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Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

Part 6 out of 6

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"Papa!"

"Hush," he said, and looked up at her with reddened eyes. "Don't
wake your mother."

"I won't," she whispered. "How about you? You haven't slept any
at all!"

"Yes, I did. I got some sleep. I'm going over to the works now.
I got to throw some figures together to show the bank. Don't
worry: I'll get things fixed up. You go back to bed. Good-bye."

"Wait!" she bade him sharply.

"What for?"

"You've got to have some breakfast."

"Don't want 'ny."

"You wait!" she said, imperiously, and disappeared to return
almost at once. "I can cook in my bedroom slippers," she
explained, "but I don't believe I could in my bare feet!"

Descending softly, she made him wait in the dining-room until she
brought him toast and eggs and coffee. "Eat!" she said. "And
I'm going to telephone for a taxicab to take you, if you think
you've really got to go."

"No, I'm going to walk--I WANT to walk."

She shook her head anxiously. "You don't look able. You've
walked all night."

"No, I didn't," he returned. "I tell you I got some sleep. I
got all I wanted anyhow."

"But, papa----"

"Here!" he interrupted, looking up at her suddenly and setting
down his cup of coffee. "Look here! What about this Mr.
Russell? I forgot all about him. What about him?"

Her lip trembled a little, but she controlled it before she
spoke. "Well, what about him, papa?" she asked, calmly enough.

"Well, we could hardly----" Adams paused, frowning heavily. "We
could hardly expect he wouldn't hear something about all this."

"Yes; of course he'll hear it, papa."

"Well?"

"Well, what?" she asked, gently.

"You don't think he'd be the--the cheap kind it'd make a
difference with, of course."

"Oh, no; he isn't cheap. It won't make any difference with him."

Adams suffered a profound sigh to escape him. "Well--I'm glad of
that, anyway."

"The difference," she explained--"the difference was made without
his hearing anything about Walter. He doesn't know about THAT
yet."

"Well, what does he know about?"

"Only," she said, "about me."

"What you mean by that, Alice?" he asked, helplessly.

"Never mind," she said. "It's nothing beside the real trouble
we're in--I'll tell you some time. You eat your eggs and toast;
you can't keep going on just coffee."

"I can't eat any eggs and toast," he objected, rising. "I
can't."

"Then wait till I can bring you something else."

"No," he said, irritably. "I won't do it! I don't want any dang
food! And look here"--he spoke sharply to stop her, as she went
toward the telephone--"I don't want any dang taxi, either! You
look after your mother when she wakes up. I got to be at WORK!"

And though she followed him to the front door, entreating, he
could not be stayed or hindered. He went through the quiet
morning streets at a rickety, rapid gait, swinging his old straw
hat in his hands, and whispering angrily to himself as he went.
His grizzled hair, not trimmed for a month, blew back from his
damp forehead in the warm breeze; his reddened eyes stared hard
at nothing from under blinking lids; and one side of his face
twitched startlingly from time to time;--children might have run
from him, or mocked him.

When he had come into that fallen quarter his industry had partly
revived and wholly made odorous, a negro woman, leaning upon her
whitewashed gate, gazed after him and chuckled for the benefit of
a gossiping friend in the next tiny yard. "Oh, good Satan!
Wha'ssa matter that ole glue man?"

"Who? Him?" the neighbour inquired. "What he do now?"

"Talkin' to his ole se'f!" the first explained, joyously. "Look
like gone distracted--ole glue man!"

Adams's legs had grown more uncertain with his hard walk, and he
stumbled heavily as he crossed the baked mud of his broad lot,
but cared little for that, was almost unaware of it, in fact.
Thus his eyes saw as little as his body felt, and so he failed to
observe something that would have given him additional light upon
an old phrase that already meant quite enough for him.

There are in the wide world people who have never learned its
meaning; but most are either young or beautifully unobservant who
remain wholly unaware of the inner poignancies the words convey:
"a rain of misfortunes." It is a boiling rain, seemingly
whimsical in its choice of spots whereon to fall; and, so far as
mortal eye can tell, neither the just nor the unjust may hope to
avoid it, or need worry themselves by expecting it. It had
selected the Adams family for its scaldings; no question.

The glue-works foreman, standing in the doorway of the brick
shed, observed his employer's eccentric approach, and doubtfully
stroked a whiskered chin.

"Well, they ain't no putticular use gettin' so upset over it," he
said, as Adams came up. "When a thing happens, why, it happens,
and that's all there is to it. When a thing's so, why, it's so.
All you can do about it is think if there's anything you CAN do;
and that's what you better be doin' with this case."

Adams halted, and seemed to gape at him. "What--case?" he said,
with difficulty. "Was it in the morning papers, too?"

"No, it ain't in no morning papers. My land! It don't need to
be in no papers; look at the SIZE of it!"

"The size of what?"

"Why, great God!" the foreman exclaimed. "He ain't even seen it.
Look! Look yonder!"

