Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org Emma Dudding, email@example.com
and John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
by Clara Louise Burnham
A CHAPTER IN HER LIFE
by CLARA LOUISE BURNHAM
F. W. R.
MY FIRST INSPIRATION
THIS STORY IS
OFFERED IN LOVING
This text was prepared from a 1903 edition, published by Grosset & Dunlap, New York.
I. THE NEW COACHMAN
II. THE CHICAGO LETTER
III. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
IV. FATHER AND SON
V. BON VOYAGE
VI. JEWEL’S ARRIVAL
VII. THE FIRST EVENING
VIII. A HAPPY BREAKFAST
IX. A SHOPPING EXPEDITION
X. THE RAVINE
XI. DR. BALLARD
XII. THE TELEGRAM
XIII. IN THE LIBRARY
XIV. FAMILY AFFAIRS
XV. A RAINY MORNING
XVI. THE FIRST LESSON
XVII. JEWEL’S CORRESPONDENCE
XVIII. ESSEX MAID
XIX. A MORNING DRIVE
XX. BY THE BROOKSIDE
XXI. AN EFFORT FOR TRUTH
XXII. IN THE HARNESS ROOM
XXIII. MRS. EVRINGHAM’S CALLER
XXIV. THE RAVINE GARDEN
XXV. MUTUAL SURPRISES
XXVI. ON WEDNESDAY EVENING
XXVII. A REALIZED HOPE
XXVIII. AT TWILIGHT
THE NEW COACHMAN
“Now you polish up those buckles real good, won’t you, ‘Zekiel? I will say for Fanshaw, you could most see your face in the harness always.”
The young fellow addressed rubbed away at the nickel plating good humoredly, although he had heard enough exhortations in the last twenty-four hours to chafe somewhat the spirit of youth. His mother, a large, heavy woman, stood over him, her face full of care.
“It’s a big change from driving a grocery wagon to driving a gentleman’s carriage, ‘Zekiel. I do hope you sense it.”
“You’d make a bronze image sense it, mother,” answered the young man, smiling broadly. “You might sit and sermonize just as well, mightn’t you? Sitting’s as cheap as standing,”–he cast a glance around the clean spaces of the barn in search of a chair,–“or if you’d rather go and attend to your knitting, I’ve seen harness before, you know.”
“I’m not sure as you’ve ever handled a gentleman’s harness in your life, ‘Zekiel Forbes.”
“It’s a fact they don’t wear ’em much down Boston way.”
His mother regarded his shock of light hair with repressed fondness.
“It was a big responsibility I took when I asked Mr. Evringham to let you try the place,” she said solemnly, “and I’m going to do my best to help you fill it. It does seem almost a providence the way Fanshaw’s livery fits you; and if you’ll hold yourself up, I may be partial, but it seems to me you look better in it than he ever did; and I’m sure if handsome is as handsome does, you’ll fill it better every way, even if he /was/ a fashionable English coachman. Mrs. Evringham was so pleased with his style she tried to have him kept even after he’d taken too much for the second time; but Mr. Evringham valued his horses too highly for that, I can tell you.”
“Thought the governor was a widower still,” remarked Ezekiel as his mother drew forward a battered chair and dusted it with the huge apron that covered her neat dress. She seated herself close to her boy.
“Of course he is,” she returned with some asperity. “Why should he get married with such a home as he’s got? Fifteen years I’ve kept house for Mr. Evringham. I don’t believe but what he’d say that in all that time he’s never found his beef overdone or a button off his shirts.”
“Humph!” grunted Ezekiel. “He looks as if he wouldn’t mind hanging you to the nearest tree if he did. I heard tell once that there was a cold hell as well as a hot one. Think says I, when the governor was looking me over the other day, ‘You’ve set sail for the cold place, old boy.’ “
“Zeke Forbes, don’t you ever let me hear you say such a thing again!” exclaimed Mrs. Forbes. “Mr. Evringham is the finest gentleman within one hundred miles of New York city. When a man has spent his life in Wall Street it’s bound to show some in his face, of course; but what comfort has that man ever known?”
“Pretty scrumptious place he’s got here in this park, I notice,” returned the new coachman.
“Yes, he has a breath of fresh air before he goes to the city and after he gets back every day. Isn’t that Essex Maid of his a beauty?” Mrs. Forbes cast her eyes towards the stalls where the shining flanks of two horses were visible from her seat by the wide-open doors of the barn. “His rides back there among the hills,”–Mrs. Forbes waved her hand vaguely toward the tall trees waving in the spring sunshine,– “are his one pleasure; and he never tires of them. You will find the horses here something different to groom from those common grocery horses in Boston.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” drawled ‘Zekiel, teasingly.
“Then you’d better know, young man,” emphatically. “And, Zeke, what’s the names of those carriages?” pointing with sudden energy at two half shrouded vehicles.
“How many guesses do I get?”
“Guessing ain’t going to do. Do you know, or don’t you?”
“Know? Why,” leniently, “bless your heart, mother, don’t you s’pose I know a buggy and a carryall when I see ’em?”
“Oh, you poor benighted grocery boy!” Mrs. Forbes raised her hands. “What a mercy I mentioned it! Imagine Mrs. Evringham hearing you ask if she’d have the buggy or the carryall! ‘Zekiel,” solemnly, “listen to me. That tall one’s a spider, and the other’s a broom. There! Do you hear me? A /spider/ and a /broom/!”
Ezekiel’s merry eyes met the anxious ones with a twinkle.
“Who’d have thought it!” he responded.
“Now then, Zeke,” anxiously, “it’s my responsibility. I recommended you. I want you should say ’em off as glib as Fanshaw did. Now then, which is which?”
“Mother, didn’t you tell me that the late lamented was not a prohibitionist?”
“Fanshaw drank like a fish, if that’s what you mean.”
“Well, just because he saw things in this barn you needn’t expect me to! Poor chap! Spiders and brooms! He must have been glad to go.”
Mrs. Forbes’ earnest expression did not change. ” ‘Zekiel, don’t you tease, now! We haven’t got time. I want you to make such a success of this that you’ll stay with me. You can’t think how I felt when I woke up this morning and thought the first thing, ‘Zeke’s here.’ Why, I’ve scarcely kept acquainted with you for fifteen years. Scarcely saw you except for a few weeks in the summer time. Now I’ve got you again!”
“I ain’t the only thing you’ve got again,” grinned ‘Zekiel, “if you’re going to see things, same as Fanshaw did.”
Thus reminded, the housekeeper looked back at the phaeton and the brougham. “Be a good boy, Zeke,” coaxingly, “and don’t forget now, because Mrs. Evringham is a great stickler–and a great sticker, too,” added Mrs. Forbes in a different tone.
“Who /is/ the old woman, if the governor isn’t married?” asked Ezekiel with not very lively interest. “She don’t seem popular with you.”
“I’ll tell you who she is,” returned his mother in a low, emphatic tone. “she’s just what I say–a sticker and an interloper.”
“H’m! Shouldn’t wonder if the green-eyed monster had got after mamma,” soliloquized the youth aloud. “Somebody else sews on the buttons now, perhaps.”
” ‘Zekiel Forbes, we must have an understanding right off. You’ve got to joke and tease, I s’pose, but it can’t be about Mr. Evringham. This is like a law of the Medes and Persians, and I want you should understand it. The more you see of him the less you’ll dare to joke about him.”
“I told you he scared me stiff,” acknowledged Zeke, running the harness through his hands to discover another dingy spot.
“Well, he’d /better/. Now I wouldn’t gossip to you of my employer’s affairs–I hope we’re better than two common servants–but I want you to be as loyal to him as I am, and to understand a few of the reasons why he can’t go giggling around like some folks.”
“Great Scott!” interpolated the young coachman. “Mr. Evringham go giggling around! So would Bunker Hill monument!”
“Listen to me, Zeke. Mr. Evringham has had two sons. His wife died when the oldest, Lawrence, was fifteen. Well, both those boys disappointed him. Lawrence when he was twenty-one married secretly a widow older than himself, who had a little girl named Eloise. Mr. Evringham made the best of it, and helped him along in business. Lawrence became a broker and had made and lost a fortune when he died at the age of thirty-five.”
“Broke himself, did he?” remarked the irrepressible ‘Zekiel.
“Yes, he did. Here we were, living in peace and comfort,–my employer at sixty a man of settled habits and naturally very set in his ways and satisfied with his home and the way I had run it for him for fifteen years,–when three blows fell on him at once. Firstly his son Lawrence failed and was ruined; secondly he died; and thirdly his widow and her daughter nineteen years old came here a couple of months ago and settled on Mr. Evringham, and here they’ve stayed ever since! I don’t think they have an idea of going away.” Mrs. Forbes’s eyes snapped. “Such an upset as it was! I couldn’t show how I felt, of course, for it was so much worse for him than it was for me. He had never cared for Mrs. Evringham, and scarcely knew the girl who called him ‘grandfather’ without an atom of right.”
“Hard lines,” observed ‘Zekiel. “Does the girl call herself Evringham?”
“Does she?” with scorn. “Well I guess she does. Of course she was only four when her mother married Lawrence, and I guess she was fond of her stepfather and he of her, because he never had any children; but sometimes I ask myself, is it going on forever? I only hope Eloise’ll get married soon.”
