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Henry Kitchell Webster
The Banker and the Bear
THE BIG NEST
LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA
TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
Published by The Big Nest
This Edition first published in 2014
Copyright © 2014 The Big Nest
Cover design and artwork © 2014 Urban-Pic.co.uk
Images and Illustrations © 2014 Stocklibrary.org
All Rights Reserved.
ISBN: 9781910343197 (ebk)
FOR more than forty years Bagsbury and Company was old John Bagsbury himself ; merely another expression of his stiff, cautious personality. Like him it had been old from infancy ; you could as easily imagine that he had once been something of a dandy, had worn a stiff collar and a well-brushed hat, as that its dusty black-walnut furniture had ever smelled of varnish. And, conversely, though he had a family, a religion to whose requirements he was punctiliously attentive, and a really fine library, the bank represented about all there was of old John Bagsbury.
Beside a son, John, he had a daughter, born several years earlier, whom they christened Martha. She grew into a capricious, pretty girl, whom her father did not try to under-
stand, particularly as he thought she never could be of the smallest importance to Bags- bury and Company. When, before she was twenty, in utter disregard of her father’s forcibly expressed objection, she married Victor Haselridge, she dropped forever out of the old man’s life.
The boy, John, was too young to understand when this happened, and as his mother died soon after, he grew almost to forget that he had ever had a sister. He was very different : serious and, on the surface at least, placid. He had the old man’s lumpy head and his thin- lidded eyes, though his mouth was, like his mother’s, generous. His father had high hopes that he might, in course of years, grow to be worthy of Bagsbury and Company’s Savings Bank. That was the boy’s hope, too ; when he was fifteen he asked to be taken from school and put to work, and his father, with ill-con- cealed delight, consented. Through the next five years the old man’s hopes ran higher than ever, for John showed that he knew how to work, and slowly the tenure of office was long at Bagsbury’s he climbed the first few rounds of the ladder.
But trouble was brewing all the while, though the father was too blind to see. It began the day when the lad first set foot in a bank other than his father’s. The brightness, the bustle, the alert air that characterized every one about it, brought home to him a sharp, disappointing surprise. Try as he might, he could not bring back the old feeling of pride in Bagsbury and Company, and he felt the difference the more keenly as he grew to understand where it lay. But he liked work, and with a boy’s healthy curiosity he pried and puzzled and sought to comprehend everything, though his father out of a notion of discipline, and his fellow-employees for a less unselfish reason, discouraged his in- quiries. In one way and another he made several acquaintances among the fellows of his own age who worked in the other banks, and from finding something to smile at in his queer, old-mannish way they came to like him. He had his mother’s adaptability, and he sur- prised them by turning out to be really good company.
His deep-seated loyalty to his father and to his father’s bank made him fight down the feeling of bitterness and contempt which,
nevertheless, grew stronger month by month. Everybody in that gray old vault of a bank continued to treat him as a child; there was no change anywhere, save that the mould of respectable conservatism lay thicker on old John Bagsbury, and his caution was growing into a mania.
One morning John was nearing his twen- tieth birthday then he was sent on a small matter of business to the Atlantic National Bank. He had despatched it and was passing out when Dawson, the president, surprised him by calling to him from the door of the private office. As John obeyed the summons and entered the office, the president motioned to another man who was leaning against the desk. “This is young John Bagsbury,” he said, “ Mr. Sponley.”
John had no time to be puzzled, for Sponley straightened up and shook hands with him.
Whatever you might think of Melville Spon- ley, he compelled you to think something; he could not be ignored. He was at this time barely thirty, but already he bore about him the prophecy that, in some sphere or other, he was destined to wield an unusual influence. He
was of about middle height, though his enor- mous girth made him look shorter, his skin was swarthy, his thick neck bulged out above his collar, and his eyelids were puffy. But his glance was as swift and purposeful as a fencer’s thrust, and a great dome of a forehead towered above his black brows.