Adams stared vaguely at the man's outstretched hand and pointing
forefinger, then turned and saw a great sign upon the facade of
the big factory building across the street. The letters were
large enough to be read two blocks away.

"AFTER THE FIFTEENTH OF NEXT MONTH
THIS BUILDING WILL BE OCCUPIED BY
THE J. A. LAMB LIQUID GLUE CO. INC."

A gray touring-car had just come to rest before the principal
entrance of the building, and J. A. Lamb himself descended from
it. He glanced over toward the humble rival of his projected
great industry, saw his old clerk, and immediately walked across
the street and the lot to speak to him.

"Well, Adams," he said, in his husky, cheerful voice, "how's your
glue-works?"

Adams uttered an inarticulate sound, and lifted the hand that
held his hat as if to make a protective gesture, but failed to
carry it out; and his arm sank limp at his side. The foreman,
however, seemed to feel that something ought to be said.

"Our glue-works, hell!" he remarked. "I guess we won't HAVE no
glue-works over here not very long, if we got to compete with the
sized thing you got over there!"

Lamb chuckled. "I kind of had some such notion," he said. "You
see, Virgil, I couldn't exactly let you walk off with it like
swallering a pat o' butter, now, could I? It didn't look exactly
reasonable to expect me to let go like that, now, did it?"

Adams found a half-choked voice somewhere in his throat. "Do
you--would you step into my office a minute, Mr. Lamb?"

"Why, certainly I'm willing to have a little talk with you," the
old gentleman said, as he followed his former employee indoors,
and he added, "I feel a lot more like it than I did before I got
THAT up, over yonder, Virgil!"

Adams threw open the door of the rough room he called his office,
having as justification for this title little more than the fact
that he had a telephone there and a deal table that served as a
desk. "Just step into the office, please," he said.

Lamb glanced at the desk, at the kitchen chair before it, at the
telephone, and at the partition walls built of old boards, some
covered with ancient paint and some merely weatherbeaten, the
salvage of a house-wrecker; and he smiled broadly. "So these are
your offices, are they?" he asked. "You expect to do quite a
business here, I guess, don't you, Virgil?"

Adams turned upon him a stricken and tortured face. "Have you
seen Charley Lohr since last night, Mr. Lamb?"

"No; I haven't seen Charley."

"Well, I told him to tell you," Adams began;-- "I told him I'd
pay you----"

"Pay me what you expect to make out o' glue, you mean, Virgil?"

"No," Adams said, swallowing. "I mean what my boy owes you.
That's what I told Charley to tell you. I told him to tell you
I'd pay you every last----"

"Well, well!" the old gentleman interrupted, testily. "I don't
know anything about that."

"I'm expecting to pay you," Adams went on, swallowing again,
painfully. "I was expecting to do it out of a loan I thought I
could get on my glue-works."

The old gentleman lifted his frosted eyebrows. "Oh, out o' the
GLUE-works? You expected to raise money on the glue-works, did
you?"

At that, Adams's agitation increased prodigiously. "How'd you
THINK I expected to pay you?" he said. "Did you think I expected
to get money on my own old bones?" He slapped himself harshly
upon the chest and legs. "Do you think a bank'll lend money on a
man's ribs and his broken-down old knee-bones? They won't do it!
You got to have some BUSINESS prospects to show 'em, if you
haven't got any property nor securities; and what business
prospects have I got now, with that sign of yours up over yonder?
Why, you don't need to make an OUNCE o' glue; your sign's fixed
ME without your doing another lick! THAT'S all you had to do;
just put your sign up! You needn't to----"

"Just let me tell you something, Virgil Adams," the old man
interrupted, harshly. "I got just one right important thing to
tell you before we talk any further business; and that's this:
there's some few men in this town made their money in off-colour
ways, but there aren't many; and those there are have had to be a
darn sight slicker than you know how to be, or ever WILL know how
to be! Yes, sir, and they none of them had the little gumption
to try to make it out of a man that had the spirit not to let
'em, and the STRENGTH not to let 'em! I know what you thought.
'Here,' you said to yourself, 'here's this ole fool J. A. Lamb;
he's kind of worn out and in his second childhood like; I can put
it over on him, without his ever----'"

"I did not!" Adams shouted. "A great deal YOU know about my
feelings and all what I said to myself! There's one thing I want
to tell YOU, and that's what I'm saying to myself NOW, and what
my feelings are this MINUTE!"

He struck the table a great blow with his thin fist, and shook
the damaged knuckles in the air. "I just want to tell you,
whatever I did feel, I don't feel MEAN any more; not to-day, I
don't. There's a meaner man in this world than _I_ am, Mr.
Lamb!"

"Oh, so you feel better about yourself to-day, do you, Virgil?"

"You bet I do! You worked till you got me where you want me; and
I wouldn't do that to another man, no matter what he did to me!
I wouldn't----"

"What you talkin' about! How've I 'got you where I want you?'"

