were young and eager and excited over their own interests,–which were then in the “gentlemen’s dressing-room.”
Each of the other girls had been escorted by a youth of the place, and, one by one, joining these escorts in the hall outside the door, they descended the stairs, until only Ariel was left. She came down alone after the first dance had begun, and greeted her young hostess’s mother timidly. Mrs. Pike–a small, frightened-looking woman with a prominent ruby necklace–answered her absently, and hurried away to see that the imported waiters did not steal anything.
Ariel sat in one of the chairs against the wall and watched the dancers with a smile of eager and benevolent interest. In Canaan no parents, no guardians nor aunts, were haled forth o’ nights to duenna the junketings of youth; Mrs. Pike did not reappear, and Ariel sat conspicuously alone; there was nothing else for her to do. It was not an easy matter.
When the first dance reached an end, Mamie Pike came to her for a moment with a cheery welcome, and was immediately surrounded by a circle of young men and women, flushed with dancing, shouting as was their wont, laughing inexplicably over words and phrases and unintelligible mono- syllables, as if they all belonged to a secret society and these cries were symbols of things exquisitely humorous, which only they understood. Ariel laughed with them more heartily than any other, so that she might seem to be of them and as merry as they were, but almost immediately she found herself outside of the circle, and presently they all whirled away into another dance, and she was left alone again.
So she sat, no one coming near her, through several dances, trying to maintain the smile of delighted interest upon her face, though she felt the muscles of her face beginning to ache with their fixedness, her eyes growing hot and glazed. All the other girls were provided with partners for every dance, with several young men left over, these latter lounging hilariously together in the doorways. Ariel was careful not to glance towards them, but she could not help hating them. Once or twice between the dances she saw Miss Pike speak appealingly to one of the superfluous, glancing, at the same time, in her own direction, and Ariel could see, too, that the appeal proved unsuccessful, until at last Mamie approached her, leading Norbert Flitcroft, partly by the hand, partly by will-power. Norbert was an excessively fat boy, and at the present moment looked as patient as the blind. But he asked Ariel if she was “engaged for the next dance,” and, Mamie having flitted away, stood disconsolately beside her, waiting for the music to begin. Ariel was grateful for him
“I think you must be very good-natured, Mr. Flitcroft,” she said, with an air of raillery
“No, I’m not,” he replied, plaintively. “Everybody thinks I am because I’m fat, and they expect me to do things they never dream of asking anybody else to do. I’d like to see ’em even ASK ‘Gene Bantry to go and do some of the things they get me to do! A person isn’t good-natured just because he’s fat,” he concluded, morbidly, “but he might as well be!”
“Oh, I meant good-natured,” she returned, with a sprightly laugh, “because you’re willing to waltz with me.”
“Oh, well,” he returned, sighing, “that’s all right.”
The orchestra flourished into “La Paloma”; he put his arm mournfully about her, and taking her right hand with his left, carried her arm out to a rigid right angle, beginning to pump and balance for time. They made three false starts and then got away. Ariel danced badly; she hopped and lost the step, but they persevered, bumping against other couples continually. Circling breathlessly into the next room, they passed close to a long mirror, in which Ariel saw herself, although in a flash, more bitterly contrasted to the others than in the cheval-glass of the dressing-room. The clump of roses was flopping about her neck, her crimped hair looked frowzy, and there was something terribly wrong about her dress. Suddenly she felt her train to be ominously grotesque, as a thing following her in a nightmare.
A moment later she caught her partner making a burlesque face of suffering over her shoulder, and, turning her head quickly, saw for whose benefit he had constructed it. Eugene Bantry, flying expertly by with Mamie, was bestowing upon Mr. Flitcroft a condescendingly commiserative wink. The next instant she tripped in her train and fell to the floor at Eugene’s feet, carrying her partner with her.
There was a shout of laughter. The young hostess stopped Eugene, who would have gone on, and he had no choice but to stoop to Ariel’s assistance.
“It seems to be a habit of mine,” she said, laughing loudly.
She did not appear to see the hand he offered, but got to her feet without help and walked quickly away with Norbert, who proceeded to live up to the character he had given himself.
“Perhaps we had better not try it again,” she laughed.
“Well, I should think not,” he returned, with the frankest gloom. With the air of conducting her home he took her to the chair against the wall whence he had brought her. There his responsibility for her seemed to cease. “Will you excuse me?” he asked, and there was no doubt that he felt that he had been given more than his share that evening, even though he was fat.
“Yes, indeed.” Her laughter was continuous. “I should think you WOULD be glad to get rid of me after that. Ha, ha, ha! Poor Mr. Flitcroft, you know you are!”
It was the deadly truth, and the fat one, saying, “Well, if you’ll just excuse me now,” hurried away with a step which grew lighter as the distance from her increased. Arrived at the haven of a far doorway, he mopped his brow and shook his head grimly in response to frequent rallyings.
Ariel sat through more dances, interminable dances and intermissions, in that same chair, in which, it began to seem, she was to live out the rest of her life. Now and then, if she thought people were looking at her as they passed, she broke into a laugh and nodded slightly, as if still amused over her mishap.
After a long time she rose, and laughing cheerfully to Mr. Flitcroft, who was standing in the doorway and replied with a wan smile, stepped out quickly into the hall, where she almost ran into her great-uncle, Jonas Tabor. He was going towards the big front doors with Judge Pike, having just come out of the latter’s library, down the hall.
Jonas was breathing heavily and was shockingly pale, though his eyes were very bright. He turned his back upon his grandniece sharply and went out of the door. Ariel turned from him quite as abruptly and re-entered the room whence she had come. She laughed again to her fat friend as she passed him, and, still laughing, went towards the fatal chair, when her eyes caught sight of Eugene Bantry and Mamie coming in through the window from the porch. Still laughing, she went to the window and looked out; the porch seemed deserted and was faintly illuminated by a few Japanese lanterns. She sprang out, dropped upon the divan, and burying her face in her hands, cried heart-brokenly. Presently she felt something alive touch her foot, and, her breath catching with alarm, she started to rise. A thin hand, issuing from a shabby sleeve, had stolen out between two of the green tubs and was pressing upon one of her shoes.
“‘SH!” said Joe. “Don’t make a noise!”
His warning was not needed; she had recognized the hand and sleeve instantly. She dropped back with a low sound which would have been hysterical if it had been louder, while he raised himself on his arm until she could see his face dimly, as he peered at her between the palms.
“What were you going on about?” he asked, angrily.
“Nothing,” she answered. “I wasn’t. You must go away, and quick. It’s too dangerous. If the Judge found you–“
“Ah, you’d risk anything to see Mamie Pike–“
“What were you crying about?” he interrupted.
“Nothing, I tell you!” she repeated, the tears not ceasing to gather in her eyes. “I wasn’t.”
“I want to know what it was,” he insisted. “Didn’t the fools ask you to dance? Ah! You needn’t tell me. That’s it. I’ve been here for the last three dances and you weren’t in sight till you came to the window. Well, what do you care about that for?”
“I don’t!” she answered. “I don’t!” Then suddenly, without being able to prevent it, she sobbed.
“No,” he said, gently, “I see you don’t. And you let yourself be a fool because there are a lot of fools in there.”
She gave way, all at once, to a gust of sorrow and bitterness; she bent far over and caught his hand and laid it against her wet cheek. “Oh, Joe,” she whispered, brokenly, “I think we have such hard lives, you and I! It doesn’t seem right –while we’re so young! Why can’t we be like the others? Why can’t we have some of the fun?”
He withdrew his hand, with the embarrassment and shame he would have felt had she been a boy. “Get out!” he said, feebly.
She did not seem to notice, but, still stooping, rested her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. “I try so hard to have fun, to be like the rest,–and it’s always a mistake, always, always, always!” She rocked herself, slightly, from side to side. “I am a fool, it’s the truth, or I wouldn’t have come to-night. I want to be attractive–I want to be in things. I want to laugh like they do–“
“To laugh just to laugh, and not because there’s something funny?”
