had at last yielded to his
kiss and let him see she had given her love unasked! What a state of
moral degradation she had reached! How Margaret would despise her if she
knew it! How everybody with any fine moral sense would be contaminated
with her presence if it was known how really bad she was!

Sleep did not visit the perturbed brain that night. In dry-eyed misery
she lay through the long hours of darkness by Margaret’s side, and when
at the first break of dawn she returned to her work, she carried a pale,
conscience-stricken face. The other servants eyed her curiously, giving
her already crushed spirit unmistakable evidence that William had
heralded the evening’s adventure. It was with lagging footsteps and a
colorless face that she dragged through her morning’s duties, and
finally mounted the stairs to her usual conference with her mistress.

Mrs. Mason was alone when Elsie entered the morning-room, but she did
not look up. She was apparently busied over a small account-book, in
which, with the gold pencil attached to it, she now and then jotted down
figures or memoranda. The coals in the grate glowed warmly; the
mocking-bird in his gilded cage chirped cheerily; the flowers and potted
plants in the windows seemed to smile a welcome to the disheartened
girl, but the fair mistress had no greeting for her. Elsie waited some
moments, and then, seeing that Mrs. Mason was purposely silent, she
asked, but with a note of despondency in her voice that was only too
apparent, “What orders, Mrs. Mason, have you for me this morning?”

“Only one,” replied the lady, for the first time turning a darkened face
upon Elsie. “Take this envelope, containing your week’s wages, and leave
my house at once. I have no further need of your services.”

The room grew so dark to Elsie that she reeled and clutched at the
door-post. Mrs. Mason watched her, secretly glad to see the shaft strike
home.

“Will you tell me why you dismiss me?” asked Elsie faintly.

“Why? How innocent you are! You know very well why I will not keep such
a dissembler in my house. Attempting to deceive me with your assumption
of flawless honor, and then using all your arts and graces to ensnare
the fancy of my brother, who——”

“Stop!” cried Elsie, all her strength returning under the sting of Mrs.
Mason’s words, and with indignation firing voice and attitude. “You make
unjust accusations. I never have deceived you in any particular. I never
sought to ensnare the fancy of your brother. Instead, I have begged him
to let me alone. I told him I did not want his acquaintance, and I
repeat it to you, his proud and aristocratic sister. I have my own life
to live irrespective of your creeds and caste, and I have endeavored to
keep both of you at arm’s-length.”

“You are as brazen as the generality of your class. It is useless to
attempt any justification. The fact remains that you have accepted the
attentions of a man infinitely above you in station, good-breeding,
blood——”

“I deny it! Neither in blood nor breeding are you any better than the
girl you despise. In station—you but emphasize the arrogance of your
nature and standing when you attempt to heap unmerited abuse upon one
whom you know to be defenceless; a thing which ‘Elsie the cook’ would
scorn to do.”

“You insolent thing! Leave the room at once, and if you ever dare to
speak to my brother again, I’ll publish you from one end of the city to
the other, and then we’ll see whether ‘Elsie the cook’ will continue to
flaunt her good breeding in the face of her betters.”

The hot blood-surged to Elsie’s face until the purple veins threatened
to burst. “Have no fear!” she cried. “I despise——”

At that moment the door opened and Herbert entered the room. He glanced
at the flushed faces and turned to his sister for explanation. Elsie,
trembling in every limb, rushed through the open door, heedless of
Herbert’s earnest entreaty to remain. How she gained the street and flew
up the long flights of stairs and buried her head in Margaret’s lap, she
never realized until long after. What a tumult of anger, shame, and
wounded love raged in the girl’s breast. How black her sky seemed, and
how pitiful the story was when, by snatches of incoherent words and
bursts of passionate tears, Margaret finally became possessed of it. She
could only bend over the writhing form and press kisses upon the
disordered hair, while endeavoring to soothe by touch and voice the
violent storm of sobs and tears. Calmness had not yet come back to them
and reason could only dimly see its way through the darkness, when there
came an imperative rap at the door, followed almost instantly by
Herbert’s appearance.

“Elsie,” he cried, tossing his hat into a chair and coming up to her as
she lay with her head buried in Margaret’s lap, “I have come to make
reparation for all that you have suffered this morning. I have learned
the whole disgraceful story, and I have come to offer the hand with the
heart that has been yours for months. Look up, Elsie, and answer me.
Margaret knows that I have loved you long.”

“Oh, go away and leave me,” moaned Elsie. “I cannot bear any more.”

“Come!” exclaimed Herbert, bending over her and attempting to lift her
from Margaret’s lap. “I am impatient. I want a decisive answer.”

“You shall have it,” said Elsie, pulling herself away from him and
raising a tear-stained and mutinous face to his. “It is a most
unqualified No.”

Herbert staggered back a few steps and gazed with evident surprise at
Elsie’s resolute face. “You cannot surely mean it,” he cried. “I thought
you loved me, or would love me.”

“Over-confidence is sometimes disastrous, even to young men who fancy
the world is ‘mine oyster.’”

“Dear child, you are hurt, unstrung by the distressing events of the
morning. I wish I could make you see how pained I am that you should
have been made to suffer so. I wish you would let me make reparation.”

“I do not need any,” said Elsie proudly. “I find myself able to survive
even your sister’s insults.”

“Do not refer to them. Helen has a great many false ideas, but you ought
not to punish me for them. I have never willingly harmed you.”

“Yes, you have!” Elsie broke out impetuously. “Did not I beg of you to
let me alone, to keep to your own devices and let ‘Elsie the cook’ go
her own way?”

A pained look overspread Herbert’s face as he answered: “If I have
wronged you, Elsie, I offer you as honorable a reparation as any man can
offer a woman.”

“And do you think because, to please your own fancies, you have
despoiled me of a chance to earn my bread, I can accept so great a
condescension? I had rather starve than be made the recipient of any
man’s tardy sense of honor.”

Stung, but not baffled, Herbert answered: “I loved you almost from the
first time I saw you. I sought to win your regard with a scrupulous
sense of honor, and if this offer of my hand is tardy, it is only
because you have so persistently kept me at bay. Elsie, I beg you to
forget my sister’s taunts and let me prove how devotedly I can make
amends for the suffering I have caused you. Margaret, help me to prove
how true my statements are.”

Herbert turned, only to find that Margaret had slipped away. “Elsie,
darling,” he added, going up to her and attempting to take her in his
arms, “I cannot believe, after last night, that you do not, at least
cannot, love me. I was the happiest man last night that ever sat in the
glow of the fire-light and drew pictures of the future. If we had not
been interrupted I should have told you then all that I tell you now.
Elsie! Elsie! trust me to make you happy.”

But Elsie drew herself away from the outstretched arms and sheltered
herself behind an intervening rocker. “I cannot,” she said resolutely,
although the pleading tones no less than the supplicating eyes had
well-nigh broken her composure. “Even could I so compose my heart as to
contemplate the possibility which you picture, there is an
insurmountable obstacle in the way.”

“And that is?”

“Your sister! Never will I enter a family, were it ten times mightier
than the one you represent, where I could be the object of such
undeserved scorn as was heaped upon me this morning.”

“My poor child! I will put the globe between us.”

“And let me be the means of separating an only brother and sister? No!
Go back to your sister, and marry some one who represents her idea of
respectability—Miss Houghton, for instance—and be sure that family
approval and society will bless you forever after.”

“Thank you for the suggestion,” said Herbert dryly. “I am, however,
neither marrying my sister nor her ideas.”

“No, I don’t think you’re marrying anybody at present.”

“And am not likely to, you doubtless mean to suggest? Elsie, what makes
you punish me so?”

“I am only paying you what I owe you.”

“That is honest; now give me back the heart you’ve stolen.”

“I have no heart to give.”

“Elsie Murchison!” exclaimed Herbert with a new sternness, “I have one
question more to ask you, and I demand a straightforward answer. Tell me
by all the truth in your nature—do you love me?”

Driven to bay, Elsie stood alternately flushing and paling, and with her
frame in such a quiver of excitement that the hand which rested on the
rocker shook perceptibly. “I decline to answer,” she finally faltered.
“You have no right to question a foregone conclusion. I have told you I
will not marry you.”

“Is that decision final?” asked Herbert as he picked up his hat. “Can no
pleading, no proof of devotion change it?”

White to the very lips, Elsie answered: “It is final and absolute.”

“Then God pity us both!” cried Herbert as, with a face as white as
Elsie’s own, he left the room.

Elsie threw herself on the floor and writhed in the agony of mental
torture.

“Love him? Love him?” asked the tumultuous heart. Did she not rather
idolize him. And now she had signed her own death-warrant. “God keep him
wherever he went—how could she live without him?” A tempest of tears
answered this question as she saw days stretch into months and months
into years without one glimpse of the sunny blue eyes, one sound of the
melodious voice, or touch of the kindly hands that had been so glad to
anticipate any need or desire of hers. “How can I live, how can I live
without him?” she sobbed aloud, writhing in absolute physical pain. “Oh,
I shall die! I shall die! It will be too dreadful to live now!”

A second later a pair of strong arms gathered her within their embrace,
and Herbert’s lips were raining kisses upon brow, cheek, and lips. “I
knew it, Elsie,” he whispered. “I couldn’t give it up so easily. You do
love me, I know you do. You dare not deny it.”

With sudden impetuosity a pair of lithe arms crept around his neck, and
hiding her face in his bosom Elsie sobbed: “I don’t want to deny it now,
for it has almost killed me. But truly I’ll never marry you.”

Herbert laughed. “Tell me the reason.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be right, and not even my love for you will make me
do what is not fair and just.”

“That’s right, my little girl,” answered Herbert between kisses. “We’ll
try to remove the wrong. Now that I know I’m held fast in the stronghold
of your heart, I can conquer the world.”

“Can you?” asked Elsie, the old mischief coming quickly back. “Can you
make your sister, Mrs. Mason, get down on her knees and beg me to marry
you to save you from a decline?”

“I’ll try,” said Herbert with a grimace, “although I beg to be delivered
from the decline.”



                              CHAPTER XIX.


Like Byron, Margaret awoke one day and found herself famous. The daily
press, in keeping close watch of the anarchist movement, had reported
nearly verbatim the speeches of both Gilbert and Margaret. Editorials
had been written upon Margaret’s utterances, and one enterprising daily
had printed a supposed portrait of her and given a brief account of her
work in the tenement-house, wherein she had been glorified beyond her
just deserts and made to wear the mantle of the professional reformer.
Margaret was by no means pleased with this unexpected notoriety, and
particularly displeasing to her sensitive nature was the attitude in
which she had been made to stand with reference to those whom she had
sought to aid in the quietness and sympathy of her home life. As a
friend, she was sure of their appreciation and co-operation; as a
reformer, she felt fearful of their mistrust and the gradual withdrawal
of the sympathies she had grown to depend upon for her own guidance and
happiness. It was, therefore, with no little vexation of spirit that she
found herself waited upon one day by a committee of ladies who urged her
going upon the platform as the advance agent of a board of foreign
missions.

“It is impossible,” cried Margaret when the object of the visit had been
explained. “I am not fitted for such work. Indeed, it was a mere
accident which caused my appearance in public, and I hope never to
repeat it.”

The ladies looked at each other aghast. Here was good timber obviously
going to waste. Something must be done to secure it. “But,” they argued,
“you must have the interests of our work at heart, as your utterances
gave evidence and as your work in your own home circle proves. Why not
be willing to broaden it and bring the suffering ones of earth, whom you
evidently pity, a little relief?”

“Because,” said Margaret, smiling, “I believe, in the truest sense, in
the old saying that ‘Charity begins at home.’ I have a home to make,
first of all, for a young brother and sister who look upon me as mother
and guardian. So long as they have need of me I shall always keep for
them the one spot where home ties may reign supreme. In the next place,
I shall doubtless horrify you by saying that I do not believe in
charity.”

A look of wide-eyed dismay went around the little circle.

“But let me qualify the ruggedness of so bare a statement,” said
Margaret as a look of quiet amusement crept over her face. “I have
reference only to the charity which is practised under present
conditions. In the first place, I think we have heathen enough to
convert at home; in the second, if there were more of the genuine
charity which was taught by our great Preceptor, there would be scant
need of the various forms of associated charity. Modern charity
belittles and robs men of the God-given sense of independent manhood
which should be cultivated and respected in every one. The helping hand
that is given by associated charity fosters a national laziness and
sloth which grows every year more wide-spread and disgraceful.”