‘Zekiel dropped the harness to arrange imaginary curls on his temples and pat the tie on his muscular neck. “If she’s pretty I’m willing,” he responded.
His mother shook her head absently. “Then there was Mr. Evringham’s younger son, a regular roving ne’er-do-well. He didn’t like Wall Street and he went West to Chicago. He was a rolling stone, first in one position and then in another; then he got married, and after a few years he rolled away altogether. All Mr. Evringham knows about him and his family is that he had one child. Harry wrote a few letters about his wife Julia and the baby, at the time it was born, and Mr. Evringham sent a present of money; then the letters ceased until one day the wife wrote him frantically that her husband had disappeared and begged to know where he was. Mr. Evringham knew nothing about him and wrote her so, and that is the last he’s heard. So you see if he looks cold and hard, he’s had enough to make him so.”
“H’m!” ejaculated ‘Zekiel. “He don’t give the impression of lyin’ awake nights wondering how his deserted daughter-in-law and the kid make out.”
“Why should he?” retorted Mrs. Forbes sharply. “His two boys acted as selfish to him as boys could. He’s a disappointed, humiliated man in that proud heart of his. He’s been hunted out and harrowed up in this peaceful retreat, when all he asked was to be let alone with his horses and his golf clubs, and I think one daughter-in-law’s enough under the circumstances. I have some respect for Mrs. Harry, whoever she is, because she lets him alone. In all the long years we’ve spent here, when he often had no one to talk to but me, he’s let me have a glimpse of these things, and I’ve told you so’s you’d think right about him and serve him all the better.”
“He’s got a look in his eyes like cold steel,” remarked Ezekiel, “and lines under ’em like they’d been drawn with steel; and his back’s as flat and straight as if a steel rod took the place of a spine. That thick gray hair and mustache of his might be steel threads.”
“He’s a splendid sight on horseback,” responded Mrs. Forbes devoutly. “His sons were neither of ’em ever the man he is. I’d like to protect him from being imposed upon if such a thing was possible.”
“Sho!” drawled ‘Zekiel. “Might’s well talk about protecting a battleship.”
“Well, ‘Zekiel Forbes,” returned his mother, her eyes bright, “can’t you imagine a battleship hesitating to run down a little pleasure yacht with all its flags flying? And can’t you imagine that hesitation costing the battleship considerable precious time and money? You’ve said a good deal about my sacrificing my room in the house and coming out here to fix a little home for us both, upstairs in the barn chambers, but perhaps you can see now that it isn’t all sacrifice, that perhaps I’m glad of an excuse to get out of the house, where things are so different from what they used to be, and to have a cosy home with my own boy. Now then, ‘Zekiel,” coaxingly, these words recalling her boy’s responsibilities, “look over there once more and tell me which of those is the spider.”
“Zekiel dropped the harness and laid his hand gently on his mother’s forehead. “There isn’t anything there, dear mother,” he said soothingly.
“Zeke!” she exclaimed, jerking away with a short reluctant laugh.
” ‘Mother, dear mother, come home with me now,’ ” he roared sentimentally, so that Essex Maid lifted her beautiful head and looked out in surprise. “Remember Fanshaw, and put more water in it after this,” he added, dropping his arm to his mother’s neck and capturing her with a hug.
” ‘Zekiel!” she protested. ” ‘Zekiel!”
THE CHICAGO LETTER
The mother was still laughing and struggling in the irresistible embrace when both became aware that a third person was regarding them in open-mouthed astonishment.
” ‘Zekiel, let me /go/!” commanded the scandalized woman, and pushed herself free from her tormentor, who forthwith returned rather sheepishly to his buckles.
The young man with trim-pointed beard and mirthful eyes, who stood in the driveway, had just dismounted from a shining buggy. Doubt and astonishment were apparently holding him dumb.
The housekeeper, smoothing her disarranged locks and much flushed of face, returned his gaze, rising from her chair.
“I couldn’t believe it was you, Mrs. Forbes!” declared the newcomer. “Fanshaw isn’t–” He looked around vaguely.
“No, he isn’t, Dr. Ballard,” returned Mrs. Forbes shortly. “He forgot to rub down Essex Maid one evening when she came in hot, and that finished him with Mr. Evringham.”
The young doctor’s lips twitched beneath his mustache as he looked at ‘Zekiel, polishing away for dear life.
“You seem to have some one else here–some friend,” he remarked tentatively.
“Friend!” echoed the housekeeper with exasperation, feeling to see just how much Zeke had rumpled her immaculate collar. “We looked like friends when you came up, didn’t we!”
“Like intimate friends,” murmured the doctor, still looking curiously at the big fair-haired fellow, who was crimson to his temples.
“I don’t know how long we shall continue friends if he ever grabs me again like that just after I’ve put on a clean collar. He’s got beyond the place where I can correct him. I ought to have done it oftener when I had the chance. This is my boy ‘Zekiel, Dr. Ballard,” with a proud glance in the direction of the youth, who looked up and nodded, then continued his labors. “Mr. Evringham has engaged him on trial. He’s been with horses a couple of years, and I guess he’ll make out all right.”
“Glad to know you, ‘Zekiel,” returned the doctor. “Your mother has been a good friend of mine half my life, and I’ve often heard her speak of you. Look out for my horse, will you? I shall be here half an hour or so.”
When the doctor had moved off toward the house Mrs. Forbes nodded at her son knowingly.
“Might’s well walk Hector into the barn and uncheck him, Zeke,” she said. “They’ll keep him more’n a half an hour. That young man, ‘Zekiel Forbes,–that young man’s my /hope/.” Mrs. Forbes spoke impressively and shook her forefinger to emphasize her words.
“What you hoping about him?” asked ‘Zekiel, laying down the harness and proceeding to lead the gray horse up the incline into the barn.
“Shouldn’t wonder a mite if he was our deliverer,” went on Mrs. Forbes. “I saw it in Mrs. Evringham’s eye that he suited her, the first night that she met him here at dinner. I like him first-rate, and I don’t mean him any harm; but he’s one of these young doctors with plenty of money at his back, bound to have a fashionable practice and succeed. His face is in his favor, and I guess he knows as much as any of ’em, and he can afford the luxury of a wife brought up the way Eloise Evringham has been. That’s right, Zeke. Unfasten the check- rein, though the doctor don’t use a mean one, I must say. I only hope there’s a purgatory for the folks that use too short check-reins on their horses. I hope they’ll have to wear ’em themselves for a thousand years, and have to stand waiting at folks’ doors frothing at the mouth, and the back of their necks half breaking when the weather’s down to zero and up to a hundred. That’s what I hope!”
‘Zekiel grinned. “You want ’em to try the cold place and the hot one too, do you?”
“Yes I do, and to stay in the one that hurts the most. The man that uses a decent check-rein on his horse,” continued Mrs. Forbes, dropping into a philosophizing tone, “is apt to be as decent to his wife. The doctor would be a great catch for that girl, and I /think/,” dropping her voice, “her mother’d be liable to live with ’em.”
“You’re keeping that dark from the doctor, I s’pose?” remarked ‘Zekiel.
“H’m. You needn’t think I go chattering around that house the way I do out here. I’ve got a great talent, if I do say it, for minding my own business.”
“Good enough,” drawled ‘Zekiel. “I heard tell once of a firm that made a great fortune just doing that one thing.”
“Don’t you be sassy now. I’ve always waited on Mr. Evringham while he ate his meals, and that’s the time he’d often speak out to me about things if he felt in the humor, so that in all these years ‘t isn’t any wonder if I’ve come to feel that his business is mine too.”
“Just so,” returned ‘Zekiel, with a twinkle in his eye.
“It’s been as plain as your nose that the interlopers don’t like to have me there. Not that they have anything special against me, but they’d like to have someone younger and stylisher to hand them their plates. I’ll never forget one night when they’d been here about a week, and I think Mr. Evringham had begun to suspect they were fixtures,–I’d felt it from the first,–Mrs. Evringham said, ‘Why father, does Mrs. Forbes always wait on your table? I had supposed she was temporarily taking the place of your butler or your waitress.’ “
The housekeeper’s effort to imitate the airy manner she remembered caused her son to chuckle as he gathered up the shining harness.
“You should have seen the look Mr. Evringham gave her. Just as if he didn’t see her at all. ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘I hope Mrs. Forbes will wait on my table as long as I have one.’ And I will if I have my health,” added the speaker, bridling with renewed pleasure at the memory of that triumphant moment. “They think I’m a machine without any feelings or opinions, and that I’ve been wound up to suit Mr. Evringham and run his establishment, and that I’m no more to be considered than the big Westminster clock on the stairs. Mrs. Evringham did try once to get into my employer’s rooms and look after his clothes.” Mrs. Forbes shook her head and tightened her lips at some recollection.
“She bucked up against the machine, did she?” inquired Zeke.
The housekeeper glanced around to see if any one might be approaching.