“Yes, I do, I do! And to know how to dress and to wear my hair–there must be some place where you can learn those things. I’ve never had any one to show me! Ah! Grandfather said something like that this afternoon–poor man! We’re in the same case. If we only had some one to show us! It all seems so BLIND, here in Canaan, for him and me! I don’t say it’s not my own fault as much as being poor. I’ve been a hoyden; I don’t feel as if I’d learned how to be a girl yet, Joe. It’s only lately I’ve cared, but I’m seventeen, Joe, and–and to-day–to-day–I was sent home–and to-night–” She faltered, came to a stop, and her whole body was shaken with sobs. “I hate myself so for crying–for everything!”
“I’ll tell you something,” he whispered, chuckling desperately. “‘Gene made me unpack his trunk, and I don’t believe he’s as great a man at college as he is here. I opened one of his books, and some one had written in it, `Prigamaloo Bantry, the Class Try-To-Be’! He’d never noticed, and you ought to have heard him go on! You’d have just died, Ariel–I almost bust wide open! It was a mean trick in me, but I couldn’t help showing it to him.”
Joe’s object was obtained. She stopped crying, and, wiping her eyes, smiled faintly. Then she became grave. “You’re jealous of Eugene,” she said.
He considered this for a moment. “Yes,” he answered, thoughtfully, “I am. But I wouldn’t think about him differently on that account. And I wouldn’t talk about him to any one but you.”
“Not even to–” She left the question unfinished.
“No,” he said, quietly. “Of course not.”
“No? Because it wouldn’t be any use?”
“I don’t know. I never have a chance to talk to her, anyway.”
“Of course you don’t!” Her voice had grown steady. “You say I’m a fool. What are you?”
“You needn’t worry about me,” he began. “I can take care–“
“‘SH!” she whispered, warningly. The music had stopped, a loud clatter of voices and laughter succeeding it.
“What need to be careful,” Joe assured her, “with all that noise going on?”
“You must go away,” she said, anxiously. “Oh, please, Joe!”
“Not yet; I want–“
She coughed loudly. Eugene and Mamie Pike had come to the window, with the evident intention of occupying the veranda, but perceiving Ariel engaged with threads in her sleeve, they turned away and disappeared. Other couples looked out from time to time, and finding the solitary figure in possession, retreated abruptly to seek stairways and remote corners for the things they were impelled to say.
And so Ariel held the porch for three dances and three intermissions, occupying a great part of the time with entreaties that her obdurate and reckless companion should go. When, for the fourth time, the music sounded, her agitation had so increased that she was visibly trembling. “I can’t stand it, Joe,” she said, bending over him.
“I don’t know what would happen if they found you. You’ve GOT to go!”
“No, I haven’t,” he chuckled. “They haven’t even distributed the supper yet!”
“And you take all the chances,” she said, slowly, “just to see her pass that window a few times.”
“Of what the Judge will do if any one sees you.”
“Nothing; because if any one saw me I’d leave.”
A colored waiter, smiling graciously, came out upon the porch bearing a tray of salad, hot oysters, and coffee. Ariel shook her head.
“I don’t want any,” she murmured.
The waiter turned away in pity and was re- entering the window, when a passionate whisper fell upon his ear as well as upon Ariel’s.
“Ma’am?” said the waiter.
“I’ve changed my mind,” she replied, quickly. The waiter, his elation restored, gave of his viands with the superfluous bounty loved by his race when distributing the product of the wealthy.
When he had gone, “Give me everything that’s hot,” said Joe. “You can keep the salad.”
“I couldn’t eat it or anything else,” she answered, thrusting the plate between the palms.
For a time there was silence. From within the house came the continuous babble of voices and laughter, the clink of cutlery on china. The young people spent a long time over their supper. By- and-by the waiter returned to the veranda, deposited a plate of colored ices upon Ariel’s knees with a noble gesture, and departed.
“No ice for me,” said Joe.
“Won’t you please go now?” she entreated!
“It wouldn’t be good manners,” he responded. “They might think I only came for supper–“
“Hand me back the things. The waiter might come for them any minute.”
“Not yet. I haven’t quite finished. I eat with contemplation, Ariel, because there’s more than the mere food and the warmth of it to consider. There’s the pleasure of being entertained by the great Martin Pike. Think what a real kindness I’m doing him, too. I increase his good deeds and his hospitality without his knowing it or being able to help it. Don’t you see how I boost his standing with the Recording Angel? If Lazarus had behaved the way I do, Dives needn’t have had those worries that came to him in the after- life.”
“Give me the dish and coffee-cup,” she whispered, impatiently. “Suppose the waiter came and had to look for them? Quick!”
“Take them, then. You’ll see that jealousy hasn’t spoiled my appetite–“
A bottle-shaped figure appeared in the window and she had no time to take the plate and cup which were being pushed through the palm-leaves. She whispered a syllable of warning, and the dishes were hurriedly withdrawn as Norbert Flitcroft, wearing a solemn expression of injury, came out upon the veranda.
He halted suddenly. “What’s that?” he asked, with suspicion.
“Nothing,” answered Ariel, sharply. “Where?”
“Behind those palms.”
“Probably your own shadow,” she laughed; “or it might have been a draught moving the leaves.”
He did not seem satisfied, but stared hard at the spot where the dishes had disappeared, meantime edging back cautiously nearer the window.
“They want you,” he said, after a pause. “Some one’s come for you.”
“Oh, is grandfather waiting?” She rose, at the same time letting her handkerchief fall. She stooped to pick it up, with her face away from Norbert and towards the palms, whispering tremulously, but with passionate urgency, “Please GO!”
“It isn’t your grandfather that has come for you,” said the fat one, slowly. “It is old Eskew Arp. Something’s happened.”
She looked at him for a moment, beginning to tremble violently, her eyes growing wide with fright.
“Is my grandfather–is he sick?”
“You better go and see. Old Eskew’s waiting in the hall. He’ll tell you.”
She was by him and through the window instantly. Norbert did not follow her; he remained
for several moments looking earnestly at the palms; then he stepped through the window and beckoned to a youth who was lounging in the doorway across the room.
“There’s somebody hiding behind those plants,” he whispered, when his friend reached him. “Go and tell Judge Pike to send some of the niggers to watch outside the porch, so that he doesn’t get away. Then tell him to get his revolver and come here.”
Meanwhile Ariel had found Mr. Arp waiting in the hall, talking in a low voice to Mrs. Pike.
“Your grandfather’s all right,” he told the frightened girl, quickly. “He sent me for you, that’s all. Just hurry and get your things.”
She was with him again in a moment, and seizing the old man’s arm, hurried him down the steps and toward the street almost at a run.
“You’re not telling me the truth,” she said. “You’re not telling me the truth!”
“Nothing has happened to Roger,” panted Mr. Arp. “Nothing to mind, I mean. Here! We’re going this way, not that.” They had come to the gate, and as she turned to the right he pulled her round sharply to the left. “We’re not going to your house.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’re going to your uncle Jonas’s.”
“Why?” she cried, in supreme astonishment. “What do you want to take me there for? Don’t you know that he’s stopped speaking to me?”
“Yes,” said the old man, grimly, with something of the look he wore when delivering a clincher at the “National House,”–“he’s stopped speaking to everybody.”