Keenly, deliberately, he looked straight into John Bagsbury, and in the look John felt him- self treated as a man. They exchanged only the commonplaces of greeting, and then, as there seemed to be nothing further to say, John took his leave.
“ Why did you ask me to call him in here ? “ demanded the president.
“ Curiosity,” said Sponley. “ I wanted to see if he was going to be like his father.”
“ He’s better stuff,” said Dawson, emphati- cally ; “ a sight better stuff.”
Next day, a little after noon, John met Spon- ley on the street. Sponley nodded cordially as they passed, then turned and spoke :
“ Oh, Bagsbury, were you thinking of getting something to eat ? If you were, you’d better come along and have a little lunch with me.”
John might have felt somewhat ill at ease
had his new acquaintance given him any oppor- tunity ; but Sponley took on himself the whole responsibility for the conversation, and John forgot everything else listening to the talk, which was principally in praise of the banking business.
“ I suppose you are wondering why I don’t go into it myself, but I’m not cut out for it. I was born to be a speculator. That has a strange sound to your ears, no doubt, but I mean to get rich at it.
“ Now a banker has to be a sort of commer- cial father confessor to all his customers. That wouldn’t be in my line at all ; but I envy the man who has the genius and the opportunity for it that I fancy you have.”
An habitually reserved man, when once the barrier is broken down, will reveal anything. Before John was aware of it, he had yielded to the charm of being completely understood, and was telling Sponley the story of his life at the bank. Sponley said nothing, but eyed the ash of his cigar until he” was sure that John had told it all. Then he spoke :
“ Under an aggressive management your bank could be one of the three greatest in the city in
two years. It’s immensely rich, and it has a tremendous credit. As you say, with things as they are, it’s hopeless ; but then, some day you’ll get control of it, I suppose.”
There was a moment of silence while Sponley relighted his cigar.
“ Have you thought of making a change ? I mean, of getting a better training by work- ing up through some other bank ? “
“ That’s out of the question,” said John.
“ I can understand your feeling that way about it,” said the other. “ I’ve detained you a long time. I’d ask you to come and see us, but my wife and I are going abroad next week, and shan’t be back till spring; but we’ll surely see you then. Good-by and good luck.”
John went back to the bank and listened with an indifference he had not known before to the remonstrance of his immediate superior, who spoke satirically about the length of his lunch hour, and carped at his way of cross- ing his t’s.
Sponley and his wife lingered at the table that evening, discussing plans for their jour- ney. Harriet Sponley was younger than her husband, but she had not his nerves, and there
were lines in her face which time had not yet written in his.
“ I’m glad you’re to have the rest,” he said, looking intently at her ; “ you need it.”
“ No more than you,” she smilingly pro- tested. “ You didn’t come home to lunch.”
“ N-no.” A smile broke over his heavy face. “ I was engaged in agricultural pursuits. I planted a grain of mustard seed, which will grow into a great tree. Some time we may be glad to roost therein.”
“ Riddles ! “ she exclaimed. “ Please give me the key to this one. I don’t feel like guessing.”
“ If you will have it, I’ve been putting a cyclone cellar in a bank.”
“ Bagsbury’s,” he answered, smiling more broadly.
“ Bagsbury’s,” she repeated, in an injured tone, “ I really want to know. Please tell me.”
“ Did you ever hear,” he asked, as they left the dining-room and entered the library, “of young John Bagsbury ? “
“ No, do you know him ? “
He dropped into an easy-chair. “ Met him yesterday.”
“ It won’t do any good, “ she said ; “ some- body has probably come round already and warned him that you’re a dangerous man, or a plunger, or something like that”
“ Yes, I warned him to-day myself.”
She laughed and moved away toward the piano. As she passedbehind his chair, she patted his head approvingly.