“That is a most astounding statement,” cried her hearers.

“I think you will find it true,” replied Margaret quietly. “Charity that
is bestowed with the air of patronage which such organizations can
scarcely fail to exhibit, must make its wards feel that independent
effort is not respected as it should be. We do not give any more from a
fraternal desire to see our fallen brother rise to his feet and work
steadily toward the goal which we have reached or are nearing; but we
give perhaps from a desire to display our importance, or from a
philanthropy which expects to find its way into the newspapers and be
talked about, or because it is fashionable to ‘assume a virtue if we
have it not.’ If we gave from the standpoint of humanity and a desire to
see all men on an equal footing before the law, do you suppose it would
be necessary to announce such themes from the pulpits of elegant and
exclusive churches as ‘How to reach the masses?’ The masses would be
there to be reached. They would not be outside, because an exclusive
sexton had found that he must look to the best interests of his patrons.
The church is every day growing richer and more influential. How is it
with the heaven-born principles of Him who toiled at the carpenter’s
bench and proved to the fishermen of Galilee that a common bond of
divine and human love held them together? What is the church to-day in a
great measure but a business institution? How much of the old faith
clings to the embroidered garment that has displaced the simple white
robe of the Messiah of all men? It is useless to offer charity to a man
whose rights you have denied, and expect thereby to build up a
prosperous and God-fearing commonwealth. Ladies, I must forego the
generous offer you make me, for the bread would be bitter in my mouth
which I earned by upholding a belief that I felt to be fundamentally
wrong. I ask nothing more than to be given strength to help wherever I
can in the humblest way and with the sincerest love.”

It was a silent and crestfallen committee that bowed itself from
Margaret’s presence and whispered “quixotic,” “cranky,” “absurd,” when
it reached the sidewalk. Margaret sank into a chair, after the committee
had left her, with a feeling of vague discomfort and unrest. Did this
invasion of her private work bear any occult meaning? Was there really a
broader field of action awaiting her helping hand wherein she could
better fulfill the principles she loved to disseminate? Suddenly, as if
in revelation, she saw Gilbert’s impassioned face as he pleaded so
eloquently for his brother toilers at the anarchist meeting. Here was
work for Gilbert, stretching out into an indefinite and glowing future.
A society of universal brotherhood! She remembered that once a stranger
had preached in her father’s pulpit on that very topic, and she had
never forgotten the five great principles he had enunciated. She had
jotted them down in her note-book as truths worth remembering, and now
they came back to her with the vividness and force with which a thinking
brain is often overtaken by the ideas of the great minds of the world.

1. “A society of universal brotherhood must be founded on eternal
truth.”

2. “It must permit full and free development to every member of the
human race.”

3. “There must be perfect harmony between all its members.”

4. “It must attempt to secure happiness in this world. Here, now, on
this planet, in this day and generation, it must give justice to all
mankind.”

5. “It must make not only men, but nations, free.”[1]

She well remembered how the eloquent clergyman had enlarged upon this
declaration of principles in glowing words.

“Tell me,” he had said, “would not such a society meet your desires? Yet
such was the organization founded by Jesus Christ. Men have found
occasion to depart a long way from it, but not till they retrace their
steps and take up the work as He planned it, can they enjoy the fruits
of the wisest law-giver the world ever beheld. He was the true leader of
men. He was born in a manger and brought up in poverty. He preached the
purest and truest democracy the world has ever listened to. The tramp,
the outcast, the beggar were with Him the equals before the law of the
richest man on the face of the earth. There was nothing narrow in His
creed. But how shall men establish the new order? We must take the
kingdom of heaven by storm; we must convert the boodlers and the
aristocrats who now dominate the church. Let me tell you the rich are
getting tired of the life they are living. They are beginning to see its
falsity, and many of them are anxious to see some means adopted by which
greater justice can be rendered to all. Work, then, my brothers, in
behalf of the rich as well as the poor, and make the society of
universal brotherhood the grand factor in a new civilization.”

Footnote 1:

  These principles were recently enunciated by Father Huntington.

These impassioned words had burned themselves on Margaret’s
memory, and in the light of later events seemed to have a peculiar
force and significance. A society of universal brotherhood! How
beautiful it seemed in theory; how easily, even on the basis of an
eighteen-hundred-years-old truth, the theory might be evolved into
established fact. Yet that mighty and eternal truth had been all
these years, through innumerable persecutions and conflicts,
vainly seeking its perfect flower and fruit. Where lay the
difficulty? Why were its life-giving branches so persistently
lopped, its trunk gashed and riven, its healing leaves stripped
and torn, and its fruition hindered and obstructed? Margaret
pondered long over the puzzling questions. It was a fundamental
truth that mankind was seeking happiness and had the same general
nature and desires. What, then, made the great divergence? The
casuist and sophist might find deep within the logic of history
and the philosophy of man a more lofty reason; but Margaret’s
primitive nature saw only the main truth that men had departed
from the underlying principle on which Christ had founded His
church of the living gospel. Primitive ideas had been ignored,
scoffed at, trampled in the dust, and yet the great Master had
made those ideas the whole sum and substance of life when He
enjoined upon man to love God and his neighbor, live soberly and
righteously, visit the fatherless and widows in affliction, and
keep himself unspotted from the world. Setting aside the divine
emanation of such laws, they were the truest interpretation of
natural law, for what is vicious is injurious. The divine virtues
of truth and equity are the bulwarks of society; if they are
transgressed, the whole body politic suffers, even as the
transgression of natural law causes disease and dissolution.
Surely, here “the steps are not straightened and he that runneth
stumbleth not.”

To Gilbert, Margaret communicated all her doubts and fears as well as
hopes upon this theme, and with the eagerness with which an awakened
spirit seizes upon ideas, he followed her reasoning to a conclusion
which would have been remarkable in one so young, if it had not been the
logical result of Margaret’s training and practice.

“I can only work on the plan you outline by first finding out how those
I desire to reach are striving for the happiness that is their aim. It
will be a long and laborious effort, for I must truly prove myself the
friend of every man. No thief, thug, criminal, outcast, or harlot must
be too vile and degraded to receive the warm clasp of my hand and the
hearty utterance of my good-will. Am I equal to it?” Gilbert buried his
head in his hands with a sob that was wrung from the consciousness of a
life-long sacrifice. Margaret knelt beside his chair and softly slipped
an arm around his neck.

“A second Jean Valjean!” she whispered.

“It is at most an experiment,” said Gilbert later, “and even in the
event of failure must do more good than harm. I will try it.”

The loss of Elsie’s abundant wages had been a trying matter to the
little household. Gilbert’s attendance at the manual-training school had
been perforce curtailed, and the question of subsistence became a
serious one. Herbert had begged to be allowed to supply their needs,
since his indiscretion had been the cause of their loss, but the
ingrained independence of both sisters rebelled at the suggestion.

“No,” exclaimed Elsie emphatically, “not until I say ‘yes’ at the
altar—and that day is still so remote as to be almost nebulous—shall I
permit any expenditure of your money on my behalf.”

“Not even for this?” and Herbert drew from his pocket a small velvet
case and flashed a brilliant diamond ring before Elsie’s eyes. She took
it, flushing with pleasure over its beauty, and held it up over her head
to watch the play of translucent light on its polished surface.

“Oh, what beautiful things God makes in His laboratory!” she cried, “and
how I do love beauty! But take it back, Herbert; it would be out of
place on the hand of a working girl.”

“I’m tempted to quarrel with you all the time,” said Herbert petulantly.
“What shall I get you—an iron ring?”

“You might have it silver-plated,” suggested Elsie soberly, “so that,
like the majority of my sex, I would not know it was iron until after
marriage.”

“You are incorrigible! But what are you going to do with yourself,
anyway, while you are waiting for that haughty sister of mine to come
under my soothing ministrations?”

“Something new—work!”

“At what?”

“Slop-work, like Margaret. I’ve already bought a new sewing-machine—on
part payments, of course—and I am going to break the record on hickory
shirts and blue jeans overalls.”

“Absurd! quixotic! outrageous!” exclaimed Herbert, springing to his feet
and pacing the room with an excited air. “I tell you, Elsie, you and
Margaret will kill yourselves in endeavoring to uphold the dignity of
woman or labor or some other foolish notion.”

“Herbert!” Elsie’s eyes flashed ominously. “If the whole world were like
you—Supreme Sultans of Gilded Leisure—you might make your
uncomplimentary classifications; but under existing conditions, I
think—well, I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself; so there!”

“I am,” said Herbert contritely, as he took her in his arms. “I don’t in
the least question the nobility of motive that inspires all this
heroism, but I do question its result. Do you think the fate of the
world is hanging on the struggles of two such admittedly unselfish and
uplifted slips of girls?”

“You’re just like the old heathen masters of morality!” ejaculated
Elsie. “They gave such excellent rules for other men’s guidance, but
they hadn’t the courage to try their arguments on themselves. Of course
Margaret and I are _very_ heroic in trying to live up to our
principles—but _very_ silly!”

Herbert’s laugh was so contagious that even Elsie joined in it.

“I am afraid I’m a heathen,” he said dubiously, “if in this day and age,
when the air is blue with reforms, I object to seeing the girl I love
wearing her life away for a mere chimera.”

“Herbert Lynn!” exclaimed Elsie impetuously as she drew away from his
embrace and looked him earnestly in the face. “Do you look upon the
question of the day, the question that occupies all tongues and speaks a
heart-rending language in every half-starved wretch that walks the
street, as a chimera?”

“It is a phantom that has been chased a good many thousand years,” he
answered, “and the end is not yet.”

“Have you no interest in the question?”

“Specifically, yes; generally, no.”

“Then you have no heart!” exclaimed Elsie warmly.

“I confess that it has left me and is in the keeping of a fierce little
radical.”

“Who wishes your judgment was with it, for I think such conservatism as
yours is dangerous and—yes, positively wicked!”

“You are charming when you wear that look,” said Herbert critically.

“Just wait till I find you are as obstinate as you are evasive, and I
shall not look so charming. But really I wish you would go away. Do you
see that pile of blue jeans? Every moment wasted on you is just so much
stolen from my beauty sleep, and of course you care more for that than
for any purpose of mine.”

“Well, then, if you’ll remember that all I shall ask of you at our next
meeting will be to look pretty and talk nonsense I’ll go.” Suiting the
action to the word, he left the room.

“Elsie,” he called a moment later as he put his head in the open door,
“may I send you a violet if it’s a very small and stingy one?”

Herbert dodged just in time to escape the pin-cushion Elsie threw at his
head, but the supper-table that night was graced with a generous bouquet
of Parmesan violets, and they nestled lovingly in Elsie’s dark locks,
under her plump chin, and in the cincture of her slender waist.



                              CHAPTER XX.


For some weeks Gilbert had been perfecting a number of handsomely
finished medicine cabinets (which were furnished with racks for bottles
and drawers for boxes, sponges, and all the various healing
paraphernalia which every well-regulated household keeps at hand for
emergencies), and now that the question of subsistence was so seriously
confronting them once more, he determined to canvass from house to house
and endeavor to sell them. Knowing that the homes of the rich would be
closed against him, he could only hope to gain access to those of the
middle and poorer classes, among whom he meant to provoke what thought
and inquiry he could regarding the establishment of a society of
universal brotherhood. Beyond the five great principles enunciated by
the eloquent clergyman, all ideas were as yet in a nebulous state.
Having established the fact of a desire for the proposed reform, the
three instigators—for Elsie was already heart and hand in the projected
work—believed that wisdom would be given them for the rounding and
perfecting of details. “There is one thing to be remembered,” said
Margaret, “that to-day no less than yesterday a tree is known by its
fruit, and love to God can only be reached in the minds of the oppressed
through love to man. First prove to men that you love their souls
because you love the God that created them, and you will then be able to
convey to them some of the greater truths of a divine and spiritual
love.”

“Is not that material doctrine?” asked Elsie.

“No, I do not think so. The world has been mystified too long. The plain
and simple doctrine of a human, interested, generous love even a child
can understand, and God does not despise the day of small things.”

“How otherwise can you reach a material nature than by material
symbols?” asked Gilbert.