“I saw her go in there, and I followed her,” she continued almost in a whisper. “She sort of started, but spoke up in her cool way, ‘I wish to look over father’s clothes and see if anything needs attention.’ ‘Thank you, Mrs. Evringham, but everything is in order,’ I said, very respectful. ‘Well, leave it for me next time, Mrs. Forbes,’ she says. ‘I shall take care of him while I am here.’ ‘Thank you,’ says I, ‘but he wouldn’t want your visit interfered with by that kind of work.’ She looked at me sort of suspicious and haughty. ‘I prefer to do it,’ she answers, trying to look holes in me with her big eyes. ‘Then will you ask him, please,’ said I very polite, ‘before I give you the keys, because we’ve got into habits here. I’ve taken care of Mr. Evringham’s clothes for fifteen years.’ She looked kind of set back. ‘Is it so long?’ she asks. ‘Well, I will see about it.’ But I guess the right time for seeing about it never came,” added the housekeeper knowingly.
“You’re still doing business at the old stand, eh?” rejoined Zeke. “Well, I’m glad you like your job. It’s my opinion that the governor’s harder–“
“Ahem, ahem!” Mrs. Forbes cleared her throat with desperate loudness and tugged at her son’s shirt sleeve with an energy which caused him to wheel.
Coming up the sunny driveway was a tall man with short, scrupulously brushed iron-gray hair, and sweeping mustache. The lines under his eyes were heavy, his glance was cold. His presence was dignified, commanding, repellent.
The housekeeper and coachman both stood at attention, the latter mechanically pulling down his rolled-up sleeves.
“So you’re moving out here, Mrs. Forbes,” was the remark with which the newcomer announced himself.
“Yes, Mr. Evringham. The man has been here to put in the electric bell you ordered. I shall be as quick to call as if I was still in the house, sir, and I thank you–‘Zekiel and I both do–for consenting to my making it home-like for him. Perhaps you’d come up and see the rooms, sir?”
“Not just now. Some other time. I hope ‘Zekiel is going to prove himself worth all this trouble.”
The new coachman’s countenance seemed frozen into a stolidity which did not alter.
“I’m sure he’ll try,” replied his mother, “and Fanshaw’s livery fits him to such a turn that it would have been flying in the face of Providence not to try him. Did you give orders to be met at this train, sir?” Mrs. Forbes looked anxiously toward the set face of her heir.
“No–I came out unexpectedly. I have received news that is rather perplexing.”
The housekeeper had not studied her employer’s moods for years without understanding when she could be of use.
“I will come to the house right off,” was her prompt response. “It’s a pity you didn’t know the bell was in, sir.”
“No, stay where you are. I see Dr. Ballard is here. We might be interrupted. You can go, ‘Zekiel.”
The young fellow needed no second invitation, but turned and mounted the stairway that led to the chambers above.
Mr. Evringham took from his pocket a bunch of papers, and selecting a letter handed it to Mrs. Forbes, motioning her to the battered chair, which was still in evidence. He seated himself on the stool Zeke had vacated, while his housekeeper opened and read the following letter:–
CHICAGO, April 28, 19–.
DEAR FATHER,–The old story of the Prodigal Son has always plenty of originality for the Prodigal. I have returned, and thank Heaven sincerely I do not need to ask you for anything. My blessed girl Julia has supported herself and little Jewel these years while I’ve been feeding on husks. I don’t see now how I was willing to be so revoltingly cruel and cowardly as to leave her in the lurch, but she has made friends and they have stood by her, and now I’ve been back since September, doing all in my power to make up what I can to her and Jewel, as we call little Julia. They were treasures to return to such as I deserved to have lost forever; but Julia treats me as if I’d been white to her right all along. I’ve lately secured a position that I hope to keep. My wife has been dressmaking, and this is something in the dry goods line that I got through her. The firm want us to go to Europe to do some buying. They will pay the expenses of both; but that leaves Jewel. I’ve heard that Lawrence’s wife and daughter are living with you. I wondered if you’d let us bring Jewel as far as New York and drop her with you for the six weeks that we shall be gone. If we had a little more ahead we’d take the child with us. She is eight years old and wouldn’t be any trouble, but cash is scarce, and although we could board her here with some friend, I’d like to have her become acquainted with her grandfather, and I thought as Madge and Eloise were with you, they would look after her if Mrs. Forbes is no longer there. This has all come about very suddenly, and we sail next Wednesday on the Scythia, so I’ll be much obliged if you will wire me. I shall be glad to shake your hand again.
Your repentant son,
Mrs. Forbes looked up from the letter to find her employer’s eyes upon her. Her lips were set in a tight line.
“Well?” he asked.
“I’d like to ask first, sir, what you think of it?”
“It strikes me as very cool. Harry knows my habits.”
The housekeeper loosened the reins of her indignation.
“The idea of your having a child here to clatter up and down the stairs at the very time you want to take a nap!” she burst forth. “You’ve had enough to bear already.”
“A deal of company in the house as it is, eh?” he rejoined. It was the first reference he had ever made to his permanent guests.
“It’s what I was thinking, sir.”
“You’re not for it, then, Mrs. Forbes?”
“So far as taking care of the child goes, I should do my duty. I don’t think Mrs. Evringham or her daughter would wish to be bothered; but I know very little about children, except that your house is no place for them to be racing in. One young one brings others. You would be annoyed, sir. Some folks can always ask favors.” The housekeeper’s cheeks were flushed with the strength of her repugnance, and her bias relieved Mr. Evringham’s indecision.
“I agree with you,” he returned, rising. “Tell ‘Zekiel to saddle the Maid. After dinner I will let him take a telegram to the office.”
He returned to the house without further words, and Mrs. Forbes called to her son in a voice that had a wrathful quaver.
“What you got your back up about?” inquired Zeke softly, after a careful look to see that his august master had departed.
“Never you mind. Mr. Evringham wants you should saddle his horse and bring her round. I want he should see you can do it lively.”
“Ain’t she a beaut’!” exclaimed Zeke as he led out the mare. “She’d ought to be shown, she had.”
“Shown! Better not expose your ignorance where Mr. Evringham can hear you. That mare’s taken two blue ribbons already.”
“Showed they knew their business,” returned Zeke imperturbably. “I s’pose the old gent don’t care any more for her than he does for his life.”
“I guess he loves her the best of anything in this world.”
“Love! The governor love anything or anybody! That’s good,” remarked the young fellow, while Essex Maid watched his movements about her with gentle, curious eyes.
“I do believe she misses Fanshaw and notices the difference,” remarked Mrs. Forbes.
“Glad to, too. Ain’t you, my beauty? She’s going to be stuck on me before we get through. She don’t want any Britishers fooling around her.”
“You’ve certainly made her look fine, Zeke. I know Mr. Evringham will be pleased. She just shines from her pretty little ears to her hoofs. Take her around and then come back. I want to talk to you.”
“If I don’t come back,” returned the boy, “you’ll know the governor’s looked at me a little too hard and I’ve been struck so.”
“Don’t be any foolisher than you can help,” returned Mrs. Forbes, “and hurry.”
On ‘Zekiel’s return to the barn he saw that his mother’s face was portentous. “Lawrence was at least handsome like his father,” she began without preamble, looking over Zeke’s shoulder, “but Harry was as homely as he was no account. I should think that man had enough of his sons’ belongings hanging on him already. What do you think, ‘Zekiel Forbes? Mr. Evringham’s youngest son Harry has turned up again!”
“I should think it was the old Harry by your tone,” rejoined Zeke equably.
“He and his wife, poor as church mice, are getting their expenses paid to Europe on business, and they have the nerve–yes, the cheek–to ask Mr. Evringham to let them leave their young one, a girl eight years old, with him while they’re gone.”
“I hope it’s a real courageous youngster,” remarked Zeke.
“A child! A wild Western dressmaker’s young one in Mr. Evringham’s elegant house!”
“Is the old Harry a dressmaker?” asked Zeke mildly.
“No, his wife is. His Julia! They’ve named this girl for her, and I suppose they called her Jule, and then twisted it around to Jewel. Jewel!”
“When is she coming?” asked Zeke, seeing that he was expected to say something.
“Coming? She isn’t coming,” cried his mother irefully. “Not while Mr. Evringham has his wits. They haven’t a particle of right to ask him. Harry has worried him to distraction already. The child would be sure to torment him.”
“He’d devour her the second day, then,” returned Zeke calmly. “It would be soon over.”
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Dr. Ballard had gone, and his hostesses were awaiting the summons to dinner. Mrs. Evringham regarded her daughter critically as the girl sat at the piano, idly running her fingers over the keys.
The listlessness expressed in the fresh face and rounded figure brought a look of disapproval into the mother’s eyes.
“You must practice that nocturne,” she said. “You played it badly just now, and there is no excuse for it, Eloise.”
“If you will let me give lessons I will,” responded the girl promptly, without turning her graceful, drooping head.
The unexpected reply was startling.
“What are you talking about?” asked Mrs. Evringham.
“Oh, I’m so tired of it all,” replied the girl wearily.
A frown contracted her mother’s forehead. “Tired of what? Turn around here!” She rose and put her hands on the pretty shoulders and turned her child until the clear gray eyes met hers. “Now then, tired of what?”
Eloise smiled slightly, and sighed. “Of playing nocturnes to Dr. Ballard.”
“And he is quite as tired of hearing you, I dare say,” was the retort. “It seems to me you always stumble when you play to the doctor, and he adores Chopin.”
Eloise continued to meet her mother’s annoyed gaze, her hands fallen in her lap, all the lines of her nut-brown hair, her exquisite face, and pliable, graceful figure so many silent arguments, as they always were, against any one’s harboring annoyance toward her.