The Canaan Daily Tocsin of the following morning “ventured the assertion”
upon its front page that
“the scene at the Pike Mansion was
one of unalloyed festivity, music,
and mirth; a fairy bower of airy figures wafting here and there to the throb of waltz-strains; a veritable Temple of Terpsichore, shining forth with a myriad of lights, which, together with the generous profusion of floral decorations and the mingled delights afforded by Minds’s orchestra of Indianapolis and Caterer Jones of Chicago, was in all likelihood never heretofore surpassed in elegance in our city. . . . Only one incident,” the Tocsin remarked, “marred an otherwise perfect occasion, and out of regard for the culprit’s family connections, which are prominent in our social world, we withhold his name. Suffice it to say that through the vigilance of Mr. Norbert Flitcroft, grandson of Colonel A. A. Flitcroft, who proved himself a thorough Lecoq (the celebrated French detective), the rascal was seized and recognized. Mr. Flitcroft, having discovered him in hiding, had a cordon of waiters drawn up around his hiding-place, which was the charmingly decorated side piazza of the Pike Mansion, and sent for Judge Pike, who came upon the intruder by surprise. He evaded the Judge’s indignant grasp, but received a well- merited blow over the head from a poker which the Judge had concealed about his person while pretending to approach the hiding-place casually. Attracted to the scene by the cries of Mr. Flitcroft, who, standing behind Judge Pike, accidentally received a blow from the same weapon, all the guests of the evening sprang to view the scene, only to behold the culprit leap through a crevice between the strips of canvas which enclosed the piazza. He was seized by the colored coachman of the Mansion, Sam Warden, and immediately pounced upon by the cordon of Caterer Jones’s dusky assistants from Chicago, who were in ambush outside. Unfortunately, after a brief struggle he managed to trip Warden, and, the others stumbling upon the prostrate body of the latter, to make his escape in the darkness.
“It is not believed by many that his intention was burglary, though what his designs were can only be left to conjecture, as he is far beyond the age when boys perform such actions out of a sense of mischief. He had evidently occupied his hiding- place some time, and an idea of his coolness may be obtained from his having procured and eaten a full meal through an unknown source. Judge Pike is justly incensed, and swears that he will prosecute him on this and other charges as soon as he can be found. Much sympathy is felt for the culprit’s family, who feel his shame most keenly, but who, though sorrowing over the occurrence, declare that they have put up with his
derelictions long enough, and will do nothing to step between him and the Judge’s righteous indignation.”
The Pike Mansion, “scene of festivity, music, and mirth” (not quite so unalloyed, after all, the stricken Flitcroft keeping his room for a week under medical supervision), had not been the only bower of the dance in Canaan that evening: another Temple of Terpsichore had shone forth with lights, though of these there were not quite a myriad. The festivities they illumined obtained no mention in the paper, nor did they who trod the measures in this second temple exhibit any sense of injury because of the Tocsin’s omission. Nay, they were of that class, shy without being bashful, exclusive yet not proud, which shuns publicity with a single- heartedness almost unique in our republic, courting observation neither in the prosecution of their professions nor in the pursuit of happiness.
Not quite a mile above the northernmost of the factories on the water-front, there projected into the river, near the end of the crescent bend above the town, a long pier, relic of steamboat days, rotting now, and many years fallen from its maritime uses. About midway of its length stood a huge, crazy shed, long ago utilized as a freight storeroom. This had been patched and propped, and a dangerous-looking veranda attached to it, over- hanging the water. Above the doorway was placed a sign whereon might be read the words, “Beaver Beach, Mike’s Place.” The shore end of the pier was so ruinous that passage was offered by a single row of planks, which presented an appearance so temporary, as well as insecure, that one might have guessed their office to be something in the nature of a drawbridge. From these a narrow path ran through a marsh, left by the receding river, to a country road of desolate appearance. Here there was a rough enclosure, or corral, with some tumble-down sheds which afforded shelter, on the night of Joseph Louden’s disgrace, for a number of shaggy teams attached to those decrepit and musty vehicles known picturesquely and accurately as Night-Hawks. The presence of such questionable shapes in the corral indicated that the dance was on at Beaver Beach, Mike’s Place, as surely as the short line of cabs and family carriages on upper Main Street made it known that gayety was the order of the night at the Pike Mansion. But among other differences was this, that at the hour when the guests of the latter were leaving, those seeking the hospitalities of Beaver Beach had just begun to arrive.
By three o’clock, however, joy at Mike’s Place had become beyond question unconfined, and the tokens of it were audible for a long distance in all directions. If, however, there is no sound where no ear hears, silence rested upon the country-side until an hour later. Then a lonely figure came shivering from the direction of the town, not by the road, but slinking through the snow upon the frozen river. It came slowly, as though very tired, and cautiously, too, often turning its head to look behind. Finally it reached the pier, and stopped as if to listen.
Within the house above, a piano of evil life was being beaten to death for its sins and clamoring its last cries horribly. The old shed rattled in every part with the thud of many heavy feet, and trembled with the shock of noise–an incessant roar of men’s voices, punctuated with women’s screams. Then the riot quieted somewhat; there was a clapping of hands, and a violin began to squeak measures intended to be Oriental. The next moment the listener scrambled up one of the rotting piles and stood upon the veranda. A shaft of red light through a broken shutter struck across the figure above the shoulders, revealing a bloody handkerchief clumsily knotted about the head, and, beneath it, the face of Joe Louden.
He went to the broken shutter and looked in. Around the blackened walls of the room stood a bleared mob, applausively watching, through a fog of smoke, the contortions of an old woman in a red calico wrapper, who was dancing in the centre of the floor. The fiddler–a rubicund person evidently not suffering from any great depression of spirit through the circumstance of being “out on bail,” as he was, to Joe’s intimate knowledge– sat astride a barrel, resting his instrument upon the foamy tap thereof, and playing somewhat after the manner of a ‘cellist; in no wise incommoded by the fact that a tall man (known to a few friends as an expert in the porch-climbing line) was sleeping on his shoulder, while another gentleman (who had prevented many cases of typhoid by removing old plumbing from houses) lay on the floor at the musician’s feet and endeavored to assist him by plucking the strings of the fiddle.
Joe opened the door and went in. All of the merry company (who were able) turned sharply toward the door as it opened; then, recognizing the new-comer, turned again to watch the old woman. One or two nearest the door asked the boy, without great curiosity, what had happened to his head. He merely shook it faintly in reply, and crossed the room to an open hallway beyond. At the end of this he came to a frowzy bedroom, the door of which stood ajar. Seated at a deal table, and working by a dim lamp with a broken chimney, a close-cropped, red-bearded, red-haired man in his shirt-sleeves was jabbing gloomily at a column of figures scrawled in a dirty ledger. He looked up as Joe appeared in the doorway, and his eyes showed a slight surprise.
“I never thought ye had the temper to git somebody to split yer head,” said he. “Where’d ye collect it?”
“Nowhere,” Joe answered, dropping weakly on the bed. “It doesn’t amount to anything.”
“Well, I’ll take just a look fer myself,” said the red-bearded man, rising. “And I’ve no objection to not knowin’ how ye come by it. Ye’ve always been the great one fer keepin’ yer mysteries to yerself.”
He unwound the handkerchief and removed it from Joe’s head gently. “WHEE!” he cried, as a long gash was exposed over the forehead. “I hope ye left a mark somewhere to pay a little on the score o’ this!”
Joe chuckled and dropped dizzily back upon the pillow. “There was another who got something like it,” he gasped, feebly; “and, oh, Mike, I wish you could have heard him going on! Perhaps you did–it was only three miles from here.”
“Nothing I’d liked better!” said the other, bringing a basin of clear water from a stand in the corner. “It’s a beautiful thing to hear a man holler when he gits a grand one like ye’re wearing to-night.”
He bathed the wound gently, and hurrying from the room, returned immediately with a small jug of vinegar. Wetting a rag with this tender fluid, he applied it to Joe’s head, speaking soothingly the while.
“Nothing in the world like a bit o’ good cider vinegar to keep off the festerin’. It may seem a trifle scratchy fer the moment, but it assassinates the blood-p’ison. There ye go! It’s the fine thing fer ye, Joe–what are ye squirmin’ about?”
“I’m only enjoying it,” the boy answered, writhing as the vinegar worked into the gash. “Don’t you mind my laughing to myself.”
“Ye’re a good one, Joe!” said the other, continuing his ministrations. “I wisht, after all, ye felt like makin’ me known to what’s the trouble. There’s some of us would be glad to take it up fer ye, and–“
“No, no; it’s all right. I was somewhere I had no business to be, and I got caught.”
“Who caught ye?”