The next few months went dismally with John. At the bank, or away from it, there was little change in the stiff routine of his life ; his few glimpses of the outside world, and par- ticularly the memory of that hour with Sponley, made it harder to endure. His discontent steadily sank deeper and became a fact more inevitably to be reckoned with, and before the winter was over he made up his mind that he could not give up his life to the course his father had marked out for him ; but he dreaded the idea of a change, and in the absence of a definite opening for him elsewhere he let events take their own course. Often he found himself wondering whether the speculator had forgotten all about his suggestion.
But Sponley never forgot anything, though he often waited longer than most men are will-
ing to. He and Harriet had not been back in town a week before they asked John to dine with them; “Just ourselves,” the note said.
An invitation to dinner was not the terrible thing to John that it would have been a year before, but as the hour drew near he looked forward to it with mingled pleasure and dread. He forgot it all the moment he was fairly inside the Sponley big library. He had never seen such a room ; it had a low ceiling, it was red and warm and comfortable, and there was a homely charm about the informal arrangement of the furniture. John did not see it all: he felt it, took it in with the first breath of the tobacco-savored air, while the speculator was introducing him to Mrs. Sponley, and then to some one else who stood just behind her, a fair- haired girl in a black gown.
“ Miss Blair is one of the family,” said Spon- ley; “a sort of honorary little sister of Mrs. Sponley’s.”
“ She’s really not much of a relation,” added Harriet, “ but she’s the only one of any sort that I possess, so I have to make the most of her.”
The next hours were the happiest John had ever known. It was all so new to him, this
easy, irresponsible way of taking the world, this making a luxury of conversation instead of the strict, uncomfortable necessity he had always thought it. It was pleasant fooling; not espe- cially clever, easy to make and to hear and to for- get, and so skilfully did the Sponleys do it that John never realized they were doing it at all.
When the ladies rose to leave the table, Sponley detained John. “ I want to talk a little business with you, if you’ll let me.
“ I had a talk with Dawson yesterday,” he continued when they were alone. “ Dawson, you know, practically owns one or two country banks, besides his large interest in the Atlantic National, and it takes a lot of men to run his business. Dawson told me that none of the youngsters at the Atlantic was worth much. He wants a man who’s capable of handling some of that country business. Now, I remem- ber you said last fall that you didn’t care to go into anything like that ; but I had an idea that you might think differently now, so I spoke of you to Dawson and he wants you. It looks to me like rather a good opening.”
John did not speak for half a minute. Then he said :
“ I’ll take it Thank you.”
“ I’m glad you decided that way,” said Spon- ley. “ Dawson and I lunch together to-morrow at one. You’d better join us, and then you and he can talk over details. Come, Alice and Harriet are waiting for us. We’ll have some music.”
When at last it occurred to John that it was time to go home, they urged him so heartily to stay a little longer that without another thought he forgave himself for having forgotten to go earlier.
Just before noon next day, John left his desk and walked into his father’s office. Old Mr. Bagsbury looked up to see who his visitor was, then turned back to his writing. After a minute, however, he laid down his pen and waited for his son to speak.
And to his great surprise John found that a difficult thing to do. When he did begin, an- other word was on his lips than the one he had expected to use.
“Father “ he said. The old man’s brows contracted, and John knew he had made a mistake. In his desire that John should be on the same terms as the other clerks, the father
had barred that form of address in banking hours.
“ Mr. Bagsbury,” John began again, and now the words came easily, “I was offered another position last night. It’s a better one than I hold here, and I think it will be to my advantage to take it.”
Mr. Bagsbury’s hard, thin old face expressed nothing, even of surprise. He sat quite still for a moment, then he clasped his hands tightly under the desk, for they were quivering.
“ You wish to take this position at once ? “
“ I haven’t arranged that. I waited till I could speak to you about it. I don’t want to inconvenience you.”
“ You can go at once if you choose. We can arrange for your work.”
“Very well, sir.”
As his father bowed assent, John turned to leave the office. But at the door he stopped and looked back. Mr. Bagsbury had not moved, save that his head, so stiffly erect during the in- terview, was bowed over the desk. From where he stood John could not see his face. Acting on an impulse he did not understand, John re- traced his steps and stood at the old man’s side.