"Ain't it plain enough?" Adams cried. "You even got me where I
can't raise the money to pay back what my boy owes you! Do you
suppose anybody's fool enough to let me have a cent on this
business after one look at what you got over there across the
road?"

"No, I don't."

"No, you don't," Adams echoed, hoarsely. "What's more, you knew
my house was mortgaged, and my----"

"I did not," Lamb interrupted, angrily. "What do _I_ care about
your house?"

"What's the use your talking like that?" Adams cried. "You got
me where I can't even raise the money to pay what my boy owes the
company, so't I can't show any reason to stop the prosecution and
keep him out the penitentiary. That's where you worked till you
got ME!"

"What!" Lamb shouted. "You accuse me of----"

"'Accuse you?' What am I telling you? Do you think I got no
EYES?" And Adams hammered the table again. "Why, you knew the
boy was weak----"

"I did not!"

"Listen: you kept him there after you got mad at my leaving the
way I did. You kept him there after you suspected him; and you
had him watched; you let him go on; just waited to catch him and
ruin him!"

"You're crazy!" the old man bellowed. "I didn't know there was
anything against the boy till last night. You're CRAZY, I say!"

Adams looked it. With his hair disordered over his haggard
forehead and bloodshot eyes; with his bruised hands pounding the
table and flying in a hundred wild and absurd gestures, while his
feet shuffled constantly to preserve his balance upon staggering
legs, he was the picture of a man with a mind gone to rags.

"Maybe I AM crazy!" he cried, his voice breaking and quavering.
"Maybe I am, but I wouldn't stand there and taunt a man with it
if I'd done to him what you've done to me! Just look at me: I
worked all my life for you, and what I did when I quit never
harmed you--it didn't make two cents' worth o' difference in your
life and it looked like it'd mean all the difference in the world
to my family--and now look what you've DONE to me for it! I tell
you, Mr. Lamb, there never was a man looked up to another man
the way I looked up to you the whole o' my life, but I don't look
up to you any more! You think you got a fine day of it now,
riding up in your automobile to look at that sign--and then over
here at my poor little works that you've ruined. But listen to
me just this one last time!" The cracking voice broke into
falsetto, and the gesticulating hands fluttered uncontrollably.
"Just you listen!" he panted. "You think I did you a bad turn,
and now you got me ruined for it, and you got my works ruined,
and my family ruined; and if anybody'd 'a' told me this time last
year I'd ever say such a thing to you I'd called him a dang liar,
but I DO say it: I say you've acted toward me like--like a--a
doggone mean--man!"

His voice, exhausted, like his body, was just able to do him this
final service; then he sank, crumpled, into the chair by the
table, his chin down hard upon his chest.

"I tell you, you're crazy!" Lamb said again. "I never in the
world----" But he checked himself, staring in sudden perplexity
at his accuser. "Look here!" he said. "What's the matter of
you? Have you got another of those----?" He put his hand upon
Adams's shoulder, which jerked feebly under the touch.

The old man went to the door and called to the foreman.

"Here!" he said. "Run and tell my chauffeur to bring my car over
here. Tell him to drive right up over the sidewalk and across
the lot. Tell him to hurry!"

So, it happened, the great J. A. Lamb a second time brought his
former clerk home, stricken and almost inanimate.

CHAPTER XXIV

About five o'clock that afternoon, the old gentleman came back to
Adams's house; and when Alice opened the door, he nodded, walked
into the "living-room" without speaking; then stood frowning as
if he hesitated to decide some perplexing question.

"Well, how is he now?" he asked, finally.

"The doctor was here again a little while ago; he thinks papa's
coming through it. He's pretty sure he will."

"Something like the way it was last spring?"

"Yes."

"Not a bit of sense to it!" Lamb said, gruffly. "When he was
getting well the other time the doctor told me it wasn't a
regular stroke, so to speak--this 'cerebral effusion' thing.
Said there wasn't any particular reason for your father to expect
he'd ever have another attack, if he'd take a little care of
himself. Said he could consider himself well as anybody else
long as he did that."

"Yes. But he didn't do it!"

Lamb nodded, sighed aloud, and crossed the room to a chair. "I
guess not," he said, as he sat down. "Bustin' his health up over
his glue-works, I expect."

"Yes."

"I guess so; I guess so." Then he looked up at her with a
glimmer of anxiety in his eyes. "Has he came to yet?"

"Yes. He's talked a little. His mind's clear; he spoke to mama
and me and to Miss Perry." Alice laughed sadly. "We were lucky
enough to get her back, but papa didn't seem to think it was
lucky. When he recognized her he said, 'Oh, my goodness, 'tisn't
YOU, is it!'"

"Well, that's a good sign, if he's getting a little cross. Did
he--did he happen to say anything--for instance, about me?"

This question, awkwardly delivered, had the effect of removing
the girl's pallor; rosy tints came quickly upon her cheeks.
"He--yes, he did," she said. "Naturally, he's troubled
about--about----" She stopped.