“First, some nice white people”–Joe smiled his distorted smile–“and then a low-down black man helped me to get away as soon as he saw who it was. He’s a friend of mine, and he fell down and tripped up the pursuit.”
“I always knew ye’d git into large trouble some day.” The red-bearded man tore a strip from an old towel and began to bandage the boy’s head with an accustomed hand. “Yer taste fer excitement has been growin’ on ye every minute of the four years I’ve known ye.”
“Excitement!” echoed Joe, painfully blinking at his friend. “Do you think I’m hunting excitement?”
“Be hanged to ye!” said the red-bearded man. “Can’t I say a teasing word without gittin’ called to order fer it? I know ye, my boy, as well as ye know yerself. Ye’re a queer one. Ye’re one of the few that must know all sides of the world– and can’t content themselves with bein’ respectable! Ye haven’t sunk to `low life’ because ye’re low yourself, but ye’ll never git a damned one o’ the respectable to believe it. There’s a few others like ye in the wide world, and I’ve seen one or two of ’em. I’ve been all over, steeple-chasin’, sailorman, soldier, pedler, and in the PO-lice; I’ve pulled the Grand National in Paris, and I’ve been handcuffed in Hong-Kong; I’ve seen all the few kinds of women there is on earth and the many kinds of men. Yer own kind is the one I’ve seen the fewest of, but I knew ye belonged to it the first time I laid eyes on ye!” He paused, then continued with conviction: “Ye’ll come to no good, either, fer yerself, yet no one can say ye haven’t the talents. Ye’ve helped many of the boys out of a bad hole with a word of advice around the courts and the jail. Who knows but ye’d be a great lawyer if ye kept on?”
Young people usually like to discuss themselves under any conditions–hence the rewards of palmistry,– but Joe’s comment on this harangue was
not so responsive as might have been expected. “I’ve got seven dollars,” he said, “and I’ll leave the clothes I’ve got on. Can you fix me up with something different?”
“Aha!” cried the red-bearded man. “Then ye ARE in trouble! I thought it ‘d come to ye some day! Have ye been dinnymitin’ Martin Pike?”
“See what you can do,” said Joe. “I want to wait here until daybreak.”
“Lie down, then,” interrupted the other. “And fergit the hullabaloo in the throne-room beyond.”
“I can easily do that”–Joe stretched himself upon the bed,–“I’ve got so many other things to remember”
“I’ll have the things fer ye, and I’ll let ye know I have no use fer seven dollars,” returned the red- bearded man, crossly. “What are ye sniffin’ fer?”
“I’m thinking of the poor fellow that got the mate to this,” said Joe, touching the bandage. “I can’t help crying when I think they may have used vinegar on his head, too.”
“Git to sleep if ye can!” exclaimed the Samaritan, as a hideous burst of noise came from the dance- room, where some one seemed to be breaking a chair upon an acquaintance. “I’ll go out and regulate the boys a bit.” He turned down the lamp, fumbled in his hip-pocket, and went to the door.
“Don’t forget,” Joe called after him.
“Go to sleep,” said the red-bearded man, his hand on the door-knob. “That is, go to thinkin’, fer ye won’t sleep; ye’re not the kind. But think easy; I’ll have the things fer ye. It’s a matter of pride with me that I always knew ye’d come to trouble.”
YE’LL TAK’ THE HIGH ROAD AND I’LL TAK’ THE LOW ROAD
The day broke with a scream of wind
out of the prairies and such cloudbursts of snow that Joe could see
neither bank of the river as he made his way down the big bend of ice.
The wind struck so bitterly that now and then he stopped and, panting and gasping, leaned his weight against it. The snow on the ground was caught up and flew like sea spume in a hurricane; it swirled about him, joining the flakes in the air, so that it seemed to be snowing from the ground upward as much as from the sky downward. Fierce as it was, hard as it was to fight through, snow from the earth, snow from the sky, Joe was grateful for it, feeling that it veiled him, making him safer, though he trusted somewhat the change of costume he had effected at Beaver Beach. A rough, workman’s cap was pulled down over his ears and eyebrows; a knitted comforter was wound about the lower part of his face; under a ragged overcoat he wore blue overalls and rubber boots; and in one of his red-mittened hands he swung a tin dinner-bucket.
When he reached the nearest of the factories he heard the exhaust of its engines long before he could see the building, so blinding was the drift. Here he struck inland from the river, and, skirting the edges of the town, made his way by unfrequented streets and alleys, bearing in the general direction of upper Main Street, to find himself at last, almost exhausted, in the alley behind the Pike Mansion. There he paused, leaning heavily against a board fence and gazing at the vaguely outlined gray plane which was all that could be made of the house through the blizzard. He had often, very often, stood in this same place at night, and there was one window (Mrs. Pike’s) which he had guessed to be Mamie’s.
The storm was so thick that he could not see this window now, but he looked a long time through the thickness at that part of the gray plane where he knew it was. Then his lips parted.
“Good-bye, Mamie,” he said, softly.
He bent his body against the wind and went on, still keeping to the back ways, until he came to the alley which passed behind his own home, where, however, he paused only for a moment to make a quick survey of the premises. A glance satisfied him; he ran to the next fence, hoisted himself wearily over it, and dropped into Roger Tabor’s back yard.
He took shelter from the wind for a moment or two, leaning against the fence, breathing heavily; then he stumbled on across the obliterated paths of a vegetable-garden until he reached the house, and beginning with the kitchen, began to make the circuit of the windows, peering cautiously into each as he went, ready to tap on the pane should he catch a glimpse of Ariel, and prepared to run if he stumbled upon her grandfather. But the place seemed empty: he had made his reconnaisance apparently in vain, and was on the point of going away, when he heard the click of the front gate and saw Ariel coming towards him, her old water- proof cloak about her head and shoulders, the patched, scant, faded skirt, which he knew so well, blowing about her tumultuously. At the sound of the gate he had crouched close against the side of the house, but she saw him at once.
She stopped abruptly, and throwing the water- proof back from her head, looked at him through the driven fog of snow. One of her hands was stretched towards him involuntarily, and it was in that attitude that he long remembered her: standing in the drift which had piled up against the gate almost knee-deep, the shabby skirt and the black water-proof flapping like torn sails, one hand out-stretched like that of a figure in a tableau, her brown face with its thin features mottled with cold and unlovely, her startled eyes fixed on him with a strange, wild tenderness that held something of the laughter of whole companionship in it mingling with a loyalty and championship that was almost ferocious–she looked an Undine of the snow.
Suddenly she ran to him, still keeping her hand out-stretched until it touched his own.
“How did you know me?” he said.
“Know you!” was all the answer she made to that question. “Come into the house. I’ve got some coffee on the stove for you. I’ve been up and down the street waiting for you ever since it began to get light.”
“Your grandfather won’t–“
“He’s at Uncle Jonas’s; he won’t be back till noon. There’s no one here.”
She led him to the front-door, where he stamped and shook himself; he was snow from head to foot.
“I’m running away from the good Gomorrah,” he said, “but I’ve stopped to look back, and I’m a pretty white pillar.”
“I know where you stopped to look back,” she answered, brushing him heartily with her red hands. “You came in the alley way. It was Mamie’s window.”
He did not reply, and the only visible token that he had any consciousness of this clairvoyance of hers was a slight lift of his higher eyebrow. She wasted no time in getting him to the kitchen, where, when she had removed his overcoat, she placed him in a chair, unwound the comforter, and, as carefully as a nurse, lifted the cap from his injured head. When the strip of towel was disclosed she stood quite still for a moment with the cap in her hand; then with a broken little cry she stooped and kissed a lock of his hair, which escaped, discolored, beneath the bandage.
“Stop that!” he commanded, horribly embarrassed.
“Oh, Joe,” she cried, “I knew! I knew it was there–but to SEE it! And it’s my fault for leaving you–I HAD to go or I wouldn’t have–I–“
“Where’d you hear about it?” he asked, shortly.