“ Father,” he said, “ I may have been incon- siderate of your feelings in this matter. If there’s anything personal about it, that is, if it’s worth any more to you to have me here than just my my commercial value; I’ll be glad to stay.”
“ Not at all,” returned the father ; “ our rela- tion here in the bank is a purely commercial one. I cannot offer you a better position because you are not worth it to me. But if some one else has offered you a better one, you are right to take it, quite right.”
And John, much relieved, though, be it said, feeling rather foolish over that incomprehensible impulse of his, again turned to the door. He went back to his desk and finished his morning’s work. Then he slipped on his overcoat, but before going out he paused to look about the big, dreary droning room.
“ I’ll come back here some day,” he thought, “and then “
Old Mr. Bagsbury never had but one child; that was Bagsbury and Company’s Savings Bank. John was not, in his mind, the heir to it, but the one who should be its guardian after he was gone ; his son was no more to him than
that. But that was everything ; and so the old man sat with bowed head and clasped hands, wondering dully how the bank would live when he was taken away from it.
John paid his dinner call promptly, though Mark Tapley would have said there was no great credit in that; it could hardly be termed a call either, for it lasted from eight till eleven. But what, after all, did the hours matter so long as they passed quickly ? And then a few nights later they went together to the play, and a little after that was a long Sunday afternoon which ended with their compelling John to stay to tea.
His time was fully occupied, for he found a day’s work at the Atlantic very different from anything he had experienced under the stately regime of Bagsbury and Company. Dawson paid for every ounce there was in a man, and he used it. “ They’ve piled it on him pretty thick,” the cashier told the president after a month or two ; “ but he carries it without a stagger. If he can keep up this pace, he’s a gold mine.”
He did keep the pace, though it left him few free evenings. Those he had were spent, nearly all of them, with the Sponleys. The fair-
haired girl seemed to John, each time he saw her, sweeter and more adorable than she had ever been before, and he saw her often enough to make the progression a rapid one. The hos- pitality of the Sponleys never flagged. The number of things they thought of that “ it would be larks to do,” was legion; and when there was no lark, there was always the long evening in the big firelit room, when Harriet played the piano, and Sponley put his feet on the fender and smoked cigars, and there was nothing to prohibit a boy and a girl from sitting close to- gether on the wide sofa and looking over port- folios of steel engravings from famous paintings and talking of nothing in particular, or at least not of the steel engravings.
At last one Sunday afternoon in early spring, after months of suspense that seemed years to John, Alice consented to marry him, and John was so happy that he did not blush or stammer, as they had been sure he would, when he told the Sponleys about it. There never was such an illumination as the street lamps made that evening when John walked back to his father’s house ; and something in his big dismal room, the single faint-hearted
gas-jet, perhaps, threw a rosy glow even over that.
When he had left Bagsbury and Company to go to work for Dawson, there had occurred no change in John’s personal relation with his father. That relation had never amounted to much, but they continued to live on not un- friendly terms. Quite unconscious that he was misusing the word, John would have told you that he lived at home. Once on a time, when Martha was a baby, before the loneli- ness of his mother’s life had made her old, before the commercial crust had grown so thick over the spark of humanity that lurked some- where in old John Bagsbury, the old house may have been a home; but John had never known it as anything but a place where one might sleep and have his breakfast and his dinner without paying for them. When he and his father met, there was generally some short-lived attempt at conversation, consisting in a sort of set form like the responses in the prayer-book. But one night, as soon as they were seated, John spoke what was on his mind, without waiting for the wonted exchange of
“ Father,” he said, “ I’m planning to be mar- ried in a few months.”
“ If your means are sufficient,” the old man answered, “ and if you have chosen wisely, as I make no doubt you have, why that is very well, very well.”