"About your brother, maybe?"

"Yes, about making up the----"

"Here, now," Lamb said, uncomfortably, as she stopped again.
"Listen, young lady; let's don't talk about that just yet. I
want to ask you: you understand all about this glue business, I
expect, don't you?"

"I'm not sure. I only know----"

"Let me tell you," he interrupted, impatiently. "I'll tell you
all about it in two words. The process belonged to me, and your
father up and walked off with it; there's no getting around THAT
much, anyhow."

"Isn't there?" Alice stared at him. "I think you're mistaken,
Mr. Lamb. Didn't papa improve it so that it virtually belonged
to him?"

There was a spark in the old blue eyes at this. "What?" he
cried. "Is that the way he got around it? Why, in all my life I
never heard of such a----" But he left the sentence unfinished;
the testiness went out of his husky voice and the anger out of
his eyes. "Well, I expect maybe that was the way of it," he
said. "Anyhow, it's right for you to stand up for your father;
and if you think he had a right to it----"

"But he did!" she cried.

"I expect so," the old man returned, pacifically. "I expect so,
probably. Anyhow, it's a question that's neither here nor there,
right now. What I was thinking of saying--well, did your father
happen to let out that he and I had words this morning?"

"No."

"Well, we did." He sighed and shook his head. "Your
father--well, he used some pretty hard expressions toward me,
young lady. They weren't SO, I'm glad to say, but he used 'em to
me, and the worst of it was he believed 'em. Well, I been
thinking it over, and I thought I'd just have a kind of little
talk with you to set matters straight, so to speak."

"Yes, Mr. Lamb."

"For instance," he said, "it's like this. Now, I hope you won't
think I mean any indelicacy, but you take your brother's case,
since we got to mention it, why, your father had the whole thing
worked out in his mind about as wrong as anybody ever got
anything. If I'd acted the way your father thought I did about
that, why, somebody just ought to take me out and shoot me! Do
YOU know what that man thought?"

"I'm not sure."

He frowned at her, and asked, "Well, what do you think about it?"

"I don't know," she said. "I don't believe I think anything at
all about anything to-day."

"Well, well," he returned; "I expect not; I expect not. You kind
of look to me as if you ought to be in bed yourself, young lady."

"Oh, no."

"I guess you mean 'Oh, yes'; and I won't keep you long, but
there's something we got to get fixed up, and I'd rather talk to
you than I would to your mother, because you're a smart girl and
always friendly; and I want to be sure I'm understood. Now,
listen."

"I will," Alice promised, smiling faintly.

"I never even hardly noticed your brother was still working for
me," he explained, earnestly. "I never thought anything about
it. My sons sort of tried to tease me about the way your
father--about his taking up this glue business, so to speak--and
one day Albert, Junior, asked me if I felt all right about your
brother's staying there after that, and I told him--well, I just
asked him to shut up. If the boy wanted to stay there, I didn't
consider it my business to send him away on account of any
feeling I had toward his father; not as long as he did his work
right--and the report showed he did. Well, as it happens, it
looks now as if he stayed because he HAD to; he couldn't quit
because he'd 'a' been found out if he did. Well, he'd been
covering up his shortage for a considerable time--and do you know
what your father practically charged me with about that?"

"No, Mr. Lamb."

In his resentment, the old gentleman's ruddy face became ruddier
and his husky voice huskier. "Thinks I kept the boy there
because I suspected him! Thinks I did it to get even with HIM!
Do I look to YOU like a man that'd do such a thing?"

"No," she said, gently. "I don't think you would."

"No!" he exclaimed. "Nor HE wouldn't think so if he was himself;
he's known me too long. But he must been sort of brooding over
this whole business-- I mean before Walter's trouble he must been
taking it to heart pretty hard for some time back. He thought I
didn't think much of him any more--and I expect he maybe wondered
some what I was going to DO--and there's nothing worse'n that
state of mind to make a man suspicious of all kinds of meanness.
Well, he practically stood up there and accused me to my face of
fixing things so't he couldn't ever raise the money to settle for
Walter and ask us not to prosecute. That's the state of mind
your father's brooding got him into, young lady--charging me with
a trick like that!"

"I'm sorry," she said. "I know you'd never----"

The old man slapped his sturdy knee, angrily. "Why, that dang
fool of a Virgil Adams!" he exclaimed. "He wouldn't even give me
a chance to talk; and he got me so mad I couldn't hardly talk,
anyway! He might 'a' known from the first I wasn't going to let
him walk in and beat me out of my own--that is, he might 'a'
known I wouldn't let him get ahead of me in a business
matter--not with my boys twitting me about it every few minutes!
But to talk to me the way he did this morning--well, he was out
of his head; that's all! Now, wait just a minute," he
interposed, as she seemed about to speak. "In the first place,
we aren't going to push this case against your brother. I
believe in the law, all right, and business men got to protect
themselves; but in a case like this, where restitution's made by
the family, why, I expect it's just as well sometimes to use a
little influence and let matters drop. Of course your brother'll
have to keep out o' this state; that's all."