“Even as a child learns to rely upon love and gradually reaches back to
the motive and inspiration of that love, so back of this earthly
brotherhood men will come to see the radiance and truth of divinity
overshadowing it.”

“Ah, if mankind can only be made to look at it in that light! But what
are we going to do, Gilbert, in this new order with the besotted and
brutish natures that live only for self?”

“Give them all the personal friendliness we can and help them to outgrow
their evil natures.”

“It will take generations of refining influences to do that, I am
afraid. So much clings to the flesh that is bred in the bone.”

“True; but we are to-day only small factors in the great scheme of human
civilization. What we leave unfinished other hands may take up. In any
event, whether of failure or success, we three, weird fates maybe,” said
Gilbert with a smile, “we know that for us happiness lies in doing what
we can to lighten the heavy load of oppression and injustice under which
our brothers are groaning.”

“Amen!” exclaimed Elsie, printing a resounding kiss upon Gilbert’s
cheek. “You look like another Savonarola, only a trifle handsomer, I
must admit.”

“Give me the inspiration of his genius and the force of his eloquence,
and I’ll will you my good looks.”

“Thanks! Herbert says I’ll do as I am,” she exclaimed, drawing herself
up to her full height and flushing and dimpling as roguishly as a
mischievous child.

“By the way, Elsie, how are you and your millionaire lover going to
reconcile the very opposite views you hold on various vital questions?”

Elsie’s face grew sober instantly. “I don’t like to think about it,
Gilbert. I’m so happy now that I’m only waiting. Perhaps—some time—God
knows!” and tears routed the smiles on the volatile face.

“There! don’t worry about it,” said Gilbert. “He’s a jolly good fellow,
anyhow, and we wouldn’t be any worse than a number of well-known
personages of history if we let conscience succumb to the narcotizing
influence of his pieces of silver.”

There was an unusual twinkle in the eyes of the sober Gilbert, which
provoked Elsie to say: “Go to, thou reformer! What need hast thou of any
man’s silver?”

With Elsie’s return home, her faculty for turning off work, and her fund
of good-humor, the circumference of the Busy Fingers Club was constantly
increasing. Now that Gilbert was away so much, she took his place at the
bench on the Saturdays allotted to the Club, and if she did not exhibit
his dexterity in directing and executing work, she yet preserved order
and made fast friends of the boys under her charge. She was so fertile
in suggestion that a good many new ideas took shape in inventive heads
and found expression in beautiful and useful things in wood. “Some day,”
said Elsie sagely, “we’ll have a bazaar and sell these things, and oh,
won’t we be rich!”

“What’ll we do with our money?” cried the boys.

“Put it in the bank until we can find some great and glorious need for
it.”

“Like buying me a bicycle!” shouted one of the lads.

“And me a base-ball outfit!”

“And me a fiddle!”

“And me a musical top!”

“And me a white elephant!” cried Elsie. But the laugh did not rout the
idea of doing something in the way of a bazaar. It spread among the
girls and incited them to renewed effort; and it grew to be an open
secret in the neighborhood that in the glowing but indefinite sometime,
great things were to be achieved by the now well-known Busy Fingers
Club.

It was the last of November and Antoine had returned from the hospital,
able to walk with the aid of one crutch and the promise of discarding
that when exercise and development had perfected the cure. A happier
woman than Lizzette Minaud seldom walked the earth. All her dreams and
anticipations of good fortune seemed to be winging their way to
realization. Antoine was getting well; for now that the lad had been
lifted to his full stature, the deformed shoulders seemed to be
straightening, the color came and went in the once pale cheeks, and the
laughter in his heart made a constant music for her.

“Oh, eet ees all von blessed Providence, mon Herbeart,” she cried as he
sat at her right hand, the honored guest at the little banquet she had
prepared at Idlewild to welcome Antoine’s home-coming. “Surely le bon
Dieu direct ze noble heart to help my boy, and——”

“Fall in love with Elsie,” suggested Herbert, who felt a little fearful
of a lachrymose scene in which he might be called upon to play actor.

“Certainement!” laughed Lizzette. “Eet ees ze match made in heaven.”

“Occasional sulphurous fumes about it when I scold, eh, Herbert?” cried
Elsie.

“Oh, just enough as yet to light the flame of a ready wit. Whether
there’ll ever be any greater combustion remains to be seen.”

“Well, I couldn’t be any happier over it if I stood in Herbert’s place,”
ejaculated Antoine, which grave announcement, in view of his twelve
years of maturity, was met with marked hilarity by the little circle.
“And I’m sure,” added Antoine, in no way abashed, “if Herbert is never
blown up until Elsie lights the fuse he’ll walk the earth a good while;
for I don’t believe she knows how to scold.”

“Antoine, my lad, six months of seclusion have made you singularly
trustful. Elsie has scolded me ever since I knew her, and I’ve grown so
used to it in the last few weeks that I regard it in the light of a
tonic—like quinine or any other excellent bitter.”

“Antoine,” said Elsie in a stage whisper, “have you noticed how improved
in health and appearance our mutual friend Mr. Lynn seems to be? It is
all the result of the exercise induced by trying to ward off some home
truths I’ve been thrusting at him.”

“Ze fumes of sulphur!” cried Lizzette. “I protest zey rise no higher. I
fear ze combustion.”

“They are a somewhat singular pair of lovers,” interposed Margaret. “It
is a rare thing when they are not sparring, but as they seem to enjoy it
and Herbert has not yet asked for a body-guard, I seldom interpose an
objection.”

“Which, in view of the young man’s unprotected situation, is very
considerate of you,” said Elsie with a defiant toss of her head. “It is
my opinion, however, that there are more entertaining themes than the
peculiarities of a couple of commonplace individuals. Mr. Lynn, will you
please give us a lecture on good manners?”

“I shall be most happy to do so when my audience narrows to one
listener.”

“And he is before the mirror,” retorted Elsie.

“Hush!” said Antoine; “stop that quarrelling! I’m going to sing.” And
closing his eyes and crossing his hands before him, he began to croon,
in well-portrayed negro accent and intonation, the lines of a little
dialect song:

             “De way is dark an’ rough an’ long,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!
             Doan’t git too deep in de slew ob wrong,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!

             “Dey’s cross-roads heah an’ cross-roads dar,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!
             But hope is de sign-board shinin’ like a star,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!

             “Jes’ keep a-joggin’ tru’ de san’ an’ clay,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!
             Dar’s lub at de eend ob de ’arthly way,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!

             “De eyes some time mighty full ob teahs,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!
             But lub is de lawd ob de slabe ob feahs,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!

             “So jes’ keep smilin’ in de face ob woe,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!
             Dar’s a happy lan’ whar de good shall go,
                 Go slow, hol’ hard, chillun!”

The clear soprano voice rolled out the words and notes with the abandon
of his Ethiopian prototype, and Elsie turned and laid an arm around the
lad’s neck as she exclaimed: “Antoine Minaud! Where in the world did you
find that song?”

“In here,” said Antoine, significantly tapping his temple.

“An improvisator!” cried Elsie ecstatically. “Herbert, we’re in the
presence of genius.”

“So I perceive. Where did you discover the faculty, Antoine?”

“At the hospital.”

“Can you improvise instantly?”

“Give me a theme and see.”

“Well, take my lady’s eyes,” said Herbert with a low bow to Elsie.

“Her nose rather! That would be more in keeping,” retorted Elsie.

“All right,” laughed Antoine, and scarcely a moment later he was
carolling a rollicking Irish jig to words that seemed to follow the tune
as if they had been fitted with the utmost carefulness.

                       “My lady’s nose—
                       You wouldn’t suppose
                   A poet could rave about it,
                       But as it lies
                       Between her eyes,
                   She wouldn’t look well without it!

                       “An ‘ornery’ nose
                       Can smell a rose,
                   But hers has more to do, sir!
                       It scornful tips
                       Above her lips,
                   At follies she finds in you, sir!”

“Bravo, Antoine!” cried Elsie, jumping up and bringing his violin. “Now
play it.”

And as the violin dashed into the abandon of the melody, she grasped
Gilbert by the shoulders and the two went whirling off into a jig.

“That’s inspiring,” cried Herbert, catching up Lizzette and dashing
after them. The dishes rattled, the pictures shook, the stove trembled,
the floors creaked, but on they danced, madder and merrier as the violin
actually shrieked in glee, until Margaret cried aghast:

“Ho! ‘Tom the Piper’s Son!’ Stop! Stop! I beg. It is a veritable
witches’ dance.”

“Come on, my solemn sister,” and Elsie caught Margaret around the waist
and dragged her into the merry scramble.

“My poor old bones!” cried Lizzette, sinking into a chair. “Antoine’s a
necromancer! I almost grow young again.” The fiddle stopped, but only
for a moment, for by a sudden transition it swept away into an old-time
melody:

                       “Sleep on thy pillow,
                         Happy and light,
                       As the moon on the billow
                         Reposes at night.”

The old fiddle seemed to have awakened to new life under the touch of
the new Antoine, and Herbert could scarcely repress a glow of
satisfaction as he looked at the lad. “Specific kindness does vastly
more for the world than general good-will. If I might be permitted to
spend the better part of my income on this little circle, I should feel
that I had done enough for humanity; but the worst part of it is, this
little circle has such exalted ideas of independence, and Elsie—bless
her and bother her!—shuts the door in my face continually. I don’t more
than half like the muddle, anyway!”

The winter wore away with but few radical changes. Mrs. Mason’s
opposition to Herbert’s marriage to Elsie showed no diminution, and
after numberless and fruitless intercessions on his part he finally took
up his quarters at a hotel, and Mrs. Mason closed her house and went to
Europe. His sister’s opposition and Elsie’s persistent refusal to marry
him as long as the present bitterness remained between them, kept
Herbert in a constant state of dissatisfaction. The world was quite too
much upside down with the conflict of ideas, and men no longer seemed to
be permitted to work out their own lines of happiness without treading
on somebody’s toes. Helen’s sole objection to Elsie had been the
capacity in which she had served them, and the consequent fear of
society’s verdict. He didn’t care a bit more for Helen’s narrow world,
than he did for Elsie’s quixotic schemes for a regenerated humanity. He
wanted simply to be happy in his own way and according to his highest
light. Helen and Elsie had both called him selfish, and both from
opposite standpoints. As to the truth of their judgments, he didn’t
care. He only knew that an overmastering love for Elsie as the
sweetest-natured, most piquant, and original woman he had ever met held
him fast in an irrevocable bondage, and but for an obstinacy on Elsie’s
part, as settled as it was difficult to understand, he would have cut
the Gordian knot by an immediate marriage and absolute defiance of
Helen. Lizzette had been right when she told Herbert he did not know
Elsie’s nature. It was developing a faculty for self-abnegation that
alarmed him. There were times when the sweetest and most sacred love
shone in her eyes, and the barriers of restraint were broken down by the
utmost sympathy of thought and feeling; at others the spirit of a martyr
looked out from their translucent depths and an invisible yet conscious
wall seemed to separate them. Herbert trembled in vague alarm whenever
he encountered this look, lying but thinly veiled beneath the mobile
face. But with a man’s blindness he could not see that the love which he
arrogated to himself and which shut out the world as of little moment,
was only broadening her sympathies and making divine revelations of its
beauty and value. Love with all its sacredness and possibilities,
holding close to the one dear image enshrined in the holy of holies of
her heart, had opened wide its door to suffering mankind. So vividly
burned the fire on the altar of her love that she turned as if with
outstretched arms, crying: “O ye who are cold and hungry! Here ye will
find warmth and shelter.”

It is rarely that a man understands either the motive or development of
a love like this, and he is quite apt through ignorance or jealousy to
quarrel with any of its various manifestations. To Herbert many of
Elsie’s ideas on the great and vexed social questions of the day seemed
the acme of absurdity, and he cherished the fond hope that when she was
once transplanted to regions of luxurious ease, they would die from
inanition. He looked upon them as the natural outgrowth of a
circumscribed horizon and constant association with the seamy side of
life. “When she sees what art, science, culture, and wealth can do for
those she loves, her sympathies will not wander so far, but will narrow
down to an area wherein we can walk hand in hand.”

Thus Herbert often assured himself as he became daily more conscious of
the undercurrent of feeling and belief that was gradually widening in
her nature.