A little later the father asked abruptly,
“ Are you planning to live here ? “
Perhaps, in the silent moments just past, there had quickened in his mind a mouldy old memory of a girlish face, and then of a baby’s wailing, a memory that brought a momentary glow into the ashes of his soul, and a hope, gone in the flicker of an eyelash, that a child might again play round his knees. But when John’s answer came, and it came quickly, the father was relieved to hear him say,
“ Oh, no, sir, we’re going to look up a place of our own.”
They were to be married next April, and though that time seemed far away to John, thanks to the economy of the Atlantic National, and to the hours he had with Alice, which merged one into the other, forming in his memory a beatific haze, it passed quickly enough. The only thing that troubled John
was Alice’s total ignorance of banking and her indifference to matters of business gener- ally. One evening, in Harriet’s presence, he offered, half jestingly, to teach her how to manage a bank; but the older woman turned the conversation to something else, and he did not think of it again for a long time.
When John had gone that evening, and Alice was making ready for bed, her door opened unceremoniously and Harriet came in. She was so pale that Alice cried out to know what was the matter.
“Nothing; I’m tired, that’s all. It’s been a hard day for Melville, and that always leaves me a wreck. No, I’ve been waiting for John to go because I want to have a talk with you. I feel like it to-night, and I may not again.”
She walked across the room and fumbled nervously the scattered articles on the dressing- table. Her words, and the action which fol- lowed them, were so unlike Harriet that Alice stared at her wonderingly. At last Harriet turned and faced her, leaning back against the table, her hands clutching the ledge of it tightly.
“I’m going to give you some advice,” she
said ; “ I don’t suppose you’ll like it, either. You didn’t like my interrupting John to-night when he was going to explain about banking. But, Alice, dear,” the voice softened as she spoke, and her attitude relaxed a little, “you don’t want to know about such things; truly, you don’t ! If you’re going to be happy with John, you mustn’t know anything about his business about what he does in the day- time.”
“What a way to talk for you, too, of all people ! You’re happy, aren’t you ? “
“ Perhaps I’m different,” said Harriet, slowly ; “but I know what I’m talking about. I shouldn’t be saying these things to you, if I didn’t. How will you like having John come home and tell you all about some tight place he’s in that he doesn’t know how he’s going to get out of, and then waiting all the next day and wondering how it’s coming out, and not being able to do anything but worry?”
“But I thought the banking business was perfectly safe,” said Alice, vaguely alarmed, but still more puzzled.
“ Safe ! “ echoed Harriet ; “ any business is safe if a man is willing to wall himself up in
a corner and just stay, and not want to do anything or get anywhere. But if a man is ambitious, like John or Melville, and means to get up to the top, why it’s just one long fight for him whatever business he goes into.”
She was not looking at Alice, nor, indeed, speaking to her, but seemed rather to be think- ing aloud.
“ That is the one great purpose in John’s life,” she said. “ His father’s bank is the only thing that really counts. Everything else is only inci- dental to that.”
She turned about again, and her hands re- sumed their purposeless play over the table. “ He’ll succeed, too. He isn’t afraid of any- thing ; and he won’t lose his nerve ; he can stand the strain. But you can’t, and if you try, your face will get wrinkled,” she was star- ing into themirror that hung above the table, “ and your nerves will fly to pieces, and you’ll just worry your heart out.”
She was interrupted by a movement behind her. Alice had thrown herself upon the bed, sobbing like a frightened child.
“You’re very unkind and cruel to tell me that John’s business was dangerous
and that he didn’t care for anything even me and that I’d get wrinkled “
Harriet sat down beside her on the bed. Her manner had changed instantly when she had seen the effect of her words. When she spoke, her voice was very gentle.