"But--you said----" she faltered.

"Yes. What'd I say?"

"You said, 'where restitution's made by the family.' That's what
seemed to trouble papa so terribly, because--because restitution
couldn't----"

"Why, yes, it could. That's what I'm here to talk to you about."

"I don't see----"

"I'm going to TELL you, ain't I?" he said, gruffly. "Just hold
your horses a minute, please." He coughed, rose from his chair,
walked up and down the room, then halted before her. "It's like
this," he said. "After I brought your father home, this morning,
there was one of the things he told me, when he was going for me,
over yonder--it kind of stuck in my craw. It was something about
all this glue controversy not meaning anything to me in
particular, and meaning a whole heap to him and his family.
Well, he was wrong about that two ways. The first one was, it
did mean a good deal to me to have him go back on me after so
many years. I don't need to say any more about it, except just
to tell you it meant quite a little more to me than you'd think,
maybe. The other way he was wrong is, that how much a thing
means to one man and how little it means to another ain't the
right way to look at a business matter."

"I suppose it isn't, Mr. Lamb."

"No," he said. "It isn't. It's not the right way to look at
anything. Yes, and your father knows it as well as I do, when
he's in his right mind; and I expect that's one of the reasons he
got so mad at me--but anyhow, I couldn't help thinking about how
much all this thing HAD maybe meant to him;--as I say, it kind of
stuck in my craw. I want you to tell him something from me, and
I want you to go and tell him right off, if he's able and willing
to listen. You tell him I got kind of a notion he was pushed
into this thing by circumstances, and tell him I've lived long
enough to know that circumstances can beat the best of us--you
tell him I said 'the BEST of us.' Tell him I haven't got a bit of
feeling against him--not any more--and tell him I came here to
ask him not to have any against me."

"Yes, Mr. Lamb."

"Tell him I said----" The old man paused abruptly and Alice was
surprised, in a dull and tired way, when she saw that his lips
had begun to twitch and his eyelids to blink; but he recovered
himself almost at once, and continued: "I want him to remember,
'Forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those that
transgress against us'; and if he and I been transgressing
against each other, why, tell him I think it's time we QUIT such
foolishness!"

He coughed again, smiled heartily upon her, and walked toward the
door; then turned back to her with an exclamation: "Well, if I
ain't an old fool!"

"What is it?" she asked.

"Why, I forgot what we were just talking about! Your father
wants to settle for Walter's deficit. Tell him we'll be glad to
accept it; but of course we don't expect him to clean the matter
up until he's able to talk business again."

Alice stared at him blankly enough for him to perceive that
further explanations were necessary. "It's like this," he said.
"You see, if your father decided to keep his works going over
yonder, I don't say but he might give us some little competition
for a time, 'specially as he's got the start on us and about
ready for the market. Then I was figuring we could use his
plant--it's small, but it'd be to our benefit to have the use of
it--and he's got a lease on that big lot; it may come in handy
for us if we want to expand some. Well, I'd prefer to make a
deal with him as quietly as possible---no good in every Tom, Dick
and Harry hearing about things like this--but I figured he could
sell out to me for a little something more'n enough to cover the
mortgage he put on this house, and Walter's deficit, too--THAT
don't amount to much in dollars and cents. The way I figure it,
I could offer him about ninety-three hundred dollars as a
total--or say ninety-three hundred and fifty--and if he feels
like accepting, why, I'll send a confidential man up here with
the papers soon's your father's able to look 'em over. You tell
him, will you, and ask him if he sees his way to accepting that
figure?"

"Yes," Alice said; and now her own lips twitched, while her eyes
filled so that she saw but a blurred image of the old man, who
held out his hand in parting. "I'll tell him. Thank you."

He shook her hand hastily. "Well, let's just keep it kind of
quiet," he said, at the door. "No good in every Tom, Dick and
Harry knowing all what goes on in town! You telephone me when
your papa's ready to go over the papers--and call me up at my
house to-night, will you? Let me hear how he's feeling?"

"I will," she said, and through her grateful tears gave him a
smile almost radiant. "He'll be better, Mr. Lamb. We all
will."

CHAPTER XXV

One morning, that autumn, Mrs. Adams came into Alice's room, and
found her completing a sober toilet for the street; moreover, the
expression revealed in her mirror was harmonious with the
business-like severity of her attire. "What makes you look so
cross, dearie?" the mother asked. "Couldn't you find anything
nicer to wear than that plain old dark dress?"

"I don't believe I'm cross," the girl said, absently. "I believe
I'm just thinking. Isn't it about time?"

"Time for what?"

"Time for thinking--for me, I mean?"

Disregarding this, Mrs. Adams looked her over thoughtfully. "I
can't see why you don't wear more colour," she said. "At your
age it's becoming and proper, too. Anyhow, when you're going on
the street, I think you ought to look just as gay and lively as
you can manage. You want to show 'em you've got some spunk!"