The winter had been an unusually long and severe one, and the resources
of the little family had often been severely taxed to keep the wolf from
the door. Herbert’s alert eyes had discovered this fact, and he had
taken to leaving sundry packages of groceries and provisions of various
kinds in the most unheard-of places, trusting to time to discover them
and good sense to appropriate and say nothing. Margaret had found them
stuffed under the cushions of the chairs, behind pictures, tucked under
the book-rack, and impelled by a need sharper than even Elsie had
guessed, since into Margaret’s hands had been transferred the domestic
machinery, had, as Herbert hoped, used them without inquiry. “It is one
of God’s balances,” she said to herself, “that may one day even up. It
is a delicate and generous act for which I can only be thankful and keep
silent.”

To Gilbert the winter had been a revelation of suffering and vice that
had only stirred deeper the pool of the living faith within his heart.
In his vocation as peddler he had found access to much of the hidden
life of poverty and crime which escapes even the most far-sighted
general observers. Wherever he had been able to pierce the strata of
callousness which the severest forms of poverty invariably create, he
had found the same helpless appeal that has for so many generations
sounded down the aisles of time—give us something to hope for, believe
in, trust in! Something palpable that we can touch, feel, and know.
Inquiry as to churches surrounding them usually elicited a shrug of the
shoulders and the reply: “They are not for such as me. If I dares to go,
they talks about a far-off God that I doesn’t understand, and hitches
their fine clothes away from me as if my rags would pisen ’em!”

The more that Gilbert came to know the impulses stirring in these
benumbed hearts, the more he and Margaret felt the need of establishing
a ground of intercommunication between them. To be able to meet these
wretched mortals upon their own plane and lead them along, by paths they
could understand, up to the great truths of time and eternity, and to
make palpable to them that God’s love is not a mere abstraction, but a
revivifying, humanizing influence—what dearer work could one ask? And
yet how was it possible in their straightened circumstances to make even
a beginning of this work? Elsie’s fertility of resource solved the
problem.

“Make the Busy Fingers Club a factor in the case. Let them hold their
long-talked-of bazaar, rent the necessary room, and christen the project
‘The Children’s Home Meeting.’ Then let Gilbert go among his poor, tell
them of the wonderful violinist and improvisator, Antoine Minaud, and
promise them a free concert on some Sunday night. After the concert,
have a few moments for social intercourse, in which all four of the
principal instigators and abettors in the scheme endeavor to make the
acquaintance of those in the room, and then let Gilbert or Margaret give
them a few—only a few—of the simple truths of every-day living and
learning. It is a very simple beginning,” added Elsie dubiously.

“And for that reason the best,” said Margaret decidedly.

The members of the little club were enthusiastic abettors of the scheme
as outlined to them by Margaret and Elsie. The name which Elsie had so
happily bestowed upon the project instantly won upon their regard and
made them noisy advertisers of their work throughout the neighborhood.
The rooms of a member occupying the lower floor of the tenement-house
were secured for the use of the bazaar, and what audience the handiwork
of the little folks did not attract, the music of Antoine’s violin
succeeded in catching and holding. Altogether the bazaar was pronounced
a success by its delighted originators, and at its close there was money
enough to pay the rent of the hall for one night and possibly two. Then
came the work of training the children for the concert. Elsie took
especial care that every song should breathe the tenderness, the mercy,
the helpfulness of divine love, and the sweet, clear voices of the
children, trained to the subtile sympathy of expression by her innate
appreciation, made many of the songs long to be remembered.

It was a curious and motley throng that assembled in the hall one Sunday
night in response to Gilbert’s invitation, as he stood at the door and
took every comer by the hand. Women with shawls over their heads, with
babies asleep on their breasts, men with hats pulled low over eyes that
cast furtive glances of unrest and suspicion, brazen-faced and
gaudily-dressed creatures with their calling stamped upon their
countenances, ragged and barefooted children, pale-faced and distorted
cripples, came slowly and half-reluctantly into the room. It was
something so new, so unlike anything they had ever been offered, that
they were more than half afraid it was a trap, and that it would end in
their being preached at, told how vile they were, and warned to flee
from the wrath of an angry and a jealous God. They had heard these words
so many times and had felt, deep within disquieted and tumultuous
bosoms, the wide gulf between the prosperous promulgators of the church
and their own degraded and unhappy condition. Yet somehow they all
trusted Gilbert; there was something in the clear, earnest, boyish face
that won the most suspicious nature, and it was because they had felt
that he was truly their friend that they had ventured to come. The hall
was a barren, smoke-begrimed, illy-ventilated room, but Elsie and the
children had made what effort they could with meagreness of material to
brighten it up. Above the platform, where stood Elsie’s organ and where
the semicircle of children was ranged, those in the audience who could
read beheld in large letters, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to
you, do ye even so unto them.” Over the windows hung gay cotton banners
bearing such inscriptions as “Love is lord of all.” “A cup of cold water
to the thirsty.” “A kind word maketh the heart glad.” “A true heart is
one of earth’s jewels.” “A little child shall lead them.”

Antoine’s violin caught the inspiration of the hour and spoke in almost
human tones the pathos, the prayer, and the hope of each bosom. The airs
were those of simple, well-known hymns, many of them so familiar as to
be almost household words, and when in response to Gilbert’s invitation
the audience arose and sang the choruses, there were not many lips that
remained motionless. They had doubtless heretofore been hummed many
times by the same careless, unthinking voices; now they seemed to strike
deep into some inner fibre of feeling, and many a furtive tear rolled
from beneath quivering and downcast lashes. The children sang, as Elsie
declared, “like little angels;” but the crowning event of the evening
was Antoine’s improvisation. Advancing to the center of the platform on
his one crutch, he began in a low, plaintive, and touchingly-sweet
voice:

                 “My heart is sair wi’ muckle woe,
                   God knows! God knows!
                 I ken nae mair the way to go,
                                       God knows!

                 “My feet are cut, my shoon are gane,
                   God knows! God knows!
                 And every step is hurt wi’ pain,
                                       God knows!

                 “Nae light is roun’ aboot my way,
                   God knows! God knows!
                 I canna see the sun of day,
                                       God knows!

                 “I faint and fall in sairest need,
                   God knows! God knows!
                 And men go by wi’ little heed,
                                       God knows!

                 “Sae little costs the kindly word,
                   God knows! God knows!
                 Sae sad it is sae seldom heard,
                                       God knows!

                 “Sae bitter is the thirsting lip,
                   God knows! God knows!
                 Some time mayhap love’s cup we’ll sip,
                                       God knows!”

Before Antoine had finished, men and women were rocking back and forth
and sobbing like children, and when the last strains of the song died
away, it seemed minutes before any one spoke, and then a woman, who an
hour before had entered the room with a brazen face and a foul-mouthed
ejaculation, cried out in heart-broken tones: “Oh, sing it again—God
knows! God knows!”

Softly, as if taken up and echoed by angel voices, Antoine sang once
more the last stanza, and before the lingering notes were lost on the
air, he was at the woman’s side clasping her hand in his.

Instantly Gilbert, with Margaret and Elsie on either side and Lizzette
and the children following, left the platform to mingle with and take
the hands of those present. They passed among them with words of cheer
and good-will, and when order was again called, there was an
unmistakable look of eager expectancy upon the faces that was balm to
the watchful eyes of Margaret and Gilbert. Advancing to the front of the
platform, the latter said simply:

“My friends: I am glad you trusted me sufficiently to come here
to-night. We hope to have many more such nights together, and I only ask
you in going away to remember that, sad as is the pathway of life for
many of us, there is light ahead. The soul of man through which God
seeks to work the salvation of the world is not dead but sleepeth.
Slowly it is awaking, and love that abides in the world shall some time
teach men that its universal practice must be ‘Whatsoever ye would that
men should do to you, do ye even so unto them.’”



                              CHAPTER XXI.


As the winter grew into early spring, the fame of the Children’s Home
Meetings spread so rapidly that a larger audience-room became an
imperative necessity. The churches began to inquire into the matter, and
Margaret and Gilbert were beset with questions as to their creed and
purpose. To all such they gave answer, “Our only creed is love, and our
only purpose to help each other.”

“Too vague and indefinite; the structure will fall for lack of proper
support. You ought at least to have a set of rules.”

“So we have,” replied Margaret, “but they spring from the need of the
hour. We have order at our meetings because even disorderly natures find
that to keep the peace best subserves the interest they feel in the
all-pervading friendship we are seeking to establish. Beyond this we
keep in sight, although not obtrusively, the axiom, if such it may be
called, that the interest of one is the interest of all, and
transversely, that the interest of all is the interest of one. When
these simple truths have become the bone and sinew of belief and
practice, then we may go a few steps farther as the way opens and light
dawns.”

“You must have an ultimate line of procedure marked out—some plan as to
its religious aspect, have you not?”

“We teach no so-called system of theology. Since atheists, infidels,
deists, and trinitarians all meet upon the common ground that the
civilized world has never beheld a grander epitome of what is called
‘living’ than that afforded by Jesus of Nazareth, we are content to
forego modern complications of creeds and isms and establish among
ourselves the fundamental truths taught by Jesus and, better yet,
practised by Him. In doing this we think we shall better both man’s
desires and surroundings. This idea, carried to its logical conclusion,
is so far-reaching that inequalities of opportunity will fall away as if
by magic and the now unceasing mutterings of discontent and strife will
be one day relegated to a past age of unconscionable greed and
injustice.”

“The church has been striving to accomplish this for eighteen hundred
years. How can you expect, with no trained organization, to reach so
beatific a state of society?”

“Because we shall not do as the church does and partition the goats from
the sheep. We shall practice no exclusion, no worship of mammon, and
shall acknowledge no caste except that of heart and brain. Personally I
do not look beyond the good of the present hour; if that is rightfully
spent the future will take care of itself. Indeed, our effort is much
like guiding the first steps of the child; development must come with
years and growth.”

“Well, you have a good motive and are an earnest advocate. We shall
watch your progress with interest and wish you God-speed.”

These words were but a type of the interest the movement aroused among
cultured and progressive thinkers who came to watch and listen and went
away to ponder. Margaret and Gilbert, ever watchful of the trend of
current thought, smiled hopefully at each other when, in the columns of
their daily paper, they read the announcement of sermons on such topics
as “The Era of Religious Harmony: What Signs of its Approach? What can
we do to Hasten it?” “The Co-operative Principle in Morals.” “The Ethics
of the Eight-hour Movement.” “Religious Communism.”

“The way is clearing for us,” said Margaret eagerly. “Thought is awake
and we are only followers in the march of progress; we are not even
forerunners.”

“And yet we are looked upon with suspicion by a great many well-meaning
people. The conservative element in the church regards our ideas as
subversive and dangerous.”

“So thought the money-changers in the temple when Jesus drove them out.
What are we attempting to do, indeed, but re-establish the line of faith
on which the church has built itself? And if in doing this we brush some
of our plebeian, homespun ideas against a shocked silken-coated
aristocratic culture, we may advance the price of homespun in the
market, if nothing more. I am not afraid for our cause, since it is
identical with everlasting truth.”

“Yes, and walks hand in hand with the heart-hungry and soul-begging
mortal! Margaret, every time I stretch out my hand to one who has need
of a friend, I feel that the grandeur of that _Life_ which is enthroned
in my conscience and teaches me to aspire to the highest development, is
something infinitely greater than the same truth could have been as a
mere abstraction. Jesus, the Nazarene, a man among men, makes possible
all that is highest in human endeavor. A philosophy as old as the
earliest time and as fundamentally true as God himself, that ‘Nobility
arises from individual virtue and not from Abraham’s blood,’ and which
Jesus made so potent when He walked the earth, needs now, as then,
apostles who fear not to preach the truth. It underlies in all its
simplicity every system of religion and statecraft, and yet it is
ignored, brow-beaten, trampled under foot, and sneered at by those who
seek power at the expense of all that is noblest in man. Oh, had I a
thousand tongues I could not hurl these old truths at the world fast
enough!”

Flushed and tremulous with feeling, Gilbert walked up and down the room,
pouring out the flood of ideas which his work called into activity.