“ Forgive me, dear. I spoke very foolishly ; because I was tired, I suppose. But you didn’t understand me exactly. John loves you very, very much; you know that. When I said he didn’t care, I wasn’t thinking of you at all, but of other things : books, you know, and plays, and politics. And he’s perfectly sure to come out right, just as I said he was, no matter what he goes through. Only I think both of you will be happier if you keep quite out of his business world, and don’t let him bring it home with him, but try to interest him in other things when you’re with him, and make him forget all about his business ; and theonly way to do that is not to know. Don’t you see, dear ? “
She paused, and for a moment stroked the flushed forehead. Then she went on, speak- ing almost playfully :
“ So I want you to promise me that you won’t ask John about those things, or let him explain
them, even if he wants to. It may be hard some- times, but it’s better that way. Will you ? “
Alice nodded uncomprehendingly ; Harriet kissed her good night, and rose to leave the room.
“ Are you quite sure he loves me better than the bank ? “ the young girl asked, smiling, albeit somewhat tremulously.
“Quite sure,” laughed Harriet; “whole lots better.”
When Sponley came in, still later that even- ing, she told him of John’s offer.
“ How did he come out with his explanation ?” he asked.
“ I didn’t let him begin. I changed the sub- ject.”
“ It’s just as well. He’s lucky if he can ever make her understand how to indorse a check, let alone anything more complicated.”
“ I fancy that’s true,” Harriet said, and she added to herself, “ of course it’s true. I’ve had all my worries for nothing, and have frightened Alice half to death. But then, she didn’t under- stand it.”
“Anyway, I’m glad that you understand,” Sponley was saying.
“ I’m glad, too,” she answered, and kissed him.
John and Alice were married, as they had planned, in April ; but the wedding trip was cut short by a telegram from Dawson, direct- ing John to go to Howard City, to assume the management of the First National Bank there ; and the house they had chosen and partly fur- nished had to be given up to some one else. Alice cried over it a good deal, and John was sorely puzzled to understand why she should feel badly over his promotion.
Ah, well, that was long ago ; fifteen seven- teen years ago. They have been comfortable, uneventful years to John and Alice; whether or not you call them happy must depend on what you think happiness means. They have brought prosperity and more promotions, and John is back in the city, vice-president of the great Atlantic National. But his ambition has not been satisfied, for, on the Christmas Eve when we again pick up the thread of his life, his father, old John Bagsbury, crustier and more withered than ever, and more than ever distrust- ful of his son’s ability, is still president of Bags- bury and Company’s Savings Bank.
ON this Christmas Eve Dick Haselridge was picking her way swiftly through the holiday crowd, but her glance roved alertly over the scene, and everything she saw seemed to please her. The cries of the shivering toy venders on the sidewalk, and the clashing of gongs on the overcrowded cable cars that passed, came to her ears with a note of merriment that must have been assumed especially for Christmas- tide. To walk rapidly was no easy matter, for the motion of the crowd was irregular ; now fast, across some gusty, ill-lighted spot, now slowing to a mere stroll, and now ceasing alto- gether before a particularly attractive shop window. The wind, too, had acquired a mis- chievous trick of pouncing upon you from an always unexpected direction. Dick scorned to wear a veil in any weather, and her hair blew all about and into her eyes, and as one
of her hands was occupied with her muff and her purse, and the other with keeping her skirts out of the slush, she would pause and wait for the wind to blow the refractory lock out of the way again. Then she would laugh, for it was all part of the lark to Dick, and start on.
In one of these pauses she saw a little imp- faced newsboy looking up at her with a grin so infectious that she smiled back at him. The effect of that smile upon the boy was immediate ; he sprang forward, collided with one passer-by, then with another, and seemed to carrom from him to a position directly in front of Dick.
“ Did ye want a piper, miss ? “ he gasped. He was still grinning.
“Yes,” laughed Dick, and heedless of the slush she let go her skirt and drew the purse from her muff.
“ This is jolly, isn’t it ? “ she said, fishing a dime from her purse and handing it to him. “ Oh, I haven’t any place to carry a paper. Never mind. I’ll get it from you some other time. Merry Christmas,” and with a bright nod she was gone.