“I haven’t been to bed,” she answered. “Grandfather and I were up all night at Uncle Jonas’s, and Colonel Flitcroft came about two o’clock, and he told us.”
“Did he tell you about Norbert?”
“Yes–a great deal.” She poured coffee into a cup from a pot on the stove, brought it to him, then placing some thin slices of bread upon a gridiron, began to toast them over the hot coals. “The Colonel said that Norbert thought he wouldn’t get well,” she concluded; “and Mr. Arp said Norbert was the kind that never die, and they had quite an argument.”
“What were you doing at Jonas Tabor’s?” asked Joe, drinking his coffee with a brightening eye.
“We were sent for,” she answered.
She toasted the bread attentively without replying, and when she decided that it was brown enough, piled it on a warm plate. This she brought to him, and kneeling in front of him, her elbow on his knee, offered for his consideration, looking steadfastly up at his eyes. He began to eat ravenously.
“What for?” he repeated. “I didn’t suppose Jonas would let you come in his house. Was he sick?”
“Joe,” she said, quietly, disregarding his questions—“Joe, have you GOT to run away?”
“Yes, I’ve got to,” he answered.
“Would you have to go to prison if you stayed?” She asked this with a breathless tensity.
“I’m not going to beg father to help me out,” he said, determinedly. “He said he wouldn’t, and he’ll be spared the chance. He won’t mind that; nobody will care! Nobody! What does anybody care what _I_ do!”
“Now you’re thinking of Mamie!” she cried. “I can always tell. Whenever you don’t talk naturally you’re thinking of her!”
He poured down the last of the coffee, growing red to the tips of his ears. “Ariel,” he said, “if I ever come back–“
“Wait,” she interrupted. “Would you have to go to prison right away if they caught you?”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” he laughed, sadly. “But I’m going to clear out. I’m not going to take any chances. I want to see other parts of the world, other kinds of people. I might have gone, anyhow, soon, even if it hadn’t been for last night. Don’t you ever feel that way?”
“You know I do,” she said. “I’ve told you– how often! But, Joe, Joe,–you haven’t any MONEY! You’ve got to have money to LIVE!”
“You needn’t worry about that,” returned the master of seven dollars, genially. “I’ve saved enough to take care of me for a LONG time.”
“Joe, PLEASE! I know it isn’t so. If you could wait just a little while–only a few weeks,–only a FEW, Joe–“
“I could let you have all you want. It would be such a beautiful thing for me, Joe. Oh, I know how you’d feel; you wouldn’t even let me give you that dollar I found in the street last year; but this would be only lending it to you, and you could pay me back sometime–“
“Ariel!” he exclaimed, and, setting his empty cup upon the floor, took her by the shoulders and shook her till the empty plate which had held the toast dropped from her hand and broke into fragments. “You’ve been reading the Arabian Nights! “
“No, no,” she cried, vehemently. “Grandfather would give me anything. He’ll give me all the money I ask for!”
“Money!” said Joe. “Which of us is wandering? MONEY? Roger Tabor give you MONEY?”
“Not for a while. A great many things have to be settled first.”
“Joe,” she asked, earnestly, “do you think it’s bad of me not to feel things I OUGHT to feel?”
“Then I’m glad,” she said, and something in the way she spoke made him start with pain, remembering the same words, spoken in the same tone, by another voice, the night before on the veranda. “I’m glad, Joe, because I seemed all wrong to myself. Uncle Jonas died last night, and I haven’t been able to get sorry. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so frightened about you, but I think not, for I wasn’t sorry even before Colonel Flitcroft told me about you.”
“Jonas Tabor dead!” said Joe. “Why, I saw him on the street yesterday!”
“Yes, and I saw him just before I came out on the porch where you were. He was there in the hall; he and Judge Pike had been having a long talk; they’d been in some speculations together, and it had all turned out well. It’s very strange, but they say now that Uncle Jonas’s heart was weak–he was an old man, you know, almost eighty,–and he’d been very anxious about his money. The Judge had persuaded him to risk it; and the shock of finding that he’d made a great deal suddenly–“
“I’ve heard he’d had that same shock before,” said Joe, “when he sold out to your father.”
“Yes, but this was different, grandfather says. He told me it was in one of those big risky businesses that Judge Pike likes to go into. And last night it was all finished, the strain was over, and Uncle Jonas started home. His house is only a little way from the Pikes’, you know; but he dropped down in the snow at his own gate, and some people who were going by saw him fall. He was dead before grandfather got there.”
“I can’t be sorry,” said Joe, slowly.
“Neither can I. That’s the dreadful part of it! They say he hadn’t made a will, that though he was sharper than anybody else in the whole world about any other matter of business, that was the one thing he put off. And we’re all the kin he had in the world, grandfather and I. And they say”– her voice sank to a whisper of excitement–“they say he was richer than anybody knew, and that this last business with Judge Pike, the very thing that killed him–something about grain–made him five times richer than before!”
She put her hand on the boy’s arm, and he let it remain there. Her eyes still sought his with a tremulous appeal.
“God bless you, Ariel!” he said. “It’s going to be a great thing for you.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.” The tears came suddenly to her eyes. “I was foolish last night, but there had been such a long time of WANTING things; and now–and now grandfather and I can go–“
“You’re going, too!” Joe chuckled.
“It’s heartless, I suppose, but I’ve settled it! We’re going–“
“_I_ know,” he cried. “You’ve told me a thousand times what HE’S said ten times a thousand. You’re going to Paris!”
“Paris! Yes, that’s it. To Paris, where he can see at last how the great ones have painted,– where the others can show him! To Paris, where we can study together, where he can learn how to put the pictures he sees upon canvas, and where I–“
“Go on,” Joe encouraged her. “I want to hear you say it. You don’t mean that you’re going to study painting; you mean that you’re going to learn how to make such fellows as Eugene ask you to dance. Go ahead and SAY it!”
“Yes–to learn how to DRESS!” she said.
Joe was silent for a moment. Then he rose and took the ragged overcoat from the back of his chair. “Where’s that muffler?” he asked.
She brought it from where she had placed it to dry, behind the stove.
“Joe,” she said, huskily, “can’t you wait till–“
“Till the estate is settled and you can coax your grandfather to–“
“No, no! But you could go with us.”
“He would take you as his secretary.”
“Aha!” Joe’s voice rang out gayly as he rose, refreshed by the coffee, toast, and warmth she had given him. “You’ve been story-reading, Ariel, like Eugene! `Secretary’!”
“Where’s my tin dinner-pail?” He found it himself upon the table where he had set it down. “I’m going to earn a dishonest living,” he went on. “I have an engagement to take a freight at a water-tank that’s a friend of mine, half a mile south of the yards. Thank God, I’m going to get away from Canaan!”
“Wait, Joe!” She caught at his sleeve. “I want you to–“
He had swung out of the room and was already at the front-door. She followed him closely.
“No, no! WAIT, Joe!”
He took her right hand in his own, and gave it a manly shake. “It’s all right,” he said.
He threw open the door and stepped out, but she sought to detain him. “Oh, have you GOT to go?” she cried.
“Don’t you ever worry about me.” He bent his head to the storm as he sprang down the steps, and snow-wreaths swirled between them.
He disappeared in a white whirlwind.
She stood for several minutes shivering in the doorway. Then it came to her that she would not know where to write to him. She ran down to the gate and through it. Already the blizzard had covered his footprints.
GIVE A DOG A BAD NAME
The passing of Joseph from Canaan
was complete. It was an evanishment for which there was neither
sackcloth nor surprise; and though
there came no news of him it cannot be said that Canaan did not hear of him, for surely it could hear itself talk. The death of Jonas Tabor and young Louden’s crime and flight incited high doings in the “National House” windows; many days the sages lingered with the broken meats of morals left over from the banquet of gossip. But, after all, it is with the ladies of a community that reputations finally rest, and the matrons of Canaan had long ago made Joe’s exceedingly uncertain. Now they made it certain.