“Social well-being, industrial thrift, active consciences—let us place
these in the corner-stone of the new structure. Religion has been ‘set
apart’ too long; so long, indeed, that within its doors have crept the
monsters of greed, gold-worship, and place-hunting, until its higher and
holier meanings have been well-nigh crowded out. What, indeed, does man
want of a religion that does not permeate every hope, desire, and action
of life? We must bring it down from its idealized height and make it
common as the air we breathe and the bread we eat. Then indeed may man,
glancing upward, behold the dawn of a new and happier day!”

It was a day or two later that Herbert and Elsie were at the organ
trying a new piece of music, which accidentally slipping from its rack
fell behind the organ as it stood diagonally across the room. In rolling
the organ out Elsie discovered a market basket full of groceries hidden
in the corner.

“Where in the world did that basket come from, and what a strange place
to put it!” cried Elsie in amazement. As she glanced at Herbert his
flushed, uneasy face told the whole story.

“I am exceedingly obliged to your estimate of us as objects of charity!”
she exclaimed, placing the basket in the middle of the room, and
standing over it with the air of a queen of tragedy.

Herbert could not forbear a laugh, and there was a trifle of malice in
the tone with which he said: “It seems to me there is a striking
conflict of ideas between the democracy you preach and practice at the
Children’s Home Meetings I hear so much about, and the aristocracy of
pride you practice at home and toward those whom you ought to trust.”

Elsie winced under the home thrust, and with the quickness with which
she could judge herself, answered contritely: “I know I am proud,
Herbert; but I think it is an honorable pride. At least so I have always
considered pride of character, and it always _did_ hurt when anything
struck at my independence. It isn’t as if I were sick, or incapable,
or——”

“Exhibited a proper humility of spirit, instead of an obstinate and
irritating pride,” interrupted Herbert.

“Am I irritating?” asked Elsie simply. “In what way?”

“In ever so many ways,” answered Herbert, evidently bent on
fault-finding. “I seem to count but a cipher in your estimation beside
some of these overmastering ideas of yours. If I exhibit a generous
motive toward you, you smother it——”

“In kisses,” she cried, throwing her arms around his neck and proceeding
to stop further explanation. “Herbert Lynn,” she added, drawing a long
breath after the bit of violent exercise above recorded, “you’re a most
ungrateful man! Now don’t bluster, for it won’t do one bit of good. I’m
going to tell you something new. I love you more than any man in the
world—that is, any I’ve met so far! Keep still! and I’m going to do an
exceedingly generous action; I’m going to keep the groceries, and drop
you a courtesy of the properly humble kind, and say, ‘Thank you kindly,
sir! May heaven’s blessings shower——’ Why, what is the matter? You won’t
even wait for the proper ending of the performance.”

Herbert shook himself loose from her detaining arm and walked to the
window with a highly-offended air.

The laugh on Elsie’s lips and in her eyes died away, and after a
moment’s pondering she followed him and said penitently: “Forgive me,
Herbert; you know I love you more than——”

“What?” asked Herbert suspiciously.

“Money,” said Elsie sententiously.

“Bah!” exclaimed Herbert, angrily.

“Be calm, my friend! Now look me squarely in the eyes and behold your
image reflected there as—I’m in earnest now—truly it is engraven on my
heart, never to be erased as long as I live.”

Herbert’s reply was that speech of silence so eloquent to the ears of
all lovers, and for the time being it bridged over the tide of their
differences.

“Herbert,” said Elsie, when the silence had been effectively disposed
of, “why do you never come to the Children’s Home Meetings?”

“In the first place, because I’ve never been asked, and in the second
place, I’m not altogether in sympathy with the movement.”

A sudden pang shot through Elsie’s heart. “Please explain,” she said
quietly.

“Well, probably my reasons are selfish and personal. I believe you know
that I am somewhat generous at heart, that I am in the main humanity’s
well-wisher, and that I am ever ready to relieve a specific case of
distress; but I do not feel as if I wanted the girl who is to be my wife
hand in glove with the riff-raff of society.”

“The riff-raff of society!” repeated Elsie wonderingly. “Who are they?
How am I hand in glove with them?”

“Well, from what I hear,” answered Herbert uneasily, “you not only talk
the gospel of love in its broadest sense to women of the vilest stamp,
but you take their hands when it is pollution to touch them, you sit
beside them and try to teach them truths they are too dulled and
besotted to learn, and while you are, I must admit, an angel of light,
you are but a mock for their vile tongues, and make, I fear, only
questionable progress.”

“Go on,” said Elsie faintly as Herbert paused.

“There is a spirit of unrest and dissatisfaction abroad which I think
your efforts will do much to incite instead of quell. I do not question
your motives, but I do question your methods. Let them alone, Elsie,
darling, and be content to shine at the hearthstone of those who love
you. Intensify your light for me, instead of diffusing it until it is as
thin and almost as cold as moonshine.”

There was no fire of playful fancy in the eyes that met Herbert’s as
Elsie raised her head from his shoulder. He started as he saw the dull,
cold hopelessness beneath the heavily-fringed eyelids.

“O Herbert! Herbert!” she cried despairingly. “Why do you ask this? Why
did you ever learn to love me? I told you it was a mistake! I am one of
these common people whom you despise. I can no more shut out my
aspirations, hopes, dreams, and efforts for them than I can cut off my
right hand. I have fed on these thoughts until they have become bone and
sinew. You knew us, you knew our methods—why, oh, why did you learn to
love me?”

“For the very reason that you are not one of the common people. I have,
I think, told you several times before that I am not so blind I cannot
tell a jewel regardless of its environment. I loved you _despite_
education, surroundings, social pride, everything. I swept away every
obstacle to call you mine, and I care nothing for the world’s verdict. I
only want you for myself, queen of my heart and home, adored as its
sovereign light, surrounded by all that the eye delights in or the heart
can ask.”

“No, not all,” said Elsie quietly.

“What else?” asked Herbert eagerly. “You shall have everything that love
or wealth can procure.”

“Can they buy a quiet conscience?”

Herbert shrank back. “I think you exaggerate the matter,” he said
hastily. “I cannot see that the conscience is called into question.”

“I can,” said Elsie decidedly. “I had a heritage left me, here,” and she
placed her hand upon her breast as she spoke, “and daily and hourly it
tells me that if I selfishly lock up my God-given sympathies and turn
away from the impulses of my better nature, I am committing a crime
whose punishment is no less severe because eternity shall judge it.”

“Elsie! Elsie!” cried Herbert, awed into a great fear by the solemnity
of her words, “you shall be the dispenser of charity as bounteous as you
desire.”

“And yet be forbidden to soil my hands by contact with poverty or crime.
No, we have too much of that sort of charity already. Besides, do you
not see, Herbert, that there could be no happiness for us holding such
opposite views as we do? Marriage is too holy to admit a division of
sentiment and endeavor between husband and wife. Ah, I have been so weak
to permit a love that I knew could only bring disaster!”

“It is only a few moments ago that you assured me you loved me for all
time.”

“I do.”

“And yet you can throw me over for a disordered society that never will
appreciate an iota of your sacrifice.”

“You are mistaken! The sacrifice appeases a deeper and holier feeling.”

“You have a very strange way of reasoning, it seems to me,” said Herbert
bitterly. “You rob Peter to pay Paul with surprising alacrity.”

The look that Elsie turned upon him was so filled with agony that he
cried remorsefully as he caught her hand and endeavored to draw her
toward him: “Forgive me, Elsie, darling! I am not worthy of your love, I
know; but I hunger so for it—I can’t give it up!”

Elsie drew back with the despairing cry, “We are so wide apart,
Herbert.”

“We needn’t be if you would trust more to me and less to that
hypersensitive soul of yours.”

A look of scorn not usual to Elsie’s face met Herbert’s appealing gaze.
She rose to her feet and stood stiffly before him.

“You are centuries too late. My hypersensitive soul has a right to its
own distinct existence. Your prescience should have told you how little
I could strike palms with you in utter self-annihilation.”

A faint smile crossed Herbert’s face at Elsie’s grandiloquent words and
air, but it died quickly away as she swept haughtily from the room and
would not come back, though he called her repeatedly. Angrily he
snatched his hat and left the house. Abused, insulted, hurt,
misunderstood, he felt himself to be, and the more he reviewed the
situation the more he felt that Elsie’s obstinacy, as he termed it, had
raised an impassible barrier between them. Still his heart would not be
stifled, and it was not till after dispatching a note to her and
despairingly reading her answer—that marriage between people so
distinctly at variance could never bring happiness—that he wholly lost
hope. It was but the work of a few hours to make arrangements to join
his sister abroad. At the last moment he dispatched a note to Elsie
containing these words: “I have placed the sum of five thousand dollars
in the C—— National Bank, subject to your call. If you love me as
devotedly as I can assure you I shall ever cherish your memory, you
cannot do less than make me happy by using it. You owe me this small
recompense for the suffering that will be mine to the day of my death.”



                             CHAPTER XXII.


To Margaret alone Elsie opened the flood-gates of her heart, and it was
only after days of overwhelming grief that she could again take up the
burden of life. Margaret’s tears of sisterly sympathy and words of
counsel could not at first still the torrent of heart-broken tears with
which she mourned her lost love. Not even Herbert had known how precious
it had been to her—how everything high and holy had seemed to be the
offspring of that vitalizing force in her heart. Now, because having
lived up to its highest revelations and endeavored to be true to its
holiest purposes, she had crossed a counter-current of thought and will,
this love had been taken from her. Had she been wrong, opinionated,
obstinate, as Herbert called her? Had she forgotten the sweet submission
of the weaker unto the stronger in that natural order of divine and
human love which popular clamor voices as the proper sphere of woman?
Often as she asked herself these questions—and with the not unnatural
hope of finding herself in the wrong, since her heart prompted the
slave-like humility of a perfect love—just so often conscience answered,
“No!” Stronger still, as she reasoned, grew the feeling that her soul
had a right to its own individuality, and that whatever it cost her, she
had no right to bind its wings, even though the fetters were silken and
lightly held by the hand of love. Neither Margaret, Lizzette, Antoine,
nor Gilbert dared offer a verbal sympathy to the sore heart behind the
white, set face that confronted them when Elsie had fought her battle
alone. The sparkle was irretrievably gone from the dark eyes, and the
curved lips drooped pitifully at times; but in all the earnestness of
purpose, the kindliness of spirit, she was still the same Elsie.

The work of the Children’s Home Meetings grew almost hourly under her
efforts; for now that she had sacrificed her heart on the altar of this
work, she meant to make the sacrifice acceptable in its good results.
Every hour that she and Margaret could snatch from the demands of their
daily work, they spent in forming what they called “Conscience Classes.”
The system of ethics taught was as simple as the minds with which they
came in contact, and bore the stamp of the ever-living truth. The
magnetic presence of the four chief workers grew to be a living delight
to all who came from motives of curiosity or interest within its circle.
Beginning at first only with what Herbert had been pleased to term “the
riff-raff of society,” the circumference of the circle had gradually
widened until a better-educated and more self-respecting class had found
its way among them. Yet even with intelligence gaining upon them, the
one great need of basing all reform, all happiness, all prosperity upon
the code of ethics which, while it demands the highest development of
the individual, yet takes its inspiration from the thought of a common
welfare, was never lost sight of. Earnestness is the great lever of the
world, and while there were many to oppose the idea as of
disproportionate value to the need and development of the times, the
effort still found many adherents. To be called cranks, laughed at by
unbelievers, and derided by the class for which nothing is holy but
success, came to be, as Elsie said, “normal as the air they breathed;”
but after the first sharp sting these shafts remained unnoticed, and the
one or two perishing ones uplifted, helped into the light and warmed by
the sunshine of human kindliness into a knowledge of the great inspirer
of their work, was balm enough to heal all the wounds of a scoffing
world.