“You say he does, mother, and you have assured him of it so often that the poor man doesn’t dare to say otherwise; but really, if you’d let him have the latest Weber and Field hit, I think he would be so grateful.”
“Learn it then!” returned Mrs. Evringham.
Eloise laughed lazily. “Intrepid little mother!” Then she added, in a different tone, “Don’t you think there is any danger of our being too obliging? I’m not the only girl in town whose mother wishes her to oblige Dr. Ballard. May we not overreach ourselves?”
“Eloise!” Mrs. Evringham’s half-affectionate, half-remonstrating grasp fell from her child’s shoulders. “That remark is in very bad taste.”
The girl shook her head slowly. “I never can understand why it is any satisfaction to you to pretend. You find comfort in pretending that Mr. Evringham likes to have us here, likes us to use his carriages, to receive his friends, and all the rest of it. We’ve been here seven weeks and three days, and that little game of pretending is satisfying you still. You are like the ostrich with its head in the sand.”
Mrs. Evringham drew her lithe figure up. “Well, Eloise, I hope there are limits to this. To call your own mother an–an ostrich!”
“Don’t speak so loud,” returned the girl, rising and patting her mother’s hand. “Grandfather has returned from his ride. I just heard him come in. It is too near dinner time for a scene. There is no need of our pretending to each other, is there? You have always put me off and put me off, but surely you mean to bring this to an end pretty soon?”
“You could bring it to an end at once if you would!” returned Mrs. Evringham, her voice lowered. “Dr. Ballard has nothing to wait for. I know all about his circumstances. There never was such a providence as father’s having a friend like him ready to our hand–so suitable, so attractive, so rich!”
“Yes,” responded the girl low and equably, “it is just five weeks and two days that you have been throwing me at that man’s head.”
“I have done nothing of the kind, Eloise Evringham.”
“Yes you have,” returned the girl without excitement, “and grandfather sneering at us all the time under his mustache. He knows that there are other girls and other mothers interested in Dr. Ballard more desirable than we are. Oh! how easy it is to be more desirable than we are!”
“There isn’t one girl in five hundred so pretty as you,” returned Mrs. Evringham stoutly.
“I wish my prettiness could persuade you into my way of thinking.”
“What do you mean?” The glance of the older woman was keen and suspicious.
“We would take a cheap little apartment to-morrow,” said the girl wistfully.
Mrs. Evringham gave an ejaculation of impatience. “And do all our own work and live like pigs!” she returned petulantly.
Eloise shrugged her shoulders. “I may flatter myself, but I fancy I should keep it rather clean.”
“You wouldn’t mind your hands then.” Mrs. Evringham regarded the hands worthy to be imitated by a sculptor’s art, and the girl raised them and inspected the rose-tints of their tips. “I’ve read something about rubber gloves,” she returned vaguely.
“You’d better read something else then. How do you suppose you would get on without a carriage?” asked her mother with exasperation. “You have never had so much as a taste of privation in any form. Your suggestion is the acme of foolishness.”
“I think I could do something if you would let me,” rejoined the girl as calmly as before. “I think I could teach music pretty well, and keep house charmingly. If I had any false pride when we came out here, the past six weeks have purified me of it. Will you let me try, mother? I’m asking it very seriously.”
“Certainly not!” hotly. “There are armies of music teachers now, and you would not have a chance.”
“I think I could dress hair well,” remarked Eloise, glancing at the reflection in a mirror of her own graceful coiffure.
“I dare say!” responded Mrs. Evringham with sarcastic heat, “or I’m sure you could get a position as a waitress. The servant problem is growing worse every year.”
“I’d like to be your waitress, mother.” For the first time the girl lost her perfect poise, and the color fluctuated in her cheek. She clasped her hands. “It would be heaven compared with the feeling, the sickening, appalling suspicion, that we are becoming akin to the adventuresses we read of, the pretty, luxurious women who live by their wits.”
“Silence!” commanded Mrs. Evringham, her eyes flashing and her effective black-clothed figure drawn up.
Eloise sighed again. “I didn’t expect to accomplish anything by this talk,” she said, relapsing into listlessness.
“What did you expect then? Merely to be disagreeable? I hope you may be as successful in worthier undertakings. Now listen. Some of the plans you have suggested at various times might be sensible if you were a plain girl. Your beauty is as tangible an asset as money would be; but beauty requires money. You must have it. Your poor father might have left it to you, but he didn’t; so you will marry it–not unsuitably,” meeting an ominous look in her child’s eyes, “not without love or under any circumstances to make a martyr of you, but according to common sense; and as a certain young man is evidently more and more certain of himself every time he comes”–she paused.
“You think there is no need for him to grow more certain of me?” asked Eloise.
“You might have saved us the disagreeables of this interview. And one thing more,” impressively, “you evidently are not taking into consideration, perhaps you never knew, that it was your grandfather’s confidence in a certain course which induced your poor father to take that last fatal flyer. Your grandfather feels–I’m sure he feels–that much reparation is due us. The present conditions are easier for him than a separate suitable home would be, therefore”–Mrs. Evringham waved her hand. “It is strange,” she added, “that so young a girl should not repose more trust in her mother’s judgment. And now that we are on the subject, I wish you would make more effort with your grandfather. Don’t be so silent at table and leave all the talking to me. A man of his age likes to have merry young people about. Chat, create a cheerful atmosphere. He likes to look at you, of course, but you have been so quiet and lackadaisical of late, it is enough to hurt his feelings as host.”
“He has never shown any symptoms of anxiety,” remarked Eloise.
“Well, he is a very self-contained man.”
“He is indeed, poor grandfather; I don’t know how you will manage, mother, when you have to play the game of ‘pretend’ all alone. He is growing tired of it, I can see. His courtesy is wearing very thin. I’m sorry to make it harder for you by taking away what must have been a large prop and support, but I heard papa say to himself more than once in those last sad days, ‘If I had only taken my father’s advice.’ “
“Eloise,” very earnestly, “you misunderstood, you certainly misunderstood.”
The girl shook her head wearily. “No, alas! I neither misunderstand nor forget, when it would be most convenient to do so.”
Mrs. Evringham’s fair brow contracted as she regarded her daughter with exasperation. “And you are only nineteen! One would think it was you instead of me to whom the next birthday would bring that detested forty.”
The girl looked at her mother, whose youthful face and figure betrayed the source of her own heritage of physical charm.
“I long ago gave up the hope of ever again being as young as you are,” she returned sadly. “Oh!” with a rare and piteous burst of feeling, “if dear papa could have stayed with us, and we could have had a right somewhere!”
Mrs. Evringham threw her arms about the young creature, welcoming the softened mood. “You know I took you right to my own people, Eloise,” she said gently. “We stayed as long as I thought was right; they couldn’t afford to keep us.” A sound at the door caused her to turn. The erect form of her father-in-law had just entered the room.
“Ah, good evening, father,” she said in tones whose sadness was not altogether feigned, even though she secretly rejoiced that Eloise should for once show such opportune emotion. “Pardon this little girl. She was just feeling overwhelmed with a pang of homesickness for her father.”
“Indeed!” returned Mr. Evringham. “Will you walk out? Mrs. Forbes tells me that dinner is served.”
Eloise, hastily drawing her handkerchief across her eyes, passed the unbending figure, her cheeks stinging. His hard voice was in her ears.
That she was not his son’s child hurt her now as often before in the past two months, but that he should have discovered her weeping at a moment when he might have been expected to enter was a keen hurt to her pride, and her heart swelled with a suspicion of his unspoken thoughts. She had never been effusive, she had never posed. He had no right to suspect her.
With her small head carried high and her cheeks glowing, she passed him, following her mother, who floated on before with much satisfaction. These opportune tears shed by her nonconforming child should make their stay good for another two months at least.
“You must have had a beautiful ride, father,” said Mrs. Evringham as they seated themselves at table. She spoke in the tone, at once assured and ingratiating, which she always adopted toward him. “I noticed you took an earlier start than usual.”
The speaker had never had the insight to discover that her father-in- law was ungrateful for proofs that any of his long-fixed, solitary habits were now observed by feminine eyes.
“I did take a rather longer ride than usual,” he returned. “Mrs. Forbes, I wish you would speak to the cook about the soup. It has been served cool for the last two days.”
Mrs. Forbes flushed as she stood near his chair in her trim black gown and white apron.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, the flush and quiet words giving little indication of the tumult aroused within her by her employer’s criticism. To fail to please Mr. Evringham at his meals was the deepest mortification life held for her.
“I’m sure it tastes very good,” said Mrs. Evringham amiably, “although I like a little more salt than your cook uses.”
“You can reach it I hope,” remarked the host, casting a glance at the dainty solitaire salt and pepper beside his daughter’s plate.
“But don’t you like it cooked in?” she asked sweetly.
“Not when I want to get it out,” he answered shortly.
“How can mother, how can mother!” thought Eloise helplessly.
“There is decided spring in the air to-day,” said Mrs. Evringham. “I remember of old how charmingly spring comes in the park.”
“You have a good memory,” returned Mr. Evringham dryly.
“Why do you say that?” asked the pretty widow, lifting large, innocent eyes.
“It is some years since you accompanied Lawrence in his calls upon me, I believe.”
“Poor father!” thought Mrs. Evringham, “how unpleasantly blunt he has grown, living here alone!”