They did not fail of assistance. The most powerful influence in the town was ponderously corroborative: Martin Pike, who stood for all that was respectable and financial, who passed the plate o’ Sundays, who held the fortunes of the town in his left hand, who was trustee for the widow and orphan,–Martin Pike, patron of all worthy charities, courted by ministers, feared by the wicked and idle, revered by the good,–Judge Martin Pike never referred to the runaway save in the accents of an august doomster. His testimony settled it.
In time the precise nature of the fugitive’s sins was distorted in report and grew vague; it was recalled that he had done dread things; he became a tradition, a legend, and a warning to the young; a Richard in the bush to frighten colts. He was preached at boys caught playing marbles “for keeps”: “Do you want to grow up like Joe Louden?” The very name became a darkling threat,
and children of the town would have run had one called suddenly, “HERE COMES JOE LOUDEN!” Thus does the evil men do live after them, and the ill- fame of the unrighteous increase when they are sped!
Very little of Joseph’s adventures and occupations during the time of his wandering is revealed to us; he always had an unwilling memory for pain and was not afterwards wont to speak of those years which cut the hard lines in his face. The first account of him to reach Canaan came as directly to the windows of the “National House” as Mr. Arp, hastening thither from the station, satchel in hand, could bring it.
This was on a September morning, two years after the flight, and Eskew, it appears, had been to the State Fair and had beheld many things strangely affirming his constant testimony that this unhappy world increaseth in sin; strangest of all, his meeting with our vagrant scalawag of Canaan. “Not a BLAMEBIT of doubt about it,” declared Eskew to the incredulous conclave. “There was that Joe, and nobody else, stuck up in a little box outside a tent at the Fair Grounds, and sellin’ tickets to see the Spotted Wild Boy!” Yes, it was Joe Louden! Think you, Mr. Arp could forget that face, those crooked eyebrows? Had Eskew tested the recognition? Had he spoken with the outcast? Had he not! Ay, but with such
peculiar result that the battle of words among the sages began with a true onset of the regulars; for, according to Eskew’s narrative, when he had delivered grimly at the boy this charge, “I know you –YOU’RE JOE LOUDEN!” the extraordinary reply had been made promptly and without change of countenance: “POSITIVELY NO FREE SEATS!”
On this, the house divided, one party maintaining that Joe had thus endeavored to evade recognition, the other (to the embitterment of Mr. Arp) that the reply was a distinct admission of identity and at the same time a refusal to grant any favors on the score of past acquaintanceship.
Goaded by inquiries, Mr. Arp, who had little desire to recall such waste of silver, admitted more than he had intended: that he had purchased a ticket and gone in to see the Spotted Wild Boy, halting in his description of this marvel with the unsatisfactory and acrid statement that the Wild Boy was “simply SPOTTED,”–and the stung query, “I suppose you know what a spot IS, Squire?” When he came out of the tent he had narrowly examined the ticket-seller,–who seemed unaware of his scrutiny, and, when not engaged with his tickets, applied himself to a dirty law-looking book. It was Joseph Louden, reasserted Eskew, a little taller, a little paler, incredibly shabby and miraculously thin. If there were any doubt left, his forehead was somewhat disfigured by the scar of an old wound–such as might have been caused by a blunt instrument in the nature of a poker.
“What’s the matter with YOU?” Mr. Arp whirled upon Uncle Joe Davey, who was enjoying himself by repeating at intervals the unreasonable words, “Couldn’t of be’n Joe,” without any explanation. “Why couldn’t it?” shouted Eskew. “It was! Do you think my eyes are as fur gone as yours? I saw him, I tell you! The same ornery Joe Louden, run away and sellin’ tickets for a side- show. He wasn’t even the boss of it; the manager was about the meanest-lookin’ human I ever saw –and most humans look mighty mean, accordin’ to my way of thinkin’! Riffraff of the riffraff are his friends now, same as they were here. Weeds! and HE’S a weed, always was and always will be! Him and his kind ain’t any more than jimpsons; overrun everything if you give ’em a chance. Devil-flowers! They have to be hoed out and scattered–even then, like as not, they’ll come back next year and ruin your plantin’ once more. That boy Joe ‘ll turn up here again some day; you’ll see if he don’t. He’s a seed of trouble and iniquity, and anything of that kind is sure to come back to Canaan!”
Mr. Arp stuck to his prediction for several months; then he began to waver and evade. By the end of the second year following its first utterance, he had formed the habit of denying that he had ever made it at all, and, finally having come to believe with all his heart that the prophecy had been deliberately foisted upon him and put in his mouth by Squire Buckalew, became so sore upon the subject that even the hardiest dared not refer to it in his presence.
Eskew’s story of the ticket-seller was the only news of Joe Louden that came to Canaan during seven years. Another citizen of the town encountered the wanderer, however, but under circumstances so susceptible to misconception that, in a moment of illumination, he decided to let the matter rest in a golden silence. This was Mr. Bantry.
Having elected an elaborate course in the Arts, at the University which was of his possessions, what more natural than that Eugene should seek the Metropolis for the short Easter vacation of his Senior year, in order that his perusal of the Masters should be uninterrupted? But it was his misfortune to find the Metropolitan Museum less interesting than some intricate phases of the gayety of New York–phases very difficult to understand without elaborate study and a series of experiments which the discreetly selfish permit others to make for them. Briefly, Eugene found himself dancing, one night, with a young person in a big hat, at the “Straw-Cellar,” a crowded hall, down very deep in the town and not at all the place for Eugene.
Acute crises are to be expected at the “Straw- Cellar,” and Eugene was the only one present who was thoroughly surprised when that of this night arrived, though all of the merrymakers were frightened when they perceived its extent. There is no need to detail the catastrophe. It came suddenly, and the knife did not flash. Sick and thinking of himself, Eugene stood staring at the figure lying before him upon the reddening floor. A rabble fought with the quick policemen at the doors, and then the lights went out, extinguished by the proprietor, living up to his reputation for always being thoughtful of his patrons. The place had been a nightmare; it became a black impossibility. Eugene staggered to one of the open windows, from the sill of which a man had just leaped.
“Don’t jump,” said a voice close to his ear. “That fellow broke his leg, I think, and they caught him, anyway, as soon as he struck the pavement. It’s a big raid. Come this way.”
A light hand fell upon his arm and he followed its leading, blindly, to find himself pushed through a narrow doorway and down a flight of tricky, wooden steps, at the foot of which, silhouetted against a street light, a tall policeman was on guard. He laid masterful hands on Eugene.
“‘SH, Mack!” whispered a cautious voice from the stairway. “That’s a friend of mine and not one of those you need. He’s only a student and scared to death.”
“Hurry,” said the policeman, under his breath, twisting Eugene sharply by him into the street; after which he stormed vehemently: “On yer way, both of ye! Move on up the street! Don’t be tryin’ to poke yer heads in here! Ye’d be more anxious to git out, once ye got in, I tell ye!”
A sob of relief came from Bantry as he gained the next corner, the slight figure of his conductor at his side. “You’d better not go to places like the `Straw-Cellar,’ ” said the latter, gravely. “I’d been watching you for an hour. You were dancing with the girl who did the cutting.”
Eugene leaned against a wall, faint, one arm across his face. He was too ill to see, or care, who it was that had saved him. “I never saw her before,” he babbled, incoherently, “never, never, never! I thought she looked handsome, and asked her if she’d dance with me. Then I saw she seemed queer–and wild, and she kept guiding and pushing as we danced until we were near that man–and then she–then it was all done–before–“
“Yes,” said the other; “she’s been threatening to do it for a long time. Jealous. Mighty good sort of a girl, though, in lots of ways. Only yesterday I talked with her and almost thought I’d calmed her out of it. But you can’t tell with some women. They’ll brighten up and talk straight and seem sensible, one minute, and promise to behave, and mean it too, and the next, there they go, making a scene, cutting somebody or killing themselves! You can’t count on them. But that’s not to the point, exactly, I expect. You’d better keep away from the `Straw-Cellar.’ If you’d been caught with the rest you’d have had a hard time, and they’d have found out your real name, too, because it’s pretty serious on account of your dancing with her when she did it, and the Canaan papers would have got hold of it and you wouldn’t be invited to Judge Pike’s any more, Eugene.”