"How do you mean, mama?"

"I mean about Walter's running away and the mess your father made
of his business. It would help to show 'em you're holding up
your head just the same."

"Show whom!"

"All these other girls that----"

"Not I!" Alice laughed shortly, shaking her head. "I've quit
dressing at them, and if they saw me they wouldn't think what you
want 'em to. It's funny; but we don't often make people think
what we want 'em to, mama. You do thus and so; and you tell
yourself, 'Now, seeing me do thus and so, people will naturally
think this and that'; but they don't. They think something
else--usually just what you DON'T want 'em to. I suppose about
the only good in pretending is the fun we get out of fooling
ourselves that we fool somebody."

"Well, but it wouldn't be pretending. You ought to let people
see you're still holding your head up because you ARE. You
wouldn't want that Mildred Palmer to think you're cast down
about--well, you know you wouldn't want HER not to think you're
holding your head up, would you?"

"She wouldn't know whether I am or not, mama." Alice bit her
lip, then smiled faintly as she said:

"Anyhow, I'm not thinking about my head in that way--not this
morning, I'm not."

Mrs. Adams dropped the subject casually. "Are you going
down-town?" she inquired.

"Yes."

"What for?"

"Just something I want to see about. I'll tell you when I come
back. Anything you want me to do?"

"No; I guess not to-day. I thought you might look for a rug, but
I'd rather go with you to select it. We'll have to get a new rug
for your father's room, I expect."

"I'm glad you think so, mama. I don't suppose he's ever even
noticed it, but that old rug of his--well, really!"

"I didn't mean for him," her mother explained, thoughtfully.
"No; he don't mind it, and he'd likely make a fuss if we changed
it on his account. No; what I meant--we'll have to put your
father in Walter's room. He won't mind, I don't expect--not
much."

"No, I suppose not," Alice agreed, rather sadly. "I heard the
bell awhile ago. Was it somebody about that?"

"Yes; just before I came upstairs. Mrs. Lohr gave him a note to
me, and he was really a very pleasant-looking young man. A VERY
pleasant-looking young man," Mrs. Adams repeated with increased
animation and a thoughtful glance at her daughter. "He's a Mr.
Will Dickson; he has a first-rate position with the gas works,
Mrs. Lohr says, and he's fully able to afford a nice room. So
if you and I double up in here, then with that young married
couple in my room, and this Mr. Dickson in your father's, we'll
just about have things settled. I thought maybe I could make one
more place at table, too, so that with the other people from
outside we'd be serving eleven altogether. You see if I have to
pay this cook twelve dollars a week--it can't be helped, I
guess--well, one more would certainly help toward a profit. Of
course it's a terribly worrying thing to see how we WILL come
out. Don't you suppose we could squeeze in one more?"

"I suppose it COULD be managed; yes."

Mrs. Adams brightened. "I'm sure it'll be pleasant having that
young married couple in the house and especially this Mr. Will
Dickson. He seemed very much of a gentleman, and anxious to get
settled in good surroundings. I was very favourably impressed
with him in every way; and he explained to me about his name; it
seems it isn't William, it's just 'Will'; his parents had him
christened that way. It's curious." She paused, and then, with
an effort to seem casual, which veiled nothing from her daughter:
"It's QUITE curious," she said again. "But it's rather
attractive and different, don't you think?"

"Poor mama!" Alice laughed compassionately. "Poor mama!"

"He is, though," Mrs. Adams maintained. "He's very much of a
gentleman, unless I'm no judge of appearances; and it'll really
be nice to have him in the house."

"No doubt," Alice said, as she opened her door to depart. "I
don't suppose we'll mind having any of 'em as much as we thought
we would. Good-bye."

But her mother detained her, catching her by the arm. "Alice,
you do hate it, don't you!"

"No," the girl said, quickly. "There wasn't anything else to
do."

Mrs. Adams became emotional at once: her face cried tragedy, and
her voice misfortune. "There MIGHT have been something else to
do! Oh, Alice, you gave your father bad advice when you upheld
him in taking a miserable little ninety-three hundred and fifty
from that old wretch! If your father'd just had the gumption to
hold out, they'd have had to pay him anything he asked. If he'd
just had the gumption and a little manly COURAGE----"

"Hush!" Alice whispered, for her mother's voice grew louder.
"Hush! He'll hear you, mama."

"Could he hear me too often?" the embittered lady asked. "If
he'd listened to me at the right time, would we have to be taking
in boarders and sinking DOWN in the scale at the end of our
lives, instead of going UP? You were both wrong; we didn't need
to be so panicky--that was just what that old man wanted: to
scare us and buy us out for nothing! If your father'd just
listened to me then, or if for once in his life he'd just been
half a MAN----"

Alice put her hand over her mother's mouth. "You mustn't! He
WILL hear you!"

But from the other side of Adams's closed door his voice came
querulously. "Oh, I HEAR her, all right!"