“I scarcely realize it,” she returned suavely. “My recollection of the park is always so clear. It is surprising, isn’t it, how relatives can live as near together as we in New York and you out here and see one another so seldom! Life in New York,” sighing, “was such a rush for us. Here amid the rustle of the trees it seems to be scarcely the same world. Lawrence often said his only lucid intervals were during the rides he took with Eloise in Central Park. Do you always ride alone, father?”
“Always,” was the prompt rejoinder, while Eloise cast a glance full of appeal at her mother.
The latter continued archly, “If you could see Eloise on a horse you would not blame me for trying to screw up my courage, as I have been doing for days past, to ask you if she might take a canter on Essex Maid in the morning, sometimes, while you are away. Fanshaw assured me that she would be perfectly safe.”
Mr. Evringham’s cold eyes stared, and then the enormity of the proposition appeared to move him humorously.
“Which maid did Fanshaw say would be safe?” he inquired, while Eloise glowed with mortification.
“Well, if you think Eloise can’t ride, try her some time!” exclaimed the widow gayly. It had been a matter of surprise and afterward of resentment that Mr. Evringham could remain deaf to her hints so long, and she had determined to become frank. “Or else ask Dr. Ballard,” she went on; “he has very kindly provided Eloise with a horse several times, but the child likes a solitary ride, sometimes, as well as you do.”
The steely look returned to the host’s eyes. “No one rides the Maid but myself,” he returned coldly.
“I beg you to believe, grandfather, that I don’t wish to ride her,” said Eloise, her customary languor of manner gone and her voice hard. “Mother is more ambitious for me than I am for myself. I should be very much obliged if she would allow me to ask favors when I want them.”
Mrs. Forbes’s lips were set in a tight line as she filled Mrs. Evringham’s glass.
That lady’s heart was beating a little fast from vexation, and also from the knowledge that a time of reckoning with her child was coming.
“Oh, very well,” she said airily. “No wonder you are careful of that beautiful creature. I caught Eloise with her arms around the mare’s neck the other day, and I couldn’t help wishing for a kodak. You feed her with sugar, don’t you Eloise?”
“I hope not, I’m sure!” exclaimed Mr. Evringham sternly.
“I’ll not do it again, grandfather,” said the girl, her very ears burning.
Mrs. Evringham sighed and gave one Parthian shot. “The poor child does love horses so,” she murmured softly.
The host scowled and fidgeted in his chair with a brusque gesture to Mrs. Forbes to remove the course.
“Harry has turned up again,” he remarked, to change the subject.
“Really?” returned his daughter-in-law languidly. “For how long I wonder?”
“He thinks it is permanent.”
“He is still in Chicago?”
“Yes, for a day or two. He and his wife sail for Europe immediately.”
“Indeed!” with a greater show of interest. Then, curiously, “Are you sending them, father?”
“Scarcely! They are going on business.”
“Oh,” relapsing into indifference. “They have a child, I believe.”
“Yes, a girl. I should think perhaps you might have remembered it.”
“I hardly see why, if Harry didn’t–a fact he plainly showed by deserting the poor creature.” The insolence of the speaker’s tone was scarcely veiled. Her extreme disapproval of her father-in-law sometimes welled to the surface of her suave manner.
Mr. Evringham’s thoughts had fled to Chicago. “Harry proposed leaving the girl here while they are gone,” he said.
Mrs. Evringham straightened in her chair and her attention concentrated. “With you? What assurance! How like Harry!” she exclaimed.
The words were precisely those which her host had been saying to himself; but proceeding from her lips they had a strange effect upon him.
“You find it so?” he asked. The clearer the proposition became to Mrs. Evringham’s consciousness the more she resented it. To have the child in the house not only would menace her ease and comfort, but meant a possibility that the grandfather might take an interest in Harry’s daughter which would disturb Eloise’s chances.
“Of course it does. I call it simply presumptuous,” she declared with emphasis.
“After all, Harry has some rights,” rejoined Mr. Evringham slowly.
“His wife is a dressmaker,” went on the other. “I had it directly from a Chicago friend. Harry has scarcely been with the child since she was born. And to saddle a little stranger like that on you! Now Eloise and /her/ father were inseparable.”
There was an ominous glitter in Mr. Evringham’s eyes. “Eloise’s father!” he returned slowly. “I did not know that she remembered him.”
The hurt of his tone and words sank deep into the heart of the girl, but she looked up courageously.
“Your son was my father in every best sense,” she said. “We were inseparable. You must have known it.”
“You appeared to be separable when your father made his visits to Bel- Air Park,” was the rejoinder. “Pardon me if I knew very little of what took place in his household. A telegraph blank, please, Mrs. Forbes, and tell Zeke to be ready to go to the office.”
There was a vital tone in the usually dry voice. Mrs. Evringham looked apprehensively at her daughter; but Eloise gave her no answering glance; her eyes were downcast and her pretense of eating continued, while her pulses beat.
FATHER AND SON
When later they were alone, the girl looked at her mother, her eyes luminous.
“You see,” she began rather breathlessly, “even you must see, he is beginning to drive us away.”
“I do hope, Eloise, you are not going to indulge in any heroics over this affair,” returned Mrs. Evringham, who had braced herself to meet an attack. “Does the unpleasant creature suppose we would stay with him if we were not obliged to?”
“If we are obliged to, which I don’t admit, need you demand further favors than food and shelter? How could you speak of Essex Maid! How can you know in your inmost heart, as you do, that we are eating the bread of charity, and then ask for the apple of his eye!” exclaimed Eloise desperately.
“Go away with your bread and apples,” responded Mrs. Evringham flippantly. “I have a real worry now that that wretched little cousin of yours is coming.”
“She is not my cousin please remember,” responded the girl bitterly. “Mr. Evringham reminded us of that to-night.”
“Now don’t you begin calling him Mr. Evringham!” protested her mother. “You don’t want to take any notice of the man’s absurdities. You will only make matters worse.”
“No, I shall go on saying grandfather for the little while we stay. Otherwise, he would know his words were rankling. It /will/ be a little while? Oh mother!”
Mrs. Evringham pushed the pleading hand away. “I can’t tell how long it will be!” she returned impatiently. “We are simply helpless until your father’s affairs are settled. I thought I had told you that, Eloise. He worshipped you, child, and no matter what that old curmudgeon says, Lawrence would wish us to remain under his protection until we see our way clear.”
“Won’t you have a business talk with him, so we can know what we have to look forward to?” The girl’s voice was unsteady.
“I will when the right time comes, Eloise. Can’t you trust your mother? Isn’t it enough that we have lost our home, our carriages, all our comforts and luxuries, through this man’s bad judgment–“
“You will cling to that!” despairingly.
“And have had to come out to this Sleepy Hollow of a place, where life means mere existence, and be so poor that the carfare into New York is actually a consideration! I’m quite satisfied with our martyrdom as it is, without pinching and grinding as we should have to do to live elsewhere.”
“Then you don’t mean to attempt to escape?” returned Eloise in alarm.
“Hush, hush, Goosie. We will escape all in good time if we don’t succeed in taming the bear. As it is, I have to work single handed,” dropping into a tone of reproach. “You are no help at all. You might as well be a simpering wax dummy out of a shop window. I would have been ashamed at your age if I could not have subjugated any man alive. We might have had him at our feet weeks ago if you had made an effort.”
“No, no, mother,” sadly. “I saw when we first came how effusiveness impressed him, and I tried to behave so as to strike a balance–that is, after I found that we were here on sufferance and not as welcome guests.”
“Pshaw! You can’t tell what such a hermit is thinking,” returned Mrs. Evringham. “It is the best thing that could happen to him to have us here. Dr. Ballard said so only to-day. What is troubling me now is this child of Harry’s. I was sure by father’s tone when he first spoke of her that he would not even consider such an imposition.”
“I think he did feel so,” returned Eloise, her manner quiet again. “That was an example of the way you overreach yourself. The word presumption on your lips applied to uncle Harry determined grandfather to let the child come.”
“You think he really has sent for her then!” exclaimed Mrs. Evringham. “You think that is what the telegram meant! I’m sure of it, too.” Then after a minute’s exasperated thought, “I believe you are right. He is just contrary enough for that. If I had urged him to let the little barbarian come, he couldn’t have been induced to do so. That wasn’t clever of me!” The speaker made the admission in a tone which implied that in general her cleverness was unquestioned. “Well, I hope she will worry him out of his senses, and I don’t think there is much doubt of it. It may turn out all for the best, Eloise, after all, and lead him to appreciate us.” Mrs. Evringham cast a glance at the mirror and patted her waved hair. “And yet I’m anxious, very anxious. He might take a fancy to the girl,” she added thoughtfully.
“I’m such a poor-spirited creature,” remarked Eloise.
“I ought to be strong enough to leave you since you will not come; to leave this roof and earn my own living, some way, any way; but I’m too much of a coward.”
“I should hope so,” returned her mother briefly. “You’d soon become one if you weren’t at starting. Girls bred to luxury, as you have been, must just contrive to live well somehow. They can’t stand anything else.”
“Nonsense, mother,” quietly. “They can. They do.”
“Yes, in books I know they do.”
“No, truth is stranger than fiction. They do. I have been looking for that sort of stamina in myself for weeks, but I haven’t found it. It is a cruel wrong to a girl not to teach her to support herself.”