Eugene dropped his arm from his eyes and stared into the face of his step-brother.
“Joe Louden!” he gasped.
“I’ll never tell,” said Joe. “You’d better keep out of all this sort. You don’t understand it, and you don’t–you don’t do it because you care.” He smiled wanly, his odd distorted smile of friendliness. “When you go back you might tell father I’m all right. I’m working through a law-school here–and remember me to Norbert Flitcroft,” he finished, with a chuckle.
Eugene covered his eyes again and groaned.
“It’s all right,” Joe assured him. “You’re as safe as if it had never happened. And I expect” –he went on, thoughtfully–“I expect, maybe, you’d prefer NOT to say you’d seen me, when you go back to Canaan. Well, that’s all right. I don’t suppose father will be asking after me–exactly.”
“No, he doesn’t,” said Eugene, still white and shaking. “Don’t stand talking. I’m sick.”
“Of course,” returned Joe. “But there’s one thing I would like to ask you–“
“Your father’s health is perfect, I believe.”
“It–it–it was something else,” Joe stammered, pitifully. “Are they all–are they all–all right at –at Judge Pike’s?”
“Quite!” Eugene replied, sharply. “Are you going to get me away from here? I’m sick, I tell you!”
“This street,” said Joe, and cheerfully led the way.
Five minutes later the two had parted, and Joe leaned against a cheap restaurant sign-board, drearily staring after the lamps of the gypsy night- cab he had found for his step-brother. Eugene had not offered to share the vehicle with him, had not even replied to his good-night.
And Joe himself had neglected to do something he might well have done: he had not asked Eugene for news of Ariel Tabor. It will not justify him entirely to suppose that he assumed that her grandfather and she had left Canaan never to return, and therefore Eugene knew nothing of her; no such explanation serves Joe for his neglect, for the fair truth is that he had not thought of her. She had been a sort of playmate, before his flight, a friend taken for granted, about whom he had consciously thought little more than he thought about himself–and easily forgotten. Not forgotten in the sense that she had passed out of his memory, but forgotten none the less; she had never had a place in his imaginings, and so it befell that when he no longer saw her from day to day, she had gone from his thoughts altogether.
A BAD PENNY TURNS UP
Eugene did not inform Canaan, nor
any inhabitant, of his adventure of “Straw-Cellar,” nor did any hear
of his meeting with his step-brother; and after Mr. Arp’s adventure, five
years passed into the imperishable before the town heard of the wanderer again, and then it heard at first hand; Mr. Arp’s prophecy fell true, and he took it back to his bosom again, claimed it as his own the morning of its fulfilment. Joe Louden had come back to Canaan.
The elder Louden was the first to know of his prodigal’s return. He was alone in the office of the wooden-butter-dish factory, of which he was the superintendent, when the young man came in unannounced. He was still pale and thin; his eyebrows had the same crook, one corner of his mouth the same droop; he was only an inch or so taller, not enough to be thought a tall man; and yet, for a few moments the father did not recognize his son, but stared at him, inquiring his business. During those few seconds of unrecognition, Mr. Louden was somewhat favorably impressed with the stranger’s appearance.
“You don’t know me,” said Joe, smiling cheerfully. “Perhaps I’ve changed in seven years.” And he held out his hand.
Then Mr. Louden knew; he tilted back in his desk-chair, his mouth falling open. “Good God!” he said, not noticing the out-stretched hand. “Have YOU come back?”
Joe’s hand fell.
“Yes, I’ve come back to Canaan.”
Mr. Louden looked at him a long time without replying; finally he remarked:
“I see you’ve still got a scar on your forehead.”
“Oh, I’ve forgotten all about that,” said the other, twisting his hat in his hands. “Seven years wipes out a good many grievances and wrongs.”
“You think so?” Mr Louden grunted. “I suppose it might wipe out a good deal with some people. How’d you happen to stop off at Canaan?
On your way somewhere, I suppose.”
“No, I’ve come back to stay.”
Mr. Louden plainly received this as no pleasant surprise. “What for?” he asked, slowly.
“To practise law, father.”
“Yes,” said the young man. “There ought to be an opening here for me. I’m a graduate of as good a law-school as there is in the country–“
“Certainly,” said Joe, quietly. “I’ve put myself through, working in the summer–“
“Working!” Mr. Louden snorted. “Side-shows?”
“Oh, worse than that, sometimes,” returned his son, laughing. “Anything I could get. But I’ve always wanted to come back home and work here.”
Mr. Louden leaned forward, a hand on each knee, his brow deeply corrugated. “Do you think you’ll get much practice in Canaan?”
“Why not? I’ve had a year in a good office in New York since I left the school, and I think I ought to get along all right.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Louden, briefly. “You do?”
“Yes. Don’t you?”
“Who do you think in Canaan would put a case in your hands?”
“Oh, I don’t expect to get anything important at the start. But after a while “
“With your reputation?”
The smile which had faded from Joe’s lips returned to them. “Oh, I know they thought I was a harum-scarum sort of boy,” he answered lightly, “and that it was a foolish thing to run away for nothing; but you had said I mustn’t come to you for help–“
“I meant it,” said Mr. Louden.
“But that’s seven years ago, and I suppose the town’s forgotten all about it, and forgotten me, too. So, you see, I can make a fresh start. That’s what I came back for.”
“You’ve made up your mind to stay here, then?”
“I don’t believe,” said Mr. Louden, with marked uneasiness, “that Mrs. Louden would be willing to let you live with us.”
“No,” said Joe, gently. “I didn’t expect it.” He turned to the window and looked out, averting his face, yet scoring himself with the contempt he had learned to feel for those who pity themselves. His father had not even asked him to
sit down. There was a long silence, disturbed only by Mr. Louden’s breathing, which could be heard, heavy and troubled.
At last Joe turned again, smiling as before. “Well, I won’t keep you from your work,” he said. “I suppose you’re pretty busy–“
“Yes, I am,” responded his father, promptly. “But I’ll see you again before you go. I want to give you some advice.”
“I’m not going,” said Joe. “Not going to leave Canaan, I mean. Where will I find Eugene?”
“At the Tocsin office; he’s the assistant editor. Judge Pike bought the Tocsin last year, and he thinks a good deal of Eugene. Don’t forget I said to come to see me again before you go.”
Joe came over to the older man and held out his hand. “Shake hands, father,” he said. Mr. Louden looked at him out of small implacable eyes, the steady hostility of which only his wife or the imperious Martin Pike, his employer, could quell. He shook his head.
“I don’t see any use in it,” he answered. “It wouldn’t mean anything. All my life I’ve been a hard-working man and an abiding man. Before you got in trouble you never did anything you ought to; you ran with the lowest people in town, and I and all your folks were ashamed of you. I don’t see that we’ve got a call to be any different now.” He swung round to his desk emphatically, on the last word, and Joe turned away and went out quietly.
But it was a bright morning to which he emerged from the outer doors of the factory, and he made his way towards Main Street at a lively gait. As he turned the corner opposite the “National House,” he walked into Mr. Eskew Arp. The old man drew back angrily
“Lord ‘a’ mercy!” cried Joe, heartily. “It’s Mr. Arp! I almost ran you down!” Then, as Mr. Arp made no response, but stood stock-still in the way, staring at him fiercely, “Don’t you know me, Mr. Arp?” the young man asked. “I’m Joe Louden.”
Eskew abruptly thrust his face close to the other’s. “NO FREE SEATS!” he hissed, savagely; and swept across to the hotel to set his world afire.
Joe looked after the irate, receding figure, and watched it disappear into the Main Street door of the “National House.” As the door closed, he became aware of a mighty shadow upon the pavement, and turning, beheld a fat young man, wearing upon his forehead a scar similar to his own, waddling by with eyes fixed upon him.