"You see, mama?" Alice said, and, as Mrs. Adams turned away,
weeping, the daughter sighed; then went in to speak to her
father.

He was in his old chair by the table, with a pillow behind his
head, but the crocheted scarf and Mrs. Adams's wrapper swathed
him no more; he wore a dressing-gown his wife had bought for him,
and was smoking his pipe. "The old story, is it?" he said, as
Alice came in. "The same, same old story! Well, well! Has she
gone?"

"Yes, papa."

"Got your hat on," he said. "Where you going?"

"I'm going down-town on an errand of my own. Is there anything
you want, papa?"

"Yes, there is." He smiled at her. "I wish you'd sit down a
while and talk to me unless your errand----"

"No," she said, taking a chair near him. "I was just going down
to see about some arrangements I was making for myself. There's
no hurry."

"What arrangements for yourself, dearie?"

"I'll tell you afterwards--after I find out something about 'em
myself."

"All right," he said, indulgently. "Keep your secrets; keep your
secrets." He paused, drew musingly upon his pipe, and shook his
head. "Funny--the way your mother looks at things! For the
matter o' that, everything's pretty funny, I expect, if you stop
to think about it. For instance, let her say all she likes, but
we were pushed right spang to the wall, if J. A. Lamb hadn't
taken it into his head to make that offer for the works; and
there's one of the things I been thinking about lately, Alice:
thinking about how funny they work out."

"What did you think about it, papa!"

"Well, I've seen it happen in other people's lives, time and time
again; and now it's happened in ours. You think you're going to
be pushed right up against the wall; you can't see any way out,
or any hope at all; you think you're GONE--and then something you
never counted on turns up; and, while maybe you never do get back
to where you used to be, yet somehow you kind of squirm out of
being right SPANG against the wall. You keep on going--maybe you
can't go much, but you do go a little. See what I mean?"

"Yes. I understand, dear."

"Yes, I'm afraid you do," he said. "Too bad! You oughtn't to
understand it at your age. It seems to me a good deal as if the
Lord really meant for the young people to have the good times,
and for the old to have the troubles; and when anybody as young
as you has trouble there's a big mistake somewhere."

"Oh, no!" she protested.

But he persisted whimsically in this view of divine error: "Yes,
it does look a good deal that way. But of course we can't tell;
we're never certain about anything--not about anything at all.
Sometimes I look at it another way, though. Sometimes it looks
to me as if a body's troubles came on him mainly because he
hadn't had sense enough to know how not to have any--as if his
troubles were kind of like a boy's getting kept in after school
by the teacher, to give him discipline, or something or other.
But, my, my! We don't learn easy!" He chuckled mournfully. "Not
to learn how to live till we're about ready to die, it certainly
seems to me dang tough!"

"Then I wouldn't brood on such a notion, papa," she said.

"'Brood?' No!" he returned. "I just kind o' mull it over." He
chuckled again, sighed, and then, not looking at her, he said,
"That Mr. Russell--your mother tells me he hasn't been here
again--not since----"

"No," she said, quietly, as Adams paused. "He never came again."

"Well, but maybe----"

"No," she said. "There isn't any 'maybe.' I told him good-bye
that night, papa. It was before he knew about Walter--I told
you."

"Well, well," Adams said. "Young people are entitled to their
own privacy; I don't want to pry." He emptied his pipe into a
chipped saucer on the table beside him, laid the pipe aside, and
reverted to a former topic. "Speaking of dying----"

"Well, but we weren't!" Alice protested.

"Yes, about not knowing how to live till you're through
living--and THEN maybe not!" he said, chuckling at his own
determined pessimism. "I see I'm pretty old because I talk this
way--I remember my grandmother saying things a good deal like all
what I'm saying now; I used to hear her at it when I was a young
fellow--she was a right gloomy old lady, I remember. Well,
anyhow, it reminds me: I want to get on my feet again as soon as
I can; I got to look around and find something to go into."

Alice shook her head gently. "But, papa, he told you----"

"Never mind throwing that dang doctor up at me!" Adams
interrupted, peevishly. "He said I'd be good for SOME kind of
light job--if I could find just the right thing. 'Where there
wouldn't be either any physical or mental strain,' he said.
Well, I got to find something like that. Anyway, I'll feel
better if I can just get out LOOKING for it."

"But, papa, I'm afraid you won't find it, and you'll be
disappointed."

"Well, I want to hunt around and SEE, anyhow."

Alice patted his hand. "You must just be contented, papa.
Everything's going to be all right, and you mustn't get to
worrying about doing anything. We own this house it's all
clear--and you've taken care of mama and me all our lives; now
it's our turn."

"No, sir!" he said, querulously. "I don't like the idea of being
the landlady's husband around a boarding-house; it goes against
my gizzard. _I_ know: makes out the bills for his wife Sunday
mornings--works with a screw-driver on somebody's bureau drawer
sometimes--'tends the furnace maybe--one the boarders gives him a
cigar now and then. That's a FINE life to look forward to! No,
sir; I don't want to finish as a landlady's husband!"