“My dear! You were going to college. You know you would have gone had it not been for your poor father’s misfortunes.”
Eloise’s eyes filled again at the remembrance of the young, gay man who had been her boon companion since her babyhood, and at the memory of those last sad days, when she knew he had agonized over her future even more than over that of his volatile wife.
“My dear, as I’ve told you before, a girl as pretty as you are should know that fortune cannot be unkind, nor the sea of life too rough. In each of the near waves of it you can see a man’s head swimming toward you. You don’t know the trouble I have had already in silencing those who wished to speak before you were old enough. They could any of them be summoned now with a word. Let me see. There is Mr. Derwent–Mr. Follansbee–Mr. Weeks–“
“Hush, mother!” ejaculated the girl in disgust.
“Exactly. I knew you would say they were too old, or too bald, or too short, or too fat. I’ve been a girl myself. Of course there is Nat Bonnell, and a lot more little waves and ripples like him, but they always /were/ out of the question, and now they are ten times more so. That is the reason, Eloise,” the mother’s voice became impressive to the verge of solemnity, “why I feel that Dr. Ballard is almost a providence.”
The girl’s clear eyes were reflective. “Nat Bonnell is a wave who wouldn’t remember a girl who had slipped out of the swim.”
“Very wise of him,” returned Mrs. Evringham emphatically. “He can’t afford to. Nat is–is–a–decorative creature, just as you are,– decorative. He must make it pay, poor boy.”
Meanwhile Mrs. Forbes had sought her son in the barn. He and she had had their supper in time for her to be ready to wait at dinner.
“Something doing, something doing,” murmured Zeke as he heard the impetuosity of her approaching step.
“That soup /was/ hot!” she exclaimed defiantly.
“Somebody scald you, ma? I can do him up, whoever he is,” said Zeke, catching up a whip and executing a threatening dance around the dimly lighted barn.
His mother’s snapping eyes looked beyond him. “He said it was cold; but it was only because he was distracted. What do you suppose those people are up to now? Trying to get Essex Maid for Mamzell to ride!”
Zeke stopped in his mad career and returned his mother’s stare for a silent moment. “And not a dungeon on the place probably!” he exclaimed at last. “Just like some folks’ shiftlessness.”
“They /asked/ it. They asked Mr. Evringham if that girl couldn’t ride Essex Maid while he was in the city!”
‘Zekiel lifted his eyebrows politely. “Where are their remains to be interred?” he inquired with concern.
“Well, not in /this/ family vault, you may be sure. He gave it to them to-night for a fact.” Mrs. Forbes smiled triumphantly. ” ‘I didn’t know Eloise remembered her father,’ ” she mimicked. “I’ll bet that got under their skin!”
“Dear parent, you’re excited,” remarked Zeke.
She brought her reminiscent gaze back to rest upon her son. “Get your coat quick, ‘Zekiel. Here’s the telegram. Take the car that passes the park gate, and stop at the station. That’s the nearest place.”
Ezekiel obediently struggled into the coat hanging conveniently near. “What does the telegram say?–‘Run away, little girl, the ogre isn’t hungry’?”
“Not much! She’s coming. He’s sending for the brat.”
“Poor brat! How did it happen?”
“Just some more of my lady’s doings,” answered Mrs. Forbes angrily. “Of course she had to put in her oar and exasperate Mr. Evringham until he did it to spite her.”
“Cutting off his own nose to spite his face, eh?” asked Zeke, taking the slip of paper.
“Yes, and mine. It’s going to come heavy on me. I could have shaken that woman with her airs and graces. Catch her or Mamzell lifting /their/ hands!”
“Yet they want her, do they?”
“No, Stupid! That’s why she’s coming. Can’t you understand?”
“Blessed if I can,” returned the boy as he left the barn; “but I know one thing, I pity the kid.”
Mr. Evringham received a prompt answer to his message. His son appointed, as a place of meeting, the downtown hotel where he and his wife purposed spending the night before sailing.
Father and son had not met for years, and Mr. Evringham debated a few minutes whether to take the gastronomic and social risk of dining with Harry /en famille/ at the noisy hotel above mentioned, or to have dinner in assured comfort at his club–finally deciding on the latter course.
It was, therefore, nearly nine o’clock before his card was presented to Mr. and Mrs. Harry, to whom it brought considerable relief of mind, and they hastened down to the dingy parlor with alacrity.
“You see we thought you might accept our invitation to dinner,” said Harry heartily, as he grasped his parent’s passive hand; “but your business hours are so short, I dare say you have been at home since the middle of the afternoon.” As he spoke the hard lines of his father’s impassive face smote him with a thousand associations, many of them bringing remorse. He wondered how much his own conduct had had to do with graving them so deeply.
His wife’s observant eyes were scanning this guardian of her child from the crown of his immaculate head to the toes of his correct patent leathers. His expressionless eyes turned to her. “This is your wife?” he asked, again offering the passive hand.
“Yes, father, this is Julia,” responded Harry proudly. “I’m sorry the time is so short. I do want you to know her.”
The young man’s face grew eloquent.
“That is a pleasure to come,” responded Mr. Evringham mechanically. He turned stiffly and cast a glance about. “You brought your daughter, I presume?”
“Yes, indeed,” answered Mrs. Evringham. “Harry was so glad to receive your permission. We had made arrangements for her provisionally with friends in Chicago, but we were desirous that she should have this opportunity to see her father’s home and know you.”
Mr. Evringham thought with regret of those friends in Chicago. Many times in the last two days he had deeply repented allowing himself to be exasperated into thus committing himself.
“Do sit down, father,” said Harry, as his wife seated herself in the nearest chair.
Mr. Evringham hesitated before complying. “Well,” he said perfunctorily, “you have gone into something that promises well, eh Harry?”
“It looks that way. I’m chiefly occupied these days in being thankful.” The young man smiled with an extraordinary sweetness of expression, which transfigured his face, and which his father remembered well as always promising much and performing nothing. “I might spend a lot of time crying over spilt milk, but Julia says I mustn’t,”–he glanced across at his wife, whose dark eyes smiled back,–“and what Julia says goes. I intend to spend a year or two doing instead of talking.”
“It will answer better,” remarked his father.
“Yes, sir,” Harry’s voice grew still more earnest. “And by that time, perhaps, I can express my regret to you, for things done and things left undone, with more convincingness.”
The older man made a slight gesture of rejection with one well-kept hand. “Let bygones be bygones,” he returned briefly.
“When I think,” pursued Harry, his impulsive manner in strange contrast to that of his listener, “that if I had been behaving myself all this time, I might have seen dear old Lawrence again!”
Mr. Evringham kept silence.
“How are Madge and Eloise? I thought perhaps Madge might come in and meet us at the train.”
“They are in the best of health, thank you. Eh–a–I think if you’ll call your daughter now we will go. It’s rather a long ride, you know. No express trains at this hour. When you return we will have more of a visit.”
Harry and his wife exchanged a glance. “Why Jewel is asleep,” answered the young man after a pause. “She was so sleepy she couldn’t hold her eyes open.”
“You mean you’ve let her go to bed?” asked Mr. Evringham, with a not very successful attempt to veil his surprise and annoyance.
“Why–yes. We supposed she would see us off, you know.”
“Your memory is rather short, it strikes me,” returned his father. “You sail at eight A.M., I believe. Did you think I could get in from Bel-Air at that hour?”
“No. I thought you would naturally remain in the city over night. You used to stay in rather frequently, didn’t you?”
“I’ve not done so for five years; but you couldn’t know that. Is it out of the question to dress the child again? I hope she is too healthy to be disturbed by a trifle like that.”
Mrs. Evringham cast a startled look at her father-in-law. “It would disappoint Jewel very much not to see us off,” she returned.
Mr. Evringham shrugged his shoulders. “Let it go then. Let it go,” he said quickly.
Harry’s plain face had grown concerned. “Is Mrs. Forbes with you still?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. I couldn’t keep house without Mrs. Forbes. Well,” rising, “if you young people will excuse me, I believe I will go to the club and turn in.”
“Couldn’t you stand it here one night, do you think?” asked Harry, rising. “The club is rather far uptown for such an early start.”
“No. I’ll be on hand. I’m used to rising early for a canter. I’ll take it with a cab horse this time. That will be all the difference.” And with this attempt at jocularity, Mr. Evringham shook hands once more and departed, swallowing his ill-humor as best he could. Any instincts of the family man which might once have reigned in him had long since been inhibited. This episode was a cruel invasion upon his bachelor habits.
Left alone, Harry and his wife without a word ascended to their room and with one accord approached the little bed in the corner where their child lay asleep.
The man took his wife’s hand. “I’ve done it now, Julia,” he said dejectedly. “It’s my confounded optimism again.”
“Your optimism is all right,” she returned, smoothing his hand gently, though her heart was beating fast, and the vision of her father-in- law, with his elegant figure and cold eyes, was weighing upon her spirit.
Harry looked long on the plain little sleeping face, so like his own in spite of its exquisite child-coloring, and bending, touched the tossed, straight, flaxen hair.
“We couldn’t take her, I suppose?” he asked.
“No,” replied the yearning mother quietly. “We have prayed over it. We must know that all will be right.”