Margaret had also formed a Mother’s Class, in which everything
pertaining to motherhood and its duties, was thoughtfully discussed.
This class came in time to be presided over by Mrs. Carson, who,
partially recovered, found no greater delight than in seconding the good
work which had saved her in her hour of need. The Daughters of the
Carpenter was a class headed by Elsie and especially devoted to
helpfulness wherever it was needed. A list of the regular attendants of
the meeting was kept, and if a mother was found to be sick or
overworked, some one of the Daughters was appointed to render the needed
assistance. Among the men and elder boys Gilbert formed a reading class,
in which history and the science of government were brought down to the
comprehension of the illiterate, and men were shown that if they were
dissatisfied with existing social conditions, the remedy lay in their
own hands in a rightful use of the ballot, and that if they sold that
ballot to a ring or combination they only forged new links in the chains
that bound them to a slavery against which they were constantly
rebelling. Nor were the children forgotten in this work. Every original
“Busy Fingers” boy and girl had a new class, in which were resown the
good seeds implanted by Margaret and Gilbert. Thought and action were
growing slowly but surely in the little community; but already a serious
question was confronting them. The rental of the hall had easily been
effected by the subscription of a few cents from every regular
attendant; but the work, especially among the mothers’ and children’s
classes, required money to prosecute it. They were all poor, living from
hand to mouth, and while the work was growing there was no money to help
the growth.

“O Margaret,” moaned Elsie, “if the money Herbert left me had only been
left to our beloved work, how gladly I would use it! Now, knowing how he
feels about it, I can never touch it.”

It was nearing midsummer, and the work among their members was
increasing fast, by reason of sickness brought on by living in noisome
atmospheres and without proper food and care. Gilbert had come home from
his daily rounds one evening, the most of his cases unsold, and with an
unusual dejection of face and manner.

“I am comfortless,” he said, “for lack of the dross of earth. I have
seen such realization of human suffering to-day without the power to
alleviate that I am in despair. I gained admittance to one room, where a
mother and her new-born babe lay dead for lack of care, while a couple
of little ones were begging her to give them something to eat. I had but
ten cents in my pocket that I had saved for street car-fare; but I
rushed out, got the children some buns, and aroused the other inmates of
the house, who were themselves too poor to do more than care for the
children temporarily, while I called in the authorities and had the body
disposed of in the potter’s field. How are we going to make this work of
ours reach such cases without money? I shall have to go begging
to-morrow. I had hoped that our work would so speak for itself that we
would not need to beg; but to-morrow I must endeavor to start a fund of
some kind.”

As Gilbert ceased speaking, the open door was darkened by the form of a
tall, handsome woman dressed in deep mourning, whom Elsie at once
recognized as Alice Houghton. She turned with outstretched hand to
Elsie. “There is no need of introducing myself to you,” she said,
smiling, “but as I came to see your sister, will you make me known to
her, and your brother also?”

The introductions over, Miss Houghton at once entered upon the object of
her visit. “I have come to you, Miss Murchison, for help. I have
recently been sadly bereaved in the loss of one I loved, and life has
very nearly lost its charms for me. I have been hearing a good deal of
your work lately, and I want you to teach me to find forgetfulness in
what is evidently very great happiness to you.”

“Do you mean that you wish to become one of us?”

“That is my meaning. I shall gladly be your servant in any work you may
have for me.”

“To have a servant would be something new in my experience,” said
Margaret, smiling; “but we shall all be glad of help. Have you any
knowledge of our work? It is not agreeable only from one standpoint.
There isn’t the least æstheticism, superficially speaking, about it.”

“I do not believe I shall be afraid to try it. I know you three alone,
unaided, without money or friends, have been doing a work that is
already forcing its way into notice by reason of its unselfishness. I
have money, much beyond my needs, and as I learn of the help you have
given to many sufferers, I feel sure that I can abet your efforts, with
money if not judgment.”

Elsie sprang from her chair and impulsively held out her hand to Miss
Houghton. “We have such need of money,” she cried, “and you seem like a
providence of God.”

“You are more willing to accept money from me now than you were once
before,” laughed Miss Houghton.

“That was unearned; this is for the bettering of God’s poor.”

“Your pride struck me as strange then. I understand it better now.”

“And appreciate its motive, I hope,” said Elsie wistfully.

“Indeed I do, my dear child; and if the pride of the world had a similar
foundation there would not be such a war of caste as afflicts society
to-day.”

Fearful from Elsie’s flushed face and her knowledge of Helen Mason’s
opposition to Herbert’s marriage that in her last words she had
unwittingly trenched upon delicate ground, she slipped an arm around
Elsie’s waist, saying: “Tell me, my dear, why did you send Herbert
away?”

It was a difficult matter for Elsie to summon self-command enough to
reply; but with a face from which the color quickly receded she
faltered: “We differed so much in our views that there was no
reconciling them.”

“Then Helen was not wholly responsible?”

“No, she was not responsible at all. Mr. Lynn’s education and mine had
been from such widely-different standpoints that the wonder is our ideas
ever came into conflict. It has always been a mystery to me why Mr. Lynn
ever chose to think——”

“It is a wonder,” interrupted Alice Houghton dryly as she bent down and
kissed Elsie’s cheek. “I wouldn’t mourn, my dear, for a man who couldn’t
pocket a few whims to make me happy.”

“But you don’t know,” said Elsie seriously; “it was no whim on my part,
for I seemed to belong here to this work. I could not give it up and be
happy.”

“Ah, well, Herbert Lynn has lost the best of his life, and yet it is
only a few months ago that I looked through his spectacles. It is
strange how contact with sorrow opens our eyes to the true value of
qualities we did not notice before. Elsie, you must let me work beside
you, under the guidance of this wise sister of yours, and try to find
the same peace you are seeking. We seem to have met here from
widely-different paths. I gave up all for love—you, dear child, gave up
love for all humanity, and now we join hands in the same search for the
peace that passeth understanding. Will you show me the way, my little
girl?”

It needed no words from Elsie, Margaret, or Gilbert to prove how
heartily and gladly they welcomed the proffered aid, even as they strove
to recompense in some measure the faltering and hungering spirit of
their benefactress. With intuitive quickness she became one of them in
the earnestness of her efforts, and the line of distinction so often
made apparent in the manner of those who seek the welfare of the
oppressed was entirely absent. Side by side with Margaret and Elsie she
walked among that class of women whose hands Herbert had said it was
pollution to touch; but when she saw the glow of appreciation lighting
up the dulled, imbruted faces, and heard the wails of penitence from
sore hearts, and the promises to gather up the remnants of shattered
lives and dedicate them henceforth to righteous living, she felt
something of the joy of the Master who thought it no disgrace to eat
with publicans and sinners. She was not long in following Gilbert from
door to door and inspecting the homes where, Gilbert said, a
self-respecting man would be ashamed to house his cattle. The absolute
disregard of sanitation in many of these herding places—for they were
little else—shamed with a burning blush the boasted nineteenth-century
civilization. The names of the owners of these tenement hovels were
listed by Alice Houghton and found in the majority of cases to be those
of men of wealth and prominence in the community, who never gave any
thought to their property except as regarded its monthly income.
Ordering her carriage and horses and dressing herself in her finest
raiment, Alice presented herself at the doors of these men. Without any
preliminaries she told them of her discoveries, the deplorable condition
of their tenants, and begged that something be done to improve their
condition. Her handsome presence, her dress, equipage, all bespeaking
her a person of consequence, she met with the usual courtesy which such
externals command; but in the majority of cases she was listened to with
that air of constraint betokened by elevated eyebrows and idly drumming
fingers. More than once she was given to understand, sometimes broadly
and sometimes indirectly, that she might better be minding her own
business. For all such she had a parting shot in saying: “I am preparing
for publication in the city press a series of articles on the condition
of our poor. I really hope, sir, I shall not be compelled to include
your name in the list of inhuman landlords.”

The stroke told, and invariably elicited a promise of looking into the
matter, supplemented with at least some slight attempt at repairs. With
Alice Houghton conspicuous in such work, society became at once
interested. It might be a delightful fad to investigate this labor
question and exploit one’s charity in behalf of these poor dear
creatures. But whenever this desire was submitted, it met ignominious
and instant death. Only those who felt the earnestness of the work were
permitted any share in it. It soon became apparent, however, that the
latent impulses of human nature, veneered as they may be by false ideas
as to wealth and social position, are in the main generous and humane
ones. Under the influence of Alice Houghton wealth came to the succor of
the newly-formed and still chaotic society. Gilbert’s reading class
became possessed of a room for its exclusive use, where all the current
periodicals and papers and some of the best books could be found and
read by any one. It became a sort of poor man’s club-room where living
topics were discussed, and where twice a year a banquet was given at
which the speeches and toasts emanated from the growing minds of those
who had risen from the ranks.

The parlors of several well-known society ladies were also thrown open
once a week to the orchestra formed by Antoine, but now placed under the
tutelage of a more proficient master. The Mother’s Class, the Daughters
of the Carpenter, and the Busy Fingers Club had each a fund from which
to draw in emergencies, and better than all else, it seemed to Gilbert,
the five great principles lying back of all these efforts had been
submitted to a council and a code of rules drawn up under the general
plan, which bade fair to make the society cohesive and enduring. Yet it
was by no means free from turbulent elements, nor had it come to its
present prosperity without encountering many well-nigh overwhelming
obstacles. As long as human nature is content to remain on the low plane
of self-indulgence, just so long will every good and unselfish impulse
find a bitter warfare waged against it, and not every one of those who
were to be most benefited by the movement was in favor of it. There
seems to exist in some natures a wolfish opposition to everything high
and holy, and Gilbert had long been aware, without in the least
understanding the reason, that he had incurred the enmity of one of
their number known as “Red Handed Mike.” If the fellow possessed any
patronymic it had long since passed into oblivion, and he was known only
by his sobriquet, and feared accordingly. Gilbert had been warned that
Mike was only waiting an opportunity to “make it hot for him”; but
thinking the threat, for lack of cause, merely the idle boast of a
bully, he passed it unnoticed.

It was the morning of a day in early autumn. Margaret was made glad by
the sight of Aunt Liza and Eph, who, climbing to her sky-parlor with
many “oh’s” and “ah’s” and rheumatic squeaks of the joints, had greeted
her with the old-time effusion and affection which absence had not
dulled.

“I was jes longin’ so fer de sight ob your face, Miss Margaret, I
couldn’t stay away no longer, and Eph heah has been a heap wuss’n me,”
exclaimed Aunt Liza.

“Sho!” said Eph, fumbling with his hat and trying to hide his feet under
the rounds of his chair. “I only jes wanted to tell yer we’uns has done
a heap ob savin’ this heah summer. Mammy heah’s got a new red gown, an’
I’s got a whole suit of store clothes, and besides, Ma’am Minaud’s
banked money fo’ us, too.”

“Well done!” cried Margaret. “I couldn’t hear better news.”

“I knowed you’d be tickled!” exclaimed Eph, delightedly displaying a
couple of rows of ivory teeth. “I done tol’ mammy dar wa’n’t no use
backslidin’ in this yere business when all you’uns had got to be jes
perfeck angels.”

“Angels?” queried Margaret.

“Why, don’t yer know we’uns has hearn tell all ’bout de society out to
Idlewild? And eberybody done says you’uns is saints and no mistake,”
exclaimed Aunt Liza.

“Everybody is very kind,” said Margaret soberly, “but we are far from
saints. We are only trying to find the best side of human nature.”

“Yo’ done it—yo’ done it fo’ shuah, Miss Margaret!” exclaimed Eph
excitedly. “Yo’ jest took us po’ trash and made us ’sponsible bein’s,
and showed us how to be ’spectable if we is brack.”

“Deed yo’ did, Miss Margaret,” chimed in Aunt Liza. “And de bestest part
ob it is, as Eph’s a-sayin’, dar wa’n’t no ornery mission ’bout it.”

“I’s jes been wonderin’, Miss Margaret,” interrupted Eph, “eber since I
hearn ’bout Antoine’s singin’ and de way de home meetin’s is callin’ de
po’ sinners, ef dar’s any reason why mammy an’ me couldn’t come jes
once, anyway. It’s white folkses’ meetin’, I know, but I jes like mighty
well ter heah some ob Antoine’s singin’. Day do say he jes ’lectrify de
aujience.”

“Come and welcome,” said Margaret, who could not forbear a smile at
Eph’s rendering of popular phraseology. “We have room always for those
who are trying to find the way up.”

“Deed’n I’s so glad, Miss Margaret,” said Aunt Liza effusively. “’Pears
like sometimes dey’s a dreffle prejice ’gainst folks jes cause de Lawd
made deir skin brack.”

That evening, as Aunt Liza and Eph mounted the stairs of the Home Hall,
as it had come to be called, Red Handed Mike stood in the doorway and
blurted out as they passed: “We don’t want none o’ them d——d niggers
here. If Brother Gib ’lows ’em to stay I’ll break up the meetin’!”