“How are you, Norbert?” Joe began. “Don’t you remember me? I–” He came to a full stop, as the fat one, thrusting out an under lip as his only token of recognition, passed balefully on.
Joe proceeded slowly until he came to the Tocsin building. At the foot of the stairway leading up to the offices he hesitated for a few moments; then he turned away and walked towards the quieter part of Main Street. Most of the people he met took no notice of him, only two or three giving him second glances of half-cognizance, as though he reminded them of some one they could not place, and it was not until he had come near the Pike Mansion that he saw a full recognition in the eyes of one of the many whom he knew, and who had known him in his boyhood in the town. A lady, turning a corner, looked up carelessly, and then half-stopped within a few feet of him, as if startled. Joe’s cheeks went a sudden crimson; for it was the lady of his old dreams.
Seven years had made Mamie Pike only prettier. She had grown into her young womanhood with an ampleness that had nothing of oversufficiency in it, nor anywhere a threat that some day there might be too much of her. Not quite seventeen when he had last seen her, now, at twenty-four, her amber hair elaborately becoming a plump and regular face, all of her old charm came over him once more, and it immediately seemed to him that he saw clearly his real reason for coming back to Canaan. She had been the Rich-Little-Girl of his child days, the golden princess playing in the Palace-Grounds, and in his early boyhood (until he had grown wicked and shabby) he had been sometimes invited to the Pike Mansion for the games and ice-cream of the daughter of the house, before her dancing days began. He had gone timidly, not daring ever to “call” her in “Quaker Meeting” or “Post-office,” but watching her reverently and surreptitiously and continually. She had always seemed to him the one thing of all the world most rare, most mysterious, most
unapproachable. She had not offered an apparition less so in those days when he began to come under the suspicion of Canaan, when the old people began to look upon him hotly, the young people coldly. His very exclusion wove for him a glamour about her, and she was more than ever his moon, far, lovely, unattainable, and brilliant, never to be reached by his lifted arms, but only by his lifted eyes. Nor had his long absence obliterated that light; somewhere in his dreams it always had place, shining, perhaps, with a fainter lustre as the years grew to seven, but never gone altogether. Now, at last, that he stood in her very presence again, it sprang to the full flood of its old brilliance –and more!
As she came to her half-stop of surprise, startled, he took his courage in two hands, and, lifting his hat, stepped to her side.
“You–you remember me?” he stammered.
“Yes,” she answered, a little breathlessly.
“Ah, that’s kind of you!” he cried, and began to walk on with her, unconsciously. “I feel like a returned ghost wandering about–invisible and unrecognized. So few people seem to remember me!”
“I think you are wrong. I think you’ll find everybody remembers you,” she responded, uneasily.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he began. “I–“
“I’m afraid they do!”
Joe laughed a little. “My father was saying something like that to me a while ago. He meant that they used to think me a great scapegrace here. Do you mean that?”
“I’d scarcely like to say,” she answered, her face growing more troubled; for they were close on the imperial domain.
“But it’s long ago–and I really didn’t do anything so outrageous, it seems to me.” He laughed again. “I know your father was angry with me once or twice, especially the night I hid on your porch to watch you–to watch you dance, I mean. But, you see, I’ve come back to rehabilitate myself, to–“
She interrupted him. They were not far from her gate, and she saw her father standing in the yard, directing a painter who was at work on one of the cast-iron deer. The Judge was apparently in good spirits, laughing with the workman over some jest between them, but that did not lessen Mamie’s nervousness.
“Mr. Louden,” she said, in as kindly a tone as she could, “I shall have to ask you not to walk with me. My father would not like it.”
Joe stopped with a jerk.
“Why, I–I thought I’d go in and shake hands with him,–and tell him I–“
Astonishment that partook of terror and of awe spread itself instantly upon her face.
“Good gracious!” she cried. “NO!”
“Very well,” said Joe, humbly. “Good-bye.”
He was too late to get away with any good grace. Judge Pike had seen them, and, even as Joe turned to go, rushed down to the gate, flung it open, and motioned his daughter to enter. This he did with one wide sweep of his arm, and, with another sweep, forbade Joe to look upon either moon OR sun. It was a magnificent gesture: it excluded the young man from the street, Judge Pike’s street, and from the town, Judge Pike’s town. It swept him from the earth, abolished him, denied him the right to breathe the common air, to be seen of men; and, at once a headsman’s stroke and an excommunication, destroyed him, soul and body, thus rebuking the silly Providence that had created him, and repairing Its mistake by annihilating him. This hurling Olympian gesture smote the street; the rails of the car-track sprang and quivered with the shock; it thundered, and, amid the dumfounding uproar of the wrath of a god, the Will of the Canaanite Jove wrote the words in fiery letters upon the ether:
“CEASE TO BE!”
Joe did not go in to shake hands with Judge Pike.
He turned the next corner a moment later, and went down the quiet street which led to the house which had been his home. He did not glance at that somewhat grim edifice, but passed it, his eyes averted, and stopped in front of the long, ramshackle cottage next door. The windows were boarded; the picket-fence dropped even to the ground in some sections; the chimneys sagged and curved; the roof of the long porch sprinkled shingles over the unkempt yard with every wind, and seemed about to fall. The place was desolate with long emptiness and decay: it looked like a Haunted House; and nailed to the padlocked gate was a sign, half obliterated with the winters it had fronted, “For Sale or Rent.”
Joe gat him meditatively back to Main Street and to the Tocsin building. This time he did not hesitate, but mounted the stairs and knocked upon the door of the assistant editor.
“Oh,” said Eugene. “YOU’VE turned up, you?”
Mr. Bantry of the Tocsin was not at all the Eugene rescued from the “Straw-Cellar.” The present gentleman was more the electric Freshman than the frightened adventurer whom Joe had encountered in New York. It was to be seen immediately that the assistant editor had nothing undaintily business-like about him, nor was there the litter on his desk which one might have expected. He had the air of a gentleman dilettante who amused himself slightly by spending an hour or two in the room now and then. It was the evolution to the perfect of his Freshman manner, and his lively apparel, though somewhat chastened by an older taste, might have been foretold from that which had smitten Canaan seven years before. He sat not at the orderly and handsome desk, but lay stretched upon a divan of green leather, smoking a cigar of purest ray and reading sleepily a small verse-looking book in morocco. His occupation, his general air, the furniture of the room, and his title (doubtless equipped with a corresponding salary) might have inspired in an observant cynic the idea that here lay a pet of Fortune, whose position had been the fruit of nepotism, or, mayhap, a successful wooing of some daughter, wife, or widow. Eugene looked competent for that.
“I’ve come back to stay, ‘Gene,” said Joe.
Bantry had dropped his book and raised himself on an elbow. “Exceedingly interesting,” he said. “I suppose you’ll try to find something to do. I don’t think you could get a place here; Judge Pike owns the Tocsin, and I greatly fear he has a prejudice against you.”
“I expect he has,” Joe chuckled, somewhat sadly. “But I don’t want newspaper work. I’m going to practice law.”
“By Jove! you have courage, my festive prodigal. VRAIMENT!”
Joe cocked his head to one side with his old look of the friendly puppy. “You always did like to talk that noveletty way, ‘Gene, didn’t you?” he said, impersonally.
Eugene’s color rose. “Have you saved up anything to starve on?” he asked, crisply.
“Oh, I’m not so badly off. I’ve had a salary in an office for a year, and I had one pretty good day at the races–“
“You’d better go back and have another,” said his step-brother. “You don’t seem to comprehend your standing in Canaan.”
“I’m beginning to.” Joe turned to the door. “It’s funny, too–in a way. Well–I won’t keep you any longer. I just stopped in to say good- day–” He paused, faltering.
“All right, all right,” Eugene said, briskly. “And, by-the-way, I haven’t mentioned that I saw you in New York.”
“Oh, I didn’t suppose that you would.”
“And you needn’t say anything about it, I fancy.”
“I don’t think,” said Joe,–“I don’t think that you need be afraid I’ll do that. Good-bye.”