“His bark is worse than his bite,” said Harry doubtfully. “It always was; and Mrs. Forbes is there.”
“You say she is a kind sort of woman?”
“Why, I suppose so,” uncertainly. “I never had much to do with her.”
“And your sister? Isn’t it very strange that she didn’t come in to meet us? I was so certain I should put Jewel into her hands I feel a little bewildered.”
“You’re a trump!” ejaculated Harry hotly, “and you’ve married into a family where they’re scarce. Madge might have met us at the train, at least.”
“Perhaps she is very sad over her loss,” suggested Julia.
“In the best of health. Father said so. Oh well, she never was anything but a big butterfly and Eloise a little one. I remember the last time I saw the child, a pretty fairy with her long pink silk stockings. She must have been just about the age of Jewel.”
The mother stooped over the little bed and the dingy room looked pleasanter for her smile. “Jewel hasn’t any pink silk stockings,” she murmured, and kissed the warm rose of the round cheek.
The little girl stirred and opened her eyes, at first vaguely, then with a start.
“Is it time for the boat?” she asked, trying to rise.
Her father smoothed her hair. “No, time to go to sleep again. We’re just going to bed. Good-night, Jewel.” He stooped to kiss her, and her arms met around his neck.
“It was an April fool, wasn’t it?” she murmured sleepily, and was unconscious again.
The mother hid her face for a moment on her husband’s shoulder. “Help me to feel that we’re doing right,” she whispered, with a catch in her breath.
“As if I could help /you/, Julia!” he returned humbly.
“Oh, yes, you can, dear.” She withdrew from his embrace, and going to the dresser, took down her hair. The smiling face of a doll looked up at her from the neighboring chair, where it was sitting bolt upright. Her costume was fresh from the modiste, and her feet, though hopelessly pigeon-toed, were encased in bronze boots of a freshness which caught the dim gaslight with a golden sheen.
Mrs. Evringham smiled through her moist eyes.
“Well, Jewel /was/ sleepy. She forgot to undress Anna Belle,” she said.
Letting her hair fall about her like a veil, she caught up the doll and pressed it to her heart impulsively. “You are going to stay with her, Anna Belle! I envy you, I envy you!” she whispered. An irrepressible tear fell on the sumptuous trimming of the little hat. “Be good to her; comfort her, comfort her, little dolly.” Hastily wiping her eyes, she turned to her husband, still holding the doll. “We shall have to be very careful, Harry, in the morning. If we are harboring one wrong or fearful thought, we must not let Jewel know it.”
“Oh, I wish it were over! I wish the next month were over!” he replied restively.
At the dock next morning the scene was one of the usual confusion. The sailing time was drawing near and Mr. Evringham had not appeared.
Harry, with his little girl’s hand in his, stood at the foot of the gang plank, peering at every newcomer and growing more anxious every moment. Jewel occupied herself in throwing kisses to her mother, who stood at the rail far above, never taking her eyes from the little figure in the blue sailor suit.
The child noted her father’s set lips and the concentrated expression of his eyes.
“If grandpa doesn’t come what shall I do?” she asked without anxiety.
“You’ll go to England,” was the prompt response.
“Without my trunk!” returned the child in protest.
Her father looked again at the watch he held in his hand. The order to go ashore was sending all visitors down the gang plank. “By George, I guess you’re going, too,” he muttered between his teeth, when suddenly his father’s tall form came striding through the crowd. Mr. Evringham was carrying a long pasteboard box, and seemed breathless.
“Horse fell down. Devil of a time! Roses for your wife.”
Harry grasped the box, touched his father’s hand, kissed the child, and strode up the plank amid the frowns of officials.
Jewel’s eager eyes followed him, then, as he disappeared, lifted again to her mother, who smiled and waved her hand to Mr. Evringham. The latter raised his hat and took the occasion to wipe his heated brow. He was irritated through and through. The morning had been a chapter of accidents. Even the roses, which he had ordered the night before, had proved to be the wrong sort.
The suspense of the last fifteen minutes had been a distressing wrong to put upon any man. He had now before him the prospect of caring for a strange child, of taking her out of town at an hour when he should have been coming into it. She would probably cry. Very well; if she did he determined on the instant to ride out to Bel-Air in the smoking car, although he detested its odors and uncleanness. The whole situation was enormous. What a fool he had been, and what an intelligent woman was Mrs. Forbes! She had seen from the first the inappropriateness, the impossibility, of the whole proposition. His attention was attracted to the fact that the small figure at his side was hopping up and down with excitement.
“There’s father, there’s father!” she cried, as Harry joined his wife at the rail and they lifted the wealth of roses from the box and waved them.
“We’ve wronged him, Harry!” exclaimed Julia, trying to see the little face below through her misty eyes. “How I love him for bringing me these sweet things! It gives me such a different feeling about him.”
“Oh, father would as soon forget his breakfast as roses for a woman he was seeing off,” returned Harry without enthusiasm, while he waved his hat energetically.
The steamer pulled out. The faces in the crowd mingled and changed places.
“I’ve lost them, I’ve lost them!” cried Julia. “Oh, where are they, Harry.”
“Over there near the corner. I can see father. It’s all right, dear,” choking a little. “Jewel was skipping and laughing a minute ago. It will only be a few weeks, but confound it,” violently, “next time we’ll take her!”
Julia buried her face in the roses, on which twinkled a sudden dew, and tried to gather promise from their sweet breath.
Jewel strained her eyes to follow the now indistinguishable forms on the lofty deck, and her grandfather looked down at the small figure in the sailor suit, the short thick pigtails of flaxen hair tied with large bows of ribbon, and the doll clasped in one arm. At last the child turned her head and looked up, and their eyes met for the first time.
“Jove, she does look like Harry!” muttered Mr. Evringham, and even as he spoke the plain little face was illumined with the smile he knew, that surpassingly sweet smile which promised so much and performed nothing.
The child studied him with open, innocent curiosity.
“I can’t believe it’s you,” she said at last, in a voice light and winning, a voice as sweet as the smile.
“I don’t wonder. I don’t quite know myself this morning,” he replied brusquely.
“We have a picture of you, but it’s a long-ago one, and I thought by this time you would be old, and–and bent over, you know, the way grandpas are.”
Even in that place of drays and at eight o’clock A.M. these words fell not disagreeably upon irritated ears.
“I think myself Nature did not intend me to be a grandpa,” he replied.
“Oh, yes, you’re just the right kind,” returned the child hastily and confidently. “Strong and–and handsome.”
Mr. Evringham looked at her in amazement. “The little rascal!” he thought. “Has she been coached?”
“I suppose we may get away from here now,” he said aloud. “There’s nothing more to wait for.”
“Didn’t the roses make mother happy?” asked the little girl, trotting along beside his long strides. “I think it was wonderful for you to bring them so early in the morning.”
Mr. Evringham summoned a cab.
“Oh, are we gong in a carriage?” cried Jewel, highly pleased. “But I mustn’t forget, grandpa, there’s something father told me I must give you the first thing. Will you take Anna Belle a minute, please?” and Mr. Evringham found himself holding the doll fiercely by one leg while small hands worked at the catch of a very new little leather side-bag.
At last Jewel produced a brass square.
“Oh, your trunk check.” Mr. Evringham exchanged the doll for it with alacrity. “Get in.” He held open the cab door.
Jewel obeyed, but not without some misgivings when her guardian so coolly pocketed the check.
“Yes, it’s for my trunk,” she replied when her grandfather was beside her and they began rattling over the stones. “I have a checked silk dress,” she added softly, after a pause. It were well to let him know the value of her baggage.
“Have you indeed? How old are you, Julia? Your name is Julia, I believe?”
“Yes, sir, my /name’s/ Julia, but so is mother’s, and they call me Jewel. I’m nearly nine, grandpa.”
“H’m. Time flies,” was the brief response.
Jewel looked out of the cab window in the noisy silence that followed. At last her voice was raised to sound through the clatter. “I suppose my trunk is somewhere else,” she said suggestively.
“Yes, your trunk will reach home all right, plaid silk and all.”
Jewel smiled, and lifting the doll she let her look out the window upon the uninviting prospect. “Anna Belle’s clothes are in the trunk, too,” she added, turning and speaking confidentially.
“Whose?” asked Mr. Evringham, startled. “There’s no one else coming, I suppose?”
“Why, this is Anna Belle,” returned the child, laughing and lifting the bisque beauty so that the full radiance of her smile beamed upon her companion. “That’s your great-grandfather, dearie, that I’ve told you about,” she said patronizingly. “We’ve been so /excited/ the last few days since we knew we were coming,” looking again at Mr. Evringham. “I’ve told Anna Belle all about beautiful Bel-Air Park, and the big house, and the big trees, and the ravine, and the brook. Isn’t it nice,” joyfully, “that it doesn’t rain to-day, and we shall see it in the sunshine?”
“Rain would have made it more disagreeable certainly,” returned Mr. Evringham, congratulating himself that he was escaping that further rain of tears which he had dreaded. “It is a good day for your father and mother to set out on their trip,” he added.
“Yes, and they’re only to be gone six little weeks,” returned Jewel, smoothing her doll’s boa; “and I’m to have this lovely visit, and I’m to write them very often, and they’ll write to me, and we shall all be so happy!” Jewel trotted Anna Belle on her short-skirted knee and hummed a tune, which was lost in the rattle of wheels.