Just then Gilbert, accompanied by his sisters and Alice Houghton,
entered the hall.

“Say,” called Mike, “do you see them niggers? Goin’ to let ’em stay?”

“Certainly,” answered Gilbert. “They are friends of ours.”

“No, they hain’t,” growled Mike. “I hain’t got no such devilish taste as
that.”

Gilbert paused for a second, and said quietly as he faced the offender
with a steady glance: “I hope your good taste will prevent your making
any disturbance.”

“Hush, Mike!” “Keep still, for God’s sake!” whispered several of his
companions as he turned to Gilbert threateningly.

“Never fear, men,” said Gilbert reassuringly. “Mike knows this isn’t any
place for a mill,” and without saying anything further he passed on to
the platform.

Under the entreaties of his companions the bully sank into a corner and
sulkily watched the proceedings. A little later Antoine stepped to the
front of the platform and began one of his inimitable improvisations.
Catching sight of Eph’s interested face in the audience, the impulse to
give a song in negro dialect came over him with irresistible force. With
scarcely a moment’s waiting the clear young voice rang out in a lively
carol.

                “What if some troubles yo’ do know?
                Jes doan min’ ’em, let ’em go!
                It only makes de bigger hill,
                A-pilin’ up ob ebery ill,
                            So jes let trouble go!

                                Chorus.

                “Git a lil’ sunshine in yo’ heart,
                Whateber grief yo’s knowin’,
                Git a lil’ sunshine in yo’ heart,
                            An’ set de smiles a-growin’.

                “De stranges’ thing is when yo’ smile,
                Yo’ done forgit yo’sef a while!
                Yo’ doan’ no mo’ remember pain,
                Till yo’ forgits to smile again,
                            So jes let trouble go!

Eph’s feet had been strangely uneasy during the rendering of the
preceding stanzas, and Aunt Liza had pulled at his coat and whispered
warningly: “Doan yo’ forgit, Eph, dis yere’s white folkses’ meetin’. Dey
doan ’low no shuffle heah.”

“Cain’t help it, mammy,” returned Eph. “It do jes go clar through my
toes.”

                  “Dar’s mighty lil’ dat we fin’
                  Dat’s like a nice contented min’;
                  It makes de worl’ de fines’ place
                  To lib dis side ob heabenly grace;
                              So jes let trouble go!”

                  “‘Git a lil’ sunshine in yo’ heart

“Yes do!” responded Eph fervently.

                    “‘Whateber grief yo’s knowin’!’

“Neber min’ it! Neber min’ it!” interposed Eph, growing more and more
excited.

                  “‘Git a lil’ sunshine in yo’ heart!’

“Send it, Lawd! Send it, Lawd!” cried Eph, rocking to and fro, heedless
of the wondering glances bestowed upon him and Aunt Liza’s frantic
clutches at his coat.

                     “An’ set de smiles a-growin’,”

sang Antoine’s clear voice.

“Yes, Lawd, we needs ’em! ’Deed we does,” groaned Eph half-aloud. A wave
of applause greeted the singer as he turned to leave the platform. It
swelled louder and louder and would not be stilled. In the midst of the
excitement Eph half-rose to his feet and called out: “Come back,
Antoine, honey! It’s jes like hearin’ ob de angels sing!”

Only Antoine’s instant compliance quelled the rising flood of laughter
and hisses. Clasping his hands before him and half drooping on his
crutch in the pathetic attitude of old age and decrepitude, Antoine
began in a broken voice:

                  “What ef my face is old an’ brack,
                  An’ hard my han’s, an’ bent my back,
                  An’ mos’ly shadows on de way
                  Hab followed dis yere form ob clay?
                  What ef, despised by brudder man,
                  I jes works on de bes’ I can,
                  An’ toilin’ airly, toilin’ late,
                  For arthly joys I’s long to wait?
                  I knows some time dis face ob min’
                  As white as Jesus’ robe will shine,
                      For He, oh, He’s my Mahstah!

                      “O Jesus, my Mahstah!
                        De frien’ ob de poah,
                      Deah Jesus, my Mahstah,
                        Yo’ sorrows will cuah;
                      O Jesus, my Mahstah,
                        He’s callin’, I come!
                      O brudder, my brudder,
                        Why stan’ yo’ dar dumb?”

There was an unsurpassed tenderness and sweetness in Antoine’s rendition
of the words, and an unusual hush fell upon the audience, which was
broken now and then by the audible sighs and incoherent ejaculations of
Eph, and when, as it seemed to Eph’s agitated bosom, Antoine’s voice
soared, in its freshness and simplicity, to the very verge of the
eternal, he could no longer restrain himself, but threw up his arms in
an ecstasy of self-abandonment and shouted: “I’s comin’! Lawd! I’s
comin’! I’s heah! Take me, po’ mis’able sinnah, take me home to glory!”

Instantly all was confusion. Men, women, and children craned their necks
for a view of the excited African whom Aunt Liza’s frantic efforts could
not calm. Eph had become possessed of the “power,” and was deaf to his
mother’s intercessions. “I’s knowed it long, Lawd,” he moaned. “I’s been
a dreffle sinnah. Jesus, my Mahstah, de fr’en’ ob de poah! O Jesus, my
Mahstah, yo’ sorrows will cuah——”

“Come, Eph,” said Gilbert, who had quickly left the platform. Eph rose
at once, whispering as he did so: “I neber mean no harm, Mars Gilbert.
I’s jes a feel-in’ de force ob conviction.”

“I know,” answered Gilbert soothingly. “Antoine’s singing was evidently
too much for you. You’ll feel better in the open air.”

“’Deed I’ll neber feel any bettah till I knows de Lawd’s forgiben de
mis’ble sinnah Eph Blackburn! I’s jes got to be convarted, Mars
Gilbert.”

Eph was growing excited again as they neared the door where Red Handed
Mike stood among a knot of his fellows. As Gilbert and Eph passed them,
Mike exclaimed in a tone loud enough to be heard throughout the hall: “I
told Brother Gib he’d better not let them d——d niggers in here.”

Gilbert turned and faced him. “That is not fit language for this place,
and I don’t want any more of it.”

“You don’t, eh?” cried Mike with a sneer. “I rather guess I’ve as good a
right to say what I please as any d——d nigger.”

“Leave the room at once, or I shall be compelled to have you put out.”

“You will? Take a little of that first, won’t you?” and drawing back the
bully, flaming with passion, sent a heavy blow of his fist into
Gilbert’s face. With a panther-like leap Gilbert evaded the blow, and
instantly closed his fingers in a vise-like grip around his opponent’s
throat. Struggling and clutching with the fierceness of a tiger at the
long, lithe fingers closing in upon his throat like bands of steel, with
his tongue lolling on his chin, his face growing black, and his eyes
starting from their sockets, Mike was forced by Gilbert against the
wall, who held him there as he cried, “Call the cops, boys!”

“Hold him fast!” “Bully for you, Brother Gib!” “Make him ax yer
parding!” yelled the crowd.

“I shall some other day,” answered Gilbert. “Just now I’ll keep my
fingers on him till the cops get him.”

A moment later “Red Handed Mike,” crestfallen and sulky, was passed over
to the care of a couple of policemen, and Gilbert turned to the men who
had gathered around him and said, with a grim appreciation of its
underlying humor:

“Boys, I am going to talk to you to-night on the beauty of peace.”

He walked quietly and quickly up the aisle, but had not yet mounted the
platform when a tremendous cheer broke from the audience. Men threw
their hats in the air, and women waved their handkerchiefs as the story
of “the fighting parson,” as they then and there dubbed him, passed from
lip to lip.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.


Two years passed by; years that brought increasing strength and
prosperity to the Society of Universal Brotherhood, and gave it a
recognized standing as an important factor in the structure of social
reform. Dealing primarily with the fundamental truth of human
relationship, and resolutely adhering to the application of those
principles to all the conduct of life, it soon established a method of
reason which, if primitive, still satisfied the highest aspirations of
the heart. In Red Handed Mike Gilbert had won, after long proof of the
value of brotherly kindness and forbearance, one of his most earnest
co-workers, and it was no uncommon sight to behold the two side by side
at political, social, and semi-religious gatherings, endeavoring to
promulgate in quiet ways the truths which had become inherent parts of
their daily thought and work. To Antoine alone, of all the members of
the little circle, the years had brought apparent change. Increasing
stature and added health had given him greater comeliness of form, while
the once pale, thoughtful face was now enlivened by the glow of color
and sparkle of happiness. The parting of Herbert and Elsie had been a
great grief to the lad, for love and gratitude to both had built in
fancy a glowing future for them. In numberless little ways he had
endeavored to show his sympathy and appreciation, and to Herbert he had
taken to writing long letters descriptive of the lives and pursuits of
the old circle; but avoiding with intuitive delicacy any direct
reference to Elsie. The progress of the society was therefore an open
book to Herbert, who, wandering restlessly over the continent of Europe,
hungrily awaited the coming of Antoine’s letters in the fond hope of
gleaning even in imagination some news of Elsie. The two years of his
wanderings had been but a record of growing discontent. His prosperous
life had never before known a serious rebuff, and his love for Elsie had
been the one and only love of his life. Try as he might in his anger and
disapproval, he could never shut out the memory of the dark eyes and the
piquant face, now sparkling with gayety or quivering with the pathos of
grief. All her little crudities of speech, her high-tragedy airs, her
inimitable mimicry, and her tender flower-like caresses, dwelt so deep
within his heart that they were constant companions of his waking and
sleeping hours. He grew old and irritable under the pressure of grief
and disappointment, and Helen Mason declared that “a mummy from the
Catacombs couldn’t be more unsociable.” They wandered together up the
Nile, Herbert declaring his intention of tracing it to its source and
joining Stanley in the heart of the Dark Continent.

“I’m tired,” he said, “of civilization, and think of returning to
savagery, where ‘labor strikes’ and ‘bloated capitalists’ are unknown
quantities.”

“I think you’ve already reached that state,” Helen retorted, “for I live
in almost constant fear of having my head snapped off.”

“Well, since I’m so nearly on the confines of cannibalism, I think, to
insure your safety, we will go back to Paris.”

To Paris they accordingly directed their steps, but the gay capital had
no attractions for Herbert. Indeed, he was more at peace lazily dreaming
in the land of the Pharaohs, for in the new republic he could not
altogether shut his ears to the cry of the people. Thought seemed to be
teeming, even in the effete monarchies of the Old World, and when he and
Helen, in despair of enjoyment fled to the Russian capital, even there
nihilism and nationalism, dogged by the visions of Siberian prisons and
infuriated with the cry of slaves in mine and factory, were in the very
air they breathed. It was in Russia that Herbert first set himself to
studying the conditions so productive of upheaval as well as the worst
forms of human cruelty. To Helen’s intense fear he took to mingling with
the common people, and learning the reason for the scarcely breathed,
but only too apparent discontent and rebellion.

“The people! The people! Away with the divine right of kings!” This was
the whispered shibboleth of nihilists and nationalists alike in the
courts and wilds of Russia, and it swelled into a modulated but
well-defined chorus along the banks of the Rhine, until it rang resonant
and clear in the heart of the new republic. At home, abroad, wherever he
journeyed, the echo of the world’s suffering and despair was sure to
reach him. But after all what was it to him more than an episode of
history, interesting as a study of the conflict of ideas, the upheavals
by revolution and evolution? What part had he in forming history, only
as one of the many on whom the mantle of existing orders must inevitably
fall? With a good deal of impatience he shook off the obtrusive
question. Every man must be his own savior and avenger in the battle of
existence. Elsie herself had preached the independence of the
individual. “True,” said Conscience, “but did she preach that alone? Did
she not also believe in the fullest co-operation as a prop and
encouragement to individual effort? Was not her life an epitome of the
highest personal development, morally at least, combined with the most
unselfish desire for the prosperity of others?”