Alice looked grave; for she knew the sketch was but too
accurately prophetic in every probability. "But, papa," she
said, to console him, "don't you think maybe there isn't such a
thing as a 'finish,' after all! You say perhaps we don't learn
to live till we die but maybe that's how it is AFTER we die,
too--just learning some more, the way we do here, and maybe
through trouble again, even after that."

"Oh, it might be," he sighed. "I expect so."

"Well, then," she said, "what's the use of talking about a
'finish?' We do keep looking ahead to things as if they'd finish
something, but when we get TO them, they don't finish anything.
They're just part of going on. I'll tell you--I looked ahead all
summer to something I was afraid of, and I said to myself, 'Well,
if that happens, I'm finished!' But it wasn't so, papa. It did
happen, and nothing's finished; I'm going on, just the same
only----" She stopped and blushed.

"Only what?" he asked.

"Well----" She blushed more deeply, then jumped up, and, standing
before him, caught both his hands in hers. "Well, don't you
think, since we do have to go on, we ought at least to have
learned some sense about how to do it?"

He looked up at her adoringly.

"What _I_ think," he said, and his voice trembled;--"I think
you're the smartest girl in the world! I wouldn't trade you for
the whole kit-and-boodle of 'em!"

But as this folly of his threatened to make her tearful, she
kissed him hastily, and went forth upon her errand.

Since the night of the tragic-comic dinner she had not seen
Russell, nor caught even the remotest chance glimpse of him; and
it was curious that she should encounter him as she went upon
such an errand as now engaged her. At a corner, not far from
that tobacconist's shop she had just left when he overtook her
and walked with her for the first time, she met him to-day. He
turned the corner, coming toward her, and they were face to face;
whereupon that engaging face of Russell's was instantly reddened,
but Alice's remained serene.

She stopped short, though; and so did he; then she smiled
brightly as she put out her hand.

"Why, Mr. Russell!"

"I'm so--I'm so glad to have this--this chance," he stammered.
"I've wanted to tell you--it's just that going into a new
undertaking--this business life--one doesn't get to do a great
many things he'd like to. I hope you'll let me call again some
time, if I can."

"Yes, do!" she said, cordially, and then, with a quick nod, went
briskly on.

She breathed more rapidly, but knew that he could not have
detected it, and she took some pride in herself for the way she
had met this little crisis. But to have met it with such easy
courage meant to her something more reassuring than a momentary
pride in the serenity she had shown. For she found that what she
had resolved in her inmost heart was now really true: she was
"through with all that!"

She walked on, but more slowly, for the tobacconist's shop was
not far from her now--and, beyond it, that portal of doom,
Frincke's Business College. Already Alice could read the
begrimed gilt letters of the sign; and although they had spelled
destiny never with a more painful imminence than just then, an
old habit of dramatizing herself still prevailed with her.

There came into her mind a whimsical comparison of her fate with
that of the heroine in a French romance she had read long ago and
remembered well, for she had cried over it. The story ended with
the heroine's taking the veil after a death blow to love; and the
final scene again became vivid to Alice, for a moment. Again, as
when she had read and wept, she seemed herself to stand among the
great shadows in the cathedral nave; smelled the smoky incense on
the enclosed air, and heard the solemn pulses of the organ. She
remembered how the novice's father knelt, trembling, beside a
pillar of gray stone; how the faithless lover watched and
shivered behind the statue of a saint; how stifled sobs and
outcries were heard when the novice came to the altar; and how a
shaft of light struck through the rose-window, enveloping her in
an amber glow.

It was the vision of a moment only, and for no longer than a
moment did Alice tell herself that the romance provided a
prettier way of taking the veil than she had chosen, and that a
faithless lover, shaking with remorse behind a saint's statue,
was a greater solace than one left on a street corner protesting
that he'd like to call some time--if he could! Her pity for
herself vanished more reluctantly; but she shook it off and tried
to smile at it, and at her romantic recollections--at all of
them. She had something important to think of.

She passed the tobacconist's, and before her was that dark
entrance to the wooden stairway leading up to Frincke's Business
College--the very doorway she had always looked upon as the end
of youth and the end of hope.

How often she had gone by here, hating the dreary obscurity of
that stairway; how often she had thought of this obscurity as
something lying in wait to obliterate the footsteps of any girl
who should ascend into the smoky darkness above! Never had she
passed without those ominous imaginings of hers: pretty girls
turning into old maids "taking dictation"--old maids of a dozen
different types, yet all looking a little like herself.

Well, she was here at last! She looked up and down the street
quickly, and then, with a little heave of the shoulders, she went
bravely in, under the sign, and began to climb the wooden steps.
Half-way up the shadows were heaviest, but after that the place
began to seem brighter. There was an open window overhead
somewhere, she found; and the steps at the top were gay with
sunshine.

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