They had stood Dick and the newsboy in the strong light from a shop window, and the
little scene may have been noted by a dozen persons in the crowd that had flowed by them. But one man who had come up from the direc- tion in which Dick was going, a big man, muffled to the eye-glasses in an ulster, had seemed par- ticularly interested. Dick’s back was toward him as he passed, she had turned to the win- dow in order to see into her purse, but there was something familiar about the graceful line of her slight figure, and he looked at her closely, as one who thinks he recognizes but cannot be sure, and when he was a few yards by he looked again. This time he saw her face just as she nodded farewell to the newsboy, and in an instant he had turned about and was off in pur- suit ; but when he came up to where the little urchin was still standing, he stopped, fumbled in his outer pockets, drew out a quarter of a dollar, and held it out to him. “ Here you are, boy,” he said, and hurried after Dick, who was now half a square away.
When only a few steps behind he called :
“ Dick ! Dick ! What a pace you’ve got ! Wait a bit.”
She turned, recognizing his voice ; as he came alongside, he added :
You never were easy to catch, but you seem to be getting worse in that respect. Beast of a night, isn’t it ? “
It was dark, and in the additional protection of her high fur collar Dick permitted herself to smile ; but she commented only on the last part of his remark. The wrestle with the gale had put her out of breath, and she spoke in gasps.
“ Oh, yes but it’s a good beast. Like a big overgrown Newfoundland puppy.”
He fell in step with her, and they walked on more slowly in silence; for they were good enough friends for that. At length she said,
“ I thought you were going home to spend Christmas.”
“ I did expect to, but I couldn’t.”
Her tone was colder when she spoke. “ It’s too bad that you were detained.”
“ Detained ! “ he exclaimed. “ You know what I meant, Dick. When mother invited you to spend the holidays with us, and I thought from what you said that you would, why I expected to go, too. But as long as you stay here, why I shall, that’s all : you don’t play fair, Dick.”
“ That spoils everything,” she said quietly. Then after a moment, “ No, it doesn’t either.
You shan’t make me cross on Christmas Eve, whatever you say. Only, sometimes you make it rather hard to play fair.”
He answered quickly: “You’re quite right about that. I suppose I do, and pretty often. How do you put up with me at all, Dick ? “
She laughed. “ Oh, I manage it rather easily. You’re nearly always good. Just now, for in- stance, walking away out here with me. You’ll come in to dinner with us, won’t you ? “
“ I think I’d better not. Mr. Bagsbury and I have had about all we can stand of each other for one week. We’re getting used to each other by degrees. I wonder if I irritate him as much as he does me. Do you really like him, Dick ? “
“ Yes,” she said reflectively, “ I really like him very much. But I don’t wonder that you don’t get on together. The only thing either of you sees in the other is the thing he particularly hates.” She laughed softly. “ But rolled to- gether you’d be simply immense.”
“ Call it three hundred and sixty pounds,” he said. “Yes, that’s big; as big as Melville Sponley.”
“As big as Mr. Sponley thinks he is,” she rejoined. “And that’s a very different thing.
I hate that man. I wouldn’t trust him behind a a ladder ! “
They had reached the Bagsbury’s house, and Dick held out her hand to him. “ Good night,” she said. “ I wish you were coming in. Thank you for walking home with me.”
But Jack Dorlin hesitated. “ I wish you would tell me, Dick, whether you mean to set- tle down here to live with the Bagsburys, or whether this is just a visit. If I camp down here near by, and get my piano and my books, and the rest of my truck comfortably set up just before you pack your things and flit away, it’ll leave me feeling rather silly.”
She laughed, “Why, they want me to stay, and I think I will. I think I’ll try rolling you and Uncle John together. Good night.” She let herself into the house with a latch-key and hurried upstairs to her room ; but before she could reach it, she was intercepted in the upper hall by her aunt.
“ Dick ! “ she exclaimed, “ where have you been ? I was beginning to be dreadfully wor- ried about you.”
For reply, Dick turned so that the light from the chandelier shone full in her face. “ Look
at me,” she commanded. “ Look at me closely, and see if you think there is any good in worrying over a great healthy animal like me.”