It was a long battle between a selfishness born of his environment, as
well as what he considered the inherent rights of individuals and
classes, and conscience and conviction. But the latter finally won the
day, and with an eagerness out of all proportion to his former weariness
and disgust with life, he set out for Paris and London with the
determination to investigate this industrial question to its farthest
limit. He was in London on that great first of May, when over two
millions of men throughout the world laid down their tools and quietly
awaited the declaration of advancing reason. He began to see that the
principle of co-operation, based, as it must ever be, on the simple
lines of equal opportunity and equal footing before the law, held within
its embracing bosom the solution of many of the vexed and complex
problems of sociology. It was while in Paris, however, that he made the
vital discovery which gave direction and concentration to his study of
the industrial question. While rambling with Helen in the purlieus of
the great city, he chanced upon a small community of neat
flower-enveloped cottages contiguous to an immense factory, and of which
they were evidently a part. Inquiry developed the fact that the little
village belonged to a manufacturer, who had organized a colony of
workingmen on an entirely original plan, in which their comfort was
coordinate with the profits to be gained. The cottages were rented to
men with families at from one dollar and a half to three dollars per
month, with the result that after long service they finally fell into
the hands of the occupants. The workingmen were insured against
accident, and their savings invested in the works at a guaranteed six
per cent per annum. Work was paid for by the piece at remunerative
wages, thus giving the skilled workman the opportunity to realize on his
ability, and stimulating the unskilled to greater activity. Imperfect
work was rigidly rejected at the expense of the employee, thereby
insuring the greatest carefulness and exactness. The streets of the
little village were handsomely paved, an ornate concert hall and good
school-houses adding to the attractiveness of the picture. The unmarried
workmen were able to secure comfortable lodgings at three cents per day,
and a restaurant provided meals at prices just paying expenses.
Discontent was an unknown quantity, while rosy-cheeked children and
plump matrons were living proof of the beneficence of the system. In
fact, situations were eagerly sought after and rarely vacated save by
death or disaster. The profits of the establishment were not, of course,
enormous, like so many similar institutions where human lives are
sacrificed on the altar of greed; but being moderate yet afforded a safe
permanent investment, which was never affected by strikes or lockouts,
and which in the zeal and affection of the community for its employer
relieved the burden of care and anxiety under which capital so often
groans in less favored circles. After weeks of investigation, Herbert
concluded that here was the middle ground on which capital and labor
must meet before either can achieve an unbroken line of progress. Making
himself and Helen acquainted with the owner and promulgator of all this
thrift and contentment, and beholding him in his charming home,
surrounded by luxuries, and with his daily comings and goings lighted by
the smiles and affection of his people, Herbert found his own ambition
fired to be the originator and center of a similar community. He
realized that the outlay at first would be enormous, involving his whole
fortune, and that the most arduous and exacting labor would be demanded
of him in its execution. But here under the balmy skies of France was
the living prosperous proof that business and sentiment, so universally
divorced by popular clamor, may be united in a harmonious and prolific
marriage. For the first time within the last two years, Herbert dropped
his taciturnity and discussed the project with Helen, who strangely
enough had become as infatuated with the little community as had Herbert
himself.

“After all, Herbert,” she said plaintively one day, “I believe having
your own way all the time is like living on honey—it palls on the
appetite very soon.”

Herbert glanced up quickly. “Are you turning philanthropist too?” he
asked with a touch of satire in his tone.

“Well, it is in the air,” she answered resignedly, “and I don’t see how
one can help being infected.”

“Bravo! Helen, you take the disease charmingly! Shall we go back to
America to establish a new Eden?”

“On one condition, and that is—to take me in as equal partner.”

“My sweet sister!” cried Herbert ecstatically as he sprang from his
chair and caught her around the waist. “Do you really mean it?”

“Truly; and, Herbert,” and with tears in the eyes upraised, to his she
added brokenly, “if—if that little saint, Elsie, Alice Houghton writes
me about, can be induced——”

“There!” Herbert’s face hardened as he placed his hand on his sister’s
lips. “Say no more on that subject. I appreciate your generosity, but
hope died long ago.”

Two days later they were on the ocean homeward bound, and with the zeal
of new-born ambition were deep in their project almost before they
returned the greeting of their friends. Some two weeks after their
arrival the C—— _Sunday Herald_ contained a notice of the purchase of a
large tract of land in the northwestern part of the city, including the
subdivision known as “Idlewild,” by Herbert Lynn, Esq., who proposed the
erection of a mammoth shoe factory to be managed after a method which he
had investigated abroad, and believed to be not only the safest
investment for capital, but one yielding the largest returns from the
standpoint of the philanthropist.

“Mr. Lynn,” the article went on to say, “is the pioneer in this form of
enterprise, and feeling that there is no reason other than inexcusable
greed for the occurrence of so much idleness, suffering, destitution,
vice, ignorance, and penury in so many departments of American labor, he
proposes a plan of co-operation, now working harmoniously and profitably
in France, which will no doubt do much toward solving some vexed
industrial conflicts.”

Following this was a short history of the colony on the edge of Paris
and its plan of operations. Elsie read the article with swimming eyes,
and impulsively kissed the insensate bearer of such good news. She had
not seen Herbert since his return, and this was the first intimation of
his project which she had received from any one. How beautiful the world
grew all at once! How much there was in life to hope for, work for,
enjoy! Suffering humanity under Herbert’s fostering care—ah, how could
it be other than happy? To live in the light of those sunny blue
eyes—how she envied the prospective inhabitants of that social paradise.
But the weeks grew into months, and Herbert made no effort to renew his
old standing in the little circle. His name was rarely mentioned to
Elsie, although she learned from Lizzette that he had appropriated one
of the handsomest residences included in his purchase of Idlewild, and
had taken Lizzette from her market gardening to preside over his
bachelor establishment. Voluble as Lizzette had always been, she was now
suspiciously silent, unless she had a bit of gossip to offer regarding
the interest taken in the proposed work by Alice Houghton. Antoine,
happy as a bird in the new home and the exceptional progress he was
making in music, took especial care to avoid the mention of Herbert’s
name, although Elsie often intercepted a wistful glance of commiseration
in his dark eyes. Why were they all so silent? she often asked her
longing heart. Did they think she had no courage? Did they fancy her a
Lily Maid of Astolat who needs must die for love? Well, they should see
she could be brave and work on through a long life, and make no sign of
heart-break! So with renewed earnestness, never sparing a moment for
much-needed rest, she toiled on, earning her daily bread and giving the
helping hand to all who needed it. Margaret’s watchful eyes noted with
pain how thin and transparent the once rounded face was growing, what an
intent light burned within the old laughter-loving eyes, and how
feverish was her application to her work.

It was a year before the great co-operative shoe factory was in running
order, and on the evening of the first day of regular work, Herbert,
flushed and elated over the promised success of his plan, was driving
hurriedly along the street, on his way to visit Helen and report
progress. Glancing up suddenly he encountered the gaze of Elsie’s eyes
as she paused for a second on the crossing. Heavens! How white and frail
she looked! What caverns those great dark eyes had grown to be! Was she
dying and nobody to tell him?

So preoccupied was he with these hurried thoughts that he passed on,
failing to return the slight salutation she had made. A moment later he
drew rein, but Elsie had disappeared from view. He turned and followed
in the direction she had taken, but she was nowhere to be seen. He had
been working of late like the traditional galley-slave, curbing his
impatience in the thought of the offering he could one day lay at her
feet, and now, like a phantom of her old blithe, rosy-cheeked self, she
had crossed his path, and the dark eyes had seemed to speak the
despairing words, “Too late! Too late!”

Lashing his horse into a white foam, in absolute defiance of the
ordinance against fast driving, he rushed a few moments later in upon
Margaret with the frightened question:

“Where is Elsie? Why has nobody told me she was dying?”

The question seemed almost brutal in its abruptness, and Margaret
staggered as if struck by a blow.

“Forgive me, Margaret,” cried Herbert piteously. “I passed her just now,
but lost her again, looking so frail and wan—did you not know? Have you
not seen?”

“Ah, yes,” moaned Margaret. “But I had no medicine for a breaking heart.
A spirit like hers soon burns out the fires of a frail body.”

It was some time later that the door opened suddenly and Elsie, pale,
trembling with the exertion of climbing the stairs, and with eyes veiled
in the shadow of utter despair, stood on the threshold.

Herbert was at her side in an instant. “Elsie! Elsie!” he cried. “Love
is master. I’ve come back to you, strengthened, purified, ennobled at
your hands. Do not scorn the gift now. It is richer than all else I ever
offered you.”

But Elsie had no answer to make. For the first time in her life she
fainted, and lay a veritable picture of death in Herbert’s arms. “Dear
God,” he cried, “not this! Not now with our work all before us! Let me
keep her lest I grow slothful in the service of her dear Master!”

Down on his knees beside the frail form, chafing the thin hands and with
the tears chasing each other in torrents over his face, Herbert knelt,
too frightened, too heart-broken to be of any service in Margaret’s
hasty efforts at resuscitation.

Joy seldom kills, and Elsie slowly came back to life and love with the
shadow of the old smile on her lips.

“Herbert,” she whispered as, still faint, but supremely happy, she
rested her head on his shoulder, “the old wilful, independent Elsie is
dead, and I want to prove to you hereafter how patient and submissive I
can be.”

“Well, then,” said Herbert, after one of those eloquent silences which
“the world that dearly loves a lover” can readily interpret—“well, then,
I’m going to take you at your word; for to-morrow at high noon, in
society vernacular, I shall be here with license, priest, Helen, and all
the rest of us, prepared to hear a very meek ‘I will’ from those white
lips.”

“But I have no wedding-gown!”

“Put on your best calico,” said Herbert composedly. “So long as I can
see you wear that glad light in your eyes and the old happy smile on
your lips, I shall always feel that you are clothed in radiant attire.”

One evening several days after the wedding, Gilbert came home to
Margaret with an inscrutable smile on his face. “Margaret,” he said
composedly, “I have come to the conclusion that your occupation as
home-maker is about gone.”

“What do you mean?” she cried aghast.

“Well, Herbert has given me a place in the factory, and he and Elsie
insist that I make my future home with them. It rather strikes me that
you are left out in the cold in consequence.”

Tears sprang to Margaret’s eyes, and with a heartbreaking sob she buried
her head in her arms as she leaned against the table.

“My dear sister,” cried Gilbert quickly. “My joke is rather rough I’ll
admit; but I’ve a little excuse for it.” And stepping to the hall door,
he beckoned mysteriously to some one standing there. Margaret raised her
head apprehensively, and saw Dr. Ely with smiling face standing upon the
threshold.

“Here is a gentleman,” said Gilbert soberly, “who thinks he would like
to have a home made for him.” And with an ostentatious bang to the door
he slipped away.



                              CONCLUSION.


Of the remaining members of the little circle there are but few words to
speak. In Alice Houghton and Helen Mason the Society of Universal
Brotherhood finds able coadjutors. Life becomes broader and fairer to
them as they realize the existence of a common bond in humanity and a
universal creed of brotherly love.

Slowly, but surely, the seed sown in doubt, darkness, and tribulation
has begun to bear fruit, and Gilbert, the powerful leader of the new
movement, often blesses the memory of the hours of sorrow and trial
which have made these helping influences spring from a soil watered by
tears and harrowed by privation. Antoine’s violin and marvellous gift of
improvisation are the delight of an enthusiastic public, and Lizzette’s
brown face, with the wrinkles growing a little deeper as the years go
by, wears a look of supreme pride and contentment as she contemplates
his progress. A cherished member of Herbert’s home, she is at once
housekeeper, friend, and companion.

The marriage of Herbert and Elsie is one of those perfect unions in
which oneness of spirit, heart, and effort keep an unbroken bond. They
have seen their endeavors paying them a tenfold increase in the growing
tide of thought and prosperity overtaking the workingmen and women and
widening out into an irresistible current of human kindness. Children
have come to them, endowed with the same warm, generous natures, who are
never so happy as when smoothing a wrinkle out of papa’s tired brow, or
making a dimple come in mamma’s pretty cheek. Elsie, the idol of her
home, and beloved alike by the prosperous circle of universal
brotherhood, and the thrifty, contented colony at Idlewild, often
delights, with children clinging to her skirts, and a crowing baby
perched on Herbert’s shoulder, half-laughingly, half-earnestly, to
proclaim him the founder and father of America’s New Aristocracy of
heart and brain.


                                THE END.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. Silently corrected obvious typographical errors and variations in
      spelling.
 2. Retained archaic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as printed.
 3. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.



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public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.




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