“You can read and write, eh?”
“Oh ye–es!” replied the child with amused scorn. “How would I get my lessons if I couldn’t read? Of course–big words,” she added conscientiously.
“Precisely,” agreed Mr. Evringham dryly. “Big words, I dare say.”
A sudden thought occurring to his companion, she looked up again.
“You pretty nearly didn’t come,” she said, “and just think, if you hadn’t I was going to England. Father said so.”
At the sweet inflections of the child’s voice Mr. Evringham’s brows contracted with remembrance of his wrongs. “I should have come. Your father might have known that!”
“I suppose he wouldn’t have liked to leave me sitting on the dock alone, but I should have known you’d come. The funny part is I shouldn’t have known /you/.” Jewel laughed. “I should have kept looking for an old man with white hair and a cane like Grandpa Morris. He’s a grandpa in Chicago that I know. He’s just as kind as he can be, but he has the /queerest/ back. He goes to our church, but says he came in at the eleventh hour. I think he used to have rheumatism. And while I was sitting there you could have walked right by me.”
“But then you’d have known /me/,” went on Jewel, straightening Anna Belle’s hat, “so it would have been all right. You’d have known there would be only one little girl waiting there, and you would have said, ‘Oh, here you are, Jewel. I’ve come. I’m your grandpa.’ ” The child unconsciously mimicked the short, brusque speech.
Mr. Evringham regarded her rather darkly. “Eh? I hope you’re not impudent?”
“What’s that?” asked Jewel doubtfully.
Her companion’s brow grew darker.
“Impudent I say.”
“And what is impudent?”
“Don’t you know?” suspiciously.
“No, sir,” replied the child, some anxiety clouding her bright look. “Is it error?”
Mr. Evringham regarded her rather blankly. “It’s something you mustn’t be,” he replied at last.
Jewel’s face cleared. “Oh no, I won’t then,” she replied earnestly. “You tell me when I’m–it, because I want to make you happy.”
Mr. Evringham cleared his throat. He felt somewhat embarrassed and was glad they had reached the ferry.
“We’re going on a boat, aren’t we?” she asked when they had passed through the gate.
“Yes, and we can make this boat if we hurry.” Mr. Evringham suddenly felt a little hand slide into his. Jewel was skipping along beside him to keep up with his long strides, and he glanced down at the bobbing flaxen head with its large ribbon bows, while the impulse to withdraw his hand was thwarted by the closer clinging of the small fingers.
“Father told me about the ferry,” said Jewel with satisfaction, “and you’ll show me the statue of Liberty won’t you, grandpa? Isn’t it a splendid boat? Oh, can we go out close to the water?”
Mr. Evringham sighed heavily. He did not wish to go out close to the water. He wished to sit down in comfort in the cabin and read the paper which he had just taken from a newsboy. It seemed to him a very long time since he had done anything he wished to; but a little hand was pulling eagerly at his, and mechanically he followed out to where the brisk spring wind ruffled the river and assaulted his hat. He jerked his hand from Jewel’s to hold it in place.
“Isn’t this beautiful!” cried the child joyfully, as the boat steamed on. “Can you do this every day, grandpa?”
“What? Oh yes, yes.”
Something in the tone caused the little girl to look up from her view of the wide water spaces to the grim face above.
“Is there something that makes you sorry, grandpa?” she asked softly.
His eyes were fixed on a ferry boat, black with its human freight, about to pass them on its way to the city.
“I was wishing I were on that boat. That’s all.”
The little girl lifted her shoulders. “I don’t believe there’s room,” she said, looking smilingly for a response from her companion. “I don’t believe even Anna Belle could squeeze on. Do you think so?”
Mr. Evringham, holding his hat with one hand, was endeavoring to fetter the lively corners of his newspaper in such shape that he could at least get a glimpse of headlines.
“Oh, I see a statue. Is that it, grandpa? Is that it?”
“What?” vaguely. “Oh yes. The statue of Liberty. Yes, that’s it. As if there was any liberty for anybody!” muttered Mr. Evringham into his mustache.
“It isn’t so very big,” objected Jewel.
“We’re not so very near it.”
“Just think,” gayly, “father and mother are sailing away just the way we are.”
“H’m,” returned Mr. Evringham, trying to read the report of the stock market, and becoming more impatient each instant with the sportive breeze.
“Julia,” he said at last, “I am going into the cabin to read the paper. Will you go in, or do you wish to stay here?”
“May I stay here?”
“Yes,” doubtfully, “I suppose so, if you won’t climb on the rail, or– or anything.”
Jewel laughed in gleeful appreciation of the joke. Her grandfather met her blue eyes unsmilingly and vanished.
“I wish grandpa didn’t look so sorry,” she thought regretfully. “He is a very important man, grandpa is, and perhaps he has a lot of error to meet and doesn’t know how to meet it.”
Watching the dancing waves and constantly calling Anna Belle’s attention to some point of interest on the water front or a passing craft, she nevertheless pursued a train of thought concerning her important relative, with the result that when the gong sounded for landing, and Mr. Evringham’s impassive countenance reappeared, she met him with concern.
“Doesn’t it make you sorry to read the morning paper, grandpa?”
“Sometimes. Depends on the record of the Exchange.” There was somewhat less of the irritation of a newsless man in the morning in the speaker’s tone.
“Mother calls the paper the Daily Saddener,” pursued Jewel, again slipping her hand into her grandfather’s as a matter of course as they moved slowly off the boat. “I’ve been thinking that perhaps you’re in a hurry to get to business, grandpa.”
The child did not quote his words about the ingoing ferry boat lest he should feel regret at having spoken them.
“Well, there’s no use in my being in a hurry this morning,” he returned.
“I was going to ask, couldn’t you show me how to go to Bel-Air, so you wouldn’t have to take so much time?”
A gleam of hope came into Mr. Evringham’s cold eyes and he looked down on his companion doubtfully.
“We have to go out on the train,” he said.
“Yes,” returned the child, “but you could put me on it, and every time it stops I would ask somebody if that was Bel-Air.”
The prospect this offered was very pleasing to the broker.
“You wouldn’t be afraid, eh?”
“Be what?” asked Jewel, looking up at him with a certain reproachful surprise.
“You wouldn’t, eh?”
“Well, I believe it would do well enough, since you don’t mind. Zeke is going to meet this train. I’ll tell the conductor to see that you get off at Bel-Air, and when you do, ask for Mr. Evringham’s coachman. You’ll see Zeke, a light-haired man driving a brown horse in a brougham. He’ll take you home to his mother, Mrs. Forbes. She is my housekeeper. Now, do you think you’ll understand?”
“It sounds very easy,” returned Jewel.
Mr. Evringham’s long legs and her short skipping ones lost no time in boarding the train, which they found made up. The relieved man saw the conductor, paid the child’s fare, and settled her on the plush seat.
She sat there, contentedly swinging her feet.
“Now I can just catch a boat if I leave you immediately,” said Mr. Evringham consulting his watch. “You’ve only a little more than five minutes to wait before the train starts.”
“Then hurry, grandpa, I’m all right.”
“Very well. Your fare is paid, and the conductor understands. You might ask somebody, though. Bel-Air, you know. Good-by.”
Hastily he strode down the aisle and left the train. Having to pass the window beside which Jewel sat, he glanced up with a half uneasy memory of how far short of the floor her feet had swung.
She was watching for him. On her lips was the sweet gay smile and– yes, there was no mistake–Anna Belle’s countenance was beaming through the glass, and she was wafting kisses to Mr. Evringham from a stiff and chubby hand. The stockbroker grew warm, cleared his throat, lifted his hat, and hurried his pace.
When her grandfather had disappeared, Jewel placed Anna Belle on the seat beside her, where she toed in, in a state of the utmost complacence.
“I have my work to do, Anna Belle,” she said, “and this will be a good time, so don’t disturb me till the train starts.” She put her hand over her eyes, and sat motionless as the people met and jostled in the aisle.
Minutes passed, and then some one brushed the child’s arm in taking the seat beside her. “Oh, please don’t sit on Anna Belle!” she cried suddenly, and looked up into a pair of clear eyes that were regarding her with curiosity.
They belonged to a man with a brown mustache and dark, short, pointed beard, who carried a small square black case and had altogether a very clean, fresh, agreeable appearance.
“Do I look like a person who would sit on Anna Belle?” he asked gravely.
The doll was enthroned upon his knee as he set down his case, and the train started.
“If she annoys you I’ll take her,” said Jewel, with a little air of motherliness not lost upon her companion.
“Thank you,” he replied, “but I’m used to children. She looks like a fine, healthy little girl,” keeping his eyes fixed on the doll’s rosy cheeks.
“Yes indeed. She’s very healthy.”
“Not had measles, or chicken pox, or mumps, or any of those things yet?” pursued the pleasant voice.
“Oh dear!” gasped Jewel. “Please let me take Anna Belle.” She caught her doll into her arms and met her companion’s surprised gaze.
“I haven’t any of them,” he returned, amused. “Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” answered the child promptly. “There is nothing to be afraid of.”
“I was only going to say,” said the young man, “that if she was ailing I could prescribe for her. I have my case right here.”
Jewel’s startled look fell to the black case. “What’s that! Medicine?” she asked softly.