She shook her head at every pause, and the little drops of melted snow that beaded her tumbled hair came rolling down her face ; and then, slowly, she smiled.
When Dick smiled, even on others of her sex, that put an end to argument. Alice Bagsbury laughed a little, patted her arm affectionately, and said : “ Well, you’re awfully wet, anyway, so run along and put on some dry things. And John is home, and we’re going to have dinner right away, so you’ll have to hurry.”
“I’ll be down,” said Dick, pausing as if for an exact calculation, “in eight minutes. Will that do ? “
Her aunt nodded and laughed again, and went downstairs, while Dick, laying her watch on her dressing table, prepared to justify her arithmetic.
It was a sort of miracle that Dick Haselridge was not spoiled. Her mother, John Bagsbury’s sister Martha, remembering her own dismal childhood, had gone far in the other direction,
and Dick had never known enough repression or discipline at home to be worth mentioning. Dick’s real name, let it be said, was her moth- er’s, Martha, but as her two first boon compan- ions had borne the names Thomas and Henry, her father, so Dick said, had declared that it was too bad to spoil the combination just because she happened to be a girl, so almost from her babyhood she was known as Dick. It was not wonderful that Dick’s father and mother allowed her to do about as she pleased, for her manner made it hard to deny her any- thing. Long before she was ten years old, she had made the discovery that anybody, friend or stranger, was very likely to do what she wanted him to.
That was a dangerous bit of knowledge for a child to have, and it might have been disastrous to Dick had there not been strongcounteracting influences at work. Her father died when she was but twelve years old, and thereby it came about that for the first time in her merry little life Dick tasted the sorrows and the joys of responsibility. Her mother, in the few years of life that were left her, never entirely recov- ered, so Dick stayed at home to keep her cheer-
ful, and avert the little worries that came to disturb her.
Dick was just seventeen when her mother died, and she found herself without a home and without a single intimate friend. For a time she was bewildered by her grief, but her cour- age and her indomitable buoyancy asserted themselves, and she took the tiller of her life in hand, to steer as good a course as she could without the advice or assistance of anybody.
Ever since the death of Victor Haselridge, John Bagsbury had kept a sort of track of his sister, and when she died, he wrote Dick a let- ter, asking her to come and live with him and Alice ; but Dick had determined, first of all, to go to college, so she declined the invitation. She had not been what one would call a stu- dious child, but she was keenly interested in things, and she learned easily, and she had contrived in one way or another to pick up enough information to satisfy the entrance re- quirement of the college she had chosen. It was a wise decision, for in college she was busy, she was popular, and that, as it did not turn her head, was good for her, and best of all, she found a few intimate friends.
The first of these was Edith Dorlin : they were fast friends before thefall term was well begun, and as a result Dick went home with her to spend the Thanksgiving recess. In those few days Mrs. Dorlin fell quite in love with her, as did also Edith’s brother Jack, who was four years older than his sister and in his junior year at college. The Dorlins made what was almost a home for her during her four college years, and as the time for graduation grew near, Edith and her mother both besought Dick to make her home with them permanently. Jack also asked her to come, but his invitation in- cluded marrying him, and Dick, though she was really very fond of him, did not love him in the least, so in spite of their combined entreaties she had announced her intention of going abroad for a year or two ; whereupon Jack, averring that he was not cut out for a lawyer, and that he was tired of getting his essays on things in general back from the magazines, decided that he ought to do something with his music and began planning to go to Berlin to study.
But the Bagsburys had not entirely lost sight of Dick, and on her commencement day John appeared and repeated his invitation that she
come and live with them, or at least make them a long visit. Somewhat to Dick’s surprise she accepted; partly because the idea of having any sort of a home appealed to her, and partly because, in spite of her prejudice against him, she liked John, with his strong, alert way, and his bluntness, and his cautious keeping within the fact ; and then this was the strongest rea- son of all his mouth and something in the in- flection of his voice reminded her of her mother.